A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 30 – SCHOOL by Melissa Goodrich

Sundance Square, Fort Worth, Texas

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 30 – SCHOOL by Melissa Goodrich
Read it online here:
SCHOOL by Melissa Goodrich

They eat spicy Cheetos and Ramen noodles, have the kind of beautiful faces that crack rearview mirrors.
—-Melissa Goodrich, SCHOOL

We were talking today, like we often do, about Game of Thrones, gratuitous nudity, and little person sex. I said, as I often do, “The problem with the world that Game of Thrones is set in, is that everybody’s life is miserable. From the most destitue peasant to the kings of the world, nobody is happy and life is so difficult and, despite the gratuitous nudity and little person sex, so joyless… If I lived there, I’d just kill myself, and anyone else would too.”

Someone else said, as they often do, “It’s like the life we live today.”

I replied, “No, we don’t live in miserable times… we live in the crazy times.”

Interview with Melissa Goodrich:

Is writing more of a blessing or a curse?
God. Both. I usually think I’m not writing enough. I’m haunted by those people who write every day, and run ten miles, and read new books and journals, and eat organically nurtured produce…I’m still a cereal-eater, a sleeper-inner, a person who writes slowly and then binge-watches TV.

But the blessing is I trust my voice now. And I trust that writing should be joyous and surprising, and that none of it is wasteful.
—-from Cultured Vultures

Kyde Warren Park, Dallas, Texas

A Month of Short Stories 2015, Day Twenty Three – Expelled

The last two years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month… you can see the list for 2014 and 2015 in the comments for this page. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day twenty three – Expelled, by John Cheever

Read it online here:

Expelled

John Cheever is, of course, one of the Titans of short story writing and chronicler of the American Condition. He’s often called “the Chekhov of the suburbs.” His eponymous collection of short stories won the Pulitzer Prize.

I know him best for his most-anthologized story The Swimmer. I read it in college in my short story class (we read a hundred stories in a semester) and it affected me enough to remember sitting in my dorm room reading it after all these years.

Today’s story is Cheever’s first published story, Expelled. It’s the thinly-disguised tale of his own experiences being shitcanned from a prestigious prep school – The Thayer Academy. In real life he left, was invited back on probation after winning a short story contest, then flunked out again.

Expelled reminds me of other works that mark a young (usually idealistic) person’s realization that the world isn’t going to be able to stand up to their expectations – and that will make for a difficult life. The Catcher in the Rye is probably the most iconic tale of the type. My favorite is A&P, by John Updike – a seductively simple yet subtly horrific story.

Today’s story has an interesting structure – a series of vignettes each featuring a character involved in the expulsion. That helps keep the thing from becoming too self-indulgent, and makes the school and its denizens more likable and less blameful. It’s a story written by a young person – not quite fully developed – but you can read the potential here.

And now it is August. The orchards are stinking ripe. The tea-colored brooks run beneath the rocks. There is sediment on the stone and no wind in the willows. Everyone is preparing to go back to school. I have no school to go back to.

I am not sorry. I am not at all glad.

It is strange to be so very young and to have no place to report to at nine o’clock. That is what education has always been. It has been laced curtseys and perfumed punctualities.

But now it is nothing. It is symmetric with my life. I am lost in it. That is why I am not standing in a place where I can talk

Old School

Renner School House, Dallas Heritage Village

I was wandering around, looking into the historic buildings that have been moved from all over North Texas into Old City Park, now Dallas Heritage Village. Some kid walked into the Renner School House at the same time I did.

“Can you imagine going to school in a room like this?” I asked.

“I’ve been here before, I think. I think it was a field trip,” he answered.

“Look at how each chair holds the desk for the person behind them. Oh, do you know what the little holes are for?”

“For the inks!” he said.

“It’s a shame we can’t go upstairs or play in the playground,” the kid said. “Do you know what all these cans hanging on the wall are for?”

I said, “Those are what the kids brought their lunch to school in. See, they are little metal buckets. They called them lunch pails.”

I kept running into the kid as I walked around the place and he would leave his family, walk up to me and point out something. In the historic barnyard he was looking around, trying to find the rooster that was crowing.

“I think it’s a recording,” I said. “They are playing that sound over and over.”

“It sure sounds real,” he said.

The historic Renner School House, in Dallas Heritage Village, with the skyscrapers of downtown rearing up in the background.

Lunch pails hung on the wall pegs at the Renner School House.

Daily Reader.

Renner School House desks.

All the Information in the World

In my surfing a few days ago I came across, as I’m sure you did, the news that after 244 years Encyclopedia Britannica was giving up on its print edition.

We never had Britannica in our house – it was too expensive. We had a cheaper, more “modern” looking set… I don’t remember the brand. Of course, my schools – every school (I went to… I think twelve different ones)  library had a set of Britannicas. I wasn’t a big fan of them; they seemed too stuffy for my taste. I loved the top-line World Book (which looks like it is still in print) – I remember when I discovered the transparent acetate pages that showed the human anatomy in several layers. It seemed like amazing information luxury to me.

Most kids used the various encyclopedias to plagiarize their school reports, usually cribbing the short paragraphs out verbatim.  I, on the other hand, used to read encyclopedias cover to cover, from AA, through Z, and on to devour each annual update and addendum. I loved reading them. I’d read my books at home, then I devour the ones in the school library, then on to the history sets (I loved these because they were in chronological order) and finally the long shelves of Time/Life educational books.

Sitting here, writing this, I remember the hours spent turning the pages, the slight fungus odor of the old paper, the weight of the editions as they came off the shelf, the nasty paper cuts – I remember following the footnotes and then the memory of getting to the same article in alphabetical order. I retained a surprisingly large amount of information – not sure how much good it did me. The tomes were good on dry facts but not so much on wisdom.

I am not overwhelmed with wistful nostalgic sadness, though. Plenty of people are full of woe that an age has passed and they lament the disappearance of such a totem of their youth. My thoughts run in a different direction. What I think about is what a kid that, in a vain attempt to satisfy his unquenchable curiosity, was forced to read encyclopedias cover to cover, volume to volume, could have done if he had been born a few decades later and had access to the internet. It would have been like drinking from a fire hydrant.

I’ve been seeing headlines like, “Encyclopedia Britannica killed by Wikipedia!” That is not true at all – Wikipedia is a great thing, but sometimes you want information that wasn’t written by nineteen-year-olds. There will always be a place for the verified truth.

“This has nothing to do with Wikipedia or Google,” Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. President Jorge Cauz said. “This has to do with the fact that now Britannica sells its digital products to a large number of people.”

The top year for the printed encyclopedia was 1990, when 120,000 sets were sold, Cauz said. That number fell to 40,000 just six years later in 1996, he said. The company started exploring digital publishing in the 1970s. The first CD-ROM edition was published in 1989 and a version went online in 1994.

The final hardcover encyclopedia set weighs 129 pounds and is available for sale at Britannica’s website for $1,395.

An entire set costs more than an iPad. A low-end tablet is half that.  There is an iOS app which is free, but has a $1.99 a month subscription for unlimited content.

If you went back in time to, say 1969, and said, “Hey, for half the cost of that shelf full of heavy books, I’m going to give you a little book or pad, about the size of a magazine, that you can take anywhere with you and when you touch it, the content you are looking for will appear on it, more or less instantly. It will be in full color, with sound and full-motion television, when appropriate. You’ll have to throw the old, paper ones away, though. To keep it updated you’ll have to pay two dollars a month. Oh, and if you need a break you can play Angry Birds on it too.”

What do you think the reaction would have been? It makes me think of Arthur C Clarke’s third law- Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. A fully loaded iPad would have looked like magic in 1969. And that’s 1969! I remember 1969. I was twelve. I was reading encyclopedias in 1969.

I wish I had had an iPad.

This is me in 1969 (or so). I look like a kid that read encyclopedias cover to cover.

#Britannica

No More Encyclopedia Britannica

The Death of the Encyclopedia

Encyclopedia Books–The End of an Era

Throw the book at ‘em

Encyclopedias and Wikis

Goodbye Britannica, We Will Miss You!

Death of a Salesman Part 2: Encyclopaedia Britannicas Going Out Of Print

Encyclopedia Britannica going 100% Digital

Britannica encyclopedia out of print but the bibles still going strong

Encyclopedia Britannica to end print editions

No More Print edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica

Encyclopaedia Britannnica RIP

WILL YOU MISS THE ENCYCLOPEDIA?

No more Encyclopedia Britannicas in book form

The World on a Shelf

Encyclopedia Britannica is going digital only.

Encyclopedia Britannica to End Print Editions

No More Encyclopaedia Britannica Books

My Encyclopedia Britannica Set is Dusty but Not Forgotten

Encyclopedia Britannica

Encyclopaedia Britannica To Stop Publishing Books After 244 Years

Goodbye Encyclopedia Britannica

My thoughts on a lost era: Encyclopedia Britannica to stop printing books

Closing the Book: Encyclopedia Britannica Goes All Digital

read / end of an era

Encyclopedia Britannica ends publication after 244 years

CHECK OUT SOME THINGS THAT ARE GOING BYE BYE

End of an encyclopedic era

Wikipedia and the Internet just killed 244-year-old Encyclopaedia Britannica

Rule Britannica

Encyclopedia Britannica Goes Out of Print

ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA, PRINTED NO MORE

Encyclopaedia Britannica To End Print Editions

Encyclopaedia Britannica wiped out by Wikipedia, selling final print edition

Encyclopedia Britannica Goes Out of Print