Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Well, maybe that's overstating a bit, but I heard it this morning for the four hundredth time and I just think it's genius. It's a song from William Finn's show, March of the Falsettos. I heard it this morning while I was working on a play and I was struck with the awe of an aspiring painter standing in front of a Cezanne still life:

"I will never in my life make anything so perfect."

Here's to trying anyway, right kids? Cheers.

A Marriage Proposal

I love you dear
I think you’re swell
You’re never near me close enough to tell
If I’m delightful or not.

I need your wrist
I praise your thigh
There’s not a guy
There’s not a piece of paper
There’s not a man in pants
Who can love you the same as I

Often times lovers are crazy people
Sometimes they kill each other
Just like a biblical brother
Did to his biblical brother.
Back in biblical Times.

Biblical times?
Biblical times?
Biblical times.

All those Biblical times!

I love your eyes.
I love your face.
I want you by my side to take my place
If I get sick or detained.

Don’t brush your hair, you’re perfect.
Don’t start to cry.
There’s not a guy,
There’s not a horse or zebra,
There’s not a giant man,
Who could love you the same as I.

Forget that giant man,
He won’t love you the same as I.

I’m not a giant man,
But I’ll love you until,
Love you until
I die.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


My boss's publicist called me today because another one of her clients, a seriously b-list babe named Kim Something, is moving to NYC and needs an assistant. She was wondering if I knew anybody...

I suggested Law, my friend and co-writer of my genius, undoubtedly soon-to-be-produced television pilot. He is organized, enthusiastic and broke. Plus, he has seen me in the throws of my professional challenges (Oh no! Boss lost the AC adapter to his favorite UK-purchased personal DVD player. Whatever am I to do?! To Radio Shack, Cabbie! On the double!) so he knows what to expect.

To my suggestion the publicist responded:
"Is he gay?"

Implication: Not gay? Not interested. And poor Law is married. To a woman.

What is this, some kind of reverse homophobia? Affirmative Action for the light-footed among us? Is a homo more equipped to book a table than a straight dude? Better at buying sliced turkey or light bulbs?

The gays have been taking jobs from straight women for years now: Interior decorator, makeup artist, aerobics instructor, arm candy. Now they are taking jobs from straight men? When will it stop? Soon we non-queers will be made irrelevant!

And then I realized...what we had on our hands was the makings for a fantastic new sitcom.

20-something single male pretends to be gay so he can work his dream job--assistant to obscure TV actress! Hijinks ensue when he has to keep his over-active love life a secret from his boss---quite possibly the only woman he really loves!!

I knew that prejudice had it's benefits.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Vegas Elvis, sell out?

Elvis grew up poor. He started singing because he thought it might make him some money. "Artistic integrity" is the stuff of high-minded academics. It's the kind of phrase we unsuccessful writers comfort ourselves with during long, sleepless nights where dreams of time and age and anonymity have us sitting up, sweating, doing Sudoku.

"But I have never sold out," we say, panting, panicked.

Of course, no one ever asked us to.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


This is not a political blog, and for the most part, I am not a political person. But today I am going to share something I read in the New Yorker:
On Social Security, Clinton has avoided a detailed approach to fixing the system, which is expected to run out of money by the twenty-forties; for now, she would appoint a trusty “bipartisan commission” to recommend solutions. Obama proposes raising the ceiling on income that is subject to the payroll tax. As a political strategy, this appears to be a terrible idea. A potential crisis in the Social Security system is a long way off. Why, then, would a new President spend political capital on yet another tax hike when he will almost certainly seek to undo the Bush tax cuts for more immediate demands, like universal health care? When I asked Obama about this, he smiled and leaned forward, as if eager to explain that my premise was precisely the politically calibrated approach that he wanted to challenge. “What I think you’re asserting is that it makes sense for us to continue hiding the ball,” Obama said, “and not tell the American people the truth—”

I interrupted: “Politically it makes sense—”

He finished the sentence: “—to not tell people what we really think?”

I am so very tired of being lied to. I am so ready for someone to tell me the truth. Anyone else?

But that's enough serious for today. Here's one of my favorite moments of onscreen musical comedy. The basketball scene from Charlie Ahearn's Wild Style.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


My oldest friend, Jordana, was in New York this weekend, and she expressed an interest in making an appearance in this blog. I am not a diva. I will happily fulfill requests from loyal readers!

Full Disclosure: This is the first request I have received. I didn't realize that I had loyal readers. Sometimes I worry that my life/blog is like a Sting song, "Just a castaway, an island lost at sea, oh./ Another lonely day with no one here but me, oh."

I have known Jordana for so long, that in the course of our evening out with friends on Saturday, she said, "Oeenka!" and I knew that she was referring to Demi Moore's nipples in the movie, Ghost. If that's not friendship, I don't know what is.

In elementary school I got a curling iron with a brush attachment thoroughly stuck in Jor's hair. I had picked up the conventional wisdom that peanut butter is just the thing for liberating objects from hair. For the record, it isn't.

When we were in middle school we would go to open swim at the high school. We would shower in the locker room afterwards and get a Strawberry Crush from the pop machine. We felt so "Sixteen Candles".

Also in middle school, we were assigned a country to study for an entire year: art projects, cooking projects, research papers, all of which would culminate in a Culture Fair at the end of the year. Groups were assigned countries like China or England or France. We got Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe! We wrote a song:
"Zim, ba-ba-ba-bab, take me away away away to Zimbabwe!"
We would sing the song at the Bat Mitzvahs of everyone in the group.

Freshman year of high school, Jordana, Annie (you remember Annie, readers. She was the child with the ziplock baggies) and I decided to choreograph a dance for the annual dance show. Annie and I were committed to making our dance an allegory for the fall of communism. Jordana thought that was stupid. The teacher in charge of the show sided with Jor.

We once shared a bottle of wine at the foot of the Andes. I felt arty. She felt posh. During that trip we visited a Chilean vineyard. Our tour group was overrun with Mormons. We concluded that the Mormons were either doing reconnaissance or looking for sinners to convert.

It was nice to see Jor.

Monday, November 05, 2007


Last night, while eating homemade Croatian goulash at my friend Jeremy's house, I put the following question to the group:
If you could be any ethnicity other than your own, what would it be?
I answered first. I chose Cuban. Good food, wonderful music, an interesting fiery culture. Bright and hot and sunny.

Josh, in a move that betrayed a lack of interest or understanding in our game, said Canadian. When we protested he changed to Ukrainian, because the men there are good looking.

Jeremy picked Swedish.
"I love the food," he said. "And it's a very progressive culture."
"But what about the suicide rate?" I asked. Jeremy shrugged. I offered, "It will be a short life, but at least it will be a Swedish one!"

Then onto Greg. My partner in love and life. He took a moment to deliberate. Finally, he chose Russian. For their crazy/seriousness, he said. Good art. Drinking and dancing and violin playing into the wee hours. A funny people.

To recap: I picked Cuba. He picked Russia. Chiles and black beans and plantains vs. potatoes and vodka and beets. Sarongs and old cars and mambo on the one side. Fur-lined hats and great coats and Rachmaninoff on the other.

Well, at least we will always have Communism.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Yesterday morning I gave some coins to a beggar on the subway. After saying no to thousands like him, yesterday I was moved to give. And he didn't have a sob story--he was rather soft-spoken, really, "God Bless Everybody", he said. "Sorry to bother you." He was a man, maybe a little older than I am, maybe my age, barely asking, though not ashamed. And it was the softness--of his voice, his tread, and his reluctance to intrude, that pushed me, almost immediately, into my purse for change.

Movies have ruined me for vociferous suffering.

In 2000 I stayed at my grandmother's house in Dayton, Ohio for a long weekend before I moved to South America for a year. It was a goodbye visit. My grandmother had, by then, been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the disease that would finally end what had been a difficult last chapter. By this point she was completely without her short term memory. I remember riding in a car with both my grandparents in Chicago during the previous year:

"Where are we going?" my grandmother asked.
"To Debra's house." My grandfather responded. Pause. Inhale--Exhale.
"Where are we going?" my grandmother asked again.
"To Debra's house for dinner."

And on and on and on during the ninety minute car ride. Eventually I started making up responses:

"To the beach, Nanny. We're going to Jamaica."
"To Renaissance Italy. We're going to luncheon with the Medicis!"
My grandfather was not amused by my tactics. He thought I was not being fair to her, by keeping her in the dark:

"She's in the dark, Papa," I said. "There's nothing you can do about it. You may as well do what you can to keep yourself from going crazy."

But anyway, that was before the cancer.

One night, during this goodbye visit to Dayton, I heard my grandmother walking around the house screaming, "The pain! The pain! The pain!" She was holding her ribs, grasping at the walls. It all seemed very dramatic to me, a bit 1970s Bette Davis. I said as much to my Aunt Kathy:

"She's dying, Ilana," she said. "It probably hurts."

Sometimes I suspect that I am such an asshole.

Friday, October 26, 2007


When I was a kid I could sit on the floor with my foot behind my neck.

When I was a young adult I could expect change from myself and others.

It's amazing how tight our bodies and our souls become with age.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


A personal assistant for a legitimately famous person should be able to get herself to a wedding without incident.

A personal assistant, organized as she must be to keep track of rehearsals and travel plans and poker games and Regis and Kelly appearances, in order to remember bologna-yes/lamb-no, that the light bulb next to the bed needs replacing, that Thursday is boss's sister's birthday, any personal assistant worth her swag would be able to bring a wedding invitation into the cab meant to carry her to the event. She would realize that brides say a lot of things in the course of planning a wedding. She would know that just because a bride says, "I am really mellow about the whole thing", or "It will be at the Beverly Hills Hotel", that doesn't mean it's true. A personal assistant knows this.

She leaves the hotel way ahead of time, our intrepid personal assistant, not because she may show up at the Beverly Hills Hotel only to discover that they have no record of the wedding in question, because she would know by checking the invitation in her hand that the Beverly Hills Hotel is not her destination. She would leave the hotel way ahead of time, looking effortlessly chic, just in case the wedding venue is miles and miles up a hill with few signs and no lights. She would never feel relieved when another guest waves down the cab from her car because she is also lost and late. Our P.A would never pay the cabbie and jump in the car with her boyfriend and this stranger so that she would not be the last to arrive at the event. She would have been there for many minutes before the ceremony began, of course. She would have had time for a drink. And a fresh coat of lipstick in the mirror of the flower-strewn powder room.

A hermit, maybe, a telemarketer might huff up the last few feet to the top of the hill just in time to see the windswept bride say "I do."

Not a personal assistant for a lauded movie actor. That would be ridiculous.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


I am in hometown.

Last night I had sushi (Delicious, buttery, could stand up to any NYC sushi restaurant) with two old friends of mine with whom I have had similarly complicated relationships: I stopped speaking to Danny because I didn't like his girlfriend, Joey stopped speaking to me because his girlfriend didn't like me. And last night, all I could think about was how much fun I was having; how nice it was to be with people who had walked a ways with me on the long, craggy-rocked path I have hiked towards adulthood. It occurred to me that I meet people all the time, people whose emotional lives are undoubtedly pocked with the relationships that formed them, people who love their family and their old friends, people who stop a bullet for someone I will never meet.

I have met too many people now to give myself to my friends as readily as I once did. I am so quick to find fault, easily bored, difficult to impress. There is something about my friends from my hometown--It is one reason why this place, this gladhanded city by the lake, has such a hold on my heart.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


I have never been one of those people who carries little baggies filled with healthy snacks along in my bag. I didn't come from a baggie-toting kind of family. When we were kids, my friend Annie always had a baggie packed with carrots and cucumber and another baggie with advil and vitamins. Her mother is a nurse. Annie was always prepared for any eventuality. My mother was a floral designer. We always had tissue paper in the house.

I often see grown people--women, mostly--feasting on bagged goodies on trains and planes and the like. It takes a kind of foresight...
"Yum! What a delicious breakfast! I am quite satisfied. Of course, that satisfaction will not last forever. Some wheat thins in a baggie might be just the thing I will need later, when I am no longer full".

My brain just doesn't function like that:

"Yum! What a delicious breakfast! I am quite satisfied. I wonder what it would feel like to be turned completely inside-out."

Spending a flight pining away for someone else's bell pepper strips is no way to travel.

(Is this the best fucking topic I could come up with for blogging? How pathetic!)

Is there something profound here? If I could think enough into the future to pack some veggies for the road maybe I would be happier? More successful? Less prone to fits of dispair?

(I have a master's degree).

(Parenthetical remarks are meaningless and should be ignored.)

If I started carrying baggies around, would more people read my blog? That would be an absurd correlation, don't you think?

Friday, July 13, 2007


I look over the shoulder of the bearded boy next to me, scribbling in his moleskein notebook. I see the words, "life" and "hate" and "imagine" and I remember being young and disdainful of money. I think of my beardy ex-boyfriend. He just won some kind of a fancy grant.

Fuck him.

It was a long day. An early day featuring plumbers and a kidney bean-shaped coffee table and a 16-year-old girl from LA who asked me where kids her age hung out in New York. I made something up because, after all, how would I know?

Today I schlepped a drawing worth tens of thousands of dollars on a city bus. Because I could. Because it was practically door to door service. Because it was free. Because I don't think I should treat a drawing better than I treat myself. If the bus is good enough for me, it's good enough for an overpriced Dzama.

Am I becoming a hater? Sometimes I feel like the kind of person to which the "Mean People Suck" bumper stickers are referring.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


This morning I picked up a magazine from May of this year and felt a twinge of nostalgia for time gone by. To recap: I felt nostalgia for May when it is barely July. There was an ad for the final Sopranos episodes, long since broadcast and analyzed to death by the viewing public and those in the business of helping that public understand the things it sees on something called an "idiot box".

(I don't mean to bad-mouth television or those it employs. I wrote a pilot after all. And if any of my five readers have a contact in Hollywood, please do not hesitate to share! Desperate times indeed.)

It just seemed so sad that the time had passed. Only that it had come and gone, not that it was any more wonderful than the here and now.

My nostalgia for a month ago brings to mind the first job I had upon moving to New York. It was in a cosmetics store in Soho (actually, Nolita, but I refuse to acknowledge Nolita [North of Little Italy] as anything other than a bogus real estate construct). I spent most of my days in the store alone, since there were very few customers and therefore, no real need to employ more than one salesperson at a time. I filled my hours reading and giving myself one makeover after another. The store's owner lived in Canada most of the time. It really was a pretty cushy job, though I often left the store with some outrageous shit on my face. It was a strange era for me, fashion-wise. Yellow eyeshadow, for example, is the kind of experiment only a bored makeup salesperson would venture. A smarter one than I would insist on a full wipe down before the day's end. Me? I thought I looked fierce.

In any case, the owner left maybe three CDs that we were meant to play at the store. Before the end of my first week, I was sick to death of the mellow Euro techno-pop albums. There was one album though, someone must've left it there, Gillian Welch. I listened to it over and over again:

And every day it's getting straighter
Time's the revelator
The revelator

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


PUNK WISDOM: Fuck you very much for asking. I will be only myself. Time spent thinking of what I should be doing is lost time, time I might have used to do something fun. Of course, thinking these things is the antithesis of punk. PUNK WISDOM is not about thinking, it is about doing. It is about the present as opposed to the future or the past.

Perhaps this is the stuff from which great things are made.

Or maybe I'm just punchy from the heat.

Friday, June 22, 2007

It Happened in Williamsburg

Last night I hosted a comedy show in Williamsburg.

For those of you who aren’t from around here, you may appreciate a short geography lesson. I live in South Brooklyn, or Brownstone Brooklyn. It’s a charming, picturesque area filled with boutiques and yoga classes and stay-at-home Dads. People have backyards here. They know about wine. If they don’t have kids yet, they are practicing their parenting skills on their dog(s). North Brooklyn, the area that includes Williamsburg, used to have a lot of loft space, so gentrification of the former slum (anyone read “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”?), was begun some years ago by artists looking for space. The artists have since been more or less priced out, and have left in their wake a hip, if ugly, area. Lots of tattoos and vintage dresses and serious philosophical talk about non-serif fonts and internet phenomena. Lots of bands with names that have the word “Cheese” in them.

I used to live in North Brooklyn. Even though I went to art school, and a small, liberal arts college, and have short hair, I could not really hang with the scene there. For me, and I judge not the many who have made it their home, Williamsburg and the neighborhoods around it is just a little too far on the “Trying” side of the “Being vs. Trying” spectrum. I chose the quieter, if less hip, South, and I shall never go back.

Unless it’s for stage time, of course, for which I have gone to far worse places, believe me.

This was a bar show. Often, bars that have stages set up for bands will find their one comedian friend and say, “Hey, friend. You’re a comedian. That’s a stage. How ‘bout getting a show together? We’ll have a comedy night! Everyone loves laughter!” The problem with this mentality is that unlike a band, a comedian is dependent on a focused audience in order to be effective. Usually the bar will set up some tables and chairs in front of the stage, where a few brave souls will sit and watch the show, while another throng of people gathers around the bar, somewhere away from the stage. The poor comic has to try to get his/her hilarious message to those who are interested, over the swell of the drunken, half-listening bar rats in the background. This was exactly the situation I faced last night. I would add only that the microphone was turned up too high, so my set was twice interrupted by some feedback in the style of the late Jimi Hendrix, but without the LSD.

Sounds pretty bad, right? We comics are sluts for stage time. We’ll do any show, anywhere.

I was hosting, as I said, which I do often and pretty well. I open the show, do maybe ten minutes, then introduce each comic. To be a good host you have to be able to improvise—make fun of the crowd without alienating anyone, and know when it’s good to do a couple jokes in between acts (like if someone just bombed or if the audience seems tired), and when it’s better to just bring on the next act. The audience also sees you as the person in charge, so if shit goes wrong, you may have to address it.

My friend Ben was in the middle of his set, about halfway through the show, when the heckling started.

We comedians can handle heckling. “I think I’m funnier than you” drunken spouting in a club, that sort of goes with the territory. But these guys last night were out of hand. There were three of them, and they sat way back at the bar, miles from the stage. I would describe their style and attitude as Hipster-Thug; trucker hats and hair and little jeans, with a side helping of blood lust.

Ben was having a great set, one of the funniest I’ve ever seen him do, and I’ve seen Ben’s act maybe fifty times. He was really getting into his groove when all of a sudden, from the back of the bar, with the subtlety of a Celine Dion power balad we hear: “You suck! Get off the stage! You’re a fucking pussy”, etc. Ben got mad, started yelling back. It went on from there. Comic after comic went on stage, interrupted periodically by touretic outbursts from these PBR-pickled hooligans. By the time I got on stage to bring up the last comic, the threesome had moved from the back of the bar to the table closest to the stage. They had quieted down some, but I could tell they were waiting to make their move. I decided to do a couple of jokes, loosen the mood a bit, when one of the three—big-ish with black curly hair so perfectly coiffed that it looked like a wig—stood up and asked me for the microphone.

There was no way I was going to give this guy this mic. Even though everyone in the bar who wasn’t a comic was begging me to do it, screaming for me to do it, even as he got closer and closer to the stage with a menacing look and his hand out, I was never going to put my mic in it. Because fuck him. After all that? I’m going to give this douchebag what he wants? No way!

I started doing a sort of Southern preacher thing. “I’ve worked too hard to get up on this stage! I’ve done open mics that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy! Can I get an amen, my brothers!” Still the guy stood there. I kept talking, making shit up, talking about how the guy could play me in a movie of my life, telling stories until finally he and his friends turned and walked out of the bar.

Let’s hear it for the little victories in life.

Afterwards, Joe, one of the guys who runs the show, approached me and put his hand on my shoulder. “You’re my fucking hero,” he said to me, “You can MC my show anytime.”

I just smiled, shook my head. “I’m not a hero, Joe, just a girl doing her job."

I was a camp counselor, after all. If you've faced a cafeteria filled with hormone happy Jewish kids on a ritalin vacation, you're pretty much ready for anything.

Good to know I could finally put those skills to good use.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Things I have done to make myself visible (In no particular order)

1. Wear very bright pink lipstick.
2. Perform—on a stage and elsewhere.
3. Behave in such a way so as to convince others that I am funny and creative.
4. Walk around in outrageous clothes and jewelry.
5. Keep a blog.
6. Write—plays, screenplays, letters, emails, jokes.
7. Lose weight.
8. Say incendiary things in public.
9. Try hard to be someone’s friend.
10. Project myself as a talented person.
11. Sing.
12. Dance.
13. Cook.
14. Go to parties and act impressive
15. Find a good relationship.
16. Play hard to get.

Friday, June 15, 2007


Beyond being drug addicts and prostitutes, the disappeared women of Vancouver were people. Their underclass status allowed the police to be niggardly with time and money, causing the investigation to stretch on for years, enabling a serial killer to abduct more women.

For specific information about these women as individuals, rather than as nameless, faceless sex-working drug addicts, check out Here are some images from Lincoln Clarke's book Heroines, about women in the Downtown Eastside.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Visible Art, Invisible Lives

I am collecting my thoughts on art and usefulness. I was ready to write a whole snarky entry about a performance video I saw at the Brooklyn Museum’s Global Feminisms show. The piece is by Rebecca Belmore, a native Canadian artist (I have come to understand that her First Nations background is important to her definition of herself and her art, which is why I include that information). Her piece is called The Named and the Unnamed. Here is the aforementioned snarky entry that I had begun to write about it:

“What is the point of this shit?”

This is the question I asked myself while watching a video of a Canadian woman expending considerable effort freeing the skirt of her red dress from the wooden board to which she had just nailed it. It was hard work, pulling the skirt from the nails, and it caused much ripping and sweating and groaning from the Canadian. Then, the minute she finished yanking the skirt from the final nail, she walked a few feet over from where she had been standing, and started nailing the tattered remains of the skirt onto another board just so she could wrench it off again.

It is not the artifact itself that seemed pointless to me--there was a kind of beauty in the repetitive action, the sight and sound of the ripping material, the saturated red superimposed on the drab urban squalor in the background. Its projection over a scattering of illuminated tungsten light bulbs added to its pleasing visual effect, as did the black words scrawled across the arms of the artist. If beauty were the purpose of the piece, I would not hesitate to applaud it as an unqualified success.

But that’s not why she did it, this Canadian artist. Beauty was the intentional and somewhat unimportant byproduct of a statement she wanted to make. Rebecca Belmore (That’s the artist’s name) wanted to—commemorate? memorialize? draw attention to?—the disappearance of some other Canadian women.

And then I started reading about these disappearances, and my will to critique sort of deflated. It really is a pretty gruesome story. Some 54 prostitutes disappeared from Vancouver’s Skid Row, the Downtown Eastside, between 1983 and 2001. The police did not even get involved until 1998, and did not make an arrest until February of 2002 when they arrested a pig farmer named Robert Pickton. His ongoing trial for the murder of 27 women began in January of 2006.

I don’t know. Originally I was struck by the time and effort that this Rebecca Belmore wasted in making this piece. Wouldn’t she have done more good by funneling those resources into a more direct action? She could have volunteered at a women’s shelter or a rehab center or raised money for the victims’ families. But she is an artist, the argument goes, not a social worker or a fundraiser or a politician. Her role is to commemorate, memorialize, draw attention to an issue. But, to what end?

Artists did not cure AIDS, for example. They wrote about it, painted about it, performed about it, sang about it, filmed movies about it, did anything they could think of to commemorate, memorialize draw attention to it. But cure it? Did they help anyone? Well, they helped themselves, undoubtedly, since AIDS directly affected so many in the art community. But Canadian junkies don’t go to art shows. Prostitutes are not healed by performance art. What about homophobes? Do they go? Policy makers? Do Republicans go to galleries?

It’s a confusing issue, kids, ain’t no question about it. Maybe I myself stand as reason enough for Belmore to have made the piece. I saw it, I remembered it, it inspired me to look up the story of the missing women, inspired me to write about it here. Maybe it will inspire you to read about the women too. And to—what? Feel something about them?

Many of these women’s disappearances went unnoticed for a long time, often years went by before they were reported missing. That is the saddest part of the story for me. It is heartbreaking to imagine a life so solitary that its end concerns no other living soul. And still, right now on this earth we all share, there are people alive and alone; people whose solitude is so complete that their status as alive or dead makes little difference to anyone but themselves.

I am reminded of something said to me once...

I lived in Chile for a year after I graduated college. I met many Chileans who had spent some ten, fifteen, twenty years abroad, in exile. The idea of exile and torture and political upheaval was, of course, incredibly thrilling to me—an American bored by my country’s stability. I was like a teenager jealous of her friend’s trouble at home. Drama, after all, is the fascination of suburban youth.

I remember a conversation I had with one woman who had spent the eighties in either Switzerland or Sweden—the countries have very similar-sounding Spanish names and I never could remember which was which. I was commenting on how unnerving I found the Chilean habit of openly staring at strangers in the street. She responded by saying, “Yes. I noticed when I was in Switzerland (Sweden), everyone looked down, looked away. Nobody looked at me there. I felt as if I’d become invisible, like I’d disappeared.”

Rebecca Belmore got me to notice her, and through her I noticed these 54 lost girls. Because of a piece of art, people previously invisible to me had become visible.

Maybe there is a hope for art, after all.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Very Modern Bride

I am not really a person who goes in for schadenfreude. Paris Hilton’s pending mental breakdown in the face of honest-to-goodness incarceration, for example, does not add any kick to my coffee. Perhaps it’s because Paris’ life never seemed so wonderful to me before her conviction. A person who posts a video of herself staring blankly into a video camera while being taken from behind by Shannon Doherty’s ex-boyfriend, is not really a person I feel needs to be destroyed.

Someone who just won $10,000, on the other hand? Fire away, says I!

Heather Warnken was voted Modern Bride of the Year by the readers of Modern Bride magazine. What’s so winning about Heather? Well, let’s hear what she had to say in her audition video:

I want an inspiring career. I want my work to really matter. But, above that, my biggest goal in life is to be a success as a mother and soon a wife to the love of my life.

That is modern!
If I can survive my law school finals while planning the most memorable destination wedding Sonoma has ever seen for 200 of our closest friends and family, and always keep putting love and family first, I guess that makes me the Modern Bride of the Year.

Jeez. Well, it doesn’t seem like you’re very serious about your wedding, Heather. I hope you’re not letting your law studies distract you from important decisions about flower arrangements and seating charts. Maybe you should put that “career” thing on hold for awhile…at least until you’ve figured out what your theme should be! That is, if you really want it to be memorable.

Other highlights of Heather’s application?

If I were given a superlative title like in high school yearbooks, I’d be voted: Biggest Character (per my fiancĂ©!)

What does that mean? Anyone? Help me understand!

Here is my personal favorite:
If I were stranded on a desert island with my fiancé and could bring only three things, they would be: An Ipod with speakers, a blanket and sunblock!

Me? I’d go with matches, food, and book with a title like: “The Definitive Guide for Surviving on a Desert Island”. But sunblock is good. A blanket's good. I mean, you're going to be there awhile, you may as well get some color. An ipod will be great, too. At least up until the point when you need to charge it. Then you might have to eat your ipod.

Ah, wedding season.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Summer Festival

Walking in a crowd, dodging other people in a crowd--this is a summer festival in a northern city.

Garbage overflows from bins, napkins in varying degrees of cleanliness fly by. The sound of songs you know sung by a band you don’t mixes with the regular city sounds of subways and horn-honking and crazy people. You eat and drink in huge quantities at stadium prices, prices that seem bloated, even in this extortionate town.

You meander through bodies, sidestepping children and dogs and the inebriated masses, feeling a little lost, a little overwhelmed. Then you see the hand in front of you reach back, searching for your hand. And you provide your hand for the seeker—such an easy thing to give, really. It is no trouble at all, really.

And all at once you realize that you have been found.

Friday, June 08, 2007

DENTAL DRAMATICS PART II: Criminals and Communists

The morning that followed Friday night of Memorial Day weekend was inevitably Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. I discovered that most people who work in dental offices, like most people who work in libraries or hedge funds or post offices or as personal assistants to moderately famous film actors, desire not to work. And Saturday of Memorial Day weekend is a perfect day to fulfill that desire. Why would anybody want to look into the dank open mouth of a stranger, for example, when he/she could stay home and grill hot dogs to celebrate our men overseas?

I don’t begrudge anyone her will to BBQ. Just last night we grilled up a tasty pork tenderloin with a fragrant dry rub and some leftover mop sauce. Delish! My point is only that most people’s preference for grilling over working made the task of finding an open dental office on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend a hefty challenge. But, employing the kind of resourcefulness that becomes a personal assistant, especially one who teeters on the verge of utter catastrophe as often as I do, I located an open dental office in downtown Brooklyn.

Downtown Brooklyn is the bustling epicenter of my borough’s criminal justice system. If cheap lunch, world-weary public servants, irritable bureaucrats, or hardened criminals/unjustly accused innocents is what you’re after, downtown Brooklyn would be a wonderful place to start looking. Hotbed of cutting-edge dentistry? Not so much.

Atlantic Dental is flanked by a Kennedy Fried Chicken on one side and a school uniform/ ladies’ lingerie/ bed linen/ auto supply store on the other.

I opened the door at #1 Flatbush Avenue and climbed a dark, rickety stairwell, not unlike the one in Taxi Driver where Travis shoots Harvey Keitel. Atlantic Dental sits on the top of the stairs, on the second floor, protected by a metal cage. I followed the arrow to the intercom and waited to get buzzed in.

Buzzed into a dental office. Are you following this, readers? These are the desperate measures you too would go to if you had a hole in your molar big enough to store a spare Gummy Bear. You too would spend an hour in the “waiting room”, watching The Mod Squad on a teeny tiny ceiling-hung TV, waiting for the receptionist to call your name over the intercom from behind a thick sheet of bulletproof glass. You too would freeze for an additional hour in over air-conditioned back room, sitting on a sky blue dental chair with a huge gash down the center of it, leaking stuffing, while you stare at a poster advertising a new tooth-whitening system that is obviously intended for people who do not release hunks of tooth along with spinach and poppy seeds from their mouths when completing their nightly flossing ritual.

At last the dentist came in. He “said” that his assistant would give me x-rays. I use “said” because what the dentist spoke was really not all that similar to English. The dentist, along with every other employee at Atlantic Dental, as far as I could tell, conducted 100% of his communications with other employees in Russian. In fact, when the aforementioned assistant guided me to the x-ray room, she did so in the company of a husky, buzz-cut man, with whom she did not cease her Russian conversation, even as she was positioning my head on a kind of shelf and commanding me to stare straight ahead and bite.

“Do you see my feet?” she asked, taking a break from her conversation about horseradish or the Ukraine or the size of my ass or any other subject equally incomprehensible to me in this very foreign language.

“No,” I said. “How could I see your feet?” My head was, after all, on a shelf. Her feet were underneath the shelf. I am not a superhero.

More Russian. The man said something about something and she responded with some other thing. Really, I don’t speak any Russian at all. I don’t speak French either, but I would liken the experience of hearing French to sitting in a hotel in a city with the lights turned off and the blinds closed. Hearing Russian is like being wrapped in shroud, in a locked wooden trunk, in the depths of the deepest cave, on an uninhabited planet.

“Please, can you see my feet?” she asked again. Seriously, I was ready to punch this woman. She was small and blonde and pretty, and I was ready to smack her so hard she’d pray for the return of communism.

Speaking of communism…

The dentist himself was about fifty years old. His English was not good enough to work in a bagel store, let alone a dental office. Thus, we can deduce that the man in charge of solving the problem of my holey molar had received his training in? Communist Russia. Does that mean he was assigned dentistry as a career? What were the classes like? “Communist Dental 101: Dentistry as Torture device.” “Interrogator/Dentist: The glories of the hook and scrape for getting truth from subversives.”

Anyway, back to the x-ray machine.

As the huge gap in my tooth most likely makes obvious, I had not been to the dentist in a long time. I have since come to learn that dentistry, like so much of our modern world, has become computerized. A little camera, a couple of clicks and—voila!—there’s your teeth on a big screen. Not knowing this, however, I thought nothing of resting my chin on this very tall machine and waiting while it took a slow picture of my entire mouth. It seemed perfectly natural that the blonde slap-needing assistant should leave the room with her bearish companion and close the door while the picture was being taken. In retrospect, I feel lucky that my leg didn’t turn green. Chernobyl, after all. We can’t forget Chernobyl.

We had to wait for the x-ray to develop so I retired to my sad, freezing room and resumed my study of the tooth-whitening poster. At last the dentist came in and “informed” me that I needed a root canal. I asked him to be more specific, but of course, he had no idea what I was saying. He wrote me a referral for an endodontist—not a specific one, just any old endodontist I could find, and sent me on my way, bearing the x-ray and my as-yet unfilled hollow tooth.

On the way out I saw two men huddled just inside the doorway of #1 Flatbush Avenue, smoking a blunt. It was a good day.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

DENTAL DRAMATICS PART I: The Fellowship of the Floss

It was Friday night, the vanguard of Memorial Day Weekend. It was hot—lemonade hot. Newspaper-flapping hot. The kind of hot that inspires people to forget about hygiene and dive head first into nasty public pools and beaches, desperate for relief. The kind of hot that leaves people heavy and slow to laugh, like a snake after a kill. A midsummer hot, a July hot, the kind of hot that makes me imagine what it will be like when I go to a museum with my child to visit snow.

My roommates, like most of New York City, had fled, seeking out a more pastoral setting for their long weekend, respite from the pungent pizza and garbage smell of New York in summer. Greg and I were looking forward to an empty house, with periodic visits from friends and much intense grilling.

We spent a quiet Friday night at home, and here I was now, flossing, diligently working the space between my second and third molars on the right side. This, my widest space, often stores large offerings from past meals in strings and chunks, so I took extra pains, as I always do, to insure that the gap was free and clear of debris. But I must been expecially enthusiastic that night, because on its final swoop through the space, my floss discharged a sizable nugget—it was hard and sharp and heavy enough to knock against the sink with a “ping” and plummet towards the bathmat with gravitas.

I retrieved the hunk of stuff from the mat and held it up to the light. It was immediately apparent, even to my untrained eye, that what I beheld was a large piece of my own tooth, white-esque and jagged, with a hollow and unmistakably brown interior. I studied it for a moment, with a kind of scientific curiosity, then burst into tears.

An hour later found my poor boyfriend failing to comfort me as I grieved the loss of my tooth, the onset of tooth decay and my failure to heed the dire warnings so prominently displayed on posters in the dental offices of my youth.

“My teeth are rotting out of my mouth!” I wailed.

“There there,” said Greg, patting my fetal-curved back.

“I'm like a hillbilly! I am an Appalachian!” I moaned. (I do apologize to any Appalachian readers. In moments of intense anguish, we can often be insensitive and xenophobic.)

The next day was Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend, and I had to find emergency dental care…

To be continued…

Sunday, February 18, 2007


If you could have three people living or dead at a dinner party at your house, who would you have?

This is the kind of question entertainment journalists are always asking celebrities. Having spent the last few years working closely with a celebrity, the question takes on a different meaning. I can imagine a phone call, "Hey, Manaster. Hank Aaron, Abraham Lincoln and Jesus Christ are coming to my house tomorrow night. Can you organize dinner? Jesus is a vegetarian, I think, but you should call his assistant and find out for sure. I don't have the number but I think George Clooney's assistant knows her..."

And I'd do it, wouldn't I? I'd call my boss's publicist who would track down Clooney's publicist, who would get me in contact with Clooney's assistant, who would put me in touch with Jesus's assistant, on whose voicemail I'd leave a sweet message asking about Mr. Of Nazareth's culinary demands. She would text me some hours later that Jesus is mostly a vegetarian, although he has a weak spot for lamb. Armed with this knowledge, and with the knowledge that my boss hates lamb, I would call a very good, but not too froo-froo caterer who I met at the premiere for my boss's last thing. She would be silent for a moment, thinking, and then a light would go off and she would suggest that we serve pizza and beer and salad for $95 a head. I would say, "That sounds great, I'll see you tomorrow night." And I would cancel my plans and hang in the kitchen while Jesus and Hank Aaron and Abraham Lincoln and my boss suck on hot cheese and talk sports and pop psychology.

I have dinner parties all the time, and nobody has ever asked me this question. Well, if you want something done right...

Ilana, if you could have three people living or dead at a dinner party at your house who would you have?

Hmm, a tough question, self. I'm glad you asked. I would have Iris Murdoch, Deborah Eisenberg, and Romaine Brooks. We would have fresh oysters and salad and alcohol by the truck load. For dessert there would be strawberry shortcake and coffee and more alcohol and a live gypsy band. We would laugh and laugh and laugh, and then we'd pose naked for Romaine who, giddy with drink, would paint us up as French whores.

It would be good fun. And I wouldn't call anyone's assistant.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Yesterday morning on NPR Brian Leher did a segment on "Most Memorable Concert". I thought I'd share mine...

In April of 1996 Radiohead played a show at the Metro, a small rock venue near Wrigley Field, in Chicago. At the time they were a band with one album and one song, "Creep". Their album OK Computer would be released in 1997, and debut at #1 on the UK charts. It would go on to win a Grammy for Best Alternative Album and be nominated for Album of the Year. Ok Computer was, arguably, THE album of the late 90's.

I went to the show with my cousin Sam and, as usual, some random girl. It was his idea to go. He would have gone without me I'm sure, but he didn't have a license. We took my Dad's Jeep Grand Cherokee. I figured I was heading out to see a band that was on the verge of obscurity. I assumed that I had caught them on a downswing--I usually don't get wind of things until they're over. I was looking forward to hearing "Creep".

Little did I know that I would never again be as cool as I was the day I saw Radiohead play the entirety of a yet-unreleased OK Computer for 100 people. That was it. My life since that moment can be described as a long party at my house, in my honor, with no guests.

It was an awesome show. We danced our asses off. We were all sweat and smiles and rock and roll when the band finally called it quits. We filed out with the rest of the lucky hipsters.

We parked across the street from the Metro at a hot dog stand called "Wiener Takes All". We took our time getting back to our car. We bought some cigarettes, had a hot dog and fries and talked loudly in superlatives about what we had just witnessed. Finally, we ambled towards our car. I asked Sam for the keys.

I had given Sam my keys, despite my better judgement, because I was rather hefty at the time and there was no room between my thigh and my pocket for a set of keys. I didn't want to take a purse into a rock show! That would just be stupid! Sam is built like a Barbie doll. There was room for a pineapple in his pocket. He wouldn't have to do anything with the keys, just hold them in his pocket until the end of the show.

A word on my cousin Sam: He got arrested on the day of his Bar Mitzvah for skateboarding on city property. If I have a knack for getting myself into scrapes, Sam has a full-fledged talent.

He crowd surfed. Of course! Who could resist the urge to climb onto the arms of this crowd while hearing this band at this moment in their careers? He crowd surfed. I stood there with my hand open, in front of my fathers locked, immobile car, watching Sam turn out his pockets onto the pavement. The knowledge of what happened descended upon us in the parking lot of Wiener Takes All like God did upon Jacob at Beth El.

Reader, you've probably guessed it. Sam lost the keys.

We dove back into the Metro and scoured every inch of the floor. We poked through cigarette butts and pot roaches, everything slimy with wet dirt and sweat and beer.

We could not find them anywhere.

I went into hysterics. I tried calling a locksmith but it was insanely expensive and I was an unemancipated youth. I tried calling my parents, but they were nowhere to be found. Sam's parents were also out. It was the father of the random girl, god bless him, who drove to the city and picked us up. He had quit smoking, I remember, but he chewed on cigars. The cigar on his mouth was flat and wet.

We left the car at Wiener Takes All until the next day when I drove in with my Dad and a spare set of keys.

I think we all felt like Wieners that day.

Happy Birthday, Sam!

Friday, February 09, 2007


...will get you in the end, won't it?

One must not be intimidated. One must not be cautious. On must use broad strokes and risk ruining everything.

And yet, I am often plagued with doubt. I often have a foot walking forward and another backing up. I want to sit, sometimes. Recline. Just to sit and play with the grass, make daisy chains out of life. I once wrote a monologue about a woman who spun the world's largest ball of twine, and once she'd done it, she couldn't think of what to do next. "Stop spinning? Why would I do that?"

I'm not being very concrete. All six of my readers may be confused. "Why so glum, chum? " They may ask.

Oh, nothing. I'm just trying to get both my feet going in the same direction.

Fuck you, doubt. I am superhuman. I am violent and strong and unpredictable.

I am a bluejay on a tulip in a field. I am an abandoned shoe in the mud. I am a baby.

Fuck you, doubt. I am youth.

Friday, February 02, 2007


To wake up too early and think of all you have not accomplished. This is New York City.

To wake up too early to the sound of your own insecurities. To the clicking of an old clock wound daily by your aspirations. To wake up too early knowing that you stand in your own way—like a dead body under the wheels of your car that looks just like you. You still have a long way to go. What are you going to do about the corpse with your likeness wedged under the wheels of your car? Some people are honking. Others are passing you by.

To wake up too early with visions of some movie you saw once. It is a movie about love and happiness and understanding. It is a movie that has some very fine performances, and memorable dialogue. It is the movie that is not your life, but which plays, nonetheless, in your mind at this too-early hour, keeping you from sleep.

To wake up too early, thinking of coffee.

To wake up at all, well, that in itself is something.

Monday, January 29, 2007


It’s finally cold. Cold makes me think of Chicago, of course. Freezing, waiting for the train. What kind of crazy city planner puts exterior trains in a city as cold as Chicago?

I was sort of stalked once. I was on a train in Chicago, a redline train which, for those of you who have never lived there, is the train where they keep all the crazy people. The train stopped, I remember—I mean, it halted between stops. We were all just sitting there, helplessly waiting in that inter-stop netherworld. The crazies were getting restless. A man with a bucket kept singing “I have no shoes, I’ve got the blues” in a reggae style. I was reading a book, as is my wont, trying to ignore the tense unrest of my fellow passengers as we sat on a train going nowhere.

Some men consider a woman who is reading or writing to be an open target (For further evidence of this phenomenon, please see my very first blog entry). The freaky-midwest-serial-killer-type who sat down next to me was no exception. “What are you reading?” He kept asking. “Is it good? What other books do you like? Why?” It was as if he had just finished reading an article in FHM magazine entitled Ask her questions about herself and ten other ways to get a stranger into bed. I tried to pretend that I didn’t speak English, but my English book sort of blew that cover. I tried ignoring him, he kept on. I tried excusing myself, politely requesting to be left alone. He was having none of it. And there was nowhere to go, you see, as we were stuck, as I said, on a immobile El train. So I sat for a long time and just endured. I stared blankly at my book and comforted myself with the knowledge that I would never again have to see any of these people—not the crack heads or conspiracy theorists, not the amateur rappers or the shoeless reggae singer, and definitely not the serial killer who droned on incessantly for the duration of the train’s respite from its south-bound, late night journey. I would never have to see him again.

Three days later he showed up at my office.

I was working as a Field Manager for an environmental organization. He showed up to canvas for clean air. Somewhere the Fates, those wretched bitches, were cracking up.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


“Who am I?” I wonder, gazing at the piles of magazines lining aisle after aisle of the Barnes and Noble down the street from my house. Am I the literary section? The art section? Entertainment? I spot the wedding section from the corner of my eye and keep walking. I’ve had the kind of day that finds me leafing through the latest issue of Long Island Bride. Today is not that day.

There are three different surfing magazines. In Brooklyn. New York. What kind of demand can there be for this glut of choice. “Hey, um, I was wondering if you had Surfer magazine? No, I already have Surf and Surfing…”

Hang ten on the Gowanus Canal, bro. Steer clear of dead bodies and you’re good ‘till spring.

The Men’s Interest section is called, “Sports”. The Women’s Interest section is called, “Women’s Interest”. It sounds like a euphemism for menstruation. “Leslie can’t go swimming this week. She has a case of ‘women’s interest’”.

On Monday I was rejected by a job that doesn’t pay any money. I feel like a woman who’s been dumped by a married man. I wonder if there’s a magazine section for that. “Other Woman’s Interest”. It would have magazines like Stalking and Deceit. “Top 10 ways to threaten to call his wife”. “Camilla Parker Bowles, adulteress of the century!”

I pick up a glossy English mag with Courtney Love on the cover. It weighs 85 pounds. Who writes this shit? Are they hiring? If I work for free will they love me?

An Asian couple huddles around the newest issue of Town and Country. A homeless dude reads Nylon.

Sometimes a person finds it difficult to muster up even the slightest bit of interest in things.

I wish I still smoked. I wish tomorrow wasn’t my birthday.