Home » ARTSY FARTSY » JEAN SHEPHERD, Rat Catcher, and ARTSY Torvill & Dean, John Curry 1 of 2

JEAN SHEPHERD, Rat Catcher, and ARTSY Torvill & Dean, John Curry 1 of 2


So I go back out by the tracks and start walking my trap line.  The first three traps, nothin’.  The fourth trap where we throw the waste has been sprung!  No rat.  And no cheese.  Son of a gun!  I put more bait in there.  By god, I couldn’t believe it, I’m walking on the trap line and I get over by the Coke machine and I caught a rat!  I take the rat into the office.

Chester yells, “Get that thing outa here.  Don’t bring them rats in here!  What’re ya bringing a rat in here for?”

I say, “I want to show you I caught a rat.”

“Don’t bring it in here!  Throw it back in the garbage!  Get it outa here!”

I walk out with my trophy.  Well, that first day, I caught six rats on my trap line.  Six rats.  And I kept careful score.

The next day I come in.  This time I’m all excited.  Somehow this stuff started to get to me.  So when I come in, eight o’clock in the morning, I’m not messing with Sophie.  I start laying my traps.  It’s like a game.  By noon I had caught seven or eight rats.  I’m beginning to get used to where them babies are.  And by that night I must have caught twenty or twenty-five rats.  I keep score.  I mark down on a pad how many I catch and where I catch ‘em.  Back of the Coke machine: two; back out by the number two cardboard cutting machine: three.

By the end of the week I can hardly wait to get to work every day.  Then I hit the jackpot.  Fantastic day.  I catch almost forty rats.  That night I’m back at home sitting at the kitchen table, feeling on the top of it all.

My old man says, “What’s got into you?  You look like you got a heavy date tonight.”

“I had a good day at work.”

“What happened?”

“I caught thirty-six rats today.”

“Thirty-six rats in one day?”


“That’s not bad.”  He says, “Listen, I got a tip for you.  You know what rats really like?  We have them down at the plant.”


“Rats like nothing better than rotten liver.  Get rotten liver down at Oshenslauggers and you’ll catch more rats than you can believe.”




Skating and art—

How dare I mention motion and music?

I know nothing about ice skating but I know what I like and why.

For me, ice hockey is a sport (producing the most impressive athletic agility), figure skating is an art, but sometimes the word “sport” is conflated with ice skating—probably because, to accumulate a more massive audience, commercial interests promote it as such, and the “sports-like” twists and turns—“toe loops,” “axels,” “lutzes,” etc. are given the biggest applause. These recent decades, the most twists per leap of various kinds are most highly regarded.

For me, the problem is that most figure skaters skate around—as though winding up—and then do a multiple twist, then go back to artless skating around, winding up for the next spectacular athletic adornment. That is a perversion of the art of figure skating. Only a very few skaters flow out of one move and go immediately into additional artistic moves, segueing into another fancy turn. The difference is a showing-off of athleticism versus the creating of a continuous artwork. My wife and I still watch some ice skating on TV, but the form, for me, has been corrupted through a commercial elbowing-out of the magic of the highest human level of skating that is art.

To compare, Fred Astaire dancing alone and with Ginger Rogers, in their 1930s movies, were superb artists. Astaire, it’s said, insisted that while he was dancing, camera work had to show his entire body—his dancing body was his art. One of the most amusing and astute comments on Astaire/Rogers is that she did the same as he…:

(The non-dancing banality of the remaining parts of their movies were but useless dross.) The cleverness of Busby Berkeley’s dancing geometrics in 1930s movies, was a crowd-pleasing, optical tickling of the eye—Op Art’s mediocre visual tricks.


The categories of performers are: men singles and women singles; pairs consisting of a man and a woman skating together; ice dancing, in which a man and a woman performing together are restricted in various ways such as–both usually doing the same moves in synchronistical manner, and the two remaining as a single visual unit. Ice dancers Torvill and Dean (1984 Olympic and World Champions. I gather that Dean did their choreography.), and solo skater John Curry (1976 Olympic and World Champion), for me, fused, assurance, elegance, and physical perfection without equal–they were the highest level of art on ice.

John Curry: “I think that over the years individual skaters have been truly sublime. People like Torvill and Dean have definitely helped prepare the public for the kind of work our company is doing. It’s fascinating that what most captured public attention during the winter Olympics were performances that didn’t have any of the usual thrills and spills, but were simply pieces of movement on ice — done, of course, so beautifully and so well.”

Jayne Torvill & Christopher Dean

One aspect of figure skating on television that I have always disliked is the TV commentators constantly speaking over the music and video with their description of the athletic and technical performance when I’m trying to absorb the art/quality of the skating. (It’s as though, in a ballet performance, a voice over the music was constantly describing the action.) But, in a sublime moment, the commentators having seen practice sessions and knowing what an extraordinary performance was coming, Torvill and Dean appeared for their competition piece, “Bolero,” and the typical, polluting audio commentary gave way to the full glory of art–the music began and the skaters skated with not a word of ruinous, technical/athletic commentary! The quality of the skating and choreography were the best ever seen on television. With “Bolero” they went on to win the World’s and 1984 Olympic gold medals. In other fine works, “Mack and Mabel,”  which evoked the emotions of a sweet but stormy romance, and at the World Championships in 1983 they danced a circus number with music from “Barnum.”


End part 1 of 2.



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