Thursday, November 12, 2009

Edgar and the Elevens

Sounds a bit like a lounge act. Or maybe an intriguing children's book. But it's my title for yesterday, the slightly spooky, but always dapper, 11/11, which I mostly spent finishing an article for 8th graders about Edgar Allan Poe, the father of the detective story.

Poe gets into your head. He sort of vaults out of the 19th century the way some people seem to be too new-fashioned for their time. Deliberately flunking out of West Point. Marrying his 13-year-old cousin, Virginia (shades of Jerry Lee Lewis). And dying mysteriously in Baltimore at age 40 after being found delirious in ragged second-hand clothes. But I avoided any of that. My territory was C.Auguste Dupin and the Murders in the Rue Morgue (committed, as we know, [spoiler alert] by an orangutan) and The Purloined Letter (hiding in plain sight) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle writing about always following "the footmarks of Poe" and finally the Edgar award for best mystery book of the year.

But I was interrupted at 11:00 a.m. by eleven blasts from the stentorian horn of the Arlington fire house. Right, Veteran's Day. Ceremony up at the nearby war memorial. Must remember to observe a moment of silence at 11:11:11. Of course I went back to inserting alliterations and didn't remember. Instead, there were little curls of thought during the day: of Paul Simon singing "On Armistice Day, the Philharmonic will play / and the song that they sing will be sad..." and when I lived in Vancouver, it was Remembrance Day, almost always rainy or overcast, with a solemn ceremony at the cenotaph in Victory Square downtown (with its spooky inscription: Is it nothing to you / all ye that pass by) and the ubiquitous red poppies people wore in their lapels (so we know what day it probably is in "Penny Lane," in which a pretty nurse is selling poppies from a tray).

Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? That used to get me. Still does. It's rare when public memorials talk to you. You feel you need to answer back. "No. It's not nothing! But I've got a lot on my mind. And why are you so negative, anyway, stone? Lighten up!" Except you don't lighten up a cenotaph. It's dour (doo-er), probably speaks in a glowery Scottish burr. And what of Poe? Doubtful anyone ever told him to lighten up. Hey, Edgar, how about "The Misunderstanding in the Rue Morgue"? Nevermore.

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