Monday, May 25, 2009

Seven Things That I Should Have Expected -- But Didn't

One of the strange facets about getting older: not so much seeing your expectations come true, but realizing the fruition of things you never expected. We make plans for college, plans for careers, plans for retirement, and sometimes we even follow them.

But other things come to pass that we never expected because we never thought about them. For instance, who ever expected the phrase "keep it short, it's long distance" to disappear from the vernacular? Here are seven things I never expected:

The president of the United States is now younger than I am. By virtue of being born in 1961, at least he's still a Baby Boomer (1964 is the cut-off year). But the idea of someone younger than I am having that kind of authority is a little bit unsettling, at least the first time it happens. As my friend Charlotte says, you really only have to start worrying when the Pope is younger than you are.

The TV shows that I stupidly rearranged my schedule to watch as a child and teen-ager are now available anytime on DVD. I spent way too much time watching television as a child, despite growing up in sunny California. Even understanding the concept of reruns, I gasped and grasped at the chance to watch certain shows because I feared they would ethereally slip through my fingers. (Seeing them now and realizing how insipid they are, such as Bewitched, I wonder why I was so dedicated.)

I no longer believe that high school was the best time of my life. With the exception of Grad Nite at Disneyland (see Stumbling Down Memory Lane), I had a pretty terrific senior year. It started with a student tour of the United States after junior year, continued with a sweet and svelte sophomore girlfriend, and ended with a prestigious national writing award. It took a lot of years and a lot of therapy for me to stop idolizing the past and start enjoying the present.

I have forgotten the sound of my mother's voice. I keep searching for it in my memory and I can't conjure it up. Sometimes I feel like I have snippets of it, but the texture isn't there. I have no recordings of her; too bad Hallmark did make those recordable cards ten years ago.

I have become self-employed, just like my father. My father was in real estate, and he was at the beck and call of his clients. In my earliest memory of him, he's heading out the door on a weekend to work. The great thing about being a writer is that you're never really unemployed; you're just freelancing. The last time I made the transition from a staff job to freelancing, I decided to make it permanent, and now I know that serving my clients is what makes the mortgage payments. Although a lot of things about my father aggravate me, the fact that he taught me to have a work ethic isn't one of them.

All those years of painful dating make me appreciate my marriage. Dating was too often a fruitless and frustrating endeavor. But thank goodness I spent all those years doing it, because it makes me appreciate my wife that much more. Though I still want to divorce her twice a year and kill her once a year, I have no fantasies that something better is out there.

There would come a time when the words "I can't afford it" would be replaced by "I don’t want to spend the money." Of course, more recently, "I can’t afford it" has returned with a vengeance.

Generally, I hate surprises, but I can live with these.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Still Confused After All These Years

I always thought that I’d get smarter as I got older. Instead, I seem to be getting more confused. When ex-football quarterback and politician Jack Kemp died recently, my first thought was that he was already dead. I was confusing him with Jack Kent Cooke, late owner of the Washington Redskins, among other sports teams.

During the course of my lifetime, there have been intermittent bouts of confusion, many now clarified. For instance, I no longer believe that Audrey and Katherine Hepburn were related, or that Jose and Mel Ferrer were related. (Imagine my confusion during the years that Mel Ferrer was married to Audrey Hepburn.) I no longer wonder how Robert Wagner went from being mayor of New York to starring in It Takes A Thief, but now when I hear the name Jon Favreau, I have to discern from its context whether it’s the speechwriter or the actor.

I also admit that I occasionally have trouble when it comes to differentiating Christopher Wren from Christopher Robin; Alex Haley from Arthur Hailey (Roots and Hotel, after all, both took place in the South); Andrei Sakharov from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (although I don’t normally confuse physicists and writers); and Tantalus (who had trouble with water) from Sisyphus (who had trouble with rocks).

I can also see where some people would have to think twice about the difference between John Maynard Keynes and Maynard G. Krebs. Both espoused a general theory of employment, certainly; as a beatnik, Krebs’ theory would have been to avoid it at all costs.

On the other hand, it’s easy to tell the difference between Stanley Kubrick and Stanley Kramer, simply because Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner is just a little more straightforward than 2001: A Space Odyssey. Similarly, I don’t confuse Arthur Hiller and Arthur Miller, because no one would put Love Story in the same class as Death of a Salesman.

But I fear the amount of information I do know is outnumbered by the information I don’t know and may never learn, such as the difference between:
    ● a concerto and a sonata
    ● a psychopath and a sociopath
    ● baking power and baking soda
    ● jail and prison
    ● a republic and a democracy
    ● jam, jelly, and preserves
    ● a dolphin and a porpoise
    ● an accident and a collision

If I don’t know these things by middle age, when am I going to learn them? And even if I learned them, would I remember them? There are many things I used to know but don’t any longer. I used to be able to distinguish car makes at a glance; now they’re all aerodynamic blurs. I used to be able to trace the corporate lineage of most mergers and acquisitions. All forgotten now.

Criminy, maybe these are just previews of coming distractions. The human brain is a puzzle. What if senility is just the logical effect of having too many pieces of information in our brain? Eventually the pieces start dropping out of the jigsaw, and the picture doesn’t make sense anymore.

What a depressing scenario. I fear my only hope is to head to the DVD player and put in a double feature of Love Story and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Stumbling Down Memory Lane

As I get older, I remember things that didn’t happen and forget things that did. We all do this; we suffuse past relationships with a golden glow right up until the point we discover an old flame has turned into a fire-breathing dragon.

This entry was supposed to be a rant about Disneyland, about how either it’s changed or I have. The last few times I’ve gone through the Haunted Mansion and the Pirates of the Caribbean, I can’t even distinguish the words the spirits and the pirates are singing. Are their tape recordings deteriorating or is my hearing (or both)? The last time I was there with a friend of mine, an Anaheim resident who is also a Disneyphile, she pointed to some scuffed paint on a railing and whispered to me, “Walt never would have allowed this.”

But then my thoughts took an unexpected turn like a re-routed Matterhorn bobsled. If I wasn’t enjoying Disneyland now, when had I enjoyed it? What were my fond memories of it? Was I remembering things that didn’t happen?

In a word, yes. My first trip to Disneyland — of which I have no memory — came when I was two, not long after the park opened. My mother told me I slept in the drawer of a bureau in their room at the Disneyland Hotel. Somewhere there are 8mm home movies of my being tormented to tears in my stroller by an organ grinder’s monkey (though this could have been at Knott’s Berry Farm).

I have no recollection of any other trips until I was 15. I was delighted when my parents agreed to a family trip there, until I learned the reason why: they were only trying to atone for the time a few years earlier when they’d asked my grandmother to baby-sit me while she was, unbeknownst to all, entering the early stages of senility.

It was on that trip, I remember, being supremely embarrassed with General Electric’s Carousel of Progress (where Innoventions is now). Thanks to its sponsor, the Carousel of Progress took you through decades of advancement in kitchen appliances and other labor-saving facets of daily life. I was mortified when I saw that the kitchen of the 1940s had the exact same appliances as the ones we had at home (this was during the Nixon administration, so it was long past the 1940s).

Two years later, I was heady with anticipation of attending Grad Nite at Disneyland. Rick Nelson was the lead musical act; the backup act was Linda Ronstadt, before her first hit solo record. Alas, my girlfriend broke up with me two weeks before graduation; when I entered the park with four other friends, two went in one direction and the other two went in another. I wandered through the park for four hours before I found someone from my class. The park kicked us out at 5 a.m., but because of some bizarre union rule, our bus drivers couldn’t leave until they’d had eight hours rest. For two hours we huddled in the cool dawn air, the parking lot empty of all buses except ours, and watched the sun come up.

As I thought about these Disneyland memories, though, I realized based on the law of averages that it couldn’t have all been bad. I remembered the time that I once ditched a whopping failure of a conference at the Anaheim Convention Center and walked over to the park. If you want to get good service at Disneyland, walk in wearing a coat and tie; everyone will think you’re a Disney exec checking out their efficiency.

There was a drizzly February day I went there with my wife. What perfect weather for Disneyland — there were hardly any lines, and you could walk off a ride and get on it again immediately. Strangely, the only ride that had a line was Storybook Land, which involves open-air boats and, that day, getting wet. I’ve never quite figured that one out. The only drawback was that when we finished hitting every ride in mid-afternoon, I was ready to start over again and she was ready to go back to the hotel and nap.

I suppose that even with the memories, good and bad, I have never lost my inner child’s wonder at the idea of Disneyland, a place where magic and happy are built into the trademarks. I still think about going to Disneyland. I still think I’m going to have a good time. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, so I’ll just have to admit that I’m crazy about the place.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Why Don't They Remake These Movies?

One of the strangest feelings I get as a Boomer is seeing movies from my adolescence being remade. Next month’s release of the remake of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (with numbers instead of words), one of my favorite Walter Matthau movies, comes on the heels of remakes of The Poseidon Adventure, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Escape to Witch Mountain, among others. I have mixed feelings about this trend. While I loved The Poseidon Adventure as a teen-ager, especially Shelley Winters’ character, today I can do without the Rev. Scott-as-savior aspect.

The bigger problem is that Hollywood is not remaking a whole slew of the movies that should be redone. My suggestions (and with good reason):

A Little Romance (1979). Those of you who waited until A Walk On The Moon to fall in love with Diane Lane were late to the game. I started drooling over her when she played the delightful Lauren in her debut with none other than Laurence Olivier. The problem with this movie was her co-star, Thelonious Bernard, who (mercifully) made only one other movie. He played her teen-age love interest as a wholly insufferable and unsympathetic prig. Rewrite his part, hire Lane to play the role of her mother (Sally Kellerman in the original), and you’ve got a really sweet movie.

Endless Love (1981). In the novel by Scott Spencer — whom I believe to be the literary descendant of F. Scott Fitzgerald — the primary character is David Axelrod; his love interest, Jade, is practically a supporting role. Casting Brooke Shields as Jade, however, and the horribly wooden Martin Hewitt as David, created a lopsided movie because the focus was on the wrong character. Do it again, and get a star for the boy’s role, and an unknown for the girl’s.

Same Time Next Year (1979). My problem here is that I was lucky enough to see John Lithgow and Gail Strickland do this play at ACT in San Francisco in the summer of 1976. Anyone who remembers Lithgow’s salt-of-the-earth banker in Terms of Endearment knows that he could have pulled off the role of the conflicted accountant in Same Time Next Year much better than Alan Alda, who always seems to be playing Alan Alda. I have the full box set of M*A*S*H DVDs, but please, Hollywood — cast someone as George who isn’t so whiny.

The Way We Were (1973). This may sound like a surprise. The once-only matching of frat-boy Robert Redford with radical Barbra Streisand was a big hit, and deservedly so. But what’s not commonly known — and I only found out by watching the retrospective documentary on the special edition DVD — is that in the original script, Hubbell and Katie didn’t get divorced because he cheated on her; they got divorced because he was going to be blacklisted from the studios if he stayed married to her. She was going to make that sacrifice for his career. In the DVD, director Sydney Pollack tells the story of two previews on two consecutive nights in San Francisco, one including scenes with the politicized ending, and one without those scenes. The first was a bomb, the second was a hit. Here’s a daring idea — remake The Way We Were using Arthur Laurents’ original script.

That said, I have no illusions that Hollywood will follow my suggestions. There is nary a slashing, ship capsizing, or extraterrestrial on the list. They’re all love stories. Criminy — that means we’re stuck with all of them the way they were.