Monday, June 30, 2008

AV: McVogue

Part of the Colbert Report's "Make McCain Exciting" campaign.

WC: Weird Medical Condition of the Day

Ainhum is a painful constriction of the base of the little toe followed by spontaneous autoamputation. That is, you get a small cut and the scarring eventually strangles your toe and pops it off. Or maybe the autoamputation just happens--they're not really sure why. Ainhum happens mostly--but not always--in Africa. It is related usually--but not always--with walking barefoot. Sometimes it affects other toes.

No, humans cannot spontaneously combust, but we can spontaneously autoamputate.

Ain't biology grand?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

RS: Good Night and Thank You

"What's good about good-bye? What's fair about farewell?" Nancy Lamott waxed musical those very questions shortly before she died. Lucky for us, the recording, and therefore the memory, lives on.

Good-byes hurt. I should know, I just did it. Clinging to each other for one last second as the cab driver tapped the steering wheel impatiently, I nearly passed out. Most likely because when he moved in for the final embrace, he kicked the shit out of my big toe. The same toe I've been nursing for two days, wrapped up in swaddling clothes like a throbbing Christ child, so much gauze you could see it from space, hobbling with a certainty that I could lose this valued limb at any moment—all sympathies welcomed. Okay, truth is I jammed it into the end of my shoe, repeatedly, during some paramilitary training at tennis camp over the weekend; and only the nail is at risk of being lost. It didn't happen in a Herculian charge for the ball that left me breathless at my superior fitness—no high-fiving, back-slapping, walk it off on your way to the well-deserved Gatorade, wipe sweat from brow as opponents shake their heads and think, "Damn, he's good" kind of feat. No, it was more that I have face-cringing, homicide-inducing, move with the grace of an elephant on roller skates as my opponents shake their heads and think, "Damn, he's retarded" kind of feet. And I was not breathless so much as out of breath.

The nail turned purple before I'd shaken all the red clay out of my underwear—don't ask, I don't know how it got in there either—and had it's own pulse by the time we passed Woodbury Commons, where I had crippled my bank account a mere two days earlier. So, I'd kept the toe wrapped in a vain attempt to save the nail. On most pain indices my toe wouldn't even register, but I have a threshold so low you could trip over it if you aren't looking—which is likely how I fucked up my toe to begin with.

After a nice long soak in some Epsom salt last night, I woke up this morning feeling better. I walked on it easily, painlessly, effortlessly, almost like a normally-gaited person. It was the only part of me that didn't hurt as I helped drag his bags to the curb. It was a metaphor that made me wince—literally and figuratively: it hurts when your feet can't follow where your heart wants to lead.

We pulled apart quickly. He had to go (travel companion waiting at the car rental place) and I had already gone (peed on impact). I didn't intend to watch him drive away, but I needed some more Epsom salt and turned too soon. On my way to the drug store, a light rain started to fall on my face, sky water and my water dripping off my chin.

We didn't have a big last date, no rabbit-like rush of intimacies, no International Coffees and late-night promises as the moon glistened in our eyes. He was healing from surgery and I was moving like a man dragging a club foot through quicksand. We was not so sexy. And the only light glistening in my eyes was the reflection off my computer screen as I frantically tried to finish a report that was due this morning. Not sure what he saw when he looked into my squinting, blood shot eyes at the end of the night—the windows to my soul blanketed by some butt-ugly curtains. But I saw in his, in addition to phantom pixilation, a vision of possible. Two old men sitting on the couch together, nothing stroked but injuries, nothing stiff but backs, sex reduced to a furtive glance followed by a heartfelt, "Fuck you." It was, in a word, comforting. Exactly what I'd always dreamed of, though not exactly as I dreamed it.

We spent the last three days, grasping as much time together as possible, playing house, knowing it was coming to an end. Much like skydiving in paradise and hearing the parachute rip, we knew we had two choices. Rather than hunker down and brace for impact, we chose to look around and enjoy the view. Much like paradise, we were living in a fantasy. Like most fantasies, it was wonderful, which made the bye all the less good.

But what does it all mean, really? He and I have spent a lot of energy not talking about it. Maybe because I said it wasn't debatable. I meant it. Every time I said it, I meant it. But just because you know you can't follow someone, doesn't mean you can just slap on your shoes and skip away. You know you have to, know it makes sense, know the universe has a plan—two roads diverging on a yellow-brick road and here I am unable to squeeze my big swollen toe into these damned ruby slippers. Shoe horns notwithstanding, nothing seems a perfect fit. Or more accurately, nothing is a painless fit.

And no path is without a few twists and turns. I've found myself before looking up from the underbrush to realize I was blazing a trail alone when I thought I had been clearing a path toward a shared future. This time I was prepared. I had traded my machete for a telescope. No surprises. Saw it all coming. And besides, he is honest, he is honorable. But, for an actor, his timing sucks.

Maybe that's the point, the lesson. When the time together is perfect, perhaps the timing doesn't have to be. And complete doesn't mean finished and over doesn't mean done. But having resolve doesn't mean a damn thing is resolved.

As a matter of fact, the whole thing has left me fairly conflicted. I've found myself for the first time in a long time feeling things, real things, for someone—self-preservation prevents me from assigning value descriptors to those feelings. But in addition to making me want to be near him, those feelings make me want the best for him, for him to live his dreams. For the very first time ever though, I'm not willing to put my dreams on hold for someone else, won't postpone a moment of what I want. And what I want, one of the things I want most, is to share my life with someone. Maybe just cooking a meal together, loading up the dishwasher afterward, watching television together—soaking my foot in a bucket of salt water. But not just over a three-day fantasy. Thanks to those three days, I know it is more than just a fantasy. But I do need it to be real.

So, instead of going looking for something, instead of taking a step in the right direction, I'll just take a step in a different direction, go it alone for a step or two, and look for what's right for me along the way. And perhaps, sometime when the timing is right. . .

While I'm at it, I've decided to take yet another step, another different direction. This marks my final entry on this beloved blog. It has been a dream come true. No fantasy this—just pure, perfect virtual reality. A safe space to speak my mind week after week has left me scratching my head on more than one occasion, wondering if, when my mind first learned to speak, English was its second language. Regardless, it has been a joy telling a couple of stories, tossing off a couple of jokes, and hanging some tear-soaked hopes and hurts out to dry. But standing here at the corner of Walk/Don't Walk, I'm ready to cross with the light. Not sure what's on the other side of the street; but whatever is there, I want to focus on it. So, rather than let my commitment to this blog languish, I've decided to say good-bye, knowing full well that I don't know what that means.

Life coming full circle as it does, I find myself about to hit the Post button as the hyper-Epsomed water turns cold; and the only next step that's certain is ripping off this fucking toenail, then unloading the dishwasher and closing the cabinet door on a fantasy.

WC: Supreme Court Decisions

The Supreme Court says that the constitution does indeed give the right to individuals to bear arms. This is good news--after all, we wouldn't have wanted the guy who shot 5 or 6 of his coworkers in Kentucky yesterday to have had to hack them to death.

The Supreme Court also says that raping a child should not lead to the death penalty because the child wasn't murdered. Now, I don't believe in the death penalty. I don't believe we should give the state the right to kill its citizens. However, if one were to believe in the death penalty, the Supreme Court's logic doesn't hold water. Raping a 6 year old is a form a murder--the person that child might have been is gone forever.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

WC: The Problem With (Some) Audiences

The first time I saw Cabaret with Alan Cumming and Natasha Richardson, when the show ended, there was silence. Perhaps 30 seconds of silence, which is a long time sitting in a theatre. Silence. People were shocked and moved and not ready to applaud. It was one of my favorite moments EVER in a theatre--a moment when absolutely nothing was happening, and everything was happening.

In later viewings, audience whooped and hollered their way through the show, focusing on the painted nipples and tawdry sexuality and ignoring the creeping evil. They managed almost willfully to ignore what was going on in front of them. They didn't manage to ruin the show, but they sure hurt it.

Which brings me to an excellent quote I read today by Edward Albee:

"No two people see the same play," said Albee. "Some people bring a different intelligence to the play, a different life experience, a different aesthetic, and what's most important, there are some people who are willing to go to a play and have whatever experience the playwright wishes the audience to have. There are other people who come into the theater having pre-determined the kind of play they are willing to participate in, the kind of play they are willing to understand, and the kind of play they are willing to tolerate."

He really sums it up nicely, doesn't he? "The kind of play thay are willing to tolerate."

HC: Good morning...

Lots going on. Friend in from Oxford. School ending. West coast trip, have to pack. My husband, kids, and I are going away for a week. My son said, I can't wait to leave and finally relax. He's been busy with finals, parties, planning, rehearsals for graduation (he and his advanced chorus are singing at the ceremony). It's kind of funny that to have quality time with your kids sometimes you just have to get away...from 7 phones, iPods, computers/email, life itself. I'm feel blessed to have kids I really want to get away with.

For those of you who work Monday through Friday, happy hump day!

Friday, June 20, 2008

AV: Nostalgia Sucks -or- Watch Me Pull A Rabbit Outta My Hat

So, while sitting at the dining room table, Aida and I began to wax a bit nostalgic about Red Skelton. You know, "America's Clown" (before the current buffoon-in-office, mind you) from the 60s and 70s. The old guy with the funny hair and comic characterizations of hobos and seagulls. Yeah. Him.

We thought of some of his comedy skits ... Heathcliff and Gertrude (aforementioned Seagulls), Clem Cadiddlehopper (a sort of bumpkin character), and his gift for mime. We also laughed together as we spoke of how much our parents had enjoyed him -- especially our fathers. We got a little misty as we recalled our families sitting in our respective living rooms intently focused on our console sets while Red pranced, pratfalled, and giggled his way into our homes and hearts.

There was only one thing to do. Netflix.

The day -- and the little red envelope -- finally arrived. We were delighted in anticipation, telling Megan all about Red Skelton and how he had mesmerized our childhood selves with comic delight and wonder. We laughed all over again thinking of it.

And popped in the DVD.

Good lord. Honestly, neither of us had remembered him as a misogynist or vaguely racist performer. I suppose that is because he, like many performers, was a product of his time. We were horrified by some of the sketches and short little "jokes" he told at A Command Performance for the Queen of England in the late 70s. I can't even recall right now what they were, only that I was embarrassed to be watching it.

I'm really glad I didn't have to explain this to Megan, who wasn't paying any attention.

Boy howdy, Red. I just don't know what to say. We couldn't watch the whole thing. Goodness knows I still like Gertrude and Heathcliff, but jokes about women, drunks, and the Chinese just aren't any kind of funny. I'm appalled that they ever were.

Here's hoping that The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show holds up to the test of time. A little Moose and Squirrel, anyone?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Guest Blogger Don Monaco: Lars and the Real Girl—A thriller?

Warning: This is not a review. It is a critique and details the ending.

I’m often captured by aspects of a movie which are not the filmmakers' central intent, or have escaped their notice. I watched Letters from Iwo Jima wondering if the worldly general was unaware that the Japanese code of honor allowed troops in China to bayonet babies or did that general (or Clint Eastwood) feel that it would not fit with their conception of their nation (or movie) and therefore should be ignored.

But it is even more interesting to me to note the traps that a move steps into, seemingly unaware. Lars and the Real Girl is either a light, moving story of a community’s support for one of its needy citizens, or a seed for a horror movie of the future.

This is a fascinating story of a young man isolated emotionally from family and everyday relationships. He purchases on the internet an anatomically correct manikin, names her Bianca and insists to his brother and sister-in-law and to all the small community that she is alive, his girl friend, a nurse, and they love one another very much.

The community—church, friends, fellow workers—all recognize Lars’ need, and adopt the manikin into parties, knitting groups, church services. Lars subsequently pays some attention to, and appears interested in, a girl from work who he previously ignored. Lars now reports that he proposed to Bianca, and she has refused him. Bianca dies at a lake. Lars and the real girl meet again at Bianca’s funeral, and Lars goes off with her. End of film.

The idyllic story of Lars recovery from depression, due to the town’s amazing and vigorous support, into a real and promising relationship is wonderful fun. But I ask myself, did Bianca have to die? How did she die?

The movie does a great job of revealing Lars’ pathology without technical words, and its treatment during the same time the town is embracing Bianca. Lars’ newly pregnant sister-in-law convinces Lars to see a doctor about Bianca’s health, knowing that Dr. Dagmar is also a psychologist. The doctor recognizes Lars’ problem and under the cover of Bianca’s “high blood pressure” treatments, talks to Lars. We learn of the early death, (possibly in childbirth) of Lars’ mother, Lars’ father’s long depression as he raised the two boys, and Lars’ brother’s running away from the family because of the pervading sadness at home.

When Lars reports that his sister–in-law has a problem with being touched it is clear it is Lars’ problem. He knows, he says, because he has the same problem. He shows Dr. Dagmar, the many layers of clothing he wears as protection. Dagmar offers to help. With slight touches over many sessions she gets him accustomed to more and more.

One assumes that Dagmar diagnoses Lars’ problem as his unconscious manifesting itself in Bianca. He purchased the manikin because he wants his depression, fear of death, fear of intimacy to be recognized. By bringing Bianca to town, he can hide and show his problem—reveal and translate his problem, in a fantasized relationship with a manikin.

After he meets the real girl, Lars’ healthy impulse is to separate from Bianca so he can pursue a real relationship. But he cannot initiate the separation. Bianca must reject him, as his mother and father and brother rejected him. He does not have the right (maturity) to reject others, or simply to allow them to pass out of his life. He creates the offer of marriage, and her rejection, and her death. So how healthy is Lars, really?

Here is how Bianca dies: Bianca continues on her demanding schedule—tonight at a school board meeting. Lars, not needed at the meeting, bumps into a woman from work who had pursued him, and he had rejected. They go bowling. Other people join them. They all have a good time.

Soon after, Lars reports, moaning with sadness, that he had proposed marriage to Bianca and she had refused him. Lars is heard raising his voice, shouting, arguing with Bianca repeatedly. Now he reports she is ill. She is taken to the hospital. She recovers slightly—and Lars and she are taken for a spring outing to a lake. Brother and sister –in-law, who is now very pregnant, go off for a walk. On returning they see Lars in the lake, holding Bianca and crying.

How does Bianca get into the lake? We are not told. The next scene is a funeral service for Bianca. She is buried. At graveside, Lars and the real girl make a real connection, go off for a walk. End of film.

Am I really watching the story the filmmakers intended? Are their intentions not really a light, happy date movie? Why did Bianca have to die? Couldn’t she simply have left by the midnight train? Was this a deliberate choice by the filmmakers?

Back to Lars’ unconscious: Perhaps Lars is frightened to death by loneliness, and angry at his intimate relations for repeatedly abandoning him. People who reject him die. Like his mother.

We know that Lars, in his loving and tortured sadness took Bianca into the lake. She rejected him. She died. A final question, what does this imply about the real girl’s life expectancy? I hope she never has to go to a school board meeting.

Monday, June 16, 2008

RS: Walking Down Memory Lame

With the exception of car keys, I tend to find whatever I go looking for. Fortunately, I don’t have a car so losing the keys doesn’t have the impact it once did. I’ve spent my life sifting through memories and imaginings, prospecting meaning to support whatever hypothesis bounces around my head at the moment. Cuddle up with a Rockwellian remembering and suddenly I’m curdling on neglect and isolation, not just deserved but predestined. Stare into a photo of myself from yesterday and suddenly I’m staring into a mirror from yesteryear; and the ugliest, most awkward 15 year old to ever skip through the hay fields of southwestern Missouri begins to point out every physical flaw that can only be cured by reconstructive surgery and a well-constructed show tune. Recall a minute most lovely and reconfirm 60 reasons I am completely unlovable. When it comes to uncovering reasons to believe the worst about myself, I am a veritable Agatha Christie, assembling disparate clues into indictments, circumstantial evidence into convicting verdicts.

This time, I was searching out an experience. I found myself just north of San Jose, California for the first time in a decade. While I awaited a call from my friend to coordinate schedules, I decided to pass the time by driving to the apartment I had once shared with a past lover—the one who had an affair and left me a week before defending the dissertation I helped pay for, the one who taught me that the collateral damage of cowardice is cliché, the one who isn’t responsible for most, if any, of the destructive things that serve as my emotional foundation, he just poured concrete onto shaky ground. I talked myself through the myriad reasons it was a bad idea to bulldoze down memory lane, including but not limited to, gas is too expensive to waste money on the trip and fear of getting lost—literally and figuratively. I could come up with only one reason to go: there’s no better time to pick a scab than when you can easily reach it.

I hadn’t seen the old neighborhood since it evaporated in the rear view mirror in 1995, when I took an on-ramp from adventure onto a toll-road. I was returning to an innocent place, comparatively trouble-free; but I was also returning to a cautionary place, unheeded because I am color blind to red flags. They were easier to see as I turned down Scott Boulevard. As a matter of fact, they were the only things that looked familiar on the entire street. Adding to the irony, I made a series of wrong turns along the way.

Finally, I pulled up to Royal Street, 2050, right where I left it. I took a deep breath of carbon-dioxide-laced anticipation, expelled gases from a toxic past. It burned a little, but not enough to stop me from gasping for a second breath, grasping for straws, and lapsing into a sleep-walking coma. I passed through the front gate, tripping over my own trepidation. Turns out, it was all a waste of flop sweat.

Thirteen years and nothing had changed, except it looked a lot cleaner. The landlady must have died, not as evidenced by the sanitization, rather she was prehistoric then—glaciers moved faster—odds were against her. Imagining the clamor to divide an inheritance that consisted of a signed photograph of Richard Nixon, six rooms full of Precious Moments figurines, and a MASH unit stockpile of morphine suppositories, I pondered the futility of life and material acquisition until I walked shin-long into the concrete half-wall that mocked me in its steadfast purposelessness. I stared at it in that where-the-fuck-did-you-come-from-mother-fucker? look, reserved for deflecting blame onto the inanimate when you’ve done something stupid or my déjà vu disbelief every time I hear GW say “nucular.”

Simultaneously familiar and foreign, the two apartments I once called home, the pool I once called my own, and the “laundry cabana” I once called “a genital wart on the twat of Calcutta” stirred exactly nothing. No rush of emotion, no flood of late-night, skinny-dipping memories, no choked back tears. Nothing. It wasn’t numbness. Or struck dumb-ness. No experience at all.

I walked away from a place I once lived, nothing more, nothing less. Air no heavier at the exit than the entrance. Not a twinge of regret as I turned off Royal Street and back toward the freeway. Not satisfied with my in-experience, I pulled into the donut shop I’d eaten at every day I lived down the street. Got myself a cinnamon twist, a chocolate milk, and a glazed donut hole (free gift with purchase). I stopped by the convenience store next door and bought a lottery ticket as I had twice a week, every week—each one representing an idealized future where all things were possible and money would fix everything that was broken in the relationship. Several dollars, one dream.

It all turned out to be just a little too sweet, the pastry and the past. So, I wadded both up and threw them onto the floorboard. I’ve always had the knack for not being able to identify a single emotion I am experiencing unless it is accompanied by a discharge of fluid; but I mindlessly sing lyrics that slather subtext like graffiti. I began to sing a song from Jekyll and Hyde. Yes, sometimes inferior moments warrant inferior musical selections.

“Letting go, of a hand, that I’ve grown so accustomed to holding. . .
Moving on, in my life, there’s so much about me I’m unsure of. I must find my own way, on my own.”

I snapped back to attention as I almost made a wrong turn. I screamed, “Shit” as I cut off some guy in a Kia Sportage, veered left toward highway 101, and watched my past evaporate in the rear view mirror.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

SS: Letter to an Unrequited Love

I dreamed we were driving at night, slithering along a two-lane highway in the desert, somewhere outside of Phoenix. You were looking at the shadowy skeletons of the ancient saguaros. It was like Mars for you, this strange world of red and silence, so different from your tiny, cold Atlantic birthplace. I wanted at all times to be in this car with you, our lungs pushing out and breathing in the same air, creating every element between us, so that it swirled around the car and mingled, so that eventually everything else in this little pocket would be us.

You spied an oasis, a desert lake that looked like an ice rink in the dark, with its pale moonlight reflection. We stopped the car and got out, and the air between us slipped out, moving like an invisible inchworm up into the sky. You walked toward the lake. I fell behind you, and quickly lost sight of you. Then I came to the edge of the bank and saw you there, crouched like a diver. Your hands penetrated the surface and slowly you eased in, like a train nosing its way off a track on a bridge. It was a silent dive – it was so natural for you to become one with the water. You slid and melted into it. I tried to follow, but the surface was really ice, and I was broken.

I knew at that point that this was how it was…you living under, me above. I stayed awhile at that bank. I touched the gleaming surface, praying that the melted water on my fingertips still held something of you…”just an atom or two is enough.” And then I walked back to the car and started the engine. I had to keep going.

© Sarah Stanfield, June 14, 2007