The Grotesque God & The Taste of Shit

GROTESQUE

THE GROTESQUE GOD AND THE TASTE OF SHIT
FROM
PYTHIATISM AND THE FAMILY IDIOT
BY
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS

Our frustrated realist, Gustave Flaubert, a romantic at heart, bitterly said that reality, meaning the way things really were from his perspective, tasted like shit. He contrived an imaginary reality to escape from his distasteful perception, a construction that Jean Paul Sartre, in his voluminous psychoanalysis of Flaubert,The Family Idiot, analyzed according to his Psychology of the Imaginary.

An artist’s job, as jazz-dance master Luigi Facciuto once averred (may he rest in peace although his motto was Never Stop Moving) is to make shit smell good: “This shit just came to me out of nowhere,” he told his dancers after he moved, “and now it’s our job to make it smell good.” Still, given the materials employed, the result has scatological implications to critics with an acute sense of smell.

Flaubert’s Imaginary was ‘romantic’ to the extent that his flight from stinking, excremental reality was an heroic adventure into another, mysterious realm of his own fashion, a monstrous, grotesque realm. There was no room for Love in that kingdom; mystery vanished accordingly, for Love a secret does not abhor. He was haunted by the odor of the ordure in his sandbox, thus was motivated to leave his sense of taste and smell behind if not the substance itself, and embrace nothing, which he idolized as Nothing.

Nothing is absolute freedom: Nothing is freer than the freedom at the bottom of Sartre’s Existence, for freedom is always freedom from something or the other. Sartre, however, would leave us a shred of something to cling to, bare existence, while Flaubert would be free of everything altogether, in the perfect Form of forms: absolute vacancy.

Sartre pointed out that Flaubert attempted to believe in and therefore feel love by neurotic or “pithiatic” means: auto-suggestion. He asks, “Is there not, however, in the very act of composition a still unreal but more immediate gratification? Yes: a gratification of the desire to desire.”

He quotes Flaubert’s letter dated February 8, 1841: “I wrote love letters for the purpose of writing, not because I love. Yet I would like to delude myself that I do: I love, I believe while writing.”

“At stake for Gustave is the credibility of language: in what form will discourse—his own discourse—be most likely to engage the pithiatic adherence of the boy? His answer is precise: writing. The reasons for this are apparent: writing seems like a passage to action, like an extemalization as well as a composition. It is not a matter of copying ‘I love you’ a hundred times; that would be a schoolboy’s punishment. You must invent love, do something original, come up with passionately authentic phrases, put yourself in the position to recognize them from the inside. This means you must imagine you are in love…. Of course, on the surface the pithiatic aspect of the enterprise is undeniable: it isn’t only a game (it is also a game), it is a successful attempt, at least as far as his pen is concerned, at autosuggestion.”

A difference between lust and love is asserted. Sublime love is a cultivated emotion, a synthesis of feeling and judgment. It is a suggestion from without, introjected and reinforced within by imitative auto-suggestion.

Flaubert was hardly devoid of passion in his youth. We think he feared for his sanity when the Sibyl raved within him at Hecate’s crossroad. He resorted to Reason—which god-fearing religious scholars have identified with Being or Logos—to quash the hysterical passion he suffered, obsessively endeavoring to restrain the Dionysian dragoness with Apollonian virtue, compelled to do so until she was incinerated and there was nothing left but the restraint itself, the blinding light said to be the mystic source of wisdom for Teiresias, Apollo’s proverbially blind sage.

The vanishing point of Flaubert’s Imaginary was death, beyond which is infinity. Flaubert named his devil Yuk, who was the living end, the licentious god of the grotesque who exposes the human world as it really is: cursed by shit and rotting corpses. Satan loved God so much that he hated man and tempted him with the finite world, which is the death of man because everything finite must have an end. The factual world is evil; in fact, there can be no truth, beauty and goodness in fact. There is not enough antiseptic in the putrid world to rid it of its rottenness. So let the facts of science be damned if its facts taken alone would damn the human spirit. Prosperity is a help but is no utopia.

A psychoanalyst characteristically takes pause to examine not only the familial details of an analysand’s biography, but he would also carefully scrutinize the character of his patient’s relationships with friends during his impressionable youth. After all, a boy’s best friend is likely to leave a lifelong impression.

Young Gustave Flaubert’s best friend happened to be Alfred Le Poittevin (1816-1848), a pessimistic philosopher and poet who lived in Rouen, who was, incidentally, Guy de Maupassant’s nephew. Their mothers were also best friends.

Alfred and Gustave, together with their friend Ernest Chevalier, shared pipes and conversation on Sundays and Thursdays, and on school holidays, they practically saw each other every day in Rouen, where they loitered in cafes, swam, rowed, and played billiards. Flaubert eventually followed Alfred to Paris to study law. In his correspondence he wrote that he and Albert sometimes conversed for six hours at a time, discussing hothouse ideals to break the boredom. The young fellows were most profoundly influenced by the Romantic reaction to materialism, with its Gothic, aristocratic, and evolutionary predilections, the philosophical movement being neo-Kantian. Alfred, already a published poet and infatuated with Goethe and Spinoza, loved poetic impersonality, which elaborates historical ideals to which the poet surrenders his personality, becoming a literary channel for traditional development.

Gustave shared many of those ideals with Alfred; for example, the traditional idea of Satan expressed in Alfred’s romantic-revolt poem by that name. Indeed, Flaubert had been fascinated by Satan ever since he had discovered Byron, who with Shelley led the so-called Satanic School; the school was credited with an attitude somewhat like that of the Goths of our day, of impious, imperious pride, unduly preoccupied with the grotesque, with monstrous horrors and lewd subject matter, a decadent demeanor that psychiatrists would soon diagnose as evidence of evolutionary degeneracy, a sort moral insanity brought to the fore by crowded civilization’s foul air and other poisons, especially alcohol—absinthe concocted from wormwood was the devil’s favorite hallucinogenic drink in France.

Ah, rebellious youth! Flaubert was imbued with the attitude that a reconciliation of reality with ideality was impossible. Ultimately, the ugliness of reality presided over by Yuk wins out, an attitude in contrast to that of the Zoroastrians, whose god representing Good runs slightly ahead of its twin god representing Evil to extinguish the negating factor in the final moment.

Alfred, intrigued by the exotic Orient, penned ‘L’Orient,’ depicting a youth weary of “the black vapors of civilization.” In ‘Heure d’ angoisse,’ a poet crushed by despair in a faithless world doubts the reality of immortality and providence. ‘Ahasverus’ embodies a longing for death and annihilation. In ‘La foi,’ the loss of faith is regretted.

Flaubert would correspond in 1851 about his gang of “young rascals,” recounting how they inhabited a “strange world” of insanity and suicide. He said hopeless love and vain philosophy had rendered him gloomy. The boys created a grotesque character which they used to satirize conventional beliefs; not only materialism but romanticism as well. In one play a boy says, “Gothic architecture is fine, it’s so inspiring!” Garcon replies, “Yes, it is fine, and the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew’s Day, too, and the Draggonades, and the Edict of Nantes too!”

He expressed his disdain for the bourgeois or town merchants in his 1839 school essay, ‘Les arts et le commerce,’ pleading for art set free from bourgeois ideology. “Has not the soul, too, its needs?” The commercial obsession of historical Carthage in particular seemed “monstrous and ferocious” to him. Even art for the sake of art he thought was vain at the time.

Flaubert conceived a nihilistic mystery play in 1838 where one would come face-to-face with the infinite: ‘Smahr—an Old Mystery Play.’ The play is obviously indebted to Goethe’s Faust, not to mention the literature of Byron and Quinet.

Smahr, an anchorite, is tempted by Satan, dressed as doctor of theology. They mount winged steeds to survey the world. Satan, demonstrating the nothingness of everything that is known, summoned Flaubert’s newly created god of the grotesque, Yuk, to explain life to him along the way. Yuk was disguised as a beautiful woman, an allegory for Truth. Smahr fell in love with her, but Satan loved her too. She turned out to be Yuk, who then preoccupied himself for awhile with persuading a married woman to give herself to every comer.

Yuk demonstrated to Smahr that life is a period filled with horrors such as bodies being devoured, blood raining down, orgies and the like. Smahr naturally craves power to preside over the world as it is for his own good, but his longing fills the world with death and destruction; alas, his desire is in vain because the power he wants has destroyed the very thing he longs for.

Yuk had initially been proud of his bravery, even joyful, but his plunge into the abysmal eventually made him feel fatally crushed in his finiteness by infinitude. All his knowledge, based on doubt, had been proved false and vain, empty. Yuk, emblematic of ressentiment embodied by the living No, then cries out that he alone is eternal, not even death can defeat him:

“I am reality, I am eternity, I am the power of ridicule, the grotesque, the ugly; I am what is, what has been and what shall be…. I am a whole eternity in myself….”

As the Sun sets on the dying universe, an angel would redeem Smahr, but Satan snatches the angel away. Yuk seizes the angel and rolls with her into the abyss, literally fucking her to death.

 

XYX

 

Graphic Credit: Darwin Leon

 

Alice Packer’s Shadow

Alice Packer’s Shadow

Location: S&M Art Studios, Ltd.

Cast:

Alice Packer: Art Director
Walter Davidson: Senior Vice President
Harry Heckler: Computer Graphics Designer
Sheri Sands: Head Photographer
Susan Sockwith: Fashion Director
Angela Songerson: Human Resources Director

[It was time for lunch. Walter Davidson is about to adjourn the regular Monday staff meeting. Alice Packer had seemed distracted throughout the meeting. She suddenly proceeds to laugh hysterically]

ANGELA SONGERSON: Good heavens! Alice, get a grip. What’s so funny? What are you laughing about?

ALICE PACKER: I’m laughing because I saw my shadow this morning at Raven’s Nest. [She bursts into tears. Angela, stupefied, blinking characteristically, leans over and hugs Alice.]

ANGELA SONGERSON: Holy Moses, Alice, I’m sorry. What are you talking about? [ She continues to bat her eyelashes.]

ALICE PACKER: My shadow is dying to be me and she’s been shadowing me for weeks now. So I go into Raven’s Nest Cafe this morning for coffee and a bagel, and there she is, standing in line right in front of me, chit chatting with people, pretending to be me…”

ANGELA SONGERSON: Pretending to be you?”

ALICE PACKER [angrily brushing away her tears]: Yes, trying to look like a professional art director without even giving me credit. Professional liar, that’s what that hussy really is.

HARRY HECKLER [snickering]: Now, now, sweetheart, you’re just imagining…

ANGELA SONGERSON: Lay off, Harry, and if you say sweetheart one more time I’ll file a harassment complaint. Go on, Alice.

WALTER DAVIDSON: This staff meeting is adjourned. [to Alice, jokingly.] When you said you saw your shadow, I thought you meant you needed a shave. I saw my beard this morning…[Nobody pays attention to him – everyone is gathered around Alice Packer]

ALICE PACKER: I was livid. I tapped her on the back and asked her for her name. “Moana,” she said. I looked the lying hussy up and down, and said, “I don’t know how long you’ve been lurking around the art business, Moana, but you should get a real life. The only person you’re fooling is yourself. You don’t even know what an art director is. Quit being such a wannabe.” Well, she doesn’t say a word, reaches into her fake leather briefcase, takes out and hands me a copy of her portfolio, picks up her coffee and struts out as if her tail doesn’t stink just because men stare at it. So I look at the trash she gave me – it’s a cheap knock-off of my own portfolio, she copied all my ideas!

ANGELA SONGERSON: Even your bio’s are alike?

ALICE PACKER: Absolutely. And my logo too!

ANGELA SONGERSON [blinking furiously]: I feel for you, Angela, that’s really scary. There’s gotta be something you can do? That is outrageous. Oh, let me give you another hug… [Alice backs away.]

SUSAN SOCKWITH [nodding her head sagely]: I know her. She used to shadow me when I was shopping on Fifth Avenue. I’d see her reflected in the window, wearing the same dress as me. Moana is the worst nightmare a woman can have. She will copy your every gesture for years. Just keep in mind that everything this person says is a lie. Would you believe she started taking Qi Gong classes when I did? – there she was, trying to mirror my every move.

SHERI SANDS: I’ve seen her too. She is a pretty but pathetic young woman.

WALTER DAVIDSON:  I think I know your shadow too. Some forger was using my name and style at several studios. I filed suit and got an injunction.

SHERI SANDS: Well done! That’ll teach them!

HARRY HECKLER: C’mon, Walter, we know what was up with that. You signed your name to blank sheets, gave them to your students and forgot about it, for crying out loud!

ANGELA SONGERSON:[grasping Alice’s hand.] She’s not worth thinking about any more, Alice. Frankly, she’s a human leech. The best thing one can do with her is ignore her and smack her down when she comes around. There’s nothing she can do, really. She’s just your shadow and can never be an true art director like you. Come now, let’s have a long lunch together – Walter won’t mind – it’s on me. [all file out of the meeting room except Walter, who stays behind to write up the Minutes.]

-Curtain-

HELLO OUT THERE! Reflections on William Saroyan’s play

HELLO PIC

Scene from Oberon Theatre Ensemble production

HELLO OUT THERE! BY DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS

For crying out loud, is anybody out there?

There I was in Manhattan thirty-two years ago, cupping my hands to my mouth and shouting over and over:

“Hello out there! Hello out there! Hello out there!”

Each time I hoped I’d get it just right and thereby launch a career catapulting me to fame and fortune on stage or in film. But each time my entreaty fell flat; everyone ignored me except the drama teacher; she said, “Keep trying, David.”

I had enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. By some mysterious process, I was assigned to play the role of the itinerant gambler in William Saroyan’s play, Hello Out There. I didn’t have the slightest idea who Saroyan was or what he represented. I didn’t know he lived in France to evade taxes and that his plays were enjoying a revival.

Apparently my teacher had intuitively summed me up as a desperately lonely young man who had drifted into the city to gamble with destiny. She was correct. I had arrived at Penn Station a few months before from the Midwest with forty dollars in my pocket. I could barely understand a word people were saying there, they were talking so fast and with a funny accent. But I did manage to get directions to the cheap hotel, where I arrived scared to death by the crazy cab ride uptown. I laid out twenty-five dollars for a week’s rent, scrounged a paper out of a trash basket and looked for a job. An angel must have been looking over my shoulder: I found a job way out in the Bronx over the Whitestone Bridge, commuting three hours a day via three subway changes and a bus. The location was so remote that I’m probably the only one who wanted the job; that’s what angels are for, you know, to provide things made just for you.

I had always aspired to be much more than what I was hired for: in this instance, a loss and damage freight claims manager in the traffic department. So I saved and saved, then plunked down my hard-earned cash at the Academy. That seemed at the time to be the obvious way out of my meager circumstances. Besides, about half the people I knew on the Upper West Side were actors. It was only many years later that a Freudian analyst, a sex-fiend who was teaching psychology at NYU, told me actors are the most neurotic people of all, and that’s why they take up acting.

I didn’t like my acting classes. One of the teachers in particular was irksome, a screaming queen called Miss Mean, who constantly nagged me over my role as Walter in the Odd Couple. My role as Senor Rossi in Idiot’s Delight gave me a lifelong interest in Fascism, and I shall never forget the line, “Abbiamo trascorso una bella giornata, Nina,” during a brief discourse that caused the character Harry to say that he got a kick out of hearing Italian.

It would be Waiting for Godot that finally convinced me acting classes were a big waste of time because people should concentrate on being themselves not someone else. Yes, after reconsidering my decision to be an actor, I figured I was entitled to something greater than pretense. I was entitled to the truth about myself, in order to be the living truth.

I didn’t know about “truth in acting” yet, not until I tried my hand again at acting a few years later, at Herbert Berghoff’s studios on Bank Street, where Madame Kathryn Sergava taught me her take on Stanislavsky, and his wife taught respect for acting. I suppose, if you do not know who you are, and think that has something to do with action, you may as well invent someone to be and act like that to get somewhere. That might be an actor who plays many roles at work, and, at home, as a spouse, parent, and so on.

In any case, all my “Hello Out Theres” at the Academy did not seem to be doing me much good: I was getting nowhere fast in the glamorous world of drama.

There was a saying amongst some of the students at the Academy that the fastest way to succeed in acting is to screw your way to the top. Several of my friends were prostitutes at the time, including the one who loved me for nothing. I admired their beauty, but I stayed out of the business myself; not because I thought prostitution was beneath me but because I was straight; the chances of finding an attractive rich woman who was not already being fully served were very slim. Maybe things have changed by now. I hope so.

Anyway, to add to my confusion, some of my pals uptown introduced me to LSD, hence I was hallucinating during rehearsals. Mind you, I was not the only actor tripping on stage. It was the cool thing to do back then: many of us didn’t know any better, so confused was our normal state of mind even without butts and booze and the other drugs. Besides, dropping Sunshine helped with Waiting for Godot.

Well, late one evening at the Academy, after practicing my “Hello Out Theres” for Saroyan’s play, my intuitive teacher had me lie down on the stage and do a deep relaxation and visualization exercise. I thought nothing of it, for freaky stuff was going on everywhere in those days: to be entranced or to hypnotize people was considered to be really far out. After I went down the imaginary steps as instructed, I entered into the so-called alpha-state, where I was at one with myself as the number one person in the universe. Then she had me imagine that I was stretched out on a beach towel, listening to the surf lapping the shore, feeling the sun beat down on me, feeling the gentle breeze on my face, stuff like that.

A few months later, there I was, on South Miami Beach. It didn’t even occur to me that I was there by virtue of the power of suggestions made to me at the Academy, suggestions I had forgotten about because of the suggestion that I forget them. Still, what a fool I was in regard to my own behavior. I was practicing hypnotism myself by then, something I’d learned out of a ninety-five cents brochure. One of my subjects brought his mother to meet me after I hypnotized him and gave him positive suggestions about find a job. He declared in Spanish that I was Jesus and started kissing my hand. What did I know? Nothing really, least of all that I was myself under the influence of posthypnotic suggestions.

Not long thereafter, I landed in Hawaii because of a French mime actor I had met one day South Beach, where he was wearing nothing but a black sock over his privates while sunning himself on a white sheet. I wrapped with him about his mentor, Marcel Marceau, until two old men started yelling at him to put on a bathing suit. He suggested that Florida is a just a sand bar compared to Hawaii. He said he had just been to Hawaii and that it is was thousand times better than Florida, even though Hawaii has a kill-a-haole day every week, and strongly suggested I would love Hawaii.

Four weeks later, during an heated argument right after the climax of a mad passionate affair I was having with a Jewish American princess I’d met on South Beach – we were in lust – I quit my Miami job and followed her back to Manhattan.

The princess was a professional photographer and the star of several porno-movies. She lived and developed her film in a huge flat above a whorehouse in Midtown. What a fantastic dish she was! Men would come up to me drooling to tell me how lucky I was.

“Photography is my island in paradise!” she said, the subtext being that our hot time was over, finis, kaput, for she had had me and was done with me, and now she had to get back to her fancy developing method – it produced a novel grainy effect.

“OK, then, I’m going to my own little paradise island, a real one.” One hour later I was on a flight to Hawaii. Soon after landing, there I was on Waikiki Beach, feeling the sun beat down on my face, and the gentle breeze, and so on.

I’ve returned to the island of Manhattan several times since then and back to Hawaii again, with a few side-detours on the side. I miss New York and would return if someone had an affordable sublet: fat chance, but, who knows, I still might have an angel, or an agent who loves my art. I seem to be a back-and-forth person, from New York to Hawaii and vice versa, with side trips to Alaska and South Beach. Wherever I’m sleeping, my recurring nightmare is this: I’m missing the plane back to whence I came (Note to myself: if I change my name, Ping Pong should be my first choice). Funny thing though, lately I’ve been dreaming of Miami Beach.

One little detour I took on my usual Hawaii-Manhattan run was a few months in San Francisco. I checked into flea bag hotel with one little bag of clothes and a huge trunk of books. As I was sitting in the lobby during the first evening, I was suddenly convinced I had arrived in a much better paradise than Hawaii. At least a dozen half-naked girls came downstairs all at once and traipsed through the lobby. Little did I know that the bar next door was a strip joint. I met a few of these lovely ladies later; they were working their way through college.

I found one of Saroyan’s books in my trunk, a biography. I discovered he had lived in the Bay area too. He had left home at fifteen, so I had two years on him, as I had left home at thirteen. Fortunately I was six-feet tall, smart, and a good story teller (liar) when it came to employment credentials. But what really impressed me was the revelation of what I deemed to be the secret of his success: Saroyan wrote and submitted a story every day, until an editor sat up and took notice. I thought I’d do that myself someday, and become a famous writer of truths, if I could find any.

Today things are different. Everybody is a writer now. Editors paid me no mind, so now I post an article every day on the Internet. I might as well micturate in the ocean for all the effect that has had. My fellow writers call me a “literary slut.” Still, there’s always the chance of that special angel being around! So I am writing this piece today.

Anyway, San Francisco was my second encounter with Saroyan. I soon forgot about him and my “Hello Out Theres” even though I was still a desperately lonely young man despite my few short, frantic affairs. One romantic detour was a marriage which failed because she didn’t want me anymore; in my infinite ignorance and deluded stupor, I couldn’t imagine why not, so I kept running back and forth between cities believing surely someone would love me for whomever I might be. Surely somebody would recognize the true me, the innocent me, and let me know who he was by loving him unconditionally. Hence I remarried into my self-perpetuated disaster. Yes, there were the good moments, now buried in the ruins of a second divorce. My best girlfriends had warned me to be a lover and never marry because I was a fool ruled by suggestion, my moods going up and down on whatever roller coaster I was riding.

Much has apparently transpired since then although nothing has really happened. I’m back in Hawaii again. Now I realize I was loved when I was a baby, but not since then, not really. Not even Jesus loves me – I will never believe in Big Daddy, not after what I’ve seen. Strangely enough, however, there is something in me that loves people, the child in people, the child that is me. I’m one of those humanists, I suppose, declared evil because I think original sin is so much hogwash, and do not believe that warts will grow on the hands of people who enjoy themselves when others do not.

Babies are born good. Then what happened? Good grief!The problem is not prenatal, it’s postnatal. It has a lot to do with those damned suggestions people are always making, especially the ones made while thumping the holy books. That is, ‘You’re evil, you’re evil, you’re evil,” ad infinitum, and mostly in reference to “it”. One of my first memories of “it” as a child was a woman (not my mother) shrieking at me in the bathroom: “Don’t touch it! Don’t you dare touch it!” And so forth. I had, instead, a toy machine gun to play with, to shoot “krauts” and “gooks” with, represented by the other boys. Gee, I was a lonely little boy, and I could not imagine why. Somebody certainly misplaced the taboos, didn’t they? So we’re still fighting over the womb.

Which brings me back to Saroyan’s Hello Out There. By some coincidence, God, synchronicity, or whatever, or, more probably, by the natural law of cause and effect, Saroyan and his play is returning to me along with the repressed memories of some of the consequential sins I committed. Yet, I swear, I am innocent! I didn’t mean to commit sins, to make the same mistakes over and over! But who will forgive me, who is even competent to do so? Nobody knows me well enough to love my real innocence as I do. But there is a still a chance, I suppose, for everyone is innocent at the core, and knows it very well. Maybe they will see me too in that core of original goodness.

Once it recurred to me, I desperately tried to find Hello Out There at the libraries in Hawaii, to no avail. It’s not one of the most famous of Saroyan’s plays. The most famous is The Time of Your Life, the one he refused the $1,500 Pulitzer Prize for because he said art shouldn’t cater to commerce. He wrote that successful play in six days; it also won the Drama Critic’s Circle Award. The Time of Your Life is set in a San Francisco saloon filled with colorful characters; the play stresses a positive philosophy summed up as, “In the time of your life, live.” James Cagney starred in the 1948 film version.

Indeed, Saroyan presented a positive outlook on life in most of his plays. They are about simple people who are rejected by society but who are still able to find happiness in life’s mysteries and beauties. His optimistic brand was successful during the Depression, and then fell out of favor after World War II with the rise of cynicism. His popularity radically declined after 1945; he never regained the success he had once had.

Saroyan departed from his usual optimism in Hello Out There. It has none of his usual humor and fanciful twists. The setting, a jail in Armadillo, Texas, is realistic and grim. The love interest is touching, but it portrays loneliness, fear, and suffering instead of passion. It is a story of man’s betrayal of man, of his cruelty, of his desperate and futile isolation from his fellows.

In a 1955 article in The Nation, Saroyan disowned Hello Out There, declaring the play “worthless, if not in fact a mistake.”

“As a dramatist, I simply do not believe I have the right to identify human beings as the enemy of human beings. Is there any enemy at all? Is time an enemy? Nature? Change? Loss? Failure? Pain? Death? Not in my thinking. All things, including pain and death, are friends for no other reason than that they exist, and the friendship of them must be discovered, measured, understood, and cherished.”

I have obviously have fond memories of Hello Out There. I recovered some of the reviews of its 1942 performance at the Belasco Theater in New York. Although I could not find a copy of the play in Hawaii, my own experience with the plot is now refreshed by the reviews:

A roving misfit, a gambler, comes into town, where he has an affair with a prominent citizen’s wife. Caught in the act, he is falsely charged with rape and thrown in jail. He taps a spoon on his cell floor (Saroyan once worked for a telegraph company). Frightened, lonely, injured by a blow to the head from the woman’s husband, he cups his hands to his mouth from time to time calling, “Hello out there!” The jail’s cook appears: the jailer’s lonely daughter. They talk, and, of course, fall in love. She exits to find a gun to help her lover escape, but when she returns she finds him shot dead by the husband, who had entered the jail with a lynch mob while she was gone. The husband is also desperately lonely: he is isolated from the mob by his need to save face rather than admit his wife was unfaithful.

There you have it. A man’s life is snuffed out, a girl’s heart is broken, and a husband’s conscience is damned to a living hell because a womb is private property. There was no rape; murder must still be resorted to in order to protect a man’s dignity in his property. Yet, surrounded by cruel circumstances, a new love came to light, even though it’s the dismal light of jail. During their intimate conversation before his death, the falsely accused gambler said to his respondent love:

“All I need is somebody good like you with me…. You got to have somebody staying with you all the time through… all the different kinds of weather a man’s got to go through before he dies… somebody who even knows you’re wrong but likes you the same….”

That very need was the motive of my life up to a certain point, and its disappointment the source of my self-inflicted misery. Now I love to be alone at great length. People just do not realize how happy a man can be when he is as good as dead. No wonder good monks smile.

Now then, by coincidence, just the other day I found a copy of A Connoisseur’s Anthology of the Writings of William Saroyan. It cost me all of a dollar plus four cents tax; the best things in literature may not be free, but they’re cheap. When I picked up the book, I thought, “Is Saroyan my angel, is this guy following me around after all these years? I still know next to nothing about him.” Then my eyes fell on these lines in Rock Wagram:

“Loneliness is every man’s portion, and failure. The man who seeks to escape from loneliness is a lunatic. The man who does not know all is failure is a fool. The man who does not laugh at these things is a bore. But the lunatic is a good man, and so is the fool, and so is the bore, as each of them knows. Every man is innocent, and in the end a lonely lunatic, a lonely fool, or a lonely bore.”

William Saroyan perceived the essential goodness of men and women cast out into a bad world. My seemingly casual encounters with his work have had its influence on my life, yet the influence was not profound until this very moment, a moment well repeated by reading this essay when I stray from the Way. What is profound is already there, always.

Now I understand why he repudiated his grim and dark play. Nevertheless, as this writing day closes, I cup my hands to my mouth and shout in my most meaningful voice:

“HELLO OUT THERE!”

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