Please enjoy these blogposts, written between 2011 and 2015. Another blog is on the way.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Grab your gear, we got a dead Marine

I remember opening lines, maybe because they are invitations. Here are some obvious ones:

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, rich. 

From Emma, by Jane Austen

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. 

From David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree. 

From “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” by William Butler Yeats

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky,
Like a patient etherized upon a table;

From “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” by T. S. Eliot

Here I heard the terrible chaste snorting of hogs trying to re-enter the underearth.

From “The Past” by Galway Kinnell

And I’m not too bad at remembering closing lines. They are usually judgments:

Bear Hamlet like a soldier to the stage. 

You know what that’s from.

As you for crimes would pardoned be/Let your indulgence set me free. 

From Shakespeare’s The Tempest

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. 

From The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

My heart is moved by all I cannot save/so much has been destroyed/I have to cast my lot with those/who, age after age, perversely/reconstitute the world.

From “Natural Resources,” by Adrienne Rich

She would of been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.

From “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” by Flannery O’Connor

It’s the middles that are hard to remember, write, live.  Only character makes middles work.

While I was ironing this morning, my mnemonic workout (hey, I’m getting old) involved trying to remember the middle of last week’s NCIS.

The beginning of NCIS is always the same. Somebody discovers a body. Titles. McGee, Tony, and Zeva (or some subset) exit the elevator, mid-banter, into their circle of cubicles.  Gibbs enters double-quick from upstage or downstage and says, “Grab your gear. We got a dead Marine.” Sometimes it’s a dead sailor.

The ending is almost as uniform: The murderer is identified and dealt with harshly or gently, according to Gibbs’ only slightly fallible judgment.

When a story begins and ends the same way every time, you know you’re watching television.

But what happened in between?

The bad thing about NCIS is that all the episodes are alike, so they get mixed up in my head.  The good thing about NCIS is that all the episodes are alike, so I have a formula for reconstructing them.  If I can picture that first scene, the discovery of the body (this one featured a deer—I like deer), I can go the rest of the way, at least until Gibbs takes the elevator down to the lab and morgue, where I tend to get foggy. 

This particular victim wrote the word “birdsong” in his own blood on a nearby rock. McGee discovers that Operation Birdsong is the name of a soon-to-be-published book. A second body turns up—who was in the process of reading the book. Then a third body, also a reader.  At some point the publisher gives up the information that Birdsong is the name (of course) of a highly classified government program. The author is a whistle blower.

I remember now. The murders have nothing to do with Operation Birdsong. It’s a love triangle, the murderer a jealous husband.

How was the murder committed? Forensics is big on TV these days. While I’m extremely fond of Abby and Ducky, I don’t care about the mass spectrometer or the x-rays. Means will always be a memory problem for me. Stabbed, maybe? Were the victims stabbed? 

Why do I (along with 20 million other people) bother? Because of Gibbs, Tony, Zeva, McGee, Ducky, and Abby, as two-dimensional as they often are. It’s embarrassing to admit how much I look forward to my weekly dose of all of them.

The middle of David Copperfield?  I  remember characters--Uriah Heep, ditsy Dora, saintly Agnes, Mr. Micawber, Steerforth. 

The middle of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock?” The women who come and go, talking of Michelangelo, the lonely men in shirt-sleeves, the mermaids.

The middle of The Tempest?

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;

Those are pearls that were his eyes;

Nothing of him that doth fade,

But doth suffer a sea-change

Into something rich and strange.

But wait--these lines are from near the beginning.  Caliban? Shakespeare was terribly unfair to him, and that's what I mostly remember. Actually, I never liked The Tempest much.

The middle of “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”?

Cricket sings, linnet’s wings.  One-note characters, but such notes!

The middle is where characters make themselves known, most often by taking action, where the evidence accrues, if you want to think of it that way, where we’re all at work.