So the husband and I are working our way through a series of Coen Brothers' films. On Tuesday night we watched Barton Fink, and it took me a day or so to really process the kooky thing. But one performance haunts me now, and it's that of Judy Davis as Audrey Taylor, the Southern secretary to a famous Southern writer named W.P. Mayhew (loosely based on William Faulkner).
The film is set in 1941, so Audrey has fantastically feminine 1940s clothes. But she has the misfortune to be Mayhew's mistress as well as his secretary, and he's an abusive drunk. In one scene, Mayhew, having gotten drunk at a picnic lunch, slaps Audrey in front of Barton. Barton, the self-appointed playwright of "the common man", is furious. But Audrey tells Barton that she understands Mayhew and that Mayhew is a great man. He needs her and can't write without her. Blah, blah, blah. Emotionally abused women tend to talk like that.
Now Barton is having a terrible time with writer's block and loneliness. He calls up Audrey, one of the only nice people he knows in Hollywood, and begs her to come over. He sounds insane. And probably because he sounds insane, Audrey comes over. She says she'll help him with the film script he has to write; she does it all the time "for Bill".
It turns out that Audrey more-or-less writes all of Mayhew's film scripts. And Barton, who is a huge Mayhew fan, is suddenly horrified when he realizes that Audrey might have been writing Mayhew's books, too. After much hemming and hawing and pleas for understanding Audrey admits it. Barton goes ballistic. And then they go to bed and— . Well, anyway, things don't end well for Audrey.
It was a day before I remembered the Episode of the Essay. Dear me, what are the statutes of limitation on a high school essay? Twenty years? Thirty? It was definitely over twenty-five years ago.
I had a big crush on a boy in high school. A huge crush. And this boy was not into me at all. I didn't understand why not when I was so smart. We would have long intellectual arguments in which I would defeat him and he would curse me out for a feminist. At the time I thought intellectual victories were a way to win a man's love. (Ah, ha ha ha. Well, I was a teenager, what do you want? Men in the movies love sparky women who best them in arguments.)
Our friends knew I had a crush on him, and he probably did too. And one day he called me up, frantic, because he had an essay due and he hadn't started yet. I talked him through the planning of this essay. I asked him about the books. I asked him about his thesis, his arguments, his conclusion.
"Can't you just write it for me?" he whined.
"No, I can't just write it for you," I said, although thrilled above all else that HE NEEDED ME, me and me alone. "But come over here and I'll see what I can do."
So he came over with his books and his miserable notes, and I got out a sheaf of typewriting paper and turned my typewriter on. (These were still typewriting days, you see.) And we wrote the darned essay "together".
Afterwards, I was disgusted by the whole thing. We went to two different schools, so there was no way I was going to get into trouble. It's not like my crush object was going to confess. But I knew I had done something very wrong, and I knew my crush object had behaved shamefully. It's not pleasant, having a crush on somebody like that.
And, of course, I had my reward. The crush object was sounding off one day to a female friend of mine about what a gentleman he was and how he always treated girls well.
"Well, what about Seraphic?" she said.
"What about her?" he said.
(I was in the room, by the way.)
"She's a girl, and you don't treat her well."
My crush object clicked his tongue.
"She's not a girl girl," he said, and his words went into me like bullets. They lodged in my brain. When, ten years later, my therapist remarked that I was a very feminine woman, I was startled. I said, "What?" I was probably wearing my blue-and-black mediaeval goth top and ankle-length black velvet goth skirt at the time. And I was, in fact, a very feminine woman. But this fact had been completely obscured for me by a teenage boy--one who got nice girls to do his laundry at university--who couldn't have given a damn.
And so I'll augment what I said to Modest Millie, girls: not only don't bake them brownies, don't do their homework, either. If you let boys take advantage, they surely will. And you won't have just them to blame.
Update: And here's something else for Singles at my other blog.