I have loved 1930’s, ‘40’s, and ‘50’s movies since childhood, probably because my mom likes them. When she was young, she had been employed as a film censor at the local offices of both MGM and Warner Brothers where she watched all of the movies on a Movieola, removing exactly – and only – the relevant frames, leaving the rest of the film intact.. (Film censors cut objectionable scenes from nationally released movies so that they conformed to the obscenity laws in each locality.) She told me about her favorites, so when they appeared on Million Dollar Movie or late night television, we watched them together: sometimes when they were shown uncut in art house cinemas, we would travel downtown and view them on big screens – the way they were meant to be seen – which was always much better than our little tv.
Jamie likes movies but doesn’t love them as I do, so while he is willing to watch classic films, especially the black and white ones, they don’t speak to him as they do to me. Nevertheless, we have an iTunes library stuffed with them and watch them through every platform imaginable. We load both iPads with them so when we travel to Italy in August we have something enjoyable to watch late at night after the walk into town for dinner, gelato, and una passeggiata. Correction: I have something enjoyable to watch late at night and before falling asleep; Jamie has always been downstairs in the garden, where the cell reception was better, pacing and talking on the phone to the studio.
I watched all of my favorites – Some Like It Hot, Clash by Night, Dark Passage, Charge of the Light Brigade, They Drive by Night, any and all releases by Hitchcock, Wilder, MGM, or Warner Brothers – then fell asleep by the time Jamie reentered the room. The next morning, we’d awaken and trot down the stairs to breakfast and I knew that the time difference between Forte dei Marmi and Culver City left us free from the ringing phone for a few hours.
His phone rang unexpectedly one afternoon. Checking the screen, he answered, then slipped on his Docksiders to wander over to the boardwalk where he could pace and talk. He returned in a few minutes frowning.
“What happened?” I asked, looking up from my book as he sat on his lounge.
“There’s a meeting in New York that I have to attend,” he answered beginning a search on his iPad.
“When?” I asked.
“Tomorrow,” he answered.
“Tomorrow?” I squeaked.
“Yep. I’ll explain in a minute. Let me make reservations.”
I was annoyed. Jamie’s work life overshadowed our home life so tremendously already that I was furious at the money guys in New York for deciding that a conference call was unacceptable and Jamie’s physical presence was required. We were in Italy for crying out loud; to fly back from Italy to New York for a meeting struck me as total insanity, even if it was on the company’s dime. Besides, Jamie took only two weeks vacation as it was – despite being entitled to at least four weeks more – because the studio business was so all-encompassing that to leave it for longer than twenty-four hours was to court the disaster of a dissatisfied client or an unhappy investor.
He knew I was furious. He rose again from his lounge and began a conversation with an airline reservations clerk as he paced in the sand.
About ten minutes later I could feel his shadow blocking the sun. I looked up.
“I have to go back to the room and shower. A car is picking me up in about 45 minutes.”
“Where are you flying from?”
“When will you be back?”
“Late tomorrow night.”
“And what am I supposed to do in the meantime?”
He shrugged as though the answer were obvious. “What we always do. Sit on the beach. Read. Walk into town for dinner. Watch an old movie. Fall asleep.” He finished buttoning his white linen shirt.
I stared up at him from under my sunhat’s wide brim. “It’s not the same if I am alone. This is our only chance to be together all year.”
“It’s not for long. I will be back late tomorrow night.”
“No, you won’t.” I lowered my chin and gazed out at the azure Tyrannian Sea.
He sighed. “Please don’t start.”
“Don’t start? This happens all the time.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“Really? You didn’t have to fly back to New York when we were in LA for the Democratic Convention? You didn’t have to leave the vacation in Bermuda early for a meeting with the bank? You didn’t return to LA from London? Who was that then, my other husband?”
“Do you have another husband?”
I glowered at him from under my sunhat. I knew he was trying to lighten the situation but I was in no mood to be teased.
“I ask because if you have a couple of other ones and we all do the same thing that bothers you, maybe you should have chosen more carefully.” He grinned. I didn’t. He bit his lip and collected his iPad. “I have to go shower.”
I stood and began to collect my stuff. “You don’t have to come,” he said. “You can stay at the beach.”
“Why would I want to do that?” I snapped. “I came here to be with you. For longer than forty-eight hours at a time, I mean.”
“Don’t make me feel guilty,” he said turning toward the boardwalk.
I returned to my lounge and sat down. He was right. There was no point in my leaving the beach, especially if I was doing it just to argue with him. I stared at the bathers at the edge of the water until I heard his footsteps die away. I had planned read my book but two fat, hot tears welled in the corners of my eyes. I let them fall, then sniffed, and finally reached into my beach bag for a Kleenex. I shut off the ringer on my phone and forced myself to sit on the beach for another hour and a half, long past the time when the car would have met Jamie. Gathering my things, I walked up the beach and through the dining area, then past the Hotel Augustus Lido and through the underground passage that led to our hotel on the other side of the main road.
Entering the airy lobby, I collected the key from the desk clerk and climbed the stairs to our second floor room. I climbed into and out of the shower then blew my hair dry, all while resisting the temptation to look at my phone. Finally, when enough time had elapsed that he would be in the air, I checked the screen for a text. There it was. “Call you when I land. I will be back tomorrow.”
I sat on the bed and sighed, then took stock of my situation. I was nearly fifty years old and spoke Italian. I knew the way into town and didn’t mind walking by myself as Forte is tremendously safe. I had credit cards and cash so paying for my dinner wouldn’t be a problem. Sooooooo, why was I upset? It is the principle of the thing, I argued with myself. It’s not that I cannot vacation alone, but that I don’t want to. Our life is completely governed by that studio. I get two weeks a year and I want them to count. I devised all kinds of arguments why I was justified to be angry, but somehow they all sounded petty and even bratty because they all concerned what I wanted. As my temper cooled I realized that if Jamie didn’t have that very demanding job, he wouldn’t earn the money that allowed us to come here every year. So I had to spend thirty-six hours alone. So what? It wasn’t as though I hadn’t done it before.
I arose from the bed and dug for my sandals in the closet, then I twisted my hair into a messy chignon and headed into town for dinner.
Late that night, my phone rang. It was Jamie. He was in a car on the way to our house. It was a terrible connection so during one of the many times we were disconnected, I hopped out of bed and pulled on shorts then padded down the main staircase into the garden. I perched on the edge of a chair as I waited for him to call back.
The evening was practically soundless; no breeze blew and no insects chirped. Probably going to rain, I thought. I tilted my head back and gazed upward. The sky looked like black velvet with sparkling stars as sequins scattered across it. I thought I could hear faint music coming through the trees, so I cocked my head and craned my neck. It was no louder, so I trotted to the end of the pavement nearest the pine grove. “Runnin’ wild. Lost control. Runnin’ wild. Mighty bold. Feelin’ gay. Reckless, too.” It was Marilyn Monroe singing in Some Like It Hot. One of my absolute favorite films! I laughed. Disney was right – it was a small world, after all and I certainly wasn’t alone in it; Sugar, Daphne, and Josephine were there with me.
My phone rang and I wandered away from the woods to talk to Jamie. After we spoke I returned to our room and flipped on the iPad. Even now, years later, when the temperature rises, I get an overwhelming desire to watch black and white movies. They are among my oldest friends.