Well, boy howdy, that cracks my head open like ripe jack fruit on the cutting board, because I don't consider myself to be no "intellectual". I suppose that's because I still have this internal vision of myself as a goof-off kid off the farm in Colorado , USA, who learned to run his lip real good on a typewriter.
So please, please my Society of Honor compadres, don't call me no stinkin' "intellectual". I'm just a guy who bumps up against lots of books and introduces himself. Just a friendly guy, you might say. An introvert of the mind and extrovert of the eyeballs.
Which reminds me of this gorgeous girl I saw downtown the other day. She had on this really short . . .
Oh. Oops. Sorry. Almost digressed there . . .
I am a gonna prove the point in this blog, that Joe Am ain't no stinkin' intellectual, by listing some of the books that got the best of me during my life time. You know, the ones I started reading and never finished. You've been there, right? Your sixth grade teacher tells you to go read Rizal and you pick up one of his tomes and all of a sudden your head is clogged up because his words don't mean jack. (No offense, Jack. It is just an American idiom.) Rizal is off in some ideological lala land that you are not able to grasp. You are only 11, after all, and he was an ancient battler of the ideological wars, part handsome, sloe-eyed poet driving the girls mad, part angry, wild-eyed rebel driving the priests mad.
You are just an innocent 11 year old kid who wants to go swim In the river. His words are flat-assed undecipherable.
"A Tale of Two Cities", by Charles Dickens
My ninth grade English teacher assigned this book as our big project for the year. "Read it and do a book report at the end of the term. It will count for half your grade. The other half will be the exams."
Uh huh. I got to page 17. The words were so thick and meaningless that it might as well have been written in Tagalog. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . ." The most famous opening lines of all literary history.
Huh? Which was it? Best or worst? What the dickens is this Dickens guy saying? His words are thicker than cement. What do I know or care about France and its endless revolutions of poor and rich people storming this place or that, hanging one another, and stomping down narrow cobblestone streets? I want to go out and shoot hoops.
I . . . just . . . could . . . not . . . read . . . it.
So I didn't, and that was the beginning of my 30 year depressed period when I knew I was a failure. I didn't do the book report. And I was one of those star kids you love to hate, the kind who seems to pull down good grades without even trying. Well, the teacher was kind enough to confirm my first wife's prediction. My wife said: "You know, Joe, you are lucky. Things will work out well for you in life." She proved to be one of those people who can see the future, read palms, know what will happen before it happens. Scary. She said it was hell knowing so much, especially when people were heading for the grave.
"Joe," said my teacher as he gave me my report card. "I gave you a B (a good grade) because your brother was a good student last year. I know you could have done that book report well if you wanted to."
See, I ain't no intellectual. I'm LUCKY!
Well, to a point. When I got home, my brother proceeded to beat the shit out of me because he had to work so hard to get his grade and I waltzed home with mine. He never gave me any help on my homework thereafter.
"Don Quixote" by Miguel de Cervantes
I wish I had a real name like Miguel de Cervantes. I would not have to use this fake Joe America alias for its mass marketing appeal.
This is the best of books and the worst of books.
I love Sancho Panza. He wasn't no intellectual neither, but he was wise. He was Don Quixote's trusty partner, good hearted and innocently doing his best as the Don rode crazed across Spain on his horse and fought sword battles with windmills, got his teeth knocked out by bandits, and other lunatic deeds. Sancho never met a slick truism that he could not apply to the situation at hand.
- "A closed mouth catches no flies."
- "Mere flim-flam stories, and nothing but shams and lies."
- "Every man is as heaven made him, and sometimes a great deal worse."
This would have been a great book if Cervantes had stopped at about page 300. But he continued, and in small type, too. Page 500, page 700 and on and on it went going over and over again the lunacy and pathos of the great Don. Page 900. Page 937. I quit.
139 pages to go, and I couldn't finish it. My sanity was too important to me. But I had read enough that I could "pretend" to have read the whole thing. So I do.
See, I ain't no intellectual, I'm a PRETENDER.
So don't ask me how it ended because I have no idea.
"Hawaii" by James Michener
I picked this book up last December and slogged away reading on and on about the Tahitian island natives who fled to Hawaii to avoid being eaten, and the Chinese laborers recruited to work the cane fields, and the Filipinos who had intercourse with the locals and also worked hard. Each page got heavier and heavier as I turned it. It became my nap time reading because I could not get through one page without falling asleep.
Page 820 of 1,036. The Japanese on the island were being hauled off to camps after Pearl Harbor. End of the reading road.
So I have no idea how this one ends, either. I've spent some time on Hawaii. It is nice, but I wouldn't want to write a book about it.
Or read one.
Here's all you need to know about Hawaii. Surfing is on the windward side where the waves are big and the green mountains look like they were imported from the Philippines. Hanama Bay is a great place to take the kids, a regular giant heated swimming pool with fish in it. The Punch Bowl is not a dish, it is a hollow in the mountains with high rise apartments sprouting up all over the place. There are no more lepers on Molokai, the volcanoes still spew hot lava on the "Big Island" of Hawaii, sugar cane and pineapples got replaced by tourists and retirees, the Pali overlook is windy as hell, and Hawaii is expensive.
See, I ain't no intellectual. I'm a SMART ASS.
The Moral of the Story
About a four decades after my ninth-grade incident with a "A Tale of Two Cities", on a slow day in the Philippines and not too many English language books on the local National Bookstore shelf, I found Charles Dickens again, a title of "Great Expectations". What the hell, I said to myself. I'll give it a try.
I took it slow and easy and a whole world opened up to me. Descriptions of places and people that were sensitive and rich and humorous, a tale that was dramatic and happy and sad. Unbelievable. Soon, I could not put the book down.
"David Copperfield" was next. Amazing writing. Then, yes, I am happy to report to my brother and ninth grade teacher that I finished "A Tale of Two Cities".
Charles Dickens pushed himself to the top of the list of my favorite authors. What an artist with words.
The moral of the story is to read until the cows come home or Sancho Panza shuts up or your brain expands.
Words are like water, you have to find the temperature and depth you like best. Sometimes you like deep, sometimes you like comic books. It's all good . . .