Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Good Read

Phillip Dietrich lives on 73rd Street. Every morning he walks to the subway in his well-shined horsehide shoes, and he is always careful not to step in the piles of dog droppings that proud dog-owners leave fermenting smack in the middle of the sidewalk. Phil is especially disgusted by this situation when the temperature outside reaches the 90s and a sticky walker in the city can see steam rising off the neglected feces.

Phil has been riding the subway from the Upper West Side down to Wall Street every weekday for fifteen years and often on weekends when there are big deals in the works. His usual subway reading? The Wall Street Journal. His life is peaceful and predictable. However, he did go through something of a crisis after his wife left him for a class action prosecutor who has more money, and after winning a few big cases now he’s got more leisure too. The Ex-Mrs. Dietrich took their eight-year-old son, Max, just when Phil felt he was secure enough at the job to start spending more time with his boy. In the wake of the separation, Phil decided he didn’t care about the woman, he was always so much better dealing in unit trusts and investment trusts; he never really grasped the idea of spousal trust, but did she have to be so cruel when she used bribes and coddles to turn the boy against his own father?

Recently, Phil attended a wedding of one of his junior colleagues where he was assigned to the same table as a guy named Tom, a retired editor and CEO from some fancy literary press. The guy was talking to a woman—decidedly attractive to Phil—named Marlene Kelly, who said she was a budding novelist. While Phil listened in on their conversation, he heard Marlene asking Tom if he ever came across a novel that he felt didn’t need a whole lot of editing work. He gave her a title he did little work on: All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. The two became so engrossed in discussing that book that Miss Kelly didn’t notice the way Phil studied her lips, neck, hair, tits, etc.

The next day, Phil couldn’t get the woman out of his mind. Filled with renewed joie de vie, he practically skipped out of his apartment building in his horsehide shoes. Instantly, he stepped into a hot pile of dog stuff, probably dropped by something as big as a Doberman. Phil cursed, flew into a rage, and tossed his shoes into a nearby fermenting garbage heap. He ran home in his dress socks and decided not to go into work today. Instead, he visited a Barnes & Noble, determined to buy a book written by that young woman he had met at the wedding. He asked around and looked around, but there was no novel and not a soul in the crowded bookstore had ever heard of a writer named Marlene Kelly. Crestfallen, Phil wandered around the store until his eyes fell upon a copy of the James Herriot’s 1970s novel All Creatures Great and Small. What the hell? Phil thought, and he bought a copy.

Phil spent the rest of the day drinking an herbal detox infusion tea and engaging in odd bathing rituals that involved insane amounts of aromatherapy. He cracked open the first novel he’d read in years, and he was surprised to find that James Herriot’s story was about a struggling, young veterinary surgeon working in the Yorkshire Dales in the 1930s. Though he didn’t think the topic was his cup of tea, Phil did feel moved by the hardships of a veterinary surgeon’s life—all that need for putting a strong arm up a cow’s or a horse’s rectum to feel for the causes of an illness! Reading the easier-to-stomach parts of the book, Phil appreciated the descriptions of the taste of fresh bacon from the newly-slaughtered pig; and he adored the description of a “family’s house cow’s rich yellow offering that finds its way into the family porridge every morning or appeared heaped up on the trifles and fruit pies or was made into butter, a golden creamy butter to make you dream.” The novel treats farm life with a fair balance of the rough and the delightful, not to mention Phil’s relish in the descriptions of the beautiful landscape and scenery of the Yorkshire Dales in the 1930s.

While reading, Phil forgot all about his divorce. The promising young woman from the wedding slipped completely out of his mind. All Creatures Great and Small transported Phillip Dietrich to another time and place, softened his heart just a bit, and worked a subtle transformation in the bitter man. The next day was like any other: Phil engaged his usual stride to the subway station, avoiding the smears of dog do that stained the street. In days past, he would encounter such piles and curse the dogs and their owners; however, today—basking in the euphoric aftermath of finishing a good novel—Phil looked down at those filthy piles, smiled, and said, “All creatures great and small, whether in city, dale, ‘burb, or beer hall, let every big and little beast shit our dwellings. Shit them all!”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I got All Creatures Great and Small from the AH library. Gosh its been so long I had to renew my library card. Fun reading so far. Thanks for the tip.