The biggest thing

I was going to make it "An Open Letter to Charlie Chaplin" but I don't like open letters. Open letters assume profundity and I wouldn't be all that profound to Charlie Chaplin. He liked seventeen year-olds. Not twenty-ninethirty-four (OH FINE, GOD) thirty-eight year-olds.


To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain, and play with it. ~ C.C.

I am in love. That's really all it is. I just sit here going back and forth like Tidy. Scruffy. Tidy. Scruffy. Tidy? Scruffy? But it's all beside the point because I'd take either/both slightly warmed. Time travel except I'm seventeen. I'd go back and I would be corruptible but not-yet-corrupted. A little faux doe-eye. It would be 1923, when pale was still alabaster and when Charlie Chaplin was still slightly warm.

It was a downhill tumble that started with a homemade gramophone.

"What's a gramophone?" said Evan.

"A record player," I replied.

"What's a record player?" he asked.


"A long time ago we didn't even have iTunes. We played records. When she was a little girl, grammy didn't have television."

"NO TELEVISION?!" He blinked. "But were there movies?


"What were they like?"

"They were... well. Let's look." 

Why are the credits at the beginning? Why is there no talking? WAIT STOP. What's she doing? She left the baby in the car! Why did she leave the baby in the car? Is she crying? Why is she crying? The baby! The baby is crying! WAIT WHO IS THAT. Are those bad men mommy? The man took the car! A gun! The baby!

4:50. Evan reads. HIS MORNING PROMENADE. The Tramp walks on screen. A lady dumps garbage out her window. He dodges it. Another lady dumps garbage out her window. It falls on his head. I fall in love DIRTY THOUGHTS DIRTY THOUGHTS and my children meet their Everyman.

Since then we've sat rapt DIRTY THOUGHTS in front of The Kid, City Lights, The Circus, Modern Times, The Gold Rush, and The Great Dictator, my childrens' first fittingly ridiculous exposure to Hitler.

What's a Juden?

Oh baby, he's yelling like that because he doesn't like Jewish people.


Because Hitler was silly and mean, the meanest ever, and Charlie Chaplin knew it before anybody else did.

In 1940, Charlie-as-Hitler, post-speech, gets bumped and falls tumbling down a flight of stairs, then rights himself to spit enraged German at an underling. In 2012, two children erupt into giggles.

When kids watch silent films, it's not that lazy, unthinking story consumption of Pixar or cartoons or anything else we know. It's reading. When they're watching The Kid, they're pert. They're deciding for themselves what's happening. They worry for Charlie. They wonder why his gloves are torn, why his shoes are too big and his jacket so tight. They relate to his gentlemanliness. He might be the very first Good Guy, the Tramp.

Jim knows all this already and I guess I knew he knew, but I never took him up on it until The Unexpected Gramophone. He might say that Modern Times is a comment on industrialization, and the image of his Little Tramp persona as a cog in a machine makes desperation and indignity palpable. Or that silent films are a neglected and misunderstood art form. I say I'd give Charlie Chaplin a sponge bath. I want pincurls and a time machine because he's brilliant, and brilliance is timeless, and brilliance transcends minor details like death, as do crushes, and I bet he was real, real filthy.


Do you ever wonder if your soul mate is dead? What happens then? What if the universe sends you your soul mate but the universe gets mixed up and your soul mate is delivered to you as a stray cat that you're inexplicably drawn to despite intense allergy? A stray cat that burrows inside your shirt.

Is that you?


Kate and Char-lie, sittin' up a tree. Charlie catches her a mouse and makes her happ-happy.