OK, it’s a stretch for a tie-in, I’ve just been dying to use that song for a headline.
But nights are seriously becoming less tedious for me. I started writing due to the slow and maddeningly quiet time. It’s a hard thing to watch your children go to bed and realize that you’ve been unable to process your own life because you’ve been keeping yourself busy and moving forward knowing that you have them counting on you. It’s not that I’ve suppressed a lot of feelings or grief, you’ve seen and read a lot of it. But when your day starts really early and ends really late you don’t really think very much about your life. It’s something triggered by smells, touch, thoughts, all of that. It’s not something that you prepare for until you’ve realized you’re in the house and the only one awake. You can’t relax because you are left to think about what you have and, more importantly, what you don’t have.
But this last few weeks my oldest daughter has been staying up. I should be the dutiful Dad and force her to go to bed, even at 17. She needs the rest, teenagers don’t think they do, they’re immortal after all, but they’d be dead wrong, too. I had the ability to sleep until noon at that age, though I stayed up really late. You’d think, being a man, I’d dislike the constant romantic comedies or the horribly sickening trash reality shows. But I actually like them now. Not for the reasons you might think, though, it’s not that they completely got under my skin. Sure, I liked the Scottish girl on Abbi’s show America’s Next Top Model. Like her Mom, she enjoys the romance and British romantic comedies. I actually like the hopeful tone and the smiles my daughter gets . . . the tension she feels when the romantic leads don’t meet up. It’s fun to watch her so hopeful.
Don’t get me wrong, though. We don’t watch just those things. We were enamored and tried to analyze the last episode of Steven Moffat’s Sherlock. (How in the hell did he stage his own death and Watson didn’t figure it out?! No possible way CBS will even get this close to right.) We’ve seen action pictures. We have Alien on reserve so that we can watch that before seeing Prometheus in the theaters. It’s more the opportunity to spend some time with her, really. That’s the big thing.
Now, you might be thinking I’m just putting off my own feelings and being selfish by spending the time with her and should be making her go to bed or doing whatever she needs to do. School’s out for her, bear in mind, and she has those opportunities. She asks me to go out with friends and I let her. She asks me to go to movies, all of that. I let her do that, too, within reason. The odd time she forgets to tell me something or springs a last-minute redezvous with friends on me I tend to be pernicious with her and push her to remember that she’s not just taking on responsibility, she has a responsibility to tell me what she’s doing and where she’s going.
But no, I’m not using these evenings just for the company, though that’s really nice. Not many Dads can say their kids like to spend time with them and I’m lucky enough, at least right now, to have that. I only have another year left so I’m going to take my breaks where I can get them. No . . . the big thing is, at least for me, that I also have the opportunity to talk with her about the very things that we’re watching. She wants to go into drama. A crappy, horribly written and badly acted rom-com is something we can talk about how it went wrong. We can watch her Mom’s favorite one – Sleepless in Seattle – and even though Abbi loves Norah Ephron, talk about the fact that the leads live on opposing coasts – something that even Tom Hanks brings up in the movie. We can talk about whether the ending is truly that happy. Sure, it’s very hopeful, but is Meg Ryan really going to leave her job at the Baltimore Sun . . . without another gig at, say the Post Intelligencer? Where are Meg’s friends?
Then there’s the ones that actually have a touch of reality in them. I, personally, think that the Hollywood machine – lately in particular – have gotten out of control. We both particularly disliked the Justin Timberlake/Mila Kunis movie . . . with the exception of how they analyze the manipulation of the audience during one romantic comedy they watch on the television. It’s actually quite clever. “There it is . . . a jaunty little pop song at the end to make you feel good without ever really tying in to the movie’s theme. Why the hell is that even in there?” (No complaints about letting my 17-year-old watch a movie about friends having sex. At least we have a healthy enough relationship to talk about this.)
But the real movies are the ones that tend to give me more opportunity to have decent discussions. It’s not like a book club, folks. I don’t sit with her after the credits have started to roll and then talk about the movie in deep analysis. It’s not Inside the Actors Studio here. I don’t ask her favorite sounds or those three random questions from that annoying French philosopher they always end their show with. But the chance to have a conversation here and there with her so that I can get in my thoughts and let her formulate her own are priceless. The last few have really hit home. We watched a cute little independent called Take Me Home that had neither lead kissing each other through the entire film. They slowly got closer and then didn’t end up together. In fact it wasn’t until the final scene she ended up meeting up with the man she’d fallen in love with and even then they showed the two people walking toward each other and faded to black. That, my friends, is more reality than the spinning steady-cam roll 720 degrees in a sickeningly naseous ride while the guy tries to map his love interest’s tonsils with his tongue.
“That movie was nice. It’s like real life,” was my intuitive daughter’s line. Sure, it’s insanely hopeful still, but I got to at least poke at the reality bubble a little.
Then there’s When Harry Met Sally. ( I know, I know, there’s the fake orgasm scene. Again – seventeen folks. Do you honestly think I had never seen that when it came out? How many Playboys do you think I hadn’t read by the time I’d reached her age? Give it a rest. At least it’s reality this way.) This Rob Reiner movie written by Norah Ephron is probably closer to the dichotomy of men and women than anything I’ve ever watched with her before. It’s enough for me to forgive the sweetness and false hope of Seattle. During the movie my daughter says “I hate it when people say that!” when Billy Crystal says men and women can’t be “friends”, the sex gets in the way.
You’re probably going to think I’m crazy, but I agree with her. I have a number of female friends. I have male friends, too. I don’t want to have sex with any of them, either. To me the bigger, more important message of the movie – the one many people miss in the mess of emotions and “sex gets in the way” message is the fact that Harry and Sally are friends. You see all the older couples talking about love at first sight – and I had that. They also talk about being together and being happy. I had that, too. But most importantly, like the two of them in the movie, I was great friends with Andrea long before we dated. She was part of a circle of people that I worked with, a clique of reporters and crew members that had to put the newscast together every night. We hung out. We joked. She was maddening and frustrating and would fight me on every turn. So when Billy Crystal tells Meg Ryan that “I love the fact that when you leave my clothes still have the smell of your perfume on them.” He loves that he wants to tell her everything. She’s the one person he wishes he could talk to when things aren’t right and while they had sex and it messed everything up, it really just opened the doorway to let them walk down that new path.
Most important, though, is the fact that she looks at him after all that and says she hates him. You may think that’s a silly takeaway, but it’s true. Real life isn’t “oh, that’s how you feel? OK. No problem. Let’s kiss intimately in front of 100 strangers and act like the world isn’t here and not think we’re making a spectacle of ourselves.” He was mean, awful, grumpy, and stupid. That’s not an easy thing to forgive or to overcome. They don’t say it can’t be done . . . but they do say it’s there. It’s whether or not you truly love that other person – whether your truly like that person that gives you the indication if it can work.
So when John Cusak brings the boom box over his head, my daughter can sigh and get misty. But when that same Cusack realized years later in High Fidelity that he’s being stupid by flirting with the rock mag’s cute writer and his life was far more worthwhile being with the woman he’d fought to keep . . . when his love interest, after losing her father, wants to have sex because she wants to feel something – just anything – but the pain she’s feeling . . . that’s more real. My daughter gets small glimpses into reality.
To continue the movie metaphors . . . Reality Bites, sure. But it’s the small details . . . the mechanisms of emotions that miraculously click into place, the fates letting the book with her phone number show up at the precise moment; the rhythm guitarist spilling a whiskey sour on your blue jeans so you have to go out with your future girlfriend and friends rather than staying and breaking down gear; the moment of cognition when you realize that you’re friends but you never want this to end, like so many friendships really do. That’s real.
That’s what makes these nights in white satin. (OK, not the best closing line, I had to come full circle somehow. They can’t all be winners!)