July 31, 2005

Stalin Shmalin

The REAL question in my mind right now is: what is going to happen with Manny Ramirez?

I thought Francona's press conference last night was a masterpiece of saying NOTHING. I think you want that in a manager. You protect your players. I loved Varitek, too, surrounded by reporters, saying in response to some question about Manny (but the reporter had only said "teammate"): "I'm not sure what teammate you're referring to. David Wells, my teammate pitched a great game."

But obviously SOMEthing's going on. I could never be a sports reporter. I'm too in awe. If I asked Tek a question about Manny, and he responded like THAT, I would never come back with: "Yeah, but what about Manny ...." I would say: "Oh, yeah, man, Wells did great!!" That's why they don't pay me the big bucks.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (6)

The mystery of Stalin

One of the ongoing passions or interests I have in my life is the mystery of Stalin. I wrote about it here at rambling length. (And I highly recommend reading all of those comments ... they are amazing.)

In the comments section to that post, my blog-buddy John (who's got a pretty fascinating blog over there, by the way) had some incredible insights into the whole Stalin thing, and why he is such a mystery - an aberration, if you will. A glitch in the human experiment. There are many "glitches", people who are born lacking certain things (like compassion, or a conscience) - but very very few achieve such a degree of power as Stalin did. Most people lacking compassion end up fucking up ... their egos get in the way, they are serial killers who grow sloppy, who need to be congratulated or recognized ... and so they end up leaving a trail of clues which lead to the electric chair. Stalin didn't get sloppy. Ever. He covered his tracks. A Soviet official who knew Stalin (and somehow escaped the purges) said that Stalin had a deadly (and rare) combination of attributes (if you want to call them that): patience and capriciousness. Jesus. Obviously, a serial killer (I'm using that as the most obvious example of a human being lacking compassion or restraint) very often has capriciousness but has no patience. Their lack of patience gives them away. There was a stealth about Stalin, a calculating mind at work. He did not appear to suffer from psychosis, or any kind of mental problems - he is not diagnos-able. It's terrifying. He knew what he wanted, he actually SAID what he wanted ... it's just that nobody believed him. Robert Conquest, in his masterpiece The Great Terror says over and over, "His comrades did not understand Stalin yet." This puts a chill through my bones.

John's comment to that old post of mine deserves to be brought to the forefront now, so I hope he doesn't mind ... Here it is (oh, and the reference to "s"s is self-explanatory to anyone who has read me for a while. John has been particularly sympathetic to one of my phobias. If you want to know what an "s" is, think about "Charlotte", and you should get it. I do not allow that word on my blog):

I think, Sheila that monsters undergo a process of self-discovery just as the rest of us do throughout life, and that gives lie to the simplistic explanations put forth by historians for the root causes of monstrosity. Stalin started out as a little git, suspected of betraying his companions in Baku to the Tsarist Okhrana. At least some of his proclivities to purging probably sprang from his guilt over this betrayal. Once he discovered a means to getting rid of the Old Bolsheviks with memories of those rumors, he became bolder and more depraved. But was he sociopathic to start with? Certainly, at least to some degree.

One facet of his character was humorlessness. I once translated an article written by one of Stalin’s assistants. He mentioned that Stalin only told one joke in his presence over years of service. Stalin came out of his office, looked at a high ranking party functionary, and said “you know, my Grandmother had a goat that looked just like you”. “Goat” is a mild insult in Russian. One joke over almost a decade, and it was demeaning. Says a lot, doesn’t it? This same article also mentioned Stalin’s quest to dress up his purges in ideological terms, while the assistant noted that everyone in the Party hierarchy knew it was the struggle of “ ‘s’ in a jar”. That turn of phrase stuck with me. Stalin as the biggest, baddest ‘s’. Fitting (especially, to you, I’d imagine).

Stalin was lazy, certainly, but he put his efforts where they counted most. When Trotsky, Lenin and the rest were studying Western languages in exile, he studied Russian to get rid of his accent. Lazy, yes, but calculated. He knew that his thick Georgian accent would not be welcomed in a leader by the Russian peasants. I’ve heard recordings of him, and his accent was there, but not bad, certainly better than most Georgians. (Writing that, I had aural hallucinations of Jimmy Carter speaking Russian with a twang, but I digress…;-)

I think it was von Moltke who wrote about recruiting officers to the German General staff who had a certain kind of indolence, but who had energy when the circumstances called for it. Otherwise, the overly ambitious worry their staffs and soldiers to death. A good commander knows when to leave well enough alone. A lot of creative types and scientists have this personality trait as well. A scientist sits and mulls over the literature, observations in the lab, and it looks to an outsider as if the researcher is doing nothing. Then, suddenly an idea hits and you’ve got a fiend on your hands working 120 hour weeks until the experiments are done. Then quiet for a week, then repeat experiments (more slowly and carefully), and then the writing process begins.

I think Stalin had that kind of indolence. A cat’s indolence, sleeping 80% of the day, then springing, claws out, onto his prey.

I’m fascinated by Stalin’s political evil. Who knows how much was natural and how much was learned? The best psychological portrait I’ve ever seen of Stalin was in Anatoly Rybakov’s novel “Children of the Arbat”.

As for the henchmen, I see a lot of parallels with the secular fanatics of today (including the humorlessness). Many of these people are looking for something higher than themselves to devote their lives to, and lacking faith in God, they transfer their devotion to a cause. Once the devotion is transferred, the cause can not be questioned, or it calls into question the self-worth and morality of the questioner. So many in the upper circle (lower functionaries were more likely to be defiant at trial) accepted their fate without argument because it was the Party judging them, and the Party is always right (that's not my analysis, rather it's that of Conquest and Roy Medvedev). A few fought back, mostly the soldiers in the Red Army, men of action, rather than ideologues.

Now that is some great stuff.

He added, in another comment:

I saw a play based on "Children of the Arbat" in a little town in southern Russia. The dude who played Stalin was a "national artist", the highest rank in Soviet arts. (Can you imagine being ranked as an artist just as if you were in the Army?) His performance was spine chillingly correct in every detail.

A great coda to all of this:

A couple weeks ago, I met John in the sweltering morning of an awful heat-wave in New York City ... It was DREADFUL weather. He had a copy of "Children of the Arbat" that he wanted to give me. I didn't bring it on my vacation because, frankly, I needed to chill out, and plumbing the depths of the monster that is Stalin is not really lite-fare ... but I can't wait to dig into it.

He and I met on a street corner in the garment district, so that we could do the pass-off of books. We were both DRENCHED in sweat. The garment district is feckin' nasty, anyway ... and the weather was abominable. You breathed the dirty garbage-scented air in and felt pollution fill your very soul. But there was John, coming towards me, grinning as though we were in air-conditioning. I only had a couple minutes to spare, as did he ... and what did we do? Standing there on the sidewalk? We talked about Stalin. hahahaha I LOVE BLOGGING. We got right into it, in the 15 minutes we had available. Gorgeous. I can't talk to many people about Stalin.

I met John once before, a while back ... but again: with blogging ... it's like we talk every day because I read him every day, and we comment on each other's blogs ... It's a beautiful thing, the Internet, ain't it? There are a ton of people on my blog-roll I feel that way about (and also - people who don't have blogs, and who read my blog ... mustn't leave them out!! People like: ricki, Jay - I love Jay!!!! - susie (although she might have a blog), DBW ... the list goes on and on). Like, it's strange to me that I haven't actually met RTG or Anne or Big Dan or Michele or Val or Jimbo or Tassy ( er- her live journal is rarely work safe - just a heads up. And Jimbo: I can't help it ... I always think of the two of you as a pair! You're how I found her) or Serenity .... There are a million more. Also: is it true that I only have met Emily twice???? That CAN'T BE RIGHT!! Same with CW. I met the dude only once? You gotta be kiddin' me, right?

This is a tangent - all coming out of two things: 1. meeting Dan this past week and having such a nice time with someone I had never met - beautiful!! and 2. out of the beautiful (to me) image of John and I - sweltering on a sidewalk in the garment district - discussing Children of the Arbat and the mystery of Stalin. Surrounded by concrete and orthodox Jews and rolling carts of clothing. The beauty of blogging.

All of this (this post, I mean) is because this morning I read the following quote, and of course - it set off a stream of assocations in my brain:

"Pity the biographer who takes on Josef Stalin. The challenges lie somewhere between daunting and impossible. Stalin took great pains to cover up the facts of his childhood and youth. Aided by state hagiographers, he revised the events of his life multiple times, making it nearly impossible to determine what role he played in the crucial events of the October Revolution and civil war. Airbrushing by state hagiographers added extra layers of obfuscation. Inconvenient witnesses tended to disappear. Secretive, introverted, and paranoid, Stalin made an art of concealing his motives and his methods."

- William Grimes

It seems to me that Grimes' comment is pretty accurate. Sometimes fiction (or theatre, I might add) is FAR more qualified to get at the heart of things than an actual biography, or history. History has to stick to the facts, the things that are visible. Fiction can plumb the depths of psychology (think of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. In my opinion, if you have a question about the criminal mind that is not answered in Crime and Punishment, then it is not a question worth asking.)

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (5)

July 30, 2005

Last night:

-- We were all at Molly's Pub in West Yarmouth. Watching the game. For the most part, it was one-two-three innings. We thought: "Damn, we're gonna be home by 9." Jean declared, "This is the most boring baseball game ever." Then came the wacko Keystone Cops play which we had to see 5 times to really understand what was going on ... Then we had to discuss it to ourselves, drawing small diagrams on our napkins: "Okay ... so the catcher missed the ball ... " And the play finally ended with Johnny Damon getting clocked in the head on his way home (and he barely flinched!) Awesome. I don't think even the players knew what the hell was going on in the middle of that play.

-- Bases loaded. Jean says, sarcastically, "Grrrreat. We load the bases for John Olerud." And of course ... 2 seconds later, all hell broke loose. It was great - we were in a bar filled with Sox freaks, most with Irish accents ... and we couldn't get enough of the replay. Every time the entire bar saw the replay, we cheered all over again, as though it was the first time we saw it. Olerud!! A cross between Jimmy Stewart and Frank Perdue.

-- Laughing HYSTERICALLY about the random shot after Olerud's grand slam, of the fan in the stands manically waving an ENORMOUS American flag. Like the kind of flag that should be on a pole outside a post office. We were crying with laughter. Like: "buddy ... uhm ... this isn't the Olympics ... this is an American sport ... and ... er ..." It was just so cute, and he was waving it FEVERISHLY.

-- At one point last night, my brother said, in a moment of shock and awe, the word "Jeepers." He said it COMPLETELY seriously, and it was the only logical response to the moment. "Jeepers!" But we couldn't stop laughing afterwards - I said, "Who the hell says 'Jeepers' anymore??" Then - as Siobhan and I were leaving the bar, there was a group of smokers standing outside - and as we passed, one of the women in the group said about something, in an exasperated voice: "Jeepers Creepers!" hahahahahaha

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July 28, 2005

Vacation snapshots

More vacation stress.

-- Manicures and pedicures this morning with my sisters and Melody. The manicurist gave Siobhan swoopy ghetto-designs on her nails without asking Siobhan. hahahaha "Uhm ... I appear to have gang symbols on my nails now ..."

-- Swimming last night with Cashel and Siobhan. Cashel had on his Goggles, he babbled at us about X-2 in the most endearing way during the walk to the beach, ranting and raving: "He is the BEST character ... he is SO COOL." Siobhan and I continued to egg him on with questions so that he would just keep talking. Then we swam in the strong undertow, grey waves rolling in, the beach empty and grey ... Cashel "body surfing". Ahem. It was a 7 year old version of body surfing and something that cute is difficult to believe.

-- More trivial pursuit last night. Cashel was on my team. We whispered and consulted together ... AND we ended up winning. Yee-haw!

-- I actually have stopped reading Time and Again - not because I don't like it - but because Stewart O'Nan and Stephen King's book Faithful was lying around and I needed to start devouring it. I love how Stephen King keeps talking about how Lou Piniella, throughout the season, was eating his own organs from inside, through stress and suppressed rage. "I think Lou is done with his kidneys now and moving onto his liver ..."

-- We all responded to Matt Clement getting clocked as though he's a member of our family. Awful. "Is he okay?" "Any word yet?" Last night, Siobhan and I saw a press conference he gave ... and he looks okay. We'll see. Awful, though ... just awful ... the front page of the Globe sports section a photo of him writhing in pain with Millar, Mueller, and Varitek approaching ... Millar's hand reaching out gently to touch his shoulder. Just AWFUL.

-- Hudson (Jean's black lab) made a friend yesterday. A big gregarious yellow lab named Seamus. Seamus peed on Hudson's face, which was a deeply bonding moment for both of them, apparently.

-- 2 nights ago: sat outside at the picnic table in the backyard - me, Bren, Jean, and Melody ... drinking vodka tonics, as the wind swept through the trees - 11 pm ... Hudson lying in the dirt nearby ... listening to the Sox game on the radio through the kitchen window. The night of Matt Clement. Shivers ....

-- My toenails are now a shimmery green. The shade is called Cat's Eye, which I am sure you are thrilled to know.

-- Today? Mini golfing at a place called Pirate's Cove.

-- Tonight? Cape Cod Baseball, man!!!

-- Lou Piniella appears to be devouring his own spleen now ... and it's only July ....

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July 26, 2005

Vacation snapshots

It's really stressful to just lie around on the beach, and read books, and go for runs, and play board games. I mean, it's so hard to keep up with such a grueling schedule.


-- Cashel's big-boy teeth are now growing in. That always brings about such a change in a child's small face. AHHHHHH! He looks so cute!! I haven't seen him since Christmas. Have to hold myself back from squeezing him to death.

-- Trivial Pursuit game our first night here. It went on for 5 hours. By the end, our personalities had pretty much disintegrated. Brendan finally won. And we could finally all go to BED. Some things happened that were so funny, in such an O'Malley way, that we laughed so hard tears literally streamed down our faces. Raucous.

-- The water is warm, and marvelous. Ahhh. Salt water. Beach chairs. Sunblock - 45. I'm obsessed with sunblock, and smear it all over me from morning til night. If I get one more freckle, I will have a nervous breakdown.

-- I packed enough clothes for a 2 week jaunt through Europe - and yet somehow managed to forget my bikini bottoms. hahahaha I'm an idiot. I wear gym shorts instead - no biggie - but I had to laugh when I saw the minimal packing of my siblings, compared to my ridiculously overblown packing. It's even more ridiculous because, of course, I basically wear the same things every day.

-- We're all about ice coffees. Also - every morning one of us has to go out and get multiple copies of the New York Times - since we have so many crossword-puzzle hounds in this family.

-- We're gonna go see a Cape Cod League Baseball game on Thursday. Can't WAIT.

-- Karaoke tonight in Hyannisport. Look out, townsfolk. The O'Malley Sisters will be shrieking their way into your lives.

-- Cashel told me the entire plot of the Sponge Bob Square Pants movie, complete with re-enactments, sound effects, and also random bursts of laughter which rendered him absolutely helpless.

-- We have a hula hoop in the front yard. At any given moment, some O'Malley is out there, wildly gyrating like some 1950s training film.

-- My dad is reading the new John Irving, as well as continuing his Proust project. My mom is reading Lovely Bones. Bren is reading Ulysses for the first time. Jean is reading The Tipping Point. Siobhan is reading Summerland. Cashel is dying to read Summerland, and casts envious glances at Siobhan as she flips through the pages. Melody is reading the first Nancy Drew - which she found at a second-hand store: The Mystery in the Old Clock. I finished my Cary Grant biography and am now reading (and loving) Jack Finney's Time and Again. It makes me miss New York City - even though I've heard it is unbearably humid there today.

-- Bren said to me, holding my grandfather's copy of Ulysses (I think it's a fourth edition) - "I have no idea what is going on. NONE." I said, "What part are you on?" He said, "Oh ... Stephen Dedalus lives in a tower with a couple friends, and he's teaching at some kind of high school." I said, "Uhm - that IS what's going on. You've got it! NOTHING ELSE IS GOING ON. He lives in a tower. He teaches school. That's it!!"

-- Stars. Fireflies. Wind. A big sweeping wind last night.

-- Oh. And this was a total treat. Last night I finally met Dan. That one was a long time coming, let me tell you. It was so fun to put a face to the screenname and the blog. We met up at a bar, we ate, we talked, we watched the Sox game (most of it, anyway) ... Yet another blogger who is as cool (if not cooler) in person as he is in his writing. Funny, too, to meet someone who is, in essence, a total stranger - but who - because he reads your blog and because you read his blog - there's all this background knowledge between the two of you. It's a riot. Anyway: Dan - it was very cool to meet you. I've been reading his blog for ... 2 years now? Something like that? My sisters were a bit nervous: "Now ... who are you going to meet? Should we be nervous?" I said, "Uhm ... Dan?" They said, "Oh yeah, we know Dan! He seems really cool!" Life in the Internet era. Amazing. It was very cool to meet him ... I was nervous walking into the bar ... it's always a little nerve-wracking ... but it's funny: I recognized him. I mean, I knew what he looked like, sure ... but I recognized him, in terms of his personality - the personality he puts out there on his site, and in the comments on my site. I love that.

-- Speaking of Dan: It was SO FUN driving to meet him. I don't drive that much - I don't have a car - so I was blasting CDs, I had the windows down ... the night was beautiful ... I felt amazing. I played The Eminem Show at top volume. It made me feel like: dang, I need a car. Not to really GO anywhere, but to just tool around on a summer night with the windows down, blaring albums I love. Awesome feeling.

-- Watching Bren and Cash walking along the beach, father and son ... Cashel is a mini Brendan. Same posture, same bathing trunks, same way of walking ... It was heart-crackingly cute.

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July 23, 2005

Cary Grant's "sleight of hand"

Another excerpt from Marc Eliot's biography of Cary Grant.

I like this description of the whole Cary Grant "thing" -

Just as amazing, if not even more impressive, the film career of the actor whom Time magazine once described as "the world's most perfect male animal" began relatively late, according to Hollywood's quick time clock. Grant was twenty-eight years old when he first went west to seek his fortune in films, having spent the better part of his twenties as a steadily rising leading man in a succession of Broadway musicals and comedies.

Over the next three and a half decades, his impact on movies was so enormous, he would virtually redefine the cinematic image of the romantic American male. In the hands of Hollywood's immigrant-bred, mostly Jewish studio moguls endlessly obsessed with female WASP beauty, British Archie Leach was reborn as the projection of their own idealized American selves and presented to the world as Cary Grant.

Yet, despite his physical beauty (and that was, with rare exception, all the moguls ever really required of him), Grant early on sensed something was lacking in his acting, that there was an internal disconnect between his manufactured cinematic image and his inner being. Indeed, without a masterful script to provide a compelling character, without a brilliant costume designer to dress him up, without an artful makeup man to apply the sheen to his skin, without a tasteful set designer to enshrine him, without a skillfuyl editor to exact his comic timing, without a sharp-eyed cameraman to place him in the most favorable light, without a beautiful costar to externalize desire, and without a director to impose his own unifying personality, Grant feared that, at heart, he was less than the sum of his movie-star whole, a spiritless cinematic symbol.

Moreover, once a performance was constructed and frozen on film, he knew he would forever have to compete with that symbol in a battle against time in reality he could never win. That is why, in to the fifties (both his own and the century's), he became increasingly more selective in his choice of screen roles and directors, choosing only those parts and the men who guided him in them, directors who best knew how to help him perform that special Grant sleight-of-hand on audiences over and over again without ever once giving the trick away.

I find that to be marvelously accurate.

Grant was rarely miscast. He kept a tight rein over his career (very rare in the days of the studio system). He knew his image was, in its essence, a delicate one. It required careful handling. He worked with the same directors over and over again. He would re-write his part - so that there wouldn't be any possibility of him coming off as LESS than "Cary Grant". He re-wrote all the love scenes in Charade - because he knew, instinctively, that it would be kind of creepy to have a 60 year old man pursuing the younger Audrey Hepburn. He wasn't vain - he was just practical. For the film to work, SHE needed to pursue HIM. Anyone see that movie? I love it.

Audrey Hepburn, swooning over him: "Do you know what's wrong with you?"

Cary Grant, bemused, detached: "What?"

Audrey Hepburn, dreamy smile: "Nothing."

If you want to boil down an audience's response to Cary Grant - it is in that exchange. It's a fantasy, yes. Cary Grant, as a human being, had plenty wrong with him. Cary Grant worked on those things offscreen - went into therapy, kept up his good friendships, always had a support system ... But Cary Grant the film icon? He protected that image - and when the image could no longer be protected, when his own age threatened to derail the fantasy - he quit.

A class act.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (7)

Cary Grant's vaudeville days

Another excerpt from Marc Eliot's biography of Cary Grant. I love the description of his hair in the last paragraph - and how he began to hone an image for himself. The genius of Cary Grant is that the entire thing was a calculated impersonation ... and yet - he ended up being one of the most successful movie stars ever. He was a box office draw for 34 years or something like that. Now ... NOBODY has ever beat that. The only person who has come close is Harrison Ford. In my opinion, he is still a valid leading man. Depends on who he's paired with, I suppose - If you pair him with a 22 year old starlet, then he looks ridiculous. But put him with a real woman, and you still want to see him do love scenes, all that leading man stuff. But for most actors: You're a leading man for a certain amount of time, and then you have to face reality and segue into character parts, father parts, and then grandfather parts. Cary Grant - when he could sense that that would have to happen - retired. And that was that. But think about it - he did Charade with Audrey Hepburn - he was in his 60s, I think. And he remained a valid leading man. Amazing. (Ooops, just thought of another one: Sean Connery. Dude'll be a sex symbol when he's 80.)

Anyway - here is an excerpt describing his early vaudevillian days ... when he was unsure, insecure, and trying to craft some kind of personality for himself that would ease him through the social shoals of life. He was not relaxed. And so he decided to imitate relaxed people. Amazing how well he pulled it off.

The revue ran on Broadway for another nine months, then embarked on a year-long tour on the famous B.F. Keith vaudeville circuit, which took them to the major cities east of the Mississippi. As it happened, the Keith circuit traveled the same route as the New York Giants baseball team, and because all the games were played in daylight, Archie was able to see a good number of them. Having never heard of baseball before coming to America, he became endlessly fascinated by the intricacies of the game and developed a love for it that would last a lifetime.

He also met quite a few successful actors on the circuit (and a few unknowns, mostly understudies and last-minute fill-ins, among them a young New York hoofer by the name of James Cagney), but none amused him or impressed him more than the Marx Brothers, whose vaudeville routines later became the basis for many of their zany movies. While the rest of the country preferred Groucho, Zepp, the good-looking straight man and romantic lead, was Archie's favorite, the one whose foil timing he believed was the real key to the act's success. Not long after, Archie began to augment his already well-practiced "suave" Fairbanks look and dress with a Zeppo-like fancy bowtie (called a jazz-bow, or jazzbo, during the Roaring Twenties) and copied his brilliantine hairstyle, adding Dixie Peach, the favorite pomade of American black performers and show business leads, by the palmful to his thick dark mop, to give it a molded, comb-streaked blue-black Zeppo sheen.

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Cary Grant and Mae West


An excerpt from Cary Grant: A Biography by Marc Eliot.

I like it because it captures, for me, why Cary Grant (so young) stood out in this movie. (Actually - in terms of "young actors" - he wasn't young. Success came to Grant relatively late. He was not a 21, 22, 23 year old star. Success came to him when he was in his 30s.) It was hard for men to be paired with Mae West, and still get a good manly performance. She was such an open lascivious personality - that men ended up either being emasculated, or sexualized to the point of a loss of personality. (Not that there's anything really wrong with that - that was Mae West's whole thing. She was a huge star - her movies were written by her, they were all about HER ... The guys were supposed to be eye candy, and that was the whole joke of it, the whole titillation. To see a woman treat a man like a man treats a woman. blah blah. BUT - She done him wrong is interesting because of how Cary Grant handles her. And how he handles being treated like that. It's great.) This is a really really fun movie, if you haven't seen it. I blither about Archie Leach's early career and this film here.

Now for the excerpt from Eliot's book:

Filming began on November 21, after the full seven-day rehearsal period that [Mae] West had insisted upon. Set in a Bowery bar at the turn of the twentieth century, the sanitized but still raunchy story centers on Lady Lou, the proprietor of the Dance Hall (a standard euphemism for a house of prostitution), corun by West's husband (Noah Beery Sr.), which sells beer to the boys while also dealing in a little white sexual slavery on the side. Captain Cummings, aka "The Hawk" (Grant), is an undercover cop running a nearby missionary and is bent on "saving" her. One of the most famous (and often misquoted) lines in all of film history is uttered in She Done Him Wrong with a moistness hard to misinterpret, when Lil meets Cummings for the first time and says, "Why don't you come up sometime, see me, I'll tell your fortune." By the end of the film, after a series of bizarre plot twists, love changes and redeems them both. In the final scene, Cummings leads her away, with the strong suggestion he is going to reform her first, then marry her. They get into a cab and Grant removes all the rings on her fingers so he can slip a single small diamond on one. Lou looks into his eyes and murmurs, "Tall, dark, and handsome," to which he replies, "You bad girl." "You'll find out," she says, sucking in her cheeks and smiling wickedly as the film ends. [Note from Sheila: The way Cary Grant says "You bad girl" is prophetic of the movie star he eventually would become. You can see it ALL, there, in that small moment. The gloves come off, and out comes this reeeaaaallly masculine tough sexy guy ... It's fabulous.]

Now - onto the analysis of Grant's performance opposite the daunting Mae West:

It was also the eighth and final film Grant made in 1932 and, after this highly productive year, the one that brought him closer than ever to the first rank of Paramount's leading men. Ironicially, it was Grant's approach to playing the romantic lead in She Done Him Wrong that did it. His onscreen aloofness, a reflection of nothing so much as his own uncertainty as to how to play a love scene opposite the voracious West, was taken by the public to be just the opposite -- manly, moral resistance to Lil's many charms -- and created a new type of romantic sophisticate, not only for Grant, but for the legions of actors who would thereafter try to imitate him. Grant's "Hawk" was underplayed and always gentlemanly, resistance translated into self-assurance and moral righteousness, all highly glossed with what would become his trademark shimmering elegance.

No one was more surprised than Grant at how successful he was opposite the voracious West. As in the past, he had tried to mask what he thought of as his own lack of any true acting style by emulating his performing idols, Chaplin, Noel Coward, Jack Buchanan, Rex Harrison, and Fred Astaire. Years later, Grant perceptively and graciously summed up his acting in She done him wrong as a combination of pose and impersonation. "I copied other styles I knew until I became a conglomerate of people and ultimately myself," he told an interviewer. "When I was a young actor, I'd put my hand in my pocket trying to look relaxed. Instead, I looked stiff and my hand stuck in my pocket wet with perspiration. I was trying to imitate what I thought a relaxed man looked like." ...

Opposite West, Grant's arched body language seemed to react with bemused distaste, an apparent product of calculated wit. He smartly held his own by not allowing himself to get engaged in a competition he could not win. In the silvery sheen of sharp black and white, all Grant had to do was show up and let his irresistible face be photographed in shadowed cuts, as if caught in the flash of lightning. Holding his own, however, was not enough. Working with West had taught him a valuable lesson. As long as he was the pursuer, the focus was always going to be on the object of his affection. The thing to be in any movie was the one pursued. It was what all front-rank stars in Hollywood benefited from, and why he was not yet in their league. Should he ever have the opportunity to call the shots, as West had, he promised himself, he would make himself the object of his co-stars', and by extension, the audience's, heated pursuit. Eventually this decision would come to define the essence of, and the reason for, Cary Grant's superstar persona.

Pauline Kael called Cary Grant "the most seduced man in history." If you think of all of his famous film roles, he is so rarely the pursuer or the seducer. It doesn't work. He is the object of desire. He is cagey, withdrawn ... or (in the case of Bringing up Baby) too clueless and distracted to seduce anyone. Women in Cary Grant films chase this man DOWN.

Cary Grant developed a couple of techniques for love scenes - and if you think over his movies - you'll see that he rarely deviated from it. He never went to the woman. He stayed still. He let them make the first move. Always. Instead of having that put him in a passive role, which you might think would be the result, it ended up adding to his power enormously. He was the pursued. He was the elusive object of desire.

Somehow - even with Mae West tormenting him throughout She done him wrong, and teasing him, and insinuating things at him ... he holds back. He does not become just a sex object (even though that was the point, for Mae West.) Grant, like he always did, performed a little magic trick there - and got away with it. His persona was juuuuust starting to take hold.

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July 22, 2005


So thank you all for your recommendations. True to form, I ignored them all. (Don't be sad. I wrote them down for future reference - like I always do). But for now? Going with the unread books on the shelves.

Here are the books coming with me on my journey:

-- a Georgette Heyer - I can't even remember the name of it. That'll be the first book I read.

-- Time and Again, by Jack Finney. Believe it or not, I have never read it - and I know it is on many people's favorite books EVER lists. Including this dude. He used to rave to me about it, waxing nostalgic, telling me the entire plot in exquisite detail ... finally ending his ecstatic monologue with the lame, "You just have to read it." I have a copy of it ... but I have not read it yet - I think because for a long time I was afraid it would just remind me of that dude - and it would also be too yukky to read the book and NOT be able to talk with him about it. I think those days of pain are done now, though. (David: whaddya think - are they??) So I'm VERY excited to read the book.

-- A Room with a View (Bantam Classics), by EM Forster. I've read it before, but years ago. I remember loving it. I need some writing inspiration, and Forster is awesome.

-- Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams, by Joseph Ellis. Passionate Sage is Ellis' biography on John Adams, my favorite one of "those guys". I love Ellis' work - and I've read all of them except for this one (and his one on Washington). Can't WAIT.

-- Cary Grant: A Biography, by Marc Eliot - I just received it from the wonderful Peteb!! Such a surprise! Cary Grant! A huge biography! LOOK OUT.

Quote in the beginning of the book (and I do not find it hyperbolic in the slightest - In my humble opinion, he is indeed the best there is.)

"He was the best and most important actor in the history of the cinema ... The essence of his quality can be put quite amply: he can be attractive and unattractive simultaneously; there is a light and dark side to him but, whichever is dominant, the other creeps into view ... He was rather cheap and too suspicious ... he was, very likely, a hopeless fusspot as man, husband, and even father. How could anyone be 'Cary Grant'? But how can anyone, ever after, not consider the attempt?" -- David Thomson

Really excited.

One can never have too much Cary Grant.

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Queens with crossbows

Okay, so it was only last night, but I had already forgotten all about this and was just reminded. Not sure if I can get across the humor of what happened, but I will give it a shot. I am crying with laughter right now.

After some rumspringa, David drove me home. We had had a great time. As always. MAJOR conversation. Covering the highs, the lows, the literary conceits, the patterns, the frustrations, the nostalgia, the disappointments, the humor ... of this thing we call life. My life is a literary conceit. It really is.

Anyway, David pulled onto my street, and we pulled up in front of my apartment building. We sat there talking for a second.

At the end of my street, which is a dead-end - I caught a glimpse of two figures. They were moving about ... but in what seemed to me a rather aimless way. It was dark - so I couldn't tell WHAT they were doing ... but something about it seemed "off" to me.

And somehow - the way one of them was holding his arm - or maybe it was just a shadow - I don't know - but I said to David ... "Uhm ... I'm not gonna get out of the car just yet to go in. I think that guy down there has a crossbow."

I swear to God. I saw a crossbow. I saw two aimless shadows ... one of whom was holding a crossbow. Which - I am sure you will agree - is a rather alarming image. You just don't want to be wandering around your nice little neighborhood and run into some person wielding a crossbow. So ... uhm ... yeah. Let me stay in the car safe with David until they pass by.

David didn't laugh - but he did squint down at the end of my street - saying ... "Uh ... crossbow?"

The crossbow men were obviously approaching. They were walking up the sidewalk. They were blocked from our view by the parked cars ... but we could see their heads moving through the car windows ... Here they come ... Here they come ...

And then ... as they walked by ...

We saw that they were two elderly gentlemen, obviously gay, and they had a dainty wee little poodle on a leash, going out for a late-night walk. Not only did they not have crossbows ... but they looked like literally the most harmless people (and animal) on the face of the planet.

David and I just BURST into laughter ... because we had been expecting to see ... I don't know what ... but the expectation had been set up by my saying the word "crossbow" ... And then who goes by? Two old queens with their fluffy little dog. We just were HOWLING.

David emails me today: "I feel pretty grateful for your friendship but even more grateful that I didn't end up with an arrow shot through my sternum last night by that vicious gang of queens and their poodle! I don't know where these people get their crossbows!"

Laughing out loud over here ...

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Happy birthday to Edward Hopper

One of my favorite painters. I love the loneliness in his work. The nocturnal energy. The midnight urban diners. I find his paintings very sad - but in a kind of delicious wallowing way. The way you might indulge in a good cry once in a while. It's good for the soul.

He said: "Maybe I am slightly inhuman ... All I ever wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house."

And did he ever:


I love the voyeurism in his work. Living as I do, in a major metropolitan area, you are constantly up against other people's ... lives. You give each other privacy - people can weep on the subway, and nobody freaks out. Everyone clams down, goes into their own head, and the weeping person may as well be in her own room for all the impact she has. Belive me: having been that weeping person, there's a strange comfort in that anonymity. At the same time, there is the sense - living here - of being privy to other people's secrets. Strangers. There are just so many damn windows. Glimpses seen ... unexplained images flashing by ...

I love this one:


That painting kind of captures what I was trying to talk about.

I have the one below on my wall. What I would not give to have lived at that time ... and been able to go to the big palatial movie houses in New York City:


Evoking a world gone by - LOVE the signage outside the window:


I wonder what these two are talking about - can't you just hear the sound of the lonely surf breaking on the beach below?


And then something like this: It's just a gas station. But it's poetic. Sad, somehow. Or no, not just sad. That kind of piercingly SWEET sadness that you get sometimes. The pain of nostalgia, of yearning ... Bittersweet.


Now, the painting below, "The Blue Jukebox" is one of my favorites - Sadly, I couldn't find a better image online. But something about this painting sends off a rush of emotions: yearning, sadness, those weird moments of midnight connections, insomnia, all the lonely people ...

I just love it:


Edward Hopper said, "If I could say it in words there would be no reason to paint."

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Diary Friday

Ahhhhhh, HIGH SCHOOL. I AM ALL ABOUT HIGH SCHOOL RIGHT NOW. My Diary Friday series has brought about a number of cool things in my life recently ... people from long ago Googling themselves and finding themselves in one of my Diary Friday entries ... hahahaha Anyway, let's begin.

This is from my junior year (otherwise known as THE YEAR OF DAVID)

In this entry, we are all still coming down from our SK Pades experience.


My life is getting odder by the moment. I don't know what to make of it anymore. It used to be easy to see what was happening around me and think, "Hey, I get this." But now --

Academically, things are peachy keen [Oh my God, member saying "peachy keen" all the time?], but around me - I'm in a whirlwind - or everyone around me is in a whirlwind and I'm standing there like a doof. Okay -- enough with the analogous stuff. I'm still really spacey. I came home from school today and fell asleep on the couch and I just woke up, so I feel blurry and out of it.

I'll start from the beginning. OhmyGod. [That "Oh my God" is written in microscopically tiny letters. Perhaps to connote my depth of emotion.]

Today was a bowling day. It seems centuries ago! We went into the gym. He wasn't there. [In my junior year, there is only person who that could mean. "He" was David. Only one "he" for me. Even then, I was a one-man woman.] I always get panicky, like: "Oh no! He's not here!" I like doing that because when he does come in, my heart does a little skip and a jump. [In other words, you're a masochist.] Walking down to bowling was fun. Nick and someone were walking in front of Dave and Dale and J. and I were behind them. Kate was behind us, hissing, "Go ... Go ..."

(At this point I feel like I have jet lag. That nap screwed me up.)

Anyway, I bowled with April and we were right beside Dave and Dale. Of course that was fun. Dave was competing with Hank [Enough with the one-syllable names ... Jesus.] and Dave was losing, so of course he was all mad. Boys take sports so seriously. It's a riot. Dave said to me, "I guess I'm not a pressure bowler." It's so hilarious - how serious he gets about BOWLING. Dale is not too great a bowler. And Dave is always sort of coaching him, but it doesn't work. I'll be up there bowling and I'll see Dale's ball start to roll. Then I can hear Dave going, "There it is! There it is!" But somehow, it is never there, and Dale just goes back to sit down. It strikes me as hysterical. So I was sitting with Dave at the little desk and Dale bowled. Of course, Dave started saying, "There it is! There it is!" And the ball knocked over about 3 pins. Then, as Dave marked it down, he said to himself, "There it was." I think he was pleased with the screech of appreciative laughter from me.

After bowling (I got a 93), we started walking back. I was walking with April and Dave and Dale were always behind us. And I heard Dave saying to Dale, "On the whole, it was really good. At some points, it was a little slow, but --" Then he saw April and I grinning at him over our sholulders. "I wonder what you are talking about," I said. Then we were walking together, the 4 of us. Dave critiqued parts of the show [He's really annoying me, now that I remember all of this. What a know it all.] He said to me, "Your singing was excellent." EXCELLENT. He said excellent. I said, "Thank you." I was quite the thrilled. QUITE. Then he said, "And the flute duet was really good." (That was April and J.) "And that Pepsi Light skit was well-written, well-acted ..." He grinned. "I felt like I was this kind of adjudicator or something." [Yeah, well who asked you to adjudicate, you superior smug jackass? Why don't you just try sitting back and enjoying the show, as opposed to keeping a checklist in your mind?? Uhm ... why did I love this person?]

Suddenly, J. was yelling from behind us, "Peter, what's the matter?"

I noticed that he was walking along alone, way ahead of us. J. started laughing, and yelled, "Just because you got a 49--"

I added, "You should be with people at a time like this!"

Peter sort of cowered behind a telephone pole and Dave said, "He's the only person I know who can successfully hide behind a telephone pole."

[Okay, I am laughing out loud. I LOVED Peter. Sadly, he wasn't at my reunion. I was bummed - I would have loved to see him.]

Back at the gym, we had about 10 minutes, as usual. I sat next to April, she was working on Math, so we didn't talk. I just sat quietly and vegged. Dave was all the way down at the other end of the bleachers. At one point, he went back into the boys locker room for a while. When he came out, he picked up his books and started walking ... [Sheila, please stop staring at him from across the gym. It's creepy.] And I just knew he was about to sit next to me, and as he came by me, and sat down, he said, "I am going to terrorize you."

Now, I ask you - What was I supposed to say? I can't even remember my reaction. I'm sure I said, "What?" I remember being very aware of April, beside David. She waslistening through the whole thing, just dying.

He kept talking, saying, "I am gonna call you up in the middle of the night. And peek out at you from behind telephone poles. Don't wash your hair, because when you open your eyes, I'll be there." Then he said, "No matter where you go, I'll be watching you."

[WTF??? I have no memory of this.]

He said this all in a very light tone, but you don't just go around and say these things to people. [Yeah, you'd think ...] You just don't, and if you do, then you are POND SCUM.

What was he talking about? What was he talking about? He is so strange, and I cannot figure him out.

At that appropriate moment, the bell rang, leaving me sitting there like a geek, jaw hanging open, thinking, "What was that?" I just got up in a daze and started walking. I looked around for my friends. April looked at me and then came zooming over. I needed someone to prop me up at that point. She was going, "Sheila. OH MY GOD, I was just sitting there in absolute shock."

"You were?! April, this is the weirdest thing that's ever happened to me - OH my God - Did you hear what he said?"

"YES!" Suddenly, J. and Kate were around me going, "What? What?" But I just covered my face and said, "I cannot believe this." For the next 2 periods, my mind was in a blank. I don't know what to think.

After Chemistry, I was going up the stairs, and I saw April. I called to her, and she looked over at me. I said, "April ... I still can't believe ..." She was still in a state of shock. [I love how this whole thing degenerated into a GROUP event.] I told you that with my friends all our feelings are shared, even if the others aren't going through it. April was saying to me, "I couldn't understand why you weren't sexually molesting him!"

Nothing really happened in French. We're reading Le Petit Prince, which I love. The book makes me cry. Today though, school was past my notice.

David - I'm sorry, but you just don't go around saying things like that to people!

In English, April presented me with her theory which I've accepted. [This is hilarious. This is STILL how my girlfriends and I hash out our problems.] She came in and said, "I think Dave has trouble with concrete statements. He can't deal with what is going on straight out. Like he couldn't just say, 'I really like you' - so he says those - abstract things ..." At this point, we both burst out laughing. Abstract! "Don't wash your hair"????

In English we went to the library for research. J., Kate and I sat together, and of course we discussed boys. In lunch today, Nick came over to J. and said, "Your eyes don't deceive you." (Not "deceive me"). So we were talking about that and what the hell it might mean. There is a hidden meaning there! Like -- what you think is going on is going on. Trust your instincts. I think that's wicked that he said that. [Ha! "Wicked"!!!] Very deep.

I then said, "Why can't mine be deep? I mean, yours talks about eyes, mine talks about telephone booths."

We all just exploded into laughter.

So that's my day.

After school, (I guess April had told Anne) - I have grown so close to Anne this year, and I'm glad. We wrote a few skits for SK Pades. She has really got it together. She said to me, (I love this) "Anyone who reaches the peak of their social status in high school has got something wrong with them." Anyway, she's a great kid to confide in. After school, she comes up to me saying, "What's this I hear?"

Unless I'm totally off my spool, which I don't think I am ... I'm practically convinced he likes me. [Ouch. Nope. He's just a weirdo, Sheila. In this case, your eyes DO deceive you.] I mean, that doesn't make anything easier. I'm still scared to death to do anything.

There's a sockhop on Friday. [Uhm ... what is this - "Happy Days"?] I am so petrified of looking stupid. I don't want him to scorn me. I don't think he will, but - see what I'm saying? [Actually, no ...] Just knowing that I don't think he'd laugh in my face doesn't ease the burden.

I had a dream that Kate made me call him up and ask him out. And I did. And he was so nice. He was laughingat himself and saying, "I think it's about time I took some initiative here."

Anne said to me, "He's dying for you to ask him."

But then I think - why doesn't he ask me? Isn't the situation obvious enough? He has to know I like him. I'm dying for him to ask me.

I don't know what to do.

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The Books: "The Blue Bird" (Maurice Maeterlinck)

Next in my Daily Book Excerpt:

BlueBird.jpgNext play on the script shelf is The Blue Bird: a Fairy Play in Six Actsby Maurice Maeterlinck, an old childhood favorite.

Maeterlinck's a fascinating guy - won the Nobel Prize in 1911. The Blue Bird is a fairy tale - and is obviously meant to be an enormous production (the descriptions of each setting in each scene sometimes go on for two pages alone) - it's not realistic, or literal in any way. It's a fable. The two children who are the stars are like Hansel and Gretle - (Maeterlinck even describes their costumes as such). The opening scene is the two of them lying in bed on Christmas Eve, hearing the party across the road at the rich people's house, and talking about how sad they are that they won't get prsents this year, because they are poor. Suddenly a Fairy enters ... and after some back and forth ... sends the two kids on a quest ... to find "the blue bird".

I read this play so much as a little kid - and read most of it out loud - playing different parts - pretending I was in some huge production of it - that I still remember some of the scenes word for word.

Here's an excerpt from the first scene, when the Fairy arrives and sends them on their quest:

EXCERPT FROM The Blue Bird: a Fairy Play in Six Actsby Maurice Maeterlinck

(As they hesitate before opening the door, the big latch is seen to rise of itself, with a grating noise; the door half opens to admit a little old woman dressed in green with a red hood on her head. She is humpbacked and lame and near-sighted, her nose and chin meet; and she walks bent on a stick. She is obviously a fairy.)

THE FAIRY. Have you the grass here that sings or the bird that is blue? ...

TYLTYL. We have some grass, but it can't sing ...

MYTYL. Tyltyl has a bird.

TYLTYL. But I can't give it away ...

FAIRY. Why not? ...

TYLTYL. Because it's mine.

FIARY. That's a reason, no doubt. Where is the bird? ...

TYLTYL. (pointing to the cage) In the cage ...

FAIRY. (putting on her glasses to examine the bird) I don't want it; it's not blue enough. You will have to go and find me the one I want.

TYLTYL. But I don't know where it is ...

FAIRY. No more do I. That's why you must look for it. I can do without the grass that sings, at a pinch; but I must absolutely have the blue bird. It's for my little girl, who is very ill.

TYLTYL. What's the matter with her? ...

FAIRY. We don't quite know; she wants to be happy ...

TYLTYL. Really? ...

FAIRY. Do you know who I am? ...

TYLTYL. You're rather like our neighbor, Madame Berlingot ...

FAIRY. (suddenly angry) Not a bit! ... There's not the least likeness! ... This is intolerable! ... I am the Fairy Berylune ...

TYLTYL. Oh! Very well ...

FAIRY. You will have to start at once.

TYLTYL. Are you coming with us?

FAIRY. I can't, because I put on the soup this morning and it always boils over if I leave it for more than hour ... (Pointing successively to the ceiling, the chimney and the window) Will you go out this way, or that way, or that way? ...

TYLTYL. (pointing timidly to the door) I would rather go out that way ...

FAIRY. (growing suddenly angry again) That's quite impossible; and it's a shocking habit! (Pointing to the window) We'll go out this way ... Well? ... What are you waiting for? ... Get dressed at once ... (The children do as they are told and dress quickly) I'll help Mytyl ...

TYLTYL. We have no shoes ...

FAIRY. That doesn't matter. I will give you a little magic hat. Where are your father and mother? ...

TYLTYL. (Pointing to the door on the right) They're asleep in there ...

FAIRY. And your grandpapa and grandmamma? ...

TYLTYL. They're dead ...

FAIRY. And your little brothers and sisters ... Have you any?

TYLTYL. Oh yes; three little brothers ...

MYTYL. And four little sisters ...

FAIRY. Where are they? ...

TYLTYL. They are dead, too ...

FAIRY. Would you like to see them again? ...

TYLTYL. Oh yes! ... At once! ... Show them to us! ...

FAIRY. I haven't got them in my pocket ... But this is very lucky; you will see them when you go through the Land of Memory ... It's on the way to the Blue Bird, just on the left, past the third turning ... What were you doing when I knocked? ...

TYLTYL. We were playing at eating cakes? ...

FAIRY. Have you any cakes? ... Where are they?

TYLTYL. In the house of the rich children ... Come and look, it's so lovely. (He drags the Fairy to the window)

FAIRY. But it's the others who are eating them! ...

TYLTYL. Yes, but we can see them eat ...

FAIRY. Aren't you cross with them? ...

TYLTYL. What for?

FAIRY. For eating all the cakes ... I think it's very wrong of them not to give you some ...

TYLTYL. Not at all; they're rich ... I say, isn't it beautiful over there? ...

FAIRY. It's no more beautiful there than here.

TYLTYL. Ugh! ... It's darker here and smaller and there are no cakes ...

FAIRY. It's exactly the same, only you can't see ...

TYLTYL. Yes, I can; and I have very good eyes. I can see the time on the church clock and daddy can't ...

FAIRY. (suddenly angry) I tell you that you can't see! ... How do you see me? ... What do I look like? (An awkward silence from TYLTYL. ) Well, answer me, will you? I want to know if you can see! ... Am I pretty or ugly? ... (The silence grows more and more uncomfortable) Won't you answer? ... Am I young or old? ... Are my cheeks pink or yellow? ... Perhaps you'll say I have a hump? ...

TYLTYL. (in a conciliatory tone) No, no, it's not a big one ...

FAIRY. Oh yes, to look at you, any one would think it enormous. ... Have I hook nose and have I lost one of my eyes? ...

TYLTYL. Oh, no, I don't say that ... Who put it out?

FAIRY. (growing more and more irritated) But it's not out! ... You wretched, impudent boy! ... It's much finer than the other; it's bigger and brighter and blue as the sky ... And my hair, do you see that? ... It's fair as the corn in the fields, it's like virgin gold! And I've such heaps and heaps of it that it weighs my head down ... It escapes on every side ... Do you see it on my hands? (She holds out two lean wisps of grey hair)

TYLTYL. Yes, I see a little ...

FAIRY. (indignantly) A little! ... Sheaves! Armfuls! Clusters! Waves of gold! ... I know there are people who say that they don't see any; but you're not one of those wicked, blind people, I should hope?

TYLTYL. Oh no; I can see all that isn't hidden ...

FAIRY. But you ought to see the rest with as little doubt! ... Human beings are very odd! ... Since the death of the fairies, they see nothing at all and they never suspect it ... Luckily, I always carry with me all that is wanted to give new light to dimmed eyes ... What am I taking out of my bag? ...

TYLTYL. Oh, what a dear little green hat! ... What's that shining in the cockade? ...

FAIRY. That's the big diamond that makes people see ...

TYLTYL. Really? ...

FAIRY. Yes; when you've got the hat on your head, you turn the diamond a little; from right to left for instance, like this; do you see? ... Then it presses a bump which nobody knows of and which opens your eyes ...

TYLTYL. Doesn't it hurt? ...

FAIRY. On the contrary, it's enchanted ... You at once see even the inside of things: the soul of bread, of wine, of pepper, for instance ...

MYTYL. Can you see the soul of sugar, too? ...

FAIRY. (suddenly cross) Of course you can! ... I hate unnecessary questions ... The soul of sugar is no more interesting than the soul of pepper ... There, I give you all I have to help you in y our search for the Blue Bird. I know that the flying carpet or the ring which makes its wearer invisible would be more useful to you ... But I have lost the key of the cupboard in which I locked them ... Oh, I was almost forgetting ... (Pointing to the diamond) When you hold it like this, do you see? ... One little turn more and you behold the past ... Another little turn and you behold the future ... It's curious and practical and it's quite noiseless ...

TYLTYL. Daddy will take it from me ...

FAIRY. He won't see it; no one can see it as long as it's on your head ... Will you try it? ... (She puts the little green hat on TYLTYL's head.) Now, turn the diamond ... One turn and then ...

(TYLTYL has no sooner turned the diamond than a sudden and wonderful change comes over everything. The old Fairy alters then and there into a princess of marvellous beauty; the flints of which the cottage walls are built light up, turn blue as sapphires, become transparent and gleam and sparkled like the most precious stones. The humble furniture takes life and becomes resplendent; the deal table assumes as grave and noble an air as a table made of marble; the face of the clock winks its eye and smiles genially, while the door that contains the pendulum opens and releases the Hours, which, holding one another by the hand and laughing merrily, begin to dance to the sound of delicious music)

TYLTYL. (displaying a legitimate bewilderment and pointing to the Hours) Who are all those pretty ladies? ...

FAIRY. Don't be afraid; they are the hours of your life and they are glad to be free and visible for a moment ...

TYLTYL. And why are the walls so bright? ... Are they made of sugar or of precious stones?

FAIRY. All stones are alike, all stones are precious; but man sees only a few of them ...

(While they are speaking, the scene of enchantment continues and is completed. The souls of the Quarternloaves, in the form of little men in crust-colored tights, flurred and all powdered with flour, scramble out of the bread-pan and frisk around the table, where they are caught up by Fire, who, springing from the hearth in yellow and vermilion giths, writhes with laughter as he chases the loaves.)

TYLTYL. Who are those ugly little men?

FAIRY. Oh, they're nothing; they are merely the souls of the Quartern-loaves, who are taking advantage of the reign of truth to leave the pan in which they were too tightly packed ...

TYLTYL. And the big red fellow, with the nasty smell?

FAIRY. Hush! ... Don't speak too loud; that's Fire ... He's dangerous.

Posted by sheila Permalink

July 21, 2005

A must-read

At least if you

1. Love Michael Chabon (like I do - even though I pretty much unabashedly despise his wife)
2. Have an interest in the art and craft of writing ...

Here Chabon writes about his process writing his first novel Mysteries of Pittsburgh. He was 22 years old when it was published, mkay? To great acclaim.

His essay gave me goosebumps. This is one of those examples of reading a specific thing at just the right time.

Mysteries of Pittsburgh is a marvelous book. I loved it when I first read it - which was in 1992. I had just moved to Chicago, I was single for the first time in 3 years, I had my own apartment, I got a cat, I started running, I discovered Tori Amos, I met window-boy and it was the "beginning of a beautiful friendship", I went on dates, I played pool, I got cast in a production of Golden Boy, I temped in random offices, I listened to "Love Shack" by the B-52s and ran 5 or 6 miles a day ... and I read Mysteries of Pittsburgh. For me - the memories of 1992 come bundled up like that. I listen to Little Earthquakes and I remember the sickly-sweet smell of roach-poison in the hallways of my first apartment building. I hear "Love Shack", and I remember the way window-boy's clothes always smelled so fresh and clean. Mysteries of Pittsburgh brings that summer of 1992 right up before my eyes - which of course, is very fitting - because the book takes place during a very potent summer.

Hard to believe he was 21 years old when he wrote it.

I'm a huge HUGE Michael Chabon fan. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay ... I tear up just thinking about that book. One of those rare books that I truly did not want to end.

Anyway, I'm all pumped up from reading this comi-tragic tale of how he sat down and wrote his first novel. I especially love the part about how he read two novels which basically gave him permission to begin: The Great Gatsby and Goodbye, Columbus:

The Great Gatsby had been the favorite novel of one of those aforementioned friends whom I had decided that, for reasons of emotional grandeur and self-poignance, I was doomed never to meet up with again in this vale of tears. At his urging I had read it a couple of years earlier, without incident or effect. Now I had the sudden intuition that if I read it again, right now, this minute, something important might result: it might change my life. Or maybe there would be something in it that I could steal.

I lay on the bed, opened its cracked paper covers?it was an old Scribner trade paperback, the edition whose cover looked as though it might have been one of old Ralph's wood shop projects?and this time The Great Gatsby read me. The mythographic cast of my mind in that era, the ideas of friendship and self-invention and problematic women, the sense, invoked so thrillingly in the book's closing paragraphs, that the small, at times tawdry love-sex-and-violence story of a few people could rehearse the entire history of the United States of America from its founding vision to the Black Sox scandal?The Great Gatsby did what every necessary piece of fiction does as you pass through that fruitful phase of your writing life: made me want to do something just like it.

I began to detect the germ of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh as I finished Fitzgerald's masterpiece: I would write a novel about friendship and its im-possibility, about self-inventors and dreamers of giant dreams, about complicated women and the men who make them that way. I put it back in its place on the shelf and as I did so I noticed its immediate neighbor: an old Meridian Books paperback edition of Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth, the one with the lipstick-print-and-curly-script cover art by Paul Bacon, a master of American jacket illustration who would, in a few years, design a memorable cover for the book I was urging out of myself that day. I had never read Goodbye, Columbus, and as I got back into bed with it I remarked, in its lyric and conversational style, its evocation of an eastern summer, its consciously hyperbolic presentation of the mythic Brenda Patimkin and her family of healthy, dumb, fruit-eating Jews, and its drawing of large American conclusions from small socioerotic situations, how influenced Roth had clearly been by his own youthful reading of the Fitzgerald novel. That gave me encouragement; it made me feel as if I were preparing to sail to Cathay along a route that had already proven passable and profitable for others.

Gorgeous. Need to print this one out to keep!

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (4)

Happy birthday to ...


Ernest Hemingway!

"I use the oldest words in the English language. People think I'm an ignorant bastard who doesn't know the ten-dollar words. I know the ten-dollar words. There are older and better words which if you arrange them in the proper combination you make it stick. Remember, anybody who pulls his erudition or education on you hasn't any."

One of my favorite stories about Hemingway is the challenge another writer gave him: Write a story in 6 words. Hemingway took on the challenge - he worked on that 6-word story, it obsessed him for a couple of days ... And what he came up with was this (it kills me):

For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Used.

Hemingway said later that he thought it was the best thing he had ever written.


(I love DeAnna's comment here: Easy to read is hard to write.)

One of my favorite "profile" pieces done in The New Yorker was from 1950 - by Lillian Ross - on Ernest Hemingway. The piece is now considered notorious ... and it's obvious why. It's very very revealing. It opens with:

Ernest Hemingway, who may well be the greatest living American novelist and short-story writer, rarely comes to New York. He spends most of his time on a farm, the Finca Vigia, nine miles outside Havana, with his wife, a domestic staff of nine, fifty-two cats, sixteen dogs, a couple of hundred pigeons, and three cows. When he does come to new York, it is only because he has to pass through it on his way somewhere else. Not long ago, on his way to Europe, he stopped in New York for a few days. I had written to him asking if I might see him when he came to town, and he had sent me a typewritten letter saying that would be fine and suggesting that I meet his plane at the airport. "I don't want to see anybody I don't like, nor have publicity, nor be tied up all the time," he went on. "Want to go to the Bronx Zoo, Metropolitan Museum, Museum of Modern Art, ditto of Natural History, and see a fight. Want to see the good Breughel at the Met, the one, no two, fine Goyas and Mr. El Greco's Toledo. Don't want to go to Toots Shor's. Am going to try to get into town and out without having to shoot my mouth off. I want to give the joints a miss. Not seeing news people is not a pose. It is only to have time to see your friends." In pencil, he added, "Time is the least thing we have of."

Hemingway had this to say about having his books criticized:

"It is like being a third baseman and protesting because they hit line drives to you. Line drives are regrettable, but to be expected."

The following quote, to me, is classic Hemingway. I think I've posted it here before. Hemingway mentioned, to Ross, a war writer he once knew who set out to beat Tolstoy.

"He never hears a shot fired in anger, and he sets out to beat who? Tolstoy, an artillery officer who fought at Sevastopol, who knew his stuff, who was a hell of a man anywhere you put him -- bed, bar, in an empty room where he had to think. I started out very quiet and I beat Mr. Turgenev. Then I trained hard and I beat Mr. de Maupassant. I've fought two draws with Mr. Stendahl, and I think I had an edge in the last one. But nobody's going to get me in any ring with Tolstoy unless I'm crazy or I keep getting better."

Another snippet from the profile:

I wanted to know whether, in his opinion, the new book was different from his others, and he gave me another long, reproachful look. "What do you think?" he said after a moment. "You don't expect me to write 'The Farewell to Arms Boys in Addis Ababa,' do you? Or 'The Farewell to Arms Boys Take a Gunboat'?" The book is about the command level in the Second World War. "I am not interested in the G.I. who wasn't one," he said, suddenly angry again. "Or the injustices done to me, with a capital M. I am interested in the goddam sad science of war."

On his influences (and again: nobody talks like Hemingway, nobody):

"I only went to high school and a couple of military cram courses, and never took French. I began to learn to read French by reading the A.P. story in the French paper after reading the American A.P. story, and finally learned to read it by reading accounts of things I had seen -- les evenements sportifs -- and from that and les crimes it was only a jump to Dr. de Maupassant, who wrote about things I had seen or could understand. Dumas, Daudet, Stendahl, who when I read him I knew that was the way I wanted to be able to write. Mr. Flaubert, who always threw them perfectly straight, hard, high, and inside. Then Mr. Baudelaire, that I learned my knuckleball from, and Mr. Rimbaud, who never threw a fast ball in his life. Mr. Gide and Mr. Valery I couldn't learn from. I think Mr. Valery was too smart for me."


"Only suckers worry about saving their souls. Who the hell should care about saving his soul when it is a man's duty to lose it intelligently, the way you would sell a position you were defending, if you could not hold it, as expensively as possible, trying to make it the most expensive position that was ever sold. It isn't hard to die."

Oh, and I LOVE this quote about birds in New York City:

"In this town, birds fly, but they're not serious about it."

hahahaha That's so true.

And here is Lillian Ross' description of walking through the Metropolitan Museum, with Hemingway, his son, and his wife, on a rainy day:

In the lobby, he paused, pulled a silver flask from one of his coat pockets, unscrewed its top, and took a long drink. Putting the flask back in his pocket, he asked Mrs. Hemingway whether she wanted to see the Goyas first or the Breughels. She said the Breughels.

"I learned to write by looking at paintings in the Luxembourg Museum in Paris," he said. "I never went past high school. When you've got a hungry gut and the museum is free, you go to the museum. Look," he said, stopping before "Portrait of a Man" which has been attributed to both Titian and Giorgione. "They were old Venice boys, too."

"Here's what I like, Papa," Patrick said, and Hemingway joined his son in front of "Portrait of Federigo Gonzaga (1500 - 1540)," by Francesco Francia. It shows, against a landscape, a small boy with long hair and a cloak.

"This is what we try to do when we write, Mousie," Hemingway said, pointing to the trees in the background. "We always have this in when we write."

Mrs. Hemingway called to us. She was looking at "Portrait of the Artist" by Van Dyck. Hemingway looked at it, nodded approval, and said, "In Spain, we had a fighter pilot named Whitey Dahl, so Whitey came to me one time and said, 'Mr. Hemingway, is Van Dyck a good painter?' I said, 'Yes, he is.' He said, 'Well, I'm glad, because I have one in my room and I like it very much, and I'm glad he's a good painter because I like him.' The next day, Whitey was shot down."

We all walked over to Rubens' "The Triumph of Christ over Sin and Death". Christ is shown surrounded by snakes and angels and is being watched by a figure in a cloud. Mrs. Hemingway and Patrick said they thought it didn't look like the usual Rubens.

"Yeah, he did that all right," Hemingway said authoritatively. "You can tell the real just as a bird dog can tell. Smell them. Or from having lived with very poor but very good painters."

That settled that, and we went on to the Breughel room. It was closed, we discovered. The door bore a sign that read, "NOW UNDERTAKING REPAIRS."

"They have our indulgence," Hemingway said, and took another drink from his flask. "I sure miss the good Breughel," he said as we moved along. "It's the great one, of the harvesters. It is a lot of people cutting grain, but he uses the grain geometrically, to make an emotion that is so strong for me that I can hardly take it." We came to El Greco's green "View of Toledo" and stood looking at it a long time. "This is the best picture in the Museum for me, and Christ knows there are some lovely ones," Hemingway said.

Patrick admired several paintings Hemingway didn't approve of. Every time this happened, Hemingway got into an involved, technical discussion with his son about it. Patrick would shake his head and laugh and say he respected Hemingway's opinions. He didn't argue much. "What the hell!" Hemingway said suddenly. "I don't want to be an art critic. I just want to look at pictures and be happy with them and learn from them. Now, this for me is a damn good picture." He stood back and peered at a Reynolds entitled "Colonel George Coussmaker," which shows the Colonel leaning against a tree and holding his horse's bridle. "Now, this Colonel is a son of a bitch who was willing to pay money to the best portrait painter of his day just to have himself painted," Hemingway said, and gave a short laugh. "Look at the man's arrogance and the strength in the neck of the horse and the way the man's legs hang. He's so arrogant he can afford to lean against a tree."

We separated for a while and looked at paintings individually, and then Hemingway called us over and pointed to a picture labelled, in large letters, "Catherine Lorillard Wolfe," and, in small ones, "By Cabanel". "This is where I got confused as a kid, in Chicago," he said. "My favorite painters for a long time were Bunte and Ryerson, two of the biggest and wealthiest families in Chicago. I always thought the names in big letters were the painters."

After we reached the Cezannes and Degases and the other Impressionists, Hemingway became more and more excited, and discoursed on what each artist could do and how and what he had learned from each. Patrick listened respectfully and didn't seem to want to talk about painting techniques any more. Hemingway spent several minutes looking at Cezanne's "Rocks -- Forest of Fontainebleau". "This is what we try to do in writing, this and this, and the woods, and the rocks we have to climb over," he said. "Cezanne is my painter, after the early painters. Wonder, wonder painter. Degas was another wonder painter. I've never seen a bad Degas. You know what he did with the bad Degases? He burned them."

Hemingway took another long drink from his flask. We came to Manet's pastel portrait of Mlle. Valtesse de la Bigne, a young woman with blond hair coiled on the top of her head. Hemingway was silent for a while, looking at it; finally he turned away. "Manet could show the bloom people have when they're still innocent and before they've been disillusioned."

As we walked along, Hemingway said to me, "I can make a landscape like Mr. Paul Cezanne. I learned how to make a landscape from Mr. Paul Cezanne by walking through the Luxembourg Museum a thousand times with an empty gut, and I am pretty sure that if Mr. Paul was around, he would like the way I make them and be happy that I learned it from him." He had learned a lot from Mr. Johann Sebastian Bach, too. "In the first paragraphs of 'Farewell,' I used the word 'and' consciously over and over the way Mr. Johann Sebastian Bach used a note in music when he was emitting counterpoint. I can almost write like Mr. Johann sometimes -- or anyway, so he would like it. All such people are easy to deal with, because we all know you have to learn."

"Papa, look at this," Patrick said. He was looking at "Meditation on the Passion", by Carpaccio. Patrick said it had a lot of strange animals in it for a religious painting.

"Huh!" Hemingway said. "Those painters always put the sacred scenes in the part of Italy they liked the best or where they came from or where their girls came from. They made their girls the Madonnas. This is supposed to be Palestine, and Palestine is a long way off, he figures. So he puts in a red parrot, and he puts in deer and a leopard. And then he thinks, This is the Far East and it's far away. So he puts in the Moors, the traditional enemy of the Venetians." He paused and looked to see what else the painter had put in his picture. "Then he gets hungry, so he puts in rabbits," he said. "Goddam, Mouse, we saw a lot of good pictures. Mouse, don't you think two hours is a long time looking at pictures?"

Everybody agreed that two hours was a long time looking at pictures, so Hemingway said that we would skip the Goyas and that we would all go to the Museum again when they returned from Europe.

It was still raining when we came out of the Museum. "Goddam, I hate to go out in the rain," Hemingway said. "Goddam, I hate to get wet."

I just eat that shite UP. Fascinating.

And we'll leave Mr. Hemingway now in peace ... but not without letting him have the last word. It's a bit of advice, and very good advice at that:

"Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."
Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (9)

The Books: "Angels in America: Perestroika" (Tony Kushner)

Next in my Daily Book Excerpt:

Perestroika.jpgNext play on the script shelf is Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika by Tony Kushner.

The following scene is between Joe (the closeted married Mormon dude) and Louis (I love Louis, he's a great character). Joe has left his wife Harper, or ... I think she left him, actually. And Joe has started to date Louis. It is his first gay relationship, first gay experience. Louis has his own demons to deal with. He had been in a long-term relationship with a guy named Prior (who pretty much is the lead character in this play - an awesome character) - who is dying of AIDS. Louis, in a moment of cowardice, decided he just could not stick around and watch his boyfriend die - so he abandoned him. A weak weak moment. And now Louis is with Mormon Joe.

EXCERPT FROM Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika , by Tony Kushner.

(Joe and Louis sitting shoulder to shoulder in the dunes at Jones Beach, facing the ocean. It's cold. The sound of waves and gulls and distant Belt Parkway traffic. New York Romantic. Joe is very cold, Louis as always is oblivious to the weather.)

JOE. Louis ...?

LOUIS. The winter Atlantic. Wow, huh?

JOE. Ferocious. It's freezing, what are we ...

LOUIS. There used to be guys in the dunes even when it snowed. Nothing deterred us from the task at hand.

JOE. Which was?

LOUIS. Exploration. Across an unmapped terrain. The body of the homosexual human male. Here, or the Ramble, or the scrub pines on Fire Island, or the St. Mark's Baths. Hardy pioneers. Like your ancestors.

JOE. Not exactly.

LOUIS. And many have perished on the trail. I fucked around a whole lot more than he did. So why is he the sick one? No justice. Anyway I wanted you to see this.

JOE. Why?

LOUIS. No reason.

(Little pause)

JOE. I love you.

LOUIS. No you don't.

JOE. Yes I do.

LOUIS. NO YOU DON'T. You think you do but that's just the gay virgin thing, that's ...

JOE. (tousling Louis' hair) Stop working so hard. Listen to the ocean. I love it when you can get to places and see what it used to be. The whole country was like this once. A paradise.

LOUIS. Ruined now.

JOE. It's a great country. Best place on earth. Best place to be.

LOUIS. I can't believe you're a Mormon. You never told me.

JOE. You never asked.

LOUIS. You said you were a Protestant.

JOE. I am. Sort of.

LOUIS. So what else haven't you told me? So the fruity underwear you wear, that's ...

JOE. A temple garment.

LOUIS. Oh my god. What's it for?

JOE. Protection. A second skin. I can stop wearing it if you ...

LOUIS. How can you stop wearing it if it's a skin? Your past, your beliefs, your ...

JOE. I'm not your enemy, Louis. I do ... I am in love with you. You and I, fundamentally, we're the same. We both want the same things.

LOUIS. I want to see Prior again.

(Joe stands up, moves away)

LOUIS. I miss him, I ...

JOE. You want to go back to ...

LOUIS. I just ... Need to see him again. (Little pause) Don't you ... You must want to see your wife.

JOE. I do see her. All the time. (Pointing to his head) In here. I miss her, I feel bad for her, I ... I'm afraid of her.


JOE. And I want more to be with ...

LOUIS. I have to. See him. It's like a bubble rising up through rock, it's taken time, I don't know, the month in bed and the ... Love is still what I don't get, it ... never seems to fit into any of the schematics, wherever I'm going and whatever I've prepared for i always seem to have forgotten about love. I only know ... It's an unsafe thing. To talk about love, Joe. Please don't look so sad. I just. I have to see him again. Do you understand what I ...

JOE. You don't want to see me anymore. Louis. Anything. Whatever you want. I can give up anything. My skin.

(He starts to remove his clothes. Louis, when he realizes what Joe is doing, tries to stop him)

LOUIS. What are you doing, someone will see us, it's not a nude beach, it's freezing!

(Joe is half in, half out of his clothes. He has pulled the upper part of his garment off)

JOE. I'm flayed. No past now. I could give up anything. Maybe ... in what we've been doing, maybe I'm even infected ...

LOUIS. No you're ...

JOE. I don't want to be. I want to live now. And I can be anything I need to be. And I want to be with you.

(Louis starts to dress Joe)

JOE. (As he's being dressed) You have a good heart and you think the good thing is to be guilty and kind always but it's not always kind to be gentle and soft, there's a genuine violence softness and weakness visit on people. Sometimes self-interested is the most generous thing you can be. You ought to think about that.

LOUIS. I will. Think about it.

JOE. You ought to think about ... what you're doing to me. No, I mean ... What you need. Think about what you need. Be brave. And then you'll come back to me.


Posted by sheila Permalink

July 20, 2005

Today in history - July 20, 1969

Man walked on the moon for the first time.

I've been reading the original articles right now (here's what was on the front page of The New York Times on July 21, 1969 - !!! Read the article. You can so get the sense of awe and momentous import.)

Here's an incredible photo of their approach to the landing spot, taken from the lunar module:


And here is the telecast of Neil Armstrong's descent:

From The New York Times article:

His first step on the moon came at 10:56:20 P.M., as a television camera outside the craft transmitted his every move to an awed and excited audience of hundreds of millions of people on earth.


On this day. This momentous day!! What a moment!


I was 2 years old. Sadly, I have no memory of this. Anyone who remembers this moment in their lives - please share in the comments. I'd love to hear.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (23)

The Books: "Angels in America: Millennium Approaches" (Tony Kushner)

Next in my Daily Book Excerpt:

So now ... we must leave Ibsen behind. It's tough, I know.

AngelsInAmerica.jpgNext play on the script shelf is Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches by Tony Kushner. Kusher is the Clifford Odets of our day. His plays are glorified pamphlets - but his writing is sublime. He elevates propaganda into a transcendent art. Man oh man, I can think of only a couple of playwrights who are able to do that. Usually when playwrights get up on soap boxes (or, actually, anyone gets up on a soap box) they transform into a BIG. FAT. BORE.

Clifford Odets and Tony Kushner do not. Their writing is so good. They do not sacrifice character for idea. Angels in America is full of indelible characters. It's also very funny. Kushner doesn't sacrifice humor, either. And look: many gay men who lived through the 1980s have sacrificed their senses of humor. They lost too many friends. Larry Kramer comes to mind. If I lost most of my friends, I don't think I'd have too much to laugh about. But Kushner takes that situation - the AIDS epidemic blossoming - and turns it into something almost transcendent.

I love this play. I love how Kushner, unlike 99.99999999% of the playwrights writing today, is unafraid to just go for it. He's unafraid to write about the big themes. He may go overboard - but God, isn't that better than being cautious, and writing tepid little kitchen-sink dramas? Or coy arch abstract performance-art pieces? Kushner comes right out and says what he means. Agree with him or not - that's immaterial. A voice like his is very important to have in the theatre.

Here's an excerpt.

Harper and Joe are a young married Mormon couple. Joe is a lawyer, and they have just moved to New York City. Harper is a little bit ... "off" ... shall we say. She never leaves the apartment. She takes sleeping pills - pretty much throughout the day. She's been in and out of mental institutions. She is convinced that there are people living behind their walls - she always hears noises. (Because this play is so hallucinatory, with angels breaking through ceilings on occasion - Harper doesn't seem so crazy. There really may be entities behind their walls. Harper seems more sane than most everyone else in this play.) And Joe ... a clean-cut Mormon guy ... is ... there's something a little bit "off" about him, too. The two of them have almost a friendship - not really a marriage. Joe, deep down, knows that he is gay ... it is the mid 1980s - He is so religious, and so fearful of what "being gay" will mean - that he cannot even acknowledge it to himself. The struggle of these two people - in their marriage - to come to terms with this - is one of the main plots of this two-part massive play. Joe has been offered a great job down in Washington. Harper doesn't want to go. Their marriage is really in trouble. Joe goes out late at night, and walks through Central Park ... watching the gay guys having sex with each other in the shrubs. He doesn't participate, he just stares. He's a tragic character.

This scene takes place after one of his late-night walks. He comes home to find her awake, sitting in the dark.

EXCERPT FROMAngels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches, by Tony Kushner:

(Harper is sitting at home, all alone, with no lights on. We can barely see her. Joe enters, but he doesn't turn on the lights)

JOE. Why are you sitting in the dark? Turn on the light.

HARPER. No. I heard the sounds in the bedroom again. I know someone was in there.

JOE. No one was.

HARPER. Maybe actually in th ebed, under the covers with a knife. Oh, boy, Joe. I, um, I'm thinking of going away. By which I mean: I think I'm going off again. You ... you know what I mean?

JOE. Please don't. Stay. We can fix it. I pray for that. This is my fault, but I can correct it. You have to try too ...

(He turns on the light. She turns it off again.)

HARPER. When you pray, what do you pray for?

JOE. I pray for God to crush me, break me up into little pieces and start all over again.

HARPER. Oh. Please. Don't pray for that.

JOE. I had a book of Bible stories when I was a kid. There was a picture I'd look at twenty times every day. Jacob wrestles with the angel. I don't really remember the story, or why the wrestling -- just the picture. Jacob is young and very strong. The angel is ... a beautiful man, with golden hair and wings, of course. I still dream about it. Many nights. I'm ... It's me. In that struggle. Fierce, and unfair. The angel is not human, and it holds nothing back, so how could anyone human win, what kind of a fight is that? It's not just. Losing means your soul thrown down in the dust, your heart torn out from God's. But you can't not lose.

HARPER. In the whole entire world, you are the only person, the only person I love or have ever loved. And I love you terribly. Terribly. That's what's so awfully, irreducibly real. I can make up anything but I can't dream that away.

JOE. Are you ... are you really going to have a baby?

HARPER. It's my time, and there's no blood. I don't really know. I suppose it wouldn't be a great thing. Maybe I'm just not bleeding because I take too many pills. Maybe I'll give birth to a pill. That would give a new meaning to pill-popping, huh? I think you should go to Washington. Alone. Change, like you said.

JOE. I'm not going to leave you, Harper.

HARPER. Well maybe not. But I'm going to leave you.


Posted by sheila Permalink

Introducing: The Phys. Wrecks

Judge Roberts? Of course. I am aware of the situation, and I am interested in the situation, but I'll leave it to other bloggers to discuss it ad nauseum. Because, frankly, I'm not done talking about high school yet. Not by a long shot. I have a feeling I'm boring the hell out of everyone. hahahaha But not my high school buddies. And for me? I'M ALL ABOUT HIGH SCHOOL RIGHT NOW.

So. Here's the deal with the following story.

I will be posting a kind of photo essay ... and it is meant to be read from top to bottom. Not from bottom to top.

The story behind the photos:

When I was a senior in high school, the girls basketball team (many of the players were good friends of mine) started kicking some SERIOUS ASS. There were sisters on the team - unbelievable girls and unbelievable athletes - and they became semi Rhode Island stars for a couple seasons. They both were toweringly tall, and incredible on the court. They were referred to as "the twin towers".

I went to a big sports school. A typical public school. We had massive pep rallies for the football team, we had a fierce and ugly rivalry with the team from the neighboring town ... our school was pretty much all about football. (Although the guys who played on our soccer team were pretty much universally lusted after by the girl population in our school. There was always something cool and kind of hot about soccer players. Even before Posh & Becks, thank you very much.) Our boy's basketball team also got a lot of attention ... the games were always packed.

But girls sports? Not so much. Nobody gave a shit about girls sports. There were no pep rallies for the girls basketball team - even though they were, during my senior year, the most successful sports team in our school. They were kicking ass. They were going to go to the state championships, probably. And yet ... no glory. The school didn't get behind them - at least not in the way the school typically did for football.

Our champions were having a great season - pretty much unnoticed by the school at large.

And of course - the football team and the boys basketball team had their own cheerleading squads. Teams of girls chosen SPECIFICALLY to cheer on the boys. Fair enough. Tradition and all that.

But ... er ... the girls basketball team is rocking the house ... they don't deserve cheerleaders? It suddenly struck us as so ... horribly unfair ... and GROSS ... that girls would cheer for boys, but nobody would cheer for girls.

What I love about this story is that we (my friends) recognized the injustice in the situation - but we didn't write whiny letters to The Rebellion (the school newspaper) - bemoaning the lack of support for girls. We didn't write letters to the Principal, pointing out the sexism in the fact that BOYS teams got pep rallies before a big game ... but GIRLS teams did not. No. We didn't use those normal attention-getting tactics. We didn't become shrill, we did not attack. We didn't ask anyone in authority to fix the situation.

But mark my words. We were pissed.

So what did we do? We took the situation into our own hands. We formed a cheerleading squad. For the girls basketball team.

We didn't clear it with anyone. We didn't ask permission. We just did it.

My friend Anne was the main organizer and the brains behind the idea. Now please understand: None of us were cheerleaders. At least not by trade. We were not gymnasts. We were not dancers. We were not girlie-girls. We did not KNOW ANY CHEERS.

So we conceived of ourselves as: a kind of dark goofy version of a cheerleader. We had passion for our team, we didn't snark about THAT ... but the entire thing, our routines (that we made up) - was about making fun (subtle fun - not mean fun) of the instituion of cheerleading, in general. The institution of cheering for the boys. And how odd it was (and how ODD that it was ODD) to have GIRLS cheering for GIRLS.

Newspaper articles were written about us. The opposing teams, at first, thought we were nuts. Who are these girls cheering on the sidelines, and during breaks? What girls team has cheerleaders? That's. So. Stupid.

But we took ourselves seriously. We had cheerleader practice. We made up cheers. We made fun of regular cheerleader cheers - making up our own versions. We did messy somersaults, but then leapt to our feet, and took a cheerleader pose to finish off the cheer. We were snarky. We were comedic. We imitated regular cheerleaders, but because we so obviously were not real cheerleaders - people would howl with laughter when they saw us. Sometimes that laughter would be mean. More often than not, though - people got the joke, and got into the spirit of what we were trying to do.

We did not give a shit what we looked like. We gloried in our own goofiness.

Our uniform was:

1. Grey sweatshirts
2. Men's boxer shorts
3. Hi-top sneakers

And our name?

The Phys. Wrecks.

Within a couple of weeks of us cheering at the girls games (and I'm not kidding about this - this is one of the things I'm proudest of in high school) - the crowds started to grow, at the girls basketball games. We had pumped people up. We did goofy cheers in the cafeteria during school - we manufactured a pep rally since the school wouldn't have an official one - and got people to come to the game. Soon - the bleachers were full to overflow at every game.

And one of our greatest triumphs was that the boys from other sports teams - football players, basketball players, soccer players ... started coming to the girls games. They started to take an interest. They came en masse - huge groups of rowdy jock high school boys - to scream like maniacs for the girls from their school. Unprecedented.

God. That was a proud moment.

And we did it without hectoring the administration, or scolding the boys. We just pumped up the enthusiasm and let people know: Our girls are rocking the house this year!!

I loved, too, how much the boys sports teams LOVED US. They had their own cheerleader squads. They had girls cheering specifically for them, in little flaired skirts, and saddle shoes, and letter sweaters. But they seemed relatively indifferent to them. Oh, they dated them ... probably slept with many of them too .. but with us it was different. They LOVED us.

It was extraordinary ... those guys just LOVED us. After each cheer, they would all hold up numbers to us - as though they were Olympic judges. (The image of them MAKING those flash cards with all the different numbers is truly heart-cracking). We'd finish some goofball cheer, where we did a fake pyramid, or we would all do somersaults in a row - you could hear the waves of laughter erupting across the gym - and we'd finish our cheer - and glance up in the stands at all the jock boys to see what score they would give us.

It was such camaraderie. Such good-natured comedy.

That was what the Phys. Wrecks made possible. In a weird way, the Phys. Wrecks brought the school together. Because the girls teams are, after all, PART of the school. And we forced everybody to deal with that - but we did it in a way that was enthusiastic, comedic, and inclusive.

It was a blast - one of my great high school moments.

Here we are ... doing our "pyramid". I ruined the symmetry with my mis-placed arms. But that was all part of the Phys. Wrecks charm, I suppose. More photos unfurling below.


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The Phys. Wrecks - continued

We showed great versatility:

We cheered!


We clapped!


We rabble-roused!


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The Phys. Wrecks - continued

We did stunts that took people's breath away - just in terms of the sheer virtuosity and courageous gymnastic skill we displayed.


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The Phys. Wrecks - continued

We DEMANDED loyalty from the school.

Come on, people, cheer for your team ...


Ohhhh, come ON!!!


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Phys. Wrecks - continued

We also were not above manipulation. We PLEADED with the school to support their own team.


Please, sir, I want some ...


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Phys. wrecks - continued

And ... of course ... When our team won ... as they so often did ...

There really was no other appropriate way for me to express myself than this pose (which, I have to say, in all modesty - I executed with perfection):


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July 19, 2005

You know. It's meme time.

Haven't done one of these in a long time. I got it from S. Faolá® Wolf.

What I was doing 10 years ago:

1995. My last summer in Chicago. I was in a production of A Death in the Family. I made a new friend - Kate. She's still one of my best friends today. There was a heat wave. I was moving to New York in the fall. My heart was broken. Because of a guy I was in love with and couldn't have. I've never loved anyone as much as I loved that guy and I was in agony, knowing I had to let him go. In the meantime, though, I had window-boy. He was like a comfy old sweater, just beautiful to hang around, and be with - an awesome comfort, yes, but also a continuous adventure ... I don't know how I would have made it through that summer without him. Strangely: with all the sadness and melancholy and impending good-byes - it was a great summer. Even though I got so ill following the heat wave that my doctor made a house call. I also re-connected with the favorite-ex. Can't keep the guys straight? That summer was all about good-byes. All about the triumvirate of men who meant the most to me.

Five years ago:

2000. Er ... no idea. It's all a blur.

One year ago:

In July of last year, I received my first acceptance letter as a writer - from The Sewanee Review. Damn issue hasn't come out yet! But it was one of those moments - of a small part of my ultimate dream come true. But no big exterior changes. My life looked pretty much the same a year ago as it does now.

That sucks. Come to think of it. My goal is: If I do this meme thing a year from now - I would like to be able to say: My life looks nothing like it looked like a year ago today.


Spent the night with my dear friend Jen. We sat in her air-conditioned apartment, babbling about each other's lives. I haven't seen her in a while. I got caught up on everything in her life, I raved about my high school reunion and seeing Keith M and the Herbie the Love Bug moment my friends and I all had on the way back from the reunion. We then watched 6 Feet Under - just like we used to do. (We were roommates for 9 years. NINE YEARS!) Beautiful night. Candlelight, wine, soft comfy couch, crazy girl talk, and 6 Feet Under

Five snacks I enjoy:

I'm a big Wheat Thins fan. I love sliced red peppers and hummus. Granola. Cashews. Red Hot Blue Chips.

Five songs I know all the words to:

Lose Yourself - Eminem
Tomorrow - from Annie
Sgt. Pepper - The Beatles
Living for the City - Stevie Wonder
Lithium - Nirvana

Five Things I would do with $100 million:

Buy a house. Buy a car. Give a lot of it away. Set up a college fund for Cashel. Help out my siblings. Hire a personal trainer. Buy my own roller coaster and put it in my massive backyard. Travel. Travel, travel, travel. Oh, and I would get laser surgery on my poor blind eyeballs.

Five locations I would like to run away to:

Ireland. North Dakota. Wales. Anywhere near a beach.

Five things I like doing:

Swimming. Reading. Dancing. Watching baseball. Singing.

Five bad habits I have:

I bite my nails. I procrastinate. I kill plants. (Although: I have just now hit the 2 year mark with keeping 2 plants alive. whoo-hoo!! I think I am ready to buy another one now ...) I wash dishes and then leave them in the dish rack. Sometimes I get around to putting them in the cupboard - but usually I just keep them in the rack.

Five things I would never wear:

I would not dress in a garishly-colored African robe and a turban. I would not wear short shorts and a halter top. I would not wear anything like this. I would not wear a micro-mini and thigh-high boots, except as a costume. I would not wear a long flowing Holly Hobby sundress.

Five TV shows I like:

6 Feet Under. The West Wing. Blow Out. VH1 Behind the Music. I guess I don't really watch much TV. I'm all about renting movies.

Five biggest joys of the moment:

The view at the end of my street. My new haircut. Anticipating the two trips I'm going to take this summer. All my Cary Grant movies that I get to watch whenever I want because I OWN THEM ALL. Nostalgia for high school - as odd as that sounds!!

Five favorite toys:

I'm not really a gadget girl. If I had the 100 million dollars, maybe I could be! So ... I am glad I have a TV. I love my laptop. Those are all the "toys" I have.

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Happy birthday to ...

The Fellowship of the Ring, which was published - on this day - in 1954 - as the sequel to The Hobbit, which appeared in 1937.

The publisher apparently only printed 3,500 copies (o ye, of little faith!). It went into a second printing in just 6 weeks. And today - more than 30 million copies have been sold.

If you're interested, read the review of the book, written by WH Auden, in The New York Times, when it first came out.

Auden writes:

All Quests are concerned with some numinous Object, the Waters of Life, the Grail, buried treasure etc.; normally this is a good Object which it is the Hero's task to find or to rescue from the Enemy, but the Ring of Mr. Tolkien's story was made by the Enemy and is so dangerous that even the good cannot use it without being corrupted.

Auden's so wonderful. He concludes with:

Mr. Tolkien is fortunate in possessing an amazing gift for naming and a wonderfully exact eye for description; by the time one has finished his book one knows the histories of Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves and the landscape they inhabit as well as one knows one's own childhood.

Lastly, if one is to take a tale of this kind seriously, one must feel that, however superficially unlike the world we live in its characters and events may be, it nevertheless holds up the mirror to the only nature we know, our own; in this, too, Mr. Tolkien has succeeded superbly, and what happened in the year of the Shire 1418 in the Third Age of Middle Earth is not only fascinating in A. D. 1954 but also a warning and an inspiration. No fiction I have read in the last five years has given me more joy than "The Fellowship of the Ring."

In honor of this event, I will re-post what is, perhaps, my favorite letter that Tolkien ever wrote.

Here's the back-story.

The German publishing firm of Rutten & Loening contacted Allen & Unwin in 1938 (the publishers of The Hobbit) and wanted to negotiate with them for a German translation of the book. But first and foremost, they wanted to know if Tolkien was of "arisch" origin. (Aryan) Tolkien wrote a brief note to Stanley Unwin, saying that he wanted to refuse to give them an answer. He didn't want to add to "the wholly pernicious and unscientific race-doctrine" by comfirming or denying. However - he also didn't want to ruin his chances of The Hobbit being read in Germany. So he submitted to Mr. Unwin two drafts of letters to the German publishers, and left it up to Unwin to decide. I'm not sure if the one I post here is the one that ended up being sent - but it was the found in Unwin's papers.

It has to be the best, most articulate bitch-slap ever.

25 July 1938
To Rutten & Loening Verlag

Dear Sirs,
Thank you for your letter ... I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-iranian; as far as I am aware noone of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the eighteenth century from Germany: the main part of my descent is therefore purely English, and I am an English subject - which should be sufficient. I have been accustomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army. I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride.

Your enquiry is doubtless made in order to comply with the laws of your own country, but that this should be held to apply to the subjects of another state would be improper, even if it had (as it has not) any bearing whatsoever on the merits of my work or its sustainability for publication, of which you appear to have satisfied yourselves without reference to my Abstammung.

I trust you will find this reply satisfactory, and remain yours faithfully

J.R.R. Tolkien

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Only in the movies

Awesome site: 40 things that only happen in the movies.

Here are some of my favorites:

10. The Eiffel Tower can be seen from any window of any building in Paris.

15. All grocery shopping involves the purchase of French loaves which will be placed in open brown paper bags (Caveat: when said bags break, only fruit will spill out).

23. If being chased through a city you can usually take cover in a passing St Patrick's Day parade - at any time of the year.

25. You will survive any battle in any war UNLESS you show someone a picture of your sweetheart back home.

The following one has ALWAYS BUGGED ME:

28. It is not necessary to say "Hello" or "Goodbye" when beginning a telephone conversation. A disconnected call can always be restored by frantically beating the cradle and saying "Hello? Hello?" repeatedly.

(via Dan ... hang in there, Dan!!)

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The Books: "Hedda Gabler" (Henrik Ibsen)

Next in my Daily Book Excerpt:

IbsenPlays.jpgNext play on my script shelf:

Ibsen: The Complete Major Prose Plays. Translated by Rolf Fjelde.

Hedda, Hedda, Hedda ... I know you're bored ... but is that any reason to behave so??

Hedda Gabler. The plot is simple: Recently married, she pretty much just endures her marriage to her emotionally detached and yet very dependable unexciting husband - George Tessman. The sterility of Hedda's life becomes suddenly very real to her, through her interactions with Judge Brack - where she discovers her sensuality - they're great great two-person scenes (I will excerpt one of them here today) and she starts to 'act out'. Hedda's life is aimless, she has no purpose (another one of Ibsen's indictments against the institution of marriage - at the bourgois level, at least. It took away the purpose of a woman's life ... leaving her idle. Idle-ness is the Devil's playground, of course). Hedda wanders through her own house, nothing to do, no responsibilities ... In a weird way, by the end - she herself has declared war on the bourgeois world.

Ibsen wrote about the Tesman family (the family Hedda married into): "Jorgen Tesman, his old aunts and the faithful servant Berta together form a picture of complete unity. They think alike, they share the same memories and have the same outlook on life. To Hedda they appear like a strange and hostile power, aimed at her very being. In a performance of the play the harmony that exists between them must be conveyed."

Hedda starts to feel more and more trapped by her circumstances ... and her overriding desire, growing with every scene, is to GET OUT. Only she does not take the route that Nora took in Doll House. She walks off stage at the end of the play, and shoots herself. She had been fondling the pistols for most of the play, drawn to them, increasingly drawn to them ... Finally, she makes her move. And that's the end of the play.

Hedda's suicide leaves you - the audience - with a dumb sense of wonder - The last line of the play is Judge Brack's - he is informed that Hedda just killed herself and he says, "But people don't do such things!" That's pretty much what her suicide does. It is the final word.

George Bernard Shaw wrote about Hedda: "Though she has imagination and an intense appetite for beauty, she has no conscience, no conviction: with plenty of cleverness, energy and personal fascination, she remains mean, envious, insolent, cruel in protest against others' happiness, fiendish in her dislike of inartistic people and things; a bully in reaction to her own cowardice."

Hedda is no martyr. She's actually a highly unsympathetic charactrer. But people write apologetic articles about her, how she is misunderstood, how she is a victim of society (and they're right - she was), her character is sentimentalized (because if you actually read the play; that woman is NOT a nice woman), and she also has been trivialized in articles and books where people just assume that Hedda is one of Ibsen's self-portraits. Bah. All of these theories seem to WAY miss the larger point. Don't sentimentalize Hedda. First of all: I think she herself would HATE it. Also: anyone who thinks Hedda is just ONE thing, and not multi-faceted is probably an unimaginative person not worth listening to. Hedda has ALL of those aspects - she is womanly, she is cruel, she is indifferent, she is sensitive ... One size does not fit all when we're talking about humanity.

Henry James said about Ibsen: "His subject is always, the subjects of all first-rate men, primarily an idea."

I love that. Yup.

Okay, so on to Hedda - one of our most enduring female characters that we have in the theatrical tradition.

Here's a scene that sizzles and sparks - between the bored Hedda and the attractive Judge Brack. It's the first scene of Act Two. Hedda has returned from a trip with her husband, Tesman - who was off doing research (he is a fellow in cultural history).

EXCERPT FROM Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen:

(Hedda sits in the corner of the sofa. Brack lays his coat over the back of the nearerst chair and sits down, keeping his hat in his hand. A short pause. They look at each other.)

HEDDA. Well?

BRACK (in the same tone). Well?

HEDDA. I spoke first.

BRACK (bending a little forward). Come, let us have a cosy little chat, Mrs. Hedda.

HEDDA (leaning further back in the sofa). Does it not seem like a whole eternity since our last talk? Of course I don't count those few words yesterday evening and this morning.

BRACK. You mean since our last confidential talk? Our last tete-a- tete?

HEDDA. Well, yes- since you put it so.

BRACK. Not a day has passed but I have wished that you were home again.

HEDDA. And I have done nothing but wish the same thing.

BRACK. You? Really, Mrs. Hedda? And I thought you had been enjoying your tour so much!

HEDDA. Oh, yes, you may be sure of that!

BRACK. But Tesman's letters spoke of nothing but happiness.

HEDDA. Oh, Tesman! You see, he thinks nothing so delightful as grubbing in libraries and making copies of old parchments, or whatever you call them.

BRACK (with a spice of malice). Well, that is his vocation in life- or part of it at any rate.

HEDDA. Yes, of course; and no doubt when it's your vocation- But I! Oh, my dear Mr. Brack, how mortally bored I have been.

BRACK (sympathetically). Do you really say so? In downright earnest?

HEDDA. Yes, you can surely understand it-! To go for six whole months without meeting a soul that knew anything of our circle, or could talk about the things we are interested in.

BRACK. Yes, yes- I too should feel that a deprivation.

HEDDA. And then, what I found most intolerable of all-

BRACK. Well?

HEDDA.- was being everlastingly in the company of- one and the same person-

BRACK (with a nod of assent). Morning, noon, and night, yes- at all possible times and seasons.

HEDDA. I said "everlastingly."

BRACK. Just so. But I should have thought, with our excellent Tesman, one could-

HEDDA. Tesman is- a specialist, my dear Judge.

BRACK. Undeniably.

HEDDA. And specialists are not at all amusing to travel with. Not in the long run at any rate.

BRACK. Not even- the specialist one happens to love?

HEDDA Faugh- don't use that sickening word!

BRACK (taken aback). What do you say, Mrs. Hedda?

HEDDA. (half laughing, half irritated). You should just try it! To hear of nothing but the history of civilisation, morning, noon, and night-

BRACK. Everlastingly.

HEDDA. Yes, yes, yes! And then all this about the domestic industry of the middle ages-! That's the most disgusting part of it!

BRACK (looks searchingly at her). But tell me- in that case, how am I to understand your-? H'm-

HEDDA. My accepting George Tesman, you mean?

BRACK. Well, let us put it so.

HEDDA. Good heavens, do you see anything so wonderful in that?

BRACK. Yes and no- Mrs. Hedda.

HEDDA. I had positively danced myself tired, my dear Judge. My day was done- (With a slight shudder.) Oh no- I won't say that; nor think it either!

BRACK. You have assuredly no reason to.

HEDDA. Oh, reasons- (Watching him closely) And George Tesman- after all, you must admit that he is correctness itself.

BRACK. His correctness and respectability are beyond all question.

HEDDA. And I don't see anything absolutely ridiculous about him.- Do you?

BRACK. Ridiculous? N- no- I shouldn't exactly say so-

HEDDA. Well- and his powers of research, at all events, are untiring.- I see no reason why he should not one day come to the front, after all.

BRACK (looks at her hesitatingly). I thought that you, like every one else, expected him to attain the highest distinction.

HEDDA (with an expression of fatigue). Yes, so I did.- And then, since he was bent, at all hazards, on being allowed to provide for me- I really don't know why I should not have accepted his offer?

BRACK. No- if you look at it in that light-

HEDDA. It was more than my other adorers were prepared to do for me, my dear Judge.

BRACK (laughing). Well, I can't answer for all the rest; but as for myself, you know quite well that I have always entertained a- a certain respect for the marriage tie- for marriage as an institution, Mrs. Hedda.

HEDDA (jestingly). Oh, I assure you I have never cherished any hopes
with respect to you.

BRACK. All I require is a pleasant and intimate interior where I can make myself useful in every way, and am free to come and go as- as a trusted friend-
HEDDA. Of the master of the house, do you mean?

BRACK (bowing). Frankly- of the mistress first of all; but of course of the master, too, in the second place. Such a triangular friendship- if I may call it so- is really a great convenience for all parties, let me tell you.

HEDDA. Yes, I have many a time longed for some one to make a third on our travels. Oh- those railway-carriage tete-a-tetes-!

BRACK. Fortunately your wedding journey is over now.

HEDDA (shaking her head). Not by a long- long way. I have only arrived at a station on the line.

BRACK. Well, then the passengers jump out and move about a little, Mrs. Hedda.

HEDDA. I never jump out.

BRACK. Really?

HEDDA. No- because there is always some one standing by to-

BRACK (laughing). To look at your ankles, do you mean?

HEDDA. Precisely.

BRACK. Well but, dear me-

HEDDA (with a gesture of repulsion). I won't have it. I would rather
keep my seat where I happen to be- and continue the tete-a-tete.

BRACK. But suppose a third person were to jump in and join the couple.

HEDDA. Ah- that is quite another matter!

BRACK. A trusted, sympathetic friend-

HEDDA.- with a fund of conversation on all sorts of lively topics-

BRACK.- and not the least bit of a specialist!

HEDDA (with an audible sigh). Yes, that would be a relief indeed.

BRACK (hears the front door open, and glances in that direction). The triangle is completed.

HEDDA (half aloud). And on goes the train. -

GEORGE TESMAN, in a grey walking-suit, with a soft felt hat, enters from the hall. He has a number of unbound books under his arm and in his pockets. -

TESMAN (goes up to the table beside the corner settee). Ouf- what a load for a warm day- all these books. (Lays them on the table.) I'm positively perspiring, Hedda. Hallo- are you there already, my dear Judge? Eh? Berta didn't tell me.

BRACK (rising). I came in through the garden.

HEDDA. What books have you got there?

TESMAN (stands looking them through). Some new books on my special subjects- quite indispensable to me.

HEDDA. Your special subjects?

BRACK. Yes, books on his special subjects, Mrs. Tesman. (BRACK and
HEDDA exchange a confidential smile

HEDDA. Do you need still more books on your special subjects?

TESMAN. Yes, my dear Hedda, one can never have too many of them. Of course one must keep up with all that is written and published.

HEDDA. Yes, I suppose one must.

TESMAN (searching among his books). And look here- I have got hold of Eilert Lovborg's new book too. (Offering it to her.) Perhaps you would like to glance through it, Hedda? Eh?

HEDDA. No, thank you. Or rather- afterwards perhaps.

TESMAN. I looked into it a little on the way home.

BRACK. Well, what do you think of it- as a specialist?

TESMAN. I think it shows quite remarkable soundness of judgment. He never wrote like that before. (Putting the books together.) Now I shall take all these into my study. I'm longing to cut the leaves- ! And then I must change my clothes. (To BRACK.) I suppose we needn't start just yet? Eh?

BRACK. Oh, dear no- there is not the slightest hurry.

TESMAN. Well then, I will take my time. (Is going with his books, but stops in the doorway and turns.) By-the-bye, Hedda- Aunt Julia is not coming this evening.

HEDDA. Not coming? Is it that affair of the bonnet that keeps her away?

TESMAN. Oh, not at all. How could you think such a thing of Aunt Julia? Just fancy-! The fact is, Aunt Rina is very ill.

HEDDA. She always is.

TESMAN. Yes, but to-day she is much worse than usual, poor dear.

HEDDA. Oh, then it's only natural that her sister should remain with her. I must bear my disappointment.

TESMAN. And you can't imagine, dear, how delighted Aunt Julia seemed to be- because you had come home looking so flourishing!

HEDDA (half aloud, rising). Oh, those everlasting aunts!


HEDDA (going to the glass door). Nothing.

TESMAN. Oh, all right.

(He goes through the inner room, out to the right.)

BRACK. What bonnet were you talking about?

HEDDA. Oh, it was a little episode with Miss Tesman this morning. She had laid down her bonnet on the chair there- (looks at him and smiles.)- And I pretended to think it was the servant's.

BRACK (shaking his head). Now my dear Mrs. Hedda, how could you do
such a thing? To that excellent old lady, too!

HEDDA (nervously crossing the room). Well, you see- these impulses come over me all of a sudden; and I cannot resist them. (Throws herself down in the easy-chair by the stove.) Oh, I don't know how to explain it.

BRACK (behind the easy-chair). You are not really happy- that is at the bottom of it.

HEDDA (looking straight before her). I know of no reason why I should be- happy. Perhaps you can give me one?

BRACK. Well- amongst other things, because you have got exactly the home you had set your heart on.

HEDDA (looks up at him and laughs). Do you too believe in that legend?

BRACK. Is there nothing in it, then?

HEDDA. Oh, yes, there is something in it.

BRACK. Well?

HEDDA. There is this in it, that I made use of Tesman to see me home from evening parties last summer-

BRACK. I, unfortunately, had to go quite a different way.

HEDDA. That's true. I know you were going a different way last summer.

BRACK (laughing). Oh fie, Mrs. Hedda! Well, then- you and Tesman-?

HEDDA. Well, we happened to pass here one evening; Tesman, poor fellow, was writhing in the agony of having to find conversation; so I took pity on the learned man-

BRACK. (smiles doubtfully). You took pity? H'm-

HEDDA. Yes, I really did. And so- to help him out of his torment- I happened to say, in pure thoughtlessness, that I should like to live in this villa.

BRACK. No more than that?

HEDDA. Not that evening.

BRACK. But afterwards?

HEDDA. Yes, my thoughtlessness had consequences, my dear Judge.

BRACK. Unfortunately that too often happens, Mrs. Hedda.

HEDDA. Thanks! So you see it was this enthusiasm for Secretary Falk's villa that first constituted a bond of sympathy between George Tesman and me. From that came our engagement and our marriage, and our wedding journey, and all the rest of it. Well, well, my dear Judge- as you make your bed so you must lie, I could almost say.

BRACK. This is exquisite! And you really cared not a rap about it all the time?

HEDDA. No, heaven knows I didn't.

BRACK. But now? Now that we have made it so homelike for you?

HEDDA. Uh- the rooms all seem to smell of lavender and dried rose-leaves.- But perhaps it's Aunt Julia that has brought that scent with her.

BRACK (laughing). No, I think it must be a legacy from the late Mrs. Secretary Falk.

HEDDA. Yes, there is an odour of mortality about it. It reminds me of a bouquet- the day after the ball. (Clasps her hands behind her head, leans back in her chair and looks at him.) Oh, my dear Judge- you cannot imagine how horribly I shall bore myself here.

BRACK. Why should not you, too, find some sort of vocation in life, Mrs. Hedda?

HEDDA. A vocation- that should attract me?

BRACK. If possible, of course.

HEDDA. Heaven knows what sort of vocation that could be. I often wonder whether- (Breaking off.) But that would never do either.

BRACK. Who can tell? Let me hear what it is.

HEDDA. Whether I might not get Tesman to go into politics, I mean.

BRACK (laughing). Tesman? No, really now, political life is not the thing for him- not at all in his line.

HEDDA. No, I daresay not.- But if I could get him into it all the same?

BRACK. Why- what satisfaction could you find in that? If he is not fitted for that sort of thing, why should you want to drive him into it?

HEDDA. Because I am bored, I tell you! (After a pause.) So you think it quite out of the question that Tesman should ever get into the ministry?

BRACK. H'm- you see, my dear Mrs. Hedda- to get into the ministry, he would have to be a tolerably rich man.

HEDDA (rising impatiently). Yes, there we have it! It is this genteel poverty I have managed to drop into-! (Crosses the room.) That is what makes life so pitiable! So utterly ludicrous!- For that's what it is.

BRACK. Now I should say the fault lay elsewhere.

HEDDA. Where, then?

BRACK. You have never gone through any really stimulating experience.

HEDDA. Anything serious, you mean?

BRACK. Yes, you may call it so. But now you may perhaps have one in store.

HEDDA (tossing her head). Oh, you're thinking of the annoyances about this wretched professorship! But that must be Tesman's own affair. I assure you I shall not waste a thought upon it.

BRACK. No, no, I daresay not. But suppose now that what people call- in elegant language- a solemn responsibility were to come upon you? (Smiling.) A new responsibility, Mrs. Hedda?

HEDDA (angrily). Be quiet! Nothing of that sort will ever happen!

BRACK (warily). We will speak of this again a year hence- at the very outside.

HEDDA (curtly). I have no turn for anything of the sort, Judge Brack. No responsibilities for me!

BRACK. Are you so unlike the generality of women as to have no turn for duties which-?

HEDDA (beside the glass door). Oh, be quiet, I tell you!- I often think there is only one thing in the world I have any turn for.

BRACK (drawing near to her). And what is that, if I may ask?

HEDDA (stands looking out). Boring myself to death. Now you know it. (Turns, looks towards the inner room, and laughs.) Yes, as I thought! Here comes the Professor.

Posted by sheila Permalink

July 18, 2005

Questions for Tom ...

Presented by the aptly named Thetan Lover.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (5)

Speaking of summer reading:

I just came across this fabulous website of 60s erotica - the series of trashy novels known as The Lady from L.U.S.T. - check out these titles and covers!!!

This one, however, has got to be my favorite:


It says: "Eve Drum, world's sexiest spy, comes out on top in close combat to stop the Arab-Israel War. For the lady, it's a labor of love."


I SO have to read 5 Beds to Mecca.

(found this via Cate's Blog)

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (7)

Lou Piniella - Unplugged

Bill Simmons' comments on Lou Piniella make me laugh - It's all just so TRUE.

How has ESPN not given him a reality TV show this year? Kevin Federline can get a show, Bobby Brown can get a show … why not Sweet Lou? Here we have an irrational, overcompetitive hothead stuck in a no-win situation in an apathetic baseball city, basically crying out for help at this point -- as witnessed by the whole, "I'm going to use relievers to start games and starters to finish them" announcement -- and we don't have cameras following this man? What happens if he kills a beat reporter with his bare hands? What happens if Joey Gathright blows a bunt sign and Lou beats him down with a baseball bat in the runway like DeNiro in "The Untouchables"? If anyone needs a 24-hour camera crew, it's Lou...

And third, not since Billy Martin have we seen a manager openly trying to get fired, to the point that he's going to start drinking on the bench like Buttermaker in "Bad News Bears" (1976 version, not the 2005 version which is about three weeks away from hitting "never happened" status), and the Devil Rays won't cut the cord. It's like they're hoping he has a heart attack in the dugout so they don't have to pay him. Just a riveting story. Let's move on because this could have been it's own column.

Also, his random interjection about Mariah Carey is classic:

And speaking of Mariah, is anyone else excited about seeing her back in the limelight? For more than 10 years, she's been my kryptonite -- the one crazy female celebrity that just plain did it for me. Can't explain it. And nothing drives a woman crazier than hearing a guy say, "I think Mariah Carey is hot" -- you might as well just say that women shouldn't have the right to vote. She's the best. I will defend her lunatic sexiness to the death. By the way, do you think she looks at Whitney Houston now the same way Tom Hanks looks at Michael Keaton, like Whitney may have won the first few battles, but Mariah won the war? Me, too.)


Having now experienced Being Bobby Brown and seen how insane Whitney is - I have to agree.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (5)

Observation about the show "Entourage"

The show Entourage continues to suck, in my opinion. All I need to do is watch 5 minutes of it to feel the bad-ness seeping into my apartment. HBO is doing its damndest to promote it - moving it around in the lineup - pumping up interest - commercials galore about it ...

I'm telling you - if I even just HEAR it when it comes on in the other room, I can hear the phoniness in the actors voices.

You can see why HBO thought this show might be a good idea. Ooh, hot young movie star ... his entourage of funny cute guys ... an insider's look at Hollywood ...

Well, it turned out to be a big yawn. Half of the problem is the TERRIBLE cast they have gathered. Yes. That "actor" who wears the backwards baseball cap is abysmal. He needs to get his ass into an elementary stagecraft class. He sucks. He's an amateur and it shows. Kevin Dillon is awful, you can feel how uncomfortable his ... His character is not funny, not likable ... NONE of them are. The only guy who I think has even a SMIDGEON of acting talent on that show is Kevin Connolly. He manages to make the words coming out of his mouth sound like conversation - not just lines. I mean, that's the level of incompetence these young actors have. Blech.

So HBO mis-fired and (in my opinion) under-estimated their audience. It was a rare mis-step for them. They think we're interested in pretty young boys living the high life. Well ... maybe we would be ... if they were interesting characters AND you hired people who could ... you know ... ACT.

Okay, so that being said, here is what I think is wonderful about what has happened wtih Entourage. I was thinking about this this morning.

Jeremy Piven, who plays "the agent", who was a very small part in the first season, has pretty much taken over the show. He has turned that awful show into a MAJOR vehicle for himself - and HBO is now rushing to catch up. Jeremy Piven probably saw the writing on the wall pretty early on: "Okay. This sucks. I have to somehow save myself."

His performance is HIGHLY comedic ... he talks so fast, the jokes come one after the other ... He is a corrupted nasty prick, and you cannot get enough of him!! (There goes the idea from HBO that we would love the pretty young boys - and hate the evil nasty agent ... Nope. The pretty young boys are uninteresting, and we don't care about their lives. When Piven comes on - things start to HAPPEN).

I love it when an actor, or a performer, hijacks a vehicle meant for somebody else - somebody who is less talented. (And sorry - but nobody is less talented than that boy in the baseball cap. Also, the lead guy - the guy who is supposed to be the young Hollywood star - is atrocious. So Piven basically would not allow himself to stay in the background of a bomb ... and he has taken over the show. Completely. It is all about him now. The show should be called "Nasty Agent" as opposed to "Entourage".)

Acting is a collaborative art but in a way - it is NOT a team sport. If you find yourself in a bomb, there are ways to get yourself out of it, and you have to be ruthless. Nope - I am not going down with this ship. Sorry. Jeremy Piven transformed what could have been a terrible experience, something that marked his career forever, into something that is actually making him a star.

I noticed that HBO has re-cut all of their promotional commercials for the show - to now make it look like Jeremy Piven is the star. All the clips and excerpts are HIS. He started on the show as a glorified cameo ... we were supposed to just drool over the exploits of pretty boys cavorting in Hollywood ... and now ... suddenly ... the show is all about the shark-faced awful rude agent ... He is the only one on that show who actually knows how to act.

I love it when that happens. HBO did not engineer this. They mis-fired on this one, and Jeremy Piven surged forth out of the pack - all on his own. You cannot keep true talent down. In this case, the best man really is winning.

HBO is rushing to make it seem like they knew along the comedy gold they had in Piven.

Go, Jeremy!!!

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (16)

The Books: "The Wild Duck" (Henrik Ibsen)

Next in my Daily Book Excerpt:

IbsenPlays.jpgNext play on my script shelf:

Ibsen: The Complete Major Prose Plays. Translated by Rolf Fjelde.

The Wild Duck is next. Ibsen's commentary on the split within the modern man: the things he needs to do to survive - and the more rich life he senses beyond that struggle. (Ibsen, like I said before, is mainly a playwright of the middle-class, and the concerns he writes about are concerns of this relatively new middle-class). Ibsen, in his working notes for this play, wrote: "In becoming civilized, man undergoes the same change as when a child grows up. Instinct weakens, but the powers of logical thought are developed. Adults have lost the ability to play with dolls." Can we retreat to a place where we re-gain our instinct? Can we narrow up the gap wtihin our modern selves? Can we remember what it was actually like to be a child? Can we be integrated? These are the themes of The Wild Duck.

This is a scene between Hjalmar Ekdal (a photographer), and Gregers Werle (son of a wholesale merchant, a wealthy industrialist). The scene takes place in Ekdal's photography studio which is a wilderness of photographic equipment.

EXCERPT FROM The Wild Duck by Henrik Ibsen:

HJALMAR. (in an undertone) I don't think it's so good that you stand there, watching my father. He doesn't like it. (Gregers comes away from the loft doorway.) And it's better, too, that I close up before the others come. (Shooing away the menagerie with his hands) Hush! Hush! Go 'way now! (With this he raises the curtain and draws the double doors together) I invented these contraptions myself. It's really great fun to have such things around to take care of and fix when they get out of whack. And besides, it's absolutely necessary, you know; Gina doesn't go for rabbits and chickens out here in the studio.

GREGERS. Of course not. And I suppose it is your wife who manages here?

HJALMAR. My general rule is to delegate the routine matters to her, and that leaves me free to retire to the living room to think over more important things.

GREGERS. And what sort of things are these, Hjalmar?

HJALMAR. I've been wondering why you haven't asked that before. Or maybe you haven't heard about my iknvention.

GREGERS. Invention? No.

HJALMAR. Oh? Then you haven't? Well, no, up there in that waste and wilderness --

GREGERS. Then you've really invented something!

HJALMAR. Not completely invented it yet, but I'm getting very close. You must realize that when I decided to dedicate my life to photography, it wasn't my idea to spend time taking pictures of a lot of nobodies.

GREGERS. Yes, that's what your wife was just now saying.

HJALMAR. I swore that if I devoted my powers to the craft, I would then exalt it to such heights that it would become both an art and a science. That's when I decided on this amazing invention.

GREGERS. And what does this invention consist of? What's its purpose?

HJALMAR. Yes, Gregers, you mustn't ask for details like that yet. It takes time, you know. And you mustn't think it's vanity that's driving me, either. I'm certainly not working for myself. Oh no, it's my life's mission that stands before me day and night.

GREGERS. What life mission is that?

HJALMAR. Remember the silver-haired old man?

GREGERS. Your poor father. Yes, but actually what can you do for him?

HJALMAR. I can raise his self-respect from the dead -- by restoring the Ekdal name to dignity and honor.

GREGERS. So that's your life's work.

HJALMAR. Yes. I am going to rescue that shipwrecked man. That's just what he suffered -- shipwreck -- when the storm broke over him. When all those harrowing investigations took place, he wasn't himself anymore. That pistol, there -- the one we use to shoot rabbits with -- it's played a part in the tragedy of the Ekdals.

GREGERS. Pistol! Oh!

HJALMAR. When he was sentenced and facing prison, he had that pistol in his hand --

GREGERS. You mean he --!

HJALMAR. Yes. But he didn't dare. He was a coward. That shows how broken and degraded he'd become by then. Can you picture it? He, a soldier, a man who'd shot nine bears and was directly descended from two lieutenant colonels -- I mean, one after the other, of course. Can you picture it, Gregers?

GREGERS. Yes. I can picture it very well.

HJALMAR. Well, I can't. And then that pistol intruded on our family history once again. When he was under lock and key, dressed like a common prisoner -- oh, those were agonizing times for me, as you can imagine. I kept the shades of both my windows drawn. When I looked out, I saw the sun shining the same as ever. I couldn't understand it. I saw the people going along the street, laughing and talking of trivial things. I couldn't understand it. I felt all creation should be standing still, like during an eclipse.

GREGERS. I felt that way when my mother died.

HJALMAR. During one of those times Hjalmar Ekdal put a pistol to his own breast.

GREGERS. You were thinking of --


GREGERS. But you didn't shoot?

HJALMAR. No. In that critical moment, I won a victory over myself. I stayed alive. But you can bet it takes courage to choose life in those circumstances.

GREGERS. Well, that depends on your point of view.

HJALMAR. Oh, absolutely. But it was all for the best, because now I've nearly finished my invention; and then Dr. Relling thinks, just as I do, that they'll let Father wear his uniform again. I want only that one reward.

GREGERS. So it's really the uniform that he ---?

HJALMAR. Yes, that's what he really hungers and craves for. You've no idea how that makes my heart ache. Every time we throw a little family party -- like my birthday, or Gina's or whatever -- then the old man comes in, wearing that uniform from his happier days. But if there's even a knock at the door, he goes scuttering back in his room fafst as the old legs will carry him. You see, he doesn't dare show himself to strangers. What a heartrending spectacle for a son!

GREGERS. Approximately when do you think the invention will be finished?

HJALMAR. Oh good Lord, don't hold me to a timetable. An invention, that's something you can hardly dictate to. It depends a great deal on inspiration, on a sudden insight -- and it's nearly impossible to say in advance when that will occur.

GREGERS. But it is making progress?

HJALMAR. Of course it's making progress. Every single day I think about my invention. I'm brimming with it. Every afternoon, right after lunch, I lock myself in the living room where I can meditate in peace. But it's no use driving me; it simply won't work. Relling says so too.

GREGERS. And you don't think all those contraptions in the loft distract you and scatter your talents?

HJALMAR. No, no, no, on the contrary. You mustn't say that. I can't always go around here, brooding over the same never-racking problems. I need some diversion to fill in the time. You see, inspiration, the moment of insight -- when that comes, nothing can stop it.

GREGERS. My dear Hjalmar, I suspect you've got a bit of the wild duck in you.

HJALMAR. The wild duck? What do you mean?

GREGERS. You've plunged to the bottom and clamped hold of the seaweed.

HJALMAR. I suppose you mean that near-fatal shot that brought down Father -- and me as well?

GREGERS. Not quite that. I wouldn't say you're wounded, but you're wandering in a poisonous swamp, Hjalmar. You've got an insidious disease in your system, and so you've gone to the bottom to die in the dark.

HJALMAR. Me? Die in the dark! You know what, Gregers -- you'll really have to stop that talk.

GREGERS. But never mind. I'm going to raise you up again. You know, I've found my mission in life, too. I found it yesterday.

HJALMAR. Yes, that may well be; but you can just leave me out of it. I can assure you that -- apart from my quite understandable melancholy -- I'm as well off as any man could wish to be.

GREGERS. And your thinking so is part of the sickness.

HJALMAR. Gregers, you're my old friend -- please -- don't talk any more about sickness and poison. I'm not used to that kind of conversation. In my house nobody talks to me about ugly things.

GREGERS. That's not hard to believe.

HJALMAR. Yes, because it isn't good for me. And there's no swamp air here, as you put it. In a poor photographer's house, life is cramped; I know that. My lot is a poor one -- but you know, I'm an inventor. And I'm the family breadwinner, too. Thats what sustains me through all the pettiness. Ah, here they come with the lunch.

Posted by sheila Permalink

July 17, 2005

Celebrity crushes - my history, additional thoughts, general obsessiveness ...

Sheila-style. I've had intense celebrity crushes all my life. It's fun, it's an escape. Other women read romance novels. I throw myself into sweeping crushes with movie stars. I'm vaguely embarrassed by this tendency. But I do it anyway.

Off the type of my head, the progression of crushes through my life has been this:

-- Han Solo was the first big ol' crush I had. This came about after seeing Empire Strikes Back. Kissing Leia in the asteroid belt. I was 11 or 12 years old when I saw that. I thought it was the most romantic amazing thing I had ever seen. I joined his fan club. I went crazy.

-- Ralph Macchio. This came about because of his stint on Eight is Enough - where he played the ninth child ... because obviously, after a bunch of seasons, eight kids were NOT enough to keep the ratings up. I just fell in love with that skinny dark-haired big-eyed kid. God. I wrote him fan letters. I lost my shit.

-- this cute actor who was in a TV movie back in the early 80s starring Bette Davis - I think it was called Wings? No idea. No memory of any of it except for him. It was about a paraplegic girl who becomes a pilot, and this hottie hottie hottie played the guy in the high school who starts to date her, and the second I saw him, I felt a hormone surge like no other. It ushered me into adolescence.

-- Sting. Not his self-conscious ikky kama sutra solo shite. But when he was in The Police, with the blonde bowl cut, and he was serious, intense, and HOT.

-- John Stamos as Blackie Parrish in General Hospital

-- James Dean. It took me weeks to recover after I saw East of Eden one night when I was babysitting.

-- Chevy Chase. I think seeing Foul Play was the one that brought this one on.

-- Bill Murray from his time on SNL. His scenes with Gilda Radner were so delicious - I wish I had them all on tape. Bill Murray, at that time in his life, was (and is) pretty much my quintessential type. Big, crazy, pale-faced, funny rubbery face. Blurpy. I lerved him. I'm also a sucker for a purposefully funny man.

-- John Taylor from Duran Duran. This was a pretty mild one.

-- Mickey Rourke, pre-surgery. Angel Heart was the catalyst. Suddenly I had to see every movie he ever made. I was in college. His performance in Diner remains a classic, in my mind. It's got everything: he's tough, sexy, wounded, suddenly tender ... I mean, he was MADE to be all crushed over at that time.

-- Matthew Broderick. War feckin' Games. FUGGEDABOUTIT. I saw that movie when I was in high school and my heart just ached in my chest. Ouch!!!

Interjection: I am not fickle, although it may seem like it. I am very loyal to ALL of these people, to this day.

-- Jeff Bridges. This one was particularly intense. I had always liked him ... and Fearless is one of my favorite movies ever made. But it was years after Fearless came out, that I randomly rented The Fisher King one night ... and felt it start to happen. The crush. Holy crap. The Fisher King made a particularly deep and intense impression on me. I'm not kidding: I lay in bed, thinking about Jeff Bridges. I was then in my late 20s ... just so you get the perspective that I am not a moony-eyed teenager. It took a whole summer for that crush to burn itself out.

-- But then along came Russell Crowe in LA Confidential and that one made the Jeff Bridges thing seem like a schoolgirl crush. I'd never seen anybody so hot, so intense ... so perfect. That performance was sheer GOLD in terms of star power and sex appeal. Then began the work part of the crush, which I had, by now, honed down to a science. I rented every movie he had ever made. Most of them, by that point, were New Zealand films. Romper Stomper just blew me away and made me realize that we were looking at a major talent here. But it was The Sum of Us - a SWEET SWEET little NZ movie that clinched the deal for me - and made me a Russell Crowe fan forever. I LOVE that movie. Crowe plays a sweet shy insecure gay kid living with his father. It's just a gem of a film and Crowe is great in it. Then also there was Proof - quite a success for a small independent film from New Zealand. He's amazing in it - simple, with a kind of wordless animal charm. I lost my mind over Russell Crowe.

-- I thought the Russell Crowe thing might be the be-all end-all of celebrity crushes. But that was until I saw Moulin Rouge. Now - I saw Trainspotting when it first came out, and obviously McGregor made an impression. He's great in that film. I love that movie. But no crush developed. It was the mixture of Ewan McGregor and the role he played in Moulin Rouge that tipped me over the edge. I saw it at one of the lowest points in my life, and I latched onto this film as a kind of savior. I watched it every day. My roommate and dear friend was very patient with me. She did not judge. I had to see that movie every day. It (and McGregor) gave me so much pleasure and solace. That movie still remains a favorite - flaws and all. It has a special place in my heart because of the hope it gave me at that time. I'll write more on that in a bit.

-- Then along came Humphrey Bogart. By that point, I had my blog here ... which brought about a huge change in my celebrity crush habit. Because now I got to write about it - and not just in my journal (which always made me feel slightly pathetic. I'm a grown woman ... writing about Ewan McGregor in my journal? Ew.) I could get it OUT. One weekend I watched African Queen and Maltese Falcon and that was IT. I ended up writing 42 entries under the category title Bogart. I saw as much as I could get my itchy little fingers on. I ordered stuff off the Internet. People taped stuff for me off the television and sent them to me. I so enjoyed writing about him, thinking about him, reading about him. I read all the biographies, authorized and unauthorized ... I treat my celebrity crushes like a second job. "Okay. It's Bogart now. I know what I have to do. Get crackin', Sheil-babe!"

-- Then I moved to Cary Grant. It was quite deliberate. I had seen so many Bogart movies, that I got hooked on the pre-1950s films ... and thought: Okay, should see what Grant is about. I had seen Bringing Up Baby and Affair to Remember ... maybe parts of North by Northwest ... but then one weekend I watched, back to back, Holiday and Notorious. Notorious was the one. Notorious was the one. I couldn't get past it. To some degree, I still can't. I saw everything Cary Grant did. I saw Houseboat, for God's sake. I saw Touch of Mink. I can't STAND IT. The guy is literally the. best. there. is. No contest. At least not for me. Here's where I get crazy: I feel like all the other celebrity crushes were just lead-ups to this one. I was honing my craft with the rest of them ... I was figuring out my own process ... so that when I came across Grant, I was good to go. Ready to do what I needed to do. Cary Grant has generated 50 posts out of me. So far. I'm still not done with Grant, and it's been over a year since I "discovered" him.

Cary Grant was my last big celeb crush. My dear friend David said to me at one point (all of my friends know about this tendency of mine, and ask me about it: "So ... who is it this month?"): "Wow. This one isn't stopping, isn't it?" I sat and RAVED about Notorious to any bored sucker who would listen. I still will. Cary Grant is one of my favorite topics (along with Central Asia, and the downfall of Communism.)

I'm talking about this because I have an idea for a project - and I wanted to get my thoughts organized.

I wrote a long piece a while back, when the Humphrey Bogart thing was heating up, about how I saw these periodic flaming crushes as healthy and why ... so I thought I'd post it again. I had forgotten half of what I had written - interesting to go back and see what I said about all of it.

Click below to read it:

I am getting obsessed with Humphrey Bogart. The love is gone, folks. The obsession blossoms. I can feel it growing. Like some beautiful poisonous plant, expanding exponentially.

This is a very familiar sensation to me, as I have had INTENSE celebrity crushes since the first achey twinges of puberty.

And maybe because I have a little bit of a complex about being "too much" for whatever guy I've been involved with (and I'm not delusional, by the way - More than one man has said to me, point-blank, "You're a bit much" ... One actually said to me, in kind of a dry tone, "I guess I feel that dating you is too much for one man, and I feel like I need to call in some help". My point is is that my complex does not exist in a vacuum) ... maybe because of all of that, my celebrity crushes get ALL of my passion. I will never be "too much" for them!

Maybe this should be an embarrassing admission, but it's not. At least I don't feel embarrassed.

Let me go to a deeper level for a moment:

Like most of us, I have gone through some rough seasons. One such rough season was a couple of years ago, directly prior to starting up my blog in 2002. This "season" was different from others I have experienced, because it showed no sign of ending. A grey blanket lay over the world.

Now, multiple things went into me climbing out of the black pit ... one was starting the blog, randomly. I talk about that a bit here.

But another thing was seeing "Moulin Rouge" and succumbing, whole-heartedly, to a "crush" on Ewan McGregor which - it's hard to describe without feeling silly. Maybe people think because I wear leather jackets and have a tattoo that I'm a tough chick, and on many levels I am. You must not mess with me. I do not give too many second chances. But on another level I am really just a mess, and the tough facade is necessary because I'm all shattered-up inside. Like that great Bonnie Raitt line: "She's fragile like a string of pearls. She's nobody's girl." There's nobody tougher than someone who's been messed about, and who has survived a couple of dark seasons.

Okay, so I'm going to stop being embarrassed at what I want to write. Because who knows - maybe somebody out there will relate, maybe somebody out there will read what I write and think: "Wow, I know just what she means!!" - and that's who I'm writing for right now.

In 2002 I lay on my couch for 5 months. That was it. That was all I could do. The reasons why are multi-faceted, one thing folding into another, and I can't really explain it without talking for 2 hours. It wasn't that I was depressed. It was that I felt nothing. Everything went dead and dull and grey. The spinning top of life slowed down to a complete standstill.

I don't remember much of that year.

Then I saw "Moulin Rouge" and it was as though I had been plunged from the sunlight into ice cold water. It was like being born again. That is how intense it was. I watched the film and here, exactly, is how I felt (and it won't be all that articulate, but I'm sure you will get my meaning, coming, as I was, from my dark season of nothingness):

oh my God ... love exists ... love exists ... I can feel it in my heart again ... it is real ... it is real ... maybe not for me ... but it is out there ... and maybe ... maybe ... I will feel that again ... maybe ... it's not IMPOSSIBLE ... it's not IMPOSSIBLE ...

(The second you stop believing things are "impossible" is the second that the dark season ends.)

I will always have a soft space in my heart for that film because of what it provided me. It helped bring me back to life.

Ewan McGregor was the vehicle of that awakening.

I think sometimes that there are certain performances which shift the tectonic plates a little bit, and make me get my eyes up above the muck of my own life. This is one of the beautiful and healing things about theatre/art/movies, what-ever.

I can track certain eras of my life based on whichever "crush" I had going at that time.

"Crush" is appropriate, only if you think of it in terms of what the word 'crush' actually MEANS. Being "crushed" is no picnic - it would hurt to be crushed, in actuality. My teenage celeb crushes (Ralph Macchio, James Dean...) were barely fun. I could barely talk about these people. There was nothing casual about any of it. I NEEDED these people. I NEEDED to know that there was good in the world, and that maybe some of that good would come my way some day. To me, these young actors embodied that. James Dean's performance in "East of Eden" - I can't be too dramatic about this - it changed how I looked at life. It changed how I looked at acting, yes - but more than that: I got my eyes above the emotional-paucity of high school, of feeling alone, of feeling ugly, of feeling on the outside of things, of wanting desperately for love and approval and acceptance ... and I felt: There. THERE. There is a PERFECT expression of EXACTLY what I am going through. He has DONE it. He has SAID it. What a comfort!

Certain books can do this as well. It can usher you through a rough patch, it can let you know: "It's okay, this is well-traveled ground..." Not in a heartless, "Buck up, kid, life sucks, and it sucks for everyone" way. But in a way that lets you know you are not alone. You have not invented heartbreak.

And this, too, shall pass.

With James Dean - with Ralph Macchio - with Han Solo (not Harrison Ford, really, but Han Solo) - there was no more scarcity. There was only abundance. I already had a complex in high school that I would be "too much" - and the sterility of my high-school romantic life seemed proof of that. So whenever I had a crush on a "real" guy, 90% of my energy went to keeping myself in line, with holding back, with not letting him know how much I REALLY felt, for fear of scaring him off ... whatever.

Putting the reins on my own behavior - had the inverse effect of putting the reins on what was going on inside. I was always "in line".

There is no abundance. If I lose control, I do so very very privately.

This is kind of who I am, I guess - and how I've lived my life. I've lost men I love because of this nonsense.

Over the years, like the tide going in or going out, I succumb to random "crushes" on actors. (As will be obvious by now: one of the things I love about these crushes, is I can let myself go without any repercussions.) Usually the crush comes upon me suddenly, catching me unawares. Like: I randomly rented "Fisher King" one night some years back, and suddenly - as though I were riding a wave into shore - I became overWHELMED by Jeff Bridges. OVERWHELMED, and suddenly I needed to see every damn movie the man had ever made in his life.

Usually, with these actors, I have already seen a lot of their films ... but ... for whatever reason ... I was never "struck" by them. Obsession did not bloom.

And suddenly, whaddya know, there I am renting films where Jeff Bridges has 2 lines.

It's like an assignment. I take it seriously.

"Okay. So I'm into Jeff Bridges now. Fine. It is a fact. I must accept it, and not fight it. And now I must set myself a syllabus, in order to handle and focus this out-of-control obsessive energy - give it a POINT."

And then I'm off to the races.

One couple of months it was Russell Crowe. I guess I'm the same as 85% of the other women on this planet ... but there I was, renting the kids movie he made in New Zealand about the silver horse ... and The Quick and the Dead ... all because ... dammit ... seeing the man provided me with something.

Seeing him in "The Sum of Us" (one of my favorite films that he did - before he became a star) got me through many a dark hour. His character in that film - I related to it so much, even though he plays a jocky gay kid from New Zealand, and I (to put it mildly) was none of those things. He's tender, inside - he's kind of shy - he's looking for something - he's got no self-confidence ... It's a beautiful performance. One night I watched "The Sum of Us" back to back with "LA Confidential" and that convinced me: "Okay. This guy is a GIANT talent. GIANT. I have absolutely NO idea who he is now."

Ewan McGregor's almost operatic performance in Moulin Rouge convinced me that life would, indeed, go on ... and not only would I actually "feel" stuff again ... but that I would actually experience things in bright vibrant colors again. The color scheme of the movie.

The movie validated my despair. It said to me, "Life is tremendously unfair sometimes, and love rarely feels good, and you will be changed FOREVER by loving someone fully ..."

The dark season came about because, basically, I no longer felt that I had the energy for such things. I could not put myself through it, ever again. And so the spinning top slowed down - and then stopped.

There is one song in the film - one moment - when the two of them are at a rehearsal - and they are singing a duet, trying to pretend that they're not in love, trying to hide what is going on, but they cannot ...

Now I've seen this movie hundreds of times, obviously - because the second I saw it, during the "dark season" I realized: "Health. This is health. What I feel now is healthy - because I FEEL it" - and so I just kept watching it. And I kept getting better, miraculously.

Ewan McGregor's face - during the scene I describe above - I mean, I've always thought he was a wonderful actor - inventive, funny, courageous, sexy ... but in that scene, all I saw was his openness. This ... vulnerability. But not in a wussy way. Just the openness in his heart. I think the openness in his heart shows so clearly in that scene because the character's main action is to try to HIDE it.

I watched that scene over and over and over, sometimes sitting on the floor in front of the television, basically trying to crawl into the screen - because the elixir of life was in there.

Can I be that open again?

Will I ever feel anything that strongly again?

Can I be that open again?

I did not know the answers to those questions ... but watching the movie gave me the hope that the answer might be "Yes" and so I kept watching it.

When the dark season finally ended ... around November of 2002 ... I looked back on the Moulin Rouge orgy as though it were a particularly psychedelic dream. It didn't seem quite real - almost immediately following. And I don't think I've done a very good job in describing how bewitched I was by that film, and by Ewan McGregor in particular. Calling something like that a "celebrity crush" seems completely ... inadequate.

It was life-affirming. That was what it was.

It told me I was going to be okay. I was going to be okay.

And it's all in a continuum for me ... that was how I felt watching East of Eden, too. That was how I felt watching Han Solo, being snarky and smart-alecky, shooting across the universe. These weren't just crushes like: "oooh, they're cute, I put their pictures on my wall".

They helped me to go on. They helped me to see out of whatever muck I felt mymself to be in.

And so now Bogart.

I just know that, throughout my life, when one of these obsessions sweep me away - it's always for a reason. A reason I usually won't understand until it's all over. "Oh, so that's what was going on then!"

The Moulin Rouge thing got me ready to join the land of the living again.

I couldn't just pick myself up by my boot straps - because, frankly, I have no boot straps and I don't even know what boot straps are.

I was immobile. I felt like my back had been broken, finally, by one too many disappointments. I gave up.

Moulin Rouge eased me back into life. That was its purpose, it was a harbinger. A harbinger of health, love, and living a messy open life again. It prepared me, again, to get the top spinning, to get off the couch, to (in the immortal words of that great Smiths song, written "for" me): Sheila take a Sheila take a bow ... Throw your homework onto the fire ... Come out and find the one that you love...

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes a celebrity crush is just a celebrity crush.

But sometimes it's a signal (for me, anyway) that something else may, actually, be going on, something else needs to happen, perhaps it is time to move to the next level. Perhaps it is time to open up the heart again, to passion, to other human beings, to surprise, to healing. Perhaps it's time to let go of the pattern that I feel defines me, and see what else might be possible.

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Mammatus? Huh?

Never heard of mammatus clouds. I've never seen anything like them in my life. Gorgeous! Scary!

Here's the explanation of what they are and why they take that form.

(via Norm)

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (2)

Touching base with the search terms

Every now and then I check in with the Search terms on my own blog ... you know, the stuff people who read me are looking for. A lot of them are specific movies and actors ... which makes sense. People know I write about movies - so they want to know what I said about, say, Life of Brian or whatever. Same with books. People want to know my thoughts on:

John Irving
Lewis Carroll

One person was DESPERATELY looking for ANYTHING I might have written about Jonathan Swift. There were 10 variations on that theme in a row:

Dr. Swift
Lilliputians Swift
Jonathan Swift
J. Swift

Etc. I actually don't think I've written anything about Swift (which I really should) ... and seeing the contortions this poor person put themselves through to find a result made me feel bad, and like I should write a Swiftian essay pronto.

As a matter of fact, this thing I wrote on David O'Hara came from checking in with my search terms, and someone seemed to be DYING to know my thoughts on him. Thankfully, I love David O'Hara, so I blasted it out, to please the masses. Or at least the one poor soul who couldn't BELIEVE I hadn't written anything on him yet!

But other search terms ... I honestly don't know what to say.

Why ... WHY ... would someone put into the Search box in quick succession the four following words:


Uhm ... you are overwhelmingly curious about my urination experiences? WTF?? Do the words YOU ARE A FREAK resonate with you at all?

Some inquiring mind put into the Search box these terms:

had sex
when had sex

Uhm ... wow. There are certain things I choose not to write about, but that doesn't stop people from trying, desperately, to get the goods.

This one freaked me out:

sheila raped?

Okay. Freak. Don't ever come back to my site, mkay? Thanks.

One person appeared to be confused about my sexuality, and put in the Search box:

lesbian experiences
I'm a lesbian

See how they got more and more specific with the Search terms, trying to narrow it down? Ya gotta give the person credit for trying.

I guess this is what comes from writing a semi-journalistic blog. If you DON'T share certain things, then people wonder: WHY THE HELL NOT????

And to whoever was dying to know about my bladder, I have this to say:

Yes. I have a bladder. Occasionally I pee. It's really nothing special. I don't reinvent the wheel with my urination technique. It's no big deal. Hope that clears up your confusion.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (14)

Things learned at karaoke last night

-- I had no idea that I knew all the words to "Love lifts up where we belong." Not only do I know the words, but I know the harmony lines.

-- I had no idea that Kelly Clarkson's songs are so awesome. Go, Siobhan!! Listening to Siobhan and Becca kick some serious butt with that one Kelly Clarkson song (Miss Indifference? Miss Self-Sustaining Empowerment? Miss I Rule the Universe? What was the name of it) made me a Kelly Clarkson fan. I say that with pride.

-- I had forgotten how much I love Jesus Christ Superstar, and I realized, yet again, what an intense bonding experience can be had with people when you realize that you are all musical theatre geeks. To hear a bunch of 20 and 30 somethings sing "Heaven on their minds" at the tops of their lungs was a joy indeed. "JESUS. You've started to believe ... the things they say of you ... You really do believe ... this talk of God is TRUUUUUUUUUUUEEEE ..."

-- I learned that Eminem has phenomenal breath control during my version of "Lose Yourself". Holy crap. I nearly passed out from lack of oxygen to the brain.

-- I literally had no idea what the words to "Africa" by Toto were. Did you know that there's something about a "leopardess" on the "Serengheti"? Who knew??

It was a great birthday bash for my dear sister, Siobhan. Just what Siobhan wanted, I think. And everyone had a blast: Siobhan's friends from grade school, high school, college, her present-day life ... all doing karaoke in this small sound-proof room at this joint on Avenue A. What a blast.

And today, Siobhan and a friend are driving up to Fenway Park to see the Sox. Could it get any better??

Weird thing: one of Siobhan's really good friends is a kid I used to babysit. And there he was. I did "Love lifts up where we belong" with him as a duet (and he did a kick-ass Joe Cocker - everyone was howling). But how funny. To be doing a raging karaoke duet with a kid I BABYSAT FOR.

I am old, Father William!!

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (11)


A fantastic in-depth article about Roald Dahl in The New Yorker. You won't want to miss this one, if you're a fan of his books. What IS it about Dahl's work that is so enduring? And why is it so often that the kids get the joke, while the parents are unamused? Dahl's books are creepy, hostile, and filled with cruel adults. Not just mean adults - but CRUEL. Think about how the aunts treat James in James and the Giant Peach. Dahl's children heroes and heroines live in a Dickensian universe ... Adults are uniformly awful in Dahl's books - except for Willy Wonka, who, if you think about it, is really a person suffering from arrested development. A haunted tormented recluse, who makes his living by creating CANDY - the overriding passion of most children. And even Wonka is not really what you would call a sympathetic character. He's bossy, he's unpredictable, and he does not suffer fools gladly. He thinks the little brats in the entourage get what they deserve - even if they blow up like a blueberry or are transformed into a 2-inch tall version of themselves. That's what you get for being a big fat spoiled brat - haha!! (evil cackle). Dahl creates a callous universe filled with moments of transcendence - and the transcendence always comes from the actions of a particularly special CHILD. There is no adult to rescue anyone in Dahl's world. Children are the key.

From the article:

And yet the essence of Dahl is his willingness to let children triumph over adults. He is a modern writer of fairy tales, who intuitively understands the sort of argument that Bruno Bettelheim made in his 1976 book, 'The Uses of Enchantment: " Children need the dark materials of fairy tales because they need to make sense-in a symbolic, displaced way-of their own feelings of anger, resentment, and powerlessness. Children also benefit from learning about violence and brutishness in fairy tales, Bettelheim writes, for it counters the "widespread refusal to let children know that the source of much that goes wrong in our life is due to our natures" the propensity of all men for acting aggressively, asocially, selfishly." Many fairy tales- and most of Dahl's work-are complex narratives of wish fulfillment. They teach the reader, Bettelheim writes, that "a struggle against severe difficulties in life is unavoidable, is an intrinsic part of human existence" but if one does not shy away, but steadfastly meets unexpected and often unjust hardships, one masters all obstacles and at the end emerges victorious." Or, in any case, this is a hopeful fantasy which sustains us all.

Dahl was not a nice man - (or, so it seems - what do I know - I never met the man). He treated Patricia Neal horrendously and his children have come out and spoken about his disfunctional personality. However: that is neither here nor there, at least not in my mind. He dealt with a lot of personal tragedy. And he holed himself up in this small writing hut he built, and poured out these fantasies and wish fulfillments onto paper. Very interesting individual.

Anyway: MARVELOUS article.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (7)

The Books: "Enemy of the People" (Henrik Ibsen)

Next in my Daily Book Excerpt:

IbsenPlays.jpgNext play on my script shelf:

Ibsen: The Complete Major Prose Plays. Translated by Rolf Fjelde.

Ibsen was, above all else, a social critic. His plays were about problems in the society at large: the status of wives, business concerns vs. individual concerns ... His plays were always very controversial, because of what he had to say, the spotlight he shone on certain injustices. Doll House (excerpt here) was greeted by a complete uproar, because Nora leaves her children at the end. There was no happy ending. Nora chose to become a pariah in society (and make no bones about it: that will be Nora's future. There is no happy ending for Nora - and that was Ibsen's point. Marriage enslaved women. While marriage gave women financial stability, and social status - on a deeper level, Ibsen saw the truth. Without women having control of their own money, they could not manuever in society. And so marriage became about a jailer and a prisoner, someone who had all the control of the money - and someone with no power. The power structures were completely off - and one of his criticisms of the institution of marriage at the time - was that such an imbalance of power made true intimacy between man and woman impossible. And THAT was, for him, the true tragedy. Men were enslaved by this institution as well. But it was women who paid the true price. Without the structure of marriage, women would fall into disrepute. Nora chose THAT over marriage. That's quite an indictment - and people did not want to hear it!!) For anyone who thinks art is just entertainment (or should be just entertainment), you should read your Ibsen.

The great thing about Ibsen, too, is that - while his plays are always about big social issues - what really sticks in the mind is the CHARACTERS. The characters are not just ciphers for him to get his point across. Nora and Torvald in Doll House are three-dimensional people, real people, you feel like they have lives outside of the play. They are not just cut-out stick-figures that Ibsen maneuvers around to make his criticisms clear. That's why Ibsen is a genius. Or one of the many reasons.

Enemy of the People is basically, at its heart, about the individual versus the status quo of society. In this play, the spa/mineral baths represent the status quo of this particular town. The mineral baths are the primary reason for the prosperity of the people ... It's also a metaphor for health and well-being (spas being a place people come to to heal and rejuvenate). But then pollution is discovered in the water, and the establishment refuses to listen to any of the experts who say the spa must be shut down - because obviously that would mean a loss of profits. (It's like Erin Brockovitch of the 19th century). The mayor of the town runs the spa (Mayor Stockmann) and he represents unyielding orthodoxy, and intimidation. Mayor Stockmann's brother, Thomas, is the primary doctor who works at the spa - and he becomes the Mayor's main adversary. Thomas will not go along with the status quo, if he doesn't think it's right - he doubts, he's skeptical of the "experts", he has to find out for himself the truth. At first he is surrounded by other like-minded skeptics, but by the end of the play - they have all abandoned Thomas, leaving him standing alone. Thomas Stockmann claims (and this is his most controversial point) that the minority is always right - the minority is usually made up of those who are on the frontier, looking forward, asking questions, challenging the status quo ... The minority are pioneers. The majority are fearful, static, and rigid, and they WILL be defeated - although they cannot see it.

Thomas Stockmann is a great great part for a man. Apparently, Konstantin Stanislavsky (the great Russian director, actor, and eventual acting teacher and theorist - he is the godfather of the American "method" acting) played Stockmann and always said it was one of his favorite roles. He said that Stockmann helped lead him to become more intuitive about the essence of the art of acting (which nobody had ever studied before in an in-depth way before Stanislavsky). He wrote extensively about Stockmann, and how important it was for an actor to build a credible character from within. How does one CREATE another human being?? Stanislavsky wrote about his experience playing Stockmann: "From the intuition of feelings I passed naturally to the inner image with all its peculiarities and details: the short-sighted eyes that spoke so eloquently of his inner blindness to human faults, the childlike and youthful manner of movement, the friendly relations with his children and family, the happiness, the joking and play, the gregariousness and attractiveness which forced all who came in touch with him to become purer and better, and to show the best sides of their nature in his presence. From the intuition of feelings I went to the outer image, and the soul and body of Stockmann-Stanislavsky became one organically."

Fascinating. How to merge your own self (because after all, you are the one playing the character and no one else) with the character. Treat the character with respect. Do not assume that it is easy to step in someone else's shoes. It takes work. Okay, so he's short-sighted - what does that mean? How does he perceive other people without his vision? How does he deal with his glasses? All of these little details, explored in your imagination, and experimented with during rehearsal, will add up to a 3-dimensional character.

Stanislavsky loved Stockmann because Stockmann, above all else, stands for truth. Stockmann is one of those unfortunate people who is right about something too soon. History is usually very unkind to those who are right too soon. Who see the truth of something, before it is time, historically, for that truth to be acknowledged. (Interesting: Ibsen was sort of the same way. People were not open to his message about marriage, and women's rights ... and so there was an uproar when Doll House came out. He was right ... too soon.)

I must excerpt a bit from the tour de force of Act Four, where Stockmann really shows his stuff. Act Four is where an assembly of townspeople from all levels of society gather to discuss the pollution, and Stockmann steps forward to speak up for the truth. It's the scene where the powers that be declare that Stockmann is an 'enemy of the people' - because his views are unpopular, and also seen as dangerous. He threatens the status quo so much - if they listen to him, their town will lose its main source of income. But Stockmann also makes a deeper point (and this is why Ibsen was such a rabble-rouser): Stockmann declares that not only is the spa polluted - but all of society is polluted. He goes for the larger metaphor. Again: he is right, too soon.

I can see why James Joyce loved Ibsen so much. Joyce thought Ireland (as much as he loved it) was a sick society, and nobody wanted to hear it - the people of Ireland did not want to look in the mirror that Joyce held up to them. Ibsen gave him courage to keep going, to keep speaking his truth.

It's a rousing scene - one that any talented actor should feel privileged to get to play.

EXCERPT FROM Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen.

AKLAKSEN (ringing the bell) Dr. Stockmann has the floor!

DR. STOCKMANN. If it had been only a few days ago that anyone had tried to gag me like this tonight -- I'd have fought for my sacred human rights like a lion! But it doesn't matter to me now. Because now I have greater things to discuss.

(The crowd presses in closer around him; Morten Kiil becomes visible among them)

DR. STOCKMANN. I've been th inking a lot these past few days -- pondering so many things that finally my thoughts began running wild --

MAYOR STOCKMAN (coughs) Hm --!

DR. STOCKMANN. But then I got everything in place again, and I saw the whole structure so distinctly. It's why I'm here this evening. I have great disclosures to make, my friends! I'm going to unveil a discovery to you of vastly different dimension than this trifle that our water system is polluted and that our health spa is built on a muckheap.

MANY VOICES. (shouting) Don't talk of the baths! We won't listen! Enough of that!

DR. STOCKMANN. I've said I'd talk about the great discovery I've made these last few days: the discovery that all the sources of our spiritual life are polluted, and that our entire community rests on a muckheap of lies.

STARTLED VOICES. (in undertones) What's he saying?

MAYOR STOCKMANN. Of all the insinuations --

ASLAKSEN (his hand on the bell) The speaker is urged to be moderate.

DR. STOCKMANN. I've loved my birthplace as much as any man can. I was barely grown when I left here; and distance and deprivation and memory threw a kind of enchantment over the town, and the people too. (scattered applause and cheers) For many years, then, I practiced in the far north, at the dead end of nowhere. When I came in contact with some of the people who lived scattered in that waste of rocks, I many times thought it would have done those poor starved creatures more good if they'd gotten a veterinary instead of someone like me.

(Murmuring among the crowd)

BILLING (setting down his pen) Ye gods, why I never heard such --!

HOVSTAD. That's an insult to the common man!

DR. STOCKMANN. Just a minute -- ! I don't t hink anyone could ever say that I'd forgotten my home town up there. I brooded on my egg like an eider duck; and what I hatched -- was the plan for the baths. (Applause and objections) And finally, at long last, when fate relented and allowed me to come back home -- my friends, then it seemed as though I had nothing left to wish for in this world. No, I did have one wish: a fierce, insistent, burning desire to contribute to the best of my town and my people.

MAYOR STOCKMANN. (gazing into space) It's a funny way to -- hm.

DR. STOCKMANN. And so I went around, exulting in my blind happiness. But yesterday morning -- no, actually it was the night before last -- the eyes of my spirit were opened wide, and the first thing I saw was the consummate stupidity of the authorites --

(Confusion, outcries, and laughter. Mrs. Stockmann coughs vigorously)


ASLAKSEN (ringing his bell) By the powers vested in me --!

DR. STOCKMANN. It's petty to get hung up on a word, Mr. Aslaksen. I only mean that it came to me then what a consummate mess our local leaders had made out of the baths. Our leaders are one group that, for the life of me, I can't stand. I've had enough of that breed in my days. They're like a pack of goats in a stand of new trees -- they strip off everything. They get in a free man's way wherever he turns -- and I really don't see why we shouldn't exterminate them like any other predator --

(Tumult in the room)

MAYOR STOCKMANN. Mr. Chairman, can you let such a statement pass?

ASLAKSEN (his hand on the bell) Doctor --!

DR. STOCKMANN. I can't imagine why I've only now taken a really sharp look at these gentlemen, because right before my eyes almost daily I've had a superb example -- my brother Peter -- slow of wit and thick of head --

(Laughter, commotion, and whistles. Mrs. Stockmann coughs repeatedly. Aslaksen vehemently rings his bell)

THE DRUNK (who has gotten in again) Are you referring to me? Yes, my name's Pettersen all right -- but I'll fry in hell, before --

ANGRY VOICES. Out with that drunk! Throw him out!

(Again the drunk is ejected)

MAYOR STOCKMANN. Who was that person?

A BYSTANDER. I don't know him, Your Honor.

ANOTHER. He's not from this town.

A THIRD. It must be that lumber dealer from over in -- (the rest is inaudible)

ASLAKSEN. The man was obviously muddled on Munich beere. Go on, Dr. Stockmann, but try to be more temperate.

DR. STOCKMANN. So then, my friends and neighbors, I'll say nothing further about our leading citizens. If, from what I've just said, anyone imagines that I'm out to get those gentlemen here this evening, then he's wrong -- most emphatically wrong. Because I nourish a benign hope that all those mossbacks, those relics of a dying world of thought, are splendidly engaged in digging their own graves -- they don't need a doctor's aid to speed them off the scene. And besides, they're not the overwhelming menace to society; they're not the ones most active in poisoning our spiritual life and polluting the very ground we stand on; they're not the most insidious enemies of truth and freedom in our society.

SHOUTS FROM ALL SIDES. Who, then! Who are they? Name them!

DR. STOCKMANN. Yes, you can bet I'll name them! Because that's exactly my great discovery yesterday. (raises his voice) The most insidious enemy of truth and freedom among us is the solid majority. Yes, the damned, solid, liberal majority -- that's it! Now you know.

(Wild turmoil in the room. Almost all those present are shouting, stamping, and whistling. Several elderly gentlemen exchange sly glances and appear to be amused. Eilif and Morten move threateningly twoard the schoolboys who are making a disturbance. Aslaksen rings his bell and calls for order. Both Hovstad and Billing are talking, without being heard. Finally quiet is restored.)

ASLAKSEN. As chairman, I urge the speaker to withdraw his irresponsible comments.

DR. STOCKMANN. Not a chance, Mr. Aslaksen. It's that same majority in our community that's stripping away my freedom and trying to keep me from speaking the truth.

HOVSTAD. The majority is always right.

BILLING. And it acts for truth. Ye gods!

DR. STOCKMANN. The majority is never right. I say, never! That's one of those social lies that any free man who thinks for himself has to rebel against. Who makes up the majority in any country -- the intelligent or the stupid? I think we've got to agree that, all over this whole wide earth, the stupid are in a fearsomely overpowering majority. But I'll be damned to perdition if it's part of the eternal plan that the stupid are meant to rule the intelligent! (Commotion and outcries) Oh yes, you can shout me down well enough, but you can't refute me. The majority has the might -- unhappily -- but it lacks the right. The right is with me, and the other few, the solitary individuals. The minority is always right.

(Renewed turmoil)

HOVSTAD. (laughs) So in a couple of days, the doctor's turned aristocrat.

DR. STOCKMANN. I've told you I'm not going to waste any words on that wheezing, little, narrow-chested pack of reactionaries. The tide of life has already passed them by. But I'm thinking of the few, the individuals among us, who've mastered all the new truths that have been germinating. Those men are out there holding their positions like outposts, so far in the vanguard that the solid majority hasn't even begun to catch up -- and there's where they're fighting for truths too newly born in the world's consciousness to have won any support from the majority.

HOVSTAD. Well, and now he's a revolutionist!

DR. STOCKMANN. Yes, you're damn right I am, Mr. Hovstad! I'm fomenting a revolution against the lie that only the majority owns the truth. What are these truths the majority flocks around? They're the ones so ripe in age they're nearly senile. But, gentlemen, when a truth's grown that old, it's gone a long way toward becoming a lie. (Laughter and jeers) Oh yes, you can believe me as you please; but truths aren't at all the stubborn old Methuselahs people imagine. An ordinary, established truth lives, as a rule -- let's say -- some seventeen, eighteen, at the most twenty years; rarely more. But those venerable truths are always terribly thin. Even so, it's only then that the majority takes them up and urges them on society as wholesome spiritual food. But there isn't much nutriment in that kind of diet, I promise you; and as a doctor, I know. All these majority-truths are like last year's salt meat -- like rancid, tainted pork. And there's the cause of all the moral scurvy that's raging around us.

ASLAKSEN. It strikes me that the distinguished speaker has strayed rather far from his text.

MAYOR STOCKMANN. I must agree with the chairman's opinion.

DR. STOCKMANN. You're out of your mind, Peter! I'm sticking as close to the text as I can. Because this is exactly what I'm talking about: that the masses, the crowd, the damn solid majority -- that this is what I say is poisoning our sources of spiritual life and defiling the earth under our feet.

HOVSTAD. And the great liberal-minded majority does this because they're reasonable enough to honor only basic, well-accepted truths?

DR. STOCKMANN. Ah, my dear Mr. Hovstad, don't talk about basic truths! The truths accepted by the masses now are the ones proclaimed basic by the advance guard in our grandfathers' time. We fighters on the frontiers today, we no longer recognize them. There's only one truth that's basic in my belief: that no society can live a healthy life on the bleached bones of that kind of truth.

HOVSTAD. Instead of standing there rambling on in the blue, it might be interesting to descsribe some of those bleached bones we're living on.

(Agreement from various quarters)

DR. STOCKMANN. Oh, I could itemize a whole slew of abominations; but to start with, I'll mention just one recognized truth that's actually a vicious lie, though Mr. Hovstad and the Courier and all the Courier's devotees live on it.

HOVSTAD. That being --?

DR. STOCKMANN. That being the doctrine inherited from your ancestors, which you mindlessly disseminate far and wide -- the doctrine that the public, the mob, the masses are the vital core of the people -- in fact, that they are the people -- and that the common man, the inert, unformed component of society, has the same right to admonish and approve, to prescribe and to govern as the few spiritually accomplished personalities.

BILLING. Well, I'll be --

HOVSTAD. (simultaneously, shouting) Citizens, did you hear that!

ANGRY VOICES. Oh, we're not the people, uh? So, only the accomplished rule!

A WORKMAN. Out with a man who talks like that!

OTHERS. Out the door! Heave him out!

A MAN. Evensen, blow the horn!

(Deep blasts on a horn are heard; whistles and furious commotion in the room)

DR. STOCKMANN. (when the noise has subsided a bit) Now just be reasonable. Can't you stand hearing the truth for a change? I never expected you all to agree with me on the spot. But I really did expect that Mr. Hovstad would admit I'm right, after he'd simmered down a little. Mr. Hovstad claims to be a freethinker --

STARTLED VOICES (in undertones) What was that? A freethinker? Hovstad a freethinker?

HOVSTAD. Prove it, Dr. Stockmann. Where have I said that in print?

DR. STOCKMANN. (reflecting) No, by God, you're right -- you've never had the courage. Well, I don't want to put you in hot water. Let's say I'm the freethinker then. Because I'm going to demonstrate scientifically that the Courier's leading you shamelessly by the nose when they say that you -- the public, the masses -- are the vital core of the people. You see, that's just a journalistic lie! The masses are no more than the raw material out of which a people is shaped.

(Muttering, laughter, and disquiet in the room)

Well, isn't that a fact throughout all the rest of life? What about the difference between a thoroughbred and a hybrid animal? Look at your ordinary barnyard fowl. What meat can you get off such scrawny bones? Not much! And what kind of eggs does it lay? Any competent crow or raven could furnish about the same. But now take a purebred Spanish or Japanese hen, or a fine pheasant or turkey -- there's where you'll see the difference! Or again with dogs, a family we humans so closely resemble. First, think of an ordinary stray dog -- I mean one of those nasty, ragged, common mongrels that run around the streets, and spatter the walls of houses. Then set that stray alongside a poodle whose pedigree runs back through a distinguished line to a house where fine food and harmonious voices an dmusic have been the rule. Don't you think the mentality of that poodle will have developed quite differently from the stray's? Of course it will! A young pedigreed poodle can be raised by its trainer to perform the most incredible feats. Your common mongrel couldn't learn such things if you stood him on his head.

(Tumult and derision generally)

A CITIZEN (shouting) Now you're making us into dogs, eh?

ANOTHER MAN. We're not animals, Doctor!

DR. STOCKMANN. Oh yes, brother, we are animals! We're the best animals, all in all, that any man could wish for. But there aren't many animals of quality among us. There's a terrible gap between the thoroughbreds and the mongrels in humanity. And what's amusing is that Mr. Hovstad totally agrees wiht me as long as we're talking of four-legged beasts --

HOVSTAD. Well, but they're a class by themselves.

DR. STOCKMANN. All right. But as soon as I extend the law to the two-legged animals, Mr. Hovstad stops cold. He doesn't dare think his own thoughts any longer, or follow his ideas to a logical conclusion. So he turns the whole doctrine upside down and declares in the Courier that the barnyard fowl and the mongrel dog -- that these are the real paragons of the menagerie. But that's how it always goes as long as conformity is in your system, and you haven't worked through to a distinction of mind and spirit.

HOVSTAD. I make no claim of any kind of distinction. I was born of simple peasants, and I'm proud that my roots run deep in those masses that he despises.

NUMEROUS WOMEN. Hurray for Hovstad! Hurray, hurray!

DR. STOCKMANN. The kind of commonness I'm talking of isn't only found in the depths: it teems and swarms all around us in society -- right up to the top. Just look at your own neat and tidy mayor. My brother Peter's as good a common man as any that walks on two feet --

(Laughter and hisses)

MAYOR STOCKMANN. I protest against these personal allusions.

DR. STOCKMANN. (unruffled) -- and that's not because he's descended, just as I am, from a barbarous old pirate from Pomerania or thereabouts -- because so we are --

MAYOR STOCKMANN. A ridiculous fiction. I deny it!

DR. STOCKMANN. -- no, he's that because he thinks that the higher-ups think and believes what they believe. The people who do that are the spiritually common men. And that's why my stately brother Peter, you see, is in fact so fearfully lacking in distinction -- and consequently so narrow-minded.

MAYOR STOCKMANN. Mr. Chairman -- !

HOVSTAD. So you have to be distinguished to be liberal-minded in this country. That's a completely new insight.

(General laughter)

DR. STOCKMANN. Yes, that's also part of my new discovery. And along wtih it goes the idea that broad-mindedness is almost exactly the same as morality. That's why I say it's simply inexcusable of the Courier, day in and day out, to promote the fallacy that it's the masses, the solid majority, who stand as the guardian of tolerance and morality -- and that degeneracy and corruption of all kinds are a sort of by-product of culture, filtering down to us like all the pollution filtering down to the baths from the tanneries up at Molledal.

(Turmoil and interruptions)

DR. STOCKMANN. (unfazed, laughing in his enthusiasm) And yet this same Courier can preach that the deprived masses must be raised to greater cultural opportunities. But hell's bells -- if the Courier's assumption holds true, then raising the masses like that would be precisely the same as plunging them smack into depravity! But luckily it's only an old wives' tale -- this inherited lie that culture demoralizes. No, it's ignorance an dpoverty and ugliness in life that do the devil's work! In a house that isn't aired and swept every day -- my wife Katherine maintains that the floors ought to be scrubbed as well, but that's debatable -- anyway -- I say in a house like that, within two or three years, people lose all power for moral thought and action. Lack of oxygen dulls the conscience. And there must be a woeful dearth of oxygen in the houses of this town, it seems, if the entire solid majority can numb their consciences enough to want to build this town's prosperity on a quagmire of duplicity and lies.

ASLAKSEN. It's intolerable -- such a gross attack on a whole community.

A GENTLEMAN. I move the chairman rule the speaker out of order.

FURIOUS VOICES. yes, yes! That's right! Out of order!

DR. STOCKMANN. (vehemently) Then I'll cry out the truth from every street corner. I'll write to newspapers in other towns! The entire country'll learn what's happened here!

HOVSTAD. It almost looks like the doctor's determined to destroy this town.

DR. STOCKMANN. Yes. I love my home town so much I'd rather destroy it than see it flourishing on a lie.

ASLAKSEN. That's putting it plainly.

(Tumult and whistling. Mrs. Stockmann coughs in vain; the Doctor no longer hears her.)

DR. STOCKMANN. (with mounting indignation) What's the difference if a lying community gets destroyed! It ought to be razed to the ground, I say! Stamp them out like vermin, everyone who lives by lies! You'll contaminate this entire nation in the end, till the land itself deserves to be destroyed. And if it comes to that even, then I say with all my heart: let this whole land be destroyed, let its people all be stamped out!

A MAN. That's talking like a real enemy of the people!

BILLING. Ye gods, but there's the people's voice!

THE WHOLE CROWD. (shrieking) Yes, yes, yes! He's an enemy of the people! He hates his country! He hates all his people!

ASLAKSEN. Both as a citizen and as a human being, I'm profoundly shaken by what I've had to listen to here. Dr. Stockmann has revealed himself in a manner beyond anything I could have dreamed. I'm afraid that I have to endorse the judgment just rendered by my worthy fellow citizens; and I propose that we ought to express this judgment in a resolution, as follows: "This meeting declares that it regards Dr. Thomas Stockmann, staff physician at the baths, to be an enemy of the people."

(Tumultuous cheers and applause.)

Posted by sheila Permalink

July 16, 2005

Happy birthday to ...

The Catcher in the Rye, which was published today in 1951. To this date, it has sold over 60 million copies.

This book, along with all its other associations, always makes me think of a couple of things.

It makes me think of my dad. He loves this book.

It makes me think of my mother, and when she was trying to get a teaching job in the mid-60s. One of the questions every interveiwer asked her was, "Do you plan on teaching Catcher in the Rye?" If she said Yes, she didn't get the job.

It makes me think of 10th grade English, taught by Mr. Crothers - one of the best teachers I've ever had. We loved Mr. Crothers so much that we all called him "Crud", or sometimes, when we were feeling more formal, "The Crud". "Did you get to talk to The Crud yet about next week's test?" Believe it or not, it was an endearment. We called him that to his face. Hand goes up in class: "Hey, Crud, can I have an extension on my paper?" He was a phenomenal teacher, and he taught me how to write. I mean, I already knew how to write - but I didn't know how to write a paper. He taught me. I got straight As on every paper I wrote in college because Crud was such a hard-ass. My first paper I wrote for him I got a D. What??? A D? I get Ds in Math, not in English!! My paper was covered in red markings. I stared at them and saw gobbledygook. I panicked. My next paper, I worked my ass off. I worked on what he said I should work on - I plotted out my paragraphs, my arguments, the thesis statement ... I got a C on my next paper. A C???? But ... but ... I had tried so hard ... Crud, what's with the C???? But Crud was firm. It was a C paper. (Crud, by the way, was also so positive. Great teacher. "It's not an A paper yet. Keep working. You'll get it.") After the C paper, my self-confidence plummeted. I could no longer write. I remember, randomly, throwing myself on my parents bed in despair (they weren't in the bed, by the way - hahaha - I must have been stalking through the house in teenage despair and ended up there) - and I remember actually crying. Crying because I could no longer write, I was AFRAID to put pen to paper. I was AFRAID. But eventually, I did. I hacked out a paper. I worked hard. I got a B. Okay. That's better. Still not what I like but at least I was improving. I'm telling you: when Crud finally gave me an A, it was one of the proudest moments of my life. I had really EARNED that A. And after that - it was all As on papers. I had got it. I had cracked the code (with his help). I had learned how to organize my thoughts, I had learned how to pick a position and then back it up properly. I was a kick-ass paper writer all through college, and I have The Crud to thank. His lectures on Catcher in the Rye were so interesting that I still remember some of his points, almost word for word. Thanks, Crud. You were awesome.

(Uhm ... can you tell I'm still in a nostalgic high school mood??? Still no sign of the nostalgia ending ...)

And lastly it makes me think of my Uncle Jimmy. My godfather who is, sadly, no longer with us. I would say not a day goes by when he doesn't cross my mind. Jimmy was special. Long crazy grey hair, a big loud raspy laugh ... and one of the most unforgettable people you would ever meet. He loved Catcher in the Rye so much, and his love for the book was so well-known that local high school teachers would have him come in as a guest lecturer, to teach the book. Man. I wish I could have been a student in THAT classroom. I would have loved, in retrospect, to sit down and talk with him about Catcher in the Rye.

Happy birthday, Holden. I hope that life has treated you well. Oh, and Phoebe too! I always wondered what kind of woman Phoebe would blossom into.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (2)

Summer ...

I'm going to the Cape for a week soon. Cannot WAIT. Our house is a small walk down a sandy path from the ocean. Oh, I am dying to get out of the stinky concrete land of Gotham and soak up the salty breeze, go swimming, have corn on the cob, do crossword puzzles, do pilates, yoga, or Tae Bo with my sisters (we are bringing about 4 exercise tapes between the 3 of us), and in general: RELAX. Dying. DYING to get out of here.

I'm also going to Chicago in mid-August to hang out with Alex and Chrisanne (can't wait to see them both!!!)- see both of Alex's shows, watch 5,000 old movies and perhaps a little bit of Alex's tapes of the Hollywood Palace (specifically, Joan Crawford completely having a drunken nervous breakdown ON TELEVISION ... "Mad Hatters have had their way long enough ... in Wonderlnd." "I have benjoyed my time here tonight ..." "Just be yourself. It's very sample.") CAN'T WAIT. Alex: I also need to see the clip you have of Bobby Darin on Judy Garland's variety show again. Basically, I need a total repeat of everything we did the LAST time I came to stay. I need to spend time with my dear friend Kate - see any of HER shows that might be happening - see Kate's HUSBAND'S show - see my dear friend Guy's show ... uhm ... any other Chicago friends with shows I need to see? Oh yes. And I am going to take in my first Pat show in something like 5 years. I can't wait. I need to see Ann Marie. I'm not going for long ... but there's something about time in Chicago that kind of stretches out ... I am always able to do everything I need to do, see who I need to see, while I am there. I never feel stressed out there. argh. I CAN'T WAIT. I want to go running by the lake. I want to walk up and down Clark Street. I want to go sit at the Fullerton Rocks and stare at the skyline like I used to do when I lived there. I want to walk up and down Southport, my old stomping grounds, and see what's playing at the Music Box.

I can't wait.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (8)

The Books: "A Doll House" (Henrik Ibsen)

Next in my Daily Book Excerpt:

IbsenPlays.jpgNext play on my script shelf:

Ibsen: The Complete Major Prose Plays. Translated by Rolf Fjelde.

First play in the collection? A Doll House.

A couple personal things about this play:

1. I saw a production of this at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, when I was 14 years old. The woman playing Nora was so spectacular that I still remember some of her blocking and her costumes, like a little movie in my mind. Especially the scene where she dances the tarantella, more and more frantically, trying to stop her husband from going to the mailbox. This Irish actress was beyond good. Her fear and panic carried off the stage - it was palpable.

2. James Joyce idolized Henrik Ibsen. He wrote: "It may be questioned whether any man has held so firm an empire over the thinking world in modern times." Joyce learned Norwegian in college, specifically so that he could read Ibsen in the original. When Joyce met the woman who would be his future wife, Nora Barnacle, he thought it was fate ... because one of Ibsen's most famous heroines was named Nora.

3. This is one of those plays I've probably read about 30 times. First: because you have to read it in English classes, and any Introduction to Drama course is incomplete without some Ibsen - and they usually choose Doll House for the curriculum. Also, I've worked on scenes and monologues from the play for years. And lastly: it's a good read. Never fails to STRESS ME OUT. It's an upsetting piece of work - because the people are trapped. We here in the modern society can look at the characters and feel like we have some answers for them (and we do) - but they don't have access to that yet. They are all trapped. And lying not only to each other but to themselves. It's very upsetting.

4. Hands down, the best production I have ever seen of this was actually a televised version of it ... starring Juliet Stevenson as Nora. She is so damn good. So damn good.

EXCERPT FROM Doll House by Henrik Ibsen:

NORA. (absorbed in trimming the tree) Candles here -- and flowers here. That terrible creature! Talk, talk, talk! There's nothing to it at all. The tree's going to be lovely. I'll do anything to please you, Torvald. I'll sing for you, dance for you --

(Helmer comes in from the hall, with a sheaf of papers under his arm)

NORA. Oh! You're back so soon?

HELMER. Yes. Has anyone been here?

NORA. Here? No.

HELMER. That's odd. I saw Krogstad leaving the front door.

NORA. So? Oh yes, that's true. Krogstad was here a moment.

HELMER. Nora, I can see by your face that he's been here, begging you to put in a good word for him.

NORA. Yes.

HELMER. And it was supposed to seem like your own idea? You were to hide it from me that he'd been here. He asked you that too, didn't he?

NORA. Yes, Torvald, but --

HELMER. Nora, Nora, and you could fall for that? Talk with that sort of person and promise him anything? And then in the bargain, tell me an untruth.

NORA. An untruth --?

HELMER. Didn't you say that no one had been here? (wagging his finger) My little songbird must never do that again. A songbird needs a clean beak to warble with. No false notes. (putting his arm about her waist) That's the way it should be, isn't it? Yes, I'm sure of it. (releasing her) And so, enough of that. (sitting by the stove) Ah, how snug and cozy it is here. (leafing among his papers)

NORA. (busy with the tree, after a short pause) Torvald!


NORA. I'm so much looking forward to the Stenborgs' costume party, day after tomorrow.

HELMER. And I can't wait to see what you'll surprise me with.

NORA. Oh, that stupid business!


NORA. I can't find anything that's right. Everything seems so ridiculous, so inane.

HELMER. So my little Nora's come to that recognition?

NORA. (going behind his chair, her arms resting on its back) Are you very busy, Torvald?

HELMER. Oh ---

NORA. What papers are those?

HELMER. Bank matters.

NORA. Already?

HELMER. I've gotten full authority from the retiring management to make all necessary changes in personnel and procedure. I'll need Christmas week for that. I want to have everything in order by New Year's.

NORA. So that was the reason this poor Krogstad ---


NORA. (still leaning on the chair and slowly stroking the nape of his neck) If you weren't so very busy, I would have asked you an enormous favor, Torvald.

HELMER. Let's hear. What is it?

NORA. You know, there isn't anyone who has your good taste -- and I want so much to look well at the costume party. Torvald, couldn't you take over and decide what I should be and plan my costume?

HELMER. Ah, is my stubborn little creature calling for a lifeguard?

NORA. Yes, Torvald, I can't get anywhere without your help.

HELMER. All right -- I'll think it over. We'll hit on something.

NORA. Oh, how sweet of you. (goes to the tree again. Pause.) Aren't the red flowers pretty --? But tell me, was it really such a crime that this Krogstad committed?

HELMER. Forgery. Do you have any idea what that means?

NORA. Couldn't he have done it out of need?

HELMER. Yes, or thoughtlessness, like so many others. I'm not so heartless that I'd condemn a man categorically for just one mistake.

NORA. No, of course not, Torvald.

HELMER. Plenty of men have redeemed themselves by openly confessing their crimes and taking their punishment.

NORA. Punishment --?

HELMER. But now Krogstad didn't go that way. He got himself out by sharp practices, and that's the real cause of his moral breakdown.

NORA. Do you really think that would--?

HELMER. Just imagine how a man with that sort of guilt in him has to lie and cheat and deceive on all sides, has to wear a mask even with the nearest and dearest he has, even with his own wife and children. And with the children, Nora -- that's where it's most horrible.

NORA. Why?

HELMER. Because that kind of atmosphere of lies infects the whole life of a home. Every breath the children take in is filled with the germs of something degenerate.

NORA. (coming closer behind him) Are you sure of that?

HELMER. Oh, I've seen it often enough as a lawyer. Almost everyone who goes bad early in life has a mother who's a chronic liar.

NORA. Why just -- the mother?

HELMER. It's usually the mother's influence that's dominant, but the father's works in the same way, of course. Every lawyer is quite familiar with it. And still this Krogstad's been going home year in, year out, poisoning his own children with lies and pretense; that's why I call him morally lost. (reaching his hands out towards her) So my sweet little Nora must promise me never to plead his cause. Your hand on it. Come, come, what's this? Give me your hand. There, now. All settled. I can tell you it'd be impossible for me to work alongside of him. I literally feel physically revolted when I'm anywhere near such a person.

NORA. (withdraws her hand and goes to the other side of the Christmas tree) How hot it is here! And I've got so much to do.

HELMER (getting up and gathering his papers Yes, and I have to think about getting some of these read through before dinner. I'll think about your costume, too. And something to hang on the tree in gilt paper, I may even see about that. (putting his hand on her head) Oh you, my darling little songbird. (He goes into his study and closes the door after him)

NORA. (softly, after a silence) Oh really! It isn't so. It's impossible. It must be impossible.

ANNE-MARIE. (in the doorway, left) The children are begging so hard to come in to Mama.

NORA. No, no, no, don't let them in to me! You stay with them, Anne-Marie.

ANNE-MARIE. Of course, ma'am. (closes the door)

NORA. (pale with terror) Hurt my children -- ! Poison my home? (A moment's pause, then she tosses her head.) That's not true. Never. Never in all the world.

Posted by sheila Permalink

July 15, 2005

I understand

Eminem has announced he will be taking his last bow as a performer this fall. Sigh. I knew this was coming. (Interesting thing: the opening skit on the Eminem Show is called "Curtain Up" and the final song on Encore is "Curtains Down". It's like he knew ... it's like he had the architecture of the entire project in his mind before he had even completed it. He's very canny, very very smart that way.)

Dear Eminem: I understand your reasoning, and I get it. I've felt this coming for a long time, based on small remarks you've made here and there, about how you were eager to get out of performing and focus completely on producing.

You'll be good at it. You already are.


So. It's not a shock. And I also think this is the right choice, and a smart smart move. You have always been one step ahead of your own career, one step ahead of your audience, and you kind of haven't made a false move in that respect. Your career trajectory never fails to take my breath away. (Well, pistol-whipping that guy was not so smart, but in terms of your career management - you're a genius.)

I can't imagine you not being "on the scene". You have made such a mark. The last 4 years have been all about: What the hell will he do next?? Every album topping the last ... I listened to Eminem Show so much I needed to buy multiple copies. It's still on almost permanent rotation in the CD collection.

So, to quote you: it'll feel so empty ... without you ...


Dude. Come on. I love you. I just love you. I love your humor, your anger, your rhymes ... I love "Lose Yourself" most of all. It always rises me up out of myself. It's one of the most exciting songs I've ever heard. Gives me goose bumps. I loved 8 Mile. Dude, you can act, you know that?


I love your complexity, the fact that you're willing to grow and admit you were wrong, but I also love your stubbornness - I've loved watching the whole Eminem journey, even when you piss me OFF. You are one of those few artists who force people to deal with the realities of "Freedom of Speech". You generate tormented op-ed columns. People talk about you, and moan and whine about how you are the sign of the apocalypse. Like Madonna did in the 80s. People don't want to let you say certain things. You threaten them. But you keep going. I love how you refuse to repeat yourself. You seem to understand that your act has always trembled on the edge of parody. The only way to combat that is to NEVER imitate oneself. Be original. Work hard. Use a Thesaurus for the rhymes. Work your ass off. Improve your vocabulary. Rhyme faster and better than ANYONE ELSE out there. And you do all of that. You're like an athlete, trying to topple your own personal best. I love your generosity towards other performers, appearing on their albums to give them a boost. I love even your big fiery messes. You turn them into art. You're fearless. I love your videos. Michael Jackson moon-walking with his hair on fire as little boys jump on the bed in the background? So SICK and so AMUSING. You and Dr. Dre in SUPERHERO COSTUMES racing around in a Bat mobile? I just have gotten such an enduring kick out of you over the last couple years ... and ... I guess it'll just take some time. No more Eminem albums to look forward to?? No more shiveringly excited responses to 'release dates' being announced? My life will be a bit poorer for it.

Not even to mention the fact that you're kind of a babe. In a bratty ADHD way. The photo below is my favorite one of you. Ever. Ouch.


I get why you feel the need to retire. I love that you've chosen to do so in Dublin. I understand. And like I said before: you are no dummy. You know it's better to leap out when you're at the top. Who else has the courage to do that? Who?? Very few artists know the right time to bow out. I know you're still a young man, and you'll probably do guest spots on other people's albums, and maybe you'll reinvent yourself yet again. Who knows. But you've been saying for about a year now: "This is it for me. I want to stay home with my daughter, and I want to produce. I want to spend all day in the studio, and help other guys do their thing." You obviously meant what you said.

But I'm sad. I really am. How I wish I had had the chance to see you perform live.

Eminem. Curtains Down.


Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (10)

Diary Friday

My need for self-mortification knows no bounds. I read this entry and just WINCED at what I sound like ... I sound like I'm having a manic episode. But I must post it. Also - Keith M. makes a cameo. Which just makes me LAUGH now in light of the reunion and this and all.

But it's the BEGINNING of the entry that is truly embarrassing. Therefore: I know I must post it.

I'm a junior in high school here, but I sound like I'm 12. My junior year was the year I was so in love with a guy named Dave that every entry is filled with him. Of course, nothing ever HAPPENED with Dave, but that didn't stop me from writing about EVERY. INTERACTION. WE. HAD. In excruciating detail.


Oh, the weirdest thing just happened to me! [Sheila, please don't share it. Oh God ... you're gonna share it, aren't you?] Isn't it wonderful when life looks so humdrum and a tiny little thing pops up to take away the humdrum-ness?

Just now - I was in my room alone working on a new story I just started, listening to the radio. Today was a good day. I wasn't depressed or anything, and Freeze Frame came on the radio. [HAHAHAHA] Music is my savior. No matter what kind. It uplifts me. [But I thought you just said you weren't depressed??] I love music. It does something to me. It revitalizes me. (Ooh!) [Uhm - okay, I don't know what that "ooh" is about.] Anyway, an old wave of happiness flooded over me, remembering when I loved that song and Mere and I made up a dance to it. [Mere, I am sure you can see those dance steps right now. It SWEPT THE SCHOOL!] So I leaped to my feet, turned up the volume, and started bounding around dancing. I love dancing - I feel so happy and uninhibited when I dance. I went wild, like I usually do at dances. [Yes, but Sheila, did you press your sweaty Irish head up against the tiles?] I'm glad no one was watching me though because I went berserk. I did the little dance, I really got into it. I'm cool! [Uhm ... ya are?]

Suddenly I looked at myself in the full-length mirror. My cheeks were all flushed. I was smiling. I looked okay in a very athletic out-of-breath way, that fun song was in my ears - I felt energy fizzing on all my nerve endings. I had nothing to do with the grin spread across my face. I was just lit up inside and it came out in a smile.

Then - [Oh God, there's not more is there?] I felt this surge inside - really - that's the word. It felt like a little cherry tomato exploded inside me. I felt no more doubts. I saw myself (well, not really saw - it wasn't like these visions slowly drifted past me - they all assaulted me at once, making it all the better) - I saw myself going with Dave to the movies, sitting at Ricky's with him, [RICKYS! HAHAHAHAHA] - kissing him - dancing with him - talking with him - It was wonderful. Just suddenly - for one brief flash - I felt: Of course something's going to happen. Of course! Ecstasy flew through my brain and I felt like leaping and screaming and laughing!!! [Wow. This is really sad. Nothing did end up happening and I spent the entire next summer staggering around in tears because he turned me down to go to the Junior Prom. God. It sucked, really.] But it paralyzed me in a way. I just stared at my reflection. The next minute, that feeling - if that's a word for it - was gone - but I still feel all wiggly inside. I wish I could say in here: Of course it'll work out! I want it more than I have ever wanted anything!!!! [Oh, sweet girl. Sorry. Heartbreak's comin' at ya. Hunker down.]

Yesterday in Chemistry, we saw a filmstrip, and Keith ran the projector. So he pulled a desk up right next to mine. I'm not in love with him, but I do find him very attractive, and he is such a nice and real person. I wish I could get to know him better, like we used to know each other when we were kids. Anyway, the room was dark and the narrator was droning on and whenever the beep beeped [uhm you might want to re-word that], Keith would turn the knob. I was just sitting there, taking notes like a good doobie, and I happened to glance at Keith, and I happened to look at his hands. Very nice hands. Big, with long rough-looking fingers - looking as though they were sculpted out of wood, just casually curled around the projector. Sometimes just slightly moving, not for any good reason - or reaching up to scratch his chest. Then - to my shock - I suddenly felt like reaching over and taking his hand in mine - feel his fingers gently squeeze mine. I had to quickly look back up at the screen to keep myself from doing just that. I didn't concentrate on the film AT ALL after that, but you know what I think? I think holding hands is about the most romantic thing of all. Of course, I've never done it. I HAVEN'T DONE ANYTHING. But I think that holding hands might even be nicer than a kiss. Of course, if I am ever kissed, I will probably think differently, but holding hands ... Oh God, its too romantic to talk about.

Of course, next in French, I glanced back at Dave's hands. Talk about big hands! They were beautiful - with ragged bitten nails. [hahahahaha Yeah, Sheila, they sound really "beautiful". Love is blind.] He bites his nails too. A cut on one of his knuckles. Rounded blunt fingertips. I couldn't get the vision of us strolling along, with our hands clasped, out of my mind. I want to hold hands with him.

You know what? It's just occurred to me that it must look to you as if this whole relationship is in my brain. [Er ... yeah. That is what it looks like] But it's not. It's not like the thing with JW. I admired JW from afar and tricked myself into believing that he cared for me just as much as I loved him. HOW could I have been so STUPID??? Why didn't I see? We must have had 6 conversations in all - I had fantasies of our romance, but it was all so illogical. He was so far from me. But David - suddenly this year - there is a friendship growing that wasn't there before. [This is not a lie. We were friends.] And this time - I don't lie on my bed dreaming of a sudden dalliance. [Dalliance? What is this - Les Liaisons Dangereuses?] I think about our real-life happenings which is so much more satisfactory. Me asking him to dance, us in Project Adventure - him talking to me - and just thinking about him -- DAVE - who he is, what he's like - what he thinks about - if he ever thinks of me.

It's impossible not to imagine us going out and what it would be like and how wonderful and fascinating it would be, but Diary - oh forgive my awful forwardness - I think it could work! [I love that I am apologizing TO MY JOURNAL for my "awful forwardness". It's so Victorian of me. I was a Gibson Girl, even then.] I think it honestly is in my grasp.

Isn't that wonderful?

I don't know how to go about "going for it" - but if nothing happens naturally - I'm gonna find a way. [Bummer, man. Headin' for a fall ... a big fall ...]

Here's the entire Diary Friday archive if you're interested.


Oh, the weirdest thing just happened to me! [Sheila, please don't share it. Oh God ... you're gonna share it, aren't you?] Isn't it wonderful when life looks so humdrum and a tiny little thing pops up to take away the humdrum-ness?

Just now - I was in my room alone working on a new story I just started, listening to the radio. Today was a good day. I wasn't depressed or anything, and Freeze Frame came on the radio. [HAHAHAHA] Music is my savior. No matter what kind. It uplifts me. [But I thought you just said you weren't depressed??] I love music. It does something to me. It revitalizes me. (Ooh!) [Uhm - okay, I don't know what that "ooh" is about.] Anyway, an old wave of happiness flooded over me, remembering when I loved that song and Mere and I made up a dance to it. [Mere, I am sure you can see those dance steps right now. It SWEPT THE SCHOOL!] So I leaped to my feet, turned up the volume, and started bounding around dancing. I love dancing - I feel so happy and uninhibited when I dance. I went wild, like I usually do at dances. [Yes, but Sheila, did you press your sweaty Irish head up against the tiles?] I'm glad no one was watching me though because I went berserk. I did the little dance, I really got into it. I'm cool! [Uhm ... ya are?]

Suddenly I looked at myself in the full-length mirror. My cheeks were all flushed. I was smiling. I looked okay in a very athletic out-of-breath way, that fun song was in my ears - I felt energy fizzing on all my nerve endings. I had nothing to do with the grin spread across my face. I was just lit up inside and it came out in a smile.

Then - [Oh God, there's not more is there?] I felt this surge inside - really - that's the word. It felt like a little cherry tomato exploded inside me. I felt no more doubts. I saw myself (well, not really saw - it wasn't like these visions slowly drifted past me - they all assaulted me at once, making it all the better) - I saw myself going with Dave to the movies, sitting at Ricky's with him, [RICKYS! HAHAHAHAHA] - kissing him - dancing with him - talking with him - It was wonderful. Just suddenly - for one brief flash - I felt: Of course something's going to happen. Of course! Ecstasy flew through my brain and I felt like leaping and screaming and laughing!!! [Wow. This is really sad. Nothing did end up happening and I spent the entire next summer staggering around in tears because he turned me down to go to the Junior Prom. God. It sucked, really.] But it paralyzed me in a way. I just stared at my reflection. The next minute, that feeling - if that's a word for it - was gone - but I still feel all wiggly inside. I wish I could say in here: Of course it'll work out! I want it more than I have ever wanted anything!!!! [Oh, sweet girl. Sorry. Heartbreak's comin' at ya. Hunker down.]

Yesterday in Chemistry, we saw a filmstrip, and Keith ran the projector. So he pulled a desk up right next to mine. I'm not in love with him, but I do find him very attractive, and he is such a nice and real person. I wish I could get to know him better, like we used to know each other when we were kids. Anyway, the room was dark and the narrator was droning on and whenever the beep beeped [uhm you might want to re-word that], Keith would turn the knob. I was just sitting there, taking notes like a good doobie, and I happened to glance at Keith, and I happened to look at his hands. Very nice hands. Big, with long rough-looking fingers - looking as though they were sculpted out of wood, just casually curled around the projector. Sometimes just slightly moving, not for any good reason - or reaching up to scratch his chest. Then - to my shock - I suddenly felt like reaching over and taking his hand in mine - feel his fingers gently squeeze mine. I had to quickly look back up at the screen to keep myself from doing just that. I didn't concentrate on the film AT ALL after that, but you know what I think? I think holding hands is about the most romantic thing of all. Of course, I've never done it. I HAVEN'T DONE ANYTHING. But I think that holding hands might even be nicer than a kiss. Of course, if I am ever kissed, I will probably think differently, but holding hands ... Oh God, its too romantic to talk about.

Of course, next in French, I glanced back at Dave's hands. Talk about big hands! They were beautiful - with ragged bitten nails. [hahahahaha Yeah, Sheila, they sound really "beautiful". Love is blind.] He bites his nails too. A cut on one of his knuckles. Rounded blunt fingertips. I couldn't get the vision of us strolling along, with our hands clasped, out of my mind. I want to hold hands with him.

You know what? It's just occurred to me that it must look to you as if this whole relationship is in my brain. [Er ... yeah. That is what it looks like] But it's not. It's not like the thing with JW. I admired JW from afar and tricked myself into believing that he cared for me just as much as I loved him. HOW could I have been so STUPID??? Why didn't I see? We must have had 6 conversations in all - I had fantasies of our romance, but it was all so illogical. He was so far from me. But David - suddenly this year - there is a friendship growing that wasn't there before. [This is not a lie. We were friends.] And this time - I don't lie on my bed dreaming of a sudden dalliance. [Dalliance? What is this - Les Liaisons Dangereuses?] I think about our real-life happenings which is so much more satisfactory. Me asking him to dance, us in Project Adventure - him talking to me - and just thinking about him -- DAVE - who he is, what he's like - what he thinks about - if he ever thinks of me.

It's impossible not to imagine us going out and what it would be like and how wonderful and fascinating it would be, but Diary - oh forgive my awful forwardness - I think it could work! [I love that I am apologizing TO MY JOURNAL for my "awful forwardness". It's so Victorian of me. I was a Gibson Girl, even then.] I think it honestly is in my grasp.

Isn't that wonderful?

I don't know how to go about "going for it" - but if nothing happens naturally - I'm gonna find a way. [Bummer, man. Headin' for a fall ... a big fall ...]

Here's the entire Diary Friday archive if you're interested.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (10)

The Books: "Painting Churches" (Tina Howe)

Next in my Daily Book Excerpt:

PaintingChurches.gifNext on my script shelf:

Last play from my Tina Howe collection, and this one is Painting Churches. Painting Churches is a little bit different from Museum (excerpt here) and The Art of Dining (excerpt here) - with their big casts, and stagey settings. Painting Churches is a family drama, it all takes place in a Beacon Hill apartment, and there are only 3 characters.

Mags Church (played by Elizabeth mcGovern in the original production) is a painter, and she has come home to do a portrait of her parents. Her parents are two old eccentrics, who absolutely drive Mags nuts. Her mother: Fanny Sedgwick Church - flaky, non-stop-talking, insensitive, says the most outrageous things. Her father: Gardner Church - absent-minded, intellectual, won a ton of literary awards, becoming senile. Mags has a lot of unresolved issues with these two (basically: she wants them to totally change their personalities, she wants to erase the past, she hated her own childhood). But anyway: Mags comes back to Boston to paint her parents. She finds it increasingly difficult to "paint the Churches" - it's too overwhelming, too annoying - she is confronted left and right by regrets, things that still piss her off, etc. If the play sounds too heavy or drippy, it really isn't. It's written in true Tina Howe style: fast, furious, with no one ever being able to finish a sentence.

I'm going to post an excerpt from the play - a long long LONG monologue (with occasional interjections from her mother and father) that Mags has where she describes a childhood memory to her mother, wondering if her parents remembers this event. It is the event of "her first masterpiece". It's a horrifying story, but i just LOVE the writing. Always have.

I did this monologue as an audition monologue for years - until it got too popular, and I felt that too many of us out there were doing it. It got stale, and I retired it. The trick with the monologue is that you must nail the ending - you must not get so caught up in the story that you forget where the monologue is going ... and that what you are REALLY trying to say to your parents is in that ending moment. The story itself is peripheral - the theme, the subtext of the entire tale ... is in her summing up lines. You have to start the monologue with that ending in mind ... it has to be trembling with the emotion of the ending from the very start of it.

Just now, as I was typing all of this out, I got all choked up at those ending lines. Amazing: a true Pavlovian response. I did the monologue so many times it was like I didn't even have to work at it anymore, and that memory-response is still alive.

EXCERPT FROM Painting Churches by Tina Howe:

MAGS. (at her easel) Remember what I went through as a child with my great masterpiece? ...

FANNY. You painted a masterpiece when you were a child? ...

MAGS. Well, it was a masterpiece to me.

FANNY. I had no idea you were precocious as a child. Gardner, do you remember Mags painting a masterpiece as a child?

MAGS. I didn't paint it. It was something I made!

FANNY. Well, this is all news to me! Gar, do get me another drink! I haven't had this much fun in years. (She hands her glass and reaches for Mags'.) Come on, darling, join me ...

MAGS. No, no more, thanks. I don't really like the taste.

FANNY. Oh, come on, kick up your heels for once!

MAGS. No, nothing ... really.

FANNY. Please? Pretty please? ... To keep me company?!

MAGS. (hands Gardner her glass.) Oh, all right, what the hell ...

[The following two lines should be said simultaneously)

FANNY. That's a good girl!

GARDNER. (exiting) Coming right up, coming right up!

FANNY. (yelling after him) DON'T GIVE ME TOO MUCH NOW. THE LAST ONE WAS AWFULLY STRONG ... AND HURRY BACK SO YOU DON'T MISS ANYTHING! ... Daddy's so cunning, I don't know what I'd do without him. If anything should happen to him, I'd just ...

MAGS. Mummy, nothing's going to happen to him! ...

FANNY. Well, wait 'til you're our age, it's no garden party. Now ... where were we? ...

MAGS. My first masterpiece ...

FANNY. Oh, yes, but do wait 'til Daddy gets back so he can hear it too ... YOO-HOO ... GARRRRRRDNERRRRRRR? ... ARE YOU COMING? ... (Silence) Go and check on him, will you?

GARDNER. (enters with both drinks. He's very shaken) I couldn't find the ice.

FANNY. Well, finally!

GARDNER. It just up and disappeared ... (hands Fanny her drink.) There you go. (Fanny kisses her fingers and takes a hefty swig) Mags. (he hands Mags her drink)

MAGS. Thanks, Daddy.

GARDNER. Sorry about the ice.

MAGS. No problem, no porblem.

(Gardner sits down, silence.)

FANNY. (to Mags) Well, drink up, drink up! (Mags downs it in one gulp) GOOD GIRL! ... Now, what's all this about a masterpiece? ...

MAGS. I did it during that winter you sent me away from the dinner table. I was about nine years old.

FANNY. We sent you from the dinner table?

MAGS. I was banished for six months.

FANNY. You were? .... How extraordinary!

MAGS. Yes, it was rather extraordinary!

FANNY. But why?

MAGS. Because I played with my food.

FANNY. You did?

MAGS. I used to squirt it out between my front teeth.

FANNY. Oh, I remember that! God, it used to drive me crazy, absolutely ...crazy! (pause) "MARGARET, STOP THAT OOZING RIGHT THIS MINUTE, YOU ARE NOT A TUBE OF TOOTHPASTE!"

GARDNER. Oh, yes ...

FANNY. It was perfectly disgusting!

GARDNER. I remember. She used to lean over her plate and squirt it out in long runny ribbons ...

FANNY. That's enough, dear.

GARDNER. They were quite colorful, actually, decorative almost. She made the most intricate designs. They looked rather like small, moist Oriental rugs ...

FANNY. (to Mags) But why, darling? What on earth possessed you to do it?

MAGS. I couldn't swallow anything. My throat just closed up. I don't know, I must have been afraid of choking or something.

GARDNER. I remember one in particular. We'd had chicken fricassee and spinach ... She made the most extraordinary ...

FANNY. (to Gardner) WILL YOU PLEASE SHUT UP?! (Pause) Mags, what are you talking about? You never choked in your entire life! This is the most distressing conversation I've ever had. Don't you think it's distressing, Gar?

GARDNER. Well, that's not quite the word I'd use.

FANNY. What word would you use, then?

GARDNER. I don't know right off the bat, I'd have to think about it.



MAGS. I guess I was afraid of making a mess. I don't know; you were awfully strict about table manners. I was always afraid of losing control. What if I started to choke and began spitting up over everything? ...

FANNY. All right, dear, that's enough.

MAGS. No, I was really terrified about making a mess; you always got so mad whenever I spilled. If I just got rid of everything in neat little curlycues beforehand you see ...



MAGS. I thought it was quite ingenious, but you didn't see it that way. You finally sent me from the table with, "When you're ready to eat like a human being, you can come back and join us!" ... So it was off to my room with a tray. But I couldn't seem to eat there either. I mean, it was so strange settling down to dinner in my bedroom ... So I just flushed everything down the toilet and sat on my bed listening to you: clinkity-clink, clatter clatter, slurp, slurp ... but that got pretty boring after awhile, so I looked around for something to do. It was wintertime, because I noticed I'd left some crayons on top of my radiator and they'd melted down into these beautiful shimmering globs, like spilled jello, trembling and pulsing ... (overlapping)

GARDNER. (eyes closed) "This luscious and impeccable fruit of life
Falls, it appears, of its own weight to earth ..."

MAGS. Naturally, I wanted to try it myself, so I grabbed a red one and pressed it down against the hissing lid. It oozed and bubbled like raspberry jam!

GARDNER. "When you were Eve, its acrid juice was sweet, Untasted, in its heavenly, orchard air ..."

MAGS. I mean, that radiator was really hot! It took incredible will power not to let go, but I held on, whispering, "Mags, if you let go of this crayon, you'll be run over by a truck on Newberry Street, so help you God!" ... So I pressed down harder, my fingers steaming and blistering ...

FANNY. I had no idea about any of this, did you, Gar?

MAGS. Once I'd melted one, I was hooked! I finished off my entire supply in one night, mixing color over color until my head swam! ... The heat, the smell, the brilliance that sank and rose ... I'd never felt such exhilaration! ... Every week I spent my allowance on crayons. I must have cleared out every box of Crayolas in the city!

GARDNER. (gazing at Mags) You know, I don't think I've ever seen you looking prettier! You're awfully attractive when you get going!

FANNY. Why, what a lovely thing to say.


FANNY. It sounds perfectly hideous.

MAGS. It was a knockout, shimmering with pinks and blues, lavendars and maroons, turquoise and golds, oranges and creams ... For every color, I imagined a taste ... YELLOW: lemon curls dipped in sugar ... RED: glazed cherries laced with rum ... GREEN: tiny peppermint leaves veined with chocolate ... PURPLE ...

FANNy. That's quite enough!

MAGS. And then the frosting ... ahhhhh, the frosting! A satiny mix of white and silver ... I kept it hidden under blankets during the day ... My huge ... (she starts laughing) looming ... teetering sweet ...


GARDNER. See here, Mags, Mum asked you to ...

MAGS. I was so ... hungry ... losing weight every week. I looked like a sscarecrow what with the bags under my eyes and bits of crayon wrapper leaking out of my clothes. It's a wonder you didn't notice. But finally you came to my rescue ... if you could call what happened a rescue. It was more like a rout!

[The following 2 lines said simultaneously]

FANNY. Darling ... Please!

GARDNER. Now, look, young lady ...

MAGS. The winter was almost over ... It was very late at night ... I must have been having a nightmare because suddenly you and Daddy were at my bed, shaking me ... I quickly glanced towards the radiator to see if it was covered ... It wasn't! It glittered and towered in the moonlight like some ... gigantic Viennese pastry! You followed my gaze and saw it. Mummy screamed ... "WHAT HAVE YOU GOT IN HERE? MAGS, WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING?" ... She crept forward and touched it, and then jumped back. "IT'S FOOD!" she cried ... "IT'S ALL THE FOOD SHE'S BEEN SPITTING OUT! OH GARDNER, IT'S A MOUNTAIN OF ROTTING GARBAGE!"

GARDNER. (softly) Yes ... it's coming back ... it's coming back ...

MAGS. Daddy exited as usual; left the premises. He fainted, just keeled over onto the floor ...

GARDNER. Gosh, I don't remember any of this ...

MAGS. My heart stopped! I mean, I knew it was all over. My lovely creation didn't have a chance. Sure enough ... out came the blow torch. Well, it couldn't have really been a blow torch, I mean, where would you have ever gotten a blow torch? ... I just have this very strong memory of you standing over my bed, your hair streaming around your face, aiming this ... flame thrower at my confection ... my cake ... my tart ... my strudel ... "IT'S GOT TO BE DESTROYED IMMEDIATELY! THE THING'S ALIVE WITH VERMIN! ... JUST LOOK AT IT! IT'S PRACTICALLY CRAWLING ACROSS THE ROOM!" ... Of course in a sense you were right. It was a monument of my cast-off dinners, only I hadn't built it with food ... I found my own materials. I was languishing with hunger, but oh, dear Mother ... I FOUND MY OWN MATERIALS!

FANNY. Darling ... please?!

MAGS. I tried to stop you, but you wouldn't listen ... OUT SHOT THE FLAME! ... I remember these waves of wax rolling across the room and Daddy coming to, wondering what on earth was going on ... Well, what did you know about my abilities? ... You see, I had ... I mean, I have abilities ... (struggling to say it) I have abilities. I have ... strong abilities. I have ... very strong abilities. They are very strong ... very very strong ...

(She rises and runs out of the room, overcome as Fanny and Gardner watch, speechless. The Curtain falls)

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (1)

July 14, 2005

Heat wave

This week is the 10 year anniversary of the heat wave in Chicago that left hundreds dead. I was there. I wrote a post about it a while back which I have re-printed below. Thanks for the reminder, Ann Marie. What a week that was. A nightmare. I remember every second. Especially how heavy the air was.

Chicago Extremes: Heat

In July of 1995 there was a heat wave in Chicago. Relatively famous because of the number of deaths that resulted. Not as much as what happened last summer in France, but it was HUGE. (more info here if you're interested - I think a book was written about it too) I remember the air being filled with the sound of sirens during the days after the temperature dropped (to a balmy 101 degrees). 739 people died over a 5 day period. Jesus. It was terrible.

Anyway, I was there. Obviously I did not die, but I went through it. So here's what happened. Again, there are many tangents, because that's how my mind works, and because I like to write them.

The Hot Extreme
It was July of 1995. The beginning of July was relatively normal summer weather - 70s and 80s. I looked up the temperature chart of that month -

July 7 81
July 8 84
July 9 85
July 10 90
July 11 90
July 12 98
July 13 106
July 14 102
July 15 99
July 16 94
July 17 89

The temperature just kept going up and up and up.

A lot was going on for me during the summer of 1995. I was doing a production of James Agee's A Death in the Family - an award-winning production. I was having a great time with it.

I also was preparing myself to leave Chicago at the end of August. I had gotten into graduate school in New York City and so - I was getting ready to say good-bye. I loved Chicago. I had a real life there. I had a ton of friends. A real community. I was leaving all of that, and I was dreading it. Even though going to grad school is a good thing, I knew that my life in NYC would not have the same feel as my life in Chicago. I was right.

So I was a bit of an emotional mess. Random crying as I looked at Lake Michigan, doing pilgrimages to all my favorite places, taking a ton of pictures ...

It was a blessing to be doing such a GOOD solid show - I had performed in a lot of crap during my time in Chicago - and while being in a bomb definitely has its comedic element and is enjoyable in a kind of masochistic way (especially if the rest of the cast knows it's a bomb, too, and you can all make fun of it, collectively) - it can't hold a candle to being in something that people love, that gets good reviews - We played to full houses every night.

I was living on Wayne Street, again with my friend Mitchell - and another guy, Ken. I loved that apartment. It was a couple blocks away from Wrigley Field, and right behind the Music Box theatre on Southport. Mitchell and I would go see midnight shows of Casablanca and stuff like that.

It was a great apartment - but it had no air conditioning.

I was also working - again as a temp - at this HUGE international company down in the Loop. The building was right on the Chicago river - across from the Opera House.

The heat started getting a bit out of control. Everyone started talking about it. The record-breaking heat also was accompanied by very high levels of humidity. So everything started becoming semi-unbearable. The theatre where I was working was, obviously, air-conditioned, as was my job, but at home we were screwed. I took cold baths and then sat directly in front of a fan in my room. Sometimes I would take 3 baths in one night.

On the couple of hottest days - things started raging out of control.

Rumors started flying - that a couple of guys on construction crews had died, because their bosses made them continue to work, outside.

I would emerge from my job - and the heat was not just a temperature-thing, it was as though it was a heavy hot blanket - draping over my limbs - my face - Immediatley, the second you stepped outside, it became hard to breathe. You had to concentrate on it. Okay ... breathe in ... take it slow ...

I don't know on which of the hottest days the entire city of Chicago lost power. Everyone obviously turned on their air-conditioning units at the same time, and the city was plunged into blackness.

I can't remember where I was when the power went out - but I wasn't home. Someone drove me home, through blackened streets - and it looked and felt like the apocalypse had arrived. The streets were packed with people, people trying to get a little relief, looking for that one breath of cool air. Ambulances were EVERYWHERE, their sirens lighting up the dark - but they had to drive extremely slowly and cautiously - no street lights - no stop lights - and so there became a backlog. Lines of stalled ambulances, sirens shrieking, lights flashing ... but not going anywhere.

And people started dying. It was mostly poor people and elderly people who died.

Because of this heat wave in 1995, Chicago put into place a volunteer task force who, when it became very hot, would knock on people's doors, explain the dangers of the heat to them, and take them to air-conditioned community centers.

Chicago became a mad-house. A morgue in motion. Refrigerated trucks, ambulances ...

I would walk down to do my show. I felt as though I were swimming, as though the air had become tangible, fluid. The atmosphere pressed on the lungs.

The air itself burned.

One of those nights when we had no power - I turned onto my street to come home into my black hot apartment. The street was lined with cars and I noticed something odd: all the motors were running. It sounded like it was the parking lot after a wedding reception or something. As I walked to my door, I glanced in the cars - and they were all filled with people - just hanging out in their air-conditioned vehicles. I saw couples having picnics. I saw entire families sprawled out throughout their cars. People doing crosswords, I saw wine bottles, I heard faint music ...

Can I tell you how much I wanted to knock on one of their car doors and say, "Got room for one more?"

No electricity, no air-conditioning, shrieking sirens filling through the air. All I could do was draw another freezing cold bath and sit in the tub sponging myself off.

Heat like that was another animal. Again, I'm from RI - so I know all about humidity and its evils. But humidity coupled with 106 degree weather is a torment. You cannot even THINK with conditions like that.

Finally - the temperature dipped down ... and things became normal - but the city was traumatized. We could not believe how many people had died. It was incomprehensible. I heard the numbers and didn't believe it. I also had kind of not taken it all that seriously - so I don't have air-conditioning, so what? People in Africa don't have air-conditioning! Why did so many people perish?

And promptly - after the thermometer dropped to a freezing 89 degrees - I got sicker than I have ever been in my life. It was a flu or something - it is still rather mysterious what it was what was wrong with me. I am convinced that some of it was psychosomatic - a reaction to the impending Good-byes. My doctor made a house call. I am still amazed by that fact.

My own internal temperature rose to 103 degrees, which ... is hard to explain. It's hard to explain what goes on when your fever gets that high. Everything ceased being real. There was no reality. I would lie on the couches in my living room, immovable, feeling like my body had dissolved - and I remember one frightening day when I started having fever-induced hallucinations about ice bergs. Huge blue ice bergs bearing down on me, over a dark cold sea.

I was in a panic about leaving Chicago. I called my boyfriend at the time - no other word for him, I guess - He and I were not going to continue on, once I left - it seemed better for both of us - but the good-byes were approaching for us as well, and I was panicked. In the middle of my sickest day, I called him up - FREAKED OUT - but in a very dulled and spacy way - When your temperature is 103, you can't really articulate yourself in any normal way. Anyway, I called him and began expressing my utter panic that I would never ever get better, and the days were ticking by, and soon I was going to have to leave, and if I didn't get better soon, he and I wouldn't be able to have any time together before my departure. I kept saying, in my spacy panicked way, "I am going to be robbed of seeing you. I just know it. I am going to be ROBBED." He knew that he was not dealing with a rational human being at that point. He was very calm, very detached. "We'll see each other. You'll feel better, and we'll see each other." I kept repeating like a lunatic, "No. No. I am going to be ROBBED of the chance to say Good-bye to you in a normal way." Later, when I was normal again, we laughed about this, and he did an imitation of me during that phone call. Stating in this firm weepy voice, "I am going to be ROBBED." No matter WHAT comforting thing he said, I ignored it, and continued to state, "I am going to be ROBBED."

Anyway, he was right. I did feel better, eventually, and we did get to hang out a lot in the last month before I took off.

And a weird coda - during the week that I was sick, I decided, randomly, to get a tattoo. I had drawn a picture in my journal of a phoenix - it was all almost one line - because I felt like I was literally going to burn up into ashes. I only hoped that everything would regenerate. I was excited about starting a new life in New York - but I dreaded leaving. I hoped that there would be life after the fiery death. (What can I say. Having a 103 degree temperature is a bizarre experience). So - I made my way to Belmont Tattoo in the middle of the day. I still couldn't really feel my body because I was so sick, and it was also about 90 degree weather. The place was empty and I showed the tattoo artist the drawing of the phoenix. "Could you put that on my shoulder, please?" He initially didn't want to do it, because he, like my boyfriend, realized that he was not dealing with a fully rational being. I said, "No, no, I'm serious. I really want it. Will you do it?"

He did.

So I've got this little phoenix on my back, which ... if I think about it ... reminds me, ultimately, of that crazy summer of 1995, the summer of good-byes, the summer of endings and new beginnings. But to me - in my memory - that entire summer stays in my mind as one of heat - Heat out in the world, and heat in my own head. Transparent terrifying ice bergs, crowding up against my aching eyeballs, as I lay on my green velvet couch - Taking icy-cold baths, rubbing ice cubes over my limbs - The heat wave of July ... the entire city dark and apocalyptic - with lines of ambulances - stuck in traffic - Heat like a heavy lead blanket laid over the world.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (8)

I don't know how to say this ...

... in a gentle way.

I cannot be gentle.

I just watched an hour of Being Bobby Brown.

And ...

Okay. I am just gonna give up my manners here:

Those two are the RUDEST most CLASSLESS most OBNOXIOUS people I have ever seen IN MY LIFE. They have NO CLASS. They may have a lot of money but they have NO CLASS. A beggar crouching in the dirt in Sierra Leone has more class than those two.

I am SHOCKED. What exactly did they think this reality TV show would give them? A boost to their careers?

Well ... Whitney has a career. Her voice is a God-given gift. Doesn't mean she's not a CLASSLESS LUNATIC ... but she's got a voice.

I love Bobby Brown's song "My Prerogative". It's been on the running tape I make for myself for almost 20 years. That is a damn fine song.

But ... uhm ... that was 20 years ago.

Does he think he comes off looking good in this? Is he aware how disgusting he is? He's all about farts and taking shits, and being a big fat BABY expecting his wife to mother him. He's the most disgusting mamma's boy. He gets a knot in his shoelaces and throws a FIT expecting Whitney to deal with it. Dude: do you realize how PATHETIC YOU ARE????? He throws tantrums, he mugs to the camera ... And she's not any better. She is a lunatic. It seems like she is always stoned. Her eyes never open all the way. Watching this show makes me ACHE for their daughter. I want to do an intervention. She HID in the department store because she saw her father start to take apart a mannequin because he basically CANNOT DEAL WITH LIFE if he is not the center of attention. Whitney took her daughter to the Young Miss section to buy clothes ... and Bobby stalked through the aisles, exclaiming, "NONE OF THESE CLOTHES WOULD FIT ME. WHERE ARE MY CLOTHES?"

Oh. What a bore.

He should be locked up.

Whitney should be medicated.

Their daughter should be taken away from them.

It doesn't take much to shock me, but these two are a freak show. And more than anything else - I am baffled as to why they agreed to do this show. This is evidence that they are complete lunatics because I am sure that they probably think that their antics are kind of hilarious and charming and irreverent ... when really they are just disgusting and classless.

Get some feckin' MANNERS, you idiots. I have seen Whitney's mother in interviews. Whitney's mother is an amazing singer in her own right. She is a classy dignified spiritual woman. Whitney should be ashamed of herself.

And Bobby is beyond disgusting. He gets up from the table at a chic Japanese restaurant and announces that he's taking a cigarette to the bathroom because: "I'ma gonna dropa big one, y'all." Dude: WE ALL POOP. What - do you want a medal? Why do you assault me with your bowel movements? He obviously had incomplete potty training or something.

I feel assaulted. I didn't MEAN to watch it for an hour but ... once it started ... i could not look away. It was like a disgusting operation or something.

Those two are PIGS. Just PIGS.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (21)

The Victor Laszlo - Rick Blaine dilemma


Open thread:

Talk about the ending of Casablanca. Talk about Ilsa's choice. Or actually - Rick made the choice for her: You will go with Laszlo. Ilsa loves both men. Not in the same way, but she does love both men, and she walks away from the "grand passion".

In my opinion, it is this very self-sacrificial feeling to the end of that movie that makes it a classic. If everyone had gotten what they wanted, (or - to put it another way: if Rick and Ilsa had gotten what they wanted) it just wouldn't have been as effective. The movie works because of that bittersweet wistful "what if" streak running through it.

Anyway: anyone who has anything to add to all of this: interpretations, additional thoughts, an analysis on HOW these two could POSSIBLY walk away from one another ... bring it on.




Laszlo - in his finest moment:


Here's Ebert's review of the film.


If we identify strongly with the characters in some movies, then it is no mystery that ``Casablanca'' is one of the most popular films ever made. It is about a man and a woman who are in love, and who sacrifice love for a higher purpose. This is immensely appealing; the viewer is not only able to imagine winning the love of Humphrey Bogart or Ingrid Bergman, but unselfishly renouncing it, as a contribution to the great cause of defeating the Nazis.

Yes. It is that unselfishness, the renouncing of the great love, that makes this film so effective. But still: so painful. Everyone pays a price in this scenario - everyone.

Here's another excerpt from Ebert to discuss:

What is intriguing is that none of the major characters is bad. Some are cynical, some lie, some kill, but all are redeemed. If you think it was easy for Rick to renounce his love for Ilsa--to place a higher value on Laszlo's fight against Nazism--remember Forster's famous comment, ``If I were forced to choose between my country and my friend, I hope I would be brave enough to choose my friend.''

From a modern perspective, the film reveals interesting assumptions. Ilsa Lund's role is basically that of a lover and helpmate to a great man; the movie's real question is, which great man should she be sleeping with? There is actually no reason why Laszlo cannot get on the plane alone, leaving Ilsa in Casablanca with Rick, and indeed that is one of the endings that was briefly considered. But that would be all wrong; the ``happy'' ending would be tarnished by self-interest, while the ending we have allows Rick to be larger, to approach nobility (``it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world''). And it allows us, vicariously experiencing all of these things in the theater, to warm in the glow of his heroism.

Anyone have anything to add?

Welcome, people coming here from Ann Althouse! Feel free to add your thoughts in the comment thread about this film. It's a great discussion going on.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (89)

I can't let it go ...

I can't leave the world of the high-school reunion yet. I can't get enough. I want more. I want our entire group to get together every weekend if possible. hahahaha

I am already on the planning committee for the next one - along with Betsy, Mere, Beth, and Leo. WHOO-HOO. The emails have already flown back and forth - where to have it, should it be a cruise, a clambake ... should we have a cruise AND a clambake? Should we have a buffet table? Venue discussions .... (Lisa, we might go for a multi-day event next time, like you had for yours.. God help us all.)

Let the good times roll.

The ironic thing is that I really disliked high school, actually. I didn't start to blossom until college - which is where I started to feel powerful, feel like I knew a little bit who I was, I felt pretty in college - for the first time ever ... College was a true release for me and I had a sense that that would be true, which is partly why I despised high school so much, and couldn't wait to get out of what I fondly called "that hellhole institution". But seeing everyone as adults has been poignant, piercing, fun, overwhelming ... and I am an emotional addict.

Gimme drugs, gimme drugs ...

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (5)

Falwell again?

I've so had enough of hearing from that guy. I was done with hearing from him years ago. (See this recent post. Ahem. Where I discuss my lifelong "visceral ... distrust of extremism and fanaticism". He's a poster-boy for that shite.) His disgusting comments post 9/11 turned my general contempt into out and out hatred. He makes my blood boil. No reasoned discourse here. I just hate the guy. I'd like to stomp on him in a playground scuffle. Make him cry like a little boy, and then laugh in his face, taunting him. All that grown-up stuff.

And so I'm with you, Andrew.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (2)

The Books: "The Art of Dining" (Tina Howe)

Next in my Daily Book Excerpt:

ArtOfDining.jpgNext play on the script shelf:

Art of Dining: A Comedy, another play by Tina Howe.

A sweeping multi-character play that takes place on the night a certain chi-chi restaurant opens. Again, we have many characters at different tables, and we dip in and out of their stories. The play is all about food - people's issues with food, the celebration of a meal, the primal act of eating, consumption in general ...

I'm going to excerpt from the scene between David Osslow (head of his own publishing company - confident, no issues with food whatsoever) and Elizabeth Barrow Colt (a pathologically shy writer - played by Dianne Wiest in the original production.) Colt is shy, nervous, barely able to speak ... She is also nearsighted and very VERY afraid of food. Osslow and Colt are having a business dinner to discuss her work. This is their first meeting. I would have LOVED to see Dianne Wiest do this part. It's funny because the character literally can barely speak she's so shy ... she grunts, murmurs, sighs ... and then suddenly - she has a one-page monologue that is kind of so horrifying that you wish she would shut up again. It's a very funny device.

EXCERPT FROM Art of Dining: A Comedy, by Tina Howe:

Lights rise on Elizabeth Barrow Colt and David Osslow. Elizabeth is staring at her soup, motionless. David Osslow, the successful head of his own publishing company, a man with a glowing appetite and glowing literary taste, is happily eating his. He's in his fifties, is dapper, at ease, and ready for anything.

DAVID OSSLOW. I like your work very much.

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. (drops her head and murmurs)

DAVID OSSLOW. We all likeit.

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. (shuts her eyes, murmurs again)

DAVID OSSLOW. I beg your pardon?


DAVID OSSLOW. Are you all right?

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. (nodding, eyes closed) Fine, fine, fine, fine, fine ...

(A silence)

DAVID OSSLOW. For some reason I imagined you very differently. (A silence) I thought you'd have a very large head.

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. (starts laughing, wishing she could stop.)

DAVID OSSLOW. No, really I did. I thought you'd have this ... (indicating the size with his hands) huge head!

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. (finds this hysterical, and trying not to laugh, makes peculiar squeaking sounds)

DAVID OSSLOW. You know how you form an image of someone you haven't met?


DAVID OSSLOW. I also pictured you as having very bushy eyebrows. You know, the kind that almost meet over the bridge of the nose ...

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. (Helpless with laughter and embarrassment, tries to hide her face in her napkin and accidentally knocks over her bowl of soup, spilling the entire contents into her lap. She leaps to her feet, flapping like a wet puppy) Oh dear!

DAVID OSSLOW. (bolts out of his seat to help her) Are you all right?

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. (frantically wiping at her dress with her napkin) I spilled ...

DAVID OSSLOW. (lifting his napkin to help) Did you burn yourself?

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. (shrinking from him) I spilled all my soup.

DAVID OSSLOW. (starts wiping at her dress with his napkin) Here, let me help ...

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. (turning her back to him) No, no, I can ...

DAVID OSSLOW. Are you sure you're ...


DAVID OSSLOW. Let me get the waiter. Waiter!

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. (her back turned, hunches over her spilled dress as if the most secret part of her body had suddenly sprung a leak) I can ...

CAL. (striding over) Yes?

[The following 2 short speeches appear side to side in my script. They are to be said simultaneously - a very Tina Howe touch.]

DAVID OSSLOW. I'm afraid we've had a slight spill. Could you bring us some water and extra napkins?

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. It's fine ... It's coming right out ... It's nothing ... really nothing ... (showing her dress) See, I got it all out.

CAL. Yes, right away, I'll get you some fresh napkins and we'll clean it up in no time. (He produces several napkins from his pockete and joins David Osslow in wiping Elizabeth off)

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. (dying of embarrassment since the spill hit her squarely in her crotch) No really I can ... let me ...

CAL. It shouldn't stain. A good dry cleaner should be able to get this right out. (feeling the material) What is this material anyway? Cotton?

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. It isn't my dress ... (she keeps fussing over it)

CAL. (to David Osslow, feeling the fabric) Wouldn't you say this was cotton?

DAVID OSSLOW. (feels it) No, that isn't cotton, it feels more like ... rayon to me ...

CAL. (feeling another section of it) Rayon? It's too lightweight to be rayon...

DAVID OSSLOW. It could be a wool challis ...

CAL. I say it's either cotton or a cotton blend.

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. I don't have a proper dress ...

DAVID OSSLOW. As long as it's not a synthetic, she should have no problems ...

CAL. (feeling it again) You know, it might just be ... slik!

DAVID OSSLOW. (feels) Silk?

CAL. That's right: silk!

DAVID OSSLOW. (still feeling) It certainly has the weight of silk ...

CAL. It's silk! That's what it is!


CAL. Don't worry, this will come right out. Silk sheds stains like water. (Pushes into the kitchen with the soiled napkins)

DAVID OSSLOW. It's a nice dress.

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. (trying to hide the immense stain with her napkin, heads back towards her chair I'm sorry ...

DAVID OSSLOW. (pulls out her chair for her) These kinds of things happen all the ...

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. (collapses in the chair before he's pulled it out all the way, making a loud plop.) Oh dear, I ...

DAVID OSSLOW. (strains to push the chair, with her in it, closer to the table) There we go ... (He returns to his seat, looks at her, reaches across the table and picks up her hand, squeezes it and then lets go) Are you all right?

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. (head down) Fine, fine, fine, fine, fine ...

(A silence)

CAL. (returns with a brand new bowl of steaming soup which he sets down before Elizabeth) There we go! (And he turns on his heel)

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. (her shoulders giving way, looks at it.) Oh dear.

(A slight pause)

DAVID OSSLOW. Elizabeth, I'd like to publish your short stories.

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. (looking into the soup, stunned) Oh my.

DAVID OSSLOW. They're wonderful.


DAVID OSSLOW. What did you say?

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. (softly) I don't know what to say ...

DAVID OSSLOW ... truly wonderful!

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. I never imagined ... (starts fishing around in her pocketbook)

DAVID OSSLOW. You're incredibly gifted ...

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. Oh no, I'm ... (pulls out her lipstick, lowers her head and sneaks on a smear, hands shaking. Suddenly she drops the lipstick. It falls into her soup with a splash) Oh no!

DAVID OSSLOW. What was that?

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. (dives for it) Oh nothing, I just dropped my lipstick ... (She repeatedly tries to retrieve it with her spoon, but it keeps splashing back down into her soup. She finally gives up, fishes it out with her hands, and drops it into her purse)

DAVID OSSLOW. Don't you like the soup?

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. (hunched over her pocketbook) Oh yes, it's ...

DAVID OSSLOW. It looks delicious.

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. (staring at it) Yes, it's very nice.

[The following two lines should be said simultaneously]

DAVID OSSLOW. I've always loved French Provincial ... I'm sorry ... I ...

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. Would you like it?

(A pause)


DAVID OSSLOW. No, really, I ...

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. (picks up the bowl with trembling hands and starts lifting it across the table to him, her spoon still in it) I want you to have it.


ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. (giddy, the soupl sloshing wildly) I never have soup!


ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. In fact, I hardly ever have dinner either!

DAVID OSSLOW. Really, I ...

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. (sets it down in front of him, spilling some) THERE.

DAVID OSSLOW. (looks at it. Weakly.) Well, thank you.

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. (incredibly relieved, looks at him and sighs)

DAVID OSSLOW. (picks up her spoon and dips it into the soup)


DAVID OSSLOW. (starts eating it)


DAVID OSSLOW. Very good. Would you like a taste?

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. Oh, no, thank you!

(A silence)

DAVID OSSLOW. Do you cook at all?


DAVID OSSLOW. (reaches a spoonful of soup across the table to her) Come on, try some.

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. (she tastes it) My mother didn't cook either.

DAVID OSSLOW. Now isn't that good? (gives her another taste)

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. Mmmmmm ... (quickly wipes her mouth with her napkin)

DAVID OSSLOW. (takes a taste himself) My mother was a great cook.

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. She didn't know how. She grew up with servants.

DAVID OSSLOW. Her Thanksgiving dinners! ...

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. We had a cook. Lacey. She was awful and she smelled.

DAVID OSSLOW. I cook every once in a while.

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. We all hated her. Especially my mother.

DAVID OSSLOW. My wife is a great cook! Some night you'll have to come over for dinner!

(He settles into his soup, eating with less and less relish as her story progresses)

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. In fact, when I was young I never even saw my mother in the kitchen. The food just appeared at mealtimes as if by magic, all steaming and ready to eat. Lacey would carry it in on these big white serving platters that had a rim of raised china acorns. Our plates had the same rim. Twenty-two acorns per plate, each one about the size of a lump of chewed gum. When I was very young I used to try and pry them off with my knife ... We ate every night at eight o'clock sharp because my parents didn't start their cocktail hour until seven, but since dinner time was meant for exchanging news of the day, the emphasis was always on talking ... and not on eating. My father bolted his food, and my mother played with hers: sculpting it up into hills and then mashing it back down through her fork. To make things worse, before we sat down at the table she'd always put on a fresh smear of lipstick. I still remember the shade. It was called "Fire and Ice ..." a dark throbbing red that rubbed off on her fork in waxy clumps that stained her food pink, so that by the end of the first course she'd have rended everything into a kind of ... rosy puree. As my father wolfed down his meat and vegetables, I'd watch my mother thread the puree through the raised acorns on her plate, fanning it out into long runny pink ribbons ... I could never eat a thing ... "WAKE UP, AMERICA!" she'd trumpet to me. "You're not being excused from this table until you clean up that plate!" So, I'd take several mouthfuls and then when no one was looking, would spit them out into my napkin. Each night I systematically transferred everything on my plate into that lifesaving napkin ...

DAVID OSSLOW. Jesus Christ.

ELIZABETH BARROW COLT. It's amazing they never caught on.

DAVID OSSLOW. (lights a cigarette and takes a deep drag)

Posted by sheila Permalink

July 13, 2005

Mickey Mantle

"When he ran, he made everyone else look like they were standing still."

-- Ralph Houk on Mickey Mantle

(I'm watching the fabulous HBO special on Mantle right now. I AM IN HEAVEN.)


Billy Crystal: "If you were going to build a baseball player from scratch, all you'd have to do would be say: Him. Give me him."

One of his teammates from the 50s: "You knew you could never be as good as him. But let me tell you: you broke your fanny trying. Trying to live up to him, and be as good as him. He brought the team together."

Talking about how built his body was, one of his teammates said: "He didn't need steroids. As a matter of fact, we didn't even know how to spell it back then."

"Why do they love me so much? I just play fucking baseball." - Mickey Mantle

A sportswriter said: "I learned how to do long division so I could keep up with his batting average."

"There was always a sadness about him. A wistfulness about him." - Bob Costas

"I often wondered how a man who knew he was going to die could stand here on this field and say he felt like the luckiest man on earth. But now I think I know how Lou Gehrig felt." -- Mickey Mantle's retirement speech

Richard Lewis : "I'm just glad his name wasn't Cy Schwartzstein."

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (1)

This is hilarious

... and very very sick.

Make sure you click through all the links. Listen to the celebrity testimonials. Vin Diesel's made me laugh out loud. And Katie Holmes' is CLASSIC.

I also enjoy the animated Tom Cruise's outfit, especially his massive codpiece.

Also: love the touch that Xenu is actually a flaming gay E.T.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (9)

Speaking of astrologers ...

I went to see a psychic once. With 2 good friends from grad school. We took a long long train ride out to Coney Island, where this woman lived. We were ushered into her house by her husband, a long thin bean-pole of a man. The psychic came out to greet us, and she weighed probably 300 pounds. Her house was filled with little sparkley wind chimes, and you could see the grey ocean from the windows.

Now I'm a sort of hopeful skeptic in this regard. I do believe that there are certain things "out there" that certain very sensitive people can pick up on. I've actually experienced moments like that myself, when I have a blinding moment of insight about a total stranger ... something that turns out to be exactly true. (For example, I met this really nice woman at a barbecue once, I knew nothing about her, we talked briefly - and for some reason, I got a sudden flash of: "This chick was once very loose, and very wild. She is now probably born-again, but in a very laid-back way. She has found Jesus, and it works for her ... but she's not gonna proselytize to anyone about it. It helped her not act like a slut anymore, and so she's happy, and deeply faithful." Uhm - I'm serious: I got that very detailed impression of her in my brief conversation with her. And it turns out I was exactly right. I don't know ... it was just a thought-picture I got as I talked to her, an impression based on nothing other than ... her spirit, her chemistry, who she appeared to be in the world.) But anyway - I just want to make it clear that I don't TOTALLY pooh-pooh this kind of stuff - but I do take it all with a grain of salt AND I think you need to be careful. I think there are things that should not be messed with. I don't think the future should be looked into too deeply, I don't think you should live your life from the horoscope you read in the paper. Etc.

All of that being said: there was something about this woman. You just could feel it the second you shook hands with her. She had a penetrating mind, and yet also a KIND mind. I shook hands, and she looked at me, and I felt like: woah, nelly, she is SEEING ME, right now and I have no idea what she sees.

She was also not at all into the frou-frou New Age decor. There were no unicorns, or goddesses, or crystal pyramids. She had none of the trappings. She was like The Oracle in The Matrix. Member that great scene? She saw us one by one, in her kitchen - with a formica table, and a pitcher of lemonade, and sticky leather old-fashioned chairs. She was like a regular housewife.

She let us tape the session.

I don't remember much of what she said to me ... but one thing has stayed with me ever since. It was one of those moments when someone provided me with a deeper insight into my own behavior, my own proclivities. I'm not saying I believe the WHY of her insight, but I am saying that it was a terrific insight, regardless. I had never had someone NAIL this particular aspect of me in such a pure and truthful way.

She said to me, holding my hand in her pudgy one, saying - in her classic tough New York accent: "In a formah life, Sheila, you were a saint."

"Like ... a good person ... or ...?"

"No. I mean a saint, Sheila. I mean that they burned you at the stake. Ya drove God crazy, Sheila. You were a complete fanatic."

It was almost like I held my breath, listening to her. Listening to what might be behind the words. Some revelation ... my relationship to God ... always in flux ...

Then she said, "And that's why - in this life - you don't really do organized religion. Ya don't like buildings to hold God in, Sheila. You might go to church, but that's not where you worship God. You worship God on the beach, and with the stars. You're gonna find God on your own in this life, Sheila."

I would bet that's about word for word what she said, even though it was probably 9 years ago.

I've never written about my religious feelings here much ... it's the ultimate in personal ... I can write about my old boyfriends and the triumvirate, no problem. But God? Nope.

But her words just struck a HUGE chord with me. Not only did they strike a huge chord - but they also relaxed me immensely. Things made sense. Yes. She nailed it. She nailed exactly who I am when it comes to God. I have no idea if I was some fanatic in a former life, and I don't even know if I believe in former lives - BUT: it's fun to contemplate it. As an intellectual exercise. If it is true that I was burned at the stake in a former life (which - if you knew how religious I was in high school - would make TOTAL sense ... I wasn't just "religious", I was, at times, practically in a fugue state of Jesus-love. Yup - I was one of those. Only the Catholic version of it). But anyway: if it is true that I was once burned at the stake - then it would make sense that

1. I would flirt with that kind of passion in this life. As a holdover.
2. I would eventually realize that it doesn't work for me (as if I remember the flames licking at my limbs from my former life)
3. I would quickly develop a healthy suspicion of fundamentalism of ANY kind. Because I know, intuitively, how dangerous it is, and how harmful.

I've talked about this here before. Fundamentalist Islam, fundamentalist Christians - I don't care. Fundies make my skin crawl. I have no idea where this comes from - I was brought up surrounded by mild Catholics and Episcopalians, I didn't have bad experiences with fundies - not really ... but there's something visceral in my distrust of extremism and fanaticism.

So anyway. That was my experience with the obese psychic on Coney Island.

I take her words with a grain of salt, naturally, but her "ya drove God crazy" and "you're gonna find God on your own" comments really struck a chord. I still think of them on occasion.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (7)

Stars and moons ...

When a comet is exploded by NASA ... say, by the Deep Impact Probe, for example ... there are many important issues to consider. We can't even begin to ponder the ramifications of such an event. It raises many questions, and hopefully deepens our understanding of space.

But the REALLY important thing to consider is:


One astrologer is pissed, and she's not afraid to let NASA know. Her horoscope has been "deformed". She has experienced "moral sufferings" because of this.

I just love nutters like this woman.

(via Truly Bad Films)

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (3)

We all should have chaperones

Chris Cope has written a very VERY funny article - the first sentence of which is:

I would like to publicly thank Katie Holmes for being completely insane, and for giving me a great idea.

(thanks for the link, Noggie)

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No Cimment

The nostalgia continues ...

Last night, after having a long conversation with my carny friend Mitchell, I sat at my desk, and looked through my high school yearbook. I looked at EVERY PAGE. I scrutinized EVERY SIGNATURE. I read all of our little blurbs, wondering what the hell some of the references were.

Pictures of the Homecoming dance ... which I didn't go to. But the dresses! The ruffly frilly dresses of the day. The guys in tuxes. Do high school boys even wear tuxes anymore? Really cute picture of Crissy J. when she was voted Homecoming Queen.

There are so many pictures of my friend Betsy scattered through the entire yearbook that she must have paid off the Yearbook editor or something. hahaha

In the yearbook is literally one of the funniest photos ever taken of me, EVER. This is from my moment of cheerleading glory ... words can't describe it ... Whoever caught that moment on film should be given an award. My face in the photo looks absolutely manically insane. I'll post it sometime. hahahahaha

Two HILARIOUS typos in the senior blurbs - typos that are now infamous in my group of friends:

-- In Betsy's case, under "Favorite Quote" she had written: "I want to go wild like a blister in the sun." The Violent Femmes were very big in my school. Sadly, when the yearbook came out, the quote read: "I want to go wild like a BUSTER in the sun". Doesn't have quite the same ring.

-- In Beth's case: this takes a bit of set-up. We were in drama class together. One of the things that drove us crazy about our class was that after we would work on a scene, or do a monologue, or whatever - the teacher would invariably look around the room, and say, "Comments?" SHE ALWAYS did that. It drove us nuts. Like: YOURE. THE. TEACHER. What do YOU have to say? No. She always turned it over to the class, with that one word: "Comments?" Ohhh, it went up our asses!! So Beth, in her senior blurb, wrote under "Pet Peeve": "Comments." We thought to ourselves gleefully and maliciously, "Maybe our teacher will see that and realize how much it drove us crazy! hahahaha Revenge!!!!" Sadly, when the yearbook finally came out, Beth's pet peeve had magically turned into "Cimments" - which makes no sense and completely ruined our chances for revenge. Now, though: the word "Cimments" has basically been added to our collective vocabulary. A group email will go around from one of us, explaining: "Okay, so I'm at a crossroads in my life - and I need some advice ... here's the situation ...blah blah blah blah ..." Story is told in detail. And then at the end comes the inevitable question to the group: "Cimments?"

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Reunion humor

Mere and I were talking with good old Chris W. I didn't recognize him at first, without the blonde RINGLETS he had in high school - now he's a big beefy man - but the second we started talking, I thought: Yes. There is Chris W! From high school: funny, goofy, nice, football player, a big brash guy - and yet, he had these Shirley Temple curls. So cute!! It was good to see him.

But anyway:

He told a story about taking his mom to see War of the Worlds. His mother hadn't been to the movies in quite some time, so she was very excited. She talked to him throughout the movie. Making comments, asides ... at one point, the people behind them SHUSHED them!!

At one point, Tom Cruise (quiet, peanut gallery) is trying to bond with his estranged son - and invites him to play catch in the back yard. Cruise is wearing a New York Yankees hat. The son is angry with his father, so when he comes out into the back yard to play catch, he is wearing a Red Sox hat. Cruise notices the hat, and says grimly to his son, "So that's how it's gonna be, huh?"

At that moment, Chris W's mother leaned over to him and kindly informed him: "The Yankees and the Red Sox have a really old rivalry ..."

We were howling. Like: thanks, Mom, I KNOW.

Posted by sheila Permalink

"Carny" is a derogatory term

It's one of those things that insiders are allowed to use ... to describe themselves ... but God HELP you if you're an outsider, and you make some joke about "carnies" in the presence of an actual carny. God help you, I'm serious.

My dear friend Mitchell works in a circus every summer, and we joke about his "carny" life. I spoke with him last night. He lives in his own camper van, with AC thank God, and travels up and down and through New England, with the fabulous Circus Smirkus. New Englanders: here is their summer schedule if you're interested. I've seen some of their performances, and they're marvelous. These people are gifted circus performers from all over the place, and many of them go on to Ringling Brothers, etc. FUN.

I said to him, "So where are you?" He said the town, he was in Vermont somewhere, in the middle of nowhere, and he said he was lying in bed in his camper van, and I said, "Dude, you are show trash to your very core."

He has no email access while he lives his carny life ... but I am going to post this anyway, for safekeeping, when I see him again.

My E-verse newsletter just came, and there's a link in it - to this: "Carny Lingo" - an enormous glossary of carnival terms. Any mini-world has its own vocabulary ... so I was reading through the glossary, just laughing, thinking of Mitchell in his carny camper van, traveling around with the circus.

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The Books: "Museum" (Tina Howe)

Next in my Daily Book Excerpt:

Museum.jpgNext play on the script shelf:

Museum: A Play, by Tina Howe. Tina Howe's stuff was a big big deal in New York in the late 70s and 80s ... I do believe she is still around, and may even have a new production up ... but she made her biggest splash in the 80s with Painting Churches and then Coastal Disturbances. I really REALLY like her writing. She's written some of my favorite actor-ish monologues out there.

Her writing is funny, quirky, with lots and LOTS of interruptions. People barely EVER get out a full sentence in a Tina Howe play. It's really hard, as an actor, to make Tina Howe's stuff sound real. She's deceptively simple. I've worked on some of her beautiful monologues, and it's not as easy as it looks. The writing can suddenly get startlingly beautiful and poetic, too ... so that needs to be made real as well.

The play Museum was first done in New York at the NY Shakespeare Festival in 1978.

Here's an excerpt. Basically, it all takes place in a museum, where a certain controversial modern artist is having a show. People wander through the museum - different characters with different lives, concerns, reactions ... we get to know all of them. This excerpt is from when we first meet Liz, Carol, and Blakey - 3 college girls.

EXCERPT FROM Museum: A Play by Tina Howe

LIZ'S VOICE (offstage) Did you hear what happened to Botticelli's Venus this morning?

CAROL'S VOICE (offstage) No, what?

LIZ'S VOICE. Some maniac shot it with a gun.

LIZ, CAROL AND BLAKEY (Enter, enthusiastic college girls who are taking an art course together)

CAROL. Someone shot it? People don't shoot paintings. They slash them!

LIZ. I heard it on the radio this morning. A hooded man pumped eighteen bullets into the Venus figure at the Uffizi.

CAROL. I've never heard of anyone ... shooting a painting.

BLAKEY. You're right! They usually attack them with knives or axes.

CAROL. There's something so ... alienated ... about shooting a painting.

BLAKEY. ... and then there was the guy that wrote slogans all over Guernica with a can of spray paint.

LIZ. (laughing) That's right: spray paint!

BLAKEY. Red spray paint ... and he misspelled everything, remember?

LIZ. (leading them to the Moes) Carol, Blakey, guys, YOU'RE GOING TO LOVE HIM!

(They look at his work with reverence)

LIZ. (softly) You know, his parents are deaf mutes ... both of them ... profoundly deaf ...


LIZ. Can you imagine what it must have been like growing up with parents who couldn't hear you? I mean, when would you figure out that it was their affliction and not yours? How could a baby realize there was anything unusual about his parents? (Pause) Since he never heard them utter a word, he must have assumed he couldn't speak either. He could hear his own little baby sounds of course, but he had no idea what they were ...

BLAKEY AND CAROL. (Exhale, impressed with the dilemma)

LIZ. When he cried ... no one heard him.


BLAKEY. Maybe he never did cry!

LIZ. Of course he cried! All babies cry. Even deaf babies.

CAROL. (Lost) He assumed he couldn't speak either?

LIZ. Don't forget, his parents could always see him cry. Sooner or later he must have realized that in order to get their attention he didn't really have to cry, all he had to do was go through the motions ... (She opens her mouth and cries without making a sound)

BLAKEY. (Musing) If a deaf, mute baby had hearing parents ... they couldn't hear him cry either ...


CAROL. (still lost) ... go through the motions?

LIZ. (to Blakey) The deaf aren't necessarily mute, you know, some of them can make some sort of residual sound ...


LIZ. ... but it's not the case with Zachary Moe's parents. They are consigned to absolute and life long silence.

BLAKEY. (her head spinning from it all, turns her back on the Moes, and notices the clothesline) OH MY GOD, WILL YOU LOOK AT THAT? IT'S INCREDIBLE!

LIZ. (reaching for Carol) When Moe finally realized that his meandering attempts at speech fell on deaf ears ...

BLAKEY. (pulling Carol with her) THIS IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THING I'VE EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE! (Touching it gently)

GUARD. (to Blakey) Please don't handle the art works.

BLAKEY. It's ... fantastic!


BLAKEY. Oh, I'm sorry. (To Carol) Imagine thinking of making a clothesline ... with the bodies left inside the clothes ...

CAROL. (torn between her two friends) Yeah ...

BLAKEY. It's a reality grounded in illusion!

CAROL. (feeling trapped, detaches herself from Balkey) You know, this is the first time I've ever been in this museum!

BLAKEY. Oh no! There's even a little kid wearing a tee shirt!


BLAKEY. I'm not touching, for Christsakes, I'm just looking!

CAROL. (walking around the room) I've lived in this city my whole life, and this is the first time I've ever been to this museum!

BLAKEY. It's our bodies that give our clothes meaning, just as without our clothes we ...

CAROL. (Looking out the window) You know, you can always tell the quality of a museum by the view out the windows.

BLAKEY. (kneels by the basket of clothespins) Do you see this? He even left out the basket of clothespins?!

THE GUARD. (walks over to her) Please don't handle the basket of clothespins.

BLAKEY. (Rises) If you're not supposed to handle the basket of clothespins, how come the artist put them there?

CAROL. (to Blakey) The Tate Gallery has just about the shittiest view of any museum in the world!

BLAKEY. (to the Guard) He put them there so we would touch them!

CAROL. The view from the Del Prado isn't so hot either.

LIZ. (still enthralled with the Moes) He chose painting as his voice! (Opens her catalogue, stops at a page) Look at his early sketches! The drawings he did of his toys when he was only three! Do you believe his technique? Look at his handling of perspective ...

Posted by sheila Permalink

Movie quote

"I was at Woodstock, for Christ's sake. I peed in a field!"

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (24)

July 12, 2005

Reunion snapshots

-- Shelly coming over to our table and saying, "I am sorry, but all the girls in our class look SO HOT."

-- Our terrorizing vice principal was there, slugging back drinks at the bar. He was such a bad-ass. He kept us all in line. We all reminisced about the small detention room he kept off to the side of his office called "the Tank".

-- Mere and I took off our shoes to dance. No way can I get through Rock Lobster in heels.

-- Laughing SO HARD with Ram and Erin about the incident in Chicago - which someday I MUST write about. Erin came running over to me: "You are my witness! You are my witness!" Wow. Major nuttiness. The last time I saw Erin and Ram was during "the incident" ... which was YEARS ago. So we all just had to roar with laughter about it.

-- The names ... the faces ... waves of memory. John L., Mark W., Cris D., Donna O., Peter C., and on and on and on ... Chris W!! Telling us stories about taking his mother to the movies. Very amusing. But the faces ... seeing all the faces ...

-- Laughing with Cindy C. about how she was ALWAYS GROUNDED in junior high. ALWAYS. We used to sit in the back of the school bus. "Wanna go to a movie this weekend?" "Can't, I'm grounded." "Want to go roller skating on Friday?" "Can't. I'm grounded."

-- Saw pictures of people's kids. Which was so cool.

-- Leo looked and smelled like a million bucks. He wore a suit. He brought his yearbook over to Beth's house beforehand, and we all sat in the kitchen, rain POURING down outside, flipping through the photos of our class. Leo pretty much knew what was going on with every single person.

-- Keith M. Couldn't get over it when I first saw his face. Could. Not. Get. Over. It. We talked off and on the whole night, and by the end I was still getting used to his grown-up adult face. Beautiful.

-- Talking with my old South Road school classmates about the sad event of the closing of our old school. Beth has up-to-the-minute updates in this regard, so we talked a lot about the fate of our school. Keith and I laughed about me kissing him behind the fort (the fort no longer exists - BUMMER), and I got a chance to apologize for chasing him down like a wild-haired maenad (thanks for the word, Anne). We also ROARED about this enormous DOME which used to be on the playground. It was like a jungle gym, only in a dome shape ... that thing was huge, so dangerous!! Kids would hang from the top like little chimps, with no supervision. I did it myself. hahahaha You say to any kid who went to South Road School in the 70s: "How 'bout the Dome??" and you'll get a big response.

-- During dinner, many conversations about camp. We all went to the same camp - another experience that deserves a couple separate posts. Beth and Michelle's kids were, that very week, up at the SAME CAMP we had all gone to as kids. And our dear friend Betsy couldn't be with us at the reunion because she runs that week of camp ... It was sad to not have her there - but also strangely perfect that she would be THERE on that night. A place we all have such fond memories of.

-- I said something to Beth during dinner that made her do a spit-take.

-- So good to see my old friend Kate. She seems like she's doing really well ... and I had a really great time talking with her, catching up.

-- Oh yes, and the wasted woman showing up ... who ... we had no idea who she was ... and she acted very familiarly toward us ... she had no name tag. She was WASTED.

-- Friends: please add more in the comments.

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Intense! Nostalgia suffusing everything. My reunion was a really intense night. But not without its whimsy either. I have been listening to Foo Fighters Color and the Shape on an endless loop. Ramblings about Dave Grohl here. Especially "Monkey Wrench" and "Up in Arms" - maybe because those two songs remind me of what it sometimes felt like to be a teenager. Not the part of being a teenager that is like a Smiths songs - but the part of being a teenager that is free, full of possibility, excitement, exuberance. Yet there's something retrospective about the feel of the songs ... like you're looking back on that exuberance fondly, remembering what it was like.

That's how it felt at my reunion, standing at the bar with Keith M., with others, chatting our heads off. It was so feckin' GREAT.

I think I need to write more posts about high school. Get it out of my system. I have a couple in the works.

There was a girl from a couple years ahead of our class who came as her sister's date (her sister was in my class). She came over to talk with us at our table and said that a couple years before, she had had her class reunion - and in general, it was really awkward and stiff. She said, "Listen to how much conversation is going on in this room right now ... Hear how loud it is? It wasn't that way with my year at all. You could hear the clink of silverware on the plates."

Wow. Ours wasn't like that at all. The bar was always surrounded by a throng of people. Mingling was rampant. There was much hilarity. There was much dancing.

"Paradise by the Dashboard Light" was played. hahahahaha So was:

1. many many Michael Jackson tunes. In memory of who he once was, and what his music meant to our class

2. Rock Lobster

3. Angel is a centerfold - hahahaha

Everyone was personable, friendly, fun to talk to ... There were a couple of people I was excited specifically to see. Keith M., of course. I think I covered that. Also Andrew. Of spitball Valentine fame. Within 2 weeks time this past spring, the two of them contacted me - having found my blog. Separately. Correspondences sprung up. Pictures exchanged. I guess I'm a sucker for the past. I love to know there's a continuum. I love to have connections. The fact that many of my friends go back to adolescence and childhood (Betsy, Michelle, Mere, Beth) is one of the great joys of my life. I know it's rare. Many people lose friends along the way ... I have certainly lost a couple, but not ALL of them. And I love that. I love that these people knew me when I was a CHILD. And Andrew and Keith, while never my best friends, were certainly very very special to me ... There was a sparkle there, a fizz ... because they were "boy friends". I was, in my own 9 - 11 year old way, wildly in love with both of them. They were my favorite "boy friends" from childhood. And Andrew giving me that damn Valentine when we were 11 - the Valentine that I still have - just ... it's one of those memories that has never lost its power. And how amazing it was to write that post about the Valentine he gave me, not knowing he would eventually read it, and then have him find it so soon afterwards. I hadn't spoken to Andrew in 20 years! And then suddenly - there he was. Emailing me, and even leaving a comment on the post!! Through reading that post, he was able to see the impact his small gesture when he was a young boy had on me so so many years ago. The Internet, man. It's changed everything.

So within 2 weeks, I'm not kidding, suddenly I was getting emails from Andrew and Keith M. again. Childhood boy friends. Those two are no longer connected either ... it's not like Andrew contacted Keith saying, "Hey Sheila has a blog!" No. They contacted me separately. But ... so close in time ... after so many years ...

To see them both at the reunion - I mean, it always would have been cool to see them - but it was even cooler, because we had so recently gotten back in touch. I felt like we had so much to catch up on. Also, I felt like: because I'm an adult now, and not a 9 year old girl, I am more able to just BE with them, to just talk and listen, and be present in the moment. How many people get that chance, with people from their past?

Sigh. I am filled with emotion.

It'll calm down soon, but for now I'll just listen to Foo Fighters Up in Arms again ... because it reminds me of when I was young. When we all were young.

Up in Arms

The rain is here and you, my dear,
are still my friend.
It's true the two of us are back
as one again,

I was the one who left you,
Always coming back, I could not forget you, girl
Now I am up in arms again

Together now - I don't know how
this love could end.
My lonely heart it falls apart
for you to mend.

I was the one who left you,
Always coming back, I could not forget you, girl
Now I am up in arms again

Sniffle ....

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RIP Doc Baker

Here is really the only obituary I need to read.


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The Books: "House of Blue Leaves" (John Guare)

Next book in my Daily Book Excerpt:

190e9833e7a0165e30ff1110._AA240_.L.jpgNext play on the script shelf:

The House of Blue Leaves, by John Guare.

I saw the original Broadway production of this show. I was 19 years old. The play starred: John Mahoney, Stockard Channing, and Swoosie Kurtz in the 3 lead parts - and Ben Stiller had a spectacular one scene (he was making his Broadway debut - he was 21 years old). Ben Stiller's one scene (which consists of him doing a 5 page monologue, which involves him being dressed in head to toe fatigues, and literally leaping up off walls, like Donald O'Connor. It's a funny monologue, it's also TRAGIC ... it is potentially a tour de force if it's done well. I still remember some of the blocking Ben Stiller had - how he leapt over the back of the couch ... He was fanTAStic. And, of course, completely unknown at the time.) But everyone was amazing. John Mahoney! He played Artie, the lead character - an aspiring songwriter, who lives in Queens with his sick and sort of crazy wife Bananas, played by Swoosie Kurtz. The play takes place on October 4, 1965 - on the day the Pope passes through Queens. The Pope's visit is the catalyst for wrenching changes in the lives of the characters in the play. Artie is having an affair right under Banana's nose, with a babealicious cruel-hearted (very funny) woman named Bunny (played by Stockard Channing) - who stalks around in tight capris and stilettos - in stark contrast to Bananas, who can't seem to ever make it out of her pajamas. Ben Stiller plays Ronnie, the hyperactive on-the-edge son of Artie and Bananas. Guare is an inventive and courageous writer. This may sound like a conventional story, but Guare never puts things into a conventional FORM. His writing is elevated, poetic ... you'll see what I mean when you read the excerpt. It's not realistic. Characters talk to the audience, etc. People wander in and out of the scenes, in a non-realistic way.

I love John Guare.

EXCERPT FROM The House of Blue Leaves, by John Guare:

BANANAS. (smiling out front) Hello. I haven't had a chance to welcome you. This is my home and I'm your hostess and I should welcome you. I wanted to say Hello and I'm glad you could come. I was very sick a few months ago. I tried to slash my wrists with spoons. But I'm better now and glad to see people. In the house. I couldn't go out. Not yet. Hello. (She walks the length of the stage, smiling at the audience, at us. She has a beautiful smile.)

(Bunny comes out of the kitchen down to the edge of the stage.

BUNNY. (to us) You know what my wish is? The priest told us last Sunday to make a wish when the Pope rides by. When the Pope rides by, the wish in my heart is gonna knock the Pope's eye out. It is braided in tall letters, all my veins and arteries and aortas are braided into the wish that she dies pretty soon. (She goes back to the kitchen)

BANANAS. (who has put a red mask on her head) I had a vision -- a nightmare -- I saw you talking to a terrible fat woman with newspapers for feet -- and she was talking about hunters up in the sky and that she was a dream and you were a dream ... (She crosses to the kitchen, pulls the mask down over her eyes and comes up behind Bunny) Hah!!!

Bunny screams in terror and runs into the living room

BUNNY. I am not taking insults from a sick person. A healthy person can call me anything they want. But insults from a sickie -- a sicksicksickie -- I don't like to be degraded. A sick person has fumes in their head -- you release poison fumes and it makes me sick -- dizzy -- like riding the back of a bus. No wonder Negroes are fighting so hard to be freed, riding in the back of buses all those years. I'm amazed they even got enough strength to stand up straight ... Where's my coat? Artie, where's my coat? My binox and my camera? (To Bananas) What did you do with my coat, Looney Tunes?

Artie has retrieved the coat from the hallway

BUNNY. You soiled my coat! This coat is soiled! Arthur, are you dressed warm? Are you coming?

ARTIE (embarrassed) Bananas, I'd like to present -- I'd like you to meet -- this is Bunny Flingus.

BUNNY. You got the ski p.j.'s I bought you on underneath? You used to go around freezing till I met you. I'll teach you how to dress warm. I didn't work at ski lodges for nothing. I worked at Aspen.

BANANAS. (thinking it over a moment) I'm glad you're making friends, Artie. I'm no good for you.

BUNNY. (taking folders out of her purse, to Bananas) I might as well give these to you now. Travel folders to Juarez. It's a simple procedure -- you fly down to Mexico -- wetback lawyer meets you -- sign a paper -- jet back to little old NY.

ARTIE. Bunny's more than a friend, Bananas.

BUNNY. Play a little music -- "South of the Border" -- divorce Meheeco style! --

ARTIE. Would you get out of here, Bunny. I'll take care of this.

(Bananas sings hysterically, without wrods, "South of the Border")

BUNNY. I didn't work in a travel agency for nix, Arthur.

ARTIE. Bunny!

BUNNY. I know my way around.

(Bananas stops singing)

ARTIE. (taking the folders from Bunny) She can't even go to the incinerator alone. You're talking about Mexico --

BUNNY. I know these sick wives. I've seen a dozen like you in movies. I wasn't an usher for nothing. You live in wheel chairs just to hold your husband and the minute your husband's out of the room, you're hopped out of your wheel chair doing the Charleston and making a general spectacle of yourself. I see right through you. Tell her, Artie. Tell her what we're going to do.

ARTIE. We're going to California, Bananas.

BUNNY. Bananas! What a name!

BANANAS. A trip would be nice for you ...

BUNNY. What a banana ---

BANANAS. You could see Billy ... I couldn't see Billy ... (almost laughing) I can't see anything ...

ARTIE. Not a trip.

BUNNY. To live. To live forever.

BANANAS. Remember the time we rode up in the elevator with Bob Hope? He was a wonderful man.

ARTIE. I didn't tell you this, Bunny. last week, I rode out to Long Island. (to Bananas, taking her hand) You need help. We -- I found a nice hosp ... By the sea ... by the beautiful sea ... It's an old estate and you can walk from the train station and it was raining and the roads aren't paved so it's muddy, but by the road where you turn into the estate, there was a tree with blue leaves in the rain -- I walked under it to get out of the rain and also because I had never seen a tree with blue leaves and I walked under the tree and all the leaves flew away in one big round bunch -- just lifted up, leaving a bare tree. Whoosh...It was birds. Not blue leaves but birds, waiting to go to Florida or California ... and all the birds flew to another tree a couple of hundred feet off and that bare tree blossomed -- snap! like that -- with all these blue very quietleaves... You'll like the place, Bananas. I talked to the doctor. He had a mustache. You like mustaches. And the Blue Cross will handle a lot of it, so we won't have to worry about expense ... You'll like the place ... a lot of famous people have had crackdowns there, so you'll be running in good company.

BANANAS. Shock treatments?

ARTIE. No. No shock treatments.

BANANAS. You swear?

BUNNY. If she needs them, she'll get them.

ARTIE. I'm handling this my way.

BUNNY. I'm sick of you kowtowing to her. Those poison fumes that come out of her head make me dizzy -- suffering -- look at her -- what does she know about suffering ...

BANANAS. Did you read in the paper about the bull in Madrid who fought so well they didn't let him die? They healed him, let him rest before they put him back in the ring, again and again and again. I don't like the shock treatments, Artie. At least the concentration camps -- I was reading about them, Artie -- they put the people in the ovens and never took them out -- but the shock treatments -- they put you in the oven and then they take you out and then they put you in and then they take you out ...

BUNNY. Did you read Modern Screen two months ago? I am usually not a reader of film magazines, but the cover on it reached right up and seduced my eye in the health club. It was a picture like this -- she clutches her head -- and it was called "Sandra Dee's Night of Hell". Did you read that by any happenstance? Of course you wouldn't read it. You can't see anything. You're ignorant. Not you. Her. The story told of the night before Sandra Dee was to make her first movie and her mother said, "Sandra, do you have everything you need?" And she said -- snapped back, real fresh-like -- "Leave me alone, Mother. I'm a big girl now and don't need any help from you." So her mother said, "All right, Sandra, but remember I'm always here." Well, her mother closed the door and Sandra could not find her hair curlers anywhere and she was too proud to go to her mom and ask her where they were --

ARTIE. Bunny, I don't understand.

BUNNY. Shut up. I'm not finished yet -- and she tore through the house having to look her best for the set tomorrow because it was her first picture and her hair curlers were nowhere! Finally at four in the a.m., her best friend, Annette Funicello, the former Mouseketeer, came over and took the hair curlers out of her very own hair and gave them to Sandra. Thus ended her night of hell, but she had learned a lesson. Suffering -- you don't even know the meaning of suffering. You're a nobody and you suffer like a nobody. I'm taking Artie out of this environment and bringing him to California while Billy can still do him some good. Get Artie's songs -- his music -- into the movies.

ARTIE. I feel I only got about this much life left in me, Bananas. I got to use it. These are my peak years. I got to take this chance. You stay in your room. You're crying. All the time. Ronnie's gone now. This is not a creative atmosphere ... Bananas, I'm too old to be a young talent.

BANANAS. I never stopped you all these years ...

BUNNY. Be proud to admit it, Artie. You were afraid till I came on the scene. Admit it with pride.

ARTIE. I was never afraid. What're you talking about?

BUNNY. No man takes a job feeding animals in the Central Park Zoo unless he's afraid to deal with humans.

ARTIE. I walk right into the cage! What do you mean?

BUNNY. Arthur, I'm trying to talk to your wife. Bananas, I want to be sincere to you and kind.

ARTIE. I'm not afraid of nothing! Put my hand right in the cage --

BUNNY. (sitting down beside Bananas, speaks to her as to a child) There's a beautiful book of poems by Robert Graves. I never read the book because the title is so beautiful there's no need to read the book: "Man Does. Woman Is." Look around this apartment. Look at Artie. Look at him.

ARTIE. (muttering) I been with panthers.

BUNNY. (with great kindness) I've never met your son, but -- no insult to you, Artie -- but I don't want to. Man does. What does Artie do? He plays the piano. He creates. What are you? What is Bananas? Like he said before when you said you've been having nightmares. Artie said, "You been looking in the mirror?" Because that's what you are, Bananas. Look in the mirror.

ARTIE (is playing the piano) - "Where is the Devil in Evelyn?"

BUNNY. Man Does. Woman Is. I didn't work in a lending library for nothing.

ARTIE. I got panthers licking out of my hands like goddam pussycats.

Posted by sheila Permalink

July 11, 2005

Well, well

Today is apparently a day of acknowledgement. First Keith M. And I just realized that today is E.B. White's birthday.


Now - not only are his essays classics of the form (honestly: it's like he invented the form) - he's also, of course, one of our most beloved children's book writers.

Ahem. Really, here is all I need to say:


Wilbur!!! Charlotte!! Now there's an "s" I can love. Can't even talk about it. It's too perfect.

But E.B. White always makes me think of my friend Mitchell, because Stuart Little saved my friend Mitchell's life.

I think my favorite thing I've ever written was about the Stuart Little - Mitchell connection.

And so: in honor of the author whose book saved my friend's life (already choked up ... it's a killer): I present to you my essay:

An Ode to a Very Special Teacher.

Happy birthday, EB White. Thanks for Stuart Little. Mitchell is my kindred spirit friend, my space-twin, whatever you want to call it ... I can't imagine what it would have been like if I had never met him, and your book made that possible.

An Ode to a Very Special Teacher.

I have a friend who grew up in a nightmare, surrounded by poverty, abandonment, and chaos. He and his siblings clung to one another through it all, and they have emerged intact: healthy beautiful people. But they were brought up in an abusive and reckless nuthouse.

And this post is an ode to a teacher. A teacher who saved my friend's life. When I say this I am quite serious, although she did not drag him from out of a burning house, or leap in to save him from drowning. No. She recognized the light within him, and she made it her business to protect it, and nurture it, and make sure it survived. If that's not saving someone's life, then I don't know what is.

My friend is extremely intelligent. His parents did not value this in him. On the contrary, it threatened them. To add to all of this, my friend, from a very young age, knew he was "different" from other boys. Somehow. How many other boys would stay home from school and put hot-rollers into their sister's Cher-doll's hair? How many other boys could recite Meet Me in St. Louis? How many other boys lip-synched to Barbra Streisand albums? He couldn't put a name to what was different because he was just a little boy. But he knew it was there.

The teasing he got, from within his family and at school, was brutal. Teasing of this kind has one goal and one goal only: to crush what is different. The difference in him was like a scent and other kids could smell it. So they set out to destroy it. Which is why he would stay home from school, playing with his sister's Barbies.

The little boy reached the 2nd grade. He had already learned some very hard lessons. He had already experienced cruelty, betrayal, terror. The end of this story could have been a terrible one. All of the cards were stacked against this person.

He might never have gotten out, were it not for his 2nd grade teacher.

I cannot remember her name, but I will hold a place in my heart for her forever. I did not meet this "little boy" until college when we became fast friends, but to my view, this 2nd grade teacher was directly responsible for the fact that this little boy went to college (the first one in his family to do so), that this little boy broke the pattern of abuse in his family, that this little boy got the hell OUT and said NO to what seemed to be his logical fate.

This 2nd grade teacher read E.B. White's Stuart Little to the class.

And my friend, then 7 years old, had what can only be described as a life-changing experience, listening to that book.

Stuart Little is a mouse, born to human parents. Everyone is confused by him. "Where the heck did HE come from?" My friend, a little boy who was so "different" he might as well have been a mouse born to human parents, a little boy who was, indeed, smaller than everybody else in the class, listened to this book, agog, his soul opened up to it, and it changed his life.

First of all: for the first time, he really got reading. By this I mean the importance, and the excitement, of language. Language can crack open windows in places you thought were just flat brick. Language can create new and better worlds. Language is a way out. To this day, my friend is a voracious reader. I will never forget living with him while he was reading Magic Mountain. We lived in a one-room apartment, and so if I wanted to go to sleep and turn the lights off, my friend would take a pillow into the bathroom, shut the door, curl up on the bathmat, and read Magic Mountain long into the night.

I believe that this voraciousness is a direct result of that 2nd grade teacher reading Stuart Little to the class. If that had not happened, and if it hadn't been that particular book, my friend might not have become a huge reader, might not have gone to college, might not have gotten OUT. It was that significant.

Stuart Little is "different". Just like my friend was "different". In hearing the words of that story, my friend rose above the pain, the loneliness, the torture, the fear, and realized that there were others out there who were "different" too. And that different was GOOD!

And here was the major revelation: Stuart Little's small-ness ends up being his greatest asset. That which seemed like the biggest strike against him is not at all in the end! My friend, in his 7-year-old epiphany, embraced his size. Small didn't mean "weak". Not at all.

Somewhere, in his child-like soul, he knew he was gay although he did not have a word for it. It wasn't a sexual orientation so much, at that time, but a sensibility. He wasn't like the other kids. He didn't know yet what that would mean for him, in his life, but it certainly isolated him in school. And it isolated him at home. And so, hearing about the adventures of Stuart Little, my friend realized that this life that he was living right now , the narrow circle of poverty and pain, did not have to be his life. He suddenly knew, for the first time in his life, that everything was going to be okay.

As the teacher read the story to the class, my friend had the intense sensation that the teacher was reading it directly to him, and only to him. It was such a strong feeling that he was able to describe it to me, vividly, years and years later. The rest of the class fell away, and it was as though she had singled him out, she was trying to give him a message of some sort, through the words of E.B. White. That book was for him.

By the time high school came around, my friend had learned that wit was the best defense against teasing. His humor, his sarcasm became his armor, but it also became the way he made friends. In a very short time, he acquired what can be only referred to as bodyguards, high school football players, who thought he was hilarious, and who protected him in the locker room, pushing anyone off who tried to mess with him.

My friend had a close circle of friends, all witty, artistic, interesting people, and these friends pushed him to apply to college, because they all were applying to college. And so he applied to college. He got in. He went to college. He graduated.

Years later, many years after college, he ran into that 2nd grade teacher in a breakfast restaurant in Rhode Island.

She (a teacher to the core) recognized him immediately, even in his adult-ness. She said, "My goodness - it is so wonderful to see you! I have heard so many wonderful things about what you are up to - how are you??"

They talked for a while. He caught her up on his life, she listened and supported him. She still was invested in what had happened to that small special boy she had taught many many years before.

And then, in a burst of open-ness, my friend said to her, kind of blowing it off, laughing at himself, "You know ... this is kind of silly ... but I want to tell you that ... I remember so vividly you reading Stuart Little to the class. It had a huge impact on my life ... and ... I know it's crazy and everything, but at the time, I truly had the feeling that you were reading it just to me."

She looked at him then, smiled, and said, "I was."

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (10)

Keith M.


I was 9 years old, and so was he. We had been in the same class since kindergarten. [Correction from Keith M.: We actually met in first grade. He hadn't gone to the same school in kindergarten.] Keith had nice feathered hair, and he wore a comb in his back pocket, like the Fonz. Basically, he was the coolest thing ever. At recess, all of the girls would play "Catch Keith", which pretty much describes the entire game. Keith would spend his recess running like a madman, pursued by a shrieking mob of 9 year old girls. Oh, it was exhiliarating. Small 9-year-old hearts RACING with the adrenaline of chasing a boy. We were little kids, but it was that year, specifically, when BOYS suddenly became interesting to the girls in the class, and not just gross and annoying. And GIRLS suddenly became intriguing to the boys, and not just invisible creatures playing jacks on the sidelines of their kickball games. Recesses were out. of. control. There were scheming groups of girls standing in the sandbox, planning our attacks on Keith. Then, at some preplanned moment, we would leap into action and race towards him like ravening banshees. The point of the game, or the booty that we were after, was not his actual booty - well, not really - but to steal his comb, in his back pocket. We LOVED that he had a little comb like the Fonz. We thought that was the bomb. Poor Keith must have gone through 20 combs that year.

Let me just add something to all of this: It wasn't just that he was cute, and walked around like the Fonz. He also was funny, kind ... It seemed like he was nice to everybody. He was just that kind of person.

There was always something a little magical about Keith M.

And in looking back, I think it was more the magic that made all the girls chase him like lunatics, and less the comb and the cool hair. We were responding to something in his essence.

I hope I don't embarrass him when he reads this. I'm just writing it how I remember it.

We were friends, too. We had been friends since we were 5, and it was suddenly in 4th grade and 5th grade - when everyone became manically self-conscious about having friends of the opposite sex. For the first 3 years of our friendship, we had been in the Judy Blume books Sheila the Great and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. But suddenly when we hit age 9, age 10 ... we moved more into the Are You There God, It's Me Margaret Judy Blume genre. Even back then, I really liked having boys as friends, and Keith and I were good friends. He seemed to accept that every recess he would be run down like a mad dog by the girls in his class, and somehow it didn't impact the friendships.

After 6th grade, we left our small grade school, and went to the larger junior high - a wrenching change for me. There were suddenly way more kids, from other towns, people I didn't know ... and the small cozy world of South Road School was shattered. I saw my old friends in passing in the hall, I even had classes with some of them ... but we were all now in full-blown awkward adolescence, and so things were different. Things were way different. I still had my best friend from grade school - Betsy - a wonderful person who is still my dear friend today. I made new friends - Beth, Kate, Mere ... and grade school pretty much became, in the matter of a few months, a distant-past memory. It would have been unTHINKable to go up to Keith M. and chat about how I used to chase him, how I kissed him behind the fort, how we used to be such good friends. I didn't even consider the possibility - because junior high was a whole different ballgame. Those old days were DONE, man. Done and gone.

It made me sad ... but it was on a very subliminal level. I don't think I was even conscious to myself how much I mourned my childhood time. I just knew this was a whole new world: of dances, and social interactions, and lockers, and moving from class to class, and real school work, and mean girls, and indifferent boys ... Some people seemed to hit junior high completely ready for adolescence and all its trappings. They seemed to embrace it. Their clothes were perfect, they were up on all the trends, they leapt right into having dates with people, and gossiping about others, and acting like mini-grown-ups. (Of course this was just my envious impression. Those people were probably having just as hard a time as I was.) I still had one foot in childhood, and that was just not cool anymore. Did anyone miss the days of recess, and swinging on the swings, and playing hopscotch, and chasing boys around? I seemed alone in that. Those days were over, and now it was time to be a teenager. I resisted.

But of course ... you know how it goes ... I adjusted.

I didn't even think to myself: "Where is my old friend Keith M? I wish we were still friends ..." No. I hunkered down into survival mode.

Still, though, in any of my interactions with him - the impression of niceness and cool-ness remained. The old Keith M. was still in there. Some people hit junior high and had entire personality transformations. Little girls I had had sleepovers with suddenly were SMOKING in the parking lot, and barking out mean comments about me as I walked by.

There was no pamphlet to prepare me for junior high. I was 11 years old when I entered, still a kid really. When I was in love with someone, I swooned and mooned about, but there was never any question of actually DOING something about it. If I had my druthers, I would still be chasing boys on the playground, trying to steal their combs. But no. Now, I had to dress up and go to dances, and deal with all THAT. I was the epitome of awkwardness - dragged kicking and screaming into adolescence.

Two years later, high school began. Again: a new school. Massive. We were now in school with kids who were 18 years old. They were ADULTS, as far as I was concerned.

High school was, by far, way better than junior high. I found my stride a little bit. I joined the drama club. I worked on the yearbook. I had a great core group of friends - who are still my friends today. There was definitely a pecking order in high school, and because there were so many kids - the abyss between the "have"s and "have not"s was huge. However, on the flip side - because there were so many kids, it was easier to just hole up with your own group, and have a good time, and not worry so much about "the popular kids", and "why am I not popular", blah blah, the way I worried in junior high. I hung out with drama geeks, and band geeks, and these were my dear friends. I didn't stare at the table of cheerleaders in the cafeteria and yearn to be a part of their group. I had it really good at my own table. My friends are awesome.

Grade school was now so far away it might as well have been written up on papyrus tablets, for all the relevance it had to my life.

I watched in horror and fascination as one of my best friends as a little girl went off the rails, became a bad bad girl, and finally dropped out. What?? She was a perfect example of someone who was one of my best friends until we hit junior high, and then she never spoke to me again. I got used to it, but still - it gave me some odd moments.

Now back to Keith M. Keith M. continued his trajectory from grade school. It was not surprising at all that he would eventually be one of the most popular (and coveted) guys in our class. He played football. He was gorgeous. He was a good student. The signs were all there in 4th grade ... so it made perfect sense that that would be his high school experience. No huge personality change for him. (And this, I believe, is part of why I say there was something "magical" about him. His personality was such that he couldn't change dramatically ... even with all of the changes adolescence brought. He was still the same kid I remembered from kindergarten on up.) However: our dealings with one another were brief. Unless we had the same class, we were no longer in the same circle of friends at all. He was at the untouchably popular table in the cafeteria - the football players and their cheerleader girlfriends. I was whooping it up with the band geeks in the corner. Never EVER the twain shall meet. At least not in high school.

This was not something I obsessed over, or even thought about. It just WAS.

Keith M. had girlfriends, he was featured at pep rallies in his football uniform, he was completely in a different world than mine.

It's interesting, though - when I go to unearth my old journals for Diary Friday - how often his name comes up. It's always something stupid - he and I laughing about how bad we did in a certain math class ... but there seems to have been a WAY that I wrote about him that really strikes me now in the present day. Like that entry. It was the familiarity - of knowing someone since we were 5. Although that was now unmentionable. We were now teenagers, trying to be grown up, trying to make our way in the world ... It wouldn't do to reminisce about something that was still so CLOSE as childhood.

And here is my main memory of Keith M. in high school. To me, it says it all - about who this person really IS. He had never changed - he would have behaved this way as a 9 year old too. I had been pretty burnt by the transition from grade school to high school ... I lost a lot of trust in people, I lost a lot of self-confidence - and Keith M.'s behavior this one day had a huge impact on me.

I don't want to retrospectively analyze this too much - and assign a bunch of meaning to this - but I do want to make clear that even at the time - Keith M., in this one memory I have of him, made a MASSIVE impression. It was one of those moments, in the wilderness of high school, in the Darwinian atmosphere of high school, when I suddenly thought: Huh. People aren't so bad after all. Kindness is still possible. Even when you're a 17 year old star football player. Life is not all THAT bad.

We were in our senior year, and I guess we were in the same gym class. We were playing baseball. Gym was always kind of a stressful thing for me, because I am a perfectionist, and I am also kind of insecure - and was even MORE so in high school. Team sports especially made me crazy, because if you messed up - you impacted your TEAM. I so so wanted to do well. But that's just an aside. That's not the real point of this story.

Keith M. and a bunch of his buddies were in my class - nice guys, all of them. But intimidating. At least I found them all intimidating. They all had long-time girlfriends, they 'went steady' - they had cars - they played football - they just seemed like they were in a totally different universe. They were untouchable. Because of their popularity, I often assumed that they would be "mean". Popular kids traveled in packs (especially girls) - and there's nothing scarier than a pack of teenagers. This one day in our gym class (we were at Old Mountain Field, for you guys reading this from my town) - another kid joined our class - just for the day. I'm not sure what the deal was - if he was making up a class, or what ... but this kid was a mentally challenged kid. I do not know the correct term nowadays. Then he would be called "mentally retarded" - but I know that has derogatory connotations. He was mentally disabled, in a big way, and there he was, in our gym class.

I'll just talk about my response to all of this, because it remains vivid to me.

This kid shows up to join our class, as we are all getting ready to play. And I remember suddenly feeling a mixture of emotions: I felt uncomfortable being in his presence, because I was a teenager, and I didn't know how to deal with someone who was mentally disabled. I also felt so protective of him ... There was a part of me that steeled myself for the teasing and snickering I thought would come his way. I knew how cruel teenagers could be. I knew about the pack mentality, and how the pack sniffs out weakness, difference. I was nervous. Nervous that he would be teased, and that I would not be able to do anything about it. But also: I tried to keep my distance from him, because I also had a horror of being teased. I have to say: It was not my finest hour. I felt scared for him, but I also didn't stand up beside him, and welcome him. I didn't have enough self-confidence for that. Again: I'm not proud of my cowardice in those awkward 5 minutes before the ballgame started.

Peripherally, I was aware of everyone else in the class, also kind of dealing with the fact of this kid. No one said anything. But you just could FEEL the awareness, and more than that: I felt a sort of stasis, a tense stasis, in all of us ... like something was going to happen. This gym class could go either way, and no one wanted to make the first move, no one wanted to be the one to choose. The choices were: Let's tease this kid mercilessly. Let's be nice to him. That was where we all were, as a group, for about 5 awkward minutes.

Another thing was: I was in a class with a bunch of jocks. People who took team sports seriously. Winning was crucial. So ... an unspoken issue was: who wants to have this retarded kid on our team? We won't win if we have to deal with HIM.

Keith M., as I have said before, was one of the most popular kids in my class. In the same way that happened in 4th grade, people looked up to him, people liked him a lot ... but more than that: he had a lot of power. I'm not sure where power like that comes from - and I have to say again; I think it might have to do with "magic" ... Some people TAKE power, because they are weak, and cowardly, and their only way to feel powerful is to make other people feel bad. And some people just ARE powerful, and people are drawn to them because of that power ... and it is up to the person to use their power wisely and for good. I am completely projecting here, because I am sure Keith M. did not see himself that way (which was part of why he was so cool, by the way) ... but from MY side of the fence, from the drama-nerd table in the cafeteria, he was very powerful. He was a leader. He was the captain of his group. That was just the way it was. He was a natural leader - that's what I'm trying to say.

And I will never EVER forget how Keith M. easily and unselfconsciously stepped into that void in the gym class - the void of everyone wondering who was gonna make the first move - If ONE person had teased the kid, then it would have been open season. Safety in numbers. We hovered, as a group, on that tightrope wire.

But Keith M. was picked captain (of course!!) and the other team captain was picked, and then they had to choose their teams. The first person Keith M. picked? Mentally disabled boy.

I have tears in my eyes.

And from that moment on: the tone of the day was set. Keith M. set it. Like I said: the kid was a leader in our school - but this was only because he was a NATURAL leader. Natural leaders behave the way Keith M. did in that moment.

And because Keith M. was the first one to "make the move", the first one to acknowledge the situation (all unspoken, of course) - the rest of us followed. What his actions said in that moment were: "We're gonna be nice to this kid today." All the big football jock boys, all the bitchy cheerleader girls, and all the awkward cowards like me ... felt safe and courageous now ... to take Keith M.'s lead.

I was on Keith M.'s team, and I remember, too, the first time mentally disabled boy was up to bat. He was awkward, gangly, he didn't know what he was doing. He knew he had to swing the bat at the ball.

The first pitch came. He swung the bat wildly, and missed.

Again: we, as a group, hovered on some precipice ... his swing was embarrassing, he looked ridiculous ... the scent of weakness in the air ... the scent of teenagers not knowing what to do, or how to handle being around this person ... and again: Keith M. took over, and shouted out, "GREAT SWING, man, GREAT SWING. Keep your eye on the ball, keep your eye on the ball ..."

My heart just swelled up in my chest. I know the word "hero" is thrown around a lot ... but to me then, and to me now, Keith M. was a hero in that moment. It's like Spike Lee's movie ... In that moment, Keith M. did "the right thing". And yes: there had been a clear choice. It could have gone either way. It could have been a torment, that gym class ... it could have been terrible. But Keith M., subtly, and with no fanfare, didn't let that happen. I am not sure how many high school boys, who KNOW they have a lot of power, can use it as sensitively and as kindly as Keith M. did in that moment.

I have never forgotten it.

The entire gym class became about supporting this kid. Keith M.'s posse of football player friends, some out in the outfield while we were up at bat ... took up the cheers. When the retarded boy got a hit, Keith M.'s friends in the outfield started cheering. The entire group shouted out at him, during his at-bats: "You're doing great! Great swing! Go, batter, swing, batter ..."

A bunch of 17 year olds, deeply mired in adolescence, deeply divided by the social structures of our high school, came together and decided to be kind.

Because of Keith M. Nobody else stepped up to the plate, so to speak. And he did so - naturally, and with no self-consciousness whatsoever.

Like I said: there was always something a little magical about Keith M. He had something. He had it as a 9 year old, he had it as a 17 year old, and I just saw him this past weekend - and of course, he has it now.

I sensed it even as a small child. My instincts weren't off. He was special. There was a reason mobs of 9 year old girls chased him during recess. And like I said before: the comb was only the surface trappings of what was really going on.

He was kind. In a moment when many teenagers would choose to be cruel - he chose to be kind.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (24)

The Books: "Faust: Part One" (Goethe)

Next book in my Daily Book Excerpt:

405px-Faust-Goethe.jpgNext play on the script shelf:

Goethe's Faust, by Johann Wolfgang Goethe. The copy I have is translated by Philip Wayne. I fell in love with this play in grad school. It's meant to be read out loud.

Here's an excerpt from the second meeting between Mephistopheles and Faust - the one where Mephistopheles makes his offer.

EXCERPT FROM Goethe's Faust:

MEPHISTOPHELES. Leave off this traffic with your groping grief,
That like a vulture feeds upon your mind;
No company so vile but brings relief,
And marks you for a man among mankind.
By this I don't suggest
We thrust you in among the common herd.
I'm not the grandest person or the best,
But if you care to take me at my word
And join with me, and make a common quest,
I'm very much at your disposal,
That's my proposal:
I'll make a pact with you,
Without ado,
Find what you crave,
And see you through,
Your comrade and your slave.

FAUST. And what return am I required to make?

MEPHISTOPHELES. A question time can settle -- why insist?

FAUST. Nay, nay, the devil is an egoist,
The help he gives is not for Heaven's sake.
State your conditions clearly, thus and thus:
Such servants in the house are dangerous.

MEPHISTOPHELES. Then here below in services I'll abide,
Fulfilling tirelessly your least decree,
If when we meet upon the other side
You undertake to do the same for me.

FAUST. The other side weighs little on my mind;
Lay first this world in ruins, shattered, blind:
That done, the new may rise its place to fill.
From springs of earth my joys and pleasures start,
Earth's sunlights sees the sorrows of my heart;
If these are mine no more when I depart,
The rest concerns me not: let come what will.
This is a theme to which I close my ears,
Whether hereafter we shall hate or love,
Or whether we shall find in distant spheres
A sense of things below or things above.

MEPHISTOPHELES. Now that's the very spirit for the venture.
I'm with you straight, and we'll draw up an indenture:
I'll show you arts and joys, I'll give you more
Than any mortal eye has seen before.

FAUST. And what, poor devil, pray, have you to give?
When was a mortal soul in high endeavour
Grasped by your kind, as your correlative?
Yours is the bread that satisfieth never,
Red gold you have, dissolving without rest,
Like quicksilver, to mock the gatherer's labour;
The girl you give will nestle on my breast
Only to ogle and invite my neighbor;
Have you the game that only losers play,
Have you the stars of honor that afflict
With god-like dreams, only to fade away?
Then show me the fruits that rot before they're picked,
Or trees that change their foliage every day.

MEPHISTOPHELES. A task that gives me little cause to shrink,
I'll readily oblige you with such treasures.
But now, my friend, the time is ripe, I think
For relishing in peace some tasty pleasures.

FAUST. If I be quieted with a bed of ease,
Then let that moment be the end of me!
If ever flattering lies of yours can please
And soothe my soul to self-sufficiency,
And make me one of pleasure's devotees,
Then take my soul, for I desire to die:
And that's a wager!


FAUST. And done again!
If to the fleeting hour I say
'Remain, so fair thou art, remain!'
Then bind me with your fatal chain,
For I will perish in that day.
'Tis I for whom the bell shall toll,
Then you are free, your service done.
For me the clock shall fail, to ruin run,
And timeless night descend upon my soul.

MEPHISTOPHELES. This shall be held in memory, between!

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (5)

July 10, 2005

The impossible dream


Red Sox fans (and baseball fans in general) get ready for a ginormous book excerpt. I cannot help myself. Along with my Vatican II research, I just picked up my dad's copy of The '67 Red Sox and the Impossible Dream by Bill Reynolds, columnist for the good ol' Pro Jo. My dad's copy is signed by Bill Reynolds. It caught my eye while I was home, and I started it last night, and read it nonstop on my train ride home. It's fantastic. Heartbreaking. The NAMES. Now '67 is before my time ... but still: the names are Boston legends. Tony Conigliaro.


OUCH!! i still wince when I see photos of him being carried off the field with that awful eye. I wasn't even BORN and I wince. (To be perfectly accurate, I did, in fact, exist at that moment ... but I was swimming around in amniotic fluid, so I wasn't really a baseball fan yet.) Reggie Smith. Rico Petrocelli. The names carry magic, history, nostalgia ... God. Yaz. Yaz!! My dad took all of us to see his second to last game at Fenway. Here's my diary entry of that night.

Jim Lonborg. Here's one of my favorite sports-moments photos ever (even though, of course, the jubilance was followed quickly by grief and loss). This photo was in one of my baseball trivia books I had as a kid, and I remember reveling over it:


Sorry, must interject a girlie moment: Lonborg was absolutely gorgeous. Look at him!!

And Bill Reynolds' prologue hooks you in immediately. I read a couple pages, while I was lazing around on Saturday, and realized: Okay. I must now read this entire thing.

So here comes some excerpts from that prologue:


From Lost Summer by Bill Reynolds:

I remember it as a cold, gray April afternoon.

I was sitting at my desk in a red-brick college dormitory in Providence, Rhode Island, doing homework, the radio tuned to the Red Sox against the Yankees, one of the first games of the season. It was 1967. I was a junior at Brown University. Pitching for the Yankees was the great Whitey Ford, now at the tail end of his career. Pitching for the Red Sox was some rookie left-hander named Billy Rohr. He was 21 years old, and it was his first major league start. I'd never heard of him.

Not surprising, really. I wasn't a fan anymore. Baseball was something that I'd come to associate with the past, just one of the things that had gotten stowed away in some childhood footlocker...

Baseball had been my first love, so every once in a while I'd listen to a game on the radio -- the equivalent of taking a ride past an old girlfriend's house, a brief nostalgic visit to something that had once been important. One of the highlights of my childhood summers had been occasional trips to Fenway Park, the tiny oasis of green amid the urban bustle of Boston, a place that was a cathedral for generations of New England kids. My first memory of Fenway was from some lost year in the early 50s. It must have been one of Ted Williams' first games after he returned from the Korean War, because when he came to the plate, the big crowd around me standing and cheering lustily, my father said, "Remember this. This is a great moment." I must have been about seven or eight, certainly old enough to believe that one could yearn for nothing more noble than to play for the Red Sox and have people cheer as you came to the plate ...

Throughout my adolescence there'd been annual pilgrimages to Fenway as the names changed from Jensen and Piersall to Runnels and Radatz. TS Eliot once wrote that we measure our lives in coffee spoons. But ole TS Eliot never could get around on the fastball. If you grew up in New England you measured your life in trips to Fenway Park. You got older; Fenway stayed the same, as timeless as sand castles at the beach. That had been back when I was still a fan, still glued to the daily box scores in the newspaper that served as links to the emerald green world of childhood.

By the time I was 19 there were other interests, seemingly more important things than a childhood game. Baseball was just something I used to love. My only real connection to it was a curious kinship I felt with Tony Conigliaro, one of the Red Sox's young stars, and that was by accident. I'd been in school at Worcester, Massachusetts, at the time and it wasn't a real good period for me. My longtime girlfriend was in the process of dumping me, and that realization had become an ache in my heart. I'd hitchhiked the 40 miles into Boston and was spending the afternoon sitting around a student apartment, drinking beer and feeling sorry for myself. On the radio was the ballgame. In his first at bat at Fenway Park Tony Conigliaro hit a home run. He too was 19.

I was suddenly struck by how different our lives were. Here we were the same age, yet he was hitting a home run in Fenway Park in his first at bat, and I was sitting in a seedy apartment just a few blocks away feeling sorry for myself. On that spring afternoon in 1964, in my particular view of the universe, Tony Conigliaro was everything I was not.

So all during college I checked the box scores to see how he was doing. In a sense he'd become a link to my youth. In some strange way his success became my success. Maybe it was because he was living out every New England kid's fantasy. Maybe it was something more elusive, undefinable, the little-understood reasons why we root for some athletes while others touch our hearts. But if he was doing well, then things seemed a little more right. As if in my mind our fates had become linked that day three years earlier when we'd both come to Boston on the same day, he to begin to his major league career with the Red Sox, me to get dumped by a girl who had been the center of my little universe. No one ever said being a fan makes any sense.

Besides, rooting for the Red Sox was like rooting for my broken heart. If you'd grown up in New England in the 50s and 60s you never knew what a pennant race was. A pennant race was always something taking place in some other town, usually New York. Certainly not in Boston, where the Red Sox appeared to have failure and frustration all but seated on the bench with them. But listening to that game on the radio seemed to resurrect all my old baseball memories, some lost childhood passion. In the beginning it had felt like just another early season game, nothing special, just another game in an endless string ...

The Yankees are the most famous franchise in all of sports, but this is not a good Yankke team. The year before they'd finished last for the first time in 54 years, and for the first time in 13 years there's no talk of them fighting for the pennant. Roger Maris is gone to the St. Louis Cardinals. Bobby Richardson has retired. Mickey Mantle is aging and ailing, and there are rumors this might be his last season. Ford is near the end of his illustrious career. The great Elston Howard has become a part-time player. The Yankees seem a parody of themselves, as if the monuments of the great Yankee immortals that stare in from center field have turned their heads in shame.

There are only 14,000 people rattling around in huge Yankee Stadium...

Ken Coleman, whose voice, like Curt Gowdy's before him, has become synonymous with the Red Sox, is calling the game. As the innings go by, it is apparent this is not just another early-season game. Through five innings Rohr has not allowed a hit, a rare thing for any Red Sox pitcher these days, never mind a rookie making his first start in the major leagues. He'd appeared understandably nervous at the start, but has settled down and retired the first 10 batters he faced.

But the score is only 1-0, courtesy of a leadoff home run by Reggie Smith.

In the bottom of the sixth, with Rohr still breezing along, the Yankees' Bill Robinson rips a hard ground ball that comes off Rohr's shin. The ball ricochets toward third baseman Joe Foy, who throws Robinson out. Rohr limps around the mound, in obvious pain. Manager Dick Williams, also in his first year, and trainer Bobby LeRoux come out to see him. Williams is thinking of taking Rohr out. But Rohr walks around the mound for a while, testing his leg, and a few minutes later says he's okay.

There is some concern that Rohr is going to be affected by the bruise, and Williams tells catcher Russ Gibson, another rookie, to let him know immediately if he thinks Rohr has lost anything. He hasn't. In fact, Gibson thinks he's getting stronger. He gets through the seventh without giving up a hit, as the drama starts to build. Rohr's bid for a no-hitter has gotten serious. Rohr gets a cushion in the top of the eights when Joe Foy hits a two-run homer to give the Sox a 3-0 lead. He gets through the bottom of the eighth. An early-season game in the cold of Yankee Stadium has become as good as baseball gets.

After the Red Sox go down in their half of the ninth inning all the people in the stadium stand and cheer as Rohr walks out to the mound, just three outs away from baseball fame. If ever there is someone who seems like an unlikely candidate for baseball immortality, it is Billy Rohr, this skinny stringbean of a left-hander.

He'd grown up in Southern California, began playing Little League when he was eight years old. He weighed only 145 pounds in high school, but he was 26-3 over his career, and when he graduated there were about a dozen major league clubs that had an interest. The Red Sox were not one of them. He eventually signed with the Pirates for a reported $25,000 bonus, and was sent to rookie ball in Kingsport, Pennsylvania, where the Pirates were trying to hide him and three other young players in hopes of ultimately leaving them off a list of protected players. They even played games in the mornings, never at night. Rohr knew something strange was going on, but wasn't sure what it was. The strategy failed. Mace Brown, a Red Sox scout, was tipped off, and the Red Sox drafted Rohr in the fall of 63. Just two years later, midway through the season, he was jumped to the Red Sox Triple A club in Toronto, bypassing Double A. It was a difficult adjustment, and the first thing he learned was that the better the league the less hitters chase bad pitches, an important lesson for any young pitcher. In 1966, still in Toronto, he pitched 10 complete games for Dick Williams and earned himself a spring training invitation.

But of course as I sit in my dorm room at Brown I know nothing of this. Nor do I know that last night Rohr had been so nervous he'd asked follow Red Sox pitcher Jim Lonborg to room with him, so that the two of them could go over the Yankee hitters, and that Lonborg will say later that Rohr had spent the night sleeping fitfully, tossing and turning. All I know is that he's three outs away from pitching a no-hitter in his first major leauge start, something no one in baseball history has ever done, and that I haven't been so absorbed in a baseball game in years.

Due to baseball etiquette, no one has mentioned the no-hitter to Rohr as he spent time in the dugout. No one has to. Coleman gets around it on the radio by saying there have been eight hits in the game and the Red Sox have all of them.

As the crowd stands and cheers Rohr's walk to the mound in the bottom of the ninth the young pitcher does not acknowledge the applause. He looks grim, determined. The suspense builds, the essence of baseball reduced to this one moment. This is baseball at its best, consequences riding on every pitch. He looks around at his teammates, and turns to pitch to Tom Tresh. The count runs to three and two.

"Billy Rohr on the threshold of fame, with a tremendous pitching performance today," Coleman says on the radio. "Rohr winds and here it is, a fly ball to deep left. Yastrzemski is going back ... way back ... way back."

Carl Yastrzemski, in his grey road uniform with "Boston" on the front in navy blue letters, and number eight on his back, starts running back as fast as he can. He can't see the ball, but instinctively knows where it figures to land. Behind him is the scoreboard. Behind it is the left-hand grandstand, with only a smattering of people sitting in it. On a dead-run Yastrzemski dives, his body in full extension, left arm straining, his momentum carrying him away from home plate. He manages to catch the ball just before he hits the ground, landing on his left knee and doing a full somersault. His cap is off, lying near him on the grass. He quickly gets up, momentarily holding his glove with the ball safely tucked inside it over his head, as Coleman screams over the radio, "One of the greatest catches you'll ever see by Yastrzemski in left field. Everyone in Yankee Stadium is on their feet roaring as Yastrzemski went back and made a tremendous catch."

There is one out.

Yaz has done it, I think. He has saved it.

Joe Pepitone is the next batter. He hits a routine fly ball that Tony Conigliaro handles easily in right filed.

Two outs.

One more, I tell myself. Just one more.

The batter is Elston Howard. Ironically, later in the season he will be with the Red Sox. But no one knows that on this afternoon. On this gray day he has become the one thing that stands between a rookie pitcher and a sliver of immortality. Before he steps into the batter's box Williams comes out to visit Rohr. The manager doesn't really have anything to say, just feels he should say something, anything, to calm his young pitcher. Howard digs in, a wide stance. He is a right-handed hitter and he rhythmically waves his bat toward Rohr. The count runs full. Billy Rohr is one strike away. Everyone in Yankee Stadium knows they are watching history. Sitting in a dorm room, rooting for the first time in years, I know I am listening to it. Can he really do it? Is it really possible? Gibson calls for a curveball.

"Russ Gibson gives the sign," Coleman says dramatically, the tension in his voice. "The left-hander delivers ... a line drive into right field for a base hit. Tony Conigliaro takes it on the first hop. He had no chance."

Rohr's curveball has hung a fraction of a second too long, not breaking down and in to Howard as he'd envisioned it would. He looks over at Howard standing at first base and doesn't feel angry, just disappointed. He has come so close.

I turn the radio off, feeling somehow cheated, feeling that this is just one more example of an imperfect world.

When the game ends Rohr is greeted by several FBI agents. They tell him that Jackie Kennedy wants to come into the Red Sox clubhouse to meet him. He goes up the ramp twoard the clubhouse and all he sees are reporters and TV lights. For a moment he wonders if he's about to be arrested or interviewed. Two days later he appears on the Ed Sullivan show, baseball's newest hero. The mayor of Boston sends him a telegram thanking him for giving all Red Sox fans everywhere an unforgettable day, and saying how he hopes Rohr's victory over the Yankees will be the first of hundreds of others in his career.

It isn't.

By the end of the year Rohr will be long gone from the Red Sox; the highlight of his career will be this afternoon in Yankee Stadium. But, in a sense, this early-season game, played before a sparse crowd in Yankee Stadium on this cold, raw April afternoon, comes to resemble that season that will forever be known as the "Impossible Dream", the season that becomes, as someone once put it, the time everyone forgot about the human race and worried about the pennant race: It is a complete surprise; it's an incredible, memorable performance by a player who isn't supposed to be able to deliver it; and, in the end, it just misses being perfect.

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Only in my home town ...

... would the following exchange make ANY sense.

Me: She is no longer allowed to go to the Ocean Mist.
Beth, Mere, Michelle: (all with tones of understanding) Wow. Woah ... No shit ...
Michelle: That's like being kicked out of the Unity Club.
Huge burst of collective laughter.

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July 9, 2005

Cashel's commentary

... on War of the Worlds.

Please be advised: Cashel has seen the original movie. He has heard snippets of the radio play. And he has also read the book. So he did a bit of compare and contrast with the modern version, and here is one of his observations:

"The tripods in the modern movie had laser rays with much more maneuverability."

Just so ya know.

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Speaking of my reunion:

It was a living breathing Diary Friday retrospective.

Some of these people I have known since I was 5 years old. I love continuums. I love evidence that there is a connection between who I was then and who I am now. It's strangely comforting, because so much in life has to do with flux, and change, and upheaval. It's nice to know that some things remain the same. Some things cannot be touched.

Priceless: flirting with people that you once played ring-around-the-rosy with. Flirting with people you met when YOU DID NOT KNOW THE ALPHABET . Flirting with people you knew when you only were 3 feet tall.

Yes. I did a lot of flirting. I'm incorrigible.

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Lesson learned about my new haircut

-- If I do not use any "products", and if I do not blow-dry, I look like a Peanuts character. One of the BOY Peanuts characters. Or like Peppermint Patty. Whose gender is rather ambiguous to begin with. After all, her blind friend Marcie calls her SIR. Not only is Peppermint Patty a cunt (according to Curly), but she's also rather butch-looking - which is really not the look I'm going for.

-- If I do use "products" (such as mousse, and then my pomade sticky stuff, and then a holding spray), I look, quite frankly, rather glamorous, in a very mod and retro way.

Must. Use. Products.

Do NOT want to look like Peppermint Patty.

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"A blog is not a whole person's being"

An excellent post by Michele. It stuns me repeatedly that people seem to expect bloggers to post about certain things. It's quite an odd phenomenon, I think. Last year I believe I nipped that in the bud on my own blog when I posted a gazillion James Joyce quotes around the same time that there were big revelations about Abu Gharib coming out - I might have the timing a bit off, but I do know that on or around Bloomsday last year, there was some other big news story - and a couple people seemed downright CONFUSED that I could choose not to post my thoughts on it. Of course I was up to date on the news, of course I read everything I could about Abu Gharib ... but I chose not to post on it. Some people found that offensive and downright CONFUSING. (I, however, was confused by their confusion.) They asked me in plaintive emails, as though I am on the editorial board of the New York Times or something, and have some obligation to report the news: "What about Abu Gharib?" It doesn't really make me angry that people would mistake my blog for an RSS news feed, but it sure as hell confuses me. Like ... what??? If you would like me to write about Abu Gharib, send me a check and I'll write about it. I charge 2 bucks a word.

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-- I don't post on my blog for 2 days and I have been completely harassed by spam. I open my mailbox and feel like crying. These MOTHERF***ERS. I want them DEAD. I want those spammers DEAD. GodDAMNIT. How do they KNOW that I'm not posting on my blog? Is it like there's some alarm bell that goes off in some spam-central-HQ: "Sheila appears to be out of town. Let's get her." I'm telling you, I am at my wits end. I feel violently towards them. I wish them HEARTACHE and SUFFERING, those harassers. grrrrrrr

-- My father's garden is absolutely exploding with color. You stand out in the side yard and you're amazed by its blazing vibrance. I'll take some pictures and post them.

-- My high school reunion was last night. It was so incredible. I'm still processing it ... I'll post more later. But I couldn't even get to sleep last night because I kept just thinking and remembering, and re-living little moments with this person or that person. It was a huge turnout, and ... while it was a big ol' PARTY ... there was also something really moving about the whole thing. Everyone looked gorgeous, too. It was a torrential downpour last night ... and a couple of us were laughing, because it was the same weather we had for our senior prom. Not a runofthemill rainshower, not a drizzle ... No. A careening thunderous POUND of rain which renders every umbrella useless. Our senior prom was a madhouse - with all of us racing from our limos into the Newport mansion where we had our prom - with little attendants chasing after us with umbrellas - all to no avail. We invariably got soaked. So it was appropriate that last night it was the same way.

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July 7, 2005

Dear terrorists:

So apparently some group of you claimed responsibility for the attacks in London today on some jihad website. We take everything you say with a grain of salt, because we know you LOVE to claim responsibility for EVERYthing, it makes you feel good about yourself or something (when the relationship with the great love of my life broke up I think you even took responsibility for THAT), but one thing struck me about the message, and it's something that's been on my mind.

You seem to believe that the people of England would run cowering away from this coordinated series of attacks. You seem to think that they are a soft and cowardly people who would flee at the first sign of confrontation.

I think it's time for a history lesson. I realize that you are uninterested in infidel history. This has been the case even during the glory days of Islam, during the West's dark ages, when you were far ahead of us in terms of education, infrastructure, science, astronomy, everything. You flourished. Europe floundered. European countries would send diplomats and scientists and envoys to your countries, so that they could study in your universities, use your astronomical observatories, and write home about the customs of your land. You all never returned the favor. Because we were infidels. What could you learn from infidels?

Perhaps that was true in the Dark Ages, but it is no longer true, and you are ignorant now of reality.

Well, I am here to tell you that you are WAY off in your estimation of the British character. Are you aware of even the FRACTION of stuff these people have endured on their own soil?

Now I have only picked out a couple of the most blatant examples (see the posts below this one), and I am sure some of my Anglophile readers can add more.

But if you think for one second that the Brits are a people who crumble easily, I have got to say: You are out of your goddamned mind.

There's this thing? It's called History? Maybe you should check it out.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (15)

Let's start in 1665, shall we?

The plague. The Black Death.

The first outbreak of the Black Death was in 1348. It killed nearly a third of the population.

The plague would appear, and disappear, appear and disappear, in spurts - but nothing could prepare anybody for the outbreak in 1665, in which 100,000 people died.


Look at all the skeletons in that scene. A macabre and grisly event. The panic of mass death.

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And then - a year later:

The London Fire.

The destruction of medieval London began at about one o'clock in the morning on September 2nd 1666, when sparks from the fire in a baker's shop in Pudding Lane (he was baker to Charles II) leapt out of the oven and ignited a nearby pile of firewood. Sparks from the burning baker's shop landed on some hay in the yard of the Star Inn at Fish Street Hill. Because medieval London was mostly thatched houses, covered in pitch, the fire spread quickly, disastrously. The fire spread from the Star Inn to St. Margaret's Church which was soon completely ablaze, and from there the fire raced towards Thames Street. Thames Street, at that time, was all warehouses packed with what happened to be highly flammable materials. Coal, oil, tallow. The rudimentary hand-operated dousing devices could no longer combat what was going on. By 8 am the next morning, the fire had not only reached London Bridge but consumed half of it. The city was on fire. The fire burned for the entire day of September 2, spreading, morphing into something even more monstrous. Fleet Street reduced to ashes. Old Bailey reduced to ashes. Ludgate. Ashes. There was a strong wind from the east which propelled the fire onward. There were reports that stones in St. Paul's Cathedral were exploding from the heat. There was no organized fire department at that time. Most of the equipment was rotting, of no use. As the fire showed no signs of abating, the city decided to try to cut its losses - and started demolishing houses to create fire breaks.

The fire raged for three days. Just picture that if you can. Three. Days.

Personally, when a spark from my burning incense floats onto my rug and smoulders there for a second, it feels like an eternity until I can squash it out. Human beings (and animals) panic when confronted by fire. It is one of our most rational and universal responses. (Which is why firemen are such rock stars. They act against one of our most shared fight-or-flight impulses, in order to fight this primal beast.)

My point is: I cannot imagine being in the presence of a giant raging out of control fire for THREE. DAYS.

It looked like the fire was going to die out at one point. But then it re-emerged, stronger than ever, and kept creeping on towards Whitehall. More houses were ordered exploded, and that finally did the trick. The fire was stopped.

The damage done? 4/5s of the city had been destroyed. Let me just say that again, because I am having a hard time comprehending it. 4/5s of the city had been destroyed.

The fire actually didn't kill all that many people, surprisingly enough. The main devastation was to property. And it killed most of the rats in the city, the rats which had been responsible for the plague. After the fire, the number of plague deaths pretty much dropped off the charts.

But 250,000 people were left homeless. They lived in tents on the outskirts of the charred city, in abject poverty. Many of these newly homeless people turned to crime, in order to survive, which meant that the prisons soon became severely overcrowded.

The debris still was smouldering in March, 1667.

It was a massive disaster, and it took London generations to recover from it.


Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (2)

Jumping over many centures now to:

World War I.



Posted by sheila Permalink

And then:

The blitz of World War II. You think after a city has experienced something like THIS that they will crumple in "panic and fear" because of your attack? You think you can break such a people so easily? These people have seen their city decimated from the air. These people survived THAT. And they rebuilt. They have more ingenuity and courage than you will ever know.

Visual aids below: I look at these, and first of all - my mind goes blank at the scope of the destruction, which appears to be total. And now, today, looking at these pictures, I feel ANGER at how the terrorists underestimate our friends, the British. How dare they? How. dare. they.




The mind goes blank.

But here is a photo that I think completely encapsulates the spirit of the British people - this is St. Paul's Cathedral, as the city burns around it, on Sunday December 29th. London, 1940.


You honestly believe that THESE people who saw THIS are going to run cowering away from you?

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (1)

And then:

This is just one of many, although perhaps one of the most famous. The Mulberry Bush pub and the nearby Tavern in the Town, were both destroyed by IRA bombs within minutes of each other on 21 November, 1974:



Random carnage. People having drinks at a PUB, for God's sake.

Posted by sheila Permalink

And then:

Canary wharf, February 1996.

On 9 February 1996, a truck parked near South Quay station exploded - another IRA attack - devastating a large area of London's Docklands.


So the moral of the story is: London's tale, dear terrorists, since the beginning of time has been one of challenges, ingenuity, unthinkable loss, and magnificent rebuilding.

You think after its long storied history you will make them - THEM - quake in their boots? Are you out of your mind?

England is one of the most resilient resourceful countries on the face of this earth. England will bury its dead, England will mourn - and we mourn with them. What has happened is an outrage, and an insult to all of us who believe in free societies. But England will survive. England will flourish.

Read a book. About something other than Allah. Maybe you'll learn something.

Or better yet: please read this post in its entirety, including EVERY. SINGLE. COMMENT.

Fuck yeah!

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (4)


Andrew Sullivan's post on stoicism and the British. I like it a lot. Food for thought.

In fact, he's got an extensive round-up of links (my favorite I've seen so far).

Here, for example.

And this.

Oh, and Norm Geras has a ton of links as well. Like this enraging one. Ah yes. The terrorists are "bad" people. Uhm ... why the scare quotes? Who on earth doubts the fact that these people are bad? What kind of monster sees ambiguity in the atrocity and tragedy - yes, I said tragedy - today, and still clings for dear life to the scare quotes? You want to talk about COWARDS? I think people who over-use scare quotes (and this isn't just the media's problem, or something endemic to one side of the political fence. I see plenty of op-ed columnists and bloggers on the right using contemptuous scare quotes all over the place as well - it makes their work unreadable, in my opinion) are the real cowards, and are unable to make any pronouncements worth listening to about anything.

And here's an amazing long round-up of updates. Thanks Norm, for being so vigilant with the updates.

RTG's post about her time in London as a teenager.

A rousing post:

You know, I’m not sure that these people have quite understood us. We’ve just spent 30 years being bombed by a bunch of terrorist nutters. Whatever your views on Irish nationalism, Eire, the rights of the IRA and so on, it is an inescapable truth that there were a series of bombings "on the mainland" and no, it didn’t spread "fear and panic from the north to the south." No, not even when 21 people were killed in bombs in pubs, not even when thousands of bombs were dropped on London, death falling from the skies on a regular basis.

You’ve just not quite understood us, have you? Any politician who even so much as hinted at the idea that this would be a reason to leave Afghanistan or Iraq would be immediately howled down.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (18)

Waking up ...

... to the news that multiple simultaneous explosions have gone off in the London Tube, and also in a packed double decker bus. Watching the footage right now, waiting for Tony Blair to speak, which should happen shortly. Obvious questions: the G8 meeting in Scotland, London being given the 2012 Olympics ... and now ... this. This is an almost identical attack as the one in Madrid on March 11, 2004. They're now reporting that some Islamic jihad group is claiming responsibility - but this came after the explosions, not before. The tube is now being closed, the entire transportation network shutting down.

Jesus Christ.

Eyewitness accounts here, with a timeline. From peteb at Slugger.

Blair's speech. He looked quite shaken up, visibly rocked. But he stayed clear, calm:

"It is important that those who engage in terrorism realize that our determination to defend our values and our way of life is greater than their determination to cause death and destruction and impose extremism on the world. They will never succeed in destroying what we hold dear."

He said the timing of the attacks are "barbaric".

Three double-decker buses loaded up injured people and drove them to local hospitals.

Depraved. These people are depraved.

Just a small personal observation: There are multiple helicopters hovering over my neighborhood. I know security has been amped way up in the public transit system, and I wonder if the helicopters have something to do with that. They are LOW, too. They feel right overhead.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (45)

July 6, 2005

Field of dreams moments ...

Just now watched the end of Field of Dreams and am, AS ALWAYS, a blubbery mess. I wrote about my thoughts on Annie, the wife, extensive - here. But here are some other moments to look for, moments I treasure.

-- When James Earl Jones first sees the field with the ballgame going on. I could watch his reaction shots 100 times over. He just stares. He states, "Un ... believable." Shoeless Joe walks over: "Hey, Ray!!" He shakes hands with Ray. But watch James Earl Jones over to the side, STARING at Shoeless Joe. He's just STARING at this legend. He is dumbfounded. Ray says, "This is Terrance. Terrence, this is Shoeless Joe Jackson." Jackson holds out his hand. And watch James Earl Jones' body language in how he responds. He cannot believe that he is in the presence of Shoeless joe. He leans forward, staring directly at Ray Liotta - just STARING - until finally he says, holding out his hand, "Nice to meet you." The whole moment though is just so charged - and it's all in James Earl Jones' body language.

-- I love how unsentimentalized all the ball players are. They're big pudgy semi-cross-eyed in some cases yahoos - trash-talking, unintellectual, feckin' BALL PLAYERS. Yes, they are ghosts - and they "symbolize" all that is great about dreaming big, and America, and the "one constant" - but the players don't PLAY any of that. They don't act like symbols. They act like ball players. I LOVE that touch. The movie could have gone so wrong if it had suffused the ball players with a halo glow. No. They're ATHLETES, dying to get out on the field again. They're gruff, rough, macho - they make fun of Ray when his wife calls him in to dinner - they're living breathing people who happen to be ghosts. Gorgeous.

-- Ray Liotta's acting is deceptively simple. It is an incredibly complex portrait, in actuality. He's a baseball player, he's Shoeless Joe ... watch the way he picks up the bats when he first emerges from the corn field. Watch his body language when he first catches a ball out in the field. He catches it, but then he lingers, reveling in the moment. But he's also a ghost. He is the one, ultimately, who knows why the field was built. To bring Ray and his father together again. He knows it all. Ray is in the dark, but Shoeless Joe knows. Ray Liotta's performance is perfectly calibrated: between hungry athlete and omniscent angel. It's an amazing balancing act. Any other actor who had a line like, "No, Ray. It was you" would have tipped the film over into maudlin sentimental land. Ray Liotta NEVER goes there. He plays it straight up. It's a miraculous performance and, like I said, deceptively simple. He makes it look easy. But if you imagine how that role COULD have been played, and how the movie COULD have gone wrong ... you realize how beautifully he walks that balance.

-- On that same note: I love love LOVE the moment when Ray is being berated by the brother (I always think of him as Eliot in 30something) about how he will lose the farm. The scene right before the little girl falls. And slowly ... during James Earl Jones' amazing speech, you can see in the background that all of the players have stopped playing, and are staring over at the action on the sidelines. It's subtle. It's not dwelled on. There are no closeups of them stopping ... No, you suddenly realize it: Wow. The action has stopped. As James Earl Jones keeps talking, the ballplayers start to move closer, you see them slowly approaching. It is an absolutely magical moment. Eliot from 30something is saying, "You're gonna lose the farm, Ray. YOU WILL BE EVICTED!" Now it's decision time. Ray must make a choice. He looks out at the field. There's a long slow pan of all the ballplayers, standing there, simply, just watching. None of them overplay it. None of them are pleading with their eyes, or begging internally ... No. They all just stand there, watching. Waiting. Then Ray's eyes move outward ... you can see them shift ... and they fall on Shoeless Joe, who is not in the crowd of ballplayers ... but way out in the field. He's a solitary figure out there, with the corn as a backdrop. The music is phenomenal in this moment. It literally brings goosebumps to my arms. And then ... as Ray stares out there ... Shoeless Joe, instead of standing out there staring over at the action in a passive way ... gets into the stance. The outfield stance. Hands on the knees. Waiting to see which way the ball will go. Now that's the beauty: it's a metaphor: He is "waiting to see which way the ball will go", in terms of whether or not Ray will cave and sign the eviction notice. But the way Ray Liotta plays it is straight up and quite quite literal: He is actually waiting for the pitch to be thrown, and waiting to see which way the ball will go. He is a ball player, man. That's what this movie does: it's so SYMBOLIC, but none of the actors PLAY that symbolism. Shoeless Joe, in this moment of decision, gets into the ready outfield stance.

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Go, Siobhan!!

My sister Siobhan O'Malley is the featured music artist on an extremely cool website called PodcastNYC. You can download her songs there, listen to a podcast of her stuff, and also buy her CD, which I highly recommend you do.

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Top 10 sports memories

I love love this meme, and I particularly love the DETAIL Matt goes into. Awesome. The meme is: Your Top 10 Sports Memories that you saw in person or on television as it happened.

It has started my brain a-spinning.

I would LOVE to hear all you sports fans out there respond to this. What are those sports memories that are emblazoned in your brain for all time??

Let's see, what are mine - at the moment I can only think of 4 - but this post will be developing - oh no, wait - I can think of 5 - Matt's post reminded me of a 5th one:

1. Carlton Fisk's famous home-run. I was ... 10? But I remember my entire class pretty much doing imitations of his famous arm gestures at recess the next day.

2. The Miracle on Ice. Again, I was a youngster - but it was one of those things you never forget. I wasn't even a hockey fan, really ... I had no idea what was going on ... but I had the feeling that something REALLY IMPORTANT was happening.

3. October 27, 2004. I mean, come on.

4. The 3-peat. I was living in Chicago at the time, and it was all. Bulls. all. the. time. I was always a Celtics fan, because of where I grew up - but it didn't matter. If you lived in Chicago at that time, you had to just get caught up in it. It was one of the most exciting things that I can remember. I especially remember John Paxson's unbeLIEVable 3-pointer. I could watch that clip over and over and over. I loved, too, that even though Michael Jordan was obviously the star - it was John Paxson who had the true glory in that moment. They were such a TEAM.

5. Nolan Ryan's seventh no hitter. I remember having a conversation with my brother and my dad a couple years ago at a horrible clam shack on the Cape (we all got sick) and somehow we started talking about records in sports that will probably (although you never know) be unbroken. Both my brother and my dad listed Nolan Ryan's achievement as Unbreakable Record #1. It was a freak of nature. It is HIS, forever and always. Astonishing.

Please, everyone, what are your top memories? And do read Matt's post. It's awesome.

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Apparently today is International Kissing Day - and the only reason I know this is because last year I wrote a stupid post about it - which is now coming up on the Google search page and people are clicking to it with alarming frequency.

My list from last year must be amended. It's a brutal process, but it's gotta be done. I'm booting off #3 - ("under the arches" boy) - and replacing it with Glendalough. Because honestly. Glendalough? Windstorm? Crumbling stone tower? Ireland? Gotta go on the list. I'm also booting "Crazy Erik" in favor of "grape ginger ale" boy. (Speaking of which: His movie is now available. He's awesome. Buy it! Rent it! Love it!!)

Heh heh. It's like I'm speaking in code, My high school friends will know all the references.

A cool thing: The Keith M. of the list (the poor boy I basically attacked on the playground when I was 9) has come back into my life, through this blog - and I will see him on Friday at my high school reunion. Awesome. Just awesome. Old old childhood friends.

So anyway: happy kissing day.

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RIP Ernest Lehman

Ernest Lehman, legendary screenwriter, has died, at the age of 89.

His resume is too long to list. His influence has been huge. This was the man who brought us North by Northwest, for God's sake. And West Side Story -!!!!! And Sabrina. King and I. Sound of Music. One of the things he was most known for was taking Broadway hits (as most of the films I just listed were) and creating screenplays out of them. He did the same thing brilliantly with Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

Strangely enough, I watched North by Northwest the other night for the 37th time or whatever, and this time I watched the "making of" documentary, and also listened to some of the commentary track, which was, incidentally, done by Ernest Lehman. And again, strangely enough: there was something unbelievably touching to me ... about this little old man's voice, doing a commentary track for a movie made in 1959 ... when you didn't even have damn VCRs ... the technology we have now could barely be imagined back then ... and yet Lehman is still here, still relevant, and his commentary track was beautiful. Lots of terrific anecdotes. But again: to hear his little quavering voice say, as those amazing credits ran at the beginning of the film (member them? The geometric cross-hatching that ends up turning into the mirrored side of a building?) ... but anyway: to hear Lehman say, as the movie began, in his quavery old man's voice, "Look at those credits. Aren't they beautiful?"

I got a little verklempt about it, I can tell you.

One of the things Lehman revealed is how North by Northwest essentially came to be.

Hitchcock said two things to him, a propos of nothing, just thinking out loud, basically - two unconnected thoughts at the time:

1. "I have always wanted to do a movie that ended with a chase across the face of Mount Rushmore."




2. "I have always wanted to do a film that opens during a session at the United Nations, and the person addressing the General Assembly says, 'I will not go on speaking as long as the delegate from Peru insists on falling asleep.' And then they nudge the Peruvian delegate, and they realize he is actually dead and he's been murdered."

Two separate Hitchcock-ian thoughts, two separate wish-lists.

Ernest Lehman's brain started click-click-clicking, and he went to his typewriter and wrote 65 pages of what would eventually be North by Northwest. Before going any further, he sent Hitchcock what he had done, to get his response.

Hitchcock wrote Ernest Lehman a 4-page handwritten response (which Ernest Lehman, in the interview during the documentary, said was one of his most treasured possessions.) - saying how much he enjoyed it.

That was the genesis of North by Northwest. They still had to figure out how the hell they got everyone to South Dakota, and why the hell they were scrambling about on the faces of the Presidents ... but eventually Lehman figured it all out.

Here is a picture of Lehman talking to Hitchcock, during the filming of the crop-dusting scene (filmed out in Bakersfield, California).


I think it's really fitting, at the time of his death, to show this man as he was then - young, vigorous, at the top of his game.

Look at it. Isn't it just wonderful? The collaborators.

And here is something else I found: A page of that early draft of North by Northwest:


The scene described on that piece of yellow loose-leaf is when the crop-duster slams into the truck, causing a huge explosion.

Amazing. I have tears in my eyes.

Ernest Lehman received six Academy Award nominations, and in 2001 he was the first screenwriter to ever to be awarded an honorary Oscar (and it's about feckin' TIME, in my opinion.) It was a great moment for screenwriters, when he received his honorary Oscar, and I'm thrilled that it happened while he was still alive and energetic enough to be there to accept. It was a well-deserved award, well-deserved indeed.

I'm strangely moved, by all this. Lehman is a part of history. An important part of the history of 20th century cinema.

Rest in peace, Mr. Lehman. And thank you. Thank you thank you thank you.

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"If it were done when 'tis done ...

then 'twere well It were done quickly."

In other words: I got all my hair chopped off last night. There was a PILE of hair around my chair - the sight of which nearly gave me an anxiety attack. Did I actually have that much hair? I felt like Jo in Little Women.

I sat down, heart pounding, and said, "Just do it. Here's the picture. Do it quickly."

I have to say - I think it looks amazing, and I feel like I am back to myself. Long hair isn't me. Or ... maybe it would be me if I were rich and famous and could have someone style it every day for me. But I like the short scruffy roughed-up look, especially when I wear mascara and dark lipstick.

I went to meet up with my friend Jen after getting it "done quickly", and I felt light-headed, free, and a little bit nude. Where is all my hair??? There was so much product in my hair that it DID NOT MOVE and I looked vaguely like a cooler version of Mrs. Brady. Like a retro-ironic Mrs. Brady. Or like I could have been an extra at the key party in Ice Storm. It looks mod.

And it's flaming red. No more grey.


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The Books: "The Balcony" (Jean Genet)

Next book in my Daily Book Excerpt:

genet_jean3.jpgNext play on the script shelf:

The Balcony, by Jean Genet. The copy I have is translated by Bernard Frechtman.

I love Jean Genet. (Not as much as Emily does, perhaps ... Genet is one of Emily's passions, and through her posts on Genet, I have re-looked at the plays of his that I have. It's been very fun.) I did The Maids in college, as my senior project, and it was one of the wildest weirdest most challenging experiences in my life. But also great great fun. Genet - a criminal, a thief, a subversive, a nocturnal wacko .... Emily can probably add to this. He was a fascinating and messed-up individual, but his plays are tour de forces of surrealism, and heightened realism. I find them quite frightening, actually. They take place in a world you really don't want to visit.

The Balcony takes place in a brothel - but not your run-of-the-mill brothel, no. This is a brothel that caters to people who have nutso fantasies and want them to come true. This is a brothel dedicated to artifice, fantasy, role-playing. You see a General walking around on the stage ... you don't know if he's REALLY a General, or if he is just acting out one of his sexual fantasies. The whole play is filled with characters like that, archetypes: The Bishop, the General, the Judge. Outside the walls of the brothel, a revolution rages. The brothel has become isolated from the rest of the rebel-controlled city. The fantasies being enacted and re-enacted in the brothel get more and more elaborate, more and more frightening and sacrilegious - you start to distrust the fact that there actually is a real world outside the brothel, where personalities are set in stone, where identity is not so fluid and malleable.

That's one of Genet's themes - it was in The Maids as well, which has incredibly long scenes of role-playing, where one of the maids pretends to be the Madame of the house, and they start to act out their increasingly violent revenge fantasies. At first you think: Oh, it's good for the sweet little maids (ha!) to let off some steam when Madame is away! But then it becomes increasingly obvious that the fantasy is becoming more and more real, that the maids themselves are losing the ability to tell what is real and what is a game. Also, because the roles people like to take on in the brothel are, in general, important authority figures out in the real society (bishop, judge, etc.) - the society that is being torn apart by revolution - it's a perfect device for Genet to make an attack on society as a whole. What is a "Bishop"? When does an individual man succumb and just be his title? When does the reality turn into an archetype? When do symbols become more important than what is really happening?

The Balcony was first presented in New York in 1960. It was directed by the great Jose Quintero.

The following scene takes place between the Chief of Police and Irma, the woman who runs the brothel. The revolution outside is reaching a critical point, and it's far too dangerous for anyone to go outside. The Chief of Police interrogates Irma and Carmen (another whore) about the fantasies of the men who come to the brothel, and he wants to know if he appears in any of the fantasies. As a bad guy, a whipping boy, whatever ... The thing is: once you have a role in society that is iconic enough to be "used" in fantasies at the brothel, you know you have really arrived. The Chief of Police, a vain man, wants to know if he has reached that stature yet.

hahaha Jean Genet was so messed UP. But brilliant too.

EXCERPT FROM The Balcony, by Jean Genet:

(The Chief of Police enters. Heavy fur-lined coat, hat, cigar. Carmen starts running to call Arthur back, the The Chief of Police steps in front of her.)

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. No, no, stay, Carmen. I like having you around. As for the gigolo, let him find me. (He keeps his hat and coat on, does not remove his cigar from his mouth, but bows to Irma, and kisses her hand.)

IRMA. Put your hand here. (on her breast) I'm all tense. I'm still wrought up. I knew you were on your way, which meant you were in danger. I waited for you all a-tremble ... while perfuming myself ...

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. (while taking off his hat, coat, gloves and jacket): All right, that'll do. Let's cut the comedy. The situation's getting more and more serious -- it's not desperate, but it will be before long -- hap-pi-ly! The Royal Palace is surrounded. The Queen's in hiding. The city -- it's a miracle I got through -- the city's being ravaged by fire and sword. Out there the rebellion is tragic and joyous, whereas in this house everything's dying a slow death. So, today's my day. By tonight I'll be in the grave or on a pedestal. So whether I love you or desire you is unimportant. How are things going at the moment?

IRMA. Marvellously. I had some great performances.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. (impatiently) What kind?

IRMA. Carmen has a talent for description. Ask her.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. (to Carmen) Tell me, Carmen, still ...?

CARMEN. Yes, sir, still. Still the pillars of the Empire: the Judge ...

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. (ironically) Our allegories, our talking weapons. And is there also ...?

CARMEN. As every week, a new theme. (The Chief of Police makes a gesture of curiosity) This time it's the baby who gets slapped, spanked, tucked in, then cries and is cuddled.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. (impatiently) Fine. But ...

CARMEN. He's charming, Sir. And so sad!

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. (irritably) Is that all?

CARMEN. And so pretty when you unswaddle him ...

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. (with rising fury) Are you pulling my leg, Carmen? I'm asking you whether I'm in it?

CARMEN. Whether you're in it?

IRMA. (ironically, though we do not know with whom she is ironic) You're not in it.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. Not yet? (to Carmen) Well, yes or no, is there a simulation ...

CARMEN. (bewildered) Simulation?

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. You idiot! Yes! An impersonaition of the Chief of Police?

(Very heavy silence)

IRMA. The time's not ripe. My dear, your function isn't noble enough to offer dreamers an image that would console them. Perhaps because it lacks illustrious ancestors? No, my dear fellow ... You have to resign yourself to the fact that your image does not yet conform to the liturgies of the brothel.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. Who's represented in them?

IRMA. You know who. You have your index cards. (She enumerates with her fingers. There are two kings of France with coronation ceremonies and different rituals, an admiral at the stern of his sinking destroyer, a dey of Algiers surrendering, a fireman putting out a fire, a goat attached to a stake, a housewife returning from market, a pickpocket, a robbed man who's bound and beaten up, a Saint Sebastian, a farmer in his barn ... but no chief of police ... nor colonial administrator, though there is a missionary dying on the cross, and Christ in person.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. You're forgetting the mechanic.

IRMA. He doesn't come anymore. What with tightening screws, he'd have ended by constructing a machine. And it might have worked. Back to the factory!

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. So not a single one of your clients has had the idea ... the remotest idea, the barest suggestion ...

IRMA. No. I know you do what you can. You try hatred and love. But glory gives you the cold shoulder.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. (forcefully) My image is growing bigger and bigger. It's becoming colossal. Everything around me repeats and reflects it. And you've never seen it represented in this place?

IRMA. In any case, even if it were celebrated here, I wouldn't see anything. The ceremonies are secret.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. You liar. You've got secret peep-holes in every wall. Every partition, every mirror, is rigged. In one place, you can hear the sighs, in another the echo of the moans. You don't need me to tell you that brothel tricks are mainly mirror tricks ... (very sadly) Nobody yet! But I'll make my image detach itself from me. I'll make it penetrate into your studios, force its way in, reflect and multiply itself. Irma, my function weighs me down. Here, it will appear to me in the blazing light of pleasure and death. (Musingly) Of death.

IRMA. You must keep killing, my dear George.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. I do what I can, I assure you. People fear me more and more.

IRMA. Not enough. You must plunge into darkness, into shit and blood. (with sudden anguish) And must kill whatever remains of our love.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. (curtly) Everything's dead.

IRMA. That's a fine victory. So you've got to kill what's around you.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. (very irritated) I repeat: I do what I can to prove to the nation that I'm a leader, a lawgiver, a builder ...

IRMA. (uneasily) You're raving. Or else you really do expect to build an empire. In which case you're raving.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. (with conviction) When the rebellion's been put down, and put down by me, when I've the nation behind me and been appealed to by the Queen, nothing can stop me. Then, and only then, will you see who I now am! Yes, my dear, I want to build an empire ... so that the empire will, in exchange, build me ...

IRMA. ... a tomb.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. (somewhat taken aback) But, after all, why not? Doesn't every conqueror have one? So? (Exalted) Alexandria! I'll have my tomb, Irma. And when the cornerstone is laid, you'll be my guest of honour.

IRMA. Thank you. (to Carmen) Carmen, the tea.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. (to Carmen, who is about to leave) Just a minute, Carmen. What do you think of the idea?

CARMEN. That you want to merge your life with one long funeral, sir.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. (aggressively) Is life anything else? You seem to know everything -- so tell me: in this sumptuous theatre where every moment a drama is performed -- in the sense that the outside world says a mass is celebrated -- what have you observed?

CARMEN. (after a hesitation) As for anything serious, anything worth reporting, only one thing: that without the thighs it contained, a pair of pants on a chair is beautiful, sir. Emptied of our little old men, our ornaments are deathly sad. They're the ones that are placed on the catafalques of high dignitaries. They cover only corpses that never stop dying. And yet ...

IRMA. (to Carmen) That's not what the Chief of Police is asking.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. I'm used to Carmen's speeches. (to Carmen) You were saying: and yet ...?

CARMEN. And yet, I'm sure that the sudden joy in their eyes when they see the cheap finery is really the gleam of innocence ...

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. People claim that our house sends them to Death. (suddenly a ringing. Irma starts. A pause.)

IRMA. Someone's opened the door. Who can it be at this hour? (to Carmen) Carmen, go down and shut the door.

(Carmen exits. A rather long silence between Irma and the Chief of Police, who remain alone.)


IRMA. It was I who rang. I wanted to be alone with you for a moment. (A pause, during which they look into each other's eyes seriously) Tell me, George ... Do you still insist on keeping up the game? No, no, don't be impatient. Aren't you tired of it?

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. But ... In a little while I'll be going home.

IRMA. If you can. If the rebellion leaves you free to go.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. The rebellion is a game. From here you can't see anything of the outside, but every rebel is playing a game. And he loves his game.

IRMA. But supposing they let themselves be carried beyond the game? I mean, if they get so involved in it that they destroy and replace everything. Yes, yes, I know, there's always the false detail that reminds them that at a certain moment, at a certain point in the drama, they have to stop, and even withdraw ... But what if they're so carried away by passion that they no longer recognize anything and leap, without realizing it, into ...

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. You mean into reality? What of it? Let them try. I do as they do, I penetrate right into the reality that the game offers us,a nd since I have the upper hand, it's I who score.

IRMA. They'll be stronger than you.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. Why do you say "they'll be"? I've left the members of my bodyguard in one of your studios. So I'm always in contact with my various departments. All right, enough of that. Are you or aren't you the mistress of a house of illusions? Good> If I come to your place, it's to find satisfaction in your mirrors and their trickery. (Tenderly) Don't worry. Everything will be just as it's always been.

IRMA. I don't know why, but today I feel uneasy. Carmen seems strange to me. The rebels -- how shall I put it? -- have a kind of gravity ...

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. Their role requires it.

IRMA. No, no ... of determination. They walk by the windows threateningly, but they don't sing. The threat is in their eyes.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. What of it? Supposing it is, do you take me for a coward? Do you think I should give up and go home?

IRMA. (pensively) No. besides, I think it's too late.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. Do you have any news?

IRMA. From Chantal, before she lit out. The power-house will be occupied around 3 a.m.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. Are you sure? Who told her?

IRMA. The partisans of the Fourth Sector.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. That's plausible. How did she find otu?

IRMA. It's through her that there were leaks, and through her alone. So don't belittle my house ...

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. Your cat-house, my love.

IRMA. Cat-house, whore-house, bawdy-house. Brothel. Fuckery. Call it anything you like. So Chantal's the only one who's on the other side ... She lit out. But before she did, she confided in Carmen, and Carmen's no fool.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. Who tipped her off?

IRMA. Roger. The plumber. How do you imagine him. Young and handsome? No. He's forty. Thick-set. Serious, with ironic eyes. Chantal spoke to him. I put him out: too late. He belongs to the Andromeda network.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. Andromeda? Splendid. The rebellion's riding high, it's moving out of this world. If it gives its sectors the names of constellations, it'll evaporate in no time and be metamorphosed into song. Let's hope the songs are beautiful.

IRMA. And what if their songs give the rebels courage? What if they're willing to die for them?

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. The beauty of their songs will make them soft. Unfortunately, they haven't yet reached the point of either beauty or softness. In any case, Chantal's tender passions were providential.

IRMA. Don't bring God into ...

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. I'm a freemason. Therefore ...

IRMA. You? You never told me.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. (solemnly) Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret.

IRMA. (ironically) You, a brother in a little apron! With a hood and taper and a little mallet. That's odd. (A pause) You too?


IRMA. (with mock solemnity I'm a guardian of far more solemn rites. (suddenly sad) Since that's all I am now.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. As usual, you're going to bring up our grand passion.

IRMA. No, not our passion, but the time when we loved each other.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. Well, would you like to give a historical account of it and deliver a eulogy? You think my visits would have less zest if you didn't flavour them with the memory of a pretended innocence?

IRMA. It's a question of tenderness. Neither the wildest concoctions of my clients nor my own fancies nor my constant endeavour to enrich my studios with new themes nor the passion of time nor the gilding and crystals nor bitter cold can dispel the moments when you cuddled in my arms or keep me from remembering them.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. Do you really miss them?

IRMA. (tenderly) I'd give my kingdom to relive a single one of them! And you know which one. I need just one word of truth -- as when one looks at one's wrinkles at night, or rinses one's mouth ...

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. It's too late. Besides, we couldn't cuddle each other eternally. You don't what I was already secretly moving towards when I was in your arms.

IRMA. I know that I loved you.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. It's too late. Could you give up Arthur?

IRMA. It was you who forced him on me. You insisted on there being a man here -- against my better judgment -- in a domain that should have remained virgin .... You fool, don't laugh. Virgin, that is, sterile. But you wanted a pillar, a shaft, a phallus present -- an upright bulk. Well, it's here. You saddled me with that hunk of congested meat, that milksop with wrestler's arms. He may look like a strongman at a fair, but you don't realize how fragile he is. You stupidly forced him on me because you felt yourself ageing.


IRMA. And you relaxed here through Arthur. I need him now. I have no illusions. I'm his man and he relies on me, but I need that rugged shop-window dummy hanging on to my skirts. He's my body, as it were, but set beside me.

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. What if I were jealous?

IRMA. Of that big doll made up as an executioner in order to satisfy a phony judge? You're kidding, but the spectacle of me under the spectacle of that magnificent body never used to bother you ... Let me repeat ...

THE CHIEF OF POLICE. (he slaps Irma, who falls on the sofa) And don't blubber or I'll break your jaw, and I'll send your joint up in smoke. I'll set fire to your hair and bush and I'll turn you loose. I'll light up the town with blazing whores. (very gently) Do you think I'm capable of it?

IRMA. (in a panting whisper) Yes, darling.

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July 5, 2005

What, me worry?

I just tripped over an absolute treasure. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote an extraordinary letter to his 11 year old daughter while she was at camp, giving her advice about things she SHOULD worry about and things she SHOULDN'T worry about. Gorgeous:

AUGUST 8, 1933

Dear Pie:

I feel very strongly about you doing duty. Would you give me a little more documentation about your reading in French? I am glad you are happy-- but I never believe much in happiness. I never believe in misery either. Those are things you see on the stage or the screen or the printed page, they never really happen to you in life.

All I believe in in life is the rewards for virtue (according to your talents) and the punishments for not fulfilling your duties, which are doubly costly. If there is such a volume in the camp library, will you ask Mrs. Tyson to let you look up a sonnet of Shakespeare's in which the line occurs Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds....

I think of you, and always pleasantly, but I am going to take the White Cat out and beat his bottom hard, six times for every time you are impertinent. Do you react to that?...

Half-wit, I will conclude. Things to worry about:

Worry about courage
Worry about cleanliness
Worry about efficiency
Worry about horsemanship...
Things not to worry about:
Don't worry about popular opinion
Don't worry about dolls
Don't worry about the past
Don't worry about the future
Don't worry about growing up
Don't worry about anybody getting ahead of you
Don't worry about triumph
Don't worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault
Don't worry about mosquitoes
Don't worry about flies
Don't worry about insects in general
Don't worry about parents
Don't worry about boys
Don't worry about disappointments
Don't worry about pleasures
Don't worry about satisfactions
Things to think about:
What am I really aiming at?
How good am I really in comparison to my contemporaries in regard to:
(a) Scholarship
(b) Do I really understand about people and am I able to get along with them?
(c) Am I trying to make my body a useful instrument or am I neglecting it?

With dearest love ...

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (8)

Sleep problems

The last couple of nights I have been plagued with insomnia. I toss, I turn, I moan, I thrash. Why? Because one image keeps floating past my brain... an image from the deepest part of my subconscious ... an image that is straight from the heart of darkness, the pit of nightmarish doom ... and every time I close my eyes it's there ... no matter what meditative process I go through ... no matter how hard I try to relax ...

THIS is all I see, on eternal repeat:



(Tom went nuts on The View. Read all about it at Gawker. Thanks, Jess. Or ... should I not say Thank You since I will be haunted by this image for months to come?)

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Pride of the Yankees


Okay, so I saw the film yesterday for the first time. I live-blogged it. Because I am totally a weird person.

There were a couple of comments made to the posts about how they filmed Cooper playing right-handed, and then reversed the film. I remember hearing a bit about that ... and knew I had to research it. And naturally, because I have one of the best libraries in the world, I knew where to turn. I pulled out A. Scott Berg's biography of Sam Goldwyn (Goldwyn produced the picture) and looked up the section on Pride of the Yankees. (Interesting factoid: Not only did they have Cooper bat right and then reverse the film - but they had Cooper run to third base, instead of first, so it would look normal when reversed, and also had all the numbers and letters on all the uniforms turned backwards - so that when the film was reversed, it would all look normal. Amazing. Through the looking glass movie-making). Goldwyn was, at first, really against the picture. He said, "[Baseball movies] are box office poison. If people want baseball, they go to the ballpark." But Niven Busch (a screenwriter, under contract with Goldwyn) thought the Lou Gehrig story would be a massive success. He was the one who really pushed to get the movie made.

And hang on a second, I just realized something: Lou Gehrig made his famous farewell speech on July 4, 1939. !!!! So I, completely inadvertently, found the movie yesterday, decided to buy it because I had never seen it, came home and watched it, commenting on it all the whole - on the very day that farewell speech was made. Weird!!

Some really cool background info in the book, so I'll post it:

From Goldwyn, by Scott Berg:

Busch nonetheless proceeded to recommend a story about the life of Lou Gehrig, who had recently died at the age of thirty-seven. On July 4, 1939, the New York Yankees herculean star of 2,130 consecutive games had appeared on the diamond of Yankee Stadium for the last time, to bid his public farewell; he was suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. "I've been walking on ball fields for sixteen years, and I've never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans," he said. After acknowledging his teammates, past and present, the sportswriters, his team managers, his parents, and his wife -- "a companion for life ... who has shown me more courage than I ever knew" -- the "Iron Man" began to lose control. "People all say I've had a bad break," he found the strength to add; "but today .... today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."

Busch ran the newsreels of "Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day" for his boss. When the lights came on in his screening room, Goldwyn was mopping his eyes. "Run them again," he said.

After the second viewing, a fully composed Goldwyn barked, "Get Mulvey in New York. We'll get the rights." In an instant, Goldwyn was talking to his senior associate -- whose wife, Marie "Dearie" McKeever, had recently inheritied a one-quarter interest in the Brooklyn Dodgers from her father. "Mulvey," he said, "call Mrs. Gehrig. Tell her there's a remote possibility that we might be interested in the story of her husband." For some $30,000, she sold the rights.

It wasn't exactly smooth sailing after that. It never is, in the movies.

While Goldwyn was negotiating with publicist and sports enthusiast Christy Walsh for the services of Babe Ruth and other real New York Yankees, Busch realized the extent of Goldwyn's ignorance about the game. After a particularly grueling bargaining session, Goldwyn pulled Busch aside and quietly asked him what position Lou Gehrig played. "First base," Busch replied. "First base?" Goldwyn asked, making sure he got it right. "First base," Busch underscored, emphasizing it in such a way that "I think he got the idea that there were ten bases and one worked his way up to first." Negotiations continued that afternoon until the round of Goldwyn screams that customarily closed each session. "You're robbing me!" Goldwyn yelled at Walsh. "I'm not going to pay through the ass for just some lousy ... THIRD baseman!"

Next they had to get the story down - before assigning it to screenwriters. What would be the arc, the story told. Paul Gallico was chosen for this job. (Is this the Paul Gallico? The novelist? Poseidon Adventure Paul Gallico? It must be, right?)

Busch assigned Paul Gallico to write the story for the film, called The Pride of the Yankees. Knowing the climax of the picture, Gallico worked backward, fleshing out the people Gehrig had referred to in his valedictories. He told the story of the immigrant Gehrigs, especially Lou's mother, who had worked as a cook at a fraternity at Columbia University so her son might get an education and become an engineer. When she suddenly needed an operation, Lou did not tell her he obtained the money for it by accepting an offer from the Yankees. Then Gallico followed Gehrig's rise to the major leagues and his rivalry with Babe Ruth. The centerpiece of the hfilm would be the love story between the bashful athlete and the sophisticated Chicago socialite Eleanor Twitchell -- their cute courtship, his untying himself from his mother's apron strings, and the Gehrigs' final acceptance of his fatal illness. Jo Swirling and Herman mankiewicz wrote a screenplay that landed right on the foul line between earnest and maudlin. The New York Times would later note that "without being pretentious", it was "a real saga of American life -- homey, humorous, sentimental and composed in patient detail."

The cast needed to be chosen as well. Heads up: Goldwyn pretty much "discovered" Gary Cooper, back in the 1920s, when he noticed that the glorified extra in some cowboy movie not only was truly handsome - in the way only big movie stars are handsome - but also that he could ACT. I posted the story here. It's one of my favorite "actor gets discovered" stories.

Goldwyn saw Gary Cooper in the lead from the start. It was the last commitment he had from the actor under his present contract, and it was the first time Goldwyn had offered him a role commensurate to his screen status. Niven Busch successfully pushed Goldwyn to give Teresa Wright, whom he was soon to marry, her first starring role, as Eleanor. Walter Brennan played yet another Cooper sidekick, a sportswriter friend. The no-frills Sam Wood was hired to direct. It was "a tough picture to produce," Goldwyn admitted to Joe Schenck upon the film's completion, "as there are so many people throughout America who knew Gehrig that his biography had to be handled with the greatest of care."

Then came the small problem: Gary Cooper couldn't play baseball.

The biggest problem grew from Gary Cooper's being as unfamiliar with baseball as Sam Goldwyn was.

Except for his years in England, Cooper had spent most of his childhood on a horse in Montana, and he had never held a bat in his hands. To make matters worse, he was right-handed, and Gehrig was one of the most celebrated southpaws in the history of the game. Sam Wood could cover certain running and fielding moves by filming a double in long shots, but there was no escaping Cooper's having to step up to home plate and take a convincing whack on the ball. The actor went into spring training with several ballplayers and learned to throw, catch, slide, and bunt properly. He even developed a strong, steady swing, but he just could not master it left-handed. Film editor Danny Maxwell saved the day with an ingenious idea. He suggested to Goldwyn that they allow Cooper to bat right, but have him run to third base, not first. If the costumer reversed the letters and numbers on the players' uniforms in those few shots, Mandell could simply flip the film over, giving the impression of a lefty running to first base.

Wild! Goldwyn was aware that this film's success depended on men AND women coming to see it. So:

To ensure that The Pride of the Yankees ended up a picture for the millions of women left at home as much as a sports movie, Goldwyn insisted on a nightclub sequence, featuring the dance team of Veloz and Yolanda. The Gehrigs' favorite ballad, Irving Berlin's "Always", wafted through the film. Goldwyn's heavy dose of romance proved the secret to the film's success.

One word on this: As a woman, yes, I loved the love story. But I'm not an idiot. Romance doesn't work if it's done insincerely, or as a bone thrown out to me. You can take your bone and shove it. What I liked about the romance in this movie is that they both seem like real people. She's not just a generic woman. She seems very three-dimensional. She's womanly, and yearns to be married - yet she's also a big sports fan, and can hold her own with a bunch of athletes. He is seriously an awkward and bumbling person (off the baseball field). He can't get her out of his mind, and courts her in the most awkward way possible. But - when the time comes for him to stand up to his mother, and say: "Let my wife be the boss of my own house. Not you" - he is able to do so. He does the right thing. I also liked how the two of them wrestled, for fun. hahahaha Such an interesting thing, in a movie from the 1940s - to see the two of them rolling around, laughing hysterically, literally beating the crap out of each other. It seemed so real. The laughter seemed real, the submerged sexual passion seemed real ... I liked both of them. They seemed like a real couple.

So I didn't get the feeling I sometimes get with so-called guy pictures - where I actually resent the love story - because it so has nothing to do with the plot, and it seems like a condescending ploy to keep me interested. As though I, being a woman, can ONLY relate to romance. Feck off. To me, if they had taken the entire romantic sub-plot out of The Caine Mutiny it would have been a better movie. Don't condescend to me with a love story that has nothing to do with ANYTHING.

Okay, back to the movie at hand:

Charles Skouras -- whose brother Spyros had moved that year from managing the Fox Metropolitan Theaters in New York to the presidency of the parent company, Twentieth Century Fox -- liked The Pride of the Yankees enough to pass on several recommendations. Goldwyn followed his advice of exhibiting the picture at as much as 25 percent over the regular general admission price of movies "and in no event at less than fifty-five cents general admission." Skouras also suggested creating a word-of-mouth campaign by premiering the picture in just one city. After New York, the picture moved across the country, capped by a benefit at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood that raised $5,000 for the Naval Aid Auxiliary. "From what I understand," Goldwyn wrote Joe Schenck, "it will be the last opening that Hollywood will be allowed to have for the duration of this war. As you know they are stopping night baseball and all outdoor sports at night. Nor can we shoot any more scenes at night. From now on all this is 'verboten'."

Goldwyn made more money off The Pride of the Yankees than from any film he had yet produced. Several thousand dollars came from such producers as Pandro Berman and Buddy DeSylva, who had bet that the film would not gross more than $3 million, the benchmark those days for blockbuster business.

The reviews rivaled the receipts, particularly those of several individuals whose opinions Goldwyn greatly respected. Eleanor Gehrig said the film was all she could hope for and that she was 'completely happy with it." Wendell Wilkie, whom Goldwyn had supported for President in 1940 -- told him, "Sam, you have done something very important here. You help democracy everywhere by showing what opportunies there are in America." Goldwyn replied, "Why shouldn't I -- who knows better than I do the opportunities in America?" The picture was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Actor. Goldwyn assumed that all the film's glory would clinch Gary Cooper re-signing with him.

Instead, the actor resigned. Goldwyn's one leading man could hardly wait to end his relationship with the producer. After his experience with Goldwyn, Cooper chose to become an actor for hire, making his lucrative deals one at a time and proceeding to enjoy more than a decade of solid hits. One year younger than the century, Cooper had been too old to enlist in the armed services, but in 1943 he went on a five-week tour of American bases in New Guinea. The movie actor had little he could perform on a stage beyond striking an unaffected pose and reciting Lou Gehrig's farewell speech. That invariably brought the men to tears, then to their feet in inspired applause.

And that, my friends ... is that. Good to have an extensive library, where you can look up everything from the history of Locke's influence on Thomas Jefferson to the story of the making of The Pride of the Yankees.

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6 feet under fans ...

Help??? I have a question. I could have sworn I have seen every episode this season so far, but apparently I have missed something HUGE, according to last night's episode:

Lisa's brother in law? She was having an affair with him? He might have killed her?

When the hell was THAT revealed??

I do remember in the first episode this season when Nate and Brenda were watching the wedding video and there was a brief shot of Lisa, before the wedding, obviously having an intense altercation over to the side with her brother in law. I remember wondering: Huh, wonder if that will become important later on ...

But ... obviously it has, and I missed the revelation moment.

Please fill me in. NOW.

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Cool photo - 2

And this is the view from the end of my street. I live at the edge of a cliff, on a dead end, and THAT is my view.


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Cool photo - 1

When my good friends Beth, Mere, and Betsy came to visit me about a month ago, Mere took some really cool photos.

I've ranted and raved about how cool my ceiling is before. Mere took a picture of it:


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The Books: "Blind Date" (Horton Foote)

Next book in my Daily Book Excerpt:

wood.jpgNext book on the script shelf:

Selected One Act Plays of Horton Foote.

My favorite of these one-acts is one called Blind Date. It makes me laugh out loud. Sarah Nancy is a young girl of 15, visiting her aunt and uncle, again in Harrison Texas. (Horton Foote sets most of his plays in a fictional small town in Texas called Harrison) The aunt, Dolores, has very specific ideas about how a young lady should act. Sarah Nancy lives up to none of these ideals. She is not girlie, she is not "peppy", she is blunt and sarcastic, if she is bored she will definitely let you know. She doesn't play the game. Dolores is beside herself, trying to train Sarah Nancy right. (The play takes place in the 50s). She sets Sarah Nancy up on a blind date with a young man named Felix. Sarah Nancy is horrified and PISSED, but Dolores insists. (The date between the two of them, when it finally comes off, is just CLASSIC. Funny, ridiculous, and then eventually - kind of moving - and these two misfits, being bossed around by their families, connect).

Anyway, here is the scene where Dolores gives Sarah Nancy a list of appropriate topics of conversation to use on a date. She thinks Sarah Nancy needs to learn to converse, and so she draws up a list. This list, of course, ends up coming back to bite poor aunt Dolores in the ass when Sarah Nancy is actually on her date with Oscar ...But here is the scene where Dolores tries to drum the list into Sarah Nancy's head. You can see that the training session will be an uphill battle.

EXCERPT FROM Blind Date, by Horton Foote:

DOLORES. Now where were we? Oh yes. I was going over my list of things to talk about. (Dolores picks up her list and begins reading) One: Who is going to win the football game next Friday? Two: Do you think we have had enough rain for the cotton yet? Three: I hear you were a football player in high school. What position did you play? Do you miss football? Four: I hear you are an insurance salesman. What kind of insurance do you sell? Five: What is the best car on the market today, do you think? Six: What church do you belong to? Seven: Do you enjoy dancing? Eight: Do you enjoy bridge? (She puts the list down) All right, that will do for a start. Now let's practice. I'll be Felix. Now. Hello, Sarah Nancy. (a pause. Sarah Nancy looks at her like she thinks she's crazy) Nnow what do you say, Sarah Nancy?

SARAH NANCY. About what?

DOLORES. About what? About what you say when someone says hello to you, Sarah Nancy. Now let's start again. Hello, Sarah Nancy.


DOLORES. Honey, don't just say hello and above all don't scowl and say hello. Smile. Hello, how very nice to see you. Let me feel your warmth. Now will you remember that? Of course you will. All right, let's start on our questions. Begin with your first question. (A pause) I'm waiting, honey.

SARAH NANCY. I forgot.

DOLORES. Well, don't be discouraged. I'll go over the list carefully and slowly again. One: Who is going to win the football game next Friday? Two: Do you think we have had enough rain for the cotton yet? Three: I hear you were a football player in high school. What position did you play? Do you miss football? Four: I hear you are an insurance salesman. What kind of insurance do you sell? Five: What is the best car on the market today, do you think? Six: What church do you belong to? Seven: Do you enjoy dancing? Eight: Do you enjoy bridge? Now we won't be rigid about the questions, of course. You can ask the last question first if you want to.

SARAH NANCY. What's the last question again?

DOLORES. Do you enjoy bridge?

SARAH NANCY. I hate bridge.

DOLORES. Well then, sweetness, just substitute another question. Say, do you enjoy dancing?

SARAH NANCY. I hate dancing.

DOLORES. Now you don't hate dancing. You couldn't hate dancing. It is in your blood. Your mother and daddy are both beautiful dancers. You just need practice is all. Now ...

SARAH NANCY. Why didn't you get me a date with Arch Leon? I think he's the cute one.

DOLORES. He's going steady, honey, I explained that.

SARAH NANCY. Who is he going steady with?

DOLORES. Alberta Jackson.

SARAH NANCY. Is she cute?

DOLORES. I think she's right cute, a little common looking and acting for my taste.

SARAH NANCY. He sure is cute.

DOLORES. Well, Felix Robertson is a lovely boy.

SARAH NANCY. I think he's about as cute as a warthog.

DOLORES. Sarah Nancy.

SARAH NANCY. I think he looks just like a warthog.

DOLORES. Sarah Nancy, precious ...

SARAH NANCY. That's the question I'd like to ask him. How is the hogpen, warthog?

DOLORES. Precious, precious.

SARAH NANCY. Anyway, they are all stupid.

DOLORES. Who, honey?


DOLORES. Precious, darling.

SARAH NANCY. Dumb and stupid. (she starts away)

DOLORES. Sarah Nancy, where in the world are you going?

SARAH NANCY. I'm going to bed.

DOLORES. Sarah Nancy, what is possessing you to say a thing like that? You're just trying to tease me.

SARAH NANCY. Oh no I'm not. (She starts away)

DOLORES. Sarah Nancy, you can't go to bed. You have a young man coming to call on you at any moment. You have to be gracious ...

SARAH NANCY. I don't feel like being gracious. I'm sleepy. I'm going to bed.

DOLORES. Sarah Nancy, you can't. Do you want to put me in my grave? The son of one of your mother's dearest friends will be here at any moment to call on you, and you cannot be so rude as to go to bed and refuse to receive him. Sarah Nancy, I beg you. I implore you.

SARAH NANCY. Oh, all right. (She sits down) Ask me some questions.

DOLORES. No, dear. You ask me some questions.

SARAH NANCY. What church do you attend?

DOLORES. That's lovely. That's a lovely question to begin wtih. Now I'll answer as Felix will. Methodist.

SARAH NANCY. That's a dumb church.

DOLORES. Sarah Nancy.

SARAH NANCY. I think it's a dumb church. It's got no style. We used to be Methodist but we left for Episcopal. They don't rant and rave in the Episcopal church.

DOLORES. And they don't rant and rave in the Methodist church either, honey. Not here. Not in Harrison.

SARAH NANCY. Last time I was there they did.

DOLORES. Well, things have changed. Anyway, you're not supposed to comment when he answers the questions, you're just supposed to sit back and listen to the answers as if you're fascinated and find it all very interesting.


DOLORES. Because that's how you entertain young men, graciously. You make them feel you are interested in whatever they have to say.

SARAH NANCY. Suppose I'm not?

DOLORES. Well, it is not important if you are or not, you are supposed to make them think you are.

How is the hogpen, warthog? heh heh heh

Naturally, Sarah Nancy is belligerent. Felix shows up at the door. He says, "Hi, I'm Felix" and she blurts at him, "What church do you attend?" It's so feckin' funny. No matter WHAT he says, she keeps to the script Aunt Dolores gave her ... until finally, it all breaks down, and they actually start to talk to each other.

Posted by sheila Permalink

July 4, 2005

Cashel's philosophy

The other night, Cashel and my brother (his dad) were hanging out. They had had some dinner, they were sitting around talking (Cashel is 7, by the way) ... and it wasn't a particularly deep conversation, there was no seriousness, it was all very casual, you know, an everyday normal conversation.

Then suddenly, Cashel leaned back on the couch, put his hands behind his head, and said contemplatively, out of the blue: "I'd rather be a peasant with wit than a king with no wit."


I mean... when someone just comes OUT with something like that, what can you say?? Especially if that person is a wee 7 year old boy?

Is he Irish or what? Glad to see he has his priorities straight.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (10)

Pride of the Yankees ...

Watching The Pride of the Yankees right now. Schmaltz!! Delicious schmaltz!!

Babe Ruth is actually in this movie. So cool! And you know what, he's not half bad. He has a moment when he barks at the waiter behind a buffet table: "Gimme some pork chops." He goes to sit down, then comes back to bark again: "And some mushrooms." He has a nice sense of timing, it's a funny moment. Look at his big fat MUG!!

The delectable Teresa Wright is in this movie too. She's Mitch's favorite. :) What a lovely girl. She plays the perfect girl baseball fan (and then - the perfect baseball player's wife). She's like me. She knows the game. She is really into it. But she's still allll girl. Beautiful.

I love this moment: Gehrig's immigrant parents who wanted him to be an engineer are generally horrified that he is taking up this baseball thing. It seems pointless to them. Especially the mother. But finally Gehrig signs with the New York Yankees, and they go to see him play.

The mother is completely baffled. They watch the field being set up.

Mother: (in thick German accent) What are those pillows?
Father: (in thick German accent) Those aren't pillows, Mama. Those are bases.
Mother: (baffled) Bases?
Father: Yes, Mama. You slide into them.
Mother: (look of shock on her face) I slide into them??
There is a long LONG pause.
Father: Just watch the game, Mama.

Okay, the mother CLEARLY has some Oedipal issues with her son. God, woman, let him go. Stop acting like a jealous lover because the man has a girlfriend!!

HAHAHAHAHA now the mother is suddenly a massive baseball fan. They're watching Gehrig play ... the father says, to himself, "Why doesn't he bunt??" The mother, in her old-lady hat, gives her husband a look of utter contempt and says, "Bunt. 3 runs behind and you want him to bunt."

Cooper is playing the growing awareness that something is wrong with him so well. How frightening. To lose control of your body like that. Cooper underplays everything. Never ever goes for the sentiment. But he's so effective.

Dammit, now I am weeping like a baby. Yup. The schmaltz works. I cried openly through his entire retirement speech. Here's the actual text of the speech Gehrig made that day. The last line is an absolute killer. (You can also listen to a snippet of Gehrig himself at that link.) Damn. An amazing story.

The Yankees retired his jersey number (#4), the first major league baseball player to have his number retired.

Some cool quotes about Lou Gehrig (I think the last one is my favorite):

"I would not have traded two minutes of the joy and the grief with that man for two decades of anything with another." -- Lou Gehrig's wife, Eleanor

"He was a symbol of indestructibility – a Gibraltar in cleats." -- columnist Jim Murray

“Gehrig had one advantage over me. He was a better ballplayer." -- baseball player Gil Hodges hahahahaha

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Christmas in July

No, I am not referring to this incredibly disturbing image.

I am referring to the fact that just now I went grocery shopping, and I found, in this big sale rack of used DVDs, The Pride of the Yankees starring Gary Cooper - WHICH I HAVE NEVER SEEN. My stupid video store doesn't carry it, and I have been DYING to see it.

There are so many awesome stories about the filming of this movie (perhaps I will regale you with some of them later) - and as I have said before: the Gary Cooper obsession was starting to move into Cary Grant mode some months back. I could feel it happening, because I may be an obsessive, but I am also a self-aware obsessive. The most amazing thing to me about this film is that Gary Cooper, believe it or not, had never played baseball in his life. He grew up on a ranch. He rode horses. He did not play baseball. He knew less about baseball than RTG. So he went and trained for a while with some major league team - can't remember which one - and basically had to learn how to play. From what I understand, he did a phenomenal job in the film, and looked like he knew how to play ball.

And it was because of a few commenters here that I tracked down the film Ball of Fire, with Barbara Stanwyck, which has since become one of my favorite movies of all time. I wrote about it after first seeing it. There was one memorable evening when I watched it twice in a row. I was addicted, and I hadn't gotten my proper fix with only one viewing. And here I blither about his body language in that famous crane shot from High Noon.

Gary Cooper is just wonderful, and I cannot WAIT to see this movie - which I will do momentarily.

I posted my favorite story about Gary Cooper some time back, and here it is again. I'm tellin' ya, it just gives me chills.

Look at that face, man. I mean, just look at that face.


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July 4, 1826

The 50th anniversary of July 4, 1776.



John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, two of the main architects of the American Revolution, long estranged due to political differences, (and Jefferson referring, in public, to "political heresies" - meaning that he felt there was some orthodoxy and Adams was a heretic) had finally reconciled (engineered by Benjamin Rush, who thought it a shame that these two great patriots, once dear friends, would go their graves without making up). Then followed a 12-year correspondence between the two aging statesmen ... a correspondence that has to be read to be believed.

And then ... on the same day ... which happened to be July 4 ... which happened to be the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence ... they both died. Within hours of each other.

I don't even know what more to say about that.

John Adams' last words were "Jefferson ... still lives." (Dammit, that just kills me.) Amazingly, though, is that Jefferson actually had died a couple of hours earlier.

Thomas Jefferson's last words (and this always just chokes me up - I'm choked up right now): "Is it the fourth?"

Yes, Mr. Jefferson. It is the fourth. And thank you. Thank you both.

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Declaration - "Perpetual itching without benefit of scratching to the enemies of America."

From Benson Bobrick's Angel in the Whirlwind: The Triumph of the American Revolution:

On the morning of July 4, Jefferson rose before dawn, and at six a.m. calmly noted that the temperature was 68 degrees Farenheit. The wind was southeast and the mercury soon climbed to 76. He soaked his feet in a basin of cold water (as was his morning habit), took some tea and biscuits, and proceeded to Independence Hall. By midafternoon, the collective editing of the declaration (accelerated by a plague of horseflies which had swarmed out of the stables nearby) had come to its happy end. It was voted on and adopted (New York alone abstaining), whereupon Joseph Hewes of North Carolina, who had repeatedly voted against it, "started suddenly upright, and lifting up both his Hands to Heaven as if he had been in a trance, cry'd out, 'It is done! and I will abide by it.'" An old bellman at nearby Christ's Church, waiting for the signal from a boy stationed at the State House door, suddenly heard the lad clap his hands and shout, "Ring! Ring!"
Those who afterward lined up to sign the document (on August 22) had reason to be uneasy. They knew the peril and penalty of treason and were signing, as it were, with halters about their necks. John Hancock, as president of Congress, wrote his name first. "We must be unanimous," he reportedly declared. "There must be no pulling different ways, we must all hang together." "Yes," replied Franklin, 'we must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately." Behind them stood Benjamin Harrison, a large, heavy man, who nervously picked up the theme. To the diminutive Eldridge Gerry, he said, "I shall have a great advantage over you, Mr. Gerry, when we are all hung for what we are now doing. From the size and weight of my body I shall die in a few minutes, but from the lightness of your body, you will dance in the air an hour or two before you are dead."

Yet there was also an overriding and mystical feeling of providential cover to the boldness of their act. As John Page, a Virginia statesman, put it rather beautifully to Jefferson two weeks after the declaration was adopted, "God preserve the United States. We know the Race is not to the swift nor the Battle to the Strong. Do you not think an Angel rides in the Whirlwind and directs this Storm?"

Congress had copies of the declaration sent to every state Assembly and convention, to the various committees of safety, and to the commanding officers of the Continental Army to proclaim before their troops.

John Adams, writing to Abigail, was moved to prophecy by the transcendent spirit of the hour: "You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil, and blood, and treausre that it will cost us to maintain the Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means, and that posterity will triumph in that day's transaction, even though we should rue it, which I trust in God we shall not."

It seemed to him, moreover, that it was just as well consideration of the declaration (by which he meant Lee's resolutions) had taken as long as it had:

Time has been given for the whole people maturely to consider the great question of independence, and to ripen their judgment, dissipate their fears, and allure their hopes, by discussing it in newspapers and pamphlets, by debating it in assemblies, conventions, committees of safety and inspection, in town and county meetings, as well as in private conversations, so that the whole people, in every colony of the thirteen, have now adopted it as their own act. This will cement the union, and avoid those heats, and perhaps convulsions, which might have been occasioned by such a Declaration six months ago.

With his usual prescience, he predicted the day would be "celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival" and "solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore." (The practice, of course, has been to celebrate the Fourth of July, the day on which the form of the Declaration of Independence was agreed to, rather than the second, when Lee's resolutions were adopted and which Adams actually had in mind.)

Celebrations followed in city, town, village, and country hamlet, with bell ringing, parades, bonfires,and illuminations throughout the land. In New York, after the colonial assembly "at the risque of our lives and fortunes" gave its assent on July 9, Washington had the army brigades drawn up at six PM to hear "the United Colonies of America" declared "Free and Independent States". After the text was read, he saw fit to add, "The General hopes that this important event will serve as a fresh incentive to every officer and solider to act with fidelity and courage, as knowing that now the peace and safety of his country depend, under God, solely on the success of our arms; and that he is now in the service of a state possessed of sufficient power to reward his merit, and to advance him to the highest honors of a free country."

That evening New Yorkers toppled the lead equestrian statue of King George III (errected after repeal of the Stamp Act) from its pedestal on Bowling Green. Eventually, its metal would be melted down and molded into 42,000 cartridges for patriot guns. Citizens in Baltimore, Savannah, and elsewhere likewise burned or buried the king in effigy and tore from their hinges all signs bearing the royal arms. In Worcester, Massachusetts, thirsty patriots repaired to a local tavern and offered toasts to the prosperity of the United States and a dozen other things, including "Perpetual itching without benefit of scratching to the enemies of America." That Sunday, Bishop Willaim White, the patriot rector of Christ's Church in Philadelphia, omitted the usual prayers offered for the king, and one year later, as a sign that God's imprimatur was now stamped upon the radical sermons he preached, a bolt of lightning struck and shattered the Royal Crown of England affixed to the top of the spire.

In just over two years, a new nation had been born.

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Declaration - "within the Jeffersonian utopia such choices do not need to be made"

More from Joseph Ellis' book on Thomas Jefferson: American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson. Again, here is the text of the Declaration to use for reference.

The vision he projected in the natural rights section of the Declaration, then, represented yet another formulation of the Jeffersonian imagination. The specific form of the vision undoubtedly drew upon language Locke had used to desscribe the putative conditions of society before governments were established. But the urge to embrace such an ideal society came from deep inside Jefferson himself. It was the vision of a young man projecting his personal cravings for a world in which all behavior was voluntary and therefore all coercion unnecessary, where independence and equality never collided, where the sources of all authority were invisible because they had already been internalized. Efforts on the part of scholars to determine whether Jefferson's prescriptive society was fundamentally individualistic or communal can never reach closure, because within the Jeffersonian utopia such choices do not need to be made. They reconcile themselves naturally.

Though indebted to Locke, Jefferson's political vision was more radical than liberal, driven as it was by a youthful romanticism unwilling to negotiate its high standards with an imperfect world. One of the reasons why European commentators on American politics have found American expectations so excessive and American political thinking in general so beguilingly innocent is that Jefferson provided a sanction for youthful hopes and illusions, planted squarely in what turned out to be the founding document of the American republic. The American dream, then, is just that, the Jeffersonian dream writ large.

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Declaration - "it does not explain Jefferson's much-debated deletion of 'property' "

More from Joseph Ellis' book on Thomas Jefferson: American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson. Again, here is the text of the Declaration to use for reference.

The most famous section of the Declaration, which has become the most quoted statement of human rights in recorded history as well as the most eloquent justification of revolution on behalf of them, went through the Continental Congress without comment and with only one very minor change. These are, in all probability, the best known fifty-eight words in American history: "We hold these truths to be self evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain [inherent and] inalienable Rights; that among these are life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." This is the seminal statement of the American Crered, the closest approximation to political poetry ever produced in American culture. In the nineteenth century Abraham Lincoln, who also knew how to change history with words, articulated with characteristic eloquence the quasi-religious view of Jefferson as the original American oracle: "All honor to Jefferson -- to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecaste, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, and so to embalm it there, that today and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling block to the very harbingers of reappearing tyranny and oppression." The entire history of liberal reform in American can be written as a process of discovery, within Jefferson's words, of a spiritually sanctioned mandate for ending slavery, providing the rights of citizenship to blacks and women, justifying welfare programs for the poor and exanding individual freedoms.

No serious student of either Jefferson or the Declaration of Independence has ever claimed that he foresaw all or even most of the ideological consequences of what he wrote. But the effort to explain what was in his head has spawned almost as many interpretations as the words themselves have generated political movements. Jefferson himself was accused of plagiarism by enemies or jealous friends on so many occasions throughout his career that he developed a standard reply. "Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing," he explained, he drew his ideas from "the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in letters, printed essays or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, etc."

This is an ingeniously double-edged explanation, for it simultaneously disavows any claims to originality and yet insists that he depended upon no specific texts or sources. The image it conjures up is that of a medium, sitting alone at the writing desk and making himself into an instrument for the accumulated wisdom and "harmonizing sentiments" of the ages. It is only a short step from this image to Lincoln's vision of Jefferson as oracle or prophet, receiving the message from the gods and sending it on to us and then to the ages. Given the creedal character of the natural rights section of the Declaration, several generations of American interpreters have felt the irresistible image to bathe the scene in speckled light and cloudy mist, thereby implying that efforts to dispel the veil of mystery represent some vague combination of sacrilege and treason.

Any serious attempt to pierce through this veil must begin by recovering the specific conditions inside that room on Market and Seventh streets in June 1776. Even if we take Jefferson at his word, that he did not copy sections of the Declaration from any particular books, he almost surely had with him copies of his own previous writings, to include Summary View, Causes and Necessities and his three drafts of the Virginia constitution. This is not to accuse him of plagiarism, unless one wishes to argue that an author can plagiarize himself. It is to say that virtually all the ideas found in the Declaration and much of the specific language, especially the grievances against George III, had already found expression in those earlier writings.

Recall the context. The Congress is being overwhelmed with military reports of imminent American defeat in New York and Canada. The full Congress is in session six days a week, and committees are meeting throughout the evenings. The obvious practical course for Jefferson to take was to rework his previous drafts on the same general theme. While it seems almost sacrilegious to suggest that the creative process that produced the Dedclaration was a cut-and-paste job, it strains credulity and common sense to the breaking point to believe that Jefferson did not have these items at his elbow and draw liberally from them when drafting the Declaration.

His obvious preoccupation with the ongoing events at the Virginia convention, which was drafting the Virginia constitution at just this time, is also crucial to remember. Throughout late May and early June couriers moved back and forth between Williamsburg and Philadelphia, carrying Jefferson's drafts for a new constitution to the convention and reports on the debate there to the Continental Congress. On June 12 the Virginians unanimously adopted a preamble drafted by George Mason that contained these words: "All men are created equally free and independent and have certain inherent and natural rights ..., among which are the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety." The Pennsylvania Gazette published Mason's words the same day they were adopted in Williamsburg. Since Jefferson's version of the same thought was drafted sometime that following week, and since we know that he regarded the unfolding events in Virginia as more significant than what was occurring in Philadelphia and that he was being kept abreast by courier, it also strains credulity to deny the influence of Mason's language on his own.

While that explains the felicitous phrase "pursuit of happiness", which Mason himself could have picked up from several English and American sources, it does not explain Jefferson's much-debated deletion of "property", the conventional third right memorialized in Locke's Second Treatise on Government. He made that choice on his own. He was probably aware that Mason's language had generated spirited opposition from a segment of the planter class in Virginia who worried that it implied a repudiation of slavery; they insisted on an amendment that excluded slaves by adding the qualifying clause "when they enter into a state of society." All this suggests that Jefferson was probably aware of the contradictions between his own version of the natural rights philosophy and the institution of slavery. By dropping any reference to "property" he blurred that contradiction. This helps answer the intriguing question of why no debate over the issue occurred in the Continental Congress, as it did in the Virginia convention. Perhaps the debate over the slave trade provision also served that purpose.

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Declaration - "An elegant, if decidedly one-sided, version of recent Anglo-American history"

From Joseph Ellis' book on Thomas Jefferson: American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson. Again, here is the text of the Declaration to use for reference. (You know. If you're a big huge geek like me, then you love to have two documents open, going back and forth between one and the other.)

This excerpt discusses the three revisions made by Congress (things to be deleted) that bothered Jefferson most.

Most of the debate in the Congress and most of the revisions of Jefferson's draft of the Declaration focused on the long bill of indictment against George III, the section that modern readers care about least. When Jefferson much later insisted that he was not striving for "originality of principle or sentiment" but was seeking only to provide an "expression of the American mind", he was probably referring to this section, which was intended to sum up the past twelve years of colonial opposition to British policy in language designed to make the king responsible for all the trouble. Jefferson had been practicing this list of grievances for more than two years, first in Summary View, then in Causes and Necessities and then in his drafts of the Virginia constitution. "I expected you had ... exhausted the Subject of Complaint against Geo. 3d. and was at a loss to discover what the Congress would do for one to their Declaration of Independence without copying," wrote Edmund Pendleton when he first saw the official version, "but find that you have acquitted yourselves very well on that score."

As an elegant, if decidedly one-sided, version of recent Anglo-American history, this section of the Declaration has certainly stood the test of time, providing students of the American Revolution with a concise summary of the constitutional crisis from the colonists' perspective at the propitious moment. As a reflection of Jefferson's thinking, however, it is missing three distinctive and distinctively Jeffersonian perspectives on the conflict. When Jefferson wrote back to friends in Virginia, complaining that critics in the Congress had, as one friend put it, "mangled ... the Manuscript", these were the three major revisions he most regretted.

First, as we noticed earlier, the Congress deleted the long passage blaming George III for waging "cruel war against human nature itself" by establishing slavery in North America; Jefferson also accused the king of blocking colonial efforts to end the slave trade, then "exciting those very people to rise in arms against us ... by murdering the people on whom he has also obtruded them." Several complicated and even tortured ideas are struggling for supremacy here. One can surmise that the members of Congress decided to delete it out of sheer bewilderment, since the passage mixes together an implicit moral condemnation of slavery with an explicit condemnation of the British monarch for both starting it and trying to end it.

In his own notes on the debate in Congress Jefferson claimed that the opposition was wholly political. Several southern delegations, especially those of South Carolina and Georgia, opposied any restraint on the importation of slaves, he reported, adding that their "Northern brethren also I believe felt a little tender under those censures; for tho' their people have very few slaves themselves, yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them to others." Jefferson's clear implication is that he was trying to take a principled stand against both slavery and the slave trade but that a majority of delegates were unprepared to go along with him.

The truth was much messier. With regard to the trade, Jefferson knew from his experience in the House of Burgesses that many established slaveowners in the Tidewater region favored an end of imports because their own plantations were already well stocked and new arrivals only reduced the value of their own slave populations. Ending the trade in Virginia, in short, was not at all synonymous with ending slavery. With regard to slavery itself, Jefferson's formulation made great polemic sense but historical and intellectual nonsense. It absolved slaveowners like himself from any responsibility or complicity in the establishment of an institution that was clearly at odds with the values on which the newly independent American was based. Slavery was another one of those vestiges of feudalism foisted upon the liberty-loving colonists by the evil heir to the Norman Conquest. This was complete fiction, of course, but also completely in accord with Jefferson's urge to preserve the purity of his moral dichotomies and his romantic view of America's uncontaminated origins. Slavery was the serpent in the garden sent there by a satanic king. But the moral message conveyed by this depiction was not emancipation so much as commiseration. Since the colonists had nothing to do with establishing slavery -- they were the unfortunate victims of English barbarism -- they could not be blamed for its continuance. This was less a clarion call to end slavery than an invitation to wash one's hands of the matter.

Second, jefferson tried once again, as he had tried before in Causes and Necessities, to insert his favorite theory of expatriation, claiming that the first settlers came over at their own expense and initiative "unassisted by the wealth or the strength of Great Britian." His obsessive insistence on this theme derived from his devotion to the Saxon myth, which allowed for the neat separation of Whiggish colonists and feudal or absolute English ministers. The tangled history of imperial relations did not fit very well into these political categories, but Jefferson found it much easier to revise the history (i.e., claiming there had never been any colonial recognition of royal or parliamentary authority) than give up his moral dichotomies. Once again his colleagues in the Continental Congress found his argument excessive.

Third, the last excision came toward the very end of Jefferson's draft. It was a rousingly emotional passage with decidedly sentimental overtones that condemned "our British brethren" for sending over "not only souldiers of our common blood, but Scotch & foreign mercenaries to invade and destroy us." It went on: "These facts have given the last stab to agonizing affection, and manly spirit bids us to renounce forever these unfeeling brethren. We must endeavor to forget our former love for them, and to hold them as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends; but a communication of grandeur & of freedom it seems is below their dignity. Be it so, since they will have it. The road to happiness & to glory is open to us too. We will tread it apart from them ..." This was a remarkable piece of rhetoric that Jefferson apparently regarded as one of his better creations. Even at the end of his life he was bitter about its deletion. "The pusillanimous idea that we had friends in England worth keeping terms with, still haunted the minds of many," he recalled, and therefore "those passages which conveyed censures on the people of England were struck out, lest they should give them offence."

What strikes the modern reader is not the timidity of the Continental Congress for excising the passage so much as the melodramatic sentimentalism of Jefferson in composing it. As with the expatriation theory, Jefferson was anxious to depict the separation of teh colonies from the British Empire as a decision forced upon the colonists, who are passive victims rather than active agents of revolution. But here the broken bonds are more affective than political. A relationship based on love and trust has been violated, and the betrayed partner, the colonists, is bravely moving forward in life, wounded by the rejection but ready to face alone a glorious future that might otherwise have been shared together. This is a highly idealized and starkly sentimental rendering of how and why emotional separations happen, a projection onto the imperial crisis of the romantic innocence Jefferson had displayed in his adolescent encounters with young women, an all-or-nothing-at-all mentality that the other delegates found inappropriate for a state paper purporting to convey more sense than sensibility.

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Declaration - "On July 4 the Congress approved its revised version"

From Joseph Ellis' book on Thomas Jefferson: American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence in a matter of a few days -- Adams later remembered it took him only "a day or two" -- and then showed the draft to Adams and Franklin, later recalling that "they were the two members of whose judgments and amendments I wished most to have the benefit." They suggested a few minor revisions (i.e., replacing "sacred & undeniable truths" with "self-evident truths"); then the committee placed the document before the Continental Congress on June 28. After Lee's resoltuion was debated and passed (July 1 - 2), the Congress took up the wording of the Declaration; it made several major changes and excised about one-quarter of the text. During the debate Jefferson sat silently and sullenly, regarding each proposed revision as another defacement. Franklin sat next to him and tried to soothe his obvious pain with the story of a sign painter commissioned by a hatter, who kept requesting more concise language for his sign until nothing was left on the sign but a picture of a hat. On July 4 the Congress approved its revised version and the Declaration of Independence was sent to the printer for publication.

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The angel

JOHN PAGE TO THOMAS JEFFERSON, July 20, 1776 – on the signing of the Declaration of Independence:

God preserve the United States. We know the Race is not to the Swift nor the Battle to the Strong. Do you not think an Angel rides in the Whirlwind and directs this Storm?
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Declaration - "Jefferson guards the American Creed at this inspirational level"

Excerpt from Joseph Ellis' marvelous Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation:

Before editorial changes were made by the Continental Congress, Jefferson's early draft made it even clearer that his intention was to express a spiritual vision: ' We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & unalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness." These are the core articles of faith in the American Creed. Jefferson's authorship of these words is the core of his seductive appeal across the ages, his central claim, on posterity's affection. What, then, do they mean? How do they make magic?

Merely to ask the question is to risk being accused of some combination of treason and sacrilege, since self-evident truths are not meant to be analyzed; that is what being self-evident is all about. But when these words are stripped of the patriotic haze, read straightaway and literally, two monumental claims are being made here. The explicit claim is that the individual is the sovereign unit in society; his natural state is freedom from and equality with all other individuals; this is the natural order of things. The implicit claim is that all restrictions on this natural order are immoral transgressions, violations of what God intended; individuals liberated from such restrictions will interact with their fellows in a harmonious scheme requiring no external discipline and producing maximum human happiness.

This is a wildly idealistic message, the kind of good news simply too good to be true. It is, truth be told, a recipe for anarchy. Any national government that seriously attempted to operate in accord with these principles would be committing suicide. But, of course, the words were not intended to serve as an operational political blueprint. Jefferson was not a profound political thinker. He was, however, an utterly brilliant political rhetorician and visionary. The genius of his vision is to propose that our deepest yearnings for personal freedom are in fact attainable. The genius of his rhetoric is to articulate irreconcilable human urges at a sufficiently abstract level to mask their mutual exclusiveness. Jefferson guards the American Creed at this inspirational level, which is inherently immune to scholarly skepticism and a place where ordinary Americans can congregate to speak the magic words together. The Jeffersonian magic works because we permit it to function at a rarefied region where real-life choices do not have to be made.

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Declaration - "it was Franklin, or Jefferson himself, who made the small but inspired change in the second paragraph."

Excerpt from David McCullough's John Adams:

[Jefferson] worked rapidly [on writing the Declaration of Independence] and, to judge by surviving drafts, with a sure command of his material. He had none of his books with him, nor needed any, he later claimed. It was not his objective to be original, he would explain, only "to place before mankind the common sense of the subject."
"Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion."

He borrowed readily from his own previous writing, particularly from a recent draft for a new Virginia constitution, but also from a declaration of rights for Virginia, which appeared in the Pennsylvania Evening Post on June 12. it had been drawn up by George Mason, who wrote that "all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent natural rights � among which are enjoyment of life and liberty." And there was a pamphlet written by the Pennsylvania delegate James Wilson, published in Philadelphia in 1774, that declared, "All men are, by nature equal and free: no one has a right to any authority over another without his consent: all lawful government is founded on the consent of those who are subject to it."

But then Mason, Wilson, and John Adams, no less than Jefferson, were, as they all appreciated, drawing on long familiarity with the seminal works of the English and Scottish writers John Locke, David Hume, Francis Hutcheson, and Henry St. John Bolinbroke, or such English poets as Defoe ("When kings the sword of justice first lay down,/They are no kings, though they possess the crown. / Titles are shadows, crowns are empty things, / The good of subjects is the end of kings"). Or, for that matter, Cicero ("The people's good is the highest law.")

Adams, in his earlier notes for an oration at Braintree, had written, "Nature throws us all into the world equal and alike � The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man to endanger public liberty."�

What made Jefferson's work surpassing was the grace and eloquence of expression. Jefferson had done superbly and in minimum time.

"I was delighted with its high tone and flights of oratory with which it abounded [Adams would recall], especially that concerning Negro slavery, which, though I knew his southern brethren would never suffer to pass in Congress, I certainly would never oppose. There were other expressions which I would not have inserted, if I had drawn it up, particularly that which called the King tyrant � I thought the expression too passionate; and too much like scolding, for so grave and solemn a document; but as Franklin and Sherman were to inspect it afterwards, I thought it would not become me to strike it out. I consented to report it, and do not now remember that I made or suggested a single alteration."

A number of alterations were made, however, when Jefferson reviewed it with the committee, and several were by Adams. Possibly it was Franklin, or Jefferson himself, who made the small but inspired change in the second paragraph. Where, in the initial draft, certain "truths" were described as "sacred and undeniable", a simpler stronger "self-evident" was substituted.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal�

It was to be the eloquent lines of the second paragraph of the Declaration that would stand down the years, affecting the human spirit as neither Jefferson nor anyone could have foreseen. And however much was owed to the writing of others, as Jefferson acknowledged, or to such editorial refinements as those contributed by Franklin or Adams, they were, when all was said and done, his lines. It was Jefferson who had written them for all time:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

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Declaration - "It is hard to think of any way in which the first two paragraphs can be improved"

From Paul Johnson's superb book A History of the American People (if you haven't read it, I highly recommend it - the excerpt below should show you why):- Oh, and this is a great analysis of the Declaration, which I have printed in its entirety in the post below this one. So if you're a big geek like me, you will read the whole thing, and then come and read all the different analyses.

Jefferson produced a superb draft, for which his 1774 pamphlet was a useful preparation. All kinds of philosophical and political influences went into it. They were all well-read men and Jefferson, despite his comparative youth, was the best read of all, and he made full use of the countless hours he had spent pouring over books of history, political theory, and government.

The Declaration is a powerful and wonderfully concise summary of the best Whig thought over several generations. Most of all, it has an electrifying beginning. It is hard to think of any way in which the first two paragraphs can be improved:

WHEN in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation.

WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness -- That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The first [paragraph], with its elegiac note of sadness at dissolving the union with Britain and its wish to show "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind" by giving its reasons; the second, with its riveting first sentence, the kernel of the whole: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." After that sentence, the reader, any reader � even George III � is compelled to read on.

The Committee found it necessary to make few changes in Jefferson's draft. Franklin, the practical man, toned down Jefferson's grandiloquence � thus truths, from being "sacred and undeniable" became "self-evident", a masterly improvement. But in general the four others were delighted with Jefferson's work, as well they might be.

Congress was a different matter because at the heart of America's claim to liberty there was a black hole. What of the slaves? How could Congress say that "all men are created equal" when there were 600,000 blacks scattered through the colonies, and concentrated in some of them in huge numbers, who were by law treated as chattels and enjoyed no rights at all? Jefferson and the other members of the Committee tried to up-end this argument � rather dishonestly, one is bound to say � by blaming American slavery on the British and King George.

The original draft charged that the King had "waged a cruel war against human nature" by attacking a "distant people" and "captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere". But when the draft went before the full Congress, on June 28, the Southern delegates were not having this. Those from South Carolina, in particular, were not prepared to accept any admission that slavery was wrong and especially the acknowledgment that it violated the "most sacred rights of life and liberty". If the Declaration said that, then the logical consequence was to free all the slaves forthwith. So the slavery passage was removed, the first of many compromises over the issue during the next eighty years, until it was finally resolved inn an ocean of tears and blood. However, the word "equality" remained in the text, and the fact that it did so was, as it were, a constitutional guarantee that, eventually, the glaring anomaly behind the Declaration would be rectified.

The Congress debated the draft for three days. Paradoxically, delegates spent little time going over the fundamental principles it enshrined, because the bulk of the Declaration presented the specific and detailed case against Britain, and more particularly against the King. The Revolutionaries were determined to scrap the pretense that they distinguished between evil ministers and a king who "could do no wrong", and renounce their allegiance to the crown once and for all. So they fussed over the indictment of the King, to them the core of the document, and left its constitutional and ideological framework, apart from the slavery point, largely intact.

This was just as well. If Congress had chosen to argue over Jefferson's sweeping assumptions and propositions, and resolve their differences with verbal compromises, the magic wrought by his pen would surely have been exorcized, and the world would have been poorer in consequence.

As it was the text was approved on July 2, and on July 4 all the colonies formally adopted what was called, to give it its correct title, "The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America". At the time, and often since, Tom Paine was credited with its authorship, which did not help to endear it to the British, where he was (and still is) regarded with abhorrence. In fact he had nothing to do with it directly, but the term "United States" is certainly his.

On July 8 it was read publicly in the State House Yard and the Liberty Bell rung. The royal coat of arms was torn down and burned. On August 2 it was engrossed on parchment and signed by all the delegates. Whereupon (according to John Hancock) Franklin remarked: "Well, Gentlemen, we must now hang together, or we shall most assuredly hang separately."

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Happy birthday America


"Well, Gentlemen, we must now hang together, or we shall most assuredly hang separately." -- Benjamin Franklin, upon signing the Declaration of Independence - (according to John Hancock)

The Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen Colonies
In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. —Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain [George III] is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

John Hancock
Josiah Bartlett
William Whipple
Matthew Thornton

Samual Adams
John Adams
Robert Treat Paine
Elbridge Gerry

Stephen Hopkins
William Ellery

Roger Sherman
Samuel Huntington
William Williams
Oliver Wolcott

William Floyd
Philip Livingston
Francis Lewis
Lewis Morris

Richard Stockton
John Witherspoon
Francis Hopkinson
John Hart
Abraham Clark

Robert Morris
Benjamin Rush
Benjamin Franklin
John Morton
George Clymer
James Smith
George Taylor
James Wilson
George Ross

Caesar Rodney
George Read
Thomas McKean

Samuel Chase
William Paca
Thomas Stone
Charles Carroll of Carrollton

George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Harrison
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton

William Hooper
Joseph Hewes
John Penn

Edward Rutledge
Thomas Heyward, Jr.
Thomas Lynch, Jr.
Arthur Middleton

Button Gwinnett
Lyman Hall
George Walton

Posted by sheila Permalink

July 3, 2005

Girlie details

1. Getting a pedicure creates mental stability. This is not an opinion. It's a fact. Having pretty painted perfect toes and smooth gorgeous feet has a direct relationship to inner peace. A to B, people, A to B.

2. I am getting all my hair cut off this week. For an example of what it will look like - see this, Exhibit A - my #1 favorite photograph of the gorgeous Sharon Stone:


That's what I will get. Liberation! I also am going to have to take some drastic measures because at the rate I am going, I will need to change my blog moniker from "red" to "grey" by next year.

3. And lastly: I normally don't pay attention to commercials. I am sure they have SOME effect on me, but if they do - it is totally subliminal. I don't buy Tide because some commercial told me to (at least not consciously) ... I have been using Tide since I first started doing my own laundry. I'm loyal. What can I say. However, this past week, I was completely influenced by a commercial - so much so that I WROTE DOWN THE NAME OF THE PRODUCT on a piece of paper, so I would remember it. It was for Oil of Olay's new age-defying night creme, called "Regenerist". I have no idea why this commercial was so hypnotic and compelling, but it was. Perhaps it was the words "time-release". Or maybe the woman in the commercial was pretty. No idea. But I thought: "I MUST try this new product." (I am obsessed with skin care, by the way.) My medicine cabinet is clogged with skin care products that I use religiously. I compartmentalize my own body. I have: eye cream, foot cream, body lotion, special lotion for elbows and knees, face cream (night and day), major heavy-duty cream for the winter when my skin becomes as dry as a Galopogas Island lizard. I have hand cream. I have facial kits. I have toner, I have special lathering cloths which remove makeup. I am insane. So ... naturally, I saw that commercial and realized that I need to add to my collection. Today I bought: the Oil of Olay regenerist night cream, and also the Oil of Olay regenerist under-eye cream. I am THRILLED to try it out tonight. The power of advertising, huh?

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (26)

Happy birthday to George M. Cohan!

"I don't care what you say about me, as long as you say something about me, and as long as you spell my name right." -- George M. Cohan

George M. Cohan - really the first big superstar in America. He was an actor, a writer, a composer, a producer, a song and dance man ... He was IT. I love that he was born on July 3, 1878 (in Providence, RI, of all places!!) and that his most famous song eventually would be "Yankee Doodle Dandy". I mean, the symmetry of that ...


(I found a great tribute to Cohan here).

A kid who grew up in vaudeville, a kid who is a truly American creation ... Although he was not (like Yankee Doodle Dandy proclaimed) "born on the fourth of July", he is symbolic of everything this country can offer. His story is a great one (please: I can barely see the actual George M. Cohan in my mind - all I can see is Cagney - damn, people, wasn't he amazing in that movie??? Cagney, for some reason, brings a big ol' lump to my throat. He's so special)

Here is George Cohan with Ethel Levey in Little Johnny Jones, in 1904.


This was his first big break. George wrote the thing, starred in it, produced it, cast all of his family members in it, you name it - he did it.

"Yankee Doodle Dandy" was one of the songs in Little Johnny Jones (but there were many other which also became classics - "Give My Regards to Broadway", for example). "Yankee Doodle Dandy" became an instant hit.

I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy,
A Yankee Doodle do or die,
A real live nephew of my Uncle Sam's,
Born on the Fourth of July.
I've got a Yankee Doodle sweetheart.
She's my Yankee Doodle joy.
Yankee doodle came to London
Just to ride the ponies.
I am a Yankee Doodle Boy.

Happy birthday, George Cohan! Born on the third of July!!!

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (4)

The Books: "The Old Beginning" (Horton Foote)

Next in my Daily Book Excerpt:

wood.jpgNext book on the script shelf is Selected One Act Plays of Horton Foote. Horton Foote is an amazing dude. He wrote two Academy Award winning screenplays (To Kill a Mockingbird and Tender Mercies), and also one Oscar-nominated screenplay (Trip to Bountiful). Foote is also an accomplished playwright (so many of our greatest screenwriters, actors, and directors in the 20th century came from a theatre background first. That's probably not so true now, what with the vogue of "film schools" taking over the planet. There was no "film school" in the 1940s and 50s. No. You learned your trade by ... er ... DOING your trade.) Anyway, Horton Foote writes what he knows - and what he knows is Texas. I love this series of one-act plays, because so many of them take place in the same town, and the same characters come in and out of different plays. It's like different glimpses into this small community. (It's called Harrison, Texas, by the way). Foote's plays about Harrison reflect anxieties about change - Harrison is a quiet farming town, and the forces of modernization and urbanization puts a lot of stress on the traditional values of this place. All of his "Harrison" plays, to some degree, deal with that anxiety. But what his plays are REALLY about are the people. He just creates these amazing characters - funny, gossipy, tragic, human - and they just leap off the page.

First play in the collection is The Old Beginning. This is one of his "Harrison Texas" plays. Harrison is a small Gulf Coast town, that used to serve the cotton industry and the plantation society before WWI. Harrison's past is tainted by racism, but at the same time, Harrison is a stable place - a place where you can feel comfortable raising your kids, etc. But there's an uneasiness behind all of it. In the play The Old Beginning, which takes place in 1950 - the tensions in this small town are illuminated. It's really about old vs. new. (Which I think any small town in America, or actually - in any culture - can relate to. This isn't specific to Harrison, Texas. Fear of change, fear of losing what is good in our traditions - is a very common fear that crosses cultural boundaries.)

So in the 1950s, Harrison experiences a boom of sorts. Old buildings torn down, new oil wells drilled ... H.T. Mavis (who shows up in many of the Harrison plays) is a real estate development, and the guy who is at the forefront of the changes. His son Tommy works for him. It is not an easy relationship.

I dated a guy like Mavis. It's not a good memory.

The following excerpt is a confrontation between father and son:

EXCERPT FROM The Old Beginning, by Horton Foote:

(Tommy goes back to his paper. H.T. Maven comes bustling in R. He walks across sidewalk, up C. sidewalk, and enters his office. He is heavyset and in his middle fifties. He chews a cigar nervously)

MAVIS. (sharply) Tommy.

(Tommy puts his paper down. He seems embarrassed and ill at ease at his father finding him reading the paper.)

TOMMY. Yes sir.

MAVIS. Never read during business hours. It doesn't look businesslike.

TOMMY. Well, I was just waiting ...

MAVIS. No excuses, Son. No excuses. (He kisses his wife) Hello, Roberta. Hello, Mrs. Nelson.

ROBERTA. Poor Mrs. Nelson's house leaks and we can't afford to fix it. Isn't that too bad?

MRS. NELSON. Somebody had better fix it. I'm not going to. The roof is just going to fall iln if it isn't fixed.

MAVIS. Did you read your contract, dear lady?

MRS. NELSON. The house needs painting. The paper is hanging in shreds.

MAVIS. Read the contract, dear lady. All of these problems are carefully taken care of in our contract. Tommy, get Mrs. Nelson a copy of the contract.

TOMMY. Yes sir. (He jumps up. He goes over to the file cabinet)

MAVIS. Under N, Tommy. Hurry. (Tommy begins looking through the file cabinet.) Hurry, Son. Hurry.

ROBERTA. H.T., stop making the boy nervous. How can you expect him to do anything if you shout at him that way?

TOMMY. Are you sure this is the right file cabinet? (MR. Mavis is busy looking at papers on his desk and doesn't answer.) Dad, where is it? I can't see it?

MAVIS. Now where would it be, Son? Think carefully. Think.

TOMMY. It should be under N, but it isn't.

MAVIS. Then look again. It's bound to be under N.

ROBERTA. Oh, H.T., stop teasing the boy and help him to find it. I'm in a hurry.

MAVIS. He's twenty-four, Roberta. I'm leaving him in charge of my business. It's time he learned to think things through for himself. Have you found it, Tommy?

(Tommy looks through the files)

TOMMY. I tell you it's not here.

MAVIS. Then you have the wrong file cabinet.

TOMMY. OK. But you said ...

MAVIS. Never argue with your father in front of customers. Son, just look in the other one.

TOMMY. All right. (He starts for the next one)

MAVIS. You must have had the wrong file cabinet.

TOMMY. I didn't have the wrong one. You told me to look there.

MAVIS. Quickly, Son, never keep a customer waiting.

(Tommy gives him a look and goes to the other cabinet)

ROBERTA. Help him, H.T. We have so much to do this afternoon.

MAVIS. Now, Roberta. Let me handle this. Tommy is twenty-four. He has to learn about things. By the time I was twenty-four, Mrs. Nelson, I had saved twenty thousand dollars.

ROBERTA. Tommy is twenty-three, H.T. He is not twenty-four.

MAVIS. Well, do you think he's going to save twenty thousand dollars in the next year?

ROBERTA. He might surprise us.

TOMMY. (quietly and desperately) Dad, if it's here I can't find it.

MAVIS. I find that difficult to believe, Tommy. (He goes to the file cabinet. He begins to search. He finds it.) Right here, boy. Right here where it was supposed to be.

TOMMY. You said it was under N. You got it from under T.

MAVIS. Where's your initiative, boy? If a thing isn't under N, look elsewhere. You know it hasn't got legs to get up and walk out of the file cabinet. (He hands the contract to Mrs. Nelson) My boy is a dreamer, Mrs. Nelson, just like his mother. But he'll learn. We just have to all be patient. Now, my dear lady, do me the honor of reading this contract. Read carefully and slowly and then I'll let you tell me what it says about papering and painting.

ROBERTA. I was explaining to her, H.T., it has all to do with taxes.

MAVIS. Taxes have nothing to do with it, Roberta.

ROBERTA. It hasn't? I thought you said ...

MAVIS. Nothing at all. It is a matter of principle, that's all. Tommy, show Mrs. Nelson into the other office so she can read quietly and calmly.

TOMMY. Yes sir. Come on, Mrs. Nelson. (He goes out the door, she follows him.)

MAVIS. I get very discouraged with Tommy sometimes, Roberta.

ROBERTA. Now you have to be patient. It wasn't under N. You kept shouting at him to look under N.

MAVIS. It should have been under N. He probably moved it. I hate to think of what those file cabinets will look like when I get back. I wonder if I'm not being hasty going on this trip. After all, the boy ...

ROBERTA. He's twenty-three years old, H.T.

Posted by sheila Permalink

North by Northwest

I watched North by Northwest last night - and watched the "Making of North by Northwest" documentary included, narrated by Eva Marie Saint. Lots of cool things learned about the making of the film. Many of the anecdotes I had heard before, but some were new to me.

Here are a couple of them:

-- Hitchcock was denied permission to shoot at or around the UN Building. So there's a couple of master shots -- one of Cary Grant getting out of a cab and walking up the steps to go inside - and one of the two thugs following him. They filmed this secretly - just like really low-budget films do today, when they don't have the money to get permission. Hitchcock hid across the street in the back of a cleaning-supply truck he had rented, and then Cary Grant would do his thing from all the way across the street, as Hitchcock filmed it. So the people on the steps, coming and going, are not extras, but actual real people who work at the UN. I heard a couple of stories of people recognizing Cary Grant as he did his 2-second walk up the steps, not realizing that a movie was being filmed ... But I love that whole story. Hitchcock still got his shot, even though he was denied permission.

-- Hitchcock only gave Eva Marie Saint 3 pieces of direction:
1. Keep your voice low.
2. Always look directly at him.
3. Stop moving your hands so much.

-- In the crop-duster scene: Cary Grant gets off the bus, and stands on that lonely highway. 8 minutes go by before anything happens. It's extraordinary how absolutely NOTHING can be filled with so much tension and ominous anticipation.

-- In the dinner on the train scene: Eve Kendall had this line: "I never make love on an empty stomach." The studio thought this was a bit racy (even though Roger Thornhill moments before has his line about, "I don't like beautiful women, because the second I meet one, I have to pretend I don't want to make love to her ...") Maybe that's a bit more oblique, and Eve's line is an out-and-out proposition. Or maybe it's because he's a man and she's a woman, and women aren't supposed to talk like that. Bah. Anyway, the studio said No to that, but the scene was already shot, and done - so they called Eva Marie Saint back, and had her dub "I never discuss love on an empty stomach" over that original. But if you watch it with the sound turned down, it is so obvious what she is REALLY saying.

-- They also were denied permission to shoot at Mount Rushmore. The Department of the Interior didn't like the thought of people murdering one another across a national monument. Hitchcock was disappointed - but they ended up building replicas back in the Studio - and also massive set paintings as backdrop - which, honestly, are probably better than the original would have been. Because Hitchcock could control the images a bit more, he could create the angles he wanted to create ... Really an amazing piece of production design. Blows my mind.

-- Cary Grant thought the right side of his face far superior to his left. (Because of his small mole on the left-hand side). If you look at studio shots of him, or publicity photos - they usually favor the right side of his face. Once he became a massive star, he could control all of that - HE was the one who dictated to cinematographers, photographers, etc., how he would be portrayed. He had his say in everything: wardrobe, lighting, camera angles. That's the prerogative of being a huge star. But anyway: if you notice: In North by Northwest he is almost ALWAYS on the left-hand side of the screen. Think of every big scene, and you'll see it's true. In any face-to-face scene, he's on the left-hand side, because that would then present the right-side of his face to the camera.

-- And finally: you know the scene in the tourist cafeteria at Mount Rushmore where Eve shoots Roger? Well, Eva Marie Saint pointed something very funny out: In the background of the scene, are tourists having lunch. About 2 or 3 seconds BEFORE she pulls the gun and shoots Roger, you can see a little boy in the background put his fingers in his ears. hahahaha He obviously knew the shot was coming, because this was the 3rd or 4th take. Here's the image: look back and to the right, and there's a little boy, with a blue shirt, fingers in his ears. Funny.


Posted by sheila Permalink

July 2, 2005


I'm so cynical but those eHarmony commercials are really creepy. Those people just look too darn happy. I wonder what they're hiding. They all seem like they are in deep deep denial.

Like: okay, we get it ... you're happy. But stop SMILING like such a MANIAC.

"He makes me laugh." (Shot of couple laughing hysterically)

"I don't think I've ever laughed so hard as I have with her." (Shot of another couple guffawing like hyenas.)

"The laughter! He's just so FUNNY." (shot of couple incapacitated due to laughter.)

Do these commercials work on ANYone? I know. I know. I'm cynical.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (11)

The Books: "Dancing at Lughnasa" (Brian Friel)

Next in my Daily Book Excerpt:

lughnasa.jpgNext excerpt on my script shelf:

Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa: A Play. This obviously is Brian Friel's most commercially successful play to date, seeing as it was made into a movie and all. I like it better as a stage play myself, although the performances are good in the film. When the sisters start dancing in the film ... it's almost like they're suddenly in an out-take of Riverdance: the Movie. It's too contrived, it's too much like a real dance routine ... But in a good production (I've only seen it once, but it was a terrific production) - it's one of the most moving spontaneous expressions of joy and the human spirit that a playwright has ever created. It's almost like Chekhov: For just a couple of moments, these people forget their troubles, and transcend. As human beings are all meant to transcend. Man is inherently a spiritual being, man is meant to be happy. But we all know how THAT theory usually works out, don't we? And so the dancing at Lughnasa is not a life-changing moment, or anything that really makes any difference. There are no miracles here. But for us, in the audience, it is a moment of exhilaration, excitement - and also sadness because it has to end. The dancing scene gave me feckin' goose-bumps when I saw it. These kind of grim sober Irish ladies suddenly taking off the leash - whipping off the leash - and dancing like pagan goddesses. Sisters. Holding hands, stamping, jumping, circling, throwing back their heads and laughing ... Oh God. Got a lump in my throat right now just remembering!

I'll post the beginning of the play:

EXCERPT FROM Dancing at Lughnasa: A Play:

When the play opens MICHAEL is standing downstage left in a pool of light. The rest of the stage is in darkness. Immediately MICHAEL begins speaking, slowing bring up the lights on the rest of the stage.

Around the stage and at a distance from MICHAEL the other characters stand motionless in formal tableau. MAGGIE is at the kitchen window. CHRIS is at the front door. KATE at extreme stage right. ROSE and GERRY sit on the garden seat. JACK stands beside ROSE. AGNES is upstage left. They hold these positions while MICHAEL talks to the audience.

MICHAEL . When I cast my mind back to that summer of 1936 different kinds of memories offer themselves to me. We got our first wireless set that summer -- well, a sort of a set; and it obsessed us. And because it arrived as August was about to begin, my Aunt Maggie -- she was the joker of the family -- she suggested we give it a name. She wanted to call it Lugh after the old Celtic God of the Harvest. Because in the old days August the First was La Lughnasa, the feast day of the pagan god, Lugh; and the days and week sof harvesting that followed were called the Festival of Lughnasa. But Aunt Kate -- she was a national schoolteacher and a very proper woman -- she said it would be sinful to christen an inanimate object with any kind of name, not to talk of a pagan god. So we just called it Marconi because that was the name emblazoned on the set.

And about three weeks before we got that wireless, my mother's brother, my Uncle Jack, came home from Africa for the first time ever. For twenty-five years he had worked in a leper colony there, in a remote village called Ryanga in Uganda. The only time he ever left that village was for about six months during World War One when he was chaplain to the British Army in East Africa. Then back to that grim hospice where he worked without a break for a further eighteen years. And now in his early fifties and in bad health he had come home to Ballybeg -- as it turned out -- to die.

And when I cast my mind back to that summer of 1936, these two memories -- of our first wireless and of Father Jack's return -- are always linked. So that when I recall my first shock at Jack's appearance, shrunken and jaundiced with malaria, at the same time I remember my first delight, indeed my awe, at the sheer magic of that radio. And when I remember the kitchen throbbing with the beat of the Irish dance music beamed to us all the way from Dublin, and my mother and her sisters suddenly catching hands and dancing a spontaneous step-dance and laughing -- screaming! -- like excited schoolgirls, at the same time I see that forlorn figure of Father Jack's shuffling from room to room as if he were searching for something but couldn't remember what. And even though I was only a child of seven at the time I know I had a sense of unease, some awareness of a widening breach between what seemed to be and what was, of things changing too quickly before my eyes, of becoming what they ought not to be. That may have been because Uncle Jack hadn't turned out at all like the resplendent figure in my head. Or maybe because I had witnessed Marconi's voodoo derange those kind, sensible women and transform them into shrieking strangers. Or maybe it was because during those Lughnasa weeks of 1936 we were visited on two occasions by my father, Gerry Evans, and for the first time in my life I had a chance to observe him.

Posted by sheila Permalink

July 1, 2005

Gnostic flirtation

I sat at the bar waiting to meet a friend. I had just gone to Barnes & Noble to buy some books for this Vatican II thing I am working on. I have two spanking new books with me, a new adventure, I am very excited. Outside the sky is low and ominous, and everything is deadly still. Far-away rumbles of thunder. My friend is going to be a bit late. I take out my books. I sipped my beer. I read. It's not crowded in this bar, it's dark and homey, a common meeting place for my friend and I, because it's mellow, and quiet. I start to read A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America, by Peter Steinfels, a book recommended to me by my great-aunt Joan. I interviewed her the other night about Vatican II, and was on the phone with her for two hours. She was a nun, and experienced all of it first-hand. And I mean: really first hand. Her stories were unbelievable. I couldn't take notes fast enough. This woman is spectacular, what an intellect. So funny, too. I've got some really cool stories about my relationship with Joan, but I'll save that for another day. She gave me a reading list a mile long, but this was the only book on the list which was readily available at Barnes & Noble. I've always liked Steinfels' columns in the New York Times ("Beliefs") - he's a wonderful writer, and I immediately got into the book. Sitting at the bar. It's the incongruity of all of this that I enjoy. I didn't feel self-conscious, or weird being by myself ... I got lost in my book. The other book I bought was a bit of a tangent - not Vatican II based - but it called to me during my browsing. It's called Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, by Elaine Pagels. She's written a ton of books apparently about these early Christian texts, the Gnostic gospels, and this is her book on the Gospel of Thomas. I have no idea what to expect, but I read a couple pages standing in the bookstore, and I very much like her writing style, and it's a topic that very much interests me. So what the heck, I bought it.

I sat there, with the day getting darker and darker outside the window ... no rain yet, but you could feel something big coming, and flipped back and forth between my 2 new books, browsing, getting interested, I took some notes. I had no sense at all that I was in public. This is how I behave at home when I am completely engrossed.

But of course I WAS in public, and someone was watching me. I have no idea how long I was being observed. He finally broke into my private world of Catholicism and said, "What are you reading?"

A typical opening, right? No shame in that.

No, no, all the shame was on my side because I was sitting in a bar reading about the secret book of Thomas and ... I suddenly became conscious of how strange I am. I hesitated, and then ... filled with embarrassment, I passed over Beyond Belief. Whatever. I'm weird. I have to just deal with that.

Dude was so funny about it, though. Like, he took in the title for a second - obviously that's not something you run into every day - I don't know what he was expecting to see, but I would BET that it wasn't some book on the Gnostic Gospels.

He said, "Oh wait ... this has to do with those .... not the Dead Sea Scrolls, but ..."

"Gnostic," I replied flatly, accepting my general weirdness.

"Yeah, yeah! I've heard about those." He immediately launched into a monologue. "Did you know that ... these weren't found in scroll form at all, they were actual books ..."

"I did not know that." I thought it was hilarious and awesome, though, that he just started talking about the topic at hand ...

"Yeah, and I guess they're still translating them ... but there also was like ... holes in the book, stuff ripped out ..."

I am not sure what his point was there. That someone tried to censor the books way back when, ripping out controversial parts? I have no idea. I just thought it was endearing how not only did he leap into my world, but he also began babbling about the Gnostic gospels. In a bar. hahahaha I love people.

I said, "Honestly, I really don't know anything about them. But the book looked really interesting."

"Totally!" He started flipping through it.

I said, "Ah, yes. It's my summer reading. You know. I was looking for something light."

He burst into laughter. "Right. Something to relax on the beach with."


I said, "I hesitated before handing it over to you, because ... well ... it makes me look crazy. But now here you are, telling me about pages being ripped out of the Gnostic gospels ..."

He said, "I am the kind of person who knows at least one useless fact about pretty much anything."

And then we embarked on an enormous conversation about early Christianity. No introductions given, no "Hi, my name is." Oh, no. We cut to the chase: WHAT THE HELL WAS GOING ON IN THE 3RD CENTURY??? This continued on in a completely enjoyable fashion until my friend showed up.

I then put my book away. "Nice talking with you."

"You too. Enjoy your beach reading."

Laughter. "I will."

You just never know what the day will bring.

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Games We Played

Tonio and I were a couple who made up games. We would take on different roles and improvise, the point being to make the other one crumple into a fit of diabolical laughter. Of course the games would begin in one form and very quickly morph into something almost unrecognizable from the original. I still laugh thinking about some of those games. I wrote once about one of our stupidest jokes, which was when we made up a ridiculous song about how you could find no fruit in Beloit, Wisconsin. That anecdote alone pretty much describes our entire relationship. We would take something small (the fact that the grocery store in Beloit had no fresh produce) and turn it into something absurdly huge. We laughed so hard we cried.

But there were also the GAMES. Many of them are relatively offensive.

Here is a sampling:

1. The Liberal Couple Game

The point of this game was to mock political correctness. Tonio and I would be the "liberal couple", and act in the most suffocating politically correct I'm okay-You're okay manner - but here was the joke: deep down the "liberal couple" was horrified by the very things they knew they were supposed to support. We needed a third party for this game to work. Namely, our dear friend Mitchell, who happens to be gay. Mitchell loved to play along, as the gay friend - as we turned ourselves INSIDE OUT to show him how liberal we were. If you think about it, it was the stupidest game in the world, because we actually WERE liberal, but what we found funny was to make the liberal couple really biased and judgmental beneath their "Hey, man, whatever floats your boat" exterior. (Sort of like what this website lampoons.) I think this might have come out of our experience belonging to a food co-op where we had to deal with a lot of self-righteous prigs. You know, the kind of people who look at you as though you are Satan when you show up with plastic grocery bags instead of paper. Or who literally would not be friends with you if you weren't a vegetarian. You know the type. We shared many of their beliefs, but we hated their humorlessness. Ick. We liked to laugh about EVERYthing, not just stuff approved by the feckin' party. Tonio and I were complete and utter goofballs and many of these people were comedically tone-deaf. So I think that was what made us laugh, the hypocrisy, and we pushed that envelope further and further, every time we played the game. Mitchell, as always, played his own part to expertise. The "liberal couple" could only show their true colors with a third party present.

Here is how, more or less, the game would play out (and I have put emotional directions in parentheses):

Tonio: (putting his arm around me in a cloyingly heterosexual way) But honey, we'll work it out. Don't worry. We'll find a sitter.

Mitchell: Why? What's going on?

Me: (overdone air of nonchalance) Oh, it's nothing.

Mitchell: No, really – what is it?

Me: (trying desperately to be a devil-may-care good sport) I wouldn't want to bother you with it.

Tonio: (arrogance masquerading as tolerance) Besides … our lives are so different from yours—

Me: (rushing in eagerly - inappropriately) And that's fine! That's great!

Mitchell: (trying to be polite) Actually … I don't know … I don't think our lives are all that different …

Me: (ignoring him) We love to have friends from all different kinds of backgrounds!

Mitchell: (deadpan) Wow. That is really sweet of you guys.

Tonio: (screaming suddenly) I KNOW SOME BLACK PEOPLE.

(Big long horrifying pause.)

Mitchell: (deadpan again) Good for you.

Me: (trying to save the moment) Well, since you asked … it's just that … we have a parent-teacher conference tonight – (He and I exchange goopy smiles remembering our procreative sexualties with pride) – and we can't find a sitter for Junior—

Mitchell: (interrupting, eager, glad to help out) Hey! I'm free tonight! I could babysit for you!

( Tonio and I freeze, in utter panic and loathing. We frantically try to keep up the facade.)

Me: Well …

Tonio: Oh, but … hm … well –

Mitchell: (playing up innocent confusion) What?

Me: Well –

Tonio: It's just that –

Mitchell: What?

Me: (softening my facial expression, full of understanding) We don't want to put you in an awkward position.

Tonio: (nodding manically in agreement) Right! Right! We're just thinking about you.

Mitchell: What is going on here? You guys seem upset.

Me: (shrieking) No! We're not upset! Right? (to Tonio)

Tonio: Right! (then, in an ultra-rational matter of fact tone) We know that … well … that … homosexuals (the word comes out awkwardly) are … people too.

Mitchell: (a brief flicker of annoyance now) Uh-huh …

Me: (discerning the annoyance - reaching out to grab Mitchell's hand) No! No! He didn't mean anything by that … it's just that … well… (and then, in a 'You understand' tone) Tonio Junior is a little boy.

(Long pause as we wait for Mitchell to understand. Mitchell maintains a blank uncomprehending face.)

Me: repeating it emphatically - the problem should be self-evident to Mitchell, right?: He's a BOY.

Mitchell: Right, sure. No, but I'd love to babysit. I love kids.

Tonio: But – well – with little boys there's a lot of rough and tumble –

Me: (laughing, showing Mitchell that I understand his 'lifestyle') Oh, but Mitchell looooves the rough and tumble, don’t you, Mitchell?

We could have gone on interminably with it, and often did so, testing how disgusting we could be, how offensive, how much could we keep up the façade in the face of our abhorrence and fear.

2. How Heavy Is Your Head?

This would involve one of us lying across two kitchen chairs, and letting the head fall over the side, while the other one pretended to weigh it. This one was very very difficult to get through with any seriousness, due to bursting guffaws of laughter. But the one doing the weighing needed to maintain a poker face, because this was, after all, a scientific experiment. So to watch Tonio leaning over me, WEIGHING MY HEAD in his hands, with a BARELY controlled expression of absolute hysteria on his face was often too much, way too much.

3. African Colonialist Game
This game was born after we watched "The Flame Trees of Thika" on PBS. We were struck by the image of stiff-upper-lip British people colonizing the continent of Africa, superimposing their language, ideals, traditions, phonographs, on another culture. The Brits making the Africans cart their china and damask tablecloths out onto the savannah. Silver tea services in the middle of the desert. Mkay? We found it all fascinating. (Anyone remember "Flame Trees", by the way? With a grown-up Hayley Mills? It was awesome.)

So here is our game: This game had very few limits - but when boiled down to its essentials, it had three elements that you HAD to hit, in order to make the game successful:

1. A greeting called out to a person with an Anglo-colonist-type name
2. An order given to a servant with an African-type name
3. The order needed to be a request for a fizzy inappropriate country-club-type drink

And all of this had to be done completely improvisationally, and all had to be spoken in a Masterpiece Theatah accent.

Here is just one of the MYRIAD examples of how this game would (and could) go:

"Good afternoon, Nigel! Have a seat! Mbaake, please bring in two mint juleps!"

You get the picture. That was it. That was our game. But he and I never got tired of creating endless variations on this theme.

"Hail, Merriwether, welcome! Rest in the shade. Njebe, two cherry cordials, please."

Once we started, we could. not. stop.

4. The "I Fancy Myself" game
The point of this game was to state about oneself: "I fancy myself something of a ________" (fill in the blank). The stupider and more asinine the better. "I fancy myself something of an amateur botanist." "I fancy myself something of a Nordic skier." My personal favorite was when Tonio said, "I fancy myself something of a New Zealander." And he said it in this self-pleased I've-got-a-few-tricks-up-my-sleeve tone. WHAT? How can you be "something of a" New Zealander? He took it one step further, showing off his foreign-ness by ostentatiously pretending to forget the word for "pepperoni", of all things. He said, "Yes, I adore pizzas with those … oh, what do you call them … those little meat cylinders on them…"

At that point the game had to end. Basically because I had to beat him up, shouting, "MEAT CYLINDERS? WHAT???" while he guffawed with laughter.

In the end, that was really the goal of all of this: to make the other person LOSE IT. How far can we go, how far can we push the game into absurdity ... who will break first???

A good friend of ours was driving down a road in our hometown, and she saw our Honda Civic coming towards her - she knew it was us. She beeped, and waved, glancing over at the car as we passed one another - and what was the fleeting glimpse she got of the two of us, as our car whizzed by? Tonio was driving, convulsed in laughter, and I sat in the passenger seat, head thrown back, guffawing. It was her brief snapshot. We always loved that story. Even though we had some rough times, etc., I think the odds are - if you had glimpses of us, chosen at random, over the three years we were together, you would probably have seen the two of us howling with laughter. I think that's pretty cool.

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The Books: "Translations" (Brian Friel)

Next in my Daily Book Excerpt:

friel2-1.gifNext excerpt from my script shelf is:

Brian Friel's Translations.

Translations takes place in 1833, in Ireland. An important thing to know, because you know what HASN'T happened yet and what is ABOUT to befall the country. The famine hangs over this entire play like a spectre, even though it's in the future, and nobody can know that it is coming. You can't help but be aware of it, and you want to yell at the characters to prepare, to warn them. Translations isn't about potatoes though. No. It is about the death of the Irish language, and Friel "locates the moment of its final decline in the Donegal of the 1830s, the years in which the British Army Engineer Corps carried out its famous ordnance srvey of Ireland, mapping and renaming the whole country to accord with its recent (1800) integration into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland". (That comes from the introduction to the collection of plays I have. I couldn't really write it any clearer.) The play takes place in one of the hedge schools, and at first the people aren't aware of what is REALLY going on - they think that the British just want to make better maps, or re-do their old maps - but eventually it becomes clear that this "ordnance survey" is really about Anglicizing every place-name in Ireland, systematically wiping out the Gaelic terms for everything. It's a crisis for the hedge-school, of course - for the people who live in that particular town - the people we get to know through the course of the play ... but why the play is so effective for the audience is that we know so much more than the characters, since we are from the present-day, and we know what ended up happening. The Irish language was wiped out. It's also tragic because, like I said earlier, the potato famine is still to come. This is the decimation of an entire civilization.

One of the other reasons why this play is so successful is what it has to say about the relationship between Britain and Ireland. The way Friel does this is very clever: Many of the Irish characters in the play can't speak a word of English and do not understand what is happening when British soldiers arrive in their town for this "survey". They need translators. But of course - we watch the translations get confused. All the characters in the play speak in English - but eventually we realize that the Irish characters are really speaking in Gaelic ... So we get to hear both sides. It's a wonderful device, and works really well on stage.

Oh yeah, and the other thing that happens during this "ordinance survey" is that all hedge-schools will close, and new 'national schools' will open up - where it will all be in English. The Irish language will be lost in the timespan of a generation. Now even amongst the Irish characters there is disagreement here. One of them is very pro-English language, even though she only speaks Gaelic herself. She wants to learn English, she is sick of being isolated on her small island.

And now for the excerpt. Yolland is one of the British soliders (described by Friel as 'a soldier by accident'.) He is young, barely out of boyhood, and struggles to understand the Irish culture around him. He feels left out ... and yet at the same time, he doesn't really understand his own job at first. He follows orders. But gradually, he realizes what is going on. Yolland is a wonderful character - he's kind of our way in (the audience's way in, I mean). We are him. We are outsiders, we look on, we try to understand, we have to play catch up ... Hugh is the headmaster of the hedge-school. And Owen is Hugh's son, a local boy, back in town after being away for 6 years. He is bi-lingual, he's seen a bit more of the world. He signs up to help the British soldiers in their ordnance survey - he can help them with translating the plans to the Irish people, who don't understand the language.

EXCERPT FROM Translations, by Brian Friel:

YOLLAND. (Embarrassed) Where's the pot-een?

OWEN. Poteen.

YOLLAND. Poteen -- poteen -- poteen. Even if I did speak Irish I'd always be an outsider here, wouldn't I? I may learn the password but the language of the tribe will always elude me, won't it? The private core will always be ... hermetic, won't it?

OWEN. You can learn to decode us.

(Hugh emerges from upstairs and descends. He is dressed for the road. Today he is physically and mentally jaunty and alert -- almost self-consciously jaunty and alert. Indeed, as the scene progresses, one has the sense that he is deliberately parodying himself. The moment Hugh gets to the bottom of the steps, Yolland leaps respectfully to his feet.)

HUGH. (as he descends)
Quantumvis cursum longum fessumque moratur
Sol, sacro tandem carmine vesper adest.

I dabble in verse, Lieutenant, after the style of Ovid. (to Owen) A drop of that to fortify me.

YOLLAND. You'll have to translate it for me.

HUGH. Let's see --
No matter how long the sun may linger on his long and weary journey
At length evening comes with its sacred song.

YOLLAND. Very nice, sir.

HUGH. English succeeds in making it sound ... plebian.

OWEN. Where are you off to, Father?

HUGH. An expeditio with three purposes. Purpose A: to acquire a testimonial from our parish priest -- (to Yolland) a worthy man but barely literate; and since he'll ask me to write it myself, how in all modesty can I do myself justice? (to Owen) Where did this (drink) come from?

OWEN. Anna na mBreag's.

HUGH. (to Yolland) In that case address yourself to it with circumspection. (And Hugh instantly tosses the drink back in one gulp and grimaces) Aaaaagh! (Holds out his glass for a refill) Anna na mBreag means Anna of the Lies. And Purpose B: to talk to the builders of the new school about the kind of living accommodation I will require there. I have lived too long like a journeyman tailor.

YOLLAND. Some years ago we lived fairly close to a poet -- well, about three miles away.

HUGH. His name?

YOLLAND. Wordsworth -- William Wordsworth.

HUGH. Did he speak of me to you?

YOLLAND. Actually I never talked to him. I just saw him out walking -- in the distance.

HUGH. Wordsworth? ... No, I'm afraid we're not familiar with your literature, Lieutenant. We feel closer to the warm Mediterranean. We tend to overlook your island.

YOLLAND. I'm learning to speak Irish, sir.

HUGH. Good.

YOLLAND. Roland's teaching me.

HUGH. Splendid.

YOLLAND. I mean -- I feel so cut off from the people here. And I was trying to explain a few minutes ago how remarkable a community this is. To meet people like yourself and Jimmy Jack who actually converse in Greek and Latin. And your place names -- what was the one we came across this morning? -- Termon, from Terminus, the god of boundaries. It -- it -- it's really astonishing.

HUGH. We like to think we endure around truths immemorially posited.

YOLLAND. And your Gaelic literature -- you're a poet yourself --

HUGH. Only in Latin, I'm afraid.

YOLLAND. I understand it's enormously rich and ornate.

HUGH. Indeed, Lieutenant. A rich language. A rich literature. You'll find, sir, that certain cultures expend on their vocabularies and syntax acquisitive energies and ostentations entirely lacking in their material lives. I suppose you could call us a spiritual people.

OWEN. (not unkindly; more out of embarrassment before Yolland) Will you stop that nonsense, Father?

HUGH. Nonsense? What nonsense?

OWEN. Do you know where the priest lives?

HUGH. At Lis na Muc, over near ...

OWEN. No, he doesn't. Lis na Muc, the Fort of the Pigs, has become Swinefort. (Now turning the pages of the Name Book -- a page per name.) And to get to Swinefort you pass through Greencastle and Fair Head and Strandhill and Gort and Whiteplains. And the new school isn't at Poll na gCaorach -- it's at Sheepsrock. Will you be able to find your way?

(Hugh pours himself another drink. Then: --)

HUGH. Yes, it is a rich language, Lieutenant, full of the mythologies of fantasy and hope and self-deception -- a syntax opulent with tomorrows. It is our response to mud cabins and a diet of potatoes; our only method of replying to ... inevitabilities. (to Owen) Can you give me the loan of half-a-crown? I'll repay you out of the subscriptions I'm collecting for the publication of my new book. (to Yolland) It is entitled: 'The Pentaglot Preceptor or Elementary Institute of the English, Greek, Hebrew, Latin and Irish Languages; Particularly Calculated for the Instruction of Such Ladies and Gentlemen as may Wish to Learn without the Help of a Master'.

YOLLAND. (laughs) That's a wonderful title.

HUGH. Between ourselves -- the best part of the enterprise. Nor do I, in fact, speak Hebrew. And that last phrase -- 'without the Help of a Master' -- that was written before the new national school was thrust upon me -- do you think I ought to drop it now? After all you don't dispose of the cow just because it has produced a magnificent calf, do you?

YOLLAND. You certainly do not.

HUGH. The phrase goes. And I'm interrupting work of moment. (He goes to the door and stops there) To return briefly to that other matter, Lieutenant. I understand your sense of exclusion, of being cut off from a life here; and I trust you will find access to us with my son's help. But remember that words are signals, counters. They are not immortal. And it can happen -- to use an image you'll understand -- it can happen that a civilization can be imprisoned in a linguistic contour which no longer matches the landscape of ... fact. Gentlemen. (He leaves)

OWEN. 'An expeditio with three purposes': the children laugh at him: he always promises three points and he never gets beyond A and B.

MANUS. He's an astute man.

OWEN. He's bloody pompous.

YOLLAND. But so astute.

OWEN. And he drinks too much. Is it astute not to be able to adjust for survival? Enduring around truths immemorially posited -- hah!

YOLLAND. He knows what's happening.

OWEN. What is happening?

YOLLAND. I'm not sure. But I'm concerned about my part in it. It's an eviction of sorts.

OWEN. We're making a six-inch map of the country. Is there something sinister in that?

YOLLAND. Not in --

OWEN. And we're taking place-names that are riddled with confusion and --

YOLLAND. Who's confused? Are the people confused?

OWEN. -- and we're standardizing those names as accurately and as sensitively as we can.

YOLLAND. Something is being eroded.

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