Sunday, December 1, 2019
In November of 1998 my copy of Esquire slid through the mail slot in the green front door of the house we lived in at the time in Tallahassee on Short Street. I'd been getting Esquire for a long time simply because the writing in it was so far superior to the writing in the "women's" magazines. However, I was not expecting to see Mr. Rogers, of all people, on the cover.
That just wasn't Esquire's style. No pun intended.
But I read the article by Tom Junod and it was the most powerful thing I'd ever read in Esquire and one of the most powerful things I'd ever read anywhere. It made me weep. Junod had captured the very essence and soul of a man I'd seen on TV hundreds of times while my children watched his show and although I had always thought his persona was sweet and I had defended him when friends (always male) ridiculed the man for his slow and gentle ways, I had never known the extent of his...goodness.
"He likes me just the way I am," I would tell the men who made fun of him, only half joking. Some of those days were hard, very hard. I was finding myself being forced into making decisions about my future and that of my children which would have consequences for the rest of our lives. And I did not feel confident in any way that I was strong enough or brave enough to make the hard choices I knew I had to make and by god, if the only positive feedback I got in those days was from a man who changed into a sweater and sneakers every day on his show, well then- that was at least something.
I mean, there was a part of my child-heart that felt as if he did like me, just the way I was, even though I knew that was ridiculous.
I loved that article. I fell in love with Mr. Rogers through that article. Somehow Junod captured the true grace he lived his life in, his genuine love for children and for the children all of us have been. I read and reread the article. I did not throw the magazine away. I kept it and took it with me to the house we moved into a year or so later. By the time we moved to Lloyd, I finally let that issue go because I knew I could find the article anytime I wanted online.
And here is the link to it.
So I suppose you know where this is headed. When I heard that a movie was being made, based on the Junod Esquire article, I knew I wanted to see it. But me and movies? Well, that doesn't happen very often. When Mr. Moon and I went to see Zombieland 2, Double Tap a month or so ago, it was the first time we'd gone to a movie together in probably a decade. But a few weeks ago my husband must have seen a trailer for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood because he asked me if I'd go with him to see it. I'm not sure why because I doubt I'd ever heard him say one word about Fred Rogers but somehow, he was interested and today we decided to go see it. It was rainy and windy and going to the movies sounded fun and so we did.
I bought our tickets online, reserved seats and all. We drove to the theater and went in and bought our popcorn and found our seats. We sat through all of the previews. The only one that interested me was for the newest version of Little Women which made me cry because that book was just about the foundation of anything true and healthy in my life growing up and all of my kids have loved it too.
And then the movie came on and we kicked back in the super-recliner comfy chairs and ate our popcorn and watched as Tom Hanks attempted to become the man Tom Junod had written about twenty-one years ago and as much I love Tom (I mean, who doesn't?) the magic never worked for me. And DAMMIT! I wanted it to. I wanted to sniffle and cry and be touched and transported to a higher, better place but it just didn't happen.
I mean, it was fine. And honestly, I felt like a monster of sorts because everyone says that it's a two-hankie film and I didn't even tear up once.
Here's what I think the problem was for me- Mr. Roger's persona was, according to Junod, no more or less than Fred Rogers himself. And believe it or not, he was as genuine and caring and gentle and sweet as the man who sang the corny songs about feelings and voiced the puppets he used to try to alleviate the fears and worries of children. To help them to learn to talk about feelings, rather than to just act them out. And when Hanks, or anyone, tries to emulate that by acting, it's as if the act crosses out, nullifies, the real man.
Sadly, it just didn't work for me.
I asked Mr. Moon what he'd thought about it. The first thing he said was, "The chairs weren't long enough for my legs."
And then he said that he felt pretty much the same way I did. That it was a bit of a disappointment.
When we got home, I opened up my laptop and reread the original article by Junod and just now I've reread an article in The Atlantic entitled My Friend Mister Rogers. Junod does like the movie and I'm glad of that. And I didn't dislike it. It's just that it does not seem to me to translate his article successfully. That may not even be possible. Even with Tom Hanks as the star.
So. That's what I did today. Mostly. Went to the movies with my sweetheart.
As he said, "Well, at least it was a fun date."
And it was.
I'm glad I came home and reread Junod's words because they gave me what I was seeking- some sort of hope for humanity, I suppose. Because if there are people like Mister Rogers who live or have lived on this planet, all cannot possibly be lost.
I'd like to add that Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister and that his belief in his god informed everything he did or said. As we all know, I am generally disdainful of all things religious but there are a few people whom I have respected and even loved who seem to me to actually live the lessons that Jesus was said to have given us.
Jimmy Carter is one. Mister Rogers is another.
But in my heart I believe that even without religion, these people would have been as purely good if they'd never even heard of the Bible.
That's just me, though.