Tuesday, June 3, 2014

THE DESPAIR INSIDE READING



In memory, when I lived on 114th Street, was the walk down Broadway to Times Square and always stopping at The NEW YORKER Bookstore.  I remember not being able to afford to buy but being jealous of EVERYBODY KNOWS & NOBODY CARES by Mason Smith.  I never read the book but the title and the look of this 1971 Knopf novel was a model of what I wanted.      Eventually, I did find a copy many years later in the Barnes and Noble Annex on Fifth and 18th in the 49 cent books.  Today the prose reads a little leaden, a little too careful and polite.  There is nothing idiosyncratic about it and ON THE ROAD was there first… so while Kerouac’s novel continues to live Mason’s decorates my past.
        But judge for yourself: 
A pale-blue Toyota driven by a young worker going home from evening shift in Sacramento turns off the Interstate highway at Auburn and pauses to drop a hitchhiker.  A door swings open.  The driver’s hair shines, his eyes are shaded under golden brows.
            “Isn’t your wife worried bout you taking off like this?”  “What do you mean?”  “Oh, you know.”  “No, I don’t.”  “isn’t she afraid some woman will pick you up?”  “No.”  “I mean some woman pick you up and---“  “That stuff doesn’t happen.”  “Oh, come on now, come on.”  Not to me.”  “Why not?”  “Hmm?”  “Why not, you’re a handsome fella.”  “Don’t know.  It just don’t happen.”
The hitchhiker opens the rear door and pulls out his sleeping bag and fishing rod.
        Via Amazon, I discovered Mason Smith went on to write another novel and his note for FLORIDA  (2005) is interesting for what it tells us about the world of writing then and now. 
        (We note the once famous writer, editor, teacher Gordon Lish and the once highly respected literary agent Donadio and the editor Bob Gottlieb probably remembered now for a book on ladies pocketbooks.)
            The National Endowment for the Arts, The MacDowell Colony, and the New York State Council on the Arts awarded fellowships and stipends for the composition of this work.  I am especially grateful to Betsy Folwell who funded the NYSCA fellowship through the Adirondack Lakes Center for the Arts and brought me back to the area that was always, give or take a hundred miles, my home.  I was generously supported and encouraged at the beginning of a long task by my then publisher, Alfred A. Knopf and my editor Bob Gottlieb.  Pat Ryan at Sports Illustrated and Ted Williams at Gray’s Sporting journal helped keep the wolf from my door with many enjoyable assignments.  Candida Donadio tried her best to sell this book in an earlier form, and Gordon Lish, as an editor at Knopf, tried to buy it.  Joel Ray gave me helpful alerts from two careful readings along the way.  Eventually I was thrown back on my own resources and the immeasurable help of my first wife Anna and my second wife Halie and the refreshing company of our children, Haze, Sean, Rebuen, Alex and Maggie.
        FLORIDA by Mason Smith was published by Xlibris.  We are also see Smith has done two plays, FORCES and  THE ‘LUNGE CAMPAIGN.  These sentences from FLORIDA would not be an unfair representation of the problem of such a book:  “Nellie and Bessie lived a life hardly different from the last century’s; born in it, brought up with values older still, preferring not to change.  Nellie’s husband Rob, the sheep farmer, had been a diehard too, progressive only in letting Cornell showing him how to grow alfalfa on his sandy soil; but the girls had outlasted him and the sheep…
                               
                                        PART SEVEN
        I found my life in WSJ for April 26:   Pinball and skeeball machines won't flash and ding inside Bob Stewart's Carousel Arcade this summer. The machines were ruined by flooding and burned by fires, and there is no habitable building—or boardwalk—to yet call home.
            Mr. Stewart has left the beach life he knew. He travels, from East Rutherford to Delaware, taking carpentry jobs to pay bills. His wife, who managed the arcade, is now a waitress at their son's bar in Seaside Heights.
            This summer, the elder Mr. Stewart hopes to sell parking spots to beachgoers at a lot he owns near the ocean.
            "The arcade is what he loves," said his son, Kevin Stewart. "He's been doing it his entire life. He's 60, and he's a hurt man. He can't get an answer on what his future will be."
                                     PART  FIVE
Four other novels I have carted around for years:  THE SHORT YEAR by Barbra Ward (Putnam’s 1967)  came with a blurb by Anais Nin: “If when you walk through the streets of the Village you see a beautiful girl pass and wonder what she feels and what she thinks of this book will tell you   it has the quick rhythm of youth  It is honest and straight forward.”  The guy in the NY Times writes, “It is very hard to regard with as much gravity as Miss. Ward a heroine as fatuous as this.”  In PW the line was, “the subject is one we’re all hipped on nowadays.”  The word hipped has disappeared.
The opening of The Short Year:   
January, Month of the Thaw.
A clanking, hammering noise awakened me.  I opened one eye.  The sound came from an ancient steam radiator, sending a cloud of hot dusty air into the room.  My mouth was dry.  I tried to focus on the room   Everything was bathed in a gray haze.  Was I back in the “Y”?  I sat up.  A bare window at the end of the long white-walled room showed a piece of dull sky.  On the white kitchen chair next to the bed ticked a dime-store alarm clock, amidst ashtrays, matchbooks, an empty glass and my leather pocketbook.  It showed 8:15.
I groped for a cigarette and suddenly became aware of a figure lying next me completely covered by a sheet.  Memory trickled back:  the Yorkville bar…

I remember, I think being annoyed by the cigarettes and that “figure.”  Obviously, now, I wanted to have been that figure.
I have always wondered who Ward was and have had for many years a copy of her novel  THE SHORT YEAR.  I have long treasured the novel and now I have made this sad discovery... the author photo is by Gunther Stuhlmann. I had often looked at the author photo and the cover etc. and what came after: a sad discovery on a rainy May, 2014 NYC afternoon:

BARBRA WARD
Birth: 
May 4, 1940
Presque Isle
Aroostook County
Maine, USA
Death: 
Feb. 10, 2012
Berkshire County
Massachusetts, USA
http://www.findagrave.com/icons2/trans.gif
Barbara Stuhlmann 1940 - 2012 Barbara W. Stuhlmann, nee Barbara A Ward, passed away peacefully Friday, Feb. 10, 1012, in her sleep after a long battle with cancer. She was predeceased by her husband, Gunther Stuhlmann of Berlin and Rugen, Germany, who from the age of 16 managed to avoid induction into both the Hitler Youth and German Army. At the war's end, he emigrated to England and then to the U.S. Barbara was born in Presque Isle, Maine, on May 4, 1940, of Anglo/Irish heritage. During school holidays in the summer she picked potatoes. She later graduated from the University of Maine with a degree in English Literature, and moved to Manhattan in the 1962, where she secured a job with the Times of London. She settled in Greenwich Village and had two novels published which were favorably reviewed in the New York City papers and trade journals. She married Gunther and with him acted as authors agents for clients including Anais Nin, Otto Rank, Richard Powers and Thomas M. Coffey among others. In the early 70's, the Stuhlmanns moved to the Berkshires and operated the agency from Massachusetts, while they cleared their land and actively participated in the building of their home. Barbara went back to her country roots and was active with flowers and vegetable gardens, bird watching and star gazing. Recently, she had taken an interest as a spectator in Sports Car Club of America motor racing at Lime Rock Park, Conn. There she got to shake hands with Paul Newman, one of the drivers, once a girlhood idol of hers. She will be sorely missed. FUNERAL NOTICE: Services will be scheduled in the Spring at the convenience of Mother Nature.

I do not know anything about the second novel.
                                PART THE SEVETH
And there is REAL LIFE by Deborah Pease (Norton, 1971).  Again, a story of love affair set in NYC.  The author blurb reported that Pease had published one story in The New Yorker and had gone to Wellesley.  She had lived in Paris and traveled extensively in Europe.  The title of the novel is demanding and assertive.   I guess you can say I had these books because I wanted to know what women thought and felt and they are now testaments to a time when such books were published:  modest novels as evidence of a time period…
Here is the opening:
The First of May
There he was, as simple as that.  He crossed the dance floor, his big shoulders in his white suit lifted forward to accommodate the cigar he held in one hand, the drink held in the other, moving through the crowd of costumed dancers, uncostumed himself.  I saw him from the back.  His hair was longer than I remembered it.  His neck seemed thicker.  Uncostumed too, I merely noted his presence.  He was here.  Al was here.  It didn’t matter much.  I even took a certain pleasure in the disappointment I felt at feeling nothing.
            Headley sat beside me, silent beneath his serious mustache, detached in a new friendly way that made me happy.  After a nearly a year of floundering about…
        Today, it must have been the author photo, a quietly smiling long haired fair girl sitting with head against an oriental carpet, looking at the world, me.
        But with her name in Google one discovers Pease was publisher of The Paris Review from 1982-1992, has a collected poems from Moyer Bell, might be of the living, but living in a world remote from the slums of East First Street in Manhattan… by that I mean the mental slums as there are now million dollar apartments on East First Street… but I am sure so remote from my world, though… from Thrift Books for a few cents plus postage ANOTHER GHOST IN THE DOORWAY dedicated to Niccolo Tucci  “who despite other “you”s has been for 35 years the “cpnstant You.”  I quote Very Short Political Poem. Every word/A poet writes/Is political, occurs/Within the body/Politic of being/Alive.  This poems was published by Mary de Rachewiltz, the daughter of Ezra Pound.
                                        PART THE TENTH
        BOOK THREE of the four I have carried with me for many years  THE CREEP by Jeffrey Frank (1968, FSG).        Some years ago I met Frank at a lunch at the Norwegian consulate and he was not much interested in talking about his first novel and does not list it with his published books though  I do think it might be his only cliam to survive the grave for a while.  Obviously, he would say he has moved beyond that first novel and has written a few popular mid-list novels and is a senior editor at The New Yorker having worked as a journalist for the Washington Post…yet  THE CREEP is for me his claim on  being remembered--- memorable as HUNGER is when one thinks of the novels of Knut Hamsun and why still after all these years and all the hype about Scandinavian mysteries HUNGER is unique towering over all of them, enduring after all these years in its moving readability… but I am going away from THE CREEP… the very subject matter is hard to warm to…  a man so desperate inside his loneliness… it captures who most of us are… and who will remain as such  unless something happens… the pleasure of THE CREEP is that it does not, yet for the central character…  the ending is perfect  the guy gets on the bus to move on, Then he began to look for a seat with one place empty and one place filled with the beautiful girl who would be his. Finding nothing of the kind, he took a place by the window and waited for her to come to him.
LAST of these book I have multiple copies of, all never read by any previous reader:  CONY-CATCHING by Kirby Farrell, (Atheneum, 1971).  That publisher is gone from the scene.  Farrell writes that he wrote the novel while in graduate school and blamed the Vietnam War and the climate in the US for stopping him from continuing on with novels like this one—which in many ways reminded me looking back on what Alexander Theroux would do so well in DARCONVILLE’S CAT…  Farrell wrote what is probably one of the most complex novel in terms of narrative and it would require e better reader than I am to be able to describe the sheer complexity of the novel…  but the opening of the book is so perfectly inviting:
Seagulls, pinwheeling over the whitecaps in the grey dawn. I think of them searching for food over the bay at Picute on Cape Cod, the silence relieved by their outcries.  They were orbiting the sun like two moths around a candle or clowns before a king when Sebastian pointed them out to Clement.  And I am still crouching…
                               
                 PART THE END
I was planning to end on an upbeat note with a description of TALES FROM THE GERONIMO HOTEL  My Seduction by Junk and Desert Dreams  by Scott Frank (Grove Press, 1995) as I have been seduced willingly by the desert and the book is set in Tucson, a little too far north to my taste…but then… curious to see if there had been any further books:
published in the Albuquerque Journal on Wednesday September 01, 2010
W. Scott Frank, 60, local author and singer/songwriter, died peacefully on August 20, 2010, of cancer, in Presbyterian Hospice. He was best known for his book, "Tales From the Geronimo," an atmospheric memoir set in Tucson (Grove Press, 1995), depicting with humor and pathos his life at age 25. He authored numerous short stories and "Blackjack for Winners" (Barricade Books, 1993). Scott leaves behind an unpublished manuscript entitled "Fiction: A Memoir" about his painful childhood. Born in Philadelphia, Scott lived most of his life in Tucson and Albuquerque. In his 20s he attended the University of Arizona. A highly skilled guitarist, he wrote songs with sensitive and cutting lyrics. For some years he lived in NYC and worked for John Cale of "Velvet Underground." His education was completed late in life, as he attained a BA degree in English from University of New Mexico in 2007. He was Editor-In-Chief of UNM's "Best Student Essays" magazine for four issues, 2005-2007. He taught at a writers' workshop, and aspired to a career as a writing teacher. He was knowledgeable about reports of visitations by extraterrestrial species, and about Wold War II and VietNam War history. His most recent job was at "Field and Frame" in Nob Hill. In recent years he traveled to Spain, Thailand, and Nepal, but his dream of living and dying in India was unrealized. His songs will be published posthumously. Scott is survived by his brother, Adam Frank, of Conway, AK; his sister, Liz Frank of Tucson AZ; and his close friend, Beatrice Boles, of Albuquerque and Chiang Mai, Thailand. Condolences (and offers to help with uploading his recordings to the internet) may be sent to: "toolspalette@hotmail.com". Memorial will be held at a future date. Scott's bright, sensitive and gentle spirit will be sorely missed by the many people whose lives he touched. His friends and family wish that he may find a kinder world on the other side.




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