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Authors: Jim Heynen

Ordinary Sins

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Also by Jim Heynen

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A Suitable Church

You Know What Is Right

One Hundred Over 100

The One Room Schoolhouse

Being Youngest

Cosmos Coyote and William the Nice

The Boys' House: New and Selected Stories

Standing Naked: New and Selected Poems

The Fall of Alice K.

The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

© 2014, Text by Jim Heynen

© 2014, Cover and interior art by Tom Pohrt

All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher: Milkweed Editions, 1011 Washington Avenue South, Suite 300, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55415.

(800) 520-6455

Published 2014 by Milkweed Editions

Cover design by Gretchen Achilles/Wavetrap Design

Cover illustration by Tom Pohrt

Author photo by Anne Lennox

14 15 16 17 18 5 4 3 2 1

First Edition

Milkweed Editions, an independent nonprofit publisher, gratefully acknowledges sustaining support from the Bush Foundation; the Jerome Foundation; the Lindquist & Vennum Foundation; the McKnight Foundation; the National Endowment for the Arts; the Target Foundation; and other generous contributions from foundations, corporations, and individuals. Also, this activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund, and a grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation Minnesota. For a full listing of Milkweed Editions supporters, please visit

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Heynen, Jim, 1940–

[Short stories. Selections]

Ordinary sins : after Theophrastus : stories / Jim Heynen ; illustrated by Tom Pohrt. — First edition.

pages ; cm

ISBN 978-1-57131-880-0

I. Pohrt, Tom. II. Title.

PS3558.E87A6 2014



Milkweed Editions is committed to ecological stewardship. We strive to align our book production practices with this principle, and to reduce the impact of our operations in the environment. We are a member of the Green Press Initiative, a nonprofit coalition of publishers, manufacturers, and authors working to protect the world's endangered forests and conserve natural resources.
Ordinary Sins
was printed on acid-free 100% postconsumer-waste paper by Edwards Brothers Malloy.


Preface: After Theophrastus?

Part I.
Who Jingled His Change

Who Jingled His Change

The Hoarder

Who Loved Her Dog

Who Loved Combustion Engines

The Helper

Who Loved Animals More Than People

The Hardware Store Man

The Chapstick Guy

The Would-Be Polygamist

The Lepidopterist

Who Didn't Like to Have People Watch Him Eat

Who Talked to His Bees

The Worrier

The Wondrous Quiet Life

The Man Who Resembled a Pig

Part II.
What's Candy to an Artist?

What's Candy to an Artist?


The Girl and the Cherry Tree

Children's Play

The Faker

The Boy Who Couldn't Conform

The Checkout Clerk

The Boy with the Boom Box and the Old Farmer

Finding Her First Job after College

Part III.
Sad Hour

Sad Hour

The Love Addicts

The Eulogist

Who Lived in a Separate Reality

Three Women Were in the Café

Good Riddance

The Good Host

Who Wanted to Know One Thing Well

The Couple That Never Fought

Coffee Shop Chair

Job Titles

The Dieter

The Escapee

The Grin Reaper

Be Careful What You Wish For

It Could Have Happened to Anyone

The Sandbox

Keeping One's Secret

The Poor Rich Young Man

Man Tying His Shoes

The Arts Administrator

The Book Reviewer

John Doe


Theophrastus (circa 371 BC to circa 287 BC) may not be the earliest short-short story writer, but he caught my attention in high school where our literature text carried a sampling of his
. These brief verbal snapshots of people suited my adolescent attention span, and their appeal stuck with me.

Before Theophrastus, there was nothing quite like his character sketches. We can find some precedent in Homer, Plato, and especially Aristotle. But even in Aristotle's analysis of moral virtues and vices, the human qualities remain quite abstract. In Theophrastus we see lively, flesh-and-blood people like “The Toady,” who “is the sort of man who says to a person walking with him, ‘Are you aware of the admiring looks you are getting?'” or “The Man of Petty Ambition,” who “is apt to buy a little ladder for his domestic jackdaw and make a little bronze shield for it to carry when it hops onto the ladder” or my favorite, “The Late Learner,” who “is the kind of man who at the age of sixty memorises passages for recitation and while performing at a party forgets the words.”

Most of the biographical information available about Theophrastus was written several centuries after his death by Diogenes Laertius in
Lives of the Philosophers
. We do know that he studied with Plato and later began to associate with Aristotle in Athens. After Aristotle's death he became the head of the Lyceum and remained its head until his death at age eighty-five or eighty-six. He inherited Aristotle's books (which were stored underground and damaged) and may have had as many as two thousand students. He was a learned man and prolific writer, whose works covered a wide expanse of human knowledge, both in science and philosophy. His several-volume work,
On the Causes of Plants
, for example, prompted some to label him the “father of botany.” I like the fact that his study of plants made him one of Western history's
earliest vegetarians, believing, as he did, that animals have feelings like human beings.

Theophrastus's given name was Tyrtamus but Aristotle nicknamed him Theophrastus (god/to phrase)—that is, “divine expression”—to acknowledge his graceful way of speaking. Reportedly, he was a fine and witty lecturer, and some scholars speculate that his character portrayals from fourth-century BC Greek society were models for orators.

Was the audience laughing in response to the recitation of Theophrastus'
? Blushing? Insulted? Whatever the answers, I never sense real malice in Theophrastus. I hope the same is true in this collection. In fact, I'd like to think that Theophrastus was gently mocking himself in some of his portrayals. I certainly am in many of the stories in
Ordinary Sins
, several of which are thinly disguised self-portraits. You are welcome to find Waldo, if you can.

BOOK: Ordinary Sins
7.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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