Amtrak Feminamque Cano
The epic revealed in the ordinary is a common theme of literature, especially popular literature. Probably my favorite writer in this vein is Booth Tarkington, whose Penrod books were (I think) some of the first to write children as fully realized characters, with motives and problems all their own — not simply scaled-down versions of adult motives and problems, like a tiny, wizened Jesus in a medieval madonna-and-child.
Wait, I’m forgetting about Mark Twain. Okay, the second to write fully realized children as characters.
Anyhow, the Penrod books are a perfect example of the epic-in-the-ordinary. In the beginning of the first book, Penrod — an entirely normal, reasonable, self-conscious boy of eleven — is thrust by forces beyond his control into the part of “Lancelot du Lake, The Child” in an odious “Children’s Round Table” pageant written by the abominable Miss Lora Rewbush. Further, Penrod’s costume, improvised by his sister and mother, is revealed to his horrified gaze shortly before curtain as a pair of his father’s old flannel underwear.
Booth Tarkington describes this titanic struggle and our hero’s eventual improvisation, triumph, and disgrace with such force and gravity that he could be describing the British assault on Sebastopol. That’s appropriate for describing youth, of course, when every issue is a titanic struggle between forces beyond comperehension and control. It’s a literary device used to this day. Take “A Christmas Story”, for example.
David Lynch loves the epic-in-the-ordinary approach, too. It’s consonant with his mystic worldview, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun to present an innocent Forties diner as a seething caldron of hidden forces. That’s not a clock made from a log, it’s a MYSTIC TOTEM UPON WHICH ARE FOCUSED THE DESIRES OF…
Well, you get the idea. I suppose there’s something attractive about this kind of mystical presentation because it makes the writer the important one, the magical lens. “Sure, YOU may only see an aisle of breakfast cereals, but I’m going to show you the struggle of class against class, reflected in the placement of the funny-looking clown bags down by the floor!”
Alright. Finding the epic in the ordinary: 1) It’s fun to do, 2) David Lynch likes it, 3) It’s a shot to the writer’s ego. Jeez, no wonder I like to do it. But, today, there’s no mystical lens necessary. Today, I have slowly become aware of a real mystery in my very own home town.
To wit: THE FRENCH LADY AT THE EXTON TRAIN STATION HAS THE MYSTICAL POWER TO PREDICT EXACTLY WHERE THE DOOR WILL BE. Seriously. Every day, there’s a small crowd of commuters waiting for the 6:40 Amtrak Keystone train to New York. The French lady (she wears nice print dresses, pronounces “is” as “eez“, and I think she owns two mastiffs, but that’s all I know about her) sometimes waits over on the right where the handicap ramp starts, sometimes on the left where the bus shelter ends, sometimes in the middle where the catenary pole is anchored. AND THE TRAIN DOOR ALWAYS STOPS EXACTLY IN FRONT OF HER. I have asked her about this: “how do you know where the train door will be?” and she smiles and shrugs.
The train is, maybe, a hundred yards long, and the door is five feet wide. The door stops at a different place each time, with a range of approximately 100 feet either way. Despite this range, as mentioned before, the french lady always knows exactly where to stand.
- She is a scientist, and has observed that, for example, on Mondays the train is seven cars long, ergo the door will appear farther to the left?
- She’s a precog, or an enormously powerful telekinetic?
- The engineer’s name is Jacques, and is madly in love with her, demonstrating his love by placing the door in front of the object of desire each and every day of the week?
I welcome your help in solving this mystery.