Ring Lardner: Horseshoes (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 17)

9♦  9♦  9♦  9♦  9♦  9♦  9♦  9♦

It was child’s play for Speed to pick it up and heave it over to Merkle before Jack got there. If anybody else had been playin’ third base the bag would of ducked out o’ the way o’ the wallop; but even the bases themselves was helpin’ him out.

Ring Lardner, probably one of the most well-known writers of baseball stories, serves up some usual humor in his short story “Horseshoes” where the “punchline” is revealed at the beginning; however, the story presents the “joke”.

I wouldn’t say that it is necessarily a joke to Grimes, the teller of the story; however, knowing the comment that Speed Parker makes to him after Grimes’ World Series – winning catch gives the story some humorous momentum – and it’s a rather rambling story that would have otherwise seemed a little too long.  As the title might suggest, Parker’s comment insinuates that Grimes’ catch was simply luck. I’ll let you read the rest of the story to find out why that is so funny.

As most of Lardner’s baseball stories go, “Horseshoes” contains a considerable amount of colloquial story-telling (I kept wanting to read the story out loud) and some detailed baseball plays. All of this could have been somewhat tedious in the hands of a lesser author, but Lardner made me want to keep reading.

1335746

I selected this story when I drew the Nine of Diamonds for Week 17 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. This story is included in my copy of Baseball’s Best Short Stories edited by Paul D. Staudohar. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

Ring Lardner: The Golden Honeymoon

J♣  J♣  J♣  J♣  J♣  J♣  J♣  J♣

DEAL ME IN – WEEK 14

When I was in kindergarten, my grandparents, who had been born and raised in the New York/New Jersey area, retired and moved to the Gulf Coast of Florida.  During the remainder of my childhood and on into my 20’s and 30’s, I made at least an annual trip to see them.  At some point, I began realizing that retirees living in Florida have a culture all their own. And then in the 1990’s, I watched an episode of Seinfeld in which Jerry and Elaine visit Jerry’s parents (Helen and Morty, for any trivia buffs) in Florida.  From the bar in the pull-out couch to the Early Bird specials, I thought “Somebody really knows how it is!”.

This rather lengthy introduction leads me to Week 14 of my Deal Me In 2015 project.  I drew the Jack of Clubs and it brought me to Ring Lardner’s “The Golden Honeymoon”.  Apparently, this retirement culture in Florida goes back even farther than my childhood. And somebody knew what it was like before the writers of Seinfeld.  My Deal Me In 2015 list can be seen here. Deal Me In 2015 is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

490597

Charley and Lucy Frost travel to Florida from New Jersey for a few months on the occasion of their Fiftieth wedding anniversary.  Charley narrates the story so everything is seen through his eyes and his many opinions.  The reader easily understands how important little details are to Charley.  The cost of their dinners and with whom they play (or have to play) five hundred, checkers or horseshoes are great concerns to Charley.  He doesn’t hesitate to tell the reader what he thinks of people.  Lucy, of course, tolerates Charley but she has her own opinions.  And even after being married for fifty years, those opinions don’t always match up with her husband’s.  Charley refers to Lucy as “Mother” and I’ve always found that odd when couples do that – but I guess it works for the Frosts.

Here’s a paragraph that gets to the heart of Charley – talking about their friends, the Hartsells:

…Hartsell wanted we should go to their place and play cards, but his wife reminded him that it was after 9:30 pm, rather a late hour to start a card game, but he had went crazy on the subject of cards, probably because he didn’t have to play partners with his wife.  Anyway, we got rid of them and went home to bed.

At the risk of sounding sappy and cliche, Lardner’s big accomplishment with this story is that he uses these small details and Charley’s dialect to paint a picture of true and lasting love with all of its irritations and idiosyncrasies.

Ring Lardner: Alibi Ike

4♥  4♥  4♥  4♥  4♥  4♥  4♥

490597

My second baseball story in a row (and it’s also my final one for this year) is Ring Lardner’s “Alibi Ike”.  In this case, as in last week’s “The Manager of Madden’s Hill”, the story is more than simply a baseball game.   The title character, Ike, is the focus of what seems to be a letter from the narrator to a friend.  All we know about the narrator is that he plays on the same professional baseball team as Ike.  We really don’t know anything about the recipient of the letter.

Ike earns his nickname because of his continuously making excuses for his behavior.  If he does something wrong, there’s a reason why.  If he does something well, there’s a reason he could have done better.  Whether baseball, card playing or women, Ike is unable to admit to situations as they really are.  His teammates understand this and inadvertently cause some “girl problems” for Ike.

The story has a down-home aspect that might be considered endearing.  I say “might be” because I’m not sure.  A little of this type of story would go a long way for me.  It’s written with the dialect of an uneducated baseball player which was tolerable but could have been irritating if the story continued longer than it did.  I almost want to say that the comedy of the story is old-fashioned; however, I think good comedy is timeless.  Good or not, timeless or not, the comedy in “Alibi Ike” is what I would consider a simpler, more straight-forward humor, such as the following conversation:

Well, Smitty went out and they wasn’t no more argument till they come in for the next innin’. Then Cap opened it up.

“You fellas better get your signs straight,” he says.

“Do you mean me? ” says Smitty.

“Yes,” Cap says. “What’s your sign with Ike?”

“Slidin’ my left hand up to the end o’ the bat and back,” says Smitty.

“Do you hear that, Ike?” ast Cap.

“What of it?” says Ike.

“You says his sign was pickin’ up dirt and he says it’s slidin’ his hand. Which is right?”

“I’m right,” says Smitty. “But if you’re arguin’ about him goin’ last innin’, I didn’t give him no sign.”

“You pulled your cap down with your right hand, didn’t you? ” ast Ike.

“Well, s’pose I did,” says Smitty. “That don’t mean nothin’.

The story is worth reading but I would recommend Lardner’s non-baseball story “Haircut”, instead.  It has some of the same down-home humor (it takes place in a barber chair) along with depth of character and some disturbing aspects of human nature.  “Alibi Ike” is an interesting period piece about baseball and that’s fine with me – on occasion.

As this is week 51 of Deal Me In 2014, next week is the final week and I don’t have to do much guessing to say that I’ll be reading Katherine Anne Porter’s “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall”.  This will be the first time I’ve read anything by Porter so I’m looking forward to it.  My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Ring Lardner’s “Haircut”

3♥  3♥  3♥  3♥  3♥  3♥  3♥  3♥

The brilliance of Ring Lardner’s short story, “Haircut”, sneaks up on the reader.  At first glance, it seems like a nice little story about small-town America circa 1925.  The entire narrative is told by the town’s barber, Whitey, as he gives a haircut to one of his customers.  I couldn’t help but think of Floyd the Barber in The Andy Griffith Show.

Whitey gossips some about the townspeople to his customer, whom I get the impression is not a regular.  While characters typical of the place and time pop in and out of Whitey’s tale, his focus always comes back to Jim Kendall whom he describes frequently as “what a card”.  Jim’s a funny guy, a practical joker, a little wild and slowly but surely, the reader figures out that Jim is – in a word – mean.  Whitey essentially treats Jim lightheartedly and laughs off his cruelty.  The reader could almost put themselves in the place of the customer, who is never heard from throughout the story but can’t help but be known and can’t help but understand the real Jim behind the barber’s tale.

490597

Eventually, Whitey gets around to a young kid named Paul, who Jim dubs a “cuckoo”.   Whitey’s understanding of what happens between Jim and Paul is predictably naïve, but the customer, or rather the reader, picks up on the fact that Jim underestimates Paul.  While Jim’s character gives the story a disturbing effect, I think the barber’s casual acceptance or his “that’s just the way it is” attitude makes “Haircut” truly chilling.

This is the first story I’ve read by Ring Lardner.  A tale told by a barber could have easily been just a gimmick, but Lardner turns it into something both sinister and thought-provoking.  This story ranks up there with the best of Twain or O. Henry.  I’m looking forward to reading more of Lardner’s work.

The only thing that disappointed me is that when I originally picked the story for my Deal Me In list, I thought it would be about baseball.