A&E: Panou’s Paper Panel

“My life consists of me getting screwed everyday, everywhere,” a homeless man once told me, slugged down outside of my local 7-11. I ignored him at the time, but soon it began to dawn on me what he was telling me – a man, down on his luck, spitting at me something deep and powerful. All I saw in his hands was a torn, old, rusty and yellow mess of paper where I could just eke out the words, Raymond Carver.

At first, I thought that he was quoting something, so I rushed down to the Central Park Library, searching for a copy of anything by Carver, checking it out and eagerly rushing through the pages to find the source of this odd quip. I couldn’t find anything. So I read a little deeper into one of his classics: “Will you Please be Quiet, Please?” Soon, I understood everything.

The book came at a time when the poverty line was rapidly increasing in America – 1976 – the year of our bicentennial anniversary. In a collection of short stories, Carver aimed to write down the little things in life, the sort of things that any average working class man would experience: divorce, layoffs, family dichotomy, depression and alcoholism. The grittiest little details that had become so synonymous with American life really spoke to Carver.

What really resonated with me was the mayhem in Carver’s stories. A vacuum salesman barging his way into a house to show his product’s capabilities, young boys frantically hunting and fishing, letters and phone calls being perceived as something magical. In every way possible, strangers were entering and imposing on everyone’s lives and changing their day. Every character contrasted each other. In a calm and flexible tone, Carver pioneered minimalist style, making me feel like I had a part to play in everyone’s life – much like that homeless man entered mine.

Carver’s “Would You Please Be Quiet, Please?” is a beautifully composed and masterfully written collection of short stories. Reading his prose feels like a breath of cold, crisp air. Raymond Carver shaped American society through very little toil, influencing generations of playwrights, writers, and actors. Of course, his presence looms over the heads of Americans daily.

For the everyday Americans down on their luck, living out of their cars, who have their whole life captured in a Safeway shopping cart and broken down shoes, who deal with familial dichotomy, empty stomachs, with substance abuse – they live in Carver’s vision.