A Dog Named Rex

Consider Gus Levy:

“. . . a nice guy. He was also a regular fellow. He had friends among promoters and trainers and coaches and managers across the country. At any arena or stadium or track Gus Levy could count on knowing at least one person connected with the place. He knew owners and ticket sellers and players. He even got a Christmas card every year from a peanut vendor who worked the parking lot across from Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. He was very well liked. (A Confederacy of Dunces, p. 202)

Levy was also the owner of Levy Pants, of late the workplace of Our Hero, Ignatius J. Reilly, where he had made himself at home among the filing cabinets, posting a a hand-lettered sign saying “Department of Research and Reference: I. J. Reilly” (97). Gus Levy met Ignatius after a fracas in the office left Ignatius and his co-worker, Miss Trixie in a heap on the floor. Intent on making a positive impression, Ignatius had announced to Levy that he has taken an interest in his business and will help him with innovations. But Ignatius quite to the contrary, responds to a letter from a client, Abelman’s Dry Goods, with extensive insults and addresses Abelman as “Mongoloid, Esq.” (105). Abelman, obviously not to be intimidated, responds with a threat of legal action.

After discovering his company is on the brink of bankruptcy because of the bungling machinations of a cloistered, anachronistic crusader, Gus Levy, after convoluted campaign, finally reaches the home of his antagonist on Constantinople Street in a declining neighborhood among

(31) a block of houses built in the 1880s and 90s, wooden Gothic and Gilded Age relics that dripped carving and scrollwork, Boss Tweed suburban stereotypes separated by alleys so narrow that a yardstick could almost bridge them and fenced in by iron pikes and low walls of crumbling brick. The larger houses had become impromptu apartment buildings, their porches converted into additional rooms. In some of the front yards there were aluminum carports, and bright aluminum awnings had been installed on one or two of the buildings. It was a neighborhood that had degenerated from Victorian to nothing in particular, a block that had moved into the twentieth century carelessly and uncaringly—and with very limited funds.

 The address . . . was the tiniest structure on the block, aside from the carports, a Lilliput of the eighties. A frozen banana tree, brown and stricken, languished against the front of the porch, the tree preparing to collapse as the iron fence had done long ago. Near the dead tree there was a slight mound of earth and a leaning Celtic cross cut from plywood.

(307) Mr. Levy climbed the steps and read the “Peace at Any Price” sign tacked to one of the porch posts and the “Peace to Men of Good Will” sign tacked to the front of the house. This was the place all right. Inside a telephone was ringing.

 “They not home!” a woman screamed from behind a shutter next door. “They telephone’s been ringing all morning.”

 The front shutters of the adjoining house opened and a harried

 (308) looking woman came out on the porch and rested her red elbows on her porch rail.

 “Do you know where Mr. Reilly is?” Mr. Levy asked her.

 “All I know is he’s all over this morning’s paper. Where he oughta be is in a asylum. My nerves is shot to hell. When I moved next door to them people, I was signing my death warrant.”

 “Does he live here alone? A woman answered the phone once when I called.”

 “‘That musta been his momma. Her nerves is shot, too. She musta went to get him out the hospital or wherever they got him.”

 “Do you know Mr. Reilly well?”

 “Ever since he was a kid. His momma was sure proud of him. All the sisters at school loved him he was so precious. Look how he ended up, laying in a gutter. Well, they better start thinking about moving off my block. I can’t take it no more. They’ll really be arguing now.”

 “Let me ask you something. You know Mr. Reilly well. Do you think he’s very irresponsible or maybe even dangerous?”

 “What you want with him?” Miss Annie’s bleary eyes narrowed. “He’s in some other kinda trouble?”

 “I’m Gus Levy. He used to work for me.”

 “Yeah? You don’t say. That crazy Idnatius was sure proud of that job he had at that place. I useta hear him telling his momma how he was really making good. Yeah, he made good. A few weeks and he was fired. Well, if he worked for you, you really know him good.”

 Had that poor Reilly kook really been proud of Levy Pants? He had always said that he was. That was one good sign of his insanity.

 “Tell me. Hasn’t he been in trouble with the police. Doesn’t he have some kind of police record?”

 “His momma had a policeman coming around her. A regular undercover agent. But not that Idnatius. For one thing his momma likes her little nip. I don’t see her drunk much lately, but for a while there she was really going good. One day I look out in the backyard and she had herself all tangled up in a wet sheet hanging off the line. Mister, it’s already took ten years off my life living next to them people. Noise! Banjos and trumpets and screaming and hollering and the TV. Them Reillys oughta go move out in the country somewheres on a farm. Every day I gotta take six, seven aspirin.” Miss Annie reached inside the neckline of her housedress to find some strap that had slipped from (309) her shoulder. “Lemme tell you something. I gotta be fair. That Idnatius was okay until that big dog of his died. He had this big dog useta bark right under my window. That’s when my nerves first started to go. Then the dog dies. Well, I think, now maybe I’ll get me some peace and quiet. But no. Idnatius is got the dog laid out in his momma’s front parlor with some flowers stuck in its paw. That’s when him and his momma first started all that fighting. To tell you the truth, I think that’s when she started drinking. So Idnatius goes over to the priest and ax him to come say something over the dog. Idnatius was planning on some kinda funeral. You know? The priest says no, of course, and I think that’s when Idnatius left the Church. So big Idnatius puts on his own funeral. A big fat high school boy oughta know better. You see that cross?” Mr. Levy looked hopelessly at the rotting Celtic cross in the frontyard. “That where it all happened. He had about two dozen little kids standing around in that yard watching him. And Idnatius had on a big cape like Superman and they was candles burning all over. The whole time his momma was screaming out the front door for him to throw the dog in the garbage can and get in the house. Well, that’s when things started going bad around here.”

 While Levy was absorbing this information, Ignatius and his mother came wheeling to the curb before the house, and were promptly engaged in an imbroglio over Inez’s engagement to the gentle, well-meaning Claude Robichaux. Gus Levy stood, transfixed by the absurd tableaux.

 (311) (Irene) had fallen to her knees and was asking the sky, “What I done wrong, God? Tell me, Lord. I been good.”

 “You’re kneeling on Rex’s grave!” Ignatius shouted.

We can all understand how powerful the death of a beloved pet can affect anyone, particularly a boy such as Ignatius who was overweight (a “big fat high school boy”) and assuredly precocious, neither trait likely to endear him to others his age. Perhaps we could reason that, for Ignatius, the dog Rex was the only creature who loved him wholeheartedly and without reserve. For that love to be negated by his Church and scorned by his mother (“throw the dog in the garbage can”) amounted to an apocalypse for Ignatius, for whom that love had almost if not actual divine connotations. Seeing his mother not only kneeling on Rex’s grave, but praying, triggers such an outrage in Ignatius, as if she were committing some sort of profound blasphemy. Perhaps we can find sufficient theological implications in these passages to suggest that the death of Rex (“the king”) is for Ignatius nothing less than the death of God.

Perhaps. Yet, bearing in mind that A Confederacy of Dunces is nothing if not a work of genius employing absurdity, slapstick, and a winsome affection to tell the story of a modern-day crusader, we shouldn’t expect Toole to craft an—albeit offstage—character with anything approaching unrelenting gravity. Indeed, we find a generous dose of camp/Rebalaisian comedy earlier in the novel.

Ignatius and Irene have been at it again, and Ignatius has bolted to his room for refuge. Again, note the theological language in the passage:

(26) Ignatius pulled his flannel nightshirt up and looked at his bloated stomach. He often bloated while lying in bed in the morning contemplating the unfortunate turn that events hd taken since the reformation. Doris Day and Greyhound Senicruisers, whenever they came to mind, created an even more rapid expansion of his central region. But since the attempted arrest and the accident, he had been bloating for (27-28) almost no reason at all, his pyloric valve snapping shut indiscriminately and filling his stomach with trapped gas, gas which had character and being and resented its confinement. He wondered whether his pyloric valve might be trying, Cassandralike, to tell him something. As a medievalist Ignatius believed in the rota Fortunae, or wheel of fortune, a central concept in De Consolatione Philosophiae, the philosophical work which had laid the foundation for medieval thought. Boethius, the late Roman who had written the Consolatione while unjustly imprisoned by the emperor, had said that a blind goddess spins us on a wheel, that our luck comes in cycles. Was the ludicrous attempt to arrest him the beginning of a bad cycle? Was his wheel rapidly spinning downward? The accident was also a bad sign. Ignatius was worried. For all his philosophy, Boethius had still been tortured and killed. Then Ignatius’ valve closed again, and he rolled over on his left side to press the valve open.

 “Oh, Fortuna, blind, heedless goddess, I am strapped to your wheel,” Ignatius belched. “Do not crush me beneath your spokes. Raise me on high, divinity.”

 “What you mumbling about in there, boy?” his mother asked through the closed door.

 “I am praying,” Ignatius answered angrily.

 “Patrolman Mancuso’s coming today to see me about the accident. You better say a little Hail Mary for me, honey.

 “Oh, my God,” Ignatius muttered.

 “I think it’s wonderful you praying, babe. I been wondering what you do locked up in there all the time.”

 “Please go away!” Ignatius screamed. “You’re shattering my religious ecstasy.”

 Bouncing up and down on his side vigorously, Ignatius sensed a belch rising in his throat, but when he expectantly opened his mouth, he omitted only a small burp. Still, the bouncing had some physiological effect. Ignatius touched the small erection that was pointing downward into the sheet, held it, and lay still trying to decide what to do. In this position, with the red flannel nightshirt around his chest and his massive stomach sagging into the mattress, he thought somewhat sadly that after eighteen years with his hobby it had become merely a mechanical physical act stripped of the flights of fancy and invention that he had once been able to bring to it. At one time he had almost developed it into an art form, practicing the hobby with the skill and fervor of an artist and philosopher, a scholar and gentleman. There were still hidden in his room several accessories which he had once used, a rubber glove, a piece of fabric from a silk umbrella, a jar of Noxema (sic). Putting them away again after it was all over had eventually grown too depressing.

 Ignatius manipulated and concentrated. At last, a vision appeared, the familiar figure of the large and devoted collie that had been his pet when he was in high school. “Woof!” Ignatius almost heard Rex say, once again. “Woof! Woof! Arf!” Rex looked so lifelike. One ear dropped. He panted. The apparition jumped over a fence and chased a stick that somehow landed in the middle of Ignatius’ quilt. As the tan and white fur grew closer, Ignatius’ eyes dilated, crossed, and closed, and he lay wanly back among his four pillows, hoping that he had some Kleenex in his room.

St. Teresa envisioned an angel carrying a long, golden spear with a fiery tip. ‘[He] plunged it into my deepest inward. When he drew it out, I thought my entrails would be drawn out too and when he left me. I glowed in the hot fire of love for God.” I’d be among the many who might present this passage as a precedent for religious eroticism.

But let’s remember where we are—in a world rife with absurd, comic scenarios—and who we’re dealing with—delusional, immature Ignatius J. Reilly, whose “hobby”, however stripped of the “flights of fancy and invention” retained the “vision” of the large and devoted collie,” Rex, chasing a stick that had somehow landed in his lap. This is nothing less than fierce, grubby auto-eroticism juxtaposed with an embracive sweep of western spirituality, another brilliant stroke to Toole’s portrait of Ignatius.

Nipping the Bud

The afternoon had been long, impeded by discoveries of even more cracks to caulk, more questions to quell, more smoke, more smiling. Now the sun was slatted on the wall, and he heard Mazie closing her office. She came through his door minutes later, a sheaf of files in her hand.

“This is the last of them,” she said. “Do you want me to take them to the bank?”

“No,” Clayton said. “I’ve got to go see Eddie later, just leave them here.” Mazie hesitated.

“Just leave them here,” Clayton repeated. “I’ll take care of them. And Mazie, you should know that I’ve decided to let you have that free time you’ve always wanted.”

“Free time?”

“Yes,” Clayton said. “Now that Jack is gone, I’ve decided to make some changes, and one of them is rewarding you for your service to the firm. You and Bud will be able to take those long fishing trips you’ve always wanted.”

Mazie looked at him steadily. “You’re firing me.”

“I’ll give you a nice severance check, and you have the retirement account Jack set up for you,” Clayton said. “Things are changing, and we need someone who knows all these new gadgets we’re using better than you do.”

“You won’t get away with it. I know things,” Mazie said.

“I know things, too,” Clayton said. “I know lots of things, Mazie. Like I know that Jack kept Bud out of prison fifteen years ago, and I know why. There’s no statute of limitation on murder, you know. I have the evidence.”

“It was an accident,” Mazie said, too quickly. She knew that Clayton would have the facts that Bud fired the shots that ended the woman’s life, and shots fired with malice and deliberation. Jack, only Jack, could have kept Bud out of prison, and he did somehow, before Clayton had joined the firm. Mazie didn’t even know that Clayton knew about it, but now that he did, and now that he intended to use it to keep Mazie at home and silent, she set her mouth.

“Then I’ll go,” she said. “You’re a bastard, Clayton Isley, a shit-splattered son-of-a-bitch. Your buddy Ward Mason is in the conference room. He said you told him to come in the back door. If Jack were here . . .”

Clayton pounded his fist on the desk. “Jack is NOT here! Jack is DEAD! I’m in charge now, and things are going to be different around here.” He sat back in his chair, breathing heavily and loosened his tie. “Go home, Mazie. And don’t forget what I said about Bud.”

Mazie left, her face set in fury and resignation. Clayton took the files she had been holding, the last of Jack Delancy’s records, and tossed them into the smoldering incinerator out back as he had done the rest of them.

He walked down the hall to the conference room. At the end of the table sat a wiry muscular man dressed in a threadbare jacket and a badly-pressed shirt. His watery blue eyes were set in a long face topped with thinning blond hair. His hands held a cigarette that wobbled slightly over the ashtray.

“Hey, Clayton!” the man said. His smile was wide, and his teeth were large, long and bright.

Clayton walked to a cabinet against the wall and poured a generous shot of whiskey into a glass. He sat the drink and bottle on the table next to the man and watched as he gulped down the drink, wiped his mouth with a hairy hand and poured another.

“How’ve you been, Ward?”

“Great! Great!  I got a new car last week, found a place down on Hooper Road, and I’m going to start fixing up the cabins on the lake, run the snakes out, do some rewiring, fix the plumbing, you know.”

“That’s just fine,” Clayton said. “You know, Ward, since Jack died . . . “

“Loved Jack!” Ward said. “He knew that boy was all about a bunch of lies, sayin’ I did all those things. Hell, I got kids of my own, you know. Love kids.”

Clayton looked at him. “Well, I believe that, Ward, I really do. You know, Frances has been a total mess since Jack died.”

“I can see why,” Ward said, nodding. “Losing a husband like that and them both in the prime of life.”

“She’s been having a lot of problems,” Clayton said. “We’ve had to keep her under a lot of sedation. I talked to a psychiatrist in Birmingham and he said it’s best that she goes to a place where she can get some rest, a private hospital he runs up in Gardendale. My wife and I are going to take care of the little girl, but the boy, well, he needs attention, and that’s why I asked you here.”

Ward’s smile faltered. “What do you mean, Clayton?”

“Well, a boy his age, he’ll be fourteen next week, a boy his age needs a man in his life, and I just don’t have the time,” Clayton said. “Now, I’ve arranged for him to be sent away to school, to a school up in North Carolina, not really a military academy, just an all-boys school that stresses discipline. But I think it would be a good idea for him to get to the country for a while before he goes, and I think you ought to take him with you up to the lake. Take him fishing, get some good fresh air. It’ll only be for a month or so.”

Ward licked his lips. “Clayton, you know, that boy in Jackson who got me into trouble . . .”

“I know all about the boy in Jackson,” Clayton said. He also knew about the boy in Mobile, the boy in Greenwood and the one in Memphis. He had seen the photographs Ward had taken, the looks in the boys’ eyes, and he knew that if it weren’t for Jack, Ward would probably be dead; either shot by a father or killed in prison.

“But Frances . . .”

“Frances doesn’t need to know,” Clayton said. “Nobody needs to know but you and me. I’ll bring him to you myself next Friday to stay with you at the lake. You can go fishing, take the boat out, skinny-dippin’ . . . He’s a good-looking kid. You two should have a good time together. I’ll pick him up in six weeks, in time for school.”

“Nobody’s gonna know?” Ward asked.

“Nope,” Clayton said. “I’ll pay you, of course. Cash. I’ll arrange for you to pick it up at the bait shop on Cane Creek.” He took out a manila envelope and pushed it across the table.
“Here’s some photos of him at the swimming pool.”

Ward opened the envelope. A smile flickered at the corners of his mouth. He replaced the photos and put the money in his jacket pocket. “Wonder if he’s a real redhead?”

Clayton looked at him. “I’m sure you’ll find out, Ward. Now you’d better go. Did you park at the supermarket like I told you?”

“Yeah, and I came down the alley.”

“Okay, I’ll see you Friday,” Clayton said. “Now get the hell out of here.”

Ward left. It was dusk. Clayton drew a cigar from his shirt pocket, lit it and leaned back in his chair. Sometimes, he thought, it isn’t enough just to kill a man.

Faulkner and Welty for Children

What compels writers of great works for adults to write for children? For whatever reason, many do, and some titles are familiar: C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, Tolkien’s The Hobbit, E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, and T.S. Eliot wrote a series of whimsical poems published under the title Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, a childhood favorite of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.

More obscure are Joyce’s, The Cat and the Devil, Twain’s, Advice to Little Girls, Woolf’s, The Widow and the Parrot, Mary Shelley’s The Fisher’s Cot, and then we have these little-known children’s books by two of Mississippi’s brightest literary lights; Welty’s The Shoe Bird and Faulkner’s The Wishing Tree.

In 1927, Faulkner gave the story that was to become The Wishing Tree to Victoria “Cho-Cho” Franklin, the daughter of his childhood sweetheart, Estelle Oldham. Faulkner was still infatuated with Estelle and had hopes of her leaving her current husband and marrying him, which she did in 1929. Faulkner typed the book on colored paper, bound it himself and included a lyrical dedication:

          To Victoria

     ‘. . . . . . . I have seen music, heard
Grave and windless bells; mine air
     Hath verities of vernal leaf and bird.

     Ah, let this fade: it doth and must; nor grieve,
   Dream ever, though; she ever young and fair.’

But Faulkner made copies for three other children as well and when Victoria tried to publish the book decades later, copyright had to be worked out between the four. In 1964, Faulkner’s granddaughter Victoria, Cho-Cho’s daughter, got Random House to publish a limited edition of 500 numbered copies, featuring black-and-white illustrations by artist Don Bolognese.

The Wishing Tree is a grimly whimsical morality tale, somewhere between Alice In Wonderland and To Kill a Mockingbird. Dulcie, a young girl, wakes on her birthday to find a mysterious red-haired boy in her room who whisks her, the other children, the maid Alice, and a 92-year old man through a “soft wisteria scented mist” to find the Wishing Tree. They wish, and they unwish, and at the end they meet St. Francis who gives them each a bird–a little winged thought.  The Wishing Tree is about the importance of choosing one’s wishes with consideration. “If you are kind to helpless things, you don’t need a Wishing Tree to make things come true.”

On April 8, 1967, a version of the story appeared in The Saturday Evening Post. Three days later, Random House released a regular edition, which went through three printings that year alone and no more. The book is now regarded as a literary curio from the man who put an Ole Miss coed in a cathouse in Memphis.

Eudora Welty finished what was to become The Shoe Bird in 1963 under the working title Pepe to fulfill a contractual obligation to Harcourt Brace—and to put a new roof on her house. She sent the final draft to Diarmund Russell in March, and he was enthusiastic: “totally charming—something all ages can read.” Eudora readied what was now entitled The Shoe Bird for publication in early 1964 with illustrations by Beth Krush, dedicating it to Bill and Emmy Maxwell’s daughters, Kate and Brookie.

The Shoe Bird is Arturo, a parrot who works in The Friendly Shoe Store “in a shopping center in the middle of the U.S.A.,” helping Mr. Friendly greet customers and bringing him a match for his end-of-the-day pipe. Arturo’s motto is: If you hear it, tell it. One day, a little boy who was leaving the store said, “Shoes are for the birds!” and after the store had closed Arturo, true to his motto, repeats the phrase and all the birds in the world—including a dodo and a phoenix—gather at the shoe store to be fitted for shoes. The Shoe Bird is a nice little story with lots of puns, but it’s heavy-handed with the moral of speaking for oneself instead of just repeating what others say.

Reviews in adult publications were “cordial but restrained,” while reception among children’s literature commentators was either negative or—as in the case of the influential Horn Book, nonexistent. Kirkus Reviews described the novel as uneventful and concludes: “the overly wordy result is so obscure that readers are likely to want to leave dictionaries as well as shoes to the birds.” An orchestral ballet was composed by Welty’s friend Lehman Engel and performed by the Jackson Ballet Guild in 1968. A 2002 choral piece was also commissioned by the Mississippi Boy Choir and composed by Samuel Jones.

As to what compels a writer to write for children, can it ever be as simple as to win over a childhood sweetheart, or to roof a house? It’s never that simple, and it’s not that easy.

Snipe Season

Will and Scott met in a dusty New Orleans bar on a wet November afternoon and shortly fell into a discussion of favored bridge abutments in surrounding states. Neither in fact were vagrants, both family men: Will an attorney, Scott a businessman, both Mississippians in NOLA for the wedding of mutual friends, Will the bride’s, Scott the groom’s. In time they found ethanol, automobiles and tall women in common too, but not hunting. Scott had never taken the field for game.

“Let me take you hunting,” Will said.

“Okay,” said Scott. “For what?”

Will looked him dead in the eye and said, “Snipe.”

“That’s not funny.”

“I’m serious,” Will said.

“It’s still not funny.”

. . . . . . . . . .

They left Jackson in the darkest dawn, drove through for coffee and biscuits, then went up 49 watching the earth settle, fall away and go somewhere else.

Clambering from the truck with gear, they sank ankle-deep in muck, slugged first to one patch of mud just above the pooled water to another atoll of broken grasses, the Delta sky pushing distance to the rim of a tall lens, bringing all else into focus, amplifying sound. The rattles of the brittle grass echoed into the distance, across the river, all over the world. The mud was as old Egypt’s, deeper and richer than sin itself.

That close to the river, the land is a matter of water–making it, shaping it, teaching it–letting earth absorb all light, all air, all crisp, cold and fragile, brushing a thin bitter crust on a north Mississippi morning with clouds coagulating white and gray atop a steady northwesterly breeze.

Furrowed and churned, dead with intention, the field was a patched mat of pale brittle stems that collapsed hither and thither, hiding muck, confusing footwork and sheltering snipe, the being itself, a will-o’-the-wisp the very color of winter—white, grey and black fading to or from indiscriminate brown, beige or buff in indifferent patterns on insignificant substance—a bird of earth without place in air where it seeks in fits to find a place and–failing, furtive–rushes back to the tussocks.

. . . . . . .  . . .

“Here we go,” Will said, stepping into the muck and pointing out into the water-mirrored field. “The birds hide up in piles of grass near water. They flush easy, so ease up before you move in.” The grass in front of them rustled and set alight two birds, translucent in the sun trailing faint alarms before they lit in another field.

“Can’t even see them mid-air,” Scott said. “They’re too light and grey.”

Will grinned. The sky was a blinding blue that dribbled down in pools and puddles. The only wind blew way above under a small cool sun, moving shadows of blades, leaves and stems. They walked, guns at their hips, talking to fill the void.

. . . . . . . . . .

“You don’t talk much about over there.”

“Not a lot to say,” Scott said. “It wouldn’t make sense to you.”

“Does it have to? Did it to you?

“Some of it did.” Beside them a clump of cattail folded brown and enclosed exploded into a busy ball of air. Scott crouched and shot, the sound bouncing across the field, the bird falling, twisting, one wing still struggling for buoyance.

Will found the winged bird, wrung its neck, put it in the sack on his shoulder and said, “I want to know what it’s like to kill someone.”

“Why? You gonna kill somebody?”

Will grinned. “Maybe. Maybe I just want to know what it feels like to point a gun at a man and pull the trigger and watch him fall.”

“They weren’t men,” Scott said. “Not to me. They weren’t even enemies. They were just things in the distance. Dark shapes that moved. I never killed anyone. I just shot things and watched them fall.”

“But didn’t they shoot at you?”

“Yes, dammit! Sure they did. You know they did, and I got hit, too!” Scott said.

“I didn’t know that,” Will said.

“In the fucking back,” Scott said. “Shattered my shoulder blade. It’s a steel plate now. Went right through. Bled like a motherfucker.”

“Can I see the scar?”

“It’s too cold to take my shirt off, man,” Scott laughed.

“You don’t have to. Just let me feel it,” Will said.

Scott stopped walking and rubbed the tears off his face. He cradled his gun in the crook of his left arm and with his right unzipped his jacket. “It’s on the left side,” he said.

Will took the glove off his right hand, turned and moved his hand into the jacket, beneath the shirt to the skin, the hair, gently probing, pausing, feeling.

“That’s not it,” Scott said, “That’s my . . .”

“I know what it is,” Will said.

“Up,” Scott said, “There.”

“Yes. Does it still hurt?”

“No,” Scott said. “Not any more. It’s still tender, but you’re not hurting me.”

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Will said. “I just wanted to feel the scar.”

“You’re not hurting me, Will.”

“It’s okay, Scott. It’s okay. Why don’t we call it a day, have a couple of drinks on the way home?”

. . . . . . . . . .

They moved towards the ruts atop the dam that passed for a road, their steps less measured, more insistent, no longer stalking, but in pursuit, the sinking sun reddening, silhouetting the distance, a glittering planet punctuating the blueprint heavens.

They climbed into the truck. Will cranked it up and turned on the lights.

“We can grab a bottle and go to Smitty’s cabin on the Big Black. I’ll call Beth and tell her to call Ann,” Will said. “We’ll tell them we didn’t kill anything, be home tomorrow.”

“Okay,” Scott said, wiping tears from his face. “I’m just tired.”

“I know you are,” Will said.

Ignatius at the Hop

“A small and sallow figure whose shorts hung clumsily in the crotch, whose spindly legs looked too naked in comparison to the formal garters and nylon socks that hung near the ankle,” resplendent in a red beard, besotted by the milk of human kindness—and perhaps feeling not a little guilty—stands on the porch of the Reilly home ready to provide some comfort to Irene Reilly. Patrolman Mancuso had found out that Irene couldn’t afford the a $1000 fine for drunk and destructive driving he’d given her.

Mancuso looked at the Plymouth and saw the deep crease in its roof and the fender, filled with concave circles, that was separated from the body by three or four inches of space. VAN CAMP’S PORK AND BEANS was printed on the piece of cardboard taped across the hole that had been the rear window. Stopping by the grave, he read REX in faded letters on the cross. Then he climbed the worn brick steps and heard through the closed shutters a booming chant.

 Big girls don’t cry.
Big girls don’t cry.
Big girls, they don’t cry-yi-yi.
They don’t cry.
Big girls, they don’t cry… yi.

 While he was waiting for someone to answer the bell, he read the faded sticker on the crystal of the door, “A slip of the lip can sink a ship.” Below a WAVE held her finger to lips that had turned tan. (p. 33)

The “chant” Mancuso hears is the refrain from “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” is a song written by Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio. Originally recorded by The Four Seasons, “Big Girls” hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 on November 17, 1962, and spent five weeks in the top position. The song—along with the movies that Ignatius sees at the Prytania—provides an important signature for the novel’s time setting. Mancuso follows Irene into the kitchen and they commiserate over coffee and donuts. Soon enough, they begin to discuss Ignatius.

“He’s out in the parlor right now looking at TV. Every afternoon, as right as rain, he looks at that show where them kids dance.” In the kitchen the music was somewhat fainter than it had been on the porch. Patrolman Mancuso pictured the green hunting cap bathed in the blue-white glow of the television screen. “He don’t like the show at all, but he won’t miss it. You oughta hear what he says about them poor kids.” (p. 35) “Oh, my God!” Ignatius bellowed from the front of the house. “Oh, my heavens! These girls are doubtless prostitutes already. How can they present horrors like this to the public? What an egregious insult to good taste. Do I believe the total perversion that I am witnessing?” Ignatius screamed from the parlor. The music had a frantic, tribal rhythm; a chorus of falsettos sang insinuatingly about loving all night long. “The children on that program should all be gassed,” Ignatius said as he strode into the kitchen in his nightshirt. Then he noticed the guest and said coldly, “Oh.” (p. 36)

Most of us will recognize “the show where them kids dance” as “American Bandstand,” but in New Orleans, in November, 1962, the popular local edition of was “The John Pela Show.” Pela was a staff announcer for local station WWL-TV who in 1961 took over hosting duties of the show originally titled “Saturday Hop.” Featuring a studio full of New Orleans teenagers dancing to the latest pop hits, and with groovy, era-appropriate graphics—including a stylized riverboat–setting the mood, the live, hour-long dance party originated from the WWL studios every Saturday a must-see for NOLA teens in the day.

Ignatius maintained an extreme opinion.

“The ironic thing about that program,” Ignatius was saying over the stove, keeping one eye peeled so that he could seize the pot as soon as the milk began to boil, “is that it is supposed to be an exemplum to the youth of our nation. I would like very much to know what the Founding Fathers would say if they could see these children being debauched to further the cause of Clearasil. However, I always suspected that democracy would come to this.” He painstakingly poured the milk into his Shirley Temple mug. “A firm rule must be imposed upon our nation before it destroys itself. The United States needs some theology and geometry, some taste and decency. I suspect that we are teetering on the edge of the abyss.” (p. 37)

After a tumult with Irene, Ignatius retreated to his room.

He slammed his door and snatched a Big Chief tablet from the floor. Throwing himself back among the pillows on the bed, he began doodling on a yellowed page. After almost thirty minutes of pulling at his hair and chewing on the pencil, he began to compose a paragraph.

Were Hroswitha with us today, we would all look to her for counsel and guidance. From the austerity and tranquility of her medieval world, the penetrating gaze of this legendary Sybil of a holy nun would exorcise the horrors which materialize before our eyes in the name of television. If we could only juxtapose one eyeball of this sanctified woman and a television tube, both being roughly of the same shape and design, what a phantasmagoria of exploding electrodes would occur. The images of those lasciviously gyrating children would disintegrate into so many ions and molecules, thereby effecting the catharsis which the tragedy of the debauching of the innocent necessarily demands. (p. 40)

Considered the first female writer from the German-speaking lands, the first female historian, the first person since antiquity to write dramas in the Latin West, and the first female poet in Germany, Hroswitha (c. 935–973) was a secular canoness at Gandersheim Abbey In Lower Saxony. She has been called “the most remarkable woman of her time”, and an important figure in the early history of women. Hroswitha’s six short dramas are considered to be her most important works. Ignatius’s conjuration of Hroswitha likely stems from her position of a dramatist, with the medieval stage providing a parallel to a televised dance floor, making  her somewhat of a patron saint of public performance. She’s an interesting choice for his appeal, since Tool most certainly would have been aware of Hroswitha’s reputation as a proto-feminist, which jars somewhat with Ignatius’s position as an ultra-conservative Catholic:

“I do not support the current pope. He does not at all fit my concept of a good, authoritarian pope. Actually, I am opposed to the relativism of modern Catholicism quite violently.” (p. 45)

Finally, lest we take recoil at Ignatius’s dire punishments for (presumably) innocent teenagers, bear in mind that Ignatius is a medievalist, and though diminished in light of more contemporary horrors, the Middle Ages were cruel. Ignatius is simply following the script.

Hood

The heat in the room was stifling, and the smell of stale incense, feces, and decay as well as something sharp and acidic, was overpowering. If it weren’t for the open window in the back of the room, Hugh knew that a thick haze of stench would have kept them out until a fan had been brought in. As it was he felt nauseous.

“He’s over here, Hugh,” said Derek, the patrolman who found the body late that morning. He pointed to an overturned chair that once faced a computer desk. The screen glowed with the image of a rapper who was still hopping and gesturing, the music still audible in the headphones around the corpse’s neck.

Hugh stepped over and saw the body, that of a young white man, once muscular, once handsome, now swollen and blotched with purple patches. He wore a yellow t-shirt with a pattern of green palm leaves and a pair of long, loose shorts. His hands were at his chest, and his tongue protruded between white, even teeth. The desk was in a corner between two long tables, both containing two large rectangular glass tanks without covers, all except the one nearest the window, which contained a large piece of wood, a hollow rock, sawdust and a small pan of water.

“Looks like he had a lizard,” Derek said.

Hugh turned and looked at him. “A lizard?”

“Yeah, an iguana, one of those big ugly-ass lizards,” Derek said. “People keep them for pets. I wouldn’t have one of the damn things in my house, I’ll tell you that. Jesus.”

Hugh looked at the tanks. “Just one?”

“Looks like it to me. Must have been in that last tank, see? It’s the only one that has anything else in it, and there ain’t no water.”

“A dead man with an iguana,” Hugh said. “I’ve been chief of police in this town for seven years now, and this beats all I’ve ever seen. Call Moreno and get him to pick up the body so we can look at this place. And open another damned window! Bring a fan!”

…………

The body was found in a one-bedroom apartment in a small complex near the downtown business district on a street that ran parallel to the concrete-encased creek that still provided the nearby river with a venue for floodwater, but that didn’t prevent rampant development along the stream from downtown well into an old sedate residential district on higher ground upstream. The apartment complex had a variety of single and double bed apartments, and it was near a small shady park with picnic tables, a playground and two basketball courts that was always active with people, even in the hottest months in George, Mississippi.

Hugh didn’t have a forensics team in his department. Given the declining finances of the city, he considered himself lucky to have a secretary.  But he did have a county coroner, who was an exception to the general rule of limited experience when it came to coroners in the rural South. The coroner for Poindexter County was Abraham Moreno, who for one thing was a licensed physician. Moreno was also a man of parts, having served in the Peace Corps during the Sixties and traveled around the world with his late wife before settling the little city of George with his daughter. When Hugh asked him why the hell he’d come to this piece of backwoods to make a home, Moreno said, “To go fishing, of course. That’s what old men do, Chief. Well, that and grow roses, but it’s too hot here for roses.”

Hugh went back to the station and settled in for a long afternoon of complaints, most of which his secretary Kelly dealt with, but some had to be dealt with personally. One such call came from the mayor, the Honorable Claude Thompson, who by the generous rule of the town charter, had the authority to fire the chief at the drop of a hat, and was not above reminding Hugh of that.

“Hugh, I’ve been getting calls all afternoon about that body on Henry Street. What the hell is going on?”

“Claude, we’ve secured the scene and Moreno has the body,” Hugh said. “I’ll call you when I have more to tell you.”

“Jerry Wesson called me out of his mind. In case you didn’t know it, Alderman Wesson lives one street over on Olive. I also got a call from Reverend Alice Monroe, whose church happens to be on the corner, and just in case you didn’t know, the victim was her step-son.”

Claude looked at the ceiling and counted to three. “Hugh, do you want me to call them?”

“That’s the last goddamned thing I want you to do,” Claude thundered. “Just get your ass in gear. Do I need to call the coroner’s office and talk to that foreigner?”

“He’s from New Orleans, Claude.”

“I don’t give a shit. You tell him to get his ass in gear too.”

Hugh stared at the dead phone, then called Moreno. “Abe, I’m over a barrel.”

“That makes two of us, Hugh. You should come here and look at this. Do you have any men at the crime scene?”

“I’ve got a patrol car on the street, but that’s it.”

“Good. Just get here as fast as you can,” Moreno said. “It wasn’t an iguana.”

The Dixie Limited: A Review

With The Dixie Limited, M. Thomas Inge fills a crucial academic niche in work on the Faulkner canon. Arranged chronologically from over the last eight decades in a collection of essays, articles, reviews, letters, and interviews by Faulkner’s contemporaries and their successors.

In his introduction Inge refers to a paper presented by Thomas L. McHaney at the 1979 Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference at the University of Mississippi, “Watching for the Dixie Limited: Faulkner’s Impact upon the Creative Writer,” later published in Fifty Years of Yoknapatawpha (University Press of Mississippi: 1980), edited by Dr. Doreen Fowler and Ann Abadie. McHaney stated that “writers seem to have more in common with one another than with their own native literary establishments.” He continues to say that “the literary establishment, especially in the sense that it constitutes the best-seller and the major book-reviewing media, did not have as much to do with him . . . as did the other creative writers in English. His impact on them was immediate and sustained . . .” Inge’s thesis echoes—and subsequently amplifies—this assessment: “The novel has certainly not been the same since Faulkner, that much seems clear, and the intent here is to document some of the reasons by surveying the exact nature of what Faulkner has meant to his colleagues both in the United States and abroad.”

The title references a famous quote by Flannery O’Connor that first appeared in a paper she read in 1960 at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. The subject of the speech, “Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Fiction,” notes a tendency to the grotesque in the “Southern situation” as well as the “prevalence of good Southern writers.” She then states, “The presence alone of Faulkner in our midst makes a great difference in what the writer can and cannot permit himself to do. Nobody wants his mule and wagon stalled on the same track the Dixie Limited is roaring down.” Inge notes that O’Connor took heed of her own advice, and developed an original vision and distinctive style of spiritual and gothic austerity. Eudora Welty also cultivated her own talents in Faulkner’s looming shadow. “It was like living near a big mountain, something majestic—it made me happy to know it was there, all that work of his life,” she wrote. “But it wasn’t a helping or hindering presence.” She also said—with characteristic modesty—that “[Faulkner] wrote about a much vaster world than anything I ever contemplated in my own work.” She was not intimidated by Faulkner; she learned from him.

We often lose sight of Faulkner’s earlier works, situated as they are behind the towering edifices of his Yoknapatawpha novels, but he attracted the attention of other writers at the beginning of his career. The Fugitive poet and future Agrarian Donald Davidson found Soldiers’ Pay (1926) the product of “an artist in language, a sort of poet turned into prose,” and considered Mosquitoes (1927) grotesque, too heavily influenced by Joyce, yet admirable “for the skill of the performance.” Lillian Hellman read the manuscript of Mosquitoes (for publisher Boni & Liveright) and in an enthusiastic review for the New York Herald Tribune likewise found Faulkner at his worst under the influence of Joyce in overwritten passages, but the novel demonstrated to her a genius “found in the writings of only a few men.”

Following the publication of The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), Sanctuary (1931), Light in August (1932) and Absalom, Absalom! (1936), nobody with an eye to the landscape of American literature could ignore the emergence of William Faulkner as a dominant if not to say dominating presence. Sherwood Anderson, writing in an essay for The American Mercury in 1930—sixteen years after the editor, H. L. Mencken, published his searing denunciation of the state of southern literature, “The Sahara of the Bozart” in the New York Evening Mail—set the stage for the century’s most celebrated literary rivalry by saying, “The two most notable young writers who have come on in America since the war, it seems to me, are William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway.” This comparison became even more unavoidable as the two barreled down, traveled the same track, or —in a perhaps more apt Hemingwayesque metaphor—faced off in the same ring.

As the century wore on, more and more writers, playwrights, and poets found it contingent upon them to weigh in on Faulkner’s looming stature. His impact in Britain was impressive, though mixed, with Rebecca West and George Orwell, who, as a champion of lucid style, condemning The Hamlet in 1940 as “fatiguing” and “certainly not worth a second reading to understand it.” Somewhat predictably, considering Faulkner’s own indebtedness to Proust in both style and theme, his reception in France was both spectacular and profound. Sartre declared in 1946 that Faulkner had “evoked a revolution” through his innovations in perspective, tonal monologues, and changing the “chronological order of the story” in behalf of “a more subtle order, half logical, half intuitive.” In a letter to Malcolm Cowley, Sartre wrote, “Pour la jeune France, Faulkner c’est un dieu.”

Inge delineates Faulkner’s deep impression on the literature of South America, saying, “By liberating these writers, and many others, from the traditional themes and methods of narration, and paving the way for new techniques in dealing with time and history and modern tragedy, Faulkner helped generate what may be the most vital writing in the world at the century’s end,” even going so far as to say, “It is indeed arguable that [Gabriel García] Márquez’s 1967 masterpiece, Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude), could not have been possible without Faulkner’s fiction to serve as inspiration and master instruction.” Inge also describes Faulkner’s global impact with contributions from writers in South Africa, Japan, and China.

In addition to the two above-mentioned, Dixie Limited includes a generous portion of women writers: Kay Boyle, Dorothy Parker, Elizabeth Spencer, Lee Smith, and others. Excruciatingly appropriate on several levels are selections from black writers: Ralph Ellison, Chester Gaines, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Faulkner’s fellow Mississippian Richard Wright. Faulkner’s impact—and lack thereof—on political and social issues features prominently in Baldwin’s essay, “Faulkner and Desegregation,” and it’s also the theme of perhaps the most endearing essay in the collection, Roark Bradford’s “The Private World of William Faulkner” (1984).

Faulkner’s critics are not ignored. In addition to Orwell, you’ll find disparaging statements—in varying degrees and often at different stages in their own careers—from Ellen Glasgow, Booth Tarkington, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, Katherine Ann Porter, John Barth, Truman Capote, John Steinbeck, and Vladimir Nabokov, as well as a generous helping of bile from Hemingway. Inge includes “one of the most damning assessments perhaps ever written about Faulkner” from Irish short story writer Sean O’Faolain, who concluded in a1953 address at Princeton University, that Faulkner demonstrated “More genius than talent.”  You’ll find most of these in Inge’s remarkable introduction, which deserves reading and re-reading for only for those includes these poison pen remarks, but also for and also paeons from the likes of Katherine Anne Porter, Carson McCullers, William Styron, Shelby Foote, and Walker Percy, along with illuminating observations from Richard Ford and John Grisham.

Though The Dixie Limited is an academic work, it is important for the lay scholar as well, particularly those of us who grew up in the same milieu as that of the man many consider the most important writer of the Twentieth Century. Our proximity to Faulkner seems to have bred in us a complacent acceptance of his stature. This book provides us with perspectives for a more balanced appreciation of a literary figure of global stature who just happened to have been born in the wilds of North Mississippi.

 

The Quest for the Red Zeppelin

It was mid-morning, late June, and Harlan’s truck was shaking, rattling, and rolling, kicking up dust on a snake-neck red gravel road two miles northwest of Big Creek, Mississippi, hauling ass over about a hundred square miles of nothing but hills and woods, heartache, hydrocodone, honky-tonks, bait shops and the occasional double-wide Baptist church perched next to a crumbling asphalt parking lot, making our way by fits and starts to the backwaters of Grenada Lake.

I was red-eyed from a blunt, grumpy and road-weary, but Harlan was ebullient behind the wheel, grinning like a Tartar, regaling me with his cynical and irreverent observations on the state of mankind and his critical assessment of my life as a microcosm thereof.

“I told you not to take up with that nigga Ricky, but did you listen? No, hell no, you had to move into that shit-hole duplex he shared with his sister.”

“That was three years ago,” I said. “Besides, I was in love. People do stupid shit when they’re in love. What about that Miss Lauderdale County you took up with who threw that five-carat engagement ring you gave her out the car window while y’all were driving across Lake Pontchartrain?”

He just threw back his head and laughed and said she was worth every damn carat, and if he’d had any sense at all he wouldn’t had fucked her sister. Suddenly it occurred to me how little I knew of Harlan.

*****

Harlan is a tall, solidly-built man with a head full of thick, unruly greying red hair, an bright, lazy smile, and the kind of voice given to people who have little to say. He can talk his way between a tiger’s teeth and gets his way in places most people won’t even go, like this farm in the middle of nowhere that grows the world’s most sought-after watermelon.

Harlan claims to be the world’s leading expert on watermelons. His qualifications include a stint in the Navy, a PhD from Cornell and 32 years in USDA’s harness. Along the way he picked up enough knowledge to make him a recognized authority on not just watermelons, but the melon family of plants. Watermelons, however, are his consuming passion and he has traveled across the globe in search of rare ancestral varieties. On his farm in George County, Mississippi he grows dozens of varieties, his prize crop the white-fleshed tsamma of the Kalahari.

Three weeks earlier, some laid-back ass-lick who makes more money in a day than I see in a month working for a slick new regional called me up out of the blue and said he’d give me a dollar a word for an article about the fabled Red Zeppelin, a pearly green  oblong averaging some twenty-five pounds. It’s most distinctive characteristic are pale, subtly shaded lateral stripes that gave the fruit an illusion of ribbing. The Zeppelin is also distinguished—indeed ennobled—by a dense, velvety flesh of surpassing succulence.

Harlan’s source for these watermelons is on a sloping red sand dune with an ever weeping spring in indenture on the ridge south of the Schoona River in a remote and sparsely-populated county in north central Mississippi.  We’d been on the road a long time, and I was just flat-out tired from the long drive up from Jackson, tired of the road and impatient with Harlan, who seemed alternately fidgety and distant. I just wanted to get there, get the ‘Zepp, and get the hell out.

*****

The sun danced on the rim of the world and shone in random rays over a country sculpted by loggers  and downpours. The road looped over hills, plunged down hollows, and turn-rowed bottom-land crops, following the design of some sweaty, half-drunk supervisor to no rational destination whatsoever. Then suddenly there it was, a gently sloping sandy hill, glowing and imposing, on the red side of gold, a washy bronze in the pale summer sun. as lyrically striated and undulating as a vineyard and punctuated by tiny glowing ovals situated like so many open whole notes up and down a page of symphonic notation,  As we grew closer I made out upon that terraced hillside a lithe figure in loose, faded red overalls with wearing a broad red straw hat with a billowing polka-dot ribbon gently hoeing a row of bouldered vines.

“That’s Royce,” Harlan said. “Let’s go on up to the house.”

The house was a solid dogtrot overlooking the broad Loosa-Schoona bottom  with a wrap-around porch sheltering high windows that framed dangling melded Mardi Gras bead disks, swinging strings, mandalas and figurines of colored glass. Each line, angle and corner of every room of the house, glowed in turn with ruby, topaz, purple, aquamarine, and a hundred dozen colors in between, bending light into blades, spears, and arrows.

As we stood in the foyer, Royce came in. “Hey, daddy,” he said.

“Hey, sugar-booger,” Harlan said, giving him a sloppy kiss and a pat on the fanny. “Where’s Owen?

“He’s on his way back from Grenada. He’ll be here around dark. Y’all come get something from the refrigerator and we’ll sit on the porch.”

The winds were warm and shifty, the gloaming sky a bowl of scattered dirty cotton clouds. Around dusk, a light breeze sprang from the bottom. We could see the cloud pushing it sailing north up the river from the backwaters of the reservoir. and a little slipper of a moon dangled over the fading sun. Soon, we heard a car horn beeping in the distance.

“Here comes Owen,” Royce said, looking in the distance, and turning to Harlan said,“Where is she?”

Harlan exhaled, stretched, stamped his feet and said, “In the back floorboard. I had a nice little box made, put a couple of photos in with her. One of us on our honeymoon in Daytona Beach. We both were wearing cut-offs. We were so happy. I put a picture of you in there, the one at the Sugar Bowl after the touchdown. She did love you, Royce. Don’t rob yourself of that.”

Royce smiled at him, and pointed to a faint star at mid-heaven. “There she is, Daddy. That little dot of light nobody can touch caught in the middle of the sky. Momma was a lightening bug in a beer bottle, caught up in a storm she made herself.”

Royce leaned over and patted Harlan on the knee. “I’m settled with it, daddy. You ought to be, too. She always tried to keep herself pretty for you, even when she saw the end coming. Let’s go get her.”

Owen, dark and quiet, embraced Royce as we walked down the hill, the field around us silvery under the open sky . We came to the east side of the hill, where the crook of Leo embossed the heavens. There in the shadows Harlan placed the glossy black box on a rough, flat red rock beside the weedy rill leading from the untidy spring. The wind rose.

“Bye, Momma,” Royce said. “Go home now. Don’t hurt anymore.”

Harlan began crying and we helped him back up to the house where we sat on the porch and drank and told stories about days we missed and days we didn’t until the noise of the night blanketed us inside and abed. In the morning Harlan and I drove south under a blistering orange-red sun with a clutch of pearly melons nestled in pine straw against in the bed of the truck.

Barbies of Jackson, Mississippi

North Jackson Barbie
This princess Barbie is sold only at the Towne Center. She comes with an assortment of Kate Spade Handbags, a Lexus SUV, and a cookie-cutter house. Available with or without tummy tuck and face lift. Workaholic Ken sold only in conjunction with the augmented version.

Ridgeland Barbie
The modern-day homemaker Barbie is available with Ford Windstar Minivan and matching gym outfit. She gets lost in parking lots and is the alumna of an off-campus sorority. Traffic-jamming cell phone sold separately.

South Jackson Barbie
This recently paroled Barbie comes with a 9mm handgun, a Ray Lewis knife, a Chevy with dark tinted windows and a meth lab Kit. This model is only available after dark and must be paid for in cash (preferably small, untraceable bills) unless you are a cop…then we don’t know what you are talking about.

West Madison Barbie
This yuppie Barbie comes with your choice of BMW convertible or Hummer H2. Included are her own Starbucks cup, credit card, and country club membership.  As optional items, BIG sunglasses and white tennis hat to wear while driving the SUV at unsafe speeds. Also available for this set are Shallow Ken and Private School Skipper. You won’t be able to afford any of them.

West Pearl Barbie
This pale model comes dressed in her own Wrangler jeans two sizes too small, a NASCAR t-shirt and tweety bird tattoo on her shoulder. She has a six-pack of Bud Lite and a Hank Williams Jr. CD set. She can spit over 5 feet and kick mullet-haired Ken’s ass when she is drunk. Purchase her pickup truck separately and get a Confederate flag bumper sticker absolutely free.

East Pearl Barbie
This tobacco-chewing, brassy-haired Barbie has a pair of her own high-heeled sandals with one broken heel from the time she chased beer-gutted Ken out of Millington Barbie’s house. Her ensemble includes low-rise acid-washed jeans, fake fingernails and a see-through halter-top. Also available with a mobile home.

Fondren Barbie
This doll is made of tofu. She has long straight brown hair, arch-less feet, and Birkenstocks with white socks. She prefers that you call her Willow. She does not want or need a Ken doll, but if you purchase two Fondren Barbies with the optional Subaru wagon, you get a rainbow flag bumper sticker for free.

Belhaven Barbie
This mature Barbie is the only doll that comes with support hose, hair toppers, and a membership in the neighborhood improvement association. Package also includes a vintage SUV, a variety of “fur babies,” and Pompous Ken. Options include a golf cart and the Martha Stewart kitchen collection.

West Jackson Barbie
This Barbie now comes with a stroller and infant doll. Optional accessories include a GED and bus pass. Gangsta Ken and his 1979 Caddy were available, but are now very difficult to find since the addition of the infant

Flowood/Rez Barbie
This doll includes a Chevy Tahoe with multiple private school stickers, Closeted Ken, 2 Whining Wendy, and an incontinent shih-tzu named Rags. She has highlights from Ms. Ann’s, a mega-church membership, and an I-phone with matching earbuds. Kroger buggy with pineapple optional.

McDowell Road Barbie/Ken
This versatile doll can be easily converted from Barbie to Ken by simply adding or subtracting the multiple snap-on parts.

Dahomey

He was wealthy, born to wealth, with a wife and children in a mansion on St. Charles, land from Natchez to Memphis, a man of taste and discretion, well-schooled in the ways of the world. She was born to poverty, with a man who beat her and a red leather trunk containing everything she owned, a woman-child of the sort you find with a stage for a cradle, knowing nothing of the world beyond footlights. But before those, oh, how she shined.

One night she plucked out his heart and held it in her hand. For an ethereal week, he kept her with style and passion in an apartment on Ursuline. Then the revue—a musical comedy, ‘In Dahomey’—swept her to Chicago, Manhattan, London, Paris, and into the arms of others.

When he bought 24,000 acres in Boliver County the next year, he smiled as he signed the deed, remembering her face, radiant in the limeights, and her body warm beside him.