Thursday, February 14, 2013

Bosco Valentines 5: A Comedy of Manners

By Doug Vehle, The Daily Bosco

Rather than leave Daily Bosco Writer/Editor Allen to run his annual near miss story for Valentines Day, I figured I could provide him with one of my own, as can we all.

Mine didn't take place at Valentines Day, this would be occurring the summer after my Freshman year of college.

I was enrolled in Analysis of Literary Forms at Fullerton College, a traditional requirement for an English major. If you're a literary type, not a bad way to spend the summer, at least when I was away from my dish washing job at the Children's Hospital of Orange County. This class was a checkpoint in my transition from what Cicero would call a "Complete man" (A reader) into his "Precise man." (Writing) But I think there's all types of people who fit his image of the precise.

I was also studying Broadcasting (AA at Fullerton College) and Theatre Arts (Minor from classes at FC and Cal State Fullerton), giving me a lot of time around actors, whom I was discovering to be far different from the public image of the "Stars." For one thing, they were proving ready to help. At one point I mentioned I'd be reading the play 'Equus' for my class, I was thus informed that I was already connected to someone performing in a production that summer.

I didn't know her well, just a friend of a friend, but she told me I should just show up to their dress rehearsal that weekend, they were inviting people so there'd be a audience. After a season in hell around the junkies and gang bangers of the Don Bosco Technical Institute, even community college was seeming like high society.

So I made what would prove to be a fatal mistake at this juncture, though I had no idea there could be such a mistake waiting to be made. One class meeting to go before the show, I mentioned it to some classmates figuring they might want to go too. Giving no thought to the young lady outside the circle but just a short distance away. Yeah, I have to call her a 'Lady' to be nice, right?

I'd say if she'd only STAYED that distance away, maybe things would have worked out okay. Instead, when she showed up at the play and stood in the middle of theatre looking around, she spied me and made a beeline for me. Why, I don't know. But I was not happy about that.

Even before she started to speak. "Some people are just SO STUCK ON THEMSELVES! I'm glad I'M NOT!" I should have held my tongue. I was asking, 'Why me?' But then anyone who knows me realizes if there's the opportunity for a joke I'll be asking 'Why NOT?' "Oh. You mean you're NOT stuck on yourself?"

 "Oh, you should just hear this guy saying he thinks I must just be looking in the mirror all the time. He says he bets my rearview mirror is all cracked and broken." "Wouldn't it be funny if HIS was all cracked and broken." The loud cackling laugh really had me wishing I'd held my tongue. How could she carry on so long over not much of a throwaway line? I was wanting to call out "Lights, lights." Let's get the show started so she'll shut up, right? And the show was starting. . . . . . . .Only it didn't work that way.

"What's he saying? I can't hear him." Even with the 'Shhh' coming from all around, she kept asking what was going on. . . . It wasn't lost on me that she had somehow decided she was to be my next girlfriend. What I couldn't figure out was why.

She came from that whole class of women who decide they're halfway good looking so they must dress like the supermodels and always be making a scene. What would such a woman see in me? Here I was trapped without an aisle seat that would have allowed me to escape gracefully. But ball and chain that she was as she followed me into the lobby at intermission, I had another one around the other ankle.

No matter how badly she behaves, I feel somewhat trapped by being unable to risk doing anything that might be rude myself. I could have decided that seeing half the play was better than nothing and gone home, though she might have followed me to my car. I wound up back in my seat, her next to me, asking questions again once the show was under way. In fiction as well as theatre, this is what is known as a Comedy of Manners.

You could think of it as death by your own politeness. If you're wondering why she might not have been getting the message I really didn't want her around, it should already be somewhat clear that she was neither bright nor self aware. If she wasn't "Stuck on herself," she was running out of things to actually be. But not out of things to say. But enough about her.

Have you seen 'Equus?' If you have, the young lady who invited me was playing Alan Strang's girlfriend. She had a scene late in the show that didn't require a wardrobe fitting. And she invited me to come see this. Not that I hadn't noticed her before, it was just that I hadn't realized what a good looking woman she really was.

In a simple way, which is really always what I preferred. And what casting.

The moment where she tries to make him wake up from the nightmare of his life. Where the key to his "Happy Ending" will be to let go of his growing madness and hold onto what might be.

As far I was concerned she was perfect for the role. Except it was the madness that was holding onto him.

 "Would you look at her? I would NEVER. . . ." You would never SHUT UP, either. For all this I still feel bad about the idea of just attaching the names I might use for such a boorish individual. Some people are anxious to say that others aren't good enough for them. If they really were better than that it wouldn't be so easy to say they were better than that, now would it? And it didn't do me any good to tell the monster I had to go say hello to a cast member I knew and to say goodnight to the monster.

You know how gum is once it's stuck to the bottom of your shoe. I walked over to find the cast feeling like I needed to hold my hands high for fear she might try to hold one of them. Oh, a POX on the cruel trap of civility. Of course I don't dare say that publicly.

So to really set the scene for the casual acquaintance that I was going to see, you have to dismiss any thoughts of Lindsay Lohan from your mind. People have the wrong idea about the up and coming young actress type. Huge numbers of them are well educated, well read, well behaved, the image of the finishing school graduate they longed to be as they stumbled through public school and tried not to let the low aspirations of those around them hold them back.

Ultimately acting itself creates a huge waste of human potential as they have so few opportunities to practice their carefully honed craft. The heartbreak of realizing there is no light at the end of the tunnel; except so many realize there's a whole new light in another direction in life, so many are such capable people.

I'd barely met her at that point, when she talked while I was around it wasn't really to me, but I was already getting such a feeling about her. For the one thing, she'd been the only other person I'd met who'd actually read the Junius Edwards novel 'If We Must Die,' a story that had quite an impact on me in the 8th grade. And what a shock that she'd looked around and alerted as I walked up. You could about hear the theme from 'Gone with the Wind.'

This is the look they want for the greeting card commercials that you never see in the movies anymore, but oh aren't all the actresses practicing their look in case that sort of scene comes back into vogue. Ask anyone, I can be very unassuming, I never would have guessed anything more than she was just being nice when she invited me to the dress rehearsal.

Maybe she likes the renaissance man type.

As I was walking toward her, doing all of the living life in that one brief moment as she hung breathlessly across that gap between reality and expectation, the comedy of manners suddenly turned tragic. Calling it an expression of anger and horror may not be the most fitting, but it gives you the idea of the change in her face.

She had noticed I'd sprouted a siamese twin and then recoiled as though she'd been burned. I could already tell no amount of denial was going to help, especially since there'd be no tactful way to bring it up.

As you might expect, she remained cordial whenever I saw her after that. If you've ever seen that invisible wall, that's what this looked like. So ironic that I'd only come this close because I'd never be the type to drive away that other annoyance with the back of my hand, but it would seem that's about the only thing that could have saved this moment.

That's how the comedy of manners works, it seems it would be so simple, if only you could just. . . . And I've never met another person who had so much as heard of 'If We must Die,' let alone has read it. Analysis of Literary Forms I would have to repeat at Cal State Fullerton because it was an upper division class there and I couldn't transfer a lower division class to fill the requirement.

I suppose, if only to lighten the moment, I should say I never saw 'Equus' again, either.

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