Saroyan, Ithaca, Disappointment

Freezing during crossing of the equator line
Freezing during crossing of the equator line

Freezing during crossing of the equator line

BY CATHERINE YESAYAN

In the morning of the 10th day of our cruise, the excitement to cross the equator line was palpable. The ship’s crew had scheduled a special program to celebrate the event. Passengers who have never crossed the equator were encouraged to sign up for the ceremony.

On that day during breakfast, I met a couple who had crossed the equator before, and they warned me not to volunteer to be in the program.

The traditional ceremony of initiation of crossing of the equator line, is a silly skit about King Neptune, his princess, and their court. Passengers who have volunteered to be in the play become slaves or prisoners. The cruise staff, as the King’s court, haze the slaves by throwing cooked spaghetti, Jell-O, cream, beaten eggs and other wet and unpleasant food items at them. It was a fun ceremony to watch.

When the slimy play was over, the participants of the play jumped in the pool to clean off the mess. Afterwards, the crew emptied the pool, then thoroughly washed and sanitize it.

I always thought that countries on the equator must have unbearable steamy hot weather, but that morning, the temperature in the sun was only around 74 degrees. I felt cold!

Watching the movie Ithaca

Watching the movie Ithaca

After the ceremony, when I sat down in a shady corner to write, it was so breezy that I had to ask the waiter to bring me two beach towels so I could cover myself. I felt like I was on a cruise ship in the northern seas.

The day after the crossing of the equator, the daily log, which tells of upcoming activities and events, listed a screening of the movie Ithaca, a recent adaptation of William Saroyan’s 1943 novel, The Human Comedy.

Two years ago, the Armenian Dramatic Art had invited the star of the movie, the young and handsome 16 year-old Alex Neustaedter, to their awards ceremony. That was the first time I had heard of the movie. From that day on, even though I had not seen it, just the thought that Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks had teamed up together to turn Saroyan’s novel The Human Comedy into a movie made me fall in love with it.

Years ago, I saw the original 1943 black and white movie The Human Comedy, which I liked very much. At that time, the role of the teenaged telegram delivery boy Homer Macauley was played by the iconic Mickey Rooney. The action took place in the fictional town of Ithaca, California, during World War II.

That 1943 movie won the Academy Award for Best Story and was nominated for Best Actor in a leading role (Mickey Rooney), Best Black-and-White Cinematography, Best Director, and Best Picture.

In my excitement, and as a proud Armenian, I enthusiastically gave a little spiel about William Saroyan and his Armenian background to everyone I met that day at breakfast, at lunch, or lounging by the poolside. I told them about the original black and white movie, and then added, “Now, with Meg Ryan, the sweetheart of America, as the main actress as well as the producer and the director, the movie should be outstanding.” It turned out that my fervor was based on wishful thinking.

Ceremony of crossing of the equator

Ceremony of crossing of the equator

At around 6:30pm, my friend and I went upstairs by the poolside to reserve two lounge chairs. That evening, the weather was extremely breezy and cold. I had never before experienced such a cold evening on the sea. It seemed unbelievable that we were only a few hundred miles away from the equator. We looked for the best spot, away from the wind, and then buried ourselves from head to toe under several blankets, with only a slot open for our eyes to watch the movie.

The movie begins with a beautiful scene. The main character, fourteen-year-old Homer Macauley, drives his bicycle through breathtaking pastures, where we see children playing and housewives doing their chores. He arrives at the town center and goes to the Post Office to apply for a job as a bicycle telegram messenger, and gets the job for $15 a week.

Unfortunately, from that point on, the movie drags.  Contrary to what I had imagined, director Meg Ryan did not capture the mood of the bittersweet life in an American small town during the war. Tom Hanks appears only in a very short scene as the dead husband of Homer’s mother, played by Meg Ryan.

When the movie was over, dismayed by what I had seen, I stayed in my chair until everyone left. I didn’t want to face someone to whom I had excitedly recommended the movie, which had all the elements that had led me to expect a beautiful production, but which didn’t turn out that great. I felt so disappointed.

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