Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Happily Ever After

Emerging from Fringe world to write this post...apologies to anyone who is looking at the blog and asking, "WTF?"

So I had this very weird experience at the gym yesterday. I was on the elliptical, listening to my iPod and watching the little TV with closed captioning (this is my way, and I am very particular about it!) Since American Justice, Fashion Files, Seinfeld or any other of my standards were not on I was flipping and came across the last ten minutes of 'Dirty Dancing'.

Did you just gasp? So did I. (If you are a woman born between 1970 and 1980, you probably did.) I haven't seen it a long time, and I was thrilled to see Johnny declare to Jerry Orbach 'Nobody puts Baby in a corner,' and sweep an adorable, pre-plastic surgery Jennifer Grey onto the dance floor. And making the lift? Forget it, I was welling up right in the middle of the downtown Y.

And here's the thing I realized, watching the end of this movie again, they sort of end up together. Like, there they are dancing, in the middle of the floor, making out a bit, gazing into each others eyes, and...credits roll. So its a happy ending...a Hollywood Happily Ever After if you will.

Did you know that was how the movie ended? Because I sure didn't. I must have seen it twenty times before the 80's were over, and yet, I always "understood" that in the end, although Johnny is absolved as not the "one who got Penny in trouble" and Baby is redeemed to her father after "looking wonderful up there", in the end they part good friends. I just knew that after the credits, Baby goes off to college, realizes all that the world really has to offer a young woman with her brains and means, and she goes on to meet someone in law school, or medical school, or some other nice Jewish profession. Johnny, with a new sense of self, goes back to school, or maybe enrolls in learning a trade, and makes a respectable living for himself. He probably met a nice lady, more in his economic class, closer to his age, but never forgot what Baby did for him.

And there I am, sweating my patootie off on the elliptical at the gym going, "Hold up, wait minute," realizing for the first time that that is not how the movie ends at all. At the end of the movie, we are led to believe they may in fact live happily ever after.

How did I get so confused? I was only 9 when the movie came out, it's unlikely I came up with the whole "Baby-goes-off-to-college" alternative ending myself. It all clicked suddenly. My mother must have put the idea in my head. There I was romanticizing the idea of Johnny in his leather jacket and dancing pants, and she stepped in and put an end to that right away. And sent Baby off to college, no less. A nice touch.

Sure. She was no fool. She didn't want me growing up and looking at the Johnnys of the world in spite of the Neils. She didn't want me to fetishize the shcutzim (non-Jewish men) and end up with some poor, artistic good looking guy just out of LOVE.

OK, so that last part may have backfired on her. And no, its not that my mom didn't want me to find love, it's just that she didn't see love and financial stability and mutually exclusive. And she wasn't wrong. In fact, she was pretty smart, because she had me fooled until this past weekend that the end of Dirty Dancing is a bitter sweet goodbye where everything works out for the best.

And her little white lie had a secondary outcome, one she could not have foreseen, but that may have been the most valuable part of all. Imagining that Baby and Johnny didn't end up together, that she went on to college and that he was just the first of a lifetime of experiences and lovers, sort of gave me the freedom to imagine that getting the guy, and ending up hitched isn't the sum of a lifetime. And that relationships are worth having even if they are not forever; there is always something to be learned, to be cherished. In the end, it was really quite a feminist ideal. Happily ever after doesn't always depend on finding the right man, it depends on you, and making you own Hollywood ending.

So thanks Mom. But I wonder what else she was lying about?

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