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Friday, May 22, 2020

A Journal of the Plague Year . . . Week 7

Week 7 of the new reality. . . . 

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 22

4:00 p.m. — I had an online video chat with family this afternoon: my brother across the city, my brother the optometrist downstate in Ashland, where my mother also lives in her own place (but she’s mostly staying with him because she’s recuperating from neurosurgery performed on March 17, just three days before elective surgeries were barred at that southern Oregon hospital).
We had a lovely catchup. Mom’s stitches came out without a hitch, Ken is seeing a few of his eye patients and getting well caught up on paperwork, Toby has been doing online musical collaborations. Stay-at-home for weeks on end would have been so much more difficult before the Internet.



Just before midnight, Toby uploaded his latest home isolation video: singing and playing “I Play Viola” to the tune of the 1958 Peggy Lee hit “Fever.”


THURSDAY, APRIL 23

11:28 a.m. — Information has been and continues to be shitty. We don’t know where the cases are centered here in Multnomah County, we don’t know how many people are hospitalized or where . . . and we certainly don’t know how or where the people who have tested positive might have been infected.
The Oregon Health Authority web page has been dutifully reporting the total number of tests, and positive and negative results — county by county — every day. Suddenly yesterday it got stuck with “pending *” entered in all the boxes for negative tests and total persons tested statewide, as well as negative results in each county.
I just checked it; no change in the last 24 hours . . . no new data.
And all along for the past six weeks, the numbers may have been far too low to reflect reality on the streets because of low, restricted testing when we should have been testing everybody — on request, at least, if not everyone, period. Otherwise, we’re administering policy at the government level, and trying to do the right thing at the individual level, in the dark.
Meanwhile, I have to go out today to get medicine for my girls. I’m trying to anticipate all the potential obstacles and challenges, and pack whatever tools I can think of or have on hand to meet them.

8:19 p.m. — For today’s long walk, I took a MAX light-rail train all the way to its northern terminus, at the Portland Expo Center just off the Columbia River and walked back into the city. After walking five miles south through various North Portland neighborhoods (and taking a selfie with the Paul Bunyan statue at N. Interstate and Denver), I hopped a train back across the river to the west side, swung past the uncharacteristically locked and empty Powell’s Books and Multnomah County Library/Central Branch, and took a streetcar home.
Along the way I saw a Canada Goose and a cormorant on Columbia Slough, lots of tulips and apple blossoms, squirrels dashing about quiet yards, and my filmmaker colleague Sean Parker at his home.


FRIDAY, APRIL 24

A very happy birthday to my dear wife, Carole Barkley. Here’s a piece I posted to this blog three years ago, when we had more to celebrate.

3:40 p.m. — I might have known.
My insurance provider has refused to cover disinfectant injections.

3:53 p.m. — I posted my blog commentary, “The Meaning of the Mask”: straight talk about the reasons to wear a mask in public. (Heres me visiting Sean Parkers home on Thursday with Sean crouching on his porch in the background.).

9:50 p.m. — In another week, we’re on course to have more than one million confirmed cases of  of covid-19 in the U.S., and more Americans killed than in the seven-year Vietnam War.


SATURDAY, APRIL 25

12:01 p.m. — Wow. On Thursday I made my first visit to commercial retail establishments in five weeks . . . and the Whole Foods in the Pearl was one of them. Shoppers were sparse and easily avoided, and I wore a mask and latex gloves which I discarded at the door.
I hope everyone else there is okay.


SUNDAY, APRIL 26

2:42 p.m. — SELF-QUARANTINE SERENDIPITY
We had a fortuitous set of circumstances come together yesterday: A substituted grocery delivery that didn’t work for us turned out to fulfill a need for a neighbor — AND we got a refund.
First, you have to understand that although we’re nominally a vegetarian household as far as the humans are concerned, we have purchased fresh chicken breast on an ongoing basis the past few years for our aging Toy Fox Terrier, Pixie. She has pancreatitis, which leads to alimentary flareups (diarrhea, vomiting, panic attacks) if she consumes too much fat and sugar … so she’s found herself unaccountably less successful at begging table scraps. We buy chicken breast to boil and chop for serving with vegetable matter, doggie fiber, vitamin supplements, and probiotics.





For yesterday’s delivery, the online grocer “helpfully” substituted several packages of chicken thighs for half of our order — apparently because supplies were short. That wouldn’t do for our dog, and we weren’t going to eat them. The supplier readily refunded our money, but said they couldn’t accept return of the meat.
Carole called a neighbor whose acquaintance we made shortly after she moved into our complex last fall. We’d lent her surplus furniture and dinnerware while she awaited delivery of her belongings which had been delayed, and even an occasional power tool, for which she has repaid us with bottles of wine.
Would she like our surplus chicken? She only eats dark meat, she responded . . . which was exactly what was on offer. When I went to her apartment with the packages, through the door from inside she showed me a photo of a chicken-thigh entrée on her mobile; I was just asking friends if they knew where I could order the meat, she told me.

2:55 p.m. — Here’s my workspace.





Since I spend even more time sitting here these days than I did in years past to do my free-lance editing, I’m even more grateful that several years ago I sprung for “The City Awakens,” a six shot composite photograph of downtown Portland at dawn, reproduced in metal print, by Tad Hetu.
I saw a copy displayed at DragonFire Gallery in Cannon Beach and ordered a copy through them . . . although I was able to fetch mine from the hands of the photographer, who lives in Hillsboro, after taking a ride out there via the MAX.
I’d buy more of his fantastic work if I had the money.


MONDAY, APRIL 27

10:23 a.m. — A mild surprise during my recent peripatetic explorations of my city has been the number of free libraries I’ve run across, even though I chose fairly random routes along side streets as much as I could, to avoid other pedestrian and cycle traffic.
They consist of a little wooden cottage or box atop a post, typically chest high, with a shelf or two of books either behind glass doors or set back deeply enough to protect them from the elements, with the implied invitation to “leave one, and take one.”
They haven’t been many in number, but for me to have run across several by chance wanderings through unfamiliar neighborhoods struck me as rather wonderful. One was up the hill from our neighborhood, on SW Hamilton a block west of Barbur (thats it, in the photo to the right), another ’way across town near the intersection of N. Concord and Church.
I couldn’t tell whether any were post covid-lockdown or longtime fixtures, though I suspect the latter. They struck me as uncharacteristically perfect preparation for the pandemic lockdown.

2:20 p.m. — For today’s long walk, I made first-time use of a custom-made cloth mask gifted to me last Thursday by Harmony Sage Lawrence.
I crossed Interstate 5 via the Darlene Hooley footbridge, through Lair Hill and the campus of Portland State University to SW 18th and up into Washington Park . . . doubled back to the Vista Bridge . . . over to the Lewis & Clark monument (where I acted multiple roles in an outdoor production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” nearly 12 years ago) . . . up to the Holocaust Memorial . . . then down the hill to NW 23rd and halfway north on it to Marshall, where I boarded an NS line streetcar for home.
Heres that mask when I visited the Walk of the Heroines at Portland State, and the name to the right of me, Matsu Ito Asai, is my grandmother, who came to the U.S. from Japan as a picture bride in August 1911.






TUESDAY, APRIL 28

12:33 a.m. — The first couple weeks of this, I really enjoyed taking the dog out every night for her final walk ’round midnight.
I loved the unaccustomed, heightened quiet of our neighborhood. Not even an intermittent string of cars coming down Bond Avenue at the rate of at least one per minute (and not a few choosing to roll through the stop signs). No more high-octane sports cars roaring a block or two between intersections. (Yes, we have Cobras, Teslas, Ferraris, and the occasional Lamborghini here — mostly operated, I would imagine, by college students from overseas.) No more bicycles whizzing by in near silence from behind you and startling you in the darkness.
Tonight I did see one or two cars during the 15 minutes Pixie and I were out, and two other human beings on foot — one with his own tiny dog.
But somehow, for once, it really felt as if all the people were gone . . . and they weren’t coming back.




*       *       *       *       *

Had enough? If not, here’s “A Journal of the Plague Year . . . Week 6

(covers updates on pleasure reading and Russian bot attacks, birdbaths and a dry Portland April, calculating an “acceptable” loss of lives from the coronovirus pandemic, the difference between an “excuse” and a “reason,” and giving in to the Kindle)


(which includes long walks through NE and SE Portland, tactics for maneuvering through the streets in mask and gloves, the current plague of faux certainties, and visits to the Rose City Book Pub and Reed College campus)

You could also check out “A Journal of the Plague Year . . . Week 4

(for my exhausting attempts to obtain unemployment benefits, first long walks about SW and SE Portland and what I learned from them, idiocy from the governor of Georgia, my online reading with the cast of my March play production of a new short play by the lead actor, and how it’s all Obama’s fault)


(a visit on foot to a remarkably deserted downtown Portland, my analysis of the initial patterns of coronavirus testing and spread in Oregon and major metro counties, several dismissals of the worthless Incumbent, 


(the remarkably dry and beautiful weather that has brightened our self-isolation, a library books pile-up, a visit to the Portland Farmers Market after lockdown, the Whole Foods “early elders shopping hour,” a hike up the hills to visit my best friend from grade school, and memories of Nevil Shute’s On the Beach)


(the weird hand-washing behavior of men, the shutdown of Portland arts events, and the national run on guns and toilet paper)



Tuesday, May 19, 2020

No . . . I Didn't Really Type That, Did I? (best typos of 2018)


Editing and proofreading is detail work that can be tiring. One of the compensations is the perennial potential for running across a typo that creates a hilarious image or self-contradiction — a sort of natural pun.

After I posted the best ones from last year, I realized I had not collected up the beauties from the year before. So here they are. . . . 


Jan. 4:  “It’s common for toddlers to be weary of strangers….”
No kidding. Especially if they want to talk investment strategies or tax policy.


Jan. 25:  Tonight I was spot editing a website for a dentist in Florida and discovered one of the icons on her Home page that’s supposed to link to a professional ratings site directs instead to the review for an OB/GYN in the state of Washington who happens to have the same name.
I notified the in-house project manager for the site and commented: “I understand different orifices are involved.”


Feb. 5:  Online review of a business by a satisfied customer: “The entire staff treats you like famy.”
Is that supposed to be “fame” or “famine”?


Feb. 14:  Best typo of the day: a person reports that he volunteers his time at the “Bong Crosby Theater” in Spokane.
Well, that IS the big new cash crop in the Pacific Northwest these days. . . .


March 6:  Adventures in Editing, episode 347: “As a lifelong Wisconsin native….”
You mean he NEVER attempted to change his birthplace? Not once?


March 15:  Apparently no typos, but I was reading Germaine Greer’s fascinating speculative biography, Shakespeare’s Wife, and at one point the author talks about how often Elizabethan wives had their first child in far less than nine months after marriage. One of the examples she pulled from the archives are the marvelously named “Joan Slye, who married George Careless on 16 March [1582]….”


May 10:  I ran across a new coffee-table-style book at the library titled The Coen Brothers: the iconic filmmakers and their work, unofficial and unauthorized by a British author, Ian Nathan, and a British publisher, Aurum Press in London.
Beautifully designed and lavishly illustrated, it turns out to consist mostly of magazine trivia and interviews: interesting, sure, but not terribly deep.
What’s most unfortunate are the plentiful editorial goofs — assuming anyone DID edit the manuscript — for example:

  • The “palate” of Miller’s Crossing is said to be rich, antique browns, greens, and greys (p. 39)
  • Holly Hunter plays Penny with “vice-like” singlemindedness (p. 100), which is a homonym-inspired error I see often in my web editing work, and sometimes even in published books
  • At the height of their powers, the reports of Hollywood columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons were “poured over” by millions (p. 167), a similar common homonymic mistake

May 20:  I’m proofreading a website on which one of the staff members reported she likes to relax with “a good glass of presaco.”
I’m cutting her off.



May 22:  One of the challenges of proofreading bios on people’s business web sites is to fix typos and confusing punctuation while trying to preserve as much as the person’s “voice” as possible.
Here someone wrote, “you could say I’m a trivia wiz.” The odds are that she meant “whiz,” as in the century-old term for a clever person. People often spell words, especially slang terms, as they hear them rather than in accordance with their sense.
But perhaps she thought “wiz” is short for “wizard.”
What to do? Fix what may well be a typo to reflect what the person meant, or leave it as a potentially thought-provoking slang neologism?


June 3:  “I’m a member of ‘Crochet Unto Others,’ a group that creates and donates hats, gloves, and scares” to homeless and poor people.
That’s nice, but do they really need that last item? What if you foster a dependency?


June 22:  I just changed a photo caption that read “Western yellowjacket on cabbage leaf, praying on insect,” because I just didn’t have time to inquire whether it was a Lutheran or Presbyterian.


July 24:  The bio page for this dentist reads: “At the end of each day, I hope that my passion for dentistry was a little bite contagious and inspired my patients to be as excited about their oral health as I am.”
Probably a typo that wasn’t intended as a witty sorta pun. . . .


June 25:  To reduce a snoring problem, “Have your child blow his or her noise every night before bed.”
Would a kazoo be sufficient, or should I purchase a brass instrument for my kid?


June 27:  “______ has three children. They are all gown up now….”
You mean they’re all graduating today? Or they all practice surgery? 


July 11:  “… They are all super friendly and knowledgeable. My kids are always greeted as soon as they walk into the door….”
I hope they also receive immediate first aid!


Aug. 1:  “She loves … finding treasures at flea markets she can breathe new life into.”
How do the flea markets feel about it?


Aug. 24:  “… my family is of Caribbean decent.”
Okay, but are they ALL decent?


Aug. 24:  “As a wind musician, she also has a unique understanding on how orthodontics can affect the embrasure….”
Huh. I never had any trouble storming the castle when I played the clarinet.
[For those of you who were never in band or orchestra, the word they wanted there was “embouchure.”]


Aug. 25: We dropped into Phó Van Fresh for a bite, and I noticed the big menu on the wall included the entrée “Eggplant (vegetarian).”
I pointed this out to Carole and added, “It may even be gluten-free.”


Aug. 26:  “She regularly participates in continuous education courses….”
So when does she have time to do any work at the office?
“… and traveling internationally with her soccer team Vintage Lightening.”
Does that mean they are always on a diet as well as practicing their corner kicks?


Oct. 1:  “He received his undergraduate Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Florida….”
Really? I’m impressed.
From which high school and postgraduate institutions did he obtain bachelor’s degrees?


Nov. 17:  “… If you don’t know what your competition is planning, you could be blind sighted.”
I’m afraid I’m unfamiliar with the condition . . . but it doesn’t sound good.


Nov. 27:  In a piece about insomnia and sleep deprivation, the writer typed the following priceless piece of advice:
“From a mental perspective, you want to hit the hay with a clear conscious.”
And stay that way, all night long!






Dec. 16:  From a website for gardeners and landscapers to warn against spraying pesticides during a weather inversion:
“Look for a lawyer of low-lying clouds or smoke….”
Geez, those guys can be a real pain in the rear, you know?


Dec. 16:  “For homeowners armed with a smartphone, apps — often accompanied by physical hardware….”
I’m more interested in tech hardware that’s intangible, please.


Dec. 19:  “I have two grown sons who bring me great joy and have been happily married to my husband for many years.”
That’s a pretty interesting arrangement. Do you all get along?


Dec. 26:  “Latest research show that these pathogens have been linked to a number of other diseases such as cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, low birth weight, babies, and diabetes.”
Wow. And all this time, I thought it was the stork.


Dec. 28:  “X-rays cleaning and meeting the dentist was quick but did not feel rushed.”
He let you do that to him, did he?


*       *       *       *       *

If this sort of foolishness appeals to you, check out:


OMG … Did I Really Type That?  (best typos of 2017)





Saturday, May 16, 2020

Going to Work for Harlan Ellison . . . a 1996 memory


I saw Harlan Ellison in a more conventional setting the following year. It was a lecture at MIT, at the other end of Cambridge. I remember he took a while to tell much of the story about the anguish of dealing with moronic movie producers while working on his screen adaptation of Asimov’s I, Robot a few years before.

During the autograph session afterward I handed him a print of the photo I’d taken of him at his typewriter at the Sheraton Commander the year before, and he thanked me in a personalized signing of my first cloth edition of Deathbird Stories.

Around the same time, I was lucky to see the pair of artists who had done so many covers for Ellison as well as the inner illustrations for the Dangerous Visions series. Partners in art and life, Leo and Diane Dillon came to Boston on tour. I bought a copy of the most recent coffee-table children’s book they’d illustrated, Jan Carew’s Children of the Sun, but also had them sign their names next to Harlan’s in my first edition of his most recent collection that carried their cover art, Shatterday.

In the summer of 1987 I left Boston to return to my home state of Oregon. I landed a job as a reporter for the daily paper in Roseburg, and settled in to cover local news, write concert and film reviews, and compose occasional hell-raising op-ed columns for fun, practice, and the angry letters to the editor they brought in.




Those were the days when I rarely encountered anyone who was acquainted with my favorite band, Gentle Giant, or the writers I loved most, such as Peter Matthiessen, Timothy Findley, and Ellison. At some point in 1989 or 1990, I gave a lecture at the Douglas County Library to introduce listeners to Harlan’s work, and I think the librarians were inspired to order copies of several of his books for the collection.

I talked about the raw power and imagination of a writer who could occasionally be sloppy about dates, facts, and references. When the novelist and writing teacher John Gardner (the American author of Grendel, The Sunlight Dialogues, In the Suicide Mountains, and Mickelsson’s Ghosts — NOT the British John Gardner who wrote spy thrillers, including James Bond continuations and several fine Sherlock Holmes pastiches centered on Moriarty) picked on a passage from an early Ellison book as an example of bad writing in Gardner’s 1983 book The Art of Fiction, I was annoyed on Ellison’s behalf

With the advent of the Internet in the early to mid 1990s, activity picked up again. Various Usenet discussion groups devoted to science fiction sprang up, and eventually one called alt.fan.harlan-ellison. Some of the other longtime fans I would meet in person over the years and continue to talk with on Facebook I first “met” there.

White Wolf, a Georgia-based publisher of role-playing and fantasy games that must have made some serious money, announced it was going to republish the entire works of several iconic writers, including Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, and Ellison. The idea would be to bind a pair of his older books in each volume with all-new cover art.

The end result was projected to fill 31 volumes. I’m sure I was not the only fan who, aware of the author’s many past fights with publishers who had mishandled his work in the past, and smirked to myself and thought: I wonder how long this is going to last? (As it turned out, the answer would be just four books.)

Volume I of Edgeworks hit the streets in May 1996, comprising (appropriately) the fairly early (1970) story collection Over the Edge, and essays that had initially appeared mostly in L.A. Weekly between 1980 and 1983 under the title “An Edge In My Voice” — first collected in book form in 1985. The White Wolf edition was beautiful: solid, weighty, with an evocative illustration by a new artist, Jill Bauman.

BUT . . . it was a shambles in terms of the text. Misspelled words turned up every few pages. Another regular error my proofreader’s eye I noted were double spaces between words in the middle of sentences. I was appalled.

Volume II, published in November 1996, collected Spider Kiss and Stalking the Nightmare and was no better. I noted that Steven Seagal’s name was misspelled, and fricassee was wrong, on p. xxxv. Even more obvious, in the sixth paragraph of chapter 6, “gstalt” and “teh” (instead of “the”) turn up. Even a non-proofreader would have noticed those. A few pages later, on page 47, Shelly Morgenstern says “I’ll take a look a look on the kid.”

In Stephen King’s Foreword to the second half, one finds the phrase “… preserved between the boards of one of this admirable book.” Even foreign phrases you’d think a person would have to check, such as “rictus sardonius” (which is how it appeared in chapter 20) made it into the First White Wolf Omnibus Edition.

Since they’d done this twice in a row, I felt the need to step up. I wrote Harlan a letter to say “you and your work deserve better.” I don’t think I kept a copy, but I’m sure I pointed out an array of egregious examples from the first two volumes and offered to proofread the next White Wolf volume for free.

Although I’d seen him read and speak in public twice — in Cambridge 13 or 14 years before — and I’d interviewed him briefly over the phone in 1984, I was still nothing more than a fan from his perspective. I doubt my name would have meant anything to him even by the late 1990s.

Ellison called me at home (I think on the first try he got my wife Carole) and said he would “try me out” on this one, and if he liked my work, he might have me do more and pay me the next time. So in the winter of 1996/97 I went through the galley proofs for Edgeworks 3 — which combined The Harlan Ellison Hornbook (a series of essays that had originally appeared mostly in the Los Angeles Free Press and Los Angeles Weekly News in 1972 and 1973) with Harlan Ellison’s Movie, a screenplay commissioned by Marvin Schwartz and written about 1970.

For pro bono labor, this was highly enjoyable work, given that the Hornbook is wildly peripatetic and veers further into personal content than the “Edge In My Voice” columns, which tended to stay closer to political and film/TV industry topics. I still have the 2-1/2-inch stack of laser-printed proof pages the publisher FedEx’d to me at Harlan’s insistence on Dec. 27, 1996 and I proceeded to mark up with a red pen . . . as well about 10 pages of notes I faxed to the White Wolf team between Jan. 16 and Feb. 6, 1997.

Looking back over them and comparing my first-edition copy, I’m reminded that White Wolf rushed to publish in May without doing everything I advised. For example, the global coordinates in the second paragraph of Harlan’s introduction, “The Lost Secrets of East Atlantis” on p. xvii, still have curly apostrophes for the latitudinal and longitudinal minutes.

(The proper vertical marks — ' and " — are known as a prime and double prime. Before computers came along, most manual typewriters offered only these options for apostrophes and quotation marks. Some of you might recall that certain typewriters made you type a prime, then back-space and type a period below it to create an exclamation point. Later, dot-matrix and early computer word-processing programs did the same. Now that most computers offer all the options in their massive toolbox of fonts, primes are best preserved for geographical minutes and seconds, as well as feet and inches — as in, I am 5' 10" tall — so “smart” or “curly” apostrophes and quotation marks may retain their own identity and do their job. A lot of Internet-age babies don’t know the difference, however, so you’ll see primes all over websites even now. I’m nitpicky, which is what makes me such a good proofreader and editor.)

In the second paragraph of Installment 10, “The Day I Died,” ’67 Camaro still has a hash mark for what SHOULD be an apostrophe . . . but at least it isn’t an open quotation mark — as in, ’67 Camaro — which is what I caught in the galley proof. These are just a couple examples of screwups that ran to the dozens.

As I stated above, Harlan was a great raconteur — a storyteller par excellence. But he didn’t always get every detail right. That’s not such a big deal when your task is to stir and entertain an audience with a fantasy story or screenplay . . . but in nonfiction on the page — and especially when you’re quoting someone with attribution — you ought to get it right. That’s where nitpickers like me come in.

Before Edgeworks 3 went to press, I noticed instances where Harlan misquoted Michigan J. Frog, Pogo, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I assume the quotes were wrong in his original newspaper columns, but I have not seen copies of those. They were certainly wrong in the first book edition (the Penzler), and the errors were copied into the White Wolf galley proofs, where I saw them.





You remember Michigan J. Frog, don’t you? He’s the singing, dancing amphibian in the 1955 Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies cartoon directed by Chuck Jones, “One Froggy Evening,” who pops out of a box inside the 1892 cornerstone of the demolished J.C. Wilber Building, pulls up a top hat and cane, and proceeds to dance and sing . . . what?

In Hornbook installment 23, dated April 19, 1973, Harlan renders it as “Hello, my honey, hello, my baby, hello my ragtime gal….” I sensed that wasn’t right because my Dad used to sing the phrase to himself when I was a kid in the Sixties. It was “Hello, my baby, hello, my honey, hello, my ragtime gal….”

Sure, it’s a small thing, but when a cultural reference is that famous (and since the advent of YouTube, so readily available), it’s going to clang on a lot of readers’ ears if you switch the words around. Worse, the song’s very title — a Tin Pan Alley composition by Joseph E. Howard and Ida Emerson dating back to 1899 — is “Hello Ma Baby.” And the frog reprises it exactly the same way in the climax of that two-and-a-half-minute classic, in the year 2056.

I’m a little surprised that the first time Harlan misquoted Pogo and Dr. King, in an essay he titled “The Song the Sixties Sang,” the venue was Playboy magazine, whose fact checkers should have caught them. At the climax of that piece, Harlan cites a short list of ringing phrases from the decade he wishes to honor. Smartly, he notes the perennial confusion over what Neil Armstrong really said after stepping on the moon in 1969 with some well-placed brackets: “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

But here are the two final quotes in that list:

— Pogo: “We have met the enemy, and they are us.”
— Martin again, and last, and always: “Free at last! Free at last! Great God a-mighty, I’m free at last!”

Now, the Pogo citation is grammatically correct, but it’s a misquote that fails to reproduce the dialect of Walt Kelly’s southern swamp critters. Perhaps Harlan confused the Pogo/Walt Kelly line with the historic phase they were parodying: Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s triumphant report to General William Henry Harrison at the conclusion of the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812, “We have met the enemy, and they are ours!”


Pogo’s version was in fact “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” Many years earlier, in 1953, Walt Kelly did write something very close to it, in the introduction to The Pogo Papers

Traces of nobility, gentleness and courage persist in all people, do what we will to stamp out the trend. So, too, do those characteristics which are ugly. It is just unfortunate that in the clumsy hands of a cartoonist all traits become ridiculous, leading to a certain amount of self-conscious expostulation and the desire to join battle.
There is no need to sally forth, for it remains true that those things which make us human are, curiously enough, always close at hand. Resolve then, that on this very ground, with small flags waving and tinny blast on tiny trumpets, we shall meet the enemy, and not only may he be ours, he may be us.

The classic “We have met the enemy, and he is us” first appeared on a poster Kelly designed for the first Earth Day in 1970, and he placed in the mouth of Pogo, the Okefenokee opossum, the following year.

As for the ringing final words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, he too was quoting something else: an African-American spiritual. I don’t know the song, and we can debate whether King said “a-mighty” or managed to get out “almighty” out . . . but clearly, he says “Thank God,” not “Great God….”






As you’ll find in your copy of Edgeworks 3, I managed to get the quotes by Michigan J. Frog and Pogo corrected, but not Dr. King’s. Two out of three isn’t too bad, I guess.


*       *       *       *       *

[ Coming up, dining with Harlan in Oregon in 2001, indexing the Teats while recovering from knee surgery, and pushing a dead 1947 Packard down La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles. . . . ]

If you haven’t read them yet, here’s The Harlan Ellison Non-Interview, circa 1984

and my 1981 Cambridge, Massachusetts memory of Harlan writing and reading