So I was just working out in the gym that's downstairs from the guest apartment where I'm staying in D.C. In front of every other treadmill, etc., they have little TV's on the wall, so you can watch while you tread. I got on an elliptical trainer and started blasting Sonic Youth's Rather Ripped album on my iPod, but I noticed that in front of the unoccupied treadmill next to me there was a movie playing on TBS.
It's hard for me not to keep glancing at a TV in my range of vision. Plus, the film was closed-captioned, which had the dual effect of giving me snippets of dialogue and also eliciting my own closed-captioned thoughts. Helen Hunt was in it.
[GIVEN A CHOICE OF AN EVENING WITH EITHER HELEN HUNT OR LINDA HUNT, I'D PICK LINDA HUNT. WHAT DOES THIS SAY ABOUT ME?]
Her hair is all teased out and bleached, to indicate her stolid working-class-osity. She seems to be on a date with ... either Kevin Spacey or Jim Belushi. Further viewing indicates that it is, in fact, Kevin Spacey.
[IF I'M KEVIN SPACEY, AND I REALIZE THAT I COULD POSSIBLY BE MISTAKEN FOR JIM BELUSHI, I'M GETTING A NEW MAKE-UP ARTIST.]
Spacey is wearing a toupée that's meant to make him look like a fictional character, so that you forget it's actually Kevin Spacey, but he ends up looking like Kevin Spacey wearing a bad wig in an SNL sketch. There is an earnestness pervading the frame -- a Hollywoody earnestness, very professionally lit. ...
Holy cow! Now we have Haley Joel Osment! Or the infinitely superior Joel Haley Osment! Either way, he seems to be playing Helen Hunt's son -- and, apparently, a student of Spacey's character, who is a schoolteacher. The situation, as best as I can tell from my occasional catch of a closed caption, is this: Spacey's schoolteacher character has been dating Hunt's working-class-teased-hair character. Spacey is well-educated, Hunt not. This causes some friction -- do they really belong together?
Plus, they are both Haunted. Spacey had some horrible experience with (I think) his dad. Hunt has an abusive husband, or ex-husband, played by ... Is that Jon Bon Jovi??? I think it really is Jon Bon Jovi!! I contain multitudes, and nothing human is alien to me -- but, darn it all, this I cannot accept! Jon Bon Jovi as an abusive husband is too big a leap of faith -- bigger than Hunt's perfectly teased trailer-trash hair, bigger than the dead marmot on Spacey's head, bigger even than the sensitive saucer eyes of Haley Joel Haley Osment ...
... who is now saying to Spacey, [YOU HAVE TO DO IT.]
[DO WHAT?] Spacey asks.
[PAY IT FORWARD], Osment earnestly explains. And I do believe his eyes are tearing up.
But clearly, Spacey is not yet ready to Pay It Forward. For we are only about halfway through the Hollywood screenplay, and have many plot points to go before we sleep.
I vaguely remember reading reviews of Pay It Forward when it came out. As I recall, there was kind of a karmic vibe to the story: something like, someone has done a big favor for each of us, out of love, and it is our responsibility, in turn, to do the same. (Maybe I have this totally wrong -- it's just what I kind of remember.) I actually think that's a beautiful idea. I think it's true, pretty much. Moreover, it's the kind of earnest idea that people -- like, oh, say, me -- could find easy to casually mock and dismiss. ...
But the thing is, Hollywood movies tend to reduce all challenges and triumphs to the purely personal. Hunt and Spacey must slay their own, internal demons in order to receive their "payment," and to pay it forward. ...
[NOTE TO SELF: I'VE ALWAYS LOVED THAT THE YIDDISH-LANGUAGE NEWSPAPER WAS CALLED "THE DAILY FORWARD." IS THAT IDIOSYNCRATIC USE OF THE WORD "FORWARD" CHARACTERISTIC OF YIDDISH SYNTAX? MUST ASK A "REAL" JEW SOMETIME.]
... And once they learn this lesson -- probably from the bizarrely adult-faced Haley-Joel-Haley, who has the wisdom that Hollywood (and Washington, for that matter) tends never to ascribe to adults -- they will finally be able to tearfully join each other as lovers. Brainac will merge with Working Stiff, Red will mix with Blue, and we'll all live Haley Ever After. ...
A man with a bigger potbelly than mine got on the treadmill next to me. "Are you watching this?" he mouthed, indicating the TV. (On my iPod I had finished the Sonic Youth album and was now blasting The Arcade Fire's Funeral into my rock-ravaged ears.) I indicated that I wasn't. As he started treading, he picked up a remote and flipped to another channel. PBS! Tavis Smiley was interviewing a young man about James Brown. The man was talking about how [JAMES BROWN HAD SHOWN HIM THAT HE, TOO, WAS A FULL CITIZEN OF THE WORLD].
I picked up my pace a bit. Things were getting better. To start with, people in gyms were watching interview shows on PBS! But I was still thinking about Paying It Forward -- well, at least my, closed-captioned version -- as well:
[THOSE OF US WHO ARE BORN INTO AMERICAN CITIZENSHIP -- OR ANY CITIZENSHIP, MAYBE -- FIND OURSELVES WITH A COMPLICATED INHERITANCE. ALL THE GLORIOUS, LOVING, BRAVE ACTS THAT HELPED TO FORM, AND PRESERVE, OUR REPUBLIC ARE, INDEED, OUR BIRTHRIGHT. BUT SO ARE ALL THE CRIMES, ALL THE ACTS OF COWARDICE AND CRUELTY AND GENOCIDE. THE "WE" IN "WE THE PEOPLE" MEANS THAT WE HOLD, WITHIN US, BOTH THE SLAVEHOLDER AND THE SLAVE. IF I TRY TO SEPARATE MYSELF FROM EITHER THE GOOD OR THE BAD -- PAST OR PRESENT -- I AM, WHETHER I KNOW IT OR NOT, TRYING TO SNEAK OUT OF THE "WE." ...]
I glanced back at the TV, for another comforting dose of Tavis. But my fellow exerciser had switched to the Weather Channel. A short time later, he turned off the TV and moved on to another machine. Apparently, that had only been the Preamble for him.
In my continuing, elliptical journey, I was back on my own.
December 13th, 2006