I am not exactly sure when I came to love Liza Minnelli. Maybe it was when I knew she was Dorothy’s daughter. Maybe it was when she stole the show in “Cabaret.” Or maybe it was when she loved the crazy right out of Dudley Moore in “Arthur.” But I do know exactly when I wanted to BE Liza Minnelli. It was the moment my friend Jim sent me a photo of the dancer taken years earlier. A stunning black and white shot of Liza wearing only a black coat on a rain soaked highway, it captured an incredible sense of freedom and abandon. With her head thrown back, Liza appears lost in the moment, oblivious to the world, joyful. I remember sucking in my breath, determined to one day feel that emotion, feel that sense of freedom. I told Jim that I planned to replicate that photo.
I began to show the picture to friends. Everyone who saw it agreed that it was indeed stunning. Some people laughed at my desire to don a coat and take the photo. Others shook their head, trying to wrap their thoughts around how my brain works. A few jokingly offered to take the picture, but I sensed it was to make fun of me. I just nodded patiently, sensing I would know when the time was right. That time came while I was painting furniture in my cousin Mary’s garage.
Mary’s daughter Katie has a knack for taking thrown out pieces of furniture and making them beautiful. She had agreed to help me with my first attempt to take tables passed down from Aunt Winnie and make them fresh. While up to our elbows in brushes and glaze, I spoke of the photo, expecting the same head shaking. Instead, Katie looked at the image on my phone, broke into a smile and said, “That is so cool, no wonder you want to copy it. I’m sure my brother Joe could make it happen. He’s a great photographer.” A few texts later and Joe was on board. But lots needed to be done to prepare.
First, I needed the right coat. Not having Liza’s stunning legs, it needed to be long enough to cover my cellulite, short enough to hint that I work out. I raided the closets of friends and relatives, checked out Goodwill stores, and did a few more squats! In one of those raids I stumbled on my own old raincoat hiding in my sister’s hall closet. I had not seen it in years, and when I put it on, I found it generous enough to hide what no one needs to see while slipping easily off my shoulders. I threw it in the trunk of my car, silently preparing for an unexpected rain storm. Next came finding the location. I left that to Joe. As he lives in a fairly rural area, I was confident he could discover a less traveled road that would allow for a photo shoot without dodging traffic. He mentioned not only needing the right road, but the right pavement, the trees. These were details only a photographer would consider. I felt all I needed was the coat!
Joe and I agreed that spontaneity would determine the best opportunity. The shadows in the picture suggested an early morning or evening, which required the willingness to wake up before dawn or cancel evening plans. We had a few false starts – a cookout where rain threatened but didn’t happen, a morning where it was pouring at my house but dry at his. We patiently waited, watchful whenever rain was predicted. So, when a humid Saturday dawned with thunderstorms, I was hopeful that we would get a window of lighter rain to snap the shot. We did.
Driving through a downpour, I worried that it just might be raining too hard! Barely able to see the road, I knew if it didn’t let up, Joe would not be able to take the picture. When I arrived, he was tracking the storm and felt that a break would occur in the next hour. My anxiety began to climb, the anticipation building as I imagined myself dancing across the road. Right on cue, the rain slowed to a soft drizzle and Joe grabbed his camera, directing me to his car. Two minutes later, my hair wet from the rain, I stepped out onto the pavement.
How hard could it be to float across the roadway, to simply walk on my toes and throw my head back in joy? How hard could it be to let the coat fall where it may but not reveal what was underneath? Actually it was damn hard! What Liza made look effortless, like walking on air, was because she was probably 20 years old and a dancer. My lack of balance let me know that I needed to get back to the yoga mat, and my stiff neck reminded me why I keep Advil close at hand! It felt as if my head was thrown back far enough to see the trees behind me, and each attempt to stay on my toes left me falling over in frustration. A voice in my head began to chatter on about how ridiculous this was to attempt.
But the point of taking the photo was not to look like Liza Minnelli (that’s impossible), but to capture the emotion, to feel that sense of freedom, to let go. As Joe directed me to relax, suggesting I enjoy myself, I began to laugh. I walked across the road with him snapping away. I stood on my toes, lost my footing, and stood on my toes again. The rain stopped and I needed to re-wet my hair in a puddle. A few cars came down the road and stared, probably thinking I was crazy. Yes, trying to replicate the photo was ridiculous, but I have earned the right to be silly. I have earned the right to not care if others think I am nuts.
An hour later, gathered around Joe’s computer, we quickly deleted several of the photos. Then Joe pulled up the one that he said caught my “juju.” I don’t know what that means, but he said it was a compliment and it did make me smile. Made me feel beautiful. It appeared that I had held the pose long enough for Joe to get the shot. In truth, I was about to fall over. I don’t look a thing like Liza, but I do look joyful, do look like I am having the time of my life. Taking the photo was a blast.
I like to imagine that I know how Liza felt when she took her photo. I like to imagine it is the same way I felt, which was glorious! I doubt I will ever get to meet Liza Minnelli, but we share space on my wall. The framed photographs hanging side by side make me smile every time they catch my eye. They are a daily reminder that those moments when I allow myself to let go, to lose my balance, are when the best things can happen. Even when it is raining.
NOTE: The original photo of Liza can be viewed at: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/531072981032120403/, or by searching images for “Liza Minnelli in the rain.”
Susan Emmerich is the author of A Girl on a Bike: Musings on Life, Loss, and Hot Flashes, now available from Second Wind Publishing and amazon.com She can be found riding her bike around Cleveland OH making observations on a most interesting life.