Bridge 9

September 11th, 2010

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Bridge 9–THE GRAPES OF WRATH

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“Go West, young man–the future lies out there,”
Lures all of us, just as it did Tom Joad.
When things break up at home, we say a prayer,
And then head out–“Let’s hit the open road!”
It’s just a dream to chase the setting sun,
“But makes more sense than staying where we are;
There’ll be fresh fields, and maybe fresher fun.”
“But if we’re gonna go, we’ll need a car!”
Then “fill ‘er up”–the tank, then every seat–
Pile in the bags, and wave a last goodby.
Head for the coast!  “Hey, won’t that beach be sweet,
The sand between your toes, the clear blue sky!”
“But wait . . . we may have trouble on the way.”
“Well, life’s just one long gamble, don’t they say?”

[Summer, 1957]

Henry had been remarkably quiet as I’d told about him running off with my wife.  But Shoko was finally provoked to say, “It may not seem so to you, Jack, but I came to know Betty very well . . . in these last years . . . and she was always concerned about the people she worked with–even when they thought she was selfishly ignoring them.  I’d never heard about how she left you in Nebraska before, but I was there when she left you here in California . . . twice . . . and when she left Jordan in New York earlier this year.  I think she meant what she said in her note.  Of course she was pursuing her personal ambition.  She wanted to go where she could do something challenging–always.  But I think she’d also decided that Christine was better off with you.  And that you were better off with Laura.  And I think she was right . . . you were!”
I paused to wonder what had provoked that outburst, before responding, “Well, yes, I suppose I knew at the time

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that there was a lot of truth in that.  But it came as such a surprise–all of a sudden she was gone.  To put it as bluntly as I then felt it, it seemed she had simply thrown me away . . . to run off with Henry.  The heaviest blow was the realization that I couldn’t hold a woman like her.  Then, on top of that, she’d left me to take care of the baby–which might or might not be mine–while she’d gone off to seek her fortune.  And hadn’t even bothered to talk to me about it–as if I were not that involved in the major decisions affecting her life.
“Yes, Betty would do that,” Shoko said, “make up her mind then just do what she’d decided, sure that she knew what was best for you better than you did–so why talk about it?”
“But if, as you say, she had decided, ‘Jack’s better off staying here with the baby . . . and with Laura, who’ll be such a good little mother . . . and settling for this mediocrity,’ it was almost as if Laura had been in on it–knew from the first.  As if Betty had told her that she was leaving me.”
That got a rise out of Henry.  “I’m sure not, Jack–or I’d have known.  But it set me to reflecting on Laura’s attitudes as you were talking about them now–the time she was teasing you about what she knew, for example–and I think she must have been anticipating something of the sort.  And did everything she could to encourage it.  I think her main reason for insisting on changing roles was to put Betty in the position of the wife who leaves her husband, knowing how Betty liked to get wrapped up in a stage role–so she’d have that idea constantly in mind as she was preparing for the play.  I credit Laura with having that kind of skill in reading the motives of others, too.  She had it back then and she has it now.  It’s one of the things that has made her so valuable to me.  She wouldn’t necessarily have told you everything she had figured out, either.  I can imagine how much she enjoyed handing you that drink at the door, and then watching you be surprised.”

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I thought about that for a moment, then laughed.  “I’m sure you’re right.  She probably did have a better sense of the relationship between Betty and me than I did.  Everything that had happened since Christine was born had pointed toward this inevitable conclusion to our brief marriage.  When Betty had stepped back onto the stage again, and felt the power she held over us all in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, she had, in effect, stepped out of my life.  Laura had seen that. A Doll’s House had just reinforced Betty’s decision, and, as you say, Laura had provided her with the perfect exit scene.
“I had no compulsion to go after Betty and try to bring her back.  I finally understood that I’d only had her on loan while she’d had, and recuperated from having, ‘our’ baby.  Now, thanks to the hysterectomy, she’d no longer have that kind of problem.  Her relationships with men, from now on, wouldn’t be to the purpose of producing babies, but of producing plays–along with whatever subordinate orders of recreation that commitment might tolerate, I thought, in as cynical a mood as I’d been in back during our ‘Orange Bowl’ period.  Putting her back on the stage as therapy had affected a cure, all right–it had cured her of any lingering dependency on me.  But neither she nor you . . . nor Laura, for that matter . . . had bothered to forewarn me of this, Henry.”
“Betty had sworn me to secrecy before she told me what she intended, Jack.  That seemed harmless enough–just another of Betty’s games.  Then, when she told me, I argued that we should talk it out with you–that we owed you that much–but she held me to that pledge, saying, ‘Why? He’ll just want to come along . . . and bring Christine!  And you know that that won’t work.  Not in New York!  I need to be totally unencumbered now . . . at least at first.'”
“That was my first reaction, to be angry with her for leaving me behind as excess baggage.  I would have gone . . .

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would have done anything she wanted, if I’d known she felt that strongly about it.  ‘Why Henry and not me?’ I thought.  It’s true, I never really saw you as running off with my wife, Henry.  I saw her as running off . . . and taking you with her.”
“And that’s the way it was, Jack . . . the way it always was with Betty.  She explained it to me in very straightforward fashion when she first told me she’d decided to leave.  ‘I want you to go with me because it makes it simpler–men can do so many things women can’t, traveling across country, getting settled in a new city–because you’re free, and because you  should want to go as badly as I do.  Don’t you?  What will you ever do in this place?  But if you become an encumbrance, too, I’ll go without you, or leave you in Dayton on the way.  Because I’m going to New York!  And I hold you to your promise not to tell Jack until after I’m gone.  I’m sure he’ll appreciate a nice dramatic exit . . . and I know that that’s best.’
“She wasn’t at all concerned about what I’d have to leave behind–my house, my career.  ‘You’re better off without those things,’ she said.  ‘As Thoreau tells us, those things begin to possess you.  You leave everything you own to Marge, and I’ll leave everything I own to Jack . . . to Jack and his Laura.’  And she just laughed.  ‘Wait until you meet Jordan,’ she said. ‘He understands these things.’  I had many reservations . . . but I did go with her.  And I, too, tried to stay with her.”
“You had a better track record with her than I did, Henry . . . over the years.  I suppose because you became more useful to her . . . became a New York professional.”
“You keep accusing Betty of using people,” Shoko said, “but she was always the one who gave the most of herself to any project . . . who often carried others . . . who was most determined to be professional . . . to set an example.”
“I suppose you’re right, Shoko . . . of course you are.  We all ‘use’ one another . . . can’t help it.  To her credit, Betty was

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willing to pay for what she got.  In leaving me she saw herself as running away from both the amateur and the domestic–for good.  She was really running to Jordan, who represented ‘professional theatre’ to her, while I had become associated in her mind and spirit with the college theatre she now meant to transcend–and with home and babies–because she saw me as happy directing plays at Wellington, happy sitting on the sofa with Christine on my lap–happy in the world she could no longer abide.  She was headed for the big time, the real world, a professional career . . . Jordan . . . and didn’t want Christine and me tagging along. We were ‘an encumbrance.’  I wondered if Jordan knew she was coming.  I’d only seen that one rather ambiguous letter from him, and didn’t think she’d received an answer to the letter she had sent to his friend’s address.”
Henry laughed.  “No, he didn’t, Jack.  Betty had decided to surprise him, too . . . also against my advice.  ‘He’ll be delighted’ she said . . . and smiled that wicked smile of hers.”
“I actually had more difficulty understanding you, Henry.  I felt sure that Betty hadn’t run off with you in romantic infatuation, that you had merely provided the most available transportation to New York–not just the car, of course, but the companionship, the moral support.  You came to mean much more to her, I know, and in these last years she probably depended on you more than she did on anyone else, but I had no idea that it would work out that way, and I’ll bet that neither of you did as you left Wellington, either.”
“No.  I didn’t know what to expect, Jack . . . just that I had committed myself to go with her.”
“But, as I say, I didn’t feel I had lost Betty to you–just that I had lost you, too.  My wife and my best friend.  When you were forced to choose, you had chosen Betty–but who wouldn’t have?  Yes, in part because she was a very good-looking woman, but I could imagine you thinking, ‘Well, Jack

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has Laura, and everybody here in Wellington, while Betty is going out to face the big world alone–so needs a champion.’
“You’re making it much too complicated, Jack,” Henry said.  “Betty asked me to go, and I went.”
“She did have that kind of power, didn’t she?  At first I thought you’d be back by the time school started again in the fall, with your own shattered illusions.  But Laura convinced me otherwise.  She said, ‘No, Dr. Gordon wanted to run away, too, and needed an excuse . . . or, like Iago, an occasion.  He was able to run away on your wife’s courage.  He may see it as an adventure, but also as a new lease on life.  He was here long enough.’  While I saw you as helping Betty with her problem, Laura saw her as helping you with yours.”
“I knew that Laura should have become a psychologist.”
“And, indirectly, Betty had also given me the courage to run–though I ran the other way.  I probably would have stayed at Wellington another year–had already signed a contract–then who knows how long–like poor old George in Virginia Woolf–if Betty had been content to be a faculty wife. In time, I might have gotten a Ph.D. at the state university and settled in to be ‘Dear Old Doctor Kindly, who does those fascinating things in the drama department.  Surprising how up-to-date he keeps clear out here in the middle of Nebraska, willing to philosophize at the drop of a hat with anyone who happens to have an hour to kill talking about Strindberg’s women or O’Neill’s men.’  But when Laura moved in with me it definitely put an end to that future, which is no doubt one reason I let her do it.”
“Betty did say, ‘And Jack has his Laura.  She’ll move in and take care of Christine . . . and him . . . better than I could.  She’s a born baby sitter.’  I’ve never told Laura that.”
“But Betty may have . . . and it was true.  Yes, putting biology aside, I’m Christine’s father, and Laura is her mother.”

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“But if you look at Christine now, Jack . . . especially as you see her on the stage . . . you know that you can’t put biology aside,” Shoko said.  “She’s Betty’s daughter . . . Betty lives on in Christine.  Anyone who sees her knows that.”
“And that she’s mine, too?”
As Shoko was slow to answer, Henry said, “Of course, Jack.  If less obvious on stage . . . certainly in temperament.”
If he was making fun of me, it didn’t show.  I shook my head.  “And it doesn’t matter . . . for me or for Laura.  It never has.  Laura was ready to move in the night you left.  I resisted for maybe two weeks–at least ten days–still thinking it must be a mistake, that I’d hear from Betty, or Jordan, about plans for the summer . . . telling me to come join them.  But Laura was persistent.  She knew she had me, and played me with the delight and skill of a fisherman who’s hooked the fish he’s been after for months and wants to make the most of the experience of landing him.  I knew that I was being manipulated by a woman again, and, as is my wont, finally let it happen.
“We both had final exams to face.  I worked things out with Emma on Christine through that period, but always had her home with me when I was there, grading papers, watching television, and brooding.  I could fix meals–had half the time when Betty was there–but frequently took Christine out to eat, just to get out of the house, sometimes with Laura, who enjoyed fussing with the baby.  It got so lonely at home some evenings that I wished I had a play to rehearse, and almost called Laura a time or two myself before she caught me in the office the afternoon I handed in final grades and suggested that she come fix dinner for me and the baby, to celebrate–looking me right in the eye and making a point of not saying, ‘And I’ll bring my suitcases.’  And she didn’t–but she stayed.
“There was a minor shock wave in the community.  Some felt, certainly, that that was why my wife had left me in the

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first place, because something had been going on between Laura and me.  I told them at the college that I’d like to be relieved of the contract obligation for the following year, that my plans had changed and I was going back out to the West Coast.  I had a conference with President Wharton about it.  He told me they were sorry to see me leave, after all I’d done for their theatre program, but that my ‘life style’ had become a bit irregular for Wellington.  He was most surprised by you, he said–suggesting, I suppose, that you might expect anything from ‘theatre people,’ but that faculty members in the more traditional disciplines should be more dependable.  I got the impression that you must have left a few loose ends.”
“I gave my final exams the last week of class, and left my grades in a sealed envelope with the registrar, but it probably did still upset President Wharton . . . anything out of the ordinary would.  And, yes, there were a few loose ends.”
“I was scrupulous about all obligations to the college, and settling up with everyone in Wellington–for both Betty and myself.  Not that I cared what they thought, just to satisfy myself that it was a clean break.  I knew I was giving up a comfortable academic position–but didn’t want it anymore.  I had to leave.  I might not have had a strong marriage with Betty, but there had been those periods when our talents had happened to meet in half a dozen plays . . . if most memorably under the sign of Hawthorne’s scaffold.  That had been real–the rest was dream and illusion.  Betty had decided to affirm herself as an actress, so I would affirm myself as a writer–no matter what I had to demand of, or abandon to, those around me.  I’d follow her example, would go back out to the coast, where I felt at home, and where the movie and TV action was for a writer, and give it a try.
“Laura just thought everything was great, was as cheerful as I’ve ever seen a woman be, which did a lot for my morale.

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She took to Christine as if she were her own child, and, when I told her I wasn’t sure she was mine, must have laughed for ten minutes, between telling me I should know my Strindberg well enough to know all fathers have that problem, and pointing out features she was sure were mine in the poor baby.  She was also delighted to be living in sin, which may have helped make her as delicious as any stolen watermelon could have been.  When, that first night, she said, “And you could have been having this all winter long,” I laughed too.
“Her new image gave her a kind of romantic prestige–certainly among students who were still in town–though she never established the close relationship with the Brigots that Betty had had, as, once she was living with me, we seldom needed help with Christine . . . and Peg seemed convinced that it was Betty who had been betrayed, probably by Laura . . . who was now taking the baby away from her, too.
“The Brigots had their own family tragedy to come to terms with, of course.  I would think, as I saw Emma working in the back yard, or doing dishes with Peg at her sink by the kitchen window, how much the problems of these college people must have seemed self-inflicted to her.  I’m sure she was sincere when she said she was sorry to hear that Betty had left me–and especially Christine–and hoped we’d be back together soon, but I didn’t see much of that good woman our last two weeks in Wellington, and, after Laura moved in, she hardly talked to either of us.  So I learned, too, that for whatever you get you have to pay something.
“Then we left for California, in that old Chevy station wagon Betty and I bought in Kansas when we got married, and that she and Jordan and I had used the previous summer for our tour with Othello.  I explained to Laura all the problems that I’d be facing, and how it just didn’t make sense for her to get involved.  She said, ‘How can I get any more

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involved than I already am?  You don’t think I can go back home after this, do you?  You met my father.’  She laughed again just thinking about it.  ‘Wither thou goest, I will follow.  You’ll be a big success, make lots of money, and buy me nice things.  Besides, for a Nebraska girl a trip to California is the great adventure, the answer to her dreams.  I may become a movie star!’  Once we were under way, I was glad to be making the trip with that buoyant spirit in the seat beside me.  And I really did need her help with Christine.  Ironically, I probably needed her more than Betty had needed you.  Men and women do need each other.”  Shoko smiled and nodded.
“I’ll never forget that trip.  The early summer of 1957, and that station wagon already had close to 100,000 miles on it–like the wagon parked down below does now.  I knew I should have traded for a newer car, but we couldn’t afford it.  We had agreed, after a fashion, that Laura would work when we got out here and that, while I would probably also get some kind of job, I would spend most of my time writing.  And women didn’t get paid much for anything in those days.
“We had camping gear tied on a rack on top, to save the cost of motels, but were rained out of the tent the first two nights–so were forced to sleep in the wagon.  We had a mattress in the back–which is when we first learned how useful that is–so it really wasn’t a great inconvenience, just required careful loading–and we liked the togetherness.  By the time we were using the Chevy wagon down below, we pulled a trailer, and had a three-quarter mattress that just exactly fit in the back.  I have a special fondness for that bed . . . though I didn’t see the mattress in the back as I came up.”
“It’s in the cabin, isn’t it, Henry?” Shoko asked.
“Yes . . . in the back room . . . the ‘guest’ room.  You could probably sleep on it tonight, Jack.”  I let that go without comment–having my own devious purposes by that time.

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“But then the mechanical problems set in, while we were still in Colorado–taking the scenic route.  It started with the car heating up in the mountains.  We filled half a dozen empty gallon clorox bottles with water–then poured them on and in the radiator when it started to boil.  I think of that whenever I hear the name Steamboat Springs–we saw plenty of ‘steam’ there–all coming from our car.  Then a water pump went out, and we spent an afternoon fixing that.  We finally decided that we’d do a little sight-seeing during the day, in Salt Lake City, at least, and drive across Utah and Nevada at night, when it would be cooler–which wasn’t bad, since one of us could sleep in back with the baby while the other one was driving.
“It was while I was driving across Southern Nevada that I made the big mistake.  I’d been shaking my head to keep awake, and, when I saw the hitchhiker thought that talking to him might help.  He didn’t look like a bum, more like a college kid going home for the summer, and I had sympathy with his being stuck in that little Nevada town at that time of night, remembering how I’d hitchhiked from California to Illinois just after I graduated from high school.  So I pulled over and told him to get in.   He shoved his small satchel under his feet.
“About ten miles down the road–I mean ten miles from anywhere–he pulled a pistol out of that little bag and said he was taking the car.  I told him that we’d be happy to take him wherever he wanted to go, that the car wasn’t worth having, given the mechanical trouble we were having with it, but that everything we had in the world was in that car–no doubt the wrong thing to have said.  He finally told me to shut up and pull off on a kind of cattle trail of a side road he spotted up ahead, which, after a jab of the pistol in the ribs, I did.  That woke up Laura.  He said he was putting us out there.
“I told Laura to get Christine, and tried to figure out how to salvage something.  We had put about half of our cash in an

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empty flashlight in the glove compartment, and I asked if he’d at least let us have the flashlight out there in the dark.  He said, ‘Hell, no,’ that he didn’t want us signaling.  He told me to throw my wallet in the seat, and almost hit Laura as she reached for her purse.  When, seeing what was happening, she asked if we could take the thermos of coffee, she was denied that, too.  He let us take the bag of stuff for the baby, and that was all, not even the apples we had in the back.
“Then off he drove, leaving us standing in the desert.  Laura had passed Christine to me, and was holding her bag of diapers and odds and ends of baby clothes.  Then she began to laugh.  We could hardly see each other in the dark, but I never appreciated her more.  ‘Now what do you think about running off with your teacher,’ I asked.  ‘Did you ever read Dreiser’s Sister Carrie?  This is just the beginning.  The wages of sin.  You’ll wind up a ruined woman, picking up cigarette butts along skid row in Los Angeles . . . if we ever get that far.’
“She took my hand.  ‘Well, here we are, the primitive family in its natural habitat I read about in a sociology book.  We’re lucky to be rid of that car–boy, has he got problems.’
“Christine was fussing, so we got her blanket and laid her down among the sagebrush as we appraised things. ‘All we’ve got left is the seventy-eight cents in change I’ve got in my pocket.  We had five hundred dollars in traveler’s checks in my briefcase, which I suppose we’ll be able to get refunded in Las Vegas.  But then what?  We’re the ones who have problems.’
“We walked back to the highway through that sagebrush, with me carrying Christine.  Laura said, ‘We’ll be able to flag down a car and get somebody to report that guy to the police within an hour, and where can he go?  The highway patrol will pick him up, an we’ll just have lost a little sleep.’
“But only three cars came by in the next two hours, and, showing better sense than I had, whizzed right on by.  I’ve

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often wondered what they thought, seeing a man, a woman, and a baby out there in the desert in the middle of the night.  It must have bothered one of them enough to have reported it in the next town, anyway, for at the end of the two hours a highway patrol car came from the West and pulled over to confront us–one officer staying in the car on the radio while the other came out to where we were illuminated in the headlights to talk to us.  We gave him our story briefly, and his remark was succinct, ‘Not too bright, Buddy–especially with your wife and baby along,’ at which Laura smiled and added, ‘See!’  But they put it on their radio, and, as we were driving in we got the report that the car had been found on the outskirts of Las Vegas, rolled over down in a gully, with stuff scattered in every direction.”
“Oh, what a shame,” Shoko said.
“You certainly had more trouble on your trip than we did on ours,” Henry added.
“Well, first they took us to the highway patrol station, then out to the car.  That car was never going anywhere, ever again, and I had no insurance on the loss–only for running into other people.  We sold it to a junk dealer for fifty dollars the next day, signing an affidavit that I was the registered owner, since our hitchhiker had taken the title.  I remember standing at the side of that gully looking at our possessions, scattered here and there, then at Laura sitting in the patrol car, with the door open, holding Christine, who, freshly changed at the station, had fallen into her glum and solemn mood.
“I’d had an odd impulse–one I’ve occasionally yielded to–to take any road at random and hitchhike out of Las Vegas myself.  But it was overwhelmed by the sense I had that I was responsible for my destitute family.  There on the ground, for us to pick up as best we could, was all we had in the world.  And I was strangely elated.  I saw the thermos bottle that

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Laura had asked for on the peculiar impulse that a cup of coffee might taste pretty good out there in the desert at night, smashed on the ground, in a circle of coffee stain, where it had been thrown from the car as it hit.  Then Laura asked to borrow my pocket knife, walked down to where she saw the sack of apples, chose two that were not badly bruised, quartered them, and passed the pieces around.  I still have a memory of Christine, so wide-eyed and serious-faced, sitting in Laura’s lap as Laura let her suck on her piece of apple.  Laura always loved a good apple–and knew that I did, too.
“I told the patrolman that that was our car all right, but that we’d like to go get a cup of coffee, and then I’d like to get my family settled in a hotel before coming back to see what I could salvage.  They were all very good about it; the people at the hotel even trusted us for the two days it took to clear the travelers’ checks and get our five hundred dollars.  I went back out and gathered our things, using the suitcases the hitchhiker had pitched most of the stuff out of.  He had actually taken very little–a camera and dress shirt from my suitcase, but not my now-infamous .38 pistol, which was wrapped in an old sweat suit–and just a little jade elephant, so far as we could tell, for we never found it, from Laura’s suitcase, and the best one of the sleeping bags.
“Laura’s purse had been dumped and the few dollars taken from the wallet that she had in it, though the coin purse was still there.  And her clothes were scattered all over, worse than mine, the little turquoise-colored dress she had worn in The Glass Menagerie draped forlornly over a bush.  I gathered her things with particular care.  He had taken my wallet, of course, with well over a hundred dollars in it, the pouch out of my briefcase with our important papers and our travelers’ checks, and, out of the glove compartment–the first thing I checked on–the flashlight with the other two hundred dollars

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in it.  Most of our camping gear was still there.  The car was resting on its side, but those things, somewhat bizarrely, were still tied securely to the roof.
“By the time our money came through we had decided to stay in Las Vegas for a while.  We had no need to go on to Los Angeles right away, and both found the town appealing, though for different reasons–Laura for the bright lights and all-night activity, for there was still a lot of the romantic  Nebraska girl in her–me for the moral freedom that tolerated anything, and gave us a kind of reverse security, under which we set up a very conventional, domestic relationship, rented a nice apartment a block off of the bus line and both got jobs, so were soon supporting ourselves comfortably enough.
“Laura worked as a waitress in the evening, from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., and I found a job as clerk for, then manager of, a rental car agency–a tricky business in that town–but working during the day, so we were able to trade off on taking care of Christine, with the occasional help of a girl who lived in the same building.  Before long we were even saving money, in part because we never bought a car ourselves the whole year we were there.  I could always borrow one from the agency if we wanted to go somewhere, which we seldom did.
“I had lived in Reno my freshman year in college, in the late ’40s, and Las Vegas had the same gambling-town freedom–but, while Reno was flavored by the cowboy myths of the northern part of the old West–you’d often see cowboys riding through town on horseback–and was more traditional in its values, Las Vegas had the southern, desert quality, though surprisingly little of the Southwest Spanish myth so heavy in Arizona and New Mexico.  It was a new city, a kind of extension of Los Angeles (even of Hollywood), as, no doubt, Reno was of San Francisco, with all of the parent’s booming brashness, and next to nothing of its padre traditions.

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“But I liked it while we were there, a little over a year,  and the uncomplicated happiness domestic life with Laura offered.  I would perhaps still be up working when she got home from work, or, more often, reading a book in bed, and would watch her undress–which pleased her, too.  She had the good sense never to ask me if I intended to marry her–which, in tune with the town, gave the kind of marriage we had greater security.  We knew about birth control, but took no precautions.  I think Laura wanted a baby, and I had no great objection, would have tried to do the right thing by her and the child, whatever that might have seemed to be, but didn’t think about it much.  I guess I had a fatalistic attitude toward the whole arrangement–the gods had given it to me, and I’d leave it up to them to work out the details.
“My typewriter and manuscript materials had been rolled up in an army blanket and then the old tent and tied on top of the car, and came through undamaged.  I took that as an omen and began to write–established a regular routine and stuck to it.  I’d get home from work just in time for Christine and me to ‘walk’ Laura the five blocks to the restaurant where she worked, where we’d eat an early dinner.  Then I’d give an hour  to playing with Christine, or, weather allowing, just wheeling her around the neighborhood–that was our time–then it’d be back home and I’d settle down to write.   I’d try to get at least four hours or four pages, as I still do today when I’m working.
“I was serious about becoming a professional writer, and felt sure that eventually that would mean locating where I could make the right contacts, but first I needed to accumulate a body of work, to serve my apprenticeship at the typewriter–which I did there in Las Vegas.  I tried my hand at everything, but always turned out those four pages an evening, between 7:30 or so and midnight, or a little after, while Christine played in her play pen or on the living room floor.  She was

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pretty good from the first at amusing herself, and I got so that I could almost ignore her while I was working–until she started falling asleep.  Then I would take a put-her-to-bed break, fix a cup of coffee, and go back to work.
“I’d usually quit around midnight, if I had my four pages, then allow myself to read anything I wanted to until Laura got home, dropped off by another woman with the same shift.  I’d hear them pull into the drive and tell each other good night.  So the writing didn’t intrude into Laura’s life much, though she was always encouraging–and sometimes made suggestions that I incorporated–but I could see she really didn’t care what I was doing, as long as I thought it was important, and was happy doing it.  I told her once I’d just assumed she’d run away with me to bask in the glory of a famous man, but she said, ‘No, it’s Betty who wants fame–and doesn’t know how much she’s given up for it,’ then kissed me on the cheek.  Take it all in all, that may have been the happiest year of my life.”
“We’ll try to profit from your example, Jack,” Henry said, and kissed Shoko on the cheek.
“By the end of that year I had seven or eight plays in first or second draft, had a page or two of idea exploration for about two dozen more, and had finished a dozen short stories. And I’d begun reading the writers’ magazines, so was aiming at practical markets.  My first check, after almost six months of writing and four months of sending things out, came for a filler verse in a West Coast hobby magazine.  Then it was another two months before I placed a short story for $40 in a children’s magazine.  It was obvious that I was never going to make a living at it at that rate.  It would have to be a novel, or a play, and the quickest route seemed to be television drama.
“My original idea in heading West had been to tackle the film, or perhaps television, market, and I finally turned the heavy end of my energies–two hours at least each evening–to

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writing scripts for shows that were then running on television.  I had a psychological Western drama that, over the years, I adapted six different ways, at least–for Gunsmoke, with a nice part for Miss Kitty, and plenty of good character time for Chester and Doc, for The Big Valley, making the female role the dominant one, for The Ponderosa, changing the sexes, with a sub-plot romance for one of the boys.  All pretty naive stuff, as I later learned, but I taught myself a lot about script writing in the process.  I’d send a copy to each show I targeted, and got some interesting rejection letters back.
“But I was beginning to place odds and ends of things, enough to see myself in print occasionally, enough to feel committed, and to begin to feel restless in Las Vegas.  Laura and I had had our fill of the free floor shows, and neither of us gambled, didn’t lose more than $200 between us the entire time we were there, and most of that Laura’s loose tip money in slot machines–I never saw her actually roll the dice, or put a bet on a roulette table.  We’d sometimes watch a heavy roller shoot dice, particularly if he got excited, but by the sixth time you’ve seen it you know where it’s going–it’s like seeing the strings manipulating a puppet–and, in general, the Vanity Fair qualities of the environment and routine of relatively uninspiring jobs were beginning to read through to us.  We got to feeling  that we’d been there long enough.
“The odd thing was that the chance came for Laura, when we’d been thinking that I’d be the one to initiate the move.  I had even sent a letter of inquiry about openings in theatre to every college within a hundred miles of Hollywood, thinking that if I could get anything like the job I’d had at Wellington it would give us a reasonable income, and I’d still be able to cultivate some of the people who make decisions about scripts personally.  I began to have a drawer full of material, and another full of rejection slips, so needed to become more

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sophisticated about marketing.  And maybe I would have to teach for a while, or get a more substantial job of some kind.  I knew that not many actually make a full-time living writing.
“But Laura had been with the Topper Club Restaurant long enough to have a kind of assistant manager’s position.  The other girls would appeal to her when anything unusual happened.  She still waited tables when it was busy, but wore more stylish clothes so she could slip the apron off and take over at the cash register if neither the owner nor his wife were there.  She was making close to double what she had at the beginning, and her tips were good, so that her contributions to our joint bank account–now running about $4000–were more substantial than mine.  She was doing well enough that we had the problem I’d had at Wellington–why leave a good thing?  I’d need a job that would pay pretty well for it to make sense to move, and had gotten as many rejection slips on those theatre jobs as I had on my TV scripts–only one or two holding out any hope at all.  There is an accumulation of academic theatre people in Southern California, too.
“The Topper Club wasn’t exactly a regular hangout for show people, but there were always a lot of them in town,  and Laura would occasionally tell me about how this singer or that movie actor had been in to eat.  I told her to wait for a director and then go into her big scene from The Glass Menagerie, and thought, as I looked at the dirty look she gave me, that I had almost forgotten how good an actress she was.  We hadn’t even looked for any local amateur theatre activity, and I began to realize that Betty wasn’t the only one who belonged in a theatre.  We’d been on ‘vacation’ long enough.
“Then one night, close to midnight, there was a drunk in The Topper who was giving one of the other waitresses a hard time, and a tray of dishes was knocked over.  Laura was in charge, and, asking the girl involved to watch things at the

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register, and calling the boy in from the kitchen to clean up the mess, she went to wait on the table, trying to settle the man down.  He was with two other people, but started right off to be abusive to her, so she let him have it, both barrels of a highly charged temper–which you know Laura is capable of.  He asked her if she knew who he was, and I guess she leaned over that table and halfway sobered him up with the definition she gave him.  She ended by threatening to send him to jail if he didn’t pay for the damage and begin to behave himself.
“The people with him, an older man and a younger woman, neither of whom had been drinking very much, were obviously both embarrassed by it all, and, while the older man hadn’t said anything, he’d been watching Laura closely.  He agreed to pay whatever seemed fair, and, as he was paying the bill, asked if he could see her at his hotel the next day.
“Her temper was still up, and she told him something like she wasn’t in that line of work, had all that she could take care of at home.  He laughed and said that he wanted to talk to her about a test for a television series, if she was interested, that he was one of the producers for Welcome to the World, one of the late morning soap operas, and that they were looking for some ‘fresh passion.’  He told her that she had good close-up qualities in the expressions of her eyes, and was a very attractive woman when she was mad, a quality they tried to get into their scripts as often as they could.  She told him that that sounded like a standard line to her, and that she wasn’t interested unless she could bring her manager along–meaning me, I guess, since I did go with her.
“‘Bring three policemen, if you want,’ he answered.
“So that was the way I met Randall Best, who has been so important to my own career, and that was the way my girl friend took me with her to Hollywood.  Now, Henry, you tell us how your ‘girl friend’ took you to New York.”

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Assignment for Bridge 10:

Read Shakespeare’s Hamlet and/or see one of the many film versions: the new one with Ethan Hawk, set in corporate American, the one with Kenneth Branaugh, the one by Zefferelli with Mel Gibson, the classic with Laurence Olivier–or the best one, with Derick Jacobi.


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