May 23, 2010 1:26:00 AM
Louisiana Literature Press (Southeastern Louisiana University) recently released a new collection of familiar essays by former Columbian Paul Ruffin.
Ruffin is the 2009-2010 Texas State Poet Laureate, Texas State University System Regents'' Professor and Distinguished Professor of English at Sam Houston State University.
"Ruffin-It," his third book of nonfiction prose, is largely a compilation of pieces initially published as columns.
Ruffin devotes a whole section of the new book to essays about Walmart, one of his favorite subjects.
"Any time I feel I am running a little low on writing material, I''ll drop by Walmart for inspiration: They almost never let me down. Much of what I write about them is true, but the thing about Walmart is that you can imagine almost anything happening in and around one of their stores.
"I have this one old guy over in Mississippi who turns possums and snakes loose in a supercenter where he''s had some problems with a checker or customer service representative. I have a couple of pieces about the super-absorbent asphalt used in Walmart parking lots to soak up all that oil that dribbles out of cars and trucks.
"After 20 years, a huge machine comes in and scoops up the old asphalt, squeezes out and collects the oil trapped in it, then lays reconstructed asphalt behind it -- Walmart is making quite an effort to address our looming fossil-fuel shortage.
"Over in Georgia a couple of guys have a cart collision with a couple of other guys in a Walmart, and they end up battling it out in the parking lot; this is quite true. I use their stores in a lot of my fiction too. But when it comes to Walmart, it is sometimes hard to separate fact from fiction. If it hasn''t happened out there yet, it might tomorrow. You just have to keep your eyes and ears tuned."
Ruffin has another whole section devoted to stories from the tabloids.
"I don''t do this much any more, but I used to go buy a Weekly World News ever so often and summarize stories I found in them: I tried to keep my readers updated on the news they were not likely to find in any other source. Like the man who ran across a whole herd of 60-foot alligators in a Louisiana swamp, the woman who sued her landlord because termites infested and weakened her wooden leg to the point of collapse, the 2-inch-tall man created by scientists in Australia, the woman in New Guinea saved by sharks and giant rats in Rome carrying off pets and children."
Ruffin introduces his readers to interesting people like Booger Estes, Tank Murdock and Landa Cotton (Dixie). And to places like Buford''s House of Liver, Gertrude''s House of Gizzards, Urban Retreat (Houston, Texas), and Rural Retreat (Houston, Mississippi).
He teaches them all about bottled water and lizards and polar bears and electricity, and he offers advice on how to crash a family reunion. In a serious essay he chronicles the execution of Karla Faye Tucker.
Copies of "Ruffin-It" will soon be available from the publisher or from Internet sources, such as www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com. Meanwhile, hardback copies ($20) and paperback copies ($10) are available by contacting Ruffin at 936-294-1429.
5. A Stone's Throw: The veil COLUMNS