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)

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Bolis almost at the end & (162) ARTSY A Horse’s Legs

I say, “Yeah.”  I’m standing here with my baseball glove and I’ve got a baseball with tape on it.  Which is even more embarrassing.  I didn’t bring my Sunday baseball, the one without the tape.  My tennis shoes, my sweatshirt that says Bluebird Tavern number 12, I’ve got my White Sox cap on sideways.

Bolis says, “Would you care to have a glass of wine?”

Wine!  What is this?! I’m still vaguely deciding whether Nehi Orange is or is not better than Ovaltine.

“Would you care to have a glass of wine?  Sit down.”

So the four of us sit very stiffly.  Mrs. Rutkowski, Stella, Bolis, and me at the kitchen table, and all the while I can see the people having this party.  I can see a long table with turkeys and stuff all over.

Bolis turns to me and says, “I’m glad you came over tonight, Shep.  I’m very pleased.  This is a very important moment of my life, and this is the night that I met Stella, and we’re pleased that you’re coming to our wedding.”

This is the night he met Stella!  They’re gonna get married!  I lean over to Bolis while Stella and his mother are talking in Polish.  I whisper, “Bolis, what’s this all about?”

He nudges me.  Five minutes later, Stella and Mrs. Rutkowski go out to the guests, and there’s only me and Bolis in the kitchen.

I said, “Bo, what is this about?”

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WATCHING FOR A TELLTALE LIMP

Among recent New York Times photos that seem to be more eye-catching, quirky, and dramatic than they used to be, is the recent front page image of the Saturday sports section. It’s a photo of (part of) the Preakness favorite, Justify, the article describing the potential problem with a leg. For me, the 10” X 10” image, is a very good and clever way to graphically make an attention-catching statement—nothing but four legs in the air going over a watery place on a practice course. What an extraordinary picture!

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JEAN SHEPHERD Kid story–more Bolis

Three days go by, and on the fourth day, I go over to Bolis’s house and there’s a lot of cars!  People!  I can see the lights lit upstairs!  For the first time, upstairs!  And that’s important!

So I knock on the basement door.  “Hey, Bol!”  I figure they’re having a card party or something.  “Hey, Bol, Bol!”  And the door upstairs opens up and there is Bolis dressed in a black suit.  And he’s got a white shirt, and he’s got a dark tie, his hair is all cut.  And Bolis looks down from the porch and says, “Yes?”

I say, “Hey, Bol.  Hey, Bol, come on down, we’re throwing the ball around,” and I’ve got my glove and I’ve got a baseball in the other hand and I’ve got my White Sox cap on sideways and Bolis is dressed up like a grownup.  And it’s not even Sunday.

Bolis looks over the porch and says, “Oh, I’m sorry, I won’t be able to play baseball today.  Oh, by the way, would you care to come in and meet my fiancé?”

This is it.  A fiancé!  I go up the steps, my glove in one hand, my ball in the other hand, I’ve got my White Sox cap on, I’m wearing my tennis shoes, and I’ve got my baseball shirt that says on the back, Bluebird Tavern, number 12.  I’m escorted into the kitchen, and there, for the first time I see Mrs. Rutkowski without a shawl.  She’s got a black dress with kind of white lace around the top and she’s got this great big crucifix hanging.  She looks very nice.  I can smell Polish stuff cooking.  She’s very friendly, she smiles to me and she speaks unintelligible Polish to me which she always did when she was excited.  And I can see people walking around in the next room.  All these squat guys with black suits—grownup-types with their hair all cut real short, shaved necks, and they’re talking Polish, and they’re drinking beer and raising steins.  And here I am, I’ve got my White Sox cap on and everybody’s all dressed up.  I say to Bolis, “I think I’d better go.”

Bolis says, “No, no.  Just a minute.  Oh, Stella!”  He’s very polite.  He never talked like this before—Bolis was a shouter!  He was the best scragger of them all!  I can remember Bolis’s body hanging out of the window hollering, “Hey, baby, wowee!”  He had lungs—you could hear him for blocks.

Bolis says, “Stella, oh, Stella, will you please come in the kitchen for a minute, Stella.”

And then, through the door comes a girl.  Isn’t like the girls I knew—who were girl-girls.  You went down and had hamburgers with these girls—the girls I knew.  You drank root beer with them.  You hollered.  You said, “Hey, come on, Esther, come on, let’s go, Dorothy.”  You hit her on the arm and she hits you.

This is kind of a woman-girl.  She has a real lady-dress on.  Has beads and her hair is all curled.  She says, “Oh, you’re Jean!”

I say, “Yeah.”

She says, “Bolis has spoken of you.  In fact, he just spoke of you a moment ago.  He said he thought you might be around here today.”

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JEAN SHEPHERD KID STORY–Bolis gain

Flick says, “Who?”

And Bolis says, “Stella.”

Stella!  I didn’t know any Stella.  Flick never knew any Stella.  We knew everybody that Bolis knew!  Bolis knew everybody that I knew!  I knew everybody Flick knew!  Flick knew everybody Bruner knew!  Bruner knew everybody that Schwartz knew!  Stella!  And Bolis says, “Stella.”

And Flick says, “Stella who?”

And Bolis says, “Stella Wasniack.”

Flick says, “Stella Wasniack?  Where did she go?  Did she go to Parish School?”

And Bolis says, “No.  She lives in East Chicago.”

And Flick says, “Where did you meet her?”

I say, “Yeah, where did you meet her?”

And Bolis says, “I haven’t met her yet.”

I haven’t met her yet!  Friends, there are times when you face the inscrutable.  The inexplicable.  When the Heavens rock.  Bolis was getting married to a girl named Stella and he’d never met her.  And Flick and myself were witnesses to the fact.  We stood in the yellow, round circle of light of the streetlamp, and that instant we knew—there was a fantastic gulf that yawned between us that we had never talked about.  And it was getting wider and wider and wider by the second.  Even as we watched, a great Grand Canyon was opening up between me and Flick, and Bolis Rutkowski.

Well, two days later, in the mail, along with an announcement about how my ring was going to be delivered two weeks late because they cracked the stone while carving my initials in it, came an invitation.  Bolis’s wedding to Stella Wasniack.  And the Polish wedding that I was invited to attend was to be held in the same neighborhood where me and Flick and Bolis and Schwartz and Bruner had spent four happy summers scragging in my Chevy, in Schwrtz’s Dodge, in Flick’s Ford, Bolis’s Plymouth.  We were going to attend a wedding.  It was Bolis’s wedding.

We didn’t say much to Bolis then, for about three days.  You can’t say much.  What can you say?  He was different from us now.  He even looked different.  How do you explain it?  He looked like a grownup.  He’s’ getting married!  As far as I know, Bolis never even seriously kissed a girl up to that point.  Certainly nobody named Stella Wasniack.

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JEAN SHEPHERD Kid story more Bolis wedding

“But, Schwartz, who the heck is he marrying?  Now come on.”  Immediately I’m thinking Helen Weathers, I’m thinking Eileen Achers, I’m thinking Esther Jane Albery, I’m thinking Jane Lounsberry, I’m thinking of all the chicks in school, the whole crowd.

And then Schwartz comes out with it.  “She’s not from our school.  In fact, she’s from East Chicago.”

That was a place we used to go scragging!  We’d go riding around there all the time.  There’s always a myth among kids that in the next town, they have fantastic chicks.  That’s where the real chicks are.

I say, “Is it one of the girls we were hollering at?”

Schwartz says, “No.”  He does not know.

Well, I can hardly wait to see Bolis!  So I go home that night and I’m eating supper.  My mother turns to me and says, “What’s the matter with you?  You’ve got a funny look.”

I say, “Ma.”

“What’s up?”

“Bolis is getting married.”

She rocks back.  “Who?”

I say, “I don’t know.”

She says, “Why don’t you ask him?”

I say, “Don’t you worry.  I’m gonna ask him.”

Right after supper, like a shot, I go banging over to Bolis’s house.  I pound on the door.  “Hey, Bolis.  Bolis.  Hey, Bolis.  Bolis!”

The door opens and there is Mrs. Rutkowski.  She’s got her shawl on her head.  I can smell the stuffed cabbage pouring out.

“Hello, is Bolis here?”

“Bolak not home.  Bolak not home.”

I say, “I hear that Bolis is getting married?”

“No understand.”

I couldn’t get her to understand what I was talking about.

That night, under a street light, I meet Bolis.  I meet Bolis under a circle of yellow light, and I am with Flick.  And both of us—we just can’t believe it.  Because Bolis looks like he always looked.  He comes walking along, he has his red baseball cap on, his jacket—you know, one of the kids.  And Flick says to Bolis, “Hey, Bo.” Bo comes out of the darkness.  “Hey, Bo, are you getting married?”

And Bolis looks at both of us.  And that instant, a strange moment.  Bolis was one of the toughest guys I ever knew in my life.  Bolis was a natural-born athlete.  He was built like a fireplug—with feet.  Tough.  And Bolis, with absolute unconcern, says, “Yep.”

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JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Story–Bolis & (161) ARTSY NY Times photo

I say, “Bolis told you he’s getting married?!  And you didn’t ask him who he’s marrying?”

He says, “Yeah, I asked him.”

“Well, who is it?”

“He doesn’t know.”

I say, “Bolis doesn’t know?  Who he’s getting married…Aw, common, Schwartz.  You’re puttin’ me on!  Aw, crying’ out…”

He says, “No, I’m not kidding!  He’s getting married and he doesn’t know who he’s marrying!”

I say, “Wait a minute, Schwartz.”  I can see this—when you get to know a guy real good, you know when he’s not kidding.  And Schwartz is not kidding.  I say, “Now wait a minute, Schwartz, you tell me that Bolis is getting married and he doesn’t know the girl he’s marrying?”

And Schwartz says, “That’s right.”

“Are you sure he’s not putting you on?”

“No, he is not.  He told me he’s getting married and his brother told me he’s getting married, and they asked me if I wanted to come to the wedding.  And they said that I should invite you and Flick, and Bruner if he wants to come.”

Man, this is serious!  We’re invited to the wedding!  When they start talking like that!

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NY TIMES PHOTO COMPOSITIONS

I’ve previously described some of what I categorize as “The New York Times Newspaper Wars.” Esthetically pleasing photos of often sad/horrific events. How does one view such things? How does one come to terms with the attractive visual appeal versus the often tragic event that’s depicted with such thoughtful, artistic care?

Such responses sometimes evoke another question. Is an elegant pictorial effect purely a matter of being in the right place at the right time and recognizing the visual appeal? Although sometimes one might wonder if the result is such a felicitous happening or if a photographer assists the image by positioning the objects or posing the people. With Henri Cartier-Bresson, I trust that his photos aren’t posed. Cartier-Bresson is noted for his black and white images that seemed to capture a scene at The Decisive Moment, as a book of his photos is titled in English. Although some of his work can be called reportage, more importantly it is photography as art.

Three of Cartier-Bresson’s Best Known Photos.

An Internet site quotes part of his introduction to The Decisive Moment, and I quote part of that in its English translation:

In photography there is a new kind of plasticity, the product of instantaneous lines made by movements of the subject. We work in unison with movement as though it were a presentiment on the way in which life itself unfolds. But inside movement there is one moment at which the elements in motion are in balance.

Photography must seize upon this moment and hold immobile the equilibrium of it.

The photographer’s eye is perpetually evaluating. A photographer can bring coincidence of line simply by moving his head a fraction of a millimeter. He can modify perspectives by a slight bending of the knees.

Sometimes it happens that you stall, delay, wait for something to happen. Sometimes you have the feeling that here are all the makings of a picture – except for just one thing that seems to be missing. But what one thing? Perhaps someone suddenly walks into your range of view. You follow his progress through the viewfinder. You wait and wait, and then finally you press the button – and you depart with the feeling (though you don’t know why) that you’ve really got something.

Although some of his images are striking in their composition, it’s that essential moment infused with a human situation that takes precedence. In a way, that captured moment seems a fundamental essence of what photography can uniquely do.

*

While appealing to the eye, a newspaper photo’s purpose is to report an event expressed in a pictorially truthful way.  In some of the photos that strike me forcefully in The Times or elsewhere, I wonder if some parts of what is so striking in the composition were carefully shifted or even placed into the view by the photographer to improve the result.  A recent image, front page, May 8, 2018, brought this question to mind. I’m not in any way suggesting that the photographer did this—I simply don’t know—I’m simply in admiration regarding the final achievement. I’d like to believe that the photographer, like Cartier-Bresson, purely found the decisive moment and captured it.

I like the way the composition uses the hammock pole’s framing from upper left, slightly tilted downward as it moves to the right, and with a hammock part there angled down toward the middle. They break–the image so asymmetrically, placing the sad woman with the small child to one side. The woman on the far left in red forms a visual balance to the red-bloused woman and child, yet the rope hanging down on the left somewhat dulls that red, allowing the red-bloused  woman and child on the right to dominate. And how convenient that red bowl, below, between them and almost in the middle—it forms with them three corners of a triangle of red pieces while also filling the foreground with an object of interest that prevents the whole composition from falling out the bottom. The seated woman, who looks toward the woman on the right, helps focus our attention on her. The scene is dramatically composed in sunlight and shadow.

The Times lately has been using bigger, more dramatic photos

and more interesting graphics in its pages.

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JEAN SHEPHERD– scragging and Bolis what?!

“Hey, Schwartz, how are you doing, Schwartz?”

He says nothing.

“Hey, what’s up, Schwartz?”

Now we are within speaking distance and Schwartz says, “Did you hear about Bolis?”

“About Bolis?  What do you mean about Bolis?”

He says, “Didn’t you hear?”

I say, “No.”  Immediately I say, “What happened?  What happened?”  Nothing ever happened in our world.  Not really.  But Schwartz has a white face.  There is something different this time.  Something serious.

He says, “You mean you didn’t hear about Bolis?”

I say, “No, what happened?”  What happened, Schwartz?”

“Bolis is getting married.”

I say, “Bolis is what?!”

“Bolis is getting married!  Shep, Bolis is getting married.  Married!”

“You mean like grownups, like my old man?”

He says, “Yeah.  He’s getting married.”

Then, of course, the next obvious question.  I say, “Who?  Who, Schwartz?”

And Schwartz sort of tilts back and rocks on his Keds for a minute.  “I don’t know.”

I say, “You don’t know—who he’s marrying?  Who told you he’s getting married?”

Then comes the crusher.  “Bolis.”

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JEAN SHEPHERD–more scragging & (160) ARTSY discussions

We were seniors.  We were about to graduate.  It was the middle of March, and the last day of April was the day we were going to get measured for our caps and gowns.  There was a lot of talk about that.  They’d already taken orders for the rings.  We were running around with our little invitations for who we were going to invite to the senior prom.  There was a lot of worry about that and I had a big argument at home about whether I could use my old man’s car.  I had this rotten car.

So we were in that long, sliding, upward glide going inevitably toward graduation day.  The four years are behind us.  Me and Bolis and Schwartz and Flick hanging around talking about what we’re going to do after we graduate.  We’ve got all these comments we’re making about each other’s rings, robes, and stuff.

And then one day.  I’m walking along the street.  I remember it vividly—because—well, certain memories are etched in your mind.  The way tattoos are etched on your epidermis.  Schwartz is walking towards me.  It is about an hour after school and I’m on the ball team and we’ve been having our afterschool practice session, which was cut short because the ground was wet.  I’ve got my baseball shoes with me, I’ve got my glove, I’ve got my little green airline sack full of other junk, sweatshirts and stuff, and I see Schwartz, and Schwartz had just finished his paper route, and Schwartz is walking towards me and I know the minute that I see him that something is wrong.  His face is white.

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At the top of my www.shepquest.wordpress.com home page is a topic button titled ABOUT. It contains my description of what I continually hope the blog will be, including this comment: “I encourage everyone to submit ideas, information, and questions to this blog so we can all learn by participating in open discussions regarding every aspect of Shepherd’s creative world.”

I began the blog in February, 2013 and hope to continue it for quite a while. Over the last year or so I’ve been adding illustrated essays on the arts I’ve been involved in: ARTSY FARTSY. That artsy section has about come to a close, simply because, after 158 essays on various topics, I have little else to relay.

Just as I began a draft of this essay I received a comment from a follower of the blog, who writes in part: “Just want you to know that I have enjoyed all your writings that I have read — your Shep books, and your writing in this column. I was surprised at your Artsy Fartsy writings because I never knew of your interest in these things.” Her comments are very gratifying! Another follower had earlier commented that my artsy essays suggested that I am a “Renaissance Man.” Of course I’m flattered—but my insufficient creative inventiveness precludes such an exalted title (no flying machine inventions, no “Mona Lisa” portraits).

I thank all of you who have encouraged me in my Shep and Artsy posts. I recognize that, in our vast world, it’s unlikely that everyone would be conversant or even enthusiastic regarding many of my specific subjects. Now that there are few if any artsys left to post, besides the joy in doing them that I’ve expressed before, I’ve been somewhat disappointed. I’d expected to pique sufficient interest to elicit more replies, to arouse enough interest for some to pursue the subject a bit and respond to the essays with their thoughts, either positive or negative. Following are a few of the artsy topics I’ve covered and the sort of responses I still hope for. (Note that my Shep essays on Bugatti and Dee Snider I find especially relevant to my artsy accumulation.)

A FEW OF THE POSTED ARTSY SUBJECTS I’VE HOPED TO INTERACT ABOUT

GUERNICA COLORIZATION KIT: what is the nature of historical depictions of violence and how is “Guernica” a good or bad response to that? Is that Picasso guy worth all the adulation?

CEZANNE’S ANGRY PATCH: I believe my discovery of Cezanne’s way of sometimes solving his pictorial space is significant. Doesn’t anyone have any thoughts that they’d like to share about the successes and failures of artists such as Cezanne and Picasso?

EMOTION OUTRANKS TECHNIQUE: My somewhat preference for emotion over technique in art must produce some agreement or disagreement. Any pros or cons?

ART OR CRAFT: Are there worthwhile distinctions? What is the nature of art, the nature of craft, and how do they relate? Show and tell me, please.

SCULPTED LANDSCAPES: Machu Picchu enthusiasts? Vietnam Memorial lovers or haters? Even Scottish golf links! Is Mount Rushmore art?  Comments? Other examples?

ARTISTS’ BOOKS: They constitute a wide, yet insufficiently acknowledged world. Discussion? Other examples?

GRAPHIC NOVELS: Can they be art? Other examples? Most all book reviews of them I’ve read merely discuss the visuals as illustration to the text—so ignorant, so unfair!

CAVE ART: After decades seeing reproductions and photos, holding the originals in one’s hand! Any thoughts/experiences from other fields of interest? How is the experience of originals different?

FLUTES: Through the sound holes, feeling one’s living breath on one’s fingertips—any other such experiences with musical instruments? Jean Shepherd occasionally, with whimsy, commented on what it’s like to play a sousaphone/tuba.

DEE SNIDER OF TWISTED SISTER: Any opinions on his act and the seeming distinctions between act and ideas in his “The Price”? (The song focuses on the price one pays for the means it can take to pursue one’s aspirations.)

“SUMMERTIME”: What is the nature of interpretation that changes the original “artwork”? This should open up discussion of the whole nature of jazz.

Upon being shown the YouTube of Billy Stewart singing his abstract expressionist “Summertime,” a friend alerted me to the ending of the 2003 movie by the Farrelly brothers, Stuck On You, in which the police invade a musical theater production of “Bonnie & Clyde, the Musical,” and the star must prove he is not the real outlaw, but just a singer. He does a complete and near-perfect rendition of Billy Stewart’s “Summertime.” An artsy, elaborate homage to the 1956 Stewart creation.

BULLS: Surely there are many who disagree with any and all defenses of bullfighting! (PS, I love dogs very much and have had them for half my life. The only animals I’ve ever harmed are mosquitoes, flies, spiders, roaches, and ants.)

NEW YORK TIMES: There must be many pro and con thoughts regarding the publication’s attributes.

BUGATTI: Can any car be a “work of art”? In what way?

DYLAN, MAILER, SEINFELD, THE VAMPIRE LADY: Opinions on any of these people?

WARHOL, “FLAMING CREATURES”: Any ideas on art related to Campbell’s Soup cans and what may be considered pornography?

INTESTINAL DISTRESS: TV ads as art and as maybe just  offensive annoyances. I find that Preparation H’s recent TV ad focusing on the real town of Kiester, Minnesota to be a clever take on what’s usually a problematic subject to discuss.

WACKY AIR DANCERS: Fascinating or just annoying? Why?

SHEPHERD, MASLOW, RECENT EVENTS: Should all the arts be supported? One of the few responses I got about any of my artsys complained that he hadn’t expected “politics” to ever be a part of my five-year-old blog—not even this once. What might the arguments be for and against supporting the arts? (I find this to be a “political” subject only in our current, wacky world.)

I could go on and on, but enough!

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JEAN SHEPHERD even more scragging


Every once in a while would be the big Friday night date or big Friday night dance with “Mickey Eisley and His Hawaiian Men of Rhythm,” a bunch of guys in the Junior class, a rotten band with saxophone players.  At that time everyone was going through a tenor sax phase.  One sax player wore his tenor sax neck chain all the time, in geography, in algebra, to let everyone know he played tenor sax.

Every Friday night all of us—me and Flick and Schwartz and Bruner and Bolis would go to the dance and there’d be girls.  We’d dance.  So we had this great society of girls, guys, a whole bunch of us being together.  Everything’s cool.  First year goes by, second year goes by and now Flick’s got a different car, scragging is becoming even more interesting.  Got a convertible, and you can really scrag in a convertible.  Now we are juniors.  I got a car.  Schwartz got a car, so we would scrag now in threes.  There would be this V-formation of cars, me, Bolis, Flick, Schwartz, Bruner, Jack Martin, and once in a while Gaza, and we would go drifting down these soft spring streets and it would be this great cloud of scragging:  “Hey, baby, wow!” or “Whooo!” or “Hey, holy smokes!”  Great pieces of wit.

Now we’re getting to the point.  We are growing up together and we are now in our senior year.  Approaching that great moment of truth.  We are all seniors together and we know each other so intimately.  When we would be playing pinochle in that period, I could instantly tell what Bolis had in his hand to the last card, just by the look on his face.  We knew each other so well, and we played infinite numbers of ballgames together.  We had played sixteen million hours of pool together on Flick’s table down in his basement.  We wore out nineteen thousand pool chalks.  We had gone ice skating together, roller skating together, we had played ping pong together.  We went on and on—while our lives had been shared.  We had gone and busted into the Lithuanian-American picnic every summer.  We used to go bust into picnics in the forest preserve.  We’d done all this together.  The whole crowd of us.

Once in a while we had a girl we’d talk about, but none of us were really involved with a particular girl.  So we used to think that guys who went steady—ah, come on!  Going steady!  Tall, skinny guys with pimples went steady.  Or short, fat guys went around with tall, skinny girls—they went steady.  Of course we would make remarks about each other once in a while.  Flick would take Dawn Strickland down to the Red Rooster and get her a cheeseburger.  “Oh, wow!  Dawn Strickland, wow!  What a chick! Oh!  Look out, baby!”  Of course we were just whistling in the dark.

Well, then one day.  That incredible day—it happened.  I couldn’t…!  Even to this day I can’t accept it.  One of those momentary glimpses of something else—out there.

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JEAN SHEPHERD Scragging again & (159) ARTSY fin de tickle?

Now, at that period, you know how it is when you’re in an office—you see this in all walks of life—that there will be certain people who will drift together for some reason or another.  And they will be called friends.  They may not have anything in particular in common except that they are friends.  They’re together.  A few years later you drift away, you don’t know why, and you get other friends.

At that point in my life, my closest friends were Schwartz and Bolis.  One great thing about this neighborhood I lived in was you got to know all the various cultures.

Gaza—a real Hungarian name— was an old buddy of mine.  So half the time I would spend my afternoon in the basement arguing with Gaza’s mother.  And I would come over and see Bolis.  Bolis’s family lived always in the basement.  When you would come into the house you didn’t go up to the front door and knock.  Nobody was ever in the top side of the house.  You’d walk around the back, come up the driveway and go in the back door and down to the basement.  “Bolis, hey Bol!”  You knocked on the door, and the door would swing open and there would be his mother, always with a shawl over the head.  “Bolis not here.”

So I got very adept at faking Polish.  I could ask her things such as, “Mrs. Rutkowski, is Bolis here?”  “Can I have some stuffed cabbage?”    “Stuffed cabbage is good.”  Simple, basic things that you say to a Polish lady.

So every night we would sit down in the basement, me and Bolis, Gaza, Schwartz, Flick, Bruner, and play pinochle, various cultures all coming into convergence.  All of us meeting together here in this one little group of friends.  It never occurred to me that Bolis was Polish, Gaza was Hungarian, because that is the way all the kids were.  Some Hungarian, some Polish, some Schwartzes, some Flicks, Bruners.  Never any value judgment.  We all went to the same high school, lived the same scene, rode around in Flick’s car and went scragging every night looking for girls.

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After 158 posts added onto my Shepherd material, I’ve about run out of artsy fartsys to describe. I may come up with more, but I’m unsure if I will. I’ve done it all because I enjoy the mental process—contemplating/examining my varied artsys in the art world I love and looking back at my interests and activities by creating these little illustrated essays. You see, essentially I do it for myself and in the hope that others find it worth their time and effort–it’s an added pleasure if some few are informed and entertained.

Although I get far fewer than expected comments and interchanges on these, I have hopes (having a super-strong super ego) that a selection of maybe four or five score of them might find their way into a commercial book produced by a fine art book publisher.

Getting a book published in recent decades is a difficult, frustrating, agonizing adventure, in part because nearly all publishers only look at manuscripts submitted by literary agents, and agents, with their own issues, cause many of them to not even politely respond to submitted queries. (I was lucky with my two Jean Shepherd books—I encountered publishers without an agent!)

With contract in hand, the unsuspecting author then has to negotiate the pitfalls on the uneven publishing road to see the first small carton of his printed books arrive in the mail. So I’ve tried, and am about to give up searching for a quality publisher who accepts un-agented queries. Recently I did find one and submitted material. Responses take about three months or even much more, so I carry on with life and wait.

In the meantime, I’ve written drafts of what would be required in a book’s front matter, author bio, and the book’s flyleaf promotion—these, I believe, are commonly written by the book’s author, and for that reason are written in the third person and may be a bit hyperbolic:

AUTHOR BIO FOR BOOK FLAP

Eugene B. Bergmann lives with his wife, Allison (whom he likes to say he fell in love with at first phone call), and their family. They are surrounded by their 7,000+ books and varied artworks in their home not far from the art capital of the world.

Besides Artsy Fartsy, Bergmann is the published author of the only description and appreciation of the world’s greatest monologist and wit, Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd, and also the published editor, transcriber, and annotator of Shep’s Army: Bummers, Blisters, and Boondoggles. He is also the editor, transcriber, and annotator of the unpublished books making up a magnificent and definitive potential trilogy with the army book: Shep’s Kid Stories and Shep’s Travel Tales. Lots of references regarding these matters can be found on his blog: http://www.shepquest.wordpress.com     

He is the proud, yet-shamefaced, author of the vanity-published novel, Rio Amazonas (he paid not a cent for this, and it’s forever available as print-on-demand), as well as being the disgruntled author of the totally unpublished, surely prize-winning novels, Testament and The Pomegranate Conspiracy. He remains in mourning regarding his never-to-be-completed novel about a fine artist, Art Crazy.

BOOK DESCRIPTION FOR BOOK FLAPS AND ELSEWHERE

Artsy Fartsy consists of scores of quirky, unexpected, entertaining, informative, and totally true illustrated essays regarding the immensely varied world of art, all encountered by a single individual who keeps his eyes open and his artistic sensibility alert. Eugene B. Bergmann has traveled widely throughout the arts and brought back his findings and commentaries. He suggests that his art-filled collected adventures relate to the long-ago beginnings of museums as “cabinets of curiosities.” Those informative entertainments exhibited a wide variety of objects and artifacts, with a particular leaning towards the “rare, eclectic and esoteric.” Bergmann encourages men, women, and kids alike to express their own unique artsy fartsy potentials.

To list just a small portion of his artsy subjects: “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” his “Guernica Colorization Kit,” Cezanne’s Angry Patch, raven rattles, Keith Haring, the Roman Forum, Turner and Wyeth, Japanese art including Hokusai’s greatest book along with shunga and netsukes, Machu Picchu, La La Land, artists’ books including Mexican codexes with books of hours and pop-ups, graphic novels and Mad Comics as art, New York’s American Museum of Natural History and its legerdemain, Suzanne Farrell’s ballet slippers, a subway violin busker, Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider, Prince, Granada, bullfighting, and Peru, The New York Times, his Museum of Plastic Harmonicas, the world’s greatest radio monologist, The Vampire Lady, Norman Mailer, Bob Dylan, Marilyn Monroe, Jerry Seinfeld, Andy Warhol, Intestinal Distress, astrolabes, torn billboards, and wacky air dancers. Plus lots more.

Bergmann concludes his homage to all art-based endeavors by launching a convincing and emotional appeal for continued support for the arts—even for stuff you never pay attention to and don’t give a damn about.

ALSO BY THE SAME AUTHOR

Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd

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Shep’s Army: Bummers, Blisters, and Boondoggles

(editor, transcriber, and annotator)

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JEAN SHEPHERD Kids–more scragging & (158) ARTSY Poles

This is a philosophical question.  I don’t know what would have happened had any of the girls gotten in the car.  We would just ride around and holler at them.  That’s scragging.  It is a sport, see.  We’d say, “Wow, how about that three we saw going down that last alley there!  Holy smokes!  Quick, go around the corner.”

We would exchange times to drive, because the guy who is driving is at a tremendous disadvantage.  The rest of us are the ones who are actually scragging.  He’s driving.

As the season progressed, it was like fishing, where you notice that there are certain parts of the lake where the fish are –the best parts of the lake.  So we began to realize just what neighborhoods where the best scragging was.  There was one part of the town there that was fantastic.  Block after block there would be girls out walking.

This had nothing to do with Esther Jane Albery.  I was actually going out with a girl.  I went out with Esther Jane, I went out with Dorothy, I went out with girls I knew.  But scragging was something else.  Hard to describe what it was.  It was the lure of the alien, the unknown, the mysterious.  And so, night after night we would scrag.  Me and Schwartz and Bolis and Flick and Bruner.  Each of us had our own girl.

Little did I realize, friend, oh, fellow victim of life’s vicissitudes, that our innocent game of scragging was to lead to one of the most educational moments of my entire life.  Well, you never know when you’re gonna learn something.

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Artsy Phone Poles—Unfinished Artists’ Book

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, when I daily walked to the Long Island Rail Road Station toward work, my delight in “variations on a theme” kicked in–I noted the varied look of the telephone poles I passed on the major street toward the station. Different amounts of weathered wear and tear (long gone the old posted paper notices for lost pets or local services to be rendered), an occasional part of a telephone company’s equipment, even a set of lost keys seeking their owner, and, clinging firmly to the wood, innumerable remaindered nails and staples.

Subtle but distinct—no pole an identical twin with any other, though one might think the differences too unremarkable to be considered. But I took enough interest to photograph them and work toward creating another artists’ book from the project. All photos organized in proper sequence from my start on Carol Drive to the train station’s push-button walk sign at the end. Those were the days before I named my quirky mindset as “artsy fartsy.” Somehow I lost interest in the poles and never produced the book. But now I recognize the idea’s artsiness.

Looking back with fondness and nostalgia, I’ve selected parts of those long-ago neglected raw materials for the unfinished book I’d thought to produce as a series of thin sheets of cedar with a pole photo on one side and the map of the route on the other, all cards nestled in a fine wooden cigar box. The pole images here were selected and arranged not for their geographical locations, but for visual appeal. Some of the subtlety of color has been lost in the unavoidable steps toward technological viability.

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