Thursday, July 20, 2017

Good Stuff, Bad Stuff

It was in Slaughterhouse Five, I think, that Kurt Vonnegut urged the absolute necessity of forgetting the bad stuff in our lives and focusing on the good stuff. Doing so was, he insisted, a survival mechanism, a way of protecting oneself against irredeemable heartache and residual pain, and making it possible to enjoy even the simplest pleasures. This has been a struggle I have waged for most of my life, for I have an unconquerable tendency to remember all the bad things that have happened to me, while forgetting most of the good ones. Hurts, insults, losses I have suffered, stupid mistakes I have made, opportunities I missed even long ago, are all as present to my mind as yesterday’s lunch, and assert themselves with stinging ease and velocity if I allow my mind to wander even for a moment. The good things which have happened, my successes, loves, achievements, works I have created, commendations I have received, pale in comparison to the vivid recollection of sufferings long past. For they are never really past, since I keep allowing them to bubble up from the tar pits of even my most distant memories into my current consciousness.

Now you will say that I am oversensitive, and that is doubtless true. Being serious by nature, I have had a lifelong tendency to take everything seriously, including many slights, slurs, stupidities, and cupidities which I ought to have ignored. And now the problem is exacerbated by the very modest level of notoriety I have achieved concurrent with the uncontrolled mitosis of social media platforms. One will never know just how many pathetic lunatics, how many mean, petty, venomous, bloody-minded people there are in our society until one has started a website or published a book or run for public office, or in any other fashion raised his head above the herd. For the moment you do so in our society now, someone will try to cut it off.

Someone whose life has not panned out as he wished, someone who, in prior eras would have been consigned to yelling at cars on street corners or cursing at the TV or muttering in a stupor to a barfly, now has an infinite variety of public platforms from which to vent his wrath, often in the most scurrilous terms, at perfect strangers whose lives have turned out better than his. These are the hollow driftwood of society, thrown up by tides of life onto lonely beaches where they bake in the remorseless sunlight of regret. They are despicable trolls who, in ages past, were consigned to mildewed shadows beneath the bridges of our culture, but who now can find themselves in the spotlight alongside the best that our culture has to offer. And the only way such people have to retrieve some modicum of their shredded self-respect is through trying to strip others of theirs.

I used to accept invitations to give interviews, and to speak at seminars and festivals, and I once accepted comments on this blog. And though most people have been gracious, I no longer do these things, for I find that, no matter how benign the subject, no matter how sincere my observations, the roaches of social media will come scurrying out of the woodwork which they inhabit to take their putrid potshots. I know, of course, that by making myself scarcer, I am playing into their hands; but the fact remains that I have not yet mastered Vonnegut’s life-skill of closing my eyes to the bad stuff and focusing on the good. That is my own fault; another defect which I have yet to correct.

Other people, people whom I know, have managed to harden themselves to such vituperation, and I admire them for it and have endeavored to emulate their insouciance. They just don’t care, they ignore the venom, they laugh it off. But despite decades of trying, I find that, more often than not, I just can’t. As I have said, it is my own damn fault, my own deficiency, and I live with the knowledge of it. Oh, I know where it comes from, ultimately: it comes from that place at the bottom of the ladder of consciousness which Yeats called “the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.”

All of who we have become begins in childhood. That is why childhood, and the innocence which is its birthright, are so precious, so delicate, and so in need of protection. There is no hurt or neglect or cruelty which we suffer in early childhood which does not come back, like Banquo’s ghost, to haunt us even in our most congenial moments. We are like cuneiform clay on which the unfeeling messages of the world transmitted to us through others remain embedded. We cannot efface them, and so, unless we learn to ignore them, refuse to read the inscriptions thereupon, and write new scenarios in our experience, we will forever be victims of the past. And that is wrong; that is a recipe for unhappiness.

Life belongs to us; we do not belong to it. Like any gift, it is ours to do with as we please, as we think best for ourselves and others. But that means living in the present, and consigning the past, with all of its vicissitudes, to the past where it belongs. The past is past and ought to behave. And the hurts and failings and losses we once incurred must not be allowed to crowd our current consciousness with corrosive regret. We are creatures of the present and creators of the future; what has happened must be finished, what is gone must be left behind. Forget the bad stuff; focus on the good stuff. Close your eyes to the sorrows behind you and open them to the joys that are present and the wonders that are possible. Live now and in the future as you have never lived before, and your spirit will be freer and your heart will be at peace.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Memento Vivere

Our dog died today. She had terminal cancer and internal bleeding, and after considering all of our options (there were actually very few), we made the painful decision to have her put down. She was a Golden Retriever, a blessed breed of dog, one of the best companions for a family, and especially for children. Sweet and charming by nature, empathetic and gentle as all Goldens are, she was perhaps not the brightest of her breed I have known, but one of the most gracious. She was both joyful and loyal, and an excellent watch dog, alerting us emphatically whenever a stranger approached the front or back doors. Ardent pursuer of rabbits and blue jays, she was the bane of the gardeners and her inevitable bark struck terror into the heart of the pool man.

A rescue dog, she was seven years old when we adopted her, dusky golden in hue, and the answer to my then thirteen-year-old son’s desire for a dog. I recall reading on his WeChat site the mute wail: “I want a dog. I feel so cliché!” That convinced me that it was time for me to put behind me the loss of my previous dog, also a Golden, who also died of cancer.

We got Leila, after months of diligent searching, from Southern California Golden Retriever Rescue, a wonderful organization that does God’s work. We had seen and chosen not to adopt several other dogs, but Leila was exactly what we were looking for. She blended seamlessly into our family, bringing the kind of joy which only an animal can, offering her affection selflessly, enriching our home, warming our hearts. She was as integral a part of Christmas as the presents and the tree, and as vital to our everyday chores of shopping, driving to school, and working in the back yard, enlivening them with her panting enthusiasm and unaffected grace.

The decision to put her down was extremely difficult, and we took it only after it became clear that she could not live much longer. She was suffering terribly, and the doctors assured us that though surgery was an option, she probably would not survive it. We said our goodbyes and I remained with her to the end. Her eyes were open and on me, not puzzled as I expected, but curious and calm. She lived for the company of people, and so I could not leave her so long as she lived.

This event has reaffirmed in me my long-held conviction that life must be preserved as long as it is possible to do so. Every kind of life is precious, adding to the sum total of vibrancy in the world. To end a life unnecessarily is always a bad choice, striking at and shaking our humanity. If we are to be human, we must dedicate ourselves to the proposition that life is better than death; and nothing, not convenience or self-interest or ideology, ought to be allowed to change that. And this is true for all forms of life, whether animal or human, elderly or unborn. Life is the ground of our existence, and when we undermine that ground we weaken our own security and sense of self. In killing other living creatures, for whatever reason, we kill a part of ourselves; a golden part, perhaps, that can never be retrieved.

I don’t know what this need is that we as humans feel to share our lives with animals. Anthropologists would tell us, I suppose, that it comes from primitive man’s desire for companionship and protection, and I am sure there is truth to that. But I think the truth goes deeper: it goes to the very heart of who we are as living beings.

Animals remind us that we are part of a chain of life that stretches from heaven to the primal seas; from the uni-cell to the cerebellum; from ashes to angels; that we are essentially connected to Nature, no matter how feverishly we may try to deny it with our cell phones and cyberspace. And animals are innocent, as we were born in innocence. That innocence fades as we grow until we can scarcely sense it anymore, except as a distant memory or a mythic nostalgia. But animals, in the perfection of their innocence, reconnect us with the residue of our own, reminding us of who we once were, and who we may yet again be after the corrosive effects of life are finally sloughed away. They recall to us our birthright and our destiny. It is in this sense that animals can teach us, and do teach us, truths about ourselves denied even to the precepts of religion. For animals are religion, a living, breathing, loving faith in the primal goodness of who we once were and are destined to be again.

I have said it here before and say it again today with even more conviction: Our hope lies in the animals, in their innocence, in their love, and in the joy which they bring uniquely into our lives. When this afternoon my Golden breathed her last, some part of me, some hope and reassurance, expired too. Yet, it would not be true to the purity of her spirit and the selflessness of her love for me to say that my life is less because of that. For she made it richer, and fuller, and more blessed than ever it could have been without her. May she rest among the angels in peace.

Friday, July 14, 2017


I have been intrigued by the reports of the meeting between Donald Trump, Jr, Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya. Initially, Trump Jr. said the meeting did not take place (when he certified that he had had no meetings with Russian officials of any kind during the campaign). Then he admitted it took place, but it lasted only twenty minutes, involved the Russian lawyer's attempt to bring up the question of the suspended adoptions of Russian children, and that nothing came of it. Then it developed that Junior had been lured to the meeting with a promise of damaging information on Hillary Clinton. (This may explain why Manafort and Kushner accompanied him to what would otherwise have been a non-meeting.) Though Junior had emailed the broker of the meeting that he 'loved' the idea of getting dirt from the Russians, he insists that there was nothing to it and they moved on to the little Russian orphans for fifteen minutes. He neglected to mention, however, that there was another person in the meeting, a Washington-based Russian lobbyist. And now, it seems there were others as well. As of this writing, we do not know who they were.

Now, I have tried to avoid the Trump/Russia hysteria which has taken hold of the mainstream media (in particular, CNN, which Trump has assailed relentlessly), but Junior's attempts to evade mention of the meeting and to minimize its importance, and then to misrepresent the reason for the meeting and the number and identities of the participants, sounds so very much like the behavior of any run-of-the mill crook who has been caught that I felt it necessary to look farther into the matter.

I soon found that doing so opens a yawning and putrid rat hole of corruption, espionage and murder. This apparently innocuous non-meeting suddenly begins to look like a John le Carré novel or an episode of Foyle's War.

It all centers on an investigator for a Russian law firm named Sergei Magnitsky. I don't pretend to understand the intricacies of vast, clandestine, corrupt financial goings-on, but what seems to my unschooled mind to have happened is something like this: Magnitsky was tasked by the Russian firm with investigating a case of massive tax fraud carried out by a consortium of Russian government officials, the police, and the Russian mafia. Apparently that rarest of all creatures since the cop in Gorky Park, Magnitsky, an honest investigator, did discover and was foolish enough to report on the theft of 230 million dollars in a baroque and extremely clever tax fraud scheme. His report reached the powers that be, including the very officials he was investigating, and he was summarily arrested and held in a year-long detention without access to a lawyer or a trial. Eight days before he was to have been released, Magnitsky died. Initially the Russian authorities claimed he had succumbed to complications of a liver disease, then they admitted he had been denied adequate health care, and still later, the autopsy proved he had, in effect, been beaten to death in his cell.

It seems pretty clear at this juncture that Sergei Magnitsky was murdered by Russian officials in an effort to conceal their part in the biggest rip-off of the Russian public in history. There was an official Kremlin investigation, and, as would be expected, a handful of minor and mid-level functionaries were indicted, though most of them were either acquitted or the charges against them were dropped. Even the two doctors who "treated" Magnitsky were indicted, though they claimed that they had asked for him to be transferred to a proper hospital and were refused. Magnitsky's lawyer, who continued to press the case for his client even after his death, either fell or was thrown out of the window of his fourth floor Moscow apartment.

Now, how does all this relate to the infamous non-meeting at Trump Tower? The lawyer with whom Junior, Manafort and Kushner met just happens to represent an important Russian official named Pyotr Katsyv, whose son Denis apparently used many millions of the stolen money to buy real estate in New York City. And who is famous as the mogul of Manhattan real estate?

But it may go one step further. The district attorney in New York who was investigating this use of stolen Russian rubles to buy property in Manhattan was Preet Bharara. He had filed a complaint with the New York courts to seize the assets of the Russians, including those of Katsyv and his son. And Bharara, you may recall, was fired when the Trumps took over.  Now, I am aware that it is not unusual for an incoming administration to require district attorneys to tender their resignations, and all did so, except Bharara, whom Attorney General Sessions then fired. While it is true that President Trump initially asked Bharara to stay on, when push came to shove, he was shown the door. But let us recall that Bharara was actually moving against Katsyv-and-son, had frozen their assets, and denied them access to the American banking system. And who was the Katsyvs lawyer? Natalia Veselnitskaya, with whom Junior met in the company of Trump's campaign manager and son-in-law.

This is just a gloss of the facts as they continue to come to light, and I do not present it as anything like a definitive version of the events. Producing that will be the responsibility of professionals who do this kind of investigating for a living. I will only say that all of this stinks. It stinks of official corruption, of fraud on a massive scale, of the most rotten kind of international politics, and, ultimately, of the murder of an honest and courageous man. And it was into this filthy morass that Donald Junior strolled for a meeting that never took place.

As a final thought: I suspect that, if it turns out that any of the Manhattan real estate purchased with the stolen Russian funds was owned by or controlled by Donald Trump, the game is over. I have said many times that I do not believe that Trump will survive his first term. This may be the scandal that finishes him. Especially if Vladimir Putin knows about all of this. And I suspect he does.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017


I have the greatest respect for punctuation. It is not only useful, it can be enlightening, entertaining, even lyrical. I know that teaching grammar is a lost art in American schools, and recent experience has convinced me that the very idea of punctuation is alien to much of the current generation. So call me old-fashioned, but I am a champion of punctuation, and proud to say so.

In my forty years as a professional writer, I have written millions of words, hundreds of thousands of sentences, tens of thousands of paragraphs, yet despite all that, I remain in awe of, and puzzlement before, the comma. That simplest and most common of all marks of punctuation (a sentence with only one period may have two, three, or more commas), is as ubiquitous as it is ineluctable. And in today's semi-literate popular culture, it is often abused, occasionally overused, sometimes unused by people who have never been trained in its latent and prolific possibilities. This, to me, is a woeful sign of our times, of a verbal culture that is declining at roughly the same rate as cellphone usage is increasing. Recently I read that Elon Musk, that pied-piper of technology, has begun an effort to interface computers with brains to obviate what he calls the slow and cumbersome process of translating thoughts into... language. Simply transporting an idea into speech is, to Mr. Musk, too unwieldy and laborious for the current cyber-spaced-out culture. The mouth, the lips, the tongue, and the vocal chords are too slow for him, and ought to be bypassed in the expression of, what? LOL, BTW, CLD, OTW and RN (which my step-daughter only recently informed me means, not 'registered nurse,' but 'right now').

Even if computer/cranial interface does manage to speed up human self-expression, it is unlikely to do anything to improve the quality or depth of expression. Those who have absolutely nothing to say will be able to say it much faster; indeed, as quickly as their brains can conceive of the latest nonsense, gossip, fads, or insults. Personally I would rather my brain remain separate from my computer, so that I can at least have a nanosecond to think about what I am going to say before I say it. What Mr. Musk considers the slow and laborious process of translating thought into speech may, in fact, be a built-in evolutionary survival mechanism that saves us from making damn fools of ourselves in public.

Well, I have strayed far from my intended topic: the comma. Does anybody really know how it should be used, how it came to be, what it is meant for? Certainly not me. Among those millions of words I have written in my career, there are probably tens of millions of commas, and while some of them must have been inserted correctly, I fear that whole basketfuls of them were either unnecessary or just plain wrong. I have always been very wary of commas, following Hemingway's dictum about adjectives: Mistrust them as you would certain people. In fact, I am downright suspicious of commas, or rather my ignorance of how properly to use them, and so I tend to use them more and more sparingly.

Now, this goes against my early training. I used to love to read turn-of-the-twentieth-century British writing, in which the comma is as omnipresent as Tommies were in the Third World (and just about as stifling of speech). I can recall books by P. C. Wren or Alexander Kinglake (whom Churchill recommended every young man read), or Sir Richard Francis Burton, or Kipling or Conrad or even Churchill himself. All were virtuosos of the comma and they used them elegantly and liberally.

Then along came Hemingway and everything changed. Prose became spare and unvarnished, and oddly bereft of punctuation. He seems to have felt that a writer should use punctuation marks as if they were bullets: only if you intend to do some damage with them. I began reading Hemingway just around the time I was becoming comfortable with the semi-colon, and he quickly put an end to that. The exclamation point he taught me to handle as if it were nitroglycerin. And he began my lifelong wariness of the comma. Oh, he uses commas, of course, but in a sort of utilitarian fashion as if they were nuts and bolts of construction and not enablers of expression. They are meant to tack phrases together, not to adorn or elucidate them, which is what, I suspect, the comma was invented to do.

As far as I know, the comma was born as a breathing mark in ancient Greek. It was placed in front of an initial vowel to indicate that one should aspirate it, that is, exhale as one pronounced it. (For example, the definite article  was pronounced "ho," and  was pronounced 'hey.') This, if it is correct, would validate the advice once given me by a professor to avoid using commas in short sentences, and, in a long sentence, use them at any point where a person would normally pause to take a breath if reading aloud. This, I have always found, was sound advice, though breathing patterns and reading habits do vary from person to person. And so we are forced back on the legal formulation; namely, where any reasonable person would conclude it necessary to do so. This, however, becomes less and less reliable as a criterion since, as our politics show, reasonableness is a withering fruit of virtue.

Take for example the following run-on sentence: 'In any very long, tedious sentence, commas should be used at points where a reasonable person would pause to take a breath, while reading aloud, since the commas, while not strictly necessary, nevertheless make it possible to read the sentence in a fluid and pleasing rhythm, reinforcing its meaning, and clarifying it, regardless of how long the sentence might be, by breaking it into smaller phrases, each of which has its own duration, integrity, and, even, independent meaning.' Fifteen commas-worth of clarity and convenience, and all the usual rules observed. Kinglake would be proud.

Now this obnoxiously long sentence could just as reasonably be punctuated: 'In any very long, tedious sentence, commas should be used at points where a reasonable person would pause to take a breath while reading aloud, since the commas, while not strictly necessary, nevertheless make it possible to read the sentence in a fluid and pleasing rhythm, reinforcing its meaning and clarifying it regardless of how long the sentence might be, by breaking it into smaller phrases each of which has its own duration, integrity and even independent meaning.' Eight commas, and no less clear and convenient to read -- a net saving of seven commas which might be set aside and better used elsewhere.

From this it should be obvious that, for most purposes, the use of the comma is largely a matter of judgment, opinion, and style. Trying to anticipate how a reader will frame the sentence in his speech or his own mind is, of course, a risky business, and so I think that two principles for comma usage should come into play: In the spirit of Hemingway, use them as sparingly as possible consistent with clarity, but give some thought to the comma's potential to enhance rhythm, meaning, and nuance.

The endless sentence above does contain, however, a few inflexible points of comma usage. The opening phrase, 'In any very long, tedious sentence,' is, of course, a misplaced prepositional phrase used as an introduction, and must be set off by a comma. Likewise, the phrase, 'very long, tedious,' requires a comma to separate the two sequential adjectives, 'long,' and 'tedious.' However, in my writing I find that these separational commas are less often necessary than the formula would require. If the sentence read, 'In any long, tedious ambling-on-forever sentence,' one could argue that there should be a comma between 'tedious' and 'ambling-on-forever,' since they are both adjectives; but to my mind, the phrase reads better without this particular comma. To me, there is a clear distinction between a simple adjective like 'tedious' and a synthesized compound adjective like 'ambling-on-forever,' and so there is no chance of mistaking the meaning since the latter is organically linked to the word 'sentence.' This is so, I think, because compound adjectives, which are often whipped up for convenience sake or for expressiveness or rhythm, are almost always placed right next to the nouns they modify, and are, therefore, organically connected to them.

And here, I think, I may have stumbled on a new comma rule: If sequential adjectives are mechanical in their relation to each other and to the noun - just straightforward modifiers - separate them with commas; but if their connection to the noun is organic, let them flow together. I don't find any problem (from a punctuation viewpoint) in writing: 'Donald Trump's incessant, juvenile, gratuitous drunken-binge-like tweets are beneath the dignity of his office.'

Which brings us to the conundrum of the Oxford comma, and here we encounter what can only be described as a cultural difference. In British writing, all the elements in a list of things need to be set off with commas, as in: 'The first, second, third, fourth, and fifth tweets were bad enough; but the sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth were killers.' The Oxford comma is the comma which proceeds the 'and' in the list. It is usually not used in American writing, the feeling being that it is not necessary for clarity or meaning. But in my writing I have often found that it is necessary, as in the phrase above: 'The mouth, the lips, the tongue, and the vocal chords...' Not using the comma before 'and' in this case tends to lump 'tongue' and 'vocal chords' together as a single organ, when my intention was to separate them as distinct parts of the list. It is a judgment call based on intended meaning; a nuance which the comma makes clear. At times it is useful; at other times, unnecessary. And so, given that one either uses the Oxford comma or one does not, I do tend to use it. Better safe than sorry; better clear than cloudy.

The comma does, of course, have certain prescribed and formal uses, as, for example, to set off nouns or phrases in apposition, and to indicate nouns in direct address. I am a great believer in these, although apposition has proven to be a matter less of formula than of usage. But direct address by all means. 'Shut up, you damn fool!' is necessary and clear. The comma makes it certain that we are addressing an individual, say, Donald Trump. And there is, of course, the popular example of the deadly effect of a lack of a comma as in: 'Let's eat grandma!' While members of a few tribes in the outbacks of the world might actually mean this, the sentence normally should read, 'Let's eat, grandma!' the comma marking the difference between civilization and barbarism; indeed, between life and death. Apposition is slipperier. 'Donald Trump, though an embarrassment, is nonetheless president.' The apposition defines or characterizes the subject, and needs to be set off in commas (or, in this case, in something more restraining than that).

But I have found in my writing that the most common use of the apposition comma, to define a noun or pronoun with another noun, is more a matter of convenience than formulation. 'My wife, Betty, is a great cook.' This, as I understand it, is correct, yet I find the commas here intrusive rather than necessary and, surely, not elegant. To my eye, the sentence reads better: 'My wife Betty is a great cook.' There is no possibility for misunderstanding without the commas, and, indeed, in the current politically correct climate, their presence can become downright confusing. 'My wife, Frank, is a great cook' should mean that I am telling someone named Frank about Betty. But now it is perfectly correct to say, 'My wife Frank is a great cook,' and no one but a fundamentalist Christian will be either confused or perplexed. Thus does progress push or punish punctuation.

If you have read this far, then you must be as fascinated by and frustrated with punctuation as I am. There is much more that can be said about the use of the comma, but I will forego that and simply add that among the best writers all rules of grammar, punctuation, syntax, diction, and even spelling are up for grabs. Good writers, and especially great writers, act as if punctuation should be the servant of prose and not its dictator. They know that punctuation, like any of the mechanics of writing, is meant to serve the purpose of the piece and not to impose a formula upon it. I have learned over the years that, though there are a few rules in English, they are more often honored in the breach than the observance. In fact, no sooner do I find a rule than an exception immediately appears.

I recall being unsure about the relation between certain punctuation marks and the ends of quotations, so I looked up the rule in the writer's best friend, the Chicago Manual of Style. 'Punctuation marks inside quotation marks; no exceptions,' it said. But that same afternoon, an exception did, in fact, rear its head in my work. I don't recall what the sentence was, but it was on the order of: Don't ever try to tell me "charity begins at home"! Since the exclamation mark is not part of the cliché, then it has to go outside the quotation mark. The same was true for the question mark, as in: You don't know how to sing "Sweet Adeline"? The question mark is not part of the title of the song, and therefore must go outside the quotation mark. And gradually I began discovering others; lots, in fact. Through decades as a writer, I have learned that it is sufficient for English to posit a rule, for English to break it. That is one of the reasons I love the language as I do.

So I think the rule regarding the comma has to be elastic rather than rigid. While one ought to be familiar with the formal rules, and observe them as far as possible for the sake of clarity, the fact is that the use of the comma is a matter of feel more than of formula. Commas, like anything else in writing, ought to serve the purposes of the piece, adding to its clarity, meaning, rhythm, and nuance. They are the humble, breathless servants of poetry and prose, enhancing their beauty and power; not nuts and bolts merely buckling clauses and phrases together. The key to learning to use commas, or any other tools of writing, lies, as Yeats would say, 'Where all the ladders start/ In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.' Think of commas, then, as pulse-beats in your writing, and you probably won't go too far wrong. Use them as naturally you breathe. And read. Read good writing; pay attention to how the author uses the tools of language and learn from it. Do what the brilliant masters have done, and if anyone challenges your choices, you can do no better than to refer him to my favorite poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, who wrote among many other gems of punctuation-in-poetry:

Soul, self; come poor Jackself, I do advise
You, jaded, let be; call off thoughts awhile
Elsewhere; leave comfort root-room; let joy size
At God knows when to God knows what; whose smile
's not wrung, see you; unforeseen times rather -- as skies
Betweenpie mountains -- lights a lovely mile.

With everything else wonderful and unexpected, he starts a line with an apostrophe S! Now that's breathtaking.