weekend-readsA Writer’s Harvest

Patricia Vigderman

What if I wrote a story and it had in it the word “jickjacking”—as in “jickjacking around,” an activity I first encountered recently in a story in the New Yorker and then, the way things do happen,there it was again in a story by David Foster Wallace, whom I was about to meet for the first time. The jickjacking in the first story was part of Mary Karr’s childhood, which took place presumably in a world where actual jickjacking happened. So she used the word with authority, even though now her name associates with a distinctly metropolitan publication. She still has those fertile roots—verbally, I mean.

The second jickjacking was in a very short story that was written in the voice of someone I guess from the same roots (but I guess not David Wallace’s, since his authority is different from Mary Karr’s), those roots, I mean, in that great American somewhere of fertile and colorful and vaguely illiterate but dead-on accurate phrasing. A boy’s voice, an observant voice you drop into without any introduction (the first word is “Plus”and you’ve missed whatever this story is being added on to, as is almost always the case with a story). You know how he does those voices—suddenly You Are There, and somebody is, yes, talking to you. And this story was about how much better people feel if they think they’re getting a deal on something than if they’re just hauling it off for free—just paying a few dollars. If they got it for free then they’d have a relationship, is the idea,the old object (in this case a piece of farm machinery, a tiller, which confused me at first because I thought of a tiller on a boat but I know that’s about a boat, and the language in this story was not taking place near one of the oceans that our amazing sea-to-shining-sea country commands, but instead in a more heartland, real-folks-stuck-in-the-middle-of-God’s-country kind of place, and then I figured out that a tiller was something you till the land with, which I still don’t exactly know what that is, but at least I felt more honest about the way I was hurrying through the sentence to get on with the story), the old object, as I said, wouldn’t be a link between the folks who didn’t need it anymore and the folks who did. If money changes hands, there isn’t going to be any more future jickjacking together about other topics. If they run into each other at the feed store, say, or some other heartland-God’s-country kind of place there wouldn’t be the danger of inquiries about the old tiller, which could lead to further intimacies about more personal kinds of abandoned junk, or eventually even to exchanges about missing teeth, like on a harrow or, if things got real loose, in one of their mouths.

I know a harrow has teeth. It’s true that harrowing is mostly known to me in its metaphorical transformation—for example, a harrowing experience would be one that left its tooth marks on you, changed you in some way, possibly left you more fertile—again, metaphorically fertile, not likely to get pregnant or cause pregnancy—but a place with some new grooves. Anyway, that’s how I see it. And I’m not as unfamiliar with the soil as you might think, having spent some time myself in places where tilling and harrowing and throwing bundles of hay onto a moving wagon happen regularly. I may even have done some jickjacking, although probably not—I think it’s the kind of thing you are born to and have to haul away for free.

But I’ll be watching to see if it comes up again soon in the NewYorker or some more enjoyable and up-to-date purveyor of metaphor and diction and general verbal pleasure. For that and for any other bit of linguistic machinery somebody has been cleaning out of their barn and wants hauled away without money changing hands. For I am one whose jickjacking heart does beat for language, and if you tell me a word in the morning I will try to use it by lunchtime.

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