Published on: September 23, 2011
This weekend, I’ll be attending a college reunion. Thirty-five years ago this month, I started my senior year at Loyola Marymount University, and I’m going back to celebrate events that the school no doubt sees as more momentous - the 80th anniversary of the Del Rey Players, the on-campus theatre group with which I spent a lot of my time, acting in numerous productions, and the 90th anniversary of the Los Angeles Loyolan, the campus newspaper for which I contributed movie reviews all those years ago.
But more importantly, I’ll also be seeing a bunch of people this weekend that I have not seen, for the most part, in more than three decades. People who, while I was at Loyola and some three thousand miles from home, were my family. They didn’t have Facebook then, or Twitter, or inexpensive cell phone service, and I’m sorry to say that most of us have lost touch over the years. This weekend will be an opportunity to make that right. Or at least see if we want to.
It’s funny. I’m a little nervous about the weekend. Seeing people after all this time, especially in the context of an event that is designed to mark the passage of time, has made me think about the plans and dreams that I had, the events and achievements and failures of the years, and wondering how I’ll measure up. Not against everyone else, necessarily, though I’m sure that’s part of it. But also I measure up to my own expectations.
It was inevitable, I suppose, that I’d start a checklist. A scorecard. Wins and losses.Rewarding career, albeit one that I never could have seen coming 35 years ago. Check.
Great wife, first marriage, still in love 28 years later. Check.
Three terrific kids, not one of them an internet billionaire, but nobody is in jail, either. Check.
Traveled to six continents, 46 states, and I still love boarding trains, planes and automobiles to see something I haven’t seen before. Check.
Get to give 25-30 speeches a year, fulfilling my performance ambitions. Check.
Co-authored a book. Check.
Still got my hair. Check.
Okay, so not everything is perfect. I’d like to be 20 pounds lighter, better at time management, and I wish I were not struggling with the novel so much. I wish I knew more about wine and were a more accomplished cook. And I wish my knees were in better shape, so I could go back to jogging. I’m sure there’s other stuff, too, but I’m probably in denial.
The thing is, I’m conflicted about the whole keeping score thing. Do it too much, I think, and one can become obsessed with the wins and losses ... and lose appreciation for the process. I love process.
On the other hand, scorecards are there for a reason ... and I think it probably is healthy to figure out from time to time how one measures up. At least, or especially, to one’s own expectations.
If only to figure out what the next great challenge is, or should be. It is reassuring, I’ve discovered, to know that I still hunger for the next challenge, the next opportunity.
Haven’t checked that box yet. Don’t even know what that box is. But it is nice to know I’m ready. Or at least willing.
I have two movies for you to see this week ... though each comes with a warning.Contagion
is a superior thriller by director Steven Soderberg, who uses his camera to masterfully portray what happens when a bird flu starts to spread around the planet, seemingly unstoppable by the disease experts who we trust to save us from such epidemics. This is first and foremost a medical thriller, painted in clinical tones with few detours into sentiment. The cast is first rate - especially Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jennifer Ehle, Kate Winslet, and especially the always great Elliott Gould in a small but pivotal role. There are a few detours and subplots that I was not nuts about, especially the ones having to do with an unscrupulous blogger played with appropriate smarminess by Jude Law, and another having to do with a researcher played by Marion Cotillard. But I found myself riveted.
One caveat here. I liked this movie a lot more than Mrs. Content Guy, who was not nuts about the clinical approach - she preferred the old Dustin Hoffman movie, “Outbreak,” which was about a similar subject but was more character driven within the confines of a traditional thriller structure. So we disagree.
The other movie is Drive
, which stars Ryan Gosling as a movie stunt driver and garage mechanic who moonlights as a getaway driver for people looking to pull heists in LA. Gosling’s character is totally defined by the act of driving - his character is never called by name throughout the entire movie, which is directed with with cool precision by the Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn (who made the highly regarded Bronson
, which I’ve never seen). The performance has been compared by some critics to similar cool characters played by Steve McQueen or Clint Eastwood, but I found myself thinking more of James Caan in The Gambler
, or even, believe it or not, Ryan O’Neal in a 1978 Walter Hill movie called The Driver
in which O’Neal (who was a huge star at the time) played a getaway driver known only as “The Driver.” Whatever. Gosling is very good.
Gosling’s cool veneer when he finds himself involved with a pretty neighbor (Carey Mulligan), her son, and her just-out-of prison husband, who is himself involved with underworld types. The driver’s world slowly but surely spins out of control, especially as he is drawn into the orbit of an aging gangster named Bernie Rose, played, improbably enough, by comedian Albert Brooks - who ought to get an Oscar nomination for this shaded and complex portrait in evil.
Here’s the warning that comes with Drive
. There are moment of unspeakable violence that occur throughout the film, enough so that I occasionally had to avert my eyes. They are not gratuitous, but they erupt with a ferocity that is hard to watch - sometimes because they bump up against moments of unexpected tenderness. If you go see Drive
, be prepared.
And, I have a book for you to read: “The Ranger,” by Ace Atkins. I ordered this for my iPad after Atkins was named to succeed Robert B. Parker as author of the Spenser series of novels, and it made me look forward to his first, “Lullaby,” due out next spring. “The Ranger” all takes place in the deep South, as an Army Ranger on leave, Quinn Colson, returns home for his uncle’s funeral and gets caught up in corruption and murder. To be honest, it took me a bit of time to get into the book; rural Mississippi might as well be Mars from my point of reference, and it took me a while to get familiar with the rhythms and cadence of the language. But once I got into it, I was hooked ... and I fully expect that for awhile at least, Atkins may be balancing two different series. Good for him.
We all define heaven in different ways. I know this may make me seem incredibly shallow, but for me, it seemed like at least a little slice of heaven this week when I found myself in Etta’s, down by the Pike Place Market in Seattle. Sitting at the bar, eating one of the best crab cake sandwiches on the planet. Enjoying a wonderful French chardonnay, the 2009 Joseph Drouhin Saint Veran ... which was just perfect, not that there was any doubt since Morgan - my favorite bartender on the planet - poured it for me. There was a Mariners game on a nearby TV, but I really didn’t pay much attention since I was captivated by slivers of Puget Sound that I could see across the street, with ferries and sailboats and a bright sun heading toward the horizon.
Like I said, a little slice of heaven. Not the only slice. But when you have one of those moments, it is important to appreciate it.
That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday. Assuming I survive the reunion.