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.