Monday, January 31, 2011

The King’s Speech Deserves Its Accolades

Finally saw The King's Speech last night. The cinematography alone is worth the price of admission. The story was a bonus.


A few months ago I was preparing to write here about King Edward VIII's abdication of the throne to marry the twice-divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson. That moment in history becomes the backstory of this fascinating account of a man who must slay his own inner dragons in order to assume the role of England's king. Like a fairy tale, he is on a quest that requires courage. He is supported by his fair maiden and assisted by a faithful "servant" who proves to be a loyal friend.

The double meaning of the title is intriguing since the focal point of the film's climax is literally about a speech the new king must give. But the real story is the Duke of York's speech impediment. He is a stutterer, a grave handicap for one who is to be a world leader.

Here are excerpts from several reviews at which were helpful.

Slythinker wrote
This is a biopic about how King George VI, the father of Queen Elizabeth II, overcame his stuttering problem. Widely considered by all but his father unfit to be king, George is reluctantly thrust unto the throne and into the spotlight after his brother is forced to abdicate. Overshadowed on the global stage by powerful orators like Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini, the King relies on the help of a little-known Australian speech therapist named Lionel Logue to find his voice and courageously lead his people into the most devastating war humanity has ever faced.

Kepc wrote
Given the outstanding cast and director, and my fascination with historical figures, I had high hopes for this film, though mixed with a certain resignation that I might be disappointed. There was no way I could have imagined how wonderful "The King's Speech" would be. There was abundant humor without the film ever becoming a comedy, drama without dreariness, and many deeply moving moments. I can't praise this film enough. It boosted my appreciation of the human capacity to become our best selves, and rise to meet even the most daunting challenges.

Colinrocks said
It is a very touching, and quite inspiring story about a man, psychologically scarred, and trapped in a situation from which he could have no escape and facing it with immense courage. It so happens that he was royal, and that was a large part of his problem -- but the film isn't so much about royalty as a human story.

The acting is flawless and superb. And the sets are luscious, especially the room where Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) meets with "Bertie", the Duke of York (Colin Firth), for therapy sessions. Every time we returned to that wall of inebriating color I was comforted.

The climax of the film leans on Beethoven’s Second Movement of his Seventh Symphony, perhaps one of the most heart-wrenching nine minutes ever scored, and it does the job well of conveying the inward anguish and achievement.

Incidentally, if you were wondering where you saw Geoffrey Rush and you couldn't quite place it.... think Barbossa in Pirates of the Caribbean.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Efficiency’s Downside

No question one of the hallmarks of progress is the efficiency it offers. Plumbing is a far more efficient system for delivering water to the house than walking out to pump it from a well. The efficiencies of mass production enable us to acquire more goods at affordable prices than when pins and parcels were made one at a time.

The Internet has created countless additional efficiencies. Easy access to information was the first I noticed, eliminating the need to wait for the library to open to call one’s local reference librarian, a phone number I had at one time kept memorized. With the advent of social media it has become remarkably easy to interact with and develop friendships with new people from all over the world.

But many of these efficiencies have a downside as well. A few examples are in order.

Cars can help us get from place to place quicker and more efficiently than walking, biking or public transportation. But travel by car nearly eliminates all interaction with others that we might encounter by the alternative means of transportation. When walking we see the world around us in far greater detail. And in both walking and biking we leave a far smaller "carbon footprint" than any internal combustion engine. And as for buses, subways and trains, I still have many memories of insights gained through first hand encounters with others whom I would never have met any other way. I learned a few shocking things as well from the things high school students were talking about on the bus as I rode to work.

Another example... In the realm of sales, many techniques have been developed based on psychology and science so that the salesperson improves his close ratio or success rate. Unfortunately, as consumers get more educated they are increasingly aware of these wiles. The net result is that after a while we become unable to discern whether people are being honest or if we're just being manipulated into a decision. For example, I frequently have a hard time trying to decide what to order in a restaurant. If I ask the waiter or waitress about a dish, they so often say, "That's my favorite thing on the menu!" that I have begun to wonder if they were trained to say that. It's making me insecure about asking servers for advice any more.

In the arts and crafts realm, the people making money locally are the one's who efficiently "crank it out." The market for work that is painstakingly detailed and personal hardly provides a living wage. So our world is a bit poorer because the ornate carvings in furniture are gone, the architectural craftsmanship is neglected because we can't afford to pay craftsmen what they're worth to do such things.

And now, to Facebook. Whereas it is a marvel how many fascinating people we can meet today via social media, there are downsides. Initially, many pundits criticized the Internet because of the damage it would do to language. It waits to be seen whether this is a legitimate fear or not. What concerns me more is what it is doing to friendship. Someone once said, and I paraphrase, "If a man is worth knowing, he is worth knowing well." But how well can we get to know people when we now know so many?

Everything happens so fast. We have more relationships than we can manage, and we end up interacting with them so superficially because who has time to invest in so many lives. But yes, the communication is very efficient. We can reach so many so very quickly, follow what they are doing, see their pictures and briefly share in their experiences. It's all quite amazing. But... at what price?

Speed is what we've embraced. Fast food, fast commutes, fast news and information. Maybe this is why God introduced the Sabbath, a day set aside for rest and reflection. A day to catch our breath, because it truly is an amazing world and if we didn't stop to reflect now and then we just might make ourselves dizzy trying to embrace it all.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


When I think about my life and all the various side streets I’ve travelled, what are the most important lessons I have learned?

How much of what I am doing is a “pose”, a projection? How much of what I do is just pretending?

I saw two or three minutes of a game show on a TV in the airport. Everyone was cheering and smiling broadly. Anyone who knows how things work understands that the crowd was being prompted, incited to project cheerfulness and enthusiasm. When they all went home, kicked off their shoes and climbed into bed, how many of those people were really happy?

When am I most happy?

When am I most real?

What gives your life signficance?

Can you sum up in one sentence the meaning of your life?

Here’s an interesting life summary in one sentence, from the Bible: “Enoch walked with God, and then was no more because God took him.”

Friday, January 28, 2011

More Pessoa

Yesterday I shared two poems by the Portugese poet Fernando Pessoa. The poems had no titles but rather only dates... but these were blog post dates, not the dates of the poems themselves as Pessoa lived a century ago. According to Wikiquote, "Fernando Pessoa (1888–1935) was a Portuguese poet and writer, most of whose work was published posthumously. He wrote frequently under heteronyms, alter egos with developed personalities, biographies, jobs, habits, attitudes, addresses, etc., who sometimes quoted and interacted with each other and other people."

Here is another pocketful of Pessoa to reflect upon.

"No intelligent idea can gain general acceptance unless some stupidity is mixed in with it."

"I've always rejected being understood. To be understood is to prostitute oneself. I prefer to be taken seriously for what I'm not, remaining humanly unknown, with naturalness and all due respect"

"My past is everything I failed to be."

"Stones in the road? I save every single one, one day I´ll build a castle"

"My soul is impatient with itself, as with a bothersome child; its restlessness keeps growing and is forever the same. Everything interests me, but nothing holds me. I attend to everything, dreaming all the while... I'm two, and both keep their distance — Siamese twins that aren't attached.

"The value of things is not the time they last, but the intensity with which they occur. That is why there are unforgettable moments and unique people!"

ednote: The picture here in not a likeness of F. Pessoa. Perhaps if in this lifetime time permits I will replace it with a more accurate misrepresentation.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Two Poems by Fernando Pessoa

I have recently been introduced to the poetry and writing of a Portugese writer Fernando Pessoa, 1888-1935. In addition to being a poet he was a prolific writer, literary critic, translator, and significant literary figure. Harold Bloom, author of Closing of the American Mind, referred to him as "the most representative poet of the 20th century," along with Pablo Neruda. He was trilingual in Portuguese, English, and French.

On another occasion I may have more time to discuss his life in more detail, digressing on his heteronymous charact. But for now, here are two of Pessoa's poems extracted from a blog entitled Poems of Fernando Pessoa.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

This great wavering between
Believing and not quite dis-
Believing troubles the heart
Weary of knowing nothing.

Estranged from what it knows
For not knowing what it is,
The heart only has one vital
Moment, the finding of faith --

The faith that all the stars
Know, for it is the spider
Whose web they weave, and it is
The life before everything.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

I devote my higher mind to the ardent
Pursuit of the summit, leaving
Verse to chance and its laws,
For when the thought is lofty and noble,
The sentence will naturally seek it,
And rhythm slavishly serve it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

As a Young Fawn, I

This is another poem that was written about something other than what it appears. When I was in college I always used to carry my sketchbook around with me. On one occasion I was sitting on top of a hill overlooking a valley to the west at sunset. Dusk descended, but it was still light and I was being still. Just then a young fawn walked from the trees, crossing the short space to where I was sitting. When she saw me, she hesitated and then approached still further, very tentative but curious.

Two rifle shots down in the valley below make me think it must have been during the Ohio hunting season. We looked at each for the longest time, but she didn't run. Eventually she continued on her way.

Two years later, the incident became the basis for this poem, as told from the point of view of the fawn, making it a metaphor for another order of encounter.

As a Young Fawn, I
As a young fawn I, with awkward step
found an opening in the wood;
unfolding eyes beheld and touched
what I could little understand -
that though I'd freely come to see,
'twas his hand that was drawing me.

I wished not that our eyes would meet,
my heart, berserk with wildness, quaked,
but when his eye fell fast upon me
I, too, even dared to gaze
that eternal moment touching.

Though first my heart had bid me flee
I had to know just why he'd come
to this place, my forest home.
(And it's funny how he heard my fears
from distant hills re-echo.)

Magnetic sunset pink and gold
was all I meant that hour to view,
yet clearly it seemed meant for us
together on that hill to share
a dramatic fairy tale
that wasn't bound by miles of string.

New Jersey, 1975

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Remarkable Tale from the Land of Podd

The event kernel that triggered this poem was nothing like what you read here per se, yet upon reflecting on what occurred this poem popped into my head almost as a whole piece. A number of my poems have happened that way.

The occasion was a training video that I had written and was producing. There was a need at one point for someone to demonstrate the application of the product. The manager, however, did not want her hands on camera and declined doing the demo, which involved rolling out a piece of film to adhere on a surface. Because she would not do it, all of her subordinates also declined when asked to show how the process is done. Only their hands would show, I reiterated. They each made excuses and it appeared that we were going to be stuck. But then the director did it for us, even though he had a mild palsy which he had to go to great lengths to conceal during this shot which focused on his hands.

Needless to say, the project was saved in the end. Once we go the shot we could exclaim those magic words of the film business, "It's a wrap." And now...

A Remarkable Tale from the Land of Podd

In a faraway land, in the Land of Podd,
folks felt themselves each just a little bit odd.
Why in fact, not a few,
not even a dozen,
and not just a sister or uncle or cousin...
'Twas the entire country caught under this spell,
each believed only others were anything swell,
and each felt discouraged, just a smidge, by his lot,
and this is what happened, believe it or not.

It had been a bad year, and in addition to famine
there were enemy troops on the borders of Salmon,
their unfriendly neighbors near the Mountain of Yore
and the King was near certain that his land was done for.

So he needed a messenger to save their lands
and he sought out a hero from the kingdom's bands.
But each made excuses, for this and for that,
One said, "My hair's funny,"
and "I can't wear a hat."
A second, who resisted, said his nose was too fat!

The king tried reason, and he also tried terror,
but quickly realized that the latter's an error,
so he promptly decided to appeal to God,
'cause these were strange people, these people of Podd,
for nothing was wrong... though each thought he was odd.

The king finally saw, although quite peculiar,
that the land would be lost -- including their ruler! --
if he couldn't find someone to carry out this task,
but there seemed no one else in his land left to ask.

Yet the Kingdom was saved, it turned out in the end,
all because the king knew that to save his own skin
he would have to step down from his throne, to the street,
and even though he didn't like his own feet,
he became a great leader by hiding it inside,
and he ran 'cross the hills to the far other side
to bring back an army or some kind of troop,
to finish forever this enemy poop.

I guess that is why some are kings, some are not,
We're really all the same, and we're all that we've got.

copyright 1996 ed newman
PERMISSION TO REPRINT GRANTED if attribution is cited.
Could you send me a note telling where you shared it?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Greene's The Third Man Continues To Satisfy


Ten days ago I saw Graham Greene's The Third Man on someone's list of the fifty greatest films of all time and I felt compelled to rent it again. I've read the book at least twice, Greene being among my favorite novelists. I can't say how many times I've seen the film but invariably each time it's an enriching experience.

The story takes place in Vienna after World War II. The narrator is a hack writer of Westerns, Holly Martens (Joseph Cotton) from America who has come to Vienna to find his old college chum Harry Lime (Orson Welles). Upon arrival in the divided city (there is an American, French, Brit and Russian sector, as partitioned by the Allies) he learns that Lime has been killed in an accident outside the apartment house where Martens had been expecting to meet him. The witnesses, however, share conflicting details and Martens begins to suspect foul play.

A reviewer who calls himself Snow Leopard wrote this about it:
This is a rare film that is flawless in every respect. It combines great acting and memorable characters with a fascinating story, taking place in an interesting setting and adding a creative musical score. "The Third Man" is remembered for many things - for Orson Welles' wonderful performance in his appearances as Harry Lime, for its wonderfully appropriate musical score, and for its nicely conceived plot surprises. Adding to these is Joseph Cotten's fine portrayal of Holly Martins, which holds the rest of it together - it is his character who initiates most of the action, and also through whom we view everything and everyone else.
Of this last statement I must comment. It's not just the exotic settings that make a Graham Greene story such a thrill to read, but also the incredible way he allows the reader to see the story, even when the narrator doesn't get it. In this case Holly Martens, saturated with sentimentalism, believes only the best about his old friend, resisting all evidence to the contrary.

The third star in this film is the beautiful and somewhat unheralded Alida Valli as Anna Schmidt. Martens loves his friend because he doesn't know the truth about Harry; Anna is smitten by Harry in spite of the truth about him. Tumultuous tragic love smashes itself against the rocks with resigned futility.

I must also take a moment here to extol the cinematography. Shot in black and white mostly on location in Vienna, every frame is a work of beauty. So much of the film is at night, allowing wonderful contrasts and surrealistically stark scenes. This all works perfectly to set up the first appearance of Welles hiding in a dark doorway, his face suddenly illuminated when a light across the street flames to life.

At a certain point in all our life stories, lights go on and reveal things we didn't previously understand. The clues were there all along, but until there is light nothing can be fully seen for what it is... whether we wish to see it or not.

Webber's Wine Sale

If you ever want to get a feel for how the other half lives, check out the sales at Sotheby's Auction House. Though more famous for itself world renowned art auctions, if it has the patina of bling -- or rather, cha-ching -- you just might find it here.

Last week at Sotheby's Hong Kong, the wine collection of Andrew Lloyd Webber was sold of for $5.6 million dollars. The wine cellar sellers were anticipating $2.8 to 4 million, so there will no doubt be bonus checks cut from that event.

Now what, pray tell, could possibly give a wine collection that kind of value? I've had fine wine and, yes, it is better than cheap wine, but....

It's likely the history of the wine that makes it special. A drawing of a kitten on a napkin may not mean much, but when J.F.K. puts his initials on it, you suddenly have a collectible.

A story in the International Business Times offers additional details...

"This was a tremendously exciting sale which reflected the great quality and range of Andrew Lloyd Webber's cellar. Top Bordeaux and red Burgundy really 'took off', but it was particularly warming to see knowledgeable Asian buyers snapping up the fabulous white Burgundies from what must be the best selection so far offered in the region," said Serena Sutcliffe M.W., Head of Sotheby's International Wine Department.

According to the article the collection included "first growths in key vintages such as 1982, 2000 and 2005." I'm no wine snob, but it sounds like you might impress someone by remembering those key years. I have to assume this is a reference to select European wines and not just any old wines from Argentina, Australia, or South Africa.

In case it escaped you, this is the same Andrew Lloyd Webber who wrote Phantom of the Opera, Cats, and Jesus Christ Superstar and a host of additional credits too numerous to list. The most commercially successful composer in history? Some have said so. I never knew he was a wine aficionado. But then again, there's a lot you don't know about me, either.
Till next.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


What is it that causes us to be indifferent to some songs and to respond to others? I've occasionally analyzed this because I don't fully understand how a simple song like Stewball, popularized by Peter, Paul and Mary, could be so compelling.

The song is a ballad more than two centuries old. In the mid-twentieth century it had been re-introduced into the folk music scene by Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie, both iconic figures of that era. The song had itself become a mournful chain gang lament and for this reason has a compelling blues quality. Guthrie recorded it in the thirties, and later it was again recorded by The Weavers in the fifties.

I first heard the song on a Peter, Paul and Mary album titled In the Wind, it being the first cut on side two. The song that follows is a similar lament, "All my trials soon will be over."

I especially enjoy the cadence as the song itself trots along much like ol' Stewball. Like so many great songs, there is a pleasurable story being told, but the ending twists, and so does the knife of fate, as the story tellers heart is cut out when his well laid plans unfold in another direction.

I find it interesting that there is no chorus, no refrain, just a story and a songwriter's pain.


Oh Stewball was a racehorse, and I wish he were mine.
He never drank water, he always drank wine.

His bridle was silver, his mane it was gold.
And the worth of his saddle has never been told.

Oh the fairgrounds were crowded, and Stewball was there
But the betting was heavy on the bay and the mare.

And a-way up yonder, ahead of them all,
Came a-prancin' and a-dancin' my noble Stewball.

I bet on the grey mare, I bet on the bay
If I'd have bet on ol' Stewball, I'd be a free man today.

Oh the hoot owl, she hollers, and the turtle dove moans.
I'm a poor boy in trouble, I'm a long way from home.

Oh Stewball was a racehorse, and I wish he were mine.
He never drank water, he always drank wine.

Friday, January 21, 2011

This Week's Big Dylan News

When you're 69 going on 70, one has to start considering what one will do as those twilight years come into view. Bob Dylan, who has made a career of being on the road, appears to be headed for a slower pace of life in the near future, having just signed a multi-million dollar six-book deal with Simon & Schuster, the publisher of his first autobiographical record Chronicles: Volume One.

It had to be assumed there would be a volume two, but according to the press announcements this week, Dylan fans can look forward to both a Volume Two and a Volume Three. My guess is that the territory to be covered has already been mapped out in his mind.

The article, Bob Dylan signs six-book deal with Simon & Schuster by Charmaine Kerridge begins thus: Legendary singer Bob Dylan has signed a deal with powerhouse publishing company Simon & Schuster to write six books, The Guardian reported Wednesday.

Dylan will write two autobiographical books as a follow up to his 2004 memoir Chronicles: Volume One as well as a book which will look at Dylan’s time at Theme Time Radio Hour, which he hosts on Sirius XM.

Frankly I've been looking forward to the sequel, having read Volume one twice. Being an unashamed Dylan fan, I had more than one co-worker approach me to borrow my copy, since it seemed almost certain I would have one to loan. Simon & Schuster no doubt ponied up the dough with the conviction that fans like me will open their wallets when the sequels flow. No question there will be a few more Dylan books on my shelf when all is said and done, as long as they don't all come out at once. Books and CDs are a great way to use Christmas and Birthday money.

Not everyone enjoys his music, however, and I've received my share of barbs from a few friends over the years.

In the same way, not everyone is enamored of the idea of six more Dylan volumes. Some still remember the incomprehensible Tarantula. (Dylan's answer to Finnegan's Wake?)

Ed Cumming, a critic for The Telegraph, titled his opinions about the Simon & Schuster announcement, Spare us the insufferable onslaught of Bob Dylan academia. You can catch the flavor of Cumming's commentary with this sentence... "While I’m grateful for anything that keeps the 69-year-old from his increasingly doddery stage performances, and I’ll be pleased to get his context for Blonde on Blonde, it seems an awful lot to ask of a man in the twilight of his talent."

I'm not sure he's got it right, though, that six books is a lot to ask. My father-in-law approached me at age 79 and said, "Eddie, can you take me to the store tonight to buy a computer. I'm ready to write my book." The end result, And There Shall Be Wars, was a rich historical memoir more that 535 pages in length.

I think when Dylan finishes his half dozen books he might take a shine to making a second career of it... when he's not out in the studio painting.

Top right: Dylan III by ed newman, 2010

Thursday, January 20, 2011

America’s Got Talent, Right Here In Duluth

The Duluth Art Institute Member Show opened last night to a packed house in the Great Hall of the Depot, downtown Duluth. Paintings, sculpture and photography by more than 100 artists are on display through mid-March. If attendance at last night's opening is any indication, the local art scene is most definitely still alive and well.

The member art show is a fixture of the Duluth Art Institute calendar year. If nothing else, it's a good reason for local artists to keep renewing their annual memberships, the DAI also offers a whole range of classes, workshops and other activities to help artists of all stripes, from beginning and emerging to pro.

In conjunction with the Member Show there was also a wonderful exhibition of the biennial juried show with a lot of exception work in the John Steffl Gallery. And if you still haven't had your fill, Sean Elmquist's unusual constructions filled the George Morrison Gallery.

Local artists can thank Samantha Gibb Roff for vital energy and visibility she has brought to the DAI these past nine or so years since being installed as Executive Director. With a small staff she's accomplished some big things, not the least of which is ensuring that funding remains strong for the local arts community and its many programs, not only for artists but for Duluth itself.

My own contribution to the show (yes, I am a member) was a piece called Picasso's Last Thought. There's a lot to see and if you're at all in the neighborhood, this is a show you'll want to check out.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Time Capsule from the Sixties

One of the funniest scenes in Woody Allen's film Sleeper is when he wakes up 200 years in the future and the scientists as him to identify the various historical items which they had found from civilization in the 20th century. They showed a film clip of Howard Cosell and surmised that in olden times interrogators would play this as a form of torture to elicit information. Woody Allen assents, "Yes."

These kinds of juxtapositions, looking back on the present from the lens of the future, have been used to comic effect in many films and cartoons. And it really will be fun to see what people of tomorrow thought of the 20th century, especially when they find the time capsules we've left behind with their various memorabilia.

1964 was a big year in my life. It was the year we moved to New Jersey. It was also the year of the New York World's Fair, or rather, the first year of the two year showcase of American industry in the midst of this international exhibition. A centerpiece of the fair, which sprawled at Flushing Meadows in the Queens, one of New York's five boroughs, was the Unisphere, a spectacular (in its day) enormous steel globe. My friend's dad, Mr. LaGreca, was a welder on the project and I am sure he took pride in being associated with it.

The World's Fair featured 140 pavilions on 646 acres. 21 of the pavilions were from various states like New Jersey. There were also 36 countries represented. I especially remember the aerial acrobatics at the Mexico pavilion. But the primary investors in the fair were U.S. companies like Ford, GM, Dupont, Westinghouse, Pepsi Cola, IBM, General Electric... sinking more than a billion dollars into the occasion.

In 1965, Westinghouse assembled items for a time capsule that would preserve the Sixties unto eternity, or whenever it was decided to allow its contents to be opened. Take a minute to guess its contents while I babble on for a paragraph or two.

Lee Iacocca's Ford introduced the Mustang in 1964 so that you could ride around the Ford Pavillion in the shell of a Mustang. Hopefully you got the color you wanted, or you'd have to stand in a long, long line for the next time. And I'll never forget the demonstrations in the Dupont pavilion, such as what happens to a tennis ball when you drop it into "absolute zero" temperatures.

Speaking of lines, they were almost always long for the favorite "rides" (if you call GM's travel car into the future a ride). You could, however, see a lot by avoiding the things most visited and returning another time when it was less crowded, if you lived a reasonable distance from the City.

O.K.... have you been thinking about that time capsule? What would a 1965 time capsule contain? At the top of the list, which you can find online is.... a bikini. Do you think people in the future will know what to do with it?

Here's the complete list of the contents of that 1965 Time Capsule.

• bikini
• Polaroid camera
• plastic wrap
• electric toothbrush
• tranquilizers
• ball-point pen
• molecular block
• 50 star American flag
• superconducting wire
• box of detergent
• transistor radio
• fuel cells
• electronic watch
• antibiotics
• contact lens
• reels of microfilm
• credit cards
• ruby laser rod
• ceramic magnet
• filter cigarettes
• Beatles record
• irradiated seeds
• freeze-dried foods
• rechargeable flashlight
• synthetic fibers
• heat shield from Aurora 7
• Revised Standard Version of the Bible
• film history of the USS Nautilus
• fiber-reinforced material
• film identity badge
• material from Echo II satellite
• computer memory unit
• pocket radiation monitor
• graphite from first nuclear reactor
• Vanguard satellite radio transmitter
• container for carbon-14
• tektite
• pure zirconium
• desalted Pacific Ocean water
• birth-control pills
pyroceramic baking dish
• plastic heart valve
• Official Guide to New York World's Fair
• photographs of important events
As for that Beatles record, I hope they also included a record player.

If I've given you an appetite to hear and see more of the 1964 New York World's Fair, then you might want to bookmark this website and visit all the pages of information that have been compiled there, including maps and photos. Have fun reminiscing.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Social Network, reviewed

Congratulations to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin for his adaptation of Ben Mezrich's The Accidental Billionaires into a film that came off better than expected. Having read the book this past summer I was eager to see how it would be translated to the silver screen. The opening dialogue before the credits set the tone and immediately raised my expectations.

The film's description at goes like this:
On a fall night in 2003, Harvard undergrad and computer programming genius Mark Zuckerberg sits down at his computer and heatedly begins working on a new idea. In a fury of blogging and programming, what begins in his dorm room soon becomes a global social network and a revolution in communication. A mere six years and 500 million friends later, Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in history... but for this entrepreneur, success leads to both personal and legal complications.

There are five main characters in this story. First, there's Mark Zuckerberg, the central player in the drama that is Facebook. Then there is Eduardo Saverin, his initial partner in the venture that became TheFacebook. The Accidental Billionaires appears to be Eduardo's sour grapes at being ex-communicated from the Facebook venture as it took off and left him behind. Then there's the Winklevoss twins, who in the book come off as the typical Harvard stereotype, rich family, connected, spoiled. And finally, we have the Silicon Valley smoothie Sean Parker, played by Justin Timberlake.

The story is essentially told in retrospect. All the main characters and their lawyers and in a large board room, gathered for a deposition to determine whether Zuckerberg and Saverin stole Facebook from the Winklevoss twins, and if so how much are they owed. According to Wikipedia, the Winklevosses got 66 million dollars for their part. Evidently this is how much an idea is worth, even when you really do not do anything. Zuckerberg recognized the power of the idea immediately and made it the focus of his life, unlike the rest of these characters who were also trying to be students and Olympians and the rest. Zuckerberg alone put aside all distractions and was thus open to the opportunity to capitalize on what he found.

Sean Parker, who co-founded Napster and Plaxo, became the lynchpin connecting the idea to the funding that enabled Zuckerberg to take his concept to the next level. The rest, as they say, is history, though I've been told Zuckerberg will himself probably write his own version of that history at some point, and he has the means to do it if he wishes. I recommend he wait five years and let his perceptions percolate. My opinion is that the film was probably a caricature to some extent but that the screenwriters were kind, pulling their punches when they could have been far more cruel had they wanted to be.

In some of the reviews at the soundtrack gets high praise though frankly until the closing credits I did not even notice the soundtrack. I must have been engaged in the story. That closing number by the Beatles, however, is a perfect punctuation mark for the end of this story. I will not spoil it for you here. It did make me smile.

It's an amazing story and the rest is yet to be written. All these characters are still very young men. They have whole lives ahead of them. What contributions will each make as they grow in influence? At what point will they begin to take their wealth and shed it to help fight Third World poverty, fund cancer research, etc.? No question they got rich quick. Now what?

As for Facebook itself, over 70% of Americans have logged on, and at least 20% are on Facebook daily. 48% of young Americans get their news through Facebook, whatever that means. Can you believe it... 750 million photos were uploaded to Facebook over New Year's weekend. 48% of 18 to 34 years olds check Facebook first thing when they get up, and 28% use their Smart Phones to do it while they are still in bed.

As for the film, it's worth the price of admission, and evidently got recognition at the Golden Globes this past weekend. I'm sure we'll hear more as we approach the Oscars.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Remembering the Dream


Definition: goal
Synonyms: ambition, aspiration, design, desire, hope, notion, wish

"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'"

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

"I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood."

Dr. Martin Luther King

Here is a link to the editorial response of the Baltimore Sun to that day's rally in the Capitol in 1963. It makes for an interesting read.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Ice Bar Makes a Novel Impression

People with out-of-the-way businesses occasionally have to get creative in order to keep the cash registers ringing. Many seasonal businesses get shuttered in the off season, just because heat and staffing is such an expense. Needless to say, the Grand Superior Lodge at Castle Danger went a different route this winter.

When the story broke in the Duluth News Tribune, it created oodles of buzz. A front page story and big photo declaring "Ice bar opens at North Shore lodge." The sub-title pegged the details: Blu opened for its first customers at 2 p.m. to celebrate the winter solstice. The article went on to describe shot glasses made of ice and even a couch.

So yesterday we decided to head north. Despite the below-zero temps, it was a beautiful drive up the North Shore, the lake a deep blue, the crisp sun glistening on the snow-sprinkled trees. On the way we wondered things like whether the bar would have a bathroom. We imagined an actual building made of ice.

If you go to enough fancy parties you will sooner or later see company logos carved in ice, or a fancy "ice luge" into which the bartender pours your drink at the top and it comes out chilled at the bottom. Some of these decorations can get mighty spectacular and Chris Swarbick, the designer of Blu at Grand Superior Lodge has the gift. His business, Ice Occasions, specializes in exceeding expectations when it comes to customized ice decor.

Castle Danger is in the vicinity of Gooseberry Falls, so you can get a rough idea how much of the afternoon you will be chewing up to get there and back. Since anticipation provides one-third of the pleasure of most experiences, we got our money's worth on the drive up. When we arrived, the lodge parking lot was crammed and jammed. On the right, as you pull in, there was a little tent. One of us said, "Is that it?" and you can tell by this question what our first impressions were.

Maybe the tent/bar looks small because Grand Superior Lodge is so large. And since I'd heard someone compare it to the Ice Palace in St. Paul, I somewhat expected a building made of ice. I must have mis-heard because upon further investigation I see from Swarbick's website that he won the St. Paul Winter Carnival Ice Sculpting Competition three of the last four years. The bar is a masterpiece, even if it isn't a whole building of ice.

I saw no one complaining inside. Patrons were standing three and four deep waiting to place their orders. The busy bartending staff were cheerful and good-natured. And even though the drink selection was limited (they can't lock up at night, nor can they leave cans of pineapple juice outside in twenty-below weather) and there were no chairs, the atmosphere was lively. Yes, there was that couch which the newspaper story mentioned... a block of ice with a bearskin draped across it. No pillows.

Someone there explained that Blu will remain open till sometime in February. If you want to check it out, it's only open on Saturday afternoons from 2 till 6 p.m. Can't make it then? You can see more of Chris Swarbrick's craftsmanship-in-ice at his website, His work is pretty cool.

As for our own trip to the ice bar, upon reflection, it was fun.... and something memorable to talk about.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Viral Loop and My Early Forays Into Cyberspace

I'm currently listening to an audio version of the book Viral Loop: From Facebook to Twitter, How Today's Smartest Businesses Grow Themselves. Before getting to the meat of his story, NYU journalism professor Adam Penenberg begins with a little background on what a viral business model looks like. The Ponzi story of 1919-1920 is quite interesting. So is the Tupperware story, with its end result being that there are probably very few homes in America without one of Mr. Tupper's wares.

This is all setup for the story of the Internet itself, how it went from being a geek world to becoming something totally pervasive, now woven into the fabric our modern life.

I'm not that far into the book so I do not know whether Penenberg will present it this way, but the promotional reviews about the book sure make it seem like we should all be gazillionaires by now, if only we understood how viral ideas can grow and make us rich, and how the Internet makes viral marketing easier than ever.

Anyways, as I listened to the story of the early days of the World Wide Web, I couldn't help but think about what I was doing at the time. I got my first Mac 512ke in 1987. These were the days when geeks passed around discs of Shareware, with programs you could try out, many for fun, some for serious. At some point (maybe around 1990?) I was introduced to a program called Hyperstack or Hypercard. It was a way of creating pages that you could jump to in non-sequential order. Little did I know that in a few short years there would be a global hyper-stack that enabled users to jump all over the cyber-universe in a non-sequential manner.

In the early 1990's there were several fledgling companies that used the networked world to disseminate information and create communities. One early champion of this realm was CompuServe. Another was America Online. A telephone line and a modem would connect users to hundred of thousands, and eventually millions, of other users who formed communities and used the service for a variety of purposes. For example, in 1992-94 I was researching and writing a series of articles on ethical issues in terminal health care. To gain new points of view I initiated discussion groups on the topic, and ended up with many insights I had previously been unaware of for my article on the "Pros and Cons of Doctor Assisted Suicide." The power of this new medium was quickly evident for journalists.

In the spring of 1994, because I could see that the Internet was going to be a force, I took a one day class at the University of MN, Duluth called Internet: Introduction to the Global Information Resource. My suspicions regarding the power of the Net were confirmed when I got home that night and found that article abstracts I'd found at libraries in Berlin and Pisa were on my Mac SE, successfully downloaded from across the seas.

At the time, the World Wide Web had not really gone mainstream. The only browser was Mosaic, a remarkable piece of programming that enabled people to see images and colors and not simply lines of text. The instructor at UMD was absolutely gaga over this "new thing" (not exactly raving, but fairly excited) but I was a little less so. The university had a T-1 line and super fast connections to the Net, and even so the program loaded so slowly you could take a bathroom break while the page loaded. Knowing how most of the world was on a telephone line with a 14 kb modem, I assumed this was not going to catch on all too quick.

But I was wrong. That fall Mark Andreesen, who was instrumental in writing the code for Mosaic, had outdone himself and led a Silicon Valley team that produced the Netscape browser... and, as Penenberg details, the rest is history.

As for me, I soon purchased a book called How to Learn HTML in Two Weeks, and believed that it was possible. Sure enough I was soon building a website. In late 1994 I launched my first pages, calling it Ennyman's Territory. The "ennyman" moniker came about like this. When I first signed up for AOL, I had to choose a "handle" and I wanted something cool, a little defining, but something I could identify with. I made a list of five names. One of them was SeaLion, thinking it played off my first name (Leon) and said something about swimming the cyber seas. The name was already taken. So were the other four.

AOL had a way of helping indecisive people select a name. The program suggested enewman4042, which is the first initial of my middle name plus my last name and the numerals from my address. No one else was likely to have this the AOL team surmised. I began typing en... and then thought of Everyman, the common man, and took a stab at the name Ennyman. A spontaneous impulsive whim. This was accepted and I've been ennyman ever since.

In 1995-6 I wrote a column for Printwear magazine called Screen Net, which was my way of helping others learn about the basic features of the new technology. I wrote articles like "What Is A Browser" and "The Top 25 Search Engines" in order to learn as much as I could about this emerging world.

Penenberg's book reminded me of how early I was to have staked a claim for real estate on the world wide web. At the time there really weren't that many websites, relatively speaking. Yes, there were surfers, but in 1995 a simple site like my own could catch the attention of the St. Paul Pioneer Press and be tagged one of the Top Ten Sites in Minnesota. (I was even sent an icon to wear on my home page.) I'm pretty sure that what caught their eye was my Virtual Gallery featuring crayon art by Don Marco and Jeffrey Robert. For some reason, even though I have removed this section from my current website, it still remains out there somehow, like a remote ghost town that has yet to crumble and can still be found on the fringes of the prairie.

Back then, a website was a novelty and easy to draw attention to. Now, they're swallowed up in a cyber-galactic universe of blogs, Facebook pages, and whole continents of content competing for eyeballs. Where it goes from here is anyone's guess.

Friday, January 14, 2011

More Questions and Quotes on Art

Yesterday I barely scratched the surface with a few questions about why we do art and the purpose of art. As I drove to the office more questions began to bubble up.

How serious should one take one’s art?
How intense is too intense? (re: taking art seriously)
What about playfulness?
Is it OK to lighten up?
Who makes the rules anyways?

How important is it that other people understand our work?
How important that we understand our own work?

For myself there is a certain amount of pleasure involved in making pictures. The aesthetic pleasure of color, line, shape and form... The tactile pleasure of smearing pigment onto a surface… The emotional pleasure of experimentation… what happens when I scrape? What happens when I scrub? What happens when I drip or spray or splash? And the pleasure one gets when others express appreciation for what you have created...

Here are some quotes by others on the purpose of art.

The role of art for me is the visualization of attitude, of the human attitude towards life, towards the world. ~Josef Albers

As an artist my mission in relation to the universe is to realize and actualize the mirror of the human psyche. ~Raul D. Arellano

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. ~Aristotle

There has probably never been an artist that only painted for his or her eyes alone. ~Moncy Barbour

Painting has to get back to its original goal, examining the inner lives of human beings. ~Pierre Bonnard

The object of art is to crystallize emotion into thought, and then fix it in form. ~Delsarte

Art is the perpetual motion of illusion. The highest purpose of art is to inspire. What else can you do? What else can you do for any one but inspire them? ~Bob Dylan

The task of the artist is to make the human being uncomfortable. ~Lucian Freud

The arts teach and moralise by their beauty alone, not by translating a philosophical or social formula. For the truly artistic person, painting has itself as it's purpose, which is quite enough. ~Theophile Gautier, 1861

We are trying to evoke and reinforce meanings from the spaces we cover and the times we're given. Short or long this becomes our purpose. What we artists do is important stuff. ~Robert Genn

An artist's job is to say the most with the least. ~Andrew Hamilton

The best reason to paint is that there is no reason to paint... ~Keith Haring

My aim in painting is to create pulsating, luminous, and open surfaces that emanate a mystic light, in accordance with my deepest insight into the experience of life and nature. ~Hans Hofmann

My paintings are not intended to alter the history of twentieth-century art or change the political climate of our times. I'm simply a story-teller. ~Carolyn Hoyle

Only just now awakening after years of materialism, our soul is still infected with the despair born of unbelief, of lack of purpose and aim. ~Wassily Kandinsky

We live in a fractured world. I've always seen it as my role as an artist to attempt to make wholeness. ~Anish Kapoor

Art is an articulator of the soul's uncensored purpose and deepest will. ~Shaun McNiff

The purpose of art is nothing less than the upliftment of the human spirit. ~Pope John Paul II

I go for a walk in the forest of Fontainebleau. I get 'green' indigestion. I must get rid of this sensation into a picture. Green rules it. A painter paints to unload himself of feelings and visions. ~Pablo Picasso

The great end of all arts is to make an impression on the imagination and the feeling. The imitation of nature frequently does this. Sometimes it fails and something else succeeds. ~Sir Joshua Reynolds

It is the mission of art to remind man from time to time that he is human, and the time is ripe, just now, today, for such a reminder. ~Ben Shahn

Just as the farmer provides sustenance for the body, the painter provides sustenance for the soul. ~Arturo Tello

My aim is not to exhibit craft, but rather to submerge it, and make it rightfully the handmaiden of beauty, power and emotional content. ~Andrew Wyeth

In an ideal world I would have more time to create links from the names and quotes cited above to examples of the art they produced. But then again, in an ideal world I wouldn't be here writing a quick blog entry before going to the office, I would be putting more pigment on a palette and starting another painting. Oh well, we can only dream.

Keep chasing yours and have a very special day.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What is the Purpose of Art?

The "Why" Question.

I keep asking myself that. I also often wonder why some people are always asking the why question and others don't give it a moment's thought.

Upon Googling the question, "What is the purpose of art?" I soon found innumerable answers. In one forum where that very question was being discussed, here were just a few of the comments.

Personal Pleasure
" me as an artist, it gives me pleasure to create something. my pieces of art are like my children."

"The purpose of art is communication. Everything else is technique."

"I think the purpose of art is expression. ...The key thing to remember, I think, is that no matter what the artist 'says' with a work, what the viewer perceives may be vastly different. 'Starry Night' might be very peaceful to one person, and quite disturbing to another - and utterly inane to someone else!"

"God is a Creator and it says we're made in his image --- hence our need to create something. Everyone in his / her life has created something - even if it was a mud cake."

The religious comment above is a bit different from the religious purpose that historically captured artists. (Some would say shackled.) That is, for many centuries art was to be used in the service of the Church (with a capital C) and it was only in more recent centuries that art became a standalone industry.

When I was in college I had a friend who repeatedly said, "Eddie, the artist is the vanguard of the revolution." He saw the artist's role as a political tool.

In the 1800's, as a pushback to the pressure on artists to do religious or political art, there was birthed the Aesthetic movement which I wrote about a few weeks ago. "Art for art's sake" was their creed.

Functional Art
Bowls, dress patterns, the rooms we live can be bland or expressive, boring or interesting, even delightful. The world is a poorer place without art to dress it up. Who wants to live in a house with empty, bone white walls? I don't.

Therapeutic Value
Activities directors often use art in therapeutic ways in mental institutions. In addition to being a form of entertainment for children, it has some magical power to involve the deeper involvement of the psyche. And for me, it is a great way to immerse myself in something away from all the other pressures and responsibilities of life. It is liberating, satisfying and meaningful in some basic way. And the affirmations that come from sharing one's ideas and creative works, the connections that evolve, are equally satisfying.

This discussion here only scratches the surface of our inquiry. And doesn't go near deep enough to answer the real question I have been asking myself. Why do I make art?

Stick around and we'll keep exploring.

For the source of several of the quotes above visit

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dali Museum Re-Opens in St. Petersburg

"There are two kinds of artists. There's everyone else, and then there is Dali."

I made up the quote there, but it's the kind of positioning statement I can imagine Dali proclaiming about himself. One part eccentric, two parts madman, and one part unabashed Capitalist make up the character of the man whose name and fame exploded beyond the confines of the esoteric and staid art culture. Like Warhol who came ofter him, he was audacious, and made his persona as much of a work of art as the works themselves.

Originally from Spain, Dali went to Paris to join the Surrealist movement in the 1930's. At the time, the leading writers and artists were taken in by Marxist idealism, which put Dali at odds with the group who ultimately expelled him. He came to the U.S. in 1940.

His melting watches may be his most famous image ("The Persistence of Memory, Museum of Modern Art) but the familiar Dali iconography that spilled into the mainstream includes religious symbols, eroticism, surreal landscapes, wizard-like eyeball-bending mind games, and scientific themes. As technology advanced, he often incorporated his trademark symbols into the new media, as with his experiments with holograms and video.

Today's news featured stories about the re-opening of the Dali Museum yesterday in St. Petersburg. It's a spectacular new home for the Dali works housed there. If you've never been, and you're in the Tampa/St. Petersburg region, be sure to plan at least part of an afternoon to get up close and personal with one of the great painters of our era. Next time I am in the vicinity I will be there.

Top: Dali souvenir on my bookshelf. Right: Projection Portrait of Dali by ennyman.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Fellini's 8 1/2

Any list of the greatest film directors would be incomplete without Frederico Fellini. Near the top of many lists of great films is Fellini's 8 1/2, a strange title for an ambitious and perhaps equally strange film. Watching it again the other night was breathtaking.

The film begins with director Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) in a car on a ferry, not unlike the Staten Island Ferry. He is sitting in the car like all the others in the cars and buses around him. A gas of some kind begins to come into the car through the vents and he finds himself unable to open the windows. He is stuck inside his own car, his situation, and cannot escape, while everyone around him looks on indifferently. It is his life and his nightmare. Through great effort he manages to crack the window open and somehow climbs out, only to float up into the air.

What a great opening. We know right off it is no ordinary film. The casting, the lighting, the meticulously shot camera work all reveal a masterful attention to detail. The dream sequence also lets audiences know that the story will map internal as well as external events in the life of its main character, a director undergoing a serious life crisis.

Stories like this give writers an opportunity to produce lines, thoughts and impressions that you just can't always easily work into a straight story. In this film there are just so many such lines.

Late in the film Guido laments, "I thought my ideas were so clear. I wanted to make an honest film. No lies whatsoever. I thought I had something so simple to say. Something useful to everybody. A film that could help bury forever all those dead things we carry within ourselves. Instead, I'm the one without the courage to bury anything at all. When did I go wrong? I really have nothing to say, but I want to say it all the same."

And in another place, "All the confusion of my life... has been a reflection of myself! Myself as I am, not as I'd like to be."

The story itself is about a director who is now famous because of a previous great film. He is attempting to live up to the expectation that he can do it again and the pressure is on. His life is very public, and crowded.

The film is also about his relationships with women. And the wife who endures his philandering, his bad behavior, to whom he has not been faithful. Guido is no saint. Nor is he happy, and at one point he confesses as such to the Cardinal.

Guido: “Your Eminence, I am not happy.”
The Cardinal: "Why should you be happy? That is not your task. Who told you we come into this world to be happy?"

Ultimately 8 1/2 is a work of art. Every shot, black and white, could be a movie poster. The scenes flow into one another like life itself. In the end, the engaged viewer takes something away with each new encounter.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Five Minutes with Bluewater Illustrator Todd Tennant

Last week Bluewater Productions announced two additions to their biography comic book line, the first on Lady Gaga in their Fame series and the second about Betty White in their Female Force series. The Female Force series includes features on Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton and Ellen Degeneres among others. And Betty White, who has won seven Emmy awards in her long career, seems to have been a nice complement to the line. Her Bluewater comic sold out in less than a day.

The Betty White story was researched and written by Patrick McCray and illustrated by Todd Tennant. Because I enjoyed the Bluewater comics I'd read, I contacted Tennant. Comic books are just one more way that artists are using their gifts and leaving their mark.

Ennyman: Where are you from? That is, where born and raised, and where are you now?
Todd Tennant: I was born in Harrisburg, PA, but remember nothing about it as my family shortly relocated to Charlotte, N.C., where my memory kicked in. There I saw many movies with my parents when still very young, which visually inspired me to start drawing and making little "books" of the films I saw. I also recall Elvis performing a concert in Charlotte the same year we moved to St. Petersburg, Florida ('59). During the trip down to Florida, my mother bought my brother and I a bunch of comics. I went straight for the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby monster comics (which predated the later Superhero comics, which I also loved later on).

EN: How many comic books have you illustrated?
TT: I have a huge collection of unpublished comics stories. The majority of those were co-created with writer Mike Bogue, some of which can be seen here:

I have illustrated one "Female Force" bio-comic (Betty White), and one graphic novel (It Came From Beneath the Sea... Again!) for Bluewater Productions. For the latter, I illustrated the second half of the graphic novel (Chris Noeth illustrated the first). Both publications will be released this year. Right now I'm working on another bio-comic on the life of Ayn Rand.

EN: What attracted you to doing this kind of illustration work?
TT: Simply the challenge of creating new worlds & environments in a convincing story-telling manner.

EN: What did you learn through doing this project that you did not know beforehand?
TT: I learned a great deal of Betty White's past struggles and accomplishments.

EN: Where do you envision yourself in five year?
TT: Hopefully, illustrating comics and graphic novels on a full-time basis.
Also, I would like to complete and publish some of the stories I co-created with Mike Bogue (i.e: King Komodo.) I'd also love to see Mike's short story Atomic Drive-In illustrated & published as a graphic novel.

For the record, a portion of the proceeds from sale of "Female Force: Betty White" will be donated to the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association of which White was named chairman in 2010.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Piece of Steak

Once upon a time short story writers could make very good money. In the days before movie theaters and television, magazines like The Saturday Evening Post offered some of the best entertainment around. And they paid well to feature these marquis writers on their covers.

A century ago the highest paid of these scribes was a writer named Jack London. London was no artsy fartsy powderpuff sitting on hillsides waiting for inspiration to strike. For Jack London writing was a craft and a discipline. Day in, day out he slammed out one thousand words of prose. By the time his life was cut short at age forty, his output had been immense – as many as fifty volumes of stories, novels, plays and essays.

Many of us know him for the short story “To Build a Fire,” an intense, tightly woven man vs. nature chiller that takes place up in the Klondike. Or perhaps we remember his “Call of the Wild.” And while there are many great London books and stories I could recommend, my all time favorite has to be “A Piece of Steak.”

First published in The Saturday Evening Post, Volume 182, November 1909, “A Piece of Steak” is the tale of an aging boxer. London places a lens on a single fight in boxer Tom King’s life and reveals the motivations, dreams and disappointments of this man’s entire life. It is a study of determination and will. It is also, by extension, a potent picture of the eternal struggle between youth and age, all of it hinging on a piece of steak.


Nothing makes the mouth water like a well-prepared cut of beef. Perhaps that’s why Americans eat more beef than any other meat. Indeed, no meat is more popular than steak. Whether Porterhouse, rib eye, T-bone or top sirloin, we know a good thing when we taste it.

For food value steak contains many nutrients needed by the human body. The vitamins you get from eating steak include niacin, riboflavin, and thiamine. Steak is an excellent source of protein, which is needed to build and maintain body cells. Iron and phosphorous are also important minerals our body requires. Plus it’s an excellent source of energy. Which brings us back to our story.


The opening sentence of “A Piece of Steak” not only tells the whole story, it foreshadows the end as well. “With the last morsel of bread Tom King wiped his plate clean of the last particle of flour gravy and chewed the resulting mouthful in a slow and meditative way.” Tom King is a professional prize fighter who has fallen on hard times. His wife looks on in silence as he wipes his plate clean, a meal of bread and gravy. That morning he’d wakened with a longing for a piece of steak but it was not to be. And for want of this one morsel of nourishment Tom King will later fail.

Tom King’s opponent was a young boxer from New Zealand named Sandel. Since nobody in Australia knew what this kid Sandel was capable of, they were feeding him one of the “old uns.” That was King’s role, and King knew it because he had once been the up and comer, the hungry young fighter seeking fame and fortune.

As Tom King walked the two miles to the arena he reflected on his life as a boxer -- the big money, the sharp, glorious fights, the following of eager flatterers, the slaps on the back “and the glory of it, the yelling houses, the whirlwind finish, the referee’s ‘King wins!’ and his name in the sporting columns next day.”

But King now understood that it was the old ones he had been putting away. He had been Youth, rising. They were Age, sinking. This time, it was King who stood in the way of another young man’s dreams. Sandel was the aspiring young heavyweight. King was the barrier that Sandel would have to pummel his way through.

“And as Tom King thus ruminated, there came to his stolid vision the form of youth, glorious youth, rising exultant and invincible, supple of muscle and silken of skin, with heart and lungs that had never been tired and torn and that laughed at limitation of effort. Yes, youth was the nemesis.”

London’s vivid portrayals of what goes on in the ring are probably unmatched in fiction. In fact, another of Jack London’s boxing stories was so powerful that Gene Tunney, after reading it, announced his retirement. Lest you be kept wondering, in “A Piece of Steak” Sandel puts the older man away. Tom King fought a good fight, careful, deliberate and determined. But youth continually renews itself while the old un’s strength is expended.

This one, on my short list of favorite short stories, is a recommended reading.

EdNote: This is a midly revised reprint of a 2008 post.

Popular Posts