Monday, February 06, 2012

I Went Somewhere Else

It was overcast and cool, but I had been inside my little cottage most of the day. I knew there was a big football game that would engage the whole country, and if you read yesterday's post you know how I feel about that, so I was looking for something else to do.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy had ended its run at the local cineplex, replaced by Hugo, a fantasy about the early days of motion pictures. In 3-D, no less. It had earned critical praise and not a few awards and nominations for more. There was a showing at 4:40 which would take me away from my TV set for most of the period absorbed by pre-game and post-game conjecture about who was going to do what to whom and what the other side would have to do then.

No question, I was going to see Hugo. There was little traffic on the highways--all those Super Bowl parties, no doubt--and the movie house was all but empty. I took my sunglasses as they were handed to me at the box office and put them on when instructed.

I was enchanted by Hugo. For the first hour, which did move a bit slowly, I worked on suspending disbelief. It was basically a children's movie and I wished I had my grandsons with me and wished they were about six and nine again. I had to settle for my own inner child, who is about five in today's years. She loved it.

My outer adult questioned whether this flick really demanded 3-D, but had to admit it enhanced the show. I literally felt transported to the inside of a clock in a Paris train terminal of long ago, and I marveled at the clarity of the blue eyes of a boy named Asa Butterfield, and soon I was seeing the world through his eyes. In a charming cameo, Jude Law played his father. Ben Kingsley played a villainous old man. A little too cute for words was Chloe Grace Moretz as the well-read smarty pants who accompanies Hugo in his adventures.

I love movies about movies, at least the way they're doing them these days. (On the other hand, I have to say I enjoyed Singin' in the Rain more than The Artist) but I liked Hugo as much as any older film.

Hugo watches the passing scene through the clock in the terminal, where he lives, as one would watch a movie. He tells that he and his father used to go to movies and that his father told him about a movie he'd seen as a child in which a rocket hit the man in the moon right in the eye "And it was as if he was seeing his own dreams." I've seen that ancient bit of movie footage myself and loved the idea of a child in Paris seeing it for the first time. Hugo takes his new friend to her first movie, which shows Harold Lloyd hanging over the city, suspending himself from the hands of a giant clock. This is not the last time we see a scene of someone hanging from a clock in Hugo. I recently saw Tom Cruise hanging off the side of the building in an adventure flick but missed the Harold Lloyd reference. Hugo brings it home.

The experience of Hugo reminded me of a book I read five years ago and wrote a blog post about. My post was called "Dreaming the Movies" and you can find it if you type those words in the search box above. I won't go into all of it here, but the book described the experience of movies compared to the experience of dreams. Hugo captures the experience of both, telling the audience that that is the way it's supposed to work. In Hugo, it worked like a charm for me.

So I escaped the football game, came home to a disappointing episode of Downton Abbey, and climbed into my dreams for a full and pleasant night.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

No to the Super Bowl

It was in the 1950s--probably midway--when I attended my last football game. Fairhope's biggest rival was Foley. It was the biggest game in the season.

In those days I went to Fairhope's "other" school, the little School of Organic Education with an enrollment of about 50 in the high school. My friends and I faithfully went to all the home games of Fairhope High. I sat with five or six lifelong friends (they are til this day) and thrilled to the sound of the bands, the atmosphere charged by the energy of cheerleaders--the smell of autumn in the air and all the trappings of the game. Going to a football game was exciting, and Fairhope always had a good, competitive team. The Foley game was the highlight of the year.

This particular year Fairhope was winning by a big lead. It was several years before Kenny Stabler was on the Foley team. We wouldn't have known his name in those days anyway.

All I know for sure is that Foley was not going to win this one. It was a slaughter, and we knew it was a slaughter before the end of the first half. That was when one of my favorite people on the planet made an astounding suggestion.

"Let's go sit on the Foley side for the second half," he said. "We can boo until they give up!"

I was shocked to hear this. Stunned and heartbroken. "No!"

But I was much more heartbroken at the response. This bright and beautiful young man got the support of all my friends and a few others from the Fairhope side. Double whammy heartbreak for the starry-eyed girl from Montrose (me).

I said, "If you do this, I'm leaving. And I'll never come to another football game." They were incredulous, but nobody supported my action.

At the break, while the bands were playing and the half-time show was going on, a group of about ten youngsters from Fairhope actually traipsed over the Foley side and found front row seats (Foley didn't have many in the stands). When the game started again there they sat, cheering wildly every time Fairhope had a successful play on the field, no matter how small, and jeering at the top of their lungs when someone on the Foley team attempted a counter action. It was a spectacle I have never forgotten.

By then I was ready to walk away from the game. I lived far enough away that I had to await a ride from my mother, who would pick me up by the time the game ended. There was no telephone nearby so I could let her know I was ready to go home early. I stood near the field but out of sight of the game, and heard the roars from the stands when Fairhope made touchdowns and the slight sounds when Foley did something that might make a point.

I knew at that moment I had changed my life with that action. Never again would I see football or any other sport as an innocent, positive aspect of American life. I would see the whole spectrum of competitive athletics as fostering the opposite of "good sportsmanship." I didn't want to learn the finer points of the game. I would never again thrill to joining the cheerleaders in their chants, yelling myself hoarse with the best of them. I would go to the basketball games for my school; I once even attended a local bush league baseball game and was bored to tears after a few innings. I tolerated sports on television when I had to. But for the next fifty years I would like football least of all.

It was a small incident, really. Over the years I've wondered why I allowed it to be so meaningful in my life. With the orgy of emotion in this country over every game--high school, college, and professional--and the obscene amount of money that controls all organized sports, I suspect this may be one of the times I was wrong. Sometimes it seems to me that football is the engine that drives my country, prepares its young men for actual battle and definitely for the hard core workplace. It makes people happy to win and win big. Cheering for the winners is a national pastime. All of this, with my teenaged decision, was lost to me for a lifetime.

Maybe it was destined to happen anyway. There are plenty of people who have things they'd rather do than watch football. Probably I would have become one of them without the scene I witnessed. Clearly I overreacted. Now when I think of the joy of high school football I remember that night and it is like a black hole in my soul. At 71 it's probably time I cleared that hole out and put something in its place. Even now I don't know what, how or even why I would have to do that, and it is a little late.

I'll never be a football fan, but over time I've learned that it's not the game that creates the dark side in otherwise good people. The episode signaled the beginning of my loss of innocence, but it was highly personal and might have ended another way if I had not been so judgmental of those near and dear friends. I shall find other things to do than attend a Super Bowl party this evening. Maybe I'll use the time to work on ways to replace that memory and not hold all of the culture of football responsible for the bad behavior of a few teenagers in a remote utopian enclave of the distant past.

Friday, February 03, 2012

My Portable Life

Here I am in Fairhope again, driving around in a rental car and staying in a sweet one room cottage.It's one room with a little kitchen, a little bathroom--and a lot of charm. It's in a pretty corner of Fairhope, close to town (and to the bay, of course--every property in Fairhope is always advertised as "Walk to town and bay"). I do walk some, and drive some too. I deliberately go out of my way so that I might see what has changed and what has stayed the same. I show up at the door of people I used to know and they are telling me the latest news and gossip.
Above is very close to the center of town, the gaping hole on Fairhope Avenue where the movie house used to be. Soon a new edifice will be erected here for yet another building for gift shops and tourist attractions. It's the way things are going (and have gone for the past 25 years or so).

The weather is pleasant--it'll be 73 degrees today--and birds are singing and people are smiling. All of that is to be expected in Fairhope at this time of year, although I'm told it's been a mild winter, even for here.

I lived here for almost 20 years before I decided to move away in December of 2007--to a more hostile climate and a more confrontational atmosphere. I live in New Jersey, and for the first year, whenever I met someone and said I had just moved there from Alabama, people said, "Oh, you're the one..." I'm close to New York City, where I can go to matinees of first rate productions of first rate plays as often as I can afford it, and where I'm a 20 minute bus ride from a trip to visit my daughter and grandsons.

Whatever I may say about not missing Fairhope, it's always fun to return. We who leave are tempted to quote Thomas Wolfe's famous title You Can't Go Home Again, but I have found it possible and in many ways the best of both worlds.

Most of the time so far on this trip I find I'm still doing what I do in my non-vacation life. I check and write email, go on Facebook and make snarky comments to strangers. Soon I'll resume sending my query letter to agents who may be willing and able to hawk my novel to legitimate publishers. I've gotten two rejections so far after sending the query to ten high-powered agents--I should have a full complement by the time I go home at the end of March.

I'm catching up with friends and relations one by one and observing the changes in all. I think it's going to be a lovely two months--even though I can't say I left to get away from bad weather. I came home for a visit.