I say, “You would?!”
She says, “Yes.”
I say, “What time?”
She says, “After dinner.”
Dinner! We have “supper” at our house. They have “dinner.” Oh, what a world of difference.
I say, “Yes, after dinner.” That means six-thirty to me.
She says, “About eight-thirty.”
Eight-thirty! I have to be home at nine-thirty. “Where will I meet you?”
She says, “Well, come to the house.”
Come to the house. I wanted to meet at the popcorn machine. At eight-thirty I’m going to have a big bag of popcorn in my hand, ready to go and now I gotta go to the house.
Do you know what this means? When you live in a world where two years ago you got a new sport coat, and it is electric blue. It’s the best thing you’ve got. You’ve got one pair of slacks and you hope to god they’re clean. You’ve got one necktie—the one my Aunt Min gave me for eighth-grade graduation. I am totally a non-necktie type. This necktie is silver, it looks like it’s made out of tinfoil, and has a red painted snail on it.
I go home and I start to sweat. I’m sitting at supper. My kid brother is over here, my old man is there talking about the White Sox, my mother is giving us more red cabbage. There’s the hamburgers and the ketchup, and all of a sudden my house is rotten! My old man in his underwear, my kid brother eating the hamburger and slobbering all over. My mother says, “Anyone for more red cabbage?” She’s standing there in her bathrobe with curlers in her hair.
Welcome to the “Cabaret”
Some historical periods seem to engender their own metaphors in the arts. Without suggesting that I’m an expert or that I recognize all the significant symbols, a few of them sometimes come to mind as “great American novels,” or books, or films of worldwide significance, or whatever one wants to call them:
Leaves of Grass: America’s democracy and fortitude prevail.
Moby Dick: A maniacal commander takes his charges to destruction.
Gone With the Wind: The “glory” of the South might survive disaster.
The Sun Also Rises: We can be shocked into a debilitating euphoria.
U. S. A. Trilogy Capitalism can run amuck.
Dr. Strangelove: Destruction is just a madman away.
Cabaret (the film): We might not be able to “control them.”
One of my favorite films is “Cabaret,” (1972) staring Liza Minnelli, in the only performance by hers that I admire. She plays Sally Bowles, an American singer in a Berlin cabaret. Her innocence is captivated and polluted by the thrill of degradation all around her. The cabaret’s emcee is a symbol of the evil beginning to occur out in the real world of Germany in the early 1930s (As the lyrics describe it, “Life is a cabaret, old friend, come to the cabaret.”) The cabaret portrays corrupted sex and a psychotic obsession with money—the lyric goes, “Money makes the world go around.” The cabaret’s performances are the obvious metaphor for Germany at that time.
In another song of the emcee—who is a metaphor-for-Mephistopheles–we may be lulled into thinking that he has a drop of human love and tolerance, even for a female primate, and we laugh at him and even may laugh when he terminates the song regarding the gorilla as: “She doesn’t look Jewish at all!” We are ashamed of ourselves for laughing here, for in this performance, we have been tricked by this personification of evil.
Sally is attracted to the civilized and sexually innocent Brian Roberts and they begin an affair. They meet the wealthy German, Maximilian von Heune, and are led into some of the sinful life around them—Sally and Brian betray their affection for each other by both having an affair with Max. Sally recognizes that they have been seduced by Max’s money, and have thus prostituted themselves. She becomes pregnant, but she’s not sure by which of them. Brian wants the child and a serene life and love with Sally, while she wants to continue life in the sick ambiance of Berlin. She chooses to have an abortion, thus killing the symbol of life and love and her potential for a good life with Brian.
Max comments regarding the rising Nazi influence around them that he and his fellow Germans will be able to “control” them—we know from subsequent history that this was not so.
“Tomorrow belongs to me.”
Fritz, a German Jew passing as Christian for his financial well-being, falls for a wealthy German Jew, Natalia, but is rejected for not being Jewish. Because his love for her is stronger than his desire for his safety, he reveals that he is a Jew, thus putting himself in mortal danger from the Nazis. Their marriage ceremony is the strong symbol of humanity and love that in this film, seems the only positive thing that will persevere.
Brian returns to England alone and Sally, her soul unrepentant, remains corrupted in Berlin’s cabaret: as she puts it, “Does it really matter as long as you’re having fun?”
Are We Living in Some Twisted Metaphor?
We wake each morning to the sun–with some hope still alive, but with the final line in The Sun Also Rises disturbing our resolve: “Isn’t it pretty to think so.” One of the novel’s two epigraphs is: “You are all a lost generation.”
To survive, we’ve got to hold fast to our faith in the heritage of
Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and all that steadfast crew.
Whitman beckons us:
“Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop some where waiting for you.”