RARA-AVIS: Our Heroes will Stand a bit Smaller

From: Michael Jeter (michael.damian.jeter@gmail.com)
Date: 19 Jan 2010

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    Robert Parker has died. Many will discuss his work, pointing to the holes, and I cannot deny those holes. The characters I know best, Spenser, Susan, and Hawk, did not always play, in the minds of many, as real. Would someone like Spenser call someone like Hawk not
    ¨sidekick,¨ but ¨friend¨? Would a couple like Spenser and Susan really exist? Isn´t she just a projection of the male libido? But, I submit, the fantastic – the possibility that we can be more than what we are, that we can rise above the mundane, that we can run ten miles around Boston every day, cook gourmet level food, have a meaningful and passionate love affair after many years, call our opposite our friend, and have an mentoautomatic repulsion, disgust, for evil in all its forms, not because of any creed or membership, but just because our inner compass knows the true, north and otherwise. And if we cannot do these things, it´s nice to believe that someone can.

    I met Parker´s work through the 1980s television series, Spenser for Hire, with Robert Urich, Avery Brooks, and Barbara Stock in the roles of Spenser, Hawk, and Susan, respectively. Parker claimed he was never satisfied with the series, though it had nothing to do with the actors. Robert Urich said its was his favorite role, and one way in which the television series affected the novels is in the character of Hawk. In the early books, Hawk is monosyllabic, and tende to speak very stereotypically. Howard University Professor Avery Brooks told Parker he knew people like Hawk, and just because a man had to use his body did not mean he could not also use his mind. In college, I began reading the novels. I think Pale Kings and Princes, A Catskill Eagle, and Valediction were among my firsts. I read more. Did he often tell the same story? Yeah – itś a great story of heroism, friendship, trust, honor, honesty, and love.

    My favorite Parker is Early Autumn. Spenser mentors Paul Giacomin, providing him something he has never had: an adult who gives a damn. In a conversation with Susan, Spenser says:

    ¨The kid´s never been taught how to act. He doesn´t know anything. He´s got no pride. He´s got nothing he´s good at. He´s got nothing but the tube.¨

    ¨And you plan to teach him.¨

    ¨Iĺl teach him what I know. I know how to do carpentry. I know how to cook. I know how to punch. I know how to act.¨(90)

    As a teenager, my father was making some repairs and needed me to hold a light. I did not understand the concept of ¨the spot,¨ and I let the spot drift. Dad yelled at me, but if no one ever tells you these things, you don´t know. So many young men need a Spenser to teach them
    ¨how to act.¨

    I do not need heroes who are like me. I understand and appreciate the
    ¨anti – hero,” probably a character I am more like than any – not exactly evil, but not quite sure I have ever done ¨good.¨

    So yeah, the Spenser mythos revolves around a man larger than life, a man born in a cabin he built with his own hands, a paladin, a hero. And most of us do not, cannot measure up to that

    ¨But a man´s reach must exceed his grasp,

    Or else what´s a heaven for?¨ – Robert Browning

    RIP, Dr. Parker.

    Michael Damian Jeter
    New Orleans, LA
    Literacy, Music, and Democracy

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