Sleepy Corner

Sam, the Garbager, had carpet,
And some scraps of office jot,
Optomacy stooped to throw him,
As he passed from lot to lot,

And with these he decked his cabin
In a rather modern style;
But himself remained old-fashioned
Like–simple and true the while.

And the milk of human kindness
Seemed to bubble from his heart,
As he rolled about the city
In his two-wheeled garbage cart.

S.A. Beadle,
Lyrics of the Under-World (1912),
photo by R. H. Beadle

Psilocybin Popeye Quiche

Beat together very well six large eggs and 2 cups of heavy cream; you can use half-and-half in a pinch, but even whole milk, won’t give you the best meld. Season with salt and pepper; nutmeg is traditional, but I never seem to have any on hand.

Pour half of this mixture into an 8-in. crust, add mushrooms and spinach–about a half cup of each–and a sprinkling of grated cheese, then pour on the rest of the egg mixture. Shake the pan to settle.

Top with a little more cheese for dining room drama and bake at 375 for about 30 minutes or until the top is puffed and slightly browned. Cool on a counter rack and brush with melted butter before slicing and serving.

A Note on the Gentrification of Southern Food

We’ve seen black-eyed peas made into everything short of cupcakes with sweet potato icing (don’t you dare!), and if I run up on one more gourmet recipe for fried green tomatoes, I’m going to take a skillet out and start swinging at anybody with a fork.

In the restaurant business it’s not unusual for chefs of one ilk or another to turn a hayseed staple into a Broadway entrée.  Most basic recipes are open to elaboration, and every cook has a twist; a pinch here, a dash there, a pot for this, a pan for that.

If the cook’s intentions are honorable, meaning that his or her primary concern is with how a dish tastes, all the better. But if you’re putting a heap of crab ceviche over a batch of cold butter bean fritters just so you can charge six bucks more, that’s just wrong.

11 Different Herbs and Spices

I once knew a woman who claimed to know the Sanders Original Recipe of “11 herbs and spices” because she had worked in a franchise outlet in Grenada, Mississippi for three months while her husband was in the local lock-up for beating up a grease monkey.

She didn’t really know the recipe, of course; her fried chicken tasted nothing like it, though it may have to her after a bottle of vodka. But Harlan Sanders’ original recipe was finally made public in August, 2016, when the Chicago Tribune reported that a nephew by marriage–by marriage, mind you–of Harland Sanders claimed to have found a copy of the original KFC fried chicken recipe on a handwritten piece of paper in an envelope–an envelope, no less–in a scrapbook of an assuredly familial nature .

As journalists of fortitude, integrity, and no small degree of puckish abandon, Tribune staffers tested the recipe before publication, and after “some trial and error” they decided that with the addition of an unspecified amount of MSG, the following seasoning mixture produced fried chicken “indistinguishable” from the fried chicken from a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise.

By way of covering their ass, they recommended that the chicken should be soaked in buttermilk, coated once, then fried in oil at 350 degrees until golden brown.

Mix with 2 cups white flour:

2/3 Ts (tablespoons) Salt
1/2 Ts Thyme
1/2 Ts Basil
1/3 Ts Oregano
1 Ts Celery salt
1 Ts Black pepper
1 Ts Dried mustard
4 Ts Paprika
2 Ts Garlic salt
1 Ts Ground ginger
3 Ts White pepper

Creole Jambalaya

This text and recipe is from Howard Mitcham’s magical Creole, Gumbo, and All That Jazz.

After gumbo, the most famous Creole-Cajun dish is jambalaya. The word is probably derived from “Jambon,” which means am in both Spanish and French. The “a la ya” is probably an African expletive which can be interpreted as either acclaim or derision. Jambalaya was a well-known dish even before Hank Williams’s Hit Parade song came along and made it nationally famous. Millions have sung the song without knowing anything about what the dish was like. The recipes herewith will give you a chance to really get on the bandwagon. Jambalaya started out as a poor man’s catch-all, utilizing any leftover meats, sausages, shrimp, or fish that might be lying around, and stretching them a long, long way with plenty of rice. If a poor Cajun family had five or six kids, it’s a safe bet they ate jambalaya several times a week. Like red beans and rice, it kept people from starving during depressions and recessions.

But the consummate artistry of Creole and Cajun cooks has lifted jambalaya above its humble beginnings to a higher plateau, and it is now served with pride and joy in the mansions of the wealthy and in high-toned restaurants. This dish is a close cousin of the Spanish paella, and it probably originated down around New Iberia, which, as its name suggests, was originally a Spanish settlement. However, there’s another town with a Spanish name, Gonzales, up near Baton Rouge, that calls itself the Jambalaya Capital of the World. Its citizens hold a jambalaya festival every year. They cook big black iron wash pots full of the stuff, and people come from all over to sample the rich and redolent fare. A real Gonzales jambalaya is so peppery hot, spicy, and rich that the uninitiated can barely cope with it, but an aficionado of the art can consume a half gallon of it and ask for more. The version of Creole Jambalaya here is lighter fare than the Gonzales product.

Melt a half stick butter in a thick-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, cook 1 pound andouille or smoked sausage (or both) until lightly browned. Stir in a heaping quarter cup of plain flour, add 3 medium white onions, chopped finely, 4 minced cloves of garlic, 6 whole scallions, chopped. Cook until onions soft and clear. Add a 16 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained, along with a bay leaf, and a teaspoon each thyme, cayenne, cumin, and black pepper. Add 4 cups broth (chicken or beef), a cup of cooked chicken, and a cup of diced ham. The liquid should cover the ingredients. Bring to a rolling boil and stir in 2 cups raw rice (let me recommend Zatarain’s long grain, jly). Cover, boil for about 5 minutes, then reduce heat and cook until rice is done. Remove lid to cook off excess liquid; “a jambalaya should be moist, but not soupy.” Salt to taste.

Hodding Carter on Lafcadio Hearne

In 1967, Louisiana’s Pelican Press acquired the rights to Lafcadio Hearne’s classic work on New Orleans cookery, La Cuisine Creole, first published by Will Coleman in Cincinnati in 1885. The new edition featured the addition of a collection of drawings and other writings by Hearne during his sojourn in New Orleans from 1877 to 1887 as well as a forward by Louisiana native Hodding Carter, publisher of the Greenville (Mississippi) Delta Democrat-Times, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1946.

His name was Lafcadio Hearn. He was bulbous eyed and myopic to the point of blindness and all his life he knew a waif’s sense of insecurity and often the hunger that is frequently a waif’s lot.

Of all places on this earth of his loneliness he loved New Orleans most, and there is irony in his creation of this classic, which has to do with the food and drink and some of the foibles of his beloved adopted city, for it can be said that it was written by a hungry man out of hunger, a physical hunger that seldom was far away.

He was at home with the Creole city’s food from the day he stepped off the Thompson Dean as she landed at New Orleans in November 1877 but frequently he could afford barely enough of such food to keep himself alive.

He found his way to the boarding house of Mary Bustillos, 228 Baronne Street and paid over to her his small amount of cash for several weeks room and board. For several months he wandered in the New Orleans streets, often near starving, as the Cincinnati Commercial did not pay him for his articles on New Orleans.

Eventually he found work with the Democrat and made the acquaintance of Major William M. Robinson, editor of the New Orleans Republican. He was welcomed in the Robinsons’ home and perhaps here began his acquaintance with better New Orleans American and Creole cooking. He also developed a lasting friendship with Dr. Rudolph Matas and his family. Hearn said Mrs. Matas supplied a good deal of the material for his cookbook.

After his first six lean months, Major Robertson introduced Hearn to Mark Bigney who together with Edwin L. Jewel had started a modest newspaper called the Item. He became a member of their staff-an assistant editor with a salary of $10.00 a week. Hearn’s contributions to the Item were to make him a noted regional literary figure of his day. His descriptions of the New Or- leans scene, his broad literary interest and criticisms and his advanced ideas on psychology and the creative instinct were a sensation in his day. The self- taught little literary figure developed for himself during this period a polished writing style.

In 1879 Hearn learned that the Item was in precarious financial circum- stances. In this extremity he suggested that illustrations on the front page of the Item might increase its circulation. Wandering through the Vieux Carre, he sketched the Negro vendors, tramps, gentlemen and dozens of other habitants. Each day a wooden block cut was fixed at the head of an article. The paper was printed directly from this combination of metal type and wood blocks. All in all, Hearn published about 175 cartoons in two years, 1879 and 1880. Taken as a whole, the columns and pictures present a sensitive illustrated description of life in New Orleans in 1880.

In the meantime, Hearn had moved to the French Quarter where he lived in a number of houses, always seeking cleanliness and comfort. For a while he lived at 105 Bourbon Street (now 516). This almost faced the old French Opera. For a while he lived in a particularly shabby room in the northern end of the French Quarter where by doing his own cooking he could cut down his food expense to $2.00 a week.

He was saving his money for the special purpose of starting a cheap restaurant. He wrote to his friend Henry Watkins in Cincinnatti in June of 1778, saying “Money can be made here out of the poor. The people are so poor nothing pays except that which appeals to poverty-now one can make 30 milk bisquits for 5¢ and 8 cups of coffee for 54.” He horded $100.00 and opened a little restaurant in a sordid back street building at 160 Dryades. Yellow hand bills were printed which read:

This is the cheapest eating house in the South. It is neat, orderly and respectable as any other in New Orleans. You can get a good meal for a couple of nickels. All dishes 5 cents. Everything half the price of the markets.”

This name did not appeal to him, so he changed to an even stranger one. On the 2nd of March 1879 The Hard Times opened for business and a little advertisement appeared in the Item. In spite of advertising in the Item full of the flavor and quaintness of Hearn’s style, his business hopes collapsed on March the 22nd. His “partner” disappeared with the little cash and the cook, leaving Hearn to shoulder the debts.

His most comfortable period during his New Orleans days came when he began to take his meals at the boarding house 68 Gasquet Street of Mrs. Courtney, a genial Irishwoman. She and her family adopted Hearn, nursed and fed him for a number of years, and his grateful letters reflect his appreciation of their kindness.

In 1881 Hearn went to work for the Times-Democrat under its new editor, Page Baker. Very probably many of the recipes Hearn used in this book came from the Baker family and those of others he visited. He was viewed with mixed feelings because of his strange and exotic tastes in literature. He had an intense interest in the Negro lore in the Creole countries of the world, and his notebooks were full of quaint Negro proverbs in Gombo French. These he arranged and translated first into correct French and then into English.

He persuaded his friend, William H. Coleman who had opened a second- hand book shop in the old Astor Hotel in New York to publish this book of sayings by offering to submit a second book of the Creole recipes he had gathered in the many New Orleans homes in which he visited. He had already said in the columns of the Item that he would like to edit a cookbook. Coleman published these two works-Gombo Zhèbes and La Cuisine Creole -and a third book, the Historical Sketch Book and Guide to New Orleans to which Hearn also contributed.

The books were to be on the market by the time of the Cotton Centennial Exposition which opened in 1884 and were to attract a sale among the hordes of tourists expected to attend. But printing delays occurred, and they did not appear until April 1885 and the books sold badly. However, La Cuisine Creole did better than either of the others.

This Pelican edition of La Cuisine Creole is a reproduction of the original by photo offset process, including the original cover-to which we have added, for the first time, the name of the author. We have also added other Hearn material.

The original numbering of the pages persists. We have inserted sketches reproduced from Hearn’s cartoons in the Item, among the first used by a Southern newspaper, some of Hearn’s other work in the Item, and selections from Gombo Zhèbes.

For much of the information used in this sketch of Hearn I am indebted to the pioneer research of Edward Larocque Tinker whose Lafcadio Hearn’s American Days published by Dodd, Mead and Co. in 1924 is the basic Hearn bibliography of that period in his life. Our thanks to the staff of the Lafcadio Hearn Collection of Tulane University for their invaluable assistance.

The raven we have used on the end sheets was the symbol Hearn often used as a rebus in letters to friends.

The Williams/Capote Clash: Fear and Loathing ‘Neath the Old Magnolias

This piece by acclaimed rogue New Orleans journalist (and Mississippi native) Don Lee Keith came to light a week ago in a folder of notes, letters, and other odds and ends while I was looking for something else.

Reading over it again, I made the decision to republish it on Mississippi Sideboard, since, as I’ve stated before, one of this platform’s functions is to preserve amusing or interesting ephemera. Keith’s piece is both interesting, amusing, and sheds a colorful light on people, a time, and a place.

I’ve long since lost the original copy, have only a vague idea of where I may have found it to begin with, and days of research has turned up nothing about the original publication. I did, however find rough drafts of “Fear and Loathing Beneath the Magnolias” in the Earl K Long Library’s archive with Keith’s other papers. If anyone can provide a citation, I’d be much obliged.

JACKSON, MISS.— A year and a half ago, when the post-Junior League women of this capital city began planning the 14th annual Mississippi Arts Festival, they took a shoot-for-the-stars attitude. They set their sights on the likes of Leontyne Price for opera, Liza Minelli for pops, and they wavered between Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote for their literary choices.

Throughout the months of letter writing and phone calling and contract negotiating, the pickings got slimmer. By last weekend, when the festival curtain opened, the committee had altered its preferences and settled on Joanna Simons instead of Leontyne Price. Robert Goulet cost $12,500, which was more realistic than Liza Minelli’s $65,000, so it was Goulet on the festival stage. But by some peculiar move of fate, both choices for the literary star—Williams and Capote—had agreed to appear. When that word was received, the women went into orgasmic ecstasy. They congratulated each other over sherry and called their friends long distance and bored their husbands, talking about nothing but their achievement. “Just think,” they all said, “Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote. Together for the first time on one stage. Ours. What a coup!”

What they did not know was that Williams and Capote did not want to be together on any stage at any time, did not want to speak or even see each other, much less appear on the same program. The two men had locked creative horns in the season’s most celebrated battle of egocentric frenzies. Inviting that pair to the same gathering was tantamount to pitching a couple of savage vipers into the same pit.


Truman Capote had been writing something called Answered Prayers for nearly 20 years. At least that’s how long he’s been talking about it, skillfully interjecting mentions of the book into every major interview, persistently reminding the public that his “life’s work” has a title taken from St. Theresa: “More tears are shed over answered prayers then over unanswered ones.”

In the meantime, of course, he has come out with several other books—most notably In Cold Blood, which he touted as a “new art form” –but no one had seen a word of Answered Prayers until the summer of 1975 when a story in Esquire was billed as a chapter from the long-awaited, finally forthcoming, novel. A few months later, in the same magazine, there appeared a second story, seemingly unrelated but supposedly part of the novel, which set New York society’s teeth on edge. Capote, in that story, sliced his friends off at the ankles. He told secrets, bared confidences, detailed scandals, disclosed intimacies and hung out more dirty linen than a lot of that gold-plated coterie had ever counted on seeing in print. Immediately, the social set reacted like a burnt spider.

Capote offered no explanation or apology. In May of 1976 he published a third story from the novel. And here is where he gave the shiv to a literary friendship that had spanned three decades.

Capote created an admittedly pseudonymous character called Mr. Wallace. He is America’s most acclaimed playwright. He is “a chunky, paunchy, booze-puffed runt with a play moustache glued about his iconic lips.” He has a corn-pone voice and a pet bulldog. He is paranoic. He is a hypochondriac and expects to die at any moment. He is convinced the critics have turned on himl He laments the death of his homosexual lover. And Mr. Wallace—whom the world took to be an unmistakable portrait of Tennessee Williams—is made more memorab le in Capote’s story for having engaged the services of a male prostitute and then proposing to extinguish his cigar in the young fellow’s rear.

The ink of that Esquire story was scarcely dry before Williams had dipped into an ample supply of venom and pulled out a vengeful epithet for Capote.

It was “rattlesnake”.


Well before Christmas, chairman of the Mississippi Arts Festival, Mrs. Heber (“Sister”) Simmons, began making overtures as to the availability of Tennessee Williams. It seemed more logical to invite the playwright because he was, after all, a native Mississippian. He had never appeared on stage in his home state. And, despite the height to which he had raised eyebrows with his revealing Memoirs (1975), there was an undeniable devotion to him among some of the state’s more literate groups.

Williams’ agent, Bill Barnes offered no encouragement, however. Sister Simmons, never a woman to be outdone, shot at the other star, firing off inquiries to Capote’s agent. The reply was a polite No. “Mr. Capote feels that he must closet himself in order to finish the book he is currently writing.”

So, for the first time, the festival committee went to the festival board about an alternate choice for a literary star. James Dickey was considered, a contract was drawn up, tut the board had second thoughts and opted for John Gardner. Gardner’s contract was in the hands of the board, ready for signing, when a telegram arrived from Capote’s agent saying that yes, he would appear. The women in charge of the shindig clasped their bosoms and signed with thanksgiving.

But Sister Simmons would not rest easily until she knew for certain that Williams had personally refused to come to Jackson. She sent out new feelers, fresh inquiries, and dispatched another wire to agent Barnes, with a copy to Williams himself. Then it dawned on her that the festival coffers were empty. All the money had been allocatged.

Raising money in Mississippi to bring in Tennessee Williams can be a furrow-browed chore, particularly when you’re already shelling out three thou for Truman Capote. Potential donors—all the way from bank presidents to prominent professionals—are likely to glance to the side and shuffle nervously at the prospect of paying good money to the likes of those two, regardless of their individual achievements. A kind of magnolia-scented macho rises likethe swamp fog, and when the topic invades beer sessions or hunting outings, the term “damn queers” is heard out loud.

So, Sister Simmons had a few weeks of constant turn-downs ahead, even after Williams informed his agent that he was, indeed, interested in coming to the festival, Finally, with two-thirds of the $4000 pledged, she confronted the board, which eventually agreed to underwrite the rest. If Williams would come, an admission fee of $5 would be charged.

Now, Sister Simmons sat back and waited There was little else she could do.


When Capote’s agent, Irene Smookler, was told that Williams might be appearing at the festival, she said she’s pass that word to her client. Two days later, she phoned Nora Jane Ethridge, seminars chairman, with this message: “Mr. Capote doesn’t care of Mr. Williams comes. He just doesn’t want to look at him.”


Less than two weeks before Festival, a contract with Williams had been signed. His agent has been assured the yes, the playwright was being paid more than Capote. The program had been updated to include Williams and was at the printer. Now, it was Thursday afternoon and Ms. Ethridge was on the phone to Barnes, confirming arrival time and other such details. Mr. Williams was scheduled to go on stage Sunday at 1 p.m., she said. There was no possibility of a conflict since Truman Capote would have already spoken and left town.

“Well, the phone fairly exploded,” says Nora Jane Ethridge. “Bill Barnes just went crazy “Capote? Capote?” he yelled, and went right into a fit about how anybody with any sense would never invite the two men to the same thing, and what did those deceptive women who called themselves fine Southern ladies mean, and if Mr. Williams had cone to Jackson and found that Truman Capote was on the same program how me, Bill Barnes, would have been fired, and well, it went on and on—and before I knew what was happening he had hung up the phone right in my face!”

For two days, the women in charge of the festival breathed short, careful breaths, their optimism corseted by fear that the playwright would cancel. They sent a lengthy telegram to Williams, saying how pleased, how every pleased everyone was that he was coming. They implored Jacksonian author Eudora Welty to call his New York hotel and if she couldn’t get him in person to at least leave a message that she, too, was pleased. And it wasn’t until the 6 p.m. pl,ant landed on Saturday night that anyone was actually sure that Mississippi’s most acclaimed literary son was coming home again.

By then, nerve endings were blood raw from all the excitement that Truman Capote was in town.


Capote’s Saturday had begun with a brunch at the Ethridge house. Predictably, conversations often got around to a mention of Williams. One guest said she was looking forward to meeting him. “You’re in for a big no-treat,” advised Capote. When someone else brought up the question of when Williams latest play, Vieux Carre, might open, Capote remarked, “Oh, his plays open and close so fast you can’t keep up with them.” More immediate concern, however seemed to be on his own appearance on stage.


The crowd arrived early and waited anxiously but patiently. It was an odd assortment and a peculiar one for an auditorium on a religiously-oriented campus. Embroidered jeans sat right next to double-knit leisure suits. Gum-chewing teenagers shared arm rests with blue-haired matrons wearing canary diamonds. And all conversations, regardless of subject matter, halted at 3 o’clock sharp when the place was thrown into sudden darkness, except for a single pink pinspot trained on an edge of the stage. From behind the red velvet curtain, he appeared. His head was tilted back at a rakish angle as he struck a pose, he remained there for a moment, affecting a dislocated hip stance not unlike that of Vogue models of the early 1960s. He was wearing a tannish suit with narrow lapels, and an orange turtleneck sweater. His hands were at his sides until all at once, his right arm shot upward and stayed there, straight, with its hand bobbing limply from its wrist. Amid the roar of applause, someone wondered loudly if he had borrowed that salute from Natalie Wood’s last scene in Gypsy.

Then Capote walked to the podium. The edge of its top reached him mid-chest. He leaned forward to the microphone. He blinked several times in rapid succession and began to speak. Capote’s voice is even more celebrated than his prose. It is as recognizable as a whining mammy-cat—fragile yet somehow strong, condescending but commanding, a rather freakish effect devoid of gruff bass notes, almost as if the transition of adolescence has never visited his vocal cords. He commenced the twice-told tale of a guy in New York who went to a pretty model’s apartment in the Dakota to pick her up for a date. In the living room the man encountered a Great Dane, and while the girl finished dressing, the man amused the dog by bouncing a rubber ball, which the animal would catch in its mouth.

The faint ringing that had begun in the sound system of the auditorium had now reached a loud, hollow echo level and the author stopped his story. Three men appeared from three different directions, each intent on correcting the embarrassing dilemma, but they succeeded only partially. The somewhat muted echo continued its distraction. And Capote continued the saga of the big dog that sprang for a rubber ball and leaped through an open window to its death a dozen floors below.

The audience had started to adjust to the little man on sage. Fewer and fewer nudged each other in the ribs when his voice struck lyric soprano notes. But nervous laughter would mount within the group, erupting every minute or so at the least opportunity. When Capote began reading an early story, “My Side of the Matter,” virtually every sentence was punctuated by spratic giggles from his listeners. It seemed an appropriate response, so with each appreciative round of laughter, his interpretation of the story grew more dramatic.

“My Side of the Matter,” is about a young man with a persecution complex who is riddled with paranoia concerning his wife’s family. It is told in first person, and more than one astute reader has noted its similarity to Welty’s brilliant story, “Why I Live at the P.O.” Capote has vowed that he wrote his story long before reading Miss Welty’s.

Certainly he has written better stories, but seldom has he written more expressive orf, indeed, more theatrical ones. His reading left no point unmade, no nuance unrealized. His gestures were plentiful, and each sweet of the hand, each snarl, each frown, was rewarded with laughter.

But the Peter Lorre-like imp did not go on with his caricature after that story. Instead, he switched the turntable speed from humor to tenderness, and he read his highly autobiographical, “A Christmas Memory”. This time the audience adopted a reverence. Several women dabbed at their eyes in the closing words. Clearly, Capote had won. He had converted the disbelievers, even those who had come to point and smirk, and his victory was evident in the unrestrained applause. The jarring, erratic cadence of the crowd clapping almost managed to drown out the hollow echo of the sound system.

Already four persons had stalked out to the lobby, had demanded and received their money back. One said the Festival folks were putting on a shoddy show. Everybody else, however, appeared determined to hear Capote’s response to audience questions, and the most sensitive of the lot were in for a few attacks of chagrin. When a girl rose and asked if he would mind signing a book for her father, paperbacks suddenly began appearing from purses and from beneath vests, and a lot of autograph seekers gathered at the steps leading to the stage. That’s when the Capote performance fell apart; it had lasted an hour and 38 minutes, and if anybody who had stayed to the finish felt it hadn’t been worth the money, no one said so.


The first thing anyone noticed when entering the auditorium of the Millsaps Christian Center Sunday afternoon was the table placed at center stage. Right smack in the middle of it was a bottle of wine, and to the right of the bottle was a glass, half full of the dark red liquid the sight had the same effect on the first to arrive, and the last. It caused people to sit stiller than people had sat the previous afternoon. Those who had to speak did so in whispers, almost as if the presence of wine in a placed named Christian Center demanded awe. And when Tennessee Williams came on stage promptly at 1 p.m. and stumbled just enough to drop two of the books he was carrying (but managed to hang onto the raincoat draped across his arm) several persons closed their eyes, in dread that it was all true, all those stories about his getting liquored-up and falling out in public. Some remembered what Truman Capote had said on that talk show, that Williams was going around claiming he had cut down on the booze. Capote said he had cut down all right, at least to three or four bottles a day.

At the podium was the woman lieutenant governor, a tall lady who kept reminding the audience, over and over, that the man was a native Mississippian. When she hammered on that point for the fourth time, they laughed. They laughed even harder when she said the governor himself would have been there, had he not been in the hospital getting a medical check-up. The joke was an inside one shared by those who recalled the governor having been hospitalized last year. That, too, was supposedly a check-up but informants reported he was suffering from a gunshot wound accomplished by his wife. They continued the laughter when the tall woman presented Williams with a certificate declaring him an honorary colonel on the governor’s staff.

It was hardly a reassurance when Williams took the mike from the woman and proceeded to sing the first few bars of the esoteric Mississippi state song. And it failed to squelch any scattered uneasiness when, in the midst of an introduction by a lady from his hometown, Columbus, Williams sauntered over to the table and seated himself in the chair behind it.

Oh, Christ, he really is drunk, they thought. But he wasn’t.

After the introduction, he slowly, methodically, raised his wine glass and proposed a toast: “To the imminent recovery of the governor.” The whole place fairly shook with guffaws.

“I know all about Southern proprieties,” he said, “and I don’t want to offend you. Yet I suspect that you expect me to be somewhat unconventional.” And he read a poem called “Ole Men Go Mad at Night”. When he came to a reference regarding “a fox teethed boy” he offered a sliver of parenthetical insight. “That is preparing you for the general, upcoming mood of this afternoon,” he said, “Not that you are not already adequately prepared. And on he went with the poem.

He sat on the edge of the chair, leaning rather precariously on the table, his head framed on one side by the wine bottle and on the other by the microphone. Not infrequently he reached up to stroke a mustache more carefully clipped than his enunciation. On a couple of occasions, he giggled his celebrated giggle, a sort of gentle cross between the sounds of a robust wind chime and a soup spoon caught in a garbage disposal.

He leafed through the book of poetry, hesitating here and there to consider a selection. “I’m doing this unplanned,” he said, smiling, “so in the meantime, you can bite your nails to the quick.” The audience laughed its last laugh of the afternoon. It soon became obvious that Williams was not aiming for humor. He was aiming for sensitivity. He was not offering the audience comedy. He was offering the audience challenge.

He read a longer poem, “The Lady with Nobody at All”. By now he was more relaxed, more comfortable. He was more peaceful. But peace and Tennessee Williams have not walked together often. Throughout most of his 66 years, he has been plagued with gnawing distresses, by claustrophobia, by fear of heart attacks, drinking. His audience didn’t bat an eyelid when Williams read a short piece of fiction named “Mama’s Old Stucco House”. Its central character, Mr. Jimmy, picks up hitch-hiking young men from the nearby air base and entertains them at the house where his mother is dying. There wasn’t a gri9n, even, when Williams read such lines as “An old faggot took me to New York.” The audience was responding to the playwright’s challenge. It was regarding serious creativity as serious creativity. This was no freak they were listening to; eccentric, perhaps, plenty eccentric, but no freak. They were being enlightened, not merely entertained, and it seemed so incidental, whatever might be his sexual preference.

With the final words of the story still hanging in the air like moth trailings, the audience sat motionless, somehow transfixed by a collective shot of Novocain. Then, after a few brief seconds of steady applause, everyone stood at once. No early jump-ups, no late dawdlers. In a single, united movement, the crowd was on its feet, together. It was as if that particular moment had been choreographed, rehearsed, waited for.


Capote had been placed on a Delta jet that morning. Williams had now finished his appearance. Nora Jane Ethridge’s festival duties were three quarters complete. With Williams holed up in an anteroom with a television crew, and the team from People magazine nowhere in sight, Ms. Ethridge could stop fretting and drop all pretenses. She stood backstage with her hands on her hips. “The one yesterday was all you ever hoped for. Why, I had Truman eating out of my hand. But that one, she said, pointing a thin finger toward Williams’ interview room, “he really showed out at first he was the most ungracious, most insulting person I believe I ever saw. But after a while, he was eating of my hand, too. When he’s through in there, we’re going over to my house to have a drink and relax a little before he has to go to the airport.”


Williams sat cross-legged in a wicker chair and accepted a jelly-jar sized glass bucket full of vodka. He was over the rigors of performance. In a couple of house he’d be gone. Around him milled other guests, anxious bo hear but cautious not to seem pushy. All hesitation vanished, however, when the playwright slid into the subject of Capote. They clustered around him, savoring each provocative explicative he spat out. Truman is a gutter rat,” he proclaimed. “Ill-born and ill-mannered. He’s never created an original character and what’s more, he is deliberately malicious. I’d sooner bed down with a cobra than to be in his company.”


The folks in Jackson will be talking a long time about the 14th annual Mississippi Arts Festival, the year when those two came to town. Long after they’ve ceased to remember what the men said on stage, they will recall what was said about each other. Long after Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote have forgotten what each was all about, or indeed, that there was a clash, Jackson will recount tales of it all. By then, some of the stories may still have some vague basis of fact, and perhaps that will be enough. After all, some vague basis of fact is what started it all in the first place.

What a Sundial Should Say

My sundial is a pillar with a bronze face.

I found the dial on a property belonging to the same company that owns my apartment. When I called them up to ask if I could move it to my garden, they said, “What sundial?”

Thinking quickly, I said they had the the wrong number and hung up. Later, with considerable effort, I moved the heavy pillar a half-block down to my herb bed, where it stands today.

The dial is worn with no gnomon and a trite motto: “Tempus Fugit.” This year, I’ve vowed to make a new face made for my sundial, with an ornate, accurate shadow. Upon it, I will inscribe the very words which define time:

It’s just a jump to the left . . .

Marry Me Chicken

This recipe has tons of celebrity baggage—Ina Garten, Glamour magazine, even Harry and Meghan, for chrissakes—but without the hoopla, it’s just chicken in cream sauce.

You can use boneless breasts, bone-in breasts, skin or no, but I’m telling you, trimmed skin-on thighs are best. Dredge chicken pieces in seasoned flour and cook in a blend of olive and light vegetable oil until lightly browned. Set aside. Lower heat and add enough flour to make a light roux. Add a cup of chicken broth, a cup of heavy cream, and about a quarter cup of freshly grated hard dry cheese.

Reduce, and finish with about a half cup diced or slivered sun-dried tomatoes and about a tablespoon of good Italian herbal blend. Salt and pepper to taste. Mix well, add chicken, and turn to coat.