95: Porky took a swallow of beer . . .
Little Follies, “The Fox and the Clam,” the Preface continues
Porky took a swallow of beer and ate another onion ring before he spoke.
“Well,” he said, “it’s like this.” He wiped his mouth with a napkin and cleared his throat. “I suppose it happens to all of us from time to time: we feel utterly miserable for no clear or sufficient reason, you know what I mean? Even those of us who think of ourselves as essentially happy people find that our essential happiness is, at these times, in danger of drowning, as it were, in a sea of misery.”
Al, Raskol, and I looked at one another. Raskol went up to the bar to get us some drinks.
“Most often,” Porky went on, “the misery—almost despair—is brought on not by a tragedy but by an accumulation of small problems. I think it’s the smallness of these problems that makes them so deadly, because if you think about it you’ll realize that our lives are full of small things that could go wrong, and when one of them does go wrong, we’re suddenly threatened with the collapse of the whole Tinkertoy framework of our lives, you get me? When the freezer broke down in one of my Kap’n Klam Family Restaurants today, it made me think there’s a good chance that the freezers in all the rest of them will break down tomorrow. Happiness is a fragile commodity, kids. You get a little crack in it, and the next thing you know it’s in pieces all over the floor.”
Porky went back to work on the onion rings. Al gave me a worried look. Porky wiped his mouth again and went on.
“At such times as that, when a little crack shows up in my essential happiness,” he said, “I respond very badly. I try to resist the despair, and I try hard. I use all the right arguments with myself, and I actually work at fighting the despair, but little by little my strength slips away. It’s like trying to row a boat across the bay into a fierce headwind—can you get that picture in your mind? I’m in this rowboat, and I’m rowing like blazes, but I’m not getting anywhere. The rain is lashing against my back. The wind is stronger than I am. I’m getting more and more tired. The boat is filling with rainwater. In fact, I think it’s starting to leak. I know what I should do—press on, Porky, press on. But I ask myself—why? Why go to any more trouble? I stop rowing. I sit there, exhausted, miserable, leaving myself at the mercy of the wind and the rain.”
I reached for one of Porky’s onion rings, but Al slapped my hand.
“In a perverse way,” Porky continued, “I enjoy these periods of misery. I think I enjoy them because they give depth and texture to my life, to my character, you know? I wouldn’t want to be happy all the time, to have people pass me off as one of the grasshoppers rather than one of the ants. Periods of brooding, it seems to me, show that I’m serious, that I’m sensitive to the pain of modern life, that I’m not unaware of how fragile the fabric of a happy life is.”
Porky sat in silence for a moment. None of the rest of us could think of anything to say. Finally Porky spoke. “Hey, Shirley!” he called out. “How about another beer and some more onion rings?”
[to be continued on Thursday, September 23, 2021]
You can listen to this episode on the Personal History podcast.
In Topical Guide 95, Mark Dorset considers Misery and The Blues from this episode.
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At Apple Books you can download free eBooks of “My Mother Takes a Tumble,” “Do Clams Bite?,” “Life on the Bolotomy,” and “The Static of the Spheres,” the first four novellas in Little Follies.
You’ll find an overview of the entire work in An Introduction to The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy. It’s a pdf document.