Thursday, May 2, 2013

Jake and Harold: could they be blood kin?




Writers love to do this. They love to cast their own movies. The movies that won't be made out of the novels they will never publish. It sustains them, somehow.

I've posted on this before, but it's time to revisit. I have a couple of candidates in mind for the role of Harold Lloyd (and guess how I'm going to audition them. The casting couch is still very much in operation.) One was Zachary Quinto, until I realized his energy is all wrong (just too self-contained and subdued, though he made a marvelous Spock in the latest Trek movie). Then I went and saw something with Jake Gyllenhaal in it - he doesn't look like his photos, you know, but has a sort of a strange, vaguely cockeyed look and in some angles is almost nerdy. He has a much beefier physique than Harold, who did 85% of his own stunts and was made of springs and rubber bands. But he could capture Harold's energy, I know he could, and he has those puppy eyes and that tinge of love-me narcissism (just a tinge).




No, I wouldn't say they look alike because Harold's face is much more aquiline, if that's the word - narrow of face and nose, with a classic jaw that kept him handsome until the end of his life. And that three-cornered smile could be a trifle vulpine, evoking a forest faun or perhaps the Great God Pan.





But what about the vulpinosity (or vulpitudinousness) of this shot? There's more than a hint of it there.





Jakey Boy loves to seduce the camera, at least in his still shots. I still think his looks are kind of unorthodox, almost as if one side of his face doesn't quite match the other.




He has that bow-shaped-lips thing going on which can transform a man's face, giving it an appealing androgynous touch. But here it is on someone else.




(Hard to believe this is a goofy comedian, with that super-serious look.)





Somebody's rockin' my dreamboat. . . 




But what could be dreamier than this shot of a very young Harold, looking awfully satisfied about something? In this shot, I think I see a blood-kin kind of resemblance. In fact, it's quite startling.




Yes, the breathtaking Jake can be a bespectacled nerd, reminding you of your Grade 9 Physics teacher. The glasses suit him, somehow.



But they suit him even better.


POSTSCRIPT. Do you think I spent hours finding these? I found these two in fifteen seconds. I am not kidding you. The photos just glom together magnetically. I don't know what's going on here.






'Yeah, I always loved Uncle Harold. . . people used to say I looked like him. . . "

And just one more pair (I promise) just to prove they were both. . .






CROSSEYED!


Dangerous old men




Two old men and a cruller

God, the mall, the mall. First I have to get on a bus. The goddamn bus I take to the mall, the C38, is a bus that nobody wants to drive.

“I hate the C38,” one driver said to another. While driving, which they’re not supposed to do.

“So do I.”

”I wanna commit suicide when I draw that one.”

“Me too.”

“Goodness,” an old lady sitting at the front exclaimed. (She didn’t say “goodness” at all, for all I know it was “shit, man”, but that’s how it registered on my mind.)  “Why do you want to commit suicide?”

“Trains.”

Right. Trains. On the C38, which eventually takes me to the mall after an agonizingly dull haul along Westwood Avenue (an industrial park at the end of the world), we get trains. 



We get stuck behind trains that are miles, light years, eons long. They defy physics by grinding slower and slower, stopping, then running backwards, as if time itself has inexplicably reversed. Einstein might want to ride on this train.

Today, we had one. A bugger of a train. A big train, a bad train.





While we waited and shifted and yawned, the driver visibly chuffing and chafing to get going so he wouldn’t get yelled at and blamed for being late, I heard some kids in the back, guffawing in the usual stoned-teenager way. Their voices appeared to be breaking, so they were pretty young.

They weren’t as bad as some. One of them yelled once and the driver told him to shut up, but he only yelled, “HEY! BUY ME A PIZZA!”, which I didn’t think was too bad compared to the fxxy stuff I was used to.

Then suddenly.





An elderly Indo-Canadian man approached the bus and knocked on the door (doors, really). He shouldn’t have been let in because the bus was between stops. But it had been between stops for 22 minutes now and showed no signs of moving.

The doors opened. The old man was admitted.

He shot down the aisle with the speed of a gazelle.

“You bloody hoodlums, I kill you, you stay away from me, you creeps, you all going to die!” He physically hurled his slight frame against the corner where the three kids were squished together.

“Hey man,” one of them said.

I kill you! I kill you!  You all going to die!”





The scant passengers all had that “Jesus!” look on their faces. I had the thought: if this was the U. S., somebody would be dead already. As it was, the old man used his fists, windmilling them at the boys as they yelled HEY! and tried to duck under their seats.

The driver was large and burly. He had that security guard/cop kind of walk. You know what I mean. A sidearm look, though of course he wasn’t armed. I was all too aware of policy on bus altercations: the driver had to call the Bus Police and wait for them to come break it up.

If he’d waited, somebody would have been beaten bloody, and it wouldn’t have been the old man.

The driver picked the guy up by the shoulders and lifted him over the aisle and deposited him on the sidewalk outside the door.

I was still worried. What the f---? What had just happened, and why? Why would an elderly man jump on a bus and attack a bunch of teenagers? How would he even know which bus they were on, and why was he so pissed?





I was prepared to lunge behind the back of my seat, just in case these were the notorious Bacon Brothers of Surrey, but I didn’t have to. Once we finally cleared the railroad tracks, the kids shambled off. One of them unhooked his bike from the rack on the front of the bus. They were youngish, dressed in the slouchy casual garb of slightly nerdy junior high students. The farthest thing from gang members I’ve ever seen. They ambled away, guffawing about something-or-other. And that was the end of that.

The only thing I could think of was: did they vandalize his rock garden or something? Throw gum wrappers on his lawn, pee on his rhododendrons?

The other thing, God. I hate things like this. I was in the dollar store buying something, wrapping paper I think, on one of those long tubes,very awkward, especially in the rain. There was an old man in line in front of me, paying for something-or-other. I only remember the cashier said it cost $21.59. I noticed he had his wallet open in front of him on the counter.




Suddenly he glanced sharply behind him and said, “My wallet. My wallet.”

I realized he was looking at me. I was the only other person in line.

“Can’t trust anybody these days,” he mumbled, shooting me a paranoid look.

“Hi,” I said, brightly, or I think it was brightly. I was holding my own wallet in my hand and had my purse and my paper in the other and could not even imagine snatching his wallet out from under his drippy old nose.

“I CAN HELP YOU OVER HERE,” the cashier at the next till said. She’d been standing there not helping me, as if her till was closed or something, and it pissed me off.

“Sorry,” she said when I slammed down my rolls of paper. “I thought you were with him.”





SHE THOUGHT I WAS WITH HIM. 

She thought I was with a hundred-year-old man with a persecution complex, a rheumy-eyed, baggy-pants old coot with a week’s worth of stubble, a man so bent he looked like a cheap dollar store pretzel, a man so old he probably thought the goddamn train was going too fast.

And she thought I was “with him”. I wanted to say to her – I should have said to her – why didn’t I say to her, “Yes. He’s my great-grandfather and I’m taking him out for an airing. He’s due back at the asylum in 10 minutes.”

She thought we were lovers. Husband and wife, for Christ’s sake. What did that make me? I look in the mirror, and I don’t see an old person, I don’t.

(Let us interrupt this pointless story for PROOF. This was taken on Easter Sunday, goddamnit!)




Maybe I’m blinded. Maybe I really am a withered old hag. Maybe she thought it was a May-December thing. Who the hell knows or cares.




I needed something, needed an addictive splurge to shoot sucrose into my veins and make me feel better. Tim Hortons looked inviting, and I ordered an Ice Cap, which consists of eight ounces of full-fat cream with a shot of espresso. Had to have something with it, so instead of my usual Boston Cream I ordered a honey cruller.





I ordered a honey cruller because the tray of honey crullers had just been slid out into the display case. I ordered a honey cruller because the glaze was just lazily sliding down the sides of the crullers and forming nice leisurely blobs. I ordered – skip it, they looked good, I bought one. I looked around for crazed old men – they were coming out of the woodwork today, I guessed – and sat down.

I had a long slurp of caffeine-and-cream before taking a bite. I cannot describe this! The cruller was still slightly warm. Like puff pastry, it was extremely light with an eggy sort of softness inside. It melted on my tongue, which was telling me, “This! Is! Good!’ while my brain planned to buy seven more of them so I could keep on repeating the experience.





The cruller was both soft and crisp, sugary, icing-y in a slightly granular way. It looked like a honeycomb, sort of – all open and scalloped, almost faceted – maybe why they call it a HONEY cruller and not a BASEBALL cruller! In any case, like most pleasurable things, the cruller didn’t last long enough. I had never had a cruller which was slightly warm before, but it stirred a long-ago memory of my mother frying up doughnuts (NOT “donuts”, that modern atrocity which was only invented to save lettering on signs, or else for the 95% of people who never learn to spell), coating them in sugar and cinnamon, and letting them cool on a rack in the kitchen. I would burn my tongue agonizingly to get at those doughnuts. They were paradise.





The cruller thing may never be repeated . Tim Hortons half-bakes their doughnuts in Etobicoke or somewhere “back East”,  freezes them and ships them around the country like so many hockey pucks to be finished off in a tepid oven. The next one will probably taste like nothing, with the consistency of leather soaked for 100 years. But I had this one, this Proustian cruller, which I will probably remember forever.

Or probably not.





The Glass Character: an excerpt (the rainstorm)





I would like to introduce you to my third novel, The Glass Character, a story of obsessive love and ruthless ambition set in the heady days of the Jazz Age in the 1920s.  The story  is a fictional account of a young girl’s experiences in Hollywood from approximately 1921 to 1932, during which she develops an obsessive relationship with silent film comedian Harold Lloyd. In this excerpt, Muriel is working as an extra in a Lloyd film and is unexpectedly caught in a torrential rainstorm. Then comes an encounter she has both dreamed of and dreaded.





On a particularly vile day when we were supposed to be doing outside shots, I got caught in a downpour such as I had never seen before: a California monsoon of sorts. As everyone ran blindly for some kind of cover, I heard an unmistakeable voice under the rolling thunder:

”For God’s sake, Muriel, get in here.”

“Mr. Lloyd – “

”Forget that nonsense, call me by my name.”

He held out his hand and pulled me in next to him, in a tiny dry patch under a doorway. “You’re the girl who mussed my hair,” he said, beaming at me. I wondered once again if stars had electric fixtures installed behind their faces, to give off such incandescence.

This was a small space, very small indeed, and I had conflicted feelings about it. I had never been really intimate with a man, so had no knowledge of being this close to a man’s body, clothed or not. It was not just his heat, but the incredible racehorse energy in him which startled me: held back in the starting gate, he was restless and aching to go. I felt dizzy, swoony almost, with a hammering heaviness below, a warm wetness gathering as I felt him tensely breathe.






At one point he turned and smiled at me, and my heart sank, for this was the antic impersonal smile of the Glass Character, jaunty in the face of any pickle. I remembered being allowed to touch his hair, to tousle it like a little boy’s.  I ached to have him touch me, to want to touch me. I felt ashamed of what was happening in my body, but at the same time I felt a sort of awe, caught up in a powerful force that seemed to be lifting me off my feet. Our bodies were literally pressed together, and when I tried to edge out of the tiny dry strip into the hammering downpour, his hand came out, gently but firmly grasped my shoulder, and pulled me back.

“Now Muriel, there’s no need to get soaked. Let’s wait it out.” He talked as if he had all day. He was using a different sort of voice now, the kind you’d use at Frankie’s to get in. He did not look directly at me; that would have killed me. I was close enough that I could not ignore the smell of his dampened, stunt-dusty clothing; the white greasepaint on his face that rendered him magical; the hot scent of his sweat.







I wasn’t aware of the large drop of rain hanging off the end of my nose, but he saw it and smiled – a real smile this time, with marvelous relaxed eyes – reached out with a forefinger and flicked it off.

And I would have died right then and there, his unnervingly lovely gaze sustaining me for the rest of my life, when I noticed something about him, something (even in my naiveté) I could not quite believe.

Virgin though I was, I had kissed and petted with boys before, and knew what happened to their bodies as a result. Without having to look, I realized with shock (and elation, and shame, and despair) that I was not alone in the feelings I had been struggling with.  Whether he willed it or not, he was responding to me powerfully, the blossomy scent of my hair released by the freshness of the rain.





Then, incredibly, instead of dissipating, the downpour increased in intensity, gushing down with frightening force, almost like a monsoon. There was a terrific, bone-shaking clap of thunder.  Harold let out a mad whoop of laughter, then jumped out into the downpour, throwing his head back, opening his mouth, stretching out his arms like some demented forest creature driven mad by the moon.

“Come on out, Muriel, it’s marvelous!” He spun around and around in mad circles, stirring up a tremendous muck under his feet. I would not have been surprised if he had got down and rolled.

“Muriel, Muriel, come on out!” The man was an absolute infant, a case of arrested development, an embarrassment to the acting profession.  And – I did what he said. I came out into the rain, a steamy, mucky, uncomfortable mess, my hair sodden and my skirt weighed down. Harold’s clothes were glued to him, not just caked but clumped with mud. He was jumping up and down like a toddler, a wild smile on his face, and after a while, reluctantly, I joined him. He grabbed my hands and swung me around and around. I prayed that everyone else had run for cover and would not see us cavorting like naughty babies.





“Muriel, Muriel – “ And he did the thing I had dreaded and prayed for, grabbed my shoulders and pulled me almost violently close. I knew he was in a state of high arousal, any fool could see that, but what worried me was my own arousal, the part of me that wanted to toss caution to the wind.

“Let me kiss you,” he said breathlessly.

“Harold, you can’t.”

“Only once, I promise.”

“Harold.”

“Muriel, mmmmmmmmm.” He grazed my mouth with his lips.  For a long time he just stood there, barely making contact. I wondered if this would be a chaste kiss, the kind you would give your sister.

Then I remembered what the girls had said.  Ladies first. The way he carefully prepared his. . . victims.






I knew I should have pulled away, and I didn’t because I was crazy in the head for him.  I understood at last what being drunk must be like. We swayed slightly, almost as if we were dancing. His mouth pressed gently on mine, then just the tip of his tongue parted my lips.

This is what it should be like. Not having some stupid boy stick his tongue down your throat, with beery breath and fumbling, clumsy fingers. Harold lightly caressed my face while he kissed me, soft as roses. The man is an absolute master, I thought.

By the time his tongue grew a little more bold, I was in such a state that I wondered if I could even remain upright. The rain had just about stopped. The ferocious black sky was breaking up, the clouds dissipating. We were two mud statues embracing, our tongues entwining as everything dripped all around us.  The heady freshness in the air mixed with the smell of sex, a smell that was beginning to be familiar to me. And below and beneath that, the rude smell of mud.

Then, oh horrors, the worst thing possible:  “Harold! Jesus!”

What happened next was a scene straight out of one of his movies: he jerked back from me, looked at me in shock, turned around and looked at Hal, then back at me, as if he had no idea who I was.

“Harold, if  I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times. Don’t screw
the extras!”




”I’m not! We were just having a little. . . talk.”

“Jesus, right out in the open. Haven’t  I warned you about that?”

“It was raining out. Everybody went inside.”

“You’re an idiot.”

“Yes, I guess I am.” 

“No more ‘little talks’. He talks with his hands, miss. And other parts.” Hal stalked past us, and shocked me by reaching out and slapping the back of Harold’s head, hard.

Harold ducked, winced, looked truly contrite. His little innocent dalliance had turned bad, and he knew it had embarrassed me.

“I’m sorry,” he said, with his sad little-boy face, his eyes.

I didn’t know what to say. To cry would be disaster. It was plain he’d kiss anything with a pulse. It occurred to me that I would be within my rights to slap his face.

Just as I had the thought, as if he’d heard it, he said, “I deserve to be slapped, Muriel.”

“Oh, Harold, don’t be ridiculous.”

”No, I mean it. I broke the code of honour. Slap me.”

”Harold!”

Slap me.” He grabbed my wrist and wrestled with me.  I was dealing with a crazy person. I wrenched away from him.

“You deserve to be slapped, you self-important, ignorant little hick! But  I won’t, because you’d probably enjoy it. That’s how hopelessly immature you are.”




All the air seemed to go out of him. He did not look like a movie star, ankle-deep in mud, his rain-streaked makeup ashy and unnatural. He looked awkward, defeated, a small-town boy out of his depth.

“I don’t know what to say. I really am sorry.” He was back to Harold the human being again, shocked at his own outrageous behaviour.

“Stay away from me from now on.”

”Muriel, I really do like you. I mean it.”

“You like a lot of girls, Harold. I see it going on right under my nose.”

“But wouldn’t it be nice if we could be – “

No, Harold.”

"Muriel, you don't know how lonely. . . I mean, I just don't have time for friends. I think you're special."

Even though my body screamed forgive him, even though another part of me told me to slap him hard, to give him what he (and I) wanted, I had to walk away from him with my head high, and not look back.




After screaming abuse at him, let alone being caught kissing him out in the open, I was sure I would be immediately dismissed. But I was in for yet another surprise. The next morning the wardrobe mistress, the same one with the pins in her mouth, handed me a small folded-up note.

Dear Muriel, I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me for the way I acted last night becaus I know I insulted your dignity and your womanhood and I would not be surprised if you didn't want to speak to me, ever again, But I hope you will stay with us, we  think you have talent and even the chance for a career someday if you keep out of the way the likes of me,  I am most awfuly sorry and I hope we can still be friends, Id like that very much. In my deepest apology, 

Harold

It was as if a small boy were apologizing for stealing an apple. It did not help that his handwriting looked almost like grade school printing, that his writing style was awkward and unsophisticated (the remnants of going to a dozen different schools). I wanted to tear it up, throw it out, burn it, but I folded it in half and secreted it in my diary, along with a photo of Bea, a copy of the Twenty-third Psalm, and a lock of my mother's hair.




Picture of a naked girl (this is only a test)