They're probably gone by now

Until the advent of Fitzmauze as secretary, the tradition of bringing our opened book club mail to the Birch Run Art Society for the membership to peruse and choose from seemed satisfactory. As per our charter, secretaries are charged with returning the bulk of the large book club cards in their small return envelopes before the due date (the date when a book will be mailed if the card is not received). Thus we had built up a modest library over the years.

As devotees of art, aware that artists are individualists, we were tolerant of artistic idiosyncrasies, and for a long time did not try to confirm what we suspected. We cherished yet a spirit of clemency.

Had not Homer refused to ride in a leaky boat? Had not Michelangelo stubbornly refused to paint with a brush with no bristles and Mozart eschewed a piano with no keys? Forbus, a founder of the Birch Run Art Society, sculpted only peanut butter and banana sandwiches. And Bodwell, our first board chairman, against all advice to the contrary, themed a novel around our private and unique arrangement of chairs in a room. And who thinks the less of them for it?

But when our library began to grow too fast with terrible books, our further investigation certified our worst suspicions. Fitzmauze had been saving the overlarge return mail book club cards and the miniature accompanying envelopes - saving them, framing them, and hanging them on the walls of the secretary's office. Fitzmauze cheerily showed us his gallery of them, and we saw up close now the encroaching glacier of books, with their dreadful titles, that consumed his office and spilled into the hall. ''Art divorced from life,'' Fitzmauze proclaimed, his raised arm toppling books, ''is no art at all!''

It was the line beyond which we could not retreat. Fitzmauze, hastily summoned before the board of directors, was solemnly informed of our alarm. Slouching urbanely in his chair, he calmly explained that, throughout history, art and convenience have wrestled, and that art has always won. ''A framed book club card that is too huge for the attendant tiny envelope,'' Fitzmauze eloquently pleaded, ''is the essence of functional art.''

''But the horrible books,'' Rintwax blurted, ''are murdering our space!'' Fitzmauze waved away the remark, speaking vaguely but impressively about building other rooms with them. Rintwax, jumping upon the great table, seized Fitzmauze's lapels, but Smith and Harris pulled him away. We adjourned.

During the second session in the shrunken board room, Fitzmauze reminded us how Queeg regarded the eating of Chinese food as art - always telephoning ahead and ordering Chinese for everybody whether we wanted it or not. Fitzmauze brought to our attention that we had not censured Kyser, when he landscaped the drinking fountains into Lilliputian Versailles gardens, or Shireen when he constructed for posterity a Scripto pen castle on the roof of the Birch Run Art Society assembly hall, nearly caving it in.

Rintwax argued that, unlike Kyser and Shireen's peccadilloes, Fitzmauze's crime warranted calling the police. ''True art,'' Fitzmauze asserted, with the most compassionate smile I have ever seen, ''is unimpeachable,'' and he slipped out the door.

Standing nose to nose, the membership that could squeeze inside briefly grappled with the Fitzmauze imbroglio, many of us wondering why Gutenberg had gone to all the trouble. Pretty soon there was no more room; we locked the doors behind us and went home through the stacks of books in the yard. I suppose the Birch Run Art Society is now defunct - but I won't inquire in case it isn't. When art gets away from you, you sometimes feel this way.

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