Category: prose

Ask Dad

Today is the birthday of Solomon (Sol) Meldew, born in 1915 to poor immigrant parents in Twemlow, West Virginia. He studied engineering at college, but dropped out after only one year, and headed to New York. Aged just 20, he had little experience of city life and soon fell in with the wrong crowd: poets, novelists, and artists — what his father used to call ‘the scum of the scum of the earth’.

But scum seemed to suit Sol, and his first collection of poems, Wherefore the Vision? was published in 1937. While giving a poetry reading at Columbia University, he was attacked by a hothead in the audience (a fan of Eliot, apparently), and was seriously injured. While recovering in hospital, Sol fell in love with his nurse, Mary Ellen Rosetti. They married in 1946.  Sol wrote: ‘Mary Ellen meant the world to me, and I think she gave my poetry a whole new depth. A woman can do that, you know.’

His next collection, Storm over Twemlow (1948) was gritty, hard-hitting, and seethed with anger about his childhood, his family, and small-town America. It won the National Book Award, and Sol’s reputation as a poet was secured.

From then on, he wrote nothing. He became what his father called ‘a lousy stinkin’ bum who couldn’t write to save a dog from drownin’.’ Which is exactly what happened: in 1956, Mary Ellen’s beloved dog, Spangles, was drowned in the East River, while Sol stood by, his inkhorn dry, writing nothing. The couple were divorced shortly after, and Sol moved to a trailer park in Pilbeam, Missouri. His National Book Award was officially withdrawn, and was given instead to his father, for his ‘prophetic vision that looks unflinchingly into the hearts of men’.

Today, Sol is best remembered for being forgotten. He died alone in 1960 and was buried at Mount Oblivion. It was said that Mary Ellen visited his grave once a year, to spit. Sol’s father went on to host his own radio talkshow, Meldew Moments (1961-66), where he made famous the catchphrase Aaaask Daddy!


 

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From the top

After putting the Ferrari through its paces on the Avenue des Etoiles, I like to relax on the patio with a tisane of Osmanthus tea, which is specially made for me by my good friend Theo, at the Pavilion de Thé, in Montparnasse. It’s a wonderful blend of dried flowers from the sweet olive tree and leaves from the Chinese Kotsa bush, commonly known as Cat’s Eye. Theo is such a treasure — I simply couldn’t live without him!

Having said that, his blend of pennyworth and Korean knotweed is absolutely disgusting, and his papaya and dill tea would take the shine off a brass doorknob.

So you see, life at the top is not all pleasure. Now get back to work.


 

Bearing fruit

Now class, I want you to tell me what you think is the best profession in the world. The best profession….

Delmar, what do you think?

Emmy-Lou? Any idea?

Madison? Stop picking your nose.

Tommy – is your hand up? Yes, Tommy.

— Eh, is it writer, Miss?

Writer? Why do you say that, Tommy?

—  Well, cos, you know, without writers all the other professions would be totally meaningless, wouldn’t they?

What does your father do, Tommy?

— He’s dead, Miss.

Choose an orange from the basket, Tommy, and enjoy.


Customer care

I was opening a new box of Dalton & Bassett’s Twemlows when the phone rang.

— Hello?

Don’t eat those Twemlows!

— What?

— I said Don’t eat those Twemlows. Throw them out, right now!

— Who is this?

— Dalton.

— Who?

— Dalton, of Dalton & Bassett.

— Oh. How did you…?

— You got a bad box of Twemlows. It happens sometimes, and we’re real sorry. Throw them out. We’ll send you a new pack right away, by express courier. No charge, of course. And a hand-written apology, signed by Bassett himself.

— That’s real nice of you.

— We’re leaders in Customer Care, you know, here at Dalton & Bassett.

— Why don’t you sign it too?

— What?

— Why don’t you sign the apology too? Why just Bassett?

— Listen, punk! Don’t push me too far! I phoned ya, didn’t I? Did Bassett phone ya?

— Ooh, sorry.

— You want me to apologise twice? Maybe I should get down on my knees? Prostrate myself on the cobblestones of commerce? Is that what you want?

— Jeez, I just….

— Ok, go ahead and eat the goddam Twemlows. Stuff our face — see if I care! (Marcia, cancel that courier! And send a bunch of roses to Jack the Poisoner. In fact, give him a job. Tell him to see me tomorrow at nine.)

— I’m still here.

— Oh yeah? You got more complaints? Twemlows not sweet enough for ya? I spend my whole goddam life trying to please ungrateful bastards like you, and this is the thanks I get!

— Gotta go. Courier’s here.


 

Full bore

I don’t think I’ll ever understand Quantum Physics, at least not fully. Which is a pity, because Niels Bohr and I have a lot in common.

He was born on a Tuesday, and so was I.

His mother had varicose veins, and so had mine.

He won a prize for an essay when he was at school, and I won ten pounds on a scratch card about six months ago. I bought it in Landy’s in the High Street. Apparently, he’s had quite a few winners in recent years. I said to him ‘They should call you Lucky Landy’. He laughed.

He (Bohr) was a passionate footballer in his youth, and so was a mate of mine at work. In fact, he (my mate, not Bohr) had a trial for Sheffield United when he was a 15, though he didn’t make the grade. Which is a pity, because he was a nifty little player. Very fast, and a great reader of the game, even at that age.

He (back to Bohr) always drank tea without sugar, and I’m exactly the same. You might as well poison me as put sugar in my tea. Whereas I don’t mind sugar in coffee at all. Isn’t that strange?

So yes, there is a connection, but it’s difficult to quantify.


 

The isolato

In no small wonderment, I gazed at the isolato as he shuffled towards the shore.

‘What?’ I thought. ‘Surely he’s not heading back to sea, after spending twenty years adrift in the Indian Ocean, a stranger to human fellowship and the solace of the hearth!’

Perhaps solitude heightens the senses, for it did seem that he could read my thoughts. He turned to face me and said ’No, I’m just looking for carrageen moss. They say it yields a very calming demulcent jelly when boiled in spring water. If only I’d had it in the Indian Ocean, I mightn’t have become such an isolato.’

‘Oh well, better late than never, I suppose’.

‘What? Better late than never? It’s twenty bloody years too late, for Christ’s sake!’

‘Sorry, I didn’t mean…’

’No no, go ahead, mock the isolato! I’m fair game!’

‘Jeez! I only…’

‘You’re all the same: you see someone a bit different and you think “Oh, let’s have some fun! Let’s laugh at him and bully him and crush him and despise him and never give a thought for what he feels. I do feel, you know!’

‘I hope the moss works.’


 

Table talk

Twemlow leaned back in his chair, and said ‘Yes, gentlemen, the key to human happiness is to be content with very little. Make the most of the little you may have, and thank the good Lord for his infinite bounty.

As long as I have a bottle of champagne and a few sirloin steaks, the lack of Dijon mustard doesn’t bother me in the least. Even if the champagne is only a ’63, I’ll bridle, naturally, but I won’t let it detract from my happiness.

Of course, I could berate my sommelier and tweak his nose, but what’s the point? Likewise, my moutardier might usefully feel the weight of my boot on the seat of his pants — but no! Live and let live, I say.

Pass the garnish boat.