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“The Rhythm of Life”


“Daddy started out in San Francisco,
Tootin’ on his trumpet loud and mean.
Suddenly a voice said, ‘Go forth, Daddy.
Spread the picture on a wider screen.’
And the voice said, ‘Daady, there’s a million pigeons
Ready to be hooked on new religions.
Hit the road, Daddy. Leave your common-law wife.
Spread the religion of the rhythm of life. “
And the rhythm of life is a powerful beat,
Puts a tingle in your fingers and a tingle in your feet,
Rhythm in your bedroom, rhythm in the street,
Yes, the rhythm of life is a powerful beat….’

I might have guessed Sammy Davis, Jr. wrote the lyrics for Shirley McLain’s number in “Sweet Charity”, a 1969 film. As yet another birthday peaks above the horizon, retrospection might be expected, especially for someone whose career has been focussed on history. Well, at least it’s supposed to have been. But that’s another question for anther time.

So, it was September, 1951, probably the day after Labor Day; that’s the way we used to do it in the era before T.V. And Marge walks me to the neighborhood school, then only grades one through four, and enrolls me in First Grade. I was in the care of Miss Mary Hletko, who I liked very much. My class might have had a dozen students, really, or at least that’s the way I remember it. O.K., now I’ll cut to the chase.

The rhythm of my life has been regulated by education, multiple sequential levels of it, from there through grad school — a couple of them, and one of those a couple times; I’m kinda slow that way. My point is that I have been at school of one sort or another for seventy years. Those rhythms of class sequence, alternate days (MWF versus TTh); semesters then quarters then semesters; holidays and their variants — we used to get both Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays off; now we get neither — and the irregular flow of time through those lazy summer months (slow at first, then increasingly rapid as Labor Day drew nigh) have regulated my life since that day when Marge dropped me off. [Eighteen months later, by the way, Marge herself packed a suitcase of lingerie and loose cash and lit out, never to be seen again, but that, too, is another story.]

Follow a pattern, any pattern, long enough and it becomes part of who you are. But then what happens, what replaces it, when you’re no longer a part of the pulse? I guess I’m gonna find out.

For Agincourt, the response is simple: I’ve long been aware of the diverse rhythms that can govern our lives and tried in my modest yet anal-retentive way to build them into the story.


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