Wow.

Has anyone else found themselves using “wow” and using it, and with a variety of subtext,s much more often then normal. Michelle Obama’s speech-wow. Kimberly Guilfoyle’s speech-wow. Another black man shot by undereducated, poorly trained police-hard to muster up a wow on this one. Wow indicates to me, at least a small bit of surprise-for good or ill.

We just returned from a one night dash to Brooklyn – 700 miles in a little over 24 hours – for Barbara’s monthly check-up at MSK. All is well. Wow!

And I spent the last half an hour on the front porch, sorting out what I was going to write about today and talking with the 10-year-old young man with a very old soul who, along with his older brother Ian, feeds Najee and George when we’re away.

“It was a very stressful week with all the protesters on our block every day,” said Will, “but it was quiet last night. Oh, and I think you gave us too much money for yesterday. We only fed them four times. So, I’m giving twenty back. Oh, and have you read Trevor Noah’s book? It’s really good, I think you’d like it.”

Wow!

Who said, “You are what you eat.”? I just looked it up. “Anthelme Brillat-Saverin wrote in 1826:

“Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que ti es.” (Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.)

Vonnegut added a neat corollary: “We are what we pretend to be.”

Is that’s what’s going on with all the convention speakers pretending that our president is a strong, qualified, decent man? By the way the Vonnegut quote comes from Mother Night, one of the handful of lesser known books he wrote before Slaughterhouse Five made him rich and famous.

Sometimes, of course, the pretending-to-be can work the other way around too. Brecht was, by all accounts, a nasty human being who got a lot of ideas from the women who surrounded him without giving them much credit and was just, in general, not a very nice human being. But in his writing he pretended to be a brilliant, progressive, political, compassionate writer and perhaps the most important influence on the direction of theatre in the 20th century. He also wrote, by himself, Mother Courage and Her Children. He wrote fiercely and under great pressure. completing the play in just over three weeks. “as I wrote I imagined that the playwright’s warning voice would be heard from the stages of various great cities proclaiming that he who would sup with the devil must have a long spoon. This may have been naïve of me, but I do not consider being naïve a disgrace. Such productions never materialized. Writers cannot write as rapidly as governments can make war, because writing demands hard thought.”

Wow!

Mother Courage is a serious play, but not a somber play. You want proof? Here’s a bit from scene one. Who is Brecht pretending to be here, Abbott and Costello or George S. Kaufman writing for the Marx Brothers?

Recruiter: I smell insubordination in this individual. What’s needed in our camp is obedience.

Courage: Sausage.

Recruiter: What?

Courage: You need sausage.

Sergeant: Name.

Courage: Anna Fierling.

Sergeant: You’re all called Fierling, then?

Courage: What do you mean? It’s me that’s called Fierling, not them.

Sergeant: Aren’t all this lot your children?

Courage: But why should they all have to be called the same? pointing to her elder son for instance that one’s called Eilif No-Yocki. Why? His father always claimed he was called Ko-Yocki or Mo-Yocki or something..
The boy remembers him clearly except that the one he remembers was someone else, a Frenchy with a little beard. Aside from that he’s got his father’s wits. This way each of us has its own name, see?

Sergeant: What? Each one different?

Courage: Don’t tell me you ain’t never come across that.

Sergeant: So, I suppose he’s a Chinaman? Pointing to the younger son.

Courage: Swiss.

Sergeant: After the Frenchman?

Courage: What Frenchman? You keep muddling things up, we’ll be hanging around here until dark. A Swiss, called Fee-Yo’s, and the name has nothing to do with his father. He was called something quite different, and was drunk all the time.

Sergeant: How in the hell can he be called Fee-o’s?

Courage: I don’t like to be rude, Sergeant, but you ain’t got much imagination, have you? Course he’s called Fee-os, because when he arrived, I was with a Hungarian, very decent fellow. The boy takes after him.

Sergeant: But it wasn’t his father…

Courage: Took after him just the same. I called him Swiss Cheese. Pointing to her daughter: and that’s Katrin Haupt. She’s half German.

Sergeant: Nice family, I must say.

Wow.

The play takes quite a journey before Courage, having lost her three children to the war, still managing to keep going, hitches herself to the cart and trudges following after the regiment in a tableau that Tennessee Williams called one of the most uplifting moments in all of theatre.

But

Sometimes omitted in performance are these lines from the song that Brecht wrote to be sung by passing soldiers as Courage starts now pulling her cart by herself joins in with the regiment.

“the war moves on, but will not quit,
And though it last three generations,
We shall get nothing out of it.
Starvation, filth, and cold inslave us,
The army robs us of our pay.
But God may yet come down and save us:
His holy war won’t end today.
Winter is gone the snows depart!
Dead men sleep on!
Let all of you who still survive
get out of bed and look alive!

Wow.

I didn’t expect to wind up here when I sat down to write this.

But as Vonnegut said, in a quote I often make use of. “Hold onto you hats. We may end up miles from here.”

Where will we be a week from now. Big doings going on down in Washington, in cities across our country, and right here on Hastings St in Mr Rogers’ neighborhood in Pittsburgh.

Wow.

 

Jim Niesen

 

Irondale

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