Friday, October 28, 2011
Here is a story with its illustration whose idea began in 2008. The illustration and the story were conceived at the same time as a unit. Other ideas which I wanted to get off my chest became more pressing, so I put the story and its illustration aside and picked them up again in the past month. I wanted to keep picture and story together, so since it's two works, please consider it a two months entry. Like Alice in wonderland, I'm running to stay in place.
Written and illustrated by Roberta Schulberg aka Roberta SchulbergGoro
"Oh sure Russell, the studio offered me a job as assistant director, it's already in the bag, but...." Sitting across from Mickey at a small round side table, Russell observed the barely contained energy in Mickey's nervous repeated shoulder shrugs and was delighted to be able to recognize that unchanged characteristic habit of his old friend after all these years. "Well, well," he thought, "so Mickey is still the old dynamo." Russell, with a hardly perceptible stir, checked his own immediate urge to straighten his back to lean forward in order to listen intently, reminding himself to present to his friend only a calm, relaxed, composed appearance.
"Listen, Russell. You know me; I've got a long track-record. The whole industry knows me. And I know everyone, everyone in it." As he spoke, Mickey's mouth made extraneous movements, as if his mouth itself was searching for a way to phrase it. "Buuuut it's a new ballgame out there and um, Hollywood's taken a fall. We both know you're probably the best bet for hooking up to whatever is the "now" thing. Umm, uh, mm, I'd take the risk of refusing a major in the industry to get in on a great ground floor."
Russell pulled back tighter into his chair and stiffened. His chin receded, nestling for safety into his neck. He answered with some hesitation, "True. ~I'm involved in some new things. High tech video, for one state of the art. And I've been able to make some inroads into T.V. production. No one is yet doing what I intend to do. Ya gotta shake people up. Remember when we talked about it? Shake 'em out of their conformity, the damned past is all mincing conformity. I'm not free to discuss it at this time, but," His hand rested lightly on the table and he abstractedly brushed his hand back and forth on the fulcrum of his wrist, his little finger lightly grazing the table as he spoke, "I'm in closeted talks with a high-tech video group. This group is tops." His head waggled, "But I just can't make any promises right now without consulting the others." Suddenly his countenance lifted and his face beamed with a smile. "But I can recommend you as definitely not being dead wood. Let's keep in contact this time, Mickey."
"It's probably because your Aunt Lorraine and I were divorced and not speaking to each other that you didn't call me, huh Russell?"
"No Mickey. Our friendship didn't depend on Lorraine. I didn't call you because your sudden flying off without good-byes told me you didn't want old friends pulling you back and hanging on to you. Still working for the magazine?"
"No, I left Point and Tell before I split with Lorraine. After you and I planned our getting into film I decided to stop talking and start acting. Talking wasn't going to bring me past my pages of documentary snapshots and verbatim interviews. I knew I'd need the time to move freely, untrammeled, take a look around. I planned ahead for the move. I put cash away so I wouldn't have to settle for first offers. Well, it didn't take long after my arrival in California for ZJCalititan studios to offer me a position as apprentice director under Mannaheim. I would have to begin with prop man duties, learn the ropes department by department. Mickey turned his head away as if to avoid Mannaheim. He returned his head to face Russell. Iiiiiiii've got too many years behind me to settle for that. I've been told that when I walk into a room y' can feel the tension. Iiiiiiiiii have no patience for the small stuff; I-I've got to get above it, put my energies into where it counts. I still do know a couple of the top go-getters I worked with at the magazine; they've already made their move into internet news and documentaries. Nothing big yet but they're working on plans for an independent studio. Here and there I do some freewheeling stuff. You know a family is a drag pulling you down when you're starting out in a tough business. Lorraine never bothered me for alimony and I'm no big spender. I'm just getting along but I'm free as the wind."
Russell felt relieved that Mickey was not going to be so distasteful as to press him further regarding his own video connections. His mouth turned down in commiseration. He thrust his lower lip out, deepening his frown as he slid his tongue forward against the roof of his mouth. "I've had some rough tobogganing myself," he was willing to confide. "The electric company laid me off along with most of their other technicians. Of course, there's the video, but it's just in the initial stages. The small business of wholesale hand-held HDTV's which I bought for my daughter's marriage gift helps. She works it and I get a cut. When my wife Hattie died I sold our house. Instead of moving back to the old house left to me and Lorraine, I decided to unload it. Aunt Lorraine bought out my portion and the bank financed the house based on her library job. I gave Lorraine a good deal and I paid for this cabin in cash. I owe no one a thing."
"Don't worry Mickey, the divorce won't affect any business we have together. I'm so busy I hardly bother with Aunt Lorraine myself. I don't want to be weighed down right now either. I know the score. Lorraine's still the same annoyance to have around. Now that we're able to talk frankly I can tell you what first tipped me off about her. This was a long time ago. Russell gritted his teeth in a scowl, his body quivering in controlled anger at memories of having to tolerate the presumptions of his aunt. I was still a child, but as long as the time has been I will never forget it. He lifted his hand, energetically pointing the index finger of his trembling hand upward, "Story One," a wait-'til-you-hear-this-one determination to tell all was easily readable on Russell's face. "In the seventh grade I was selected for an advanced study program for elementary school honor science students. Aunt Lorraine was in her last year of high school. When the family was at the table celebrating the award, Aunt Lorraine, in a facade of casualness, mentioned her ambition of writing a book like Rochelle Sunsun's The Fish Below Streaming Waters or Susan Speaker's How the Brain Remembers. At that time she said to me, 'We ought to put our heads together.' Remembering that moment, Russell's face reddened in rage and he extended his head toward Mickey, his voice lifting to just under a shout, "What she meant was she wanted to put her fingers into my piece of pie." He leaned back. "She lacked any sense of her own limitations, trying to advance by latching on to others' gains. It's my guess she hardly managed to get through high school. Ever since that time I pretty much steer clear of her. She is, quite frankly, a drag to know. So I live alone here in the cabin, she lives alone in the old house, and we hardly see each other." Russell relaxed, then laughed silently, allowing his tensely wired shoulders to bob up and down slightly as he snapped his fingers, all five, one after the other in rotation, a calisthenic he had developed as a youngster. "I know you've had some time with it too, huh Mickey, keeping your feet on the ground and keeping the damned leeches out?" he managed to wheeze through his laugh. "I have no trouble recommending you on that score."
Mickey's relief in Russell's understanding of his situation allowed his old feeling of comraderie to strengthen as he began to brush aside any fears of rejection which Lorraine caused by her unalterable family relationship to his old confidant. "The only way to avoid Lorraine's interference was to go off to another room together whenever we had to make decisions. Did Lorraine ever have an idea which became effective?" Mickey joined Russell in his mirth, "What did Lorraine actually study anyway?" Mickey put a finger in his cheek and popped it, the sound like the bursting of a small balloon. "Oh, sure. She would think 'Susan Speaker.' His laughter intensified, "She would think 'Michelangelo,' 'masterpieces.' No sense about deadlines, pressures in the industry, competition, no concept of the tough fight out there in the world." He rolled his eyes up, extended his lower lip, and blew a gust of wind against his forehead. "She disapproved of my selling the darkroom equipment when the magazine took over the lab work. She said the few dollars from the sale didn't mean anything; I ought to keep working on all aspects of my craft. Imagine thinking y'can spend a whole lifetime just leisurely learning a craft - like I had a patron, like someone would catch me if I fell off candy-cane mountain. She talked about career, but woman are built to be dependent, to be wherever she's needed by her man, not lost in daydreams. Lorraine has no sense of the bottom line. I wanted her secure at home. I told her right from the beginning - what the man does is more important because he's got a grip on the world; he's the one who's the support, it's he who's got to make his mark, not waste his time with stuff that doesn't pay off. I told her right away, I'm her success. Russell, women wouldn't have a thing without us."
"Y'know Mickey, our family did not bring up Lorraine to indulge in hopeless dreams and ambitions the way she does. Her mother Kate, my grandmother, showed her. Serve your man and get your piece of pie. Kate was like an angel but Lorraine never took after her. Normal women like Grandma Kate accept reality on a domestic plane, find fulfillment in taking care of the everyday needs of everyone around them. That's the way to their success. Women like that do better. I don't remember my mother; I was an infant when her plane crashed down on her way to visit my father's army training campgrounds, but I've been told she was an angel like Grandma Kate. What normal women do have is patience, submission. In the dreary routine they are a saving grace. They are a yielding kindness in shattering conflict. For them, love leads the way. Men have to be different. We've got to go after it when we can."
"I'll say this for her, Russell, Lorraine was always there when I needed her. I'm not blaming her about that. But a man has to spread his wings, fly over his house, not be tied down to it. She wanted to come along to California. I knew I needed more than settled domesticity. I was becoming middle aged, had never sown any wild oats or had adventures. I didn't want her questioning me."
"Women have no way of really understanding us, Mickey. I learned that early. No man can be blamed for being a man. One Christmas, even before I began in school, I received an enormous clown from my grandparents; it must have been about five feet high, of soft leather-like plastic, and weighted inside on the bottom by a bunch of small rolling balls so it always stood upright. Well, almost that clown taught me to be a man. It was taller than me. I began to punch it like a boxer with my fists and at that moment I began to know what being a man was all about. I knew then that I would have to punch my way, fight to reach my own height in it. I could feel manliness swell inside of me, radiating through my veins, enlarging me, readying me for the world. So what does Aunt Lorraine do when she passes by? Does she realize with awe the power I was receiving? No. She asks in passing, 'Do you want me to teach you how to read?' She said 'reading will open the whole world to you. You will find out about other times, far away places.' I mean, the whole realization of what life on earth is about was opening up to me and she asks me if I want to learn how to read. Another year or two I'd be strapped to a school desk, required to sit still, to keep quiet and she asks if I want her to rush it."
"Russell, she has no concept of life's toughness beyond the door of her own playroom. When I began to get interested in film, I told her 'The sword of Damocles hangs over me. It's war out there.' She said 'There's no war except the one you're making for yourself. Why didn't you stay put in your darkroom - here!'"
"What she's got is worse than a sheltered naivete, Mickey. I can tell you a doozy of a story. One day Lorraine called me over to point out a small metal door in the back wall of the playroom closet. It was about a foot square, the door and its bolt sealed by paint. Then she took me around to the other side of that wall which was in the kitchen. The wall was covered by a backless cupboard whose bottom cabinet opened to reveal a metal door in the wall exactly matching the first. It too was sealed shut. She imagined a wonderful mystery behind it so she asked me to help her get it open. I told her it was a sealed old heating duct from the disused coal cellar and I refused to bother to help her pry it open. She had placed her homework desk near the closet and every once-in-a-while she would try to pull open that bolted and sealed duct." She once told me, 'I can hear voices through that sealed door.' She said she heard a voice say 'Put up a new fence.' and another voice answered 'Done.' When she looked out the window the old fence was disappointingly still there but then the next week - there was the new fence." I said 'It was Grandpa talking in the cellar.' She said, 'No, I told him about the voices and he said 'That wasn't me, that was the spirit of my doppelganger planning a surprise.' I asked Lorraine 'Do you believe in doppelgangers?' She said, 'I believe voices can travel through time and space.' She's always searching for mysteries where they don't lie. I knew then her lack of a sense of reality was all of her own making. Her mind was just flights of fancy, mystical enthusiasms. There's no getting through to her. Of course she was a kid then, not much older than me, but she never grew up. Later she continued to use that same desk to write her mystical theorizings. One corner of the desk was stacked with her monthly Science For The Amateur magazines and the other corner piled with her mystical essays. She had ecstatic dreams of future achievements but - you know the story - there never was a payoff. About her its ...." He raised his palms outward in front of him, his entire body quivering with antipathy and appalled anger; he shook his head from side to side and he grimaced with a laugh that contained tears. "I knew by then she was no more than flights of fancy, unfounded enthusiasms. She was a kid then, not much older than me, but she never grew up." He slowly returned himself to a slumped composure, his eyes still moist.
Mickey sympathized with Russell's dismay by showing approval of Russell's judgement, reiterating the characteristic failings of their mutual acquaintance. "What did Lorraine study? Who does she know? "I'm glad we've gotten together again, Russell. It's just like old times. We should stick together. We think a lot alike, you and me; we ought to join forces."
"Your sense of the practical is strong, Mickey. I've been thinking how sharp you were to stick with internet based programming, not narrowing to the merely entertainment end. The internet opportunity is stronger since it has a broader base. It can always contract a video group. Video is continual expense for too infrequent a return. Constancy and long term survival - that's practicality."
The two friends had begun to walk to the door.
"Russell, the truth is, I don't want to get caught somewhere out in the boondocks. The internet group might have to settle for inroads in the sticks at this point. Your video group might have the answer. I can add my hands-on documentary expertise to your urbanity."
"When will the internet group be ready to roll Mickey?"
"Ummm, a few things have to be settled first buuuut I can give you a ball park figure." Mickey pursed his lips, his tongue pressed against his upper pallette. He turned up his eyes, calculating the time, "Mmmm..." His tongue clacked loudly on the roof of his mouth, forging the way for his voice to follow, "Clack. I guess ten or twelve weeks."
Standing in the doorway, Russell scratched his chin. "My video group needs at least a year and a half before they're in full swing. Meanwhile all I can do now is wait. Mickey, I don't mind the boondocks. I've only got this cabin anyway. I'm rearing to go. I've got high tech connections that'll make the metropolis come running to you. Let's keep each other on top of the list this time. We've got a long history together. I'll call soon. Let's call each other soon."
The two men stood shaking hands in the doorway. With nothing actually settled, it seemed to both like the parting was premature. Then Mickey's hunched shoulders swung toward the path as Russell pulled himself back behind the door frame. Mickey turned back to wave his arm in a second friendly goodbye. Russell closed the door with a heavy wooden thump and as the doorlock engaged with a loud clunk, there was heard, from an indistinct distance and vague direction, the clatter of a small metal door being shut against its metal frame and the snap of its metal bolt being shoved into place.