What I call the pond, a body of water maybe a hundred feet in diameter at the back of my house in Columbia, Maryland, had, when I first moved here a couple of years ago, a small cluster of floating water reeds in its center. Over time, that cluster expanded and moved south, toward my house. Now when I look from my deck, I see an expanse of weeds. Off to the sides, there are still patches of water visible. And, yes, mallard ducks, both drakes and hens, still come to the pond periodically, but in fewer numbers than in the past.
What was once a lovely view, a major reason I bought the house, is now dulled by a span of weeds. I have written to the Columbia Association suggesting that they might want to reduce or, better yet, eliminate the weeds. My guess is that they won’t accept my suggestion. Looks like I’m stuck with a dull view.
I’ll survive. The pond is surrounded by mature trees of many different varieties. Right now, they’re all leafless and look skeletal. But when Spring arrives and new leaves grow, they will be as magnificent as ever.
So I’ll resume my practice of taking all my meals on my deck overlooking the pond and do my reading out there.
It’ll be as lovely—well, almost as lovely—as ever.
Republican and conservative efforts to ban books they disagree with are taking off. PEN America, an organization devoted to protecting free expression in literature, reports that there are at least 50 groups across the country working to remove books they object to from libraries. During the 2021-22 school year, 138 school districts in 32 states banned more than 2,500 books. These districts include 5,049 schools and in total enroll almost 4 million students.
Texas and Florida lead the nation in book bans. The books most frequently targeted have been by or about Black or L.G.B.T.Q. people, according to the American Library Association.
To my way of thinking, these efforts are in direct violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which protects freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. The conservatives, well-to-do and powerful, are trying to suppress those they look down on, especially women, blacks and other racial minorities, and those with sexual identities that depart from the conservative norm. In a nation devoted to freedom and democracy, in which all are equal, there is no despised faction of inferiors to be subjugated.
It is incumbent upon all of us to fight book bans. They strike at the very heart of our freedom. Let’s unify against them.
I’m old. No point in denying it or pretending otherwise. But I don’t receive the expected credit or respect for age that is common in our society. Why? Because I don’t look my age.
Throughout my life, I have always looked younger than I am. When I first applied to go to Saint Joseph’s high school in Alameda, California, those in charge wanted to reject me because I looked too young for high school. And even after I turned twenty-one and had a driver’s license to prove it, bartenders sometimes refused to serve me. When at age 55 I retired from the federal government as early as I could to write fulltime, the authorities questioned whether I was old enough, based on my looks. These days people often assume I’m ten to twenty years younger than I am and express surprise at learning that I’m retired.
All that said, aging is taking its toll. I’m not as sure-footed as I used to be, I can’t pump as much iron as I did even a few years ago, and my memory is failing. In fact, I am becoming deficient in just about every enterprise save one: thinking.
I find that I can think better, faster, and more clearly now than at any earlier time in my life. That means that my writing, the feat for which I was born, is more facile and effective than ever before.
So I need to count my blessings.
The Brady Political Action Committee (PAC) was formed leading up to the 2018 midterm elections. It was created to serve as a counterweight to “dark money” Super PACs created by the gun industry. It upholds the policy ideals that have been championed by its sister organization, Brady—one of the nation’s oldest gun violence prevention grassroots advocacy organizations.
Brady, United Against Gun Violence (formerly Handgun Control, Inc., the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence), is an American nonprofit organization that advocates for gun control and against gun violence. It is named after James “Jim” Brady, who was permanently disabled and later died in 2014 as a result of the Ronald Reagan assassination attempt of 1981, and his wife Sarah Brady, who was a chairwoman of the organization from 1989 until her death in 2015.
According to information that Brady PAC just released, there are over 393 million guns in America. An average of 110 people die from guns every day in the U.S. Moreover, guns are the leading cause of death for children in the U.S. About 3 million American children are exposed to gun violence each year. And more than a million Americans have been shot in the last decade.
The only way we can reduce gun deaths and violence in the U.S. is to reduce the number of guns in the hands of Americans. We have 120.5 guns for every 100 people—we have twenty percent more guns than people. The ratio between the number of guns held and the number killed by guns is largely uniform throughout the world: the more guns in the hands of the population, the more people killed by guns.
In 2020, the most recent year for which complete data is available, 45,222 people died from gun-related injuries in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is well past time that we find a way to reduce the number of firearms in American hands. Until we do, we will continue killing off our population.
As regular readers of my blog know, I hate the cold. During the thirteen years I spent more time in Vietnam than I did in the U.S., I became acclimatized to the tropics. I was comfortable in 90-plus temperatures and decidedly uncomfortable with temperatures lower than that. That means winters are a real trial for me, and I can’t wait for March when winter officially ends. I yearn for Monday, March 20, the first day of Spring!
The problem is that the promise of warmer weather inherent in the month of March is mostly wishful thinking. Typical is the forecast for the next few days with temperatures dipping below freezing. Miserable. It won’t get really warm until June or maybe even July. And then in September, it’ll start getting cold again. Groan.
Meanwhile, I am more thankful than most people for heavy gloves, thick tee shirts, bulky sweaters, and generous overcoats. Fortunately, I have three gas stove heaters, one on each level of my split-level house, and I hover in front of them regularly. My gas and electric bills spike during the winter. Thank God I am rich enough to afford them.
Available evidence suggests that neither I nor the climate are going to change much in coming years. I guess we’d better get used to each other.
Every time I turn around, I discover some damage that Trump inflicted that I had not been aware of. One of the results is that President Biden doesn’t get the credit he deserves because so many of his achievements have been to undo some harm that Trump did.
According to websites that regularly ask me for a contribution, Trump’s worst sins have been encouraging Russian interference in our elections, threatening Ukraine to dig up dirt on his political opponents, cozying up to Kim Jung Un and other foreign adversaries, abandoning our closest allies, defunding the Post Office, proposing $30 billion in cuts to Social Security, caging migrant children at the border, attacking freedom of the press, building a racist border wall, inciting the January 6 capitol insurrection, threatening state officials to rig the 2020 election, imposing a transgender military ban, and denying the severity of COVID-19.
One of the worst offences Trump has been guilty of is his claim that the 2020 election was fraudulent. At the end of February, during the annual Conservative Political Action (CPAC) Conference, Trump repeated his claim and made at least 23 other immediately provable false claims. That continues his record. While president, he told 30,573 lies, all proven to be false statements, according to the Washington Post’s Fact Checker.
I am still astonished that Americans ever elected Trump to the presidency and am even more amazed that so many still support him. Their numbers are a testimony to the unreliability of the American population.
Hanging on the south wall in the piano room of my house is a photograph taken some years ago by the photographer Ann Gonzales in the Palette and the Page, a book-and-art store in Elkton, Maryland, which features my books. For reasons I don’t remember, I had with me, while visiting the store, a pair of jungle combat boots I had worn in Vietnam. Ann took the boots to the basement and put them on the dirt floor next to a brick wall, then took a picture of them. On a later visit to the shop, I spotted a picture on the wall of my boots with the following caption:
‘Do what you have to do, whatever it takes.’
Last of the Annamese
A novel about the fall of Saigon — 1975
By Tom Glenn
The quote at the beginning of the caption, “Do what you have to do, whatever it takes,” is the motto of one of the characters in my novel, The Last of the Annamese. It means that if defending your country requires to give up your life, then you must do it. So the picture and its caption have always made me think that the empty boots pictured once belonged to a man killed in combat.
I bought the picture and hung it on my wall in the most honored place. It is still there today. So often when I am playing my Steinway grand piano, I stop long enough to look at that picture. It reminds me of my justified pride in having put my life on the line for my country.
After escaping under fire during the fall of Saigon in April 1975, I didn’t realize I had suffered ear damage during the North Vietnamese shelling of the city. I’d been holed up with two of my communicators in our office at the northern edge of Saigon, and we were severely shelled, first with rockets, then with artillery. I discovered the failing when I attended a performance by the Shakespeare Theatre in the Kennedy Center Opera House. I was annoyed that I couldn’t understand what the actors were saying. I had my binoculars with me, and I discovered that when I could see the mouths of the actors, I could understand them—I was reading lips.
I subsequently had my hearing tested and found out that I was partially deaf. As a result, I got hearing aids, which I’ve worn ever since. But I find that even when I’m wearing them, I can’t understand other speakers if I cannot see their mouths while they’re talking.
That was not much of a problem until the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Then everyone took to wearing masks to protect themselves and others from infection. I discovered, not too surprisingly, that when people had their mouths covered, I couldn’t understand what they were saying. I was forever asking them to repeat, slowly and loudly, until I could make out their words.
As I have aged, my hearing loss has become more pronounced. But it’s somewhat less bothersome now because people expect elders to be hard of hearing. They often speak slowly, distinctly, and loudly without ever being asked.
My deafness is both a curse and a blessing. I often fail to hear what others hear and end up looking foolish. On the other hand, I’m spared annoying noises that used to irritate me.
Sometimes, even failings have a benefit.
Fast-forward a number of years. One morning, Susan called and told me to be ready to go out for a drive. She and her husband would be arriving momentarily, so I had no time to shave and bathe. I threw on jeans and a tee shirt and jumped into their car. We drove into the District of Columbia, and I remarked that we were getting close to the Kennedy Center. It turned out that’s where we were headed. We went through the stage door of the Eisenhower Theatre to the stage which was filled with Steinway grands. The Kennedy Center was buying all new pianos and therefore getting rid of all its old ones. Susan told me to try the pianos and pick out the one I liked best. I was delighted. I played all the pianos, more than a dozen of them, but kept coming back to one that was a glory to hear. It finally dawned on me that this piano was the one I had played that season in the lounge. Susan, to my amazement, proceeded to buy that piano and arrange to have it delivered to my house.
A new Steinway grand at the time cost $85,000. I knew that the piano Susan bought me cost less than that—it was, after all, used. And I always assumed that Susan used the money she got from the recent sale of our family house to pay for the piano. But I recently learned that she borrowed the money and is still paying off the loan all these years later. Talk about feeling humbled . . .
I play the piano less often these days than I did in the past—I’m busy with writing, presentations, and readings from my six published books. But several times a week I allow myself the luxury of playing some Mozart and Bach (my two favorite composers) and some of my own compositions.
It is still, after all these years, the most beautiful piano I have ever played.
I’ve written here before about the joy I derive from the Steinway grand piano that dominates the high-ceilinged room in my house that I have dubbed the piano room. The room is two stories high with the eastern wall divided into four floor-to-ceiling windows which flood the room with sunlight each morning. Because of all the glass and the resulting crisp sound, the room is ideal for a piano.
The background on the pleasure I take from the piano is that I have always loved music. As a child, I all but wore out the 78 rpm records I had of symphonies, concertos, and operas. After my father went to prison for embezzlement, we were too poor to own a piano, so I taught myself to play on the pianos at school and went on to major in music at the University of California, Berkeley. I scrounged enough money from part-time jobs to buy an old upright to play my harmony and counterpoint assignments on before I handed them in. I went on to earn a BA in music.
Many years later, my oldest daughter, Susan, and I subscribed to the ballet season performances every year at the Kennedy Center. We’d always arrive early and go to the lounge for a cocktail before the performance. There was always a Steinway grand piano in the lounge, but we were early enough that the player had not yet arrived. I’ve never been able to resist a piano, so I asked permission to play the Steinway.
One season there, the piano in the lounge was the most beautiful instrument I had ever played. I couldn’t wait to get there and had to be dragged away. But the next year, a new Steinway was in place. I tried it and immediately decided that it was inferior to its processor. The same was true every season after that.
More next time.