You need no ticket to make a place for yourself here where humor, black and otherwise, comes to you from the stage where the human comedy itself is being played, its performance trumping the things dark and tragic and found in the world of literature.
“I find an Atticus Luna half hidden under a skunk cabbage leaf with its back to the ground and motionless, on the edge of a swamp. The underside is a particularly pale hoary green. It is somewhat greener above with a slightly purplish brown border on the front edge of its front wings, and brown, yellow, and whitish eye-spot in the middle of each wing. It is very sluggish and allows me to turn it over and cover it up with another leaf, sleeping till the night comes. It has more relation to the moon by its pale hoary-green color and its sluggishness by day than by the form of its tail.”
Henry David Thoreau, June 27, 1859
I heard her clumping boots coming down the steps of the house across the street. She was wearing a gold lame tank top under a black cotton sweater and was carrying a handbag that was quite ill suited to what she probably considered a well-planned ensemble. One could have easily thought she was dressed for a night on the town, though 30 years ago, and not a walk across the street to her own barn.
“That’s Valentino,” she said pointing to a tacked-up poster.
“Oh I thought it might be George Raft trying to look like Valentino,” I said.
“Oh, you know you’re the first one to notice that. In fact, he did try to look like Valentino at one time. That’s very clever of you.”
“You like things that are a little shmutzy?”she asked.
Even though my well of natural sarcasm is deep I couldn’t bring myself to a retort like, “Oh do you mean like the damp and moldy stuff tacked up in here?” I either would have broken her heart or clicked on her natural defenses switch and gotten us summarily rejected from the dank barn just off the Palisades Parkway in upstate New York.
She walked us over to the door on which was posted an early 1900s engraving of a doctor examining a young girl with his hand reaching up under her flowing dress to her pubis where he was examining her for “female problems”.
“Oh, she’s blushing,” she said indicating my companion with a turn of her head and a quick flutter of her overdone eyelashes. It was a brisk fall day and now I noticed that her rosy cheeks were not a product of the bracing air, but Dr. Max Factor’s cure for facial pallor: rouge.
She pointed out a poster of Bogart holding the Falcon and again I grimaced at the rapid deterioration of the paper items tacked up on the walls. Marilyn in Bus Stop, a triptych of the subway skirt raising in The Seven-Year Itch; a full-size Elvis (“I think that’s from Christmas Cousins.” (sic)). I knew it was a publicity shot from one of his more undistinguished films but wasn’t about to correct her; Robert Redford in The Candidate; Theda Bara in a film forgotten by both posterity and me.
Sheet music, at least protected in plastic bags, nevertheless was tacked up through the paper itself.
“Here’s a song from the Spanish American war,” she said fishing for a sale. I still hadn’t let her realize my indifference toward her damaged goods by either word or deed.
“Does it have a picture of Teddy Roosevelt on it?”
“Why do you have to make my life hard,” she joked, only sadly.
I then realized her little barn wasn’t about selling -- it was about her performance. It was as though she had some distant kinship with the stars on her posters.
As he spoke trying to find a tempting fact about the subjects of her worn and tattered posters her voice trailed off as if at the end of some wistful echo, a little sad and tattered itself, yet oddly suited to her wares. Who but a scholar or student would know or care that Eddy Cantor made a movie called whatever where he sang whatever. She might, I suppose. As years pass such knowledge is the possession of fewer and fewer, who themselves grow stranger; perhaps stranger even than the sum of their odd ephemeral knowledge, both, in the end, sad victims of time.
J.D. Finch, 1996