Representation: Jason Burns and Peter Dodd of United Talent Agency || 310.273.6700 Jill McElroy of Management 360 || 310.272.7000
SYNOPSIS: Based on the short story of the same name by Donald Barthelme (originally published in the New Yorker Magazine in 1978), and read by author Salman Rushdie, “Concerning the Bodyguard” is a story about power, conspiracy, and the overthrow of a dictator in an unknown Near Eastern country. With Salman Rushdie’s reading as the only audio in the film, the images bring to life a series questions being posed by an omniscient narrator about the views and loyalties of a bodyguard, among a group of bodyguards entrusted with the protection of an important and dubious leader. The film explores the nuances of this relationship as well as shows what can potentially happen when a bodyguard intentionally or unintentionally relaxes his guard.
CREDITS C R E W Director.................................................................Kasra Farahani Producers..............................................................Jose Nunez, Zamin Mirza Co-Producer.........................................................Marthinus Lamprecht Associate Producer..............................................Adam Gould Editors...................................................................Tyler Nelson, Anton Capaldo-Smith Director Of Photography......................................Alexander Alexandrov Art Director...........................................................Callie Andreadis Costume Designer................................................Anna Seltzer Prop Masters........................................................Rachel Kondrat, Melissa Harrison Original Music.......................................................Annabelle Cazes Casting Directors..................................................Paul Head, Desiree Mandelbaum Animation..............................................................Jessica Poon Colourist................................................................Aaron Peak C A S T The Principal................Sion Ebrahimi The Bodyguard.............Junes Zahdi The New Bodyguard....Billy Khoury The Driver.....................Zaid Abro Bodyguard 2.................Alen Matters Bodyguard 3.................Salman Nisar Bodyguard 4.................Jason Eftimoski Bodyguard 5.................Gavin Sindher Bodyguard 6.................Ian VerdunIroning Lady.................Lisa Goodman Mistress.......................Ayden Mayeri Bearded Man 1.............Abdi Zadeh Bearded Man 2.............Saman Arjamand Bearded Man 3.............Zubin Zehtab Bearded Man 4.............Roozbeh Zehtab Bearded Man 5.............Zamin Mirza Bearded Man 6.............Daniel Schuman Representation Jason Burns : UTA Peter Dodd : UTA Jill McElroy : Management 360
Miss Mandible wants to make love to me but she hesitates because I am officially a child; I am, according to the records, according to the gradebook on her desk, according to the card index in the principal's office, eleven years old. There is a misconception here, one that I haven't quite managed to get cleared up yet. I am in fact thirty-five, I've been in the Army, I am six feet one, I have hair in the appropriate places, my voice is a baritone, I know very well what to do with Miss Mandible if she ever makes up her mind.
In the meantime we are studying common fractions. I could, of course, answer all the questions, or at least most of them (there are things I don't remember). But I prefer to sit in this too-small seat with the desktop cramping my thighs and examine the life around me. There are thirty-two in the class, which is launched every morning with the pledge of allegiance to the flag. My own allegiance, at the moment, is divided between Miss Mandible and Sue Ann Brownly, who sits across the aisle from me all day long and is, like Miss Mandible, a fool for love. Of the two I prefer, today, Sue Ann; although between eleven and eleven and a half (she refuses to reveal her exact age) she is clearly a woman, with a woman's disguised aggression and a woman's peculiar contradictions. Strangely neither she nor any of the other children seem to see any incongruity in my presence here.
Happily our geography text, which contains maps of all the principal land-masses of the world, is large enough to conceal my clandestine journal-keeping, accomplished in an ordinary black composition book. Every day I must wait until Geography to put down such thoughts as I may have had during the morning about my situation and my fellows. I have tried writing at other times and it does not work. Either the teacher is walking up and down the aisles (during this period, luckily, she sticks close to the map rack in the front of the room) or Bobby Vanderbilt, who sits behind me, is punching me in the kidneys and wanting to know what I am doing. Vanderbilt, I have found out from certain desultory conversations on the playground, is hung up on sports cars, a veteran consumer of Road & Track. This explains the continual roaring sounds which seem to emanate from his desk; he is reproducing a record album called Sounds of Sebring.
Only I, at times (only at times), understand that somehow a mistake has been made, that I am in a place where I don't belong. It may be that Miss Mandible also knows this, at some level, but for reasons not fully understood by me she is going along with the game. When I was first assigned to this room I wanted to protest, the error seemed obvious, the stupidest principal could have seen it; but I have come to believe it was deliberate, that I have been betrayed again.
Now it seems to make little difference. This life-role is as interesting as my former life- role, which was that of a claims adjuster for the Great Northern Insurance Company, a position which compelled me to spend my time amid the debris of our civilization: rumpled fenders, roofless sheds, gutted ware houses, smashed arms and legs. After ten years of this one has a tendency to see the world as a vast junkyard, looking at a man and seeing only his (potentially) mangled parts, entering a house only to trace the path of the inevitable fire. Therefore when I was installed here, although I knew an error had been made, I countenanced it, I was shrewd; I was aware that there might well be some kind of advantage to be gained from what seemed a disaster. The role of The Adjuster teaches one much.
I am being solicited for the volleyball team. I decline, refusing to take unfair profit from my height.
Every morning the roll is called: Bestvina, Bokenfohr, Broan, Brownly, Cone, Coyle, Crecelius, Darin, Durbin, Geiger, Guis wite, Heckler, Jacobs, Kleinschmidt, Lay, Logan, Masei, Mit gang, Pfeilsticker. It is like the litany chanted in the dim miserable dawns of Texas by the cadre sergeant of our basic training company.
In the Army, too, I was ever so slightly awry. It took me a fantastically long time to realize what the others grasped almost at once: that much of what we were doing was abso lutely pointless, to no purpose. I kept wondering why. Then something happened that proposed a new question. One day we were commanded to whitewash, from the ground to the topmost leaves, all of the trees in our training area. The corporal who relayed the order was nervous and apologetic. Later an off-duty captain sauntered by and watched us, white splashed and totally weary, strung out among the freakish shapes we had created. He walked away swearing. I understood the principle (orders are orders), but I wondered: Who decides?
Sue Ann is a wonder. Yesterday she viciously kicked my ankle for not paying attention when she was attempting to pass me a note during History. It is swollen still. But Miss Mandible was watching me, there was nothing I could do. Oddly enough Sue Ann reminds me of the wife I had in my former role, while Miss Mandible seems to be a child. She watches me constantly, trying to keep sexual significance out of her look; I am afraid the other children have noticed. I have already heard, on that ghostly frequency that is the medium of class room communication, the words "Teacher's pet!"
Sometimes I speculate on the exact nature of the conspiracy which brought me here. At times I believe it was instigated by my wife of former days, whose name was . . . I am only pretending to forget. I know her name very well, as well as I know the name of my former motor oil (Quaker State) or my old Army serial number (US 54109268). Her name was Brenda, and the conversation I recall best, the one which makes me suspicious now, took place on the day we parted. "You have the soul of a whore," I said on that occasion, stating nothing less than literal, unvarnished fact. "You," she replied, "are a pimp, a poop, and a child. I am leaving you forever and I trust that without me you will perish of your own inadequacies. Which are considerable."
I squirm in my seat at the memory of this conversation, and Sue Ann watches me with malign compassion. She has noticed the discrepancy between the size of my desk and my own size, but apparently sees it only as a token of my glamour, my dark man-of -the-world-ness.
Once I tiptoed up to Miss Mandible's desk (when there was no one else in the room) and examined its surface. Miss Mandible is a clean-desk teacher, I discovered. There was nothing except her gradebook (the one in which I exist as a sixth grader) and a text, which was open at a page headed Making the Processes Meaningful. I read: "Many pupils enjoy working fractions when they understand what they are doing. They have confidence in their ability to take the right steps and to obtain correct answers. However, to give the subject full social significance, it is necessary that many realistic situations requiring the processes be found. Many interesting and lifelike problems involving the use of fractions should be solved . . ."
I am not irritated by the feeling of having been through all this before. Things are done differently now. The children, moreover, are in some ways different from those who accom panied me on my first voyage through the elementary schools: "They have confidence in their ability to take the right steps and to obtain correct answers." This is surely true. When Bobby Vanderbilt, who sits behind me and has the great ta tical advantage of being able to maneuver in my disproportionate shadow, wishes to bust a classmate in the mouth he first asks Miss Mandible to lower the blind, saying that the sun hurts his eyes. When she does so, bip! My generation would never have been able to con authority so easily.
It may be that on my first trip through the schools I was too much under the impression that what the authorities (who decides?) had ordained for me was right and proper, that I confused authority with life itself. My path was not particularly of my own choosing. My career stretched out in front of me like a paper chase, and my role was to pick up the clues. When I got out of school, the first time, I felt that this estimate was substantially correct, and eagerly entered the hunt. I found clues abundant: diplomas, membership cards, campaign buttons, a marriage license, insurance forms, discharge papers, tax returns, Certificates of Merit. They seemed to prove, at the very least, that I was in the running. But that was before my tragic mistake on the Mrs. Anton Bichek claim.
I misread a clue. Do not misunderstand me: it was a tragedy only from the point of view of the authorities. I conceived that it was my duty to obtain satisfaction for the injured, for this elderly lady (not even one of our policyholders, but a claimant against Big Ben Transfer & Storage, Inc.) from the company. The settlement was $165,000; the claim, I still believe, was just. But without my encouragement Mrs. Bichek would never have had the self-love to prize her injury so highly. The company paid, but its faith in me, in my efficacy in the role, was broken. Henry Goodykind, the district manager, expressed this thought in a few not altogether unsympathetic words, and told me at the same time that I was to have a new role. The next thing I knew I was here, at Horace Greeley Elementary, under the lubricious eye of Miss Mandible.
Today we are to have a fire drill. I know this because I am a Fire Marshal, not only for our room but for the entire right wing of the second floor. This distinction, which was awarded shortly after my arrival, is interpreted by some as another mark of my somewhat dubious relations with our teacher. My armband, which is red and decorated with white felt letters reading FIRE, sits on the little shelf under my desk, next to the brown paper bag containing the lunch I carefully make for myself each morning. One of the advantages of packing my own lunch (I have no one to pack it for me) is that I am able to fill it with things I enjoy. The peanut butter sandwiches that my mother made in my former existence, many years ago, have been banished in favor of ham and cheese. I have found that my diet has mysteriously adjusted to my new situation; I no longer drink, for instance, and when I smoke, it is in the boys' john, like everybody else. When school is out I hardly smoke at all. It is only in the matter of sex that I feel my own true age; this is apparently something that, once learned, can never be forgotten. I live in fear that Miss Mandible will one day keep me after school, and when we are alone, create a compromising situation. To avoid this I have become a model pupil: another reason for the pronounced dislike I have encountered in certain quarters. But I cannot deny that I am singed by those long glances from the vicinity of the chalkboard; Miss Mandible is in many ways, notably about the bust, a very tasty piece.
There are isolated challenges to my largeness, to my dimly realized position in the class as Gulliver. Most of my classmates are polite about this matter, as they would be if I had only one eye, or wasted, metal-wrapped legs. I am viewed as a mutation of some sort but essentially a peer. However Harry Broan, whose father has made himself rich manufacturing the Broan Bathroom Vent (with which Harry is frequently reproached; he is always being asked how things are in Ventsville), today inquired if I wanted to fight. An interested group of his followers had gathered to observe this suicidal under taking. I replied that I didn't feel quite up to it, for which he was obviously grateful. We are now friends forever. He has given me to understand privately that he can get me all the bathroom vents I will ever need, at a ridiculously modest figure.
"Many interesting and lifelike problems involving the use of fractions should be solved . . ." The theorists fail to realize that everything that is either interesting or lifelike in the class room proceeds from what they would probably call interpersonal relations: Sue Ann Brownly kicking me in the ankle. How lifelike, how womanlike, is her tender solicitude after the deed! Her pride in my newly acquired limp is transparent; everyone knows that she has set her mark upon me, that it is a victory in her unequal struggle with Miss Mandible for my great, overgrown heart. Even Miss Mandible knows, and counters in perhaps the only way she can, with sarcasm. "Are you wounded, Joseph?" Conflagrations smolder behind her eyelids, yearning for the Fire Marshal clouds her eyes. I mumble that I have bumped my leg.
I return again and again to the problem of my future.
The underground circulating library has brought me a copy of Movie-TV Secrets, the multicolor cover blazoned with the headline "Debbie's Date Insults Liz!" It is a gift from Frankie Randolph, a rather plain girl who until today has had not one word for me, passed on via Bobby Vanderbilt. I nod and smile over my shoulder in acknowledgment; Frankie hides her head under her desk. I have seen these magazines being passed around among the girls (sometimes one of the boys will condescend to inspect a particularly lurid cover). Miss Mandible confiscates them whenever she finds one. I leaf through Movie-TV Secrets and get an eyeful. "The exclusive picture on these pages isn't what it seems. We know how it looks and we know what the gossipers will do. So in the interests of a nice guy, we're publishing the facts first. Here's what really happened!" The picture shows a rising young movie idol in bed, pajama-ed and bleary-eyed, while an equally blowzy young woman looks startled beside him. I am happy to know that the picture is not really what it seems; it seems to be nothing less than divorce evidence.
What do these hipless eleven-year-olds think when they come across, in the same magazine, the full-page ad for Maurice de Paree, which features "Hip Helpers" or what appear to be padded rumps? ("A real undercover agent that adds appeal to those hips and derriere, both!") If they cannot decipher the language the illustrations leave nothing to the imagination. "Drive him frantic . . ." the copy continues. Perhaps this explains Bobby Vanderbilt's preoccupation with Lancias and Maseratis; it is a defense against being driven frantic.
Sue Ann has observed Frankie Randolph's overture, and catching my eye, she pulls from her satchel no less than seventeen of these magazines, thrusting them at me as if to prove that anything any of her rivals has to offer, she can top. I shuffle through them quickly, noting the broad editorial perspective:
"Debbie's Kids Are Crying" "Eddie Asks Debbie: Will You . . . ?" "The Nightmares Liz Has About Eddie!" "The Things Debbie Can Tell About Eddie" "The Private Life of Eddie and Liz" "Debbie Gets Her Man Back?" "A New Life for Liz" "Love Is a Tricky Affair" "Eddie's Taylor-Made Love Nest" "How Liz Made a Man of Eddie" "Are They Planning to Live Together?" "Isn't It Time to Stop Kicking Debbie Around?" "Debbie's Dilemma" "Eddie Becomes a Father Again" "Is Debbie Planning to Re-wed?" "Can Liz Fulfill Herself?" "Why Debbie Is Sick of Hollywood"
Who are these people, Debbie, Eddie, Liz, and how did they get themselves in such a terrible predicament? Sue Ann knows, I am sure; it is obvious that she has been studying their history as a guide to what she may expect when she is suddenly freed from this drab, flat classroom.
I am angry and I shove the magazines back at her with not even a whisper of thanks.
The sixth grade at Horace Greeley Elementary is a furnace of love, love, love. Today it is raining, but inside the air is heavy and tense with passion. Sue Ann is absent; I suspect that yesterday's exchange has driven her to her bed. Guilt hangs about me. She is not responsible, I know, for what she reads, for the models proposed to her by a venal publishing industry; I should not have been so harsh. Perhaps it is only the flu.
Nowhere have I encountered an atmosphere as charged with aborted sexuality as this. Miss Mandible is helpless; nothing goes right today. Amos Darin has been found drawing a dirty picture in the cloakroom. Sad and inaccurate, it was offered not as a sign of something else but as an act of love in itself. It has excited even those who have not seen it, even those who saw but understood only that it was dirty. The room buzzes with imperfectly comprehended titillation. Amos stands by the door, waiting to be taken to the principal's office. He wavers between fear and enjoyment of his temporary celebrity. From time to time Miss Mandible looks at me reproachfully, as if blaming me for the uproar. But I did not create this atmosphere, I am caught in it like all the others.
Everything is promised my classmates and I, most of all the future. We accept the outrageous assurances without blinking.
I have finally found the nerve to petition for a larger desk. At recess I can hardly walk; my legs do not wish to uncoil themselves. Miss Mandible says she will take it up with the custodian. She is worried about the excellence of my themes. Have I, she asks, been receiving help? For an instant I am on the brink of telling her my story. Something, however, warns me not to attempt it. Here I am safe, I have a place; I do not wish to entrust myself once more to the whimsy of authority. I resolve to make my themes less excellent in the future.
A ruined marriage, a ruined adjusting career, a grim inter lude in the Army when I was almost not a person. This is the sum of my existence to date, a dismal total. Small wonder that re-education seemed my only hope. It is clear even to me that I need reworking in some fundamental way. How efficient is the society that provides thus for the salvage of its clinkers!
Plucked from my unexamined life among other pleasant, desperate, money-making young Americans, thrown backward in space and time, I am beginning to understand how I went wrong, how we all go wrong. (Although this was far from the intention of those who sent me here; they require only that I get right.)
The distinction between children and adults, while probably useful for some purposes, is at bottom a specious one, I feel. There are only individual egos, crazy for love.
The custodian has informed Miss Mandible that our desks are all the correct size for sixth-graders, as specified by the Board of Estimate and furnished the schools by the Nu-Art Educational Supply Corporation of Englewood, California. He has pointed out that if the desk size is correct, then the pupil size must be incorrect. Miss Mandible, who has already arrived at this conclusion, refuses to press the matter further. I think I know why. An appeal to the administration might result in my removal from the class, in a transfer to some sort of setup for "exceptional children." This would be a disaster of the first magnitude. To sit in a room with child geniuses (or, more likely, children who are "retarded") would shrivel me in a week. Let my experience here be that of the common run, I say; let me be, please God, typical.
We read signs as promises. Miss Mandible understands by my great height, by my resonant vowels, that I will one day carry her off to bed. Sue Ann interprets these same signs to mean that I am unique among her male acquaintances, therefore most desirable, therefore her special property as is every thing that is Most Desirable. If neither of these propositions work out then life has broken faith with them.
I myself, in my former existence, read the company motto ("Here to Help in Time of Need") as a description of the duty of the adjuster, drastically mislocating the company's deepest concerns. I believed that because I had obtained a wife who was made up of wife-signs (beauty, charm, softness, perfume, cookery) I had found love. Brenda, reading the same signs that have now misled Miss Mandible and Sue Ann Brownly, felt she had been promised that she would never be bored again. All of us, Miss Mandible, Sue Ann, myself, Brenda, Mr. Goodykind, still believe that the American flag betokens a kind of general righteousness.
But I say, looking about me in this incubator of future citizens, that signs are signs, and that some of them are lies. This is the great discovery of my time here.
It may be that my experience as a child will save me after all. If only I can remain quietly in this classroom, making my notes while Napoleon plods through Russia in the droning voice of Harry Broan, reading aloud from our History text. All of the mysteries that perplexed me as an adult have their origins here, and one by one I am numbering them, exposing their roots. Miss Mandible will refuse to permit me to remain ungrown. Her hands rest on my shoulders too warmly, and for too long.
It is the pledges that this place makes to me, pledges that cannot be redeemed, that confuse me later and make me feel I am not getting anywhere. Everything is presented as the result of some knowable process; if I wish to arrive at four I get there by way of two and two. If I wish to burn Moscow the route I must travel has already been marked out by another visitor. If, like Bobby Vanderbilt, I yearn for the wheel of the Lancia 2.4-liter coupe, I have only to go through the appropriate process, that is, get the money. And if it is money itself that I desire, I have only to make it. All of these goals are equally beautiful in the sight of the Board of Estimate; the proof is all around us, in the no-nonsense ugliness of this steel and glass building, in the straightline matter-of-factness with which Miss Mandible handles some of our less reputable wars. Who points out that arrangements sometimes slip, that errors are made, that signs are misread? "They have confidence in their ability to take the right steps and to obtain correct answers." I take the right steps, obtain correct answers, and my wife leaves me for another man.
My enlightenment is proceeding wonderfully.
Disaster once again. Tomorrow I am to be sent to a doctor, for observation. Sue Ann Brownly caught Miss Mandible and me in the cloakroom, during recess, and immediately threw a fit. For a moment I thought she was actually going to choke. She ran out of the room weeping, straight for the principal's office, certain now which of us was Debbie, which Eddie, which Liz. I am sorry to be the cause of her disillusionment, but I know that she will recover. Miss Mandible is ruined but fulfilled. Although she will be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, she seems at peace; her promise has been kept. She knows now that everything she has been told about life, about America, is true.
I have tried to convince the school authorities that I am a minor only in a very special sense, that I am in fact mostly to blame -- but it does no good. They are as dense as ever. My contemporaries are astounded that I present myself as anything other than an innocent victim. Like the Old Guard marching through the Russian drifts, the class marches to the conclusion that truth is punishment.
Bobby Vanderbilt has given me his copy of Sounds of Sebring, in farewell.
While I read the Journal of Sensory Deprivation, Wanda, my former wife, read Elle. Elle was an incitement to revolt to one who had majored in French in college and now had nothing much to do with herself except take care of a child and look out of the window. Wanda empathizes with the magazine. “Femmes enceintes, ne mangez pas de bifteck cru!” Elle once proclaimed, and Wanda complied. Not a shred of bifteck cru passed her lips during the whole period of her pregnancy. She cultivated, as Elle instructed, un petit air naiif, or the schoolgirl look. She was always pointing out to me four-color photographs of some handsome restored mill in Brittany which had been redone with Arne Jacobsen furniture and bright red and orange plastic things from Milan: “Une Maison Qui Capte la Nature.” During this period Elle ran something like four thousand separate actualité pieces on Anna Karina, the film star, and Wanda actually came to resemble her somewhat.
Our evenings lacked promise. The world in the evening seems fraught with the absence of promise, if you are a married man. There is nothing to do but go home and drink your nine drinks and forget about it.
Slumped there in your favorite chair, with your nine drinks lined up on the side table in soldierly array, and your hand never far from them, and your other hand holding on to the plump belly of the overfed child, and perhaps rocking a bit, if the chair is a rocking chair as mine was in those days, then it is true that a tine tendril of contempt - strike that, content - might curl up from the storehouse where the world’s content is kept, and reach into your softened brain and take hold there, persuading you that this, at last, is the fruit of all your labors, which you’d been wondering about in some such terms as, “Where is the fruit?” And so, newly cheered and warmed by this false insight, you reach out with your free hand (the one that is not clutching the nine drinks) and pat the hair of the child, and the child looks up into your face, gauging your mood as it were, and says, “Can I have a horse?”, which is after all a perfectly reasonable request, in some ways, but in other ways is total ruin to that state of six-o’clock equilibrium you have so painfully achieved, because it, the child’s request, is of course absolutely out of the question, and so you say “No!” as forcefully as possible - a bark rather like a bite - in such a way as to put the quietus on this project, having a horse, once and for all, permanently. But, placing yourself in the child’s ragged shoes, which look more like used Brillo pads than shoes now that you regard them closely, you remember that time long ago on the other side of the Great War when you too desired a horse, and so, pulling yourself together, and putting another drink in your mouth (that makes three, I believe), you assume a thoughtful look (indeed, the same grave and thoughtful look you have been wearing all day, to confuse your enemies and armor yourself against the indifference of your friends) and begin to speak to the child softly, gently, cunningly even, explaining that the genus horse prefers the great open voids, where it can roam, and graze, and copulate with other attractive horses, to the confined space of a broken-down brownstone apartment, and that a horse if obtained would not be happy here, in the child’s apartment, and does he, the child, want an unhappy horse, moping and brooding, and lying all over the double bed in the bedroom, and perhaps vomiting at intervals, and maybe even kicking down a wall or two, to express its rage? But the child, sensing the way the discussion is trending, says impatiently, with a chop of its tiny little hand, “No, I don’t mean that,” giving you to understand that it, the child, had not intended what you are arguing against but had intended something else altogether: a horse personally owned by it, the child, but pastured at a stable in the park, a horse such as Otto has - “Otto has a horse?” you say in astonishment - Otto being a schoolfellow of the child, and indeed the same age, and no brighter as far as the naked eye can determine but perhaps a shade more fortunate in the wealth dimension, and the child nods, yes, Otto has a horse, and a film of tears is squeezed out and presented to you, over its eyes, and with liberal amounts of anathematization for Otto’s feckless parents and the profound hope that the fall of the market has ruined them beyond repair you push the weeping child with its filmic tears off your lap and onto the floor and turn to your wife, who has been listening to all of this with her face turned to the wall, and no doubt a look upon her face corresponding to that which St. Catherine of Siena bent upon poor Pope Gregory whilst reproaching him for the luxury of Avignon, if you could see it (but of course you cannot, as her face is turned to the wall) - you look, as I say, to your wife, as the cocktail hour fades, there being only two drinks left of the nine (and you have sworn a mighty oath never to take more than nine before supper, because of what it does to you), and inquire in the calmest tones available what is for supper and would she like to take a flying fuck at the moon for visiting this outrageous child upon you. She, rising with a regal sweep of her air naiif, and not failing to let you have a good look at her handsome legs, those legs you could have, if you were good, motors out of the room and into the kitchen, where she throws the dinner on the floor, so that when you enter the kitchen to get some more ice you begin skidding and skating about in a muck of pork chops, squash, sauce diable, Danish stainless-steel flatware, and Louis Martini Mountain Red. So, this being the content of your happy hour, you decide to break your iron-clad rule, that rule of rules, and have eleven drinks instead of the modest nine with which you had been wont to stave off the song of twilight, when the lights are low, and the flickering shadows, etc., etc. But, opening the refrigerator, you discover that the slovely bitch has failed to fill up the ice trays so there is no more ice for your tenth and eleventh sloshes. On discovering this you are just about ready to throw in the entire enterprise, happy home, and go to the bordel for the evening, where at least you can be sure that everyone will be kind to you, and not ask you for a horse, and the floor will not be a muck of sauce diable and pork chops. But when you put your hand in your pocket you discover that there are only three dollars there - not enough to cover a sortie to the bordel, where Master Charge is not accepted, so that the entire scheme, going to the bordel, is blasted. Upon making these determinations, which are not such as to bring the hot flush of excitement to the old cheek, you measure out your iceless over-the-limit drinks, using a little cold water as a make-do, and return to what is called the “living” room, and prepare to live, for a little while longer in a truce with your circumstances - aware that there are wretches worse off than you, people whose trepanations have not been successful, girls who have not been invited to the sexual revolution, priests still frocked. It is seven-thirty.
I remember once we were sleeping in a narrow bed, Wand and I, in a hotel, on a holiday, and the child crept into bed with us. “If you insist on overburdening the bed,” we said, “you must sleep at the bottom, with the feet.” “But I don’t want to sleep with the feet” the child said. “Sleep with the feet,” we said, “they won’t hurt you.” “The feet kick,” the child said, “in the middle of the night.” “The feet or the floor,” we said. “Take your choice.” “Why can’t I sleep with the heads,” the child asked, “like everybody else?” “Because you are a child,” we said, and the child subsided, whimpering, the final arguments in the case having been presented and the verdict in. But in truth the child was not without recourse, it urinated in the bed, in the vicinity of the feet. “God damn it,” I said, inventing this formulation at the instant of need. “What the devil is happing, at the bottom of the bed?” “I couldn’t help it,” the child said. “It just came out.” “I forgot to bring the plastic sheet,” Wanda said. “Holy hell,” I said. “Is there to be no end to this family life?” I spoke to the child and the child spoke to me and the merest pleasantry trembled with enough animus to bring down an elephant. ”Clean your face,” I said to the child. “It’s dirty.” “It’s not,” the child said. “By God it is,” I said, “filth adheres in the areas which I shall enumerate.” “That is because of the dough,” the child said. “We were taking death masks.” “Dough!” I exclaimed, shocked at the idea that the child had wasted flour and water and no doubt paper too in this lightsome pastime, taking death masks. “Death!” I exclaimed for added emphasis. “What do you know of death?” “It is the end of the world,” the child said, “for the death-visited individual. The world ends,” the child said, “when you turn out your eyes.” This was true, I could not dispute it. I returned to the main point. “Your father is telling you to wash your face,” I said, locating myself in the abstract where I was more comfortable. “I know that,” the child said, “that’s what you always say.” “Where are they, the masks?” I asked. “Drying,” the child said, “on the heaterator”- its word for radiator. I then went to the place were the heaterator stood and looked. Sure enough, four tiny life masks. My child and three of its tiny friends lay there, grinning. “Who taught you how to do this?” I asked, and the child said, “We learned it in school.” I cursed the school then, in my mind. It was not the first time I had cursed the school, in my mind. “Well, what will you do with them?” I asked, demonstrating an interest in childish projects. “Hang them on the wall?” the child suggested. “Yes, yes, hang them on the wall, why not?” I said. “Intimations of mortality,” the child said, with a sly look. “Why the look?” I asked. “What is that supposed to mean?” “Ho ho,” the child said, sniggering - a palpable snigger. “Why the snigger?” I asked, for the look in combination with the snigger had struck fear into my heart, a place where no more fear was needed. “You’ll find out,” the child said, testing the masks with a dirty finger to determine if they had dried. “I’ll find out!” I exclaimed. “What does that mean, I’ll find out?” “You’ll be sorry,” the child said, with a piteous glance at itself, in the mirror. But I was ahead of him, I was already sorry. “Sorry!” I cried, “I’ve been sorry all my life!” “Not without reason,” the child said, a wise look replacing the piteous look. I am afraid that a certain amount of physical abuse of the child ensued. But I shall not recount it, because of the shame. _____
”You can have the seven years,” I said to Wanda. “What seven years?” Wanda asked. “The seven years by which you will, statistically, outlive me,” I said. “Those years will be yours, to do with as you wish. Not a word of reproof or critique will you hear from me, during those years. I promise.” “I cannot wait,” she said. I remember Wanda in the morning. Up in the morning reading the Times I was walked past by Wanda, already sighing although not thirty seconds out of bed. At night I drank and my hostility came roaring out of its cave like a jet-assisted banshee. When we played checkers I’d glare at her so hotly she’d often miss a triple jump.
I remember that I fixed the child’s bicycle, once. That brought me congratulations, around the fireside. That was a good, a fatherly thing to do. It was a cheap bicycle, 29.95$ or some such, and the seat wobbled and the mother came home from the park with the bicycle in an absolute fury because the child was being penalized by my penury, in the matter of the seat. “I will fix it,” I said. i went to the hardware store and bought a two-and-one-half-inch piece of pipe which I used as a collar around the seat’s stem to accommodate the downward thrust. Then I affixed a flexible metal strap about eight inches in length to the back of the seat and then to the chief upright, by means of screws. This precluded side-to-side motion of the seat. A triumph of field expediency. Everyone was loving and kind that night. The child brought me my nine drinks very prettily, setting them on the side table and lining them up with the aid of a meterstick, into a perfect straight line. “Thank you,” I said. We beamed at each other contesting as to who could maintain the beam the longest. I visited the child’s nursery school once. Fathers were invited seriatim, one father a day. I sat there on a little chair while the children ran to and fro and made sport. I was served a little cake. A tiny child not my own attached herself to me. Her father was in England, she said. She had visited him there and his apartment was full of cockroaches. I wanted to take her home with me.
After the separation, which came about after what is known as the breaking point was reached, Wanda visited me in my bachelor setup. We were drinking healths. “Health to the child!” I proposed. Wanda lifted her glass. “Health to your projects!” she proposed, and I was pleased. That seemed very decent of her. I lifted my glass. “Health to the republic!” I proposed. We drank to that. Then Wanda proposed a health. “Health to abandoned wives!” she said. “Well now,” I said. “’Abandoned,’ that’s a little strong.” “Pushed out, jettisoned, abjured, thrown away,” she said. “I remember,” I said, “a degree of mutuality, in our parting.” “And when guests came,” she said, “you always made me sit in the kitchen.” “I thought you liked it in the kitchen,” I said. “You were forever telling me to get out of the bloody kitchen.” “And when my overbite required correction,” she said, “you would not pay for the apparatus.” “Seven years of sitting by the window with your thumb in your mouth,” I said. “What did you expect?” “And when I needed a new frock,” she said, “you hid the Master Charge.” “There was nothing wrong with the old one,” I said, “that a few well-placed patches couldn’t have fixed.” “And when we were invited to the Argentine Embassy,” she said, “you made me drive the car in a chauffeur’s cap, and park the car, and stand about with the other drivers outside while you chatted up the Ambassador.” “You know no Spanish,” I pointed out. “It was not the happiest of marriages,” she said, “all in all.” “There has been a sixty percent increase in single-person households in the last ten years, according to the Bureau of the Census,” I told her. “Perhaps we are part of a trend.” That thought did not seem to console her much. “Health to the child!” I proposed, and she said, “We’ve already done that.” “Health to the mother of the child!” I said, and she said, “I’ll drink to that.” To tell the truth we were getting a little wobbly on our pins, at this point. “It is probably not necessary to rise each time,” I said, and she said, “Thank God,” and sat. I looked at her then to see if I could discern traces of what I had seen in the beginning. There were traces but only traces. Vestiges. Hints of a formerly intact mystery never to be returned to its original wholeness. “I know what you’re doing,” she said, “you are touring the ruins.” “Not at all,” I said. “You look very well, considering.” “Considering!” she cried, and withdrew from her bosom an extremely large horse pistol. “Health to the dead!” she proposed, meanwhile waving the horse pistol in the air in an agitated manner. I drank that health, but with misgivings, because who was she talking about? “The sacred dead,” she said with relish. “The well-beloved, the well-esteemed, the well-remembered, the well-ventilated.” She attempted to ventilate me then, with the horse pistol. The barrel wavered to the right of my head, and to the left of my head, and I remember that although its guidance system was primitive its caliber was large. The weapon discharged with a blurt of sound and the ball smashed a bottle of J&B on the mantel. She wept. The place stank of scotch. I called her a cab.
Wanda is happier now, I think. She has taken herself off to Nanterre, where she is studying Marxist sociology with Lefebvre (not impertinently, the author of the Critique de la Vie Quotidienne). The child is being cared for in an experimental nursery school for the children of graduate students run, I understand, in accord with the best Piagetian principles. And I, I have my J&B. The J&B company keeps manufacturing it, case after case, year in and year out, and there is, i am told, no immediate danger of a dearth.
Shotwell keeps the jacks and the rubber ball in his attaché case and will not allow me to play with them. He plays with them, alone, sitting on the floor near the console hour after hour, chanting "onesies, twosies, threesies, foursies" in a precise, well-modulated voice, not so loud as to be annoying, not so soft as to allow me to forget. I point out to Shotwell that two can derive more enjoyment from playing jacks than one, but he is not interested. I have asked repeatedly to be allowed to play by myself, but he simply shakes his head. "Why?" I ask. "They're mine," he says. And when he has finished, when he has sated himself, back they go into the attaché case.
It is unfair but there is nothing I can do about it. I am aching to get my hands on them.
Shotwell and I watch the console. Shotwell and I live under the ground and watch the console. If certain events take place upon the console, we are to insert our keys in the appropriate locks and turn our keys. Shotwell has a key and I have a key. If we turn our keys simultaneously the bird flies, certain switches are activated and the bird flies. But the bird never flies. In one hundred thirty-three days the bird has not flown. Meanwhile Shotwell and I watch each other. We each wear a .45 and if Shotwell behaves strangely I am supposed to shoot him. If I behave strangely Shotwell is supposed to shoot me. We watch the console and think about shooting each other and think about the bird. Shotwell's behavior with the jacks is strange. Is it strange? I do not know. Perhaps he is merely a selfish bastard, perhaps his character is flawed, perhaps his childhood was twisted. I do not know.
Each of us wears a .45 and each of us is supposed to shoot the other if the other is behaving strangely. How strangely is strangely? I do not know. In addition to the .45 I have a .38 which Shotwell does not know about concealed in my attaché case, and Shotwell has a .25 caliber Beretta which I do not know about strapped to his right calf. Sometimes instead of watching the console I pointedly watch Shotwell's .45, but this is simply a ruse, simply a maneuver, in reality I am watching his hand when it dangles in the vicinity of his right calf. If he decides I am behaving strangely he will shoot me not with the .45 but with the Beretta. Similarly Shotwell pretends to watch my .45 but he is really watching my hand resting idly atop my attaché case, my hand resting atop my attaché case, my hand. My hand resting idly atop my attaché case.
In the beginning I took care to behave normally. So did Shotwell. Our behavior was painfully normal. Norms of politeness, consideration, speech and personal habits were scrupulously observed. But then it became apparent that an error had been made, that our relief was not going to arrive. Owing to an oversight. Owing to an oversight we have been here for one hundred thirty-three days. When it became clear that an error had been made, that we were not to be relieved, the norms were relaxed. Definitions of normality were redrawn in the agreement of January 1, called by us, The Agreement. Uniform regulations were relaxed, and mealtimes are no longer rigorously scheduled. We eat when we are hungry and sleep when we are tired. Considerations of rank and precedence were temporarily put aside, a handsome concession on the part of Shotwell, who is a captain, whereas I am only a first lieutenant. One of us watches the console at all times rather than two of us watching the console at all times, except when we are both on our feet. One of us watches the console at all times and if the bird flies then that one wakes the other and we turn our keys in the locks simultaneously and the bird flies. Our system involves a delay of perhaps twelve seconds but I do not care because I am not well, and Shotwell does not care because he is not himself. After the agreement was signed Shotwell produced the jacks and the rubber ball from his attaché case, and I began to write a series of descriptions of forms occurring in nature, such as a shell, a leaf, a stone, an animal. On the walls.
Shotwell plays jacks and I write descriptions of natural forms on the walls. Shotwell is enrolled in a USAFI course which leads to a master's degree in business administration from the University of Wisconsin (although we are not in Wisconsin, we are in Utah, Montana or Idaho). When we went down it was in either Utah, Montana or Idaho, I don't remember. We have been here for one hundred thirty-three days owing to an oversight. The pale green reinforced concrete walls sweat and the air conditioning zips on and off erratically and Shotwell reads Introduction to Marketing by Lassiter and Munk, making notes with a blue ballpoint pen. Shotwell is not himself but I do not know it, he presents a calm aspect and reads Introduction to Marketing and makes his exemplary notes with a blue ballpoint pen, meanwhile controlling the .38 in my attaché case with one-third of his attention. I am not well.
We have been here one hundred thirty-three days owing to an oversight. Although now we are not sure what is oversight, what is plan. Perhaps the plan is for us to stay here permanently, or if not permanently at least for a year, for three hundred sixty-five days. Or if not for a year for some number of days known to them and not known to us, such as two hundred days. It may be that they are pleased with us, with our behavior, not in every detail but in sum. Perhaps the whole thing is very successful, perhaps the whole thing is a experiment and the experiment is very successful. I do not know. But I suspect that the only way they can persuade sun-loving creatures into their pale green sweating reinforced concrete rooms under the ground is to say that the system is twelve hours on, twelve hours off. And then lock us below for some number of days known to them and not known to us. We eat well although the frozen enchiladas are damp when defrosted and the frozen devil's food cake is sour and untasty. We sleep uneasily and acrimoniously. I hear Shotwell shouting in his sleep, objecting, denouncing, cursing sometimes, weeping sometimes, in his sleep. When Shotwell sleeps I try to pick the lock on his attaché case, so as to get at the jacks. Thus far I have been unsuccessful. Nor has Shotwell been successful in picking the locks on my attaché case so as to get at the .38. I have seen the marks on the shiny surface. I laughed, in the latrine, pale green walls sweating and the air conditioning whispering, in the latrine. I write descriptions of natural forms on the walls, scratching them on the tile surface with a diamond. The diamond is a two and one-half carat solitaire I had in my attaché case when we went down. It was for Lucy. The south wall of the room containing the console is already covered. I have described a shell, a leaf, a stone, animals, a baseball bat. I am aware that the baseball bat is not a natural form. Yet I described it. "The baseball bat," I said, "is typically made of wood. It is typically one meter in length or a little longer, fat at on end, tapering to afford a comfortable grip at the other end. The end with the handhold typically offers a slight rim, or lip, at the nether extremity, to prevent slippage." My description of the baseball bat ran to 4500 words, all scratched with a diamond on the south wall. Does Shotwell read what I have written? I do not know. I am aware that Shotwell regards my writing-behaviour as strange. Yet it is no stranger than his jacks-behaviour, or the day he appeared in black bathing trunks with the .25 caliber Beretta strapped to his right calf and stood over the console, trying to span with his two arms outstretched the distance between the two locks. He could not do it, I had already tried, standing over the console with my two arms outstretched, the distance is too great. I was moved to comment but did not comment, comment would have provoked counter-comment, comment would have led God knows where. They had in their infinite patience, in their infinite foresight, in their infinite wisdom already imagined a man standing over the console with his two arms outstretched, trying to span with his two arms outstretched the distance between the locks.
Shotwell is not himself. He has made certain overtures. The burden of his message is not clear. It has something to do with the keys, with the locks. Shotwell is a strange person. He appears to be less affected by our situation than I. He goes about his business stolidly, watching the console, studying Introduction to Marketing, bouncing his rubber ball on the floor in a steady, rhythmical, conscientious manner. He appears to be less affected by our situation than I am. He is stolid. He says nothing. But he has made certain overtures, certain overtures have been made. I am not sure that I understand them. They have something to do with the keys, with the locks. Shotwell has something in mind. Stolidly he shucks the shiny silver paper from the frozen enchiladas, stolidly he stuffs them into the electric oven. But he has something in mind. But there must be a quid pro quo. I insist on a quid pro quo. I have something in mind.
I am not well. I do not know our target. They do not tell us for which city the bird is targeted. I do not know. That is planning. That is not my responsibility. My responsibility is to watch the console and when certain events take place upon the console, turn my key in the lock. Shotwell bounces the rubber ball on the floor in a steady, stolid, rhythmical manner. I am aching to get my hands on the ball, on the jacks. We have been here one hundred thirty-three days owing to an oversight. I write on the walls. Shotwell chants "onesies, twosies, threesies, foursies" in a precise, well-modulated voice. Now he cups the jacks and the rubber ball in his hands and rattles them suggestively. I do not know for which city the bird is targeted. Shotwell is not himself.
Sometimes I cannot sleep. Sometimes Shotwell cannot sleep. Sometimes when Shotwell cradles me in his arms and rocks me to sleep, singing Brahms' "Guten abend, gut Nacht," or I cradle Shotwell in my arms and rock him to sleep, singing, I understand what it is Shotwell wishes me to do. At such moments we are very close. But only if he will give me the jacks. That is fair. There is something he wants me to do with my key, while he does something with his key. But only if he will give me my turn. That is fair. I am not well.
Does the bodyguard scream at the woman who irons his shirts? Who has inflicted a brown burn on his yellow shirt purchased expensively from Yves St. Laurent? A great brown burn just over the heart?
Does the bodyguard's principal make conversation with the bodyguard, as they wait for the light to change, in the dull gray Citroën? With the second bodyguard, who is driving? What is the tone? Does the bodyguard's principal comment on the brown young women who flock along the boulevard? On the young men? On the traffic? Has the bodyguard ever enjoyed a serious political discussion with his principal?
Is the bodyguard frightened by the initials D.I.T.?
Is the bodyguard frightened by the initials C.N.D.?
Will the bodyguard be relieved, today, in time to see the film he has in mind - Emmanuelle Around the World? If the bodyguard is relieved in time to see Emmanuelle Around the World, will there be a queue for tickets? Will there be students in the queue?
Is the bodyguard frightened by the slogan Remember 17 June? Is the bodyguard frightened by black spray paint, tall letters ghostly at the edges, on this wall, on this wall? At what level of education did the bodyguard leave school?
Is the bodyguard sufficiently well-paid? Is he paid as well as a machinist? As well as a foreman? As well as an army sergeant? As well as a lieutenant? Is the Citroën armored? Is the Mercedes armored? What is the best speed of the Mercedes? Can it equal that of a BMW? A BMW motorcycle? Several BMW motorcycles?
Does the bodyguard gauge the importance of his principal in terms of the number of bodyguards he requires? Should there not be other cars leading and following his principals car, these also filled with bodyguards? Are there sometimes such additional precautions, and does the bodyguard, at these times, feel himself part of an ocean of bodyguards? Is he exalted at these times? Does he wish for even more bodyguards, possibly flanking cars to the right and left and a point car far, far ahead?
After leaving technical school, in what sort of enterprises did the bodyguard engage before accepting his present post? Has he ever been in jail? For what sort of offense? Has the bodyguard acquired a fondness for his principal? Is there mutual respect? Is there mutual contempt? When his principal takes tea, is the bodyguard offered tea? Beer? Who pays?
Can the bodyguard adduce instances of professional success?
Had he a previous client?
Is there a new bodyguard in the group of bodyguards? Why?
How much does pleasing matter? What services does the bodyguard provide for his principal other than the primary one? Are there services he should not be asked to perform? Is he nevertheless asked from time to time to perform such services? Does he refuse? Can he refuse? Are there, in addition to the bodyguard's agreed-upon compensation, tips? Of what size? On what occasions?
In the restaurant, a good table for his principal and the distinguished gray man with whom he is conferring. Before it (between the table with the two principals and the door), a table for the four bodyguards. What is the quality of the conversation between the two sets of bodyguards? What do they talk about? Soccer, perhaps, Holland vs. Peru, a match which they have all seen. Do they rehearse the savaging of the Dutch goalkeeper Piet Schrijvers by the bastard Peruvian? Do they discuss Schrijverss replacement by the brave Jan Jongbloed, and what happened next? Has the bodyguard noted the difference in quality between his suit and that of his principal? Between his shoes and those of his principal?
In every part of the country, large cities and small towns, bottles of champagne have been iced, put away, reserved for a celebration, reserved for a special day. Is the bodyguard aware of this?
Is the bodyguard tired of waking in his small room on the Calle Caspe, smoking a Royale Filtre, then getting out of bed and throwing wide the curtains to discover, again, eight people standing at the bus stop across the street in postures of depression? Is there on the wall of the bodyguard's small room a poster showing Bruce Lee in a white robe with his feet positioned in such-and-such a way, his fingers outstretched in such-and-such a way? Is there a rosary made of apple beads hanging from a nail? Is there a mirror whose edges have begun to craze and flake, and are there small blurrish Polaroids stuck along the left edge of the mirror, Polaroids of a woman in a dark-blue scarf and two lean children in red pants? Is there a pair of dark-blue trousers plus a long-sleeved white shirt (worn once already) hanging in the dark-brown wardrobe? Is there a color foldout of a naked young woman torn from the magazine VIR taped inside the wardrobe door? Is there a bottle of Long John Scotch atop the cheese-colored mini-refrigerator? Two-burner hotplate? Dull-green ceramic pot on the windowsill containing an unhealthy plant? A copy of Explication du Tai Chi, by Bruce Tegner? Does the bodyguard read the newspaper of his principal's party? Is he persuaded by what he reads there? Does the bodyguard know which of the great blocs his country aligned itself with during the Second World War? During the First World War? Does the bodyguard know which countries are the preeminent trading partners of his own country, at the present time?
Seated in a restaurant with his principal, the bodyguard is served, involuntarily, turtle soup. Does he recoil, as the other eats? Why is this near-skeleton, his principal, of such importance to the world that he deserves six bodyguards, two to a shift with the shifts changing every eight hours, six bodyguards of the first competence plus supplemental on occasion, two armored cars, stun grenades ready to hand under the front seat? What has he meant to the world? What are his plans?
Is the retirement age for bodyguards calculated as it is for other citizens? Is it earlier, fifty-five, forty-five? Is there a pension? In what amount? Those young men with dark beards staring at the Mercedes, or staring at the Citroën, who are they? Does the bodyguard pay heed to the complaints of his fellow bodyguards about the hours spent waiting outside this or that Ministry, this or that Headquarters, hours spent propped against the fenders of the Mercedes while their principal is within the (secure) walls? Is the thick glass of these specially prepared vehicles thick enough? Are his fellow bodyguards reliable? Is the new one reliable?
Is the bodyguard frightened by young women of good family? Young women of good family whose handbags contain God knows what? Does the bodyguard feel that the situation is unfair? Will the son of the bodyguard, living with his mother in a city far away, himself become a bodyguard? When the bodyguard delivers the son of his principal to the school where all of the children are delivered by bodyguards, does he stop at a grocers on the way and buy the child a peach? Does he buy himself a peach?
Will the bodyguard, if tested, be equal to his task? Does the bodyguard know which foreign concern was the successful bidder for the construction of his country's nuclear reprocessing plant? Does the bodyguard know which sections of the National Bank's yearly report on debt service have been falsified? Does the bodyguard know that the general amnesty of April coincided with the rearrest of sixty persons? Does the bodyguard know that the new, liberalized press laws of May were a provocation? Does the bodyguard patronize a restaurant called the Crocodile? A place packed with young, loud, fat Communists? Does he spill a drink, to disclose his spite? Is his gesture understood?
Are the streets full of stilt-walkers? Stilt-walkers weaving ten feet above the crowd in great papier-maché bird heads, black and red costumes, whipping thirty feet of colored cloth above the heads of the crowd, miming the rape of a young female personage symbolizing his country? In the Mercedes, the bodyguard and his colleague stare at the hundreds, men and women, young and old, who move around the Mercedes, stopped for a light, as if it were a rock in a river. In the rear seat, the patron is speaking into a telephone. He looks up, puts down the telephone. The people pressing around the car cannot be counted, there are too many of them; they cannot be known, there are too many of them; they cannot be predicted, they have volition. Then, an opening. The car accelerates.
Is it the case that, on a certain morning, the garbage cans of the city, the garbage cans of the entire country, are overflowing with empty champagne bottles? Which bodyguard is at fault?