Once and Again...Once Again
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Eli is raiding Rick and Lily's refrigerator while listening to the kitchen radio, which is tuned to the Dr. Sherri Snyderman call-in program on WIXB. Though no one's around to hear him, he can't resist saying, "She's so mean!" as the radio shrink arrogantly warns a caller not to "shack up with a perverted loser."
At WIXB, a deliveryman hands Lily a sack which contains Les's lunch. She carries it into the broadcast booth, where Les is taking advantage of a commercial break to remind Dr. Sherri that, having done only seventeen shows in the past six weeks, she's not giving her program the "best efforts" required by her contract. He argues that with newsletters, seminars, and audiotapes on top of her program, she's spreading herself too thin, and orders her to cut back. Dr. Sherri doesn't take criticism nearly as well as she dishes it out and shouts "Bite me!" at Les. Looking around her desk, she shrieks, "Where are my stupid dumb-dumb notes?" -- but when Lily, trying to help, points to a stack of papers, Dr. Sherri barks at her, "Don't touch my stuff!" The soundman signals that she's back on the air. Les and Lily exchange cynical glances as Dr. Sherri again dons her headset and effortlessly switches from screaming at her colleagues to purring into her microphone.
That afternoon, Mr. Dimitri's English students rehearse their production of As You Like It. Tad and Grace, playing Orlando and Rosalind, act out a scene which is halted when Grace breaks into a fit of giggles. Mr. Dimitri solicits critiques from his students, while Tad asks Jessie for a drink from her water bottle. At six o'clock, Mr. Dimitri calls it a night. As his students gather their belongings and leave, he reminds them that the parent information meeting has been rescheduled to Friday night. Grace lingers to defend herself against any suspicion Mr. Dimitri might have that her giggling means she's not serious about her role. The problem, she insists, is that Tad was flirting with her; "I don't actually mind," she adds. Mr. Dimitri isn't quite able to hide his incredulity, and when Grace comments that he looks shocked, he attempts to explain it away with, "I wake up looking shocked." Still, he assures Grace, "Giggling is permitted in Shakespeare. No flirting, though."
That night, as Rick and Lily set the dinner table, their family discusses the play. Grace and Jessie are surprised and somewhat miffed that their parents are worried that they can't handle both the play and their studies; Grace insists that they'll make time for both, and Mr. Dimitri is depending on them. Just as everyone is taking his or her seat at the table, the telephone rings. Grace answers and is thrilled that the caller is Tad, until he asks to speak to Jessie. Meanwhile, Judy arrives to share dinner.
Jessie takes the phone into the living room. Lily stage-whispers to Judy that Jessie is talking to a boy, then asks Grace what he's like and if he's cute. She doesn't notice that Grace's expression is sullen and her answers curt.
Tad asks Jessie if she can meet him on Friday evening to help him practice his lines, then remembers that a fellow student is having a party on Friday at a bowling alley. He suggests that Jessie meet him there. She stammers "OK," then hangs up and tells Eli, "You have to tell me what just happened." Once he hears her account, Eli announces to the entire family, "Jessie just got asked out on a date!"
Lily is elated by the news, Rick ambivalent, and Grace grimly silent. Directing questions and encouragement to Jessie, Lily dominates the conversation. When Grace tries to leave the table, Lily urges her to stay, but she continues to focus on Jessie, who says she's not even sure that she'll go out with Tad.
The next day, Judy arrives at a cafe for lunch with Karen and spots her friend lurking behind a concrete utility pole. Karen pulls Judy behind the pole and points to a helmeted man holding a bicycle, his back to them. She asks Judy if the man is Leo, her old flame. As soon as he turns around, Judy sees that he's a stranger. Her curiosity is piqued by Karen's interest in the cyclist and her disappointment that he's not Leo. "I just thought it was him," Karen explains vaguely, and hurries toward the cafe, Judy close behind.
The two friends are shown to a table. While studying the menu, Judy mentions that she saw Jessie the day before. "Wait until you hear about her big news!" Karen exults.
"Oh, I know. Her first date!" Judy replies. No sooner does she speak than she realizes from Karen's puzzled expression that she didn't know. "Oh, no," Judy groans. Although Karen tries to act nonchalant, she's clearly vexed. Not only has Rick not told her about Jessie's date, but her own news -- that Jessie has two solos in As You Like It -- can't compare in importance to Judy's.
That afternoon, during Dr. Sherri's broadcast, her belligerent voice carries far outside the booth, disturbing Lily and Les. "She's so mean!" Lily exclaims. "She's worse than mean, she's wacko," Les grumbles.
After lunch, Karen visits Rick's office to vent her anger over not being informed about Jessie's date. Rick protests, "It's a date, not Vatican II!" He's stunned when Karen warns him, "Don't put me in a position where I am forced to take some kind of action!" When he asks her what that means, she declares, "I am completely left out of the decision-making process!"
She asks if Rick has seen Tad (he lies that he has), and what he's like. "Swarthy, a convicted felon," he replies sarcastically. In a calmer tone, Karen asks if Jessie likes Tad. "I don't know," Rick answers. Her anger finally spent, Karen asks plaintively, "How did we get here?" "I don't know," Rick repeats.
That night, as Rick and Lily are preparing for bed, Lily asks, "Is it just because Karen heard about this from my bigmouth sister?"
"It has nothing to do with your bigmouth sister," Rick assures her. When he admits that he hasn't decided if he'll let Jessie go out with Tad, Lily accuses both him and Karen of feeling threatened because their daughter is growing up. Rick disagrees, saying that he doesn't mind her growing up, he just doesn't want her to change.
[Lily tells the interviewer that she doesn't remember her first date, only that boys suddenly started calling her as if they'd been given some kind of go-ahead signal: "It was nice, but kind of frightening." Karen recalls that the boy who was her first date had the highest SAT's in the class. "A few years ago someone told me that he'd killed himself. The highest SAT's -- besides me," she says, bewildered by this inexplicable tragedy.]
News of Jessie's date spreads, and one friend after another phones to talk about it and ask what she's going to wear. Lily joins in once Jessie announces that she's said yes to Tad. Over breakfast, Lily asks Jessie if she has a pretty necklace for the occasion. Her back to Grace, Lily doesn't notice her daughter frowning. Jessie replies that she doesn't have any special jewelry and doesn't like the glittery necklaces that are currently in style.
Grace is aghast when Lily suggests that the perfect accessory would be a shell necklace like the one Grace is wearing. When Jessie leaves the kitchen momentarily, Grace warns her mother not to make her lend the shell necklace to Jessie. She reminds Lily that the year before, she asked to borrow Lily's pearl necklace for a date, and Lily refused. She feels insulted when Lily answers, "Grandpa gave me that. What if you'd lost it?"
Jessie returns to the kitchen. Grace offers to lend her the shell necklace and to do her makeup for the date. She pointedly looks toward her mother to make sure that Lily has heard her being magnanimous.
At the next rehearsal, when Grace, as Rosalind, must give Tad's Orlando a medallion on a chain, she tries to hand it to him. Tad recalls that the last time they rehearsed this scene, she put the medallion around his neck, and he asks if she's going to do the scene that way again. "I'll do it how I do it!" she snaps. Mr. Dimitri quickly calls a break and follows Grace when she leaves the auditorium. "Whatever you're feeling, just use it in the scene and do whatever you want with that necklace," he advises her. "Just try not to hurt him --much."
At the studio, the Dr. Sherri program is on the air. Les and Lily listen outside the broadcast booth as Dr. Sherri, already in a foul mood, suddenly goes into meltdown, browbeating the caller and finally sneering, "You little whore!" Les barges in and orders the sound man to cut to a commercial. Outraged, Dr. Sherri immediately starts packing up her personal effects. She storms out of the studio, spewing threats of legal action while Les' jeers of "You're a nut! You should call yourself!" ring in her ears.
The sound man asks Les if he should run a public-service announcement after the commercial. After a moment's indecision, Les takes Dr. Sherri's seat, dons the headset, and orders the sound man to put through the next caller. "Hell, it's not rocket science," he mutters. However, he is completely stumped by the caller, a woman with a question about her ex-husband, who's estranged from his mother and is a bed-wetter to boot. "I think my colleague has an opinion about that," he finally blurts, and beckons to Lily, who is so startled that she looks around as if she can't believe he means her. Finally she takes Dr. Sherri's chair, Les giving her the headset and positioning her at the proper distance from the microphone. "So your ex-husband was a bedwetter?" she asks the caller solicitously.
The program continues and though she declares, "I'm no expert," Lily takes call after call, her confidence growing as she draws on her own life experiences to commiserate with her listeners and dispense advice. One by one, station employees are drawn to the booth. Les and the sound man stare at each other, hardly believing what they see and hear. While the program is still going on, Rick, Grace and Jessie arrive at home, where they find Eli in the driveway, listening to Lily on the radio in Karen's minivan. "You gotta hear this!" he tells them. They climb into the minivan and listen in silent amazement which, for Jessie, turns to chagrin when Lily describes her as "fifteen and so adorable. She's about to go out on her first date, and I truly couldn't be more thrilled for her if she was my own daughter."
By the time Lily starts her wrapup, her co-workers have filled the lobby. After she signs off, they break into applause, then crowd into the booth to congratulate her and exchange gleeful high-fives. When she arrives home that evening, instead of going inside, she remains in the car, so lost in thought that Rick startles her when he opens her door.
It hasn't occurred to her that the family might have heard her, but Rick informs her that they did. "You were great," he says, too mildly. She pries out of him the reason for his tempered enthusiasm: he thinks her on-air references to the family made them uncomfortable. In her own defense, she says she didn't have time to think about what she was doing. "Next time," he begins, but she assures him that there won't be a next time.
He complains that she spoke of Jessie's date as a given although he still hasn't met Tad and hasn't decided if he'll let her go. When Lily reminds him that Jessie has been looking forward to it all week, he asks irritably why this date is so important to Lily. "Rick, she's blossoming!" she argues. "Before your eyes she's changing and growing and blooming, and she needs you to tell her that it's OK."
Rick's face is a study in mixed emotions. "You never even asked me what it was like to be on the radio!" she prompts him. "What was it like?" he asks dutifully. "I can't describe it," she replies wistfully.
When Rick takes Grace and Jessie to school on Friday, he asks Grace to point out Tad. She indicates a tall, good-looking boy in a letter jacket. Jessie brings him over to the car, saying, "Tad wanted to meet you." Tad politely extends his hand to shake Rick's.
At WIXB, Les calls Lily into his office. Expecting to hear that her radio career is already over, she's stunned when Les says that he's going to start her out with a weekend show, and that he wants her to promote it by appearing on a WIXB program that evening. He adds that the station received a number of phone calls about her. "Apparently you struck a chord. Let's hope you can strike it once a week," he says.
Glued to her chair in shock, Lily has to be reminded by Les that she can go. On her way out, she asks eagerly, "How many phone calls?" Les breaks into a rare smile.
Jessie has a session with Dr. Rosenfeld, her psychiatrist. She confesses that she expected to have romantic feelings for the first boy she dated, but she doesn't have any romantic feelings for Tad. He replies that if she doesn't feel like going on the date, maybe she shouldn't go. He adds jokingly, "That'll be a million dollars." Jessie playfully tosses a throw pillow at him.
Outside Dr. Rosenfeld's office, Jessie sees Karen waiting to pick her up and climbs into the minivan. "I hear you're going on a date," Karen says. "Where'd you hear it, on the radio?" Jessie asks sardonically. Seeing her mother's confusion, Jessie recounts how Lily mentioned her date on the air. Karen is upset, but Jessie adds that she's over it.
"So what are you going to wear?" Karen asks. She's so disturbed by Jessie's reaction, "If I said I was gonna kill myself, someone would ask me, 'Oh, what are you gonna wear?'" that she quickly urges her not to say such things, even in jest. [Continuing her interview, Karen recalls, "I never had the right clothes, I never knew the right things to say. My mother was the opposite of help. I had friends, I guess, but I was never..." "I was popular," Lily says matter-of-factly, "which I know sounds easy, but --" "It was so hard," Karen concludes.]
Karen offers to take her shopping for an outfit, but Jessie tells her they don't have time before the parents' meeting. Besides, she adds, she has her clothes picked out, and Grace is lending her a necklace and doing her makeup. "So if you could just drop me there...?" she asks Karen, not noticing her mother's disappointment.
Grace approaches Mr. Dimitri in the school auditorium and says that she is thinking of dropping out of the play. She claims that she doesn't have any feeling for her role, she doesn't have time for it, she and Tad don't have any chemistry, and he should give the part to someone who's right for it. Mr. Dimitri puts an LP on a phonograph and as "Heart Like a Wheel," sung by Linda Ronstadt, fills the air, he urges Grace to listen to the lyrics. He says that he already gave the role of Rosalind to the person who was perfect for it. She sits cross-legged on the stage and Mr. Dimitri seats himself across from her. He notices her shell necklace and comments on it. "This music is all broken in, like an old chair," he says, leaning back in his chair. "You just curl up in it and rock."
Still angry at being out of the loop about Jessie's date, Karen calls Gail, her divorce lawyer. She paces the floor while reading from the custody agreement that the parties are to confer regarding decisions involving the children. Gail asks if Karen wants to take Rick to court. Karen concedes that this is Gail's "territory," but she argues that this is not an isolated incident, and brings up Lily's mention of Jessie on the radio. "It's like they're deliberately leaving me out of the equation!" she fumes. To pacify her, Gail, who has another call holding, finally agrees to call her back.
When Grace arrives home, she walks into Lily's bedroom, where Lily is dressing for the parents' meeting and her late-night radio show. Lily tells her that Jessie has already left for her date. Hearing the reproach in her mother's words, Grace says she couldn't help that Mr. Dimitri made her stay late, and that Jessie didn't need the shell necklace anyway. Something on her mother's dressing table catches her eye. "Why is your pearl necklace out?" she asks. Lily's response is an awkward silence. "Why is it out?" Grace persists.
Lily admits that she offered to let Jessie borrow it, and defends herself by saying that Grace and her shell necklace weren't home when Jessie was about to leave. "So you offered her your pearl necklace?" Grace shrieks.
"What difference does it make?" Lily asks.
"What difference does it make?" Grace repeats furiously, and bolts from the room. Lily follows Grace to her room and knocks on the door. When Grace opens it, she reminds Lily of what she said on the radio: that she couldn't be more thrilled if Jessie were her own daughter. Grace is deeply hurt that her mother is so much more excited about Jessie's first date than she was about Grace's. "I was excited," Lily insists. "But you didn't seem to need my help."
"No, Mom, you didn't want to help. Because he was African American, and I'm not helpless and delicate and perfect -- like Jessie!" Grace shouts, and slams the door on her. Lily hangs her head and buries her face in her hands.
Moments later, the phone rings. The caller is Judy, looking for Rick, who's out. In a hurry to end the conversation and leave, Lily is so brusque that Judy assumes her sister is angry with her. She apologizes for having told Karen about Jessie's date.
"Well, I shouldn't have told half of Chicago," Lily replies, and confesses to Judy that she "screwed up with Grace." She explains that it happened because she wanted to give Jessie confidence when she seemed so insecure.
"But she's so beautiful!" Judy points out.
"At that age, even if you are, you don't know you are," Lily says.
"But if your sister's beautiful," Judy adds pointedly, "even if she doesn't know that she is, it can sometimes make you feel like you're not...or so I've heard."
Lily ponders this and finally thanks Judy for calling. "Any time," Judy answers.
Gail phones Karen, who's at the school auditorium for the parents' meeting. Gail says that if Karen still wants to consult her about the custody agreement, she's available that night.
Lily suddenly appears behind Karen. "Could we talk?" Lily asks.
"I'm not really prepared to talk right now," Karen replies, waving her hands as if shooing Lily away.
"I have something I wanted to say," Lily tries again.
"Well, you don't seem to need my permission to talk. I don't think it's appropriate to use the kids as material -- " Karen continues.
"Nobody's using anybody!" Lily interrupts.
"I wish that were true," Karen says coldly.
Mr. Dimitri starts the meeting. Karen and Lily take seats at opposite ends of the auditorium. Karen dials Gail's number and, in an undertone, tells Gail that she wants to meet her that night.
Rick drives Jessie to the bowling alley. Instead of climbing out of the car immediately, Jessie asks Rick if her date has caused a problem between him and her mother. Rick downplays Jessie's concern and says he has something for her: knowing that she was planning to borrow Grace's necklace, he decided she should have one of her own. When Jessie opens the box, she finds a glittery necklace in the very style which she told Lily that she didn't like. However, she is touched by Rick's thoughtfulness and gives him a grateful hug.
When Karen arrives at Gail's office after the parents' meeting, Gail asks her to wait in the anteroom, then disappears into her inner office. In the anteroom is a radio which is tuned to WIXB. Karen listens as a few notes of blues music lead into a program called "After Sundown." Michael, the host, introduces Lily as the person who "saved the day" by filling in for Dr. Sherri even though she had never been on the radio before. "You have no degree, no experience. What qualifies you to give advice to people?' he asks.
Lily laughs softly. "Well, I'm not a good listener," she admits. "I'm convinced that I'm completely right and other people are completely wrong, and I'm always very happy to tell them how wrong they are." Outside the bowling alley, where his car radio is also set to WIXB, Rick listens to his wife say, "I can be compassionate with strangers, but when it comes to dealing with people I actually know, I'm having more trouble than I thought. I've noticed lately that I've been more or less oblivious to other people's pain." Karen tilts her head as she listens.
On the radio in her bedroom, Grace is also listening to her mother, who continues, "I have spent most of the last week just blind, not even seeing someone who is doing the absolute best they can, whose feelings I have completely ignored, and who has every right to feel the way they do about me. And if by some miracle this person is actually listening right now, I just want them to know that I actually do understand and I'm truly sorry."
Smiling, Rick leans back in his car, while Grace curls up on her bed, a smile on her face also. In Gail's office, Karen fights back tears, then rises, picks up her coat, and silently leaves, not even calling a good-bye to Gail.
Although the lights are out and Michael has left, Lily is still in the broadcast booth, stroking the microphone, when Les emerges from his office and sees her. "You realize you're off the air," he points out.
"Am I supposed to like it this much?" Lily asks, giving Les an embarrassed smile.
"I don't know. I know I did," he answers. His usual gruffness is gone, replaced by quiet respect for an employee who is on her way to becoming a peer. He offers to walk her to her car, but Lily doesn't immediately stand up. Instead, she swivels in her chair and gazes thoughtfully at her reflection in the glass wall of the booth.
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