I’ll see anything with Philip Seymour Hoffman. The same goes for Liam Neeson, though for different reasons. Both are fine actors, but Liam Neeson is quite fine. He was the reason I paid full price to see “Non-Stop” in a theater. Philip Seymour Hoffman was the reason my husband B and I ventured to the Brooklyn Heights Cinema to see “A Most Wanted Man,” based on the John le Carre novel.
It was a rare summer Saturday that was free of graduations, weddings, birthdays, and barbecues. B and I had decided to indulge with brunch at a diner, a stroll along the Brooklyn Promenade, lite cinematic fare at an independent movie house, and a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. I am the ultimate multi-tasker, my own worst and relentless task master, and I enjoyed the slowed pace of the day—though it may not have been apparent from the way I panned everything. I’m a glass-half-empty type of woman, so that’s how I roll. I loved watching the easy mix and interaction of humans and canines along the promenade, but the walkway was too short. B and I did a U-turn at the promenade’s end at Pierrepont Place and walked back to where we had entered at Middagh Street. I hate out-and-back loops.
The rain and showers predicted that morning never happened, so B and I crossed the bridge post-movie. The sky was slightly overcast and the slight breeze refreshing in the diffused sunlight. My absorbent fro grew to four times the size of my head from the lingering humidity. Foreigners and locals were awed by the views that had fueled so many of my past runs across the bridge: Liberty Island and Governor’s Island; the iconic skyline of lower Manhattan; the river and its traffic of ferries, sightseeing cruises, sail boats, kayaks, and speed boats. The bridge crossers all around us were marveled but not moved: they stopped short for group photos and selfies, clogged the walkways and bike paths, and interrupted purposeful bridge-crossers like me.
“A Most Wanted Man” was not the type of novel I’d read, but B and I both enjoyed the intriguing, if un-challenging, plot and action. Philip Seymour Hoffman did a fine enough job as the stock male lead typical of those macho books and films: the roguish intelligence (or law enforcement or military) guy who’s scarred by a past mission where his unintended error cost lives. He’s fucked by guilt and the powers that be, and can never forget that one mistake. He might seem cold, distant, an asshole. He’s hard drinking, chain smoking, and inaccessible, but it’s a shield against getting hurt again. Underneath it all, our hero is the one loyal, true guy who will never fuck you.
It was so predictable, I said to B. I could write such boiler plate plots while I sat on the toilet. I thought about it. I could have myself a really nice toilet if I wrote the type of mass market novels that sold at CVS and airports and were adapted for films. I could have a custom-made writing chair, ergonomically correct and designed to accommodate my petite proportions. It could look like a toilet if that’s what I ordered. I could muse about chasing scoundrels, downing whiskeys, and avenging wrongs while I sat on my throne, positioned before the full-glass wall of my study in our floor-through, top-floor residence in one of those fancy glass buildings all around and below us. I could get B his own custom-made toilet with a heated seat and a motion-activated night light for nocturnal trips to the throne. If that life was so easy to attain, why didn’t I go for it?
I know what it’s like to write just for the money. That kind of life gave me daily diarrhea. Financial services had been a lucrative gig for a writer before the economy tanked, but there was no fulfillment in trying to make tax law sound sexy or forensic accounting services morally essential and redemptive. During those years, I had separated myself into worker-drone Nancy, who completed her work more than competently, and real-me Nancy, who shrank daily. The day worker-drone Nancy was downsized because my “role did not align with the strategic goals of the organization,” real-me Nancy was just a shell of someone I used to be. I had invested so many years writing about things I didn’t give a shit about for people who didn’t give a shit about me. I made some money, but I lost myself.
Six years ago I received a literal second chance at my one life. That’s a rare opportunity, a true gift. I’ve learned a lot of hard lessons. Walking on that bridge with B, I knew exactly why I didn’t choose the seemingly easy-money routes. I’m many things: grumpy, pessimistic, crotchety, cheap, impatient, unforgiving. It’s humiliating to acknowledge those things about myself, but I’ve also learned to be grateful. I try to live a life that appreciates, values, sometimes even celebrates, the second chance I’ve been granted. Even a glass-half-empty woman like me thinks there’s got to be a reason for that.
It would have been nice to get B that heated toilet seat. It was fun to dream about those thrones, but I doubt either of us will live poorer lives without them.