Jul 02 2005


Common house spider dispatching a leafhopper in the Twisty Windowsill, July 2005

Regular readers will have surmised by now that I am the laziest muthafucka in all of Texas. To a mind like mine–a mind which, in one’s spare time, one might liken, if not to a colander, at least to a chinois strainer–any elevated state of purposeful activity is highly disagreeable. Too often, enterprise requires a marshaling of mental and emotional resources that, if one desires to excel at eccentric reclusiveness, ought more properly to be expended toward the act of frittering.

I may as well fess up: I’m frittering right now. The preceding three sentences have taken me forty-five minutes to write, so great is my compulsion to fritter. For instance, I’ve had to stop every three or four words to play tug-of-war with the dog. I’ve had to recline on the couch and contemplate the intriguing patterns of light thrown on the ceiling by the rosy fingers of dawn. In mid-sentence I had to adjourn to eat an overripe nectarine while standing over the kitchen sink. It was also necessary that I email my pregnant sister an article from the NY Times about a study showing that pregnant women are more accident-prone than the general populus. And of course I’ve had to make several trips to the C-1000 (indispensable to a person as lazy as I am, the C-1000 is a super-automatic espresso machine, a remarkable device of hilariously unintuitive Swiss design that eliminates from one’s life forever the dreaded hipster coffee house and its sarcastic barista by producing at the touch of a button superb cups of fresh-ground coffee in seconds).

I managed to accomplish some pretty good side-frittering during my last coffee run, when I espied a small Achaearanea tepidariorum in the act of sucking the lifeblood out of a winged insect three times its size, and felt moved to photograph it.

I do some of my best frittering before noon, but this week’s crowning glory, a truly world-class fritter, transpired last night, a few hours before the ceviche I rashly purchased at Central Market’s takeout counter came back to haunt me in the rather epic fashion of poisoned ceviches the world over: I watched “Sybil” on cable. In its entirety.

Because keeping on top of television schedules is not the forte of a spinster aunt bent on frittering, I discovered too late that the “Green Acres” and “Leave It To Beaver” channel was having Movie-Of-The-Week Week, screening “the greatest made-for-TV movies of all time!”

Of all time!

Sadly, my Twisty-come-lately ways meant that I missed “Brian’s Song” and “The Boy In The Bubble.”

But “Sybil,” featuring a young Sally Field (prescient in super-ugly glasses that would not become ironic hipster eyewear for another 20 years) in a tour de force performance as the mousy abused looney with about 78 annoying personalities, knows no equal when it comes to the perfect melodramatic coalescence of horror and tragedy and bathos that is the female buddy picture.

I am sorry for anyone who was not born in time to have been a 15-year-old girl when “Sybil” first aired 1976, before the Lifetime network was even a gleam the patriarchy’s eye. A Plath-readin’ diary-writin’ 15-year-old girl of that era could really sink her teeth into old Sybil. She was the emblem of misunderstood teenism. Who among us did not, at the conclusion of the 2-night marathon, throw herself on the sofa and cry “Sybil Dorsett, c’est moi!”? She hated her mother, had glorious hidden talents that went unappreciated by the general public, could speak French, and despite being crazy as a loon, had managed to snag the one sensitive guy in all of New York (even if he did wear Mork suspenders and say things like “wouldn’t it be great to wake up and find smiles on your pillow?”).

Maybe “Sybil” could have the same effect on teenage girls today, but I doubt it somehow.  I’m not sure what kids these days are into, but in Austin a lot of their time seems devoted to sporting around the mall wearing orange hot pants that have the word “TEXAS” printed across the butt.


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  1. Rene

    I had horrible nightmares about Sybil (more specifically Sybil’s abusive, insane mom) for two years — my mom warned me not to watch it (she’d read the book), but I didn’t listen. I went to bed with a horrible migraine, and I had to wake up to vomit about 20 times. The next day at grade school, all the kids were blithely chatting about it (e.g., “Who’s your favorite personality?), and I got another terrible nightmare, and had to go home. Every fucking night, I’d go to bed hoping that I wouldn’t have a nightmare about Sybil’s mom, and every night I did. About a year later, the show was scheduled as a rerun, and I got a migraine just thinking that somewhere, someone was watching that horrific show. I retired to my bed and begged my mom not to watch it, and she promised that she wouldn’t, but I could hear the faint strains of Chopsticks through the floor, and I had to run downstairs to scream at her. I even got sick one time at my grandmother’s house when Kermit the Frog presented an Emmy award to Sally Field, and they showed a clip from the movie. Kermit the fucking Frog! It was like the whole world was out to get me, like any fucking second some TV puppet would traumatize me.

    About 15 years later, I was staying at the North Carolina beach house of my then-boyfriend’s parents, and I came across the book Sybil. I read it in its entirety, thinking, “Hey, I’m a grown-up now, I can handle it,” and sure enough, I got a horrible migraine and had nightmares for the rest of the trip.

    Years later, I found out that Flora Rheta Schreiber, or whatever her fucking name was, made the whole thing up. There was no real Sybil. I think I might be cured now, knowing that it was all a pack of lies, including that stuff about the forced enemas and the piano and the button hooks, but I’m not going to take any chances. It’s weird that it came as such a relief to me, finding out that there was no real Sybil and therefore no actual Sybil mom, because horrible abuse happens all the time, all over the place, and I’m sure that it’s just as bad as what the fictional Sybil endured. But I’m not going to take any chances. No Sybil for me. I told Xian that if he ever wanted to rent it, he would have to do so on a night when I was not in the house.


  2. Twisty

    So I guess you’re saying that “Sybil Dorsett c’est moi” was not the phrase that leapt immediately to your mind after watching the movie?

    Because, holy moly, Rene, what an incredible story!

  3. emjaybee

    You missed The Day After too, which was my nightmare-inducer for many years. I watched a bit this time, and all that struck was that Jonathan Lithgow looked really young, and that the main character was not, in fact, Steve Gutenburg as I’d always thought (I was fooled by the mullet). But I really can’t deal with nuclear-olocaust-aftermath movies, so I kept going.

    Sybil should have scared me more, but I think it was just too bizarre; and the enemas! That was fucked up.

    We always got shown Brian’s Song at school during the last week, for some reason. It was my first introduction to the idea of a “male weepie.”

  4. Mike

    Brian’s Song — written by Michel LeGrand (French!), it was theme music that took over the story and pushed us stoic males to weepitude. Kudos to Sonny and Lando for obliging this sentiment.

    The Day After — “I know not what weapons will be used to fight WWIII, but for WWIV it will be sticks and stones” A nation introduced to an Einstein bon mot. Do you remember Testiment? Streamers?

    Helter Skelter — Steve Railsback, destined to portray ol’ Charlie. Nice resume builder! “It’s not nice to snitch, Shorty!” Yikes, this one gets my vote out of the bunch as the medium-buster, although nuclear holocaust and multiple-personalities surely are attention-getters on the idiot box.

  5. Ron O.

    Sybil gave me nightmares too. I coundn’t watch it all the way through when I first saw it as a kid. Years later it was on TV as a 2-night special showing. I was glued to the TV for two nights, then had nightmares about it for a few months. Sally Field was fantastic, but I don’t think I’ll be renting that one from netflicks any time soon.

  6. Miriam

    Sorry to trouble Rene, but Sybil WAS real. They recently revealed the true identity of the woman, whose real name was Shirley Ardell Mason, an artist/teacher living in Lexington who died about seven years ago.

    Haha, I was about the right age when I saw it, but I have to say I didn’t think “that’s me!!” Well, I wasn’t part of the right generation, I suppose.
    But I hate people who see characters and claim their identities. Bridget Jones is a particular contention of mine.
    “No, I really am the real Bridget! I’m in my thirties, I’m single and I’m foolishly in love with High Grant!”
    How strikingly coincidental.

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