Friday, May 28, 2010

Tom and Daisy

          “Open wide, darling.”
          “I don’t want no more, Daisy.”
          “But, Tom — have you ever had grapes so juicy and sweet?”
          “I don’t like how the skin’s off ’em.”
          “Well, I deplore the skin. So I had Marie peel them.”
          “I dunno. . . . Seems there’d be a better way for a human bein’ to spend their time than peelin’ grapes. Plenty folks eatin’ grubs and roots to keep alive. But the rich, they gotta have their grapes peeled.”
          “Well, I think it’s marvelous that I have money. It got me you, didn’t it? My great big hairy caveman.”
          “I ain’t no caveman. I only slept in caves when I was runnin’ from the law. I stayed in a house with a roof and floor most all my days.”
          “Or in a jail cell. Don’t you prefer this suite at the Ritz over the cell I rescued you from? Isn’t this lovely soft bed better than a smelly old cot?”
          “I reckon so. But sometimes I get to thinkin’. Least in prison I wasn’t no dandied up French poodle. And these goddamn silk sheets — a man can’t get no traction on ’em.”
          “Oh, you do fabulously well, my darling. And you’re not a poodle. You’re the very opposite. God knows I’ve had my fill of foxtrotting dandies. . . . Tom, think of it! Two months ago I was driving up from Palm Springs and saw a road gang and then suddenly I laid eyes on YOU! Well, I told Ruttcliff to stop the limo that very instant. You were stripped to the waist, and I thought, ‘Now, there’s a man.’ You looked like that actor, Henry Fonda, except you were the real thing. A gorgeous brute. So I told Ruttcliff to ask that dreadful fat guard what county was holding you. It was money that freed you. Daddy’s lawyer fixed it all, and you went from leg chains to my arms. Which do you prefer, Tom?”
          “Aw, Daisy . . . Course, it’s your arms. I never know’d a woman like you for fancy positions.”
          “Yes. I’m . . . sophisticated. So very sophisticated. Tom . . . Is it only my sexual expertise? Do you care for me as a person, just a teensy bit?”
          “You know I do, Daisy. . . . I reckon I ain’t up to snuff this mornin’. Not after that shindig last night. Wine plumb gives me a headache. Then there was all them people. I ain’t got nuthin’ to say to that fancy bunch.”
          “It seemed that you had a lot to say to Lady Brett.”
          “That skinny ol’ crow? A lady? — with all the cussin’ she does? Hell, I didn’t talk hardly none. It was her talked — about some damn bullfighter. Fightin’ bulls! Killin’ ’em for nuthin’! When a prime bull can fetch fifty dollars!”
          “So you didn’t care for her? Most men find her devastatingly attractive. Tom? . . . I won’t find that you’ve vanished one day, run off with some woman to Monte Carlo or Saint Moritz?”
          “The only place I got a hankerin’ to run to is back to Oklahoma. But what about you? You was right snug with that fella with the crutch and the bandage on his head.”
          “Oh, Ernest. He had a dreadful accident skiing.”
          “Yes, it’s a sport where — oh, why explain, you’ll just disapprove.”
          “I thought he was in a regular knockdown fight.”
          “No. He had a sudden encounter with a tree. Actually, though, Ernest is an accomplished pugilist.”
          “A what?”
          “A boxer. He defeats just everybody in the ring.”
          “Oh, he does, does he? Well, I’d like to get him in a good ol’ eye-gougin’ tussle and we’ll see who — ”
          “Now, Tom . . . Lie back down, darling. Actually, Ernest is the one person at the party I thought you’d enjoy talking to. He’s an avid hunter and fisherman.”
          “For a livin’?”
          “Heavens no. He’s a writer. I tried to read a story of his, about a boy in the woods fishing and thinking a lot. It put me right to sleep. Reading’s such a bore, don’t you think? All those words lined up in tiny rows. Of course, I told him what a genius he was. If he doesn’t hear that he gets all grumpy. Now the book that I did nearly finish was This Side of Paradise. By Scott Fitzgerald. He was there last night. Poor Scott.”
          “Which one was he?”
          “Well, he was the one whose wife broke the Lalique vase over his head.”
          “Damn! That was some ruckus! That gal can fight like a vixen with cubs.”
          “Yes, Zelda does . . . lose control. Poor Scott. No wonder he drinks.”
          “Seems ever’body there put it away pretty good.”
          “Yes. They were writers, you see. That man with the eyepatch, the one who got soused and started roaring Irish ballads? They tell me that he’s been working for ten years on a huge novel that nobody can understand one single word of. Quite mad, he is. . . . Anyway, I wanted Ernest to talk to you, but he spotted Gertrude and Alice making their grand entrance, and he hobbled off as fast as he could. To further his career. Ernest is so ambitious.”
          “I spotted him from behind, sittin’ on a sofa next to this fella — ”
          “No. No, my innocent darling, that was no man. That was a woman.”
          “The hell you say!”
          “Yes. It’s true, Tom. That was Gertrude. You see, there are certain women who think they’re men. They take on a man’s ways, and they desire other women.”
          “Kind of like a sissy boy?”
          “Yes, exactly.”
          “I dunno, Daisy. . . . I just don’t cotton to this Paree crowd. Can’t we go back to Oklahoma?”
          “But it’s a Dust Bowl, Tom.”
          “The rain’ll come agin. Things’ll sprout up agin. We kin buy us a plot a land and build a home place and Ma and Pa and Rosasharn and the young uns — ”
          “And you and I will move in, and we’ll sleep on a mattress of corn shucks — where you’ll get good traction, I’m sure — and my complexion will be an absolute wreck in two days. Tom, I have to work hard to preserve my beauty. Don’t you see how absurd your idea is, for a woman like me? Anyway, Daddy’s lawyer has set your family up quite nicely in that apartment in San Francisco.”
          “But they ain’t happy there, not one bit. Ma still can’t cotton to them hills. Why put buildin’s up on hills? She won’t leave the apartment for them hills. Pa jist pines away to work his hands in the soil. It’s how it is with us Joads, we has to work the soil. And Rosasharn, she’s waitressin’, paintin’ her face and dressin’ herself like a tramp, and Ruthie and Winfred are runnin’ wild in the streets. Ma’s letter like to broke my heart. If we had a farm of our own. . . . Maybe in the Salinas Valley. That’d be better’n the way it’s goin’. The family’s dyin’ out.”
          “Tom . . . Sometimes I feel like I’m in another doomed affair. And Lord knows I’ve had enough of those. Of tragedy . . .”
          “Money don’t bring a body happiness.”
          “Does poverty?”
          “No! But it shouldn’t be that way, with one person poor as dirt while another has a heap more’n his share. It should be all evened up some way, so ever’body’s got enough.”
          “I shudder to think of the expression on Daddy’s face if he could hear you now. But I will mention the farm idea. I’m still his precious Daisy, despite all. But as for me returning to the states — no. For one thing, Pam is in a school in Switzerland, and I want to be on the same continent with her. And then . . . There are too many bitter memories for me in America.”
          “But it’s a mighty big place.”
          “Not really. There’s only New York, Palm Springs and Palm Beach. I’m always running into people I’d rather not see.”
          “Well, I still say that all your money ain’t bought you happiness. We was happy enuf, us Joads, when the land was producin’.”
          “Yes, Tom, maybe it is terrible to be so rich.”
          “It’s an idlin’ kind of life, like a truck idlin’ but not goin’ anywheres. A body needs to work. Otherwise there ain’t no purpose to things. Like the way I feel now, eatin’ grapes that somebody peeled. Me, Tom Joad! What would Preacher think, if he could see me? These here grapes recollect to me that song, the one about God stompin’ out the vintage where the grapes a wrath is stored.”
          “Tom, my gorgeous Tom. There are only two things wrong with you, and one can be fixed easily enough. But the other? — I wonder.”
          “What two things?”
          “Well, there’s the way you talk. Your grammar. That could be just a little bit better. And then there’s your tendency to think too deeply. The rich will always be on top, and I’d advise you to enjoy being one of them while you can. And as for these horrid old grapes of wrath — well, open wide. . . . Come on, darling. . . . There now! Isn’t it delicious?”
          “I reckon. But it ain’t right.”

(Originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in Pindeldyboz)

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