Monday, August 27, 2012

Hope Springs, a movie

HOPE SPRINGS, a romantic comedy for the older set. That's not right. Not much comedy (except for trailer promotional scenes, which is its own separate editing specialization these days), and very little romance.
     Meryl Streep, everyone's favorite mature actress, paired with curmudgeonly Tommy Lee Jones (Men in Blacks favorite side kick) as Arnold; both are jailed in a marital dead end. Meryl, as Kay, is at her dowdy best. Formless dresses, perhaps with padding to give her a bulging look focused only on underwear lines and muffin tops. This is a shocking fashion choice for someone whose job is in a clothing boutique and a complete reversal from her Oscar nominated turn as the fabulously dressed Vogue magazines Anna Wintour in The Devil Wears Prada.
     We meet this duo at the nadir of their long 31-year marriage, now devoid of passion and routinized in a pattern of bored non-communication. They exude a shared life, ground down like a constant purgatory of teeth grinding. Their life is clearly just a stub of what it could have or had once been.
      Hollywood attempts to visualize this is as a repetitive breakfast scene as Kay prepares one slice of bacon and one egg for Arnold while he wrestles with the morning paper and strides out the door. They could have turned blue or grown a third arm during the night and neither would have noticed. The day ends with a similarly depressing scene of Arnold asleep in his lazy boy while the TV is on the same program to improve golf swings. Kay washes each dinner dish robotically before she awakens him, and each slumps up the stairs to their separate bedrooms.
     So we get the message that things are bad in their suburban paradise in Omaha. Kay drops the bomb that she has purchased a weeklong intensive couples retreat in Hope Springs, Maine with Steve Carrell, as Dr. Feld, a marriage counselor she found online one lonely night. Arnold barely listens as she insists she will be on the plane with or without him the next morning. As she leaves alone, taking a taxi to airport, we are not surprised to see him make it into the middle seat just in the nick of time, seething.
     Steve Carrell is outstanding as a smart, smooth, insightful shrink with deadpan seriousness and nary a laugh. His continual analogy is that fixing a marriage is " like a bad deviated nasal septum that needs a quick nose break to repair."
     Dr. Feld finally prods Arnold to admit that he believes that Kay is sexually not into 'IT' and ' doing IT' was his ultimate goal.  His bad back became separate bedrooms, which become their way of life. No intimate hugs, just a leaving-the-house air kiss, which morphs into a five-year absence of sex that defines their roommate life. Arnold feels his long, suffering abstinence, manifested as faithfulness, demonstrates his loyalty to Kay and nothing more is needed.
     Finally, Kay insists on at least being noticed. The therapist office discussions of sex and the lack thereof ensues, punctuated by a sharing of their fantasy lives that clearly had never been discussed, much less acted upon. All this and more is painfully explored by the calm and diligent Dr. Feld, to a palatable discomfort in the theater. It wasn't that 60-year-old sex was icky but talking about it might be even more distasteful than looking at it.
     Poor Kay's solution to all their sexual problems seems to be just one good blowjob away to resurrect them into a perfect marriage. Kay keeps attempting to learn how to perfect her technique with bananas and gay men's sex guides. This process provides most of the humor.
     They are continually ridiculed as they return to the Econolodge with another sexercise while picturesque, idyllic, New England harmoniousness remains just beyond their door. When the good doctor finally warns Arnold that he is losing Kay, Arnold springs into action, attempting to woo his older ladylove via a good dinner, wine and a room in the rustic B&B above the restaurant. Alas, it all blows up in his face when he typically keeps his eyes shut at the big moment and wont see her.
     They return to Omaha a dejected and dispirited couple. Kay's final truth is the knowledge that her marriage is NOT the way she wants it to be, but also that being alone might not be preferable. She is a packed bag away from leaving Arnold.
     Then the director must have looked at his watch and tied it all up into a happy, although rushed ending..., even as the credits rolled, no less.
     I was unmoved, disappointed, and sad that so many people live like this, and by how the story was told. The acting was better then the tedious script by Vanessa Taylor (producer of Game of Thrones) deserved. It was a depressing view of middle married years, a slow slog of mired down, accepted limbo. Endless days of settling for less: less conversation, less commonality, less fun, less playfulness, less touching. The thing missing in nursing homes for residents used to a life of coupledom is no touching: no affectionate squeezes, no hugs, not even a pat on the head, arm, or any body part. Kay and Arnold were living a non-contact nursing home existence and are relationally dead while breathing.
     To her credit, Kay rebels but her communication skills were as thwarted and poor as Arnolds non-understanding of any of it. Yeah, maybe a symptom of this drudgery is less or no sex, but I wanted to scream: it is not only about the sex, since that's the only place Dr. Feld wanted to go.  It is just a sign, and maybe not the best indicator of a long marriage that never turned into deep friendship but just a lonely, endless living under the same roof. Just GETTING IT ON is not getting it right.


Monday, August 20, 2012

Nate of Las Vegas - Part I

Nate of Las Vegas - Part I

I met Nate after breakfast.  He sauntered towards my camp.   

“Are you alone?”

I stalled in response.  After last night debacle I was weary and apprehensive.  I had been awakened by the sillouhette of a man’s face peering into my tent. 

Las Vegas, New Mexico
"Heeey, want to party with me?”

Four in the morning, 4th of July weekend, Las Vegas, New Mexico. 

I shot straight up, and grabbed the ax.  Shocked it wasn’t clear to him that I was sleeping, and horrified that I could hear his breath without seeing his body.  I stammered,

“I don’t party, go away.”

He scurried away, and somehow I found a few more hours of rest.  I looked back to Nate.

“So, do you mind if I have breakfast?”  

I scanned over his gangling limbs, down to his bare feet.  His skin was pale and milky; it matched his white-blond hair.  I could see the youth in him.

“I don’t see why I would.”

He sat down on the ground and dumped out a dirty back pack.  Spoons clanked, paper fluttered and out spilled several small jars, a canister of oats, and two bowls.  He turned a bowl over, wiped out the hollow with the corner of his stained shirt and reached over me to grab a gallon jug of water I had set out next to my camp cook area.  The liquid made a generous glug and splashed, overfilling the dish.  He poured dry oats into the cold water and fished through the mess to find a spoon.   He opened the peanut butter jar scooped out a mound, licked it, and crammed the spoon into the open jelly jar.

“Oats are the best breakfast.” 

I watched him shovel heaping spoonfuls into his mouth.  Not knowing what to say, I waited while he ate until he slammed the bowl down on the earth, spilling most of what was left.  He jumped to his feet, turned his back, and struggled to rip off his shirt.  Instead of taking it off over his head, he tore it down the center and cast the shirt aside to reveal a body full of poorly tattooed stars, and a crooked goat carcass.


There was no way I could not look. His thin frame swayed to and fro, blocking the early morning sun. 

What do I make of this?

He leaned forward and came to face me sitting on his knees and closed his eyes.

“I want to create all that I see… there are not enough stars in the sky, so I make them, on me.”

He opened his eyes and twisted his torso.

“See here… well, actually my girlfriend’s daughter helped me with these….she is about nine…she is really great at things like this.”

I nodded and listened.  He continued picking out patches of stars to show me on his body, and then snaked around to towards an unreachable area of his mid-lower left back.  The stars in this area were extra dense and dotted.

“I couldn’t see very good when I was giving myself these.”
I could tell.
He snaked his body back around, then pushed himself up and lowered his body to sit facing me knee to knee and whisked up what was left of his bowl of oats.  He began chewing, and then asked me, through a full mouth,
“Where you from?”
It was all I managed before he started speaking again. 
He raised the centers of both eyebrows, and nodded.   

“Oh yeah, Indiana…I’ve been there, northern though.”

His gesture felt loaded, I waited, he watched me.

“…on a skateboard tour…”

I was now the one making the nod of recognition, raising my eyebrows in the center, and bobbing back and forth. 

“Oh yeah, skateboarding…I’ve been around people who are into that, not me though.” 

He looked off into the distance and while looking away added,

“Yeah, hmmm..Indiana… that’s that state full of all those bar-hopping mystics.”

His eyes re-centered on mine to see if the attribution caused any noticeable change in my manner.   My expression didn’t change.

“Well… Indiana talks about you… me, I consider myself a Vegan-Republican-Skateboarding Boxer from Colorado Springs.  I plan to build a log cabin in the woods one day.” 

He finished scraping the bowl of oats, licked the spoon and offered me his dish.

“Want some”


I had already eaten.  He threw me an orange and continued to talk.

“Do you realize the nutritive value of purely raw foods?”

“Well, I have….”

Nate turned away after I said the word “have” and pointed to the mountain range behind us.

“You know there is a castle up there.”

 And then he came in close to my ear and in a confident, more direct tone he said,

 you know... you can’t swim nude up there.”

 I shifted my posture and stood up to collect the remainder of my breakfast supplies.  I was ready to go.  I took my cooking utensils to the spiget near the bathhouse to wash them, and turned around to notice that Nate had taken down my tent, rolled it up and placed into the bag.  It was the first time the tent fit properly.  I walked back with my utensils and he waited, propping himself on my car holding the tent.

“Pop the trunk.”

I went around the driver’s side and pulled the trunk release.  He threw the tent in, and with his skateboard in arms he jumped in the front seat signaling me to get in and drive.  I stood outside my own car looking in the back window, his white hair standing up just above the passenger seat.  He poked his head out looking for me, and with a lazy grin, he pointed towards the distant gravel road,

 “there’s the castle…it’s where we are going.”

I followed his finger, pointing to the mountain squinted my eyes, and then looked back at him.

“…but before we go there, I want to give you a present, just up the road.”

I stood for a minute looking at him, my car, the mountain, and back to him.  And then walked around the backside, and jumped in the driver’s seat.  We inched out of the campground and passed a school bus turned into a semi-permanent RV camper.  Nate leaned halfway out the window and shouted,

“Hey Jake, I’m going to town, be back.”

Jake didn’t look happy.  I didn’t stop long enough to find out why.  Nate told me anyhow,

“I owe him some money.”

Just outside of the camp he said,

“okay turn here, just down the road turn right…at that mailbox up there”

The mailbox was leaning into the street, I pulled into the gravel drive and parked.  We stopped in front white shack with a few small sheds.  Nate jumped out then leaned his head back in the open window,

“I store my stuff in that shed, and I know I have something for you, wait here”

He ran barefoot on the gravel and went through the rickety shed door.  I thought,

If I was going to drive off, I’d do it now.

-- End. Part I - Allison Distler

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Remembering Uncle Fritz

Blond, blue-eyed boy in a sepia toned photo from the 40’s…shirtless, baggy khakis belted crookedly around a muscled middle.  His leggy little sister, with the million dollar smile is balanced on his shoulders. Summer time.  Middletown, Ohio. Goofing around. Even in black and white, they seem to glow.

                        Nature’s first green is gold
                           Her hardest hue to hold.

His bicycle clatters along the Devil’s Backbone…Middletown to Grandad’s Preble County Farm. Haying.  The horses he loved.

The raft he made broke on the levee of the Miami River the afternoon he ran away the first time.

Indianapolis Bus Station—another time—he’s returned to Ohio by a friendly driver when he couldn’t pay the fare out west.  

 Optimist yearbook 1952…on a diving board, in tennis whites, a god on the starting blocks. The town made a grass court for him to practice on when he made Jr.  Tennis Nationals back then.  Summertime, all the kids came running when word got out Fritz was diving at the town pool.

                             Her early leaf’s a flower;
                             But only so an hour.

Black leather jacket to balance something in him out…motorcycle, a cigarette hangs off the corner of his mouth.  James Dean before James Dean was discovered. 

Army greens.   Bar Fight Korea.   The other guy passed out first but not before he cut a slice across my Uncle’s throat with a broken bottle, leaving a memorable scar for many barroom yarns to come.  The point was always that the other guy passed out first.

White Tux.   He cuts a wedding cake with Aunt Linda in her Mother’s fine lace wedding dress.  They could be magazine models.  Movie Stars.  He makes his way west with her at last.  They leave their fancy duds behind.

He leans against the helicopter, outfitted for adventure.  The fire service calls.  He jumps.

White t-shirt….Wrangler jeans.   Windblown hair…work gloves, lasso.

A mixed herd: One, two, three, four, five…tow headed children…sheep, cows and horses. In cowboy boots, hat, flannels, chaps, he shoes the horses, castrates sheep, runs hunters up into the wilderness mountains behind his place in Colorado.

Comes up over the rise, backlit, brown-skinned, sure hands on the reins and the signature cigarette.  Someone says the Marlborough People approached him to be their Man one time.  Naw, he said.  I’m not yer man.

                     Then leaf subsides to leaf.

Years and years and years go by.  His hands freeze up, his back stiffens.  There at the treeline, the man in the worn hat saddles up his mule, peers over the beast’s neck, eyes still steely blue under bushy brows, and says without saying it, quit foolin’ around, we gotta head back.  Storm’s coming.

Cancer works its way to his bones.  Puts him to rest at the foot of the mountain at last, but not without another good fight, a fireside tale, and one of his favorite poems:

                   So Eden sank to grief,
                   So dawn goes down to day.
                   Nothing gold can stay. 

Remembering my Uncle Fritz Foutz   1936-2012.  Enigmatic Uncle, storyteller, mandolin player, horseman. May he be looking down from the mountain satisfied to have lived the dream of his childhood imagination, having left his unique mark on all he encountered.

“Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Robert Frost

BLR For the Poplar Grove Muse, August, 2012