I wish everyone could have seen New York in early September of 2001. The weather was about as close to perfect as weather can ever be. The temperature was warm way into the evenings, with a gentle breeze that made standing outside and chatting with friends at the end of the day more than pleasure – it was a necessity of manners. And that sky! I’ve heard folks say that if they hadn’t lived it, they would have thought it was computer generated. It was a clean blue, a bright blue, a blue that was so pure it was simply So blue it was like pieces of the sky.
I think it is memory that puts the haze around the edges of the TV screen. Or maybe I am remembering the moment as it appeared on my screen all those years ago. Back then we had ancient TV. It tended to do strange things with the picture. But if there is memory’s mist on the edges, or a cloudy reception on the TV screen, what is in the center is as clear as day: a tall and lanky man, thick black hair that curled just above his right eye, porcelain skin, and eyes so blue, they too were pieces of the sky. In this one image frozen in my mind, he is wearing a suit to match the color in his name, Remington Steele.
As the news droned on for seventy hours straight that week in the middle of September, I watched as my brother’s eyes drifted over to our video collection. Now again, my eyes would drift in that direction too, sometimes in sync with his, sometimes on my own. Finally I asked, ‘Feel like going for a walkies?’ He nodded gladly in relief.
My brother and I have a code between us. Normal human beings can hear the phrase ‘Siiiita! Stand! WALKIES,’ and think of Barbara Woodhouse. But my brother and I are not normal human beings. We hear that phrase and think of that poor unfortunate British gentleman that was about to find out what happens when one pretends to be a fire hydrant. ‘Hounded Steele’ is the only episode he and I remember completely from our childhood, and that week I needed to remember my childhood completely.
It is soothing to know what to expect out of the mouth of someone on TV. Jim has had much to say about Pierce’s voice, and I must concede that Remington Steele’s voice is very different from James Bond’s voice. Steele’s normal speaking voice has as predicable a rhythm as a waltz, but that’s the kind of dancing I needed to do in that moment. It is slightly higher, hits your eardrums slightly faster, and is sweeter, more hopeful. There’s a lilt to it that rocks back and forth, words accented in ways that I am not used to hearing. I got used to that voice, and learned to anticipate where his voice would rise, where it would drop off. Even though there was this Irish / English / God-only-knows-what-else-got-thrown-in-there-back-then accent, I needed to hear a sweet, hopeful, normal toned voice. When I heard that voice, I knew what to expect.
When Remington Steele wants to comfort you, the tone hits you like lavender swayed by wind, brushing against your bare legs in the peak of summer. It’s as gentle as silk, as quiet as a church right after mass, as tender as a lullaby. God help you when he yells though. Steele’s voice echoes without the help of a wind tunnel. The force behind the words is like a fire breaking through a door or a wall; it hits you hard, forces you back, and shakes your inside, sending your stomach to your heart. When he yells at you, you know you are in trouble. When he yells for you, you know you are safe.
In between the grizzly news updates, the tapes of Bin Laden gloating, and the never ending press conferences where you couldn’t anticipate what men with unfamiliar voices using words like ‘greatest loss of life,’ ‘Ground Zero,’ and ‘attack on American soil,’ would say, I grounded myself in what was familiar, what I could anticipate. In Steele’s voice I took my cues for when I knew someone was ready to fight for me, for when I was safe, and when I could cry.
Seeing Pierce then, hearing him then, inevitably reminded me of what ‘then’ is for me. Then was when the Communists were in this big bloc, easy to locate on a map, and they were the ultimate bad guys. We were the almighty United States of America, the ultimate good guys. I had in Ronald Reagan a president I respected without question, trusted unequivocally, and loved absolutely. I knew what I needed to know: Mom would stop nagging me if I put Pierce Brosnan on TV. New York City public schools are a good thing. Steak is a healthy food. Where I am, I am safe. No one, not a kidnapper, not a communist, not even those guys from the Middle East who hijack airplanes that take off from some other country’s airport, would ever try anything like that here in this country. They would be caught. They would be stopped. But even if by some horrible accident they did try to hurt us, they did try to get us, the USA would fight back and wipe those bad guys out as surely as Remington Steele would get the bad guys at the end of the show.
And then came 1986. Suddenly I had to relearn a few things: The bad guys weren’t just the communists. Ronald Reagan knew how to lie. America wasn’t always right. Amazingly my world went gray, just as Steele (in his gray suit, of course), started to fade away. Oh sure, he came in a big burst in 1987, just like my world went back to being black and white in flashes, but neither stayed very long, as much as tried to will it to.
In 1995, I was nineteen years old, and all the things I counted on being there at that age — a boyfriend, friends from high school, my grandfather – were not there. I watched GoldenEye and breathed a sigh of relief.
He was tall.
He was lanky.
His hair curled over his right eye.
He had porcelain skin.
He wore a gray suit.
His eyes were still as blue as the sky.
Thank God someone had the common decency not to change.
Somewhere in September of 2001, TV slowly returned to normal, and as the fall went on, so did the rest of life, in an equally slow pace. For some reason, my brother and I started renting lots of James Bond movies. No, that’s a lie, it wasn’t for some reason, and I know the reason. Escape. We needed to be reminded that someone in the intelligence business knew what he was doing and could take out the bad guys, whoever the bloody hell they were.
So yes, I watched Sean and renewed my love for Roger, but Pierce was always the first choice when it came to Bond. What can I say, nobody does it better. I’d point that out to my brother, and he would nod, to appease me so I would shut up. Or at least he did until I told him, ‘You gotta love Pierce. He hasn’t aged a day since Remington Steele.’ My brother gave me a dirty look and uttered something between a moan and primeval. ‘What?’ I said. He waved me off and we went back to the movie.
One Friday I came home early from work, and I didn’t particularly care for the Remington Steele that was on that day, so I popped The Thomas Crown Affair into the DVD player. There’s a scene where Thomas Crown takes Catherine Manning out to dinner. It’s an intimate scene with lots of nice juicy close-ups. For the first time I saw whatever everyone else had been seeing, what everyone else said lent weight to Brosnan as Bond:
Muscle replaced lank.
The curl was gone.
Graying at the temples.
Lines at his eyes.
As the scene went on I caught myself thinking, You bastard. You got old. Who told you you could do that?
I’d be an idiot if I jumped up and turned off the movie. I didn’t. I kept watching it. I kept watching it, and other movies he has made since the mid-eighties. Somewhere Pierce got the good advice to start working out more and put muscles on his bones. He really does look better for that, and the tan he now seems to have at all times. And I must confess, he does look better in blue than he does in gray. His hair does look better shorter, but I still miss that curl.
For the curl he lost in all these years, I found many more in my own hair when I found conditioner. For all those years I watched (and still watch) Remington Steele, I got a new TV that takes the haze out of the picture and the memory.
For the tragedies we lived through – watching those we loved most in the world die – we found a maturity and depth we didn’t know we had.
But for all that has changed — thank you God — one thing has stayed the same: those eyes.
So blue they are like pieces of the sky.
I see those eyes and remember what it was to know it all, to have all you need. With those eyes, I am safe, and he is all that was good and wonderful in my childhood. He is Remington, still, to me.
Copyright © 2002 Barbara Emanuele