Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Boil Some Water--Lots of It

Your favorite characters for following in the works of other writers and for use in works of your own devising are men and women who are not among the most reliable of narrators. They are by no means meanspirited nor devious, nor are they duplicitous. More than anything, they are marginal, as in outliers, persons more notable at the rat-tail ends of the bell curve rather than prominent in some field of their choice.


These favorites of yours may have an ability or, if you will, a talent not of their own choosing and certainly not in a discipline where they devote daily practise. In fact, such extraordinary ability seems to them more in the nature of an albatross than an ability of which they can display owner's pride.

These views coincide with your frequent expressions of admiration for the cartoon character of Wile E. Coyote, who is, as his name suggests, a coyote, but who is also anything but wily, the spelling of his name a deliberate intended irony in the same manner Groucho Marx's greasepaint eyebrows and mustache are deliberate exaggerations, meant in their overdone state to remind us of his rascally intent.

In a real sense, Groucho is well up on Wile E. Coyote; Groucho always has the last word, and that last word is some stinging rebuke or observation to remind us how the world may be unfair, fingers on the scale, robber barons eventually winning mode, but such things may be held at bay by the laughter of scorn and the stripping away of the mantle of respectability. 

Groucho is living reminder of the nakedness of the emperor. Wile E. Coyote, however much he is the patron saint of characters, thanks to his single-mindedness, is a living reminder of the humiliation most characters are caused to suffer by the vicissitudes of Life.

Enter now another remarkable character from a remarkable writer, one of your favorite writers, in fact, F. Scott Fitzgerald, whom you admire more in his short stories than his novels, This admiration takes in Fitzgerald's understanding of the needs of so many early teens and twenties, including their avowed preference for those who are quite genuine in their desire to change the world, to take down many of the obstacles that cause teen-aged romanticism and optimism to morph into cynicism, 

Among the dozens of memorable characters Fitzgerald has pumped into the reality of twentieth century literature, one of your favorites seems to have with deliberate purpose, allowed himself to be moved to the rat-tailed end lines of the bell curve, Pat Hobby, the screenwriter holdover from the days when movies were either entirely silent or transitional in the sense of scene changes being presented the audience in the framework of contentious and/;or provocative dialogue.

Pat Hobby was once allowed to sit at The Writers' Table in the Studio cafeteria, but who is now forced to take lunch with stage hands, grips, extras, and animal trainers as opposed to the studio heads, producers, and thousand-dollar-a-week screenwriters. Fitzgerald, who was once invited to lunch at The Writers' Table, has changed the lyric grace of his short stories to a kind of screenplay mash-up in which declarative sentences vie with readily obvious appearances. Fitzgerald wrote and published seventeen Pat Hobby Stories, in a real sense turning not only the laser beam of inquiry on himself but the Wile E. coyote-ness of the studio system at the time of his participation in it.

You admire all the Pat Hobby stories, but the unquestioned favorite is one entitled "Boil Some Water--Lots of It," centered about Hobby being given a three-week job on a medical thriller, his major contribution being a medical emergency in which a doctor character is portrayed as ordering a nurse at an emergency scene to "Boil some water--lots of it," and now, Hobby is unable to devise an appropriate dramatic response to the order.

In a stratagem every bit as suitable for Wile E. Coyote in one of his attempts to bag the Roadrunner for lunch or an early dinner, Pat Hobby finds a nurse from a nearby medical office, invites her to lunch, in a real sense hoping not only to find out what the boiling water is used for but to glean possibilities for subsequent action in the screenplay. Hobby brings the nurse to the studio, where they sit within range of the Writers' Table. The nurse recognizes and is mesmerized by a number of actors and directors.

Unknown to Hobby, a top-tier screenwriter has orchestrated a remarkable prank in which he, costumed as an extra from an adventure movie, sits at the Writers' Table, refuses to leave when he is told mere extras are not permitted, becomes belligerent, begins waving his Cossack sword. 

Hobby sees the prank unfold, but unaware of it being a prank, thinking instead to earn his way back to the Writers' Table, crowns the "extra" with his cafeteria tray, laden with dishes, drawing blood, then learning he has bashed the top-tier screenwriter. Of course the episode is brought around to its farcical origins with the nurse, rushing to attend the prostrate screenwriter, calls forth, "Boil some water--lots of it."

Like a Wile E. Coyote misadventure, Pat Hobby has once again found the humiliation only someone who could want so much to be a part of the Writers' Table status could want, making it ever so much more than a prank gone bad, in the process drawing in a victim of an artificial system. Of course you follow and respect the Wile E. Coyote cartoons and the Pat Hobby stories, not only for their iconic themes but as well for the way Fitzgerald's artistry took him on yet another aspect of his short story vision with this spare, wry style.

The coyote and Hobby are so caught up in the immediacy of their simple, direct quests, the coyote to bring down the Roadrunner, and Hobby, intent on keeping himself on the payroll, that we root for them because we see, beyond their ability to do so, the hopelessness of their goals. We are left thus, our own goals for company. If we are silent for a few moments, we can hear them, dictating notes of desperation to us, asking us, please, a little help for a friend.Please.


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