It wasn’t that he wanted to take his life.
He wanted to take his death
into his own hands. There was
a difference, he knew, though he couldn’t
articulate it. More speculative than suicidal,
more curious than depressed,
more interested than not,
he didn’t want to talk to a therapist.
He wanted to talk to Walt Whitman.
He wanted to talk to his best friend from
kindergarten, who’d moved away
on the cusp of first grade, and he never
saw him again. He wanted to climb a tree
and sit up there all alone in the top branches
watching it absorb the carbon dioxide.
He had a bit of the tree in him himself.
He had similar aspirations
and spent much of his time in the branching
ramifications in his head. But because his children
would never live it down, he climbed
down from the tree in the car in the garage
every time, and walked back into his life with a few
leaves and twigs still sticking to his head.
“Tree Poem” by Paul Hostovsky from A Little In Love A Lot. © Main Street Rag Publishing Company, 2011. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
On this day, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Social Security Act of 1965 into law, creating the Medicare and Medicaid programs. It was the country's first national health insurance program.
It's the birthday of American blues guitarist Buddy Guy, born George Guy in Lettsworth, Louisiana (1936). He made his own guitar when he was 13, and learned to play it by listening to the records of John Lee Hooker and other blues artists. He soon began playing clubs in Baton Rouge, and moved to Chicago in 1957, when he was 21. That's where Muddy Waters discovered him, took him under his wing, and got him a gig at the 708 Club. He was popular in the 1960s, both as a solo artist and as a sideman for blues singers like Koko Taylor, Howlin' Wolf, and Little Walter.
As rock music grew more dominant in the 1970s, Guy's career waned, until young white guitarists like Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Jeff Beck said they owed their inspiration to Guy and other blues musicians. Vaughn said, "Without Buddy Guy, there would be no Stevie Ray Vaughan," and Clapton said, "Buddy Guy was to me what Elvis was for others." Even though he enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, it bothered Guy that the blues pioneers didn't get much credit on the radio, even on classic rock stations. He told an interviewer, "If you get Eric Clapton to play a Muddy Waters song, they call it classic, and they will put it on that station, but you'll never hear Muddy Waters."
American labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa disappeared on this date in 1975. He was last seen in Bloomfield Township, Michigan, near Detroit. He was involved with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters from 1932 to 1975, first as an organizer, then as the president from 1958 to 1971. He'd long had ties to organized crime, and he went to jail in 1967 on a 13-year sentence for jury tampering, attempted bribery, and fraud. He didn't resign his Teamsters presidency, though, until he made a deal with President Nixon in 1971. Nixon commuted his sentence, in exchange for Hoffa's agreement to stay away from union activities until 1980. Not surprisingly, the Teamsters Union supported Nixon in his 1972 re-election campaign. Hoffa wasn't happy with the arrangement, but he had lost the support of the Teamsters and the Mafia, and Nixon's restrictions were probably due to a request by senior union officials.
Hoffa told friends he was going to meet with two Mafia leaders at the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Township. When he didn't return by late that evening, his wife called the police, who found his car in the parking lot, but no sign of Hoffa. He was finally declared dead in 1982. There have been rumors, since disproved, that he was murdered and his body was buried in the end zone at Giants Stadium.
Emily Brontë (books by this author) was born in Thornton, Yorkshire, England, on this day in 1818. She was the daughter of a clergyman, and the sister of Anne and Charlotte Brontë; there was also a brother, Branwell, who was an artist and poet. Emily's mother died of cancer when Emily was only three, and because their father was a quiet, solitary man who spent much of his time in his room, the children soon learned to entertain themselves. They read Shakespeare, Milton, and Virgil, played the piano, and told each other stories. Charlotte and Branwell created an imaginary land, Angria, so Anne and Emily came up with the country's rival, Gondal; the four children wrote histories of their imaginary lands and populated them with a rich cast of characters. Emily never outgrew her fascination with Gondal, and continued to think up stories and poems about it until her death. All three Brontë sisters were writers, and they published under male-sounding pseudonyms: Acton, Currer, and Ellis Bell. Emily only produced one novel — Wuthering Heights (1847) — and many critics didn't like it much, finding it too brutal and dark.
Most of what we know about Emily comes from things other people have written about her. She stayed close to home, mostly just talked to her family and the servants, and didn't leave behind many personal papers: just two short letters, two diary pages from her teenage years, and two "birthday papers," written when she was 23 and 27. Some historians try to infer things about her life or personality from Wuthering Heights, but of the three Brontë sisters, she drew the least from her own experience to write her novel, so it's not a reliable source.
In 1845, Charlotte discovered some of Emily's notebooks filled with poetry, which she had written in secret, and encouraged her to publish her poems. Emily was angry at the invasion of her privacy, and refused, until Charlotte produced the poems that she herself had written, also in secret. As it happened, Anne had been writing poetry too, so the sisters self-published a volume called Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell in 1846. Reviews of the day were not good, but since then, Emily's work has gained in reputation and she's now considered one of the great English lyric poets. Emily Dickinson thought so highly of her that she requested Brontë's "No Coward Soul is Mine" be read at her funeral.
Emily's health suffered in the months after Wuthering Heights was published, and she wore herself out caring for Branwell, who by this time was an alcoholic and drug addict, and was dying of tuberculosis. She caught a cold at his funeral and refused all medical attention. She died three months later.
From "No Coward Soul is Mine," which Charlotte later said were the last lines Emily ever wrote:
Though Earth and moon were gone
And suns and universes ceased to be
And thou wert left alone
Every Existence would exist in thee
There is not room for Death
Nor atom that his might could render void
Since thou art Being and Breath
And what thou art may never be destroyed.