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Archive for May, 2019

Fred and Ginger, “Follow the Fleet,” 1936

I recently came across an essay from Wilson Quarterly, the spring 1994 issue. The title is “Goodnight, Delight,” and something about it compelled me to make a copy and tuck it away (more about the tucking later).

The author, James Morris, takes about three pages to complain about how awful times are and how lacking in lightness, in humor—in delight. His launching pad was a question Barbara Walters had asked in an interview (he doesn’t mention who she was interviewing, but I think it was Bill Clinton). What sort of tree would he be, if he could be a tree?

All right, it’s not a brilliant question, but Morris takes it much too personally. From the depths of an apparently deep despair, he wonders what sort of tree would sum up the 1990s:

A lemon tree, maybe, and if not the entire tree, then its workaday fruit, which might roll to the corner of the produce department and lie unnoticed for days, sour and yellow and softening. Not unlike the times. We live in a lemon of an age, and if it came with a warranty, we’d be entitled to a refund.

Then he riffs on how horrid everything is:

The popular culture is starved for wit and lightness and ingenuity, and the society is full of groups determined to jump till every soufflé falls.

We are losing our capacity for delight.

Mr. Morris goes on to say that the 1930s, in contrast, were certainly dark times, and yet delight was still abundant! He points to one particular example, and I think it was this description that made me want to save the article (I can’t imagine what else appealed to me about it):

Perhaps the most gravely beautiful dance Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers ever performed occurs in the otherwise frivolous 1936 film Follow the Fleet. Gamblers down on their luck and close to despair, the two meet on an absurdly elegant casino rooftop, where each has come to commit suicide. They look like a million and are worth not a buck. Out of their individual gloom, to Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” they create ravishing romantic images (Ginger in a sexy dress that moves with a will of its own), and they leave together as lovers, arm in arm. Just before they exit the stage, when the dance seems done, there is a moment so surprising and audacious that it stirs the purest delight. The pair sink side by side to one knee, rise slowly, move backward, then forward several paces; suddenly they arch their backs, lift one knee high and triumphant, and lunge into the wings, the dark, the future.

Mr. Morris is a fine poet when he wants to be. But then he relapses:

[M]any of us are counting the days till our grim ghost gets the boot. Until then, goodnight, delight. Sleep well and keep your beauty. Your time will come round again.

I have saved Mr. Morris’s piece for many years, and I can tell him that in spite of everything, delight is not sleeping. You may have to look around for it, though. I found “Goodnight, Delight” in a 3-ring binder of recipes, toward the back. I often save things I like among my recipes, because it’s a guaranteed way of not losing them entirely. I’ll be frantically looking for an old page ripped from Southern Living that has a recipe for cream cheese pie crust and catch sight of something else I’d thought worth saving. “Oh, look!” I think. “There’s that thing I liked.” It slows down progress in the kitchen, but gives me a pleasant little surprise, a flash of delight.

What delights me may not delight you, so I can’t draw up a list of things that are guaranteed to sweep your grim ghosts aside. I can only share those delightful bits and pieces that I have saved, such as the following piece entitled “Bloopers from Church Bulletins.” I have no idea where it came from, so can’t give credit (or assign blame) where it’s due. I think it’s nearly as delightful as Fred and Ginger, though a tad less elegant.

Bloopers from Church Bulletins

  • Scouts are saving aluminum cans, bottles, and other items to be recycled. Proceeds will be used to cripple children.
  • The outreach committee has enlisted 25 visitors to make calls on people who are not afflicted with any church.
  • Morning message: “Jesus Walks on Water.” Evening message: “Searching for Jesus.”
  • The Low Self-Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Please use the back door.
  • The third verse of “Blessed Assurance” will be sung without musical accomplishment.
  • For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.
  • Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our church and community.
  • The eighth-graders will be presenting Shakespeare’s Hamlet in the church basement on Friday at 7 p.m. The congregation is invited to attend this tragedy.
  • The concert held in Fellowship Hall was a great success. Special thanks are due to the minister’s daughter, who labored the whole evening at the piano, which as usual fell upon her.
  • 22 members were present at the church meeting held at the home of Mrs. Marsha Crutchfield last evening. Mrs. Crutchfield and Mrs. Rankin sang a duet, “The Lord Knows Why.”
  • Today’s Sermon: HOW MUCH CAN A MAN DRINK? with hymns from a full choir.
  • Hymn 43: “Great God, what do I see here?”
  • Potluck supper: prayer and medication to follow.
  • Pastor is on vacation. Massages can be given to church secretary.

Now go find your own delight.

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