Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Satirical Rogue: Part One

Stanley Parkhurst was an artist. He had the sentiment of a Sappho or a Milton, the innate sense of drama of a Shakespeare, the storytelling gift of a Dickens, and the wit and philosophical insight of a Shaw. Of course, had he read all of these worthies, perhaps he could have recognized this for himself, but you may take it from me, he was all of these things. Stanley Parkhurst, somewhere just short of his thirtieth birthday, discovered one day that he was born to write. He had picked up a used copy of Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck at a yard sale (selected mainly because it looked short enough for him to read all the way through) and decided after reading it that he could write something as simply and easily as Steinbeck evidently did by stringing together the right amount of well-chosen words as a composer would notes from the scale. He knew he had the poet’s soul, that necessary animating flame which fires the kiln of great literature. All that was wanted was the proper expression of it.

But perhaps I’m getting a little ahead of myself, because to know Stanley Parkhurst’s story, I think you have to know a bit about his wife, Maddy. They met one summer’s day on Cape Cod literally by accident, when Stanley’s newly purchased Sunfish, The Periwinkle II, was rammed by Maddy’s great uncle’s two-masted schooner, The Dreadnought. Stanley had earlier that day purchased the used Sunfish (with trailer and trailer hitch) from an old man by the name of Gustafson who ran a sailboat rental business right down at the dock. Gustafson personally took Stanley out in it and gave him a quick 15 minute lesson, teaching him how to use the tiller and work the sail and so on, finally complimenting Stanley on how quickly he gained a proficiency at it. Then Stanley dropped Gustafson back off at the dock so the old man could install the trailer hitch onto his car while Stanley went off and practiced some more.

Although Gustafson praised Stanley’s nascent seamanship mainly to unload one of his older boats, the truth was, Stanley could sail the little Sunfish quite well. He instinctively had a good sense of how the wind acted upon the sail, he quickly understood the concept of tacking, and in a short while found he could make the boat go exactly where he planned. Running before the wind, he thrilled at the power the strong gusts put in his hands as the sail snapped full and the little boat took off at full gallop. The spray of water kicked up by the bow exhilarated him. Stanley felt proud and happy and wished he knew a sea shanty or two to sing as the small boat coursed along.

Now, it’s always been a bit murky how The Periwinkle II and The Dreadnought came to bump heads, but most of the people aboard the schooner think that The Dreadnought’s de facto captain, Thad Wilthorpe, was the guiltier party involved. There actually was a trained captain aboard, a former emergency room physician who chucked the medical profession for the sea, who was ostensibly hired to chart the course, see that the rigging was well tended and to take the helm in tight places; but Thad, the vessel’s owner and self-styled Vermont Dairy King, was really the man in charge. That day he had relatives on deck with him, and the old dairy tycoon was in thunderous form as he stood at the wheel with his own captain’s hat jammed onto his head at a jaunty angle, shouting often conflicting and incomprehensible orders to his small crew for the benefit of the Krumms, this poorer branch of his family, who knew little of the sea and betrayed their ignorance by showing fear at all of Thad’s daring maneuvers.

At one point, when the trained and experienced captain implored Thad to slow down, suddenly the The Dreadnought and The Periwinkle II locked onto a collision course. It was completely unanticipated. One moment the diminutive sailboat was safely over to starboard, and then the next there it was right in the way. The Krumms on board the schooner and Stanley in his Sunfish recognized the danger at once, but Thad and Captain Springer were too involved in a heated discussion to notice it right away. Finally, when Maddy Krumm stood up and shouted to her wealthy great uncle, “For Christ’s sake, will you look at what you’re doing?” Thad’s and Captain Springer’s heads snapped around just in time to see Stanley launch himself off his little boat and swim desperately from where the impact was sure to occur. Springer and Wilthorpe immediately and simultaneously barked orders that no one could understand and seconds later The Periwinkle II was dashed beneath the bow of The Dreadnought.

To Stanley, everything that happened afterward was in a swirl — the events hardly seemed connected. Maddy dove into the water; it was she who took hold of Stanley and pulled him to the schooner. Somehow he was lifted aboard. An old man dressed up like Popeye asked him what the hell was he doing out there. Another man with a less affected nautical look started giving orders and told Popeye to shut up when he interfered. The girl, Maddy, hurled abuse at Popeye and told him she’d never sail with him again no matter how much money he had. A man with a funny toothbrush mustache who Stanley guessed was her father warned, “Now Maddy…”

It could be argued that the next several years were in a swirl too, because when Maddy grabbed hold of Stanley and swam fiercely to safety with him in tow, she never let go, she just kept right on swimming. It was always said that Maddy was a sucker for stray animals, and I think this extended to human beings as well. Stanley was a stray to her — a big, goofy stray. In truth, he wasn’t bad to look at, tall and slim and fit. His features were strong and attractive, accented by a bold nose and pale blue eyes. He always had a wistful look, something you picked up on immediately when you first met him, the look of a dreamer Maddy supposed. He spoke with a slight stammer she found endearing. For some reason perhaps no one will ever figure out, it seemed that strong-willed Maddy could have saved Stanley’s life every day and never found it tiresome.

And where Stanley was tall, Maddy was quite short, just barely five feet. She had a pretty face and a pleasing figure and her movements were always decisive and athletic. She had an easy smile and a ready wit; you couldn’t best her in a game of badinage, because she could give it right back to you with interest. Her voice was at once delicate and carrying. But, petite as she was, Maddy was an imposing young woman, someone you soon learned not to trifle with. Everyone always said this about her: she got what she wanted. And I may use this as an example: Maddy wanted Stanley Parkhurst and she got him — he really had no say in the matter.

They married sooner than Stanley expected. They bought a house Stanley was sure they couldn’t afford. They had their first child, a boy, before Stanley was ready. Their second, a daughter, came not much more than a year later. Maddy kept a brisk pace and Stanley always had to run to keep up.

Now, something else I should mention here is that during the time when Maddy first commandeered Stanley’s life and steered it onto a course he couldn’t have altered if he wanted to, Maddy was at no loss for suitors. Chief among them was a young attorney called Preston Farnsworth, who Maddy’s family felt sure would wind up being her husband. He was every parent’s idea of what a son-in-law should be: handsome, promising future, looked good in a suit. Preston had an Ivy League education and knew a lot of the people you read about in the newspapers. His name appeared on some prestigious Who’s Who list and his office walls already had an impressive collection of framed, official-looking documents. Preston seemed to completely have his way with everyone except Maddy; everyone fell before his charms but her. She liked him well enough and thought he was funny; he had the money to offer her a good time and so forth; all in all, she supposed he was worth keeping around. But Great Uncle Thad irrevocably altered the dynamics of things when he turned Stanley’s tiny sailboat into driftwood. Preston could only be a friend.

So, as I said, Stanley Parkhurst was an artist; he was Sappho and Milton and Shakespeare and Dickens and Shaw all rolled into one. If I forgot Dostoyevsky, I’m sorry — there was a little Dostoyevsky in him as well. But Stanley didn’t earn his living as a writer. Stanley was an insurance actuary. He was very good at it, in fact, and made a sizable income doing it. All his life Stanley was strong in mathematics and computers, and when it came to developing business models and forecasting risks, very few people were as good at it as he. You could even say he found his work fulfilling. But after that fateful day when he purchased John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, his passion became writing. All he wanted to do was tell stories and he used every spare minute in this pursuit.



Blogger Kathleen said...

I'm always impressed with people who can write... I know my grammar and my spelling, but I can't string together a story for the life of me.

Two small things: complimenting...and a misused your...

I miss those things when I do my own proofreading because I read what I know I meant, not what I actually typed.

8:06 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Nice catch, Kathleen! I must . . . compliment you. I'm too blind to find the misused "your," however.

BTW, don't ever make the mistake of taking me for a serious writer. I'm mainly just horsing around.

8:26 AM  
Blogger NYPinTA said...

My cat is named Stanley. Which means nothing. :P

so far, I love Maddy! Ha. Good for her for both saving Stanley and giving Uncle Popeye his due!

9:16 AM  
Blogger Kathleen said...

Finally, when Maddy Krumm stood up and shouted to her wealthy great uncle, “For Christ’s sake, will you look at what your doing?”

Sorry, frustrated editor. ;-)

10:58 AM  
Blogger Spirit Of Owl said...

Bravo! And now, whither Stanley's fate? :)

I must say that Maddy's bit of a headstrong gel, isn't she? Bordering on obstreperous, I'd say. Might be high time that Stanley got himself a spine and put her straight, dontcher know. Doesn't do. Doesn't do at all. (Ducks and runs from nypinta and all... lol!).

Great read, Mr Schprock - can't wait for the next installment! :D

11:48 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"So far, I love Maddy! Ha. Good for her for both saving Stanley and giving Uncle Popeye his due!"

Uncle Popeye had it coming, didn't he?

Thanks Kathleen. Don't be sorry. Maybe with a good editor some of the drivel I write might amount to something.

"Might be high time that Stanley got himself a spine and put her straight, dontcher know."

I fear for what would happen to his spine if he tries.

2:03 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

Don't ever speak so poorly of your writing Mr. Schprock. You have top-tier talent and I won't have any more that kind of talk.

I like the theme you are employing of his life not being his own, on a course not of his own choosing.

I notice a little of you in Stanley, and I wonder how much of your wife is Maddy...

5:18 PM  
Blogger boo said...

my 13-yr-old blind turtle is named {stanley}

5:47 PM  
Blogger Kathleen said...

I, too, am looking forward to the rest of the story. And I volunteer to be your editor - I unsplit infinitives and to my best not to end sentences with prepositions. What can I say? I'm a tad anal. ;-)

4:18 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"I notice a little of you in Stanley, and I wonder how much of your wife is Maddy..."

To borrow a phrase from Spirit of Owl, my wife is a bit of a headstrong gel.

"my 13-yr-old blind turtle is named {stanley}"

They may share a common characteristic of being a bit slow to catch on then.

" And I volunteer to be your editor - I unsplit infinitives and to my best not to end sentences with prepositions."

Thanks Kathleen. Bear in mind that grammar and I aren't always on speaking terms. Sort of like the relationship between a stern parent and a teenager.

5:40 AM  
Blogger Kathleen said...


Really? I hadn't actually noticed that in your posts. What I caught I consider the mind getting ahead of the fingers, aka typos!

8:11 AM  
Blogger Farrago said...

Just mine own editorial hack at your otherwise whimsical, fun beginning:

But, petite as she was, Maddy was an imposing young woman, someone you soon learned not to trifle with.

The term "trifle with" reads to me the same as "bother with." Like she's not worth the effort, whereas Maddy seems to be a firecracker that one would be wise not to handle carelessly.

I dunno. Perhaps they mean the same thing. Perhaps it's just a regional use/understanding of the term. Or, perhaps I'm just really stupid and I don't know it.

Keep it going. It sounds fun.

7:44 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"What I caught I consider the mind getting ahead of the fingers, aka typos!"

Oh yes, my mind and my fingers aren't always on speaking terms either.

"The term 'trifle with' reads to me the same as 'bother with.'"

I always thought it meant something like "don't mess with her." I just might make an edit there, Dassal. I'll think about it.

7:13 AM  

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