Truman Capote

I have been reading Truman Capote the past week or so, and I am of a split opinion about him.  The adjective ‘split’ blends nicely into any discussion of Truman, as he, and the memory of him in most minds, seem to be a combination of two completely different species.

There is the short, pudgy ‘Pillsbury dough boy’ with the lisp and the unabashed swish in an era when unabashed swish could easily get you bashed.

And then there is the writer of rich and complex novels and short stories, for which he became fairly rich, and quite famous.  And, In Cold Blood, a 1966 ‘non-fiction novel’ about a brutal and pointless murder.  I haven’t read In Cold Blood.  There is enough pointless and brutal in my little corner of the world without shopping for more at Amazon.

I like good writing.  I like thoughtful, well-constructed stories made of sentences that make you want to read them again.  Truman, I call him Truman, could write those stories, and could write those sentences.

Just as an example, he has a character in one of his stories, a bootlegger, named Ha Ha Jones.  Really, Ha Ha Jones. He was called Ha Ha because he never smiled and never laughed.  How could you make something up like that?  Which little fold in a cerebral cortex can constuct that kind of detail?

Here is a description of a character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, classic Capote. “There wasn’t a suspicion of bone in his body; his face, a zero filled in with pretty miniature features, had an unused, a virginal quality; it was if he’d been born and then expanded……”  Sounds like a description of Truman himself, but he sure knew how to put words in a row.

And speaking of Breakfast of Tiffany’s, I am schizophrenic about that as well.  Certainly well written in many ways, but a sugarcoated ball of nonsense in other ways.  Here is the story, as it rolls out in skeins and knots through the novelette:  A destitute 14 year old Texas girl runs away from her much older veterinarian ‘husband’, makes it to Hollywood, loses her southern accent, finds an agent, but at the last minute leaves for New York because it would be too much work to be a successful actress.  In New York she supports herself by getting large tips from her dates when she goes to the ladies room, and by carrying messages from a hood in jail at Sing Sing prison.  She has a cat, but refuses to name him because that would require too much of an emotional investment. She throws wonderful, impromptu parties with the fifties iteration of New York glitterati, shoplifts just to stay in practice, and after a failed engagement, flies to Brazil.  Or perhaps to Africa, and people back in the big apple pine for her.

The movie is even more saccharin and silly.  Yet, and here comes the scizo part, it is a very good book, hard to put down, and could even be called literature.  Not because of the story, but because of the craft behind it.  He knew how to put words in a row.

Here is a quick story that really isn’t relevant, but I’ll throw it in because I really don’t have any other ending to this bit of a ramble.  At one point early in his career, Capote was an office boy at The New Yorker, and it was his responsibility to lead an old and almost blind James Thurber through the streets of the city to his mistress’s apartment.  He would wait outside the apartment, presumably whistling, until Thurber and the woman had finished their, um, business, and then lead him back to the office of the New Yorker.  That kind of thing can warp a man.



Sometimes it just rolls out, just flows like one of those volcanoes that don’t explode, but continuously ooze a rich, fertile goop.  Sometimes words line up, waiting to be used, anxious to be placed in a sentence that is logical and concise and bring small amounts of order out of the chaos that is the 21st century.  At least for me.

Sentences can sometimes jog, sometimes lope, and occasionally, when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars, they can actually hop.  Those are the good times, the salad days.

Lately, it doesn’t flow or line up or anything else dynamic. It doesn’t spread, or migrate or travel or stroll or stumble or hike or creep or parade or march or float or any of those other words, verbs actually, that refer to some form of motion.  It clumps.  It is stuck like peanut butter that’s been sitting in the bottom of the jar since last summer when you hid it way in the back of a shelf to keep your family from finding out that you had been eating it with a spoon.  (As if that was a bad thing).

Occasionally, in quiet moments, a fragment of an idea may deflect off my cerebral cortex, but it doesn’t stick.  A cogent thought may descend from whatever paradise generates cogent thoughts, but it doesn’t penetrate deeply enough to develop.  It doesn’t sink, or integrate or seep or mix or connect or blend or fuse or amalgamate or any of those words, verbs again actually, that refer to the the process of one thing blossoming into another.   It clumps like that hidden peanut butter.


There are times when I am able to string several thoughts together into a written piece that could, by a select and very lucky portion of the population, be considered entertaining.

And then, there is now.  Clump.


Happy New Year

 Unlike that phony new year’s day (note the lower case) in January, the genuine New Year can be sensed as well as dreaded.  The beginning of September is cooler, days are shorter, the sun comes to us from a different, but subconsciously noticeable angle.  Mornings are quieter without the raucous, intense activity of the birds.  A few leaves at the end of the branch have turned from their community green to independent shades of red, brown and yellow.  Squirrels get stupid and run under your wheels.

Ignore these signs at your peril.  Get your oil changed, check the batteries in your smoke alarms, put away the air conditioners, start closing windows at night. Things are different.


The phony new year was decreed by Julius Caesar just a few years before his famous quote “Ides of March, schmides of March.  Everybody loves me.”  Julius, or ‘JayCeas’ as he was  called in Rome’s inner city, thought that January First was a good time for drunken reveling, chariot crashes, overcrowded airports and football.  (Many people are not aware that Dick Clark actually presided over that first New Year’s Day celebration in Rome, and counted down From X to I as a huge ball of flaming barbarians descended to the floor of the Coliseum.  Everyone had a great time, except the barbarians).

Labor Day, the real New Year’s Day, was signed into law by Grover Cleveland in the 1890’s, in part as a reaction to a violent and bloody labor dispute.  In Rome they had ‘bread and circuses’, in the U.S. we have three-day weekends.  What can you expect from a president who was named after a city in Ohio that was named after a tool to cut meat?

So, Labor Day, a/k/a New Year’s Day, dawns crisp and bright and promising at the beginning of every September.  School buses will block traffic again, leaves will clog the gutters, the Yankees will be in the playoffs and the Mets won’t, blankets will seem like old friends we haven’t seen in a while.

Happy New Year