During times of stress I like to imagine myself in a spaceship. I sit at a dashboard, the lights blinking, gleaming, glowing in red and blue and yellow. The way lights on a dashboard shine when you’re driving at night, say in the southwest, a gazillion stars overhead that become dizzingly apparent each time you stop for a rest, or to relieve yourself.
Of course, as soon as I realize that, unlike a car, I would not be sitting at the controls of a spaceship, unless I was strapped in. I would most likely being floating around, like the astronauts at the space laboratory. Some rock ‘n roll classic plays, Maggie Mae, Nights In White Satin, Good Morning by the Beatles, and the president calls and says he is proud of them as they twist and turn and their hair floats and they all grin broadly, sober, mathematically inclined astronauts with engineering degrees.
That ruins my spaceship fantasy. So I think of swans instead. Wild swans on a lake at night. Slowly, languidly gliding, heads tucked under their wings.
Too pre-Raphaelite, I think. I need something else.
Roberta draws to relieve stress. Her drawings are amazing. No way could I draw like that. And I inherited my father’s aptitude for drawing.
When I was 8 years old I got a tremendous crush on a girl in my third grade class named Cathy. The name had significance because I had just seen Wuthering Heights on TV, the one with Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon, and even though I was only 8, I identified completely with Heathcliff, especially as he strode out onto the moor shouting for Cathy. My dad was an illustrator by profession. Cathy liked horses. I asked my dad if he could teach me how to draw horses. He taught me how to draw horses and I began producing drawing after drawing of horses, which I presented proudly to Cathy. She received these gifts gratefully, though nothing like a romance developed. I was 8. I had not yet learned the equitation of romance.
I have a lot of movies going on in my skull. They come in handy during times of stress. Hard Day’s Night. Dances With Wolves. Heat. It Could Happen To You. Raising Arizona. Mulholland Drive. Help. Alien. Red River. The Searchers. Henry V. Hamlet. Open Range. The Matrix. Unforgiven. Rain Man. Notting Hill. Green Card. Groundhog Day. The Last Of The Mohicans.
My head is a jumble. Everything gets jumbled in my skull. Clint Eastwood gets mixed up with Shakespeare. Hamlet carries a navy revolver. John Wayne delivers soulful soliloquys.
The best movies, sometimes, are the movies I make up. Visiting a house after someone has died. The creaks in the floorboards. The smell of bread and coffee. The hallways empty. The echoing of a realtor’s voice pointing out the highlights of the house.
My first memory is a movie: John Wayne wrestling an octopus. The movie was Wake Of The Red Witch. 1948. I must have been one, or two. Is that possible? I remember my father carrying me into the theatre in his arms. The theatre was packed. And silent. Everyone’s eyes were riveted on the screen as John Wayne wrestled an octopus, those slithering arms, bulbous head, the flash of a knife, a cloud of blood, John Wayne floating to the surface, exhausted, spent, his back arched as though being lifted to heaven.