I was so obsessed with this movie when I was a child that I wanted to crawl into my parents’ stereo speakers. I listened to it over and over, picking the needle up at the end of the album, turning said album over, and then putting the needle down again at the beginning. I got cast as The Artful Dodger in the school musical when I was 11 years old, and my best friend Betsy was cast as Nancy, and our other best friend was cast as Fagin and we were so excited when we heard the cast list read out in the auditorium (called “multi-purpose room” at our school), that we all ran out into the hallway, and hugged, ferociously, for about 5 minutes. You never forget the things that obsessed you as a child. I don’t dis them. They were what made me me, they were what reached out to me and said, “Hey. You like this, don’t you.” I differentiated myself, became an individual, because of all of these things. Because of the movie Oliver!, I read the book, at age 10, one summer, and kept looking for the bits in the movie I had loved, but finally just succumbed to the tale being told in the book. Oliver!, along with a couple of other cultural “events”, is part of why I am the way I am, who I am today. I fell in love for the first time, and I’m still falling in love in the same way. I don’t ask “why”, I don’t check in with others to see if said obsession is “valid” or has some stamp of approval. I just go. My obsession with Oliver! was voracious and almost uncomfortable. I didn’t know what to DO with it. Therefore, I satisfied myself with acting it out by myself, talking in a Cockney accent from time to time, and (a glorious and ridiculous memory), sitting on top of the jungle gym at recess in elementary school, singing through the entire score with Betsy, as younger school children gathered around (we hoped with admiration but more likely it was horrified embarrassment that we could be so openly nerdy. But who knows. It was an innocent time). I wanted to be an orphan, with a top hat. I didn’t want to be Nancy or Bess. I wanted to be one of the boys.
A couple of years ago, at one of the best Bloomsday celebrations I ever attended (details here), an impromptu sing-along of Oliver! songs commenced after the official Bloomsday celebrations ended, led by Joe Hurley (who, I have since found out, is even more obsessed with Oliver! than I am). I sat in lower Manhattan on a picnic table, drunk in the middle of the day, singing “It’s a Fine Life” at the top of my lungs with a huge group of other people, and felt: “My God. I have found my own kind.”
My favorite memory of that day is looking around that alleyway where we were perched, and seeing a gentleman on the outskirts. He was obviously, judging by his slick suit and tie and shiny shoes, a financial district guy, not “one of us”. We had been there all day, after all, and by that point we had all become best. friends. When the regular Happy Hour commenced, a whole new crowd showed up. So I imagine the financial district guy had come to the bar for Happy Hour, a pub he normally frequented, only to find it completely overrun by an Irish crowd all clutching copies of Ulysses, some of us wearing eyepatches, singing “Consider Yourself At Home” in raucous harmony. Anyway, at one point the Bloomsday freaks were singing “Who Will Buy” at the tops of our lungs, trying to do the counterpoint parts (“Kniiiives, knives to grind …” etc.), and I glanced around and saw Finance District Guy, holding a beer, standing off to the side, slick mirrored sunglasses on, and he had completely succumbed. His face was red with drink, his mouth was wide open, and he was bellowing, along with the rest of us, “WHO WILL BUY THIS WONDERFUL MORNING – SUCH A SKY YOU NEVER DID SEE …”
I love that man to this day.
So happy birthday, Ron Moody. I have always worn fingerless gloves. Always. It started when I was 10. I had forgotten why I started until right now. It’s because of Fagin, of course. I didn’t enjoy the movie. I wanted to live it, and I never could get close enough, I never could climb so completely into those stereo speakers that I was on those streets, in that lair, and if fingerless gloves helped me imagine my way into that world, then that was what I had to do. It helped me review the situation properly. Ron Moody is in the warp and weft of my life forever.