I spent most of last week brushing up my Shakespeare. My friend, Tiffany, teaches highschool in Pasadena and hired me and another actor to perform two scenes from Julius Caesar, then discuss with the students the process of rehearsal, etc.
The two scenes we are to perform are between Brutus and Cassius, two senators deeply concerned over the prospect of Caesar becoming the sole ruler of Rome. One of the scenes we are performing (Act 1 Scene 2) is where Cassius – who clearly is against Caesar ruling Rome – appeals to Brutus to search within himself so that he may come to the same view…
Tell me, good Brutus, can you see your face?
No, Cassius, for the eye sees not itself,
But by reflection, by some other means.
And it is very much lamented, Brutus,
That you have no such mirrors as will turn
Your hidden worthiness into your eye,
That you might see your shadow.
Cassius’ curious talk both irritates and intrigues Brutus, and such inner turmoil lay at the heart of Brutus’ character. He is a man torn between love and loyalty toward friends (Caesar and Cassius) and for the good of Rome. He is a smart man, and senses a decision is coming, which pains him even more, because he also is a man who, upon making a decision, will see that decision to its end…
For let the gods so speed me as I love
The name of honour more than I fear death.
I know that virtue to be in you, Brutus,
As well as I do know your outward favor.
Indeed, Cassius knows Brutus inside and out, and subtly steers his appeal away from the good of Rome and toward men the likes of Brutus and himself, i.e. nobles who have a lot to lose should an Emperor arise to take hold of the nation…
Men at times are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Brutus and Caesar: what should be in that ‘Caesar’?
Why should that name be sounded more than yours?
Write them together, yours is as fair a name;
Sound them, it doth become the mouth as well;
Weigh them, it is as heavy; conjure with ’em,
Brutus will start a spirit as soon as Caesar.
Now, in the namess of all the gods at once,
Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed,
That he is grown so great?
Whether it was magical beef, magical pork or some kind of magical fowl, Shakespeare does not say. Beside’s it’s a moot point. Caesar was human, not divine, and no man should rule over all men. Brutus makes his decision, he will take part and execute Caesar for the good of Rome.
Brutus and Cassius and the other senators murder Caesar. Marc Antony whips the masses in a frenzy and soon the senators are fleeing, conniving and assembling whatever armies they can to battle Antony and young Octavius Caesar. In the end, Cassius and Brutus split, kill themselves, and Octavius becomes Emperor. After all that all that trouble, exactly what they didn’t want to happened, happened. And thus began about 500 years of Empire, from the seeds of deception, manipulation, murder.
“But come on,” said my roommate, the Great Warrior, “Rome didn’t fall, it just became the Holy Roman Empire. Empire has never ended, it’s just changes shape. Then it was the Spanish, then the French, the Brits and now us. But The Empire is still alive and well.”
During breaks from Shakespeare, I worked on my taxes, gathering receipts and check stubs, tallying up earnings and expenses, then entering them into computerland, eagerly awaiting for final number as if I were pumping a slot machine. Shit. I owed $257. I only made $10,000 last year, I thought, why the hell I gotta pay up?Even with the ‘poor man’s credit’? Oh, hell, render unto Caesar…
I e-filed and walked away. Whatever, I’m not ruled by money, so what… But seeing all my wages added up into such a small number played little tricks on my mind. Seems like I worked a lot harder to be categorized as poor. Am doing Life wrong, or something…
Thursday night I rehearsed a dance piece with my friend Rebeca. I don’t call myself a dancer, but I like to think I’m a good mover who can take direction. However, at the end of the evening, as we watched footage of our rehearsal – Rebeca records her rehearsals – instead of seeing the fluid, athletic and handsome adapter I thought I was, I saw a gangly fellow unsure of his movements – an alien from outer space, standing still as this graceful species of human who calls herself Re-be-ca performed some kind of ritual of communication around him. So.you.are.human, Re-be-ca? Take.me.to.your.ruler. My hair was long, I thought it gave me a wild, careless, rather dashing appeal. But it appeared just looked like messy hair, stringy. Re-be-ca…take.me.to.your.rul-
We don’t have rulers anymore, the graceful Rebeca replied, via telepathy, we have leaders that we vote for. We get a choice between two leaders. They say we can have more than two to choose from, but every election it’s two…
The first thing I did on Friday was get a haircut.
“How much you want cut off?” asked the haircut lady.
“A lot of it.”
She briskly ran the shears over my head. Hair fell onto the smock before me. There was more gray hair than the last time, just like the last time. Only $10,000 and all this gray hair…
“Thank you,” said the haircut lady, “come again.”
“I don’t know,” I says, “every time I come back there’s more gray hair on the floor.”
“Haha. Come again.”
I worked on the scenes from Julius Caesar until the late afternoon. Then I opened up Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses. If you haven’t read the book, or seen the movie, it’s about John Grady Cole and Rawlins, two teenage cowboys who cross the Rio Grande to find work in Mexico, in 1949. They hire on at a horse ranch where John Grady Cole falls in love with the rancher’s daughter, Alejandra. But soon after love blossoms, John Grady Cole and Rawlins are thrown in prison for stealing horses. That’s where I was in the story – around page 195 – where John Grady Cole pays a visit to Perez, the prisoner who is the unofficial ruler of prisoners, he who decides who lives or dies within the prison walls. Rawlins had just been stabbed and John Grady Cole wanted to know if he was alive, and if anything the same was going to happen to himself. But Perez just smiles, leans back in his chair, says…
You do me too much credit. There are three hundred men in this institution. No one can know what is possible.
To which John Grady Cole replies…
Somebody runs the show.
Perhaps. But this type of world, you see, this confinement. It gives a false impression. As if things are in control. If these men could be controlled they would not be here. You see the problem.
From outside my window came the voices of one of my neighbors and a man who I’d never heard before. They spoke in hushed tones, as if they were hiding. The man was speaking about work. He never said what kind of work, but from what I gathered, I’m guessing he worked in computer maintenance or distributed water-cooler bottles to offices about town.
“I like it,” the man answered, “I mean I like dealing with the customers. But my bosses? Shit no. And, you know, I don’t wanna know what the lives of the other employees, or about their families. And the bosses can’t make me do none of that. I just wanna work and my bosses can leave me alone.”
“That’s cool I guess,” said my neighbor.
Another neighbor turned on his stereo, turned it up loud, and set a Tejano song on repeat, like he usually does. Then he started shouting in a high-pitched tone, like he usually does.
“For f#$k sake,” said the IT or water-cooler man. “Calm down over there.”
But the neighbor kept whooping to the song. After the day had faded into evening, the song was still playing, the man still whooping, like he usually does.
By then I was on page 230, after John Grady Cole and Rawlins had been bribed out of jail by the Grand Aunt of Alejandra. John Grady Cole sends Rawlins to Texas on a bus, but he heads back to the ranch. When he gets there, he confronts the Grand Aunt, who stayed behind as if expecting him to return. She told him that Alejandra was in Mexico City and that he could never be with her, and goes on to say…
When I look at my grandniece I see a child. And yet I know very well who and what I was at her age. In a different life I could have been a soldadera. Perhaps she too. And I will never know what her life is. If there is a pattern there it will not shape itself to anything these eyes can recognize. Because the question for me was always whether that shape we see in our lives was there from the beginning or whether these random events are only called a pattern after the fact. Because otherwise we are nothing. Do you believe in fate?
The neighbor finally turned the off the stereo and quit whooping around 7pm, like he usually does. John Grady Cole took a moment to answer, finally saying that he does believe in fate. Over the next several pages, the Grand Aunt tells her personal story while intertwining it with Mexico’s. It’s a story of revolution in a time of high intellectualism and a determination to change the path of a people. But death, greed and deception flow throughs the story, crushing any idealism. She suffers much pain and sorrow in the story but the Grand Aunt speaks without sympathy for her or anybody, because…
There is no one to tell us what might have been. We weep over the might have been, but there is no might have been. There never was. It is supposed to be true that those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it. I don’t believe knowing can save us. What is constant in history is greed and foolishness and a love of blood and this is a thing that even God – who knows all that can be known – seems powerless to change.
I put the book down and went out to get some groceries. As I walked up Western Boulevard, I saw vague movements ahead of me on the dark sidewalk. I walked closer and noticed it was a skinny old black lady sitting on the sidewalk, legs stretched out before her like a child sitting in the middle of the flow at a daycare center. Several take-out boxes of food were spread out before her, along with her few belongings. She reached out at the air as if she was trying to pull the oncoming night toward her so she could wear it. Spit flew from her mouth as she vehemently hissed and babbled. Everyone on the sidewalk gave her plenty of room as they passed.
After I passed her, I realized it was March 15th. The Ides of March, 2070 years ago to the day that Caesar was stabbed to death by his senators. A sooth sayer on the street told Caesar to “beware the Ides of March” but Caesar wasn’t superstitious…
The last firery glow of the newly set sun was transponding some kind of desparate warning. I looked back at the skinny old black lady, but once again she was only silent, vague movements in the dark as Angelinos kept passing by her and forgetting her.I turned east and found the full moon hanging just above Hollywood Boulevard. It was staring straight at the dying light of the sun, grinning and shaking its head, almost laughing.