Down To The Last Detail

December 14, 2010 at 1:35 pm (The Easy Chair)

Yesterday morning I was crabby, so I went back to sleep. The second time I woke up, it was to the squawk of seagulls and a blast of wet Oregon air. Beautiful!

The ocean feel to the morning complimented my latest reading material. Which was also my first grown-up reading material…

I believe it was second grade when I got the reading bug. Once something ‘clicked’ and reading became natural, I was never without a book to read. The elementary school library had a series called Discovery Books, biographies of of historical characters. I’d read a whole book, about 100 pages, every night before bed.

I upped my game, and got a children’s card from Sandy Public Library. It took me no time to blow through their available selection. One day I wandered into the main stacks and began looking. I found something that piqued my interest, and attempted to check it out. I was told by the librarian that I couldn’t check it out, because it was an “adult book.”

I don’t remember what the book was, but it wasn’t that kind of adult book. I slumped off, feeling like the world was stomping on my last nerve. They want me to grow up, but when I try, they tell me I’m not old enough. Ack!

On a trip to KMart, I spotted a paperback copy of The Last Detail, by Darryl Ponicsan. It had the iconic picture of Jack Nicholson on the cover, and the catch phrase “Three sailors. Five days. 200 beers. and a whole lot of @#$%! words!” Or something of that nature. It appealed to my 12-year-old brain like crazy. For $1.25, I will attempt to read a grown-up book.

And did I ever. I sat in the back of the car, reading quietly, stifling laughter. If I showed any mirth, Mom would ask what I was reading. Since she had issues with the military, swear words, adultery, fornication, drinking and everything else the book was about, I had to keep it away from her. Telling her it was about two guys escorting a sailor to prison made it sound just boring enough that she didn’t pursue any further details.

I read that book dozens of times. It made me, a pacifist, want to join the navy so I could go whoring and drinking with Billy Bad-Ass. I became a lifelong Jack Nicholson fan after seeing the movie, and even forgive him for Something’s Gotta Give.

After a while, I needed to expand my reading list. I went back to the library and went straight to the top. Head librarian Margaret Crownover. She was a neighbor and, since she didn’t embrace my mother’s religious beliefs, mom always treated her with indifference. Perhaps it was revenge, but Mrs Crownover fast-tracked my journey to adulthood by giving me an adult library card at age twelve. It was my can-opener to the world.

I read the library dry. Got on waiting lists, had books moved from other branches, traveled to other towns in Clackamas County and perused their selections. I was a word junkie.

I have not lost the need to read. While I don’t do as many books as I should, I always have short attention span reading material available. But sometimes only a book will do. Dr T and I make big use of the Multnomah County Library system, and the subject of first books came up. When I found that he hadn’t read The Last Detail, I checked its availability. One copy, status: ON SHELF. Woohoo!

I checked it out, and spent the last couple days rereading it. It’s a first edition copy, and some of the words are different then I remember. I read the book so many times that exact phrases have stuck with me in daily usage. Examples? When someone responds to a sentence by saying “No shit?” I respond, “Absolute constipation.” I refer to a couple of co-workers as ‘sexual intellectuals’, AKA ‘fucking know-it-alls.’

Or one of my favorite writing lessons: “Must am?”

“Must be must am because must is don’t sound right, do it?”

So when I heard the seagulls and smelled the sea, it set the tone for finishing the book yesterday. As I read, I couldn’t help noticing how much my writing style matched Mr Ponicsan’s, at least in this book. Stories are dialogue driven, and paint a large picture with few words. That is to which I aspire.

Probably the biggest rush of nostalgia came when I looked at the back of the book. How long has it been since you’ve seen one of those manila pockets in the back of the book where the little check-out card used to go?

It took me back thirty years. Notice the size of the fines. Adult materials five cents per day! Children’s materials two cents.

Mrs Crownover had warned me; with adult rights come responsibilities. Overdue fines for adults are not cheap!

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