Friday, September 16, 2011
Peggy goes to sleep on the wave of a mantra. And that word is Honduras; the sound of it carries her off in the arms of Morpheus. Since she drives her Honda to Honduras I have decided to pedal to Patagonia. I wasn’t even sure where Patagonia is but I’m gone where it takes me. I mention all this in case we bump into you in our nocturnal flight to the southern hemisphere. I wonder if folks living down there pass us on their way to Cucamonga or Escondido.
You don’t hear much about Honduras these days, and that’s not a bad thing. To go un-mentioned is a desirable state. It’s the geographical equivalent of diphtheria. In fact diphtheria would be a good soporific of a mantra. I prefer it to Honduras but whatever gets you through the night is fine with me. It is hard to separate the sound of a word from the cargo it carries. Otherwise syphilis would be my favorite.
Getting back to Honduras, the name jumped out at me the other day when I saw that my fellow sometime-pharmacist and mostly-writer, William Sidney Porter, better known as O. Henry, fled there in 1908. He might also have figured that people in Honduras only come for a good night’s sleep. It seems that Porter had his fill of pharmacy, found a job in a bank and took his work home with him, which is to say, he embezzled. Awaiting trial he jumped bail and knew exactly where to go.
I’m not surprised. Many pharmacists spend their life, day-dreaming about going somewhere. And why not Honduras? It’s a shorter trip than to Patagonia by any measure. The only problem may be that it is populated by other bored pharmacists counting and pouring their time away. While there, possibly dreaming, Porter coined the phrase, Banana Republic.
As it turned out, still-Porter-not-yet O. Henry, had second thoughts. When he got word of his wife’s grave illness he returned from Honduras (like any decent pharmacist) to her bedside in Texas. Like all pharmacists he performed a miracle healing with predictable results. She died. It was a bad week for Porter. They extradited him to Ohio where he was sentenced to a five-year jail term. It could have been worse; he could have rotted in a Honduras prison.
As the cliché goes, every calamity is a potential opportunity. And so it was for him. They provided him with paper and an ink well. He started writing short stories in his cell and published fourteen of them under his new name, O. Henry. Some say his name came from the first two letters of Ohio or from a prison guard. He claimed he picked it out of a New Orleans newspaper. My version is that he reversed the first two letters of Honduras.
O. Henry became a household name after publishing over four hundred stories. His endings with an ironic twist became his trademark. It’s amazing what a few months in Honduras can do for a career. He is still taught in English Composition classes and translated into many languages. One more notable fact deserves mention; the Oh Henry candy bar is said to have been named in his honor.
No wonder Peggy transports herself to Honduras every night while I’m stuck in the pampas grass of Patagonia.