Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Sideswipe By Charles Willeford (St. Martin's Press 1987)





"It's a peculiar thing, old-timer, but a man your age can learn something from me, although it should be the other way 'round. First I'll tell you something about me, and then I'll tell you about you."

"A man can always learn something new." Stanley filled his pipe. "There's an extra pipe if you want to smoke. I don't have no cigarettes."

"I don't smoke."

"Smoking is a comfort to a man sometimes. I like to smoke a pipe sometimes after dinner, but I don't smoke during the day--"

"Smoking comforts ordinary men, but I'm not an ordinary man. There aren't many like me left." Troy drew his lips back, exposing small even teeth. "And it's a good thing for the world that there isn't. There'll always be a few of us in America, in every generation, because only a great country like America can produce men like me. I'm not a thinker, I'm a doer. I'm considered inarticulate, so I talk a lot to cover it up.

"When you look back a few years, America's produced a fair number of us at that. Sam Houston, Jack London, Stanley Ketchel, Charlie Manson--I met him in Bakersfield once--Jack Black. Did you ever read You Can't Win, Jack Black's autobiography?"

"I been a working man most of my life, Troy. I never had much time for reading books."

"You mean you never -took- the time. I've just named a few men of style, my style, although they'd all find the comparison odious. Know why? They were all individualists, that's why. They all made their own rules, the way I do. But most of us won't rate a one-line obit in a weekly newspaper. Sometimes that rankles." Troy paused, and his brow wrinkled. "There was a writer one time... funny, I can't think of his name." Troy laughed, and shook his head. "It'll come to me after a while. What I'll do is pretend I don't want to remember it, then it'll come to me. Anyway, this famous writer said that men living in cities were like a bunch of rocks in a leather bag. They're all rubbed up against each other till they're round and smooth as marbles. If they stay in the bag long enough, there'll be no rough edges left, is the idea. But I've managed to keep my rough edges, every sharpened corner.

"But you, old-timer, you're as round and polished as an agate. You've been living in that bag for seventy-one years, man. They could put you on TV as the perfect specimen of American male. You're the son of a Polish immigrant, and you've worked all your life for an indifferent capitalistic corporation. Your son's a half-assed salesman, and you've had the typical, unhappy sexless marriage. And now, glorious retirement in sunny Florida. The only thing missing is a shiny new car in the driveway for you to wash and polish on Sundays."

"I've got a car, Troy! A new Escort, but Maya took it when she left."

"I'm not running you down, Pop. I like you. But life has tricked you. You fell into the trap and didn't know you were caught. But I'm a basic instinctive man, and that's the difference between us. Instinct, Pop." Troy lowered his voice to a whisper. "Instinct. You've survived, but mere existence isn't enough. To live, you have to be aware, and then follow your inclinations wherever they lead. Don't care what others think about you. Your own life is the only important thing, and nothing else matters. Want some more coffee?"


1 comment:

Darren said...

I'm tempted to dive straight into the fourth Hoke Moseley novel, The Way We Die Now, but it's the last in the series, and it's too soon after finishing Liza Cody's Eva Wylie series.

PS - "There was a writer one time... funny, I can't think of his name. . . . "? Troy later remembers that the writer was Somerset Maugham. Just thought you'd like to know.