Sunday, November 4, 2018

Turning back time

For the first seven years of our married life, until we had our first son, we went to the movies almost every weekend. We would look in the newspaper, see what was playing, then choose the one that appealed to us most because there were almost always multiple movies we wanted to see.

We rarely go to the movies these days. It's not that we don’t want to. It’s because 99.9 percent of movies are written for people at least 40 years younger than us. Hollywood doesn’t give a damn about people our age. We are not the future. The last movie we saw in a theater was Dunkirk.

Yesterday my wife said she’d like to see A Star is Born, the third remake of the film about a famous guy who discovers an unknown with talent, gives her opportunities to shine, and marries her. As her star ascends, his declines, sending him into despair. Just before the movie ends, he self-destructs, leaving her in the final scene to proclaim her undying love.

I agreed to go but only because we had gift cards we needed to use before they expired. 

I never saw the original version. I had to go to Wikipedia to find out when it was made (1937) and who starred in it (Frederick March and Janet Gaynor).

I saw the first remake (1954, James Mason, Judy Garland) as a kid, on NBC’s Saturday Night at the Movies.

The second remake, with Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand, was released in December, 1976. We were newlyweds, living in Chicago. We saw it on a Sunday afternoon. When we came out of the theater it was snowing hard. 

We lived in a tiny apartment on the eighth floor of a 30 story-high rise overlooking Lake Michigan, a building featured in the opening credits of the Bob Newhart Show. It was, supposedly, where Bob and his wife Emily (Suzanne Pleshette) lived. Whereas Bob and Emily had entertaining neighbors, including Howard, the pilot,  the actual building was filled with elderly Hungarians who had fled the 1956 revolution, cooked cabbage that stunk up the hallways, and were obsessed with cleanliness. The white-haired lady across the hall, Angelina, scrubbed her front door every day.  She once knocked on our door to point out that the marble saddle under it had a streak of dirt that needed to be scrubbed away that very minute. 

We had moved to Chicago a few months earlier. I had a job as a writer for a Chicago-based marketing agency and my wife was a development writer for a university on the south side. Our apartment was furnished with hand-me-downs. Most movies we saw were matinees -- they were cheaper. That was the only year of our married life we had just one dog, Sybil, a dachshund/corgi mix whose ears were as big as her face. For the next 42, we had two, sometimes three, dogs.

The latest remake of A Star Is Born features Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. It wasn’t, as I assumed it would be, terrible, but it wasn’t great either. Lady Gaga can certainly sing. She’s very appealing and likable but, as we reclined in our leather chairs in the darkened theater, I wasn’t thinking about the plot. I knew what was coming. My mind kept wandering back to what our lives were like the last time we saw “Star” when, as 25-year-olds, we had no idea where we going much less how we’d get there, and asking myself, “If I could turn back time to the last time we saw this movie, would I?” 

Chicago was God-awful cold so the next year I finagled a transfer to the agency’s New York office. After a couple of months I quit that job, and landed a job at a big ad agency.  A year later I moved up to a bigger agency.

In 1983, we had our first son and moved to a condo in the ‘burbs. Three years later son number two came along and we bought our first house. In 1989, I started my own agency. Sometimes business was great. Sometimes it wasn’t.

But it all, eventually, worked out. Our youngest went off to college in 2004, we retired in 2010, moved to Florida full time in 2013 and became grandparents in 2014. Right now, for the first time since 1976, we are back to one dog, Rupert, a long-haired dachshund. Surprisingly, we are comfortable having just one though I can’t speak for him. He seems sad, no matter how much attention he gets, and believe me, he gets plenty.

This morning, having had the benefit of an extra hour of sleep because America reverted to standard time overnight, I woke up knowing the answer to my question. 

If given the opportunity to turn back the clock to 1976, knowing what I know now, I would do it. In a heartbeat.

But if I had to turn it back without the benefit of the lessons I’ve learned along the way I wouldn’t, because I might well make some poor choices I didn't make the first go-round.  

I have made lots of choices. Some were dumb. Some were smart. Some were risky and, in retrospect, foolhardy. Others weren’t really choices at all, just lucky breaks.  But I am the sum total of the choices I have made. We all are. 

When you are young, if you are fortunate and not everyone is, you have lots and lots of choices to make. Some big. Some small. 

One thing I am realizing with each passing day is that the older I get, the fewer of them I have. 

I wish I had more choices to look forward to making, but I’m going to have to be content with the ones I still have and to be grateful for the ones I have been given and made.  

Especially the bad ones, because those are the ones that taught me the most.


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