Wednesday, March 09, 2016

The Lion's Den

I cannot say for certain that my 90th birthday tribute to Jerry Lewis was what prompted Megan Abbott to go see CRACKING UP at the Museum of Modern Art yesterday afternoon, but I like to think I had a little something to do with it. I'm going to lay out the sequence of events through our correspondence, kind of like Bram Stoker piecing together all those documents for DRACULA. I noticed an email from Megan in my inbox at around twenty minutes before three o'clock, Central Time, asking whether she should go see CRACKING UP at 4 PM. New York City, of course, abides by Eastern Time. If you will do your math, you will see that time was of the essence! My response was measured: "YES! My God, I hope you're not getting this too late. You only have 20 minutes to get there, hurry, hurry!" I also rushed over to twitter, in case Megan was not checking her email, and tweeted like so: I soon received a heartening "I'm here" via email. Trying to prepare her, as I thought was only my duty, I quoted P.B. Shelley on things "semi-real" and Megan responded that she was having a beer to open her "doors of perception." (Can it be a coincidence that the movie was scheduled to start at what is known affectionately in Oxford, Mississippi, as "Megan Abbott Time?") A photo of her ticket stub appeared on twitter. I immediately emailed that photo to McNeil, who responded "Wow!!! WOW!!!" - sentiments I subsequently conveyed to Megan. Thus spurred on, she responded, "I couldn't even finish my beer; I was too excited!" It was at this juncture that communications were severed for some hours, as I had a doctor's appointment. When I returned, I picked up THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY, which has been lying there untouched for some time, and discovered that my bookmark lay, by another coincidence, at the beginning of a chapter in which Robert Burton explains why doctors are the worst (though his thoughts do not apply to my friendly and helpful doctor): "according to that witty Epigram of Maximilianus Urentius, what's the difference? How (he asks) does the Surgeon differ from the Physician? One kills by hand, the other by drugs; and both differ from the hangman only in that they do slowly what he does quickly." Then I was like, why am I reading this? Surely Megan is out of CRACKING UP by now. And so it proved. I had an email from McNeil, asking "What's up with the $0.00?" I could see it was tearing him up inside!
I explained some of Megan's benefits as a paying member of MoMA, which seemed to calm him down. In the meantime, I had also received two emails from Megan, one seemingly sent just before the movie started and one after it had concluded. BEFORE: "You should see all the other lunatics here!" AFTER: "Watching it was akin to sinking into psychosexual quicksand!" Now! I must tell you that as I first read that response, and again as I cut-and-pasted it just now, I could not help but notice that were TWO extra, unnecessary spaces between "sinking into" and "psychosexual quicksand." Implying what? I'm no Freud! But one may imagine that had Megan written this on a postcard with a pencil, we might have a fascinating palimpsest to analyze. I left Megan a phone message to ask whether there had been any learned introduction or if they had just shown the film ("like BOOM!" is the way I believe I put it). Then I got to thinking about her "BEFORE" response, the one about the lunatics in the theater, and I was seized with an awful vision of Megan as the only woman in a Jerry Lewis audience, surrounded by, I don't know, creeps in Jerry Lewis outfits, each more eager than the last to pledge his troth! So I left a message about that. "I sent you into the lion's den!" I may have yelled into the receiver. This morning I had more emails from McNeil and Megan. One implied that my phone messages had arrived during a "book event" that Megan was attending with Laura Lippman. I can only hope they discussed Jerry a little over wine and cheese! If so, you may look forward to a postscript. "He had me at the slippery office!" Megan wrote later. McNeil's email also mentioned it: "Damn! I would have loved to have seen that on the big screen. That psychiatrist's office..." and of course he went on to mention the green carpet that he is convinced Jerry has reused fetishistically in his films for decades: "that green carpet in the motel room...ooh la la" being his exact words. Megan went on: "I have to say, I've never heard a MoMA audience (more male, yes, but not heavily so) laugh more at any movie and I was loud among them. I can't recall seeing many movies that made me quite so vividly uncomfortable either! In his movies, there's just no ground under our feet, is there?"