I laughed until I fell on the floor crying! ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚ by
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Prompted By Comedy

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In the summer of 1978, I took a group of students to Taiwan for a work-study trip.ย  Among them was an older female ROTC grad with the officerโ€™s rank of Second Lieutenant.ย  With me posing as her husband, we entered the American Militaryโ€s Officers Club. A hub for the social and political elite, its members included government officials, foreign businessmen, and American military officers and guests. I came not as a guest, but as the spouse of a Secondย  Lieutenant.

Besides the extensive cantina, the Club featured the rare pleasure of a swimming pool, where my children, my students and I regularly swam.ย  During the afternoons with temperatures in the 90s, this was one of our greatest pleasures.

At the time the Club provided, for members only, access to probably the largest cinema screen on the islandโ€”and the only one that showed American films. Since it had a fixed military budget, it could occasionally show films that were not box office smashes. Such was the situation when it released a weekend specialโ€”Woody Allenโ€™s Annie Hall.ย  My children and I sat in a spacious theater with only a half dozen other customers. They were most likely there for the air conditioning!

Woody Allenโ€™s romantic comedy brought us out of Taiwan into the fraught emotional relationship between two Americans.ย  As it happens, one was Jewish and one Christian; one was a New Yorker, the other a Wisconsinite.ย  The drama would neither be tragic nor sentimental. It was a satire of unresolved cultural challenges. The key revelation of this challenge was when Annie invited Woody to meet her parents for Thanksgiving dinner.

The scene was projected through the use of split screen technology: showing Woody on one side in Wisconsin and the other in Coney Island. For me, the double-screened Thanksgiving dinner divided the stoic midwestern world from the chaos of Manhattan civilization.

The film choreographed my life:ย  my first wife was the daughter of a Christian family that served etiquette for dinner.ย  Annie Hallโ€™s family dinner revealed a still, formal, tableau that began with a quiet prayer, heads bent over a formal turkey dinner. The turkey and the family were equally quiet..

On the other half of the split screen, Woodyโ€™s family included children running around while the adults gulped their food noisily.ย  There was no formal process for eating/consuming, passing food, or speaking without interruptions.ย  Also, there was a chair at the head of the table whose ritual function was ignored.

In contrast, I recognized my first wifeโ€™s sense of table propriety. She thoroughly objected to my manners,ย  especially when I fingered the French fries from her plate, spooned soup from her bowl, or ate while partially clothed and barefoot.

The dual images on the screen lit up my past, releasing uncontrollable laughter. Due to the nearly empty theater, I was ignored by the audience and ushers.

The movie played on until Woodyโ€™s final monologue.ย  He was departing a soured relationship without guilt, remorse, anger, or regret.ย  Rather than the usual conclusion of a romance interrupted, his last thought was about a common Jewish topic, food: โ€œI forgot the eggs.โ€

I giggled as I headed up the aisle toward the exit.ย  My children ran out as quickly as they could with embarrassment. They were living the life of carefree children, oblivious of leaving an air-conditioned theater for the hot afternoon sun.

Profile photo of Richard C. Kagan Richard C. Kagan


Characterizations: been there, funny, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Thanx Richard for your personal reaction to the brilliant film Annie Hall. The dual screen Thanksgiving scene is indeed priceless.

    This Jewish New Yorker loves Woody Allen, but I remember once visiting my son who was then in college in Providence, RI . We went to see a Woody Allen film and it seemed we were the only ones laughing – most of the audience just didnโ€™t get it!

  2. Dave Ventre says:

    Annie Hall is one of my favorite things ever. The contrasting lobster scenes, Christopher Walken driving the car while musing out loud about suicide by car, the fourth-wall-breaking asides…. Genius.

    • Dave: Up until I obtained my BA I remained fairly kosher. I had my first encounter with a lobster dinner in Maine where I witnessed and heard a lobster being thrown into a boiling kettle.
      Woody Allen’s chase around the refrigerator was absurd but not funny. I thought of what would be next.

      Many decades later when I lived with my wife in Middletown, Ct. I was introduced to the orange crustacean again. My non Jewish wife raved about lobsters which were not really available in Mn. So I struggled through pulling the flesh out of the claws. Not funny again. But I did finally pick up custom of eating them. When I buy them already cooked or at the delicatessen, I can handle the cries and do not think of the bubbles rising from the water.

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    This made me smile, not the least because of your duplicity representing as the husband of the ROTC grad officer. You really do like to push limits. I didn’t remember much about Annie Hall, but the Thanksgiving scene sounds brilliant. While prayer was not a feature, our house also had pretty set table etiquette, which is good to have learned for more formal occasions, even if it hasn’t been carried forward in daily life. I’m sure the humor went right over your kids’ heads.

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    One of all-time favorite movies, Richard. My husband and I laughed so hard the first time that we saw it, we had to go back a second time so we could hear more of the lines that we’d missed because we’d laughed through them. On viewing it a third time, we found it more bittersweet. Our son used the film as a way to introduce Judaism to his non-Jewish girlfriend (now partner) though I had to point out to him that it is really about New York Jewish tropes. Your split-screen Thanksgiving description is delicious, and the lobster sequence is a classic of filmdom (coming from Detroit, which an eastern cousin once described is as foreign to her as if we were non-Jews), is also priceless, but I also never had lobster until I moved east. Thanks for the hearty reminders of great laughs!

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    Despite my current feelings about Woody Allen, that was a great flick. Loved it.

    • Laurie:
      Your comment on Woody raises the perennial problem: how to like one’s works and dislike one’s personality. For me this is true with Ezra Pound, Melville, Bill Cosby to name a few.
      (Regarding Melville, I know of female colleagues who will not teach him or appear at conferences that discuss him.) Mao for his cruelties was an evil man, but he did defeat both the Japanese and the Nationalist Chinese.
      I put on historical and personal blinders when I watch Woody Allen.

  6. Jim Willis says:

    A wonderful story, Richard, and what a great memory of your time with the students in Taiwan. Now I’ll have to go watch Annie Hall again! It’s been a couple decades since I’ve seen it. The story reminds me of a memorable time when I was teaching journalism at the University of Missouri and drove a dozen students to NYC in a van to hear Charles Osgood and a couple other known journalists of the day. The coeds in the group began flirting through the windows with truckers on the interstate, and we all barely (it’s a pun if you like) avoided a highway calamity.

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