(Publication date: Nov. 7, 2003)

Raised on Celluloid

I used to make day trips to Sacramento on business, and once I even hired a lobbyist and got a
law written. The measure passed both houses of the legislature and on the day the governor
signed it, I returned to Albany in the early afternoon, took three showers, and, finally clean
enough to celebrate, went to retrieve Allison early from daycare. Showing up before five
o’clock was unprecedented, and the look on her face asked three simultaneous questions: Is it
Christmas? Did I wake up in the middle of Candyland? Did Dad have nothing but ice cream
again for lunch?

I sat down next to her on the bench by the sandbox and asked my own question: “Hey, Sport,
you wanna go smell some popcorn?” She may have been five, but she was no dummy and she
knew what I was talking about. Presents under the tree, board games where she always wins,
and hot fudge sundaes for lunch, all rolled into one: We were going to play hooky at the movies.

Allison and I went to the Oaks on Solano Avenue that day, and I don’t remember what we saw.
But I do remember the first movie we ever took her to, at the Alhambra on Polk Street in San
Francisco. She was two years old, and it was
The Little Mermaid, which has ever since
remained my favorite in the remarkable renaissance of Disney animations. Start singing “Under
the Sea” to me and watch a grown man cry. (Get me singing it and you’ll cry too, but for a
different reason.)

Parker got his first cinema dose even earlier. He was in a snuggly on my chest at the movies
long before he was old enough to be terrified by the forest fire scene in

Over the years, the house rang with movie musical soundtracks, as we worked to improve the
bottom line for the guys over at Five Star Video on Solano. Allison knew every line of every
song from
Oklahoma!, including the demanding “Farmer and the Cowman.” Ditto Camelot--we
probably drove the rest of the family nuts with our duet version of Lancelot’s “C’est Moi.”
(What casting genius put Franco Nero in that role?) And it’s never stopped. A couple of weeks
ago in Five Star, Allison ignored everything new and grabbed
Kiss Me Kate. I bypassed the
musicals in favor of
Alien, and soon Parker and I were sitting together in front of it in the
family room, hands motionless in the popcorn bowl, flash-frozen in fear.

But there are businesses besides the estimable Five Star Video to keep afloat. Movie theaters,
for example. By the time our whole family made it to
Pirates of the Caribbean together, I was
seeing it for the third time. For Parker, it was at least Trip #4.  And you don’t even want to
know how many times Allison and her friends, a few years before, s
ank with the Titanic.

Wanna go smell some popcorn? is now part of the family lexicon. If I never accomplish
anything else as a parent, and most days I think I never will, I can always fall back on the fact
that, so far anyway, in response to that question, Allison and Parker almost always say yes.

Both of them are on stage now in Albany school productions, and as we watch them up there, I
sometimes wonder if all those incessant movies had anything to do with it. But I really don’t
care whether that was it.

Well, maybe I care a little.

Life Is a Movie