And Whatever walks there, walks alone.

“Fear,” the doctor said, “is the relinquishment of logic, the willing relinquishing of reasonable patterns. We yield to it or we fight it, but we cannot meet it halfway.” And later, the doctor was gone, and “Silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

I used to read books with eerie passages, like this one from author Shirley Jackson (I could give you the whole self-analysis rationale, but I’d rather you make it through to the end of this little note…). I don’t read them so much anymore. Like anything else – cars, movies, clothing – the offerings range from cheap and disappointing to over-the-top-stand-up-and-applaud good.

Shirley Jackson’s classic scary book, The Haunting of Hill House, is the PHD of Fright, the Mother Superior Sister of Sinister, and the Extension Ladder of top-level terror. But – it isn’t one of those with chain saws, fingernail-claws, or soon-to-be-toast teenagers muddling around in dark places.

When I finished the last page of Hill House, I shuddered like a Labrador just out of the farm pond. Wasn’t sure exactly what had just happened, but – either way – it was darn creepy.

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And there are plenty of people who reacted the same way. At its publication in 1959, the New York Times reviewer wrote of author Shirley Jackson: “In The Haunting of Hill House” she has produced caviar for the connoisseurs of the cryptic, the bizarre, the eerie, guiding us along the frontiers between commonplace reality and some strange ‘absolute reality’ of her own.”

Horror-master Stephen King calls it one of the most important horror novels of the 20th Century. And he ought to know one.

There are plenty of books on my “would love to have a 1st Edition” list – and Hill House is on it.

Again.

After years and years of searching (oh, there are a few out there for sale, but not in my price range), I happened across one that I thought I might be able to own. Thought about it. Thought some more. Finally, I decided I wasn’t getting any younger, and made the commitment. Felt like a kid with a new grape sucker when it arrived in the mail.

Wrapped the dust jacket in protective archival plastic and put it lovingly on the shelf, where it has been for the past six weeks, and where I have visited it – more than once. Showed it off to my daughter on Monday and asked her to take custody of it in the event of my being run over by a bus.

Yesterday, the book appeared on the checkout counter. Without my putting it there.

When I looked up, there was a somewhat familiar face – a customer who has purchased a number of collectible books from me over the years. I removed the card that indicated the price, and tilted it in her direction.

She nodded and said, “I’ve already talked to my husband about it. I told him some of my college text books cost this much, and where are they now?”

I had to agree, and – although my heart sunk just a little bit – I rang up the sale and gently placed it in a bag.

It’s sort of a running joke – that the books in the shop are a bit like my orphans and it is my duty to find them good homes. I know this one will be well taken care of and appreciated for the special volume that it is.

Would like to have gotten to know that particular book-child o’mine a little better though! In the meantime, I’m back on the hunt for another orphaned copy of the book…which is okay, too. I love a good safari!

We’re serving up some hauntingly delicious fare at lunchtime tomorrow, so…

Come visit!

McHuston

Booksellers & Irish Bistro
Rose District
122 South Main St, Broken Arrow, OK!

And now, I can visit only in thought and memory…

We can’t know everyone, and most of you will not have known Rick. He was the one dressed only in a tin-foil diaper, appearing at the stroke of midnight as the Baby New Year at a party in his senior year at high school. He was the fellow who would do something like that and think only – What larks!

That served as my introduction to the real Rick Smith, who at the time was a part-time DJ at KTMC in McAlester, where I was working afternoons. Many years later, when I returned to the station as manager, I hired Rick to work morning drive. By then, we were good friends and had a long history as such.

As an ice-breaker at the first staff meeting, I offered a fifty-dollar bill to the person with the most “unusual” item carried with them in their purse or billfold. There were some surprising things produced, but the staff agreed that carrying a folded picture of tennis star Chris Evert was unusual – to the point of being somewhat bizarre. Rick got the fifty.

He was never shy about his enduring crush, although I never did know the basis for it. Rick – over the years – kept company with some of the most beautiful women, and I teased him that his search for the perfect woman in his life should start with his tossing out of the folded Chrissie Evert.

When Rick and I called each other “brother,” it was not slang, but a term born of fraternal affection, as of adopted siblings. Often, Rick was “me brogie” – my corruption of Brother and Droogie, from Alex’s description of his henchmen in A Clockwork Orange. As a fun-loving droogie, there was none better than Ricky T.

With younger brother Robbie, we made the small town night life circuit, which mostly consisted of young men sitting or standing and looking at sports on wall-mounted televisions. We were cavalier in our regular weekly forays, but it was Rick who was in his element. He had DJ’d at a local spot – Crazy Uncle Alberts – and perhaps it was that experience that worked to his advantage.

Once, I arrived at the radio station at sign-on time, only to find him in the parking lot with a young woman sitting behind the wheel of a car I did not recognize.

Forgot my keys, said Rick. He grinned and scrambled out, and we hurriedly got the lights and the transmitter fired up.

He took a fill-in position at K95FM in Tulsa when I was news director there, and Paul Langston put him on a weekend shift at the oldies station to get him more hours. Steady work never did come to pass. I don’t remember how the opportunity arose, but Rick came into his own when he joined a station group in Grand Junction, Colorado. The town was small enough for comfort but cosmopolitan enough to draw vacationing A-Listers.

His quick wit always at the ready, Rick immediately became a recognized character about town, hailed and hand-shaken as we entered a popular restaurant when I visited one summer. Once settled in, he pointed at the door and described how he had once pulled open that very handle and barreled in, nearly knocking down a woman who was exiting at that same moment.

It was Chris Evert.

In the company of Elton John.

Because we were brothers, Rick admitted to me that he had once rehearsed a series of lines that he intended to use in the event that he should ever meet Ms Evert (I almost typed “ran into her” – but that would have been too literal). He confessed that he was completely overwhelmed and rendered speechless when the event actually occurred and that he only managed to mutter something apologetic and largely unintelligible.

But he HAD met her, he maintained with pride.

It might have been a long-lived career in Colorado for him, but his health took a sudden and serious turn that kept him off the air long enough that his position was filled. When he called me, he had just taken a fall and injured his wrist along with his pride.

By then, I had left broadcasting after a twenty-year career, and was working as an apprentice cook, with the idea of opening a restaurant. I convinced the owners to hire Rick as a line cook and that between the two of us, we would produce the work of three employees. They fell for it. And we made good on the promise.

Even with one arm in a sling, Rick became efficient at the grill, and – to both of our surprise – he enjoyed it. When his mother’s health began to fail, Rick moved out of my guestroom and back to McAlester to help in her care. There he continued to spend time cooking in addition to some microphone work at some of his old haunts.

My plan was to take a sojourn down that way, to reconnect and reminisce, someday soon. Alas, I have delayed too long.

But I tell you, brother, all it was – was that I was young. But now as I end this story, brother I am not young, not no longer, oh no. And my brother has passed from this life.

Where I itty now, O my brothers, is all on my oddy knocky, where you cannot go. Tomorrow is all like sweet flowers and the turning young earth and the stars and the old Luna up there and your old droog, all on his oddy knocky seeking like a mate.

Sleep well, me brogie.

Brushing up on Retirement.

I remember some light-hearted fun-poking when it was discovered that former president George W. Bush had taken up painting in his retirement. It may be that the teasing was a little premature.

His latest book (he has had more than one on the best-seller’s lists) – his latest is called Portraits of Courage, a collection of military veterans paintings done by the former president. I didn’t really study his early works – a couple of self-portraits were among the earliest – but I know from experience that it is much easier to put down criticism than it is to pick up a brush.

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When the book arrived in the shop today, I was immediately impressed with the cover. Boxing in the title are a series of portraits that – taken at face value (nyuk, nyuk, pun intended) – are fairly striking. Stylized faces in soft colors.

Most artists of any note have their own technique, and if the result is supposed to look exactly like the subject, then a cell-phone photo ought to suffice.

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Of course, President Bush has had a few years to work on his technique: two terms and a swearing-in ceremony’s worth of time.

I’d say he’s made the most of it.

It may be favorite-son status, or former US president notoriety, but a collection of the original portraits is currently on display in Dallas, and the book is currently on display at the top of a number of national best-seller lists.

He writes in the book that he isn’t sure how his efforts will be received, due to his status as a “novice” – but he adds that “each painting was done with a lot of care and respect.” His efforts in those regards are apparent. His may be a quick ascent to the book lists and art galleries, but then again – maybe he paid enough dues in a different arena to legitimately bump up his place in line.

At lunchtime today I spotted someone looking over John F. Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage,” – published in 1961. I can easily imagine someone giving President Bush’s “Portraits in Courage” the same consideration in another half-century.

Providing that these things called “books” are still around then.

Come visit!

McHuston

Booksellers & Irish Bistro
Rose District
122 S. Main St. Broken Arrow OK!