Thursday, 5 April 2018

The Jar

            Nick Cushing came to visit late Monday afternoon and he brought me what he said was a birthday present even though my birthday is just under two months from now. It was another Duralex Picardie glass to match the one he’d gotten me a couple of months ago. He also brought two cans of Creemore because he knows it’s my favourite beer.
            He said that he’s seriously thinking of moving back to Vancouver Island, which is where he’s from originally. He can’t think of anything that would hold him in Ontario anymore.
            That night I watched one of the best Alfred Hitchcock Hour teleplays of all. This one was based on a story by Ray Bradbury and extremely well written. A poor and simple backwoods farmer named Charlie goes to the carnival and is captivated by a large jar that is on display containing what looks like the head of a strange but almost recognizable creature. It sort of looks to me like the misshapen head of a large cat. Charlie stares at it for hours until the carnival owner tells him they are closing down for the night. Charlie asks if he can buy the jar and so the carnie sells it for $12. Charlie stops in town on the way home and shows it briefly to one person and tells him that if he wants to see it again he can come to his place to look at it. Charlie’s young and disproportionately pretty for them to be in a relationship, hillbilly wife Thedy Sue, hates the jar immediately and is especially angry that Charlie spent all their harvest money on it. The word about the jar spreads and people begin together on a regular basis at Charlie’s place just to sit and stare at the jar the way other folk might watch television. The people are made up of the who’s who of hick character actors of that era. The lazy sheriff, Clem Carter is played by Slim Pickens, and his tag line is, “I’m kinda tired right now but I’ll investigate tomorrow”; Juke Marmer who proudly declares, I went to the doctor today and he told me I got the mind of a ten year old!” is played by George Lindsey, who played Goober on the Andy Griffith Show; and Charlie was played by Pat Buttram who was Mr Haney on Green Acres. There were about twenty people that came to view the jar. They sat there in fascination and awe as they each tried to offer their own ideas on what they thought it was. They were all silent at first until Gramps said, “I wonder what t’is. I wonder if it’s a he, a she or just a plain old it. Sometimes I wake Ma up about it because I can’t sleep and she’s lyin there shiverin on a hot night.” No one could agree on the colour of eyes or hair it had. Charlie says it could be someone they used to know that got lost in the swamp for years and years in all that wet and drippin away from the sun. It stands to right he’d start shrivelin up and witherin away and finally maybe sink down into one of them muckholes and lay there like the maggot skeeters sleepin in all that old sump water. Mrs Tridden said she lost her boy in the swamp that way and then she begins to think that what’s in the jar might be her son. She thinks she sees it move and so does Juke. Ma offers, “If we do find out what it is we probably won’t want to know because then we won’t have anything to talk about.” She adds, “Why couldn’t it be sort of all things? All kinds of life and death, rain with sun and grass and snakes and children and jelly and mist and all of the nights and days of the dead cane break. Why does it have to be just one thing?” The little girl that is there with her mother, Emma Jane (played by Marlon Brando’s sister, Jocelyn) thinks what’s in the jar is the Boogie Man. That night the jar is stolen. When Charlie goes looking for it, Juke tells Charlie that his wife Thedy and her boyfriend Tom paid Jahdoo a dollar to take the jar and to smash it in the swamp. Charlie goes into the swamp with his shotgun looking for Jahdoo. After searching for a while he sees the jar sitting on an old stump but when he approaches it he gets caught in quicksand. Jahdoo comes out from behind some swamp trees and warns him, “You go under quicker if you struggle.” Charlie is already up to his chest and is pleading for help. Jahdoo calmly says, “Sometimes it takes three or four hours to go under if ya don’t struggle. I been sittin here thinking what it is. Now I know what it is. This here is a piece of the heart of all life. From this heart somewhere back in Middy Bamboo Swamp, long long time ago all sort of things started to crawl from the rich dark garden Middibamboo Swamp this heart come crawlin out of the dark, then it puts out a hand like the roots of a tree, then it puts out feet like the roots of a flower, then it grow a long tongue and horns and it gets bigger. This heart, now something else, crawls up on land, keeps changing, then hallelujah it is human.” Charlie is now up to his neck in quicksand and begging for his life. Jahdoo continues, “This is the heart and centre of all creation. This is Middibamboo Mama from whom we all come 10,000 years ago! They paid me a dollar Charlie to steal and destroy the centre of all creation!” Then just before Charlie goes under, Jahdoo pulls him up by the barrel of his shotgun. Charlie takes the jar home and confronts Thedy about her plot. She tries to smash it with a big spoon but Charlie takes it away from her and almost hits her but stops himself. She is frightened and exclaims, “You’d kill me over that jar!” She runs away and screams, “You’re gonna pay for tryin ta kill me!” Later that night she comes back and tells Charlie that she just came from the carnival. She said she talked to the carnival man that sold him the jar and he told her what’s inside it. Charlie covers his ears. “It’s just junk Charlie! It’s paper and it’s clay and it’s cotton and it’s strings and it’s silk and it’s a pair of baby doll’s eyes and it’s all together on this metal frame and it’s all it is!” “No! You’re not gonna tell no one!” “Yes I am!” “Why?” “Cause you just got too big for your britches!” “You’re lyin! There’s too many people believe there’s something in there! Maybe the carnival man lied!” She gets up and shouts, “He didn’t lie!” then she goes to the jar and takes off the cover and begins throwing the contents at Charlie, “There’s paper, and cotton and yarn and there’s a piece of inner tube, and clay …” She empties the whole thing joyfully and triumphantly. Charlie calmly says, “Thedy? Come here.” “Whadaya want?” “Just come to me.” She smiles and says, “No!” as if it’s a game. “Here kitty kitty kitty!” She begins pretending to be a cat as she moves away from him. “Myew myew myew”! “Here kitty!” She begins scratching a support post in the house and saying “Prrrrr! Prrrrr!” Charlie puts a bag over her head.
            That night the people once again gather to look at the jar. It looks different now. A little more definite but still fascinating. The little girl notices that there’s a hair ribbon in the jar with “Thedy” monogrammed on it. “
            I think this teleplay was one of the greatest stories to ever appear on television. Jahdoo was played by William Marshall, who later became famous as Blackula.
            The teleplay is fairly faithful to the Ray Bradbury story except for the theft of the jar and the drama of Charlie almost dying in quicksand. Those elements were added by the scriptwriter. Jahdoo’s speech about Middibamboo Mama took place in Charlie’s house and there is no hair ribbon. At the end of the story it is made less obvious that it’s Thedy’s head that’s now in the jar.

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