Jul. 17, 2005

Fairy Tale

by Ron Padgett

SUNDAY, 17 JULY, 2005
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Poem: "Fairy Tale," by Ron Padgett, from You Never Know © Coffee House Press. Reprinted with permission.

Fairy Tale

The little elf is dressed in a floppy cap
and he has a big rosy nose and flaring white eyebrows
with short legs and a jaunty step, though sometimes
he glides across an invisible pond with a bonfire glow on his cheeks:
it is northern Europe in the nineteenth century and people
are strolling around Copenhagen in the late afternoon,
mostly townspeople on their way somewhere,
perhaps to an early collation of smoked fish, rye bread, and cheese,
washed down with a dark beer: ha ha, I have eaten this excellent meal
and now I will smoke a little bit and sit back and stare down
at the golden gleam of my watch fob against the coarse dark wool of my vest,
and I will smile with a hideous contentment, because I am an evil man,
and tonight I will do something evil in this city!

Literary and Historical Notes:

Variety ran a famous cover story headline on this day in 1935, "Sticks Nix Hick Pix," which meant that rural Americans didn't like movies about rural America.

It was on this day in 1938, that a pilot named Douglas Corrigan asked permission from the Civil Aviation Authority to fly from New York City to Ireland. They denied his request, on the grounds that his plane was in poor condition. He seemed to accept the ruling, but when he took off for California, he banked sharply to the east and headed over the ocean. He landed in Ireland, and complained of a faulty compass. No one believed his excuse, and he lost his pilot's license, but he was greeted as a hero back in New York. Over a million people came out for a ticker-tape parade honoring "Wrong Way" Corrigan.

It's the birthday of Peter Schickele, born in Ames, Iowa (1935). He has written and arranged music for classical, jazz, folk, and rock groups, and for television and radio. But he is probably best known as P.D.Q. Bach, the fictitious son of Johann Sebastian Bach. He invented the character while studying at Juilliard, and writes satirical music under that name. P.D.Q. Bach's original operas include Hansel and Gretel and Ted and Alice (1990), and The Abduction of Figaro (1984).

It's the birthday of American mystery writer Erle Stanley Gardner, born in Malden, Massachusetts (1889). He wrote over 80 mystery novels featuring the brilliant lawyer, Perry Mason. He was the best-selling American author of all time. He sold over 200 million copies of his books, and at the peak of his success he sold about 26,000 books a day. Gardner was kicked out of Valparaiso University after getting into a fistfight in his first semester. He went to work as a typist in a law office in California. He read so much of what he typed that he decided to take the bar exam. He passed it without any classes, at age 22. He went to work for a corporate law firm in Oxnard, California, and he defended poor Chinese and Mexican immigrants. He worked in law for 22 years, and he often wrote on the side. He became a popular contributor to Black Mask Magazine. They liked stories with Oriental heroes and villains, so he came up with many adventures of Soo Hoo Duck, King of Chinatown. He sent mysteries and western stories to pulp magazines at an incredible rate. He hired a team of secretaries to take down his dictations, and at one point he was producing 66,000 words a week for the pulps. Soon, he settled into writing his Perry Mason novels, one at a time, and gave them titles like The Case of the Amorous Aunt (1963) and The Case of the Fabulous Fake (1969). Erle Gardner said, "I write to make money, and I write to give the reader sheer fun."

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