Tag Archives: Dr. Seuss

National Public Despair

I drove to Louisville today…and back…all in one day.

That sounds silly to those that don’t know me.

Those that do know me, know I’ve become a hermit who strives to not strive to be more than a Frisbee toss from the UK campus. A much-admired friend told me 20 years ago; “My wife and I realized that 90% of what we wanted in the world was within a one-mile radius of UK. We see no reason to live outside that.” He then chuckled to show me he was kidding. His eyes and a quick sip from his drink suggested he was ardently not.

The opera, the Guignol Theatre, the dry cleaners, the grocery store, Josie’s, the pharmacy, three wine shops, the bank, an art museum, football/baseball/softball/soccer/basketball, a library branch, Starbuck’s, pizza, pad thai, burritos, hot chicken, cheddar-burgers, reubens, omelets, hot browns……and vaccinations…are all my neighbors. The only things missing are an ocean and a major league baseball team.

But today I drove to Louisville and I anticipated a lovely day. It was sunny and cool. Traffic was light. I eagerly tuned the radio to NPR.

When I was driving all over Kentucky the last three years I worked, NPR was a joy; bright and positive, not yet sucked into the 24/7/365 reality show of the Trump debacle. Now, with Trump festering in relative silence in Mar-a-Lago (Florida’s iteration of Elba), I anticipated an afternoon drive listening to new books, new plays, new songwriters…who knows?

Instead, I got an earful of assisted suicide (legal and not so), stats on how many Kentuckians are currently hospitalized and clinging to survival on respirators, protest machinations in Myanmar, ecoside (what words we invent to soften, distract from, and just plain avoid saying climate change), royal racism, and the increase in the deportation of Haitians.

At least there was no mention of Trump or Dr. Seuss, though a few couplets from IF I RAN THE CIRCUS might have perked up things as I zipped past Waddy/Peytona.

I’m thinkin’ the nation may yet be in recovery.

The Good Doctor

Dr. Seuss did not teach me to read.

My mom did that…and Dick and Jane…and comic books.

On Tuesdays, before I started elementary school through about the second grade, the bookmobile would come to our neighborhood. It would park for the afternoon about five blocks from our house. Mom was then and is now a voracious reader. She and I would trudge to the bookmobile every week, toting our books we had checked out from the week before. It had to be done every week or our books would be overdue and there would be a fine to pay. Worse, the bookmobile lady would scowl. (Before you ask; no, her name was not Marion.)

We would trudge home and Mom would read my books to me or ask me to look at the pictures and tell her the story. I don’t remember any of the books being by Dr. Seuss.

What I remember clearly is the dagger I carried home in my chest from my first day of school. I had been assured that I would learn to read when I went to school. That was a big falsehood. We’ve heard a lot about “the big lie” lately. I experienced it in 1957. I had been to school for the day. I had not yet learned to read.

Shoot!

(I had also not yet added “damn!” to my vocabulary.)

Dick and Jane began to rectify that deficiency…the reading part, not the cussing.

Mom had lit a fire, Dick and Jane added the fuel, but comic books were the accelerant for my personal reading eternal flame.

The bookmobile wasn’t enough for Mom’s addiction. We would make regular foraging trips to Mr. Dennis’s bookstore on North Lime; once known as Mulberry Street – how ‘bout that. Mom would carefully choose her treasures while I would plunge into the comic book table. Archie and Veronica and Batman and Superman and Aquaman and Casper, the Friendly Ghost gave me stories to imagine and tell and later read.

I didn’t really discover Dr. Seuss until I was in high school.

I took a part-time job in the Children’s Department of the Lexington Public Library all through high school. I shelved books, checked them in and out, read just about all of them, and guided kids, parents, and kiddie-lit students from Transylvania University.

I loved Dr. Seuss. I dove into McElligot’s Pool. I loafed in awe down Mulberry Street. I improved on the zoo and the circus. I heard Who’s with Horton. I scrambled to thwart oobleck and deal with half a thousand hats along with Bartholomew Cubbins. I fretted about how to corral the Cat in the Hat’s Thing 1 and Thing 2 before the parents returned. I loved the rhymes, the nonsense words, and the drawings. But mostly, I was captured by the wide-eyed wonder of the stories’ participants.

I wasn’t alone.

Dr. Seuss books were a hot item in the library when I worked there. They were constantly checked out. They were read to pieces. Their tattered covers were repaired or replaced every year. Many a child would drag themselves through other books imposed on them by teachers and parents just to be rewarded with a romp with the Grinch and Cindy Lou Who.

That Mister Grinch may been a “foul one”, but I’m sure he taught a goodly number of children to read.

They didn’t seem to be offended or hurt by the drawings, but the readers then were overwhelmingly white and didn’t think much about those that might be.

I certainly wasn’t offended or hurt…and…ditto.

Actually…I’m still not hurt or offended. I’m also not hurt or offended by Hugh Lofting’s drawings in his Dr. Doolittle books. I’m not hurt or offended by Harper Lee’s depiction of the white racist father in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. I’m not offended or hurt by Charlie Chan, or Archie Bunker, or Stan Laurel, or the Three Stooges.

I do however, have people in my life I care about who are stung by these things. I care about these people and would not have them hurt. I don’t mind at all if they choose to not watch or read these artists and works. And if their non-watching and non-reading reduces the financial viability of the works and causes them to be not be published or reproduced, that’s the way it goes. That’s business.

The government didn’t do it. The Left didn’t do it. The Right didn’t do it. The Church didn’t do it. The Proud Boys didn’t do it. The deep state didn’t do it.

The market did it.

I collect books. I cherish the feel of bindings and pages. I always want every book to be always published.

The market dictates otherwise.

Sigh…

OK.

Can we now know better and be better?

The Busy Bee Club

I like children.

My first job was as a clerk in the Children’s Department of the Lexington Public Library. For three years or so, I shelved, catalogued, read, recommended, and checked-out books by Seuss, Blyton, Kendall, Lofting, and multitudinous others.

I also listened to books…long before audio books were popular. They were read to me by the children.

We would have clubs to spur reading in the kids. I remember the “Busy Bee Club.” Kids would receive credit for every book they read. The credits would translate into little paper bees bearing the child’s name, which would then be placed on a large poster of a bee hive for all the world to see. Of course, the claim of readership would have to be verified to earn each bee. Wouldn’t wanna get stung for a scrap of paper for a child now, would we?

That’s where I came in. I would sit and quiz the child about each book. My interrogation skills were formidable and sharp.

“Tell me about Oobleck.”

“What is this picture of a two-headed animal?”

“Who is Muggles?”

“What would you do if you ran the zoo?”

“If you could really talk to the animals, what excuses could you make for us?”

I didn’t really ask that last question, but there were days…

These sessions could be wearying and repetitive, but mostly they were just the opposite. These children had discoveries to relate. To them, Walter Farley’s Island Stallion gave them an individual special power of speed that no one had known before. They could feel the wind and heat and freedom of the gallop…with no parents around to urge caution or threaten to sue. It was a little bit scary…but it was only a book. Horton’s defense of the Who’s was exhilarating and noble and yes, a little bit scary, but it was only…a book.

And the bees proliferated and buzzed.

I liked these kids. Their passions about their discoveries were immediate and not premeditated and sometimes politically un-correct. Their instincts bent toward the right thing to do. I flinched at times when they shrank from those good instincts because they had been taught to distrust them. I flinched more often when their instincts cast a revealing light on my own distrusts. We both survived, and I think were made better. The bees buzzed happily.

I say I liked these kids.

I say I like children.

But…

…I can’t honestly say I like them equally.

There were some children who came prepared for my questions. They were just as passionate about their stories, but they were not un-premeditated. They had been schooled on how to phrase their answers, by their parents…or perhaps, simply by their parents’ expectations. That was okay by me. I still liked them. But they were children being adults as best as they knew how. Bees still buzzed.

Children being adult-ish…nothing wrong with that, I suppose…but a touch…sad.

It’s certainly better than the reverse.

Adults being childish…not so exciting, not so charming, certainly not so helpful.

Complaining about wearing a mask to protect others…childish and cruel. Weren’t we taught as children to treat others as we wish to be treated ourselves? We shouldn’t even have to be told.

Judging people by their appearances and then acting against or for those people based on our superficial judgement…childish and cruel. Weren’t we taught to not judge a book by its cover? We shouldn’t even have to be told.

Mocking people who are afflicted…or different…or simply disagree with us…childish and cruel. Weren’t we taught…? We shouldn’t even have to be told.

Isn’t it interesting that in these distracted times, the bees are disappearing?

…more than a little bit scary…

…and it’s not a book.

Fire Truck (Revised)

Now before I start ramblin’, all you fact-checkers, and score-keepers – just let it go.

Relax.

This little tale has been pressed through a 40-year-plus filter of memory. If it’s not perfectly factual and accurate…as the very fine Kentucky songwriter Mitch Barrett puts it; “I ain’t lyin’, I’m tellin’ you a story”.

Besides, it’s not like I have the codes to our country’s nuclear arsenal or anything.

This is simply how I remember it.

I’ve related the story Groucho Marx told of how he ended up in show business;

“I saw this advertisement in the newspaper for a job. I needed a job. I ran 6 blocks and up 3 flights of stairs and I knocked on the door. This fellow answered the door wearing lipstick and a dress. I thought; ‘How long has this been going on?’”

I suspect most theatre participants have had a similar moment of truth (or deception).

I know I had several. This is one.

When I was in high school, I had a part time job in the children’s department of the public library in Lexington. At that time, the library’s main (and only) branch was in what is now known as the Carnegie Reading Center in Gratz Park. I would finish my school day at Bryan Station High School, walk over to the junior high building (middle school not having been invented then), and catch the city bus for a 35-minute ride to my 70-cents-an-hour part-time gig at the library. Did I also mention that it snowed every day and the roads all ran uphill – coming and going?

I loved the job and I loved being in the Gratz Park neighborhood.

The bus would drop me at the Apothecary (not drug store, mind you – apothecary) on the corner of Market and Second, usually about 30-40 minutes before I was scheduled to start my shift. The Apothecary was next door to the original Morris Book Store. Occasionally, I would peruse the book store. Mr. Morris himself special-ordered for me my hardbound editions of THE LORD OF THE RINGS in 1968. But most of the time, I would slip downstairs to the Apothecary and get a bag of chips and a coke and slink through their back door and down the hall to a strange little subterranean chamber in which resided a parrot (or macaw or dodo…or whatever) on a guano-ringed floor stand. I never knew why the bird was there. It didn’t respond to questions. There were also stacks of story magazines in the room. No, not porn, just story magazines. I would feast on my chips and coke and reading material under the baleful eye of the parrot (or macaw or dodo…or whatever) until it was time to cross the street to the library. It all sounds so exotic today – not so much then.

On my lunch breaks I had options. I could throw my frisbee in the park until Mrs. Gratz (for real!) came out and explained that her-husband-had-given-the-land-to-the-city-and-frisbee-throwing-was-not-what-he-had-in-mind-and-how-come-my-hair-was-so-long-if-I-was-a-boy. Or, I would walk down to Brandy’s Kitchen on the corner of Main and Lime, step over the Smiley Pete memorial, and get a $1.35 daily special. This was my introduction to chicken-fried steak. I never knew exactly what a chicken-fried steak was. It didn’t respond to questions either.

At nine o’clock, I would catch the bus home unless my mom came down to give me a ride home. Any excuse for mom to visit the library was legit.

My duties were sometimes tedious, but mostly heavenly. I would shelve the returned books (restricting myself to only reading every other one), assist the “kiddie-lit” students from Transy, and listen to the children recite their reading adventures so they could gain credit in their “Busy Bee Reading Club”.

I fear it was during this period that Dr. Seuss, Walter Farley, Carol Kendall, Hugh Lofting, and Enid Blyton became more important to me than Milton, Coleridge, Byron, and Shelley (Mr. or Mrs.).

One afternoon, my assignment was to read and tell a book to several Head Start classes visiting the library. It was a rainy day. Thus, I think there were 80+ kids in that session. I read the story and then selected several kids to act it out. There weren’t nearly enough parts for all the kids. There were two six-year-old boys on the front row who were raucous in their desire to participate. (RAUCOUS PARTICIPATION IS ENCOURAGED – wouldn’t that be a great title for someone’s biography?) I pointed to one of the six-year-olds and asked him if he could play the fire truck mentioned in the story. He roared; “YES!” and began to wail his “siren” and wave his arm as a ladder. His partner and lifelong friend (six years old, remember) was crushed to be left behind. I asked him what color the fire truck was. “Ray-udd!” he shouted, and with my extraordinary but certification-lacking linguistic dexterity I immediately interpreted that as “red”. I asked if he could be “red”. He leapt to his feet, stood next to his fire-truck-playing friend, made “jazz hands”, and danced frantically around his friend.

The room and I went graveyard silent in sheer awe and admiration.

That was a Groucho Marx moment.

“How long has this been going on?”

At that moment, I wanted to grow up to be that 6-year-old.

I still do.

Dang-a-Dang-Dang-a-Ding-a-Dong-Ding

I used to drive around Kentucky quite a bit in my job. Most of the time, it was a great blessing. I love living in Kentucky; the people and the places are precious to me. For example; one evening I drove to Bowling Green to attend their bi-monthly commissioners’ meeting which, by the way, turned out to be a sterling lesson in civility and good government that completely refuted the “government doesn’t work” message that dominates our television news channels. Those smart, well-prepared, gracious public officials efficiently moved through their agenda, addressing issues of waste management, zoning adjustments, car-towing policies, golf course maintenance, personnel changes, and alcohol sales. Every voice was heard. No voices were raised. Decisions were made and accepted. Some of those decisions went the way I preferred. Some did not. Life goes on. I could not have admired the experience more.

Sha-nah-nah-diddy-diddy-bomp…

Then I drove home, fairly late at night – certainly too late to be talking to folks on the phone as I drove (which of course I would never do).

That means I was truly immersed in “Windshield Time”.

Nem-nem-nem-nem-nem-wurp-wurp-wurp-wurp…

Windshield time is akin to dreaming, especially on I-65 on a summer night. The tiny rhythm of the eight million bugs repainting your car with their lives; the mighty rhythm of the eight million trucks buffeting your car while laughing at your rate of speed; giant dinosaurs looming at one roadside attraction; adult bookstores larger than Fayette Mall looming at another… Your mind disengages and works on unresolved issues of the day or, if you’re lucky, it embarks on far more interesting paths not normally taken.

Thus it was this evening.

Doh-doh-doh-doh-ooooo…

I listen to a lot of music in the car. Queued up this particular night was a mini-festival by the pride of Pittsburgh doo-wop group, the Marcels.

In order to truly appreciate the Marcels you have to get past some curious facts. But, as a Trump-supporting friend of mine regularly and blissfully chants; “Facts lie!” Well, these are fairly benign facts. I think we can accept them without destroying the planet.

  1. The Marcels were named after a haircut. The “Marcel Wave” was very popular that year and one member of the group had a family member who was a hairdresser and she suggested the name. Compare this to the opposite dynamic with the Beatles and their hair choice. It became a “Beatle haircut” AFTER their success as a band. Trust me; I know this…all too well, though I think I’ve cornered all the negatives (remember them?).
  2. The Marcels’ vocabulary was amazing, but had little to do with English as we know it. I’m sure they must have been the inspiration for a Mad Magazine piece I recall that quoted a fictional rock singer’s biography entitled; “Famous Syllables I Have Sung”. Everyone has heard the story of how Dr. Seuss was challenged to write a children’s story with only xx number of words and how the result was THE CAT IN THE HAT. I would suggest that the Marcels managed to build a career on fewer words than Dr. Seuss if you deduct the un-definable syllables sung between the legitimate words.

Mum-mummum-mum-bah-yip-yip-yip-yip-yip…

All that given; in my 70mph dreamy opinion there has never been a better version of “Blue Moon” than that of the Marcels…

Bomp-bababomp-bom…

…and their “Get a Job” is an American anthem worthy of being sung before athletic events. Imagine 20-40,000 people with a few beers in ‘em wailing;

Dit-dadit-dit-dadit-doo-doo-didit…

I’m smilin’ at the concept and wonderin’ how this ol’ white-haired hippie might look in a Marcel Wave. An-n-n-n-d woooosh! There goes the Willisburg exit! 44 miles to go.

Lilla-lilla-lilla-lilla-wah-wah-wah…

God bless the Marcels!