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Friday, October 28, 2005

Lunch with a curmudgeonly friend

I got into a bit of trouble with my Curmudgeonly Friend (the one who took the picture in the sidebar) today at lunch. Somehow we are stuck in this yin/yang thing where he is the defender of High Art so I have to be the scuzzy Lowbrow one, and I was doing my duty, mouthing off about pretentiousness - than which I like almost nothing less - and then I made the mistake of saying "well I never read poetry because so much of it is bad," and he took umbrage, maybe because he's a poet, but I like HIS poems (in fact when I first met him five years ago I'd describe him to friends as "a guy who write poems but they're good ones") and he knows I do.

So he said: you shouldn't be so lazy, you should try harder to be high-minded. And I said, I'm afraid of those slender volumes with the elegant typesetting, they all look sort of the same and so many of them are full of awful poems, it's like if you had a bowl full of jellybeans and they were all the same color but you knew that a few of them were your favorite flavor and all the rest would taste like baked beans, wouldn't you rather just give them all a pass?

And he said: just because a lot of poems are bad, doesn't mean you can ignore them all. And then we debated a truism frequently espoused by my former business partner Pat Sky, to wit:
99% of everything is s*%t
But my curmudgeonly friend took the optimistic side of the argument, opining that in fact only 97% of everything is s*%t, and it so surprised him to be sounding so upbeat that we had to stop for a while and eat some lunch.

And by the way, until just now I thought the expression was "to whit" but because I've been such a snob about spelling I thought I'd better check it and what do you know, I've been wrong about this my entire life.

So then I said, this problem with the poems and the jellybeans, I have this same problem with theater and also with fruit in the grocery store, because even though the pears look good, too many times I've brought them home and then they disappointed me, and I have the same problem with guys too, and maybe that's the problem with being half a century old, it's not that I'm jaded, it's just that I can't seem to forget the many disappointments accumulated over this lifetime and they've made me defensive and fearful.

Reverting after this philosophical interlude to my lowbrow role, I told him (as I had previously told another friend) that I recently bought a Shirley Hazzard book because people I respect recommended her, but after five pages I already didn't like it, and after fifteen more pages I started wondering if I really had to finish the book (in my younger years it was like, "clean your plate" - once I started the book I had to see it through, skimming was ok but no blatant skipping allowed), and five pages later I thought, "no, I don't have to finish it" and dropped it on the floor in disgust (actually I told him I threw it against the wall, but I was just exaggerating for effect), and he said he hadn't read Shirley Hazzard but I really ought to read Moby Dick.

So on the way home I stopped at the library and checked out a copy of Moby Dick. This in spite of remembering, as if it were yesterday, how much I hated Moby Dick when it was shoved down our throats in ninth grade. I REALLY hated having SYMBOLISM blabbed about and crooned over. Also, I thought it was stupid to hunt the white whale. Better to stay home and watch "The Biggest Loser" on TV.

UPDATE: I was pretty taken with the first 35 chapters of Moby Dick but then Ahab showed up. What a blowhard, if you'll pardon the expression. Then I reeled when presented with the overblown "Descartian vortexes." The book's due back at the library soon. Will I slog my way through it or just slip it in the return slot?

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At 6:53 AM, Blogger Hannah said...

I like Moby Dick! I read it during a summer when I had an extremely long commute, so I got to sort of pretend I was on a sea voyage. That, and also I found it fascinating to think back to a time when the sea was considered so vast, so full of plenty and mystery and danger, that humanity would never make an impression on it, no matter what.

At 7:47 AM, Blogger kenju said...

I am reading of a sea voyage of a different type; a young Indian man gets lost in a ship sinking, on a lifeboat accompanied by a tiger and an orangutan. The name of the book is "The Life of Pi". I can't remember the author's name right now - but it has won some prestigious award. A very odd book, but interesting in a curious way.

I have a cartoon above my desk which reminds me of your story:

A lady and a man are at breakfast and he says "ok!ok! I'm just an old curmudgeon!"

She says: "You were a curmudgeon long before you were old!"

At 7:48 AM, Blogger kenju said...

Darn! After all that, I forgot to say that Michele sent me this time.

At 5:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an "Instant Classic" Pratie Place post!

At 7:46 PM, Blogger HCaldwell said...

I never really liked Moby Dick, but I do like saying "Ishmael" with a phony pirate accent.
(my word verification was "uhirt" - I hope this is not prophetic)
By the way, enjoyed the read.

At 11:50 PM, Blogger Ron Hudson said...

If you want a good read, try Anne-Marie MacDonald's "The Way the Crow Flies". Powerful stuff. Let me know what you think.

I can't comment on the poetry thing as I have been translating poetry for a couple of years now!


At 5:41 AM, Blogger Paul Chenoweth said...

I am convinced that some pleasures, such as curling up with a great book, are better reserved for us aging curmudgeons. We somehow appreciate the effort more.

At 9:37 AM, Blogger Badaunt said...

I remember when I used to have to read something I started, too. Where did the idea come from?

I also remember the feeling of liberation when I understood that there was no 'have to' involved.

At 12:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I cna empathize with most poetry being baked bean jelly beans. Thanks for relating the interesting discussion.

At 1:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you should at least finish Moby Dick. It actually teaches many lessons. I'm a junior in high school and my teacher really pointed out some interesting points and ways to really comprehend the moral. Don't just look at it as some guy thirsty for revenge. Think of it as something you have once gone through that maybe changed your life? Or something you have wanted so badly and you kept chasing it. It shows how sad and foolish some people can be. The obsession in this case was in fact a magnificent whale, like the God running the sea, much like a lion in the jungle. Once it proved it could never be caught, anger and frustration grew more and more. Thus; Man vs. Nature. Not only that but Man vs. Himself.

At 9:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

its by Yann Martel

At 8:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what's by Yann Martel?


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