Doors blow open between the past and present, and the sudden winds can be bracing and mysterious. I read with surprise that Reverge Anselmo was the writer-director for a movie Stateside (2004) and that he had also written a book, The Cadillac of Six-by’s, published by Harper Collins in 1997, described as “an almost existential take on the quotidian stress endured by US Marines in strife-torn Lebanon,” according to one review.
I doubt he remembers me. I had visited his parents, Rene Anselmo and his Rene’s wife Mary, in Greenwich, Connecticut long ago. At the time, I knew Rene Anselmo was a successful businessman in telecommunications, but I had no idea how successful. He founded PanAmSat in 1984, putting his personal fortune on the line to launch the world’s first privately owned international satellite.
I had arrived at the doorstep for a different matter altogether, and the Anselmos were kind enough to extend an overnight invitation.
I had not expected to enter the kind of digs I did – modeled on the Petit Trianon of Versailles. I don’t think I’ve ever, then or since, stayed in a private residence of that scale.
But mostly I was impressed with the Anselmos themselves. I learned later that Rene, the son of a postmaster who had become a Marine at 16 during the war, was renowned for his great passions and fierce feuds. In 2004, nearly a decade after his death, he was named in the top 10 of “100 People Who Made a Difference in Space” by Space News International. He was a man with “unflinching self-confidence and willingness to risk all in his fight to upend the status quo,” according to Space News.
In Greenwich, he had also donated more than 100,000 daffodil and tulip bulbs, planting some of them himself. The vision caught on. When the snows melt, the city is carpeted with daffodils – at least that was true when he died in 1995; I hope it still is.
From a New York Times article: ”Rene was a fighter and a scrapper,” said Mark Fowler, who, as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission under President Ronald Reagan, helped Mr. Anselmo pierce the monopoly in satellites. “He was crazy like a fox.”
The Space News tribute recognized that “his legacy was an entire industry – one he created almost single-handedly.”
But mostly he seemed a deeply wise, paternal, and powerful figure, and Mary, too, seemed graceful and wise, in a more willowy way. I look back now with gratitude on the occasional grace notes that are dropped into my life – such as this one.
During a time when the couple were out of the room, I had a short chat with their son, Reverge – he must have already undergone the experiences he describes in the autobiographical movie, including being wounded as a Marine in Lebanon – I realize it was one of those conversations that, viewed in retrospect, laid the groundwork for a different path ahead, way beyond what I could foresee then. Decades have passed. I never expected to see that house again – till I bought the movie Stateside for six bucks or so online. The movie, which included Val Kilmer and Carrie Fisher, among others, was partly filmed in that home; I immediately recognized it, and suddenly the past was palpable as now.
The film got an ambiguous review from The Washington Post, but there was a passage that rang home to me, that sounded exactly like Anselmo senior, at least in the brief two days of our acquaintance. It occurs in a short, moving scene on a staircase in a courthouse. The son has bungled his life rather badly and agrees to a court-negotiated plan to join the Marines in lieu of prison time. The father (Joe Mantegna) advises his son:
“You’ll have to live for awhile. One day you’ll understand. Somehow, life unfolds perfectly.”
“I hope so, Pop. I think so, too. … Did I mess up my whole life here?”
“Don’t be discouraged. Just put it together in a different way.”
“Losing your mother was a hard blow for me, like this is for you. Keep going up the road. That’s all I can tell you. Bars, you know, are full of people who want to tell you why they’re overwhelmed, why they can’t do it. I’m different.”
“Me too. You’ll see.”
It sounded so true to the man – I combed through the “commentary” – a bizarre modern custom in which the director and performers talk over the film with their random associations – to see if director Reverge had offered any comment on that particular scene. He did.
“This is what my old man really used to say,” he said.
Now I will, too.