Jul. 24, 2004

Why don't you get transferred, Dad?

by Louis Simpson

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Poem: "'Why don't you get transferred, Dad?'" by Louis Simpson, from Caviare at the Funeral. © Scholastic Library. Reprinted with permission.

'Why don't you get transferred, Dad?'

One of Jimmy's friends comes by in his car,
and Jimmy goes out. 'Be careful,'
Mom says. He has to learn to drive,
but it makes her nervous thinking about it.

Darlene goes over to see Marion
whose father is being transferred
to a new branch of the company
in Houston. 'Why don't you get transferred, Dad?'

'I'd like to,' he replies.
'I'd also like a million dollars.'

This is a constant topic in the family:
where else you would like to live.
Darlene likes California—
'It has beautiful scenery
and you get to meet all the stars.'
Mom prefers Arizona, because of a picture
she saw once, in Good Housekeeping.
Jimmy doesn't care,
and Dad likes it here. 'You can find anything
you want right where you are.'
He reminds them of The Wizard of Oz,
about happiness, how it is found
right in your own backyard.

Dad's right, Mom always says.
The Wizard of Oz is a tradition
in the family. They see it every year.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of mystery novelist John D. MacDonald, born in Sharon, Pennsylvania (1916). He's famous for novels such as The Deep Blue Good-By (1964) and Nightmare in Pink (1964), featuring Travis McGee, a beach bum detective who lives on a houseboat that he won in a poker game.

MacDonald started reading compulsively when he was a kid after he almost died of scarlet fever and had to spend a year in bed. He read every book at his school library, shelf by shelf. While he was serving in the army during World War II, he entertained his wife by writing her fictionalized stories in his letters. She liked one story so much that she typed it up and sent it to the magazine Story, where it was published. MacDonald was so surprised and happy that he devoted himself to writing.

He had four months of severance pay when he came home from the Army, so he spent those four months writing seven days a week, fourteen hours a day. Everyone but his wife thought he was shell-shocked. By the end of the year he was making a living selling short stories to pulp fiction magazines. He published seventy-three stories in 1949 alone.

He used his mystery novels to criticize what he called American junk culture: fast food, bad TV and land development. He wrote, "I am wary of a lot of things, such as ... time clocks, newspapers, mortgages, sermons, miracle fabrics, deodorants ... pageants, progress, and manifest destiny."

It's the birthday of French novelist Alexandre Dumas, born in Villers-Cotterëts, France (1802). He wrote swashbuckling adventure novels like The Three Musketeers (1844) and The Count of Monte Cristo (1844). He started writing fiction at a time when publishers used fiction to sell newspapers. When his first novel appeared in a newspaper, it generated five thousand new subscriptions. As a successful author in his mid-forties, he settled on a large estate, and he had builders chisel the titles of all his novels into the stone of his house. He died before he finished his last book, and said on his deathbed, "I shall never know how it all comes out now."

Dumas's books have been translated into more than a hundred languages. More than fifty movies have been made from The Count of Monty Cristo and more than sixty from The Three Musketeers.

It's the birthday of Robert Graves, born in Wimbledon, England (1895). Over the course of his life, he wrote almost 150 books of fiction, essays and poetry. He's best-known for his World War I memoir Goodbye to All That (1929) and his novel about a succession of Roman emperors I, Claudius (1934). But his true love was always poetry. He said, "Prose books are the show dogs I breed and sell to support my cat."

After Graves got married and had children, he began writing furiously to support the family. In just five years, between 1920 and 1925, he wrote three books of criticism, a ballad opera, a novel, a satire on contemporary poets, and half-dozen volumes of poetry. Then, in 1929, he met an American poet named Laura Riding, and fell completely in love. He loved her so much that when she tried to commit suicide by jumping out the window of an apartment building, he jumped out the window after her. They both survived.

His marriage broke up, and he moved with Riding to the Spanish island of Majorca. But just before he left, he wrote his memoir Goodbye to All That (1929), about his childhood and his experiences in the war. He called the book, "[My] bitter leave-taking of England where I had recently broken a good many conventions; quarreled with, or been disowned by, most of my friends; been grilled by the police on a suspicion of attempted murder, and ceased to care what anyone thought of me."

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




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