Remember What Made You Fall in Love With the Movies?

Last night I swallowed my cynicism and watched the entire airing of the 2012 Academy Awards.  There ought to be an award for watching the whole thing.  I think I would at least get a nomination for Best Academy Awards Watcher in a Supporting Role, but would probably have had to read my prepared acceptance speech to only my mother, during my after-party at Applebee’s, after I lost to someone who did not throw up in his mouth a little bit every time an Oscar-winner used the word “incredible” to describe someone they worked with on the film.

My favorite part of this year’s Oscars, other than that commercial for Hulu where the streaming television service melts someone’s brain, were these little montages, sprinkled about the broadcast like tarragon, of famous actors like Reese Witherspoon, Brad Pitt, and Barbra Streisand, fawning about how they fell in love with the movies.  I was grateful that these busy celebrities took the time to remind me of the power of movies to take me someplace far, far away from $15 and three hours of my life.

The montages got me thinking about the movies that I saw as a child that made me fall in love with the movies.  If I had been sitting in front of the camera and shown a cue card with “SAPPY GUSHING” written on it, I would have had to say something about “Gremlins,” a 1984 Christmas movie about these little cute furry mammals that turn into medium-sized menacing reptilian monsters with homicidal tendencies and depraved indifference to human life.

“When Mrs. Peltzer shoved that Gremlin into the microwave and hit the power button,” I would say, looking slightly off-center, eyes tearing just enough to glisten but not quite filling to the brim, “I knew that these movies…these films…these…moving pictures on moving film had a way of bringing imagination to life and then exploding it all over the inside of a microwave oven.  From that point on, I was hooked.”

Or perhaps I would talk about “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” a partially animated movie about a cartoon rabbit, the eponymous Roger, who is framed with a murder and has to go on the lam with a human detective named Eddie Valiant.

“That scene where Roger Rabbit and Eddie are handcuffed together,” I would say, leaning in towards the camera and shaking my hands, “and Eddie is trying to saw the handcuffs off with a hacksaw, and the box he’s leaning on keeps wobbling, so Roger Rabbit takes his hand out of the handcuffs to hold the box steady, so that now Eddie is sawing off handcuffs that are attached to only his hand, and Roger Rabbit sees that Eddie notices this and that Eddie looks mad, so Roger Rabbit quickly slips his hand back in the cuffs, and smiles, and Eddie yells at him, ‘You mean you could’ve taken your hand out of that cuff at any time?’  And Roger Rabbit replies, ‘No, not at any time.  Only when it was funny.’

“Now,” I’ll say as I nod my head and point with my index finger at nothing, “that cartoon rabbit’s honesty in that scene is, to me, the essence of what it means to be an actor.  That and sunglasses.”

But if I had to pick just one movie that hooked me onto cinema that I can watch in my home for free years after the theater release, it would have to be “The Wizard of Oz.”  I am told that I saw that movie for the first time when I was three years old, and that when Dorothy wakes up at the end, in her home in Kansas, surrounded by loved ones she feared she would never see again, and says, “Oh, Auntie Em—there’s no place like home!” that I started crying, crying the tears of innocent joy that could be brought forth only from that perfect union of human truth and human emotion that is the hallmark of the movies.

Or maybe I knew I was being watched and wanted to give my parents a cute story.

Remember When Mr. Coffee Was the Only Coffee Maker?

The mustachioed man in the center of the room took a drag of his electric cigarette and began his story.

“Beatrice bought me a Mr. Coffee when we had first started dating.  This was before we were married.  Up until that time I had to get my coffee by crashing the lobbies of Holiday Inns and taking advantage of the complimentary coffee they serve to people they believe are guests.  The Mr. Coffee changed my life.  Just put in the filter, scoop a few scoops of coffee, and pour in the water.  So easy a caveman could do it.

“But an easy life has a way of becoming more complicated, and married people have a way of become less married.  One day Beatrice was gone, and it was Janice in my life with pouty lips and Cuisinart coffee brewer that grinded coffee beans and kept track of appointments.  I thought that this was the one, the coffee brewer that would make coffee that when I drank it, I could taste it, just like Quentin Tarantino’s character in ‘Pulp Fiction.’

“Yet it was not to be.

“When the thrill of assembling the seventeen-pieces of the grinder/feeder/cannon at 6:00 a.m. had worn off, I realized that the Cuisinart grinder was too high-maintenance.  Time to say toodle-oo.”

He took another drag of his cigarette and adjusted his scarf, and I remembered that I was supposed to be taking notes.  I had a notebook but nothing to write with except a pink highlighter.  I wrote with it anyway.  Beggars cannot be choosers.

The mustachioed man continued.

“I brought Mr. Coffee back from the basement and used it instead of the Cuisinart.  When Janice asked me what I was doing, I told her that the Cuisinart was too complicated and poured in a dollop of my Silk soy creamer.  The next day there was a Dear John next to the filters, and Mr. Coffee and I were alone again.  But not for long.

“Noreen moved in with a French Press.  It had been a gift from her mother for learning how to reply to the sender of group emails without replying to all.  The French Press may have made excellent coffee.  I would not know because I never figured out how to use it.  I did not get any coffee, and succeeded only in proving Boyle’s Law with respect to Medium Roasts.

“Grimka—oh, Grimka!  I remember your big eyes.  Your graceful, slender back and tendency to give answers in the tone of a question.  But mainly I remember your percolator.  One of the two tenets by which I lived my life was that the more cups of coffee you made at once, the better the coffee tasted.  The other tenet was that the the Powell family episodes of “Charles in Charge” better than the Pembroke family episodes.

“The percolator was so easy to use and made delicious coffee.  But when I dumped the grinds down the garbage disposal, for two nights running the garbage disposal could not get to sleep, and had to keep getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.

“This time,” said the mustachioed man, unfolding, smoothing out, and then refolding his monogrammed pocket handkerchief, “I skipped that phase where there’s two coffee machines on the counter at once.  One day it was the percolator, and the next it was Mr. Coffee.  Grimka saw it, glared at me once, and then walked out of my life, sending her cat back for her clothes and Playstation 3.

“I knew then that I would never switch from Mr. Coffee to another coffee-making device.  Even if the device cleaned itself.  Even if the coffee tasted good.  Nothing would pry me from grips of my friend, my Mr. Coffee.

“Until I met Penelope.  We spent many weekends and holidays together.  I’ve never felt so close to anyone in my life.  True, Penelope was just a peel-off hologram that came with a bottle of Metamucil Fiber Caplets.  But she told me about the Keurig single-serve coffee.  I tried it and I have to admit, I love it.  You just pop in a cartidge, push a button, and drink.  The only thing to clean up is the little single-serve cartridge.  No filters.  No grinds.  No required data plans.  That coffee machine is the best thing that has ever happened to my morning.

“Of course, I could not say this to Mr. Coffee.  After all our years together, I did not want to break his heart.  So at first I put the Keurig on the counter next to Mr. Coffee, but a little ways back.  And I would use the Keurig only two days a week, and sometimes on the weekend.  Then I stopped using Mr. Coffee but kept using the Keurig the same amount.  Then I kind of turned Mr. Coffee away, towards the commemorative plate collection, so that he wouldn’t see that I was using the Keurig five to seven times a week.

“And then one day, I had company coming over, and needed to make room on the counter for someone’s apricot trifle.  I had to prioritize my kitchen appliances, and it was clear that Mr. Coffee was not going to make the cut.  I covered his brew basket with a paper towel, took him in my arms, and carried him down to the basement where he would live out its days on a plastic shelf next to the newspaper-fueled mixing bowl my entomologist got me for Christmas.

“I don’t regret my decision.  But sometimes, just sometimes, when I’m asleep, I think I hear something in the kitchen, like the sound of a plastic brew basket cutting a black electric cord.  I run downstairs but see nothing but the Keurig, safe and sound.  And I walk up to it, and put my arms around it, and whisper into its blue LCD screen that as long as we’re together, everything’s going to be all right.”

Remember When No One Cared Where Their Food Was From?

When I was a kid I didn’t care where my food was from as long as it wasn’t from off the floor.  Food falling on the floor is one of the worst things that can happen to you in elementary school.  In later years we would learn about the “five second rule,” which I once mixed up with the “five minute rule” and almost got left back for poor attendance.  But in elementary school, if there had been a little more room on those menus magneted to every refrigerator in the land, the description of the lunches would say something like “Not Dropped On the Floor Sloppy Joe.”

At restaurants today it is taken for granted that food is not dropped on the floor, or that if it is, no one will tell you about it.  Instead, the menus emphasize the geographic origin of the ingredients.  Everyone wants to know if the vegetables are locally grown, or if the chickens were raised on local farms, enjoying the fresh local air and tasty local feed, taking in the local theater and shopping at the local boutiques, before their necks were wrung ever so humanely.

Wikipedia describes the local food movement as a “collaborative effort to build more locally based, self-reliant food economies—one in which sustainable food production, processing, distribution, and consumption is integrated to enhance the economic, environmental and social health of a particular place.”  There is a Taco Bell five minutes from my home that I’ve often relied upon, parking my car behind the dumpster so that my wife wouldn’t see it while she shops for fresh vegetables and couscous.  But I don’t think that’s what they mean.

My first exposure to the local food movement was when my wife and I attended a farmer’s market near our home.  The vendors had set up tables with their wares, and offered so many free samples of local tomatoes, local cheese, local bread, and local meat, that it was not long before I was looking for the local bathroom.

One table was offering locally made gourmet peanut butter.  The options were far beyond the traditional chunky and smooth.  There was chocolate-pretzel peanut butter, cookie-dough fudge peanut butter, jalapeño peanut butter.  We were impressed.  Then I looked at the price tag, and realized why choosy moms choose Jif.  Panko-crusted animal-cracker peanut butter mixed with goat cheese and leeks may be great for dinner parties, but I had to conserve my cash for the parking attendant.

Local food, however, is about much more than nutrition and economics.  There is controversy about what constitutes “local.”  The United States Congress, in the 2008 Farm Act, defined “locally or regionally produced agricultural food product” as less than 400 miles from its origin.  That means that “local” covers an area of 502,655 square miles, or, as Tom Hanks’s character in “Cast Away” would have put it, “twice the size of Texas.”  Under that definition, I could secure a lot more free time by telling my wife I’m going out to run a few local errands.

I’m no member of Congress, but, to me, “local” implies that a chicken could have its head cut off and still be running around in my shopping cart when I’m swiping my frequent shopper card.  Politics is truly the art of compromise.

But these lofty concepts and global disputes rarely affect my daily life.  I eat whatever food I can find in the refrigerator or cupboard, with no thought of the journey it took to my gullet, and whether it paid tolls with E-Z Pass.  The only time the local movement enters my decision-making process is when I’m at a restaurant, and I am given the choice between meats raised on local farms or meats from origins unknown.  It is such a hard decision to make, that I already know I’m going to be reaching for antacids later on that night…antacids that are, fortunately, the most local food of all—right on the nightstand, next to my bed.