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The Riviera.

Last night I visited my grandparents (or perhaps the actors who played them). "Well we haven't seen you in a while," my grandmother said. This wasn't sarcastic. She was merely stating a fact. After all these years, I still received the indulgence to which--Lord knows why--people thought I was entitled just because I was a child. She went to make me a grilled cheese sandwich. I know a lot of people have forgotten my grandparents. But some must remember my grandmother's hair. She wore it in a tall bun, which made her a sort of empress. The tallest hair-edifice I've ever seen... or maybe that was a matter of perspective. In the same way that, when I was eight, or nine, or ten, and we came to Little Rock from Phoenix, I thought we were visiting a big city, since my grandparents lived in--to me--an enormous apartment building. The Riviera. The Riviera had twelve floors and a white-brick exterior. Inside--well at least so it seemed on last night's visit--it was kind of like Cheers. Cheers with Jews; at least a few. The Aaronsons, the Rosensterns. Context is everything; in Arkansas that was enough to make the building, if not Jewish, well, comfortable. Like Cheers. Maybe some have forgotten that series (though often we remember shows longer than people). But my point is the Riviera was a very chatty building. The old women--or the women who then seemed old--would gossip in the lobby. Or in the Riviera Hair Salon, at the back of the lobby. Or by the pool. Gossip, gossip, gossip. Where everybody knows your name. The TV show, which I saw again last night--I'll call it The Riviera, since, oddly, I can't remember its real name--centered around my grandmother. She did know everybody's name. She didn't discriminate. She was friendly with all, struck up conversations with all. She'd been a party girl. She liked people, which you couldn't say of everyone in my family. She'd worked on many political campaigns. She wasn't particular about the candidates--it was social. She often served on juries. That was social, too. She volunteered at the hospital gift shop. My grandfather came along. That's generally what he did. Come along. Go along. His role required particularly subtle acting, since he had few lines. The actor--was it him I saw last night?--had to suggest, with a limited repertoire of facial expressions, both a masked sadness and a Willie Loman-type defeat. And also the possibility that we (both the audience and the rest of the cast) were projecting these onto him.

He wore plaid jackets. His head was always slouched. He'd once sold underwear. Often he was shown reading mysteries. He knew the secret names we gave our toys. Often he looked at his watch. What was he waiting for? It had a gold band. He grinned when photos were taken.

But as I've said, my grandmother was the star. The show centered on her, though there were some other memorable characters. Including, of course, my mom, aka her daughter. Part of the brilliance of the series, when taken as a whole, is the way that at first you think you're watching a sitcom. But, very slowly, we come to understand the tensions between my mom and my grandmother. We see Mom's secret sympathy with my grandfather. You can look up the rest of the cast on IMDB. Perhaps there you'll be able to find out precisely how many episodes there were of The Riviera. Hundreds and hundreds, possibly thousands. We knew it wouldn't be renewed forever, but it sure seemed like it might.

Oddly, I remember the set better than the plots. But how many plots of Cheers can you recount? The set of The Riviera: the bowl with the plastic fruit. The water color painting, purchased on one of their cruises, of... the Riviera? The Bahamas? The Reese's Peanut Butter Cups kept in the crystal bowl. The plastic frog dangling on the balcony, which looked out on the parking lot, where sometimes stray cars shimmered like saints, stricken by light. In lots of episodes we played cards. There was the episode in which my parents didn't want my grandparents to drive. There was one where I found out my grandmother was illiterate (how strange, since in our family there were so many books). Maybe that's not quite accurate. She could read menus, headlines, signs. Just not much more. Then there was the episode entitled "The Senator." It must have been from one of the early seasons. Summer? My grandmother and I were down by the pool. I swam. She talked. I got out. The senator, a retired segregationist politician, lived on one of the upper floors. As I said, my grandmother was friendly with everyone. She introduced me. I was eight, easily impressed. The segregationist invited us up to his apartment. To make the story better I'll say he lived in the penthouse. I'll say the penthouse had a view not of the parking lot but of the woods. Ah, the wonder such vistas then could still inspire. I'll say we could see the Arkansas River. He showed us his coin collection. So much gold! Like Ali Baba. I knew he was "bad"--from my parents--but I was still impressed.

In some episodes, to break things up, my grandparents traveled, as alluded to above. Their luggage had many stickers. One time they stopped in Phoenix on their way back from one of their cruises. My grandmother had made, as always, lots of friends. Sitting in our living room she told us all about them. Some were rich. My grandparents had taken part in a fashion show on board. They had pictures. They'd also had their picture taken with the captain. You could sense, though not see, Mom's eyes roll. You felt Dad's boredom. You wondered if you felt my grandmother feeling this. A few days later, during that visit, I was alone with my grandmother in their hotel room. Through the blinds I could glimpse the sprinkler spray crossing the patchy grass. It was, and I don't know how this happened, no longer TV. It was film and barely lit. Foreign, grainy. Russian. Like my grandmother. But silent. I'm viewing the clip now. A strange, experimental film. Stark, pre-Eisenstein. A fairy tale? Nothing happens in the clip, except this: she undoes her bun. Her hair reaches the floor. She towers. She could stare down a wolf or the tsar. Peasant, mythic. Copious, magical, endless hair, gray-white. Then she puts it back up. My parents pick us up. We're back in their well-lit world.

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your gray-white hair. O, those moments when childhood and fairy tale merged, when I saw the door and passed through it. Into the kingdom of ogres, fairies, and witches, that land we all come from. Then the lights would always come back on.

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your gray-white hair.
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Author:Marshall, Robert
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Mar 22, 2018
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