Early Monday morning, we lost one of the greats. I grew up in the 80’s. I spent many days after school and during my summers watching movies by Harold Ramis. I had a major crush on him and Bill Murray in Stripes. My dad once told me when he heard I was going in the Navy, he thought of me as Private Benjamin, but I thought myself more like the characters John and Russell, played by Bill Murray and Harold Ramis, respectively, in the movie Stripes.
I was not the type to wish for a manicure and lunch. Yes, I was a manicurist, but before I started beauty school at age 16, the only manicurist I pictured was the one Bugs Bunny played in that great cartoon with the orange monster. Yes, I once aspired to be a hairdresser, but that was not for me because I could not roll a perm. So, I chose to skip the hair and go straight to the nail license. But I still wanted more.
While in beauty school, I loved learning about the different combinations of chemicals and how they worked together on a molecular level, so I looked into starting my general education requirements toward some kind of science degree.
Back when I was in the 4th grade, I wanted to be a doctor, but was told I could not be, because I had no penis. It was 1981 and I was seriously misinformed, but part of a large Italian family where women were groomed to think popping out a few kids and marrying a man who will take care of you, to be a life goal. It never sat well with me. In the 7th grade, I discovered my grandmother’s typewriter. Back then, they had typing classes and a lot of my writing started out as typing drills, but even before that I wrote short stories. My favorite author at the time was Stephen King (Pre IT.) My writing was pretty dark and it got darker in my teens. I didn’t share it with any one. I was afraid of being laughed at.
I repeated the 8th grade and found I had a love for performing live theatre. I was in a play about pirates. The whole drama class wrote it. We did the script, made our own costumes and I had a pretty big part. I was kidnapped by pirates. I had a big scene where I screamed on stage and was chased by pirates through our school’s multipurpose room. It was the biggest thing I had done in my young life- not bigger than holding my younger sister and brother on their way home from the hospital. (it was the 70’s) So it was the third most important thing I had done. And my dad took pictures of everything. I was so excited that my big theatrical moment would be recorded forever on Kodak Paper. But my dad forgot to bring his camera.
|“Convicted? No, never convicted.”
I don’t know if that was a turning point for me, but I did go back to smoking the sweet stinky weed that got me held back to repeat the 8th grade. So, I went back to smoking copious amounts of pot, but very briefly. I quit in 9th grade, after I met the most wonderful teacher I would ever meet. Sure, there
were some great teachers, but Mr. Hoctor, well, he made me want to show up to school. I would actually ditch other classes to sit in on his other classes. He’s retired now. His classes made me want to be a better me. In one class, I did a scene from Annie Hall with this really cute guy I had a secret crush on and got to kiss during rehearsal and on stage. I had to kill a spider- the size of a Buick, for his neurotic character. I had so much fun, I wanted more. Then Mr. Hoctor did a class trip to see Second City perform. Leaving the theatre, I thought, “I want to do that.”
I wanted to do what they did on stage. I had no idea how, but it’s what I wanted to do. Mr. Hoctor began teaching improvisation and a show was created. I tried out for it and got a part as one of the players. I was so excited, but then, I let my head get in the way. I eventually dropped out, claiming stage fright before opening night. I have to say not only was that a douchetastic move by me to to my fellow actors and my drama teacher, I also hurt myself the most buy not believing in myself.
So buried myself in other goals. I finished ROP classes to get my manicurist license, graduated high school one year early (or on time if you don’t count the being held back part) and tried to be a responsible adult. I realized I did not want to be a manicurist forever and looked to college. That’s why I joined the Navy. I wanted to “get out of Dodge” and earn money for college. A friend of mine recently earned his B.S. in biology and I wanted to earn my B.S. I was sure what science, I just knew that I loved science in general, but more than anything, I wanted to have the initials B.S. after my name. So, I joined the Navy.
I finished up my “hitch”, got out got diagnosed with scleroderma, then sarcoidosis. I spent my mid twenties up until now, in doctor’s offices and hospitals. Sure, I worked as much as I could, but my “career” title was really: Professional patient. Yes, I could be called professional because the Veteran’s Administration paid me a pension because I am 100% service connected. -and yes, that is a whole other post.
My point? Decades after I first saw the movies Stripes, Animal House, Caddyshack and Ghostbusters- they are still my go to movies. I spent lots of time in hospitals, on bed rest or just plain alone, in excruciating pain no doctor understood or knew how to treat for 16 years. Lines from these movies inspired me to make fun of my pain. My high school drama teacher inspired me to customize my speech therapy to songs and exercises, and be fearless about singing. I probably can’t carry a tune in a bucket, but Mr. Hoctor once told our class: Anyone can sing, you just have to commit to it. So, I sing in the shower, in my car and take amazing chances endangering anyone within earshot. Except for my son, who thinks I have a beautiful voice. And really, his ears are the ones that matter most.
Today, I read that Harold Ramis had an autoimmune disease. I never knew that. Harold Ramis will not be remembered for his illness. He will be remembered for the great joy and laughter he brought to millions. For me, it was very personal. I never met the guy, I just loved his work. It inspired my sense of humor. Today, he inspired me to be remembered not for my illness, but the joy I want to bring others with laughter. I love to write. I also love to stand in front of a group of people and see if I can make them laugh.
I want to get people to stop paying attention to the way my hands look and hear what I have to say. I want to make them laugh and forget themselves. I want to be so good at it, they forget about my hands and allow me to make them laugh. I want to be remembered the way Harold Ramis will be remembered; for the way he made people forget themselves, enjoy their day, and just laugh and be happy, if only while I had their attention.
I owe so much to Harold Ramis and my high school drama teacher, Mr. Hoctor. I couldn’t write this without mentioning my drama teacher. He planted so many seeds. Harold Ramis’ work, prepared the soil. It only took me 25 years to water the garden. I also feel very fortunate to have parents with a pretty cool video library, and friends with the same great taste in movies.
Thank you for reading. Now please, go watch a Harold Ramis Movie and have yourself a good laugh!