Saturday, February 23, 2008

"Definitely, Maybe" Brings Me Back to the Clinton 90s

This past Sunday, my friend asked me if I wanted to see a movie. I jumped on the chance to go out and see something outside the four walls of my studio apartment. You see, I have ALS/Lou Gehrig’s Disease and I am confined to a wheelchair. Can’t really go anywhere alone, without a friend or my home attendant. My home attendant is nice, but she doesn’t share my taste in movies. I like independent films, and films I can talk about later. She prefers films that take her away from a boring hum-drum job, silly films that remind her that she can dream of a better life than taking care of me. I have many friends, and they do care about me, but from a distance. Since becoming disabled, I’ve had to accept that most of them can’t be bothered to spend time with someone who requires advance planning, can’t pick up anything I drop, and communicates by writing notes or typing into a machine that converts my text to speech [Lou Gehrig has robbed my ability to speak]. Most of my friends have raised their children already, and being with me brings them back to a time they don’t have energy for anymore in their 40s or 50s; they have to put the straw in my drink, fetch what I can’t reach, and help me put on and take off my outerwear. They’ve been there and done that, and they don’t want to deal with that, for someone who is older than first grade.

When I can take along my home attendant, it helps. But some people don’t want an extra person along. Furthermore, I have to pay my HA’s way, a hardship on my fixed disability income. So when this friend e-mailed me, I jumped. She is one of the rare people who will take me out, cut my meat if need be, and even deal with bathroom issues. But we had to choose a movie house within walking distance because wheelchair-accessible paratransit has to be booked the day before, and it’s not easy to get me and my foldable wheelchair in and out of her car. Pickings were slim in the immediate neighborhoods. There were lots of silly movies playing, but no thought-provoking fare. So I picked the lesser of the evils, a film called “Definitely, Maybe” because the TV ads were cute, and featured Abigail Breslin, who was adorable in the title role of “Little Miss Sunshine”, one of my favorite quirky films.

Well, it delivered as promised: a silly romantic comedy where the girls were cutesy and glib, and had those fabulous Manhattan apartments in the right up-and-coming neighborhoods. For anyone who is not from NYC, or has never apartment-hunted there, these apartments do not exist anymore, so don’t bother looking. At one time, you could brave an “edgy” barrio, complete with junkies and bodegas, in the hope that your persistence paid off if you stuck it out [and lived] for the next ten years. At least in Manhattan, there is nothing like this anymore. And even when it did exist, no young person without a trust fund could afford anything without one or more roommates, and for a stair-climb below the third floor.

But I managed to enjoy this movie. The two quirky love-interests, played by Isla Fisher and Rachel Weisz, weren’t gorgeous. And the guy, played by Ryan Reynolds, was cute, but by forty he would look as tired-out and world-weary as any guy you know.
But the part I liked most about this film was the time setting. You see, the main character moves to NYC from the Midwest to work on the Clinton campaign. By the way, that’s Bill, not Hillary. Yes, think back to the presidential campaign of 1992, which was an unbelievable 15+ years ago. Remember when we all wanted change from Bush? Does this sound eerily familiar? I remember it well, but what I really remember vividly is where I was the night of the election.

On that Tuesday night in November of 1992, I was watching the returns in the lobby bar of the Pier 66 Hotel in Fort Lauderdale. I had to get an absentee ballot when my boss at Cayman Airways told me I would be out of town for a sales blitz. I was Northeast USA Area Sales Manager, and I knew this trip would be my last hurrah with this company because they announced they would no longer be flying non-stop out of New York. So it was a time of change for me too. In fact earlier that day I set up an interview with another company by phone; I would meet with them when I returned home to New York.
What was so momentous about that night in the Pier 66 bar was that I was the only one happy about the outcome. My bosses were all staunch Republicans, and this was terrible news to them. My immediate director kept insisting I would keep my job, despite closing up the JFK Airport operation. But I didn’t trust that. When I found a job with another airline, I learned that they never hired anyone in my place.

I remember where I was on Bill Clinton’s Inauguration Day. Now a sales manager with a Chilean airline, I was making a sales call to a travel agency owned by an Ecuadorian immigrant. She had brought in a TV that day to watch the swearing-in of a new president. She felt, as did I, that this was a new era for her adopted country. We both watched William Jefferson Clinton take his oath of office amid a feeling of hope and optimism.

In the film “Definitely, Maybe” the scene jumps to 1994, and then the Monica Lewinsky affair. By then, I was a sales manager for a hotel chain, and I remember sitting around with my colleagues discussing this scandal. There is also a scene from the movie where the couple is listening to Kurt Cobain, and then she gives him the sad news some time later about Cobain’s death. I can recall sitting with those same co-workers discussing that death. For me, the optimism and change represented by those Clinton years was so real. As I write this, it doesn’t look as if Hillary is going to perpetuate that legacy. We are once again anticipating an era of change, albeit not with a Clinton in the White House, but with Barack Obama. Once again, I am hoping for a change from Bush, this time the son. “Definitely, Maybe” transported me back to a time of hope and optimism. I want that feeling again. I am hoping November’s election can give us that.

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