March 29, 2009

Frying pans

Charade: The Oxford English Dictionary (I own it: all seventeen volumes that include the supplements for my edition) notes that Thackeray (William Makepeace: don’t you love his middle name? A command to be taken to heart) used the word in Vanity Fair in 1848: The performers disappeared to get ready for the second charade-tableau.

After Becky Sharp has achieved the coup of marriage in chapter XVI, our narrator notes that the children dressed themselves and acted plays.

And so I dress myself and act in my play in search of a happy ending: I’m a sucker for wishing that does some good.

Becky Sharp’s story of social climbing struck me as particularly grim and nothing like the fairy tale she sought—or the one that I am after. One concludes she would have kissed anyone to get where she could be.

Are you wondering if the princess does not kiss the “Frog-Prince,” what then does she do? There are two versions, plus the one Disney has provided, the kiss fulfilled, but whose roots lie with those grim brothers.

In The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales that I own based on the translation by Margaret Hunt, the princess, ordered by her ethical father to honor her word, must take the frog to bed with her. Instead, she places him in the corner of her bedroom. The frog says, “I am tired, I want to sleep as well as you, lift me up or I will tell your father.” At this she was terribly angry, and took him up and threw him with all her might against the wall. “Now you be quiet, odious frog.” And with this angry and aggressive act upon his being, the frog becomes the prince. But this is not the end of the story.

There is no end to the ways a woman may hit a man over the head with a frying pan.

There is fantasy. Oh, how good at that I was. Here is one I made up while reading and re-reading Joyce’s Ulysses:

And she looked at the rug through the bottom of her wine glass, watched the last of the wine slosh to the edge of the glass and through the glass saw the blur of the rug that was the first thing they’d bought, saw how distorted that image was through the bottom of the glass …

She conjured a man who would name her private part “Molly” and she knew he was thinking of her—she who had lost and who had waited and who wanted sex, who wanted to be cocked, cooked, corked by him who might be kind or not—she did not care. She’d waited long and looked through the glass, through the wine darkly.

When she’d walked alone that afternoon he’d picked a penny from the grass and given it to her when she’d shown it to him lying there in the grass. She, speaking of “seeing,” saw him and so he placed the penny in her palm and now it was in her pocket, warm from his hand that he wanted between her legs, the man she resisted, the man she dreamed.

And penance and grief (Ulysses, 11.1030), misquoting Joyce and thinking of the penance she should do but she was unrepentant. She was thinking, Free. His hand between her legs, a man who wants me, a man whose cock gets cocked for her. That’s the sin she wants. She’s in grief but not penitent. A new experience.

And she had underwear.

After the kissing-of-the-second-girlfriend—let us call it the second incident—I went to Neiman Marcus and spent $1500 on La Perla underwear. And it wasn’t as hard as you might think to spend that much money on underwear and not as much underwear as you might think.

On underwear, I offer this probably apocryphal story about Florenz Ziegfeld and his Follies: When asked why he bought expensive silk underwear for all his chorus girls, underwear that never was seen by the audience, Flo answered, “The girls know.”

I told D. what I’d bought and how much I’d spent.

There are many ways to hit a man over the head with a frying pan.

Ah, she is more aggressive than she pretends to be or likes to think she is: In her shopping and most certainly in her fantasies.

She believed the girls know, that men cared little for underwear because that’s what she’d learned. She hoped for men who would be boys. She thought the dirty thought when she read Big Benaben. Big Benben (Ulysses, 11.53). Time tolls for Bloom and me. Cocked not corked but easily cocked for her, she dreamed, while Bloom wanders and Molly and Blazes go at it.

The false priest (Ulysses, 11.1116) What did that mean? Did she need a priest, a shrink? Virgin should say: or fingered only (Ulysses, 11.1086). She wanted to be fingered, not in despair but in the joy of being: A flute alive and she once played the flute but didn’t want to be played the way she’d been played—with practiced touch. No. She wanted a man who would see her as a flute that had been waiting to be played.

The other version of the “Frog-Prince” can be found at

[T] king said to the young princess, ’As you have given your word you must keep it; so go and let him in.’ She did so, and the frog hopped into the room, and then straight on–tap, tap–plash, plash– from the bottom of the room to the top, till he came up close to the table where the princess sat. ‘Pray lift me upon the chair,’ said he to the princess, ‘and let me sit next to you.’ As soon as she had done this, the frog said, ‘Put your plate nearer to me, that I may eat out of it.’ This she did, and when he had eaten as much as he could, he said, ‘Now I am tired; carry me upstairs, and put me into your bed.’ And the princess, though very unwilling, took him up in her hand, and put him upon the pillow of her own bed, where he slept all night long. As soon as it was light he jumped up, hopped downstairs, and went out of the house. ‘Now, then,’ thought the princess, ‘at last he is gone, and I shall be troubled with him no more.’

But she was mistaken; for when night came again she heard the same tapping at the door; and the frog came once more, and said:

‘Open the door, my princess dear,
Open the door to thy true love here!
And mind the words that thou and I said
By the fountain cool, in the greenwood shade.’

And when the princess opened the door the frog came in, and slept upon her pillow as before, till the morning broke. And the third night he did the same. But when the princess awoke on the following morning she was astonished to see, instead of the frog, a handsome prince, gazing on her with the most beautiful eyes she had ever seen, and standing at the head of her bed.

Three times in her bed, the magic number that broke the spell.

I am drawn to the toss-on-the-wall story perhaps because when wishing still did some good … I’d wished for the proverbial frying pan. More because the story ends with another anecdote about the king’s servant Faithful Henry, so distraught at the king’s dilemma that he caused three iron bands to be laid around his heart.

In the charade that continues here and that was my life, here is what happened:

And then I left. And then I dated. But I worried that I would become Becky Sharp, that I would find and give in to money and status over love, that I would not recognize the frog-prince.