Did I mention that I know some poets? Surely I did. They’re a little bit like fruit flies—and I mean no disrespect to the biological order Diptera, nor to the animal kingdom in general. One day you’re sitting around peacefully scratching private concerns, and then you look around and think “Who are these people reciting T. S. Eliot and trying to rhyme a word with lemur? And why are they hovering around the bananas?”
Ha ha, I’m kidding about the bananas. The poets actually hover around the wine bottles. Which I know because I’m hovering there myself. One of the poets of my acquaintance is a young man named Rasfried. That’s what he says his name is. I didn’t see a birth certificate, or a driver’s license, or a note from anybody. I just have to take his word for it, and…well, he is a poet, so who knows?
Rasfried met a woman named Sharon who had all the attributes in a woman that might attract a male poet: charm, beauty, and a willingness to listen listen listen to someone talk about the uncultured philistine nature of America and the loss of appreciation for subtle linguistic artforms. After a couple of hours of telling Sharon about the problems with American culture, Rasfried thought he might be falling in love with her. She had looked at him the entire time, breathing slowly through her mouth.
To accelerate this new romance beyond abstract devotion, to something more…hmm…palpable, he decided to take his new princess to a movie and to dinner afterward. In the euphoria of looking for something formal to wear (a T shirt without obscenities on it), Rasfried overlooked the fact that it would be him who was paying. For everthing. The dawning horror of this realization reminded him of the financial crisis—not the one in the country, but the one in his pocket.
In a panic Rasfried called his friend Bellio, another poet whose mother was probably not responsible for his name. “I prance along the abyss!” Rasfried said, in his poetic way. “The coins in my pocket are as numerous as white whales, as valuable as discarded economic theories. I can pay for a movie, or for dinner, but not for both.”
In the dramatic flow of the story I’m telling you, we have to consider Bellio a heroic figure. On hearing of Rasfried’s dilemma, he boldly stepped forward with a little known fact. “I know Sharon,” he said. “I’ve seen her eat, and I know that when she’s sad, she loses her appetite.”
“Oh?” said Rasfried. This might be functional information. As a poet, he certainly had the capacity to make people sad. If he were to see that following the movie Sharon was in a state of melancholia, they might eat cheaply. Or if she was thoroughly depressed, maybe they could skip dinner altogether.
Unfortunately for the happy prospect of a sad evening, Sharon said she would love to see the new Woody Allen movie, and it was Rasfried’s miserable luck (poets always have bad luck, don’t they?) that it had been years since Woody ended his experimentation with grim, depressing movies. People said the latest one was marvelously funny. Rasfried’s last refuge was his knowledge that all humor is based on a dark subtext. Everything that’s funny is about something that isn’t funny. He would just have to explain to Sharon during the movie why it wasn’t really funny. Then when the movie was over she would be sad, they could skip dinner, and the evening would be a success. Another tender victory for sweet romance.
As an emergency backup plan, Rasfried spent a day before their date memorizing sad lines of poetry. “And ask ye why these sad tears stream? Why these wan eyes are dim with weeping?” That was good. “There was a man whom Sorrow named his Friend.” That was OK, not quite as strong. “Hark, how he groans! Look, how he pants for breath!” When Radfried had memorized enough lines to obliterate the joy from a graduation party, he approached his date with Sharon with excited anticipation.
They entered the movie theater, and only a few minutes into the movie, Sharon laughed at what someone in the movie said to a friend. Rasfried turned to her and said, “Friendship can be a bitter herb that taints the meal of life.” Sharon turned to him and said, “What? Are you hungry already?”
A few minutes later, she laughed again, and Rasfried tried to explain that underneath the—admittedly—very funny line, there was a sad cri de coeur if only you thought about it the right way. Sharon apparently was watching the movie from her own limited point of view, and while Rasfried was trying to whisper gloom into her ear, she was again laughing at something on the screen.
When the disaster of hilarity finally ended, Sharon turned to her poetic beau and said, “Wasn’t that great? And I’m starved. You must be hungry too. You wanted to eat when the movie first started.”
As you can imagine, our poor hero was too depressed to eat, but he did accompany Sharon to a restaurant. By not eating himself, he had enough money to pay for her meal, though while sitting there he wondered why he had never noticed before how unpleasant it is to watch another person eat.
When I asked Rasfried later how the date went, he said, “She didn’t have the soul of a true devotee of the poetry muse. We live on the food of divine inspiration, but she wanted to live on steak, french fries, a large salad with extra bluecheese dressing, and a slice of pecan pie. How could I ever love someone like that?”