Monday, March 21, 2011

Poking at You Constantly

He pokes inside the reader’s mind, like this:

The reader of today, soaked in the Freudian sewage for so many years, will assume at once, I suppose, that Hoggie must have been a Lothario, and his headquarters a seraglio. Nothing could have been further from the truth. He was actually almost a Trappist in his glandular life, and his hormones never gave him any visible trouble until much later on, as I shall show in due course.

He pokes them in the eye, like that:

Hoggie would catch infant rats in a trap, pull their teeth with a pair of pliers, and then throw them into a barrel with a couple of his [canine] pupils. As the latter gained in strength and technique, he would test them with rats of gradually larger growth, retaining at first one tooth each, then two, and then four or five, and finally a whole set, upper and lower. Now and then a freshman was badly mauled in these exercises, but Hoggie did not despair, for he knew that any sort of educational process was bound to be painful, and he preferred the hard way for dogs as for men.

And then, H.L. Mencken, in his piece “Downfall of a Revolutionary,” describes the irascible Hoggie Unglebower, horse doctor, dog trainer, cat killer, sleeper of the stables and object of admiration of every boy in the neighborhood above the age of seven, as succumbing to the same thing that got Alfie Dolittle – except for the money thing. Hoggie, dressed in a beribboned straw hat, shaved within an inch of his life and smelling of Jockey Club scent, had fallen in love:

The ancient psychosis that had floored and made a mock of Marc Antony, Dante and Goethe – but not Shakespeare, Napoleon Bonaparte, or George Washington – had now fetched him, too. Some inconsiderable and probably pie-faced slip of a girl, name unknown, had collared him, tamed him, and made of him the dreadful popinjay that I had seen. The rest of the pathetic story follows classical lines, and is soon told. Hoggie disappeared from his stable, and was reported to be occupying a bedroom in the Unglebower family home, and actually eating at table. In a little while he vanished altogether, and reports came in that he was married to the lady, living in far Northwest Baltimore, and at work as a horse-car driver. That was the last I ever heard of him.

So now I’ve read something of H.L. Mencken’s. Probably one of his tamer bits; with a few tweaks this could easily have fit into a Patrick F. McManus collection. Giving me the feeling that maybe I’m not missing much. But I can’t judge by two simple pieces. I’ll have to read more.

I’m impressed by his grasp of vocabulary and history, however. To me, that’s always one of the hallmarks of a good writer.

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