I’m not sure
If anyone noticed
If they did
By my backside
I would be too
Of one’s self
In what might
A site to behold
Aiming for the moon
In lieu of stars
Walking away from the dominant and dominating culture is an informal way of going AWOL, that is, the military acronym for Absent WithOut Leave. In this poem, the AWOL acronym stands for A Well Ordered Life. When you find yourself facing away from the dominant culture, you can expect that others will judge you by your backside. In traversing the road less traveled, the price the dominant culture extracts by any counter-cultural behaviors, is more than made up for by aligning oneself with the stars, rather than the moon, a lower site to set for brown-nosers and mere associates of all types. Much of modern life in Western civilization is built around group identities rather than passionate pioneering. We idolize celebrities. We cozy up to those with status and power. We our often possessed by our possessions, identifying more with what we own than with our own character.
The opposite of traversing down the road less traveled is living vicariously through the lives of others. Perhaps one of the greatest illustrations of this is in the cinematic great Cool Hand Luke. I find this movie one of the most way existential movies ever. The main character, Luke, played by Paul Newman, quickly develops a reputation as a “cool handed” man hell-bent on finding his own way in his own way. Here I am referring to the “stop feeding off of me” scene, where Luke, broken down, pleads with his fellow inmates to stop pinning all of their hopes and dreams on him; in essence, saying “get a life of your own!” In this scene, Luke had escaped from the chain-gang for a second time, having been away for a while, stoking freely the fantasies of his fellow inmates left behind. Here is the script containing that scene from Cool Hand Luke:
It is Saturday afternoon. Carr is distributing mail and
packages, the men clustered around; others lying on bunks,
making wallets, etc.
Magazines for you, Dragline!
ANGLE ON DRAGLINE
Dragline sits up from his bunk, astonished.
Magazines? Who’s sendin’ me magazines?
He looks at the package. Carr has tossed on his bunk.
From mah uncle? Ah never heard from
him in eight years and now he’s
sendin’ me magazines. He musta gone
He has torn open the package, looks through the magazines,
which are movie fan books, lies back to flip the pages. In
background. Carr is continuing the mail call. Suddenly Dragline’s
eyes widen, his mouth opens, but he catches himself and closes
it before he has revealed himself.
INSERT THE PICTURE
It is taped to page in the magazine. It shows Luke in a suit
and tie, holding up four aces and a joker in one hand, arms
around two buxom over-made strippers. On the table in front
of them is a giant bottle of champagne and glasses. Scrawled
across it is something in Luke’s writing.
ANGLE DRAGLINE KOKO SOCIETY RED OTHERS
Seeing Dragline’s reaction, they have gathered around.
Looka that! Two of them. Oh my…
I’m dyin’. I’m dyin’.
Dragline suddenly realizes the danger and closes the book so
Carr and the Wicker Man don’t catch on. The others reluctantly
move away. Dragline casually hands the magazine to Society
What’s the writing say?
(opening to the picture, reading)
Dear Boys. Playing it cool. Wish you
were here. Love, Cool Hand Luke.
Oh my. Oh my… Give it back here!
Red surrenders the magazine. Dragline opens it again and a
look of pure bliss settles over his face.
Lemme see it!
He looks over at Carr but Carr has moved away, is talking to
the Wicker Man, his back to the men. Koko, Loudmouth Steve,
Gambler and the others hurriedly cluster around Dragline.
Their voices are eager intense whispers.
Lookit the brunette…
The blonde’s gotta better set.
They must be six feet tall.
…And the champagne.
(from his bunk)
Wonder how he got the dough.
He’s probably a salesman. You can
make pretty good money if you know
what your doing in selling.
A salesman! Cool Hand Luke a salesman?
He’s probably a gigolo.
Or a con artist.
The head of the rackets.
Oh lookit that brunette.
Mah baby! We’re diggin’ and dyin’
but our boy Luke is lovin’ and flyin’.
They all gaze at the picture with loving, dreamy, painful
INT. BARRACKS (NIGHT)
Blackass time, dull, sad, boring. Koko sits idly flicking
cards from the poker deck, men staring into space. The cards
sail by Society Red who is clipping his nails.
How about you tryin’ to make me?
They slowly subside.
Dragline, lemme look at the picture.
Yeah, Drag. Get it out for a look.
You’re just a kid. Whatta you know
about it? You don’t wanna see that
dirty picture. Luke and those broads
an’ all that booze.
Come on, Drag. Lemme take a look.
It’d go to your coconut head. You’d
start getting ideas. Maybe even pass
Dragline! Be a buddy!
How much you figure it’s worth, a
peek at this here picture? A quick
look, I’m not talkin’ about no
A cold drink.
A cold drink? You mean one cold drink?
To feast yore starvin’ fishy l’il
eyes on The Picture? A true vision
of Paradise itself? With two of the
angels right there in plain sight a-
friskin’ round with mah boy?
A cold drink? Okay?
Well — okay. It’s a deal. One cold
drink, if’n you please. In advance.
One chilly bottle right here in mah
hot l’il hand… That goes for the
rest of you mullet-heads, too.
Activity as the men dig out coins to purchase drinks. Dragline
pulls out the magazine and the men all gather round, gazing
into it as though it were a crystal ball. Suddenly the wicker
door slams open and as the men look up…
Luke is dumped to the floor, face down, unconscious, by Boss
Paul, Boss Kean, others. The Captain is standing there over
him. Luke wears a new prison uniform and two sets of chains.
You run one time, you got yourself a
set of chains. You run twice, you
got two sets. You ain’t gonna need
no third set because you’re gonna
get your mind right… And I mean
He looks at the men who are stunned by the juxtaposition of
their hero in The Picture and the reality of the unconscious
figure before them.
Take a good look at your Cool Hand
With his foot he prods Luke over onto his back.
CLOSE ON LUKE
As he rolls over we can see he has been badly beaten.
NEW ANGLE THE MEN
As the Captain turns and walks out past the guards who follow,
and the wicket chute CLANGS shut, Dragline, Koko and others
move forward and gently lift Luke onto the poker table.
Oh mah poor baby. They done you real
good… I don’t know if you gonna
have them gals chasin’ after you for
CLOSE ON LUKE
lying, eyes closed.
SOCIETY RED’S VOICE
I’ve got some aspirin.
They half killed him.
He should have a doctor.
Don’t you never learn nuthin’? They
ain’t gonna let no doctor see what
they dont to him…
ANGLE ON DRAGLINE, OTHERS
Dragline looks up at Carr who stands hovering above them.
Carr, kin we use your razor to clean
up where they cut his head?
Carr moves off to his canteen area.
CLOSE ON LUKE
as Blind Dick, Gambler, others move in…
How you feelin’, buddy?
He don’t hear.
Somebody get him something to drink.
Gently he tucks two aspirin tablets into Luke’s mouth, holds
a cup of water to Luke’s mouth. Luke’s eyes slowly open, he
drinks the water.
That’s my baby.
He’s gonna be awright.
NEW ANGLE ON MEN
as Carr moves in with a razor, bandage, etc. The men clear
to give him room.
Luke?… We got the picture! See?
He holds it up.
CLOSE ON LUKE
His eyes squint open, close.
BLIND DICK’S VOICE
A pair of beauties. Best I ever seen.
You really know how to pick ’em.
LOUDMOUTH STEVE’S VOICE
Tell us about ’em. What were they
CLOSE ON LUKE
as his lips open. He speaks slowly, painfully.
Picture’s a phoney… Cost me a week’s
NEW ANGLE THE MEN
A phoney? Whatta you mean, a phoney?
We saw the broads.
Yeah. Did you have them both at once
It’s a phoney. Made it up just for
Aw, come on. We saw it all.
You really had it made.
Nothin. I had nothin, made nothin.
Couple towns, couple bosses. Laughed
out loud one day and got turned in.
(about to cry)
But — but —
That’s all there was. Listen. Open
your eyes. Stop beatin’ it. And stop
feedin’ off me. Now get out of the
way. Give me some air.
Stunned, the men shrink back.
He ain’t himself. He’s all beat up.
Cain’t you see that? He don’t know
what he sayin’.
I would definitely recommend watching Cool Hand Luke — again if you’ve already seen it! Great movie, and a way more entertaining way to get a lesson in existentialism than reading Sartre!