Friday, June 28, 2013

McCarthy's The Orchard Keeper & Blood Meridian

I don’t trust Cormac McCarthy with children, old people or animals.  If Mr. McCarthy introduces any of those three things as characters in a book, then you can almost bet that unseemly things are in store.  Take my word on this.  I’ve read enough of his books to know. 

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love the man’s work.  Any author who can write a lyrical and eloquent account of a violent necrophiliac (Child of God) in rural Appalachia is going to get points from me.

I have just finished McCarthy’s first book, The Orchard Keeper, published in 1965.  It was pure McCarthy:  sparse, poetic, violent, filled with the most amazing words strung together in the most amazing ways.   I am sometimes so caught up in his words that the realization of what he is saying makes me shudder.

“Then Sylder stood, still in that somnambulant slow motion as if time itself were running down, and watched the man turn, seeming to labor not under water but in some more viscous fluid, torturous slow, and the jack itself falling down on an angle over the dying forces of gravity, leaving Sylder’s own hand and bouncing slowly in the road while his leaden arm rose in a stiff arc and his fingers cocked like a cat’s claws unsheathing and buried themselves in the cheesy neckflesh of the man who fled from him without apparent headway as in a nightmare” (The Orchard Keeper, 1993 Vintage International Edition, pg. 38).


“A loosed box of kittens came tottering aimlessly over the floor, rocking on their stub legs and mewling.  Their eyes were closed and festered with mucus as if they might have been struck simultaneously with some biblical blight” (Vintage International Edition, pg. 180).

And then there are the single lines:
“The oaks stirred restlessly, low admonitions, shhh…” (Vintage International Edition, pg. 65).

“Across the yard, brilliant against the façade of pines beyond, a cardinal shot like a drop of blood” (Vintage International Edition, pg. 133).

Not long ago, I read Blood Meridian.  It, too, is pure McCarthy (he cannot be otherwise), and as much as that book made me uneasy, I loved every single word of it.  A fictional account of historical events from the mid-1800s, McCarthy takes readers on a horrifying journey with a fourteen-year-old boy named the Kid as he travels around the Texas-Mexico boarder.  There are other characters, unsavory and otherwise (worse), with whom the kid meets up and travels, but none as unforgettable and frightening as the Judge.  

Potential spoiler alert:  Clearly, McCarthy meant the Judge's character to be that of death, as any other character who has the great misfortune to meet the Judge ends up quite thoroughly deceased.  But never in my life have I read an ending written like the one this book has.  Where throughout the book, death is described in vivid detail, the death at the end of the book, arguably the most important death, is not well described at all.  We are not even given so much as a hint as to what happened, except that whatever happened was too horrifying to describe, as evidenced by the reaction of a character who stumbles upon the scene after the fact.  And that is the genius of McCarthy.  He uses our own minds against us, because he knows that we can do the most damage to ourselves.

A taste of Blood Meridian:
"How these things end.  In confusion and curses and blood.  They drank on and the wind blew in the streets and the stars that had been overhead lay low in the west and these young men fell afoul of others and words were said that could not be put right again and in the dawn the kid and the second corporal knelt over the boy from Missouri who had been named Earl and they spoke his name but he never spoke back" (Vintage First International Edition, pg. 43).

"...a howl of such outrage as to stitch a caesura in the pulsebeat of the world" (Vintage First International Edition, pg. 69).

"A man's vanity may well approach the infinite in capacity but his knowledge remains imperfect and howevermuch he comes to value his judgements ultimately he must submit them before a higher court.  Here there can be no special pleading.  Here are considerations of equity and rectitude and moral right rendered void and without warrant and here are the views of the litigants despised.  Decisions of life and death, of what shall be and what shall not, beggar all question of right.  In elections of these magnitudes are all lesser ones subsumed, moral, spiritual, natural" (Vintage First International Edition, pg. 261).

So good, it hurts.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


The Tailypo is a frightening creature from Appalachian folklore, half human, half dog, with red eyes, a long tail and sharp claws.  The Tailypo wanders around in the night hunting for the hermit who cut off and ate his tail.  You can sometimes hear him in the night whispering, "Tailypo, tailypo, give me back my tailypo..."

The story, of course, is told to children to scare the dickens out of them for no good reason whatsoever, and I remember learning of the Tailypo through a fifth-grade classmate while standing in the pitch black of the girl's bathroom of John Jones Elementary School (the same location where I was taught to play the game of Bloody Mary and told the silly tail of "If the log rolls over, we're all going to die").  Don't ever doubt the benefits of a public school education.

Why do I mention the Tailypo?  Because I forgot to list it as one of the nicknames we have for Booker.  He is our Tailypo.  And he wants his tail back.

To read the full story of the Tailypo, please visit here.

To read more about the urban legend of Bloody Mary, please visit here.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Speckled Pup

Three weeks ago yesterday, Eric and I adopted a dog.  He is a ten-month-old Catahoula.  We drove about an hour and a half north to visit with him and his foster human (a sweet young woman who looked as if she had stepped from the canvas of a Pre-Raphaelite painting), and we left with papers signed, pup in hand (so to speak).  We christened him Booker Theophilus.  Booker after the great abolitionist Booker T. Washington and Theophilus after beloved Faulkner character Theophilus McCaslin.  We call him Booker.  Or Booker T.  Or Puppers (when he’s super sweet, which is often).  Or Speckled Pup (again, when he’s being real, real sweet).  Or, most often, Gator Snapper (when he is on his back, flailing about with his mouth open like an old hungry gator, inviting us to play).  He is a delight, and a great reason to get up early in the mornings for a walk in the backyard.  

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Something is lost that cannot be found.

"Saint Anthony, Saint Anthony, take a good look around.
Something is lost that cannot be found."

Eric and I have lost our small kitchen whisk.  We think we've looked everywhere, but evidently not.  Instead of a work triangle in our kitchen, we have a Bermuda Triangle.  Things disappear for awhile and then sometimes reappear, like our favorite wooden spatula that went missing after the big kitchen paint job and was gone for a year before it turned back up.  During the time that the spatula was taking its sabbatical from the drudgery of scrambled eggs and roux, Eric received a new, nicer wooden spatula from brother and sister-in-law, Steven and McKenna.  Then, after a year, our trusty old spatula showed back the same utensil drawer by the stove that we turned out and sorted through twenty times the year before while looking for said spatula.

The Saint Anthony mantra is something that my former Cherry Creek of Denver Chico's boss Holly Hamby taught me.  Holly has some serious joie de much so, her personality is on the scale of Ruth Gordon's Maude character from the cult-classic film Harold & Maude.  I recall her imploring Saint Anthony repeatedly on a daily basis at work, begging his help to find her lost keys, the store screwdriver, or the box cutter she had just had in her hand.  When I asked her about the prayer, she explained that Saint Anthony was the saint of lost items, and that if you lost something, all you had to do was pray to Saint Anthony and he'd find it for you eventually.  She then recounted an incident of losing a diamond ring once and how, after praying to Saint Anthony for help, she found it on the outside window sill upon which she had placed it weeks before for safe keeping (I knew Holly well enough by that time to not question why she would've placed a diamond ring on an outside window sill for safe keeping).  Since then, Holly had been a firm believer in the Saint Anthony prayer.  And so have I.

So, there is hope that one day the whisk will turn up.  It is a good and trusted whisk, one that came with me when I moved back from Denver.  So, Saint Anthony, Saint Anthony, take a good look around...

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father's Day 2013

While serving in the U.S. Navy, dad worked on the aircraft carrier the USS Lake Champlain.  His job was fueling jets on the flight deck and running a fuel pump room.  Recently, he recalled an incident where jet fuel, which had spread on deck from the stabilization of the ship in port, caught fire.  Fire on a ship is bad.  Real bad.  Dad was ordered to his pump room to purge the lines with salt water.  Not necessarily wanting to go down to his pump room for obvious reasons, Dad was encouraged to do so by a superior’s motivational directive to “get your ass down there or I’ll court-martial you.”  After about two hours, the fire was extinguished, but sadly some lives (both civilian and military) were lost.  I asked Dad what he did later that evening, interested in how he may have coped with the trauma and stress of such an event.  He couldn’t recall…

This is a photo of Dad as a young swabby.  It is marked on the back “Hollywood Cannes, France.”  He looks like a movie star.  Dad weighed so little at the time he served, fellow sailor Buford Greer would sometimes have to hang on to him so that he wouldn’t get blown off the flight deck.  I'd like to shake Buford Greer's hand and thank him for that.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Tex Part III: Memorial Day

“Is that blood?!?” I asked Tex as he sauntered up our front walk.

“How’d you know?” He responded, smiling proudly down at the blotches and streaks of brown on his shirt.

Life experience has taught me what blood looks like on clothing, but I didn’t say this out loud to Tex because he would’ve asked twenty questions that I would have refused to answer.

“Good Lord, child.  What happened to you?”

“We was playing the Getting Hit in the Head Game and I got hit.”

Yeah, I’m familiar with that game.  I like to refer to it as the potential Massive Head Wound Game.  Again, I kept this to myself.

He showed me the BB-sized hole in his noggin and told me that Joel had "done patched him up real good.For the record, our neighbor Joel is working on his nursing degree (his wife is already a nurse), so he and/or his wife are my pick to patch up a bleeding child.

Once I got a good look at Tex for other wounds (nothing but the usual old scabs that boy children tend to forever seem to have about their bruised knees and ankles), Tex leapt off the porch to play chase again with the neighbor kids, completely oblivious to the heart attack he had just almost caused me to have.

Some days I just can’t think straight.