Wednesday, May 21, 2008

'For years I was smart; I recommend pleasant'

Here's a crazy theory for you.

I believe that a person reads a certain book, or hears a certain song, or watches a certain movie, or bumps into a certain person, at a particular moment in time for a darn good reason. The book, song, movie or person brings with them a message, or a smile, or a laugh, or a tear, just for you, right when you need it.

It may sound nuts, but I think it's true. Happened to me last night.

Got home late from another crazy workday. Put the groceries away (God, I hate being domestic) and flipped on the TV. Wanted to watch baseball, but the Braves were in a rain delay and the Tigers were blowing out the Mariners. (Detroit decided to play offense for a change. We'll see if it lasts.)

So, I remembered that it was Jimmy Stewart's birthday, fumbled through my DVDs and found "Harvey." And, I must say, that silly little picture was exactly what I needed last night.

Stewart shines as Elwood P. Dowd, an alcoholic but charming middle aged man who spends most of his time in a downtown bar with his unseen 6-foot, 3-inch pal, a rabbit named Harvey. Of course, this drives his sister Veda (brilliantly portrayed by Josephine Hull) and niece Myrtle Mae (Victoria Horne) crazy, not to mention scaring off virtually everybody with which Elwood comes into contact.

One day, when he and Harvey ruin a clambake Veta was throwing for Myrtle Mae, Elwood drives the final nail in the coffin. Veta decides to have him committed.

Well, the film turns into a screwball comedy from there, but along the way, it manages to make some gentle and quite humanistic points about life. Elwood may be off-center, but in the film's universe, he might just be the most normal -- and certainly the nicest -- human being around.

At one point he tells the psychiatrist from the mental hospital, "My mother used to say to me...'In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.' Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant."

And also:

"Well, I wrestled with reality for 35 years, doctor, and I'm happy to state that I finally won out over it."

In the end, Veta realizes that Elwood is too special a human being to change. She releases him from the hospital, forbids the doctors to shoot him up with their serum.

As the cab driver tells Veta just before she saves Elwood from the psychiatrist's hypodermic, "After this, he'll be a perfect normal human being. And you know what stinkers they are."

Sometimes it's difficult to look at the world through a romantic lens. You're often let down, regularly disappointed, sometimes broken-hearted, by what you see. Nothing stings quite so badly as some cynical or snide comment, or snub, or rejection, especially from those you love.

What Elwood and his rabbit teach us is that you can't let the pettiness of others, or the innate cruelty of this ol' world, get you down. You gotta keep going, be true to who you are, keep caring too much and singing too loud and laughing too often, regardless of whatever pigpen the legions of the miserables want to wallow in.

You're right, Elwood. For years, I tried to be smart, sometimes even tried to be a smart aleck.

And, you know what? If life's taught me anything, it's that I recommend pleasant, too.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I would give to get inside your head.

12:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have always loved that line. I thought of it again tonight after watching "You Can't Take It With You." (1938) The thing about a classic is that it is timeless. These are two classic movies. We can all learn from them.

12:25 AM  
Blogger Sean said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2:13 PM  
Blogger Sean said...

Watched that movie last night, and was touched by those same lines.
This movie and Mr. Smith goes to Washington are two of my favorites, that show that no matter what there is always hope and kindness to pull us through.

2:15 PM  

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