OBSIDIAN

You remember the name of the town, don't you? [Zihuatanejo]

Aloha Oe

Once in the days when I was young, my innocence still intact, our troop ship ghosted silently along Oahu’s south shore toward the seaward opening to Pearl Harbor. Having drawn late duty, I was below decks asleep when someone shook me awake and said, “We’re coming into the harbor.”

I swung my feet over the edge of my rack, pulled on my boots and headed up the ladder. As I clear the transom and step out onto a catwalk into the sunshine I am struck immediately with a profound sense of familiarity, de ja vu perhaps, the deep, unsettling sense of having been here before. This exact view of Diamond Head, so familiar and breathtaking in real life and floating quietly in my preconscious mind, an image so detailed and accurate that I am overwhelmed with a sense of belonging.

I turn slowly and take in Honolulu, gleaming white against a deep, green drape of mountains and an electric blue sky. The mountain pass through which the planes had come. The old Ala Moana, the Royal Hawaiian, Fort de Russy, the clock tower at Hickam Field, where my mother had lost two cousins, all move slowly by until we swing into the channel.

We climb a short ladder to the flight deck and cross to the port railing and someone says, “There’s the Arizona.”

In the windswept channel, hard by Ford Island, a stark white alabaster bridge stands astride the lurking, broken hull of the Arizona. I glance down the rail, three hundred Marines and sailors are suddenly silent. This too, we have all experienced before, have seen ourselves in this very place somehow; we all carry this image, this moment.

In the blue-green water, her outline is clearly visible, a tiny oil slick still rises from the hull and the flag stands permanently at half-staff. No one speaks a word. Behind me and to my left, I can hear the ship’s own ensign snapping in the breeze, below us and off the port bow, the flag at the monument answers with its own ruffles and cracks. Except for these two flags and the water lapping faintly against the ship, there is not a sound and no movement.

And then comes some faint music, ebbing on the wind, at first I think it’s my imagination but then louder, more persistent. We start to straggle across to the starboard side and just ahead, marching up the dock, in tight formation comes a Navy band playing a welcome for us. A short Sousa medley, all drumbeat and driving cadence, then sliding magically into the lilting, sensuous Aloha Oe, with its melancholy promise of gentle breezes, of going away and coming back again, and then the band pays its respects to the ship with a rousing Anchors Aweigh and the sailors start to smile, I turn to the guy next to me and almost laugh out loud at the incredible lightness of the moment and then they stop abruptly and there is only silence, the wind pressing against my chest, we watch but the instruments remain up, at the ready, and I realize what they’re about to play and I swallow and they strike the first notes of our quirky, magnificent hymn and every Marine is suddenly rooted to the deck.

After the Ogden is secure and most everyone is below fighting for shower time, I stroll back over and look at the Arizona monument. I try to hear the planes. I try to imagine the burning oil and the men in the water.

Behind me someone says, “It gets me every time.” I turn and find our First Sergeant quietly squinting into the sun, he turns and looks at me and says, “Yeah…every single time.”

In ten days, we will be in Southeast Asia.

My Morning with Eric Hoffer

Ha! Well, it isn’t much of a story, more like an anecdote, maybe. As I said it happened when I was living in Berkeley and taking the occasional temporary job with Manpower to make ends meet, grocery money, walking around money. One morning, they hooked me up with some guy on the waterfront up in Richmond. So I find this guy and he takes me out to a warehouse on the end of a pier, big old building with roll-ups down both sides and across the end. Totally empty. He gives me a push broom and tells me to sweep the place down. He’ll be back around 4:30 and he leaves. This fucking place is enormous. I’m not sure I can do it by 4:30. So I’m working away and about an hour later I get to talking with some old guy fishing from the pier. Nice old guy, short, stocky with a pinch-brim hat and a beat-up tackle box and I realize it’s Eric Hoffer. Shit man, this is cool. He’s kind of retired by now but he’s pretty well known around Berkeley and shows up at school sometimes to give these little talks. I keep working away and going out every half hour or so to check in with him. Ha, I keep waiting for him to say something pithy. I know, I know, I’m pretty fucking dense. Anyway by about 2, I’m seeing I may not finish this goddam job by 4:30 so I’m bearing down and he disappears. No wave, no nod, no good bye, just gone. I think how Eric Hoffer that is. Cool. Cool to be snubbed by Eric Hoffer. I’m almost happy he didn’t say good bye. Better this way. So that night back at the house (up on Oxford Street) I let slip how I spent the morning chatting with Eric Hoffer up in Richmond. At first there is some doubt, some sideways glances but I plow ahead and pretty soon they’re all thinking it’s possible and leaning in for the details which I carefully embellish. It became part of the house lore that I’d spent the morning with Eric Hoffer. Whenever it came up I played it with humility. A couple of months later some of us go down to campus one night to hear him speak. Not just him, there were three of four people speaking that night (I think Nader was there that night) but, of course, we were all looking forward to me reacquainting myself with Hoffer and if the opportunity presented itself, maybe I could introduce a couple of my buds. Well, you know where this is going. We get settled into our seats and I find Hoffer on the dais and, shit(!), it isn’t ‘Eric Hoffer’! I’m having hot flashes, blinking my eyes while my friends are all still busy getting settled. One part of my brain is still trying to decide how to handle this when I hear my voice say, ‘That isn’t Eric Hoffer, uh, I mean, I don’t know this guy’. Oh man, it was brutal. After that my friends would randomly look up, usually over my shoulder, and whisper, ‘I think Eric Hoffer just walked in.’ Fuckers. And it pissed me off when I realized some random old fart wasted part of my morning up in Richmond and didn’t even have the decency to say good bye.

Passing Through

Guy died yesterday. On the golf course. On the fucking golf course. Jesus. Phillip Seymour Hoffman died in what most us assumed was mid-career. Of course the reaper is amused by such presumption. My father saw it coming from a distance. My mother died suddenly. Where did they go? Really. Where? Roger said he was going back to where he came from. The body had ceased to be useful and now he was casting it aside and going back. David Foster Wallace, Leann, Lee Bishop. The demons we’d all suspected were in pursuit finally ran Robin Williams down. They say you can never really know a public person. Shit, you can never really know an intimate. But really what is there to know? The differences, the variations, end up meaning nothing.

‘And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?’

Heard from a guy I used to know. A thousand years ago. Out of the blue, that’s the way it always is. Just a ‘how you doing? How you been? sort of thing. Nothing special really, except the name and the freight it was carrying. The name belongs to a nineteen year old kid. Stuck in time. Can’t see the name without seeing that kid. White hair would be an outrage. Couple of things, first forty years is a long fucking time. Shit, forty? Coming up on fifty. Lotta water under the bridge. Lotta water under my bridge. Lotta water under his. Funny how we didn’t stay in touch. I think about that part of it sometimes. Not just this guy but most of the guys from those years. Funny. When you run into somebody you haven’t seen in a while, you know, someone you’ve lost track of for, say, three or four years, someone invariably says, ‘What have you been doing?’ but with this guy, and other guys who’ve looked me up, the fifty years seems to make that a silly question. The question becomes ‘Did you have a good life?’ But let’s face it, we’re in the home stretch here and any casual inquiry is going to call up some unpleasantness, death, illness, divorce, an estranged child, a bankruptcy, some goddam thing. Life’s like that, fifty years will include some cruelty. It’s almost enough to just hear from them, to know they’re still of this earth, still have their faculties, and can confirm I did, indeed, pass through that time with them.

“And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.”

Raymond Carver

Overly familiar things.

Destined to be my shortest post ever. Pet peeves. Any reference to the Atlantic Ocean being ‘The Pond’. Dated, over-used (and how!) and trite. Vast majority of people who use it are too young or too uninformed to appreciate a time when it was actually kind of an amusing allusion. ‘Deja Vu all over again’. Give it a rest. Give it a fucking rest. ‘At this point in time’. Redundant, ill-considered. ‘At this point’ suffices or, in the alternative, ‘At this time’, equally apt. Not both. (It turns out I yammered on too long for this to be my shortest post ever. Turns out ‘As though it were yesterday’ which immediately precedes this snippet, is shorter. My only excuse is that ‘As though it were yesterday’ is actually a scrap from a much longer piece that is incubating and likely to see the light of day in a week or so.)

As though it were yesterday

I remember the funeral. Black and white and grey. The drum. The horses and the caisson. The sound of the horses on the pavement. And the little kid saluting. And the drum. And the adults moving along at a good clip to keep up with the caisson. Jackie’s veil blowing. And the drum.

Not a great hand but a good one

I wish I could say I knew him well but I did not. Our nodding acquaintance could brighten an afternoon walk if we encountered one another unexpectedly and, if our paths crossed in close enough proximity, we might even call out by name. But this, it turned out, was his nature, to put the other fellow at ease, to accept an easy familiarity quite beyond the actual shape of your relationship. Of course, by the time we became acquainted, he had long since established himself as a writer and a commentator and, in fact, in a funny, circular kind of a way, it was the trouble this created for him in the city that made it possible for me to come to know him in the first place. Truth be told, I had sought him out.

This was several years ago, nearly ten now that I think of it, I knew I wanted to meet him but also knew it would be nearly impossible in the city where he was already under siege. I heard he was a private man who kept to a small circle of friends and to the same neighborhood into which he had moved after the first book came out all those years ago. I heard he rarely did book signings and besides a book signing wouldn’t really serve my purpose and even rarer would he make an appearance at a party, even those which were ostensibly being given in his honor. No, if an actual meeting were to be orchestrated, it would have to be outside the city, or at least outside this city.

Bill, my serial neighbor, he of the frequent flyer miles, said he knew him but after a brief conversation it became apparent what he really meant was that he had once been in the same room with him and had, in fact, not even worked his way through the receiving line for a casual handshake but had rather maintained his focus on the free booze and a lady from Argentina. But he did say he’d heard he had a house up on the lake, the big lake, and that he’d go there in the late summer to clear his mind and do some writing. I listened to this with an air of polite interest. My interest, fascination even, in him, didn’t need to be broadcast.

I drove up in November, before Thanksgiving and well after I imagined he would have returned to the city. This first time I planned to just drive up to get a look at the village, see the size of the place, what it looked like, perhaps stop for a meal, maybe even get a room for a day or two.

It was a three and a half hour drive and about an hour out of the city I realized I hadn’t even confirmed he had a place at the lake and if he did if he used it the way Bill had described. I decided to continue on regardless, that if it turned out Bill was wrong which the more I thought about it seemed likely, I could take a room for the week-end and plan my next move, if there was going to be a next move.

Why I wanted to meet him escapes me. It seemed an amusing thing, I guess, to meet and know someone so difficult to meet and know. Maybe that was the whole of it. I’m certainly not given to celebrity worship, have never asked for an autograph even in those instances where I’ve found myself in a position to do so with little effort, wouldn’t cross the street to get a better look at an actor or politician and except for my first wife, who I stalked shamelessly, have never gone out of my way to meet anyone, ever. But I drove up in the gloom of an overcast November conspiring to meet someone solely because they were a public person and were someone whose writing I admired.

In those days I was still driving the hand-me-down Jeep wagon, the one with the grey primer, jury-rigged tail lights and the aversion to thin air. When I stopped in Montclair for gas and found the air crisp and cold I expected the worst. She coughed dramatically when I restarted her and swooned temporarily when I tried to pull back out onto the road but then she settled down and we made the run up to the big lake without incident.

The village is on the eastern shore and from the road skirting the south shore, with the late afternoon sun slanting in, seems to float magically above the water. I could imagine generations of children coming up for vacation seeing it from here, in this way for the first time, and the sheer anticipation welling up and laughing out loud.

I had a hot roast beef sandwich at Markey’s, a place more blue collar than quaint, inquired about a room for the night and bought a hat that said, ‘I ate at Markey’s so…’ and on the back, ‘if I stumble and fall, it’s probably ptomaine’. The lady who handed me my hat, pointed across the parking lot and said I wouldn’t have any trouble getting a room this time of year, before the skiers and snow bunnies and well after the summer crowds. I said, ‘So then everybody’s pretty much gone back to the city?’ as though making idle conversation but really hoping for some glimmer of people who might still be around. ‘Yeah, I guess…pretty much,’ she said dully, making change and smiling that ‘ya’ll-come-back-real-soon’ smile.

I walked across the road and through the low grass to the boat dock and stood looking across the water, squinting into the evening sun and wondered if he had ever stood here, in this place, watching the sun go down and if he were close enough to walk back to his place or if he’d turned and gone over to Markey’s for a hot roast beef sandwich.

I took a cabin on the high side of the parking lot for thirty-five dollars. I backed the wagon into the space between me and the number four cabin so that come morning if her arthritis was acting up I could get a rolling start and pop the clutch to bring her around. The sheets, crisp and cold, smelled clean, the two wool blankets heavy in a reassuring kind of way and as I lay in the dark I could make out a tiny shaft of light coming in from under an eave and lighting the far wall and an enormous cobweb above the Formica table. I decided to stay through the week-end, to go see Eddie at the gas station in the morning and give him another seventy bucks and drive back to the city late Monday morning. At three AM, I sat up and wrote the line, ‘Under their feet lay the bones of dead men, on the horizon they could see the big cats.’ It was the first line of Mastodon. I don’t know where it came from.

In the morning, I pulled on an extra sweat shirt and my brand new baseball cap and noticed that even in the cabin I could see my breath. I knew the Jeep was going to be unhappy. I walked over to Markey’s, somewhere up to the left, in the trees, a dog was barking, the sound coming down through the trees in that unique echo reserved for pine forests, out on the lake I could hear an outboard motor and voices, fishermen, I guess, talking and then some laughter. I considered how one might go about looking for someone, a stranger, in a small village without seeming to be looking for them. It meant, among other things, I couldn’t mention his name, couldn’t ask for directions, couldn’t even intimate that I was vaguely aware of some semi-famous author living hereabouts. In fact, any inquiry whatsoever would sound an alarm, so I was left with some aimless wandering. Pleasant enough in these surroundings but again I started to calculate what would be the odds of finding him, or anyone for that matter, with aimless wandering. The waitress, Doreen her name tag said, brought me a cup of coffee. I surveyed the room. Not counting the cook, Doreen or the youngish girl at the register, six men and two women, retirees I thought, plus a handyman, a guy in mechanics overalls and a young couple wearing plaid jackets and Sorels.

Next I strolled over to the gas station. Eddie wasn’t on duty. Charles W. was apparently the morning man. I told him I wanted to extend for a couple of days and started fishing around in my pockets for money. ‘I’ll tell Eddie,’ he said as if to save me the trouble of coming up with the cash. ‘Can’t I give it to you?’ ‘Naw, Eddie handles that,’ he said looking up at the cabins. Involuntarily my eyes followed his. The Jeep wagon with the grey primer and the jury rigged tail lights sat among perhaps a dozen cabins. There were no other cars, no movement, no sign of any other cabin dwellers. ‘It’s not like we’re gonna throw you out,’ Charles W. said smiling.

I went back to the cabin and spent an hour or two jotting down some thoughts. I wondered how he might look in real life, older, taller than I expected, friendly, taciturn, distracted…would I even recognize him?

As the morning warmed up, I coaxed the Jeep awake and drove down to Exeter Mills which is about twelve miles and consists of a motel made to look like a log cabin, a gas station (two pumps) and a chicken take-out. And a boarded up sno-cone stand which probably does a brisk business during the summer months. But Exeter Mills is more about the surrounding summer camps, there are few houses. I decided to circle the lake. What does he drive? Surely he buys groceries. I wondered if he was a regular at Markey’s. Maybe he doesn’t cook, maybe he’s strictly a Markey’s regular but just as surely, he has likely gone back to the city by now.

I stopped at Privet’s Landing, a small, sandy beach where the kids can hang out and give their counselors a break but in November crowded with drift wood and a square wooden platform which, in July, would be anchored out in the lake, ‘Privet’s’ in big block letters painted on all four sides. The trees on the far side of the lake seemed to come right down to the water, I could just make out a car or truck moving along the road and then I could pick out the village, little more than a couple of white flecks in the dark of the tree line and a faint plume of smoke.

I spent the rest of the week-end getting to know Doreen and Eddie and Charles W. Saturday night, I had the spaghetti, slightly over-cooked and spicy, and talked with Berg, the cook, a refugee of the youth camps who had trouble cooking for fewer than a hundred. I decided to come back in the spring, maybe get a realtor to show me around, make some light conversation. Yeah, maybe get a realtor.

I got back to the city late Monday afternoon and went to bed. The Markey’s hat ended up on the door knob of the coat closet.

So it goes. Poo-tee-weet.

NRA convention just ended here in Houston. Usual, predictable silliness. Palin spoke, shrill, drawn, playing the victim card and the entitlement card and the paranoid card…Perry spoke, pretty much the same shit…Ted Nugent spoke, I think, but failed to make any headlines down here and since I didn’t actually read any of the (mostly) front page articles about the convention, limiting myself to just the headlines, ledes and the occasional caption, I’m not absolutely sure what his appearance amounted to. I feel better not knowing. Couple of things occur to me though. First, they had a vendor showing his wares who is marketing a life-sized mannequin of President Obama that ‘bleeds’ when shot. Big seller. The same company has a model called ‘the ex’ which can be ordered with various colors of hair to approximate what your ex-wife might look like when viewed through the sight of a high powered rifle or assault weapon. ‘She’ also ‘bleeds’. Also a big seller. I can’t make this stuff up. I see where a thirteen year old boy in Florida shot his six year old sister (last night, I think) with a handgun he found while he and she were alone in their home. Of course, last week we had the five year old boy who shot and killed his two year old sister with his own rifle, a gift apparently, which had been left leaning in a corner of the living room of their trailer-home in Kentucky or Ohio. No one ‘knew’ the gun was loaded. Some guy in Virginia, Kokesh is the name, I think, a radio personality with a large reactionary following is organizing a march into Washington, DC with a thousand interested listeners all carrying loaded rifles. I’m not clear on the point they’re trying to make. Carrying a loaded rifle is legal in Virginia but not in Washington DC. Circle July 4th on this one. I think it has something to do with the effort in several states to round up firearms that are currently in the possession of people who may have originally bought them legally but who would now no longer be allowed to have them, you know, like they’re now felons or crazy or their ex-wife is so afraid of them that she’s managed to get a restraining order on em. So now if they were to apply through the FBI database to purchase a firearm, they’d be rejected. So this guy thinks this is evidence of the coming police state, hence, the march. The connection’s still a bit fuzzy for me.* Got an email a couple of weeks back from a guy I knew in the service. I get a lot of these emails. Mostly jokes or naked women. Sometimes jokes with naked women. But also sometimes political, invariably right wing and Fox News dumb. Sometimes I hit reply all and gently point out I’m a life-long Liberal Democrat which means I get taken off distribution for a while but somehow I end up back on it. Sometimes I take the time to point out the glaring fallacy of whatever they’ve sent but mostly I’m too lazy to do that. Anyways, recently I got one that was a call to arms over proposed legislation that would deny 2nd Amendment rights to veterans who had been diagnosed with extreme PTSD (the small print indicated the restriction would only apply as long as the patient was under a physician’s care and on medication, this didn’t seem to mollify my former compatriots). There you have it, if you’re crazy enough to require a locked ward and meds, you ought to still have access to your local firearms dealer. I miss Stanley Kubrick. And this is what I think they may turn out to have seen all along and we didn’t…we want their guns, all of em,.. no exceptions…we want to disarm them. I didn’t see it. I always thought what we were doing was trying to come up with some common-sense accommodation so that the needless gun violence might be reduced while preserving the right of rational citizens to own a gun. That’s what I thought but now am beginning to see there is apparently no rational gun ownership. They think any modification of the second amendment is infringement, that they should be able to own slaves, shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater, that women should never have been given the vote. Maybe they were right all along and we just couldn’t see it. I think they may be right, I want their guns, all of em, every fucking one of them.

[My heading here belongs, of course, to Kurt Vonnegut. I thank him.]

(July 10th update) *July 4 has come and gone and no march. Seems as though Kokesh called it off (from a jail cell, I believe). So, anyways, no march. But now this knucklehead sneaks into DC and video tapes himself loading a shotgun with enough background showing to prove to his followers he was really in DC (in Freedom Plaza, a couple of blocks east of the White House) and if he can’t have his little march, he can still show those pointy heads what he’s made of. He states publicly this is/was an act of deliberate civil disobedience. And, in a ‘what-did-you-expect’ moment, last night (July 10), Kokesh was arrested at his home in northern Virginia for what are being described as ‘guns and drug’ violations. The warrant was served by the Parks Police, who have authority over the National Monuments and local gun laws in DC. They were accompanied by a twenty member SWAT team complete with armored vehicle and night vision goggles and ‘two low-flying helicopters’. And in wholly predictable knuckheaded fashion Kokesh and his followers are whining about the ‘official over-reaction’. Perhaps if Mr. Kokesh is found guilty of a felony he won’t have to worry about his Second Amendment rights anymore. Felons can’t own firearms.

(July 29th update) A Washington, D.C. Superior Court judge ordered Adam Kokesh held until trial calling him ‘dangerous’ during a Monday hearing. Further, Magistrate Judge Frederick Sullivan told Kokesh’s attorney, “I consider your client a very dangerous man,” and continued, “you don’t make a political statement with a gun.” The police confiscated multiple firearms, mushrooms and marijuana from his Virginia home.

So it goes. Poo-Tee-Weet.

The Beautiful Mouth

The trouble with this place is its expectations. I should have seen this coming. Plain as the nose on your face, as they say. I had intended to use this as a place to collect my thoughts, cogitate, plant fragments and revisit them until they forced themselves on me or were found out and deleted. That was the idea. But, of course, the posting of them became the point, the expectation, unfinished work need not apply. By the time I’d been back and jiggered and rewritten and come to an understanding, it was already ‘out there’, no one would see it in its Sunday clothes. Now I’m back to chasing fragments, back to disorganized piles on my desk, disconnected things rattling around in my head. Sent myself an email last week. A thousand word email. Poor man’s Word. Hit reply, rewrote it and sent it back to myself, twelve hundred words. This is what this place was supposed to be. Funny.

Marcel Dalio

November 16, 2005

Sunday, November the 20th is the anniversary of Marcel Dalio’s death in 1983. It was the end of a serendipitous life. You know him. He was a citizen of the world. Born Israel Moshe Blauschild, in Paris, in 1900, he became a much sought-after character actor. His lovely animated face with its great expressive eyes became familiar across Europe. He appeared in Jean Renoir’s idiosyncratic Rules of the Game (1939) and Grand Illusion (1937), arguably the greatest of all films. And true to his Frenchman’s heart, he married the very young, breathtaking beauty Madeleine Lebeau. He worked with von Stroheim and Pierre Chenal. He had it all.

But then the Germans crushed Poland, swept across Belgium and pressed on toward Paris. He waited until the last possible moment and finally, with the sound of artillery clearly audible, with Madeleine, fled in a borrowed car to Orleans and then, in a freight train, to Bordeaux and finally to Portugal. In Lisbon, they bribed a crooked immigration official and were surreptitiously given two visas for Chile. But on arriving in Mexico City, it was discovered the visas were rank forgeries. Facing deportation, Marcel and Madeleine found themselves making application for political asylum with virtually every country in the western hemisphere. Weeks passed until Canada finally issued them temporary visas, and they left for Montreal.

Meanwhile, France had fallen and, in the process of subjugating the country, the Germans had found some publicity stills of Dalio. A series of posters were produced and were then displayed throughout the city with the caption ‘a typical Jew’ so that citizens could more easily report anyone suspected of unrepentant Jewishness. The madness continued. The Curtain Rises (1938), a popular film, was ordered re-edited so that Dalio’s scenes could be deleted and re-shot with another, non-Jewish, actor.

After a short time, friends in the film industry arranged for them to arrive in Hollywood. Nearly broke, Marcel was immediately put to work in a string of largely forgettable films. Madeleine, a budding actress in her own right, was ironically cast in Hold Back the Dawn (1941), a vehicle for Charles Boyer with a plot driven by the efforts of an émigré (Boyer) desperately trying to cross into the United States from Mexico. But the real irony was waiting at Warner Brothers.

In early 1942, Jack L. Warner was driving production of a film based on a one act play, ‘Everybody Comes to Rick’s’ but had no screenplay. What he had was a mishmash of treatments loosely based on the play and two previous movies. But he had a projected release date and a commitment to his distributors to have a movie for that time slot and little else. Warner Brothers started to wing it.

Shooting started without a screenplay and little plot. Principal players were cast and a director hired but casting calls for supporting roles and bit players continued, and sometime in the early spring Marcel Dalio and Madeleine Lebeau were cast as, respectively, a croupier and a romantic entanglement for the male lead. Veteran screen-writers were hired to produce a running screenplay, sometimes delivering pages of dialogue one day, for scenes to be shot the following day. No one knew exactly where the plot would go or how the story would turn out. No one was sure of the ending. And, of course, perhaps inevitably, they produced a classic, perhaps the finest, American movie.

They produced a screenplay of multiple genres, rich with characterizations, perfectly in tune with the unfolding events in Europe and loaded with talent from top to bottom. Oh, and they changed the title to Casablanca (1942).

It is so well known, that many lines of long-memorized dialogue have passed into the slang idiom. ‘We’ll always have Paris’, ‘I was misinformed’, ‘Here’s looking at you, kid’, ‘ I am shocked! Shocked! To find that there’s gambling going on in here!’, ‘Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship’, ‘Oh he’s just like any other man, only more so’, ‘I don’t mind a parasite. I object to a cut-rate one’, ‘Round up the usual suspects’, and, of course, the oft quoted, apocryphal, ‘Play it again, Sam’.

Madeleine Lebeau plays Yvonne, the jilted lover of Humphrey Bogart, who is seen drowning her sorrows at the bar early in the film and who later, to get back at Rick and looking for solace takes up with a German officer finding only self-hatred. She is luminous.

And when Claude Rains delivers the signature line, ‘I’m shocked! Shocked! To find that there’s gambling going on in here!’ the croupier, Emil, played by Marcel Dalio, approaches from the roulette table and says simply, ‘Your winnings, sir.’ It is a delicious moment ripe with scripted irony, one among many in this film, but one made all the more so, knowing where Dalio came from and what he and his wife had endured to arrive at that line.

Alas, they separated and divorced the next year, both going on to long successful careers. Dalio never remarried.

Late in his career Dalio was approached by Mike Nichols who was looking for a vaguely familiar face to deliver a long and worldly, near-monologue in Catch-22 (1970). Faced with a hopelessly idealistic young American pilot, Dalio, as simply ‘old man in whore house’, in tight close-up, delivers a discourse on practical people faced with impractical circumstances, of the virtues of expedience in the face of amorality . Using his wonderful plastic features, now beginning to sag, in a voice full of melancholy, the old man reassures the young man that regardless of what ‘grand themes’ may be afoot in the world, in the end, little matters but survival.

Michael Ryerson

2005