lon in the hall
surgery tomorrow

oscar run xiii: pieces of april (peter hedges, 2003)

Mr. Johnson down the street died last week. I can't say I knew him well at all ... enough to wave a hello to him ... I mostly knew he was one of the neighborhood elders who kept an eye on things. I grew up in a typical suburban neighborhood of the 50s/60s ... think Spielberg ... and my memories are that our neighborhood was full of amiable friendliness. I'm sure there's a lot of nostalgia involved in that, but I also know the Servins next door would have given the proverbial shirt off of their back. I compare my neighborhood today to the one from my childhood ... how can it possibly live up to those memories? Still, we've lived in this house since October of 1987, which is just about as long as I lived in my childhood home.

Pieces of April is a Thanksgiving movie ... and when did "Thanksgiving Movie" become a sub genre? As Thanksgiving movies go, it's pretty good. It meets the Steven Rubio Length Requirement, getting in and out in a miraculous 81 minutes. (It's actually too short ... the final scene, which plays out via photographs, needed to be live-action, and one suspects they just ran out of money.) Patricia Clarkson gets a Supporting Actress nomination for Yet Another Fine Patricia Clarkson performance, and it's a good one, although I think the movie works in part because of the fine ensemble playing, and I don't know that I would single Clarkson out over the rest of the cast. The interaction of Clarkson's family is very believable, the movie does a good job of walking the line between humor and sadness, and Katie Holmes is the next best thing to Amber Tamblyn as the titular Alice, a goth wannabee who actually resembles a taller Avril Lavigne.

The ending of the movie will strike some as ... not a cop-out, exactly, but a tad too pat. And that might be true, but I bought into it. And perhaps this will help explain why.

Yesterday, as I prepared to drive myself to the doctor for my pre-surgery checkup, I found that my car wouldn't start. I had to postpone the checkup and get the car towed to the repair shop. This morning I checked in with Bruce, the repairman ... he said maybe $250, should be ready by Monday. Well, as I was watching Pieces of April (there was about ten minutes to go), Bruce called to tell me he'd fixed it already, had tried a couple of things and one of them worked. And when I went to pick up the car, it was under $100, and when I handed him my credit card he told me his computer was down so he couldn't run the card, so he'd take care of it later, and handed me the keys. And I told him that he may not realize it, but a good and honest mechanic is a great person to know, and I v.much appreciated that he took care of me and my car.

And then Imaayu and Shyrrl showed up at my door with a copy of the program from Mr. Johnson's funeral, which was today. Imaayu said it was a nice service, and we talked for a bit about Mr. Johnson, a decent man and my neighbor. And my family and friends know that I often talk about how I wished I lived in a fancy hotel, with room service and no yard to worry about and all the modern conveniences, oh, how I love to stay in hotels, I don't care that they are impersonal, they are clean and people take care of you and then they leave you alone. But there are no Mr. Johnsons in the hotel, no Imaayus or Shyrrls, no Laurelles or Robs, no A's fan who works on his car or lady across the street who fills her home with black Santy Clauses for xmas, no frat boys on the corner, no bipolar guys who think Ron Dellums is their father. Nope, you need a neighborhood to get that, and even I am not so blind or alienated that I can't appreciate what my neighborhood has to offer.

So here's to Mr. Johnson. And here's to the ending of Pieces of April, which after all wasn't any less believable than having a bad day with broken-down cars and trips to the doctor that turned into a day where a dependable mechanic and gracious visits from neighbors made a grey day in February seem a little like Thanksgiving. A good Thanksgiving.


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