Month: December 2014

Holiday Wishes from Kevin Stephany

This year I’m very grateful to all the people who took the time to read my blog. I’d especially like to thank my writing partner for talking me into doing one. I felt very leery about the project at first. I always worried that I’d put something in writing that would offend someone or get me into trouble.

With that acknowledgement, I feel obligated to wish all my friends in the blogosphere a Happy Holiday Season. In the interest of not upsetting anybody or causing anyone to feel slighted, I shall try to be as thorough as possible.

To my Christian friends: I wish you a very Merry Christmas.

To my Christian friends who experience a tinge of guilt while celebrating a Christian holiday among people who don’t practice the faith: Happy Holidays.

To my Jewish friends: I wish you a Happy Hanukkah.

To my friends in the Islamic community: I am a bit late, so allow me to be the first to wish you a solemn and dignified Ramadan for next year.

Having grown up in the Western world, those are the faiths I’m most familiar with. Now it gets a little tougher.

To my agnostic friends: I don’t know whether or not I should wish you anything. I don’t know if it matters to you, for that matter.

To my atheistic friends: I don’t believe I should wish you anything.

To my friends who worship the dark lord Lucifer: I wish you would burn in Hell; and I mean that in the nicest possible way.

To my hedonistic friends: every day is your Christmas. I can’t think of anything I could possibly say to you that would make your day any better.

To my female friends in the hedonistic community: if you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution I wish you would resolve to return my calls.

To my snake handling friends: Sssssssssss. Sssssssssssss.

To my narcissistic friends: I wish you the greatest of happiness. I also wish you wouldn’t block my view of the mirror.

To my friends who worship reason and logic: I wish you many hours of peace in your lonely solitude.

To my friends who worship the “almighty dollar”: I wish you would realize it’s time to “convert” to the Euro.

And to anyone else I left off this list: have a nice day.

Book Review – The Jefferson Bible by Thomas Jefferson

George W. Bush wasn’t the first American President with an all-consuming interest in the Bible. Thomas Jefferson felt so inspired by his beliefs that he chose to re-write it. After reading his text, I can’t call what affected him “divine inspiration”, though. Our Third President decided to edit the Gospels and remove all references to Jesus’ divinity from them. He called this work The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.  Readers may know it more colloquially as The Jefferson Bible.

I’ll begin with the obvious question. What would possibly motivate someone to want to do this? The following quote opened my version of the work. It’s an excerpt from a letter Jefferson wrote to Charles Thompson.

I, too, have made a wee-little book from the same materials (The Gospels) which I call the Philosophy of Jesus. It is a paradigm of his doctrines, made by cutting the texts out of the book and arranging them on the pages of a blank book, in a certain order of time or subject. A more beautiful or precious morsel of ethics I have never seen. It is a document in proof that I am a REAL CHRISTIAN, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus, very different from the Platonists, who call me infidel and THEMSELVES Christians and preachers of the Gospel, while they draw all their characteristic dogmas from what its author never said nor saw. They have compounded from the heathen mysteries a system beyond the comprehension of man, of which the greater reformer of the vicious ethics and deism of the Jews, were he to return on earth, would not recognize one feature.

One may not agree with Mr. Jefferson’s views, but it’s hard not to respect the strength of his convictions.

I attended Catholic schools for 13 years. Bible readings were a major part of the curriculum. I’d read or listened to the Gospels so often, that I thought it impossible to provide a new interpretation of them. The author of “The Declaration of Independence” proved me wrong. Reading Christ’s teachings presented this way, caused a few passages to really grab my attention.

LXII 22: Verily, verily I say unto you, the servant is no greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater that he that sent him.

XXVI 14 – 16 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these things come from within and defile the man.

My personal favorite came from the Sermon on the Mount. It concerned judging others.

XI 88 – 89 Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

When reading the book, I did keep a close eye to see if Jefferson truly excised all references to Jesus’ divinity. I thought I found a few he missed. In Chapter IX Verse 12 Jesus healed people. In Chapter XIII Verse 13 He forgave sins. In Chapter XLVII Verse 4 Jesus said, “And he taught saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations a house of prayer? But ye have made it a den of thieves.” I also found several references to “Fulfillment of the Scriptures.” Maybe it’s time for someone to secularize the Jefferson Bible.  

I did find this book a very interesting read. The story of Jesus’ life and teachings presented in this manner came across much differently than I expected. While it may seem controversial on the surface, I’d still recommend The Jefferson Bible to Christians everywhere. It would have been tough to accuse Mr. Jefferson of doing anything improper by interpreting the Gospels in this fashion. You know what, it wouldn’t have bothered him, anyway. As he wrote,

Say nothing of my religion. It is known to my God and myself alone. Its evidence before the world is to be sought in my life; if that has been honest and dutiful to society, the religion which has regulated it cannot be a bad one.  

Christmas Memories

My most poignant Christmas memory took place while visiting my mother’s grave. Even I’m surprised to see myself write that. After all, we live in an era where Christmas brings out the twin vices of materialism and selfishness in many people. Who doesn’t vividly recall the childhood thrill of opening presents under the blazing lights of a Christmas tree? Such times comprise the pantheon of my happiest memories.

Mom passed away in the fall of 2010 following a brief, but agonizing battle with cancer. Even though I understood the magnitude of her illness, her passing still came as a surprise. Nothing prepared me for losing someone that close; even when I knew it inevitable.

Christmas morning that year was eerie. For the first Christmas ever, the scent of Mom’s bacon and eggs didn’t fill the house. I found it harder to cope with not giving her presents. I’m terrible when it comes to shopping for women, which may explain why I’m still single. At any rate, no matter what I got, Mom would always gush like she’d been hoping for my present her entire life. I already missed experiencing her doing this. In fact, I still had the gift I bought her for her 46th anniversary. (I should note that she passed away on that day.)

I walked down the same steps I had as a child. During Christmases past, I’d race down them past Mom and Dad to my new toys. This year, instead of yelling for Dad to get up so he could film me opening my presents, I went downstairs and breakfasted alone. I wanted to let Dad sleep in. Christmas is tough enough for him. His father passed away on Christmas Eve of 2003.

My gaze drifted among a series of old family photos laid out on the dining room table. One included my Mom, Grandmother and Great-Grandmother. It’s a shame it takes such a personal tragedy to make someone appreciate the real meaning of the holidays. Without family, there’s not much of a reason to have them.

Both my mom and grandmother are buried at the same cemetery. Since it was early on Christmas morning, I thought it would be a nice gesture to “visit” them, if you will. I put on a warm coat and jumped in the car.

While driving past a series of stores along the highway I chuckled at the irony. It’s impossible to find a parking space during any of the days leading up to Christmas. Everybody runs out to take advantage of those last minute deals they run close to the holiday. It’s like nothing in life matters, but shopping. On Christmas Day, all of them are closed; the parking lots completely empty. That always seemed strange to me.

The hypocrisy in thinking that way hit me like a blast of cool winter air. As a kid, I wouldn’t leave the living room for a week after Christmas. My new toys were my universe. Nothing else existed outside of my circumscribed personal play pen. While reflecting on my new life situation, I recognized that I could just as selfish as anyone else at times. I guess that’s the problem with becoming a mature adult: you start thinking like one.

While ruminating on all the self-centeredness that permeates the “season of giving” I pulled into the cemetery. A “Christmas miracle” of sorts greeted me. The scene reminded me a bit of the store parking lots during the lead-up to Christmas Day. I don’t recollect the exact number, but numerous people chose to spend their Christmas morning the same way I had. It touched me to see a man, his wife, their three kids AND FAMILY DOG paying their respects. In addition to the holiday, the temperature hovered in the low 30’s (Fahrenheit, of course). It still wasn’t 9:00 AM, yet, either.

This experience made me feel even worse about my childhood selfishness. Still, it enhanced my faith in humanity. Witnessing so many people focused on something larger than they was a gift worthy of Good Ol’ St. Nick.

Thank a Veteran

It’s a time of year where we all enjoy spending time with friends and family. Let’s never forget those who are unable to because of their commitment to defending our country.

I frequent a Starbucks near a local military base. I often encounter men and women in uniform there. Even if I have to go out of my way, I always make a point to express my gratitude for their service. Most politely smile and thank me for my support. I do remember a special encounter I had with a veteran several Christmas seasons ago.

I saw an Air Force captain standing in line with a woman I presumed to be his wife. I walked up to him and said, “Thank you for your service.” His head jolted back. After a brief pause he extended his hand. As I shook it he thanked me. His wife also seemed surprised while she thanked me, as well. This time I was the one who politely smiled back.

I returned to my seat and resumed reading the current edition of Foreign Affairs magazine. (For those who don’t appreciate what our veterans are doing for us, try reading that publication.) Over my shoulder I noticed the captain and his wife sitting at the table across from me. His gaze firmly locked on me. Visions of an unanticipated trip to the Air Force recruiter entered my mind.

I let out a mild sigh of relief as the captain and his wife stood up and walked to the door.  Before leaving he approached me. He extended his hand once more and said, “I just want to tell you how much it means that you thanked me.”  I tried to pshaw the idea, but he was adamant. He’d just completed 90 days in Afghanistan and was home on leave for Christmas. He sincerely appreciated the recognition for his service. It troubled me that it surprised him so much.

Seeing him and his wife reminded me of my own family history. My father, Ed Stephany, Jr., served in Vietnam. He and my mom had only been married three years when he received his draft notice.  They’d just started their new life together. With a new bride at home and a job that had been going very well, Dad dutifully entered the Army. On his very first day in country his bunk mates told him how fortunate he was to be stationed in Nha Trang. “We never get attacked,” they laughed. That night the Tet Offensive began. My father and his unit were shelled several times a week for the next year.

Thank a veteran.

People in my family have served in America’s conflicts going all the way back to the Revolutionary War. I’ve never personally served in the military. I have no illusions as to why my entire generation hasn’t been subject to mandatory military service. The sacrifices of our service people past and present allowed us that luxury. Let us never forget to express our appreciation to those in uniform. We all owe them, their families and friends an immense debt of gratitude. It’s one that we’ll never have the capability to repay. At the very least, especially during this Holiday Season, we can say, “Thank you.”

Book Review – Notes on Andre Gide by Roger Martin du Gard

Andre Gide dedicated his first novel, The Counterfeiters, to Roger Martin du Gard. The later repaid this act of kindness by publishing Notes on Andre Gide as an encomium to his friend and mentor. What a book! It’s not just one Nobel Laureate in Literature’s biographical sketch of another Nobel Laureate in Literature, it’s a record of some serious conversations between two of the greatest authors of the twentieth century. The author’s powers of description made me feel like I was in the room listening to his subject’s ruminations. I could visualize Gide telling me, “Whenever I have the chance to enjoy myself, I do it.” (Page 11)

I’m a huge fan of both men’s work. Du Gard’s decision to publish his memoirs on Gide elated me. For those more familiar with music, imagine Eddie Van Halen and Jimmy Page struck up a friendship. Years later one of them released recordings of their jam sessions. Notes on Andre Gide is in the same category for fans of great writing.

Emulating Ben Franklin, du Gard presented his thoughts on Gide “warts and all.” Literally.

The light falls on Gide’s fine head. His whole face is alive with pleasure. He puts on the tortoiseshell spectacles (which sit now above, now below, the wart on his nose, according to whether it is me or the transcript that he is looking at.) (Page 13)

Du Gard delivered a very balanced view of his subject. I didn’t expect the level of explicitness. Even when critical he still strove for fairness. Here’s an excerpt dated 1928.

Gide is being spoiled by the complaisance of his entourage. He no longer pays the least attention to the preoccupations, the desires, the troubles, or the tastes of anyone but himself. He can hardly conceive that somebody should not, at any given moment, be free. And by ‘free’ he means: ready to give up everything in order to put one’s self entirely at his disposition; ready, not only to visit him, but to share, for the inside of a day, his life, his work, his pleasures, and his meals; ready to enter into the most trifling of his anxieties; ready to speak of the subjects which preoccupy him, to the exclusion of all others; ready to laugh, if he is in the mood to be amused; or wax indignant, if he has some pretext for annoyance or chagrin; ready to sit patiently with a newspaper or a magazine while he has his siesta; ready to read the letters he has just received, and to discuss with him the answers he has prepared; ready to read on with him the book he has already begun; ready to go out, if he takes it into his head to go to an exhibition or a cinema, or to call on a colleague… (Page 59)

That’s a long passage and du Gard had a few other issues to add at the end. I included it to show the author’s eloquence and command of detail. It certainly presented an unfavorable view of Gide. The author followed it up with the very next paragraph.

(How unjust I am! And how shameful of me to give way to that moment of bad temper! Have I ever spent an hour with him, and not been the richer for it? Even on his most tyrannical days he finds an opportunity twenty times over, of giving more than he gets. He gives fresh life to everything he touches. He talks as the sower sows; and the seeds that he scatters all around him ask only to be allowed to take root, and to flower.) (Page 59)

I’ve read many biographies and memoirs. I cannot recollect an instance where the author attempted, let alone achieved, this level of objectivity.

In a previous post, I reviewed Gide’s Corydon. I wanted to get insights from this book about just why he published something so controversial. Du Gard objected to the choice, but offered an explanation.

The idea of a public confession is infectious; like the hero of a Russian novel, Gide is burning to affront Society and invite its punishment; outrage, opprobrium, the pillory—those are the things to which he aspires…He has such a strange inspired smile when he disposes of my objections! When he thinks of being misunderstood, shunned and despised—the expiatory victim of a sublime sincerity—I believe he feels enlarged and exalted. (Pages 26 – 27)

I wonder if the Chinese curse about getting what one wishes for had been around in Gide’s time.

At any rate, for his myriad contributions to the field of letters the Nobel Prize Committee honored him with the award for literature in 1947. Du Gard included the following except from the citation.

Gide has often been accused of corrupting young people and leading them astray; the great influence which none can deny him is regarded by many as an influence for evil. That is the ancient accusation which has been laid against all the emancipators of the human spirit. Protests are superfluous, however; we need only consider the worth of those who are his real disciples…It is doubtless this, as much as, or more than, his literary work which has made him well worthy of the signal honor which Sweden has just accorded him. (Pages 94 -95)

Gide once wrote, “Believe those who seek the truth. Doubt those who find it.” If he’d had the opportunity to read du Gard’s Notes, even he just may have reconsidered.

The Year of the Rabbit

For some reason, rabbits have been hopping into my life lately. Pun intended. They’ve been running around my yard, I‘ve read about them in stories and I even had one for dinner; that’s as a meal: not a guest. The Year of the Rabbit ended back in January of 2012. The next one won’t begin until January of 2023. What’s going on?

I’ll start with the dining thing. While in Arkansas on a business trip my group and I ended up at an upscale restaurant. I’d say not to tell the boss, but he owns the bistro, too. So much for putting that one on the expense report. * Rabbit appeared on the menu. Someone told me that they’re a delicacy. My grandfather ate rabbit while fighting in Europe during the Second World War. He’s not the person who told me that. I decided to try it. After all, we only live once. At the time the possibility that eating rabbits could have something to do with that didn’t enter my mind.

They say that everything tastes like chicken. Rabbit turned out to be the exception. It wasn’t bad. I’d describe it as a combination of scallops only with a meatier taste. I like seafood and I need protein to live. It was a win-win situation.

For some reason I had the impression rabbits were smart. While dining on one I thought, if they really are smart, wouldn’t this one be eating me? I wondered why I thought them intelligent. It must have come from Hugh Hefner, of all people. Initially, he wanted to call Playboy ™ magazine Stag Party™. At the time, a hunting magazine called Stag™ claimed trademark infringement. Hef changed the name. I’ve always believed that a brilliant move on his part. Beautiful women dressed in bunny costumes are much more appealing than ladies dressed as elk. The brand wouldn’t have been quite the same. That’s not to say I spend a lot of time “studying” Playboy Bunnies as far as anyone knows. That story doesn’t have much to do with rabbits, though.

A large cotton tail became a frequent guest in my backyard this summer. Most evenings around seven she’d hop to the center of the yard. This rabbit would sit there for several minutes and then lay down. I’d watch her bask in waning light of the summer sun. Unfortunately for her, so would my dog, Cinnamon.

“Cinny” is a shorke. She’s very friendly: except to non-human visitors that intrude on her territory. One evening she noticed the rabbit. She growled, barked and scraped the sliding glass door. Not realizing how delicious rabbits were, I picked her up and took her to the back door. Since bunnies have long ears, I figured the rabbit would hear me and scamper off. I rattled the screen expecting it to leave. It simply sat up. I hit the door again as the dog barked. The rabbit didn’t move. I opened the door, figuring the thing would run. It didn’t. The rabbit just backed away a few steps.

By now I couldn’t control the dog. Cinny flailed all four of her appendages so fast she reminded me of Keith Moon during a drum solo. Much like a madman pounding the skins, she became difficult to control. I set her down. She bolted after the rabbit. It hesitated for a second before hopping off. That pause could’ve been costly. Cinny came within a hare’s length of catching her. Pun intended. I figured the rabbit dithered because of a long history outrunning predators. The more I thought about this I realized something: when it comes to avoiding its enemies, it’s only going to be wrong once. Even with a 99.9% success rate, I still wouldn’t like that average.

Maybe rabbits aren’t as smart as I thought. I re-read the old saw about the tortoise and the hare. This time I picked up Lord Dunsany’s version. It included the usual part about the rabbit going to sleep since he knew he’d beat the tortoise. (Sorry if this is a spoiler, folks.) The author did add some minor variations. At the end, he explained the reason. Very few animals survived a massive forest fire shortly after the race. Why didn’t very many escape? When the creatures noticed the blazing conflagration they sent the fastest among them to warn the others: the tortoise.

Rabbits may not be the most intelligent animal I find in my back yard. At least I hope they’re not the smartest mammal on the property while I’m standing there. They still make things interesting. I checked the Chinese calendar. This is the Year of the Horse. I hope I don’t have as many run-ins with them. At the very least, I don’t want to see them on the menus anywhere I eat.

* For the record: my employer did reimburse me for the meal. In fact, the management encouraged my group to dine there. After much deliberation I chose not to review this particular establishment as part of my Restaurant Review series. PLEASE DO NOT INTERPRET THAT NEGATIVELY. I didn’t feel I could review it objectively due to my personal ties with the management. That’s the ONLY reason I didn’t write about it on my blog.

Drama Review – Death and the King’s Horseman by Wole Soyinka

I relished this 1975 masterpiece written by Africa’s lone Nobel Laureate. Soyinka crafted a brilliant rumination on the culture clash between the British and indigenous Nigerians. Like many great theatrical presentations, real events influenced the tale’s development. Based on the playwright’s ingenious structure of his drama, I wondered if Death and the King’s Horseman more suspenseful than the actual occurrence.

Soyinka did an exceptional job capturing the voices of his characters. In fact when I began reading the play, I felt like I was reading Shakespeare. The first scene opened with characters using a number of Yoruba words and expressions. I had to keep referring to the footnotes at the bottom of the page to follow the dialog. The play commenced with the following exchange.

Praise Singer: Elesin o! Elesin Oba! What tryst is this the cockerel goes to keep with such haste that he must leave his tail behind?

Elesin: A tryst where the cockerel needs no adornment.

Had the playwright and the editors of the Norton Critical Edition not included the glossary, I would’ve been in for a very long afternoon.

The playwright deftly switched to the Queen’s English in the scenes with the District Officer and his wife. Their first lines were as follows.

Pilkings: Is there anyone out there?

Jane: I’ll turn off the gramophone.

When I read this bit of dialog, I connected with the play better. It also concretized for me the true chasm between Yourba culture and that of the British. This disparity served as the central theme of the play, and, of course, actions reinforced it. I do have to give Soyinka major kudos for showing that difference through the dialog. I struggle to write basic English clearly. The fact the author could write two different dialects so well made Death and the King’s Horseman truly memorable.

I mentioned earlier that at times reading this play brought to mind Shakespeare. Having to refer to footnotes wasn’t the only reason. Check out the language in this passage. The leader of the market women delivered it.

Iyaloja: It is the death of war that kills the valiant,
Death of water is how the swimmer goes
It is the death of markets that kills the trader
And death of indecision takes the idle away
The trade of the cutlass blunts its edge
And the beautiful die the death of beauty.
It takes an Elesin to die the death of death…
Only Elesin…dies the unknowable death of death…
Gracefully, gracefully, does the horseman regain
The stables at the end of the day, gracefully…(Page 35)

While the playwright didn’t present these lines in Iambic Pentameter, “the Bard” would still be very proud.

Elesin’s eldest son, Olunde, also delivered some interesting thoughts on the topic. He compared the concept of ritual suicide to that of sending troops into battle during World War II.

Olunde: Is that worse than mass suicide? Mrs. Pilkings, what do you call what those young men are sent to do by their generals in this war? Of course, you have also mastered the art of calling things by names which don’t remotely describe them. (Page 44)

The play’s theme centered on an ancient tradition. Following the death of the king, custom held that the king’s horseman (in this case Elesin) must commit ritual suicide. The British officials discovered this and prevented Elesin from fulfilling his obligation. While I’m not a big supporter ending one’s life due to a ceremonial practice, the playwright did a fantastic job of delineating the dichotomous cultural views on the subject. At one point the British imprisoned Elesin so he couldn’t fulfill his duty. The District Officer threatened the use of deadly force to prevent anyone from freeing him. Iyaloja delivered the following sarcastic line on the subject.

Iyaloja: To prevent one death you will actually make other deaths? Ah, great is the wisdom of the white race. (Page 59)

I really liked reading Death and the King’s Horseman. While Soyinka chose a controversial subject, at least in the West, the text didn’t degenerate into glib expressions or formulaic scenes. While an undergrad I took two classes in African History. I wish that this play had been required reading. It would’ve helped me better understand the cultural expanse between Africans and Europeans.

Book Review – Crabwalk by Gunter Grass

In his opus German History 1770 – 1866 historian James Sheehan defined German history though its: “diversity and discontinuity, richness and fragmentation, fecundity and fluidity.” While feeling generous Gunter Grass referred to it more simply as a “crabwalk”; meaning “scuttling backward to move forward.” While in his protagonist’s point-of-view he elucidated it as such:

History, or to be more precise, that history we Germans have repeatedly mucked up, is a clogged toilet. We flush and flush, but the shit keeps rising. (Page 122)

I attended a class in German history while an undergraduate. This might explain why the professor didn’t add Crabwalk to the required reading list.

Grass’ historical novel presented a take on the recent German past from the Second World War through the book’s publication date. (2002) He used his protagonist, Paul Pokriefke, to express it.

At times Crabwalk read like a history book. Grass did his research. The central story spark ignited from the sinking of a ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff, on January 30, 1945. The plummeting boat served as the setting of Pokriefke’s birth. The author populated the book with dates, events and personalities from the time periods it covered. I found it very interesting that Gras included a sort of mini-biography of the Soviet submarine commander who launched the torpedoes into the ship.

The book’s time frame alternated between past and present. Whenever I read books structured this way, I get lost. As I perused this one, I didn’t encounter that issue. The author organized the chapters in such a way that I could follow the events. Not many writers can achieve this so kudos to Mr. Grass.

I applaud the author for weaving in his historical facts without detracting from the overall narrative. All the actual information Gras provided helped to propel the story forward. He didn’t overwhelm me with extraneous data just because he uncovered it during his research. Many authors could learn from this.

Crabwalk came out five years after the movie Titanic. The book referenced it during a passage on the making of a film based on the sinking of the Gustloff. I enjoyed the sardonic way the author tied-in the real life flick.

Just as in all the Titanic films, a love story had to be brought in as filler, taking on heroic dimensions at the end, as if the sinking of an overcrowded ship weren’t exciting, the thousands of deaths not tragic enough. (Page 119)

Obviously, the protagonist didn’t have the most positive world view. This carried into his summation of his own life.

Don’t make me laugh! I know my limitations. I’m a run-of-the-mill journalist, who can do a decent job for short stretches. I used to have big plans—a book I never got around to writing was supposed to be called “Between Springer and Dutschke”—but not for the most part my brains stayed on the drawing board. Then Gabi stopped taking the Pill without telling me, was soon pregnant, undeniably by me, and dragged me off to City Hall to get married. Once the squalling baby was there and the future educator had gone back to her studies, it was clear to me: From now on, don’t expect much. The best you can do is hold up your end as a house husband, changing diapers and vacuuming. No more delusions of grandeur! What can you say about a guy who lets himself be saddled with a baby when he’s thirty-five and losing his hair? Love? Forget about that till your past seventy, and by then the parts will have stopped working anyway. (Page 41)

Because of his history, I could understand the protagonist’s gloom. Later in the story he expressed his thoughts on the sinking of Gustloff:

We do know that the majority of those who died were women and children; men were rescued in embarrassing large numbers, among them all four captains of the ship. (Page 163)

I’ll refrain from giving away spoilers. I can inform readers that Grass included a disturbing link between past and present. His use of the protagonist’s son as the vehicle troubled me. By doing so, the author brilliantly elucidated his point. It wouldn’t have had the same impact if he hadn’t.

Despite the protagonist’s pessimism, I enjoyed reading Crabwalk. Grass’ masterful way of crafting such a complex tale into just 234 pages amazed me. While he presented a disturbing analysis of recent German history, ignoring it after reading the book would be more alarming.

Restaurant Review – Dickey’s Barbecue Pit in Siloam Springs, AR

Nobody, and I mean nobody, can host a barbecue like a Southerner. They’re so good at it, that anytime one of us Yankees says we’re having one, we debase the term. I was ecstatic when I came across Dickey’s Barbecue Pit during my sojourn to Northwest Arkansas. Their culinary skills did Dixie proud.

My group had been flying all day. Most of us hadn’t eaten anything in at least nine hours. When we rolled into Dickey’s we couldn’t have found a more perfect place at the most opportune time.

The staff took courtesy to a whole new level. We arrived within an hour of closing. However, they were so attentive and friendly that I felt like they genuinely loved their customers. By my estimate, the two team members on shift prepared meals for six people in close to ten minutes.

There’s only one word to describe my meal: outstanding. Dickey’s offered a plethora of sandwiches, platters and salads. They made my choice pretty difficult. Since I felt so hungry I treated myself to the Three Meat Plate. Dickey’s presented eight different options that would appeal to just about any carnivore. The choices included Pulled Pork, Beef Brisket, Barbecue Honey Ham, Spicy Cheddar Sausage, Polish Sausage, Pork Ribs, Turkey Breast, and Chicken. I dined on the Turkey, Pork Ribs and Spicy Cheddar Sausage. I’d never tried anything like the latter before. The chef came up with a unique twist on it. The best part: it tasted fantastic! All of the meats did.

A number of people in my group raved about the brisket. It received the most positive reviews. I had the chance to try it and concurred.

My platter came with two sides. Dickey’s offered twelve different ones, so once again I struggled with the selection. Who would have thought that being a food critic could entail such hard decision making on occasion? After evaluating the menu, I complimented my meal with the Caesar Salad and the Barbecue Beans. Like the sausage, the latter possessed a zesty flavor, but not so hot that I couldn’t enjoy the meal. The preparers deserve great credit for getting the seasoning just right.

And the best part: this dinner cost only $11.50! People who read my column know that I dine out pretty regularly. Dickey’s made my shortlist of establishments offering the best value for the price.

I drank an iced tea with my meal. It came with a “Big Yellow Cup” that customers may keep as a souvenir. That’s a pretty good perk for $2.25.

As much as I enjoyed this dining experience, Dickey’s offered even more. On the evening I ate there, they provided FREE ice cream for consumers. You read that right. In addition to the outstanding value I got for my dinner, they furnished a gratis desert. This place took Southern hospitality to a whole new level!

Whenever I review a restaurant I make every effort to be balanced. With that acknowledgement, I can’t offer Dickey’s any constructive feedback for improvement. On the issues of price, service and quality, they turned in a superlative performance. Even while writing this I could taste the barbecue sauce. Is opening a franchise in the Philadelphia area out of the question?