My friend P in Paris, an occasional American Spectator contributor, notes that no one was celebrating or even remembering the day on Monday. Mouvement du 22 mars! The day it started! Ha, I say, that was when the jeunesse went wild in the streets, right? The Immortal Days of May! May ’68! Well, damn right, no remembrance. Our boys were dying in Vietnam that month, one of the worst. Stopped the commies cold, our boys did. And mind, it was French boys of the Gendarmerie nationale, their Texas Rangers, who maintained order and kept the kiddie play-riots from turning into a lethal mess. In the end there was little damage. The sequels were something else. You want to know why the French no longer know the difference between il and elle?
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P. himself is holding up, though he suffered a painful loss just three months ago and is in mourning. Good man, his American literature seminar continues, noting that he (not to mention his students) much prefer The Scarlet Letter to Walden. Who wouldn’t, I answer, that proto-hippie beatnik Thoreau, what a bore. And yet, in his own way, he is, like Hawthorne, very much in our grain, like it or not.
Anyway, for my part, as per getting a grip, which I suddenly felt a need for yesterday, I found it: Forget about “The Mask of the Red Death” for now (Poe is in our American grain too, I’m afraid) and try this: True Grit. Mattie Ross, Rooster Cogburn, they are what we ought to be. Charles Portis masters the idiom with comic brilliance. Here is Rooster trying to palm off a toy gun on Mattie in exchange for a real one:
“I will trade you even for this old piece.”
“No, that was Papa’s gun. I am ready to go. Do you hear me?” I took my revolver from him and put it back in the sack. He poured some more whiskey in his cup.
“You can’t serve papers on a rat, baby sister.”
“I never said you could.”
“These shitepoke lawyers think you can but you can’t. All you can do with a rat is kill him or let him be.… What is your thinking on it?”
“Are you going to drink all that?”
Rooster and Mattie, you can put them up there with Nick and Nora Charles, with Jake and Brett, with Rick and Ilsa …
But, perspective: read Lonesome Dove, too. The West is tragic grandeur as well as comic grandeur. Read them both. Read Mark Twain. End-of-the-world plague novels can wait. And boy, if it stops raining today, you’ll find me on the tennis court. I’m fixin’ to put a fresh grip on my Pete Sampras Pro-Staff right after I send this off to our lovely editor.
Editor’s Note: The coronavirus pandemic has many of us shut up in our homes for now. That can be isolating and frustrating. But it can also be a chance to catch up on things we let fall away during busier times. So we’re asking our writers and readers: How are you spending your time amid the shutdown? We’re open to anything that will make us laugh or think and help us share what will be a difficult time for many. Please send contributions of 250–400 words to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Author: Roger Kaplan