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The Early Posthumous Work

Steven Barthelme

Publication Year: 2010

A collection of essays and occasional pieces on gambling, teaching, snakes, dogs, cars, hitchhiking, marriage and sophistication, memory and work, and a dozen other subjects. One essay announces that the two dollar bill can buy happiness and reports some resistance to this discovery. Another studies the art of life as ne'er-do-well, a sort of prequel to the "slacker" phenomenon, written and published in Austin, Texas. In yet another essay, everyone's first name is Philip, (except the comet). Certain liberties are taken with the form. Pieces originally appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Oxford American, the Texas Observer, Connecticut Review, Apalachee Quarterly, and other newspapers, magazines, and anthologies.

Published by: Red Hen Press

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Title Page, Copyright, Acknowledgments, Dedication

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The author wishes to thank the Mississippi Arts Commission for their generous support. Special thanks also go to Kaye Northcott, Ken Hammond, and Eric Copage. And to Mark Cull and Kate Gale, my gratitude and my admiration for the work they do and have done for years. Grateful acknowledgement is made to the publications in which these pieces first appeared, sometimes under...


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pp. ix-x

Section I. Kid Stuff

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pp. 1

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An Ironic Dog’s Prospects

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pp. 3-6

All my early life I was told things were going to change, that who I was as a boy was not who I would be as a man, that nurture was more important than nature. This was nonsense of course. I learned so from a dog. In the Westside Houston neighborhood where I grew up, there were three boys around the same age, and we each had a dog. You could...

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Snakes, Snobs and Sanctuary

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pp. 7-10

Now those other classes—upper class, lower class, writer class— make me uncomfortable. Once, when I was actually loose inside the River Oaks Country Club, for a friend’s wedding, every time I looked up, cops were watching. Or so it seemed. On the other hand, my time...

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Christmas Tree Fort War

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pp. 11-14

The last thing we did every Christmas season was to build our annual Christmas tree fort. After holiday dinners and gift-giving were over, and with school still a week or, with any luck, two weeks away, the inevitable boredom set in and we got outside. It was cold the week after...

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Pop? In a Hat? C’mon.

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pp. 15-18

In early August 1947, my father turned forty years old; I was zero. Actually I was about a month old, and being a slow child it had not yet occurred to me what being forty years younger than my father might mean. When I got to be ten, he would be fifty. There were four...

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Not As I Recall

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pp. 19-23

Jerry was my mother’s sister’s husband, and I knew him only distantly, for he and my aunt lived up north while I grew up in Texas, so I only saw him on two long vacations my mother and I spent at “the farm,” a few hundred acres in southeast Pennsylvania where he raised corn and hay...

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Off to Work We Go

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pp. 24-28

My mother died a few years ago, at eighty-seven. As a young child, I had been very close to my mother and spent many hours accompanying her through her daily routine. Even though it wasn’t glamorous and held no novelty, she seemed to like her work, days taken up with...

Section II. Second Best Friend

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pp. 29

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Fancy Girl, Fancy Car

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pp. 31-34

The girl’s name was Mary Jo McBride. She was what’s now called “preppy” looking, a big-boned, brown-haired girl, with beautiful eyes in a broad, soft, perfectly featured face and an elegant, polished ease of manner. She was only sixteen, but she walked, looked, turned her...

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Second Best Friend

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pp. 35-40

Let’s face it, love is not only blind, it’s stupid. A man is always falling in love with someone who’s too old or too young, already married, waiting for the light to change, or walking away across the airport terminal. One falls in love with shirts, screwdrivers, dogs, chairs, peanut...

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The Back Porch

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pp. 41-44

I am not lost. The store, happily, has one aisle or wall which glitters with blister packs of nails, screws, electrical junk, duct tape, and tools: linesman’s pliers and coping saws, screwdriver sets, wire strippers, squares, levels, wrenches. A supermarket’s food or a drugstore’s gaudy...

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Out There, Lucky and Loose

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pp. 45-48

When I was about seven, my father used to take the family to the beach at Galveston, a drive of about eighty miles from our home in West Houston. As we rolled along old Texas Highway 6, sometimes he would sing out the names of the small towns we passed, towns whose names seemed...

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Just Passing Through

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pp. 49-52

I never felt much passion about furniture, except maybe about the futon, a sleepable, foldable piece of Japanese wizardry which I grew to hate. After months of sleeping on this cleverly disguised and attractively named rock, my wife and I finally bought a real mattress. Not a bed,...

Section III. C’mon, I’m Serious

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pp. 53

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House of Ideas

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pp. 55-61

We were both back in Texas in the summer of 1993 visiting our parents, and one day on our way downtown my brother and I detoured slightly out of the way to see the neighborhood where we had grown up. It’s a suburban neighborhood in what thirty years ago was far west...

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Now We See Us, Now We Don’t

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pp. 62-65

When I was growing up in Houston, there wasn’t any Dallas. No Miami Vice, and no Designing Women. Watching television in those days, you could get the impression that the three places into which the country...

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Fan in Exile

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pp. 66-69

You might not know the plight of loyal sports fans before the advent of XM radio and streaming video, when to be from a city, Houston, for instance, and displaced, and dedicated to the perennial runner-up sports teams of that city meant an endless quest for game broadcasts...

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You Easterners Aren’t Bad at All

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pp. 70-72

They said, Go East. See the glittering cities, the towering intellects, the tony sophisticates. So we did. It was easy. Most of the traffic was going the other way. We left friends and furniture behind and stuffed the rest of what we owned...

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Proust at Lunch

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pp. 73-76

If you stay in the writing business long enough, even in the marginal way I have, eventually almost all the people you know are writers. In general, they’re good company. True as well, probably, of pet shop owners or postmen or parachutists, but years ago the idea of a life among artists seduced....

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Mississippi: Idiosyncratic, Incomprehensible, and Air-Conditioned

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pp. 77-86

The other day we stopped by Sam’s Club to pick up one of their rotisserie chickens, and two young butchers were standing back behind the counters shooting the breeze when we walked up. The nearer of the two guys, who looked to be Indian or Pakistani, asked if he could help...

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Louisiana, Home of the Blues

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pp. 87-93

During the thirty years I lived in neighboring states, I heard only a little about Louisiana, mostly folklore stuff like that was where you hired a first-rate professional killer, or where the roads destroyed your...

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Urban Farmer, Amiable Crop

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pp. 94-97

It’s only natural. The urban farmer first heads to the lumberyard and picks up twelve feet of 1" x 8" and eight feet of 1" x 12", and of course some 1" x 2" for runners so the roof won’t rot. What is the urban farmer doing...

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An Old Acquaintance

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pp. 98-100

I spent my childhood in the fields and bayous far out on the west side of the city, in an area which in the years since has been overrun with high-rise steel and plate glass. A good Southern boy, I had a natural affinity for and acquaintance with animals of all kinds, but especially with reptiles...

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pp. 101-109

It was not exactly that we liked our fellow gamblers, the dealers, the pit and floor people, the cocktail waitresses. It was more that we loved them, at a respectable distance, the same distance at which one loves characters in books or on television shows. Some of them were interesting...

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People’s Right to Allegedly, Sort of Know

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pp. 110-113

Toiling away as a college professor, I had begun to suspect that my promised fifteen minutes of fame weren’t ever coming, but finally I got lucky. Sort of. Three years ago, I managed to get thrown out of a casino and...

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I Do, I Do

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pp. 114-117

Last December 31 Melanie and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary on our twenty-first New Year’s Eve, after one year of marriage and twenty years of living together. Call us cautious. I don’t ever remember myself making, back in the seventies, those popular remarks...

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A Thirty-Five-Year-Old Book Review

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pp. 118-124

Michael Arlen’s An American Verdict (Doubleday, 196 pages, $6.95) is, among other things, an index of how seductive paranoia has become. The book is a short history of the aftermath of the December 1969 Chicago...

Section IV. A Cubist Take on Teaching

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pp. 125

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Some Notes on Teaching and Writing

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pp. 127-128

University teaching may be one of the dullest subjects in the index, but if you spend years doing it, you think about it all the time and you want to talk about it. The best thing I ever read about teaching is in Walker Percy’s famous essay, “The Loss of the Creature,” and...

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I. What I Did Last Autumn

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pp. 129-133

“I won’t be in class Friday,” the kid said. “I’ve gotta go squirrelhunting.” My past life as a member of the general public who had attended a number of schools at all levels and spent in aggregate about twenty years in the educational system, and so felt himself to know a thing or two...

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II. Writing Workshops, a Tiny Testimonial

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pp. 134-136

I have done construction work, driven delivery trucks and taxicabs, sold door to door, repaired cars, washed dishes, clerked in a store, run guns to Ethiopia. I did these things, as well as writing advertising, PR, speeches, poems, plays, reviews, journalism, and fiction, for seventeen...

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III. Some TA

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pp. 137-139

A few years ago, when my sister was looking for colleges for her genius sons, she told me that she wouldn’t send one to such and such a school, because “all he would see for the first two years would be teaching assistants.” I nodded and thought, What an ignorant thing to say....

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IV. First Class (Letter to a Friend)

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pp. 140-146

Some emergency notes to ease you into the project— 1) The main and major thing no one ever tells you about is the stage fright. It is quite literally sickening. It tends to last, in severe form, only for the first two or three weeks of every semester. After twenty-five or so courses, I feel it in only slightly diminished form...

Section V. Thousand-Word Wisecracks

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pp. 147

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Enough Already

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pp. 149-151

I tried to think of a personal rule I use in making stories and came up with nothing, such things usually being so much second nature as to be, if not unconscious, at least forgotten. It’s the same problem that sometimes occurs in teaching undergraduates when you throttle...

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Forget Mercurochrome

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pp. 152-155

Of course, children have no tails, but I don’t hold that against them. A child is small and cute and soft. But suppose that you didn’t have to wash it or send it to college and you never had to wonder how you had “let it down,” where you had “gone wrong with it,” or how much...

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Beautiful Deuces

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pp. 156-158

Austin, TX—A tiny little-known unheralded and underfinanced research facility in Austin has published some astonishing findings that promise an imminent and permanent return to good times. With only rudimentary equipment (“For $1.49, it’s a pretty good lighter”) and..

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Random Telephone

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pp. 159-162

The telephone sits on the table like a small black dog. Perhaps you have a green, red, yellow, or white individual. Do not stare at the telephone because pretty soon it will look to you like a small dog, and one that is about to jump—on or at you. In this respect the telephone...

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Kung Fu Defended

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pp. 163-169

I didn’t bring this up. This was brought up in the February 12 issue of Newsweek by someone using the pen name “Cyclops” to write television criticism. This Cyclops person up and criticized Kung Fu, which was his first mistake. Now if this mistake hadn’t caught up, in its...

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The Newsweek Short Story: Celestial Puzzler

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pp. 170-173

Sales of microscopes trebled, Palomar swinging in its great and graceful arc, strange sights in the night streets of American cities— all these are being attributed to the projected appearance of the first major comet in sixty years. A celestial happening, the Comet Kohoutek...

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Don’t Move: A Memoir

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pp. 174-178

Looking back (we discourage looking forward), one is comfortable in the feeling that they’ve been a good fourteen years, and that they have been this way for one quite simple reason—finding one’s niche. Yes, the life of the ne’er-do-well. Failure is a rich and fertile field relatively...

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About the Author

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pp. 179

Steven Barthelme has published short stories extensively in periodicals, in Pushcart and other anthologies, and in the collection And He Tells the Little Horse the Whole Story. A memoir, Double Down, co-authored....

E-ISBN-13: 9781597091824
E-ISBN-10: 1597091820
Print-ISBN-13: 9781597093880
Print-ISBN-10: 1597093882

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: First