Table Talk

Voice Card  -  Volume 13  -  John Card Number 3  -  Fri, Mar 23, 1990 08:29 PM

This is a response to Vol 12 John 4 ("Maryanne")...

[This is part five of "Gilligan's Island"]

"A little more of this south seas sauterne, if you please, my dear."

Maryanne had just sat down but she cheerfully got up again to serve Mr. Howell. Mr. Howell has a way of getting people to do things for him without offending them.

"Lovey, what's the matter? You've hardly touched your dinner." Mrs. Howell stared blankly at her plate as if she was trying to remember where it came from. She put her gloved hand next to her mouth and whispered, but we could all hear her.

"They've forgotten the salad fork again. Thurston, we really must stop coming here!"

Mr. Howell chuckled. "But Lovey, Chez Maryanne is the only place in town." He looked around at all of us to make sure we were sharing in the fun and he took his wife's hand and squeezed it gently. Mrs. Howell seemed uncertain but she managed a smile.

"Really, professor! Must you read at the table?" Ginger reached over and ran her finger across the professor's wrist. The professor reluctantly closed his book and looked up.

"I was just trying to finish this chapter before dark. Fascinating material! This particular section describes the rituals young males are put through when they come of age in the Ugumba Tribe."

Ginger laughed. She laced her fingers together and nestled her face in them and opened up her eyes. "Tell me about it!" The professor was troubled by Ginger's eyes but he was always glad to talk about his books.

"Well, as you may know, the Ugumbas practice segregation by gender with great zeal; the men and women live in separate huts even after marriage. Of course as part of the marriage ritual special huts are built to provide privacy during copulation."

"Thurston, who is this man? What is he saying?"

"There, there, Lovey. These eggheads have no sense of decency. Try not to listen."

The professor pretended not to hear this. "Until puberty the boys live with the other children in the women's huts. But when a boy is ready his penis is painted bright red and he is forced to stand in the center of the village while the women dance around him, pointing and laughing."

I felt the Skipper's elbow in my ribs. "Hear that, little buddy?" Everyone looked at me and even the professor laughed a little. Mr. Howell snorted. "Ghastly! Sounds like initiation at a Yale Fraternity House."

"After this the boy is driven out of the village so that he can experience homelessness and complete solitude. During his absence the tribe holds a mock funeral, not for the boy but for themselves. They dig ceremonial graves for each other. When the boy returns he is accepted into the men's hut."

Maryanne reached over and forced a second helping onto my plate. She was wearing her perfume again.

The skipper belched. "As usual, professor, you're ruining my appetite. For the life of me, I can't see what you find so fascinating about a bunch of ignorant savages."

"They're neither ignorant nor savage, in my opinion. As a matter of fact I think we could do with a few rituals around here!"

Maryanne put her hands on her hips. "Oh professor, you can't be serious!" Mr. Howell leaned over and whispered to me "If he pulls out some red paint, my boy, I suggest you make a run for it."

"I'm quite serious, I assure you." The professor pointed his finger into the air (which meant there was a speech coming). "Rituals are very important. They enable us to recognize and deal with the changes that are all around us. Without them we are adrift in a fogbank, pulled this way and that by currents we can't even see, much less measure or control. In order to understand change we must first define it. And often, in the very act of recognizing change, we find a release from the pressures created by change.

"Consider the importance of weddings. Or funerals, take funerals for example. Funerals are a way of recognizing death and dealing with it. Without funerals the distinctions between life and death would begin to blur and we would be left with a vague desire to mourn without knowing when to cry or why or even how. A life can have no meaning unless a border is drawn to distinguish it from the greater Life around it. Funerals make this possible. Without them we are lost. The Ugumbas know this and so should we."

I don't understand why, but the skipper was mad. "OK, professor, if any one of us dies we'll have a big ceremony and we'll even let you give the eulogy. But we're not dead yet. At least I'm not."

"Hear Hear!" said Mr. Howell and he signaled Maryanne for more punch.

The professor stood up. "Meaning, I suppose, that I am! Just because I'm willing to face facts. Just because I can see that, like it or not, we're starting to put down roots in this place. Just because I understand that we're never going to get rescued and we're going to spend the rest of our lives right here!"

That was it. Out in the open at last. For a second no one said anything and the professor tottered and took a step backward.

"Coconut cream pie, anyone? It's your favorite, Gilligan." Maryanne looked at me hopefully but I was busy watching the men stare at each other. Maryanne and Ginger exchanged glances. Mrs. Howell was completely fascinated by the trunk of a nearby palm tree.

Now it was the skipper's turn to stand up. "You have no right to say that, professor. You'll scare the women. Don't you worry, girls, we'll be off this island before you know it!" For a second I thought Maryanne was going to push her pie in the Skipper's face, but she set the pie down and kept her mouth shut.

"The women have just as much right to hear this as you do, maybe more. They've got some hard decisions to make. So do we all."

"Egad," said Mr. Howell, "you eggheads turn my stomach. If you'd put half your hot air into a balloon we could have all flown home a year ago. Why don't you put that brain of yours to work on something useful, something that could get us off this rock. Or doesn't that interest you?"

When the professor gets mad, he gets quiet and now he was so quiet we could hardly hear him. "Gilligan, fetch me a shovel from the toolhut."

"Oh my," said Ginger, "this is getting interesting."

Now Mr. Howell stood up. "Digging a cemetary, professor, or has science found a new way to silence laymen?"

"Something much more practical. I'm going to start digging the new latrine. It's about time we stopped wasting energy on rafts and watchtowers, and started building some permanent structures. And a little digging will give me a chance to vent my frustrations without hitting anyone. Gilligan, get the shovel!"

"Hold it! I'm the skipper and I'm the only one who gives orders around here!"

"We're not at sea anymore, skipper. You have no authority over us. That's another thing we've got to start thinking about."

The skipper took a step toward the professor but I threw myself between them. "Before you guys get too carried away I think you should know that I, uh, sort of lost all the shovels."

Mr. Howell burst out laughing. "The lad's done it again! I doff my hat to you, my boy. Maybe the professor is right after all. With you on this island how can we ever get off? Everything we do crumbles at your touch. Why is that, Gilligan? Could it be that you have some reason for keeping us here, or at least some of us?" He looked at Maryanne.

"Now just a second, Howell! You can't talk to my little buddy like that! If anyone is going to yell at Gilligan it's going to be me."

Mr. Howell's eyes went black. "Ah yes, the great skipper of the S. S. Minnow. If you hadn't been blind drunk and eighty degrees off course we never would have been shipwrecked in the first place."

Everything on the island stopped. Mr. Howell sat down and put his head in his hands. We all stared at him and then at the skipper. All the blood went out of the skipper's face and he just stood there. His little blue eyes were wet and his hands were shaking. I reached out to hold his hand but he pushed me away and, very slowly, walked into the jungle. The professor shook his head, picked up his book, and went back to his hut. Mr. Howell just sat there next to his wife and Ginger sat across from him, looking sadder than I've ever seen her. She was thirty years old. Maryanne and I held hands and walked toward the lagoon.