Everett Sloane‘s finest acting moment was in Citizen Kane when his “Mr. Bernstein” character talked about the vagaries of memory. “A fellow will remember a lot of things you wouldn’t think he’d remember,” he said after William Alland‘s reporter dismissed the likelihood that Charles Foster Kane might recall a minor anecdotal event that had happened decades earlier.
“You take me,” Sloane/Bernstein began. “One day back in 1896 I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry, and as we pulled out there was another ferry pulling in, and on it was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on. She was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second. She didn’t see me at all. But I’ll bet a month hasn’t gone by since that I haven’t thought of that girl.”
We all have a few odd but lasting moments that have stayed in our heads. But the most interesting ones are those that don’t (or didn’t) involve someone we once saw and felt attracted to but never made a move on. That’s because they all refer to the same thing. The ones that are worth mentioning are those that have lingered for decades but defy interpretation as to why. But which contain or reflect some sort of metaphor that obviously matters.
Here’s one from my late teenage years. It happened on a late summer night in Wilton, Connecticut. There were two or three of us drinking beer on a bench in a small green area next to Route 7, the town’s main drag. And we were just gazing out at the road when two guys we knew drove by in a souped-up something or other, going 45 or 50 mph. We knew it had to be one of our friends because respectable citizens didn’t wail around town in muscle cars at midnight.
Anyway the guy riding shotgun — his name was Chip — opened the door, leaned down and dragged a beer can along the pavement as they sped by. And it created a small but beautiful shower of sparks. I don’t recall reacting all that strongly but I remember the shared contentment the three of us felt from watching this. “That was good,” one of us said without making a big deal out of it. And that was it. But I’ve never forgotten that lightshow. And I’ve never wondered why. It’s just a keeper and that’s that.