Death and Syntax

angel of grief at the farm, stanford

The Angel of Grief at the Farm, Stanford, California

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Drove 11 hours by myself today to Pittsburgh. This was made palatable by the provision of much music. Wagner and Das Rheingold was perfect for Indiana, where the boring yet tense over-orchestration made the pleasant countryside and sparse traffic less soporific. Can't wait for Die Valkyrie in Ohio going west. Everywhere the corn was turning golden. King Harvest will surely come. While Barbara claims that on the Ohio Turnpike you leave the Midwest on the first rise out of the Maumee basin just west of the Vermilion River, I would place the change directly at the Pennsylvania line. There the roads become narrow, the hills begin in earnest (not just piddly river valleys) and the construction is everywhere. Nothing better than in the last twenty miles (of 600) finding one's self on a road under construction, its two narrow lanes posted at 45 but with everyone going 60+, and at the bottom of the winding entrance to the Ohio valley seeing police flares blocking off one of these lanes as a teenager (well, young person; they all look so young) has decided to fly off the embankment. He is alive, performing the sobriety dance with the cops, wearing a T-shirt named POLASKI, as we snake past.

The differences between English spoken in the Midwest and here I have heard described as differences in phonetics (crick versus creek, etc.) but I was reminded of other differences as I checked in tonight to the hotel [or should it be "as I checked in to the hotel tonight"?]. This is a Quality Suite place, with about twenty-four unit dwellings, the majority of which are occupied by an outfit named WIRELESS BROADBAND judging from their trucks, it reminds me of TPC in The President's Analyst. The clerk, showing me how to get to Building 5, tells me that the unit is on the second floor and "is walk only up". I think about that, and reply, "Does that mean there are alternate ways to get down?" He doesn't get it. He does tell me that if the unit had been in the basement, it would be "walk only down". The trick of exiling stray prepositions to the end of the sentence is German; I think of English as requiring them to stay close to their verbs.

As I awoke this morning I am reminded of a comment from a patient this week. Warning: this man is not someone you might wish to emulate in your personal life. After a discussion of why it is not worth investing $800 in doing a second paternity test (the first one was apparently positive) he out of the blue asks me if I believe in angels. On the basis of his statements above, and certain other information whose description might totally disgust you, I equivocate [well, I actually said "Maybe."]. His next statement was "Well I don't. Would you want your dead mother watching when you had sex?" There are a lot of assumptions in that statement, two of which are trivial. The first is that his (presumably) dead mother has achieved angelic status. But for the purposes of argument, let us believe in a Lutheran God from Whom we all receive grace (the kicker being that we have to possess that knowledge). Second, the notion that if one doesn't believe in angels they can't watch you when you are having sex seems egocentric. So we are left with the question; what are 30 billion souls (the sum total of all humans since speciation, according to the Wisconsin State Journal) up to? I know that one of those poor angels was assigned to the Farm at Stanford, where he/she is sitting in stone on a grave crying for eternity. And she (he?) has already been defiled by the wrath of the 1906 earthquake, requiring corporeal replacement.

Somehow I don't think there is a lot of day-to-day contact between angels and us, if I may use the construct to refer to the residual notion of ego after death. I don't think that death is like dreams. I think general anesthesia comes closer.

So tomorrow I go to the Crafton Public Library, and the original Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh, and look for evidence of the family of Florus Romulas Cassius Perrin (my great-grandfather, hereafter referred to as F. R. C. Perrin) and Louis F. Wentz and Charles W. Wentz, father and grandfather of Helen Wentz, my grandmother. I must be careful to ignore references to L. H. Wentz, who was born in Pittsburgh about the same time as L. F., but while doing door-to-door solicitation for the Republican party (this is around 1900) met an industrialist who, being so impressed with this man's intelligence, hired him and sent him to Oklahoma to manage his new business in oil. By the 1920's, L. H. Wentz was the 28th richest man in the United States, and "the richest bachelor". For fifty years he lived in a hotel near Tulsa managing the business, and then died. I am sorry, I lost my point somewhere.