Friday, September 28, 2012

Goodbye to Hoboken and All That

Watch out, friends, I’m about to change my life again.

Some people move a lot, some people stay a lot. I’m in the former group. I moved to Hoboken as transition overtook me in my little hometown of Fairhope, Alabama, five years ago. My mother was in a nursing home and had only a few months left, my husband had died six years earlier. I was looking at a town so transformed I hardly knew if I even liked it. I felt surrounded by death and knew that this was not the place I wanted to be when it happened.

After leaving Fairhope, I found myself in Hoboken.  I liked its motley, multi-culti, multi-generational vibe, the fragrance of Italian food on its sidewalks, its elegant 19th century architecture and its atmosphere of a small town that was practically a neighborhood of Manhattan itself, and but eight minutes from the Christopher Street stop on the PATH train. I was in New Jersey, but so close to New York I could see its skyline across the river and be there in time for the matinee of cinema or play.

Writing this blog made me visible to people who lived near. I got invited to lunch, to parties, to obscure events like the preview of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade floats and the Heirloom Tomato Festival. I saw contests of Frank Sinatra imitators and went to a Hoboken High production of Guys and Dolls. I auditioned for a play about the old “Flora Dora Girls” of Hoboken and landed the role of narrator. I love the town; a vibrant, dynamic, and colorful combination of youth and age, old and new. I invested in a little condo on the lower western side.

From where I lived I was a 40-minute (if the track were slow that day) trip to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York, get a bus to Kingston, where my daughter and two grandsons live and be there in two hours. I made the trip about once a month for five years. Both my grandsons were able, on several occasions, to get on a bus in Kingston, which I met at the Port Authority, and join me for a Broadway matinee.

I spent a month or two in Fairhope every winter and wrote two books about the town from Hoboken. Much of my time as I was finding myself in Hoboken was spent in my own mind, mulling over my life and feeling good about being 72 years old and still able to do the things I wanted. I thought a great deal about Fairhope itself, as I remembered it from childhood, and tried to reconcile those memories with its reality of today.

Things began to change. A pain in my knee made it difficult to walk. The journey to the A & P, and to the bus, and to the PATH train was becoming more difficult. That Was Tomorrow, my novel about Fairhope, in eBook format, hadn’t sold well and clearly would never catch on in Fairhope although it had received good response from local reviewers. There was no more Fairhope in my life, and less Hoboken. Arthritis then grabbed my the other knee in a viselike grip as well.

A few weeks ago my daughter said, “You know, Mom, I just saw the cutest little house in Kingston that you would love…” Without thinking, I said, “Kingston? I don’t think I could live in Kingston. If I were going to live around here, I’d look in New Paltz.”

This was a new idea for both of us, really. On the many bus trips to Kingston I’d eyed New Paltz through the window—a quaint college town with cottages and shops lining the streets. A feeling of old and young together. Activities, a library, surely a historical committee or two. It’s the kind of town you drive through and think, “I could be happy here.” I realized I’d had that thought many times in five years.

Now my life is changing again. Both knees are in pain, and there are new pains and complaints to come. I’m “young-old” but will be “old-old” before I know it, and I’m pretty much alone in Hoboken. Much as I like the place, I haven’t put down roots. My thoughts and dreams take place in Fairhope—but those Fairhope dreams are fewer these days. The past that was Fairhope is losing its power over me.

My eldest grandson is in college at SUNY Albany, and he says, “Sure, I’d like you to live in New Paltz.” I wrote most of this blog post on a bus back to the Port Authority from Kingston—Alison and I drove to Albany yesterday and took him to lunch. His brother Andy, too, says he’d love to have me living nearby. I’m thinking about our visits in a new way.

There is much to do to make this happen. It may come as a shock to those who stay put, but moves like this have stimulated, motivated, and jostled me (in a good way) all my life. I used to move every few years, always thinking it was the last time, and not truly thinking ahead in Hoboken. I’ll have to sell a condo, buy a car, and make all the plans for a move. I’ll have to see doctors, dentists, and get my piles of papers, cartons of collections, and sort my stuff once again.

Hoboken is a beautiful place, a kind of secret place for me, a place I found myself and will never forget once this is all done. Maybe I’ll write a book about it. It will definitely be a part of me forever. Upstate New York looks like a pleasant next step.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Movie Jag

The last few weeks I've been exploring new movies, the kind of offbeat indie fare that doesn't make it to the nearby cineplexes in Jersey City and Hoboken. It means seeking out the titles that intrigued me but I couldn't find locally, checking time and venue in the city, and organizing myself to take the PATH train to New York in time to catch the most available ones on my list. I saw three excellent little films, two of which I recommend to all, and one which made me queasy but ultimately I am coming to appreciate. I'll restrain myself from spoilers in these little mini-reviews.

The first was a French number called Intouchable, a title which baffles me, but I'm sure it means something in French that is not quite translatable so the producers just decided to retain in the original language. They probably don't know that it is not only untranslatable to English, it is also pretty much unpronounceable and most Americans will just say it as it looks--which renders it really much less accessible than the movie is. Unlike A.O. Scott I don't see this as a movie about class differences or the concept of the Noble Savage. It is a movie about men who come to love and depend on each other in the most improbable circumstances. Scott described the protagonist as an uptight rich guy--that's amusing because he's not uptight psychologically. He is physically paralyzed, which is a different thing altogether. He had once been a bit of a free spirit, but is broken by a terrible accident in which he lost the love of his life. He would never have hired such a clearly marginal rebel as a caregiver had he been an uptight personality.
The acting by both Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy is superb; the story has a few twists; the soundtrack is perfect, and throughout the movie the viewer hopes all will end well. I won't even give the ending, but will say that these characters buoy the audience throughout the process. There is an actor here, M. Sy, I hope to see again in many films. Highly recommended.

Then I saw a little gem called Beasts of the Southern Wild. This is a unique, homemade-looking movie, introducing us to a way of life we never dreamed of. The people are living so far below the poverty line they have descended into a magical underworld, a nether place we could not have imagined and yet almost hope exists. They are outside the realm of our minds, living on an island so flood prone it is known as The Bathtub.

There is a father and his six-year-old daughter he calls Hushpuppy, the two of them facing life and death and drifting in ignorance and myth, and calling on the magic within them to ward off the demons and dilemmas they struggle against. The director used non-actors in all the roles, and it pays off here in bringing a gritty, unpretty reality to a bold and unexpected mythology. Little Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry, if they become movie stars and act in hundreds of films in their lives, will never be better than they were as Hushpuppy and Wink.

Killer Joe was not what I expected. I mean, that's a killer title, and Matthew McConaghey is my kind of guy, usually. I like his swagger, his nasal voice, his native diffidence and poise. Okay, he's playing a gun for hire, a hit man, we've seen a lot of them in the movies and sometimes they're kind of cute. Not so here.
McConaghey is pure menace, as evil a sadist as Robert Mitchum in Cape Fear--a rattlesnake who will bite anything, and does. Thomas Haden Church is excellent at appearing to be dumber than dirt, and he stretches that ability to its outer limits here. There are laughs in Killer Joe, not a lot of them and they aren't warm fuzzy laughs, they are just carefully placed in the script to relieve some of the tension that underscores this dark, violent film. There was nobody to like in this movie, but the actors, including Gina Gershon, Emile Hirsch, and Juno Temple, made us believe, for a few moments anyway, that this crew of reprobates were almost worth saving. If you have a strong stomach and don't mind blood, gore, rape, molestation and murder, it's a pretty good movie.