Las Vegas, NV
May 20, 2020
Garrison Keillor hits Las Vegas with a new solo show!
April 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor comes to the Rochester Civic Theatre for a night of stories, songs, poetry, and humor. Tickets $50 and up
February 19, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 2 of 2. Tickets $30+
February 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 1 of 2. Tickets $30+
Feeding the Worms
by Danusha Laméris
Ever since I found out that earth worms have taste buds
all over the delicate pink strings of their bodies,
I pause dropping apple peels into the compost bin, imagine
the dark, writhing ecstasy, the sweetness of apples
permeating their pores. I offer beets and parsley,
avocado, and melon, the feathery tops of carrots.
I’d always thought theirs a menial life, eyeless and hidden,
almost vulgar—though now, it seems, they bear a pleasure
so sublime, so decadent, I want to contribute however I can,
forgetting, a moment, my place on the menu.
“Feeding the Worms” from Bonfire Opera by Danusha Laméris, © 2020. Aired by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press. (buy now)
It’s the birthday of German-American satirist, cultural critic, and journalist H.L. Mencken (1880) (books by this author), born Henry Louis Mencken in Baltimore, Maryland, where he lived his entire life. Mencken was sometimes called the “Sage of Baltimore” or the “Bard of Baltimore” for his acerbic, pungent critiques of American life and politics.
Mencken’s father owned a cigar factory, and the family lived in an attractive row house in Union Square. Except for five years of married life, Mencken lived in that house until the day he died. When he was seven, his father gave him a printing press, which Mencken later said was one of the things that inspired him to become a journalist. His other inspiration was Mark Twain. He discovered Huckleberry Finn at nine and called it “the most stupendous event in my life.” After high school, his father gave him two choices: he could go to college or he could work in the cigar factory. Mencken chose the factory, which he hated, but he also took one of the very first correspondence courses ever offered: a class in writing from Cosmopolitan University. He later joked it was his sole journalism training.
After his father died of a stroke, Mencken began hounding the offices of the Morning Herald, finally talking himself into a job. Within two years, he was the drama critic. Within three years, he was the city editor. A year later, he was the managing editor. Mencken once said, “I believe that a young journalist, turned loose in a large city, had more fun than any other man.”
Mencken’s column, “The Free Lance,” which ran in the Baltimore Sun for 18 years, was nationally syndicated and made him quite famous for his caustic views on politics, culture, and science. In 1931, he referred to the state of Arkansas as “an apex of moronia,” and the legislature there passed a motion to pray for his soul. About Isaac Newton, he said: “[Isaac Newton] was a mathematician, which is mostly hogwash, too. Imagine measuring infinity! That’s a laugh.”
In 1925, Mencken traveled all the way to Tennessee to cover the famous trial of John Thomas Scopes, a high school teacher who’d been arrested for daring to teach evolutionary theory. It was Mencken who gave the trial its infamous name: the “Monkey Trial,” and who convinced famous defense attorney Clarence Darrow to offer his services to John Scopes. In the play Inherit the Wind (1955), which was based on the Scopes trial, the character of E.K. Hornbeck, a blustering, cynical atheist, was based on Mencken. Mencken was also an editor of The Smart Set, a witty literary magazine that published many up-and-coming authors, like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Edna St. Vincent Millay.
Mencken was a prolific letter writer, often penning more than 60 letters a day, which turned out to be more than 100,000 letters during his lifetime. In between writing his columns, he published more than 30 books, including the memoir trilogy Happy Days (1940), Newspaper Days (1941), and Heathen Days (1943). He also wrote The American Language, a multivolume study of how English language is spoken in the United States, which is now considered a classic. Until he was 50 years old, Mencken was called “America’s Best Known Bachelor,” having published numerous screeds against marriage in his columns. But he’d fallen in love, and he got married, and one newspaper quipped, “Bachelors of the nation are aghast, and sore afraid, like a sheep without a leader.” Mencken responded: “The Holy Spirit informed and inspired me. Like all other infidels, I am superstitious and always follow hunches: this one seemed to be a superb one.”
Mencken’s wife died five years after they married. He was heartbroken. He criticized President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and didn’t support the New Deal, and his popularity waned. He never fully recovered from a stroke (1948) and died in 1956.
H.L. Mencken said, “The two main ideas that run through all of my writing, whether it be literary criticism or political polemic are these: I am strong in favor of liberty and I hate fraud.”
Cave paintings were discovered in Lascaux, France, on this date in 1940. Four French teenagers and their dog, Robot, stumbled upon the caves while they were out exploring one day. The main cave is approximately 66 feet wide and 16 feet high, and is connected to a number of smaller chambers. Assigning a precise date to the art on the cave walls has been difficult. Scientists used carbon dating to estimate the age of some charcoal found in the caves, and according to that method, the drawings are about 17,000 years old.
There are about 2,000 drawings and engravings, mostly of animals: horses, bison, red deer, stags, cats, and aurochs — large, black cattle-like animals that are now extinct. There are also human figures, various geometric shapes, and the outlines of human hands — possibly the signatures of the artists. The chambers have been given dramatic names, like the Great Hall of the Bulls, the Chamber of Felines, and the Shaft of the Dead Man. There also appears to be an Ice Age star chart: clusters of stars that resemble known constellations like Taurus the Bull, the Summer Triangle, and the Pleiades.
Today is the birthday of French scientist Irène Joliot-Curie, born in Paris (1897). She was the daughter of Pierre and Marie Curie. She was homeschooled as part of an educational experiment run by her parents and their friends. Called “The Cooperative,” the adults — all experts in their respective fields — took turns teaching one another’s children. She then studied at the Sorbonne, but World War I interrupted her university career, so she helped her mother operate mobile X-ray units in field hospitals instead.
She began assisting her mother in the lab at the Institute of Radium at the University of Paris when she was 21. That’s where she met a young chemical engineer named Frédéric Joliot; they were married in 1926, and in 1935, the husband and wife team won the Nobel Prize in chemistry, for artificially creating radioactive elements. Unfortunately, like her mother, Joliot-Curie developed leukemia as a result of her close work with radioactive substances; she died in 1956, at the age of 58.
Physicist James Chadwick wrote of her: “She knew her mind and spoke it, sometimes perhaps with devastating frankness; but her remarks were informed with such regard for scientific truth and with such conspicuous sincerity that they commanded the greatest respect in all circumstances.”
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®