Episode 30: Theater

BLACK COMEDY

By Michael G. Glab

© 2013

BC Archives Link III

Thirty —

Neither Anna nor Anthony will have control over any of the things that will happen to their respective bodies over the next 72 hours, from Sunday evening through late Wednesday night.

Their bodies are mere props in performances whose casts include, in the case of Anthony, several thousand screaming, shrieking, taunting, surging, swinging, weeping, wretching, sobbing, aching, throbbing actors whose every tic, spasm, and reflexive paroxysm is being memorized, recorded, noted, and taped as it happens, will be the subject of a federal investigation, and will change the course of American political history.

Anna’s drama, equally emotive, wrenching, and with enough physical pain to nicely balance that experienced by Anthony and his stage-mates, is a one woman show. Whereas Anthony’s catharsis develops before the glaring lights of television videotape cameras, with the collective creative talents of countless diarists, lyricists, novelists, poets, historians, liars and other arbiters of live, unscripted spectacle interpreting the performance, Anna’s takes place in the utter privacy of her living room, her bathroom, her kitchen, the back seat of Al Dudek’s 1968 Buick Electra 225, and the delivery room of St. Anne’s hospital.

Comedy & Tragedy

Anthony and his co-actors are improvising, playing parts never before attempted on a stage defined by new technology, a war that is not a war, the vagaries of politics, culture, counter-culture, and the relationships between groups of humans with differently-hued skin and whose memberships are defined largely by their relative proximity to the ends of their lives. Anna’s part has been played billions of times before under the proscenium of human history. Nevertheless, she’d never attempted it before and so is also treading in uncharted territory.

Both productions, by the way, will play out under the aegis of Melpomene, the muse of Tragedy. The theme: loss. The denouement for Anthony will come this November, for Anna a few years after that.

Comedy’s Thalia is taking the week off.

Sunday evening. Hundreds of freaks, pacifists, rebels, radicals, and hangers-on wait in the darkness of Lincoln Park, hard by the shore of Lake Michigan to the east, gazed upon by the curious gentry through their luxury highrise windows to the south, hemmed in by hundreds of crimson-eared, blue-helmeted Chicago policemen to the north and the west.

One woman sits on her sofa and feels the joints of her body seem to want to come apart, the result of a flood of the hormone relaxin, released by the corpus luteum of her ovary for the purpose of softening the cartilage holding her hips together so that she might more easily pass an infant’s head through her pelvic inlet. Anna Claudia Pontone [nee Dudek] feels like the rubber-limbed Ray Bolger, flipping and flopping down the yellow brick road in The Wizard of Oz.

Except the Scarecrow only ever had to fret about the absence of a brain, not the passage of a watermelon-sized creature through the cervix, pelvis, and vaginal canal he did not possess. Anna does possess those structures and they will be strained beyond her belief soon, very soon.

Her body is ready, no matter that she is not.

Anna’s got her TV and she’s got eyes. She knows things are going on in the world even though now and again it feels as if all the world is nothing more than the medicine ball protruding from her abdomen.

She knows, for instance, that the Vietnam War this month has become the longest in American history. She knows Richard Nixon has been nominated by the Republicans to be their nominee for president. She knows Paris is only now getting back to normal after tens of thousands of French university students have battled police on the streets. She knows Russian tanks right now are rolling through the streets of Prague. She knows that the Chicago police have shot and killed a South Dakota Sioux teenager in town early for the protests.

Paris 1968

Paris, 1968

Here’s what she doesn’t know: in a couple of little straw hut villages in South Vietnam called My Lai and My Khe, U.S. Army soldiers have burned down every single structure and for good measure, they’ve lined up all the unlucky villagers who hadn’t run away before the troops came in, shot them all in the head, good and Nazi-style, and let their lifeless bodies tumble into mass graves. She doesn’t know that some five hundred people have in this way been murdered but not before many of them were gang raped, tortured, and mutilated. She doesn’t know that many of the bodies had the words “C Company” carved into their chests. She wouldn’t know that one of those American soldiers would later tell investigators, “I would say that most people in our company didn’t consider the Vietnamese human.” She wouldn’t learn about any of these things at least until November.

She also doesn’t know that the Army would stand on its head to cover up the massacre, that facts would be ignored, that the number of women and teenagers and little children killed would be falsified, that the investigation into it would be tightly controlled. She wouldn’t know that The Man has other things, more important things, to investigate. She wouldn’t know for years that J. Edgar Hoover thinks it of utmost importance to run a secret program to spy on, sabotage, and plant agents provocateurs in anti-war groups and civil rights organizations. Had she known any of this she would have felt even less optimistic than she did already about bringing this baby into this world.

As it is, Anna often rubs her bulging belly and feels progressively worse about the future. “I hate this place,” Anna says time and again. At these times, she wishes the little living person could stay safe inside her forever. Then again, on other occasions, she rubs her belly and whispers, “You’re gonna be beautiful. You’re gonna change the world.” At these times, she wishes her beautiful little world-changer would decide to emerge at this very moment, especially when her back throbs and her bladder can hardly hold a teaspoon of water.

Anna is now a war widow. Anthony hasn’t been home since since Monday, almost a week ago. She can use a little help around the house. The vacuuming hasn’t been done in weeks. No one’s scrubbed the bathtub and toilet since July. She gets to the pile of dishes in the sink every two or three days. Thank goodness for Daddy and his secret back alley visits. He brings salamis and cheeses, bread and tomatoes, along with his customary spare tens and twenties. Not that she has anyplace to spend the cash; Anna hasn’t left the house in fourteen days. She’s going to feel like an ass when she tells Daddy this tonight: she’s running out of toilet paper. Guaranteed, Daddy’s going to say for the dozenth time, “Where the hell is Anth?” The truth is, Anna couldn’t care less where he is, only that he’s not here..

The Smothers Brothers is going to start in a few minutes. That’s good, Anna thinks as she points the clicker at the Admiral and switches it to Channel 2. I need to laugh. She wants to see Pat Paulsen. Can you believe it? He’s running for president and he might be serious! It’s gonna feel good to laugh. Anna picks up a months-old TV Guide and fans herself with it. It’s already 9:05. The show has started. I hope, Anna thinks, I haven’t missed Pat Paulsen.

But what’s this? Cronkite? What’s he doing on now? Oh shit, don’t tell me it’s more bad news.

No, it’s only CBS’s pre-convention coverage. Blah, blah, blah, delegates, marchers, McCarthy, McGovern, Hubert Humphrey — Aw shit, it’s hot. Anna fans herself more vigorously with the old TV Guide, the exertion only making her feel more sweaty. Damn, damn, damn, come baby! Come out now! Let’s go!

Cronkite says some live footage is just coming in from this afternoon’s events at Grant Park, across Michigan Avenue from the Conrad Hilton. The delegates are staying at the Hilton. The MOBE staged a Meet the Delegates march, those rascals. And — wouldn’t you know it? — some of the delegates indeed did come down from their hotel rooms to mingle with the thousand or so protesters. Anna scans the screen carefully — There! Isn’t that Anthony? I think so…, no. No, it isn’t.

Lincoln Park Aug 25, 68

Practicing Self-Defense Moves In Lincoln Park

Wait, there’s more film from Lincoln Park, taken later in the afternoon. Five thousand protesters there — That should make Anthony happy. The police blocked a flatbed truck from coming into the park. Apparently it was going to be used as a stage for the speakers and the music. There was a fight. The cops started swinging their billy clubs. Lots of blood. Oh God! Is that Anthony? No, it isn’t. Good…, I mean, I’m sorry for the person with the gash in his forehead, but I’d hate for it to be Anthony.

Anna clicks the TV off for a moment. She needs a break from it because she found herself thinking she’d rather club Anthony on the head than have some fat cop do it. At least she has a valid reason.

Now she clicks the Admiral back on. Cronkite says there’s hundreds of protesters in the park, just north of the St. Gaudens’ Lincoln statue where she and Anthony first made out a million years ago, last September. More film. The cops are lined up, shoulder to shoulder, their billy clubs at the ready. Wait, is that that jerk cop, Sal, from down the block? Yes! I think it is!

Cronkite says the cops have announced that the park must be cleared out by eleven. Behind the cops’ advance skirmish line is a row of them holding shotguns and tear gas launchers. Then there are squad cars with barbed-wire riot cages affixed to their front ends. And finally, the meat wagons. Please, please, just leave. Come home. They’ve got shotguns, you fool!

The cops look antsy. The protesters are huddled together in  a clearing, a row of trees and Lake Shore Drive behind them, a fat blue line in front. Anna begins to cry. It’s too dark now for her to make out individual faces among the crowd. But she knows Anthony is there.

To be continued

 All fictional characters, descriptions, and situations are the property of the author.

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