27 September 2008

The Fall Will Probably Kill Ya?

When I was in college, girls in the dorm who liked to put movie star posters on their walls, usually had one of two posters: the forever handsome but dead James Dean looking pretty cool in a motorcycle jacket with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, or a nearly black and white photograph of a very young, handsome Paul Newman, the only color in the poster being his ice-on-fire blue eyes. I was never inclined to put celebrity posters on the wall. No matter how handsome the subjects might have been, I didn't want photographs of movie stars on my walls. I thought it was uncool, something contrary to the intellectual type that I wanted so much to be. I wasn't a swooning teen, adoring a photograph of someone I would never meet.

Ten years later I bought my first house. It was an old house -- about 75 years -- in a very trendy neighborhood. The house wasn't quiet old enough to be inhabited by ghosts, but certainly old enough to have 'character', in real-estate parlance. That character and charm came with dozens of coats of paint, splintered floor boards, a maze of leaking pipes, a large family of mice, a 45 year old furnace the size of a minivan, and 15 beautiful cultivated rose bushes in the yard. And one poster of Paul Newman, his icy aqua blues sexily watching over the washing machine.

Since I was moving in as the previous owners were moving the last of their belongings, I reminded the woman that she had left her poster in the basement. "Blue Eyes?" she said. "It was there when I moved in. Been there for ten years before that according to the last owner. I just never bothered to take it down".

So I was left with the last thing in the world I would have doled out money for -- a celebrity movie star poster. "Must be hiding something on the wall", I thought, "maybe a Hole in the Wall". I peaked behind it. Just wallboard, slightly different in color than the surrounding wall. When I took it down the wall looked empty. That corner of the basement seemed mustier, darker, with a few more cobwebs. It was already spooky enough, as the laundry area was adjacent to a room with a dirt floor and an ominous "TS" spray painted on the wall. Maybe there could have been ghosts there. Or the skeletal bones of someone long forgotten. I put the poster back on the wall. I needed sexy blue-eyed Paul to look over me while I washed diapers and bibs.

I remodeled most of the house before I sold it. I had walls cave in after I discovered that, along with the mice, living in the walls was a termite colony. I tore out walls and floors and frayed electrical wires. I retiled the bath. I created a terrific kitchen with lots of light, new appliances and surplus counter space that any chef would give up her best knife for. I rescued the decorative tile around the fireplace, hidden for years under paint. I found glass doorknobs that matched at a flea-market and heating grates at a place that specialized in rescuing architectural gems from soon-to-be demolished old homes. Nearly everything changed -- except for the poster of Mr. Newman.

Mr. Blue Eyes guarded my dirty laundry for seven years. Some of those years were difficult ones for me, but seeing the poster over my washing machine frequently made me smile. It became a joke among my friends -- Paul watching me wash my lingerie. I didn't know much about Paul Newman then, other than he was an actor. His food company was only a few years old. I had never tasted his salad dressing, or marinara sauce, or popcorn. When I moved out, I thought about taking the poster with me. But Mr. Blue Eyes seemed to belong there, waiting for someone else's laundry. I think that presence is what has been missing from all the laundry rooms in the houses I've owned since. They have just been utilitarian laundry rooms with detergent, fabric softener, and hangers.

Several months ago one of my book groups read Newman's memoir Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good, co-authored with his business partner, A. E. Hotchner. Unlike a Hollywood memoir, the book barely mentioned that Paul Newman starred in movies. The title of the book is also the motto of Newman's Food Company, Newman's Own, a venture that he started as a joke. Never expecting to make any money, Newman and Hotchner decided at the onset that they would donate their profits to charity. While others might have thought that they were jumping off a cliff like Butch and Sundance, they went into business to have fun and to do some good. And good is what Newman's company has done by donating over $250 million to charities in the last 25 years.


I didn't have a poster of a movie star watching over my laundry after all. I had a picture of the kind of person who deserves to be a celebrity not because he was an actor or a race car driver (he was pretty good at that too!) but because he was an humanitarian.

Just for fun, in memory of Paul Newman:

The cliff scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid:

What a laugh Paul Newman had!

And a clip that is among the most romantic scenes from the movies:

Have some Newman's Own popcorn while you watch the clips.

Next time that you think about doing something to help someone, remember that despite the risks, you probably won't drown and the fall probably won't kill ya. Even if it is risky, take the chance, dare to do some good, and have fun.


(un)relaxeddad said...

Beautifully put - I've sent my boss a reminder of the sign on his office door - "If we ever get a plan, we're screwed." Words to live by!

Cam said...

Unrelaxed: As a project manager, I love that quote!

The only certainty in project planning is chaos. So why do I bother? Well, that's what they pay me to do. Ha! Besides, chaos is interesting at times.