Movie review: “The More the Merrier” (1943)

more the merrier

“The More the Merrier” is one of those movies that seems very ordinary until it sneaks up on you and bites you on the butt.

It sounds unremarkable in synopsis: Washington DC working woman Jean Arthur decides (for patriotic reasons) to rent out half her apartment, because there’s a housing shortage. She (reluctantly) ends up with grandfatherly wiseguy Charles Coburn as a roommate. He almost instantly rents half of his half-apartment to handsome young Joel McCrea, who’s doing some kind of mysterious government work.

And, as they say, hijinks ensue.

Unpromising, right? But it’s full of delights.

First of all: Jean Arthur. She’s almost forgotten now, but she was a great comedienne with a voice that was husky and squeaky at the same time, and she had terrific comic timing and a very expressive face.

Second: Charles Coburn. He’s sly and sympathetic, and is obviously plotting to get Joel and Jean together from the very outset. (He won an Academy Award for this performance, by the way.)

Third (and not least): Joel McCrea. You know how I feel about him. He’s not traditionally handsome – his nose is a little pointy – but he’s intensely masculine without being threatening or boorish, and he has the best smile.

Some of my favorite scenes:

–         McCrea and Coburn charge around the apartment making choo-choo-train noises, pretending to keep up with Jean Arthur’s ridiculously precise morning schedule.

–         McCrea and Coburn lie on the roof, on their stomachs, reading the Dick Tracy comic strip from the paper, while Jean Arthur watches them with bemusement. (Coburn reads Tracy; McCrea does the voice of the Leopard Lady.)

–         Jean Arthur, in her room, turns on some Latin dance music, and dances to it, all by herself. (She even turns her head to check out her own butt). In the next room over, Joel McCrea (in bathrobe) slowly begins to do the same step, also all by himself. And in the next room over from that, Charles Coburn does a few steps too.

–         Joel McCrea jumps into the shower, removes his bathrobe (after getting it soaking wet!), and proceeds to slap himself all over and bark like a seal, while Jean Arthur listens in astonishment from her bedroom.

–         An astonishing scene in which Jean Arthur describes her engagement to her “fiancé Mr. Pendergast,” while Joel McCrea makes love to her and kisses her. This scene is hotter than Hades, kids! And this is something Joel McCrea does very well; he did a similar scene in “The Palm Beach Story.” The message he communicates is: “I know you think you love someone else. But I love you, and I know you love me too.” It’s a very powerful message, and he communicates it better than any actor I’ve ever seen.

This is a classic movie. It’s small, but perfect in its way. It reminds me of Jane Austen’s remark about carving her “two inches of ivory.”

“The More the Merrier” is two inches of perfectly carved ivory. And (as Jane reminds us) two inches of perfectly-carved ivory can be very lovely.

DIY religion

diy religion

Back during chemotherapy, while I was lounging in my recliner imbibing toxins through a tube in my arm and Partner was watching “Let’s Make A Deal” on the retractable TV, a young hospital chaplain named Meredith came around to check on our spiritual needs. We politely let her know that we were all set, thanks very much, but she (like chaplains through the ages) was stubborn enough to chat with us for a while. She complimented us on being such a close couple, and quoted something I’d heard once before about “for better and for worse.” She left before she became too obnoxious, so I liked her. “Did you notice,” I said to Partner after she left, “that she never quite mentioned any one religion? Very non-committal and non-denominational.”

“I like that,” Partner said. “I could get behind a religion like that.”
“I think,” I said,” that there is a religion like that.”
So, a few weeks later, we both got ourselves ordained as ministers in the Universal Life Church.
Ordination is free; you need only provide name and email address. For a couple of bucks, they will send you gewgaws like a wallet card and an ordination certificate and a press pass (evidently for when I’m interviewing the Metropolitan of Constantinople). After that, you need only follow the church’s one dictum, which is “do only that which is right.” (They further define that you must peacefully determine what’s right in every case; no gunplay and no rassling allowed.)
Partner and I are both obnoxiously pleased about this. We are both in the process of determining the dogmas of our new church. Mine is going to involve wearing a lot of pink and purple. (I determined peacefully that I like both, and why not? Also, pink and purple are both perfectly nice devotional colors; look at the candles in any Advent wreath if you don’t believe me.) I will use a lot of multidenominational texts involving silence. (Examples: “Let all the earth keep silence before the Lord,” from Habakkuk in the Jewish Bible; “Sky says nothing,” from the Analects of Confucius; “The way that can be spoken of is not the true way,” from the Tao Te Ching; and maybe also “That which we cannot speak of, we must pass over in silence,” the last line of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus.) My services will begin with maybe a piece of music, the reading of a text like one of the above, and then a kind of community silent meditation, the way the Society of Friends does it.
Also, did I mention the pink and purple?
Religion should be fun. It should be participatory, and it should be meaningful to the people who participate. If they crave mystery, well, life is crammed full of mysteries; meditate on a few of those. And if they crave certainty, there are lots of those too. Just think about them quietly, would you?
Partner has thought about his church too. He wants it to welcome all comers, and he would allow them to worship any god they please, and intends to forbid proselytizing.


(I hope it also involves hats. Partner and I both look good in hats, and I hope he and I can lead some ecumenical programs down the road, once we’ve established ourselves as pillars of our respective faiths.)

For Christmas: Fairuz sings “Jingle Bells” in Arabic

I wasn’t going to put out a Christmas special this year until I happened upon this: Fairuz, one of the most popular Arabic singers, doing “Jingle Bells.” This version has very sweet subtitles which are mainly pretty good, but are charmingly goofy when they go off the rails.

Who is it, do you suppose, who’s delivering all those dates? And what’s with the bracelet?

Happy Christmas to all.

Update: twice a week

twice a week

I have been fooling around with this blog again, now that my energy is coming back, and have decided that two blogs a week (Sunday and Thursday) are perfectly sufficient for now – for myself (to make myself feel productive) and for all of you readers (so that you don’t have to read too much of my drivel).




Now and then there will be a special post – like this one – but they will almost always be short or topical or informational or seasonally-oriented.




How’s that for a deal?




Happy Christmas from your sleepy little friend . . . .


Patti Page maple syrup

patti page

It’s time to think about holiday giving. People aren’t getting much from me this year; if I have the strength to bake a few Russian teacakes and put them in cute little containers, that’ll be about the size of it.

But some years I do better. There are always catalog gifts (who doesn’t like a cheese wheel?). And sometimes I come up with something absolutely brilliant, which then falls flat.

One year Partner came up with the best gift ever: bottles of Patti Page maple syrup, straight from New Hampshire. Patti Page was a 1950s singer who, upon retirement, moved north, bought a maple orchard, and started bottling her own syrup. The syrup was okay, but the bottle was incredible.  There was a little light-activated mechanism inside the cap; as soon as you opened the bottle, Patti warbled a little sugary-sweet maple-syrup song.

This was absolutely perfect, I thought. So I bought half-a-dozen bottles, and sent them out, and  –

Almost no response. “Thanks for the syrup,” I got from one or two people.

Then, over the next few years, I started getting little messages from those same people. “Did you know that that bottle of syrup sings a song? We just opened it, and –“

Oh yes. It took some of them two years or so to open my gift.

Merry Christmas!

Doctors and nurses

doctors and nurses

I have not since my birth overnighted in a hospital, until this last November. Then my white-cell count crashed and I became neutropenic (no dirty jokes, thank you), and I had to spend seven nights in a nice local hospital.

It really wasn’t so bad. I was often sedated, naturally. The noises at night can be a little unearthly, all kinds of hoots and hollers and cries, but if you think of it as an indoor camping trip, you won’t be too far from the mark.

I learned a lot. I learned that morphine makes me see handwriting on the wall where there is none, and faces where there are none. I learned that only a qualified medical professional can tie and untie a hospital johnny from the back.
Most interestingly, I learned a lot about the difference between doctors and nurses.
If you want to continue the camping metaphor, you might think of the nurses as the flowers on the forest floor, and the doctors as the trees. Nurses are far more colorful; they can and do wear whatever colors they like. Doctors are monochrome – usually white. Nurses are everywhere; doctors sprout up only here and there. Nurses tend to be bright and cheerful (with a few exceptions); doctors are a little on the stiff-and-somber side.
Nurses fall silent when doctors enter the room. We all of us, patients and nurses and guests, wait for the eighty-five-dollar-a-word advice to fall, pearl by limpid pearl, from those doctors’ lips. Nurses try their best not to impede the grave to-and-fro passage of the doctors from ward to ward, floor to floor, room to room. (Questions are met by: “I know they’ve begun rounds. I’m sure they’ll be here shortly.” The nurses try very hard not to get your hopes up; they can do just about everything, but they can’t say the magic words that will pronounce you cured and get you into a speeding wheelchair headed for the exit.)

I was lucky, in that about every single one of my nurses and doctors was wonderful (with a few tiny aberrations, which you generally have to chalk up to being human). I did see one doctor come close to telling off a nurse for something – I think for using an alternate drug protocol; to be fair, I knew the nurse and know that she would never do anything to endanger the life of a patient, and the doctor looked young and sniffy and full of inferiority complex, so we will leave it at that. I know who I was rooting for.
At any rate, during my week in the hospital, I learned enough about medicine to pass some kind of premed exam.
Too bad I can’t stand the sight of blood ‘n guts. Otherwise I’d be a whiz of a medical professional.


Almost better

almost better




I am almost better. I am no longer in treatment, and they are no longer cooking my throat with radiation, and I can actually tell a difference. Chemotherapy is now also a thing of the past, and the nasty side-effects are subsiding. I am still waiting for some of the lingering stuff to pass: the fatigue, the come-and-go voice (I sound, when I speak, something like Tallulah Bankhead and/or Lucille Ball, with maybe a little mid-career Lindsay Lohan thrown in), the inability to swallow. (The latter is coming back a bit; I managed to sip some water and juice the other day without coughing, and I was very excited.)



Anyway. I am also writing again, so evidently my energy is coming back. I can’t promise a daily blog, but I can promise something once in a while – maybe once a week or so – until I am back to my usual rude vigor.



Aren’t you pleased?


R words

r words

Wednesday, December 11, 2013 was the day of my last radiation treatment. I had my final chemotherapy treatment the week before, on Tuesday, December 3.



I am done with treatment. I am now in Recovery.



Recovery would be lovely if it took place in a day, or maybe two. It does not. As one waggish commentator said online: “The radiation doesn’t stop cooking you all at once. It keeps simmering for a while.”






Also, there are the naggingly minor side effects, like the sore throat that makes it almost impossible to swallow, and the bizarrely twisted sense of taste. (I long for real tastes, and for solid food. I was reading the biography of Muriel Spark the other day and found a mention of Muriel having drinks with Edith Sitwell – “iced gin with grapefruit juice” – that almost made me burst into tears.)



My energy is returning, which is not necessarily a good thing. I have lots of get-up-and-go, but very little to do. Christmas is useful, because I can use my time making lists, checking them twice, etc. I can organize books on my bookshelves. I can write little feuilletons like this one, when I can summon up enough brain cells to do so.



And I can day by day think about my improvement. I needed less pain medication today. My throat was less obstructed today. I slept a straight four hours last night!



So much for recovery.



There’s another R word that I don’t even want to think about right now, for fear of jinxing myself: Remission.



Remission is the absence of cancer. My radiation oncologist (who is not normally the soul of Christmas good cheer) tells me, with his gargoyle’s grin, that he cannot see any sign of the original tumor in my throat when he looks down inside. (That is, of course, with the naked eye. He is not Superman and does not have X-ray vision.) This is excellent news, and I will be having several more tests over the next few weeks and months to confirm this. Back in September, when this whole cavalcade began, I had a Stage IV tumor (“roughly the size of a Meyer lemon,” according to another clever little Internet source) under or beside my left tonsil, along with an assortment of nastily swollen lymph nodes. Now – who knows? The whole kit and caboodle appear to be gone.



I say again: they appear to be gone.



We Reassure ourselves with the good cheer of our doctors that the treatments Really Really worked. We don’t ever want to go through that kind of treatment again. (The first month or so was nothing at all. The last few weeks were Repulsive.)



So here’s to the future, and to another day of Recovery.



And you know what? The new season of Ru Paul’s Drag Race begins in a month or so.



So I have something to look forward to after all.



(Also: doesn’t the rhino in the illustration above look like a hippo to you?)


Chemo brain

chemo brain

One of my cancer-survivor friends used the expression “chemo brain” in conversation to me very casually a few months ago. “I came back to work one day,” she said, “and I sat through a meeting, but I had chemo brain something fierce, so I just went back to my office and addressed envelopes.”



Now I know what she was talking about.



Kids, it’s not so bad. It’s like a mild harmless form of dementia. It takes my current charming state of forgetfulness and turns it into a comedy routine.



Example: I take a pill and then stare into my hand, wondering if I took the pill or not.



Example: I go blank in the middle of stirring something, come to, and wonder how long I’ve been stirring.



Example: I bought some kosher salt the other day, used it, put it away, and then spent ten minutes looking for it again. It was adorable, like watching your dog (or your grandfather) spin around in the middle of the room, hopelessly confused. I searched the same shelf four times! I even took everything out of a cupboard and put it back together again! (The next morning I suddenly realized that the salt was in the pantry closet, right where it belonged. Smart mommy after all!)



Ah, the sweet bafflement of the elderly, and those of us under chemical control.



Enjoy our antics, kids.



Someday it’ll be you.


Update, Dec 1 2013


I started my treatments (simultaneous chemotherapy and radiation) in mid-October; I get chemo every Monday (it takes about 3 hours) and radiation five mornings a week (each session is about ten minutes long). The standard protocol for this kind of cancer is seven weeks’ therapy, which brings us to early/mid December.



Weeks One and Two were easy. I was able to work almost a full schedule, and felt almost no side effects at all. (I did notice that Thursdays were bad days for tiredness, malaise, etc.).



Week Three began to get interesting. One evening I discovered that my beard hairs were falling out by the dozens, so I shaved the whole thing off.  My sense of taste went wonky – almost everything tasted awful, like cigarette ashes and cardboard. Acidic and spicy foods were literally painful. Ice cream was okay for a while, and marshmallows, but I was eating less and less because the flavors and sensations were so unpleasant.



Week Four: now I was feeling it. I got very dehydrated (my own fault for not getting enough water). My old friend the kidney stone decided he wanted some attention too, so now I was taking pain medication both for my throat and my kidney. Swallowing was now becoming very painful too; I was reduced to eating soup and crackers, and I knew I was losing weight. Still going to work most days, but seldom for more than a few hours; I was generally very tired most of the time.



Weeks Five and Six: finally decided to stay home full-time and rest. Using my feeding tube now – frankly, much easier and efficient than I thought it would be. My daily menu is six cans of Ensure Plus, two each for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus lots of water.



On Friday of Week Five, I got very listless and warm; Partner took me to Miriam Hospital, where they determined that my white blood cell count had crashed over a period of a few days, and I had an opportunistic infection (probably thrush). I spent seven days there, absorbing intravenous antibiotics and waiting for my blood count to get back to normal. (The number in question, my Absolute Neutrophil Count, was around 300 when they checked me in; 1500+ is normal, and anything under 500 is dangerous.)



Anyway, so seven days in the hospital. I was perfectly comfortable, and all of the nurses and doctors were wonderful.  Partner spent time with me mornings and evenings. My voice is terrible – sometimes I can’t speak at all – which made communication with the nurses and nurses’ aides and doctors very interesting sometimes. (I ended up using a “conversation book” – if I wanted to say something more profound than “yes” or “no,” I wrote in my little red notebook and handed it to the person I was talking to.)



I was released on Friday, Nov 29 (ANC count 1000+), and am glad to be home. I’ve already resumed treatments; I have only eight radiation sessions to go, and one (or possibly two) chemo sessions. The completion date is still around December 11.



Good news: everyone agrees that the tumor and the accompanying lymph nodes are shrinking very rapidly. My neck is reddish and looks sunburnt, but everyone thinks the area looks very good. My throat’s painful, of course, and I generate mucus like an opened fire hydrant, but things could be worse. (The header picture was taken this morning a little after 3am. Notice that I have ditched the hospital pajamas. I think I look like Gale Gordon as Mister Mooney, getting ready to reprimand Mrs. Carmichael for something.)



Thanks to all for your kind thoughts and comments.

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