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Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Bucket List

Maybe it’s because I worked with AIDS patients for more than 20 years, but I find myself with the notorious habit of turning to the obituaries in the newspaper before anything else. Of course these days people living with AIDS do just that ~ live ~ so I inevitably scan the columns of the deceased and read about strangers, getting a tiny glance into what their lives might have been like. I can tell you now that I am so over every single person who kicked the bucket from cancer dying after “a courageous battle”. Geezus. Do only saints and the stalwart get cancer? Just once, just one time, I’d like to see that Joe Blow died after a miserable, sniveling, cowardly decline into oblivion.

I also hate it when the obit says so-and-so died unexpectedly while at Fletcher Allen Medical Center. How could anyone die ‘unexpectedly’ when they are already in the hospital, and especially when they are at FAHC? Frankly, a sprained ankle there could easily lead to “unexpected” death. You should just automatically expect that you are taking your life in your own hands every time you pass through the doors up on Pill Hill. I swear, if I go visit someone in the hospital up there I usually leave with enough toxins in me to guarantee at least a token bout of influenza if not meningitis by the time I pay the week’s salary it costs to get out of the parking garage.

That’s exactly why everyone should have a
Bucket List of their own, just like the one created by stars Jack Nicholson (The Departed) and Morgan Freeman (Gone Baby Gone) in their new film called The Bucket List. In the movie, Nicholson plays gazillionaire Edward Cole, the owner of, among other things, a chain of hospitals, one of which he now finds himself residing in as a patient. The unfortunate part, in Edward’s mind, is that he has made merciless public pronouncements about “two beds per room, two people per room, no exceptions!” and now he has no choice but to share a room in his own hospital or face a public relations brouhaha and look like a fool among his corporate cronies. So who’s his roommate; Morgan Freeman’s character, Carter Chambers, naturally. Carter is a lifelong mechanic and family man, just the opposite of Edward, who has chased the dollar and lived a life free of familial attachments. It’s only a matter of time though before the two opposites become best friends forever, or as long as either shall live. In both of their cases, it’s only a matter of months before they can expect to take that long dirt nap. Yep, sadly, they both have metastasized cancers that has spread to their brains and there prognoses are beyond hope.

Grim, eh? But this is as much a comedy as drama, and so Carter takes the news that he is circling the drain by beginning to compile The Bucket List of the film’s title, an inventory of the things he would like to see, do, and accomplish before he “kicks the bucket.” Fortunately, Edward jumps on this idea, adds his own agenda items, and offers to finance their travels. Cool enough, except Carter’s wife, Virginia (Beverly Todd; Ascension Day) is not happy with what she sees as Edward “buying” her husband and taking him away from her in his last days.

Well, if Virginia had her way it would make for a short movie and nothing poignant would eventually transpire to change Edward from the Jack Nicholson-like crab-ass he is into someone the audience could almost stand to have visit if he showed up on their doorstep, an essential plot twist necessary to ensure that tears are wrung at the right moments and the list gets completed before both guys sail off this mortal coil.

I have had four different people call me over the weekend to ask me if I liked
The Bucket List and, more importantly, to see if it was it funny. Yes, of course it is funny, I tell them, but it is also sad with some genuine lump-in-your-throat moments. After all, its two main characters have terminal cancer. Hello? It’s called “The Bucket List” for a reason. I’m amazed how all four of my obtuse friends have not made the obvious connection between “terminal cancer” as shown in all the previews and pre-release advertising to the inevitable ending that comes with this diagnosis, but when I’ve told them both men die by the end they are shocked. If you are too, and consider this last sentence a spoiler, then you need to consider remedial film classes immediately. Start with Love Story and get back to me for your next assignment.

It’s amazing that it took until now for someone in Hollywood to finally figure out that putting the two of these bigger-than-life personalities onscreen together would be a good idea, but director Rob Reiner (Rumor Has It) is the one to thank, and he has done a terrific job keeping his stars reigned in, which I can only imagine must have been quite a job with Nicholson in particular. Freeman always impresses me as the type to go with the flow in most instances, but Nicholson ~ not so much. He’s always been Hollywood’s wild man, and even now, in his 70s, he hasn’t slowed down a bit. I just read an interview with him a few weeks back in which he lamented that HIV and AIDS had put a crimp in his never-ending enjoyment of wide-spread promiscuity. He was finding it harder and harder to find young women willing to give up the goodies to him. Maybe he needs to look in a mirror and blame the aging process instead of using the AIDS virus as an excuse. I’m just saying.

I doubt Jack has any need for a
Bucket List of his own. What (or who) hasn’t he seen or done? As for the rest of us, it doesn’t seem like that bad of an idea. I asked my perfect husband what he would put on his list and he handed me a page he’d already prepared of all the places he wanted to visit before heeding the ultimate product recall in the sky. “The Pyramids of Giza, the Taj Mahal, the Serengeti, Machu Picchu…” Not a five star hotel or restaurant on the list, just a lot of hiking, walking, climbing. If he is planning to drag me along on these trips, then I’m really going to need my own list because he’s going to kill me, or should I try keeping with the language I’ve learned from my years of reading the obituaries and say that all these travels will no doubt result in my being “called to her heavenly home and received into the arms of the Lord.”

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