Saturday, September 6, 2014

In Search of Egg Cream and Story

You count yourself fortunate to have a large menu of writers who impress you well beyond the point where there is no thought of emulating their themes and techniques or your ability to be imitative of them, should you entertain such thoughts.

At one time in your earlier years, being impressed by a particular writer meant trying to capture his or her style.  You soon saw through the futility of this.  Even if you were able to do a focused imitation, why would anyone wish it when they could have the real thing.

You read these writers with a precarious mixture of admiration, envy, frustration with your own visions and techniques, and a lingering sense of helpless wherein you are transformed into the literary equivalent of what a junior high school band sounds like.

For reasons not clear to you, the junior high school band metaphor is far from a reach; you still hear the sound of your junior high school band, whipped into a lather by Mrs. Perry, clangorous in your memory after all these years.  When you consider some of your contemporary favorite writers, you hear with your mind's ears The Emerson String Quartet or some of the early hard bop groups of Art Blakey or Horace Silver, leaving you the uncomfortable comparison to your own sound.

The sound is your sound.  You own it and you own up to hopes of hearing yourself come in at a better quality.  You experience a sense of helplessness of the sort you associate with the helplessness Jack Benny had in maintaining his composure when in the presence of George Burns.

Among contemporary writers who impress you is Thomas McGuane who, even today, appeared before you in the form of a fresh short story in the current issue of The New Yorker.  McGuane owns you.  The moment you enter his world, your mind begins racing.  You see an outrage, a concatenation of missed connections, blunted agendas, unwanted connections, and messy, stampeding connections with such elements as the universe and society.

McGuane is also one of a handful of writers you favor and whom you seem existentially unable to sit down to read a work through in one sitting or, if the work is longer, in a matter of a few days.  At the discovery of the new McGuane story and the first few paragraphs, you had to set the story aside to b rave the Friday go-home traffic southbound, hopeful of staying ahead of the surge all the way to Los Angeles, where you were scheduled for a reading and book signing of your recent short story collection.

Seated at a remote rear yard table at the Cafe Luna in Summerland this morning, you managed several paragraphs before someone unintentionally spilled coffee over you and the magazine, in effect foreclosing on your reading time until after your workshop had ended, by which time the pages of the magazine had formed what appeared to be an inseparable bond.

You managed a few more paragraphs of the story on line, enough to see how McGuane's art imitates life to the extent that his story took some wicked, unanticipated, whim-based turns which may or may not have coincided with whims of your own and insidious ways in which a yen or yearning becomes transformed into obsession.

You were overcome with a desire for an egg cream, a drink which has neither an egg nor cream in its chemistry.  An egg cream does contain milk, which you do have in your refrigerator, although your milk has been non fat for some time, while the egg creams of your past are of whole milk.  Egg creams also contain Fox's U-bet Chocolate syrup,

which may open some doors to allow substitution of Hershey's or Bosco, or,even more on the ugh side, any generic chocolate syrup.  Such substitutions will not do.  An egg cream, a proper egg cream, has as its constituent chocolate presence Fox's U-bet chocolate syrup. One inch of Fox's into a glass.  One inch of cold whole milk.  Now the difficult part,  Fill the rest of the glass with seltzer water, which is to say the old-fashioned siphon, pressure bottle.  Such things are not easy to come.  An ordinary bottle of carbonated water is a half-way measure because, alas, it does not produce a frothy collar of foam, the egg cream equivalent of a head.

This is where the day began to get away from you.  A yen is not to be satisfied with half-way measures.  The local source for Fox's U-bet does not have siphon bottles.  The sympathy with which you are regarded when you discuss the nostalgia of the egg cream turns to borderline irritation when you bring in devices that will in fact provide enough spritz to provoke a collar.
You are driven to Amazon, which is borderline taboo because of its attitude to book publishers, thus the following devices seem beyond your reach:
Thanks to some quality time in the microwave, you are able to get in a bit more of the McGuane story, which is also about things gone well beyond the pale of the ordinary.  You have also gone beyond this pale because unless you plan to drink a great any egg creams, your cost per unit is fated for an upward surge.

Fresh in your mind's eye is not the  idealized egg cream but Thomas McGuane's genial face, eyes twitching with mischief.  Whether in person or at a distance through a story, he has become one of the growing cadre of authors who drag you kicking and screaming from expectations of the ordinary.  This is a place you must identify for yourself and find at all costs.

Being out of the ordinary means more than knowing Gelson's Market has Fox's U-bet Syrup or that the classic egg cream must have seltzer.  Out of the ordinary means places you must go, persons you meet there, time you spend there in thrall to some yearning or other.

There is the additional fact that the walls of your kitchen, much of your gas range, and a good deal of the appliances adjacent the toaster are freckled with flecks of Fox's U-bet Syrup stains.  But that is another matter.

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