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Sunday, January 24, 1999
By Paul Ford
I met Sally Field, and found that she was mortal, and could not shoot laser beams from her eyes.
I'm drunk, so this might be a rough ride.
When you see Death of a Salesman, you cry if you are a young man, and you have a father, and you do not fully know him.
My friend took me to the play. He's famous--you've heard of him--so, as a consequence, we went backstage to meet his friend, Elizabeth Franz, who plays Willy Loman's wife Linda. She held my hand, and I told her how strong her performance was, that it had been real to me. I knew her from Minutes From the Blue Route, a play I had seen with my long-ago ex-girlfriend Rhonda. She was gracious, and still weeping from her final scene, the play's funereal ending following her to the dressing room. Outside the dressing room door were two photos hung together. Both were of Arthur Miller standing in front of a playbill; one was taken in 1949, and the second was taken in 1999, 50 years between, the face turned from smooth to craggy, the dented hat removed and replaced with thin white hair. Twenty minutes before, the dark theater had been filled with heavy breathing and weeping. Now I took her hand and she thanked me for my praise, a tradition going back before the Romans. The modern mystery play, with the mystery as the family.
But my father! Could I tell you who he was so that you would understand? Could I make a picture in the air as vivid as him, riding his bicycle, writing his experimental plays? I love my father, with ignorant worship. I cannot help it. I forgive his disappearances when I was young. I always hope to sit down and speak, speak across that generation like Arthur Miller across 50 years, and open my heart and tell him that I am hurting, that I am shaken and cold and that I know he was here before me, that he was alone and trekking across Korea before he was my age. I want his advice. Sometimes we hint, and I have learned that I love as he did, that I feel the same shocking numbness. He has maintained a cheerful distance; I was a third-person child. I know he loves me, but I think he didn't want to put me through the same pains. I understand, and now I want to listen, to hear his stories again and again, of his childhood, his successes as a playwrite.
Some of you have been reading for over a year. Did you know that my father was a playwrite, an experimental one, with a significant (albeit small) success, and that my mother was a professional puppeteer? Everything I have done I feel an audience. I was supposed to be a famous young writer by now, but I'm really only Paul. I dissapoint them in my crass commercialism, you know.
My father and I talk on the phone every week, wonderful conversations, easy discourse on movies and books, and always I want to say, "I love you." Sometimes I cry after getting off the phone, but rarely. Mostly it is simply nice.
While my friend and I were meeting Elizabeth Franz, a shoo-in for the Tony, a picture of grace, Sally Field appeared. Sally Field embraced Ms. Franz, complimented her. Then she shook my friend's hand, and then mine. "I'm Sally," she said.
"I'm Paul," I returned, and shook her tiny hand. She is a beautiful woman. But I was really thinking of my father.