The Great Expectations Of Judy BrownFriday, February 11, 2011
Neither life nor happiness can be achieved by the pursuit of irrational whims. Just as man is free to attempt to survive by any random means, as a parasite, a moocher or a looter, but not free to succeed at it beyond the range of the moment - so he is free to seek his happiness in any irrational fraud, any whim, any delusion, any mindless escape from reality, but not free to succeed at it beyond the range of the moment nor to escape the consequences.
Ayn Rand – The Virtue of Selfishness
In 1964 I was madly in love with a 5ft tall reddish blonde girl from California called Judy Brown. Her ancillary claim to fame was that her father often played tennis with Charles M. Schulz.
It was tonight when Rosemary, Rebecca and I went to the Gateway Theatre production of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations (adapted to the stage by Vancouver’s own Errol Durbach) that I finally figured it all out.
I had met Judy Brown at the University of the Americas by way of my friend Robert Hijar who was studying fine arts while I was attempting to figure out the difference between resistance, capacitance and induction. Hijar was in the art department and girls (as we called them then without any guilt) gravitated to him perhaps because of the exotic smell of Liquitex.
Robert, Judy and I would go to Jazz Mondays at the Benjamin Franklin Library (it was run by the USIS). The three of us would listen to Gerry Mulligan and Lenny Tristano. Robert would sketch cars that resembled (how did he know then?) shoes while I sipped on my strong Nescafé and stared at Judy who I thought was as lovely as a woman could possibly be. She might have been reading Salinger, but I am not that sure.
Behind us were (they were there almost every Monday) a couple of Mexican gentlemen who always seemed to wear pastel colour shirts. They looked queer and I suspect that by being so obvious they could practice their trade of spies for the US Government unimpeded. Reason compels me to believe they may have simply been Mexicans, who like us, liked jazz.
Mondays at the Benjamin Franklin Library were followed by frequent visits to our Filipino Doctora who worked for the United Nations. We would go to her apartment on Tamaulipas Street and played mah-jong while eating Filipino food.
The first time I showed up with Judy Brown in tow everybody who knew me was astounded. Up until that time I had never ever showed any outward desire for women. Word quickly spread and when my mother who was teaching at an American school in Veracruz found out she invited me immediately to visit with the new girlfriend.
This I did and I remember the pleasant night trip (there were others) on an ADO (Autobuses de Oriente) bus to Veracruz. I would lay my head on Judy Brown’s lap. She was reluctant. She kept telling me she had a boyfriend in California called Allan. She did not speak much of him, but just enough to unsettle me.
It was on that first bus ride that she unleashed on me her belief that we humans were inherently selfish. Even dying for someone else, the supreme sacrifice I thought, was instigated by the sacrificer/hero’s desire for personal pleasure and happiness. No matter how hard I tried Judy Brown was adamant. She kept quoting a woman called Ayn Rand I had never heard of.
This “relationship” dragged on and one day Judy Brown told me that she did not have the capacity to love anybody because she rejected it as just another manifestation of her selfishness. How Judy Brown disappeared from my life I cannot remember to this day. I sometimes wonder if she allowed herself to be latched on to me so that she could go to beach in Veracruz or to practice her Spanish.
While as a young boy I had met my first Estella (Isabel Opisso) who was an icy and haughty Castilian Filipina in a suburb of Buenos Aires called Anchorena I had not realized yet the power of the icy woman who ignores all (or at least this one) men. I was around 6. It took two or three more years before I read Great Expectations and fell in love with Estella who even then looked exactly as that Isabel I had met a couple of years before.
To prepare Rebecca for tonight’s performance we watched the David Lean Great Expectations with Jean Simmons as the young Estella. She liked the film and insisted we got back to the part where Jean Simmons allows the young Pip to kiss her and later when she slaps him. After the second viewing Rebecca asked me, “Why is it that boys fall for women who are cold and torture them?” I could not answer but to say, “Men like women who are hard to get.”
After the first act it seems that during the interval Rebecca and I had an altercation. She raised her voice and told me I was selfish. At that point I lost my temper and gave her the Judy Brown spiel on how we are always selfish even when we think we are not. I told her that I was tired of being called selfish by a young girl seeing that I was her grandfather. We patched up.
It all came back today after a pleasant afternoon of Toy Story 3. The word selfish was used again.
But I understand a bit more this time around. I get it thanks to Mia Ingimundson’s icy but paradoxically understanding performance. I could sense some humanity and sadness at her inability to understand love and to give it back when faced with it.
Even though I may be Rebecca’s grandfather, could it be that Dickens may have had it right and that there is something of Estella in all women in much the same way that we men must be Pip, too?
Addendum: For those who might be curious about the photographs. I used a Pentacon F with 50mm f:2.8 Tessar and a 85mm Komura f:1.8. The film was Agfa Isopan Record pushed to 1250 ASA and processed in Agfa Atomal New. The light was the single candle.