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Nonsense and sensitivity

Meredith L. Cohen

When it comes to my sensitivity, no known limits exist. Watching “The Silence of the Lambs” last weekend for the umpteenth time since its 1991 release, the obviously disturbing parts of the film – Hannibal Lecter biting a chunk out of the jail guard’s cheek, Miggs mashing his face against the prison bars and hissing lewd comments at Clarice as she walks to Lecter’s dank asylum cell, every time Buffalo Bill speaks – weren’t the parts that bothered me most. No, the parts that trouble me every time I see the film involve neither the cannibal nor the pre-op transsexual serial killer, but the poodle. When Precious, Buffalo Bill’s dog, ends up in the muddy pit with the kidnapped Catherine, I feel tormented wondering whether the dog really broke her leg on the way down. I cringe when Catherine seemingly squeezes Precious until she cries and ponder how Buffalo Bill will get Precious safely out of the pit if he shoots Catherine. When the film ends with a freed Catherine carrying Precious out of the house to a waiting helicopter, I pray they’ll first stop at a veterinarian’s office to check on Precious’ leg and worry what will happen to Precious if Catherine decides against adoption. No matter how many times I read “Romeo and Juliet,” I never cease to be shocked and upset when the star-crossed lovers die. (Damn that Romeo for being so impetuous.) The commercial where the army kid surprises his family at Christmas by waking them up with the aroma of freshly brewed Folgers just wrecks me. Stock in Kleenex tissues rises whenever I watch the scene in “Terms of Endearment” when Shirley MacLaine screams at the nurses for Debra Winger’s pain medication. My eyes produce enough salt water to rival the Pacific Ocean at high tide during the “Sex and the City” episode when Aidan proposes to Carrie. Jerry McGuire had me at “hello,” too.If past years are any indication, my eyes will well up with tears of happiness for the victorious Super Bowl quarterback when he announces during a morning news commercial break on Monday that he’s going to Disneyland. Of course those tears will come after the ones of sadness are inevitably triggered tomorrow night when the TV cameras show the family of the losing quarterback watching him as he watches the winning team celebrate. (Never mind that I haven’t a clue which teams are playing and can’t name the quarterback from either – or any – team.)I’ve often argued that it would be easier for other people to be sensitive to the fact that I’m sensitive rather than for me to attempt to be less sensitive. However, the consensus, especially of late, is that I need to get some thicker skin.My fiancé noted at brunch the other day that his bacon was so greasy he needed to blot it with a napkin. I immediately assumed he was implying that I should have blotted my bacon, too. Upon hearing my assumption, he immediately assumed I need intensive psychiatric care.When I was little, my dad used to come home from work each night and ask me if I had cried that day. The waterworks were activated just from him asking the question. It was a running family joke. I’m still not laughing. They still are.And then there’s the “A Million Little Pieces” soap opera. I devoted Thanksgiving weekend to reading James Frey’s gut-wrenching, soul-baring narrative of his stint in rehab. When the investigative website The Smoking Gun first reported last month that some of the particulars in the book were fabricated, like Oprah, it didn’t change my opinion about Frey’s account of his struggle, since those details weren’t crucial to the essence of his recovery. But when Frey admitted to Oprah a week later that he made up information about every character in the book, including himself, I was pissed. But now that he’s been dropped by his literary agent and federal class action suits are being filed by readers across the country seeking everything from reimbursement for the cost of the book to $10 million for emotional injuries sustained on account of his lies, I kind of feel bad for him. As far as I’m concerned, sitting three feet from Oprah and admitting on TV to the millions of scorned readers who paved his way to becoming the number two best-selling non-fiction author of 2005 that he fooled them is punishment enough. Nevertheless, the saga continues and Frey’s got to be curled up in a little ball in a dark room somewhere wondering how it is that the book that he initially shopped around as a work of fiction is causing people to utter his name in the same breath as Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass. And now I’m sort of feeling worse for me than him – if it’s possible, I might be spending more time than he is thinking about how he got himself into this mess, if he has a future as a published author and if he can stay sober along the way. I’ve tried to toughen up in the past, but the efforts are always in vain. Precious be damned, I always say. I can vow for a time to no longer get misty-eyed at telephone commercials (although is there really a dry eye in the house when the ad runs where the grandson calls his grandma and she opens her front door and he’s standing on the stoop?). I’ve tried hard not to weep for people I’ve never met, those who I read about or who are fictitious, but have ever only had modest, temporary successes.And in all honesty, with Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I just don’t see how I’ll be able to avoid TBS’ customary “Sleepless in Seattle” marathon. Who can help but sob when Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks finally meet atop the Empire State Building with her clutching his motherless son’s teddy bear? After all, I’m not a monster. Meredith Cohen feels especially sorry for anyone whose parents failed to pass on one of life’s most basic lessons: If you have nothing nice to say about someone, say nothing at all. Questions or comments may be e-mailed to meredith_cohen@hotmail.com


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