The Permeator

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In about 1987 I was sitting in a steakhouse in northern Georgia, sort of killing time, as I did so often those days, and — showing my great ability at multitasking — was reading while dining.

The waitress won my heart by asking what I was reading. I showed her it was a collection, allegedly complete, of the works of Shakespeare. When I said, "But I don't see the big deal: All he did was take a bunch of famous quotations and string them together," she laughed, earning a bigger tip.

Then she said something I've remembered all these years: "My husband reads Shakespeare to me."

He, she said, was a teacher, and they would sit together at home after their respective jobs and he would read to her.

I have often thought what a happy family they should have been and still should be. I hope.

In one of my college classes, we had to write some short essay, about what I don't remember, but I do remember titling mine "TV or not TV?" And I remember a sportswriter being soundly, though only verbally, thumped when he wrote of a ballplayer's possible medical diagnosis, "TB or not TB?"

Suddenly I remember something much more subtle: I was working at a motel in San Diego in about 1971 and a visitor asked how to get to a street named "Rosencrantz." Smart alecky me, instead of asking him whether he meant “Rosecrans,” and telling him where it was, I told him, "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead." At least I started to tell him, but I restrained myself — a very, very rare happenstance.

Recently I reread a Poul Anderson book, A Midsummer Tempest, in which Shakespeare is known as The Historian, and the great Anderson introduces, as very live and very real characters, Caliban, Ariel, Oberon, and Titania, among a cast of thousands, so many of whom help Prince Rupert in his war in Cavalier support of the king. Beautifully written.

I could keep listing these things — including, for example, the motion picture credits of some decades back with “Additional dialogue by Bill Shakespeare.” All of them show how the influence of one person can penetrate time, space, and minds.

But there need to be individual minds in contact.

In a Fox Trot comic strip, also of a few years ago, the less than scholarly Paige is having to read one of the plays, which just thrills her English-major mom. Paige, however, is completely stymied.

"What language is this?" she screams. "Martian?"

Her geeky, nerdy little brother looks at the text and responds, "No, no — if it were Martian I could probably read it."

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