Wednesday, April 19, 2017

"Something I Do"

“I want to be happy, but I won’t be happy, till I make you happy, too…” (NO, NO, NANETTE, 1925)

You may see it as playful kibitzing, characterized at my age and across gender lines as “flirting without consequence.”  I see it more loftily as my “Calling.”  And looking back – the name of the show-stopping tune from a musical I neglected to write – the “Starting Gun” did not initially go off at the beginning of “old”, nor was it necessarily “Gender Specific”.  I have, checking my resume, always done this.  Spanning the humanitarial spectrum in all its myriad possibilities.  (And some puppies.  But no cats.)

This post was intended to start differently.  But then, this morning, during my meditation, what fluttered to mind – when I should actually have been meditating – was a pilot I wrote decades ago called Mr. Sunshine.

Springboarding from the mid-60’s hour-long Run For Your Life (starring Ben Gazzara) – wherein a terminally ill man vows to squeeze thirty years of living into one or two years of life – in Mr. Sunshine, a middle-aged man in a similar predicament, determines to use his remaining time alerting others to the finite-itude of everyone’s existence, prodding them to follow their dreams before it is inexorably “Lights 0ut.”

Doesn’t that sound fun?  I met with (the remarkable, if you remember) Dom DeLuise, hoping he would star in it.  He said no, and it never got done.   

Mr. Sunshine’s formulating premise spoke to a genuine impulse, reflecting that, minus the preachiness, that was characteristically what I did:  I tried to make strangers happy.  So I would be happy too, as the song says?  Maybe, I don’t know.  But I knew it was my habitual “M.O.”

Tangible Evidence:

When I was twenty-two, recovering from lung-congesting maladies resulting from an unventilated toy-wrapping stockroom at Harrods Department Store in London, I unbiddenly brightened the lives of two middle-aged women – one of whom, I recall, applied lipstick using her sunglasses as a mirror – while vacationing in Torremolinos, on the southern tip of rejuvenating Espana.  (Imagine a “’nyuh’ thing” over the “n”.)

Years later, visiting Tahiti, I brightened the world of a seventy-ish gentleman – See?  I do it with men as well – I was later informed was quite ill, by, since he could never remember my name, proposing that, whenever we ran into each other, he address me by his name and I would address him by mine.  From then on, I would always greet him with “Hi, Earl” and he would chucklingly respond with “Hi, Norm.”

These and other cheerifying encounters led me to imagine a movie in which the lead character interacts with selected guests at a tropical destination where it is subsequently revealed that the lead character is not a paying guest they had fortuitously run into but in fact a salaried employee, assigned by the hotel to make their holiday experiences more memorable.

Later still, I won the Humanitas Prize (as well as an Emmy nomination) for writing an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show promoting a similar impulse, culminating with the Mary “regulars” gathered at a window, blissfully appreciating the Minneapolis sunset.

All that was me.  Making the following anecdote fit naturally into the mix.

Flash Forward to a not-long-ago Thursday morning.

I am standing in Groundwork, awaiting my weekly “Venice Blend Pour-Over”, served by a troubled employee who looks like her cat ran away.

Seeing “This is a job for ‘Cheer-up Man’”, I immediately jump into action.

To receive the “Neighborhood Discount” Groundwork provides, lowering the price to three-sixty but we’re not talking about that, at every appearance, customers have to attest to truly living in the neighborhood, an uncomfortable edict akin (though less punishing) to an enforced “Loyalty Oath” or to “Show us your papers.” 

With a hopefully recognizable “twinkle”, I facetiously suggest,

“They ought to give us all buttons.”   (That say, “I’m from the Neighborhood”, sparing qualified customers the repeated embarrassment.)

Handing me my change for my discounted “Venice Blend Pour-Over” the brooding barista responds,

“I’ll let them know.”

In a signaling tone of visceral annoyance.

“Visceral annoyance” was hardly the reaction I was looking for.  But, you know, ask the Mormon missionaries how many doors are slammed aggressively in their faces.  Dutifully accepting my rejection, I move to the side, allowing my “Venice Blend Pour-Over” to drip to its eventual completion.

Two minutes or so later, I return to the counter, where, in a tone of studied indifference, my barista inquires, “Do you want me to ‘leave room’?” to which I reflexively reply, “No, thanks.”

She then surprises me by saying,

“It’s sweet enough already.”

Well, sir (or madam), you could have knocked me over with a feather. 

To my delight and “professional” satisfaction, I had apparently made a “connection” after all.  Inferable from her behavior, this erstwhile “Stone of Servitude” was actually trying to be friendly.  I mean, think about it.  “Sweet” has nothing to do with “leaving room.”  The milk you “leave room” for isn’t sweet, and the sugar that is dissolves harmlessly into the coffee. 

No doubt about it.  She was sending me a signal.

Awright!” I reacted.  “Game on! 

To her “It’s sweet enough already” remark, I spontaneously respond,

“Me or the coffee?”

I am immediately aware that that was too much for “The first time.”  There was an immobilizing silence – like an orangutan facing a padlock – my “Me or the coffee” followed by an awkwardly mistimed,


Oh, well.  Quoting a memorable line again from The Mary Tyler Moore Show:

“When an elephant flies you don’t complain because it didn’t stay up that long.”

Still, the girl had courageously “broken the ice”, opening the door to who-knows-what future possibilities. 

Leaving smilingly holding my “Venice Blend Pour-Over”, I recall the traditional exiting message of the Lone Ranger:

“My work here is done.”

“Hiyo, Earlo, awayyyyyyy!!!”
Correction:  Any reference to "shingles" in yesterday's post should be immediately forgotten.  I don't know how it got in there.  I assume it was "Matza Poisoning", which I happily gave up regularly eating last evening.  Hopefully, an improvement in the proceedings will be momentarily recognizable.

Shingles?  What the heck was I talking about?

1 comment:

Wendy M. Grossman said...

The "nyuh thing" is a tilde. Harry Belafonte sang about a tilde, you may recall.