The Corner

Impromptus

‘The Trout Almondine Was Delicious’

Professor John Preskill of the California Institute of Technology (UC Berkeley via YouTube)

I have a new Impromptus column, here. It begins with the Conways — Kellyanne and George — and continues with the Electoral College, Joe Biden, sports, language, music, etc. See what tickles your fancy.

Feel like some mail? I do. Here is a note responding to a blogpost, “McCain at Annapolis”:

My friend graduated Annapolis in ’93 — McCain was the commencement speaker. I had never heard of him before.

His speech was mesmerizing. Taken as a whole, it was the single greatest speech I have ever heard, seen, or read in my own lifetime. Some months later, I asked my friend to make a copy of his graduation video so I could have the speech for myself. I have showed it to many people over the years. Each has responded similarly — “That was amazing.”

The author Robert Timberg wrote a book in 1995 called “The Nightingale’s Song” — in which he recounts that the speech was the beginning of McCain’s personal recovery from the Keating Five scandal.

In October of 2000, McCain came to Long Island to support a GOP congressional candidate. Afterwards, people crowded around him. It was New York noisy.

I got my copy of Faith of My Fathers in front of him. He was looking down the whole time, signing away. I said to him under the din, “I was at the ’93 Naval Academy graduation.”

He stopped everything. He looked up at me and said slowly, “That was the greatest day of my life.”

If you ever get a chance to see that speech, it won’t disappoint.

Here it is. Lately, President Trump has been talking about McCain’s record at Annapolis. You should hear what McCain has to say about it!

Okay, this is a note in response to a piece about Jeffrey Hart, the late professor of English and National Review editor-writer. I quoted Jeff as saying that his teachers at Stuyvesant High School in New York had been better than his professors in college.

Jay,

I went to Highland Park High School, which is a public school located in the northern suburbs of Chicago. My graduating class sent 18 students to the Ivy League, five to MIT, eleven to Washington University in St. Louis, etc. Our valedictorian was John Preskill, who is now the Richard P. Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at Caltech. On our class-reunion website, an alum of the Yale School of Medicine noted that his most intellectually rigorous environment was Highland Park High.

Someone described the Texas state legislature as follows: “Five percent were brilliant, 5 percent were not very bright … and the other 90 percent just wanted to know, ‘What’s for lunch?’” For the record, the trout almondine was delicious.

In the following letter, a reader is responding to “The Arts: Who Needs ’Em?

If my art appreciation could be thoroughly quantified, many would describe me as “deprived.” …

My appreciation (or lack thereof) can be directly linked to my father. He graduated from Brown University (1928.) Multi-millionaire before his 50th birthday. By the time I realized the value money held, we were flat broke. No regrets. I don’t think my father ever visited an art gallery. If he had a love of music, he kept that a secret. He did mention that, while visiting Chicago, he met Al Capone. Some might say that this encounter qualifies as surrealist art?

My father loved baseball, specifically the Boston Red Sox. He saw Babe Ruth pitch! In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he took me to many games at Fenway Park.

One moment, in one of those games, is my Beethoven, my Shakespeare.

The Red Sox are playing the Detroit Tigers. Al Kaline is in right field. The Red Sox are at bat. There are no outs and there is a Boston runner on second. Baseball strategy of the day knows that a base hit will more than likely score the runner from second. The minimum requirement for the batter is, hit the ball deep to right field — a sacrifice fly — to advance the runner to third base.

The batter met his professional obligation. His fly ball sent Al Kaline almost to the warning track. I can still see the haze of the patrons’ cigarette smoke wafting upward. It’s thick, like San Francisco fog. …

Kaline catches the ball. He then unleashes his throw. The runner on second knows better. He doesn’t budge an inch. Kaline’s throw, which never touches the ground, precisely hits the third baseman’s glove. That glove is at the perfect spot for a tag, if a tag were necessary.

But the runner knew. If he had been foolish enough to run, he would have been dead on arrival.

The Boston crowd cheered lustily — which didn’t make any sense to eight-year-old me. My father taught me that it was perfectly acceptable to hate whomever the Red Sox were playing. I looked at my father. He knew I didn’t understand.

He enlightened me as to the crowd’s expression of appreciation. “Nobody ever runs on Al Kaline.”

Kaline didn’t tip his hat. He just shuffled over to his appointed spot in right field. The magnificence of that moment. What a throw! We all knew. All of baseball knew. I saw it with my own eyes.

On the subject of sports: A couple of weeks ago, Dan Jenkins, the great sportswriter and novelist, died. I had a note of remembrance. A reader sent me a note of his own, saying,

Damn! He was one of those fountains of life that I did not want to ever die. I’m writing from Kingston, Ontario, right where the St. Lawrence River starts to head northeast out of Lake Ontario. The lake is frozen out farther that I can see and it is sunny but cold as hell. That’s the way this news hits me as well.

One more word. In an “Elko Journal,” I wrote, “Got a question for you: Which comes first, the words or the music? This is an ancient question, of course, never finally answerable. Salieri (of Amadeus fame) wrote an opera about it — Prima la musica e poi le parole. So did Richard Strauss — Capriccio.” My friend Ed, who knows everything — everything worth knowing — sent this e-mail to me: “Which comes first? Sammy Cahn’s answer was ‘The phone call’ — as in, ‘Hey, Sammy, we need a new song for Frank.’”

Thanks, everyone.

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