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The Motorcyclists

July 9, 2013

The Music Man opened last Saturday night, and it’s a good show, not least because everyone has established a character and found ways to make that character physical, so you see what the person is like from the movements he or she makes. I finally settled on an understanding of my character as someone not only not me, but pretty much the complete opposite of me—she not only hasn’t read anything by Chaucer or Balzac or  Rabelais, but she never even wanted to. Whenever someone uses a big word like “reticent” she asks her friends what it means (and they don’t know). She is self-satisfied and extremely chatty. The poem entitled “The Motorcyclists,” by James Tate, reminds me of her:

My cuticles are a mess. Oh honey, by the way,
did you like my new negligee? It’s a replica
of one Kim Novak wore in some movie or other.
I wish I had a foot-long chili dog right now.
Do you like fireworks, I mean not just on the 4th of July,
but fireworks any time? There are people
like that, you know. They’re like people who like
orchestra music, listen to it any time of day.
Lopsided people, that’s what my father calls them.
Me, I’m easy to please. I like ping-pong and bobcats,
shatterproof drinking glasses, the smell of kerosene,
the crunch of carrots. I like caterpillars and
whirlpools, too. What I hate most is being the first
one at the scene of a bad accident.

Do I smell like garlic? Are we still in Kansas?
I once had a chiropractor make a pass at me,
did I ever tell you that? He said that your spine
is happiest when you’re snuggling. Sounds kind
of sweet now when I tell you, but he was a creep.
Do you know that I have never understood what they meant
by “grassy knoll.” It sounds so idyllic, a place to go
to dream your life away, not kill somebody. They
should have called it something like “the grudging notch.”
But I guess that’s life. What is it they always say?
“It’s always the sweetest ones that break your heart.”
You getting hungry yet, hon? I am. When I was seven
I sat in our field and ate an entire eggplant
right off the vine. Dad loves to tell that story,
but I still can’t eat eggplant. He says I’ll be the first
woman President, it’d be a waste since I talk so much.
Which do you think the fixtures are in the bathroom
at the White House, gold or brass? It’s be okay with me
if they were just brass. Honey can we stop soon?
I really hate to say it but I need a lady’s room.

It’s exhausting, all that trivia, the lack of interest in any sense of priority–when you think of being in the White House, you think of the bathroom fixtures first? Really? I sit in the dressing room in the few minutes we have between costume changes, when other people are reading second-hand paperback books, and I just stare at the wall.

After the show, taking out the million hairpins that hold up the edifice of fake and real hair necessary to hold up my enormous feathered hat, I come back to myself. I think of Elfine’s literary pretensions in Cold Comfort Farm. I begin to think of Mr. Bennett’s rejoinders, in addition to Mrs. Bennett’s pronouncements (in Pride and Prejudice). I remember the conversation of Emma or Jane Eyre, rather than the chatter of Mrs. Bates and Mrs. Fairfax.

I’ve always thought of myself as an extremely empathetic reader, but I’ve never tried to live so fully in someone who seems so shallow for so long. It is, unexpectedly, an exercise in humility.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. July 9, 2013 10:26 am

    Well, there is something to be said for carrots and caterpillars.

    • July 9, 2013 10:31 am

      Certainly. But to think of one right after the other, without Mr. McGregor’s garden and a bit of the melody for “measuring the marigolds” coming in between…that’s what is exhausting!

  2. lemming permalink
    July 9, 2013 10:27 am

    I read a great piece in the Telegraph about what not to do when presented to the Queen; #9 is “do not steal” as the writer stole two pieces of toilet paper from the Royal Loo and had them framed… but feels very guilty about it. Perhaps if she were American and visited the White House, she’d have done the same? I always scope out bathrooms in fancy homes & restaurants.

    I’d have said that your character is simple, but not stupid. She has no desire to read Chaucer, but neither is she thick as a brick.

    • July 9, 2013 10:31 am

      True. She’s really quite canny. As I said, the opposite of me!

  3. July 9, 2013 10:52 am

    I adore this post, the poem, and you–whether you’re in or out of character.

    • July 9, 2013 11:41 am

      You would also like my birthday card–it has chickens singing Happy Birthday!

  4. July 9, 2013 3:00 pm

    How fun and exhausting!

  5. Jenny permalink
    July 9, 2013 5:31 pm

    I hear we share a birthday, which pleases me greatly. I hope yours was very, very happy!

    • July 10, 2013 10:38 am

      Mine was, because we got to go out to the lake and swim, which is always my birthday wish (swimming, that is. Wherever.)
      Hope yours was happy as well! I’d never met anyone who shared my birthday before I had imaginary friends, and now I’ve “met” three. Kim, at Sophisticated Dorkiness, also shares our birthday.

  6. July 11, 2013 3:06 pm

    This makes me nostalgic about the few times I acted for drama class (I tended to work on the design and such). It can be quite telling and just such a different experience. Absolutely love the poem, all over the place and, as you say, exhausting. It just seems there’s more to it than ‘simply’ subtext.

    • July 12, 2013 9:16 am

      More to the poem? Now when I see two motorcyclists on the same cycle, I will think of this kind of monologue in the ear of the one in front.

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