Ktismatics

29 October 2007

And You Can Quote Me

Filed under: Fiction, First Lines — ktismatics @ 11:51 am

Alone in my room, I wear a piratical black patch over my right eye. The eye may look all right, but the truth is I have scarcely any sight in it. I say scarcely, it isn’t totally blind. Consequently, when I look at this world with both eyes I see two worlds perfectly superimposed, a vague and shadowy world on top of one that’s bright and vivid. I can be walking down a paved street when a sense of peril and unbalance will stop me like a rat just scurried out of a sewer, dead in its tracks. Or I’ll discover a film of unhappiness and fatigue on the face of a cheerful friend and clog the flow of an easy chat with my stutter.

I’ve been reading some of the short works of Kenzabō Ōe, who about ten years ago won the Nobel Prize for literature. At the end of Aghwee the Sky Monster we find out what happened to the narrator’s eye, in a random event that takes place ten years after the story he tells. It’s the story of his first job.

As I had just entered college and wasn’t registered at the employment center, I looked for work by making the rounds of people I knew. Finally my uncle introduced me to a banker who came up with an offer. “Did you happen to see a movie called Harvey?” he asked. I said yes, and tried for a smile of moderate but unmistakable dedication, appropriate for someone about to be employed for the first time. Harvey was that Jimmy Stewart film about a man living with an imaginary rabbit as big as a bear; it had made me laugh so hard I thought I would die. “Recently, my son has been having the same sort of delusions about living with a monster.” The banker didn’t return my smile. “He’s stopped working and stays in his room. I’d like him to get out from time to time but of course he’d need a — companion. Would you be interested?”

I’d seen Harvey myself, long ago on TV; I too had enjoyed it. So when I returned Psycho to the library I picked up the DVD of Harvey. You could have some fun thinking about what these two films have in common. You could also make comparisons with another heartwarming Jimmy Stewart movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, on which I’d previously offered my gloomy Christmastime musings. Somewhat surprisingly, I wasn’t depressed by Harvey; I found myself charmed and amused. But an unmistakable melancholy permeates Stewart’s performance. Genteel, well-heeled, well-educated, eccentric, a bit of a tippler, Elwood P. Dowd is one of those colorful eccentrics usually found in Southern literature, though Mary Chase, who wrote the play, was from Colorado. It could be argued that Elwood can afford to spend his days at the bar chatting with friends real and imaginary, that he practices the milder Protestant virtues accessible only to the gentry. Instead I’ll just quote a few choice bits from Elwood’s discourse.

“I used to know a whole lot of dances. The Flea Hop and – and let’s see – the Black Bottom, the Varsity Drag — I don’t know – I just don’t seem to have any time any more. I have so many things to do.”

“What is it you do, Mr. Dowd?”
“Oh, Harvey and I sit in the bars and – have a drink or two – play the juke box. And soon the faces of all the other people – they turn toward mine – and they smile. And they’re saying, ‘We don’t know your name, mister, but you’re a very nice fellow.’ Harvey and I warm ourselves in all these golden moments. We’ve entered as strangers — soon we have friends . And they come over and they sit with us, and they drink with us, and they talk to us. And they tell about the big terrible things they’ve done — and the big wonderful things they’ll do. Their hopes and their regrets, their loves and their hates. All very large, because nobody ever brings anything small into a bar. And then – I introduce them to Harvey. And he’s bigger and grander than anything they offer me. And when they leave, they leave impressed. The same people seldom come back, but that’s envy, my dear. There’s a little bit of envy in the best of us. That’s too bad. Isn’t it?”

“Think carefully, Dowd. Didn’t you know somebody — sometime — someplace — by the name of Harvey. Didn’t you ever know anybody by that name?”

“No — no, not one, doctor. Maybe that’s why I always had such hopes for it.”

“Years ago, my mother used to say to me — she’d say, ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be oh, so smart or oh, so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. And you can quote me.”

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4 Comments »

  1. I’d like to transform the above quotation a bit:

    “Oh, God and I sit in the bars and – have a drink or two – play the juke box. And soon the faces of all the other people – they turn toward mine – and they smile. And they’re saying, ‘We don’t know your name, mister, but you’re a very nice fellow.’ God and I warm ourselves in all these golden moments. We’ve entered as strangers — soon we have friends . And they come over and they sit with us, and they drink with us, and they talk to us. And they tell about the big terrible things they’ve done — and the big wonderful things they’ll do. Their hopes and their regrets, their loves and their hates. All very large, because nobody ever brings anything small into a bar. And then – I introduce them to God. And he’s bigger and grander than anything they offer me. And when they leave, they leave impressed. The same people seldom come back, but that’s envy, my dear. There’s a little bit of envy in the best of us. That’s too bad. Isn’t it?”

    Do you think that Chase was playing with a similar idea when writing this story line? I would assume so.

    Like

    Comment by Erdman — 30 October 2007 @ 9:22 am

  2. Harvey is kind of like God — we’re told that he’s a pooka, one of those prankster faerie folk like leprechauns who have traditionally kept the Irish company in the pubs. In Oe’s update the Elwood P. Dowd figure says this about the Harvey-like beings: And you know what those glowing things are that fill the sky? Beings we’ve lost in our lives down here on earth, and now they float up there in the sky about a hundred yards off the ground… But it takes a sacrifice worthy of them to acquire the eyes to see them floating there and the ears to detect them when they descend to earth, and yet there are moments when suddenly we’re endowed with that ability without any sacrifice or even effort on our part. Again, kind of like God.

    Like

    Comment by ktismaticw — 30 October 2007 @ 1:52 pm

  3. Another great line: Sanderson, Kelly and Wilson from the asylum are looking for Elwood so they can lock him up. They spot him in a corner booth at Charlie’s bar. “Is he alone?” Wilson asks, to which Charlie replies, “Well, there’s two schools of thought, sir.”

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 1 November 2007 @ 7:56 am

  4. Yea, that’s good!

    Like

    Comment by Erdman — 1 November 2007 @ 10:46 am


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