TRIBUTE: Donald Barthelme, 1.18.08

Donald Barthelme

from “I Bought a Little City”

So I bought a little city (it was Galveston, Texas) and told everybody that nobody had to move, we were going to do it just gradually, very relaxed, no big changes overnight.

* * *

BEFORE THE READING

getting started
getting started

Dawn Raffel and wmc
Dawn Raffel and
Wah-Ming Chang

waiting!
getting seated

hosts
Justin Taylor and Fran Gordon

a full house
a full house

* * *

INTRODUCTIONS

Fran Gordon introduces the evening
Fran Gordon introduces the evening

Justin Taylor discusses Barthelme
Justin Taylor discusses Barthelme’
s work

* * *

THE READING

Patricia Volk
Patricia Volk

Dawn Raffel
Dawn Raffel

from “Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby”

Some of us had been threatening our friend Colby for a long time, because of the way that he had been behaving. And now he’d gone too far, so we decided to hang him. Colby argued that just because he had gone too far (he did not deny that he had gone too far) did not mean that he should be subjected to hanging. Going too far, he said, was something everybody did sometimes. We didn’t pay much attention to this argument. We asked him what sort of music he would like played at the hanging. He said he’d think about it but it would take him a while to decide. I pointed out that we’d have to know soon, because Howard, who is a conductor, would have to hire and rehearse the musicians and he couldn’t begin until he knew what the music was going to be. Colby said he’d always been fond of Ives’s Fourth Symphony. Howard said that this was a “delaying tactic” and that everybody knew that the Ives was almost impossible to perform and would involve weeks of rehearsal, and that the size of the orchestra and chorus would put us way over the music budget. “Be reasonable,” he said to Colby. Colby said he’d try to think of something a little less exacting.

Ben Greenman
Ben Greenman

Ed Hirsch
Ed Hirsch

from “The School”

One day, we had a discussion in class. They asked me, where did they go? The trees, the salamander, the tropical fish, Edgar, the poppas and mommas, Matthew and Tony, where did they go? And I said, I don’t know, I don’t know. And they said, who knows? and I said, nobody knows. And they said, is death that which gives meaning to life? And I said no, life is that which gives meaning to life. Then they said, but isn’t death, considered as a fundamental datum, the means by which the taken-for-granted mundanity of the everyday may be transcended in the direction of—

I said, yes, maybe.

They said, we don’t like it.

I said, that’s sound.

They said, it’s a bloody shame!

I said, it is.

They said, will you make love now with Helen (our teaching assistant) so that we can see how it is done? We know you like Helen.

I do like Helen but I said that I would not.

We’ve heard so much about it, they said, but we’ve never seen it.

I said I would be fired and that it was never, or almost never, done as a demonstration. Helen looked out the window.

They said, please, please make love with Helen, we require an assertion of value, we are frightened.

Fran Gordon
Fran Gordon

Justin Taylor
Justin Taylor

from “A City of Churches”

“This town is a little creepy, you know that?”

“That may be, but it’s not for you to say, is it? I mean, you’re new here. You should walk cautiously, for a while. If you don’t want an upper apartment, I have a basement over at Central Presbyterian. You’d have to share it. There are two women in there now.”

“I don’t want to share,” Cecelia said. “I want a place of my own.”

“Why?” the real-estate man asked curiously. “For what purpose?”

“Purpose?” asked Cecelia. “There is no particular purpose. I just want—”

“That’s not unusual here. Most people live with other people. Husbands and wives. Sons with their mothers. People have roommates. That’s the usual pattern.”

“Still, I prefer a place of my own.”

“It’s very unusual.”

“Do you have any such places? Besides bell towers, I mean?”

“I guess there are a few,” Mr. Phillips said, with clear reluctance. “I can show you one or two, I suppose.”

He paused for a moment.

“It’s just that we have different values, maybe, from some of the surrounding communities,” he explained. “We’ve been written up a lot. We had four minutes on the CBS Evening News one time. Three of four years ago. A City of Churches, it was called.”

“Yes, a place of my own is essential,” Cecelia said, “if I am to survive here.”

“That’s kind of a funny attitude to take,” Mr. Phillips said. “What denomination are you?”

Cecelia was silent. The truth was, she wasn’t anything.

Matthew Sharpe
Matthew Sharpe

Donald Antrim
Donald Antrim

from “Chablis”

My wife wants a dog. She already has a baby. The baby’s almost two. My wife says that the baby wants the dog. This may be true. The baby is very close to my wife. They go around together all the time, clutching each other tightly. I ask the baby, who is a girl, “Whose girl are you? Are you Daddy’s girl?” The baby says “Momma,” & she doesn’t just say it once, she says it repeatedly. I don’t see why I should buy a hundred-dollar dog for that damn baby.

David Gates
David Gates

Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney

* * *

PANEL

Ed Hirsch moderates panel
Taylor, Gates, Hirsch, Sharpe, Mooney, and Antrim
discuss the impact of Donald Barthelme

Ed Hirsch, Matthew Sharpe, Ted Mooney, and Donald Antrim
The Not-Knowing

* * *

from “How I Write My Songs”

In the case of “Rudelle” I was sitting at my desk one day with my pencil and yellow legal pad and I had two things that were irritating me. One was a letter from the electric company that said “The check for $75.60 sent us in payment of your bill has been returned to us by the bank honored etc. etc.” Most of you who have received this type of letter from time to time know how irritating this kind of communication can be as well as embarrassing. The other thing that was irritating me was that I had a piece of white thread tied around my middle at naval height as a reminder to keep my stomach pulled in to strengthen the abdominals while sitting—this is the price you pay for slopping down too much beer when your occupation is essentially a sit-down one! Anyhow I had these two things itching me, so I decided to write a lost-my-mind song.

When I lost my baby
I almost lost my mine

* * *

AFTER THE READING

bright lights
bright lights

* * *

from The Dead Father

Great wreaths of every kind of flower standing about on stands.

No Fleece? asked the Dead Father.

Thomas looked at Julie.

She has it?

Julie lifted her skirt.

Quite golden, said the Dead Father. Quite ample. That’s it?

All there is, Julie said. Unfortunately. But this much. This where life lives. A pretty problem. As mine as yours. I’m sorry.

Quite golden, said the Dead Father. Quite ample.

He moved to touch it.

No, said Thomas.

No, said Julie.

I’m not even to touch it?

No.

After all this long and arduous and if I may say so rather ill-managed journey? Not to touch it? What am I to do?

* * *

Donald Barthelme


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