Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Stolen White Elephant ; Mark Twain

The Stolen White Elephant ; Mark Twain
Four things you cannot get back. A done deed, a said word, time gone and an opportunity missed.
A novella or a short story, certainly not a book per se, The Stolen White Elephant is a satirical or cynical story of police incompetence and corruption. Not mafia corruption, rather self- corruption. This corruption was mostly incompetence, self- aggrandizing, and seeking reward money corruption rather than dishonestly, graft, and thievery corruption. In other words, corruption of a simpler time, not like modern day corruption at all. I know nothing of the back-story but it seems to me Clemens must have had an unfavorable legal-law-police experience leading to this story. Humorous, not laugh out loud funny, the reader is observing the ruminations and ridiculous machinations of the police just close enough to make one want to shout; "Look behind that door!" Much like the B horror movies where you want to yell at the screen; "don’t go in there!""Wait for the others!""Or Stay inside!" I include an excerpt from the book. At this point in the story,several of the detectives are on the trail of the elephant and have sent a report to headquarters.
“Citizens fired some small cannon-balls into him (the elephant) , and they fled. Detective Burke and I arrived 10 minutes later… but mistook some excavations for footprints and so lost a good deal of time… Burke having his head down, intent upon the track, butted up against the elephants hind legs before he was aware of his vicinity. Burke instantly arose to his feet, seized the tail, and exclaimed joyfully, “I claim the reward” but got no further, for a single blow of the huge trunk laid the brave fellow’s fragments low in death. I fled rearward, and the elephant turned and shadowed me to the edge of the wood, making tremendous speed, and I should inevitably have been lost, but that the remains of the funeral providentially intervened again and diverted his attention. I have just learned that nothing of the funeral is now left; but this is no loss, for there is an abundance of material for another. Meanwhile, the elephant has disappeared again”

I like Twain almost as much as Dickens so I feel a need to read what ever I find by his hand. I would like to have known more about these particular disappointments as they beset us all. I supposed (or hope) he wrote this story to reveal the depth of the disappointment.
Consider the picture I took in Nebraska this summer.

Matt and I are driving across the country in a very small car. It had been 24 hours eating and sleeping in the car. We were tired, hungry, dirty, stinky, out of gas and surrounded by corn fields. We see this inviting sign and think, "Great, let’s try them". FAT DOGS! At this point, we have nothing to lose. We get gas. We walk-in; our pockets full of money. What a disappointment. Not only no Fat Dogs, no dogs at all. It was worse than any 7-11 any where in the country. Nothing was cooking. NO FOOD FOR SALE. (OK, there were some snacks in foil bags but NO FOOD.) Our sadness (read disappointment) did not last long, although I do not recollect what we eventually ate that night. I had mostly forgotten that day but was reminded by the photo. I should not like to speculate who or what the Fat Dogs really were.

Disappointment seems to be as common as joint pain. Disappointment in one’s self is terribly painful and can only be exceeded by disappointment caused by someone we love. The closer the disappointer is to our hearts, the sharper the pain. I would mostly be afraid to write honestly about the some of my disappointments,(too painful). After painful, comes terrifying. Who wants to look that closely at ones self? Clearly,as the proto-type alpha male, I don’t appreciate the whole share your feelings psycho-babble nonsense. Anyway, some things are best kept to ourselves.

Regrets are not the same as disappointments but have equally powerful effects. I regret leaving Michael, he was probably 15, in the middle of the Rehoboth Bay trying to keep a sinking jet ski from being lost forever. It bothers me to this day. I still and often think of what I should have done in place of what I did. I find his struggle,not without suffering, trying his level best while succeeding, painful to this day. This happened maybe 15 years ago. I could not sleep recently thinking about what I should have done differently. He and I are the only ones affected or who even know what really happened. I should have left him my vest for extra flotation. I should have stayed with him and helped hold on and wait for more help. I could have tried something other than leaving him and “going for help”. No one was hurt. Nothing was lost. I just put him in an impossible position and he felt he could not disappoint me. He has never disappointed me and I wonder if he had let go of the ski and it were lost, if that would torment me less than leaving him to struggle to the limits of his capacity. Matthew did the same thing when he lost Tony’s mesh bag in the Florida Keys. He almost drowned from exhaustion looking for it on the bottom before returning to the boat. When he finally came in to report its loss, he could barely breathe, he had a stomach and lungs full of water and was spent. All for a mesh bag? or was it not to disappoint those he loves?
A done deed, a said word, time gone and an opportunity missed. Things we cannot take back. Sometimes, disappointments cannot be taken back. Regrets can hurt too.

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