Wednesday, September 14, 2011

New series: "Lesser Horrors" from MPR's Peter Smith


Today the UMP blog is kicking off a monthlong series by MPR contributor Peter Smith, author of A Porch Sofa Almanac and, most recently, A Cavalcade of Lesser Horrors.

This series will appear on the UMP blog on Mondays throughout September and October. We will update this page with links to subsequent posts as they are published.


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Lesser Horror: Any glimmer, thought, or memory from one’s personal past that for whatever reason causes a small, brief but recurring episode of psychic pain.

BY PETER SMITH
Author and MPR contributor

Just before I left home for college, I walked into Langworthy’s clothing store on Milwaukee Avenue in Libertyville, Illinois, and bought a camel hair blazer.

It was a 46-long and set me back $24.99. Luckily, it fit right off the rack, so I saved the two-dollar tailoring charge.

I was deeply satisfied with the purchase. I had been borrowing my father’s sport coats since eighth grade, and Pop was a 40-regular at best. His cuffs rode halfway to my elbows, and my shoulders hulked. I looked like a Brooks Brothers Frankenstein.

But my new jacket hung gracefully—so gracefully I wore it all night on the train from Chicago to Minneapolis, then on the bus to Saint Cloud, and in the cab out to Saint John’s University, where freshman orientation had begun.

A rendering of a camel hair blazer, which is said to be
making a fashionable comeback this fall.
(Image source.)
I wore it for my freshman photo, too. I remember feigning a Nelson Algren Chicago street tough attitude. I haven’t seen the photo in decades, but I’m sure it shows a large and unpleasant-looking young man.

Large and unpleasant-looking, yes. But check out the coat.

I rested the coat for a few weeks after that. It needed to un-rumple. I hung it on a hook in the locker that served as my dorm room closet.

The weight of the coat on the hook stretched the $24.99 fabric just below the collar. I discovered the damage the evening of the Saint John’s—Saint Ben’s freshman mixer.

I remember standing in front of my locker, trying to pull the stretch out, and feeling crushed. Here was the most important social event of my freshman year—the event where (who knew?) I might meet the girl I would date throughout college and marry some day. And here was a hump in my new camel hair coat.

It was probably nothing. Then again, it was enough. It would serve. Others were going to a mixer. I was going to a costume party as the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

I splashed on several handfuls of English Leather cologne to bolster my spirits and, light-headed from the fumes, I proceeded to the old gym, hump and all.

My coat and I stood there stylishly, lumpily, aromatically watching throngs of young Johnnies and Bennies dancing and mingling. We were not the answer to any coed’s dream that night. We were as out of place as young Scott Fitzgerald on Summit Avenue. Not to be… Not to be…

I found myself back on campus for graduation last spring. I stood in another crowd—on the very spot in the old gym where my coat and I stood and watched our classmates mix and mingle all those years ago.

I could still sense them there, young and happy and eager to fall in love and get on with life. No one else felt it, but I sure did.

And standing there again, perhaps never really having left, I rolled my shoulders as wide as they go these days, trying to pull the hump out of my camel hair soul.

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Peter Smith is a thirty-year veteran of Twin Cities advertising and a regular contributor to Morning Edition on Minnesota Public Radio. He is author of A Porch Sofa Almanac and, more recently, A Cavalcade of Lesser Horrors. He blogs at Peter Smith Writes and tweets at @petersmithwrite.

"With precise language he tells a good story with elegant descriptions, laced with the minor calamities of life, and woven with touches of wry humor."
—Star Tribune

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