Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Hagiopoeia II

Samuel Clemens did not consider himself the author of "boys' books," or even humorous books.  He saw himself, first and foremost, as a newspaper man.  "Most of my life," he once said, "I've been a journalist.  As such, I was licensed to tell lies that would make Satan blush."

Before he became a professional liar, Sam was a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi.  "I had supposed - and hoped - that I was going to follow the river the rest of my days, and die at the wheel when my mission was ended."

Sam wrote a book about his time as a riverboat pilot, and he called it Life on the Mississippi.  It's a fine book, except for the muddy parts and the forced burlesque.  Here's a bit which Sam left out of the final work:

There was one boat I cubbed which had a captain - Captain Stubbleford - who insisted on testing everyone who worked on his boat, from the cabin boy to his first mate.  It was a brief oral examination of two or three or five questions.  Now, Billy loved the river and knew it like a fish.  Sadly, he lacked the intelligence which the Creator had given to that common animal, or even the wisdom of a fence post.  He also had only one good eye.  But he was a good worker, and we knew he'd be good for our crew.  So we told Captain Stubbleford that Billy was dumb, which is to say mute, and he would have to give his test in signs.

Well, the boys and I were prepared for the worst, even with that precaution.  Billy went to the Captain's quarters.  Five minutes passed, then ten.  After fifteen minutes, Billy stormed out of the room and ran off before we could stop him.  Captain Stubbleford came out after him, shaking his head.

"I am truly humbled.  That young man could be a river boat pilot, if only he could speak!  I held up one finger, to indicate there is one mighty river.  He held up two fingers, to indicate there should always be two on deck to face this river.  I held up three fingers to indicate there were three branches of the river at its mouth.  He then shook his fist at me, to indicate that all rivers are one:  the Mississippi is the Mother of all Rivers, the River that IS all rivers."

Shortly after the Captain left, shaking his head in amazement, Billy came by.  We nabbed him quick.  "Lemme go," he said, "Wait til I git mah hands on that cap'n.  He may be a good cap'n 'n' all, but he sure don't have no manners!  He holds up one finger, sayin as how ah jest got one good eye.  So ah holds up two fingers, sayin as how ah's glad he's still got two good eyes.  Then he holds up three fingers, sayin as how we got us three good eyes 'tween us.  Ah tell ya, ah got steamed!  Ah's bout ta reduce his good eyes by one when he wanders off.  Now, lemme at him!"

Soon enough, Billy forgot all about it.  Captain Stubbleford hired him on as a swab.  The crew all held Billy in high esteem, because the Captain told us how wise Billy was beneath his silence.

Adapted from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones by Paul Reps (Doubleday, New York)

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