Thursday, January 8, 2009


Billy Ray Barnwell here, the other day I was thinking about Santa Claus which right off the bat seemed odd because it happens to be the middle of July and I was also thinking about how shocked I was when I learned courtesy of some researchers at the University of Toronto that Clement Clarke Moore did not write “A Visit From St. Nicholas” after all, it was some other dude all these years, when all of a sudden another twisted line of poetry popped into my head out of nowhere, “he had a broad face and a little round belly, that shook when he laughed just like Liza Minnelli,” I mean what are you going to do with a mind like mine, I’m just glad God gave it to me instead of putting it somewhere where it could cause real damage, and I’ve also been trying to decide on a title for this book, I’m currently vacillating between either A Mr. Morris, Are You Listening? since a lot of the book turned out to be about my days at Not Grapevine High School or B Pay No Attention To That Man Behind The Curtain since a lot of the book turned out to be about the movies but also because of Epititus’s little quotation about how things are versus how they appear to be and I think the Wizard of Oz, the man I mean, not the movie, was a very good example of something not being what it appeared to be, and maybe I myself am also a pretty good example, I haven’t made up my mind yet about the title, other possibilities may emerge because a lot of the book is also about Heaven and a lot is about sex, without any four-letter words of course, I mean I know them but I don’t think I could ever write them down let alone say them, Florabelle Oxley once told Mama “he wouldn’t say S-WORD if he had a mouthful,” only she didn’t say S-WORD, she said S-WORD, well you get the picture, I sure wish Mama was here to help me with the title like she helped Howard Griffin, oh it just occurred to me that Liza Minnelli is the daughter of Judy Garland who played Dorothy from Kansas in The Wizard Of Oz movie, talk about a coincidence, and speaking of Mr. Morris, I originally intended to become an English teacher just like him, okay I know some of you are prolly thinking the same thing Orion said to the Horsehead Nebula, which in case you are wondering was “You can’t be Sirius!” but the closest I ever got to being one, English teacher I mean, not Horsehead Nebula, was I became a technical writer at a Fortune 500 company for a few years, and the first thing I did when I got there was I put up a sign over my desk that said “Eschew Obfuscation”, the sign said it I mean, not my desk, because that little phrase was considered high humor among the literati back in those days, then someone showed me a list called “10 Rules On How To Write Good” and I put it up next to the sign, I think the rules were distributed by the Minnesota Society Of Newspaper Editors or some group like that, along the way I have misplaced them, the rules I mean, not the Minnesota Society of Newspaper Editors, and they were very good rules too because each one was an illustration of itself, for instance one said “Remember to never split an infinitive” and one said “Proofread your writing to see if you any words out” and one said “Passive voice should never be used” and one said “Don’t write run-on sentences they are hard to read” and one, my favorite, said “When dangling, watch your participles,” if you ever find yourself dangling you might try that, all in all I got many a chuckle out of those ten rules, I sure hope I’m not guilty of plagiarism by telling you about them, in some quarters these days plagiarism is considered worse than terrorism, now there are some truly twisted minds if you ask me, which I know you didn’t, but I’m just saying, I’m referring both to terrorists and to people who think plagiarizing is worse, I also put up a sign one Christmas that said Merry Sprachgefuhl but I don’t have time to go into that right now.

My memory banks are not completely filled with clips from the movies, there are a lot of black-and-white images from the golden age of television in there too, it’s not clear to me why it’s called the golden age of television, it wasn’t golden at all, it was black and white and various shades of gray on a twelve-inch screen to be exact, for example before there was a program called Wide World Of Sports there was its predecessor called Wide Wide World which wasn’t about sports at all, we have Mr. Roone Arledge to thank for that transformation, it was a Sunday afternoon program sort of like Omnibus which was hosted by Mr. Alistaire Cooke on another network, Wide Wide World was hosted by Mr. Dave Garroway, some of you have never heard of any of these people, and the thing that sticks in my mind is the way Dave would end every program by reciting four lines of poetry which I learned later are from “Renascence” by Edna St. Vincent Millay, he would say “the world stands out on either side, no wider than the heart is wide; above the world is stretched the sky, no higher than the soul is high,” and then he would raise his hand just like an Indian chief about to say “How” only he didn’t say “How,” what he said was “Peace.” It’s funny the way images stick in your head like that, it would be good if today’s kids had images like that in their heads instead of pelvic thrusts and gangsta rap and wardrobe malfunctions, I can’t imagine Mr. Dave Garroway doing any of those things. Another black-and-white scene in my head from early TV days is Tallulah Bankhead, an actress with a baritone voice like Bea Arthur who sang “Bosom Buddies” with Angela Lansbury in Mame on Broadway, Bea sang it I mean, not Tallulah, and she is sitting there talking with Merv Griffin, Tallulah is I mean, not Bea Arthur or Angela Lansbury, and they are discussing Tallulah’s recently published autobiography which is entitled Tallulah! also, “surprise, surprise!” as Gomer Pyle would say, or rather Jim Nabors playing Gomer Pyle would say, when Tallulah suddenly says “I wanted to call it Ah, My Foes, And Oh, My Friends but the publisher thought that was a bit obscure,” well I realized immediately that we were having another Dave Garroway moment because the title Miss Bankhead wanted to use but her publisher wouldn’t let her was also a quote from Edna St. Vincent Millay, curiouser and curiouser as Alice in Wonderland would say, it is from a little poem called “The First Fig” that goes “My candle burns at both ends; it will not last the night. But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends, it gives a lovely light,” and I suppose it is because of the literary reference that my mind tucked it away, I mean I can’t imagine why that particular clip would be in my memory banks otherwise. I can also see Helen Hayes on one of those Omnibus programs, I can hear her saying in that wonderfully warm, rich voice of hers “and the white magnolia grew and grew” and I can see Jack Paar on the old Tonight show introducing his next guest by saying “ladies and gentlemen, here they are, Jayne Mansfield” and speaking of Jack Paar, whatever happened to Alexander King and Dody Goodman and Peggy Cass and a French singer named Genevieve which is pronounced ZHAWNH-uh-vee-ev, they were all regular guests of his, Jack Paar I mean, oh and I can also see Peggy Wood as the Norwegian mother of Katryn, her little sister Dagmar, and her big brother Nels on a program called Mama, not Mama’s Family, that was an entirely different show altogether, the part of Nels was played by the actor Dick Van Patten who also played the father on Eight Is Enough, years later of course, after he had lost his hair, and Judson Laird was Papa, on Mama I mean, not on Eight Is Enough, and the only thing I have never been able to understand is why I remember these particular things, maybe I’m either an idiot savant or a high-functioning autistic, not that there’s anything wrong with either of those, Florabelle Oxley told Mama one time “all he knows is book learnin’” and even though all Florabelle’s son Jimmy Wayne knew was how to drive a tractor and how to hunt squirrels, I guess in many ways she was right but she didn’t have to say insulting things just because she was letting us get water from her spigot, and this is Billy Ray Barnwell signing off.

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