Why is a Raven Like a Writing-Desk?

Mad Hatter: “Why is a raven like a writing-desk?”
“Have you guessed the riddle yet?” the Hatter said, turning to Alice again.
“No, I give it up,” Alice replied: “What’s the answer?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea,” said the Hatter.
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland


Oblique Strategy:
Short circuit (If eating peas improves virility, shovel them into your pants)

The Cedars, Dallas, Texas

The Cedars, Dallas, Texas

The Cedars, Dallas, Texas

I dream that somewhere there is an ancient text, very rare, that contains some far-reaching essential advice. Something that will answer all my questions. Something that might even give a hint of a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

Still looking.

In the meantime, although magazines are dying, over three million people subscribe to Cosmopolitan. Here are some titles of their more pithy articles:

  • 50 ways to have fun with your guy.
  • Your hoo-ha handbook. Get a healthy sexy vagina
  • Amanda Bynes – A secret side of her you’ve never seen
  • The new male sex habit that can hurt a relationship
  • 100% HOTTER SEX. Thrill every inch of the body using a move no woman has dared to try on him before.
  • Why love is harder in winter
  • Get rid of muffin top.
  • Colors that make a man’s heart race.
  • Fergie – her naughty honeymoon surprise
  • He shoots, he scores — wacked-out things guys say in bed
  • Is stress turning you into a raging bitch?
  • HIS #1 SEX WISH. 71 guys crave this move. You’re gonna want to drop the magazine and do it on the spot.
  • 8 Things guys notice instantly
  • Mind tricks that melt pounds
  • Killer cocktail. How a popular drink could kill you in your sleep.
  • Bad girl issue – for sexy bitches only
  • Kim Kardashian – The mistake that still haunts her (no, not the sex tape)
  • Foreplay men crave -touch his secret erotic spot (surprise: it doesn’t rhyme with shemis.)
  • 26 gutsy ways to make a fresh start.
  • The silent clue men give off when they’re in love.
  • BE THE BEST SEX OF HIS LIFE. How to tease him mercilessly, seduce him slowly, and then rock his world in ways he’s only dreamed about.
  • WHAT HE THINKS DURING SEX. The crazy, dirty, sizzled, and yes sweet stuff that goes through his head when you two get hacked.
  • One question no guy can resist.
  • The sexy ass workout – 2 weeks to tight cheeks
  • Steal this trick – The #1 secret of confident chicks
  • What 81% of men expect on first date (you’ll be pleasantly surprised)
  • Sex panic – an ER doc reveals the freakiest down-there emergencies ever.
  • BAD GIRL SEX. These 12 moves will show him your really naughty side. We call them dirty dozen
  • Gut feelings you should never ignore.
  • 5 words that get the truth out of guys.
  • The “dirty sex” rule happy couple swear by.
  • When you hooha’s burning: Don’t use this common cure!
  • What he’s dying to hear during a date.
  • 50 SEX TRICKS. Trust Us: You’ll be the first girl naughty enough to try #43 on him.
  • Get hit on all the time (your friend will be really annoyed)
  • The orgasm whisperer every woman needs one!
  • Sex extras *secrets his sex style reveals. *cheat proof your love – with 4 words.
  • Kate Perry – How she grabbed Hollywood by the balls.
  • What you should never let you gyno do
  • 5 things that can blow a job interview.
  • 125 SEX MOVES. Thousand of men agree: these are the techniques that send them over the edge
  • 4 signs he’s craving you.
  • You on Top – the fierce new secret to success.
  • 100 SEX QUESTIONS. We answer every dirty thing you want to know. In 20 words or less.
  • Be lucky bitch! These proven mind tricks bring you what you
  • When your cramps mean something’s wrong
  • Dirty lying brides-Secrets they’re hiding from the groom.
  • BEST. SEX. EVER. Out gutsy new tips are guaranteed to give him the most bad ass orgasm imaginable and you too.
  • Get butt naked! 50 fun things to do bare – assed.
  • How to make choices you’ll never regret.
  • 3 questions that get a man to open up
  • The easy way to boost your sex drive (We stole a few secret from guys
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Ghosts In the Library

“I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was – I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I’d never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn’t know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn’t scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost.”
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

 

Window Reflection, Dallas Public Library

Bike Ride in New Orleans

My Commuter Bike in Audubon Park, New Orleans (click to enlarge)

My Commuter Bike in Audubon Park, New Orleans
(click to enlarge)

I drove to the Big Easy over the weekend to pick up my son Lee (who just graduated from Tulane) and bring him back to Dallas for the holidays. Since I had plenty of room in the car I removed the wheels from my commuter bike and packed it in.

I have always wanted to ride a bicycle in New Orleans and never have. The French Quarter especially is full of folks on bikes (both natives for transportation and tourist rentals for entertainment) and I have always enjoyed hanging outside and watching folks ride by.

Photos I’ve taken of bikes in the city:

Stylish bike rider, French Quarter, New Orleans

Stylish bike rider, French Quarter, New Orleans

Magazine Street, New Orleans

Magazine Street, New Orleans

French Quarter, New Orleans

French Quarter, New Orleans

Bicycle, French Quarter, New Orleans

Bicycle, French Quarter, New Orleans

My son lives out by the university and I thought I might ride through the Garden District down to the quarter and back – it would make for a nice long day with plenty of cool places to stop along the way. He was working Sunday and I would have time to myself.

Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate. When I arrived the city was unbearably hot and humid and on the day I had planned on riding a cold front blew in and brought a powerful set of thunderstorms with it.

My commuter bike is set up with fenders and I have rain gear – but this was too much. A good rule of thumb is that when the lightning is so violent the thunder is setting off all the car alarms in the neighborhood every few seconds – it’s storming too much to go out.

This went on all day. When it would lighten up a bit I would think about venturing out – but another band would blow onshore and the skies would open up with a drenching downpour and howling winds. I ended up staying inside all day.

We were going to drive back to Dallas the next day, but he had some things he had to do in the morning so we couldn’t leave early. That gave me time to get in a quick little ride before we left. It was still very cold (for New Orleans), wet, and windy – but bearable, so I headed out.

I rode through the Tulane campus, now empty for the holidays, and up St. Charles for a bit (they have a bike lane along some of the street). St. Charles in New Orleans is the most beautiful street in the world (in my opinion) though the traffic is pretty nasty for a bicycle.

The city has sharrows painted on Nashville so I chose that route down to Magazine Street and rode there for a bit looking at the shops and restaurants before heading over to Audubon Park and circled the zoo down to the Mississippi.

My Bike along the Mississippi, New Orleans (click to enlarge)

My Bike along the Mississippi, New Orleans
(click to enlarge)

I rode back through the park and the Tulane campus then took a side trip down Freret to cruise through a nice up-and-coming area of shops and restaurants.

That’s about it. It was fun, glad to get it in. Lee warned me the streets were rough and he was right. I’m glad I have a front shock on my commuter bike – the ride was through a constant series of cracks and potholes. As I rode toward the river I thought to myself that it would be uphill coming back – in Dallas the streets slope surprisingly steeply down to the Trinity River – but in New Orleans it isn’t true, of course. That city is about as flat a cycling route you will ever see.

The traffic there is nasty, of course. I’m sure you could get used to it – but it’s pretty tough, even compared to Dallas, which is well known as the least cycle-friendly city. The key is to learn your town, your neighborhood, and your routes – which can’t be done in one cold and blustery morning.

Now I need to go back when the weather is better and do a bit more exploring.

Magazine Street at Sunset

“There is something strange about agony; the memory of it can be terribly short-lived when the contrast of revival and a pretty spring afternoon have dispelled the regrets. One drink of vodka in a cheerful glass, in the company of good poetry and the scent of blossoms and earth might entice the most well intended to forgo promise of atonement until a worse time. I have at times been just less than amazed how one drink merges with the second, where at some unknown point a mental transformation sets in. I have never been able to ascertain at what point that is–not precisely–and I have been conscious of trying to catch that moment, to try and understand it, to try and prevent it from happening, or at least have a fair chance to decide whether or not to cross over into that other realm. Such an elusive thing, this is.”
― Ronald Everett Capps, Off Magazine Street

When you talk to someone that has visited New Orleans, they will tend to say, “Yeah, I’ve been there, I walked up and down Bourbon Street.” On our last trip, we spent a week in New Orleans and I never set foot on Bourbon. It’s all tourist, all the time, in a bad way. Trash tourist.

There is another street that has plenty of tourist in it, but in a good way. Magazine Street. I spent a lot of time on Magazine. Our Guest House was at Magazine and Race, not far out from downtown. But Magazine runs a long way. Decatur street in the French Quarter changes into Magazine as it crosses the neutral ground of Canal and then Magazine follows the curve of the river all the way through the Arts District, Garden District and Uptown until it pierces the gorgeous Audubon Park.

At every major cross street it holds a cluster of restaurants, nightclubs, shops, and everything else. In between are fabulous examples of the amazing New Orleans architecture, from Gothic old mansions to rows of shotgun houses.

A walk down Magazine is a great walk. Be careful, though – it is a long street. I still have memories and pains in my ankles from a stroll we took a couple years ago. Near the beginning, I turned an ankle on a bit of rough sidewalk broken pavement and then hiked too far from the car. The trip back will forever be etched in my mind as the “Magazine Street Death March.”

Magazine Street, New Orleans

 (Click to view a larger version on Flickr)

I saw a bit on television about the uselessness of a college education. The reporter wandered New Orleans interviewing bouncers, bartenders, cooks, and pedicab drivers – even a woman reading tarot cards in Jackson Square. They all had college degrees – some multiple, many graduate degrees – yet they all were working in nightlife in New Orleans. The point of the piece was how useless the college was to these poor dupes – that in spite of their education, the best they could do was work in the New Orleans nightlife.

The main thrust of the concept may be true, but the reporter was missing the whole point. The folks he interviewed were doing what they wanted to do – not a single one of them expressed regret. They didn’t want to be investment bankers, teachers, or engineers; they wanted to be a part of New Orleans, as best as they could.

I guarantee that if you interview a pack of bankers, managers, and businessmen and ask them, if they could, would they want to drive a pedicab through the New Orleans night, tell fortunes under the Cathedral in Jackson Square, or hustle for the strippers on Bourbon, and they probably won’t tell you that they would d’ruther, but there will be a long pause and a wistful look into the air. It’s all a question of who has the courage and who doesn’t.

“there was something about
that city, though
it didn’t let me feel guilty
that I had no feeling for the
things so many others
needed.
it let me alone.”
― Charles Bukowski

“Leaving New Orleans also frightened me considerably. Outside of the city limits the heart of darkness, the true wasteland begins.”
― John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

“There are only two things: love, all sorts of love, with pretty girls, and the music of New Orleans or Duke Ellington. Everything else ought to go, because everything else is ugly. ”
― Boris Vian

“I’m not going to lay down in words the lure of this place. Every great writer in the land, from Faulkner to Twain to Rice to Ford, has tried to do it and fallen short. It is impossible to capture the essence, tolerance, and spirit of south Louisiana in words and to try is to roll down a road of clichés, bouncing over beignets and beads and brass bands and it just is what it is.

It is home.”
― Chris Rose, 1 Dead in Attic

“People don’t live in New Orleans because it is easy. They live here because they are incapable of living anywhere else in the just same way.”
― Ian McNulty, A Season of Night: New Orleans Life After Katrina

“Jesus just left Chicago, and he’s bound for New Orleans.”
―ZZ Top

The Quest for the “Blank Claveringi”

Illustration by Jean L. Huens for the Saturday Evening Post. Done for the short story “The Snails,” by Patricia Highsmith.

A while back, viewing a hyper-realistic sculpture of hundreds of snails climbing a beer stein to their doom jarred loose an ancient flake of memory from the cobwebby and calcified ruins inside my skull. It was a memory of a short story from my childhood. It’s funny how strangely strong, yet distorted, these moth-eaten impressions can be. I remembered a story about a man on an island looking for giant man-eating snails and coming to a bad end.

Little bits, which may or may not be accurate… I remembered reading it in a magazine; I remembered an illustration showing the snail; I remembered a long, slow battle to the death between the man and the snail. Oh, I did remember being shocked at the ending. I think the story was written in the first person and I was confused at the death of the protagonist… who was telling the tale?

Now that the memory was jarred loose, it had to be teased out or it would drive me nuts. So, off to the Internet. It didn’t take too many crude search queries to quickly realize that many people had been looking for this same story. It didn’t take much more work to find the name of the story, “The Quest for the ‘Blank Claveringi.’”

I was surprised to read that the story was by Patricia Highsmith, the Forth-Worth born (though she fled quite effectively to Europe) author of “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “Strangers on a Train.” The author had a particular affection for snails – from the book Snail, by Peter Williams:

So attached was the author Patricia Highsmith to snails that they became her constant travelling companions. Secreted in a large handbag or, in the case of travel abroad, carefully positioned under each breast, they provided her with comfort and companionship in what she perceived to be a hostile world.

The story was included in an Alfred Hitchcock collection of tales for youngsters, “Alfred Hitchock’s Supernatural Tales of Terror and Suspense.” That must have been where I read it, not in a magazine. The only problem is that the book seems to have first come out in 1973 and I felt like I was younger than that when I read it. But again, memories are funny, I must have got it wrong.

A quick check of the Richardson Library’s website and I found the book. So I went down there, grabbed it off of the shelves (It was odd looking for the book in the children’s section – it was such a horrific story) and I sat down and read it.

That was the story from my childhood. Of course, a lot of it I didn’t remember, but there can’t be too many tales set on an island with a scientist fleeing from a man-eating snail. If you wonder about the title – “The Quest for the ‘Blank Claveringi,’” the protagonist, Avery Clavering, is fantasizing about getting the new species of giant snail, about the size of a Volkswagen, named after him… though he can’t decide on the genus (thus the “Blank”).

I was wrong about the story being in first person. It is told from the protagonist’s point of view and does go inside his head – that must have been what threw me. The horror of the story is real – the snail is slow, of course, but relentless. The hero can walk faster than the snail, but the island is small and the thing will eventually catch up. He has to sleep sometime.

I enjoyed the story and made a note of reading some more Highsmith. Looking in the front of the book, I discovered that the story was part of a collection called, “The Snail-Watcher and other stories.” The library had that one too, and I checked it out. That collection has at least two horrific snail-related tales… I guess the woman did have a thing for slimy mollusks.

In the front of that collection I found another clue – it said, ““The Quest for the ‘Blank Claveringi’” originally appeared in slightly altered form in The Saturday Evening Post, as “The Snails.”

Back to the Internet. A little searching found that the story was in the June 17, 1967 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. I would have been ten years old then… and that felt about right. I checked the library archive, and they had the 1967 ‘Post in bound form in the archives. The woman at the information desk didn’t seem to understand what I wanted (“Yes, we have magazines… 1967?”) but eventually I was able to get her to go back and retrieve the volume for me. I had to sign a form and give up something (my library card) as collateral to get the tome, and I did.

It was really cool to sit down at a library study station and look through a set of forty-five year old magazines. The ads, the photographs, the illustrations…. pretty damn cool.

I found the story, with an excellent illustration by Jean-Louis Huens. In the white space above the title, someone had written in pencil, “This is what I wanted you to read.” So, I am not the only person on a quest for this story, not even the only one to end up in the archives of the Richardson Public Library.

I took a photo of the illustration with my phone and then sat there and read the story again. Since I had cruised through the Alfred Hitchcock version only a few minutes before, I immediately began to notice differences in the text. At first they seemed minor, only polishings, or rearrangements of phrases. But as I neared the end, the story veered and suddenly it was a completely different tale altogether.

This was probably the version I had read as a ten-year-old child. I seemed to remember another person on the island, and that was only true on the Saturday Evening Post Version. Though the only real significant difference between the two is in the last handful of paragraphs, the thrust of the two plots diverged completely. While the Hitchcock version was an existential tale of the futility of man against the inexorable power of nature, the second was a revenge tale of murder and madness.

I really don’t know why the story was rewritten so savagely, though I think I did like the Hitchcock version (which I assume is the revised tale) a tiny bit better.

At any rate, I checked out two of her books of short stories – The Snail-Watcher and other stories, and Little Tales of Misogyny (a slim volume of very short works about very bad people). I really should not read this kind of stuff. What I am reading is a very strong influence on what I am writing and these stories play into my natural tenancies toward repulsive scribbling.

But it is what it is. As a matter of fact… I have to write something tomorrow for my Sunday Snippets…. Maybe something about giant Volkswagen-sized man-eating snails…. maybe a sequel. What would happen if someone brought a snail back to the mainland?

Snails can reproduce frighteningly fast under the right conditions, you know.