Happy Saturday, Story366! And that’s a relative term, happy, as I’m bummed today that the Cubs lost 1-0 last night in Game 3 of the World Series. Third time they’ve been shut out this Postseason, the second time they’ve lost 1-0. Those are the worst, as it seems like they should be able to scrape up one run—especially since they had their chances—but no. That’s why there are 1-0 games in Major League Baseball, because there’s a team that can’t even scratch across one run when they know that all they need is one run. I think there was an NFL game that ended in a 3-3 tie last week—checking on it, no it was 6-6, two field goals for each team in five quarters. Wait, that football game has nothing to do with the Cubs—I’m deflecting now. Ugh. But in any case, I hope the Cubs score a dozen tonight off the Cleveland ace (going on three days’ rest) and we tie the Series and I have a better report for you tomorrow. Stay tuned.
When the Cubs win, I can watch the post-game for hours, replay the highlights over and over again after the game, but when they lose, I immediately turn off the broadcast and focus on other things. That was the case last night. At my mom’s house, I looked for a movie to watch and found The Wolf Man, the 1941 creature class starring Lon Chaney, Jr. I was big into that Saturday creature feature scene when I was a kid, and always had a soft spot for the Wolf Man, but hadn’t seen this film since I was, oh, 10? In any case, me and my brother watched it and wow, what a terrible movie. Not only that, but it’s terribly made. First off, the movie is set in Wales, as that’s where stately Talbot Manor sits, but the accents run from whatever Claude Rains is to Chaney, Jr.’s clear American drawl to Ralph Bellamy to the British leading lady, Evelyn Ankers, who seems to be trying to sound American for some reason. The special effects are also bad, as the filmmakers don’t even do the time-ellapse werewolf transformation that they would do in this movie’s sequels, just a couple of shots of Chaney, Jr.’s feet—yes, just his feet—getting hairier and hairier. There’s also the weird reunion scene between Rains and Chaney, Jr., father and son, who hadn’t seen each other in eighteen years, everything rectified after Rains simply says that they shouldn’t fight any more.
Worst of all, however, is the character of Larry Talbot, the Wolf Man, played by Chaney, Jr., as a playboy. Right after that epic make-up scene with his father, they head up to the family observatory, where Chaney, Jr., shows an aptitude for replacing a lens in their giant telescope. There’s a lengthy discussion about how this rich Welsch kid had a fight with his dad and went to California and somehow gained this particular skill—the explanation that Chaney, Jr., gives is priceless. Then it gets creepy, as Chaney, Jr., points the telescope—which planetarium-sized—at the small town below, soon noticing Ankers getting dressed in a window. Cut scene and Chaney, Jr., is at the shop that’s below the window, an antique store that Ankers runs with her father. Immediately, Chaney, Jr., want to buy the type of earrings that he’d seen Ankers taking off while he was spying on her, and when she asks how he knows about those, he says he’s a fortune teller. Creepy! Even worse, later on, when she asks again, Chaney, Jr., actually tells her about the telescope, how he was looking at her through her window from his mansion on the hill! Worst of all, Ankers laughs it off with a line about having to draw the curtains, but is still clearly attracted to him. Maybe the filmmakers were trying to make a comparison between this character and the wolf he would become, a predator, but yikes.
In any case, I just Story366ed The Wolf Man for some reason, but I watched it right before I fell asleep and woke up thinking about that, how shitty that movie is (though the Guide thing on the TV gave it four stars). Let me transit over to today’s book before I overstay my welcome. Today I read from Antony Wallace‘s collection The Old Priest, out from the University of Pittsburg Press as a winner of their Drue Heinz Literature Prize. I’d read the title story from this collection a couple-few years ago, as it was in Pushcart, and then getting the book and assigning it to someone to review in Moon City Review. I knew I wanted to read it myself—I liked that title story, a long piece about a somewhat unscrupulous old priest and a guy he had a profound effect on—so I got another copy and here we are today.
Wallace has some themes running throughout his stories. All three that I’ve read feature blackjack dealers, two in Vegas and one in Atlantic City. All of these dealers, or at least some character in the story, can cite high-end literary references like Derrida and Keats and often do. But in general, these stories are held together because they’re about desperate people, often making desperate (and wrong) decisions based on horrible things that have happened to them in their past. Wallace’s stories read easily and are about very relatable people, people with everyday, though extreme problems. I was able to get into his worlds, his characters’ lives, within a few sentences. The story I read today that stands out the most is “Have You Seen This Girl?” so I’ll write about it.
“Have You Seen This Girl?” is about Christine, who lives in Las Vegas with her husband, Howard, and works as a cocktail waitress at one of the sleazier casinos, one with a Wizard of Oz theme that makes her wear a sexy Dorothy get-up. The story starts with Howard’s sister, Darcy, coming to stay with them for a while, as she’s running from a guy. Here’s what you need to know about Darcy: The sex with this guy had declined so much, he couldn’t get it up with her any more, though he was still willing to use a strap-on with her. It’s when it dawns her that she doesn’t really need him for that kind of sex that she leaves him, moving across country. Darcy is a free spirit, you could say, without inhibitions, and she has an effect on Christine and Howard’s life. Above all else, Christine flat-out doesn’t want her there.
Christine complains about Darcy her to her best friend, Martha, who works with her at the Oz casino. She complains about Howard, too, who is getting an MFA in film at UNLV. She complains that she’s the breadwinner and he just sits around all day (though a short film of his took fourth prize at Sundance one year, so it seems like he’s capable). Christine is kind of angry with her lot in life, not that any of this keeps her from snorting huge amounts of crystal meth with Howard and Darcy and Martha and Martha’s boyfriend, Justin, off of every flat surface they can find. This group does drugs, they go out for Tex-Mex, they go to the casinos. and they eke by, otherwise, with adult things like rent and ambition. Christine complains, but she’s stuck in the same rut as everyone, is just as culpable.
The plot—which is pedal-to-the-floor from the start—gets even more intense when Martha starts hanging out with her after work, instead of with Christine. Before long, Martha and Darcy disappear for a couple of days together then come back as lovers, Martha giving Justin the heave-ho. That doesn’t prevent Justin from hanging around with this group still, or any of them from doing more crystal meth. Christine is even more frustrated, but after a long day of snorting meth, complaining about her life, and cocktail waitressing—where she perhaps picks up some extra money by fucking casino gamblers in their hotel rooms—Christine doesn’t seem capable of doing anything about her woes (even in the light of some increasingly weird dreams involving furry little animals).
And I think that’s what stands out about “Have You Seen This Girl?” this subtle unreliability of Christine, how it seems like she’s a person at the end of her rope, this Darcy visit just the right injection of things-have-gone-too-far that she’s needed to make a change. But she doesn’t. As the story moves along, we see, more and more, that she’s just another player in this screwed-up world, people caught in a loop of bad decisions, decisions that keep them from achieving anything, the least of which are their dreams. The story, in a way, could have been told from any of these characters’ points of view, as nobody changes—except for Martha by shifting to Darcy, and even that’s a stretch, as nothing else changes. The revelation of Christine’s part-time prostitution near the end of the story seals it, that she’s done as much as, if not more than, anyone in this story to make her the protagonist, antagonist, just another one of the gang. I can’t remember reading a story with a protagonist like this, someone who remains stagnant, slowly declining when I thought they were going to rise. It’s a bold move by Wallace and it made me remember this story, like it very much.
Wow, this might be the longest Story366 post yet, and while I’m not going to go back and check that, let’s just say I have a lot to say, in a Northwest Indiana McDonald’s, typing this, enjoying a Steak, Egg, and Cheese Bagel (which they for some reason don’t have in Missouri) and just nervously anticipating tonight’s World Series game. Anthony Wallace and his stories in The Old Priest more than distracted me for the last couple of hours, good stories about not-so-good people and the people to which they’ve done not-so-good things. An enjoyable read, for sure.