I’ve been thinking a lot about “The Witches of Eastwick” recently. Why? Not because it was great cinema. OK, I confess — with embarrassment — that when it came out I saw it three times. But that’s because I was nineteen. And probably stoned. In retrospect it is an eminently forgettable work. And, as such, I have forgotten it — almost completely. But there is a fragment of a scene from it that has, for some reason, been lodged in my brain since I first saw the film. Now, my memory is atrocious; I am notorious for it. I can’t remember entire months of my life; I often fail to recognize people I have met repeatedly; I have forgotten the words to songs I have written. Often. In spite of all of this, this little snippet of a scene has stayed with me for, what, twenty years? It’s very odd.
And it’s a nothing moment in the narrative, too. Hardly a dramatic turning point. You could have gone to the bathroom during it without missing a thing. Simply put: Jack Nicholson (the Devil) is trying to persuade Cher (one of the suburban-housewives-cum-witches) to renounce her life and join him on the dark side. He gives a long monologue about her banal existence — the kids, the husband, the housework. At one point during this speech he says (and I paraphrase):
“You make a meal, you eat it, you clean up. You do dishes, you wash clothes, you scrub the kitchen, and what happens? The next day you have to do it all again.”
At this moment a single tear falls down Cher’s cheek.
That’s it. That’s all I recall. (Except for thinking, at the time, that Cher was an amazingly good actress. I went through a brief phase of wanting to be a thespian, and my biggest downfall — I admit, there were many — was that I couldn’t cry on command. Oh, I pulled it off once, for a student film, by staring really hard at a Kleig light right for ten minutes before the director called “action,” but it damaged my vision for weeks, and I knew I couldn’t get away with that trick more than once. To this day, then, when I see an actor cry, even halfway convincingly, I am immediately moved to place them in the category of Greats.)
Back to the movie. Cher is tempted for a moment, but in the end resists. She and her friends defeat Jack Nicholson in a lengthy, ridiculous denouement involving, among other things, the prodigious vomiting of cherry pits. I remember nothing more (except that I developed a lifelong aversion to that fruit as a result of watching.) Why is this little moment, then, this cinematic snippet, lodged so persistently in my mind? Why does it pop into my consciousness so regularly — when I’m hanging laundry, driving to Trader Joe’s, washing the third load of breakfast dishes?
You might say the answer is obvious. Do I feel like Cher? Is there a tear — figuratively speaking — trickling down my cheek? Am I longing for a Mephistophelean character to come rescue me from my domestic drudgery? Do I, in short, hate being a housewife?
The answer, I can tell you honestly, is no, no, and no. Oh, sure, I’d love a better dishwasher. And a stove that didn’t incinerate every particle of food I put in it would be nice, too. (Although, come to think of it, we could open a private crematorium — for animals? — and maybe do quite well). It would be nice to have Michelle Pfieffer and Susan Sarandon as friends. Although without Tim Robbins in the picture the incentive dwindles…
Point is, I love what I do. It was very hard won. It is very cherished. Sure, it is repetitive, unglamorous, and endless. But the Bhuddists would say the cycle of life is too, right? And I’m not going to argue with the Bhuddists. Who are, incidentally, a very neat people. And who probably have fewer appliances — of any quality — than I do.
So the fact that that scene haunts me? Write it off to a cerebral fluke.
The fact that I have clothes to fold in the dryer? A filthy, hairy dog bed to wash? And dinner to figure out again?
I never could cry on command.