IKEA finally delivered my bookshelves and I got right to work putting them together. They needed shims to compensate for a serious slanting of the floors in this old building and if that were not enough, had to be secured to the walls with L-brackets in case anyone decided to climb them at some point. Or in case of an earthquake. Apparently I now live on yet another fault line. Who knew? All this tweaking involved unplanned trips to the hardware store, drilling, hammering, screwing and vacuuming up the dust and detritus in the aftermath. But at last the work was done and I was more than happy to empty those nineteen boxes and put books on brand new shelves. If nineteen boxes of books sounds excessive – as it certainly did to the movers who, sweating up the long flights of stairs to my new abode, informed me that it is possible, now, to get an electronic device that holds over 1,000 books and weighs next to nothing – let me assure you that it translates into almost nothing when unpacked and loaded on new shelves. There are lots of gaps. But there are still enough volumes to make me feel at home again.
Among these treasures is a book of photographs by Dennis Stock of James Dean taken over a few months in 1955, the year Dean died in a car crash. One of the images shows him in a dance class in New York, standing just behind his friend Eartha Kitt. The look on Dean’s face is transcendent; he’s only 24 years old but suffers from insomnia, drinks, smokes and is struggling under the weight of his new status as a movie star. He looks dissipated and innocent all at once. He looks at Kitt with love, with wonder, with desire (what manner of desire one can only surmise). It’s a beautiful shot and I would love to see the contact sheet from whence it was chosen. Eartha, in the foreground, is her gorgeous self. She never seemed to age, but in this photo she is probably in her twenties so is a softer version of her later persona. Those cheekbones! That sensual mouth! That perfect heart-shaped face!
I like to think of this image when I listen to what is becoming, oddly, one of my favourite pieces of music, or maybe it’s become more of a soundtrack to my life, which could be worrisome. The song is I Want to Be Evil made popular by Kitt whose voice has been described as somewhere between a growl and a purr, a bit smoke-and-whiskey cured. In this song she manages an undertone of irony, a teasing invitation to come this close but no closer. “…I want to spit tacks…and cheat at jacks…”
Oh I want to be evil too. I want to say things that one never says because they’re hurtful or unkind or just not nice. And we do want to be nice, don’t we? We know that health and well-being is so much about balance but I struggle to maintain that middle ground between being “nice” and being weighed down with the self-loathing that comes from allowing myself to be a full-on raging snippy witch. That last word is misspelled.
Most days it’s not so much of a problem. And then I get the call from the partner of a friend – see? Right there’s an issue, but let’s forge ahead: the Partner of the Friend has decided to come to Toronto on her way somewhere else. She “has plans” for us. She would like to stay overnight before heading off to her final destination. She wants to “play”. She’s arriving at noon and leaving some time the following day. I grant you this sounds innocent enough. In fact, I have more in common with Partner than I do with Friend – on paper that is. In real life though … let’s just say some people are just easy to be with. Easy breezy. Interesting, sure. Provocative, yes. Even slightly combative is fine. A little give and take is welcome, encouraged even. There’s an ease that allows for comfortable silences, a shared humour, space for not knowing something and maybe even having fun making it up.
Then there are others with whom you always feel a bit on edge. There’s a neediness about their attention, a constant chatter, a tone that asks “do you like me, huh, do ya? Do ya? How ‘bout THIS? Oh, and how ‘bout THAT?…” And what I so badly want to say (I want to be evil) is “How about you put a sock in it?” Or as Stevie Wonder once put it so eloquently at a concert: “Relax your lips”. The real evil I want to be, or say, is Dear God of All Things Merciful can’t we just meet for lunch and be done with it? I find you exhausting. I don’t think I can bear your company – just the two of us – for 12+ hours. Even two hours with you SUCKS THE ENERGY RIGHT OUT OF MY SOUL!!!
But of course I don’t say these things. It’s only 12 hours after all, and we’ll be asleep for some of them. This person is a kind person. Well-meaning. Earnest. Oh my so earnest. We never laugh together which I find odd and adds to the element of trying – it’s trying to be with someone with whom you don’t yuk it up from time to time, and it’s The Trying (hers to focus in on me with laser-like attention and mine to endure) that’s … trying.
“I wanna wake up in the morning with that dark brown taste …. “ Oh Eartha, you sweet thang, you have NO IDEA how evil one could be if only she had the nerve and the complete lack of empathy that would allow for the kind of truth-telling this imminent visit arouses in me. I have spent a couple of weeks agonizing over Partner’s visit, partly because I’ve just moved and haven’t completely unpacked and have some damaged IKEA furniture lying in the middle of the living room and am sporadically painting the place and just want to be left alone … and partly because I am afraid I will not be as nice as I like to think I am. Sure, I want to be evil like the song says, but, like the song says, the worst I can do is switch seats in the theatre so I can step on everybody’s feet. I don’t want to give voice to those dark inhospitable thoughts crowding out my innate desire to please.
Send Valium c/o Sarah Bellum Toronto Ontario.
My best wishes to all of you. Writers are solitary saints of a sort – alliteration is for you. Photographers get to watch it all go by. And so until next time…my admiration.