Monday, April 30, 2007

Quote of the Day ...

... and it's not even noon!

It's courtesy of Jessica, who has thus far been quiet all morning. She's been working diligently, so that amount of concentration combined with the concern and sensitivity with which Jessica usually says things made this particularly special:

"Joey Buttafuoco has not aged well."

This does not imply he looked good to begin with, of course. But it never matters how bad it is to begin with: It can always get worse.

Feel free to share your aging well/not aging well observations. Here are some of mine:

Aging well: Kiefer Sutherland (mmm, Kiefer ...)
Not aging well: Nicollette Sheridan
Aging well: Jaclyn Smith
Not aging well: Michael Douglas

Also, it seems patently unfair that, for the most part, men age better than women. Is that really true, or is it the insane mind-set that older women are not attractive while men grow into their looks? And if that is true, how does nature explain Helen Mirren?

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A triple-venti helping of schadenfreude

During the nine years that I have been living in New York, I have picked up several local customs:

* Calling carbonated beverages "soda" (I fought that one for a year and a half; I much prefer the aural pleasure of the Michiganism "pop")
* Taking the subway until all hours, or until it really behooves me not to
* Identifying our pizza delivery guy, Eddie, on the phone just by his voice

Then there are the local customs I very intentionally have not taken on:

* Calling a purse a "pocketbook"
* Standing "on" line instead of "in" line
* The accent

And then there is the one custom that, despite my very best, most aggressive intentions, I can't seem to get quite right:

* Barreling through crowds of pedestrians on the sidewalk, flinging them willy-nilly in my wake of fabulousness

See, I was raised with the belief that one should go out of one's way to make others as comfortable as humanly possible. The women in my family are effusive, tend to be eager to please, and they do things like serve grand displays of food to others and send thank-you notes within two weeks of any event in which copious amounts of gifts are received. These are all good things, of course, and I appreciate these values, but over time I found that certain behaviors carried over into my own body language and carriage. (And I dont think this is just a Garfield Thing; I think this is common of most women, especially those who grew up in the Midwest.) So I eventually started getting the feeling that I was the only person in this entire Great City of Ours who moves out of other people's way when they're walking on the same sidewalk. I began to feel invisible. Passive. I began to feel too accommodating. And I began to feel grateful anytime someone did it for me, but I also began to feel I could count those incidences on one hand. And I began to get pissed off. And I liked that.

As of yesterday, I have entered the ranks of Road Warrior, Hellion on Concrete. Mess with me and I'll cut a bitch.

Also, bear with me. This story involves lots of walking, which doesn't make for an exhilarating read or anything. See, there I go again. Accommodating. Anyway.

My therapist's office is near Union Square, which is colorfully crowded on a regular day, but on a day like yesterday — the perfect spring/summer day, cloudless blue sky, cello quartet playing in the square, everyone licking ice cream cones and each other — it was insane. People people everywhere. So there I was, walking around people people everywhere, getting stuck behind people stopping in their tracks to check out the scene, and I was getting annoyed. I was running late and felt precious minutes ticking away from my therapy session every time I had to veer out of my way so some oblivious hipster could pass me without even mildly adjusting their route. Dude, if you take one step to the left, we can both get past each other. No common courtesy. You suck!

I crossed 14th Street and headed down University. Walked another block. Walked another. Then, just before I hit the group of protesting restaurant workers chanting behind a barricade in front of the Saigon Grill (slave wages, asshole management, don't eat there), a group of women walked toward me. The woman on the end closest to me was paying no mind to her surroundings, and I felt a huge veer on my part coming on because she clearly was not the type to move herself. So I'd have to shoot directly right, but not all the way because then I'd hit a street vendor (cute beaded bracelets!), and then I'd have to wait for them to pass so I could keep going forward.

I wasn't having any of it.

I moved to the right a little bit, but decided she'd have to work with me, she'd have to compromise and move a little bit too, to avoid a collision. But she didn't, and we slammed shoulders. Usually when that happens, you say, "Excuse me," and keep going. But see, it was better than that:

She'd been carrying a completely full, super-huge coffee. She lost control of it and the entire thing spilled all over the sidewalk. And I swear, maybe I felt empowered by the chanting anarchists behind the barricade, maybe I was emboldened by my new very cute pants, but the cold, cold blood rushing through my veins flipped out into a disco inferno, and my steely heart leapt a triple lutz. I was thrilled. I know making somebody spill their coffee is technically no big deal, but I felt excellent.

She stood there with her mouth agape, mourning her coffee carcass. I looked back, said, "Sorry," and basically skipped to therapy. I'll admit that the conciliatory part of my brain thought for a split-second to take responsibility and offer to buy her a new drink, but then the Marla Garla, Warrior Princess part of my brain kicked in: "She deserved it," it said. "You don't watch where you're going, you're gonna lose a beverage."

When I walked into my therapist's office, she looked at me and said, "Wow. You're doing REALLY well." It actually was a pretty crappy week, but at that moment, I felt better than I have in ages. Later in the evening, there was a lot of talk about how it was a metaphor for my desire to not let selfish people take advantage of me. I had splashed another person's misfortune over the ground and I got down and rolled around in it a little bit, and it was mighty satisfactory. And I don't even feel like a bad person. I'm fine with that.

In other news, I had this involved dream last night in which I was having an affair with Larry Birkhead, who was evil and wore a red Speedo to bed, and then I had dinner with Howard K. Stern and his parents who were CRAZY, and then I had to drive Anna Nicole Smith to some farm in the country and all these kittens were crawling in my green truck and we played with the kittens but only two were ours.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

"Bon voyage," I said. I disappeared.

And so reads the second-to-last page of my favorite Kurt Vonnegut book, Breakfast of Champions.

Slaughterhouse-Five was the only book I read from beginning to end while I was in college. I had a habit of resenting being told to read books, even if I really did want to read them. I was dying to finally get to In Cold Blood, White Noise sounded like a blast, I'd always wanted to tackle Dr. Zhivago. But all I did was skim them, bullshit my essay assignments, and shelve the books so I could read them after I graduated — on my own time, when I decided to sit down and take them in.

I was such a brat.

But I read Slaughterhouse-Five in its entirety, and then I read it again after I graduated. I almost never read books twice, because there are so many I haven't gotten to once. (I was mistaken in this post. I did read it twice, though I did it several years apart. If the kid in the post had spaced out his readings several years apart, it would have meant he read it the first time when he was a zygote.) The first time around, I tried skimming it the way I did with everything else, but Vonnegut's language was magnetic, and from the time I graduated college in May 1996 until around late 1999 when I moved to my second apartment in Brooklyn, every other book I read was a Vonnegut one.

It was completely intentional. Those three-and-a-half years were a tremendous transition time for me. I lived at home for two years after graduating, then moved to New York, where my entire life changed. I rented an apartment in Bay Ridge — a lovely neighborhood located down by the Verrazano Bridge where I knew I could afford to live alone and get my bearings. And it took a while to get my bearings: Acclimating to living anywhere new is like carrying a hippopotamus on your head, and I'd up and relocated with no job, no apartment, only a handful of friends, and a lot of fear. I don't regret a single second of what I did or how I did it, but Bay Ridge is somewhat isolated from greater New York City and I craved companionship, levity, intellectual stimulation, and a bit of wildness. Kurt Vonnegut provided all of that for me.

It was Breakfast of Champions that taught me that there is no limit to what can be put on a blank page. One look (and about eight minutes of hysterical laughing) at a sketch he drew in the middle of a page of a vagina and I saw how Vonnegut stretched the format of the novel. (He was illustrating the difference between beavers of the dam-building woodland-creature variety and, uh, other beavers.) He tested the written word, a reader's comprehension for supposed normalcy, he gave us the benefit of the doubt that we'd "get it."

Around that time, I dated This Guy. I can't say I remember that particular entaglement with any kind of fondness; it was one of those ridiculous situations where we were never officially together but we had to officially break up, so there was all of the headache and none of the benefit. But there were two things about him that I always found appealing: 1) He was a fan of Neil Finn, my fantasy husband; and 2) his favorite Vonnegut book was Breakfast of Champions. When we realized we both loved that book, we had a poseur moment of "Woooooah" that I firmly believe prodded the speedy acceleration of whatever it was we were doing together (which prodded the less speedy and, therefore, less enjoyable, deceleration of whatever it was we were doing together). At 24, being a Vonnegut fan automatically gave you coolness cred. I'd never had coolness cred before. I dug it.

Also around that time, I went to one of his readings at a Barnes & Noble. He stood up and I nearly fell out of my chair. He was so tall. So tall and lanky. I'd always gotten the impression he was a more slight man, but he was a towering force. Such a metaphor — I always thought whatever he put out felt like a surprise, even if he used the same characters.

So when I turned on the TV yesterday morning and the first thing I saw was Kurt Vonnegut's face, I burst into tears. I didn't have the volume on but I didn't have to hear the filed interview to know he was gone. Reading his books taught me that while I wasn't 100 percent sure what kind of writer I was, I could be any kind of writer I chose to be, and that I could say something strong and still make people laugh. It sounds hokey, but I think it's an important lesson for any young writer (and jeebus, was I young then). I'm grateful to have gotten that lesson from him.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Angel of Death, she is a cruel mistress.

When I stepped out onto the sidewalk after my commute this morning, it was snowing.


It hasn't snowed in April since I was a kid — as far as I remember, anyway. Whenever I talk about how it hasn't snowed in April since I was a kid, I sound like a long-ago-yarn-tellin', walkin'-uphill-both-ways-barefoot-bitchin', you'll-eat-your-vegetables-if-you-know-what's-good-fer-ya-orderin' fool. But it WAS that way! It used to snow up to my waist! And it was great packing snow! None of this "light dusting" business! Two days later, it would still be there! Nothing melted! We could build five-bedroom, four-bathroom fortresses from that snow and live in them happily until June!

Oh, hell, it probably snowed in April last year. Who knows.

I seem to be regressing a lot lately, probably because it's Passover. Every year as seders loom ever-carbless on my calendar, I contemplate why I hate this holiday so much, which leads me to contemplate my upbringing, which leads me to the realization that at 32 I still behave like a petulant child.

Passover was always such a huge deal in my house. My parents are big holiday people — they entertain for more than 20 people just about every single holiday — but they observed Passover with a particular tenacity. I think that's only because keeping Passover entails so many physical requirements: You have to rid your home of all bread (super-observant Jews skim over their shelves with feathers to make sure every crumb has been eliminated; my parents just chose not to buy bread that week); give up eating the stuff for eight. whole. days.; change your dishes, silverware and cookware to meet kosher-for-Passover standards; and organize a seder highlighted by an hours-long retelling of the story of how the Jews escaped bondage in Egypt. (Heh. I said "bondage." Dirty.)

It was a huge deal, so I hated it. I hated unearthing dish sets that served 6,000 people and schlepping them upstairs from the basement. I hated sampling the newfangled faux-cake desserts and cereals (kosher for Passover Cheerios stick to your teeth in the most unholy way). I hated seders that never seemed to end, singing songs in Hebrew, cleaning up matzo crumbs from the nether regions of my bra. It didn't matter that my family is quite fun and that the group we always assembled for Passover was a bloody riot. It didn't matter that the holiday was one of the only times of year that we spent with a particular patch of cousins who my grandmother was just crazy about. It didn't matter that the only truly edible food available during the eight days of Passover was chocolate, so that's all I ate. It didn't matter that the story of Passover is incredibly moving, moving enough for a Charlton Heston/Edward G. Robinson/John Derek epic (which is the best part of Passover). It felt like Hebrew school, which every kid hates, and I hated hated hated it. Hate.

This year, the seders were short and it was mostly painless ... until I had to do the Four Questions. For those of you unfamiliar with the tradition, it is left to the youngest child attending the seder to ask four questions, starting with the crowd-pleaser, "Why is this night different from all other nights?" (Um, because there aren't any dinner rolls. Ba-dum-bum.) The last time I did it, I must have been 8 or 9. I had to do it Monday night. There I am, sitting at the table, boobs drooping, waiting for a phone call from my gynecologist and trying to schedule workmen to come to my apartment and give us estimates on a new garden fence, and I am the youngest child at the table. Total regression. Hate.

This kind of holiday and how I react to it also makes me think about why I hate cooking so much. I love the idea of cooking, I love farmer's markets, I love cookbooks and recipes, I love cooking utensils, I love feeding people. I hate to cook. I don't find it cathartic, I don't find it relaxing, I have no sense of measurement or instinct for seasoning. I can follow instructions, which is probably why I'm a better baker than I am a cook, but it completely stresses me out.

(Lisa and I had this conversation last week:

ME: I baked a chocolate cream pie last night.
HER: Yum!
ME: I think I did something wrong.
HER: Why?
ME: It looks like somebody pooped in a nine-inch pan.

And ... scene.)

I think it's another example of petulant, 32-year-old rebellion. My mother is a great cook. She can make anything and it's always delicious. I don't think she's ever made something I didn't like, and that includes the Eggplant Parmesan Incident Of 1983. And like any mom, she always tried to get me to cook with her, and like any kid, I hated being roped into doing anything I didn't think of first, especially if it was domestic. I've been running away from the kitchen ever since.

My complete disdain for The Passover and The Cooking, it makes no sense. These are two things that are good for me. One is a holiday that no kid can really appreciate but is value-added as you age and becomes more than the story itself, and the other is sustenance, nurturing, creativity and action. Instead, I look at Passover as a time to de-bloat while I give up bread for eight days, and I look at cooking as something my husband does while I watch Law & Order.

I usually like to think I'm evolved, but yeah, not so much. Ah well.

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