Sunday, January 26, 2014

You and the Man in the Chicken Suit

You did not know until sometime in your forties that your mother followed you to school every day for two weeks to see if she could get any clues about how you managed to attract so much clutter and dirt.

You did not realize until today that Matthew Bender believed he was not the sort of man women would throw peanuts at him from their portions of kung pao chicken.

The former information came out in casual conversation with your mother, well after days when you apparently did come home in a more  rustic and disheveled state than when you departed most mornings.  This was some time after your appearance on returning home caused her neither concern nor curiosity.  "This was well before you got your growth,"  she told the you in your forties.  "I often wondered how a boy your size managed to attract so much dirt."  

The latter information is by some degrees of a more subjective matter because Matthew Bender, although quite real to you, is not an actual person.  He is a character.  You know this about him:  somewhere in the nooks and recesses of your mind, he bears a relationship to Odysseus, the commanding figure in The Odyssey and as well no mere bit player in The Iliad.

You first drew this conclusion about him when you saw two points of similarity between your character and the more kingly and respected performer of the Homeric epics.  One man was returning home to Ithaca from the Trojan Wars, the other returning home to Santa Barbara from a good long run in an off off Broadway production of Troilus and Cressida, which had him involved in some professional and territorial squabbles with a notional director.

When you encountered by accident the translated meaning of Odysseus' name--"a man of many turns"--Bender's name seemed to glow in the light of implication.

You were revising a short story in which Bender is seated across the table from Heather, whom he is beginning to see as the love of his life. They are eating kung pao chicken in an atmosphere Bender considers to be fraught with romantic implications.  Of a sudden, on a whim, or perhaps with a significant goal in mind, Heather selects a peanut from her plate, hefts it, then throws it at Bender.

You could say that you realized Bender had never been in such a situation before, which would have required you to somehow have that information occur to Bender as well as to you.  Call it interior monologue.  Call it what you will; the information spoke to you from Bender, who at that moment was at an emotional crossroads with the realization he was not the sort of man at whom women threw unshelled peanuts.  He was also aware how much he cared for Heather.  A response was called for.  You in fact admired his response to the thrown peanut and, later, to the consequences of the thrown peanut.

At this point in the stories you have placed him in, you find it doubtful Bender has any awareness of the similarity between his name and the translated meaning of Odysseus.  This awareness might have some significant impact on his reactions to a young girl named Cindy, who has a crush on him and wishes to become his girlfriend.  Once again, you have to spend more time listening to Matthew Bender, inducing him to reveal more secrets to you.

You find it curious, amusing, and significant that this young girl bears an arguable comparison to a young princess from The Odyssey, Nausica'a, who manages to prank Odysseus, inspiring for you Cindy's memorable prank on Bender.

Your mother could have asked you for some sort of judgment about your headlong approach into things that leave stains on the clothing and skin of a young boy.  But what could you have said that would satisfy any part of her curiosity?  At that time of your life, you had all you could do to remove such treasures as you acquired during the course of a day, then store them in a succession of cigar boxes that came your way from your father.  

You like to think you'd have said something existential, "I go forth seeking adventures and treasures, making do with bottle caps, marbles, broken clocks, and such targets of opportunity Nature chooses to share with me:  a cricket, a ladybug, a mouse."  The greater likelihood is the more basic, "I dunno."  The greater likelihood is that it did not seem like so much dirt to you as it did seem like opportunities for discovery.  You are, in fact, a result of all your dirt and treasures and the reaching for them.

You have to be careful with Bender as well; he is an actor--sometimes a quite good one, other times holding on.  In that sense, he reminds you of you, more often than not, unable to see when he is quite good or merely holding on.  The important thing with both of you is that he takes jobs, you write.  You might both be more prolific if neither of you lived so much an interior life, although you've tried that other, not thinking way as well as the one you're on now.

Bender has been Troilus.  He has also worn a chicken suit while parading in front of a chicken restaurant on upper Milpas Street.  You could give a good account of him; he could do a pretty good impression of you, except that you know a thing or two about peanut throwing he does not know.  It counts some that you had to watch him in action to discover this secret of his.  

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