Pg.17 #15

Thus was constituted that terrible trinity whose names are indissolubly associated for all time in the annals of crime. The fate of the three assistants was happier: they were in after life to become those distinguished surgeons, Sir William Fergusson, Thomas Wharton Jones, and Alexander Miller, whose names are yet eminent in the temple of science. It is a strange world.


They were all-but forgotten people: the breed that was remembered with a start, or with the unreality of a recrudescent dream. The day of carvings alone brought them into the sunlight and reawakened the memory of former times. For as far back as even Nettel, the octogenarian who lived in the tower above the rusting armoury, could remember, the ceremony had been held. Innumerable carvings had smouldered to ashes in obedience of the law, but the choices were still housed in the Hall of the Bright Carvings.


Before then, I’d never been aware of social classes. Suddenly they hit me smack in the face. We lived only a few blocks from some elegant apartment buildings on the Hudson where doormen stood day and night in front of covered entrances helping well-dressed people in and out of their big cars. It struck me for the first time that theirs was a different universe from that of the people who rented cheap rooms or that of my brothers and sisters scurrying to our jobs along with other working-class people.


Save existence, they had nothing in common,–came in touch on no single point. Weatherbee was a clerk who had known naught but checking all his life; Cuthfert was a master of arts, a dabbler in oils, and had written not a little. The one was a lower-class man who considered himself a gentleman, and the other was a gentleman who knew himself to be such. From this it may be remarked that a man can be a gentleman without possessing the first instinct of true comradeship. The clerk was as sensuous as the other was aesthetic, and his love adventures, told at great length and chiefly coined from his imagination, affected the supersensitive master of arts in the same way as so many whiffs of sewer gas. He deemed the clerk a filty, uncultured brute, whose place was in the muck with the swine, and told him so; and he was reciprocally informed that he was a milk-and-water sissy and a cad. Weatherbee could not have defined “cad” for his life; but it satisfied its purpose, which after all seems the main point in life.


He announces who we are. As he talks I amuse myself thinking of the unprecedented shock in his mind. A short while ago he was Professor Jacobi, a famed and aged man still playing like a fanatic child in his laboratory. He wore a skull cap and occasionally addressed an auditorium filled with dignified and obsequious colleagues. The world paused now and then in its Saturnalia of greed to turn its ears to his voice–a voice that promised calmly and authoritatively that new secrets were being wrested from nature; that science was fashioning new toys from life.


Two men in shiny brown coats hovered close to Isaac looking for pigeons to feed. Isaac watched the play of their hands. Their pursuit of birds seemed elaborate to him (Isaac couldn’t locate a smear of pigeon shit in the Place des Etats-Unis). The shiny coats belonged to a dip artist and his squire. Isaac appraised this pickpocket team with a cool turn of his mind. They can’t be from South America. The Guzmanns (a tribe of pickpockets out of Peru) would never wear shiny coats. These are locals from Algeria, or Sicily. Starving kids with the soft, beautiful fingers of a girl.


From where I am sitting now I can look out the window and see a pigeon being a pigeon on the roof of the Harvard Club. No other thing can be less what it is not than a pigeon can, and Miss Stein, of all people, should understand that simple fact. Behind the pigeon I am looking at, a blank wall or tired grey bricks is stolidly trying to sleep off oblivion; underneath the pigeon the cloistered windows of the Harvard Club are staring in horrified bewilderment at something they have seen across the street. The pigeon is just there on the roof being a pigeon, having been, and being, a pigeon and, what is more, always going to be, too. Nothing could be simpler than that. If you read that sentence aloud you will instantly see what I mean. It is a simple description of a pigeon on a roof. It is only with an effort that I am conscious of the pigeon, but I am acutely aware of a great sulky red iron pipe that is creeping up the side of the building intent on sneaking up on a slightly tipsy chimney which is shouting its head off.


Seven bits of page seventeens. There! I knew there had to be a quicker way to say it.

Classic Crimes, by William Roughead; Titus Groan, by Mervyn Peake; A Third Face, by Samuel Fuller; The Portable Jack London, edited by Earle Labor, from the story In a Far Country; The Kingdom of Evil by Ben Hecht; Marilyn the Wild, by Jerome Charyn; The Middle-Aged Man on the Flying Trapeze, by James Thurber, from the essay There’s an Owl in My Room.

9 Responses to “Pg.17 #15”

  1. Ben Hecht is buried inconspicuously in the principal Nyack NY cemetery. Nearby are the sites of playwriting partner Charles MacArthur and his family (Helen Hayes, James MacArthur). Carson McCullers’ grave is there as well.

  2. One of my favorite Thurber drawings is an illustration in “Is Sex Necessary?” It shows a tall chair from behind, with a bit of nervous face peeking around. The caption, perhaps by E.B. White, was something like “The furtive look a man gets when he sees a woman doing something he does not entirely understand.”

  3. He’s so good. And there’s that wonderful aspect of automatic drawing, where he let the line tell him what the cartoon was to be, as with the celebrated “All right, have it your way, you heard a seal bark.”

  4. The jacket copy on my old hard cover of Charyn’s “The Education of Patrick Silver” (a follow-up to “Marilyn the Wild”) insists that ‘actor/director’ Richard Harris is readying an adaptation of “Blue Eyes” (immediate predecessor to “Marilyn”), directing himself in the role of Manfred Cohen (owner of the blue eyes of the title). Far as I know, nothing like that happened. There’s a Ron Silver movie of a later book in the series, “The Good Policeman,” but I haven’t seen it and the imdb page is pretty unhelpful. The first four books (The ‘Isaac Quartet’) at least are aces. I’d love to see screen versions, but so much of the energy comes from the prose (c.f. your excerpt) maybe they defy translation into visual terms.

  5. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Jerome Charyn was my substitute English teacher back in the early 60’s at Communist martyrs High (aka The High School of Music and Art, Morningside Heights campus, NYC.) He was dark, remote yet cheekily literary and devilishly handsome in a way that drove all the girls crazy.

    He was a Little Jerry Salinger fan but bright enough to be able to spar with an avowed Anti-Salingerite like me.

  6. Okay, this is for Jeff Gee and David Ehrenstein – I am Jerome Charyn’s “partner-in-crime,” and I’d love to be in touch to catch up. David, you are right about “all the girls” – I was one (at Performing Arts HS) and we’ve been together since I found him again 40 years later. And Jeff, the (now 12!) Isaacs are about to be made into an animated drama series, Hard Apple, and the backstory on Richard Harris is a novel all in itself!! Write me at – his official email.

  7. Fantastic!

    I can only imagine being in development with Richard Harris would be a bit exhausting. Maybe not quite Going Mad in Hollywood stress levels (Jon Voight presided over David Sherwin’s nervous breakdown as he tried to write him a Robin Hood movie) but close.

  8. I asked Jerome to tell the story so I can share it and he agreed. I can tell you that alcohol plays a role. And there is a kicker that will change the way The Education of Patrick Silver (the third Isaac novel) is read by Sidelians from now till the end of time.

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