Harry Kalas, the venerable announcer for the Philadelphia Phillies for over 40 years, died last month. He died the Death of a Broadcaster, in his booth, preparing to call the game. Mr. Kalas left this place in a squeeze play—his last out. But oh what a final inning!
Willy Loman, tragic Average Man from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, would have killed for such a death. His lamentations about the perfect death of the successful salesman, Dave Singleman, still resonate with modern audiences.
Willy said [of Singleman’s death], “What could be more satisfying than to go, at the age of eighty-four, into twenty or thirty different cities, and be remembered and loved and helped by so many different people? When he died, hundreds of salesman and buyers were at his funeral.”
In an idealistic elegy, Willie marvels at the type of death Dave Singleman experienced, in the smoker car of the New York, New Haven and Hartford. “When he died—and by the way he died the death of a salesman, in his in his green velvet slippers…”
Over the many years I taught this American play to students who knew no war, no want, and for the most part, no hardship, I attempted to shock them into some sort of forced consciousness.
Let’s say that I died yesterday, the Death of a Teacher. How might Arthur Miller have written this death?
You would be making your best point!
We would be engaged and enthralled at your delivery!
You would be sitting on your stool, vibrant and funny!
We would be asking real questions, not ones designed to look smart!
You wouldn’t be answering our real questions; you would be Socratic and weaken our questions by your own!
We would have an “Ah ha” moment!
You would remind us that “Ah ha” is a palindrome!
As this discussion reached its peak and I had my students as emotionally engaged as sixteen-year-olds can be about a piece of literature, I asked them to write down a job they would like to have, their ideal job. Children of immigrant parents, many wanted to be doctors, electrical engineers, computer programmers…the types of jobs that make money and have prestige. No one wanted to be a journalist, a teacher, a nurse, or a travel agent. They then were to become Arthur Miller and write the dialogue for Death of a Computer Programmer.
The next day, each student read his bit. You might be surprised to learn that we had tears during these readings.
Was it the loss of the ideal? Or the pain of the real?