Alarms And Perversions - Thurber RedeuxJune 14th, 2009
by David Breithaupt
It began innocently enough, a summer day, a quiet cemetery, a three-piece box of KFC (dark meat, original recipe) and then the clothes started coming off. Suddenly, faster than a mourning dove could coo, our sweaty limbs were entangled like human pretzels atop a cool marble slab. Six feet below was James Thurber slumbering in literary eternity. The rest of the world ceased to be.
Sure, we had acorns in our ass and ants in our armpits but Thurber was our aphrodisiac. How could we have any other reaction than conjugal bliss? After all, this was the man who invented Walter Mitty, the secret alter-ego of us all, the guy who drew funny dogs and most importantly, wrote (with E. B. White) Is Sex Necessary? (we decided it was).
My girlfriend and I finished our ritual and relaxed to survey our kingdom. We had no audience save the whispering Tulip Poplar above his grave. There was no reaction from his nearby parents, Charles and Mary, nor did we provoke a reaction from his brother, Robert. Ours was a solitary body theater, an homage offered to our hometown deity, the New Yorker God of Humor himself, Mr. James Thurber.
I reached for my mashed potatoes and gravy. My girlfriend nibbled her biscuit and honey. Ants were already claiming our leftover chicken bones while we pondered the gravity of our situation. There was a wet spot above where Thurber’s chest would be.
“Sorry James,” I said while discretely covering our stain of love with some twigs and leaves.
“Do you think he minded?” my girlfriend asked.
“I doubt it,” I said. “Thurber was a worldly man, I’m sure he enjoyed it. He was a big fan of the theater in New York.”
Still, I wasn’t sure. I never met the man. I was only three when he died.
Beyond the cluster of dead Thurbers were the Fishers, grandparents on his mother’s side. I remembered a story Thurber once wrote of one of his relatives, who, as he lay on his death bed, was offered a teaspoon of lamp oil by a homeopathic doctor who was convinced his remedy was a cure-all. The relative refused. “I’d rather die like a man than live like a lamp,” he uttered before expiring. I have always tried to live by those words.
We put on our clothes and not a moment too soon. Another Thurber pilgrim, a young father and his five-year old daughter, suddenly appeared. The dad had a camera.
“Looking for Thurber?” I asked. He nodded. We brushed our trash away and let him snap a shot. I offered him some coleslaw but he politely refused. I began to suspect that Thurber was seldom lonely. That took some of the burden off of us.
We often peruse the offerings others have left at Thurber’s grave. Candles, loose change, an occasional candy bar, and now we left our own. This grave was certainly no Mecca on par with the likes of, say, Jim Morrison’s grave in Père Lachaise, but it was the best we had in Columbus—unless you liked football, in which case it was Woody Hayes’ grave.
“Don’t count your boobies before they hatch,” I said as a parting gesture, using one of my favorite Thurber maxims. We left a packet of honey on his headstone as a gift.
I drove us home with chicken grease on my fingers and twigs in my ass. We had the kind of bliss that comes only from such intimate literary unions. The next time you are in Columbus you should try it. Just look for Lot 50 in Greenlawn Cemetery. You’ll be glad you did. James will be waiting.
Tags: Literary cemeteries