Tuesday, July 27, 2010

An Exciting Summer

Now that he has recovered and once again looks as pretty as Betty Draper, I can show you this. Ready? This is the Before shot. It's a little gruesome but, let's be honest, also a little bit of a turn on, am I right? Mr. Ben, post-trauma:

Aftermath of the accident

Now I can look at it without cringing (in fact I keep a copy on my iPhone, the way men used to carry photos of their spouse and kids in their wallets). At the time, I walked in the door, saw him, and burst into tears. I may have said, like Amy in "Little Women" did when Jo cut her hair, "How could you! Your one beauty!" But only for effect.

To add to the drama of this hottest-July-on-record, I went to my very first NYT-sanctioned, gay, Jewish wedding in a Friends Meeting House this past weekend. The lovely Mr. Ben scraped himself off the floor of his office, where he has been spending all of his time since he finished recovering from head trauma, to accompany me. Also lovely: hanging out with lots of Swatties in floral dresses and sneaking downstairs to play ping pong in Tarble with Little Eva.

Less lovely, and more in keeping with the themes of Summer 2010: One of the brides collapsed under the chuppah. It was about 110 degrees outside, where we had all spent a lemonade-infused cocktail hour, and the FMH, where the wedding was held, had no air-conditioning. The Quakers, bless their well-lit, self-abnegating souls, nearly had blood on their hands.

It being a Jewish wedding, about ten doctors immediately rushed forward. Everything about me was paralyzed except my heart, which sounded like a popcorn popper -- I couldn't help but remember what happened the last time I saw someone collapse at a wedding.* In this case, the bride was revived and she and her co-bride finished out the ceremony sitting on the floor hand-in-hand. They rose to stomp on one glass each to a shout of "Mazel tov!" from the very-relieved crowd.

I also chipped my toenail polish. A lesser tragedy, I guess. Could the rest of this summer manage to be a little calmer, please? Or, for your own sakes, would you all promise not to ride bikes or get married until this cloud has passed. Thank you.

*Not to give the story away but it was the priest officiating my babysitter's nuptials and he, um, died. Just like that. (He was old; I was only 10. Those sorts of things leave a mark.)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Angelina Jolie and Lisbeth Salander

This is like the third article I've seen about Angelina Jolie in Salt, in a role originally written for Tom Cruise: Angelina Jolie embodies today's action heroine, in life and on-screen. Yet again, someone manages to string together 500-or-so breathless words about Women in Action without mentioning Lisbeth Salander or her onscreen representation, Noomi Rapace.

Granted, the Swedish film version of the Milennium movies has not reached the heights of popularity scaled by Stieg Larsson's books, or at least not in America. But it struck me how much of what is true about Jolie is true about Larsson's femme fatale. For example:
Di Bonaventura compares Jolie to Steve McQueen in the way she combines her athleticism and acting ability: "Steve McQueen wasn't a big guy. She's not a big girl. He wasn't pumped up. She's not pumped up. But you believed Steve McQueen was going to kick whoever's ass it was. And you believe she can kick whoever's ass it is. And that's attitude, not physicality."
Exactly. And it's attitude that makes Lisbeth Salander one of the most compelling characters in popular literature. Cooler than Alice, hotter than Dorothy (and with no home to get back to), Salander -- antisocial, bisexual, moody, brainy, and rough around the edges -- represents an important shift of how we think about heroines, and women in general.

The fact that Americans can not only stomach a protagonist who could not be less interested in pleasing men, but, in fact, clamor for more is telling. Her popularity means that we shouldn't be so shocked that Angelina Jolie can play a Russian spy; we should be shocked when people try to give us limited and dated notions of what audiences will and won't accept.

The most-repeated anecdote about the making of Salt is that after the character Edwin became Evelyn, not much changed in the script -- except that where Edwin was supposed to save his wife and children, director Phillip Noyce made Evelyn's husband escape on his own so as not be emasculated. After he caught flak for that, Noyce claimed the original ending was changed because it was too "conventional." I think the idea that no man's pride can survive a woman's helping him is too conventional, not to mention insulting.

One of the things I love about the Millenium trilogy is that various people do the saving: No one person is the hero. Lisbeth Salander is saved, saves herself, and saves her older male lover. His balls do not fall off in shame over his having been rescued by a girl. Perhaps this is because he is Swedish, but I choose to believe it's because he is awesome.

In the same vein, anyone who is strong enough to play Angelina Jolie's husband convincingly is strong enough to withstand being rescued by her.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I'm Not Surprised

President Obama got front row seats to hear Elaine Stritch perform in his own living room. But his experience, as it turns out, was much like mine:

With Broadway at the White House, Elaine Stritch Is at Liberty (to Forget Her Lyrics) - ArtsBeat Blog - NYTimes.com

Saturday night, Mr. Ben and I saw A Little Night Music, which is a favorite of mine from way back, starring the ineffable, ageless Bernadette Peters and the ineffable but visibly aged Elaine Stritch. (Reminding me of a classic Sondheim song "I'm Still Here" about women on stage: "First you're another sloe-eyed vamp, then someone's mother, then you're camp ...")

The show was wonderful -- the chorus especially good, the music lovely -- but hilarious Ms. Stritch could not, for the life of her, remember her lines. Most of the time she covered for herself well, and a fellow in the first row prompted her when necessary. Still, at one point, I shrunk back in my seat feeling awful for her. Even if it is true that she has not seen a sunrise sober in longer than I've been alive, she is a professional, and for a professional to lose face in front of a Broadway audience must be devastating.

Worse, though, is losing face in front of a President. Even if he's gracious about it, as apparently the Obamas were. Regardless, I thought the ad placement on the NYT article about the event was unintentionally hilarious and ironic:

As was the choice of song. The words she forgot while singing in the White House? From "I'm Still Here." Though she is, of course, and thank God. I'm thrilled I got to see her live, even in somewhat fumbling form, and I'm sure the Obamas are too.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Today's WTF? moment is brought to you by ...

Apparently, in at least one paragraph of one story, I Write Like Leo Tolstoy:

I write like
Leo Tolstoy
I Write Like by M�moires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Also like Stephen King (?) and Daniel Defoe (??). Do these guys write at all like each other?

Subsequent paragraphs produced comparisons to Dan Brown (ew!), Charles Dickens (how?), and finally Kurt Vonnegut (okay, that one kind of makes sense). Do I not write like any women, or are there no women in their "famous author" database? Should I make anything of the fact that I apparently I change styles six times over the course of one piece?

Thanks to Tablet for the befuddlement.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bishops, Bishops Everywhere

The depression that gets to one after reading this article -- Abuse Took Years to Ignite Belgian Clergy Inquiry -- is at least somewhat relieved by reading this one, Church of England Paves the Way for Women Bishops. So I recommend engaging with them in that order, and then taking deep, restorative breaths.

Or avoid thinking about how religion often makes people's lives worse instead of better altogether by getting away from the computer. Go to PortSide in Red Hook, Brooklyn (near to which, on August 3rd, you can watch Jaws on the water.) Read a strikingly good book, or several.

Play pinochle. Eat something delicious. See Bernadette Peters & Elaine Stritch together on Broadway.

Plan a drunken Popsicle party in Prospect Park. See writer-who'll-change-your-world David Mitchell live at BookCourt. Watch pretty, joyous people kissing or a hot, dangerous woman kick ass.

Jon Hamm is helpful, in Mad Men and in person:
W: Rebecca, in stories earlier this year about the breakup of Sam Mendes and Kate Winslet—
Hall: Oh, you’re going to do that, are you?
W: —your name was mentioned in a way that implicated you in the breakup of their marriage. Is there any accuracy to that perception?
Hall: No.
Hamm: The reality is that I broke them up.
Hall: Jon Hamm was sleeping with Sam Mendes.
W: Wow. Does a sex tape exist?
Hamm: Does it? He directed it. It’s beautiful.
Oh Jon. You can Hamm me anytime.

At any rate, that's how I'm getting by.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Trajectory of a Weekend (and a Face)

I went down to DC for this:

And returned first thing the next morning to this:

Poor Mr. Ben finally got a break from work at some point over the weekend and he celebrated with a bike ride to Far Rockaway with a couple of friends. He made it all the way to the middle of nowhere, then flew off his bike, landed on his face, and had to be taken to a hospital.

When you have head trauma necessitating reconstructive surgery, you do not want to be in Brooklyn ("Shocking Video Shows Brooklyn Hospital's Neglect as Patient Dies in Emergency Room") in July ("A recent study found that more patients die of medical mistakes in the month of July than any other month"). Especially not on a Federal Holiday.

In many respects, Mr. Ben was very lucky. Our two friends who were with him acted as surrogate parents, amping up their concern to the level of Shirley MacClaine in Terms of Endearment as necessary, while the army surgeon called in by the hospital stitched Mr. Ben's face back together. He didn't lose any teeth or break anything except his nose.

Poor nose! It already had a Bert-ish sort of thing going on. In fact we ARE Bert & Ernie:



I mean, right? Even the initials match up.

Anyway, Mr. Ben / Bert will be recovering at our apartment for the next few days. If, like Mr. Collins, you would like to condole with him, he is there, receiving guests, flowers, and ideas for what his nose should look like once the plastic surgeon is done with it.

Friday, July 02, 2010

The Piano Man Has Been Drinking

Last night I wrote in my journal, "I'm going home this weekend." Then I stopped and stared at the page, because "home" has never been so abstract. My parents sold the house I grew up in, the house on, yes, for real, Unicorn Lane, and moved to an apartment. This was somewhat tragic for me. However, they managed to squeeze the house into the apartment so that nothing looked *that* different, and to some extent I was satisfied.

Now the house is gone and the apartment is gone. My mother's new apartment is not yet finished, so in the meantime she is shacked up with my grandma. When I go down this weekend, then, I will be stay there with them -- three generations of females under one roof with the piano I get calls about from time to time.

[Phone rings]
ME: Hi Mom!
MOM: Hi sweetie. Grandma's been worrying about the piano again.
ME: Mom, we've talked about this. I can't take the piano.
MOM: I know, I know, but --
ME: No but! We already share a small one-bedroom with two African drums, a bicycle, and a whole arboretum of chairs!*
MOM: I know, I know. ... Are you thinking of maybe buying a bigger place?

Well, regardless, to DC I go, and I guess "home" is wherever my mom is, unless she moves to Mississippi or Brazil. Oh, dear, they must be very sad in Brazil today. I am happy, however, because I am rooting for the Netherlands and Ghana. (The Netherlands because we had Dutch au pairs growing up; because they have the best airport in Europe; & because it's not their fault Anne Frank died / Ghana because a number of my friends have lived there and not all of them contracted malaria; because the players are handsome; & because of white guilt. If Ghana plays Holland I do not know what I will do.)

When I was watching the end of the game today, an African gentleman approached me and asked who won. "The Netherlands!" I said. He looked at me without understanding. "Holland?" I tried. "The Dutch?" Still nothing. Finally, I said, "Europe. Europe won." And at last he said, "Ah! Okay."

That gentleman is almost as good at sports as I am! I really only know enough to root against countries that harbored Nazis or countries I'm temporarily mad at because I've just read the devastating but extremely well-written British novel, Little Bee.

But perhaps this is obvious. Perhaps you know this about me, that I am bad at sports, the same you already know Mel Gibson is an asshole and Shalom Auslander is adorably neurotic.

*I'm not sure how it happened but in our one-bedroom, we have:

- one arm chair
- one black metal desk chair
- two white table chairs
- two blue smaller arm-chairs
- one wooden fold-up chair
- one huge wooden rocking chair.

There are so many chairs there almost isn't room for people. Still, my friends cried out for a couch, so now, on top of all that seating, there is also a couch.