Monday, December 21, 2009

The play that made me want a snakeskin jacket

"I went up to the bar where you were standing and touched your jacket and said, "What stuff is this made of?" and when you said it was snakeskin, I said, "I wish you'd told me before I touched it." And you said something not nice. You said, "Maybe that will learn you to hold back your hands." I was drunk by that time, which was after midnight. Do you remember what I said to you? I said, "What on earth can you do on this earth but catch at whatever comes near you, with both your fingers, until your fingers are broken?" I'd never said that before, or even consciously thought it, but afterwards it seemed like the truest thing that my lips had ever spoken, what on earth can you do but catch at whatever comes near you with both your hands until your fingers are broken ... You gave me a quick, sober look. I think you nodded slightly, and then you picked up your guitar and began to sing."
--Carol Cutrere, Orpheus Descending

My whole life is built in some relationship to that quote: the times I wanted something so hard I nearly broke it or my fingers in the grip to the times I walked away shaking my head at how much people squander so easily. How many real connections in one life? How many cities sing through our bones when we visit them? New Orleans does that for me. A certain rightness to its color and fracture, like a city refracted through a grimy prism. Like something inadvertantly European, a delicacy that leaves a strange aftertaste. To live a life fully enthralled means both bliss and battle. Tennessee Williams loved the melodramatic character, the dizzy poetry of the inebriated and insane. But he knew to grant the Carol Cutrere's the wisdom that showed the grandeur of what they once believed and how that left them longing at the train stations inside themselves, waiting for the shiniest locomotive to tear through and take them somewhere that made of their lives furious bouquets of fever and firework. Who could live with such empty ticketbooths inside them when the expectations exceeded anything any world, much less this, could provide? Yet, Tennessee knew to give a nod, if not a bent tiara for that desire. Those Carol Cutreres, those drifters in snakeskin jackets, had been better for the daring the bold, the dangerous, even if only to break their own fingers grasping at it all.

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