Saturday, March 2, 2013

"Jewel and I come up from the field, following the path in single file. Although I am fifteen feet ahead of him, anyone watching us from the cotton-house can see Jewel's frayed and broken straw hat above my own."

Yesterday I received my mystery copy of AS I LAY DYING from New Zealand and am making reaquaintance with William Faulkner in what I consider to be one of his more accessible novels. Others would disagree. A friend once read a review in which someone compared Faulkner to Joyce and that put him off ever picking up any Faulkner novel at all. Mention Bloomsday to him, and he bursts into hysterical laughter.

Sometimes I just feel like taking a chance and this book, as advertised, gave nothing much away. The seller did not mention a publisher, a date or even any thing specific about the condition. He only hinted that it would be - at least - a good reading copy and - at best - an extremely nice copy. It wasn't too expensive, so I ordered it. Sort of like in the days when your wife was expecting a baby and neither of you knew whether it was going to be a boy or a girl.

When it arrived, it turned out to be a sound Chatto & Windus 2nd printing from 1952 with only a little foxing on the page edges and no odors. Not bad, and I am quite happy with it. It's a good size, too, fitting into a pocket.

So now I will, once again, follow the Bundren family with all of their myriad agendas as they make their journey to bury their mother.

And if all goes well, perhaps I will give The Reivers another try.

For the Children

I was sitting at Starbucks doing the crossword when I noticed a woman arriving with several big bags just outside the window. As I watched, she started pulling out a tablecloth, paper and box after box of Girl Scout cookies. At that point no Girl Scouts were actually in evidence. After everything had been set up, two young girls showed up and the older woman (probably a mother) told them what to do. This is so different from the way it used to be, before parents began enabling their kids and not encouraging them to autonomously undertake the task of selling cookies, magazines, etc.

When I was younger, we sold all sorts of stuff at roadside stands -- fruit from our trees, rocks, comic books and cookies. We sold greeting cards and magazines door to door. My sister sold Campfire mints to the neighbors by going door to door - by herself - and filling out and submitting the forms to her Campfire leader without the help of my parents. It was considered a part of the learning process; a part of growing up. Of course with a big family like ours, the temptation was always to leave the candy out on the kitchen table so that we'd buy most of it.

Today kids cannot go into the fields in the summer and pick berries for money. They can't work in the canneries in east county. It's been years since I've seen a kid with an Oregonian paper route; delivery all seems to be handled by adults driving by at speed in the middle of the night and throwing papers in the general direction of the subscriber's house where they land in the street, in the sidewalk, in the yard and (if it is raining) are soaked. Not only do kids no longer have a place in the delivery of papers, another valuable opportunity to learn responsibility and earn money has gone by the wayside.

No wonder so many kids retreat behind electronic devices and headphones. They have less power and opportunity than ever before even as the relentless unempowering warnings about strangers and terrorism limit the scope of their exploration and freedom. They hear - correctly it seems - that nothing they can say or do makes any difference because you have to have lots of money in America before anybody will listen.

I'm glad I grew up in a time when I could earn my own money, explore for miles on my bike, and live without unnecessary fear.

Not a day passes that I don't bless any kid who manages to rise above this insanity and look at the others and feel - at the same time - sorry for them, and also envision what a smackdown they would get from kids in my generation if they were somehow magically transported back in time with their attitudes, isolating electronic devices, sagging pants, untied shoes and aggression and foul language in public.

Understand, I'm not putting all of the blame on them. Somebody has to be standing by and doing nothing in order for it to happen.

Shame on us, as a community and as a nation.