Only a few longtime readers of this blog will recall the withered remnant of a writer named Harry Felton, author of one dusty book, still oftentimes mentioned in high school term paper footnotes, A Tree Dies In South Philadelphia.
A few years ago, Mr. Felton visited me here on three occasions in quick succession, each time to present an early chapter of what was planned to become both his second novel and his terminal novel, Harry Felton’s Final Journey. Alas, Mr. Felton was at that time–and yet remains–ill in a bloody, jaundiced, death-defying manner–such defiance not likely to last much longer according to the doctors in the hospital where he last resided.
So, for the two new readers who traveled here today, I, AVT, assure you that, although Harry is still down in the same dumps he long ago created for himself and for anyone who requested his dreary company, and although he is not yet capable of moving past Capitolo 3 of his second, last, tragic, panegyric novel–I declare that before H.F. awakens and discovers himself buried and slowly being consumed by the ashes to which we all must return, I trust that he will soon recover at least a vial’s worth of his artistic sensibilities, an amount sufficient to finish and polish Capitolo 4, titled The End, or My End, or What The Heck Were You Expecting?
With all of that pedestrian, boring, repetitive, self-pity-saturated news about my doppelganger Harry Felton, again I assure you that, with undigestible hope swelling my undependable heart, I yesterday presented Harry with a gift that might help him to break fifty-some years’ worth of depression and what he calls PermaBlockitis.
Now, with il cognome, Felton, no sensible Sicilian could blame Harry if he were to express ignorance of the great Antoninus’s superior brainwave patterns that we of the Tribu Siciliano share. Even without eyeballs, the Emperor’s Caesarean hairstyle, his determined schnozzola, his regal beard, and especially his Perma-Press toga, together denote superior intelligence and a taste for the best food Planet Earth has to offer. Please, avoid feeling regret should your name not resemble Antoninus’. I, AVT, shall take care of both the Royals and the Plebeians among us. The Emperor demands such a sacrifice from me, and I am honored to comply.
But back to my sickly doppelganger Harry. Harry Felton today is not what an overpaid, stuffed-shirt, egocentric psychiatrist might diagnose as being of sana mente. Before writing the few wordy paragraphs below, however, I asked–with a tried, true, and full-blooded Sicilian psychiatrist present–for Mr. Felton’s permission to commit to disk a rugged draft of notes that might encourage Harry to rise again and to complete Capitolo 4 of his saga. We pray that these notes, linguistically inferior though they are bound to be, as they come from my challenged imagination, might someday soon incite Mr. Felton to raise his head, and what might be left of his hands; then to realize What a precious privilege it is to be alive, to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love, and to get off your bum and finish Capitolo 4! (Come on, Harry! The Emperor’s panoply of Gods all agree that Death’s ashes own insatiable appetites.)
On hearing our prayers, Harry raised his head from under his hungry ashes, spit out a Fifth’s worth of grey dust and nodded what’s left of his head. Dr. Battaglia (pronounced Bah Tahl Yah, not Buh tag leeya, for you gringos) and I interpreted Harry’s desperate and dusty nod as a yes.
Notes to Encourage Harry The Fallen Felton
Dear Harry, et al.,
Please do not expect any of the usual pinch hitter’s modest eloquence that oftentimes lingers in a place like this, snuggled within the comfort of the fiddling first paragraph, wavering from one prosaic, syllabic foot to the other more poetic one, nervous about standing on deck, unsure about how next to swing his pen or stroke his beard in order to please the evening’s audience.
If, that is . . . if perchance such an audience should this night fill even a few seats of this amphitheater stadium. If the imaginary they should occupy these velvet accommodations in order to fulfill their expectations for either child-like fun, or for the thrill acquired when pretending to be gladiators.
I, our forever amateur pinch hitter, am, of course, in time forced by a remembered summer beach’s sandy wind, and coerced again by the throaty rumble of a crowd that’s visible only inside my mind, either to move my body up toward batting position, or else to run from the field and back into the dugout I last night created with the tunnel of blankets on my bed.
Today, however, I am commanded to move in one direction only. I am not in control of my own actions. For whatever nonsensical reasons, a god whom I doubt exists has ordered me to create a plan, a plan that will see this game through to its yet unimagined ending. Most of this divine spirit’s reasons for playing this game feel to me needful and therefore weak. Still, for all of that and maybe more, I soon decide to push my body and my mind closer to the masked umpire who will judge my ability to mumble and mangle manly words and then to swing my wooden bat with the power of a professional.
I am an unsteady player, an unwilling hero; and so I become, by way of my own feeble imagination, Harry Felton’s hopeful home run hitter. Hopeful, yes. I tell myself that somewhere inside I still entertain hope, although Death, I realize, soon enough extinguishes all hope for each and every human being.
Dearest Harry Felton,
Though ashes today bury your body and gnaw at your soul, hear ye, listen to Antoninus, sweet old man! Raise your head. Shake away your ash-ridden doubts. Be alive, and write Capitolo 4. Yes, it may well disappoint; but all the disappointed, and all the satisfied will one day join bones in a graveyard, or gray powder in an oven.
Perhaps because of the doubts that live at your grave’s bottom, beneath the muddy ash that you imagine is suffocating your soul as you breathe in its poison, your hero hesitates beside the plate. He pulls the brim of his plastic hat, first up and backward, just far enough to display his receding hairline – as if to suck sympathy from his court of fans. Next, he yanks his cap forward and down, far enough to cover his eyes; this move is a secretive gesture that he long ago copied from players more macho than himself. Easier to dream with one’s eyes closed tight, and thusly to dream that today he is a real man.
Real men write stories that shine a fluorescent light on the confused mess of random thoughts and ideas that their bat-swinging heroes occasionally commit to a computer disk, then print to paper; that they sometimes dare to show to just a few people whom they consider artists.
Perhaps, you oftentimes tell yourself, perhaps someone, someday sooner or later, some real man will discover a recorded explanation of your sad career. Maybe he will decide that your flirtation with the keyboard was an expenditure of time worth quite a bit more than your affair with the umpires who whisked away real men’s orange dust from the home plate you never reached.
Now watch your hero or mine with an eye and a prayer toward poetic perfection. Watch as he commits first a few preparatory swings that slap the hot wind, and then as he lets loose with his most honest shot at his story’s climax.
The bat. He oftentimes spoke of his bat to the few curious interviewers whom he conjured inside his more pleasant nightmares. His bat–a yellow wooden bat, factory signed by Mickey Mantle because he hungered to become a clean-hearted hero–was only a tool. The stories he wrote, as well as those he failed to write, were the hardballs he hit or missed.
Now, again, watch a different player. He hesitates. He backs away from the plate, hangs his head forward, then tilts it backward, far enough to ask the clouds a question. Ask yourselves, “Is he a macho hero? Why does he pray to the clouds that only he perceives? Can this man commit? Will he swing? Will his swing connect, or sail through the breeze? Will we hear the snap of wind and crack of pinewood that provokes a rush of adrenalin, a rush that encourages us for a second to believe that we will live forever?”
We, we who are he, watch, as our folklore hero hangs on the edge of a cliff that never surrenders sand, there eventually to fall and die. We watch as he imitates bravery and curls his wooden bat behind his right shoulder and then swings it all way around toward the back of his left side. The snap and crack arrive because he and his spirit planned it that way.
The crowd roars, as crowds are wont to do.
And then the crowd disappears, along with the umpire and the rest of the stadium.
Our hero, that evening, returns to his bed. He climbs, then curls into and inside his blanket tunnels. And there he gives his final interview.
And there he returns to truer memories of better days, days when he trusted that more would come.
And there he plans to lie beside his long-ago relatives.