Three little glazed pots in the window. Sitting like ducks.
Three sea-green pots, glazed, smoothed by the hands of a disappearing potter. Fifty years old and he is going. She said “what a shame, so young. He’s dying. And all potters in Israel know him. He is famous in the potters in Israel!” Objects in the window of a small corner shop. Sleeping behind the glass, devoured by my beauty-hungry eyes, they are not safe those three little pots.
And that was yesterday. One more day covered over in the beach surf, the tracks fading into distant memory, already, below the receding foaming water.
The prison inmate talking. Louisiana killer? Cotton-picking Louisiana felon. Five years in prison, sitting in the Louisiana sun in the courtyard of a Louisiana jail, with a Baptist church in the background with no door and no windows and a neatly trimmed lawn. Two pubescent London girls pronouncing thuggin’ “touggin’, I tahld ya it wahs touggin’ I tahld ya thaht wahs whaht he sait, touggin’ I ahndehstood”. Two young girls in very short shorts belly-baring spaghetti-strapped sleeveless tops with little clip-on microphones. All three heads down, the girls brushing their hair back as it inevitably fell in front of their faces, his short hair full of cotton specks from the field, his arms swelling in front of him with expressive thrusts of his whole upper body, hands completing the stories his words paint, after the incessant fire of the girls questions, and soon their teeny little participation in this cheap inconsequential reality show I wouldn’t admit watching were I more careful, disappears, when he talks about his past, his present, his future.
Other people’s lives.
How can the Louisiana inmate touch me so much, so far away, framed by the book-end-ish skimpy Londoners: he is poised, gesticulating, in front of the cooking Baptist church and the clipped prison lawn. Maybe he touches me so much because his life, in that recorded reality show is the opposite of mine, under the down comforter in the over-heated room, sniffling and drinking the memory of my chamomile tea from a chipped white cup, thinking about how I can make writing my life, cushy little life of choices I have. Comfy little pajamas. Maybe he touches me so much because for once I’m not watching an “8-mile-style” movie about his life with someone else playing his role, but he’s there, talking about the afternoon when he came home from basketball practice to find his mom dead in her bed “dead from cancer..too many cigarettes I think.” And the present, four months left, where they feed us good food, it’s clean inside, I get to work now, and I got clean in here. Then he’s getting out. He’s going to enroll in a Business Administration program.
And I think of the questions on all the applications I’ve ever filled out for part-time jobs or classes that ask “were you ever a convicted felon?” and I look down at my striped colored socks and think of other people’s lives.
Would I give him a chance?
Charlie Chaplin came in third in a Charlie Chaplin-lookalike contest.
Sure you have to remain true to yourself, and be who you are, and if you’re not you, then who will be you and all those things, but still. Imagine coming in third in a contest of you.
Something about this reminds me of VS. Naipaul’s banquet speech for his acceptance of his Nobel.
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Honoured Laureates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
One of the things that happen to people who get the Nobel Prize is that they get a lot of media attention. Many interviews. So many that I begin to feel now that I have lost the capacity for spontaneous thought. I need the questions. So I thought I would begin this two-minute speech like the old-fashioned comedian. The man to whom things happen on the way to the studio.
Well, then. Something happened to me on the way to Stockholm. The strap of my wrist-watch broke. And for some surreal moments I found myself looking at my watch on the floor of the plane. This is no metaphor. Here is the strapless watch. What did it mean? What was the awful symbolism? The fact that all through the Nobel week I was to be without my watch.
The great Caesar, landing in Egypt, fell flat on his face on the wet shore. You can imagine the consternation of his officers, until the great and resourceful man shouted, “Africa, I’ve got you!” Some centuries later, the Emperor Julian, training one morning with his soldiers, lost the wicker part of his shield. He was left holding only the grip or the handle. How terrible for everybody until the Emperor shouted, “What I have I hold”.
Not having the resourcefulness of these great men, I could find no words to make the bad symbolism good. Until tonight, when I understood that time was to stop for me during this Nobel week, and that, when it began again, it would be truly new. Now my strapless watch, benign again, tells me without threat that my time is running out. My two minutes are up.