Betty Duffy

Thursday, April 2, 2009

T.C. Boyle and Me

Deprivation can make many a dull thing a delight. In my convent days, we ate so many stale muffins and leftover casseroles that a First Class Feast Day with volcanic lava ice cream felt like Heaven. For your reference, volcanic lava was a discontinued flavor at Powder Mill Creamery consisting of cookie dough “rocks,” peanut butter “spumes” and a large quantity of red dye. I suppose, as a flavor, it was anything but dull, but in its essence, it was still, just a bowl of ice cream, not fois gras or filet mignon.

In my current life, spending my days with diapers and cereal has managed to turn something like attending a poetry reading, or a lecture into a very naughty indulgence, which is why I’m still on cloud nine this morning, having spent last night hearing T.C. Boyle read selected short stories at Butler University.

Normally, on Wednesday nights, I teach a Catechism class at my Parish, but class was canceled this week, which opened up my night to a number of different possibilities. The hot ticket for Catholics in my neck of the woods is the “Spaghetti and Spirituality” night at Holy Rosary Parish, where you can enjoy a meatless pasta dish and a lecture given by a preeminent Catholic thinker. Last night’s talk featured Dr. Ray Guarendi, clinical psychologist, father of ten, and dispenser of parenting wisdom.

Very hot, indeed.

It almost felt like a sin, but I opted to pass on “Spaghetti and Spirituality” and go hear one of my favorite authors spin a few yarns (Even hotter). Such a rare feast is a reading for me that it seemed worthy of indulging in a little personal hygiene. I inserted my contact lenses, though in hindsight, my glasses would have provided me more intellectual credibility. I addressed the remnant of last fall’s application of toe nail polish, now floating like a disembodied continent on each big toe. I wore my best muffin shoes with a body elongating wedge heel.

I was accompanied by my cousin Rachel, her friend, E, my four month old baby in a sling, a gambling heart, and a solemn prayer that my baby would nurse without heavy breathing or gulping and drift off to sand-land. There are more kid-friendly places to take a nursing baby than a literary reading on a college campus. My son elicited a number of concerned glances from the crowd of middle age writer wannabes, and college students in pajamas, there for extra credit. At Spaghetti and Spirituality, I could have been certain that a number of nurslings would be chortling and bouncing in their mother’s arms along the back wall of the auditorium.

My gamble paid off, however. My son was an angel, and made me look like a mother with a magic touch. He made exactly one noise before sticking his thumb in his mouth and falling asleep (God bless thumbsuckers). Then I was free to relax my clenched shoulders, close my own eyes and see the stories in my head.

We could talk about T.C. Boyle’s stories here, but they speak for themselves if you ever pick up one of his books (“The Devil and Irv Cherneske” was anthologized in the Best American Catholic Short Stories). What I want to talk about is the heart racing, endorphin rushing near collapse of meeting a moderate to highly famous personage and personal idol. What is it about people who have managed to perfect their craft and achieve success in the field to which one aspires that causes such bodily trauma?

By outward appearances, he’s a grasshopper-legged, frizzy-haired genius, but at his best, he’s another child of God like me. Oh Christianity! Oh Great Equalizer! At the end of our lives, T.C. Boyle and I will be judged by the same rule. It seems impossible. He’s the filet mignon to my volcanic lava, but in the end, we’re both stool.

I tried to keep this thought in mind when I lined up to have him sign my book. And here, though my legs trembled and my mind turned mushy, my sleeping baby proved to be an enormous trump card. “I see his fontanelle,” said Mr. Boyle to me. “That’s always freaked me out.”

“Yes,” I answered. “Sometimes you can see his heart beating in it.”

“Cool.” Then grasping my book, “Should I make it to him?”


And he wrote, “Dear P. Grow up quickly. We need you. (indecipherable signature).”

I thanked him, and smiling dumbly walked out to my car thinking, “ ‘Grow up quickly. We need you’…What the heck does he mean?”


Kate said...

We need more sweet Catholic boys with good hearts!

Kaighla said...

Ditto. Thanks HEAVENS for thumbsuckers! My son is one as well and it is WONDERFUL.

jenX67 said...

Grow up quickly. The world is in short supply of God-fearing men.

Betty Duffy said...

I wish I had said, "If you like fontanelles, you're hanging out with the wrong crowd." And then I could have invited him over for dinner, or to the next Spaghetti and Spirituality dinner (which I think will be Charles Rice on Natural Law--one not to miss).

mrsdarwin said...

It makes total sense to me that on your night out you would choose not to go to a parenting-related event. Moi aussi.

I actually read the anthology of American Catholic short stories, and I remember that T.C. Boyle was one of the contributors. I was about to say that for the life of me I couldn't remember what the story was about, when suddenly it came back to me. Was it the one with the guy making the deal with the devil in the woods behind his house?

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Lynn Barry said...

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Betty Duffy said...

Mrs. Darwin, you've got the right story. And I loved that collection.

You know, on another day, with nothing else going on, I probably would have enjoyed hearing Dr Ray. I like his books, etc. But you're right...I more often than not prefer to think about something else in my spare time. AND...I just don't buy the idea that everything I need to know can be summed up in a lecture, or a book, or even a collection of books. The bottom line is that authors of books on parenting don't know my kids and they don't know me, and they can't predict the dangerous alchemy we create when we spend each and every day brewing together in this stewpot. It's a heck of a lot of improv.

Lynn, I am truly flattered that someone linked to my post, and I appreciate your taking the time to follow the link.

Kaighla, I see you've started a blog. I'll be visiting.

Jen and Kate, it would be nice if that's what he meant, wouldn't it?

Rachel said...

Wedge shoes are not "muffins". Seems you need further tutorial. Had fun last Wed nevertheless.

EmilyJA said...

mmmmm volcanic lava how i've missed you!