Jul. 18, 2008

The Young Watch Us

by Donald Hall


by Donald Hall

The Young Watch Us

The young girls look up
as we walk past the line at the movie,
and go back to examining their fingernails.

Their boyfriends are combing their hair,
and chew gum
as if they meant to insult us.

Today we made love all day.
I look at you. You are smiling at the sidewalk,
dear wrinkled face.


Pale gold of the walls, gold
of the centers of daisies, yellow roses
pressing from a clear bowl. All day
we lay on the bed, my hand
stroking the deep
gold of your thighs and your back.
We slept and woke
entering the golden room together,
lay down in it breathing
quickly, then
slowly again,
caressing and dozing, your hand sleepily
touching my hair now.

We made in those days
tiny identical rooms inside our bodies
which the men who uncover our graves
will find in a thousand years
shining and whole.

"The Young Watch Us" and "Gold" by Donald Hall from White Apples and the Taste of Stone. © Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of journalist Hunter S. Thompson, (books by this author) born in Louisville, Kentucky (1939). His father was an insurance agent, and Thompson grew up in a comfortable, affluent home. In high school, he was accepted into a prestigious club called the Athenaeum Literary Association along with all the other wealthy and socially elite young people of Louisville. But around the same time, Thompson's father got sick and died from a rare immune disorder. His mother had to take a job as a librarian to support the family, and Thompson suddenly became the poor member of his group of friends, the only one who couldn't afford to go to an Ivy League school.

He rebelled against the club and became famous in the town for his outrageous pranks. He flooded the first floor of the high school with three inches of water during an assembly, and he dumped a truckload of pumpkins in front of a downtown hotel.

He was arrested several times in his senior year for vandalism and attempted robbery. He was excommunicated from the literary association, and he spent 30 days in jail. When he was released, he joined the United States Air Force.

Thompson spent most of his time in the Air Force writing for the newspaper at his base. He was honorably discharged in 1958 and began writing for any small newspaper that would take him. In his spare time, he obsessively studied his favorite novel, The Great Gatsby, outlining it and rewriting passages. He said, "I wanted to teach my neurological system how it felt to write that kind of prose."

Then, in 1964, the California attorney general issued a report on a dangerous new motorcycle gang known as the Hell's Angels, and the national media picked up the story. Thompson was hired by The Nation magazine to write a brief investigative article about the gang. After his article was published, he got a call from a publisher offering him fifteen hundred dollars to write a book on the same subject. Thompson was so broke at that point that the electrical company had recently shut off his power. He later said, "For fifteen hundred dollars I would have done the definitive text on hammerhead sharks and stayed in the water with them for three months!"

Thompson bought a motorcycle with his book advance and began driving around the country, meeting bikers and writing about them. He almost died doing his research one day when five Hell's Angels suddenly turned on him and beat him senseless. But he survived, and in 1967 he published his book Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. The experience of writing the book inspired Thompson to become a kind of outlaw journalist of the counterculture, writing about his own adventures beyond the boundaries of normal society.

In 1971, he published his most famous book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, about a trip he took to that that city, how it almost drove him crazy, and his realization that idealism of the 1960s had disappeared for good.

He said, "I haven't found a drug yet that can get you anywhere near as high as a sitting at a desk writing, trying to imagine a story no matter how bizarre it is, [or] going out and getting into the weirdness of reality and doing a little time on the Proud Highway."

It's the birthday of Jessamyn West, (books by this author) born in Jennings County, Indiana (1902). Her parents moved to Orange County, California, when she was young, and there she grew up on her father's lemon grove in Yorba Linda. She was a cousin of future president Richard Nixon and babysat him while he was growing up.

As a child, she read voraciously and also kept a notebook of ideas for stories. She didn't begin writing for publication, though, until middle-aged. She taught in a one-room schoolhouse and then was pursuing a Ph.D. in English at Berkeley when she was diagnosed, at the age of 28, with advanced tuberculosis and placed in the terminal ward of a sanitarium. After two years at the miserable place, the doctors told her mother "take her home and let her die amongst her loved ones." But Jessamyn's mother, Grace, had no intention of seeing her daughter die. She embarked on a fervent mission of nursing her back to health, preparing delicious and fortifying meals and sitting at her bedside telling beautiful stories of growing up in Indiana among Quakers.

West regained her health and began writing and embellishing upon the stories that her mother had told her at the bedside. Her first book was a collection of short stories, The Friendly Persuasion (1945), published when she was 43 years old. The tales centered on the lives of rural Quakers Jess and Elia Birdwell, and the collection received high and wide praise.

Her other works include the novels The Witch Diggers (1951), South of the Angels (1960), The Massacre at Fall Creek (1975), The Life I Really Loved (1979), and The State of Stony Lonesome (1984).

She said, "I do not think I have ever written about a person who is totally defeated. My tendency is to write of people who overcome."

It's the birthday of playwright Clifford Odets, (books by this author) born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1906). Odets left school at the age of 15 to go into radio and found work as an announcer, actor, and writer. He joined several repertory companies, and in 1931, became one of the founding members of the Group Theater in New York. Although he originally joined as an actor, Odets was soon the Group's main playwright. In 1935, the theater produced Waiting for Lefty, a story about labor unions based on the 1934 New York taxi driver's strike. The play included flashbacks by union members and "plants" in the audience, which made it seem as if there was a real strike meeting going on. It was a great success, as was Odets' next play, Awake and Sing! (1935), a look at Jewish family life in the Bronx during the Depression. Odets went on to write several more plays — and screenplays including None But the Lonely Heart (1943), The Country Girl (1950), and Sweet Smell of Success (1957; revived on Broadway 2001).

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




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