The Elegance of the Futile
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I don’t know about you, but here in L.A., I try hard to repress my inner Don Quixote.
You remember the Don. He reads one too many tales about chivalrous knights, then heads out to do doughty deeds. He encounters windmills and thinks they’re evil giants. He tries to be noble, and ends up creating…disasters.
Who knows, maybe you are a local Don Quixote. A young writer even now beating a delicate screenplay against the heavy door of a producer. A producer blowing a fortune on something beautiful and obscure. Maybe you’re my office mate, the one who frequently argues with the boss about “fairness.” My neighbor who makes me sign all those petitions.
I do understand the urge.
Some trick of light between the mountains and the sea causes most Angelenos to oscillate between the wildly practical and the foolishly…ideal.
That’s why the Urban Man urges his friends not to listen to too many after-dinner speeches by ex-football coaches. And although I too watch lots of films in which the hero jumps off the roof of a moving train or otherwise throws away all logic in the name of principle—I remind myself that such films are made by cynical investors.
I also avoid that song…you know the one:
To dream the impossible dream,
To fight the unbeatable foe…
That song comes from the old Broadway version of Don Quixote called “Man of La Mancha”— hokey, but who knows how many otherwise happy Midwesterners it has lured to the city of dreams.
And I wonder if, having heard that song as a child, it somehow contributed to my own local lost causes: That little newspaper. That doomed nonprofit.
I mean, this town loves its Don Quixotes, but it prefers a healthy bottom line.
I bring this up because tonight I’ve made the mistake of taking my kids to see “Man of La Mancha.” It’s playing at that most Quixotic of local theaters, called “A Noise Within,” a stage in Glendale devoted only to exquisite productions of the classics. Leading man Geoff Elliott knows how to bring out the genuine Cervantes even in a musical, and he does find the fearful tragedy in the Don.
Still, when that evil song comes around, I find myself glancing fitfully at my offspring: The 16-year-old who threatens to save the world. The 12-year-old looking to publish. The 19-year-old already peddling a manuscript around town.
And yes, in the darkened theater, I am terrified to see their eyes glow. In fact, as “The Impossible Dream” climaxes, there’s not a dry eye in the house. Everyone recalls a thousand speeches by ex-football coaches about “righting the unrightable wrong” and “running where the brave dare not go”—everyone except me, who’s waiting for the next part of the story, when the Don’s good intentions get him beat up. When his closest companions get trounced by his illusions.
At least, I think, Cervantes presented an evenhanded view of high ideals.
As the lights come up, I nervously ask my eldest what he thought of the play.
He says, “I loved it, Dad. It’s about the elegance of the futile.”
I consider this phrase with some care, but when I ask him to repeat it, I still can’t hear whether he’s putting the emphasis on the word “futile” or on the word “elegance.”
As future Angelenos, I think my kids need to get that emphasis clear, and I consider telling them how much I sacrificed to my inner Quixote over the years. I consider suggesting that it’s the level-headed, bottom-line folks who generally find happiness in this town.
But in the end I just smile and nod.
I mean, who’s the Urban Man to fight the Don himself?
Copyright © 2007 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
Image credit: Octavio Ocampo
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