Thursday, December 27, 2007

winding down

In A.O. Scott's review of There Will Be Blood, he mentions, parenthetically, "Like most of the finest American directors working now, Mr. Anderson makes little on-screen time for women." I love P.T. Anderson. I love the Coen brothers. Most of the directors, in fact, that Tony's talking about are men I hold near and dear to my heart. But it's indisputable that they forget Abigail Adams's famous injunction: "...remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation."

It's possible only the beginning of the quote applies to this particular cinematic situation.

Still, it bothers me. Last night, Mr. Ben and I watched Waitress, which meant that I have now completed 2007's Fertility Trifecta (the other two being, of course, Knocked Up and Juno). The movie had some entertaining moments and some good lines. Mostly, though, it felt like it was trying too hard to yank on the Steel Magnolias chain, and it lacked the credibility: there's something odd about watching Felicity and Jeremy Sisto, the creepy brother from Six Feet Under, affect Southern accents. At the end, the quirky-sweetness falls away from the movie's tone and it becomes a kind of Herstory uptopia, a You Go Girl!, Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle pastel fantasy.

Despite the movie's flaws, it's one of the few 2007 films that pass the Ms. test. Juno and the the Savages also do, bless their indie little hearts, and I'm sure Persepolis will. But I'm sure it's not a coincidence that all of those films come from source material written by women -- and, in the case of the Savages, a female director too. Why are women fundamentally uninteresting to otherwise edgy, intelligent, creative, broad-minded men?

Whatever the reason for the blind spot, I do think it's funny that directors will make exceptions for their wives: Frances McDormand is a Mrs. Coen and has played their most memorably vivid and interesting female character; Helena Bonham Carter, Burton's girlfriend and baby momma, serves the same function. Expand, fellas! Does Patricia Clarkson need to hook up with someone to get a real role?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sweeney! SWEENEY!

One of the perks of having a father-in-law who lives locally? Sometimes you can get taken to dinner 'n' a movie. This is exciting under normal circumstances, but when "movie" = "SWEENEY TODD," something you're totally desperate to see, it's beyond thrilling.

I didn't realize at first that he agreed to take Mr. Ben and me to the movie the same way he agreed to take us to -- I shudder to think of this now -- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a far less successful adaptation of a classic text. Luckily, he loved it. Does it even need be said that Mr. Ben and I did too? This was Tim Burton at his most grotesque, let loose on fantastic material. At times (the "By the Sea" dream sequence, where Mrs. Lovett fantasizes about how she & her homicidal lover could have a bourgeois life together, for example) Burton's macabre vision actually improves on the original.

Helena Bonham Carter has a range of about five notes, but she manages to put her own spin on a role I've now seen inhabited by extremely different actresses (Angela Lansbury, Christine Baranski, and Patti LuPone -- what could you imagine they would have in common?). ** SPOILER ALERT ** She makes the foolhardy love that Mrs. Lovett has for Sweeney moving rather than merely pathetic, and I loved her duet with Toby, "Not While I'm Around." I mean, talk about layered subtext. Little Toby is singing, thinking, "I finally have a home! This woman rescued me and I can't wait til I can rescue her in turn to communicate the depth of my affections!" and the mother figure is singing, thinking, "Oh, shit, I now have to kill this boy."

Part of the twisted charm of this show is that Sondheim wrote strikingly beautiful love songs for it and then put them in the most upsetting possible context. How would you like to sing an ode to "Pretty Women" with the man who had you jailed so he could rape your wife?

HBC and Johnny Depp as Sweeney are both made up to look like zombies (sexy zombies) only partially inhabiting the colorless world of Victorian London. In that respect, they match, and they feel right as a couple. Depp also has a surprisingly good voice, or good for the role anyway. This is true of the other cast members too. They make it work.

Mr. Ben and I realized that the cast is peopled with Slytherins: HBC, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spell (the man who plays the Beadle here and Peter Pettigrew there). This inevitably made me wonder how the Harry Potter movies would be as interpreted by Tim Burton. Oh, the things of which we can only dream ... But in fairness, Burton is a post-modernist; Sweeney is a pomo classic; HP is not. Burton doesn't seem to be at his best dealing with non-pomo material, as evidenced by virtually everything he's done since Nightmare Before Christmas.

Anyway. Sweeney left me weak in the knees, as the kids say, and I feel prepared to take on the movie that is both supposed to be excellent in its own right AND an excellent summation of the films of 2007: There Will Be Blood.

Friday, December 14, 2007

angry about things?

Someone pointed out that most of my entries are written on the topic of My Being Outraged About Something. That's horrible! I don't mean to be doing that. Most of the time I'm a very positive person. Right now, for example. I'm at my secret internet full-time job (not to be confused with the secret internet part-time job I held briefly last spring) and I like it! I really like it! The people are -- well, they're around me right now so I won't say much about them, but they're all my age, which makes "work" feel more like "summer camp."

We get our first paycheck today, in fact, I believe. That's pretty good for a week in which we've spent one day being oriented by playing name games; one day touring NYC campuses undercover (that really took me back); and three days now at a computer lab doing things that actually require thinking and creativity.

Also, I just saw Juno, this year's Little Miss Sunshine the same way No Country for Old Men is this year's the Departed. It was the best thing I'd seen in a long time, possibly since Pan's Labyrinth. It was as funny as Knocked Up but didn't make me feel dirty afterwards because it didn't seem to be saying that men and women are fundamentally different and can never get along, never never never, but they have to get & stay married anyway, just because.

Atonement--you know, the literary movie about War and Love and Betrayal and Big Ideas--was respectably good, especially in its first act, but it didn't move me nearly as much as the story of the adorable, snarky, midwestern 16 year old and her adorable, sweet sorta boyfriend. Mostly, and this is key: I believed it.

Oh, and Malcolm Gladwell! He wrote what I hope will be the definitive word on race and IQ. (God knows at least I'm not interested in reading more on the subject.) Basically, he reminds us that an IQ test is not like a blood test: you don't get objective results because one must TAKE an IQ test. Since it's active, the individual can't be separated from the results. Which is to say, someone who wasn't groomed to be sit down quietly and concentrate on a paper-and-pencil test is virtually bound to do less well than someone who was. Also, Gladwell has a way of making statistics legible without condescending to his readers. I appreciate that.

See? I like stuff! In fact, I like everything, except Ditchens and Howd.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

quit yer hitchin

Happy Hannukah, everyone! You know, that harmless, minor Jewish holiday that exists in America as this country's paltry companion piece to Christmas, like a kid playing a kazoo on the sidelines as a confetti strewn marching band in full regalia, with cheerleaders and baton twirlers and gymnasts and everything, spends a month slowly parading by.

Don't think I bear Christmas any ill will. Sure, I used to; but we're cool now, we're cool. I've gotten to celebrate a secular version a couple times with Mr. Ben's dad's family. I've done it all, in fact: the evening service as St. Marks, a stocking filled with stuff hanging on the mantle for me, wrapped boxes glistening under the tree. I can understand how, if you grew up with that -- or, that plus some heartfelt religious traditions -- you'd long for it every year.

It's just not my holiday. All the same, you'd never see me go on a tirade like this about Christmas, let alone about poor, miserable, homely Hannukah! What is Christopher Hitchens thinking?

His rant, which I've read now twice and concluded makes not a speck of sense, seems to be saying that Hannukah is bad because it celebrates the triumph (for about fifteen minutes, once) of the ancient Hebrews over the Greeks. And who were the Greeks, asks Hitch? A culture that
had weaned many people away from the sacrifices, the circumcisions, the belief in a special relationship with God, and the other reactionary manifestations of an ancient and cruel faith.
Some religious Jews were annoyed that their countrymen were assimilating, so they rebelled against the imperial powers of the day and WON -- which, by the way, didn't happen often in Jewish history, so I'm sure it came as quite a shock to Judah the Maccabee; like my mother when she was convinced I wouldn't get into Swarthmore, Judah probably gave away his bottle of champagne.

And why does Hitch have a bee in his bonnet about this? Because to him it's a turning point. If the Jews hadn't won, we wouldn't have those pesky spin-off religions, Christianity (centered around, in his elegant phrase, the "alleged birth of the supposed Jesus of Nazareth") and Islam. No monotheistic religion would exist! Think of it! We'd all be wearing togas and drinking wine touched up with water and having sex with little boys, just like the pagan gods intended.

There is little more irritating to me than sloppy history, especially in combination with nostalgia for the imaginary utopias of earlier eras, "before the development of the whole of humanity was terribly retarded." (Wow, right?) I mean, yes, when I was 12, I did want to inhabit the world of Mists of Avalon, but even then I understood that it was *fiction* and anyway I was 12! There's no point in wishing ancient Greece back. No matter how much Hitch yearns for the homosocial, toga-wearing, gymasium-dwelling, slave-holding, vomitorium-scented days of a couple thousand years ago, that empire was sacked by the Romans. The ancient Hebrew did not kill Athens; and if Athens was able to fall, on any level, to a guerilla band of hammer-wielding mountain men, it certainly could not have been very stable to begin with. So lay off, would you, Hitch? Christ. You're putting me off my latkes.

Friday, November 30, 2007

links that make you think "so true!"

Via NYMag, a handy-dandy graphical guide to the depressing movies to choose from this holiday season!

Via People for the American Way, the hilarious parody Right Wing Facebook!

It's my last day in this office and I can't concentrate properly. Last night I went to a Mountain Goats concert at NYU and was distracted nearly the whole time by this kid making out with his girlfriend in front of me. There was something so mesmerizingly wrong about the pair of them: she was a normal looking 18-22 year old; he looked like a serial killer. Pale skin, old-fashioned nerd glasses, the kind of haircut you give your middle-schooler before he learns to rebel, and clothes to match. Why on earth were they sucking face for the length of the show? Was the girl under some kind of spell?

Then the Goats played The Best Ever Death Metal Band out of Denton as their final encore. There's nothing like a packed auditorium of undergraduates screaming, "Hail Satan!" to shake one out of a reverie.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Whee! Enchanted, that girliest of girl movies starring Amy Adams, won the box office match-up this past weekend, beating, by a long shot, Natalie Portman's trippy-sounding entry, Mr. Magorium's Magic Emporium. Not that I contributed to Enchanted's success; I was too busy watching boy movies 1. I'm Not There and 2. No Country for Old Men, both of which I enjoyed and admired, although neither knocked my head off my shoulders.

I'm Not There at least breaks free of the tedious biopic formula in which the director attempts to psychoanalyze the subject based on a five minute snippet of his childhood, tracing all of his problems with women, for example, back to that time his mother put him in a closet. Todd Haynes doesn't try to understand Dylan at all; six actors portray different facets of the rocker, and the composite both serves as a good overall sense of the people Dylan has maybe been at different points AND a good example of the Being John Malkovich/Walt Whitman theory of identity. You know, that we contain multitudes.

The two standout Dylans are a little black boy who rides freight trains with his guitar, dressed like a Depression-era mini hobo, Sir-ing and Ma'am-ing and performing for the bemused 1959 adults he meets along the way as Grassroots Bob, and a b&w Cate Blanchett in fantastic drag who captures everything itchy, rangy, brilliant, and savage about Famous Bob.

As for No Country, aka this year's Departed, I liked it better than Nora Ephron did. (Caution: her piece contains spoilers, in case you care, when going to watch a bloodbath, exactly who dies.)

Mr. Ben and I went to his dad's house in Westchester for Thanksgiving with a swarm of Russians, which meant a feast lengthened by frequent cigarette breaks and toasts that made Ben's dad weep with laughter. He and/or Mr. Ben tried valiantly to translate but I only found the jokes perplexing, which made everyone else laugh harder. One gag began, "So, you remember Stalin" and went on to be about a man who had fathered three kids by three different women.
"Get it?" said Ben's dad at last having painstakingly explained.
"Yes," I said. "But what does that have to do with Stalin?"
The table roared.

Foodwise, everything that didn't have meat had mayonnaise. I ate a lot of bread and, at the debut of the fruit bowl come dessert-time, I fell on those melon cubes like they were my personal lord and savior. But the evening was definitely an experience.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

jump the broom, pass the bar

Mr. Ben had cause for celebration this weekend so we ran a lot of errands. This is the way things work around here. But they were fun errands! Thanks to them, I traded in a few books I wasn't crazy about and got in return Best American Comics 2007 (f0r Mr. Ben) and Under the Banner of Heaven (for me). Barnes and Noble can be a regular lending library if you know how to game the system! And then, in a different store, I traded in a couple movies I wasn't crazy about and got in return Season One of the Gilmore Girls, a Madeline Peyroux CD, and Bruce Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on video.

Especially when the various birthday parties and friends and sleepovers and Buster Keaton shorts and Korean dinner and magical sandwich brunch were factored in, it was the best weekend I've had in a while. Mr. Ben and I hadn't gotten to spend that much uninterrupted time together since he started at the firm. Um, because clearly he's been spending too much time golfing at the club? Whose life am I living?

I did realize recently that my draconian regimen of no alcohol and no food with more than 25g of sugar has turned me into a new person. It's been months since my last anxiety attack, and that one was over the wedding weekend; and christ, if a person can't go shaky before they get married, then I don't know what. Anyway, it's wonderful not to have to worry all the time that I'm going to turn into a fragile, eplileptic mess, crumpled on the bathroom floor like a junkie trying to inject relief in the form of a children's book. (Before xanax, the Snicket series was worth its weight in gold.)

Even the time of year hasn't been stressing me out. I'm changing jobs but voluntarily and wow! what a difference that makes. The holidays seem to be arranging themselves nicely. The Scrabulous ratings system was instituted after my unlucky streak and before my current lucky one, so my rating is a whopping 1511. It's bound to go down and might never reach that pinnacle again -- thus, even though I know not what the numbers mean, I feel like I must enshrine them. And to top it all off, my sainted mother went dancing this past week in my high school prom dress. She promises pictures.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Without realizing that Defective Yeti had declared this November to be National Novel Reading Month -- the novel in question being Catch 22 -- my book group also chose to sink its wine-stained teeth into Catch 22. I had read it before in high skool and I remembered three things:

1) Major Major Major Major!
2) War is crazy. In war there are no heroes, only people struggling to maintain their sanity; and if that, maybe, once in a while, coincides with Doing the Right Thing, then cool, but no one goes out of his way.
3) There are an awful lot of whores.

My memory proved accurate. It's not an easy read: the story loops back in on itself, tangential characters wander on and off screen, there are almost as many unnecessary adjectives as loose Italian women. In parts you really have to push yourself through but each time you're rewarded with a scene that's so good you wonder how anyone couldn't love this book.

And what struck me this time was how revolutionary this kind of myth-busting must have been when the book first came out. At this point, in a post-Vietnam world, we're accustomed to hearing that the people who fight for our freedom may have flaws, that not everyone who ventures out on a battlefield has pure and noble intentions. But this book is about World War II: The Good War, the one we're supposed be to be able to be proud of. These soldiers, described by Heller in all their specific grinning idiocy are members of our Greatest Generation. How did he get away with that? Even today it wouldn't be easy.

Despite its stylistic flaws, I think that courage is going to be my key takeaway from this reading. But um, I do wish there were one female character who wasn't an empty-headed, busty buffoon. On that note: in honor of whatshisname, another great white shark of mid-century American fiction who died this past weekend, Jezebel put together a roster of He-Man Woman Hating Club. Made me feel better about feeling alienated by so much "contemporary" lit. Read the comments too. They are pure and noble.

ETA: if this isn't enough bile for a Wednesday morning, here's some additional spewing, bubbling, volcanic hate for Maureen Dowd.

Friday, November 09, 2007


Here I've been making pro / con lists, talking myself hoarse, giving myself wrinkles with all the thinking, and all this time I should have been consulting
Mars is still moving though Cancer, a sign that you are in the process of starting a brand new cycle. This is a process that will be ongoing for several months, ending on May 9 next year. During that time you'll be very busy, so you might want to pace yourself - these types of cycles can be exhausting, but also very exciting!

Mars does not come by that often, so it may help to know that the next time you'll have Mars in Cancer to give you an outstanding advantage, it will be August 2009. But next time you won't have several months to institute the changes you want so dearly, instead only a matter of weeks (which is much more typical a visit of Mars). As you see, you truly are in the catbird's seat.

The problem is that Mars is about to shut down when it goes retrograde from November 15 to January 30. During that phase you won't be able to access all the best qualities of Mars, which are assertive career action, determination, energy, and drive - so it is imperative that you make your most important initiations this month from November 1 to 14, your golden period. After that, you'll need to backtrack and course correct, and be ready to go at full throttle again in February.

Mars is the engine that runs your prestigious professional sector (tenth house), so this means that the coming two-and-a-half month period will not bring encouraging career developments. If you are not currently employed, or if you are anxious to leave your present position, you must be ready to begin your search in the first half of November, and to get as many interviews in at that time as you can. ...

November 4 could bring you a good career tip or breakthrough. That's a Sunday, but due to the fine angle of the Sun and Mars in Cancer, over this weekend you may see an interesting job listing on the Internet or in the paper, or get an email that brings an opportunity you will want to follow up on.

If you are in a creative field, you will be in top form. From November 9 onward, the date of the new moon, you will have an opportunity to put your stamp of individuality on a project that will become very dear to you. If an offer comes in that intrigues you at this time, take it seriously. ...

Pluto is the ruler of your fifth house of creativity. This powerful planet is about to meet with financially beneficial, expansive Jupiter. These two planets only meet in conjunction every thirteen years, and the last time they did was in very late 1994. These two planets are about to meet next month, on December 11. This is headline news, and it's been a conjunction I've been watching for several years - it is almost here!

Pluto conjunct Jupiter is a powerful indicator of success. Bill Gates has this conjunction in his natal chart, as does Warren Buffet. You will have this transiting conjunction in your chart next month, in your sixth house of work assignments. These two planets move very slowly but are already close enough to bring you benefits. Be alert to the kind of conversations and offers you are having now - something is in the wind and it could wind up being bigger than you ever assumed possible.

If 1994 or 1995 is important to you in some way because you began an endeavor or made a major decision, you will have the opportunity to advance that endeavor now or end it and start a completely new one. (Or, you can do both.) I point to those years, for that's when we had that last Jupiter to Pluto conjunction. That event gave me the opportunity to start a then very tiny website that I called Astrology Zone. At the time I really didn't realize that my life was changing forever. This type of experience could happen to you, for Jupiter and Pluto are meeting in the same part of the chart that it did for me, the sixth house. When opportunity knocks, it will be up to you to either run with it - or not. The future is always in your hands.

Monday, November 05, 2007

up to

It's funny how little time it takes a Monday morning to devour an aura of warm fuzz. Even though this weekend featured a hurricane, a long day's worth of travel to and from Connecticut for In-Law Family Time, a bad cold that kept me from enjoying Friday night's festivities at a fancy lawyer's house in Larchmont (complete with lobster bisque!), and several Serious Conversations, it still left me feeling well-balanced and happy. You know, temporarily.

Still, it's good to keep perspective. At least I'm not a sex worker who's just been told by someone in a position of authority that gang rape at gunpoint = merely "theft of services."

And at least exciting movies will be coming out soon. I haven't seen anything I've been crazy about this year. Ratatouille, Michael Clayton, and Knocked Up were all entertaining in their various ways, but I want to be rocked like I was by Children of Men and Pan's Labyrinth. Who will rock me? Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd? The cast is promising; the trailer, less so. Philip Seymour Hoffman as brought to me by Tamara Jenkins? She was supposed to be my honors examiner, you know. Nicole Kidman as Mrs. Coulter? One of the many Bob Dylanses? Or the animated Marjane Satrapi? After the recent NYT Mag interview with her wherein she declaimed, "I'm not a feminist; I'm a humanist," and then went on to extoll the pleasures of smoking, I'm disappointed with the IRL version, but I can hold out hope for celluloid.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

wisdom for the ages

"First rule: Do not use semicolons. ... All they do is show you've been to college. And I realize some of you may be having trouble deciding whether I am kidding or not. So from now on I will tell you when I'm kidding. For instance, join the National Guard or the Marines and teach democracy. I'm kidding. ... If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don't have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I'm not kidding."
-- K. Vonnegut, from A Man Without a Country

Lillian Gish Goes to Hell
Richard Siken

But she has been there before, has a suite
in fact, where she can swan and collapse
on a series of fainting couches: velveteen,
plush, gem-colored. In 1913, during the
production of A Good Little Devil, Lillian
collapsed from anemia. She took delight in
suffering for art. Although not a religious
man, Sartre was fascinated by suffering
as well, said Hell is other people and meant it.
Some like to suffer and some try to eliminate
desire. Buddha, God bless him, had a great
idea: whatever is subject to change is subject to
suffering. But let’s face it, he was fat and sat
around in his underwear, while we delight
in changing our wardrobes. You, terrible
in your solitude. Me, ruined and desperate
in my cowboy shirt with the pearly buttons
and significant stitching. We can suffer with
the best of them, Lil, effortlessly working off
our karma as the drunken father breaks down
the wooden door, or we roam, dying, through
the streets of Montmartre. I am no stranger
to love and I am not waiting for you, because
I believe we will be reborn, because I believe
everything, and I believe that we will meet
again and suffer together again. The future
belongs to China and yet I want to learn
French. This, too, is another kind of suffering.
Once, at a truck stop, I ate an entire banana
cream pie and half a pound of bacon, which
is a kind of suffering for some, but I felt
fucking great. You know this, you must know
this. We are lovely and full of desire, we die
so many times and come back here, to cross
paths. I didn’t fall off the roof, I was pushed.
I want neither revenge nor relief. I crave no
rescue. What I want, Lillian, is to be gigantic
and perfectly lit, to be with you again, carnal
in our reincarnation. The future will find us
handsome taikonauts in a small ship spinning
out of control, flawed by love and plunging
realistically toward the heart of a hellish sun.
In the future we will suffer together in outer
space and eat crème brûlée out of a silver tube.
The novelty never wears off, Lil. It never does.

"You don't gotta be a bitch to be competitive." -- Bianca, ANTM

Sunday, October 28, 2007

everyone's a joker

I spent this afternoon in the All Souls Episcopal Church in Harlem. And I'm not even running for President!

Although I was not the only white person in the basement/auditorium, I'm pretty sure I was the only Jewish white girl. I mean, for that matter, I was one of the few women under 60 and one of the few not wearing a hat. Judging by the crowd, in fact, I can safely say, Hats are totally back! You heard it here first.

This all came about because Mr. Ben has decided to burn off some of his new job related stress by taking an African dance class in Brooklyn. How that ended up with him dancing in a church on 114th street I can't exactly explain but I was there to watch him, loyal little wife that I am; AND he got paid too. This means he is not only getting paid way more than I am to stare at a computer screen all day, he's also only getting paid way more than I am for his hobbies.

This reminds me a bit of one of the funniest quotes from this week's 30 Rock:
Jack: Where do you invest your money, Liz?
Liz: I have, like, twelve grand in checking.
Jack: Are immigrant?
You all watch that show, right? That is the funniest show ever. I'm not sure, however, if it's actually funnier than my mother. You be the judge. This is from an email she sent because she and my father are running off to Mexico for two weeks.
If we don't surface by 11/4, the car broke down or the bandits got us. In either case, don't forget that we have travel/life insurance with AAA and life insurance with TransAmerica Life Insurance. There are a good deal of paid hours at Arthur Murray which someone should use because they're so expensive and remember that I keep personal files in my office. If you need to access them, don't laugh. I have wedding bills mixed with an incredible
number of job applications and South Beach Diet recipes all mixed together with other stuff. It represents a real cross-section of our family. ...
[If we need more money] as daddy says, open the yellow pages and look for a money lender.

Lastly, I went to the dentist the other day and had my teeth cleaned. The hygienist told me that I was terribly remiss in not brushing my tongue with my toothbrush. In retrospect, I never knew that such a practice was required and I realize that I never instructed my children to do so. So, in closing, be sure to brush your tongue with your toothbrush. It apparently removes dead cells, increases taste and makes your breath fresher. You heard it here first.
Priceless, right? I love being reminded that, in my father's head, it's still the 18th century. Also that should my parents disappear into the wilds of a resort in Yucatan, I can rest easy knowing my mother's last words to me were, "Brush your tongue."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

cancer free since 1982!

Yesterday I was scheduled for the needle biopsy that's been freaking me out for a month. First there was one doctor who said it's probably nothing but get an ultrasound just in case.

Thirty days later, after the ultrasound, there was another doctor who said it's probably nothing but get a biopsy just in case.

Thirty days after that, there was a nurse and then another nurse and then finally a surgeon who said, "It's nothing!"

I said, thoroughly brainwashed by this point, "You don't want to poke me just in case?"

"No," she said. "There's nothing there to poke."

Here I am, alive and tumor-free (so far as I know), and yet after the giddiness evaporated the residual stress hit. Maybe I'd been repressing it. In any event, I'm taking it easy today. It's the last 70 degree day, according to NY1, and I'm going to suspend thinking about my future, try not to worry that the highly-recommended and respected surgeon is somehow wrong, maybe watch something mindless.

ETA: And then I saw my horoscope!
When issues get too complicated, you tend to withdraw into yourself until you've decided what to do. This is one of those times when it may seem easier to just sink quietly to the bottom of your cave and let the world flow by. However, this isn't in your best interest. Instead, select your most important feelings and share them with someone close to you.
The metaphors here aren't helping my headache. Sink to the bottom of my cave and let the world flow by -- I guess I'm in the sea then? Is this because I'm a Cancer? (Can't escape that word ...) Also I'm not sure I have Most Important Feelings. The phrase makes me a picture an Olympic winners platform. But what National Anthem would play when the gold medal for Most Important Feeling goes to Anxiety?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

the time, she passes

It has been a week and a half of learning and growing. First, visiting my family in DC, I learned that I can sail! -- or at least be on a small sailboat for an entire afternoon without throwing up. This is remarkable, friends. I retain vivid memories of that time we went "whale watching" one stormy New Hampshire morning and I lasted about twenty minutes on the open seas before I found myself exiled to the boat's inner sanctum. There, lying on my back on a narrow wooden bench, it was my responsibility to contemplate whether life was truly worth living as, over and over, sea water rose to fill the porthole and then recede. Fill, recede, fill, recede. Conclusion: Nyet.

Nothing transforms someone into a Medieval philosopher faster than nausea.

And see how far I've come? I got on the boat with little to no trepidation, even thinking of the delicious sandwiches my mother had prepared for our three-hour tour. It was only when, two hours from shore, we hit some sustained turbulence generated by tugboats, ferries, and mammoth freight carriers, that I realized I was no longer enjoying being me. At least the sun was shining.

Soon after I returned to New York, however, autumn burst out with all the subtlety and grace of Steve Carrell in the Office. Rain, wind; everything howled; degrees dripped away. That combined with a friend's promotion made me all quarter-lifey. Where was I going? What was I doing? What did I aim for? Aspire to be? How happy was I supposed to be? What was my plan? Ye gods, was I supposed to have a plan, other than to make enough money to afford a Netflix subscription and a pair of shoes every once in a while?

The funk lasted off and on for a bit. Several things however have contributed to the return of my joie de vivre:

- an UWS walking tour that including one of my the city's only gated communities, Paumander Walk, a one-block stretch of beautiful, tiny, Tudor houses complete with rose gardens and free roaming housecats
- Scrabulous
- the makeover episode of America's Next Top Model
- a sleepover in Washington Heights
- learning that Myla Goldberg and Michael Cunningham are both teaching in the MFA fiction program at Brooklyn College
- Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton, a badly titled movie that's nonetheless worth seeing, if you like dark, gritty, gripping sorts of things
- The prospect of Persepolis soon
- ETA: agreeing to look stupid on camera for the internets.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

fallacy time!

Ruth Marcus at the Washington Post tries to be evenhanded in the initial paragraphs of this op-ed before coming clean on what she really thinks of Justice Thomas. A noble enough effort, I guess, but why waste space on this silliness?
Thomas v. Hill is one of those questions destined to remain disputed -- Did Al Gore actually win the presidency? Was the intelligence manipulated to mislead us into Iraq? The conundrum of Thomas-Hill is the continuing forcefulness of their conflicting assertions about what happened when he was a Reagan administration official and she a young lawyer working for him.

If Thomas did what Hill claims, how to understand his undimmed anger, his absolute denials, his willingness to pick the scab anew? If he didn't, how to understand her motive for lying -- and her summoning such unlikely details as pubic hairs on Coke cans?
This is your Gordian knot, Ms. Marcus? Allow me.

a) No.
b) Yes.
c) I refer you to Dotty P.:
If they whisper false of you
Never trouble to deny
If the words they say be true
Weep and storm and swear they lie.

This reminds of this one time in high school that an annoying boy, SM, spread a rumor about me. It wasn't terribly malicious, I guess, but it seemed at the time like the worst thing that could be said, and what really killed me, what really made this unforgettable, was that it was TRUE. & there was no way he could have known!

I went rather nuts, wailing to the heavens, and the gods avenged me, in a way: a couple years later, a popular friend of mine, C., discovered that SM wanted into his clique. C. demanded, as the price of entry, that SM apologize to me for the humiliation and find some way to make it up to me. This put me in the rather awkward position of having to tell SM it was all forgiven; however, the humbling of SM did come accompanied by a mix tape he made for me which introduced me to Ben Folds Five, Bob Dylan, and Simon and Garfunkel. My affinity for his music endured, though the friendship we tried to strike up was pretty much DOA.

Through the grapevine (you know, Facebook), I found out that SM, hairline receding fast, got married within about a week of me. C., who I haven't spoken to in months, is featured prominently in the pictures. I guess life will only get stranger as it goes on.

Monday, October 01, 2007

i've been bobbed!

What an amazing day. Right before I got into the subway on my way to work, I saw John Malkovich exit his trailer and saunter down the street towards the set by my apartment where the Coen brothers are shooting their next movie, Burn After Reading. Mr. Ben had seen JM *and* Tilda Swinton (Cate Blanchett for film cultists) but this was my first sighting.

At 10:30 I left my office for my free haircut at Bumble n Bumble. I'd been recruited for it last Thursday when a very gay young man approached me in Union Square and gushed, "I love your hair! Can I cut it?" He wanted me to be his hair model. Seriously, say "model" to me, and, like Carrie Bradshaw, I'll do anything.

So, under the supervision of a curl expert, I got bobbed. With a razor, no less! It's all light and bouncy. It's going to go great with my new chili red coat, once I work up the courage to wear it.

On my way home, I noticed a crowd on the sidewalk facing the townhouse where the Coens have been shooting. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I joined the gawkers, where I got to overhear several of the dumbest college students in the city:
Stupid Girl: Say 'Would you like some tea and crumpets?'!
South African Girl, in a flat voice: Would you like some tea and crumpets?
Stupid Girl: Ha ha hahahaha, awesome!

and, later:

Stupid Girl 2: So, like, where you live, are there cities and stuff?
South African Girl: Yeah, I mean, of course. I'm from Capetown, which is a city ...
SG 2: And there's, like, bush? Are there, like, wild animals roaming around everywhere?
SAG: Not, like, "roaming" ...
Then, Brad Pitt emerged from the townhouse, waved to everyone, and got into a waiting black Escalade. I SAW BRAD PITT. The girls squeed; paparazzi snapped pictures; I grinned, almost jumping for joy.

My list of celebrity sightings is pretty fuckin awesome at the moment but as short on women as a typical New Yorker TOC:

- Paul Giamatti
- Gabriel Byrne
- James Gandolfini
- Michael Imperioli
- Steve Schirripa ("Bobby" on the Sopranos)
- John Malkovich
- Brad Pitt

I'm never leaving New York.

Friday, September 28, 2007

the non-spiritual side

Courtesy of Slate, our favoritest former president, Richard Milhouse Nixon, on the chosen people, on July 3, 1971:
Nixon: Now, point: [Fred] Malek is not Jewish.

Haldeman: No.

Nixon: All right, I want a look at any sensitive areas around where Jews are involved, Bob. See, the Jews are all through the government, and we have got to get in those areas. We've got to get a man in charge who is not Jewish to control the Jewish … do you understand?

Haldeman: I sure do.

Nixon: The government is full of Jews. Second, most Jews are disloyal. You know what I mean? You have a [White House Counsel Leonard] Garment and a [National Security Adviser Henry] Kissinger and, frankly, a [White House speechwriter William] Safire, and, by God, they're exceptions. But Bob, generally speaking, you can't trust the bastards. They turn on you. Am I wrong or right?

Haldeman: Their whole orientation is against you. In this administration, anyway. And they are smart. They have the ability to do what they want to do—which—is to hurt us.
And then on July 24:
Nixon: One other thing I want to know. Colson made an interesting study of the BLS crew. He found out of the 21—you remember he said last time—16 were Democrats. No, he told me in the car, 16 were registered Democrats, one was a registered Republican [inaudible] well, there may have been 23. And four were Declined to States. Now that doesn't surprise me in BLS. The point that he did not get into that I want to know, Bob, how many were Jews? Out of the 23 in the BLS, would you get me that?

Haldeman: [White House deputy assistant] Alex [Butterfield] is getting it.

Nixon: There's a Jewish cabal, you know, running through this, working with people like [Federal Reserve Chairman Arthur F.] Burns and the rest. And they all—they all only talk to Jews. Now, but there it is. But there's the BLS staff. Now how the hell do you ever expect us to get anything from that staff, the raw data, let alone what the poor guys have to say [inaudible] that isn't gonna be loaded against us? You understand?

Haldeman: Is Alex working on that?

Ehrlichman: Malek.

Nixon: Oh, Malek is. Oh.

Unidentified Person: [whispering] I'll get this to you today.
Well, tricky Dick gets three points for using the word "cabal" correctly. Malek gets ten points for coordinating the anti-cabal effort then and now being the national finance co-chair of John McCain's campaign. And I get fifteen points for holding in my vomit.

I know this is a relic -- well, I'm 90% sure. But it never ceases to amaze me that smart people, people in power, had these entrenched ideas about Jews. Mr. Ben's mother, my MIL I guess I should say if I can do so without fainting, recommended an excellent novel to me recently, Mary McCarthy's The Group, a very realistic, detailed, absoring look at eight Vassar women who graduate in the early '30s and go on to lead very different lives, mostly in New York City.

McCarthy presents the women's opinions about everything from shacking up with men to Stalin vs. Trotsky to breastfeeding and toilet-training with a matter-of-factness that never betrays how she herself feels about a subject. Which is great, most of the time, and unsettling when every woman's attitude about Jews ranges from distantly tolerant to politely hostile.

I don't know why I was surprised. I remember how disappointed I was reading Virginia Woolf's diaries -- she *married* a Jew and yet couldn't get over her genteel dislike of the people as a whole. I know how powered by anti-semitism the America First movement of the early war years was, and how Roosevelt's hands essentially were tied by it. And yet. I always expect better from this country -- or maybe it's more honest, if scandalous, to say, from educated people. Ugh & ugh again.

On the brighter side of things, Mr. Ben and I are going to the Vendy Awards tomorrow, a fantastic only-in-NYC kind of event that he helped pioneer when he worked for the Street Vendor Project. Tickets are a little steep, but food is included, and the experience (I hear) is not to be missed. Come support street food! I didn't know how much I loved it til I got to Japan and it was (almost) nowhere to be found.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

mulled whine

As befits a High Holiday Season in which Mr. Ben and I missed the lead off holiday, we had a pretty mild Yom Kippur. It's a bit like starting a play with Act 2. Still, you go to synagogue on Yom Kippur; you recite the somber, haunting "who will live and who will die" litany with everyone else; you practice repenting farther, repenting faster. It's just what you do.

Mr. Ben, serious young man that he is, pestered me with questions about why we do these things. I looked at him, kind of baffled. I can explain why the rabbis suggest we do Crazy Religious Custom X, Y, or Z but not why I do anything except "my family always did it while I was growing up."

And apparently I give off an air of seriousness about religion that I don't intend. This is perhaps how I earned the unfair nickname "Superjew" freshman year of college. Friday night at the big fat gay synagogue Kol Nidre service we attended in the Jacob Javits center, Mr. Ben's friend leaned over and said admiringly, "I see you know the Amidah." Well yes, yes I do. We became well acquainted over the 13 years that I had to recite the damn thing every morning. But I never mean to give the impression that just cuz I know the prayers, I know how a person is supposed to feel while reciting them.

For all intents and purposes, I have no spiritual self. I realized that when Tara Leigh begged me to adopt some label, any label, so that she could explain me in her book. Religion is fascinating. I love learning about it, I love talking about it (except when crazy comes to town). It's so important to me that I would never describe myself as secular -- I think that's an insult. Where does this leave me, not to mention poor Tara Leigh whose pencil, so to speak, is still poised as she waits for an answer?

Meanwhile another year starts. The idea that an authority in the sky has decided who will perish by fire and who by wild animal and who by cancer and who by hurricane is, hopefully, a metaphorical one. I really truly am going to try to let go of grudges this year, to stop telling the stories that bring the hurt swirling to the surface. I'm going to try to be more generous, more patient, less judgmental. I'm going to do yoga again. I'm going to finish revising Draft II of my book. I'm going to figure out what it means (to me) to be married. I'm going to practice de-escalating conflict. I am going to buy clothes that fit and only clothes that fit. I am not going to be afraid.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


honeymoon photos up on flickr!

the peace, or, if you prefer, verizon signs ben is making here are an imitation of what every japanese kid must do when being photographed. like so many other things about that fascinating island (the cat with the waving arm? what is THAT about?), it's a mystery.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

in temple(s)

This is very strange. When was the last time I spent the New Year abroad? I've cobbled together seders in Moscow & rummaged for pesadika food in Copenhagen but I can't remember when I've ever not been in synagogue for Rosh Hashanah. It's funny, too, cuz Mr. Ben & I did spend the morning in temples: Buddhist temples, huge ornate buildings well-situated among ancient trees. The sound of rushing water everywhere reminds me at the very least I ought to tear up some bread and watch it be carried away. Bread being one thing the Japanese haven't figured out at all -- they have one variety, whiter than Wonder --, that would be no loss.

We only have a few more days here, the rest of today in Nikko and then two more days in Tokyo. We got here yesterday having completed our whirlwind weeklong tour of Hokkaido, a huge Northern island that's essentially the Canada of Japan, not densely populated (comparatively) and full of natural beauty. We are in fact chock full of natural beauty, having been up and down mountains, around lakes, fruit picking in orchards, driving through the rolling hills of endless countryside, and surveying the ocean from rocky cliffs.

Despite the eager rain, which has followed us around and led to two headcolds, and thus much nose-blowing of which we hear the Japanese disapprove (oops), we've managed to thoroughly enjoy ourselves. The food can be fantastic. It can also be a salty & mediocre but mostly we've been really lucky. The night before last, to bid farewell to the rural, chilly, soggy, lovely, fish-friendly north, we feasted, for only the second time this trip, on Serious Sushi, and we nearly passed out from how good it was.

There isn't too much English up in Hokkaido; back on the mainland it's a shock to see words I can read again (though I've come to be able to recognize certain Japanese words, very important words, like 'Ramen' and 'Karoke' and 'Entrance' and 'Exit' and 'Food'). To break up the monotony of isolation, we met up with an English-speaking university student in Sapporo who took us around by car with two friends of hers and showed us an amazing, off-the-guidebook time that included a hidden onsen -- we bathed outside naked in the rain, the steam rising off of us in sheets.

Otherwise, we've been entertaining ourselves, reading aloud to each other and making lists of things to do to make Japanese women die a slow, convulsive death in front of you: 1. Ask them how they are. 2. Tell them they speak English well. 3. Compliment them in any way. 4. Ask them for a recommendation.

Genderwise, this country seems to be stuck in 1962, though technologically it's 2013. Women, by law, it seems, must wear heels and skirts; they tend to look glamorous in a low-key, well-kept way. The trend is to wear three-quarters length black leggings, and thus, they all wear three-quarter length black leggings if they're not in uniform.

The men somehow morph from being androgynous skinny punks to suit-wearing automotons, though when this transformation happens is hard to pinpoint.

Generally, people are extraordinarily polite -- even, or especially, when they're being unhelpful. They must always have the last word by ending an exchange with 'Thank you, respected persons!' No matter how many times they've already chimed it, if you so much as breathe in their direction they will say it again. Best to be silent and smile and go away, or they'll waste their whole day bowing and saying goodbye.

I will definitely miss it here.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

ueno is bueno but sapporo is supero!

(x-posted from lj)

!!!JAPAN!!! -- that's what it's like here. lots of exclamation points, neon ones, surrounded by others, and katakana that it takes forever to decode and turns out to mean 'karaoke.' Karaoke is the one word I can definitely recognize at this point. we have not tried it yet BUT we have gotten some amazing things done:

1) talked to other foreigners. everywhere, all the time. we have no compunctions about striking up conversations with strangers.

2) the fish market! imagine Reading Terminal Market except three times as big and ten times as confusing, filled with fish carcasses and men with swords and other men smoking cigarettes while racing around on motorized carts and everywhere buckets of smaller fish that aren't quite dead yet and are thrashing about in a pathetic way. our first morning here we woke up at 5:30 and decided to make the most of it, so we got to see the market in all its wet, bloody glory.

3) fresh sushi for breakfast, post-fish market. this was one of those unforgettable experiences that we just stumbled on, having left the fish market. we saw a line and we queued up, figuring why not? and indeed, we were not disappointed. a chef served us sushi like we'd never had before, sushi that was only Mostly Dead, sushi from his hands to our mouths, sushi that it turned out cost $70 (7000 yen total) which was a problem when it came time to pay because we only had $28, or 3000 yen.

so what did we do? naturally i surrended myself and became a hostage, sitting on a stool in the corner of this tiny sushi bar, trying to be inconspicuous, as poor mr. ben raced around for an hour and twenty minutes trying to find an ATM that took international credit cards. not in japan 24 hours and we already created our own video game!

eventually i was redeemed. it was great.

4) walked. walked walked walked and walked some more. my legs are tired all the way up to my hips. the day before yesterday when mr. ben and i both reached that stage we took a break and got cheap tickets to watch one act of traditional kabuki. because this is how we relax.

5) bought tickets to a japanese baseball game! for someone who is utterly uninterested in sports, i am totomo excited for this-des. that means, I cannot wait.

6) shrines, temples, park with huge lake covered in lotus taller than i am.

7) noticed that japanese women do not wear bright colors. really! no red.

mr. ben and i have now landed in sapporo in the blessedly quieter northern region of the country where, we can only hope, the food will not be quite as salty.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

my honeymoon so far

Who knew there would be so much rejection involved?:
Dear sir
It is no room, sorry.
thank you
kikuya ryokan

Dear Sir/Madam Ester
Thank you for your mail.
I am afraid that we have no vacancy for Sep 5 - Sep 6 at all.
Thanks and regards
Nakamuraya Ryokan

Dear & Hello Ester,
Thank you very much for your e-mail inquiry.

Although, we regret to inform you that Taito Ryokan is fully booked out for the nights you have requested. ... In a meantime, please have a wonderful day and wish you fulfill your journey in the rising sun country.

Faithfully yours and Sayonara,
Satoshi / Kenichi at Taito Ryokan

We were very happy to receive your e-mail for reservation as below, but to
our great regret
We are very sorry to say but your requested days,we are all of
the rooms fully booked.
We hope that we may be of service to you in the future.

Annex Katsutaro Ryokan

Dear Sir ,
Thank you for your inquiry .
We are terribly sorry that we are full of reservation
on 5th and 6th sep 2007 .
If you have a chance to go to Sapporo ,
please request our hotel again .
Regards ,
Hotel Sapporo Met's
A veritable sampler of disappointment. But! This is what we get for planning so late. There are some bright spots on the horizon:
Now there are no twin room available on September 6.
We prepare for domitry room.
But it change for the twin room if anyone cancel.
We can prepare for twin room on September 5.
Honeymoon in a twin bed! Well, it's a start.

Then there's the poetry of the process:
To: Dear Ms.ester

We are very welcome to your visit in Tokyo.
Thank you very much for your reservation e-mail .
We can accommodate you in Annex Katsutaro(NIPPORI).
If you are satisfied with this accommodation. Please notify.
We believe our Japanese style inn is comfortable and quite in Tokyo

We are delighted to confirm your reservation as follows:
You are requested to send back the confirmation by 29th August 2007 .
In the case when the confirmation is not received by the designated
date, your reservation is not received by the designated date, your
reservation is to become invalid.
The place I was most excited about, a hostel called Potato in a little artisty town called Biei near a fantastic-looking national park, Daisetsuzan, CAN accomodate us in a full-size bed (whahoo!) as can a somewhat-generic but reasonably priced and well-situation small hotel in Tokyo. So we're making progress, step by step, through the minefield of exceedingly polite rejections. Look what we're heading towards and tell me it's not worth it.

We are not, however, making excellent progress on spending our 100 Frivolous Dollars. Mr. Ben's Uncle gave us this cash with the stipulation that we NOT merely bank it, but blow it on jello shots or bubblegum or the like. Originally we planned on riding it to Splish Splash!, the wateriest water park around, but when that fell through, all we managed to do was have brunch (frivolous for Mr. Ben only). Perhaps we'll find opportunities near the Potato Hostel ...

Sunday, August 19, 2007

fifty years ago, or, yesterday

Standing in the wedding aisle of the Hallmark Gold Crown Store for People who Love Porcelain Figurines and are Suspicious of Imagination Saturday morning, Mr. Ben and I tried to figure out what card to bring along to the celebration we were headed to. Friend wedding, fireman wedding, former Catholic priest wedding ...

"Where," I grumbled, "is the Unofficial Step-Sister-in-Law section?"

The card was for Lizzie, the daughter of the man Mr. Ben's mom has been with for over a decade. She and her three brothers and Mr. Ben are all basically the same age. Lizzie got married the weekend after we did -- awkward enough timing that Mr. Ben and I couldn't go. We could, however, make it up to her and that side of the family by attending Celebration #2 in the Catskills, hosted by Lizzie's grandparents for their friends.

We ended up grabbing a blank card with a picture of children pawing at each other on the front, which was really the only respectable choice.

The lakeside community where Lizzie's grandparents live half the year is only about 90 minutes north of New York City but oh, my friends, it is a different WORLD. The party was held in the upstairs room of the synagogue, the kind usually used for the kiddush after Shabbes services; upon entering, we discovered it filled with 90 senior citizens, Lizzie's grandparents' closest friends, all of whom migrate north for summer and south to the same communities in Florida for winter.

At first the party felt pretty low-key. Us kids (the under-40 set) huddled at either ends of the main table, eating potato chips and, once they emerged, cold cuts off of large platters, while the spry oldsters danced to the musical stylings of Hy on the saxophone and another tired-looking fellow on a synthesizer. By 9:30, we were beginning to yawn and wondering privately why we'd been told this event would go til midnight.

Then -- oh, mercy, THEN. A synagogue rep got up to introduce the evening's "entertainment," a woman named Ricki who bounded forward. The room buzzed with excitement; the kids' corners buzzed with confusion. Was it possible that the dumpy middle-aged Israeli lady in the synthetic, BeDazzled bell-bottoms and the mullet was going to sing for us?

"Hello, hello, hello!" she crooned, taking the mike and launching into an extraordinary rendition of the "Itsy-Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini." Although she possessed about as much sex appeal as my 9th grade Hebrew teacher, she moved her hips like she was channeling a slow-motion Elvis. Step, step, thrust, thrust, step, thrust, her chained glasses bouncing against her bosom. Mr. Ben and I watched in horror as, to illustrate the song, she described her own bikini line in the air, first on one side, then the other.

Ten minutes later, Ricki had butchered several other standards, including "Non, Je Ne Regret Rien" in the original French, and she had chided guests for getting up and dancing before being invited to. Now, the still-hostile Ricki declared, she was ready for people to dance, starting with the bridge and groom. "Where are Lisa and Greg?" she bellowed. "Come up to here! I need Lisa and Greg!"

Lizzie, being a trooper, went up grinning with her new husband, intended to whisper her correct name. Ricki didn't give her a chance, either then or after. She took us all back to the glory days of the Borscht Belt with stand up routines made out of bad puns and Jewish jokes. She made us form a congo line (headed by "Lisa," of course). She reintroduced us to the Electric Slide. "Unchained Melody," "Runaround Sue," "Besame Mucho," and "I Will Survive" all withered and died under the hot sun of her attention. And not ONE of her jokes was funny.

In essence, it was our anti-wedding, cheesier even than any bar mitzvah I can remember, and so thoroughly memorable that had Ricki been GOOD she couldn't have made the party better. Finally at 11:30, as she was trying to teach Holocaust survivors how to line dance, we slipped out.

We had a great time laughing and doing the Hora and not being the center of attention, although we did have to accept some secondary congratulations for having recently been wed. "So!" boomed out Felix, Mr. Ben's unofficial step-grandpa. "How does it feel to be Mr. and Mrs. [Ben's last name]?"

"We aren't, at the moment," said Mr. Ben. Then, responding to the confusion on the good man's face, he hurriedly explained, "I mean, we're still married, but Ester's kept her name. She's Mrs. [Ester's last name]. I mean, Ms.!"

This was not the answer Felix was expecting. Three hours later, he tracked me down and asked me again, "So! Mrs. [Ben's last name], how do you feel?" I answered correctly, grinning: "Great."

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

more wedding pictures on flickr

in line to enter grove
Originally uploaded by shorterstory.
I swear I'll get over this wedding thing soon. In the meantime, more pictures here!

However, I can, simultaneously, think about other things, like why I'll live longer by staying in New York as long as possible and whether Karl Rove's bizarrely sudden, though long-awaited departure has some hidden shotgun behind it, held perhaps by P. Fitzgerald. And: where should Mr. Ben and I go in Japan now that we're not limited by the prospect of crushing early August heat? In early- to mid-September, everything's balmy and welcoming ("yokoso!").

Thursday, August 09, 2007

okay, *now* i'm ready

Having been thoroughly inspired by other retellings of the magical weekend, and having had my head finally settled back on my shoulders and with its hearing restored, I'm ready. Are you ready? It's time to hit the highlights!

PRE-WEDDING (thru Thurs.)
My office surprised me with Tiffany candlesticks in addition to the department lunch in my honor, which Mr. Ben got to attend. I was overwhelmed -- I couldn't believe I was lucky enough to have such a wonderful boss and to be surrounded by such sweet, smart co-workers. And funny, too. Said coworkers all signed cards, wishing me good luck. The best message came from N., a young editor and one of the few straight men around. "Dear Ester," it read, "May your first child be a masculine child."

I had to see the immortal Dr. L., also, for a refill of my rx. for adulthood. Though the office visit was quick and dirty, of course I still owed the $40 co-pay. Feeling a bit frisky, I asked, as I passed over the cash, "How is this different than a drug deal?" Dr. L. laughed. "Ha ha ha!" he said. "Ha ha! -- But seriously, drug dealers don't care about your health."

Down in DC, I woke up early, met two of my 'maidz, and, for the first time in my life, visited the Mikvah. Ritual bathing -- i.e., skinny dipping for the Lord -- was not something I had really looked forward to, but it turned out to be one of the most moving parts of the weekend. The Mikvah Lady was calm and easy-going; being in the quiet water was strangely comforting; and the walk through the synagogue past where I had gone to nursery school lo these many years ago was a nice little bit of sentiment to start me off right.

A flurry of more secular spa treatments followed and then a huge Shabbes dinner for both sides of the newly blended family. People began to tell me I looked different. I wondered if it was true.

Step 2 on our Path to a Jewish Wedding was an aufruf at my family's synagogue. It felt a bit funny to me to be observing all these religious customs when basically I don't practice in my real life. But when Mr. Ben and I got up to the Torah and read the blessing and were greeted with a rousing chorus of "Siman Tov en Mazel Tov!" twice over, the joy of it felt right. Community -- that's what religion is for.

Once everyone recovered from the Rehearsal outside in the 97 degree heat, Mr. Ben's father (Dr. Mr. Ben?) threw a rousing rehearsal dinner at an Indian restaurant; my mother countered by throwing a rousing dinner/dessert shindig back at the apartment for all out of town guests. Being the bride, I was passed from person to person, smiling, greeting, thanking, laughing. Before long, all that rousing left me giddy but woozy and it was up to my 'maidz to take me upstairs, figure out how to remove my jewelry, and then unhook my corset and let me fall out of it to sleep.

Hair! Makeup! Get ready! Put the now-adorned corset back on (with help from the 'maidz)! Breathe deep! Don't smudge anything! Look up and realize, holy shit, it's going to rain.

It won't rain, said my mother, looking ravishing. Don't worry.

Once at Woodend and into my dress, I became a Bride. Cameras bloomed everywhere, cameras at every angle. Smile! Smile! I am an adult and can handle whatever comes along, especially when I've found the right chemical balance.

Outside (photographers trailing) I met up with Mr. Ben for the first time, all tuxedo-ed up. He looked fantastic. Walk a little way into that prettyish wilderness, instructed the photographer. We obliged and on the way, as cameras snapped behind us, Mr. Ben whispered, "Wanna hear something that'll freak you out?"

He'd forgotten his tuxedo jacket in New York. Luckily his best man had given him the coat of his back -- and more luckily, they're roughly the same size. Just don't tell my mother, I whispered.

Smile! Smile!

Back inside, we waited almost an hour for the rabbi to come sign the Ketubah. My little brother, the problem solver & sometime pirate, called him at home to hurry him along; and when he heard that Mr. Ben had (oops!) also forgotten his tallit to wear to the ceremony, he hopped over to the synagogue and nipped one out of the sanctuary, setting off alarms but not staying to get caught. And it was his birthday! Way to go, bro.

The rabbi arrived at last. The ink from our signing our lives away had hardly dried before the wedding planner started whisking everyone toward the grove. A light mist kept everyone cool, including some deer, who wandered up to watch as I joined my 'maidz, my family, and Mr. Ben looking magnificent in his borrowed finery under the chuppah.

After the exchange of rings and sips of wine, Mr. Ben broke the glass with real verve and we kissed and there were butterflies (real ones!) and to yet another round of "Siman Tov en Mazel Tov!" we were off, hand in hand, to the main house for a few minutes in private before the party.

And oh, then, WHAT a party it was. People everywhere, and food, and beautiful toasts (my older brother, polished and funny as always, gave about six of them), gorgeous tropical flowers, and a multi-colored cake that looked like a tower of presents, and music! The band played on and on and everyone danced until they were exhausted and beyond, and there was a Hora like nothing I'd ever experienced -- a whirling dervish of a Hora that just got madder and madder as guests ran in circles, singing their hearts out, grabbing each others' hands, lifting us up on chairs ... If, when the music medley finally stopped, everyone had fallen down on the ground a la "the Time Warp" I would not have been the least bit surprised.

And the best part was my father, chemo'ed and running on borrowed blood cells, Hora-ing right along with the rest. He didn't faint; he didn't so much as trip. He danced at my wedding.

We couldn't stop dancing even when the band took a well-deserved break because the best man put on 69 Love Songs. People I loved from across the country, some of whom I hadn't seen in years, bopped along to "The Ugliest Guy from the Lower East Side" and "Let's Pretend We're Bunny Rabbits" and it was perfect. Just perfect. Then the band came back and one of the singers -- a buxom black woman with a great voice and a huge, rhinestone Star of David -- came out on the floor to lead us all in "I Will Survive." Because -- why? Because it's a wedding, fool! Dance!

At midnight, Mr. Ben and I were pulled reluctantly away from the shining mass of goodwill and we made it to our honeymoon suite where we were really alone for the first time in days. There, gently and painstakingly, he disassembled what the hairdresser, the makeup artist, six 'maidz, and my mother had put together, and, transformation complete, submerged the post-bride in the bathtub.

It was an amazing weekend, one I'll never forget, and I have my parents to thank for all of it -- as well as everyone who came for enjoying it so much and Mr. Ben for looking so radiantly happy. I can't believe it's over but then, I can't believe something so beautiful and transformative could have really happened.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

still not THE wedding entry

But in the meantime, please enjoy this nonsense, courtesy of the NYT:

Priceless quote: "Yet like other working-class millionaires of Silicon Valley, she harbors anxieties about her financial future."

Priceless quote: "Fat is no rutabaga" (and death I think is no parenthesis?)

Priceless quote: "Pink armbands for misdemeanors are a start. Stronger measures could be next for corruption and extrajudicial killings."

Monday, August 06, 2007


I don't have the patience to tap out a whole entry on the joystorm that was this past weekend, The Wedding, but I want to recount one story.

Sunday, at about 1:00 PM, I sat outside the salon where my hair had just been done. Now, I should explain that I had two responsibilities over the course of this weekend: to

(a) look progressively prettier, day by day, until finally my appearance could only be described in the language of the angels;

and (b) not fall down.

In service of (a), I was at the salon to have this crazy headpiece made out of pearls and fake white flowers and silver wire woven into my hair, and frankly, I was apprehensive. It had been last worn by a member of my family in the 1970s, although it also looks like it could do quite well in a regional production of Midsummer Night's Dream. Hours after I went in, I emerged from the salon, headpiece attached, make up done, as classy as I was ever going to look, and as I sat on a bench wating for my brother to pick me up, I attracted quite a lot of attention from passersby. Trouble is, when people stop and stare at you, you can't automtically tell whether it's because you look like a semitic Jackie Onassis or because you look like you wandered out of their last acid trip.

Luckily, one lady didn't just do a double-take; she actually doubled back to speak to me.

"My GAWD," she twanged, hand over heart, "you look so beautiful! You look just like I did before MY first marriage!"

And that was how I knew everything was going to be all right.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

how did we get here?

Everyone keeps telling me how calm I am, which is rather funny, because I feel hyper in a sometimes-sluggish kind of way. I wish I had something to DO -- sweaters to knit for soldiers, or a political campaign to manage (ideally one for a Person Of Cleavage). As it is, I just get to play tetherball with my anxiety and answer questions as they are sent from my sainted mother's Blackberry.

Mr. Ben's grandmother is somewhat responsible for planting notions of marriage in our heads. She visited our studio and, being at any point no more than fifteen feet from it, couldn't help but notice the double bed. So! she said, sternly, turning to me. When do you plan on making this legal?

I fended her off as best I could. However, the onslaught continued. A friend of ours proposed to a girl he'd only met four months before and, when we visited, we found him and his fiancee sparring lovingly over who got to sit in the other’s lap during dinner.

THEN a couple Mr. Ben and I knew got engaged -- we found out about it via LiveJournal. As a present in lieu of a ring, he bought her a tea set. That really hit a nerve with me, although apparently I wasn't alone. Several other college friends noted how romantic it would be to receive a tea set of their own.

Still, I tried to tuck these thoughts away. What use would a tea set be, after all, if I didn’t want the three-bedroom two-bath house in suburbia to put it in?

Mr. Ben proposed like an Irish husband, with scarcely a "Brace yourself, Bridget." I’ve had over a year to get used to the idea of being a "wife." I’m not quite there yet. I am more comfortable with the idea of being a "bride," anyway, but that’s largely because my mother has made it easy on me. And now the wedding is in five days. FIVE DAYS!

I go down to DC thursday evening after work. I just have to make it til then.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


The most amazing question I've ever seen asked of an advice colmunist comes from this week's Dear Prudence column on Slate. Viz:
Dear Prudence,
I am happy. I'm 23, and I have a wonderful life, the best husband (of three years) any woman could ask for. He is my soul mate. We crack jokes to each other, about each other, and we don't take offense. We are honest and trust each other 100 percent with everything. We have two children, 4 and 2; they are happy. We take them out, we play with them, we read to them, they are our little miracles. They are so well-behaved in every way. We are not rich, in fact, we live paycheck to paycheck. We don't have a lot of extra money, but I believe the things we really want will come in time, after paying what little debt we have left. We don't have a lot of friends, mostly because all our old ones are off doing drugs and other things we don't approve of. My husband and I come from really bad family situations, horrible divorces, abusive family members, and we have grown up less than fortunate. We made the best out of our lives so far and really look forward to our future together and with our children. Are other people this happy? Or are we just weird?

—Always Smiling
Prudence's response was perfectly fine but I'd love to have a write-in contest for the best possible answer. The pithier the better, folks, although profundity is not prohibited.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

beaten eggs

This is how I've felt lately:

Now that Mr. Ben is taking the Bar even as we SPEAK, it's even worse. I can't concentrate on anything. My joints hurt; I'm tugging at my hair like I'm nine years old again and going to CTY for the first time with the big kids. ... God, I remember how scary that was. The funny thing is of course that the fear never went away. Any time I approached a summer camp experience, even if I'd been at the very same place the year before, I worked myself into a Gordian Knot of anxiety about the unknown. Once I spent the first few days of camp in the infirmary recovering from what should have been excitement.

I'm older now! More resilient! And Xanax is my back up plan. (That's a bit like "God is my co-pilot," what?) I did manage to make gnocchi this weekend from scratch, with the help of a chipper friend, in between meals out with my two brothers and sundry male cousins. And I took my new shoes to Ditmas Park, to Chinatown, and, as a reward for them because they'd been so good, on a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. That last was a bit too much for them, or rather for me, but what is life if not one learning experience after another?

Friday, July 20, 2007

this is happening right now

Scene: Ester sits in bed, agreeably pantsless, browsing the internets. Mr. Ben, in his bright orange Ukrainian revolution t-shirt and pajama bottoms, paces and mutters, which is how he studies for the Bar.

All of a sudden, Mr. Ben stops and turns to Ester, a huge grin splitting his face. "I got it!" he cries.

Ester stares at him.

"It's a mnemonic. A great one!"

Ester, dumbfounded. He points a finger straight at her chest and announces, "DUSTPELTS!"

Nothing happens. Apparently this isn't a Harry Potter spell. But Mr. Ben looks very pleased with himself. "Wills, baby. It's all about wills."

Some minutes later, after Ester has stopped laughing, he begs, "Can I please tell you what it stands for?"

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

around the corner

In less than three weeks, I'm going to get married. Well, first I turn 25 and have lunch at Bolo, courtesy of Restaurant Week. Then I find out whether little Harry lives or dies (no nasty cheating spoilers for me). Then Mr. Ben takes the bar and either lives to tell about it or keels over from the exhaustion of constant studying, the celebratory champagne bottle his law firm sent no doubt clutched in one hand. THEN I jump the broom.

Holy shit.

Thank god for Harry Potter VII. What could be better distraction? Except, perhaps, the most amazing pair of shoes and best birthday present EVER. Writhe with jealousy over that picture. Covet, even. Go ahead, it's okay, God understands.

On Sunday, while recovering from much joyous wandering about in the sun -- to Governor's Island, at last!, among other places -- and doing chores, I rewatched all of the A&E Pride and Prejudice. Appropriate, since it's about marriage, more or less from start to finish. It's a good reminder to be grateful that marriage is an option, not something I have to do to get out of my father's house or because there's no other way to be financially secure. To further encourage myself along those lines, I've also been thinking about the gay marriage advocates out there (more power to them). If they're willing to fight as hard as they've been fighting to form a more blessed union, then there must be something to it, mustn't there? I mean, besides salad bowls.

Perhaps if gay marriage were legal I'd be calmer about getting married. The world needs more queer wives, and I'd feel better about being compared to them than to the great straight wives of history.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

it gives a lovely light

After that moment of dithering on Saturday, I decided to Go With Things. One can really only make choices and Go With them, can't one? There's no point whining about being pulled in two directions.

So! Up at 5:15 on Sunday and off to Central Park to wait in line for tickets for the last show of Romeo and Juliet, armed with a blanket, a novel, a crossword puzzle, a water bottle, morning rations, and a determined Mr. Ben. When we arrived, however, we found to our dismay that people had preceded us. Several hundred people, to be exact. Damned Manhattanites and their home court advantage! Some even showed signs of having spent the night.

It didn't seem likely that there would even be a point in waiting, but remembering that life's a journey, not a destination, or something, and it being a lovely morning, we settled in.

From 6:20 to 1:00 we guarded our place with the zealousness of gold rush prospectors. (I was Humphrey Bogart; Ben was the other guy.) A friend came with three dogs to keep us company -- and luckily she brought us breakfast, as leaving the park to acquire food is strictly prohibited by the Laws of the Line. By 1:00 we had been pre-heated to 350 degrees and well broiled and I was beginning to get irritable; just then we were all motioned onto our feet and forward, in slow-motion single-file, to the box office. At 1:45 we arrived at that hallowed spot, the Jerusalem to our Crusade, and managed to snatch two of the very last standby tickets available.

Standby tickets being, of course, no sure thing, we then had to return at 6:30 and remain rooted in place from 6:30 to 8:00 to see if we -- and the cadre of friends we had assembled -- could all get in. They kept us waiting to the very last moment and then! oh, glory be to Heaven: they handed us tickets.

All that sunshine and heat and sitting around and anxiety were worth it. The play was wonderful. Lauren Ambrose was a fantastically fidgety, physical, giddy Juliet -- you actually believed that she was 14 and moreover *understood* the world from her point of view. This was also the first time I got how smart she was, how much respect Shakespeare has for her, how true the last line is, that this is the tale of Juliet, and her Romeo.

Romeo meanwhile was also striking. The whole supporting cast was, in fact, I thought -- they deserve an apology from The New Yorker. Hilton Als apparently couldn't stand Camryn Manheim as the nurse, whereas I thought I'd never seen that character so fully realized. Als was put off by Mercutio too. He has something against actors who emote, perhaps? Those *characters* are annoying, but you can't really pin that on their portrayers. I agreed much more with the enchanted NYT review.

In any event, it was a worthwhile if exhausting day and I considered sleeping in the next morning to let myself recover a bit. In the end I didn't and it's a good thing too: I had thought I was to travel to Boston for work on Wednesday; actually I was to go Tuesday. Glad I got that straightened out! And so yesterday I had Baby's First Business Trip (TM). I kept thinking of my mother, who travelled for work a lot when I was younger, although of course I was just flying in and out of Boston, whereas she was hopping off to the Marshall Islands. Even with my numerous and lengthy flight delays, I can't match that.

Today I rewarded myself for that second worthwhile if exhausting day by seeing Harry Potter V: The Best of the Bunch So Far. Whee! I had never been so excited to be at Hogwarts, and no matter how big a dork it makes me, I can't wait to be back.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

not really a problem

Since July is the best month of the year, at least in New York, I actually have a moderately hard time with it. In a free moment, write or read? Read a beloved mystery or a new, acclaimed novel? Or the Saturday New York Times? Start the Sunday puzzle or eat some more? Eat in or brunch out? Yesterday we had excellent Korean before seeing Ratatouille. But tomorrow: camp out for Shakespeare in the Park tickets or finally get to see Governor's Island?

For the past couple hours, since extricating myself from the embrace of the Floating Pool Lady, I've wandered in my happy, happy state from one pastime to another, not committing to anything, not even clothes. I did manage to take off my bathing suit and hang it in the bathroom. Gold star!

Summer is too short. And sometimes it rains! as it did on Fourth of July (no problem: we assembled to watch Angels in America and eventually we did get to enjoy fireworks off the Promenade) and this past Thursday, on what would have been a fantastic showing of Princess Bride. We as a country need two Julys, I think. Three if you count Miranda.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

"what's an iPhone?"

My office gave us a free half day today -- to prepare us for the glories of a free day tomorrow, I imagine. I live such an exciting life that my first thought was, "Terrific! I can go to the library!"

But it's weird, you know? That the library is generally only open during work hours, and I, um, *work* during those hours. To fill my obsessive need for the library (or rather its resources) I spend a decent amount of time trolling its website and planning my Saturday mornings. But today! With my unexpected freedom, I skipped over at my convenience carrying three books to return (Handler, Eisenberg, Sayers), and skipped back, carrying three books that I found on the hold shelf with my name stamped on their spines (Vowell, Ferris, and more Sayers, cuz I can't get enough). I am not ashamed to admit I was giddy both ways. At least those writers would forgive me for my unrepentant dorkitude, unlike my brother, who rolls his eyes at me just because I occasionally use the word Accio.

In an ideal world, my job would be to read a lot of books and write some of my own, with occasional breaks to shop for shoes. My hobby would be watching movies. To serve God, I would spend time with my friends, encouraging them to read/write books and watch movies. And to disturb the monotony, I would eat excellent food.

Oh, and I'd have a dog. And a lovely apartment somewhere by Prospect Park. And though the city would be Brooklyn, the weather would be Berkeley's. Is that so much to ask?

Mr. Ben survived his bachelor weekend. I suspect he and his friends spent 48 hours and $30K at Scores, but I will not debase myself to ask. Frankly, even if they did, they could not have matched the fun my friends and I had over my bachelorette weekend: our landlord neglected to mention that the oven had a gas leak and so, in cooking our first night there, we were merrily sauteeing on the range while filling the kitchen with propane. He also neglected to mention that by, "You can boat" he meant, "If you try to boat, the neighbors, who have a restraining order against me, will try to get you to testify as witnesses in the ongoing civil suit."

No thanks to him, we really did have a lovely time. And last weekend, which I spent in DC with my parents and my grandmother doing wedding stuff and being thrilled that my father seemed much more like himself, was also productive & worthwhile. I am not really, when I think about it, too far from my ideal world. Today I also got to buy a pound of dates from Sahadi's and Mr. Ben and I get to eat them. Even Scooter "Scot Free" Libby isn't that lucky.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

my party!

my party!
Originally uploaded by shorterstory.
Look, it's my bachlorette party!

Just kidding. Actually, my bachlorette party was more like this:

my actual party
Originally uploaded by shorterstory.

Okay, okay, actually it was like this:

oh shit it's cold
Originally uploaded by shorterstory.

Up in the Catskills, where those oldest wonderfullest friends of mine took me for a weekend escape, the most risque thing I did was sleep in a super bed for debauchery. It was only afterwards, once we'd returned to the city, that we indulged in my newest favorite thing, Yolato, and everyone's all-time favorite thing, nudity.

The weekend was refreshing and nostalgic and lovely, and I've hardly had time to think about it (let alone blog) since. Too much to do! After feasting with a friend n her parents into the wee hours last night, I had to rise at 6:45 for an office day trip to Connecticut: 8+ hours on a bus for 4 hours of New England sun -- fun, but an investment in bonding that I'm not eager to repeat anytime soon.

And Friday afternoon I get back on a bus to toodle off to DC for the weekend while Mr. Ben has his bachelor fun in Philly. After that things will calm down for a bit. Or, um, until the wedding, I guess. Which is really *awfully* soon ...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

ho hum

There are things I'm supposed to be doing besides agonizing over Michael Bloomberg. It only makes me feel slightly better to realize that everyone else is agonizing too: now that he's an Independent, will he run? Will 2008 be a joke that begins, "So an Italian New Yorker (R), a WASP New Yorker (D), and a short Jewish billionaire New Yorker (I) walk into a bar. Who do you want to have a beer with? SUCK IT UP, MIDWESTERNERS: YOU HAVE TO CHOOSE"?

Personally, I'm glad Bloomie (no relation except via the Global Conspiracy) has turned all (I) on us. He was always too good for the stodgy gay-bashers and immigrant-hating Scrooges of the GOP; and now it's like he's giving those of us who like him so much license to continue without feeling dirty. You know what I like about Bloomie? Congestion pricing -- I've walked by three car accidents recently, not counting the one that nearly took down Mr. Ben's best man. Get the cars off the streets of Manhattan!

Also thanks to Bloomie: no trans fat lurking in the french fries and no smoking in the bars. He's working on schools and affordable housing and he gives off the sense that if he were running the damn 9/11 monument project the ribbon would be cut already. To me, he combines sensible "big government" policies with intelligent mad managerial skillz, and he does it without incurring the wrath of the unions or the ACLU.

Not that I would vote for him for President in 08. My eyes are not that starry. We need a big D in office, if only for the symbolism. But hang in there, Bloomie -- maybe in '12? '16?

Meanwhile, I need thoughts of '08 to distract me from August 07, which is like a giggly little kid crouching behind a door ready to jump out and yell, "Boo!" This weekend I'm going to be Bachlorette-ing with four of my oldest female friends (they knew me when I was angry and bitter!) at a lakehouse in the Catskills. It will be fantastic. We will kayak and go see waterfalls and cook food and talk about our sex lives and reminisce about how I used to be angry and bitter before I had a sex life and oops family members sometimes read this blog. Well, anyway. I'm going to be an honest woman soon, or some feminist approximation thereof.

This chicks-only getaway was one of the few concrete wedding-related things I really wanted. I am super excited. Thinking about the wedding itself makes me palpitate a little bit -- walking down an aisle? Really? How surreal. Will everyone be crying? Will I? How will I NOT be crying? -- but this trip, and the 2-week trip to Tokyo & Hokkaido that Mr. Ben and I are planning for early September, are much easier to fathom.