#934: The Stuff of Literature

May 30th, 2018

Picture two men who still see themselves in their 20s, but who aren’t.

See their greying temples, the early cobwebs of laugh lines around their eyes not yet spidered across their faces. Hear their small groans and grunts as they scale the hill overlooking lake on one side, bike path on the other.

Visualize them standing in silence for a moment at a lonely spot on the grassy outlook. Then they plop to the ground and hoist out the beers.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Ben Hecht lately. He’s the man who in the 1920s concocted the idea I stole for this site. He was a liar and an egotist, half if not all of his 1,001 stories (425 actually, but there’s a story behind that) he completely made up and he truly believed people were both impossibly stupid and impossibly beautiful.

There’s a line — not Hecht’s but his editor’s — that I’ve been thinking about a lot.

“… in this urban life there dwelt the stuff of literature, not hidden in remote places, either, but walking the downtown streets, peering from the windows of sky scrapers, sunning itself in parks and boulevards.”

Picture the two men taking off their shoes and stretching their toes out in the grass. Picture their T-shirts and cargo shorts — summerwear for the young on men neither old nor young.

Imagine the crack and hiss of popping the tops on two tallboys of craft beer and the near silent gulps of the first sunny sip.

This site is coming to an end. This is its last Memorial Day story. I’ll hit 1,001 stories some time this fall and then I’ll quit, walk away like it never happened. After a few years, a decade if I’m lucky, I’ll get tired of paying for the domain name and all the stories will vanish. No old book in a dusty shop for someone to stumble across. No microfilm newspaper record for someone to scroll past in a library. All gone.

Only ego would keep it alive. I try to capture fleeting moments. It’s only fitting the words are fleeting too.

The two men talk on top of the hill. They eye pretty women and watch a small child escaped from a nearby barbecue throw a soccer ball in the air and catch it repeatedly. Throw and catch. Throw and catch.

The men sip their beers and watch the waves lap on the water’s edge. They see distant boats dissolve past the vanishing point where gaffs become mist.

They talk about the important, the silly and the things that are both. They sip aluminum-clad beer and talk about fears, hopes, cleavage and late-night cable comedy shows. Memorial Day moves on. The families start packing. Beach volleyball games wind down. Day becomes dusk and the sky takes on the same misty cast the sailboats diffused themselves into.

The moment passes and my friend and I leave the grassy hill. I don’t know if I found the stuff of literature in the living or the typing of that moment, but it feels like I came close.

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You are currently reading #934: The Stuff of Literature by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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