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Thursday, May 25, 2006

I am Flitcraft

I have to go to court tomorrow on 1 of my 2 remaining DP cases and I have been dreading it all week. All my career I have fought the urge to procrastinate about unpleasant confrontation.

Hah! A criminal lawyer who hates confrontation? Well, you can hate something, but still not be able to avoid it.

So I can't sleep and when I can't, I read. And when I read in this mood, it is often to read something I liked reading before.

If I read something new, I am likely to become impatient - I have 6 or 7 books around that I can't get past the first page, chapter, or wherever I was when I lost concentration and tossed them aside - expecting someday to be in a better mood.

And if the book is very good, then I might drop it just because it is so good that I wish I had written it - that thought doesn't help me sleep at all.

So, I try to re-read a book I liked the first time. But that can be disappointing. It's depressing to pick up a book I loved when I was young, only to find that it is awful - that makes me think that getting old is the problem and that thought won't allow me to sleep, either.

So, I am far more likely to read again one of the rare books that I find I can read as many times as I want - from any point in the book - and love it again.

So, I read, guess what - sure, "The Maltese Falcon." Every time I read it I find some passage or line or plot gizmo that gets me.

This time it was the "Flitcraft" story that Spade tells Brigid while waiting for Cairo to show up. Spade just launches into this tale, which seems like a diversion - it takes about 2 1/2 pages in the edition I am reading now. It's unusual because Hammett doesn't wander very much in his narratives - he tells you what you need to know and not much more.

Spade says that some years before he had a case about this guy named Flitcraft, an ordinary contented guy with a wife and kids who one day was walking to lunch and was almost struck by a beam that fell from a construction site. Flitcraft was freaked, and realized the fragility of life. He abandoned everything he knew - job, wife, kids and wandered around for a few years, and eventually married someone else and started a new family. Spade relates how he was struck with the realization that Flitcraft, after the life altering episode, had eventually fallen into a new life that was very much the same as his old life - similar wife, family, job, routines.

Students of Hammett (and there are many in the academic world who have picked his bones clean) often point to the story as an example of Hammett''s world view: something like an existential idea that chance rules the universe.

But for me, there is another, more-Hammett-like notion involved. First of all, as I said, neither Hammett, nor his creation Spade, were the sort to carry on pointless badinage. Spade is telling this tale to Brigid at a critical juncture - when she keeps asking him if she can trust him to be on her side. The point of the story is that no matter how much you try, you can't alter your nature. You are who you are.

Spade was warning Brigid that his nature was that he was a detective and that he was on the job to solve the crime and so she should not expect him to become a selfless lover devoted to her even if she turns out to be using him. She is not going to be Sam's femme fatale.

And maybe he is also reminding himself that his love for her will not redeem her, either.

What's that got to do with me?

I guess I'll always worry about my cases, doubt that I've done enough, feel sickeningly guilty about it, waste precious time and energy staring into space ...

I'm going to be officially "old" in a couple of months - up to now I've been "prematurely" old - tho', maybe it is time to admit, as Greg has often said, that I have been old for as long as he can remember -

It's time I got to accept my nature, my fate, and stop trying so hard to be someone I'm not.

But then again, maybe that's my nature, too.

Okay. That should help me sleep. Goodnight, moon.

1 comment:

  1. gloomy - but an excellent post! you know how i love flitcraft...