Friday, April 15, 2011

Precursor to the Flashlight Man

Once in a great while, I’ll pull one of my Patrick F. McManus books off the shelf and read it. And chuckle. And sometimes make the kids come a-runnin’ to see why their daddy is laughing so hard.

What a vivid, foolish childhood Pat McManus had. And what crazy friends: Retch Sweeney. Crazy Eddie Muldoon. Rancid Crabtree. A merry bunch of idiots, either chasing through town trying to find The Flashlight Man – a streaker who stalked the town of Sandoint in the late summer evening, revealing his starkiness to women with a gentle flash of a light – or trying to spend that requisite night at the cabin on Spooky Lake.

William Saroyan reminds me a lot of Pat McManus’ tomfoolery. Maybe not as vivid – McManus is an expert at humorous exaggeration – but just as goofily endearing. Witness the boys – Aram and his friend Joey – at the circus, “working” alongside the roustabouts when Stafford, the school truant officer, shows up:

Stafford was a big fellow in a business quit who had a beef-red face and looked as if he ought to be a lawyer or something. He came over and said, All right, you hooligans, come along with me.

We promised to give Red a hand, Joey said. We’ll come as soon as we get this canvas up.

We were pulling for all we were worth, slipping and falling. The men were all working hard. Red was hollering orders, and then the whole thing was over and we had done our part.

We didn’t even get a chance to find out what Red was going to say to us, or if he was going to invite us to sit at the table for lunch, or what.

Joey busted loose and ran one way and I ran the other and Stafford came after me. I heard the circus men laughing and Red hollering, Run, boy, run. He can’t catch you. He’s soft. Give him a good run. He needs the exercise.

I could hear Stafford, too. He was very sore and he was cussing.

Maybe Saroyan’s tales have that verisimilitude, but I prefer McManu’s slightly more over-the-top, hyperbolic delivery. Both men could be included in a modern collection of humor and hold their heads high and proud.

More evidence why:

Bonus Saroyan Stuff. If it’s been a while since you’ve seen a web page that makes your eyes want to crawl out of their sockets to bury themselves, go no further than here.

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