Living in a zoo

We watched the movie We Bought a Zoo today.  I was warned, yes, by another person that it wasn’t the happy-go-lucky movie with jumping monkeys and giggling children the movie trailers said it was, but I watched all the same.  In fact, the whole day was filled with strange sentimental issues.

But there’s something really interesting about the first fifteen to twenty minutes of that movie.  It’s written by Aline McKenna and the director: Cameron Crowe.  You might remember him as the guy who directed Almost Famous  and Jerry MacGuire.  It started innocently enough, with Matt Damon in his house, the kids running crazy.  Dad’s an adventure journalist.  Mom . . . well, Mom is gone.  It’s based on a book about the real life of a journalist named Benjamin Mee, who really did buy a zoo.

Why I say the first fifteen minutes . . . and even other major parts of the movie . . . are interesting is because how completely accurate they are.  I wasn’t an adrenaline junkie, though if you’d given me the opportunities – even with the kids around – that Mee got in the beginning of the film I’d have likely signed on for every single one of them.  But then Andrea passed and I won’t do that any more.  It’s not worth trading the family’s security for the rush.  No rush is better than their knowing how much I love them and want to stick around with them.  It would be less damaging for them if I hit the road as a musician than if I went to a war-torn country and was shot at.

If I had Cameron Crowe in a room for just five minutes I’d ask him how he got that first half hour of the movie so goddamn right?!  Sure, there are variances.  I make the lunches, I make the dinners, I really worked hard to make the transition not just the same but, well, better.  I wanted the kids to think they didn’t have to worry about lunches or dinners.  They get homemade desserts in their lunches almost every day.

We moved, though not necessarily by choice.  Our house, the neighborhood, the school . . . everything had Andrea’s ghost floating around it.  Though Damon’s Dad gets hit on at school, I had it happen at other places.  We had so much lasagna it took more than a year for any of us to even consider eating the Italian meal again.  We – and I’m so sorry to those who gave them to us – but we gave away so much lasagna it’s not even funny.  We could have fed Sicily for a couple months, I think.  I actually did have the conversation once with my daughter after I’d been hit on not long after we moved.  My daughter said almost the same thing as the little girl in Crowe’s movie: “well, you have great hair, Dad.  One of my friends thinks you look like Mister Fantastic from the Fantastic Four.”  (I chose to take that as a compliment.  Don’t rain on my parade, please)

You don’t want, in those months, to offend.  But then you start to realize how offended you are by pussy-footing around everyone else’s emotions.  You get exasperated, not necessarily angry, with all the doe-eyed looks.  We had friends and family that sincerely helped and wanted to care for us and I took their support with ease.  I took everyone’s, I guess, but I started to have that same conversation . . . that sympathy isn’t helping.  Babying us wasn’t helping.  When someone dies it doesn’t always make us think “oh my God, we had someone die, too!”  We just keep trying to move forward because the alternative was worse.

Then, you start to think about what you’re doing and decide that you’ve had it perfect for a long time.  There’s no going down that road again.  You don’t realize the damage that does until you wake up one day and friends you’d had around you aren’t any more . . . or give you distance because you’ve said that you need it.  You get over the hump, at least I did, and realize that things weren’t perfect.  You see perfection where it really was the imperfections that defined your marriage and your life.  You tend to forget the bad days and remember only the good ones.

Then there’s the reality of our daily lives.

I had a kid suspended.  I had a kid who was failing.  So did the character in the movie.  How, I have to ask, did Cameron Crowe get this part so right?  I can only say that Benjamin Mee must have consulted and gotten them to do it the way it should be done.

No, I didn’t buy a zoo.  I live in one, some days.  My kids are brilliant.  I know that.  I’ve brought those friends I’d unwittingly kept away back in.  I didn’t have an inheritance or insurance or annuity to pay for an acreage with animals on it.  But that’s not the point here.  We moved, we changed, and we take little adventures . . . because it’s moving forward and doing something different that’s important.  It’s not really about the zoo, as they say, it’s about that adventure in your life.

Now . . . if Scarlett Johanssen was to walk into our lives . . . can’t say I’d complain about that either.

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