Tuesday

Feb. 8, 2011

Daily I Fall in Love with Mechanics

by Susan Thurston

in response to Daily I Fall in Love with Waitresses by Elliot Fried

Daily I fall in love with mechanics
with their smudged coveralls and names embroidered
over where their hearts just might be
PETE STEWART RAY CHUCK BUTCH
and thick soled boots.
I love how they jack up my car
and press the pneumatic drill
to my tires and with hip
press lean into the whir of liberation
nuts and bolts falling
released from so much spinning
and holding everything tight in place.
I feel their hands
roughened by spark plugs and washer fluid
yet sweetened by overflowing oil pans
slide over me.
Their arms and shoulders
remind me of deep river valleys
and other places where we could tumble
after setting the parking brake...
fumbling and clutching so melodiously
I am left grateful for their engine knowledge.
Daily I fall in love with mechanics
with their grease smudged bad boy grins
and come hither wide opening garage doors.
They tell secrets in the pit
and I want them.
I know them.
They slip belts back into place
their legs diesel dark

They have lovers or spouses or children
or all.
They are strut bearing reliable—
they know how timing belts twist.
Their toothpick punctuated grins
reassure you they are giving you the best
deal in town and they would not let you drive
without checking all your fluid levels.
Daily I fall in love with mechanics.
They are better than Free Air
want my vehicle to be safe and sound
but they never travel far enough
before pulling the next car into the station.

"Daily I Fall in Love with Mechanics" by Susan Thurston. © Susan Thurston. Reprinted with permission of the author.

It's the birthday of John Grisham, (books by this author) born in Jonesboro, Arkansas (1955), the author of novels like The Firm (1991), The Pelican Brief (1992), The Rainmaker (1995), The Runaway Jury (1996), and The Brethren (2000). All of his legal thrillers have been international best-sellers, and there are 250 million of his books in print.

He grew up all over the Deep South. Every time his family moved somewhere new, they'd join the local Southern Baptist church, find the public library, and get new library cards. As a teenager, he watered bushes for $1 an hour, and then he laid chain-link fence for $1.50 an hour. He did plumbing. He worked on an asphalt crew during a July in Mississippi, which he said felt like a sauna. He sold men's underwear at a Sears, which was an improvement in that it was air-conditioned, at least, but he hated the job. All of these jobs made him very serious about going college and finding a desk job.

He settled on being "a high-powered tax lawyer," but then he got to law school and found that he was stunned by the "complexity and lunacy" of tax law. He barely passed that class. But he liked mock trial, so he decided to become, he said, "a hotshot trial lawyer."

He graduated from law school and, in order to get some trial experience quickly, he took on a bunch of low-paying cases. He struggled to pay the bills and dreamed that his big case would arrive. And then, in 1984, it did — though it wasn't exactly his case. He was "loitering around the courtroom, pretending to be busy," he said, and listening in on the trial of a young girl who had been raped. He said, "Her testimony was gut-wrenching, graphic, heartbreaking, and riveting. Every juror was crying. I remember staring at the defendant and wishing I had a gun." He started to think about what would happen if the girl's father murdered the men who had assaulted her. And from that, he said, "a story was born."

For the next three years, he worked on that story, A Time to Kill (1989). He woke up at 5 to work at it each day before going to his law office, and he worked on it during courtroom recesses. He finished it and sent it off. A bunch of publishers rejected it. One finally accepted it but did a print run of just a few thousand copies. In the meantime, he had started to hate being a lawyer, defending criminals and preparing tedious estate documents. He was so unhappy he would dream of ways to get out. And, when he was not at work, he would write fictional stories about lawyers looking for an escape. The day he finished A Time to Kill, he started writing The Firm.

When the film rights to The Firm were bought by a major Hollywood studio, he quit being a lawyer. He said that the day he closed his law office was "the happiest day of [his] life." He said, "It's so much fun to write about lawyers, but I never enjoyed being a lawyer." The Firm spent 47 weeks on The New York Times best-seller list and was the best-selling book of 1991.

He publishes about a novel per year, and it usually takes him six months to complete one. The other six months, he watches baseball and enjoys being on the farm with his wife and kids. In 2009, he published his first book of short stories, Ford County. Last year, he wrote a legal thriller for young adults, Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer (2010). His most recent novel, The Confession (2010), came out last fall.

From the archives:

It's the birthday of poet Elizabeth Bishop, (books by this author) born in Worcester, Massachusetts (1911). She went to Vassar, where she really began her career as a poet. Her mentor was the poet Marianne Moore, who taught Bishop that she could write poems that weren't about big ideas like love or death, but just about the observation of ordinary things.

Elizabeth Bishop was a slow, meticulous writer — she published just 101 poems during her lifetime.

It's the birthday of the man known as the father of science fiction, Jules Verne, born in Nantes, France (1828). In his adventure novels, Paris in the 20th Century (written 1863, not published until 1994), Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), and Around the World in Eighty Days (1873), Verne described inventions that were similar to modern airplanes and automobiles, and tall skyscrapers where people use electricity to listen to the radio and send faxes, and yet he wrote his stories by candlelight.

It's the birthday of Kate Chopin, (books by this author) born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1850. She came from a wealthy family — her father was a successful businessman and her mother was a beautiful socialite from one of the city's oldest Creole families. Kate was a Southern belle, a devoted wife, and the mother of six children.

But then her husband died, and soon after that her mother died. Chopin was depressed. Her family doctor thought she was a very good letter-writer, so he encouraged her to try writing fiction as a way to stay occupied. Over the next 15 years, Kate Chopin wrote almost 100 short stories and sketches, and two novels, At Fault (1890) and The Awakening (1899). The Awakening is the story of Edna Pontellier, who gives up her roles as wife and mother, has an affair, and eventually walks into the sea, perhaps committing suicide. And when it was published, Kate Chopin was censored and criticized. But now she is considered an important early feminist author, and The Awakening is considered a classic of American fiction.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









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