Monday, October 6, 2003

For Risa Ree

"There's some people that, you don't forget, even though you've only seen them one time or two..."
-Jack Fate

There is a lovely scene in Sofia Coppola's new movie Lost in Translation where Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson are standing in a Japanese hotel elevator separated by a crowd of Japanese. Both stand out for different reasons- Murray's character because he dwarfs everyone else in the elevator and Johansson because she is a lone lonesome blonde. Both also somehow stand out because of an obvious connection problem- of being lost in a strange land, not so much physically but emotionally. As the only two Americans in the small enclosed space they acknowledge each other with a knowing look.

Later on in the movie as a friendship has blossomed, Murray and Johansson are talking about the first time they met and Murray's character has to remind Johansson's Charlotte that her memory is wrong- because she doesn't remember the elevator encounter. When he describes the first moment she asks, "Did I scowl at you?"- her now standard defensive and unhappy typical reflex to life. The movie is full of many similar and familiar truthful moments. Our lives are full of supporting characters- not every relationship is going to be a booming intimate one, yet it is sometimes in those small shared moments with those that come to be a little more than strangers where the connection can be momentarily special creating some of the most unforgettable memories of our lives.

Ever since I moved into my house seven years ago the return of spring has been marked by the familiar return of baseball but also the return of my neighbor, Mrs. Ethier, hanging out her laundry on the laundry lines in the Ethier's back yard. This was an early Saturday morning ritual- thus I was seldom out of bed before the first load of sheets was flapping in the wind. Yet there was something nice about wearily blinking the sleep out of my eyes to the sight of Mrs. Ethier's weekend chore.

A couple of years back Mrs. Ethier was diagnosed with cancer and ever since seeing her hang out the laundry was a rare sight. Her husband took over the chore and whenever I could I asked him how his wife was doing. His response almost always was the same, something about how she was doing OK but she was such a stubborn woman. One weekday I came home and saw a UPS sticker on my door saying they had tried to deliver a package to my house but I wasn't home so they left it next door. I sheepishly knocked on the Ethier's door and the Mrs. answered and told me to come on in. The woman I had mostly seen from afar, the one who always smiled and waved when we did see each other, looked so frail. She looked around for where her husband had put the package all the while making me feel like a long lost son. It was the last time I ever spoke with her.

A couple weeks back I came home from work and noticed a lot of cars parked around the Ethier's house. It was a telltale sign that something was wrong. A couple of days later I was at the dentist waiting for my name to be called when I picked up the morning newspaper and saw the obituaries. I read them almost knowing what I would see, but hoping I was wrong. I wasn't. When I went to the visitation Mr. Ethier told me that his wife had fallen and from there she got weak and the end came fast. I told him I thought something might be up what with all the cars and he said something about the final car being the hearse that arrived in the morning.

So there I was days later watching Lost in Translation, with the loss next door in the back of my mind, at a movie that really captured the Japan I saw when Al and I visited there six(!) years ago. I remember lying in my tiny little motel room after a full day flipping the TV to strange Japanese TV shows thinking about the twelve pound ball of fur I had left with my parents, wondering how he (and they) were doing. I remember during the day studying all the faces that looked like mine but were somehow so different and in a different way than what I encounter every day here at "home." I remember how my oldest sister who had visited Japan a year or two before had told me to bring plenty of Kleenex because the motel rooms didn't supply them only to find that it was common for businesses to hand out small packages of tissues as a promotion (one of many small details Lost in Translation captures). I thought about going to this movie with a friend who probably might repeat Johansson's scowl line if I asked her about the first time we met. And sadly I remembered Mrs. Ethier's devotion to spring smelling sheets.

No comments: