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Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur and Other Meanderings

Paul Ruffin

Publication Year: 2012

This fourth collection of essays by Paul Ruffin highlights his idiosyncratic wit and practiced storytelling skills in memorable autobiographic pieces ranging from the comic to the confessional. The first section, "Things Literary, More or Less," includes the title essay, in which Ruffin takes the reader on a rollicking tour with iconic Southern writer George Garrett, which ends with the two men locating the ghostly remains of an obscure Texas hamlet called Ben Hur and talking with an eccentric representative of the town's handful of inhabitants. In other essays Ruffin workshops a cowboy poem with a couple of deputy sheriffs, reveals aspects of Edgar Allan Poe's life never before published, reviews some unusual books, and shares the story of a boy who speaks only in hymns. Ruffin concludes the section with the tale of an invigorating flight to San Juan in an old DC-6. In the next section, "On Likker and Guns," Ruffin summarizes his drinking career, transcribes the conversation between two rats that destroy his university office, and tells the tale of a bowhunter who asked him for his deer bladder. He also introduces the reader to a sharpshooter who, while trying to demonstrate his prowess with an old rifle, kills an old man's tractor. Finally Ruffin takes the reader on a trip to a Texas gun show to meet the menacing Boram, the clueless Billy Wayne, and a vigilant wife dedicated to preserving the family budget. The book ends with an excerpt from Ruffin's unpublished memoir, "Growing Up in Mississippi Poor and White but Not Quite Trash," in which the author recalls his agonizing boyhood quest to unlock the mysteries of sex: "Never under this sun was there a child more ignorant of the act, the organs involved, or its marvelous potential for pleasure and fulfillment. And never was there a child who tried harder to understand." Through Ruffin's sly vision of himself and his surroundings and his ability to focus attention on life's curious, defining moments, these essays reflect some of the best aspects of contemporary literary nonfiction. Every tale is vibrantly alive with the sincere voice, crisp details, bold images, and distinctive dialogue that readers have come to relish in Ruffin's myriad writings.

Published by: University of South Carolina Press

Cover

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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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p. 4-4

Copyright Page

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p. 5-5

Dedication Page

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pp. 6-7

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Preface

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pp. ix-xii

Early on in my writing career I focused on little more than poetry—my first serious efforts and my initial publications were in that genre. It was only after I started a cattle operation outside Huntsville and for some reason began writing dramatic poems about cows and rabbits and drought and women (an odd stew there) ...

Acknowledgments

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pp. xiii-13

Things Literary, More or Less

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Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur

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pp. 3-14

When the late, great George Garrett came out to Texas one April a few years back to do a little reading tour, I got to go along, not because it had really been planned that way but because the benevolent deities assisted in arranging it. Originally the plan had been for George to come out for a roast of our dear friend Eddie Weems ...

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The Mosquito

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pp. 15-18

Fiction or familiar essay, this is not, of course, where a story ought to begin, given the current attitude toward stories set on college campuses, and it is almost suicidal to use writers and such as characters. But I’ve always believed, since my earliest days of poverty in rural Mississippi, that when you find something of value, ...

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The Lady with the Quick Simile

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pp. 19-21

Scene set. It was many, many years ago in Mississippi, and I was young and dapper, snappily dressed in a bow tie and sports jacket of yellow, black, and red plaid, ready for the world of serious poetry. I had won my first major prize, and as I stood before that audience of poets and Jackson elite in the Senate Chamber of the Old State Capitol Building ...

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Workshopping a Cowboy Poem

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pp. 22-27

The knock was loud and authoritative and persistent so—still fully dressed from the trip up—I slid off the bed and parted the curtain and beheld before my motel door, brethren and sistren, two massive men clad in western wear, from black pointed-toe boots to white cowboy hats, and they were wearing big star-shaped badges. ...

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Was Emily Mad or Merely Angry?

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pp. 28-30

Over the years I have taught a number of courses in which I used the poetry of Emily Dickinson, one of my all-time favorite poets. One reason is, I think, that she wrote many of her poems in the hymn beat, which has always been quite familiar to me. ...

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On the Death of Edgar Allan Poe

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pp. 31-33

Back in 1996 the theory was advanced that Edgar Allan Poe, that unassailable bastion of American literature (whom even the revisionists have not attempted to defile, though they’ve nailed every other major male writer in this country, from Heavy Herman to Dead Ernest), died of rabies. ...

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Making Preparations for the Tour

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pp. 34-36

In the movie Miss Congeniality there is a scene in which Michael Caine, who is attempting to pass Sandra Bullock off as a beauty queen, suggests to her that she use Preparation-H to reduce the prominence of the bags under her eyes. Bullock just gives him a look as if she’s saying, “You’re bullshitting me.” But he assures her that he’s not, that it works. ...

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The Girl in the Clean, Well-Lighted Place

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pp. 37-39

You are on the road on a book tour, and it’s late, but not late, just past the time when you know you should have eaten—your stomach has told you so. The motel room is quiet, with things scattered about in the casual clutter of a man alone, and you really want to be anywhere but here. ...

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Explaining a Poem to a Student

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pp. 40-42

The following is a poem of mine that some student at another university got stuck with on an assignment; it was in some text or anthology that her class was using. Since it deals with a favorite theme of mine, I thought I’d pass along the poem and my response to the student’s questions. ...

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Some Rare and Unusual Books

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pp. 43-44

At the Texas Book Festival in Austin this year I encountered some quite unusual books. Lining shelves and laid out on tables were books on everything from aardvarks to zymurgy (the branch of chemistry that deals with the process of fermentation, a fact that everyone should know). ...

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Tales from Kentucky Lawyers

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pp. 45-47

In the summer of 2003 my good friend Barbara Criswell, over in Mississippi, proofed for the University of Kentucky Press a book called Tales from Kentucky Lawyers, and some of the stories were so outrageous that she just couldn’t help sharing them with me. I mean, these were unexpurgated stories, in the words of mostly small-town lawyers ...

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The Boy who Spoke in Hymns

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pp. 48-50

Not far from where I grew up, there lived a family named Simmons—a father, mother, and son. The boy, Buddy, was some three years behind me in school for a while, then five, then seven. He lost ground in the educational process as time rolled on. ...

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Making a Dam in Segovia

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pp. 51-53

Bob Winship and I are at his ranch in Segovia, Texas, an hour and a half west of San Antonio, standing on the bank above the Johnson Fork of the Llano, which cuts across the corner of his property on its way north to the Colorado. ...

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Just Thinking about Shit

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pp. 54-59

Once upon a long time ago I did a bit of in-depth research to discover which word among all those we regard as expletives (not in the syntactical sense, of course) was used most generously among our people on a day-today basis—that is, which was uttered most frequently in any of its possible forms. ...

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To San Juan and Back: Ah, Youth!

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pp. 60-80

Who knows where they are now, those three men, well along in years then, and that more than thirty years ago—pilot and copilot and flight engineer—and living life on the very edge each time they took to the sky in planes that should long ago have been mothballed somewhere in Arizona, ...

On Likker and Guns

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Drinking: A Truncated History

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pp. 83-99

But for one wild night on the river a couple of miles from the house, I never had so much as a sip of any kind of alcoholic beverage until I got to basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where I was introduced to beer. ...

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Rats!

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pp. 100-116

Afew years back David Bottoms, who looks for all the world like an Oklahoma-peanut-farmer-turned-hippie, came out with a collection of poems titled Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump. Won the Walt Whitman Award with it. Published by Morrow. Nominated for a Pulitzer. Bigtime stuff. ...

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The Bowhunter Asks for My Bladder

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pp. 117-119

It was early January a few years ago out in West Texas, near Junction, just hours before whitetail season expired, and on a scaffold beside one of the cabins at Bob Winship’s Rock Pile Ranch I had hanging a medium-size Sika buck I’d brought down with my rifle that morning; on the scaffold beside my Sika was a whitetail doe being skinned by a bowhunter. ...

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The Day the Sharpshooter Killed Something he didn’t Intend to

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pp. 120-127

While I was painting some shelving boards for the shop the other day, I happened to glance over at an ammunition can full of 30-06 rounds and got to thinking about the time a friend of mine from the army came visiting, and we went out and shot a Springfield ’03 I had recently purchased. ...

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Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, Off to the Gun Show we Go...

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pp. 128-134

Billy Wayne knows only that what he’s holding in his hand is a gun that was probably made long before he was born and is likely to rust away to nothing before he ever reads a book. He is in fact holding an Enfield Martini, made famous by British troops during the Anglo-Zulu War of the late nineteenth century, ...

From “Growing Up in Mississippi Poor and White but not Quite Trash” (An As-Yet-Unpublished Memoir)

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Trains: The Beginning of a Lifelong Quest for Understanding

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pp. 137-142

All through my first years of memory in the little hamlet of Millport, Alabama, where I was born, there were trains. Chuffing, blaring, clacking trains. Great black trains with billowing smoke and noise to wake the dead. Days and nights they ran through my head as I waited for them, timing by the sun if I timed at all—I knew when they were coming. ...

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Learning about Sex

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pp. 143-172

If I had to choose the one subject that occupied my mind more than any other after the age of ten or so, it would have to be sex. Never under this sun was there a child more ignorant of the act, the organs involved, or its marvelous potential for pleasure and fulfillment. And never was there a child who tried harder to understand. ...


E-ISBN-13: 9781611171211
Print-ISBN-13: 9781570039867

Page Count: 184
Publication Year: 2012

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