May 27, 2003
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$9.95," by Gilbert
Allen from Driving to Distraction (Orchisis).
An Arrow knit shirt, regular eighteen-
fifty, a kitten from the animal
shelter, eight pounds of hamburger, cheap jeans,
a rose bush with bare roots, a cardboard doll
house without the doll, five minutes of
Wanda, a watch, sixteen quarts of milk,
three good books, two books, one book of love
poems (with pictures), half a shoe, one silk
tie, a royal breakfast, a decent lunch,
supper in Rock Hill, a laugh from a mechanic,
thirteen light bulbs, a toaster, a small bunch
of odd flowers, enough candy to get sick,
a month of newspapers, nine gallons of gas,
a fully illustrated Leaves of Grass.
It's the birthday of detective novelist Dashiell Hammett, born in St. Mary's County, Maryland (1894). His style of writing was called "hard-boiled" and it contained almost no extraneous detail. In one story, he described a woman by writing, "Her eyes were blue, her mouth red, her teeth white, and she had a nose. Without getting steamed up over the details, she was nice." Critics consider The Maltese Falcon (1930) to be his masterpiece. The novel introduced the character Sam Spade, one of the most famous fictional detectives of all time.
It's the birthday of novelist John Barth, born in Cambridge, Maryland (1930). He's the author of novels such as The Floating Opera (1956) and The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor (1991).
It's the birthday of novelist and short story writer John
Cheever, born in Quincy, Massachusetts (1912). As a child, his grade
school teacher let him tell stories to the class if the children had been good.
He was his parents' second child, and his mother told him that if she hadn't
drunk two manhattans one afternoon, he never would have been born. His father
was a hard-drinking shoe salesman and an unpredictable man. One night, while
setting the table, Cheever's mother casually mentioned that she and his father
had gotten into a fight, and his father had decided to drown himself at the
local beach. Though he didn't have a driver's license, Cheever jumped in the
family car and drove to the beach as fast as he could. He found his father drunk,
riding a roller coaster, and had to coax him down and bring him home. In the
spring of his junior year, Cheever was expelled from prep school for poor grades.
He wrote a story about it called "Expelled" (1930), and it was published
in The New Republic magazine. He moved to New York and visited Malcolm
Cowley, the editor who had accepted the story. Cowley invited him to a party,
where Cheever, trying to look sophisticated, drank too many cocktails. He thanked
the hostess, rushed out into the apartment hallway, and threw up on the wallpaper.
Cowley didn't mind, and introduced him to the literary society of New York.
Cheever struggled to write his first novel, which he hoped would get him out
of debt. When he finally finished it, he said to the editor, "You may think
there are too many smells in the book, and I just want you to know I'm not going
to take any of them out. I am a very olfactory fellow." The novel, called
The Wapshot Chronicle (1957), won the National Book Award and became
a Book-of-the-Month selection. He went on to write many other novels and collections
of short stories, and won the Pulitzer Prize for The Stories of John Cheever
(1978). Cheever kept journals for his entire life, and he arranged with his
son to have the journals published after his death. The Journals of John
Cheever came out in 1991. In the book, Cheever wrote about his struggles
with alcoholism, adultery and depression, but he always comes back to nature
and the weather, which comforted him. He wrote, "Weeding the peony hedge
I hear the windfalls in the orchard; hear them strike the ground, hear them
strike against branches as they fall to the ground. The immemorial smell of
apples, old as the sea. Mary makes jelly. Up from the kitchen, up the stairs
and into all the rooms comes the smell of apples."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®