What I Did My Christmas Vacation (Bad Education, A Very Long Engagement, Kinsey)

I have to say: I don’t think I’ve been this happy to get back to New York City since September 11, 2001. Truly, ever since that day, whenever I’ve taken leave of this crazy apple, a little knot between my brows has smoothed itself out, I’ve breathed more deeply, and I’ve slept. And slept some more. Done my laundry without feeding a slot coins. Listened carefully to the silence. And gazed forever at a black, not purple, sky. With stars.

But this year, as soon as New York’s jagged skyline came back into my view, I felt an elation I didn’t think I could ever feel about NYC again. I actually jumped in my seat, and started improvising song lyrics. (Usually this means I sing “Yancey Strickler” to whichever song’s on the car’s radio, to Yancey’s chagrin and my great amusement.) The reality was I was just so happy happy happy to be back in the black-sheep mecca, high rents and all. Where you can still walk to the corner and eat something very fine and watch something even finer; where, if you’re single and over 30, you are not automatically written off as a sad sack or a borderline personality. Where no one says to you when you’re almost 34, “You’re not getting any younger. When are you gonna have your kids?” Or, worse, in a sympathetic tone: “So you decided to not have kids?”

In other words, the holidays were a mite hard.

But I made a pact with myself. I learned way back in therapy 101 that the best plan is, well, to have a plan. So I promised myself that, just like when I was growing up, everyday I would go to the movies. Like a good girl, everyday I went. Went to real-life Boston theaters — drafty, greasy from popcorn stains, and full of people hissing to each other, “We goin’ to the packy ahftah this, Sully?” and “Do they have to use the language?” and “I’m quite sure that’s a tautology she just uttered.” (Therein lies the paradox that is and always will be Boston, a city inhabited by working-class forevas and old-money neuters and professorial transplants.)


Bad Education at the Waltham Landmark Embassy Cinema. A raging snowstorm outside, a theater packed with graying Newton types, some of whom accompanied by their kids. Including my parents Bernie and Sari, and me. No doubt under normal circumstances I’d be harder on Almodovar’s flapjack of a plot (it hearkens back to the scattershot of his early films but lacks their gorgeous hyperbole), but I drink it all in. Those reds and greens, Gael García Bernal’s swollen pout and perfect rump, the hot Spanish countryside. Such a lovely contrast to the cold and wet pooling inside my boots and beating against the roof. I try to pretend my parents aren’t sitting near me while everyone fucks everyone up the ass. My father doesn’t try as hard. Even though he is sitting a few rows ahead of my mother and me (don’t ask), I can still hear him chortling. It is easy, as the theater is otherwise dead-silent during those scenes. This just in, Boston: Sex is not merely for the purpose of reproduction. Of course, the Rosmans know that all too well. (Like I said, don’t ask).


“That was some movie,” he says.

“It was confusing,” I say.

“Ya, I thought it was confusing. But interesting.”

When my mom emerges from the ladies’ room, we ask her what she thought.

“Oh, those pretty boys. I just loved all the cuhluhs.”

A Very Long Engagement at Loews Harvard Square with my dear friend forever, Melina. Ten degree weather and we can’t find a parking space. The carpool mom dilemma of the situation has us laughing, but we’re also giddy from the relief of hanging out without her two-year-old: so sparky, so pretty, so knee-deep in A Phase. I am wearing: New England-drab winter boots, three layers on my legs, five layers on upper torso, a face mask.

I sweat all the way through that weird-ass movie. There are five of us in the strangely decadent theater: high-ceilings, art-deco Egyptian details, heavily beaded chandeliers.

I deliberately skipped the screening of Engagement, as the only advantage of not having a very regular venue for my film reviews anymore is skipping the movies I’m not remotely curious about. But Meliner never gets to see movies, and, being an enormous Delicatessen fan, she is clamoring to see Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s latest. Honestly, there’s not that much wrong with the movie; once again it’s pleasant to ogle blooming European countryside while the winter stamps its foot outside, and it’s crazy to catch Jody Foster as a Polish widow, prattling away in French. But Juenet’s preciousness doesn’t suit a war tragedy particularly well, and the movie seems to drag on eternally. I worry that the mild boredom I fail to entirely hide hinders Mel’s enjoyment. I suspect that I am right.

Kinsey at the West Newton Cinema. On the way out of Boston, I end up here somehow, the same way I always did when I was nursing a boyfriend hangover or scrabbling with BernieSari.

It’s a grand, freezing theater right down the street from their house, and when I was growing up, the same art films ran for months at a time. My Life as a Dog, Manon of the Spring, Bread and Chocolate. At first I resisted them, in allegiance to Chevy Chase comedies and Star Wars no doubt, but since the cinema and the library were my only local refuges, I eventually surrendered to the superiority of the weird foreigner movies. This was before American indies coughed up anything interesting on a regular basis (sorry John Sayles), when foreign movies were regarded as practically the only non-Hollywood option. In high school, I dated one of the cinema ushers, and we’d make out, nasty teen style, while Cinema Paradiso emoted on and on ’til the break of dawn.

The night I’m to drive back to New York, I’m all shades of blue. It’s bitter outside, with a whistling empty sky. All my NYC friends will still be out of town, and I’ve already said goodbye to my Boston people. But the traffic at dinner time is pitiful, and I guess part of me wants to savor the sweet-and-sour soup in which I’m emotionally drowning. So I return to the scene of the crime.

I forgot how much I love the mirrors lining the walls and the dirty red carpets. I love how steep the screening rooms are, so no one obscures anyone else’s view. I love the bar separating the seats from the corridors, so good to sling your saddle shoes over; I love the little stage for the screen. The theater’s packed with a surprising number of grizzled Newton 70somethings wearing political button-festooned polar fleece vests. Are arty movies about sexual deviancies the porn for The Nation readers of a certain age?

Kinsey suffers from all the Edelstein-documented problems that typically plague biopics, namely that the arc of a real human life doesn’t translate very well dramatically. I greatly enjoy Laura Linney at all times, though, and ain’t nothing funnier than braying Liam Neeson wearing a brushcut in the middle of a sex sandwich.

It don’t matter anyway. I’m watching a movie by myself, suspended in time and in between cities, surrounded by the bodies of other popcorn munchers and nose-breathers but not in any way connected to them. Here I may not be elated but I am located.

I am home.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy