Sunday, January 28, 2007

Wind and Tornado

Saturday was a strange day: it started out oddly, but ended on a lovely note.

Friday night at midnight, I was working at my laptop when I suddenly realized there was a commotion outside. I opened my front door to find dozens of cars lining both sides of the street. A young man was getting out of a SUV in front of my house. I called out to him to ask what was going on. He said that there was a party down the block, and did I mind if he parked on the edge of my property. I told him that was fine, as long as they kept the commotion down to a dull roar. I came back inside and didn't think anything more of it.

The party went on until 3:00 AM, I'm told. There were over forty cars parked on the street, and some seventy people at the party. I never noticed anything again, but the police were called and came out three times. The last time, they shut the party down. At least some of the party-goers must have thought I was the one to call them since apparently I was the only neighbor who had spoken to them.

My next door neighbor called me this afternoon to ask if I realized that someone had beaten in my mailbox. I hadn't heard or noticed it (when I'm working at my computer, I'm really out of it). My neighbor K, looking out for me as he always does, confronted the people who gave the party and demanded that they replace the box (the wooden post was fine). The party hosts obeyed, and I now have a shiny new mailbox complete with street numbers.

I had an early dinner with friends this evening. We discussed the Academy Award nominations, which led to someone demanding that we each name our three favorite movies. My friends mocked my choices:

Inherit the Wind (1960) with Spencer Tracy, a fictionalized version of the Scopes Monkey Trial
The Lion in Winter (1968) with Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn, the story of Henry II and his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their three sons
Aliens (1986) with Sigourney Weaver, the sci-fi sequel to Alien

I have seen each of these movies at least twenty times and own copies of all of them.

On the way home around 8:30 PM, I remembered that PBS was supposed to re-run a special I've talked about before on this blog (See March 28, 2006). The special was Sweet Tornado: Margo Jones and the American Theatre.

Margo Jones was the stage director who launched the regional theater movement in the U.S. I know her as the person who rescued the play Inherit the Wind after it had been turned down by eight Broadway producers. The play had been written to protest McCarthyism and the dangers of trying to silence free speech and thought.

When no one else would stage the play, Margo Jones staged it in Dallas, the buckle of the Bible Belt; home of "tapeworms, ignorance, and bigotry" according to its critics. The play was a critical success and subsequently went on to be a Broadway hit and the film I mentioned earlier. Spencer Tracy was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award.

I switched on PBS the minute I arrived home and found they were broadcasting the movie Inherit the Wind before airing Sweet Tornado. I sat down on the floor in the den, mesmerized.

I still shiver at a line from the play: An idea is a greater monument than a cathedral, and the advance of man's knowledge is a greater miracle than all the sticks turned to snakes or the parting of the waters.

Afterward, I watched Sweet Tornado, which is based on the letters written by Jones and playwright Tennessee Williams. His words about Jones form her epitaph:

She had the quickest sympathies and the warmest affection of anyone I've ever known in my life . . . she had true gallantry of spirit and enormous courage.

What a lovely way to be remembered.

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