Wednesday, September 4, 2013


The moment you decide to love something is the moment you set a match to a fuse.  Before long, you can even hear the sizzle, then begin to wonder about the nature of the explosion.

You'd already read a number of books before that fateful rainy day when, in place of allowing your class out for its regular recess, Mrs. DeAngelo, with some trepidation, picked up a book, then began to read aloud from it.


No answer.


No answer.

"What's gone with that boy,  I wonder? You TOM!"

No answer.

The old lady pulled her spectacles down and looked over them about theroom; then she put them up and looked out under them. She seldom ornever looked _through_ them for so small a thing as a boy; they were
her state pair, the pride of her heart, and were built for "style," not
service--she could have seen through a pair of stove-lids just as well.
She looked perplexed for a moment, and then said, not fiercely, but
still loud enough for the furniture to hear:

"Well, I lay if I get hold of you I'll--"

You want to say you'd read hundreds of books by then, because you probably had.  You'd at least read enough so that the principal at your California school had invited you to borrow whichever books you wished from the library in her office.  Okay, at least a hundred.  At least.

The point is, when you heard Mrs. DeAngelo read those words, you knew how in some sense you were screwed, a word you knew then but were not allowed to use unless it had to do with such things as light bulbs into sockets or tops of peanut butter jars properly secured.  You knew screwed back in those days with a sense of meaning that implied something entirely beyond your control and with some probability of being beyond your conventional best interests.  Even then, nine, going on ten, you had some fantasies of what life beyond conventional horizons of a nine-year-old boy were like.

In ratification of this, you asked Mrs. DeAngelo that very rainy afternoon if it were possible for a person to make a living writing such things as that amazing story about a boy not terribly older than you.  He was a boy who had many of the adventures you craved, living in a Los Angeles where there were still empty lots, and where, within walking distance from you, a Goodyear blimp landed from time to time in the midst of a golf driving range.

To her credit, Mrs. De Angelo told you how very fortunate you'd be to be able to write such stories as that one, and how much you could learn about writing such stories if you were to read everything Mr. Mark Twain wrote to, as she put it, get the hang of how he was able to do so.

An indication of how badly screwed you felt, even though at the time you had no way of recognizing many of the implications of being screwed, came when you made a deal, a Faustian pact, really, which resulted in you having in your hands that very day your own copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, for which you parted with twenty-nine cents, the going price for the book at a local drug store.

You had some experience with Faustian pacts equivalent with your incomplete knowledge of  what being screwed meant.  In the case of the twenty-nine cents needed for the copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, a Faustian pact meant you'd mortgaged Saturday movies for the next three weeks.

Two days later, you'd finished reading your own copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which seemed to you of a stature grander than any Faustian pact, even not being able to go to the Saturday movie at the Roxy Theater, also called The Garlic House, in what you later discovered was a racist slur directed against certain of its patrons.  You were, as they say, on a learning curve about many things, including how to make a living writing stories with such an epic scope as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

You had no idea how you'd come to dislike Tom Sawyer down the line, partly because of the many things Tom Sawyer did in the book, and his insistence on doing things that produced adventure.

But as you observed earlier, deciding to love something has consequences.  Love a thing deeply enough and the consequences can become lifelong, and as the saying goes, Devil take the hindmost, which is something you came to understand better as you had more experiences.  At those early times of saying Devil take the hindmost, you didn't realize you were relegating on of the more fearsome presences in your universe to the equivalent of the rear end of a chicken.  

You were more afraid of Injun Joe than you were of any old Devil.  You'd heard some interesting speculation about the Devil and God playing games in a book called The Book of Job, and since you'd begun thinking of ways to make a living wage from writing books, you went so far as to consider you might someday write your own version of The Book of Job, trying out for a job rather than being selected by God just because it was clear to God and the Devil how Job loved God.

You thought you understood why Achilles was so pissed in The Iliad. You had to go out of the house to use words like pissed, but once, while at dinner with your parents and sister, you confessed to being as mad about something as Achilles.  Your sister later explained to you the nuances of why Achilles was so pissed, and you decided you'd have to hold onto that one.

At the time, yet another splendid word came your way, and because it was Spanish and connected with profanity, it seemed reasonable to use the word when you were out of the house, in particular when you were removed from California and felt a terrible longing for it, you might even say a form of love.

The word was--and still is--pinche, a favored adjective you would not truly appreciate until its mysteries were explained to you by the bullfighter, Carlos Arruza.  Meanwhile, you were careful with the use of the word, a remarkable secret for a young boy with an owlish face, who was always breaking his glasses.

Thanks to Mrs.DeAngelo, the next book of Mr. Mark Twain you read was A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court,  which, to use a word you thought you understood well enough at the time, seemed pretty darned swell to you, and kept you in a large sense distracted from the sizzle of that fuse that had been lit.

At the time these tumultuous things were going on within the forge of your psyche, you were learning a number of things that might not on their face make it easier for you to earn any kind of living from stories you might write but would at least give you a sense of what to expect from aspects of love you were able to get a grip on.

You'd kissed a girl named Elise, which at the time didn't seem all that remarkable, and you'd come to realize that a girl named Rena, whose last name in Italian means Sings-while-she-walks or, if you prefer, Walks-while-singing (Passacantando) made you swear you would learn Italian so you could translate other marvels.  

And, having finished A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, you found something to love in ways you'd never expected, caused you to look at things in ways you'd never imagined possible, caused you to wish to add substance to any subsequent adventures on which you might embark.  It also caused you to see things about The Adventures of Tom Sawyer that would forever change the way that early love effected you.  

The something was a released trapped dream for at least its first eighty percent of duration.  You can close your eyes and hear it begin, deep inside, its voice telling you, yes, you can find the place in you that sounds as true and open and vulnerable as this, and now that you have heard it, you must promise to look and listen for your own, which you can never hope to do without taking the biggest risk of all, which is falling in love.

"You don't know about me,"  the released trapped dream says, "without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly -- Tom's Aunt Polly, she is -- and Mary, and the Widow Douglas is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before."

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