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Doin' the Westlake Block


Harry Buschman

Psychology; Sudden cessation of speech or a thought process without an immediate observable cause, sometimes considered a consequence of repression.

You can tell right away the symptoms are pretty obscure. There is no way you can relate them to your doctor, but even if you could he would be at a loss to know what to do about it. Writer's Block has a lot in common with the common cold - while there may be a million remedies, there are no cures.

You will look hard in the dictionary and the encyclopedia to find "Writer's Block." It's a very elusive thing, slippery as an eel and maybe it really doesn't exist at all. Writers of the older generation look at any human problem starting off with "Psycho" with mistrust, yet we hear from many writers, young and old that they've got "Writer's Block." I pity them. It doesn't show up in Their X-rays. I don't think Medicare covers it, and I don't think annual shots will inoculate them.

Henry Wroth was a writer. He holds the world's record for "Writer's Block." He wrote a literary masterpiece "Call it Sleep" at the age of 28. His second hit came 60 years later. In the interim he tried his hand at raising water fowl, metal grinding, and tutoring in mathematics. When the "block" was over he published a six volume epic! The interim could not have led to a pleasant family life during those sixty years if Henry was like you and me.

Maybe he didn't have writer's block at all. Maybe Henry found better things to do. Maybe that's the answer. Writing, for all its attractions, is not everything. Mozart never had composer's block, Michelangelo never had sculptor's block.

Writer's Block is the special province and domain of writers. I've never heard a commercial pilot say, "This is the captain speaking ... I'm afraid I've got pilot's block, buckle up and return your seats to the upright position -- thank you for flying Blue Goose Airlines." We may share similar blocks with people in other creative endeavors, but only under special conditions will we share it with barbers and automobile repair mechanics. Our barber, Angelo has closed his shop and gone off to Orlando to spend some time with his brother. If that wasn't enough, Johnny Hicks is retiring! Both of them have reached a critical point in their lives. Angelo, who cannot cut the hair of black people nor that of females can no longer make a living from the few elderly white men who stubbornly grow hair in Westlake Village. Johnny, the Village mechanic, half my age, has had it up to "here" with giving old folks like me a complimentary jump start in January and watching them drive off to Sears and Roebuck for a new battery.

In the newspaper game I cannot afford such afflictions. They are in any case reserved for the literati and not for a lowly scrivener who labors on the Westlake Village 'Guardian'. As time passes, however, I meet more and more people who seem to be coming down with blocks of one kind or another and it occurs to me that it might be catching.

As a case in point, you couldn't find two physical specimens more fit than Todd and Mark Buffaloing. They are out of high school only six months and it is obvious to everyone in town that they are in the final stages of a block from which they will never recover. "Turf and Muck," we used to call them affectionately when they were defensive tackles on the Westlake Village "Toads." It seems their life ended when their careers as high school football players was abruptly terminated by graduation.

If two strapping twenty-one year old high school graduates can contract this spreading epidemic, what chance does an old man like me have? Perhaps it is a curse leveled on Westlake Village for having done something in the past, maybe it's the water or the radiation from the high tension wires above the village park under which the grass will no longer grow.

It is in this acerbic state of mind that I reported to the Westlake Village Guardian to do my biweekly column called "The Golden Page," which, as you know is concerned with the dizzying pace of life the elderly lead in our town. Lucas is there endorsing checks from our advertisers. There is nothing he enjoys more. Stacey is at my typewriter, she grows more nubile every day and I fear for her future should she ever run across Mark and Todd Buffaloing -- in their state of mind.

"Hail to thee, blithe spirit!Bird thou never wert."

I usually have something like this prepared for Stacey, hoping against hope that it may broaden her horizons. She eyes me strangely, and slowly a pink bubble emerges from her mouth and grows to enormous size. If there were an Olympic bubble gum event, she would get the gold.

"Smatter witchoo?" Lucas looks at me strangely as well. He stacks his checks in a sizable pile and catches sight of Stacey's bubble, now obscenely large. We both turn our heads waiting for the detonation. I was in a 155 mm aircraft battery in WW 2, and the thwacking bang of it is unforgettable and only marginally louder than Stacey's exploding bubbles. I wonder if the Buffaloing boys are in greater danger than she.

"I dunno really, a little off my feed I guess."

"Well getcha ass in gear, I need yer column by six." Lucas Crosby made a living with this rag of a newspaper, sent two kids to Princeton. He did the whole thing himself ... didn't need a leg up from anybody.

"I'm not up to it, Lucas. Why don't you do it yourself?"

"Bullshit! I got these checks to cash. Take off your dumb baseball cap and sit'cha'self down. If there's no news, make it up." Such is the level of the fourth estate in Westlake Village.

"Ever hear of "writer's block," Lucas?"

"Yeah ... Sure, why? What's that got to do with you?"

This is the reason why people like me, people below the rank of literati, yet people who use words as reverently as did Keats and Shelley must write on endlessly. Whatever blocks we have must be shared with garage mechanics, barbers, defensive tackles and yes, even Olympic bubble blowers.

©Harry Buschman 1997

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