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Weekend Thoughts: Fearless Spectator, the Original Curmudgeon

I won't tell you about the catch-up work on Civil Procedure that I'm doing today. It's a weekend, and you don't want to hear about that.

My entertainment reading from Amazon has arrived or is arriving. I'm finding that if I read a little for enjoyment, it makes the 'legal' reading all the easier. I'm sticking to things that are episodic in nature, like collections of short stories, poetry, plays, and collections of articles until my willpower is good enough not to waste whole days reading a novel.

For that reason, I've ordered a book I read when I was fifteen, and finally managed to find online at a used bookseller, Charles McCabe's Tall Girls are Grateful. I've tried to explain the attraction of the book twice this weekend, and failed miserably, so I suppose I should try again.

First of all, he wasn't a man you'd be likely to like. As the author of a series of columns for the San Francisco Examiner back when I was younger, he certainly wouldn't pass politically-correct muster today. The Fearless Spectator was a curmudgeon of the highest order, and an old-guard defender of gentlemen's clubs back when the phrase meant 'rooms having no women' rather than 'woman having no clothes.' The females of the species were to be respected but were different: the ladies were to leave the room when the men handed out the port and cigars. His argument against the ERA I can still remember, and it was foolish, hypocritical, bollocks, and hysterically funny.

And there's the rub: I probably have more sympathy for his arguments than any of my readers, and yet I don't find them very compelling. But he wrote with such candor and beauty, a kind of whistful engagement with life, and an infectious wry humor, that the arguments could be forgiven. At least in my memory, he'd walk you from the drawing room to the dining room to the balcony, through the convivial stages of a dinner party, in such a way that you knew that even if the ideals he based his world on had flaws, the aesthetics were not to be faulted.

And I can sympathize with him in this much: someday I'll probably be like him. I fully expect that in 2050 I'll be sucking on my pipe, possibly loaded with a now-legal whiskey-soaked marijuana, and lecturing my grand-nephews about how there are only really five basic sexualities that should be permissable, that these full-immersion medulodramas are merely sensory pornography that will never hold a candle to such classics as South Park: The Movie, and explaining exactly why I don't think cyborg-Americans should be allowed into the military. Such is the way of these things that I'll probably quote Hillary Clinton with respect and reverence. [1] One day I'll be a 1990's liberal--I just want to be forty years late.

In any event, McCabe was at his best when he wasn't talking politics at all. One of the essays that's stayed with me all these years was about how we never really love as much as we love the first time. He speculated that we only really had so much heart, and that after every love a little bit of ones heart belonged to that person ever after--that the next time one loved it was wiser, or kinder, or even stronger, but never again that full. While reading it, I could sense the regrets between each of the paragraphs, the strange sense of evaluation of his life that he'd scribbled down for a newspaper.

But it's been ten years since I've read any of his books, and finding them out of print has been a challenge. What I remember is a book by a man who was kind, honest and somewhat elegant and very, very different. I honestly can't tell you if I'll like them when the page is in front of me and they're not filtered through memory, but I'm looking forward to finding out again.

[1] And not just to say, "My husband is the victim of a vast right-wing conspiracy."


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