Jul. 15, 2008

Patty's Charcoal Drive-in

by Barbara Crooker

First job. In tight black shorts
and a white bowling shirt, red lipstick
and bouncing pony tail, I present
each overflowing tray as if it were a banquet.
I'm sixteen and college-bound,
this job's temporary as the summer sun,
but right now, it's the boundaries of my life.
After the first few nights of mixed orders
and missing cars, the work goes easily.
I take out the silver trays and hook them to the windows,
inhale the mingled smells of seared meat patties,
salty ketchup, rich sweet malteds.
The lure of grease drifts through the thick night air.
And it's always summer at Patty's Charcoal Drive-in—
carloads of blonde-and-tan girls
pull up next to red convertibles,
boys in black tee shirts and slick hair.
Everyone knows what they want.
And I wait on them, hoping for tips,
loose pieces of silver
flung carelessly as the stars.
Doo-wop music streams from the jukebox
and each night repeats itself,
faithful as a steady date.
Towards 10 P.M., traffic dwindles.
We police the lot, pick up wrappers.
The dark pours down, sticky as Coke,
but the light from the kitchen
gleams like a beacon.
A breeze comes up, chasing papers
in the far corners of the darkened lot,
as if suddenly a cold wind had started to blow
straight at me from the future—
I read that in a Doris Lessing book—
but right now, purse fat with tips
the moon sitting like a cheeseburger on a flat black grill,
this is enough.
Your order please.

"Patty's Charcoal Drive-in" by Barbara Crooker from Obbligato. © Linwood Publishers, 1992. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of philosopher Jacques Derrida, (books by this author) born in El Biar, Algeria (1930). He's one of the founders of the theory of "deconstructionism," which he presented in the book Of Grammatology (1967). It assumes that there is no common intellectual structure or source of meaning that unifies a culture. When applied to literary criticism, it holds that a single text can have multiple meanings, which underlie and subvert the surface meaning of the words.

It's the birthday of novelist Iris Murdoch, (books by this author) born in Dublin, Ireland (1919). She studied philosophy and the classics at Oxford and was deeply influenced by a two-year stint teaching war refugees for the United Nations. She later taught philosophy at Oxford and wrote novels about the complex relationship of good and evil, the illusion of free will, and the comedy of the sexes. She would write in longhand, twice, then deliver the manuscripts to her publisher in a plastic bag. Among her novels are The Bell (1958), A Severed Head (1961), The Sea, the Sea (1978), which won the Booker Prize, The Good Apprentice (1985), and The Message to the Planet (1989). In 1996, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. Her husband looked after her, and wrote about their marriage in Elegy for Iris (1999).

Murdoch said, "Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck."

She said, "Happiness is a matter of one's most ordinary and everyday mode of consciousness being busy and lively and unconcerned with self."

It's the birthday of political commentator Arianna Huffington, (books by this author) born in Athens, Greece (1950). She described herself as "so unsocial" and a "bookish girl" and told of her fourth birthday party: "I chased all the children away because they were bothering me. They were interfering with my reading."

One day she saw in a magazine a picture of Cambridge University, and she decided that she wanted to go to school there. Many of her friends and family members ridiculed her, but her mother strongly encouraged her daughter, looked for a scholarship that she could apply for, found cheap airline tickets from Athens to London, and took the teenage Arianna for a visit to the campus. It rained the whole time, and they didn't get to meet with any school officials, but she imagined herself going to school there. A few years later, she applied and was granted a scholarship.

In college she joined the debating team, a rather uncommon extracurricular activity for a young woman at Cambridge at that time. At first, she wasn't very skilled, and years later said, "Sometimes I was called to speak after midnight because I was so bad." But she prepared for each debate as if she were the featured speaker and she began to improve—so much so that in her final year at Cambridge, she was voted president of the debating society. She was the first non-British citizen to earn this position and only the third woman in the school's history.

After watching her final debate, in which she argued that the feminist movement had encouraged women to choose against marriage and motherhood, a man contacted her and suggested that she write a book on the subject. The Female Woman (1973) came out when she was only 23. She said, "It would be futile to attempt to fit women into a masculine pattern of attitudes, skills and abilities and disastrous to force them to suppress their specifically female characteristics and abilities by keeping up the pretense that there are no differences between the sexes." She was called an anti-feminist by many, but she preferred to think of herself as a "post-feminist."

She left London and moved to New York City. She wrote several books in the next decade, including a biography of the late opera singer Maria Callas. Some authors of previous biographies of Callas accused Huffington of plagiarism and one threatened to sue, but a settlement was made out of court. Huffington also wrote a biography called Picasso: Creator and Destroyer (1988), which chronicled the artist's cruel behavior toward family and friends.

Many of her books concerned the theme of spirituality, including After Reason (1978); Gods of Greece (1983), in which she argued that the different Greek gods represent different aspects of our personalities; and The Fourth Instinct (1994), which argues that humans strive and yearn not only for survival, power, and sex, but also for spirituality.

In New York, she made friends with many wealthy and famous people. She was sometimes called by journalists "a mountaineer of society's Himalayas" and "the most upwardly mobile Greek since Icarus." She became known for throwing great dinner parties and for being a gracious and witty host. She once said that the secret to a good dinner party was to "keep the food light. I set a mood with lots of candles and flowers, usually monochromatic. I love peonies. I use a round table so people have to squeeze in close. Makes for good conversations."

Once, a guest who was displeased with her seating position had rearranged the name cards. In the process, Huffington's honored guest, opera star Placido Domingo, ended up not in the traditional guest of honor place—on her right side—but, instead, over on her left side. Huffington quickly smoothed it over with an announcement: "Normally, as the host, I would have seated Placido on my right. But I love Placido so much I put him on my left. It's nearer my heart."

She married a millionaire oil executive. Soon thereafter, she and Michael Huffington settled in California, and he was elected to a Congressional seat. Two years later, he ran for Senate, spending $30 million of his own money to fund the campaign. He lost to Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who in that campaign had spent $5 million. Arianna and Michael Huffington later divorced, though she retained her married name.

In 2003, she entered the race for governor of California during the recall of Gray Davis. She pulled out of the race shortly before election day, though, and focused her energy on defeating the recall itself so as to prevent Arnold Schwarzenegger from being the next governor. Though she had withdrawn, her name still appeared on the ballot and she placed fifth in the voting tally.

In 2005, she launched the Huffington Post, a blog in which she and many celebrities would contribute political commentary. Many of her colleagues were at first skeptical about such an enterprise. The site, though, quickly gathered large numbers of regular visitors, and it is viewed by about 4 million unique readers a month now. It has also been a profitable venture and attracted advertisements from Starbucks, the Discovery Channel, and various car manufacturers.

She is a co-host of the public radio program Left, Right and Center. Her most recent book is Right Is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe (2008).

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




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