There are as many ways to say goodbye as there are human beings — and as many ways for entertainment farewells to break your heart. Yet the big, epic, life-changing goodbyes don’t seem to happen as they once did, when she waved her tear-drenched handkerchief out of the train window and he, the perfect briefcase-carrying gentleman in business suit and hat, ran alongside the platform until the train’s whistle and smoke—and her small face–faded into the horizon. Although tears, or at least brimming eyes, are essential to epic goodbyes, symmetrical tears (two lovers torn asunder, two hearts breaking, knowing they’ll never see each other again) are very different from the lopsided, asymmetrical tears (shed as she desperately wants him to stay, knows he’s leaving forever — and he just wants to get out of there as fast as he can). Scenes: Humphrey Bogart in the fog on the tarmac insisting that the brimming-eyed Ingrid Bergman must flee for safety while he must stay behind in Casablanca. Scarlett sobbing on the stairs as that bastard Rhett turns at the threshold, opens the door into the foggy (that fog!) night, and says: “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!” Grand yesterdays, when style reigned and goodbyes were goodbyes.
Today style is more often sacrificed for heavy-handed ratings stunts. The endless goodbye to Dave Letterman launched in September 2014 — with months of hyped nostalgia followed by intensifying speculation about his final speech, followed by the real-time final speech, followed by retrospective parsing of the speech. An attempt by the rating manufacturers to turn a whimper into a bang? It was too much even for the unsentimental Dave, who said: ”Save some for the funeral.” Was it that he too, despite the sayonara parade, was not quite prepared for the final goodbye? There was reason to weep: in many ways Letterman’s departure was the last hurrah for the twentieth century. But it’s hardly Scarlett watching Rhett walking out of that door — or is it?