A Perfect Tenn

Recently I passed over my pile of new releases to read The Lady of Larkspur Lotion, (1941) from 27 Wagons Full of Cotton and Other Plays by Tennessee Williams, which I purchased for 91 cents at the old 9th Avenue Books years ago. The six-page one-act drama portrays a self-deluded lady who turns tricks in a New Orleans fleabag SRO to pay rent, but thinks she’s a Hapsburg rubber plantation heiress, and who contains many of the archetypal characteristics of all the playwright’s female characters.

My favorite of Tennessee’s outcasts like Sweet Bird of Youth’s lonely, aging film star, Alexandra Del Lago, or Battle of Angel’s ostracized Cassandra Whiteside, refuse to accept personal embarrassment or pity.

Tennessee Williams, (March 26 is the 101st anniversary of his birth), transcended his borderline psychosis by writing five to eight hours per day, seven days a week for 50 years, creating uncompromisingly private plays about public confession that hunger for truth and uphold the sanctity of imagination.

The best art is about art, I've heard, and Tennessee’s poignant art illustrates the victory of fertile and immortal expression, over cold, complex, harsh reality.

A Streetcar Named Desire's Blanche DuBois (whose monologues I have performed in a casual open mic talent show) says “I don’t want realism. I want magic,” summing up my affinity for these vulgar, degenerate, disenfranchised outcasts and the usually male, virile, young wanderers they prey upon, who feel entrapped in scandal, their past catching up with them, who choose the kindness of strangers over commitment to moral principle.

I was introduced to Williams’s decadent and hungry females in a San Francisco State class led by poet and internationally respected Hemingway scholar Robin Gajdusek, in 1992, the final year of his teaching career. In that Tuesday night class I’d feel the fizzy brain high you get listening to a passionate and brilliant lecturer, as Gajdusek revealed Tennessee’s metaphors and themes of Dyonesian ressurrection, illuminating the symbolic pebbles beneath the stream in Williams’s supple ear for gothic-tinged conversation, my wrist aching from furious note-scribbling. When a grandiose student interrupted to opine at tedious length, I’d rage inside, “We’re wasting precious time.”

If I had chosen Beowulf or Dickens to fulfill my single author class requirement, would I be pulling them off the shelf just for fun, 20 years later?

Gajdusek, who died in 2003 at age 78, also wrote Resurrection, A War Journey, recounting fighting with F Company, 37th regiment of the 95th Infantry Division in its assault on a German-occupied fort in Metz, France, 1944, the poetry collection, A Voyager’s Notebook” (1989), and eight other poetry volumes.

Thank you Professor Gajdusek and thank you Tennessee Williams!