April 20, 2010
It’s been nearly a year since I’ve written a word. Haven’t said much either. I’ve preferred to keep my mouth shut. Lately, I’ve been taking it easy, living off the family inheritance, catching up on reading, sitting in the park watching the young girls cycle by, their legs strong against the push of the pedals.
You can spend a whole day doing nothing and feel invigorated. I don’t understand these people who say if they didn’t work, they’d be incredibly bored. Not surprisingly, none of these people have ever had the opportunity to not work. They don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. If they had the opportunity, they’d realize how valuable having all the time in the world is.
Most people don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. And that goes double for me. Maybe that’s why I’ve been so silent lately. Oh sure, ole Manco is raging and screaming inside as always; I wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t. The outside of me though is calm, poker-faced. I’ve accepted the direction of the world and its inhabitants. I may not be pleased with the results, but there’s nothing I can do about it.
People like to talk. I had some people over the other night. They talked about a wide range of subjects – the food we ate, the drinks, sex, violence, movies ad politics. They really loved talking about the politics.
A meaningless conversation, really. I used to talk the politics. I don’t anymore. One has to be naive or a complete fool not to see the whole political landscape is a farce filled with con men and errand boys. The system is sinking fast – the nation my father and millions other fought and believed in almost gone.
I used to think that something sinking deserved to be saved. Not so. It’s a tough realization when you discover the world will go on without you. Being the egocentric creatures we are, we seem to think we are here for the blessings of many. In reality, we’re all solitary figures merely passing through our own dream. With or without us, the world will lumber on.
For example, take that guy, Joseph Stack. You know, that cat who dove his plan into the IRS building in Austin. I imagine, even as he guided the plane into the building, he was thinking that this event would make him a hero to many and spur some kind of revolution.
It didn’t. I drive by that building frequently. Know what I’ve noticed? Nothing stops. It enters your mind, you might take a cursory glance at the shell of the building, but within seconds you’re past it and continuing towards your original endeavor. Every day thousands of people pass that site in their cars and continue driving, their mind on dinner or their favorite television show or how they really want to bang that hot file clerk in their office, if only they weren’t married or balding or overweight or nervous in the presence of beauty. People are too busy to think about Joseph or his plane or his manifesto. Face it, no one gives a shit about anyone but themselves. While it’s become chic to bemoan selfishness over the years, I say embrace it.
If a system is really corrupt, diseased and decaying, let it die on its own. Don’t kill yourself or someone else to fail to make a point. Let it die. Watch it quiver and draw in last breath and wither and stop moving. Smile to yourself when it’s gone. Revel in the joy of being right. The world will go on.
May 22, 2009
Jan isn’t speaking to me at the moment. In fact, I just got back home from leaving some money for her in order to fix the damage.
She called me last week asking if I’d like to come over that weekend. I was happy to because Jan and I haven’t spent any real time together in a while. I was expecting a night like the old days in which we ate good food, drank some good wine and talked into the ealy morning. Jan has always been my intellectual equal and I enjoy her company.
I had planned to see Grace that night, but decided to cancel in favor of seeing Jan. After all our would-be burgeoning relationship has been sinking faster than the Titanic. I’m strangely unmoved by it. Once you’ve been through a divorce your feelings about relationships change. You realize that most of them are, for better or worse, transient.
I’ve got a bad temper. I get it from my father who was one hothead son of a bitch. He never hit me, but he was always on edge, uptight, angry at the drop of the proverbial hat. My mother said it was his work. Whatever it was, he passed it to me. This temper of mine comes on at the worst times. It’s cost me friends and lovers. Sometimes it has been justified. Sometimes it hasn’t. You can’t think about it too much, just keep moving forward. A person can strangle on regret.
I arrived at Jan’s in the best mood. By the time I hit the front door though I knew I was not in for a quiet evening. I could hear the chatterheads milling about behind that door. I was set to turn around and leave when two members of the skinny jeans brigade arrived, forcing me to knock on the door to avoid suspicion.
My consternation was further heightened by Jan who acted genuinely surprised to see me even though she’d invited me. I gave her the bottle of wine I had brought for her, yet she seemed more intrigued by the two brats who came in behind me. Nothing much to them, really. Boys denying manhood, whose only goal it seemed was to look like the 70s punk group, The Ramones, a band of ugly idiots if there ever was one.
I wandered around the place, listening to the conversation, feeling the weight of knowing I had no place in this apartment surrounded by these flea-ridden assholes. I should have scrammed out of that place right then, but I’m a dumb fuck so I took a seat and started drinking.
It was about an hour into this torture of wallet chains and stuttered vocabulary that Andy prick showed up. Son of a bitch walked right in and started owning the place, telling people this and that. It was too much, but I could handle the prick. I’d dealt with assholes like him before. They’re nothing. Just a human megaphone spouting their list of imagined accomplishments.
After another drink however I began to take exception to his condescending attitude towards Jan. The son of a bitch should have been on his hands and knees morning, noon and night praising whatever is up there for allowing Jan into his life. Instead he treats her like a mangy dog……and even those are worth a little love and respect. After all, how can you not love a dog, no matter how mangy it is?
I couldn’t stand this prick any longer. I stood up and made my way over to him, let him know what I thought of him. I’ll give him credit, he let me finish my spiel. He must have known before I did I was digging my own hole.
Then he rips into me. You know, my age, what was I doing there, some things only Jan knew that he now knew about me. I have to admit, some of it was right on target. Maybe that’s why I lost my temper and decked the son of a bitch right there.
He wasn’t made of anything. He fell backwards into a lamp, spilling it to the floor. I went in for another punch. I wanted this son of a bitch to swallow his teeth. I tried to clip him as he was falling backward but I missed, driving my fist into the wall. Right up to the wrist. Took me a few seconds to dislodge it. I was seething like some kind of wild animal. All I could think about was beating this frazzled-headed little bastard into a pulp. I was really losing it.
You’ve got be careful with angry people like me. We let it sit there and sit there, and when it finally explodes, we’re so happy to be rid of it we take no consideration who we’re dumping it on. That’s why it’s a good idea to leave those brooding bastards you see out and about alone. You never know, you may end up paying big time for the person who broke their heart nine years before or the corporate exec who canceled their favorite show or the alpha males who humiliated them in gym class. It could be anything. Anger doesn’t have a set of universal rules. It comes from the heart, the mind and the pit of the stomach where all of our worst fears and venom never digest.
After I punched that snapperhead, the place was quiet. It was as if time stopped. I had gone from an anonymous figure minutes before to the center of attention. Andy had fallen on his back and was squirming like a turtle. He looked ridiculous, prompting me to laugh. I knew I shouldn’t, but seeing that punk blithering like an idiot on his back was a real joy. Sue me. Jan didn’t think much of it, I can tell you that. She told me to get out.
I tried to reach her over the next few days to apologize and smooth things over. All I got was her voice mail with that sickeningly sweet voice she has, young and pretty, chiming in my ear. I left a message saying I was going to leave the money to pay for the damage in her mailbox. I didn’t ask her to call me back. She hasn’t called me back. Probably won’t. Like I said, a person can strangle on regret.
May 13, 2009
My friends think I’m yanking their chains when I tell them how I’m writing the manuscript. That it’s not necessarily being written by me, but through me. That I’ve been ostensibly chosen by some celestial force to write the new bible.
They laugh at me. They think I’m hanging on to some sputtering practical joke. They’ve never seen the manuscript, because I don’t dare show it to them. If they did they would see that over 600 pages have been written. They’ve known me long enough, I’ve never written 600 pages of anything. Shit, I haven’t written 6 pages of anything.
It’s never been for a lack of trying though. When I was younger I put myself on the outs with my old man when I told him I wasn’t interested in the military and working for the government. That had been his bag. I wanted nothing to do with it.
Instead I wanted to go to college, chase skirts and eventually become a writer. It was all bullshit really. While I liked chasing skirts, I never had any actual desire to become a writer; I just wanted to avoid the nightmare he had in store for me. My only real ambition was to avoid doing anything I didn’t want to as long as possible. Thanks to what my father left me when he passed away, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing most of my life.
It was just over a year ago when the voice started coming to me. I woke up on a hardwood floor in a house I didn’t know, my head throbbing from a hangover. Next to me laid a young girl. Definitely underage. Definitely trouble. I got to my feet quietly, realizing the entire place was covered in sleeping, booze-ridden bodies.
As I stepped out into the morning light, I looked back into the room and saw the young girl staring at me. Not speaking, just staring at me. Perhaps I was the first of several men she will see make a quick exit the morning after too many drinks with her. I couldn’t be sure if anything happened between us, but I wasn’t going to stay and find out. I gave her a sheepish grin and closed the door, jogging to my car down the street in case she should follow.
I had no idea where I was. The neighborhood was definitely middle-class with its manicured lawns and the materialistic gains of its residents proudly on display to make the neighbors jealous, but I did not recognize the street names. I decided to just drive until I saw something familiar.
As I came to the first stop sign, I suddenly heard, quite clearly, a voice in my head say, “Turn right.” I didn’t think anything of it and turned right. Right seemed logical to me. This inner voice continued to give me directions until I found myself on the highway. Turns out I was 45 minutes north of town, having obviously decided to accompany the party from the night before to this small town.
I did not hear the voice on the drive home. The only thing I could think about was calming my hangover and a nice breakfast as well as some additional sleep. When I got home, I found myself so tired I forgot about the hangover and breakfast and fell asleep.
Awaking later that day, I found myself suddenly seized with the desire to write. I couldn’t understand it, I never wrote anything except letters…and those weren’t exactly sterling. Now all of a sudden, as clear as one can imagine, I had the details of a massive tome circulating through my brain. The beginning, middle and end. The Alpha and Omega. I could have spoken it out loud as if memorized.
It was about the history of mankind and what was to come when we enter the Great Transition from one age to the next. It was all sitting there in my mind. I saw the complete and utter degradation of mankind, how far we had fallen, and fall further we would before the slow inevitable climb back. The absolute horror and what remaining beauty of mankind was left rested in my brain.
I paced the room. I was concerned. Had someone slipped something into my drinks the night before? Was I losing my everloving mind? The desire to write remained with me. I decided to sit down at the computer and see what happened.
I put my fingers to the keys and they started typing almost immediately, speeding across the keys. So intent was I on what was happening, I had no time to register the words as they flashed upon the screen. I continued this way for what seemed like hours. There were occasional lulls where very little was produced or nothing at all, before the stream of words came again lasting for several minutes at a time before tapering off.
Finally it dwindled to nothing. I sat back in the chair. My fingers felt as if something had been coursing through the tips of them. Some kind of energy. The air around me felt electric. I saved what I wrote, printing a copy. I read over a little of it. It didn’t seem like my writing. It was too clear, too polished….too good.
This was confusing. I got up from the desk and walked to the phone. I should call Sonia, have her look at it. Maybe she could offer a clue as to what the hell was going on. Once I picked up the phone however, I could hear a voice within me telling me it wasn’t safe to show this to anyone. The truth it contained, the unfolding events. No, it couldn’t be read by anyone. If the wrong person read it, there’s no telling how they might react or what they would do. Particularly someone like Sonia who, as intelligent as she is, thinks in a linear fashion. The stack of words over there was far from linear, some of it going into great detail about the various dimensions of existence and the ability to cross them as easily as crossing a street. Shit, I didn’t understand it myself and I’d just written it. No, if the wrong person read this, they’d lock me up and throw away the key. I felt sure of it.
Yet something wasn’t right. Who was I to suddenly have this information at my fingertips? I began to wonder if I wasn’t part of some government experiment, spearheaded by my father. Maybe I had unknowingly been experimented on for years. The voice in my head? What if I was some kind of Manchurian Candidate. The next Sirhan Sirhan. I would have to be on the lookout for women in polka-dot dresses.
I had an idea. Perhaps an answer could be found amongst the possessions of my father I had kept in storage. After his death, people from the government had gone through most of it, claiming National Security. Still, perhaps there was something that had been missed. There had been several boxes my father had left to me personally. Perhaps the answer to this mystery could be found there.
The storage facility where I kept my father’s belongings was on the outskirts of town. I had no room for it at my place and my mother had sold the house and moved to South America shortly after the old man kicked the bucket. I’m not sure why I decided to store them at a place outside of town other than it felt right at the time.
As I was driving, I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was following me. All of the headlights in my rearview seemed to be too close. I was a nervous wreck. I had to switch cars. I remember overhearing my father and an associate of his once briefly discussing switching cars to avoid being tailed. Before I could inquire further, he realized I was standing there and demanded I leave immediately.
I pulled into the local mall. I parked and went inside. I had to fight the urge to retch as I came into contact with the zombiefied remains of the American consumer pacing slowly through the halls of the mall looking in vain for the one item that will remove the sense of emptiness from their lives. The Mall and Television have done more to destroy the American people than any other threat, foreign or domestic.
I made it to a pay phone, surprised to see one still standing in this cell phone age. I had a mobile phone but how could I be sure it wasn’t being monitored? My sense of paranoia was as strong as I had ever felt, and I could feel sweat breaking out over my body. Every person I glanced at had a hidden agenda and every noise and shadow belonged to my executioner.
I was able to reach Roy. I had to be careful what I told him. Roy is a conspiracy theorist so he’s paranoid by nature. I couldn’t take a chance on telling him anything until I knew myself. Otherwise, Roy could turn out to be more of a problem than a help.
He was understandably confused when I asked him to come pick me up. I had to feed him a line about car trouble and how I was having it towed. He asked me why I just didn’t ride with the tow truck guy. I became indignant, prompting guilt from him. He said he’d come pick me up. I waited just inside the mall entrance where I told him to pick me up, quickly hurrying to his car when I saw him. I exchanged small talk with him briefly before asking him if he’d be kind enough to take me out to the storage facility, which he did, even though it was obvious he didn’t want to. Roy’s a good man.
The place was quiet. We appeared to be the only ones there. I unlocked the door and pulled it back down once we were inside. It did not appear as if anyone else had been there. I told Roy to look around, I’d only be a few minutes. I went through the small cabinet my father had given me. Until now I had no desire to look through it. To my disappointment, most of the contents were photos of us, books he had left me, a few records, autographs of famous people he’d met – Roy was particularly impressed by the Jimmy Stewart signed photo – and some letters. Cool stuff, for the most part, but I was looking for answers to the voice in my head.
I felt uneasy going through all of this while Roy was there so I simply gathered up the small cabinet, put it in Roy’s car and had him drive me home. Once there, I phoned a cab and had the cabbie return me to my car at the mall. If anyone had been following me and knew where the storage facility was after all of the moves I’d made, they were too much for me to outsmart. At least I had the cabinet.
As interesting as the contents of the cabinet were, they didn’t provide any answers as to my new condition, leaving me to assume that this newfound ability for writing esoteric manuscripts was of something not related to my father. If it did involve my old man, the secret had died with him. I was going to have to figure this out on my own. Meanwhile, the writing continues in fits and starts. Where the manuscript will end is anyone’s guess.
May 7, 2009
As I’ve written before, I don’t like parties. It’s nothing personal to anyone involved, I just don’t like groups of people in concentrated areas. I find myself disliking their conversations, their attempts at humor, their politics, their passions, their attempts to be relevant. A perfect world would be devoid of empty chatter and we could get down to something truly soulful.
Parties are about people being the center of attention. Groups form at parties. You have to find the group that will accept you. Then you spend the night trying to retain their confidence in you. You lower yourself, you laugh at jokes that aren’t funny, you talk about things that bore you to tears. Anything to hold their attention. It’s torture. Occasionally you come upon a kindred spirit and it turns into a good night, but it’s rare.
Parties are terrible for couples. Couples spend too much time together so they jump at the chance of being around other people. Once they’re around other people though, they realize how much they don’t like each other. Their eyes and minds begin wandering. They become flirtatious. They dream of better tomorrows. And then it’s time to go home, and you’re just happy to have someone to go home with.
Sonia and I went to parties. She had friends in the local intelligentsia and academic communities. A collection of bores and halfwits, rambling on about philosophy and literature and politics as if any of them truly gave a damn about what they were talking about. It looked good, and made sure a generation’s worth of nerds and dickheads got laid.
As soon as we arrived, Sonia would start hitting up the eggheads and artists. She craved their culture. She said I didn’t have any taste. I’d bring up Eddie Cochran, Myrna Loy, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, James Cagney, Fante, Chaplin. She told me that didn’t mean anything. She was never able to define what she was talking about, but she obviously knew what it was, and I didn’t know shit. She only kept me around for sex and she said I was a good talker.
Watching her flirt with the balding fucknut who still had a ponytail, I began to suspect she might be cheating on me. I could have found out, but at that point I didn’t care. Besides, those parties always had plenty of young college women – even a few high schoolers – who were easy to talk to. I’d usually find myself in some secluded part of the house groping and kissing, writing poetry in my mind about their looks and the way they smelled, promising to see them again. Then Sonia and I would make our way home, back to normal.
It was the normalcy that drove me mad. I wasn’t content with normal. I only wanted normal as was necessary to get by without trouble. Normalcy is good for making a living, normalcy is good for operating within that restriction, but it’s not enjoyable. Too much normalcy drives people mad. Too much normalcy drives a person to do foolish and hurtful things to themselves or other people. If I shun debauchery as irresponsible, I have to likewise shun normalcy as being equally irresponsible. In both instances, you’re allowing yourself to be dictated to by a romanticized idea of what constitutes either normalcy or debauchery instead of a realistic idea about both.
Needless to say, I wasn’t crazy about attending Max’s party. But he had invited me and, rather than spend another unfulfilled evening with the handful of people I considered friends or drinking alone, I decided to stop by in the event I might find an excuse to stay a little longer.
The only real question was what to wear?
April 30, 2009
The phone rang and rang, bringing me out of my gin-soaked sleep. I looked at the clock. 9:00. Only one person calls me that early in the morning. I didn’t want to talk to her. Let the machine get it. I closed my eyes. I was asleep before she even left the message.
Four hours later: I roll over. My cat jumps up on the bed and lays on my chest, waiting to be fed. I slide her off me and get up. My head is throbbing, but I can fix that. What I always do when I have a hangover is fix myself a banana milkshake with honey. The banana calms the stomach while the honey builds up the depleted blood sugar levels, the milk soothes the stomach and rehydrates. Bananas also contain magnesium and potassium, which are depleted during drinking. Plus, it’s fucking delicious. It gets me back on my feet. That and a hot shower.
I didn’t mean to get wasted the night before, but I was up late working away on the manuscript. I don’t know, I guess I felt Hemingwayesque. So I broke out the bottle. When I happened to look at the clock, it was 4:27 AM. I wasn’t sure how it got to be so late; it didn’t feel that late. This feeling of lost time has happened before when working on the manuscript. It might be my imagination, but I’m not sure. I have vivid dreams that seem to recall this lost time. Ah, who am I kidding, it’s probably the gin.
I finally get around to checking the message. As expected, it’s my ex-wife. I’m excited at first because usually the only time she calls is if she needs a good balling. Our divorce wasn’t so bitter that we still don’t enjoy a good romp now and again. After all, that was probably the best thing about our relationship. It damn sure wasn’t the conversation.
She used to call me for money after our divorce. She and her lawyer tried to stick it to me. The bitch was threatening to take everything I had, simply because she knew I loved it more than her. She’d have taken my ass for a ride too if not for some help from my old man. He worked for the government in some capacity – it was never discussed – and he had friends who could make a legal problem disappear. I’m not sure what happened, but her lawyer began to advise her to take a small amount of money I offered and get on with her life. Whatever my father’s friends did, it worked. I imagined it must have involved some Luca Brasi-type character. She asked me countless times what I had done, and I honestly couldn’t answer her because I didn’t know. Whatever happened, it worked, and my marriage officially became a footnote in my personal history.
Moe tells me I’m crazy to still sleep with her, even if it’s only occasional. I can’t help it, the woman is a wildcat. She’ll leave you gasping for air. In fact, she’s so good I sometimes contemplate remarrying her. And then it wears off and I’m back to normal.
She wanted to meet me for lunch and to call her to confirm. Looking at the time, lunch was definitely out. I dialed her number. She answered on the fourth ring, just before I hung up.
“I guess lunch is out.”
“I know, you just got out of bed.”
“Why don’t you come over?”
“It wasn’t that kind of call, Tobias.”
“Oh. Then what?”
“Yes. His name is Russell. He lives in my building.”
“His name is Russell? My condolences. What’s his last name?”
“Jesus. Have you said your future name over and over again? Sonia Spoonts. You have to admit Sonia Manco sounded a lot cooler.”
“How long have you been seeing him?”
“A little over a year.”
“Haven’t we, you know, a few times over the last year?”
“Yes…but I wasn’t engaged at the time.”
“Ah, well, I guess that makes it okay. Well, I’m happy for you, Sonia. I hope it works out. You have my blessing.”
“I don’t need your blessing.”
“Look, uh, why don’t you come over…you know, one last time?”
Another long pause.
“I can be there in an hour.”
April 28, 2009
A few weeks ago, perusing the racks at a local record store, I fell into a conversation about music with this kid named Max. Well, not exactly a kid, he’s twenty-four. Max is a multi-generational listener, meaning he can listen to everything equally and without much bias. It’s admirable, if ultimately unsatisfying in my opinion. Part of being a music collector is finding a niche and making yourself at home. Nevertheless, despite his refusal to draw a line in the sand, Max is a good guy.
He seems to like me. I think he considers me this crazy old coot who always smells of gin and eyes the young girls who come into the shop….which I am, of course. I was trying to unload some 45’s I had multiple copies of [it happens more than you think] so I invited him over to check out the records. They were mostly Doo Wop singles, which he seemed frustratingly unconcerned with, preferring a few of the Sun rockabilly and blues singles I was offering. I let it go. He wasn’t ready for Doo Wop. Doo Wop requires a lot of late nights alone before it can sink into your bloodstream.
I’ve made my home into my own image. When I die, I suppose I can ask my survivors to turn it into a Pop Culture museum. To most people, it wouldn’t look like much. However, to the trained eye, there are treasures aplenty in this hovel I call home. I’m proud of my collections. It is as close to having children as I will ever come.
In fact, that’s why my wife left me – because I preferred my collections over having children with her. She had a biological need to have children (i.e., all of our neighbors had children and she was tired of being asked why she didn’t have any by the miserable hags when they would congregate) . At least, that’s what she told me. Well, I had a biological need to not have children.
I couldn’t envision bringing a child into a world such as this. Seems cruel when you think about it. Not to mention the poor Earth currently sagging under the pressure of all these dilapidated fools running around in droves, starving by the millions, hurtling themselves desperately against their own eventual destruction. Yet, this wasn’t a logical reason to my wife. Women want what they want, no excuses. If it means personal or ecological destruction, so be it.
She left, but the collections stayed. She used to tell me I loved my collections more than her. In hindsight, I think she was right. I do love my collections. It’s a pure love, because it doesn’t require reciprocation in order to make it feel tangible. These collections come from different times and walks of life, from my young days to these current events. There is a story connected to many of them. Like a time machine, each one can transport me back to when I first experienced it.
Max was suitably impressed with the place, though the poor bastard was almost skewered when he hit a trip wire for a booby trap that I had forgotten to disarm. It took a few drinks to calm him down. Fortunately he didn’t ask too many questions. It would have been difficult to explain to him that, aside from protecting the valuables in my home, I’m also protecting an unfinished manuscript that I believe is being transmitted to me from a higher power of some sort, and that there may exist a group of people who would like to use it for their own nefarious ends. I’m not sure he would have understood.
I wasn’t sure I’d see him again. After all, near death can be a social impediment for most people. Yet, when I ran into him at the record store a few days later, he acted as if everything was okay, though he seemed reluctant to make plans to visit anytime soon.
However, he did invite me to a party that he and his roommates are throwing. Fortunately, it’s on Saturday, not Friday. As I’ve written, Friday night is poker night. Regardless, I didn’t commit myself to attending. I’m not much of a party person. Anything that requires prolonged exposure to the human race makes me nervous. The goddamn fools are capable of anything, as our history continues to illustrate.
Plus, what is an aging fuck like me going to do at a 20-something party? Maybe I’ll let Moe go in my stead; he’d eat that shit up.
Continuing through the record store, I find myself becoming irritable. Independent record stores are biting the dust, and it’s becoming harder and harder to find anything good in even these stores. All they want to stock now are these smart ass bands with the cute or ironic names. You know, the ones who think they’re edgy and onto something because they have the audacity to use “Fuck” in their band name. Ridiculous.
Jan has introduced me to a lot of good music I wouldn’t have listened to otherwise because of the year in which it was recorded. But it’s few and far between. The sad truth of the matter is there is very little left in this world to be excited about.
I discussed this with Grace over dinner the other night. She seemed bored by the conversation, displaying the body language I’ve come to know from certain women who have spent too much time in my presence. All the charm in the world can’t improve your standing in a woman’s eyes when they realize you have little ambition for anything. I think Grace saw some kind of future in me, but I don’t believe in the future. You can be as honest as you want to be with a woman, it doesn’t matter. They decide from the moment they meet you what the future will be, leaving you with the terrible decision to play ball or tear their future down.
Women are ambitious, almost to a fault. It surprises me that they haven’t taken over the planet yet. Men seem bored with running things. That’s why everything is so brutally fucked up in the world today. When men become bored, they like to destroy things. For kids, it’s toys. For men, it’s each other.
Yet, I’m not sure women are the answer either. They’re very demanding creatures. Imagine a woman president. The first time her demands aren’t met, the ultimatums will follow. And I haven’t known a woman yet who takes no for an answer.
April 22, 2009
Today’s movie is 1945’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, starring Hurd Hatfield, George Sanders, Donna Reed, Angela Lansbury and Peter Lawford.
The film was based on the 1890 novel by Oscar Wilde. This story continues to be relevant in a day and age where everyone is doing everything they can, no matter how ridiculous the circumstances, to cheat the aging process. I don’t know when aging became a crime, but someone needs to take these slugs aside and point out to them their efforts are meaningless. It’s the fate of every human to grow old and die. You are not special.
We all have a story arc – a beginning, a middle and an end. One is no better than the other, they all serve the purpose of the story. However, many are only interested in the beginning of the story, and they will do whatever it takes to delay the ending as long as possible. These are the health nuts and plastic surgery idiots with their carrot juice and their botox. They tell themselves they’re going to live forever, despite the evidence to the contrary.
There’s an old cemetery not far from my place. Sometimes I take a walk through there. It’s a nice way to remind myself of my mortality. Not that I would ever have myself buried. No, I’m not interested in feeding the worms. Instead, I’m going to be cremated and have my ashes scattered at a location to be named later.
I’ve always found something intriguing about cemeteries. There are usually few people around, it’s quiet, it’s respectful and there are a number of stories throughout the place. Walking through the cemetery you come across names from over the years. Some recent, others long gone. Passing through there recently I came across a grave marked 1890, the year Dorian Gray was published.
Life goes on without us. You, me, all of us, we are insignificant when it comes right down to it. Sure, the assholes of the world like to tell themselves they mean so much, and there are usually buttsniffers there to facilitate that belief, but there were assholes before them and there will probably be assholes of some sort after them. They are not special, no matter how tight they pull their skin back, what they eat, how they dress, their bank account or what they’ve accomplished or failed at. The person occupying the grave from 1890 remains in the world only as a patch of grass, some bones maybe, and a fading tombstone. Probably not the future they had in mind, but a far more plausible future for us all than we care to admit.
Spending time with Moe the other night, who is also trying to avoid the inevitable, reminded me of the story of Dorian Gray, and subsequently led me to watching the 1945 adaptation after not seeing it in some time. I also recommend reading Wilde’s novel, because, as usual, the movie and the novel are quite different in their presentation.
The movie opens with George Sanders as Lord Henry Wotton paying a visit to his friend, the painter Basil Hallward [Lowell Gilmore]. Basil has not been seen in weeks so Lord Henry drops in to see what the fuck’s going on. After all, it isn’t like Basil to miss a social outing or two. He thought they were tighter than that.
It turns out that Basil is hard at work on the portrait of a young, handsome society figure by the name of Dorian Gray [Hurd Hatfield]. Basil thinks this portrait is his greatest work. In fact, he believes that it has been painted by a force guiding his hand. In other words, Basil’s a little hot for Dorian. Lord Henry is also taken by the image in the painting, wishing to meet this young stallion. Lord Henry in some ways represents the Devil in this film. He is a witty, hedonistic and influential man of society who will soon seduce Dorian into following his desires, no matter their consequences on other people.
As Dorian seeks out these pleasures of the flesh and mind, he commits terrible sins against those he loves and himself. These include ruining his romance with a vaudeville singer by the name of Sybl Vane [Angela Lansbury] who then kills herself out of sorrow, murder, defiling men and women, soliciting prostitutes, frequenting opium dens and blackmail. Ah, the joys of living.
As he does this, the portrait that had been painted and given to him by Basil begins to change form, aging and rotting with each sin he commits. The painting is his soul. For on the day when the painting was completed, Dorian, spurred on by the ramblings of Lord Henry, made a wish that he would like to remain young and beautiful while the painting aged. His conviction was so strong he even offered his soul for this to happen, which it did. His soul manifested itself in the painting. And even though Dorian was handsome on the outside, the painting, which he kept locked in a room, increasingly decayed, showing Dorian the damage he had wrought on his soul.
The years pass on with everyone aging but Dorian. People talk about the oddity of Dorian Gray, but they keep it under wraps. After all, Dorian has the dirt on his fellow members of high society. He has seem them at their Victorian naughtiest. Step out of line and he’ll lay their dirtiest secrets bare. People begin to hate Dorian, which seems to delight him more than upset him.
As the years go by, Dorian begins to realize the emptiness and evil he has brought upon himself and others. He seeks to end the cycle of destruction he has wrought by confronting the painting and destroying it. However, when he stabs the painting with a knife, he suddenly feels a knife pierce his own chest and realizes too late that he and the painting are inexorably linked. He falls to the floor dead. Upon discovering his body, it is revealed that he now bears the age and rot of the painting while the painting itself has reverted back to the young image of Dorian from years before.
The movie was a hit upon its release on both sides of the Atlantic, with numerous accolades bestowed upon it. Angela Lansbury was nominated for an Academy Award for her supporting turn as Sybl Vance [She won the Golden Globe for the performance], Harry Stradling, Sr. won for Best Cinematography, and the film was also nominated for Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration.
The movie uses a series of paintings, painted specifically for the film, with which to highlight Dorian’s continued descent into the abyss. The paintings were done by Ivan Le Lorraine Albright, an artist well known at the time for his use of the macabre in his work. The painting of Dorian in his degenerative state is now part of the art collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.
The performances are all solid, particularly George Sanders. One gets the impression that he liked the character of Lord Wotten quite a bit. Also of note is the score by Herbert Stothart, which is very beautiful despite the grimness of the subject matter.
The movie remains a nice slice of Gothic horror, with a tale of vanity, greed and shallowness that unfortunately continues to shine a mirror on this globe of humanity. How many of us truly know the image of our inner self, and would we want to if given the opportunity?