Oct. 8, 2013

The Rules of the New Car

by Wesley McNair

After I got married and became
the stepfather of two children, just before
we had two more, I bought it, the bright
blue sorrowful car that slowly turned
to scratches and the flat black spots
of gum in the seats and stains impossible
to remove from the floor mats. "Never again,"
I said as our kids, four of them by now,
climbed into the new car. "This time,
there will be rules." The first to go
was the rule I made for myself about
cleaning it once a week, though why,
I shouted at the kids in the rearview mirror,
should I have to clean it if they would just
remember to fold their hands. Three years
later, it was the same car I had before,
except for the dent my wife put in the grille
when, ignoring the regulation about snacks,
she reached for a bag of chips on her way
home from work and hit a tow truck. Oh,
the ache I felt for the broken rules,
and the beautiful car that had been lost,
and the car that we now had, on soft
shocks in the driveway, still unpaid for.
Then one day, for no particular reason except
that the car was loaded down with wood
for the fireplace at my in-laws' camp
and groceries and sheets and clothes
for the week, my wife in the passenger seat,
the dog lightly panting beside the kids in the back,
all innocent anticipation, waiting for me
to join them, I opened the door to my life.

"The Rules of the New Car" by Wesley McNair, from Lovers of the Lost: New and Selected Poems. © David R. Godine, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this day in 1956, Yankees pitcher Don Larsen pitched a perfect game. He faced 27 batters and not a single one made it to base. It remains the only perfect World Series game — indeed, the only perfect post-season game — and one of only 20 perfect games in baseball history.

For the fourth time in five years, the Yankees were playing the Brooklyn Dodgers; it was Game Five and the series was tied two games to two. According to Larsen, he didn't even know he would be pitching until he got to the ballpark. He'd had a disastrous Game Two, lasting only two innings and allowing four runs on four walks. The Yankees had been up 6-0 when he took the mound, and they ended up losing, with a score of 13-8. Larsen was as stunned as anyone when he reported to the park for Game Five to find that manager Casey Stengel had tucked a baseball in his spikes. In the locker room after the game, Larsen said, "When it was over, I was so happy, I felt like crying. I wanted to win this one for Casey. After what I did in Brooklyn, he could have forgotten about me and who would blame him? But he gave me another chance and I'm grateful."

It's the birthday of British poet and author Blake Morrison (books by this author), born in Skipton, North Yorkshire, in 1950. He worked for the Times Literary Supplement and then went on to become literary editor for The Observer and The Independent. In addition to journalism, he's written fiction, poetry, criticism, libretti, and adapted a couple of works for the stage.

He wrote a memoir called And When Did You Last See Your Father? (1993), about his complicated relationship with his father, Arthur. Arthur, a country doctor, never approved of his son's literary aspirations, even after Morrison became a successful writer and critic, and the story unfolds as the family cares for Arthur in the last few weeks of his life. The book was made into a film in 2007, starring Jim Broadbent and Colin Firth. Morrison also wrote Things My Mother Never Told Me (2002), about his mother's life in Ireland.

It's the birthday of Frank Herbert (books by this author), born in Tacoma, Washington, in 1920. He's best known for his science fiction masterpiece Dune, which was rejected by 20 publishers before it was finally accepted by Chilton — a publisher who was best known for producing auto repair manuals — in 1965. He lied about his age to get his first newspaper job in 1939, and he worked as a photographer for the U.S. Navy during World War II. He took a wide variety of courses at the University of Washington, not to earn a degree but to learn about things that interested him. He became interested in the environmental and conservation movement early on, and got the idea for Dune — which is set on an extremely arid planet where people conserve and recycle every last drop of moisture — while researching an article on the sand dunes of the Oregon coast. He used some of the profits from the book to develop solar- and wind-powered energy for his home.

Today is the birthday of historian and nonfiction author Walter Lord (1917) (books by this author), born in Baltimore, Maryland. As a young boy, he became fascinated with the sinking of the Titanic, prompted in part by his mother's stories of ocean liners she'd sailed on, and also by what he put down to typical boy behavior: "I suppose if there is anything more exciting to a young boy than an ocean liner, it is an ocean liner sinking." Lord grew up and took a job at an advertising agency during the day, but at night he was still researching the Titanic and interviewing its survivors. He then crafted a factually accurate — and yet dramatic and compelling — story of the final night of the unsinkable ship: A Night to Remember was a best-seller upon its release in 1955, and it remains the chief source of information for Titanic buffs. Lord credits the success to the subject: "The appeal seems universal. To social historians it is a microcosm of the early 1900s. To nautical enthusiasts it is the ultimate shipwreck. To students of human nature it is an endlessly fascinating laboratory. For lovers of nostalgia it has the allure of yesterday. For daydreamers it has all those might-have-beens."

Today is the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Bret Lott (1958) (books by this author). He was born and raised in Los Angeles by Southern parents, went to school in Massachusetts, and now lives in Charleston, South Carolina. "I never intended to be an author," he claims. "I intended to become a park ranger." He also considered careers in teaching, marine biology, and cola sales.

He's the author of seven novels, including Ancient Highway (2008), A Song I Knew by Heart (2005), and Jewel (1999). He's also written several collections of short stories and two memoirs: Fathers, Sons, and Brothers (2000) and Before We Get Started: A Practical Memoir of the Writer's Life (2005).

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