Sunday, September 22, 2013

Life In These United States

Adding books to my Goodreads shelf, trying to at least leave a thought or two on most of them. Wrote up a blurb for a book of Hemingway shorts titled “In Our Time” and while doing so, remembered a story inside it titled “The Three-Day Blow,” in which two best friends get drunk together.

I suppose it was the confluence of thinking about Hemingway and best friends that made me remember the below anecdote after many years.

My own best friend, Danny, joined the National Guard not long after high school, back when being in the Guard meant one weekend a month, two weeks a year, and the occasional natural disaster. When Sadaam Hussein invaded Kuwait, we were all reminded the Guard is really a supplementary army, which I guess it was all along but nobody really thought about it that way.

An outdoorsman, mostly interested in hunting and fishing and shooting and the like, Danny wasn’t much of a reader. But somewhere along the way – whether from a school assignment or a dog-eared copy kept around their house -- he managed to acquire a favorite book, “The Old Man and the Sea.” He could talk your ear off about that thing, but in terms of literature, not much else.

When his Guard unit was called to active duty and shipped overseas, like most soldiers, he found himself with lots of time on his hands, and started reading everything he could. Books themselves became a kind of currency among and between soldiers and units, to swap and to trade.

Among the most coveted books were by Dean R. Koontz, and Danny made his way through all of Koontz’s even then prodigious output, coming home a diehard Koontz fan, feelings no doubt compounded by his gratitude for the distraction they provided in between gas attack drills and scud missile warnings and pondering his own mortality.

Like soldiers then and now, Danny had a hard time readjusting after coming home, had a hard time finding work from the grateful nation he had so recently served, in the depths of a recession that would ultimately cost the first President Bush his job.

While struggling to find his way, Danny happened to hear Koontz, in town to plug his latest book, on a local radio show. Flashing back to his days spent devouring his books, Danny felt compelled to call in, if only to let him know how much his work had meant to soldiers like him fighting overseas.

Well, you know how it can be talking to a celebrity, especially one who means a lot to you. Words can come out gushed. Maybe you don’t make sense. Still, Danny managed to impart to Koontz how important he had been in his life, at a time when it really mattered. For his part, Koontz could not have been nicer.

Toward the end of their conversation, Koontz asked Danny, “What’s your favorite book?”

Thinking Koontz was asking which of his own books was his favorite, Danny answered, "The Bad Place. Definitely," and before being cut off, Danny snuck in a question of his own.

“What’s yours?”

Without missing a beat, Koontz answered.

“The Old Man and the Sea.”


“Thanks so much for calling, Danny, and now let’s go to our next caller . . .”

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