Thursday, April 26, 2007

what's with today today?

I got my massage! It was pretty exciting -- only the second time in my life it's ever happened, and the first time was not terribly successful. Right after I'd been let go from my (admittedly crappy) job before Christmas 15 months ago, I decided to treat myself. Sadly, the masseuse who was to treat me was a Stalinist relic, a hardened Back-to-the-USSR type, a human tattoo who had no sympathy for my damaged emotional state.

This was our conversation.

BttU: How are you?
Me: I'm a little bummed. I just lost my job.
BttU: That's no good. What was your major in college?
Me: Film & American History.
BttU: Oh, no, that's no good -- you'll never get a job with that.

She told me her daughter majored in something practical.

[after a pause in which I tried to feel soothed]

BttU: The office where you lost your job. Was there a man there?
Me: Uh ...
BttU: I tell my daughter, when you go into an office, make friends with a man. An older man, to look out for you. Not woman. You can never trust women -- they are always jealous of young pretty girls. You need a man to look out for you.

$50 worth of free advice. Thanks, Eastern Europe.

The only other time I had something like a massage was when I visited the secret lair of the free acupressurist at Swarthmore. They had to keep her existence tightly under wraps, and by "they" of course I mean the Quaker CIA, because had it gotten out that there was a woman on campus who could do such wonders for a tense body, there would have been riots. It would have been like 1789, with Worth, the health building, as the Bastille.

The mystery woman was indeed fantastic. What was really exciting though was that in addition to blissing me out, she told me things about myself that she could tell from my shoulders. Like, I'd had a serious loss recently and the pain was keeping me from being able to fully love, and that I should get a pet to help open my heart again. And she was right! I totally need a pet. And cable TV.

Anyway, this massage -- at Lather Spa -- was wonderful. The young woman who handled me was so skillful I was half in love with her in the during, and bless her heart, she talked very little. She laughed at one point after I started laughing (because she pulled my leg! I dare you not to giggle when your leg is pulled).

And then she asked me to flip over and put my face on the griddle.
"On the griddle?" I asked.
"On the CRADLE," she said, laughing again. "Did you think we were going to bake you?"

Before I get married I'm going to go back and do it again.

Friday, April 20, 2007

femme guilt

A friend of mine is racked with insecurities that pop up every now and again about whether or not she's femme. Most recently, when she brought it up, I scolded her. Bad intellectual!, I said. Who cares if you're femme? Why must our communities -- and hers more than mine, since she's queer -- spend so much time obsessively navel-gazing over our Identities when (a) they're constantly in flux anyway; (b) half the time they're ironically put on; and (c) we can't really help what we are. Some of us have baby-faces and apple-checks and big breasts and hips and we will look femme virtually no matter what. Why feel guilty for going with it?

Later I apologized for scolding her because scolding is bad. There's no point making someone feel bad about feeling bad about something. I mean, my god, it's like entering an Escher drawing, stairway upon stairway of guilt.

Also, though, I realize I myself have a pretty complicated attitude toward femininity. I don't like to be looked at, and being looked at is sort of Girly Tenet #1. I've had two anxiety dreams about the wedding where I had to wear a big red or pink ballgown down the aisle. At first I interpreted this to be some submerged worry about chastity, but a wiser friend pointed out it actually speaks more to my fear of attention.

You can't escape attention if you're the bride. The big dress may as well be clown makeup and floppy shoes: you are the show. The three ring circus is just backdrop. No wonder I spent my first few engaged months freaking out.

Of course, as we all know:

In that spirit, I'm going to try to come to terms with the femme stuff before it explodes all over me the weekend of August 5. & what better time than during Spa Week? I soldiered bravely into the perfume-scented unknown and scheduled a discounted massage. It'll be good preparation for the subsequent weekend my mother has prepared for me, which includes makeup and hair auditions as well as dress and shoe shopping. Perhaps I will reemerge, on Monday, as Lindsay Lohan. One never knows.

Luckily, as long as there's an internet, there will be gender-neutral spaces where I can be totally comfortable, like Goodreads.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


I've been meaning to write this for a long time. You know all the fuss about Joshua Bell's unheralded rush hour performance in the DC subway system, and how everyone was gasping for days about how they couldn't believe such a travesty could take place and how it was a sign of the apocalypse, the deadening of the senses of the modern age?

Joni Mitchell wrote a song about it THIRTY YEARS AGO. It's call "For Free," it's on Ladies of the Canyon, and the most salient verse goes:
Nobody stopped to hear him
Though he played so sweet and high
They knew he had never been on their TV
So they passed his music by
Next, Gene Weingartner is going to do a sociological experiment involving Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts and is going to be clucking for hours when someone gets shot.

Monday, April 16, 2007

slow times at ridgemont high

Infrequency of posting can be blamed on Time Warner. The internet at my apartment is still out -- it's been about two weeks now -- and will be out until maybe Thursday. I think the bastards are trying to win. They won't.

Meanwhile, I have an elusive sense of how slow things are in general. A friend I hadn't talked to in a little while called me, breathless, from a subway platform for a quick update. She gave me her exciting news and then asked for mine. I had nuthin. Nothing that could be reported in a chirpy tone of voice, anyway, before the train arrived.

That's the trouble, isn't it? Not telling your friends about the bad stuff feels dishonest, but telling the bad stuff requires their time, their attention, their energy and their sympathy, even when conversations happen away from the forced constraints of commuting -- and by the way, if you haven't read that New Yorker piece on commuting, you must. Basically, it's more presumptuous to share bad news, and I am somewhat shy of it.

By the end of today, I should be able to feel better about one serious thing. Until then I need distraction, and so I loved this and recommend it, even for people who aren't crazy about R. Traister &/or Salon. It rings very true for me: Harry Potter and the Sopranos are my modern epics, serialized entertainment I could get passionate about. There is something about the time span over which both have unfurled that adds to the sentiment. I started watching The Sopranos in my old house on Unicorn Lane with my father several episodes into the First Season. I remember acutely those early Bada Bing scenes, wondering whether to avert my eyes.

Harry Potter introduced himself to me soon after, while I was in Israel with my high school class. The boy I liked, at that point, handed me his paperback copy and though I had wrinkled my nose at the phenomenon up to that point, there was something about this boy's puppydog eyes and his scruffy hair. For him, okay, I guessed I would read this sure-to-be-overrated kids book.

Now when the new volumes come out, Mr. Ben and I are first in line at little NYC bookstores to get a shared copy and stay up all night devouring it. This last volume will be my 25th birthday present and I'll probably get it to myself, since Mr. Ben will be only days from taking the bar. And then ten days later, we'll get married. Considering the presumed fragility of that future emotional state, for my sake, NOTHING better happen to Harry.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


You know what drives me crazy about this Don Imus craziness? The way everyone who in any way defends him makes sure to call him "an equal opportunity offender" (one example here).

They mean he has insulted:
(as Timothy Noah has aptly demonstrated)

Who's missing? The people in power.

How is "Don't worry, he hates EVERYONE (except people his own size)" a defense? How is it better to be an *indiscriminate* demeaning thoughtless loudmouth?

While I don't have much love for that ambulance chaser, Al Sharpton, and I don't necessarily think Imus should be removed from the air, I'd like us all to stop and agree for a moment that spreading ones hate around does not making hating better.


Any day on which Kurt Vonnegut dies is guaranteed to be sad, but the cold driving rain outside and the other bad news that keeps piling up isn't helping. Here, in Vonnegut's honor, a poem of his that appeared in the New Yorker:


True story, Word of Honor:
Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer
now dead,
and I were at a party given by a billionaire
on Shelter Island.
I said, "Joe, how does it make you feel
to know that our host only yesterday
may have made more money
than your novel 'Catch-22'
has earned in its entire history?"
And Joe said, "I've got something he can never have."
And I said, "What on earth could that be, Joe?"
And Joe said, "The knowledge that I've got enough."
Not bad! Rest in peace!

- Kurt Vonnegut

Monday, April 09, 2007

Still kicking


A nasty virus toppled me and I lay toppled about a week. One of my days off from work coincided with the first seder so at Mr. Ben's urging, I dragged myself up and made it to Washington Heights, where we did the traditional Passover thing with his family. Mr. Ben and I were called upon to lead; I did my part, hoarsely.

It was the first time I've celebrated the Endless, Breadless Holiday (TM) stateside but not with the Blooms. My family goes all out -- china, crystal, 25 people each night, a grand multi-hour event, complete with dinner. This year, they went all out without me. Luckily both my brothers were there to help ease my parents through this painful process that we call Ester Beginning to Spend Some Holidays & Important Times With the Future In-Laws.

And who is there to ease me through that process?

Nevertheless, I made it through seder, and Mr. Ben's father sent us home in a car with not too much harm done. Passover always makes me think about odd things. For example, isn't it funny that Easter -- which, of course, coincides with Passover -- is about Jesus ascending to Heaven, whereas Passover is the holiday of nothing leavened? Which is to say, for the goyim, "He is risen!" so they get to eat chocolate eggs; for the Jews, everything is by mandate flat and dry.

In addition to (clearly) lots of deep thinking, a fantastic production of Company on Broadway and the Sopranos helped me get through the week. And some generous NY hospitality afforded me access to the season premiere yesterday. Bless this city.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

the shoals of the NYT

This NYT article about how Jane Austen looked is both dumb and a complete misreading of her texts. The author -- a, you guessed it, MAN -- bumbles around for a bit at the beginning, talking about Austen must not have been pretty and how that's a problem. He goes off the cliff at the end:
We’ve watched them so often that we think we really do know what Austen’s people looked like, and the men — the good ones, anyway — are all hunks and the women are all adorable, with just a hint of gingham-gowned sexiness. That their creator might not be part of this club seems unfair. We can accept that Austen might have been a Cinderella — underappreciated, with an elusive beauty of character and intellect that maybe took a little getting used to — but the dreary spinster of the Cassandra sketch isn’t anyone we recognize.
That's WRONG. I don't need to have taken an Austen seminar to know that. Pride and Prejudice makes a big deal out of the fact that Elizabeth Bennett isn't beautiful, "not half so handsome as Jane," the family stunner. Her sister Mary is not considered worth describing; Lydia is merely cute, mostly a flirt; and Kitty is a follower.

As for the men! Bingley, to be sure, is described as "wonderfully handsome" and Darcy as having "handsome features" and "noble" bearing. But it could be argued that the whole damn point of the book is that appearances aren't objective. As soon as the crowd discovers Darcy has more money than Bingley, they declare him far better looking. Yet he's still an ass.

Here's the famous passage dear Mr. McGrath should have consulted before blithely going on his Week in Review way:
``Come, Darcy,'' said he, ``I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance.''

``I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with.''

``I would not be so fastidious as you are,'' cried Bingley, ``for a kingdom! Upon my honour I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life, as I have this evening; and there are several of them, you see, uncommonly pretty.''

``You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room,'' said Mr. Darcy, looking at the eldest Miss Bennet.

``Oh! she is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you.''

``Which do you mean?'' and turning round, he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, ``She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.''
Very pretty, very agreeable, says the nice guy; tolerable, retorts the more fastidious. By the end of the book, of course, Darcy has remarked that that "tolerable" woman has grown on him. Voici:
``I remember, when we first knew her in Hertfordshire, how amazed we all were to find that she was a reputed beauty; and I particularly recollect your saying one night, after they had been dining at Netherfield, "She a beauty! -- I should as soon call her mother a wit." But afterwards she seemed to improve on you, and I believe you thought her rather pretty at one time.''

``Yes,'' replied Darcy, who could contain himself no longer, ``but that was only when I first knew her, for it is many months since I have considered her as one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance.''
Ooh, snap! (I love that scene.)

In Sense and Sensibility, all three Dashwood daughters are at least relatively good looking, it is assumed, but in Austen's descriptions of them at the beginning, their appearances aren't even mentioned. Marianne, the more romantic daughter, of course falls for a dashing and ultimately worthless Willoughby. Later, following more sober counsel, she ends up with the good-hearted but old, plain Colonel Brandon. Elinor, by contrast, wiser to begin with, falls for the good-hearted and not sparkling Edward Ferrars. Here is how he is described:
Edward Ferrars was not recommended to their good opinion by any peculiar graces of person or address. He was not handsome, and his manners required intimacy to make them pleasing. He was too diffident to do justice to himself; but when his natural shyness was overcome, his behaviour gave every indication of an open, affectionate heart. His understanding was good, and his education had given it solid improvement.
Now, does that say hunk to you? No. Willoughby is the hunk and he turns out to be a paper doll of a man.

On the basis of this evidence, I suggest to you, Jane Austen did not like hunks, nor did she entirely trust beauty. She understood, as many of us have come to (and as my brother will, eventually,) that the hottest girls are very often the bat-shit crazy ones and that the hunks are often arrogant fools. To judge a woman, an author, by such shallow measures -- calling her "plain," "homely," even "dreary" (!) -- and saying that that must disappoint her readers -- is insulting in its shallowness to her AND us.

Maybe if Austen had been a beauty queen, she would have been married at 15 and never written a word. Would that be better for anyone? Maybe if Fran Lebowitz, Roseanne Barr, Margaret Cho, Eddie Izzard, and Woody Allen had been captains of sports teams instead of social outsiders who were no doubt made fun of as children, they wouldn't have needed to cultivate the talent that has made them such priceless entertainers. If I do believe in a God, it's one who has consciously given us, fair or not, people who range from hideous to Lohan, and all for a reason: nerdy types (to disappear into labs and invent things), malcontents (who forge revolutions), the weird (who write poems) and the wacky (who paint). And the Simpsons and Spears for the schadenfreude.

In P&P, what recommends Bingley ultimately isn't his face, it's his character, and what recommends Darcy ultimately is that he's willing to admit he was wrong, that a person can learn to see a kind of beauty -- whether entirely inner or merely subtle -- they originally overlooked. I would like to hear that Mr. McGrath has learned a similar lesson. But since he seems to be very much a product of our Good = Beauty, Bad = Ugly society with its starkly mistaken and unsubtle ideas of what makes women worthwhile, I'm not holding my breath.