July 28, 2005
Post #1849 – 20050728
Good evening Mr. Pinkwater. I have a couple of important (and unnerving) questions for you, but as they have kept me in suspense for a fair few years, I can afford a little more time to preface them with the standard fan-isms. I was introduced to the Avocado of Death by one of the incredibly humane gifted & talented counselors in my school district…years later, college acquaintances turned me on to Lizard Music, and I spent a post-undergrad season taking obscene advantage of Interlibrary Loan in order to satiate my Pinkwater habit. A great deal of laughter may be attributed to you, and it was immersion in your work (with occasional dips into the E. Gorey-illustrated John Bellairs collection) that led to the young adult novel I now spin out in my spare time. As I re-read Nifkin once more before giving the new edition (hooray) to a friend on his way out of town, I thought it was time I address the burning questions within, once and for all.
1. I was innocently strolling through Wicker Park one fine day and trailing my eyes across the titles in Myopic Books’ window when something caught my eye. It stirred a spare bit of my subconscious, slowed me down, and ultimately dragged me back to stare slack-jawed at the book behind the glass. Whence did I know that name? And gradually, like a hot dog being pulled from a steamer with shoddy tongs, it emerged. It was a minor Pinkwater character. Nothing on this earth could convince me that you had picked the appellation Clifton Fadiman out of thin air once I saw his name on that Ambrose Bierce collection. To this day my reflexes are slow and part of me is always meditating on this mystery…please, please explain.
2. No coincidence that the other striking violation of the third wall–or whichever wall separates reader from, er, pulp paperback stock–occurred in Chicago. Being the hip young person that I am, I found myself perusing gallery openings and such. More’s the pity that my busy habit of making ends meet kept me from the fateful downtown exhibition featuring…the Chicken Man. I think it was a show of skateboard art or something; there I am staring like a tourist at this poster, soundlessly working my mouth in an attempt to wrap my brain around the possibility that there is a man with a performing chicken. Possibly–given the lifespan of the common chicken–multiple performing chickens. Please tell me the truth. I would very much like to believe that the Chicken Man was ‘based on a true story’ and that I mightn’t have missed my only opportunity to witness Henrietta talk on the little telephone. Or is this an instance of life imitating “art”?
I don’t mean to startle you with evidence of your tendency to shamelessly disguise fact as fiction…I readily confess that I can present hard evidence for neither case. Your reputation as a creative individual will not be impinged–yet I must have answers. Without them I will be forced to bore acquaintances and, eventually, grandchildren, with these Tales of Mystery. Awaiting elucidation, I remain,
""tendency to shamelessly disguise fact as fiction"" Why would I be ashamed? My contention all along has been that everyday life is a wild ride--everybody gets that in my work. Plus, the things I make up usually turn out to have happened, only I missed them at the time. Clifton Fadiman was a literary and culture guru in the 40s and 50s, appeared on radio think-shows, and had good diction. The Chicken Man was a real person, possibly named Humphrey Popcorn, and is fondly remembered by many Chicagoans, including myself. I own a photograph of him, taken by popular author, Sue Sussman, a high school friend. It wouldn't surprise me to learn he has artistic descendents, or descendents, carrying on the work. He looms large in Chicago folklore, and may have a lineage dating back to the poultry priests of dynastic Egypt. Ambrose Bierce was cool too.