Category Archives: History

Of Anise

The other day when I took that picture back along Elwood Beach framed slight by anise, I reached out, crumbled some of the buds between my fingers, and—what do you know—but my finger tips smelled of anise, no less. 

Anise is one of those non-indigenous species that came from the Old World, Greece probably,  and spread weed-like in the New World.  I call it anise weed and put it in the same category as eucalyptus, another non-indigenous import, this time from Australia.  I feel about anise much as I do about eucalyptus, which I have previously excoriated in these pages as a lethal weed that kills all around it and which in its natural state is a complete fire hazard being dry as hell and filled with oily material.  A eucalyptus goes up like a damn match.

I came to dislike anise and to call it a weed when we arrived in California and  the folks bought that three quarters of an acre at 10194 Ramona Drive.  The first third of that three quarters of an acre was more or less civilized, but the lower two thirds were another matter.  When we first arrived the fields around us were mostly open and full of weeds.  Occasionally a tumble weed would roll right on through.  And anise weed would spring up.

Somehow I had the yearly chore of cutting back the anise weed.  I did this with a hoe and I say cut back because that’s what I did.  The stuff was damn tenacious; you could cut it back to the root easily enough with a hoe, during which I always got blisters because I wouldn’t wear glove or maybe we didn’t have any.  But to really get the crap out, you had to get a shovel and pull up the root and it had, I may say, a very sturdy root system.  So even if you dug a bit, and didn’t get it all, it was sure to come back up again.

I never did defeat it.  But the environment changed.  Houses were built all around us; the fields disappeared and over time so did the anise weed.

Come to think of it a friend who had gone to Greece came back and gave me a bottle of Ouzo.  This is clear stuff; officially a product of the nation of Greece.  It’s called a liquor and it is flavored with anise.  I did not like the stuff much.  But I would take a hit of it now and then.  It was clear in the bottle, and sometimes I would just smell it to clear my nostrils.  I don’t know how long I had that bottle—years and years—and I swear the stuff never went bad.  If that bottle is still out there, you could probably take a hit and suffer no major damage aside from that produced by the Ouzo itself.

And finally anise is used as a flavoring in absinte, a notorious French liquor that was for a time outlawed in the 20th century for its destructive effects.  But now is back in style. For a long time in my most depressed period, in the hole under WB and Joan’s house, I had on my wall this picture by Degas called the “Absinte Drinker”:




Also on my wall over my bed was Bosch’s Hell:




This may suggest my mood at the time.

That is the history of my association with anise, or more exactly, anise weed.

A Real Piece of Work

My brothers and I over the years took to calling the old lady—after we had recounted some new horror story—“a real piece of work.”  This phrase means something precise to me in my mind at least, but I am not quite sure how to translate into other words.  I think it means something like what people mean when they say of somebody, “he is just impossible.”

 lipsI am not sure what that means either; for certainly to be impossible a person must first be possible.  But whatever it means, my brothers and I didn’t take to calling the old lady that until later in life and we had managed to emerge a little from her emotional strangle hold.  We had achieved a sort of distance which allowed us to express a very, very grudging respect for her abilities to make us (and herself) incredibly miserable.  I think that’s implied in “a real piece of work,” a grudging, very grudging respect.

If this applied to the old lady, it also applied to her sister, Aunt Susan, who was also a real piece of work although apparently crafted by a different craftsperson.  While the old lady was Miss Goody-Goody Two Shoes (whatever that means), oh so prim and proper with her lips that touch liquor will never touch mine holier than thou attitude, Aunt Susan was sort of large and blousy, if that’s a word, gregarious, not above hinting at cleavage and certainly not afraid of a drink. 

 So we have Saint Old Lady and Sinner Sue; at least that’s how our mother tried to make Susan feel.  Susan for her part had grown up belittling Saint Old Lady and continued to do so making remarks especially about her attire and her weight.  Although for many years, the Saint had all the leverage since she had a god fear husband and god fearing children, and my Aunt didn’t have anybody after her son, Skipper, died at the age of 13 or so of bone cancer.

And before that her career with men had been, for women of her generation, a bit of a walk on the wild side.  During the war, she met a man, had intercourse with him unmarried, became pregnant, and waited while he went off to the war after they had married in TJ.  She waited and waited; the child came along and still no husband.  Plus, the letters had stopped coming.  She got herself together somehow and went back to Arkansas where his family was only to find out he was already married.  There stood his wife right there on the porch, with one child standing beside her, and another in the oven.  And basically they just laughed at her and told her to get lost.

So Aunt Susan was a single mother.  I expect there have always been lots and lots of single mothers either de jure or de facto.  But she was one before single mothers became a topic of conversation.  And somewhere along there she had an affair with a married man, no less.  I met him once.  I got a call from Aunt Susan to come have a drink with her at a bar over in Lemon Grove.  I guess she had come back to visit her old stomping grounds and she cottoned to me because I had spent time with her dead son.

And this guy comes in—the adulterer, I mean—and I don’t know what I expected—but he is pretty tall, sort of stooped over, nothing to speak of really, and wearing one of those god awful polyester suits fashionable at the time.  The affair—that was long over—but they had remained friends.  So I finished my drink and after a bit I left.

Warrior Creek

I was irritated recently to learn that I did not nearly die in the Enoree River as I previously claimed in one of the entries here.  I regret not only the historical inaccuracy but the time I spent trying to re-enact my near death experience in the wrong river.  First my brother #2, attempting to assist mewrong river in the historical re-enactment, took considerable time, riding here and there, with his son to locate the spot on the wrong river that resembled what I had spoken of.

He called to say he believed he had located the spot at MusGrove Mill.  The following absolutely sweltering day, my wife and I drove hither and thither through the countryside, through Enoree, the town proper, over hill and dale till we hit the interstate and driving back towards the historic town of Clinton, since every town there is now historic, saw a turn off to Musgrove Mill.  Victory, I thought.

The turnoff took us to my surprise to a parking lot and located near it a new building created by the National Forest Service—or some government organization like that—intent upon preserving the area in its natural state since it too was historic, an important or perhaps relatively insignificant, Revolutionary war battle having been fought there at Musgrove ford.  A helpful sign told us that fords were places of tactical importance since they allowed horses and people to ford the river relatively easily (that being by definition the nature of a ford) and thus holding this or that ford meant control over the movement of the Red Coats.

So we plodded in the sweltering heat through trees and brush down to the river proper so that I might find the precise location of my near death experience.  I was certain I had found it near some concrete pilings.  The wide expanse of the low river swept before me, and when I stepped into the water onto the stones beneath, my toes told me this was the place or very near it.  Slipping and sliding on my creaky knees I waded out as far as I dared, for the water became dark, deep and swift towards the center. 

For the purposes of the re-enactment I wanted to submerge myself and then pop my head out of the water as a symbolic manifestation of my having been saved.  But I dared not do it, and so contented myself by standing knee deep and waving my arms about in a panic stricken manner as my wife snapped a photo.  The photo did not turn out particular well since a still camera does not of course capture motion, and rather than looking panic stricken one might have surmised that, with both arms up in the air like that, I was being held up by bandits in mid-stream.

But all this was for naught because according to my mother I did not nearly die on the Enoree but on Warrior Creek, not far from the Enoree, but not the Enoree.  I don’t know why you make such a big deal of that, she said.  Why not, I said, a near death experience is a near death experience and not without significance, and besides, to set the record straight, the big deal really was that with her boo-hooings and goings on one might have felt she was the one who had nearly died.  To which she had nothing to say.

Something Egyptian

The old man’s claim to fame—of a very local variant—was his having built each house that we lived in.  Except for the very first, that had a tin roof and an outhouse and was rented for our first year or so back in South Carolina.  While we lived there, he built his first house on land adjacent to his adobemother’s house out of cinder block.  This made for quick, sturdy, and above all cheap construction but was not a style favored at that time or to my knowledge since.  

One may make a house out of brick and it is an excellent house. But cinder block is used primarily in commercial construction, and is then painted because cinder block unpainted is rather ugly.  But the old man made it with his own hands, including I believe in this case the electrical, but without indoor plumbing.  It was a functional house and served the primary purpose of a house which is to keep out the elements.

He also built with his own hands, and the help of an electrician, the house in which we lived in California.  As I may have mentioned the original mortgage for this house was 12000 and was a kind of house in a box, lacking a better description.  All of the materials for the house were provided by a company, Whiting-Mead, so that, for example, all the wood was pre-cut to the dimensions of the house plan selected. This reduced considerably time and thought, both rather in short supply when it came to the old man.

But build the house, he did, and later he added on what we called a family room.  This had the table where we ate and the TV at the other end and in between a fancy fireplace of his own construction that had a place not just for a fire but also a grill for grilling meat and such.  The first time he lit a fire it did not however draw properly and flooded the house with smoke.  Over time, with much cursing and flinging about of tools, his defect was repair.  The building of this room took perhaps ten years.  Admittedly, most of it was there from the beginning, but finishing touches such as proper flooring were a long time in coming.  For years, before some linoleum got put on it, the flooring was simple and serviceable plywood.  

The exterior of this house was covered in shakes painted grey.  Why, I don’t know.  But that they were part of the original package for the house in a box.

But the old man’s master piece, over the construction of which he would wax eloquent saying the The Lord had guided his very fingers, was the last one.  The adobe, as we called it, since that was what it was constructed of.  This house took perhaps five years to build as the old lady and old man lived in a trailer located on the property.  The bulk of that time went into the making of the adobe block directly from the earth of the property itself.  The old man would shovel the adobe into a cement mixer, liquefying it, then pour the adobe into molds, then remove the molds and let the adobe cure.

He made himself 10000 block and I must say I find something Egyptian about the feat.

The T-Shirt Incident

Richie White, the kid everybody beat up on the Boy Scout camping trips, was the kid nearest to me on the hill that was my own age.  So sometimes I would go down to his house, and we would go to his garage that was filled up from one end to the other with this giant Lionel Train layout. 

Actually I had never quite grasped the attraction of the Lionel train; once you set it up and run it a couple of times to see if you could get it to run it got old pretty fast.  But Richie would insist on running hi setup a couple of times; it was pretty amazing. Trains cris-crossed all over the place, and Mr. White had made little houses and stores and trees. After that we would do some Boy Scout shit together.  Richie wasn’t so bad as long as you weren’t trying to beat him up and didn’t mind the snot running out of his nose all the time.

One time we were doing some sort of Boy Scout shit that involved pocket knives because I was hacking at something, slipped, and stuck the blade right into the fatty ball of my thumb.  For a split second I can see all the layers of different types of skin and muscle all laid out in nice, neat rows, and then the thing fills up with blood and then the blood overflows into the cup of my hand.  So I walk up the stairs and kick the screen door to the kitchen a couple of times, all the time for some reason holding my hands together to cup the blood, though at about this point the blood was overflowing.  Mrs. White opens the door, grasps the situation, says not to worry about dripping blood, drags me over to the sink, turns roaring hot water into the wound, followed by something that makes me want to scream, wipes the wound and then lashes the sides of it together with a butterfly bandage.  That should do it, she says, and you won’t need stitches either.

I got to hand it to the woman, but she did a good job.  Straight forward, absolutely sure of what she was doing, and quick about it.  And she was right about not needing the stitches.  But I was maybe the only person on the whole hill who had anything good to say about her.  Her little Richie, she let everybody know, was a genius.  He had crawled early and walked early and talked early and read early and then they tested him and he came out Genius.  He was going to be a Genius scientist, so they bought him all sorts of science stuff, like chemistry sets, and microscopes, and a real nice telescope for examining the stars.  Her life’s purpose was to defend and protect her little genius.

One day she hears this screaming and yelling and knows, because she has heard it a number of times before, that somebody is beating up on little Richie.  She comes out just as Mr. Hammet, who lived in the house a little down the hill and across the street from hers, was trying to pull the boys apart.  He has little Richie by the scruff of the neck, and she, screaming don’t you dare lay a hand on my boy, leaps right onto Mr. Hemmet’s back. He jumps and she slides off but not before getting a grip on his t-shirt and, as she fell to her butt, nearly ripped it clean off of him.

Such behavior did not endear Mrs. White to her neighbors.  They all thought she was loony tunes.  And this wasn’t the only time.  Another time a father had been trying to pull his son off of Richie and she bit him in the thumb.  He said she had actually broke the skin and that he was going to sue her or something for assault with a deadly weapon.  But he never did.

lionel train 

Odds and Evens

oil embargo 

Probably the best car I have ever owned was a 1953 Buick Roadmaster.  By “best” I mean it was the best used car I have ever owned at the date when it was first sold, back in 1953.  Howard Hughes owned one so it had to have been expensive.  Mine had a straight 8—eight cylinders in a row.  It had a radio that didn’t work, and a bunch of buttons across the dash that were supposed to adjust the suspension hydraulically for the kind of surface you were driving on: rough, smooth, bumpy road.  Those didn’t work either.

 I got the car from Roland. He had been busted for pot and was going to the county work farm for six months.  I asked him was there no way he could get out of it, and he laughed and said he was caught red handed and dead to rights having sold directly to an undercover cop.  He was parting with his earthly possessions and he had some debts he said to pay off before going in and ask did I want the Buick, owned he said by an old lady.  I drove it around, no black smoke came out the pipe, and the oil was pretty clean.  So I offered him 100 dollars—which I thought was low—and he said, I’ll take it.

 One day I was out front working on something on that car and the next door neighbor, Mr. Hunter, came over and said mighty nice car and started talking about the cars he and his buddies had back in Hattisburg, Mississippi.  Yep, he knew that car because it had a special suspension.  He and his buddies would get on the ends of that car and get it to bouncing clean off the ground, and one night he had his buddies bounced one of those cars into an alley sideways.  You should have seen the owner’s face he said.

 And he had a car like that too, not that one exactly, but one like it, and to save on gas he had figured out how to turn the engine off more than a mile away from home.  He would get up speed and top this hill, and shut off the engine and it would fly down the hill passed the Miller place, and passed the old abandoned gas station where as a child he bought Nihi Grape Soda, and down a gulley and up the other side, which was always a bit touch and go, and the car would roll right up the drive and stop right in front of the house without him even putting his foot to the brake.  Damn amazing, I said.

Mr. Hunter worked down at the zoo taking care of the gorillas maybe because he was about the size of one.  He was 6 feet six and maybe 330.  He still had the thick southern accent.  And I was sitting around maybe two hours later when it came to me like a bolt out of the blue that he had been jerking my chain with that car story.  What cued me was that last bit about not even having to touch the brake.  Mr. Hunter liked to spin a yarn.  I doubt the backbone of the story was original, but he filled it up with so much local color as he went along that you pretty much suspended disbelief without knowing it and maybe his being six six and 330 helped too, because I wasn’t about to call him a liar had I any suspicion he was pulling my chain.

I drove that car for a year during the time I worked as an assistant manager in training at a Newberry’s Department Store.  But then towards the end of 1973, the Arab Oil Embargo hit and the price of gas went from 25 cents a gallon or so to a dollar or a dollar and a quarter.  I hadn’t paid any attention till then but that Roadmaster got 11 miles to a gallon.  And it wasn’t easy to get gas either.  Cars stretched around the block to get gas and then they went to the odd number, even number license plate system where people with odd numbered license plates went on odd number days and people with even numbered license plates went on even number days.

So I had to park my luxury vehicle down back with the other wrecks, and I went back to driving the 59 Plymouth Station Wagon.  Eventually, one of my brothers sold the Roadmaster to a car collector for 400 dollars.

Titus Oates

Besides Miss Tuttle, the other teacher who seemed to feel I could write was Mr. Moore, my senior English teacher.  He never said he thought I could write, but he did nominate me for that national essay contest for high school seniors.   So maybe I can infer something from that. 

He was a thin little man who wore sweaters and a bow tie, and like Miss Tuttle, who had gone to Columbia, Mr. Moore was east coast educated having been graduated from Princeton.  He was a titus oatesCaptain in the Army in WWII and came back changed.  This may explain his having ended up at a teacher at a nowhere high school in California.  Or it could have been his drinking problem that started after the war. 

Still, he rode me about my writing and graded me harder than anyone because he knew I was going to college.  I remember getting a B+ on a long research paper.  I had worked hard on that baby.  It was supposed to be on some historical figure; so my colleagues, lacking any imagination, wrote about Washington or Florence Nightingale or Madame Curry.  I wrote about Titus Oates, 17th century perjurer and sodomite, a man who according to a poll of British Historians was the “worst Briton of the 17th century.”

Maybe Mr. Moore thought I was being a wise ass by picking Titus Oates, but the name alone was enough to fascinate me, and I had come upon my interest legitimately.  I had been pursuing one of the volumes of our 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica and came across the final lines of an entry that read, something like, whereupon he lived out the rest of his years in the country where his house became known for unholy and unnatural acts.  I wanted to know more about this person and so first familiarized myself with Titus Oates and the gun power plot I believe it was called.  

Titus started his career of crime by being dismissed from the Anglican clergy for blasphemous drunkenness and suspicion of sodomy. He established himself as a world class lier by concocting a whole series of lies suggesting that Catholics had intentions upon the throne and was first rewarded for his efforts with a 600 pound pension.  Later, when power shifted, he was tried, found guilty and sentenced to repeated floggings that should have killed him.  But they didn’t; whereupon part of his pension was restored, following a legal action, and he retired to the country to continue his unnatural doings.

So maybe I was being a bit of a wise ass.  

Mr. Moore’s class also furnished me one of the few high school moments that I remember with any warmth.  One Monday morning he turned to us and said, “And just who the heck are these Beatles.”  This was in many ways an unprecedented moment.  I don’t recollect a teacher ever having asked his students a real question,  who asked it moreover in a spirit of curiosity and out of a desire to learn something about the lives of his students.  We sat more or less dumbfounded.  I could see he was going to let the question drop, but since it was my job in that class to answer all questions nobody else would or could, I raised my hand and said, “The best rock and roll band ever.”


Viet Nam vets are now old and gnarly.  They are a sort of passé cliché.  But back then they were young.  They were my age and coming back from the war.  I was working at a Broadway Departmentswift boat Store unloading the trucks and doing other odds and ends.  We got there early and all the guys on the dock as well as other people who worked there would gather by this one door and wait to be let in.  

We would knock on the door, or bang on it, or kick it, and start hollering and eventually this really old guy, with a belt of keys, would come down the aisle, about as slow as he could go and let us in.  Joe waited there with us.  He had been in Viet Nam, had long dirty looking dark hair, and looked like he was wasted a lot; he worked somewhere in the store, but not on the docks.  For some reason, that old man just got on Joe’s nerves and he would start to cussing the old man when he took his time getting to the door; Joe would cuss him every step the old man took down that long aisle.

 One day, out of nowhere, Joe didn’t cuss the guy but reared back and before anybody could do a thing kicked the fucking door with his steel tip work boot and broke it to pieces.  I didn’t know you could break a door like that, but Joe did.  He had strung telephone wires through the bush in Viet Nam.  He would creep along in the bushes with the wire so that people up at the front fighting could phone back.  One day he got shot and his left forearm was shattered.  Somebody said he was shot in two places, but I never saw the other place.

 I was a dishwasher at restaurant in a shopping center.  We had three cooks.  One big fat guy, an old lady who passed out from the heat a couple of times, and a young guy, who was mostly American Indian, who had a fine sharp featured face and thick black hair brushed back in an Elvis pompadour.  He had been back from Viet Nam for almost a year, and sometimes when I was washkng dishes, I turned around and he would be going like ack, ack, ack with a broom like it was a machine gun at me.  And once he stuck it right up to my asshole and did that and I almost jumped out of my skin. 

 He had been on one of those boats that go up rivers like in the movie, Apocalypse Now, and one day they got off the boat and were checking things out, and he said he saw the guy who shot him up in a tree, and he was hit in the stomach.  But, he said, somebody on his boat had got the fucker.

He had married this white woman who, from the picture he showed me, looked like she was maybe 300 pounds.  He had a child by her, and then they had split up.  She said he had emotional problems; he said she had cheated on him and he had emotional problems.  He wouldn’t pay child support, so most weekends he would check into the county jail and put in time for failure to provide child support. 

He asked me to go out drinking with him a few times, and in a way I sort of liked the guy.  But I am not a drinker.  And he told me that he had been in jail because he had been in a bar room fight and poked out a guy’s eye with a bottle, but they had put it back in. So he really couldn’t understand all the fuss. Really the guy scared me.

The New Math

I liked the sciences pretty much.  I liked biology quite a bit.  I saw a TV show about a guy who traveled all over checking out the health of the world’s bat population.  I thought that was a pretty sputnickgood job.  But my career in the sciences was screwed up by the Sputnik.  The Reds sent this up in 1957, an unmanned satellite that in pictures looked out as big as a basketball.  The Reds had got a jump on us.  We were behind in the technoscience race. And you’d have thought the sky was falling.

Somebody got the bright idea that the reason the Reds had got the jump lay with the backwardness of America’s school children.  So the experts got together and decided to cook up a whole new science curriculum based, no doubt, on the most advanced principles.  This new curriculum arrived at my school, not in the form of books, but copied manuscripts tacked together with humongous staples. 

The first time I got one of these books was in geometry.  We had a pretty good math teacher, but that whole year of geometry I never knew what the fuck was going on because the teacher didn’t know how to teach that stuff.  To scare us into trying, he told us our final grade for the course would be based on an exam the government was going to give us.  I got 28 right out of a 100 and was sure I had failed my first class.  But it turned out 28 right was pretty high and I got an A- for not understanding a damn thing the whole year.

Next year in chemistry was even worse.  We had another of those Xeroxed books and the teacher couldn’t make heads or tails of it.  All I remember about that class was staring at the periodic table above the teacher’s head.  At least in geometry I had learned about triangles and obtuse and acute angles and such, but chemistry I got nothing out of.  That’s too bad because now I understand, at least remotely, that the bridge between the animate and the inanimate, the living and deadness, consists of blind biochemical reactions and reductions.  I mean it could have been interesting.

 And my senior year trigonometry class—well, it didn’t have one of those new updated books.  We just had an idiot as a teacher.  We had maybe 15 people in that class; and again I struggled along trying my best to understand, but the teacher only seemed interested in telling us about what he had done the last weekend. 

I guess even back then the world was getting smaller because something the Reds did fucked up my possible career in the sciences.  So when it came to college, I went with my strengths, with what I thought I could do well at, and became an English major, not having the slightest idea what that was, and did not become, like a number of people at my high school, an engineer, a sensible thing for a working class student to do.

12 Caesars

The old lady said that in polite company three things were never discussed: religion, politics, and sex.  I guess we had an extremely polite family because none of these things were ever discussed; sex especially was not discussed.  I assume the old lady knew her four sons came equipped with penises.  But I don’t remember the word penis ever used.

12 caesarsBack in SC lacking bathroom facilities, we had a bath once a week whether we needed it or not.  In the summers, I remember we were lined up and one after another would step naked into a big wash tub and the old lady would more or less hose us down.  I can’t remember if she washed our male members; I am sort of glad I can’t.

When I arrived at the age of growing sexual interest, I knew I believe accurately how babies were made but that was about it.  And at that time, magazines and books on sexual subjects were remarkably absent.  “Playboy” magazine started coming out in the 50s, but it was kept in a special place in the drugstore and was covered with a plain brown paper wrapping.  Additionally, practicing safe sex could be awkward for a shy boy since condoms were not displayed out in the open but were locked up somewhere in the back and one had to ask the druggist for them explicitly and openly.

Being literarily inclined, I did more or less by accident lay my hands on Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, even though both were banned at the time for obsenity.  The latter was hard going, sort of murky, and hard to find the good parts.  Also there was stuff about sticking flowers in pubic hairs and the male figure had a number of names for this penis.  The book seemed a bit artsy-fartsy.  Personally, I have never named my penis.  Cancer was considerably better, clearer, more vivid and direct and I even liked reading some of the parts around the good parts.

But mostly I got my sex Ed. I think from taking Roman.  I mean Latin, but I like to call it Roman because learning Latin led me to learning about Rome.  You can learn a lot by learning Roman.  I came across Grave’s I, Cladius in the high school library; I read that and found it remotely titillating.  Unfortunately, the old lady who refused to recognize we had any right to privacy happened to pick up the book, read a bit of it, and got it banned from the school library because largely of its mention of Spanish Fly.

 This pissed me off.  In my edition of Claudius, Graves mentioned some of the sources for his book, so I went down to the public library and checked out a copy of Suetonius’ “Lives of the 12 Caesars.”  It had Latin on one page and English on the other, so my mother thought I was studying Roman.  Extra credit, I said. 

I get the feeling Suetonius’ was sort of an early gossip columnist and spared no smut or filthy details in his biographical treatments.  Nero, for example, was a pig of the first water.  He killed his mother I think.  He raped women regularly and married boys.  He liked to dress up at night in the skin of a bear, prowl alleys, and commit sadistic acts of sexual violence upon both sexes.  This might not seem very arousing, but then lines like “he fondled and kissed her breasts” could send me to fantasy land.  And I learned a hell of a lot about other stuff from Suetonius about politics, and just plain murder.

I think in the Bible somebody says nothing is new under the sun.  The Romans ruled by panem et circenses.   The same as today, I think.  We’ve got so much bread people are getting bloated, and as for circuses there’s no end of them.