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Bout de Souffle
Out of Breath
One Side of Various Two-Sided Conversations
Branch Treasurer Gerald Brinkley, Who Takes Slightly Excessive Interest In Gossip Concerning Bodily Ailments and Mental Disorders, Drunk At An Office Party

Why hello Mr. Riley! I'm glad you made it to the event, what with your ulcer acting up recently. Bloody little thing. What's that? Yes, your proposal was reviewed. Yes, slightly harsh. But you've endured an ulcer, so it should be a walk in the park.

Thomas old chap! How's the report? No, not that financial bollocks! The splenomegaly test! No word yet? Thomas, that's unacceptable. Get on the phone and let them know I want information immediately. Everybody is wondering about your spleen. Why of course I told them, this is big news!

Ellen! Or should I say Dr. Ellen Psy.D.? How fare the cramps? Messy, eh? Of course I remember your cycle; I recall remarking about how large your pupils appeared under the ashy full moon right before we made love! You did snort a significant portion of coke that evening!

What Bill? I can't hear you, your laryngitis has worsened! I need to keep it down, you say? But you know that I haven't taken Viagra in weeks, we just talked about this! My voice? No, you're the one spewing phlegm, pal, not me. Ellen, I think Bill has entered another fugue state. Why yes, Bill, Ellen told me all about your dissociative identity disorder. Oh come now Ellen, I didn't pry it out of you! You didn't want word to spread about your genital herpes, did you? Ellen, where are you going? But Bill already knew; I had to warn him about my possible infection before intercourse! Bill, not you too! Where's everyone going? Don't crowd Tom in the elevator, he's got claustrophobia!

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Highlights of General Mills' Military Career
Lucky Charge
Honey Nut Chariots
French Coast Crunch
Total War
Body Count Chocula

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Ethical Struggle with Kurtz's Intended
Marlow is plagued by the death of Kurtz. His mental torture is derived not by the loss of the man, but contrarily by the life of Kurtz’s ideas and words. Most horrifically disturbing is the resonance of Kurtz’s final utterance before death. Marlow seems surrounded by the horror still a year after the death of Kurtz, and even appears somewhat disturbed in his retelling of the events that took place when he visited Kurtz’s Intended. Marlow’s visit to the Intended manifests itself as a convoluted ethical struggle, which is complicated by Marlow’s sense of impending horror, his impressions of the Intended’s personality, and his inner debate about Kurtz’s posthumous desires.

Before Marlow even arrives at the residence of Kurtz’s Intended, he has a stirring vision drawn from his memory of the man:

“I had a vision of him … opening his mouth voraciously as if to devour all the earth. He lived then before me … a shadow darker than the shadow of night. The vision seemed to enter the house with me – the stretcher, the phantom bearers, the wild crowd of obedient worshippers, the gloom of the forest … the beat of the drum regular and muffled like the beating of a heart, the heart of a conquering darkness. It was a moment of triumph for the wilderness.”

Marlow notes the stigma of Kurtz’s extreme appetite in horrific terms, and identifies Kurtz’s aura as the darkest imaginable shade. All of the trimmings come with Marlow’s vision, which seems to absorb him once again into the frightening realm surrounding Kurtz. Marlow mentions Kurtz’s “worshippers” with a sense of disgust for the psychological control with which they were influenced. The drum, the symbol of the tempo of the darkness and evilness of the forest, is mentioned here to introduce an aural element to Marlow’s mental anguish, finally enveloping him in a “conquering darkness” which pervades his senses. All of this comes before his meeting with the Intended, foreshadowing the twisted and difficult interaction ahead.

Marlow’s first impressions of the Intended seem to hold true through their meeting. The most noteworthy first impression is the image of her “pale head” in contrast with her “all black” clothing, which comes back time and time again in Marlow’s retelling of their encounter. A similar element within his first impressions is the note of her “trustful” nature, which, again, will return later, but for the moment seems to have an effect on his own honest judgment. An interesting prediction comes from his appraisal of the way she carries herself: “She carried her sorrowful head as though she were proud of that sorrow, as though she would say, I – I alone know how to mourn for him as he deserves.” This appraisal is confirmed with stunning precision later on, which puts into question to what extent Marlow is exaggerating his accuracy to his audience. The final and most horrific first impression is made when Marlow sees the death of Kurtz in the very sorrow of the Intended. She is made out to be a creature that transcends time and is just as sorrowful now as she would be in the moment of Kurtz’s death, which reminds Marlow of the terror he encountered in his prior vision of darkness and horror. It is at this moment of realization that Marlow begins to regret his decision to see the Intended: “I ask myself what I was doing there, with a sensation of panic in my heart as though I had blundered into a place of cruel and absurd mysteries not fit for a human being to behold." This shock and panic is only on the interior, as Marlow displays to the Intended an air of normalcy. She does not suspect the racing terror in his mind, and the conversation proceeds without her becoming aware of his shaky nerves.

The resulting conversation is riddled with anxiety and a degree of annoyance on Marlow’s part. The Intended guides the conversation where she wants, and Marlow can only respond to her while juggling the question of ethics in his mind. She says, “[Y]ou admired him! It was impossible to know him and not to admire him. Was it?.” She makes an assertion about Marlow and declares her statement to be undeniably true before actually asking Marlow, which puts him in no position to disagree. His response about Kurtz’s remarkable nature is uttered “unsteadily” because of the way the answer was forced on him, and because of the degree of uncertainty Marlow feels in his answer. Marlow agrees with the Intended in such a shaky manner because he is still trying to decide whether or not to reveal the truth about Kurtz to the innocent, trustful woman. Further forced to speech by the “fixity of her gaze that seemed to watch for more words,” Marlow begins to tell her it was impossible not to admire the man, though the Intended quickly interrupts and finishes his sentence with “love” in place of admire. Marlow is silenced and “appalled.” He then agrees with her that she knew Kurtz best; this is Marlow’s first lie. The pressure of the Intended’s eager and trustful nature forces Marlow to slip into a mode of deceit, and it would only become harder to reveal the truth from this point on. Marlow is immediately mentally affected by his own lie, noticing that “the room was growing darker and only her forehead smooth and white remained illuminated by the inextinguishable light of belief and love.” Again, Marlow is besieged by the darkness and horror which drew around him at the onset of his visit and lingered in the air, only for him to notice again with growing fright. The Intended’s belief in Kurtz’ greatness and lovable nature is the only bright side to his rather dark life and death, and Marlow is dragged down into the darkness surrounding this singular point of light.

The Intended continues to speak in this manner, which illuminates herself and casts all else into further darkness: “I want you – you who have heard his last words – to know I have been worthy of him. … It is not pride. … Yes! I am proud to know I understood him better than any one on earth.” The accuracy with which Marlow predicted this statement is astounding, unless his earlier foreshadowing is considered an embellishment in retelling the story. Either way, the Intended’s pride and assumed worthiness are prevalent in her speech. Marlow in silence could only listen, not knowing what to respond, knowing every second that it was becoming still more difficult to speak in truth to the Intended; “The darkness deepened.” Interestingly, just as the Intended is sure she is worthy of Kurtz, she has certitude in Marlow’s sympathy, albeit false, and continues on with her overwhelming speech:

“She looked at me with intensity. ‘It is the gift of the great,’ she went on and the sound of her low voice seemed to have the accompaniment of all the other sounds full of mystery, desolation, and sorrow I had ever heard – the ripple of the river, the soughing of the trees swayed by the wind, the murmurs of the crowds, the faint ring of incomprehensible words cried from afar, the whisper of a voice speaking from beyond the threshold of an eternal darkness.”

Although her voice is low, it is the mental accompaniment that overwhelms Marlow. The mystery, desolation, and sorrow he recalls and parallels with her speech are drawn straight from the forest. He makes this parallel as an extension of the pairing of Kurtz’s death and the Intended’s sorrow from his first impressions. Ironically, what buries Marlow in ever-growing darkness is the Intended’s brightness, by means of contrast. Every positive word of hers is a reminder of how twisted and horrible the truth is. Marlow, engulfed in the darkness, begins to see the Intended as a figure to worship, or at least to envy, and bows his head “before the faith that was in her, before that great and saving illusion that shone with an unearthly glow in the darkness.” Important to note is the “saving illusion,” which reminds Marlow that it is the falsehood that allows the Intended to shine so brightly and appear as a savior to him. The contrast between light and dark reaches the pinnacle when all of the remaining light is caught by her fair hair, bringing the light metaphor to a close.

The Intended shifts the topic to a discussion about the memory of Kurtz. When she begins a thought with “You and I. …” Marlow is quick to complete her thought by telling her what she thinks she wants to hear, in the manner in which she completed his sentence earlier in the conversation: “We shall always remember him.” But the Intended intended to relate a deeper meaning: that Marlow and she should ensure that Kurtz’s words and example live on. Marlow, at this point, seems to be lying with every utterance, telling the Intended what she wants to hear. He has nearly completely resigned to dishonesty, seeing no other available method for one wrapped in such terrible darkness as he is. So when the Intended says “his goodness shone I every act,” Marlow ensures that this statement is “true” although it is clear by this point that Marlow is not being frank with her by any means. Marlow adds, “his example, too. Yes, his example, I forgot that” in a very sarcastic tone, once again unnoticed by the Intended. Marlow then again describes what he sees in her actions, which are evidently mirrored again by the imagery her recalls from the forest:

“She put out her arms as if after a retreating figure, stretching them black and with clasped pale hands. … I saw him clearly enough then. I shall see this eloquent phantom as long as I live and I shall see her too, a tragic and familiar Shade resembling in this gesture another one, tragic also and bedecked with powerless charms, stretching bare brown arms over … the stream of darkness.”

Marlow is stirred to remember a similar action, nearly identical to the one he saw when he took Kurtz away from his base of operations. The Intended stretched her arms after the retreating figure of Kurtz, just like the African woman who reached out to him when Kurtz was being taken away. Marlow describes the Intended’s arms as “black” but also “pale,” signifying that her action was African in nature, not in color. In the Intended, Marlow sees the same complete obedience that Kurtz was given from the natives, just as psychologically grotesque as ever.

The following dialogue is the most riveting in terms of Marlow’s dishonesty and ethical struggle with the Intended. Marlow, agreeing with her yet again, tells her that “His end was in every way worthy of his life.” Marlow feels a “dull anger” filling him, partially because of the extent to which his course of deceit has travelled, but even more because the Intended will never really know of Kurtz’s death and has simply been assuming that she, by some divine providence, has acquired an otherworldly insight into Kurtz’s death and the meaning behind it. Marlow is annoyed by her assumptions, and further annoyed by the fact that he is now too far into a lie to set her straight. But his anger turns into pity after she remarks that she was not with Kurtz at his death. Marlow genuinely respects that the Intended wishes she could have been with Kurtz. Marlow, however, has misconstrued the Intended; she explains that she did not want to simply be with Kurtz because she genuinely loved him, but that she wanted to be with Kurtz because she was the only one who could care for him properly: “He needed me. Me! I would have treasured every sigh, every word, every sign, every glance.” Her pride and snobbish nature puts a “chill grip” on Marlow’s chest, driving out the momentary warmth that he was mistaken in giving her. He should not pity her, since she was again being prideful and presumptuous. Finally, Marlow is tempted with revealing the truth to her, to silence her display of assumption and pride: “I heard his very last words.” He stops in a fright, suddenly dreading the idea of telling her the truth: the truth that, Marlow believes, Kurtz would want his Intended to be told. Marlow has already seen what it is like the carry the burden of Kurtz’s will, words, and example. He has seen horrific visions and is haunted still by the events that took place in Africa’s heart of darkness, which, like the ever-present psychological Hell that follows Satan in Paradise Lost no matter in which physical location he resides, follows Marlow back to England. To him, the heart of darkness is no longer a location, but a state of mind. With this realization, that Kurtz’s true legacy would curse the Intended with he same horror that cursed him, Marlow lies about Kurtz’s final words and simply tell her that he uttered her name. “‘I knew it – I was sure!’ … She knew. She was sure." Marlow mentally repeats her prideful assumption, knowing full well the irony that she actually knows nothing at all of the truth. Marlow’s sarcastic response reveals that he knew it was probably the type of response he would get from the Intended. The revelation of Kurtz’s false final words causes the Intended to place her hands over her face, thus rendering her pale white, light face dark, which means there was now no light at all on the situation. Marlow’s lie transfers itself to her visage, darkening it with dishonesty that she will probably never realize.

Marlow assures himself in his actions with the very last words of his tale; had he told her the truth about the horror of Kurtz’s words, “It would have been too dark – too dark altogether.” Marlow reflects on the fact that Kurtz said he only wanted justice, and Marlow seems to believe that justice, in Kurtz’s opinion, would be the truth of his horrible, deathly enlightenment. However, Marlow seems to disagree with Kurtz, deciding that the real justice is in never exposing the Intended to the world of darkness that Kurtz opened; to never bring to light Kurtz’s posthumous will of justice and truth about “the horror” he faced. Marlow ultimately decides that there is no goodness in the truth, which speaks measures about the horror of the world, both literal and psychological, that exists around him.

Based on the last pages of Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.

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Vague Bagels
I can't seem to locate my accent.

From an early age, I've pronounced a few words rather oddly. I'd pronounce Mary, my grandmother's name, as "marry" (ă, like in "pat" instead of âr, like in "care"). This is but one example. I recently discovered that a faculty member of the English department at my university also has trouble making the distinction between "Mary," "marry," and even "merry." She is from Massachusetts, so she has an excuse. I have no excuse.

More troubling is my pronunciation of words such as "bagel" and "vague." I fail to use the long ā, like in "pay," and instead pronounce an ĕ, like in "pet." Everybody seems to pick up on the fact that I say "Butter my beggle, please." I had begun spelling it that way to those who knew of my handicap. But what handicap? I can say it the correct way if I think about it; it must simply be that I'm too lazy to pronounce a "long" vowel.

Traditionally, the vowels /ei iː ai oʊ/əu juː/ (as in bait beet bite boat beauty) are said to be the "long" counterparts of the vowels /æ ɛ ɪ ɒ ʊ/ (as in bat bet bit bot put) which are said to be "short".

Go ahead, say those words yourself and tell me that it isn't less straining to pronounce the "short" versions! I find that I am always striving to take the path through life with the least strain, and my speech is no exception. I also mumble most of the time. I am always struck with a pang of irony when I mutter to someone that I am an English major. Ah well, better than Communications.

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Marriage Anxiety in Detour
Sue Harvey explains to her would-be fiancé that “We’ve got all the time in the world to settle down.” Al Roberts, however, responds with nothing but silence because his goal of achieving his American dream is crushed by the one he loves. The pressure to “settle down” into the social norm of marriage is made obvious by Al’s reaction to the postponement of his vows with Sue. He ultimately walks into the foggy night, newly uncertain of his course in life. Only later, in the throes of a disturbing, fatal ordeal, does Al come face to face with an alternate to the envisioned perfection of a life with Sue: Al meets Vera, a despotic anti-bride who provides a marriage situation Al could only have nightmares about. Detour explores the desire to follow an average American life and settle down with an average woman, in contrast to the uncertainty of living life alone or with a bride who is anything but “ordinary.”

The scene that best illustrates the disruption of Al’s planned path in life takes place during the walk home from the Break O’ Dawn Club where Al and Sue work as musicians. The time is about 4am, judging by Al’s narration that work usually ends at that time, and so the break of dawn should not be literally far off. However, the backlit club sign is put out as the two lovers begin their walk into the night, foreshadowing a dark turn in tone. The music starts off airy and generally emotionless until Sue snaps “It doesn’t matter what drunk” in response to Al’s question, at which point the music takes a sour turn and becomes progressively bitter as the dialogue in the scene continues. Al, with a rare smile on his face, reminds Sue that they will be married the following week. However, his smile quickly fades as Sue reveals her discontent with their current plan. “Funny way to talk, darling,” Al says with a nervous voice. After an insert shot of a street sign to orientate the viewer of their location, the return to Sue and Al is swamped with fog, making it, at times, difficult to see much more than the outlines of their bodies. Sue proceeds to inform Al of her plan to move to Hollywood as he becomes more and more distraught and angry. “What about me?” he asks. “You’re busting up all our plans … I thought you loved me.” Al takes her change of plan very personally and is clearly upset that his plans have been disrupted. The music here is more sad and somber. After this, he is mostly silent and concise, and he bestows on Sue an emotionless goodnight kiss before walking home dejected.

The visual aspect of this scene is remarkable. The low-key lighting, with no diagetic light sources other than the occasional streetlamp, sets the sullen tone of the scene from the very start. As soon as Al asks “Don’t you want to marry me?” the image responds with an extremely dense fog that has enveloped the characters. For the first few seconds of this shot, Sue and Al are nothing more than shapes in the very-low contrast image, gradually becoming more noticeable as two people simply wandering in a gray abyss. There seems to be nothing to notice in the background besides a few vague figures in the shape of light posts and a policeman standing still. There are also several wipes between shots of Al and Sue walking. Finally, at the scene’s end, Al walks off back into the thick fog by himself.

The night-time fog coincides with the onset of confusion and anxiety in Al’s mind. Previous to this scene, Al thought he was going to marry Sue and get that requirement of his life out of the way, having not to worry about it any longer. However, with Sue’s revelation of aspirations in Hollywood, Al’s path in life becomes a much less clear. If his attitude and upset dialogue was not enough proof of how nervous the situation made him, the fog and obscured image of the scene provides solid backing that he feels pretty lost without Sue and the prospect of marriage in the near future. The basic action of the scene is to walk from the club to Sue’s apartment: to get from point A to point B. The fog presents a challenge in navigating this walk, which is an example of how a setback can throw a wrench into a man’s plans. The fog also foreshadows on a small scale that the trek to the west coast later in the film may not be completed without some unexpected detours. The wipes between the shots, not seen anywhere else in the film, seem to function to wipe something clean from the narrative. After this scene, Sue and the life she represents with Al become distant objects that Al can never hope to reach due to the tragic circumstances he encounters. After this scene and the wipes included in it, Al is on his own. He walks off into the foggy night, lonely as the sole policeman they passed earlier. He also never achieves the same love he shares with Sue in the beginning of the film, although his vision of a perfect marriage eventually surfaces in a more distorted way.

When Al and Vera become uneasy partners in crime, a bond is created between the man and woman duo. They enter into their “relationship” on dark terms. Both Al and Vera have had bad experiences with Charles Haskell Jr., who is now deceased. They meet in his very car, and Al appears shaken from the very first instant that he discovers Vera is the woman Haskell referred to earlier: “[Haskell] was sitting right there in the car laughing like mad while he haunted me!” The means of Vera’s introduction to Al is hardly the way a legitimate couple meets. However, Vera, sneering and abusive as she is, eventually grows used to Al although she never ceases to berate him. She constantly belts out orders at him, and tells him what he can and cannot do. For example, when Al tries to open a window in the room they rent, she immediately marches over, slams the window, and growls “Keep the window shut!” to which Al can only respond with a docile “Okay.” Furthering the nightmare of marriage that is created by their relationship, Vera becomes “Mrs. Charles Haskell,” a fake wife to the imposter Al has become. Their pseudo-married-couple discourse constantly degrades into little more than arguments and threats. Al himself draws the connection to marriage with Vera in his narration:

If this were fiction, I would fall in love with Vera, marry her, and make a respectable woman out of her, or else she’d make some supreme class-A sacrifice for me and die. Sue and I would bawl a little over her grave and make some crack about there’s good in all of us. But Vera, unfortunately, was just as rotten in the morning as she’d been the night before.

Al considered the possibility of marrying Vera if only she wasn’t a vicious femme fatale, an inverse of the way Sue is portrayed. Whereas Sue was generally submissive to Al, Vera constantly asserts her dominance. When Al and Vera take Haskell’s car to the dealership, Al tells her not to say a word. When they get there, she does almost all of the talking, while Al proves useless in dealing with the insurance problem. Vera then proposes the plan to inherit Haskell’s fortune, once again showing that she is in control of the relationship. This is a stark contrast to the male dominance in married couples, especially in the 1940s before feminist philosophies truly came to fruition.

Even when Vera makes subtle advances at Al, he never gives in. In the back of his mind, he is still not over Sue and their lost relationship. It is assumed that Sue said she would marry Al when he got to Hollywood, but Haskell’s death on the trip over erased any chance of an easy marriage to Sue. Al does not want to settle with Vera in any way, because he realizes that his relationship with her is nothing more than a vile, distorted picture of a marriage that he can never live. It came nowhere close to the normality he envisioned with Sue:

I was an ordinary, healthy guy, and she was an ordinary, healthy girl, and when you add those two together you get an ordinary, healthy romance, which is the old story, sure, but somehow the most wonderful thing in the world.

Al’s dream of partaking in this “old story” never manifests; he and Sue never achieve this normal life with a normal marriage. Whereas Sue is a dream wife in Al’s mind, Vera is nothing more than a nightmare: an agent of an evil duplicate reality that he was forced into. The twisted pseudo-marriage that Al was trapped in with Vera was so binding that the only way he could break free was to ultimately kill her, as accidental as it was.

The film is ultimately about a trip from the east coast to the west and the unfortunate detour that upset Al’s journey. But it was not simply Al’s means of literally reuniting with Sue that were dashed; a more figurative detour was imposed on his life and his plans to begin a socially-acceptable marriage between an “ordinary, healthy” guy and gal. Al’s biggest detour was the diversion from the societal norm he faced, which began not with Haskell’s death, but with Sue’s relocation to Hollywood. It just so happened that this detour led to a bumpy alternate route: a perverted and distorted anti-marriage to Vera. Vera was, in several ways, the opposite of Sue and presented Al with the type of marital fears a man could only hope to avoid: nagging, disparagement, and animosity. Al was headed down a road too offset from the societal norm he envisioned, being guilty of identity theft. His journey and mental stress could only be resolved by an inevitable encounter with the police, however arbitrarily it was portrayed.

Based on the film Detour, 1945, written by Martin Goldsmith; Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer.

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Thumbing Rides
The only way I could cross country was to thumb rides, for even after hawking everything, I only had enough money to eat. Money. You know what that is. It's the stuff you never have enough of. Little green things with George Washington's picture that men slave for, commit crimes for, die for. It's the stuff that has caused more trouble in the world than anything else we ever invented. Simply because there's too little of it. At least I had too little of it. So it was me for the thumb.

Ever done any hitchhiking? It's not much fun, believe me. Oh yeah, I know all about how it's an education, how you get to meet a lot of people and all that. But me, from now on I'll take my education in college, or in PS62, or I'll send $1.98 in stamps for ten easy lessons.

Thumbing rides may save you bus fare, but it's dangerous. You never know what's in store for you when you hear the squeal of brakes. If only I had known what I was getting into that day in Arizona.

You know, Emily Post oughta write a book of rules for guys thumbing rides, because as it is now, you never know what's right and what's wrong. We rode along for a little while but neither one of us was saying anything. I was glad of that. I never know what to say to strange people driving cars. And two, you can never know if a guy wants to talk. A lot of rides have been cut short because of a big mouth. So I kept my mouth shut until he started opening up.

From the film Detour, 1945, by Martin Goldsmith.

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