Thursday, October 13, 2011

From a Bum Joke to Joe Pesci in "With Honors"

I subscribe to this e-mail service called Arcamax (, which sends comic strips by e-mail the night before their publication in newspapers nationwide. I've rediscovered Curtis, my favorite comic strip when I was a kid, and I love getting Andy Capp, my favorite comic strip now, every evening.

They also provide columns such as Dear Abby, and political columns and cartoons, and also jokes, among so much else. I received the jokes e-mail just now and found this one at the top:

"The bum on the street

A bum asks a man for $2. The man asked, "Will you buy booze?"

The bum said, "No."

The man asked, "Will you gamble it away?"

The bum said, "No."

Then the man asked, "Will you come home with me so my wife can see what happens to a man who doesn't drink or gamble?"

It's funny, but right at the start, I wasn't thinking about the joke. I thought about Joe Pesci's role as the charismatic, homeless Simon Wilder in With Honors, which I've grown to like over time, mainly because Wilder, when he's introduced, is living in a boiler room under Widener Library on the Harvard campus, and clearly loves books.

Again, a boiler room. Under a library. Not my ideal living space, but Wilder is essentially living in a library. That is until Monty (Brendan Fraser), so worried about his Very Important Thesis that Wilder has gotten hold of, calls the campus police on Wilder and he's thrown out and arrested.

After Monty pays contempt-of-court fines leveled on Wilder during an appearance before a judge, Wilder hawks newspapers to passersby in a town square and then pointedly asks Monty what he sees. Monty replies, "A man," and Wilder fires back, "No, you see a piece of shit, Harvard." Monty answers, "I see a man who needs a home." Wilder replies, "I had a home. I had a warm place to sleep. 17 bathrooms and 8 miles of books. I had a goddamn palace."

Every time I hear the "8 miles of books" part, I get a little lightheaded (as if the shots of the inside of the library later aren't enough). I'm also reminded of the Strand Bookstore in New York City that I'd like to dive into one day, after visiting the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park. 18 miles of books at the Strand, as its reputation maintains. It's the kind of dream that makes me hope to win big in Vegas one day, somehow (even on penny slots), so I can charter a few jumbo jets to cart books home from the Strand.

And all this from one joke.

Hi 8-Year-Old Self! It's Me, 19 Years Later!

I've come to the understanding that I'm never going to stop buying books. No matter what I do in my life, I always want books with me. I think my penchant for purchase will lessen considerably once I have steady, reliable libraries in what Henderson offers through its Henderson Libraries network, and what Las Vegas has in its Clark County system. But if a book I read from the library is special enough to warrant inclusion in my permanent collection, then I'll buy it. Mind you, one of my lifetime goals is to own every Andy Capp book ever published, but as always seems to be the case, other books get in the way. One of these days I'll focus entirely on that.

Last week, I went on a search on for Cold Fire by Dean Koontz, and The TV Kid by Betsy Byars. The former is because I don't think I have my years-long copy anymore, and I need it back in my permanent collection. The latter is because it was my favorite book when I was a kid. I was hooked on it when I was 8 years old and it was always with me as I grew up. I didn't own it, but I checked it out from many school libraries.

The hardcover illustration from The Viking Press, circa 1976, has a large facial profile of Lenny, the same profile in shadow on a TV set with knobs next to the screen, and a snake coiling itself around one leg of the set, its head on the shelf underneath. The story involves Lenny's addiction to TV, the dullness of his life at the Fairy Land Motel, which his mother owns, and his desire for something television-like in his life, which leads to an empty summer house and that snake.

I watched a lot of TV back when I discovered The TV Kid, and played a lot of Nintendo, so I was immediately attracted to it. And I loved the barren atmosphere of the Fairy Land Motel, as evidenced by the first page and a following paragraph:

"Lennie was in front of the motel washing off the walk with a hose. He directed the spray on a chewing-gum paper and some grass and twigs. He watched as the trash went down the drain.

A truck passed on the highway, building up speed for the hill ahead. Lennie glanced up. He watched until the truck was out of sight.

"Aren't you through yet?" Lennie's mother called. "You've got to do your homework, remember?"

He turned off the hose. "I'm through."

He started toward the office. At that moment his mom turned on the neon sign, and it flashed red above his head. THE FAIRY LAND MOTEL--VACANCY.

Lennie paused at the concrete wishing well. There was a concrete elf on one side and, facing him, Humpty Dumpty. With one hand on Humpty Dumpty's head, Lennie leaned forward and looked down into the wishing well. On the blue painted bottom lay seven pennies, one nickel, and a crumpled Mound wrapper."

I decided it should be in my permanent collection. As I get older, I always take with me what I've collected in previous years, as I imagine everyone does in some way. But it took some time to find this particular hardcover edition because I didn't want the latest paperback of it from 1998, which doesn't have illustrations. I wanted what I knew.

And I found it on from Thrift Books in Auburn, WA. It had been listed in good condition, and all I cared about was that it said "Viking Press, 1976" in the listing. I received it today, and I am very happy at what I've found.

This is a discarded copy from "Simonds School Library", an elementary school, I'd imagine since The TV Kid is geared toward elementary-school kids. I Googled it and found one Simonds Elementary in San Jose, California, another in Madison Heights, Michigan, and another in Warner, New Hampshire. I'm thinking it may have come from the San Jose Simonds, because of it being relatively closer to Auburn, compared to Michigan and New Hampshire.

On the inside page after opening the cover, there's a "Date Due" slip of paper glued to the inside of a due-date card holder. And there are dates stamped, and crossed out, though the year isn't listed. And it turns out that it did come from the San Jose Simonds because at the bottom of words stamped in red, below the reasons it could have been taken out of circulation, it says, "Deselected based on EC 60500 and BR 3275."

The regulations come from the California School Boards Association. And EC 60500 ( states: "For the purposes of this chapter, governing boards shall adopt rules, regulations and procedures for prescribing standards for determining when instructional materials adopted by them and either loaned by them or in their possession are obsolete, and if such materials are usable or unusable for educational purposes."

So this school determined that it had no use for this copy of The TV Kid. And I'm glad for that because it's found a comfortable retirement in caring hands. I won't let it go ever again.

Here's a Different Kind of School Dream

Some dreams of mine relate to what's going on in my life, and some are random, complete "Where the hell did that come from?" moments. They're the ones I treasure the most, save for one really awful dream, only because it presented to me a full outline for a novel that I could have started writing as soon as I woke up, if it had not insisted on fading from my memory so quickly. It was like the universe saying, "No, boy, you're doing this on your own. We're not giving you a freebie."

For the past few months, I've had dreams that took place on college campuses, some with a theme park adjacent to it (Think Six Flags Magic Mountain, with more rollercoasters than anything else), one with a full-service McDonald's and an arcade on campus, always with the choice of going to math class or not. In those dreams, I wonder if I really need to, if my world will be so affected if I didn't. Always, I end up not going, always I feel really good about it, not wasting my time on what I don't want to do.

A dream I had early this morning was far from what seemed to be that norm.

I was back at Silver Trail Middle, where my dad taught computers and business education when I attended in 7th and 8th grade, and beyond that. I was standing in the empty hallway where Dad's class was, remembering such personalities as the apparently-repressed science teacher who, when he spotted Monica Haynick and her boyfriend holding hands between class periods, called out "Daylight!", and they separated, probably reconnecting once they were out of view of him. I never understood it. Young love is hard enough to manage as it is. But it never affected Haynick, a strong spirit and mind who I imagine retains those qualities today.

Standing there, rooted to one spot, I was taking in the knowledge that my parents had bought the entire school property, the connecting buildings, the cafeteria, the gym, the music rooms. This was our new home. I don't know how they could manage the upkeep on such a place, but that wasn't part of the dream. I was thinking about the two years I had been at this school (Actually a year and a half because my 7th grade class was at a portables site in another location in Pembroke Pines while the campus was being built, and during winter break, my dad and the other faculty members and staff moved into the new campus before the start of the next semester), and now these halls were mine to roam, free of educational residue. I was thinking about what classroom to choose as my own room, based on where I might have had a good time each day in school. But that's all the dream offered. I woke up, it was 10:26 a.m., and it was time to start the day.