Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Unexpected things that end up changing your life.

Like the young man with the sign, a casual encounter convinces him that he'd really, really like a wing from that other young man's bucket and so spins his life in a whole new direction, one without a girlfriend or place to stay, but a fondness for those eleven herbs and spices that cannot be denied.

We all have them, turning points that, at the time, seem trivial, but end up taking us places we never expected.

The biggest for me was when I answered a classified ad for actors and joined a theater group where I met Jenny. That was nearly 30 years ago.

A few years later I was sitting in a hotel room in Cincinnati. I turned on the TV and caught the Maltese Falcon for the first time. I was 35 or 36 and had never read any of the greats. I had been taught, unintentionally in most cases, that mystery fiction wasn't worth my time, that I was better off reading Donald Barthelme and John Barth.

It took John Huston's Maltese Falcon to convince me that I was a bonehead. I figured (duh) that if I liked the movie that much, I'd like the book. And from Hammett I went to Chandler and McDonald and then to Dutch Leonard.

When I had the time and temperament to write a novel, it was my love of crime fiction that was my foundation.

Why bring this up?

Because this weekend, Jenny and I watched Gun Crazy. I had seen it before, years ago, but this was Jenny's inaugural ride with Bart and Annie Laurie. Man, I love this movie. (Jenny liked it, but doesn't have the same affection for it that I do.)

Originally titled Deadly Is the Female, the movie tanked on opening so they renamed it Gun Crazy, a title so great that it reminds me of Victor Gischler, the writer whose Shotgun Opera and GoGo Girls of the Apocalypse are the gold standard in great titles, in my opinion.

But, as much as I love Gun Crazy, what attracted my attention was the actor who plays the judge in the beginning of the movie, the seemingly kind judge who callously sends young Bart to a reform school for a little B&E. The actor was Morris Carnovsky.

Carnovsky's movie career was interrupted for a decade or more by the blacklist. According to his Wikipedia bio, he was one of the actors named by Elia Kazan for being a commie and because a free country can't possibly have actors with unorthodox political views in its movies, Carnovsky was banned from the big screen.

I guess it made sense at the time.

I saw Morris Carnovsky on stage when I was in college. He played King Lear. I had never seen a Shakespeare play before. Not one. I had read them, never really appreciating their greatness. But when I saw the action and heard people speak the lines, the scales, as they say, fell from my eyes. I was in love, and that love continues. Given a choice between seeing Lear or Hamlet for the hundredth time, or seeing just about anything else, I'll go with Big Bill.

Small things. Answering a classified, watching a movie, seeing a play, these are the things that make unexpected changes in life. And I love that, how seemingly inconsequential things can shape your life in ways no one could have predicted.

Think about the small things in your life that changed everything. And if you want to go public with that one time in band camp, or the time you smuggled hash in from Turkey, I'd love to hear about.

Talk to me.


norby said...

Years ago, right after I got married, I saw an ad on tv for a vet tech school in Colorado. I filled out the online form for info thinking maybe it was something I could do long distance, but that wasn't an option, and neither was moving.

Fast forward fifteen years, I'm divorced, living with my parents and trying to figure out what's next. I see another ad for the same school on tv again and realize there's nothing to stop me this time.

So here I am in Denver, going to the school I've wanted to go to for years, finally living somewhere besides the midwest, and living my own life for the first time.

It's a damn good feeling.

pattinase (abbott) said...

About 12 years ago, I signed up for a class on the American Indian. It got cancelled and the only class as the same time was one on writing poetry. I turned out not to be a poet but I started writing and then took four fiction writing workshops. Now, this didn't change anyone's world but mine, but it was nice.

redtreetimes said...

I was working in a Perkins restaurant years ago, an aimless 36 year old man. I was waiting tables when a couple with a little girl about 10 or 11 years old were sat in my station. After a bit the girl asked me, "Are you a painter?" It took me aback as I had recently just started showing my paintings at a local gallery. I said I was and the little girl said her mother was sure I was. She could tell.

Long story short, she was an artist who stopped on her way to a gallery several hundred miles away. She took an interest in my work and got me into her gallery, one of the first to show my work and one that I've been with for 13 years now.

It's amazing to think how one's life is changed by so many little such events and how different it would be without them.

eviljwinter said...

I used to do standup once a month at a bar in Ft. Thomas, KY called The Midway. One night, this cute blonde showed up, actually laughed at my jokes, and sent me a MySpace request a day later.

Nothing more came of it until she posted one of those silly surveys everyone posts on MySpace. I thought it was funny and started a joking back and forth with her. Soon, we were trying to meet up for drinks, just to be social.

The only day we could meet was on Valentine's Day. I was separated. She was single. I said, "We're both alone. Let me take you out and spoil you for Valentine's Day. It'll do us both some good."

Now she's my wife.

I'm very, very happy.

Tor Hershman said...

Here's a song for folks who are not fond of "The Little Drummer Boy" song,

But ya didn't expect that.

David Terrenoire said...

What great stories. Thank you.

And no, I didn't expect a reference to my own novel. I know that sounds odd, but I didn't.

That's a cool little touch, tor.