Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Lesson in Perspective

Bob (Bob Newhart): Jerry, why would she spend so much for a watch?

Jerry (Peter Bonerz): She loves you, Bob.

Bob: She'd better have a better reason than that.

Milestone birthdays are always good for some laughs.

On this night in 1973, Bob Hartley (Bob Newhart) observed his 40th birthday, which was not something in which he was particularly interested, but his wife Emily (Suzanne Pleshette) was — and so were their friends. They had planned a surprise party with a lot of gag gifts for the evening of Bob's birthday.

But, when the day dawned and they awoke together in their apartment, Emily gave Bob a special gift — a new wristwatch. Bob thought it was nice, but it wasn't special.

Well, that's what he thought.

When he got to the office and showed the watch to his friend Jerry (Peter Bonerz), Jerry told him that it was a very expensive watch. Bob was skeptical until he called a neighborhood jeweler who confirmed the value of the watch.

And that ruined the rest of Bob's birthday. He couldn't enjoy the party. He pouted throughout, and the audience was led to believe that a big fight was about to occur.

But what followed was an intriguing character study that, frankly, reminded me of my parents.

Bob and the character he played were children of the Depression, just like my parents, and that really shaped their outlooks on, well, everything. My mother absolutely would not throw anything away. She had been conditioned to waste nothing lest she need it and not have it in the future.

(After she died, it fell to me to sort through her things, and I can't tell you how many boxes of junk I went through and eventually threw away.)

Bob tried to explain that mindset to Emily, whose character, I always supposed, was younger than Bob, perhaps young enough to have missed out on the Depression.

"When I was a kid, I measured the cost of everything in ice cream cones," he told her. "An ice cream cone cost 10 cents so if something cost 10 cents, that was an ice cream cone. If something cost a dollar, that was 10 ice cream cones.

"And when I found out how much that watch cost,"
he concluded, "I felt like I had been run over by an ice cream truck."

It was a lesson in perspective.