porcelainandporcupines

Archive for January 2012

In the grand tradition of my people, I celebrated the Christmas of 2005 by taking in a movie and eating Chinese food. I have actually celebrated several Christmases in that same fashion, but the Christmas of 2005 stands out in my memory, not because of the food – of which I have no recollection whatsoever – or because of the movie – The Chronicles of Narnia : The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, which turned out to be a far more apt film choice for Christmas day than I anticipated; up to that point, my familiarity with The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe was limited only to the stage adaptation my 3rd grade put on which, due to time and the affluent Jewish suburb in which I grew up, excised all of the Jesus-y aspects of Aslan the lion, but did include a number of original songs composed by our music teacher; as the titular witch, I performed none of these songs, but I did at one point slip and crash rather unfortunately into another character’s sword; since my death, off-stage, was not due for another few acts, I carried on as though it hadn’t happened. My performance back in 1981 still had nothing on that given by Tilda Swinton in the winter of 2005, but even her icy majesty combined with her incomparable Tildanosity is not what makes that particular Christmas memorable.

(Although, seriously, if you’ve ever wondered if time travel will one day be possible, the answer clearly is Tilda Swinton.)

Most memorable about that particular Christmas was a very brief interaction that transpired before the movie began. Having arrived early, I walked down a row in the still mostly empty theater toward the seat that looked most appealing to me from the stairs. In the center of the row down which I walked was seated an older woman and her adult son; she had, on the ground before her feet, a shopping bag containing several gift-wrapped parcels. Whether these were for or from her I do not know, but what I do know is that as I arrived at the center of the row where she sat, she turned to me and, gesturing toward the parcels, said “I’m not moving that.”

I, however, was undaunted by such unwarranted hostility. “Really?” I responded. “You’re not going to pick up that bag for 5 seconds [pause for effect] so that I can walk past?”

I don’t know if it was the well-placed pause or just my generally tough demeanor that impressed the old woman into action, but she did, in fact, pick up that bag for the fewer than 5 seconds it took me to walk past and take my seat toward the other end of the row where, nestled in to my stadium seat and working to open my Twizzlers, I took several moments to contemplate just how miserable that woman’s life had to have been to make her so combatively defensive about non-existent threats to her territory in a movie theater. While I could think of no specific incident that would account for it, I concluded that, overall, her life must have been an unhappy one indeed for her to have arrived in such a state at the movies on Christmas in 2005.

That brief encounter is one to which I have returned on multiple occasions in the intervening 6 years (6 years! Man.), as it is an easy and perfect example of the many ways I don’t want my life to turn out. This past Sunday, however, I gained, perhaps, and perhaps unfortunately at that, a new perspective on the interaction, as I once again had a strangely territorial encounter with a stranger. Only this time, the role of the old woman was played by me.

Events unfolded like so: having recently developed a taste for their Royal Coconut tea, I decided that I should pay a visit to the Tealuxe to get me some. So great is my liking for the Royal Coconut that I further decided that, not only should I get some loose tea to brew at home, I should also take advantage of the brewing capabilities on site at the ‘luxe, as absolutely no one calls it, to enjoy a cup while I was there. I had done so several times during the holidays the week before and found the whole experience to be so relaxing that neither book nor reading material of any sort was required to mask the fact that I was sitting alone in a public place with nothing else to do; the tea was activity enough.

It was crowded when I arrived at the ‘luxe, enough to cause some concern that I would not be able to find a seat. However, after purchasing my tea, and reeling slightly from the inflated cost of so noble a beverage, which, though worth it, is twice the cost of the commoner Rooibos I usually drink, I noticed that a couple seated in the front window of the store was preparing to leave.

Here let me interject a few words about the seating options in Tealuxe, for those who have never been : a small space, Tealuxe has done what it can to maximize its seating potential. There are, at the rear of the establishment, four small tables, sufficient for a party of two to have nothing on the table between them but tea, a party of one to have a beverage and some kind of work spread out before them, or, if the rest of the tables are empty, a party of three all to share a single large pot of tea, or for two of them to have individual beverages while the third drinks nothing.

There is no good way to combine the tables in the back of the store to accommodate a larger party, but there are three tables in the front of store that can be so joined as necessary, or kept separate if it is separate parties that require seating. Additionally, and finally, there are two counters in the storefront windows, one on either side of the front door, each of which will seat two persons, either individuals or a party of two.

On the day in question, all of the other seating options had been spoken for, making the soon-to-be-vacated seat in the front of the store my only option. Since I like to look out the window at the people going by, I was happy to take one seat in the window and set my bag and coat on the other chair to discourage anyone else from wanting to sit next to me.

Traffic continued to flow through the store as I sat there; while I didn’t pay too much attention to the comings and goings of other tea purchasers, I did happen to notice the two people sitting at the counter on the other side of the door leave, to be replaced a few minutes later by a woman who happened to be in line in front of me when I entered but then left the store altogether. Now she had returned.

I thought her odd; she didn’t look to have any tea with her, and she seemed to be ping-ponging between Veggie Planet and Tealuxe, although it is entirely possible she’d just gone across the street in search of a bathroom; I didn’t ask. But not for lack of opportunity. For, as I sat there, determining the exact right moment to put lid back on my cup to ensure that it did not get too cool to taste good but still did not remain too hot to sip through the tiny little drinking hole in the disposable lid, I was approached by two gentleman, one of whom questioned me thusly:

“Can I ask you to move over there [gestures toward empty seat at the counter on the other side of the door] so that we [gestures toward friend] can sit together?”

In response, I turned to him with my most winning smile and said “No.”

His expression was nonplussed, so I elaborated “I’ll move my stuff off of this chair [gestures toward chair holding my coat and bags], so you can use it. But I’m not moving,” all with direct eye contact and a sincere but not quite sympathetic smile on my face.

To this, they offered no response. At least, not to me; while the odd woman at the other counter did look a bit startled, the two men conferred among themselves briefly and, without even a swear or a nasty look in my direction, decided to take their tea and themselves in search of seating areas elsewhere in the square. Quite gentlemanly of them, I thought.

To you, I will admit that I was prepared for the question; I had overheard enough of their discussion of the general unavailability of seats within the ‘luxe to know that they had concocted a plan and were headed my way with it. And it took them long enough to arrive that I had time to decide that my answer would be no. And I could, in retrospect, offer up a variety of rationalizations for my refusal. Like that seat had the perfect vantage point for viewing passing pedestrian traffic as they approached the store, and to move to the other counter would have required me either to turn my head to an uncomfortable degree to be able to maintain that view, or to be satisfied watching people as they walked away. Which is patently ridiculous because watching people as they approach is so much better.

Additionally, my plan in going to the Tealuxe that Sunday had been to buy tea, sit down, and drink it. It was not to buy tea, sit down, and drink some of it, then get up, sit down someplace else and then drink more. When the gentleman asked me if would move my seat, I performed a rapid and mostly subconscious cost-benefit analysis : did I want to exchange my planned afternoon for an afternoon that, though it would cost me nothing, was less-desirable than the planned afternoon because of a minor inconvenience, for the benefit of someone who is not me, any relation to me, or anyone I know at all? No; in that moment, I did not.

But that is in retrospect and while it does happen to be true, the truth is that I said no only because they asked me. They didn’t ask the woman sitting in the other window to give up her seat to join me; had they done so and she agreed to, I happily would have moved my things to make room for her. Even after I expressed my willingness to free up that seat for their use, they didn’t approach her. Nor did they ask any of the people who were seated singly at tables if they would be willing to move up to the front to free up the table so the two of them could take a seat. They only asked me.

I know that it is statistically unlikely that I am in every situation the person who is asked to give up her seat. However, the situations in which someone is asked to give up a seat that I pay the most attention to are the ones that happen to me; thus, from my limited perspective, it can seem like 100% of the time I am the person asked to move. Or cut in front of in line. Or ignored by drivers who should be stopping as I stand waiting in the crosswalk. In the rain. Without an umbrella. Carrying groceries. And going into labor. Which, even in an otherwise happy life, could get rather tiresome.

I can not say for sure how I feel about that interaction on Sunday, nor can I say with certainty that if presented with a similar offer in the future I would respond similarly. I do, however, have a new appreciation for the trials of the old woman at the movie theater on Christmas Day of 2005. After a lifetime that gets longer every day of people expecting her to get out of their way, I can understand better why she’d want to get out in front of those demands before they were issued. What I will never understand, though, is why she didn’t just put the damned bag on the seat next to her when she sat down. We could have avoided the whole thing.

It was with no small amount of sadness that I read the news last week that HBO decided to cancel Bored to Death. In the recently ended third season the show –  about a fictionalized version of Jonathon Ames, a writer with whom I have no familiarity outside of Bored to Death, so what creative liberties have been taken with his person I couldn’t tell you (makes you wonder why I brought that up, doesn’t it?), who, after a wrenching breakup with his girlfriend in the series premiere, becomes an unlicensed private investigator by placing an ad on Craigslist – the show was really beginning to find its footing. If you’re wondering why I or anyone would spend three seasons watching a show of uncertain balance that could also fairly be described as being a bit too enamored of its own cleverness, I’ll tell you*. Better yet, I’ll show you:

 

 

That, dear readers, is Ted Danson, in character as George Christopher, who, himself dressed in character as Don Quixote,  in the middle of a not-entirely-tuneful rendition of “The Impossible Dream,” realized that he had wronged his daughter and set off at a gallop through the streets of Brooklyn to apologize to her. And though it cannot be argued that it took a writer – and likely a clever one at that – to conceive of the scene in the first place, I, along with anyone else who watched the show – and there were dozens of us – would respectfully yet adamantly suggest that it took Ted Danson to make it amazing.

I lack the actorly vocabulary to fully describe the level of craft that Mr. Danson brings to the role of George Christopher, but I have watched enough television in my life to know an outstanding performance when I see one, and to refer to Ted Danson in Bored to Death as outstanding is to insult Ted Danson. George is the only character to mature throughout the course of the series, going from a one-note older man trying to hold on to his youth in the first season, to facing his mortality and a (n ultimately incorrect) diagnosis of cancer and settling into his role as elder statesman and father figure not just to the kid from Rushmore who plays Jonathon Ames and Zach Galifianakis who plays Ray, but also to his own daughter, in the second and third. Again, it is a writer who set up the story arc for George, but, after seeing Ted Danson in the role, it seems unlikely that any other actor could have so effortlessly conveyed each phase, the transitions between them, and still made the character – ridiculous though he could be at times – likeable throughout.

Alas, with the cancellation, George Christopher will ride no more. Stacy Keach, who I have oddly been fond of since his portrayal of the lovelorn Union soldier who tragically loses both his wife and one of his arms in The Blue and the Gray, which we watched in Mr. M’s class in 5th grade, will not be reprising his role as the seedy owner of second-rate sperm bank and Jonathon’s real father (ummmm, spoiler). And the television landscape will be home to fewer Boo Radley and Harrison Bergeron references.

None of this is to say that you should (or should have) watch(ed) Bored to Death. But even if you don’t get a nerdy little thrill out of a good Boo Radley reference like I do, you probably should watch the episode where George sings “The Impossible Dream”. And then tell me how to start a fan campaign to get Ted Danson an award for it. Because, once you’ve seen it, you’ll agree : he’s earned it.

*Also, each season is only 8 episodes, so it was never too much of an investment of my time.

 


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