“You look like you have a cry on deck.”
It was an overcast summer evening after an astonishingly demanding workday, but still I was stunned at this observation’s proximity to hitting the bull’s-eye. Unsettling but curiously comforting are the moments when someone sneaks behind my face and sees the frustrations that I try so desperately to leave at the office. That damn dam behind my eyes has thickened its walls over the years, and few can sense when the water pressure crashing up against it is gathering strength. A cry was on deck. Someone saw it. The mask was slipping. “So many people know me. I wish I did. I wish someone would tell me about me.” It was time for a vacation.
Breathing in the “bad” and exhaling the “good” never really worked for me, so the alternative was finding strength in these emotional walls and dams that sectioned off threats of danger or fear. Cracks in emotional infrastructure are extremely rare, not unheard of, but always surprising. Two pieces of entertainment can get the waterworks flowing for me – one is the final story line in the final season of Six Feet Under (2005). I remember clutching my knees the night I watched this for the first time, positive that my gasping sobs had woken my roommates. The other is when dearly devoted mermaid Daryl Hannah dives off a New York pier at the end of Splash (1984), per the loving “Go!” coming from a heartbroken Tom Hanks. Seriously, pass the Kleenex and the Visine. But this week a new tear slipped through a small crack in the dam; one of happiness, relief, relaxation, and yes, a bit of Chardonnay.
I’ve been vacationing in Seattle for a few years now, seeking refuge from the San Francisconess of San Francisco. No matter how much I agree with the protest fad of the moment; no matter how excited I am about an upcoming street fair/excuse to drink outside among the vegans wearing leather thongs, sometimes I just need a break. I’m aware that Seattle is certainly no stranger to its own liberal shenanigans, but I find its caffeinated pace leisurely and relaxing. My usual B&B was booked solid for the season, so I found a new one in the same neighborhood. Instinct told me this new B&B and its mermaid logo would provide sanctuary for those of us who understand the complexities of Splash.
For weeks I had worn the San Francisco summer wardrobe of scarves and my fuzzy alpaca hat, so I was delighted to find the Seattle climate positioned somewhere between the 70s and 80s (much like the songs in my “On Vacation” playlist). Along with plenty of shorts, T-shirts, and various Burt’s Bees products, wrapped up safely in my one jacket were three cherished DVDs. Last-minute packing will result in impulse items: The Sting (1973), A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), and All About Eve (1950). Walking up the back stairs to my new temporary residence upon arrival, I passed an outdoor deck that was roped off. A dangling gold sign politely read “Private,” but fortunately that word printed in beautiful loopy cursive quickly took on new definition. It turns out that “Private” meant “mine.” After a delicious breakfast of French toast and, oh, a thousand cups of Seattle coffee, I fluttered around the neighborhood in search of the perfect afternoon accessories – bread, cheese, and wine. Clearly I was in a French mood, as the morning’s toast paved the way for an afternoon baguette, along with some aged cheddar and a chilled Chardonnay. The plan was flawless: I would sit on that sunny, private balcony, eat my bread ‘n’ cheese, enjoy my wine with gusto, and continue my life’s goal of setting the world record for the number of times one person has watched All About Eve.
Always the careful traveler, I was prepared for anything. It’s a tragic, thunder-clapping moment of despair when we hold in our hands a bottle of wine but have no tool to open it. Have no fear, the B&B’s kitchen had everything I needed – the cork was popped; the bread and cheese were sliced with no harm done to my fingers; the charger for my laptop ran from inside outlet to outdoor table with length to spare; the flies that were interested in my food didn’t seem to linger (even the flies are nicer in Seattle); and this particularly overused DVD played without error. Decked out in my shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt, I settled in to enjoy the perfect afternoon. The birds were chirping, the sky was blue-ing, the sun was shining, and the sun was shining . . . the sun was shining . . . everywhere. The sun was shining absolutely everywhere.
Ever try to use a laptop outdoors on a sunny day with very little shade? I rearranged the furniture on that deck into every position imaginable, but Mother Nature was working the spotlight that day. There was no angle that would allow me to see the black-and-white world of Margo, Eve, Bill, Birdie, Addison, or their theatre, but I was not to be defeated by the well-rested Seattle sun. Mentally projected was the 20th Century Fox logo as soon as I heard the opening musical score, but my computer screen remained a pearly white. Fortunately the instincts of primitive man kicked in immediately, and I treated myself to a 138-minute radio show performance of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s masterpiece. A blessed version of the gift of memory allows me to visualize each scene with little effort, and I venturing through film exclusively with sound. Calm as a man in a hammock, I leaned back – glass in one hand, tiny cheese sandwich in the other – and mouthed a few snippy lines along with Bette Davis and George Sanders, hoping and fearing that the neighbors were watching me. Hey, what did I care? At 32, I can see that parts of my life work perfectly, while others still remain closed for maintenance. But I was 32, and I looked 32. I looked it five years ago, and I’ll look it 20 years from now – I was having a ball!
Wine, bread, cheese, sun, Seattle, Davis. I glanced around at the moment where life had taken me, and that afternoon, there was no contest in either category – I was devouring life’s greatest meal while listening to life’s greatest film, and suddenly I felt a laugh on deck. I laughed at my determination to make All About Eve a part of my vacation. I laughed at the young Marilyn Monroe who must have been terrified of the domineering Bette Davis. I laughed at how Bette Davis must have loved terrifying Marilyn Monroe. I laughed at all the scenes I had the ability to visualize, Eve and others. I laughed at my laughter, for I had enjoyed only two glasses of wine on a stomach filled with carbs and dairy. I couldn’t say with certainly whether the bottle was half empty or half full, but I laughed until I cried . . . it turns out that neither the giggles nor the tears can remain on deck forever.
Academy Awards for All About Eve (1951): Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actor in a Supporting Role; Best Writing, Screenplay; Best Costume Design, Black-and-White; Best Sound, Recording (2)