Monday, July 30, 2018

From the Top of the Hill # 5: November 20, 1947

John D MacDonald's fifth column for the Clinton Courier,  written back when he was still a struggling pulp fiction author.

For students of JDM's biography, this column contains several interesting sections. He begins with a brief discussion on personal independence and conformity, which -- perhaps -- reveals the first seeds of his discontent with the town he had moved to, as discussed in detail in his 1965 non-fiction hardcover The House Guests. It also presages attitudes that would make up much of the character of one Travis McGee.

 And speaking of The House Guests, this column contains the first ever mention of the MacDonald's cats, Roger and Geoffrey, made "famous" by that cat-biography.

Finally, there is a piece on speeding cars, a favorite subject of the author's, explored over the years countless times, in short stories such as "Hit and Run[1952] ,"  "Eyewitness," "Hit and Run[1961]," and "The Man Who Almost Blew His Top," and in novels like Cry Hard, Cry Fast and Slam the Big Door.


We had lunch at the Inn last Tuesday -- as every Tuesday -- with the Clinton Chowder, Walking and Three No Trump Society, and we were subjected to various jeers and jibes from citizens named Stanley and Johnson and Robinson and Weber and others because we spurned regimentation and refused to accept the standardized lunch.

It turned out that our independence cost us the sum of fifteen cents, (15¢), and somehow it seems very nice to be in a place where some measure of individual liberty can be obtained for a nominal fee.

We make no cult of eccentricity or individualism, and yet we derive a certain feeling of contentment from the fact that if we should choose to diverge from the standard pattern, we will not be given a vacation behind barbed wire to think over the sin of deviation. Such would be a pretty grim situation.

In this day, in this country, an individual who refuses to conform can be punished only through the somewhat ineffectual medium of social ostracism. In a police state, a minor deviation from the norm implies freedom of thought and, as such, is deserving of direct and implacable punishment by the forces of the police state.

Of course, this has gone a long way from our fifteen cent fee for a small hunk of self-determination. We generalize too much... and we don't care for hash.

* * *

Last week's column led to a discussion with Ed Stanley. He objected to the criticism of the fifteen cent toll charge. Ed Stanley says, and I have his permission to quote, "If Clinton became a part of the Utica exchange, it would cost Clintonians a great deal more money each year in phone bills than it does now."

Since neither of us was able to quote sources and statistics, I will let it stand as is. Maybe we should haul in a statistician from the telephone company.

We can go on record as saying that we resent paying seventeen cents when we use our own phone and fifteen when we use a pay station.

* * *

In addition, we received some comments on our eulogy of a Beagle named Kelly, probably because the column happened to be printed alongside a long letter from a Pennsylvania gentleman who seems to have been nibbled by a canine once upon a time.

We'd be in a better position to argue, if we owned a dog. We'd like to own a dog right now, but we can't get permission from two domineering felines named Roger and Geoffrey. We obtained them from a market in Utica, and they would not look kindly on any whim of ours to obtain a dog.

They are representative of the Cat of the Future. Particularly Geoffrey. The anthropologists say that we would still be swinging from limb to limb were it not for the fact that we have a thumb which works in juxtaposition to our fingers so that we can grasp objects and use them as tools.

Geoffrey has a toe on each front foot that works as a thumb. He can pick up small objects in his hand and nibble on them.

When at last most of the earth's surface is vitrified by the atomic bombs and mankind is no more, a few surviving cats with rudimentary thumbs will be fashioning stone axes to hunt with.

A few thousand years hence, cat historians will be pondering over those strange two legged beings that once inhabited the earth. Where did they come from and where did they go? They were obviously unfit to rule the world.

We are being very nice to Geoffrey.

* * *

But in these years we have left, before atomic disintegration, maybe we can do something about a menace more easy to visualize.

Somehow anything you say about the automobile seems very trite.

There is nothing particularly trite about two tons of metal traveling at one hundred and eighty feet per second.

This is not an appeal to ninety percent of the people of Clinton. This is an appeal to ten per cent.

Clinton is a children's town. There isn't a better place in which to raise kids.

Except for one thing. Among us we have a few citizens who are very, very proud of a fast reaction time, and get a feeling of almost sensual joy out of swooping into the village at a speed that would be dangerous "for anyone else."

Under the hood are over a hundred horses that give a joyous leap with the least little touch on the gas.

Within twelve months in the Village of Clinton one of our children is going to be badly smashed by one of these high octane Knights.

It might be our boy. It may be yours.

The Knight is going to be sick with remorse. Maybe he'll give up driving for the rest of his life. Maybe he'll never go over thirty from that moment on.

Somehow his remorse isn't going to help very much.

Yes, this is a children's town -- except for that one little thing.

* * *

See you next week.

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