Fox is about to release a remake of the Hollywood classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in a week or so and I realized that this is as good a time as any to tell you the story of my connection to the original 1951 version of that film. Be warned: it is a long and rambling story, filled with teenage nudity, a strip club, a Waffle House, Poppa Smurf, two famous science fiction actors and my own patented brand of cluelessness.
The story begins in my friend CeCe’s living room, poised moments from a teenage adventure to infinity and beyond… no, no… sadly, it was not nookie on our minds… well at least it wasn’t on my mind.
All I could think about was a science fiction convention…. Mister Sulu was there!!!
And we were late.
The only thing keeping us from departing for Geekville was CeCe’s Aunt Patricia, who had not traveled all the way out East just to miss visiting with one of her favorite nieces. So we were invited…. encouraged… um, well, pretty much forced to sit in the front room and visit with Aunt Patricia for a spell.
As we spoke she spotted an atlas on one of the nearby tables and pulled it into her lap to discuss places we’d been, things we’d seen… I must say that it wasn’t boring conversation, and I’m rarely at a loss to speak to people at length about anything under the sun…. but I was LATE for some serious nerd stuff that was going down, and it felt like Aunt Patricia was drawing this whole visiting thing out a bit.
Perhaps she suspected that CeCe and I might be dating and wanted to know more about me.
I mean, it wasn’t like CeCe and I had been intimate or anything… well, except for that one school trip when we lay naked together under the sheets in a low-rent motel in Nashville. That was our special moment together, our teenage ummmm…. I can’t, I can’t lie.
It was actually a game.
Naked CeCe and Naked Drew were just the earliest losers of a game of Strip Trivial Pursuit, part of the adventure and excitement that comes with being on a field trip with your classmates from the Yearbook Staff…. all of whom were making “woooooo” noises, now that CeCe and I were naked in bed together.
See, I knew that was exactly the sort of dirt Aunt Patricia was trying to get out of me.
Luckily, I didn’t tell Aunt Patricia that the very first person in Nashville to greet our high school tour group had been a dumpy balding man of indeterminate sobriety wearing a dingy short-sleeve dress shirt.
Let’s call him “Arnie”.
Our class had just started carrying our bags up the stairs to our motel room when our pal Arnie tumble-stepped out the back door of a seedy looking building on the other side of a chain-link fence which ran the entire length of our side of the motel property.
Arnie yelled up to us (well, mostly to the girls), “So you finally got here!!?? Come on over as soon as you can!!”
All of us kids froze on the stairs, looking at Arnie, trying to figure out what in the seven hells he was talking about, when one of the girls went “Oh wait, look… it’s a strip club.”
Oh… yeah. Neon silhouettes of nude women was a dead giveaway.
“We’ll be right over!!” sang our pal Angela in her most enticing fake lilt.
Arnie nodded in satisfaction, raised his arm in a half wave, and stumbled back inside the club.
Now that… THAT is the sort of story that dear old Aunt Patricia was probably looking for… but I wasn’t about to tell her that sort of thing because it wasn’t the sort of thing you tell a nice older lady who has a world atlas in her lap. I’m from the South, I know my manners.
I know that you don’t go and tell Aunt Patricia about how you and her dear Niece CeCe wandered into a Nashville Waffle House in search of your classmates. You know that old story, the one about how you find all the girls sitting at a table finishing up their midnight snack?
About how, as you’re all standing at the counter as the waitress rings up the bill, a strangely inbred looking fellow (whose face was seriously, absolutely and suffocatingly blue) declares something to your friend Angela. About how your friend Angela blanches, replies stiffly to the blue man, and drags everyone out into the parking lot and begins marching back to the motel room.
What did he say??
What did he say??
“He SAID,” replied Angela, her neck held haughtily, “he said: ‘Do you know who I am?’….”
“To which I said: ‘I have NO IDEA who you are.’ ”
“To which he said: ‘I’m Poppa Smurf‘. ”
Adventure could certainly be described as an old blue guy trying to hit on high school girls, which are exactly the sorts of stories that Aunt Patricia was trying to pry out of me with all of her fancy atlas-talk. But, no dummy I, I was on to her game, and began giving CeCe the signal that perhaps it was time to get moving.
CeCe’s mom looked satisfied with the length of our “visit”, and Aunt Patricia seemed amused and content and in short order CeCe and I were on our way down the road to the Festival of Dorks.
On the way there we laughed about our “audience” with Aunt Patricia and probably discussed any number of postulations about all the cool stuff and famous TV actors with whom we’d soon be mingling. Maybe we talked about school, about college… I may have even been on a real date and was just too stupid to know it…. I mean, I usually am.
On this occasion my stupidity would be thrown into sharp relief, for, as we strode into the hotel, rife with the heady scents of alcohol and Trekkies in estrus, I was struck with a sudden realization.
Like a thunderbolt from the blue it hit me… I froze in my tracks and turned to look at CeCe.
“What?? What is it??” asked CeCe, alarmed by my behavior.
“Your Aunt Patricia….,” I began.
“Yeah? What?? What about her?”
I had forgotten one very important thing that CeCe had told me about her Aunt Patricia, several years before. Something that went in and was only just now emerging from the dark recesses of my brain….
“Didn’t you say that she was an actress one time?”
“Yeah. She did a lot of movies.”
Blam. It hit me.
I’d just spent the morning with one of the most accomplished actresses of American cinema, the heroine of the legendary film “The Fountainhead”, a recurring guest of “Playhouse 90”, the lead actress from “The Day the Earth Stood Still“…..
A woman so famous that they named a movie after her titled “The Patricia Neal Story”… an actress far more celebrated than any of the people I’d been so anxious to see at this Convention of Misfits.
I’d met Patricia Neal.
Holy Zarquon Singing Fish!!
The next day, when I went to pick up CeCe at her house, I found myself once again in front of Aunt Patricia, who was lounging in a bathrobe and nibbling the last bits of her toast. I seem to recall experiencing sudden pangs of shyness and an initial inability to make intelligent conversation…. but Aunt Patricia was Aunt Patricia and she put me at ease.
What wonderful perspective this experience ultimately gave me.
Whenever I find myself impatient to “get through” a visit with someone, I try my best to remember the lesson of Aunt Patricia. Sometimes there are important people right in front of you.
Sit down and visit with them.