The Safety Dance

Labor Day.

Paul and I went out for a while yesterday–the first time we’ve “done” Southern Decadence in years–because it was one of my co-worker’s birthdays and we ended up staying out WAY later than I’d thought we would. I was a little sick at first–I took a Claritin-D before leaving the house and then drank a beer on top of it and felt really nauseous and had to sit down for about an hour, but it was entertaining seeing the passing spectacle and then meeting my co-workers later. I’d never actually spent time at the 700 Club; a gay bar that opened in the twilight of the going out portion of my life. It’s a nice bar, if small, and of course they were playing some fun music–you can never go wrong with either classic Madonna or Gladys Knight & The Pips–and it was nice. I enjoyed myself tremendously, but also don’t feel the need to go out again anytime soon. It was…different, I suppose, in a way that I can’t truly explain. I guess the easiest way to say it is that I’m in a different place now, if that makes sense. There’s probably an essay in this; one that right now is amorphous and ethereal, dancing just outside my conscious self and perhaps will come to me so that I can write it down.

But for now, it just is, and I can leave it as I had a lovely time, and I am quite fond of my co-workers, and it was lovely to spend time with them outside the confines of the office and work.

Before we went out yesterday, I spent the morning finishing reading Patricia Highsmith’s The Cry of the Owl.

the cry of the owl

Robert worked nearly an hour after quitting time at five. He had nothing to hurry home for and by staying on at his desk he avoided the chaos of employees’ cars that left the Langley Aeronautics parking lot between five and five-thirty. Jack Nielson was also working late, Robert noticed, and so was old Benson, who was usually the last. Robert turned off his fluorescent lamp.

“Wait for me,” Jack said. His voice sounded hollow across the empty drafting room.

Robert got his coat from his locker.

They said good night to Benson and walked toward the long, glass-enclosed reception hall, where the elevators were.

“So, you got your space shoes,” Robert said.

“Um-m.” Jack looked down at his big feet.

“You didn’t have them on at lunch, did you?”

“No, they were in my locker. You’re not supposed to wear them more than a couple of hours a day at first.”

They got into the automatic elevator.

“They look fine,” Robert said.

Jack laughed. “They look awful, but boy, they’re comfortable, I had something to ask you. Could you possibly loan me ten bucks till payday? Today happens to be–“

“Oh, sure.” Robert reached for his wallet.

“It’s Betty’s and my wedding anniversary and we’re going out to dinner, but could you come by for a drink with us? We’re going to open a bottle of champagne.”

Robert gave him the ten. “Wedding anniversaries–You and Betty out to be by yourselves.”

“Oh, come on. Just for a glass of champagne. I told Betty I’d try to get you to come over.”

“No, thanks, Jack. You’re sure that’s all you need if you’re going out to dinner?”

The book opens with this innocuous conversation between two co-workers who are friendly, but not close. Robert, as you can see, comes across as considerate and thoughtful, if a little bit unemotional. But Robert has another reason for not wanting to intrude on Jack and Betty’s wedding anniversary besides simple courtesy; he has become a bit obsessed with a young girl named Jenny, who lives in a small house out in the country. Robert is in the midst of a divorce, and has had problems with depression in the past; observing Jenny through her kitchen windows–doing dishes, making food, the little domestic chores every woman does in her kitchen–has a calming effect on him. He’s what used to be called, at least during the time the book was written, a ‘peeping Tom’; what would be called a stalker today. Jenny has a boyfriend named Greg; sometimes Robert watches the two of them interact in her kitchen. Robert knows what he’s doing is wrong, yet he is compelled to go there and risk exposure. Several times Jenny and Greg hear him make a slight noise, which concerns and worries them; but he never is caught until one night when Jenny, alone, catches him–and invites him in.

Before long, Robert is enmeshed in the troubled relationship between Jenny and Greg, as well as trying to get his own divorce from his wife settled–a wife who becomes more and more horrific as the novel continues. In fact, in a typical Highsmith switch, Robert–first seen as mentally troubled and damaged, might be the most sane person in the story. Jenny’s growing attachment to him, along with her obsession with death (a younger brother died as a child of meningitis), the equally troubled relationship with her violently dangerous fiance, Greg–continues to build in typical Highsmith fashion, using one of her favorite themes–the besieged innocent whom no one quite believes.

The book is also incredibly dark; Highsmith’s pessimism about her fellow human beings is evident on nearly every page. It’s quite wonderful, yet quite disturbing at the same time. It’s been filmed twice; one in the 1960’s, a French film (many of her works were made into French films) and an American version from 2010, with Julia Stiles.

I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read of hers; I look forward to reading still more.

And on that note, I’d like to get some writing done today. Have a lovely Labor Day, Constant Reader!

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