Thursday, December 1, 2016

MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL – John Berendt

Roger Ebert surprised and annoyed me with his review of the movie version, grumbling that it didn’t do justice to John Berendt’s book version of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Rarely one to compare with expectations the two forms, I saw no point in this instance. And this was before I read the book. I thought I had read it right after I saw the movie when it came out in 1997. Turns out I hadn’t—I bought the book and maybe started it, but now, after reading it over the weekend, I know I had not. Despite going ass backward with the sequence of versions, I still do not share Ebert’s umbrage.
I agree the movie took liberties with the book, but Berendt acknowledged in a 2015 interview he took liberties, too: “The only thing I moved around was my appearance on the scene. Clearly Danny Hansford had already been killed when I got to Savannah. Everybody knew that. I wasn't trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes. When I sat down to write the story I had been there awhile. Jim was already out of jail and acquitted.”
What strikes me as a tad ironic about Ebert’s comparison was his reliance on the power of imagination. A renowned film critic who understood the sometimes magical authority of the silver screen to seize control of viewers’ fancy and bring them into the mood and hearts of the characters, Ebert found he preferred the subtler involvement of the book. The film, he said, “is a determined attempt to be faithful to the book's spirit, but something ineffable is lost just by turning on the camera: Nothing we see can be as amazing as what we've imagined.” I disagree. If nothing else, the movie is what made me want to read the book.
As to structure, Ebert sounds almost offended that the movie used a substitute for Berendt’s first-person narration, introducing a character nowhere to be found in the book. Ebert never suggested voice-over, which would appear to be the only alternative and is a device yawned at by the hipper film aficionados. Nor did he quibble with John Cusack’s performance in this role as the writer visiting Savannah and through whose eyes we meet the characters and curious ambience of their milieu. Ebert said Cusack’s role might have worked had his character been as quirky and nutty as the others. I find that idea quirky. Cusack’s character served as straight man, someone with whom I could identify without worrying I might exit the theater, go straight home and attach strings to flies and tape them to my shirt and walk around town with the little insect aviators circling my head to the presumed horror of everyone who had not seen the movie. Not to mention I might not be the only moviegoer next day walking pet flies. I actually contemplated doing it after watching the movie, just to see how far I could get in my neighborhood before someone called 911. Thank the good juju John Cusack’s exemplary performance shooed that notion away before it could gain any traction.
Jim Williams and attorney Sonny Seiler. Kevin Spacey played Williams in the film version, and Seiler played the judge


Savannah transvestite "Lady Chablis" played herself in the film

Of course I enjoyed the book! Of course I enjoyed the film! For different reasons, as well Ebert should know. Which did I enjoy more? That’s not fair! Visually scenes from the movie continue to float around my head as though taped to strings attached to my shirt. More subtly, here are some examples of the stories that didn’t make it into the film but are as memorable as anything I’ve ever seen in a theater. Part of the credit belongs to Berendt’s gifted writing.Giving Berendt a tour of the city his first day in Savannah, a local woman, Mary Harty, takes him to one of the cemeteries and points out the graves of the poet Conrad Aiken’s parents. Both died on the same day.


“This is what happened,” she said. “The Aikens were living on Oglethorpe Avenue in a big brick townhouse. Dr. Aiken had his offices on the ground floor, and the family lived on the two floors above. Conrad was eleven. One morning, Conrad awoke to the sounds of his parents quarreling in their bedroom down the hall. The quarreling subsided for a moment. Then Conrad heard his father counting, ‘One! Two! Three!’ There was a half-stifled scream and then a pistol shot. Then another count of three, another shot, and then a thud. Conrad ran barefoot across Oglethorpe Avenue to the police station where he announced, ‘Papa has just shot Mama and then shot himself.’ He led the officers to the house and up to his parents’ bedroom on the top floor.”
Miss Harty lifted her goblet in a silent toast to Dr. and Mrs. Aiken. Then she poured a few drops onto the ground.
Believe it or not,” she said, “one of the reasons he killed her was … parties. Aiken hinted at it in ‘Strange Moonlight,’ one of his short stories.


Then Mary Harty told Berendt he was sitting on Aiken’s grave, as the two of them were perched on a marble bench that constituted his gravestone.
And here’s an amusing account of one of the most engaging characters in the book and the movie, Joe Odom, as he learns tricks on how to make a success of the bar he’s just opened:


Joe sought the advice of Darlene Poole, who knew the bar business inside out.
Darlene had worked as a barmaid in a number of local saloons and was engaged to the owner of a successful club on the southside. She and Joe sat at a table having a drink. “You got a nice setup here,” she said. “The blue-rinse-and-foxtrot crowd finally have a place to go. Can’t hardly go to the Nightflight, can’t go to Malone’s, can’t go to Studebaker’s. You got ’em all to yourself, honey. Nice going. Plus I see you’ve got Wanda Brooks coming in here. Broads like Wanda are what I call insurance. With her bumping into everybody and knocking drinks over left and right at three bucks a shot, you can’t help but make it work. Now, if you can just keep the freeloaders out and stop giving away the liquor, you should do all right. Just make sure nobody’s glass stays empty too long.”


The only question remaining in my mind is which should come first, the book or the film. Ebert read the book first and claims this ruined the movie for him. I saw the movie first and therefore had no such problem. The book did slow down and become a tad tedious in places. This never happened for me with the movie. So which version might I revisit first should I wish some day to revive my interest in the fly trick? That, my friends, is a dumb question.


[for more Friday's Forgotten Books check the links on Patti Abbott's unforgettable blog]






Friday, November 25, 2016

Death's Honesty (16)

The blood plunged from Blow’s face to his intestines with the force of a crashing elevator. He saw the black sedan the instant the church came into view as he rounded the curve. It was parked by the side entrance. He somehow knew it wasn’t Joan Bismark’s. She had said she always parked in the back.

He was glad now he hadn’t stopped at home to get his sister’s revolver. At least he’d gotten to the church before the car left. He also wished he had the revolver instead of the clip-on knife even though it had the ingenious Emerson hook on its blade that pulled it open with a snap from the pocket. He parked beside the car, took a deep breath, patted the knife clip on his pocket, and went to the door.
The footsteps were leaden and determined, and when the door opened he found himself confronted by a heavyset woman with graying steel-wool hair and a granite face. Her eyes were anthracite chips and they stared through Blow with a fearless, primitive knowledge, which, had she been male, he knew, would have frozen him where he stood—knife or revolver or battle-ax or bazooka notwithstanding. The irrational notion of gender making such a difference flicked through his mind as he felt an easing of the tension in his gut. Yet he remained wary.
Time stopped as they stared at each other. Blow’s eyes migrated down from hers past flared nostrils to the bristly shadow atop her upper lip. He saw the lips quiver and begin to part. He caught a glimpse of unkempt teeth and heard a delicate, high-pitched girlish sound emit from behind them. Time commenced.
Yes?”
He introduced himself and asked if Joan Bismark was there. The woman ignored his question.
You’re Judge Stone’s son,” she said, the girlish voice rising on “Stone” and dropping on “son”. Her lips formed the start of a shy smile as Blow nodded yes. There was something off-key about her manner under the circumstances. Too detached. Too trusting. She didn’t recognize him, and Blow had the notion anyone could have approached her as he was and claimed to be him. The Rottweiler’s body would have deterred few hearing its timid kitten voice. But she hadn’t introduced herself. And where was Joan Bismark, and why ignore his query? Wariness persisted. He asked again.
Oh, Joan? Ah, she’s--” The woman interrupted herself with a quick glance in the direction of the secretary’s office. “Joan is, ah, kinda tied up right now. Ah, is she, ah, expecting you?” Her voice climbed in pitch throughout this struggle apparently to keep from giving something away. This was her only tell, as her chunky face remained expressionless and its coloring didn’t change. But for the vocal giveaway she might have been a killer poker player. He heard a slapping sound approaching and the woman turned in that direction and then stepped back. At the same time he heard his name.
Mr. Stone?”
Then she was in the doorway. She looked terrible. Puffed and red around the eyes, tear-streaked cheeks. The banjo tension was back in her voice but with a weary strain that wasn’t there before. “We decided to have a service tomorrow anyway,” she said, leading him back to her office. She was wearing flip-flops and a housecoat embellished with a lavish floral design, and the perfume he’d noticed earlier taunted him anew in her wake. Joan Bismark had introduced the woman who met him at the door as Loretta something (he didn’t catch the multisyllabic last name) and she followed behind him, her steadily clopping shoes suggesting a Clydesdale pulling a fringed surrey in a parade.
They paraded through the nave and vestibule into the meeting room where Loretta peeled off and clopped into the kitchen, calling out in her girlish voice as she did, “I’ll put the food away, Joan.”
When they reached her office, the secretary repeated that the church would hold its Sunday service “anyway.”
That’s good,” said Blow mechanically. He held his tongue from betraying the ambivalence he felt, thinking he might learn a little more before deciding on sharing his misgivings. His alarm at the door had not abated, nor had the prospect of danger for Joan Bismark. “Who will preside?”
She stopped just inside the office and turned around. “I suppose they’ll want me to say a few words. If I can pull myself together.” She gave up a nervous snicker. “Then we’ll just say some prayers and talk about him, you know. I guess like a wake, although he’s not Irish. We’ll have the food. Loretta’s going to bake a new batch of corn bread so it’ll be fresh. You can take some of the first batch home with you if you like.”
I’d love to, Joan, thanks. But please, no more ‘Mr. Stone’, okay? Please call me Joe.”
She nodded and tried to smile and turned again and went to her desk and stood by her chair as if trying to decide whether to sit. Blow stood by the couch. He felt an overpowering awkwardness. She pretended to be scanning her desktop for something. He knew she felt awkward, too. She glanced up at him as if to speak but said nothing.
Has a Capt. Callahan contacted you yet, Joan?”
A policeman?”
Callahan. He’s the chief investigator. I’m assuming you notified the Sheriff’s Office about--”
No, I guess I was too upset and then I got busy and everything. I forgot to call. Except you and then the members, and they have a contact tree. Each one calls three other members, like that.”
How many?”
Members?”
Yes.”
Oh. Ah, I’d have to check to be sure, but I think we have, ah, seventy-eight now. Yes, I’m pretty sure we’re at seventy-eight.”
I see. So what time will the service start tomorrow?”
Oh, I’ll have the door open at nine. We’ll start at ten. We always start at ten. I’ll be praying all night, you know, that maybe Chris, I mean Rev. Curtis will come walking in at the regular time, you know, and everything can be back the way it should be. It could happen, couldn’t it?”
Blow knew then his suspicion had been false, thinking she somehow had gotten word Curtis’s body was found. Her manner and actions had struck him as in keeping with such knowledge. That she had cried herself out. That her strength had taken over. That she was bearing up, performing as her pastor and lover would want. To carry on. It became clear to him now she’d spoken no fantasy. He had gathered she was too practical for that. The hope was real. It could explain Loretta’s odd manner. He’d thought maybe it was shock. But she didn’t know. Neither of them knew.
Joan,” he said softly. I need to discuss something with you, and I think Loretta should be here, too.”

[links to all prior chapters can be found on the right margin above the profile images.]



Tuesday, November 22, 2016

MURDER IN THE WINGS -- Ed Gorman

Were I Police Detective Edelman and I had the faded TV star Stephen Wade in my custody I'd lock him up, close the case and take a long, well-deserved vacation. This is one murder rap not even my buddy Jack Dwyer--former cop, now private eye and sometime actor—is going to upend, believe me.

I mean, look. Let's be realistic here. Wade's fingerprints are all over the knife that's buried in Michael Reeves's back. Okay? Need more? Opportunity: A reliable witness sees Wade enter Reeves's apartment around the time of the murder. Motive? Hours earlier Reeves had shoved, slapped and humiliated Wade in front of the rest of the cast of O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night following Wade's drunken bumbling, stumbling, mumbling performance. Reeves directed the production and is the local theater's resident director.

One might think even Jack Dwyer would let this one go, especially considering the victim was not a likable guy. Somewhat of a loathsome guy, actually. The kind of guy who probably had it coming anyway. But, then, Jack Dwyer's not the kind of guy who gives up easily. Not the kind, either, to rush to judgment, no matter how loathsome it might be to keep an open mind.

One suspects Ed Gorman was a Dwyer kind of guy. He created Jack Dwyer and used this quote by the late British author Gerald Kersh to introduce Murder in the Wings, our currently discussed Dwyer mystery: ". . . there are men whom one hates until a certain moment when one sees, through a chink in their armor, the writhing of something nailed down and in torment."

In Murder in the Wings, Jack Dwyer neither hates the man charged with murder nor has to look for any chinks in his armor. There is no armor. Stephen Wade is himself writhing in torment, destroying his career and his life with drink. He is also Dwyer's friend. Dwyer was one of the cast members in this disastrous performance of O'Neill's classic play. He restrained the actor after a fight broke out between the two enraged men. It was Dwyer whom Wade called, in a drunken stupor, from Reeves's apartment where he said he found his tormentor lying face down in bed with a knife protruding between his shoulder blades.

Nope. No way Jack Dwyer is going to let this one go. Not even after Wade admits he isn't positive he didn't stab the loathsome director to death. Not even after he waves a .45 at Dwyer and flees sobbing into the night. Dwyer couldn't let this one go if he wanted to, if only because his lovably flaky girlfriend, Donna Harris, has decided that “sweet” Stephen Wade did not—could not—murder anyone, not even someone as loathsome as Michael Reeves.

Besides, taking a closer look one sees there are plenty of folks, in the theater group alone, with motive, opportunity and means to have done the dirty deed.

Ed Gorman was at the top of his game with this novel. The writing is crisp and insightful, with moments of pure poetic joy. His characters are so real you feel you know them, or would like to. His plotting is intricate and daring. He keeps you guessing right up to the eminently satisfying denouement.

And the humor. Oh, mercy. It sneaks up and gooses you when you least expect it. There seems always to be a scene or two in every Gorman novel that sets me to laughing so hard I worry I will not be able to stop. Or that the neighbors will call 911. This time, about halfway through Murder in the Wings, I grabbed my cell phone thinking I might need to make the call myself.

Turns out I didn't. But I was ready.


[find more Friday's Forgotten Books links at Todd Mason's amazingly eclectic blog]



 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

MAGGIE: A Girl of the Streets – Stephen Crane

With no knowledge the expression gadzooks did or did not exist in the latter part of the 19th century I presume here to employ the aforementioned expletive to burst forth with appalled astonishment from the throat of Rupert, our imaginary reader at the imaginary distinguished Manhattan publishing house Lyttel, Pettibone & Throckhauptman, as he begins reading the manuscript of a short novel by one historically accurate Johnston Smith.


Rupert’s outburst coincides with his hurling of the manuscript across the room he shares with three other readers of what one day would come to be known as slushpile submissions, most of which were returned to their authors with notes of polite rejection. Our historically accurate manuscript is thusly returned after Rupert composes himself and sheepishly gathers up the sheets from the floor to stuff into the self-addressed-stamped envelope its author had enclosed with his submission. Doing so, Rupert notices the name on the return envelope is not Johnston Smith. Rupert shrugs, assuming the name is that of Smith’s agent, pastes the flap shut and drops the envelope into the outgoing basket on his desk. He pauses for a moment before releasing the envelope and wonders why he does not recognize the "agent"’s name: Stephen Crane. Rupert and the other New York publishers who rejected Maggie: A Girl of the Streets wouldn’t have this problem two years later when Crane dropped the pseudonym for his second novel, The Red Badge of Courage. Then any vocal sounds they might have produced likely would have been expressions of dismay for having rejected Maggie.
Frustrated by his failure to find a publisher for Maggie, Crane went the self-pub route, spending nearly $900 to have 1,100 copies printed. Reflecting back on this venture he was quoted as saying, "how I looked forward to publication and pictured the sensation I thought it would make. It fell flat. Nobody seemed to notice it or care for it... Poor Maggie! She was one of my first loves."

Of course once Red Badge was a hit, critics took another look at Maggie, and, voila!!!, declared it a work of cutting edge naturalistic/realistic brilliance. Uh huh. A real publisher even came out with a new edition, dropping the pseudonym and emblazoning Crane’s name on the cover! To be truthful here, rather than simply snarky, the publishers who rejected Maggie the first time, felt the theme of a girl raised in poverty in a Bowery tenement who turns to prostitution was a tad risque for the popular market. Some also objected to Crane’s meticulous transcription of the Bowery dialect, something other critics praised it for. I found it difficult and unnecessary beyond a little taste initially to get the Bowery voice into the reader’s head before switching to more comprehensible English. Here’s an example:


Pete made a furious gesture. “Git outa here now, an’ don’ make no trouble. See? Youse fellers er lookin’ fer a scrap an’ it’s damn likely yeh’ll fin’ one if yeh keeps on shootin’ off yer mout’s. I know yehs! See? I kin lick better men dan yehs ever saw in yer lifes. Dat’s right! See? Don’ pick me up fer no stuff er yeh might be jolted out in deh street before yeh knows where yeh is. When I comes from behind dis bar, I t’rows yehs bote inteh deh street. See?”


There are patches of overwriting that would have had me shouting gadzooks and hurling the manuscript across the room. I won’t include a sampling here as a gesture of respect for my readers. But then there are gems like this:

The air in the collar and cuff establishment strangled her. She knew she was gradually and surely shriveling in the hot, stuffy room. The begrimed windows rattled incessantly from the passing of elevated trains. The place was filled with a whirl of noises and odors.
She wondered as she regarded some of the grizzled women in the room, mere mechanical contrivances sewing seams and grinding out, with heads bended over their work, tales of imagined or real girlhood happiness, past drunks, the baby at home, and unpaid wages. She speculated how long her youth would endure. She began to see the bloom upon her cheeks as valuable.
She imagined herself, in an exasperating future, as a scrawny woman with an eternal grievance.



I did a double-take and then emitted a sardonic chuckle when I finally recognized that Chapter XVII was breaking the proverbial fourth wall this way:Upon a wet evening, several months after the last chapter, two interminable rows of cars, pulled by slipping horses, jangled along a prominent side-street.”
As one might expect, the naturalistic realism of Maggie is not remotely upbeat and ends on a note so gloomy the movie version, were there ever to be one, likely would use Beethoven’s Funeral March as a background accompaniment.
Can I in good faith recommend Maggie: A Girl of the Streets as “a good read?” No, I can’t and I shan’t. But anyone interested in the seminal work of a genius should find it informing as well as a solid study of Bowery lingo that might some day come in handy should one find oneself stranded in “Rum Alley” or “Devil’s Row” and need directions.
My copy of Maggie is included in the Karpathos complete works of Crane, on Kindle for 99 cents. I shall revisit The Red Badge of Courage soon to see if it holds up to my first reading of it as a youngster. 


[for more Friday's Forgotten Books check the links on Patti Abbott's unforgettable blog]







Monday, November 14, 2016

Death's Honesty (15)


The shank of white hair spoke to Blow as intimately as a whisper. It reached his gaze as he neared the end of his walk from where he’d parked his truck behind an unmarked police car. He was approaching the yellow crime-scene tape guarding the small pier. His eye caught the glimpse of familiar hair, strands fluttering intermittently in the evening breeze from under the mound of pale blue tarp on the weedy bank opposite the pier across the narrow creek. Strobing blue and red emergency lights flickered off the tarp’s surfaces. He saw bare feet poking out from under the covering as well, but without the familiar sandals they failed to affect him with the same sorrow of personal recognition.

We really need to stop meeting like this.” The voice was aimed his way. Callahan’s. It sounded weary. Blow looked back toward where the vehicles were parked and saw the cop approaching, only a few steps away.
At least not the same day,” Blow said, wondering instantly if he should have said “on the same day” and then realizing it didn’t matter and wondering why he’d thought it might and understanding at that precise moment the day’s stress was on the verge of undoing him. Callahan stopped next to Blow at the tape and stared across the creek at the blue mound winking in the emergency lights. “At least your boy didn’t do this one, or did she change her mind on the bail?”
Far as I know he’s still in your jail, unless he escaped.”
They stood in silence. The cop spoke first. “Know who it is?”
Blow didn’t like the question. He knew Callahan probably hadn’t been involved in Curtis’s abduction but maybe he had with Moriarty’s. Chaotic notions struggled in his mind. At the forefront were the implications of the two abductions and his own reaction to Curtis’s murder. It bothered him to feel relieved the corpse under the tarp wasn’t Moriarty’s. It bothered him that Moriarty had gotten so much under his skin that a large measure of his sorrow recognizing the pastor’s hair just now was guilt for feeling relieved it was Curtis’s and not Moriarty’s.
I just got here, Carl, but I think it’s Reverend Curtis from the Patmos church over on Arrowhead Lane. His secretary said she thinks he ran into some foul play. I talked with him this afternoon. Tyrone Genét was a member there.”
The black guy?”
Yeah.”
Plot thickens, like they say in the novels. So what the hell’s going on here, Joe?”
I should be asking you that question.”
Who’s the secretary?”
She’s a client.”
You didn’t answer my question.”
How about I ask you one: Is Teach on duty?”
Teach? What’s that got to do with anything?” Callahan peered intently at Blow but kept his voice level.
Blow upped the volume of his a notch. “Is he?”
Hey, easy, Counselor, easy. Who stuck a hair up your ass? Don’t answer that. Teach has been off all day. Comes back Monday. Now will you answer my question? Both of them?”
My client said she saw Curtis get into a car a couple hours ago with a man who looked like Teach. She said it looked like the man forced Curtis into the car against his will.” Blow watched the cop’s face carefully. Callahan never blinked, keeping his eyes riveted on Blow’s. The furrowing of his brow seemed a natural response to the information he’d just received, as if genuinely surprised and concerned. Blow decided against mentioning the earlier incident when one of the two men who forced Moriarty into a car resembled Teach, and the other Callahan. The possibility Joan Bismark might be in danger now came to him with the impact of a face slap. It was reasonable to assume she also knew whatever Curtis knew that got him killed. It occurred to Blow the secretary might not even know what it was that could make her a target. If as Homer had implied Curtis was tortured he might have given his captors enough information to put Joan at risk. He had to get back to the church. He hoped he had time to stop by the house to get the pistol his sister kept in her nightstand.
Fuck,” Callahan muttered. He lifted the crime tape and stepped onto the pier, waving an arm to get the attention of one of the deputies--two uniformed and one plainclothes--Blow saw on the island. He recognized Doc Botticelli, acting medical examiner, standing next to the blue mound. Botticelli leaned over and lifted a corner of the tarp and stared at what was under it. One of the uniformed deputies waved back at Callahan and untied the rowboat secured to a stump at the island edge. The deputy climbed in, lifted the oars and began the creaking and splashing motions of rowing across the creek. As the boat neared the pier, Callahan turned back to Blow, his voice sounding even wearier than before: “I need to talk to your client, the secretary. I’ll get up with you tomorrow.” Blow nodded.
Blow started back to his truck. He was surprised to see few people on the mainland side of the creek. He saw three houses among the trees lining both sides of the narrow asphalt lane leading from the main road. A man, woman and school-age child stood together on the lighted porch of one house. Another was dark. The third house, nearest the pier, he guessed was the one Homer had said looked like a cabin. It was plain and only one story. Blow saw yellow light through one of the windows. Then he saw someone standing in the dark near the front door. As he drew closer he saw it was a man and the man was looking at him.
Hello,” Blow said. The man said nothing, but turned and unhurriedly went into the house. Blow wanted to follow him, introduce himself and leave a card. No time even for that tonight, though, he decided. He had to get back to the church as soon as possible. He got into his truck and turned around at an unkempt grassy circle in front of the house. As he did this he saw the man standing, silhouetted, at the lighted window, looking out. Blow waved a hand and drove back to the main road.


[links to all prior chapters can be found on the right margin.]


 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

STEPHEN HAWKING: A Life in Science – Michael White and John Gribbin

Some years back I bought a copy of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. I knew Hawking was important, that he was cutting edge. I was curious. I don’t think I got past the first page or two. The language of physics was over my head, yet I caught enough to be vaguely intimidated, suspecting if I struggled with it enough to understand where the author was going I’d soon be revisiting my old nightmares about suddenly getting sucked into a black hole.


Well, that danger is abated. I have learned in Stephen Hawking: A Life in Science that black holes are more abundant than visits by Chicken Man: they’re everywhere, they’re everywhere. Presumably sucking sucking sucking… Some—an infinite number, actually--are infinitely smaller than the dot at the end of this sentence. Sucking sucking… But the best news I learned from this fairly-easy-to-follow biography of this incredibly hard-to-understand man is that our entire universe is a black hole—one among an infinite number of universes, all of them black holes. I’d have put an exclamation mark after that last sentence had I not become so astoundingly sophisticated in matters of cosmic theory reading this amazing book, which I picked up for half a buck a couple of weeks ago at the library’s used book sale. It was sitting next to a credibly slim volume titled The Wit and Wisdom of Donald Trump, which, according to my understanding of theories discovered by Stephen Hawking (and my own intuition), possibly itself contains an infinite number of black holes. Needless to say, I had one helluva time trying to decide which of these two possible collections of theoretically possible black holes to spend my fifty cents on.

Now then, here’s my own theory, one which I feel empowered to expound from a foundation of virtual math illiteracy and inherent mistrust of most anyone who seems to know more about something than I do. I would guess such mistrust is explained somewhat, explicitly or by inference, in the fictional Trump book. (Not to worry, there’s no math in this theory): We know that at first few if any human beings knew precisely what the hell Einstein was talking about when he came up with the “special theory of relativity.” It didn’t help that many quickly understood Einstein’s equation E = mc 2 because they still didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. To this day I am fairly clueless.

Moving along briskly here, Hawking’s theories of black holes and other celestial phenomena are even more obscure than Einstein’s theories to my cosmically deprived little brain. I enjoyed reading about them, though—the theories—if only because once I realized that I myself might well be a black hole or at least host to a bunch of them my dread of dreaming the damned sucking dream succumbed to an awesome sense of being Mr. Universal Danger, armed with the knowledge I could at whim strike terror in the hearts of anyone who didn’t know the secret that they too might well be black holes or hosts to a multitude thereof. I’d be wearing tights and a cape were I not uncomfortable with the prospect of starting a dangerous fashion trend among the black hole cognoscenti. Or be misunderstood by the folks in the white suits with the tranquilizer darts.

Getting back to my theory, if only a metaphoric handful of physicists, astronomers and mathematicians are hip to the guts of these theories, who's to say they don’t push their equations into a little niche so esoteric only they can credibly pretend the equations make sense? It’s all just theory anyway. No one has ever identified a black hole, nor will anyone ever likely do so, as Hawking assures us. It’s this small coterie of elite scientists we’re supposed to trust. And Hawking seems perhaps more trustworthy than the average brainiac because he suffers from a disease that’s left him almost completely paralyzed.



But we know the guy has a wicked sense of humor, White and Gribbin say so in Stephen Hawking: A Life in Science. Wicked sense of humor. Folks who know him, including White and Gribbin, say you can see the mischief in his face. And he loves to whip around the cloistered Cambridge campus at breakneck speed in his motorized wheelchair. He also loves to whip around dance floors in it, flirting with women. I learned also Hawking has three kids by his wife, whom he left after 25 years to move in with his nurse-come-mistress. Them apples, whattaya think? The guy’s a player! A practical joker/player who just might be putting one over on all of us.

So intrigued was I about halfway through the book I bought the DVD of The Theory of Everything, based on Hawking’s wife Jane’s book about their marriage. The flick left me spellbound. I started sitting around with my head lolling to one side, practicing mischievous grins and smartass quips. What the hell is wrong with me? I couldn’t even help my kids with their geometry homework. Now I’m wondering if geometry is some brainiac joke too.

Maybe I’m presidential timber.




[for more Friday's Forgotten Books check the links on Patti Abbott's unforgettable blog]