I just finished watching all 18 episodes of Freaks and Geeks, the 1999 dramedy series about high-school kids in 1980 Detroit, which despite the involvement of a murderer’s row of current comedy stars, was canceled before the end of its first season.
That’s too bad, because this show (and I know I am very, very late to the the party here) was really something special. Of the countless TV shows set in high school, this is the only one that actually made me feel like I was back in high school, that awful purgatory between being a kid and an adult, too much of both and not enough of either. It’s so sweet and funny and sad and heartbreaking — the writing is painfully true to life and the kids they cast, particularly John Francis Daley, Martin Starr, and Samm Levine as the freshman geeks, are probably the best child-actor ensemble ever. Out of the 18 episodes, probably 14 or 15 choked me up at one point or another.
But then, it seems like everything chokes me up these days. I don’t know what’s changed, but it seems like almost everything I watch on TV anymore gets me a little misty. Maybe it’s because I’m a dad now and I love my little family. Maybe because I’m getting sentimental. Maybe because I’m just too old to care anymore if anyone catches me wiping my eyes.
For a long time, I didn’t cry at anything, and it wasn’t a conscious choice because I was embarrassed or anything — I just couldn’t do it. To the best of my recollection, I don’t think I shed any tears at all in my 20s, except for two events: when I broke my femur in a bicycle accident, and when my wife and I left San Francisco (actually, it wasn’t when we left but when we arrived in our new home of Newport, Kentucky. That would have made a statue cry).
I sincerely thought that I couldn’t cry, that I was missing some kind of empathy chip. I saw Titanic in the theater, the only movie I’ve ever been to where the sobs of the audience drowned out the sound of the actual movie, and felt nothing. I once left my 1974 Fender Telecaster Custom in the trunk of a taxicab and never got it back. I couldn’t talk about it for weeks, but I shed not one tear.
There were a lot of times that things did not go my way — job loss, unrequited love, fallings-out with close friends, David Lee Roth almost but not quite getting back with Van Halen in 1996 — that I sincerely wished I could cry it out. I knew it would make me feel better. I even tried to force myself to do it, the same way little kids try to make themselves cry to get out of trouble with mom and dad — but I just couldn’t.
I certainly do not have that problem anymore. Here is a partial list of things that have at least put a lump in my throat, sometimes get me misty, and in many cases made me reach for a tissue over the last few weeks:
*Anything filmed or animated with animals or puppets standing in for actors
Everything seems to make me cry is what I’m saying. I’m like John Boehner at a funeral in an onion field.
Movies that with bad performances, terrible scripts, and ridiculous premises can make me cry. Commercials that I see right through as obvious pandering make me cry. I knew I had a serious problem last night, when my wife and I took our six-year-old to see The Croods, a new animated film about a family of cavemen. When the paterfamilias, voiced by Nicolas Cage (!) tells his rebellious daughter (voiced by Emma Stone, the only working actress in America) reverses a lifetime of fear and cautious living and tells her to “never be afraid” — a life lesson telegraphed as the movie’s moral in the first 30 seconds of the movie — I had to fight back a sob. I glanced over at my wife; she looked bored and eager for the movie to end.
It’s embarrassing to admit to all this in a public forum — if traffic as low as this blog’s counts as public — but it’s the first step to solving the problem. The second step: Insensitivity Training. I plan to spend this and every weekend hence in front of my big projector screen, eyes pried open Clockwork Orange-style, with ABC Family playing 24 hours a day, while a series of laptops plays Love Story, Toy Story 3, Old Yeller, Sophie’s Choice, and Terms Of Endearment on an endless loop while Loudon Wainwright’s “Your Mother And I” plays in the background. And if that doesn’t work, I will get rid of my wife and son, the obvious source of all this humiliating sentiment, by means probably best not discussed here (on the advice of my attorney). I will be a properly stoic American man if it kills me — wish me luck.