by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
February 13, 2001
NUP, PILLS, AND HECK
SEATTLE, Wsh. -- The fire that I've just started in the grate of my study might serve to counter some of the bad news to be found this morning in two newspapers. The Chronicle of Higher Education brings the tidings that the Northwestern University Press is rumored to be about to close... again. I never knew they'd been shut down before.
And the Wall Street Journal prints depressing results about the side effects of many of the drugs used to lower cholesterol: muscular aches and memory loss. My doctor has said he will put me on one of these things if I do not cut back on the eggs, bacon, and fried potatoes for breakfast. (What else is there?) )
Northwestern has just brought out a reprint of my translation of Osip Mandelstam's "Noise of Time," originally published by Princeton, which let it go out of print.
Literally hours after I'd signed the contract with NUP, the New York Review of Books asked me to let them reprint it.
Talk about bad luck. But that is the theme of Mandelstam's life, if not of mine. My loss in the case of NUP's closing is nothing as compared to that of a young person whose first book, the make-or-break event in a professional life, was just about to appear.
As for the pills ... well, a long life is desirable, but only under conditions that are acceptable.
Acceptable conditions must include Emma Duchin, my granddaughter and consultant on this column. She is three.
Emma was under my so-called care today from one until five, and I was never more than a few feet away from her. I have enough material to make ten columns, though readers of INK SOUP are probably fed up with the grandfatherly schtik.
But it's my column, right?
Peering into her dollhouse, she saw something strange and said: W-h-a-t the heck is this!? It is not so much the language as the absolutely authentic lilt that she gives to it. I nearly fell off the sofa.
When the time comes she will probably be able to turn the air blue. I told her mother that the "F" word could not be far behind -- they'd better sanitize her linguistic environment as best they can.
I made up a game of dreaming. I'd go to sleep, then she'd go to sleep, then her frog would go to sleep -- and each had to tell the dream that came. She found this fascinating, but many of her "dreams" were actually nightmares: "Papa, I dreamed of a strawberry cake." "That's nice." "But I was the strawberry."
I invented a gesture for dealing with nightmares: fistful of fingers,suddenly exploded outward -- Poof! -- nightmare gone.
She said she was going to a birthday party for a friend named Zack. "Zack has brown skin," she said. I thought pleasant liberal thoughts. "There is another Zack," she said. "He has yellow skin." With a tinge of uneasiness, I continued to think pleasant liberal thoughts.
"And another Zack. He had green skin."
My liberal thoughts cycled back to zero. I think Emma knows what you want to hear from her, and then gives you just enough to keep you listening, and then zaps you with the blow that you never imagined a child of three could deliver.
I am in any case quite fond of this granddaughter, plague though she is to keep mentally abreast of.
"Me and Bobo went"... I say: "Bobo and I..."
She submits: "Bobo and I... "
Before I'm done I'll have her saying whom, and then she'll hateme for this. The editor for her first article in "Heck: The Euphemist's Journal" will query this: "Did you mean womb"?
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus ofComparative Literature at Princeton University.