- Catch up on Perez Hilton posts.
- Eat something that tastes bad and is incredibly high in fat/calories.
- Check out baby pictures on Facebook of the offspring of people you never really liked.
- Google the name of someone you know who is more successful than you.
- Apply for a job you really really want.
- Consider how you came to possess the job you have.
- Look into graduate schools.
- Remember how much happier you were when you were thinner.
- Listen to Jeff Buckley, Elliott Smith, Amy Winehouse. Read Wikipedia entries about them. Also about Kurt Cobain and Edie Sedgwick.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
I dressed badly for the trip, which is disheartening, since I pride myself on putting together outfits appropriate for any given occasion. When we went to the Atlantic Antic, a famous street festival that stretches for miles through downtown Brooklyn, I wore a hooded sweatshirt and my brown trucker hat that has "Dope" spray painted in Wild Style on its face. I wanted to keep it real, you know? But to Lackawanna County (Was I hung over when I dressed? Or still drunk?) I wore a short brown suede skirt with striped knee socks and oversized fake Uggs, a long sleeved shirt, and a brown, down, Elie Tahari vest with a huge dramatic hood. When I got out of the car to ask for directions, my friend who had been driving shook his head at me.
Out on the streets of Olyphant, the mood among we three Brooklynites who had made the trek could not have been more ebullient. The sun was out, the trees boasted their Autumn glory from the peaks of the Poconos that surrounded us, and Obama was kicking major ass in the polls. Most of the people we spoke to were already on our side, we were just reminding them to get out and vote on Tuesday. It was a good day. Then someone waved us down from a once-blue American car. It was a real beater, probably from the 70's when cars came in two sizes: hearse and boat.
She was a big lady, she possessed the kind of pillowy largesse that happens when a person never ever ever moves. She had the chin hair of a young Hasid, and the voice of a shy schoolgirl. But she was unwell. You could see that right away. I thought she was an alcoholic. My friend said schizophrenic.
"Are you with the Republicans or the Democrats?" she asked me. I had an Obama sticker right on my crazy vest which was maybe six inches from her nose, but I answered her anyway.
"Democrats," I said. I suddenly realized that the two boys were no longer beside me. They were across the street. And down the block.
"Oh, yeah? I like that one...oh, what is his name...Obamy?" It wasn't good. Curse those boys for ditching me! "Are you, uh, yous are workin' for that Obamy?" I explained that we were volunteers. She said she wanted to volunteer as well. She asked me where the office was located and I told her. "Oh yeah," she said. "Right by the Medical Center right? You turn right, that Medical Center is just down the road there."
The only thing I had done in Scranton was arrive and buy lunch.
"I'm not sure..." I managed.
"Oh, gosh, it's right there, isn't it? You from here?"
"It's right there next to the Medical Center!" I remembered that it was near the Curry Donuts. I told her as much.
"I spent all day cleaning out my attic," she moaned. "I don't know what I'm gonna do about the basement." I nodded with understanding. "What's your name?" she asked me. "Maria? Or Debra?"
"Sure," I said. "Debra. Why not?"
"I want to call you Debra," she said.
"Okay, yeah," I said. "You can call me Debra."
She looked at me for a second.
"What's with those crazy boots, Debra?" she asked me.
She drove away pretty soon after that.
Obama won Lackawanna County. FYI.
Monday, November 10, 2008
It was quite heartwarming, I must say, to see someone toss out their hard-earned fury with the trash. Indicators that we are at the end of a dark era abound, and for someone like me, who is having a lot of difficulty absorbing the magnitude of our accomplishment, gestures like the one made by my relieved lefty neighbor can be very helpful.
I say our accomplishment for two reasons. The first, and most poetic, is for the reemergence of the American Collective as a coalition of reasonable individuals. Ours is a country founded on angry action in the face of inept or immoral governance, and the size of our most recent refusal to fall prey to more inadequate leadership is inspiring.
The second reason why I take some ownership of the success of Obama's campaign is because I volunteered. Twice. The first, and undoubtedly more effectual of my volunteerships happened in Philly during the primary. I was in North Philly, an African American inner-city community, where I had a lot of interesting conversations. Here is the summary of my experience that I wrote in an email at the time:
I also volunteered in Scranton before the general election. More on that to come...
One woman said to me, "I don't like that Hillary, she cries too much. She's always singing the blues." (I sort of loved the image of HRC leaning into the mic at a debate and busting out "My Man's Gone Now"). A lot of people were concerned for Obama's health, convinced he would be assassinated. I also talked to a lot of folks who had given up hope for their place in civic life. "We're lost up here," said a man I met in a laundromat while he sat on a table, sipping a beer. "Nobody even knows we're here." One guy I met in front of a church kept turning around to look at me as he was walking away. "You shouldn't get so worked up," he said, "You're only going to get disappointed." "Better to be disappointed and know you tried," I called back. He smiled wide at me, shook his head. "That was a low blow," he said. "I wasn't expecting you to say that!" I saw something in the smile...hope? It seemed like hope.
It was really wonderful to talk to people who had not decided, or hadn't given the primary too much thought. It was very empowering to be armed with such a positive message, to have such confidence in my candidate. There were plenty of people who paid a little attention and plenty of others who had latched onto only snippets of information garnered from who knows where. One crazed Hillary supporter in the laundromat screamed out, "He is in with Bush! Obama is in with Bush!" When I asked her where she learned that she just rolled her eyes and said, "TV." She didn't let her guard down very far, but I could detect a little shock in her eyes when I told her that Clinton had voted in support of the war in Iraq. And you should have heard the other folks in the place when I mentioned the war. "What are we doing over there?" the guy with the beer asked. "It's not our war!"
Monday, October 27, 2008
To William F. Buckley, Jr.
I send you the enclosed not because I love National Review so much, for I don’t—it’s not so good as it ought to be, and often it’s tiresome, especially when one knows in advance what your trusted old line contributors are going to say—but as a personal mark of respect to you. Your letter was the best letter I ever read by an editor asking for funds. . . .
One request. Please keep my contribution in the secret crypts. It is not that I fear public opinion so much as ceaseless repetition. Repetition kills the soul and I would not wish to spend one hundred evenings in succession explaining to various outraged and somewhat stupid people in calm clear fashion my complex motives for giving a gift to a magazine for which I feel no affection and to an editor with whom on ninety of a hundred points I must rush to disagree. They would not understand that good writing is good writing, and occasionally carries the day.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
I've worked in offices. I had a friend in high school whose parents ran a tiny hot dog company out of Deerfield, IL. I worked there for awhile. There were five full-time employess:
M: My friend's Dad. He started the company after his family's kosher sausage company got bought by Sara Lee. Passionate about hot dogs.
B: My friend's Mom. Sweet-tempered, supportive, office manager and cheerleader.
R: Saleswoman. Her brother is a famous TV and movie producer. I remember her telling me a story about how she met Meg Ryan and she is so much prettier in person. I have since met the woman, and I can't say I agree. It seems like she showed her plastic surgeon a picture of Mr. Potato Head:
T: He was one of those Asperger's guys that, according to workplace comedies, seem to be a common feature of office culture. I'm glad he was there because now I can watch portrayals of his type and laugh knowingly. ("Spot On!" I can shout, while wiping my eyelids of their mirthful moisture.)
B: Receptionist of sorts. She was forever ordering office supplies. She was also single and a cancer survivor. I know this because the first time I met her she said, "Hi. I'm B. I'm single and a cancer survivor."
I was sort of a shipping clerk. Mostly I would stand in the back, taping labels to vacuum sealed frozen hot dogs. Freezer tape, if you don't know, smells uncannily of girl parts.
Point is, I've worked in an office. But the meeting I had yesterday was in a serious office. A corporate culture kind of office. The kind where a receptionist sits at a desk by the elevators and says things into a phone like, "Mr. So-and-So, Ilana is here to see you now." I was there for a Brainstorming session. A group of us sat in a corner on bouncy, kindergarten-colored furniture, the kind of furniture that was undoubtedly designed after a brainstorming meeting on "creativity maximization" . As we talked, someone wrote on an oversized Post-it Pad, periodically ripping off pages and hanging them on the wall.
It's not that I'm rock and roll. I'm really not. I live in South Brooklyn, after all. Brownstone and baby Brooklyn. The Brooklyn for corporate types who like trees. But something about being in that environment, on that furniture...it made me feel like this:
Monday, September 08, 2008
In other fin de siecle news, the musical Rent had it's last curtain call on Broadway last night. The original cast joined the final cast for a last rendition of Seasons of Love:
I guess it's time for some new eras. Any ideas?
Friday, August 29, 2008
I am way out on Long Island. My non-celebrity boss lent me his house in the Hamptons while he hangs in Greece for three weeks. I am holing up here by myself for a few days to get some serious work done on the very many projects that I have lately been neglecting. They could use some attention, poor things. My projects are like the children of a drunk, absent Mom. "I promise I'll be better," I tell them. And they nod, listen. They want to believe.
Anyway, I arrived at the house at 6:45 or so and almost immediately hopped on my bike to make the twenty-minute ride to the grocery store. Why the urgency?
- I hosted a really fun party last night, and I can't seem to bounce back from fun as quickly as I once could. I was in dire need of a cup of coffee and there is no coffee maker at the house. (Sad, right?)
- I needed to buy some food for fridge. There is nowhere to eat in the Hamptons. Last week when I was here I wandered around the very swanky village of East Hampton looking for dinner. The place was brimming with upscale boutiques and completely bereft of eating establishments. The one restaurant I found had a $23 salad. I ended up seeing a movie and eating popcorn for dinner.
- I missed my bike and wanted to ride it.
I like to sing when I'm riding my bike through the city. A lot of people do. If you live in a big city and start listening for it, you'll hear a chorus of cyclists singing full voice as they ride. I don't know why I do it. There's an aspect of joyful outburst to it; there's also a desire to make myself louder and bigger due to my vulnerability among the noisy, burly cars.
Here in the country--and it really is the country--on the way back from the grocery store, I found myself once again bursting into song while steering Alberta (my bike). But the source of my need to sing was different than it is in town. It wasn't noise or brawn, but quiet that got me nervous. The quiet was everywhere, stubbornly pungent like tear gas, like the smell of garlic on hands.
I sang the whole way home. Showtunes, specifically:
Whenever I feel afraid
I hold my head erect
And whistle a happy tune
So no one will suspect I'm afraid
Darkness and loneliness and silence everywhere. The house was no better than the road had been. Immediately after closing the front door behind me, I ran around turning on lights, music, calling Gregory.
My apartment in Brooklyn is right on a highway. When we first saw the place we weren't sure we could handle the noise.
Maybe the need for noise is what separates townspeople from country folk.
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
I didn't know who I was when I met you, Marcus, I just knew that I wanted to be like you.and:
When you imagine the motley crowd of misfits that are better off for having known you, please picture me among them.
His response? A sweet and casual thanks for saying that and glad I could help and seems like you're doing well which is good because I always liked you. Lovely, really, and perfectly appropriate. Far more appropriate than my epic diatribe about the past and youth and wisdom.
I don't know what I expected, something more melancholy, maybe, a kind of meditation on the magical time we shared. But this particular person has helped and inspired many many people in the course of his life, he probably gets letters like this all the time. He was undoubtedly more important to me than I was to him, which is the exact nature of the teacher-student (master-apprentice, counselor-camper, shrink-patient) relationship.
I have had a number of relationships with younger people, as a counselor or teacher, and more informally, as someone a bit older who has experienced things. A young comic comes to mind, my friend's aspiring filmmaker little brother as well. And I've listened to them, shared my experiences, hoped to be some sort of guide or resource. Thinking of these relationships now it seems that the joke is on them because, what the hell do I know about anything? I feel that I know less and less and less.
I asked Marcus about this in my letter, since I realized he was only 23 when I knew him, only seven years my senior, and he seemed to me like he knew everything. His response:
I was learning how to be grown up too and shared that to the best of my ability.Teachers always say they learn as much from their students as they teach them, but maybe this means something different from what I thought it did. Maybe, in teaching, we make ourselves aware of what we know and what we have still to learn.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
My friend's argument was that there is a kind of back-patting that accompanies some of this visible environmental friendliness that does not translate to any actual net gain for the earth. Powering your home with wind power, for example, means little if you are jetting off to the Bahamas or to Europe or to Bora Bora four times a year. Still, I argued, better than nothing. Baby steps, said I.
Then I saw this little fact from the PBJ campaign:
Each time you have a plant-based lunch like a PB&J you'll reduce your carbon footprint by the equivalent of 2.5 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions over an average animal-based lunch like a hamburger, a tuna sandwich, grilled cheese, or chicken nuggets. For dinner you save 2.8 pounds and for breakfast 2.0 pounds of emissions.
Those 2.5 pounds of emissions at lunch are about forty percent of the greenhouse gas emissions you'd save driving around for the day in a hybrid instead of a standard sedan.
Now, I don't drive a Prius, I drive a bike, so I could easily be self-righteous about carbon emissions. But I can do more than my part, can't I? In fact, we will all have to do more than our share of habit shifting if we have any hope of effecting any actual change. We can't afford to rest on our meager laurels.
So I am pledging, here and now, to have a vegan lunch every weekday. I will do my very best to avoid all animal products, and in so doing, I hope to reduce my carbon footprint by 12.5 pounds a week. Wow. I will feel so good about myself after a few weeks, I might feel compelled to reward myself with a tropical vacation!
Anyone else up for this challenge?
Sunday, July 13, 2008
"In Jan '07 I moved to Tel Aviv with the hopes of making new friends and establishing a new life for myself. Besides missing my family and friends in the US, my biggest fear was finding a job that would be even half as interesting and well paid as the one I had in Boston. To my surprise, within my 1st 2 weeks living in Israel I got a job offer that was not only as interesting but well paid. It's now been about 2.5 years that I've been with Sparta Systems as a sr acct exec to the European market as well as a regional sales mgr, managing a team of 5. At the same time, I'm finishing up my 1st year in an exec MBA prog part of Kellogg (NW) and Tel Aviv U. I have met amazing people here and have built a very strong network. I live a 10-minute walk from the beach (Mediterranean Sea) and am truly enjoying my life. In Aug, I'll be coming back to the US and will spend 2 weeks in Chicago (taking classes on campus in Kellogg). In addition to classes, Jim Smith MEd '01 will be flying in from Portland, OR, and we'll be going to a Cubs game with some of my classmates. After the 2 weeks, I'll head to Boston for a few days to see my family and friends before heading back to Tel Aviv. All in all, besides a bit of stress due to work and school and lots of business travel to Europe, I can't complain. Life is good."
Life may be good, anonymous classmate of mine, but it is also short. If you told me this story in person, I would nod, smile, and pass the time counting your blinks. Incidentally, did we know each other? I don't remember anyone from college.
Rather than cry myself to sleep (I'm doing that anyway, by the way, because it's hotter than stew in here), I thought...why wait to be published when you can publish yourself? (sad) So here's the update I sent my alumni newsletter. Enjoy!
I'm doing so awesome, it's pretty unbelievable. Career? Out of this world. Babies? I have six or seven babies and more husbands than I can even count. Seriously, it's killer being me. I live in Brooklyn, where I totally rock.
I just thought people should know what I've been up to.
Friday, July 11, 2008
This is me reclining on one of the chaise lounges of said killer terrace while waiting for some guys to finish re-installing a bronze mirror:
I really should stop complaining about work.
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
"Single you say? Brownstone? Do you think I could set him up with a friend of mine?"I have always been a bit of a yenta (matchmaker, for those of you who are neither Jewish nor musical theater-educated). I love the idea of bringing people together, whether it is two people I love, two people I know, or a person I love with a person I have never met but who went to Harvard and is single and anyway what the hell else do you want? I can't seem to stop my match-mindedness, despite the fact that it has gotten me in trouble FOR YEARS. Because, let's be honest, most relationships fail. And if they fail and someone gets hurt, they blame not the tall, handsome, brownstone-owning former Lacrosse player, but the tall, dark, mettling Jewish girl shrugging sheepishly in the corner. In other words, me.
But I was in Chicago this weekend, playing poker with a bunch of my old camp friends. All of them are boys, many of them are single, and I just couldn't help my yenta wheels from churning. "Come to New York," I kept saying. "I have the perfect girl for you." Because the single women to single men ratio in NYC is totally off-kilter. My wonderful, single girlfriends are suffering a huge disadvantage here. Check out this map:
Chicago, as you can see, also has more single women to men. As my Chi-town girls know all too well.
So, what's a girl to do? Move to Los Angeles or Dallas or Denver? Just to find a single dude? Or suffer through the humiliation of an over-enthusiastic, old world-minded 30 year old jewess?
Up to you, girls.
Monday, June 30, 2008
I never suspected that I could identify personally with Kay, but that was before I came in contact with: THE CONDO BOARD.
I don't have a condo. I have a small rent stabilized one-bedroom in Brooklyn. When we asked the super, Carlos, about going on the roof, he shrugged. "Officially, you're not supposed to go up there. I tell people, just don't jump off!" Then he cracked up. This is the kind of management attitude I look for in a building.
My boss has a condo. Nothing can be done to the apartment--we couldn't put in a new bathroom, build a wall, nothing--without the board's approval. And for the last three months the Board has been holding my air conditioning proposal hostage.
"Looks good," the building manager said in March. "We just have to pass it to the architect and then the board will approve it."
That was the last I heard about it.
I call. "Oh hey, Ilana," she says. "No, I haven't heard anything." I picture a fat man with a wet cigar standing behind her, holding his fist and shaking his head. Beads of sweat form on her forehead.
Soon, she starts screening my calls. I have to call from other phones. I email in desperation. I consider CCing my boss. Because the AC is busted in the master bedroom and it's getting hotter and even though he's in LA he could descend at any time and oh! the humiliation! if he came to New York to find his bedroom hotter than Wisconsin in August, what kind of celebrity personal assistant would I be then? And what kind of wrath would I have to endure? No! I won't have it! I will yell! I will carry on! I mean, do you have to be a made guy to get anything done around here?
The building manager finally called me back last week. "Well the board met last night (Where? The Bada Bing? The pork store?) and they decided that your boss's Air Conditioner is not a priority."
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Now much of these river towns are underwater. They're a resilient bunch, though, the people who camp on the banks of that river. Are they like abused spouses? Sharing a house with a loving, committed partner with periodic outbursts of violent rage? Are we Americans who live near oceans or lakes or desert or mountains, are we the friend who, one day, over coffee, after yet another excuse (I fell down the stairs, the levees weren't tall enough, etc.), do we suddenly grab the wrist of our abused friend, do we look her deep in the eyes and say: "It doesn't have to be like this! You gotta get out of there! I will help you..." Does she free her wrist from our grasp, pat us on the shoulder and say, "But I love him. He's so wonderful so much of the time. You don't understand..."
Thursday, June 26, 2008
One time my boyfriend drank too much and threw up on a homeless person. The homeless person was totally disgusted. That's right. My boyfriend grossed out a homeless guy. It's one of the many of my partner's skills that I wasn't aware of during our early courtship. Also, he's stupidly good at the card game Spite and Malice. It's annoying.
Friday, June 20, 2008
But now I am writing prose, and I am plagued by the question of intimacy in observation. Most of my favorite books are in 1st: Lolita (is there a more interesting troubled narrator than Humbert Humbert?) Invisible Man, Jonathan Lethem writes almost entirely in first person, Augie March, Roth's Zuckerman books. But there are beautiful third person books, too numerous to list, Cunningham comes to mind, and Moody, and of course, all the Russians and the French. Intimate tragic books that are filled with she and he rather than I: Of Human Bondage, Madame Bovary, The Scarlet Letter. First person seems funnier, more acerbic, more modern. More American. More ironic. Less beautiful. Dirtier.
But at what cost? To follow one character and neglect all others, it seems unfair!
It is not a negligible decision. It is the decision that defines an entire book.
Sigh. I fear the problem is that I am too in love with the little literary darlings I've created, that I want to have everything--first person voice, multiple character perspectives. Then I read this little passage in a book called Writings by Agnes Martin--an artist. (The set of four lithographs to the left are hers--Untitled 1998.)
Sounds good doesn't it? Let the work, and not my ego make decisions for me.
Humility, the beautiful daughter
She cannot do either right or wrong
She does not do anything
All of her ways are empty
Infinitely light and delicate
She treads an even path
Sweet, smiling, uninterrupted, free
In other news a friend of mine sent me this picture. Subject: Irony
Ilana's beloved replied, "They just take you out back to the range, and have you stand in a bucket?"
There. That was third person. What did you think?
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
- Cleaned up excrement that belonged to a celebrity other than my boss.
- Traveled for ten days in the Basque Country with my Dad, sister and boyfriend without breaking up or becoming estranged from anyone.
- Spent a lot of time in Coney Island.
Saddest place in the world, right?
I could start publishing excerpts of the novel...is that something you guys would be interested in? Post a comment and let me know.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
This is reality, mother! I am pregnant. With child. Knocked up. Corked. Embarazada.
I don’t see why you insist on doing this to me. You have always had it in for me. Ever since you were a little girl.
This has nothing to do with you. This is about me and what I want.
Well, Joannie? She’s certainly not a lesbian.
Lesbians can have children Harold.
I am not a lesbian!
It happens all the time.
Why do you know so much about lesbians?
I don’t know so much. I know something, that’s all. About an alternative culture that I was perfectly ready to accept in my own daughter...
I am not a fucking lesbian!
But now-- well, this is much worse than being gay. Did you hear me, Elizabeth? Much worse.
What about cancer? Would you have preferred that too?
I don’t know. I mean, not that I think being a lesbian is bad or anything...
Oh Jesus Christ.
But, I’m glad you like boys, Lizzy. I must say. That was a bit of a relief.
Of course. Relief. I think that is the perfect word to describe the way that I am feeling right now. Relieved and relaxed.
Mom, calm down.
Calm and serene and relieved. Right Harold? May I have a drink before I faint?
Apparently, I'm not the only one.
Friday, March 07, 2008
A quote from my boyfriend:
Don't give me the ass face just before I leave for work!We're going to DC today. I need a break from the primary. One might think, "You're going to our nation's capital to escape the presidential nomination?" To which I would respond, "I never said I was very smart."
The last time I was in DC was in 8th grade. I remember that Josh Mintzer and I fought non-stop, until Josh got moved to another bus. I was good with the comebacks then. It was a defense mechanism I had to develop to counteract my underdeveloped fashion sense. If you go to school in nothing but a sweatshirt and a pair of red and white striped tights, you learn to hurl whatever tools you can get a hold of at the nasty hyenas that will undoubtedly greet you in homeroom.
I also remember that our tour guide in DC walked around with an open umbrella to make herself conspicuous, and got bleary eyed when describing the zoo's difficulties in getting the pandas to procreate. Apparently mama panda kept rolling over and squashing her babies in her sleep. This story was undoubtedly told to us to elicit our pathos, but we were thirteen. We thought it was hilarious. I remember the tour guide gesturing wildly about the tragedy, while I sat there on the bus with my friends, staring at the seat back in front of me, tears rolling down my cheeks, desperately suppressing the guffaw that was screaming from my belly, clamoring for release.
Anyway, we're going to see every museum. To walk hand in hand on the mall. It should be fun. I am sure I will have plenty to share when I get back, so stay tuned...
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
I tend to vote. I pretty much obey the law. I have thus far refrained from open insurrection against the government. Contrary to the fancies of a particularly obstinate IRS agent a couple of years back, I have always paid my taxes. And I was born in Iowa. So maybe I’m not a Great American, but I like to think I’m a Decent Enough American.
By and by, the State of New York determined to test this premise. A little more than a month ago, I received in the mail a pink perforated summons to report for jury duty at the Supreme Court in downtown Brooklyn. My friends reacted with great sympathy; I got a lot of “man, that sucks” and “lemme tell you how to get out of it.” But I, awash in civic virtue, and convinced of my essential decency, never once did entertain the preparation of a series of excuses and/or prejudices which would disqualify me from service. This was my duty as an American, dammit; I was no dodger.
I can recall a moment way back in 1991, when the country was busy cheering on Iraq War Part I, and there was some widespread consideration given to the prospect of reinstating the Draft. The subject somehow came up in my high school French class, and I remember my teacher suggesting that, should the Draft come back, John — the only other male in the class — would readily head to battle, whereas I would most likely flee to Canada. I took great offense to this notion — despite its implication that I was smart and John was a meat-head. Go to War? Of course I would go to war! I was a 17 year-old male, flush with testosterone, and my universe divided neatly into three distinct categories: boring stuff, stuff that gave me an erection, and stuff I wanted to blow up. Going to war promised to remove me from the first and provide me a great deal of the third, with the prospect of a great deal of the second upon my triumphant return from battle.
Seventeen years on, my carnal and destructive appetites have become a bit more manageable; however, I have discovered in adulthood an entirely new desire: the desire to Judge. With my many years of experience as a human being, I was anxious to display my abundant wisdom in rendering the most impartial and well-reasoned of verdicts. Not only was I not going to try to get out of jury duty, I told people, I was smugly certain that I was going to get picked to serve on a trial.
I will now tell you the Great Untold Secret of the American Judicial System: no sane person — NO ONE — actually wants to sit on a jury. In fact, were I asked to define the term “jury,” I would say, “a collection of citizens held against their will, and forced to arbitrate the problems of complete strangers.” This is not, however, to suggest that other individuals summoned to serve will expend the same amount of effort to get themselves disqualified. Some people receive full salary for time spent in the courthouse; others genuinely hate their jobs. And then there’s me: someone who both enjoys how he ordinarily spends his days, and receives no money whatever for time missed from work, yet for reasons of vanity concludes that he must serve.
In brief, my jury selection went like this: I showed up in court at 8:30am last Tuesday, sat in the Central Jury Room until noon, then got called in as part of a group of about 20 to a cramped “empaneling room.” Three lawyers had us fill out questionnaires, then we broke for lunch. When we returned, the attorneys questioned us all in turn as to our impartiality. The more savvy and ballsy of us either (a) said straight away that they could not be impartial, (b) claimed to have specific knowledge of the details of the case, or (b) pretended to not speak English. All strategies seemed equally effective. Two and a half hours of questions later, simply by dint of having not tried to get myself off the jury, I was sworn in as Juror #3. I was sent home, and told that the trial would start the next day.
The trial did not start the next day. Neither did it start Thursday. Nor Friday. We selected jurors were, however, required to report each day, and sit around doing nothing. Our group gradually gravitated to the so-called “lounge” area, so as to avoid the hoi polloi in the Central Jury Room. And the griping began. Griper-in-chief was a fifty-something woman who was the only person in our group to have served on a trial before, so she knew that we were in for a bunch of bullshit. Periodically, she would bring our group complaints (e.g., “we’ve just been sitting here for days; no one has told us anything; we’re all very angry”) to the Empaneling Clerk, who would laugh in her face, and say that we were basically screwed: We were on a trial involving the City of New York, and the City liked to drag these cases out.
On one of these occasions, the Clerk let loose something else. The Griper was explaining again why it was impossible for her to be on this trial (something to do with her vacation days), and he replied, “Look, the only person who can get you off this trial now is the judge, and he’s probably not going to do it for that reason.”
Ah-ha… So, it was still technically possible to get off this case. You just needed to convince the judge. I went home that evening and googled information about serving on a jury. One page that came up explained that a juror can ask the bailiff to present the judge with a written note, requesting an audience. But what would the note say? Obviously, a mere explanation that jury duty was bad for me wasn’t enough. I would need to explain why me being on the jury was bad for the case: I would need to declare in open court that I could not be impartial, that I was not even a Half-Decent American.
But was this actually true? I reasoned thusly: As a freelancer, being on this case meant both lost wages, and potential endangerment of future earnings. Given that this was a civil case, with a plaintiff seeking financial compensation, my determination of a reward would be influenced by the fact that it would have come at my own expense, so to speak. I don’t know and will never know if this would have been true; I do know that I had started using the name of the plaintiff as a curse word.
Monday morning, my jury was finally moved upstairs to our official trial jury waiting room. I had come in with a printed letter to the judge, which I gave to the Court Officer. About 15 minutes later, he brought me in alone to the courtroom.
I walked in through the jury door, and nervously stood in the box. I know there were a number of other people in the room, though my vision seemed to tunnel in on itself. The lawyers were there, the court reporter was there, there was a woman seated in the spectator’s gallery. The plaintiff and defendants may well have been there, too. I don’t know; I was having trouble just focusing on the judge.
He was a sixty-ish Jewish man with thick glasses and a serious Brooklyn accent.
“Why didn’t you state your problems earlier?” he asked.
“Because I was just answering the questions the lawyers asked. I wasn’t trying to get out of it.”
“But if you had said something earlier, we could have gotten another juror.”
“I know, your honor. I’m sorry. I’ve never been on a jury before, and I thought it was my duty. But in the last week, I’ve lost two jobs because I’ve been unavailable.”
This went on for a few minutes, just so he could be sure I knew just how much of an ass he thought I was. Then, the questions turned to the other jurors. Did they know I was trying to get off the jury? I said I suspected they did. Had I discussed the note with any of them? I said I had not. The judge was obviously concerned that there would be a bum-rush of jurors with notes all trying to get off the case. He winced and shook his head at me, then told me it would be taken care of… and not to talk to any of the other jurors about this. I would corrupt them. I was a Rotten American.
I returned to the jury waiting room. The other jurors asked how it went. I shrugged my shoulders. Ten minutes later, we were all called into court, and told that the trial wouldn’t actually start until Monday. I felt better about my note.
Within another 15 minutes, I had received my discharge, and skipped down the courthouse steps. I felt deliciously free — reminiscent of how I felt upon my high-school graduation. I had weaseled my way out of my civic duty after all, and it felt great.
Vive le Canada!
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Tuesday night some friends of mine had a baby. I went to see them the next day...the hospital is a block away from my house and I was home anyway, making pork tenderloin with tomatillo sauce. How much do I love matinee day? Boss is onstage, I am...left alone.
So, I walk into the hospital room. I am the first to visit--it's Wednesday, after all, people work--and there they are: the happy couple and their new baby. They started telling me the story about the water breaking, rushing to the hospital, the triage nurse getting a handful of amniotic fluid. There were med students, intense pain, tearing and vomiting--the works. Thirteen hours later, there is little Isaac.
I looked at my friends. They looked happy, sure, cuddling in with their new little ankle biter. But mostly they looked absolutely spent. My reaction, far from the expected, "Oh! I can't wait to have one of my own!" was rather more, "Jesus Christ, what an ordeal!" It really did seem very unpleasant.
We'll see how I feel when the kid starts talking.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
These works suggest that Mr. Schnabel's primary gift may be very different from what it has been generally thought to be.Schnabel made a ton of dough in the 80's during that Mary Boone era, the artist as rock star era, when Jean Michel Basquiat was in a Blondie video, when people wore Vivien Westwood and piled into bathroom stalls two and three at a time in places like Max's Kansas City and the Tunnel and Mr. Chow, to hoover cocaine and comment on each other's fabulousness.
At least, that's how I imagine the era from pictures and movies and books like "Bright Lights, Big City" by Jay McInerney. I wasn't there. In 1987, when Schnabel was already established enough to have a retrospective at the Whitney, I was nine. I was busy deflecting mockery for my backwards shorts (I always had trouble with shorts) and sneaking around the neighborhood with homemade maps pretending to be teen detective Encylclopedia Brown.
But back to Schnabel. The thing about Julian Schnabel is that his rise was the most meteoric, his paintings the most expensive. He didn't have the dignity that comes with early death (Basquiat, overdose, Keith Haring, AIDS), so there he was, rich as a sultan, as his famously broken crockery-enhanced paintings mocked from the walls of upper east side townhouses, huge and dark and, if I may be so bold, ugly. He compared himself to Picasso, he walked around in pajamas. Maybe it all came too easily for him, or maybe there was a kind of buyer's remorse. It's like digging up an old Cabbage Patch doll and thinking, "My mother waited in line, all that time, for this?" In any case, the critics turned against him. Schadenfreude ruled. People wanted to see this cocky artist, this rock star; they wanted to see him disappear.
And for awhile, he did. And then he started making movies.
Last night I saw The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a movie about a glamorous man at the height of his career, who suffers a massive stroke that leaves him unable move or communicate except through the movement of one working, blinking eye.
A movie about one blinking eye, and I was completely transfixed. The visual quality of the film, a kind of love poem to the power of imagination and memory, spoke to me and my own experience, despite its apparent departure from the experience of this poor blinking frenchman.
Glamour struck down, reborn as something more human, more sublime. There is an understanding that comes with failure.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Yesterday a friend said to me, "But blacks could vote before women could vote." The more I consider this argument, the stranger I think it is. This same friend argued that it was because of her being a woman that she was forced to vote in favor of invading Iraq. I have been a woman my whole life, and of the difficulties I have faced as a result of that fact, I have never counted the opportunity to make sound moral decisions among them. Whether or not I took advantage of those opportunities was a question of my relationship with my own self, and not with the world, whatever its bias.
Some have argued that Hillary's feminism is blown by her attachment to "her husband's flapping coattails", and although I believe it is a valid argument, (We are all very familiar the ex-president's embarassingly paltry respect for women), my issue is with the hearts and minds of we voters who consider ourselves to be progressive. We have a responsibility to take our collective civil rights movement to the next level, by voting based on who we believe to be the best candidate, and by no other considerations of a person's race or gender. African Americans, women, Mexicans, Chinese, what have you, all deserve that kind of consideration.
I promise to let go of these politics...seriously. Stay tuned for a guest blog from one Gregory Stuart Edwards, which should go live sometime today or tomorrow.
Happy Valentines Day! What a day for feminism, right? Nothing like exchanging heart shaped boxes of chocolate and tennis bracelets for sexual favors to really take down the patriarchy!
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
I think the ones who understand this best are Andrew Sullivan's dogs.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
- The designer bought a little analog travel alarm clock. Immediately rejected. Too small. Not digital.
- I bought this Philipe Starke alarm clock/radio/barometer. He couldn't figure out how to set it.
- I went to Pottery Barn and bought a big oversized digital alarm clock. It was too dark. He complained that he couldn't see the numbers.
- I went to a fancy audio store near his apartment and bought the nicest clock they had. It has seriously killer sound. He couldn't figure out how to set it AND the numbers were too small.
- Feeling desperate, I called the L.A. assistant for the brand and serial number of the clocks he uses in B. Hills. At last he seemed contented, until one alarm went off in the middle of the night, he couldn't turn it off and when he unplugged it, it continued to sound due to battery backup. Eventually he pried the batteries out and threw them against the wall, undoubtedly pretending the wall was my face.
- Finally, I purchased this timex alarm clock. No radio, no dual-alarm setting. Just alarm, clock, and an on-off switch on the side. He seems to like it...for now.
Muah ha ha ha ha!
Friday, February 08, 2008
(Please note the pink-topped cupcakes and the pink brittle-filled chinese takeout container. The devil is in the details after all, fair readers...)
Thursday, February 07, 2008
1. Screw Evite
I'm sure there was a time when the Evite's snazzy graphic design and open call for cleverness got our party-going hearts a-flutter with anticipation, but the sun went down on those days at about the same time that Enron went under. We don't want to click a link to see the party details, we don't want our response to be available to all invitees, we could care less about the pink background and japanimation-style martini glass you chose as your template. It isn't dignified, honestly. I'm not saying snail mail, that's a bit drastic, but there is much to be said for a well-worded email. Say something nice about how much you look forward to seeing everyone...speak clearly and from the heart. Your guests are much more likely to respond to an email than post on an Evite.
2. Location, location, etc.
This is a tough one. I went to about 5 bars looking for the perfect spot for my party. (Hello Pub Crawl! Get that celebration started early!) I knew that I wanted something that felt festive, but wasn't too loud. I sent out my emails early, before I knew where the event was going to take place, so I knew roughly how many people would be there. Ideally, I was looking for a bar in Brooklyn that had either a private room or a reservable section (necessity for party atmosphere) where 35 people could comfortably hang. I checked Time Out, New York Magazine, and asked my friends.
I ended up choosing Royale Brooklyn, a gorgeous dive/lounge on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope. I went with a friend and loved the vibe. I called the manager the next day and he let me reserve three banquettes in the back room for free! He told me the DJ got started at 11PM, so I called the party for 9 so that we might have some time to booze and chat before the party got too raging. Just how raging it would get, I didn't know, which is why I recommend feeling out your bar of choice on the same night that your party will take place. A Thursday is not a Saturday is not a Tuesday, as I would find out.
Many birthday boys and girls feel compelled to reserve a table at a restaurant for fifteen or thirty of their closest friends. This, in my mind, is a mistake. First of all, your closest friends probably don't all know/like each other. Second, anybody who has ever paid $45 for a green salad knows that splitting a bill fifteen ways is no fun at all. I had a table for seven at Fragole, inviting close neighborhood friends who knew each other. Believe me when I tell you that no one was upset to be left out of dinner. (Side note: If you find yourself at Fragole, and I certainly hope you do, you absolutely must have the Insalata Rustica. The mozzarella is so fresh, it's practically still milk. The grilled calamari is also scrumptious.)
Now, some of you may shake your heads and call me Martha, but I believe that putting out some homemade snacks in an attractive container goes very far for making a bar-party more party, less bar. I went to Pearl River and bought pink and gold Chinese takeout containers (to match the pink and gold bar--I know, I know), and filled them with homemade sweet and salty nut brittle. This brittle is really easy, and everybody loves it, seriously. Then I bought pretzels and this chipotle-lime popcorn and--voila! Bar snacks with class. Bring anything, homemade or not, and it will bring your party together.
I am not a baker, so I asked my friend Melissa to handle the birthday pastries. She showed up with about 1000 teeny tiny chocolate cupcakes with pink buttercream frosting designs on the top. They were delicious and so so cute. If your friends have talent, for chrissake, take advantage of it! That way they get a chance to shine too. Melissa, if you read this, I would love if you could put the recipe in the comments!
Remember being, like, six, and going to a birthday party where there would be all sorts of games planned? Well, what the hell is wrong with that? Now that we're adults, that doesn't mean we're immune to boredom! I brought a polaroid camera, a shit ton of film and a bunch of pens. I made all of my friends take pictures and tape them into a book (It was a blank notebook made out of a Debbie Gibson album cover. Am I your hero or what?) and write messages. Polaroids are really fun. And the messages, especially as the night wore on, are priceless.
6. Plan an after-party destination
Hey, remember how I mentioned how little I knew about a Saturday night vibe at Royale? Well, by about 1AM the place was jammed to the point where a conversation was impossible. This would have been the perfect time to say, "Okay, team, we're falling out to such-and-such down the street! Follow me!" And I could have grabbed the brittle and beat it. That is what we ended up doing, in the end, but about half an hour later than we should have. A lot of people went home. The after-party was a lot of fun anyway, a wonderfully quiet end to a rockin' evening. It's always good to leave your guests wanting more, right? The one person I would say didn't want more was my friend Balki (Emily). She ate seven cupcakes and two cupcake tops. Yum.
Anyone else have some hot tips for a kickass bar party? Anyone at my party who thought it blew?
Monday, February 04, 2008
“No. I’m done listening to you. How ‘bout you listen to me for a change?”
I also use my time in the shower to work out knotty problems in art and life. During this particular shower in 1995, I accomplished little in the way of body cleaning, since my mind was filthy with thoughts of crime.
Now, as I said, this was the suburbs, in an area outside Chicago called the North Shore. It was a nice place, not exactly buzzing with criminal activity. Ours was a leafy town with big houses and SUVs and miles of prime beachfront property on Lake Michigan. We had a second-run movie theater operated by an older, burly gentleman with coke bottle glasses, a mustache, and a disdain for children; just the kind of man one might expect to live with his mother and belong to a secret society of stargazing alien communicators. In exchange for two crumpled, sweaty dollars, he would grumpily hand over a ticket and a huge, shiny fifty-cent piece. This was the sort of thing that happened in my town. They shot scenes from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Risky Business” there. Our fathers were lawyers and doctors and brokers and CPAs. Our mothers were teachers and nurses and Real Estate agents and stay at home Moms.
There were policemen in my town, of course, and on two occasions the long arm of the law reached out and goosed the mischief-making behinds of members of my family. First, they picked up my cousin Sam for skateboarding in public. It was a long time coming, he had been warned and warned, but unfortunately the powers-that-be chose to teach my cousin a lesson on the very same day he was to be called to the Bima as a Bar Mitzvah. My family freaked. My aunt took to doing laps around the kitchen island, sobbing, “What are we going to say, Arthur? Sorry, you can all go home. The Bar Mitzvah boy has been unforeseeably detained in the Slammer!!!" Not for the first time, my uncle was dispatched to call a guy who knew a guy. Or my uncle might have known the guy himself. I wouldn’t put it passed him. In any case my cousin was sprung in time to perform his Rite of Passage.
The second appearance of a family member in the town blotter was when they escorted my slightly older sister to our house in a police car and wrote her up for public drunkenness. Alas, I was away at camp and missed it. (I, like many in my town, summered in Wisconsin, singing songs about friendship and complaining about the food), but I relish the mental image of an un-amused cop dragging my sister by the scruff and slinging her at the slippered feet of my be-bathrobed father. In my fantasy she throws up, right there in the driveway, but she’s a State’s Attorney now, so I suppose no one will ever know what happened that night.
My bathroom was pink and white, and my very own since my sister moved to the attic. My favorite feature was the old Hollywood dressing room-style lights around the mirror. I used to sit for hours under those lights, singing showtunes into a curling iron and studying my face to determine what angle made me look most like Mayim Bialik from Blossom. It was under the glow of those twelve incandescent bulbs, I tried to remove a round brush from the tangled mess I had made of my best friend’s hair using gobs of peanut butter. When her mother came to pick us up and saw the brush jutting out of her daughter’s head, dripping with Skippy, her mouth got wide, her eyebrows reached for the heavens, it was the kind of horrified expression normally reserved for slutty coeds in slasher movies whose time is up.
But those childish capers are but a distant memory now, as I stand under the showerhead awash in worry. The problem, to which dealing drugs seems a viable solution, is the occasion of my third moving violation in as many months. I am one of those people who just shouldn’t drive, and thankfully for all who travel by car, I no longer do. The unlucky few who took me driving with my learner’s permit came back with a new perspective on life that often accompanies a near-death experience. “As we were merging on the highway, “ my Aunt Patsy said, reaching for her inhaler, “I realized that life is short; that I should stop sweating the small stuff and start living!” At my driver’s test, when the proctor asked me to pull over, I drove over the curb, barely missing a speed limit sign. Needless to say I came away empty handed, my head heavy with shame. I did pass the second time, to the terror of all who knew me.
In addition to the three speeding tickets, I also totaled a Volvo. (I thought a two-way intersection was a four-way intersection and got nailed in the passenger side door by my father’s pottery instructor in a Ford Pinto.) Understandably, my parents were losing patience. I put off telling them about the third ticket and the due date was rapidly approaching. The wrath I endured from my father, a commodities broker and first-class screamer, after my second ticket, made appealing to my parents for help with the unimaginably exorbitant sixty-dollar fine, out of the question. I could get a job, I thought, but there’s no way I could make that much money fast enough. Plus, I am in a play. A speeding ticket shouldn’t keep a person from Godspel, should it? That didn't seem right.
So dealing drugs. It was the only solution. I could gather the scratch for the ticket in no time, and no one would be the wiser. Around my school I was known more as a theater person and a wisecracker than as a bad ass, but reputations change. My features could get hard, dangerous. I pictured myself walking down the hallway towards the language lab with a chinchilla coat. And a cigar. Yeah. (Shaft music. Fantasy sequence.)
I turned off the faucets, opened the glass doors that slid on the bathtub, reached for a towel, and exhaled with the satisfaction that comes from finding a good solution to a bad problem. A drug dealer. That’s what I was now. A kingpin. I stepped onto the bathmat, dried myself off, walked into my bedroom and dressed. A half an hour later I told my parents about the ticket.
In the end I realized getting money from my parents to pay a speeding ticket was more likely than getting money from them to get a stash together so I could sell drugs to minors. It was a practical, rather than a moral decision. I was a teenager, after all. My mental functions were foggy with hormones. Looking back, I realize that I was never really that close to descending into the underground...or was I?
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
What amazes me about documentary photography is the degree to which it creates nothing new. The photographer simply captures what is already happening without him. It seems so much less tortured than writing or painting where one is expected, with few tools, to create something wholly new and unexpected.
A photographer's genius comes from his ability to take an entirely realized tool--the world--and make it beautiful.
Whadaya think, guys? Does that suit?