Thursday, December 27, 2012

The End Is Near

I don't mean the end of the world, as (mis)interpreted by the Mayans. Only the end of the year. The last, lame duck days of 2012 are upon us, the sobering and sad interim between a big feast and a big bash - a time to clean up the mess of torn Christmas wrappings, eating the cold leftover turkey and replacing the untouched fruit cakes in their cans for use in next year's holidays. It's a strange pause. No sooner has the biggest celebration of the year passed than, like a bad joke, we are left to face the last limp days on the calendar.  

The usual image of the old and new years is of a grizzled old man making way for a baby boy. Right now, 2012 is gnashing his false teeth in anticipation of the inevitable. So, why do I feel sympathy for the old fellow? Is it merely because I am closer to him in age? As we grow old, our self-image - which is only ever a composite of illusions - takes so many hits that we begin to avoid having our picture taken or stopping in front of a mirror.

When Harold Pinter adapted F. Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished novel The Last Tycoon to the screen, he deliberately left it as he found it - suspended in frustrating irresolution. The last words, spoken by Robert De Niro as Monroe Stahr (a maginificent and nearly forgotten performance), were "I don't want to lose you." He was expressing his longing for a particular woman, but the line became, at the close of the film, an expression of longing for the story that Fitzgerald didn't live to finish, and of longing for Fitzgerald himself.

Those words reminded me of the last line of Tennessee Williams's play "The Eccentricities of a Nightingale". Ruined by her affair with a doctor in turn of the century Glorious Hill, Mississippi, Alma Winemiller is last seen picking up strange men on the streets. She invites her latest "conquest", a salesman, to accompany her to "Tiger Town", "It's the part of town that a traveling salesman might be interested in," she tells him.

Alma: Now would you like to go to Tiger Town? The part of town back of the courthouse?

Salesman [rising, nervously grinning]: Sure, why not, let's go!

Alma: Good, go ahead, get a taxi, it's better if I follow a little behind you. . . .

Salesman: Don't get lost, don't lose me!

[The salesman starts off jauntily as the band strikes up "The Santiago Waltz."]

Alma: Oh, no, I'm not going to lose you before I've lost you!

I was 18 when I saw Blythe Danner deliver those lines in a PBS Great Performances broadcast. These thirty-six years later, I haven't lost them yet.

Goodbye, old man.

No comments: