Mrs. T and I recently watched Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero, a comedy of great sweetness and charm. It tells the story of Mac MacIntyre, a high-flying oil-company junior executive from Houston (perfectly played by Peter Riegert) who travels to Ferness, a sleepy, slow-moving coastal village in Scotland, to make a deal that will transform the place beyond recognition, finds to his surprise that he loves the town exactly as it is, then returns to Houston and realizes that the brief but idyllic time he spent in Ferness has caused his everyday life to lose its savor.
You’ve seen that plot before, of course—the same thing, more or less, happens in Doc Hollywood, another of my favorite movies—but part of what makes Local Hero so good is that it doesn’t let MacIntyre off the hook. We know at film’s end that he has seen paradise but could not walk through the door, and that he will spend the rest of his life rueing his inability to turn his back on an existence that no longer has anything to offer him but loneliness.
Might it be that I’m stuck on a similar hook? I moved to New York at the age of twenty-nine, having grown up in a small town and lived for a time on the outskirts of a medium-sized city, and I’ve been here ever since. Once it excited me, then it started irritating me, but at no point along the way did I ever give serious thought to leaving. To be sure, I’ve entertained myself on multiple occasions with the idle fantasy of pulling up stakes, but I’m far too tightly tied to my job, which requires me to see one or two shows on or near Broadway most weeks save in the summer, when I go to shows in other parts of the country.
It’s a treadmill of sorts, but a benign and stimulating one, and my employers give me a safety valve by letting me go elsewhere from time to time to work on the plays and opera libretti that I started writing a few years ago. What with that freedom, the extended reviewing trips to Florida that Mrs. T and I make every winter, and the commonplace comforts of the rural farmhouse in Connecticut where we spend much of our time when I’m not on the aisle in Manhattan, it would be churlish for me to complain about the shape that my life has taken in middle age. Nobody has to tell me that most people have it a whole lot harder.
Alas, one of the legs of my satisfying existence has lately been knocked out from under me. Mrs. T’s doctors ordered her last fall to hang up her traveling shoes until further notice, and I followed suit because…well, because I no longer much care to be where she isn’t. As a result, we spent the first month of 2018 not on Florida’s Sanibel Island, our wintertime home away from home for the past seven years, but in New York and Connecticut. Again, it could have been worse—the weather up north was surprisingly mild—but it turns out that I’ve grown accustomed to sunshine in January, and losing it got me down.
My unexpected stint in Houston staging Satchmo at the Waldorf at the Alley Theatre was a wonderfully fulfilling distraction, but no sooner did I come back home than the snow started to fall and I was thereby plunged into a bit more reality than I was quite ready to stomach. Without going into any great detail, suffice it to say that the past couple of months have been rife with widely varied difficulties, enough so to occasionally put to the test my ability to cope.
Nothing finite is intolerable, and under normal circumstances I’d now be packing my bags for a trip to Chicago or Wisconsin or Oregon or Niagara-on-the-Lake, secure in the knowledge that a change of scene usually leads to a change of mind. This summer, though, Mrs. T and I won’t be visiting any theaters that are much more than three hours from New York by car, and we’ll be keeping our overnight stays away from home to the barest possible minimum.
If I sound like I’m complaining, then I’m giving the wrong impression. The fact is that I’ve done rather too much traveling in the past few years, and I’ve had to do too much of it without Mrs. T. But we, too, have our Fernesses, and both of us miss them. “I promise you that we’ll be back here again,” I told her at the end of our first visit to Sanibel Island. Sure enough, we went back a year later, and stayed even longer. I’ve kept that promise ever since—until now.
I don’t know when Mrs. T and I will be back in Sanibel again, or when we’ll ride the Coast Starlight, spend a night in Seth Peterson Cottage, or set sail on Schooner Grace Bailey, to mention only three of the most exciting things we’ve done together since we got married a decade ago. It may well be that our days of far-flung adventure are over, and that we’ll henceforth have to settle for less ambitious pleasures. It could also be that I’ll spend the rest of my life shuttling between Upper Manhattan and rural Connecticut, never again to shut off my phone (if people still do that) and load up the moving van.
And would that really matter if it came to pass? I don’t think so. What does matter—more than anything—is that wherever I end up spending the rest of my life, I won’t be spending it alone. Unlike Mac MacIntyre, who missed his chance to be happy, I seized the greater hope and walked through the door, never doubting for a moment that I was doing the right thing.
* * *
The last scene of Local Hero: