Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Goodbye Girl

At twenty-three, I lived in a house in North Berkeley with wooden floors and a koi pond in the backyard. My room cost a few hundred dollars a month, and I had two housemates: girls with long, blonde hair and baggy, ethnic-print clothes.

One's father taught public policy at Harvard, a fact she seemed to find exasperating. Another had a boyfriend who was always around. One week a third girl visited us from Ohio. Her dad had announced he was transitioning into a woman, and she was shopping around a memoir-in-progress on the subject. This struck me as a shrewd response to her dad's news: a "what's in it for me" approach that I respected as an artist.

I didn't live there very long and never grew close to my co-tenants. I preferred to sit alone in the sunny, half-wild backyard by the koi pond, watching the brilliant-colored dragonflies alight and fly away, alight and fly away. This experience felt like pure freedom -- freedom from people, responsibilities, and even my own thoughts. I knew it wouldn't last and tried to soak it in.

The other thing I liked to do was watch The Goodbye Girl, a 1977 movie written by Neil Simon and starring Richard Dreyfuss. In it, a single mother (Marsha Mason) is forced to share her Manhattan apartment with an aspiring actor (Dreyfuss), who is starring in an off-Broadway production of Richard III.  

As was often the case, this movie was more real to me than my own life. I had no interest in dating anyone, as I was on some level "involved" with the Richard Dreyfuss who existed when I was five years old. Sure, it was complicated. But I was busy, get it? 

The Goodbye couple's relationship -- triangulated by a ten-year-old child -- fascinated me. Beneath its romantic-comedy surface, it seemed to hold some vital message.

Paula (Mason) is an average-looking woman in her thirties who distrusts men after being jilted by her boyfriend,Tony. Elliot (Dreyfuss) is pugnacious and a bit of a loser, hanging his hopes on Richard III. Both of them are adrift, nor do they like each other very much -- initially.

Then there is Paula's precocious daughter Lucy, weighing in with her own opinion: 

Lucy, although she likes Elliot, sees the affair as a repeat of what happened with Tony. Elliot convinces Paula that he will not be like that and later picks up Lucy from school and takes her on a carriage ride, during which Lucy admits that she likes Elliot, and he admits that he likes her and Paula and will not do anything to hurt them.

[Source: Wikipedia]

Here was a love story different from every one I'd seen about childless people. It was more domestic, more cautious, tinged with awareness of a vulnerable third person. Paula and Elliot make jokes and argue, negotiate domestic compromises ("No panties on the rod!"), learn each other's quirks, and test their compatibility, all while living in close quarters with each other and the offspring of a former relationship.

In the end, they don't get married, but when Elliot has to film a movie in Seattle, he leaves his treasured guitar behind to show Paula and Lucy he'll come back. (This may be as close to a committed relationship as anyone got in 1977.)

That summer in Berkeley, I watched The Goodbye Girl over and over, studying these flawed, funny grownups as they fell in love and learned to coexist.

It seemed like the best possible use of my time.

* * * *
On the last night of 2015, Dave and I played Scrabble.

Using a new cookbook, we made a brie and pear tart, but it was just okay. We put honey on it and ate half of it with a glass of wine. 

At some point in the game, we opened a bottle of champagne. 

There were some good potato chips in the pantry, so why not? 

After a few good words, I won the game. Dave later said he was glad I'd won: It was, in his view, more romantic. 

At midnight, we said Happy New Year. And at 12:01, he proposed.

The next morning, the kids came home and we made waffles. The neighbors and their kids dropped by. We didn't tell anyone just yet. 

I finally had what I'd wanted: the grown-up version, kids included. 

It was magnificent.

1 comment:

  1. and still is and always will be, for me too .. a very sweet post, honey .. I love you.