It might be happening in your neck of the woods: the moon sitting heavy on the horizon, just up from its nap, groggy, large, no: massive. We drive more slowly to see it rising there through the trees. We exit the Walgreen's parking lot, J switches on the radio, and the woman says "here's Todd Rundgren." And we saw the light.
"It's things like this -- the moon larger than I've ever seen it, that song coming on the radio the moment you turned it on -- that make me think this is all a dream. That I'll never die."
"This place is magic."
"Or maybe that I'm already dead."
"And if you're already dead, you have no need to be afraid of dying?"
Would that it were, my darling.
* * *
I knew I was going to write about The Muppets just ten minutes into the film.
I was in the old movie theater in the town I grew up in, there to see The Muppets with my mother, my good childhood friend Sara, and Sara's mother. The theater hadn't changed in twenty years: the blue carpeted walls, the bronze stars in the floor. Those dreams you have where you go back to your elementary school but you're bigger now, and so everything seems skewed? I was walking down the skewed hallway of that dream, clutching a paper bag of overly salted popcorn served up by the high school kids behind the glass counter. I was properly primed.
The movie relies not just on the nostalgia of the kids who grew up watching The Muppet Show, but the parents who watched it with them, and true to form, my mom called it first. In the scene where they're showing Kermit's office, the pictures on the wall of the green felt frog with the likes Florence Henderson and Sammy Davis, Jr., she leaned over and whispered: "This is SO nostalgic."
Later, in the lobby, dissecting the scene where the barbershop quartet starting singing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" while shrinking Jack Black's head, I said "it's just like they reached into my head and scooped out a random section of nostalgia from my brain and threw it up there on the screen. Sam the Eagle plus Kurt Cobain! There. You have your film for 35 year olds."
They had scraped more than just nostalgia from my brain; there were other themes I've found myself drawn to recently: aging pop stars, fading fame, growing up with a larger-than-life idea of your idols in your head, and then meeting them in the flesh and realizing they are mere mortals with doubts and fears just like yours.
There was something truly sad about all of this. Fozzie Bear with graying eyebrows, Kermit's song about losing touch with friends over the years. Miss Piggy's decision to have a career instead of a family. The old theater with a hole in its roof, dilapidated and ignored, ready to be condemned. It was all there on the screen: here is your youth, gone gray. Missing pieces here and there. Decisions made that you might regret, but, whoops, too late: they've already been made. You're getting older. As much as you want to go back, there's no turning back. You can't go home again.
When Kermit started to sing the Rainbow Connection, I heard a little sniffle next to me.
I turned around to Sara. "Are you crying?" I squeezed her knee and smiled through wet eyes. "Me too."
I don't know if Sara heard what I heard. To me, it wasn't a song about hope and dreams and believing in what might not be real; it was a song about all of us dying. And I hate that. I hate that I've become so fixated on death that it's all I can write about anymore. Nostalgia and the inevitability of death have become completely entwined. I hate that I've become so fixated on this inevitability that in the very best moments of life I'm suddenly and paralytically fearful of it all being taken from me.
And then somewhere in the middle of that old familiar song about rainbows, it was as if two scrawny green arms were shaking me out of that paralysis, and waking me to my good fortune: I had somehow managed to go home again. There I was back in my home town, in my very own time machine, with one of my very best friends sniffling next to me, our mothers at our sides. We were laughing, then crying, then laughing together, some bizarre Muppet therapy, watching those felt childhood friends growing older with us, and still: laughing.
It all seemed so obvious, what we tell ourselves over and over again: how dumb is it to ignore the magic of the rainbow -- the fat moon on the horizon, the song that comes on the radio at just the right time -- and instead waste your life fearing what is or isn't on the other side?
© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.