Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"We're still seeking gold in California" - Voice of America

The San Gabriel River

The San Gabriel River is only about a one-hour drive from Los Angeles. Fed by melting snow from the mountains upstream, the bone-piercingly cold water would be enough to keep most travelers safely on the bank. However, it isn’t cold enough to stop a new wave of gold fever. Even though many years have passed since the first California gold rush, the San Gabriel, which was a major mining hotspot at the time, is still attracting prospectors. Some visitors are just there for fun. Nick brought his son to have fun - and learn a little history. “He’s a fourth grader and they’re studying the gold rush in school, so he wanted to go panning for gold,” Nick said. “Well, we looked in this book and I was just a little bit interested. It said that there was gold here and I was thinking about going here with my friends. So we went here and we thought that we might have a chance to find some gold. Well, it’s pretty fun looking at the river and just getting all the rocks,” his son explained. There are also some so-called weekend warriors, people who have other jobs and search for gold in their free time. Dan is a cabinet maker who reports to the river bank every Saturday. “Well, you start a little slow with the gold pan, and then you get the little box, the sluice box. And then you realize that to find more gold you have to move more dirt, so then you go to the machines, and the machines do the work for you,” he said. Lester has been at it for 17 years. He says he taught Dan how to prospect, and like his student, is a weekend warrior — doing it for fun, not money. “You will not survive [prospecting gold for a living]. There’s just a little, you can’t even buy your gas,” said Lester. But some are here for the money. Kevin, 39, is a Hollywood lighting technician who has been out of work for months. “It’s turned into a way to make extra cash and keep food on the table,” he said. Kevin and his partner found several pounds of gold after excavating sandstone deposits. But that happy feeling comes at a steep price. Kevin spends 10 hours a day in the water using a tube to suck up the gravel and stone from the riverbed. Everything that’s sucked up goes into what’s called a rocker box. The sand is washed away and the heavier rocks and gold remain in the trough. But few people have found enough to retire. Bernie has been prospecting for 21 years and is known as the “Mayor of the San Gabriel Valley.” Today, he still lives in a trailer. “I have yet to see in this area someone make a living by prospecting,” he said. So what are these modern-day prospectors really in search of? “I love the river, it’s the best. I come at 5 o’clock in the morning every Saturday. I come up the mountain, wait for the sun to rise, It’s beautiful. Me, God and the river,” said Dan.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

"Bartleby" by Herman Melville

Our story this week is called “Bartleby." It was written by Herman Melville, one of America’s best-known writers. Here is Shep O’Neal to tell you the story in Special English.

STORYTELLER: I am an old lawyer, and I have three men working for me. My business continued to grow and so I decided to get one more man to help write legal papers.

I have met a great many people in my days, but the man who answered my advertisement was the strangest person I have ever heard of or met.

He stood outside my office and waited for me to speak. He was a small man, quiet and dressed in a clean but old suit of clothes. I asked him his name. It was Bartleby.

At first Bartleby almost worked himself too hard writing the legal papers I gave him. He worked through the day by sunlight, and into the night by candlelight. I was happy with his work, but not happy with the way he worked. He was too quiet. But, he worked well…like a machine, never looking or speaking.

One day, I asked Bartleby to come to my office to study a legal paper with me. Without moving from his chair, Bartleby said: “I do not want to.”

I sat for a short time, too surprised to move. Then I became excited.

“You do not want to. What do you mean, are you sick? I want you to help me with this paper.”

“I do not want to.”

His face was calm. His eyes showed no emotion. He was not angry. This is strange, I thought. What should I do? But, the telephone rang, and I forgot the problem for the time being.

A few days later, four long documents came into the office. They needed careful study, and I decided to give one document to each of my men. I called and all came to my office. But not Bartleby.

“Bartleby, quick, I am waiting.”

He came, and stood in front of me for a moment. “I don’t want to,” he said then turned and went back to his desk.

I was so surprised, I could not move. There was something about Bartleby that froze me, yet, at the same time, made me feel sorry for him.

As time passed, I saw that Bartleby never went out to eat dinner. Indeed, he never went anywhere. At eleven o’clock each morning, one of the men would bring Bartleby some ginger cakes.

“Umm. He lives on them,” I thought. “Poor fellow!” He is a little foolish at times, but he is useful to me.

“Bartleby,” I said one afternoon. “Please go to the post office and bring my mail.”

“I do not want to.”

I walked back to my office too shocked to think. Let’s see, the problem here is…one of my workers named Bartleby will not do some of the things I ask him to do. One important thing about him though, he is always in his office.

One Sunday I walked to my office to do some work. When I placed the key in the door, I couldn’t open it. I stood a little surprised, then called, thinking someone might be inside. There was. Bartleby. He came from his office and told me he did not want to let me in.

The idea of Bartleby living in my law office had a strange effect on me. I slunk away much like a dog does when it has been shouted at…with its tail between its legs.

Was anything wrong? I did not for a moment believe Bartleby would keep a woman in my office. But for some time he must have eaten, dressed and slept there. How lonely and friendless Bartleby must be.

I decided to help him. The next morning I called him to my office.

“Bartleby, will you tell me anything about yourself?”

“I do not want to.”

I sat down with him and said, “You do not have to tell me about your personal history, but when you finish writing that document…

“I have decided not to write anymore,” he said. And left my office.

What was I to do? Bartleby would not work at all. Then why should he stay on his job? I decided to tell him to go. I gave him six days to leave the office and told him I would give him some extra money. If he would not work, he must leave.

On the sixth day, somewhat hopefully, I looked into the office Bartleby used. He was still there.

The next morning, I went to the office early. All was still. I tried to open the door, but it was locked. Bartleby’s voice came from inside. I stood as if hit by lightening. I walked the streets thinking. “Well, Bartleby, if you will not leave me, I shall leave you.”

I paid some men to move all the office furniture to another place. Bartleby just stood there as the men took his chair away.

“Goodbye Bartleby, I am going. Goodbye and God be with you. Here take this money.” I placed it in his hands. It dropped to the floor; and then, strange to say, I had difficulty leaving the person I wanted to leave me.

A few days later, a stranger visited me in my new office. “You are responsible for the man you left in your last office,” he said. The owner of the building has given me a court order which says you must take him away. We tried to make him leave, but he returned and troubles the others there.

I went back to my old office and found Bartleby sitting on the empty floor.

“Bartleby, one of two things must happen. I will get you a different job, or you can go to work for some other lawyer.”

He said he did not like either choice.

“Bartleby, will you come home with me and stay there until we decide what you will do?”

He answered softly, “No, I do not want to make any changes.”

I answered nothing more. I fled. I rode around the city and visited places of historic interest, anything to get Bartleby off my mind.

When I entered my office later, I found a message for me. Bartleby had been taken to prison.

I found him there, and when he saw me he said: “I know you, and I have nothing to say to you.”

“But I didn’t put you here, Bartleby.” I was deeply hurt. I told him I gave the prison guard money to buy him a good dinner.

“I do not want to eat today, he said. I never eat dinner.”

Days passed, and I went to see Bartleby again. I was told he was sleeping in the prison yard outside.

Sleeping? The thin Bartleby was lying on the cold stones. I stooped to look at the small man lying on his side with his knees against his chest. I walked closer and looked down at him. His eyes were open. He seemed to be in a deep sleep.

“Won’t he eat today, either, or does he live without eating?” the guard asked.

“Lives without eating,” I answered…and closed his eyes.

“Uh…he is asleep isn’t he?” the guard said.

“With kings and lawyers,” I answered.

One little story came to me some days after Bartleby died. I learned he had worked for many years in the post office. He was in a special office that opened all the nation’s letters that never reach the person they were written to. It is called the dead letter office. The letters are not written clearly, so the mailmen cannot read the addresses.

Well, poor Bartleby had to read the letters, to see if anyone’s name was written clearly so they could be sent. Think of it. From one letter a wedding ring fell, the finger it was bought for perhaps lies rotting in the grave. Another letter has money to help someone long since dead. Letters filled with hope for those who died without hope.

Poor Bartleby! He himself had lost all hope. His job had killed something inside him.

Ah, Bartleby! Ah, humanity!


ANNOUNCER: You have heard an AMERICAN STORY called "Bartleby." It was written by Herman Melville. Your storyteller was Shep O’Neal. This is Shirley Griffith.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

O. Henry's Short Story, "The Last Leaf"

Now, the VOA Special English program AMERICAN STORIES.


Our story today is called "The Last Leaf." It was written by O. Henry. Here is Barbara Klein with the story.



Many artists lived in the Greenwich Village area of New York. Two young women named Sue and Johnsy shared a studio apartment at the top of a three-story building. Johnsy's real name was Joanna.

In November, a cold, unseen stranger came to visit the city. This disease, pneumonia, killed many people. Johnsy lay on her bed, hardly moving. She looked through the small window. She could see the side of the brick house next to her building.

One morning, a doctor examined Johnsy and took her temperature. Then he spoke with Sue in another room.

"She has one chance in -- let us say ten," he said. "And that chance is for her to want to live. Your friend has made up her mind that she is not going to get well. Has she anything on her mind?"

"She -- she wanted to paint the Bay of Naples in Italy some day," said Sue.

"Paint?" said the doctor. "Bosh! Has she anything on her mind worth thinking twice -- a man for example?"

"A man?" said Sue. "Is a man worth -- but, no, doctor; there is nothing of the kind."

"I will do all that science can do," said the doctor. "But whenever my patient begins to count the carriages at her funeral, I take away fifty percent from the curative power of medicines."

After the doctor had gone, Sue went into the workroom and cried. Then she went to Johnsy's room with her drawing board, whistling ragtime.

Johnsy lay with her face toward the window. Sue stopped whistling, thinking she was asleep. She began making a pen and ink drawing for a story in a magazine. Young artists must work their way to "Art" by making pictures for magazine stories. Sue heard a low sound, several times repeated. She went quickly to the bedside.

Johnsy's eyes were open wide. She was looking out the window and counting -- counting backward. "Twelve," she said, and a little later "eleven"; and then "ten" and "nine;" and then "eight" and "seven," almost together.

Sue looked out the window. What was there to count? There was only an empty yard and the blank side of the house seven meters away. An old ivy vine, going bad at the roots, climbed half way up the wall. The cold breath of autumn had stricken leaves from the plant until its branches, almost bare, hung on the bricks.

"What is it, dear?" asked Sue.

"Six," said Johnsy, quietly. "They're falling faster now. Three days ago there were almost a hundred. It made my head hurt to count them. But now it's easy. There goes another one. There are only five left now."

"Five what, dear?" asked Sue.

"Leaves. On the plant. When the last one falls I must go, too. I've known that for three days. Didn't the doctor tell you?"

"Oh, I never heard of such a thing," said Sue. "What have old ivy leaves to do with your getting well? And you used to love that vine. Don't be silly. Why, the doctor told me this morning that your chances for getting well real soon were -- let's see exactly what he said – he said the chances were ten to one! Try to eat some soup now. And, let me go back to my drawing, so I can sell it to the magazine and buy food and wine for us."

"You needn't get any more wine," said Johnsy, keeping her eyes fixed out the window. "There goes another one. No, I don't want any soup. That leaves just four. I want to see the last one fall before it gets dark. Then I'll go, too."

"Johnsy, dear," said Sue, "will you promise me to keep your eyes closed, and not look out the window until I am done working? I must hand those drawings in by tomorrow."

"Tell me as soon as you have finished," said Johnsy, closing her eyes and lying white and still as a fallen statue. "I want to see the last one fall. I'm tired of waiting. I'm tired of thinking. I want to turn loose my hold on everything, and go sailing down, down, just like one of those poor, tired leaves."

"Try to sleep," said Sue. "I must call Mister Behrman up to be my model for my drawing of an old miner. Don't try to move until I come back."

Old Behrman was a painter who lived on the ground floor of the apartment building. Behrman was a failure in art. For years, he had always been planning to paint a work of art, but had never yet begun it. He earned a little money by serving as a model to artists who could not pay for a professional model. He was a fierce, little, old man who protected the two young women in the studio apartment above him.

Sue found Behrman in his room. In one area was a blank canvas that had been waiting twenty-five years for the first line of paint. Sue told him about Johnsy and how she feared that her friend would float away like a leaf.

Old Behrman was angered at such an idea. "Are there people in the world with the foolishness to die because leaves drop off a vine? Why do you let that silly business come in her brain?"

"She is very sick and weak," said Sue, "and the disease has left her mind full of strange ideas."

"This is not any place in which one so good as Miss Johnsy shall lie sick," yelled Behrman. "Some day I will paint a masterpiece, and we shall all go away."

Johnsy was sleeping when they went upstairs. Sue pulled the shade down to cover the window. She and Behrman went into the other room. They looked out a window fearfully at the ivy vine. Then they looked at each other without speaking. A cold rain was falling, mixed with snow. Behrman sat and posed as the miner.

The next morning, Sue awoke after an hour's sleep. She found Johnsy with wide-open eyes staring at the covered window.

"Pull up the shade; I want to see," she ordered, quietly.

Sue obeyed.

After the beating rain and fierce wind that blew through the night, there yet stood against the wall one ivy leaf. It was the last one on the vine. It was still dark green at the center. But its edges were colored with the yellow. It hung bravely from the branch about seven meters above the ground.

"It is the last one," said Johnsy. "I thought it would surely fall during the night. I heard the wind. It will fall today and I shall die at the same time."

"Dear, dear!" said Sue, leaning her worn face down toward the bed. "Think of me, if you won't think of yourself. What would I do?"

But Johnsy did not answer.


The next morning, when it was light, Johnsy demanded that the window shade be raised. The ivy leaf was still there. Johnsy lay for a long time, looking at it. And then she called to Sue, who was preparing chicken soup.

"I've been a bad girl," said Johnsy. "Something has made that last leaf stay there to show me how bad I was. It is wrong to want to die. You may bring me a little soup now."

An hour later she said: "Someday I hope to paint the Bay of Naples."

Later in the day, the doctor came, and Sue talked to him in the hallway.

"Even chances," said the doctor. "With good care, you'll win. And now I must see another case I have in your building. Behrman, his name is -- some kind of an artist, I believe. Pneumonia, too. He is an old, weak man and his case is severe. There is no hope for him; but he goes to the hospital today to ease his pain."

The next day, the doctor said to Sue: "She's out of danger. You won. Nutrition and care now -- that's all."

Later that day, Sue came to the bed where Johnsy lay, and put one arm around her.

"I have something to tell you, white mouse," she said. "Mister Behrman died of pneumonia today in the hospital. He was sick only two days. They found him the morning of the first day in his room downstairs helpless with pain. His shoes and clothing were completely wet and icy cold. They could not imagine where he had been on such a terrible night.

And then they found a lantern, still lighted. And they found a ladder that had been moved from its place. And art supplies and a painting board with green and yellow colors mixed on it.

And look out the window, dear, at the last ivy leaf on the wall. Didn't you wonder why it never moved when the wind blew? Ah, darling, it is Behrman's masterpiece – he painted it there the night that the last leaf fell."



You have heard the story "The Last Leaf" by O.Henry. Your storyteller was Barbara Klein. This story was adapted by Shelley Gollust and produced by Lawan Davis. You can read and listen to other American Stories on our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com.

1. The doctor said that, in order to live, Johnsy must ____________ .
a. eat hot soup
b. take her medicine
c. really want to live
d. look at leaves

2. At first, Mr. Berhman thought that Johnsy's statement about the leaf was
__________ .
a. an artistic point of view
b. a ridiculous thought
c. an intelligent comparison
d. a healthy idea

3. Berhman's attitude towards the two young women in his building could be described as _________________ .
a. abusive
b. protective
c. cynical
d. critical

4. The Greenwich Village area of New York City was where many ___________ lived.
a. politicians
b. salespeople
c. educators
d. artists

5. Johnsy felt that the falling leaves outside her window had something to do with _____________ .
a. the progression of her illness
b. the possibility of a cure
c. the impossibility of a career
d. her ability to fall asleep

6. When the last leaf on the vine falls, Johnsy felt that then she would _________ .
a. be okay
b. need a gardener
c. probably die
d. celebrate

7. Mr. Berhman who lived upstairs made a little money as a ____________ .
a. model for painters
b. executive at a bank
c. manager of the apartment building
d. artistic advisor

8. Mr. Berhman's last work of art actually ________________ .
a. sold for a thousand dollars
b. saved Johnsy's life
c. was enough to take them away
d. filled the canvas in his apartment

9. Another name for this story could be ___________ .
a. "Art is an Inspiration"
b. "Art is The Physician"
c. "Art is Always Incomplete"
d. "Art is Originality"

10. This story is mainly about ______________ .
a. a courageous act of self sacrifice
b. a ridiculous illusion that was almost fatal
c. two women and an elderly protector
d. the death of a promising young artist

If you'd like to write about The Last Leaf, you can do so by answering a few of these questions. Your essay will be published in The New Mission Journal.

1. What did the doctor mean when he said that "When the patient starts counting the carriages at her funeral, I take away 50 percent from the curative power of medicine."

2. Why do you think the ivy leaves meant so much to Johnsy? What do they represent for her?

3. How do you see Sue's relationship to Johnsy? Are you in a similar relationship with a friend or relative? Could you write a short paragraph about it?

4. How do you compare these characters to other characters in O. Henry's stories that you have read?

5. Of O. Henry's stories that you have read and listened to, which one is your favorite? Why?

For other American Short Stories with Comprehension Questions,
see The American Short Story Index.