Nov. 7, 2010

Divorced Fathers and Pizza Crusts

by Mark Halliday

The connection between divorced fathers and pizza crusts
is understandable. The divorced father does not cook
confidently. He wants his kid to enjoy dinner.
The entire weekend is supposed to be fun. Kids love
pizza. For some reason involving soft warmth and malleability

kids approve of melted cheese on pizza
years before they will tolerate cheese in other situations.
So the divorced father takes the kid and the kid's friend
out for pizza. The kids eat much faster than the dad.
Before the dad has finished his second slice,

the kids are playing a video game or being Ace Ventura
or blowing spitballs through straws, making this hail
that can't quite be cleaned up. There are four slices left
and the divorced father doesn't want them wasted,
there has been enough waste already; he sits there

in his windbreaker finishing the pizza. It's good
except the crust is actually not so great—
after the second slice the crust is basically a chore—
so you leave it. You move on the next loaded slice.
Finally there you are amid rims of crust.

All this is understandable. There's no dark conspiracy.
Meanwhile the kids are having a pretty good time
which is the whole point. So the entire evening makes
clear sense. Now the divorced father gathers
the sauce-stained napkins for the trash and dumps them

and dumps the rims of crust which are not
corpses on a battlefield. Understandability
fills the pizza shop so thoroughly there's no room
for anything else. Now he's at the door summoning the kids
and they follow, of course they do, he's a dad.

"Divorced Fathers and Pizza Crusts" by Mark Halliday, from Jab. © University of Chicago Press, 2002. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1492 that a meteor fell from the sky near the town of Ensishem in Alsace, France, one of the oldest recorded meteorites.

The only witness was a young boy, who heard a sound like an explosion and watched a huge piece of rock fall out of the sky and bury itself in a nearby wheat field. He went to alert the townspeople, and soon people were climbing down in the hole to chip off pieces for souvenirs and good luck. The lord of the town showed up and demanded that everyone stop immediately, and he had the big black meteorite dragged to the local church. Even after all those pieces had been hacked off, it still weighed almost 300 pounds.

Within a couple of weeks, the German poet Sebastian Brant had written a poem about the meteorite and circulated it. According to one translation, Brant wrote:
"In 1492, a fearful light
Blazed all the heavens and quenched the myriad night.
O'er Frederick Second's lands, they tell,
The awesome thunderbolt, fire-flinging, fell.
At noon, that dread November day, through air
By whirlwinds tempested, 'mid thunder's blare,
Down from the skies was hurled the mighty stone
Signed with a cross in characters unknown."

It's the birthday of critic and writer Stephen Greenblatt, (books by this author) born in Boston (1943). As a kid, he read so much that his mom would tell him to get his nose out of a book and go watch some TV. But he just kept reading, and went on to write popular books of literary criticism. One of his most successful books is Will in the World (2004), a biography of William Shakespeare, which was a New York Times best-seller.

He said, "The first and perhaps the most important requirement for a successful writing performance — and writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig — is to understand the nature of the occasion."

It's the birthday of screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, born in New York City (1897). He worked as a screenwriter on many successful Hollywood films, but he was uncredited on a lot of them, like Horse Feathers (1932), Million Dollar Legs (1932), and The Wizard of Oz (1939) — he was the one who suggested that they film the Kansas scenes in The Wizard of Oz in black and white. But he did get credit for his work with Orson Welles co-writing the script for Citizen Kane (1941). Citizen Kane topped a lot of lists as the best film of the 20th century, but when it came out it only won one Academy Award, and that was for its screenplay.

When he was in New York, he said, "Oh, to be back in Hollywood, wishing I was back in New York."

He said: "In a novel, the hero can lay ten girls and marry a virgin for the finish. In a movie, that is not allowed. The villain can lay anybody he wants, have as much fun and as he wants cheating and stealing, getting rich, and whipping the servants. But you have to shoot him in the end. When he falls with a bullet in the forehead it is advisable that he clutch at the Gobelin tapestry on the wall and bring it down over his head like a symbolic shroud. Also, covered by such a tapestry, the actor does not have to hold his breath while being photographed as a dead man."

It's the birthday of comedian and musician Archie Campbell, born in Bulls Gap, Tennessee (1914). For many years he wrote and acted in the TV show Hee Haw. And he was famous for telling fairy tales where he switched the beginnings of words, like the story of Rindercella who slopped her dripper.

It's the birthday of singer and songwriter Joni Mitchell, born Roberta Joan Anderson in Fort Macleod in Alberta, Canada (1943). As a kid, she got a bad case of polio, and in the hospital the staff told her she couldn't go home for Christmas, and she was so upset that she started singing Christmas carols at the top of her lungs, and she decided that she was a good performer. She recovered from the polio and taught herself to play the guitar by using a Pete Seeger instruction book.

She was going to be an artist, but after a year of college she changed her mind and headed to Toronto to try and make it as a singer, and it was on the train to Toronto that she wrote her first song. She had a slow start, performing in coffeehouses and writing songs for other people. But finally she made it as a singer, with songs like "Both Sides Now," "Carey," "Chelsea Morning," "Woodstock," and "Circle Game."

She said: "We Canadians are a bit more nosegay, more Old-Fashioned Bouquet than Americans. We're poets because we're such reminiscent kind of people. [...] My poetry is urbanized and Americanized, but my music is influenced by the prairies. When I was a kid, my mother used to take me out to the fields to teach me birdcalls. There was a lot of space behind individual sounds. People in the city are so accustomed to hearing a jumble of different sounds that when they come to making music, they fill it up with all sorts of different things."

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




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
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