Single Chapters

A different path

Who is Oxbow Lake and how in heaven’s name did he get this way?

   I believe that I have done a lot in my life. Unfortunately I cannot remember much of it, indicating that most of what I have done is not very memorable or possibly that my memory’s gone bad on me, both being very likely. Obviously those of my deeds which may be memorable, I am unable to write about since I cannot remember them. I do remember having a mother and father, three brothers and a sister and playing in the fenced-in grounds around the walls of Sing Sing prison where my father had the unofficial title of Captain of the Death House and where he apparently enjoyed his work very much.

He celebrated his joy every evening by drinking copious amounts of Piels beer and smoking packs of Camel cigarettes. My mother was nice but never left the house for some reason. That pretty much sums up my childhood.

    I did go to high school at a place that nick-named itself the Ossining Indians, but to eliminate the possibility of insulting a tribe of Indians that no longer existed and all of whose tribal members who had been deceased for a very long time, some board of education removed the “Indians” part of the nick-name.

I’ve been married several times and am presently married and have a bunch of kids and step-kids and two to three grand-kids. During much of this time I worked at IBM in the Hudson Valley and never really fit in there but did manage to make a lot on money writing things that I believe may have destroyed my memory. I did go to college at Albany State or SUNY at Albany or the University at Albany (I can’t remember which) and I believe that I did graduate with a major in English literature. I think that I taught in high school for a year at some place on the Hudson River named after Henry Hudson’s boat before having my memory destroyed at IBM.

 I got laid off by IBM and took a course in writing at Columbia University taught by the now deceased novelist Raymond Kennedy who wrote one of my favorite novels, Ride a Cockhorse. IBM apparently felt bad about forcing me into what became an early retirement and paid for the course.

    The Adventures of the Posse of Little Horses is my first novel. It’s pretty long (97,000 words, give or take a word or three). I originally called it a “hardboiled detective novel” of sorts for reasons I do not remember. Perhaps “softboiled detective novel” would be better. Anyhow, I may have to call it a “comic crime novel” to have a chance to get it published for reasons I don’t understand. For now, I call it a “humorous satiric novel.” It was inspired by at least three novels. The first two novels are humorous, wonderful and distinctly hardboiled in their fashion, but surely not hardboiled detective stories: Raymond Kennedy’s aforementioned Ride a Cockhorse and John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. The detective hardboiling of this mulligan stew, at least what there is of it, came from reading Steve Hamilton’s wonderful and very hardboiled detective novel A Stolen Season. I could probably have listed any of Hamilton’s Alex McKnight novels as inspiration, but since, A Stolen Season is his latest hardboiler and I think his best, I credit it. When he reads my claim he inspired me, he’ll probably ask me to remove his name, but it will be too late! Ha, ha!

    I originally gave my opus erectus the title The Universal Posse. I was never quite satisfied with this title and slowly but surely it became a kind of not-working working title. However, I could not think of a better one. Kennedy, Toole and Hamilton had come up with such wonderful titles making mine seem rather pale and prosaic in comparison.

    Then rather serendipitously, someone copied me on an email with the following tag line: “When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him.” — Jonathan Swift.” Ironically, the author of the email is a lifetime member of the confederacy posing as a true genius. One has to be suspicious of individuals who even hint that they are true geniuses, for they are more than likely undercover agents for the dreaded and ubiquitous confederacy.

    I feel obligated at this point to interject that I do not consider myself a genius, true or otherwise, and do believe that I am not a member of the much dreaded confederacy. However, in all humility, I leave these matters for others to decide.

    Anyway, the quote from Swift made it quite clear where Toole got the title for his novel. This was news to me. I suspect that my rather forgetful mind had known this at one time but forgot to inform the rest me, for as that great Irish-American Indian troubadour Jimmie Dale Gilmore sings “my mind has a mind of its own” and my mind, in particular, often operates as an independent entity. On its own initiative, having been inspired by the Swiftian barb, my mind marched forth, bad memory and all, to seek out a better and more appropriate title for me.

    This inspiration took my mind to perspiration (thank you, Mr. Edison) and off went my soon-to-be perspiring mind in search of this better title. On the internet, my mind found a site of famous quotes. It went to the site’s compendium of famous quotes by Jonathan Swift, who as it turns out, said a shitload of memorable things. Undaunted by volume, my mind plowed through them, apparently thinking that if Swift were good enough for Toole, surely he was good enough for the rest of me. But according to my mind, no combination of the words that could be strung together to form a better title for my novel ever passed through the Reverend Swift’s lips, modestly or otherwise… at least as far as my mind could determine from that Irish malcontent’s blasts of irreverence as documented on this website.

    My mind thought that perhaps it should investigate the quotes of Oscar Wilde, for like Swift, he too was Irish and said a whole bunch of pithy criticisms of mankind’s follies. (What is it with the Irish, anyway? They’ve surrounded me: Kennedy, Toole, Swift, Wilde and Gilmore. Even Hamilton, I suspect, has a touch of Irish blood. They all are so clever, pithy and… malcontent, each in his own way. My mind always thought that the Irish deserved each other, even when they’re alone, and here I was intellectually encircled by a mob of them.)

    Anyway, my mind ditched the Oscar Wilde gambit for me on the grounds that the frilly Mr. Wilde was much too literary and far too clever by three-quarters for someone such as the rest of me. Then the name Mark Twain popped into my rather independent mind. At first my mind was a bit suspicious of someone who had to use an alias to become famous, but then concluded that this need for anonymity was evidence of the severity and social unacceptability of his quotes and so off my mind went, stomping through the fertile ground of the quotes of Mark Twain, AKA Samuel Clemens. After reading many of his barbs, my mind concluded that Mr. Twain or Mr. Clemens, take your pick, must have been of Irish descent, and if his biography claimed otherwise, there was surely an undiscovered Irishman somewhere in his family’s wood pile, as they say.

    Then my mind came across these words of Mark Twain: “Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.” My mind, now drenched with sweat, jumped (metaphorically speaking) high into the air and yelled at the rest of me, “You silly bastard, make your title out of those words”. Try as I might, I could not, and so in desperation I retitled my novel The Adventures of the Posse of Little Horses after a kind of shot glass.

    Why and how did I adopt the pen name of Oxbow Lake? Unfortunately the name Ward A Bobb the 3rd, which happens to be an alias, is all too common and more prosaic than my non-working working title, even when adorned with an undisclosed middle name and a 3rd at the end. For example, I often get calls from someone in Oklahoma looking for a long lost relative with the alias of Ward Bobb, which isn’t me. To overcome this anonymity through commonality while still preserving some anonymity at the same time, I have decided to adopt a pen name. The big question was: which one?

    I enlisted my mind again even after considering the job it had done finding a more intriguing title for me. After all, what choice did I have? My mind thought it might be useful to search around the term mark twain since it was Mark Twain’s words that had inspired my novel’s inscription in a back-handed sort of way. After fumbling about the internet searching for Mississippi river boat terms and some safe water words I could use, my mind stumbled upon the rather mysterious and undefined term oxbox.

    My mind knew not what the term meant and decided to google said term. Fortunately, it misspelled or mistyped the term, incorrectly entering the term oxbow, which, as serendipity would again have it, is the first word of a term used on rivers throughout the world, including the Mississippi. The full term is oxbow lake. An oxbow lake is a small lake located in a former meander loop of a river. It is generally formed as a river cuts through a meander neck to shorten its course, blocks off the old channel, and then migrates away leaving a lake behind, an oxbow lake. Eventually, oxbow lakes silt up to form marshes and finally meander scars. There’s a bunch of them in various stages of oxbowness decorating the lower Mississippi.

    Could there be a better pen name for the likes of such as me, particularly when writing in the shadow of the likes of a Mark Twain, et al? I think not! So here I am: the newly minted Oxbow Lake, a writer more or less left behind to eventually silt up literarily speaking to become a meander scar, but it is my beautiful scar.

    Note: I added the “2nd” to the end of my pen name in case there was already a “1st”



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