Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Secret Life of Erick Melton

I daydream.  A lot.  
I have a number of reoccurring daydreams.  
One that happens fairly often, usually after someone in an SUV or monster truck cuts me off on the freeway, for instance, is what I’ll title the “Having Secret Training despite Not Practicing Scenario.”  
There’s a confrontation, see?  After we get to a parking lot.  This other guy, younger, stronger, handsomer, a complete asshole, starts threatening me because I got in HIS way.  The altercation draws an audience.  
I ask the younger, stronger, handsomer asshole I’m facing, very politely and with great courtesy, to agree to mutually end our dispute and for each of us to go our separate ways.  
A smirk twists its way across Asshole’s face.  I know what his answer is going to be.  
“And what if I don’t?”  He extends his index finger and starts poking me in the chest.  “Huh?  What if I don’t just ‘walk away,’ huh?  What are you going to do about it?”  
I sigh.  He has left me no choice.  I open my mouth and say...
“This.”  I reach up and grab the hand boring his finger into a spot on my chest just below the shoulder blade.  Before he can react, I twist the hand and bend it back, with the palm of his hand facing his wrist.  This is an Aikido move I learned back in college when I was taking martial arts classes, kick-boxing and Escrima.  
The sudden shock of pain makes Assholes knees buckle.  He goes down to the floor.  
I use a triangle step to bring myself behind Asshole.  Grabbing the back of his head, I drive the tip of his nose into the nearest chair, table-edge, counter-top that my imagination has placed there for me to use for that purpose, based on the environment it has created for me.  
I hear Asshole’s nose crunch against this handy, nose-breaking surface.  I let go of Asshole’s head and take a couple of steps back.  
“Do you have any other questions you need me to answer?”  Asshole is holding his nose.  Blood is streaming between his fingers, down the back of his hand.  
“I asked you a question!”  I take an aggressive step forward.  Asshole starts shaking his head.  
“Then we’re done here.  Have a nice day!”  I step aside to give Asshole a way out.  He scrambles past me, his feet going ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa across the floor.  
I know such a scene is pure fantasy.  If I were confronted by such a person today, someone bigger and stronger and angrier than me, I would do such a song and dance to get out of that situation that Fred Astaire and Gene Kelley would applaud if still alive to witness it.  
Even if I had the ability, I wouldn’t do something like that.  It would be cool IF I COULD do it.  But, I can’t.  
I notice that they’ve remade “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”  The original movie was made back in 1947 with Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo.  It was one of my favorite movies as a kid.  It’s the story of a guy dissatisfied with his life and day-dreams all the time about what he would do if he were the bigger, stronger, more handsome guy in the scenarios he dreams up.  Looking at the trailer for the new version, with Ben Stiller playing the role of the day-dreamer, it appears that they went for a similar storyline as in the one from the 40’s.  The day-dreamer becomes involved in real-life adventures and starts to live.  With Danny Kaye it dealt with gangsters and the like.  With Ben Stiller, it appears that he needs to get a missing negative for the phone that will be used for the the cover of the last issue of Life Magazine.  
The story, though, is different.  James Thurber’s story doesn’t have the main character engage in some real-life drama, where his day-dreams help him realize a better life for himself.  I noticed that when I read the story in High School, years after I first saw Danny Kaye’s movie.  In Danny Kaye’s movie, where Danny works for a magazine publisher, all the interesting adventures he reads while putting together the magazine feed his efforts to overcome the gangsters and win Virginia Mayo.  
In James Thurber’s story, though, Walter never learns to live his life.  It’s a day spent shopping with his hen-pecking wife.  The Walter Mitty in the story doesn’t even know the right terminology to use when he’s imagining himself as a doctor or bomber pilot.  He can’t even image the sounds the devices he uses in his dreams make.  That’s where the “Ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa” comes from.  It’s the sound everything makes in Walter Mitty’s dreams, from the engine of the “SN202” he flies in the worst storm in history to the “new anaesthetizer” that is giving way while operating on the the wealthiest billionaire in the world.  This is where a measure of the the story’s humor comes from.  
I read the story again the other day, while thinking about going to the new movie, and reacquainted myself with its differences.  It was funny, but the story spoke to me more than it did when I was fifteen years old.  A middle-aged man, dissatisfied with the reality that his left is set within, day-dreaming as a means of escaping that continuum.  
What I hadn't recalled clearly from the reading way back in Fr. Doherty's English 101 class was how the story ended.  Walter Mitty is day-dreaming again, waiting for his wife in a hotel lobby, when she finds him and cuffs him on the shoulder.  She begins to berate him for not putting on the overshoes she told him to buy for himself.  
“Couldn’t you have put them on in the store?” 
“I was thinking,” said Walter Mitty.  “Does it ever occur to you that I am sometimes thinking?”
She looked at him.  “I’m going to take your temperature when I get you home,” she said.
That is it.  Walter Mitty’s single effort to make space for his dreams in his realty.  After she leaves him to wait for her as she goes into a drugstore, Walter Mitty imagines himself standing before a firing squad.  
“To hell with the handkerchief,” said Walter Mitty scornfully.  
He exhibits more bravery in his dreams than he exhibits in trying to bring them to life.  
All in all, I prefer the movie version of the story.  And I think I’ll like the new version, too.  I may not try to outwit gangsters or jump from a helicopter in shark infested waters, but I do try to use my dream-stuff to shape the world around me, through the stories I write at least.  Every time I sit down at the computer.  
My fingers tapping out the words, going ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa.  


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