Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Jujitsu for Christ

Dear Jack Butler,

Rothrock Café at the Lawson McGhee Library in Knoxville was a poor excuse for a place to sit. It didn’t even have proper vending machines. So I for one was ecstatic when the Friends of the Library decided to put the space to better use. Now, I invent excuses each day to escape my dungeon of an office and drop by the café-turned-used-book store to grab up the latest offcast by some donnish library friend.

So far I’ve snagged a few good ones, Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, a nice volume of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood to send to one of my best friends of all time, Camus’ The Stranger, and even a copy of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. But today, I smiled broadly when, on the Religious Books shelf I saw your book, slanted and gleaming between, Gigi, a bio about Billy Graham’s daughter, Gigi Graham Tchividjian (Say it three times fast!), and a pock-marked copy of something by Harold Kushner about overcoming disappointments.

It was Jujitsu for Christ. Though it, no doubt, has 200,000 leafs to its credit, this ’86 Penguin paperback was waxed and polished and in near mint condition, with the license plate, ISBN 0 14 01.0374 0.

At any rate, I, as a person born in January with snow boots on, was drawn to the cover of this particular model of Jujitsu that boasted a review from the revered New York Times that promised,

“Anyone who does not like this novel is probably a Brie-chewing Yankee sapsucker who wouldn’t know a lynch mob from a hootenanny.”
But Jack, I love Brie! And hootenanny? By the way another NY Times review, not featured on the cover has said:

"JUJITSU FOR CHRIST, by Jack Butler. This first novel is named after a fictitious studio opened in 1961 by a white martial arts instructor to teach physical and spiritual discipline to blacks in Jackson, Miss. In 1986, Martin Kirby said here that the book is 'an antiracist satire, served up with a lot of sex and some Swiftian scatology.'"

What does Swiftian scatology mean, really?

But, I do have to say, that your book adds to my understanding of the Southern landscape of a time when I was growing up in the Northern landscape and saw certain action only on newsreels, not believing, quite, that what I saw, was happening. I guess everyone back then was off kilter. The times, they, were a changing, and no one likes that.

Well, at any rate, you told me you were working on a new novel, set in other parts of the globe. I'll look forward to going there when it's ready for visitors.



Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tom and Joes

Dear George Batrus,

"Two eggs over easy, with bacon and home fries," Dad said. And you delivered, probably for fifty years. Fifty years of eggs is a lot of eggs. Plus, if you broke an egg, you served that one free along with a new perfect one, for you knew my father's passion for the yolk and albumin of a chicken. Hear tell, your cooking was just right, heavy on the portions and served with humor that was always in good taste.

And the ambiance! I love the picture on your website of the Altoona, PA, political machine perched at your counter. Vaul Rouzer, police chief. I like saying that name and imagining him. "All right, you dirty rats, it's time to face the music." But. . . in real life, if he was related to Johnny Rouzer from Fairview Elementary school, who now lives with his wife, mother-in-law, and cats, up off the road to Gallitzen, he was probably a pretty tame dude. Johnny was always nice and if, due to roundness, didn't set records at playground "4 square," he was a major player when it came time for "Spelling Bee."

But enough about the Rouzers.

I didn't personally sit, very often, on the spinning stools in front of the counter at Tom and Joes. It would have been wrong for me to invade that territory. It was, kind of, a private lair for my father who demanded and continues to demand little in this world. Just a few eggs and the peace to eat each bite, dipping white toast with butter in the succulent yellow slop on the plate. But I'm sure it was more than the eggs and the portions that drew him to your place and stools.

Each town has one. These are not the ones that are written about in the fashionable slick glossies. But the patrons are loyal and the community is hubafied by them.

My dad spent many a breakfast or lunch hour at Tom and Joes.
I'm sure he will continue to show up every Tuesday morning for the

Two Eggs, Bacon, Homefries, and Toast......$4.85
(Ham or Sausage instead of Bacon...No Charge)

(Over easy on the eggs and try to break one.) But he will miss you, George Batrus, and the spice your presence added to his life.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Street Art on Steroids

Dear Cadh8,

Thanks for the recommendation regarding this amazing bit of street art, described as:
an ambiguous animation painted on public walls. Made in Buenos Aires and in Baden (Fantoche--International Film Festival).

MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.



Letters to Obama II—Honestly and Without Regret

Dear Barack Obama,

"I would give honestly and without regret, one hundred dollars for that picture."
—Simon and Garfunkel 101.

I was leafing through old pictures the other day. From World War II. That wasn't the war to end all wars. We knew better by then. But, a few years ago, we got the idea that we ought to give war a go once more. Maybe this time, we could use war to “get ‘er done.”

I did a little anti-war protesting, before Congress took it's vote, but in the end, off the troops went. I remember saying to a friend of mine, another old peacenik, “I hope they are right, because I hate to demonstrate against a war, when our troops are risking their lives.” My Congressman, Jimmy Duncan, voted against going to war in Iraq. He's a Republican. I wrote a letter to him and told him I thought he was a wise American.

The picture I was looking for the other day was captured at Anzio.

I found was this one, taken from inside a tent. You can see the flap of the tent. Perhaps this photo was an accident. It is grusome, but it tells the truth about war.

Does it matter, when you see a pile that is bodies? Does it matter if they are Americans or Germans, French or Iraqi, Japanese or Afghan? I don’t think it does. Not 64 years later, it doesn’t matter. They aren’t Americans, they are a tragic memory. And today what matters is trying for peace and trying for a different picture, a different memory.

I would give, honestly, and without regret, one hundred dollars for that picture.


Friday, June 06, 2008

Street Art

Dear Banksy,

I don't know what has taken me so long to write again. I've been wanting to show you these works of street art ever since I got back from Budapest, but, you know, one thing and another.

At any rate, on the way to the opera one night after parking on a little off-street near Andrássy utsa, we stumbled upon this art work. I was extremely pleased.

This one is a little terrifying, but very interesting I think. I love the brow. I'm glad he isn't looking at me.

And this one was situated near a trash bin. Is that thought bubble Spanish, and is that a dog or a pig?

But my favorite piece was found not on the streets of Europe but Knoxville, and, for that matter, in front the building where I work, day in, day out. "Outside your own back door," so to speak.

She is lovely, isn't she? She has all the glamor of Greta Garbo and the reserve. Beautiful. I was told that this piece was done by a student at the University of Tennessee, but I won't tell.


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Letters to Obama

Dear Obama,

I love your blog idea. I just set up my new blog at

How cool is that!

Letters to Obama from an Old Woman

Watch out, I may tell you a thing or two!

Obama for President!