Thursday, March 17, 2016

Flickering Existence

Not by any plan, I have been watching and enjoying a number of John Huston movies lately: UNDER THE VOLCANO, MOBY-DICK and the one he made about Toulouse-Lautrec. So last night I watched THE DEAD. I didn't even consider that today would be St. Patrick's day! No, I just live by the seat of my pants, free and easy. I liked THE DEAD much better than the first time I saw it, back when it came out. Then I was a young punk who was very offended about the way they chopped up the last paragraph of James Joyce's short story, which I probably called "my favorite paragraph" at the time. This time I knew it was coming, so I was all right. Here's a funny fact. I don't think it's a spoiler or will get me in any kind of trouble because it was nipped in the bud. But not long ago I got the urgent idea to end an ADVENTURE TIME outline with Princess Bubblegum reading the last paragraph of "The Dead" to Finn and Jake. Ha ha! I knew it would never get into the show. It didn't make much sense, even. But I convinced myself that it flowed naturally from what had come before. Not the whole last paragraph! I'm not totally crazy! I had Princess Bubblegum starting with "Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland." I probably used to call that "one of my favorite sentences in literature" when I was a young smarty, and I probably still feel that way. Adam was very nice about it. He made the note "I'm not deleting this" on the document. Ha ha! But he did go on to provide some reasonable notes about why this particular episode we were working on should possibly not end with Princess Bubblegum reciting the conclusion of "The Dead." Dr. Theresa didn't watch THE DEAD with me last night, but she told me a funny story about going to see it when it came out. She was just a teenager at the time and saw the title THE DEAD on a marquee and assumed it was a horror movie. You know how she likes horror movies! So she went in expecting a good scare. Ha ha! Well, the short story does have these lines in it, which sound fairly Lovecraftian out of context: "His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence." Scary! So after I watched THE DEAD I wanted to read the short story again. So I got out my paperback of DUBLINERS. And I was like, this is a neat old paperback from the 1950s with a crease in the cover. I know I didn't have this paperback originally. I think I bought it to replace my first copy of DUBLINERS, which I gave away. And then I remembered the circumstances. I was in my 20s and a French girl came to visit Mobile, Alabama. I don't say "girl" condescendingly - I mean to express that we were naive boys and girls then. So three of us boys were keen to escort her around all the time. And we were so jealous of one another that all three of us took her everywhere. Like, if we went to a restaurant, it was a table for four: her and three guys, frantically jostling for position at the table. I recall the restaurant: The Ivory Chopstick. I remember that we all ordered two desserts. Two desserts apiece, I mean. We were so thin in those days. The Ivory Chopstick didn't have a liquor license and they got around it by offering strawberries floating in red wine and an obscenely soaked baba au rhum after dinner. I remember that we took her to a party on the water at Jimmy Buffett's mother's house (!?!). Long story. We all knew Jimmy Buffett's mother in those days. Tom Franklin was at that party and we delighted in strutting around the dock with our new French friend in front of him. I remember that we took her to somebody's house and showed her THE AFRICAN QUEEN on a tiny TV such as poor people like us had in those days. We thought she'd be impressed! (Strange coincidence! Another John Huston movie.) I remember that after the movie she said, "It was not so good." Ha ha! Thus we failed American culture. But I did get to drive her out to my hometown of Bayou La Batre without the other two guys coming along. And that's where I gave her my copy of DUBLINERS. And that's the exciting story of why I eventually purchased this strange but attractive 1950s edition of DUBLINERS instead of that one Penguin paperback everybody else has. So! After watching the movie last night, I wanted to read the story again. But I wanted a little noise on in the background. Don't you ever want just a little noise in the background while you're reading? So I turned on TCM, and because it was Jerry Lewis's birthday, they were showing CRACKING UP! And I thought: this is perfect. I just watched CRACKING UP the other night, so it won't be distracting. But I kept pausing in my reading of "The Dead" to laugh at CRACKING UP. For example, I'd happen to glance up and Jerry would be staring at me, straight into the camera. He does that a lot in CRACKING UP. Or he'd grunt or yelp or do what I can only call his "vocalise." And that was "cracking me up" especially last night. And then there was the scene when a server in a restaurant offers him a choice of many different kinds of salad dressing, including "bleu cheese" and "brown cheese." The phrase "brown cheese" really got me! Was it Joycean, "brown cheese," or that impossibly long and incantatory list of salad dressings, was THAT Joycean? Have I called Jerry "Joycean" before? I'll check. Yes, "click" here!