“Don’t Even Try, Sam”

William H. Gass

October 14, 2015 
The following is a story from William H. Gass's collection, Eyes. Gass was born in Fargo, North Dakota. He is the author of six works of fiction and nine books of essays, including Life Sentences, A Temple of Texts, and Tests of Time. Gass is a former professor of philosophy at Washington University. He lives with his wife, the architect Mary Gass, in St. Louis.

Not that key.

Not that key. That’s the yellow key. The one that hates to come back up. Once depressed, it is reluctant to recover. You know, dear heart, if you really want to play me, keep the pressure on evenly. It is never necessary to hammer. I take a hint better than a holler . . . I’ve been in storage you know. Not much call for my kind anymore. Not that it matters a whole lot where I stand. Most storerooms are more song and story than these movies I was made for. All I get to count as screen time is a little tinktanktunk in the sound track, a passing angled shot of the keyboard and my highball-ringed, butt-burnt top—oh, and then the lower half of whoever’s sitting at me, with a finger or two from a fat-wrapped, shirt-armed plinkplanker visible, as if he were in action at the board—before the lens is away to frillyville and the muddy boots of the town saloon. The camera has to find its way through extras pretending to be a crowd, everybody moving their mouths faking monkey business—cocottes galore—and sitting on breakeasy chairs that could give way and dump their rumps in sawdust. What a bore. Bar as long as a Pullman car. Bar as long as a Pullman car. Not that key, honey. The key with the hairline crack. Yes, that one. Yum. My G-spot. So ask away.

I gathered from what I could glean . . . whoa . . . try that passage again . . . the hairline has a habit of—ever break a nail? It’s like that . . . I gleaned from what I could gather of the plot that there weren’t going to be any fistfights scheduled, shootout showdowns, or barroom brawls, though there’s one close call—a lapel grabber, that’s all. No one confides in the piano of course . . . Well, that info was a relief to my keys and strings—my keys relaxed, my strings sighed—they hate all those loose chair legs flying about. The piano player usually runs for cover as if anybody cared but the piano has to stay put so some klutz can get a laugh by chording the keyboard on his way down. Very funny, Charlie. But I understood this cheesy heart-tugger was to be set in French North Africa. The good guys would be wearing shoes. The way the on-set people were acting (beg pardon for the word), I could see they were about to shoot the entire film or damn near it on a single soundstage as if this were going to be a murder-in-the-mansion movie. Outside would be a city scene adapted from a previous flick. I had a moveable friend who kept me wisz. Oops. I remember . . . I remember the ashtrays. God, the number of cigarettes they burned up in the movies those days. The most emotional moments occur when smoke curls out of an actor’s nose.

That was when they were starting to use girls as couriers because of the war, and young fems were scooting about the set like flies from fruit to roast delivering lines for the actors to learn on the spot, and fresh directions for the crew. Ordinary chaos would have seemed calm as a corpse.

I have a question. No one—not nobody—ever wanted to interview me. You’re writing a book? About the Swedish Beamer? The magnetism of the movie? Casablanca? They’re not thinking of another TV knockoff? For me it’s a coming attraction. Hey, I’ve never seen a movie. I’ve seen movies being made. Parts of them anyway. Parts in. Parts out. Parts private. So, sure, I’ve noticed lots of hanky-panky. Even a little lick-the-dickie. Boots and Britches did his broads behind the set flats. During lunch. Beauguy  really did like to play chess. What else do you want to know? What? Beau guy. I always thought he was French. Looked a little like Alain Delon. Could have been French, easy. Bogie. Huh.

I know why you want to talk to me. It’s because everybody else is dead. Stars go out. Directors die. Companies fold. But some of the props get preserved. I’ve seen my friend the Vichy water bottle in the storeroom as wrapped up as the Maltese Falcon. We’d fetch a price now,  wouldn’t we? See, we survive, if we’re allowed to live on our own. Even the sheet music that had to sit around looking as if it were about to be employed is still here somewhere. Waiting, like me, to be played. “Avalon” for god’s sake.

They put me up a dolly for this flick . . . this flick you want me to give you the lowdown on. I rolled around like my shoes were marbles. I was supposed to sidle up to a table and once I got cozy the crooner would croon love’s looney tune. Well, he would have, but the blounce  couldn’t play me. So for one shot I got to listen in while my bench carrier and the  lab coat  guy—his name . . . ? you know . . . in the picture . . . ? I’ve got recall problems at my age . . . is . . . ah . . . yes,  Rick—they go tête to tête at table. My man . . . Sam . . . he does say boss real well, very convincing. Has melting eyes. He’s not the only one whose sockets seemed about to over-flow; I think it must have been the cig smoke.

I’ll tell you the worst right away. You want to know the worst? You Q & A types always want to know the worst. The worst  was—I have overheard interviews, over heard—so I  know—I know what you want to know: the worst—well, the worst was when I realized this darkie couldn’t play me. What a vile happenstance! What a remorse for me. After months of waiting I finally get a call and an opportunity to see some action, I’m working again after a long layoff, and the guy can’t type, can’t pluck, can’t tickle the ivories. Not that my keys are, you understand. Ivory, I mean, or even bone. I wouldn’t want anyone to think I was better put together than I am, but really . . . what a sorry résumé! What a downarounder!

I’ve got stencils though. Very cute. Cheap but cute. Stencil’d front, stencil’d side. Grandma Moses couldn’t cliché better. This time around I’m dolled up because I’ve got a part to play. I’m at the goddamn center of things. This movie’s got a key and that key is me! Oh yeah Rick’s joint has got a band, a hoochie lady for the strumming, and a gambling den I guess: see what the boys in the back room will bet . . . There’s a lot of sneaky people in the place, people with pasts, people without prayers. Like on a doomed ship or in the hotel of an about-to-be-bombed town. Fleeing people who just sit. Poor as churchmice, pawning their personals, but drunk on Champagne, Cointreau, and Campari. Ever try Campari? It stains. It has made me suffer. They sand out the rings and that hurts. Hurts the ego, hurts pride. They wouldn’t sand a grand.

Oh sure, I’ve been on some pretty messy sets. I’ve suffered some scripts that were like unmade beds in flopbroad motels. You aint got a life long enough to listen to all I could tell you. I’ve endured real fights and genuine hysterics, clipboard romances and—Jesus—jealousies as big as forest fires, egos too, pratfalls that broke bones, real blood right at my pedals in a small pool of increasing congealment. But all the lines for this script were green as if they’d been grown each morning, script kids running around like waiters, might as well have dressed to play in the picture, which was set somewhere so exotic they could carry Captain Frog his words like shrimps under silver and nobody would be wiszer. Don’t hit it again, please. Wiszer is a little off. I need a tuning. But for what?—a tune-up—what use for me these digital days? The hour of five used to be down there at the end of a hard day, you know, where it belonged. Dusk would have come into the piano bar. A jolly fat lady with a distinguished bosom is going to be warming the keys. And the martini arrives almost perfectly clear of vermouth. It aint right the day aint round anymore.

I heard there were complaints about my selections . . . which the darkie couldn’t play anyway. And they—who are they? the invisible studio gods—the memo brothers—wanted a horny cottonclub girl to sing alongside, but I bet she couldn’t finger me any better than Dooley, is it? who don’t. You know what I heard about him? I heard he specialized in Irish songs sung in whiteface! That’s worth a concluding chord! At sixes and sevens is where they all were. We had extras left over from the last French-fried colonial film parked at every table including gaming I guess, and Jews were doing Nazis like they wished they were. So why not a darkie who can’t dance.

My selections were never my selections. I got no choice in the matter. I once played a stretch of Chopin. Not so long ago. In this cowboy bar my playing is going on, and some dumb cow comes over and wants “I Dream of Jeanie” or something likewisz, and he asks, rudely, what’s that? what’s that you’re playing? And Doc Holliday says, thickly through a stuffy nose, it’s a nocturne. But to be honest Doc can’t play a note either, nocturne my stencil’d eyebrow, so he’s faking it on me while another guy is nighttiming it up in a corner out of the camera’s eye.

Twenty-two? Twenty-two is the answer to a trivia question. You don’t have to have been there to know that, you only have to have been around bores. They’re on every set that’s supposed to be a bar. Another answer is: Chesterfields. Should have been Gauloises but that wouldn’t have been American. Twenty-two. It’s the number Helmut Dantine—I worked with him once in later years—handsome devil—it’s the number he’s told to bet in order to score at roulette. Rick, a real sog heart, lets the Bulgar newlywoos win the dough for their passage out of the picture. Like me, that Dantine wasn’t paid to talk. I hear he got a contract just because he smoldered.

And working conditions. My strings were detautivating just waiting around in the fug, hot as the damn desert got. Why did they have to shoot the thing in August? though the people I worked for—Warmonger Brothers—were filming every minute of the day and half the night on account of the conflict. You could see shortages coming—of cellulose for film, cloth for costumes, rubber for tires, wood and metal and hair for wigs and crystallized sugar for those breakaway windows. Then actors would disappear, too, sucked up by their commissions. Of course I get no news in the warehouse. The world could’ve been coming to an end and all of us there would’ve just sat still for it. That is the life of a saloon piano. Sitting. It was what I was built for. Sitting. For silence, not music. To have patience, to be calm, to wait until a rollicking tune like “My Gal Sal” gets hammered out of me to amuse a bunch of layabouts whose delight is the sheerest pretense. If this is real life, real life must be a frigging fraud. It probably is. I go dum diddily dumdum but I don’t feel dum diddily dumdum. People hear dum diddily dumdum but they don’t feel dum diddily dumdum either. Dumdum don’t mean diddily to them. They’ve wiszd up. Oop. I warned you about wisz. The same goes for doodahday.

Like I said, everybody was running around crying complaints, ordering requests. You know movies are never thought out in somebody’s head. No one has hold of a whole. There aren’t even pieces. What would they be pieces of? And it aint a mosaic because in a mosaic all those itty bits fit into something—the big picture. No, this was more like, what do they call it? . . . collage. It’s as if you made a lot of stuff just to cut it up and then you took some of the pieces and pasted a bunch of them back together. A few actors and directors try to control the movement of the movie they are supposed to be making, but helterskelter is what is really going on. Higgledeepiggledee in a pig’s poke.

The cast? Honey—they’re scattered corn. The dumped dame is off the set when the guy who dumped her cries or chortles or phones room service. Half the actors are playing golf. Al Wallis, was it? was walking around with a polo injury. I used to think that when the phone rang someone was there, someone was phoning, because the actors always answer hello or yeah or hi and then feign all ears, lobes awiggle as if a caller was bending them. They practice their reactions—I’m shocked, I’m surprised, I’m sad, I’m nervous, I’m worried—while Boots and Britches says why? why are you sounding anxious when you should be sounding confident . . . sound confident! I don’t know how to sound confident, I can’t do confident, I have never been asked to be confident . . . Okay, okay, try seductive, be seductive . . . My god, that’s seductive? that wouldn’t seduce a raunchy rabbit . . . Oh now, hon, see here, don’t cry—George—let’s start over, make the phone ring will you one more time. Makeup! We have eyesmear over here!

Oh boy, though, that short moon-faced shit was oily. Boy was that runt ever. With his nasal whine, with that shy smirky smile. He was all wheedle and a yard wide. That wheedle was worth a fortune. And she—she was a beamer. She was a ski slope girl, healthy as a travel poster. No wonder the wife of the star comes storming around the set accusing Rick, the lab-coat guy, of doing the bumpyhumpy with her. Beauguy. That’s him. One of the two walk-of-stars stars. Ilsa the other. I really think she thought that Rick was uncouth. And he was always pissed off because the plot kept changing and he was convinced that was no way to run a railroad. Disremembering lines: I love you truly has been changed to I love you dearly, although tomorrow it may be that I love you deeply. Disremember this, a hit is like a miss, on squat you can rely . . . The stand-ins used to sing that . . . our fundaments get spry as time goes by.

And the soundman was doing banana splits because Beauguy kept muttering his cute little cracks so nobody could hear them, his back to the camera signing chits, and the writers would have been writhing if they hadn’t been drunk in Toronto because he said them so soft so fast, too offhand, you know, like when this girl he’s boffing but has no feelings for—sorry, it should go without saying—in this business you don’t boff babes you have feelings for—if you have feelings for anybody you say I’m crazy about you—I’m mad about you—I’m nuts about you—as if Rick had feelings for anybody but Miss Visit Stockholm, the travel poster—as if Beauguy had feelings for anybody, certainly not the lush head he was married to, hey, even himself he aint happy with . . . Geez, we sort of trilled off the beaten track, didn’t we? I never did do a note of Liszt. I regret that. And when they cast the TV series . . . shit, sorry . . . I can’t forget—the shame—in ’83, Rick’s Café Américain, like a kind of coffee, did they contact me? My keys wouldn’t stick for Scatman Crothers . . . I heard . . . I heard . . . yeah, he could play.

. . . oh . . . gotcha . . . back to boffing . . . um . . . the scene . . . you know . . . like when this girl—the girl he’s boffing—asks him where he was last night (’cause she noticed his thingamajig wasn’t up her) and he says I can’t remember that far back, and then when she asks him if she’ll see him tonight he says I can’t plan that far ahead—well there’s no drum roll for the execution of those lines, thrown away like a stubbed butt. Great stuff, I guess, if you aint chewing popcorn. Maybe that’s why it got a lot of repeaters: girls trying to see through their tears, guys trying to hear what their Karmelkorn wouldn’t let ’em.

Anyway, our hero, Rick, just shoves her—the boffee—out the door, don’t he? Tough guy. Very sympathetic type. In a Western—I worked mostly Westerns—he’d get shot later on. He’d tumble from a roof to the mattress below. You can be short with the girls, indifferent, reluctant, ornery . . . but you can’t shove them around and pretend to wear a white hat. I liked Westerns because they had decorums and I got to be played, even if there was always a rough house. That’s what split my key. Bottle that was supposed to break like a clay pigeon in midair didn’t break but flew past an aimed-at ear and hit me fairly square—just there—see . . . I got more wounds than Captain Frog’s got medals.

Don’t push down on me like that. When you surprise my keys they don’t sound. I tell you some folks would set drinks down on the board as if it were stiff with rheumatiz. I could get drunk on licked lips, I’ve endured so many spills. Don’t push down. I’m not in hearty operation, okay? And the leaners. Rick leans on me. Everybody leans. Let’s go into Rick’s and lean on the piano. Bogie, you know, had a lisp. Nothing about him was promising.

I thought I should try sounding like my music was coming through clenched keys, maybe then I’d get somebody to sit at me who could actually play, because taking away my sound and leaving me only stencils like I’d been made by Grandma Moses, with only a set of casters to show for my sacrifice—my being there—that was humiliating, the memory makes my hammers hard; only refugees from Bulgaria would have put up with it—because you felt helpless—because, when you sounded a discordant note, the soundman would say that’s okay we’re dubbing the piano in anyway. Sam hits me but he can’t be sweet to me. The band plays while Sam sings “Knock on Wood” and he knocks me right enough, he can do that, though he always looks so concerned and friendly. Knock on wood. Konk konk konk. I must admit, though, I admire the choice of tunes in this movie. In my script it said that when the camera first comes through the door at Rick’s Cafe, I’m to be playing “It Had to Be You” to harmonize with Rick’s complaint later that of all the gin joints in the world, it had to be his saloon the beaming broad streamed into. Of course Steiner has to ham it up by wedging in “La Marseillaise” and der Führer’s “Über Alles” in the Paris scenes as if he were rewriting the 1812 Overture. He even called for a distant cannon to go off. I heard. Not the cannon. I heard he called. So she can ask, breaking up a kissy clinch: was that a cannon that I heard or my heart? Don’t that epitomize the Queen of Corny?

Musicians who were there say the Paris script was pretty sticky, all right. And I guess I had a friend in bereavement in those scenes because Dooley couldn’t play in Paris any better than he could in Casablanca, so another guy just out of sight of course played the theme while Dooley sat sideways so he could see what that other piano was doing, and pretend to ply—

Not that key either I guess.

The worst was—can I tell you now what the worst was?—the worst was when Curtiz in his costume of Boots and Britches staged the battle of the bands. The Germans come to town, okay? And act obnoxious. Of course. Then they start to sing, standing in a ring around me, what a nasty moment, but they start to sing “The Watch on the Rhine.” “The Watch on the Rhine”? No one in the world but these guys is apparently supposed to know German. It’s not a Nazi tune. They would never never sing such a thing. Niemals. Nimmer. Sooner they would warble “On, Wisconsin!” So they get the ubiquitous French anthem like pie in their ear. Why the smile? I know a few uppity words. You may have noticed. I got a range. And the French sing louder than the Germans only because they’ve got a band and all the Germans have is me. Okay, I say to myself, it’s probably not a German guy playing me, but a Jewish guy playing he’s a German. Geez. I finally get a chance to sound off and it’s “The Watch on the Rhine.” What a downarounder!

The best time? The best time was the nighttime when the set sat in the dark with only the watch lights lit, each one of us looming—just bulks and bits—but the tablecloths glowing even in the general dim, and the glasses winking like a collaborator, the bar mirror tossing darknesses to and fro, you’d think shadows were cloaks and hats, the floor swimming in ink, our legs wading in it, all of us singing to ourselves, that little hum that comes with peace, when we worry only about where we weigh, released from all our day work relations, free to make our own connections, me with my bench, now stored upsidedown on my head like a crown, yeah, regal in my silhouette, the tables set for tomorrow’s shot, the low light coasting through the Moorish arches, seeping between bottles, folds in the flats, and smoozing around my stiff keys like a healing lotion.

Bogie . . . I got his name defrenchified okay? sounds the same. Only looks different. I know pianos like that. . . . Anyway Bogie plays himself. I mean at chess. Now is that really playing? I call it doing the Dooley. Meanwhile I am collecting information. I know the name of the glass pattern they picked for the tables. The café set was pretty corpulent. But they probably rented everything. Took it all out of another warehouse like they took me. I can’t eavesdrop as easy as Scheid—his name was—the sound mixer—you can imagine how Scheid was said—because he had every table every curtain every skirt and bra miked. He and Boots and Britches were pissed before they got to my point in the proceedings. Something about a buzzing sun lamp in a previous shoot. Pizzzzd. Don’t hurt me, honey.

So if that theme was the center of the movie as some have said they think it was, then I’m there at the meaningful heart of things even if I’m faking it, but that’s not my reason for claiming higher hierarchy here. I’m also the secret place where those travel docs get socked away for safekeeping, those papers the runt was going to chivy Laxlo to pony up for. You know, Stiff Knees. Follow him and walk the plank of patriotism. Anyway, Sam hides the visas under my lid. For most of the movie they would feel the vibrating strings of my heart. Me and Helmut Dantine were the quiet ones. He’s the roulette winner and I’m the cache for the cachets. But we both smolder. Oh . . . there was a packet of papers on my lid earlier. Did you notice that? They disappear. Who knows what they were. I’m going to guess it was a little pile of sheet music that Dooley could pretend to read while he pretended to play. I think he really did sing though—to make it look real—in A-flat, in D-flat—but they probably dubbed his voice from a studio tape for the final sound track. In fact, there was some hugger mugger going on upon my top board, rearrangements that didn’t make sense—sometimes a glass sits there, sometimes an ashtray, sometimes that stack.

And a mystery woman. There has to be a mystery woman, and it isn’t always Mary Astor. Remember when everybody is gathered around me—Rick and Captain Frog and Captain Frog’s three medals, with Dooley sitting at me with his seven grins—well, the papers are there then, on the near corner of my cover, and a half-filled wineglass and a half-filled stub tray too, but there is still room for the elbows and arms of a brunette in a white palm-treed blouse who’s wearing one of those Shriner-shaped head pots, only this one has a floppy big sun brim. At the bass end of me is a local in a fez sitting next to his girl, and at the treble a swarthy in a turban. Back of all of us in a dark tie and whites is another fez. That’s the scene. I remember the brunette’s begging-your-pardon breasts pushing against me and the weight of her warm arms, though she’s gazing at Dooley like she liked chocolate. Man, what a moment.

Right where that sheet music was, Rick hides the papers that the oily shmegegge has given him. An envelope is all it is. If somebody sneezed it would sail to Marseilles. In a manner ostentatiously casual, he slips it from a coat pocket to my purse . . . under my lid. The envelope is slim so Rick won’t fumble the handoff. But a prop that’s not a prop—is what it is. A fake prop. Letters of transit they’re called: travel docs signed by General de Gaulle the Sardine said. That’s going to cut a lake of ice in Vichy France. Come on. I don’t read history, but come on. A ticket to turmoil is what those passes would be. My friend and informant, the Vichy water, used to come in a respectable bottle under its own label. Anyway, papers like that might be persuasive in Portugal, but only Captain Frog’s oft-bought signature can get the Heroic Stick on the plane—a plane I heard they built out of balsa and cardboard. Then serviced with midgets to enhance perspective for the screen. Might as well made me of balsa. Well, I am wood. But like Pinocchio I’m real. If hit, don’t I cry? Am I not high-strung? Don’t I have toes, feet, legs, sides, bottom, belly, cheeks, spine? You know what I resemble? I resemble a German make; my family is a distinguished German line. I’m from nobility like some are from Chicago. A Sauter is my kind. Sauter is a name due awe. Well, I’m not made of maple, and I don’t have three pedals or the 2 Double Escapement Action of my model, no. 122, the Domino, and my compass is a bit constrained, not up to eighty-eight along the board there. I see you’ve counted. I’m a shorty, okay, but I can do ring-around-the-rosy with the best of them.

Not that key, please.

You’re pounding me. When you surprise me I don’t sound. Otherwise I am so—real . . . What do you mean I’m a mockup like the plane? Sure, they treated me like a toy. I can complain of their treatment, but—hey—I rise sweet in the morning . . . I do so have all the necessary keys. Maybe I don’t treble up as far as some do, but you’ve just been hitting the wrong ones is all. The ones that have received maltreatment . . . That woman who plays the tango—hell—she sways there strumming the handle of her guitar. Might as well be a broomstick. And nobody minds . . . You can’t play either, honey. Scatman Crothers—I bet he could make a plank plink.

The Ending? You want an ending? . . . The whiny creep—a joker on every set, I hear—used to put out the cigarette that Boots and Britches was eternally burning with an eye-drop of his urine applied to its glowing tip. How’s that for going out with a snizzle?

Yes. Yes. Vichy Water filled me in about the ENDING. It—the bottle’s label with the bottle on it—was taken to the hangar for the dénouement—don’t be surprised, I have a range if not every key—music does not acknowledge the barriers of tongues—okay, the climax—anyway did they blow that! Blow! Blow! Blow! Captain Frog has been ordering Champagne cocktails the entire film—did you notice that nobody finishes their drink but Rick?—you can tell he cares about something—and Captain Frog brings his war ribbons and a bottle of Vichy to the send-off. He celebrates the moment with dead fizzy water? Nobody opens it for him, it is just at hand like the U.S. marines. And we know why. So he can drop the Vichy bottle into the wastebasket at a summational moment. Vichy told me itself how the camera followed it into its hole like a rat after cheese.

There were so many changes they had to use colored pages to keep the actors’ heads straight about them: blue, pink, salmon, green. Now this you’re going to like. This guy’s name I’m going to remember like I remembered Scheid because it’s part of the joke. Stucke. His name was Stucke. Like some of my keys. He brought the pages to the set. That’s why everybody knew the entire movie was—. Right. And in that way, too—from stuck to stuck so to speak—the production stumbled toward the truth of what they were trying to do—achieve a perfect mix of chauvinism and schmaltz.

Enduring qualities, you’ll agree.

You want me to explain? Pianos don’t explain. We riff, we run, we trill, we even thunder, but we don’t explain. The inexplicable is the order of the day here. Chauvinism is reflected in the war of songs, ONE; in issues of duty, TWO; in Strasser’s devotion to the Nazi party, THREE; in Ilsa’s husband’s selfless nobility, FOUR; in the Frog’s subservience, FIVE; and schmaltz . . . schmaltz in the character of the conflict between duty and indulgence . . . where? . . . when they’re at odds in the same official like the Frog, by the tug of war between duty and love in Ilsa, and betweeeeeeen love and indulgence in Rick.

Vichy said the scene was shot in a homemade fog. Rick and Ilsa are trying to enjoy a farewell clinch, and Rick says—Vichy swears he says—Rick is trying to be persuasive—he’s been a real prick about Paris—so she loves him all the more—what a dumb doll—anyway—he says something like our troubles are but bubbles in this messed‑up world, we don’t even amount to a hill of beans—something like that—I say how high is the hill? how big are the beans?—anyway—then he says—Vichy swears he says—someday you’ll understand that. That’s what the condescending bastard says to a dame who’s married to a freedom fighter on the run from an army of Fascist thugs. She’ll understand that! I remember one night Rick sits in the set and drinks a fifth of 100-proof self-pity because his honey didn’t leave her hero for . . . what did Rick have to offer? . . . his hill of beans. It’s not a sad note. To end on. It’s a sour note.

But Vichy says the movie ends happily with the two self-indulgent party pals, Rick and Frog, disappearing slowly in the mist, Frog rid of duty, Rick rid of love, both looking forward to a life of boffery and bourbon, or, if you prefer, complaisance and Champagne.

Don’t run off, dear.

I’ve got an idea for a horror movie. Objects—see—in this movie—come alive. How or why remains to be worked out. They come alive and take over. I am this monstrous alien life form with a mile-wide mouth of teeth. When some ham hand lays a finger on me I bite it off. I just nip the tip. Neat as though it were all nail. Walk on me, will ya? And I scowl.

Whattya think?

Hey, I made a plink.

Try that one again.



From “Don’t Even Try, Sam” in EYES. Used with permission of Knopf. Copyright © 2015 by William H. Gass.

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