Day 30: The Kiss

 

I was twenty-eight, living in a small town in Texas with my parents, teaching English, and working toward admission to the Guinness Book as The 20th Century’s Least Socially Active Female, when a former neighbor dropped by to ask a favor: Her co-worker was worried that his son—a nice but shy young man—would take up with some scarlet woman and be ruined.

Could she give her friend my number?

Her reasoning was transparent. She knew my reputation (nice and shy), and believed the adage that English teachers reproduce by budding. The boy would be safe with me.

Well, why not?

The next day, he called. Larry Weinert.

“Weinert,” said my mother. “Some Weinert children used to throw rocks at my car every morning when I worked at Harper Seed.”

At a preliminary meeting at the old store in Staples, halfway between our homes—he was nice, shy, and careful—he asked me to a movie.

Saturday evening, my parents hid. Larry arrived. He boosted me into his pickup. (Whatever happened to running boards?)

He turned the key in the ignition. Something under the hood exploded.

We sat on the sofa while the engine cooled off or dried out or did whatever it had to do before it would start. Larry ran his palm through his burr cut. “Man, this is awful.”

I said car trouble did not matter. Having read Boy Dates Girl when I was eleven, I knew the duty of a blind datee is to make the blind dator comfortable.

I wanted this to go well. I was co-dependent.

About ten miles down the road, however, co-dependency ebbed.

“There’s a dance over in Laubach tonight,” he said. “Want to skip the movie and go there instead?”

A dance would mean three things: first, dancing, and I didn’t (I’d never learned); and second, drinking, and I wouldn’t, but he would, and he wouldn’t name a designated driver, which could be a problem if the truck started again; and third, talking.

Number Three was already giving us trouble. Larry spoke in paragraphs of one syllable.

The only small-talk I could muster was, “Did you ever throw rocks at a black 1946 Pontiac traveling in the direction of Martindale?” and that seemed best left unsaid.

Fortunately, his malfunctioning muffler filled the void.

A dance, I thought, would require me to be sociable; a movie would justify silence. Anyway, an evening of film might allow me to say, sincerely, that I’d enjoyed myself.

So I used excuse Number One.

Downtown Seguin, Texas, at night in the late ‘70s was almost deserted. We parked in a graveled lot across from the theater. When I slid out of the truck, Larry grabbed me around the waist and clamped me to his side.

This was more familiarity than I’d expected to encounter so early in the evening, or, in fact, in the entire relationship.

I set a rapid pace—sort of a three-legged goose step—and marched him inside. I hoped I appeared eager to see the movie. I also hoped I could dislodge his hand from my person.

I couldn’t. Once seated, he wrapped his arm around my shoulders and kept it there for the duration.

The next two hours did not trip by on rosy wings. I was mired in the Slough of Despond.

I wanted my body back.

I wanted a Jane Austen novel.

I wanted my mother.

We exited the theater silently; the movie had provided no topics. But Larry was an optimist.

“Want to stop and see how the dance is going?”

I said I still didn’t know how to dance. Again, the roar of the engine camouflaged twenty miles of silence.

Finally, we pulled up in front of my house and he turned off the engine.

“Would you like to go out again?” He was desperate.

Caught off guard, I blurted, “I guess you’ll just have to call and see.” That wasn’t kind, but it was better than what I was thinking.

He leaned toward me.

“How about a kiss?”

“I don’t believe so.”

Co-dependent no more, I opened the door, scrambled to the ground, and headed for sanctuary.

“Do you want me to walk you to the door?”

I don’t remember what I said, except that I managed the thank-you-for-a-lovely-evening part. I hadn’t read my grandmother’s Emily Post’s Blue Book of Social Correctness, copyright 1940, in its entirety, for nothing.

I got inside as fast as possible and closed the door behind me.

I’d kicked off my shoes and was making a Hemingway sandwich when my mother walked in, dressed in robe and slippers. She was laughing. Her bedroom windows had been open.

“Did he ask if you wanted him to walk you to the door?”

“It was a reasonable question,” I said, “considering what led up to it.” I scooped a spoonful of Jif out of the jar. “I’m too old for this.”

“No, you’re not.”

As usual, Mother was right.

In fact, I would be twenty years older when I found myself standing under a light on Lavaca Street in Austin, kissing, with (relative) abandon, a man who told me he’d read all the novels of Anthony Trollope. And who on our first date took me to the Harry Ransom Center to see Elisabet Ney’s Lady Macbeth. And who writes funny flash fiction from one-word prompts. And who asked me to marry him.

And who cannot dance.

I don’t know what happened to Larry. He was a nice man.

I hope he found a nice girl—actually, I hope he found a scarlet woman, if that’s what he wanted—to hug-dance with him to country-western music, and fill his silences with words he wanted to hear, and kiss him goodnight without his having to ask.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“The Kiss” first appeared in the 2008 True Words Anthology Online Supplement, a publication of Story Circle Network.

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Day 29: W. F. Ward, Confectioner, 1958

 

Out on the porch it’s August,
But it’s cool inside and dim, one bulb suspending from a cord.
A slim brunette holding a bottle of Royal Crown Cola
Smiles down from above the mirror.
In the back, where it’s dark and you’ve never been,
Sit two small, dusty tables and four delicate chairs.
Once, flappers and their beaus
Sipped sodas there and flirted,
But now they’re ghosts.
Behind the marble counter stands Dick Ward,
Eighty years old to your seven, and deaf, and wiry as the chairs,
Blue eyes dancing.
“Chocolate, please,” you say.
He leans down, tilts his head.
“What?”
You stand on tiptoe, breathe deep, shout.
“Chocolate!”
Of course, it’s just a game, because
He knew before he asked.
He dives down, disappears into the marble, rises with a cone,
Huge, double-dipped,
And proffers it.
You hand him your nickel.
“Thank you.”
As you turn to leave, Mr. Perry shuffles in.
“Bugler!” he rasps,
And as Dick reaches for the tobacco
You know that’s wrong,
Because your grandfather smokes Bull Durham,
And anyway,
How could anyone pass up chocolate?

~~~~~~~~~~

“W. F. Ward, Confectioner, 1958” first appeared in the 2008 issue of True Words Anthology, a publication of Story Circle Network.

 

Day 27: William, weary

William misbehaving. Note in his expression the combination of smugness and defiance.

I think WordPress got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.

First it refused  my perfectly good password and tried to get me to log in to the  Hotshots! account.

Then, instead of saving this post as a draft, it posted the picture above with the title Private so only I had access. A check of my privacy settings showed no change–To write was still (supposedly) visible to the public. Unclicking and reclicking the same box then published William for all the world to see.

I presume he’s still there. I’m typing as fast as I can.

William has developed an intense interest in the piano. He jumps on it when he wants me to turn off the laptop and go to bed.

I’ve been operating all these years on the assumption that cats do as they please when they please. I thought a sleepy cat could just curled up any old place and lose consciousness.

Not William.

When he decides it’s bedtime, usually around 1:00 a.m., he wants everyone to close up shop. To get my attention, he jumps on the piano.

At first I tried to discourage this. He tended to stray from the piano to the sideboard. There are things on the sideboard I’d like to see stay there. Intact.

One night he jumped from the piano to the top of the china cabinet. There are a few breakable objects up there, too.

I admit William is graceful. That surprises me. As a kitten he was so tubby he couldn’t leap and climb as  (other) kittens do. When he tried to pull himself onto a higher shelf of the kitty pagoda, his little body would just dangle there, bottom-heavy, until he let go and fell or was discovered and rescued. Instead of jumping onto the bed, he walked up the stairs we’d put there for Chloe.

The difference was that Chloe was sixteen when she stopped jumping. William was six months.

The adult William is enormous, but his paws are delicate and tapered, beautiful, but small  compared to the rest of him.

And yet, he’s agile and light of foot. Earrings, cough drops, rubber bands, ballpoint pens–these things and more have found their way from high places to low, and in perfect silence.

If I hadn’t made an uncharacteristic decision to sweep under the refrigerator, the flash drive would still be lost.

There’s a reason they call them cat burglars.

Last night, or rather early this morning, a weary William had already traversed the mantel, the case of David’s collectibles, the dining table (I wash it often), and who knows what else before resorting to the piano. I was tired of popping up every five minutes to drag him off wherever he was, so I decided if you can’t lick ’em, join ’em and just kept typing. Glancing over my shoulder to make sure he didn’t have designs on the china cabinet, I saw the display that begins this post.

It was like the time my three-year-old cousin Chip sidled into the kitchen, hands behind his back, face and overalls covered in grease, and told the flock of gawking women he’d been “fixing the lawnmower.”

Just so darned cute all you can do is get the camera.

So I got the camera.

Then I took the hint.

He was tired.

I turned off the laptop and went to bed.

Day 26: Emily, tippling

I taste a liquor never brewed,
From tankards scooped in pearl;
Not all the vats upon the Rhine
Yield such an alcohol!

Inebriate of air am I,
And debauchee of dew,
Reeling, through endless summer days,
From inns of molten blue.

When landlords turn the drunken bee
Out of the foxglove’s door,
When butterflies renounce their drams,
I shall but drink the more!

Till seraphs swing their snowy hats,
And saints to windows run,
To see the little tippler
Leaning against the sun!

~ Emily Dickinson

Day 24: Mulomedic

Today’s word is mulomedic.

It’s one of four endangered words I adopted today from the Oxford English Dictionary’s Save the Words.

An adjective, it means relating to the medical care of mules.

Example: Mary wants to be a mulomedic veterinarian, but her mother says Basset hounds are where the money is.

When I adopted my words, I promised to use them “in conversation and correspondence, as frequently as possible to the very best of my ability.”

Goodness knows how I’ll work mulomedic into the conversation. William and Ernest are going to the vet’s for their vaccinations next week; perhaps I can use it there.

“Dr. Smith, are you a mulomedic veterinarian, or do  you limit your practice to cats?”

But I didn’t choose the word to make life easy. I chose it because I like mules. They’re good folks.

The guides at the Grand Canyon lavish praise on the mules that carry tourists on the mile-long ride almost straight down to the canyon floor. No rider has ever toppled into the canyon, they say, because the riders practically glue themselves to the mules, and the mules don’t fall.

A white mule played a pivotal role in my life. Telling the story requires a detour to Tuna, the third smallest town in Texas, located somewhere “between San Angelo and Hell, ” “where the Lion’s Club is too liberal and Patsy Cline never dies.”

In a scene from A Tuna Christmas, Stanley Bumiller and his mother’s aunt, Pearl Burrus, are on stage together. Stanley’s community service at the Tuna Little Theater has been threatened by city secretary Dixie Deberry, who has threatened to turn off the electricity because the theater hasn’t paid its bill. Pearl is concerned about Stanley’s possible return to incarceration as well as about the Christmas Phantom who’s sabotaging the yard decoration contest. In the middle of their talk, Pearl grows solemn. The next lines go something like this:

Pearl:         Stanley, I’m worried. I had a dream the other night. Dreamed about a white mule.

Stanley:    Hell, Pearl, a white mule’s death, ain’t it?

Pearl:         No. A white horse is death. A white mule’s generally nothing worse than car trouble.

Now back to me.

About fifteen years ago, I was at a low point. I’d been there for a number of years.  Although things looked as if they would smooth out, I was still living under a cloud.

One morning, driving up Texas Highway 80 toward San Marcos, I saw a large animal loping toward me in the borrow ditch on the opposite side of the road. Afraid it would stray into my path, I stepped on the brake and turned on my hazard lights as a warning to other vehicles.

I had assumed the animal was a horse, but as we neared each other, I saw it was a white mule.

And the moment I recognized him, I said to myself, “Hallelujah, it’s nothing worse than car trouble.”

Then I laughed all the way to San Marcos.

That is a true story, and another instance of how great literature affords solace in times of distress.

~~~~~~~~~~

My other adopted words are gnathonize, aquabib, and leeftail. For definitions, click on the link to Endangered and Underused Words, on the left sidebar.

~~~~~~~~~~

Those not already initiated into the joys of the Tuna trilogy–Greater Tuna; A Tuna Christmas; and Red, White and Tuna–are encouraged to find more information at http://greatertuna.com/index.cfm. The row of icons across the bottom of that page is key to getting around the site.

A friend says the audiences at these shows are sitting there laughing at people on stage who are laughing at them. That, too, is true.

A Tuna Christmas is playing at the Paramount in Austin through this Sunday. I wanted to go, but I’ve seen it five or six or eight times, and I’ve memorized most of the dialogue, so I didn’t think I could justify another trip. Next year, however…

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Day 23: The most beautiful words

The most beautiful word in the English language is the compound word cellar door.

J. R. R. Tolkien said that. I have no idea why.

I’m partial to murmur and serendipity.

A student once told me that hearing the word button just drove her up the wall.

When I was about four years old, I discovered that if I repeated tuna over and over, it lost all meaning. Army worked the same way. I was afraid if I went on repeating long enough, I might fall into a trance, so I always stopped after a reasonable interval.

Instead of saying garage, my father said car house. My mother told me the phrase was related to the buggy house of his boyhood. He also sometimes referred to light bread. Both of my parents called the refrigerator an ice box at least half the time. My grandfather and many of his contemporaries used the same terms. I’m sure there were others I don’t remember.

A cousin helps me keep ice box alive. But I miss car house and light bread. They were a link to my father’s boyhood. They spoke of his memories of horses and buggies, of homemade bread baked from white flour rather than brown.  Those words were living history. 

The Oxford English Dictionary is set to retire a number of words, as it does periodically. Our language continues to change, and old words fall out of use.

It seems a shame to let them go.

Save the Words allows logophiles the opportunity to keep endangered words in circulation. The site places words for adoption–find a specific word or let Save the Words assign one–and offers ideas for using them.

I’ve registered for STW but haven’t yet adopted my word. There are so many to choose from.

Vampirarchy* is on my short list. I could work that one into conversation with no problem at all. I can imagine other people picking it up, too. It could go viral.

And the word has nothing to do with Twilight.

When it comes down to it, I’ll probably adopt several.

But back to beautiful words.

Tolkien was a fine writer, but he had a tin ear. Or perhaps he just forgot.

In any case, the most beautiful words in the English language are these:

lucent syrops tinct with cinnamon.

If that line went viral, the world would be a more beautiful place.

~~~~~~~~~~

* A set of ruling persons, comparable to vampires.

References

The Hot Word

The Eve of St. Agnes, by John Keats

Related Articles

Day 22: Sneaky booksellers

A couple of years ago, while Christmas shopping in a chain bookstore I won’t identify, I flagged down a salesperson and told her I’d like a closer look at a set of Twilight Zone DVDs. She spun on her heel and strode across the store toward the locked media cabinet.

Following, I heard her mutter, “There are only about two dozen of them.”

I knew the set I wanted to look at–I’d scouted it out before seeking help–but I hadn’t realized I needed to be specific before we reached our destination.

Hearing the snide comment, I was tempted to switch into schoolteacher mode: “I beg your pardon? I didn’t hear what you said. Would you repeat it?”

But I didn’t. She was young and it was December. Her feet probably hurt.

(As I re-read that sentence it occurred to me that her youth might have been a good reason to speak up and let her know she wasn’t winning friends and influencing people.)

Anyway, I pointed to the box I wanted and she took it to the counter for me. The whole transaction took less than a minute. I escaped to the fiction section, where merchandise isn’t kept behind lock and key.

Later, at the sales counter, I listened to another salesperson tell her co-worker about the stupid man who called asking for a book whose title and author he couldn’t remember. He said he knew what it was about, though.

This woman–also quite young–told the caller if he didn’t know what he wanted, how did he expect her to know, there were only a few thousand titles in the store.

She didn’t look as if her feet hurt at all. She had a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye, as if she had enjoyed hanging up on a potential sale.

I was tempted to slide into librarian mode and tell her what I thought of her take on customer service. But I didn’t.

Instead, I thought about what would have happened if the gentleman had called the library where I used to work. We’d have run circles around each other trying to figure out what book he wanted and how to get it.

As a friend once observed, “All you have to do to make a librarian happy is ask a question. They just brighten right up.”

There’s an independent bookstore in Austin where the salespeople remind me of librarians.

BookPeople staff don’t wait for customers to approach them. They sneak up behind you and ask how you’re doing.

When they find you lurking in the mystery section, unable to make up your mind, they ask who your favorite authors are. Then they suggest something else you might like and take off to find a copy.

The day I told the clerk at the upstairs information desk that I was looking for the YA novel about teen-aged girls hunting flesh-eating unicorns, he barked, “Rampant,” and led me right to the shelf.

That’s the reason–one of them anyway–I like BookPeople.

The folks there act as if they enjoy working with books.

In fact, they act as if they’ve even read them.

 

Day 20: No-no words

A writer-friend introduced me to a new concept: the no-no word.

That’s a word you’re not allowed to use when you write.

She assigned her elementary students a composition, then told them they were not allowed to use the word was.

There’s a lot of talk going around about was these days. Several bloggers have written about the advisability of using it, and one of my online discussion groups examined the issue.

Should writers use was?

The answer to that question, I believe, is, It depends.

If I can find a more active or specific or colorful word, or a better construction, I use it. If I can’t, I write was.

When my teacher-writer-friend termed was a no-no word, however, and described the restrictions she had put on her students, I decided to step up to the challenge.

I stepped up.

I wrote.

I stepped down.

It was an enlightening ordeal.

Will I post the result?

NO.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

The image of No made out of jigsaw puzzle pieces used courtesy of Horia Varlan via Flickr, under Creative Commons 2.0 Generic license.

Day 19: Worrying about Harry

Last week, I worried about Harry. Now it’s Harry and the whole of London.

Based on reason, experience, and the fact that MI5 is neither science- nor speculative fiction, I presume London and the majority of its inhabitants will survive.

Harry I’m not sure about.

That is darned good writing.

~~~~~~~~~~

I wrote the Harry passage last night. I intended to post it last night. But I didn’t.

I would offer a legitimate reason for breaking my promise to post every day in November, but–

The truth is, I got bogged down.

After writing about Harry, I inserted an attractive divider (see ~~~ above) and addressed a second topic. I intended a series of brief observations connected only by their brilliance.

I never got to topic #3. In just minutes I saw that even brilliant observations can reek.

So I cut the part about Harry, saved it for another post, and continued writing about topic #2.

I wrote, deleted, wrote, deleted, wrote…

After a while, it seemed a good time to look for a photograph.

I used to post text only. But those posts reminded me of the websites about writing that cropped up back in the 90s: words, words, words, no graphics, just words all over the page. It was obvious they’d been designed by people who hadn’t become accustomed to reading graphics.

In other words, people like me. But now, a surfer of some sophistication, I like to throw in an image here and there.

So, interrupting the sequence of write-deletes, I went in pursuit of the perfect picture.

So many choices, none of them acceptable.

By the time the search ended, the clock had struck midnight. November 19 was gone.

After eighteen consecutive days of posting, I had slipped.

Worse yet, it wasn’t the first time. Day 18 was posted after midnight on Day 19. Day 17 was posted on Day 18. Day 16 was posted on Day 17.

I won’t belabor the point.

My only consolation is that, although I have not posted every single day, by the end of November 20, I will have put up twenty posts.

If I hurry.

~~~~~~~~~~

P.S. London is fine. Harry, however, is in a pickle.

~~~~~~~~~~

Image of Freemasons’ Hall, London courtesy of damo1977 via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Freemasons’ Hall stands in for Thames House, home of MI5, in the TV series MI5 (Spooks).




Day 17: Perpetual writing

I never quite know when I’m not writing. Sometimes my wife comes up to me at a party and says, “Damnit, Thurber, stop writing.” She usually catches me in the middle of a paragraph. Or my daughter will look up from the dinner table and ask, “Is he sick?” “No,” my wife says, “he’s writing something.” ~ (James Thurber, in an interview with George Plimpton and Max Steele. Paris Review, Fall 1955)

Surrounded by crucifers, I calculated the odds that today’s cauliflower would make it to the dinner table rather than mummify in that mausoleum otherwise known as the vegetable crisper.

Candy to left of me, Cosmo to right, I pondered twenty-seven ways to lose fifty pounds by Thanksgiving and ninety-two prescriptions for gaining it back.

Crossing the parking lot, I put in a grocery store between the hair salon and the antique shop.

Then I hired a manager.

Joelle currently does cuts and perms–she was Margaret, the assistant postmaster, before youthening and changing her name and her career–but she could operate the grocery, which carries better stock than the Abomination out on the highway. And her husband, Scott, could take over when he retires.

I don’t know when Scott will retire. I’m not even sure his name is Scott. He used to be Herb, the postmaster. He took that job just before Margaret turned into Joelle. But he’s awfully straight-laced, and Scott suggests a certain amount of elasticity…

Grocery shopping isn’t the only endeavor that detours into writing. Sometimes I’m in the shower. Sometimes I’m driving to an appointment.

In the middle of a romantic birthday dinner at the Clay Pit, I erupted: “Ooh! I just thought of somebody else I can kill!”

That’s not the way to win friends and influence people, especially if you’re seated in the little room downstairs, where voices ricochet off stone  and land in the neighbors’ chicken korma.

No matter. People look at me funny, and they think I’m scatterbrained, and rude, and some no doubt think I’m criminal.

But there is one advantage to this perpetual writing, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Ever since fifth grade, when I heard a high school prose reading contestant perform “The Night the Bed Fell,” I’ve aspired to write like James Thurber.

And now, if I think about it in just the right way, I can say that I do.

Day 16: What I miss

What do I miss about working in a library?

The book budget. I loved buying books with other people’s money.

Books. I loved opening boxes, lifting out new volumes, turning pages, taking them home to preview (if I could grab them before my colleagues did).

Book people. I loved doing booktalks for both students and adults. I loved recommending books to patrons and colleagues. I loved saying, “You’ve got to read this. It’s wonderful.” I loved being around people who loved books.

We spent this evening with friends who worked with me at the library. At the last minute before embarking on our seventy-mile drive, I gathered books from shelves, from chairs, from the cedar chest, from the floor, and put them into a bookbag–mysteries for Sally, a hodgepodge for Maryellen.

They seemed pleased to get them.

It was almost as good as being back at work.

Day 15: Rue

When I began my WIP, the protagonist’s name was Rue. I chose it because I liked it and because it was a bit out of the ordinary. Not as original, perhaps, as Scarlett, Scout, Sherlock, or Heathcliff–but a name readers might remember.

About the second paragraph, trouble arose. Rue gave in to melancholy.

She worried.

She sighed.

She moped.

She moaned.

She lamented, repented, and repined.

Everything she said required employment of a semicolon.

If I hadn’t kept an eye on her, she’d have donated her tee-shirt and cutoffs to Goodwill and donned sackcloth and ashes.

After conspiring in her misery for several chapters, I finally stepped back and asked why the woman so lively and vivacious in my imagination had fallen into despair the moment she hit the page.

She told me, in no uncertain terms, that the problem was all mine. I’d been reading too much. Every time I wrote her name, I thought of poor, mad Ophelia, passing out wildflowers before floating down the stream to her death.

There’s fennel for you,and columbines:
There’s rue for you; and here’s some for me:…
O you must wear your rue with a difference.

And the poor Shropshire Lad, remembering.

With rue my heart is laden
For golden friends I had,
For many a rose-lipt maiden
And many a light-foot lad.

By brooks too broad for leaping
The light-foot boys are laid;
The rose-lipt maids are sleeping
In fields where roses fade.

I had named her Rue, after the flower symbolizing regret. How could I expect her to be lighthearted?

She was right.

So I renamed her Molly, and she’s been a live wire ever since.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



William Shakespeare, Hamlet, IV.v, @ http://www.shakespeare-navigators.com/hamlet/H45.html

A. E. Housman, ‘”With rue my heart is laden,” @ http://www.bartleby.com/123/54.html