Jean Shepherd, METRONOME Humor Editor, is best known for his free-form, Sunday night radio show on WOR New York which spotlights his talents as humorist, philosopher and. jazz soloist whose words are his instrument. Shepherd is also a gifted actor, right-fielder, author and napkin doodler. Contrary to rumors, Shepherd is not the inventor of a well-known type of packing material, though he has displayed an inordinate liking for it. Anyhow, he swings.
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"Don't hold still for a minute. The birds of spring, mother, cast a short shadow. And like the shadows skim on and pass over the 59th Street Bridge in an instant and are gone. Gone, for crissakes, gone gone. They are on the way to That Great Street where a man once danced with his very own life... In the gloaming. To get lost in the potato peelinged coffee grounded cat peed rusty screened alleys of southside westside eastsideamerica. Seen by few mourned by none.
"Maybe not quite none. But those who do know only a turning emptiness in the morning gur that passes with the first link of a chain drink that stretches from beer to eternity and back every grey morning. Pass on and gone like the last panel of the Sunday color comic Peanuts. Charlie Brown who never heard of W.O. Gant or his son either for that matter but who might grow up to be Dean Moriarity in the panels no one will ever see. Or even Ed Sullivan if he eats his puffed wheat regularly and gets a good agent.
"Those few who know the clinky dusty smell of hockshop banjoes and Like New Cameras and taxi cab colored suns of the second avenues of everywhere... Or who know the look in the eye of Charlie Mingus when he levels on some clown who can't hear or love but who knows how to make himself heard through the angelsounds of the dark syrup soul of Jelly pouring out into the west bargloom. Into the cheap 49th streethotelroom of Harold C. Cirimes.
"Out of his imitation leather bound record player and out over the dark red carpeting of the room and out into the urine smelling air shaft that seemed to live a life of its own and never knew the sun or even the dark of night. 'HC' as he was called by the Down Beat squares, Littleweed to his friends, sweated as he dialed the phone next to the rumpled onechangeaweek pad. He wore only a pair of rubber Japanese shower clods...."
The writer of those words stretched out and immediately leaned forward to read what had been written and to make corrections with a stubby black pencil. It was intensely silent in the tiny room with its cheerful lemon curtains and neatly arranged dresser. A weak evening light filtered through the slatted blinds making the low reading lamp on the littered desk glow with a close cosy warmth.
The leather-covered wastebasket alongside the chair was almost filled with rolled up balls of paper and tissues. A thick ringed notebook with frayed corners lay opened under the lamp. The pages were covered with dark pencilled notes and erasures that looked like smudgy thumb prints. On the floor next to the bottom desk drawer was a cloudy empty water glass.
The writer stood suddenly, stretched, and began to pull on a worn brown coat. When the light was out the silence seemed even deeper. Finally the door snappecl shut and the room was empty.
Minutes later the writer eased onto a stool at the dark mahogany bar of a Schrafft's on Madison Avenue in the eighties. Ordered toasted blue-berry muffins, coffee and later a dish of vanilla ice cream. There weren't many people in the place since it was a little early for the Schrafft's dinner crowd and just a bit late for the afternoon tea-and-toasted-English ladies.
The tall thin weak-chinned counter man scribbled on the yellow check and turned to ring it up on the register behind him.
Shortly afterward the writer, a short fleshy iron-haired woman in her late fifties, carrying a carton of milk in a brown paper bag, hurried into the night and back to her work. She hummed to herself' as she walked.