December 12: “13-Part Story With Mime” by Jim Ray Daniels

Here’s to Monday, Story366! I realize now that we are officially on the last twenty entries of Story366, that we’re winding things down quite efficiently. It’s weird because I’m still looking for books, still ordering a couple that I need to fill in the blanks, still begging presses to unleash their catalogues upon me. Not sure that this is necessary, as I think I have enough books to finish out the year. As I’m going to continue on with Story366 in 2017, and beyond, though to a lesser extent than a daily thing—that’s literally killing me—so those books will come in handy. With all those year-end Best of … lists coming out, it’s hard not to see collections I’ve not read or featured here and have the collector in me think, “I need that!” More on what I’ll do after 2016 coming soon.

For now, however, I want to squeeze in one more week of Bowling Green State University authors, as I have exactly seven more books by BG alum, and if I’m not mistaken, seven makes up a pretty even week. This will be the third week I’m featuring books by authors from my MFA alma mater, an alma mater with a talented and eclectic base to choose from. Today’s author, Jim Ray Daniels, is a great example of that. Jim is one of the nicest guys I’ve met in this whole writing world, always quick with a smile and a nice word, on top of the fact he’s one of the best readers out there—check him out if you haven’t. He’s probably more known for his poetry than his fiction—he’s written a boatload of poetry collections—but today’s book, Eight Mile High, out from Michigan State University Press, is his fourth collection of stories; note, also, that when Jim publishes fiction, he uses his middle name, Ray, and when he publishes poetry, he doesn’t. Now you know that.

I was excited to get into Eight Mile High today as I’d read a few of the stories already—Daniels is in lit mags all the time—including “Survivor’s Guilt,” which I published in Moon City Review a few years ago. I jumped around the collection as I read, pinpointing the stories in the table of contents that had awesome-sounding titles—there were a lot of those: “13 Ways of Looking at My Father in a Bathing Suit (Times 2)”; “Our Lady of No Mercy”; “My Republican Love Affair”; and “Raccoon Heaven” serving as the best examples. Today I’m going to write about “13-Part Story With Mime,” which not only has a tremendously alluring title, but is also a damn good story.

What I love, firstly, about “13-Part Story With Mime” is how local it is for a Bowling Green week. The protagonist in his story is from Toledo (Daniels is from Detroit, Toledo’s dirtier older brother) and goes to school at Black Swamp U, which is code for Bowling Green State University, located in the heart of the Black Swamp region. So there’s all that. There’s also some really nice local Toledo sites that I remember, so the story itself feels like home—I’m picturing my office of many years on campus, in East Hall, the view of the library from out my window. It was a bit of a nostalgic ride, reading this story, and I’m always up for some nostalgia.

The story also includes some mimes, as it takes place in the late seventies and mimes were a thing, instead of like today, when they’re a thing that’s a parody of itself, more or less. Who doesn’t want to read a story about mimes? No matter what you think of them, how much you either appreciate them as artists or wish they would all fall into a crevice and slide into the fiery realm of Hell, they’re fun to read about in a story, right? Once, Karen attended a summer poetry workshop in Iowa City and running at the same time as the creative writing workshops was a mime workshop—mimicry?—and of course all the poems that the poets wrote that week had to do with mimes, mimes everywhere around campus, practicing and such, including an awesome one by Karen, one of my favorites of hers, until the professor put the kibosh on mime poems before someone got murdered and ….

Sorry, got lost there in mimes. In any case, Daniels’ story is about this college kid who meets a mime, despite trying to avoid mimes, as she’s selected to work as Muddy the Mud Hen, the mascot for the Triple A Toledo Mud Hens (one of my former students had this job, I remember) and he goes to a game. When you think of it, is the perfect job for a mime, as it’s …. In any case, this kid is infatuated with this girl and does all of the things a young college boy does to impress a girl that he’s sweet on who doesn’t necessarily throw herself at him right away. He lies about being a poet. He starts to read and write poetry. He takes poetry classes. He tries to woo the girl with his poetry. It doesn’t work. So, he’s that kid, that English major, that English major that I certainly was back in Champaign, the kind that I see here, in Springfield in 2016, all the time, the guy trying to impress girls with poetry, and more importantly, poetry identity, drinking trendy beers, smoking, dressing like a homeless person, saying clever things, etc. Karen always notes that “Poetry is sexy” and that poets can always get girls because of that. Not me, and not the kid heading up Daniels’ story. Not so easily, anyway.

In addition to all this wooing , there’s some other nice stuff going on in “13-Part Story With Mime,” like a lot of the protagonist’s talk of working at the Ford plant, which he does over summers, a real staple of Daniels’ work, that Detroit auto industry. As the title suggests, there’s also the whole list story format, each little anecdote/vignette numbered, the order in which they fall rather poignant. There’s also a little meta going on, the narrator making note of itself at different points. To top everything off, the kid gets drunk on Little Kings Cream Ales, which I used to get drunk on when I was at BG (more nostalgia!).

More interesting than anything, there’s not a lot of miming going on. Yeah, we get the set-up, the kid avoiding an army of mimes outside the Toledo Museum of Art (which is a really great art museum, by the way), and the meet-up at the Mud Hens game. After that, I kind of expected that there’s be even more miming, that this girl’s pursuit would somehow play a larger role. Maybe she’d practice when they hung out. Maybe she’d wear the black striped shirt and beret when they’d make out (or the kid would imagine taking that get-up off of her). But no.

Or maybe, just maybe, there’s be a lack of communication, that the people inhabiting this story would be speaking to each other without actually communicating anything so easily, that someone would be talking and the other person couldn’t or wouldn’t listen. A few choice words might have served this protagonist well, but instead, maybe he goes through the more difficult motions instead. Hmm.

I really liked the stories I read in Eight Mile High (named after the Detroit high school one protagonist in the book attends), real people doing really, really interesting things in real-life situations. I’ve always been a fan of Jim Ray Daniels work and am so happy to be sharing it here at Story366, to have spent a day reading and writing and thinking about it.