[Play] The Banquet and the Bouquet • Wayne Koestenbaum

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NICOLAS CAGE:  Glad to be seated beside you at this banquet, Miss Lupino.  My name is Nicolas Coppola.  Later I will take on the stage name “Nicolas Cage,” but that transition lies in my future.

IDA LUPINO:  Refresh my water, please.

NC:  There’s no water at this banquet.

IL:  Why do you take an interest in me?

NC:  My cousins tell me I’m handsome for my age.

IL:  Does the bouquet of flowers you’re holding have any bearing on your future fame?  

(Nicolas hands Ida the flowers.  She hurls them over her right shoulder, in an apparent fit of rage.  Nicolas begins to tremble, but quickly recovers composure.)

NC:  Is the tossed bouquet of flowers my nobody status?

IL:  I’m the guest of honor tonight.

NC:  What are you being honored for?

IL:  Indifference.

NC:  Indifference to your fame?

IL:  Indifference to vicissitudes.

NC:  I feel a vicissitude rising in my stomach.

IL:  Breathe deeply and the vicissitude will go away.

NC:  I’m not a virgin.

IL:  I can tell from your demeanor and your outfit.

NC:  The open collar?  The short sleeves?

IL:  Your closed eyes indicate a certain reluctance to return to the sexual arena you entered for the first time only a few weeks ago.

NC:  I believe in the sanctity of the marital bond.

IL:  That’s a fashionable stance, but not one that you’ll be able to stick to, in the coming years of political foment.

NC:  Sometimes a star—and I include myself, prematurely, in that category—approaches politics from an obtuse angle.

IL:  Your closed eyes indicate obtuseness.  As do your chapped, rosy lips.

NC:  Funny, how lips get rosy when they have kissed too harshly, too obtusely.

IL:  Have you been kissing anyone at this banquet, perhaps in the cocktail lounge?

NC:  My lips get red because of my political obsessions.  And my hormones.  I have too many hormones, the family doctor tells me, and I might need to get my blood drained.  

IL:  Puberty is a tough time for a scion.

NC:  Do you remember your puberty, Miss Lupino?

IL:  I memorialized it in some of my directorial efforts, but, as you would say, obtusely.

NC:  If I were to kiss you now, would you call the kiss obtuse and thereby forgive its possible inappropriateness?

IL:  When Miss Garland sang “The Man That Got Away,” she gave uncanny emphasis to the phrase “there’s just no let-up.”  I never understood what she meant by “let-up.”

NC:  She was referring to inner torment, the kind of unrest that earlier you called “vicissitudes.”

IL:  It doesn’t surprise me, that Miss Garland had a nervous stomach.

NC:  More hormonal than gastric were her vicissitudes, I’d wager.

IL: “Let-up,” or “no let-up,” might refer to the relentlessness of the world’s spinning.  

NC:  There’s no let-up to the spinning, like an amusement-park Gravitron, I think it’s called, one of those horrifying machines that shakes up your innards, and you pretend that being shaken up is paradise.

(Ida turns around to look at the flowers scattered on the floor behind her.)

IL:  Would you like me to retrieve the flowers I rudely tossed?

NC:  Maybe it’s the punch I’m drinking, or maybe it’s these new vicissitudes you’re teaching me about, but I want to turn away from the fame that my drama teacher told me I was headed toward.

IL:  That reminds me of Cloris Leachman in Kiss Me Deadly.

NC:  Do I seem like a dazed woman stranded on a night road?

IL:  A dazed boy, stranded within your attraction to me, or your attraction to my indifference.

NC:  I dreamt last night that a great star touched my butt, but the great star thought she was touching a woman’s butt, not a young man’s.

IL:  Was I the star touching your butt in the dream?

NC:  I’m not sure who the star was.  The butt, however, was no longer a boy’s.  It was a girl’s.  A young woman’s.  And the star was touching it, asking questions of it.

IL:  Making demands?

NC:  No.  Simple factual questions.  As if about rhymes, like asking whether “skate” and “berate” belonged together or should be placed in separate bins.

IL:  So, it was a dream about pairings.  

NC:  Yes.  My butt paired with a girl I might become or might have been.  The star’s hand, paired with my hairless posterior, newly a girl’s.

(Ida Lupino rises from her chair at the banquet table and bends down to pick up the flowers and petals on the floor.)

IL:  You’ll be happy to learn that some of the flowers are intact, no thanks to my hasty enactment of vicissitude.

(She attempts to assemble the flowers and the stray petals into a semblance of the former bouquet, and hands it to Nicolas Cage, who stands and gives a mock bow.  They both sit down again.)

NC:  I want to give you a kiss that’s independent of hormones, a kiss connected to the dream of my buttocks being potentially a girl’s.

IL:   The girlishness of your buttocks, and the specter of your future fame, are twinned.

NC:  Yes.  Like “skate” and “berate.”

IL:  Do you consider me a star who berates?

NC:  Every star berates.  

IL:  You’re a blend of the hormonal and the anti-hormonal.

NC:  Do you see me as a refugee hiding in a prelapsarian world between the hormonal and anti-hormonal, a space without wind or strain or vicissitude?

IL:  Our small talk doesn’t impinge on my abstention from humankind and its follicular traffic.

(Nicolas gives the bouquet back to Ida Lupino.)

NC:  Now you’re holding the remembered bouquet, not yet harmed.

IL:  This time, shall I accept it, or would you like to see a rerun of the vicissitude?

NC:  The vicissitude was dramatic, and kind of exciting.

(Ida Lupino reaches to the floor and picks up her pocketbook.  She snaps it open.  The pocketbook is large enough to accommodate the bouquet, though she needs to fold the stems first.)

IL:   No more vicissitude.  The bouquet will come home with me.

NC:  Does the acceptance of my bouquet include the acceptance of a kiss?

IL:  It’s not really your bouquet.  You borrowed it, or stole it, from the table, in what might have been a fit of drunkenness, or a moment of gastric distress.

NC:  A confused moment, yes, when I forgot the difference between collective and private property.

IL:  That’s part of your idealism, part of your citizenship in the country of the neither-nor.

NC:  My theft of the bouquet was part of my skate-berate maybe-girl maybe-boy buttocks?

IL:  Yes, your theft was part of your abstention from hormones and from anti-hormones.

NC:  And yet I seem to be the victim of hormones.

IL:  As, in my way, am I.  A victim.  Of hormones and of other horrors, some of them Hollywood in nature.

NC:  It doesn’t feel like 1978.

IL:  What year does it seem?

NC:  1939.

(Ida Lupino reaches into her purse and takes out a water pistol.  She hands it to Nicolas Cage.)

IL:  I’d intended to give this water pistol to my godchild, but you seem more in want of a water pistol than he is.

NC:  Does it contain water already, or do I need to fill it before shooting?

IL:  I drained it before putting it in my pocketbook.

NC:  Do you think I could put a liquid other than water in it?

IL:  Use it to conquer vicissitude, or to signal your willingness for vicissitude to approach.

NC:  It could be my welcome wagon for vicissitude.  (Pause.)  I’m going to the men’s room now, to fill my vicissitude-harbinger with water from the sink.

IL:  On your way to the men’s room, do you mind buying me a pack of Lucky Strikes from the cigarette vending machine?

NC:  I may not return from the men’s room.  I may need to leave the banquet hall altogether, and go on a spree of vicissitude-seeking, vicissitude-greeting.

IL:  Our work together is finished.  I have nothing more to give you.

NC:  The buttocks, girl’s or boy’s, mine or ours, might have to remain in the realm of dream.

(Nicolas Cage reaches into his front pocket and takes out a cloth tape-measure, which he unspools, and then gathers back into its tight coil.  He hands it to Ida.)

NC:  For you, Miss Lupino, this spooling indicator.

IL:  I’ve always wanted a tape measure.  I find myself in the dark about proportions.

NC:  This way you can be certain about what’s an abyss and what’s just a regular approachable hand-held vicissitude.

IL:  If only I’d had a tape measure when I was starting out in Hollywood.

NC:  Now, with this tape measure, you’ll know the size of the future.

IL:  I’m rather dizzy from our protracted conversation.  I need to leave now and lie down in my hotel room.

NC:  May I join you?

IL:  Not in my hotel room.  But you may ride with me in the limo.

NC:  I’ll sit in front with the driver, so you can lie down on the back seat and overcome your dizziness.

IL:  That’s OK.  I can wait until I get to my hotel room to conquer my dizziness.  In the limo, we can continue to chat about vicissitudes and measurements.

NC:  And will you teach me how to recognize a vicissitude when it’s approaching?  

IL:  Each instance of the dismal has its own peculiarities.

(The lights in the banquet hall flash on and off and on and off three times.)

A VOICE ON THE LOUDSPEAKER:   The banquet hall is closing in fifteen minutes.  Please finish your meal and your conversation.  Claim your belongings before you exit.

NC:  I’m afraid of getting locked in here.  But I’m also afraid of the outside world.

IL:  There’s still time for you to go to the men’s room, fill up your water pistol, and buy me a pack of Lucky Strikes.

NC:  I’ll just be a minute!

(Nicolas Cage rushes off, with the quickness and sprightliness of Dennis the Menace.)

(Ida Lupino opens her purse, puts the tape measure inside, takes out a compact mirror, fixes her makeup, puts the regalia back inside the purse, and snaps it shut.  She looks around furtively and nervously, as if afraid of being detected in the act of escape.  She rushes off, with a sense of panic and triumph.)

(Nicolas Cage returns to the table.  He is holding the filled water-pistol.  When he sees that Ida Lupino is gone, he shoots the pistol in the air above him, and closes his eyes, and seems delighted as the water comes showering down upon him.  Eyes closed, he keeps spraying water up in the air.)

NC:  I think I’ll drown my book.  Or else I’ll drown my outfit.  No more vicissitudes for me.  No more hormones, except on my own terms.  Hormones or anti-hormones only when I want them and how I want them.  

(He opens his eyes.)

I’d better hurry to the hardware store before it closes.  I don’t want to be caught empty-handed when night falls, and the need for assessment and augury-detection begins.  Without a tape-measure, I won’t know the size of my agony, or the size of my potential happiness.  This is exactly the extremity that Ida Lupino warned me about.  I don’t need her water pistol.  I’m going to let the water pistol just sit and rot on the banquet table, until some other gullible fellow comes to claim it.  But first I’ll write Ida Lupino’s name on the tablecloth, so the next pilgrim can know that this pistol was Ida’s property.  

(He takes out a Sharpie from his pocket and writes on the tablecloth, with flamboyant large strokes, “Ida Lupino.”)

NC:  I’ve signed my first autograph.  

(At the door, just as he is about to exit, he falls down in a faint.  A banquet-hall attendant appears.  The attendant repeatedly slaps Nicolas Cage’s face.)

ATTENDANT:  Wake up, wake up!

(Nicolas Cage opens his eyes.)

NC:  Miss Lupino?

ATTENDANT:  If that’s what you want, yes.

NC:  I need to go back to the table.  I left behind your water pistol, your gift.

ATTENDANT:  Shall we?  

(The attendant helps Nicolas Cage to his feet and leads the unsteady young man to the table.  Nicolas picks up the pistol.  He shoots the attendant in the face with a gust of water.)

ATTENDANT:  I’m calling the police.

(The attendant begins to drag Nicolas by the arm toward the exit.)

NC:  Miss Lupino, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, the world is ending, I regret my buttocks and their reappearance, I regret my lost tape-measure, I regret not giving you five more gifts, I regret not learning how to greet vicissitudes, I regret my name, I regret that I forgot to buy you a pack of Lucky Strikes.

ATTENDANT:  The authorities will know how to answer your questions.  The authorities will teach you about your buttocks and your tape-measure and the five gifts not bestowed.  

NC:  The beautiful thing about this moment, Miss Lupino, is that you and the authorities are coinciding, at last, with a cosmic finality.  I don’t have to regret that you might not be an authority.  I don’t have to regret my hormones, mine and ours, their absence or overabundance.

ATTENDANT:  The authorities will teach you about your hormones. 

(A song, almost inaudible, plays over the loudspeaker.)

NC:  What’s that song?

ATTENDANT:  A Barry Manilow cover of Schubert’s “The Wanderer.”  We always play it at closing time.  My mother used to sing that song to me when I was recovering from polio.

NC: “And my sighs forever ask, Where?”

ATTENDANT:  A truly painful level of sense-deprivation and isolation is about to begin.

NC:  I’m not afraid of rules.  I’m not afraid of memorization.  I’m not afraid of being destroyed by armies.  I’m not afraid of losing forever the flowers I seem to be holding.  

(The attendant brings out from an overcoat pocket a pair of toy handcuffs, and places them around Nicolas Cage’s wrists.)

NC:  I’ll buy myself a new tape measure.  I want to measure this terrifying episode and see if it is gargantuan.  Miss Lupino, I see vistas opening.  Continents, oceans, hemispheres.  Is this Götterdämmerung, or an episode of Gunsmoke?

ATTENDANT:  Am I supposed to know the difference?  

NC:  One last question before we depart for the police station.  For what deed or role are you being honored tonight, Miss Lupino?

(The Attendant kisses Nicolas Cage on the lips.  Cage accepts the kiss.  At that exact moment, Ida Lupino re-enters the banquet hall.)

IL:  I told the limo driver to turn around.  

(The Attendant, as if afraid of offending Ida Lupino, quickly unlocks the toy handcuffs.)

IL:  I had second thoughts about the water pistol.  I’d like to keep it.

NC:  Miss Lupino, for a moment I was profoundly confused about the nature of my identity, and of yours, but a sudden normality washes over me now, like a Malibu wave near my house, a wave that almost drowned me when I was a kid.  That was the first time I encountered the violence of nature.

(Ida turns to the Attendant.)

IL:  You’re welcome to close up the hall and go home.  Just leave the front door ajar.  We’ll lock it on our way out.  Mr. Cage and I still have uncrossed thresholds to discuss and to ignore.

ATTENDANT:  Take your time, Miss Lupino.  I’ll sit on the stoop outside and wait until you and the young man finish your discussion.  This banquet hall is internationally known for its commitment to complete disclosure, without intrusiveness or preconceptions.

(The Attendant exits.)

IL:  Let us go now in the limo to our next banquet.

NC:  Is the next banquet nearby, or will it be a depressingly long drive?

IL:  The next banquet’s location I will leave up to the limo driver.

NC:  The driver can always be trusted.

IL:  My driver is like a nurse with a lifetime’s supply of morphine.

NC:  Morphine in the form of maps to nearby banquets?

IL:  At the next banquet, you might meet an important agent.

NC:  When I first saw Road House, and heard you sing, I learned the value of understatement.

IL:  “Again.  This couldn’t happen again.”

NC:  Again, the banquet.  Again, the water pistol.  Again, the bouquet.

IL:  I have buttocks, too, but they’re not subject to your dream’s authority.  

(Ida Lupino kisses Nicolas Cage on the lips.  He accepts the kiss.)

NC:  Never again?

IL:  Never.  Our work henceforth will consist in learning how to deprive ourselves of stimulation.

NC:  That’s how the story ends, I’ve heard, with a state of zero stimulation.

IL:  Goodbye, banquet hall where I was briefly and insufficiently honored.

NC:  Onward to the next banquet.

IL:  Onward to Charon, my cavalier servente.

NC:  You kissed me, earlier, when I was handcuffed.  And now you kissed me again.

IL:  I don’t remember the handcuffs.

NC:  That doesn’t matter.  By the time I make my first movie, I plan to forget everything.

IL:  That’s what I meant by hormones.  This circle we’re trapped inside.  

NC:  I’m hungry.  Before we go to the next banquet, let’s ask the limo driver to stop at The Blue Room, and we can each have a plate of spaghetti.

IL:  It’s possible for dismal patterns to transmogrify into startingly optimistic detours.

NC:  As you command.

IL:  As the vicissitudes require.

NC:  Is it time for the handcuffs?

IL:  My pocketbook contains multitudes, but not handcuffs.  There are limits to my largesse.

(Nicolas Cage meekly follows Ida Lupino out of the banquet hall as the lights fall.)

Wayne Koestenbaum—poet, critic, novelist, artist, performer—has published twenty books, including Figure It Out, Camp Marmalade, My 1980s & Other Essays, The Anatomy of Harpo Marx, Humiliation, Hotel Theory, Circus, Andy Warhol, Jackie Under My Skin, and The Queen’s Throat (nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award).  In 2020 he received an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature.  His first collection of short fiction, The Cheerful Scapegoat, will be published in March 2021 by Semiotext(e).  His literary archive is at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. He is a Distinguished Professor of English, French, and Comparative Literature at the City University of New York Graduate Center.  

Author photo by Ebru Yildiz

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