Sunday, August 11, 2013

Gavin DeGraw -- "I Don't Want to Be" (2003)

I'm tired of looking 'round rooms
Wondering what I gotta do
Or who I'm supposed to be

I'm currently reading a very interesting book: Louis Begley's 1996 novel, About Schmidt.

Begley (who was born Ludwik Begleiter in Poland in 1933) is a holocaust survivor whose family moved to New York City in 1947. Begley graduated from Harvard College (summa cum laude) and Harvard Law School (magna cum laude), and then went to work for a prestigious Wall Street law firm, eventually heading up the firm's international practice.

Louis Begley (and friend)
Begley surprised his law partners and friends when he published a highly-praised first novel in 1991 -- he was 57 years old -- and he's gone on to write nine more.

The protagonist of About Schmidt, Albert Schmidt, is a sixtyish partner at a white-shoe New York law firm who takes early retirement to care for his dying wife. When the book opens, he is living in comfort in a lovely home (left to his wife by her maiden aunt) in an affluent beach community on Long Island.

He dotes on his only child, a beautiful, brilliant (i.e., Harvard summa cum laude) daughter, Charlotte, even though she has gone into public relations, a career that he views as beneath her.

Even worse, Charlotte has decided to marry a young partner at her father's old firm -- a talented lawyer whom Schmidt mentored and supported for partnership, but never really liked.  Schmidt is unhappy about the match in part because the prospective groom is Jewish.

Schmidt is also worried about what to do with his home.  His wife has left him a life estate, so the house will go to his daughter when he dies.  But he feels he should move out and give her and her new husband the house now even though there would be a sizeable tax bill to pay as a result.

Complicating the situation further is the fact that his former law firm has decided to amend its retirement plan so retired partners get less and the working partners get more. 

Given the looming tax obligation, the need to buy a new house to live in, and the upcoming reduction in his pension, Schmidt is facing not only a life without female companionship, but also a much more modest standard of living.

Then something completely unanticipated happens: Schmidt falls in love (in lust?) with a friendly waitress from the local bar and grill -- a waitress who just happens to be younger than his daughter.  And for no apparent reason, the waitress -- a smart, attractive, and non-gold-digging young woman -- is physically attracted to the rather dull, sixty-something Schmidt.  

I am sufficiently narcissistic to find parallels between myself and the protagonists of many of the novels I read.  But any objective observer would have to admit that there are a number of similarities between Schmidt and myself.

To wit. We are both lawyers, and both the same age. Schmidt is recently retired, and I expect to be retired soon.  Each of us has a recently-engaged daughter.

Schmidt's wife's family's house on Long Island is something like my mother-in-law's Cape Cod house.  (The photographs that illustrate this post are daylilies that were blooming at that house when I was vacationing there last month.  They were planted by a man who rented our house many years ago.  He was a devoted daylily hybridizer, and for all I know, these are unique cultivars that are found nowhere else on earth.)

Here's where Schmidt's fictional life diverges sharply from mine: my wife is not only alive, but perfectly healthy.

That places a rather large obstacle squarely in the way of my shacking up with a lissome, twenty-something waitress like that lucky bastard Schmidt.

Actually, I can't really imagine having much of a relationship with a woman who is younger than my daughters.  But someone closer to my age would be very nice.  (Not too old, of course -- I'd have to draw the line at 59.  Most of the women I know really hit the wall at 60.)

By the way, I not only have some things in common with the protagonist of About Schmidt, but also with its author.  For example, we are both graduates of Harvard Law School.  Also, neither of us wrote a novel before turning 57.

Begley has written two sequels to About Schmidt -- I have all three novels, thanks to the public library, and I expect to read them back to back to back. 

I also expect to start eating out more.  (You never know . . .)

About Schmidt was made into a 2002 movie starring Jack Nicholson and directed by Alexander Payne (who also directed Election, Sideways, and The Descendants).

In the movie, Schmidt lives in Omaha instead of New York City, is an insurance actuary instead of a lawyer, and has an RV instead of a house in the Hamptons.

The movie Schmidt does have a daughter who is marrying a man he doesn't like, but there's no young waitress.  That's because his wife is still alive.

A New Yorker article about the movie was titled "Not Really About Schmidt."  The trailer for the movie proves that as far as the book and movie are concerned, never the twain shall meet:

Our featured song, Gavin DeGraw's "I Don't Want to Be," sounded vaguely familiar to me when I heard it on the radio while driving to the Kream 'n' Kone in South Dennis for a big plate of fried clams (with bellies, of course) and onion rings. It was the theme to the long-running TV teen drama, One Tree Hill, and has been performed by at least six American Idol contestants.

DeGraw said that "I Don't Want to Be" enabled him to pay off his college debt.

Here's "I Don't Want to Be":

Use this link to buy the song from Amazon:

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