Tag Archives: Doc Ricketts

Steinbeck and Screens

When people I meet learn;

  • That at my mom’s urging, I was reading before I started school;
  • My first job was as a clerk in the Children’s Department of the Lexington Public Library;
  • I’ve collected books since I was fifteen;
  • With Janie’s permission, a loan from a friend, a thoughtful and caring set of plans from another friend, and a year of formidable building skills from yet another friend, I built a library. I built a library…pht-t-t-t. I wrote checks, said “GO,” kept out of the way, and admired the work – that’s what I did;

They get the point that books are uber-important to me.

Often, I will then get the question; “What’s your favorite book?”

Often I will cheat on the answer; “Today, my favorite book is actually two books by John Steinbeck; CANNERY ROW and SWEET THURSDAY.” It’s not really cheating. The two books tell one story about Steinbeck’s friend, Doc Ricketts. The books have all the basic food groups; Monterey, homeless men living a mostly gleeful life in abandoned corrugated tubes, a whorehouse, a frog hunt, a seer who inspires sunsets instead of the other way around, a Chinese storekeeper who cheats at chess, beer milk shakes, octopi, and Suzy driving a stick shift.

It also has a classic Steinbeck line that, to me, goes far to explain the current toxicity of our political life.

“Men seem to be born with a debt they can never pay no matter how hard they try. It piles up ahead of them. Man owes something to man. If he ignores the debt it poisons him…”

I wonder if our current addiction to screens and our hunger and demand for complete access to all things at all times for no sacrifice of effort and treasure, is simply a path to distraction…and perhaps eventual destruction. We distract ourselves constantly to keep from acknowledging our debt to our species and other species for that matter. We substitute knowing things quickly for knowing things well…and then we do the same for the people we meet.

I’m gonna do better…

…and perhaps slower.

I’m certainly gonna vote…

…and I’m gonna vote in a way that pays at least a little of that debt I owe to all species.

Now, if tomorrow I’m asked about my favorite book, my answer might be THE STORY OF DR. DOLITTLE by Hugh Lofting.

I can’t explain it.

It’s the way I roll.

“You Nugatory Nullifidian!” – Walt Kelly

It seems the primary news topic (nay, make that the only news topic) of the last week is the litany of peccadilloes and self-inflicted crises of the Trump campaign, all of which auger impending doom, whether we elect him or don’t – doomed if you do, doomed if you don’t.

I’m as fascinated (a useful euphemism for “terrified”) by all these revelations and speculations as the next guy, but I wonder if in the maelstrom of threats to the Trump campaign, we’re not missing a couple.

A friend of mine posted today about the very real possibility of Mr. Trump running out of voting groups to insult. Oh sure, he has yet to attack Eskimos or the Amish, but at the rate he’s proceeding he’ll get to them within days and then what? I have no good suggestions to offer on this quandary…except…meekly, mind you…to suggest terminating the insults and attacks? It’s just an outré thought.

And there’s also the problem of the sameness of the insults themselves, from everyone. I weary of hearing about people being “dopey” and “losers”. I’m tired of hearing Mr. Trump describe everything Trumpian as “incredible” and “huge”. I glaze over hearing his detractors describe him as “narcissistic” and “misogynistic”. We have 90+ days to go before we vote. If vocabularies don’t expand, we’ll all go nuts. If that happens, we’ll vote for a nut. That can’t be the best business plan.

Sometimes, when faced with a serious consideration like this, I seek outside guidance. Unlike Doc Ricketts in Steinbeck’s CANNERY ROW, I can’t go visit the Seer, and Oracle of Delphi is not on my speed dial. But, I do have a shelf-ful of Pogo books from the 50’s and early 60’s. In the Pogo strips, two of the denizens of the Okefenokee Swamp are the Cow Birds. These unsavory critters are uber-critics of everything wholesome and have a tortured vocabulary with which to express their views. I’m not encouraging any plagiarism here, just looking for inspiration. Imagine Mr. Trump referring to his myriad enemies as; “lesser pipsqueaks”. Or Ms. Clinton casting; “a pox on absentee landlordism!” Or Anderson Cooper decrying Mr. Trump’s answers to his questions as; “benighted paternalistic infantilism.”

Now THAT would lively.

And would keep me running to my dictionary.

Dictionaries.

Remember those?