Monday, 9 April 2007

John Guare: A kindred spirit, another odd duck in the pond

Have you ever read a writer and thought, "Get out of my head!" Then realized the scribe in question was writing thirty years before you were even a zygote?

(Vice Magazine's conversational dos and don'ts: DON'T ask a question in conversation simply because you want to be asked the same thing. Sorry about that. Though this is only a conversation with my blog. So I'll continue...)

Well I have! It was one of those books that burns a hole on your shelf. You keep meaning to force yourself to pick it up, but you nearly get to liking the look of it. You stop thinking of it as a book at all, but as more of a prop. The idea that the spine and pages could represent anything past their aesthetic qualities is baffling. I find the best way to deal with a Reader's Block like this one is to take the book somewhere you'll be desperate for reading material: On vacation, to the bathroom, to a particularly slow shift at work, the tube, you get my meaning...

And eventually you might just be compelled to delve deeper into this mysterious pagey object.

Let's take me and a copy of John Guare's "Four Baboons Adoring the Sun and Other Plays", which I had no real reason to not read for the two weeks it spent accumulating late fees from RADA's library. But sure enough, one week ago, while working the interminably long 10 hour shift at my hip video shop, I decided to spend some lonely hours reading the thing aloud. And what do you know, bit by bit the truth emerges- John Guare is a long lost soul mate. We're separated by the tragedy of decades and history, but here is one more Odd Duck for the pond. In fact, in his play, "The Loveliest Afternoon of the Year" a character says as much himself:

She: I like him very much. He's really an odd person - an odd duck. But he does tell me awfully funny stories. (to him, slyly) Hey, tell me a funny story?

He: They're not funny stories! They're true!

She: (To us.) True! Listen to this one, please. We're in the Zoo near the polar bear cage. Now I have never seen a polar bear. (Excited.) Hey, look at the polar bear! (SHE reaches to touch it through the bars.)

He: (Violently pulling her back.) Don't do that!!!

She: I never saw a polar bear, for God's sake. It won't kill me.

He: Won't kill you! Listen, ten years ago, my sister Lucy was a top debutante-

She: (Impressed.) Really?

He: And after her coming-out party at the Hotel Plaza back there, Lucy and her two escorts broke into this part of the Zoo and Lucy stuck her arm into this cage-this very cage- just as you did now before I stopped you. And this polar bear- (HE follows the polar bear with an accusing finger, shakes it three times.) No, I don't think it was this polar bear- this one doesn't look familiar- (SHE comes to him.) But the polar bear- the one ten years ago- bit my sister Lucy's arm right off at the breast! (HE turns away, covering his face.)


He: And we heard her screams clear all over the Plaza and the doctors came and (petulant) we all had to leave the coming-out party. I was very young - well, eighteen -

She: What did they do?

He: My parents shrieked, "Do something do something," and the doctors and all the ambulances which came (pantomimes dramatically) pulled Lucy's arm out of the polar bear's mouth and quickly sewed it back on. Modern surgery can do things like that.

She: (Truly horrified.) What happened? - Omigod!!!!

He: The arm grew back - thank God- but Lucy never went to another coming-out party again.

She: Boy, I can see why not.

He: Because enormous amounts of - she developed all over her body - enormous amounts of white polar bear hair and for her comfort we had to ship her to Alaska in a cage.

She: (Suspicious.) You're putting me on.

He: (Disparaging her disbelief.) You're from Ohio. You come from a nice little family. You don't understand the weirdness, the grief that people can spring from -

She: You're the oddest duck I've ever met.

He: (Horrified.) Ducks! You stay away from ducks. I can tell you a story about my aunt -
Alright, alright, it's not just the fact that he uses the term "odd duck" and that I use the term "odd duck"- though sometimes a similarity in vocabulary is all you need to fall in love with a writer. It's the fact that so many of his fixations seem to mirror my own.
Here's a fact you may not have wanted to know- my partner and I share a joke about two librarians who, after years of checking in books next to each other, have hands that casually brush then end up making out on the overdues stack. I guess it's just that nerdy lust thing- which being nerdy I can't help but relate to. Well John Guare has gone one better- and in another short play, A Day for Surprises, writes a whole monologue where a bookworm describes his love for the resident librarian:
I quickly undressed her and then myself and- while she arranged our things with the neatness that was her trademark and the bane of the overdue fine room, I arranged on the floor of the Neglected Masterpieces Section, a bed - a couch made of photostats of Elizabethan Love Lyrics. She said I've never loved anybody so I want this to be good. I said, oh, I had never loved anybody before either. So I took a copy of Love Without Fear and she took a Modern Manual on How to Do It, and we wrapped - like Christmas packages for people you love - wrapped our bodies, our phosphorescent, glowing, about-to-become-human bodies around each other. And began reading.
Wha-wha-what could be sexier or nerdier or sadder or cuter or both more and less real? Look at his bow tie... who is this man? "Get out of my bedroom!" (Which is what I would say, if a stranger, even in a cute tie, snuck into my bedroom. Because trespassing is creepy.)
So there you have it, John Guare, writer of Six Degrees of Separation just keeps getting better. If you fancy yourself an odd duck, you should check him out. Who knows what freaky stuff he's up to at your local library.

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