Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Palace Storeroom: A Memory from After the Fall

Summer rerun: a post from March 25, 2005, about a memorable day in 2001, not long after the fall of the twin towers.

Now and then somebody finds this needle in the haystack--hours with Howard Bahr and Randy Cross, plus airplanes and bomb scares--and sends me an email. The post is from the very first month of The Palace at 2:00 a.m., when time had not yet solidified, and it was sometimes afternoon or evening or even Giacometti's The Palace at 4:00 a.m., and the Palace itself was less than a house of cards.

The "last news post" refers to two stories Howard and I wrote as an interlocking pair, later published in one of the MacAdam/Cage Blue Moon anthologies. Mine was too much like his, seen through another lens, but it was an interesting thing to do and seemed to say how very different women and men are.

It all seems so very long ago. The world and the land of letters and the kingdom of publishing have changed irrevocably since that weekend in 2001. But here, the hours are e-retrievable.

6 July 2006

***
After the last news post, Howard Bahr was on my brain, and I dug up a diaryish note about my expedition to Southern Festival of the Book in 2001. I had gone there to read from The Wolf Pit, a book of mine that won The Michael Shaara Award despite the misfortune of coming out just after 9-11 (and, for that matter, not long after The Corrections, a book that killed off Oprah's book club and overshadowed everything else on the FSG list that fall--and, for jolly good measure, just after my editor had left the house as well.) Sometimes Lady Luck rules the realm of books. It's curious to look back and see the start of airport mania; I remember that Elizabeth Spencer told me that she had tweezers in her purse but that what she carried "wasn't any of their business," so she didn't 'fess up.

* * * * *
Nashville bulletin, including a notable encounter with a writer and one of his characters:

I arrived after many repetitions of my mantra ("Turbulence never killed anybody; turbulence never killed anybody...") and restrained myself from kissing the Tennessee earth. Alas, I missed the person named Zan holding a sign, and she missed me, and she answered no page. Not an auspicious start. And it was drooling rain.

More rain the next morning, and my breakfast arrived three hours late. Then I finally scooted off to theHermitage Hotel to meet various folk; there I bumped into Elizabeth Spencer, who promptly sat down to chat, and then came over to hear me read. Which was a perfectly lovely thing to do and just like her. And I did read with Karen Essex a.k.a. "Kleopatra"--quite nice--then signed in the colonnade, a.k.a. Rain and Wind Tunnel of Tennessee. Signed the new book, the prior one, posters, and innumerable rain-specked copies ofMichael McFee's This is Where We Live anthology from UNC. And I saw writer Bill Starr--I met him years ago in Chapel Hill--we yacked a bit, and he said that he'd do a review in the Columbia paper.

Earlier Howard Bahr had arrived mid-reading with his friend Randy Cross--a model for one of his characters--and after the signing, they whirled me off to Franklin. (On the way I glimpsed the enormous and memorably bad silver and gold equestrian statue ofGeneral Nathan Bedford Forrest.) We tromped around the Confederate cemetery and mansion next door, plus the Carter house, complete with hundreds of bullet holes and one distracted chicken; then they took me out to dinner. The sky drizzled and mizzled and wept and poured the whole time, but I won't forget that hilarious and grand afternoon. It is a very curious thing to be shown about a place by a person who has written a book about it--and by one of his characters! In fact, the afternoon was so special that I don't want to tell any more about it, for fear the magic might evaporate. That evening I waded through small lakes to reach the library, dripping my way through the party, but I saw almost no one I knew from North Carolina, alas, thoughI'd hoped to see lots of people--talked to Elizabeth Spencer a bit more, and I met Michael Parker and had a talk with him. Then I went back to the Sheraton and saw that a white powder had been found on a U.S. Airways plane, so I promptly shut off the television, went to bed, and missed the bomb scare--evidently a huge pajama-clad contingent from the Renaissance Hotel trooped up to the Sheraton and hung out in the lobby downstairs for a good portion of the night. Next morning it was still raining, although by the time U.S. Airways bucked and bumped its way into the sky the sun was out. I was not terribly impressed with airport security--I expected my suitcase to be ravaged and my fountain pen inspected by hordes of beret-capped soldiers, but it never happened. Anyway, I read most of the Psalms (my other air habit), and I met lots of talkative and nervous flyers. And drove home to Cooperstown through the hills and red and yellow trees, all luminous on a cloudy afternoon. And that was that, a pellmell but memorable occasion.

* * *
That was the day that led to the Secret Chicken Pact with Howard . . .

8 comments:

  1. What a lively trip. It seems like the epitome of Southern literary gentility. Not a moonpie in the lot.

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  2. I was googling Howard Bahr tonight and stumbled across your blog note. It sounds like a great adventure.

    I have the pleasure of being a former student of Dr. Cross and having spent time in their company, I can assure you that they are indeed southern at its best...everything that southern gentlemen should be.

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  3. Oh, Susan, you are lucky! I hope your life is full of such entertaining southern gentlemen.

    Howard has a new book coming out, you know--The Judas Field.

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  4. I do believe that they broke the mould when they made those two ;o)

    What always struck me about Mr. Bahr is that he had such a way of gentility and strength about him, like he knew all your inward frailties and would never use it ill.

    And Dr. Cross has an intense sexuality that will break your heart to hear him read poetry. If I had not had him for a teacher, I would be half the creative person that I am today. He takes in a lot of souless monkeys and gives them hearts.

    They are indeed magicians and magic makers.

    Thank you for letting me pop onto your site feeling so at ease.

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  5. Delightful to read, in spite of the spectre of September 11 lurking in the background. I love Elizabeth Spencer. She is so very quirky and beautiful and birdlike. And so funny in her funny way. I can see how the two of you would get along very well.
    I, of course, want to know the secret, child that I am. But I'll be OK without knowing. This has happened before.

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  6. I am so glad to be home. A day at the car dealer with R., plus shopping for kid-needs and a slew of boring objects. Agh! I'd rather wear potato bags and never have to go shopping in Oneonta...

    Susanna, it was your note that inspired me to move this post--I've gotten emails about it before, but never a note from a student of Randy Cross. I like your descriptions of the two friends.

    Laura, I haven't seen Elizabeth in ages--went to lunch at the Weathervane with Louis R. and E., eons ago, and that was the last time. I miss seeing her hats! And just look for chickens when you're reading, okay? Remember, "a chicken in every pot?" It's a bit like that...

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  7. the Palace P. O.9:10 AM, July 07, 2006

    While some Palace denizens are drudging, others are having heaps of fun frolicking in faraway places.

    Note the French-bashing remark! Written by somebody who is, in good melting-pot derivation, Irish, Mohawk, Dutch, and FRENCH. Of course, I remember his grandmother complaining that some tourists "were so damn French they couldn't speak English!" Her own mother and father were half French Canadian, half Akwesasne Mohawk.

    I suppose that gives them historical permission. Nothing like self-mockery.

    **********

    DANG turkish dey board1

    we are now in kusudasi, look it up on a map. went to ephesus today. it is amazing. we stood in the same arena in which paul preached to the crowd and was jailed after a riot. then went to the temple of aremis, one of the 7 wonders. One down, six to go. also saw pergamum, troy and gallipoli. traveled with a mixed group of aussies, brits, canucks with us as the only americans. very fun to talk with them. no antiamerican remarks. we all hate the french so we had that in common. staying at backpacker hotels so very cheap, no tv, no ac, shower is a pipe and a floor drain. here we have beautiful view of the ocean, the greek island samos in the distance and a crusader castle on a nearby island. walked through a bazaar that has been held in the caravanisi which was built in 1618...

    the turks are friendly but like formality so b. fits right in.

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  8. Hmmm a secret chicken pact? Interesting...

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.