At last night's gala dinner on the patio of Lou & Mickey's (at the very heart of San Diego's historic Gaslamp Quarter–previously known as the "Stingaree"), the Jones Family Gathering welcomed a very special guest, one of Chuck Jones's favorite authors and wits.
This author has been gone from this world for over a century, so our 'reception' was at times a little blurry, but we kept fiddling with the knobs and dials of our "Way Back Machine" (not to be confused with Peabody & Sherman's WABAC machine), and he eventually came into clearer focus.
To everyone's amazement and delight it was that rascal and raconteur, the inimitable Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens). Mr. Twain was gracious enough to stroll among us, delighting us with bits and pieces of his encyclopedic knowledge of all things west of the Mississippi (and some things east of it too!)
Chuck Jones began reading at age three and around the age of seven (circa 1919) discovered the writings of Mark Twain, in particular a book Twain wrote about his and his brother's trip by stagecoach out to the gold fields of the Sacramento basin in 1849 ("a miner, a 'forty-niner', oh my darlin' Clementine…"), titled "Roughing It". One particular passage stuck with Chuck, and it was Twain's description of the coyote (which is repeated below for your edification); it was a description, Chuck said, that resonated with a scrawny, seven-year-old, and one that when needed about 20 years later, provided much of the characterization of one of Jones's most enduring and popular characters. Let's see, who could that be?
"Along about an hour after breakfast we saw the first prairie dog villages, the first antelope, and the first wolf. If I remember rightly, this latter was the regular coyote (pronounced ky-o-te) of the farther deserts. And if it was, he was not a pretty creature or respectable either, for I got well acquanited with his race afterward, and can speak with confidence.
The coyote is a long, slim, sick and sorry-looking skeleton, with a gray wolfskin stretched over it, a tolerably bushy tail that forever sags down with a despairing expression of forsakenness and misery, a furtive and evil eye, and a long, sharp face, with slightly lifted lip and exposed teeth. He has a general slinking expression all over. The coyote is a living, breathing allegory of Want. He is always hungry. He is always poor, out of luck, and friendless. The meanest creatures despise him, and even the fleas would desert him for a velocipede. He is so spirtless and cowardly that even while his exposed teeth are pretending a threat, the rest of his face is apologizing for it. And he is so homely! -so scrawny, and ribby, and coarse-haired, and pitiful."