22 December 2019

Jefferson's Love Letter


Apologies up front: This isn’t a Hallmark Christmassy article. Begun last week, it happened to occur where the schedule fell. Think of it as a Christmas love story, one involving a founding father— author of the Declaration of Independence, future Secretary of State for George Washington, Vice President, and our third President. In Paris, Thomas Jefferson fell in love with a European beauty: English, raised in Tuscany, brilliant, talented, artistic, musical, and a great motivator. And, uh, married.

Not sure about friction, as the French say, but emotional sparks had definitely ignited.

The letter is strong but circumspect. It bears meaning to those who understand. Jefferson even managed to slip in a not-quite-subliminal “I love you,” en français near the end.

Speaking of… the sources I found contained transliteration anomalies of one sort or another. These included transcription errors, a misunderstanding of French, and differences between original and modern spelling. For example, the word ‘shewed’ (meaning showed) was transcribed as ‘skewed’. Mine isn’t a perfect rendering, merely an effort to reduce copy errors.

Settle in with hot chocolate and enjoy a long read. Happy Christmas!

— Leigh

To Maria Cosway, Paris, 12 October 1786


Maria Cosway, 1760-1838
Maria Cosway, 1760-1838
My Dear Madam,

Having performed the last sad office of handing you into your carriage at the pavilion de St. Denis, and seen the wheels get actually into motion, I turned on my heel & walked, more dead than alive, to the opposite door, where my own was awaiting me. Mr. Danquerville was missing. He was sought for, found, & dragged down stairs. WE were crammed into the carriage, like recruits for the Bastille, & not having soul enough to give orders to the coachman, he presumed Paris our destination, & drove off. After a considerable interval, silence was broke with a “Je suis vraiment affligé du depart de ces bons gens.” This was a signal for a mutual confession of distress. We began immediately to talk of Mr. & Mrs. Cosway, of their goodness, their talents, their amiability; & tho we spoke of nothing else, we seemed hardly to have entered into matter when the coachman announced the rue St. Denis, & that we were opposite Mr. Danquerville’s. He insisted on descending there & traversing a short passage to his lodgings. I was carried home. Seated by my fireside, solitary & sad, the following dialogue took place between my Head & my Heart:

Head. Well, friend, you seem to be in a pretty trim.

Heart. I am indeed the most wretched of all earthly beings. Overwhelmed with grief, every fibre of my frame distended beyond its natural powers to bear, I would willingly meet whatever catastrophe should leave me no more to feel or to fear.

Head. These are the eternal consequences of your warmth & precipitation. This is one of the scrapes into which you are ever leading us. You confess your follies indeed; but still you hug & cherish them; & no reformation can be hoped, where there is no repentance.

Heart. Oh, my friend! This is no moment to upbraid my foibles. I am rent into fragments by the force of my grief! If you have any balm, pour it into my wounds; if none, do not harrow them by new torments. Spare me in this awful moment! At any other I will attend with patience to your admonitions.

Head. On the contrary I never found that the moment of triumph with you was the moment of attention to my admonitions. While suffering under your follies, you may perhaps be made sensible of them, but, the paroxysms over, you fancy it can never return. Harsh therefore as the medicine may be, it is my office to administer it. You will be pleased to remember that when our friend Trumbull used to be telling us of the merits & talents of these good people, I never ceased whispering to you that we had no occasion for new acquaintance; that the greater their merits & talents, the more dangerous their friendship to our tranquillity, because the regret at parting would be greater.

Heart. Accordingly, Sir, this acquaintance was not the consequence of my doings. It was one of your projects which threw us in the way of it. It was you, remember, & not I, who desired the meeting at Legrand & Molinos. I never trouble myself with domes nor arches. The Halle aux blés might have rotted down before I should have gone to see it. But you, forsooth, who are eternally getting us to sleep with your diagrams & crotchets, must go & examine this wonderful piece of architecture. And when you had seen it, oh! It was the most superb thing on earth. What you had seen there was worth all you had yet seen in Paris! I thought so too. But I meant it of the lady & gentleman to whom we had been presented; & not of a parcel of sticks & chips put together in pens. You then, Sir, & not I, have been the cause of the present distress.

Head. It would have been happy for you if my diagrams & crotchets had gotten you to sleep on that day, as you are pleased to say they eternally do. My visit to Legrand & Molinos had publick utility for its object. A market is to be built in Richmond. What a commodious plan is that of Legrand & Molinos; especially if we put on it the noble dome of the Halle aux blés. If such a bridge as they shewed us can be thrown across the Schuylkill at Philadelphia, the floating bridges taken up & the navigation of that river opened, what a copious resource will be added, of wood & provisions, to warm & feed the poor of that city? While I was occupied with these objects, you were dilating with your new acquaintances, & contriving how to prevent a separation from them. Every soul of you had an engagement for the day. Yet all these were to be sacrificed, that you might dine together. Lying messengers were to be despatched into every quarter of the city, with apologies for your breach of engagement. You particularly had the effrontery to send word to the Duchess Danville that, on the moment we were setting out to dine with her, despatches came to hand which required immediate attention. You wanted me to invent a more ingenious excuse; but I knew you were getting into a scrape, & I would have nothing to do with it. Well, after dinner to St. Cloud, from St. Cloud to Ruggieris, from Ruggieri to Krumfoltz, & if the day had been as long as a Lapland summer day, you would still have contrived means among you to have filled it.

Heart. Oh! My dear friend, how you have revived me by recalling to my mind the transactions of that day! How well I remember them all, & that when I came home at night & looked back to the morning, it seemed to have been a month agone. Go on then, like a kind comforter & paint to me the day we went to St. Germains. How beautiful was every object! The Port de Reuilly, the hills along the Seine, the rainbows of the machine of Marly, the terrace of St. Germains, the chateaux, the gardens, the statues of Marly, the pavilion of Lucienne. Recollect too Madrid, Bagatelle, the Kings garden, the Dessert. How grand the idea excited by the remains of such a column! The spiral staircase too was beautiful. Every moment was filled with something agreeable. The wheels of time moved on with a rapidity of which those of our carriage gave but a faint idea. And yet in the evening when one took a retrospect of the day, what a mass of happiness had we travelled over! Retrace all those scenes to me, my good companion, & I will forgive the unkindness with which you were chiding me. The day we went to St. Germains was a little too warm, I think; was it not?

Head. Thou art the most incorrigible of all the beings that ever sinned! I reminded you of the follies of the first day, intending to deduce from thence some useful lessons for you, but instead of listening to these, you kindle at the recollection, you retrace the whole series with a fondness which shews you want nothing but the opportunity to act it over again. I often told you during its course that you were imprudently engaging your affections under circumstances that must have cost you a great deal of pain: that the persons indeed were of the greatest merit, possessing good sense, good humour, honest hearts, honest manners, & eminence in a lovely art; that the lady had moreover qualities & accomplishments, belonging to her sex, which might form a chapter apart for her: such as music, modesty, beauty, & that softness of disposition which is the ornament of her sex & charm of ours, but that all these considerations would increase the pang of separation: that their stay here was to be short: that you wrack our whole system when you are parted from those you love, complaining that such a separation is worse than death, inasmuch as this ends our sufferings, whereas that only begins them: & that the separation would in this instance be the more severe as you would probably never see them again.

Heart. But they told me they would come back again the next year.

Head. But in the meantime see what you suffer: & their return too depends on so many circumstances that if you had a grain of prudence you would not count upon it. Upon the whole it is improbable & therefore you should abandon the idea of ever seeing them again.

Heart. May heaven abandon me if I do!

Head. Very well. Suppose then they come back. They are to stay two months, & when these are expired, what is to follow? Perhaps you flatter yourself they may come to America?

Heart. God only knows what is to happen. I see nothing impossible in that supposition. And I see things wonderfully contrived sometimes to make us happy. Where could they find such objects as in America for the exercise of their enchanting art? especially the lady, who paints landscapes so inimitably. She wants only subjects worthy of immortality to render her pencil immortal. The Failing Spring, the Cascade of Niagara, the Passage of the Potomac through the Blue Mountains, the Natural Bridge. It is worth a voyage across the Atlantic to see these objects; much more to paint, and make them, & thereby ourselves, known to all ages. And our own dear Monticello, where has nature spread so rich a mantle under the eye? Mountains, forests, rocks, rivers. With what majesty do we there ride above the storms! How sublime to look down into the workhouse of nature, to see her clouds, hail, snow, rain, thunder, all fabricated at our feet! And the glorious sun when rising as if out of a distant water, just gilding the tops of the mountains, & giving life to all nature? I hope in God no circumstance may ever make either seek an asylum from grief! With what sincere sympathy I would open every cell of my composition to receive the effusion of their woes! I would pour my tears into their wounds: & if a drop of balm could be found on the top of the Cordilleras, or at the remotest sources of the Missouri, I would go thither myself to seek & to bring it. Deeply practised in the school of affliction, the human heart knows no joy which I have not lost, no sorrow of which I have not drunk! Fortune can present no grief of unknown form to me! Who then can so softly bind up the wound of another as he who has felt the same wound himself? But Heaven forbid they should ever know a sorrow! Let us turn over another leaf, for this has distracted me.

Head. Well. Let us put this possibility to trial then on another point. When you consider the character which is given of our country by the lying newspapers of London, & their credulous copyers in other countries; when you reflect that all Europe is made to believe we are a lawless banditti, in a state of absolute anarchy, cutting one another’s throats, & plundering without distinction, how can you expect that any reasonable creature would venture among us?

Heart. But you & I know that all this is false: that there is not a country on earth where there is greater tranquillity, where the laws are milder, or better obeyed: where every one is more attentive to his own business, or meddles less with that of others: where strangers are better received, more hospitably treated, & with a more sacred respect.

Head. True, you & I know this, but your friends do not know it.

Heart. But they are sensible people who think for themselves. They will ask of impartial foreigners who have been among us, whether they saw or heard on the spot any instances of anarchy. They will judge too that a people occupied as we are in opening rivers, digging navigable canals, making roads, building public schools, establishing academies, erecting busts & statues to our great men, protecting religious freedom, abolishing sanguinary punishments, reforming & improving our laws in general, they will judge I say for themselves whether these are not the occupations of a people at their ease, whether this is not better evidence of our true state than a London newspaper, hired to lie, & from which no truth can ever be extracted but by reversing everything it says.

Jefferson ☞ Cosway letter, page 1
Jefferson ☞ Cosway letter, page 1
Head. I did not begin this lecture my friend with a view to learn from you what America is doing. Let us return then to our point. I wished to make you sensible how imprudent it is to place your affections, without reserve, on objects you must so soon lose, & whose loss when it comes must cost you such severe pangs. Remember that last night. You knew your friends were to leave Paris to-day. This was enough to throw you into agonies. All night you tossed us from one side of the bed to the other. No sleep, no rest. The poor crippled wrist too, never left one moment in the same position, now up, now down, now here, now there; was it to be wondered at if its pains returned? The Surgeon then was to be called, & to be rated as an ignoramus because he could not divine the cause of this extraordinary change. In fine, my friend, you must mend your manners. This is not a world to live at random in as you do. To avoid those eternal distresses, to which you are forever exposing us, you must learn to look forward before you take a step which may interest our peace. Everything in this world is a matter of calculation. Advance then with caution, the balance in your hand. Put into one scale the pleasures which any object may offer; but put fairly into the other the pains which are to follow, & see which preponderates. The making an acquaintance is not a matter of indifference. When a new one is proposed to you, view it all round. Consider what advantages it presents, & to what inconveniences it may expose you. Do not bite at the bait of pleasure till you know there is no hook beneath it. The art of life is the art of avoiding pain: & he is the best pilot who steers clearest of the rocks & shoals with which he is beset. Pleasure is always before us; but misfortune is at our side: while running after that, this arrests us. The most effectual means of being secure against pain is to retire within ourselves, & to suffice for our own happiness. Those, which depend on ourselves, are the only pleasures a wise man will count on: for nothing is ours which another may deprive us of. Hence the inestimable value of intellectual pleasures. Even in our power, always leading us to something new, never cloying, we ride serene & sublime above the concerns of this mortal world, contemplating truth & nature, matter & motion, the laws which bind up their existence, & that eternal being who made & bound them up by those laws. Let this be our employ. Leave the bustle & tumult of society to those who have not talents to occupy themselves without them. Friendship is but another name for an alliance with the follies & the misfortunes of others. Our own share of miseries is sufficient: why enter then as volunteers into those of another? Is there so little gall poured into our cup that we must needs help to drink that of our neighbor? A friend dies or leaves us: we feel as if a limb was cut off. He is sick: we must watch over him, & participate of his pains. His fortune is shipwrecked; ours must be laid under contribution. He loses a child, a parent, or a partner: we must mourn the loss as if it were our own.

Heart. And what more sublime delight than to mingle tears with one whom the hand of heaven hath smitten! To watch over the bed of sickness, & to beguile its tedious & its painful moments! To share our bread with one to whom misfortune has left none! This world abounds indeed with misery: to lighten its burthen we must divide it with one another. But let us now try the virtues of your mathematical balance, & as you have put into one scale the burthen of friendship, let me put its comforts into the other. When languishing then under disease, how grateful is the solace of our friends! How are we penetrated with their assiduities & attentions! How much are we supported by their encouragements & kind offices! When heaven has taken from us some object of our love, how sweet is it to have a bosom whereon to recline our heads, & into which we may pour the torrent of our tears! Grief, with such a comfort, is almost a luxury! In a life where we are perpetually exposed to want & accident, yours is a wonderful proposition, to insulate ourselves, to retire from all aid, & to wrap ourselves in the mantle of self-sufficiency! For assuredly nobody will care for him who care for nobody. But friendship is precious, not only in the shade but in the sunshine of life; & thanks to a benevolent arrangement of things, the greater part of life is sunshine. I will recur for proof to the days we have lately passed. On these indeed the sun shone brightly. How gay did the face of nature appear! Hills, valleys, chateaux, gardens, rivers, every object wore its liveliest hue! Whence did they borrow it? From the presence of our charming companion. They were pleasing, because she seemed pleased. Alone, the scene would have been dull & insipid: the participation of it with her gave it relish. Let the gloomy monk, sequestered from the world, seek unsocial pleasures in the bottom of his cell! Let the sublimated philosopher grasp visionary happiness while pursuing phantoms dressed in the garb of truth! Their supreme wisdom is supreme folly; & they mistake for happiness the mere absence of pain. Had they ever felt the solid pleasure of one generous spasm of the heart, they would exchange for it all the frigid speculations of their lives, which you have been vaunting in such elevated terms. Believe me then my friend, that that is a miserable arithmetic which, could estimate friendship at nothing, or at less than nothing. Respect for you has induced me to enter into this discussion, & to hear principles uttered which I detest & abjure. Respect for myself now obliges me to recall you into the proper limits of your office. When nature assigned us the same habitation, she gave us over it a divided empire. To you she allotted the field of science; to me that of morals. When the circle is to be squared, or the orbit of a comet to be traced; when the arch of greatest strength, or the solid of least resistance is to be investigated, take up the problem; it is yours; nature has given me no cognisance of it. In like manner, in denying to you the feelings of sympathy, of benevolence, of gratitude, of justice, of love, of friendship, she has excluded you from their control. To these she has adapted the mechanism of the heart. Morals were too essential to the happiness of man to be risked on the incertain combinations of the head. She laid their foundation therefore in sentiment, not in science. That she gave to all, as necessary to all: this to a few only, as sufficing with a few. I know indeed that you pretend authority to the sovereign control of our conduct in all its parts: & a respect for your grave saws & maxims, a desire to do what is right, has sometimes induced me to conform to your counsels. A few facts however which I can readily recall to your memory, will suffice to prove to you that nature has not organised you for our moral direction. When the poor wearied soldier whom we overtook at Chickahomony with his pack on his back, begged us to let him get up behind our chariot, you began to calculate that the road was full of soldiers, & that if all should be taken up our horses would fail in their journey. We drove on therefore. But soon becoming sensible you had made me do wrong, that tho we cannot relieve all the distressed we should relieve as many as we can, I turned about to take up the soldier; but he had entered a by-path, & was no more to be found; & from that moment to this I could never find him out to ask his forgiveness. Again, when the poor woman came to ask a charity in Philadelphia, you whispered that she looked like a drunkard, & that half a dollar was enough to give her for the ale-house. Those who want the dispositions to give, easily find reasons why they ought not to give. When I sought her out afterwards, & did what I should have done at first, you know that she employed the money immediately towards placing her child at school. If our country, when pressed with wrongs at the point of the bayonet, had been governed by its heads instead of its hearts, where should we have been now? Hanging on a gallows as high as Hamans. You began to calculate & to compare wealth and numbers: we threw up a few pulsations of our warmest blood; we supplied enthusiasm against wealth and numbers; we put our existence to the hazard when the hazard seemed against us, and we saved our country: justifying at the same time the ways of Providence, whose precept is to do always what is right, and leave the issue to him. In short, my friend, as far as my recollection serves me, I do not know that I ever did a good thing on your suggestion, or a dirty one without it. I do forever then disclaim your interference in my province. Fill papers as you please with triangles & squares: try how many ways you can hang & combine them together. I shall never envy nor control your sublime delights. But leave me to decide when & where friendships are to be contracted. You say I contract them at random. So you said the woman at Philadelphia was a drunkard. I receive no one into my esteem till I know they are worthy of it. Wealth, title, office, are no recommendations to my friendship. On the contrary, great good qualities are requisite to make amends for their having wealth, title, & office. You confess that in the present case I could not have made a worthier choice. You only object that I was so soon to lose them. We are not immortal ourselves, my friend; how can we expect our enjoyments to be so? We have no rose without its thorn; no pleasure without alloy. It is the law of our existence; & we must acquiesce. It is the condition annexed to all our pleasures, not by us who receive, but by him who gives them. True, this condition is pressing cruelly on me at this moment. I feel more fit for death than life. But when I look back on the pleasures of which it is the consequence, I am conscious they were worth the price I am paying. Notwithstanding your endeavours too to damp my hopes, I comfort myself with expectations of their promised return. Hope is sweeter than despair, & they were too good to mean to deceive me. In the summer, said the gentleman; but in the spring, said the lady: & I should love her forever, were it only for that! Know then, my friend, that I have taken these good people into my bosom; that I have lodged them in the warmest cell I could find: that I love them, & will continue to love them through life: that if fortune should dispose them on one side the globe, & me on the other, my affections shall pervade its whole mass to reach them. Knowing then my determination, attempt not to disturb it. If you can at any time furnish matter for their amusement, it will be the office of a good neighbor to do it. I will in like manner seize any occasion which may offer to do the like good turn for you with Condorcet, Rittenhouse, Madison, La Cretelle, or any other of those worthy sons of science whom you so justly prize.



I thought this a favorable proposition whereon to rest the issue of the dialogue. So I put an end to it by calling for my night-cap. Methinks I hear you wish to heaven I had called a little sooner, & so spared you the ennui of such a sermon. I did not interrupt them sooner because I was in a mood for hearing sermons. You too were the subject; & on such a thesis I never think the theme long; not even if I am to write it, and that slowly & awkwardly, as now, with the left hand. But that you may not be discouraged from a correspondence which begins so formidably, I will promise you on my honour that my future letters shall be of a reasonable length. I will even agree to express but half my esteem for you, for fear of cloying you with too full a dose. But, on your part, no curtailing. If your letters are as long as the bible, they will appear short to me. Only let them be brimful of affection. I shall read them with the dispositions with which Arlequin, in Les deux billets spelt the words “je taime,” and wished that the whole alphabet had entered into their composition.

We have had incessant rains since your departure. These make me fear for your health, as well as that you had an uncomfortable journey. The same cause has prevented me from being able to give you any account of your friends here. This voyage to Fontainebleau will probably send the Count de Moustier & the Marquise de Brehan to America. Danquerville promised to visit me, but has not done it as yet. De la Tude comes sometimes to take family soup with me, & entertains me with anecdotes of his five & thirty years imprisonment. How fertile is the mind of man which can make the Bastile & Dungeon of Vincennes yield interesting anecdotes! You know this was for making four verses on Mme de Pompadour. But I think you told me you did not know the verses. They were these: “Sans esprit, sans sentiment, Sans etre belle, ni neuve, En France on peut avoir ie premier amant: Pontpadour en es l epreuve.” I have read the memoir of his three escapes.

Thomas Jefferson, 1743-1826
Thomas Jefferson, 1743-1826
As to myself my health is good, except my wrist which mends slowly, & my mind which mends not at all, but broods constantly over your departure. The lateness of the season obliges me to decline my journey into the south of France. Present me in the most friendly terms to Mr. Cosway, & receive me into your own recollection with a partiality & a warmth, proportioned, not to my own poor merit, but to the sentiments of sincere affection & esteem with which I have the honour to be, my dear Madam, your most obedient humble servant.
Thomas Jefferson signature
[Th÷Jefferson]

21 December 2019

Get Thee Away, Thesaurus!





How many times have you heard it? All of us write too much.

Alas, this doesn't mean we write too often. It means we write too many words. Certainly in our first drafts, and sometimes in later drafts as well--and one of the ways to make those drafts readable is to cut some of the words out.

Coco Chanel once said, "Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory." Probably good advice--and overwriting is worse than overdressing. Before your story or novel manuscript leaves the house, you need to look at it and remove a lot of accessories.

The trick, of course, is to know what to take out and what to leave in.


Size does matter

Here's something else you've probably heard. We write (and speak) too many BIG words.

I'm a firm believer that you can sound dumb, even if you're not, by using big words--and you can sound smart, even if you're not, by using simple language. (Of Faulkner and Hemingway, can you guess who I'd rather read? Even if I am from Mississippi.)


Police spokesmen do the big-word thing a lot. I heard the following on our local TV news the other night: "The two motorists exited their vehicles, at which point the first individual discharged his weapon, the other individual responded with gunfire, and both sustained fatal wounds." In other words, they got out of their cars and shot each other dead. I wish they'd just say that and get it over with.


The K.I.S.S. method

No matter how much you'd enjoy showing off your wide vocabulary, and no matter how proud your
mother would be if you did, here are some words (not all of them big) that you probably shouldn't overuse. Especially in dialogue.

Instead of: utilize               say: use
                  frequently               often
                  inquire                     ask
                  myriad                     many, or countless
                  avocation                occupation, or job
                  perhaps                   maybe
                  audacious               bold
                  eschew                    avoid
                  domicile                   home
                  frankly                      honestly
                  apropros                  appropriate
                  irregardless             regardless
                  cognizant                 aware
                  inebriated                 drunk
                  per se                       really
                  tranquil                     calm, or peaceful
                  erroneous                 wrong
                  plethora                    a lot (see myriad)
                  umbrage                   offense
                  elucidate                   explain
                  sans                          without
                  taciturn                     silent, or reserved
                  inundate                    flood
                  coiffure                      hairdo
                  milieu                        most anything besides milieu

The same goes for phrases, if you like shortcuts.

Instead of: shrug your shoulders    say: shrug
                  nod your head                        nod
                  stand up                                  stand
                  sit down                                  sit
                  I, personally                            I
                  in point of fact                        in fact

This kind of thing isn't a huge wordsaver, but it can help streamline your manuscript.


Synonym mania

It's impossible to talk about "writing tight" without including a few words about dialogue attribution. I'm not rabid enough to say you should never use anything but "said" as a speech tag, but I do think it works better than all the others. Now and then, usually when judging fiction contests or reading first-timers' manuscripts, I come across something like "he vociferated," or "she retorted," or "he expostulated." Don't do that. If you do, you'll have the reader thinking about the writing, and the writer, instead of about the story, and you'll have your submission coming back to you in next week's email. Or tomorrow's.

Unless you occasionally want to have a character moan, or call, or blurt, or shout (all of which work fine, in moderation), just use "said" or "asked." They're both transparent words, and the reader's eye will skip right over them--and that's what you want. The accompanying dialogue, if done correctly, will usually tell the reader how the words are spoken. If you write, "The back yard's on fire," she said, the reader's smart enough to know it probably wasn't whispered.


Sense and sensibility

On the subject of dialogue, it should sound the way people really talk. Or at least reasonably so. I was watching an old western on TV the other night, and a ranch hand shouted to his pardners (I kid you not), "Come quickly!" The Grammar Sheriff would be pleased, but I'd bet the house and farm that nobody in the Old West, except maybe a schoolmarm, ever used the word quickly, especially when things are happening quickly. To be convincing, he shoud've said (the screenwriter should've written), "Come quick!"

Here's another no-brainer: Don't use a lot of corporate buzzwords in ordinary speech or writing. For a while, when I was with IBM, every meeting I went to included words like synergy and paradigm and empowerment. Those tedious, eye-rolling words are seldom heard now, and good riddance.

Personal observations

This is getting away from the main topic, but here are a few words and phrases (some spoken, some written) that I've come to dislike:

No problem -- Almost every waiter/waitress says this, when I thank him/her for something. I know there's no problem. How about "You're welcome"?

Amazing -- The most popular, and misused, adjective in the free world. If you introduce someone as "my amazing boyfriend" and you're not Lois Lane, you should stop doing that.

All about -- A guy on TV the other night said he's all about the environment. And a political candidate awhile back said she's all about law enforcement. Good grief.

I'm like (when used to mean "I said") -- Unless I'm writing teenager dialogue, I'm like, "I don't like 'I'm like.'"

Alright -- Writing "alright" is not all right. It's two words. I've been told this gives English teachers a mild fit.

Everyday -- Same deal. Unless it's used as an adjective, it's two separate words.

Awesome -- I know it's here to stay, but Jeez Louise. The Diamond Head crater is awesome. Your favorite restaurant, not so much.

Stunning video -- How many times have you heard news anchors use this term to entice viewers? I've found that they're usually half right: it's video.

Reach out to -- Am I the only one tired of this cliche? Unless your character is in quicksand, substitute "call" or "email" or just "contact."

Give 110% -- Ballplayers and actors and salesmen cannot give 110%, no matter how many times their coach or director or boss asks them to.

I could care less -- Enough said.

You know -- I'm finally, you know, almost finished, and I'm glad you hung in there, you know, to the end.


P.S.

What's your feeling, about this whole tight-writing business? What about realistic dialogue? Do you have any pet peeves, with word usage? Is it fairly easy for you to weed out the chaff when you're rewriting? How about everyday speech? Do you find yourself using bigger words than you should? Is your thesaurus still on your desk, or in a Jurassic Park paddock with the other -sauruses (-sauri)?

"Alright, I'm like, 'We're done here,'" he ruminated perspicaciously.



Have a great Christmas.









20 December 2019

Homicide Stays With You


by O'Neil De Noux

It was the worst of times. The nearly three years I spent as a Homicide Detective was the worst of times but it was the best work I ever did. As the lead detective of 15 murder cases, with the help of my fellow detectives, I solved every case. In Homicide, you don't work alone, which is what I do as a writer.

Homicide is a permanent assignment, as final as death. You can move on to other work – in or out of law enforcement – but you will always be a homicide detective with a different view of life. You remember the bodies, the blood, the carnage, the guy-retching feeling when you arrive at a murder scene. You remember the victims more than you remember the killers because you connect with the victim if you're any good at detective work. You become their avenging angel. You are responsible for getting the person who did this.

Family members grieve and others are shocked but you have work to do. Homicide is forever.

It is personal. I always brushed the hand of each victim at their autopsy. Let them know someone was there, someone who would catch who did this to them.

I'll share some pictures now of the men and women who I worked with at the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office Homicide Division in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

JPSO Christmas Party. Left to right.
Back row: Joe Morton, Eddie Beckendorf, Steve Buras, Pat Rooney, Bob Masson, Marco Nuzzolillo
Middle row: Omalee Gordon, Dennis Gordon, Susie Miller, Russell Hidding,
Front row: Tom Gorman and me


My first Homicide partner Marco Nuzzolillo on my left and our sergeant Bob Masson on my right. Marco taught me so much. He was the best detective I've ever known. Bob Masson was the best supervisor I ever worked for. We were a team. A couple Italian-Americans and a white boy. No, we never shot anyone, never beat up anyone. We killed a lot of ball point pens. Good writing brought good convictions.


At Barry Wood's wedding:
Left to right: Curtis Snow, me, Pat Rooney, Barry Wood, Steve Buras
In front: Russell "Hollywood" Hidding who was in love with his hair.


Detective Barry Wood and me during the canvass of the Shoe Town Murder, Jefferson Highway, Metairie, Louisiana, 1981. This extensive canvass produced a witness with information which led us to the murderers. I fictionalized this case in my novel NEW ORLEANS HOMICIDE. I moved it into the city because who wants to read about Metairie.


My father was a homicide detective.

On the left, O'Neil P. De Noux, Sr., at the crime scene of the Maguerite Kitchen Murder, Gretna, Louisiana, 1967. Other detectives pictured: Arthur Theode in the background, Sam Chirchirillo, Eli Lyons. My father caught the killer.


My father bending over with a speed graphic camera as he photographed a murder scene when he was a CID Agent with the US Army in South Korea, 1954. He solved that case as well.


Homicide stays with you. It doesn't haunt. It just reminds you of past evils and the way we faced them.

My youth is gone now. My health declining with age. I have had some success as a writer – not a lot.

But nothing can take away what we did those long nights and days when there was so much blood and guys like me and my partners chased down murderers. There is so much junk in this world, so much pain but damn, it's good to be alive.

Happy New Year, everyone.

19 December 2019

Angelic Voices


by Eve Fisher

'Tis the week before Christmas, and the rituals have begun:

Image result for vintage ceramic christmas treeWe put up our Christmas tree.  (Forty years ago, it was real; twenty years ago, it was artificial; the last five years it's been vintage ceramic!) 

We watch our favorite Christmas movies:  We're No Angels (the original 1955 version); The Man Who Came to Dinner; Reborn; Scrooge (1951, Alistair Sim); The Muppet Christmas Carol (I'm a sentimentalist at heart); The Bishop's Wife (1947, Loretta Young & Cary Grant); National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation; Blackadder's Christmas Carol; and all the Christmas Specials from Last of the Summer Wine.

We go driving around at night and look at Christmas lights.  Falls Park does a great light show; downtown's pretty; and there are all these old houses over by McKennan Park and elsewhere that have wonderful decorations.

Winter Wonderland at Falls Park
Sioux Falls - Falls Park's "Winter Wonderland"

And we go to various musical concerts.  Some years, Handel's Messiah, or Christmas at the Cathedral, or any of a variety of musical Christmas offerings.  This year we went to hear the Singing Boys of Sioux Falls at East Side Lutheran Church.  I hadn't heard of them before, and while I knew that there were men's choirs in Sioux Falls, I hadn't known there was a boys' choir.  So we went, and it was wonderful - beautiful music, beautiful voices, beautiful church.

Now boys' choirs developed in the Middle Ages, when women were barred from participating in any sort of performing arts in mixed company in churches, and they had to get sopranos from somewhere.
NOTE:  Later, of course, women would also be barred from participating in theaters, which leads to the crazy plots in Shakespeare, et al, in which a man playing a woman in disguise as a man courts another man playing a woman, who sometimes pulls a double switcheroo, and basically good luck keeping up with who's playing what when.  It makes our current touchiness about gender roles look pretty strange.
Anyway, it wasn't until the mid-1800s that women were allowed to join church choirs, which is why boys' choirs remained strong well past the Victorian Age. Cathedrals had cathedral schools for young boy singers, where a good voice could get you an education and perhaps even a career where you weren't plowing fields or living on the streets with Fagin.

And there were plenty of boys to choose from. This was because (1) people had a lot more children before birth control and (2) children didn't hit puberty until their mid to late teens because most of them were malnourished. Poverty was a huge factor. Most people were poor. Very poor.

We tend to forget how prevalent poverty was, is, and how it was one of the major subjects of most Christmas stories. Until now. Probably the last Christmas special on TV that centered on the poor - with any sort of accuracy - was the precursor to The Waltons, 1971's The Homecoming:  A Christmas Story.

But almost all Victorian Christmas stories were about the poor.  That or ghost stories (see my blog post https://www.sleuthsayers.org/2015/12/ghoulies-and-ghosties.html) .  Part of the reason why Dickens' A Christmas Carol became such a runaway bestseller is that it combined the two.


Christmas (12 days of it, thank you) with ghosts, and the poor, and sometimes they died! As in Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Match Girl - because no Victorian ever shied away from death, even the death of children. Especially the death of children. Think Little Nell, Tiny Tim (until Scrooge's repentance), Beth March, Smike, as well as a host of lesser known victims of the Victorians' love of a good cry, especially at Christmas. And well past Victorian times. There's O Henry's The Gift of the Magi.  There's Mary Mapes Dodge's Hans Brinker, or the Silver SkatesLittle Women opens with this famous sequence:
"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
"It's so dreadful to be poor!" sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.
"I don't think it's fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all," added little Amy, with an injured sniff.
"We've got father and mother and each other," said Beth contentedly, from her corner.
The four young faces on which the firelight shone brightened at the cheerful words, but darkened again as Jo said sadly,—  "We haven't got father, and shall not have him for a long time." She didn't say "perhaps never," but each silently added it, thinking of father far away, where the fighting was.
Nobody spoke for a minute; then Meg said in an altered tone,—
"You know the reason mother proposed not having any presents this Christmas was because it is going to be a hard winter for every one; and she thinks we ought not to spend money for pleasure, when our men are suffering so in the army. We can't do much, but we can make our little sacrifices, and ought to do it gladly. But I am afraid I don't;" and Meg shook her head, as she thought regretfully of all the pretty things she wanted.
And then Marmee shows up and the girls go off to get the real Christmas spirit by helping the Hummels, German immigrants who are desperately poor, crammed 6 in one room, with a dead father and a very sick mother.

Besides the actual story of the birth of Jesus, i.e., the Incarnation (which most Victorian authors considered too sacred to write directly about), this was what Christmas used to be all about - helping the poor.  But any more it seems that modern Christmas movies are either comedies (increasingly raunchy) or the neverending Hallmark offerings, which specialize in Christmas Princess and other glittery tales of beautiful young women meeting the perfect hunky guy in the perfect snow-covered site - well, I think this video sums it up best:




But back to boys' choirs.  Most of the old 1940s/1950s movies (The Bishop's Wife, Going My Way, and The Bells of St. Mary's) showcased the Mitchell Singing Boys, led by Robert Mitchell from 1934-2000.  (Mr. Mitchell himself lived from 1912-2009!).  The example below is from The Bishop's Wife.



Today, boys' choirs are up against increasing affluence.  Frankly, boys today get a lot more to eat, so the boys go through puberty earlier and earlier.  This means that the general age of boys' choirs have decreased.  And a 10 year old can't be expected to have the same musical ability, understanding, and musical ability as a 15 year old.  The result is that modern boys' choirs have greater turnover, and are often singing much less complicated music than they used to.

Meanwhile, let's listen to the Vienna's Boys' Choir from 1957, with (according to YouTube) boy soloist Michael Paddy Quilligan.  And have a very Merry Christmas, with or without ghosts!







18 December 2019

Breaking into Showbiz II


We did this back in 2017.  Here we are, back again, with all new entries.

Below is a list of characters from popular culture.  But how did they become popular? See the box on the right?  All the characters began life in one of those media.  See if you can match 'em up.  Be warned: there isn't a one-to-one match up, meaning exactly one character started in a TV show, etc.

Answers  below.

Bambi

The Lone Ranger
Radar O'Reilly

Jimmy Olsen

Raylan Givens

The Mighty Casey

Stuart (Stu) Bailey

Lamont Cranston

Mack the Knife

Alexander Waverly



Bambi.  Novel. Austrian novelist Felix Salten (an enthusiastic hunter, by the way) wrote Bambi: A Life in the Woods.  It was more or less what we would today call a Young Adult novel.   Published in 1922 and became an immediate success.  British novelist John Galsworthy called it  a "little masterpiece."  The Disney film version came out in 1942.  By the way, Thumper the Rabbit broke into show biz through the movies.  He is part of the Disneyfication  process, not appearing in the book.

The Lone Ranger. Radio. The mysterious masked man started life on the radio in 1933.  I bring him up because of a story that has spread in recent years that the character was inspired by Bass Reeves, a legendary (though very real)  hero, the first African-American U.S. Marshal in the west.  A biography of Reeves suggested that he inspired the Lone Ranger, but there is zero evidence that the creators of the show had ever heard of Reeves.

Radar O'Reilly.  Novel. The very first character to appear in the novel MASH by Richard Hooker (real name Hiester Richard Hornberger Jr.) is Radar O'Reilly of Ottumwa, Iowa.  In the movie he was played by Gary Burghoff, who went on to repeat the role in the TV series.  The only other actor I could think of who brought a character from the flicks to the small screen was Richard Widmark with Madigan, but it turns out there have been others.

Jimmy Olsen.  Radio. The eternal cub reporter, Superman's Pal, first appeared on The Adventures of Superman radio show in 1940.  He was created basically so the hero would have someone to talk to. We all need that from time to time, don't we?  Jimmy made it into the comics a year later.  Since then he has been in TV and movies as well as having his own comic book.

Raylan Givens.  Novel.  The Deputy U.S. Marshal first appeared as a supporting character in Elmore Leonard's Pronto.  He also showed up in Riding the Rap, before getting a starring role in the short story "Fire in the Hole."  This story, in which Givens is punished for an iffy killing by being assigned to his home state of Kentucky, inspired the TV series Justified.  The producers were so dedicated to making a work in the Elmore Leonard mold that they gave out bracelets to the crew that read What Would Elmore Do?  Most critics agreed that they succeeded and Leonard was inspired to write Raylan, supposedly a novel, but essentially designed to be broken up into three episodes of the series. In fact, two parts were used that way.

The Mighty Casey.  Newspaper.  Ernest L. Thayer's poem "Casey at the Bat," first appeared in a San Francisco newspaper on June 8, 1888.  It happened to be read by Arch Gunter, a visiting novelist nd playwright.  He was so taken with the work that he clipped it out.  When he arrived in New York he shared it with a theatrical producer who asked his star comedian, DeWolf Hopper, to memorize it and recite it during that evening's performance.  Thus Hopper began a new career as the prime interpreter of the poem for forty years, on stage, radio, records, and movies.  It does make you wonder what minor masterpieces are buried in a century of newspapers....

Stuart (Stu) Bailey.  Novel.  Roy Huggins created private eye Stu Bailey in The Double Take.  He felt the character was so clearly a ripoff of Philip Marlowe that he sent a copy to Raymond Chandler with an apology.  Chandler apparently replied that he'd seen worse.  When Huggins moved to television Bailey became one of the P.I.'s who worked at 77 Sunset Strip.  Of course, Huggins also created Maverick, and The Rockford Files.

Lamont Cranston.  Magazine.  I just know I'm going to get an argument over this one.  Bear with me.  In 1930 the Street and Smith company decided to create a radio show to promote their Detective Story Magazine. The narrator was a mysterious character called The Shadow.

Pretty soon listeners were going to the newsstand and asking for "the Shadow magazine," which didn't exist.  There is a modern MBA rule that says: Let your customer tell you what business you are in.  Street and Smith tookthe hint.  They founded The Shadow Magazine and magician Walter B. Gibson filled it with a new novel twice a month (he had to be a magician, don't you think?), writing under the name Maxwell Grant.  He wrote 282 of the tales over 20 years.

In the pulp magazine the Shadow's real identity was Kent Allard but he sometimes pretended to be other people, including man-about-town Lamont Cranston, who was frequently out of the country.  In the radio version, the Allard name was dropped and the S-man was simply Cranston.  Simple, right?

Mack the Knife.  Opera. Yes, but which opera?  The popular song is a bowdlerized version of the song from Kurt Weill and Bertold Brecht's Three Penny Opera.  But the song tells the story of Macheath, who first appeared in John Gay's Beggar's Opera, written two hundred years earlier (and inspired by an idea of Jonathan Swift's!).

Alexander Waverly.  Television. The regional head of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement was created for The Man From UNCLE, although some see a strong resemblance to the Professor, a spymaster who appears in North by Northwest.  Of course, both characters were played by the wonderful Leo G. Carroll.

Waverly and Carroll almost missed their big chance.  In the pilot for the series  the boss was Mr. Allison, played by Will Kuluva.  However, the network executives told the producers to get rid of the guy whose name began with K, so Kuluva was replaced by Carroll.  Turns out the network had really wanted to dump Russian spy Ilya Kuryakin, played by David McCallum. Fortunately for the show (and thousands of adoring young women) Ilya dodged death, not for the last time.

Carroll, in his seventies. had health problems  during production.  When you see papers scattered across Waverly's desk, some of them are Carroll's script, available for easy reference.  At one point he told the producers that his grandchildren complained that Mr. Waverly never did anything but talk, so they created a scene in which he karate-chopped a bad guy.  When he nailed it the whole crew cheered.

Oh!  Here's a bonus question for you.  The star of The man From UNCLE was, of course, Robert Vaughn.  But do you know what he did in his spare time during production?  The astonishing answer is here.


17 December 2019

Merry Movie Mayhem


by Paul D. Marks

Well, with Christmas and Hanukkah only a few days away, here’s some last minute Merry Mayhem stocking stuffers. As of the time of this writing, a few days before its posting, most were still available and some are available streaming. The movies aren’t necessarily Christmas-related, just good stocking stuffers for those who like to read, write and watch crime fiction. And I’ve tossed in a bunch of non-crime-related movies at the end. All in no particular order. So, roll film:


The Godfather and its two sequels: Godfather I is one of the greatest movies ever made. And Godfather II is even better. Three isn’t as bad as I first thought it was and if one can get around Sofia Coppola’s Valley Girl Mafia chic it’s pretty good actually. You can get them individually, in a set or as the Godfather Saga where they’ve been cut together chronologically. I’ll take my Godfather any way I can get it.

Chinatown and Two Jakes: At the risk of being repetitive, Chinatown is one of the greatest movies ever made. And one of the best and most perfect screenplays I’ve ever read. When task master Amy was trying to get me to pare down on things, she “made” me get rid of a ton of screenplays I had – lots of good ones, too. But one of the few that I kept was Chinatown, which still sits on a shelf in my office for inspiration. Some people don’t like the subject matter, they find it repulsive. But it’s still a terrific movie. And the sequel, Two Jakes, also isn’t as bad as I first thought it was. But it’s best to watch it right after you view Chinatown so everything that it refers to is fresh in your mind. That will enhance your enjoyment of it.

In a Lonely Place: Tied for my second favorite movie of all time (see towards the end for the other second fave). And yes, I like the movie better than the book it’s based on. It resonates with me on so many levels. Back in the day, the Smithereens did a song called In a Lonely Place, inspired by the movie. It even has some lines from the movie. I really like this song. I got a poster of the movie from Pat DiNizio, the lead singer/guitarist/songwriter of the Smithereens. And when I look at the poster I like to think that DiNizio was also looking at that very poster when he wrote that song.

Film Noir 10-Movie Spotlight Collection: Okay, even if you don’t have anyone to get this for, get it for yourself. It’s one of the best collections of noir I’ve seen. It includes: This Gun For Hire, The Glass Key, Double Indemnity, Phantom Lady, The Blue Dahlia, Black Angel, The Killers (1946 version), The Big Clock, Criss Cross, Touch of Evil. There’s not a bad movie in the bunch. And it includes the ultimate film noir imo, Double Indemnity. Plus Blue Dahlia, which Raymond Chandler wrote the screenplay for. But they’re all good to great. Some have commentaries and other features. I’ve given this as gifts to a few people and I’m always envious when I do. I have all the movies, but in other versions, but somehow I still want this set for me. One great set.

Alfred Hitchcock: The Ultimate Collection: If you like Hitchcock and you don’t already have these or know someone who might enjoy them it’s a great Hitch starter set. I say ‘starter’ because there’s so many more. But this includes one of my two fave Hitchcock movies, Vertigo (the other being The Lady Vanishes). And most of the movies here are terrific, though there’s some I’m not all that fond of. Plus there’s lots of extra features. Movies in the set are: Saboteur, Shadow of a Doubt, Rope, Rear Window, The Trouble with Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, The Birds, Marnie, Torn Curtain, Topaz, Frenzy, Family Plot.

Pulp Fiction: Everybody knows this one. It’s a terrific movie. And would make a great stocking stuffer, along with Reservoir Dogs.

Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile: Two movies based on Stephen King stories. Not horror tales, like he’s generally known for. And I tend to like his non-horror stories – like these and Stand by Me – much more than the horror ones. You can get these two in a set, both directed by Frank Darabont. A terrific two-fer.

Thin Man Boxed Set: Unfortunately, I think I was wrong about this one still being available. Well, it is still available but it’s over 200 bucks. So maybe another time when it’s reissued. We all know the Thin Man movies. The playful banter and plentiful drink. One of my film school teachers wrote one of them – I always thought that was so cool. There’s other good William Powell Myrna Loy movies as well, especially Libeled Lady and Love Crazy.

LA Confidential: I’m a James Ellroy fan, though not as much as I used to be. This is one hell of a good movie based on his book. And, though I loved the book, after watching the movie about 500 times, I reread it and think I actually like the movie better.

Here’s some non-crime movies that might work, too:

Reuben Reuben: A minor gem and a great satire. Here’s a couple quotes from the movie:

“There's nothing I cherish more than the truth. I don't practice it, but I cherish it.”

And later:

“That’s where they live. (Points to sign that says “Birch Hills”.) And in other subdivisions with names like Orchard View and Vineyard Haven. All of them named, God help us, for the woods and the vineyards and the apple trees they bulldozed out of existence to make way for the new culture.”

After Hours: Something a little different from Martin Scorsese.  The Grateful Dead sang, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” They might have been writing about Griffin Dunne’s very long, odd night in this movie.

Casablanca: Number 1 fave movie, bar none. Do I really need to say anything about this?

Beatles on Ed Sullivan: What can I say about this? They changed the world – at least they changed my world.

Uncle Buck: One of two John Candy/John Hughes movies on this list. Uncle Buck doesn’t always get great reviews, but I like it. I think it’s funny and warm.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles: The other John Candy/John Hughes film on this list. Also funny with a warm heart.

My Cousin Vinny: I’ve seen this in whole or in part about 1,000,000 times. And I always laugh. It never gets old.

Can’t Buy Me Love: Patrick Dempsey as a high school student who finds out the real price of being popular. And the title is from a Beatle song that’s played in the movie. How can you go wrong?

It’s Alive: Ramones concert footage. Great stuff from a terrific, punchy band. Gabba Gabba Hey! Johnny Ramone came in #28 on Rolling Stone’s list of top 100 guitar players. See why on this 2 DVD set. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-lists/100-greatest-guitarists-153675/johnny-ramone-154110/

They Might Be Giants: A man (George C. Scott) thinks he’s Sherlock Holmes. His psychiatrist, Dr. Watson (Joanne Woodward), might think so, too…sooner or later.

Soldier in the Rain: A special movie, starring Jackie Gleason and Steve McQueen. If it doesn’t touch your heart you don’t have one.

Fred and Ginger movies, individually or boxed: always good for the holiday spirit

Ghost World: My other second favorite movie, along with In a Lonely Place. I’m not a teenage girl, but I totally relate to the alienation these characters, played by Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson, feel. And for those who haven’t seen it it’s not a horror movie despite the title. (Also w/ Steve Buscemi.)

Sideways: a wonderful movie for writers, even more than for people who hate Merlot.

I don’t think he’s really talking about wine here:

Miles (Paul Giamatti): “Uh, I don't know, I don't know. Um, it's a hard grape to grow, as you know. Right? It's uh, it's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's, you know, it's not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it's neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they're just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and... ancient on the planet.”

Here’s a link to another SleuthSayers piece I did on Christmas movies with both a Christmas and crime element. Some movies you might think are missing from today’s list might be found here: https://www.sleuthsayers.org/2015/12/have-holly-jolly-crime-season.html

I could keep going, but all good things must come to an end and maybe crime doesn’t pay but it pays to watch these movies.

So have yourself a Merry Little Mayhem Murderous Christmas. Happy Holidays Everyone!

~.~.~

BSP: Oh, and maybe a couple stocking stuffer books:



Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website  www.PaulDMarks.com

16 December 2019

Discoveries in Dallas and Tulsa


[A quick writer's note. Last month I missed my blog post by a week. It had nothing to do with Rob or Leigh not letting us know our dates, I just blew it thinking I had another week to write. So here is what should have appeared on November 18 had I paid more attention.]
On Halloween Eve, I traveled east to Dallas for Bouchercon, the world’s largest Mystery Fan Convention. John Floyd has already covered some of the highlights and Michael Bracken covered a bit of the controversy that occurred at the Shamus Awards. I thought about asking friends about unintentional, hurtful comments they’ve received over the years and what would the best response/course of action for the offender once they realize/learn about their faux pas. But I am not organized enough to pull this off this week.

So I think I’ll write about a few other things I did on the trip. On Sunday after the conference, I went with friend and fellow short story writer Eleanor Cawood Jones to the Texas School Book Depository. It is the location where Lee Harvey Oswald shot John F. Kennedy from a window six stories up. The museum is a moving experience both emotionally and literally. Patrons are given headphones and walk through different stations starting with Kennedy’s run for office, the politics of the day including the Cold War, Civil Rights, and the Space Race along with the love and hate Texans felt for Kennedy.

Wow, a nice full-page ad welcoming letter

Oh wait…

This "committee" doesn't like the President

Kennedy wasn't beloved by all

The next third documents the long fateful journey the Kennedys took after they arrived at Dallas-Love airport. Some parts in agonizing detail since everybody knows what will happen.

The pièce de résistance is the view onto Elm Street from the sixth floor where Kennedy’s Continental drove by. Two “X”s on the street mark the spots where three bullets either hit Kennedy or the car.





Seeing it person made me realize that it was not impossible for Oswald to have fired both fatal shots alone. He had the training and a rifle with a scope.
Oswald purchased this type of rifle via mail order.

I’m still not dismissing the grassy knoll, completely, but it is possible that Oswald did it all by himself. Regarding the magic bullet that Kevin Costner touted in JFK, I remember reading/listening to a couple of historical books last year for research on an unfinished western. One was about Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp in Dodge City. Many gunfights were documented and in them bullets radical turns inside bodies. I want to say one gunslinger or lawman took lead to their shoulder and the bullet exited their crotch or lodged into a hip.

The final third of the museum is about the Warren report, conspiracy theories, and Kennedy's legacy. I had to wrap up this final sections a little early as I had a plane to catch. The museum surprised me with the comprehensive look at Kennedy and the assassination. It also left me emotionally exhausted as well.

I left Dallas to go up to Tulsa, my hometown, to visit my family.
A mural with nostalgic Tulsa icons

While there, I stopped by the Woody Guthrie Museum. It’s a must for any fan of folk music and also a great introduction for those who don’t know much about the devastation of the dustbowl. The museum has an immersive virtual reality experience where a person gets to sit on a front porch and live through a dust storm.

The Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa

My father experiencing the dust bowl.

Other exhibits included short documentaries of Woody, some of the instruments he played, listening booths, many Guthrie drawings, and handwritten manuscripts of song lyrics either recorded or not recorded. While the museum is not that big, there is a lot to read and listen too. In one instance, I took a photo of handwritten lyrics but did not read them until last week. Here is the photo:

Beech Haven Ain't My Home

Do you recognize a familiar name the scribbled words?

Here are the lyrics:
Beach Haven ain’t my home!
I’m just a-driftin’ through!
My wife and angel kids
Are trapped inside these walls
Where I can’t plow nor plant
Nor hang out my family’s clothes!
No, no, no! Old Man Trump!
Old Beach Haven ain’t my home!

Beach Haven ain't my home!
I just cain't pay this rent!
My money's down the drain!
And my soul is badly bent!
Beach Haven looks like heaven
Where no black ones come to roam!
No, no, no! Old Man Trump!
Old Beach Haven ain't my home!

Across Beach Haven’s grass
I see my brethrens pass;
They try to hide their misery
Behind that window glass!
We all are crazy tools
As long as race hate rules!
No, no, no! Old Man Trump!
Old Beach Haven ain’t my home!
When I read the lyrics at home my eyes nearly bugged out. I thought I was reading something wrong. But apparently in the 1950s, Woody was a tenant of the Beech Haven apartments owned by Fred Trump. Yes, that Trump, the president’s father. “Old Man Trump” was not allowing blacks to rent his apartments and Woody, being an egalitarian, saw this for what it was, racist and wrong. I don’t remember that page being labeled as an anti-Trump song behind the glass. And I guess I can see why considering 65.3% the state voted for #45. It looks like it’s up for the visitors to read for themselves. Here is a youtube video of folksinger singing the song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-j1xreeaFE

As much as I’d like to comment further, I’ll refrain. Below are the lyrics to Woody's most popular song, "This Land Is Your Land."


In summary, I had a few surprising experiences on my trip that I hadn't expected. Also, if you happen to be in Tulsa, I’d also recommend the Gathering Place. It's a privately funded, multi-million park that is open to the public and lives up to the hype. Have you unexpected revelations during a trip?



My short story, "Them's Fighting Words" came out last month in DARK YONDER: TALES & TABS. The stories revolve around bar owner and southern crime writer, Eryk Pruitt. Proceeds go to the North Texas Food Bank.







Travis Richardson is originally from Oklahoma and lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. He has been a finalist and nominee for the Macavity, Anthony, and Derringer short story awards. He has two novellas and his short story collection, BLOODSHOT AND BRUISED, came out in late 2018. He reviewed Anton Chekhov short stories in the public domain at www.chekhovshorts.com. Find more at TSRichardson.com