Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Cormac McCarthy, Betty Carey, Chigurh, and Spirituality

I'm going to interrupt the continuation of my interview with Garry Wallace to comment on Betty Carey, who is discussed in the interview and by Mr. Wallace previously in his essay, "Meeting Cormac McCarthy."
Betty Carey, a true maverick, "beautiful and fierce. . ."

Betty Carey--still very much alive, just reclusive--is an extraordinary poker player.  You can see a large amount of her history at this link.  She learned poker from her father at an early age, but she became a world class player on her own hook.  Amarillo Slim, at this link, says that she was the best female poker player he ever saw.



Jimmy Chagra, the notorious drug dealer and no doubt an inspiration for Chigurh--McCarthy's villain in No Country For Old Men--once staked Betty Carey to a high stakes poker game with Amarillo Slim.  Chagra had been beaten by Amarillo Slim and he wanted to see him taken down.  Chagra's history is told at this link and it ironically involves murder and Woody Harrelson's father.  Woody himself plays Wells in the movie, one of the people Chigurh kills.

As she herself said, Betty was different from most people, out of the mainstream,  a maverick.  That term has been much maligned by politicians in recent years, but you should see Owen Ulph's definition at this link.  Think of Jodie Foster's part as an existential maverick in the comic movie, Maverick.

It appears that Betty retired from the nightlife and the celebrity to stay in Wyoming and raise her daughter.  She certainly won enough money to be independent, although she lost too and once said, "The real luxury of life is being able to wear blue jeans anywhere I go.”

Betty Carey's freedom was the subject of just about every quote in an Associated Press article about her, carried in the The Palm Beach Post on October 29, 1983.  She only rode bareback, she said, because she didn't believe that saddles were good for horses or people either.  She said that people made their own luck, for better or worse.  Alongside the article was a picture of the reclusive lady poolside in a string bikini.  The two men beside her are unidentified but I think that one of them is Amarillo Slim Preston. 

Amarillo Slim says he gave her a job once when she needed one, but that she returned to Wyoming when she was able, and it didn't take long.  Many years later, in 2008, she came out of seclusion to enter the World Series of Poker, finishing 36th out of the 716 players who entered. 

In Garry Wallace's memoir, he recalls Cormac McCarthy meeting with them in El Paso back in March, 1989, to talk with them about a memoir of her gambling adventures.  Wallace had been helping her write it, but they'd thus far been unable to obtain a publisher.  Their conversation reveals much about McCarthy's reading and writing and character.  You should read Wallace's entire essay.

The scene shifted across town where Betty, McCarthy, and Wallace joined up with their mutual friend, professional gambler and evangelist Frank Morton.  Garry Wallace says that it was then that the topic of conversation turned to spiritual matters:

"Frank related a number of personal religious experiences that he had had over the years, pointing out the flaws in other people's lack of faith.  I challenged him, saying that one day science would understand these unexplained phenomena for what they really were.'

"McCarthy commented that some cultures used drugs to enhance the spiritual experience, and he said that he had tried LSD before that drug was made illegal.  He said that it had helped to open his eyes to these kinds of experiences.'

"Betty recounted having seen the image of Christ on a bus while in Costa Rica.  This had been at a time following the casino scam when Betty had been on the run.  She said that her experience was as real as our sitting together in the motel room.  It had not been a dream or a hallucination.'

"Always the skeptic, I said 'But how does that prove Christianity?  Why not Buddha or Allah?  You saw Jesus because you were raised in Jesus-land.'  I looked to Frank and McCarthy.  Their expressions were sympathetic."

McCarthy then spoke about spiritual experiences and asked Wallace if he'd ever read William James' The Varieties of Religious Experience.  "His attitude seemed to indicate that in this book were the answers to many of the questions posed in our evening discussion.  I was nonplussed."

Months later, Garry Wallace wrote McCarthy, "completing a few thoughts I'd been unable to that night we discussed spiritual experiences.  Some time later, I received a reply."

"He said that the religious experience is always described through the symbols of a particular culture and thus is somewhat misrepresented by them. . .He went on to say that he thinks the mystical experience is a direct apprehension of reality, unmediated by symbol, and he ended with the thought that the inability to see spiritual truth is the greater mystery."
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Next: The Garry Wallace interview, part two.

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