And Words Are All I Have

Oscar statue in coat check.
Yes, these are times of great illness and distress.
Yet the center may just hold.

~~ Anne Lamott

Oscar and Me


It's been a tumultuous, emotional week, as the world awaited the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial. When his guilt on all three counts was finally announced my first feeling was relief, followed by a sense that something hugely wrong had been set right. My next feeling was that this was merely a beginning, that true progress will be achieved when justice doesn’t feel like a surprise. Or, somehow, like a gift we don't deserve.

Never have I looked forward more to the frivolity and escape of the Oscar telecast on Sunday night. Bring on the fanfare, the hoopla, the overcoiffed, the sycophants, the unbridled egos, the interminable, coma-inducing acceptance speeches with names of people we do not care about.

I, for one, cannot wait.

As long as my memory serves, every year around this time I have been planted in front of a TV to watch the Oscars. Academy Awards' viewing is as much a part of me as my lefthandedness. As a little girl, I watched them religiously with my mother and my sisters on our tiny black and white TV in our apartment. It was a delicious treat that Mom let us stay up so late on a school night; she was very cool that way, my mom. A Hollywood buff and Photoplay magazine devotee, she knew all the stars of the day and provided back stories for the presenters and winners as they took the stage. She had told us that when she was a young lassie in Glasgow she saw Hardy of the then-acclaimed comedy team Oliver and Hardy when they played there. He was in the back of a fancy car, she said. She stood alongside it, pressed her fact to the window and waved at him. Hardy held his face opposite hers and waved back across the glass with a wink.

Mom sprinkled the proceeds with juicy little factoids, making the evening sparkle even brighter.

“Now, that is Cary Grant. His real name is Archibald Leach.”

“Oh, here’s Joan Crawford, girls. On top of acting she is a successful businesswoman. She's the head of Pepsi!"

While living single in large cities, my fellow movie aficionados and I would gather for the telecast without fail. One year, it was a formal dress-up party hosted by a friend. I borrowed a gorgeous black taffeta evening gown from my friend in the apartment next door. As luck would have it, she was a vintage clothing collector. (I realize now she was a classic hoarder before the term had been coined.) I cut out a picture of a gold Oscar statue from a magazine, glued a backer to it and positioned it on my head as a fascinator alongside my chignon. Add elbow length lace gloves, bejeweled cigarette holder, sky high pumps, a fur stole (also compliments of my neighbour) and let the relentless critiquing of the telecast begin.

Some years were quieter celebrations, but just as ceremonial. Even watching them on my own, I bowed to the sense of occasion. I lined up my time-honored snacks, burrowed under my favorite quilt and glued myself to the proceedings, shouting at the screen the entire time.

You was robbed, Fargo. You was robbed.

Ordinary People over Raging Bull... In what world?

What the hell has Cher got on? Is it an actual wet suit?

They did not just give it to Sally Field! Did they even see Silkwood?

Shakespeare In Love takes it? What the what?

Winona Ryder. Hon. Did you comb your hair with a towel?

One year a co-worker asked if I’d join her to watch the program. Against my better judgment, as I didn’t know the girl well, I agreed. When I arrived that evening, a half hour early, I found her and her boyfriend snuggled on the couch watching hockey.

Stifling a yawn, she asked, idly: “Do you know what time it starts?”

The numbing realization settled in that I was in very deep trouble.

“Eight p.m. As ever,” I said, hyperventilating.

She turned to her boyfriend. “Boo, the first period should be finished by then, shouldn’t it?”

“How should I know?" barked Boo, not taking his eyes off the screen.

I immediately called a cab. At my behest my taxi driver ran two yellows and I only missed the first five minutes.

I still shudder at the memory of one particular year that found me on a Caribbean island at Oscar time. I had rented a cottage on the sea and made sure it included cable. I was all set. Or so I thought. A few days before the telecast, I was idly flipping through the channels and discovered the TV feed didn’t include the networks. I remember well the realization dawning — as unto an apocalypse — that I might actually miss the show for the first time. In desperation, I set out on a personal mission to track down a network feed somewhere, anywhere, on the island.

I staerted by stopping people randomly at the little town in the harbor.

I accosted a woman in the grocery store. “Your hair looks fabulous!” I told her. “Do you get the networks?”

“What do you mean, networks?” she queried, as if on a mind-altering drug.

I am doomed, I thought, abandoning my groceries and heading for the door. Verging on hysterics, I considered any and all options. Bribes. Unveiled threats. Making promises no self-respecting woman would ever make. C'mom, don't judge. I'm talkin' Oscars here.

Come the day of the awards I was strolling the beach, resigned, disconsolate, when I spotted a couple walking toward me. They looked urbane, media-savvy. Hope bubbled within me. I approached them. I had entirely abandoned the social niceties by this time.

“I make a chocolate cheesecake that will make you weep. If I bring one with me can I come to your house tonight and watch the Oscar telecast?” I kept my delivery matter of fact.

“Oh, and if you promise not to talk a lot, I’ll throw in a plate of my caramel toffee bars.”

Astoundingly, they agreed to both of my propositions. I showed up at their door that night with promised treats in tow, exulting.

The telecast began. My hostess asked a question the moment the first presenter took the stage.

“Did you know the first film to be made entirely in Hollywood was a 17-minute short in 1910 by D.W. Griffith?” Her delivery was crisp, authoritative.

There was a God. No longer was I a stranger in a strange land. Her partner then announced, casually, he had dabbled in writing screenplays and that a book adaptation of his had once been green lit by Paramount.

I had scored, and I had scored big. They kept me on my toes the entire night. My hostess noted that Marlon Brando and Albert Finney both turned down the lead in Lawrence of Arabia before it was offered to O’Toole? Really?

I knew Hitchcock had never won an Oscar, but had forgotten he was given the Irving Thalberg Memorial Award in 1968. My host asked if I knew that he spoke only five words in his acceptance speech. I was chagrined to admit I did not. Had I been locked in a bunker somewhere?

He then revealed Hitchcock's five words, to wit: "Thank you. Very much, indeed.’”

Did I know that the iconic ice cream scene in Kramer vs. Kramer with the irate father (Dustin Hoffman) and his stubborn son was entirely improvised? I was feign to admit I did not. Where exactly had I been all my life?

I had never enjoyed the Oscars more. We reminisced about the show's iconic moments over the years... Jack Palance pumping out 100 one-armed push-ups. Best Actor winner Adrien Brody planting a passionate six-second kiss-and-dip on presenter Halle Berry. John Travolta calling Idina Menzel "Adele Dazeem." Singer Bjork's three dimensional costume, a sculpture unto itself, of - what was it, a swan? And indisputably the most cringeworthy Oscar moment of all time from Sally Field: The first time I didn't feel it. But this time I feel it. And I can't deny the fact that you like me... right now... you like me. Thank you. It pains me even now.

Before leaving I added to the mix when George C. Scott became the first actor to reject an Oscar in 1971 (for Patton). I redeemed myself, I hoped, by quoting his press release on the event to my gracious hosts before taking my leave.

It read: "The Oscars are a two-hour meat parade with contrived suspense for economic reasons."

Mr. Scott added that the entire undertaking was “offensive, barbarous and innately corrupt.”

There, there, George. Of course it is.

And your point?

P.S. I've already filled out my ballot in our family's annual Oscar Quiz. Having never won, I remain, inexplicably, ever hopeful. FYI: I went heavy on Promising Young Woman, a heartbreaking, powerful film, easily my favourite of the year.
~~ by Kim Addonizio

So your device has a low battery & seems to drain faster each day.
Maybe you should double your medication.
You might feel queasy, but also as if the spatula flattening you to the fry pan
has lifted a little.
So your breath comes out scorched, so what.
Inside, trust me on this,
there’s a ribbon of beach by a lake,
in the sand, fragments of a fossilized creature resembling a tulip.
Back in the Paleozoic, online wasn’t invented yet
so everyone had to wander alone & miserable through the volcanic wastes
or just glue themselves to a rock hoping someone would pass by.
Now you can sob to an image of your friend a continent away
& be consoled.
Please wait for the transmissions, however faint.
Listen: when a stranger steps into the elevator with a bouquet of white
roses not meant for you,
they’re meant for you.

Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories’ shadows—
and they’re grateful if they can, but it is not enough.
Nothing the writer can do
is ever enough.

~ Joy Williams

Thank you, gentle reader, for listening. Share your thoughts on my writings, or some of your very own, always welcome, to:

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