Sunday, June 3, 2007


Not long ago, you wrote to a student who was feeling defeated by not getting the time she would like to have in order to complete an assignment: "We’re under constant assault from things clamoring for our attention, all wanting to be heard. Some of them are not even from this time, voices and regrets from the past, yowling at us, or voices from the future, wondering what we are going to do then. Thus our attention is yanked from our enthusiasm by the crying babies of immediacy."

As if to ratify this theory, as you were making a list of things needed to be addressed in some degree, including humorous acknowledgments of taking Sally for a walk, you were shouted at with persistence by the crying baby of nostalgia, yanking you from books that need to be written for yourself, edited for others, and read for review purposes, to say nothing of taking Sally for a walk and reading student papers, back to the newsstand at Pico Boulevard and La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles, back to the insistent gravure colors of science fiction novels, noir mysteries, and thrillers, back to the unforgettable sights and smells of penny candy.

Tall shelves, filled with apothecary jars, riotously proclaiming the same forthright colors of the paperback novel colors, seem like carnival stalls in their gaiety. If you were in your preteens, your cash on hand would be limited, each decision an agony. Jaw breakers lasted longer, but there was the lure of the miniature wax bottles, shaped like milk bottles, filled with colored liquid. Orange slabs,shaped like scimitars, with the word BANANA embossed on the top were memorable as marshmallowy chewy treats; jelly beans, five cents a handful, long red and black licorice whips. All temptations, things to be catalogued for times when you had more pennies to spend.

But now you are well into your twenties, mindful of your wish to have your own stories published in the likes of Gold Medal, Ace, and Bantam Books with their equally carnival-like covers. (The first thing you did when you became an editor for Dell paperbacks was to request copies of the older editions of the mysteries with maps of the crime scenes on the back cover.) From time to time, you can actually see a magazine in this stand bearing a story of yours. You are broke as a beginning writer is broke, which means you can take pleasure in the small triumph of buying an entire sack of penny candy, eating it while reading an Avon or Dell or Bantam mystery or one of the Gold Medals your friend Day Keene produced every month.

This was the time when you played center field in the writers' baseball game, and sometimes, when many of the regulars were too hungover to play, kids would be invited to take seemingly less important positions, right field or second base, and they would call you sir--throw it over here, sir; or He's trying to steal, sir, or, I have it, sir, and they chewed big wads of bubble gum, the baseball-playing-kid's equivalent of growing a moustache to look older, and even though their cheeks had that faux bulge of professionalism and authority, you knew, you were certain that they didn't know about penny candy.

1 comment:

lettuce said...

great sweeties memories