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Entries in nostalgia (62)


My Apologies To Helen Buckman

Martha Plimpton has opened up a wormhole in my universe.

Shortly after I spotted her the other night, I noticed that Parenthood was playing repeatedly on HBO. I had forgotten how much I love that film. Last Friday, J came home to find me sobbing, clutching tissues and reciting lines to the ending of a film I hadn't seen in over a decade. I obviously never realized how much it affected me. Last night as we were getting ready for bed, J noticed something taping on the DVR and brought up the menu.

"You're taping Parenthood AGAIN?"

"Oh yeah! I forgot. Let's put it on." I batted my lashes. "Just the beginning."

We watched for half an hour, finally turning it off because J couldn't stand to watch the lost retainer scene. And then I happened to mention online that I once scared the crap out of Dianne Wiest.

I should know by now that you can't allude to something online without being prepared to tell the full story. I was asked to elaborate, and I only wish it had been as exciting as I made it sound. I did not jump out at Dianne Wiest from behind a rock. I did not put snakes in Dianne Wiest's luggage. If anything, I may have made Dianne Wiest feel a little bit uncomfortable. The truth, apparently, doesn't sound as good on Twitter. So forgive me if this story goes nowhere. (Last Sunday I learned that if you're telling a story that's going nowhere, you should end it with "And then I found five dollars." Apparently, the worse the story is going, the lower the value you tack on to the end of the story. This could come in handy.)

In the summer of 1990, a film crew rolled into our sleepy town to film scenes from Jodie Foster's directorial debut, Little Man Tate. They held casting calls for extras and stand-ins*, roped off streets, and raised lighting rigs to light up various buildings around town. I'm sure the local paper ran a headline along the lines of "Hollywood Comes To Southwestern Ohio." On hot days when there was nothing better to do, we townfolk milled curiously around the perimeters of the set, hoping to catch a glimpse of Harry Connick Jr. changing his t-shirt.

One day I was loitering with the rest of the town, navigating a maze of duct taped cables and catering tents, waiting for someone to shout "action!" Dianne Wiest was nearby, playing with her daughter during a pause in filming. This was before I knew much about Dianne Wiest, Academy Award Winning Actress, Star Of Woody Allen Films. But I knew she was a star, and I was in awe of being in proximity to a star. I had, after all, seen Parenthood.

She handed the girl to a sitter and sat down in a director's chair to review her script. I was trying to build the nerve to ask for her autograph; the mother of a friend of mine innocently suggested I use a conversation starter, such as asking her what her daughter's name was. And so I walked up to her.

"Um, what's your daughter's name?"

"[Daughter's Name I Can't Remember.] Why do you ask?" She was on guard, but politely signed my stray piece of paper. Apparently fourteen seemed like an odd age at which to be naturally curious about the name of another child.

I pointed. "That lady over there told me to ask you."

When I looked in the direction of my friend's mother, however, she wasn't waving cutely like a curious and empathetic mom, but leering expectantly at the two of us. The expression on her face made her look as if she could be anticipating either a celebrity's acknowledgment of her question, or the fingerbone of a small child to help her build her house in the woods. She might as well have been dangling a poison apple. She noticed us looking in her direction and tried to slip behind a nearby tree. Poor Dianne Wiest smiled nervously at me and I walked away.

I doubt her daughter came to the set much after that.

And then I found a nickel.

(*Look carefully for the boy running pigeon-toed away from the camera in one of the scenes with the group of genius kids. That would be my brother, aged ten.)


Backyard, 1977

This is the backyard of the house on Bishop Street. Until I saw this film, I thought that I'd deluded myself into imagining my old backyard as a polychromatic wonderland of flora, or that I'd erroneously constructed an enchanted forest of bushes lining the perimeter, bushes perfect for hiding in that never actually existed. But here's proof: the honeysuckle trees brimming, the lines of tulips bursting.

There was one bush in the yard I remember best; with its brittle flowers I thought of it as the great grandmother of the garden, wearing bone-colored gloves with a lace trim. In the wind, it sounded like old love letters. If that makes any sense at all. It makes a brief appearance at 1:40, I think, though I wouldn't know for sure until I was able to touch it again, to feel those brittle flowers turning to dust between my fingers.

(Music: "Walk With Me" by John McGrew, who always wishes he remembered it all better.)


Finding Elsewhere

How much of our lives do we spend wishing we were Elsewhere? At home under the covers. Visiting cold forests in far off lands. Back in 1992. I'd wager the percentage is high. Somewhere over the rainbow. Not on this plane. In the South Pacific. In southwestern Ohio.

Okay, so maybe it's just me. But as I'm in desperate need of company on this, if you don't mind, I'll borrow the first person plural.

To go Elsewhere, we read. We turn on the television. Pick up the phone and dial 011 then a country code. Skype. We go as far as we can in ordering an imaginary plane ticket to Japan without actually paying for it. We find portals like these in our computers, in our telephones, in our imaginations.

I would contend that Home, the King of Elsewheres, has the strongest pull on the other side of the portal.

My friend Jess just moved back to southern Ohio (northern Kentucky, to be precise) and I've taken to gazing out of her round kitchen window. Imagining autumn mornings and the familiar smell of the air. Jim goes to Cincinnati with his Sweet Juniper clan, drops a few familiar street names, and I'm suddenly obsessively wandering around Over-The-Rhine in Google Street View.

It's bizarre, wandering the pixels of a map frozen in time. Frozen in somebody else's time. What I remember seems to be gone, or changed, or misplaced. I fly down Vine Street, searching for Sudsy Malone's Laundry & Bar (where I once saw Yo La Tengo and Magnetic Fields and The Wrens, accompanied by the hummmmm-click! of jeans in a dryer), and find it there, but with windows papered over. I sift through unfamiliar grocery store signs from another decade, neon and metal, looking for the shops where I once bought a pair of used jeans with "I LOVE ARTHUR" written on the knee. Up the hill of some park where I remember sitting on the hood of a car, surrounded by kids from someone else's high school. Across the lower level of a metal bridge where I once drove white-knuckled, sandwiched between two trucks and the Ohio River.

This Elsewhere Cincinnati goes beyond my memory of it, populated by the lives of others. A couple loading a car in front of a neon manufacturing storefront. A man whacking weeds along a chain link fence. A Harter & Sons cheese truck delivering its wares at Findlay Market. In Kentucky, I spot a reclining armchair fully extended on someone's lawn, waiting for the owner to return with a can of beer. In someone else's Elsewhere.

While not all of us resort to the tedious method of crawling ten feet at a time along streets in a virtual map, we all do this wandering. This daydreaming. Trying to find Elsewhere. But we snap out of it. The phone rings. We are yanked back to reality by a familiar nearby voice. A lively discussion in the next room. A small chore: vacuuming, wiping dust from a bookshelf. We, if we're sensible, never allow ourselves to become trapped on the other side of the mirror, lost in the daydream.

And yet tonight, I do the worst thing I can do: I keep wandering those old streets. Ten feet at a time. I imagine myself Elsewhere, reclining in a lawn in Kentucky, leaning against a wall beneath an old grocery store sign, sitting on the hood of a car in someone else's park, in someone else's Elsewhere.



Tonight, the role of Zan will be played by Ali MacGraw

It would make a lot of sense.

I suddenly feel as if I've been hurled back through time to the late 1970s — possibly the early 1980s. It's hard to tell the difference sometimes. But my hair is longer than it should be. Just the other day I purchased camping equipment and a sweater knit from yarn. And then there's this new fascination with brown leather boots.

It's also difficult to tell whether I'm reading certain books (Dubin's Lives, Shel Silverstein) because of a sudden attraction to this time, or if what I'm reading is causing this whiplash back to corduroy, Carter, and crochet. But it's happening. I've even taken to lugging around my Kramerbooks canvas bag instead of a purse because its evergreen logo happens to be in that puffy writing so evocative of my early youth, right down to the happy, swirling ampersand.

I've been here before — it's the homecoming parade cycle, the return to carved pumpkins. I know that this is a perfectly reasonable explanation.

The nostalgist in me finds it odd, though, displacing even, when John Denver comes on the loudspeakers in the art store just as I find myself in dangerous proximity to the crafts section.


Dear Shadow Alive and Well

Beneath the wall of books in my parents' home (where James Herriot and Erica Jong once salaciously touched covers) was a series of cupboards that hid a different art: their old records. I used to flip endlessly through these cardboard covers, trying to piece together my parents' history, first apart, then together. You can almost go so far as to blame the entire extent of my current nostalgic obsessions on a single cupboard of vinyl. I put the needle on Harvest and the damage was done. I was traveling backwards, inhaling the smell of polyester in the closet, witnessing afghan throws and unfinished wood decorating a newlywed Vermont home.

Their particular record collection was like the commercial for a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. "Hey, you got your CSNY in my Carpenters!" "No, you got your Simon & Garfunkel in my New Riders of the Purple Sage!" On listening, I tried to seek out the place where the two converged.

A few weeks ago, a bit late to the party as usual, I discovered my modern day fabled peanut butter cup: Fleet Foxes.

There's this one too, the song that made me cry the very first time I heard it, on the couch the other night, and then again on the bus last week. (Their use of Brueghel on the album cover doesn't hurt their rating in my book either. If you'll tolerate it, someday I might spend an entire post here writing the stories of the characters in "The Hunters in the Snow." In fact, that would make a fantastic novel. Somebody get on that.)

Fleet Foxes are a new string back to my parents' record collection. To those imagined pasts soundtracked by an acoustic guitar. A simple round. Folk songs and protest songs.

I put on the record. It's like having my parents over for dinner, their younger versions, with different expectations of life. These songs, even in moments of imperfection, make me think about what they once hoped for. What they still hope for.

My parents and I still talk about hope. All the time. Political hope. Hope for the future hope. Hope to see you hope. Hope you're well. Hope.

I live in the shadow of this hope, and, contrary to the usual associations attached to living in someone's shadow, it's a wonderful place to be. They've raised me like those gourmet coffee beans that grow in the shade. And we come together, at times, the oak trees and the acorn, to have inspiring dialogues. And I can see something in them that inspires me to create my own version of their lives. A cover version, my interpretation of their past. Me and my words, wandering off to some foreign country, awkward and unsure in our old early nineties uniform, interpreting their lives from a distance. Full of echoes. It might look something like this:

We, most of us, are cover versions of our parents' lives.