Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Reality Part I: It's in the Eye of the Beholder, Honey

Some people are amused by make-believe. They have fun at the theatre and think that movies are swell. Sometimes they keep a ticket stub or a Playbill and, when they come across it later, they think, “Gee, that was fun time.”

Then there are believers. They are not amused by make-believe, anymore than the daily raising of the sun amuses the rest of the world, because they understand that make-believe is the only true reality. It is, simply, all they have to go on.

Here is a quick quiz to help sort out for yourself your own status:

At the beginning of the 1954 classic, White Christmas, the Haynes sisters perform “Sisters” at Novello’s Nightclub. When you see the opening shot, (featuring what can only be the producer’s girlfriend’s crossed legs and her maximum enjoyment of a highball via a long straw), then let your eyes move from cigarette girl to ashtrays to wine buckets, and when you realize that the Haynes Sisters only have to perform one song, do think:

1) That’s nice. I wonder if Danny Kaye will ever tell Vera Ellen about his special friend, Larry O?

2) I Want to Live There. Forever. Starting Now.

Normal people answer 1.

Believers answer 2, and with a straight face. (Of course you want to live there, doll! Can we share a table and a pitcher of perfect Manhattans? And could I bum a Chesterfield off you?) Believers know that it IS possible to live at Novello's Nightclub, to cavort with Mame on Beekman Place and still to have time for matriculation at William McKinley High School with the entire cast of Glee. For the believer, everyday life is a cruel hoax, and what happens in our little show-world is the unvarnished truth.

If you’re normal, this is a hard concept to understand. I have one normal child, and she struggles. When she was two, she would dress up in a little princess costume and I would say, “Oh! You’re Snow White!” She would shoot me a withering glance (frightened eye-widening and backing away would be added later) and declare flatly and slowly, “I’m Emma. I’m not Snow White.” In her little toddler heart, she knew that I didn’t quite understand the difference. Mommy, you scare me.

She had reason to suspect her father, too. I’m not saying the only reason I married him is that I found out that, as a child, he, like me, used to go to bed listening to the original cast album from the Music Man. Thinking of the two of us, always preferring Side One because, even though Side Two started with Marian the Librarian, it also included Shipoopi, helped me to see us as a couple that might make a successful go of life together.

Life together led to other things together, I blush to admit, and when I was THIRTY NINE years old, I turned up pregnant and, oh, let’s just say, not too excited at the whole business. That was when “I want to live there” became less a dreamy “if only it snowed pink polka dots” and more a “if I could slip into that DVD and never come back, don’t think I wouldn’t do it without a backward glance, bub.” I fixated especially on supper clubs like Rick's Cafe Americain and the aforementioned Novello’s Nightclub. The shipboard bars in Now Voyager and An Affair to Remember were also objects of reverie. As I got fatter and sicker and ended up on what felt like terminal bedrest, I dreamed of champagne cocktails – say, do you have pink champagne? – and unfiltered cigarettes by the packful.

I took White Christmas into the labor room with me. Watching Danny Kaye get hit by that wall in Italy one more time was almost as effective a pain reliever as the epidural was.

I gave birth, but I never let go of my new determination to live elsewhere, given a chance. The conviction that I could peel myself into my favorite spots remained. Reading the Eyre Affair, where the lovely Japanese lady ends up living in Jane Eyre, gave new fuel to my fire, though why anyone would want to live in the same house as Mr. Rochester was beyond me.

The other result of the pregnancy was that the believer gene seems to have gathered up some terrific new levels of near-mutated strength. The result is Mary Katherine, who was clearly born under a veil of tulle and sequins. Mary Katherine never questions reality because she knows very clearly what reality is. It’s her friends Maurice and Arthur in The Imposters, and her idol, Miss Margo Channing, and her galpal Little Miss Woods Comma Elle, and her boyfriend Chili Palmer and everyone who lives at Wit’s End in Surviving the Applewhites. Mary Katherine wants to be a producer, with a hit show on Broadway. God, she hopes she gets it, she hopes she gets it. She’s the greatest star, she is by far, but no one knows it. Hey, Mr. Arnstein, here she is.

Not a lot of room in that brainpan of hers for math or geography, but God, she’s so happy I sometimes wonder if she’s slipping anything mood-enhancing into her morning cocoa. So I stand by my original logic and encourage her whenever I can to keep those sequins close and that calculator as far away as possible.

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