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: Well, here we go again. Or, to be more precise, here we still go. I must confess, after our fascinating discussion about wordless poems and books and magazines with blank pages, I was tempted to leave this page blank and let you draw your own conclusions. What might they have been? Inspiration? Disappointment? Relief?
John Berbrich: It sure would have been quiet. Say, Willie — everything looks . . . different here. Kind of wobbly and vague. Did you tap the wrong key?
William Michaelian: Of course I did. That’s the story of my life. Have you come across any new magazines or chapbooks lately that are worthy of note?
John Berbrich: Well I’m always reading new chapbooks. Tell you what, I really enjoyed All Things Flow Away by Chuck Taylor. It’s a collection of short stories published by Tsunami Press, an outfit up in Washington State. All the stories take place in Texas, & just about every one involves some kind of dysfunctional family or relationship — broken homes, drugs, booze, thieves, the usual. But the characters are subtly portrayed as giants & rise above their tragedies. I mean they don’t whine. Here are a couple of good quotes: “What fun — to be skulking about when the vast body of humanity was prone asleep! America is the rational land of the Protestant day, yet we all yearn for the mysterious and seductive ways of night.” . . . “I subscribe to the white trash law: a lot of old wrecks in the yard and one is bound to work.” . . . “You know the universe, she’s a beauty, and she’s with you.” I really liked the feel of this chap. Don’t know much about the author except that he’s from Texas.
William Michaelian: Sounds interesting. Good positive-sounding quotes. It does get old, listening to the gripes of professional victims. Anything else? Short stories? Poems? Essays?
John Berbrich: Okay, I’ve finished a collection of poems by Karl Koweski called Casualty of the Industrial Revolution, published by Liquid Paper Press, the fellows who publish Nerve Cowboy. The book is hilarious, told from the convincing perspective of Koweski’s usual literary persona, the big-time loser. This is American poverty, life in a trailer with “a job that pays too much to leave / and not enough to go anywhere in this life.” Things are so bad that even under a bottle cap he finds the message: “YOU ARE / NOT A / WINNER.” I don’t usually laugh out loud when I read, but this collection produced several good laughs. By the way, I’ve published a few of Koweski’s short stories — all written with vigor, pathos, and violence. Excellent work. In his prose he’s a loser too, but the subject matter is generally more serious. Koweski has a lot of potential.
William Michaelian: Your small press library must contain hundreds, if not thousands, of zines and chapbooks. I can picture you absentmindedly opening a closet door and being buried in an avalanche of publications, then shouting, “Ah! Here it is!” even though you weren’t looking for anything when you turned the knob. Or there’s the scenario where you hear voices babbling in the night, as the books compete against each other and rearrange themselves in the hope that you’ll notice them in the morning. How about your own press? Any new or recent releases we should know about?
John Berbrich: Well, we’ve put out three poetry chapbooks this year. The Ninety-Five Poems by Cynthia Brackett-Vincent, editor/publisher of the Aurorean magazine; Things to Read on your Way to Hell by Steve De France, a veteran poet who knew Bukowski; & Things About to Disappear by Don Winter, a strong first collection from a well respected small press poet. Next up (I swear) is the interview chap, volume 2. Plus Barbaric Yawp, of course. We’ve just finished off the May/05 issue. I’ll send you one, Willie. I haven’t published an issue of the Synergyst for two years, but I’m not yet ready to say it’s dead. On extended hiatus sounds better.
William Michaelian: I’ll look forward to the Yawp. Hiatus — I like that. I picture the Synergyst roaming the country in search of fresh poems, or sitting on a creaky bar stool somewhere far from home, making notes. Three new chaps already this year? You’ve been busy. And all of them poetry, too. All told, how many titles have you published so far? Thirty? Forty?
John Berbrich: Let me get the stats out. Okay. Thirty-two issues of Barbaric Yawp, fourteen issues of the Synergyst, and thirty-four chapbooks. Exactly eighty publications. Our first magazine appeared in June of 1997, so all of this has been done in eight years. That’s exactly ten per year, on average. No wonder I don’t have time for my own stuff.
William Michaelian: Heck, I’m surprised you have time to sleep. But I’ll bet your wheels are turning even then. Congratulations — eighty is a nice round number. We ought to celebrate. That represents a mountain of work, and also a ton of good reading material that otherwise might not have seen the light of day. It would be a tremendously difficult decision to stop. I know you’ve got enough ideas flitting about in your head to fill several books of your own. Of course, you’ll know when the time is right. Or will you?
John Berbrich: I honestly don’t know. Many times I’ve felt compelled to ruthlessly pursue my own writing avocation. But then I realize that I would have to put Barbaric Yawp to sleep, and I simply cannot do such a thing right now. It’s like with your own kids — you couldn’t just give them away, but when the time comes for them to move out, it’s okay. We’ll see what happens down the road, I don’t know.
William Michaelian: Let’s see. Barbaric Yawp is eight years old. If it’s ready to move out when it’s eighteen, as some kids are, that leaves you another ten years of publishing. Obviously, you still enjoy the work and feel it’s worthwhile. Not only are you getting the words into print, you are running into a whole lot of good ideas and writers along the way. And then there’s the correspondence, which, though time-consuming, is great fun. And let’s not forget the fact that you spend a great deal of time sitting here, drunk as a skunk — which reminds me — I see your glass is empty. Care for another shot? It’s very good. They made it yesterday.
John Berbrich: Who? The elves?
William Michaelian: Elves? What elves? I don’t see any elves. You speak as if you know them.
John Berbrich: Willie, I haven’t seen an elf in years. They should be put on some kind of “endangered” list. The last elf I saw was drunk, I mean really burnt. Hey, burnt elf, that’s a good name for something. Or burnt elves, something like that.
William Michaelian: Okay, don’t pretend. You know you’re talking about my brilliant name for a magazine, Burnt Elves — the zine that exists, but refuses to be born. Fact is, I was thinking about Burnt Elves the whole time we were talking about our poetry-in-a-grocery-bag publication, Fist Through a Wall. I mean, I always think about Burnt Elves. I see them in my sleep. Sometimes, I even turn the hose on them, if they seem particularly warm. I think I’ve told you about my official Elves logo, where there is a drawing of two or three little elf hats sitting in some ashes. I’ve tried to do it myself, but my drawings always end up with big noses. Should probably call in a professional — for me, not the drawing. What do you think? Shall we get together and not publish Burnt Elves? Or is Fist Through a Wall all we can handle?
John Berbrich: If you’re willing to work hard we could probably not publish them both simultaneously. But seriously, do you have any ideas at all for Burnt Elves, I mean format and the type of material you’d include? Poetry, fiction, reviews, essays, comics. . . . I know a girl in Los Angeles who’s coming up with a new genre. She calls it Blob.
William Michaelian: Blob? What in the world is Blob?
John Berbrich: It’s sort of formless short fiction. She’s still working on it. So anyway, what did you have in mind?
William Michaelian: Trying to pin me down, eh? Okay, this is it. First of all, content-wise, I’d like to see work that dares to incorporate more than one form — poetry, fiction, essay, autobiography. But the writing shouldn’t be haphazard, or switch back and forth between forms just for switching’s sake. The form and progression of a piece needs to be cohesive, inevitable. The writing should sound good, and be easy to read aloud. I have no problem with stuff that benefits from multiple readings, but the reader should want to do so, and not feel forced in order to figure out what’s going on. How it appears on the page is also important. For that reason, format-wise, I’m thinking in terms of 8½ x 11. I’d like to preserve as many of the authors’ line-breaks as possible, and make stragetic use of white space. Drawings would be scattered throughout. What do you think so far?
John Berbrich: It’s certainly different. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever heard an editor request blended forms in the way that you’ve described. I see no reason why your idea won’t work. Actually, it sounds like a challenge to writers, to mix their forms (without mixing their metaphors). I like it.
William Michaelian: You mean it actually makes sense? Scary. But it is sort of a challenge — to stir up the language, to drive it in different directions, even pull it up by the roots, while at the same time making it graceful visually and musically. The work should also be fun, to write and to read. It should have spirit, and be entertaining. Hey, this is starting to sound like fun. I’d better be careful.
John Berbrich: I have a piece for you, Willie. It’s a tale called “A Clerk’s Poem.” The poem at the end is an integral part of the story. It was already published a few years ago in Crystal Drum. Can I submit it?
William Michaelian: You rascal, you. Okay, send it along. But this doesn’t mean — I repeat — this doesn’t mean that Burnt Elves is actually going to be published. . . . Well? Where is it?
John Berbrich: Let me run and get a copy of it. And while I’m gone I’ll look for those crazy girls. Be back soon. Don’t drink all the booze.
Phil E. Buster: Holy cow — he almost knocked me down. That must be one whale of a story.
William Michaelian: Story, heck. He took a whole case of moonshine with him. I wonder what he’s up to, anyway?
Phil E. Buster: Who knows? But that is the loudest motorcycle I’ve ever heard.
Judy: At some point I was getting ready to say Burnt Elf sounded like a paint color, but then I thought, ouch, that sounds like a Holocaust-related thing to say. Forget I said it, please. Just push that thought from your minds. Maye it would be better to think of it as a Star Wars or Tolkien Trilogy thing. I’ve been busy reading All Fishermen are Liars by Linda Greenlaw. Didn’t like it as well as an earlier book, The Lobster Chronicles, and I haven’t read her earliest book, The Hungry Ocean, which is about the Perfect Storm storm. I read a couple of stories from the 2004 American travel writing collection. One was written by a screen-writer who was using a family vacation as a potential source for material, as in “Just as we pulled up to the house I told her I’d brought along some work and there was a great close-up when she glared at me. Good foreshadowing — signals the beginning of an interesting subplot.” For book club, I am going to start His Monkey Wife or, Married to a Chimp, by John Collier. It originally came out in 1930, and Mr. Collier was born in 1901, so we have another young novelest. It’s an intriguing title, no?
William Michaelian: Not bad at all. It gives me an idea for a TV show: “Desperate Housemonkeys.” What about Linda Greenlaw? Does she really like the water, or is she married to a chimp-fisherman?
Judy: She is a true fisherman and is single, so she is not married to a chimp-fisherman, nor is she a fishwife. In fact she is boat captain.
William Michaelian: Yes, as I can see here on her website. Interesting. She lives in Maine, and she and her mom are also working on a cookbook, Stuffed to the Gills. So, what about John Collier? What do you know about him?
Tim Hinshaw: I just love jumbo fried chimps. Squeeze of lemon, a little cocktail sauce. Whee doggies, what a treat.
William Michaelian: Thank you, Mr. Insight. If you ask nicely, maybe the author will autograph a chimp leg for you. Now, about Collier . . .
Judy: Well, Collier was English, but more popular in America than England. He was married twice and enjoyed sailing. I don’t think he was as serious as Greenlaw, so they probably didn’t cross paths, and their boats probably didn’t cross wakes. He dealt with “sharply observed psychological evil” and may have been something of a misogynist. It’ll be interesting to see what the book club participants think about that.
William Michaelian: Whatever they think, he probably won’t mind, being dead. What else did he write? Keep in mind, Mr. Hinshaw will probably want to add cocktail sauce.
Judy: Oh, all right, Mr. Michaelian, I’ve done more homework. Were you a teacher once? Collier wrote one history, Just the Other Day, an Informal History of Britian Since the War, published 1932, so it must have been about WWI. “Just the Other Day” sounds like it could be the name of a TV mini-series, don’t you think? Some of his screenplays are African Queen, I am a Camera, Her Cardboard Lover, and Elephant Boy. Elephant Boy is based on Kipling’s Toomai of the Elephants. Elephant will not be served with cocktail sauce, but with one of Collier’s many story collections, Touch of Nutmeg and More Unlikely Stories. Roast elephant would require freshly ground nutmeg, I’m sure.
William Michaelian: Well, I won’t take you to tusk for that last remark. A teacher? Me? Ha! I wouldn’t last a week in the current school system. African Queen, eh? I like that title, Her Cardboard Lover. Sounds real Hollywood.
Judy: News flash! Check out this website for the selection of One Book Montana for 2005. I have heard of the book and thought it was an edited collection of real letters instead of a novel.
William Michaelian: Hey, that’s interesting. Letters from Yellowstone, by Diane Smith. Are you going to read that? Sounds like Montana Center for the Book is putting on a big production.
Judy: I will read it. It’s a personal, as well as a book club tradition, by now.
William Michaelian: There is also a page on the One Book Montana site called “Montana’s Literary Treasures.” Have you read some of the books listed there, and do you keep up with Montana authors in general?
Judy: Well, make sure you have something to eat and drink and a comfortable chair while I make a short story long and answer that question. I guess I don’t keep up on Montana authors more than I do any others because I am interested in those faraway places with those strange-sounding names as well as my home state. I read Fool’s Crow by James Welch and Winter Wheat by Mildred Walker because they are previous One Book Montana selections. Winter Wheat really struck a chord with me because of the description of the one-room schoolhouse, the horrid long Montana winter, the isolation, etc. People tell me I should read Blind Your Ponies as well; can’t remember who the author is, possibly Jim Harrison who is mentioned in the site. When I was too young to get much out of it, I read These Thousand Hills by A.B. Guthrie. One of Montana’s nicknames, Big Sky Country, comes from his novel title, The Big Sky. I read Stegner’s Angle of Repose, my favorite from the book club this year. He is more of a western writer than a Montana writer, but MSU-Bozeman does have a Stegner Chair. I’ve read several books by Ivan Doig, the one I would most recommend is This House of Sky. Doig lives in Seattle now and finds that living in a milder climate allows him more time to “work on the words.” I read and recommend Mary Clearman Blew’s All But the Waltz. This is a collection of five essays that flow together very well. Haven’t read any Jim Harrison, but know he has a daughter Jamie Harrison in the area who writes mysteries. When Quammen wrote Song of the Dodo, there was a lovely excerpt from it in the newspaper, so I bought the book and didn’t make much headway. My scientific background is almost non-existent. But I will try it again sometime; often when I give a book a rest, then go back to it, I can read right along. My former mother-in-law gave me a copy of The Last Best Place years ago. I haven’t read it, partly because I would rather read one entire book than a collection of excerpts, and partly because I have a psychological barrier against reading books she gave me, which I think I will make an effort to get past, since the barrier is probably childish. Anita, how many months do you think will go by before William asks me another open-ended question?
William Michaelian: That reminds me — Judy, I’ve been meaning to ask you, what is the meaning of life?
Judy: Don’t know.
William Michaelian: Okay, okay — you don’t have to go on and on about it. Anyway, that was an impressive array of books you mentioned. I looked up Blind Your Ponies. It’s by Stanley Gordon West, who also wrote Until They Bring the Streetcars Back, a novel about a teenage boy growing up in the late 1940s in St. Paul, Minnesota. If you scroll most of the way down this page, you’ll find his picture and some information about him. Among other things, his novel Amos was produced as a CBS movie of the week starring Kirk Douglas. Speaking of Angle of Repose, I remember when you were reading it quite some time back. Sounds like you really liked it. I haven’t read a single word by Wallace Stegner. Is that a good place to start, or would you recommend something else?
Judy: Angle of Repose is the only Stegner book that I have read, but a friend of mine has read many of his books, both fiction and nonfiction, and Angle is her favorite, so it may be a good place to start. The former professor who led the book club discussion said “Nothing in his writing is accidental.” The similarity in names between the real person and the character in the book is what inspired that remark.
William Michaelian: Oh? What was the name? And how would you characterize his writing? Calm? Measured? Humorous? Startling? Bitter? Wise?
Judy: Mightta been easier to answer the meaning of life question. . . . Anyway the character’s name is Susan Burling Ward, and the person’s name was Mary Hallock Foote, and it was the 2 syllable, 2 syllable, 1 syllable pattern that we noticed. Foote, and therefore Ward, were artists and writers. I cannot find again the excellent website that had a picture of Foote and of some of her pen and ink works, but www.juliedanneberg.com/work2.htm shows a picture of Foote, just how I had imagined her to look from Stegner’s character’s description of Ward. www.ochcom.org/foote gives a biography. Stegner based Angle on the letters of Foote, and subsequently there was a lawsuit claiming that Stegner had used too much of the correspondence verbatim and had presented Foote’s marriage in an undeservedly harsh light. I found his writing calm, measured, wise, and humorous. While some of his characters experienced some bitterness, I didn’t detect that from Stegner himself. I guess I was startled at the layers and depths and contrasts of the novel.
William Michaelian: It truly does sound fascinating. The OCHC page is full of good background on Mary Hallock Foote, as well as Stegner’s Angle of Repose, published back in 1971. I’m glad you found it. So, not only did she do a lot of writing under trying circumstances, as a young woman she illustrated some of the works of Longfellow and Hawthorne. That was no easy task undertaken by Stegner. And of course the key is that his book was only based on Foote’s letters. Still, it’s easy to see how some people would be upset. At the same time, he was entitled to his interpretation of the material, and to pursue his art as he saw fit, just as others are entitled to be boiling mad. Not a new thing in literature, that’s for sure. Thomas Wolfe had his family and the whole town of Asheville, North Carolina, hopping mad at his great novel, Look Homeward, Angel. Well. It’s good we plowed into this Montana business. What about Ivan Doig? I’m not sure I understand what he meant when he said living in Seattle’s climate allows him more time to “work on the words.” Is it because he spends less time chopping wood and shoveling snow? Because if he does much driving up there, he might lose the time he gained being stuck in traffic.
Judy: It’s the less time shoveling snow, trying to get the car started, etc. I believe he writes at home so doesn’t have to drive as much as someone with a Monday-Friday job.
William Michaelian: Then again, he’s probably hooked on the Seattle coffee and only sleeps two hours a night. That’ll give a guy plenty of time to work on the words. What about your book club? How many are you, and how many books do you set out to read during the year? And how do you decide which books to read?
Garry Sullins: I’m a huge fan of Henry Miller’s work. Miller, by way of his writings, introduced me to Blaise Cendrars, among others like Celine, Hamsun and the greatness of Dostoevsky. I was once in Big Sur and stumbled upon the Henry Miller Library, which happens to be the original little shack where Miller worked and lived while he was there. I was floored by it all and bought a book and postcard while I was there. It was in the postcard that later I discovered that on his desk was sitting a large hardback edition of Dan Yack, Cendrars. I had read about Miller’s boastings of Cendrars, but not until that moment did I finally decide to go out and get my hands on one of his books. But Cendrars is very hard to find in bookstores. It wasn’t until over a year later that I was in San Francisco, at the City Lights Bookstore that I found a copy of To The End Of The World. And then it all made sense. Read Cendrars and the great 20th century literature finally makes sense. Celine, Miller, The Beats, all of the dark stuff sprouted out of Cendrars and his spirit. I haven’t read Gold, Hollywood or Confessions of Dan Yack yet, but I am savoring the time I do. I’ve started Moravagine. But I would say to start with TTEOTW . . . there will be no going back. How about Harry Mulisch, Discovery of Heaven? Or W.G. Sebald, Vertigo, very Kafkaish.
William Michaelian: There you go, adding to my list of books to read. Holy cow. Sounds like Mulisch drinks his share of coffee as well. The Publishers Weekly review on this Amazon page has some mighty good things to say about his 736-page Discovery of Heaven. Meanwhile, I can see where To the End of the World isn’t exactly Little House on the Prairie. You’re into some wild reading. I hope you’ll keep us posted on Moravagine, and Cendrars in general.
Phil E. Buster: Judy? What did you say about your book club? I couldn’t hear ya over the sound of J.B.’s motorcycle. At least I think that’s what it is. If it ain’t, maybe a space ship landed in the yard.
Judy: Weeeeeelllll, probably our little book group won’t be reading TTEOTW, fascinating as it would be. . . . Here is the website for the group. You asked how many people are in the group. The organizer’s distribution list has a large number of people, but there are only about six or eight of us who go most of the time (one fella and the rest of us women), and another four to six who go about half of the time, and there are a few who show up once or twice a year. Some people come once, and we never see ’em again. We pick a book a month for eleven months, reserving one month for the One Book Montana selection. On the off month we have a potluck and bring our selections for people to vote on. Before I started going to the get-togethers, people would nominate as many books as they wished and the voters would chose among them, but the people who suggested many books hogged too many of the selections. At the first selection meeting I went to, each person could nominate up to three books, and then we chose one of each person’s books. Then each person who suggested a book had to sign a blood oath to be at the meeting for her book and lead the discussion. The other book I suggested this year besides Translator was The Power of One. As you can see anyone is welcome; one does not have to be connected with the library or even the Friends of the Library group. That is how we got Little Miss-Know-It-All to come. If anyone wants to know what an author was thinking or why a certain author never had children or the best way to teach students of any age anything at all, just ask Little Miss-Know-It-All. We figure she’ll keep coming, because she won’t make friends over the back yard fence easily. Good thing I’m writing anonymously, huh? We’ve learned interesting facts about book clubs. Some will pay $200 a session to facilitators, so I told the former English literature majors there’s another career ahead of them when they burn out on library work. We read about one club who won’t admit anyone who doesn’t remember what they were doing when John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated; in other words no young whippersnappers. I, of course, would be easily qualified to join if I lived in the area. Who wants to hear about the library’s informal sewing gatherings? ;-)
John Berbrich: I’m back.
Phil E. Buster: Looking like a wild man and grinning from ear to ear, I might add.
William Michaelian: Yes sir, J.B., you look great. So, you went through that case of moonshine already, huh? You’re just in time to hear about the library’s informal sewing gatherings. Hey, wait. Does this mean there are formal sewing gatherings? Anyway, it’s very easy for me to remember what I was doing when JFK was shot. November 22 is my brother’s birthday and my parents’ wedding anniversary. We’ve had more cheerful celebrations.
Phil E. Buster: I wonder if I could be a facilitator. Two hundred bucks is a lotta dough.
William Michaelian: Are you applying for the job?
Phil E. Buster: Dunno. Should I? What do you guys think? It’s been awhile since I’ve facilitated anything. In fact, I don’t even know what facilitate means.
John Berbrich: I couldn’t find Anita. Hi Judy. Willie, I found that story I wanted to show you, but for some reason I mailed it to you. I don’t know why, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. Alcohol inspiration, know what I mean?
William Michaelian: I shertainly dooo. But the postmark will tell the real story. And now, let us take a moment to acknowledge that today is Walt Whitman’s birthday. He was born in 1819, and died in 1892. Awhile ago, I read that he and Tennyson died within six months of each other. Apparently they were correspondents, even friends to a certain degree. Walt praised Tennyson for reflecting “the upper crust of his time.” Of Whitman, Tennyson said, “He is a great big something. I do not know what.”
Judy: What I meant by informal is that we don’t inspect people’s sewing projects before inviting them to come. Terrible sewers can come.
William Michaelian: And here I was picturing seamstresses in ball gowns. I need to get a grip on reality.
John Berbrich: Terrible sewers — sounds like a major plumbing problem.
William Michaelian: I don’t know why, but that reminds me of your skeptic tank idea. Anyway, here is the context of Whitman’s “upper crust” remark: “What is Tennyson’s service to his race, times, and especially to America? First, I should say, his personal character. He is not to be mentioned as a rugged, evolutionary, aboriginal force — but (and a great lesson is in it) he has been consistent throughout with the native, personal, healthy, patriotic spinal element and promptings of himself. His moral line is local and conventional, but it is vital and genuine. He reflects the upper-crust of his time, its pale cast of thought — even its ennui.”
Phil E. Buster: Ennui — isn’t that a kind of perfume?
William Michaelian: I think you’re right. Whitman continued: “To me, Tennyson shows more than any poet I know (perhaps has been a warning to me) how much there is in finest verbalism. There is such a latent charm in mere words, cunning collocutions, and in the voice ringing them, which he has caught and brought out, beyond all others — as in the line, ‘And hollow, hollow, hollow, all delight,’ — holy cow. The guy was a real blowhard. Anyway, if you want to read the whole thing, you can find it here. Sew. Anyone care for another drink?
John Berbrich: Sure. Listen, I heard a stupid joke yesterday. Wanna hear it?
Judy: Hi, John. When I keyed in the word sewers as in Betsy Ross, I thought about how it looked like sewers as in plumbing problems. Not suprising it was picked up on pretty quickly, I guess. The sewing parties are not as interesting as they used to be, anyway. Fewer people coming now and mostly non-readers. People who actually believe mainstream media. Not very stimulating conversation — like we have here.
William Michaelian: And then Tennyson said — oh, forget it. Is the joke about a plumber who sews?
John Berbrich: No, no, no. Why did the cowboy die with his boots on?
William Michaelian: Well, shucks. I don’t know, pardner. Why did the cowboy die with his boots on? Remember, Judy has sewing needles and she knows how to use them.
Judy: I’m all ears. I’ve got my needles stashed away with my scissors right now.
John Berbrich: Well, he didn’t want to stub his toe when he kicked the bucket!
William Michaelian: Ha-ha-ha! Brilliant! Look — Judy’s in stitches. And you know, like Judy, when it comes to corny jokes, I’m all ears. This reminds me of a joke a cousin of mine told way back in the Seventies: What do you call a graduating class of Egyptian plumbers? Answer: Pharoah faucet majors. Ha-ha-ha-ha! Uh, yeah. Or this one: There are two flies in the kitchen. Which one is the cowboy? Answer: The one on the range. Ha-ha-ha!
John Berbrich: Speaking of corn, do you know how much pirate corn costs?
William Michaelian: Okay, even though I have no idea what pirate corn is, I’ll walk right into this one. How much does it cost?
Judy: I’ve got my x-acto knife and rotary cutter at the ready, though. But don’t worry. Go ahead with your jokes.
John Berbrich: A buck ’n ear!
William Michaelian: Aaaaaaaahhh! Just for that, here’s a drummer joke my son told me: Did you hear about the guitarist who locked his keys in his car? It took him two hours to get the drummer out.
John Berbrich: Was this a Polish drummer? Reminds me of a Polish joke I once heard but can’t remember — something about a guy’s family being trapped in the car. It’s okay, cuz I’m part Polish on my mother’s side. I have another pirate joke and this is the last one. This pirate walks into a doctor’s office and says, “Doc, I feel lousy.” The doctor says, “My God, man, there’s a steering wheel stuck in your crotch.” The pirate responds, “Arrrrr, it’s drivin’ me nuts.”
Judy: There was a folk music group having a beer in a tavern on the way to their next gig. All of a sudden one of them said “Oh, my God! I forgot to lock the car, and my banjo’s in it!” They all rushed out to the car, but it was too late. There were two or three more banjos in the back seat. . . . Similarly, do you know how to tell when it’s summer in Montana? Leave your car unlocked, and someone will put a whole bunch of zucchini inside.
William Michaelian: Hey, I’ll bet that was what Ivan Doig was really complaining about — shoveling squash, not snow. And it’s obvious J.B. has been working hard to polish his jokes. Okay, here’s my last one. Billy Wilder told it at an awards ceremony when he was well up in years. An old man goes to the doctor. He says, “Doctor, I’m worried. I can’t pee.” The doctor looks at the old man and says, “Tell me. How old are you?” and the old man says, “Doctor, I’m ninety years old.” To this the doctor replies, “Well, then. You’ve peed enough.”
John Berbrich: Bet the old guy was pissed off at that advice! Ah, humor, it’s a wonderful thing. Virginia Woolf said that it is the first of the gifts to perish in a foreign tongue, meaning I suppose that humor is difficult to translate and also that it rarely transcends culture. Can you imagine how a person from Korea would respond to those jokes we told? Humor presupposes a great deal of information, even false information.
William Michaelian: Yes, jokes and idioms are tough to translate. I remember way back in 1982, when my brother and I were in Armenia, one of our cousins there who knew English quite well was mystified by phrases like “horsing around.” We had a lot of fun with that. After we explained it to him, every so often just for fun he would stop in the middle of what we were doing and say, “Is this horse around?” But there is also humor in the larger sense, the laughter one hears, for instance, in Dostoevsky, Chekhov, and Gogol.
John Berbrich: The Russians again. Gogol’s humor is genuine satire; nevertheless it does at times approach shrieking psychosis. Although they can be good-humored fellows, I don’t get a lot of humor from Dostoevsky or Chekhov, and certainly none from Tolstoy. I like your horse story. Reminds me of the time I went on a hitchhiking tour of California with a friend. We were picked up by two young men from Germany. They spoke pretty good English, but wanted to know the meaning of the term to “get down.” To communicate that phrase in all its subtlety, considering the delicate shades of meaning depending upon context, was quite a challenge.
William Michaelian: I like that — shrieking psychosis. And you’re right, Tolstoy can hardly be called a funny guy. It’s hard to explain the humor I find in the others, but I swear that when I read them I can hear them laughing, quite often at themselves. But a far better example of out-and-out humor would be Don Quixote. “Sock it to me” would also be hard to get across. How long ago did you hitchhike in California? Where did you go?
John Berbrich: This was back in the summer of 1975. We visited Los Angeles twice, slept out on the beach in San Diego a couple of nights, rode the last cable car in San Francisco. Swam in the ocean at Monterey. Went through San Clemente, home of Nixon. La Jolla, San Luis Obispo, Ventura, Long Beach. Was a lot of fun, very good vibes. The winner of the Worst Place to Hitchhike Award: Oxnard!
William Michaelian: I knew a guy who lived in Oxnard and he was permanently depressed. So, you dipped your toes in the warm Pacific and saw Cannery Row. A girl who used to work at a gas station nearby told me that she hitchhiked to Berkeley with some friends not that long ago. One of their rides down was with a guy who was as high as a kite, but they survived. I saw her again the other day. She says she and some friends managed to get hold of a “Grateful Dead bus,” and were going to paint it up and go to Canada this summer. It was her last day on the job. She was mighty happy. Did you also make it inland, or did you stick with the coast?
John Berbrich: We pretty much stayed on Route 1, although we did explore the cities rather thoroughly. Went to a Dodger’s game in LA, the dullest nine innings ever. Was against the Montreal Expos. The final score was 2-1, three solo homers, I can’t remember which team won. Drank beer in a Chinese pizza joint in San Francisco. Played a theremin at the San Diego Science Center. Leaped in the waves at Manhattan Beach in LA. This was when I finally understood the words to the Beach Boys song “Surfin’ USA.” They sing about the kids waxing their boards all over Manhattan. I grew up right near Manhattan, and I couldn’t see why kids there would have surf boards. Where are they gonna surf, Coney Island? I didn’t get it until I saw the sign, “Manhattan Beach,” and the whole world changed.
William Michaelian: That reminds me. I need to wax my skateboard. What, pray tell, is a theremin?
John Berbrich: It’s a musical instrument used by a few 60’s and 70’s bands, my favorite being McKendree Spring. A theremin is really a tone generator, and the coolest thing is you never actually touch it. As I recall it was a sort of small globe, and the positioning of your hands around it generate the tone and pitch. By wiggling your hand a little, a variable vibrato is produced. It’s really quite a fascinating device — I’m surprised you don’t see them around any more.
William Michaelian: Oh, yeah — those. Come to think of it, I do see them now and then at garage sales. Never could figure out how to put the light bulb in. What about the mellotron? Ever run across one of those?
John Berbrich: Nope, never actually seen one. I take that back — I have seen bands perform using them, the Moody Blues in particular. Okay, I’ve never seen one up close.
William Michaelian: That makes two of us. And before I forget, I tried to listen to the legendary Howie and the Wolfman yesterday, but was thwarted because of my slow dial-up connection. All I got were three-second snippets of “Lime in the Coconut,” even on the low bandwidth setting. How was the show?
John Berbrich: Oh, we had a great time. Had listeners from as far away as Milwaukee and Alaska. Quite an eclectic show, played a song from West Side Story, a Bill Cosby comedy bit, poetry by Charles P. Ries, plus lots of punk rock and classic rock — as well as our usual philosophic ramblings. Too bad you couldn’t get it. Won’t be on next Saturday, but should be in the studio most of the summer. If you record any of your own poetry on CD I can play that too.
William Michaelian: Oddly enough, I was thinking of doing that very thing, since my two guitar-playing sons purchased a really nice recording setup and microphone. I was even thinking of recording my entire novel, A Listening Thing. Recently, I heard from a guy in Saipan who had read the entire book sitting at his computer, and he said an audio version would truly make it “a listening thing.” Kind of a big project — and of course I still think in terms of ink and paper, despite this massive and still-growing website I have. What do you think?
John Berbrich: I don’t know if there’s any market for that sort of thing, although our local library has a large and expanding audio books section. It’s apparently very popular with older folks. Maybe you could check with the libraries in your area to see if they’d carry it. You might reach a few listeners that way. But a poetry tape with or without music sounds fascinating. I’ll definitely give it a critical listen and play what I like on the air.
William Michaelian: Well, if you’re going to give it a critical listen, maybe I should have the boys play “Smoke on the Water” to cover up the sound of my voice. Or maybe “Purple Haze.” That ought to do the job. A short story would be another possibility. Have you recorded any of your own poems or stories?
John Berbrich: A long time ago I recorded some poetry with a band I was playing with. The music was bizarre and accompanied the words beautifully. But nothing recently, nothing at all. A meritorious idea though.
William Michaelian: I suppose that’s something you could do in the Clarkson Pit, between shows. Maybe you can bribe the janitor. Meanwhile, I was just reading on Today in Literature about O. Henry’s sad ending at the age of forty-seven, after drinking himself to death. When he checked out of his hotel for the last time and headed for the hospital, he shook hands with everyone. Then, when he arrived at the hospital, he emptied his pockets, saying, “Here I am going to die and only worth twenty-three cents.” On his last night, the nurse turned out the light, and he had her turn it back on, saying, “I don’t want to go home in the dark.” It sure makes a guy wonder — about a lot of things.
John Berbrich: That’s positively creepy — especially when you consider the lively stories the guy wrote. Say, did you get that Yawp I sent you?
William Michaelian: I did, and I had a heck of a time getting it away from the mailman when I caught him reading it up the street in the shade. “Please,” he said, “just one more story.” And I said, “One more story, eh? Why don’t I just go ahead and finish your route — that way you won’t be disturbed.” He liked the idea, a little too much, I’m afraid. Anyway, we argued for several minutes and then finally he gave it to me when a UPS driver went by, honked, and pointed at him with a big grin. It’s a nice issue. I liked your “Journal Extracts from a Trip to Manhattan” — a good street-level, nostril-searing view of the teeming metropolis. Usually, I read the Yawp from front to back. This time, I read the poems first, I’m not sure why, then came back and read the stories. I especially like Elise Bischoff’s “Gift of Tongues,” and “Black River” by Charles P. Ries. Also Oke Mbachu’s poem, “Sleeping with One Sky Open.” I see he has a B.A. in Rhetoric and Composition, and Psychology. Being a simple farm boy, this sort of credential only confuses me.
John Berbrich: I believe that rhetoric is intended to confuse people — at least that is its most common application. I agree with you about “Gift of Tongues”; I found it amazing. Glad you enjoyed my little Manhattan odyssey — I’ve received a lot of positive comments regarding it. Speaking of rhetoric — maybe you can settle a dispute. My wife Nancy and I argue constantly about this. She says that everything one says is rhetoric — meaning that we are always trying to convince someone of something — while I tend to take a more balanced and reasonable view of the matter, considering rhetoric to be the polished skill of persuasive speech. Of course you can
s-t-r-e-t-c-h any word to mean more than it really does, but then language itself falls apart and we are left grunting at each other. Which of us is closer to the truth?
William Michaelian: So, a more balanced and reasonable view of the matter, eh? There’s nothing rhetorical about that statement. But even so, I can’t go along with Nancy on this one, despite the excellent hummus she makes. I guess it’s the “everything” that gets me, though I definitely see her point. Obviously, we often try to convince others of something. When we succeed, we somehow feel less alone. This might be another way of saying we are trying to convince ourselves. Being right is being safe, being in command, when in reality very little is within our control. But while we do use language in order to persuade, and also to cover up our real intentions, I also think we use it to express what we see, think, and feel as we blunder our way through life. I think we use it to relate and share our discoveries, all the while measuring it against our experience and listening for the truth. It’s funny — rhetoric has become almost a dirty word, hasn’t it?
John Berbrich: Yeah, it has, almost like “sophist.” Good answer. You know, when you start up Burnt Elves you could include an advice column, something like Ask The Word Doctor. Our present question & answer would be a perfect example.You could include joke questions — My participles insist upon dangling and I can’t keep those pesky infinitives to ever stick together. What can I do? –Joe Shmo, Kokomo, Indiana — or you can discuss real topics. When does the first issue come out?
William Michaelian: Well, I was thinking seriously of starting with the second issue, and then coming back with a first issue later on. But the second issue would be called the third issue, and the first issue the second, making the third the first. Anyway, as of now that’s the plan. Things might change, of course. For instance, the story you said you mailed, “A Clerk’s Poem,” never arrived. If this turns out to be a trend, then I will have to write the whole magazine myself, which means it will take longer, making it necessary to start with the fourth or even fifth issue. Or I might become inspired and put out the whole thing in a week. Does that answer your question?
Judy: Actually that’s how a lot of periodicals operate. Take it from one who knows. And if you really want to throw a wrench in the monkeyworks, William, combine an issue with that from another periodical once in a while.
William Michaelian: That is interesting advice, indeed. I haven’t even started, but I’m already buried in work. I think what I’ll do is form a committee. After that fails, then I can start with Volume Two — The Lost Years. But first I’ll have to run it by the editorial board, then the board of directors, and then finally the surf board. Help me, Mr. Wizard!
John Berbrich: You need to use the Way-Back machine, Willie — return to a simpler, more idyllic time, before the madness of publishing began.
William Michaelian: Hmm. When did publishing begin? And how soon after did it become mad? Or was it mad from the get-go?
John Berbrich: Hmmmm. Now that is an interesting question. Who published the first poetry or literary zine of any kind? I have no idea. It would of necessity be in a civilization that had discovered paper — I can’t imagine carving a zine on stone and then mailing it out — the postage would be outrageous.
William Michaelian: Ah — unless only one copy were carved, in which case the zine could be read and passed on from neighbor to neighbor in a wheelbarrow, or read at some central location — an early library of sorts. Say, that might be one reason some publishers are still called chiselers.
John Berbrich: I read once that in old Rome there was some kind of bulletin board erected at a central location in cities, where one could post news & even poetry. I think I once read this in connection with the Roman poet Horace but I’m not sure. Anyway, you gave me quite a laugh with your “chiseler” remark. It gives new meaning to the phrase, “Barbaric Yawp rocks!”
William Michaelian: Absolutely. You know, I think there should be dozens of little libraries scattered all over town, in addition to the main ones we have now. Each would occupy just a few hundred square feet, and focus on a single subject. The librarians would be people who love their subject and are eager to share knowledge of it with others. Imagine walking down the street amongst ordinary businesses and stumbling across a small room lined with shelves and books — a safe place out of the storm of daily life. In that situation, it would be easy to become interested in subjects one normally dismisses or overlooks. Here is a library devoted to the study of the stars. Over here we have Plato, and up the street is a fine little collection on geology, or the study of natural medicine and herbs. Wouldn’t that be the mark of a real, progressive culture?
John Berbrich: Yes, especially if they each served beer. Sounds like a short story Brautigan would have written. I can imagine a tiny library devoted to some arcane subject, with only one book on its one shelf. The faithful librarian comes every day, dusts, cleans the windows, waiting for the time when someone, anyone, comes to check out the book. It’s slow and quiet in the little library, but, one day, the door swings open. . . .
William Michaelian: . . . and a mournful breath of wind rustles the librarian’s notebook. The door closes. No one. The librarian hears a voice: “It’s time now. Time to come home.” The voice is gentle, kind. It is coming from the book. . . .
Judy: Who would maintain the online catalog for the one-book library?
William Michaelian: Perhaps a scholarly gnome, who emerges from the basement and does his work at night.
Judy: Or . . . since it’s a one-book library, perhaps a card catalog would fit in with the atmosphere better than a computer. If you wanted a combined card catalog with subject headings and authors altogether, it would need only one drawer. But if you wanted to split it, it would need one drawer for the author or authors and one drawer for the subject headings. But if the one book was poetry or a novel, it most likely would not have any subject headings, and one drawer would suffice. Of course the librarian would need a card catalog of one drawer behind the desk for the shelf list card. A “shelf list” has one card for each book arranged in call number order, and it would greatly aid the librarian in taking inventory.
William Michaelian: Thus leaving more time to say “Shsh!” to patrons. So — the catalog would end up taking more room than the book itself. That’s something I never would have thought of. It definitely pays to consult a professional in these matters.
Judy: A one-book library needs and deserves as much care and attention as a million-book library.
William Michaelian: Ah, books. . . . But I’m afraid I must disturb the still pond of our reverie and make a little announcement: In today’s mail, I received J.B.’s story, “A Clerk’s Poem.” It was delightful — and very strange, in a colorfully graphic sort of way, as well as poignant and even a bit digusting. I read it to my loving bride earlier this evening as she was toiling in the kitchen. She listened intently whilst frying tortillas — tortilla after tortilla she fried, her stack growing to a dangerous level as I carefully emphasized each word so she could enjoy its full effect. When I was done I said, “Well? What do you think?” She replied with the utmost sincerity, “That I fried way too many tortillas.” And there you have it. J.B., I have the distinct feeling that this piece is rooted in a real autobiographical event. Tell me — you ran over a cat, didn’t you?
John Berbrich: Yeah, I did. When I got to work, I wrote the skeleton of the poem. Then when I finished the poem later on, it seemed somehow incomplete. That’s when the story started percolating. Is it the sort of thing you want for Burnt Elves? I hate hitting animals. Up here you never know what’s going to happen. I’ve hit a hawk, a porcupine, & a cow. No dogs. But my car was once kicked by a deer — I swear, I didn’t hit him, he hit me.
William Michaelian: And for that you paid deerly. Did the porcupine puncture your tire? I too have hit a few animals in my day — stunned-looking jackrabbits frozen by the headlights, birds, roosters, snakes, toads, caterpillars, tarantulas, and a dog or two. But no cats that I can recall. It’s always a sickening feeling. And over the years, several of the dogs we had on the farm were hit and killed. One dog we had, named Cisco, was hit several times and it always recovered. My father ran over it with the large rear wheel of the tractor once, and the poor thing hauled itself off to one of my mother’s flower beds for about four weeks. Believe it or not, it lived to chase rabbits again, even though its hind quarters were permanently caved in. Cisco was an amazing, wonderful animal, and a good friend. He and I used to play tetherball — really. Every now and then, he would let me win. So. You asked about Burnt Elves. Yes, I do believe “A Clerk’s Poem” would work. One thing I like about it is that it is very visual — it actually illustrates itself. Still, I think it would be nice to toss in an illustration or two, especially of Mr. McGillicuddy, in particular his craggy, twitching eyebrows. Another thing I like is that it is preposterous, yet it makes perfect sense. And the tragic moment near the end, when Mr. McGillicuddy cradles his dead cat in his arms, captures what you yourself must have felt, and what others feel when chance and technology combine to make them the instrument of — oh, well. I think everyone gets the picture. I could go on about the story, of course, and would like to, but I don’t want to give too much away.
John Berbrich: Glad you like it. Regarding the porcupine — yes, I did get two quills stuck in the rubber, but I pulled them out with no puncture. So do you plan to illustrate the story yourself for the premiere issue of Burnt Elves? I agree, it is a very visual tale.
William Michaelian: I’ll have to ponder that. As you know, my artwork is rather primitive, but occasionally I do get lucky, as with the drawing of Mark Twain on my page about Life on the Mississippi. At least it sort of looks like him. But generally speaking, it’s way too soon to know, since I’ve made no firm mental commitment to publish Burnt Elves. Still, it’s funny, because in a way it seems like it has existed for a long time already — partly, I guess, because I invented the name and used it in a story seven or eight years ago. When I was talking about drawings for the magazine earlier, I was thinking in terms of work by other people. Did you have someone in mind? I’ll bet you can recommend a few.
John Berbrich: Yeah, I could recommend a few, some better than others. The thing is, an illustration style really helps to give a magazine its visual character. Most of the illustrators I am aware of produce drawings that are already recognizable in the small press. I mean, when you use a drawing by so-&-so in Magazine Q it reminds you instantly of magazines D, K, & Z. Personally, I try to use artwork only sparingly, and then much prefer the work of “unknown” artists, to avoid connecting our magazine to the others. I’m not good at sharing, and I just think each little zine should have its own recognizable style. But yes, I could send some people in your direction.
William Michaelian: And they would regret it forevermore. The other thing being, the writing itself will dictate what is or isn’t needed illustration-wise. In fact, the writing will dictate whether or not the magazine is needed. In the meantime, how does one hit a cow? Or were you drunk and driving in a pasture?
John Berbrich: No, no. The cow was standing in the road. I swerved to go around it and it jumped right in front of me. No damage was done to either party: the cow lumbered off and I continued driving to work. I’ll never forget — beside the road was this seriously rundown trailer. Bales of hay were stacked all around the outside for insulation. A woman standing out in front of the trailer shouted to me, “They always do that, I don’t know why,” meaning the cow. Like it was a regular occurrence.
William Michaelian: Beautiful. I’m telling you, you’re a magnet for these events. The woman was a representative from an alien world, dispatched to study the earth’s most intelligent form of life, the gentle cow. Shivering in the hostile environment, she could not understand why such an intelligent creature would waddle out into the road, and then jump, for crying out loud, into the path of an oncoming vehicle. You did say jump, did you not? Are we to believe that cows jump where you live?
John Berbrich: Why, yes — it did sort of leap. I believe it was a suicide attempt. Imagine how boring it would be to eat grass all the time, every day.
William Michaelian: Well, we used to have a pasture next to our farm, and when I was a kid I spent a great deal of time studying the cows. They ate grass for hours at a time, and seemed to enjoy every minute of it. But maybe they were putting on an act. And I did see calves leap, so it’s possible the cow you hit was enjoying a second childhood. Or maybe the alien-woman was leading the animal by remote control, or some sort of thought manipulation. It’s hard to know for sure. Strange things happen in the misty time of the morning. The cow might even have been one of your thoughts that had temporarily taken form.
John Berbrich: A physical manifestation of a bovine thought-experiment. Oh, Willie — you’ve got to write a story about that.
William Michaelian: I do? I mean, yes — I do But something tells me you’re not taking this seriously. I mean, this is no time to be pouring yourself a glass of milk.
Judy: Perhaps the cow had dementia.
William Michaelian: As opposed to it being a mad cow?
Judy: Yes. Alzheimers or something like that.
John Berbrich: I swear — I’m udderly serious.
William Michaelian: Okay, you guys. Just for that, I will write that blasted story. But J.B., it will be necessary to move into your house for several months so I can do research and retrace your steps that fateful morning. You know how big I am on research and planning ahead. Make sure you have lots of index cards handy, so I can do character profiles on all the wild creatures that live around your place. I also want to interview the alien. Tell Nancy I’m bringing plenty of garbanzos — this is an important project, and I don’t want to run out of hummus. Let’s see. Am I forgetting anything?
John Berbrich: If you leave today, and can walk twelve hours per day at a comfortable walking speed of three miles per hour, I estimate that you’ll arrive here in mid-September. Let’s call it 8:00 on the evening of the fifteenth (EST). Nancy’ll need those garbanzos. I think we’re all set. I have extra pens and stuff.
William Michaelian: Okay, but just make sure you’re there when I arrive, or I’ll “let myself in” like last time. You remember what a scene that was. But before I leave, maybe Judy would be kind enough to tell us how that John Collier book turned out. Not that monkeys are anything like cows, but I’m sure they suffer from dementia, or they wouldn’t be so much like people.
Judy: Well, the Collier book was a lot of fun — whimsical, even. The man and his chimpanzee spouse were set to live happily ever after back in Africa by the end of the book. Probably mixed marriages are more acceptable there. One critic said the book took place in the 1920s, but it seemed much more Victorian to me. Propriety was a concern. The lady chimp did some planning and scheming, but she didn’t use people in the way the gentleman’s human fiancee did, and of course, the human fiancee lost out in the end. It won’t stick with me the way Angle of Repose did, but I found it worth a read. One critic called Collier a misogynist, and he might be. I don’t remember any admirable women in the plot. At one point the male character noticed another man who looked very happy, and he thought to himself “I wonder if he has a chimp?” He never showed a female character unhappy from someone else’s doing, looking at a happy woman and thinking “I wonder if she has a chimp?” Just shows to go ya. Oh, and I’m sure chimps can get dementia. Dogs do.
William Michaelian: Whereas chickens are born that way. Thanks for that Collier update. You know, I like that idea, seeing happy people and automatically assuming they have a chimp. But what about unhappy people? What animal would they have? And would the animal like garbanzos?
John Berbrich: I can’t think of a single animal that likes garbanzos. Maybe a pig. We used to have a pig, and from what I remember he would eat anything but green beans and potato skins. I can’t recall specifically if we fed him garbanzos. And I’ve just found out that Nancy is scheduled for a headache on September fifteenth at around 7:30. So we’ll be home but she will be sleeping or at least trying to sleep so try to keep it a little quiet when you show up — no loud noises like last time. I mean, it will be great to see you again and all, but still — I do have neighbors with rifles.
William Michaelian: Neighbors with rifles — check. Garbanzos — check. Green beans and potato skins — check. I’m sorry to hear about Nancy’s headache. I promise to — crash! — be quiet. Darn. Another mess to clean up. Oh, well. I’m used to it by now. Hey, look — there’s a quote by G.K. Chesterton printed on this napkin. This is interesting:
“I believe what really happens in history is this: the old man is always wrong; and the young people are always wrong about what is wrong with him. The practical form it takes is this: that, while the old man may stand by some stupid custom, the young man always attacks it with some theory that turns out to be equally stupid.”
I don’t know. If I had to guess, I’d say ol’ G.K. didn’t have a chimp. Oh — and here’s something else: “Acme Literary Napkins.” Hmm. I don’t remember ordering these.
Judy: If the garbanzos were either canned or properly soaked and cooked so they wouldn’t cause digestive problems, I don’t know why animals wouldn’t like them.
William Michaelian: Who knows? Maybe they would, if they were hungry enough. But I can’t picture an animal actually seeking out garbanzos, or choosing them over their standard diet. It’s funny. For some reason, I just pictured a bear coming upon his favorite stream, but instead of water in the stream, there are garbanzos. Oh, I know — there was a big garbanzo storm. The hillsides are covered with them. Homes are being swept away in the ensuing garbanzo-slides. News at eleven.
John Berbrich: This is a great idea for a TV reality show. Judy’s right about soaking the garbanzos. That’s how Nancy prepares them. Willie, if you’d just soak the beans, you wouldn’t have to deal with these horrible storms. Doesn’t sound like your wife has trained you very well.
William Michaelian: On the contrary, friend, I know all about soaking garbanzos. But that doesn’t rule out freak storms, especially with global warming on the upswing. But just to make you happy, I will arrive with a fifty-gallon drum of thoroughly soaked — if not sprouted — garbanzos. While Nancy is getting over her headache, you and I can mash the beans together. It’ll be like old times. In the meantime, you’d better check the river by your place. You might be surprised.
Judy: Not to beat a dead chimp, er, make that horse, but the book group met tonight and discussed His Monkey Wife. Many people found it delightful; others couldn’t get interested enough to finish the book. There were eleven of us there. We decided it’s about colonialism, pet-person relationships, marriage, deceitfulness, all sorts of things. It even has a slam or two against the Church of England. I just made myself the most unappetizing-looking, boring stew in the world. Needs some garbanzos.
William Michaelian: It’s beginning to sound like we work for the Garbanzo Advisory Board. Imagine a quiet, romantic scene in which a man says to a woman, “A garbanzo for your thoughts.” Or a solitary monk pondering the riddle of the universe by dropping a garbanzo in a pond and studying the subsequent fizz, not to mention dead fish rising to the surface. Oh, yes. It’s all beginning to make sense. Anyway. So much for His Garbanzo Wife. Here’s hoping you and your group find Nabokov’s Pale Fire similarly challenging. Speaking of Nabokov, a writer I know has been writing about each of the sixty-five stories in The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov on his website. He calls it The Nabokov Assignment. I had never read Nabokov, so the excerpts he provides from each story have been enlightening. I can’t say I care much for Nabokov’s style — he seems awfully deliberate. But reading something like Pale Fire might cure me of that impression. Have you guys read any of his work?
John Berbrich: No. Many critics and literary personalities flutter into transports while describing both the content and style of Nabokov’s stories, but as yet we haven’t met. By the way, don’t you just love saying the word “garbanzo”? I’m finished.
William Michaelian: I could tell you the story about the great bandit, Garbanzo Diaz, but I won’t, because I am also finished. Pretty sneaky, your fluttering Nabokov remark. Reminds me of another bandit, Lepidoptera Gomez. But we’ll save that story for another time. Now, why don’t we start a new page and see what other trouble we can get into?