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A Short Story

Old 05-18-2010, 09:50 PM
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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
by James Thurber

"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," first published in 1941, is one of James Thurber's most well-known and beloved stories. Its famous protagonist holds a place in the cultural lexicon, meriting his own entry in English-language dictionaries. In 1947, Norman McLeod directed an MGM Technicolor musical with the same title based on Thurber's story. The film, which extends Mitty's imaginary adventures over a two-day period, stars Danny Kaye as the affable daydreamer.


"We're going through!" The Commander's voice was like thin ice breaking. He wore his full-dress uniform, with the heavily braided white cap pulled down rakishly over one cold gray eye. "We can't make it, sir. It's spoiling for a hurricane, if you ask me." "I'm not asking you, Lieutenant Berg," said the Commander. "Throw on the power lights! Rev her up to 8,500! We're going through!" The pounding of the cylinders increased: ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa. The Commander stared at the ice forming on the pilot window. He walked over and twisted a row of complicated dials. "Switch on No. 8 auxiliary!" he shouted. "Switch on No. 8 auxiliary!" repeated Lieutenant Berg. "Full strength in No. 3 turret!" shouted the Commander. "Full strength in No. 3 turret!" The crew, bending to their various tasks in the huge, hurtling eight-engined Navy hydroplane, looked at each other and grinned. "The old man will get us through" they said to one another. "The Old Man ain't afraid of Hell!" . . .
"Not so fast! You're driving too fast!" said Mrs. Mitty. "What are you driving so fast for?"
"Hmm?" said Walter Mitty. He looked at his wife, in the seat beside him, with shocked astonishment. She seemed grossly unfamiliar, like a strange woman who had yelled at him in a crowd. "You were up to fifty-five," she said. "You know I don't like to go more than forty. You were up to fifty-five." Walter Mitty drove on toward Waterbury in silence, the roaring of the SN202 through the worst storm in twenty years of Navy flying fading in the remote, intimate airways of his mind.
"You're tensed up again," said Mrs. Mitty. "It's one of your days. I wish you'd let Dr. Renshaw look you over."
Walter Mitty stopped the car in front of the building where his wife went to have her hair done. "Remember to get those overshoes while I'm having my hair done," she said. "I don't need overshoes," said Mitty. She put her mirror back into her bag. "We've been all through that," she said, getting out of the car. "You're not a young man any longer." He raced the engine a little. "Why don't you wear your gloves? Have you lost your gloves?" Walter Mitty reached in a pocket and brought out the gloves. He put them on, but after she had turned and gone into the building and he had driven on to a red light, he took them off again. "Pick it up, brother!" snapped a cop as the light changed, and Mitty hastily pulled on his gloves and lurched ahead. He drove around the streets aimlessly for a time, and then he drove past the hospital on his way to the parking lot.
. . . "It's the millionaire banker, Wellington McMillan," said the pretty nurse. "Yes?" said Walter Mitty, removing his gloves slowly. "Who has the case?" "Dr. Renshaw and Dr. Benbow, but there are two specialists here, Dr. Remington from New York and Mr. Pritchard-Mitford from London. He flew over." A door opened down a long, cool corridor and Dr. Renshaw came out. He looked distraught and haggard. "Hello, Mitty," he said. "We're having the devil's own time with McMillan, the millionaire banker and close personal friend of Roosevelt. Obstreosis of the ductal tract. Tertiary. Wish you'd take a look at him." "Glad to," said Mitty.
In the operating room there were whispered introductions: "Dr. Remington, Dr. Mitty. Mr. Pritchard-Mitford, Dr. Mitty." "I've read your book on streptothricosis," said Pritchard-Mitford, shaking hands. "A brilliant performance, sir." "Thank you," said Walter Mitty. "Didn't know you were in the States, Mitty," grumbled Remington. "Coals to Newcastle, bringing Mitford and me up here for a tertiary." "You are very kind," said Mitty. A huge, complicated machine, connected to the operating table, with many tubes and wires, began at this moment to go pocketa-pocketa-pocketa. "The new anesthetizer is giving way!" shouted an intern. "There is no one in the East who knows how to fix it!" "Quiet, man!" said Mitty, in a low, cool voice. He sprang to the machine, which was going pocketa-pocketa-queep-pocketa-queep. He began fingering delicately a row of glistening dials. "Give me a fountain pen!" he snapped. Someone handed him a fountain pen. He pulled a faulty piston out of the machine and inserted the pen in its place. "That will hold for ten minutes," he said. "Get on with the operation." A nurse hurried over and whispered to Renshaw, and Mitty saw the man turn pale. "Coreopsis has set in," said Renshaw nervously. "If you would take over, Mitty?" Mitty looked at him and at the craven figure of Benbow, who drank, and at the grave, uncertain faces of the two great specialists. "If you wish," he said. They slipped a white gown on him; he adjusted a mask and drew on thin gloves; nurses handed him shining . . .
"Back it up, Mac! Look out for that Buick!" Walter Mitty jammed on the brakes. "Wrong lane, Mac," said the parking-lot attendant, looking at Mitty closely. "Gee. Yeh," muttered Mitty. He began cautiously to back out of the lane marked "Exit Only." "Leave her sit there," said the attendant. "I'll put her away." Mitty got out of the car. "Hey, better leave the key." "Oh," said Mitty, handing the man the ignition key. The attendant vaulted into the car, backed it up with insolent skill, and put it where it belonged.
They're so damn cocky, thought Walter Mitty, walking along Main Street; they think they know everything. Once he had tried to take his chains off, outside New Milford, and he had got them wound around the axles. A man had had to come out in a wrecking car and unwind them, a young, grinning garageman. Since then Mrs. Mitty always made him drive to the garage to have the chains taken off. The next time, he thought, I'll wear my right arm in a sling; they won't grin at me then. I'll have my right arm in a sling and they'll see I couldn't possibly take the chains off myself. He kicked at the slush on the sidewalk. "Overshoes," he said to himself, and he began looking for a shoe store.
When he came out into the street again, with the overshoes in a box under his arm, Walter Mitty began to wonder what the other thing was his wife had told him to get. She had told him, twice, before they set out from their house for Waterbury. In a way he hated these weekly trips to town-he was always getting something wrong. Kleenex, he thought, Squibb's, razor blades? No. Toothpaste, toothbrush, bicarbonate, cardorundum, initiative and referendum? He gave it up. But she would remember it. "Where's the what's-its-name," she would ask. "Don't tell me you forgot the what's-its-name." A newsboy went by shouting something about the Waterbury trial.
. . . "Perhaps this will refresh your memory." The District Attorney suddenly thrust a heavy automatic at the quiet figure on the witness stand. "Have you ever seen this before?" Walter Mitty took the gun and examined it expertly. "This is my Webley-Vickers 50.80," he said calmly. An excited buzz ran around the courtroom. The Judge rapped for order. "You are a crack shot with any sort of firearms, I believe?" said the District Attorney, insinuatingly. "Objection!" shouted Mitty's attorney. "We have shown that the defendant could not have fired the shot. We have shown that he wore his right arm in a sling on the night of the fourteenth of July." Walter Mitty raised his hand briefly and the bickering attorneys were stilled. "With any known make of gun," he said evenly, "I could have killed Gregory Fitzhurst at three hundred feet with my left hand." Pandemonium broke loose in the courtroom. A woman's scream rose above the bedlam and suddenly a lovely, dark-haired girl was in Walter Mitty's arms. The District Attorney struck at her savagely. Without rising from his chair, Mitty let the man have it on the point of the chin. "You miserable cur!" . . .
"Puppy biscuit," said Walter Mitty. He stopped walking and the buildings of Waterbury rose up out of the misty courtroom and surrounded him again. A woman who was passing laughed. "He said 'Puppy biscuit'," she said to her companion. "That man said 'Puppy biscuit' to himself." Walter Mitty hurried on. He went into an A&P, not the first one he came to but a smaller one farther up the street. "I want some biscuit for small, young dogs," he said to the clerk. "Any special brand, sir?" The greatest pistol shot in the world thought a moment. "It says 'Puppies Bark for It' on the box," said Walter Mitty.
His wife would be through at the hairdresser's in fifteen minutes, Mitty saw in looking at his watch, unless they had trouble drying it; sometimes they had trouble drying it. She didn't like to get to the hotel first; she would want him to be there waiting for her as usual. He found a big leather chair in the lobby, facing a window, and he put the overshoes and the puppy biscuit on the floor beside it. He picked up an old copy of Liberty and sank down into the chair. "Can Germany Conquer the World Through the Air?" Walter Mitty looked at the pictures of bombing planes and of ruined streets.
. . . "The cannonading has got the wind up in young Raleigh, sir," said the sergeant. Captain Mitty looked up at him through tousled hair. "Get him to bed," he said wearily. "With the others. I'll fly alone." "But you can't, sir," said the sergeant anxiously. "It takes two men to handle that bomber and the Archies are pounding hell out of the air. Von Richtman's circus is between here and Saulier." "Somebody's got to get that ammunition dump," said Mitty. "I'm going over. Spot of brandy?" He poured a drink for the sergeant and one for himself. War thundered and whined around the dugout and battered at the door. There was a rending of wood and splinters flew through the room. "A bit of a near thing," said Captain Mitty carelessly. "The box barrage is closing in," said the sergeant. "We only live once, Sergeant," said Mitty with his faint, fleeting smile. "Or do we?" He poured another brandy and tossed it off. "I never see a man could hold his brandy like you, sir," said the sergeant. "Begging your pardon, sir." Captain Mitty stood up and strapped on his huge Webley-Vickers automatic. "It's forty kilometers through hell, sir," said the sergeant. Mitty finished one last brandy. "After all," he said softly, "what isn't?" The pounding of the cannon increased; there was the rat-tat-tatting of machine guns, and from somewhere came the menacing pocketa-pocketa-pocketa of the new flame-throwers. Walter Mitty walked to the door of the dugout humming "Auprňs de Ma Blonde." He turned and waved to the sergeant. "Cheerio!" he said. . .
Something struck his shoulder. "I've been looking all over this hotel for you," said Mrs. Mitty. "Why do you have to hide in this old chair? How did you expect me to find you?" "Things close in," said Walter Mitty vaguely. "What?" Mrs. Mitty said. "Did you get the what's-its-name? The puppy biscuit? What's in that box?" "Overshoes," said Mitty. "Couldn't you have put them on in the store?" "I was thinking," said Walter Mitty. "Does it ever occur to you that I am sometimes thinking?" She looked at him. "I'm going to take your temperature when I get you home," she said.
They went out through the revolving doors that made a faintly derisive whistling sound when you pushed them. It was two blocks to the parking lot. At the drugstore on the corner she said, "Wait here for me. I forgot something. I won't be a minute." She was more than a minute. Walter Mitty lighted a cigarette. It began to rain, rain with sleet in it. He stood up against the wall of the drugstore, smoking . . . He put his shoulders back and his heels together. "To hell with the handkerchief," said Walter Mitty scornfully. He took one last drag on his cigarette and snapped it away. Then, with that faint, fleeting smile playing about his lips, he faced the firing squad; erect and motionless, proud and disdainful, Walter Mitty the Undefeated, inscrutable to the last.
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Old 05-18-2010, 11:38 PM
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I'll tell you something, just you me and the internet, Jungle.

This one strikes a chord. Walter Mitty. I mean, I'd heard of the dude, but now he seems quite familiar.

In a rather reversed way. He was always about making up situations, right? Where he was the hero? Ones that noone would lend much credence to? That was the crux of the story- the breaking point, the fact that he'd imagined himself in all these fantastic, heroic situations, but in reality was what 3,900 miles away due to his 4-F status?

Well, I have a couple of theories, things to say about that.

First- these stories were written around, after World War II? Or is it World War 2?.
Never looks quite right on my screen when I type it. WWII. That's probably better. WWII. Yup.

Bad-ass. Horrible. Death, destruction, on a global scale. Farkin' meat machine. What's not to like looking back now? For a good cause. Many great men served. And died. In forgotten situations. Forgotten situations. Walter Mitty suck it. Think about being a Army or Marine infantry team or squad leader then. *******. When I think about what I've learned of those campaigns it breaks my heart. Forgotten, unknown, lost bravery and sacrifice. On a huge scale.

It would have been easy to be a Mitty type character back then I guess. Lost comrades, campaigns, units, actions, ships, aircraft basically never heard of, forgotten on a horrendous scale. Why not? Why not claim action if you had been 4-F?
Why not be a Walter Mitty?- who would contest such a thing? The scale of the war was so over reaching, over powering, and horrible to those that had really "been" there that I doubt many gave much thought to those seeking glory for untrue actions.

Much healing had to be done.

Where am I going with this you ask?
Hell I don't know.

I think there are interesting parallels with the "Walter Mitty" situation and us, pilots. Yes you, pilot.

We do things that are still kind of superhuman. We do these things day and night, for different causes, or companies, or flags.

We do these things for some reason- internal, external, but we do them, and we try to explain them to others. But most often fail at that. There I was, on the gauges at less than 1 and 100 with a load of fake vomit from Hong Kong. There I was about to pickle some haji rat barstard that took out the west side of COP wherever. There I was on the wrong side of Chichagof running on fumes. Etc. What does it mean to everyday numb-nuts Oprah type fellow countrymen? Nothing. They are sheep. I guess. Morons.

What does it mean- to be a a hero- in everyday life- to challenge the elements, to go far, to do your best, during and in spite of everything the cockpit, flight deck, or left seat and personal life holds on the ground?

We deserve more than we ask for from these ground bound bums surrounding us is what I think. We deserve at least some poetry, some good stories, and a better paycheck. Or at least hotter girlfriends.

Sorry for this rambling. Be safe out there fellow loose nuts behind the yoke.
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Old 05-18-2010, 11:44 PM
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Beautiful, that is what we are talking about. I don't know much Mr. Trout, but I sure do like Watermelon.
That is what they get for living on the ground.
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Old 05-19-2010, 06:34 AM
  #4  
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Originally Posted by Kilgore Trout View Post
We deserve at least some poetry, some good stories, and a better paycheck.
You know this one, I bet...

High Flight
by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds...and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of...wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up, the long, delirious burning blue
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, nor even eagle flew.
And while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space...
...put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
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Old 05-19-2010, 06:53 AM
  #5  
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Default The Men that Don't Fit in

Thereís a race of men that donít fit in,
A race that canít stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountainís crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they donít know how to rest.
If they just went straight they might go far;
They are strong and brave and true;
But theyíre always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new.
They say: ďCould I find my proper groove,
What a deep mark I would make!Ē
So they chop and change, and each fresh move
Is only a fresh mistake.
And each forgets, as he strips and runs
With a brilliant, fitful pace,
Itís the steady, quiet, plodding ones
Who win in the lifelong race.
And each forgets that his youth has fled,
Forgets that his prime is past,
Till he stands one day, with a hope thatís dead,
In the glare of the truth at last.
He has failed, he has failed; he has missed his chance;
He has just done things by half.
Lifeís been a jolly good joke on him,
And now is the time to laugh.
Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost;
He was never meant to win;
Heís a rolling stone, and itís bred in the bone;
Heís a man who wonít fit in.

Robert Service
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Old 05-19-2010, 09:21 AM
  #6  
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Originally Posted by Kilgore Trout View Post
I think there are interesting parallels with the "Walter Mitty" situation and us, pilots. Yes you, pilot.
These days, some of us are "reverse Mittys" -- flying airplanes but dreaming of garbage trucks or office cubicles which offer more pay and nights at home. In both cases, the reality will not match the fantasy. At least Mitty's misinformation was harmless, since there was no risk that one of his "dream jobs" would actually befall him. Pilots have found, to their regret, that it's easier to leave the cockpit than to get back in.

I'm reminded of this character: Tooter Turtle - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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Old 05-19-2010, 09:54 PM
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Default And that's all I need...

Thanks for the replies to my long winded reply to Jungle's initial post about Mr. Mitty and his delusions.

I appreciate it Alarkyokie, WW, and Mr. Tom G. Thanks for looking out for me, and others in my lot. Your counsel and advice are appreciated.

The good old "High Flight", some Robert Service, and a totally awesome link to an animated turtle dealing with existential issues.

It is hard sometimes to express one's self through any medium. A forgotten character, this Kilgore Trout. Most nowadays would be hard pressed to identify Kurt Vonnegut, or any of his protagonists.

I guess that is why I chose the screen name I have. I think I have decided it's important for me at least, on this, a pilot's forum, to express through writing some more personal issues than stuff normally found here. We're all human. I hope. Although I tend to learn more about technical aspects of aviation than, err, human factors.

Forgotten by most, but still out there. Kilgore Trout type characters. Prowling around. Getting it done with a touch of introspection.

Me- I'm not Kilgore Trout. I'm just a goofball travelling aviating dude you might have met somewhere. Many of you in SE AK know me. Sometimes feeling bummed by the personal situation I've placed myself in by my chosen profession, and location, and personal choices so far. But that's alright, I've got a bad ass life.

The other night I had a dream. I was driving in a little ratty Chevy Cavalier. I was poor, in my dream, just like real life. On my right was a funny female soul mate, she looked just like Bernadette Peters, and in the back in carseats were our two little cute tykes. We were on our way to the mall. The mall. I have not been to a mall in years. Not sure why I would go to one unless they had a Bass Pro Shop or something. Some place that sold Carhartt work pants anyway. I need some new ones.
Anyway, in the dream, we were laughing and joking, me and Bernadette. In our crummy little Chevy Cavalier in anytown USA.
Happy, not to be alone. In love I guess. Not sure what that feels like to be honest but it felt great in my dream. Going to the mall with my little family.

I bring this up because I think that is what I would trade all this awesome flying and adventure type stuff for now.

It's kind of boring most times what I do, and extremely scary the other times. Plus it does not pay very well.

I don't know how to get from here to there. I'm not sure I want to go there.

I admire those of you who have those things. Families. Love. Steady careers. You are braver than I am. Sometimes I feel pretty isolated, and take it out on APCF. I apologize.

But I'm alright. I don't wish for anything else. I'm a good pilot (so far) doing a challenging job. I enjoy it. It might be nice to fly a cargo plane to faraway locations someday, but for now, I'm pretty happy, and motivated to continue.

I do not wish for anything else other than the wind across my wings, and freedom and health for my friends and family.

We all make choices, we made a choice to be where we are, doing what we are doing. Embrace that. I'm trying.

Do your best, for yourself, your family, friends, and God.

Be safe out there.
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Old 05-20-2010, 03:45 AM
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Brings to mind the Dr. Seuss philosophy;

"You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go..."
— Dr. Seuss (Oh, the Places You'll Go!)

"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind."
— Dr. Seuss

"“It’s a troublesome world. All the people who’re in it
are troubled with troubles almost every minute.
You ought to be thankful, a whole heaping lot,
for the places and people you’re lucky you’re not.”

Last edited by alarkyokie; 05-20-2010 at 04:16 AM.
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