Sunday, October 22, 2006

Back in the Saddle Again, No. 2

NOTE: We were unable to post yesterday's Daily Growler due to not being able to get on the old Blogger Dashboard. Here 'tis NOW, the only important time there is.

My Ballyard Is Dark

I did not watch the World Series tonight. I looked in occasionally. Saint Louis was whacking the Tigers--like in the Indian bush where beaters beat the brush and scare the tigers out into the open so the big, fat, pompous rajahs can blow them away with high-powered hunting rifles like the one Ernest Hemingway used to blow the whole top of his aching head off back in 1961.

It's hard for me to believe Papa's been dead for 45 years. God, it seems like only yesterday as a young man wanting to be a writer I was reading of his death in the papers and then about his funeral in Life Magazine and that magazine, with Papa's picture on the cover, had in the dead middle of the magazine, where the Playboy centerfolds are attached, was a two-page spread showing a wide-angled photograph of Papa's graveside funeral in the Ketchum, Idaho, cemetery, shot from way back up west of the cemetery and shot so that you were looking down at the cemetery in a valley below, a valley overwhelmed by the presence of the Sawtooth Mountains looming over that cemetery like huge sleeping elephants dwarfing that small cemetery and the small gathering of people around the gravesite, the priest standing at the head of the open grave with Papa's casket made a toy by that dwarfing, and the string of cars parked on the cemetery road in the distant foreground, one of them a Lincoln Continental, not a new one, but a classic 1940s original with the spare tire mounted on the outside of the trunk and what came to be known in the car customizing world after that as a "Continental spare," a much more continental car than the later versions of it. My brother had an 1980s Continental, the one with the Cartier signed windows in it but it wasn't as elegant as those originals, Cartier-signed windows and butter-soft leather interior or not. That photo of Papa's funeral so captured my imagination it led me on a huge thirst to in a binge of reading read every Hemingway book I could get my mits on. I went to a small bookstore in Abilene, Texas, on Cypress Street in that prairie town, and there on a rack display were all of Hemingway's Scribner's books in paperback, very expensive paperbacks, all over a $1.50 and some of them $1.95. I had a twenty dollar bill I had earned working on a highway building project up north of Abilene--I rode on the back of the asphalt machine and controlled the spray bar, which in the upright position was turned off but when you lowered it, it began spraying liquid asphalt all over the caliche gravel base the scrubs had spread out with shovels as they slow trailed a dumping dump truck as it jerked along with its bed raised high in the air like a skyscraper to make the caliche stones roll down in big gulps to empty onto the graded roadbed where the shovelers, poor bastards, had to spread it out fast because the Barber-Greene asphalt spreader on which I was controlling the spreader bar was coming right behind them slowly but surely.

I rode on a little steel step on the back of that spreader that placed me just above this seven-foot wide iron tube capped at each end with a lot of holes drilled in circles around it so that when the hot liquid asphalt from the asphalt cooker was pressured into it that mad-hot asphalt pissed out of that bar all over the damn place and it was up to me to get that damn bar lowered all the way down near the ground fast or it would explode all over everywhere and piss all over me and that's what it felt like when it rained up onto me--like hot piss--and I've pissed on myself, and we all have, come on, so I know that feeling and that's what that hot asphalt spurting out of that pipe and hitting me felt like. I had to let the asphalt flow until I was told by the foreman to pull the bar up and shut off the flow, and then I had to slam that bar up fast as hell or I got pissed on again.

Then after that devilish drill, I had to take this filthy mop-like thing and wipe that bar clean for the next spraying, which meant, to be faster, that I had to jump down off my step and right straight down into the hot tar we'd just spread and run with my mop along that pipe as quickly as possible up and back down it with that mop, then lope back leap up on my step and stash that bloody tarry mop back in the bucket full of gasoline I kept it in between spreadings. All the time your job is like being in Holy Hell, that big cooker just in front of you is boiling that asphalt with a rumbling roar and you can feel its intensive heat coming at you and you dare not lose your balance and fall against it or you know you'll get your ass baked and, too, it's spewing that thick tar smell out to engulf the air you're breathing--and that asphalt cooker is hot and being around it is like facing a furnace and it's West Texas in the summer so the temperature is in the 90s and the sun is monstrously close to you in that high open sky out there--so Hell hath no fury like laying an asphalt highway on the bald-open prairie of West Texas in the middle of summer, high July, half naked (only a thin throwaway jersey type shirt) under the scalding glory of that magnificent Sun--the first God ever!

But I was a cool asphalt spreader operator and the boss paid me a twenty-dollar bill every afternoon late we stopped for the day, though sometimes we set up our generators and our spotlights and worked all night--in order to complete the job in the time we'd contracted to finish it. On those days, I got 2 twenties, pretty good for a college kid.

So that day in that bookstore with that twenty bucks I'd made off laying that asphalt, I bought A Farewell to Arms, The Torrents of Spring, The Sun Also Rises, In Our Time, and For Whom the Bell Tolls.

I knew nothing about Hemingway's writing at that time. I had read excerpts from A Farewell to Arms in a college composition class, but the only part of the book I remember was that wonderful opening paragraph and I read it so many times I memorized it it was so powerful to me as a would-be writer.

And that's what I was, a would-be writer. My grandmother was a published writer; by then my brother had published a couple of articles in The Atlantic Monthly, plus my college roommate had already published--he wrote potboilers, like Trailer Camp Trash and The Hollywood Vixen, that were published by a paperback publisher in Ohio that specialized in such literary garbage, though I thought The Hollywood Vixen was a great book, and it was all about a real aunt he really really had who really really lived in L.A. and who really really worked for a studio in really real Hollywood.

So when my roommate and I were celebrating our graduating from college, with me I had to do a term paper in 5 days and make at least a B on it before they would let me graduate, and he had struggled his last year after discovering the delights of a young woman schoolteacher who kept his head in romance rather than in studies, so we graduated by the skin of our teeth. The week after the graduation ceremony, I drove back over to college to get my stuff out of my room and my roommate was there, too, and we packed his stuff in my car and told our landlady goodbye and headed toward his hometown, a few miles west and on the way to my hometown. When we were approaching the turnoff to his home, he suddenly said, "Wanna keep on driving?" I said, "Wha?" He said, "Keep on drivin' west. Let's go see my aunt in California, man. Let's get some cold beer and hit the highway like Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, man. On the Road, baby." What a great idea, I chirped, and pointed my '53 Chevvy due west toward La-La Land, to hell with Texas and our parents and girlfriends and friends who were waiting for our triumphant return this time as Masters of Arts. In three days we were standing on the corner of Hollywood and Vine right smack-dab in the middle of Glitter and Glitz--"Jesus Christ, JP, look over that Natalie Wood?" And I was in total love with Natalie Wood, and then even more seeing her up close and in the flesh-- one of the most lusciously beautiful women of all time--even to this day, she still rings uniquely beautiful in my mind, even though when she died the good life was beginning to sag her and put alcoholic bags under her eyes; then one night while partying with her husband, Robert Wagner (who's ironically still very much alive doing old fogey ads on teevee these days), and his lucky bastard Hollywood friends, she ended up in the drink having fallen off their yacht--or so old Bob Wagner said. An accident? She died holding an empty champagne glass in her hand. And then the joke was "What do you call a dead woman's body holding a champagne glass and floating in San Pedro Harbor?" The answer, of course, is "Natalie Wood."

Rebel Without a Cause was the movie that caused me to fall in love with Natalie--God, she was pure sexual in that movie. Later, the book the movie came from, by Dr. Robert Lindner, and his other truly great book, The Fifty-Minute Hour, opened my eyes to psychiatry--I was already steeped in Freud but not analysis--these books opened up my eyes to analysis and how it could work. F James Dean, by the way; I never liked him; he was a Bogart copycat, nothing more; and now, every Hollywood joy-boy copies old Jimmy. All high-minded young men in my day were cooler than James Dean, a hayseed from some Midwest cornfield--we were Beat; James Dean was not Beat, which comes from the word "beatific."

So, I didn't watch the World Series game. Just couldn't. Once the Yankees were out of it, and that's how pompous we Yankee fans are, it means nothing to me. Saint Louis? Detroit? Who cares. Except a lot of my friends are from Detroit so I don't mind cheering for Detroit--though my best Michigan friend cares nothing at all about baseball so I'm sure he gives not one damn iota whether I cheer for Detroit or not. [By the bye, I was wrong in saying in a past post that Detroit set a record by losing over 90 games three years ago--90 my ass; they lost 119 games three years ago and 90 something the next year. How dare the Yankees lose to the Tigers--who are paper tigers this year, I guarantee ya.]

Instead, I read Hemingway. Men Without Women. The only Hemingway I could find in my apartment, though I do see a pile of books on a high bookshelf in that corner of my room that could have a couple of Hemingways in it--though that stack of books is so covered with good old NYC grime I can't see any of the titles. But Men Without Women is a fun book and I gobbled it down and missed the end of the World Series.

By the way, here's what Ernest Hemingway thought of war:

I know war as few other men now living know it, and nothing to me is more revolting. I have long advocated its complete abolition, as its very destructiveness on both friend and foe has rendered it useless as a method of settling international disputes.


for The Daily Growler

NOTE: This was Yesterday's Post. Our only missed day in quite a while.

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