Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Magi Moment?

Sometimes life imitates art.

Mrs. Hollywood and I had a laugh today over the fact that I have a watch that needs a battery. That, in and of itself isn't funny, but irony ensues. This watch is a pocket watch - which I carry mainly because I'm brutal on wristwatches. This particular quartz watch is a gift from my dad, but I have not carried this one in some time because, as I said, it needs a battery.

Since I don't have the tool to open it, I need to bring it to a jeweler. Mrs. Hollywood remembered a coupon that she has for a free watch battery from a shop on Manhattan Avenue. So, she got the coupon while I got out my watch.

Unfortunately, the gold-plating on the chain has worn off, and it (the chain) looks kind of shabby. So, I told Mrs. H. that perhaps I should get myself a new watch chain. This is where the laugh and the irony took place. For Mrs. H. has a mane of hair extending well past her waist. We quickly agreed that I would not get a watch chain for Christmas, nor would Mrs. H. be getting a haircut and a tortoise shell comb.

Get it?

If not, you must read this classic short story of American literature, The Gift Of The Magi by the American master of the ironic short story, O. Henry (1862-1910).

Grace and I once saw Magi done brilliantly at a tiny playhouse in Philadelphia, in which the show was acted by one actor and one actress in front of maybe 30 people arranged in a square around the tiny stage. It was mesmerizing. Needless to say, Magi is one of our favorite stories. We've even made a "pilgrimage" to the home in Austin, Texas where the author's family lived for a time, and the building is today the O. Henry Museum.

O. Henry is also one of my favorite authors, especially having bought all twelve volumes of the 1923 "authorized edition" of O. Henry's works in excellent condition (I think I paid ten bucks for the set!) - as well as a dilapidated 1920 edition of the addendum called Waifs and Strays.

I believe O. Henry may have originated the art form of the American short story with the ironic plot twist, the kind of brief tales that follow the format of The Twilight Zone, though his works are not science fiction. Some of his stories are comedies, some are tragedies, but they are all lively, engaging, and filled with the obvious real-world characters that O. Henry (whose real name was William Sydney Porter) met in his interesting and complex life. Most, but not all, have at least one twist in the plot - often held until the very end of the story.

Many of his tales take place in Manhattan (the borough in New York, that is, not the avenue in Gretna, Louisiana where we have a coupon for a watch battery...), with the names of actual Big Apple streets and haunts making their appearances. The stories happen a century ago, when a dollar was worth a dollar and when chivalry was still not on life support, and yet, in spite of the quaintness of life, the vast difference in the technology of the day, and the era's political incorrectness - O. Henry's stories still proclaim the human condition, original sin, the desire for redemption, the motivations of greed and love, and the artist's desire to see justice and right prevail, especially for the underdog - even if things do not always work out for everybody in the end.

The stories are fresh, and are a wonderful respite from modern life.

There is even an edition of some of O. Henry's stories for young people - complete with helpful annotations and beautiful illustrations.

One nice thing about the stories being in public domain is that they are available in reprints (very cheap), and even online (such as at Project Gutenberg). In fact, in my Palm T/X, I have (along with a library of other works), the entire corpus of O. Henry books that I can pull out of my pocket and read at practically any moment - something that would have been inconceivable to William Sydney Porter a hundred years ago. One can only imagine what and how people will be reading a century hence.

So, if you're still reading this blog post, I can offer you the reward of a few links to O. Henry stories I enjoy (though there are many more, of course!)...

The Last Leaf, The Rose of Dixie, and one of my very favorites: Transients in Arcadia.

And of course, sometimes art imitates life.


Mossback Meadow said...

Grace - have you seen the version of The Gift of the Magi that is illustrated by Tasha Tudor ( in her book, "Take Joy")? You resemble Mrs. D. remarkably!

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Mossback:

Grace and I tried to find the book, but it seems to be out of print. We'll try to find it at the library.

BTW, I was checking out your blog, and was really impressed to see that child #5 is on the way, and that you are a La Leche Leaguer (so was Miss Grace until Lion Boy stopped nursing). And your farm looks idyllic. The Jerseys look downright cuddly. I guess you're from Ohio, but a little ways from my birthplace: Akron. Of course, in Akron, we didn't have a lot of opportunity to drink in vitamin D through the skin (lot's of gloomy gray days there).

Your family, including your latest little one are in my prayers. We need more examples like your family among us Lutherans. Way to go!

Pr. H. R. said...

On some of the dark cold northern nights while stranded in a city we did not enjoy, Frau Pastor Curtis and I passed many an evening reading O. Henry to each other.


Father Hollywood said...

Dear Heath:

You and Frau Pastor are welcome to come and visit us in Gretna some warm southern night for eine kleine O. Henry reading in the parlor.