Harold Who? An Ode to Pinter in One Act. By Alexander Zaitchik
am currently traveling in a part of the world populated
by brown natives and British, Israeli and European tourists.
Thatís it. There are no Americans, which makes me a sort
of roving ambassador/shit sweeper. It is my daily duty to
remind locals and fellow travelers that not every U.S. citizen
believes in Jesus Christ Our Lord Our Savior, that New York
is not near New Orleans, and that Bushís numbers are currently
in the toilet. Itís also my responsibility not to sound
stupid and oafish. This last part is the hardest.
when Harold Pinter won the Nobel Prize for letters last
week, panic ensued. Not in the streets and cafes of West
London, just in my head. Itís one thing when a young Nepalese
or Congolese novelist wins the Nobel and you canít think
of a single one of their books. But when the laureate writes
(and directs) in English and is roughly the same age as
Norman Mailer, anyone with private pretensions of any size
will panic at drawing a Nobel-sized blank. Especially when
surrounded by Commonwealth types who already suspect youíre
just another Innocent Abroad.
week I drew a blank.
stave off the panic, I riffed on Harold Pinterís name, trying
to jog some dusty bit of knowledge loose through word association.
Harold Wilson: the Labour Prime Minister during the
1960s. Punter: what Brits call weasely assholes.
Pint: the unit by which they mete out beer.
the words slowly came into focus: The Party. The
title turned up in a dusty mental file marked ďPinter, HaroldóUK,
plays, postwar.Ē That one title was enough for me. I relaxed.
I had me some culture, after all.
Wikepedia entry later informed me that the play is actually
called The Birthday Party, but I gave myself partial
credit. I had read the play, or at least some of it, in
college. About The Birthday Party I remember almost
nothing. I have only a vague recollection of a nude woman
driving a car on stage, but itís possible this image is
from one of the other plays in that book, a 60s-era paperback
entitled, The Birthday Party and Other Plays, or
something like that.
like the rest of America, I know fuck all about the works
of this Nobel winning British playwright. Like most Americans,
what I do know about him has nothing to do with his art.
I know only that he opposed the war in Iraq in bright colors,
has long been a critic of American foreign policy, hates
the Bushies big-time, and hates Tony Blair bigger-time.
How much does Harold Pinter hate them? Even if he were an
unpublished playwright, Pinter the polemicist might still
have gone down in history for a world record in blistering
high-mode anti-war cant. He has, since the war, put into
print some of the most vicious Bush attacks since Hunter
S. Thompson suggested that the entire presidential family
be boiled alive in a vat of bubbling poison. Pinterís op-eds
are the British text equivalent of Steve Bellís monkey and
poodle caricatures in the Guardian.
attacks on the UK-US leadership are not always original,
but they have been athletically sustained over the last
couple of years, even as he battles lung cancer at 75. Consider
this heartfelt tirade delivered in the House of Commons
on the eve of war, 2003:†
of the more nauseating images of the year 2002 is that
of our Prime Minister kneeling in the church on Christmas
Day praying for peace on earth and good will towards all
men while simultaneously preparing to assist in the murder
of thousands of totally innocent people in Iraq.
been taken to task recently by the American Ambassador
to Britain for calling the US Administration a blood thirsty
wild animal. All I can say is: take a look at Donald Rumsfeldís
face and the case is made.
I believe that not only is this contemplated act criminal, malevolent
and barbaric, it also contains within itself a palpable
joy in destruction. Power, as has often been remarked,
is the great aphrodisiac, and so, it would seem, is the
death of others.
think itís fair to say that the Nobel committee isnít that
worried about regaining the confidence of conservative critics
who say the Literature prize has been hopelessly compromised
by the selection of outspoken lefty critics of the Iraq
war (i.e., Gunter Grass). Pinter is about as blisteringly
political as artists get, and wears his many embassy-event
ejections like badges of honor.
Pinterís plays are known for their politics and long silences,
it should be easy to produce a short Pinteresque One Act
in honor of his Nobel award. I call it, ďThe Child.Ē
set: A traditional corner pub, somewhere in England.
Schweitzer is sitting at the bar, reading a comic book,
sipping an orange soda.
goes on for 15 minutes.]
Blair walks up to the bar, looking confused and holding
a 120 mm tank shell tipped with Depleted Uranium.
Pardon me, is anybody sitting here?
Maybe, maybe not.
shrugs and sits down. Puts shell on stool next to him.
are silent for 20 minutes.
Schweitzer turns to Blair]: Prime Minister, tell me,
do you know what is green, hangs from a wall, and sings?
The mutilated body of an Iraqi child after stepping on
an unexploded cluster bomb!
laughing: Come off it, old chap. How does the mutilated
body of an Iraqi child after stepping on an unexploded
cluster bomb hang from a wall and sing. And how is it
What? Youíve never seen a corpse? Theyíre greenish. And
if not, then you get a brush and some paintóand itís green!
Very well then. But tell me, how does the mutilated body
of an Iraqi child after stepping on an unexploded cluster
bomb hang from a wall?
Ach! Simple. You get yourself some rope, a nail, a hammerÖ
Fine, fine. But I canít see how the mutilated body of
an Iraqi child after stepping on an unexploded cluster
bomb can sing?
pauses, then shrugs: Well, two for three ainít bad!
men convulse in loud laughter. Blair falls off his bar
stool, knocking over the tank shell. A naked woman drives
an antique Edsel onto stage, throwing flower petals and
curtain hits the cast.]