Authors: Tennessee Williams
I suppose it is simply and inescapably human to attribute all defections on the part of your loved one to some influence other than what is the commonest fact, an insufficiency in you to his requirements of a lover. Such an admission is quite inadmissable at first, so you attribute it to some external thing such as fever and the unsettling announcement party at Moise's. This gives you an excuse to make all dignified and many undignified efforts to recover him from the seductor. “Seductor” is not a true word, I'm afraid, but never mind, let it pass. I'm sure you know what it means. Later on you will be obliged to accept that commonest truth of the matter, assuming there's truth in matter, that he has simply latched on to a new and more magnetic attraction than you have presented to him, and that later-on moment is probably the moment when you stop being young, even though it may not whiten your hair at the temples prematurely or score its impact with deeper lines in your face.
I did not feel at all young anymore when I entered Phoebe's and looked all about, including the men's room, and discovered nowhere in that oasis of chic on East Fourth Street a sign of Charlie and Big Lot on their vodka and hot chili date.
After prowling the premises in this houndlike fashion, I inquired of the barman if Big Lot had been there with a long-haired boy.
“Never heard of her.”
I was only slightly comforted by the fact that the barman at Phoebe's disclaimed any knowledge of Big Lot, whom I'd assumed to be known in all fashionable resorts both uptown and down, and the barman had even referred to him by a female pronoun.
Well, there was no reason on the conscious level to continue along East Fourth, but possibly on the unconscious level, with which I am more familiar, it seemed appropriate to move closer to the Bowery. I was frightened across the street by a very tall, raggedy speed freak leading a reluctant dog past me with a metal chain that was not an ordinary leash but more like those things you see displayed in leather bars for the giving and receiving of correction. The tall frenzied man suddenly snatched the chain off the whining dog and began to lash the poor creature with it, apparently for its failure to keep pace with him. This was just under a streetlamp and I saw that the dog was covered with sores new and old, in fact his long muzzle was hairless and blood-stained.
“Stop it, stop it or I'll report you!” I shouted.
The dog-beater instantly lifted the metal chain, preparing to lash at me with it, but while the chain was stiff above me I scuttled across the street to an area of brilliant light which was cast upon the pavement and the curb by the lighted marquee of a far off-Broadway theater called the Truck and Warehouse.
In this protectively lighted area I looked across the street and saw that the large cadaverous dog was chained again and trotting desperately alongside his owner-beater, around the next corner where I'd been headed.
In a hazy way I thought, “Well, that's how it seems to be,” meaning between two desperate living creatures. I stood there and hazily pondered this subject for a while and then dismissed it as self-pity and negativism since in my heart I knew that two desperate living creatures are more often inclined, if they share a life together, to care for protectively than to abuse each other.
(An often beautiful thing in a frightful world.)
I began to be aware that a public rehearsal or performance was in progress inside the oddly named show-place where, I remembered, an unexplained explosion and fire had terminated the run of a previous attraction.
I was obstructed on the pavement beneath the brilliantly lighted marquee by the figure of a bum sprawled horizontally across the full width of the walk as if he were planted there as a prophecy of doom for the theater's present attraction, but he was not too unconscious to raise his head slightly and ask, “Can you share some shange?”
“Sorry, but not after taxes,” which sounds like a cruel response but was intended as humor.
Then there was the crash of a door thrown violently open and a short, stocky little man burst out of the show-place, exclaiming to himself, “Awful, just too awful!”
He was in a fur coat of some kind which made him resemble a stunted bear or an overgrown muskrat.
Both this fur-coated man and the lying-down bum were now on the pavement before me so that I was compelled to hesitate there for a moment, during which the short man continued to cry out to the night air and himself, saying, “I swear it's just too awful to believe.”
Then his look encompassed my presence which he admitted by saying directly to me, “Do you know what I mean?”
I said “Yes” without interest but he continued to stand in my way and was now catching hold of my arm:
“I certainly had no desire to take over direction, but I felt obliged to since all the stage movements seemed to be arbitrary. I mean that the actors were crossing back and forth, I suppose with the intent of providing the play with an air of animation, it's a very talky play, and I liked the director but I couldn't accept this manner of trying to animate it, and someone has just told me that when I took over the direction the leading lady said to the stage manager, âWhy should I take direction from this old derelict?'”
He seemed to be an aging man with poor eyesight. He thrust his face forward and changed glasses.
“Haven't I met you somewhere sometime before?”
I returned his closer inspection and said, “Yes, at Moise's several years ago. You seemed to be in a stupor.”
“And didn't I?”
“Yes and no. I mean you”
“You offended my friend by placing your hand on what was his terrain.”
“I explained to my lover that it was just one of those automatic gestures that come from habit.”
His attention blurred and I started to extricate my arm from his grasp but he tightened it on me and said, “Did you say Moise?”
“Yes, I was there tonight and”
“Are you interested or just asking?”
“I think she's not very well.”
“I think I had the same impression of her.”
“Oh, were you there?”
“Yes, that's where we met.”
“I mean tonight.”
“No, I haven't been to Moise's since that Oriental with you said that he would print me on the plaster with a smile.”
“He was not Oriental. I think I have to go on now.”
(Actually I did feel that I had to go on since this was an encounter that seemed to have no purpose and my head felt like it was suspended yards above me at the end of a string that was about to release it. But the little animal-like man said, “Please walk me to the corner, I can't make it alone.”)
We stood on the corner, and now I could see that he wasn't drunk or stoned but very ill.
This observation didn't concern me much but being from the South I felt that I shouldn't ignore it.
“You don't seem to be well.”
“Yes, and there aren't any taxis.”
“Taxes on what?” I said with a touch of malice.
“Everything in existence. Let's go in that bar on the corner for some wine and if they won't call us a taxi I'll order a limousine from Weber and Green.”
“Sounds like a vaudeville team.”
“Yes, most things are, and they look like funeral cars.”
I took him into the bar on the diagonally opposite corner and the moment he entered he was seized by a crazed sort of exuberance.
“I cry for madder music and more wine!”
The bartender looked at him with disparaging recognition and paid no attention to the outcry, but the little man fell into a chair at a table and began to stomp his feet under it.
A kitchen employee came out with catsup stains all over his apron. His attitude toward my accidental companion was friendlier than the bartender's: at least he said, “Glass or bottle?”
“Bottle and two glasses!”
Then he went over to the box, deposited a quarter and punched one number three times.
Now this is somewhat amazing but it turned out to be the Lady in Satin singing that old favorite of mine “Violets for Your Furs.”
He came back to the table and simultaneously two things happened of the automatic nature. He kissed me on the mouth and I started to cry.
The whole evening and night seemed to have been served in a concentrated form, like a bouillon cube dropped into a cup of hot water, on that Bowery table.
The bottle and the two glasses were on the table now and he was touching my face with a paper napkin.
“Baby, I didn't mean to do that, it was just automatic.”
(He thought I was crying over his Listerine kiss which I'd barely noticed.)
He slumped there drinking the dago red wine as if to extinguish a fire in his belly, the rate at which he poured it down him slowing only when the bottle was half-empty. Then his one good eye focused on me again but the luster was gone from it and its look was inward.
“You have encountered a wino.”
“Appropriately in the Bowery.”
“After the first glass I can't tell a vintage chÃ¢teau wine from this bilge served here or even
. Did you know that the man who wrote
The Shanghai Gesture
wound up in the Bowery, too? I mean he created the part of Mother Goddam for old Florence Reed and it made the producers a fortune but he died in a Bowery gutter a lot younger than me. And do you know his name?”
“Well, such is fame, I can't remember it either, just the first name, John. It wasn't a good melodrama but it contained a wonderful speech or two and as a farewell gesture I would like to revive the Florence Reed part in drag.
“In my youth,” he continued, “I was so shy it was difficult for me to talk but now I've become a garrulous old man who is full of anecdotes that pour out as the wine pours in.”
I replenished my glass while I had a chance to and his one good eye, similar in color to the two eyes of Moise, turned more deeply inward.
“I'm afraid I've lost your attention,” he observed sadly.
“I'm afraid you did. I was remembering something.”
“I asked if you liked poetry.”
“Why did you ask me that?”
“Because you look like you might.”
I decided to use diversionary tactics.
“How do people look who like poetry?”
“If they like lyrical poetry, they sometimes have eyes like yours.”
“And if they prefer epic or intellectual poetry?”
“Academic, perhaps. You never can tell. Take Wallace Stevens, for instance. He was a great lyric poet and also an executive of an insurance company in Hartford, Connecticut.”
I thought perhaps I'd succeeded in my tactics as a blank look had appeared on his face, but then I noticed that he was removing a crumpled piece of paper from an inside pocket.
“Sometimes I do like poetry, some of it sometimes, under some conditions, but not right now. I don't want to read it or hear it read to me right now.”
Then I saw that my alarm was unjustified as it was only a piece of Kleenex that he had removed from his pocket and he wiped his watery eyes with it.
“I began with poetry and I think I might go back to it. It's cheaper to produce and I think that the current standards are even lower. Of course all forms of self-expression serve the same purpose.”
I didn't ask what purpose but he continued as though I had.
“To get you out of yourself.”
Then his look turned inward again: I felt released, not from my self but his. I suppose he was sorting through his sixty-odd years of recollection like a pack of old Tarot cards and, looking at him without much interest during his period of introversion, I wondered about his ethnic origin. If he were a Jew, he must have been a Sephardic one, the kind that never wandered but stayed in Spain. Or have I got that backward? But he did seem more like a creature whose parts derived from foreign places and were only assembled in the States. Perhaps he was a kind of Gypsy, and as if he divined my speculations about him, he leaned back dreamily in his chair and said, “Since I left home in my teens I've always lived a nomadic sort of existence as if I were looking for something of vital importance to me which I had lost somewhere.”