MAUDIE AND ME: ON BEING INVISIBLE, by Andrew Mungo.
I have this identity in my head that connects me up to Maudie from the film of that title. She was outwardly a dowdy, slightly hunched over cleaning lady. She was invisible on the street, someone who made no impression, ignored by the world at large. Worse she was the butt of abuse at the hands of children, openly taunted while grownups made no defense for her.
Within her though there lived an artist of stature, a sensitive soul expressing herself though none took notice. She finally found her muse and made her mark. The movie is wonderfully expressive, moving and human.
I can’t say that children ever threw rocks at me and my woes were never as bad as Maudie’s yet I know what it’s like to be invisible. When I first hit town back in ’76 I was another overgrown adolescent, idle twenty-something who was maybe qualified to wash dishes in a restaurant, do line work in a factory or drive a cab, all jobs I held.
Yet I announced that, with a partner, I was going to open arthouse movie theater. Our first effort was to propose a summer film series on Plum Island. There had been children’s films shown at a hall there but still we were told we needed a special permit. When the permit hearing came around thirty abutters had created a petition to stop us. They had equated art film with porno. We were told a few times that they didn’t want that stuff in their neighborhood.
The permit was denied. It did garner our first page one DAILY NEWS article, a lighthearted piece that opened with “Bogart won’t be coming to the Island this summer.” We made an appointment to speak to the director of the Chamber of Commerce about opening a movie theater in town. When we arrived for the meeting the man stepped out of his office, took one look at us and literally waved his hand to dismiss us as vagrant hippies.
Now I know that the Plum Island generation of that time had real fears and the Chamber of Commerce incident was 40 years ago but the point is I was dismissed out of hand like Maudie. After repeated failures over the next five years I was the laughingstock of the arts in Newburyport.
Fast forward 40 years and I have my niche in the arts in town. No one laughs at Maudie anymore, either.