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Authors: Jim Heynen

Ordinary Sins

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ORDINARY SINS

Also by Jim Heynen

The Man Who Kept Cigars in His Cap

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

www.milkweed.org

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
www.milkweed.org
.

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

         
813'.54—dc23

2014018350

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.

CONTENTS

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?

       
Daycare

       
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

AFTER THEOPHRASTUS?

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
Characters
. 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'
Characters
? 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
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