Some Living American Women Artists/Last Supper, 1972 by Mary Beth Edelson. Saw this again recently in Seattle. Love it.
Some Living American Women Artists/Last Supper, 1972 by Mary Beth Edelson. Saw this again recently in Seattle. Love it.
Just when I had comfortably settled into Dr. Clarkson’s portrayal as a country doctor who is really a serial killer, along comes some celebrity MD from London to make Dr. Clarkson look like he knows what he’s doing. The tragedy is that even though this time Dr. Clarkson was one hundred percent correct in his medical diagnosis, the patient still died. Well done, Downton! Frankly, if the Crawleys aren’t careful no one is going to want to visit for a fortnight of shooting and cocktails.
I will say that I that I was impressed by Dr. Clarkson calmly hanging back from Lady Sybil when she was having seizures, since, as he said, “There is nothing to be done,” instead of racing over and pretending to “do something” in the same manner that certain mechanically-challenged motorists check under the hood when the car breaks down.
A high point of the episode was the London MD’s response to Dr. Clarkson’s observation of the very pregnant Lady Sybil that she seemed a “little off and her ankles were swollen.” The London MD replies, as any concerned physician would when faced with a not-unusual pregnancy complication, “Maybe Lady Sybil just has fat ankles.” Yes. The assessment of cankles now passes as a second opinion.
At which point I’m thinking, Did they even have medical schools in England, or just a grand tradition of surgeon-barbers?
I’m now loving this show more than ever.
Several months ago I read about this horrible, horrible disease. So horrible that I dare not speak its impossible to pronounce name. It features the emergence of small threads from under one’s skin, resembling the fibers of a cheap, plaid polyester sofa that someone’s rarely washed dog claimed ten years ago with no plans to surrender any time soon. A theory has been advanced that this disease comes from outer space. Is this possible? I have to say Yes, because ‘possibility’ is pretty much the cornerstone of hypochondria; and while I’m not a world class hypochondriac but more of a talented amateur, I should know. (This personal state of affairs is not helped by access to the Internet and possessing a novelist’s imagination.)
Which brings me to Dr. Clarkson, M.D., the preferred physician of the family and staff of Downton Abbey, at which point I’d like to refer you to the photograph. Take a good look, linger if you like, because when they eventually fall into the care of the esteemed Dr. Clarkson, you won’t be seeing their likes again. Dr. Clarkson is the exact locus where Downton Abbey and Ten Little Indians (the 1960s film adaption of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None) meet.
In Ten Little Indians, ten people are invited to a mountain retreat by a mysterious host calling himself Mr. Owen, who never seems to arrive, exactly. Unless he is the person picking off all the guests, one by one, their deaths punishment for having literally gotten away with murder themselves. The whole thing is a basically a kind of low-budget, 1970s, New York City vigilante affair, if Charles Bronson were some sort of scold, greeting his guests with a taped voice that gets the accusatory tones of someone’s mother just right.
Predictably, the actors playing the ten guests react to the information that they are all killers by acting as if they had just enrolled in a beginning Method class and were told to “access the time in sixth grade when you were caught red-handed pulling a classmate’s chair out from under him as he went to sit down after saying the Pledge of Allegiance in school assembly, landing hard on the floor. And even though your little hand still gripped the back of the folding chair, you still vehemently denied your guilt, which no one believed.” It may help, too, to know that three of the actors were Shirley Eaton, notable for her willingness to be naked in Goldfinger; Fabian, an American Idol contestant before American Idol existed (such is the sadness of peaking before the wave, creatively speaking), and Hugh O’Brien, one of those handsome-ish TV actors who starred in a series about Wyatt Earp during the Golden Age of Television and who, I discovered on Wikipedia, married for the first time at age eighty-one to a women not much older than I, with Debbie Reynolds singing at their Crystal Cathedral wedding—all of which sounds like a Disneyland attraction located in the New Orleans section between Frontierland and Adventureland. Spoiler Alert (if my memory serves): Shirley “Goldfinger” Eaton survives; Fabian “I’ll Never Achieve Cinematic Legitimacy” does not.
Mr. Owen Dr. Clarkson began the first season of “Downton Abbey” with a seriously ill young farmer in his care. Isobel Crawley, new to Downton and someone who knows her way around a surgery by virtue of her husband (a London doctor) and her position as a physician’s assistant, tells Dr. Clarkson that the young man needn’t necessarily die due to the amazing success with a revolutionary treatment now being used in London.
Dr. Clarkson rejects her suggestion (and the medical wisdom of the MDs in London), explaining that, no, this young man is going to die and they should simply allow him to die. The young man says, weakly, Uh, if I’m dying anyway, what’s the harm is giving it a go? This is met with the doctor’s patented condescension due to the man’s social status and, an admonishment that death is death and that’s your final destination, pal. Then his young wife, who is not at all taken with the prospect of being a destitute widow with children and the very real possibility that she’ll be selling herself on the street in no time thus shortening her own life span by about sixty years, also timidly asks if they might try it?
No, says Dr. Clarkson, sighing and vexed, as if to say, What part of I’m going to let this young fellow die are you not understanding? Do you not know the meaning of the word “expendable?” If you had gone to Oxford, you would, but instead you
were born to a life of decided to muck stalls. And now I must go dress for cocktails with Lord Grantham.
When Isobel Crawley cures the young farmer with the procedure she suggested is Dr. Clarkson relieved? Is he grateful? Does he say, I’ll be damned? No. He complains to Lord Grantham that “this sort of thing will not be tolerated in his surgery,” as if she had broken out the laudanum, then went for a joy ride in his brougham.
Next up in the Ten Little Downton Abbey: Matthew Crawley. Son of Isobel, hero of the first World War where he sustained a spine injury that left him unable to walk, and unable to “truly be a man.” Unfortunately, Matthew is engaged to Miss Swire, a delicate girl with whom he has no discernible sexual chemistry so it could be argued that she may not take the bad “man” news as hard as the doctor thinks.
Months of Matthew in a wheelchair pass, until the day in drawing room when Miss Swire trips on a corner of carpet and Matthew leaps from his chair to catch her. I’m no Doctor Clarkson but I can’t help wondering if there isn’t some physical stage between paraplegic and leaping? Wouldn’t there be some small increments of change, some inkling of improvement that one would notice?
Is Dr. Clarkson relieved? Is he grateful? Does he say, I’ll be damned? No. He tells Lord Grantham and the rest of clan who are questioning him in the drawing room that upon reading the x-ray it was his educated opinion that the spine was severed. Severed, he explains, to the point where one will no longer truly be a man. However, a doctor in London (again with the London medical community) also read the x-ray at the same time as Dr. Clarkson and diagnosed a “bruised spine” meaning that recovery was possible. Yet Dr. Clarkson felt it would be cruel to offer Matthew any shred of hope. And, as you see, Dr. Clarkson finishes, It was, and it is, and what about those cocktails? Carry on being a man, Matthew.
Unfortunately, the Spanish Flu is laying everyone to waste. Lady Grantham gets sick. Very sick and who do they call? Dr. Clarkson tells the family that She’ll probably expire in the night. Unless, of course, she doesn’t. But I really think she will. Yes, look at her bent over the bed, sick and sweating and delirious. Gather round, Granthams, because it isn’t like she should be quarantined or anything because it isn’t like this flu is contagious and killing a third of the planet’s population and—oh, by the way—could you get a couple of the servants in here, too? If only because they eat in the kitchen, near the food.
Miss Swire takes ill at the same time but the doctor says she has just a touch, not even a cough and I’ll see you in the morning…when rigor mortis has set in.
As he stands with Matthew and other family members, looking at Miss Swire’s sweet, lifeless form while the doomed Lady Grantham is recovering nicely down the hall, is Dr. Clarkson relieved? Is he grateful? Does he say, I’ll be damned? No. He says Ah, yes. Tricky business flu. Hard to predict. Cocktails?
(At this point, one wonders why Bates didn’t refer his inconvenient and vindictive ex-wife to Dr. Clarkson for a check-up.)
In the Season Three opener, when Mrs. Hughes discovers a lump in her breast and it’s off to the man who cannot tell the difference between a bruised spine and a severed spine. As Mrs. Hughes sits in Dr. Clarkson’s office, Mrs. Patmore by her side getting increasingly agitated, Mrs. Hughes says, “Mrs. Patmore, please allow me to be the hysterical one.” Now I believe that Mrs. Patmore was attempting the verbal equivalent of kicking a spouse under the table when dining with friends that you really don’t like because of their pretentious utterances, and backhanded compliments yet you can’t avoid them because, you keep claiming to be too busy for dinner, they finally say, Okay, then when can we have dinner? and replying Never is never an option. There is Mrs. Patmore in Dr. Clarkson office, figuratively kicking Mrs. Hughes under the table, speaking with her foot, “Listen, Mrs. Hughes, remember when I was going blind in the first season and was trying to keep it a secret even though I was working all day with knives and boiling water and open flames and no one really noticed I was going blind and making culinary mistakes because I was cooking English cuisine? And when I was found out I said that I hid my condition because I was afraid I would lose my lucrative Downton Abbey kitchen job? Well, really it was because I’m friends with the young farmer’s wife and she told me what happened in the surgery, her fears of destitution and descent into that kind of really unsanitary Edwardian Era prostitution. Then there was the confab of overexposure in the sick room of someone with Spanish Flu. And maybe I didn’t go to Oxford but even I know a severed spine when I see one. After all, I work with joints of venison and butchered lambs and pheasant and it isn’t rocket science to see when something is severed. And, by the way, you’ll notice that Lord Grantham sent me to LONDON, where I was treated by doctors in LONDON and now I don’t even need contacts.”
But Mrs. Hughes, not unlike a spouse who turns to you and says, “Why are you kicking me?” causing you to smile nervously at your hosts while secretly feeling astonished as such cluelessness, says to Dr. Clarkson, “When can we do the biopsy?”
He tells her now, and Mrs. Patmore exclaims, “Will it hurt?”—trying desperately to get her friend on board here. Instead Mrs. Hughes replies, “It doesn’t matter. Whether it hurts or not, it must be done,” effectively releasing Dr. Clarkson from any pretense of medical competency.
Post-biopsy, Dr. Clarkson tells Mrs. Hughes that—big surprise—he can’t tell what’s what. He uses the word “inconclusive” the way other people say, “who the fuck knows?” He’s decided to send it on to London for a second opinion, which would be heartening except this is the same doctor who had a second opinion (from London) on the condition of Matthew’s spine. So, it doesn’t matter what the other doctor says since Dr. Clarkson Owen will be drawing his own conclusions anyway.
It will be over two months before he hears anything—long enough for Mrs. Hughes to be untreated and well on her way to becoming part of the cast of Ten Little Indians. His advice? Take it easy and don’t work too hard, clearly ignoring the fact that all those cocktails don’t pour themselves, something he may want to consider once he’s done “treating” everyone.
(Downton Update: As of last week Mrs Hughes has been given a
death warrant clean bill of health by Dr. Clarkson. Nice knowin’ ya, Mrs. H.)
It should be noted that I am refraining from all things cat-related even though Otis spent yesterday (and is spending to today) at the vet and returned to us wearing a red Ace bandage and a Cone of Shame. I know on the surface I seem overly interested in my own cat, but that isn’t really what’s going on here—this is what’s going on: For the money we have spent on him this year, John and I could’ve taken a vacation and then I would be writing about that. So, when I write about Otis, I am really writing about two weeks in New York.
While Otis was spending all our hard-earned cash, we were at Costco where I was signing books for two hours. The people were very nice and supplied me with nearly a dozen thin-tip black Sharpies, four more thin-tip colored Sharpies and, my favorite, an extensive rainbow of Sharpies with multiple shades of blues, pinks, oranges, greens, lavenders. I was also given two bottles of water and a large bowl of chocolates that I was expected to share with other customers, most of whom came up to my waist. They, it must be said, were not my readership which made sharing anything seem a tad unfair. I was also across from a set of Motion Detection Lights that swiveled their blinding beams to and fro every time someone walked by. They were like the electric equivalent of the boyfriend of an old co-worker of mine who was a heroin addict/breast man. The young employee who was helping me with the books made the mistake of walking over to the lights to see if they could be permanently turned from us, then looked directly into them as she tried to secure them herself, searing her retinas for several minutes. Her nervous conversation bounced between “I’ll be okay” to “I really can’t see anything” and back to “I’m sure this will be fine,” while struggling to avoid walking into the table of books. Blinded by her own merchandise—it really made me reconsider the hot dog I was thinking of eating when I was done at the book table.
There was a large poster with my author photo propped up on the table next to me. A man asked me if “that was my daughter.” Granted, I don’t think English was his first language, but being bilingual doesn’t make you blind (unlike Motion Detection lights). I said, “Excuse me?” I again heard the word “daughter.” Then, when I said, “No. That’s me,” he smiled the smile of linguistic confusion where he believes that only one of us isn’t getting it, and that one is the one who looks like her own mother.
Maybe it was the Santa hat, which I do realize can read “mature” but my photo is recent and not really touched just so I can avoid this sort of awkward misunderstanding. Really, between this and being mistaken for an Ewok at a Halloween party last month (I was a cat), along with being the only person over the age of 34 at a recent Moth StorySlam (another story and one that ended in tears), I’m beginning to understand the siren call of the plastic surgeon, which could be possible if
sea monkeys Otis didn’t have all my money.
You’ve seen this scene in almost every crime movie: The hero is walking down the street when he passes a parked car with a crooked cop and his muscled sidekick and they invite the hero to “Go for a ride” so “We can talk to you.” Then, after traumatizing him with threats while circling several city blocks, the crooked cop and his muscled sidekick drop off the hero in the exact same spot where they picked him up.
One very hot summer day, John and I were walking through our neighborhood on our way to lunch when we passed a utility pole stapled with the usual Lost Pet flyer. I did what I always do which is to stop, study the picture, learn the lost pet’s name and characteristics (“Cuzco is very skittish and may scratch” ”Lily is excessively shy and may bolt” “Buttons is deaf in one ear” “Arnold takes anxiety medication”). The personality portion of the flyer always begs a few questions: Maybe Arnold needs medication because he doesn’t exactly enjoy your company? Is Cuzco “skittish” or trying to claw his way to freedom? And why, seriously, do you want this pet back when the whole relationship just sounds like a 1950s prison movie with Susan Hayward?
It turns out that this Lost Pet was non-neurotic young tabby who was simply new to the neighborhood and somehow slipped through the door.
Later that same day, my teenage son and I were driving about a dozen blocks from the posted flyer when we came upon a group of young girls on a sidewalk, playing with a young tabby that was the exact image of the Lost Pet Cat. I say ‘playing’, but the scene more accurately resembled a dinner party of dissolute French aristocrats months before their unfortunate introduction to the guillotine, as they sat around ridiculing someone who had just left the room to use the chamber pot. That is to say, they weren’t handling the little cat as much as they were carrying on a kind of running commentary. I’m guessing that some think tank is studying this tendency of Children in the Computer Age right now.
Now I’m disinclined to involve with seemingly unaffiliated animals because of the possibility of the encounter turning into something like an adult version of Hot Potato at the moment when the music stops. I dread an adorable cat following me down the street, or making eye contact with some friendly dog on the loose. For some reason, ‘acting like you don’t care’ is kind of a cross-species turn-on; nothing says pursue me like pretending to check the gum on the bottom of your shoe.
It was with great resignation to the vagaries of life and loss that I leaned out my window (but compromised by keeping the engine running) to ask about the little cat. I am no expert when it comes to nine year old girls, but their excitement at being asked about the cat was pretty impressive. They all spoke at once. They didn’t know who it belonged to; it just showed up. Why did I want to know? Where was the pet flyer? What was it’s name? What was my name? Where did I live? Did I have any cats? They liked Persians. Didn’t I think it should have a collar? A diamond one, in purple. They told me their ages and pointed out their houses. This cat had a home. Was I looking to steal this cat? Someone used to have a cat. Could this be their cat? Could they have the phone number on the flyer? It was an exchange that made little sense, offered no concrete information, was frequently contradictory and was full of more than a little informational one-upmanship.
In short, they so exhausted me that when they offered to return the cat, I said, good and started to leave. Wait! They cried. Where was the flyer? Trying to follow their conversation was nothing next to trying to give them directions to the flyer. It was like talking to aliens. ("Walk up the street two blocks." "What street?" "This street." "This street?" "Yes." "What about that street?" "That street is the wrong direction." "But I live on that street." "But the flyer isn’t in that direction." ’Which direction is it?” ”Up that street.” ”Can I go down that street?” And so on, culminating with my favorite comment, "What’s a flyer?")
Their final remark to me, as I tried to pull away from the curb was that they wanted me to return the cat for them. Actually, they were quite emphatic about it. In popular parlance I believe this is known as “acting like the boss of someone.”
My son retrieved the young tabby, bringing him back to the car, where I had rolled up all the windows despite the blistering hot day. We had just begun our search for the flyer when the cat, docile up until now, let out a yowl and leapt from my kid’s hands while demonstrating a claw dexterity on par with Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance as Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York. All I could think was please, not the eyes.
If you have never been in an enclosed car on a very hot summer day with a really angry cat, then you really haven’t experienced the dual discomfort of cat pinball as all its hair is now being transferred to your sweaty self. And, as with most highly charged moments involving two or more human beings, someone is yelling directives (“Hold on to it!” ”Keep it away from the accelerator!!” ”I said, hold on to it!”) while the other is saying, “I’m trying” but really thinking, Don’t you think I would IF I could, if only to smack you with it. You have like, twenty seconds before everything devolves into petty criticisms that have nothing to do with the current situation.
We found the flyer. I got out to read the phone number, leaving my son in the car. Okay, before you judge, hear my reasoning: He’s young. He’ll heal faster.
No one answered.
The end of the story is that I brought the cat back to the place where I snatched it. A neighbor, who also knows me, explained that the little cat belonged to her neighbor and why was it in my car? This was when I realized that the answer was, Taking it for a ride.
All I could think about was the little cat telling its other cat friends, “Yeah, I was hanging around, you know how I like to do my business at the green house, when this blue car pulled up. I didn’t think anything of it, until this kid picked me up and there I was—in the car!!”
"No way!" said the other cats.
"I was cool with it until the car started moving."
"Where did they take you?" Then one cat’s voice drops to a whisper, "Was it the vet?"
"No. They drove to a far street corner."
The cats said nothing.
"Then brought me back here."
"Wait, I don’t understand," said one of the cats. "They took you for a car ride? On a ninety-three degree day?"
"Up by Cuzco’s house."
"Then brought you back to where they picked you up?"
Then there is more discussion of what it all meant, with one cat saying that he hoped you released more hair than normal, and what a drag it is being domesticated, and how they don’t find people as amusing as people finds cats entertaining, which led to the obvious theories of evolution and wondering what’s for dinner.
Today’s cat story, “The Asshole With a Dead Bird In It’s Mouth,” was related to me—breathlessly, I might add—by John.
It seems that John and our friend, Camille, were on one of their usual afternoon dog walks with Gomez (Cairn Terrier) and Doug the Dog (Pit Bull mix), when they noticed a nicely groomed white cat, with a dead bird clamped between its (satanic) little teeth, as it stood on the porch of a neighborhood house. Camille asked John to hold Doug’s leash so she could take a picture of the white cat and it’s lunch, using her iPhone. One picture. One.
No sooner did she turn her back, post-photo, holding out her hand for Doug’s leash, when the white cat dropped the bird on the Welcome mat in the same manner that certain scrappy girls at my high school would remove their hoop earrings before pummeling someone, then taking off after the four of them like it was go-time. When John said taking off he meant that the thing was moving like a Concorde leaving London Heathrow because the white cat was racing toward them, its front legs flailing wildly, claws out, in a full-on furious one-cat elevator fight. He said it looked like Steven Segal doing his best spastic faux martial arts moves, so much so that John fully expected the cat to snarl, “That’s right! You want some of this?”
John also said that he didn’t know a house cat could “run on two feet.” And, that “this must be how the paparazzi feel when they try to photograph Alec Baldwin.” Of course, he was thinking all this as he tried to protect himself and Gomez using the patented Single Leg Kick While Also Trying To Not To Turn His Back On The Attacker And Watch Out For On Coming Traffic maneuver since he, Gomez and the white cat were all in the middle of the street. As he turned to run he was thinking What sort of cat abandons its kill to pursue a grown man, a grown woman, a terrier who specializes in killing rats, and a pit bull? Wondering if the white cat had some sort of on switch activated by the appearance of an iPhone?
Further down the street, he said that the white cat was still chasing them on it’s two skinny legs, still ripping at the air with it’s front legs. Not only was it still in hot pursuit, it seemed that running away from the cat had the effect of pissing it off more, something it illustrated by delivering a claw-bitch slap across Gomez’s surprised face when it caught up to them. Camille and Doug were already across the street and halfway down the block.
It finally gave up quite a distance from the porch and the dead bird. John said he was going to go back the next day and see if it was there, like he was suddenly Riff in the original Broadway cast of West Side Story , itching for a turf war. Gomez, on the other hand, was more like the little Jewish candy store owner lecturing the Jets about violence after they pulled off Anita’s shawl (so we’ll know she’s Puerto Rican) and started tossing her around (so we’ll buy into the possibility that all those dancing Jets are going to violate her).
One day, while I was walking our dog with Camille and Doug, one of the kazillion urban chickens that lives in our urban neighborhood, was out of it’s yard and hanging around the sidewalk as they are wont to do, unnerving Camille who has a slight case of Pet PTSD. I wanted to remind her that we casually eat their kind, which I believe is a pretty effective form of domination, and, besides, it’s not like the kazillion crows that lurk around our streets, clearly bored out of their minds and looking, I’m fairly sure, for the opportunity to peck out the soft jelly of one’s eyes, but I know we all have our fears.
Later she sent me a copy of the iPhone Photo That Was Taken And All Hell Followed. She said of the picture, “Here’s the asshole with the dead bird In it’s mouth”—which now offer to you.
Apparently, assholes with dead birds in their mouths is actually a classic painting motif.