and so anyway it turns out that the best thing about Trespass (2011) is neither Nicolas Cage’s reliably amusing hair nor the film’s surprising, if unsurprisingly ham-fisted, commentary on the intertwined illusory nature of finance capital, masculinity and sexual/commodity desire, but that moment when you realise that Nic and his equally insufferable family have been taken hostage by a violent gang of inept home invaders cum jewel thieves led by that bloke who used to be in Neighbours…
Back when he started, it was the travel he looked forward to most. He would set himself in motion and inertia would take him there. It had pleased him, too, that most of the journey would consist of another kind of inertia. Just sitting there. That odd combination of momentum and stasis.
He read a lot.
He inspected the toilet bowl and rim minutely, wiped them down with a wad of toilet paper, which he then flushed away. While the cistern refilled, he refolded the end of the roll so that the room would, when he left, show no trace of him having been there.
His bowels gurgled, and he flushed once more.
Nowadays, the travel was the worst part. Jet-setting in economy, trying to remain unnoticed, he could cope with. But at some point, the combination of ageing, airline food and the stress of a contract started to leave him constipated. Sometimes for days.
In the bedroom, the parts of a sniper’s rifle awaited his expert hands.
In Rome, it was merely inconvenient, but by the Manila trip it had started interfering with the job. He took to arriving days earlier than necessary, even though that increased his exposure, but to no avail. The bloating and discomfort would continue until long after he was back home. A doctor diagnosed IBS. His only consolation was that it was IBS-A, which alternated between diarrhoea and constipation. IBS-D, and that would have been the ignominious end of a lucrative career.
Maybe it was time to retire, anyway, he thought, as he finished assembling the rifle.
His bowels shifted and groaned. He farted noisily. The carbon pills he’d popped did little to staunch the stench. He thought, with a self-conscious smile, Now that’s what I call trace evidence.
He flipped open the tripod, mounted the rifle and checked the sights. It was a tight angle and he would have just a couple of seconds in which to take the shot. He breathed deeply to maintain his calm, a finger resting lightly on the trigger.
His stomach cramped.
He glanced at the watch on the inside of his wrist. He still had at least five minutes. It was time enough. He returned to the bathroom.
This should not be happening to me. He considered himself, not inaccurately, one of the best in the business, and he was, more or less, at the peak of his game.
He strained, even though the doctor had told him not to. Something seemed to give. There was a plopping sound – he strained some more – and another.
It was odd, he thought, not for the first time. He was like, say, an illuminator of medieval manuscripts or, better yet, the apprentice of a great artist. His work was renowned, and yet he was anonymous. Well-known, but completely unknown.
He leaned forward and looked down behind him. Two tiny pieces of dark shit sat on the bottom of the bowl.
They are, he thought as he wiped his ass, like shards chipped away by a master sculptor, seeking the form hidden within the mass.
Once he was dressed, he repeated the ritual eradication of any evidence of his presence in the bathroom.
God alone knows what he is sculpting in there.
He glanced at his watch, and strode purposefully to where the rifle stood ready. He checked his breathing, and waited.
A replica in miniature – but not too miniature, it feels – of the doors of the Florence Baptistry?
He pulled the trigger, took the shot.
Maybe something equine, in the style of del Verrocchio or even Leonardo?
A double tap to be certain.
A David, perhaps, after Donatello or – dare I wish? – Michelangelo?
He picked up the spent cartridges, speedily disassembled the gun and packed away its parts. In less than a minute he was by the door, ready to leave. No sound of anyone outside. He reached for the handle, and as he did so, his bowels flip-flopped once more. The fart was loud, sustained and really really smelly.
Yeah, he thought, as he stepped into the corridor, swept up once more by the inertia that would see him safely home. Whatever is going on in there is a real copro-naissance.
[Author’s note: Okay, I admit it, ‘Shit, Joke’ would have been a better title.]
A couple of weeks ago, on the way back from work, it suddenly struck me that I had forgotten that he had died. I even went online when I got home to check that I hadn’t misremembered (or misforgotten, or whatever). Saddened once more, I resolved to finish watching Nichols (1971-72), his western TV series just prior to The Rockford Files (1974-80), before heading overseas for the holidays. The final episode, ‘All in the Family’, produced another affective flip-flop as, in the opening sequence, Nichols is suddenly gunned down by Quinn (Anthony Zerbe); there is a brief passage of what-the-fuck? as the funeral proceeds and it doesn’t all turn out to be one of Nichols’ scams; and then Garner turns up, admirably moustachioed, playing Nichols’ brother, who cons the town into bringing Quinn to justice. You can only imagine my delight when, a few days later in Tucson, we sat down to start watching season three of Maverick (1957-62), and in the opening episode, ‘Pappy’, Garner plays not only Bret Maverick, but also his father, Beau Maverick, and Bret pretending to be Beau. I hope he picked up three pay cheques, because he is always worth that much. (I have no idea what I am going to do about the final two seasons – in season four, Garner is replaced by Roger Moore, playing the Mavericks’ English cousin, Beauregarde; and in five, Jack Kelly carried on alone as Bart, interspersed with reruns of old Garner/Bret episodes. My inner completist is at war with my inner loyalist.)
I am curious, though, about the sensation of missing a celebrity, someone I never actually knew.
Like all right-minded people, I was appalled by the massive manipulation of public sentiment when Princess Diana died,* and scoffed at the miserable attempts to whip up a lacrimae rerum rerun when that vile, gin-swilling elitist, the Queen Mother, finally choked (I guess from having her greedy snout so deep into the public trough).** And despite being washed up alone in a Californian one horse dorp the day Thatcher died, I still managed to find myself partying into the small hours in the one gay bar in town.
On the other hand, but also like all right-minded people, I was bereft for months when Elisabeth Sladen died. Part early object-cathexis, I know; and partly because just as so many of us have a ‘my Doctor’ – mine would definitely be Tom Baker were it not for Peter Cushing – she was always ‘my companion’.
Maybe it was that unexpected feeling of loss that prepared me for Jim’s passing. And the fact that he had always been there – without ever actually being there –since I was a child. (A friend recently caught a late episode of 8 Simple Rules (2002-05) and said how much it made her long for a big living room centred around an open fire. Me, my wishes are simpler: a battered old armchair, from which James Garner comments wrily on my everyday foibles and mishaps.)
Garner was a big, handsome man, with an easy-going and amiable persona, and good liberal politics. He was not hard to like, even when playing an arrogant shit of a corporate CEO in Barbarians at the Gate (1993). But his real appeal, especially when playing Maverick and Rockford (both created by the equally admirable Roy Huggins), was his performance of human frailty. He played heroes who were cowards, gunmen who eschewed guns, a private dick who took plenty of lickings because he couldn’t always avoid a fight, no matter how hard he tried, and was not much good at fighting anyway. He played a cardsharp who did not cheat, except when he did. He pursued money but could not get hold of it. He fell for women he knew were trouble, and was suckered every time, because despite his mercenary instincts he also tended to trust people. Everyone jokes about how The Great Escape (1963) has a claustrophobic tunneller (Charles Bronson) and a blind forger (Donald Pleasence), but they forget that James Garner plays a scrounger with a heart of gold. He refuses to leave the forger behind when the POWs break out of Stalag Luft III en masse, and is finally captured when he refuses once more to abandon his friend.
Ask what Big Jim would do.
* The only good thing to come of it was the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, and then only because it inspired Stewart Lee’s Princess Diana Memorial Fountain Memorial Fountain Fountain routine.