Home » ARTSY FARTSY » JEAN SHEPHERD Rot Gut & (140c) ARTSY Brief Encounter–Walt Whitman in Parts

JEAN SHEPHERD Rot Gut & (140c) ARTSY Brief Encounter–Walt Whitman in Parts


The Eagle is a one-story store that has been totally cleared out, and running from front to back, right down the middle of it, is a plank bar made out of wooden planks laid on sawhorses and hammered down.  Down at the far end there is a big Coke cooler filled with ice and about eighteen-thousand bottles of beer all sticking out.  And next to it is another great big Coke cooler all filled with ice and it’s got bottles of whisky.  Just bottles of whisky with no labels on them.  Right next to that is a table that, as they know that the current shift is making a change, they have loaded with about fourteen-thousand shot glasses filled with giant, triple shots of this nameless poison.  All lined up like at a party.

The bartenders, named Steve and Bollock, are down there with these glasses, and as each guy comes in and hollers, “Gimme two,” boom—one of the bartenders pushes two out and the guy slaps a buck down.  You get two of these monsters for a buck.  If you want to throw in another fifteen cents, you get a beer to chase them with—“Gimme two wit a chaser.”

A guy grabs a glass of this stuff—“Gluuuup, ahhhhh!”  He grabs the next one, “Gluuuup, ahhhhh!”  And then he takes the bottle of beer and goes glug glug, glug, glug, glug.  Holy smokes!  He is now unwinding.  “Gluuuup, ahhhhh!”   They start yelling and hollering and without even thinking twice, they slap the next buck down and they get two more of these babies!  They are beginning to unwind.

Well, here I am with this guy from the bull gang and he says, “Come on, kid, I’m buying.”  Boom, down goes his buck and the next thing I know I have a glass about the size of my Little Orphan Annie shake-up mug.  This glass is steaming, there’s a little snake crawling around in it, I can see little claws sticking out over the edge, once in a while something with a forked tongue sticks its head out and goes whooooo!

Alex, the guy I’m with says, “Come on, kid, drink up.  Let’s get goin’ here!”  He takes his and goes, “Gluuuup, ahhhhh! Ohhh!  Ahahaha!  Gimme another one, come on.  Let’s go!”




Walt Whitman

“I celebrate myself, and what I assume you shall assume,”

Among the books I have by and about Whitman  is a two-volume set of his “complete” prose and poems published around 1900 by the last publisher during his lifetime, David McKay. The poetry volume includes a several-page facsimile of Whitman’s hand-written “autobiography” folded and bound in the front pages. The first section:

•    •    

Discarded Tissue Paper and Broken Glass

The American Museum of Natural History, where I worked for 34 years, has special connections to naturalist John Burroughs. So the Museum has a small permanent exhibit about Burroughs, who was not only a good friend of Whitman’s, but had written a book, Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person. (It’s said that, as a promotion piece, Whitman himself had mostly written the book himself.)

Later Version of the Museum Exhibit.

The earlier exhibit included a signed photo of Whitman, and a signed and inscribed-to-Burroughs copy of Leaves of Grass, one with a leather cover that folded over to protect the book from damage, presumably while traveling.

The Museum Exhibit Manager had the job of redesigning the exhibit, and I saw the inscribed copy of Leaves of Grass he had lying on a work table. I’d looked at it many times when passing the old exhibit. When I told him that I was a special Whitman admirer, he gave me the book to borrow over the weekend. (It occurred to neither of us then, that this was not a proper thing to do.) Glorying in my luck, I kept the book that Saturday and Sunday and returned it to him on Monday.

I saw an exhibit preparator working on the book for installation. Between the inscribed title page on the right and a photo of Whitman on the left, bound into the book was a thin tissue paper used to protect the photo and title page from marring each other. The preparator, wanting both pages to be seen well in the exhibit, rolled up the tissue. I stepped away for a bit and when I returned, because he hadn’t found a way to hold the rolled tissue in place, the preparator had cut it out of the book and tossed it away! He had just destroyed the purity and integrity of the otherwise complete publication! But there was no remedy.

The exhibit manager installed into the new exhibit the signed book, the signed photo, and the other materials. Months later,we were told that the exhibit glass had been broken the night before and the inscribed Leaves of Grass stolen. No one realized that the signed Whitman photo was also gone, so I, Whitman enthusiast, informed the Museum authorities of this. Only those items–the two Whitman ones–were missing. I haven’t heard anything about the photo or the book ever being recovered.

Leaves of Grass in a Folded Leather Cover.

(Copied From the Internet, Not the Museum’s Stolen Copy.)

Very likely, the thief sold the literary treasure for filthy lucre. Somewhere a Whitman enthusiast has in hand the signed photo and the special leather-protected and enfolded edition signed and inscribed to Burroughs. I envy whoever has the book now, this collector who must be daily enthralled by this Walt Whitman treasure I know I never could have had except for those two unique weekend days. I also mourn that visitors can no longer see a Whitman connection to the Museum that will be missing for years or even generations. Neither I nor other Museum visitors can gaze at that very special copy of Leaves of Grass I once held in my hands–feeling the heft of it and feeling its life.

“If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles.”



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