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Philadelphia’s Naked Bike Ride Is “Canceled Because Of Pandemic” read the headline. Turned out that was in the paper yesterday, and even though nothing is older than that, it put a smile on my face just now when I saw it, so I’m passing it on to you.

Maybe more than anything else, I think it’s important to keep smiles on our faces right now. The Naked Bike Ride did that, and so did the opening round of last night’s Democratic Party Convention. So inspiring to see former rivals banding together to put aside differences in favor of the common good-all brothers and sisters singing different parts in the same choir. Amen.

Do you know the film Sullivan’s Travels? Preston Sturges, whose life can be summed up by the title of his biography Between Flops, was a much better director than that. When Barbara was at Sloane Kettering for her first round of chemo which lasted about 5 weeks, Sturges kept us sane… and smiling. We were both trying to figure out how to play this new hand we had been dealt, and I confess that I was neither as good at it nor as brave as she was. I am more of a learned caregiver than a naturally born one and I struggled to get it right. With battalions of the best nurses ever coming in at all hours, and the immensity of our journey becoming clearer by the day and trying our best to keep it one day at a time, we needed some distractions. It was hard to read, tv was…well…tv. And then we stumbled upon the films of Sturges. We went through the whole lot, from The Great McGinnty to The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend. And every evening we laughed and laughed as we watched his clever audacity unfolding before us. Did anyone ever make better film comedies than he did? If you’re looking for something to do to get you out of a pessimistic mood. Please sit down with Sturges for a couple of hours. And you might want to start with Sullivan.

Sturges made the film in part in response to what he saw as the simplistic and hypocritical political stance of Frank Capra’s films of the same period. (Of if only Mitch McConnell would behave as Claude Rains did who, in a moment of supreme deus ex machina, confessed his crimes and those of his corrupt machine backers on the floor of the senate, allowing the callow but honorable Jimmy Stewart to carry the day).

Like Charlie Brown teeing up for one more attempt at the football, a part of me, especially after what I watched last night, says, “yes, he might.” Too Capra, huh.

But right now, we need to smile and, hopefully, laugh with optimism, fueled by what brings us together and celebrates the decency in each of us and the compassion we have for each other.

At the very end of the movie, the studio boss tells Sullivan to go ahead and make Oh, Brother. “It will be the great movie you dreamed of.”

Sully’s response: “I don’t want to make a great movie. I don’t want to make Oh Brother Where Art Thou. I want to do what I do best and that’s make comedy.There’s a lot to be said for making people laugh, do you know that’s all that some people have. It isn’t much, but it’s better than nothing in this cockeyed caravan. Boy!”

So three cheers for what we all do best and getting the most out of our own, individual gifts.

As the Germans say:

Sei Immer du selbst,
ausser, du kannst ein Einhorn sein.
Dann sei ein
Always be yourself, unless you can be a unicorn. Then be a UNICORN.

Sometimes when you’re not even looking that just might just add up to a great movie. Ya never know. And don’t forget to vote.


Jim Niesen


Author Irondale

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