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A Cavalcade of Lesser Horrors

2011
Author:

Peter Smith

A Cavalcade of Lesser Horrors

Peter Smith on how being human is an awkward, messy, embarrassing business

For Peter Smith, the unavoidable mistakes and embarrassments in life—our lesser horrors— are not without their humor, and a healthy dose at that. In this series of funny, honest, and moving pieces, Smith explores a few messy episodes from his own life and uncovers a simple reassurance we should take to heart: we’re all on this wild ride together.

With precise language he tells a good story with elegant descriptions, laced with the minor calamities of life, and woven with touches of wry humor.

Star Tribune

We exist. We try to lead good, thoughtful lives. And while we all try our best, we can’t avoid the startling moments, or we make mistakes and experience little shocks and embarrassments—our lesser horrors—that make us wince and come back to haunt us again and again.

For Peter Smith—whose weekly essays for Minnesota Public Radio have endeared him to thousands of listeners and readers—these awkward times are not without their humor, and a healthy dose at that. We all know the circumstances and places the lesser horrors are likely to await—sibling rivalries, high school gym class, job successes and failures, raising children. In this series of funny, honest, and moving pieces, Smith explores a few messy episodes from his own life: growing up Catholic on the south side of Chicago, seeing his tricycle stolen before his eyes, and onward to American life in the ’50s and ’60s, Vietnam, and a career in advertising, where bosses feed employees anxieties to increase creativity. Along the way, Smith discovers how these moments not only help define what it is to be human but are also a major source of our inspiration and imagination.

So cover your eyes, peek through your fingers. Life is a cavalcade of lesser horrors. They may not be the easiest memories to relive, but they are often among the funniest. And by facing them squarely and perhaps even with a smile, Smith finds himself uncovering a simple reassurance, an uneasy truth we should take to heart: we’re all on this wild ride together.

A Cavalcade of Lesser Horrors

Peter Smith is a thirty-year veteran of Twin Cities advertising and a regular contributor to Morning Edition on Minnesota Public Radio. He writes magazine features, fiction, and occasional op-ed pieces. He is author of A Porch Sofa Almanac (Minnesota, 2010). He and his wife live in Hopkins, Minnesota.

A Cavalcade of Lesser Horrors

With precise language he tells a good story with elegant descriptions, laced with the minor calamities of life, and woven with touches of wry humor.

Star Tribune

Readers of A Cavalcade of Lesser Horrors will likely find themselves blushing, wincing, squirming—and laughing—because author Peter Smith's essays hit the reflex button where the seat of embarrassment connects to the funny bone.

St. Joseph Newsleaders

The memories are conjured up with zest and detail. . . . He doesn’t hesitate to delve beneath the surface to deliver an unvarnished view, but always with wry humor and compassion. The author is critical, and forgiving.

Baby Boomers Daily

These are not the big, defining moments in a person’s life. Rather they’re the funny, awkward, head-scratching times that you think about later and realize they’re a little more significant than you first thought.

Chicago Sun-Times

This book can be appreciated by Baby Boomers to college-age students: those who have already navigated life and now looking in the rearview mirror, and those who are just learning how to take the wheel on their own.

Woodbury-South Maplewood Perspectives

The essays are relatable and understated with golden moments of humor and reflection. Each essay is well-written, and a true pleasure to read. This is a quick book to digest, because the language and stories are so clear familiar, yet each containing an element of surprise. In a way, the book is as Minnesotan as you can get—Smith is not out to make a big fuss; rather, he’s just telling these stories straightforward as they are, with his naturally adept and enjoyable narration.

Hazel & Wren

A Cavalcade of Lesser Horrors

Contents

Preface

South State Street
A Teaspoon of Water
Pop’s Wound
A Crisis of Faith
The Denunciation
Absolution
Mortality
The Man on the Raft
Lawnmower Repair
The Biscayne
A Visit to the Doctor
Coach
Leroy
Wrestling Eddie Dutzler
Awkward Moment
Good-bye to Libertyville
Mademoiselle P.
Make the World Go Away
Screwed
Joe
An Old Roommate Checks In
A Preinduction Reverie
Dear John
The Major
The Amnesty Barrel
1972
A Typewriter Reverie
Advertising Memories
Almost
Pimping My Muse
Karma Turd A-Coming
A Bedside Visit
Vigil Candles

A Cavalcade of Lesser Horrors

UMP blog series - Peter Smith's "Lesser Horrors"

One tedious afternoon in the doldrums of seventh-grade science class, the school principal made a surprise visit and livened things up. He delivered a fiery three-minute soliloquy on the evils of throwing those thick brown paper towels into the urinals in the boys’ lavatory, and he seemed to look directly at me the whole time.

He had it all wrong. I confess I was more than capable of mischief, but this was not my brand. I was innocent. The school janitors had befriended me the way janitors befriend certain kids. I had too much respect for them to go around throwing paper towels in the urinals.

And yet, sitting there, I felt guilty somehow. I had a rich vein of guilt, both warranted and unwarranted, running through my soul, and whatever schoolboy transgression was committed, whoever committed it, part of me always felt I had a hand in it.

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