Dah Duit (Hi) and welcome

A blooming day

By Liao Fangzhou Source:Global Times Published

Shanghai's scholars and students of literature joined the city's Irish community  to participate in a daylong pilgrimage reenacting the epic novel Ulysses. The event was in celebration of Bloomsday (June 16, 1904), the day in the life of Leopold Bloom as depicted in the novel and the most important day of the the fictional days in the world of author James Joyce.
Like the Bloomsday festivals currently taking place in Dublin and other parts of the world, the Shanghai celebration involves traveling, very often on foot, across the city wearing symbolic straw hats. At various stops they read episodes from the book, at times over Irish food, drinks and music.
This year's event is supported by the Consulate General of Ireland in Shanghai. It kicked off at Blarney Stone, an Irish pub on Yongkang Road. Lead by Irish Consul General Austin Gormley, professors and students from Shanghai University of International Business and Economics and Tongji University read extracts from chapter 1 to chapter 3.
The group read along the way from the pub to their second stop, including a spontaneous session at the People's Square metro station. "It is the first time Bloomsday has been celebrated at a Shanghai subway station, as well as along Huaihai Road, so we made history today," Gormley noted.
Readings by eight Shanghai Normal University students took place outside the Shanghai Grand Theatre. At 5 pm at Irish bar Tipsy Fiddler, participants from Shanghai International Studies University and Fudan University took over. This session was closed by readings from Irish Fintan Burke, Irish-American Lara Yates, and Ulysses illustrator Robert Berry from the United States.
"Ulysses revolves around Bloom's day from 8 am to 2 am the next morning, and the readings strictly follow that chronological order," Feng Jianming, Irish literature professor from Shanghai University of International Business and Economics, told the Global Times. "Therefore, we do the 'morning' chapters at the first pub, go on to the 'afternoon' chapters in the afternoon, and finish late for the 'evening' chapters."
But it was a one-hour lecture and exhibit from Robert Berry at the second stop, at the Shanghai Grand Theatre, that Vice Consul General Eoghan Duffy called the center piece of the event.
Intimidatingly difficult
During a past Bloomsday in Philadelphia, Berry's home where he teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, he met Joycean expert Michael Barsanti in a pub and had the idea of producing a graphic novel adaptation of the intimidatingly difficult book as a gateway for a new generation of readers.
In 2010 he conceived the Ulysses 'SEEN,' an app featuring its comic adaptation, which thus far includes the first four chapters. They are accompanied by a page-by-page reader's guide, dramatis personae (a list of the main characters in a dramatic work) and pop-up translations of non-English passages.
Berry displayed parts of his adaptation to the audience, demonstrating how he uses the language of comics to help readers absorb the complex mixture of narratives, speaking and thoughts while approaching the original text's deeper mysteries.
"For example, with a word balloon, you still have a reading experience unlike in films, but you can see who is talking," Berry explained. "Comics allow a certain level of immediate flow and visualization of the events."
When sharing his own take on the book, Berry said that reading it for the first time is a little bit like being drawn to the center of a foreign city, which makes reading and lecturing the novel in Shanghai and other Chinese cities particularly meaningful for him.
"You may kind of know some of the things around you, you may kind of know where to go and what to do, but you actually have to live in that city for a while to get a sense of all that it can be," Berry pointed out.
Berry is also the illustrator of the 100th anniversary edition of "The Dead," the final short story in Joyce's 1914 collection Dubliners. Participants took their time appreciating examples of his beautiful illustrations displayed at the lecture hall.

Irish literature students at the event told the Global Times that they were still in process of reading through Ulysses, and were happy to use Berry's ongoing digital project - which will be completed in 2022, the 100th anniversary of the book's publication - as a much-needed guide.

In 1962, six year old John Tuohy, his two brothers and two sisters entered Connecticut’s foster care system and were prompltyl spilit apart. Over the next ten years, John would live in more then ten foster homes, group homes and state schools, from his native Waterbury to Ansonia, New Haven, West Haven, Deep River and Hartford. In the end, a decade later, the state returned him to the same home and the same parents they had taken him from. As tragic as is funny complelling story will make you cry and laugh as you journey with this child to overcome the obsticales of the foster care system and find his dreams.

I swear I hate to brag and I’m not really, I’m sharing my joy and wonder with all of you.

No Time to Say Goodbye: A Memoir of a Life in Foster Care

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by Brett Foster

A great variety of people are looking forward to reading and digesting Pope Francis’s new encyclical, Laudato Si, which the Vatican officially releases today.
I am as interested in reading it as the next person, but maybe not immediately. That comment may understandably demand some defense, or at least some context. Currently, I am sitting in a friend’s cottage in West Moveen, in the far west side of County Clare, Ireland, and less than a mile from the Atlantic’s breakers crashing upon the  Munster cliffs. I am restfully reveling—if that be possible—in a few uneventful days here devoted to rereading some of the great Irish authors, including Yeats, Joyce, Patrick Kavanagh, and Seamus Heaney. This reading sequence has also involved more recent poetry collections by Eavan Boland and Dennis O’Driscoll, not only his Dear Life, released in the United States last year, but also one I found on a shelf here called Update: Poems 2011-12, which appears to be an assembly of the last poems found on one of O’Driscoll’s computer documents after his death. You see, I am currently writing beneath four tall shelves filled with Irish literature and history. For my tastes, this cottage may be the best place in the country for a few days of reminding myself what both deep and diverse reading feels like, the Irish National Library notwithstanding. (I’m pretty sure it is more comfortable here.)
It is also a great time for such a reading marathon. Saturday marked the 15oth anniversary of W. B. Yeats’s birth. There were many festivities in Sligo, to the north of here, but I paid my respects by revisiting poems in a small selected volume found on these bountiful shelves. His poem “The Magi” resonated with me and my sense of these shaken times, into which the pope’s encyclical will likely speak. Like the title characters’ “ancient faces,” we too are seekers “Being by Calvary’s turbulence unsatisfied,” and hoping to find “The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.” Or maybe, conversely, we feel that too much is beyond control already, and wish for nothing of the magi’s sort.
Then, only two days later, it was Bloomsday, a celebration of James Joyce that has an international scale, but whose epicenter is in Dublin, the setting of Joyce’s grand Modernist novel Ulysses. I contemplated driving the few hours from County Clare to Dublin to take in the readings and other festivities firsthand, but shrugged off the urge, opting instead to read from The Essential Joyce already here and awaiting me. I savored especially its “Nestor” episode from Ulysses. The figure standing in for the old, talkative, over-advising Greek hero Nestor is Mr. Deasy, headmaster at the school where the brooding young man Stephan Dedalus works. In one scene, Deasy pays Dedalus his wages from his “savingsbox,” and while waiting, the young man moves his hand over the “shells heaped in the cold stone mortar.” He identifies one as the “scallop of Saint James. An old pilgrim’s hoard, dead treasure, hollow shells.” Soon Dedalus hastily stuffs his wages in his pocket, which Deasy disapproves of—he advises his employee to obtain a savings box of his own. The debt-ridden Dedalus is hardly listening. But he does touch again those shells, and has a different thought this time, one he sets alongside his, and many others’, desperate finances: “Symbols too of beauty and of power. A lump in my pocket. Symbols soiled by greed and misery.” Mr. Deasy also advises, “Put money in thy purse,” to which Dedalus dryly identifies where the quotation comes from— Iago, one of Shakespeare’s greatest villains.
What does this week of reading have to do with the new papal encyclical? Well, let me describe here a final reverberation of texts, one being the anticipated encyclical and its author, and the other, or two others, by the deeply humane Irish contemporary poet Seamus Heaney, Ireland’s last Nobel Laureate. You’ll forgive the possibly strained association when I mention that I’ve been rereading great gobs of Heaney’s poetry this week, and came across his poem “Saint Francis and the Birds” in Death of a Naturalist, the poet’s debut volume from 1966. (My copy is a recent Faber edition, handsome with its bright-orange spine but, more importantly, tiny—a highly portable selection for summer travels.)
The poem opens with St. Francis preaching love to the birds, which “listened, fluttered, throttled up / Into the blue like a flock of words,” released by the saint’s lips, and implicitly the freeing Gospel message they were espousing. Immediately, though, they return to the fold, so to speak, whirring about the saint’s head and “Pirouetted on brothers’ capes.” This isn’t a Hitchcockian turn, however. The birds’ activity is not menacing at all, but “sheer joy” sparks their flying and singing. Heaney’s speaker declares the birds, or perhaps the uplifting scene itself, “the best poem Francis made.” The final line, set apart form the preceding three tercets, is likewise declarative, more powerfully for being tersely so: “His argument true. His tone light.”
I am struck that the truthfulness and light tone ascribed to the saint could just as easily describe the poem’s birds: there is a sweet truth in the tableau of the birds’ being made joyous and energetic upon hearing Francis’s words. Their tone, you might say, has been lightened. If the attribution does feel malleable at the end, then it reflects nicely, and pairs with, the opening shift of identification. Francis is preaching, but the birds soon take flight “like a flock of words.” It is this phrase that resonates with me on the occasion of the release of the pope’s first encyclical. In the poem, it is as if Francis by his words transforms the birds into words. Our situation is more complicated, or maybe less complicated. The encyclical’s text will be Pope Francis’s words, or his and his committee of advisors, but Christian believers of all stripes—American Catholics conservative and less so, Catholics and non-Catholics, and non-believers, too, for that matter—will soon participate in, are already doing so, are already becoming, a “flock of words.” And that is fine, but will we also allow ourselves that experience of “wheeling back” that is so enjoyed by the birds in Heaney’s poem?
I don’t know, and I am not even sure what that could look like for the flock in the largest sense, for it seems pretty apparent by now that the first papal encyclical from Francis promises to be rather confrontational, and likely divisive. A call for action on climate change is a central focus, leading one Republican energy lobbyist and conservative Catholic, quoted in The New York Times, to state, “For the real churchgoers, this is going to be an indictment of the pope.” He referred to the encyclical’s focus as a the pope selling a “line of Latin-American-style socialism,” a veiled reference to Liberation theology, and judged him as not “in sync” with the American Catholic Church.
Some of this may be true, and certainly Pope Francis is a controversial figure, nowhere more so, paradoxically, than among Catholic believers. Among my Catholic friends in the United States, most would agree that his tone has been light compared with his predecessor (some approving of this and some not), but there would be far less consensus, regarding this pope, on Heaney’s speaker’s first claim for Saint Francis: “His argument true.”
Let me conclude with a second poem by Heaney, arguably the other poem in his oeuvre prominently about a saint. (His superb sequence “Station Island” is set on the holy island and pilgrimage site in Lough Derg, County Donegal, known as Saint Patrick’s Purgatory, and Heaney appropriates the context of Christ’s showing Patrick the entrance of Purgatory to create his own modern Irish version of Dante’s Purgatorio.) “St Kevin and the Blackbird” in its similarly structured title may seem to revisit Heaney’s earlier poem about Francis, published thirty years earlier. This second poem appeared in The Spirit Level (1996), shortly after Heaney was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. (The poem may best be found in Opened Ground, a generous and recommended selected volume of Heaney’s poetry.)
The first section, comprising the first four tercets of the poem’s eight total stanzas, narrates Saint Kevin’s kneeling in prayer and outstretching his arms in a cell so narrow that “one up-turned palm is out the window, stiff / As a crossbeam.” Soon a blackbird lands in his palm and incubates its egg. The physical, tactile acuity for which Heaney is known now displays itself: “Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked / Neat head and claws.” Finding himself “linked / Into the network of eternal life,” the saint is moved to pity. He leaves his arm and hand outspread for weeks, “Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown.”
But this is only half of the poem. The second half addresses the reader directly: imagine being Kevin. The speaker then asks, which is he, self-forgetful or in agony? Heaney’s continued focus on physical details more or less favors the latter option without saying it. Kevin’s neck and forearms must have hurt so. Could he finally feel his hands, his knees? “Is there distance in his head?” the poem wonders. At the end, Heaney has it both ways: the saint’s body is in agony, but it is also the agonized body that makes his prayer entirely, “For he has forgotten self,” and along with it has forgotten “bird” (not “the bird” or “the birds,” as if the designation is universal) and the name of the river on whose bank he resides.
This last move of Heaney’s improves the poem by precluding a simpler reading of Saint Kevin as sacrificial proto-environmentalist, though some may still be inclined to see him as such. The major presence in the poem is indeed sacrifice, but, to my mind and readerly bent, it refuses to be circumscribed in its origin or motivation. Tom Sleigh, a fellow poet, in a recent essay on his friend Heaney writes of a conversation in “St. Kevin and the Blackbird” that bypasses “both his [Kevin’s] holiness and his achy shoulders.” Sleigh’s focus is on care and “bodily fellow feeling,” and that last phrase strikes me as a useful means of appreciating better that plumbless quality of sympathy throughout Heaney’s work, a quality many have marveled at in the current pope. That sensitivity to bodily feeling “pervades” Heaney’s writing, Sleigh asserts, adding that in Heaney “bodily pleasure and bodily harm have been the secular equivalents of the crucifixion and resurrection.” Sleigh does not seek out a secular equivalent for the sacrifice at the center of the poem (different from the pain or agony itself, I would assert), or even mention the word, but that is ok: I suppose that the secular equivalent for the poem’s Christian or hagiographic depiction of sacrifice is . . . sacrifice.
Sacrifice promises to be one of Pope Francis’s themes in the new encyclical, but will it be accepted, or acceptable, to a wide swath of Catholics? A response to climate challenges, the pope allegedly writes in a draft of the encyclical leaked earlier this week in Italy, “requires honesty, courage, and responsibility, especially by the most powerful and polluting countries.” That note on the “most powerful” tacitly gives nod to the powerless and the “poor church for the poor” for which Francis has been advocating.
This much seems clear from this pairing of two poems of Seamus Heaney in retrospect with the prospect of Pope Francis’s first encyclical: a sense of any affinity between the figures must begin with their origins and formations— Francis’s Latin-American ministry and Heaney’s Irish upbringing and poetic identity. That is, they hail from places that know economic or political oppression, or worse. Heaney was born at a family farm, Mossbawn, in Northern Ireland, and that earliest book, Death of a Naturalist, is full of rural laborers and the working poor. “Old dough-faced women with black shawls / Drawn down tight kneel in the stalls,” he writes in “Poor Women in a City Cburch,” and in “At a Potato Digging,” we find “A people hungering since birth, / Grubbing, like plants, in the earth.” Of course there’s a reference there to The Great Hunger during the nineteenth century, and unsurprisingly the very next poem, “For the Commander of the Eliza,” dramatizes a patrol’s unwillingness to feed or assist a boat of all but starved men suicidally setting out from County Mayo.
Likewise, one finds dotting the Irish landscape and filling its guidebooks the ruins of religious buildings and presence of many a castle and fortress, reminders of Cromwell’s deprivations of Ireland and its culture in the seventeenth century.
These events do not feel too far in the distant past in Ireland. Some of the ruins may be approaching near oblivion, but Ireland’s citizens are anything but oblivious to them, and nor are its tourists. The other day, I was sitting and working in a pub in Kilkee, and there was a news feature on the telly overhanging the bar about tension among EU countries about waves of immigrants approaching by sea, mainly from destabilized areas and combat zones in Africa and the Middle East. Italy and Greece are unfairly bearing the brunt of this crisis, one side claims, whereas countries such as France have lately refused to allow such immigrants entrance.
The female barkeep reacted to news of this refusal in a powerful—personally felt because still nationally felt—way, by invoking Ireland’s own history of mass migration caused by the great famine. “What about us and our people?” she exclaimed to the half dozen or so men present, sipping their Guinness’s. “What would have happened to us if America had shown us such refusal? Where would we be?” It sounded to me, thanks to her vivid, up-close historical perspective, like a case of “bodily fellow feeling,” and maybe even, to quote Heaney’s “St Kevin” poem one last time, a glimpsed link “Into the network of eternal life.”

Brett Foster is associate professor of English at Wheaton College.

The Quotable Oscar Wilde: How Oscar Wilde cracked America

The Quotable Oscar Wilde: How Oscar Wilde cracked America: The story of Wilde's coming to America is also the story of modern celebrity. BY PHILIP HOARE PUBLISHED 4 JUNE, 2015 - 14:06 ...

Finnegans Wake

“Hohohoho, Mister Finn, you’re going to be Mister Finnagain! Come-day morm and, O, you’re vine! Sendday’s eve and, ah, you’re vinegar! Hahahaha, Mister Funn, you’re going to be fined again!” James Joyce, Finnegans Wake  

Love and longing, freedom and bondage haunt Edna O'Brien's short stories in the collection 'The Love Object'


Earl Pike, Special to The Plain Dealer  By  Earl Pike, Special to The Plain Dealer  

The Love Object: Selected Stories
By Edna O'Brien
Little, Brown, 525 pp., $30

It may be unprecedented – it is at least highly unusual – for a single author to give two separate books the same title. Edna O'Brien's first volume of short stories, published in 1968, was called "The Love Object and Other Stories." Her most recent volume, released in May of this year, is "The Love Object: Selected Stories" (Little, Brown, 525 pp., $30).
This could lead to search-engine confusion, but it also, in a peculiar way, serves to bookend a half-century of writing by the doyenne of Irish literature and perhaps one of the most gifted short-story writers alive.
"The Love Object" is a collection of 31 pieces spanning five decades. O'Brien's most devoted readers, who have already had the opportunity to read eight previous volumes of short fiction, will find nothing new. But for those acquainted with O'Brien mainly through her many novels (going all the way back to 1960), "The Love Object" will serve as an ample feast composed of smaller portions, and a judiciously selected menu of her recurring themes, tropes and literary concerns.
O'Brien's stories embrace expanded domesticities that unfold across omnipresent Irish landscapes, exploring personified themes of love and longing, subversive sexuality, inscriptions of gender, class and bondage, and the continually sublimated but sometimes seething tensions between the moorings of tradition and the freedom of escape, self-creation.
Her Ireland is a "land of shame, a land of murder, and a land of strange sacrificial women," where individuals face dilemmas that offer both possibility and bondage, and "by such choices we gradually become exiles, until at last we are quite alone."
In "The Creature," the connecting threads between teacher and student, mother and son, are severed. "Sister Imelda" explores the life of a nun as both submission and rebellion, narrated through small, everyday acts. The story "The Love Object" details an affair, from its sparking flash of lust through its complicated negotiations of rules, meanings and incomplete resolutions.
"Old Wounds" illuminates the power of memory and familial bonds against age, decay, the dying of the light. In "Irish Revel," 17-year-old Mary, a country girl, attends a party for the first time; her romantic idealizations of what it will be like are deflated by the sloppy drunkenness of the male partygoers and the realization that she had been invited primarily as kitchen help – like many of O'Brien's stories, "Irish Revel" is marked by displaced identity and loneliness set against hopes for a better, fuller life.
Throughout, sometimes as ghosts and shadows, but sometimes more overtly through such pieces as "Black Flower," "Green Georgette" and "Shovel Kings," the reality of Ireland, as a working-class nation, with hard soil and harder histories, through all its wars and Troubles, is always there.
O'Brien is not a floral writer; her prose is earthen and solid, plain and descriptive. "You are passing through, on your way to something livelier" is not a particularly ornate depiction of a small village, but it is elegantly descriptive and familiarly evocative.
It is a kind of writing that serves the characters, rather than burying them in language. It's no surprise, then, that the reader so regularly identifies with the collection's inhabitants: The men and women, boys and girls throughout, are us, or someone near to us.
"The Love Object" is less a catalog than a kind of humanist Rosary – and each bead, each story, is a prayer, a meditation, a supplication, a lament, a confession.
We rub the hard beads between soft fingers, not as a gesture of intellectual decoding, but as an act of sensing, feeling our way into O'Brien's created lives, the mysteries of common human experience, where the everyday is profound and gently affecting, and the profane becomes sacred.

Pike is a critic in Cleveland Heights.

No Time To Say Goodbye: A Memoir of Life in Foster Care: I used to be Irish Catholic.

No Time To Say Goodbye: A Memoir of Life in Foster Care: I used to be Irish Catholic.: I used to be Irish Catholic. Now I’m an American—you grow.                                                                        ...

A sample chapter from my new book "No Time to Say Goodbye: memoirs of a Life in Foster Care" now on Amazon

                                         FIRST DANCE, FIRST KISS, SORT OF

Summer came and went and autumn arrived. That September, the Catholic Youth Organization sponsored a Harvest Moon Dance in the basement of the Assumption church and everybody who was anybody in my universe was going.
  Around the block from us lived a cute little girl named Susie Barton, and I asked her if she wanted to go to the dance with me. “But not as a date,” I said, although I have no idea why I said that. To my surprise she said yes, but I was reluctant to be happy about it because at that point in my life every silver lining seemed to have a cloud.
  On the big night, I showered, shaved the end of my chin—the only place where I was beginning to sprout a beard, a matter of grave concern to me—and laved myself in Old Spice cologne. I had at least four full bottles ofOld Spice stored away from Christmas gifts past. I didn’t know that Old Spice was a cologne and not an aftershave, and when I splashed it on my freshly shaven face, I felt as if my cheeks were on fire and I cried out, “Jesus God in Heaven!”
 Cologne and fair-skinned people don’t work well together, and my cheeks and chin turned apple red. When I left the house I looked like a tomato in a tie and sports coat, albeit a well-dressed tomato.
  Aside from the abnormal bright red glow on my face, I thought I looked spiffy and Mod—a short-lived ’60s fashion—in my then-stylish paisley-patterned vegetable motif tie that stood out brilliantly against my white Oxford-collared shirt, the only type of buttoned-down shirt I and most other Catholic school boys owned.
  I topped that off with a double-breasted blue jacket that I thought made me look swinging-London-ish in a working-class American way, but actually probably made me look like a member of the Gambino crime family in training. Under my tan peg-leg pants was the pièce de résistance, a new pair of shiny oxblood penny loafers. I left the house hearing wolf calls from Denny.
  A hardworking kid with a profitable paper route and a burgeoning weekend yard-maintenance business, I had a healthy pile of cash built up from shoveling snow and collecting returnable bottles. That day I bought Susie a dozen roses for twelve dollars, a staggering amount, I thought, and a box of Whitman’s Sampler chocolates, the middle-sized box. I was a romantic but also incredibly frugal.
 I collected the roses and chocolates from under the trash can where I had hidden them, because if I had brought them into the house the ribbing from Denny would never have ended. It would have been the best thing that ever happened in his life.
  At Susie’s house on Winter Street I rang the doorbell and her mother, father, younger brothers, sister, and dog came to answer it. They just stood there, smiling and staring at me, except for the little brother, who was embarrassed by it all and covered his eyes and giggled.
  After a while, I said, “Hi.”
  And they all said “Hi” back at one time and stared at me some more.
  “Oh doesn’t he look so cute?” Mrs. Barton said, as though I weren’t there to hear it, and then, without warning, she took a flash photo of me, blinding me. Finally, the little brother called out, “Susie! That stupid guy is here for you!”
  And I thought, “Oh, God, please kill me now.”
  Her mother and father greeted me, and I mumbled  “Hello.”
  “You seem tense,” Susie’s father said.
  “Yes, sir,” I answered, but I wasn’t tense, I was just being me. In the parlor Susie was standing by the fireplace, wearing a Mod polka-dot miniskirt, or what passed for a miniskirt in those days; tons of department-store-bought jewelry, and her hair was up in curls on one side, which I’m pretty sure was the fashion that year. She was slightly taller than I but wore new black shoes that didn’t seem to have any heels. She had that makeup stuff all over her face. She looked nice.
  Her still-smiling parents and brothers and sisters were standing between us but the dog had moved. He was now standing in front of me with his head in my crotch. Susie smiled and said, “What happened to your face?”
  “I don’t know,” I shrugged, and thought to myself, “God, I don’t ask you for much, but please kill me now.”
  Her mother kept saying, “Oh, this is so precious.”     
   “Should we go?” I asked, and Susie draped a white homemade shawl over her shoulders and walked with me to the front door, her family walking in step less than six inches behind us. When I turned and shook her father’s hand, he lit up and beamed to his wife. “Look at that, honey; he shakes hands, isn’t that nice?” as if I was a dog who had learned to give paw.
   “Oh, this is so precious,” the mother answered.     
   One of her brothers said, “You look like a dork,” and I thought, “God, why don’t you ever kill people like that? Simple bolt of lightning—”
   When I stepped out into the cool October night, I sighed an enormous breath of relief and lifted my eyes to look at the stars that were shining brilliantly. Mrs. Barton released her last “Oh, this is so precious” as we walked off into that beautiful night.
  Susie and I had what can best be described as a “clipped” conversation on the short walk to the school. She said something polite and then lowered her head and pulled her lips together tightly and I could tell she was thinking, “Oh what a stupid thing to say.” I knew because I was pretty much an expert at saying stupid things.
  I had planned to display what the French call sang-froid, or urbane cool, but so far that wasn’t working out, so I gave up on it. That wasn’t me. Not then and not now. I was, and remain, a talkative, mostly happy and uncool kid with nervous tics, and all I was doing with that stupid cool thing was making a nice girl nervous.
  I stopped in mid-step, looked myself up and down and said “John, you look fantastic!” and then I turned to her and said, “Well, that’s enough about what I think of me. What do you think of me?”
  It broke the ice. She had a fine sense of humor and when she laughed, she pulled her head backwards and closed her eyes and then looked at me. It was pretty good. Relaxed and acting like teenagers again, we enjoyed the rest of the night. I wowed her with my breathtaking dance steps and mastery over the Watusi, the Hitchhiker, the Frug, the Monkey and a little step I invented in the privacy of the shower called the Limbo Twister, which, to my amazement, never really caught on.
  When the dance ended, we walked home. By then the temperature had dropped to about forty degrees. The moon was out in full bloom and lit up the streets. We walked along in silence, both happy about a wonderful evening and sad that it was ending. She shivered and, without a word, I removed my sports coat and draped it over her shoulders. She looked at me and smiled and it surprised me, because I had been certain she would shove me away.
  We kicked the leaves as we walked along and looking down, she said, “My feet are as big as boats,” although she seemed to be talking to herself more than to me. I didn’t know how to answer that so I looked up at the moon, but there was no script hidden there for me to read. My stupid lips went dry and stuck to my buck teeth and for a moment I looked like Humphrey Bogart. So I stared at her feet and said, “Yeah, I dunno, I guess.”
  After another second had passed I added, “But you’re pretty, pretty,” and as soon as I said it I thought, “Pretty, pretty? John, you’re an idiot.” But she squeezed my hand and when I looked at her I saw her entire lovely face was aglow with a wonderful smile, the kind of smile you get when you have won something.
  “Why do you rub your fingers together all the time?” she asked me, and I felt the breath leave my body and gasped for air. She had seen me do my crazy finger thing, my affliction. I clenched my teeth while I searched for a long, exaggerated lie to tell her about why I did what I did. I didn’t want to be the crazy kid with tics, I wanted to be James Bond 007, so slick ice avoided me.
  “It’s okay,” she said. “I bite my nails, see?” and she showed me the backs of her hands. Her finger nails were painted a color I later learned was puce.
  “My Dad, he blinks all the time, he doesn’t know why either,” she continued. She looked down her feet and said, “I shouldn’t have asked you that. I’m really nervous and I say stupid things when I’m nervous. I’m a girl and this is my first date, and for girls this really is a very big deal.”
  I understood completely. I was so nervous I couldn’t feel my toes, so I started moving them up and down to make sure they were still there.
   “It’s all right,” I said. “I don’t know why I do that with my fingers; it’s a thing I do.”
   “Well, you’re really cute when you do it,” she said.
   “I know,” I said, and I don’t know why I said it, but I did.
   Near her home, there was an old abandoned carriage house on the Renahan estate and the wide driveway that led to it was lined by tall pine trees whose branches reached out across the drive and touched each other like old, dear friends.
  We stopped walking and looked at her house, whose lights seemed to intrude on the calm night. Instinctively we clasped hands and walked down the drive and sat on the large marble doorstep of the carriage house. Thin slivers of moonbeams sparkled through the protective covering of the pines and we drank in the beauty of it all, she looking off into the nearby woods and me looking at her.
  Without a word, I leaned forward to kiss her, at the exact moment that she turned to say something and her forehead crashed into my rather long nose. I recoiled, and she reached out to touch me at the exact moment I leaned forward again and her fingernail went in my eye. When I brought my hand up protectively my finger got caught in her loop earring and I thought, “You know, God, I really don’t deserve this.”
  The moment passed. Her ear was bleeding slightly, I had a welt on my nose and water was pouring out of my left eye  When we got to her house, we talked about the dance for a second and then a curtain moved. The porch light went on.
  “Goodnight, and thank you,” she said. I nodded and smiled and said, “Yeah, and God thank you.” I walked away a few feet, turned, and said, “That was supposed to be ‘Yeah and goodnight and thank you’.” And then I prayed for death, yelling at God from inside my head, “What? You can’t spare a bolt of lightning?”
   Then she touched my hand and laughed and I relaxed and she whispered, “Come here.” I came forward a few feet and she kissed me and turned and ran slowly into the house wearing my sports coat. When I walked home the dark the cold was gone and all I felt was warmth and happiness. And I said to God, “You know there, God, sometimes life is pretty good and this is one of those times.”