An Assay of Essays: On Reading Joseph Epstein

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From Epstein’s introduction to this delightful book:

“So it has been for me over the past decades, widening my knowledge by fresh readings, and deepening it, as I like to think, by writing about them.  For the act of writing is itself an act of education … For me a good part of the joy of in writing – whether it be writing essays or short stories – is in this element of self-discovery.  The probes, the telescope and microscope used in this discovery is the English sentence.  It syntax juggled, precise words found, everything set in place, the English sentence can yield mysterious secrets.  Or so I have learned.”

Culture

The opening essay in this marvelous collection, The Ideal of Culture, lends its title to the book.  Adapted from The Cultured Life published in The Weekly Standard last year, this piece observes that what it takes to pass through the gates into the realm of high culture is years of thoughtful reading, listening, viewing, and thinking.  Epstein observes that high culture is, in America today, in serious decline.  It is being phased out in favor of a contemporary philosophy that feels like one is searching for the flame of a candle after it has burnt out.  In its place we have mounds of information, but information is distinctly not knowledge.  “The skim, the scan, the tweet, the Wikipedia entry – they cater to, if they do not in fact breed, the shortened attention span … Google it up, gobble it up. we are in any case no longer talking about acquiring the necessary context, the delight in the power of making connections, that is the first step in acquiring culture.”

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“Most people today prefer to spend their lives gathering more and more information.  This plethora, this plague of information, now available to all – to what does it precisely lead?  The best I can see, it lead to two things: The illusion that one understands the world, and to the formation of opinions, countless opinions, opinions on everything.  Opinions are well enough, sometimes even required; but I have never quite been able to shake the capping remark made by V.S. Naipaul on a character in his novel Guerrillas:  ‘She had a great many opinions, but taken together these did not add up to a point of view.’  Culture, true culture, helps form complex points of view.”

Hitting 80Bookending The Ideal of Culture is the final essay, Hitting Eighty – adapted from a piece by the same title in The Weekly Standard.  “I shall soon be hitting 80.  Or perhaps it is more precise to say that 80 will soon be hitting me … Mine has been an immensely fortunate life, though, as Solon warned Croesus, never declare your good fortune until your last breath is drawn … This is why I remain a fully paid-up subscriber to the Knock-Wood Insurance Company, from which I carry a long-term policy.  If you’re interested in such a policy yourself, contact my agent, Keina Hura … Part of my good fortune has ben my health.  (So long as you have your health’, the old Jews used to say – correctly, as it turns out.)  Several years ago I had heart-bypass surgery, and occasionally my immune system, betraying its name, lets me down.  The most recent instance was my contracting a skin-blistering condition called (and best pronounced in a W.C. Fields accent) Bullous Pemphigoid.  Apart from a five-minute stretching exercise in the shower, and the normal walking-about on errands, I do no formal exercise.  I have friends my age contemplating triathlons, or who play tennis, singles, for 90-minute stretches.  My own greatest athletic accomplishment at 80 is that I can still put on my trousers while standing up.  When others speak of staying in shape, I wonder what shape it is precisely they have in mind.”

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Is There Anything More Delightful Than Carpool Karaoke With Sir Paul?

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Joey Curtin’s Beautiful Piano Covers

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Go Granny, Go Granny, Go Granny Go!

It’s good to be at the Jersey Shore on a gorgeous afternoon, after an uneventful nonstop flight back from Chicago.  Redoubling my efforts to chill, I even took Granny’s nonstop chattering in good stride as background noise.  No match for noise-cancelling headphones, everyone in the surrounding rows got to hear her life story (especially after the 7am Bloody Mary Breakfast of Champions kicked in).

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Granny in 8C:  “My mother was one of ten kids, and my father was one of five.  My parents only had me.  They really wanted a boy, so they name me Willie.  What’s your name?

Polite Passenger in 8D:  “Mike.”

Granny in 8C: “They got me doing all those things boys do growing up, so I became a real sports fan.  I follow all the teams seasonally.  Baseball?  The Cubs are my favorite team.  Shame they haven’t won a World Series in over a hundred years.

Polite Passenger in 8D: “The Cubs won the World Series in 2016.”

Granny in 8C: “They did?  Where was I?”

Polite Passenger in 8D: “I guess in New Jersey”.

Granny in 8C:  “Yeh, I guess so.  My daughter lives in New Jersey, which is how I wound up here when I retired.  She’s an administrative assistant.  My no-good son-in-law is a lackey in a law firm.  Slept over her place half the week when they first got together, and in his mother’s basement the rest of the time.  But when she died, they moved in together.  What a loser.”

Polite Passenger in 8D: “Uh-huh.”

Granny in 8C: “Excuse me – stewardess?  I got to go to the bathroom.”

Stewardess: “I’m sorry ma’am, but there’s only one bathroom in the rear of the plane, and you can’t use it until the cart service is finished.”

Granny in 8C (to Polite Passenger in 8D): “Well when I got to go, I got to go!  I’m about to jump over that cart if she don’t finish serving soon.  You know what I’m sayin’?”

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Polite Passenger in 8D: “Uh huh.”

Granny in 8C: “I worked for American Airlines for 25 years.  I love to come to Chicago.  When Barack was elected, I felw to Chicago to celebrate.  I was one of the first in Bryant Park.  But when American bought out those smaller airlines, they also inherited these small planes.  Flying just isn’t what it used to be any more.”

Polite Passenger in 8D: “Uh-huh.”

Granny in 8C: “I was born in Arkansas and lived all over.  Before I came to New Jersey I lived in Santa Monica off Wilshire Boulevard …  {etcetera , etcetera, etcetera …} ”

Not quite Pasadena or Colorado Boulevard, but close enough to celebrate Granny and us making it back safely with a Jan and Dean tribute!

Safe travels, Granny … wherever your final destination.

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Here in My Heart

Well … an unintended extended stay in Chicago, but some good heart signs in the final analysis.  And a good heart omen in the park today, at the bonus of getting to see Ethan play ball!

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Representative of Ethan’s fan club were in attendance, led by his #1 cheerleader,  yesterday’s four year-old birthday girl, Lil’ Sister Eva the Diva.

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Poised at the bat, Ethan focuses in and hits a rope his first time up to lead off the game for the North Suburban Vision Consultants!

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And after reaching first base on his line drive single, Ethan shows his determination in racing to second based as his teammate reaches first, setting the stage for a big inning.

(And now it’s time for my father’s old favorite baseball joke:  How do we know the Lord is a baseball fan?  Because the first sentence is: “In the big inning, the Lord created the Heavens and the Earth”!)  Defensively, Ethan begins the game in the field, playing a solid third base.

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In between innings, Ethan gets coached up by Dad who raced to the game from a serious business golf outing to arrive in the nick of time.

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Showing his versatility in the field, Ethan even took a turn behind the plate.

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You want to know why catcher is the most brutal position on the field?  Those pitches come in fast and furious!  Watch Ethan in action …

And from an adult’s perspective, the best part of the action is the post-game sportsmanship these little guys are learning …

And then, the post-game huddle, for the Head Coach Eli to award the game ball – with the kids in rapt anticipation …

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And today’s game ball goes to a kid who was always in the right position, who never had to be told to move, who was always in the right position, who led off the game with a line drive and who just finished up with another hit.  That’s right … give a listen!

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Another Great 8th Grade Grad!

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Coming Up

McCartney doing “Coming Up” in a comparatively intimate setting:

McCartney doing “Coming Up” in a larger concert venue during his 1990 World Tour:

And lastly, McCartney doing a version of “Coming Up” atop the marquis of the Ed Sullivan Theater to the delight of throngs lining the streets of Manhattan.

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