Tag Archives: Dr. Doolittle

My Favorite Bookstore 3: Rokuro-Kubi 1

I had only been working a week at the Bait Shop.

The Bait Shop was a book store with only a miniscule inventory of books about fishing.

It did boast several sizable aquaria with mesmerizing arrays of tropical fish; mostly cichlids and one tank of bosemani rainbows. I had already discerned that the cichlids were an opinionated bunch that moved their furniture constantly and spit gravel when disgusted…or about to give birth. The rainbows were sleepy and “just happy to breed here.”

Thus, the Books and Interesting Tidbits Shop was a touch tropical, certainly topical, but not your typical book store.

I had yet to master the chimerical shelving system for the books. My high school part-time job at the public library had taught me the essences of the Dewey Decimal System (DDS). The logic parceling out shelf space at the Bait Shop however, was totally uninfluenced by the DDS. For example: Francois Truffault’s HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAULT was deliberately placed next to James E. Vance’s GEOGRAPHY AND URBAN EVOLUTION IN THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA. When I groused to Sam Cooger, the banjo-playing partner/owner of the shop, he sneered; “Melvil Dewey was an anal nerd. Numbers on books – whatta load of crap. He probably never even saw the Frisco Bay and I know he never saw VERTIGO. We should be guided by such ignorance?” He leaned back in his corner and crooned “It’s so neat ta beat yer feet by the San Francisco Bay.”

Gifted by such guidance, I fumbled about on the road to dim-as-could-be until, one day, I had an epiphany. Of course Hugh Lofting’s DR. DOOLITTLE IN THE MOON belonged next to Guy Boothby’s DR. NIKOLA not only for the dubious medical pedigrees of the titular characters, but also for their similar portrayals of cats as alien and not completely sympathetic critters. I confidently slid a handsome first edition (in dust jacket no less) of Carl Van Vechten’s THE TIGER IN THE HOUSE to the right of those books to mollify any negative feline vibes. Benji Andante, the other store partner/owner peered at my decision and pondered… “A bit obvious, but shows progress. Balance has its place, but not everywhere. Sometimes a clear vector is useful, but let’s leave it that way for few days and see.”

I wasn’t sure I understood what Ben had said…actually…I was sure I didn’t understand. Still, I marked it down as a win. The day before, he had paraphrased Albee (or Stoppard – I can’t keep ‘em straight when he starts rattling) to encourage me; “A step is positive, any step, even a negative step, because it is a step.”

Now…where should I put George F. Worts’ THE HOUSE OF CREEPING HORROR?

Garrotes are involved. Perhaps in the Spanish language section of the shop, next to the screenplay of Santo Contra el Espectro de el Estrangulador?

Or next to A BLUEGRASS CONSPIRACY – murderous doings by elements striving to return a small town that once was a crossroads for illicit substances to those profitable, if less righteous days.

Or next to Manly Wade Wellman’s THIRD STRING CENTER book-for-boys, to demonstrate a useful, if often pummeled career path après high school football hero-dom.

Sam disrupted my cogitation; “Ya know, Cayton, yer not much help, but ya sure are slow.”

Ben; “He’s trying, Sam. Not particularly well, but… Put it next to the Wellman, maybe it’ll improve the prose.”

He continued; “I got a call from Mo Stern. He’s coming in this afternoon.”

Sam erupted; “Christ! I’m not up to that today.”

Ben gazed at me.

“Cayton, you’re a theatre major, yes?”

“I am. I’m rehearsing Synge’s Playboy of the Western World now.”

“Ah yes; ‘I’m thinkin’ it’s a queer daughter you are to be askin’ yer father to be crossin’ the Stooks of the Dead Women with a drop taken.’ – do you get to say that?”

“No. That’s someone else’s line.”

“Pity.”

Sam and Ben had a strange conceit about communicating privately with each other. They would slide up next to each other, shoulder to shoulder, but facing opposite directions. They would then murmur to each other in a tone that anyone nearby could clearly hear…but to them it served as a private conversation.

Sam; “Seriously, I don’t think I can do this today. Give the kid a try. God knows he ain’t worth his salt yet on anything else.”

Ben to me, after a moment of mindful breathing; “Here’s what we need for you to do this afternoon…

We have a customer. His name is Mo Stern.

Mister Stern loves books. Always has. A while back, he began to lose much of his sight. Forget what that meant to his life otherwise. He loves books. He has adapted admirably in his everyday living. We are part of his adapting…maybe the most important part. He loves books and now it is near impossible for him to read them.

We maintain a list of the books he wishes to “read.” When we get two exact copies, same editions, of books on his list, he buys them both, and…he comes into the shop, and…we read them out loud to him from one copy, while he follows along in another. Pages are turned simultaneously, chapters are finished simultaneously, until the book is complete. He then takes both copies in case he might want to “reread” the book someday.

He loves books. He has passion for reading.

I believe passion is an important ingredient for the theatre. I know you read well and, I assume, speak clearly. Else, no audience will seek you out for long.

Will you do this?”

(…to be continued…perhaps…)

The Good Doctor

Dr. Seuss did not teach me to read.

My mom did that…and Dick and Jane…and comic books.

On Tuesdays, before I started elementary school through about the second grade, the bookmobile would come to our neighborhood. It would park for the afternoon about five blocks from our house. Mom was then and is now a voracious reader. She and I would trudge to the bookmobile every week, toting our books we had checked out from the week before. It had to be done every week or our books would be overdue and there would be a fine to pay. Worse, the bookmobile lady would scowl. (Before you ask; no, her name was not Marion.)

We would trudge home and Mom would read my books to me or ask me to look at the pictures and tell her the story. I don’t remember any of the books being by Dr. Seuss.

What I remember clearly is the dagger I carried home in my chest from my first day of school. I had been assured that I would learn to read when I went to school. That was a big falsehood. We’ve heard a lot about “the big lie” lately. I experienced it in 1957. I had been to school for the day. I had not yet learned to read.

Shoot!

(I had also not yet added “damn!” to my vocabulary.)

Dick and Jane began to rectify that deficiency…the reading part, not the cussing.

Mom had lit a fire, Dick and Jane added the fuel, but comic books were the accelerant for my personal reading eternal flame.

The bookmobile wasn’t enough for Mom’s addiction. We would make regular foraging trips to

Mr. Dennis’s bookstore on North Lime; once known as Mulberry Street – how ‘bout that. Mom would carefully choose her treasures while I would plunge into the comic book table. Archie and Veronica and Batman and Superman and Aquaman and Casper, the Friendly Ghost gave me stories to imagine and tell and later read.

I didn’t really discover Dr. Seuss until I was in high school.

I took a part-time job in the Children’s Department of the Lexington Public Library all through high school. I shelved books, checked them in and out, read just about all of them, and guided kids, parents, and kiddie-lit students from Transylvania University.

A decade or so later, I would play Dracula on that University’s stage…poorly, but I played it.

I loved Dr. Seuss. I dove into McElligot’s Pool. I loafed in awe down Mulberry Street. I improved on the zoo and the circus. I heard Who’s with Horton. I scrambled to thwart oobleck and deal with half a thousand hats along with Bartholomew Cubbins. I fretted about how to corral the Cat in the Hat’s Thing 1 and Thing 2 before the parents returned. I loved the rhymes, the nonsense words, and the drawings. But mostly, I was captured by the wide-eyed wonder of the stories’ participants.

I wasn’t alone.

Dr. Seuss books were a hot item in the library when I worked there. They were constantly checked out. They were read to pieces. Their tattered covers were repaired or replaced every year. Many a child would drag themselves through other books imposed on them by teachers and parents just to be rewarded with a romp with the Grinch and Cindy Lou Who.

That Mister Grinch may been a “foul one”, but I’m sure he taught a goodly number of children to read.

They didn’t seem to be offended or hurt by the drawings, but the readers then were overwhelmingly white and didn’t think much about those that might not be.

I certainly wasn’t offended or hurt…and……ditto.

Actually…I’m still not hurt or offended. I’m also not hurt or offended by Hugh Lofting’s drawings in his Dr. Doolittle books. I’m not hurt or offended by Harper Lee’s depiction of the white racist father in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. I’m not offended or hurt by Charlie Chan, or Archie Bunker, or Stan Laurel, or the Three Stooges.

I do however, have people in my life I care about who are stung by these things. I care about these people and would not have them hurt. I don’t mind at all if they choose to not watch or read these artists and works. And if their non-watching and non-reading reduces the financial viability of the works and causes them to be not be published or reproduced, that’s the way it goes. That’s business.

The government didn’t do it. The Left didn’t do it. The Right didn’t do it. The Church didn’t do it. The Proud Boys didn’t do it. The deep state didn’t do it.

The market did it.

I collect books. I cherish the feel of bindings and pages. I always want every book to be always published.

The market dictates otherwise.

Sigh…

OK.

Can we now know better and be better?

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 of my friends – that’s what I did;

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

Occasionally, I will then get the question; “What’s your favorite book?”steinbeck and screens-cannery row

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…”

steinbeck and screens-sweet thursdayI 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.

Life Under the Hedge

Janie and I live under a hedge.

No, we’re not hobbits…though it’s a tempting notion.

No, we’re not delusional…I’m pretty sure.

No, we truly live under a hedge.

Almost 20 years ago, we built a brick wall behind our house. By design, it has missing bricks in a pattern that enables you see through it. It has a mighty trellis on top of it and an iron gate with a heron silhouette.

When it was completed, on the guidance of the wall’s designer (our friend, Sanford Pollack), we planted trumpet vine next to the wall. We didn’t quite follow Sandy’s guidance as faithfully as perhaps we should have. His suggestion to plant one vine was utterly disregarded. It looked so puny. So…we planted six.

As the vines grew and became one, we threaded it into the wall itself and eventually, into the trellis. We removed any trace of green below the trellis, but let the vine run amok above.

The result?

Today, under the trellis, the vines are two-to-five-inch-in-diameter woody snakes entwining the bricks. They resemble Hugh Lofting’s line drawings of trees in his “Dr. Doolittle” books or the various dancing trees in Fleischer cartoons. Those squiggly sequoias support the hedge above the trellis.

The hedge is about 30 feet long and ranges from four-to-seven feet high above the trellis, reaching a peak of about 13 feet above the ground, and is quite impenetrable. It is dense, green, and celebrates each summer with hundreds of clumps of butter-yellow and orange-red trumpet blossoms. I’m told it was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite garden plant. I share his opinion except when I’m combating the hedge’s myriad “volunteers” that insinuate themselves everywhere at the rate of several inches per day.

I love living under the hedge despite the constant battle with its efforts of expansion.

– It’s positioned on the weather side of the house and garden. Its mass offers at least the illusion of some natural defense against natural assaults.

– When cirrus-eyed poets from pre-drone days rhapsodize about “How many colors of blue make up the sky?” and speculate on eyes watching us “make love well” from above, I’m happier with the illusion of privacy the hedge offers.

– In winter when the vines are denuded of their foliage, I’m encouraged when the hedge becomes a chattering condo for tiny nesting birds, though the heron gate beneath suffers the indignity of the resulting guano rain.

Yes, I love living under the hedge, and weirdly enough, despite my determined eradication of its invasive offspring, I think the hedge patronizes me and thinks me to be of some interest.

Otherwise, why would it speak to me?

(Cue the theme from “The Twilight Zone”)