“So send your name and address to “Worm, W-U-R-M, Worm.'”
So, the business is booming, guys are calling up, and one day, I come home from someplace and my mother says, “There was a man here to see you.”
I say, “Man? Come on, it’s supper time. I can’t mess around now.”
She says, “No, he wasn’t looking for worms. I don’t know what he wanted.”
“Man? What? He didn’t want worms?”
“No, he just wanted to talk to you.”
I didn’t think anything of it. I figured it was some guy who was embarrassed talking about worms to my mother. Some guys are very sensitive about buying worms. They don’t come right out and say, “I buy worms.” It’s a kind of a sensitive issue.
I came home that night, suppertime. I’m sitting there and little did I realize—the doorbell rang—it was the beginning of the end of my business. Every time I think of it, it just bugs me. I’m making dough hand over fist. And I’ve got money sticking out of my shoes. I’m even doing stuff like buying two fielder’s mitts at a time. Well, the doorbell rings, my old man gets up and goes to the front door. I hear him say, “Wait a minute, I’ll get him.”
I walk out to the front room and he says, “There’s a guy here to see you.” It was just a man to see me, to see the kid that’s growin’ the worms!
The guy says, are you Jean Shepherd? Is this your worm business here?”
I say, “Yes.”
He says, “I’m here from the tax department and I’d like to talk to you about taxes. I want to know whether or not you…”
I say, “What?! What? Taxes?”
He says, “Yes, I want to leave these forms with you. Have you filed employee taxes and all that sort of thing?”
My old man is hiding in the kitchen. If there’s anything that scared my old man out of his mind it was just the mention of the word “taxes.” He always was afraid that one day they were going to “foreclose.” I don’t know what it was they were going to foreclose, but boy, the word “taxes.”
The man says, “I’m going to leave these forms with you. And, by the way, I’d like to have some estimates as to what you’re going to clear this year and do you have all the receipts and expenses and so on?”
I say, “Yes.”
He says, “I’ll be calling next week.” And he leaves the house.
I go back to the kitchen and the old man is sitting there at the table and his face is white. He says, “I knew something was gonna happen. You’re just gonna have to go out of business. Can’t mess around with it anymore. I’m not going to get involved with the tax people. And I’m not goiong to have people coming around here and investigating the taxes and all that stuff. You’re just going to have to go out of business. Forget it.”
My mother is crying. My kid brother’s hiding under the daybed. He senses there’s trouble.
I say, “Gee, dad….”
“No, I’m sorry. The next thing you’re going to have lawyers and you’re going to have employees striking, they’re going to be burning down the house, there’s going to be pickets. I don’t want any of that stuff. Now cut it out. That’s absolutely. If you want to go into the worm business when you get older, when you grow up, that’s up to you. But you’re a kid. I’m not going to have any problems.”
I can see he is secretly glad to see it’s going down the drain. Because it is getting to the point I am thinking of giving my old man an allowance. Have him work around my work business once in a while, on the weekends. I can see he’s glad it’s all over.
So, the next week when the man comes, my mother says, “He’s not doing it anymore.”
The guy says, “He’ll have to pay taxes on what he did.”
She says, “Alright, but he’s not going to do it anymore. You see, he’s taken the sign down.”
I remember taking that sign down. What a trauma that was. I don’t know whether many of you guys have ever actually gone out of business. You know how terrible when you see it happening right in front of your eyes. I took the sign down.
You know what I had to pay in taxes? To this day it’s a legend in our family. After all the dust had settled, and all the writing and all the forms had been filled out. I had my money in the bank and I was saving money to go to college and all that stuff. I had to pay three-hundred and eighty-six dollars. Three-hundred and eighty-six dollars! My worm business had made roughly five-hundred bucks. That’s how much money I had in the bank. I’ll never forget how great that was—that five-hundred and fifty dollars. And I paid off the three-hundred and eighty-six bucks. I was left, after two years of running around and hollering, with about one-hundred and fifty bucks profit.
I never went back into the worm business. I retired at the top of the heap. That’s right, I’m the guy who scaled the heights. There was no bigger worm man in all of Lake County. People were coming from as far away as Chicago and Milwaukee to buy my works. The legend of my worms themselves—the quality—was so high, that guys were coming all the way up from Tippecanoe and Clinton Counties to buy those fantastic worms. And now that I look back on it, I was one of the great men of his day.
These days I give advice to young worm men who are coming up. And for those of you who would like to go into the worm business, I’ve turned out a little pamphlet entitled, “The Worm and You—There is Big Money in the Ground.” For those of you who would like to know how to raise worms, and would like to entertain yourself by feeding your worms on a quiet night. By the way, they make wonderful pets. A worm never bites. Never bites and you do not have to get ‘em licensed. Furthermore, they’re very loyal. So send your name and address to “Worm, W-U-R-M, Worm,” care of this publishing house. But no phonies or pretenders–you’ve got to be serious!
(So much for worms!)
Another Shep kid story comin’ up next time.
TURNER & WYETH
(another artsy idea)
Mid 19th Century
Do older artists start to go blind and is that why they begin to produce works that are rougher/sketchier–or are they just getting tired of “realistic” responses to their environment and want to be more expressive of their feelings? I think it’s usually the latter. Maybe I feel this because I, with my more “modernistic” schooling and exposure to recent art, appreciate more expressionistic work. After all, art schools yearly churn out thousands of graduates who can approximate photographs on their sketchpads and canvasses.
Two artists whose more expressionist work I’ve come to recognize and appreciate more in recent decades are J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851) and Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009). The exhibits responsible are the Museum of Modern Art’s “Turner: Imagination and Reality” of 1966 and the Whitney Museum’s “Unknown Terrain: The Landscapes of Andrew Wyeth” of 1998.
Turner, being an early 19th century artist, was amazingly abstract in many of his paintings—those that I especially like. For me, the emotion and turmoil he created are overwhelming! In ”Turner: Imagination and Reality,” Lawrence Gowing writes:
Turner’s work is never without a figurative reference….It offers, perhaps, pictures of everything rather than of nothing. But eventually no single touch of paint corresponded to any specific object….seems to us like the return to a primal flux which denies the separate identity of things.
• • • • • • • • • • • •
Mid-Late 20th Century
As for Wyeth, in my early adult years, I summarily dismissed his work as “realism.” Until I saw the major exhibit of his original work in 1998 at New York’s Whitney Museum. I realized that, formerly seeing reproductions of his work, as had been almost the only way I’d been familiar with it, I hadn’t realized that much of his abstract approach to large areas of his pictures had been obscured by the reproduction process—or my lack of closer study. Or the infrequency of reproductions of his more modernist pieces. In addition, seeing a large group of his works together, I realized the strong, quirky, strange, forceful and modern sensibility of many of his compositions. A good source of reproductions giving a clue to his “abstraction” and odd compositions is the catalog to the Whitney exhibit, titled “Unknown Terrain: The Landscapes of Andrew Wyeth.”
Some idea of this modernist aspect in Wyeth is revealed in that catalog’s chapter, “Terra Incognita” by Adam D. Weinberg, where I quote parts of two paragraphs:
Wyeth’s expressionist realism is the least acknowledged and exhibited aspect of his work, perhaps because its seemingly crude and often defiant lack of refinement is not what his audience wants or expects. Perhaps too, critics can more easily pigeonhole and demonize Wyeth by ignoring the existence of such expressionistic works….
It is not implausible to associate some of Wyeth’s expressionist watercolors to the specific, even if their specificity is emotional rather than scenic….
The compositions and the large areas that, by themselves seem to be non-representational smudges, add up to a persistent proclivity to display an expressionist approach.
Frequently, Wyeth’s compositions seem strangely quirky and askew—yet for me they’re startling and satisfying. So many of Wyeth’s paintings have large swaths in them that seem to realistically represent areas, but, on close study, can be appreciated as major, abstract smudges—that might conservatively and inappropriately be thought of as being described by a 19th century cartoon of Turner at work:
This is not some occasional effect in Wyeth’s work. My impression is that it represents scores of his infrequently seen oils and hundreds of his infrequently seen water colors. The guy’s a modernist in disguise.