Lost weekend (inside my head cold)

I've been sequestered indoors since Thursday, when I woke up to an acute rhinovirus (self-diagnosed), and have seen "outside" exactly three time since then. The first was Friday night when I trudged five blocks to the grocery store for fresh nasal supplies, but mostly for Frosted Mini-Wheats. The heart wants what it wants and hang the expense. I sweated in line at D'agostino and Duane Reade and then hauled my ass back home and up four flights of stairs, only to find when I unpacked everything that I'd left the bag with the Frosted Mini-Wheats at the store. Which led to—newsflash—a frosted mini fucking breakdown. Maybe an all-time self-pity low. But I managed to see and appreciate some good things anyway. Let's count them!

1. One of my favorite sights in the world is dogs carrying big ol' gnarly sticks in their mouths on the way home from the park, and the dog owners who follow sheepishly behind them. It's like they all agree it's hard to be a dog in New York City, where you're cooped up in an apartment for most of the day and then forced to do your humiliating private business on the pavement in front of Starbucks and god and everybody, so enjoy this small harmless prop that lets you feel like a cock o' the walk for a couple of minutes. It speaks to the importance of compromise and quotidian pleasures.

2. The balding sixty-something dude who owns the ramshackle dry-cleaning place on 86th that I've been going to for years. He reminds me of my great Uncle Rollie, who was gruff and blue collar in a similar way. This guy always talks to me about how lazy his sister is or his terrible train ride in from Brooklyn and he usually calls me sweetheart, which is the kind of paternalistic tic I refuse to hold against a certain type of man. There are a lot of gray areas in life and between people, and there's a way for the word "sweetheart" to sound condescending or not, depending on the delivery and context, and when it's pointed at me I like to think I can tell the difference. So yesterday morning I walked in there sniffling and coughing and suffocating in goosedown, with my hat plastered to my forehead because what's the point in brushing your hair when you're dying. I got my sweaters out of hock and we chatted for a minute about the weather (snowy, rainy) and on my way out I said "Stay warm!" and he said "You too, baby, take care." And let me reiterate that I wouldn't take that particular endearment from many almost-strangers or even some people I know very well, but right at that moment it was a nice, simple, human thing I needed to hear from somebody. 

3. "Anne of Green Gables" and "Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel" on DVD (aka safe and familiar ground). These make the best sick bed viewing since there's both laughter and tears and you don't need to fast forward through anything but can fall asleep at any time if you feel like it. Wherever you wake up will be the middle of another scrape. I have many favorite parts but my favorite line comes at the very end of :The Sequel, when Katharine (with a "K") Brooke gazes quizzically at Anne of Green Gables and says, "Does life never frighten you with its bleakness?" And Anne doesn't even bother answering because no doy, Katharine. Life frightens everybody. Some of us just refuse to make that a religion.

4. My dear friend Tucc, who will indulge my love for Megan Follows at any time of day, whether we're faxing about "Reign" gowns or crowns or our favorite tragic YouTube fan vids. Thank god somebody finally took me up on this offer and not only got it but went all in.

5. Last night I reached the worst part of my cold, where the cough dropped down into my chest and I sound like Joan Rivers strangling Rachael Ray, which is the kind of thing I'd really enjoy if it was happening outside my body. But I was soaking in the bathtub in painfully hot water up to my chin and could hear "The Big Bang Theory" on the TV in the other room—the one where Sheldon plays the bongos because his barber is in a coma—and remembered that I can't feel truly miserable when there's comedy in the world.

6. Larry David eats a pancake (always good). Larry David has such stellar teeth. He's a person I'll watch just because I like to see him smile.

7.  "Obvious Child" on iTunes. I fully support movies where the drama isn't cranked up to *!!!&*(#@$% and a single mistake doesn't ruin a person's whole life. This hit all the right notes in just the right key. Also: three killer roles for chicks written and directed by a chick. At one point Jenny Slate says to her business professor mother, played by Polly Draper, "You're like an Eileen Fisher ninja," which would absolutely be my #1 dream ninja.

8. Paul Simon on repeat, LOUDLY:

9. "I've been waking up at sunrise
I've been following the light across my room
I watch the night receive the room of my day"

10. Danny Castellano of "The Mindy Project," full stop. He's a total mama's boy but his love for Bruce Springsteen, like mine, is forever and true. And Chris Messina is just [dot dot dot], even on the tony, perfectly lit streets of early morning Aspen or wherever.

11. This. I don't have much patience for music videos anymore but this is perfect.

Note from the subway

I almost forgot that when SarahB and I were waiting for the train Sunday morning, a gentleman wearing a black silk top hat sat down on the bench beside us. It was raining outside, and not the kind of rain I'd be willing to expose my silk top hat to, but he didn't look wet or defeated or anything. He looked like an old-timey magician who under kinder, more temperate conditions would obviously have been wearing a cape. Instead he had on an overcoat and a red scarf. He talked to us about boots and Munich and Larry Hagman and child actors on the stage and once upon a time being invited to tea in Vermont by Maria von Trapp. He said that he said no to her strudel, out of concern for his waistline, and of course he regrets it to this day.

People are always saying don't dwell on your regrets, but regrets are how you know you made real choices in the world, and that those choices came with real consequences, even if you're the only one who paid the price. What good does it do to pretend you made the right choice all of the time? That doesn't even make sense. We should all have to pay the price for our own vanity and short-sightedness and general moronitude, and if Maria von Trapp is the object lesson, so much the better. On the flipside, not everybody likes strudel, Maria, so maybe you should have had a backup plan.

On the town

At the top of the very short list of things that might lure me down to 42nd Street on a Saturday night: On the Town, which is playing at the newly renamed Lyric Theatre, an establishment that appears to rename itself on a whim every five years or so, like Puff Daddy. Whatever pays the bills, I guess. The cast of SPIDER-MAN! TURN OFF THE DARK! (worst title ever, exclams by me) famously crash-landed there a couple of years ago, but for this they've leased it to a trio of sailors who sing and dance and cruise the city for 24 hours on the lookout for chicks. Of course it all takes place in the 1940s, so even though the entire thing is about sex, it's wrapped up like a vintage valentine and tied together with a lot of brass instruments and clarinets and approximately 4,000 dream ballets. Never underestimate the power of a good dream ballet, especially at the tail end of a long week and a bitterly cold day. The sort of joy that comes from a show like this is the sort of joy that reaches up through the ground, that moves from your feet to your chest and whatever that part of you is that remembers certain smells and colors and what it is to be really safe and warm and happy. Plus at intermission you can just wave your hand at an usher and order a beer and they'll bring it right to your seat. Modern convenience, as they say. God bless us, everyone.

Then this morning I had a date to meet friends for breakfast but got the time wrong, so I bummed around at Rockefeller Center, which is coincidentally right next to the building I work in. It was a weird feeling to be there on a non-work day, non-fighting my way through the crowds and non-caring about racing from hither to thither or picking up kleenex and gum at Duane Reade. I can't see Rockefeller Center like a tourist anymore. I know too much. It's professional territory now, a daily conveyance-cum-battleground, and most of the time I just barrel my way through without ever lifting my head. You can't be a starry-eyed dreamer and survive here for very long as a resident, you'll get creamed by a cab every time you cross the street. But I sat down there today in the bowels of the concourse for a good half an hour, and since I was feeling all Bernstein-and-Comden-and-Greeny, I listened to the Broadway revival of "Wonderful Town" at top volume on my headphones, and through the strings and the pipes and the horns, for a few minutes I remembered. What it is to feel really safe and warm and happy and home.

45.

I'm having a problem lately where I see my own face in a mirror and can't actually believe it's my face. It's not that I don't recognize myself but something has definitely shifted somewhere along the way, and I can't quite put my finger on what it is—or was—or when it happened, and the idea that it happened without me even being aware of it feels both ghostly and futuristic, like Miss Havisham cross-pollinated with a short freckled robot during one of her many long naps. All of which interests me in a vague, anthropological way until I remember that this is the only face I've got and odds are it isn't getting any better from here. Naturally this thought is immediately followed by a clap of thunder and my mother's voice reminding me that some people don't have faces at all, probably, and aren't I lucky.

But 45! 45 is a traffic sign age, a speed bump age, a not implausible mid-point. The Maginot Line of aging. 45 is not old yet but old is coming. Whatever "old" means. (To some people it is certainly old. To others it is spring chickens.) And while I'm not sure "old" has an assigned age, I do know I'm closer now to 60 than I am to 20, or even 25. This concerns me for reasons that have nothing to do with looks, but mostly I'm curious. It's like a Christmas present I didn't ask for and can't return that shows up at 2:30 in the morning or on random Tuesdays in July. And one that's also, obviously, a permanent tattoo.

In my quest for peace and understanding I keep turning back to this smart interview with Megan Follows (long may she reign), where, responding to a question about feminism, she says that "[women] get this pressure as you get older that your value becomes less. And I think, what's the alternative? I don't get older? I don't bring the quality of who I am and my experience to what I have to offer? So that my value is more at a certain point than now? That's kind of insane, and very disempowering."

So what are we to do? When I was younger I was also quieter and nicer and shyer and dumber. Nothing to cling to there! Today I say fuck 'em all, and this is my face. Here is 45.

Intention to Escape from Him

I think I will learn some beautiful language, useless for commercial
Purposes, work hard at that.
I think I will learn the Latin name of every song-bird, not only in America but wherever they sing.
(Shun meditation, though; invite the controversial:
Is the world flat? Do bats eat cats?) By digging hard I might deflect that river, my mind, that uncontrollable thing,
Turgid and yellow, strong to overflow its banks in spring, carrying away bridges;
A bed of pebbles now, through which there trickles one clear narrow stream, following a course henceforth nefast—

Dig, dig; and if I come to ledges, blast.

— Edna St. Vincent Millay

Reasons to blog!

Because after 6+ years, people still remember how much I love Eugene Levy. I've gotten four emails about this show in the last week, all from different time zones. Look at those eyebrows! That silver fox hair! Catherine O'Hara! We will talk more about this, count on it.

UPDATE: Look! There's already more! I've run out of exclamation points.

Eugene, at what point in the planning process did Catherine’s name come up to play Moira?

Catherine O’Hara: Yeah, how many people said no?

Eugene Levy: She was the very first. We had nobody else in mind besides Catherine. The thing was, Could we actually get her to do it?

CO: Because I’m lazy, not because I’m popular.

Every choice we make

Everyone makes a youthful promise not to get old and regretful, but every choice we make, by definition, rules out something else, so there’s always something to what-if about. Even the people happiest to be doing X are still going to wonder occasionally, what if they’d chosen Y? Sometimes this is sad, yes. Sometimes, though, it’s just routine maintenance on an open and dynamic mind.
— Carolyn Hax
Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/st...

2015 resolve

Better late than next year! Heh heh. Annus humor.

My goals for 2015 include but are not limited to mastering chopsticks and being a better friend. Also being a better blogger. Flossing with intent. Running my designated races without caring too much about my time or hating myself at the end. Appreciating my knees. Wearing zero heels. Seeing more plays and more operas and more films. Drinking more coffee. Perfecting my omelette (I kid, my omelette's amazing). Saying yes to the right things, the things that pull me out into the world and tilt my head skyward. Remembering that I'm lucky, that the people I love are the people I trust and that wealth does not equal money. That everything goes and only some of it matters, and that maybe it wouldn't kill me to pay a little less attention to my hair and a little more to the condition of the bathroom floor.

How I spent my Christmas vacation

Wisconsin was wet and brown and sleepy, like a long Easter Sunday or an old gas station dog. I ate everything offered unto me and frosted a thousand cookies. I slept late and took naps. I took five books and read nothing. I delivered gifts with my father, had a leisurely lunch with Kris. With my niece, I Made Art, drawings and puzzles and such. We went to see "Annie" and we both sang along. We mourned the demise of my father's favorite Marine Corps glass, another victim of dishwasher mayhem. "Taps" was played on Youtube. I wrapped presents badly; leagues of Scotch tape died for my sins. On Christmas day, in the gloaming, there were two games of Hearts. I lost twice. It cost me $2. No pony this year! At the end it was hard to leave.

New York was cold and gray. Chelsea landed on New Year's Eve, we ate pork buns and watched "Reign." So very much "Reign." (How much is too much "Reign"? There is no such thing.) With SarahB we attended the opera, "The Merry Widow," a pretty confection to top off the year, all gowns and glitter and nonsense. We ate cheese quesadillas and laughed late into the night. On New Year's Day we toasted with champagne, with Roxie, and a marathon of "Designing Women." Today SarahB and I went downtown for "Bringing Up Baby." We stopped at the Blind Tiger after for a BLT and a beer. The bartender knew us, a couple of screwballs.

They were perfect, these days.

Happy anniversary to me & NYC

Eight years ago today I was fresh off the plane from Chicago, a wide-eyed provincial turnip with a single suitcase at my side, wondering what on earth I was thinking and what in the world would become of me in such a town. I had dreamed of living in New York for as long as I can remember, for so long that it seemed like the sort of dream that could never possibly come true, because I wanted it too badly. Like wanting to marry George Clooney, you know? Unpossible! And yet not, obviously, and screw you, George Clooney. I managed it because I am, let's remember, a Capricorn. And us goats (screw you, grammaticians), we take our own sweet time to reach those mighty, mighty heights, which for me is four whole stories above the streets of the city that I call home.

Next stop wonderland

Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.

Just kidding! Of course that's James Joyce from his pop hit A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Very famous, read by me in college. “Smithy” is a blacksmith's shop, btw, just so we all know where we stand.

And of course I am heading for the holiday to the Land of Cheese & Dreams. I'll be back in time for the New Year and with new plans to bring some life back to this drear little web space, so stay tuned! In the meantime I wish you well, and better, whoever, wherever, not more or bigger or newer, just better. As always, be safe, be well, keep sober, take condoms.

Chef, etc.

I've seen plenty of films that made me want to feast like a hog, but Chef is one of very few that made me want to learn how to cook. It's also stress-free, sunny, and delightful, and there's much to be said for actors and characters you simply enjoy spending time with.

See also: About Time, which I originally dismissed because the plot sounds très high concept and insufferable. Turns out it's a low-key familial goddamn love story!

Also, to read: this amazing Frank Rich interview with Chris Rock (which had the double bonus of renewing my faith in New York magazine) and a lovely piece at The Toast on the very real joys of Disney World.

Hard Candy Christmas

My friend Meredith and I used to tape songs off the TV with cassette recorders before they invented VCRs. Late one dark night we sat through an entire showing of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas just so we could record Dolly Parton singing "Hard Candy Christmas," and then halfway through the song my brother Kyle showed up and started pounding on the window. So somewhere in my mother's basement sits a shoe box with a white cassette tape in it labeled "Meredith screams at Dolly."

(Why didn't we simply purchase the movie soundtrack, you're wondering. Life was not so convenient in the days of Value Village and no sidewalks. It was the 80s. Everything was against us. Also, it's tough to save up for record albums when your allowance is $2 a week and you're spending it all on midnite blue mascara and bubblegum-flavored Maybelline Kissing Potion.)

Red Ranger Came Calling

One of my favorite Christmas books was a gift from a coworker at my first job after college. I can't remember if it was an office swap thing or if he was just sweet on me (ahem, I was very young and charming). I also can't explain this book any better than the introduction from the author, and certainly not without giving away the magic of the story, which touches on love and disappointment and the hard lesson of faith. It's one of the few Christmas miracles I still believe in.

In 1939, my father was nine years old. Then, and for the rest of his life, he was called Red by everyone but his mother, who thought the name saucy. People guessed wrongly that the name honored the thatch of orange debris atop his head that made it look like a freckled ostrich egg on fire. The name's true source was a popular cinema hero of the time: Buck Tweed, the Red Ranger of Mars, protector of the 23rd century and savior of grateful princesses.

It was he, the Red Ranger from the movies, that my father chose to confuse with himself. And it was that universe, cluttered with space Nazis and princess nabbers, that seemed to need him more than his own. But the key to such a world still eluded him: an official Buck Tweed two-speed crime-stopper star-hopper bicycle.

It is with a bicycle that this story begins and ends—a story that my father, the former Red Ranger of Mars, told us on the Christmas Eves of my own childhood. I've put his adventure to pictures here, its historical truth guaranteed by the Red Ranger himself. But truth, like the daydreams of nine-year-old boys, is slippery and prone to readjustment over time.

I can only submit to you the tale itself as he told it in his own words...plus the evidence still there in the forest, of course.

Berkeley Breathed, Red Ranger Came Calling

On this day of thanksgiving

From Lorrie Moore's Anagrams:

"You cannot be grateful without possessing a past. That is why children are incapable of gratitude and why night prayers and dinner graces are lost on them. "Gobbles Mommy, Gobbles Grandpa..." George races through it. She has no reference points. As I get older the past widens and accumulates, all sloppy landlessness like a river, and as a result I have more clearly demarcated areas of gratitude. Things like ice cream or scenery or one good kiss become objects of a huge soulful thanks. Nothing is gobbled. This is a sign of getting old."

Nothing is gobbled. Everything is precious and finite, and fleeting. In other words: they may be screwballs, but they're mine.

Let your love flow

#1 of the films I was too young to be watching when I was 11 years old: Little Darlings. I never recovered from my almost-love affair with dishy camp counselor Gary Callahan—he of the bedroom eyes and kitchen lips—as played by Armand Assante, who was also Goldie Hawn's piggish French boyfriend in Private Benjamin. Another film I was too young to be watching!

For time capsule's sake, let's just round out that list:

  • Animal House
  • 10
  • The Blue Lagoon
  • S.O.B.
  • Caddyshack
  • Stripes
  • Halloween
  • Urban Cowboy
  • Fame
  • Saturday Night Fever