Self Involvement

So is the The Katzenjammer Kids a good poem? No, it clearly isn’t. But I think that it would be fair to say that it is a poem. But suppose I want to disavow KK. Am I free to cancel my labeling of the poem a poem? And am I free to cancel my labeling of the poem a poem in a way that I am not free to call it a bad poem? If I publish these particular words in Poetry magazine, then it seems to me that I am not free to call this poem ‘not a poem’. I’ve already placed my bets, so to speak, and you must judge it as it works as a poem.

But them, who am I, to tell you how you should react to anything? It seems in poor taste.

This post for instance. You might read it as just a few moment’s distraction, or you might think of it as the height of self-involvement (on my part). How can he worry about such trivia when the world is going to hell in a handbasket?

Suppose I call it a poem?

On theKatzenjammer Kids

John Armstrong who is one of the finest minds who writes on poetry on the internet, once offered a decision-making procedure for recognizing a poem. He said (and I do not quote) if the person who wrote it called it a poem, then it was s poem.

One sympathizes. It’s easy to miss something. One thinks of Whitman sending Leaves of Grass to Emerson. It would have been easy to miss Whitman, ‘one of the roughs’. Emerson had the wit and perception to recognize one of the poetic greats among those roughs. I posted the Katzenjammer Kids on May 8TH; I wanted to see what people would make of it. Mostly I got strong silence. People are generally tactful about the things you post. Though, I once gave a poem to one of my brothers-in laws to read, and he said it was a lot of stupid nonsense.

Now I value such thoughts. The trouble with the internet is that is too self-absorbed. Nobody will say, Hey you could do a little better than that. I wonder how many poems actually get read that are posted on the internet I know I read precious few.

Another fine mind I have come across on the Internet Tom Davis. Tom is unusual in that actuality took the time to write long comment’s on my poems; see for example this one.

I’m going to write more on this subject. So satay tuned.

Yes

Stately, plump Buck Molasses fished his knife out of a wooden tool box. He blessed it thrice at the kitchen sink, the stove and the refrigerator, then whetted it on a small Japanese water stone, and then—wow—he cut off his ring finger. It slipped, it could happen to anyone; it happen just that fast. Instant blood, thick as molasses dripped in pools on the granite countertop; it flashed through his mind that he could be a bee planning to open a vein and fry up some of those kidneys he had gotten from Mikes for breakfast. Ha-ha. The kidneys filtered the blood, right? But first things first. He had to staunch the blood flow; he had to call Sweetness. They would have to find his find his finger; they could do miracles these days; they could do wonders. Sew it back like it was a button.

Mr. Molasses had passed out after a bleeding incident a couple of weeks ago and he didn’t want to hit his head again. His hand was shaking, he was beginning to feel faint and nauseated, and he could go into shock, fall and hit his head on the counter or one of the chairs—and on top of everything he was getting blood on the deerstalker cap. It was contrary to his nature, but he had to act quickly. They say the proper judgement of a man’s age is not how long he’s been alive, but how long he has to live. Age is like an heirloom long after the provenance has lapsed—and you don’t want to wear a deerstalker cap to the Burger King, not the one that the great Basel Rathbone had immortalized in The Hound of the Baskervilles, do you? Mr. Molasses was comfortable with the idea that its provenance was everything; in fact, all that it had: a simple list of the previous owners—Sir Bernard Williams, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Mr. Molasses—could take you a long way in the heirloom business, You couldn’t get much better than that. Maybe if Prince Charles had owned it for a few years….

The one thing that bothered Mr. Molasses was the so-called cap gap. There was no record of this old hat for almost twenty years. Did it really reside in the bottom of a circus trunk owned by Elbow Grease the Clown? Mr. Molasses knew cheap goods when he saw them and he saw them right here.

He would let the fish and chips fall where they may on that one, however, for the cap had engendered a meeting with Benedict Cumberbatch, and—this was unbelievable—Benedict had asked for advice in his performance as Shylock in the Merchant of Vengeance—and better yet, Cumberbatch had hinted that he was looking to form a production company—something along the lines of Merchant/Ivory—something one would be proud to be a part of. Mr. Molasses smiled that shy silent smile of his. If he wanted it, he had a whole new career ahead of him. They could seal the deal at any time. All he needed was 50,000 dollars American as earnest money (and one knew the importance of being earnest) and a pound of flesh to seal the deal and he was a made man, so to speak. Mr. Molasses would be a partner, a creative partner, in Cumberbatch and Molasses Limited.

While Mr. Molasses was lost in thought, Sweetness came into the kitchen looking like a sprig of spring honeysuckle, which was not unusual for her. The robins smiled. The hawks circled lower in the sky. Even the cows danced. Sweetness was there to keep her father company while Mrs. Molasses was in London for some sort of meeting—neither Sweetness nor Mr. Molasses knew what it was for exactly. Mrs. Molasses worked as a consultant for a consortium of globally run international banks. (The CGRIB) She made pretty good bucks. That placated the more artistic part of the family.

Sweetness assessed the sbituation swiftly. Her father had cut himself again, and he had lost a lot of blood. His skin had turned sallow, pale as ale, and he had that wild look in his eye. He was going to have to lie down. Sweetness found the knife—it was under the stove, where Blackstrap was hiding whimpering. Blackstrap had blood all over his mouth and teeth, and a guilty look on his face.

I’ve been waiting for the proper place to describe Sweetness, and this is it. To say she was beautiful is to say the sun is hot; it is to say the desert is dry and ocean wet, To phrase  Sweetness is to leave the imagination behind.. It was to take arms against the sea. Sweetness was a composite of Shirley Temple and Kathryn Hepburn with a dollop of Bridget Bardot. Sweetbess he was currently reading James Joyce. She went to Yale. Her mentor had been Harold Bloom until he died. At the moment, she was wondering what she was going to say to her father when he asked her what she thought of the last chapter of Ulysses, Molly Bloom’s erotic symphony.

Yes.

In a Bedroom Beside the Swaying Sea

In a bedroom beside the swaying sea,
I say this to show how unwise these fishes are:
How they smell of the sea; how they are like

A meat made maritime as it meets
the sun, as it sets thick as molasses
Made of urine-soaked brine. It may be

The police are as tall as the tallest lilac
and just as inspired—for the gullsh are
as lipid as an old man at sea.

How I used to lie in bed, thinking,
in long narrow puddles, of a rain
that made the missing marshes plain.

How grass is a song that could only
Be sung for a song, and with only
The shadowy blue flowers to praise them,

A kind of succulent, displayed as morning.
—Or was it a succubus who could sow
Deeds as successfully as seeds,

Plying her trade in a bedroom;
The sea swaying and throwing spiffs
of light among the heraldic grass…

DEERSTALKER, THE MOVIE

If you would like to read this narrative from the beginning, go to Mr. and Mrs. Molassasses

 

A pale blue envelope with green ink addressed to Mr. Shylock Holmes—Shylock—was in with the ordinary fan-mail. Benedict Cumberbatch fished it out, and held it up to the light. He was feeling more and more like Sherlock Holmes as he examined the envelope. He could do a ‘Holmes’ right now, if you want. For example, the paper: It was handmade and expensive. He concluded the sender was probably rich. Benedict could even make out a watermark; it looked like a wild dog, fangs growing larger as he pulled at his leash. Benedict could almost hear the dog growl. Huh, there was some hostility here. This letter was from the States; it was from an older woman and she was a Shakespeare fanatic, who called herself Mrs. Molasses. Holmes figured she was 50 pounds overweight and walked with a cane. She had one daughter, who was extremely attractive. And… she was also in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, though in all probability she had not been diagnosed as yet. Her letter explained that her husband, Mr. Molasses, was a big fan of ‘Sherlock’, and would love to have some tangible memento of the show. And, yes, he was the Mr. Molasses, the one who was responsible for making the phrase ‘molasses going uphill in January’ into a household name. She had noticed the stalker cap was listed in the current Sotheby’s catalog, and since she was coming to London for business anyway, she hoped that they would be able to work out a private deal for the cap. Benedict realized he had better call Martin Freeman right away, so he would be ready. Clients liked to have Dr. Watson present at the initial consultation. Benedict believed it was because they thought Watson would write up their case and they could thus be a part of the Sherlock cannon. Sherlock Holmes was one of the few characters in literature who people treated as a real person. Not Don Quixote, not Ishmael, not Huckleberry Finn, not Leopold Bloom, not even Harold Bloom—only Sherlock Holmes stepped off the page as if he were a real person. Benedict Cumberbatch felt the responsibility of keeping the tradition alive. He and Martin Freeman would wait for Mrs. Molasses to arrive. They could play it like it was a movie—a movie with invisible cameras. She must be a very sweet person, Mrs. Molasses. It was too bad that he was going to have to give her bad news, that the cap had been lost.

When Martin Freeman aka Dr. Watson arrived, he was a few minutes late, which meant Benedict Cumberbatch aka Sherlock Holmes had to vamp for a few moments. He watched as a hansom cab pulled up at the front door. An older woman got down on the sidewalk. She had a cane, and when she moved Holmes was reminded of glaciers calving—so slow, so stately, so regal. He was somewhat disappointed that he had missed the reason for her using a cane. She had fallen coming down the stairs, tripping the light fantastic over the family dog. And it had been a hard fall too: she had almost completely flipped over; she hit her head in the banister and then pitched forward. It was lucky for her that she landed on the laundry hamper; it provided her with a semi-soft landing, her ankle, though, was badly swollen; she walked extremely slowly. Slower, in fact, than molasses going uphill in January.

As he helped her into a big over-stuffed chair Mrs. Molasse winced in pain; she rested her head back on the antimacassar Mrs. Hudson, his landlady, insisted he use— so many people have such dirty hair these days. Holmes thought she might begin to cry, but no, she rallied herself and by the time tea was served she was smiling and ready to begin. It seemed to Benedict she was gradually turning into a lump of sugar—beginning to melt. There was something about Mrs. Molasses that had awoke in Sherlock protective instincts he didn’t know he had. He knew he was going to have to track down the missing cap and give it to Mrs. Molasses, come hell or high water. Dr. Watson came in, and sat down. It was just like old times.

Mrs. Molasses put on a performance in the telling of the tale. She threw her head back dramatically. She laughed. She cried. She spoke softly. She yelled. Mrs. Molasses was really quite the actress.

This is the story she had to tell: The Molasses had had a dog for some 15 years, named Blackstrap. Recently he had changed. Once a wonderful companion, Blackstrap had suddenly turned against her. He growled and bared his teeth. And he had passive hostilities too. He left dog dirt in the corners and got urine under the refrigerator—she didn’t know how. Mrs. Molasses was afraid to be alone in the kitchen with him. She honestly believed he was trying to kill her. Watson interrupted. He ventured the idea ‘that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’. Mrs. Molasses frowned. She looked at him as if he were hollow. ‘My good woman…’

Sherlock who had been staring off in to space looked down quickly. He could sense that for all her solemnity, Mrs. Molasses did not suffer fools gladly. He gave his private sign to Watson which meant ‘Grow up, Watson,’

Sherlock openly wondered what they could do about a dog in the states. After all, they were in London; it was a six hour plane ride that loomed between them. But Mrs. Molasses had done her homework. She knew that Benedict Cumberbatch, who, after all, had played Holmes for the entire BBC production of Sherlock, and could do it again, was rumored to be planning a stage production of The Merchant of Venice for the Broadway stage. So, he would be coming to New York shortly. Mrs. Molasses would be willing to pay for Dr. Watson’s passage. They could stay at the Embassy Suites, When Benedict came o to the house, he could pretend he was bringing the deerstalker cap for Mr., Molasses birthday. When he wasn’t looking they could dispense the dog. All she wanted was the film rights to their investigation.

Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Martin Freeman—all took a deep; breath—as if the room had been suddenly  evacuated of all its oxygen.

 

The film rights?

 

 

Big Fish Eat Little Fish

If you would like to read this narrative from the beginning, go to Mr. and Mrs. Molassass

 

Mr. Molasses often segued between trust and distrust of his self and that self’s betrayal. He was never suspicious. Mrs. Molasses, trended in the opposite direction. She was lusciously suspicious. Today she had her cross hairs on Father Paul, the new priest down at St Paramour’s. She was trying to understand how he had found his way into the Catholic Church. Mrs. Molasses didn’t understand Christianity very well, though she didn’t realize it. Despite her years as a practicing Catholic, she was at best a wishing well. You toss in a coin and you get to play lottery with your future.

As she watched from the porch, Mr. Molasses slowly climbed into his antigravity machine; it was an odd-looking contraption. Mr. Molasses had built it from things he had found around the house: like an old radio antenna, some pieces of plywood, the motor from an old refrigerator, a carpenter’s level and an enema bag. Mr. Molasses had named it ‘Sinai’ after that mountain in Israel and the hospital in New York. At first, he couldn’t get in; his huge girth was seeping through the cracks. Then something inside gave way and Mr. Molasses slid in. It made him look like the man in the moon in Georges Melies old movie. Mrs. Molasses did not approve of this public display; he had put up flood lights and rented bleachers. As far as Mrs. Molasses was concerned, he was wasting too much effort and money.

That Mr. Molasses looked ridiculous, fooling with this stuff in the front yard, was beyond question. He had his Captain America suit on and he looked like a big cod fish, beached by a random wave down at the beach. It reminded Mrs. Molasses of that old Peiter Bruegel, etching. Big Fish Eat Little Fish.

She was about to go back inside—despite the sun, it was a little chilly—when the Sinai started to fall. Out of the blue and for no apparent reason, Sinai collapsed bringing Mr. Molasses with it. The egg-shaped machine began teetering, tottering one way and then the other. It would have been funny if Mr. Molasses wasn’t trapped inside. Mrs. Molasses immediately abandoned her silent soliloquy and rushed to grab him. The Molasses muscle reaction, however, betrayed her once again, and he fell, heading for ground at the speed of gravity. So much for Simeone Weil. But wait—he’d fallen on the hill—going uphill; it had tempered his fall. This hill, it had caught him, and laid him lovingly on the ground, laughing. Slowly he got to his feet, a little rumpled, but smiling and triumphant. Here it was, the end of January, and he’d gone up the hill, fallen up the hill. Say Hallelujah! It had worked.

Mr. Molasses was feeling philosophical after his conquest. It wasn’t like Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay conquering Everest but Mr. Molasses was rather inclined to look at the accomplishment as an accomplishment. He thought it was more like Roger Banister breaking the four-minute mile then climbing Mount Everest. The four-minute mile was supposed to represent the limits that a human body could run. Banister had proved this wrong. Molasses had proved that molasses could go uphill—and at a pretty good clip, too. He had opened the door and set it ajar for others to follow. Honey could now envision going uphill, maple syrup, warm butter, icing, chocolate pudding, even mud—all could make their move up the hill. And just as everyone knew that there had to be a limit on how fast a mile could be run–no one envisioned a four second mile, say–but the artificial barrier, the four minute mile, was revealed to be what it was, a track and field delusion. Mr. Molasses had hit a home run.

In the aftermath of the afternoon, Father Paul looked lost, far from the madding parish, and as alone as could be. He was obviously not au courant with the world of molasses. In fact, he had never even tasted it. Molasses was not to everyone’s palate. It was primarily used for baking. Perhaps if he built a fire in the fire place tonight he could convince Mrs. Molasses to bake some of her world-famous-molasses cookies.

After dinner and after he’d had a chance to cool down, the day did not seem so noteworthy to Mr. Molasses. What was the big deal about going up a hill? It was not the conquest of Everest, it was not even a climb in the Catskills. It wasn’t as if he had the ten commandments to pass out. No one really cared. It wouldn’t even be in the newspapers. Oh, sure The Night Owl might run a column on it, but who read the Night Owl? The kids all got their news from the Internet. Sweetness wouldn’t care. Father Paul wouldn’t care. No one cared. No one. Not even Sherlock…

Mr. Molasses often enjoyed sitting up late into the night, thinking. Tonight, however he was depressed. Words, words, words. It is a tale told by an idiot. The rest was silence. He went downstairs to get a few more cookies, maybe a glass of milk,

It must have been three in the morning when Mrs. Molasses heard a sound. Mr. Molasses was not in bed. Instantly she ran—dropping her cane—to the head of the stairs. My god he was choking! She’d never moved so fast in all her life. And she knew the Heimlich Maneuver. Mr. Molasses was on the floor. Appearently he been eating molasses cookies with a glass of milk. Mr. Molasses often craved sweets when he was depressed. Gradually, his color came back. He would be okay. Mrs. Molasses softy, rubbing Mr. Mosses head. They stayed all night, just holding on to each other.

Mrs. Molasses must have been a good mother. Look at Sweetness. She was beautiful and smart and very disciplined. She was cool under fire, but not disdainful. She was in graduate school at Yale. She had been a close friend of Harold Bloom. She had cried when he died.

Yeah, look at Sweetness. She had come home at the request of her mother. It seemed Mrs. Molasses had found something disturbing hidden in the back of the refrigerator. Sweetness had seen it right away, but well…it couldn’t be. Sweetness was not going to look further until her mother came back…but it appeared…that they had a pound of flesh in their refrigerator. A woman’s breast

Two Sobriquets

[This story is growling a nd changing in alarming ways. I recommend reading it in the order it was written. Scroll down to there post called Mr., Molasses and Mrs., Molasse and read uo post by post.]

Okay, let’s sort this one out. The Two Sobriquets is going to be my working title; a sobriquet is a nick-name: It’s a touch precious, a touch pretentious, like you wouldn’t say, ‘Spike’s sobriquet is, Dreadnought’. But you might say, ‘Julius uses the sobriquet Lancelot when he goes to the opera.’ I also want the reader—perhaps I should say the ‘educated’ reader—to think of James Joyce’s story, the Two Gallants, in Dubliners The significance of the title will emerge as I go along,. but it is going to play off the two main character’s character—if they have one.; the sobriquets will have false names to start out, and we will see what happens then.  Maybe, I’ll call them Mr. and Mrs. Mosses. I think they will like that.

the first time I first met my neighbors, the Molasse’s, by accident in the local bar and grill, The Stupid Crow.  They make a tremendous pizza in the Crow, one of the best I’ve ever had.  Anchovies, artichoke and black olives, to go please. Mr. Molasses surprised me while I was waiting for my pie. He was big and slow, but remarkably agile, and he knew his philosophy. It’s something you don’t see much of in the suburbs—people who can quote Schopenhauer and can talk about Nietzsche’s concept of amour fati and not make a mess of it, and he was a genuine film buff too. He knew Noel Carroll’s work and admired it; that’s something we have in common. He said he knew Noel Carroll slightly. Did I know he went to Hofstra? And then we drifted on to Paul Williams. Do you remember Crawdaddy? Paul Williams was the editor of it, the founder. Mr. Molasses was especially enamored by an essay Williams wrote on The Who, I Can see for Miles. 

When I told him, I was about to start teaching philosophy at Hofstra, Mr. Molasses got a little peeved. You could see it in his eyes.He told me he had taught at Piedmont High School for many years, and he had always wanted to teach at Hofstra part time, and that he had won the teacher of the year award, last year. He was clearly proud of it.

When we first moved in across the street, I used to watch him lumbering around the yard on the weekends, even on cold days. He was one of the slowest moving people I’d ever known. Before I’d actually met the Molasses, I had come up with my first sobriquet: I called them the ‘fat family’. It sounds cruel, I know, but it wasn’t meant to be. It was a cognomen, a nick-name, and sobriquet all rolled into one. It was also something of a briquette, a brick that sank like a stone in the ocean of my wife’s disapprobation—she doesn’t like it when she thinks I’m making fun of someone. But it was a briquette that would be useful to start a fire in my mind. Molasses, briquettes, sobriquets, sure. Mr. Molasses would make a great character for my novel. He had genuine human complications, and was very vivid and sincere. I like Mr. Molasses. Really, I do.

Anyway, I had these characters living across the street from me, characters, not like Superman, Batman; Archie and Veronica; not like Krazy Kat by a long shot. My name is Saul, Saul Friedlander. Ph.D. Philosophy, the New School University (formally Social Research). Specializing in Continental Philosophy; my dissertation is unreadable. Perhaps, I should have gone to Harvard and studied with Stanley Cavell like I had originally planned. My mentor’s name was Jitendra Nath Mohanty. He was Indian. And he was good, cosmic, and maybe the smartest person I’ve ever known—but he did not help me improve my prose style. He got me a tenure track at Hofstra, through.  Don’t complain, don’t distain, but don’t refrain either.

Let’s discuss aesthetics. I wanted to write a novel and by God I was going to write a novel. Now it seems to me that the essence of a novel, as opposed to a history, or a memoir, or a biography, was that it was made up, invented. It brings imagination to the table. It uses a story to see the earth again, what Wallace Stevens called the Necessary Angel of earth. And it is a publish or perish world out there.

It was a nice Sunday morning in January when I went over to say hello. The Molasses were trying to go up a small hill. I guess you know that obsession. They were practicing falling up the hill. I smiled. They are not stupid. They knew I had a magic trickor two up my sleeve. They were talking about some new disease, a fungus or something, I really didn’t understand them at that point,

Let the reader beware. A narrative is about the distribution of information. Its why stories work so well in novels. And grocery lists do not. So, I am not going to jump in and tell you the what and why. The whole point is to make the lives of the characters fit with the story. Imagine Don Quixote on the Pequod, or, for that matter, Ahab floating down the Mississippi with Huck, though I believe that Huckleberry Finn is something of a clone of Ishmael. You get the point.  Suffice it to say that I wasn’t paying too much bother as to what they were talking about. I was just being neighborly. On that thought, I will disappear.

Confessional

The tunic was burnt in the castle, the letter and the rose leaf of a lady unknown.—

—Rainer Maria Rilke

Mrs. Molasses could talk the talk and she could walk the walk. And she loved to walk where Sweetness walked. Unfortunately, since her fall Mrs. Molasses walked incredibility slowly —even slower than Mr. Molasses, if you can believe that.  She was Mrs. Molasses after all, the wife of the famed Mr. Molasses. And she was the mother of Sweetness Molasses. Not that Sweetness was her prerogative alone. She knew that other people who loved her, loved her dearly. Sweetness could appear out of a winter ice storm. It was as if she could make herself into a snowball, and find her way into Little Miss Moffat’s woolen mittens—the ones with the hot fudge sauce all over them.

Corporeal movement, like thinking, is a product of the mind.

Mrs. Molasses wasn’t thinking about Sweetness today; she was outside and cold. She was headed to the Catholic Church on the corner, St. Paramour. She had found the door was always unlocked and the church was always warm and she could sit in one of the pews and rest and think quietly— meditate, if you will.

Welcome to St. Paramour, the Church of the Companion. Our door is always open. Confession. Wednesday 7:00 – 11:00.  Saturday 1:00 – 4.00.

Truth is, she had never heard of St. Paramour. He must be one of those retired Roman saints the Church had tried to discredit and dismiss some years ago, like St. Lucy, and St Albany. Mrs. Molasses gave a little snort. They couldn’t, though, not when the people needed them to intercede with such a distant God.

Mrs. Molasses entered the church quietly. She was just in time for Saturday confession. The priest came in a side door, wearing only a black cassock. He looked cold. He must have run over from the rectory. Actually, he looked like a young Paul Neuman. There was no one waiting for him. Before he entered the confessional, the priest looked at her surreptitiously. Mrs. Molasses knew it was bad form to look at someone who would be telling you her sins in a few moments. You were supposed to be dispassionate; you were supposed to be sitting in for God. Mrs. Molasses considered herself a lapsed catholic, an apostate. She hadn’t been to Mass in almost 50 years. There hadn’t seemed to be any point to it. And confession…?

What would she say if she went in and talked to that young priest?  Would she tell him her sins?

Bless me Father for I have sinned. It’s been 45 years since my last confession. Okay, 50, maybe 53 years. She would pause for a moment, and let that 53 years sink in.  Besides she didn’t believe in sin. The ‘Bad’ seemed to cover it. Well, my child, what have you got to confess? I don’t know, Father. I’m not sure what confession is supposed to do. Why then did you come here? This wasn’t planned, Father. Sorry if I appear direful. I’m more curious about you than me. After all so few of our young people are interested in the priesthood. Don’t you feel like your life is being wasted?

The priest was plainly taken aback by this sudden gush of confidence. He wanted to say something to her, but he didn’t know how to say it. This was not unusual for Mrs. Molasses. She was always coming in from left field. She introduced herself. She took a deep breath and asked him to come to dinner tonight. It was Saturday night and a lot of priests suffered a great deal of loneliness on Saturday night. Just to make sure there was no misunderstanding, she mentioned that her husband, Mr. Molasses was picking up a pound of flesh and she was baking stuffed potatoes. It would be a good meal, her husband used to teach in the high school. He would be glad to have someone new to talk to. The priest said his name was Father Paul and that he couldn’t stay late. He had early Mass in the morning. He thanked Mrs. Moses. He said he was looking at a solitary night of video game.

Mrs. Molasses was aware that he had called her ‘Mrs. Moses’. She did not correct him.

Father Paul was aware that Mrs. Moses had called it a pound of flesh. He sis not correct her.

Education

To bate the fish withal.
Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

Mr. Molasses’ education consisted of stories he’d told himself; false beliefs he’d had over the years; and a Master’s degree in philosophy from the New School in the city. He was like a circus tent with a fun house mirror at one end set so that reflected nothing at all:  no walls, or doors or windows. No ceiling and no people. He was like a story that had no end. Yet it was a story he could escape into at any time—It would still be January; it would still be morning; and it would still be slow and peaceful. For the last few nights now, he had dreamt about, of all people, Benedict Cumberbatch, the actor who had made that television series about Sherlock Holmes for the BBC. Mr. Molasses had seen the first episode while flipping around on the dial and was floored by it. Boy, oh boy. From the opening scene where Dr. Watson laments that ‘nothing ever happens to me.’—Ha!—to the concluding credits where we are told that, ‘there will always be a Sherlock Holmes and a Dr. Watson’—just as there will always be goodness in the world. He’d sat attentively, glued to the tube. Mr. Molasses had watched the series each night, feeling better and better about himself. When he was a boy, he had wanted to be a detective. He remembered reading a book called ‘Freddy the Detective’. For a long time, he used to go to bed early with Freddy tucked under his pillow. When he was ten it was his favorite book.

Mr. Molasses stopped at the public library to get a copy of ‘The Merchant of Venice’. Benedict Cumberbatch was promoting his new take on Shakespeare as a dramatist; it was going to be a ‘slow’ Shakespeare, a ‘slow’ ‘Merchant’, and everything that would yield to a whisper of time —and be performed by the actors as if they were in a dream and hypnotized. It would be opening on Broadway in a couple of weeks. This slow concept reminded Mr. Molasses of one of the great movies, ‘Stalker’ by Andrei Tarkovski, a slow movie if ever there was one. ‘The Merchant of Venice’ was one of Mr. Molasses’s favorite plays and Benedict Cumberbatch was one of his favorite actors.  He had thought it might be fun to reread it and then go see the performance. He and Mrs. Molasses could have a night out on the town. It would take them a long time, but so what? They really hadn’t done anything since they’d come back from their trip up the hill last January, which, let’s face it, had been an unmitigated failure.

He didn’t know why, but Mr. Molasses felt a quiet attachment to Benedict Cumberbatch. He was more like a long-lost son than a huge media personality. Before he’d stopped teaching, Mr. Molasses had given an English AP course called ‘Prejudice 101’. It was enormously popular. The stated goal was to try to judge whether Shakespeare was expressing the current prejudices of the 16th century in writing ‘The Merchant of Venice’, or was he just prejudiced against the Jews himself? Mr. Molasses had used this goal—which was something of an eleven dollar bill, as phony as it could be—as a springboard to examine a whole panorama of history, literature and philosophy. Was Shakespeare writing against his own ideas or with them? Did his language trump his philosophy?  And what about skepticism?—the solid gold of the course; but he wanted the class to discover skepticism afresh and by themselves. It had been one miracle of the class. He had one of the best groups of students he’d ever had. The local newspaper, The Night Owl, had writtenup Mr. Molasses and his teaching methods. Ten of his students from that class had gotten into Ivy League colleges—ten—and Mr. Molasses had won the teacher of the year award. It had been a truly wonderful time in his life, an annus mirabilis for sure.

One of Mr. Molasses more piquant insights for Prejudice 101 was: how close the connection was between the owning of slaves in the American south and the mass murder of the Jews in Europe. The students read widely to examine these questions. From Valery Martin’s ‘Property’ to Octavia Butler’s ‘Kindred’; from Hannah Arendt’s ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’ to George Steiner’s ‘In Bluebeard’s Castle’.  Mr. Molasses had been surprised that almost all his students could keep up with the reading. It was a pity Benedict Cumberbatch couldn’t attend these classes; he might have learned something besides To bate the fish wital.