When my children were little I came across books written and illustrated by a man named Chris Van Allsburg. Mister Allsburg is world famous for his exquisite illustration techniques and clever story telling. Like many people who wrote, he never intended to be a writer, he studied sculpture in fact. Because of a little serendipity he became first an illustrator of books, one actually and then wrote and illustrated a book himself in 1981. It didn’t do badly though, it became a best seller and won the Caldecott Medal. The Randolph Caldecott Medal, shortened to just the Caldecott, annually recognizes the preceding year’s “most distinguished American picture book for children”. If you’re not familiar with his work I can explain to you in one word who he is. That word is Jumanji.
Allsburg is a terrific illustrator and children love his books though I believe since kids don’t actually buy books themselves that parents are transfixed by the beautifully crafted covers. His stories include the aforementioned “Jumanji” and “The Polar Express.” My personal favorites is the tale of the “Two Bad Ants.”
In any case this is just background. One of his lesser known books is The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. It’s a 1984 picture book and it consists of a series of images, supposedly created by Harris Burdick, a man who has mysteriously disappeared. Each image is accompanied by a title and some line of text, which encourage readers to create their own stories.
I’ve been captivated by that idea for some time so I’m going to give you a chance to exercise your own imagination by providing you with the first line of stories not yet written.. Have at it.
Ben lowered his voice some and said to us, “You’ll see precisely what the Mattie Belle wishes you to see, and you’ll know just what she wants you to know.”
The Little Dog
Hopeful she is. She watches for the telltale signs, the putting on of shoes, the jingle of keys, any kind of stroll towards a door that leads outside. This is what my dog believes.This is her God.
Gone fer a Sojer
Ambrose Bierce was both a rifleman and officer in the 9th Indiana during the war between the states. He became one of the most respected writers in America, Stephen Crane and Hemingway considered him a great influence. He knew soldiering. At the age of 71, he died facedown in the dusty, dirty streets of Sierra Mojado, Coahuila Mexico. A shot to the back of the head. None knows his executioner save the Gods of the Mexican Revolution and Doroteo Arango, God rest his soul.
January 27th, 1947: Tales of the South Pacific goes on sale
October, 1957: Gidget, the Little Girl with Big Ideas book is published.
April 10th 1959: The movie Gidget premieres.
August 21st, 1959: Hawai’i becomes the fiftieth state.
April 1st, 1960: First issue of Surfer magazine goes on sale.
March 25th, 1963: Beach Boys Surfing’ USA released.
My father sat back in his chair at our kitchen table and looked at me as I was about to go outside, jump in my little VW with the two surfboards tied to the roof racks and said, “You know Mike, you can’t just surf all your life.”
He wasn’t wrong about much when I was growing up but he was sure wrong about that.
I climbed the stairs to the office. There were two mugs outside my door. One was sitting on his heels, head down, arms between his legs holding a hand rolled cigarette, the other standing, watching me come up. He was whip thin. He had a crushed and stained fedora pushed back on his head and a dirty lock of dark hair curled above one eyebrow. A half smoked Camel clung to one corner of his mouth the smoke lazily curling up, causing him to squint. Both were dressed in workman’s clothes, stained and with the particular odor of crude oil. As I topped the landing, the one standing looked me over and said, “You Shannon?”
Marvelous Marv was my foreign friend. He came from another country; Virginia.
Iron Jive and the Hemorrhoid
So heres the plan, pay a bribe to the boss so he will lay you off, move to Hawaii to surf and while you’re there have your hemorrhoids removed. Simple. Solve a problem, enjoy a vacation in the surf and get paid. What could be more perfect? Whay could possibly go wrong.
No great story ever started with someone eating a salad. Nope.
What is a life? Is it a story that no one remembers? When enough time passes does one cease to be even a memory, to anyone? To whom? Is it some or just one, somewhere. Are you the caretaker of that life? I am that.
Hommes Et Colere
The dreadful price that a man pays for his belief in the American Myth.
The Whale Shark
In our house we have a chair. It’s cushy. It is covered with the hide of a Whale Shark. Dark, dark grey and sporting white spots over its entire surface. The back is broad enough for the prince of cats, Wendell to bide of a cool day.
Heart of Saturday Night
All the great mysteries, wrapped in a satin cloak decorated with the constellations , infinitely distant, yet close enough to touch. The Wolfman, distant, yet speaking to you from the radio in the dashboard. XERB 1090, 50,000 watts of pure Soul Power, beamed north from Rosarito Mexico
The Plug Hat
My grandfather had a plug hat. It was a silly looking thing, especially when he put it on his noggin. He didn’t mind though, he wasn’t the type of guy who fussed about his appearance or who cared much about what people thought of him. Something I learned about those particularities when I was a kid, was that because he didn’t care, no one else did either, in fact, people admired him for his lack of pretense.
Ernie slid onto the little bentwood cafe chair, sitting under the dark green awning of the Deux Magots, he turned to the hovering waiter and asked for espresso, it being too early for a man who took great pride in the ability to put away drink. Maybe a little later, a gin and tonic with Angostura Bitters. As the day warmed, other dwellers of the Paris Demimonde began to stroll the Boulevard Saint-Germain, Studiously ignoring the big man at the wrought iron table in the way that the French so perfectly do, a little lift of the chin, a turn of the shoulder an inward look. A brilliantly dressed man, still in a tailored tuxedo, boiled shirt with an Arrow color, a perfectly tied bow tie, the white carnation still fresh after a long night, gave the slightest of nods to the man at the table and slid sinuously onto a chair and resting his chin on his manicured right hand, with a sly look and a twinkle in his large, liquid brown eyes, said, “Hemingway,
He sat awhile. He had a blank look in the eye. He scarcely moved. After a bit he licked the end of his pencil and he carefully wrote, “To the only girl who ever mattered” He looked at the writing. Then he nodded.
The Southern Cross
The sun popped up. It did, ..in fact, POP up. It was flattened like a sideways yellow wafer in the dawning, drawing its bottom free of the horizon with an almost audible jerk. In less than a minute dark became day, night had utterly vanished, the deck was alive with the light glancing from the gently riffling sea; a single ray, reflected from the binnacle, darted through the scuttle to light the face of the off-watch. The sun rose within his mind, his face broadened to a smile and he rolled out of his bunk.
The Golden Girl
She smiled. It was direct, clear, hopeful. I died on the spot.
The Princess Pat’s
They marched to the murmuring guns.. Dreaming of valor, flowers in their buttonholes; caps aslant, singing Tipperary, they moved up. On the way back, eyes blank, exhausted, bloody; they knew the truth of it.
It was like chewing on wasps.