Local Lifestyle

Saturday, Jan 04 2014 11:58 PM

HERB BENHAM: Spoonful of sugar made bitter pill go down easier

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Herb Benham

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By HERB BENHAM, Californian columnist hbenham@bakersfield.com

We saw "Saving Mr. Banks" recently. The movie was terrific. What happened after, even more memorable.

We were seated in the top row. The theater was full save for the lower seats. If I'm going to sit in the lower seats, I might as well join the cast.

The movie is about Walt Disney's 20-year quest to buy the screenrights to the book "Mary Poppins," written by P.L. Travers. Disney wanted to make the film, and Travers, played by Emma Thompson, thought he would muck up the story and make a blubbery mess of it.

Tom Hanks is in it. Has he ever made a bad movie? Hanks is meat-and-potatoes solid. He's the good-housekeeping seal of approval; if he is in it, it's probably worth a ticket and two hours.

Colin Farrell plays the father of P.L. Travers while she was growing up in Australia. I'd like to look like Colin Farrell for one day. I'd do a star turn, wave to the adoring masses and then return to being a character actor.

I won't tell you what happens. Suffice it to say, the movie is funny, sad, touching and has a great ending.

Three quarters of the way through, the mother sitting next to me with her young daughter received a cell call. In a PSA before the movie, KGET's Jim Scott had advised everyone to turn off their phones, but it was advice that went unheeded by our seatmate in the top row.

She reached into her purse and looked at the screen. Then she returned the phone to her purse.

We looked at her. Registered our dissatisfaction. Words may have been exchanged, but if they weren't, disapproval was.

I glowered. I can really glower if I want. I'm a good glowerer.

A few minutes later she leaned over and said, "Next time, why don't you mind your own business before you tell a 30-year-old mother to be quiet. I have an infant son who is home right now and this is the first time I've left him."

I didn't know how to take this: Was he home alone or was this the first time with a sitter?

I steamed. All the shortcomings of technology welled up inside of me. Mary Poppins didn't have this problem. Her charge was to organize the children and make sure they ate their porridge.

Who finds themselves at peace after a confrontation like this? One person is offended and the other feels picked on. All the Junior Mints in the world can't erase the bad taste in your mouth, and I had a big box.

I made a decision. If Travers could open her mind to Walt Disney, why couldn't I make an effort to bridge the great cell phone divide?

After the movie, I reached over and touched my seatmate's arm and asked if I might have a word with her.

"Yes," she said.

"I noticed how well-mannered your little girl is," I said. "She has been taught well. You seem like a good mother."

She softened.

"However, the phone went off during a sensitive time in the film. I sort of lost my concentration."

"I wanted to apologize," she said. "I'm sorry."

Then, she asked me if I was Mr. Benham? If I couldn't be Colin Farrell, I suppose I was.

"I had you as a teacher in my writing class at Emerson," she said.

That was almost 16 years ago. She was now the mother of two and I was a curmudgeon and wondering when I had begun to look like Karl Malden.

This conversation had gone from World War III to tender class reunion. One thing had changed from the Emerson days. I had become the student and this was the lesson.

A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. I'll pick it over a box of Junior Mints any day.

I bet Colin Farrell would too.

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