Casey's choice: Life's one big pajama party

Stories roll off John Casey's tongue like the proverbial honey. Never satisfied with a one-word answer to any question, Casey remembers and recounts a history redolent of a life well-lived. In the rambling house on Rugby Avenue where he has resided for 30 years, each room, like his stories, is filled with interesting tangents and tchotchkes that lend color to his scholarly life.

After Casey answers the door clad in midnight-blue silk pajamas, the conversation (and his clothes) quickly sweeps all formality aside as discourses on Italy, opera, and his compost piles (of which he seems inordinately proud) ensue.

Casey follows George Garrett and Peter Taylor as the Henry Hoyns Professor of English at UVA. This appointment offers him the freedom to teach only in the spring, which means he can devote as much time as possible to completing the sequel to Spartina, his 1989 novel that won the National Book Award. "I've completed half," he states without apology.

Another major claim on his time is rowing, which during the season involves practicing six days a week. Casey is not one to take any pursuit lightly, as an impressive array of rowing medals attests.

As each question provides opportunities to veer into an ever-widening river of past experiences, it becomes impossible not to wonder whether, if he were asked the same questions at another time, the answers would be the same or different...

Casey quickly clears it up, "Oh, they would be completely different."

Age: 64

What brought you here? Peter Taylor

What's worst about living here? UVA kids with SUVs

Favorite hangout? Daedalus Books

Most overrated virtue? "Jeez– the problem with those virtues is that they all, like mushrooms, have their poisonous look-alikes: honor-machismo, holiness-zealotry... and so forth."

What would people be surprised to know about you? I like women.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? My mortality

What accomplishment are you proudest of? My fig tree

What do people find most annoying about you? Beats me

Whom do you admire? The list is endless.

Favorite book? Collected Short Stories of Chekhov, all 14 volumes

What subject causes you to rant? People who don't vote

What thrills you about life in the 21st century? Being alive

What creeps you out about life in the 21st century? Not being able to see how things work

What do you drive? Subaru Forester and a bicycle

What's in your tape player right now? Va, Pensiarro....by Verdi

What's your next journey? St. Petersburg

What's the most trouble you have ever gotten in? Firing a shotgun at a low flying Navy helicopter that was bothering me

What do you regret? Missed opportunities

Favorite comfort food? Kozy Shack rice pudding with lemon juice

What's always in your refrigerator? Ginger preserves

Must-see T.V.? I cut the cable.

Favorite cartoon? A James Thurber cartoon from Men, Women, and Dogs: "It's a naïve domestic burgundy without any breeding, but I think you'll be amused by its presumption."

Describe a perfect day. Finding my old rowboat on the Slocum River and rowing it down to the ocean, where the sun was setting and the moon was rising and rowing along for 10 miles of perfect swells to the house I was staying in.

Walter Mitty fantasy? Pavarotti gets a cold, and they call on me

Who'd play you in the movie? Meryl Streep

Most embarrassing moment? Being completely wrong

Best advice you ever got? Peter Taylor said, "Don't be a lawyer..."

Favorite bumper sticker? 186,000 miles per second...not just a good idea it's the law.