I love a good line — no matter where it’s placed in a piece of writing, a good line is a good line. I have more than a few knocking around my already overcrowded brain on any given day. It occurs to me from time to time that one of them might just be my last line. This thought troubles me.
I have previously discussed with you how much I love the opening sentence from A Prayer for Owen Meany*. It is seared into the recesses of my memory — so much so that I have a real fear that somewhere down the line, if I’m not run over by a truck or felled by a falling light pole, as I’m languishing in a second-rate nursing facility — a result, no doubt, of my family’s penchant for the finer things in life, like organic eggs and fancy crackers — that I may lose the ability to recognize the important people in my life — the ones who spent my nursing home money on swanky cheeses — but I’ll never forget that line. I’ll be mumbling it as some stranger wipes drool from the corners of my mouth. She won’t know me that well and there’s an outside chance that I haven’t been all that nice to her. Unless this person is a fan of great literature AND speaks English — and, really, what are the odds that my drool-wiper, as I’ve come to think of her, will possess either of those qualities? — she will probably just roll her eyes and think, “Well, this crazy bitch has finally found God — and not a minute too soon!”
I’ve decided that if my last words can’t be “I love you” or, at least, “Who are you?”, that I could do worse than that sentence. What worries me most is that I could pluck another line from deep inside my brain — and I fret that it won’t be one of the Shakespearean soliloquoys that I’m so fond of, like the St. Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V or Marc Antony eulogizing Caesar in Julius Caesar. It won’t even be something more mundane, but just as moving, like the opening line from Love Story — the one where Oliver, in attempting to describe Jenny, points out that “she loved Bach, Beethoven, and me”.
I shudder to think that the line that I will remember might be the one from a Susan Isaacs’ novel —I long ago forgot the name of the book — but the line is this: “And then I saw something I had never seen before: a maroon suit.” That line has stuck around for years and bangs around my head a lot. I think it whenever I see someone in a head-scratching get-up — it doesn’t even have to be maroon. I rarely say it out loud. Because it’s not funny unless you know the context — I suspect that there may only be two people in the world who remember the context — me and Ms. Isaacs. In a nutshell, the main character, while at a crime scene, rather than taking note of the more important things that she is being shown, becomes bogged down by the clothing choice of the detective in charge of the case. I’ve always admired the line because it’s well-crafted. It demonstrates to the reader exactly who these characters are — and it does so with an economy of words. And it made me laugh. Still does.
There’s another line that always makes me chuckle. It’s not from a book or a play. It’s from a sitcom. And, no, it’s not one of those lines from Seinfeld that everyone and their mother knows. It’s not “There was an incident” or “And you want to be my butler?” or even, “Yes. They’re real. And they’re magnificent”. Nope. It’s from a show that starred Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton. They were newscasters, I think. I don’t remember the name of the show. It was short-lived, that much I do remember. Suffice it to say, it was no Frasier. Some writer, though, gave Mr. Grammer one very memorable line: “And so, the bloodiest day in fish history finally came to a close.”
If any line needs context, it’s that one. In a series of scenes that are reminiscent of that episode of Frasier where, as the action opens, Niles attempts to cut a loose string from his cuff button — it ends with him falling to the floor in a faint — what has ensued in the interim is David Hyde-Pierce at his comic best — there is no dialogue at all, just him doing a series of things to a dress shirt. It’s one of the funniest sitcom scenes ever written OR acted. The “fish scenes” from this other sitcom remind me of that “Niles” scene — more madcap and frenetic, perhaps, but they share a tone.
The episode is told in flashback fashion. Essentially, Kelsey Grammer’s daughter has entrusted him with her fish. Of course he kills the fish. He sends his hapless assistant out to buy a new fish. Each time a fish is procured, said fish suffers an untimely and unlikely death. At the end of the episode he discovers what the audience has known all along — that his daughter could have cared less about the fish — but the antics of all involved set up the line that I love. And, of course, Mr. Grammer delivers it perfectly.
I won’t pretend to have Kelsey Grammer’s gift for comedy, but I do say that line a lot. I usually just paraphrase it to suit my needs. Getting it right doesn’t matter anyway, none of my co-workers have ever heard the line anyway — nor have any of them ever asked me about it — probably out of fear that I’d tell them. At the end of a long shift, it often feels appropriate to end with, “Toodle-oo everyone, I’m happy to report that the bloodiest day in fish history has finally come to a close!”
While it’s a great line for the end of a rough day, I don’t think I’d want it to be my actual final line. I have to wonder, though, if my drool-wiper might be inclined to disagree.
*For those of you who don’t have a copy of A Prayer for Owen Meany handy — here is the opening line that I love so very much!
I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice — not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God — I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.
photo credit: old woman