Tuesday, December 22, 2009

WC: Van Gogh quote

From a letter to his brother Theo, January 1884
. . . find things beautiful as much as you can, most people find too little beautiful.
You can read all of his letters online at the fabulous vangoghletters.org. The site includes translations, notes, facsimiles, and more.

I'm reading a few a day.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

WC: My Condolences, Whoever You Are

Getting dressed this morning, I had half an ear on the radio. The report was about an explosives expert in the Marines who had been killed in Afghanistan after two tours of duty in Iraq. I had my usual mixed response: sadness for him and his family, an inability to quite understand why someone would want to be in the military, and confusion about whether we should be in Afghanistan at all. And then I heard something along the lines of "He was 34 and never married."

And suddenly I could see his boyfriend, mourning and distraught, with no recognition from the military or the Marine's family, no inherited benefits, no flag folded into a triangle. I hope he is at least surrounded by his own group of friends and family, but if he is in the military too, it's possible that he is isolated, deep in a dark, lonely, miserable closet.

Yes, it is possible that this particular Marine was a straight guy who just never married. But the scenario I describe above has happened to dozens if not hundreds if not thousands of people. The military should be ashamed.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thursday, August 20, 2009

WC: Barney Frank PS

Many people have pointed out that Frank could have handled the exchange better, that he could have been more politic.

I agree. All those people are right.

But there is something incredibly pleasing in seeing an articulate, from-the-gut, honest response.

WC: Thank You, Barney Frank

Friday, August 7, 2009

WC: Here's the Thing

After finishing a Saturday NY Times crossword puzzle--the hardest of the week--I realized why I find crossword puzzles so satisfying: the opportunity to be perfect. I entered the final word, and there it was: done, correct, my neat little printing filling the neat little boxes, each letter in its right home.

Pretty much everything else in life is annoyingly squishy. Work, writing, exercise, eating, dealing with people--none of them offer simple perfection.

But crossword puzzles do.

It's a beautiful thing.

Friday, June 26, 2009

WC: Michael Jackson, Idol?

It seems to me probable that Michael Jackson was a child molester. He was acquitted in a court of law, yes, but he also paid tens of millions of dollars to make other accusations go away. I imagine the children he molested must feel very lonely and furious today as they see their molester extolled as an idol and an icon.

In our society, it is often seen as rude to speak ill of the dead. And the idea that someone is innocent til proven guilty is profoundly important. And all the celebrities who are celebrating his life may have genuinely loved him.

But I'd like to ask them one question: Would they have left their children alone with him?

Monday, June 22, 2009

WC: I'm Trying to Figure Out iGoggle

And since I have this habit of just using programs and tools without actually reading the instructions, I'm not totally sure what I'm doing.

But . . . if I did this correctly, this will show up on my iGoggle.

Here goes.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

WC: So Much For My Memory

I've kept calendars since 1970. Since the mid-70s, they've been quite detailed.

Since my memory has become kinda lousy, I decided a while ago to go through my calendars to make a chart of the movies and plays I've seen and the books I've read. I'm curious to see the lists--I think they'll be interesting.

Well I finally just started this project and I've discovered that I can't even place the titles of some of the things I've seen and read. Did I ever really see a play called Debutante?

On top of that, I can't even identify who some of my friends were! That feels particularly weird.

And, in light of the blog entry I just wrote about seeing All the President's Men for the first time, it's galling to discover that it wasn't the first time. I saw it on August 15, 1976. I gave it two stars. (I saw it with someone named Charlie. I knew three Charlies when I was younger--Schwartz, Kazajian, and Famous--and I can't remember ever going to the movies with any of them!)


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Saturday, May 16, 2009

WC: The Weirdness of Writing Reviews

I've been enjoying reviewing plays over at Show Showdown, but I find myself frustrated by the customs of criticism. Reviews are supposed to be written without much reference to one's self, but, to me, the lack of the "I" makes it sound as though I am pontificating from on high. And who am I to pontificate? I'm just one person, and I'm often in the minority (eg, I disliked the generally adored new production of Our Town and was impressed by The Singing Forest, which my three co-audience members fled at the first intermission). Yet when I succumbed to writing in the "honest I," as in my reviews of Everyday Rapture and Mary Stuart, the reviews seemed unprofessional and less well-written. When I went back to the "omniscient know-it-all," as in Our Town and The Singing Forest, the reviews came across as, well, real reviews.

It's odd, really. Reviewers and critics can, and should, give reasons for their opinions, and certainly a knowledgeable writer can bring a particular insight to the table. But, ultimately, isn't it all just "I liked it" or "I didn't like it"? Is there any real difference between Ben Brantley and many other audience members other than he's in the Times and we're not? Yet his opinions, his preferences, can seriously affect the future of a show and will remain accessible for decades in the archives of "the paper of record." In our culture, we appoint people as experts--or they appoint themselves--but too often rather than being genuine experts, they're just well-located and/or well-connected.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

WC: All The President's Men

Just saw All the President's Men for the first time. (I missed many movies in the '70s. First I was in college, then I was doing theatre, and then I was--finally!--getting laid.) It's a fascinating movie, well made, but it relies on the viewer bringing a certain amount of knowledge to the table, which makes me wonder how long people will actually be watching it. But even without knowledge of Watergate, the viewer would still get to see many interesting things, such as these two:
  • How much work everything was pre-Internet. To try to find someone, Woodward goes through phone book after phone book. Every article is painstakingly typed and then painstakingly input into, what?, a linotype machine maybe? No interviews are recorded--notes are taken by hand. The lack of cell phones slows down communication immensely.
  • How much work is involved in investigating reporting. Yes, there's less grunt work now, but it's still a labor-intensive 24/7 project requiring imagination, communication skills, a willingness to manipulate, the ability to figure out a puzzle without having all the pieces, and incredible stamina. I hope it doesn't become a lost art.
The film features a wonderful array of actors in supporting and bit parts. I caught, for example, Steven Collins, Lindsay Crouse, Nicolas Coster, and Meredith Baxter but failed to identify Polly Holiday and Penny Fuller. (Victoria Clark and Alice Ripley were not in it, but I'm mentioning them so that my sister and my best bud will get Google alerts on this review. Hi Holly. Hi Susan.)

I thought Robert Redford was wonderful (I'm not usually a fan), as was Dustin Hoffman (I am usually a fan). Jason Robards, who I always think of as relying on his gravelly voice too much, and also mumbling too much, relies on his gravelly voice too much and mumbles too much. At one point, I put on the closed captions to see what he was saying, but they hadn't understood him either, and the screen remained blank while he spoke.

On a serious level, the big take-away for me is the reminder that the current despicable dishonesty of the Republican Party is nothing new. Sometimes I wonder how low they can possibly go, but this movie reminds me how low they have already gone. As David Byrne and Brian Eno wrote, "Same as it ever was, same as it ever was."

Monday, April 20, 2009

DW: The Reckoning

I did go to the funeral last week, and I am so glad that I did. It was wonderful to connect with my past and see people who I haven't seen in about 30 years. Time really does bend.

The best part was hanging out with my friend's dad, who is the last parent standing. It was like being able to speak in a tribal language that you rarely have the chance to speak. I'm seriously thinking of going down to visit him in Florida with a video camera and just ask him questions for 3 days straight and see what comes out. I realized the other day that he is Burlesque's version of Robert Evans and "The Kid Stays In the Picture." The only way I can describe my delight is imagining yourself in a wax museum and seeing William Powell suddenly coming to life.

Thanks AV for all your encouragement!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

AV: PSAs from the underbelly

Thanks everyone for your support for my personal endeavor of my own blog. I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank you as well for your indulgence of my three-part-harmony conversation in my recent post to this site. We all appreciated it.

That said, I'm writing on my personal site: http://thiseffingblog.blogspot.com/ and keeping you posted here on that. I've got a few things out there and my goal is to post (almost) daily.

Interestingly enough, some of what's showing up there amount to PSAs for the FoB (Friends of the Bereaved). I figure if I don't know what the hell I'm doing, you probably don't know either. So, yeah, I'm here to tell ya (in a teaser-go-visit-my-blog sort of way) ...

"There's Good News and Bad News
It occurred to me sometime during the last months of Aida's life that, in general, we just don't pay attention to the obvious: That "till Death Do Us Part" means that one of us is going to die before the other one. One of us is going to go first.
"

And another thing. Life's interesting paradox continues: today I bought three wonderful little bunches of yellow and white daffodils ($1.29 a bunch at the local Trader Joe's). I came home, tended their little green stems with fresh cuts and fresh water, and placed them in a vase. Then, their thirsty bodies swelling in the deep of the vase, I finished the survey for the good folks at San Diego Hospice. The cable radio station was playing an old disco tune .. "If I can't have you, I don't want nobody baby."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

WC: Netflix Understands Me!

Based on my movie ratings, Netflix has developed the following category of recommendations for me:
Steamy Dramas Featuring a Strong Female Lead
Boy, Netflix has my number!

WC: Amazon Mess-Up

The Amazon mess-up is being fixed. How it happened is still not absolutely clear, but they admitted having made a "ham-fisted" error, and they've been very good with gay books in the past, so I'm inclined to accept it as "one of those things."

My book is now being ranked again. It's the 280,445th best-selling book on Amazon! Don't mess with me.

Monday, April 13, 2009

WC: Reproductive Freedom

The following is from an article on Iron Chef Cat Cora and her significant other and their children. I would have to say that their ideas of reproductive freedom are on the far end of the, uh, speculum!
Cat and Jennifer have two sons Zoran and Caje. Both Jennifer and Cat are now pregnant with their third and fourth children. According to a press release from Cat Cora, Jennifer carried their first son, who she conceived through artificial insemination. Their second son was carried to term by Jennifer, but this time using Cat's embryo. Now both Cat and Jennifer are pregnant, Cat's pregnancy is the result of in-vitro fertilization with Jennifer's embryo. Jennifer was implanted with embryos from from both women, so the biological mother is unknown. All children have the same sperm donor.
I really don't know what to think about this.

On one hand, it's none of my business. On the other hand, they put out a press release, pretty much making it everyone's business.

And, on one hand, I really believe in people being open about life choices, as it normalizes different options and lets others know that there are many ways to live. On the other hand, I imagine that, once their kids hit middle school, they may feel that their moms released a bit too much information.

And, on one hand, I believe that everyone should have full reproductive freedom. On the other hand, doesn't this all seem, well, a bit much? And doesn't each level of technology (in vitro, carrying someone else's embryo, being implanted with multiple embryos) bring with it an extra risk?

But, hey, God bless 'em, you know? And yay for freedom!

WC: Some Personal Horn-Tooting

(Photo by Shilo McCabe.)

There's some weirdness happening at Amazon.com, where lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered books have been suddenly put into an "adult" ghetto where they are no longer ranked and are more difficult to find. I'm not going to write about that yet, because it is currently unclear if Amazon.com was hacked and how Amazon is going to respond to the situation.

I did, however, note on Salon.com that my book (The Lesbian Sex Book), along with a number of other titles, was no longer being ranked. And someone with the screen name of Strawberry wrote a wonderful response to me that made my day:

Let me just throw a great big giant personal 'THANK YOU'! I bought my copy of "The Lesbian Sex Book" way back in college and I adored it. I feel all fangirl excited now!
Aw, shucks.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

WC: Jerome Robbins Documentary

(photo by Frederic Ohringer)

Broadway director-choreographer Jerome Robbins was a temperamental genius. People chose to put up with his nastiness because he challenged and inspired them to do better than their best--but few have nice things to say about him as a person. Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance To, a 2009 PBS American Masters documentary, has a lot going for it: a fascinating story, interviews with smart and articulate artists, performance footage, and access to various interviews Robbins gave over the years. It's a solid introduction to, well, an American master.

I do wish, however, that they hadn't put all the footage of Robbins dancing in slow motion, and I also wish they had let the people being interviewed talk more. In particular, in the DVD extras, I wish they hadn't divided people's interviews into thematic sections: for example, Austin Pendleton's comments are spread over four or five sections, and each has to be clicked on individually.

And I mostly wish the documentary had a certain oomph to it. It just wasn't as interesting--to me at least--as I felt it could be.

Monday, April 6, 2009

DW: To Go or Not To Go?

About 6 months ago I connected (via Facebook) to a childhood friend who (along with her family) has a very significant place in my past and my psyche. When my mother was sick, I stayed with her family for several months, and her mother was someone I loved very much. In the 1960's she was young, glamorous, and reminded me of Samantha on Bewitched. She even had an adorable widow's peak. We would spend hours sitting in the kitchen talking with her about our 6th grade adventures while she ironed her satin sheets--sipping a can of Black Label beer and smoking her Kools.

One of the many highlights of this friendship were the serial sleepovers we would have at each other's house. Though we were in the same class at the same school for many years, our "day" life was very different than our "night" life. In school, we hung out with different people with some overlap, but sleepovers were different. We would watch "Chiller Theater" or Johnny Carson, or any adult'ish movie we deemed relevant and interesting. We would play Barbra Streisand albums and soundtracks to Broadway shows and movies, singing passionately into our respective hair brushes. Goldfinger was a particularly vivid number that we spent hours choreographing and concluded, in our collective 9-year old perspective, that it would be a great strip tease song.

My parents' friends were people that didn't set their alarms for 7:00 am. They travelled the country playing in or managing burlesque houses where they worked with people like Phil Silvers, Danny Lewis (Jerry's father), Abbott and Costello, and many others. It was very Guys and Dolls, and they had a ritual known as "night lunch." This was something I looked forward to during the sleepovers. Night lunch was something you ate after the last show, around midnight. It could be mussels or a ham sandwich, eaten in your hotel room or a nearby bar. When our parents became suburban they thankfully didn't abandon this wonderful habit, which meant cold spaghetti or leftover meatloaf was always a possibility. I remember staying at the Paramount Hotel in New York in 1967 with my parents, walking to the grocery store around the corner to get bread, cheese, bologna, and fruit. We always had an ice bucket in the room, with a small jar of Guilden's mustard nearby.

My friend and I eventually went our separate ways for high school and college, and haven't seen each other since 1977.

I noticed she hadn't been on Facebook for a few weeks and had a feeling that something was very wrong. I poked around and saw a Wall message that a friend had posted that said "you and your mother are in my prayers." Shortly thereafter she wrote me the devastating news...her mother's lingering cough turned out to be stage 4 lung cancer. She said that the X-rays looked like a snow storm.

I decided that I needed to acknowledge her mother's presence in my younger life, and sent her a Teddy Bear last week telling her how much I appreciated her being there for me, ie, being a mother when I didn't have one, and how her tuna fish sandwiches are one of the strongest sensory memories that I have of my childhood. Her secret was putting in a hard boiled egg, but it wasn't too eggy, it was just perfect. I received an email late last night that contained her obituary and then a note from my friend saying that she had received the bear and was very touched.

My dilemma is whether or not to go to the funeral tomorrow. It's 3 hours and a lifetime away. Part of me wants to see everyone and part of me doesn't want my memories tainted by the present. What is there to say after 30 years and all of the sleepovers? My concern is that I don't want to feel like I sometimes feel with my family, ie, having to regress to my 1972 vocabulary of words and experience in order to connect and get through the event at hand. Maybe I'm thinking too much about it, but I'm apprehensive...maybe I should just send flowers and a loving note and suggest that we connect in a less intense set of circumstances.

She is the last parent to leave this world for the next, and it feels a little lonelier knowing that she is no longer here to make those wonderful tuna fish sandwiches.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

AV: Changes

*Backstory: On February 3rd, my beloved wife, Aida Mancillas, took her final breaths on this earth as I lay draped across her chest. Accompanied through the long night by Aida's sister, brother-in-law, and one of the angels from San Diego Hospice, I attended to the sacred duty of helping my love move through the thin veil from here to there. The 60 days since her death have been ... almost indescribable.*

Dear friends,

I'm sorry I haven't been here for a while. It's been a mix of things. In the dark and obscured swamp in which I exist these days, I have been unsure about what or where and whether to post anything.

I have decided that yes, I will. And that I will do so most likely on a separate blog. Or maybe both together. I am undecided.
(Please, I invite your opinions on that question: let me know what you think. A different blog? This blog? Both together with duplicate posts? I really want to hear what you have to say.)

Part of the inner conversation is ongoing between a few of my inner voices. It goes something like this:

AV: No one else is writing about this grieving thing in the queer community. WTF?
Dolly: Yeah, but why are *you* the one who has to do it?
Deirdre: Yeah, and who even wants to hear your whining? The world is depressing enough and we have our own problems.
AV: Thank you for sharing, but I think that maybe my speaking honestly about my experience, maybe just maybe that might give others the permission to talk honestly about it. Even if it's only with themselves.
Dolly: Okay okay, I get it, but why do you have to be so *public* about it? Do you really want that much information out there about you? Haven't you heard about online crime?
AV: I know. I've thought about that. It's the second biggest reason why I've been silent for so long here. The first, of course, is Deirdre.
Deirdre: What?!? What did I do?? Everybody always blames me! I'm really just trying to take up as little room as possible here, y'know ... and *still* I get blamed ..
AV: No no, Deirdre ... what I meant was that I have the same concerns you do. I'm not so sure that anyone cares about what I have to say either. I mean, it's not like I'm posting the daily contents of my refrigerator or anything, but you're right, people have their own problems. What do they care if I'm grieving the death of my wife?
Dolly: well ... maybe ...
AV: Exactly. So I think that's what I'm going to do. I keep my journal, of course, but I can't find much of anything online or in print that speaks to *me* or to the unknown number of LGBT folks who are stumbling in the darkness just like me.
Dolly: So what are you going to do?
AV: I think I'm going to keep my own blog and post every few days about what's up for me, for the friends I have who are in different stages of this journey I'm on, and the resources I discover along the way that can help the next person. Or someone who's suffering just like I am.
Deirdre: Are you at least going to disguise your name?
AV: Not sure yet. Part of me would like to, but I feel it's important to talk fully about my wife, Aida, and to do otherwise would be to dishonor her and her memory. To do that, I need to be "out."
Dolly: Well, whatever. If you want to do this, okay, but just don't drag us into it.
Deirdre: Yeah, good luck with that.
AV: Thanks you guys.

so, that said, here's the link to my first post (some of you will recognize the url):

And an excerpt:
It has occurred to me that no one is writing handbooks for us queer folk on how to manage this thing. I mean, fer crissakes, we aren't even sure how to do weddings, let alone funerals and every single bone crushing day afterwards.

let me know what you think. Dolly and Deirdre are really interested.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

WC: New Review Posted

I've reviewed Happiness at Show Showdown ("I feel that the show has potential. I guess I just can't rule out those bloodlines.")

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

WC: God of Carnage

I've reviewed God of Carnage at Show Showdown ("much of the audience gave the show a standing O--unless they were standing for Tony Soprano, which is completely possible").

Sunday, March 1, 2009

WC: Good TV Shows to Netflix

A friend asked for some recommendations of what TV shows to rent, so I made her a list. I thought it might be of interest to some of you out there.

Some background first: although I own a TV, it is not hooked up to cable or an attenna. For me, it is a DVD-delivery system. As a result, I actually know very little about TV. I've never even seen a reality show.

As a result, I rent DVDs based on other people's suggestions, and the following list includes shows that at least one other person (my sister, a friend, etc) told me to see and that I liked as well. So you're actually getting a few people's recommendations here.
  • The Wire--drug gangs, cops, newspapers, schools--an entire city brilliantly and heartbreakingly depicted. Could be a strong competitor for best show ever. Not an easy show to watch, however.
  • Slings & Arrows--Canadian, three seasons, 6 eps per season, each season following a season of a small theatre group doing Shakespeare--Hamlet, R&J, King Lear. Funny, moving, sexy, smart.
  • Once and Again--newly married couple deals with exes, blended families, etc. Smart, funny, moving, psychologically astute. Unfortunately only 2 seasons are out on DVD. Very well-acted, and everyone is gorgeous, which works both for the show (they're fun to look at) and against it (hard to believe that people that good looking really have problems!)
  • Sports Night--smart office comedy that takes place at a TV sports show.
  • Northern Exposure--Jewish doctor ends up in small town in Alaska.
  • Carnivale--a traveling carnival with people with actual powers, including an ongoing serious fight between good and evil with all sorts of weirdness. Unfortunately, it ended after 2 years, and they had to rush the ending--they really could/should have gone another year.
  • Pushing Daisies--bizarre, unusual comedy about a man who can bring dead people back to life by touching them. Very quirky, very mannered. If it works for you, it's fabulous. If it doesn't, it's painful. It worked for me.
  • Samantha Who--another quirky comedy, this one about a woman coming back from amnesia. She used to be a bitch; now she wants to be nice. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but I really like it.
  • Heroes--regular people with superpowers try to save the world. The first season was quite entertaining--I hear the next two kinda suck. But the first season stands alone very nicely.
  • 24: each season covers 24 hours in the life of a, what?, agent, spy, mega-butch-he-knows-everything govt guy. Violent, edgy, fabulous interesting characters, disturbingly pro-torture, addicting. (I've stopped watching, but I admit to quite enjoying a few years of it.)

WC: Obama's First Month in Office

For a really nice summation of everything Obama's done--and hasn't done--so far, see this excellent article by Elizabeth Drew:

The Thirty Days of Barack Obama

WC: Aida Mancillas

I'm sad to say that I only met Aida once, but grateful to say that I met her. In another sense, I can say that I already knew her. When I lived in San Diego, one of my favorite activities was walking across the Vermont Street pedestrian bridge. It wasn't that the bridge had a great view; it spanned a not-particularly-attractive city street. And it wasn't that the bridge was taking me anywhere I wanted to go. It was the bridge itself I liked to visit. Designed by Aida (with Gwen Gomez and Lynn Susholtz), it was full of fun quotations about bridges and about traveling by a range of people of diverse backgrounds (you have to love a multicultural bridge!). The walkway had the definition of the word "bridge" engraved along its length. The bridge was whimsical, smart, open-hearted, and fun--a true reflection of Aida.

During our brief visit, Aida and I talked about the bridge. She showed me the beautiful view from her backyard. We chatted about Andrea, who she adored with her heart and soul. She was lovely and gracious, and I'm very very sad she's gone.

WC: Theatre Reviews

I am now doing theatre reviews--along with a bunch of other people--at Show Showdown.

My two most recent reviews are of La Sonnambula ("a delightful, gorgeously sung and produced confection") and Mabou Mines DollHouse ("with more coups de theatre per half hour than most directors could be expected to produce in a lifetime").

Please stop by.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

WC: Jane Fonda's Blog

Jane Fonda is keeping a rather interesting blog about being in 33 Variations, due to open on Broadway shortly. I particularly enjoyed this:

But here’s the thing: Looking at these more realistic, unadorned photos of myself, I had to take a deep breath, and with humor and acceptance, allow myself to acknowledge, I mean really allow the truth in– I am old. I am matronly. I asked one of my co-stars, “How come bags under Vanessa Redgrave’s eyes look noble and under mine they look like crap?” “Because she’s British,” he replied.

HC: Another Winter in a Summer Town

Cape May, New Jersey, in February.

Cape May is the southern most tip of New Jersey. If you go any further, you are in the Atlantic Ocean. The entire town of Cape May is a national historic landmark because of its second largest collection of Victorian houses. San Francisco has the first.

Driving the four hours from Nyack, New York, south on the Garden State Parkway, excitement builds. First you pass the exits for Asbury Park--of course I think of Debra and her love of Bruce Springsteen--then the exits for Atlantic City, with its numerous casinos, boardwalk and, as my friend Robin who recently visited there put it, "a bunch of really weird people, including a huge percentage of large-breasted women with push-up bras and low-cut shirts."

After the AC exits, you drive another hour and finally see signs for Cape May. Normally, in a summer month, I'd love driving forever on the Garden State Parkway. It's nice to see the lush trees, the green landscape, proof that there are still wide open spaces and fresh air in our crowded world. Driving in February the view is stark, desolate, lonely, so seeing "Cape May" signs is a connection with humanity and life. After the signs, you still have to drive what seems like hours to get to that life, represented at first by restaurants with signs with lobsters on them, and whale and dolphin watch invitations. Still you drive, now more slowly, on a one-lane south, one-lane north road, past the occasional Victorian house intermingled with normal, everyday kinda places. The Victorians stick out because of their ornateness, the gingerbread, the multi-colors standing next to stucco or brick or aluminium sided houses. Many of the Victorians even on the outskirts of Cape May are bed and breakfasts, and very inviting, although a 10-minute drive from the coveted beach.

My husband and I are headed closer to the beach, so we keep driving. At Ocean Street we make a left. Up way ahead, I can see a strip of blue that is the ocean. We are almost there. We stop for a red light at Washington Street. To the right is a pedestrians-only outdoor mall of shops. There are no people. It looks like everything is closed...wait! A person!! The light seems to take forever, especially without anyone crossing the street. In August, hundreds of people will be crossing to get to the shops on THAT side of the street, hence the very long red. Finally, the light is green, and we drive just a little longer. What we now see is truly remarkable. Every house is Victorian; most with wraparound porches. Colorful, large, intricate. I feel as if I'd better hang on to my slender thread of reality or I will be transported back over one hundred years...and in my jeans, cotton top, and puffy winter coat I'm not dressed for it. To the right is The Queen Victoria, the main house owned by the same people who own the house we'll be staying in, The Queen's Cottage. Their other two houses are The House of Royals and The Prince Albert Hall.

There are just not enough adjectives in my vocabulary to describe these houses. I hope it's enough to just write, WOW. To know that architects and builders used to care so much, to be so detailed, to create such beauty, and to know that single families used to live in these houses, which are now all multi-roomed bed and breakfasts, is staggering. So much room, such opulence, such riches. Were they happy families, like the Smiths in Meet Me in St. Louis, or dark, tortured families like the Tyrones in Long Day's Journey Into Night (actually, that house was a stick/eastlake Queen Anne, thank you Wikipedia).

The houses have all been renovated, with each room meticulously designed to be as true to the period as possible, but also light and inviting. The Victorian Era was famous for its darkness, heavy fabrics, burgundys, browns, etc. These rooms now have a lot of gold and yellow and sage, the windows are not enclosed in velvet curtains, but light lace to let the sun, if there is any, shine in.

As a guest of The Queen Victoria, we also are welcome to enter and browse through the ground floors of the other buildings. I sample the sherry in each of the parlors, and also look through the 30 or so DVDs in each parlor. Yes, it's funny to see an antique writing desk holding up Intolerable Cruelty and My Cousin Vinny, but that doesn't stop me from taking Dave for possible viewing tonight.

The second part of the B&B is the breakfast, and what a breakfast it was. Served in the Prince Albert Hall dining room, seating 10, the buffet consisted of a hash brown potato bake with scallions, eggs, and cheese, which was fabulous. Cherry tomatoes in a light sauce with parmesan cheese. Cereals, yogurt, granola, fresh fruit salad. Blueberry muffins, bran muffins, and three kinds of sweet breads, with pumpkin, cranberry, apple, and I forget what else. Oh, and of course normal bagels and bread for toasting. All with flowing coffee or tea. Let's just say I'm glad my Weight Watchers sponsors weren't looking. We chat with complete strangers from the four corners of the world, if the world is the northeast. They are from Asbury Park, he's from New Jersey, the three of them are from New York. Kinda funny. The woman sitting next to me talked of her twin sons. The young couple across from me were very lovely. He's recovering from a basketball injury. She's a teacher of the deaf, fluent in sign language, and with adorably curly hair. We swap hair care product tips.

At 4 there is an afternoon tea. Again, bottomless cups of two varieties of brewed tea, oatmeal cranberry cookies, brownies, and a red pepper dip for crackers. When we got back to our inn after dinner, the left over cookies were there wrapped in plastic wrap for us to enjoy. The Queen's Cottage, which consists of two rooms with shared pantry/living area, is where the owners of the inns live, upstairs. The other room on our floor is unoccupied, so we have the coffee/tea maker all to ourselves, as well as this incredibly comfortable leather couch. Sorry, you former animal, you.

I've enjoyed every cup of tea, coffee, cookie, meal. There's more to Cape May than food, though...at least I think. We went for a walk on the boardwalk at sunset. Passing only four other couples and a few kids on scooters in the mile walk, it's a lonely, deserted beachside resort in February. I spotted three surfers! Just how warm are wet suits?

Right now we are sitting on the comfy couch. It's peaceful, quiet, and the snow is gently falling. We are going to go for a walk past all the Victorians. I've been to Cape May in nicer weather at least four other times (I miss you, Kathy! Yes, the stitching shop is still here). Although I miss the sunshine, the smell of sunscreen, the hustle and bustle of vacationers--bicycles zooming past, a steady stream of people heading toward the beach, cars!--there's something subdued and magical about a town that's more than half closed. When we drove to a restaurant last night, we passed about a hundred houses closed up for the summer, without a single light shining from inside. Dead houses they seemed, but really more just hybernating until their owners come back to turn on the porch lights, plant flowers, fire up the grill.

There's a bittersweetness to wintering in a summer town. I don't know that I could live here, but it's very nice to visit.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

WC: A Sea of CDs

I don't mean the CDs that have money in them. I mean those old-fashioned, round, shiny things that some of us middle-aged people still use rather than iPods. (It was only two minutes ago that CDs were the miraculous future of recorded music, but the future comes and goes quickly these days.)

Since I own hundreds of CDs (to be honest, I'm not sure how it happened), I decided that it would be interesting to actually listen to them. All of them. Not just the ones that are on frequent rotation. I considered listening to them in alphabetical order, or by category, or chronologically, but I decided that random order suits me best.

As it happened, the first CD was Kristin Chenoweth's Let Yourself Go, which includes a range of show songs and standards, along with an art song or two. Chenoweth's timing was excellent: she recorded the CD just as she was supposed to become a TV star with her sitcom Kristin. I assume that is why she got to sing with a band rather than the single piano that so many Broadway performers have to settle for. Kirstin turned out to be a flop the size of which hadn't been seen since, well, Nathan Lane's sitcom, but the CD was already made.

And a lovely CD it is. It largely shows Kristin at her best, relying on the extraordinary beauty of her voice with subtle phrasing, as opposed to Kristin at her worst, when she flounces around demanding, "Love me, love me!" I think that she is prodigiously talented but not always good. In this CD, however, she is wonderful. Her My Funny Valentine is the best I've ever heard, with a simple declarative style that allows the one little catch in her voice late in the song to express a world of emotion.

WC: My First Theatre Review in Years

I have just joined a blog called Show Showdown. For a couple of years, the Show Showdown-ers have been posting short reviews of plays and competing to see the most shows in a year. They recently opened the blog up to more contributors, and I am one of three newbies. I'm unlikely to win the competition, as I "only" see about 60 shows a year (the others see dozens, hundreds), but I'm very pleased to be involved. (When I lived in San Diego, I was a theatre critic for a while.)

Amusingly enough, I immediately succumbed to a theatre buzz word. My friends and I often laugh when actors are interviewed, because we know that they will use the words "arc" and "journey." It could be a drinking game, with a double shot when a performer uses both words in the same sentence.

So, yes, I used the word "arc." In my very first review. It was the right word. Oh well.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

SS: Queen Meabh in the Flesh!

When I saw the cover of The New York Times magazine this morning, I was rather non-plussed. "OBAMA's PEOPLE" shouted the headline at me, with the subhead indicating a series of photographs of all the people who are working or going to be working with our soon-to-be president. While I'm thrilled that the Bush era is over and we are going to have a president who might actually help our country rather than push it further into social, economic and educational oblivion, I really didn't care about seeing a bunch of photos of Washington politicos.

I grew up in the DC metro area, and since I fled for New York in 1999, I have sort of knee-jerk gut retch whenever I think about my hometown. I have "issues" with DC -- it was just not my kind of town -- a severe lack of diversity among class, race, ethnicity and occupation, an unhealthy obsession with educational status, too much middle-of-the-road, "I don't want to say anything radical"-type political views, very little to do after 5pm except for bars, and my number-one complaint: Too few dating options for straight gals such as myself.

So I opened up the magazine, expecting to see page after page of wonks -- yes, "the wonks of hope" for this is to be the administration of hope -- but still wonks. Wonks are not generally thrilling photography subjects.

I was not disappointed. Aside from the opening shot of Rahm Emanuel doing his best arms-akimbo Henry VIII pose -- it was wonk after wonk.

And then I saw her. I'm not a New Age/Pagan kind of person, but the first thing that came to my mind was that this was a living reincarnation of Queen Meabh (Maeve), the mythical Irish Queen and goddess. Not because this woman had long red hair, green eyes and wore a Celtic pendent on a chain around her neck -- but because she radiated the kind of brilliance, confidence, and an interesting sense of...sovereignty is sort of the word...that are qualities very often attributed to Meabh. In her goddess form, Meabh was thought to imbue new kings with power - ancient Irish kings performed a symbolic marriage with her when they came to their thrones. Honestly -- this is what popped into my head the moment I saw her.

It was a photo of Samantha Power, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her writings about genocide and has consistently been one of the most passionate, articulate and influential advocates against genocide this generation has likely ever known. She is one of my heroines (yes, even with the "monster" debacle) and before I saw this picture, I never really "saw" her. This photo just really brought the essence of her out, and it is beautiful. This woman is beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

Click here for the link to the online gallery featuring the photo of Samantha Power.

Monday, January 12, 2009

WC: Who Steals My Purse Steals Trash, But Who Steals My Identity Really Pisses Me Off

I got one of those robo-calls from my charge card yesterday. It sounded different from the others--maybe even authentically important--but I totally forgot about it.

Then today, I went on line to check my credit card balance and discovered that I had purchased three Delta flights to Atlanta. Except I hadn't.

So I called the 800 number on my charge card. I was eventually connected to a nice man with an Indian accent (duh) who kept trying to convince me that these were disputed charges rather than fraud. He wanted me to call Delta and ask why they had made these charges. I kept telling him that that was irrelevant, and he kept insisting. I finally thought to mention the phone call of yesterday, and he pressed some buttons and suddenly discovered that I had indeed been the victim of fraud.

So he transferred me to the fraud department where I spoke to a nice woman named Velma. (I hadn't known that Velma was an Indian name.) She was so used to taking fraud reports that she spoke at 1000 words a minute. With a thick Indian accent. I teach seminars on dealing with identity theft, and I couldn't tell what the heck she was talking about.

After asking her to repeat herself and slow down--about half a dozen times--we got the fraud report submitted. Then she started reading me instructions on what to do next. She read so fast that she sounded like that super-fast talker in the Fed Exp commercials. Only with a thick Indian accent.

I had already spent half an hour dealing with this, and I had just begun. I don't know what people who work on assembly lines do when their identities get stolen. I wouldn't be surprised if they have to take off from work just to make phone calls.

Next I went on line to the credit services. I started with Experian, which allows you to put a fraud alert on your credit report via the Net. So I filled out the form and pressed submit, and it told me that my address was missing. It wasn't. I put it in again and hit submit. It told me that my address was missing. It wasn't. I put it in again, with no commas or number sign and hit submit. It told me my address was missing.

I called Experian and got their automatic telephone fraud report machine. This worked pretty well except that the telephone voice rattled out my many-digit confirmation number out so fast that I thought it was competing with Velma. And it rattled it out once. Only once.

Then I decided to put in another report. Officially, once you've submitted a report to any of the three agencies, it has to share the report with the other two. But I don't trust other people/companies with something that is that important to me--and anyway, their website didn't inspire me with confidence--so I decided to submit a report to TransUnion.

I went on its website and found the fraud report form. (By the way, it wasn't particularly easy to find the form on either agency site.) I filled it out, pressed submit, and got a page full of code and error messages. Very reassuring, huh? At least when I called TransUnion, its machine voice said my confirmation number slowly and asked me if I wanted it to repeat it. I did.

I decided to then focus on informing companies that automatically bill my charge card that the account had been closed. Guess what? It was really hard to figure out how to get the info to some of them. Big surprise, huh?

At this point, my lunch hour was up and I was facing multiple deadlines, so I left the rest to deal with tonight. And now I'm going to do just that, feeling incredibly grateful that I have a computer at home, that I am literate, that I understand finance, that I can make phone calls from work--and feeling incredibly worried about people who are not as lucky as I am.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

SS: This May Explain Some of My Quirks

My mother and father have two main hobbies each. My mother is a doll collector and my father loves tinkering with antique phone gear. I grew up in a house filled with 100-plus phones, most of which operated through a 40s-era switchboard my father purchased from a funeral home when I was 12 years old. My mother, for her part, had many more dolls than me when I was a kid. I think that may be why I have no maternal instinct, but that is another story. Recently, she's really stepped it up -- acquiring around 25 in the past year alone.

I suppose it was only a matter of time for my parents' twin obsessions to intertwine, and look! Here we have it. Yes. My father sent me this picture this morning. It is a picture of a doll on a switchboard. He tagged it, "In these troubled times, I need all the help I can get!"

WW: Obama's Inauguration

When Obama invited Rick Warren to pray at his inauguration, my first response was disappointment. My second response was to tell myself, hey, he's reaching out to other people, which he said he would do, and he tends to know what he's doing. I was still uneasy, so I read editorials and spoke to friends to see if there was anything I hadn't considered that I needed to consider.

There were and are a million opinions out there. For example, Frank Rich of the New York Times, who thought it was a bad decision, wrote,
[Warren] was vociferously attacked by the Phyllis Schlafly gang when he invited Obama to speak about AIDS at his Saddleback Church two years ago.

There’s no reason why Obama shouldn’t return the favor by inviting him to Washington. But there’s a difference between including Warren among the cacophony of voices weighing in on policy and anointing him as the inaugural’s de facto pope. You can’t blame V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop and an early Obama booster, for feeling as if he’d been slapped in the face. “I’m all for Rick Warren being at the table,” he told The Times, but “we’re talking about putting someone up front and center at what will be the most-watched inauguration in history, and asking his blessing on the nation. And the God that he’s praying to is not the God that I know.”

On the other hand, E.J. Dionne Jr. of The Washington Post, wrote,

Although I support gay marriage, I think that liberals should welcome Obama's success in causing so much consternation on the right. On balance, inviting Warren opens more doors than it closes.

During my research, I found that I agreed with much of what people wrote and said, both pro and con.

Then I discussed the situation with my friend Rodney and some other friends. We discussed it as a disappointment, and we discussed it as a sort-of-acceptable political move, and we discussed how Obama seems to know what he's doing, and then Rodney said, "But it's not my inaugural anymore."

And that sentence hit me like a ton of bricks. In all my thinking about this decision, I had ignored what I had been feeling. And Rodney hit it on the nose. I was really, truly upset. And I am really, truly upset.

Rodney also mentioned that he had replied to a request for a donation from Obama's people with a, uh, somewhat pointed response that they shouldn't approach him anymore. I copied his idea, but I didn't tell them to stop contacting me. Instead, any time they approach me, I write about my disappointment and how, after giving hundreds of dollars, I have no interest in giving any more money. I end with the line, "I wish Obama supported me as much as I supported him."

Now I'm trying to figure out (1) how to let my disappointment go, and (2) whether to let it go.

I was so excited when Obama won. I was flat-out thrilled. Of course, I understood that he wouldn't be able to be too overtly pro-gay right off the bat. And I knew that he would inevitably disappoint me--and everyone else too! But I didn't expect this symbolic slap in the face, so soon. If that is what this is.

After all this thinking, I've decided to hold off deciding what I think and to see what the future brings. I'm still disappointed, but I have decided to be cautiously optimistic.

Here's hoping!

Monday, January 5, 2009

SS: When Did My Neighborhood Become The Heart of Darkness?

I have to stop reading “The City” section of “The New York Times.” It seems as though every other week there’s another article about my Queens neighborhood, Jackson Heights, and more times than not, after reading the piece, I want to crumple the entire section into a jagged little ball and shove it down the writer’s throat, hard. This is because few writings about Jackson Heights are anything more than dime-store travelogues, which treat my neighborhood as though it’s some ethnic zoo, to be visited and thrilled at and then, if the tigers and polar bears don’t feel like eating the crackers you throw over the fence at them – dismissed, one way or the other. It’s insulting.

I opened up “The City” section yesterday morning to a typical example. The teaser above the piece read, “He hoped to find in Queens the exoticism he loved from his years abroad. But again and again, the doors to this world slammed shut.” I could tell this was going to be a good one, so I read on.

The writer describes moving to Jackson Heights in 2006 in an effort to discover the “discreet ethnic underworlds” of Queens, which he assumes will be as exciting and personally fulfilling as those “exotic environments” he left behind when he returned to the United States after living for six years in what he refers to only as “developing nations.” Presumably one of those nations is Indonesia, as he notes having lived for two years in the world’s largest Islamic country.

Unfortunately, this plan doesn’t work out for the writer, as the denizens of Jackson Heights and other immigrant-heavy Queens enclaves don’t seem to want to deliver on the exotic goodies the writer presumes are just hiding above every storefront or in a backroom of every restaurant. He details his many efforts to penetrate “the underworld” throughout the course of 18 months. He tries several times to get in the door at an unmarked Korean bar under the 7 train on Roosevelt Avenue, and his knocks always go unanswered, despite the obvious action going on inside, until, finally, he gets in the door, only to be greeted by a Korean woman who shouts, “No! Korea! Korea! Only Korea!”

There are many similar instances. He goes to a “crusty bar” where he encounters “Irishmen equipped with authentic accents and swollen red cheeks” (at least he can cross “find a drunken Irishman to add flare to NYT piece” off his to-do list), only to be made fun of when he orders root beer instead of booze. Luckily for him, one of the Irish men makes a racist remark, so he can dismiss this piece, which doesn’t fit in with his “Jackson Heights-the-ethnic-Disneyworld” narrative and move on to pester those living that more authentic Jackson Heights life, the ones located in the “vibrant South Asian communities” around 74th Street and Roosevelt Avenue.

Over in the vibrant heart of Jackson Heights, while “documenting the neighborhood’s colorful streets” with his camera, the writer runs into some trouble in his attempts to capture locals striking their ethnic poses: They run away from him. He notes that he can hear several saying “snitching” and “immigration” under their breath. I have to question if this is true. I think you’d have to have superhero ears to actually be able to hear someone mumbling under their breath on a typically crowded, noisy Jackson Heights street. More likely, he asked people to pose for him, and they refused.

And I applaud them for refusing. I’d do the same thing, though I’m a white girl who was born in this country, and therefore have no appeal to writers like the one in this yesterday’s paper. I don’t fit into the Jackson Heights narrative that was clearly already in the head of this writer before he ever took his first step off the 74th Street stop of the 7 train. I just go about my business here, living with my husband, walking my dog, getting groceries, looking for parking. All the same things that millions of people across the city (maybe in Manhattan there are less looking for parking and more looking for empty seats on the subway) do every day. And these are the same things the people in my neighborhood do as well, whether they are Colombian, Pakistani, Korean, Filipino or any other ethnicity, “exotic” or not. They are people – not models posing in a diorama at the Museum of Natural History.

At the end of the piece, the writer says he moved back to Manhattan. I hope he finds what he’s looking for there, probably it's “authentic city living” or something similar. He had it in Jackson Heights, but he couldn’t see past his own narrative.

Copyright January 5, 2009 by Sarah E. Stanfield

Saturday, January 3, 2009

AV: These Boots Are Made For Walking

Aida has asked for boots. Nice handcrafted cowboy boots from the small shop in Golden Hill near The Big Kitchen. She has been talking about them a lot over the last few days.

The only problem is that she isn't doing any walking these days. In fact, I don't think that she's left the hospital bed provided by the good people of San Diego Hospice at all since Thanksgiving. Even that was difficult, although the trip to her parents' house in Oceanside to spend a few hours with the whole family was worth it. Mostly. The excursion exhausted her for two days. Since then she has only left our bedroom for Christmas, which was held at her sister's house. It was a mixed bag. Family surrounded her -- as did an unfamiliar room. She found peace again once we returned home.

The last weeks have seen a steady stream of visitors. Family, friends. Hospice workers (such wonderful people!!). And love. Such love. You can't imagine. Really.

The last few days she has announced to all who come, "I'm dying. It's so odd. But there it is. I didn't think it would happen to me, but I guess it is. Curious." She speaks clearly about the work there is to do, and yet allows sometimes for the possibility that all that is left is to "relax into it." And at others she is adamant that she isn't going anywhere, thank you, and who the heck are they talking about that is supposed to be dying. Not her. No Ma'am. Uh uh.

And the incredible thing about this journey is that at each stage I am given the inestimable gift of her company in a way that allows me to get kind of used to the idea of where we are. And maybe a little bit of where we're going. Each day frightens me to my core. I don't know what will happen. I am terrified that whatever change that may occur is the one that will shake me apart. And yet. And yet, when the terrifying changes happen, we manage it. And the conversations of the most recent days together have allowed us both to ponder. To wonder. To acknowledge the ridiculousness and craziness of it all. Because make no mistake about it, it IS most certainly crazy. Just plain wrong. But still, we are coming to understand it together.

While talking the other day, she said to me that being brave was not necessary.
"Don't be brave. Just be worthy of all of your accomplishments here."

She is marvelous, ladies and gentlemen. She is the most extraordinary human being I have ever met. Beyond all that pap about snowflakes and uniqueness, because while that is true, it is truer for Aida than for anyone else. I have never ever met anyone like her and I am pretty certain that she is the only one there is. Or ever has been. She is amazing. She is Aida.