“Dulcinea”

The Juliet Club…Bad fictional advisors… Pachuco and Dulcinea..

There is an office in Verona, Italy, known as the Juliet Club. It is staffed by a team of Italian women–volunteers–who answer letters of heartbreak addressed from all over the world to Juliet Capulet, the doom struck heroine of “Romeo and Juliet” fame. At first I was taken with the romantic sensibility of the whole thing, but then I remembered that in Shakespeare’s famous play Juliet commits suicide by running herself through with a dagger after finding Romeo dead from poison, which probably ranks high on the list of the worst possible outcomes for people in love. I tried to put that fact aside lest people accuse me of being callous, skeptical or even worse, a grouch.

I was sitting on the deck of a local cantina, drinking my margarita, watching the frothy liquid go from the lip of the glass, down to the tropic of cancer, to the equator, further to the tropic of capricorn, and finally to the south pole at which time the waiter facilitated my trip back up to the arctic, so to speak, by refilling my glass. I began to wonder. I was curious as to how the women in the Juliet Club office who answer these letters from all over the world can articulate useful advice on love and romance while still maintaining the style, eloquence and fury of one of the most famous characters in literary history. Are they speaking as the ghost of Juliet (she’s dead, theoretically) at thirteen, or at four hundred years old, which is just about how old she would be now. If I were answering the letter I know my advice would be different now, in my thirties, than when I was thirteen, not to mention four centuries of watching the agony, the ecstasy, madness, fervor and ultimate demise of generations of lovesick wanderers. I would suppose that after almost half a millennium to think about it, “Juliet” may be a little wiser and a little less impetuous. But then again, maybe not. Maybe, true to form, all her correspondence has to have the same suggestion as kind of a rigid fatalism. I’ve read “Romeo and Juliet” a couple of times in my life, and damn if it always ends the same way.

“Dear Lonely in San Antonio. Yes I’ve received your letter, and thank you. It does seem a shame that Rick is taking Anne to the prom instead of you. Might I suggest you do what I did. Get you a dagger and cut a big hole in your chest. That will show everybody. Say something fancy before you do it though. That is what worked for me.”

“Dear Lachrymose in London. What happens when you come home from work early and find your bloke dressed in all your frilly girly things? Why you run yourself through with a dagger is what you do. Cheerio.”

“Dear Downcast in Dublin. I don’t care what the ghost of St. Patrick asks your girlfriend to do to him in the name of martyrdom. Some things are just too filthy. And by the way, if he’s playing darts and drinking a pint at the pub, it’s probably not St. Patrick. Best to just get a dagger and run yourself through, though, just to say you considered all possibilities.”

The lesson here, I decided, is that some fictional characters, although they mean well, may just be the wrong folks to ask for advice on love and relationships. Desperate fictional characters are usually too obsessed and too tortured, unable to compromise, in it for the reckless thrill of it all. I cite from a few classics books…

“Greetings Frederick Clegg. Just writing because I wanted to ask your opinion on something. I have a tremendous infatuation with a woman from my neighborhood. Do you think it would be odd to kidnap and imprison her, to “collect” her, so to speak, and try to encourage her to love me through a system of rewards and punishments. Oh. Oh you have. Same thing. How did it work out? Tried to get you with an axe, eh? Well if at first you don’t succeed…”

“Hey Mr. Humbert Humbert, do you think it is okay to flee with a twelve-year-old Lolita and go across country, having your way with her every chance you get after inadvertently causing the death of her mother?”

“Hello there, Mr. Clyde Griffiths, do you think it wise to murder my wife in order to gain a more prestigious place in society? She’s not a very good swimmer and… oh, oh really? In a boat on Big Bittern Lake? Accidental, eh? Got caught, huh? An American Tragedy, indeed.”

I’m feeling the pinch of the old philosophical truism that when someone seeks out advice, depending on whom they ask, they’ve already set in motion the answer they are eager to get. If someone asks Frederick Clegg whether it is reasonable to collect a woman like a butterfly, of course he is going to say yes. Humbert Humbert will insist there is no other way but to take the girl-child. Likewise Clyde Griffiths will draw a detailed map to the big fat lake where the unlucky wife gets to swallow a lungful of murky water.

I was putting myself in a weird mood with this line of thought and so decided it was best to move along. In my experience tequila only exacerbates. It never really solves. On my way home I cut through a bohemian neighborhood of Atlanta called Little Five Points. I passed a grungy little shop that was advertising two mangy, worn out tee-shirts for the price of one. Basically I had to buy one, and I could choose another of equal or greater manginess, and that one was free. I’ve always been a fan of the classic tee-shirt. For starters, they are extremely comfortable. Second, you can get in touch with some great American obscurity. Whether it is Bucky Beaver from the Ipana toothpaste commercials or a flaky old photo of Harry Dean Stanton, you’re sporting a very peculiar history. Little did I know I was about to stumble upon a weird scene, which is not really unusual for Little Five Points. The situation was not without its share of confusion, and I found myself a bit wiser after it was all over.

It all started as I was approaching the store. I spied an old acquaintance of mine, let’s call him Pachuco, loitering off at the side of the building, looking like his usual shifty self. He seemed nervous. He waved me over.

“Hey Chuco,” I said. “You’re looking particularly unkempt today.”

“Listen,” he whispered, getting right to it. “Do me a favor and go into the shop and see if Dulcinea is working.”

“I don’t know who that is.”

“She’s super beautiful, plays in a band and she is usually back by the socks and belts and stuff.”

“How useless of a description,” I said. “What color hair does she have?”

“She changes it depending on her mood.”

“Height?”

“Straight up or slouching?”

“Forget it. What do I do when I find her?”

“Tell her you are interested in buying her Hammond B3 organ with working Leslie amplifier. Like I said, she is an artist. Please. If you don’t help me I’m going to have to write a letter to the Juliet Club. And you know what they will tell me to do.”

It seemed simple enough. A total pain in the ass, but relatively simple in its design. I went into the store. Dulcinea, by the way, is not the girl’s name. I use it only because Dulcinea was, or is, the name of Don Quixote’s object of affection from the Miguel Cervantes classic, and whose description varied significantly depending on whether starry-eyed Don Quixote was describing her, or the more grounded Sancho Panza. The former painted her as beauty incarnate, a thousand points of artistic inspiration manifest in the feminine form, unparalleled with anything before or since. I don’t recall Sancho Panza’s exact description of her, but I think he mentions she’s got a good bit of hair on her chest for her gender, or any other for that matter. She’s got a neck like a turkey. She can arm-wrestle even the wildest drunk and flip him ass over teakettle, and she has got a voice like a foghorn that shakes the roofs of the whole village when she calls her fourteen children in from the field.

I walked into the tee-shirt shop, trying to resolve my dual purpose of finding a few decent old, coming-apart-in-your-fingers shirts, and finding the nebulous Dulcinea and inquiring about the Hammond, at which point I would say thanks but no thanks and be on my way, done with my obligation. But everything went wall-eyed. I could immediately feel a tension in the air. There was hostility. Two women were standing on opposite sides of the store, staring each other down. None were super beautiful, kind of frumpy and frumpier, but I figured one of them had to be Dulcinea. I tried to be casual, just flipping through a couple of racks, when one girl asked if I could come back in five minutes.

“We’re having a thing,” she explained.

“Actually,” I said, “I’m looking for Dulcinea. I hear she is selling an old Hammond and that it has a working Leslie that comes with it. I might be interested.”

One girl, less frumpy, stepped forward, but the other stopped her. “You stay here,” she said, after a moment of calculation. “I’ll show him.”

More frumpy led me out the back door to a garage. When she stepped out the back door into the sunlight she paused, sniffing the air. I walked outside and caught a fleeting glimpse of Pachuco peering around the side of the building. He was gone in a flash. The girl yanked up the garage door and led me into the storage area where the huge musical instrument sat in a big room full of dusty junk. The thing was enormous. Even if I wanted it I would have no idea how to move it. My dowdy companion started giving me a technical rundown, the kind that completely loses a person unfamiliar with the terms. Rotors and stops and pedals that do this and buttons that do that. But she was jumpy. Her eyes darted. She must’ve sensed I was some type of impostor, because she suddenly stood bolt upright and ran out of the garage and back into the store. I followed. The store was empty. The other girl was gone. My guide to the Hammond stormed out the front door, and, being unable to resist, I followed. What ensued was a snarling scene of mad rage as the girl stood on the sidewalk, watching the other girl get driven off by Pachuco on the back of his motorcycle. A geyser of invective drifted in every direction, like verbal death right then and there. Deciding it was the wrong time to inquire about any good tee-shirts, I silently made my exit, thinking that once the woman got it in her mind to figure my possible complicity, I would be in big trouble.

Back home I pondered. I considered what I would say if I had been a volunteer at the Juliet Club and had received a letter from the angry girl from the tee-shirt store outlining her love triangle, and devious behavior, and jealousy, and feeling unworthy in your own skin, and all the other crap that goes with it.

“Dear Lit Up in Little Five. This is Juliet Capulet. Thank you for your letter. First off, I was wrong about the dagger thing. I was young. Hasty. I overreacted. Grief, sadness and pain are all uncomfortable. Try to avoid them. But these emotions are the counterbalance to great joy, and if you possess the capacity for sadness, rest assured the possibility for great joy is there too. Keep your head up, and be on the lookout, for consciousness is the possibility of possibility. The agent of your bliss is out there. And by the way, if you find any good tee-shirts with a roller disco theme can you put them off to the side for me. Arrivederci.”

More Alembics to come.

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