Groucho was left in the middle of cranking out one-liners when Olive Oyl ramshackled in with a few quarts to go in her vocabulary. Something? Sure. Something always left. “Why not right?” “Right.” “Who is?” And then he goes, “You!” with all the self-seeking capacity of a loosed nonvenomous eastern hognose. “Right away, that’s when,” is all Olive can puff out as she sneaks into a fold-up chair and thinks about inhaling a long, luxurious drag of cigarette smoke. Groucho snarls. He does his thing. He chews on his cigar and twitches his eyebrows right along with his smirky mouth, which goes all ape-shit on him, in times like these. Even Ms. Oyl gets stressed over the timing of these things. Even she, never a keeper’s keeper, gets to kneeling for things to get better, in these times, times like this one, here. “I want deeper…deeper moments!” Groucho doesn’t always shout such stuff, but now he does. And Olive’s within shouting distance, of course, so she frumps up her black shirt while she sits in an awkward rock-leaning pose and gets less cozy. “Sir. Mix me a drink.” “I fashion you’ve already had six today.” “Take or give.” “Very not well?” “Not very.” So, there they are. Were. Or happened to be, just for a spell. ‘There were harbingers in the weeds of (this is, now, Mr. Marx in his thoughts) of us, once, dear. But (his head, rounded another corner) I’m forgiving in what I’ll let on to myself about injuring this here ego, you see? Me? I am not Django Reinhardt or some celebrity T.S. Eliot impersonator. My brother Chico. He’ll tell you. He’s forever and always got something to not say.’ Olive lets blurt a short laugh. “Ha!” “You’re a snorty shuffler sort of character, aren’t you?” “Am I, I am, at that.” “Minus-sized in body but not in mind. You’re really alright, doll. Upright!” “That’ll do.”
Groucho sneezes towards oblivion’s deep-seated clutches. He leans back and nestles into a puffy chair of deliberateness. “Nothing’s real, really.” He takes off his glasses. They disappear. He no longer has shoes or a long coat to clown around in. His shoeshine mustache is fading. His eyes are the color of French roast coffee grounds. Something is staring. Something in him. An inward glance. He’s adjusting every single inch of his personal space. Nothing feels comfortable. Everything? Everything is in shambles. “Though you’d never know by looking. I am simulating space…to have, to be myself in.”
A button from his collar falls to the floor. It makes a sound like, “plee-unk-cht.” He contemplates what he often refers to (in his own head) as his worried, furrowed brow. He wishes he could write a decent piece of poetry. He invents gags. He tries his hand pacing himself for a two-shot pan. He intends to improve his capacity for listening, to take in information rather than dispense it, to not be distracted by the chatter he invents up in his head. What would Buster Keaton do? Would he listen to any of this? Or just leap from a moving train? Maybe I’m getting too young at kidney for any of this…and old, old, older all the time in the head. Anyone interested in the publishing rights to my soul? Shit. What’s a nincompoop like me to do?
“Name’s Olive Oyl, and all the lunch and luck I make is my own.” She dances with a rickety clatter, her knees knocking into furniture, her head swiveling, her arms writhing like electrocuted eels. “How can I put away the dishes in the drying rack at a time like this?”
“I cannot be compelled to go against my inimical natural inclinations, always. But I will, inimitably, strive with bated effect, to the streamlined position of my archetypal true architecture.”
In a subdued more-than-somewhat affected Western drawl, mixed with a deep bass vibrato, Mr. Marx: “There’s a gun dangling around in here some’a’wheres. Got’ta get it out’ta my pee’jamas — where the wild elephants do roam.”
Then he’s clamming up. Calm now, indifferent almost, he goes on: “Drill bits, mortars steeped in oil, half-a-thousand miscreants doing lunch with a semi-literate senator on behalf of a bitter malcontent, torsional stresses in structural beams of Bethlehem steel, seraphim in the cellar, butchered lambs, a real high-wire harp act to keep up with, while the news reels quell and distress for 11 minutes and slapstick’s span only lasts for attention’s gasp. I never learned to handle a cello properly, Ollie Doll. Who are we to find the hobbled places where we’ll never cease to exist? Burnt into celluloid for the ages, ah, and the dream of all wannabe geniuses to be immortalized, like, just for once, on the tiny sliver of a silver screen’s perceived forever. Fraudulence pervades lower forms of notional deliverance. I’m sedated with popularity’s charm. The sweeter nectarines of times past. I’m concocted by less, though, right?”
Olive slouches up crooked and composed, critical but stable, screws up her face and goes, “I do suppose.” She bends at the waist, dangling around like overcooked noodles, and grabs her ankles. “Time is what it makes of us. Young and pretty. Tit-less. Saucy and deliberate. As you will.” She lifts some, and yanks at the hem of her dress with both hands, swooning her head from side to side, “Ohhh. My. Ohhh. You. Ohhh. Everybody. Ugh. My battleships are all miscarried. I am…fraught. Ohhhhhh…”
Groucho settles in and listens.
A train, sluiced with dew, harrumphs by over trestles on this rather cold morning. The rudiments of a screechy halt. A forest-feel to things. Fog and a chill. Impatience is a longer shot. Hurried without a rush. The staring unhinged eyes of a desperately hungry gray cat. The steam heat bristles and squeaks. Dreary and brisk, the chirping of starlings clips without fever or remorse. Withstanding curtains for the opening of newer, better things ahead. The charred custard of daylight is just out of sight. Only the murk of oblivion staining otherwise high-touch surfaces with renown. A better day for a vaccination to take place. A drippy sort of midmorning to stand a chance in, or to. Not the best time to get pistol whipped by a burglar. Shabby substitutes for similarities of intent, the mangier of the front-yard dogs bark endlessly at everything that moves. Just a sprinkling of infused scarlet melancholy to keep your spirits on an even keel.
“I’d rather look at a photo of a stunning sunset than the real thing. Too much trouble, to go outside and have to go searching for a place to see it. Why not stay cozy and safe inside? And the photo lasts and lasts. You don’t have to wait for just the right time to see it. It’s always there, just the way you want it to be.”
Genuflecting for a bit, Olive tries on some out-sized sordidness for a moment’s unnoticeable proposition. Positioning her wiry limbs on the floor, all in various arrays of discontent, she lies flat and breathes heavier than ever before.
“I want more out of this life than the ordinary hackneyed bull. Domesticated transcendence. Clean walls. Brooms and shovels and remote controls. A made bed. His and Hers hooks in closet, you know, the whole bit.”
Groucho picks at a hole in his sock where the fluff of him is oozing out. He contemplates the word “grime,” the appeal of it, the way it sounds in his head, and how it relates to who he is, now, as a person, no longer just some chump in a cheap never-pressed suit.
“Me? I’m continuously rankled. By what? By…it all. You see? No. Well. Let me tell you. All them Tin-Pan Alley hacks — like me and everyone else, mind you — making up their way with fashionable rhymes and desperate letters home, nervously plunking along on dilapidated uprights in 4-dollar rooms. A way to make it, right up there with crafting punchlines for standups and making pigeons disappear in a hat. Getting closer all the time, but stuck in a handoff of bad grace. Getting grayer all the time. ‘Wrote your initials in the sidewalk next to mine,’ and all that hokum.”
Nestled in, like the sound of birch burning. Ruptured and still. Crackling, even. A fallout never quite recovered from. Groucho is ferreting in outside of other options.
“Just daydreaming all day of proposing to you, again. This sedimentary gunk filling up my dome, it’s surely starting to stifle me, Kid.”
“Breaking fucking news.” Olive pulls at the white collar that’s sprouting up over her red sweater. “Love, it’s really starting to get slender over here. Patchy even. And my eyes? Well, my eyes they ain’t seeing all this too well, Dummy Babe.”
“Blasted ruminations. The past will creep in to bite your ankles every time.”
“Not so sure, but always enough, huh?
“Remember when I dreamt that you sent me a postcard of you wearing a wedding ring? And who, who was it, who gave that ring to you? In the dream, I mean.”
“Golly. Gee. Whizz. We’ve got work to do. Until then, we’re just watchers of shows, like the rest. Viewers, not doers.”
“Step aside, sidestepper, and I’ll show you what I’d never let on to tell. There is glory in defeat. But it must be holy, like bulldozing or fixing a pothole…metaphorically, of course.”
Groucho builds with his fingers — forts them, as it were. Adding figurative zeros where there should be the letter O. “The alphabet’s a puzzle of gibberish. Just ask Chico. And don’t get me starting in on counting. Up to, or down from. It’s all the terrible nonchalant movements of smooth jazz for the mediocre-souled to follow along with.” He taps his palms on his thighs and plays scales with his fingers along his inseam. “And all these macerated feelings that fall somewhere short of being dry enough to elicit a short, stifled laugh.”
“Hegemony Cricket! Why, I really ought to drag you under some mistletoe one of these nights.”
Olive is disjointedly shaking her limbs around. She’s spinning, slightly. She’s thinking about that song that goes, “Out of my head, over you…out of my heeee…ad, over you…”
She pushes back: “I want a circus-performer cat with a few bent whiskers and a scratchy meow; and a bell that rings, like in the movies. But me, shit. My kneecaps are always watering. All a-fucking-board.”
Groucho makes his case: “A. Ha. Ah. Fretting gets me my exercise.”
He tamps down his hair with the back of his hand and goes on without winking, “We’re to the hilt tilting in absconded abeyance, here. You don’t say, and I do. Theft strikes when you most accept it, except when you’re least likely to have anything worth stealing. Left of east and west of right’s south. Gosh, I wonder where my belief in a higher power would go in all this pessimistic puissance, if I had one. I mean, other than my own bones and fleshier aspects to be preyed upon, or pray my conscious away from. Oh. Lord. I’ll say. I’m tired.
“I spoke to my analyst. And my analyst, she says something like, ‘Though labelling a person by their innermost habits is helpful as far as classification purposes go, there are all sorts of levels of extreme and not-so-extreme, and between the two too. Take your classic so-called mysophobe, for instance. Or, in the case of the once-I-start-something-I-must-finish-it types, a more reliable sort of narrative for the above and/or with/without binding micro/macro-circumstances. Pull the love over my eyes once, you know? Who’s a fool such as am I a fool? But being individualistic about it as it pays (or doesn’t cost, at least) to be, there are durations of nuance that even under that proverbial, metaphoric microscope one would have a hard time detecting. Complications among God’s creatures, and all the mess of us between noticing too. It’s a little bit hard to delineate the bone-crushing structures of the id when you get down to the molecular level of whatever it is that you’re not even quite certain that you’re checking for. The difference between me and you, buddy, is a mile more than the moon’s mathematics would ever equate to. But. Of course. Here we are. Together. All bunched up on a tiny land mass on the thin surface of this dent-pebbled oblate spheroid we’ve gotten so used to calling home. We get along, and we help each other cope. It’s about all that we can do. We project and reflect. We buy time. Snooping on each other’s habits is just a fractional cut of the game. So, one person has an affinity for sarsaparilla, and another really needs to get things clean. Some are hardwired for boredom. Others make great strides in scientific inquiry. Manifested with the shapes of sleeplessness and worry and agitation, people make time for insignificant bouts of frustration and anger, sometimes; and, well, sometimes they simply do not. And it is in this building that we find the neurosis that they are so fond of holding onto, as if letting go of their troubles would somehow be more troubling to their sense of self that they’ve built up around them. It’s a lose-tie situation at best. Minding manners and making amends and waiting for later and later shipments to arrive by the post. Inured to it and enduring it. Milking the self-loathing messages of indifference that wonder-shock our days with lassitude and quakes of spasm-quick jostles at control. We’ve got bounty hunters inside of us, it seems, to do the dirty work of taking and fulfilling orders of routine’s sunny blemishes. There are no more raisins in the icebox. There are no more razors on the vine. Plus, well, just healing’s its own dilemma. Put it off. Get a job to pass what’s left of your time here before oblivion sweeps on in and tries your personality on for size.’
“And that, as they always seem to say, was that.”
Olive tangles herself into a heap on a sofa. She flaps her lips and squeezes her eyes shut. She huffs. She whistles a bit. “Jooooo…leee…us. Orange me a pear.” Olive goes all-over limp. “Why don’t you write me something, like that Mr. Eliot buddy of yours would, if he still could?”
“On the double, sure thing, Mad Am!”
Groucho clears his throat: “A! Hem!” And then, “Here goes,” as he takes a crumpled racing form from his pocket and proceeds to read what he’s scribbled on the back of it.
“Breathing (I am) not
that there (my,
) is any
thing so adept at (add) caption
(space, space, dot)
who we are
as ever moseys (off) on
for (counting’s worst guess)
get beneath’s back
on again’s last(ing)’s off
sluiceways of try
had us at (whole)-y
quiet too loud to un-stir thoughts
-less — or
more to (it)
what ones I’ll
Olive and Groucho rest their heads together as they sit squeezed lightly together on a sofa. All the things they’ve never said to each other abound with terrible closeness.
“Let me tell you…it’s just stuck stuff I can’t quite expel. You know. You don’t too. And these nanowires in the atom-scale circuitry of my worst ideas keep buzzing with flexibility nonetheless. My head’s set on the edge of oblivion.”
“Blasted cutups of near-miss folks cheering the booers from never-placid ridges of heartbroken crowds. La. La. And Da-de-dah too.”
“Cutthroat carpetbaggers mugging for the camera, we are what we drink.”
“Sure. And then some stucco contractor from Sacramento is dishing with his compatriots about the ins and outs of free speech’s harrowing mold. If I saw your sort of body fall to a bloody death on another sort of body, well, neither of us are really making our own peculiar way o’er the rye, huh?
“Let’s put our elbows together.”
“Rest your spleen next to mine.”
“We’re in this apart.”
“Buy me a house. Breathe with me.”
“This is all gusty as hell, My Julepy Mint. We’re surrounded and gathered, see? Gladder, now, and we’re sharing what’s lost and…you know, hell, also, what’s gone for way past the near future.”
“Let’s lie on the couch by the window and listen to music and watch the wind. We’re ordinary enough to do something like that, aren’t we?”
“Do the fucking dishes, Hon.”