Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 8: John Schulian, Nowhere to Run (#138)

Oh man, another non-fiction piece--how many non-fiction pieces are there in this story-a-week set?

John Schulian, "Nowhere to Run" (1979) from At the Fights:
Taking a break from flying and Paris, the random number generator gave me this column on faded boxer, Johnny Bratton. Now if you're like me--and I hope you're not--reading an old column about an even older boxer gives you an itch that only internet research can scratch. I've just spent a few minute reading up on Bratton and the Del Prado hotel, so now I'm an expert.

But no matter how much of an expert I may be, I will never master the world-weary omniscient style of Schulian. (How world-weary is Schulian? After his career as a sports columnist, he moved to Hollywood and worked on Xena: Warrior Princess among other shows.) Schulian doesn't just tell us that Honey Boy Bratton was successful and now isn't. He starts with a description of the run-down Del Prado Hotel, where Bratton hangs out/sleeps when he's not downtown panhandling so that we know how far Bratton has fallen.

Schulian isn't shy about this: "How sad and yet how perfect for the setting" is Bratton now. This omniscience--not just of fact, but of feeling--gives Schulian nearly god-like power where Bratton and everyone else around him has none. Even the manager of the apartment building seems beaten by life: Why let Bratton sleep in the lobby? According to the manager, "The hotel doesn’t look like the Astor anymore, so why should anyone care?”

Schulian drives home the melancholy of this piece by alternating between the past omniscient (this is the way things are in general) and the present terrible tense when, for instance, he describes the aging boxer going through the motions with no one but the mirror to see him. Also, just as Banning flipped between the epic and the pathetic by running both feelings together in a sentence, so Schulian abruptly runs together two notes in the final paragraph: Bratton has found a place to crash--but now the Del Prado is being re-gentrified, so he's got nowhere to run.

Bonus: Schulian never uses the phrase "nowhere to run" in his column, making him my favorite person today.

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