The Eviction of Eloise

Okay, I know this isn’t about writing about Darfur or what’s going on in Iraq or New Orleans, but I have to let it out.

Every morning I read to my boys while they drink their milks. It’s a gift, really, to be able to do this. The experience has made me a sort of connoisseur of children’s literature. One of Charlie’s favorite books (and mine as well) is Eloise by Kay Thompson. For those not acquainted, Eloise is the story about a precocious, fast talking six-year-old girl who lives with her nanny at the Plaza Hotel in New York. The story was written in the Fifties and has sparked several subsequent Eloise books as well as movie and cartoon adaptations. The drawings are as fantastic as the writing.

Anyway, I recently had the brainstorm of bringing Charlie to The Plaza, where we’d sit in the hotel lobby and I would read the story to him where it theoretically all takes place. You have no idea how excited my little four-year-old son was at the prospect of this literary adventure. In the numbing December air we trekked all the way to the hotel only to learn that the Plaza Hotel, that mainstay of New York opulence and the setting for so many different movies, had become, aside for a small sliver that’s still being renovated, condominium-ized.

The doorman who stopped us at the revolving doors into Eloise’s Mecca had the forlorn look of a man whose children had been snatched from him. He explained in somber terms the endless parade of other parents with their excited young Eloise fans that he had been turning away. Why couldn’t the lobby at least have been left for people to come see, even if the rest of the place could be private? Why couldn’t a child be allowed a few happy moments to fulfill his or her fantasy of standing in the lobby where this beloved character had played? There was no use in complaining to him as he was just a self-described ‘door pusher’ and not the one in charge.

All we could do was peer past this pathetic gate keeper at the empty, lifeless, gold-adorned lobby, where never an entranced child would be able to linger, unless he or she lived there. The life had been sucked from the place. It was as if Eloise and all that is vivacious about her character, had been tossed out.

My son was bewildered from that point on all the way to tucking him into bed tonight. He kept asking the same question over and over.

“But why can’t we go there, daddy?”

I can’t tell you how many different ways that I tried to explain it to him: that things sometimes change. That sometimes the special things in this world can come undone even if we don’t want them. That there are people out there who want things all for themselves.

“But why, daddy? Why?”

After a certain point I realized there was no way his four-year-old mind could understand why he couldn’t go into this place and I just acquiesced, telling him I just didn’t know. And honestly, emotionally, I don’t either.

I know that some of you reading this are thinking that this particular blog is a bit sentimental and perhaps even a nary trite – and you’re probably right. But to me at this moment, the idea of children not being allowed into the Plaza lobby is indicative of all that is wrong with our American culture, where money is always more important than people, where greed is king. My film focuses on how dads suffer in this culture, but truly, it impacts nearly everything, from the pesticide-laden food we eat, to the environment that we are destroying to the lead-covered toys our kids play with….

“But why, daddy? Why?”

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