Saturday Oct. 8, 2016

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Barrier Island

The carousel and bumper cars were long
gone. Seidel’s Skee Ball, the five-cent fortune
telling machine, Izzy’s Knishes, the shooting
gallery, teenage crooners harmonizing
at Waller’s frozen custard stand: I saw
them all vanish when I was still a boy.
The three-story concrete watchtower
that protected us from Nazi submarines
was rubble. I played at dusk in the field
where it fell, walked beams of the bowling
alley that rose in its place. I was gone
myself before it became glass-faced condos
with a horizon view over flattened dunes,
before the storm took apart everything time
had left behind. On the news I saw a woman
walk where the boardwalk was now nothing
but pilings. The beach was scattered across
the island beneath the glare of morning sun.

“Barrier Island” by Floyd Skloot from Approaching Winter. © Louisiana State University Press, 2015. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

On this day in 1956Yankees pitcher Don Larsen pitched a perfect game. He faced 27 batters and not a single one made it to base. It remains the only perfect World Series game — indeed, the only perfect post-season game — and one of only 20 perfect games in baseball history.

For the fourth time in five years, the Yankees were playing the Brooklyn Dodgers; it was Game Five and the series was tied two games to two. According to Larsen, he didn't even know he would be pitching until he got to the ballpark. He'd had a disastrous Game Two, lasting only two innings and allowing four runs on four walks. The Yankees had been up 6-0 when he took the mound, and they ended up losing, with a score of 13-8. Larsen was as stunned as anyone when he reported to the park for Game Five to find that manager Casey Stengel had tucked a baseball in his spikes. In the locker room after the game, Larsen said, "When it was over, I was so happy, I felt like crying. I wanted to win this one for Casey. After what I did in Brooklyn, he could have forgotten about me and who would blame him? But he gave me another chance and I'm grateful."

Today is the birthday of historian and nonfiction author Walter Lord (1917) (books by this author), born in Baltimore, Maryland. As a young boy, he became fascinated with the sinking of the Titanic, prompted in part by his mother's stories of ocean liners she'd sailed on, and also by what he put down to typical boy behavior: "I suppose if there is anything more exciting to a young boy than an ocean liner, it is an ocean liner sinking." Lord grew up and took a job at an advertising agency during the day, but at night he was still researching the Titanic and interviewing its survivors. He then crafted a factually accurate — and yet dramatic and compelling — story of the final night of the unsinkable ship: A Night to Remember was a best-seller upon its release in 1955, and it remains the chief source of information for Titanic buffs. Lord credits the success to the subject: "The appeal seems universal. To social historians it is a microcosm of the early 1900s. To nautical enthusiasts it is the ultimate shipwreck. To students of human nature it is an endlessly fascinating laboratory. For lovers of nostalgia it has the allure of yesterday. For daydreamers it has all those might-have-beens."

It's the birthday of the British novelist, essayist, poet, philosopher, and orator John Cowper Powys (books by this author), born in Derbyshire England (1872). In 1930, he retired to upstate New York and turned to full-time writing: It was here that he produced such masterpieces as Weymouth Sands and his autobiography, A Glastonbury Romance. He returned to Great Britain in 1934, settling in North Wales in 1935, where he wrote the historical novels Owen Glendower and Porius, the critical studies of Rabelais and Dostoevsky, and The Brazen Head and other inventive fantasies. Powys was at heart a luddite, for whom virtually every modern invention was anathema. He never drove a car and never used a typewriter. He thought television was pernicious. He didn't like talking on the telephone, because he didn't want his words violated by a tangle of wires.

Powys said: "A great modern novel consists of and ought to include just everything."

Today is the birthday of poet Philip Booth (books by this author), born in Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1925. He went to college at Dartmouth, where he met and became a protégé of Robert Frost. His poetry is rooted in the Maine coast, where he grew up and where his ancestors lived for hundreds of years before him. "Almost all my mother's ancestors — my grandparents, great-grand-parents, great-great, and so on — are buried in the cemetery here," he said in an interview with The American Poetry Review. "In the November of the year, I often go and look at their graves and see their names and the years carved on them. It gives me a very pleasant and not at all morbid sense of the relations, the relationships, that one has with a place."

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