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Another Day, Another Dollar
In memory of Arthur Miller
By Barry Edelstein

"Another day, another dollar" hardly has the ring of, "attention must be paid," or "a smile and a shoeshine," or "there's a universe of people out there and you're responsible to it," but it's the Arthur Miller line I like most.

Arthur (which I never could quite get used to calling him, but "Mr. Miller" didn't seem right, either) said it to me in the lobby of the Williamstown Theater Festival in the summer of 1996. I was directing a revival of All My Sons staged to mark the play's 50th anniversary. The first performance had just concluded and the audience was filing out of the auditorium. They were stunned, devastated. Tears streamed down cheeks and reddened the many pairs of eyes that struggled not to stare at the tall, bespectacled man -- you know, the one who was once married to Marilyn -- standing in the corner. They did stare, though, less in awe of his fame than in disbelief that this distinguished, patrician-looking fellow in khakis and a blazer could be responsible for the storm of emotion that had just broken over them. The whole scene was weirdly quiet. There was none of the usual post-play chatter about where to have dinner, or which actor was good and which wasn't. Breathing was the only sound, choked gasps, sad sighs. It was a kind of parade of stupor, a halting processional of shell shock. In over fifteen years of directing plays I've never seen its like.

In the midst of it, Arthur turned to me, shrugged, and said, in his throwback-to-the-'40s, gravelly Brooklynese, "Another day, another dollar."

It was the kind of comment made by a carpet installer looking at a fine deep-pile he'd just put down, or a mechanic slamming the hood on a set of plugs newly fastened into a V-8. It was something a short-order cook says at the end of a shift, not the somber pronunciamento of America's Greatest Living Playwright watching his first masterpiece triumph once again.

I had seen the play make the crew tear-up at a dress rehearsal the night before, and certainly it had overwhelmed me more than once during the time I worked on it, but none of that prepared me for the huge impact it had on a real audience. I would see it happen again and again, in Williamstown and when the play transferred to New York. Somehow this man, with his typewriter and some paper, had unleashed an astonishing power, seismic enough to reduce to rubble a random group of strangers, penetrating enough to reach inside every kind of person: Young and old, male and female, sophisticated and simple. Standing next to him in that lobby was like standing next to an aircraft carrier, or to the Enola Gay. His lines were, to use a phrase not yet current in the mid-nineties, weapons of mass destruction.

So I wanted to hear some that I could call my very own. I wanted something for the ages, something that would help explain how it was that when he was a young man Arthur Miller had conjured from the air a story strong and resonant enough to reach five decades into the future with its righteous anger and moral power intact. I wanted some sagacity, an observation whose gravity would match the power surging around us.

Nothing doing. Arthur just stood there grinning -- or, more accurately, twinkling -- his big arms folded across a still-muscular chest puffed proud with satisfaction. All I got was "Another day, another dollar." He'd done his job and he'd done it well. What more was there to say?

To Arthur, a job well done had worth. I think that's why his hobby was carpentry. Take some wood, a saw, nails, and a hammer, work for a few hours, and presto! You have a chair you can sit on. It's finite, it's concrete. Someone in Death of a Salesman says that Willy Loman was never happier than when he was laying new bricks in his front stoop. Critics have seen in this a certain romanticization of the working man, a kind of idealistic proto-Marxism. But really, that's a misinterpretation. Whatever his politics, Arthur didn't write about working men out of some agit-prop agenda. That was Clifford Odets. Arthur wrote about salt-of-the-earth Americans because he identified with them, because despite his Pulitzer Prize, his friendships with intellectuals around the world, his meetings with presidents and prime ministers, and even his marriage to the modern world's Helen of Troy, he was, in every essential way, salt-of-the-earth himself.

The very first time I met him, in the foyer of his surprisingly modest Upper East Side apartment building, he pointed to a crew of elevator repairmen hard at work on one of the cars. In tones of hushed respect he told me that just a few days before, a repairman had his legs crushed by the malfunctioning elevator. Later, over lunch, he told me about Lee J. Cobb and Elia Kazan, about JFK watching Salesman in Washington and Deng Xiaoping watching it in Beijing, about cigars with Fidel Castro and tennis with Dustin Hoffman, and about the time he saw All My Sons in Tel Aviv, and Yitzhak Rabin whispered to him that even though he knew Arthur wrote it, there was no way he would accept that this was an American play because to him it was irrefutably and fundamentally Israeli.

But those glittering stories were for my benefit, told because I had asked, or because, for all the accolades he'd collected in his lifetime, Arthur was not above passing up a new opportunity to be admired, even if only by a young director whose eyes had such big stars in them that he would have been ecstatically happy just to sit and beam, no stories necessary. The story about the elevator repairman was different. It felt weightier, as though it had lodged somewhere deep inside him, deeper than any anecdote about the A-listers he knew. It seemed to have worked its way into the starting blocks of his writer's imagination, into the place from where Eddie Carbone could view the bridge, and to where Biff Loman no doubt sprinted clutching the pen he'd nervously swiped from Bill Oliver's desk. He told it to me not because it was dazzling or fancy in any way, but because it was gnawing at him, stirring him, and it had to come out. The movers and shakers may well have impressed Arthur Miller, but the elevator repairman on disability, and his terrified wife, and his confused children -- these were the people who moved him.

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