Day 147: Wisteria Histeria

Laetitia decided that the day’s tour would be in Kings Canyon National Park, but on the way the group made a brief stop in Salinas, John Steinbeck’s hometown. There they visited the 1897 turreted Victorian house where Steinbeck was born in 1902.

As Laetitia’s luck would have it, another novelist wannabe joined the tour. Laetitia dreaded having budding writers on her tours, since they often asked her for writing tips. She had no novel-writing experience and could offer no useful advice, but there was nothing she could do about the writers joining the tour. Anyone could join or leave a Mind’s Eye Limerick Tour at any time.

The writer, whose chosen nom de plume was “Tom Joad,” wanted to write romance novels with a religious bent. He enjoyed Steinbeck’s novels, especially those derived from biblical themes, such as East of Eden. Fortunately, what he had written was not long, so Laetitia agreed to read it. “Tom Joad” had chosen “Rose of Sharon” as the name of the story’s female protagonist, a name no doubt derived from the character of the same name in Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. A sample of his writing read:

“Hoping to woo Rose of Sharon with a text from Solomon, Hiram passed over Ecclesiastes with its ‘Life’s a bitch, then you die’ theme, rejected ‘Thy belly is like a heap of wheat’ from The Song of Songs as a line Peter Paul Rubens might have used to court a traditionally-built operatic soprano, and abandoned the whole biblical idea when he discovered in Proverbs that the king who had 700 wives and 300 concubines confessed, ‘I know not the way of a man with a maid.’“

Laetitia commented, “I think you need a new start. It looks like you’ve painted yourself into a corner.”

It was a glorious sunny day. Laetitia and her group went hiking in the redwood forests of Kings Canyon National Park in the Sierra Mountains. The walk gave the group the sense of being in a cathedral. A young couple, Andy and Maisie from Hesperia, near Los Angeles, was on this day’s tour and provided the limerick of the day. They were joking with another young couple about the first time they had made love. It was outside, and Maisie thought they were going to freeze.

When Andy, who lived in Hesperia
Seduced Maisie behind the wisteria
The ground was so cold
That she loudly did scold
“‘Tis like making love in Siberia.”

Day 146: Big Sur Demur

Laetitia took her group to the Big Sur area, one of the more scenic parts of the southern California Coast. Henry Miller lived there after he’d made his career in Europe. There was a time when his books were banned in the United States, which, of course, increased their popularity. During the 1960s, college students who went abroad liked to irk the establishment and be the envy of their friends by smuggling The Tropic of Cancer into the United States.

It had begun to occur to Laetitia that some of the folks who elected to join Mind’s Eye Limerick Tours, especially those who gave her manuscripts to read, were a bit quirky. One of these budding authors was Mara (not her real name), who viewed herself as a writer of the Henry Miller school, and gave the following to Laetitia to review:

“A Plexus of events, chiefly a dreary winter followed by a Black Spring, caused me, on The Sunday After the War, to abandon my Quiet Days in Clichy and the books in my life to board the Sexus, an Air Conditioned Nightmare of a ship that carried me toward South America, where, after crossing the Tropic of Cancer and theTropic of Capricorn, I fell in with a band called Max and the White Phagocytes and we set off together to discover the Nexus between Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch.”

Laetitia said, “I see you succeeded in using the titles of most of Miller’s literary output in one sentence, but where will you go from here?” Mara didn’t answer. She was thinking, “What would Henry do?”

Next the group headed up the coast to Monterey, where they did the 17-mile drive. Then they went to Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Later, Laetitia presented the limerick of the day, which was based on some gossip she overheard during happy hour before dinner. In that conversation, she heard a long-forgotten crude expression from the Steinbeck era that she had heard her great grandfather use once when she was a child. The gossip, about a local woman named Priscilla, reminded her of an interview with Robert Mitchum she had read once. In it, he said of Dorothy Spence, whom he later married, “I took one look at her and said, ‘This is it. I’ll be back for you. Stick with me, kid, and you’ll be farting through silk.”

Young Priscilla would always demur
When rich men offered presents of fur
Or when those of their ilk
Said that she’d fart through silk
If she’d wed them and leave the Big Sur.

Day 145: Roy in Gilroy

Laetitia headed south with her group to Gilroy, California, which every summer hosts the Gilroy Garlic Festival. The festival features garlic products of all types, including pickled garlic and garlic ice cream. They arrived in time to see the Miss Gilroy Garlic Festival Queen crowned and heard her garlic speech. The festival draws people from all over the world. As her group moved through the crowd, Laetitia talked to several of the festival attendees. Most of the people were enjoying themselves. However one young man from New Jersey, named Roy, had come to the festival to meet “broads” and was leaving because he hadn’t succeeded. He became the subject of the limerick of the day.

A man from New Jersey named Roy
Sought romance in the town of Gilroy
But when Gilroy girls speak
They, of garlic, so reek
That he’s going back to Perth Amboy.

Day 144: Dark and Stormy Night

Laetitia and her group headed south to San Jose, home of San Jose State University, whose English department has the distinction of sponsoring the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction contest. Aspiring writers from all over the world submit bad novel first lines to the contest, hoping for the dubious honor of being chosen as winner. Laetitia thought of suggesting that as an option to Cora Charles, but she hadn’t joined the tour today and probably would have been offended anyway.

Bulwer-Lytton was a member of the aristocracy who was a published poet and had many other talents, but is perhaps best known today for having started his novel Paul Clifford with the line, “It was a dark and stormy night…” the novel first line often used by Snoopy, of Peanuts cartoon fame, and an often parodied line in Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest entries. Laetitia presented the day’s limerick at dinner based on the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

When he wrote Paul Clifford, Bulwer-Lytton
Could not know of the fame he’d be gettin’
From his namesake contest
To pick out who’s best
At writing prose that’s worth forgettin.’