Getting somewhere

There's a famous scene in the movie adaptation of Tennessee Williams' play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof where Paul Newman's character Brick is grilled by his father, Big Daddy, as to why he drinks so much.

Newman says it's out of disgust for the mendacity that surrounds his life. It's a great scene in a truly great movie, a film which demonstrates just about everything that can be done in cinema with a tiny cast and (as you'd expect from its stage roots) a fairly limited set.

Later in the movie, as father and son try to resolves their differences, Big Daddy asks Brick what's wrong with him and Brick says he's waiting for the click in his head.

Big Daddy: Did you say "click"?

Brick: Yes sir, the click in my head that makes me feel peaceful.

Big Daddy: Boy, sometimes you worry me.

Brick: It's like a switch, clickin' off in my head. Turns the hot light off and the cool one on, and all of a sudden there's peace.

Big Daddy: Boy, you're, you're a real alcoholic!

Brick: That is the truth. Yes, sir, I am an alcoholic.


It's a magnificent film - despite the removal of the homosexual themes threaded through the original play -with ball-tearing performances from Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, Burl Ives, Judith Anderson and Jack Carson.

I like a drink and I think about that "click" a lot some days, not because it turns the hot light off and the cool one on. It's so I can silence the argument in my head about what the hell I'm meant to be doing with my life.

That used to seem obvious - get a job, earn money, breed, etc - until I read Henry Miller's Tropic of Capricorn about 25 years ago and met the character Grover Watrous, a born-again Christian with a club foot who'd received "an illumination".

"Yes, it happened in the twinkling of an eye, which is the only way that anything important ever does happen. Overnight all Grover's preconceived values were thrown overboard. Suddenly, just like that, he ceased moving as other people move. He put the brakes on and he kept the motor running," writes Miller.

"If once, like other people, he had thought it was necessary to get somewhere now he knew that somewhere was anywhere and therefore right here and so why move? Why not park the car and keep the motor running? Meanwhile the earth itself is turning and Grover knew it was turning and knew that he was turning with it.

"Is the earth getting anywhere? Grover must undoubtedly have asked himself this question and must undoubtedly have satisfied himself that it was not getting anywhere. Who, then, had said that we must get somewhere?

"Grover would inquire of this one and that where they were heading for and the strange thing was that although they were all heading for their individual destinations none of them ever stopped to reflect that the one inevitable destination for all alike was the grave."

I think of this passage often as I sit on a bus or a train or in traffic watching the world struggling to get to a place they're already at.

We spend so much time striving, as Miller wrote in Tropic of Capricorn - "alive and empty, which is so close to Godhood that it is crazy".

"In the same way, having accepted death, death too dropped out of Grover's mind. Having seized on the single certainty of death all the uncertain ties vanished. The rest of the world was now limping along with club-footed uncertainties and Grover Watrous alone was free and unimpeded," writes Miller.

"Grover Watrous was the personification of certainty. He may have been wrong, but he was certain. And what good does it do to be right if one has to limp along with a club foot? Only a few men have ever realized the truth of this and their names have become very great names.

"Grover Watrous will probably never be known, but he is very great just the same. This is probably the reason why I write about him - just the fact that I had enough sense to realize that Grover had achieved greatness even though nobody else will admit it."

This might be a little too much for y'all on Tuesday morning, so I might just dig out the Glenfiddich and wait for the click and see if Grover replies to my text message.

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