"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Million Dollar Movie

My brother, sister and I had bedtime when we were kids, through middle-school if I remember correctly. It got pushed later and later as we got older of course, but my mom was not into letting us stay up late during a school night to watch TV. So we’d start watching a movie and then have to go to bed halfway through. Mom would tuck us in, kiss us goodnight, and then go back to the living room of our small two-bedroom apartment and watch the rest of it.

She filled us in the next morning over breakfast, the story slowly coming back to her as she sipped her coffee, spread a triangle of Laughing Cow on a burnt piece of toast, her face still creased from the sheets, her voice still thick with sleep. Mom came to this country in 1967 from Belgium but never completely lost her French accent. When excited, her voice would get dramatically high, but not in the morning. It wasn’t sing-songy but full of melody, inflection and animation (nothing frustrated her more than watching a woman getting chased by the bad guys in a movie…”Kick him in the balls, kick him in the balls!” she’d say. “I don’t understand why they don’t just kick them in the balls.”)

In re-telling the movie, Ma never cut to the chase. She traced her way back into the story and then proceeded to give us a blow-by-blow account in painstaking detail. Sometimes she’d pause, not remembering the sequence of events, and spend five minutes sorting out what happened. Aloud. I would hang on her words, annoyed by her deliberate pace, not for one minute comprehending the way the female mind worked. I just wanted the payoff. What happened? The important stuff, not details of the scenery and costumes.

One movie that she told us about one morning was Cactus Flower, a movie I’ve never watched, but for a minute or two here or there, since. I like it better in my memory, listening to Mom, who loved Goldie Hawn and Walter Matthau, telling us what went down.

There was something about Goldie Hawn that she could relate to–they both had the ability to be light and fun, and were not afraid to laugh at themselves. They were both adorable when they were young but their looks changed as they got older and their voices got huskier. They were tested by life and proved not to be pushovers. Still, there was something, if not innocent, then refreshing and bubbly about both of them that links them together in my memory. I image that the Goldie Hawn of Cactus Flower brought my mother back to a time that I was too young to remember, when mom was young and new to this country. Before she had kids and her marriage got dark and ugly.


1 Chyll Will   ~  May 20, 2010 2:58 pm

Megan Fox will not be in Transformers 3 because she either quit or got fired by director Michael Bey.

Somebody please send the wambulance to set; there's a media catfight about to break out and it promises to be, um, explosive...

2 NYYfan22   ~  May 20, 2010 3:02 pm

I love when you write pieces like this, Al. Presents a side of your writing that is found in all the greats.

[large sweeping motion with arm] One day, lad, all this will be yours!

3 Alex Belth   ~  May 20, 2010 3:09 pm

2) Thanks, man! It's the kind of writing that means the most to me, and I don't mean that in a self-indulgent way. It's just the most creatively stimulating. And although I try to keep it brief, I do spend some time thinking about it and working on drafts before I post it.

Much obliged for the kind words.

4 bags   ~  May 20, 2010 5:11 pm

there is a very high degree of awesomeness here, alex. i especially like this one. it has a sense of melancholy i really like.

5 NYYfan22   ~  May 20, 2010 10:50 pm

[3] word. I still love your Stikes and Gutters memoir... I've sent the link to dozens of people, and I've probably read it 6, 7 times myself. I'm a die-hard Lebowski fan, and pretty-much every convo I have about the movie (or the Coen Bros in general) ends with me giving the other party the link to your memoir. I mean perfect strangers at parties, bars, or on the street. haha

Keep up the good work.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver