No, I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous---
Almost, at times, the Fool.
I grow old…I grow old…
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Excerpt - The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
T. S. Eliot
So much I like about this poem, though Eliot was an anti-Semite. Born in Missouri of all places. Anyway, fairly astonishing poet. It begins:
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table…
…among my favorite lines in literature. Etherized…rather puts you in a time. The passage above has manifold meaning for me. Actually, I did play Hamlet at the Folger in D.C., so, it was meant to be. The girl who played Ophelia was gorgeous, but paid no attention to me whatsoever. She was fucking Kevin Kline. We all three were working at the Arena Stage but in different shows. He was an uber-hot rising actor, and an awfully good one. I’ve always maintained talent is a sexy force. I was an attendant lord.
I am an instigator more than a finisher, saying things to get a reaction, or needle; have started a scene or two in my day. Agitation is a kind of swelling, as a way to deal with feeling helpless or inadequate. Then, I slink away to another part of the party. Not too comfortable advising, anymore. Here I have learned, emphatically, to keep my mouth shut. I get asked once in awhile, and, if asked, I will put in my oar. As a differential, I made a living outside of the theater as a dependable middle-manager. Once, in college, I helped my fraternity brother get chosen to take a trip to a conference. We were in Kansas, and I think the thing was in Miami. After he was selected to go, I thought: hey, wait a minute…why didn’t I try to get myself sent to Miami! Regardless, I felt a secret, politic power behind the scenes, like Iago, or some Chancellor.
I believe I am fairly cautious now. I used to bull-nose my way in and out of a lot of trouble, explode my existence to bits. I’d quit, burn bridges; have an affair to wreck a relationship; drink before an audition, the usual, self-destructive crapola.
At times, indeed, almost a schmuck---
Now? No. I may sense the tendency coming on to muck things up, like an alcoholic may crave a drink, but, firmly recovered, would never dream of taking one. I am not meticulous in all things, but I am in my work, compulsive, out of a sense of incompetence. If there is a mess on my desk? Who cares.
Though, I certainly am not full of high sentences - I take my toast and tea from observation and instinct – I do presume to put up a blahg. I am, on occasion, ridiculous, obtuse, just ask my teenage daughter or her mother. In truth, I do play to it, aggressively, like “I, Claudius”, as a survival technique. It’s almost a neurotic response from me, like a veteran who has to sit with his back against a wall. My war was with a distant, depressive father. I could deflect wrath, or make a ripple in the still surface of his dark, cold lake of moods. In school, to win friends, I would clown, even restrain a bit of brilliance which may have put off people I wanted to win over. Later, this penchant morphed into a stage career. The Fool, commonly, in Shakespeare, the cleverest of fellows, gets his own. Make ‘em laugh.
The other day, I caught myself with my jeans rolled …not for style, but because they kept slipping down, and without shoes on, I was stepping on the cuffs…so I rolled them up. It is one thing to come to terms with the inevitability of to be or not to be, or its foreplay, aging. I get that. What snaps my braces is knowing how to drop the role.
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”