Wednesday, October 31, 2007

WC: Emily Dickinson on Being Haunted

One need not be a chamber to be haunted;
One need not be a house;
The brain has corridors surpassing
Material place.

- - - Emily Dickinson

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

RS: Lost in the stars

My astrologer told me my life was going to get better, spectacularly better. The prediction was that life after 40 would surpass anything I'd experienced before. There hadn't been aspects like this in my chart for 85 years—and the good stuff was going to last for almost a decade.
I'd been looking forward to my 40s since I had turned 30. Them 30s hadn't come with a spectacular launch. My boyfriend at the time had done nothing to make the event special, and I hadn't developed the skills to ask for what I wanted or needed. I had only mastered the art of sulking. And I had wanted the milestone to be special. He had a knack for robbing me of special moments. Always cried poor when it was time to celebrate me. Our entire relationship had been about celebrating him. His PhD, which I had essentially paid for—along with his Masters and undergraduate degree—was his last hoorah. And then he was gone. Whoopee for me! Turned out to be a great gift, just what I needed, but it took me the rest of the decade to realize it and to begin to celebrate it.

My 30s basically sucked. So the prospect of 40, even without the predictive intelligence afforded by PJ my astro-maestro, was deliciously inviting. As it approached, I had my throat slit, literally. It was to be a simple surgery. But there has never been anything simple about my body. If a drug is activating for the general population, it's sedating for me. If it causes diarrhea for the general population, it causes explosive diarrhea for me. I can fertilize a 20 acre field after one pill. I live in extremes—physically, psychologically, spiritually, existentially. So, it looked entirely likely that I was going to celebrate my 40th birthday from a hospital bed. Forty candles in a plastic tub of jello and a bed pan for a party hat was not the most exciting proposition.

I was released. Then I celebrated and I was released again. The most perfect celebration. 40 ushered in with exhilaration. But I didn't feel better. Actually, I felt worse than before the surgery. Holy shit, Eyeore, was I born under a dark cloud too? Was a decade of hoping for naught? Was my beloved and much trusted astrologer wrong? It would be a first. Then, right on schedule, the tide turned. And now, 5 months in, 40 has already exceeded expectation.

And, in truth, as I reflect on my disastrous decade, I realize that a majority of the most important people in my life came to me during my 30s, made this most promising decade I've just begun possible. Maybe I've given my 30s a bum wrap. Or maybe, I'm just starting to learn the right lessons. Some say I don't look 40, so perhaps I can pretend to relive my 30s (in the eyes of strangers anyway) and learn to love them. Better memories through moisturizer. Not a bad way to face the future and respackle the past.

ANON: Halloween

As a grown person, I'm a little embarrassed to admit that Halloween scares me. Of course it's supposed to be a fun/scary night. For me, however, the scary way outweighs the fun.

The sight of even a 4 and a half foot high child in a mask and black clothes takes me right back to every movie that's ever scared me. I don't say "scary movie" because I've been just as scared by nonscary movies. Think back to the scariest film moment from your childhood. Sometimes when seen through the eyes of an adult, it ain't scary it's laughable!

I don't like the process of going up to the front doors of strange neighbors to beg for candy. They were strange yesterday and will be again tomorrow but today LET'S ASK THEM FOR CANDY.

I don't like walking around my usually benign neighborhood because it's now filled with ghouls, witches, vampires, werewolves, and Spongebobs.

This is the holiday that makes me feel like a socially retarded, frightened kid and a grumpy old adult at the very same time!

So, trick or treat and have fun tomorrow! I will certainly try...

Sunday, October 28, 2007

DW: Travels With My Past

My husband and I just returned from France, where we spent one week in the Provence area, then five days in Paris. I'm beginning to think that Erica Jong was right when she said, "whenever I make plans to go anywhere but Italy, I feel like I have made a terrible mistake."

A few things you should know about me: French was my second language after English. I was fortunate enough to have gone to a private school for two years where half the day was taught in English and half the day was taught in French. Um, this didn’t mean that my parents were rich, it meant that my father made a lot more money than usual for two years, and then we were back to being poor again. However, that experience instilled a lifelong interest and capacity for learning new languages. So, my point is that I loved French things from the time I was very little. I loved them even more when my mother would remind me that Jackie spoke to Caroline in French, and speaking French was an entree into the world of diplomacy, literature, and film.

I think my first French film was "Jules and Jim." I remember arguing with my father because there was a Knicks game on and we had only one TV and he certainly was not interested in watching a PBS presentation of a subtitled film. After much spitting and yelling, I got my way, and fixated on Jeanne Moreau and Oskar Werner for the next two hours. I was thrilled—I had two new friends to relate to— in French.

This most naturally paved the way for me to spend most of my adolescence planning on exactly what courses I would take at the Sorbonne, and what arrondissement I would live in as a student. What resulted was me going to Rutgers and living in Clothier Hall then an apartment on Guilden Street. But hey, I did continue with my French obsessions in college, and went to all of the classic “new wave” screenings. I also studied Italian and Russian.

So, here I was in Paris (for the third time), and Iwas feeling disconnected and displaced. Thinking that I love reading about Paris more than being there, and I definitely prefer Paris in black and white. I want everything to look like it does in “Rififi” and “Band a Part.” I want to be Anna Karina running through the Louvre in black tights—not a middle-aged American with sore feet and a sinus headache.

I’ve decided that there are not any shoes in the world that can make my feet feel comfortable after 6 hours of walking. Not SAS, Rockport, New Balance, or Keen. Even with rotating my regular orthotics, Dr. Scholl’s gel orthotics, and Dr. Scholl’s gel heel inserts, I still needed to ice my feet after a day of walking. My husband, of course, could have continued on for another 6 hours without hobbling.

The two highlights of our Paris stay was my falafel from “The Ace of Falafel” (Lenny Kravitz’s favorite falafel place) in the Marais section, and seeing Serge Gainsbourg house on the rue Verneuil. I couldn’t bear the thought of going to large museums, so we opted for the Rodin and Picasso museums which were great. Unfortunately, Camille Claudel’s work was on temporary visitation to Spain for an exhibition.

Perhaps the thing that was most unsettling was that we couldn’t get a cup of coffee for less than 4 euros, which is about $6. This was the first time I didn’t do enormous amounts of research on places to eat, etc. I’ve been so busy at work that I just had to be spontaneous. That spontaneity translated into a $11.40 euro bill ($15) for two café cremes at Café Flore. Of course, you’re paying for the privilege of sitting on St. Germain de Pres and people watching.

I came home to the new issue of Vanity Fair, which has a very long article on Serge Gainsbourg—how cosmic is that? My feelings softened about Paris when reading all these Left Bank references—Café Vagenende, Rue Jacob. Rue Princesse, etc—I know where all those places are, and that’s very gratifying in some odd way. It makes me feel like an insider.

I’m glad to be home and back to my French press coffee and black and white books and films about Paris… the place where I was supposed to have been born afterall.

To be continued.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

SS: Favorite Flannery O’Connor Story Titles

I recently tried to turn on a friend to the magnificent Flannery O’Connor, by giving him a copy of “Good Country People,” my favorite short story of all time. One of the O’Connor “trademarks” I like best is her use of clichés and sayings as story titles. Here are some of my personal favorites:

“A Good Man is Hard to Find”

“The Life You Save May Be Your Own”

“You Can’t Be Any Poorer Than Dead”

“Everything That Rises Must Converge”

“The Lame Shall Enter First”

“Why Do The Heathen Rage?”

AV: Hellmouthwash

The fires in San Diego (the center of MY universe) are dying and I'm spent. Drained. Tired. A bit numb, if you must know. I can barely bring myself to write about it, except for I figure most everyone else out there (this means you, "Bunch") hasn't been saturated with it all in quite the way that I have. And I don't have the energy to write much on the ongoing-ness of it all.

But here's some updates:
Google Maps and the LA Times, and KPBS (my local NPR station) in conjunction with San Diego State University have put links to regional fire maps on the Google Map home page. I think it's a good sign that I can be impressed by the technology and its adaptation to real time need rather than just think it's mindbendingly horrific.

Here's the link directly to the San Diego fire map (shows perimeter of burn areas, still-burning areas, and icons depicting all manner of services and public safety information). Cool!

Updates on friends:
Most have found their way back to homes that are still standing and, in some cases, miraculously undamaged. Those who were staying with me are back in the land of Rancho and just trying to breathe in the crappy air. One has mowed her lawn and is awaiting the return of the birds to the space just beyond her back fence, a small patch of wildlife refuge area.

One has lost her home on the San Pasqual Academy. She's a resident instructor there (part of the "grandparent" program) and they're taking good care of her. Still, she's got the key to my place and knows she has room to spread on her own, or just watch some tv with the kitty.

More stories to follow, I'm sure.

But! For me? Today Aida and I are heading up to UCLA Royce Hall to see Sir Ian McKellan and the Royal Shakespeare Company in the only freaking West coast engagement of "King Lear."

This, my friends, is a testament to the essential moral goodness of obsessive email checking. Were I not someone who checks my email Often (upper case "O"), I would not have received word in time that the good folks at UCLA Live! had released more tix to the public.

I managed to find three seats together in the balcony for me, my partner, and my brother Richard (who lives in LA). But it's okay. They're in the theatre and that's all I care about.BTW, for the thrifty among you, these $40 tickets are now reselling for ~$500 apiece. The good ones are fetching $1000.

Me? I need the road trip, Boy Howdy.

Rodney, I'm leaving my toenail clippers at home.

Friday, October 26, 2007

HC: A quick Steven Colbert quote (and go out and buy your own copy of the book!)

From Steven Colbert's "I am America (and So Can You)"


Anyone who has ever spent $5 to purchase a newborn dachshund out of a cardboard box in a supermarket parking lot knows the joy of a litter of puppies. Without them the desk calendars of our nation's secretaries would be blank.

But there is a movement afoot in this country, spearheaded by certain octogenarian game show hosts, to spay and neuter our pets, ostensibly to control their population. Instead of letting animals be animals these people choose to "Cut and Run."

At its very core, this scissor-happy movement is an affront to virility and is brazenly anti-ball. Think of the agony you put your neutered dog through when, during a simple game of fetch, you ask him to chase down and retrieve a symbol of his lost manhood. The ANTI-Cruelty Society is performing these procedures! [FOOTNOTE: One minute they're telling you how important it is to save some endangered species no one has ever heard of, the next they're begging you to neuter your pets. Which is it, more animals or less? You can't have your Spotted Owl and eat it too.] And they say irony is dead!

Worst of all, neutering is birth control, plain and simple. Instead of the wholesale de-sacking of these creatures, we should be promoting abstinence education for our pets. They will get the same satisfaction teenagers do from remaining chaste until the are married. And yes, I am once again advocating animal marriages. [SIDENOTE: NOT animal gay marriages!]

Thursday, October 25, 2007

WC: The Renaissance of My Mail Box

When I was younger, getting the mail every day was exciting. I had a serious magazine addiction, and many days brought brand new editions of the New Yorker. Or Entertainment Weekly. Or Smart Money. Or Time. Or--well, you get the idea. Also, I was a freelancer, so the check often was in the mail. When I had a somewhat-syndicated column, the mail might include publications with my work in them. And, of course, there was an occasional letter, and many bills.

Time marched on, and my mailbox became anorectic. People email now. I've pruned my subscriptions way down. I hardly even get bills anymore, as I pay most of them online. Over the years, the daily excitement of the mail evolved into a very occasional treat--for instance, a post card from a traveling friend or my twice-yearly royalty checks. There were days that I did not even check my mail.

And then it came to pass that I joined Netflix. And my mailbox is a source of joy again. The little bit of excitement I feel whenever I see that iconic red envelope is almost silly. But having lived in an age when I would set my alarm for 2 am to catch a showing of a favorite movie that I might never see again, having films and TV shows appear in my mailbox feels a lot like magic.

It seems that each development in technology takes away a bit more of the joy of anticipation. Even Netflix seems too slow for the young technophiles who download movies. I suppose some day we'll snap our fingers and the movies will appear in our heads. But, for now, I'm savoring the moment of suspense as I put my key in the mailbox lock and wonder if a work of art or entertainment or education is waiting for me inside.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

HC: Burying my head in the sand, or just under the blankies...

Sometimes life is scary and upsetting. The fires in California. Global warming in general. Some guys in New York City set a homeless man on fire; he has since died. Yesterday I heard that some guys raped a disabled man...with a plumber's snake. How do you hear things like this and not want to run screaming into the arms of your mommy or the warmth and safety of your bed.

In the cases of those men who are tied for the Nazi Cruelty Award, you just have to think that they are human mutants, horribly scarred by life, or mentally damaged somehow. I wanted to run to the hospital to apologize to the burned homeless man, to tell him most of us are nice, and most of us are so sorry for what happened to him. I then heard he died and, although I'm not someone who prays, I said a little...not prayer, but thought, out to that man, saying I was so sorry he was the victim of such pointless cruelty.

As for the fires, or Hurricane Katrina, or the tsunami, other than donating money and sending positive vibes in the correct geographical direction, I don't know what to do. I have a home, jobs, and family, and can't get on a plane to help put out the fires in California. I wish I could. It's times like this I feel very powerless and very small.

I do wish that 1010 WINS and other radio stations also told of the good things that happened today, that most people got to work okay, and that thousands of nondrug taking kids went to school, and that the world goes on. But of course news like that doesn't rate the BOOM BOOM BOOM of the special "Disaster Music Theme" that 1010 WINS specializes in. Maybe it's not interesting that 49 states aren't on fire. I know we need to hear the news, and I know that news reports of "Hey, there's no fire at all in Wisconsin" would be pointless and probably dull. Still, I need to remind myself that there are a whole lot more wonderful people helping homeless men than setting them on fire. Even in the horror that is currently California, we should take a minute to be in awe that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of firefighters, rescue workers, and helpers out there, doing what they can. I'm amazed, always, that there's a special make of human that runs towards danger instead of away from it.

Maybe I'm being a Pollyanna playing the glad game, but it makes me a little more able to at least peak above my protective blanket, and continue with my day.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

RS: Do you see what I see?

Standing at any street corner in New York City, I wonder if the old adage isn’t completely wrong. It seems to me that everyone is an island, vacant and disconnected as they push their way toward urgent destinations. Some engage with their surroundings, taking in the buildings or the bustle of the ongoing bustling; but minus the horny come hitherings of a few, we truly don’t seem to see eye to eye. I see it constantly, and I am one of them.

Part of it is survival. Even in a concrete jungle, looking an animal directly in the eyes can be an act of aggression. Part of it is priority. Are you really inclined to make new friends on the street when you are heading off to join friends already made? Part of it is tourism. What is the endless fascination with construction? And it should count as justifiable homicide if you wipe out an entire family of polyester-clad fat asses is walking brood abreast and making our walkways impassable. Part of it, I suspect, is fear. There is risk in connection and suffering in rejection.

I have known recent transplants who vowed not to become a callous pusher, committing walking hit and runs without courtesy of an “excuse me.” They have, without exception, been bruised into brashness. In some cases, I simply never heard from them again. Perhaps they felt further contact with me would suck the compassion right out of them. I do hope some of them have successfully preserved some of their humanity. I, sadly, have not. I have portioned it for my private life and have devolved from compassionate to cold on the streets.

I have a friend who walks in the city constantly. Not for the purposes of arriving, just journeying to enjoy the city, take it in, and burn a few calories. She walks untold miles per year—okay, to be fair she has told me several times, I just can’t remember. Because it has become a part of her life, not an interruption to living, and, no doubt, because she has in her five decades learned to integrate her private and public selves, she does manage to see things. Many things. Perhaps, at moments, everything. Even she avoids certain routes at certain times to avoid certain traffic. And when it becomes unavoidable, even she grows weary and, occasionally, resentful.

We are a cold lot on this island of Manhattan. But is it possible we are any different than brethren elsewhere? My family lives in a place that is impossibly different. They see folks on the street and smile and nod and sometimes even stop to say “how do?” Unless, of course, they happen to be a stranger. At the end of the day, is it any different here? We are an island of strangers. There’s just more of us. But is it necessary that we strangers live so estranged?

I decided to conduct a little experiment. I pulled the ear phones out of my ears and put down my invisibility cloak, my portable CD player. Now, I know I am one of the last upright beings with opposable thumbs who doesn’t own an iPod. There could be two things that prevent me from getting one. One, laziness. I have no interest in spending my free time loading all number of songs onto a drive and copying them and managing them and waiting and waiting and waiting. The thought of it bores me, so the actuality might send me into a coma. Two, I am a control freak when it comes to music. I know what I want to listen to when I leave the house. I also tend to be a little obsessive. So, when I am in the mood to hear a particular show tune, I can listen to it over and over again and again and again before I am done with it. (I’ve also seen every episode of The Golden Girls at least 25 times each and can identify several episodes from the opening credits. It doesn’t take much to get me fixated. I’ve seen the current revival of Chicago almost 20 times. And I have seen the movie Frances over 35 times. While it might not bode well for my mental health, it is a tremendous movie with such exhilarating performances that it amazes me every time. I am an enthusiastic fan. I love the things I love and hate things with equal passion.) So, the portable CD player gives me a sense of control—I know I can control the iPod too, but I am used to the CD player which, I guess, takes us back to laziness which, I guess, means I lied about the number of excuses.

But I can walk down the street listening to Blow Gabriel Blow and reenact the choreography from the community theatre production I did in 1992—I was Billy Flynn, not Reno Sweeney, so I just sat there in the klink during the number, but I had that sucker memorized to a gesture. That subsequently gets me recounting, moment by moment, the time I sang the song at the First Southern Baptist Church in my hometown with a kid who’d played the trumpet in the high school band. And that leads to the time I saw the show in London with Elaine Paige. And on and on and on. As you can imagine, I don’t have much time for engaging with my neighbor when I’m concentrating on reliving such pivotal experiences from my past. Why risk a new pivotal moment when you’ve got that bank of old ones built up?

So, with nothing but a cheap suit and a shit-eating grin between me and the rest of the world, I walked toward the subway with curiosity my shadow. And, oh, the thoughts you think with the incessant underscoring withheld. As I made my way to the turnstile at the downtown N/R, a young gentlemen asked me for directions. I wasn’t the only one around and he came to me. He picked me out of the crowd. Was it my accessibility? Was I skipping through life with less hostility? Was I less intimidating without my don’t-fuck-with-me earphones entrenched? Or was I convenient? Whatever it was that I was, I was available to engage. Gave him directions. We got on the same train and he kept looking at me. Maybe he’d found me attractive. Maybe I had a big booger in my nose and my flaring nostrils were like a car crash he couldn’t look away from. Yeah, I can go from lovely to lunatic in 4.5 seconds. But I did go right back to lovely pretty quickly. By the time I got to the next station, I’d picked out china patterns and named the first three Chinese babies we’d adopt. Maybe he kept looking over because I was googly-eyed and scared the crap out of him. As I began to hear strains of Oh Promise Me—the voices in my head are very talented singers—an express train pulled up and I crossed over.

You would have thought I’d stepped onto the train and promptly farted. People wanted nothing to do with me. Yes, I was from the other side of the tracks; but is the local train a symbol of an unspoken caste system that nobody explained to me? And they noticed me. I caught nearly everyone one of them looking at me, but they managed to look away just in time. The train didn’t move and my discomfort mounted. When the third local had come and gone, I decided to wander back to my real friends over on the local track. Inferior my ass. I got where I was going a heck of a lot faster on the local, and without the attitude. Fuck you, N-trainers.

My friends back on the local held my gaze a split second longer than on the express but not much. And there was no compassion behind the eyes. Just a look, then a look away. If they could have looked through me, they would have. I really missed my portable CD player, and it was starting to hurt my feelings. I arrived at my destination, did my business, and then decided to walk home. Perhaps the view from the sidewalk would be more inviting than the subterranean perspective. It wasn’t. I did notice a crazy person going down the street screaming, “That fucking shit is fucked.” I couldn’t disagree, even though I had no idea to what he was referring. A few others bumped into me, cut me off, or generally just avoided me. I saw a woman walking with a portable CD player. It could be coincidental but she was a total freak—a clinical diagnosis I was able to make in my 30 seconds of exposure. Trust me, the DSM-IV would back me up on that one.

My experiment continued on for the next week. It didn’t get any better. Mostly, folks were just a little disconnected. And I take responsibility for my own role in it. A visiting mother and daughter from out of town asked me for directions. I gave them and walked away even though I was getting off at the same stop. I couldn’t be bothered with a big old, yee haw, we just come to the city and we sure do like it conversation with Granny and Ellie Mae. I just didn’t have it in me that day. I’m probably just not a particularly friendly person.

Somedays it is more than I want to take in. The loneliest place I’ve ever been in my life is a crowded sidewalk in New York City. I just haven’t quite figured out how to build a bridge off this island. The bitch of it is, when you want to be seen, no one seems to look you in the eyes. And so you learn to hide yourself in plain sight with armor of earphones. And I learned something important—so I bought an iPod.

AV: Live from the Hellmouth

As far as I can tell, the world is burning.

(for live video coverage, try

I’m writing this from
my little as-yet-unscorched patch of
San Diego, CA,
where we are gathered by the television and waiting for various friends and family to call with updates.

It’s a huge swath of the county that’s affected – either afire or threatened. Over 250,000 people have been evacuated and more are being notified as I write this.

The most interesting thing about all of this is my realization that I don’t know the neighborhood names as well as I did. Either that, or I’ve seem to have lost my recognition of which highways are which in all the chaos.

The map has become as important as the phone. Thank god we’ve still got power.

The picture at the top of this post is of the evacuation areas. These areas are NOT the fires themselves, but maybe it'll give you an idea.

The latest just now on my cellphone text service: “Voluntary evacs include Chula Vista, Rolling Hills, San Miguel, East Lake Woods, Bella Lago, Solana Beach, Del Mar, Carlsbad” And I’m waiting for more because obviously that message is missing a comma. (Ah, the joys of character-constrained SMS technology.)

The freaking BEACH, fer crissakes! Did you see that part? The BEACH!
This doesn’t include the places that are burning now or that have burned: Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Sante Fe, parts of Escondido, Potrero, Barrett Junction, San Marcos, Harris Canyon, Witch Creek, and other places that I can’t remember now.

It’s goddamn weird here, kids. At least the sky is not raining ash on us as it did four years ago (this weekend, thank you very much) during the Cedar fires – the then “worst fire ever in San Diego county history.” Nope, we’re spared some of that where we are. But still, the sun shines through a sky an unnatural shade of yellow-orange. Odd, but the sky is blue where we are. But the light is strange, almost like if someone stretched an orange diaphanous scarf across a lampshade. You know, that do-it-yourself ambiance enhancer. Only this – this light – it’s just plain wrong.

10:00 pm PDT

Strange, isn’t it? It’s night now. The winds have lulled in some places, and are still gusting at 30+ mph in others.

This is the way it works, in case you haven’t heard of this before:
Santa Ana winds.

High pressure builds up around Southern California and, due to the technicalities of pressure and humidity and topography, the winds reverse from their usual marine-layer-producing onshore winds to offshore, dragging the heat from the deserts through the valleys at high velocity and reducing the humidity to near-or-for-real zero. Add to that the three year drought in the area and it’s perfect for the firestorms we’re experiencing. Oh yes, there’s also some good fuel in these areas: brush, trees, lovely landscaping of the suburban developments in what used to be rural farm and ranchland lo these many years ago.

The affected areas are generally in those neighborhoods, some more recently developed than others. Me, I’m in the metro area which right now isn’t affected. But my god, people, they’re saying the Pacific Ocean is the western border of some voluntary evacuation areas up north from here. Again, you can check out the online coverage.

So many people are affected here. My partner’s family are well, but some have evacuated and others are waiting to see. I’ve opened my apt to a friend and her two dogs, and her friend. We’ve heard from friends and colleagues who left with their possessions in their cars; all we know of others is that their voicemail machines still seem to be working. Many members of my work team are evacuated, including my boss’s wife. He’s in Orlando for an industry convention and this all happened after he left. I’ve sent SMS to his wife to offer her our home. Seems she might be evacuated twice.

I don’t even know what to write here. Everywhere feels as if anything could happen, most of it bad. There are thousands of refugees now at the local football facility: Qualcomm Stadium. Don’t blame me if my first thoughts are of the Superdome.

And outside right now, this very minute?

I can see the stars in the clear ceiling of the sky.

More tomorrow. Or sooner if I can’t sleep.

Monday, October 22, 2007

HC: New Hope, PA

I'm hardly reporting from the front lines of World War I or anything, but I'm coming to you, live, straight from New Hope, Pennsylvania, sitting in a deep wicker chair on the 2nd floor of a bed and breakfast in called Porches. It may be October 22, but it sure feels like August. If I can get past my fear of global warming, it's an incredibly beautiful day.

The husb and I are celebrating our 18th wedding anniversary with this little get away. Friends had recommended this place, it's only a few hours drive away, so here we are. The house is right alongside the Tow Path, and there's a breeze, a huge tree to my left covered in ivy vines. Our bedroom is tiny and perfect, painted blue and yellow, cozy, comfortable, and I'll soon be napping on the big bed.

What would our lives be like if we all had more free time, more relaxation? And I can hear that nasty person who commented on Rodney's Young Frankenstein post: "Why did you bother going away to a bed and breakfast if you're sitting and typing on your laptop!" Unfortunately I can always hear nasty people, even when they're not actually speaking.

This place is stunning and I feel like I'm in New Orleans or someplace. The house feels very southern, romantic, old. Where's my mint julep? Instead I have my half cafe tall Starbucks latte and a piece of lemon poundcake. If I could spend a week here, without my laptop, without my two books (Julia Alvarez's Saving the World and Steven Colbert's I am America...and So Can You), without my crocheting, would my head explode from the relaxation? I'd certainly like to try.

Whenever I go anywhere I take me with me. Books (usually a fiction and a nonfiction), stitchery, a notebook. I overpack. Maybe that's all okay? Maybe you do take you wherever you go, and you're supposed to.

The breeze is rustling the leaves of all the trees surrounding the house. It would be almost too lush and sensual here in the real summer. I might turn into Blanche duBois or one of Scarlet's younger sisters.

The train that runs alongside the Tow Path is going by, ringing its bell. If this were Somewhere in Time or another time travel story, I would've just been transported back to 1890. This house was built in 1815, and was originally a grain storehouse. Hard to believe, but the hostess told me so and I believe her.

There's a weird store just minutes away with Halloween costumes, Dale Evans lunchboxes, used clothes, and blow-up sex dolls. Lots of items from The Nightmare Before Christmas...which reminds me, I can't wait to see it in 3D!! Love that film...

At the restaurant where we had lunch, The Landing, their were two female ducks walking around. We were outside, thankfully, looking at the Delaware River and a bridge. The ducks have a good gig there, begging for bread and being so cute that they get it. I wondered if they are ever full, if they'd ever stop begging. My husband tells me that an old dog of his once ate a box of Valentine Day's candy, threw it up, and then ate some of that! Yuck!

So, this wasn't an earth-shaking blog entry, and I really didn't proof it enough, and the whole point of the blog was realizing that I'm not sure I'm very good at just sitting and relaxing and letting go. But I'm going to try now. Really. I am. Right now...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

WC: Testing One's Limits

Well, the nasty comments have already begun. (Sorry, by the way, to the commenters whose comments were delayed going up. I'm just getting the hang of this blog thing.)

In response to Rodney's review of Young Frankenstein, someone writes, "Was it worth the money to be able to bitch about it for the rest of your (appaerently) [sic] humorless, miserable life?" This person signed him/herself as anonymous (of course).

I've never been in the position of deciding if someone's writing gets posted or not, and as a first amendment absolutist, I hope I keep up my principles and post all comments--though, of course, I'm not the gov't, and this is my/our blog, so it wouldn't quite be censorship. But it wouldn't quite not be censorship, either.

For now, I'm going to try the "fight free speech with more free speech" approach. So, in response to that person's comment, here are some comments of my

1. I find myself assuming that anonymous is a man, in contrast to Virginia Woolf's line--about the writing of earlier centuries--that anonymous was a woman. Interesting that, in the 1800s, when women wanted to publish their best work they had to hide behind "anonymous" or a male name, while nowadays people hide behind "anonymous" to spew venom without taking responsibility.

2. What is the point of personal attacks? Saying that someone has a "humorless, miserable life" just because you disagree with him seems to me to be the very lowest form of debate.

3. For the record, Rodney is one of the least humorless people I have ever met, though he hardly needs me to defend him. Also, while Rodney is hardly gentle in his comments, and I'm not surprised his work elicited harsh responses, he doesn't call anyone a name or say that their lives are miserable.

4. It is likely that anonymous is a poster from All That Chat, a theatre-related chat board where I invited people to come read Rodney's theatre-related posting. On All That Chat, people with a tremendous amount in common--ie, a love of the theatre and an interest in posting online--often succumb to name calling and other juvenile forms of discussion. When I read All That Chat, I lose all optimism about peace in the Middle East.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

SS: Page 37, Immortalized

On Saturday, August 25, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, the woman I knew as my paternal grandmother, Leonora “Lee” Leahy Stanfield, collapsed in her dressing room. She was dead by the time she hit the floor, of a massive heart attack. According to the doctors at the Berkshire Medical Center, she felt no pain. She 95 years old.

Soon into her 90s, she began asking her daughters, “Why am I still here?” I suppose she was ready. We weren’t. Grandma (mother to her daughters Ann and Bette-Jane) was immortal to us. The last thing I remember saying to her, on a previous visit, was “I always remember how old you are because you were born the year the Titanic sunk!” It was a compliment that she was born the year of such a momentous, albeit tragic event. It gave me a sense of nostalgia for an era I never knew — the ankle-sweeping dresses, the boots with impossible buttons, and the broad-rimmed hats. In eight years, Bernice would bob her hair and launch the age of the flappers, speakeasies, Dorothy Parker and The Lost Generation. Grandma was young then, but she was there. She LIVED.

I had another grandmother, the first woman to have married my father’s father. Her name was Doris Pemberton. From what my father told me, she was soft-spoken and ladylike, raised a “proper” Southern debutante by a domineering mother. She met my grandfather in fourth grade, and after college, they married. I know very little of her because she died of leukemia when I was a year old. She is the movie star of my apartment — I have pictures of her everywhere. She never looks happy. Only sad and beautiful (why did so many woman of that era have to look sad to be beautiful? Why do so many still have to look that way today?). My grandfather lorded over her. He didn’t want her to work (she had a degree in social work), didn’t like her having friends, suddenly “felt sick” when they were about to leave for a social function.

She was about to leave my grandfather when she was diagnosed with leukemia. So instead of finally getting her freedom, she died. I like to think I am living her life for her. I’m using my intellect and education, enjoying a man I love, making money, creating, traveling the world and living, REALLY living. She lives within me and she is finally smiling. She no longer has to be the pretty face.

My grandfather married his second wife, Leonora Leahy, in 1979. At the time, she was a columnist at The Berkshire Eagle, a regional newspaper in Western Massachusetts that won a Pulitzer for editorial writing in the early 1970s. She often wrote restaurant reviews. As my grandfather told it at her funeral service, he read one of her reviews, where she spoke about dining alone at a restaurant, and decided he didn’t want her having to dine alone. So he invited her on a date, and not long after, they married.

Grandma Lee was the exact opposite of Grandma Doris. Lee was a career woman, never afraid to call things as they were and in no way a doormat. My grandfather learned this quickly. One night, she cooked him dinner (she was an expert cook). He told her he didn’t like the dish. My Grandma Doris would have just thrown it away and cooked something he did like, no comments. Grandma Lee said, “If you don’t like it, cook something yourself.”

As far as I know, Grandpa ate everything Grandma Lee put in front of him for the next 28 years.

Grandpa and Grandma Lee (as I called them) were my favorite grandparents. Of course I loved my maternal grandparents, Madeline and Frank Monterosso, but they were more distant, even when you were in the same room with them. I remember the kitchen of their large Victorian house as a mysterious, smoke-filled room, always full of members of the French-Canadian/Italian side of my family. My cousins and I would dash around the house’s many rooms, looking into closets that had little closets inside of them, fearing ghosts, playing games. The adults would just smoke, talk, and play penny poker, in another world.

Grandpa and Grandma Lee lived in little house on Pontoosuc Lake, in Pittsfield. I loved going to visit them, especially in the summer. I’d run down to their dock pretty much the second I put on the bathing suit Grandma Lee kept for me in a dresser in the hallway. I was afraid to swim, because I had a fear of fish, but I’d be brave enough to sit on the edge of the dock and look across at what I called “the far island,” an oblong-shaped island across the lake that seemed very mysterious to me even after I had visited it many times. My grandfather would sometimes take me to it, and I’d walk around its rocky grounds, looking at rubble leftover from a building that burned down there many years before.

I think it was from my explorations of the far island that I became obsessed with islands of all kinds later in my life: the Isle of Man, the Orkney Islands, Shell Island, Baffin Island, the Faeroe Islands, Skellig Michael.

When I was not looking at the far island, I’d sit on the porch of the house with Grandma Lee, talking. She’d tell me stories about her early life. She had an abusive stepmother, who didn’t like Lee because she looked like her mother. “Every time I’d turn around, she’d whack me,” she would say. Lee and her little sister Sally were often shipped off to different family members during this time, sometimes together and other times apart.

One day, Grandma Lee found a copy of Pollyanna. She read it and incorporated the “The Glad Game” as her life philosophy. I think this is how she survived her childhood, leaving high school to become a factory worker at a paper mill, then her first marriage to an alcoholic and the death of her second husband. I also think it gave her the strength and confidence to become the first woman elected to the Pittsfield City Council, in 1945, and then later to start work as a file clerk at the Berkshire Eagle, where she would eventually become a regular columnist and reporter.

When I became an adult, I first began to truly understand what a remarkable person Grandma Lee was. She was so confident, so bold, so take-no-shit. In college, I sent her the Dorothy Parker story “Big Blonde.” She knew who Dorothy Parker was, but had never read anything by her. In the letter accompanying the story, I said Parker was known as a witty writer.

Grandma Lee read the story and wrote me back: “I don’t know why you say Dorothy Parker is funny. This was one of the most depressing stories I’ve ever read!” This was a very Grandma Lee thing to say.

When Grandma Lee died, I felt a sense of disbelief. She was immortal! It just seemed she would go on forever. She was healthy up until the moment she died. She was an active reader until the end. When I visited her and my grandfather's apartment after she died, I saw she was in the middle of reading “Swimming to Antarctica” by Lynne Cox. A Hallmark card marked her as having left off on page 37. Lynne Cox is a long-distance open-water swimmer whose many feats include swimming the Bering Strait and swimming for more than a mile in the waters off Antarctica.

I know why Grandma would have picked up this book. Like Cox, she was an avid swimmer. She swam the entire perimeter of Pontoosuc Lake every morning for the many years she lived there (I could not find any statistics on this measurement by the time I needed to publish this entry, but I think she swam at least a mile a day).

Also like Cox, she didn’t listen when people criticized her or told her she couldn’t accomplish something. According to “Swimming to Antarctica,” when Cox was riding with her mother in a taxi to Dover, England, to attempt her first English Channel swim, the taxi driver asked her if she was a Channel swimmer. When her mother affirmed this, the driver said, “Well, you don’t look like a Channel swimmer to me. You’re too fat to be one.” Cox said she felt hurt and angry by this comment, but then remembered it was her extra fat that would keep her warm and give her insulation during the swim. She made the swim, and broke the men's and women's world records with a time of nine hours and 57 minutes.

Grandma Lee never told me that people tried to hold her back, but I know it must have happened, many times. I can only imagine how people reacted when she decided to run for City Council in 1945. I can imagine the town gossip when she divorced her first husband in 1960. And what about her stepmother?

When she died, I was having a tough time personally. I was feeling a lack of confidence in my profession as a writer. I was afraid I had no talent (such an uncommon feeling for a writer, hah!). I was trying to build myself up to try and get into larger consumer magazines, not the trade magazines for which I mostly write. I was fighting somewhat with my husband. I felt sad when she died, but also angry at myself that I couldn’t be more like her, more fearless, more confident. I wanted to emulate her, but didn’t know how. “How did she do it?” I would think. How was she so confident? How was she able to get up day after day, year after year, and write? Come up with amazing ideas? Find ideas at all?

I still don’t quite know the answer. But it’s something having to do with psychological inertia. Grandma Lee got up every morning. She moved ahead -- when she was happy, when she was sad, when her body hurt as she grew older. She wrote probably when she felt she had nothing to write about because she knew she had to do so in order to get to the point where she would have another great idea. She just kept going, because she knew that in order to get to those moments of happiness and pleasure you had to walk over the glass shards sometimes.

Grandma Lee’s daughter Ann let me take “Swimming to Antarctica” home with me after the funeral. It was hard at first for me remove the Hallmark card bookmark from page 37. I waited until I got to that page, and then wrote down the page number on the back of a photo of Grandma. Then I finished the book for her.

Grandma, I put the Hallmark card back on page 37, so you can pick up where you left off.

In Memoriam
Leonora Goerlach Leahy Stanfield (née Whittaker)
May 31, 1912 – August 25, 2007

© Sarah Stanfield, October 20, 2007

(Next week, I will tell the story of my paternal grandfather, Thomas O’Bannon Stanfield, who died Wednesday, October 10, 2007—S.S.)

WC: My New Addiction

I'm feeling a little under the weather, so I have been devoting much of my past couple of days to watching the first season of Brothers and Sisters on DVD. Created by playwright Jon Robin Baitz, Brothers and Sisters is about an LA family of five grown kids--one gay, one a stoned vet, one a republican pundit, one VP and one pres of the family visit--and their mom (Sally Fields) and their dad (Tom Skerrit).

The first episode is a master class is scene-setting and exposition. Within brief scenes, Baitz gives us a sense of the characters that both establishes their broad-stroke characteristics (gay, stoned, etc) and gives us hints of the depth and individuality we will learn about over the season. His exposition is about 95% believable dialogue, which is a very high success rate. When people say self-defining things, there's a reason, and it seems like regular conversation. Very impressive work.

(SPOILER ALERT, SPOILER ALERT--BUT ONLY ABOUT THE FIRST EPISODE) And then, in the final scene of the first episode, the dad dies of a heart attack, jump-starting many plot lines, suprises, and conflicts. (This doesn't actually come as a surprise to anyone who noticed in the opening credits that Skerrit is a guest star rather than a series regular.)

The story lines are well intertwined and engaging, the sense of character is impressive, the plot turns are often predictable but not in a way that hurts the show, and the cast is amazing.

For the moment, I'd like to single out Rachel Griffiths, who is so completely different than her character in Six Feet Under that she is almost unrecognizable as the same actress, despite no change in her looks. She does an American accent astoundingly well, and she is one of those actress who is so transparent that you can see/feel her thoughts and feelings.

I recently saw Bette Davis in the Little Foxes, and while I liked her performance a lot, I was very struck by how theatrical and stylized it was. It would be fascinating to see Rachel Griffiths play Regina, who would come across as way more human and perhaps all the more chilling because of it.

Friday, October 19, 2007

RS: The Show Must Not Go On

I sold my soul to the devil. And I paid for it, literally. Cost me $120 plus $10 ticket processing charge and $1.50 facility restoration fee. That $1.50 really chaps my ass. First, I have no idea what it is really used for—if anything. Second, when I think of what that $1.50 would do for one of those Sally Struthers kids—okay, I am actually a horrible person and haven't ever sent any money to those Sally Struthers kids, so my righteous indignation is misplaced if not completely inappropriate.

The devil happens to be Mel Brooks. He and Mr. Mehan were sitting in front of me at Young Frankenstein last night. I had a great seat, Row F. I usually love being that close to the stage, but a shitty show smells even worse up close.

I vowed I wasn't going to see the show. I objected morally to the $700 ticket price for premium seats. But you can probably tell from the Sally Struthers example that my moral fabric is about as pure as a poly-cotton blend.

What's more, I hate the stinking movie. And I hated The Producers on Broadway. I don't like Mel Brooks' humor at all. Okay, I do love the story about him having a party and getting into a fight with Anne Bancroft. At one point she screamed, "Don't touch my instrument!' His reply was, "If it's such an instrument, play Begin the Beguine on it right now." Okay, I probably shouldn't have used quotes because I probably didn't get that verbatim.

How is it possible to throw all that money on stage and BORE me? I laughed slightly twice. That's 60 bucks a laugh, kids. I could stick a feather up my ass and it would tickle me more. How much does a feather go for these days? I could have my Grandma Mabel send me one for free, a peacock feather no less so I could really get a belly laugh.

And poor Meghan Melally. What the hell was she doing up there? She was like a comedy black hole. I will give it up for Christopher Fitzgerald who was brilliant. But just because something shines in the middle of turd, doesn't mean you should go near it.

I did have a little interaction with Michele Lee in the ticket line. She spoke to me, thank you very much. It was a highlight—though hardly prophetic regarding the two hours that followed.

I happened to go with a friend who is a big fan of the movie, so I can't say this is plague theatre. But if I had to choose between seeing this show again and bleeding out my internal organs from ebola, I'd really have to think about it.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

WC: Hip and Happening or Racist and Sexist?

Radar Magazine prides itself on its edginess. A recent cover featured one of the English princes in boxer shorts. And I'm sure that the cover above was just another attempt to be hip and happening, but I have to wonder about the choice of who would be dressed and who would be nude. Did they decide, on purpose, to reference the two paintings above (one by Manet and one probably by Giorgione)--and many others--by having Clinton nude? How did they make the decision to have Obama nude? Was it a republican vs democrat decision to keep Guiliani dressed?

I can't help but think that there at least some sexism and racism in this picture. The black man is nude and supine. The white woman is nude and smiling as the white man hits on her. The white man is dressed and active.

And would Clinton be smiling if Guiliani was hitting on her? Ewww?

WC: The Woman on the Train

Thin, maybe 5'3'. Tight stone-washed jeans, tight stone-washed denim jacket. Thick, fleece-lined leather gloves with seams along the fingers, as though she were in Alaska (it's about 70 degrees here today). A long gold scarf wrapped around her neck, head, and most of her face. A white-and-gold brocade hat with a flat, wide brim over the scarf.

When I noticed her out of the corner of my eye, I could only see her from the shoulders up, and I had the strangest feeling that Tennessee Williams's sister Rose had gotten on the train.

Is she avoiding germs? Is she incognito? Is she a very hip Muslim? I'll never know.

RS: Theatre of the Absurd

Okay, what is it about those crazy Europeans and their theatre? I went to BAM last night to see Krum. It is an Israeli play, in Polish, with English subtitles. Read that sentence again if you will and sit with that thought. Oh, yeah, and it was two hours and forty five minutes without an intermission. I know, I know, I sit through movies of that length—increasingly so these days as directors don't seem to know how to tell a simple (and short) story well. Michael Clayton, which I saw over the weekend, was about 2 hours too long. Now, I know that people are touting this movie as a nearly perfect cinematic experience. I was so bored, it took all the self control I could muster not to whip out a toe-nail clipper and work my way through a much-needed pedicure. Honestly, the only thing that stopped me—other than the fact that it is a disgusting thing to do in public especially when one of those crispy little suckers could fly into someone's popcorn, most troublingly mine—was the fact that I didn't have a toe-nail clipper with me. And if the movie had gone on 10 minutes longer, I would have used it to open a vein.

Now, back to the Poles. This play is about some unhappy souls. I know all the Jewish holidays, save Purim, are about suffering—and I don't really know for sure that Purim doesn't celebrate some sad story, but I am pretty sure no one has to starve themselves. But this takes suffering to a new level. As we closed in on 3 hours, my ass started doing some suffering too. They passed out some Polish apple cake at 2 hours 30, but they didn't have enough to share, so my stomach growled as my left butt cheek throbbed.

True to form for European theatre, I saw a nipple. However, I have never seen a show where another cast member suckles on it. A woman in a dress rolled around on the floor and threw her legs over her head in a spangled mini-skirt and I don't think she was wearing underwear. If she was, her panties needed a shave. A hot Italian guy fondled himself for about 10 minutes on two different occasions. I had two problems with it: 1) my sight lines weren't good for that particular portion and 2) at the after party, I got to the buffet table just after him. I'm sure he washed his hands, but you just can't be sure.

It was also a little disconcerting when the lead guy mooned the audience just after the Bar Mitzvah and was wearing underwear that said Deutschland on them. But they were adorable underwear.

It was wacky and occasionally wonderful and often quite funny—but it was weird. And it was about a 10 minute story when you boiled the ocean. I'm not sure I can recommend it as an intellectually stimulating experience, but I would definitely recommend it as a unique experience.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

HC: Genes

Everytime I log onto MSN I see the headline, "Is there a gay gene?"

I assume if scientists are looking for a gay gene, someone somewhere will decide to try to "fix" it. Some parents might decide to abort their limp-wristed or flannel-shirt wearing fetus.

However, the gay world has given us, or I should say, ME, things I love and adore:

Oscar Wilde = The Importance of Being Ernest.
Noel Coward = the song London Pride and the movie Brief Encounter.
Stephen Sondheim = A Little Night Music and Follies.
Cole Porter = Anything Goes and many other shows and songs.
Ellen deGeneres = Finding Nemo and hosting award shows.
The music teacher at our school who has changed so many kids lives for the better.
Friends, neighbors, and family members who have been nothing but supportive, intelligent, loving, and funny!

I know there are a lot of wonderful homosexuals in politics, sports, etc, but I'm a show biz fan.

I have no desire for anyone to find out if there is indeed a gay gene. I absolutely don't want any gene "fixed," unless it leads to a cure for cancer or another horrible disease.

I think the much more important question is "Is there a stupid gene?" Stupid people make the world more, well, stupid. Stupid people talk on cell phones at the theater. Stupid people write "US" magazine. They care about things like finding "a gay gene." Stupid people do definitely need to be fixed.

WC: Ignorance IS Bliss

Yesterday, I put down a (large) deposit for a 3-week trip to Africa next February, including time on the Serengeti Plain and a trip to Olduvai Gorge (known as "the Cradle of Mankind").

Today I went on line to check what vaccinations I need and what fun diseases they have there. Well, ignorance is bliss.

If I had known about the schistosomiasis, dengue, and Rift Valley fever outbreaks, would I have put down the deposit? If I had known that vaccinations for yellow fever, hep A, hep B, typhoid, and rabies were recommended, would I have put down the deposit?

Hell, yes! But I'm still glad I didn't know.

HC: Mad Funny

I grew up reading Mad Magazine, but lost touch with it many years until my son started getting a subscription. For those of you who don't read it, here are some things I found funny:


1. Illiteracy among vegetarians would skyrocket while dogs would suddenly become the most well-read segment of society.
2. Books would be even MORE popular with Oprah.
3. Year after year, the Pulitzer Price winner: Boar's Head.
4. All Barnes & Noble stores would be a cool 38 degrees year-round.
5. Book burnings would now smell deee-licious.


1. GLADIATOR takes place in ancient Rome, yet everyone speaks English.
2. In FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 5, Jason is seen throughout the movie, even though he died in each of the first four.
3. In the closing credits of Stanley Kubrick's classic 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, it says the film was made in error of 33 years!

RS: Death Be Proud

I met someone the other day, unexpected and lovely. I'm not sure what the friendship equivalent of love at first sight is. Perhaps it is reconnecting with someone from a former life. But the joy, the instantaneous joy, of encountering someone who seems to get you instantly and with whom you have an immediate comfort feels like an incredible gift.

We spoke of death, and it was one of the most rewarding conversations of recent memory. I understand from friends who have gone to support groups for cancer or other conditions that there is great comfort in the ease, the effortlessness, of a common vocabulary, a shared experience. Similar, I suppose, to what I went through when I came out and began to have gay friends. We shared an experience that bonded us, usually only temporarily. Once past that, I discovered that my new community was filled with a lot of freaks and assholes and others with whom I had nothing else in common.

I had that thrill of shared experience too when I went home a couple of years ago for my 20 year high school reunion. High school had been fairly traumatic for me and simultaneously wonderful. I was active—student body president, valedictorian, president of the honor society, basketball homecoming king candidate. All signs that I was liked. I had lots of friends. But I couldn't feel it because I was scared all the time. But going back, there was none of that fear, none of that self-imposed exile, just a joyous celebration with people with whom I shared something, something I didn't share with anyone else in my life. I had the time of my life.

As I spoke with my new instant friend (all natural, not from concentrate), he spoke about his lover who had died several years ago. Died in his arms. And he spoke of the gift of that. I was recently in the room with my grandmother, with whom I shared a very close and treasured bond, when she breathed her last breath. It was one of the most disturbing and chilling experiences. I actually felt the life leave the room and an emptiness chilled the air for a second and was gone. It was a special gift for me too.

I talk a lot about my grandmother and my sister who died—actually next month will be the 20th anniversary of her death—because I want the people I love now to know them in some small way. And for them to live on. I don't know that everyone understands that. But this guy stood with me at the edge of memory and marveled with me in the view. And let me treasure his memory with him.

And we were both reminded that life is a treasure.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

WC: Brief Review--Dark Passage

Dark Passage, 1947, starring Bogie and Bacall, is one of those films where you ask yourself, "Did they really need money that badly?"

Obviously, Bogie and Bacall knew what a good noir looked like and sounded like. They were, after all, in The Big Sleep, one of the best noirs ever. But Dark Passage is pathetic. It has one reasonably interesting gimmick, and the rest is noise. People talk and talk and talk. Three quarters of the way through, characters are still telling, not showing: "Luckily, I regained consciousness in time to get the license plate." "After Madge found she couldn't have me, she. . ." and so on.

Are there any redeeming features? The location shots of San Francisco are pretty cool. Bogie is always great to watch, even looking as tired and bored as he does here. And Bacall is stunning. I'm not a big fan of hers. I think she has a range from A (look sexy) to B (sound sexy), but, boy, she sure does A and B well. It was a pleasure every time she had a close-up, and she had many. And her acting almost reached the level of, well, acting.

So, were they broke? Did they just want another opportunity to work together? Or did they really, truly think the script was any good? I'm betting on the first two.

RS--Everyone's a little bit racist

I am a racist. And I am not happy about it. Oh, not in that overt, name calling, red state way. I am a liberal. I believe in equal rights for everyone. I try not to be racist, try to convince myself I am not; but I know I am. The reason I know I am is that every time I get behind the wheel of a car and another driver pisses me off, some nasty thought about the person's heritage is the first thing that pops into my head. It may not leak out of my mouth or it may only whimper out under my breath, but it is there. I hate that about myself.

I grew up around that other kind of racism. The kind where jew is a verb and being "out of your cotton pickin mind" is an off-handed remark, and neither gets a flinch nor second thought. The N-word doesn't get nearly so much notice as the G-D word—Goddammit. It doesn't get noticed at all. It is no different than a but or an and.

I received one of those e-mails that circulate with some regularity the other day that basically attacks every race for its worrying privilege and wonders without historical perspective or present irony why we don't have White History month or White Pride parades among other mounting injustices. I scrawled off a seething response to the sender about how every month is White History month and historical oppression and marginalization of minorities (not to mention massacres, lynchings, enslavement, internment, and unchallenged incarceration of enemy combatants) in the name of White Pride happens every day, along with other hysterical rants. I knew there were probably 66 degrees of separation between me and the original author and that most of it would have gone over his (I just assumed it was a he) head anyway. I didn't care. I couldn't take the perpetuation of the racism. People had to know I didn't like it, and they had to know that I am NOT like that. It made me feel bad and better at the same time. Had I really done something to change racism? When I was driving out of the city three days later, I learned I had not.

I wasn't proud of myself, but I don't know how to change it. So, I don’t do anything.

I hate political correctness though. I am not color blind, and I am proud of that. Actually, I think color is pretty darned fantastic. The world is a better place because of all the color in it; and I think the human race is too. And I ain't gonna pretend those colors don't exist. It is all well and good that we are more alike than we are different, and there's much to celebrate in that. But those differences are cause for celebration too. I'm not a fan of the endless versions of hyphenate American to describe anyone. If we are a melting pot, then we are all American. And if you are a black person born in London, then how the hell do I describe you behind your back? Use your name (which I probably haven't bothered to learn), or "the one who grew up without benefit of a dentist", or "Mr. Faw Faw Faw over there"? Can I be offensive about a Brit since we haven't really oppressed that population recently, other than duping them into an unnecessary war? Well, I'll take anything without a hyphen in it, thank you very much.

I came face to face with my racism the other day in a most bizarre way; but when I saw myself reflected, I wasn't sure what to make of me. I dashed into McDonald's for lunch. Found two tables butted up against each other and sat at the unoccupied one, head buried alternately in my two plain hamburgers and medium fries—I finally figured out that if I don't want my ass to be supersized then my lunch can't be either—and my magazine. A black guy was sitting at the other table. I didn't acknowledge him and he didn't acknowledge me. That's not racism, that's being a New Yorker.

The article I was reading was about the involuntary servitude currently being perpetrated on undocumented migrant farm workers in Florida. I was appropriately aghast but equally apathetic. After all, the fries were extra crispy just like I like them. But I learned from the article that the cost of my lunch was potentially equal to what these workers cleared in a day once the miscellaneous costs of boarding, transportation, and incidentals were deducted from their already modest pay.

A black woman asked the man if she could share his table and ended up sitting catty-cornered, across from me as I was turning the magazine over. The title of the article was "Our Slaves", and it was now posted in size 54, bold, serif font right in her sight line. I was torn, sort of. I wondered what she thought of me for reading an article with that title, wondered what she thought it was about, and half hoped she'd ask me about it just so I could explain, to clear my name so to speak. Wouldn't want her to think I was indifferent to racism after all. She didn't ask, and I don't know if she even noticed. It never occurred to me to just put the damn thing down. I couldn't read another article because I had already read the rest of the magazine, and there was no way I could enjoy my lunch if I didn't have something to hide behind.

The gentleman left without comment to me or the woman. A few minutes later three elderly white ladies approached the woman and asked if they could share her table. Their thick Southern drawls were lyrical and luxurious. The woman kindly obliged. And the women sat without awkwardness or that feigned pride in themselves at sitting with that "poor colored girl" or that bewildered, zoo-like, Bill O'Reilly gaze at the wonderment that "they" eat just like we do. I tensed up at the possibility of some insensitive remark that might come flying out at any moment leaving me to pounce to protect this poor helpless woman.

Why did I assume she was helpless? Because she was black, perhaps? And why did I get so worked up about something that probably wasn't going to (and didn't) happen? Because they were southern, perhaps? And why did I assume that I would pounce if they said something inappropriate? Wishful thinking, perhaps?

They simply sat, chatting and sipping their cold drinks and remarking how happy they were to be off their feet. One lamented in disbelief that McDonald's hadn't had sweet tea, making her drink a bitter disappointment. The black woman rose to leave and asked the woman if she wanted her to bring up some sweetener from downstairs. The woman gratefully agreed and thanked her profusely.

It was a kind offer, and it made me sick to my stomach. These old Southern women had probably had black women as domestic staff for much of their lives, fetching them sugar for their tea without so much as looking them in the eye. They'd probably had those same black women serve sweet tea to their husbands when they returned from working up a sweat burning crosses. I not only assumed these women's racism, I was painting it in a colorful history. And I wanted to take the black woman aside and shake her for even thinking about serving a white woman, shake the kindness right out of her.

I could have stood to have some kindness shaken into me. This woman had done nothing more than rise in her full and equal humanness and offer some humanity. And I was incensed. When I had calmed myself down, swallowed a little self-disgust with my last fist full of trans fat, I wondered what you call that. Surely not racism. Ugliness, certainly, but not racism. . .right?

Three old women sat down to rest because they were tired. I hated them instantly, enraged by a history that demonized a woman who also sat just because she was tired. Sometime in my youth I was infected with prejudice and had convalesced myself into a serious overcorrection. Overdosed on my own good intentions. I guess you can't take the red state out of the boy. What's worse, I know better.

My roommate is German and is attacked occasionally at cocktail parties by liberals and lunatics who want to blame him personally for the Holocaust. He wasn't there. He wasn't even alive. I don't believe that I am personally responsible for slavery or my country's history of racist massacre. Like my roommate, I wasn't even there. I believe that our country does owe something to the current generations of the historically oppressed because it continues and we created it and maybe, just maybe, owning up to it and trying to make up for it will stop it. I may not oppress actively, but I don't actively do anything about the oppression either. I want my country, my government, to do something, to clear my conscience for me.

Instead I feel superior to all those red staters. It may be true that I am racist, a little bit, but I am a better kind of racist because I don't vote against people's rights, I don't call people names, and I don't do any of the other vile things that oppress and marginalize—I don't do anything.

And when I see myself reflected in the rear-view mirror after someone cuts me off, I see why I have a guilty conscience. I see a racist, probably the worst kind of racist, because I don't do anything.

HC: The Call of the DNA

Last week I was on vacation in Oregon and saw my cousin Ellen. Possibly no big deal, but I’m 45 and was meeting my older cousin for the very first time. She is my dad’s brother’s child. I’m one of three kids, Ellen is an only child, and our other cousin John is also an only child—and I haven’t seen him in over 35 years.

Close family, huh?

I’ve never minded, because “family” has always been the people I choose to have around me, and not necessarily people with whom I share DNA. Funny thing, though, because as it happened, I loved Ellen and her husband Ken. Nice, good people. And our time together felt very special. Perhaps her DNA and mine were yelling out to each other.

My sister and I have always heard the call of the DNA. We are as close as sisters can be, even when we lived 3000 miles apart for 13 years. Now that I have children, I hope they feel connected as they become adults. Having a supportive sibling is a great treasure.

In the old days, if you moved from Brooklyn to the Bronx it was a huge insult to your family. Now, one of my best friends has moved to Oxford, England. Another friend moved 40 minutes away and it sometimes feels like 400 miles. Luckily email keeps us all in touch, but it’s not the same as just hanging out on the stoop.

So, cousin Ellen is on the other side of the United States. We email each other about two times a week, and I miss her. She looks a lot like my Aunt, and has memories I don’t about people we’re related to. When she says “Uncle Paul” she’s talking about my dad. When she says “grandpa” she’s talking about my grandfather, who I never knew. I’m already trying to talk Ellen into coming to New York for a visit. I’m also thinking about visiting her in a few months. This particular DNA is very loud.

Monday, October 15, 2007

WC: Stoppard Quote

From Lord Malquist and Mr Moon, by Tom Stoppard, 1966

"I am reminded," said the ninth earl from the top of the steps, "of a certain critic who struggled throughout his career to commit himself to one unqualified judgment on the arts, and who after a lifetime in the cause of ambivalence, steeled himself to the assertion that in his opinion Sarah Bernhardt was the greatest one-legged female Hamlet of the age." He puffed delicately on Turkish tobacco papered in a heliotrope cylinder, and blew a perfumed wreath for the fading light. "I am reminded of him because subsequently he was reprimanded for this rash prejudice by Frank Harris who had witness a performance of Hamlet by a surpassingly gifted lady-uniped in Denver, Colorado." He tapped the ash off his cigarette onto the donkey's head. "The unfortunate man had to be carried on a litter to an asylum for the cruelly disappointed, where he died without uttering another word . . ."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

WC: Welcome to The Write Bunch

Welcome to The Write Bunch. As you can see from the description and our profile, we have many interests and ideas. We will write about politics, the arts, current events, our personal lives--whatever interests us and we hope will interest you.

We invite you to comment--we are hoping to have completely unedited, uncensored comments, although truly ugly comments will be deleted.

Let the games begin!