Mar. 7, 2013
Turtle in the Road
It was the spring before we moved again, a list of what
we must do on the refrigerator, when my daughter
and I found a turtle in the road. He was not gentle
or shy, not properly afraid of the cars that swerved
around his mistake. I thought I might encourage him
towards safety with a stick but each time I touched
his tail he turned fiercely to show me what he thought
of my prodding. He had a raisin head, the legs of
a fat dwarf, the tail of a dinosaur. His shell was a deep
green secret he had kept his whole life. I could not tell
how old he was but his claws suggested years of
reaching. I was afraid to pick him up, afraid of the way
he snapped his jaws, but I wanted to help him return
to the woods which watched him with an ancient
detachment. I felt I understood him because I didn't
want to move either; I was tired of going from one place
to another: the introductions, the goodbyes. I was sick
of getting ready, of unpacking, of mail sent to places
where I used to live. At last I put my stick away
and left him to decide which direction was best.
If I forced him off the road he might return later.
My daughter and I stood awhile, considering him.
He was a traveler from the time of reptiles, a creature
who wore his house like a jacket. I don't know
if he survived his afternoon in the road; I am still
thinking of the way his eyes watched me go.
I can't forget his terrible legs, so determined
to take him somewhere, his tail which pointed
behind him at the dark spaces between the trees.
It's the birthday of one of the great Texas troubadours and a legend in songwriting circles, Townes Van Zandt, born in Fort Worth (1944). He was born into wealthy oil family, and they moved around quite a bit when he was a young kid — to Minnesota, Colorado, and Illinois — but he abandoned wealth for poetry and singing and living couch to couch. His focus was the words and the story. Though he never had a hit of his own, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard took his song "Pancho and Lefty" all the way to No. 1 in 1983. Others recorded him too — Emmylou Harris, Lyle Lovett, The Cowboy Junkies.
His friend Steve Earle famously said he was "the best songwriter in the whole world," adding, "I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that." To which Van Zandt was said to have replied: "I've met Bob Dylan and his bodyguards, and I don't think Steve could get anywhere near his coffee table." Years later, Earle recanted. He said, "When somebody's as good as Townes Van Zandt was and more people don't know about it, it's Townes's fault. Part of him didn't consider himself worthy of anything." Van Zandt died in 1997, at age 53.
It's the birthday of novelist Robert Harris (books by this author), born in Nottingham, England (1957), the author of Fatherland (1991), Enigma (1995) and many other best-selling books of historical fiction.
Harris said "I think a novel is like a car, and if you buy a car and grow flowers in it, you're forgetting that the car is designed to take you somewhere else."
On this day in 1994, the Supreme Court ruled that parody can be protected by the fair-use clause of the Copyright Act of 1976. The ruling came about when the rap group 2 Live Crew used elements from "Oh Pretty Woman" by Roy Orbison in their song "Pretty Woman."
On this date in 1857 the National Association of Baseball Players decided that a baseball game would be made up of nine innings instead of 21 "aces" or runs played under the "Knickerbocker Rules."
It's the anniversary of the first March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama (1965), known as "Bloody Sunday." Six hundred civil rights activists left Selma to march the 54 miles to the state capitol, demonstrating for African-American voting rights. They got six blocks before state and local lawmen attacked them with billy clubs and tear gas.
ABC News interrupted a Nazi war crimes documentary to show footage of the violence. In the blink of a television set, national public opinion about civil rights shifted. Demonstrations broke out across the country.
Two weeks later, the March from Selma made it to Montgomery, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, federal court protection, and these words from President Lyndon Johnson: "There is no issue of States rights or national rights. There is only the struggle for human rights." When they got to Montgomery, they were 25,000 strong.
It's the birthday of Bret Easton Ellis (books by this author), born in Los Angeles (1964). His first book, Less Than Zero (1985), was published when he was still a student at Bennington College. He's since written five more novels, most of them about a disaffected, disengaged America. Of course that includes his third, American Psycho (1991), a satirical novel written from the first-person perspective of a Wall Street yuppie serial killer.
It was banned by the National Organization of Women and dropped by its first publisher. The critic Roger Rosenblatt wrote of it: "American Psycho is the journal Dorian Gray would have written had he been a high school sophomore. But that is unfair to sophomores." Ellis received death threats for it, and the Walt Disney Corporation even barred him from the opening of Euro Disney. The book has since enjoyed a renaissance with critics and scholars.
His most recent novel is Imperial Bedrooms (2010), the sequel to Less Than Zero.
Ellis has said, "You don't write novels for a reaction. You write novels for very personal reasons."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®