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The Savage

March 14, 2014 | by

The last of five vignettes.

jaccuse

Postcard of Zola, 1899.

I was teaching a class which I believe was called “Dramatic Theory” but which, more accurately, if more dauntingly, might have been called “On the Nature of Group Perception,” the study in which the dramatist is actually engaged.

The university had engaged me to show up two days each year for four years. In the second year of our compact I made a pre-appearance request of the English or dramatic department or whomever I was to traipse in under the auspices of.

I suggested they, if they wished, were free to judge the applicants for the limited space in the class according to grades, entrance quizzes, or any other criteria, if they, on determining the lucky winners, would then disqualify them, and assign the spaces at random to anyone else at all.

“Or just give me the ne’er-do-wells,” I asked.

I was saddened, but not surprised, to find, on my arrival, that the university had taken my request as a witticism, and chose for admittance only those students with high grade averages and correct demeanors. Read More »

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Scotty

March 13, 2014 | by

The fourth of five vignettes.

Twin_turbo_prop_airplane_over_Hillsboro_-_Oregon

Photo: M. O. Stevens, via Wikimedia Commons

M. F. K. Fisher had a magic gardener. This fellow, she wrote, understood the daily weather, the seasons and the various planting cycles, the necessity of encouraging or discouraging bird and insect life, landscape arrangement, grafting, and everything associated with the garden. He was an old Scotsman who, she discovered, in an earlier life, had written extensively on horticulture; and here he was, in his retirement, working for her, and quietly teaching her to tend her garden. He was the Platonic ideal of the gardener. And, of course, she wrote, he did not actually exist.

But I did not believe her.

I knew not only that he somewhere existed, but that I might be lucky enough to meet him face to face. Those besotted by an interest long for the perfect teacher. He who would be not only the complete master of his craft, but of himself: capable of leading the student, through a brilliant mixture of silence and misdirection, to reach his own, practicable conclusions. Read More »

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MacDonald Played Football for My Cousin’s High School Team

March 12, 2014 | by

The third of five vignettes.

Landscape

Photo: David Falconer

I played football against him, and I saw him not only at the games, but at the various league events. And I saw him at my cousin’s school banquets, open houses, graduations. He was the captain of their football team, the president of their student council and their student class; he was the recipient of various league honors whose names escape me, but, I believe, had to do with Most Sportsmanlike, and so on. I saw him suffer through this adulation as a young black man in a white community.

His high school coach cried when praising him at the league’s year-end banquet, and I am sure, though I do not remember, that many of the parents’ generation were moved to mistiness at his valedictory speech. It may have been a good speech, or it may not have, but the half remembered or imagined emotion on the audience’s part must have been mixed relief and self-congratulation; relief at the first hint, in their world, of the end of racism, and self-congratulation at their (imaginary) part in the correction. How could it be otherwise? It could not. Who was harmed? No one except Bill MacDonald, who was the victim of the good-willed farce. Read More »

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He Was My Closest Friend

March 11, 2014 | by

The second of five vignettes.

Shel-1

Photo: Larry Moyer

He lived alone in various houses, and moved from one to the next in response to no discernible stimulus. I assumed that, at some point, he felt it was just “time to move.”

He had lost his first wife, and their young daughter to cancer. And he told me that the terrible thing was not that they were dead, but that they stayed dead. I thought of it often, and think of it oftener since his death.

I’d had a cold and was sleeping in the little guest cubby in the eaves of the attic, and I woke up with an intolerable pain in my chest.

I knew I was dying, and thought, Well, this is a heart attack. It subsided, and I went back to sleep, only to be struck, again, some time later. The next morning a mutual friend called to tell me that Shel had died the night before of a heart attack—in fact, of two heart attacks, some minutes apart.

My wife sent me to have my heart checked out, and its only defect was that it was broken. Read More »

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The Man with the Companion Animal

March 10, 2014 | by

This week, we’re presenting five vignettes by David Mamet.

Unknown_man_by_I.Makarov_(1880s)

Detail from Ivan Makarov’s Unknown Man, c. 1880s.

The fellow down in the front row of the auditorium was around my age. He was massively obese, and he was overdressed in many layers of wool. He held an oversized pet carrier which, one presumed, held a large dog. He was permitted to carry the dog to the concert, then, as it was designated his “companion animal.”

What did this mean? That his mental state was such that he could never be without his dog. The dog was his security totem.

But it was in a bag. And his look was furtive. He glanced right and left, never making eye contact, as he settled himself into his seat. What was he looking for? He was looking for nothing. He was merely drawing focus. It was a performance. He was performing exemption. The pet carrier was his badge, and it indicated he had been certified as exempt, and so, beyond criticism.

But one saw that he felt he had also been certified as pathetic. He had traded his self-respect for a societal indulgence, and he loathed himself for the choice. He was caught, for the daunting price he thought he had evaded in adolescence—that of matriculation into the mature world—was still being paid at age sixty.

He was a man without friends. How do I know? He was at the concert accompanied by a dog in a bag. He loathed his life. He had, perhaps, at some point, been “injured,” who has not? And he suffered as he’d never found someone or some idea from which he could take courage. I felt I was looking at myself.

David Mamet is a stage and film director as well as the author of numerous acclaimed plays, books, and screenplays. His latest book is Three War Stories.

 

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