shepquest

MY BOOKS ABOUT JEAN SHEPHERD

SHEP'S ARMY: BUMMERS, BLISTERS, AND BOONDOGGLES, Opus Books. Nearly three dozen of Shepherd's army stories never before in print introduced and transcribed. Foreword by Keith Olbermann. (published August 2013)

EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD! THE ART AND ENIGMA OF JEAN SHEPHERD, Applause Books (published March, 2005)

Archives by Subject

JEAN SHEPHERD Kid story–first day at steel mill-part 3 & (134c) ARTSY Recuerdos of Spain

Ever sit with about a thousand guys waiting to be interviewed at an employment office?  It’s a very interesting experience.   I’m sitting there with all these other guys, some of them are nine feet tall, other guys with muscles bulging out behind their ears, other guys have gray suits with pencils sticking out of their pockets.  Everybody looks very official.  All I have is my letter.  I figure if I wear my sweater with the big H on the front they’ll be impressed.  It’s my letter.  So I sit there with my H, and they call me in.  “Mr. Bullard wants to talk to you.”

So I walk in, Mr. Bullard’s sitting back there and he’s got these chromium teeth, and he’s looking at me.  “Is this your application here?  Your name?”

“Yes indeed.”

He gives me a good long look and he says, “You play football?  What position do you play?”

I say, “Yes.”  I have these little footballs that they give you sewn all over my sweater.

He says, “What do ya play?”

“I’m offensive guard, actually.  I play linebacker quite a bit.”

“I remember you!”

“You remember me?”

“Yeah, didn’t you make that fumble against Whiting one night?”  He did remember me.

I did make the fumble against Whiting one night.  I say, “I did indeed.”

He says, “What was the matter with you, anyway?”

I say, “I don’t know.  I didn’t come here to talk about football. I want a job here.”

“We can’t have guys who fumble like that at crucial moments working for us!”

I say, “Are you forming a football team here?  I’ve got my letter—I did something right!”

He says, “That’s true.”  He starts stamping my application.  Be careful of guys who have rubber stamps on their desks.  Them guys can be mean.

He starts stamping, writing little things, more stamps on my application.  He says, “Here, take this down to Personnel, son.”  He gives me the paper and he turns away.  I can see immediately that the interview is over.  He pushes a little button, it goes ding dong, and they bring in the next victim.

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ADIOS, SPAIN

My half-Spanish/half-American daughter and I finally met in Granada when she was about 17. We would sit each evening on the roof of her student residence and watch, across the valley, the floodlights illuminate the Alhambra. We talked of many things and got to know each other a bit. She stayed in Forest Hills, Queens with us for some months, acing her freshman year at Hunter, until her story and mine took a sad, tragic turn. She had lived through too much Spanish culture— its backward culture, its either-or/black-or-white mentality of not conceiving any alternatives between herself and the rest of the world. Out of fear for our safety and inability to alter her, we had to ask her to leave.

Back in Spain, she would not correspond with us, so the inexplicable sadness  remains now for over two decades. It’s too difficult, too personal for me to detail–Lorca, your Granada ways remain in my world–and, Federico, maybe you could have written a true tragedy about it, but I could not do it.  Though to get some pain out of myself, with some time recollected in tranquility, I composed several poems and artists’ books. Parts of each:

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JEAN SHEPHERD Kid story–first day at steel mill-part 2 & (134b) ARTSY Recuerdos of Spain

First Day Part 2—Mailboy With Tornado

Mailboy–actor playing Ralph (Shep)

in “Phantom of the Open Hearth”

(screen-capture)

I was going to buy a car.  That’s what my basic idea was—to get this car.  And where was this car?  Well, it was on a used car lot.  Have you ever noticed used car lots have all these light bulbs?  Well, those are not just ordinary light bulbs that you have in your house—just rotten light bulbs.  There’s a special light bulb for used-car dealers.  It makes the paint glow!  It has special rays in it.  So you can take a car that looks like left-over mashed potatoes in ordinary light, you stick it under these special bulbs at the used-car lot, and it come on like the Taj Mahal.  The paint glows and everything.

So every day I was walking past Friendly Fred, The Hungry Armenian used-car lot, and he had these cars there with all the light bulbs, and there was this one car—it was a Ford V8.  Gees!  Fantastic!  You talk about getting the hots for something—I really had ‘em for that car.  I could taste it.  I figured if I got a job I could really make it big with this car.  No telling how far I could go.

Cars are very important.  This is a basic thing with people.  Man is an ambulatory creature—that means he walks around a lot.  There’s no other creature that migrates like man.  You haven’t heard recently of a herd of elephants moving out to Ohio, have you?  Not recently, and you won’t.  They just walk around in the same place.

Man has a basic urge to go someplace else.  Of course, part of that basic urge is to believe that if I did get someplace else, it would be better.  I’d write that great novel. You get there and you find your knees still hurt, you still don’t make out.  You’re gonna do it just as much in Rabbit Hash, Kentucky as you are in Madera, off the coast of whatever it’s off the coast of.

So I’ve got this plan, see.  I’m gonna get this car.  I could taste it!  I would discuss it with Flick and Schwartz and Bruner.  And sure enough, school’s out, June third.  I go around like mad, I get my work permit.  I go around trying to get a job and they have this bulletin board in school of all the various jobs that are available.  I apply through this post office box number 6SJ7GT—“Send your qualifications.”

I had fantastic qualifications.  After all, I was a first-string guard on the football team, plenty of qualifications.  They can use a lot of guards in a lot of places.  I was a quick study.  I was the only guy on our team who learned our plays in less than six months.  All three of our plays.

I went down, I filled out the forms and I waited.  I filled out a lot of other forms.  Went over to the gas station and asked if they needed anybody.  And not more than two weeks after I filled out a form I got this letter in the mail saying that I should show up at the employment office at the steel mill!  The steel mill!  I’d hit the double jackpot!  Everybody knows it’s big money down at the steel mill, so I went down there with about twenty-eight thousand guys.

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LORCA & THE POMEGRANATE CONSPIRACY

Some of my Lorca books. Are Lorca and my long-gone Spanish wife, Maria, related? His family name, Garcia, has a same family name as Maria (Yes, I know that Garcia is as common as Jones is here.)  Maria was born in Atarfe, a small town near Granada, the same town Lorca’s mother came from; in the city of Granada itself, the Lorca home is just a few blocks from Maria’s family home.

I took Maria to see two of Lorca’s tragedies performed in Spanish in small Manhattan theaters: “Yerma” and “La Casa de Bernarda Alba.” I don’t think she got it.

•    •    •    •    •

The Pomegranate Conspiracy–Part of synopsis: “This novel tells the story of Gordon Roberts (the name is a play on Hemingway’s protagonist, Robert Jordan in For Whom the Bell Tolls), a young American rifle expert in Spain, who dreams of righting the wrongs of the Spanish civil war, thirty year after its end….The fascist dictator, Franco, dies in bed….The Granada conspirators decide to kill King Juan Carlos instead….Emotions and conflicts reach their peak in the Alhambra, the king innocently in attendance for a concert, Gordon and Manolo poised to release their deadly grenades—and Manolo ready to slit Gordon’s throat.” (The contents of the following typed pages are important parts of my Spanish recuerdos/tragedy.)

In The Pomegranate Conspiracy’s

Unpublished Manuscript, the Underlined Texts (In Italic)

are the True Parts, or Words in Spanish.

Non-Underlined are Fiction.

•    •    •    •    •

In 1936, near the beginning of the Spanish Civil War,

Federico Garcia Lorca, with several others, was executed.

THE CORPSE OF LORCA.

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JEAN SHEPHERD Kid story–first day at steel mill & (134a) ARTSY Recuerdos of Spain

And I walked out of the stores with a big pair of safety shoes that were forty pounds each, a pair of goggles—and the sound rose and rose and rose and rose—it was screaming and hollering around me.

I had nowhere to go. No place to go. I had no point of reference, and I went into a doorway where there was a telephone.  I picked up the telephone and I instinctively dialed zero. And I got this voice on the phone. It was the plant operator.

I said, “I want to talk to Mr. Galambus, please.”

“Mr. Galambus?”

I said, “Yes, Mr. Galambus, who is the superintendent of the rolling shop.”

“Oh, yes, Mr. Galambus, of course, sir.” She thought I was a big man.

I get Mr. Galambus. I say, “Hi, Gil, hi, Gil, this is W9QWN ha ha, I’m

over here in the 2AC, Gil. Please come and get me. Oh oh oh.”

Well, twenty minutes later I’m in the Stationary Shipping Department.  And that was only the beginning.  That day I learned something very important.  I haven’t discovered yet what it is.

END OF FIRST STEEL MILL STORY.

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RECUERDOS OF SPAIN part 1

Spain might seem an odd place for this timid, conservative fellow to pursue. It’s on the far edge of European culture both geographically and culturally. In some ways it is rough, backward-living in a long ago lost civilization. (At least that’s the way it seemed to me in the 1950s-1970s. It’ significantly modernized since.) Its barbaric dichotomies—its Civil War, its bullfight, its gypsies and flamenco, and, yes, in its romantic illusions, its castles in Spain.

I blame it all on  my cousin, Raymond Ben Anderson, who, when I was an impressionable pre-teenager asking him for suggestions on good reading matter, he loaned me Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon, which engendered my enthusiasm for Hemingway, bullfighting, classical and flamenco guitar, and almost all other things Spanish. No wonder that, when I decided to make my first trip to Europe, I preceded it with a Berlitz course in Spanish and, the only specific date on my 5-month itinerary was July 7, the opening day of Pamplona’s running of the bulls.

I had no idea that in Madrid I’d meet Maria, a young woman from Granada.

(Most people don’t know that American author, Washington Irving, stayed in and was enamored of the Alhambra: “…one of the most remarkable, romantic, and delicious spots in the world.”)

MODEL OF A POMEGRANATE.

PAPER MODEL OF THE ALHAMBRA.

(The small cluster of buildings front and center is the remaining Moorish palace buildings. Behind, with round hole in center is the later Spanish building which destroys the unity of the original buildings—it is here that my The Pomegranate Conspiracy manuscript’s American protagonist and his Granada co-conspirators intend to kill Prince Juan Carlos. [See following description.] To the left is the Catholic church built by the conquistadors.)

END OF PART 1.

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JEAN SHEPHERD Kid story first day part 2

And so I’m sitting in this bus, and it’s going GRRRRRRR! and I see outside these windows. I don’t want to appear eager, you know. That’s the worst thing when you get into a terrible foreign country or a strange world, is to let everyone know that you’re not a native.

And so I’m sitting but I’m looking out—casually, you know. And I see these great buildings on either side, so close that you could reach out and touch them with your hands.  Big, square cutouts in the buildings, and I could see enormous ingots—BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! Back and forth! Sparks.  And it sounded like—to the ear, which was not trained—it sounded like there was nothing but a continual scream cutting the air. A great, great scream. Of all the machinery—everything all together. And I’m sitting. Oh!

I finally arrived in “the stores,” where they give you safety shoes and goggles. And I’m sitting there and a man comes out. He says, “I’m going to fit you with safety shoes, kid. I see you got a note from Galambus. You got to get to work.”

I say, “Well, what am I gonna do?”

“I don’t know. It’s none of my business, kid. You’re working for Galambus over in Stationary Shipping the note says. Don’t come to ask me about it.  It’s not my problem, kid. You get safety shoes and goggles.”

More steel to come

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JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Story–First day at the steel mill

PART 3. THROUGH THE (STEEL) MILL

In the neighborhood of the Shepherd family is the hellish environment of Hammond, Indiana’s steel mill.  His father works in the accounting office of the Borden’s Milk Company but most people in town work in the mill or have some close connection to it. Young Shepherd gives several dramatic and enjoyable descriptions of the steel-mill environment.  He has a temporary job at the mill. So strongly do the mills remain with him that he tells several versions of how he gets a job there and what his first day of work is like. 

In each of these “first day” tales we are assaulted by different environments within the immense, multi-faceted mill, each encounter enwrapped in Jean Shepherd’s emotionally-charged, descriptive evocations of Dante’s Hell—the mill.  We learn about surviving a tornado, downing booze with the gang at “The Eagle,” and catching rats.  He is still learning about life—as he once puts it in a steel-mill story, “I’m a kid, see, and one thing about being a kid, see, is you have not established all the various rules yet, by which you are going to live your life….” For all his distain of the mills, they remain a fascinating and important part of his memories and his education. As for us—we are overwhelmed.

* * *

Let Me Tell You About That First Day

If I say to you “steel mill,” what do you think of in your mind?  How do you see it? Do you think that you’ve even approached it?  Do you think you’ve even scratched the surface of a steel mill?  Well, let me tell you about the first day—and remember this—I lived within a mile and a half of most of my adolescent and childhood life within—within a mile and a half of the greatest steel mills in America. So logically I should know about steel mills, right? Logically, since most of the people who lived in the neighborhood worked in steel mills, steel mills should not come as a surprise to me.

Well, let me tell you about that first day.  I remember this so vividly that it’s—it’s as though it was some kind of a lithograph—even better than that, a steel engraving hanging in this lone corridor of my room. This room of the mind, with lights properly placed so they can be seen clearly. And I hardly even think of it—I never look at it. Like a picture that’s in your house that you never look at—it’s always there, you know.  You walk in and out of the room and there’s this thing hanging. And you never look at it. Once in a while you look at it and suddenly say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, Aristotle Contemplating a Home of Buster. Yeah, there he is.” You know. And—and suddenly hits you again and again, and maybe one day you get so tired of the picture you throw it out!  But you never can really throw it out, ’cause it’s always somehow hanging in your memory. That first day.

MUCH MORE OF THIS & MORE STEEL MILL TALES TO COME

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JEAN SHEPHERD–kid story, public speaking

Well, he had a little speech problem, Quentin did.  He stuttered.  Quentin Raleigh gets up there and he starts to talk.  “Gh-gh-gh-gh-gh-“  Quentin was off.  He goes on for about five minutes and Miss Parsons can’t stop him because he hasn’t said anything for those five minutes, and finally she gets him off and he sits down, and guess whose turn it is.

Right here.  Me.  I couldn’t believe it!  The clock said it was time for the period to be over!  And I was walking up to the front.  My feet are going clank clank clank clank clank up on the stage.  I kicked the little platform.  It was the first time I ever looked down on a crowd that was waiting to hear what I had to say.  They’re all sitting there with that snotty look of people who have been through it.  They’ve all been up here and I’m way down at the Ss.  And now there’s Shepherd.

I start to talk.  I say, “Araya yabaya aryaa….”  I have no idea what I said.  I just say, “Araya yabaya.” 

It was somehow as if somebody had taken my mind out of my head with a nutpick.  They had taken it out and put it over someplace among the geraniums.  And they had attached my voice to the wastebasket.  And my mouth was somewhere down around the bottom of the desk going “Quack quack quack awawa awawa.”

And there was this thing standing up there, just standing on two feet going “Ah…ah.”  It was as though I was controlling everything from a distance with strings.  My mind was over in the geraniums on the windowsill, my mouth was hooked onto the wastebasket, “Araya yabaya aryaa….”    And the controls were very very freaky.  I couldn’t make good contact: “Araya yabaya aryaa arghga ba ba bag a aaaah!”  The bell rang—caboing!  My mind snapped back to attention just like that.  My head went—goooing-ng-ng-ng—back on my shoulders.  Whoop!  I was gone.  Like that.  Out in that hallway, I was gone.

I cannot tell you what hell the rest of the semester was in that class and to my last day it never got better, it got worse.  For one entire semester I kept saying “Argh owye ya ma yama-ya.  Araya yabaya aryaa araya yabaya. Aryaa arga ba ba baga ohya aaaya!” 

[END OF PART 8]

Steel mill stories next.

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JEAN SHEPHERD Kid story–speech class

Outwardly I was sitting there like all the rest.  Sweaty, sort of vaguely looking preoccupied, peering around, and I could see in the group a half-dozen kids who were just aching to get up there.  You could just see that excitement: that kid who’s always waving his hand in class, the girl who’s always there in front doing stuff on the board.  The girl who is always running for class president and the one who is always in the play.  That type.

I’m sitting there.  Oh boy!  And it was one of the very few times I thanked my lucky stars—I thanked the gods above that my name started with an S.  We were all keeping an eye on the clock.  Only forty-five minutes now.

Andrews got up there on the stage and you could see he was walking on wooden legs.  You could hear clank clank clank.  It was another Shepherd getting up there.  You could see his pimples popping and his eyes spinning.  He said, “Ah, ah, well, ah, I’m-gonna-be-a-a-my dad is a lawyer and-a-I’m-gonna be a lawyer.  And-huh-my dad-says-ah.  How much more time?  My dad said—“

It just went on and on like this guy was blowing bubbles under water with a stopped-up bubble pipe.  All the while I was trying to concentrate on what I was going to say.  Trying to concentrate on what I am going to be.  I’m going to stand on the street corner.  I guess I’ll ride the bus when I grow up.  I’ll eat sandwiches.  I’ll go to a hamburger joint and have a cheeseburger.  I’ll eat a lot of Baby Ruth candy bars.  When I grow up I figured I’d need all that stuff.

Next was a girl and she was like a bird.  Eileen Ackers.  A fragile girl of the Betty Davis school, her eyes bulged out and she had a floozy voice and she got up and so help me she did not touch the ground.  For two minutes she hovered above us.  You could hear the fluttering of wings as she spoke.  “I am going to be an artist, I am going to go to the University of Chicago Museum School and I’m going to study the great artists of the past.”  You could hear violins play the sound of mysterious music.  And we were sitting there mesmerized.  It was the first time this kid had ever opened her mouth!  “I’m going to be so beautiful and an artist and paint great pictures….”  Here she was with her big thick glasses fluttering about us, and Miss. Parsons was transfixed.  After two minutes Eileen Ackers did a slow barrel-roll and sat down.

One by one the kids get up and I’m watching the clock and I’m getting scared.  It’s getting closer and closer.  We have seven minutes and we’re down around the Rs.  Ol’ Quentin Raleigh gets up.  For years Quentin Raleigh had been my nemesis.  Remember when you were in school there was always one kid who was always vaguely your rival?  He beat you out for little things and he was always topping you?  Quentin Raleigh had topped me ever since I was in third grade.  And Quentin Raleigh always meant another thing—that immediately after Quentin Raleigh comes Shepherd.  Always.

Final part of Shep’s speech class coming up.

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JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Story–Public Speaking & (133a) ARTSY Like a Clenched Fist

And then it happened.  My junior year came and I had to sign up for Public Speaking.  Either that or I had to transfer to something like general klutz courses, and I wanted to go to college so I had to take this.  I realize now the peculiar wisdom of the people who made up that curriculum, but at the time it seemed like one of the most ridiculous things in the world to take.  Public Speaking, when I should be studying Latin—something important.  So I had to sign up for that thing.  I’ll never forget that miserable day.

The first day in the Public Speaking course.  All of us were in there and there are always about nine real smart-ass kids who dig this kind of stuff.  Bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, the future salesmen of America.  Miss Bonita Parsons taught Public Speaking, and she was one of those very stony-faced teachers.  Iron-gray hair, rimless glasses, and she talked out of thin lips.  No emotion at all.  She said, “Now, the first thing we will do.  I want all of you to think for a minute or two, and come up and tell what you’d like to be when you grow up.  Don’t worry about it, it’s not important what you’re going to be, we just want you to get up on the platform here and I will time you and I want you to speak for a minimum of one minute and a maximum of two minutes.  Let’s start here in the front row with Andrews.”

Silence in the classroom.  I could hear the birds out there.  I could hear the streetcars and I could hear the busses, and somewhere far away I could hear kids playing on a playground.  Life was going on.  People were happy.  And in Room 201 Jean Shepherd was slowly shriveling up inside to a little, rotten, curled-up, wormy walnut.  Inside.

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COMPACT LIKE A CLENCHED FIST

(PART 2 of 2)

This wood, coiled rat, is modern, made very much like those created by the revered 19th C. carver, Masanao, the original creator, who  is said to be the ancestor of the present carver.

•    •    •    •    •

My modern “Ama (fishing girl) and Squid,” I bought in a Fifth Avenue, NY store featuring over-priced objects for sale to unsuspecting tourists—and those, such as I, who know the racket, but decide to buy anyway. I like its look and feel, and still care for it now, knowing it’s an inferior copy of the highly regarded 18th C. original–which I subsequently had the pleasure (for a few moments) of holding and fondling.

•    •    •    •    •

Besides netsuke, I’ve accumulated other pieces that feel good

and compact in the hand.

On the left is a Peruvian, Inca canopa, a stone camelid carved as a religious symbol to make farmlands fertile. On the right is a modern stone carving that I bought for the spiral portion, later finding that the ancient, humped-back flute player represents an American Hopi Indian figure, Kokopelli, with many generative powers.

•    •    •    •    •

On the left is my casting of the best-known ancient carved figure, believed to be about 30,000 years old, the Willendorf Venus.

(Following is an expanded description I’d used in one of my essays about my Museum experiences. I just encountered info that the Guennol lioness, seven years after the exhibit, sold at Sotheby’s by the owner’s family charitable trust, to a private collector, for $57.2 million.) On the right is my casting of the Guennol lioness, about 3.5″ tall made about 5,000 years ago Mesopotamia, which I saw and first became aware of when it was exhibited in the year 2000 at the Brooklyn Museum. I immediately rushed to the Museum Shop and, as I’d hoped, found a replica for sale. I bought it and went back to the original on display, and held my replica up to compare. It was very good. I have it displayed unsupported, just held up in sand, so I can grab it and hold it whenever I have the desire.

I found that the exhibition, “The Guennol Collection,” is a selection from a family’s artworks that encompass not a confined art-area, but was bought based on their wide-ranging interests—so it reminds me of my own varied interests and the objects I’ve accumulated from so many fields in the arts I love.

New York Times review by Ken Johnson in part: “…they pursued their aesthetic interests like artists, with a refreshing disregard for the usual categories of art history and an absolute insistence on the primacy of personal response. A result is an extremely diverse collection unified by a singular sensibility,…”

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JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Story–Public Speaking & (133) ARTSY Like a Clenched Fist

“Araya Yabaya Arayaa!”

One of the great terrors that I had in high school involved being signed up for what they called the “general college preparatory course” and having to take Public Speaking.  The little handbook listed required subjects you had to take.  Okay, I’d fooled around in English—I’d declined verbs, once in a while I’d diagramed sentences and I’d handed in themes.  I was great on book reports.  I could ad lib a book report.  Give me one paragraph of a book, any book, and I could write you a seven-page book report on it that carried weight and got a B-plus.  But the course that absolutely terrified me was Public Speaking.

You had to take it before you were a senior.  The first year I said, “I’ll take biology instead.  I’ll study about worms and stuff, and I’ll take swimming.”  So, in my sophomore year, my advisor said, “When are you going to take Public Speaking?”  I said, “Well, ah, maybe next semester.  I’ll take band instead.”  Oh, I was scared.  It was approaching.  It was approaching.  Every couple of days I would walk down the hall and I would see the classroom where Miss Parsons taught Public Speaking.  On the floor was a little platform with a lectern and I’d get that sick feeling down in the pit of my stomach.

Every couple of weeks we’d have an auditorium session and some kid would get up and give a talk along with the regular auditorium session.  I’d sit way in the back and watch and wonder how the devil this kid did it!  I’d say, “Oh boy, he must be scared.  Wow!  Oh man!”  Of course, I’d always put it down like the rest of the kids:  “Ah, who wants to get up there and talk in front an audience?”  Each one of us had this sense of inadequacy.

Much more to come.

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COMPACT LIKE A CLENCHED FIST

(Like an unhostile, living human hand).

I have a great affinity for small objects that are compact like a clenched fist. I say “clenched fist” but visualize an image of a comfortable, living human hand, an unhostile threat. Objects one can hold firmly and fondle, that feel comfortable and that don’t have extraneous, extruding barbs and long spikes that might easily impale one—or that might easily break off.

Inappropriately carved modern

objects referred to as “netsuke,”

not meant to be worn,

but to be displayed by the unknowing.

Note ugly, pointed, non-utilitarian protrusions.

•    •    •    •    •

An ultimate example is Japanese netsuke. They have to be small, and, other than the oddball long, slim variety, they have to be compact. Raymond Bushnell was the best-known authority on netsuke, author of several wonderfully thoughtful books about them in addition to a small basic one, An Introduction to Netsuke. He begins this book:

The Japanese love of the miniature in art is well known—dwarf trees, tray landscape, sword fittings, woodblock prints, and other diminutive arts….

Netsuke are works of sculpture in wood, ivory, lacquer, porcelain, metal or other materials.

He points out that a netsuke is part of an ensemble, suspended from the sash and strung to such objects as a medicine case, a tobacco pouch, or a purse, by means of a cord.

It must be designed so that the overall shape is smooth and rounded; no jutting parts or appendages are permitted that might break off or tear a kimono sleeve.

One of the most appealing qualities of a netsuke is a quality that, amazingly, was not carved into it by the artist who created it. It is the smoothness and luster brought about by generations of loving handling and wearing.

•    •    •    •    •

My 18th c. piece on the left lost three of its legs long ago–one can see that the broken ends have been worn smooth by wear after the breaks. In fact, the piece was originally, probably, faulty for the jutting of the legs, and now the wounded piece has achieved the more compact shape it should originally have had. Bushnell, in his Netsuke Familiar and Unfamiliar, says, “The older a netsuke is, the longer it has been subject to accidents and exposed to the elements, the more wear and injury it may be expected to have sustained during its lifetime.”

The  19th c. piece also has much smoothness caused by wear and the traditional use of it. It has no broken parts, though the crack in its traditionally held ball does show its age.

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20th c. shi shi. I sent Bushell a letter to his question-& answer column in the journal of The International Netsuke Collectors Society. Apparently the carved dividing lines between body parts were carved with a 20th c. Dremel machine—does it matter how quickly/efficiently the artwork is achieved—even with a modern tool? (After all, it’s the creative aspect that matters.) He found my question surprising and intriguing.

The idea for my very small collection was to concentrate, but not limit myself, to the shi shi dog in all its multiple manifestations, inspired by Bushell’s suggestion in Netsuke Familiar and Unfamiliar. I find of particular interest his comments regarding variations on a theme. In describing “specialized collections,” he notes that a particular subject for an extensive collection might have scores of variations, including different carvers, poses, styles, materials, and other considerations.

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The piece on the left appears to me authentic—maybe 19th C., the nearly uncarved bottom seeming to be in an uncommon-but-traditional style of carving roughly (Bushell puts it: “Ittobori is a quicker method of roughing out and completing  a figure, since it eliminates several steps of smoothing, polishing, and finishing.”) I tend to doubt that a present-day carver would think to do this, as most unknowing buyers would not be aware of that style and would want completely realistic renderings only, not what they’d think were half-finished pieces. That on the right, fully carved and realistic, is one of many current examples that are obviously not older, but seem to have been churned out in China by the hundreds to sell for well under $10 each. (The impoverished carvers probably earn about 20 cents an hour.)

END PART 1 OF 2

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JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Stories old man’s car end

That’s bad news—when dad wants you—forget it!  My kid brother comes out on the porch, his eyes as big as saucers.  “Who me?  What?”

I say, “You better hurry home, dad wants you.”  I sort of hang back.  I don’t want to get involved.

My kid brother goes trotting down the street.  He goes up the driveway and I hear my father, “Yawawawawawawawawawa!”  My kid brother is getting yelled at.  My old man is hollering and I hear my kid brother crying, “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

Well, no one ever spoke about what happened to the car.  For three days our Oldsmobile sat in Paswinski’s Garage where it was towed while they looked for a whole set of new nuts and bolts, rebored and rethreaded the old holes to fit, and found a new gasket.  And after that the car got twelve miles to the gallon downhill with the wind behind it, though the old man’d been getting fifteen before.

Now you actually know what the old man never knew to the last day of his life—who stole the nut and stripped the threads of his carburetor on the Olds.  It’s a true confession, friends.  The mysterious, strange ways that things suddenly materialize and dematerialize is one of the great mysteries of life itself.

To this day, every time I see a beautiful set of socket wrenches in Sears my hand itches.  I want to get ahold of those socket wrenches and start tightening things and loosening things, taking stuff off, cleaning stuff, working around, losing things, sneaking, cheating, lying.

Old man’s car finale!

Next kid story coming up!

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