The Banana Sculptor, the Purple Lady, and the All-Night Swimmer

The Banana Sculptor, the Purple Lady, and the All-Night Swimmer

by Susan Sheehan, Howard Means


$22.50 $25.00 Save 10% Current price is $22.5, Original price is $25. You Save 10%.


We Americans love to look at ourselves. How we vote, where we work, what we think about church and school -- studying ourselves is a national pastime. What has been missing in all this self-examination, until now, is a book about the greatest national obsessions of all: the hobbies we pursue, the collections and amateur sports to which we devote so much of our lives. The Banana Sculptor, the Purple Lady, and the All-Night Swimmer chronicles the amazing variety of ways in which we relax, compete with others and ourselves, and indulge some of our richest fantasies. Here are wonderfully warm and witty accounts of Americans as they: attempt to swim all the Great Lakes, often in horrible conditions; quit a job and begin raising sheep to accommodate a newfound passion for spinning; eat at every McDonald's in the nation; carve The Last Supper from wood; cross all the world's suspension bridges; build huge banana sculptures; roller blade, scull, and bake; and collect marbles, Noah's arks, talking birds, and much more. In these pages you'll meet a marvelous array of ordinary people who do unusual things, sometimes to extremes, as they define for themselves worlds of imagination, contest, and excellence. These are people who thrill to the chase and sometimes plain wear themselves out having fun, whether it's flying kites as big as a king-size mattress, canoeing in the Canadian wilderness, or meticulously recording the daily details of their everyday existence. In Working, Studs Terkel gave us an unforgettable oral history of the working life of an earlier generation. The Banana Sculptor, the Purple Lady, and the All-Night Swimmer is a history for our own times -- of the passionate pursuits by which so many of us define ourselves and of the universal search for happiness and a sense of fulfillment. Maybe you'll find yourself in the forty people profiled here. Maybe you'll find a hobby that you'll want to make your own. Either way, your life is likely to be enriched, just

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743201223
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 04/28/2002
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 6.78(w) x 9.12(h) x 0.98(d)

About the Author

Susan Sheehan is the author of seven books, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Is There No Place on Earth for Me? She has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1961 and has written for The New York Times and Architectural Digest, where she is a contributing writer. She lives in Washington, D.C.

Read an Excerpt


This book began with a conviction and a premise. Our conviction was that there was a story waiting to be told about the way we Americans spend our leisure time. Our premise was that if we pursued our conviction, we would open up a world of enormous variety and surprising depth. We believe we were right, fortunately, on both counts.

Statistics on how Americans use their time are all over the place and often seemingly contradictory. We are working longer hours, some studies say. We're playing longer hours, others contend. The truth, to the extent it can be isolated, would appear to be that we are doing both, in part by stealing time from sleep and family rituals such as the evening meal and in part by using technology to blur the line between work and play. A cell phone can turn a golf cart into a serviceable office just as effectively as a laptop can transform a commute on the Long Island Railroad into an eBay opportunity.

If the ratio between work and play remains the same, though, a qualitative gap has opened between the two. Once, we defined ourselves by the jobs we did: we were an organization man or a union man, a homemaker or a working woman. Studs Terkel's wonderful 1972 oral history, Working, got to the heart of those jobs and the attitudes behind them as no other book has done. Today, jobs and even careers are transitory. More and more, we divide ourselves into tribes according to our leisure allegiances, and those allegiances can cross all sorts of once unbridgeable divides of race, gender, and class.

Bumper stickers tell the story as clearly as anything: I LOVE MY [fill in the blank]. I'D RATHER BE [fill inthe blank]. The average supermarket parking lot is chock-full of these decal testimonials to an astounding array of avocations, amateur sports, and hobbies. The magazine racks offer proof as well: there is hardly an activity imaginable that doesn't have its own monthly publication, or even two or three.

Most powerful of all — the great glue of the webs of association that have grown up around these amateur pursuits — is the Internet. If you can't find a home page with dozens of links for a hobby or sport or collection you're interested in taking up, chances are the hobby or sport or collection doesn't exist. Internet-related businesses get all the attention in the press, but the interface between the World Wide Web and leisure time is where the real action occurs.

More than anything else, what's celebrated in these pages are the people who let us into their lives and pulled back the curtain for us on their own passionate pursuits. We had no idea at the outset that we were going to find a man who makes pyramid sculptures out of bananas or a woman whose marble collection is so extensive that she paves her driveway with the excess and invites neighborhood children to take their fill. We had never heard of Jim Dreyer, whose swims across the Great Lakes are the sort of epic adventures out of which myths get built. James Pettus, a one-handed veteran and government driver who lives for his bonsai trees, was completely below our radar screen, as was Robin Tarbell-Thomas, an amateur baker and cook who could cover her walls with the ribbons she has won at lowa state fairs.

We didn't look, we should note, for the merely average. Many people have taken up in-line skating, but very few people have taken it up to the extent that San Francisco lawyer Steve Everett has. Many people have collections of military memorabilia, but no one has a collection of Indochinese military decorations to surpass that of John Sylvester Jr. Talking birds and their owners are all over the place, but very few talking-bird owners are as dedicated and as knowledgeable as Peggy Dickson. Train buffs are legion, but only the very rare buff ever comes into possession of his own steam locomotive or sets out to convert his yard into a miniature railroad as Steve Spreckelmeier has done.

So much of reporting is a matter of getting people to talk about subjects they would rather not talk about and say things they would rather not say. We didn't have that problem in interviewing people for this book. One of the difficulties of having so much commitment and so much expertise in what are often narrow fields is that attentive audiences can be hard to come by. We made ourselves that audience, and for the most part, the words poured forth.

No one sets out to build the definitive collection of precanceled stamps or to eat at every American McDonald's or to travel to every country in the world for frivolous reasons. The commitment of time and emotion is too great. Of necessity, a passionate pursuit is a window into a life's history — into the deep roots and complicated forces that propel us to devote so much of our time to something that might seem trivial or narrow to others. We wanted to get to that deeper level, and we thank our subjects for indulging us.

"For me, the pleasure is in the chase, and for a while in the acquisition," the cosmetics executive Leonard Lauder told us about his postcard collection. "Possession is far less exciting. I don't ever really want to have a complete collection. I prefer infinity to completion."

So it is with this book. Our gallery is far from closed. The pleasure for us has been in the chase. Possession in our case is impossible — we borrowed these passions, we couldn't own them — but like Leonard Lauder, we prefer infinity to completion.

Copyright © 2002 by Susan Sheehan and Howard Means

Table of Contents

Part 1Artful Expressions
1.Doug Fishbone: Lots of Bananas15
2.James Pettus: Essential Natures21
3.Robin Tarbell-Thomas: To the Fair27
4.Ann and Sam Ritter: To Fly35
5.Leonard Lauder: The Beauty of Small Things42
Part 2Thrill of the Chase
6.Alexandra Stafford: Food of Life51
7.David Hanschen: On the Road Again58
8.Barry Popik: First Words64
9.Cathy Henderson: Buried Treasures70
10.Henry Sakaida: The Go-Between75
Part 3Going to Extremes
11.Gig Gwin: Wordly Riches85
12.Jim Dreyer: Far Shores91
13.Peter Holden: Macs Without End101
14.Marietta Phillips: Bossing Around107
15.Roger Swicegood: Song of Myself114
Part 4Pleasures Small and Large
16.Cathy Runyan: Got Her Marbles125
17.Peggy Dickson: Bird Brains132
18.Harry Kloman: Matters of Fact and Fiction138
19.Judy Konnerth: Two by Two145
20.Steve Spreckelmeier: All Steamed Up152
21.Patricia Corrigan: "Thar She Blows!"160
Part 5Motion Pictures
22.Lisa Ball: Snow Job167
23.Steve Everett: Blade Runner173
24.Mike Gaines: Hot into the Corner180
25.Jim Murphy: Call of the Wild187
Part 6Callings
26.Jerry Traufler: Masterwork197
27.Walter Pforzheimer: I, Spy202
28.Claire Miller: Family Ties209
29.Ted Furey: For God and Man and Old Ireland218
30.Rose Kramer: Spinning Yarns226
Part 7The Sporting Life
31.Tom Blake: Tiger! Tiger! Burning Bright233
32.Robert Strupp: Good Deals240
33.Kim Eisler: Odds-on Favorite246
34.Larry Kahn: Tiddly Wonks251
35.Matt Dodyk: Holing Out258
Part 8Passionate Pursuits
36.John Sylvester Jr.: The Things We Die for267
37.Sonia Young: Color Me Purple274
38.Claudia Perry: Love of the Game279
39.Daniel Chapin: Route Man287
40.Don Betty: Crossover Artist290

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews