Tuesday, February 28, 2006

what's black and white and...

A spring or two ago I was invited to read a poem of mine at a college up north, as part of a poets and writers event. The organizer, a nice academic in the English department, took the event so seriously that he wanted the readers--some 5 or so poets, and an equal number of short story writers--to rehearse the week before, so that there would not be unforeseen problems with microphones or stage fright or sudden needs for imported water.

All very well and good, except I live in an area in which there is no public transportation from the south end of our county to the urban north. And I do not drive.

So I contacted the organizer, cheerily, and asked if amongst the group there might be someone else from the south county with whom I might cadge a ride. He gave me a name and a phone number and an email address of a guy who would also be reading a poem.

I contacted my fellow poet--let's call him Steve. He kindly agreed to come by the bookstore before the rehearsal and wisk me up with him.

His name rang no bells for me, which was odd, since I thought I knew all the aspiring poets in my area, from the dear writers of "The redwood tree is big and good/God made it, I knew he could" verse to the few serious writers. Our email exchange gave me no clues to his age, or status.

In the week before the rehearsal I made up various lives and appearances for Steve my poet driver. Perhaps, I thought, he was a retiring elder, finally coming out as a writer after a lifetime as a civil engineer. Or, maybe he was very new to the area, which would explain why I didn't know him. Perhaps, given the college sponsorship, a young undergraduate just now finding his voice.

On the day of the rehearsal Steve walked into my shop as I was talking with my woman in black friend Sara. Sara gave him a keen and slightly disapproving glance. I gave him a thorough once over--o dear, he was so attractive. And yes, probably young enough to be my son. He stood in the doorway in his tight jeans and white teeshirt, his dark hair cropped pretty close to his head, and I tried to decorously contain the spontaneous combustion of unseemly lust.

I'm sure he hadn't a clue--nice midlife poet lady at bookstore, oh, how charming.

The ride to the college takes about an hour and a half, so we chatted about writing and life and history--his, mine, the region's. He said he wasn't really a poet, but a would be novelist, the black sheep of his family (they were all lawyers). He was married, with two little girls. He had attended the same university I had, about a century or two later, studying Arabic and English literature. We shared memories of the dear old alma mater (we'd both writen for the university newspaper and been troublemakers). He said his job kept him on the road a lot, but this gave him time to think about his writing, and often he'd just pull over and scribble down an idea or a stanza of a poem.

It is bad form in my region to inquire further about people's jobs, if they do not volunteer the information. I suspected my attractive writer might well be running drugs between here and the city; that would explain, I thought, all the time on the road, and also his tough-kid demeanor.

He told me he wrote every morning, immediately on rising, for two hours. Every day, without fail. He put on his favorite music, put on his earphones, and typed away, the household blurred behind a wall of heavy rock music, his troubles evaporating. He said his novel was nearly finished.

And he said he thought Thomas Pynchon had been living close to where he lives for a year or so, a while back. We speculated on the mysterious writer.

And we got through the rehearsal, had some coffee, chatted more on the way back.

At the actual reading he arrived with his pretty wife and girls; my partner and two of my kids came as well (we'd managed to get our car running for another week or so). Steve's poem was about my little town, and included a couple lines about the bookstore, which had made me laugh when I first heard it. He read with intensity and a certain awkwardness; I read my work, everyone milled about and had cookies and burnt coffee and wandered home again.

The story might have ended there, except for a conversation with a school board member a couple days later. The elementary school in one of our towns was facing cuts, and the parents there were coming together. My board friend was telling me about the latest meeting. "Oh" said I, "I just met a guy who probably has at least one of his girls in that school" And I described him, the reading, etc.

Right, said she, the highway patrol officer.

No, I said, this guy is a writer. But she insisted--in fact, she'd just been given a ticket by him.

And I laughed, and laughed. A job with a lot of driving....right.

These days I still look closely as the black and white highway patrol cars pass, wondering if my writer is driving. And I savor the thought that sometimes, if you pass a highway patrol car pulled over on the roadside, and the driver is busy scribbling something down, it's not a report he's making, or a ticket--but a poem, or the next chapter of his novel.

I wonder how Steve's novel is doing? He might even be hard at work on his second one by now.
It was a lovely lesson in the assumptions I make, and the stereotypes I cherish, this discovery of the poet cop.


Blogger Dr O2 said...

Jarvenpa perhaps if U start your own novel based on this story, it might beat his novel ;-) A very well described piece.

11:01 PM, February 28, 2006  
Blogger Kimia said...

So maybe I can have my own little carpentry room in my house beside this engineering field which is not going with me at all. Where can I find time to work in there? seems impossible.

11:00 AM, March 01, 2006  
Blogger LiVEwiRe said...

That's wonderful! And it goes to show that there is only a certain amount we can ascertain by appearances. It was so polite of you to not delve into personal matters such as career, and to still have that information come to you anyway. Well, it does beat running drugs... =)

11:14 PM, March 01, 2006  
Blogger marlyat2 said...

So perhaps we've been befuddled all along? Dunkin Donuts may simply be an inspiring place, an omphalos, and those officers parked out front may be red-hot with poems. The black cover over what we thought a ticket pad is just a front; inside are pages and pages of terza rima, or the 123rd chapter of the novel...

Yes, I like that idea.

5:58 AM, March 02, 2006  
Blogger David said...

Well, why don't you email him and find out what he's been up to?

I think Dr O2 has the right idea, at least about you writing a novel. :)

9:59 PM, March 02, 2006  
Blogger YABCO said...

very interseting blog'

9:13 AM, March 05, 2006  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

Thanks dears for your comments.Dr o2 it would be funny to base a novel on this guy, wouldn't it? Kimia, I think we all need a special place in our lives for something we really, really love--which might not be our job. Finding time for what you really love is hard--but you can do it (and your model was so beautiful--that ship). livewire--yeah, beats running drugs, but perhaps doesn't pay as well! Marly--you know, even finding a donut shop around here is hard, but I love the thought that probably all cops are really great writers. why did we not know this before?
thanks David (when will we see an update from you, hmmm?)
and yabco, welcome. I love the photos on your site; your photo in your profile looks all intense and interesting!

8:29 PM, March 10, 2006  

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