Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans. -the Guide “the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” Douglas Adams, copyright 1979 PAN Books
Holden Caulfield is a character in a book I never liked. Depending on your relative age you either got him or you didn’t. I’m in the latter case, and I read “the Catcher in the Rye” because my 7th grade english teacher assigned the book. Never a good thing when a supposed text of disillusionment and refusal to grow up is assignable by a teacher, ever. Basically if its points are so watered down as to be assignable by a teacher in the late 80’s then what possible meaning could it have to me? I’m a child of the Eighties, a product of the “me” generation, divorce and other assorted issues that plagued all of us, as well as all the Eighties benefits a kid could have. What possible frame of reference could I have for this person? None. He just doesn’t translate.
So, me, being me, I assigned myself a different book to read. I had my mother drag me into the City so I could go to the Strand bookstore and pick out a book worthy enough for me to read and write a report on.
Once at the Strand I found a leather bound edition of Jack London stories, “Call of the Wild”, “White Fang”, and “the Sea Wolf”. The book itself was massive, a real old school tome, the way books were intended. The whole store smelled of books. And this one was just there waiting for me. As was another book, a paperback with a very weird graphic on the front and huge friendly letters that said “Don’t Panic”.
My Dad and I used to take weekend trips to upstate New York almost every other weekend, and when we did he almost always had “Books on Tape” to listen to on the way. We listened to such classic and timeless hits as “the One Minute Manager”, “Who Moved My Cheese” and “Return of the Minute Manager”. But, every once in awhile he had something cool in the tape deck, one particularly, “the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. Because I was more preoccupied with actually getting to our destination, the Kingston Holiday Inn, I never really paid much attention to what was in the deck at any given time. Talk about disconnect of message, “the One Minute Manager” to a 7th grader? Might as well be “Beau Geste”!
The tape he had of the Hitchhiker’s Guide was actually the old BBC radio fits first broadcast on BBC1 radio in the late 70’s when Douglas Adams, author of “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a Trilogy in Five Parts”, was a staff writer for the Dr. Who television program. For us older American’s: its that weird sorta outerspacey show that PBS would broadcast Sunday’s at 1 am, you know, with the funny accents and really bad production! For the youngins, 4th regeneration of the Dr….
Hitchhikers Guide was an undeveloped script that Douglas Adams was going to massage into a Dr. Who teleplay that was considered too wonky for official Beeb programing. Bad for Douglas, good for me. Because he changed it a bit, added a character here and there, and then managed to turn it into a radio play. Which somehow, my Dad found, and actually purchased. My Dad is not into Sci-Fi, other than Star Trek, but he likes Star Trek for the stories, not the Sci-Fi aspect. So how he bought this tape, I have no idea.
Doesn’t matter, he did.
So, driving away, I hear the opening bars to a song I wasn’t able to identify until years later with the invention of Youtube, a really catchy, banjo thingy that I thought was really really cool and so significantly different and British then what i was listening to at the time. Turns out after 15 years of searching, it wasn’t English, nor even particularly modern at the time, it wasn’t even cool…. You can locate the tune on the 1975 Album “One of these Nights” By Linda Ronstadt’s former backup band, the Eagles. Or I’ll just insert it here:
And the H2G2 version:
Yep, I got shit taste in music, I know!
Not the point here, getting back to the assignment I chose to write the report on people that actually mattered to me, the last human man: Arthur Dent, the last human female: Tricia McMillan, Ford Prefect, and the President of the Galaxy: Zaphod Beeblebrox. Guaranteed A+ right?
So of course I read the book and fill in the gaps from when my Dad and I were listening to the radio plays in the car and I’m vastly intrigued, sucked in, and 100% hooked into this world of the Hitchhiker’s Guide. I didn’t stop at the first book, when I’m aware there are more books in the series I usually will go through all of them at once, so I had to go back to the bookstore, this time B Dalton booksellers in Kings Plaza (no way my mother was going to the Strand for a paperback) and read all 4 books that were in paperback release at the time.
Once all the reading was complete I had to write the book report which was the whole point of this little exercise anyway. I procrastinate. ……………and then some.
Some time later, still havent started.
Time to ride my bike to the store. And back again.
“Oh, its the weekend? Wow, I’ll go walk to Daddy’s apartment……”
“Hi Cor, any homework to do?”
“Homework, you said? , no..no not at all.” Thinking to myself: “that man has got to learn to ask the proper questions!” Sometimes my intelligence, especially when I was younger, allows justifications that just shouldn’t work!
Got away with that shit until the Sunday before the report was due. So, I explain to my mother that “Ah, yeah, ‘memeber that book report that I said I was gonna do…..yeah, well, its ah, due, uhm, tomorrow in the AM, and I’m gonna have to finish it now”.
My mother was many things, stupid was not one of them. “Finish it?! You mean the report that you were supposed to be working on, the one I brought you into the goddamn City for, the one I sent you to your asshole father’s house to have completed, the one that you haven’t actually started and you’re going to sit at the writing desk and finish to my satisfaction, I don’t care if its fucking 3am when you go to fucking bed, that one?”
5 ft 1, 90 pounds soaking wet, she was in full fury mode.
So I wrote. And it was good. Actually, for the late start it was really good. I followed all of the rules the teacher had given, which I can’t remember now, but I can imagine describe characters, plot, etc..
And promptly got an F for reasons I was never sure about other than to assume the teacher was miffed that I didn’t like her choice of “the Catcher in the Rye”. If I’m right, and I think I am, hard to guess 25 years after the fact what a person was thinking, but, can you believe that Phony?