He says, “Follow me.” He turns and we go into a room, we go into the next room, we go into the next room, we turn right, we go into this next room, we turn left and we’re in the room, with about twenty people all sitting there drinking from glasses that have leaves and things sticking out of them. Over in the corner with three other girls is Pearl.
She says, “Oh, come in. Everybody, here, I’d like you to meet Jean Shepherd. Jean, this is Mr. so-and-so, etc.” Men with white hair. Poor people don’t have white hair. It just sort of gets cruddy. A man says, “Are you one of the Shepherds from Cleveland?”
I’m thinking of Cleveland Street where we live. I say, “Yes, I am.”
“I know your uncle.” I’m thinking of my drunken Uncle Carl.
Five minutes later we are out on the driveway and “the car” is picking us up. Ten minutes later we are in the Orpheum. I am sitting next to Pearl. We sit for one hour and seventy minutes while Fred Astaire dances on top of pianos while Ginger Rogers looks out at us and the music plays.
And I’m sitting. When a kid takes another kid to the movies he grabs her hand. I sit as far away as I can. And Pearl is sitting there. About two-thirds of the way through the picture, she takes my hand. Pearl takes my hand! My hand is sweating, of course. It feels like it’s covered with chocolate and I haven’t blown my nose neatly. I’m sitting there and she’s holding my hand. The movie ends and she squeezes it.
We get up, we wade through the Baby Ruth wrappers, we get out, all the other kids are getting out—and I am walking with Pearl. I am hypnotized. And sitting in front of the movie house is the Buick. We get in the back seat. We drive home on Beacon Street, up the driveway, and she says, “Charles will take you home. I had a wonderful time.”
“Yeah, so did I.”
I sit back in the darkness and the chauffer says, “Where do you live?”
I say, “Do you know where Cleveland Street is?” This guy lives on Cleveland Street—I can tell by the way his neck sits in the collar.
He says, “Yeah.” He turns around and we go down over Kennedy and finally we get to Cleveland Street. He says, “Where do you live?”
I say, “2907.”
“Oh yeah, I know where it is.”
We get there and he stops. He sits there. I have to open the door for myself. He says, “Okay, kid, ‘night,” and he’s off. That big Buick with the big rear end and the snotty red lights heads back for Beacon Street.
I stand there. It’s now ten-forty-five. I am at least an hour late. I go up the steps and into the house, my old man’s shirt sweated through, hanging like a rag, the tie is hanging down. I walk in and they’re sitting there, all dressed up. My dad has his new sports shirt on, my mother has a dress on. The radio is playing. My mother has dusted the day bed and everything is clean and neat. My fielder’s mitt has been picked up.
My mother says, “Did you have a good time, Jean?”
Now I am “Jean.” I say, “Yes.”
The old man says, “Did you meet Mr. Johnson?”
I say, “Yes. Yes. I met Mr. Philips from Cleveland, too.”
My father says, “You mean Mr. Philips from Youngstown Sheet and Tube?” These are legendary names, like meeting Mickey Mantle to my father. Names that appear in the financial pages.
“Yes, I met Mr. Philips, too.”
“Did you enjoy yourself?”
I say, “Yes.” I head into the bathroom and I’m tearing off the sweaty shirt and all of a sudden the old man opens the door. He says, “Did ya?”
I say, “Did I what?”
He says, “I guess you didn’t.”
One more Pearl to come.
Note that, uncharacteristically,
Shepherd uses here the real first names of his parents.
There is a pause in the conversation. He says, “Anne, you know where you can find my black tie?” He’s getting ready to dress me and he doesn’t want that silver and red tie.
I say, “Dad, what is it?”
He says, “Well, that’s Mr. Johnson’s daughter.”
I say, “Well, yeah, I guess she must be.”
He says, “You be very good. Be very good and don’t… . You be very good!”
I say, “Yeah, I’ll be good. I gotta pick her up at eight-thirty.”
He says, “Well, you be very good.”
And my mother then says to my father, “Jean, maybe tonight before he goes you better tell him.”
I kind of shrink down a bit. “What?!” What is it he better tell me?
The old man looks at me and he says, “Don’t worry, I think he knows.”
Finally I’m ready and I go out, wearing my father’s white canvas shirt with the concrete collars up under my ears and already my neck is red. I’m wearing his black tie that it took him over a half hour to get right. And for the first time he has shown me how to shave, so my face feels like a tomato with the skin off. My mother has ironed my pants and they are still hot. The steel mill is cooking and the shirt is sweating through and I’ve got my father’s jacket on, the one with the red checks.
I walk all the way across town and over Kennedy, and I’m getting into this neighborhood that’s dark. Rich neighborhoods are dark, the trees get higher, and there’s a stronger smell of lilacs and the snowball bushes. And the scarier you get. Down past Twelfth Street, I get down past Twyman Street where the Superintendent of Schools lives. I’m moving past that—upwards—on that sidewalk.
I’m walking along and finally, there it is, Mr. Johnson’s house. Pearl’s home. Just a big, dark, sprawling blob up there with those trees around it. You could see little lights. I go up and knock on the door. This big man wearing a dark suit opens it. I figure it’s Mr. Johnson. He says, “Oh, Mr. Shepherd. You’re here for Pearl.”
I say, “Yes.”
More still to come
I’m looking around. It’s terrible when a kid begins to reject his home. I love it here! Coming up the back steps yelling, “What’s for supper, ma? Oh wow, red cabbage!” Up to this moment, nothing is greater than mixing five big gobs of red cabbage with mashed potatoes, pouring ketchup on it and gulfing it down. And now, I’m sitting there with my fork. My father is reading the sports page, my kid brother is whining that he wants to get up, my mother is yelling at him to shut up and finish his supper.
This night something has changed. It’s Friday night. I don’t know how to say to my mother, “Mother, I’m going out tonight and I won’t be back till maybe nine-thirty.” Ours is strictly a nine-thirty house. My kid brother eight-thirty. He’s a year-and-a-half younger and rank has its privileges. Nine-thirty I’d come reeling in from a tough game of kick the can, sweating, mosquitoes all over me. I’d smoked something back of the garage and I’m hiding the odor with gum. I’d get in and my mother would say, “It’s nine-forty. Your father doesn’t like it!”
Okay, fateful Friday night and I’m sitting there. I say, “Ma, I’ve got a date tonight.”
She says, “Esther Jane is a nice girl.” She likes girls who would come in and talk about baking cakes and stuff.
I say, “No, I’m going out with Pearl.”
She says, “Pearl?” Pearl? Every kid in the neighborhood is known and cataloged. There is Dawn, there is Esther Jane, there is Christine, etc. Every last kid.
I say, “Yeah, she lives in the next neighborhood, on the next block.”
“Where does she live?”
The old man puts down his paper. He’s interested—his kid’s got a chick.
I say, “She lives over across Kennedy.”
My mother says, “Where? Where does she live?”
And I say, “Oh,…I don’t know. I don’t remember.”
The old man says, “Where does she live?”
“Beacon Street.” It’s as though eight floodlights have gone on in the room.
My father says, “Beacon Street?”
My mother puts the pan down and she says, “Where?”
I say, “Beacon Street, mom.”
“Where does she live on Beacon Street?” On Beacon Street, like all rich streets, there is a kind of rich end and then there is the rich-rich end.
I say, “Well, she lives down by Morton Street.”
Morton Street and Beacon Street go right to Olympus and meet there, and my mother knows there are only three houses at that corner.
She says, “Pearl who?” Kids don’t know these special subtleties.
I say, “Pearl Johnson.”
My old man turns and looks at me, and I think I’ve done something terrible. It is that funny thing in the air. His eyes bug open. He says, “Johnson?”
“Yeah, Pearl Johnson. I met her in Biology 3.”
He says, “You mean the Johnsons from Morton Street and Beacon?”
I say, “Yeah.”
More to come
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.”
This Pearl story part should have been posted before the last one I posted.
Don’t bother Pearl! I’m just standing next to Pearl. Pearl has got me on the verge of a nervous breakdown in five minutes!
This goes on until the end of the third week, and finally, we’re beginning to work out what they call in novels, “a relationship.” Up to then in my life there had been no relationships, just, “Hey, Esther Jane, wanna go to the dance?” Is this a relationship?
We begin to work out this reciprocal thing between the two of us where, one hour out of the day, in Biology 3, I am Noel Coward, and, in Biology 3, she is Margot Fontaine. How it worked out I don’t know, but I’d talk differently. I’d say, “Hello, Pearl.” Josway would yell from up front, “Hey, shut up!” I’d say back, “Hello, Alex.”
Back to the frog. We had worked this thing out. And that Friday afternoon, I say, “Pearl, would you like…ah…, do you want me to sharpen your pencil?”
And she says, “Yes.” Something is sacred, even about the girl’s pencil. It’s so clean, while mine’s a mess. I sharpen her pencil. I bring it back. “Thank you.”
I sense in the air, something. I am getting a signal. And I don’t know what to do about it. Like a guy who’s hearing code on a pair of earphones—and he can’t read code, and you know they’re calling you.
I don’t know how to say it. I don’t know whether women know this, how fantastically difficult it is to say, “Do you want to go out with me?” You can’t even get it out! So I’m standing there, trying to figure it out. And I say, “Pearl, it’s a nice day, isn’t it?”
“Yes.” And hanging on the end of the “Yes” are little tassels. And there are little sparkly pieces on it, maybe diamonds. You know the Disney cartoons, where the good fairy waves her wand and it goes ping! That “Yes” hangs in the air. Pearl is not talking about the sky and the wind and the rain and the rotten blast furnace dust that is coming down through the open window. She says, “Yes.”
I go back to my end of the table and now I am really scared. When you get the “Yes.” What do you do now? What would you do if right now the phone rang and it’s Darryl Zanuck on the line. He says, “We’ve been watching you. When can you get out to the Coast?” All these years you’ve been saying, “Ah, if I was gonna make a movie, I know what I’d do! I know what I’d do!” What would you do if tomorrow the Senator gets up at the national convention and says, “And I want to place in nomination the name of that great American, Charlie W. Schmidlap!”—and you’re Charlie? Would you go? Well, I am getting the “Yes.” Pearl has said “Yes.”
More to come.
She lives in the north side of town, the rich section of town. I come from the place where, every time they tap an open hearth, the temperature of our house goes up twenty degrees, every time the Bessemer converter goes off my bedroom lights up like a Christmas tree. When the fourteen-inch Merchant mill is running at full blast it’s all night long BOOM BOOM BOOM, and you just know they’re running a big lot through that mill. I live in that world, and Pearl lives on Beacon Street where there are big trees around houses that are at least a half block back of the street and there are snowball bushes out front, and where the Buicks hum as they glide home from the office. There are maids with little white caps, dusting things. Do you know what that means in a place like Hammond, Indiana?
Once in a great while, when they would put me on another paper route, I would deliver down Beacon Street. It is a place where some houses get three Chicago Tribunes delivered. What do they do with them all? I can imagine people in different wings of the house being served them in bed with their tea. Pearl lives on Beacon Street.
I’m standing next to Pearl, trying to figure out what you do. And I say, “Pearl, it’s Friday.”
“It’s Friday, Pearl, a…at the Orpheum…”
She says, “Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.”
I say, “Yeah!”
And she says, “I’d love to go.”
In my limited knowledge and understanding of such things,
I recognize three major types of organized gardens:
French, Japanese (done with plants and/or stones), and English.
I think of French gardens as symbolically the type one sees at Fontainebleau—taking nature and distorting it into an un-natural rigidity—nature’s beautiful variety shorn into a mechanistic horror. The “garden” in the film, “Last Year At Marienbad” disparages by only slightly exaggerating the fascistic stiltedness.
France’s Château de Villandry
& the “Last Year At Marienbad” gardens
Japanese gardens, for me, are the fusion of nature with human sensibility, adding a conscious esthetic to the not-quite-organized-enough glories of what mother nature produces. Shown here are the Japanese garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, and the best-known Japanese Zen garden in Kyoto, Japan (designed 15th century). I’m not sure what to say about the utterly stylized, intensely esthetic, formal rigidity of rock gardens!
English cottage gardens have been described as “the perfect combination of charm and artful chaos.”
Landscape design should be a working with nature to create an esthetic synthesis. We have Machu Pichu, Scottish link golf courses, Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial. The opposite is the inhuman, anti-nature desecration of the French nobility’s idea of elegance. In a comparison between formal style and a certain abundance of emotional exuberance, I’m for life, vitality, exuberance. I think it’s obvious that I very much appreciate the Japanese fusion of nature with human sensibility, and that I’m completely enamored of the artful chaos of English cottage gardens.
Miss Reader is now solid pink as she continues. “Now, children, the next few organs we’re going to discuss have to do with that great process of life called ‘reproduction.’”
I say to Pearl, “You know what she means, baby!” Pearl is like solid ice, while Esther Jane, three tables away, is laughing and nudging Alex Josway.
Miss Reader says, “Please take your red and your green dye, and if you have a female frog, I want you to use the green, if you have a male frog, use your red.” She pulls down a chart. “Here are the two types.”
I look down at the frog and I look up at the chart and I say to Pearl, “It’s a chick!”
Pearl says nothing. We continue to dissect, and without any warning, Pearl walks up to Miss Reader’s desk, bends over, and says something. Miss Reader looks at me and says, “Jean, will you please leave Pearl alone.”
What have I done? I’ve just been ol’ funny Jean. Pearl comes back with that snotty, girl look.
That minute, a great love begins to grow. This is totally different, this is completely out of my context. We all fall in love with that which does not fall in the neighborhood. We are all secretly in love with that strange, exotic thing.
MUSICAL SOUNDS AND STRUCTURES
I’m fascinated by the way the physical structures and looks of objects are related to their functions. Astrolabes, skeletalized watches, and musical instruments are examples. That’s what led me to take classes in making a Japanese flute and a classical guitar. Thus, an exhibit on the nature of musical instruments is of special interest to me.
In 1980, the American Museum of Natural History decided to do a large temporary exhibit on music. They chose Professor of Ethnomusicology and Musicology, Dr. William Malm, a recognized authority on the anthropology of music, and a professor at Ann Arbor’s University of Michigan, as the guest curator, and chose me, the Museum’s Senior Exhibit Designer, to design the project.
At Museum expense, I traveled to discuss the new exhibit with Dr. Malm in Ann Arbor to see the University’s musical instrument display.
In Ann Arbor I Received from Dr. Malm
a “Zen Lesson” on a Japanese No Drum.
There have been many recent books and exhibits on the general subject of music and instruments. In addition to the books quoted below, and dozens of others I own on music and dance, I have a two-page carbon copy of an earlier exhibit proposal (1960), by American Museum anthropologist, Colin Turnbull, that begins:
The purpose of the exhibition is twofold. Firstly, and very simply, to give the public the opportunity to see, in one room, some of the many musical instruments which the Museum has collected from all over the world during the past half century. Secondly, by dividing the instruments into four classes, to show how widespread has been man’s determination to make music, and how great his genius in producing an infinite variety of sound while using the simplest materials and tools.
A Metropolitan Museum of Art “Bulletin” publication (Oct./Nov. 1971) begins its article:
A motto frequently painted on keyboard instruments of the Renaissance says: “Pleasing to ear and eye alike.” This sums up two aspects inherent in musical instruments: their function as machines producing organized sound, and their aesthetic appeal to the eye, as treasures of art.
“Eyewitness Books” Music, (1989) one of a series of museum-like, lushly illustrated books on various topics, begins:
The world of music is a kaleidoscope of sound. With most instruments it is easy to see how the different types of sound are made….Playing an instrument makes part of it vibrate rapidly back and forth. The vibration produces sound waves in the air, which travel to our ear.
A book by “The Diagram Group,” Musical Instruments of the World (1976) is “…an illustrated encyclopedia with more than 4,000 original drawings.” It’s described as “…the most comprehensive illustrated reference to all the musical instruments in the world.” This book is my basic source of information on the forms and names of instruments. At the front of the book, their “Classification” diagram shows the types of instruments
[Click on diagram to enlarge]:
For various administrative causes, our director decided to cancel the exhibit. Based on Dr. Malm’s first written outline, my rough, early design shows how it might have been organized:
She’s standing there next to me. I’m dissecting and I’m getting sort of skinnier and taller and I’m getting a little conscious of my crew cut and my weight and that I have on one of these T-shirts on that say Stolen From the Hammond High Track Department.
I begin to look at this girl sideways and she’s the most beautiful creature I ever saw. She is like Margot Fontaine. Made out of alabaster, made out of ivory. She radiates. She has this perfume, this aura, this aroma.
Up ahead is Esther Jane hitting Josway, and I begin to think what terrible people they are. Pearl is just quietly going along, writing in her notebook. She’s the kind of girl who writes in her notebook with a tiny backward hand and she makes little round dots over the i’s. All the while I’m beginning to feel this sense of change. It is the beginning of a mature hang-up, the beginning of being bugged, and I don’t know how to talk to her now—I’d failed so far.
She says, “What is it?”
“Pass the scalpel, please.”
She says, “Oh, yes.”
I take the scalpel and I cut a little bit. She watches. I’m becoming very delicate. I step back. Miss Reader is standing up there, walking back and forth the way teachers do when the lab session is under way. She slips over and takes one look at me. She looks down at my notebook and I have begun to write real good. Kids really do these things, they begin to try to improve. She walks on, and then she comes back and says, “Don’t bother Pearl.”