Days that End in Y

Palm Collage

There was that Wednesday when I walked late, later than usual, at that weird hour when you can see both the sun and moon–the hour mythology took away. That was the Wednesday so windy and cold, the Wednesday where I started thinking about Palm trees, and how they are perfectly suited for life in the tropics where the winds blow faster than Santa Ana could ever dream. Windy and cold for me! I said when the burlas trickled in. In a few months it will be hot for you, you’ll see.

I kept walking with my head down against the wind for me and thought about dinner, homework, baseball, bills, words, the fish tank, weight, bad ankles, gray roots, bedrooms, paint, buying gas, and books.

Then there was that Tuesday when I walked not too early and not too late. Right on time, a Robert Southey kind of day. That was the Tuesday so bright and crisp, warm enough for a light jacket, a tank top if you are not a windy for me.

I kept walking with my head down, not because it was windy for me but because I walk with my head down. I looked for things. I looked for flowers, grass, cracks, words, and colors like purple, orange, yellow, pink, and blue. I really wanted blue, but to see that I needed to look up.

Palm trees were made for this, the days that end in Y. They stand tall until it’s time to sway and bend but never break.

Old School, Tobias Wolff

This story was, I felt sure, inspired by a certain passage in A Farewell to Arms, but when it came up for consideration I bit my tongue and let it go. It wasn’t bad. Cartoonish, of course, like all of Purcell’s work, lurid and overwrought, to be sure, but venomously alive. Anyway, I myself was in debt to Hemingway–up to my ears. So was Bill. We even talked like Hemingway characters, though in travesty, as if to deny our discipleship: That is your bed, and it is a good bed, and you must make it and you must make it well. Or: Today is the day of meatloaf. The meatloaf is swell. It is swell but when it is gone the not-having meatloaf will be tragic and the meatloaf man will not come anymore.

All of us owed someone, Hemingway or cummings or Kerouac–or all of them, and more. We wouldn’t have admitted it but the knowledge was surely there, because imitation was the only charge we never brought against the submissions we mocked so cruelly. There was no profit in it. Once crystallized, consciousness of influence would have doomed the collective and necessary fantasy that our work was purely our own. Even Purcell kept mum on that subject.

Excerpt, Old School by Tobias Wolff. Photograph, Yousuf Karsh.

Learn more about Compositions here, and read all the Compositions in the series here.

The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton

I thought of Sylvia and Evie and Sandy and Two-Bit’s many blondes. They were the only kind of girls that would look at us, I thought. Tough, loud girls who wore too much eye makeup and giggled and swore too much. I liked Soda’s girl Sandy just fine, though. Her hair was natural blond and her laugh was soft, like her china-blue eyes. She didn’t have a real good home or anything and was our kind–greaser–but she was a real nice girl. Still, lots of times I wondered what other girls were like. The girls who acted as if they’d like to spit on us if given a chance. Some were afraid of us, and remembering Dallas Winston, I didn’t blame them. But most looked at us like we were dirt–gave us the same kind of look that the Socs did when they came by in their Mustangs and Corvairs and yelled “Grease!” at us. I wondered about them. Th girls, I mean…Did they cry when their boys were arrested, like Evie did when Steve got hauled in, or did they run out on them the way Sylvia did Dallas? But maybe their boys didn’t get arrested or beaten up or busted up in rodeos.

I was still thinking about it while I was doing my homework that night. I had to read Great Expectations for English, and that kid Pip, he reminded me of us–the way he felt marked lousy because he wasn’t a gentleman or anything, and the way that girl kept looking down on him. That happened to me once. One time in biology I had to dissect a worm, and the razor wouldn’t cut it so I used my switchblade. The minute I flicked it out–I forgot what I was doing or I would never have done it–this girl right beside me kind of gasped, and said, “They are right. You are a hood.” That didn’t make me feel so hot. There were a lot of Socs in that class–I get put into A classes because I’m supposed to be smart–and most of them thought it was pretty funny. I didn’t, though. She was a cute girl. She looked real good in yellow.

Excerpt, The Outsiders by Charlotte Perkins Gillman. Image, me.

Learn more about Compositions here, and read all the Compositions in the series here.

The Kugelmass Episode, Woody Allen

Kugelmass was bald and hairy as a bear, but he had soul.

“I need to meet a new woman,” he went on. “I need to have an affair. I may not look the part, but I’m a man who needs romance. I need softness, I need flirtation. I’m not getting younger, so before it’s too late I want to make love in Venice, trade quips at ’21,’ and exchange coy glances over red wine and candlelight. You see what I’m saying?”

Dr. Mandel shifted in his chair and said, “An affair will solve nothing. You’re so unrealistic. Your problems run much deeper.”

“And also this affair must be discreet,” Kugelmass continued. “I can’t afford a second divorce. Daphne would really sock it to me.”

“Mr. Kugelmass–”

“But it can’t be anyone on the faculty at City College, because Daphne also works there. Not that anyone on the faculty at C.C.N.Y is any great shakes, but some of those coeds…”

“Mr. Kugelmass–”

“Help me. I had a dream last night. I was skipping through a meadow holding a picnic basket and the basket was marked ‘Options.’ And then I saw there was a hole in the basket.

Excerpt, The Kugelmass Episode by Woody Allen. Available to read online here.

Learn more about Compositions here, and read all the Compositions in the series here.

A Good Man is Hard to Find, Flannery O’Connor

The old lady settled herself comfortably, removing her white cotton gloves and putting them up with her purse on the shelf in front of the back window. The children’s mother still had on slacks and still had her head tied up in a green kerchief, but the grandmother had on a navy blue straw sailor hat with a bunch of white violets on the brim and a navy blue dress with a small white dot in the print. Her collars and cuffs were white organdy trimmed with lace and at her neckline she had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet. In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady.

Excerpt, A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor. Photograph, Library of Congress.

Learn more about Compositions here, and read all the Compositions in the series here.