Printed from:

Welcome to Columbia Magazine  

Tom Chaney: The Tattered Billboard

Of Writers And Their Books: The Tattered Billboard. Tom says, After I finished my Christmas P. D. James novel discussed last week, any direction to my reading just exploded into patchwork. This column first appeared 25 January 2009.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: "The Certainty of Joy"

By Tom Chaney

The Tattered Billboard

I remember a clever little song that our mother used to sing. Mostly she sang it while we were traveling. It was usually triggered by a bedraggled billboard along the road. In the halcyon days of the 1940's billboards were closer to the road and not kept up so well as they are today.

Part of it went like this.
As I was walking down the street, one dark and dreary day,
I came upon a billboard, and much to my dismay,
The sign was torn and tattered, from the storm the night before;
The wind and rain had done its job, and this is what I saw:

Come smoke a Coca-Cola, drink ketchup cigarettes.
See Lillian Russell rassle with a box of oysterettes.
The BVD's the best hotel the charge is half a dime.
Overcoats are selling now, a little out of time.

So, take your next vacation in a brand new Frigidaire;
Learn to play piano in your winter underwear;
Doctors say that babies should smoke until they're tha-ree;
And people over sixty-five should bathe in Lipton tea!
That tattered billboard image reflects the pattern of my reading for the first weeks of the new year.

After I finished my Christmas P. D. James novel discussed last week, any direction to my reading just exploded into patchwork.

At first I began reading a Steve Berry novel about a former spy who ran a European bookstore. Then I couldn't find where I put that book, so I picked up another Steve Berry novel about a former spy who ran the European bookstore.

In the meantime, my eyes fell on another Christmas present, David Baldacci's The Collectors. Couldn't resist that either.

In the midst of that thriller, I ordered, received, and began Jose Saramago's interesting little novel, Death with Interruptions, which describes the worst nightmare of all undertakers, the time when death takes a vacation.

That put me in mind of a Colombian play I directed thirty years ago -- Enrique Buenaventura's In the Right Hand of God the Father in which the main character is given seven wishes, one of which is the ability to stop whomever he wishes for as long as he wishes. He picks Death, fixing him/her in the top of an avocado tree.

One result in both of those stories is that the dying begin to pile up at death's door like subway passengers crowding a platform waiting for a train that never comes -- being crushed to not-death in the process.

Of course, I had to find that play and re-read it.

Just as I had settled down to finish reading a book for this week's column; I looked over on the bookshelf near my bed. There was a copy of Julian by Gore Vidal.

In the midst of my reading that one, my friend Bob came to work bearing Dancing with Demons the latest Sister Fidelma mystery he had just finished.

Now I've read that. And here is an aside. Sister Ann gave Bob that book for Christmas so she could kill two birds with one stone: check off a Christmas gift for a friend, and be sure of getting on the short list of readers for the book. She is next. Both Bob and I have finished it.

So, now, you understand the billboard allusion.

Come to think of it, there is a better image. In one of his delightful short stories the Ontario writer and economist Stephen Leacock described a young man, Lord Ronald, so smitten with his love for the beautiful Gwendolyn that "he flung himself out from the room, flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions."

Now, if I can just find that story, I'd like to read it again. And while I'm at it, maybe I can find Leacock's description of the horrific holiday sinking of the Mariposa Belle which went down in the lake with the entire community aboard. As I remember, the ship sank most tragically in three feet of water and all the passengers had to wade back to shore.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2014-01-26 03:00:33
Printable: this page is now automatically formatted for printing.
Have comments or corrections for this story? Use our contact form and let us know.


Quick Links to Popular Features

Looking for a story or picture?
Try our Photo Archive or our Stories Archive for all the information that's appeared on


Contact us: Columbia Magazine and are published by D'Zine, Ltd., PO Box 906, Columbia, KY 42728.
Phone: 270.403.0017

Please use our contact page, or send questions about technical issues with this site to All logos and trademarks used on this site are property of their respective owners. All comments remain the property and responsibility of their posters, all articles and photos remain the property of their creators, and all the rest is copyright 1995-Present by Columbia! Magazine and D'Zine, Ltd. Privacy policy: use of this site requires no sharing of information. Voluntarily shared information may be published and made available to the public on this site and/or stored electronically. Anonymous submissions will be subject to additional verification. Cookies are not required to use our site. However, if you have cookies enabled in your web browser, some of our advertisers may use cookies for interest-based advertising across multiple domains. For more information about third-party advertising, visit the NAI web privacy site.