The Art of Eating Spaghetti
by Russell Baker
The only thing that truly interested me was writing, and I knew that sixteen-year-olds did not come out of high school and become writers. I thought of writing as something to be done only by the rich. It was so obviously not real work, not a job at which you could earn a living. Still, I had begun to think of myself as a writer. It was the only thing for which I
seemed to have the smallest talent, and, silly though it sounded when I told people I‟d like to be a writer, it gave me a way of thinking about myself which satisfied my need to have an identity.
The notion of becoming a writer had flickered off and on in my head since the
Belleville days, but it wasn't until my third year in high school that the possibility took hold. Until then I'd been bored by everything associated with English courses. I found English grammar dull and baffling. I hated the assignments to turn out “compositions,” and went at them like heavy labor, turning out leaden, lackluster paragraphs that were agonies for
teachers to read and for me to write. The classics thrust on me to read seemed as deadening as chloroform.
When our class was assigned to Mr. Fleagle for third-year English I anticipated
another grim year in that dreariest of subjects. Mr. Fleagle was notorious among City students for dullness and inability to inspire. He was said to be stuffy, dull, and hopelessly out of date. To me he looked to be sixty or seventy and prim to a fault. He wore primly severe eyeglasses, his wavy hair was primly cut and primly combed. He wore prim vested suits with neckties blocked primly against the collar buttons of his primly starched white shirts. He had a primly pointed jaw, a primly straight nose, and a prim manner of speaking that was so correct, so gentlemanly, that he seemed a comic antique.
I anticipated a listless, unfruitful year with Mr. Fleagle and for a long time was not disappointed. We read Macbeth. Mr. Fleagle loved Macbeth and wanted us to love it too, but he lacked the gift of infecting others with his own passion. He tried to convey the murderous ferocity of Lady Macbeth one day by reading aloud the passage that concludes
…I have given suck, and know
How tender ‟tis to love the babe that milks me.
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums…