Freaking Out Squares

Friday, October 27, 2006

Frankly, My Dear...

Such a baaaaad title, given the text I'll be taking today. And it's a Gone with the Wind reference, which I know will send a certain person who shall remain anonymous (Marcia) to the loo with dry heaves. As they say in the Jack Chick tracts, haw haw!

Ahem. As I mentioned, I've been rereading Sarah Vowell's books lately. I can't help but love a self-realized history geek who manages to work President James A. Garfield into the same sentence as Lou Reed, and who publicly admits to once having uttered the phrase "Wonder Twin powers...activate! Form of...a straight-A student." That said, I also "can't help but" feel like a total dumbass in her literary presence. I mean, the lady is a nerd. And I envy that. I wish I had the drive and the attention span to "go too far and care too much about a subject," as SV describes herself. Oh, sure, I have the Rosenberg case to keep my soupcon of nerdosity thumpin', but that's nothing compared to SV and the geekiness of some of my friends. The Pirate, for example, has a master's in medieval history. He can also hold forth on physics, current events, George Balanchine versus Jerome Robbins, Bela Bartok, and every war movie ever made. Only twice have I been able to point out errors in his narrative. Once, he claimed Auschwitz was liberated in April 1945, but I happened to know it was liberated in late January of that year. Another time, he claimed that Morgan Freeman was the original Gordon on Sesame Street. I am in the proud possession of a book called Sesame Street: Unpaved, and was thus able to inform him that the only 1970's kids' show on which Morgan Freeman appeared was The Electric Company. Both times, the Pirate felt it necessary to go look this shit up on the Internet rather than take me at face value. How insulting! I suppose that's what I get for jettisoning my "commitment to excellence" shortly after my mother died, so exhausted was I by her campaign to turn me into a Stepford student by drilling me on the various works of obscure Baroque composers and clobbering me upside the head. But I digress, per usual. Point being, as a former straight-A student myself turned surly underachiever, I am wildly intimidated and self-loathing in the face of such overwhelming nerdiness, whether leaping from the pages of SV's books or filtering through my telephone courtesy of the Pirate.

But there is one area in which I feel confident enough to refute SV's position, and that is on the topic of Frank Sinatra. As with Elvis, another one of SV's musical heroes, I have never quite understood the Sinatra mania in which at least two-thirds of my fellow townspeople appear to be in possession. Don't get me wrong--I like Sinatra. I find him enjoyable to listen to, albeit in small doses. "New York, New York" never fails to engender a big, goofy grin on my face, "Luck Be a Lady" makes me want to throw on the glad rags and swill a few martinis at the Stork Club, and even "Something Stupid" sets my toes tapping, despite the fact that he's singing it with his daughter and because Sideshow Bob sang a version of it in the Simpsons episode wherein he marries Aunt Selma and subsequently tries to murder her during a postcoital viewing of McGyver. ("And then I go and spoil it all by doing something stupid like explode you." Remember that? Sigh.) But too much Sinatra is like being drenched with maple syrup. I don't need to feel like I'm in a mob movie for more than oh, say, ten minutes before I find myself yearning for things like bagels and the Equal Rights Amendment. (For the record (hee), I feel compelled to state that I really. Don't. Like Elvis. At all. "Jailhouse Rock" is about all I can handle before I have to snap off the radio and bleach my brain.)

I was partially raised by my maternal grandparents, and so I grew up listening to the greatest hits of World War II. Go to my grandpa's house, and you can still listen to 8-tracks of the Mills Brothers, the Ink Spots, Vera Lynn, and the Andrews Sisters. But there's nary a Sinatra album, cassette, or CD in the house, although many years after her death, I discovered that Frank had been my grandma's favorite singer at one time. When I asked my grandpa why, he said "Because he's overrated." Hmmm, thought eleven-year-old I. He's certainly ubiquitous. (One of the perks of having an intellectual despot mother was learning words like "overrated" and "ubiquitous" at a fairly early age. Those things stayed lodged in my brain; the complete works of Monteverdi did not. Tough titty toenails, Maman.) Summering at the Jersey shore as a kid, I could neither fathom nor handle the Sinatra onslaught that seemed to befall us every time we set foot on certain areas of the Boardwalk. What was the deal with this guy? Why, like Elvis, did he have to be everywhere? What was so all-fired great about him, and what was my problem (and my grandpa's) that we were unable to jump on the Frank-wagon?

My dad, per usual, opened up the Sinatra phenomenon a bit for me in my teens. I learned that at least some of the Frank adoration was warranted, that he was actually a fine musician, and that he had an amazing arranger, Nelson Riddle, who unflaggingly accomodated him after he famously lost his voice sometime around the occasion of his marriage to Ava Gardner. (Another thing I didn't realize, that the Frank with whom I was most familiar was post-voice loss Frank. I've since heard recordings of him singing in the '40s and I recall an angelic tenor, not too different from the crooners emanating from my grandpa's 8-track.) Why so many people slobbered over the man, my dad could not explain. The girls loved his looks, but to me, he was a rubber-faced doofus. (Still is. Heresy!) And yes, he was a fine singer and an excellent showman, but still, why was he a friggin' industry?

Beatlemania, for some reason, I could totally dig. It's not that I'm completely against hero worship. In fact, that's how I've conducted my relationships for most of my life--find someone to worship, hope they pay attention to me, and do everything possible to gain and hold that person's attention, lest I find myself forced to commit suicide. Gee, wonder where I got THAT, Mother? I don't advise living your life this way, and I'm working very very hard to find a new, less degrading way of relating to people, but I get it. It makes sense to me. If I'd been born thirty years earlier, I have no doubt I would have been running after the moptopped lads from Liverpool screaming my lungs bloody. At the very least, I would have ensconced myself in my dorm room at Berkeley, playing "Tomorrow Never Knows" over and over while ingesting copious amounts of acid. And no, I'm neither unaware of nor insensitive to the fact that John and Paul were hardcore Elvis worshippers.

Like anything else of this ilk, when all is said and done, I suppose it's a question of personal taste. The Beatles were brainy. They were trippy. They went to India with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. They assaulted my young, fertile mind with such lyrics as "Now my advice for those who die/Declare the pennies on your eyes" and even "Elementary penguin singing Hare Krishna/Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe," backed up by wailing guitars, overdubbed strings, and weird, dissonant harmonies. The most sensitive of my erogenous zones has always been my brain, and the Fab Four infiltrated my gray matter with the power of a hypodermic needle delivering a shot of the purest amphetamine. Then, too, let's not forget that they were British. At the crux of hero worship is a strong sense of inferiority, and like many of my tribe (Americans, not nerds), my reaction to the British can best be encapsulated by that old New Yorker cartoon in which an old lady states, "Everyone in Paris is so sophisticated. Even the streetcleaners speak French." Clearly, I'm not the only one with the need to feel inferior to something. Yes, I can and do blame my mother all I want for kindling this need in me, but I have to wonder if I wouldn't have felt the same had she been a garden-variety Bohemian with PMS who didn't beat the living shit out of me every time I failed to cater to her myriad psychotic needs. After all, there's a reason Christianity has been such a, well, "success," and we can't blame it all on the Crusades or the Spanish Inquisition.

And Frank Sinatra? Well, he was smoove. There is a difference between "smoove" and "smooth," and while I'm wont to respond to the latter, I'm rather allergic to the former. "Smoove" is specifically about "come here, baby, I'll buy you diamonds and mink." As spineless as I tend to be, I've never fallen for that jive. If a fellow tried some line like "Your mother should be arrested--she stole the stars and put them in your eyes" on me, I'd laugh in his face. By contrast, when my high school boyfriend told me "You have this alluring quality that makes me want to stand riveted to this spot talking to you all night, but I can't, because my fucking mother needs her car back by one," I fairly swooned. Then, too, I never felt inferior to Frank. We're both from the same people, although as I frequently remind my dad, being one-quarter Italian does not a paisan make. But I think it has less to do with ethnicity than it does the idea of What Women Want, or What Humans Want. Most humans--well, American humans, at least--are easily smooved. They love it. It's no surprise that we have the pituitary case we do sitting in the White House. And although I liked the guy, although I cast my first presidential ballot for him, Clinton was a grade-A smoover. But even though I'm still pissed at him for essentially destroying the last vestiges of the American Left, at least in the mainstream, at least the guy had the goods to back it up, even if he often didn't use them for honorable purposes.

I suppose I get it the Frank thing now, at least on an intellectual level. But I don't want to turn this into some kind of ideological battle any more than I already have. In short, I guess it's more like preferring tomatoes to carrots than it is declaring one's political allegiance, but maybe if I keep this up long enough and do some hardcore research, someone somewhere will give me a Ph. D.

As for Elvis? If someone reading this wants to explain THAT whole mishegoss, be my guest. Because I really. Don't. Get it. At all.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Here We Are Now, Entertain Us

In addition to my beloved East Village Inky, I've recently discovered two new 'zines of note (thanks to EVI, of course). One is a lovely little softcover called Revelling in New York, written by two Brooklyn gals, Megan and Heather. "Part guidebook, part storytelling," Megan and Heather profile such offbeat activities and venues as the First Saturday Winter Ball at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Alice's Teacup (an Alice in Wonderland-themed restaurant and tea shop on the Upper West Side), and the Roosevelt Island Smallpox Hospital (in ruins, natch). To order it, visit Megan's website at Price is $2 (not including shipping and handling).

The other 'zine, Xtra Tuf, is written by a commercial salmon fisherwoman named Moe Bowstern, who makes her home in Portland, OR during the off-season and spends the rest of the year fishing in Alaska. Stunningly well-written, in terms even a soft, doughy whiner like I can understand, Xtra Tuf #5: The Strike Issue can be ordered from Microcosm Publishing, a hipper-than-thou 'zine publisher in, yup, Portland, OR. (Well, hipper than I am, anyway, which doesn't take much. I have no way of assessing the rest of my audience. Who knows? Maybe you're hip. Maybe you live in Portland. Maybe you even work for Microcosm.) According to Ayun Halliday, who is at once hipper than I am and a loud, proud, spazzy dork--that's a compliment!--Moe won't get paid for her work until the stock is sold out. So even if you think commercial fishing is not your thing (I would like to point out that I often fantasize about buying a fishing boat and living on Prince Edward Island), be a dear and buy a copy anyway. It's only $5! (Again, not including shipping and handling.)

You've probably guessed I have a bit of a complex about Portland, OR. As a kid, Portland was hallowed ground, home as it was to my doppelganger Ramona Quimby. But that was in the early '80s. Then the grunge thing hit, and hit hard. Suddenly, Portland was this hipster haven of diners, tacky bowling alleys, 'zines (which I learned about from reading Sassy--one of my only saving graces during high school), heroin, and "really cool bands from Seattle." And as much as grunge purported to be about the alienated and disenfranchised, there was only a certain frequency of alienation and disenfranchisement that was acceptable, and I was nowhere near it. I guess there was no room for a loudmouthed, unattractive girl, even if said girl was coping with the death of her mother and the fact that her mother had beaten the shit out of her up until the day she went in for a nine-hour surgery to remove the cancer that was eating away at her colon. Further rubbing salt into that wound was the fact that the same classmates who wanted nothing to do with me because I was such a big, raw nerve insisted they could "feel Kurt's pain, man." Like fuck they could. I am convinced to this day that these pituitary cases knew nothing of pain (well, maybe not nothing--we were all teenagers, after all), that they saw this scrawny, stringy-haired guy on MTV and decided he was cool because he was on MTV, and even though if he'd gone to our high school he'd probably have been beaten up like every day, they decided to emulate him and his, and all of a sudden they were sensitive and deep. Yes, I'm so sure.

I sort of feel like Portland, if I were to go there, would treat me like an abusive boyfriend. On his terms, and under certain conditions, we might make sweet love, but he'd always keep me in my place, and he'd never let me forget that he could get with any girl he wants, all of whom were a million times prettier, smarter, and sweeter than I am. Oddly, I don't feel that way about Seattle, and that's where this whole thing started. Maybe because it's bigger; maybe because it's become synonymous with Bill Gates and Starbucks. For me, loathing Bill Gates and Starbucks is like loathing having a hot knitting needle poked into my eye. Like, shit, doesn't everybody? But the whole alternative thing, as I said, purports to be about misfits uniting, and you'd think it would be some nice commie arrangement where anyone who wants to can eat tempeh burgers and tool around town on bikes, but it's not. You still have to rank. I am no earthly good at the ranking game. Oh, I get caught up in it, because I'm weak and doughy and whiny, but I have never managed to rank. If you take pity and invite me to your party, I guarantee I'll be the one in the corner, worrying about imposing herself on the other guests. Then I'll storm out in tears at some point because I know I'm not hip enough or smart enough or pretty enough or whatever enough to be a ranking guest there, that you invited me because you know I'll help you clean up the beer bottles and puke at the end of the night. Or maybe you invited me because you like my Ethel Merman imitations, and you needed a court jester. Either way, I'll be outside in the cold, sobbing over a cigarette, hating myself for being, well, the way I am and hating you and your friends for being cooler than I am, and hating the damn Darwinian system that keeps us all in our places to begin with. (I just realized this is not a good way to make friends, slapping this Karla trivia up there. Disclaimer: As long as there is no Nirvana or Stone Pearl Pumpkins in Chains on your stereo, I am actually a decent party guest. But the second you press "PLAY" on that tripe, I'm gonna regress. Or if I don't regress, I'm just gonna bitch reeaal loud about your choice of music, and that isn't polite. So if you insist on playing "Black Hole Sun" over and over, either don't invite me or take it like a (wo)man. Thanks.)

By the way, I must confess to having a thing for the Riot Grrrls (platonic). Courtney Love? Now, that's some Seattle pain I can feel.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Influenza, Assassinations, and Other Trifles

I was chatting with the Pirate the other night when about an hour into our conversation about the Star Wars Holiday Special (more on that later), I felt an invisible nail poking into my right eye. I tried to counter the invisible nail by poking the blunt end of a knitting needle into it (please don't try this at home, kids), but no dice. Then I took the more traditional route of swallowing some Motrin, but that didn't work either, so it was back to the blunt end of the knitting needle. Finally, I begged off, hung up, lay around moaning for twenty minutes or so, and ended up vomiting Pad Thai into a bag next to my bed. Lather, rinse, repeat twenty minutes later. Yoicks. Not sure if that was food poisoning or if I've contracted The Bug That's Going Around (there's always a bug going around in a city of 8 million people), but I'm still not feeling too great. The headache's gone, but my stomach keeps making noises like that alien from Spaceballs is gonna poke its way out of my abdomen and sing "Hello, Mah Baby." Bioterrorism, perhaps?

I have one word to say about the SWHS: Wow. If you've seen it, you know what I mean. If you haven't, I can't really explain its godawfulness to you. All I can do is warn you. There is a scene in it perhaps more disturbing than the one in Pink Flamingos where Divine eats dog shit, and since the Pirate neglected to mention it to me, I feel obliged to share it with you. Harvey Korman's character (yes, Harvey Korman--other guest stars include Art Carney, Bea Arthur, and Jefferson Starship) gives Chewy's dad, Itchy, some kind of 3-D fantasy machine as a Life Day present. The fantasy consists of Diahann Carroll talking all sexy to Itchy (who is, I must remind you, A WOOKIEE) and singing him a love song. There are also shots of Itchy grunting in his chair whilst this is going on. You have been warned. If you still want to seek out this thing on eBay, or if you have a geeky friend who still displays all his Star Wars action figures in the living room and you can get a bootleg off of him, I won't stop you. But don't blame me if you throw up twenty-four hours after you've seen it.

I spent Sunday in bed eating bland food and rereading Sarah Vowell's most recent book, Assassination Vacation. Those of you who are fans of "This American Life" might recognize Sarah Vowell as the squeaky-voiced, yet curmudgeonly commentator on all things historical and macabre. If you're a fan of Disney Pixar (shudder), you might recognize her as the voice of Violet Parr in The Incredibles. If you still don't know who I'm talking about, well, do a Google search. What can I say?

Anyway, in this book, Sarah Vowell chronicles geographical and historical points of interest relating to three presidential assassinations--Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. No trip is too out-of-the-way or irrelevant for SV, who braves a gut-wrenching boat trip to the Dry Tortugas National Park, where John Wilkes Booth conspirator Samuel Mudd was held prisoner, visits the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia for a glimpse at a piece of flesh that purports to be a piece of Booth's thorax, and tours the site of the former Oneida Community in upstate New York, a former religious commune/free love cult that hosted Garfield assassin Charles Guiteau for a time before abandoning its seamy underside and going into crockery. (The two events were unrelated.) Guiteau, according to Vowell, was "the only guy who couldn't get laid at a free love commune." That would probably be just my luck, too. At any rate, it's a fun, informative read, and I wish I were only half as brilliant and enterprising as Sarah Vowell, but whatever--it's a lovely way to pass the time while laid up with Star Wars Holiday Special Syndrome.

Off the subject, but still important--drop on by Ayun Halliday's new MySpace group and say hi and send her your love. And what's not to love? She's an awesome writer, she still washes her family's clothes at coin laundromats, and if you email her, she'll email you back! Sigh.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


And the birthday wishes just keep on coming! Thanks to Ruth for the lovely package (three skeins of yarn, Stitch 'N Bitch Nation by Debbie Stoller, a DVD collection of female comedians, and a very odd ribbon featuring a picture of a penguin and the words "I Can Dress Myself." Why can't you reveal the source?). Thanks, too, to my great-aunt Dot, who I am sure is not reading this blog, but who continues to send me a birthday card every year, even though I'm a rotten great-niece and I never, even though I swear I will, send her a response in kind. No more!

I also got another book from my dad, which wasn't a surprise because he told me he was getting it for me, The Rosenberg Letters: A Complete Edition of the Prison Correspondence of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg edited by their older son, Michael Meeropol. I've had, well, I guess you could call it a thing for the Rosenbergs for about five years now, ever since I saw this picture of the two of them kissing in the back of a prison van after their arraignment. People fall in love with couples all the time. Normal people fall in love with, oh, Brangelina or Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner. I happen to be in love with two executed alleged Russian spies. What does that say about ME? Go on, I can take it, motherfuckers!

Actually, the Rosenberg case has lapped at the edges of my consciousness since I was about thirteen. Having spent some of the most formative years of my life under Ronald "We begin bombing in five minutes" Reagan, I assumed that Communism was bad and Russians were bad and everyone accused of spying for Russia was guilty and of course bad, bad, bad. So when I read a little blurb about this couple, who were listening to The Lone Ranger on the radio when Julius was arrested, I thought a)how perverse, but then again, Hitler liked Mickey Mouse and b)obviously they're guilty. How did I know this? I didn't. But hey, if they were arrested and executed for stealing the secret of the atom bomb, they must have been guilty, right? (And I was supposedly a gifted child? How in the hell did that work?)

Over the years, my dad gradually worked on me, explaining that many innocent people are arrested, convicted, and even executed without benefit of a good defense attorney or a truly fair trial. He explained that an eye for an eye was not justice, as prosecutors claimed, and that there was no such thing as "closure," another word the DAs like to bandy about. I don't recall if he ever mentioned the Rosenbergs, but they were always there, lurking about in some kind of netherworld of fact and fiction. They were murderers; they were completely innocent. Ethel was the mastermind (I had no trouble believing this because of my own mother, an ace-jake manipulator whose abuse left me loathing and distrusting most women for longer than I care to admit); Julius was the guilty one. Somewhere in my early twenties, a fellow named David Greenglass seeped in, along with the famous Woody Allen line, "I love him like a brother, David Greenglass." I couldn't figure out why, if he'd lied at the trial, Ethel and Julius had still been executed. And then my dad got me a copy of The Brother: The Untold Story of Atomic Spy David Greenglass and How He Sent His Sister, Ethel Rosenberg, to the Electric Chair by Sam Roberts and I opened it up and saw a picture of that kiss and I just thought, that's it, they can't possibly be guilty.

But guilty of what? The common misconception is that the Rosenbergs were convicted and executed for treason, or for "stealing the secret of the atom bomb," whatever that means. They were not. They were convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage, which is a crime technically punishable by death. However, they were convicted without any evidence save the testimony of David Greenglass, who freely admitted he lied about key points to save his own ass. Then, too, let us not forget Roy Cohn, the closet case assistant prosecutor who admitted to engaging in ex parte communications with J. Edgar Hoover (you know, what is it with these HUAC-era lawmen? Why were they all closet case drag queens, and what was their whole power trip about? Or did I just answer my own question?) about the trial, particularly the sentence of Ethel Rosenberg, which is patently illegal. On that basis alone, I think they should have thrown the whole case out. As for "stealing the secret of the atom bomb," well, as many have pointed out, there's no such thing. The atom bomb is a highly complex entity. There is no such thing as one secret, one pinpoint that says, "Hey! Here I am! Without me, there would be no V-J Day!" And assuming that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were, beyond a reasonable doubt, one hundred percent guilty of the crime with which they were charged, there were many others who were far more instrumental in transferring atomic secrets to the Russians. One was physicist Klaus Fuchs, a German-born resident of England who'd worked at Los Alamos during the war. The other was Ted Hall, a nineteen-year-old American physics whiz kid from Chicago who also worked at Los Alamos. By dint of UK citizenship, Klaus Fuchs was tried and convicted there, where anti-Communist sentiment was much, much lower. He received fourteen years in prison. Ted Hall was never charged or convicted of anything, although he all but admitted to espionage before his death in 1999.

And what about Julius and Ethel? Well, in the early 1990s, the government released the Venona papers, which were decrypted documents supposedly detailing the activities of several "atom spies" during WWII. One of them, code-named "Liberal," was alleged to have been Julius Rosenberg. Another, code-named "Kalibr," was alleged to have been David Greenglass. There was no code-name for Ethel, because she was not an espionage agent. Yes, that's right--Ethel, supposedly the mastermind behind this atom spy ring, was not herself a spy. And the government knew that all along. But they gave her the death penalty as "leverage" on Julius, in order to force him to confess. As for Julius, assuming the Venona documents are one hundred percent true and correct, it appears he was involved in some kind of low-level non-atomic espionage. The information he supposedly transmitted to his Soviet contact was of little or no value, and certainly not in the construction of the atom bomb.

I'm not even going to try to puzzle out David Greenglass. He admitted to lying under oath, with the government's consent. As I said before, that admission alone should have been enough to throw out the trial. Did he make up the entire story about passing "atomic secrets" to Harry Gold, the courier who visited him in Albuquerque in 1945? He claims not, but how can we trust him?

Obviously, the government has a lot to hide in this case. Surprise, surprise, the government has a lot to hide! Why else would Judge Kaufman, who presided over the trial, seal his private papers until 2026? Why are items taken from the Rosenbergs' apartment still in the custody of the FBI? What happened? That's all I want to know. Who did what and when?

As I write this, I'm wondering what kind of a reaction I'll get, assuming I'll get any. (Besides, of course, "Dude, how boring! Why did you write like ten pages about the Rosenbergs? Who cares?") It amazes me how many people are still convinced "they" were spies, as if the government's papers prove anything one way or the other. And it's always "they." "They" stole the secret of the atom bomb, even though it's clear that Ethel's role was to make coffee and serve sandwiches. Are people that reluctant to believe that the government could orchestrate such a nefarious cover-up? Adults, I mean, not dumb-ass thirteen-year-olds preoccupied with zits and Guns 'n Roses. (I speak of myself, you understand.)

To close out, Julius and Ethel's younger son, Robert Meeropol, is the executive director of The Rosenberg Fund for Children, a foundation dedicated to the financial and emotional support of children whose parents have been imprisoned, injured, or killed because of their political activities. Please check out their website and consider making a donation.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Party Like It's Your Birthday

Yesterday at 9:30 am EDT, I celebrated exactly thirty years on this planet. I believe the auspicious occasion was marked by walking down to the R train and discovering there were no R trains running to Manhattan, thus forcing me to walk seven blocks in the opposite direction to catch the N train. Oh well, it was a quintessential New York moment. You won't find it in a Woody Allen movie, but trust me, non-New Yorkers: Arriving at your subway stop on a weekend to discover your train isn't running is far more common than gazing out a window of a twentieth-floor loft at a panoramic view of the city lights. Sorry to disappoint.

My acting class gave me a nice surprise--a card, a bunch of sweets, and a rendition of "Happy Birthday." (FYI, the song "Happy Birthday" has a copyright on it! That's why, when you go to The Olive Garden or Chilis on the big day, they sing their own version.) From my dad, I received a check, a CD, and a copy of Amy Sedaris's new book I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence. A hilarious read, and surprisingly useful. Lots of good recipes, including her famous Tattletail's Cupcakes, which were named second best in NYC by New York Magazine. For those of you unfamiliar with the wacky world of Amy Sedaris, Tattletail is her late rabbit, after whom she named her cupcake venture. She's since changed the name to Dusty's, after the new rabbit who shares her digs.

Every birthday card I've received so far has a cat on it. Wonder why?

So let's talk about those plans for this new decade. An anonymous poster recommended I not get bogged down in the American self-help oeuvre, because writing that novel or acting in that play might afford me what therapy can't. Sound advice, but the problem is, I'm so bogged down in it already it's like I've forgotten how to write. Oh, I can write on this blog without too much trouble, but when I settle down to write fiction, it's like my brain hardens and then spins away, into outer space. I can't wrap my mind around it. I used to be able to rely on random intense spurts of grandiose energy to write reams, but it appears I've outgrown those. If I'm going to write, I have to learn a new way to do it, but I'm not sure how or where or when that's gonna happen. Any advice?

By the way, I'm having a party on the 28th, but since I'm such a huge web celeb (hee) it wouldn't be prudent to reveal the location at this juncture.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

T-Minus Three Days and Counting...

No more brain trust! Yay! At long last, they hired someone else full-time, thus relieving me of my filing/copying/pacifying Upper East Side parents duties slightly earlier than I'd expected, but not a moment too soon. I had to seal my brain off to work there without screaming. Unfortunately, I couldn't unseal it on command at the day's end, so I've been stewing in a whole load of toxic juices for a while now. Gotta keep those seratonin levels up!

In other news, I'm turning thirty on Sunday, and while some older friends are pulling the ain't-tryin'-to-hear-that-you're-just-a-baby routine (justifiably, I must add), it's still a bit of a mind fuck. Sure, I know thirty is the new twenty or whatever, but I grew up reading a lot of Tennessee Williams, and Blanche DuBois was over the hill at my age. My dad, who is fifty-eight going on eighty going on five, had a two-year-old daughter and a mortgage at thirty. My mother had only nine years left to live at thirty, which scares me most of all.

"You don't want to end up like your mother, do you?" was a constant refrain in my childhood. (Not from my dad, I must stress, because he doesn't subscribe to the Auschwitz School of Motivational Techniques.) I've since come up with the snappy retort "You mean dead? 'Cause we're all gonna end up like her at some point." I'm still not entirely sure what was meant by that. As a teenager, I figured it meant living off my parents for my entire life, diddling about in Harrisburg music groups, convinced I had some kind of a career. Well, guess what? Thus far, I'm not that far off. Maybe it meant that I didn't want to end up having a kid and beating the shit out of her. How strange and destructive to grow up thinking I was going to end up like my mother, as if I had no say in the matter. And I really didn't think I did. For all the bluster I heard about having choices, there was still this threat that I was the way I was, and there was nothing I could do about it, because my course was unalterably set. I didn't know who the hell to believe. I certainly couldn't believe my father. Who was he? What did he know about raising kids? And he was the only one calling bullshit on all this, so how could I trust him?

Thank god I don't have a kid to worry about, at least. I swore when I was thirteen I wasn't even going to think about having kids until I was at least thirty-five, and that still stands. The idea of having a thing in my uterus makes me nauseous. I think it stems from a dream I had when I was fourteen in which I was pregnant with a seahorse. Later that year, my biology teacher drew a crude pregnant abdomen on the board with a stick figure fetus to explain amniocentesis, and I actually passed out. I guess if I'm going to do the mom thing, I should adopt, except I think I'm pretty set on the position that I love kids, as long as they belong to someone else.

So what should I do this year? I feel like I should do something momentous, something geared toward putting my life in some kind of order. Should I lose weight and start making the rounds of casting agents? Should I write that novel? Should I just focus on "healing myself", whatever that means? Or should I just get that tattoo and say mission accomplished? Any suggestions, book contracts, or NEA grants would be welcome...

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

She's Got To Be Somebody's Wookiie

A few weeks ago, my friend and occasional opera date the Pirate (a.k.a my friend in the Bronx, but the Pirate is snappier and just as apropos) ever so kindly burned me a copy of of perhaps the worst film ever made, The Star Wars Holiday Special. How bad is it? Well, the plot centers around Chewbacca (at this point, Ruth exploded, "Oh, Christ! He's a Wookiie!") and his attempts to get back to his home planet and his wife, child, and father (who never thereafter are heard from again, in any sequel or prequel) for Life Day. Still with me? Okay, the first fifteen minutes of the movie are in Wookiie, without subtitles; there's a scene at the famous nightclub featuring Bea Arthur singing a torch song; and the film wraps up with a "very embarrassed looking" (cf. the Pirate) Harrison Ford, an in-between-operations Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher, joining Chewy for the Life Day celebration, capped off with Carrie Fisher singing the Life Day song. Yoicks.

I have not yet watched the movie, but the Pirate's snidely horrified description was enough to convince Ruth to actually volunteer to watch this thing with me. Since she's in the middle of moving, I may have to go out and draft someone else in the meantime (anyone? Bueller?) because ain't no way in hell I'm watching this thing without another sentient being and a case of beer present.

If you really, really wanna hook this flick up yourself, your best bet is eBay, because it exists only on bootleg. According to the Pirate, reaction to this movie was so swift and horrific that George Lucas had all the negatives burned, and no one involved in the project will answer any questions about it. At all. So if you happen to run into Harrison Ford at Hogs 'n Heifers and just for shits and giggles, you ask him about that Star Wars Holiday special, expect nothing in return save a blank stare. No, not even a sock in the face.

Oh, yes--I neglected to mention that, in the grand tradition of absurd Lucasian nomenclature, Chewbacca's father's name is Itchy. Yeah.

*** *** *** *** ***

Fortunately, VH1 has recently been showing a film at the other end of the spectrum (well, not quite, but according to the Pirate, the Star Wars Holiday Special makes Plan 9 From Outer Space look like Citizen Kane), Cameron Crowe's Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I missed out on all the fun, being born in 1976. Just think, if I'd been born ten years earlier, I too could have gone to a high school with Pat Benetar lookalikes and lusted after Rick Springfield sans irony! (Actually, I probably would have been the snarly girl in the corner with the Joy Division T-shirt, and I probably would have wished I'd been born in 1956 so I could have gone to high school in the days of Altamont and Watergate. But that's neither here nor there, since I got stuck going to high school in the fucking grunge era with a bunch of emotional subdwarves who claimed to feel Kurt's pain, man. Oh, the very memory of it makes me want to throw daggers.)

Anyway, not for the first time have I noticed bewildering characteristics and inconsistencies about this film. Since I'm sure Cameron Crowe and Amy Heckerling both have me on their XML feeds, I shall direct my questions to them:

1. Why does the stereo salesman who deflowers Jennifer Jason Leigh take her to "The Point" to accomplish the task? He's 26, right? Doesn't he have his own pad? Or does he still live with his parents because Ridgemont rents are too high for a stereo salesman's wages?

2. Speaking of parents, where the hell are they? Why are teens in these movies always running around wild? Yes, I know, the excuse "they're away for the weekend" is always given, but come on. Do you know how confusing this was for me as an only child? I thought that staying alone in the house was my birthright as an adolescent. Imagine my shock when my dad went to Arizona on business when I was sixteen and he flew my grandmother in to babysit me! Was this just an '80s thing? Did some report come out in the early '90s warning parents against the dangers of leaving their kids home alone for the weekend? Did they get hip to John Hughes flicks? Or was my dad just a total lameass?

3. Did all high schools in the 1980s have, like, 3000 students? And out of these 3000 students, why are only two of them black?

4. I realize this movie is set in SoCal, but why are they playing football in February? Come on! Even in SoCal, that's basketball season!

5. A biology classroom that has a caged monkey. Who? When? Where? I wanna go to that school!

6. How does a teenage boy become a scalper? Come to think of it, how does anyone become a scalper? Please forgive me--I was nudged unequivocally toward a career in the arts, which didn't leave me much room for exploring sketchier options. (Shit, my lameass dad wouldn't even leave me alone for the weekend!) Well, unequivocally, excepr for my guidance counselors, who were, I believe, trying to nudge me toward an exciting career as an admin assistant for the PA State Legislature. Assholes.

That's about it. Oh, except for the age-old, as yet unanswered question as to why all teenagers in these movies are thirty and look it. Well?

Monday, October 09, 2006


I haven't been able to think of anything to say for a week. Not that I haven't tried--I attempted to write a piece about a documentary I saw on PBS called No Bigger than a Minute, but I couldn't wrap my mind around anything witty and profound to say about dwarfism. Still can't, actually.

The only thing I can wrap my mind around these days is rest. Curled up in bed, with the blankets around me, daydreaming of exactly the kind of like I've always reviled, a warm, clean, cozy house in the suburbs with quilts and potpourri. I can't believe I used to look at that kind of lifestyle as taking the easy way out. My god, the effort required to run such an operation! I can't even get it together to change my cats' litter half the time.

I feel as though I'm ducking my head, that there's some thing at the center of the fog in front of me, but I can't get a good focus on it. It's sobering to realize that as I wrap up my third decade on this planet, I don't think I've ever had an original thought in my life. There's nothing I can think of that hasn't been thought of before. And it's distressing to realize how ignorant I really am, how mentally and emotionally incapable I am of deciding what I want to do and sticking to it. How do people do it? How do they know so much, or appear to know so much? And where, oh where, do they find the energy? Do they all feel like they've been run over by a bus and they've just learned to suck it up and deal?

Someone once told me that realizing how little you actually know is the beginning of wisdom. In fact, I believe Plato came to the same realization himself. Perhaps this should make me feel better, but it doesn't.

What the hell is wrong with me?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

No Surprises Here, Folks

Oh, my brain feels like it's swimming in cotton batting and amniotic fluid right now. I spent my two days off from the brain trust sleeping and watching CNN, and I feel like someone who's just come out of a coma and has to relearn basic functions. I wish I could just stick a needle in there and drain it off. I also wish electroshock were still de rigeur. Anyone out there want to do a lobotomy, gratis?

Of course, the big stories yesterday were the Amish school shooting and the marc Foley pedophilia scandal. I can't say anything that will do justice to either. I'm not familiar with the area where the shooting took place, although I may have passed through it once as a kid on the way to the Jersey Shore. (That's where we PAers summer--remember the Billy Joel song? "Our fathers fought the Second World War/Spent their weekends on the Jersey Shore...") I can't even say, sadly, that I'm especially shocked that a crazy man would burst into a one-room Amish schoolhouse and start shooting. The world is going to hell in a handbasket. Why would the Amish be immune? The real tragedy, to my mind, is that because of the Amish's lack of exposure to the rest of the world, they aren't buttressed by the same cynicism that manages to keep the rest of us "safe."

Nor am I especially surprised that Marc Foley was, uh, exposed as a pedophile--oh, excuse me, as an "alcoholic with related behavioral problems." So that's what the kids are calling it these days. I simply love how these fucking Republicans accuse us degraded, immoral Lefties of refusing to take responsibility for our actions, then turn around and play the victim card when one of their own is caught flanging his wang over underaged specimens of studly man meat. And bravo, fellas, for shielding your beloved constituents from Foley's proclivities for lo these many years. Why, if folks had known what he was really like, it might have interfered with their decision-making processes the first week of November! And how nice of you to protect your adolescent male charges by encouraging them to stay away from Foley because he has "problems"! A job well done, and pretty fucking typical of what I've come to expect from the party that engendered Nixon, Reagan, and so on down the slippery slope of the Apocalypse.

On a personal note, it doesn't look like I'm going to be able to swing the NeoFuturist gig for the time being. Their rehearsal night is the same as my therapy group. Sigh. Did I mention I'm going to be thirty in twelve days? Am I ever going to get my shit together? If we keep on going the way we are, is there any point?