24 December 2014

63 Things I Think While Watching White Christmas

Every year, I watch White Christmas at least once before Christmas. It's a requirement for me to feel Christmas spirit. The war! The nostalgia! The singing! The dresses! The tiny waists! The plot holes! The dancing! The fur muffs!
And this is what I think nearly every time I watch White Christmas.

  1. The war looks slightly dirty, I'll give you that, but overall much cleaner than I expected.
  2. Who brought their saxophone to war? What did they think that would do for them? Fire bullets in very curvy paths?
  3. Oh, let's all get nostalgic for the days when $6.60 or $8.80 was considered a steep price.
  4. I mean, there was a war on, so maybe we shouldn't get too nostalgic, but hey, you could bring your band instruments to the front line, so at least band nerds could be a little more nostalgic.
  5. Who was in charge of bringing the painted backdrop of New England to war?
  6. General Waverly is using a stick as a cane—like, a branch that fell off a tree, perhaps during some bombing. Why doesn't he have a real cane? Is he being sent away from the front in order to find a new cane? Could someone fashion him a cane, maybe out of the saxophone? I realize that's a terrible thing to do to a musical instrument, but it's wartime. We all have to make sacrifices.
  7. In "The Old Man," the song the men sing in farewell to General Waverly," they sing, "And we'll tell the kiddies we answered duty's call / With the grandest son of a soldier of them all!" So, General Waverly's dad was also a soldier, or am I being too literal? In any event, someone please explore the Waverly back story. It is ripe for more details. And while you're at it, please explain what he did for the rest of the war after the slam-bang send-off Bing Crosby gave him. More General Waverly all the time. That's all I'm asking.
  8. Who else, when Danny Kaye tries to brush off the severity of his wound, wants him to say, "It's just a flesh wound!"? Is it just me?
  9. I want to go back in time and write headlines for that Variety newspaper that reports on Wallace and Davis and other entertainment news. Oh, to work for a place that allows such alliteration as "Boffo Biz in Better Bistros."
  10. Do we have levels of bistros still? Are there good ones and bad ones? How do I know if I'm at a better bistro?
  11. I should work the word boffo into more conversations.
  12. I should also start saying, "Mutual, I'm sure," when I'm introduced, just like that vapid, she-can't-even-spell-Smith chorus girl does. It will make people think I'm far ahead of them in the conversation.
  13. I always have to cover my eyes when Bing Crosby is changing. Seeing him in his underwear, it's just so risque.
  14. For me, one of the saddest lines in the whole movie is right after Bing explains to Danny that he doesn't think he'll find a girl in the music business who's ready to settle down. Danny says that that's the first time he's opened up like that, in all the time they've known each other. It's been 10 years since the war, and they've been singing and dancing and touring together that whole time—and this is the most they've ever shared? I am sad for their friendship and wonder what they do talk about. Better bistros? Where to buy more gray shoes that perfectly match their pants? Try to remember the name of the guy who brought a saxophone to war?
  15. I wish we still lived in a world where people got so dressed up to go out to dinner and a show. Those people at the club where the Haynes sisters are performing—did you see the dresses? And the very tall heels?
  16. I spend a lot of time while watching White Christmas either being nostalgic for a time I never experienced, or experiencing dress envy.
  17. Now I'm looking at my jeans in disappointment: Why can't you be a teal flouncy dress?
  18. Not that I want to be part of a sister act.
  19. Although my sister and I were dressed alike to perform a few times, but this was at church. Singing about Jesus is a far cry from being a sister act in a nightclub in Florida.
  20. Now I want to watch that movie Sister Act. You know, the one with Whoopi Goldberg as a nun and Maggie Smith as a mother superior {really, some of Maggie's best work—I don't know why people go on and on about that Prime of Miss Jean Brodie}. Because there's singing and nuns, it's basically The Sound of Music but without the kids. Or Nazis.
  21. I do not agree that the best things happen while you're dancing. I think they happen while you're cooking. Or reading.
  23. Also, why does her name have a hyphen? Did she not have a last name? Was she the Madonna of her day?
  24. Freckle-Faced Haynes, the Dog-Faced Boy, is not all that bad looking. It seems a little unfair to be so judgmental of his looks, Danny Kaye.
  25. That audience that got to see an impromptu performance from Wallace & Davis singing "Sisters" got a bargain: I am sure that tickets to their normal show would've cost $6.60 or even $8.80.
  26. A snood, by the way, is an ornamental hairnet worn at the back of a woman's head. {Bing asks Danny if he left his money in his snood.} I am not nostalgic for the days when women wore these, partly because it's a silly word to say.
  27. Every time I've travelled on the Amtrak, I have willed it to be like this train in White Christmas. A cafe car serving cocktails and with real silverware and napkins. Cozy beds. But as I sit in the cafe car eating warmed up pizza and drinking coffee from a styrofoam cup, I know that it is not the same.
  28. Have these four never seen snow before? Why would you want to wash your hair in snow? Or your face? This all sounds very cold.
  29. But I am on board with making models of snow-covered mountains with napkins. So cute! Pinterest-worthy, really.
  30. I wonder what it would be like to try to sleep sitting up in a cafe car of a train. I've slept sitting up in a normal seat on a train before—on my way back from Morocco, but that is a story for another time—and of course that's comfortable enough. But the cafe car? What if the bartender kept trying to give you more of those creamy white drinks?
  31. Speaking of which, what are those creamy white drinks that the four harmonizers look at so longingly while singing about snow? It looks like a milkshake, but why would you drink a milkshake in the winter?
  32. Bing does mention a hot buttered rum—light on the butter. I want to make that happen, except I would double the butter.
  33. Oh, maybe the milkshake drinking was foreshadowing to the summer-like temperatures in Vermont. But maybe I'm overanalyzing the movie. Maybe.
  34. That lady who plays the housekeeper is in The Music Man. I would like to create a game that's like 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon, but it'd be 6 Degrees of My Favorite Musical. I bet you I can work it in to any conversation. That is how 6 Degrees works, right?
  35. BUT WAIT: That lady is also in Sister Act.
  36. My thoughts on White Christmas are really becoming circular now, and mostly circling around Sister Act, it seems.
  37. Third time hearing the "Sisters" song. I would like to volunteer now to sing it, unless I have to wear a snood.
  38. I've never understood the General's finances. I know he sunk his whole pension and all his savings into the place, but it's still early in the ski season and there was snow at Thanksgiving. It's probably mid-December by the time Bing and Friends arrive, so that just a couple of weeks of no guests. I realize that I know zero about running ski lodges, but it just seems that he has a long ski season ahead of him and besides, there were people at dinner during the Haynes sisters' performance of "Sisters" {aka, their only number}. Where did those people come from? Are they townspeople who feel bad for the General and so get all dressed up on a random weeknight to come out an eat Emma's cooking?
  39. Once the cast arrives, we enter the part of the movie I like to call: I Wish I Knew the Plot of Their Musical.
  40. The title—Playing Around—gives no clues.
  41. And don't get me started on "Mandy" and "Choreography." One looks back to the minstrel days and one bemoans the state of current theater. WHEN are you happy, fictitious musical-within-White Christmas?
  43. Even wearing that white sparkly leotard in "Mandy" where she looks like she may have, I'm sorry to say, an adult diaper under that leotard {why is it so oddly puffy?}, Vera-Ellen is disturbingly skinny.
  44. Where do all these cast members sleep? Exactly how big is this ski lodge? Does Emma do all the cooking and cleaning for this place? Or does Susan, General Waverly's granddaughter, help out?
  45. And where are Susan's parents?
  46. I still don't believe that the best things happen while you're dancing.
  47. Betty's velour dress is pretty cool, though. More dress envy.
  48. So much could be cleared up if only Betty would talk to Bob instead of believing all these rumors spread by that busybody of a housekeeper, Emma. Betty wouldn't have had to run away to New York to sing her sad, lonely, love/torch song. She and Bob could've sung their "Count Your Blessings" duet in the show because why not? Any song will fit into that musical's plot.
  49. But confronting problems and saying to another person, "Hey, I heard this thing about you, and I want to know the truth behind it" works well as advice in a Dear Abby column; in many great love stories, it would stop the plot cold. What if Elizabeth had asked Darcy to explain his involvement in the twisted tale of Wickham? That would've cut Pride & Prejudice in half and cut out all the drama.
  50. But I do love that in White Christmas, Betty learns the truth about Bob and his plan to surprise the General while watching TV on a break from performing "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me." This is proof that TV brings us together.
  51. Judging from the number of men at the train station on Christmas Eve, it will be impossible to hide all these men from the General. It's his Inn, after all. Of course he'll notice a much more boisterous backstage crowd.
  52. Or maybe there's a secret back road entrance we haven't seen? One that doesn't cross over the horseshoe game?
  53. Do Bob and Phil have their Army uniforms with them whenever they travel?
  54. Or did they have these sent from home?
  55. Where is home for them? Do they have an apartment in New York City? Are they like Oscar and Felix, the Odd Couple, and live together as perfectly opposite roommates? Or do they have separate apartments in the same building?
  56. One of my favorite lines in the whole movie: General Waverly tells Emma that he got along just fine in the Army without her, and she comes back with, "Yeah, and it took 15,000 men to take my place!" One million points to Emma.
  57. Also, can there be a White Christmas sequel where Emma and the General get married? They clearly need to.
  58. In this sequel, Emma can also apologize for nearly permanently breaking up Betty and Bob with her baseless gossip. It bothers me that the never addresses her fault in the whole hullabaloo, but she does have that whole "15,000 men" quip in her favor, so I might forgive her.
  59. When the General is walking among the soldiers, shaking hands and looking touched, I like to watch this awkward moment: He reaches out for a soldier's hand but withdraws it before actually shaking. It's as if he saw whose hand he was about to shake and remembered how much he didn't like that guy. Perhaps this guy was a chef and couldn't do much with those rations. Or maybe he complained a lot about wearing a necktie during war. Or maybe he stole the General's cane.
  60. Considering that Betty never rehearsed "Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army," she is a quick study. She should do this professionally.
  61. "White Christmas"! They're singing "White Christmas"! And it's not in front of a painted backdrop that somebody brought to war!
  62. Why does Bob throw Betty's present in the tree? He should set it nicely under the tree to treasure later.
  63. I applaud the person who was so quick to hitch up the sleigh and the horses when it started to snow. They look like a picture print from Currier and Ives.

04 December 2014

talking to people on trains

I am on the train and thinking about talking to someone else on the train. (That sounds like the teasing beginning to a game of Twenty Questions: Guess who I am thinking of!)

I'm considering breaking the commuter code of silence because I heard a story on NPR this morning that public transit commuters who talk to other commuters are happier than those who sit in their safe, self-contained world, reading or looking at their smartphones. If NPR reported it, it must be true (and witty and intelligent), so like a good acolyte, I'm doing what they told me to.

(You can read this story for yourself here. My favorite part is where they say that "even for introverts, silence is leaving you sadder." I'm tempted to take that as a challenge: I will not be sadder by not having to talk to other people, just watch me.)

I've been riding the same train for a year-and-a-half—the same car, even. We are creatures of habit: Just as in school when we're allowed to choose our own seat every day and we, after only a few classes, gravitate toward the same seat with territorial fervor, commuters stick with the car and the seat that they know.

Why do we so easily and willingly—gratefully, almost—slip into routine in these small, quotidian ways? I think we are made to find order, and we take joy in ordering the same coffee from the same person. We like sitting down in "our" seat and seeing familiar faces around us. The world is unpredictable, but we make small choices every day to make it feel ever-so-slightly more predictable.

Part of the predictability of my commute is that no one talks. There's a man who works the crossword every day, and behind him is a guy who immediately falls asleep after settling in to his seat. How does he do this? I want to know how restful that sleep is and if he every considered going to bed earlier to avoid the need to sleep more in such a very public place. But it's hard to ask him questions, seeing as he's sleeping, so I'm stuck with my wonderings.

Usually there's an older couple sitting in front of me. They're in their 60s: the man gray-haired and bearded and the woman with a rich blonde that I'm sure is dyed but it looks so natural. Her hair is styled, every day, as if she were Hayley Mills in that show Good Morning, Miss Bliss. Do you know what I'm talking about? It was the precursor to Saved by the Bell, and if you're still a little bit lost (or would like a trip down memory lane), here's a picture of Miss Bliss:

Over the last year-and-a-half, I have invented an entire life for this couple. He's often typing away at what is clearly a scientific abstract, so I made him an epidemiologist at Northwestern, working determinedly in his lab to find the cure for everything. I imagine him travelling around the world to medical conferences to report his findings in PowerPoint talks that are standing room only. His work is that crucial, and his presentations are that engaging.

She's often reading—The New Yorker or a novel—and I believe she's a librarian and is known for her knack of recommending just the perfect book for someone, even if it's in a genre they wouldn't normally read. You can tell her one book you like, one movie you've seen recently, and how you feel about one current even she asks about, and before you're even done answering, you'll receive a book title on one of those little pieces of scrap paper the library has everywhere. A handpicked book: It's practically magical.

When this couple, several months back, spent their train rides looking at decorating websites and discussing in low tones how hardwood is a must because it's so classic and inviting (when there are plush rugs especially, she added), I invented for them a second home in Paris. Their pied a terre is their retirement dream, a goal they've both kept in mind through hours and hours in the lab and in the stacks.

And now it was finally coming true! I was so happy for them, even though I'd never technically spoken to them, but then, two weeks before Thanksgiving, my train friends disappeared.

At first I thought that perhaps they had taken an early Thanksgiving holiday. I'm sure they have children to visit in New York City (of course they enjoy the theatre and all the restaurants) or Napa Valley or Tuscany (apparently I think their children really like wine). But then they didn't come back after Thanksgiving, and now it's been almost a whole week after the rest of my silent commuter friends have returned.

Where are you? I ask their seat every day. I worry about my train friends I don't even know, and now I realize that if I were one of those happy commuters who talked—instead of consuming book after book—I would know, and I wouldn't be so sad as I look at their empty seat.

To console myself, I'm going to believe that they have escaped to that pied a terre in Paris. They're planning on spending the holidays in France because there's just something so right and charming about seeing the City of Lights in twinkle lights. When they come back in January, I'll be sure to ask them how it was.

01 December 2014

oh, alarm clocks

It is cold and it is dark; my first thought this morning when the alarm went off was the very obvious and very predictable, 'But I don't want to go to work!'

This is how it always is after any longer-than-a-weekend time off. Your body has gotten used to not waking up to an alarm, and no matter how early you go to bed the night before, you will whine just a little when the alarm goes off.

And have you noticed that we try to make our alarms sound so pleasant now? There are many options on cell phones: ocean waves, birds singing, gentle guitars as if you had hired a troubadour troop to creepily sneak into your bedroom and wake you up.

If the alarm is sweet and natural, perhaps waking will be sweet and natural, the reasoning seems to be.

But who are we kidding? In reality, alarms should be jarring, and the more shocking, the better—the blare that sounds like a nuclear apocalypse is coming, the crackly static of the local AM station, the clanging din of those now retro but once iconic alarm clocks.

Or maybe they should guilt you out of bed by saying, "You have to get up. You have responsibilities. You have to get up. How will the dog eat without you? You have to get up if you want to pay your mortgage."

Any of those would work better than these dulcet awakenings we have now—sounds that make me want to do nothing but stay in bed. That was my second thought this morning: how to make alarm clocks better.

By the time I turned off my own alarm—a bright beeping on my running watch—I was ready to conquer the cold and the dark. I mean, even in my half-asleep, half-formed-thoughts state, I had come up with a guilt-inducing alarm clock that would prey on Americans' work ethic and competitiveness: What could I achieve when I got out of bed?

(And that is the question that keeps us going, even when it's so cold and dark.)


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