Chuck Reducks: Drawings from the Fun Side of Life

Overview

The timeless masterpieces of animation director Chuck Jones have kept audiences laughing all over the globe for more than sixty years. The cartoon characters he has shaped and brought to life - Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, the Road Runner, the Grinch, and a memorable menagerie of others - have, like their creator, become indelible icons of American culture. Packed with entertaining anecdotes - encounters with Charlie Chaplin and Walt Disney, life with such legends as Tex Avery, Friz Freleng, Mel Blanc, and Carl ...
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Overview

The timeless masterpieces of animation director Chuck Jones have kept audiences laughing all over the globe for more than sixty years. The cartoon characters he has shaped and brought to life - Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, the Road Runner, the Grinch, and a memorable menagerie of others - have, like their creator, become indelible icons of American culture. Packed with entertaining anecdotes - encounters with Charlie Chaplin and Walt Disney, life with such legends as Tex Avery, Friz Freleng, Mel Blanc, and Carl Stalling in the bedlam conditions of Termite Terrace (the Warner Bros. Animation studio), and collaborations with the genial Theodor Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss) - Chuck Reducks is an unforgettable tour inside the endlessly creative mind of one of America's greatest comedy directors. There are character-by-character portraits of Chuck's animated stars, with enough priceless gems to satisfy even Daffy's appetite: Why Bugs Bunny's face had something in common with ice skater Sonja Henie's; Why there is something very peculiar about Marvin Martian's mouth and Witch Hazel's hairline; How inept management inspired Pepe le Pew; and did Michigan J. Frog (1957) inspire Steven Spielberg to name a certain adventure hero after a state and an admired animation director? Chuck Reducks also includes informative chronologies, illustrations detailing how characters are drawn and given movement, in-depth looks at such masterpieces as What's Opera, Doc? and Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, and practical tips for tomorrow's animators.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Now 84, Jones (Chuck Amuck) has been an animator and a director of animated features for more than 60 years and has created such cartoon figures as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Wile E. Coyote and Pep le Pew. He also worked with Dr. Seuss on TV versions of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Horton Hears a Who, in the course of a career during which he made more than 250 films and won three Oscars. Jones's advice here on how to draw and, more specifically, how to draw animals engaging in various activities will prove valuable to aspiring artists; and his portraits of people he has knownfrom his captivating Uncle Lynn with his surrealistic view of the world to the monsters who ran the Warner Brothers animation department in the 1930s and '40sare memorable. The book also includes sidebars with quotes, some by Jones himself and others by writers from Thurber to Emerson. There's some filler here, notably pointless lists of unused titles for innumerable shorts and analyses of numerous minor cartoon characters, but Jones, an American original, is good companyif not quite as engaging as his wascally wabbit. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Jones is famous for having refined the characters of Bugs and Daffy, among others, and perfected the art of the six-minute animation short. Like his preceding memoir, Chuck Amuck (LJ 3/15/90), this book consists of reminiscences, informative sidebars, and occasional non sequiturs. His career-oriented anecdotes are more mesmerizing than his familial ones, and much similar territory is covered in Chuck Amuck. Aphorisms abound (e.g., never write down to anybody), and some platitudinous asides are just plain patronizing. Yet Jones ultimately communicates a philosophy about his iconoclastic art that is insightful and unpretentious. Less comprehensive than his first memoir where his early career is concerned, this volume is more of a companion piece than a sequel. Nevertheless, for the new illustrations it promises (not seen), for the chapter on Jones's collaboration with Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) on How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, and for what it reveals about the creative process, this is a necessary addition to any film or art collection.Jayne Plymale-Jackson, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Athens
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780446518932
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 10/28/1996
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 8.28 (w) x 10.28 (h) x 1.18 (d)

Table of Contents

FOREWORD 9
INKLINGS OF ANIMATION (I Never Met an Inkling I Didn't Like) 12
MY LIFE IN AN ANIMATION DUMP 52
A QUESTION OF CHARACTERS 114
Bugs Bunny 134
Elmer Fudd 152
What's Opera, Doc?: A Case History 156
Daffy Duck 168
Porky Pig 178
Charlie Dog 184
Marc Anthony 188
Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner 194
Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf 212
The Three Bears 216
Pepe le Pew 222
Marvin Martian 234
Witch Hazel 238
Ralph Phillips 240
Michigan J. Frog: A Case History 244
How the Grinch Stole Christmas!: A Case History 258
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First Chapter

CHAPTER ONE

Inklings of Animation (I Never Met an Inkling I Didn't Like.)

My Father, the Public Convenience

The older I get, the more individuality I find in animals and the less I find in humans. Early experiences convinced me that animals can and do have quite distinct personalities. One memorable summer Sunday morning on the beach at Ocean Park, California, an event occurred in 1921 that to this day has that mysterious, elusive quality, confirming that there are indeed stranger things than are dreamed of in my philosophy.

The Jones family were, as usual on a Sunday, encamped under their beach umbrella, backs to the low seawall that supported the boardwalk running from Santa Monica to Ocean Park to Venice. There were perhaps eighty yards of humanity between us and the water's edge--hundreds of bright beach umbrellas, blankets, backrests, picnic baskets, and the usual motley array of locals and day-visitors cluttering up the scene. To get to the wet sand and the water, one had to trip lightly and dexterously through this complicated melange.

Presently a dog came sauntering down the beach, a dog so overtly conceited that he became the focus of all eyes.

In spite of his self-satisfied demeanor, I have never seen a more scruffy-looking dog, or a dog carrying such a variegated cargo, or one who carried it with greater confidence and hauteur. He was ideally equipped to act as collector of memorabilia, being a sort of insulting caricature of a spitz with a Joseph-like pelt, comprising a variety of hues from pleasant, decayed pumpkin to blackened rust scattered in a random pattern over every part except his nose, which for some reason was of an attractive, baby-bottom pink. The scrofulous coat had with meticulous care collected the aforesaid cargo of tar, seagull feathers, bits of seaweed, broken segments of seashells, cigarette butts, and one cigar butt he had apparently in a careless moment sat upon.

He carried his possessions with world-weary confidence, trotting with an easy nonchalance and a charmingly twisted Humphrey Bogart-like grin as he surveyed the passing throng, who wisely parted in boggle-eyed reverence as he padded down the wet sand. Here obviously was a dog with a purpose. This purpose became destiny when he made an abruptly delicate and precise left turn and headed inland through the intricately packed crowd, picking his way through the awestruck masses with all the grace of a ballet-trained goat, stopped by our little gathering, lifted his leg, and peed on my father's arm.

In the cathedral-like silence and ensuing immobility of the crowd, he turned, flipped a hindfootful of sand onto this human pissoir, trotted lightly and again with great delicacy to the exact spot he had quitted, executed another precise left turn on the wet sand, and went on his predestined way.

All this had the ethereal quality of a believably unbelievable fairy story. Why was Father selected from the thousands along that sunny beach? Why this signal honor awarded to our very own father? And from a perfect stranger. As Pogo would say, it made us all humble and sort of proud. And so my education on how to survive in a hostile world, begun by a scruffy cat named Johnson, was now continued by a scrofulous dog, who chose to remain anonymous.

This splendid animal, by his graceful and accurate movements, demonstrated the essential law of survival in his unjust climate: when you make a social statement about despotic authority (pee on an arm), do so with confidence and precise selectivity. And perform it in public.

My father was yard foreman at the Collis P. Huntington Southern Pacific yard in 1904, and he helped me well on the way to becoming an animator years before my birth by falling out of a curtained balcony during a Collis P. Huntington family wedding at Solari's restaurant on Maiden Lane in San Francisco. Pepe le Pew would have admired the self-assured elegance with which, back turned carelessly to the balcony's protective rail, he bowed gallantly--but too low--to an appealing woman, toppled over the rail, and soared dashingly into space. Fortunately for my future, he landed on a wedding cake (a Huntington wedding cake) on the table below--cushioning his fall, but not his relationship with Mr. Huntington's railroad company; they promptly shipped him off to Central America, where wedding cakes were relatively unknown and yellow fever took care of those who fell on them. My father did not get yellow fever. He got me. (Later, of course.)

Father looked like, dressed like, and moved like Rhett Butler. He was working on the Panama Canal and always wore white riding breeches with a string necktie and black boots, in every sartorial detail the dashing tropical adventurer. He was a stunner all right. In 1906, he appeared in his Rhett Butler guise in the village of Chanute, Kansas, where he was visiting an old school friend. He was driving--what else?--a team of spanking bays in a black surrey with, no doubt, a dashboard of genuine leather, and the belles of Chanute melted before him like crinolined tulips.

Among the more prolific of the fainters was my mother--well, she wasn't my mathor quite yet--and she didn't set her sights for him so much as simply succumb to her destiny. She blushingly told me later (fifty years later, to be approximate) that she tried to seduce him, even though she didn't know how, never having gone beyond a kiss, which up to then she had parted with only as one would diamonds. Father would have none of her lust, though, probably because of all those petticoats, pantalettes, corsets, etc. (He was a "southern gentleman," with all the idiocies attendant on that peculiar state.)

When people fell in love in those prosaic times they got married, which is exactly what happened to my father and mother. Mother (not yet, don't hurry me) was swept off her seventeen-year-old feet and whisked off to Niagara Falls, then to New York City (where Father proved he wasn't a prude by seducing her at the top of the Statue of Liberty), and by great, white, elegant Cunard liner to Panama City, to abide in a large, veranda-shaded white house on a green, palm-shaded hill with three servants. A company doctor helped her to bear a daughter just before her nineteenth birthday: Margaret Barbara Jones, born on June 20, 1908.

My sister Dorothy was also born in the Canal Zone, on September 27, 1910. Although I was conceived in Panama, I was--to my eternal regret--born, of all places, in Spokane, Washington, on September 21, 1912, just two years before Winsor McCay completed the first great animated cartoon--Gertie the Dinosaur. While my presence did little to effect McCay's film, Gertie the Dinosaur was to have a profound effect on me, since it was among the first and remains one of the most remarkable animated cartoons ever made.

Spokane lacks the panache of Panama as a birthplace. Bing Crosby is the only other Spokane native I know. I first noticed the Rhythm Boys with Bing Crosby because that trio, among so many others, had an oddity about it--a drunken vocalist propped up on stage between the other two. If you want to be a humorist, you have to observe such oddities.

I think I was six months old when I left Spokane. My father told me I was run out of town for tampering with girls' diapers, but I have no memory of this.

We moved to Hollywood, where I heard echoes of life in the Canal Zone in a song with which my father used to lull me to sleep: "He has gone beyond the river, with an abscess on his liver." It was much more soothing than some buttery little "Baby Bunting."

My brother, Richard, was born in Hollywood in 1915. He soon applied for a job in the movies, as a baby in a Sam Selig film. He failed to land the part because he didn't look like a baby. History does not record what he did look like.

I learned to read around the time Richard appeared, just before my third birthday. I think my first book was Uncle Wiggily or Peter Rabbit, both superb volumes that I can, and do, still read for pleasure. I so enjoyed my first encounter with Uncle Wiggily that I was delighted to find what I figured must be another in the same series--a book called Uncle Vanya. It was hard going, and after reading a page or two, I went to my mother to complain about it.

I could read at three because my father contended that if a three-year-old could conquer the extraordinary process of learning to stand up (like riding a bicycle without the bicycle), learn to eat without putting his pudding in his eye, and learn to deposit bodily wastes into proper receptacles, then learning to read would be a snap. Anyway, he himself saw no reason to stop reading Don Quixote in Spanish in order to read aloud the insipid goings-on of people named Jane, Jimmy, and Spot. Well, I knew full well--because Father told me so--that there were three-year-olds who lulled themselves to sleep in iambic-pentameter murmurings, and that people named Ludwig composed intricate cantatas and wrote things in C-sharp minor while still in their diapers. So no doubt as a matter of shame, I had to learn to read.

Furthermore, reading was a useful skill for a Jones child, because Father forbade any conversation at the breakfast table. "In the entire history of man," he said, "nothing worthwhile has ever been said at the breakfast table." He did not state this as an opinion, he stated it as a fact, and through my long and fairly observant life, it is one of the few "facts" I have found reason to believe in. But perhaps like all enduring philosophy, it endures because it cannot be proved.

I suppose wisdom never had a chance where no one ever said anything wise or foolish, but I do know that for all of us the ban on conversation gave a blessed morning respite between dreaming--over which we had no apparent control--and the so-called real world, over which we were supposed to exert control to guide our destinies to worthwhile ends. It must be generously noted that my father even curbed the privilege he lavishly indulged in at every other meal: he abstained from criticizing our table manners. This must have been a considerable strain on him.

Since we could not talk, argue, insult, or criticize one another at breakfast, we soon learned that although it was a good time for meditation, musing to oneself can become surprisingly boring, so we brought books to the breakfast table. To this day, I am always somewhat disappointed when I take a book off my shelf and don't find an ancient and fragile cornflake in it.

If you failed to bring a book and began to fidget restlessly, Father would suggest--he had suggestions of steel--that you read the cereal boxes. I can still pretty accurately recite all that jazz about "Shot from Guns" puffed wheat and "Niagara Falls" shredded wheat.

Father encouraged us to read anything and everything. ("How can you tell what good writing is unless you've encountered bad writing?") So I became an inveterate reader long before I knew what inveterate meant--as did my siblings, long before they knew they were siblings.

Among the "bad" things we read was the Rover Boys Series for Young Americans. They were terrible books, so terrible in fact that we fell in love with them. The Rover Boys were Dick, Tom, and Sam, and they went to school at Putnam Hall. There was Tom, the fun-loving one (presumably the others had no love of fun); Dick was physical, and Sam was studious, and so, not being competitive, they were very happy together. Until wonderfully evil Dan Baxter appeared. He was announced--not just once but every time he showed up, it seemed--as "Dan Baxter--coward, bully, cad, thief, and arch-enemy of the Rover Boys." And that line reappeared in 1942 to describe Dan Backslide in my animated cartoon The Dover Boys. The sublimely badly written Rover Boys books were among the things that pointed me toward animation and unwittingly taught me the primary law of writing books or films that children might read or view: never write down to anybody.

When I became an animation writer and director for Warner Bros., I made certain that we never wrote down to children. This was not so much a matter of wisdom--although it was wise--as it was a matter of necessity: we simply did not know who our audience was. Since (1) all of our films were to be exhibited in theaters accompanying such gentle and ungentle features as I Was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, Little Caesar, The Public Enemy, Four Daughters, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and The Strawberry Blonde, and since (2) we didn't know how to make pictures for adults of such diverse tastes, and since (3) we knew we weren't making pictures for children, therefore (4) we were forced to make pictures only for ourselves. We never stopped to analyze what made our cartoons funny. If they made us laugh, then we hoped the audience would follow. If they didn't, we would be out on the street sucking bricks.

Today, when I can afford the introspection denied me as a youth and can philosophize about the matter, I realize that we were doing exactly what Robert Louis Stevenson, Lewis Carroll, Beatrix Potter, E. B. White, T. H. White, and James Thurber did: we wrote, drew, directed only for ourselves. The rules are simple. Take your work, but never yourself, seriously. Pour in the love and whatever skill you have, and it will come out.

As a child, I loved to draw, as do most children, and I have made at least twenty drawings every day of my life since childhood. And I intend to continue to draw and paint for the rest of my life--if I live that long. I think all children will draw naturally and beautifully if left to their own devices, but parental criticism too often makes them lose heart. When a child is doing a drawing with stick figures, "That looks like fun" is a more constructive comment than "Is that meant to be Daddy?"

A child once showed Jean Charlot--the noted teacher and painter who gave an inspirational series of lectures to the Disney animators--a drawing he was obviously very proud of. Charlot couldn't understand the drawing, but, like my mother, he would never ask a child what a drawing was supposed to be. Instead he said, "I'm not sure I've ever seen one just like that." "You have, too," the kid exclaimed. "It's a spool." And he began to draw another one. He drew one end, turned the paper and drew the side, then turned it again and drew the other end. As Charlot pointed out, this is a very realistic drawing of a spool, because you can actually cut it out and fold it to make a three-dimensional spool. Similarly, the child's drawing of a table, with all four legs splayed out, is just like a carpenter's drawing of the same table.

Indiscriminate praise can be as damaging to a child as criticism. Children know that some of their drawings are better than others, and they soon lose faith in a parent whose praise is unwaveringly enthusiastic. If, every time a kid brings you a new drawing, you exclaim, "Ooo, that's wonderful!" and stick it up on the refrigerator, you are making no statement at all. All you are doing is getting rid of the child, who will begin to wonder if there is any point in drawing whatsoever.

My mother had four kids and no refrigerator magnets. Whenever we brought her a drawing, she looked at the child before looking at the drawing. Only if we seemed excited about the drawing would she become excited too. Then she might say, "Why, you used a lot of blue, didn't you?" or "I've never seen a drawing that had all those little squiggles down in the corner." But she would never criticize our efforts as drawings. And this method worked well. Her four children all became graphic artists. My father, who didn't care too much one way or the other about our drawings, saw to it that we had good materials, and eventually he sent us to art school. He was certainly not an art critic.

In spite of the efforts of art critics, children (including myself as a child) ignore the rules of perspective. And quite rightly. The whole idea of perspective is no more than that--an idea, which has something to do with optics but very little to do with art. At the time perspective was developed in Italy, no other artists in the world were using it, nor did they feel any need to use it. In a Japanese painting of a city street, you can look over the fences and see what's happening, whereas perspective blocks it all out. There can be no question that I learned practically everything I would need to know about animated cartoon writing from my Uncle Lynn Martin.

"Most powerful swimmer I ever knew," said Uncle Lynn, polishing his bald head reflectively, "was a man by the name of Rutherford B. Klutz. It took him four days to swim from Venice Beach to the Isthmus at Catalina Island: twenty-six miles. But he swam back in forty-five seconds." He checked the shine on his pants. "Caught his jockstrap on the Venice Pier."

Uncle Lynn never grew up and never talked down, and these factors alone would have made him the ideal uncle among the forest of five-and-a-half-foot to six-foot bureaucrats who cluttered our lives. But he was far more than that to my worshiping eight-year-old self; he was a blacksmith without a forge--except, of course, for us.

He would play baseball--catcher preferably, sometimes without a glove--for any team: ten-year-old, work-up, bush, or army league. This had formed his hands into the most unusual shapes, differing enormously from each other. The left, or catching, hand was intriguingly similar to a glove filled with chunks of decomposed granite of unequal sizes, the palm tastefully covered with a surface similar to a dog's pads. The right, throwing hand was surprisingly soft, but limber and strong. His arms were those of a bowman, astonishingly powerful and supported by a body of reassuring durability. He could stand in the sand like a squat telephone pole, those marvelous arms akimbo, two boys hanging on each one like jumping jacks, possums, or sloths.

Uncle Lynn had lost all but a flat diadem of hair around his ears when, at age seventeen, he survived a bout of dengue fever incurred in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War, after running away from home and enlisting as a drummer boy at age sixteen. The first time he ran away he was twelve, curious to see the results of the Galveston flood. (He told me in confidence that seeing one bloated man in a tree would slake even the most curious little boy's appetite for drowned people. So, he said, he returned to Chanute, Kansas, several hundred miles away.)

Never in all the years I knew him did Uncle Lynn ever muss my hair or thump my head. If he had something to say to me when I was half his height, he would sit casually down in a chair, to be level with me. He never squatted to communicate with me or any child--a demeaning gesture defining the difference in relative statuses. He never talked down, physically or philosophically, to any human being, any dog, cat, or housefly. He is the only person I ever knew who would talk to caterpillars, reassuring them of their thrilling future as butterflies. I have watched in fascinated attention as he spoke a word of warning to a line of ants approaching Mother's kitchen and seen them turn away from the first step. Perhaps he had smeared a bit of material obnoxious to ants on that step to ensure his warning was heeded, but I choose to believe not. He was never thought of as perfect or, for that matter, as imperfect. He was, quite simply, Uncle Lynn.

Another problem with Uncle Lynn was that he made you think. Most other adults told you what to think, which of course isn't thinking at all. But Uncle Lynn was suspicious of facts. "What about two and two equals four?" I had just discovered this mathematical dogma, which sounded about as rational as anything in an irrational world. "Isn't that a fact?"

"Two and two what?" said Uncle Lynn.

"Two and two anything makes four anything." If this wasn't a profundity, I'd never met one.

"So," said Uncle Lynn, rubbing an apple on his trousers to take the shine off, "if we have four of anything, we can take two of that anything away, leaving two, and everything will be hunky-dory." People used words like "hunky-dory" in those days. Uncle Lynn seldom did, but would occasionally throw one in to put you off guard. "Isn't that a fact?"

"Absolutely" was the word I was looking for. What I said was, "Sure."

In an effort to find some stability in a confused and unreliable world, I had independently discovered the comforting word "fact." A fact, as I understood it, or wanted to understand it, was something you could depend on. A fact was a truth, and nobody, even adults, would dare trifle with a truth/fact.

Except Uncle Lynn, who hovered like a burly, bald-headed butterfly somewhere between childhood and adulthood, never lighting firmly on either pole.

"Don't depend on it," he said, after I had confided my newfound faith in "facts." "Is an ice-cream cone a fact?" he asked.

"It sure is." I had an absolute faith in the truth and the honest integrity of an ice-cream cone. Indeed, it was a cornerstone of my belief in the rare but essential goodness of nature.

"All right," said Uncle Lynn, "an ice-cream cone is a fact only if you say what an ice-cream cone is."

"Uh ice-cream cone is uh ice-cream cone," I explained. If I'd added one more "is uh ice-cream cone" I might have grown up to be Gertrude Stein.

"Okay," said Uncle Lynn, "let's say we have four ice-cream cones. Two of them have just been handed over by the soda jerk and are fresh and hard and tasty beyond belief. Two of them are old and practically melted; their cones are gummy and gunky and the ice cream isn't ice cream anymore, but a gooey gucky mess. So I take two good ones and leave you the gucky mess. Is that equal? Do two and two really make four?"

"Aw," I replied.

"Look," said Uncle Lynn. "I'd say, two and two only makes four when you don't say what you're talking about."

"Aw," I commented.

"The point about all this is that you don't have to have all those things somebody calls facts and truths flopping around inside your brain trying to make sense out of nonsense."

"Yeah but," I suggested.

"Right," said Uncle Lynn. "`Yeah but' is the whole thing. No matter what you have absolutely decided is a fact or a truth, haul back and say, `Yeah but.' It leaves you breathing room. For instance, you're eight years old. That's a fact. Now add a `yeah but.'"

"Yeah but." Again he was forcing me to think for myself, not forcing me to think what he thought. "Next year I won't be eight years old, I'll be nine, and last year I was seven, so eight years old is not a fact, except for now."

"Right again," said Uncle Lynn. "The only fact I know is that there are no facts."

"Is that so with everything?" I asked.

"Particularly true of everything," said Uncle Lynn. "You said that just right. You said it in italics. Italics are these slanty letters that mean `Pay attention, this is important.' As different from capital letters, like your grandfather yelling `PAY ATTENTION!' which is just being loud. Bullies and aunts use capital letters a lot, but italics get your attention; like, `I wouldn't go in there if I were you' in italics makes you pretty certain that you probably don't want to go in there, it's dangerous; but `I WOULDN'T GO IN THERE IF I WERE YOU' in capitals makes you want to go in there."

"How about the story?" I wanted time to digest this hot potato.

"Call out the troops," said Uncle Lynn, "while I assemble some facts."

The troops assembled. Uncle Lynn looked them over with a critical eye. "You're quite a messy lot," he said. "Two boys and two girls. That means you're actually four girlboys or gerbils for short. Two and two makes four, doesn't it?" he said, winking at me. "So you've got to be four something. That's a fact, isn't it?"

"I don't think you'd better get everybody around here messed up," I said. "Maybe you better just get on with it. The story I mean."

"Ah, yes," said Uncle Lynn. "Out of the mouth of Abes comes wisdom. Abe Lincoln's mouth anyway. I knew Abe Lincoln, you know. Fact. Met him once at a side-splitting contest."

"You couldn't have known Mr. Lincoln," said Peggy. "You're not as old as that."

"As old as what?" asked Uncle Lynn. Nobody else there knew how dangerous his italics were. "Abe Lincoln," my uncle said, "once observed that a man's legs only have to be long enough to reach the ground."

We four nodded to each other. Seemed reasonable.

"Trouble about a statement like that," said Uncle Lynn, peeling an apple and eating the skin, "is that it's subject to error. Fact is, I once knew a man on Skeleton Key whose feet didn't reach the ground. His mother had been frightened by an orangutan who tried to sell her an automatic coconut-crushing machine, and her child was born with arms longer than his legs. Walked on his hands all his live-long life, legs swinging between them like a pair of long johns hanging from a clothesline. Often wondered what happened to him--name of Larchmont Fink. He must be quite old by now. Older than me at that time. I don't know whether he still is older or not."

"How old are you?" asked Peggy, my older sister, trying to tidy up Uncle Lynn's narratives. She always was one for difficult and impossible tasks.

"How old am I what?" was Uncle Lynn's disconcerting reply.

The Black Hole of rational uncertainty that often appeared in conversations with Uncle Lynn opened again.

"Well," said Uncle Lynn, pulling the seeds out of the apple core and popping them into his mouth like peanuts (he would later shoot them out with a collapsible peashooter he kept in his pocket). "There's no need to be baffled. Surely you're familiar with the phrase, `You're not old enough to--'"

There was general agreement among us that such a phrase did indeed have the ring of instant familiarity.

"That's what I mean," said Uncle Lynn, tucking the seeds into his cheek for future use, looking like a muscular, bald-headed squirrel. "It isn't how old you are, it's are you old enough to do things? Well, I'm old enough to do things I want to do without threats from the authorities, meaning parents, teachers, cobra-eyed aunts--you know the lot."

We did, but still Peggy insisted. "What year were you born?"

"As to that," said Uncle Lynn, essaying a trial apple-seed shot through his teeth and hitting our resident moosehead on the nose, "I was too young at the time to remember, but" (holding up an admonishing finger to Peggy) "I am quite old. In fact, I am older than some people who are a good deal older than I used to be. But to clarify matters, if all four of you stood on each other's shoulders, you still wouldn't be as old as I am right now."

There was a concerted "Hmmm" from his audience. His logic was askew; that we suspected. How it was askew was another matter.

"Oldest man I ever knew was a parrot. He was one-quarter woodpecker; used to stick soda crackers into telephone poles," continued Uncle Lynn. "Eighty-seven years old when he kicked the bucket. Oldest man I ever knew to actually kick the bucket: a small, white bucket that he drank whiskey out of. Kicked the thing one day in a fit of frustration, emptying all the booze. Died of acute morbidity the next day. Huge funeral, attended by two Doberman pinschers and a cat, who had all along planned on eating him. They buried him in the cat. The cat became an alcoholic."

"What was the parrot's name?" asked younger brother Dick, who was insistent on that kind of thing.

"A parrot isn't a man." Peggy was still seeking order.

"Quite right," said Uncle Lynn. "A parrot isn't a man and a man isn't a parrot. I hope that answers your question." Addressing Dick: "What do you think the parrot's name was?"

"Unclebuyme," instantly replied Dick, referring to a local gimme-pig (a boy we had so named because of his constant nagging and tearful appeal to his uncle and guardian: "Uncle buy me this, Uncle buy me that--").

"Quite right," repeated Uncle Lynn. "How did you know? Unclebuyme Macaw, shortened from Seamus Duboru McCaw. Scottish bird. Wore the same tartan as Bunny Prince Charlie, rabbit I once knew. Died intestate. Ever see a macaw in kilts?"

"Where did you meet this Mr. Unclebuyme Macaw?" I asked, ever eager, even then, to identify the bizarre.

"Very frustrated bird. He could talk, but he couldn't remember what he was talking about. Met him on a riverboat that ran illicit toothpicks to the Indians on Little Semisopochnoi Island in the Bering Sea. Indians used toothpicks to prop their eyes open during the three-month-long winter night. There are no trees on Semisopochnoi Island, so you can see the demand for toothpicks is enormous and leads to illicit toothpicks. Toothpick running is a thriving trade in the Strait. Against federal law, of course. You can make a passable toothpick out of a walrus tusk, but it seems a shame to kill a walrus for one toothpick."

"Couldn't you take the tusk without killing the walrus?" Dorothy asked.

"I don't know about you," said Uncle Lynn, neatly lofting an apple seed in a graceful parabola into the cat's dish, "but borrowing a walrus's tusk can be a harrowing experience. Tried it once. Spent the next six months in the hospital writing The Decline and Fall of the Musk Ox."

"Is there any place you've never been?" asked Dick.

"You mean, is there no place I've ever not been?" said Uncle Lynn. "And the answer is no. I've been every place I've ever been. Now," he scanned our faces, "why don't we all get together some other time, like tomorrow, and I'll tell you of a zebra I once met whose stripes slipped off his back."

We all agreed the next morning that interesting and immediate dreams are stimulated by the thought of a zebra with all of his stripes piled around his ankles. And I was hooked. The only way this marvelous event could be accomplished would be in an art form then only in its embryonic stage; yet animation and I were on an irreversible collision course.

Uncle Lynn Talks to a Dead Dog

After our good dog Teddy died, we received a long letter from Uncle Lynn. How he knew of Teddy's death I do not know. Where he was I do not know. He was always "off someplace." We never knew where, and he never said until he brushed by us on his way to someplace else. He might mention Bakersfield, Kuala Lumpur, Topolobampo, Mozambique, or the Seychelles, or the Dry Tortugas, or even Hollister Drive, which was just one block over from our home on Wadsworth Avenue.

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