In the summer of 2010 I was back in New York City, after a year in Charlotte, North Carolina which, as painful as it felt at the time had led to lots of self-discovery. I am talking about the self-discovery of the cheesy type, the happy-ending in the movie screen that makes us cry of happiness, yet is shameful to mention out loud to those who were born simply knowing how to manage. A hot wind blew through the city that summer, blew until it seemed that before August broke, all the sand of Coney Island would be in New York, would have drifted over the Manhattan sky-scrapers and the rooftops in Brooklyn, and stopped only when it hit the terraces in Queens. There was not much to do during the day, a summer like that: there was the day when I signed the papers that would commit me to a teaching job in a Manhattan private high school, and the evening I returned the forms that committed me to a graduate program in Philosophy for at least two years. There was the local YMCA with an indoor swimming pool that I used every morning; which had a small waiting room where artificial blue rain fell behind the glass. The rain interested me a good deal, but I could not spend the summer watching it, and so we went, my friend C and I, to the movies.
The MOMA was free after six pm every Friday. So we went three and four evenings a month, sat on the dusty red chairs in the darkened theatre, and it was there, that summer of 2010 while the hot wind blew outside, and so late in life, that I first saw John Wayne in a “Western Movies” screening. Saw the walk, heard the voice. Heard him tell the girl in a picture called War of the Wildcats that he would build her a house, “at the bend in the river where the cottonwoods grow”. The only other Western I ever saw before this, was one with Asian cowboys riding somewhere in a snowy land, maybe in Nebraska. But there was no John Wayne in that film, and I was still in Charlotte at the time, I was still watching how the rain fell and complaining about humidity.
As it happened I did not grow up to be the kind of woman who is the heroine in a Western, and I now wonder if having watched Westerns as a child would have possibly made me this woman. And although the men I have known have had virtues, they have never been John Wayne, and they have never taken me to that bend in the river where the cottonwoods grow. “Deep in that part of my heart where the artificial rain forever falls, that is still the line I wait to hear.”
I write this tonight not out of self-revelation or fictional nostalgia, but rather because I went out again to the MOMA yesterday evening and I heard John Wayne saying “hello there!” from his horse as he later rode into the horizon of the golden screen. And I knew then that I was attracted to his character because there was no cheesy-self discovery in any of his films. He was a man, and he simply knew how to manage. “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do,” simple as that. And deep in that part of my heart where the artificial rain still falls, there is that line which stayed with me even after John Wayne rode away into the horizon of the golden screen: “ A man’s gotta do…”