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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Foxhole camaraderie and mid-night dealings

Steven Barkhimer
I’ve confessed elsewhere that I only began writing Windowmen because I needed some speakable dialogue for a playwriting class and had grown tired of some of my oh-so-original ideas for plays. So I decided to write down a few anecdotes about these guys I worked with at the Fulton Fish Market shortly after I graduated college. I was impressed not only by their dedication to the tough-guy persona, but by their awareness that it WAS a persona, one they relished and wore with gusto. They were self-consciously macho, blisteringly and relentlessly vulgar, fiercely funny, and displayed a kind of foxhole camaraderie amid the mad mid-night dealings that took place when the market was in full swing at 4 a.m. Most of all, however, I was impressed by their spontaneous and utterly immediate wit, making hilarious remarks and sometimes dangerous decisions that could never have been pre-planned. Thus, despite its being a fictional work, the best stuff in the play is stuff I could never have invented. I found myself laughing out loud as I wrote. 

These memories (and embellishments) could easily have remained a collection of anecdotes rather than a play. But since I wanted a play, I felt the need to start tweaking “facts” into something like a plot, condensing many characters into a few, telescoping timelines. It began to look like a “coming-of-age” story. I was appalled -- did we really need another story about a naïve youth coming face to face with the big bad world? And I realized: well, yes! That’s partially why we go to theatre – to continually ask one another about common experience: “Yeah, how’d it go for you?,” “What was it like when you first Found Out?,” and, of course, “What the hell did you Find Out? Anything?”

In a kind of refreshing shock, I considered that I DID really spend three years working there, a somewhat incongruous figure, being fresh out of college and “trained” in philosophy and mathematics. I was forced to ask myself: what was my “story” there? What happened with all that time? What am I to make of it? What, if anything, did I learn? 

And in the process of “fictionalizing” my experience and “creating” a narrative, I found that I was indeed giving shape and thus, if you will, “meaning” to a part of my life that very easily could have wound up being merely a series of anecdotes told as random and casual amusements at parties. I was in fact making something of it, going in search of what could very well be temps perdu. So, in following Socrates’ edict by refusing to let a whole chapter of my life go “unexamined,” I may have reclaimed some gold or even recognized it as such for the first time and finally staked my claim.

-- Steven Barkhimer, playwright

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