Monday, March 26, 2007


Listen to this cast: Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson, Stockard Channing, Maureen Stapleton, Jeff Daniels, Catherine O'Hara (from "Best in Show, "For Your Consideration," etc.), Joanna Gleeson, Kevin Spacey.

Bound to be a great flick, right?

We watched "Heartburn" last evening with high hopes. This 1986 film, directed by Mike Nichols, grew out of the semi-autobiographical novel by Nora Ephron. Well, sorry to say, it hadn't ripened enough. Or maybe it had rotted a bit in the sun of all that huge talent.

I had never seen it before--couldn't imagine how I'd missed one with so many of my favorite actors involved. As an added dash of gossip-spice, the louse depicted here by Nicholson was modeled on Ephron's former husband Carl Bernstein, one of the two young reporters who brought down All the President's Men. (Played by Dustin Hoffman in that film.)

Despite all of this to pique one's interest, plus music by Carly Simon, the film just doesn't make it, alas. The Videohound's Golden Movie Retriever gives it three stars, but they were just being kind. (They called it "a tepid romance.")

There is, however, a happy little surprise in "Heartburn." Early in the story, Streep's character delivers a baby (quite a lot of time spent on that). As the film lurches forward, the baby girl is shown at, oh, about ten or twelve months and then again at perhaps twenty months. The children used in the film are absolutely delightful, full of charm, and unusually responsive to Streep's on-film mothering--being fed, read to, hoisted off and on trains and airplanes, encouraged in several (possibly Symbolic) rounds of "Itsy Bitsy Spider." (Ephron, the itsy-bitsy spider, apparently did go up the spout again.)
I kept wondering: how do you get such very small children to be so responsive to a stranger in a film? I've seen five and six-year olds who do amazingly well in front of a camera; Haley Joel Osment leaps to mind. But a toddler?

Well, these toddlers, yes. Names are Dana and Mary Streep. And they added a sparkle to "Heartburn" that all the rest of the great cast couldn't quite generate. Maybe it was inherited talent; surely it was love. Delightful, in any case.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


Driving downtown yesterday, we passed a charming small park, perhaps half a block square. Gracious shade trees, brand-new-in-the-world jonquils, lush grass someone clearly tended on a regular basis. And a large white sign insisting: NO LOITERING.

"Loitering"? Interesting word, "loiter." Always sounds a bit odd when pronounced. And the word has some sound-cousins with distasteful connotations: "goiter," "toilet," "hoity-toity." Plus
"coitus," of course --not in itself a distasteful concept for sure, but an ugly-sounding, medicinal term that we never use in eager invitation or sweet memory of the game itself.

But back to the park. And the ban on loitering. One dictionary defines "loiter" thus: "To delay an activity with aimless idle stops and pauses; to remain in an area for no obvious reason; to hang around."

Holy Thoreau! Guilty as charged! A good part of my day is spent delaying a given activity (such as doing laundry or writing email) with aimless stops and pauses! Heck, I'm good for as much as a two-week delay on just changing a light bulb. And almost every day, I drive past the horse farm down the road, steer off the highway to a precarious, teetering halt on the brink of the ditch, and remain in the area as long as I can, for no obvious reason that any witness could testify about. I just "hang around," watching the seven new colts nicker at each other, flex their unwieldy long legs, sprint independently away from their grazing mothers and then skitter quickly back to nurse if something startles them.

As to Thoreau himself: if my guy upstairs on roller skates has brought me the right information, Thoreau spent one night in jail on some non-payment of taxes charge; but if the local constabulary had posted NO LOITERING statutes around, Henry would have been permanently incarcerated. He was our nation's first serious Loiterer, and perhaps our best. (Well, he and E. B. White.) His idle stops and pauses resulted in observations that high school kids and retirees and mobs of other folks still read and underline and commit to memory and quote in town meetings.

So what are parks about these days? Organized family reunions, I guess; organized public protests with clearly defined reasons and appointed pickets; organized craft fairs hawking local jams and jellies and imported wicker-ware. Just be sure you have a shopping list in hand when you enter the park-fair; if you merely saunter aimlessly along, you'll be up on loitering charges, and there may not be a pro bono attorney hanging around to take your case

Saturday, March 24, 2007


It's in, these days, to knock one's memory. Even the Thirty-Somethings admit they called the police to report a stolen vehicle, when actually they had just forgotten that they were driving the old Honda that day instead of the new Hummer.

And yes, indeed, I forget things. Though I've lived in Oklahoma almost two years, I still manage to rattle off my new zip code only on windless days. Recently I showed up at a doctor's office and insisted that I did too have an 8:15 appointment; I had just made it 24 hours ago, for heaven's sake!

"And what are you here about today?" asked the polite, puzzled receptionist.
"A routine skin exam," I answered quick as a flash.
"Ma'am? This is an optometry practice; we don't do dermatology."

Right date, wrong address. Could happen to anybody.

But there's this little old guy on roller skates. . . . And despite trivial lapses such as the foregoing, I'm pretty proud of him, frankly.

Okay, a tad of backstory here. Before the Emperor of Cyberspace ruled, before Queen Electronica reigned, a student needing research material went to a counter in the college library and wrote on a small slip of paper the Dewey Decimal numbers of volumes requested. A clerk behind the counter took the slip of paper and disappeared into the Stacks--the acres of metal shelves storing the thousands of available books. The clerk then hunted down the books, one by one, Dewey Decimal by Decimal. In about thirty or forty minutes, he brought them back to you. If you were a winner in the Stacks Roulette, one of the books might turn out to be useful. It took a graduate student most of the summer term to find the identical material that his grandkids can today locate online during a single TV commerical, while simultaneously text-messaging their chums.

Now, back to memory. In recent years, I've had a weird impression that my memory is under the supervision of that library clerk of yesteryear. Obviously he is much older these days. And slower. But you know, he's pretty darned good just the same. Somewhere he has obtained a pair of roller skates to get around up there--and I'm not talking in-lines here; I'm talking old-fashioned metal skates that clamped on your shoes and were tightened with a skate key.

The Old Guy clearly prefers the far reaches of the stacks, where the early stuff is kept, rather than the more recent material. For example, he can still deliver the first and last names of every one of my sixth grade classmates. Likewise, most of the long narrative poem, "The Highwayman," by Noyes. (He hasn't lost the last two stanzas or anything; I just never got around to learning them.) And he can put his shaky fingers on lots of other vital, if outdated information-- 'way more than most of my friends care to hear about, frankly.

More recent data, such as my zip code or the passwords for the ten different online accounts I seem to need these days, or where in the world I put last year's income tax files--all these are up front in the grey stacks of my mind, recently uploaded, as it were; and the Old Guy can't always make it that far forward.

Today, for instance, while discussing collegiate women's basketball over lunch (we're still hip-high in the NCAA playoffs here), we brought up an old scandal that made national news fully 20 years ago. A key player in that melodrama was a witness who showed up, uninvited and unwelcome as a tornado, at a climactic moment. The witness's name was in all the papers, and I knew it well, then.
But now the name was deep in the stacks, not anywhere near the tip of my tongue. Try as I would, I could not retrieve it. And it was all so long ago, and so trivial (to me) at that time, that I wasn't at all sure the Old Guy even had the information in his stacks. So I tried to put the question out of my mind.

Half an hour later, paying the check, I suddenly blurted aloud (startling the waiter clean out of his apron): "Nora Delany!" And indeed it was.

The Old Guy is admittedly slow, and his rusty skates creak and wobble, and he puffs as he hunts. But he's got a lot of territory to cover, and I hope he stays on the job for a long time yet.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


This week, more than 10,000 basketball fans jammed into the Cox Center in Oklahoma City to watch the OU women take their 4th Big XII Conference title. Well-fed young men in the crowd puffed out their naked bellies (painted Sooner crimson for the occasion) and old men lowered their bald heads to show cameras the initials of their favorite players, shellacked on their pates. ("CP" was the favorite, for Courtney Paris, currently breaking American college basketball records right, left, and down the middle.) The huge audience was wild with delight just to be there.

Mesmerized, I watched every minute on TV, tears streaming down my face. No, not tears of joy for the win.(Though there was that.) No, I wept to realize that I had been born thirty years too soon to know basketball as today's women played it. The OU Sooner women raced from rim to rim, leaped and blocked, battered and were battered. They shot three-pointers, lay-ups, and fade-away jump shots. Their breath-taking center is 6'4" and their incredible point guard is 5'3". Their sport was fierce, brilliant, run-and-gun. It bore no resemblance to the game I remember. That game had been designed for an imaginary species, the Delicate Female.

Picture it: Arizona, a lovely Fall day in the Fifties. A dozen girls shuffle out onto a cement court between the high school classroom building and the gymnasium-auditorium (where the boys’ team is playing on the wood-floor court.). A dozen, because Back Then, girls’ teams had six on a side. Don’t ask; I don’t know why. They never explained why. And in those days, students didn't ask why very often. Perhaps the Rulemakers thought five mere girls weren’t enough to cover a court without straining something.

Did I say "cover a court"? Correction: half a court. We weren’t allowed to cross the center line–except for one designated shooter. Too much running, you see, for delicate females in the process of developing their female organs. Irrelevant that many classmates lived on Arizona ranches and had already spent years sprinting after stray calves and skittish horses over acres of mesquite. No matter: the Rulebook ordained half-court only.

The Book proclaimed another bit of insane Victorian flummery: two dribbles. Yup. A player was allowed only two dribbles; then she was required to pass the ball. "What was the logic there?" I hear you ask. Got me again. Maybe more than two dribbles would tax our delicate arm muscles. (Those would be the same arm muscles that hauled hefty baby brothers all over the house, lugged bushel baskets of garden produce to market and back, wrestled with huge loads of laundry, and performed other appropriately delicate chores.)

Or perhaps some Rulemaker had decided that the rhythmic bouncing of the ball (more than twice) would ignite the passions of the nubile ladies-in-waiting. I don’t know, though: side-saddles had vanished two generations earlier, despite warnings about what straddling would do to American Womanhood.

Between the half-court rule and the two dribble restriction, our game was so slow we groaned with boredom. Fae Jones, our best natural athlete, more than once paused in the middle of a game to light up a Lucky Strike, continuing to receive passes and dribble one-handed as she puffed. There would have been hell to pay had a teacher seen her, but our P.E. instructors, Miss Van Latte and Ms. Calzone, were safely occupied in their converted-barracks office, "working on the grade-book" and blowing their cigarette smoke out the back window.

During our daintified game, no one ever worked up a sweat. That was just as well, because we hated Rule #19, which demanded a shower after each P.E. class. We solved that one easily: sweat-free and cool, we would turn on the showers full steam, bang on the sides of the stalls and shriek as though leaping about in the cold water, then write S on the honor-system roll chart, affirming our allegiance to #19. Those girls hesitant to go on record with such a bald-faced lie (two Baptists, a Catholic, and the lone Mormon) would mark down MP, for menstrual period, during which times we weren’t required to shower. (Talk about logic.) Some girls swore to three periods a month.

The rules of the game in that era, possibly by design but certainly by result, made girls feel inadequate to a serious contest. The diluted rules were the equivalent of training wheels on your first, and only, bike. (Few of us dreamed of a day when girls and women would insist on and get a real bike.) And just in case we didn’t get the message, Rule #20 decreed truly amazing uniforms. We called them Fruit Suits: bright blue, one-piece bloomer outfits with elastic around the knee-length legs. (Let’s skip right over the darker significance of the elastic leg closings. Suffice it to say the boys did not have elastic around the bottoms of their gym shorts.) In the Fruit Suits, we clearly didn’t look or feel like athletes ; nor did we look or feel very female. Perhaps that was the desired effect: either end of the scale was considered dangerous in the society of the Fifties.

But hey, we all survived, most of us in fine style. Some of us became P.E. teachers ourselves, and coached teams in a changing version of the sport that would have left Ms. Van Latte and Ms. Calzone in the dusty desert caliche. A few of my classmates still compete in senior division sports; (do the math on that.) Others of us, fearing imminent death by ennui, turned against women’s sports for years, only to be blown out of the tranquil waters and onto an altogether new continent when we finally thrilled to the second-generation basketball of Pat Summit, Nancy Leiberman, Lisa Leslie, and, yes, of Courtney Paris. But that’s a story for another day.