Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bidding for Frog's Legs

Dear Nett,

It was raining--Not just a little bit of rain, but the kind of rain that keeps on coming, not in gallons, but in mists and light drops, in quick pours that demand scurries to cover and allow puddles to assert themselves, in short blows and dollops on shoulders and cheeks that make us shiver.

This is the kind of day for frogs and I was in a froggy mood having just watched an episode of Untamed and Uncut where one frog, clenched in the extended jaw of a garter was being slowly gulleted by the snake when another frog, apparently of heroic intent, pounced on the now monstrous double head, rescuing his amphibious friend. It is not easy being green. But today, with no snakes in sight, frogs were happy in Leiper's Creek valley.

And the rest of us were kicking back too, for this was the day of the annual fish fry at Bethel Community Center. Proceeds for the volunteer fire department seemed a secondary issue on a day like today. No fires beyond the coals under the giant fryer could ignite on this drizzly day. As you well know, spirits in Bethel Community just don't get dampened by a rainy forecast and apart from the specially constructed clear plastic walls being raised by the roadies of the Homer Dever Band, all went as planned.

The band had reason to be concerned about the dampness, for the instruments of pickin' can swell. Plus it had been whispered that a celebrity of "some notoriety" might make a guest appearance. You know all about such appearances of course, since your establishment casually caters to the likes of Judds, Urbans, and Williams.

So while we grinned and the other band, Highland Rim, picked, Homer Dever t-shirted men ceremoniously unfolded tarps and snagged grommits onto previously prepared hooks. The ladder was somewhat unstable. We used to call that "rickety" when I lived in central Pennsylvania. Here, we just say, "Dat dere got a wobble to it, don't it." Rather than finding a different step stool, a sturdy, four by four gentleman stood alongside the Dever boys. They steadied themselves with a hand on his balding head whenever the ladder tottered.Meanwhile, children flowed in and out of the pavilion, oblivious to all but the most intransigent expressions of meteorologic discourse. Oh, Nett. Remember the days when play was all and getting wet was just one of many dressings for a day, presenting not obstacles but adventures and mysteries. Faces upturned we investigated drops in tactile pleasure, gauging possibilities. This afternoon, little girls of Santa Fe were standing on picnic benches conscious of nothing but glory, I think, with their faces glowing after a quick dash through a sloshy set of indentations dug, throw by throw, on drier days by gnarly men with horse shoes.

I saw that Nett's Country Store and Deli participated in the other option of the affair, the silent auction. Now, a regular auction exerts no power over me. I can sit as stone while a rackety-rack auctioneer chants,

"l dollar bid, now 2,
now 2, will ya give me 2?
2 dollar bid, now 3,
now 3, will ya give me 3?
3 dollar bid, now 4,
now 4, will ya give me 4?"

Impassively, I think, "No dollar for you!" But a table silently sitting there offering an array of wares from cookie jars to country hams? Now that has me at hello. So my daughter and I walked about, low balling bids on necessities such as packs of Ivermectin wormer for my horses, 50 lbs. of high quality dog food, hand crocheted afgans, and a weed whacker with a 32 cc engine that can swing a 2.75 mm line, when I came upon your offerings. Perfect, I thought, and it's all for the benefit of the fire department. Dinner for two? Sunday buffet for the family? Supper on karaoke night? Which should I choose? On which line should I stake my claim, a solid bid that wouldn't be challenged by locals? Then, tucked behind the offering for a pedicure I saw the auction I would fight for. This is the page I would come back to over and again while listening to bands and munching on fried fish. This was the auction offering for which I would contend.

Nett's Country Store and Deli
Dinner for One
Friday Night Only
Frog's Legs
(Starting bid: $5.00)

See you very soon.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

What to Think About Theodore Dreiser

Dear Theodore,

Here is what I said to a friend the other night. "I love Faulkner's sentences, it is his chapters I dislike." Faulkner had a way with words all right. And if I were honest, I would have to say that many of his chapters are fabulous. I would also have to admit that his work has expanded writing styles and approaches in a wonderful way. But, when I read his works, I am always left disappointed. So much promise, yet, for me, so much disappointment.

I am wondering what I will feel about you and your work after I am finished reading and reviewing a few things. The hype is good. As you may know, I have, for a long time been searching for the "Great American Novel." I'm wondering if I will find the great American novel in the books that you have written. Larzer Ziff, some English professor who might be from Johns Hopkins or UC Berkeley, remarked that you "succeeded beyond any of [your] predecessors or successors in producing a great American business novel." Some people think that you succeeded "beyond any of [your] predecessors or successors in producing the great American novel." Hm.m.m. Perhaps.

Well, I'm not ready to vote on that yet. As I've been reading Sister Carrie, I haven't been impressed too much by sentences, but the chapters are faring better. And my gray recall of An American Tragedy is positive if not too clear. That is one I must review before I say much.

Anyhow, it is this quote from H.L. Mencken that got me writing this letter, because it reflects on something that is important in my thinking. He said of you, "that he is a great artist, and that no other American of his generation left so wide and handsome a mark upon the national letters. American writing, before and after his time, differed almost as much as biology before and after Darwin. He was a man of large originality, of profound feeling, and of unshakable courage. All of us who write are better off because he lived, worked, and hoped."

You made a difference, it seems. And that difference was more than the difference of sentence structure. That's what I like about it. Now, I have to repeat, I love a great sentence. Think about the sentences of Annie Dillard. Like the one about the Polyphemus moth walking away from Shadyside school. "He heaved himself down the asphalt driveway by infinite degrees, unwavering." Oh, my. And how about the last sentence of Gatsby, "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." And Dickens two city "Best of times," "Worst of times." Do you think I should publish a survey to ask what the best sentence of all literature might be?

But sentences are an easy thing, I think, compared to the themes. And that, is what I contemplate. Is a book important because it has good sentences or because it has good theme? It is the difference between the artistry of style and the artistry of truth.

Sherwood Anderson of Winesburg fame, said:
Heavy, heavy, the feet of Theodore. How easy to pick some of his books to pieces, to laugh at him for so much of his heavy prose ... [T]he fellows of the ink-pots, the prose writers in America who follow Dreiser, will have much to do that he has never done. Their road is long but, because of him, those who follow will never have to face the road through the wilderness of Puritan denial, the road that Dreiser faced alone.

Well, I'm not convinced that you were alone. W.E.B. DuBois was there too, with some of your foibles, but certainly with some of your strengths. He had heavy feet, too, treading and opening roads to reveal what was being denied. You and he, did not have quite the strength of the sentence that I love, but you did face down traditional assumptions and called for a truly new way of being.

I hope that as I review your work I will find a new fearless hero of the written word.



Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Sometimes It Really Works!

Dear Bride and Groom and Photographer,

Well, I have to say that sometimes it really works. And this time it did. I don't know that I have ever seen a set of wedding pictures that were quite so perfect.

Sure, we had one of the most beautiful brides ever to work with. Yes, we had one of the most handsome grooms ever. But goodness, what a photographer.

Thanks Jenny Evelyn for capturing the day in a most outstanding way!

Hey, Jenny, don't you love this couple?