A PEN WARMED IN HELL

Milwaukee Art Museum Folk Art Collection

Boogerman Devil Figure 1992 by Ernest Patton figure in the Folk Art collection of the Milwaukee Art Museum

I can’t remember the essay’s contents but I do remember being intrigued by the tone of it.  Here was lovable Mark Twain author of Ransom of Red Chief,  A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and many other beloved humorous stories being, well harsh, almost mean-spirited but for a good cause.  Yes, there was humor in the essay as my high school English teacher  Ms. Tunstall read it. Yet, it was a bitter humor one that made you laugh and smart from the sting at the same time.  This wasn’t the Mark Twain I knew while appreciating the biting sarcasm (what teenager wouldn’t like that!) I was stunned the warm Southern grandfather figure with the bushy white mustache was so caustic.  The anthology of essays was A Pen Warmed Up In Hell.  At the time I wanted a copy to read it all.  It was out of print and I couldn’t find a used copy.  Apparently people weren’t clamoring to be stung by a beloved author.

Years went on and I didn’t pay much mind to it.  The phrase “a pen warmed in hell”  would scoot across my mind from time to time. When it did I would think, oh yeah there was more to that Mark Twain fella than just warm fuzzy laughs and good dialect writing (oh I wish that would come back in style I love it).  Other than that I went on living my the rest of my teens, 20s, 30s, and half my 40s without giving it much more thought.  Until a few days ago, this time it didn’t just scoot but instead it walked in and sat down in my mind.  “Okay you’re old enough to get now.”  It seemed to say and the thoughts started brewing.

Yes, I do get it.  I’m aging into a crotchety old koot.  I know as I watched people attempt to board my plane with more than two carry ons.  I contemplated are they stupid and can’t count or just selfish bastards.  Either way I felt some need to tell them, but I didn’t instead I tweeted it to the world.  Yeah I said it aloud in a humorous way. Why?  Because I’m tired of keeping my mouth shut.  I no longer tolerate fools, rudeness, or rude fools as well as I once did.  I wish I was aging into a happy smiling Buddha-faced elder woman who looks at such things with loving tolerance.  I don’t.  I’m not aging into that.  I’m aging into hardened hopefully wizened old crone. 

I get sick of modern displays of fools.  You know those who buy internet scams hook, line and sinker.  Okay if it’s not well written, doesn’t make sense, or says a computer will do something that either it can’t do or would take a fortune to program it to do – it’s a scam.  If you are unable to reason this on your own a quick search will bring answers of all kinds of reliable authorities to your fingertips.  I’m giving you a HUGE benefit of a doubt that you know how to screen sources for reliability and this may be my fallacy.

You know if I have to display my spiritual faith in some on-line community for it to be valid then I don’t want it.  Nope, that’s shallow and demeaning of what I see as the most intimate and important aspect of the human – their soul.  I can’t see it matters  a rat’s ass to any divine being that my status on Facebook says anything in particular.  If that’s the litmus  test I want to fail.  I want my spiritual experience to be deeper and more personal than that.  I don’t care to “show it” because what you or anyone else thinks is irrelevant to me. 

Also businesses that don’t seem to consider the customer. Yeah you ,Continental Airlines I’m looking RIGHT at you on this one. When you have a gate with 24 seats, that’s not enough.   NOW add three more gates waiting at the same door, well those 24 seats are ridiculous. Then to add to the foolishness I don’t tolerate well have security come by and chastise us for standing in the walkway.  To make it even worse have young people wallowing around in the chairs lost on electronic devices while the elderly lady next to me struggles to wait standing.  Whatever happened to manners? Oh and thanks kid for flipping me the bird when I suggested you wallow in the floor and let her sit down.

Now don’t get me wrong I don’t think youth is going to hell in a hand basket any more than we were or our parents were in the 50’s or their parents in the 20’sWe all did something daring that shocked the prudes of the older generation be it sagging, heavy metal, ducktail hair cuts, or bobbed hair with rolled stockings.  That’s fine.  I don’t mind rap, don’t like it but I’m not supposed to like it.  I don’t mind sagging and think they’ll laugh at it like I do big  80’s hair and 70’s roller disco. Youth is youth and even the ancient Egyptians were sure the next generation were spoiled, uneducated, had it too easy, and were going to hell in a hand basket.

The manners I’m talking about are simple consideration of others.  That’s all.  Thinking beyond yourself to the rest of the world.  Like maybe  2 carry ons means 2 for me too. AND even if I put wheels on it a foot locker still won’t fit under a seat or in the overhead bin even though it’s one of two things I have.  Or that maybe since there’s 4 gates here and we don’t want people waiting blocking the hall we should extend our waiting area and add some more chairs.  Like maybe being the kid in line in front of me today who saw the old man struggling to find enough change in his car to pay the last bit on his groceries and handed the woman a dollar to cover it.  (The old man cried and I just about did).

Just when I get sparks flying from warm hellish pen, someone goes and does something like that.  All the things that fire up my caustic tongue are doused by the simple act of paying a buck for someone else.  Yeah it’s still out there and I thanked the kid for his kindness.  He shrugged it off as the white wires to his ears danced with the lift of his shoulders. “It’s what you’re supposed to do.”  He turned and left with chips and soda, pants sagging so I could see plaid boxers, head bobbing to some music I’m no longer the target audience for any way.  I bet when he gets older he has a smiling Buddha face or maybe he’ll hold a hot pen tired of those who don’t know what you’re supposed to do.  Either way he didn’t just help the old man but he help me, my fiery rant was quench by witnessing the kindness I longed to see.

Home now, my wrath doused I looked for that anthology of Mark Twain’s essays.  I find it’s now available on  Amazon.  I’m awaiting my copy.  I get it now, it’s not Mark Twain’s voice there but an aging Samuel Clemens.  One who aches to see kindness to others, a bit help to the underdog, and is tired of keeping his mouth shut about it.  Ya know, I bet that bushy white mustache would have covered a smile today at the grocery if Old Sam had been in line behind me.

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