Woman on Couch
As much as I would love to be Miss Kinski on the floor wearing only a snake, I’m really more like the bespectacled woman on the couch with the floor-to-ceiling wool dress and brown support hose. Are those a pair of toy dogs on the back of the sofa, or ‘birth control’ because nothing says Come get me like stuffed animals in the home of a grown woman.
Now of course, I heard enough rumors about her during her jumbotron snake/Tess of the D’Urberville years to know that, beauty aside, there were some impressively Freudian issues—and I still wanted to be Miss Kinski. I like to think of this impulse as Tapping Into My Male Side. To put it another way, many years ago I had a friend who had a friend who was dating a seriously stunning girl who also happened to be seriously schizophrenic. My friend asked him how he could keep seeing this woman and he said, “Because she’s just so beautiful.”
Who else have I wanted to be over the years?
1. Sigourney Weaver in the first two Alien movies. In the first film, you can’t help admiring her extreme cool and courage as she outwits a rather scary alien—and she does it while tracking down the ship’s cat and stuffing it into its cat carrier. While the rest of the crew is being torn asunder and/or being hole-punched like an end-of-the-quarter financial report, Sigourney’s character is pulling out the carrier and not even caring if the cat sees it. With the ship’s computer counting down to total annihilation, she grabs the cat and pops it into its kennel like it doesn’t have claws or a mind of its own, throws it in the car and takes off. First of all, if I were on the Nostromo, I would have to locate a slice of turkey, which I would then have to elaborately pretend to be eating and relishing, followed by chasing my cat several times around the living room. By the time I would let him out on the escape shuttle, everything would be coated in a cloud of released cat hair.
2. Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. She looks great and is wonderfully winning and makes being a quasi-prostitute seem like just one crazy madcap adventure. I know that Capote said she wasn’t a prostitute, but if your sole income is asking for money from men that you are, uh, ‘entertaining,’ and are not dating, even though what you’re doing looks like dating, but it isn’t dating, then, I don’t think you are, as Capote says, “an American geisha.” Unless by geisha you mean prostitute.
3. God. Fred Astaire. For an hour. On the ceiling.
4. Grace Kelly in Rear Window and To Catch a Thief. Not High Society, and definitely not The Country Girl.
5. Meryl Streep in Out of Africa. I do not care that Karen Blixen was part of the systematic oppression of the native peoples of eastern Africa, her wardrobe was everything I’ve ever wanted in a wardrobe. Ditto on her house which I realize must have been situated on property stolen from the local tribes. But this is why I can never be trusted to be a revolutionary. If someone offers me a pale pink dress the weight of a moth, and a hip length cashmere sweater to take off the chill when evening falls, and a pair of perfectly made pink silk roses for my chignon, I will be selling someone out, comrades.
6. Julie Christie. If you need an explanation, I really can’t help you.
Now that you know who I would like to be (Natassja “The Polanski Years” Kinski), let me reveal who I am (Sofa Woman in Thick Brown Stockings).
The Coffee Shop Expert
In the first half of Hitchcock’s The Birds, Tippi Hedren is injured by a seagull, then sparrows flood Jessica Tandy’s house via the chimney. A children’s birthday party turns terrifying by another orchestrated seagull assault. Crows mass on playground equipment at a school. A neighbor is killed, his eyes pecked out. It is around this time that a man in the town’s coffee shop announces to the other customers that the birds are gearing up for a kind of end-of-days slaughter of humans. An older woman in a sensible English tweed suit accessorized with sensible shoes, takes a pedantic puff on her cigarette and sets about “educating” the other customers. Oh, sure, despite the instances of the local populace being cut, blinded, menaced and murdered, she says (because she’s a self-proclaimed ornithologist) “Birds do not attack people.” That’s right. Three thousand sparrows can invade your living room, but the Woman in the Tweed is here to tell you that you are interpreting these events all wrong. She even wears a jaunty beret and smokes, as if she is some sort of elderly Jean-Paul Sartre by way of little Bodega Bay. Crows chasing children with evil intent. Overreacting. Killed in your own home with eyes removed? Please.
Until all hell breaks loose as birds assault, kill, and cause a spectacular explosion in a gas station just outside the coffee shop while the diners look on in horror. Does the Woman in Tweed say to her fellow coffee shop refugees, Uh, my bad? No. She faces the wall, then turns to look over her shoulder at her fellow coffee shop refugees with an expression that resembles my dog Gomez when you give him dog food for dinner instead of the prime rib that he remembers ordering.
In Aliens, I am not Sigourney Weaver. I am Hudson, the marine who is hoping for some “Arturian poon and pliable colonist daughters” on the alien planet that he and his fellow marines (and the wonderful Sigourney) are assigned to invade. He’s a lot of talk and swagger, until the marines have their first alien encounter. As Sigourney and the marines reconvene in an abandoned lab to strategize, Hudson’s “contributions” to the calm adult discussion of how to save themselves is to cry out things like “I don’t know if you’ve been keeping up on current events, but we just got our asses kicked!!” Or, “Game over!!! We’re fucked!! We’re all gonna die!!” These useless, disruptive statements are offered in a voice loud and hysterical enough for the aliens on the next planet over to zero in on the survivors. He is like the anti-grace-under-pressure-Hemingway soldier. He has to be taken out fairly early in the film because the audience will never believe that someone, anyone, wouldn’t finally silence him with a little ‘friendly fire.’
To those who know me well, it’s no secret that I am so non-confrontational that my response to people who I want to confront end up on my “list,” after I privately vow that “you will never be my friend”—as if anyone mistreating you even gives a shit about being your friend. That’s right, guy at the post office who boxed in my car, then refused to move it, even when I was very polite. On my list. I’m looking at you, post office worker who gave me a hard time when I was in the correct line to buy stamps instead of the guy in front of me with the ratty briefcase wanted you to search for every single stamp you had because he was a “collector” and ended up buying none of them, followed by the woman who wanted you to process her passport, along with taking her passport photo. On the list. And pretty much everyone who refuses to use their blinker when making a left turn. All of you are on my list.
Enter Jack Lemmon in the Out of Towners. He and his wife, Sandy Dennis, are in NYC for his job interview, when everything goes wrong. From the first small setback he whips out a note pad and begins to take names and write offenses. He is going to “report” whomever the guilt party is. The movie reaches a semi-climax when he and Sandy are wandering Central Park, broke and hungry and a dog materializes to steal their only morsel of food. The dog ends up on Jack’s list. The fact that nothing ever comes of these lists seems besides the point, since the mere action sort of defines you anyway.
The Opinionated Aunt
Next time you happen upon Woody Allen’s Crime and Misdemeanors, pay close attention to the scene where Judah the opthamologist, who is wrestling with the guilt of having just had his discarded mistress murdered, “visits the past” in the home in which he grew up. The scene is Passover and his family is pondering morality and God and justice. As they discuss spiritual matters, you will hear the knowing, amused sound of Judah’s middle-aged aunt—again, in a sensible tweed suit, now known as My Style—making a case for an amoral or, perhaps immoral, universe. She can’t quite believe that these people (also known as her family) at the table believe in God. As she smokes (again, the marker that it is I), she plays her how-can-you-believe-in-God trump card which is to bring up the Nazis. Once she introduces them into the debate, you can tell it’s over for her. There is nothing that anyone can say that will sway her, because there is no adequate answer for existence of Nazis and she knows it. She’s a bit cynical, an eye roller, has little patience, and a teacher. Though it isn’t stated in the film, I’m guessing unmarried. And definitely me.
The Secretary with the Crossword and Attitude
You’ll find her working for Don Draper in Season 4 of Mad Men. Youll recognize her as me from her dislike for her desk job, desire to enforce rules, her love of crosswords (which she does on the job), and, of course, the wool suit.
The Dime Store Moralist
Frances McDormand in Friends With Money has a wonderful life. A perfect life. Yet this does not prevent her from injecting a Moral Lesson in nearly every ordinary moment in her daily life to anyone who will listen. She can’t quite accept that people don’t behave as she thinks they should. I like to think of her as the Socrates (that Greek gadfly that harangued the local citizenry until they slipped him a hemlock latte) of West L.A. This unsuccessful attempt to “educate” her fellow human beings finally results in an argument about the next person in line at Old Navy. Predictably, this gets her thrown out of the store, angering her even more. In a fit of pique she plows into the store’s non-automatic glass door, breaking her nose. (This fight is reminiscent of one that I had with a woman in Baby Gap on the Upper Westside during the late 1990s, though I did not break my nose. However, like Frances, I lost. The other mother was just a bigger bully and incredibly immune to concepts like waiting one’s turn, or the selfishness of dumping all your purchases on the counter, regardless of those in line, while she continued shopping, or me letting her know that it was people like her that ruin the world. As I tried to take the moral high ground, and pay for a a pair of baby overalls and a t-shirt. With cash. It was my turn. She told me to “fuck off.” And that’s pretty much what I ended up doing—even though I wanted to strike her I hesitated because she looked like a hair puller.)
Cut to later that night when Frances sits in a chair in her gorgeous mid-century modern home, bandaged nose, while her adoring (and patient) husband and their adorable five year-old son trim the Christmas tree. She hands them ornaments as she carries on a running lecture—to the five year-old—about how people that “cut in line” and “take parking places” make the world a worse place then it needs to be, and that he should never do any of those things, or anything even approaching those things, because he doesn’t want to be responsible for the moral turpitude of the entire world. Did I mention that her son is five years old?
Movie Extra, circa 1976
Okay. Rent the movie Carrie. The one with Sissy Spacek. In the opening scene, all the high school girls are taking a shower in the sort of party shower that you only find in prison movies or porn gyms, then scan the extras. There you will see a small, dark-haired girl with a modified Dorothy Hamill hair cut. That is pretty much exactly what I looked like the year that movie came out. I refer to it because it really is one of the only pictures of me during that time. You will see me a second time when Carrie (Spacek) goes insane at the sight of her first period. All the girls ridicule her and laugh at her reaction, except the little dark-haired extra who is clearly thinking, “I hear you, sister.”