gall and gumption

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Borrowed Finery

by Henry Vaughan

Hither thou com’st ; the busy wind all night
Blew through thy lodging, where thy own warm wing
Thy pillow was. Many a sullen storm
(For which course man seems much the fitter born)
          Rained on thy bed
          And harmless head.

And now as fresh and cheerful as the light,
Thy little heart in early hymns doth sing
Unto that providence, whose unseen arm
Curbed them, and clothed thee well and warm.
          All things that be, praise him ; and had
          Their lesson taught them, when first made.

So hills and valleys into singing break,
And though poor stones have neither speech nor tongue,
While active winds and streams both run and speak,
           Yet stones are deep in admiratiòn.
 Thus Praise and Prayer here beneath the sun
           Make lesser mornings, when the great are done.

For each enclosèd spirit is a star
          Inlighting his own little sphere,
Whose light, though fetched and borrowed from afar,
          Both mornings makes and evenings there.

Friday, May 27, 2011


Another drive-by image by my brother. I'm just putting them up here till he decides to set up his own site. I like this one.
Photo by Yawn Penso

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Merely Personal

I was living in Nevis, had been living there for about five months. For most of those months I had my head down, working almost alone to produce a newspaper every week. The newspaper office was in a building at the end of a dead-end road just outside of town. On production nights I'd be in there all by myself, with the door open (it wasn't air conditioned at first) and swarms of bugs coming around the lights. If I closed the door it got suffocatingly hot. I was sending copy to St. Kitts, to my friend Roger, who was the page designer, and then sending each page to the printer in St. Maarten. Some nights I wouldn't get done until 3 a.m. Then I would drive back to my little apartment in town. I was still getting over the attack, and I remember that one night I came home and the gate to the property didn't look right. I called the police and had them do a look-over of the apartment and the yard before I would even enter the gate. I did not have any debate with myself about this; I simply didn't want to get attacked again and if I looked like an idiot then fine. They found nothing, and I was all right. Then the donkey spider moved in. This is a spider approaching the size of a tarantula. And I don't know if you've noticed this but spiders are fiercely territorial. My apartment had two bedrooms, one on each side of the living room. The one on the side that also had the bathroom was the bigger one, and that was where I'd been sleeping. This donkey spider decided that he (she) liked that side. So I'd be getting ready for bed and there would be this spider, the size of a mouse, rearing up on its hind legs at me. I let it have the big bedroom and moved into the small one.

Chickens came into the back yard in the mornings. Once I bought some cracked corn and scattered it for them, whereupon they all took fright and didn't come back for weeks.

Over this four months there was little time for anything but work on the paper. But things began to let up at last, and I began to get out and meet people. One night I was out at a popular beach bar, drinking with some locals and tourists. The tourists were this English couple, middle-aged, very droll and kind and full of good humor. In the group was also the Crazy Englishman. He sat listening, silent, through most of the conversation. I only remember one contribution he made to the conversation, but it was memorable. He suddenly announced, a propos of nothing that I can recall, "I can retract my testicles into my body--AT WILL."

Well, then we were running into each other other nights, and pretty soon we were going out, because he was really funny, and he had a sort of rough gallantry that was charming. Also he got along with the locals, which a lot of expats didn't know how to do. Pretty soon we were a regular item. And then one day he just pulled the plug. I was crushed. Totally bottomed out. And I still had a newspaper to run, stories to report and write, and the whole ordeal of production. On one of the nights when we would have gone out, I found myself alone at home.

I had moved from the tiny apartment to a small house in the hills on the windward side of the island. It was fresh and cool up there, you got the benefit of the trade winds but without the harshness and salt you would get if you were down at sea level. It was green, too, lush, quiet. Across the street was a rum shop, a nice rum shop run by a father and daughter. On Sunday afternoons I could hear the slap of dominoes from my porch. Next to the rum shop lived my friend Quentin the BeeMan. I knew other people in this neighborhood, which was so beautiful, and I felt safe there. So did Sweetie, who made friends with my downstairs neighbor Mike, a gentle person; she would flirt with him for hours. In the mornings I had my coffee watching the clouds chasing each other across the sky, and the way that it made the blues of the sea constantly changing, all shades of blue from silvery to purple to green, this continuous movement of color. That sea lay between Nevis and Montserrat. I could see the sunlight bounce off the tin roofs of the houses on Montserrat, and the plume of steam from the volcano.

But I was alone that night with this sadness and pain, and the wind was howling all round the house. And without going into a lot of detail, here's what I got out of it:

I thought falling in love was the way to it. I'd meet that Right Guy and we'd be all in all to each other and it would be perfect and I would never feel insecure or have the desire to bolt again, or all the irritating ambivalence in between those two extremes. But Right Guy somehow kept turning out to be Wrong Guy, with much blood spilled. The one thing I never did was ask myself what I wanted. "I want whatever you want, [insert name here]!" would have been the answer. Except I didn't want what he wanted.

There are people who think they won't be happy unless they get enough money to be able to buy all the things that supposedly make people happy. I've never believed this; I always figured that the best resource I had for making me happy is literature. Because for one thing then you can learn that a lot of the things that make you happy don't need money to realize them. Money buys security and luxuries, that's it. But happiness comes from relationship--to oneself, to other people, to nature, to being. If you wait for money or some other shit to get solved you're cheating yourself of the happiness that is mysteriously folded into almost everything. Well, I understood this about money but I didn't understand that it is also true about "love." But I began to understand it that night in Nevis, when I found myself very very alone and in much agony of spirit.

All these things Right Guy was supposed to get me--why couldn't I get them for myself? Since then this has been the big question for me. And I don't just mean material things. Do I want loyalty? How do I get loyalty? By offering loyalty. Do I want some space around me, some solitude to think and work in? Then make that space. Do I need to write? Write now. Paint? Go out and paint. Do I want kindness? OK I'll practice being kind. Want someone who can forgive? Then forgive people. Want someone to whom I can express my feelings about things? Then speak my mind truthfully and see who listens. Whoever it scares off, let them go. I needed to provide these things for myself, or else I could never have them from anybody else. It was up to me to make this world my home. Life in Nevis after that night improved almost immediately. Of the entire time I lived in St. Kitts and Nevis that was the happiest stretch of it and it was glorious--totally insane but glorious. In some ways it was one of the happiest periods of my life.

In addition Crazy English guy came back into the picture, but by the time he did so I had given up any attachment to him--it had simply fallen away. We still went out and played together, but it was for fun. We went on hikes; we explored ruins; we went to rum shops; we went out dancing; to Sunday dinner at another beach hangout; we drove down to the big pasture where someone kept a herd of tame and very beautiful Brahmin cattle, and admired them and petted the big, tame, gentle bull. We went to the races. It all felt very normal, even when he got crazy jealous and acted like a maniac. At those times he would try his best to frighten me and I would stubbornly refuse to be frightened. Something genuinely friendly persisted. Once, after one of these jealous fights, he invited me, with great remorse and formality, to dinner. I went to his house, and he had made these little open-faced cheese and ham sandwiches and carefully cut each slice of cheese into the shape of a heart. I think it worked because I wasn't "in love" with him and because, crazy as he was, you could trust him, you knew that he knew what loyalty was. I had identified loyalty as one of the things I wanted to have in my life. And loyalty was not complicated between me and him; it was simply the mutually acknowledged right of one to shake the truth out of the other for the sake of getting along.

I had begun to define what I wanted, and this seemed to change the whole field of play. Bad things still happened, and it wasn't always comfortable there, but I was all right. What you want in the world you have to imagine and make. The work wasn't finished but it was begun.

Once when I was in grad school I was talking to Al Stephens--whining to him, I'm pretty sure, about my miserable failure to be a disciplined writer. "What you need is a subject," he said. That was more than 20 years ago. I still struggle with subjects. I rarely seem to have anything given to me. I think my subject is literature; literature as an object of experience, not as an object of knowledge.

Literature as an object of trade gossip, or as an object of the attentions of middlebrow cliche-slingers, is of no interest to me. I don't find I share anything with these people--not even the same universe probably. I mean, Do you see me voluntarily associating with the sort of people who need Stanley Fish to "keep them honest"?

I suppose there's politics. There are people who have really strong political instincts and see the world in a terms of politics and write well about it, and this is very useful. I am not sure I could do that, because I am lazy, and then I realize that the only political writing I like is the kind that has literary qualities. The rest might as well be reports from Dow Jonse. My lit major way of looking at things keeps prevailing over every other way of looking at things. What I always seem to get at the end is literature. And literature, like all experience, happens to one person at a time. I write in defense of the point of view of that one person, or in celebration of it. It's the ground of everything. That the person, a lot of the time, in these pages, happens to be me is only a function of the quiet tenor of my life, the fact that I don't get out much. Sorry!


The neighborhood that I want to move to reminds me of the Caribbean. The houses are all mismatched: different sizes, ages, colors, and less of that suburban putty colored paint that I loathe. I like junk in front yards and on porches, I like seeing people sitting on porches, strangely garbed, smoking cigarettes and watching traffic. If you walk around you smell cooking--maybe it's chile verde. It is utterly without pretensions, but when you turn a corner from what street to the next you never know what you'll see.

Photo by John Ward

The people who live there are not rich. They improvise. Or they fill their front yards with gnomes, green ceramic frogs, and a Bathtub Mary. My friend John and I went walking around there on Sunday and he taught me a new verb: "to Home Depot" as in (looking at a house) "they don't seem to have Home Depot'd it to death." He took this photo with my iPad.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Sofa Wars--New Season

For readers new to this series, first there was the red sofa. Everybody liked the red sofa. Sweetie pretty much lived on it in Germantown. When we moved to the Tick Ranch and we were all alone out there just the three of us, after dinner what the dogs preferred was that I should sit in the middle of the red sofa with Misha on one side of me and Sweetie on the other, laptop on my lap and the TV on.

But by the time we left the Tick Ranch the red sofa had become such a smelly loathsome object that it really made no sense to keep it. So the red sofa went on to the Sofas' Graveyard. A friend donated a foam loveseat that was lightweight (I could lift it all by myself) and folded out into a bed. This was when the sofa wars started to heat up because there was only room for one person and one dog on it--provided the dog was not Misha, who was a little fat at the time. She is a lot fat now, kibble-stealing hog that she is.

There was never any question of the two dogs sharing the loveseat, because they get along by maintaining a certain distance. The rules of personal space between the two of them are subtle, complex and subject to all sorts of exceptions and riders. But at any rate one of them was don't share the loveseat. Sweetie generally monopolized the loveseat, but occasionally of an evening Misha would get up there and then somehow the rest of the living room would become somehow--uncomfortable. Something was wrong, and after a while you'd realize that the uncomfortableness was emanating from Sweetie, mysteriously, silently and odorlessly and colorlessly. And you couldn't figure out what it was. Then Misha would get down off the sofa, to get a drink of water or stretch out on the cool of the wood floor, and Sweetie would hop onto the sofa and within a minute the invisible whatever-it-is that was making everybody nervous would stop.

After she rendered that sofa into an unspeakable object I had to get rid of it. I don't really have room in my apartment for a big smelly piece of furniture that only the dogs can use. Except the recliner. And the recliner is going. Even Misha won't sit on it any more and I would advise any human against it.

But one must sit somewhere. So the last round of the sofa wars was the purchase of a sofa-loveseat combo made of imitation leather. The thick, rubbery kind. And I was happy to see that the dogs HATED it. Sweetie got up there once and then got down with a look of disdain and loathing on her face that would have made me laugh if I didn't feel slightly guilty. Misha just looked tragic, which is her general response to all adverse circumstances not involving potential attackers. She would sit up there occasionally, but she's given that up.

To compensate, I bought them new dog beds and they quite like those. They are unclear on the concept of "Big" and "Small" but Misha doesn't mind sort of draping herself over Sweetie's little donut-shaped dog bed like a shipwrecked person clinging to a life preserver. And Sweetie can stretch out at full length in Misha's.

The main problem with the sofa and loveseat is that I hate them too. They are uncomfortable and cluttery, and while they might look nice in some sleek minimalist sort of environment they just look ugly among my bookshelves. So I think they have to go. Of course the presence of the two moochers means that I will never spend a lot of money for a sofa. Probably wouldn't anyway. I know what they want. They want another big comfy sofa where we can all sit together like in the good old days at the Tick Ranch. I would like a comfy sofa so I can sit in my living room like a human being, not like the leader of a dog pack. You can see there is some conflict here, and this is a conflict that unfortunately the dogs have been winning pretty steadily. My house is the last stop before the landfill for any sofa. It is hard to be motivated to buy one when this is the reality of it. Nevertheless, I ought to do it. But I kind of feel sorry for the sofa.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


I promised my brother that if he sent me this photo I'd post it here. A plane buzzed him as he was driving this empty stretch of road, and he caught a picture of it next to that mysterious sign.

Photo by Yawn Penso

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Honk if You Know Someone Who Has Suffered from...

Limerence. Don't miss the wikipedia page link either. I notice that at the end of it a new footnote informs us that David Brooks of the New York Times has written on the subject in his new book, The Social Animal. I believe that that may be the most unappealing thing I have ever read about a book. I mean it's somewhere on a par with overhearing that last night the fried earthworm appetizers at Uncle Bluto's House of Fish Offal and Accidental Digit Amputations were a little soggy and underdone.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The God of Poetry Wears Loud Shirts

In response to a query from a friend about the short post preceding this one:

Carolyn, everything in that little piece is true. I mean, it is an account of actual experience. Experience of what? Grace, I guess. It assumes, first, that there is no meaningful distinction between the exotic on one hand and the everyday casual on the other—it’s imagination that is either working or not working. It’s about my complicated feelings about the island landscapes and seascapes which get inside my gut like nowhere else on earth--even places of more natural beauty. But for all this intense feeling about nature that I have when I’m there, it is, like everywhere else, a casual and everyday kind of place. I know nothing duller than the capital city of a small Caribbean island on a Sunday afternoon.

So this is kind of about how your possible happiness can come by a sort of grace, unsought, not as a solution to anything but just existing of its own right like nature. It comes among the ordinary things like the dude who promises to call but never calls, it comes among flat tires and laundry and all the things that need solving, but it does not come by solving them—unless the Gods of What We Want happen to be agreeable. And that is the great thing about it, it's what your aliveness is actually about, but I didn't understand this at the time. It was a fleeting experience of being in love, not with the sleeping man, but with being. There is no “why.” It just is. And being in love with being means finding a way to love the dull and ugly bits as well, the everyday, to find the whatchamacallit—Holy Spirit if you will or god of poetry—resident among them. You could say that the feeling of loss of grace, as chronicled by so many poets (Herbert, Wordsworth, Hopkins come to mind) is the conviction that for some reason you don’t have it within you to get that love of being, that you’ve lost something, you’re cut off. Being in love with someone is like the next best thing, and sometimes it is the best thing. (However, if you feel and suddenly express a sudden surge of love for being, you don’t have to waste weeks afterwards trying to figure out how to talk the fucker down out of a tree--which, it is probably safe to assume, is a waste of time anyway.) The solitude I feared, then, was full of promise; that’s what came in through the window that day, and something in me was yearning for it but feeling unworthy of it.

This thing occurred during a very unhappy time in my life, eight years ago, and although the experience impressed me I didn't know what it meant or what to do with it. Over all these years this experience kept trying to fit in somewhere--should it be in a novel, in an essay? I mean, I’ve tried putting it to various uses like that and while these experiments were fun they didn’t let me feel finished with the matter. Whenever I try to “use” anything it doesn’t work. Maybe one doesn’t finish. I put a man-of-war bird in this version and then I took the man-of-war bird out again. The man-of-war bird is a whole other story.

I am able to wholeheartedly welcome its persistence in my mind. That persistence, it occurred to me just recently, was part of the gift.

The "I'll call you" is a reference to the other party in the piece, the sleeping man, who always used to say, "I'll call you," but would never call. I mean you’d be walking down the street and “Beep! Beep!” he’s sticking his head out of his car window, “I’ll call you!” The call never came. This line is a joke at his expense.

You have to be unhuman sometimes for a while; be a man-of-war bird or just nothing. My vision of what that's like is the Caribbean, the sea there, perhaps because that experience was so common in my childhood.

See how long and boring this is compared to that?

Thank you note in response to an invitation to the beach (reconstructed and reposted)

Dear J--,

On that windward coast, that afternoon, the god of poetry came barging into your room like a loud man in a loud shirt calling us to a loud party where he’d already had three beers. You slept beside me. Your skin touched my skin. You didn’t notice that either. I followed the loud man out the window into that sky. I had no word for that blue, but that was all right; I did not need a word. I was studying the conjuration of things: this blue inside the reef, that other blue outside the reef, the brown-ochre reef itself below the line of the whitecaps. The sea-blast rushed on to the shore, shaking the coconut leaves and the hibiscus bushes, losing itself in the scrub and never quite finding the village. It left salt in your room, there to touch and taste, a fine film, a crystalline grit, a light corrosion of metal, working quietly, secretly, as if I had asked in my prayers for love and faith and accidentally got salt instead.

Funny, after all that came after, this is what stays.
I’ll call you.

Your friend,


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Oh Ick

Boy, if you ever want to get depressed just take a dip into the comment spam folder on your blog. I'd like to hose mine out and wash it with bleach and then maybe just burn it down.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Shiny Things

The old Karl Bohm recordings of Mozart's operas are still my favorite. All the time I spent with them really paid off in the pleasure I get from them now. This trio is such a pretty thing it could be a piece of pop music--and probably is in some mashup with Julio Yglesias or Sting and one or more of the various tenor triplets, perhaps in the cheap CD bin as "brunch music" or "music to get over romances with." What I got from the time I spent with Mozart's operas, listening to them over and over and over like an obsessed person, is having all the context around something like this, so that it comes at me riding the big wave of the story and all that the music has been sort of building and working the whole time. And that's what I want: the whole thing. It's this huge complete, full experience of feeling, and with Mozart the feeling is just never wrong. If it seems wrong, it's because the stagecraft or the diction or the acting is wrong. But the feeling in the music is never wrong. It comes at you with this generosity, so alive, so agile.

The more I write, the more it becomes apparent that the only reason for me to do it is to do it as I want. I mean, not all that long ago I used to envy people who had cool writing jobs. Oh wow, you travel to tourist destinations and write about luxury hotels? How come I could never find some such gig as that? It took me a while to notice that while I envied them the fact of being paid to write whatever they wrote, I didn't envy them what they wrote. I didn't read Miss Thing's luxury hotel blurbage and think, "Gee I wish I'd written that." I just thought it might be nice to have a free couple of nights at some hotel and spend the time writing. It took me a while to notice, too, that what I wanted to write on this imaginary fabulous gig was my own stuff--which no hotel would pay me for.

Movement is freedom for me, and when I get a taste of it I could probably spend my whole time just writing. In fact some of my best journeys are those I've made alone, like my trip to Dominica, in which I just wrote indiscriminately everything. And that's the kind of travel writing I like to read too. A friend today asked me if I had read Lawrence's "Sea and Sardinia" and in answering him (yes, often) it occurred to me that Sea and Sardinia was the most perfect travel book. There is such a long drop to the next travel book, it is really incomparable. The best of the ones at the bottom of that long drop are clever, or competent (defining "competent" very loosely) but they are not a sustained work of heightened passionate attention of a genius at the peak of his literary (read: perceptive, expressive, combined). Sea and Sardinia is genius. It's proof that genius exists and doesn't always look like Einstein. I envy that. And so I've learned to let the lesser temptations of writing go. I did not become a magazine feature writer, turning out smart things for the New Yorker.

In the lonely hours of yesterday morning when the Yogi Bedtime Tea wore off (4 a.m.) I woke up and was chatting online with a close relative on the West Coast, who keeps strange hours. He's figuring a lot of things out and he sorta wants to write, because when he talks with people about them he makes them uncomfortable--he's driven by an appetite to figure things out and to get it out and put it in play. This scares people. I encourage him of course. Anyway he asked me if I'd ever started writing and then got scared of where it might take me. That was making him hesitate, he said. At first I didn't understand the question and then I realized that that fear kept me from writing and made it painful and humiliating, for years. And I had forgotten how huge it was! That was when I was very much inside of the belief that I was somehow obligated to write things that other people had already imagined. And hearing someone else speak of that fear, that balkiness at the mind's desire to go where it wanted--I was able to look at it with some detachment. When I was younger it seemed like stupidity--my stupidity and incapacity. In him I see it as intellectual honesty and a prudent fear of uncharted territory. But I've been hanging out in that uncharted territory for some time now and I don't find it scary at all. I wade out into those scribbled-up notebooks and I haul something up onto the beach that doesn't look half bad. I have to accept that it's a slow business, that I write some things over and over again, that I could die and leave this big mess of ink for someone else to deal with, whatever. I don't care. I just go on. It's the medium in which every night I try to put myself right with the world, and the end result, I hope, is just a smidge more wisdom and some writing that I can respect. I say that now; when I'm actually writing I don't even think about that. I just think about what I'm writing about. Jesus, what a relief!

Out of the process, and sometimes even to order, I find I've produced something that I can share, and then I'll see what happens with that if I move it out into the world. But I'm not trying very hard to move it out. I should try harder, probably.

Who cares about this stuff anyway? Who wants it? How can it change anything? That's what my relative asked me, when I told him it stopped being scary after a while. I told him that the timeline for change by art is longer than the one for other things. You put it out there so that it can create the desire for it. You do not dispute with the rest of the world whether you have the right to create what you created. You just assert your right by letting this thing walk around on its own and live its own life, let it create the space it needs. And that does make a change.

There is no setup for the good; if you want it you have to make it. And you have to be unafraid of solitude. Not solitude as in no mate or pet or relatives, but that other solitude; the one that makes you retreat from the path your own thoughts want to take because you don't see anybody else already there.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

From the Notebooks

It was the man who claimed to have had this experience who told it to a group of people one Sunday afternoon at the beach bar. There is a village called C-- on the windward side of the island, just east of the airport. Once upon a time it was a way station for pioneers - the rich pioneers of the island’s tiny ruling class. They once lived in the capital, mainly on the heights at the west end of town. Then they moved to the Northern edge of town. Then they moved to an area a little further south of town, overlooking the east end of the harbor. They were driven on to C--, building new houses on the edge of the sea, their backs to the little village a half a mile inland. Here the sea-blast entered and got into everything, corroding metal, dulling varnish and leaving a fine grit of salt on every surface. But they might have borne with that, under the coconut trees, with the fresh air and the sea at their doors, at least until they were possessed once again with the need to move. What drove them out this time was not the advancing black middle class at their backs but the hurricanes that came roaring onto shore across their front yards and leveled their houses. So they moved to F-- Bay. They had been there for a few years when I arrived, but they were breaking ground on the steep, rocky, scrubby, arid hillsides at the very tip of the southeast peninsula, at the end of seven empty miles of winding road. After that, it was hard to see where they could go next.

The houses at C-- were never rebuilt--for one thing, it became the site of the new dump. It wasn’t a dump: it was a solid waste facility. South of the solid waste facility a new neighborhood was built, but set back a little bit further--only a little further--from the sea. But to the north, opposite dump, the rich never rebuilt. A dirt road ran between the fence and the abandoned ruins--sunbaked cracking foundations, the tree-lined driveways, a bit of balustrade separating one emptiness from another. There’s something about a ruin that draws people, or maybe it was the offchance that someone had balked at the dump fees and left something interesting or useful outside the fence. People liked to go poking around the ruins. Well, after all, who does not? They're like tide pools. I had a boyfriend once who, watching some people wandering among tide pools in California, said, "I'm always hoping I'll find a Rolex watch in one of those." At any rate this man, a taxi driver, mooching around the ruins at C--, and found a box. He opened it. Inside, he said, was a pile of American currency with a human head sitting on top of it. In fright and shock he flung the box from him. When he recovered his self-possession he looked in the box again and the eyes had popped open. At that he fled, not even taking the money, which he regretted because later, when he had had some time for reflection the box, the head, and the money were gone. The story was met with howls of laughter. It wasn’t true, and if it was he was a fool for not taking the money.
The taxi driver grew indignant; and swore it was true “A nice-looking Potegee man," he added, but the laughter got to be too much for him and he left in disgust.

Then there was the man whom I will call “Mr. Snuffalufagus” who paid a few visits. He was a returning national, one of many who retired to the island with a pension after years of working in the U.K. He lived alone in the house he had built with his savings, up in the hills somewhere.
He appeared at my office with a portfolio of documents and a strange story. While living in England he had worked as an agent for a rich Englishman who was interested in buying some land in F-- Bay. A piece of land had been found and the transaction was to go through but the seller’s agent, a person with political connections, had conspired to have the Englishman disappeared by a professional hit man whom Mr. Snuffalufaguss claimed to have seen in England - a handsome man in an expensive suit. Then they had altered the survey documents so that the piece of land was incorporated into a bigger piece that they owned, and destroyed all record of the existence of the Englishman’s piece as a separate parcel. It was a long complicated tale - which I have much simplified here - involving signatures and dates and stamps.
I promised Mr. Snuffalufaguss I would look into it, and I did. I went to the registrar’s office and spent hours with looking at land titles and surveys and transfer deeds related to the property but I couldn’t find anything amiss. When Mr. Snuffalufaguss appeared again in my office I told him so, and admitted that I was no expert in these matters and might have got a detail wrong or overlooked something. He seemed to think that that might indeed be the problem and he went over it all again. He was worried that the malefactors might be after him; a small plane had flown over his house. I went back to the registry office and looked at the documents again - again, nothing.
On his third visit Mr. Snuffalufagus told me, among other things, that he had passed some man digging on a road works project and knew that this meant that his pursuers and the CIA were about to act. He was sweating and in need of a bath. His shirt was rumpled and there was grime on the inside of his collar, and his eyes had a slightly feverish gleam. I realized at last that Mr. Snuffalufaguss was out of his mind. I got him out of the office somehow and never saw him again.
Now you can laugh at me for believing Mr. Snuffalufaguss for as long as I did, to the extent that I did. But the son of one prominent politician had famously disappeared years back. The killing of a police superintendent had never been solved; there were a couple of murder trials that dragged on for years in motions and countermotions with no prospect of any new evidence appearing to clear them up. There were skeezy land deals, then and now. There was the human hand, of unknown provenance, found in a bucket at the hospital. There were the people who told me stories of crooked share dealings, of Guyanese prostitutes, of shady offshore doings. Some of these stories were brought to me by people who had scores to settle, in the childlike conviction - true, probably, in retrospect - that the mere publishing of the story in the newspaper, without any kind of corroboration, would be a damaging blow to their enemies. But they always declined to be named as sources. Mr. Snuffalufaguss had at least brought me his bundle of incomprehensible papers.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Ruskin on Genius

If you had a friend, for example, who went through the can of mixed nuts and picked out all the cashews and gave them to you, wouldn't you think that was sweet? Bob has gone through Ruskin and picked out a small volume of the very best bits so you don't have to search for them yourself and pick them out of the dull parts.

Love Bugs

Photo by Tom

He blasts them with a hose.