Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Those, You Might Say, Are the Breaks

There are, to be sure, trade winds, planetary winds, Westerly winds, monsoon winds, and Santana .  There are winds of change, and in the song "These Foolish Things," there are the winds of March.  And then, those imaginative assemblages of trees we know of as wind breaks, meant to shield us in some way or other from the ravages of wind.  

You have only to hear this last defense against wind uttered before you exploit the versatility to the language to reverse the term, turn the noun of break into its verb form, in order to deal in metaphor and humor with yet another kind of wind.  You will use a variation on this theme later on to make your exit.

One of the many books you have brought into the world indeed is about this last, breaking wind aspect. Joseph Pujol, (1857-1945) led a professional life many individuals can only dream of; he also contributed, although unknowingly, to your rise in the publishing world.  

A man of a vast, rare, and considerable talent, Pujol's life had been set down in manuscript form, published in a limited edition in his native France, then rendered into an English text which found its way onto your desk in the 1600-block of North La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles.

As you recall the event, you were at about page two in your reading when your publisher, a no-nonsense man who enjoyed vacationing in hospitals, stood outside your office, bent on chastising you for some now forgotten offense.  Instead, hearing your escalating laughter, he waited.  Sure enough, as you turned the pages, your laughter increased.  "This is another of your pranks, right?"  he said, stepping into your office.

You assured him it was not.  Rather it was a work for which English language rights were available, given you by a frequent visitor to your office, Maurice Girodias, the French Publisher and founder of Olympia Press.  

How amazing, the ways of serendipity.  The material Girodias had left you, a more-or-less biography of Joseph Pujol, had the French title, Le Petomaine.  Pujol, sometimes listed as a night club performer, could also be listed as a flatulist.  His abilities to break wind were epic in their sounds and special effects.  The book, Le Ptomaine, was the only time you've sponsored a book through the acquisitions process without words.  Your laughter did the trick. Thus broken winds.  

Some years later, when you were being considered as the lead man for the Los Angeles office of a New York publisher, wishing to make an equivalent Dodgers and Giants to L.A. sort of move, you were questioned by the person who was to become your new publisher.  "They tell me you are the one who found that farting book."  your reply was a neutral, "Yes, ma'am."  But hers was not. "People do not,"  she said, "fart in my books.  Is that clear?"

Le Petomaine caught up with you one additional time, when one of your dearest friends, a man who'd lived a remarkable and varied life, began speaking about, "the most interesting fellow in France.  There seems to have been a book about him."

"Pujol,"  you said.  "Joseph Pujol."

"I know your head's filled with great stores of arcana, but how could you possibly--" his question was left hanging, until, a week or so later,  when he thrust at you a copy of the book you'd last seen some thirty years earlier.  "I might have known you'd have had a hand in this."

There are still other winds to consider, not the least of which is the ill wind, the one of myth that blows no good, being a harbinger of misfortune, calamity, or some similar, and the kind of pun you enjoy, given life by the famed orchestral conductor, Sir Thomas Beauchamp.  Speaking of the French horn, he ventured, it is "an ill wind that nobody blows good."

The measure of your contempt for ill wind as a concept resides in the dash you give it to make it ill-wind, one of which has tracked you down in the manner of the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century suspense novels in which someone approaches the innocent narrator, thrusts a brief case or envelope or box into his hands, then disappears.  This ill-wind is indeed the wind of illness; it has filled your sinuses with a gluey presence, given your head the impression it has been forced to wear a hat several sizes too small for it, and turned your throat into those drooping, sticky spirals of your, fly paper, meant to arrest and hold flies prisoner.  This says nothing of your frame of mind, which is schadenfreude in the making, causing you to think ahead of misfortunes that might happen to others in which you could take some pleasure.

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