|Associate professor, University of Montana|
Now, for the bad decisions. The story concerns an actor, handsome in his youth, who had some breaks, bringing him minor, local repute, but nothing big. He has aged out, and his sustenance (aside, we assume, from commercial residuals) is a teaching gig in "theater arts" in Westchester. He travels to Vermont to appear in a summer production of Twelfth Night, is not wise enough to avoid being seduced by the girl who plays Viola, ends up with a broken nose and is out of the play. At the end, the mood is wry. He spends the rest of the summer in a small house overlooking a lake in Dutchess County, a man alone without any attachments, getting along, enough money to be able to float through life without any deep personal investments. He is a bit like the remittance men in the novels of Dickens, having enough money to get by, but lacking the incentive to undertake the real work of life.
A reference in the story to the actor's father having worked with Stanley Donen (b. 1924), whose most famous films (Singin' in the Rain, On the Town) were made in the early 1950s, situates the actor in the same generation as David Gates, born 1947. This is the generation that now makes up much of the teaching staff in colleges and universities across the land. In another story we are introduced to just such an academic couple -- teaching at Yale. Although now divorced, they are forced into contact because of an out-of-control teenage son who runs rings around them. Without any backbone, but with those teaching jobs (tenure in the case of the wife) they are never faced, like the rest of us, with responsibility for what are minimized simply as "fuck ups." Only one generation in history has had the benefit of this irresponsible cradle-to-the-grave existence, the kids born in the late 1940s and who entered the institutions of American life in about 1974. They went to school in the early 1950s, where they learned the 3Rs, were taught to write in a comprehensible hand, as well as the ability to sit at a desk for several hours straight. They became the best educated generation in American history and are really characterized by their articulateness. Not only do they fill the teaching professions, they are also in advertising, the media, and the law.
Despite all the advantages they have enjoyed -- and I have to add here that, of course, I am a member of this cohort -- appreciation for all America has given them is not their reigning attitude. American is always lacking, chiefly as represented by their political attitudes. Why did I not find it surprising that the director of the play in "An Actor Prepares" says that he loathed David Mamet before he became a Republican? There is the expected derision of houses displaying American flags. Making bad decisions and bearing no consequences has been their privilege.
This is the kind of stoy that gets you published in The Paris Review and The New Yorker.