When I was five years old, my favorite movie in the whole entire world was the 1964 classic musical My Fair Lady.
For those of you who are unfamiliar: My Fair Lady is a three-hour epic with cockney accents, lots of beautiful camerawork displaying the grime of Victorian London, prim sexual mores, class struggles, and giant hats. We had it on a 2-cassette VHS that I would watch incessantly, right down to the ten minutes of “Intermission” that was literally just footage of a red velvet curtain and some background music.
So: Halloween 1990. There were like, nine Little Mermaids, four witches, a cat, a tiger, and three Cinderellas in my kindergarten classroom. I strolled right on in wearing my mother’s pencil skirt safety-pinned around my waist and her satin bolero jacket as a Victorian-era waistcoat. I smudged some dirt around, cut the fingers off a pair of winter gloves, and practiced my Cockney accent in the mirror for like two weeks. Best Halloween ever!!!!!!!, I thought, until I was unflinchingly mocked by my tiny peers for coming to school dressed like a hobo holding an Easter Basket. Fuck you guys, I might have thought to myself if I knew that word at the time. I like my imaginary friends better anyways. I wonder what’s going on with Mary Poppins and Eloise. I bet they could kick your ass.
It was Father’s Day recently, and I bring all this up because every year when that Sunday in June rolls around, the one where I wake up and I think oh no, oh not again and realize that I have once again forgotten how to use the post office in a timely manner, I like to drudge up some old pictures of my Dad. 80’s moustache. Giant glasses. Questionable sweaters. My nose. My eyes.
And when I stare at those photos and try to remember what it was like to be so small, I don’t hear the sounds of his voice or the way his footsteps were muffled by the thick green carpeting or his snoring in front of the golf channel. I hear the soundtrack to My Fair Lady, and I hear him singing along.
Let me be clear: this is not a man with a heretofore unknown passion for classic movie musicals. This is a man who takes care of business. His most insane flight of fancy has been rooting for the Mets for fiftysomething years. He has watched the golf channel since the golf channel was invented, and I think he prefers it on mute. He’s a funny and goofy guy, when you get to know him, but – he’s a doctor. He works around the clock. He saves lives. He takes everything incredibly seriously.
But because he had a weird little kid whom he loved, my poor dad resigned himself to nightly arriving home after insanely long and exhausting workweeks to find dashingly romantic Freddy Einsford-Hill, played by some actor I don’t feel like googling right now, warbling the classic ballad On The Street Where You Live as I inched my nose closer and closer to the glass, picturing my future wedding dress. It was only a matter of time before fictional character Freddy Einsford-Hill married me and whisked me off to London on horseback.*
Do you know that song? Freddy – the dope in the grey jacket– is hopelessly in love with Eliza, played by iconic starlet Audrey Hepburn – for basically no reason. They met for six seconds where she put her foot in her mouth repeatedly at a horse race populated by crusty socialites wearing hats the size of the horses themselves. He then tracks down her address (…?), is told she doesn’t feel like seeing him ever again, and then rather than just sad Charlie-Brown-walk home, he stands outside her door and sings about it. It’s my all-time favorite song about stalking.**
I have often walked down this street before
But the pavement always stayed beneath my feet before
All at once am I several stories high
Knowing I’m on the street where you live
I don’t remember exactly how much time I spent endlessly watching this, but if I was to offer an educated guess – a LOT. Months of warbling British musicals, watched over and over, by a manic kid who hadn’t seen a hairbrush in weeks and whose idea of a rollicking Friday night was to scream nonsense phrases about horse races at her parents in an unintelligible accent.
My dad’s eventual coping mechanism was just to sing over the TV. Louder, sillier, with new lyrics that he made up on the spot. There were multiple versions, but the one that stuck was the frog one:
People stop and stare
They don’t bother me
They’re just mildly confused ‘cause there’s a frog on me
At once, Freddy was forgotten. It was all about my dad at that moment. I would howl with laughter and bury my head in the couch cushions and think, my dad is the funniest person in the universe.
All at once am I
Hanging out with this frog where you live
Are there many frogs in your part of town?
Are there flies to eat in any other part of town?
Why am I so sad on my lillypad?
I am here, with this frog, where you live…
And ohhhh! My croaaking siiinnggging …
My dad gave me a lot, but I don’t think he realizes the half of it. He liked Mel Brooks movies and Star Wars and political cartoons like Bloom County and Doonesbury, so I did too. I’m sure he didn’t mean for it to happen this way, but it meant that I grew up with an irreverent sense of humor, a seriously nerdy streak, and a surprisingly concise understanding of 80’s political humor and social issues.
He gave me a childhood just messy and complicated and tragic enough to make me funny and smart and resilient and strong. He gave me a work ethic. He didn’t really give a shit that I was weird, that I had imaginary friends, that I failed dismally at all of his best attempts to push me towards athletics. I was his kid, and he loved me. He still does.
And when I came home from school with my heart broken on that Halloween because those other kids were assholes and I had my first real taste of feeling different and alone, I wish I could remember what he did. I wish my memory holds up. I don’t honestly know what happened when I told him why I was upset, sniffling into my tiny basket filled with fake African violets. I do remember, though, that sometime not too long after that Halloween, I wasn’t feeling well, or maybe just was feeling sorry for myself, and curled up in a ball of sad on the couch. My dad came home, for probably the first time in weeks, to a quiet home. I remember him setting his briefcase down, and I remember him looking at me.
“Do me a favor?” he said. “Put on My Fair Lady for me. I want to watch the scene at the racetrack tonight.”
*Viewing poor Freddy Einsford-Hill with adult eyes, he’s – you know, he’s nice and all, but definitely not the guy you want to wind up with at the end of the movie. You know the type: sweet, kinda dopey, super boring, and prone to breaking into song outside your damn window at night.
**Other notable songs about stalking that make the list: Every Breath You Take by the Police. I’ll Get You by The Beatles. This Swedish twee pop song called Highschool Stalker by a band called Hello Saferide. I’m going to add In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel, but only because now I’m picturing John Cusack and the boom box outside my window, and it’s a much nicer image than poor, poor, dopey Freddy.