Thursday, February 9, 2012

Wile E. Coyote


On Monday evening of this week, you were heading toward a dinner rendezvous with four long-time friends when you passed a small neighborhood restaurant you’d been unaware of before.  Intrigued by its friendly, warming outdoor fireplace that cast warmth over the outdoor tables, you paused for a look inside, thinking this could become a place you’d want to try.

Your attention was drawn to a large television screen seeming to float over the main wall that faced the street.  Although impressed by what you’d estimated as the four-foot by six-foot screen, you were about to write off the restaurant as another sports bar until you saw a familiar image, shrugging, then dusting himself of debris he’d acquired during a fall.


The image was of an old friend, one you’d originally regarded as a cultural peer, his momentum growing in your esteem until he became a favored cultural peer, then an icon.  Over the years, you’d think about him from time to time, never with anything less than fondness and the accumulation of the residue of identification.

During some long forgotten conversation in some long forgotten venue, you’d received the information that his exploits were available on YouTube, a fact you were at pains to confirm.

Now, when the world is, as Wordsworth put it, too much with you, late and soon, you do not subject yourself to Ishmael’s cure of going to sea (look what happened to him when he did), instead, you take yourself to YouTube to watch Wile E. Coyote.

Standing before the restaurant, you watched transfixed as the scruffy coyote, undeterred in his ongoing battle to turn The Roadrunner into take-out food, engaged with dispatch another of the remarkable devices available to his toolkit, courtesy of The Acme Co.

What a splendid, unanticipated reunion.  Meeting Wile E. Coyote on Anapamu Street, short of the corner of Chapala, you recalled times in classes and in conversations where you’d proclaimed him the patron saint of characters.  At one point, somewhat along in your consumption of a local pinot noir, you’d observed how, were you of a particular religious bent, you’d want a scapular with the coyote’s likeness on it, insurance that were you to perish without last rites, you’d nevertheless be transported to the realm of story, wherein your eternity would be assured.

Wile E. Coyote has everything a character of either gender, of any age, could want.  He is of course Don Quixote, but he is also Gatsby; he is Becky Sharp (did she poison her husband?) he is Jane Eyre; his single-mindedness of purpose is an inspiration to those of us who confabulate story and those of us who read it, in particular those of us who read it for the techniques and strategies of extending our own narrative skills.

One moment you see Wile E. Coyote, in hot, thunderous pursuit of the Roadrunner (beep beep), the next moment; he has overrun the boundary of a particular mesa or butte.  Now, he struggles to regain his footing, but he is too late.  He must suffer the consequence, which is to say the humiliation of the long, downward plummet to the earth below.


How often have you, in one manner or another, whether romance, writing short stories, refusing the opportunity to reprint Lajos Egri’s The Art of Dramatic Fiction, or refusing the editorship at Pinnacle Books, subsequently taken the plummet yourself.  Wile E. Coyote is your Henry V, the night before the battle of Agincourt.  Cry, God for Wile E., Acme Products, and the gorge.

Look, if you will, at Inspector Jaivert.  Regard Captain Ahab.  Pause to reflect for a moment or two on Bill Sykes or, for that matter, another icon from the pages of Melville, Bartleby.  Ah, you wish Shakespeare, do you? Well then, consider Coriolanus or Mac Whatzisname ah yes, Macbeth.  Not to forget George from Of Mice and Men, nor Eustacia Wye from The Return of the Native.   Indeed, look at any of the notable Hardy protagonists, Tess, Michael Henchard, Jude, as examples.  You’ve already mentioned Fitzgerald’s Gatsby; what about his Monroe Stahr, what about Dr. Dick Diver.

Look closely and you will see in each of these memorable ones the likeness, the image of a scruffy coyote, running, hunkered low, about to spring.  If you listen with care, you will hear the cartoon soundtrack evoking the spiraling, downward descent.

Plop.

After a long, leisurely dinner, you strode toward your car, a block or so away.  As you passed the restaurant, you turned toward that large screen.
There he was, in yet another adventure.

Things had not got better for Wile E. Coyote.

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