Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Books in the Cellar #17, and Snow

While the snow was coming down, and coming down and coming down, sometimes in heavy wet flakes the size of mouse mittens, sometimes busily in lighter flakes like abandoned eyelashes, and when I was not checking my email for EMERGENCY NOTICES from our town manager reporting on the inches accumulated, the branches broken and plummeting and the streets unplowed, I read Hints on Writing Short Stories, by Charles J. Finger (Little Blue Book #326, 1922)

While it snowed a few more inches, maybe a foot, I studied The Plot Genie, by Wycliffe A. Hill, 1934.

Only when the snowplow got stuck in our driveway did I put down the book and venture out with my trusty snow shovel. It would take more than my snow shovel to extract the plow truck from the snow bank in which it was embedded like a zircon in an engagement ring for a destined-to-be-short-lived marriage. A chain was located, and they hitched the plow truck to CSB’s behemoth, and he stepped on the gas. I fondly recalled the truck pull event at the Windsor County Fair (noise, engines grunting, dirt/snow spitting up as the wheels spin, more noise and smoke, cheering from the sidelines), and finally the plow truck was pulled free.
My shovel and I continued our aimless wandering.
Then the truck skidded and got stuck about two centimeters from a hemlock, and the process was repeated in reverse. Connect the chain from the plow truck to CSB’s truck, put the truck in gear, honk the horn, step on the gas, watch the snow fly and the wheels spin. The dogs leapt from snow bank to snow bank in glee.

Charles Finger is big on Sincerity in a story. He also points out that whether you make your hero a “Chinaman, an Eskimo or a Patagonian” he will be more or less like you, the author, “a being with faults, virtues, vices, meannesses, ideas and hopes, and in him the potential angel will be mixed with a good deal of the ape, the tiger and the pig.” He advises us that Murder in literature has gone out of fashion, and on the all-important question of Sex in literature, he tells us “it is folly to hide it or to pretend that things are otherwise. A writer should not be mealy mouthed.” On the matter of blizzards and snow squalls (subjects ever flowing from my leaky pen, as my diligent readers well know) he says nothing, which is a shame.

Then I turned to The Plot Genie (endorsed by the American Fiction Guild). In this brilliant compendium of all possible plots, the writer establishes that a good story starts with LOCALE and ends with a CLIMAX, and in between we get CHARACTER, MOTIVATION, OBSTACLE, METHOD, and CRISIS. He offers 180 samples of each element, and we can put them together as we see fit. It is like Mad-Libs for Grown-ups. So as the snow stuck to every twig and branch and eave and bird feeder, I chose for my locale: On a Bayou.
My character is A Duellist.
His motivation? To be Forgiven by a Loved one who has been Wronged.
The obstacle is an Obsession,
And the method of attack is Use of Sex Appeal. (I could have picked Feigning Suicide. Difficult.)
The crisis? One is About to Slay an Unrecognized Kinsman.
Leading us to the climax, In Which a Supposedly Interesting or Funny STory told by a Character Exposes his Guilt.

There you have it. Nothing could be simpler. My story is written. (And unlike the poor sap in 1922, if I know nothing about a Bayou, I can just look for one on the Internet.)

My next story will be At the morgue (locale), with a Jokester (Character), and Desire to Escape Inclement Weather (motivation), facing The Presence of a Sinister Influence (Obstacle), using A Sudden Disguise (Method), until It is Discovered that one has overdone a thing so That an Opposite Effect is Created (Crisis), then A Person in jeopardy is saved by an Unrecognized one whom he has Befriended in the Past. (Climax)

There is, I know, a mathematical formula for calculating the number of possible variations when we have seven categories each consisting of 180 possibilities. I do not know the formula but I feel confident that someone out there does, and I am probably related to him.
It is probably a number larger than the number of broken branches and snapped trees in our yard, but not by much.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Striking Similes #1352

Little Blue Book #1354 is called Striking Similes, and I have done my readers the enormous favor of reading through this entire book(let) and culling from it my favorites, which I have categorized as the following:

Similes I just like and hope to use sometime soon:

Near as the bark to the tree
Close as the cu’s in cucumber
Dumb as a senator
Low as a snake’s belt buckle
Useless as whistling psalms to a dead horse
Rotten as the gills of an old mushroom
Miserable as a frost-bitten apple
Wild as a maniac’s dream
Crooked as a snake with colic
Sad as a subpoena
Thin as the girl who swallowed the pit of an olive and was rushed to the maternity hospital
Safe as a stone in a peach
Noisy as a living skeleton having a fit on a hardwood floor
Droll as Eliezer who wrote 300 volumes on sowing cucumbers
Yellow as the jaundice
Black as the inside of a fountain pen
Mouth like a venomous flower
Hair like an exploded can of tomato soup
Breasts like blind faces lifted in prayer
Apparent like a microbe’s eyebrow
Sore as a porcupine with ingrown quills
Sigh like the dying gasp of a siphon bottle
Race like an epileptic dervish
Yawn like a bored tiger
Stumble like a cat shod with walnuts

Similes I don’t quite get & would appreciate someone explaining to me:

Pure as a bishop’s bathroom
Sweet as the head of your cane
Merry as three beans in a blue bladder
Safe as a crow in a gutter
Dead as Chelsea
Obsolete as a Congress shoe
Courageous as the cocks of Tanagra
Dangerous as men milliners
Face like an open letter in a foreign tongue
Stand like Mumphazard who was hanged for saying nothing
Swoon like a couple of billiard balls about to kiss
Wheeze like a calliope with sore tonsils

Dated similes:
Cold as a hot water bottle in the morning
Busy as a one-eared telephone operator

Completely inappropriate/un-PC similes:
Naked as an Indian’s back
Gay as a Negro funeral
Right as the Church of England
Quiet as a woman the first day and a half after she is married
Silent as a Japanese
Calm as a Mandarin
Yellow as a Chinaman
Oriental as a rug

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Another Sicilian tourist attraction, another Incorruptible

Blessed Bernard Scammacca, presumably while still alive

I should have alerted you to Blessed Bernard Scammacca a couple of days ago when it was his feast day, but since most of the exciting things about Blessed B happened after he’d been dead for a while, I don’t feel especially remiss. He was one of those saints who led a riotous & wild & sinful youth, then got sick, & got religion. In due course he died, in 1486, and stayed that way for 15 years. Then, in 1501, (the dead) Bernard appeared to the prior of the abbey and demanded a more exalted burial place. Imagine the prior’s surprise. Naturally he complied and when Bernard was dug up it was discovered that his body was Incorrupt. More than that, while his body was being translated to a more upscale tomb, the church bells rang of their own accord.
Years after that, a local nobleman tried to steal Bernard’s remains but his henchmen could not lift the body, which had become miraculously heavy.
I haven’t been there myself but if you are in the town of San Domenico in Catania, Sicily – you can see Bd. Bernard’s still incorrupt body in the church of S. Biagio. Though it is said he is getting somewhat dry.

A (mostly) true story

SCENE: Upscale assisted care facility (formerly called nursing homes) in Cambridge mass, populated with aging liberals, intellectuals, academics and Unitarians-Universalists. (YewYews). Tastefully decorated common room (no sharp edges, no breakable objects) with ample bookshelves, a green baize card table at one end and a chess table at the other end. Comfortable chairs are arranged throughout (but not so soft that they are impossible to rise from). A very large screen television is on one wall. Doors are extra wide to accommodate wheelchairs. About a dozen residents are seated in anticipation of a showing of the film, The Importance of Being Earnest (the 2002 version with Judi Dench as Lady Bracknell).
The DIRECTOR of the facility stands up and announces the film, and proceeds to sketch Oscar Wilde’s biography and relate some history of the play, its success on the London stage in 1895, and Wilde’s subsequent decline.
MR. X (a resident of the facility; his elegant attire – a suit and ascot – is rendered somewhat ridiculous by his shirttail which hangs out his open fly): Oh shut up and show the damn movie.
SAVI (mother of our dear friend Paco): (indignantly) Can you please let him finish speaking.
MR. X: Mind your own beeswax.
SAVI: That is very rude.
MR X turns around, raises his cane (at this point it is not known whether the cane was of lightweight aluminum, or a heavier weight wood) and smacks SAVI on her left upper arm. She has a sharp intake of breath. They are both very obviously surprised by how hard he hit her (MR X) and how much it hurt (SAVI).
The Nurses’ Aide looks up from texting on her iPhones, and rushes over to check on SAVI. The Head nurse comes in and removes Mr. X.
DIRECTOR: Where were we?

That evening the director of the facility calls Paco to tell him of this incident, and asks whether he would like to file assault charges against Mr. X.
Paco speaks with his mother, Savi, and asks how she is.
SAVI: I’m fine, how are you? Are you warm enough?
PACO: How is your arm? Does it still hurt?
SAVI: My arm? There’s a strange bruise on it but I don’t know how it got there. I must have fallen while cross-country skiing.
PACO: You don’t cross-country ski anymore. Mr. X hit you with his cane.
SAVI: Don’t be ridiculous. Why would he do that?

Mr. X does not remember the incident either. He does, however, claim to have fond memories of attending the first run of The Importance of Being Earnest at the St. James’ Theatre.
So here is the dilemma, should the children file an assault charge against Mr. X on behalf of their mother? He is clearly guilty, and there are plenty of witnesses.
Most of them, however, cannot remember.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

In case you missed this

"The bitch* beat out a French bulldog, a toy poodle, a Doberman, a Brittany, a puli, and a whippet named Chanel who can run 35 miles** per hour for the top title."

* Sadie, the Scottish terrier
** in high heels

(From this morning's Daily Beast Cheat Sheet)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Yet another middle finger theory

Some of the things I most appreciate about Alban Butler, writer of Butler’s Lives of the Saints & source of much of my entertainment, are his incredulity, his withholding of that willing suspension of disbelief in the face of impossible or ridiculous, and his voice of reason while describing the most appalling or improbable acts.
Today, for instance.
Having told us, regarding saints Faustinus and Jovita, that “all the incidents of their reputed “acts” are of doubtful authority”, he goes on to shore up this doubt: “A single feature may be cited to illustrate the extravagance which characterizes these hagiographical romances. When taken to Rome and Naples the martyrs are represented as having baptized …191,128 persons.” That is more people than there are, at this very minute, in Salt Lake City or Providence, Rhode Island or even Huntsville, Alabama, whose population is lately reduced.

But I really wanted to share this bit about Saint Walfrid*, a 9th Italian abbot. After a happy marriage that produced 5 sons and a daughter, Walfrid and his wife decided they preferred to enter the monastery and convent. Along with Walfrid came his favorite son, Gimfrid. But just as he was about to make his final vows, Gimfrid got cold feet and fled the abbey. Walfrid prayed for his son’s swift return, and when that didn’t happen he prayed to God to send Gimfrid a sign to forever after remind him of his folly and be a warning for the rest of life.
The same day Gimfrid was found and brought back to the abbey, with the middle finger of his right hand so mutilated that he could never use it again.
Butler does not tell us what Gimfrid was doing that so trashed his middle finger, but we do learn that he never left the abbey again.

*Not to be confused with the Brother Walfrid who founded the Celtic Football Club in 1888.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy whichever saint's day you choose

You are probably expecting that I will tell you some new and bizarre factoid about Saint Valentine, today being the anniversary of his beheading in 269 AD during the persecutions of Claudius the Goth, so named on account of his predilection for frightening black mascara. Seriously.

But I am assuming you already know everything there is to know about Saint Valentine and the hagiographic confusion surrounding his feast day on account of there having been two Valentines, so I thought I would hark back a couple of days (to the 11th, to be exact) which was the feast of Saint Gobnata who is not celebrated with greeting cards or pink heart-shaped cookies or 11,500 tons of Candy Hearts or 16,100 tons if the Necco [New England Confectionary Company] factories work seven-day weeks. Unlike St. Valentine, who is honored wherever the vast worldwide network of Hallmark has spread its tentacles, St. Gobnait or Gobnata or Gobhnet (you can see why my sister might sympathize with her) is known in a small corner of County Cork, Ireland.
Back in the 6th century, Gobnata was an abbess (or maybe a cowgirl) who protected her church’s sacred grounds from her enemies by flinging her beehives upon them. In another version, she is warding off cattle rustlers with the bees. And in a version worthy of Ovid, as Gobnata shakes the bees loose they are miraculously transformed into soldiers, and the hive becomes a brass helmet.
So celebrate.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Emergency Nuptial Flight

After last weekend’s disappointment in the snow department (Washington got tons, we got squat.) it is heartening to see how the predicted “blizzard” of tomorrow is galvanizing our town.
Our town of Hastings on Hudson has declared a snow emergency, and in Ariel Size 18 Bold Font emailed a list of all the streets you cannot park on and reminded business owners to shovel the sidewalks.
The Center for Fiction will be closed tomorrow, and encourages you to read.
Federated Conservationists of Westchester Efficient Energy lecture is rescheduled.
In anticipation of the paper deliverer being unable to deliver our paper tomorrow, the Journal News says it will give us access to their E-Edition. And this is just the beginning.

Meanwhile I fear I may have gone over the edge, Little Blue Book-wise. As some of you may be aware I have been obsessed with the Little Blue Books I discovered in the ancestral basement.

I just took the obsession a step farther. Upon learning of the existence Blue Book #728- Fascinating Facts about Life Among the Bees,* by Vance Randolph and because this precious volume was not among the ones collected by my mystery grandparent, I searched on-line and bought a copy of this blue book for $4.00 (+S&H), which means that I paid 80 x the original price. This is seems ridiculously inflated to me and I assume it does to you as well.

Not only that, but in this otherwise delightful & small book, Vance Randolph perpetrates a myth about the impregnation of the queen. Regarding the nuptial flight he writes:
“Even the pleasures of sex are almost denied the Queen [I love the insertion of almost in there], who often lives and lays eggs for three or four years, but copulates only once. When the queen is about a week old she comes out of the hive for the first time, to engage in her nuptial flight, for there is no sexual intercourse in the hive. After a little coquettish pirouetting about the entrance, she is off like a rocket, followed by every drone within sight, smell or hearing. One of these gallants overtakes her, usually at a great height, and the sexual embrace lasts but a moment. The male is unable to extract his penis from the vagina of the queen, and the entire copulatory apparatus is torn out of his body, dragging with it the other internal organs and killing him immediately. The queen returns to the hive with this whitish mass attached to her abdomen, or to use one of Maeterlinck’s luscious phrases, “She descends…trailing behind her, like an oriflamme, the unfolded entrails of her lover.” The workers pull these organs out of the queen’s body, and her brief love-life – lasting15 or 20 minutes at best – is at an end.”
I could easily be so enamored of Randolph’s prose that I might miss the one error. The queen mates with more than one drone. She mates with as many drones as possible on that nuptial flight, because it is good to vary the hive’s genetic material and because she needs enough spermatozoa to last for all those years of laying up to 2000 eggs a day.
Life Among the Bees came out in 1924, which may explain for this error.

All Aboard Science Reader – Honeybees (Grosset & Dunlap, 2003) has no such excuse. In this book for beginning readers, it states: “All the drones fly after her. Only one drone will mate with the queen.” Did the writer want to sanitize the queen bee’s polygamous nuptial flight? Will we care less about honeybees if we know the truth of the queen’s sex-life? Will we like honey more if the queen is monogamous?

* In the Free Catalogue of 1150 Little Blue Books, published by Haldeman-Julius. The minimum order was $1.00; for ¢50 you could order a leather holder.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Joan of Arc Park

First I abjectly failed what must surely be a litmus test for determining who is – or is not – a true New Yorker. I drove in town for a party and was extremely pleased with myself for having found a legal parking spot on Riverside in the high 90’s. (After a few lengthy sojourns at the Impound Lot on Pier 40, I now read the parking signs carefully, and repeatedly.)I backed in and did the parallel park dance (I may not be a certified urbanite, but my parallel parking is RAWTHER good.) when suddenly an SUV completes a U-turn and pulls along beside me and starts honking. I stare blankly. He lowers his windows and says some unfortunate things about my character. He claims that he had his eye on this space all along and who am I to steal it. I mention that I had not seen him, and by the way, didn’t he just pull a Uey? My character is further castigated.
But here is the insane part. I pulled out of the cozy space, and gave it to him.
I can’t explain this.
(If my one-legged Chilean psychiatrist were still alive, we could have a lovely time parsing the meaning of this. But he is not. I did, however, speak with a gentleman at the party in question who had an Argentinean psychiatrist with a shriveled arm. In both cases they were geniuses who spoke with thick accents.)

So you can imagine my delight when, after finding another parking space, I am walking down Riverside Drive and come upon the Joan of Arc Island. There is such a thing. (I am a Joan of Arc fan, and not because we have anything in common. I don’t ride horses, hear voices, or want to save the kingdom of France. But I admire her enormously. To prove it: my cup of tea is this very moment sitting on a Joan of Arc coaster.) High upon a Gothic pedestal is an equestrian statue of Joan of Arc. The horse’s right front leg is raised, presumably because she was injured but not killed in battle. The statue is by Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973), an American sculptor who specialized in animals, and especially horses. Because Joan is atop the horse, which is atop the pedestal and also because it was nighttime, I could not make out Joan’s attire in any great detail. In fact, from my vantage point, what I could see most clearly were the horse’s testicles.

I plan to return with binoculars.

Joan of Arc would never, ever, have given up a legitimate, legal and well-deserved parking space.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Because today is the feast of Saint Brigid (if you want to see her relics, go to Ireland; however if you want to see her skull you will have to trek to Lisbon where they reside in a Jesuit church) I am recalling my sister’s happy youth when her name was universally both misspelled and mispronounced. Some of our family favorites were:

And then she mystified us all by marrying a man with a generally pronounceable and spellable name, and took it as her own. When she could have chosen the very dapper F. Brzcnskeugy or Helffmuth von Pfickelhaube.

I was very pleased to learn that St Birgit is the patron saint of Chicken farmers, among whom we hope to soon count ourselves. (Better Chicken farmers than fugitives, nuns, printing presses and bastards – other patronees of Saint Brigid).