I got home kind of late the other night after a wonderful evening of food and cocktails with some friends, only to find Bill Shakespeare standing at the end of my driveway yet again, at once both resplendent and foolish in his outrageous attire. I resisted my childish impulse to chase him down, mainly out of fear of damaging my old and beloved Porsche, but before the garage door could close he ducked underneath it and I found myself at his mercy.
Didn’t you see me standing there, Little Brother? he asked coyly. I’ve been waiting for you all night long. You can’t tell me you weren’t thinking about her when Midnight Train to Georgia’ started playing. He smirked with a charming devilishness as his greasy hand began fishing through my inner pockets in search of a smoke. I know everything there is to know about these matters of the heart. I am an expert in this field.
Aw, Bill, haven’t you said enough already? I asked. She and I both feel bad enough about this without you adding to it. And how do you know what was playing anyway?
Whoa, Little Brother, he theatrically exclaimed. Take a chill pill. I’m here to help. He lit his pilfered cigarette and grandly blew a thick cloud of smoke as he sat down on the hard concrete floor. You know, there was a lot more to my life’s work than just tragedy, murder and deceit, although that seems to be about the only thing you people want to remember about me. That, and my exemplary manners. Please sit down and let’s have a quiet little talk.
Knowing full well that escape was all but impossible, I sat down beside him as I’ve done so many times in the past, and I noticed that he looked a bit more tired than usual, more careworn. His unhealthy pallor was an even starker shade of ashen, and I warily wondered if he had anything of a contagious nature lurking about his unkempt presence. He was vigorously scratching at himself in a manner that defies all polite description and I resolved that this would be a very brief visit for us.
Dude, listen, I read that self-pitying drivel you typed the other night and all I can say is: Muffin! Poor Muffin! He laughed, and his laughter quickly degraded into a spastic fit of coughing, heaving in and out like a convulsing human bellows in a TB ward, blowing his rank and poisonous air in every direction. Then, recovering surprisingly quickly for a fellow who’s been dead for a couple of centuries, he asked: Do you think you’re the first Bozo to come down the pike feeling shortchanged by circumstance? For crying out loud kid, you’ve got to learn to relax. Now gimme another smoke. I handed him my last cigarette. He looked warily into the empty pack, and I could see him calculating his future prospects. You have more of those, right? he asked coarsely.
Now Hanzy, after a lengthy and time-consuming discourse focused on assuring him that I indeed had another pack stashed in my car, a temporal pack, one of our world, he continued. You know, when those dandy literary types start yammering about my work all they ever focus on is the human tragedy, the unrequited love, the betrayals, the seedy and darker side of humanity... blah, blah, blah. But I wrote all that stuff just to keep the critics happy, and of course to keep myself in wine and women. You know, Little Bro, women love poetic types, and a little wine goes a long way when delivered with a nice verse.
I considered slapping him. I know, Bill. I’ve been there. But this was something different. I didn’t have to pretend to be someone other than who I was and neither did she. She was just so easy to be with, and I found I was actually interested in talking with her.
Oh, puleeeze, he bellowed with a sweeping gesture of authority. You’re gonna tell me you weren’t thinking about her more mysterious and secret charms? Are you claiming that your sole thoughts were confined to polite talk while the two of you were eating in that commoner’s establishment? I saw the way you were looking at her, he said while picking one of the several dozen pieces of crud from his shirt. I’ve looked at hundreds of women that way. I dare say thousands!
But, Bill, I pleaded. This was something beyond infatuation. I’ve been around the block more than once, and she is the type of woman who comes along maybe once or twice in a lucky man’s life. Sure, I could fill my time with any number of distractions, but there is more to life than treading water at the shallow end of the pool.
He cursed my name. Now you’re telling me about the mysteries of life? he grandly questioned with but a small fraction of the literary might and indignation he could have mustered. I wrote the book on this subjectdon’t ever forget itand if you would just shut up and listen you just may learn something, he said while blowing another voluminous cloud of smoke. Underlying all my brilliant perceptions concerning human folly, tragedy and misfortune was a subtle message for knuckleheads just like yourself, and if you only took the time to look a little deeper you just might have an easier go of it.
He had my full attention now. I shook the hair out of my eyes and looked at him closely, and I could tell that he genuinely wanted to help. I’ve been watching you for years, Little Brother, he said calmly. I’ve taken an interest in you and your silly business, and I’ve seen you emboldened with an attitude of smugness far beyond what your actual level of talent could ever properly answer. But now you claim that you’ve grown up, that you’ve developed a taste for sipping fine wine as opposed to gulping down the grog, and now you have a genuine desire to touch the enchanting soul of a woman, instead of just her body. He rolled his eyes in exaggerated disbelief and continued. So, last week you met a woman you believe that may be possible with, only to find yourself hindered by circumstance and distance seeming beyond the control of either one of you. Have I got it right so far?
Yup, that’s about right, Bill, I quickly said, anxious for him to provide some actual insight to me as payment for my many years of listening to his incessant and fulminating blather.
And do you think she felt the same way about you?
Yup, whatever was sitting there between us felt way too good to be traveling in only one direction. It was just so easy to be with her. It felt, I don’t know, correct, like I was harnessed in my driver’s seat, you know? Like we’d done it many times before and would do it many more.
He shot up from the concrete floor with an agility I never would have expected from him. He tossed his funky bell hat to the floor and began dancing around it like a crazed troubadour, snapping his fingers as high into the air as he could reach which was about up to my nose, convulsed in laughter, and spouted: This is pitiful, PITIFUL. What do I have to do for you people, hold your hands? Can’t I leave you alone? I bet you’re thinking some Romeo and Juliet type of thing here, right? And now you’re cast in the heroic part of one of the dumbest characters I ever bothered to take the time to create? And she’s Juliet? He howled with laughter. That’s it! Huh, Little Brother? He was coughing and laughing with such frightful enterprise that I would’ve considered his days numbered if he hadn’t already died so long ago.
Well, ahem, it’s not totally unlike, I fumbled. Um, uh... hey would you like another smoke? I have that extra pack in my car...
Oh, brother, he groaned. Pretending for a moment that I’ll overlook your self indulgent flattery regarding one of my masterpieces, let me ask you something. Do you know what made it a tragedy?
Well, yeah. They died, I cleverly responded.
Oh, very good, Einstein. They died.’ How first-year-English of you.
No, I mean they died tragically.
He slowly shook his head. Pitiful. No wonder you people need me. You really need me, and you’re lucky I’ve taken an interest in you. He stopped dancing and stood on his tippy toes to reach up and place a surprisingly strong hand on my shoulder. I bent over so he could stand flat on his feet.
Listen dude, those two tragic little kids went off to fairyland way before their time and their only mistake was of one of bad timing, and that blew the whole deal for them. So, do you get the point yet, Little Brother? Life is long, circumstances change, full plates can become empty. So don’t be so quick to jump on the knife. Now give me that smoke.
Author’s Note: In light of the current questions regarding the definitive image of William Shakespeare, I thought it might be fun to drawn my own. In spite of what he considers to be unflattering portraits of him, he still visits me on a regular basis.