The Conversation Continues
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To return to my December 2002 Barbaric Yawp interview with John Berbrich, click here.
To read our original 2001 interview, click here.
William Michaelian: Welcome, everyone, to 2006 ó a new page, a new year, and the same two nuts talking about books and who knows what else. For those just joining us, Mr. Berbrich and I have designated January 1 as the official day for the two of us to begin reading James Joyceís Finnegans Wake. This means that for the next several months we will be making even less sense that we usually do. Itís early in the day, and Iíve yet to crack open the book. But I intend to remedy that after a hot shower and some strong black coffee. How about you, J.B.? Have you started yet? Last night, I pictured you opening your book at midnight, just to get a head start by taking advantage of our difference in time zones.
John Berbrich: Nope. The kids hooked the internet up to our TV (we just bought a used one for $50) so we could watch the spectacular BALL drop in Times Square, after which we watched a few live musical numbers from the New York Dolls, a band I hadnít heard in years & which was actually quite good. You might remember them from the early glam-rock days just prior to Punk. The furthest thing from my mind was Finnegans Wake. But now the new year has dawned cold & snowy. I canít put it off much longer. Really though, Iím looking forward to this adventure. Maybe after that hot shower you mentioned. . . .
William Michaelian: I highly recommend it. I doused myself and feel like a new man. Unfortunately, I still look like the same old one. But no matter ó Iíve now read the first three or four pages. What a treat! With the aid of this book, I will have no trouble keeping sanity at bay. An early comment: I would dearly love to be able to hear Joyce read his words out loud.
John Berbrich: I just found a poem by J. Patrick Lewis not unrelated to our recent discussion that I thought you would appreciate.
Dublin, June 16, ought four,
Cuckold figures out the score.
What? In Blazes...?! Molly...yes.
Lifeís a scream (of consciousness).
I found this in the magazine called The New Formalist, half poetry and half reviews. Some of the reviews are brutal ó here are a few random lines: ďMr. Smith is a southern Steinbeck, singing from a jukebox in some small-town diner, pinching waitresses and watching the truckers truck by. His tales are so topically superficial they will be inscrutable when time has grown another inchĒ; ďGod contemplates humanity like a booger negligently placed on the tip of His finger, and the recurring tragedy is that the booger created the finger.Ē; ďThe ruffled indignation of challenged privilege stinks tangily like fingers burning in a pan. These complaints, slicker than snail-snot, chastise the gaping primates while tremblingly polite policemen look onĒ; ďItís not a proud handsome plum, but a little fecal prune.Ē Good stuff, eh?
William Michaelian: Well, yes ó in a certain frightening way. I hope they never latch onto anything I write. Tell me more about this magazine. Are there several reviewers involved, or just one or two? Neat poem, by the way.
John Berbrich: They are into form, as you might guess from the name. Managing editor David Castleman writes most of the reviews, nearly 30 pages of them, usually two or three to a page. The poems run for about 40 pages, and all are rhymed and metered ó and excellent ó intelligent and clever. Hereís another one from J. Patrick Lewis:
Whale is goredó
Man goes a little
William Michaelian: Hmm. I like the first one better, but youíre right, itís clever. Has the magazine been around awhile? Whatís the layout like?
John Berbrich: Itís Yawp size, 76 pages, a glued paperback, not stapled, very professional. One issue per year, this one comprises volumes 4 & 5, so Iíd guess it hasnít been around too long. I do a brief write-up in the January From the Marrow review sheet, which Iíll include w/ your Yawp.
William Michaelian: Great. Those write-ups are always interesting ó although, come to think of it, you never do mention anything about fecal prunes or fingers burning in a pan. Maybe you should take on a new brutal persona. Just think of the extra work you could get done without any friends to hold you back.
John Berbrich: Quite true. Itís fun and easy to trample on other people, both figuratively and literally. Okay, Iím up to page 10 of Finnegans Wake. Sounds like Joyce starts off w/ Molly, the river-thing, the way he ended Ulysses. Are they visiting a museum & they have to keep tipping the guide or what? Iím catching some of that Old Testament stuff. Whatever, the language is gorgeous, ornate, swirling like a whirlpool.
William Michaelian: Isnít it fantastic? As with Ulysses, I havenít been very concerned about meaning. I figure if there is any, it will soak in by and by. Iím on Page 19, I think ó the book started on Page 3. You see what I mean about how nice it would be to hear the author read the text. Part of the time, I find myself reading with a bogus Irish accent. And thereís so much rhythm and rhyme. I love it.
John Berbrich: Thatís exactly what Iím doing, reading to myself in a loud whisper w/ a phony brogue. Like you, Iím not overly concerned about the meaning, but I do consider it occasionally. This is really a new experience. Apparently Gertrude Stein wrote sort of like this, paying far more attention to word-sounds than meaning. But I havenít read much of Stein, and the little Iíve read has not seduced me into reading more. She and Joyce knew each other.
William Michaelian: Iíve only read a few excerpts of Gertrude Stein. From what I gather she didnít have the highly tuned poetic ear of Joyce. In Finnegans Wake thus far, I like the freedom he gives himself to play with words. Heís like a kid sitting on a sidewalk and singing to himself, bouncing from one sound to the next.
John Berbrich: Yeah, and Iím grooving on the barrage of puns, although Iím not quite getting them all. Iím hearing them ó and thatís another thing; I get much more out of this book when I read it aloud. Iíll cause quite a scene in the library tomorrow, I expect.
William Michaelian: Shhhhh! as librarians all used to say. I guess itís a little too cold now to sit in the park. How are the libraries in your area? Any old classics with old-fashioned card catalogues and misty windows looking out over parks where old men play cards in the summer?
John Berbrich: They all have computers, but still plenty of books. The one I usually visit on my lunch hour is in Canton, only a 5-minute walk from the office. The one Nancy & I belong to (& serve on the Board of) is in Russell, a 5-minute walk from our home. The library in Canton is pretty big, and theyíve raised a half-million dollars in donations to add on. Our library in Russell is small, and we have very little cash to use for anything. The best thing about the Canton library, aside from being available for my lunch hours, is that every summer they have a huge used-book sale down the cellar. Towards the end of the summer you can buy a whole shopping bag full for one dollar, although by then theyíve been picked through pretty thoroughly. But still one finds a gem now & then. No old men playing cards or chess, sorry.
William Michaelian: Oh, well. They must be playing dominoes, then. That was popular with the old men in the park when I was a kid. There was also some old guys in striped overalls who used to stand in front of the Bank of America building on Main Street and talk for hours. Very Rockwellesque, with a little extra dust and heat thrown in. The library in Salem is nice, housing, I believe, somewhere in the neighborhood of a million books. I heard once that if so many werenít checked out, there would be no room for them all. A few years after we moved here back in 1987, they banished the card catalogue and replaced it with computers. The card catalogue languished for a time downstairs, then disappeared. I donít know what became of it. I guess itís silly, but I miss the little cards in their smooth-sliding drawers. But what I miss most of all is the silence of old libraries. The Salem library is very nice, but far too much yammering goes on. Anyway. I finished the first chapter of Finnegans Wake. If the text were to continue in this fashion, I think I could get used to it, and maybe even understand it. But who knows what lies in store? Joyce changed gears so often in Ulysses, I canít imagine him settling down at this point. Sixteen years it took him to write this thing. Sixteen years.
John Berbrich: Thatís less than one page per week. Iím about 2/3 through the first chapter. This book almost makes Ulysses read like a Dick & Jane primer.
William Michaelian: Well, there are a couple of things we could try. We could read the book backwards, or hold it up to a mirror. Say, not to change the subject, but have you read Proustís Remembrance of Things Past? I guess itís also called In Search of Lost Time.
John Berbrich: No! Proustís books are fat and they sound bloody boring. You?
William Michaelian: Nope. But I was going to suggest we read him next. Remembrance runs only seven volumes. I hear Proustís ninety-page description of his slippers is quite marvelous, and that it inspired several passages in Finnegans Wake ó slipperoom daggath mersumfalla, or something like that, being one. My interpretation of this is The sad fellow had roomy slippers. But of course that only scratches the surface, daggath having several meanings in several languages, most of them extinct.
John Berbrich: Well, when you read Proust you can give me your condensed version. Daggeth is a cool word, evoking hideous creatures from H.P. Lovecraftís mythology. The Daggeth approached, dripping slime, howling like the cosmic wind at the center of the universe, something like that. In fact, I can easily imagine Farrago utilizing a Daggeth, or THE Daggeth, to further his horrible schemes. The Daggeth, if I remember correctly, needs to be either caged or heavily doped. Maybe itís a Brichiam spin on Lovecraft.
William Michaelian: When Proust comes home to roost, the daggeth lorn desheering. You see, my friend, I have utterly lost it. One chapter into Finnegans Wake and Iím a blithering idiot ó not just blithering, and not just an idiot, but a bloothering odito. It happened just awhile ago ó I had just a few minutes, so I picked up the book and read about a page and half. One paragraph it was. I read it adlood, as is our new coostum, and ended up laughing into the nowhere and nothingspace of my room, it was so doorned foonji.
John Berbrich: Willie, you are scaring me more than usual. Pick up some Hemingway, for Godís sake, and read it, man.
William Michaelian: Hemingway? You mean that guy who used lots of periods and liked to talk about guns? What a quaint idea. I wonder if he and Joyce ever met ó you know, met, talked shop, and became drinking buddies.
John Berbrich: I suspect they did. In Hemingwayís book A Moveable Feast, he talks about Sylvia Beachís bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, in Paris. It was a hangout for lots of writers including Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford, Gertrude Stein, and James Joyce. I canít recall any specific passages where the two interacted, but they must have met. Iíll try to research that one.
William Michaelian: Research is good, but wouldnít it be nice if we could simply go back in time and ask each of the people you just mentioned, in a separate, private interview, about the relationship between Hemingway and Joyce? Including Hemingway and Joyce. Hemingway: ďHe was confused about women and came to me for advice.Ē Joyce: ďHis ego was an inflated sail that blotted out the sun.Ē
John Berbrich: Willie, youíve hit upon a great new literary genre: conversations between dead people that never met, like Jesus and Hitler, or Aristotle and Socrates. This is a fascinating opportunity. Keep going.
William Michaelian: Okay, how about this ó Hitler: ďI belief, Herr Jesus, dat dies man Heminhoo vas, how you say, not die real ladiesí man. Und Joyce belongit in der nushaus.Ē Jesus: ďYou call that a mustache?Ē No, thatís dull. Maybe we should stick to research.
John Berbrich: My research revealed nothing. I skimmed the book pretty thoroughly and could not find a reference to Joyce, although he did appear in two black-and-whites in the photo section. In one he is standing next to Sylvia Beach; in the other heís sitting in a room with Ezra Pound and a couple of other writers, stern looking fellows. Joyce himself is such an unremarkable looking man. Nice German accent, by the way.
William Michaelian: Gee, thanks. Iíve seen a picture of Joyce standing in front of that book store, with Beach, I believe. Or maybe he was alone. I donít remember. I did find an old uncredited New York Times article on the Internet about Hemingwayís time in Paris that briefly mentioned Joyce:
ďHemingway was quick to see the merit in the work of James Joyce, not always a limpid writer. In a letter to Sherwood Anderson dated March 9, 1922, Hemingway wrote:
ďĎJoyce has written a most goddam wonderful book (Ulysses) * * *. Meantime the report is that he and all his family are starving, but you can find the whole Celtic crew of them in Michaud,íĒ (then a moderately expensive Paris eating place).
ďNevertheless, on several occasions Hemingway contributed to the funds raised to aid Joyce, with whom he did a considerable amount of stout drinking in Paris. When Joyceís Ulysses was pirated in the United States Hemingway was one of the organizers of the protest which bore the names of many of the most distinguished figures in world literature.Ē
Well, what do you think? It answers some questions, anyway.
John Berbrich: Yeah, it does. Those conversations must have been fascinating ó where was Boswell at such times? I just found the New York Times Book Review written in 1922 when Ulysses was first published in Paris. The reviewer, Dr. Joseph Collins, writes, in part: ďFinally, I venture a prophecy. Not ten men or women out of a hundred can read Ulysses through, and of the ten who succeed in doing so, five of them will do it as a tour de force. I am probably the only person, aside from the author, that has ever read it twice from beginning to end. I have learned more psychology and psychiatry from it than I did in ten years at the Neurological Institute.Ē
William Michaelian: Ah ó or so he thought. Because ten years later there was a followup article, in which poor Dr. Collins confessed to his fears that his mind had been destroyed by Ulysses from reading the book several more times. And then ten years after that, Dr. Collins was found dead in his office, and his brain had grown so large that parts of it were leaking out his ears.
John Berbrich: I had heard the same story, but had attributed the good doctorís demise to the reading of Finnegans Wake. My mistake. Actually, if someone had read Finnegans Wake out loud over the corpse, waving an ashplant like a wand, perhaps Collins would have come back to life.
William Michaelian: That was actually tried. There was a partial revival, in which the spirit of Dr. Collins left his body and stood watching from behind the desk, until it became bored and left the room. Unfortunately, the janitor doing the reading was new to that sort of thing and didnít notice. He, too, died soon thereafter.
John Berbrich: A sad ending to a tragic tale. Now Iím depressed, Willie. Worse yet, I cracked the spine on my copy of Finnegans Wake this morning. Itís an old paperback. I had just gotten to the part where Armagh says, ďI...and aím proud oí it.Ē Then Clonakilty says, ďI...God help us!Ē Then Deansgrange says, ďI...and say nothing.Ē Then Barna says, ďI...and whatabout it?Ē Aye, and through inattention the spine went crack!
William Michaelian: Fear not, it will mend itself during the night. Little spine-spiders will do the work. Finnegan mites, wearing little helmets. Gzzz! Gzzz! with their busy tools. Iíve finished two chapters, as I believe theyíre called. I am truly enjoying this book, every bit as much, if not more than Ulysses.
John Berbrich: Good morning, Willie. Iím afraid the Finnegan mites are on strike or have taken a holiday, as my book was untouched overnight. Ah well, Iíll just have to be more careful. By the way, your Yawpís going in the mail today, at a higher improved price too.
William Michaelian: Yep, thereís another bite out of the old small press budget. I promise to enjoy the new Yawp a little more, to reflect the increased cost. Meanwhile, I read up on the Finnegan mites. I didnít realize that they prefer warm temperatures and hibernate or move very slowly in the winter. Youíve probably crushed several hundred with your thumbs while reading. One thing Iíve noticed about the book I have is that it varies in thickness and weight from day to day and hour to hour. And when I try to understand it, I donít understand it. Then I find it later on my table, sitting in a puddle of insight.
John Berbrich: Iíll have to get myself a copy of your edition. Mine is giving me precious little insight; nevertheless I love the flow of the words and all the little jokes, although Iím afraid most of them are on me. I carry the book around wrapped in a heavy rubber band now, not wanting the crack in the spine to worsen. Iím waiting for the word Farrago to show up; if it does, Iíll begin to suspect a plot.
William Michaelian: Youíd better take off the rubber band. It could be interfering with the xylem and phloem. You might end up girdling the book, thus causing the development of an oversized farrago, which would be unnatural and very disgoostin ó although, this, too, might have been Joyceís intention. Iíve been thinking. It seems that in reading Finnegans Wake, we are free to determine its meaning or meanings. Of course, this is the case with any book, except that with most books, readers can usually come to some sort of agreement. Whereas, in the case of Finnegans Wake, the book might really be as great or small as our imaginations, or as the elasticity of our imaginations. The words seem to act like little windows or doorways, through which all manner of tantalizing information flows, arousing the mind and senses.
John Berbrich: Iíll go along with that. The book is more inspirational and provocative than instructive or merely entertaining. In that case, one wouldnít call it a work of fiction. More like an epic prose poem, not one concerned with narrative, but rather working directly on the reader like a treacle, curing (or perhaps causing) various ills and mysterious maladies. Who was it, Breton, Daumal? ó one of those Frenchmen ó who wrote: ďI would like to write a poem to drive men mad.Ē Well, maybe itís already been done. Willie, have you considered that Finnegans Wake is driving you sane?
William Michaelian: A scary thought, but only time will tell. At this point, I think the book is enhancing my insanity. Or sanding my enhancity. For instance, consider the poem I wrote yesterday and added to Songs and Letters:
Bless me, fither, fer I have zinned,
itís been foorty years
zince yer last confusion.
Neverwhiles in the pub
where you was zittin,
fer I was listnin to you woo
brightín cheery maids.
Red-haired they was, fither,
donít you go an deny it,
behind yer game a ordinary cairds.
I seen ya creakin in yer vestments,
thinkin noons the miser,
er somesich in yer ringading bell.
Nodden down foorn yer blessin,
fither, yer the one a needs it now.
Nodden down, den zither
weícn go an dream
another paint a stout.
Nodden down, den zither
what life is all about.
Now, I canít say this is the direct result of reading Finnegans Wake, because Iíve been writing strange stuff for quite some time now ó many years, in fact. Still, it might indicate at least a partially sanded enhancity, or even enhancicity, although again, only time will tell.
John Berbrich: Willie, yer gittin pritty good at that zither and nodden stuff. Keep workin at it, yer pomes ill git bitter & bitter. Buy the whey, yer shud be gittin yer Yop tomooroo, if the male men due there parrt.
William Michaelian: Aym coontin onit. Say, I finished the third chapter, and Iím pleased to report I ran into a clump of Armenian words, or at least approximations of Armenian words. On Page 69, Joyce writes, ďOr you Dairís Hair or you Diggin Mosses or your horde of orts and oriorts to garble,Ē and so on. Der Hayr (Dairís Hair) is a married priest. Digin (the iís have a long e sound) means Mrs., Mosses is close to Movses, which means Moses, and oriort is miss, as in unmarried girl. Further along, he uses the word Armen, which is a manís name, and lousaforitch, which means illuminator, and shoodov, which means quickly. And there are a couple of others in the same passage. Early on, in the first chapter, you might remember that he used the word harse a couple of times for horse. Harse means bride in Armenian. And in the italicized section on Pages 71 and 72, Joyce inserts Armenian Atrocity. Fascinating. It makes me wonder how many other languages he drew upon.
John Berbrich: I donít know. What an amazing performance. I wonder if he chose Armenian for a reason or if he was simply throwing curves. While reading along, I thought of Lewis Carroll & ďíTwas brillig and the slithy toves...Ē et cetera. Carroll predates Joyce by several decades, at least.
William Michaelian: Right. He was born in the early 1830s, and died, I think, near the end of the nineteenth century. You have to assume Joyce read him ó and everyone and everything else. Hey ó the mail just came. Late, too. . . . Darn. No Yawp. I wonder if the mailman decided to read it before passing it along. Any exciting newcomers in this issue?
John Berbrich: Of course. Some good fiction but I think the poetry really shines.
William Michaelian: Good. Because Iím always looking for that special poem that will drive me mad. In fact, I think Iíve gone mad looking for it. Then again, there is the cumulative madness that is the Yawp, and the Yawpís editor. Sometimes I picture you burning manuscripts in your stove, then sifting the ashes for the gems, and using what remains to make the paper the magazine is printed on. Say, did that fellow in town ever get his press up and running? Or is he still sorting it out with the zoning authorities?
John Berbrich: I havenít seen him in quite a while. Iíll have to swing by the bookstore some afternoon and check out the status. I suspect he hasnít gotten very far. You simply must have received your Yawp today. I was assured that it would be delivered by a possibly uniformed member of an organization that is controlled and severely limited by federal regulations. Sounds entirely official.
William Michaelian: As a matter of fact, it arrived half an hour ago ó with a subpoena. Thanks to you, Iíll have to testify. I read your introduction already, about your rainy walk to the cemetery, the one we talked about here some time back. Very nice. After Finnegans Wake, itís refreshing to read English again. How far along are you now?
John Berbrich: Iím on page 116. My copy has 628 pages, so Iím more than 20% there. These last 20 pages or so have been fairly understandable ó either that or Iím acquiring a taste for this outlandish Joycean verbiage. I still have no idea whatís going on ó I suspect that nothing is. But Iíve stumbled upon so many tiny gems and great big long sprawling jewels, sparkling and shining in magnificent squalor, that I must concede at least a degree of greatness regarding this book. Parts of Ulysses were composed of static ó Finnegans Wake is like fluid flowing into fluid. It never stands still.
William Michaelian: Thatís a really good description. And the mixture is colorful, honey-rich. Iím on Page 91. I read today online that Joyce died on January 13, 1941, of peritonitis brought on by a perforated ulcer. Hereís an interesting quote by him, which you might already have read:
ďSince 1922 my book has been a greater reality for me than reality. Everything gives way to it. Everything outside the book has been an insuperable difficulty: the least realities, such as shaving myself in the morning, for example.Ē
Apparently he suffered a great deal during those years with poor health and failing eyesight. And there were the ongoing troubles with Ulysses being on trial for indecency, and his daughterís schizophrenia. It makes the laughter in Finnegans Wake all the more amazing.
John Berbrich: So, Joyce is dead exactly 65 years yesterday. I hadnít seen that quote. Not hard to imagine people getting lost in these books. Ulysses is one day and Finnegans Wake is every day, infinite. Together they are microcosm and macrocosm. Easy to see a creator disappearing into his creation. Iíve always thought of Joyce as semi-divine, not so much in a virtuous way, but rather as possessing god-like power and knowledge. One always reads about Pound and Hemingway and Fitzgerald ó they took a trip there and taught school here and shot elephants and boozed it up for a week. I never read anything about Joyce, only mentions of his books, as though he really didnít live among the mortals. I can not imagine him going grocery shopping, for example.
William Michaelian: No, only writing, and drinking, and singing, and looking at people through those thick glasses of his with dark understanding. Thatís why we need that silent character in our film, Paddy Dignamís Hearse, the man at the table, watching the action from behind a pint of stout.
John Berbrich: Ah, yes. The objective mind, all-seeing, all-knowing. Really like God watching His creations. Laugh or cry, the universe is everything. A tragic comedy, a yeasty production. We still need a soundtrack.
William Michaelian: Yes, a shimmering thread to tie it all together. Maybe here and there we could have a few haunting, angelic voices, singing in a made-up language.
John Berbrich: Yes, banging and thrumming on invented instruments, playing in new scales, in tones impossible for the quotidian ear to hear.
William Michaelian: Visual sounds, perhaps. Scales in different shades of color. Now, about the Yawp. This is two issues in a row without an interview. Any special reason for that? I miss them.
John Berbrich: Willie, you are positively observant! I was working on an interview for the 9/05 issue w/ a fellow who began to inundate me with poems in the body of the interview. For some reason, this seemed to throw me way off my editorial balance. I have been unable to complete the project. I decided to take a break for an issue or two, then go back to complete the interview already started and use it in the 3/06 issue. I do intend to continue with this feature, although it is a lot of work. By the way, in your poem ďAbsolution,Ē you might to consider changing ďfitherĒ to ďfibberĒ in the first line.
William Michaelian: Ah ó letís see, here. Then zibber weícn go . . . no, that will never do. Besides, it would be disrepectful to the old clergyman. Very improper. Mustnít have that. . . . So, thatís what happened to the interview. You know, itís a shame the guy youíre interviewing isnít at your place, like I was when you interviewed me. Things like that always go better in person.
John Berbrich: Yeah, but youíre right around the corner in Oregon while heís way the heck out in Wisconsin. See what I mean?
William Michaelian: Of course. But when thereís this much at stake, a writer should be willing to go the extra mile. Take me, for instance. Letís say you were behind schedule and needed help stapling the Yawp. All youíd have to do is say so, and Iíd drop everything and rush to Russell. Stapling, collating, doing the dishes ó Iím always ready to contribute in some way. Good issue, by the way. It has a nice unified feeling to it.
John Berbrich: Thanks. I donít know what that Death thing is all about. After we had gathered together the chosen pieces for the issue, Nancy said to me, ďLook, these are all about death.Ē And I looked and discovered that she was quite right. I feel that the March issue will be bursting with springtime exuberance and life. Gotta start making selections soon. So you wanna do some stapling, huh?
William Michaelian: If thatís whatís needed, sure. Just let me know. As for the death theme, apparently that walk out to the Russell graveyard last fall made quite an impression on you. I can really picture those fungus-covered tombstones, jutting up like rotten teeth. I also think you did a good job of putting the pieces in order. Your introduction and the poem by Dodie Messer Meeks really set the stage.
John Berbrich: Oh yeah, those rock groins and the splashing deathly sea. The issue does conclude on a positive note, however. Play and roll about in the word. And art will come forth like a flower in May.
William Michaelian: Absolutely. And there were a few strange pieces as well. The stories by James Knapp and Spiel come to mind. And I agree, there were several good poems. ďWe Have Different PacesĒ was kind of neat. Visual. I noticed the extra spaces between words were tabbed out. I think I would have been tempted to use irregular spaces. It might have created more of a flow on the page. Then again, maybe thatís not what the poet was after. Either way, the different paces come across.
John Berbrich: I think that the two poems by Llyn Clague deserve special attention, especially ďTo Future Generations,Ē a poem that may not tell us anything new but certainly puts the message across in a sustained, somber, consistent mood. He suggests that a certain madness will pass ó that humanity will wake up from its collective self-destructive craziness; but I donít know that such a day will ever come. Perhaps following a tremendous cataclysm, either natural or human-engineered, someone will realize something. But I wouldnít bet on it. It is interesting to note that while Clagueís poem is addressed to the future, it is really a warning and an admonition to us, his contemporaries.
William Michaelian: I like both poems. ďSuicide BomberĒ is good too. I donít know. Itís possible humanity will wake up, and very possible it wonít. Itís easy to assume the worst, because thereís plenty to back it up. And yet inspiration bubbles up everywhere. Another good feature in this Yawp is the one about the Samuel Menashe reading, by George Held. It broadens the issue.
John Berbrich: Yes. Iíve even offered George a regular feature spot in every issue if he wants to review and report on poetry readings in the city. Iíve suggested to him Metro Beat as a title. He lives in Manhattan, within easy walking distance of a number of popular poetry venues. I agree with you when you say that it broadens the issue ó thatís precisely why I suggested this to George in the first place. Helps to give readers a real feel for living, breathing poetry. Iíd like to see it as a regular feature.
William Michaelian: Me, too. I hope it works out. And now, hereís something funny. Last night at the table, after we had consumed several bowls of some of my rambunctious chili, I read a paragraph of Finnegans Wake, just to give everyone a taste of what the two of us have gotten ourselves into. Quite a discussion followed. What does it mean? Does it mean anything? Does it have to? Are there meanings on different levels? Isnít it more like a poem or a piece of music? What does Beethovenís Ninth Symphony mean? How do you arrive at a meaning? And so on and so on, and around and around we went. ďWell,Ē I said. ďI know one thing. For a paragraph that didnít mean anything, this sure brought about a lot of discussion.Ē Then again, maybe it was the chili.
John Berbrich: Good story. Sounds like some of the discussions we have around the table ó the true meaning of zero and infinity, absolute zero (as in temperature), life in the universe. One of the boys came up with this great idea for a new weapon ó a giant rubber-band. You take a six-foot wide rubber-band (Iím not sure of the length) and shoot it with this giant finger. ďImagine how demoralizing it would be to have your troops killed by a giant rubber-band.Ē I argued that the projectile would possess too much wind resistance and be impossible to shoot accurately. ďThatís the best part,Ē he said. ďIt makes it that much more difficult to defend against.Ē I really couldnít disagree with that sort of logic.
William Michaelian: Wow. That rubber-band idea is scary. Especially the finger part. I picture real live fingers, not mechanical ones, with hideous nails. Menacing fingers. Our youngest son just finished reading Dharma Bums. Really liked it. He picked up a collection by Dylan Thomas not long ago. Thatís next. I need to read it myself. Oh, and before Dharma Bums, he read David Copperfield, which he also enjoyed. Incidentally, very early this morning on Portlandís classical station, I heard ďOld Man River,Ē sung by Paul Robeson in 1947. Amazing. He hit notes so low that youíd swear there were none lower.
John Berbrich: Cool. I love that song. I remember reading something about Robeson a long time ago, that so many doors were closed to him cuz he was a black man & yet he was an individual of amazing talent. Once when I was a little kid I watched the Yankees defeat the California Angels on TV, 2-0. Yogi Berra, who was then an aging veteran, hit two solo homers to account for all the runs in the game. As Berra circled the bases on his second home run trot, I remember the announcer saying, ďOld man river, he just keeps rolling along....Ē
William Michaelian: Ah, the good old days of baseball. This gives me a revolutionary idea: why not sing ďOld Man RiverĒ before games instead of the national anthem? Robeson was a classic. His pronunciation of the words in that song is so clear and proper that it would almost be silly if his voice werenít so expressive and honest. Did you go to any baseball games back in the Sixties?
John Berbrich: Yes, I attended maybe a half-dozen Yankee games every season and a Mets game once in a while (I wasnít a big Mets fan ó they always lost anyway, although with such style). I was at the game where Mickey Mantle got his 3000th hit. In the 70ís I attended a lot of Yankee-Red Sox games at Fenway. The Yanks usually won ó we had a great time drinking & yelling. Those were the days ó I so loved Yankee Stadium, the House That Ruth Built.
William Michaelian: You saw some real baseball. Our team was the Giants. A few times every summer, weíd make the drive to Candlestick Park and watch Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, and Juan Marichal. The atmosphere was great, especially when the hated Dodgers were in town. Mays had such supreme confidence in everything he did. He was a real joy to watch. And then there was Marichalís legendary windup and leg-kick. When he was on the mound, you knew you were watching one of the masters. The thing I really loved about those types of players, besides their obvious excellence, was their style and presence ó the way they impressed their personalities on the game.
John Berbrich: Yes. Mays with his basket catch. I always thought that the Giants had one of the great teams of those days. Donít forget Orlando Cepeda. Do you recall when Marichal clobbered someone over the head with his bat ó who was it, maybe Dodger catcher Johnny Roseboro? That was a serious incident. Although the Yankees were obviously the Greatest Team in the World at that time, I always suspected that somehow the National League was superior to the American. The National had more base stealing, better pitching, more bunting ó more strategy in general, whereas in the American League the teams seemed to simply sit back and wait for someone to hit a home run. I sometimes envied National League cities ó St. Louis, Cincinnati, and yes even San Francisco. Man, those were some great days.
William Michaelian: They say that Marichal was never the same after he hit Roseboro with his bat, it bothered him so much. There was genuine hatred between those two teams. Don Drysdale was evil, sneering on the mound, taking special joy in throwing at hitters. Speaking of St. Louis, as a hitter, can you imagine having to face Bob Gibson? And then there were the Saturday TV broadcasts, with Dizzy Dean and Peewee Reese. Hmm. I wonder what happened to Falstaff beer.
John Berbrich: Havenít a clue. Was that the only beer named after a Shakespearean character? Gibson was the most intimidating hurler Iíve ever seen. For five years Koufax was the hottest pitcher ever. His curveball looked like it rolled off a table. Iíll say it again ó those were the days. The Yankees best pitcher in those days was Whitey Ford. He could not throw a fastball, yet once tossed two consecutive one-hitters. A tricky fellow on the mound.
William Michaelian: Maybe he drank a lot of Falstaff. Or Lucky Lager, another working manís staple. Beer and cigars. Hats. Saloons. Chicago. Mike Royko ó a little free assocation here ó Slats, Pabst, and Mrs. OíLearyís cow. Have you ever been concerned you were making too much sense? Do what I do ó take Al Kaline-aseltzer. Okay. Enough. Iíve worked my way up to Page 148 of Finnegans Wake. Itís slow going, but a pleasure every step of the way. On the back of my book, it says Joyce drew on sixty languages. Anthony Burgess said Finnegans Wake is ďa great comic vision, one of the few books of the world that can make us laugh aloud on nearly every page.Ē Samuel Beckett said, ďHere words are not the polite contortions of twentieth century printerís ink. They are alive. They elbow their way onto the page, and glow and blaze and fade and disappear.Ē And they do disappear, donít they? I was thinking yesterday, other than obvious words like and, the, and so on, Joyce rarely, if ever, repeats himself. Each word is a new invention, born of the moment to serve in the moment. And an important part of its existence is to be a bridge or stepping-stone to other words.
John Berbrich: I noticed that. He might use a particular word ó I canít think of an example right now ó three times in a paragraph and spell it three different ways. Or are they really exactly the same word? Shades of meaning, & all of that. Shadows of meaning. I wonder if anyone has tried translating Finnegans Wake into French or Russian or Japanese. Seems arrogant & presumptuous even to try.
William Michaelian: I agree. And yet, there are several references to translations on Google. French, Italian, even Japanese. I havenít followed any of the links. Amazing. I can see writing something inspired by Finnegans Wake, and even similar in some ways, but not translating it. In fact, it seems to me that the original text already is a translation.
John Berbrich: Yeah, a translation into an unknown tongue. Joyce tears words apart & twists them into grotesque & beautiful shapes. Youíre exactly right ó I can imagine a work inspired by this loquacious book, but not a translation. As I said, even the attempt sounds arrogant. What could be more difficult than translating thousands upon thousands of puns?
William Michaelian: Only a small percentage of which are possible to grasp. Itís ridiculous. So many words are used for their sounds, which are meant to rhyme with or approximate other words, which might or might not mean what they usually mean. How can that survive translation? I donít know about you, but Iím still reading every word, sentence, and paragraph aloud. The text has to be heard, as well as seen.
John Berbrich: I read it like half-aloud. As you said way back in the beginning of Ulysses, this is music, and Joyce directs his material like a conductor. This is true because music is organized sound ó and what does a sound mean? Music can be sweet or raucous, loud or soft, but it canít mean anything. Of course the sounds suggest things, different things for different listeners. Which is I suppose just what words do ó suggest things. Words are usually intended as units delivering meaning with varying degrees of clarity and specificity. A similar claim can not reasonably be made for sound. Willie, am I getting myself in trouble here?
William Michaelian: Only with the International Organization of Symphonic and Harmonic Understanding. They wonít be too pleased when they read this. Iím sure that to a composer, sounds have meaning. An artist of any kind isnít going to work in a medium that to him seems meaningless. And if it has meaning for the artist, thereís a good chance that someone somewhere will find meaning in it as well. But, my guess is, things donít mean anything in and of themselves. Meaning is in the mind of the beholder. Words, sounds, smells, objects ó all are invested with meaning according to oneís peculiar wiring and experience. At the same time ó and here is where it gets even more complicated ó we use words to describe meaning, to give it a name. Or we compose music, or paint, or sing, or build castles in the sand. In some very extreme cases, we even write Finnegans Wake.
John Berbrich: Yeah, I know that songs have meaning. What Iím saying is that words differ from musical sounds by virtue of their specificity. If I see a long-necked, spotted, ungulate chewing leaves off the top of a tree Iíll point and say, ďLook, a giraffe,Ē and chances are if you have any proficiency with the English language youíll know just what I mean. But with music, if I strum a G-Minor the sound might nudge some emotion in your breast or maybe not, but I doubt youíll get out of it what I do. The song means something to the composer, but itís too personal to transmit to a listener without a few clues, like a title or a libretto, except that we agree the piece is tragic in the broadest sense. So Joyce is making, or allowing, words to do the work of musical notes, by stripping them of their ordinary meaning and appealing to the part of our brain that appreciates music, as you so eloquently have pointed out to us several times before. Itís a wonderful endeavor and really quite successful. Nothing like it that I know of, and here we are over 65 years later still reading it, at least a workable definition of a classic.
William Michaelian: And itís likely its meaning has changed some over the years, and will continue to change in the future, the same as words, music, and all the rest. Iíve read about Beethoven and other composers reading musical scores as if they were books. I do see a lot of similarity between notes, letters, and words. I would add that music is a different language, expressed and understood in a different way. We donít use the language of music to say giraffe, or to describe what a giraffe looks like ó we have words for that. We use music to express or trigger a range of commonly held emotions, and to express ourselves, our personal griefs and joys. We use words in that way as well. And itís one thing to read words and notes, but how they are said and played also has a profound effect on their meaning, even when they are only said or played in oneís mind. To me, this is all endlessly fascinating ó true cause for celebration.
John Berbrich: Or confusion. Itís a marvelous thing to be able to throw down all the barricades and simply admit, ďI just donít know; in fact I have no idea.Ē Then we can all have a good laugh together. But until that day, we have books to read and discuss, and plenty of music to enjoy. Wonder what sort of music Joyce liked?
William Michaelian: Well, Iíve read that he liked opera and was a good singer himself. There were quite a few references to opera in Ulysses. He certainly seemed to know a lot about it ó along with several thousand other subjects. Youíre familiar with that old saying, ďWrite what you know.Ē Well, it looks like thatís what Joyce did. Scary.
John Berbrich: I still canít think of him as a normal human being. More than any other 20th century writer, Joyce to me seems at least semi-divine. I need to read a brief 100-page bio on him.
William Michaelian: As luck would have it, the great Jian Brichiam wrote a concise, if somewhat unbelievable, biography on Joyce. Itís called The Divinity Papers ó Musical Notes on the Life of James Joyce. Much of it actually is in musical notation, interwoven with startling prose that draws on at least twice the number of languages Joyce used in Finnegans Wake, as well as dozens of derivative demonic diatonic dialects. As always, opposing camps have formed around the text. One says The Divinity Papers is a daring, honest look at Joyceís life; the other claims itís nothing more than an entertaining rehash of Brichiamís childhood. No doubt the truth lies somewhere in between. Hey ó I like that. The truth lies. . . .
John Berbrich: Gods, Willie, Iíve never noticed that before. Honestly, that is one of the most revelatory bits of language Iíve ever heard. You know the slogan for Mortonís Salt, right? ďWhen it rains, it pours.Ē I never thought much about it beyond the old meaning that when something happens it does so in great quantities. When I was about 18, this girl named Diana pointed it out to me. She said, itís the type of salt that when the weather is damp the salt doesnít get clogged up in the salt shaker. I was astounded by this and walked around in a trance for weeks, spreading this wisdom to every lucky soul I met. The truth lies.....Oh, I love it.
William Michaelian: Well, as they say, the simple pleasures are the best. I donít mean to pepper you with questions, but what finally snapped you out of your trance? Or did it happen gradually?
John Berbrich: It was a gradual thing ó although I still stumble around in a fog pretty often so perhaps Iím not out of it yet. Hey, good news ó the first poetry reading at the cafe is set for Friday, February 3rd, 6:00 if youíre gonna be in the area. Apparently some of the Lit. professors from nearby St. Lawrence University are involved so I wonít be compelled to act as master of ceremonies. Iíll give you a full report.
William Michaelian: Great. Thatís coming right up. But youíd better not let those professors gain control. They might turn it into a reasonable affair. Will you be reading?
John Berbrich: Yes, I shall. I have around a dozen suitable poems selected and plenty more if I need them. Hereís
The Zen Seminar
7:30, said the sign
Learn to contemplate Emptiness
7:10. The first to arrive,
I sit in an empty chair
And look around.
7:30. No one has shown up.
I stare at the blank walls.
7:55. Iím still alone.
Not even the instructor has dropped by.
I sit, contemplating
The empty room.
William Michaelian: I like it. Thatís some real Zen, man. And here I was expecting Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, BOOM ó although it does rhyme with room, so maybe youíll build up to that. Any idea how many others will be reading?
John Berbrich: No idea. I imagine that the profs will try to involve some students, so I expect a pretty good turnout. If this is a big hit, the owner will schedule readings on a more regular basis. Then maybe we can get something rolling regarding a real local poetry scene and magazine. And then we can do live poetry readings on the radio. This just keeps growing ó in my mind.
William Michaelian: Ah, yes. The mind. The Realm of Infinite Expansion. A magazine, eh? You could also produce a nice CD of these in-shop and on-air readings. I can imagine a stack of them for sale at the cafť, right next to the cash register. Do you have some longer poems lined up, or do you plan to stick with shorter stuff?
John Berbrich: Poems between a 1/2 page & a full page, maybe a little longer. Iíll read mostly simple narrative poems, as shorter lyrics donít work so well live. Mix it up with humor and pathos. This is gonna be a lot of fun. I hope the profs donít swagger in there with attitude problems, like they are hot shots.
William Michaelian: Itís been known to happen. While they arenít looking, pour some hooch in their coffee. Thatíll straighten íem out. Or tie their shoe laces together, then tell them someone is breaking into their car ó a band of renigade poets, in town to upset their performance. Untamed geniuses, whose poems run off the page, jump into peopleís laps, and look up at them with wild eyes.
John Berbrich: I promise ó if that sort of thing happens Iíll let you know. Hereís another poem ó this one means a lot to me:
Heaven is filled with
little crooked streets
and neighbors who always return
what they borrow
The rivers dive deep
between the cloudbanks
filled with fish, sparkling under
the noon-day sun
Nights are cool
more stars than you can count
blacker than Satanís heart
sweeter than an apple
Thereís a little five and dime
with bargains twenty-four seven
on a quiet street corner
beneath a glowing lamp
Maybe weíll meet there, you
and I, when itís all finished and done
on that little corner
William Michaelian: Another good one. Nostalgic. Iíve been to these places. Heaven is here. I love the third verse especially, the combination of blackness and apple sweetness. Okay, now itís my turn. While weíre on the subject of apples and stars, hereís a selection from Songs and Letters, written last November:
A Lesser Poet
I will be remembered
as a lesser poet,
if at all ó a clumsy ox
who fell from my wobbly
ladder while picking apples
I thought were stars.
Pitied, perhaps, as one
not quite in my right mind,
condemned to spend
my days this way.
See him writing on his prison walls:
he thinks heís at the Parthenon,
poor fool, or that heís a holy beggar
wandering the sun-bleached ruins
of an abandoned Asia Minor town.
See him holding court
with no one in the room,
see him in the street
speaking languages unknown,
a child in ragged clothes,
an old man all alone,
see him in his field sowing
seeds on rocky ground.
As a lesser poet he is sadly unaware,
patience yields the richest gems:
he picks up any twig and calls it grand,
talks to spiders and grains of sand,
counts the fingers on each hand
and finds new meaning there.
If only he could see whatís real
and frame it all in thoughtful words:
we might believe him then.
If only he would tell us what
we truly need to know: how to live,
how to be, what to think,
the meaning of our dreams,
then a greater poet he would be.
John Berbrich: Very good. I like the scattered bits of rhyme, and the images, and the ideas. A great poet gives us what we need. Quite a number of your poems and stories deal with people perceived to be afflicted (or blessed) with mental problems. The world appreciates what it can understand ó what it thinks it can understand. The common, the normal, the dull.
William Michaelian: I tell you, itís enough to to make a guy want to write ó or read Finnegans Wake. Your poem is called ďHeaven #1.Ē Does this mean youíve written other ďHeavenĒs? Or maybe that there are as many heavens as there are people to imagine or long for them?
John Berbrich: No, all it means is that Iíve planned to write more ďHeavenĒ poems and that was the first. I have written some others dealing w/ aspects of Heaven, some of Hell too. Fascinating
William Michaelian: Oh? Sounds like youíve been.
John Berbrich: Anyone who lives a decade or two gets glimpses. Iíve enjoyed heavenly experiences and endured hellish ones, as I suspect we all have. Take Finnegans Wake ó is that book heaven or hell or a devilish mixture of the two? At this moment the book reminds me so much of normal life in that it doesnít really make sense, seems to have no plot, and is punctuated by enough humor and beauty to render it endurable. Yet something about it seems magnificent and life-affirming.
William Michaelian: Itís as if Joyce were a child picking dandelion puffs, blowing on them, and watching the tiny bits ride away on the wind. There doesnít need to be a purpose. The joy of making something is all thatís needed. And yet, like a child, you can see him biting his lip time and again as dark clouds pass overhead. Thus far, I have discerned no plot. There seem to be dozens of mini-plots, little dramas that are never resolved because they canít be, in that they donít really exist, because the facts change and slip through your fingers, just as they do in dreams.
John Berbrich: It is indeed germane to mention the child, because Finnegans Wake sounds so much like play, the play of a god-child: profound and powerful and paralyzing. Who cares what a god says ó the sound of the voice is enough to shake your knees and tumble the earth, to peel trees and crack concrete, to rattle and rock our puniness.
William Michaelian: Okay, now Iím trying to picture peeled trees, and trees as they are being peeled, and the kind of lives and thoughts trees might have once theyíve been peeled. If theyíve been peeled by a god, do they feel honored, naked, or both? Shiver me timbers ó and what happens to the bark?
John Berbrich: Well, as god is dog spelled backwards, I think we have an answer. But more than that, the bark can be put to good use when it comes to writing down ancient scripture. Yet peeling the skin of trees is not necessarily useful, itís merely the sort of event that takes place when god/dog speaks/barks. Although he packs his trunk and leaves, itís really the root of the problem that can make a sap of anybody.
William Michaelian: Brilliant! It explains everything ó especially all those dogs with suitcases. Tell me ó how have you come by your wisdom? Certainly not by reading the backs of cereal
John Berbrich: Do I detect a note of sarcasm? Nay, not merely a note, but an entire symphony of sarcasm. Funny you should mention cereal boxes. On my insomniac nights, I always wake up craving cereal. I pour out two different kinds and mix them together, then add wheat germ and milk. I light an oil lamp and read deeply into profound books while I ruminate on every bite.
William Michaelian: Crunch, crunch, crrrrunch! Ahh. Sounds like youíre suffering from bicereal disorder ó or is it buycereal disorder? The oil lamp is a nice touch, though. Itís a living thing, whereas a light bulb is a cold, bloodless grape. Okay, who said that, anyway? Was it Sherwood Anderson? I remember it from somewhere.
John Berbrich: Donít know. Thatís a funny connection, a grape and a light bulb. Light bulbs aren't cold, at least they werenít back in Sherwood Andersonís day. They are bloodless, though. And the poor grape ó usually we associate this wonder of nature with wine and other good things. A grape represents prosperity and happiness, a flourishing household or society. On the other hand, imagine a huge grape screwed into a light socket, glowing with a deep orchid illumination. Sounds like a beautiful glow, compelling the words on the page to dance crazy little minuets.
William Michaelian: As if they were moths attracted to the light. . . . Okay, I found it. It was William Faulkner, in the first paragraph of ďThat Evening Sun Go Down,Ē a story I read about thirty years ago. I donít know where I got Sherwood Anderson. Hereís the paragraph:
Monday is no different from any other week day in Jefferson now. The streets are paved now, and the telephone and the electric companies are cutting down more and more of the shade trees ó the water oaks, the maples and locusts and elms ó to make room for iron poles bearing clusters of bloated and ghostly and bloodless grapes, and we have a city laundry which makes the rounds on Monday morning, gathering the bundles of clothes into bright-colored, specially made motor-cars: the soiled wearing of a whole week now flees apparition-like behind alert and irritable electric horns, with a long diminishing noise of rubber and asphalt like a tearing of silk, and even the Negro women who still take in white peoplesí washing after the old custom, fetch and deliver it in automobiles.
I guess over the years, ďbloated and ghostlyĒ became just plain ďcoldĒ in my mind. I remember liking the story, but I donít remember much about it, other than Faulkerís long, winding sentences.
John Berbrich: Pretty good memory, Willie, Iím impressed. What do you think of Faulkner?
William Michaelian: Iím not really sure. Iíve read none of his major works, such as As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury, or Absalom! Absalom! Just some short stuff with long winding sentences. The sentences are what stand out in my mind, their circular, swirling effect ó as opposed to, say, Hawthorneís, which just go on and on, phrase, comma, breath; phrase, comma, breath. Granted, they wrote in different centuries. Iíve glanced at Faulknerís famous books before, at the library and in book stores, but for some reason Iíve never brought any of them home. There was always something else that seemed more appealing, I guess. I did bring home a used copy of The Reivers once, but I havenít read it yet, although my son has. He said the writing was good, but it took some getting used to. How about you?
John Berbrich: Have read nothing of his, perhaps one short story long ago. Those long, winding sentences sound fascinating, though ó like amazingly intricate staircases that wander all around the interior of a mossy old mansion, the sort of place that you canít quite come to the end of; there is always one more mysterious door, one more capacious hallway. The ceiling of the main room is like three stories high, the walls are studded with old bookcases filled with ancient tomes, the closets are filled with rotting gowns and of course the usual skeletons. Bats and rats live in the attic, and pigeons coo around the gingerbread eaves, ornate with oak and maple. Elms droop in the yard and thereís a little slant of sunlight, but of course youíre still trying to find a way out of the house.
William Michaelian: Well, I do declare. Thatís mighty southern of you, sir. Are you sure you havenít read Mr. Faulkner? I love those rotting gowns. I picture the skeletons in them, wearing silly grins ó except for one that is terribly mournful, with a broad hat on her skull. And somewhere there is a door that cannot be opened. Pestered by words, cajoled by flowery phrases, it will not be budged. Occasionally, a long sigh can be heard from within, a sigh that is almost a groan.
John Berbrich: Thatís the door to the bathroom. Thereís a chamber-pot in the third bedroom down the hall. Right now Iím looking for the kitchen. This cupboard door seems to be stuck, the one with the weird kudzu fresco across it. Okay, there it goes. Hey, Willie ó look at this!
William Michaelian: Holy cow. That is the most lopsided skull Iíve ever seen. I wonder what happened to the rest of him.
John Berbrich: I donít know, but I have a feeling weíre about to find out ó look behind you!
William Michaelian: Jeepers. Itís th-th-th-th old senator! And weíve turned into the Hardy boys. One thing for sure, this is no ordinary mansion. But remember ó we canít tell anybody ó anybody, you hear? If Dad finds out, heíll skin us alive, like a couple of bloodless grapes.
John Berbrich: Okay, but if weíre going to be the Hardy Boys, Iím going to be Frank. I always had a crush on his girlfriend Callie Shaw. You get to be Joe, the little brother. It doesnít matter if Dad finds out about this escapade ó heíll skin us anyway once he learns that youíve wrecked his car.
William Michaelian: Iím not worried about that. Heíll get a new car in the next book, and by then Iíll be at least three weeks older. Now, what about the senator? Should we tell him about the skull in the cupboard, or do you think he already knows?
John Berbrich: Well, heís a politician, and all politicians are absolutely terrified of skeletons in closets ó of course this is a skull in a cupboard so Iím not sure if it qualifies. Letís see if we can draw him out, the old reprobate. Follow my lead, Joe. ďAhem, Senator; I have a bone to pick with you.Ē
William Michaelian: Gee whiz. The senator looks like heís dead. And hereís another clue: thereís cotton in his ears. Heís from the south, all right.
John Berbrich: Joe, do you know what this means? It means that the worst cotton pickiní criminal of all is back in town ó the unbelievably evil, cruel, & wicked villain known as....the Boll Weevil!
William Michaelian: Either that, or itís Joseph Cotton. Golly, Frank, I ó [Editorís note: As exciting as this dialogue is, we must interrupt the Hardy boys in their quest to solve The Mystery of the Mossy Old Mansion with the Skull in the Cupboard, or I Was a Teenaged Bloodless Grape to begin a new page. Sorry, folks. Thatís showbiz.]