Sunday, February 08, 2009

Wish I'd Said That


Every so often you hear a line that is so perfect it’s nearly painful—especially when someone else says it.

This happened to me a few days ago as I was riding down the elevator at my office.

I found myself once again looking up at the video news screen that seems to be standard issue in most elevators today.

The doors of these elevators are highly reflective so if you don’t look at the monitor you end up staring at your reflection and those of your fellow passengers. It's like facing a group of long lost twins.

The news monitor is sponsored by the Wall Street Journal and provides non-stop business news, which, given the current state of the market, feels like non-stop water-boarding. Please, I'll sign anything you want, just don't tell me any more news.

When I saw the word “layoffs” appear on the screen, I promptly turned my back.

“I don’t know why I read that damn thing,” I said out loud.

“Yeah,” a guy next to me said. “‘Market’s Dead; You’re Next.’ ”

I had to laugh, in spite—or because of—all the misery going on around us. I walked out of the elevator, chuckling, and then turned around and called out to the guy as he walked away.

“That was a good one,” I said. And I can almost forgive him for coming up with such a funny line; almost, but not quite.

I’m starting to wonder if I should even follow the news any more, an odd thing for a reporter to say, perhaps, but I’m also a human being.

Companies are going under, people are losing their jobs, Dick Cheney is salivating at the thought of another terrorist attack—it’s all too much sometimes.

I know so many people who are out of work right now, I’m going through a kind of survivor’s guilt. But I get over it quickly when I realize how close to the edge we all are.

I was coming out the Rector Street train station the other morning, along with a few hundred other working stiffs, a woman walking by us in the opposite direction looked around in amazement.

"All these people," she said loudly. "What's going on?"

The fellow ahead of me turned around so we could exchange looks. Weekday...Wall Street...what part of employment don't you get?

"We're going to work, lady," he muttered.

"Welcome to the real world," I added.

With all these grim news, I’ve been thinking about the Depression era songs my mother used to sing when I was going up. Such as:

I’ll be down to get you in a wheel, honey, taxi cabs cost too much money.

And then there was :

"You make time, and you make love dandy;
You make swell molasses candy.
But, honey, are you making any money?
That's all I want to know.”


These tunes provide an intriguing mix of romance and economics, but it was the Great Depression after all. I think it’s going to be a while before we hear anyone singing “We’re in the Money.”

The Film Forum is currently running a series of films from the Depression entitled “Breadlines & Champagne.”

The Seed of Crime Bears Bitter Fruit

The series includes such titles as I’m No Angel, It Happened One Night, and a personal favorite, Footlight Parade, which features those great numbers "Honeymoon Hotel," and "Shanghai Lil."

The theater kicked off the event on Friday—the same day the Labor Department said the economy dropped the most jobs since 1974---- by lowering ticket prices down to 35cents, the average Manhattan ticket cost in 1933.

I didn’t make it to the opening, but I did take a trip back to those thrilling days of yesteryear when I accompanied my sister and her friend to Partners & Crime Mystery Booksellers for the store's monthly radio mystery hour.

On the first Saturday of each month, a group of actors perform old radio shows and advertisements. On this night we heard episodes from The Adventures of Sam Spade and The Shadow.

The performances are held in a small—and somewhat stuffy—backroom, which is located behind a door disguised as a bookshelf. Or is it a bookshelf disguised as a door?

“This is like something out of the Hardy Boys,” I said to a woman across from me as I pulled the door back at the intermission.

We sat in the last row, but it didn’t matter much, since the room was so small and, hey, this is radio. My parents said you had to use your imagination back then.

The audience was having fun and the actors were all very good. We watched as the sound effects woman punched a baseball glove during a fight scene and we laughed as the actors tapped their chests with plunger cups to simulate the sound of horses galloping.

It was great seeing the performers change characters from one program to the next, so that the giggling psycho gangster in Sam Spade—“the man asked you a question, dummy!”-- showed up a short time later as Lamont Cranston, dashing young man about town, in The Shadow.

They had great ads back then, too. If you want to cook a healthy meal for your family, we were told, and not use up your ration points, then you should make Kraft’s macaroni and cheese.

One of the actors had a shaved head, just like yours truly, and he read copy for some kind of hair tonic, which got some chuckles out of the audience...except from me.

We learned that The Shadow had gone to the Orient year agos where he learned how "to cloud men's minds"--kind of like Fox News.

Too bad we don't have the Shadow around today. We could use someone who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men. He could start with Bernie Madoff.

The announcer--along with a good portion of the audience--signed off with the line, "Bye-bye, and buy Bonds!"

As we started to leave, that woman across from me dropped her purse, and being an aspiring gentleman, I picked it up and handed it to her.

“I thought a gun would come tumbling out of this thing,” I told her. “It’s like that in all the movies.”

It was a pretty good evening. We paid just 7 bucks to see an offbeat live show and had a great time doing it.

We may not be in the money, but we’ve still got a lot of what it takes to get along.

2 comments:

dinged corners said...

Rob, Lucy just wrote a report about Roy Campanella on our baseball card site. Would you mind leaving an encouraging comment for her? :) This is yer cousin.
(The site is Dinged Corners, and the address is www.baseballdiamondgirl.blogspot dot com.)
many thanks, PDL

dinged corners said...

PS I'm addicted to your memories...you relay them fantastically well. Like I'm getting to know your mom. I met her a few times and always thought she was super nice, but this is different.