Friday

Oct. 4, 2002

Why Fool Around?

by Stephen Dobyns

FRIDAY, 4 OCTOBER 2002
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Poem: "Why Fool Around?" by Stephen Dobyns from Pallbearers Envying The One Who Rides (Penguin).

Why Fool Around?

How smart is smart? thinks Heart. Is smart
what's in the brain or the size of the container?
What do I know about what I do not know?
Such thoughts soon send Heart back to school.
Metaphysics, biophysics, economics, and history-
Heart takes them all. His back develops a crick
from lugging fifty books. He stays in the library
till it shuts down at night. The purpose of life,
says a prof, is to expand your horizons. Another says
it's to shrink existence to manageable proportions.
In astronomy, Heart studies spots through a telescope.
In biology, he sees the same spots with a microscope.
Heart absorbs so much that his brain aches. No
ski weekends for him, no joining the bridge club.
Ideas are nuts to be cracked open, Heart thinks.
History's the story of snatch and grab, says a prof.
The record of mankind, says another, is a striving
for the light. But Heart is beginning to catch on:
If knowledge is noise to which meaning is given,
then the words used to label sundry facts are like
horns honking before a collision: more forewarning
than explanation. Then what meaning, asks Heart,
can be given to meaning? Life's a pearl, says a prof.
It's a grizzly bear, says another. Heart's conclusion
is that to define the world decreases its dimensions
while to name a thing creates a sense of possession.
Heart admires their intention but why fool around?
He picks up a pebble and states: The world is like
this rock. He puts it in his pocket for safe keeping.
Having settled at last the nature of learning, Heart
goes fishing. He leans back against an oak. The sun
toasts his feet. Heart feels the pebble in his pocket.
Its touch is like the comfort of money in the bank.
There are big ones to be caught, big ones to be eaten.
In morning light, trout swim within the tree's shadow.
Smart or stupid they circle the hook: their education.


It's the birthday of novelist Anne Rice, born Howard Allen O'Brien in New Orleans, Louisiana (1941). She's best known as the author of the "Vampire Chronicles," begun shortly after her six-year-old daughter died of leukemia and written from the vampire's point of view. She said: "Writers write about what obsesses them. You draw those cards. I lost my mother when I was 14. My daughter died at the age of 6. I lost my faith as a Catholic. When I'm writing, the darkness is always there. I go where the pain is."

It's the birthday of journalist and short story writer Damon Runyon, born Alfred Damon Runyon, in Manhattan, Kansas (1884). Runyon grew up in Pueblo, Colorado, was a third-generation newspaperman, and started in the trade under his father in Pueblo. Runyon moved to New York in 1910. For the next ten years he covered the New York Giants and professional boxing for the New York American. He started to write stories about the underclass in New York using gangster patois. He said: "The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet."

It's the birthday of editor and writer Edward Stratemeyer, born in Elizabeth, New Jersey (1862). He created The Bobbsey Twins, the Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, and Nancy Drew. He drew up the outlines, created the characters, and hired ghostwriters to write the books. He then edited the manuscripts and had them published under various pseudonyms. Stratemeyer retained all rights to the stories, paying his contract writers an average of one hundred dollars a book. The whole process took a month to six weeks.


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