Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Since I attack each new day independent of the previous day's torment, and inconsiderate of tomorrow's potent pain (ha!) I have a meager grasp on how I've been doing lately. So I perused the last few weeks' posts for a summation of my general mood and well-being, and it seems I haven't been doing so well lately. Except for that brief interlude where The Winemaker barged in with all his wealth and wisdom, there has been a certain prevailing misery of late. Even the other night, where I was party to a fine meal at a fine restaurant, I over-indulged and eventually paid the price. This blog can't have been fun to read, what with all the fatigue and resultant vomiting and diarrhea and war/famine/plague/pestilence, so I want to apologize. I'll try and cheer up, and blog more about the happily disaffected tortoises and the colorfully emerging butterfly garden.

Thus ends our daily retraction.

Live each day as if it was your last! I'm kidding about that, of course. If you actually lived each day as if it was your last you would blow all your cash and never go to work, and you'd probably sit at home sobbing mournfully, phoning family members to tell them you love them and goodbye forever. But there is something to be said about appreciating this wonderful life, or at least remembering that it is so.

Still, there is an oft-repeated scene in the suburbs, one I'm sure you've caught. It looks like this:


You are getting ready for work, or you're in your pajamas, and you're staring out the window at nothing in particular; the neighbor's sprinklers, the garbage man. You notice that the newspaper got tossed under the car again and the tires on your wife's car are still low of air, and -hey- whose dog crapped on your lawn? You're drinking coffee and you're looking off into space for that brief moment in the morning where you consider what must be done with the day.

Then, a child screams, outside on the sidewalk.

MOTHER: Get in the car!

CHILD: Waaaaah!

MOTHER: Get in the car right now!

CHILD: Waaaaah!

The child continues to cry for no apparent reason. The mother, hurried, and already with her hands full, scoops the child up and puts her in the car. Everyone is exasperated.

Somewhere, a dog, recently relieved, barks.

I've seen it a million times. It used to make me wonder, Man, what's that kid crying about? and Man, that kid sure cries a lot. But now the story is all mine, and I know exactly why that kid is crying, because it's probably my kid. The answers come, it seems, in time, but answers such as these leave me no more enlightened. The kids are crying because they have to get up and get out and live another day. Damn, it's hard sometimes. I'm still crying.

Also seen a million times: It's a Wonderful Life, one of the greatest movies ever made. A foreclosure movie for our times. I watched it when I was a kid, and I still watch it. People criticize the film, saying how sappy and fake and lamely cheerful it all seems, ("Every time you hear a bell ring, an angel is getting its wings!") but that happens to be one of the main things I like about it. The truth is, all that sentimentality is juxtaposed with some real dark, morbid moments (the dad is considering suicide for crying out loud!) One of my favorite scary moments is when the bartender is banging the cash register, making it ring repeatedly, "Hey, get me! I'm giving out wings!" he mocks. The Christmas Eve drunkards all laugh. There is something seriously spooky about that.

Anyway, you know the story. The movie has had such a profound effect on our society that people nowadays actually think everyone was simple and cheerful and polite all the time back in the 40s. I don't believe that's exactly true, otherwise the movie about a guy who wishes he had never been born would never have been made. Well, God bless you George Bailey. We are all you, or wish to be, strange as it sounds.

I grew up in La Canada, California. Oh sure, the town is all multi-million dollar properties now and I can never go home again, but thirty years ago it was still a little place in the Los Angeles suburbs, bordered by mountains and freeways and sheltered just enough from the rest of Southern California that it somehow retained that small town feel. There was a main street and a couple of churches and a couple of schools and everyone knew the cops' and shopkeepers' names. It was a nice place. People were decent and kids walked home from school without the fear of gangs and child molesters. This was in the days before school shootings, the days before video games. Reagan was president, and all I remember about him was his fantastic George Bailey smile.

Why do I mention it? Because the other day on the Internet I stumbled across this:

Which today is this:

It's the intersection of Viro Road and Lamour Drive in La Canada. I used to walk home from high school, crossing that crosswalk and moving down that very road, almost every day. And every day I would pass this house:

Which is really this house:

Close up:

The address is still the same. How many times did I unwittingly walk past that famous movie house? And my house was just on the other side of that center hill, off in the distance, in that first photo. I never knew it: I grew up in "Bailey Park" just outside of Bedford Falls!

Though I admit it felt like "Pottersville" when I was a teenager. The movie was a flop when it came out, wouldn't you guess? Like good wine before it's time. Years later, in that historic lull of the seventies where we were suffering the hangover of the sixties and a bottomed-out economy, and we hadn't yet invented VCRs, the movie was played over and over on television, often at Christmas. We needed it then, 30 years later, and we need it now, 30 years after that. It's a true American classic. Frank Capra told the Wall Street Journal in 1984, "It's the damnedest thing I've ever seen... The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I'm like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I'm proud … but it's the kid who did the work. I didn't even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea."

Capra had originally described the film's theme as "the individual's belief in himself," and that he made it to "combat a modern trend toward atheism." This was in 1946, and, well, he did it. It works. And somehow it's all very real. We need movies like this. I need movies like this. Sure, you're losing the house and you can't keep a job and the kids are all driving you crazy, but it's a wonderful life just the same. Why we so often forget it I'll almost never forgive God for, but at least we have movies like this to remind us.

(I hope you actually stopped and took nine minutes out of your day to appreciate that.)

P.S. Still think the movie is overly-sentimental, pedestrian, simple-minded cheese? Then let's edit out all the happy stuff and see what we're left with. Watch this.