Monday Nov. 3, 2014

0:00/ 0:00

First Love

My first boyfriend was my second choice:
Beth got Gerry Jenson so I got Billy James
whose jaw hung, his tongue showing.

I looked down on Billy: girls were taller
in seventh grade. I wore his ID bracelet
and a motorcycle cap with his initials.

When we hugged, he smelled like Ivory soap,
his cheek smooth and soft—a Norman Rockwell boy.
Walking me home from school he carried my books,

and looked forward to a kiss at my door.
I knew he was trustworthy and true,
reliably mine, but Billy didn’t know me:

I’d met a tall guy who drove a Ford.
His cheeks were sandpaper rough
and he French kissed.

And on this day on my front porch,
when Billy handed me my books,
I handed him his ID bracelet

and watched his face redden, his eyes tear,
hurt bursting his seams. We both cried
soap-opera style, and Billy ran home.

In my room, I draped myself over my bed,
like an actress far away from home,
pained and in love with drama.

"First Love" by Jeanie Greensfelder from Biting the Apple. © Penciled In Press, 2012. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It's the birthday of the humorist and cultural critic Joe Queenan (books by this author), born in Philadelphia (1950), who had been working a series of manual labor jobs, loading trucks and selling tennis rackets, when he sat down one day and wrote an essay called "Ten Things I Hate about Public Relations," and when he sent it to The Wall Street Journal, they published it. He went on to make a career for himself as a freelance writer, and he's collected his work in books such as Red Lobster, White Trash, and the Blue Lagoon (1999) and Balsamic Dreams: A Short but Selfish History of the Baby Boomer Generation (2001). Joe Queenan's advice to aspiring writers is, "Don't write until you're 25. Don't write for the high school yearbook. Don't write for the college literary magazine. Don't write that stuff — you never had any experiences, you don't know anything, just shut up."

It's the birthday of the playwright Terrence McNally (books by this author), born in St. Petersburg, Florida (1939), who for a time supported himself working on radio shows. He said, "I guess it hadn't occurred to me that to be a playwright you had to write plays — I thought you could be a playwright and sulk."

Then, one day, someone recognized his voice and asked him if he was that guy on the radio. He realized that if he didn't keep writing plays, he'd be remembered as some radio personality. So he got back to work and produced Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune (1987), about a romance between a middle-aged waitress and a short-order cook who work at a café together. It became his first big hit and was made into a movie. His latest play, Mothers and Sons, opened on Broadway earlier this year.

It was on this day in 1838 that The Times of India was founded. Back then, it was called The Bombay Times and Journal of Commerce, and it was read by British settlers in India. Now it is a daily newspaper, and it has the highest circulation of any English-language newspaper in the world.

It's the birthday of photographer Walker Evans, born in St. Louis, Missouri (1903). He dropped out of college and moved to New York City, determined to make his way as a writer. He said, "I'm almost a pathological bibliophile." The only way to access the stacks of the New York Public Library was to work there, so he got an evening job working in the map room, which he loved.

At the age of 22, he moved to Paris for a year, supported by his wealthy parents. Paris was filled with expatriate authors, and even though Evans was inspired by all the artistic ideas, he kept his distance from the writers. He hung around Sylvia Beach's bookstore, Shakespeare and Co., but he refused her offers to introduce him to James Joyce — he was too scared, and left the bookstore every time Joyce came in. He said: "I was very poor and obscure and quite unhappy and lonely. No, it wasn't what most people think Paris in the golden age was. Not for me. I didn't know anybody." He took a handful of photos with a little six-dollar vest-pocket camera, but he was not thinking seriously about photography.

He moved back to New York City, and found himself taking more photographs. He said: "It was a real drive. Particularly when the lighting was right. You couldn't keep me in." He felt guilty about it, because he thought it was just a substitute for his real calling, which was writing. He started publishing photos and prose together, everything from little prose poems to reviews of photography books. Slowly, the photography took over. He didn't like to associate with other photographers — his friends were writers, or artists. He said, "I was photographing against the style of the time, against salon photography, against beauty photography, against art photography."

Over the next few years, Evans worked as a freelance photographer for a variety of magazines and books, and had several exhibitions of his work. He made a list of subjects he hoped to photograph: "People, all classes, surrounded by bunches of the new down-and-out. Automobiles and the automobile landscape. Architecture, American urban taste, commerce, small scale, large scale, the city-street atmosphere, the street smell, the hateful stuff, women's clubs, fake culture, bad education, religion in decay. The movies. Evidence of what people of the city read, eat, see for amusement, do for relaxation and not get it. Sex. Advertising." In 1934, he accepted his first commission from Fortune magazine, for a piece about the Communist Party.

In 1935, the Resettlement Agency (which became the Farm Security Administration) offered Evans a job and a camera to photograph small-town life during the Depression. In 1936, he took a three-week leave to travel with the writer James Agee and document the life of Southern tenant farmers for Fortune. The magazine decided not to publish their material, so the two published it themselves, in the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941).

Evans's photos documented a variety of subjects, including riders on the New York subway, photoessays of Midwest cities, images from train windows, color studies, and vintage office furniture. He worked as a staff writer for Time and as the sole staff photographer for Fortune.

He died in 1975 at the age of 71. Two days before his death, he gave a talk to a photography class at Harvard. He said: "I just found that this was my métier and walked blindly into it. That was a good thing because I hadn't had much experience or sophistication or study in the field. Again, I just brought my feelings to it. [...] You know that you're home when you're in the slot that's made for you. A lot of people suffer years trying to find that; it just came to me."

He said: "A man who has faith, intelligence, and cultivation will show that in his work. Fine photography is literature, and it should be."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®