Sunday, August 15, 2010

Notes on 'Meh'

See, I wasn't wasting my life watching all those episodes of "The Simpsons".

This was fun to write.

NYRB Classic Review #1: "A Way of Life Like Any Other" by Darcy O'Brien

If you know me, you know I love the books from the New York Review Books press. They are, for the most part, wonderful books gone out of print, books never before translated into English and, in general: Nearly Lost Classics.

I love the clean, sharp, consistent cover design, clear font and that they are all around the same price. And no hardcovers. I hate hardcover books.

For every ten NYRB books I've read, there have only been a few I haven't totally gone nuts for. I can truly say that of all of the books that have moved me in the last 5 years, 80 percent of them have been NYRB press books. I'm not shilling for them, I swear.

Therefore I am going to attempt to read and review all the of books that the press has put out. This is quite a challenge because there are quite a few. But I will review the books I've already read and offer some background if I can.

# 1 - "A Way of Life Like Any Other" by Darcy O'Brien

I found this book in 2002, when Coliseum Books on 57th St. was closing. They didn't have much merchandise left but I spotted this and decided to judge the book by its cover. I've always been attracted to book covers with swimming pools on them.

I read it in one sitting and then re-read it and then pronounced it my favorite book of all time.

I'll supply the NYRB synopsis:

"The hero of Darcy O’Brien’s A Way of Life, Like Any Other is a child of Hollywood, and once his life was a glittery dream. His father starred in Westerns. His mother was a goddess of the silver screen. The family enjoyed the high life on their estate, Casa Fiesta. But his parents’ careers have crashed since then, and their marriage has broken up too.

Lovesick and sex-crazed, the mother sets out on an intercontinental quest for the right—or wrong—man, while her mild-mannered but manipulative former husband clings to his memories in California. And their teenage son? How he struggles both to keep faith with his family and to get by himself, and what in the end he must do to break free, makes for a classic coming-of-age story."

O'Brien coyly denied that this extremely funny and sharp book is based on his own life. His own father, silent film star George O'Brien, appeared in countless Westerns, working with F.W. Murnau, John Ford and countless other. O'Brien's mother was the film and stage star Marguerite Churchill.

The details about high and low life in Hollywood are perfection: The ludicrous parties, the heart attacks, the deals, the anti-Semitism and the big Jewish money, the gambling, the boredom, the beauty, the sex, the melodrama, the dwindling fan mail... O'Brien nails it all. It's also about loss: Loss of money, loss of prestige, loss of fame, loss of family, loss of innocence, loss of faith.

I will give you the first paragraph:

"I would not change the beginning for anything. I had an electric car, a starched white nanny, a pony, a bed modeled after that of Napoleon's son, and I was baptized by the Archbishop of the dioscese. I wore hats and sucked on a little pipe. I was the darling of the ranch, pleasing everyone. One day I was sunning myself on the patio, lying on the yellow and blue tiles, when a bee stung me on my bare fanny. The response to my screams was wonderful. Servants everywhere, my mother giving orders. Don Enrique applied an old Indian remedy and my father took me down to the beach to let the salt water do its work. Oh, what a world it was! Was there ever an ass so pampered as mine?"

Many will draw comparisons to Nathaniel West's "The Day of the Locust" but only because both novels take place in Hollywood and have angry dwarves in them. But I like O'Brien's much better.

L.A. residents take note: If the cover art looks familiar, it's because it hangs in the cafe in Fred Segal in West Hollywood. I saw it with my own eyes and was filled with joy.

It was the perfect cover for this fantastic book: Bright, sunny and absurd.

For more on Darcy O'Brien's varied and too brief career, here's his 1998 obit from the New York Times.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Note on Patricia Neal in Elia Kazan's "A Face in the Crowd"

The actress Patricia Neal died yesterday at the age of 84. To toast this amazing but somewhat-forgotten star, I recommend this classic film:
"A Face in the Crowd" (1957) is possibly the most bitter, toxic indictment of human cruelty, avarice, celebrity, corruption and yes, the public's willingness to be duped by charisma and folksiness (sound familiar?) ever filmed. It is grotesque, darkly funny and also terrifying.

You may not have seen this film but you will see its influences. "Simpsons" fans will remember the episode when Krusty gets kancelled? When Gabbo (and later Kent Brockman) gets caught on air calling his kid fans "Little SOBS", that is a tribute to this film.

Also, you will never look at Andy Griffith the same way after you watch this.
A final note: Neal had an affair with Gary Cooper, married Roald Dahl, lost both her children to horrifying tragedy, had three strokes while in her 40's, and continued to act.

She died of lung cancer, a tragedy, but man, she had a great, sexy voice.

And enjoy this clip...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Get Cheered Up With 'Sita Sings the Blues'

The most adorable telling of a sacred Indian text ever.

I'd heard of "Sita Sings the Blues" but never actually watched it. I was in an an epic bad mood this weekend and my husband put this on in an effort to take the edge of my crankiness.

And it worked! By God, it melted my heart, like when Mr. Burns gets his teddy bear Bobo back.

Watch this 3 min clip!

If you've never seen it, watch it. Watch it just for the Monkey Dance. Or for the amazing musical soundtrack by 1920's-1930's jazz singer Annette Hanshaw.

And since the artist was ensnared in a copyright nightmare, she made it public and it's free!

If it doesn't brighten your Monday, you're an even crankier jerk than I am.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Nearly Done with the Trujillo Trilogy

Well, there may be more than just a trilogy, but as far as this gringa knows, the three iconic books that attempt to portray the soul crushing carnage that Dominicans suffered under the dictator Trujillo.

The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa

The intrigue, the ins and outs and who hid the bodies during the final days of Trujillo in the early 1960s. A study of the man himself: An incontinent blowhard with true God complex. I never thought about the the role the U.S. played in the Dominican Republic in the Kennedy, anti-Castro times. Fascinating stuff.

In the Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

The tragic tale of the sainted Mirabal sisters who fought back, were jailed and then executed by Trujillo's men. A beautifully told story, from the memories of the one Mirabal sister who lived and the overwhelming legacy she must live with.

The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

It supposedly took Diaz 10 years to write this book. And goddamn him because he makes it read so easy. This book takes us to Paterson, NJ to Washington Height, to Santa Domingo. It's a mother-daughter tale. It's a gotta-get-laid tale. It's a political terror story. It's a prison horror story. It's a fat kid's story. It's a story for those who like comic books and sci fi. It's one of the best books I've ever read. I read it in one sitting and read the last 5 pages again and again, not wanting it to end.

Any more Trujillo tales worth reading? I'll take any old horrific dictator that has inspired masterful writing...

Oh, and in case you were wondering if that new guy Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo (the guy that replaced Jason Newsted, I think) is not related to the Dominican dictator. I was curious, I Googled it... I think he's off the hook.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Catchphrases that rotate through my head

Somebody call OSHA!

That guy looks like Ron Kuby.

I wouldn't let my worst enemy take a shit in that bathroom.

Let's not hug it out.

My inner ear hurts.

I wish this had peyote in it.

I wish I could talk but I need to go buy more cat food.

You have selected: Spanking the Monkey! Rated R!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Dear God of Fashion...

Please end the following trends:

Unless you have amazing fashion sense or are carrying a toddler, leggings do not look good on anyone. At best, you look like a lazy slob. At worst, you look like you have two stumps for legs. I am so bored of seeing people walking the streets wearing leggings and a short top. You are not in a dance class. You do not require clothes that free you for extra movement.

If I see one more doofus women, walking the streets, mooing into her cellphone, head lolling, shuffling along in her stupid flip flops as if choosing where to go for brunch is so difficult one must wear workout clothes.

I'm also tired of looking at the jegging, cropped legging, the creatively torn legging, the tie dyed legging, the latex legging, leopard legging, the zippered legging and so on. I know that some people can make anything look look fabulous. But this is shit that Amy Fisher would have worn.

Gladiator sandals. Ugh. Pair them with leggings if you really want to look stumpy. I don't care if you want to put your feet in prison. Just keep them away from me.

Speaking of which: What the hell is this?

This is not a piece of footwear given to women recovering from foot surgery. This is a $600 Prada boot.

This is not a shoe. This is a seizure.

Also on my fashion shit list: most shorts, fashion sweats, tiered skirts on girls over the age of 9, UGGS in the summer (How can these vile things STILL be in style? And I cannot fathom how those things must reek...), men styling their hair like Hitler and Dawn Weiner glasses.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Gold Diggaz!

Felt pretty crummy last night and so I watched the amazing depression-musical-farce-comedy "Golddiggers of 1933." It's full of snappy one-liners, gals with sass and overly orchestrated hallucination inducing Busby Berkeley musical numbers that remind me of the North Korean Mass Games.
The movie is worth it, just for the iconic opening song. Or you can just watch Ginger Rogers charm the shit out of the Depression here:

And I'm not sure if this was a pre-code film but there's plenty of spice to balance out the family fun. Love those chubby-legged chorus girls! Those were the days... Except don't get "Pettin' in the Park" stuck in your head. You'll end up in the crazy house.

Oh hell, watch it anyway. It's adorably insane.

Anyhoo, I'm headed to Otto's Shrunken Head to meet some pals for a drink.

Monday, May 17, 2010

I Left My Brain in Williamsburg...

Williamsburg, how much do I hate thee? Let me count the ways…

I wouldn't waste the shedding skin cells on my stubby little fingers typing up every reason why I despise that particular section of Brooklyn. In fact, I'd happily managed to avoid going to that vile patch of organic mustache wax, $6 vegan muffins and body odor that exists in its own la-la land off the L train for the past three years.

Like a fool, I went back this weekend. I spent about 2 hours total there and was completely reminded of why living there was such a baffling and frustrating experience. I'd forgotten how gross the people are, how you are charged a fortune for total garbage and how narrow and hot the streets are with hateful jerks selling crap on the completely overcrowded sidewalks.

Some jerk selling books out of a van tried to sell me a copy of Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying" for $8. The book was earmarked, written in and smelled like it had been used for compost. I offered him five. He scowled at me like I was Mr. Potter from "It's A Wonderful Life."

But let me begin at the beginning.

In 2006, I found a 1-bedroom apartment on Craigslist: $1400, 6th Street bwt Bedford and Berry. The girl who was leaving the apartment had a skill for decorating. She had used some kind of cloaking device to mask the fact that the place was extremely tilted, had no bathroom sink, had sharp n' pointy stucco walls, one large heat pipe in the middle that would only occasionally wheeze out warmth. But she and I totally bonded over the fact that we had the same necklace and the same LeSportsSac bag. OMG! Was it stupid for me to think that because we had these superficial things in common, that she would tell me all the things wrong with the apartment? Of course it was!

The place was a disaster, but a cheapish one. Sure there were problems. We lived next to a seafood "shack" and every few days, our apartment would smell like The Frying Dutchman. One of our neighbors had a screaming parrot. When I called Animal Care and Control over cat that was lying half-dead on 6th Street, my neighbors called me a "cat killer."

So we knew we weren't living in the Sherry Netherland. But we had each other. Then the bed bugs came.

The woman who lived above us, who I believed designed Scandinavian clothes and accessories for dogs, called to tell me that she was sneaking out in the dead of night and not to tell the landlords where she was going. She was sobbing and told me that if I was smart, I would run for it.

But I was so tired. I was working an overnight shift and we'd spent all of our money moving. I didn't wanna pack up again. So I told her, thanks for the warning but we were fine. This would be the first in a series of huge mistakes.

I cannot describe the psychological havoc that bedbugs play on your brain. It does not matter if you have two or two hundred. You will become suspicious of inanimate objects. You will find yourself screaming at your loved one to spackle the window shut. The itchy red dots are a mark of failure. Every time your landlord sends some cousin of his to spray your apartment with baby powder and chlorox you will have HOPE. Then, two weeks later, after you've dry cleaned everything, tossed your furniture onto the street (which people will take, despite your sign that says "I'M INFESTED WITH BED BUGS!"), and finally, dared to get a good nights sleep, you will awake with bites again.

Imagine your apartment has crabs. And you cannot get rid of them. Because your neighbors just don't care.

Side note: Not everyone who lived in Williamsburg is a trust fund baby or a hipster. Some are malevolent junkies and cretins who have been in the neighborhood a loooong time and pay a very small rent. This, I realized, is why they do not complain when, say, the basement, where all the frayed fuses and dingy wiring are, becomes overwhelmed by the smell of spilled oil. Why no one cared about busted stairs. The water that trickled through the light fixtures when someone above had the nerve to take a shower.

After the bedbugs, came the mice. They feasted on the steel wool we used to block up the holes in the wall like it was delicious nom noms. They shat everywhere. We put down glue traps. When they did not die in the glue traps, my husband had to put them out of their misery. He would not let me see what he was doing but I assumed he would bash them in some way. I suggested tossing the mice out the window for the feral cats to eat. Tim said that was gross and inhumane.
Of course it was. I'd lost my mind.

One night, a raccoon appeared at my window sill. It's paws were tiny and human-like. I believe he and his gang of palswould have killed and eaten me if I hadn't come at him with "L'il Tapper" the small novelty hammer I used to use to protect myself when Tim was away.

Meanwhile, I was becoming disgusted by the neighborhood. I'm not saying that all the places were run by grifters pretending to be fine artists. There was some good coffee. I greatly admired the used section of Spoonbill and Sugartown. Bagelsmith on Bedford was always open when I crawled home at 730am after work.

But I saw things that made me gawk with disbelief:

* Someone paying $8 for a smoothie, tasting it and then throwing it violently in a trash can, its contents splashing all over the sidewalk and myself.
* Someone ordering $50 worth of vegan food from a restaurant and then, upon examining it, said they would not pay for it because it had wheat in it.

* A group of 30-something white men, dressed like Das EFX cirxa 1989, loudly and drunkenly referring to people they were apparently doing business with as "niggers."

* A girl singing into a telephone receiver rigged up to a microphone. She was blocking the entrance to the subway.

* A yellow Maserati blocked my street for hours at a time.

* A woman didn't like the looks of what was in her baby's bottle, so she poured it on the floor. Of a coffee shop. No one said anything.

* I was chased by a lunatic at 8am on a Saturday morning who was calling me a dirty something who deserved to die in a river of blood or something. No one said anything. Why would they? No one wakes up before 11am there anyway.

It all felt like a big con, where the irony was so ironed that you couldn't figure what the fuck you were buying or looking at. Everyone was selling something. All of it seemed really expensive and overpriced but you weren't supposed to mention it. Why would a person spend $1200 on a table made from the burl of a graciously harvested Wonkaberry tree but take my bed bug ridden couch? I didn't understand anything. To ask made me feel even more hopelessly out of place.
I found myself muttering to myself, "$45 for a Belinda Carlise lunchbox? Fuck you!" and "You want $250 for what? Fuck you!" And the ever-popular with the young people, "Get a job, asshole!"

To raise money for our move (we'd spent at least $2000 on dry cleaning and laundry and new, crappy furniture since most of ours had to be tossed) I sold stuff. The bitches at Beacon's Closet pawed through my valuables with a stick but I snatched up their $75 like it was money for meth.

I went to the flea market where they sell "vintage" clothes and books and jewelry on 6th street. I saw a woman who was selling leather bags and I approached her. She seemed very nice, in a Stevie Nicks-could-be-28-could-be-48 kind of way. When I asked her how much she could give me for them, she recoiled in horror.

"I thought you were giving me these items out of them goodness of your heart," she said. "I have a daughter to feed."

She then switched tactics and offered to pay me in jewelry. The kind with antlers.

I recall standing on North 5th, crying into my boyfriend's arms about how half of the ceiling caved in from the rain, the bugs, the mice, the nonstop booch-ta, booch-ta, booch-ta sound of my deranged neighbor hitting his speed punching bag. "I can't take it anymore," I sobbed.

Then a rat ran over my feet. I was wearing sandals.

In the end, we lived there for a year. The landlord finally did a real spray of the apartment building (much to the chagrin of the other tenants) and we packed our shit up and moved to Queens with the rest of the old folks.

So why did I return? Again, I had some stuff I wanted to sell. The nice ladies at Buffalo Exchange felt bad that they couldn't sell my clothes for whatever reason but took pity on me and bought a few things. The store was filled with kid clothes: bright colors, cheesy fabrics, hightops... pretty much everything that was the rage in 1991.

The streets were clogged. It seemed 10 degrees hotter than it was back in Astoria. You could not walk down Bedford without walking into a stroller (why, why have a baby in that neighborhood?), a gaggle of tourists, piles of books, sunglasses, old vinyl. A fancy eyewear store sold Chanel glasses. Everything was "adorable" and "wee." Tiny necklaces with tiny birds. Everyone was eating brunch and shopping. It seemed like East Village-land. A fantasy of artsiness and bohemian attitudes.

I wish I understood the concept of sitting out on a stoop eating an artisan pizza with breast milk cheese, wearing someone's repurposed prom dress. But I can't. Maybe the bed bugs rotted my brain. Maybe at 32, I'm fresh out of whimsy.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Geeking Out in Ithaca, NY

Had a great time in Ithaca, NY.

Highly recommended! Angry Mom Records on the Commons. Nice guys working there who totally geeked out with me on comics and our favorite artists. Purchase of the trip: Thee Headcoats LP with Dan Clowes artwork (shown below $19). Shitting awesome!

Also bought a copy of a neat zine/comic called Humanbeing Lawnmower. Liked the art, loved the interviews and fun fan punk aspect. Published in Astoria, Queens, my hood. How weird! Second issue looks even better, gonna check it out when I get back to the city.

Other purchases: Amazing Dorothy Thompson out-of-print hardcover (below - $8). This is serious treasure.

Tom Wolfe's Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine ($13 - 1st edition), In the Time of Butterfliesby Julia Alvarez ($5) and a book about how to fight "carb addiction" ($.25). Hey, for a quarter, how could I resist?

My pal Margaux showed me all around Ithaca and I enjoyed some delicious ice cream at Purity and sort of suffered through the entire British detective trilogy Red Riding. I bet the Yorkshire Tourist Board wasn't too happy about this incredibly bummer-inducing tale of police corruption, abduction, child rape and serial killing. A downer, to say the least but I've got a secret adoration for depressing period British crime dramas. Worth it for fans of the genre.

Anyway it was lovely to get the heck out of NYC for the weekend and breathe some fresh air, get some color in my cheeks and sit near a waterfall for a while. Ah, nature, you're not so bad.

Okay, I gotta sign off, I'm on a bus and the guy sitting next to me blowing his nose is seriously making wish I had a taser...

Monday, March 29, 2010

What a Yarn! - June Havoc (1912-2010)

My new weekly featured posting *"What a Yarn!" is a tribute to my friend Jeremy, who loves old-timey film talk in the same way I do.

But what is a yarn? Why, I'll tell you!

The weekly yarn will be the kind of story that breaks your heart, that brings a tear to your beer, that makes you think, makes you wonder! Tales of heroics and stout-heartedness, of hardluck cases and big marquee dreams. Of big dreams and tall tales! The kind of story that makes you sit in awe of what what a cockeyed caravan this world is.

So I'm happy to present the first Weekly Yarn (at the suggestion of T.)

And boy, her life was quite a story! From vaudeville to Broadway, from the gutter to the big screen. Her story was part of the basis of Ethel Merman/Rosalind Russell ham and cheese fest"Gypsy" but brother, that's only where the story begins!

* The line is from "It Happened One Night" a really dilly of a flicker if there ever was one. I also recommend the Gary Cooper/Barbara Stanwyk pic "Ball of Fire" for an unqualified overdose of dated 1940's slang.
Also, this is what I look like every morning as I bounce out the door into the streets of the city.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

List-o-Rama: A Tribute to Anastasia Krupnik

Jezebel did a namedrop of my favorite geeky teen young adult heroine and since then, I've been thinking about the Anastasia books. Anastasia Krupnik was bespectacled, had bizarre longings (to become a Catholic, to meet Sigmund Freud, to become a companion to an elderly rich woman) and thought a lot things were just plain dumb. She longed to have a swan-like neck. Her father taught English at Harvard and hated it when people used the phrase "dichotomy."

She was also a big list maker and in my first Anastasia book, she constantly updates her list of likes and dislikes according to how her life was progressing.

Anyway, today is a day where I feel like making a list of the things that elicit pure joy, not just things I like.

The 3rd Man - link to trailer
The Palm Beach Story - link to bizarre trailer
Lush bubble bars
Hiding in fancy lobby hotel bathrooms and making phone calls
Chocolate chip cookies
Love and Rockets comics
Reading Archie and Peanuts comics when I'm sick (I'm thinking back to middle school but I bet it still holds)
My Man Godfrey - link to trailer
Grilled cheese and tomato soup
Ernst Lubisch - link to Ninotchka scene with Greta Garbo
A freshly laundered wrap dress
The Addams Family (TV show, and the second film "Addams Family Values"
Smoked salmon
The guy on the subway that plays the theme from the movie "Brazil" on his trumpet
Reading and finding old Grantas - link to "In Lana Turner's Bedroom"
T, of course
Duane Park Cafe (I got married there)
Eclipse DVD collections by Criterion
True eccentrics
Maurice Chevalier - from One Hour with You
Buying books for small children
Crossword puzzles
Hearing the song "Native New Yorker" by Odyssey while I'm doing the dishes.
Singing to my cat
Heat lamps (not sun lamps)
Night Watch perfume
Kirk Douglas - from The Bad and the Beautiful
Barbara Stanwyk - from Ball of Fire
Paying with Sacajaweas
When Homer goes to the "Land of Chocolate"
Girl With Gold Boots on MST3k - clips
The Kids in the Hall - link to Terriers
John Waters' Shock Value
Dawn Powell
NYRB press
Snapped! marathons
Making my mother laugh
Splitting hot pastrami at Katz's
Chinese soup dumplings
The Triple Lindy
Rita Hayworth in The Lady from Shanghai - link to trailer
Gene Wilder - link to The Producers
Christopher Walken dancing in "Pennies From Heaven" - link to awesomeness

I'm sure there's a lot more. It doesn't really take a lot to cheer me up. This should be handy list for those who know me. But those that know me knew all this stuff already.

Bubbles Goes to the Cat ER

Sunday morning, T and I awoke to find our ludicrously beloved almost-senior cat Moshe curled up in the fetal position and acting listless, sneezing, snurfling and looked genuinely terrible. In the living room was a drunk human-sized lake of vomit. I like to think that he attempted to make it to the litter box. I realize now that vomit is the love test. When my exes threw up, I wanted to puke "Stand by Me" style and then run for it. When something or someone you truly love barfs, all that it arouses in you is pity and then only mild disgust. (What the hell do you want me to do, kiss it?)

Not feeling all that hot myself, T and I called the Humane Society of NY (where we adopted him in 2008) and they told us to bring him in. We managed to wrangle our sad, caterwauling little beast into his carrier and found a taxi to take us into the city. So pitiful were his yowls that even the cab driver, a cat owner, was getting choked up.

The Humane Society Animal Hospital Clinic is the St. Vincents ER of pet care. Expect a looong wait in a small room with no bathroom or water fountain or vending machine. The overworked staff largely ignores you while you sit and stare at the Rogue's Gallery of Pets with Strange Problems and their Deranged Owners. As my pal Marilisa commented, "Really? A place with discounted pet care attracts a somewhat insane element? What a shock!"

I listened, or really eavesdropped, on three women, complete strangers, talk about all that they sacrificed for their ungrateful children/parents/siblings and all the things they had to do to care for their small, fussed-over pets. One woman was getting her dog all new shots because her house had burned down. Another woman sat for 6 hours (announcing loudly that she shouldn't even have been sitting there because she had bronchitis and pneumonia) for a consultation on her cat's possible non-descended testicle. Another woman had her whole family - adult daughter, daughter's husband, toddler granddaughter sit in this stupid room for hours while the vet trimmed her pit bulls nails. Next to the woman who kept announcing how sick she was. Gross.

The highlight (or lowlight) was when a grey-haired Al Frankenish character came in midday with his mewling cat. He had his head in his hands and was whispering soothing things to his cat. He seemed desperate to drown out the inane yakking of the three crones and they seemed insulted that he didn't want to chime and talk about his own experiences as a bad parent.

When the vet called him in, one of the ladies got up and started yelling at the receptionist. "Why is he being taken ahead of us? I've been here for 2.5 hours?"

When the annoyed receptionist reluctantly told her that the man was there to put his cat to sleep, the woman said, "How is that my problem? What does that have to do with me waiting here for 2.5 hours? A man has to put his cat to sleep, I feel bad for him, but he should have to wait his turn."

I also adore how bitchy women immediately start saying, "Don't raise your voice at me! I'm being calm, you're the one who needs to lower your voice!" Horrible witches all of them.

Eventually, Moshe was seen by his old vet Dr. Hershberg who is a kind and wacky vet. She quickly diagnosed our Mosh as likely haven eaten something he shouldn't have (the mind boggles) and was dehydrated and severely constipated. An x-ray revealed our cat looked as though he'd swallowed about 5 D-batteries. Except they weren't batteries. It was impacted cat shit.

Anyway, they gave him an IV of fluids, which seemed to perk him up a bit and told us to bring him back right away if he didn't poop or if he vomited at all. We spend the next 2 days eating tuna fish to give him the juice (a good idea for dehydrated cats, just add a little more water to it) until we had so much fucking tuna in the fridge that T finally just threw it in the immersion blender with some water and gave it to the cat. Which he loved and slurped up. Mmm... tuna juice.

This whole experience has given me a lot to think about: Loving a almond-size brained creature to distraction. Loving a 10ish year old cat to distraction. Loving something that will one day die. Yes, owning a cat seems like a good idea before attempting to parent a child. But the experience is hardly the same. Only the helplessness and the feeling like its all your fault. That could be pretty similar.

Anyway, glad you're on the mend old buddy. Rest up. You had us worried, my sweet little old man of a cat.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

One in Six Latina Teens Will Contemplate Suicide

Check out this piece I wrote for the CUNY health and minorities site JustGarciaHill.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

I'm the Angriest Bird Ever

I feel this bird's pain.

I too feel rather grumpy, pudgy and like pecking someone's eyes out. Not sure what changed my mood from sunny with a chance of clouds to "Get the fuck away from me" with a chance of "Go fuck yourself."

Due to a "miscommunication" with my doctor's office, I'm a few days off schedule on my birth control. I recall the days of feeling blue, forgetful and fighting the need to ram people with my shopping cart at the supermarket. Those were the days before I went on the Pill. Since then, it's changed my life. Less crazy, less spaced out, less uncontrolled sobbing and, unexpectedly, larger breasts.

Just to be off schedule a few days and to feel as horrible as I do now is quite alarming since I am considering (CONSIDERING) whether or not I want to be a mom one day. This will require me going off birth control and, if impregnated, being swept out into a terrifying sea of hormones. Combined with having to off my anti-depressant, I can see the future. And it is pretty terrifying.

There's been a lot written about taking Prozac while pregnant but I fear Cymbalta will one day be shown to grow tails on humans. It's not for me to worry about yet, but today and yesterday have been a sneak, bleak preview of life off the Pill. Bah. BAH!

It is a terrible thing to be dependent on drugs for mental health. Obviously I'm not ashamed of having chronic major depression, it but I can't understand why anyone would want to take any kind of drug that affects one's brain chemistry if they didn't have to. Why put up with the side effects, the cost, the aggressive marketing, the insurance problems if you didn't have to?

Anyway. Hard at work on my "practical, humorous guide for young people coping with depression" book proposal. Can you taste the irony? I can. It tastes like burning!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Sad State of Affairs

* Today, none of the MTA vending machines in Union Square would take credit cards, debit cards or bills. The lowest amount it would let me purchase a Metrocard was for $4.50. Which I had to pay for in coins. I don't know what was more pathetic the fact that none of the machines were working or that I actually had $4.50 in coins rattling around at the bottom of my pocketbook.

* I watched The Lives of Others last night. Creepy, claustrophobic, horrifying at parts. Just a little too long with an ending that seemed a bit tacked on. But recommended.

* At some point in every girl's life, she has to ask herself: Which member of the Monty Python troupe would she sleep with. This week, I choose John Cleese.

* If books are like food, then a novel by Martin Amis is like lobster. Hard to get into, often messy and filled with fluids and you really hope you'll think all the work was worth it. Sometimes it is sublime. Sometimes, it is like bashing at a vile roach-like sea creature with a crushing instrument while wearing a bib.

I starting reading Time's Arrow and I immediately longed for something more soothing and simple like a biography of Stalin or a raspberry smoothie with glass in it.

* I saw a man standing on line purchasing a bottle of Dove body wash for Men. Part of me was disgusted because he was buying into the hype of the Super Bowl commercial. But then I thought, I shouldn't I be happy for him for having soft skin?

* I feel bad about Alexander McQueen. Poor, poor guy. About 12 years ago, I wandered into his store in the meatpacking district just to see what all the fuss was about. I came upon a corsetted denim jacket that still haunts me. It sounds hideously tacky but had I the $1500, I probably still wouldn't have bought it. Had I $1,500,000, I would have considered it.

* I wish I could get another cat. But for a 1-bedroom apartment, that's a lot of cat hair. And a lot of cat hairballs.

* I really hope Bill Clinton doesn't die. Besides having affection for the old coot, I just don't think I could stand the media coverage. In fact, I now dread all world events, happy or sad. Thank you, 24-hour news cycle.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Musings: These People Look Alike to Me

I won't call them "separated at birth" but, dang it, these people look alike to me.

Melanin-enhanced Ohio Rep. Jim Boehner looks a lot like...

American actor and Warren Beatty B-clone George Hamilton!

Author Jonathan Ames looks a lot like...

Adorable Monty Python-er Graham Chapman !

Director James Cameron's third wife, actress Linda Hamilton looks an awful lot like...

... Cameron's fourth wife, Suzy Amis!

"Loverboy" era, pre-rhinoplasty Patrick Dempsey reminds me a lot of...

NYC Congressman and Bloomberg-basher Anthony Weiner!

I just can't look at U.S. Senator from South Carolina Lindsey Graham without thinking of...

... Brit-comic Ricky Gervais!

Lucy and Angela, Two Sisters

When we moved into our apartment in Astoria, we got to know our elderly neighbors, two sisters named Lucy and Angela. They were nice ladies, very independent, both around ninety-years-old. My husband would always bring them their NY Daily News when the weather was crummy or when the elevator was out. They looooooved him. They were both tiny, under five feet tall and they used to go out together to the supermarket and errands. They didn't want you to hold the door for them, they could do it themselves, thank you. Two sisters, sleeping in twin beds. Always chatting about something. Big Obama fans.

We used to stop by their apartment once in a while. They had a great apartment, beautifully furnished, lots of books. Lucy told us this great story about how she worked for years for Parks Department and just loved visiting the big cats at the Central Park Zoo. They ended up naming one of the lions for her. Pretty cool.

So anyway, Lucy died before the holiday, which was shocking because she seemed like the healthier sister. My husband felt really bad. I felt bad too but then my grandmother died just before the new year. That wasn't so much of a surprise but it hurt a lot. My mother said something really great at her funeral. "My parents are doing the merengue in heaven." Romantic, right?

Anyway, I hadn't thought too much about Angela, I'm sad to say. This week, my husband asked me to stop by and see if she was okay. I have to say, I was dreading it. But she let me in and we had a nice talk. She was very brave and funny but she was also very sad and cried a little.

She said that her own life, she'd always wanted her own apartment and how that she had it, she didn't know what to do with it. Her mother and sister always cooked for her so she never learned. She just kept expecting Lucy to walk in the door.

What was strange to me was how happy I was to be sitting in her warm living room. It was nice to talk to her, even if she was sad. I think it has to do with not having been able to say good-bye my grandmother. It was always my biggest fear that she would die when I was out of town. I would give anything to have been there at the end and held her hand. So I held Angela's hand today. It wasn't the same but how could it be?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Morticia Addams Takes Manhattan

Winding down my hectic day in the Jefferson Market branch of the Public Library. It's really a fascinating place to get some work done. Like updating your Facebook profile in a gothic tower.

Click here for its fascinating history as a women's prison and its place in NYC labor history. This branch also supposedly houses a substantial collection of rare Weegee photography books.

Stripper photo above, by Arthur Fellig, AKA, Weegee, date unknown.

I totally overslept and ran out the door to make an appointment all the way on the west side coming from Astoria. Realized that one black garment too many can transform an outfit from "interview chic" to "Morticia Addams collection." Or Wednesday, the Christina Ricci version. Lisa Loring, the TV actress who played her just wasn't creepy enough for me.

With my newly dark hair, sheet-white complexion and interest in writing about mental illness, it can make for a spookier impression than I hoped for. I can't say I mind all that much!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

100 Years Ago, The LA Times Was Bombed

Read American Lightning by Howard Blum! Great historical nonfiction page turner on the 1910 bombing of the Los Angeles Times and the characters that became associated with the labor crisis at the turn of the century: Clarence Darrow, Harry Chandler, D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford, Samuel Gompers, Lincoln Steffens, Edgar Lee Masters, Eugene V. Debs, William Mulholland many others.

The trial of the McNamara brothers was "The Trial of the Century" (who could have predicted O.J. Simpson then?) and the fact that its largely forgotten shows how little our country remembers the violence and furor behind both sides of the movement to unionize.

Also interesting to note how the U.S. has coped with domestic terrorism in the past. Lots of parallels to today I find. And really, this book sheds a lot of light on how fucking ludicrous those "socialist" accusations against Obama were back during the elections.

There is an amazing memorial to the 21 employees of the L.A. Times that died in the 1910 bombing at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles. I can't seem to find a photo of the actual words dedicated to the men who died but it's written in some pretty amazing anti-labor rhetoric.

Amazing times, totally forgotten about.

I've been a bit spotty with my updates these days but only because I've been so busy. And busy is good! I'm kind of like those idiotic plastic dancing flowers from the late 1980s. Once I stop moving, I fall over and end up weeping into my cat.

Friday, January 29, 2010

My Family Theater: "Ruthless People" (1986)

Why don't people ever talk about the 1986 David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams comedy "Ruthless People" when they yammer on and on about classic 1980's films?

Ken and Sandy, a married couple and pair of too-nice kidnappers (Judge Reinhold and Helen Slater) kidnap shrieking, poisonous Barbara Stone (Bette Midler) to get money from Sam Stone (Danny Devito), who screwed them by stealing and getting rich stealing Sandy's clothing designs. The one thing they don't count on? Sam was going to kill Barbara anyway and is thrilled that she's been kidnapped.

Icing on the cake! Bill Pullman and the late, great and hot Anita Morris are trying to get theirs.

It is in no way appropriate for children, yet I have wonderful memories of being home sick from school watching this film with my mother, snorting with laughter at Midler shouting at her inept kidnappers, "YOU'VE FUCKED WITH THE WRONG PERSON! My husband does business with the Mafia! When they track you down, you, your entire family, everyone you ever KNEW will all get chainsaw enemas!"

DeVito has never been slimier or better. This scene of him sharing the secret of his success with a young cop (he's also supposed to be worried sick over his kidnapped wife) is comedy gold and possibly the best way to answer a wrong number.

And how nice is it to see Bette Midler doing Rated R comedy before she submitted to gooey chick roles, like the insulin-shock inducing Beaches or the vile Scenes from a Mall or the epic-ly crappy WWII cheesefest For the Boys.

This revenge on the rich-who-screw-over-the-working-guy was perfect for the greed obsessed 1980s but is just as delightful now.

Amazing animated opening sequence to Mick Jagger song! - click here!

Girls Write Now

Just calling some attention to Girls Write Now, my favorite non-profit and where they are kind enough to let me come and help out now and again.

This spring, Girls Write Now is thrilled to announce CHAPTERS, showcasing the work of New York City's best teen writers and the professional women who mentor them, and featuring a dynamic, diverse line-up of special guest authors.

Curated by Maud Newton, CHAPTERS readings will be held at the Center for Fiction(17 East 47th Street bet. 5th Ave. & Madison), from 6:00PM to 8:00PM.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

On J.D. Salinger's Passing

Can a person be "in the world but not of it"?

Well, a writer must spend some time in the world to write about it, obviously. And I guess a writer such as J.D. Salinger, didn't have to spend too much time with people to write honestly and perfectly about the loneliness of being a fragile soul in a world full of loudmouths, blowhards, dullards and cretins. Seymour the damaged soul, traumatized in WWII, no longer able or interested in communicating with regular people, even his nail-lacquering wife. His characters all cry out for understanding in a loud, busy, cruel world that keeps on going on despite the fact that there are adults out there who never learned to be adults. They hurt like children hurt, that's why a lot of them like or deeply resent children. Jews can live like WASPs but they're still Jews and it makes life harder for complicated reasons.

I suppose a life of travel, luxe living in New York City, then getting hurled onto Utah Beach in 1944, he met a lot of different kinds of people. I guess he felt like he'd met enough.

Thanks to the The New Yorker for linking to 12 stories today. "Teddy" and "Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut" are two his most devastating and two of my very favorites.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Books About Movies That Don't Suck

Is there anything more boring and pretentious than humorless bloviating gasbags farting on and on about film? Not to me. If you are going to write about the movies, I need on-set stories, interviews with the actual filmmaker (not just "Chris Farley Show" hero worship) and some sense of historical background. I'm just a movie lover, not a film critic. Give me something juicy or go home.

So here are some books about the movies that I've read and re-read. I'm sure there are others.

City of Nets by Otto Friedrich

The Studio by John Gregory Dunne

The Devil's Candy by Julie Salamon

Final Cut by Stephen Bach

That is all for today.

If you want to fritter some time away, I recommend Nathan Rabin's hilarious and comprehensive "My Year of Flops" on the AV Club. It's one of the few things I can honestly say, I wish I had written.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Tips for a More Delightful Life

Just some ideas for making your days just a little less rife with despair.

1) Buy frozen fruit such as peaches, strawberries or mango. Use in your juice instead of ice cubes. Then, when you are done drinking, leave the glass in your sink. A few hours later, you will be pleased to discover thawed, tasty fruit, ready to be sucked down. It's all about surprising yourself!

2) Turn your morning OJ into a mocktail. Buy REAL cranberry juice (its expensive, cheaper at Traders Joes but you only need a splash, so it will last a long time) and toss a shot into your morning orange juice. Tart, tasty, full of vitamin C and a friend to your bladder! Feel free to toss in frozen fruit (see above) or booze to add some "cock" to your mocktail.

3) Take more baths. Sure they aren't great for the environment but once in a while, it's good for the old jangled nerves. Toss in some Epsom Salts - $2.49 for a huge bag of it at Rite-Aid. I like the Lavender scented ones but plain ones are good too. Use sparingly, if you are a homeowner, salt rots your plumbing. But if you are a renter, fuck it, not your problem.

4) Make your own applesauce. I use the recipe from the "Joy of Cooking." Cheap to make (the guys at the farmers market are happy to unload their imperfect apples) and lovely to eat with everything: pierogi, yogurt, chicken cutlets, or just on its own. I recommend a mix of sour and sweet apples. Makes your house smell good.

5) Get a cat from a shelter. My cat Moshe has melted the black ore that once surrounded my heart. He is a big weirdo and barfs up big hairballs and doesn't see so hot out of one eye. But when I'm mad at him, I tell him how grateful he should be for me for saving his life from misery and cage horror. One time, he knocked T's turkey sandwich off the table, scarfed the turkey and left the bread all in 15 seconds. We called it his "Last Great Heist" since he's about 10 years old. Kind of like Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas in "Tough Guys."

6) Watch some Preston Sturges films. Without these films, the Coen brothers would be a bunch of romantic comedy directors or something. Interestingly, he was an Orson Welles-style auteur in the early 1940's... the same time at Orson Welles was irking people all over Hollywood. I love Orson Welles films for when I want to wallow in the callous-ness of man. But when I want to laugh, I watch: "Sullivan's Travels" and "The Palm Beach Story." Check out
"The Miracle of Morgan's Creek" -- a film that caused critics to cry: The censor board was "raped in its sleep."

7) Read "A Way of Life, Like Any Other" by Darcy O'Brien. I found this book on the remainder shelves Coliseum Books before it closed its midtown location. One of the greatest coming of age stories ever. I can't say enough about how much I loved this book. Turned me on to the New York Review Books press.

8) Buy bed linen that you can mix and match with other bed linen. That way, if your pillow cases get ratty, you can toss them but keep the top sheet, etc... I've got kind of a sea green thing going. Nothing matches but it looks "eclectic." Aha!

9) Call your grandma. She misses you. If you have no grandma, call someone else's grandma. Or your grandpa. Or great-aunt.

10) Make coffee with a french press. I don't actually do this but my husband says it's a great way to drink your coffee. So give it a try. He vouches for its delightful-ness.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Emma Bovary, The Original Desperate Housewife

"Madame Bovary" (1949) last night. It was pretty decent actually, despite being bookended by absurd "courtroom testimony" by Flaubert at his obscenity trial. It must have been some censor or decency issue. I wish James Mason would come back to life and read me bedtime stories.

Anyhoo, Jennifer Jones as Emma was too beautiful and Van Heflin as Dr. Bovary not nearly nebbish-y enough. Ballroom dancing scene was fantastic. A stretch to compare it to Saturday Night Fever dance scene but then again, it's possible the director had seen "Madame Bovary". It was directed by Vincent Minnelli after all.

I read the book last year and found it much more modern than I expected. Subtle and snide and sympathetic, the book is fresher than the film.

Amazing trailer! English, with French subtitles.

Not much to say today. Feeling okay. Working from home, sending ideas out into the ether and waiting for response... not easy. Tomorrow may be better. More socializing, more to keep my brain percolating.

Making chickpea and mango curry for dinner tonight from this cookbook. Hope it turns out okay. I don't have much faith in my cooking ability.

I can't believe I've never seen a Satyajit Ray movie. I really need to remedy this.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Jim Croce, Lee Atwater and Lunch in Chelsea

While I was doing the dishes a few minutes ago, I heard the Jim Croce song "Operator." And as I listened to it, I thought about what a sad song it was in that hokey-ish but kind of heart-tweaking way that 1970s singer songwriters get just right. I'm a sucker for certain kinds of 1970s music, what can I say? I must have heard a lotta easy listening in the womb back in 1977.

I'd never even heard of the song until I read "Bad Haircut" the excellent collection of Tom Perrotta stories. I'd only bought the book because I liked the cover and the Harvard Book Store had an autographed copy near the register.

But what struck me the most about hearing that song was that the last time I'd heard it, I thought it was the saddest song of all time. I was going through a pretty deep and cavernous depression at the time (2001, I think) when I thought that nothing would ever get better. So maybe poor old Jim is the measuring stick for depression. If I can listen to it and do the dishes, I'm okay. If it makes me curl up in the fetal position sobbing, I may be facing a more serious problem.


Today was a good day. Had a delicious lunch with an old friend, (hey LK, if you're reading this!), got a writing assignment approved, came home and fed the cat. Nice!

Hoping to watch "Boogie Man", the documentary about GOP "genius" Lee Atwater tonight. It will probably depress the shit out of me but it sound fascinating nonetheless.

Link - PBS Frontline - The Lee Atwater story

Monday, January 18, 2010

Raws and Blabs

I'm not a big collector. I'm just not the type. When T and I started dating, he noticed that I had more than a few copies of the quarterly Granta lying around. I fell in love with them in college and would buy them for $2 each in the used section of the Harvard Book Store. Anyhoo, T became obsessed with having ALL of them (104 and counting). I try to seek out the few we are missing at the Strand or other used book stores on the street but mostly because completing our collection would make T happy.

He also bought me the ENTIRE "Eightball" series for my birthday five years ago. Pretty sweet!

But I think I've found something I'd like to collect. RAWs and Blab!s.

I got some great ones from the Strand today from the early 1990s some great stuff: Lynda Barry (my first comics love, recommended by Sassy magazine!), Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Dan Clowes, Richard Sala and tons of others.

It all gives me such a nostalgic feeling. Ah, comics, keeping me young... brain-wise at least.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Some Diners I Have Known

So I just watched the totally horrifying documentary "Crazy Love" on Sundance. Yet, when it was over, all I could think about was diner food, since the main characters are seen eating at the Shalimar Diner in Rego Park. It got me thinking...

Here are the diners that I have known and loved (and feared) in my 32 years on this planet we call, uh, earth.

The Landmark Diner

How much of my teenage life did I spent at this diner, eating french fries, baklava, smoking cigarettes and laughing my ass off? A lot. It was a pretty good diner, food-wise. They were very tolerant of idiots like my friends sitting for hours and splitting a pizza bagel and three cups of coffee. It had a lovely pink glow and whiteish stone exterior. A late 70's, early 80's aesthetic I find very comforting in diner architecture. Now it's gone. Well, it's relocated and rebuilt next door.

I dunno. It looks kind of retro to me. Like a brand new Rickenbacker guitar or something. It even has a Twitter page. Bah.

The Seacrest Diner

This is the diner of despair. Not only were there terrifying live lobsters in tanks at the front of the restaurant that terrified me as a child, it always seemed to be the place you were taken after something bad happened: A death in the family, someone was sick...

The diner was also the scene of a horrific crime. In 1982, five young men from Brooklyn stole a car, committed a terrifying home invasion in Plainview, Long Island. The night of violence, rape and murder ended at this diner.

Per the New York Times: "...early the next morning, when the men burst into the Seacrest wielding handguns and a shotgun, then robbed and terrorized customers, demanding that they strip and ordering some to have sex with each other. At least one waitress was raped. Two young men were shot. Mr. Bouloukos [the owner] and several others were pistol-whipped, and all 80 or so people inside were held hostage for more than an hour."

It is because of this sickening and traumatizing event that we all called this diner the "rape diner" and avoided it at all costs. My grandparents seemed to like it, I have no idea why.

The Carle Place Diner

This diner was conveniently located near the Roosevelt Field Mall and Tower Records, two other places where I misspent my youth. I think it was pretty good. Wait, it's coming back to me. I think I once had disco fries here with a former camp counselor. She had been fired that summer for fellating a fellow counselor while drunk on the soccer field. Her name began with an A... it will come to me (no pun intended... haha).

The Neptune Diner

This diner is pretty good and located very close to where I live in Astoria. My husband likes that they feature the fact that they make a point that they serve "chops", which he thinks is delightfully old school. They were nice here. Good "sea" motif.

The Scobee Diner

This is great diner! The craziest thing is that when I moved into my apartment and was putting away my dishes, the previous owners had left behind a cup and saucer from the Scobee Diner! Perhaps they had stolen the china as a memento of a yummy meal or something. My husband likes to drink espresso from it. Lots of famous people have been here, so says the signed photos on the walls.

The Seven Seas

I don't remember much about this place. I think I have it confused with the Seacrest Diner (terrifying entry higher up). Maybe this was the place my grandparents liked. Jesus, I'm not as good at this as I thought. I can't even find a photo.

And there are others. Many have burned down. Many are lost in a haze of grilled cheese sandwiches and turkey burger deluxe platters.

Have I missed any?