Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Way We Thought We Were

A friend of mine once explained his breakup with a beautiful young woman from Iowa, "She saw the movie Annie Hall when she was a teenager and decided then and there she was going to be like Annie Hall and move to New York and seduce a witty Jewish guy like Woody Allen. After she moved in she discovered I was Jewish only on my father's side and was no Woody Allen. It was all downhill after that."

In the early days of the Internet I got interested in chat rooms. Now, of course, I use Facebook as a virtual time sink for semi-personal relations, but back then I had a lot of fun in a chat room of my own I called The Algonquin Round Table. I had fancied that the name would attract wits and wags from all over the country who knew about Dorothy Parker and the denizens of the so-called round table of the 1920s. For the better part of a year I kept it going, but I all too often I had to explain what the original round table was and try to keep the conversational patter at a level that would invite wisecracks and witty comments. People did come in as alter egos and one young woman dubbed herself Holly Golightly (I know it's the wrong period, but she was allowed it in the spirit of the game. She had seen the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's and obviously it struck a chord with her). 

To make this long story short, she attracted one of the young men in my vicious circle so much that one weekend he hopped a plane from Denver, where he lived, to meet her in Seattle, where she lived. The visit was a fiasco. I don't know the details, but I suspect he was expecting Audrey Hepburn to greet him as much as she expected George Peppard to step off that plane.

Leslie Caron in Lili
Maybe it's common for adolescent girls to latch on to a particular image of someone they see in the movies to define their expectations of the next phase of their life. What then, I asked myself, did I see myself as? The answer came to me right away.

I was Leslie Caron as Lili, naive, hopeful, a little tacky, but oh so charming and elfin and young, young, young, like a kindergartner let loose among the grownups and choosing to play with the puppets. I loved that movie. I remember bawling out loud at it. I think I was it. A few years later I saw Federico Fellini's La Strada, a better movie with a more rounded picture of the young woman I thought I was at that time, played magnificently by Guillieta Masini. That haunting innocent character has stayed with me as I outgrew and outclassed her over the years, but when it came to choosing a costume for a movie party in Rosendale last fall, I dressed as her and felt more liberated than I could remember ever having felt.
Gelsomina, La Strada (Giulietta Masini)

 I can't say exactly why I identified so much with the naifs in those pictures, as I made the transition to adulthood, but I still adore them both and would love to have played them--but I would not have loved to be either one of them. I thought I was seeing myself.

Me as Gelsomina, Rosendale NY, 2014

Teenagers have fantasies, or at least some of them do. Do you know who you thought you were? Ever have a fantasy of what you'd be?  How did that work out?


  1. I must have had dreams but I'll be danged if I remember them. I suspect I was trying to get by instead of imagining the future.

  2. Who did I have fantasies of being? An unaltered "eunuch," 20 years old, in charge of harem. Hey, you asked!

  3. As I recall, in LA STRADA Gelsomina is brutalized by Zampano. How was that attractive?

  4. I didn't say she was attractive. She was plain, whimsical, impish, sensitive, and magical. I identified.