Thursday, July 10, 2014

"A Nice Thing Happened"

I quoted this line not long ago.  I needed it then, but I also need it now.  So if you don’t mind, as I quote it again, I need you to pretend you are hearing it for the first time.  Can you do that for me?  Thank you.  You are a quality bunch.

I wrote this line once for an episode of Major Dad reflecting a less than enthusiastic perspective about camping.  The line went:

“We’ve got a few days off.  Why don’t we go somewhere and live worse than we usually do?”

(NOTE:  I do not entirely feel that way.  As a camper, I went on numerous canoe trips, and though I did not enjoy them at the time – which is not unusual for me – I look back on them feeling retroactive enthusiasm.  If you’ve ever woken up to the distant “loo-loo-looing” of loons on glassy, misty-covered waters, I mean, does that not sound spectacular?  It is.  Though that incomparable natural moment does not entirely offset having to go to the bathroom in the woods.)

I wrote the above line for the character in the show – and writers invariably include one – who most closely approximates myself.  In temperament, tone and comedic perspective.  Not surprisingly, that character becomes secretly my favorite, although, as with a favored child, the predilection may occasionally show through.

During auditions for the role, an eleven year-old girl comes in, and knocks it prodigiously out of the park.  The realization that she’s “the one” is so unmistakable, even the network executives agree.  (During “Network Auditions”, we are required to bring in three candidates for every role, so that the network can ostensibly make the final decision.) 

The girl got the part because when it’s right, it’s right.  Although even when the correct choice is staring them in the face, network executives have inexplicably… ah, never mind.)

So we have our “Robin”, the smart, I like to call it “wryly observant” (though it could also be labeled annoyingly negative), middle daughter of the family, into which the “Major” – in the very first episode via a lightning-fast proposal – attains inclusion.

(ANOTHER  NOTE:  This – “this” being the virtually obligatory three offspring family, the middle one being “the smart one” – appears, though I was unaware of it when I developed the series, to be a sitcomical cliché, still perpetuated to this very day – See:  Modern Family.  I have no idea where that comes from.  Do you?)   

Anyway, there’s that.  I hire a young girl to play a part that most closely approximates myself.

FLASH FORWARD MAYBE TWENTY YEARS ­– The actress who played that middle daughter gets in touch we me and we get together for dinner.  Since I last saw her, she had abandoned acting, had graduated from Yale and was now writing for television.  (As for physical alterations, I recall, upon her arrival, opening my front door and saying, “You grew!”) ­

After that, there were Christmas cards, but no further encounters. 

And then,

Maybe five years after our dinner,

We receive an invitation to her wedding.

I feel a stoppage of breath just writing that.

Here is a person with whom I had worked almost a quarter of a century ago, whom I have met only once in the interim…

And she wants us to come to her wedding.

And of course we went.

A beautiful ceremony – Catholic, but thankfully no kneeling – a magnificent reception – and, shockingly, there are not hundreds of invitees, meaning that we – virtual strangers – had made some apparently stringent form of a “cut”, and a sumptuous repast, with bags of yummy caramels to take home. 

And throughout the evening, although I am having a fine time, an insistent voice inside me’s going,

“What are we doing here?” 

(Not in the context of “Why did we come?” but of “Why were we included?”)

And then I, somewhat obliquely, found out.

When we arrived, the bride’s father (whom I had not spoken to in twenty-five years, appeared genuinely excited to see me.   (His initial “Hello” came out, “Are you going to sing cowboy songs?,” which I did during the warm-ups for Major Dad.) 

Later, the Father of the Bride tracked me down to let me know that, when the guest list was being assembled, he had pointedly asked his daughter if “The Pomerantzes” had been included, and he was delighted to discover that we had. 

It appeared that, for some reason, we mattered.

Then, as we were leaving – when you get older, “loud” inevitably sends you racing for the exits – the bride’s mother, seeing us heading out, broke off in mid-dance, and hastened over to confide to me that after her first audition, her daughter had accorded me particular recognition.  (“He’s the best writer on the show, and he likes kids,” she reported.  Also, though I had never noticed it before or since, we apparently have ocular similarities.)

I hugged her “Thank you”, and we left.  But the experience stayed with me.

We go through our lives, for the most part, oblivious to the effect we have had on other people.  This time, I was fortunate to find out.

And it felt really, really good.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

Not nearly as classy, but my experience of being astonished by the unknown effect you can have on people:

When I was a Cornell senior, one evening I was crossing the campus, and a guy came toward me playing the pennywhistle as he walked. I was very pleased by this because as a freshman I used to do the same thing. So I stopped him and said, oh, so cool.

It turned out that, in a conversation I had utterly forgotten, he had seen me, stopped me, inquired what the instrument was and where to get it, gone, bought one, learned to play it, and now...


Johnny Mac Buster Brown said...

As a long time fan of Major Dad, I'm not surprised to learn of your middle-child-favoritism for Nicole. Her character did seem to get some good stuff. I'm always curious as to where such talented youngsters come from - primarily, however, how do they get to be so good so young? I was always watching Friday Night Lights with such admiration of soooo many young folks. That particular alumni club is still tearing up the screens.

Also, I noticed that another of your child stars was once married to Jeremy Sisto, whom I first noticed on Law & Order, tho he didn't stay long. Marisa made a few appearances on L&O. Coincidence?

According to IMDB, Chelsea had a role in American Beauty. Don't recall seeing her, nor am I curious enough to watch that one again.

Anyway, it's nice to know that someone as bright and talented as Nicole thought enough of you to invite you to participate in one of the most important dates of her life.

Now, sing us some us cowboy songs, part!