Saturday, February 13, 2016

Of Mice and Men

While checking stats on my blog I noticed that I get a lot of traffic from Russia which reminded me of something a Russian told me. "You write like John Steinbeck. He's very popular in Russia." At the time it seemed appropos of nothing. I admire Steinbeck and have read most of his books, even some of the lesser known books. Steinbeck wrote about the everyman from people displaced from the once fertile middle of the USA that became the Dust Bowl and spawned black hurricanes and a black death unlike anything that came out of the coal mines to privileged brothers brought up by their father when their mother ran off and either became a whore or returned to prostitution, and wealthy in her own right. East of Eden was Steinbeck's version of Cain and Abel and very effective, stirring up quite a brouhaha because of the sex and violence and shattering of middle class morals.

As I looked for a picture of Steinbeck I was arrested by the way he reminded me of Ward Bond, a famous actor that starred in several movies directed by John Ford and a close friend of Marion Michael Morrison AKA John Wayne. Bond left Wayne his shotgun in his will.

Looking for photos of Ward Bond made me aware of something I didn't realize growing up. He purses his lips a lot, rather like Betty Boop or some pinup girl but with a rougher, tougher, more masculine purse. (No, I do NOT mean a man purse. A manly purse -- of the lips.) 

I could not find a good photo of Bond with a mustache, but the similarity is obvious -- at least to me. Steinbeck was rough and tough without the pursed lips. Bond and Steinbeck were contemporaries and were some of my idols growing up.

It's flattering to be compared to Steinbeck, even from Russians. I do like his clear, straight forward prose and the way he handles writing. I even enjoy his form of rabble rousing and the thread of brutal truth that runs through his stories. You don't get much more brutal than a mentally retarded behemoth who likes to kill rabbits guided by a much smarter and smaller man that keeps his feeble friend out of the worst of trouble while they drift from place to place eking out enough to live on during the Great Depression. Of Mice and Men was a subtle and brutal picture that could almost happen nowadays, except without the gloss and glitter of technology in the background. Life for drifters and bums and alcoholics and the detritus of society was lived in a more rural landscape and often far away from the concrete alleys of Skid Row and downtown New York City before Giuliani got rid of the homeless -- or at least off the streets.

Every society has its homeless, people who can't or won't fit in, feeble-minded no one wants to take care of (not even the state), addicts and alcoholics, and the budding serial killer or soul drawn to the gritty reality of taking life, be it animal or human. It's in the DNA and probably bred in the bone by some outside force of the ever spinning roulette wheel of genetic legacy. We were not all born to be peas in Mendel's garden -- or the unfortunate souls caught up in Mengele's grasp.  Steinbeck saw it all and carved out his landscapes and people them with those from different walks of life in all their brutal and angelic and commonplace glory.

When I think of Steinbeck I remember something his wife said about the look he got in his eyes sometimes when he stared at her. It was a 50-mile stare where he didn't seem to see her except as a character in one of his books. She said she felt like he was dissecting her and putting her back togeter in very different ways, memorizing looks and gestures, and not seeing her at all except as a tool for his books. Most writers get that look and it usually means something is beginning to boil to the top of the stew constantly fermenting in the mind. I'm sure I have it, though I try to be more circumspect when vivisecting people for stories or remembering them to jot down later in my paper journals where I can sprawl and conjecture and let off the brakes of grammar and rules and styles just to let the words flow from an oft opened vein. I've always been that way so it wouldn't do to quantify my habits because they are as much a part of me as the color of my eyes and thick ankles. They are born in the bone.

Even though Ward Bond pursed his lips to appear however he wanted to appear or give in to the tics and twitches so few of us are aware of or feed the mirror the latest look in progress, I still see him as the everyman, a tool for writers to guide and use to give life to their words. Whether he was a wagon train master or a village priest hip deep in the rushing waters of a stream hunting trout, he was -- and is -- the kind of man I grew up believing was the norm. John Steinbeck put the words in Bond's and other actors' mouths and fashioned a window for the everyman to see himself at his best and worst, vulnerable and unguarded, and for that I am indeed flattered to be seen in his shadow and reaching someone out among the masses fashioning new windows.

That is all. Disperse.