Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tales of Regret: Winnie-the-Pooh and Charles Willeford, Too! Edition

For awhile I lived in Burbank with a couple of ferrets I’d brought with me across the country. Ferrets were illegal to keep as pets in California, so I told no one about them, outside of a few friends. Certainly I didn’t tell the landlord about them. They were my fun little secret.

Across the street from where I lived, parked outside another apartment building, I would often see a car with a bumper sticker that had a picture of a ferret, along with a message that said something like “Legalize Ferrets.” I can’t remember the exact wording, but that was the gist. As I would run past, I would wonder who owned that car? Did s/he have ferrets? It might be nice if my ferrets could get together with mystery person’s ferrets, for a sort of “play date.”

One day, just as I was starting a run, I saw the car pull up to a space across the street. I had to meet this ferret person, so I took off and was only a few feet away by the time the owner of the car was opening the door and getting out. She was a woman, and she was I must say quite attractive.

“So you think ferrets should be legal in California?” I said. I couldn’t help myself.

She laughed. “It’s not the most pressing issue in the world, but it’s not fair.”

I nodded. “Yeah, I know. I brought mine over with me when I moved out here. It’s the dumbest law; I have to keep them hidden.” Again, I could not help myself.

It was the right thing to say. She made a sort of “aww” sound, then asked me how many I had, their names and genders, how cute were they, etc. She had one, herself. She also lived alone and didn’t have a boyfriend, although I can’t remember exactly how it was that I learned those bits of information at that time.

We arranged a “play date.” She came over to my place, and we let the ferrets run loose while I cooked dinner. The next day, we had a proper date. We both had a lot in common, aside from the ferrets. We both liked to read, for instance.

“We should read each others’ favorite books,” she said.

“Okay,” I said, without thinking. I just couldn’t help myself. She was quite attractive. As long as she didn’t like anything by A. A. Milne I was safe. And what were the chances of that?

“My favorite book of all time is The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne,” she said.

Damn! Not only had she chosen an author I did not want to read, she’d chosen the book that gave its title to an irritating Kenny Loggins song that I knew I would not be able to get out of my head the rest of the night.

“It’s been my favorite since I was a little girl,” she continued. “Back at my parents’ house, I have a full set of Milne’s books from, like, the 1950s. At my apartment I have a more recent copy of Pooh Corner, which I can lend you.”

“Wonderful,” I said. It felt bad to start lying to her so early in the relationship.

“What’s your favorite book?”

Well, this was a problem. At that time, my favorite book was Charles Willeford’s The Black Mass of Brother Springer. I can’t recommend that book highly enough—it’s definitely still in my top-5 all-time. The story of the reprehensible drifter novelist Sam Springer, who, after being cynically ordained by an Abbot of the Church of God’s flock, takes over as a pastor of an all-black church in Jacksonville Florida and then gets mixed up in the civil rights movement is an exciting and well-written dark comedy. Unfortunately, it’s not widely available, and the only copy I had at that time was the 1989 Black Lizard edition, and it was rare and valuable (I’d seen it for sale at the LA Times Book Fest for $50), and I didn’t want to lend it out.

But another Willeford classic, The Burnt Orange Heresy, had just been released in a new paperback edition by Carroll & Graf for a mere $5.95. That I could loan out. And, The Burnt Orange Heresy is very nearly as good.

She’d never heard of it.

“It’s about an art critic who- well, he’s a real asshole, and he meets the famous, reclusive French artist about whom he’s writing an article for an encyclopedia set. He decides to steal the man’s latest piece of artwork. It’s really funny and dark, and has a great deal of insight into the world of fine art, writing, and the sense of entitlement that a lot of people seem to feel.”

I said something like the above, I can’t remember exactly, but she said it sounded “intriguing,” so whatever I said had worked. In a way, I felt like I was putting one over on her, but The Burnt Orange Heresy really is a fine novel. If we got married, I might let her read my copy of The Black Mass of Brother Springer.

(Actually, it has since been published in trade paperback by wit’s end publishing, and is still highly recommended.)

But in the meantime, I had to get through The House at Pooh Corner.

I hadn’t made the attempt to read the “Winnie-the-Pooh” drivel since high school, when I’d dated a young woman who was very much in love with the characters. To her credit, she hadn’t seriously read the books since she was a child, but she kept a number of collectibles related to the stories- bookmarks, stickers, an old rag doll, those sorts of things. She absolutely loved the irritating Kenny Loggins song. Anyway, I hadn’t gotten very far into them before I’d had to stop. The stories were the literary equivalent of Karo syrup, and were actually making me sick. Or, maybe I’m being melodramatic.

Now, having been loaned my ferret friend’s copy, I sat and brooded about it, dreading cracking the book open. How unfair- I had recommended to her a really great book, and she’d recommended me… this.

To avoid having to open the book, I again scanned the back cover. “Their adventures are always interesting,” it lied. It was mocking me. The book itself knew it was no good, and that I was being forced to read it by someone to whom I was physically attracted.

I had to laugh. Really, it was funny. I had to read about Pooh in order to get hers…

My attitude changed just enough, and I was able to actually read the entire book. It was an ordeal, and I truly hated it, but I made it. I read every word, besides the copyright information. Thinking of it as a sex book had helped, and I couldn’t wait to see her again.

No, not to talk about the book. Because she was attractive. But if she insisted on talking about the book, I would at least be able to discuss the events described within.

A couple of days later I brought the ferrets over to her place, and we turned them loose while we made out on the couch. I’d brought with me her copy of Pooh Corner, and put it on the coffee table. I’d said nothing about the book itself, only thanked her for lending it to me. Hopefully we wouldn’t have time to discuss our reading assignments.

Unfortunately, that was not to be. “I finished The Burnt Orange Heresy,” she said. “So you can have it back.”

“Okay, thanks,” I said. I didn’t feel like talking about the books, because then I’d just have to lie to her and tell her how “charming” Winnie-the-Pooh was, and I really didn’t want to do that.

“Don’t you want to know what I thought about it? It’s your favorite book.”

“Of course I want to know what you thought.”

She scowled. “Well, it’s not really my type of book,” she said. “The narrator is a real asshole, like you said. And it did have some funny things in it. But it was kind of depressing.”

I was offended. It was dark, it was downbeat, but depressing? For crying out loud The House at Pooh Corner was depressing! The Burnt Orange Heresy was art. How can art be “depressing?”

“It is a bit dark, and downbeat,” I hedged. Then I clammed up and tried to kiss her.

She laughed. “What did you think of Pooh Corner?”

“It was charming,” I said. We started kissing again.

“Is that all? It was ‘charming’?”

I mumbled something about “frustrating,” which was in reference to her and not to the book, but she took it as about the book, so she asked, “What was frustrating about it?”

I sighed, hopefully not too obviously. “To be honest, I couldn’t tell just how sexual it was supposed to be.”

“Sexual?” she laughed, but the tone of the laugh was not happy; it was the sort of laugh you hear from someone who just can’t believe for the life of her what she’s just heard. “What is sexual about Pooh Corner?”

Now I admit I was a bit irritated with her. She was still quite physically attractive, but I’d reached my limit. First, The Burnt Orange Heresy was “depressing,” and then there was nothing sexual about something with the words Pooh Corner in the title. Which is why I might have gone a little bit off the deep end with my oral dissertation on "The Ambivalent Sexuality of A. A. Milne's The House at Pooh Corner." “It starts right there on the first page, with that silly poem,” I said. I took the book from off the tabletop and read the first four lines.

“You gave me Christopher Robin, and then
You breathed new life in Pooh.
Whatever of each has left my pen
Goes homing back to you.”

“He’s talking about sex! Her ‘pooh’ is always new and exciting to him, he says, even after having a child. The ‘pen’ is obviously short for ‘penis,’ just as ‘pooh’ is short for ‘poon-tang.’ What leaves his ‘pen’ is ejaculate-”

“You’re being gross,” she said. “You’re reading something into it that is not there.”

“You said The Burnt Orange Heresy was depressing,” I said.

“It is!” she insisted.

“Well, I disagree,” I said. Having thus made my point, I continued:

“In chapter one, ‘In Which a House is Built at Pooh Corner for Eeyore,’ it’s Winnie-the-Pooh who figures that Eeyore’s house was built on the asshole of the forest, and has to be moved around it’s perineum and placed at its proper spot- the crotch.” I flipped through the book to the proper page to make my point, and I read,

“They were getting near Eeyore’s Gloomy Place, which was where he lived… They were out of the snow now, but it was very cold, and to keep themselves warm they sang Pooh’s song right through six times… and both of them thumping on the top of the gate with pieces of stick at the proper places.”

“It’s ‘gloomy’ because it hasn’t been pleasured, which is what Pooh and Piglet do when they ‘thump’ the ‘gate at the proper places.’”

“You’re being stupid,” she said. She looked angry, tiddely pom.

I continued, undaunted. “Then, Piglet tells Pooh that he saw a heap of sticks on the other side of the wood. This of course is where Eeyore’s house is- the asshole. And at this point Pooh says,

‘What you have just said will be a Great Help to us, and because of it I could call this place Poohandpiglet Corner if Pooh Corner didn’t sound better, which it does, being smaller and more like a corner.’

And we know it’s ‘like a corner,’ because it’s like a crotch, where the legs meet.” I took from my pocket a slip of paper and a pen (I always keep a pen and paper in my pocket- you never know when you might overhear something funny, or think of something clever), and I drew a rough sketch of an aerial view of a “house at pooh corner.”

"See, the 'house' is the female sex organ. I drew a bush behind the house so you'd get the full effect," I added.

“I can’t tell if you’re trying to be funny,” she said. She looked serious. “But I don’t find this in any way amusing. In fact, you might want to shut up now.”

Oh but I did not. I was on a roll, and couldn’t stop now. I had to prove my point. “Well, what about the second chapter, where Tigger enters into a homosexual polyamorous relationship with Kanga and Roo?” I asked. I could tell I was starting to lose her, so I cut right to the chase, flipping to that chapter’s conclusion:

“He’s taken my medicine, he’s taken my medicine, he’s taken my medicine!” sang Roo happily, thinking it was a tremendous joke.

Then Tigger looked up at the ceiling, and closed his eyes, and his tongue went round and round his chops, in case he had any left outside, and a peaceful smile came over his face and he said, “So THAT’S what Tiggers like!”

At this point I couldn’t help but pause and say, “Obviously, this is how men act after copulation. They get drowsy.”

Then I pressed on:

Which explains why he always lived at Kanga’s house afterwards, and had Extract of Malt for breakfast, dinner, and tea. And sometimes, when Kanga thought he wanted strengthening, he had a spoonful or two of Roo’s breakfast after meals as medicine.

“But I think,” said Piglet to Pooh, “that he’s been strengthened quite enough.”

“No kidding,” I said, in conclusion. “Tigger seems to have a lot of sexual stamina, if he’s doing it for breakfast, dinner, and tea!”

“You are such an asshole,” she said, shaking her head.

“Oh come on- what is that creamy 'malt' liquid supposed to represent?”

“This is a kids’ book. There’s none of this sexual stuff you’re reading into it. My parents used to read these stories to me!”

I resisted the urge to tell her that sounded like a form of punishment to me, and opted instead to tell her, “Well, it sounds like your parents are pretty progressive-”

“Because they read me a ‘sex book’?”

“Well, yeah,” I said. For some reason, I could not resist.

“Okay, you know what? Get out!”

Anyone who’s ever tried to round up playful ferrets knows that the little critters can get themselves into all sorts of tight spots, and when they really get to hopping around the room, can be very difficult to catch. It was a long few minutes spent rounding them up. I apologized a few times during those minutes, but it was obvious she wasn’t responding.

I called her the next day and left her an apologetic message on her answering machine (remember those?), but I never heard back from her. Of course, I felt a great deal of regret.

If she was going to stop seeing me anyway, I didn’t need to read Pooh Corner all the way to the end; I could have stopped at chapter 2.

ADDENDUM: I just discovered that both Pooh and The Burnt Orange Heresy have been in the news recently- Winnie-the-Pooh because a new collection of stories has just been published, and The Burnt Orange Heresy because "Lakeview Terrace" director Neil LaBute has just signed to direct a film adaptation.

Legalize ferrets pic source.


A.Jaye said...

I feel you dude.

The only difference is I'd fall out with a bird if she didn't like MY book.

Having said that anyone over the age of 6 and 3 months who likes Winnie the poo is to be avoided on the grounds of Life Is Wonderful syndrome.

Ricky Sprague said...

I genuinely dislike the Winnie-the-Pooh stories. They're written in such an affected cutist tone, with all the tiddly-poms and the doggerel meant to be "charming" and "child-like." And the "decorations" seem to have been drawn with a leaky pen by someone who just did not care.