Interpolating Prufrock: a Journal of Illness, Madness, and Strong Drink
by E.W. Wilder
As I sit in the evening again trying to attempt this essay (“essay,”
of course, literally meaning “attempt,” the redundancy a
necessity in order to effect a full expression), the flies buzz perfecting
flyness along the long course of evolution. Their movements seem randomized
to the point of sheer, dear rationality—down to the grooming they
do of those outlandish, compound eyes. For I have seen the dragon’s
breath as yellow fog and charged. I have had the courage to move the
moment to its crisis, and in a word, I was insane.
The patient, poor damsel that she was, was not held by giants after
all, my trusty squi—or secretary, rather—, dear Sandra Panzo,
now tells me. But she was etherized, no less: the hospital wing, arm
of a giant brick beast, but beating me back time after time, as cold
as the crabs that claw beneath the sea. The car, I am told, was impounded,
a rented Vauxhall Astra, rose colored, a trusty steed rendered unto
rust. But then what was that hanging from the window? What lance to
spear the mighty beast? A toilet plunger, I am told, by dear Sandra.
And the white-cotton trousers, so carefully rolled, have been bloodied
and torn in my pursuits, and are not armor after all.
Tracing back the recent days in this peach-tinted room, I ask, in the
clear light of sanity more or less, how could I have dared? I arrived
in London in pursuit of Pepe Foulton as he pursued legendary director
Gary Twilliam’s ill-fated pursuit of a film-adaptation of T.S.
Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” But,
as all trans-Atlantic flights post 9/11 will make one, I was burdened
by hunger. Well, hunger and paranoia, but the first I could take care
of with a pot of spotted dick and a pint of Guinness. There began my
troubles, but eternal troubles were afoot, man, long before my arrival
on the scene.
Entitled Interpolating Prufrock, Pepe Foulton’s documentary
meant to record Twilliam’s latest effort not only because of its
incredible ambition, but also because of Twilliam’s history of
spectacular failures. Who could forget such fabulous and costly box-office
flops as 1989’s The Wizard of Ozchausen, a remaking of
the Wizard of Oz in a fantastical late 18th Century Burma,
a setting, sadly, not famous for its twisters or having gone off the
gold standard. Somehow the crusty old wizard (George C. Scott) declaring
“I say, Mahendra, we don’t appear to be in Mandalay anymore,”
didn’t have the same appeal as Judy Garland and her legendary
pining for Kansas. And then there was its equally problematic follow-up,
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen-By-Proxy Syndrome, a lighthearted
look at infanticidal post-partum depression through the eyes of one
of Maurice Sendak’s “Wild Things.”
But I (so) digress.
Having made London, and after repeated calls to Pepe Foulton’s
assistant to inquire about his inquiries into Twilliam’s progress
on his project, then tentatively titled The Man Who Explicated “Prufrock”
and set to star Anthony Michael Hall as a traveling cat fogger salesman
who somehow gets transported into the world of Eliot’s poem, I
found that he had gone back to St. Louis for some work on background
and establishing shots. There, Foulton had been diagnosed with some
form of air-travel-induced gout. And by that point, I wasn’t feeling
so well myself.
You see, the spotted dick was what the Brits would call “off.”
And this was when the hallucinations began.
They started out olfactory: I smelled the perfume of Sandra Panzo’s
dress, and, conflating that with some past experience—or perceived
past with its unbridled heroism, began to fancy myself a knight errant,
for indeed I was, but in pursuit of what, exactly? My rotten-spotted-dickbrain
couldn’t tell, until, in the throes of my fever, it gelled: the
problem was giants, dragons too, and London was full of them, spewing
forth their yellow smoke and ruining the landscape with their massive,
bulky, bricklike forms. Sandra (with her light brown hair and bare arms)
tried to assure me that the giants were merely buildings and the dragons
merely cars, but I would have none of it. Calling her my squire and
ordering her to follow in her dent-dappled old Volvo, I ventured out
in the Vauxhall, and spying the gurney being wheeled into a hospital,
No, I am no Prince Hamlet—indeed, much more decisive, it appears,
when juiced up on bacteria and a few beers. But looking back, it is
only the butt-ends of those days that I recall: collapsing back into
a hospital bed of my own. Sandra, for her part, tried to calm me down,
coming and going from my room, talking of more sedate things, like Michelangelo.
But I had known them all already, known them all—the giants and
the dragons and the trolls and the gnomes, had fought them with a youthful
zeal with my +10 sword of beastslaying; I had seen them in the bestiaries
and knew their relative danger from the DungeonMaster’s Guide.
Sandra shook her bracelets at me, daring disturb my little universe.
After the police had made their report, and the paperwork for my period
of “observation” filled out, and the marmalade, and the
tea, and the cups were cleared away (nothing stops tea time in England),
I fell asleep . . . tired, stretched out on the floor of my hospital
room, malingering, according to my insurance company. In short, I was
Later, I would catch up with Gary Twilliam walking along the beach,
after walking myself through the dooryards and the sprinkled streets
of London at sunset in search of the man, who, having abandoned his
project, took holiday up in Saltburn-by-the-Sea. His hair had grown
white since last I saw him, and was being blown back by a steady wind.
We lingered, talked about new projects, one about sea-girls, perhaps,
or Polonius’ account of the Shakespeare play, about how at times
those who are politic to a fault, those who are meticulous and cautious,
deferential but a bit obtuse, while ridiculous, can be the most interesting
characters to explore. And, having found our heroes in our polarities,
retired to a pub called The Mermaid, a chamber full of voices, wakeful
even at that late hour, our long-past troubles to drown.