At the Speakeasy. Because the green light is on at the side of the downtown building, those, who are in the know, see that the speakeasy is open and that there is space available. We walk up a score of steep, wide steps to arrive in a large, noisy bar. We say to the attendant, “The Green Light,” and he pushes on a wall with shelves and books. It turns inward and we walk into a small area with a curtain. Behind the curtain is the speakeasy. One of the two bartenders welcomes us, shows us a table, and brings us a drink menu. There is no evidence of an exit. Three windows look down into the busy street below. The bartender returns to answer questions, to describe, drinks, and to take our orders. I am glad to know that Beefeaters is the gin of choice here. The drinks are small and expensive. The Sidecar is delicious.
I was frustrated at the self-checkout at the grocery store. I had several items of produce. I started with the watermelon; I typed in the code. The machine answered, “This item cannot be paid for at this station.” I removed the melon and tried again. I got the same recording. I was about to put the melon back into my cart and go to a check-out operated by a person, when Taylor arrived, smiling, and said, “I can help you with that, sir.” He scanned his identification card into the machine and, without looking at the watermelon, he typed in a code. It was accepted. He said, with some satisfaction, that he knew all the codes for produce. He continued to type in the codes for each of the other items: broccoli, carrots, tomato, cucumber, onions. And then came the shallots. He looked sheepish and said, “I know what they are, but on this one I’ve got to look up the code.” He found the number, but the screen went blank before he typed it in. He tried again. Blank screen again. On the third attempt he was faster than the machine, so fast I could not follow his actions. I said, “Thanks. You must be hell on video games.” He laughed and said, “You’re welcome, sir. It was fun.”
Notes on Reading. Fiction. William Faulkner, Light in August (1932), Vintage, 1985.
The writing is classic Faulkner: slowly paced, long narratives, overlapping story lines, abruptly inserted stream-of-consciousness passages, references to history’s influencing actions, characters alienated by differences with cultural norms or self-alienated by personality quirks or disorders, and extreme violence.
Evil looms large, rooted in over-zealous religious attitudes, sexual frustrations, blatant racist attitudes, search for and maintenance of control and power, and self-righteousness. It is a powerful novel that reveals the dark side of human nature.
There are brief moments describing small details of beauty of the summer in the South.
Notes on Reading. Nonfiction. Joseph Mitchell, Joe Gould’s Secret (1964). In Joseph Mitchell, Up in the Grand Hotel. Vantage, 1992.
This interesting and entertaining memoir concerns the author’s interest in a bum’s life and professed writing career in New York City. The bum, Joe Gould, a Harvard graduate and self-declared writers, convinces almost everyone that he is writing an epic history of our times. Mitchell finally realizes a truth about Gould, which Gould has kept secret. We gain insight into the lives of bums in New York City and understand much about human psychology and nature. At one point in the reading, I laughed out loud. It’s a fun book.
Notes on Reading. Nonfiction. Do not miss the humorous and heart-warming memoir, “My Perfect Season: Playing It Safe in the Pee Wee League” by Mark Edmundson, in the July issue of Harper’s. Find it anyway you can: in a library, online, I don’t know. At one time, I kept copies of Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday to give to people who may need a cheer-up. I don’t do things like that any more, but if I did, I would keep a stock of this essay to distribute.
Quotations from Readings of the Week:
“. . . the untroubled unhaste of a change of season.” (William Faulkner, Light in August)
“. . . the primrose sky and the high-pale morning star of full summer.” (William Faulkner, Light in August)
“Pastor Marty tells me he blames increasing partisan belligerence on talk radio and Facebook–the way they allow us to “vent sideways,” as he calls it, in our little simpatico cocoons. The tiniest disagreements get amplified–from sharing and liking and retweeting–until they’re all anyone hears. When was the last time,he asks, that anyone was forced to have a civil discussion with someone who thought differently?” (Tom Bissell, “My Holy Land Vacation: Touring Israel with 456 Christian Zionists,” Harper’s, July, 2016)
“. . . if there was anything the human race had a sufficiency of, a sufficiency and a surfeit, it was books. When I thought of the cataracts of books, the Niagras of books, the rushing rivers of books, the ocean of books, the tons and truckloads of books that were pouring off the presses at that moment, only a very few of which would be worth picking up and looking at, let alone reading. . . One less book to clutter up the world, one less book to take up space and catch dust and go unread from bookstores, to homes to second-hand book stores and junk stores, and thrift shops to still other homes, to still other second-hand bookstores and junk stores and thrift shops to still other homes ad infinitum.