The 1986 drama, “The Color of Money,” with Paul Newman and Tom Cruise (and directed by Martin Scorsese, based on a novel by Walter Tevis, who I mentioned in a previous blog) has a line in it that I’ve always remembered.
After Vincent (Cruise) misinterprets something Fast Eddie (Newman) says, the older star clarifies:
Eddie: You’re some piece of work. … You’re also a natural character.
Vincent: [to his girlfriend] You see? I been tellin’ her that. I got natural character.
Eddie: That’s not what I said, kid. I said you are a natural character; you’re an incredible flake.
For millions, January is a time for stalwart resolutions— using one’s gym membership, eating better, quitting bad habits and learning Spanish. By February, we still are on track with our resolutions—except for using one’s gym membership, eating better, quitting bad habits and learning Spanish.
Admit it, February is a crappy little month. It makes us feel guilty for breaking our resolutions even before the first crocus pokes its tiny head above the warming soil. The guilt continues with the looming threat of Valentine’s Day. If you have a spouse or steady partner, you feel outright terror the morning of February 14 when you’re asked,
“So, what are we doing for Valentine’s Day?”
“Valentine’s day? Today?”
“I did not! Who told you such a filthy lie?”
And then you run out to Safeway and buy a cheesy card and a cheap box of chocolates.
That February uses V-Day as a guilt inducer is confirmed by the response of enterprising folks who’ve come up with holidays to salve those who have felt Feb’s nasty guilt arrow for not having a special someone: Satisfied Staying Single Day on Feb. 11; Madly In Love With Me Day on Feb. 13; and National Call In Single Day on Feb. 14.
On the bright side, Feb’s exposure of our flaws makes us real, and interesting. In literature, who wants a perfect hero? Superman would be too super without kryptonite.
Imagine “Catcher in the Rye,” “Crime and Punishment,” “Lolita” and, really, any great novel without the flaws of the protagonist – you can’t, because these books would be boring and no one would’ve read them! Readers are flawed people, and it’s the flaws in characters that allow us to identify with them.
In my own writing, I make a point of giving my protagonists flaws—alcohol, drugs, smart-ass, even being too nice—and (hopefully) do it in such a way that the reader will still pull for him.
As that little jerk, Feb, gleefully reminds us, in Eddie’s words we’re all incredible flakes. And that makes life and literature much more interesting.