Sims Serenade - A [Non-] Essay by Bill Morelock

by Bill Morelock, Minnesota Public Radio
April 9, 2012

St. Paul, Minn. —

"The production process girds time, Its plainness, and plane-ness."
— Harry Lyman Sims

Non-fiction can be as imaginative as fiction, given a strong imagination. But when those sinews fail, when the muscles refuse to twitch on cue, and exuberance parts company with clarity once and for all, what does one do? In baseball, the aging power pitcher re-tools and defends himself with off-speed stuff. Indirect, but effective.

I'm afraid my heat was never that overwhelming. I was born to throw junk, and was always more comfortable with junk's baggy uniform, than with expository power's crisp tailored suit. If my prose had a face, it would be Buster Keaton's with a three-day growth.

We've been calling these weekly pieces Essays, part of a Gucci wardrobe for sure, and — I have to say — simply out of my league. A slight but persistent discomfort (rotator cuff?), suggests the prudence of taking an alternate approach to accomplish the same thing.

So this isn't an essay. It's the prologue to a saga.

Harry: An Introduction

"If only someone could come along and give us a game, an acrostic, a sport to wager upon, to make art and literature and serious music shine radiantly into our lives each day as naturally as the rising sun. Then maybe we'd see. Then maybe we'd care."

An excerpt from a recent rant by one Erica Frobisher, of the no-nonsense breed of television moralists who Look at Life Straight and Shoot From the Hip, annihilating the Vague and Whimsical like doubts on a decorous pond. As usual, some of her acid appealed to some small sector within us — even those, like Harry Lyman Sims of Orcas Island, Washington, who normally would have been disturbed by the truculent tone used to address the Problem With the Arts.

Later on his East Orcas dock, Harry — full-time crabber, part-time brooder on cultural and spiritual dislocations — bloodied his knuckles replacing a water pump on his crumbling wooden trawler.

He winced to himself: "We know binary better than prose. Relativity fits us better than two plus two. We're intuitive to a fault, to a fetish."

He shot Erica Frobisher an email: "I'm a no-nonsense individual who makes his living with his hands. And I have a game for you, an acrostic, a sport worth wagering upon."

The Hip-Shooter, bored that day, replied, "All right. You have my interest for two minutes."

After pulling up the last crab pot and returning to port under a pink June sky, Harry Sims replied, "I believe I know how to make the study of history a delirious mass obsession, serious literature an addiction, late Beethoven string quartets sexy as sin."

"Who are you?"

"I'm nobody, a harvester of Dungeness crabs, a happy man," wrote the owner of his own boat and (he believed in good faith) a few original thoughts, Harry Lyman Sims.

Up the hill from where he moored the Crew d'Tay (powered by waste vegetable oil), on up through the firs where the roots ribbed the trail, windfall behemoths decayed in their mossy shrouds. In a grove ringed with preternaturally huge rhododendrons and aged madrona, Harry had a cabin. Moss-roofed like the moldering giants nearby, its mansards and dormers bloomed like azaleas.

Look inside at the cozy galley of his fancies. Here Harry cooked, and served up seasoned, the raw stuff of imagination: narrative, rhymes, music and music. Dogs barking, Bach fuguing, women laughing, surprise interjections of neighbors and friends, songs of the illustrious dead. The recipes required only: microphones, a laptop, production software, and an intelligence — by natural habit — applied to the Long Affectionate View.


The details of Harry's game will have to wait for another time. Same for the nature of his retreat to this Orcas Island eyrie where he makes his living, his stand, and his peculiar music with the familiar materials he, like you, has at hand. As narrative, this is a knuckleball. Slow to develop and wobbly. Enough to say for now that Harry Sims — despite his confessed cowardice for fleeing the hurly-burly of an old life in media-saturated, multi-pathed Hallam, California — is trying to rediscover his original ear, his ancient thought. Not a timid thing at all. We'll meet him again.

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