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Stephanie Gertler Headshot

The Anti-Reality Show

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Yesterday I watched the years from 1952 -1976 speed by in roughly two hours. Until a month ago, these were the missing years among reels of 16 MM movie film, finally unearthed in a wooden wine crate on the back of a closet shelf in my parents' old apartment. I had often wondered where those years had gone, both literally and figuratively.
You can find almost anything in New York City, and sure enough, there is a company on West 36th Street that will, for quite the price, transfer old movies to DVD in less than 72 hours and with amazing clarity.
The past weekend began with a trip to West 36th Street on Friday morning where I picked up my DVD treasure. Early Friday afternoon, my daughter Ellie (the bride-to-be) arrived, and then her five closest friends came to town that evening. This was the weekend to choose the bridesmaid dress. What I feared might become an ordeal akin to something like a fierce roller derby went far better than I'd anticipated. Two stores and five hours later on Saturday afternoon, we found the perfect dress (dubbed "Jazz Singer" by one of Ellie's "maids" who walked out of the dressing room and said she felt like singing some sort of "doobie doobie doo" number). The simple black chiffon sheath looked perfect on all five young women who possess every possible body type. True, there were moments when I thought there could be a brawl, and when I bit my lip so hard I thought I drew blood. A lunch with an exotic cocktail for each "maid" in between Priscilla of Boston and Vera Wang seemed to soothe tensions - especially my own. Alas, they were all asked to produce ID and I was not. Guess La Mer isn't that much of a miracle cream after all.
We went home to our apartment (where four of the girls stayed for the weekend) and broke out wine, and plates filled with cheeses, shrimp, chips and salsa - a hip hop CD playing in the background, prompting the maid of honor (the CD's owner) to do a great stanky leg. Until that moment, my husband swore no one could really dance to hip hop. That night, the girls went out, and came home at four in the morning. I could hear their laughter in the living room until nearly 6 a.m. As tired as I was, their voices were a melody for me as I lay awake. It brought me back to summer nights when my kids hung out on our wraparound porch with their friends until the wee hours.
I suppose I should have made a video.
When everyone left on Sunday afternoon, the apartment felt empty. Four loads of sheets and towels later, I felt somewhat the way I used to at the end of a more than busy day when my three babies were finally sleeping: Sated, spent, and in dire need of total quiet.
My stomach is queasy today, and I am feeling rather spent. I believe it is a combination of taking my daughter and her five bridesmaids shopping for their gowns, last night's Chinese food, and the lifetime that sped by on DVD. My daughter and I watched a bit of the DVD late Friday afternoon before her friends arrived, and although I was uncertain, Ellie said aloud that I have not changed too much since I was four. Eerily true in essence: still long straight blondish hair and bangs, and still possessing somewhat frenetic body language. I was, and remain, in constant motion. It was odd to see myself as a child (typically wearing some sort of organza party dress and Mary Janes even when playing on the monkey bars in Riverside Park) and then think about that child (how could that have been me?) now as the mother of the bride. Almost creepy.
There was the "chapter" with my old college boyfriend, and another at my brother's college graduation with his old girlfriend (still a dear friend of mine) and my ex-husband. I am holding up my ring finger as I sit in the sea of mortarboards - clearly boasting my new gold band. In another chapter, there were all the friends of my parents - some whom I remembered distinctly, and others whose familiarity was vague, where I could no longer put a name to a face. Why didn't anyone think about holding up signs in those movies? Lips were moving, and there was clearly so much conversation, with no one thinking about the absence of audio.
In one clip shot in the summer of the 1967, there was a group of my parents' friends sitting around a swimming pool - the women lounging on strapped canvas lounge chairs, all sporting white-rimmed sun glasses, some wearing kerchiefs. Their rather beefy husbands stood in a circle pool side, smoking cigarettes, and holding rocks glasses. I remember that day: It was July 4th weekend and the boy I loved that summer had just left for boot camp, headed to Vietnam. I was pining away. Maybe it was evident on film or maybe I just recalled the teenage angst on my face. Just the other day, that boy turned 60.
There were several chapters where my mother wore the same halter-style gold lame dress and platform shoes (much like ones I just bought the other day at Shoe Woo on Lexington Avenue).
I watched, mesmerized, sitting on the edge of the bed, constantly pressing the "pause" button on the remote to still an image...lingering...examining the silent movie nearly microscopically. I recalled old emotions and summoned new ones: the child in a party dress who twirled with abandon, the thrill of learning to ride a two-wheeler, the kisses from my mother, the young women (my mother, her friends, and myself) who appeared oblivious to the notion of heartbreak or loss. Watching all this on the heels of my daughter's wedding as I slip into the role of mother-of-the bride as easily as I once wore organza on the monkey bars and, in later years, my Landlubber's and a poor boy sweater.
In most of the movies, I was a child either swimming, biking, or blowing out candles on a birthday cake (to a round of silent applause). The adults were either at gardens parties, weddings, or some sort of lavish dinner at my parents' apartment when it was brand new and shining even in black and white. Life looked nearly perfect on film: My parents possessed a movie star air about them. The not-so-good memories interrupted what appeared to be nearly idyllic. I wonder that if we press an imaginary button on an imaginary remote to freeze certain moments, might we rewind, and do and say things differently - especially if we think about 24 years flying by in two hours. It gives one true pause.

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