Saturday, October 3, 2009


This morning Isaac and I worked on making armor. We cut the pieces out of cardboard and tied it all together with baling twine.

I thought of this because of The War. That would be the one I will need to stage for You'll Always Come Back, some sort of equivalency for the Civil War Battle of Dutton Hill that took place on our farm. I first heard about that battle when I was a child, and from the way my aunts talked about it then, I thought it had happened only a few years previously. They were still annoyed about it.

I don't really have any personal experience with war, thank goodness, so I decided to work on the YACB battle scene from the point of view I had as a child. Then I could be enthusiastic about it, because it was play. I liked playing war. Maybe all children do who are not exposed directly to it.

My oldest sister worked in Dayton when I was a child, and either for Christmas or my birthday one year she brought me a box of toy soldiers. I think they were WW II soldiers. They were molded out of grey plastic and had all kinds of things to help them wage war. There were even grey molded plastic barbwire coils to make, what? - barricades or concentration camps? The box they came in was about 24" x 30" and the set entire was fancier than any toy I'd ever had by far.

I have a vague memory of playing with them in The Lane, a cow path with a bit of dirt bank along one side that went from our cow barn to the woods and pasture beyond. What I remember is digging out caves for the little grey men in the dirt bank, and bombing them with dirt clods. Or maybe it was the neighbor kid, a bit brattish and more aggressive, who initiated the bombing. I must have seen bombing on tv - I knew how to do it and thought it was fun. If it was the neighbor kid, the dirt clod bombing probably escalated to throwing the clods at each other, and it seems like we did, because I think I remember that either he got dirt in his eyes, and cried about it, or I got dirt in my eyes and didn't cry. I wouldn't have cried - I was a strange child in that regard, according to my mom, I never cried. Nowadays I cry over beautiful things, or sentimental things, but not about myself. If I cried at all when I was a child they were fake tears ~ I did know how to act.

When I was 10 or 12 we had wars all the time. There were more kids within walking distance by then, with ever-shifting allegiances that made it all that much appealingly dangerous-seeming. You never knew if you were securely in a gang or had become the target of one. The early wars were with road gravel. We had shields made of garbage can lids, got in the middle of the gravel road, where there was plenty of ammo, and not much traffic in those days, and threw rocks at each other. Then we advanced to BB guns. I never was really interested in guns, but at that point it seemed you had to have one to survive, so somehow I acquired a BB gun pistol. You could only shoot one BB at a time and you had to pull back the spring-loaded mechanism after situating the BB. It took about all the strength I had to cock the thing. I didn't have a holster, so I carried it with the barrel stuffed in my cutoff short pants pocket. That's how I wound up shooting myself in the leg, but the thing didn't have a lot of firepower, or springpower, so all it did was sting and leave a bruise.

Some time back I read an interesting (to me) book about what the author called the "Germanic Mannerbund." The theory was that in prehistoric Northern Europe young men, teenagers to 20 somethings, lived in gangs outside the general society, in a limbo between useful ~ as ad hoc warriors when the local leader, chief or king, summoned them to wage war on outsiders, or near nuisances, demanding food and supplies from farms and homesteads as a tithe to Odin, the god of war, or real trouble, when they raped and pillaged just because they could. This Mannerbund, a self-administered school for boys, would have been the precursor to both an organized military, and the taxation that supports one. From personal experience I can imagine how that might have worked.

My solution to part of the staging problem is to conduct the battle in slow motion, video tape it, then project it speeded up again to a "normal speed" that really isn't normal. I'm planning to run an experiment of just that at a place in Louisville called "Skull Alley" in November. I doubt we'll have the time to make armor, but it would look good. If I can entice some of the young people to help with the battle when YACB is performed complete, maybe we'll have time and enough hands to make armor. Boys and young men all seem to know about armor and weaponry and battle from the get go, but I suspect it's because they have no option but to. Back when video war games first appeared I had a feeling they would become a tool for easing civilians into soldiers, and eventually the military invested directly in creating that imagery, shortening the step from game to reality. It's all much more sophisticated than dirt clods, but is it safer?

And of course there's the theory that war is an inevitable outcome of maleness, that we're (us guys in the mannerbund) driven by our embryonic hormonal drench to ultimately penetrate someone with something as often as possible - the rationale behind the machine gun. This seems to be a bit much to deal with in a performance, but I'd like to cover as many bases as I can.

1 comment:

Mary Beth said...

Mannerbund gangs don't seem much different from the groups of Raiders that came to steal from your area to feed the starving troops that had barely survived the winter down in Tennessee. You may well be onto a magical trail!

How apt to film a battle seen in Skull Alley!