Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Footsteps


After a brief flirtation around the age of seven with becoming a restaurateur and another of relatively greater duration around the age of ten, wherein you saw yourself in the future designing airplanes, you pretty well embarked on your destiny even before puberty when a determined downpour of rain foreclosed recess, forcing a wary Mrs. De Angelo, your fourth grade teacher in desperation to read to the class in lieu of allowing us to run ourselves to a more mailable afternoon state.

Almost from the beginning, and in spite of Mrs. DeAngelop's h-less New York accent, your destiny was sealed.  She read:

"Tom!"

No answer.

"Tom!"

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 the room; then she put them up and looked out under them. She seldom or never 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 -- "

   She did not finish, for by this time she was bending down and punching under the bed with the broom, and so she needed breath to punctuate the punches with. She resurrected nothing but the cat.

   "I never did see the beat of that boy!"

Some time--but not much--after Mrs. DeAngelo had read us through the recess, you approached her, wondering with the earnestness of a young lad who was coping with the throes of his first crush, a wisp of a braided, pig-tailed beauty, Rena Passacantando, could a person actually make a living writing things such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer?

"A person," Mrs. DeAngelo said, "would have to write at least as well as Mr. Twain did in order to make any kind of living."

You did not hear what you are about to describe as such, but because even then you had a semblance of an imagination and a passion for such adventures as those of Tom Sawyer, you were aware of tumblers such as those in a door lock, clicking into place. 

Your fate was designed if not sealed. It was further sealed when you stopped in a drug store on your way home, discovering that for the princely sum of twenty-nine cents, you could have your own copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Later that afternoon, you became an indentured servant to your older sister for the twenty-nine cents. You were up well into the night that evening, and when you returned to school the next day, and for years after, extending, you might add, to this very day in which you write, your goal was to acquire an impossible goal--being able to write at least as well as Mr. Mark Twain.

Perhaps the culprit was a sense of discord and impatience woven into the human genome, perhaps it was the great explosion called the Industrial Revolution, which put more individuals to work, tending machines. Perhaps it was neither of these but rather an inherent sense of the grass, in reality and metaphor, always looking greener other than where the viewer was standing.

Individuals either sought a purpose of accepted the circumstances into which they were born. You recall the chill you experienced when, years later, in pursuit of acquiring your impossible goal, you read the short story, "The Intelligence Office," by Nathaniel Hawthorne,a writer who, as Mr. Mark Twain had actually said, was "no slouch of a storyteller."  

One of the characters in the story speaks as though to the cosmos, " I want my place!--my own place!--my true place in the world!--my proper sphere!--my thing to do, which nature intended me to perform when she fashioned me thus awry, and which I have vainly sought, all my lifetime! Whether it be a footman's duty, or a king's, is of little consequence, so it be naturally mine." 

Not many years later, on a brisk, snowy New Years Eve, you sat outside Piper's Opera House, where the same Mr. Mark Twain had often gone as a reporter for the Virginia City, Nevada Territorial-Enterprise, writing sometimes factual other times fanciful reviews of performances therein. 

You sipped from your balloon of cognac, trying to bridge the distances between the then of Mr. Twain's beginnings of a heyday and your own path, listening for imaginary sounds from within, of a performance coming to an end, of Mr. Twain careening out into the night, heading for the office to write his review.

From time to time, in various stages of sobriety or less than sobriety, you've told yourself, "Only a damned fool would spend his time trying to be as good as Mr. Mark Twain, particularly when Mr. Mark Twain was good enough already, and what have you to show for your efforts?"

Your answer always suffices. "Only a damned fool would pick a lesser role model."

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