Night Thoughts on Barefoot in the Park

A movie from back in the old days when Americans were grownups.

Hanoi Jane ripped up the set here. This movie was a vision of wonderfulness: color, sex, New York in a grey time when I was sweating the draft and my first girlfriend’s Mom sent her to Israel where Leah decided that Pope Paul VI sucked because he condemned the Six Day War of Israeli Aggression and that because I was a nice Catholic boy, I was not for her.

Barefoot was a sort of Breakfast at Tiffany’s for intelligent heterosexual guys: a vision, a promise of a City that would like Don Draper in Mad Men tell you that you were OK. Leave the boring suburbs, and the girls already fat in the senior prom with the Tricia Nixon hairdo…at a dead run. Leave their talk of their older sister in Hoffman’s Estates and their brushing your hand off their chunky thighs. Have a smoke, have a drink, meet a girl in black tights. O City, city…the gold horn robes of Jazz…

Jane was the promise of something else and that why many of the guys who went to Vietnam still hate her, resenting everything the movie represented for fifty years: New York, Freudianism, sex without power-guilt.

In 1967, the movie seemed curiously already dated, and unserious about what was “going down”, pre Buffalo Springfield and in color, unlike a demonstration against the war in the Chicago spring rain.

Back then, you wondered about each young guy you saw in the movie. What, you wondered, was the specific relationship of the actor, and the character he played, both Redford and “Paul Bratter”, to the draft? I have always had a tendency, as did my father, to visibly carry burdens (my father loved the Mission, the de Niro film about a Spanish soldier who expiates great guilt, probably because de Niro humps his armor through the rain forest in a penance).

In 1967 it was the draft, so to me “Paul Bratter” seem unburdened. He didn’t seem to be sweating his student deferment or lottery number.

“Power” is the term in today’s discourse about sex that “guilt” occupied in 1967. Back then, we weren’t supposed to be guilty because we actually believed that since we had the Pill nobody could get hurt. Yeah, right. Today, the “sex-positive” feminists, my favorite feminists, are trying to remove “power”.

They define any sex without the “enthusiastic consent” of both parties as a rape and I totally agree. I had a lot of fun designing a poster for the Hong Kong Slutwalk based on this idea, which I represented as the flying leap she takes when in love when in my own words inna poem I wrote, “she ran to you like rain”, and leaped, hanging on with her thighs. Ah yes…dry your whiskers…no man deserves a Flying Leap, most of us deserve one clear shot at us at dawn as in the code duello.

This movie unabashedly Freudian: “Paul Bratter” (Robert Redford) won’t let go of his very Fifties Mom, who can’t climb stairs, is a Lady who Lunches, and hates it when Cory talks about sex. My Mom, when we watched Barefoot on TV, laughed when she saw Cory’s Mom, for my Mom wanted to be like her: the sophisticated Lady Who Lunches at the Plaza.

But Cory doesn’t win: Paul goes too far and she has to rein him in because she cares about him.

Redford is merely witty and has timing. Jane, on the other hand, is a force of nature especially when she dances her Cambodian Mystery Sex Dance.

I got scared of the unboundedness of a later girl’s sexuality, that of the lucky lady who became my ex-wife, so like Paul Bratter, I used the Important Job in the City to rule lines around it as he does. Moral: don’t do that.

You’ll get loads of time to do that later on after she pops off a couple of kids, your Male Pattern Baldness and Love Handles take hold, and she can’t stand the sight of you most of the time . Then you can stay late at the office and code software up the ass. Just don’t get any funny ideas about that lovely unmarried fellow coder in the next cube.

Make sure Saturdays are free because it’s actually loads of laughs to have to assume responsibility for the kids. You can do all sorts of random things, the more random the better: art museum visits with solemn inspections of Cezanne, playing with the dog being walked by a female obstetrician at Northwest Memorial while she takes a break from delivering a healthy baby, and watching concrete being poured. Until they’re about ten they will love things like that. And you will never forget them.

Remember, also, that if you fart in the car you can always blame them. They will claim it’s yours because of its sonorous tone, its length, its deep, intense bouquet and body, and its high specific gravity which causes it to sort of hang in the air for a long while.

(You may have realized by now that I had boys.)

Then, Teen Coolness arrives and you find that in terms of being not cool, you are the very thing itself, a Cynosure, the “man of wax” as Juliet’s Nurse puts it. But they still rely on you for transportation and cash until they’re 17, so you can use *baksheesh* and *guan xi* to keep their respect for a while. But be mindful of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in this regard.

Then: they are 18. As Garrison Keillor said, the police stop cruising up and down your street. If you’re divorced as I was your bachelor “pad” no longer has their crap in it. It will be a distinct honor if they introduce girlfriends to you but you must be on your best behavior.

You get a grand total of ONE story which you may tell the girlfriend about how cute they were, so choose wisely. “Boy, lemme tellya, when Peter was a little kid, he didn’t know whether to shit or go blind. I useta have to change him several times…”: ok, that’s it, Dad.

Since they will take after you in their choice of females, don’t be surprised, if you’re a guy like me, if she’s a psycho art major who chain smokes Camel lights and can beat you at poker and arm wrestling.

So there it is, as the Emperor said in Amadeus. Wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Keith Haring, Radiant Child

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