Eighty-one-year-old Lifeguard Jim Havender (page 36) is happiest under water and is given to speaking respectfully to a plant called the sea rocket. "A good example of the kind of people I like," says Staff Writer Roy Blount Jr. "People with minds of their own. People who not only are strange," he continues, gathering momentum and speaking with a sort of energetic gloom, "but who also take being strange in their stride. Connie Mack was strange. Adam was strange. Nobody should be upset about it."
Well, some are and some aren't, but the interesting thing about Blount is that he himself does not strike one as a bit strange, even sitting there in an office which looks like nothing so much as Jonathan Winters' TV attic: books double-ranked on shelves; pictures of porpoises playing football; clippings like the one in which a tornado victim is quoted as saying, "The good Lord was good to us, fatality-wise"; a group photo with Lester Maddox, Sloppy Floyd and another public servant of the state of Georgia performing some ceremony involving a fat boy, a pocket knife, an ax handle and a rubber chicken; three identical postcards of a woman posing behind a 44-pound cabbage, all sent him (the postcards, not the woman and the cabbage) by a friend in the fried-chicken business in Alaska; an Andy Etchebarren match cover autographed by that enduring ecdysiast, Blaze Starr; a stuffed raven; a stuffed puffin and several different kinds of hats. And that is not a sixteenth of it.
How does a man end up with an office like this? "The very first things I remember," says Blount, trying to help, "are the textures that I grew up with in Decatur, Ga. Like the feel of the little sprigs of grass between the squares of the sidewalk. And I seemed to spend a whole lot of time stepping on bees—by accident—so the bottom of my foot would swell up and be convex."
When not all swollen up from stepping on bees, Roy played third base in the Little League. "I had a good throwing arm, and I could stop ground balls with my chest," he says, convictions that later led to his becoming, as he modestly puts it, "the founder and spiritual leader of the SI softball team. Our first game was against The Dick Covert Show. I wrote and challenged them because Cavett said on the air how awful his team was. They beat us. Then we played Oh! Calcutta! I wrote a note full of double-entendres, challenging them, and this guy called back and talked a lot about naked ladies, but the team turned out to be a bunch of stagehands and they beat the whey out of us."
Blount's Little League career ended in the eighth grade; in the 10th an English teacher turned him on to writing. It was she who introduced him to Flannery O'Connor. "I visited her on her farm, where she surrounded herself with peacocks and donkeys and wrote about traveling salesmen stealing women's wooden legs. She is my hero," Blount says. "It was Flannery O'Connor who said, 'Whenever I'm asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one.' And feel pretty much on his side," Blount adds.
As for the future, it gives one pause to hear Roy announce, "I feel that I am just beginning to come into my own." God only knows, in Blount's case, what that may turn out to mean, but at least one can be sure he will write about it wonderfully well.
THE BIRD ON THE RIGHT IS A RAVEN