February 5, 2004

But soon that warmth turned to an itch

* √Čtude in Westchester, a short story written by Steve Almond and Alicia Erian.

* Thieves, a short story by Richard Yates. An excerpt:

"Talent," Robert Blaine said in his slow, invalid's voice, "is simply a matter of knowing how to handle yourself." He relaxed on his pillow, eyes gleaming, and shifted his skinny legs under the sheet. "That answer your question?"

"Well, now, wait a minute, Bob," Jones said. His wheelchair was drawn up respectfully beside the bed and he looked absorbed but dissatisfied, begging to differ. "I wouldn't define it as knowing how to handle yourself, exactly. I mean, doesn't it depend a lot on the particular kind of talent you're talking about, the particular line of work?"

"Oh, line of work my ass," Blaine said. "Talent is talent."

That was how the evening's talk began at Blaine's bed. There was always a lull in the tuberculosis ward after the wheeling-out of supper trays, when the sun threw long yellow stripes on the floor below the west windows and dazzled the silver spokes of wheelchairs in its path; it was a time when most of the thirty men who lived in the ward convened in little groups to talk or play cards. Jones usually came over to Blaine's bed. He thought Blaine the most learned man and the best conversationalist in the building, and if there was one thing Jones loved, he said, it was a good gabfest. Tonight they were joined by young O'Grady, a husky newcomer to the ward who sat hunched at the foot of Blaine's bed, his eyes darting from one speaker to the other. What was talent? Blaine had used the word, Jones had demanded a definition and now the lines were drawn--as clearly, at least, as they ever were.

"Best definition I can give you," Blaine said. "Only definition there is. Knowing how to handle yourself. And the ultimate of talent is genius, which is what puts men like Louis Armstrong and Dostoyevsky in a class by themselves among horn players and novelists. Plenty of people know more about music than Armstrong; it's the way he handles himself that makes the difference. Same thing's true of a first-rate ballplayer or a first-rate doctor or a historian like Gibbon. Very simple."

* a richard farina fan site.


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