Friday, June 4, 2010

History Repeats. Literature Reminds.

Between the BP disaster, the flash crash, the Guatemalan sinkhole and that revolting cat litter ad campaign Cats Against Clay, I’ve been a wee agitated and blue. 

My escape hatch? Classic stories by “Lost Generation” writers.

Hemingway’s Indian Camp was brilliant, if not exactly a picker-upper. I reached for a Nathanael West collection. 

Miss Lonelyhearts nearly stopped my heart. But his short novel, A Cool Million published in 1934, had me laughing – and crying – with recognition.

The hard-luck tale about “the dismantling of Lemuel Pitkin” seemed ripped from the headlines I was trying to avoid. 

Let’s see, we have…
  • Crooked bankers foreclosing on a widow, not because she was so terribly behind on her payments, but so that an interior decorator could dismantle her cottage and set it up in his Fifth Avenue boutique as a marvelous exemplar of shabby chic.

  • This same lifestyle merchant executing perhaps the first-recorded viral marketing scheme:  driving a team of horses through Central Park, “not for pleasure, as one might be led to think, but for profit. He had accumulated a large collection of old wagons in his warehouse and by driving one of them in the mall he hoped to start a vogue for that type of equipage and thus sell off his stock.”  

  • Environmentalist rage expressed by one Chief Israel Satinpenny railing against the palefaces’ pillage, “all the secret places of the earth are full. Now even the Grand Canyon will no longer hold razor blades. Now the dam, O warriors, has broken and he is up to his neck in the articles of his manufacture.  He has loused the continent up good. But is he trying to de-louse it? No, all his efforts go to keep on lousing up the joint. All that worries him is how he can go one making little painted boxes for pins, watch fobs, leatherette satchels.”

  • Tea Party-types led by a former U.S. president who’d be a fine cuddle for Ms. Wasilla, “How could I, Shagpoke Whipple, ever bring myself to accept a program which promised to take from American citizens their inalienable birthright: the right to sell their labor and their children’s labor without restrictions as to either price or hours?  The time for a new party with the old American principles, was, I realized, over-ripe. I decided to form it; and so the National Revolutionary Party, popularly known as the ‘Leather Shirts,’ was born. The uniform of our ‘Storm Troops’ is a coonskin cap like the one I am wearing, a deerskin shirt and a pair of moccasins. Our weapon is the squirrel rifle.”

Oh, Mr. Whipple. We’ve met before. Mr. West reminds us that we’ll meet him again and again.
Might as well squeeze a chuckle from the chaos.