I would like to give the impression that I am an intrinsically intellectual, sophisticated being. Surely there must be some truth in that. I have read Austen and Dickens and Dreiser and Dos Passos and Fitzgerald and Atwood and Franzen. I have read Kant and Locke and Neibuhr. I have discussed whether the Guns of August did capture the causes of World War I and whether the Trail of Tears was one of the roots of the Civil War. Even before the bubble burst, I had discussions about how the subprime market was going to cause problems. I have listened to Mahler and Dvorak. I have made quenelle and polenta with a chicken liver sauce. I know a fair amount of Cole Porter and Gershwin. I can discourse on the famous fighter plane scene in the Best Years of our Life and Brando’s role as a disabled soldier. I, of course, know the difference between robbery and burglary, and perhaps the differences between a bordeaux, burgundy, and a barolo. I have taken a course on Renaissance art and admired Michelangelo’s David.
Sometimes, however, I feel that this is all a fraudulent front because I know that I am attracted to low pursuits. I have, for example, loved the hardly-high humor of Jay Ward. He first got me with Crusader Rabbit and Tom Terrific and the exclamation of Wow-watausa, Wisconsin. His most enduring creations, of course, are Rocky and Bullwinkle. I enjoy the flying squirrel, the moose, Boris, and Natasha, but when I think of Jay Ward I dredge up memories of the many Saturday mornings in my early twenties when death from a hangover approached. I got through the queasy feelings by having a beer and a lot of chocolate and watching George of the Jungle on TV. I can’t sing, but in my mind I can still hear the theme song, with the line, “Watch out for that treeeeee.”
I did not want to wreck my memories of the animated version and how much it helped me on those Saturday mornings, so I did not see the live movie of “George of the Jungle” in the theater, but eventually I saw it on TV, and to my surprise, liked it. It was the first time I had seen Brendan Fraser, who to my male eye, looked gorgeous. I don’t think I had ever seen a better-looking person. (Yes, I admire beauty in all genders. So does the spouse, and we often point out three-blockers—someone who it is worth going three blocks out of your way to get a glimpse of–to each other.)
I did not think about Fraser one way or the other after that, at least for a while. I have not seen him in most of his blockbuster movies, but then I saw him in Gods and Monsters, with Ian McKellen, where both he and McKellen were terrific and in The Quiet American, where both he and Michael Caine were terrific (or as I think of it, tom-terrific.) Those movies made me see Fraser as a fine actor, so when a few years back he came to Broadway, I went to see him. (Or to be more honest, memories of those movies and a discount ticket got me to the theater.) The play was an English adaptation of a Norwegian novel and movie based on that novel, Elling. The play had its problems, but Fraser was good, as was the woman, Jennifer Coolidge. The evening was made, however, by the performance of Frazer’s co-star, Denis O’Hare. But, I shamefacedly confess, I was most pleased by something else. I loved seeing Fraser in his underwear. No, this was not out of prurient interest or another of my admirations for physical beauty. Instead I took a certain delight because his belly looked almost like mine. By that, I mean protruding, rounded, you know what I mean. At first I thought it was stage padding, but I took some pleasure in the fact that as the play went on, the curved tummy seemed real.
My pleasure was not entirely pleasing. It conflicted with that projected savoir-faire image. But I knew that my delight was not out of keeping with at least part of me. In addition to some other low pursuits, I can like low comedy, although I maintain that Jay Ward’s humor was far above that. (I do confess, however, that I think Curly was a great comedian, and there is nothing sophisticated about the Three Stooges humor.) I just hope that this lowness in me that I felt in the theater that does not rule out all chances of intellectualism and sophistication, but I also know that I always have at least a little inward smile whenever I see a man who has hit middle age with a prominent belly. Except when I look in the mirror.