Sunday Oct. 4, 2015

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And Now it’s October

the golden hour of the clock of the year. Everything that can run
to fruit has already done so: round apples, oval plums, bottom-heavy
pears, black walnuts and hickory nuts annealed in their shells,
the woodchuck with his overcoat of fat. Flowers that were once bright
as a box of crayons are now seed heads and thistle down. All the feathery
grasses shine in the slanted light. It’s time to bring in the lawn chairs
and wind chimes, time to draw the drapes against the wind, time to hunker
down. Summer’s fruits are preserved in syrup, but nothing can stopper time.
No way to seal it in wax or amber; it slides though our hands like a rope
of silk. At night, the moon’s restless searchlight sweeps across the sky.

“And Now it’s October” by Barbara Crooker from Small Rain. © Purple Flag Press, 2014. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It's the birthday of journalist and fiction writer Damon Runyon (books by this author), born Alfred Damon Runyon, in Manhattan, Kansas (1884), who started writing for newspapers when he was expelled from school in the sixth grade. He became one of the early baseball journalists, when the sport was just taking off, but his breakthrough as a writer came during the Prohibition era when he began to write about gamblers, bookies, fight managers, theatrical agents, bootleggers, and gangsters in New York City. He started writing semi-fictional sketches of real people, and he gave them names like Dave the Dude, Harry the Horse, Nathan Detroit, Benny Southstreet, Dream Street Rose, Big Julie from Chicago, and Izzy Cheesecake. He helped popularize the slang of the era, in which a woman was called “a doll,” a gun was called “a rod,” money was called “scratch,” and people didn’t die, they “croaked.” His short stories were collected in books such as Blue Plate Special (1934) and More than Somewhat (1937), and they became enormously popular. Sixteen movies were made from his short stories. But he’s best remembered today for the musical Guys and Dolls, based upon several of his stories and characters he created. He died in 1946 and his ashes were sprinkled over Broadway from a plane flown by his friend Captain Eddie Rickenbacker.

This date marks the first formal run of the Orient Express in 1883. The train was the brainchild of Georges Nagelmackers, a Belgian banker’s son. He had been impressed by railway innovations he’d seen in America in the 1860s — particularly George Pullman’s “sleeper cars” — and envisioned a richly appointed train running on a continuous 1,500-mile stretch of track from Paris to Constantinople (now Istanbul). For its formal launch from the Gare de Strasbourg, Nagelmackers arranged battered, rusty Pullman cars on adjacent tracks to show his luxurious conveyance to its best advantage. Many of its first passengers on the 80-hour journey were journalists, and they spread the word of its paneled interiors, leather armchairs, silk sheets, and wool blankets. They also dubbed the train “the Orient Express” with Nagelmackers’ blessing. The train later earned another nickname, “the Spies’ Express,” due to its popularity in the espionage community.

The original Orient Express stopped serving Istanbul in 1977, and its new route ran from Paris to Vienna until 2007, when the train departed from Strasbourg instead of Paris. Finally, in 2009, the Orient Express ceased operation, citing competition from high-speed trains and discount airlines. It has spawned several offspring that have adopted the name for promotional purposes, including the Direct Orient Express and the Nostalgic Orient Express. Only the Venice-Simplon Orient Express, which runs from London to a variety of European destinations and charges $2,300 U.S. to ride in the restored original cars, approaches the original “King of Trains and Train of Kings.”

It’s the birthday of Edward L. Stratemeyer (books by this author), born in Elizabeth, New Jersey (1862), who created the Hardy Boys, the Bobbsey Twins, the Rover Boys, and Nancy Drew. After writing about 150 books of his own, he created a company called the Stratemeyer Syndicate with a team of ghostwriters to write books based on his outlines. He swore everyone to secrecy and even invented fictional biographies for the imaginary authors. The Stratemeyer Syndicate went on to publish about 700 titles under more than 65 pseudonyms. It still sells about 6 million books each year.

Today is the birthday of comedian Buster Keaton, born Joseph Frank Keaton in Piqua, Kansas (1895). His parents were vaudevillians, and according to Keaton, he earned his nickname as a toddler, when he fell down a staircase. Harry Houdini picked up the child, dusted him off, and said, "That was a real buster your kid took!"

His parents added him to the act when he was three years old, and he quickly learned that the more serious he looked, the harder the audience laughed. He had a natural ability to take a fall without being injured, and his parents threw him around the stage like a dummy. They were often hauled in on child abuse charges, but Buster would remove his clothes to show no broken bones or bruises, and the charges were dropped. "The funny thing about our act," he told The Detroit News in 1914, "is that dad gets the worst of it, although I'm the one who apparently receives the bruises [...] the secret is in landing limp and breaking the fall with a foot or a hand. It's a knack."

He met film comedian Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle in New York in 1917, and Arbuckle took him under his wing, recognizing that the slight, acrobatic Keaton was the perfect complement to the large, bumbling Arbuckle. Keaton successfully made the transition to a solo act in the 1920s, but his deadpan style wasn't as popular as Chaplin's sentimental Little Tramp character, or Harold Lloyd's plucky, optimistic on-screen persona. It was more than 20 years before his feature films — like The Navigator (1924), The General (1926), and The Cameraman (1928) — were recognized as silent comedy classics.

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