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PostPosted: 01 Aug 2016, 03:05 
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Chautauqua wrote:
Desolation Road


Verthandi's Ring was great, thanks for recommending. Probably the best proof I've seen that great plots don't demand distension. Is your name from this book? It's gone on my to-read list, although, speaking of distended...

Here's one for the times. The Policemen’s Ball, by Donald Barthelme, 1968.

Quote:
Horace, a policeman, was making Rock Cornish Game Hens for a special supper. The Game Hens are frozen solid, Horace thought. He was wearing his blue uniform pants.

Inside the Game Hens were the giblets in a plastic bag. Using his needlenose pliers Horace extracted the frozen giblets from the interior of the birds. Tonight is the night of the Policemen’s Ball, Horace thought. We will dance the night away. But first, these Game Hens must go into a three-hundred-and-fifty-degree oven.

Horace shined his black dress shoes. Would Margot “put out” tonight? On this night of nights? Well, if she didn’t– Horace regarded the necks of the birds which had been torn asunder by the pliers. No, he reflected, that is not a proper thought. Because I am a member of the force. I must try to keep my hatred under control. I must try to be an example for the rest of the people. Because if they can’t trust us. . .the blue men. . .

In the dark, outside the Policemen’s Ball, the horrors waited for Horace and Margot.

Margot was alone. Her roommates were in Provincetown for the weekend. She put pearl-colored lacquer on her nails to match the pearl of her new-bought gown. Police colonels and generals will be there, she thought. The Pendragon of the Police himself. Whirling past the dais, I will glance upward. The pearl of my eyes meeting the steel gray of high rank.

Margot got into a cab and went over to Horace’s place. The cabdriver was thinking: A nice-looking piece. I could love her.

Horace removed the birds from the oven. He slipped little gold frills, which has been included in the package, over the ends of the drumsticks. Then he uncorked the wine, thinking: This is a town without pity, this town. For those whose voices lack the crack of authority. Luckily the uniform. . . Why won’t she surrender her person? Does she think she can resist the force? The force of the force?

“These birds are delicious.”

Driving Horace and Margot smoothly to the Armory, the new cabdriver thought about basketball.

Why do they always applaud the man who makes the shot?

Why don’t they applaud the ball?

It’s the ball that actually goes into the net.

The man doesn’t go into the net.

Never have I seen a man going into the net.

Twenty thousand policemen of all grades attended the annual fete. The scene was Camelot, with gay colors and burgees. The interior of the Armory had been roofed with lavish tenting. Police colonels and generals looked down on the dark uniforms, white gloves, silvery ball gowns.

“Tonight?”

“Horace, not now. This scene is so brilliant. I want to remember it.”

Horace thought: It? Not me?

The Pendragon spoke. “I ask you to be reasonable with the citizens. They pay our salaries after all. I know they are difficult sometimes, obtuse sometimes, even criminal sometimes, as we often run across in our line of work. But I ask you despite all to be reasonable. I know it is hard. I know it is not easy. I know that for instance when you see a big car, a ’70 Biscayne hardtop, cutting around a corner at a pretty fair clip, with three in the front and three in the back, and they are all mixed up, ages and sexes and colors, your natural impulse is to– I know your first thought is, All those people! Together! And your second thought is, Force! But I must ask you in the name of force itself to be restrained. For force, that great principle, is most honored in the breach and the observance. And that is where you men are, in the breach. You are fine men, the finest. You are Americans. So for the sake of America, be careful. Be reasonable. Be slow. In the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Ghost. And now I would like to introduce Vercingetorix, leader of the firemen, who brings us a few words of congratulation from that fine body of men.”

Waves of applause for the Pendragon filled the tented area.

“He is a handsome older man,” Margot said.

“He was born in a Western state and advanced to his present position through raw merit,” Horace told her.

The government of Czechoslovakia sent observers to the Policemen’s Ball. “Our police are not enough happy,” Colonel-General Cepicky explained. “We seek ways to improve them. This is a way. It may not be the best of all possible ways, but. . . Also I like to drink the official whiskey! It makes me gay!”

A bartender thought: Who is that yellow-haired girl in the pearl costume? She is stacked.

The mood of the Ball changed. The dancing was more serious now. Margot’s eyes sparkled from the jorums of champagne she had drunk. She felt Horace’s delicately Game Hen-flavored breath on her cheek. I will give him what he wants, she decided. Tonight. His heroism deserves it. He stands between us and them. He represents what is best in society: decency, order, safety, strength, sirens, smoke. No, he does not represent smoke. Great billowing oily black clouds. That Vercingetorix has a noble look. With whom is Vercingetorix dancing, at present?

The horrors waited outside patiently. Even policemen, the horrors thought. We get even policemen, in the end.

In Horace’s apartment, a gold frill was placed on a pearl toe.

The horrors had moved outside Horace’s apartment. Not even policemen and their ladies are safe, the horrors thought. No one is safe. Safety does not exist. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

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PostPosted: 03 Aug 2016, 00:07 
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MJRH, loved that story, it's like a perfect caricature. There's a retired cop who lives on the corner of my block across from an even older military vet. He totally acts like macho old hetero white guy blue collar alpha dog, except that he kind of has an unfortunate Newt Gingrich voice that "lacks the crack of authority." It's funny when we see each other, because there's like this mutual acknowledgement that we're total opposites and we have no business even interacting as neighbors, yet we have to respect each other.

Anyways, the ex-cop runs a business of mowing lawns now, and I don't have time to mow mine, so I pay him to do it. The other day, I was walking my dog as he was mowing my lawn, and I spotted a bumper sticker on the back of his pickup truck:

BLUE LIVES MATTER

I had to bite my tongue and pretend that I didn't see it. As much as it would have thrilled me to strike up a conversation about it with him, my lawn needs mowing. He's alright anyways.

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PostPosted: 03 Aug 2016, 04:52 
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When Barthelme is on-point, he's unstoppable. One of America's greats. Fifty years since publication, and that little gem could just as well have slipped into the Politics Thread today. Have been leisurely meandering through his Sixty Stories collection over the past few months, and his writing consistently surprises and cracks me up.

And speaking of the P-word, I'm happy to hear you still respect the blue fellow. There is a perfectly correct internal logic to a xenophobe refusing to open up a discussion with people from wildly different walks of life, but it makes me sad when self-professed liberals do the same thing—just leads to more of the us-vs-them and divisiveness I'd like to think we're fighting against. One case where fire can't fight, but can only perpetuate, itself.

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PostPosted: 30 Oct 2016, 00:37 
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The Great Magician

Ren‎é Daumal wrote:
There was once a powerful magician who lived in a garret in the Rue Bouffetard. He lived there in the guise of a little old clerk, tidy and punctual, and worked in a branch of the Araganais Bank on the Avenue des Gibelins. With the wave of a magic toothpick he could have transmuted all the tiles of the roof into bars of gold. But that would have been immoral, for he believed that work ennobles man. And—to some extent—even woman, he would add.

When his Aunt Ursula, an old shrew who had just been ruined by the collapse of Serbian-Bulgarian stocks, came to live with him and demanded that he take care of her, he could have transformed her at will into a pretty young princess, or into a swan harnessed to his magic chariot, or into a soft boiled egg, or into a ladybug, or into a bus. But that would have broken with good family tradition, the backbone of society and morality. So he slept on a straw mat and would get up at six o’clock to buy Aunt Ursula her rolls and prepare her coffee; after which, he listened patiently to the daily broadside of complaints: that the coffee tasted of soap, that there was a cockroach baked into one of the rolls, that he was an unworthy nephew and would be disinherited. “Disinherited of what?” you might well wonder. But he let her talk on, knowing that if he wanted to . . . But Aunt Ursula must never suspect that he was a powerful magician. That might give birth to thoughts of lucre and close the gates of Paradise to her forever.

After that, the great magician would go down his six flights, sometimes almost breaking his neck on the murderously slippery stairs. However, he would pick himself up with a faint smile, thinking that if he wished he could change himself into a swallow and take wing through the skylight. But the neighbors might see, and so wondrous a feat would shake the very foundation of their naive but wholesome faith.

When he reached the street, he would brush the dust off his alpaca jacket at the same time taking care not to pronounce those words which would have instantly turned it into a brocade vestment. Such an act would have planted a sinister doubt in the hearts of the people passing and shaken their innocent belief in the immutability of the laws of nature.

He had his breakfast at the counter in a cafe, taking only some ersatz coffee and a bit of stale bread. Ah, if he wanted to . . . but in order to stop himself from making use of his supernatural powers, he would swallow five cognacs in rapid succession. The alcohol, dulling the edge of his magic powers, brought him round to a salutary humility and to the feeling that all men, including himself, were brothers. If the cashier repulsed him when he tried to kiss her, pretending it was because of his dirty beard, he would tell himself that she had no heart and understood nothing of the spirit of the gospels. At a quarter of eight, he was in his office, his sleeve-protectors on, a pen behind his ear, and a newspaper spread before him. With only a slight effort of concentration he could have known straight off the present, past, and future of the entire world, but he restrained himself from using this gift. He made himself read the paper so as not to lose touch with the common language; it allowed him to communicate over an aperitif with his equals—in appearance—and guide them in the right direction. At eight o’clock, the paper scratching began, and if he made a mistake now and then, it was in order to justify the reprimands of his superiors, who otherwise would be guilty of the serious sin of having made a false accusation. And so, all day long the great magician, in the guise of an average employee, carried on his task as humanity’s guide.

Poor Aunt Ursula! Whenever he returned at noon having forgotten to buy some parsley, that dear lady, instead of cracking the basin over his head, would certainly have behaved differently had she known who her nephew really was. But then she would never have had the opportunity of discovering to what extent anger is a momentary madness.

If he had wanted to! . . . Instead of dying in a hospital of an unknown disease in barely christian fashion, leaving no more trace on earth than a moth-eaten coat in the wardrobe, an old toothbrush, and mocking memories in the ungrateful hearts of his colleagues, he could have been a pasha, an alchemist, a wizard, a nightingale, or a cedar of Lebanon. But that would have been contrary to the secret designs of Providence. No one made a speech over his grave. No one suspected who he was. And who knows—perhaps not even he himself.

Still, he was a most powerful magician.

Translated by Charles Warner (lifted from the Evergreen Review)

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PostPosted: 13 Nov 2016, 10:17 
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just read the story, thanks MJRH :)


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