Gene Shalit’s Wife [Part 2]

October 6, 2006

Part 2 – Parental Guidance Suggested

Her mother tells her the boy next door, the one she used to babysit, is going on a date and that it would be nice if she agrees to be a chaperone. She knows her mother is really trying to get her out of the house some time before her spring break ends and she goes back to college. It turns out the boy’’s girlfriend’’s older brother, Gene, is also chaperoning. Her mother jokes that they’re double-dating. The kids want to see “Jaws”. The theater’s smaller screen is running a series of Hitchcock films. Gene suggests that they let the kids go see their movie while the “adults” see “Rear Window”. She agrees. Gene is pleased. He asks her a little about herself–where she goes to school, what her major is. Gene goes to Columbia. He tells her he’s going to be a film critic. He’s so confident in saying this that she doesn’t know how to answer. She’s majoring in Anthropology because she doesn’t know what she wants to do and it was the first listing in the college catalog. She enjoys it. She even thinks she has a talent for it, although she thinks it might have been the same if she’d majored in Zoology. Gene starts talking about the genius of Hitchcock. She looks at him and thinks of a bullfrog she caught in the creek behind her house. She remembers that in early versions of “The Frog Prince” the princess doesn’t change the frog into a prince by kissing him but by throwing him against the wall. She is only twenty. She looks around the theater, and everyone there is older than she. She feels much older than she really is.

Gene is silent through the movie except once. There’s a scene of a man playing a piano with someone is standing behind him. Gene leans over and hisses in her ear, “”That’’s Hitchcock.”” She’s seen the movie three times already, but always on television, and she’s never noticed this before. She thinks Hitchcock looks a little like a hairless Gene.

Gene is driving. After he drops off the boy next door Gene turns to her and says, “”Would you like to go for a drive?”” She declines. He smiles and says, ““See you later, then.””

He calls her in late May. She’’s in the middle of finals. She’’s studying the Netsilik peoples. One of their gods is an angry abandoned child who sits at the bottom of the ocean causing storms. She imagines him as a big, fat infant pounding his fists on the black, silty ocean floor. She’’s so stressed she launches into this without giving him a chance to explain why he called. After she finishes there’’s silence. Then Gene says, ““Listen, would you like to go out while we’re both home for the summer?””

Fast-forward five years. She and Gene have been married for two years now. He’s been working as a feature writer at the paper and has finally gotten the chance to do film reviews. She works part time doing check out at the grocery store. One night they go see a film called “The Elephant Man”. Gene strikes up a conversation in the lobby with a man who, as it turns out, is a producer of one of the local television news shows. They discuss Kubrick, Kurosawa, and Ophuls. She feels lost. She looks at a small sign that says the Disney film “Alice In Wonderland” is being re-released.

After the movie Gene and the producer continue their conversation. Gene tells her he won’t be late. She takes the car home and spends the evening reading. She is studying Norse mythology.

Fast-forward five years. Gene has become something of a local celebrity, appearing regularly on both the local morning talk show and the evening news. He’s happy, but occasionally moody. One night as they lie in bed he tells her he’s given a movie called Summer Rental a glowing review even though he thought it was the most awful thing he’d ever watched. She tells him that what’s important is that he’’s successful, that he’s set goals for himself and has achieved them. Inwardly she berates herself for sounding like warmed-over graduation speech, and wonders, as she does on a regular basis, what purpose critics really serve. She’’s been taking a class in Egyptian mythology at the local college, but still hasn’t decided what she wants for her own future.

Gene spends a lot of time on the weekends watching movies. He tells her the VCR is an amazing invention, that it will revolutionize the film industry and give everyone a greater appreciation of film history. She only regularly watches television on Saturday nights. She watches an old British science fiction show called “”Doctor Who””. Several actors play The Doctor, an alien who travels through space and time saving the universe from other aliens. She thinks the culture of actors would be a fascinating anthropological study, but she doesn’t know any actors.

Of all the actors who play the Doctor her favorite is Patrick Troughton. He’’s small and clownish and absent-minded. He reminds her of Gene. Gene tells her Troughton was also in The Omen II and Sinbad: Eye of the Tiger. She watches these films, but doesn’t recognize the funny little man she’s accustomed to. She wonders what the real Patrick Troughton is like.

The same day she reads in the newspaper that Patrick Troughton has died she gets a call from her mother in the hospital.

To be concluded.

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