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Friday, August 15, 2008

One Reader's Break Is--

Skies are blue, corn is ripe, and I’m coming off a fiction binge (tucked into wee morning and after-dark hours), ready to take it easier for a night or two with an old memoir, and the one that came to hand was TALES OF A WAYWARD INN, by Frank Case, published in 1938. Three chapters in, already I’m enchanted. Case opens by saying that other people have used his stories for years to their own profit, and now he figures it’s time for him to cash in on them himself, but he does wonder what his professional writer friends will think. --Maybe what he himself feels when amateurs want to horn in on his hotel gig. Sinclair Lewis, he said, once proposed going into the hotel business with him. Case responded by telling Lewis that “’in the space of ten minutes, I can set down on paper suggestions enough to keep two men busy for days. If your idea of hotel-keeping would be to sit upstairs in a suite and jot down ideas while I ran myself into a lather downstairs trying to execute them, I wouldn’t enjoy it. I want to be the jotter-down myself and let others do the lather.’” Lewis, he reports, backed away graciously from his partnership proposal.

Before the Algonquin, Case got his hotel feet wet at Taylor’s Hotel in Jersey City, where a sign on the back door read “NO DESERVING POOR TURNED HUNGRY FROM THIS DOOR,” but Case muses, “I always thought Owen put in the word ‘deserving’ for euphony, for rhythm, because he didn’t care a hoot whether a man was deserving or not and certainly never asked him any questions about it.” Anyone who asked for food got fed, whether or not they could pay. Hard to imagine that today, but I'm sure it was rare even 100 years ago.

According to Case, he was responsible for the name of the legendary Algonquin, as the man who hired him had planned to call it the Puritan and had to be persuaded otherwise. Can you imagine witty repartee among writers at the Puritan Round Table? A downright contradiction in terms! Dorothy Parker wouldn’t have set foot in the door.

His hotel attracted actors and writers, he says, because those were the people he liked best. Many of the names of many of the actors and writers he mentions would draw blank looks from college students. Rex Beach? Florence Easton? Buffalo Bill?

The past before one’s birth can be such a peaceful time to visit, all its quarrels and troubles long laid to rest. This, not fiction, is what I consider escape reading.

Tomorrow morning is the Fly-In from 8 to 11 at Woolsey Airport, north of Northport, and tomorrow evening is pow-wow in Peshawbestown, off Stallman Road. The waters of Grand Traverse Bay (seen here from a hill south of Suttons Bay) are bluer than blue as we head into the second half of August, wrapping up summer for another year.


Anonymous said...

Rex Beach? Did you know there's a road named for him in Atwood (Antrim County)? It runs west from US 31 to "the Flat Road" - Old Dixie Highway - and leads directly to the Antrim County Nature Preserve. I love old-fashioned writers and often find they're nothing like what I expected, Earl Derr Biggers being the prime example. Dunno about the comforting past. The more I delve into it, the more I realize that it isn't what I thought it was. It is such an interesting world.

P. J. Grath said...

There's a Hendryx Lane here in Leelanau County. It's about as small as a road can be but named for James Hendryx, the northern adventure writer who couldn't drag his wife any farther north than Suttons Bay, where she dug in her heels and said, "This is it!"

The past is full of struggle and hurt and anguish (along with brighter emotions), just as the present, and something like Pearl Buck's THE GOOD EARTH is a real heart-breaker (that poor, patient, hard-working wife, so completely unappreciated, to put it mildly, by her husband!), but somehow, for me, with nonfiction, the knowledge that what was, was, and there's nothing I need to try to do about it, is a whole lot easier than reading nonfiction treatises set in the present day. But interesting it is, all of it. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., a fat little kid shooting out lights in the building across the street! My eyes widen, I shake my head, and I turn the page. No one is going to ask me to vote on this one.

I think today, though, I'll go back to SAND COUNTY ALMANAC. I'm feeling the passing of seasons, swift as a high-speed train. Have to get out to the fly-in now: a couple of little kids pleaded, "Oh, will you bring Sarah so we can see her once more? It's our last day here!"