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The Case of the Inky Coffee Pot

Sunday 8/4/19

It's not yet five in the morning. I've been working for a while. I awoke to see yet another shooting, the second of the weekend. I sent a letter to The New Yorker on behalf of "Fitty." It is the story that America needs to read right now. May something come to pass.


I'm watching D.A Pennebaker's The War Room presently. He died yesterday. I interviewed him two or three years ago. I don't remember for whom. Rolling Stone, maybe. It was about Don't Look Back. I shared the Donovan hotel room scene with Emma a while ago. She likes Donovan, and I wanted to teach her something about talent and competition, and what genius looks like pitted against "Oh, that's pretty good for the most part" talent. Emma gets nervous about competing, and I sometimes find unassuming ways to show her that genius can just cut out somebody else's heart, and that's a good thing. It's not about Kumbaya, as the publishing community wants it to be, where we are all equal, and it's about craft and writing daily. The hell it is. It's about what I--I don't mean I, Colin Fleming, I'm using "I" like the general "you" to refer to a specific kind of person--got that you don't got. And how much harder I work to develop that, while you don't devote any time to your shred. It's about going with what you can do, letting it fly. The hotel scene, when Donovan plays his song for Dylan, which is perfectly fine, then when Dylan plays one--"It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"--for Donovan makes the point. Dylan's not trying to be a dick. He's not a dick (well, not in that scene). He's gracious. He appreciates Donovan sharing his song with him. But that doesn't mean that Dylan is not going to do his best job in sharing his back. Genius is not a house of mercy. It's a house of truth, beauty, meaning, entertainment, humor, friendship, connection, but it's not a house of mercy.


As another pot of old coffee from six years ago brews in the pot that has not been washed in years because it's caked so thick with coffee now and there's no working dishwasher or amount of soap, it seems, that can de-blacken this glass, I will put up a few radio links to one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes stories, called "The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb," published in The Strand in March 1892, and collected in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in October of that same year.


Holmes and Watson live apart. One thing too little remembered about their friendship is its gaps. I find this fascinating. We should pay attention to this. They are the best friends in all of literature, but they grow apart. They'll go months without seeing each other. Holmes has no other friends. As Watson states, he's too bohemian to do anything but loathe society's conventions. He would never vote, believing in the individual and the onus upon the individual to foster self-growth and then growth at large, rather than political factions, a belief with which I, certainly, hold. Watson likes the ladies. A lot. At the time of this story, he is married. He works near Paddington Station, and as he helped out, medically, a railway employee, that railway employee refers various trainfolk--workers and travelers--to Watson's office when they are ill.


One morning on the train the employee comes upon Victor Hatherley, who is doing none too well--he's had his thumb chopped off in the night. Hatherley is a hydraulic engineer, a young man with a struggling to non-existent business, who had been hired by a man to come to this guy's place in the middle of the night, for a large sum, and tell him what is wrong with his hydraulic press. The man, Colonel Lysander Stark, has some cock-and-bull story about fuller's earth. He's actually a counterfeiter. Things don't exactly go swimmingly. Down a thumb, Hatherley is escorted to Watson's doctor's office. Watson bandages his hand, then takes him to 221B Baker Street, where Holmes serves the guy breakfast with lots of bacon. I love that touch. "Eh, that sucks, dude, have some bacon and eggs, we'll chill and talk." Watson and Holmes are always very solicitous, you might even say they're awfully maternal when clients come by. Holmes will tell you to get comfy, put your feet up--literally--and they feed you or give you a brandy, give you the best position by the fire. Touches like these are why we keep coming back to these stories, and they're a great lesson for young writers.


These are assorted radio adaptations of the story, with my favorite being the last one, with Clive Merrison as Sherlock Holmes and Michael Williams as Watson.