Friday, July 6, 2012

Guess who's coming to dinner?

On one wall of my office are pictures of "helpful people" -  according to Feng Shui they should be on this wall and no other. I have five of them, starting chronologically with Friedrich Nietzsche with a heavy moustache, his cheek on his hand, his piercing eyes averted. I have seen thos eyes before - I don't want them following me around the room. Then there's Emily Bronte, in her only known portrait, looking whistful and intense both. Below Emily on the wall is D.H.Lawrence, leaning against an adobe wall in Santa Fe, on one of the stops on his global search for the ideal place to live. To get to Steinbeck, you have to cross over a poster of Braveheart, because it is signed and it was given to me, and I am proud to have it, Laddie. If you don't stop with William Wallace in full war regalia, you'll find John Steinbeck leaning back against a tree with his travel dog Charlie. I would like to invite that five to dinner and call it a short story. I would seat Emily next to Friedrich, because she needed him so badly. Even though he was only three when she published "Wuthering Heights," he must have been a very sombre and intense little boy. By the time he needed her, she was already dead, so I could give them this moment in fictional history to meet and love, and leave together. Lawrence would interrupt them, of course. He'd be trying to plummet the mind of this man he already knew was a genius back in his youth in Nottinghamshire. If I were at the head of the table, I would be trying to overhear that conversation. I would have my question, too: But Friedrich, why did you live like a monk when you knew the only way to sanctity was the path of Dionysus? I'd have Steinbeck on my right, and I would like learn fom him the craft of the smooth sentence, the enthralling paragraph, the scalp-raising metaphor. I don't know where I'd put William Wallace. He would probably already be playing footsy with Emily under the table. They would have saved her, any one of those men, because all she needed was a good Fanfaronade, and we would have had a shelf load of books like "Wuthering Heights." Or maybe not. It's the paradox of the pain again; it's the subject Peter Shaffer grappled with in "Equus."
I'm not a very good host of dinners. I have very little small talk myself. But I would go all out for these guests, try to steal a moment of levity for them. Emily would lay her consumption aside and revel in a death-by-chocolate dessert which she would lick off Friedrich's spoon. Friedrich would put his cataclysmic visions down by the foot of his chair and enage in a little flirtary. William could, just for this moment, step out of his role of defender of Scotland and sing a ballad by Robert Burns, whom I should also have invited, but there would have been no hope for Emily or for me. So, Burns had to stay downstairs with the maids, where he would be rejoicing with joy unspeakable. Steinbeck and I would take after-dinner port in the other room, talking until dawn about books and the role of the writer. I can't help being an egg-head. It comes naturally to me.

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