Vol. 12, No. 2,856W - The American Reporter - March 18, 2006

Ink Soup

by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
Seattle, Wash.

SEATTLE, Wash. -- I am writing this on the night of the full moon, so you have been warned. But there is an up side to insomnia: columns written while the writer is wide, even painfully, awake, tend to be more interesting-all right, lucid--than those written while he is in his more customary somnolent mode.

There. I have committed every known form of mistake in the introduction: to hint at romance (full moon), to promise alertness, even greater interest, and to refer to oneself three times in two sentences.

o o o

The stranger the worship service at my church is, the more good it does me, probably. My desire for a simple, quiet service, something sublimely dull, like those in the Church of England chapel at the bottom of Church Lane in Hampstead, is a desire for my own comfort. Sunday morning service at my church here in Seattle starts with Jerry L., a man even whiter than I am, singing a Negro spiritual, followed by applause. Applause! Dave Shull preaches a sermon with laugh lines ("A religious fanatic is one who does what God would do-if God had all the facts.") In the midst of the sermon, an actor gives a dramatic reading of a Biblical passage. All this time, I feel myself overcoming my resistance, being drawn along, thinking that during my long obstinate absence from church worship, that worship changed, and I have some catching up to do.

o o o

At the gym I noticed the teeshirt on a tall, muscular kid. It said "It is Jesus who gives me strength." When he came into the sauna later I said I admired his tee-shirt. We got to talking. He is Chinese, from the Japanese island of Okinawa, and the shirt comes from what he called his Christian high school. His name is Joshua (not his real, Chinese name, just the one that we hopeless occidentals can manage).

I was on the point of introducing Joshua to Frank, when something in the latter's demeanor gave me pause. I was right. He said that Dr. K, my podiatrist, had just fired him as her receptionist, his fault being that he reminded her of her recently estranged husband! He said, "It's my fault. I got off on the wrong foot with her." I said something consoling and only later, climbing the stairs, realized that he had made a little joke.

o o o

Today I heard from Michael Millman, my old editor at Penguin, for the first time in years. He sent me the completely unexpected new editions of two of the books that I did for him - the Portable 20th-Century Russian Reader and Zamyatin's novel We. Brand new covers, very chic.

And, on the down side, news of a letter from the estate of Yury Olesha demanding royalties on Envy, the centerpiece of the Reader, which is now newly protected by some sort of copyright redivivus. Back when I translated it, "Envy," like practically every other work of the Soviet period, was in the public domain. I wrote to say that his idea of publishing it as a separate book (making some deal with the Olesha estate) was okay with me, so long as I did not have to write a new introduction, since one does not tamper with perfection.

Making a deal with the estate of Olesha! Imagine the heirs of Dante suing my old colleague Bob Hollander, first among Dante scholars, for not having mailed in the royalties for "The Divine Comedy" on time.

Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.

Copyright 2006 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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