I think often about Beethoven, the 1992 children's movie; a John Hughes creation about a
clumsy yet lovable St. Bernard. I remember sitting in the theatre at eight years old,
attending a classmate's ninth birthday party, surrounded by my friends as they whispered
and hissed and asked loudly if this movie was rated R (it wasn't).
A baby Beethoven invading a white home with white furniture and mauve carpet, so named because he barks stupidly whenever Emily, the youngest, taps out the opening strains of Fur Elise on the upright piano in the corner of the living room. He has terrorized the house with muddy footprints. stolen roast chicken legs. and has a tendency to disappear into pastel comforters.
The dog grows into a big and slobbery mess. He drools so much that he drools directly into the father's shoe, who drains the shoe with a yowl that reveals perfectly straight teeth. Beethoven's fur seems always to be damp, and I can smell the German shepherd who bit me in the stomach last fall, no blood but a bite of pain that lasted the rest of the day, a whole sunny Saturday gauzy with agony.
I was still dreaming about the German Shepherd, its snapped leash, its brown shoe-button eyes, by that spring. The theatre in April, the alien cold of air conditioning and the sun just beyond the red fire exit in the bottom corner of the screen.
Beethoven has made a chaos of the home, a home that looks like a dollhouse, a home where rainwater rushes down the front of the porch even though the sun is clearly shining in the background. I wonder about how movies are made, how the director directs it to rain.
I wonder harder when the father, lying in the giant bed in the dark, mistakes Beethoven's licks to his ear for the licks of his wife. "Oh Baby, it's not even Saturday night!" he says to a clueless Beethoven. "You drive me crazy. Has daddy's little girl been naughty?"
"George!" his wife yells from the bathroom.
My wondering kicks into overdrive. I will never really stop wondering about this scene.
Beethoven knocks more tables over. Beethoven saves Emily when she nearly drowns in the family's swimming pool. Of course a movie with a large, slobbery dog would include a drowning girl in need of a rescue.
The "of course" reverberates in my stomach--I nearly say it out loud in the theatre but don't. The "of course" ripples through me again when Beethoven's newly acquired army of dog friends ramble through the supermarket and knock over a perfectly placed pyramid of perfectly round cabbages.
"Of course," my heart whispers. Of course.
The "of course" sounds as inevitable and resigned as my father after a 12-hour shift at the Goodyear plant.
Surely no other child can possibly believe this movie is funny or good or even acceptable. Surely every other child has realized we have been seated in this freezing theatre as some sort of colossal joke on the part of birthday boy Travis Kleinschmidt's mother.
Travis Kleinschmidt's brother John is known for his jokes. My mother calls him a "class clown" and likes to use the phrase "boys will be boys" when referring to the Kleinschmidt brothers.
But I am wrong. There is no joke at this 1992 birthday screening of Beethoven. The movie is real, and a slow, clattering realization in the back of my brain makes me think this movie might not only be real but bad. Really bad. Alarmingly bad.
The kids are in a state of rapture around me. They whisper with glee whenever Beethoven shakes mud onto anything. The father screams, the kids laugh. There is a fart joke. The drool never ends and neither does the near-constant hiss of "groooooossss" through the theatre, followed by a cyclone of giggles. Beethoven topples another table.
Travis Kleinschmidt, wearing a Burger King crown and seated behind me, flanked by his two best friends Chase and Kyle, will not stop kicking the back of my seat. Beethoven merely has to glance at another cheap set with his big, world-weary eyes, and Travis is thrashing like a fish, the vinyl seat thudding and groaning at the impact of his Air Jordans. I turn to look at him but don't yell at him--he's the birthday boy, after all.
My mother has taught me to be kind to those gracious enough to invite you to their birthday parties.
The villains in Beethoven consist of loud men in fancy suits hired by an evil veterinarian to kidnap Beethoven.
Beethoven's army of dog friends chases them through an alley at one point, and the men slam a chain-link gate behind them. Believing their plan to be genius, the villains shake their asses and stick out their tongues at the dog army, chanting in singsong: "Stupid stupid doggy! Stupid stupid doggy!"
I've seen Travis Kleinschmidt do similar things at recess--the chants, the Bart Simpson-style butt shaking, the faces and tongues through the dome of the jungle gym. Would Travis Kleinschmidt grow up to be these men? Would I continue to encounter the taunts of men in expensive suits until I died? Would I have to attend their birthday parties, also until I died?
I had a flash of myself as a grown woman, doing an adult thing like strolling in a city park wearing a plaid scarf, and dogs, St. Bernards like Beethoven, German Shepherds like the dog who bit me, and every other type of dog, jumping on me, licking me, slobbering in happiness as my stomach tightened.
The owner would approach me. "Oh, but he's friendly. He won't hurt you."
"Of course," I would say. "Of course."
Of course Beethoven saves the day and of course the evil veterinarian pays.
Travis Kleinschmidt's mother asks us, as the lights slowly rise, if we liked the movie. The kids roar yes around me. I might have said yes as well, simply because they did. Or I might have looked at the floor, now flecked with popcorn and sticky with pop. I remember being worried for the future, maybe even a tiny bit afraid.
In 1992 Beethoven was the first in what would become an eight-movie franchise (two theatrical releases and six direct-to-video) that ended with Beethoven’s Treasure Trail in 2014, the year I would complete graduate school.
"Did you like the movie?" my mom asks in the parking lot as I open the door to our Mazda minivan that smells vaguely of baby wipes and leaking pouches of Capri Sun. The April around us is about to burst into summer.
"Of course," I say, trying the phrase out for the first time. It's awkward and tastes almost bitter on my tongue ("groooooossss" " my classmates might say), but I learn to live with it. I learn to live with a lot of things.