Tag Archives: The ’40s

Regular Poem: Perpetually Training to be the Middleweight Champion of 1944

8 Mar

A sequel to TKO in the 4th

You’re packing
quite the wallop today, toots.

She says
leaning against the doorjamb
idly adjusting her seams.

I’d let you see firsthand
if you got out of those stockings
and put your money where your mouth is.

Jab, hook.

In a blink
she’s sashayed over
with a scowl on her painted face.

I’ll do you but good
pumps and all.

I laugh
and there’s a lot of twist
in my torso,
land a left cross
(I’m not a southpaw
but I dabble).

The truth is
I haven’t seen her
in a while,
haven’t needed to.
I’ve taken to
reciting states and capitals
instead of fantasizing.
I don’t know
if that’s a win or a loss.

But I ran into her again today–
that is I finally agreed
to meet up with her again.

(I’ve been running into her a lot–
just in the hallway, in the elevator, passing in the breakroom,
when the siren screams for shift change–
she passes me a note,
gives me a glance,
whispers so only I can hear.

I finally capitulated.
I told her so.

Fancy!
she said.
Probably learned that word in charm school.
But fancy ain’t gonna get you too far tonight.
)

I’m faster
now,
or perhaps
less slow–
been practicing my shuffe,
exhaling at just the right moment.

Jab, cross, hook, uppercut, shuffle back.
I look over,
and she looks a little impressed, but
then the grizzled old dockworker
is there, too,
cigar in his mouth,
smoke and sarcasm billowing:

Your parents wasted their money
on that charm school.
Didn’t even teach you how to dance.

My feet get lighter,
but my arms are stiffer.

Jab, cross.
Jab, cross.

I know I’m thinking too much.
He cocks his head to one side.

Punch like you’re
punching something
instead of like
you’re pretending
to punch something.

He’s right.
I have no follow-through, no follow-up.

Hook, hook,
uppercut, uppercut,
shuffle back.

He steps up to the bag,
inspects it,
turns to me with an
old-guy twinkle in his eyes.

You know this thing
don’t have hair, right?
No reason to have some
sissy slap fight with it.

You’ve obviously never
had your hair pulled.

I say (or perhaps
she says),
shoving the feminist rage
into my pocket for later.
It ain’t no joke.

And it isn’t,
but he laughs anyway.

And my face–her face–is melting;
the lipstick is gone,
the mascara is pretending to be black eyes, but
we know it’s not that
because sweat is saltier
than tears,
and who has time for tears
when you’ve got
a heavy bag in your garage?

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Regular Poem: TKO in the 4th

20 Apr

I can slip
without much thought
into character.

I look around at the joint
as I wrap my hands
and fall further into her.

What’s she got
that I ain’t got
anyway?

I huff
at my jump rope,
pushing my body but
not so hard that
I can’t talk to myself.

I got an advantage
is what I got.
They all smoked unfiltered
in the ’40s.

Yeah but
they ate fewer processed foods.

I’m not totally
in character yet.
She would never say that–
just tap her red nails
on a can of Spam–
I don’t care what’s in it
if it’s feeding our boys overseas.

Kale? What’s that?
Some kind of Kraut thing?

I’m in the swing
of it
now,
landing some hard punches,
but then
I’m thinking
as me
again:
I don’t have
a grizzled old dockworker
to coach me,
talk at me in indecipherable
old-timey slang,
critique and edify–
rough and gruff and tough–
the mentor I deserve
rather than want.

Jab, cross, uppercut.
I got this.

Now listen here, toots.
You’re fat
and slow,
and you
telegraph every move.

I supply
for myself.
I’ll be my own
grizzled old dockworker
who moonlights
coaching lady prize fighters
out of the grizzled old kindness
of his grizzled old heart.

Yeah,
but ain’t I cute?

I wink, redfaced
from exertion.

You’ll think
you’re cute
when a faster dame
gives ya a good shiner.

Jab, jab, cross.

Good excuse
to try some Garbo makeup tricks.

I’m sweating now,
and that’s really
the point
of the exercise.

We’re all
exhausted,
and I put her away
for the evening.
Tomorrow
maybe she’ll be surly
instead of sassy.
It’ll depend
on what kind of day she’s had
at the munitions factory–
or what kind of day
I’ve had
at not the munitions factory.

Sassing, Sobbing, and Strumming a Few Chords on a Ukulele: Ginger Rogers as Tragi-Comic Heroine

29 Jun

Posted as part of the Funny Lady Blogathon put on by that talented and prolific purveyor of silent-movie gifs and other intriguing gems, Fritzi, of Movies, Silently.

I have a Top Hat poster in my room.

It’s this one.  It was given to me for maybe my 13th or 14th birthday by someone who knew I loved classic films in general, musicals specifically, and Ginger Rogers especially.

But I have a confession:

I don’t like Top Hat.  In fact, I don’t like any of the Rogers-Astaire musicals from the ’30s, and I just can’t put my finger on why.

Let me retrace my affection for Ginger Rogers.

The first classic movie I watched on my own (I mean, I spent every Christmas Eve watching It’s a Wonderful Life, and I think my mom and I had probably committed four hours to Gone with the Wind at some indistinguishable point in my childhood, but those don’t count because they weren’t my own choices although they both remain in my very-favorite-movie list) was a little number that’s not even that classic or that good.  It’s a weepy-wartime, totally ludicrous affair called I’ll Be Seeing You.

It stars Ginger Rogers as a sexually harassed secretary who accidentally shoves her boss out of a window (killing him, of course) when he tries to molest her.  She goes to prison and then she gets out on some kind of furlough for the holidays and goes to stay with her aunt (Spring Byington [best character actress ever]), uncle, and cousin (Shirley Temple).  Nobody trusts poor Ginger, and there’s a lot of family drama and some cattiness, and a lot of Ginger Rogers looking totally glamorously upset in gorgeous Edith Head gowns.

Meanwhile, Joseph Cotten is a half-crazy-from-shellshock WWII GI who’s on leave.  They fall in love, and neither of them tells the other their entire stories.

More drama ensues, the truths come out, Ginger goes back to prison, but Joseph declares his everlasting love, and all is well.

At the end, Ginger and I were both bawling, and I wanted her hair, her clothes, and her tragic and nonsensical love story.  (I was 12. Sue me.)

And then, as any good fangirl in 1999 would do, I decided I needed to boot up AOL and figure out what Ginger Rogers movies I could watch next.

Perhaps the next was Gold Diggers of 1933.  While I enjoyed Ginger’s turn as the hilariously gold-diggingest gold digger, I was more mesmerized by the Busby Berkeley choreography, Joan Blondell’s outrageous beauty and delightful warble, and the general charm of a fast-paced, tightly scripted pre-code.  And so I took a detour down that sort of road for a while.

And I branched out to other ladies–Mae West, Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis, even a brief thing with Kay Francis, and many, many hours with Ann Sothern as Maisie.  And countless others in varying degrees of fangirlish devotion.  Joan Crawford was a late edition, but at the peak of our affair, it was pretty intense.

But then I was back to Ginger and her great tragedies: Kitty Foyle, The Primrose Path, Tender Comrade.  I tried her Astaire stuff and even sort of liked The Barkleys of Broadway, but, for me, there was nothing like Ginger in tears, losing her man, having children out of wedlock, etc.

And then I watched Stage Door where she’s opposite Katherine Hepburn in an actress boarding house, fighting with her for parts and finally becoming BFFs.  And I partially realized what the deal is with my thing for Ginger.

No better foil exists for Ginger Rogers than Katherine Hepburn.  I don’t dislike Katherine Hepburn, and I don’t want anyone to mistake the following for criticism because Kate is obviously marvelous and can make me laugh and cry just as well as anybody, but she certainly has a persona (which is like half the plot of Stage Door): that New England aristocrat with a recognizable tinny voice and a rigid physique who’s rather dour in her tragic roles and who is always ultra stagy.

And then there’s Ginger–soft and flexible, draped casually over a chair playing a ukulele, with her big clear eyes and her buttery midwestern voice barking out sassy witticisms but then also cooing softly to her friends when they’ve had a bad day.

I realized seeing this juxtaposition that I love watching Ginger Rogers cry because she does it as she does all things: with half a smile on her face.

I like her in tragedies because she’s open and warm-looking and funny like your best friend is funny–not like stand-up comic funny but clever jabs and pratfalls funny.

I like her in tragedies because she seems so honest.

I like her in tragedies because in real life she’s a comedic actress.

And her sensitivity to the comedy of tragedy shows in the way she plays someone so foolish and silly but with so much heart like Kitty Foyle or the gal in I’ll Be Seeing You.

Book 'Em, Jan O

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