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Beware the Preposition

I have a thing about prepositions. I like them OK. But I think it’s a good thing to keep them at arms length. I try not to get really chummy with them because they have a way of turning on you and biting you in the arse. You have to watch them like a hawk. They do not play well with others. Do not employ them often because if you do, you will suffer and learn the hard way about the law of diminishing returns.

I will admit these are glittering generalities, that a few writers are so skilled as to  force them to do hard labor, to exceed all expectation. There are, for example, more prepositional phrases in this sentence than you could shake a soft-lead pencil at:

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

I count 15 prepositional phrases, none of which should be excised and all of which do exemplary work. They were wielded, fitted precisely and expertly by their creator. But this is rare phenomenon. Such sentences appear less frequently than Haley’s Comet.

The abuse of prepositions is far more common. And it’s not pretty. I have in my time seen prepositions gather five, six, seven, eight and (God forbid) nine times in a sentence to create an unmanageable riot of phrases, dangling participles, splitting bloody infinitives and battering passive voices. Of this you can be certain (of). And do not make the mistake of thinking this is just a prose problem, that high and mighty poems tower far above this plug-ugly prepositional street crime.  For example, I just discovered this first line of a recently published poem:

“Where is your father whose eye you were the apple of?”

I will not summon the now-centuries-old schoolmarm rant about placing prepositions at the end of sentences. But one ought to recognize the wisdom of the ages in the rule. One of the best lessons one can learn about casting sentences is to understand  parts of the sentence —  beginning, middle and end — and the import of them. The most powerful part is the end, then the beginning and middle in which you find mostly flab sometimes laced with drivel. You must reserve your primo stuff for the end.

It is another generally agreed glittering generality that prepositions are best deployed as links. To leave a preposition at the end of a sentence is to put your toes over the edge of a steep cliff, bend your knees and lean forward. You could stumble, fall and get hurt. In any event, I leave it to you to judge whether placement of the preposition at the far edge energizes the cliché:

Where is the stitch that saves time in?

Where is the leap you look before?

Where is the love and war that all’s fair in?

Where’s the look whose bright side to look on?

Where’s the tree whose acorn from the tree does not fall far from?

Where’s the time you have hands on?

Where is he who from hell like a bat took off?

‘Season Tickets’ by Dan Gilmore


If you ever had season basketball tickets, this poem will feel familiar. If you haven’t, it will become so. “Season Tickets,” is the title. It is also the title of the book, by Dan Gilmore. He is a man of many talents, a jazz bassist, biz consultant, novelist, short story writer, raconteur and holds a doctorate in Great Expectations. He just recently has a bunch of poems accepted by a bunch of quarterly poetry publications. I don’t know when because he is afraid to ask said bunch. His novel, “A Howl for Mayflower,” is filled with characters you would like to know because you like them. It is set in Tucson’s Coronado Hotel. The “Mayflower” in the title is a lovely woman, one of the most attractive characters I have met. And I happen to know the narrator personally. You can get it through Amazon, and there is a Kindle edition. “Season Tickets” is out of print, but easy enough to find via Amazon used or Abe.Books.com.

Season Tickets

Fifteen years we had them,

the two seats at the end of Row 29,

Section 20. We were real fanatics

back then, screaming, high-fiving,

thinking this would last forever.

We hardly noticed when,

seven seats down, a woman

in her sixties, a city-league

tennis player, stopped coming.

Turned out she’d had a stroke

and died. Next season the woman’s

husband had a heart attack. During March

Madness the person five seats down —

an irrepressible man with a white

beard and a Greek fisherman’s cap

who called himself Uncle Charlie —

died of throat cancer. Treatable

was the last word we heard him say.

Next season, Uncle Charlie’s nephew,

a despondent accountant who

quoted Rush Limbaugh, disappeared

one day. Died from cancer, we heard

from his wife who sold their tickets

to a woman who was killed jaywalking.

Her seat was empty the entire season

but filled with waiting. JoAn is next

in line, then me. The team is younger

this season, less experienced, losing more

than winning. JoAn and I watch

with greater discernment, nod and clap

instead of scream, take deep breaths

between baskets, and look forward

to time outs. An obese adolescent

sits in the seat next to JoAn now.

He eats hot dogs and yells Go Cats

at odd times. We both wish him well and hope

he lives a full and happy life, but it’s apparent

he knows nothing about the game.


Marcella Hazan, 1924-2013

Marcella Hazan is my hero.DSC_0006 She showed me how to cook Italian, do it sensibly and trust your tastebuds.

I got to know her just a little. We spoke a couple times many years ago. She was living in Florida with her husband Victor. I was writing a food/cooking column for the Star called “Kitchen Patrol.” In those days, the paper had a marvelous Wednesday food section edited by Kristen Cook. I wrote the piece that appears below and sent it to Marcella. She said it gave her a boost because she was working on a new project (Amacord), and it was difficult.

The New York Times put her obituary on Page One this morning, exactly where it belonged. Her influence was enormous. Unlike many cookbook writers who seem to have reinvented the assembly line, Hazan wrote just five books over more than 40 years.  It is a marvelous legacy.

Fan of Italian food savors Marcella ‘s cookbooks

The Arizona Daily Star – Wednesday, April 7, 2004


Author: Steve Auslander

The problem with cookbooks is that they are written mostly by cooks.DSCF2467

It may be a safe assumption that cooks can cook, but it isn’t necessarily true that cooks can write. Which is to say coherently. Or cogently. It is for this reason that not all cookbooks are – how to put this delicately? – palatable. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that not all cooks have a lot to say. Or that what they have to say is helpful.


I am grateful for a public library that allows me to peruse a cookbook before I decide to acquire it. I also have been known to spend a couple of hours in a Barnes & Noble, reading cookbooks and buying nothing but a roll and a cup of Joe.*

Finding a really good cookbook is by no means commonplace. I do not have many books and do not collect books as much as I collect cookbook writers. My favorite is Marcella Hazan . Her five books are lucid, informative, entertaining and, above all, helpful.

It helps that I adore Italian food. Hazan was born in Cesenatico, a small town on the Adriatic coast in the province of Emilia-Romagna.

I spoke with her from her home in Longboat Key, Fla., which is on the Gulf Coast near Sarasota. She said she’s working on a sixth book. It takes about five years for her to write a book, which I suspect is one key to her enormous success. This book will contain about 100 recipes (her other books have many more). It will be based on her teaching courses, she said. Her new book is tentatively titled ” Marcella Says,” and it is scheduled to appear in October.

Hazan writes in Italian. Her husband, Victor, is her translator and a very good one. He manages, Hazan said, to retain her voice even in English. He is an authority on Italian wine and has written a book, “Italian Wine.” Her son Giuliano Hazan has written cookbooks as well.

Hazan wrote these books while she lived in Italy – mostly in Venice. She tested recipes there and then once again in New York City, using American ingredients.

In her last book, ” Marcella Cucina” ( Marcella Cooks, 1997), she used a quote from Richard Strauss, who once told an orchestra: “Gentlemen, you are playing all the notes perfectly, but please, let me hear some music.” Hazan says that when she eats meals prepared by “highly trained chefs, food that is ingeniously contrived, elaborately described in the menu, and eye-catchingly presented, that virtually nothing registers on my palate.” All notes, no music.

In ” Marcella ‘s Italian Kitchen” (1986), she sets out some rules. One I particularly liked: “Do not esteem so-called fresh pasta more than the dry, factory-made variety.”

I like this statement because I have difficulty with snooty cooks who look down their noses at plebeians like me who can’t take the time to make fresh.

Hazan ‘s philosophy combines passion, clarity and sincerity. The passion, she says, embodies the sensual nature of the cook. Clarity is to allow the ingredients to speak for themselves. Sincerity is, Hazan says, “speaking with your own true voice.” She is right when she says cooking “is a far more self-centered act than has been generally admitted. It is we who must, first and last, be satisfied with how we cook. The applause that may greet us is helpful encouragement, but it will ring hollow if it does not resonate within us.”

*The origin of this expression has to do with Josephus Daniels, who was editor and publisher and the owner of the Raleigh (N.C.) News and Observer. Daniels served as secretary of the Navy in the Wilson administration from 1913 to 1921. One of the reforms he imposed was to ban alcohol consumption aboard Navy ships, which in the British naval system was a long-standing tradition. It was thus, legend has it, that stewards would ask naval personnel if they would like a cup of Joe in lieu of grog.



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When Howard Hughes ran Republic Pictures, he made a lot of two-bit B Westerns. After screening what my grandmother used to call a “shoot ‘em up,” he told the director who had spent a week or two shooting the movie in Arizona to go back. This time, he told the director, get some clouds in the movie. You cannot shoot a western in Arizona, he said, and come back without cloud shots.

I am tempted to say clouds in this part of the world decorate blue skies like no other. For all I know, they might look the same elsewhere. I’d like to know where. A week ago they were magnificent as they marched in with the last gasp of the monsoon. They were puffed up pretty, spectacular billowy ornaments against mountain backdrops, like a traveling roadshow. I often think that our clouds are not appreciated, but then on second thought I doubt that is true. I think they are taken for granted. They don’t provoke a lot of conversation. That might be because the language of clouds resides with poets.

Like these four lines from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ 1918 poem, “That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection”:

CLOUD-PUFFBALL, torn tufts, tossed pillows ’ flaunt forth, then chevy on an air-

built thoroughfare: heaven-roysterers, in gay-gangs ‘ they throng; they glitter in marches.

Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash, ‘ wherever an elm arches,

Shivelights and shadowtackle in long ‘ lashes lace, lance, and pair.

You can find the rest of the poem here.

Hopkins found a lot of God in nature. He was a priest, after all. He studied clouds more than most. Besides poetry, he also wrote a journal, and in 1871 he wrote this:

“— Clouds however solid they may look far off are I think wholly made of film in the sheet or in the tuft. The bright woolpacks that pelt before a gale in a clear sky are in the tuft and you can see the wind unraveling and rending them finer than any sponge till within one easy reach overhead they are morselled to nothing and consumed — it depends of course on their size. Possibly each tuft in forepitch or in origin is quained and a crystal. Rarer and wilder packs have sometimes film in the sheet, which may be caught as it turns on the edge of the cloud like an outlying eyebrow. The one in which I saw this was a north-east wind, solid but not crisp, white like the white of egg, and bloated-looking

“What you look hard at seem to look hard at you … . One day early in March when long streamers were rising from over Kemble End one large flake loop-shaped, not a streamer but belonging to the string, moving too slowly to be seen, seem to cap and fill the zenith with a white shire of cloud. I looked long up at it till the tall height and the beauty of the scaping — regularly curled knots springing if I remember from fine stems, like foliation in wood or stone— had strongly grown on me. It changed beautiful changes, growing more into ribs and one stretch of running into branching like coral.”

It is difficult to express what clouds evoke. It is frustrating, and so it is heartening that poet like Hopkins would write “It changed beautiful changes,” throwing the majesty and beauty of those clouds all back upon clouds because they defy description, define themselves.


Jeff Smith, in memoriam

Jeff Smith ranks among the most talented writers you could find in Tucson’s  newspaper history. Some stories about his work are the stuff of legend.

It is said that Frank Johnson, the Star’s managing editor, stopped the presses and ordered many copies destroyed when he read a review by Smith, who test-drove cars and wrote a Saturday column. Smith said one car — a very fine one, evidently — was “auto-erotic,” a phrase that unpleased Johnson.

There is another story about a particularly attractive woman who was summoned to give evidence in a trial. Smith, the story goes, wrote that so-and-so testified in court “wearing a hound’s-tooth skirt three teeth long.”

The report that Smith, 67, died this week at his home just outside Patagonia reminded me that I had heard from him last year about a piece that appears elsewhere in the amalgam of flotsam rippling across this site. It was regarding a heavily researched piece on Abe Chanin, a long-time Tucson newspaperman for the Arizona Daily Star. Smith and I worked for Chanin in the 1970s on the Star’s editorial page. Chanin was our friend, and a great teacher.

I did not thank Smith for the comment. I regret that. Here is what he wrote:


jeff smith says:

November 28, 2012 at 2:31 pm

as a friend and employee of abe’s at the star editorial page in the founding day’s of the ‘red star’ i can only thank you for this stroll down memory lane. a job well done. i think the best that can be said of a print journalist is that day-to-day, week-by-week he left his town a better place to be. sounds common, is common, but what could be better? i never knew a more thoroughly moral man than abe chanin. i loved working for him, with him, loved him then, loved him still.


Abe Chanin will be 91 this year. He lives in Albuquerque.

William Manchester: The humiliation of John Wayne


There was a small story this month that someone had finished William Manchester’s third volume of his Churchill biography. I read the first two, and was among the thousands, if not millions, who were disappointed that Manchester — one of the giants of 20th-century journalism and biography — could not finish the job.  I’m not sure I could handle a substitute for Manchester. A few years ago, I went on a Manchester kick, reading almost everything he has written. There was one essay that appeared in The New York Times Magazine June 14, 1987 that I think about still.

Manchester was a Marine in the Second World War. He was wounded in the battle for Iwo Jima, returned to combat and almost killed in the furious fighting at Okinawa, among the bloodiest of the war. The piece for the magazine was prompted by a meeting of the Japanese and American soldiers who faced each other on Okinawa. Here are two excerpts from that article.

This was the lede:

“ON OKINAWA TODAY, Flag Day will be observed with an extraordinary ceremony: two groups of elderly men, one Japanese, the other American, will gather for a solemn rite. They could scarcely have less in common.

“Their motives are mirror images; each group honors the memory of men who tried to slay the men honored by those opposite them. But theirs is a common grief. After 42 years the ache is still there. They are really united by death, the one great victor in modern war.”


Here is an unforgettable scene:


“Once we polled a rifle company, asking each man why he had joined the Marines. A majority cited ‘To the Shores of Tripoli,’ a marshmallow of a movie starring John Payne, Randolph Scott and Maureen O’Hara. Throughout the film the uniform of the day was dress blues; requests for liberty were always granted. The implication was that combat would be a lark, and when you returned, spangled with decorations, a Navy nurse like Maureen O’Hara would be waiting in your sack. It was peacetime again when John Wayne appeared on the silver screen as Sergeant Stryker in ‘Sands of Iwo Jima,’ but that film underscores the point; I went to see it with another ex-Marine, and we were asked to leave the theater because we couldn’t stop laughing.

“After my evacuation from Okinawa, I had the enormous pleasure of seeing Wayne humiliated in person at Aiea Heights Naval Hospital in Hawaii. Only the most gravely wounded, the litter cases, were sent there. The hospital was packed, the halls lined with beds. Between Iwo Jima and Okinawa, the Marine Corps was being bled white.

“Each evening, Navy corpsmen would carry litters down to the hospital theater so the men could watch a movie. One night they had a surprise for us. Before the film the curtains parted and out stepped John Wayne, wearing a cowboy outfit – 10-gallon hat, bandanna, checkered shirt, two pistols, chaps, boots and spurs. He grinned his aw-shucks grin, passed a hand over his face and said, ‘Hi ya, guys!’ He was greeted by a stony silence. Then somebody booed. Suddenly everyone was booing.

“This man was a symbol of the fake machismo we had come to hate, and we weren’t going to listen to him. He tried and tried to make himself heard, but we drowned him out, and eventually he quit and left. If you liked ‘Sands of Iwo Jima,’ I suggest you be careful. Don’t tell it to the Marines.”


Everett S. Allen: Great White Father of Iambic Journalism

Everett S. Allen of The Standard Times, New Bedford, Mass.

Everett S. Allen once wrote a lead for his paper, The Standard-Times of New Bedford, Mass., in iambic pentameter. You don’t typically find poets writing news copy. But he was unusual from the start. Even in his later years, he sported a dazzling head of  shoulder-length curly white hair, flaring mutton chops and sailor’s craggy face, looking for all the word as he had just stepped out of 1968 and the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. It was for this reason that Roy Peter Clark called him the Great White Father of Iambic Journalism.

He won the first column-writing competition sponsored by the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1979. When I read these magnificent pieces, I sought to put his work in The Arizona Daily Star. I called him to see if I could buy the column. The column was not available through major newspaper syndicates. In fact, he said, his column appeared only in The Standard Times and the Raleigh News and Observer. I asked if he would send us a third copy, and we agreed on the price: $15 per column.

The column appeared Sundays. No other than the three newspapers ran his column. We spoke often by phone and finally met at conference in New England. He wrote twice as long as most columnists, about 1,500 words. He was certainly worth the space. Four of his books are still available and listed here along with a biography.

The columns here from the ASNE competition are in pdf format. Just click on the link.



Richard Aregood’s ‘Hot Squat’ editorial

Richard Aregood was an editorialist for the Philadelphia Daily News when this was published, November 21, 1975. He has since moved on to other pastures, reportedly in Jersey. It struck a chord at the time. Some said it was extreme. I thought so. That’s what made it memorable. As an experiment, place it next to the typical bowl of pabulum and bushwa newspapers call an editorial. Then consider which one sticks out.

Yes, the Chair

It’s about time for Leonard Edwards to take the hot squat.

Edwards, for those of you who haven’t been following his worthless career, has been convicted of two murders. He’s awaiting trial on another murder and the rape of a 14-year-old girl.

He’s 29 years old. Hopes of rehabilitating this piece of human crud are doubtful. It’s even wildly optimistic to use the word doubtful.

The last time Edwards was freed, it was on bail pending an appeal of an overly generous third-degree murder conviction. He had just stabbed somebody to death and justice, in all its majesty, had found him guilty.

Edwards then went out and killed somebody else.

His second murder jury was right. He’s not worth the upkeep.

Fry him.



Ed Abbey’s ‘The Monkey Wrench Gang’

The Arizona Republic reports that the Department of the Interior this week started releasing millions of gallons of water from Glen Canyon Dam. The purpose is to restore ecological balance to the Grand Canyon. It is the fourth such flooding.

My first thought after reading the article was: Hayduke lives!

George Hayduke is the protagonist of Ed Abbey’s little romp into wishful thinking and delicious anarchy, The Monkey Wrench Gang.

The plot consists of Hayduke’s effort to blow Glen Canyon Dam to smithereens. Because it, ahem, altered the ecology of the Grand Canyon. Actually, it changed the ecology of the river. I seem to remember at the time, it took a month before the water began to back up behind the dam to create the reservoir.

“Hayduke Lives!” became a rallying cry for rabid environmentalists. I recall drawings that showed the great fissure in the dam and the water spewing in a great gush. I think Abbey was quietly amused by all the fuss.

I got to meet him and know him just a little. We discussed the state’s growth for an article he was writing for The New York Times Magazine (“The Blob comes to Arizona”). He told me he could not make it as a journalist because he got basketball scores wrong. He did not laugh when he said it, only smiled. I did not believe it.

I asked him once which of his books he liked best. “The next one,” he said pointing to his temple. I still like that answer. It certainly stayed with me. My favorite is Desert Solitaire. It’s lyrical, well-worth reading.


Words that laugh and cry

Many years ago I came across an editorial that was a celebration of language and contained one of the briefest and best lessons on writing I have ever read. This is from the March 16, 1890 edition of The Sun, a New York City newspaper made great by one of the greatest editors of American journalism, Charles Dana.

Words that laugh and cry

 Did it ever strike you that there was anything queer about the capacity of written words to absorb and convey feelings? Taken separately they are mere symbols with no more feeling to them than so many bricks, but string them along in a row under certain mysterious conditions and you find yourself laughing or [Read more…]