Friday, August 20, 2010
The Place of the Yellow Woodpecker
By Hugh Fox
185 pages (2010)
The Drill Press, Cedar Park TX
Review by Steve Glines
Hugh Fox is a perpetual mystery to me. I’ve read about a dozen of his books (and edited one) but, for me, it’s hard to tell where one book ends and another begins. I’m convinced that Hugh Fox sits at his typewriter/computer and types for three or four months or until he thinks he has enough material to fill yet another volume whereupon he cuts it off, slaps a title on it and calls it a book and oddly enough he often finds someone to publish it.
This little volume, The Place of the Yellow Woodpecker, takes place on an island off the coast of Brazil during the course of roughly a year. All the usual suspects are there, Harry Smith, Bernadette, Blythe, and assorted characters (or is it caricatures) from his other books. Hugh slips easily between non-fiction and fiction with the same characters appearing in both and only a disclaimer on the cover informs us of the difference. This is fiction … I think or he thinks. I don’t really know.
Hugh’s style is stream of consciousness. Sometimes descriptive – at one point he spends three pages describing the little hamlet, too small to be a village – that serves as the location for this work – sometimes pure narrative – we learn all about the characters that inhabit this place. My personal favorite is the old man who sits in his kitchen all day reading Thomas Aquinas. Why? We’re never told except that he serves as a foil for his mid thirties daughter, an old maid by local standards – sometimes philosophical – not in any organized way but more like the wise comments your grandfather used to utter at odd moments.
Be warned, reading Fox is not for the faint of heart; strong coffee, a bright light and a willingness to place yourself completely in the hands and mind of this prolific scribbler are required to suck the elusive juice from the page. Fox combines the best (and worst) of Charles Bukowski (of whom Fox is a well renowned scholar) and the worst (and best) of Kerouac. In short, I love him and hate him all at the same time. Your mileage may vary.
Friday, July 16, 2010
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
He studies the forced smile reflected in the mirror, moving his head back and forth. Outlines in greasepaint aging smile-cracks on reflected image, titanium white, ruby red and lampblack. “Curtain call, 5 minutes.” He takes a deep breath, stands up, stretches, shaking pain from his joints and memory.
At the edge of the curtain he takes his place with the others; to bury, for a time, ego and age. It’s Show time! A thespians pride in performance, a flawless ballet performed for the ten thousandth time. No adjustment necessary, none needed. Applause! He glows. Fulfilled for a brief moment, he retires from the stage after 3, no 4 curtain calls.
Tired, his body falls limply on the stool in front of the small mirror. He stares into the distance and smiles, recalling the applause, the bows and the hurried “good job” from the ring master as he swiftly moved the troupe off stage. He smiles and re-lights the stub of a cigarette. Two heavy puffs, deeply inhaled.
Old tattered terry cloth wipes the night from a skin deeply pored and cracked from a lifetime of greasepaint and sweat. Lukewarm water and rose scented soap, a gift from a Carney girl, clean all but the deepest pores leaving the suggestion of a mask of permanent happiness. Some fortification for the night to come.
Alone now, a small tear runs swiftly down a cheek rejected by traces of a thespians mask. The age of regrets. He shakes it off, closes the mirrored box and walks into the night. Tents to take down, lions, tigers and bears to feed and elephants too and 150 miles to drive before sleep in a shanty built with pride on the back of a pickup truck, home for now.
He pauses before sleep to gaze upon the breath of another sleeping town. Smoke curls from chimneys. Here will be the life he always dreamed of, here will be happiness, here will be one last performance before the mirrored box closes for good. It will be a great performance tomorrow but tonight it’s cold. More fortification for the night to come.
Monday, April 05, 2010
I used to wonder why I wasn’t Jewish, almost everyone in the building was. I asked my mother why we didn’t go to temple and why we didn’t have a menorah in the house and why our neighbors laughed at Santa Clause and why we called Chanukah, Christmas. I thought that maybe we came from a different country where Chanukah was called Christmas. I tried to imagine one word morphing linguistically into the other.
My mother explained that Jesus was a Jew and that in some places they thought he was the son of God and in other places they thought he was a pretty good prophet and in other places they thought he was just an overly reformed Jewish rabbi. All that sounded important so I sat there nodding, it was a lot for a four year old to think about.
Our neighbor was named Sophie. She spoke mostly Yiddish and what English she knew my mother had taught her in our Kitchen. On the Sabbath, Shabbos – which I figured must have come from our word Saturday, or the other way around – Sophie would have me fetch the newspaper and her mail from the doorman and follow her around her apartment following her orders, issued mostly in Yiddish. Working for Sophie was fun, turning on lights, turning off lights, picking this or that up and placing it here or there and even turning the oven on just before I went home for supper. The final thrill of Shabbos was watching the blue flame of the gas stove explode just inches from my nose when I set her teapot on the stove and turned it on. I was her Shabbos goy and a real mensch she said patting me on the head. I took it as a complement and told my mother with pride that I was a mensch because Sophie said so. My mother would laugh and say, “You are indeed my little mensch.” I told the doorman that I was a mensch, he laughed, shook his head and said, “Oy, look at him kvelling so much.”
When I was in High School in a town known for its WASP occupants, it suddenly became fashionable to be “ethnic” and some of my school friends suddenly discovered their Jewish heritage. We formed the Yiddish Club and since I was the only one who could speak any Yiddish I was elected president. “Oy, Got in Himmel,” was the only thing Sammy Silverberg at the cigar store could say when I told him. Sammy’s wife, also named Sophie, rolled her eyes heavenward and gave me another token for the pinball machine.