Thursday, March 18, 2010

An Artist Suffers

Posted By on 03.18.10 at 07:00 AM

“A tragedy,” said A.E. Eyre. “A thoughtless misuse of funds that could have done the world so much good.”

He’d just read my column in this week’s Reader. He’d found out that a California woman donated half a million dollars to Light Quarterly, a Chicago literary magazine for the advancement of light verse.

There are plenty of worthy causes, I acknowledged. But surely literature in whatever form is one of them.

“Without a doubt,” said Eyre. “If the aim of philanthropy is to reduce the common store of pain and suffering, a donation to the preservation of witty parlance hits the bull’s-eye.”

Then I understood. My legendary friend’s objection to the $500,000 gift concerned the recipient. He wanted the money for himself.

“Only because I’m a genius,” Eyre said. “I am the rightful heir to Ogden Nash and Dorothy Parker. A better question is whether they adequately anticipated me.”

Eyre, you might recall, is a phrase maker who believes his phrases worthy of Bartlett’s. I was the influential columnist he once expected to crusade for his installation there. When Eyre began questioning my influence he came around less often; when he woke to the fact that no print journalist is taken seriously any longer he was gone for good. Rumor had it he’d taken up with a tweeter.

Now he was back.

“If I weren’t unknown I’d be the key figure in early 21st century letters,” mused Eyre. “And the only reason I’m unknown is the immense conspiracy it’s now apparent you were a part of.”

I’d written about Light Quarterly once before, in 2004. At that time he’d laid out the astonishing conspiracy. I can never atone for the indignities I’ve helped inflict on you though I’m not sure how, I said now. But while I have you, perhaps you’d like to give my few readers a taste of what American culture has been denied.

Eyre thought about that. He asked if I’d seen Up in the Air. Of course, I said, a tale of our bleak and hectic times.

“I say more in five lines than it said in two hours,” Eyre hissed. “I call this ‘The Stewardess.’”

I coughed.

“Very well, ‘The Flight Attendant.’ And my contempt for all you stand for is complete.”

He began:

I’ve seen London. I’ve seen France.
Even Gander once, by chance.
And from my jump seat in the sky
Where salesmen flying coach squeeze by
The wet spots on the nation’s pants.

The silence told me he’d ended.

Well, I said, you managed to turn out that one without any $500,000.

“Starving as I wrote it,” said Eyre.

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