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Harold & Maude is one of the cult movies I recently shared with Jan. Reviewing Ruth Gordon’s amazing late-life career was the principal motivation. We already marveled at her old woman roles, in Rosemary’s Baby, for example; what had slipped my mind was how great Vivian Pickles was as Mrs. Chasen, Harold’s mother. For example, some questionaire arrives for Harold to fill out — a college app, whatever: Mother opens Harold’s mail, Mother announces what it is, Harold knows better, from a life time, than to try to participate, Harold’s life is Mother’s domain. Mother begins reading the questions aloud, Harold knows better than to try to offer any answers: Mother has all the answers. Harold, once again, once and always, is dismissed from “his” life.
Harold & Maude
Vivian Pickles as Mrs. Chasen
Mrs. Chasen is a classic of domestic interference, but is anyone (daughters included: maybe daughters all the more) excluded from this experience? My mother was treating us to dinner in a restaurant once upon a time: I was a young adult, at least college age. The waiter was asking around the table, who wanted what. At my turn the choice of side dishes came around: did I want the beans or the spinach? “I’ll have the spinach”, I answered. No, Paul, Mother overruled: “You don’t like spinach”. The waiter smiled and said nothing: he’d seen this a million times before.
It just happened to me again. My girl friend, the love of my life, is helping persecuted-me with home repairs: a replaced section of floor here, a replaced rotten wall-with-window there. A few months go by and she’s ready to upgrade me on still another thing. This morning the bathroom was being inspected by the small-job contractor, Rocky: he’d put in a new toilet recently, the linoleum around it was peeling, the floor seemed damp. I wanted Rocky to take a fresh look. Rocky shows up: it’s my house, he’s there at my request even though my girl is going to sign the checks: I should be able to state the morning’s business first, declare my preferred agenda. But no: beloved Jan steps in, wants to ask him about peeling linoleum in the kitchen: the kitchen 90% done half a year ago. its floor of near-zero importance today. No, no: Jan insists: she has to ask about the kitchen before I can speak about the toilet.
But you know: Mrs. Chasen, my mother, Jan … are saints of objectivity, of suitability, compared to social (and political, and religious) mothers and fathers: churches, governments, schools … It doesn’t matter what the peasant-now-Comrad would like to say if Uncle Joe Stalin wants to speak for him. Imagine a “social worker” showing up at the Alabama plantation in 1860, asking to see Rufus, the slave, the field n-word: asking Rufus if he’s treated well: and the Platnation master, Rufus’s owner, answers for him, knocks him over to take his place, “Oh, Rufus is very well treated. Rufus couldn’t possibly ask for anything better, want anything more.”
“Those scars on his back?”
“Oh, he cut himself shaving.”
[Bowdlerizing K., 2016 08 02, I censor an offensive word and substitute something more obscene: euphemism!]
[Funny, I’ve long considered myself a gourmet of racist epithets, but I just stumbled over one I didn’t know: Festus.]
Were I to vote, were I to write my vote in, when Boss Tweed reads my vote, is my vote in my handwriting? or in the handwriting of one of Boss Tweed’s counters?
(Till it comes out right.)
Boss Tweed, Gangs of NY
Jan and I were recently reading War & Peace together. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Russia got rid of its slave system around the same time Lincoln was shoving us all around on this side of the Atlantic: 1850s, early 1860s: a worldwide phenomenon. But are we much better off? If the journalist asks me about the Shakespeare reading my graduate school never understood a word of, routinely interrupted me to mask the irrelevance of its understanding to what I was being prevented from saying, should God be able to answer for me? without reference to my agreement or disagreement? Should the Devil?
PS That evening in the restaurant I did get the last word, ordered the spinach. Mother explained that she recalled a time when I’d had a reaction and she’d attributed it to “spinach”, had avoided serving me spinach thereafter. I was hearing about it for the first time. And Mom did correct her map of my allergies based on my current testimony: I like spinach, no, it doesn’t disagree with me. But: she, anyone at a latter time, can revert. We may avoid walking under ladders as children, say Oh, piffle as adults, then avoid ladders in senilia. I would love to believe that progress has one direction, that that direction is permanent, that that direction is for the better. But: my experience suggests we don’t know up from down, left from right.
Other update: when I told NYU in 2006 that I’d been telling them, and the world, about the wax in their ears since 1963, from a higher soap box since 1970, they complained to the FBI, the FBI arrested me, rewrote what I’d written to suit the prosecution … and jailed me, censored me … I expect to be dead before I find out if any entity ever will stand up for the truth. Certainly not any secular entity, not any church entity that I can imagine, and I’m no longer waiting on God with quite the same trust. What I trust these days is the truth: assured that humans will never know what they is. But: gravity is gravity without or without Newton. The cancer is in the smoker’s lungs no matter what the smoker or his government or his doctor or the tobacco company is saying.
2016 02 02 Periodically Harold and Maude nudges my memory: Ruth Gordon of course, but also the cluelessly self-centered mother. I just dipped into a movie that scores OK on that path, Like Sundays Like Rain. A much put-upon boy relates to an older female: NYC prints all over it.