If private industry could sponsor NASA projects for the naming rights, I bet the space boys could make some pretty good money. Candy companies would make particularly good candidates for sponsorship, what with Mars and Milky Way and so forth. The one I want to see? That’s right, you guessed it… the Double Bubble Hubble Space Telescope.
A rural Kansas family’s home is invaded. They are neatly tied up and then brutally executed with a shotgun. Police are stumped. There are few clues, and no apparent motive. Among the most baffling, and most difficult questions that everyone asks is, “What kind of person could do such a thing?”
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote is a study of that question, and of the effect such senseless violence has on the rest of us. How do normal, sensible, sensitive people cope when confronted with such incomprehensible behavior?
This is not a whodunnit; in the first pages we learn the identities of the killers and we learn that they will be executed before it’s all over. The narrative starts with the last day the Clutter family is alive, and we quickly learn to like these people. Capote interviewed friends and witnesses extensively and we can feel the genuine affection the people had for the doomed family. Next, we meet the killers, two men who, at first glance, seem like normal, even likable guys. Not the kind of men who would shoot a teenage girl in the face with a shotgun. But that’s what they did, later that night.
Through the course of the investigation and the eventual trial, we learn more about these men, and about the men charged with tracking them down and later trying them. We learn about the town as well, and about the more intangible harm done to an entire community.
In the end, there’s no definitive answer to the fundamental question, no answer to what kind of people do things like this, just a recognition that those people exist. In the end the killers seemed to value their own lives as lightly as those of their victims. When Dick and Perry are hanged, there is no sense of catharsis, no sense of justice served. They may be gone, but the people who were affected by them will never be the same. They will never be able to forget that “people like that” exist.
I picked up the book mainly on the strength of the author’s name; Truman Capote is one of those I feel I should be familiar with as an American writer. His writing is clean and inconspicuous; he never uses fancy prose that might upstage his subjects. His conversational tone fits well with the straightforward speech of the people he is portraying. Based on this offering I can certainly agree that Capote was a good writer, but I didn’t see anything here that bumped him up to great. Maybe I’ll try Breakfast at Tiffany’s next.
Note: if you use the above link to buy this book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.
As I approached the line to check in to my Aer Lingus scoot across the Atlantic, a petite asian woman in a blue uniform asked, rather loudly, “Anyone check bags?” I thought it an odd question, as I was joining a line of people hauling huge suitcases. She gestured in the direction of the express line, and my first thought was that she really meant “Anyone NOT checking bags?” Then I noticed the two small bags sitting untended at the entrance to the express lane. The woman hustled off to notify security.
OK, I knew that the bags were just the property of some doofus who had ignored the constant droning of the “don’t leave your bags unattended” messages, and had left their personal belongings lying around in Los Angeles. Still, as no one arrived to claim the bags, I couldn’t help but worry. Just how big a doofus was this? Did the doofus seriously expect to find his (or her, judging by the pink striped bag) belongings still there after ten minutes and more?
A security guy arrived, circled the bags at a distance like a shark assessing prey, then backed off and talked into his radio. Then nothing happened, followed by more nothing. Finally the guard approached again, closer this time, looking for a name tag on the bags. Then he backed away again, regarding them with some reluctance (“why do these things always happen on my shift?”). More time, another pass by the bags, closer, inspecting them longer.
So, I’m expecting someone to arrive with some sort of steel bin on wheels. In go the bags, and there’s nothing to see here, move along.
Nope. No other security personnel arrive, there is no other response. The security man on the scene went to a nearby information desk and there might have been an announcement over the PA about the luggage. (“Your attention please. mfflmfllffmflllf.”) Still no owner.
Finally, the doofus shows up. The security guy doesn’t even notice him for a time, until doofus stoops to put a name tag on one of the bags. Security guy talks to the doofus for a moment, and the guy is allowed to carry on with his carry-on luggage. Happily, not on my flight.
Note to people considering leaving bombs in airports. At LAX you have about half an hour to get away while the security people are paralyzed, unable to perform the very simple procedures explained over the PA every five minutes.
Finally, it was my turn to check in.
“When are you coming back?” the airline baggage-taking girl asked me, after typing in my passport number.
“I’m not sure,” I answered.
“You don’t have an itinerary or anything that shows when you’re leaving again?”
“Are you staying more than three months?”
“No.” When she asked the question, that answer became the truth, providing I don’t have my visa by then.
She tapped some more keys, but didn’t look optimistic. “I’ll have to check,” she said, and took my passport and disappeared into the mysterious bowels of the Airport Beast. I waited, aware of the people in line behind me and mentally making contingency plans. It was early yet; I could buy a ticket to Croatia or back to the US and then check in. Airline Baggage-Taking Girl returned. “You’re all right,” she said. “But the immigration official might want to see proof that you can afford a return ticket.”
Man, I sure hope she’s right. By the time I’m able to post this I’ll have the answer.
Or not! Free WiFi in LAX! We already knew that Albuquerque was so civilized, but this is a pleasant surprise.
Or not not! RSS feeds work, but not http requests. eMail is right out. By the time you learn about my close call, the situation will be resolved.
In Dublin now – the passport guy didn’t run my passport through the computer at all. Maybe they’ll do that in Prague. Meanwhile it’s 10:00 and I’m enjoying a nice pint of Kilkenny. Yum!
The first billboard for the McDonald’s in Lordsburg, NM is at least sixty miles to the west, somewhere in the trackless deserts of Southern Arizona. I had had only a light breakfast (a chunk of beef jerky washed down with Mountain Dew) and I was starting to have feeding urges. Another hour’s drive sounded about right.
As I approached, I considered pushing on a little farther to Deming, sixty more miles to the east. A timely gastric rumbling decided me, and I signaled to leave the freeway. McDonalds was right there – easy off, easy on.
But, what a minute… McDonalds? What the heck was I thinking? This is New Mexico. I spotted a little food shack just behind the McD’s. Much better choice. Well, it would have been except that it was out of business. Bummer. Then I noticed that in the competition between chains and local joints was far from over; the Dairy Queen had been stripped of its distinctive signage and instead just read, “Don Juan’s Now Open.” I decided to drop in on Juan.
Don Juan’s is a little place, quite obviously a converted fast food joint. There were about ten different kinds of burritos, all three dollars, all with green chile. There were tacos and stuff as well, but I scored a pair of chile reilleno burritos and a coke. Juan and I chatted about the rainstorms of last night, what a nice day it had turned out to be after all, and then my food was ready. I sat and opened my book, which I think disappointed Don Juan, but I was too busy eating some fine home cookin’ anyway. Soon after a pair of border patrol trucks pulled up, then the state police were represented, then a guy from a construction company showed up with a huge order.
My one regret: not getting an extra side order of the green. The chile he used was good, but if some is good, then more is better.
Had I seen the cops and border patrol cars there when I pulled up, I would have know already that Don Jose was the place to go. Those guys know. As it was I was lucky, had some tasty food that doesn’t happen at chain restaurants, along with friendly service. He does not offer Green Chile Cheeseburgers, however. “I used to cook burgers at the old place,” Don Juan told a Navajo couple who were in for the first time. “I’m tired of them.” Yes indeed, the American Dream right there kids, from flipping burgers to having his own place. Please join me in wishing him all the best.
If you’re down Lordsburg way, do yourself a favor and pay Juan a visit.
Goodbye to That Girl
The last embrace
The last kiss
The last goodbye
Green tea, cup, eyes
Stories, a rush,
to cover words unsaid.
Everything back in place
One more cup of tea
sips of time
One more kiss goodbye
red hair a flag at the door
as I walk away.
Just as painters spend a lot of time doodling, I often scratch out little bits that aren’t stories but are just sketches of ideas. Maybe some element of it will find its way into a story some day, maybe not. I was talking to That Girl about a thematic fiction publication, and I thought of this little snippet I dashed off some time ago. Just for giggles I thought I’d share it with you. The idea of a name and its meaning has been with us since naming was invented, but I have often reflected that the most meaningful names are the ones we give each other.
What it Means to be Tom
Our conversation fell into a lull. He took a sip of his almost-beer and regarded me seriously. “I name you d’rhath boran,” he said. “In your language it means ‘Speaks with sadness.'”
“I don’t know your name,” I said.
“That’s all right. You can name me later. It’s best not to rush.”
“Actually, my name’s Tom,” I said.
He looked at me quizically. “I do not understand.”
“My name is Tom.”
His eyes lit up. “Ah! My apologies. Your language is difficult sometimes. You are naming me Tom. What does this mean?”
It was my turn to be confused. “Tom is what people call me.”
He looked at me intently, then nodded. “You are giving me a name that you also bear. I had not felt the kinship until this moment, but you are wise indeed to recognize it, for it is there. What does Tom mean?” He laughed in his odd wheezing way. “Nothing too bad, I hope.”
“I’m not sure, really.”
He regarded me seriously. “I am surprised and flattered that you should give me such a complex name after such a short acquaintance. I look forward to learning what it means to be Tom.”