June 14, 1982 [E.T.: The Extraterrestrial]

Back from the movies, stepped outside to have a smoke--and in the big black back yard I felt the smell of a skunk against my face, up my nose, as though a rough hand--no, the inside of a big truck tire, that's what skunk-smell always reminds me of, tar-black and muffled, sharp as vulcanized flesh--pressed against me. I took one step forward, my eyes adjusting, and there it was, walking toward me in the yard. I stepped back, nonchalant, and went inside.

And I like the smell of a skunk--but far off, outside the car moving in the pine barrens in the dark, back from the shore and tired--and the smell wakes me up, and makes me think of Nature--you know, the whole tangled mass alive and most often beyond a pane of glass--like Wallace Stevens' jar, "round upon a hill"--and I'm in the jar, and do not "give of bird or bush"--or skunk. But I breathe in, not too deeply, and let it remind me.

But not so close, not fifteen feet away and closing in--might be rabid, why else would it approach rather than retreat from Mr. Man, the boss of it all? But he came at me--OK, ambled--and I went back inside, "like nothing else in Tennessee."

Elliott in E.T. goes outside, too--but Spielberg makes the light magical, a Close Encounter with the stuff at the edge of the yard--but not really like the ravine in Bradbury's Dandelion Wine, where the Lonely One waits. No, E.T. knows he's in a child's tale, and as sad and perilous as things may get, there's candy and teddy bears, moonlit flights and daring rescues--the grownups the monsters, showing up from another movie, unwelcome in the bedroom with the children delighted and whispering their secret.

Still, the smell of the skunk hangs on, and the little wandering gnome--or is it Peter Pan?--goes home, Spielberg sending him once more up in the spaceship, the suburbs fine but not nearly as full of stars as E.T.'s "port in air."


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