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Three Weeks

The three weeks since my last blog have been more significant for the blogger than his readers. He slipped into the counter-world of illness, curled into chills and fever, sleeping and dozing, not eating, scarcely moving. After a week of this, 30 pounds lighter, weak as wet string, the powers of recovery began taking over via the wonderful wife, the family members (those too young to understand grandpa’s condition having the most therapeutic power), the generous (Medicare-covered) outreach of modern medicine--a personal strength trainer, a 280-pound neckless oblong of command--“Hokay. Next hexercize”--a dear, ancient nurse who drew from a cracked cowhide satchel the apparatus of vital signs and a computer to register them, the e-mail counsel of first-rate doctors and the drugs, selected edibles, and routines they advised.

A friend called, shocked at turning 75--“How did I get here?"--and we talk about the death of a publisher, Aaron Asher, one of the last true men-of-letters publishers, who published us and Saul Bellow and Lyndon Johnson’s memoirs. Aaron had stories of the late president driving him on the ranch, slowing only for secret service men to refill his bourbon, of Lady Bird serving him first at dinner, of their discovery that day of the My Lai massacre  and checking their files (Aaron: “Did they have one for Massacres?”). We talked of his new (unreleased) book and about the late work of authors, the diminished energy for length, the ways of reconfecting familiar material, then our reading--he was relishing Thomas Mann’s great stories, his favorite, “Mario and the Magician,” and “Disorder and Early Sorrow,” throwing in with habitual generosity, “You and he are among the few who write with tenderness about the family,” and much more, the warm talk of old friends, tonic,  consolation, nostalgic enrichnment.

Then too, there were the music, newspapers, magazines, books, television series (the amazing “The Wire”) and Netflix (the wonderful installments of Michael Apted’s peerless series that films a dozen English children every seven years from seven to 49), indeed much that has composed so large a part of especially the recent life of one’s old age.

As for the great world, how much has it changed in these three weeks? Clearly Iraq is reboiling with tribal and criminal ferocity perhaps triggered by the American Surge. Cafes and bookstores which were open, markets to which one could send one’s children for bread and fruit, are again stages of  murder. The other festering spots of the world fester as ever. On the intensely-lit American stage, the political candidates perform along the lines of their complex characters: Hillary Clinton--gripping furiously to what her years of battles and triumphs seem to entitle her--fabricates, dodges, advocates, defends, charms, antagonizes, attacks; Barack Obama generally becomes more complex and straighter as he keeps uncovering what keeps his amazing presidential drive going; John McCain gives occasional glimpses of what has sustained his reputation as an independent thinker and doer; while around all three of them, the dramatis personae form, part of the national Oberammergau, Kerrys, Richardsons, Liebermans, Caseys, Ferrarros, Carvilles, sense, nonsense, and hyperbole pouring from them sufficiently to keep the commentary world in motion.

Given the alternative, it is good to be back.

--Richard Stern