Jul. 24, 2005

The Committee

by Susan Cataldo

SUNDAY, 24 JULY, 2005
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Poem: "The Committee" by Susan Cataldo, from drenched: Selected Poems of Susan Cataldo 1979-1999. ©. Telephone Books. Reprinted with permission.

The Committee

There's a committee looking into the air,
my supervisor said,
when someone complained
about our stuffy office.

Can't you just see them up there,
sitting around a conference table,
looking into the air.
That's all. Just looking.

There's a committee looking into the air.
I must get elected to that committee
because I care about the air too
and I would love to look into it,

all of it,
and I would love to look into it
with others also.
We would be this committee,

to look into the air.
People would send us complaints about the air
and we would send memos back to them

describing what we saw when we looked into the air
and if something needed to be done about it
we would fix it.
We would be the committee that looks into the air.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist Alexandre Dumas, born in Villers-Cotterêts, France (1802). He wrote swashbuckling adventure novels, The Three Musketeers (1844), and The Count of Monte Cristo. He died before he finished his last book. On his death bed he said, "I shall never know how it all comes out now."

It's the birthday of Robert Graves, born in Wimbledon (1895). He was the author of more than 150 books of fiction, essays, and poetry, and his World War I memoir, Goodbye to All That.

It's the birthday of Zelda Fitzgerald, born Zelda Sayre, in Montgomery, Alabama (1900). She met F. Scott Fitzgerald at one of the military dances there in Montgomery. He stood out from the crowd, wearing his Brooks Brothers uniform and his cream-colored boots. Zelda said, "He smelled like new goods." He told her that she looked like the heroine in the novel he was writing.

They went on their first date on this day, her birthday, in 1918. Years later in a letter to Scott, she wrote, "The night you gave me my birthday party... you were a young Lieutenant and I was a fragrant phantom, wasn't I? And it was a radiant night, a night of soft conspiracy and the trees agreed that it was all going to be for the best."

It's the birthday of mystery novelist John D. MacDonald, born in Sharon, Pennsylvania (1916). He's famous for his novels featuring Travis McGee, a beach-bum detective who lives on a houseboat that he won in a poker game.

MacDonald started reading when he was a kid, after he almost died of scarlet fever. He spent a year in bed. He read all the books in the library. He served in the Army during World War II. He entertained his wife by writing her little stories in his letters, one of which she liked so much that she typed it up and sent it to the magazine Story, where it was published.

John D. MacDonald had four months of severance pay when he came home from the Army, and he spent those four months writing seven days a week, 14 hours a day. By the end of the year, he was making a living selling short stories to pulp fiction magazines.

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

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