Woke up this morning at 8:30 a.m. after staying up until 3 a.m. talking to my old friend Tito Perdue. The morning sun is streaming down on the lakefront here about 10 miles north of Wetumpka, Alabama. It's beautiful, although I thought the midnight stars were more beautiful.
We watched opera last night, and Tito reminded me how we met. I'd written a column for the Rome (Ga.) News-Tribune which (humorously, I thought) explained why I couldn't stand the caterwauling of an operatic soprano. Tito, who was then living in Cave Spring, Ga., wrote a letter to the editor denouncing me as a philistine. This was the start of a long and eventful friendship. More after this operatic interlude featuring the Russian soprano Netrebko:
Among other things, I'm semi-responsible for Tito's "outing" as something other than a liberal. (Don't ever call him a "conservative"; he'll reply, "No, I'm a reactionary!") Tito's first two novels were published to critical acclaim and he looked to be well on his way to being the next Winston Groom (who is, in fact, a cousin of his). Critics thought his Faulkneresque style was "postmodern," and he was favorably reviewed in the New York Times, etc.
Then, after we met, I wrote a feature profile about Tito, describing his library full of classics, his enjoyment of Wagner, his admiration of Nietzsche, his general loathing of all things new or even recent. Among other things, he mentioned in the interview that, if there were ever to be a film made of his books, the only director he'd want would be Elia Kazan -- who, you may recall, "named names" for the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
Tito thought the article was splendid, and copies of the article were distributed by his agent. At which point, the game was up. His book contract was cancelled and it was a couple of years before he published his next novel, which the New York Times didn't review. Difficult as is the life of a literary novelist in the Age of Illiteracy, imagine what it's like for Tito being marked as an antagonist of the liberal culture -- really, an antagonist of the entirety of contemporary society. And, doggone it, Elia Kazan is dead!
Tito is a fine storyteller and his first novel, Lee, is great, even if the critics agree. The book introduces the protagonist Lee Pefley, who is featured in his other novels. His second book, The New Austerities, was actually better, I thought. More recently, he's published a wonderful tale of Lee Pefley's romantic youth, The Sweet Scented Manuscript. This is a roman a clef of Tito's own wild experience at Ohio's Antioch College, where he met, wooed and married his wife Judy.
Their love affair was scandalous enough to get them both kicked out of school in 1957. They've now been married 51 years, and I think young readers -- who have zero idea of what the 1950s were really like, much less the kind of love that causes two kids to get married at 18 -- would get a thrill out of The Sweet Scented Manuscript. Of course, this postulates the hypothetical existence of young people who read literary novels for any reason other than being assigned to do so by their teachers. Sigh.
At any rate, I'm sitting barefoot in Tito's living room, which has a magnificent view of the lake. Last night, as we stood out on the deck underneath a star-filled sky, I said I wished my friends up in D.C. had any inkling of how wonderful Alabama is. This horrified Judy, who expressed the fear that such a revelation might result in an influx that would ruin the place.
So whatever you do, don't tell anyone that the nearest place to heaven on earth is 10 miles north of Wetumpka on Alabama Highway 111, just off County Road 23. Take a right turn at Martin's Bait & Tackle and keep going until you find the end of Muscadine Lane.
Of course, you'll never find the place. You probably won't even bother to try. And isn't that sad?
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