Lit Crit
Howie Good

Having fallen asleep in one city, Thoreau woke up in another. On the train journey back, a belligerent drunk demanded that he give up his job in the family pencil factory, and just minutes later, the man materialized in the aisle again to make the same drunken speech. It's why Thoreau loved trees more than people.

Spies were everywhere in those days, intent on uncovering what had happened to the dancing monkey. Police spies trailed Thoreau across Concord to secret meetings with Emerson and a couple of chorus girls. "Moose. Indian," they reported him saying.

I don't claim to be a great scholar of the term "Kafkaesque," but it might accurately describe the Grand, the café in Concord that used to cater to the literary mob. Emerson especially loved the cookies. Street toughs would run into him there after one of his notorious ether parties, his eyes turned inside out and his sunken cheeks covered in gray stubble. They badgered the poor man, who would still be experiencing the occasional chemical hallucination, with questions: "When you knock on a door, do you knock just once?" "Which do you prefer, the shortest route or the most scenic?"

It isn't all that surprising that a pimp once stabbed Emerson in the chest, narrowly missing his heart. Thoreau regularly visited him in the hospital. One day he found Emerson in the sun room doing arts-and-crafts therapy. "Why force a giraffe into a flower pot?" he asked. Emerson just shrugged. But, years later, perhaps remembering the abused giraffe, he would remark, "Nothing is funnier than unhappiness."

Howie Good is the author of a number of books of different sorts, including THE COMPLETE ABSENCE OF TWILIGHT, a collection of poems (MadHat Press).

Detail of art on main page by Pierre Alechinsky ("Pour la tanti¸me fois," 1976).

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