Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Springfield me

I stole this totally random but also really fun time-waster from my sister and brother-in-law. Here's what I would look like if I were a Simpsons character:

Click here to make your own doppelganger.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Don't get sick in America

Just got back from a matinee of Michael Moore's new documentary, Sicko, which I actually quite enjoyed. As usual, Moore makes a more emotional than intellectual film. He personalizes the horrors of our healthcare system by allowing a few individuals to share their extreme but true stories. Also, it doesn't take a genius to realize that the idealized states of healthcare that he shows in Canada, England, France, and (especially) Cuba are surely not as pitch perfect as he'd have us believe. Nothing run by the government can be quite as easy, paper-work free, and convenient as the footage here suggests. Still, my first-hand experience with the American healthchare system and limited knowledge of how socialized medicine can work certainly is in line with his thesis that America's for-profit system has truly missed the boat.

Moore is more restrained in Sicko than he was in previous films, both in terms of how much he's on screen and his antics. If you've found his sense of humor funny before, though, you won't be disappointed here. Though I doubt anything can ever live up to the Ashcroft musical number in Fahrenheit 9/11, we do get a few choice moments of Bush saying things so stupid only he could actually have said them.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

How many firemen does it take to change a light bulb?

Four, one to change the bulb and three to cut a hole in the roof.

How many firemen does it take to free people trapped in my apartment building’s elevator? Apparently at least half a dozen. Every now and then I decide to buck my inherent laziness and take the stairs when I’m leaving home, as I did this morning. Hitting the ground floor, I saw one of our maintenance guys coming around to the service elevator with a fireman decked out in full fire-fighting regalia. I rounded the corner to my lobby and saw four more firemen at our main elevators, one of whom was wielding an intimidating-looking axe. I asked Juan, the doorman, what was up (hoping very sincerely that the building was NOT on fire), and he told me someone was stuck in the elevator. Walking out the front door—and patting myself on the back for taking the stairs—I saw another firefighter coming in. I really don’t know what to make of the intense response; New York’s Bravest don't respond in force like this to every stuck elevator, do they?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Early summer reading

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been reading the literary equivalent of popcorn movies and loving every sentence of it. Books three and four of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series (Further Tales of the City and Babycakes) were fluffy, entertaining treats and perfect for lazy summer weekends. The series overall is really fun. It’s outrageous and unbelievable, but the characters are all endearing; I wish 28 Barbary Lane were a real place so I could build a time machine, fly back to the 70s, and live there for a while.

Further Tales... and Babycakes book ended Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which I reread in anticipation of the final Harry Potter book (only 25 days to go!). I doubt anyone is left who doesn’t know what happens in book six, but just in case: spoilers are ahead.

For the record, I think Snape is good and that Harry and Voldemort will both die in book seven. I know it’s totally predictable and therefore unlikely to happen, but I’m standing by it as the most satisfying ending. I’m somewhat taken with the idea that Neville will play a crucial role in Voldemort’s demise and would love to see that happen, too. And, as a product of rereading book six, I have a new theory that the prophecy is actually longer than what Dumbledore shows Harry. I think it may also have shown that Draco and/or Snape plays some kind of important part in Voldemort’s downfall, too. If Dumbledore knew that Snape and/or Draco had to be alive and well to finish Voldemort off, he’d be willing to sacrifice himself, thus begging Snape to kill him. If Snape broke his unbreakable vow, he’d die and not be there to off Voldemort. And, if Draco (either on his own or with Snape’s help) failed to carry out Voldemort’s orders, we know Voldemort would have killed him. There is something uplifting about the idea of either of them being involved in killing Voldemort; it includes a team effort, rehabilitation, don’t judge people by their families, everyone has good in them, feel-good aspect that seems right for the finale of a series that really is meant for kids.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Drew Patrick Spa is officially open!

Saturday night marked the launch party of Drew's fabulous new spa/boutique/fitness center, Drew Patrick Spa. When I last saw this place at New Year's, it was still gutted and raw. The fact that in only six months, Drew has turned it into a stunning retreat is both not surprising (it is Drew, after all!) and an amazing feat. I am in awe of his gumption and talent.

Here are a few photos of the event:

In true-Drew fashion, every detail was perfect, right down to the logo-adorned cookies.

Josh, Todd, and I decided we can't wait for another trip to Drew's so we can treat ourselves to massages and seaweed wraps.

Winding down after the party, Drew and I lounged around back at SevenOaks.

There are many, many more photos from the night, and I'll send anyone who wants to see them a link.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

90 Minutes of Magical Thinking

Thanks to TDF, I had a cheap ticket to see Vanessa Redgrave in The Year of Magical Thinking last night. The one-woman show is, of course, based on Joan Didion’s book of the same title. I haven’t yet read the book. When it first published, I read several great reviews and heard testimonials from friends about how very worth reading it was. I never doubted that it was good; I feared the heartbreak that I thought must be contained in those pages and expected it would be very hard to get through. I knew, as everyone else did, that Didion’s daughter, Quintana, died after the book was published, and I suspected that even if the book ended with glimmer of hope it would be overpowered by my knowledge of Didion’s ongoing personal tragedy.

Essentially, I thought reading the book would be like emotionally vomiting for 200 pages. Ultimately, you may feel better for doing it, but the process wouldn’t be very enjoyable.

So, given these expectations, I thought the stage version would also be emotionally affecting. First the good: Redgrave is a force. She sits alone on a wooden chair on an otherwise bare stage. She has virtually no props. There are no costume changes. She interacts with no other actors. It is just her and Didion’s words, and she delivers and embodies them so beautifully that in an hour and a half I never once looked at my watch or wondered how much longer the show would last.

Unfortunately, that emotional retching I expected never happened. I appreciated Didion’s story, her ability to distance herself from the events enough to analyze them and present them not only honestly but also with admirable humor. I recognized the horror in what she went through, but I never felt particularly moved. This stage adaptation was written after Quintana’s illness played itself out and focuses far more on Didion’s desperation to be a successful mother, one who is able to protect her daughter form harm, than it does on the magical thinking that followed her husband’s death. Yes, in the beginning we hear about her belief that her husband would return, and all the ways she had to make that possible (not getting rid of his shoes, for instance, because he’ll need shoes when he comes back). This material, while not quite discarded, is back-burnered after the first third of the show. Instead we get a chronology of Quintana’s hospital stays and a wonderful description of “the vortex,” the domino effect of tumbling memories that must be avoided if Didion is to remain “one cool customer.”

Perhaps this was Didion’s opportunity to explore what happened to her and her daughter. The book, after all, is centered on her husband, and maybe she needed a venue to tell this second chapter. Or maybe, because magical thinking is all about not fully feeling the weight of what is happening, the emotional heart I expected is simply not to be found. It is, after all, more about coping with loss than with actually losing someone. Maybe the subject matter itself, which I feared for its emotional depth, is exactly what keeps the play from being more powerful.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


I’m a bona fide sushi chef. Ok, maybe not, but after a 2 1/2 hour class last night I successfully made (and ate) three rolls all on my own. It’s actually not all that hard, especially when you have Sushi Simon (our teacher) doing all the prep work. Five year olds who have mastered Ants on a Log could probably progress to sushi rolling pretty successfully. It was still tons of fun, though, and I learned a bit of sushi trivia and history while at it. The word “sushi” actually means vinegared rice, for instance, and back in the day women were forbidden from becoming sushi chefs for a myriad of silly reasons that don’t hold up (the PH in our skin changes the taste of the fish, for instance).

I went to the class with two friends from work and between lessons and rolls we traded stories about the worst dates we’d ever been on. Mine was with a fairly rude actor who, from the film credits he mentioned over our one and only beer together, I believe was an extra in porn. One of my friends was set up by a woman who sounds like a matchmaker straight out of Fiddler on the Roof. The 40-year old guy still lived with his parents and when they ordered a brownie sundae to split for dessert he took his knife and cut it in half so there’d be no encroaching on each other’s portion. My other friend showed a lot more patience and perseverance and actually went out with her bad date three times. At the end of the third date he still hadn’t made a move but quizzed her on her sexual history and personal collection of adult toys. I say, good luck to those three guys: they really need it.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Birthdays, Berlin, and Barbeques

The end of last week was an Anne-tastic few days for me; I got to see Anne not only for The Lives of Others on Wednesday, but for her birthday on Thursday and at a send off party for a Germany-bound friend on Friday.

The birthday shindig was at a great rooftop bar atop the La Quinta hotel only a few blocks from McGraw-Hill. Somehow, I never discovered this place when I still worked there and spent way too many happy hours in the enclosed booth at Mustang Harry’s when I could have been drinking at this cute spot instead. The weather was perfect for out door libations, and I loved catching up with old MH friends who I don’t see nearly enough. My real accomplishment of the night, though, was resisting the coconut cake when Anne and I went to Billy’s Bakery for her birthday dessert. That coconut cake is amazing, and even though they cut slices large enough to feed a small household for a week, I always eat the whole thing. It’s a good thing Anne got her cake to go, because I don’t think I’d have had enough will power to resist it if we’d stayed there much longer.

Friday night started with a round of drinks with Laura. I wanted to drag her to the next part of the evening, too, but she was determined not to blow off the wedding activities that brought her to town in the first place. What she missed was a party at Jane’s: her husband’s trip to Germany to work on his German language skills proved a perfect opportunity for a get together (he’s not actually going to Berlin, as suggested in my title, but I needed it for my alliteration). It was a great chance to catch up with old friends and better get to know some very fun people Jane has known for years but I’ve just met in the last few months. We debated what would happen in the final Harry Potter (will Harry be one of the characters to die? And if he does, is it an artistic decision or Rowling’s attempt to avoid The Wind Done Gone-esque sequels by other authors?), the use of semi colons in turn of the century literature (I love publishing people!), and bee keeping (just what is in royal jelly, anyway?).

And Saturday was family day. It was a short LIRR ride out to Bayside to see just about my entire extended family, which is so small that we could all fit around one table for dinner Saturday night. We barbequed hot dogs and hamburgers (and by we, I mean my uncle and cousin’s husband; the rest of us stayed inside and out of the sun), talked about summer vacation plans, and were generally entertained by my cousin’s son, the cutest kid I know.

Friday, June 15, 2007

See this movie

I cannot recommend highly enough The Lives of Others.

But first, a confession: I harbor a tiny grudge against it deep, deep in my heart because I almost picked it to win best foreign language film at the Oscars in March and then went against my instincts (and with the conventional wisdom) and picked Pan's Labyrinth instead. If I'd trusted my gut, I would have won the whole pool instead of only three-way tie. To be fair, I guess that’s really not the movie's fault. And now that I love this movie, I’m shifting my tiny grudge over to Pan’s Labyrinth, which I still haven’t seen.

Anyway, this is a truly wonderful German film about a Stasi officer in East Germany in the early 1980s. He’s is tasked with spying on a playwright and his actress lover. He becomes more involved with them than he's supposed to, and the movie captures his transformation away from life as a singularly-focused intelligence officer. I don’t want to say too much about the plot points, but this is a beautiful movie about art, politics, and humanity and absolutely should be seen.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


I recently finished Kent Haruf's Eventide. It's his follow up to Plainsong and is anchored by the same McPheron brothers, old ranch hands who live out on the plains of Colorado. Connected to them, some loosely and others intricately, are a stoic young boy and his sick grandfather, a depressed single mother and her two children, and a struggling brother and sister and their troubled parents.

Written in spare but incredibly evocative prose, Haruf returns to his familiar themes: care giving, the joys and pains of family, and the emotional connections that keep people together. Like the McPheron brothers themselves, Haruf speaks plainly and with an admirable economy of words. As a writer, he's truly a master of creating a vivid community with only a few carefully crafted sentences.

Unfortunately, it's been a few years since I read Plainsong, and many of the details of that book are lost to my terrible memory. While Eventide can and does stand well on its own, I think taken together the two books would only strengthen each other. Either way, Haruf's books are beautiful and well worth a read.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Tony Awards update

In case any of you TIVO-ed the awards, I'm apparently visible exactly 1:11 minutes into the broadcast. There’s also another clear shot at 1:12. I haven't seen it yet, so here's hoping I look good.

61st Annual Antoinnete Perry Awards

I won the seat filler’s lottery last night. It was my second year attending the Tony Awards this way, and I scored a seat for the entire night! And let me tell you, I filled that seat like a rock star. I smiled…I applauded…I sat.

I actually thought I was off to a bad start; before the show began I was sent to an empty seat right up front. I knew it was too good to last, but I was excited to be front and center for the opening number. Then, before everything got going, an actual ticket-holder came back and claimed the seat as her own. I was back up in the “holding area” as the lights went down and the ensemble of A Chorus Line started doing their thing. I learned last year that once a segment starts there is very little movement from a seat filling perspective. We really only get shuffled around during the commercial breaks, so I was a little disappointed to be in no man’s land for the start of the show. Then the handler for my section yelled that she needed four people pronto and “RUN!” (they take the fear of empty seats very seriously at the Tonys). I zoomed down to row 13 and slid in along with three other seat fillers. First commercial break, one woman came back. Then, the two other seat fillers and I got to sit through two or three more segments and I started to get a little comfortable. Just as I was about to congratulate my fellow seat fillers for our good luck, two men came back and claimed their seats. It was just me and the actual ticket holders now, and I was lucky enough to stay there for the whole evening. At one point I looked up into the first, second, and distant, distant third mezzanines and appreciated anew how lucky I was. I paid nothing to attend, was in the front, center section of the orchestra, and was surrounded by all the nominees.

I was sitting one row behind Jack O’Brien, who won Best Director for The Coast of Utopia, so I got to see much of that cast (including Billy Crudup, Ethan Hawke, and Martha Plimpton) up close and personal as they came by to congratulate him. Harvey Weinstein also stopped by to chat with him. And, because I was so close to the center aisle, I managed to see lots of stars as they mingled. Sightings include:

Felicity Huffman
Vanessa Redgrave
Neil Patrick Harris
Swoosie Kurtz
Marcia Gay Harden
Rainn Wilson
Debra Monk
David Hyde Pierce
Raul Esparza (before he crumpled in steaming crying mess for losing to DHP)
Eddie Izzard
Bebe Neuwirth
Christine Ebersole
Anika Noni Rose
Idina Menzel and Taye Diggs (maybe the best looking couple ever)
Patrick Wilson
Jane Krakowski

There were surely others, but I’m forgetting them right now. Long story short, it was a great night, and I feel really lucky to have seen it all as I did. And hooray for Spring Awakening!

Friday, June 8, 2007

All The Cool Kids Are Doing It

Stolen from Rena (who stole it from Laura, who stole it from Anne), here is my ipod's take on my life:

Will I get far in life?
Smiling, Richard Shindell

How do my friends see me?
Raise Your Hand, Janis Joplin

What is the story of my life?
Beauty Mark, Rufus Wainwright

What was high school like?
So What, Ani DiFranco

How can I get ahead in life?
Come Rain or Shine, Liza Minnelli

What is the best thing about me?

Award Tour, A Tribe Called Quest

How is today going to be?

The 59th Street Bridge Song, Simon & Garfunkle

What is in store for this weekend?
Let’s Get Together, The Youngbloods

What song describes my parents?

If I Only Had a Heart, Susannah McCorckle

How is my life going?

Love Me Do, The Beatles

What song will they play at my funeral?
Keep on the Sunny Side, The Whites

How does the world see me?
The Look of Love, Liza Minnelli

Will I have a happy life?

The Beauty of the Rain, Dar Williams

What do my friends really think of me?

Logical Song, Supertramp

Do people secretly lust after me?

She’s a Rebel, American Idiot

What should I do with my life?
Da Da Da, Trio (aka the VW commercial song)

What is some good advice?
Give Me Novacaine, Green Day

What is my signature dancing song?

White Wedding, Billy Idol

What do I think my current theme song is?
Blister in the Sun, Violent Femmes

What does everyone else think my current theme song is?
Hey Baby, Gwen Stefani

What type of men/women do you like?

Someone To Fall Back On, Jason Robert Brown

Modern Love Redux

A follow-up to my previous Modern Love post: We had our book group meeting last night with our smallest group yet. I'm not sure if it was a product of summer vacations and itchiness to be outside in the park instead of inside a bar talking about a book or if people didn't show because they didn't like the book or what. Regardless, there were only four of us, but we did manage to have a more spirited conversation about the book than I anticipiated. There were a lot of, "I liked this one," "This one was really sad," "I really identified with that one," type of comments, but we also had a nice conversation about (of course) "Truly, Madly, Guiltily." Whether you applaud Ayelet Waldman's candor or want to run her through, you have to agree she's a good conversation starter. A copy of her essay is online here if anyone's interested.

We decided to read Atonement for the next meeting, which I read several years ago. Since I'm awful at remembering details this long after reading something, it'll be tough for me to contribute much. Given my recent 92nd Street Y/Ian McEwan evening, though, I'm glad to be talking about his work.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Oh, no!

Today I mailed my passport renewal application. I already felt somewhat squeamish about the process, because the government requires you to mail your current passport in with the application, which means that I can't go anywhere now even if I want to. Then, I looked at and the very first article on the front page is all about how it's practically impossible to get a passport these days. I'm not feeling very good about this.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

They must have a special camera to take pictures this bad

As part of my ongoing hope/dream/plan to someday soon go on another vacation, I stopped at CVS over my lunch break to get new passport photos taken. I realized not long ago, quite sadly, that it's been almost ten years since I went to London for a semester and did the bulk of my international travel. I keep getting older, but no richer, and haven't used my passport in almost three years; now it's about to expire.

I'm happy to retire the very bad photo I had taken in 1997 and hoped that I'd fare better this time around. It seems, though, that it's impossible for me to take anything better than a hideous passport picture. I know that every one's passport picture looks terrible, but how will I charm cranky customs officials into stamping my journal (something my 2004 trip proved they are mostly loathe to do) while they're looking at my passport and wondering how someone who has never seen the light of day got a passport in the first place? Seriously, with the white background and my almost albino complexion, I barely show up in the photo.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Ian McEwan, funny man

Tonight, Ian McEwan read from his new book On Chesil Beach at the 92nd Street Y. The novel has gotten mixed to negative reviews, but McEwan is a wonderful reader and gave great voice to the selections he read. He read for almost an hour, introducing his two main characters and then reading a hefty selection from each of their perspectives. Though the poor review still give me pause, hearing him tonight reinvigorates me to read Amsterdam and Enduring Love, which have been on my to-be-read list for a while.

It didn’t surprise me that I enjoyed the reading, but what I didn’t anticipate was how funny McEwan would be during the Q&A. His sense of humor is a bit dry, soft pedaled, and thoroughly enjoyable.

A few of McEwan’s thoughts…
On independent bookstores: “Intense outposts of civilization.”
On reading groups: “The lifeblood of literary fiction.”
On how much of his work is autobiographical (paraphrased): It wouldn’t be possible for a Martian to write about sex on earth without having experienced sex with an earthling. I freely admit to having had sex with earthlings.

Writers who have influenced him include: Saul Bellows, Phillip Roth, Norman Mailer, John Updike, and William S. Burroughs, and he relies on visual details to evoke emotions in his writing. With up to 40% of the brain involved in visual processing, he believes these details are the most effective method of reaching his readers.

In addition to appreciating the opportunity to hear a wonderful novelist read from his work and speak about his experiences as a writer, I love that so many other New Yorkers also appreciate it. Waiting for the reading to begin, I started talking with the woman next to me about our favorite books, respective book club reading choices, and the new movie adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. These random connections are priceless.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Knocked Up on a Saturday Night

Last night I went to see Knocked Up, along with about 400,000 other New Yorkers (seriously, people were sitting in the aisles at the Sony Lincoln Center. What is this, a Star Wars premier?). The movie didn’t have as many full on belly laughs as I had hoped or predicted, but it’s still worth seeing if you like the Judd Apatow school of funny. The excellent cast is definitely part of its charm; in addition to my favorite Apatow clan regulars (Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Paul Rudd, etc.), I really enjoyed Alan Tudyk as an E! executive. Funniest of all, though, was Kristen Wiig (apparently of SNL fame, though I didn’t know that since I almost never watch SNL). She only has a handful of scenes, but she steals every single one she’s in. Hi-larious.

I also made an appearance at my friend Michael’s birthday party, which was fun. I love other people’s parties as a chance to catch up with friends I don’t get to see much.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

The Line of Beauty

I just finished reading Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty, which came highly recommended by Anne and Josh. Because I trust their opinions so much, I anticipated loving this book, too. It's 1980s London, and the novel's protagonist, Nick Guest, moves in with an Oxford friend's wealthy, politically influential, and conservative family, where he adopts a life he wasn't raised to anticipate. As a novice to the systematic social rules and demands, he both relishes and scrutinizes his role in this new world. Surrounded by temptations, he falls into typical patterns of excess while trying to live up to a vague but keenly-felt sense of obligation. Hollinghurst tracks Nick's life over four years of sexual awakening, social climbing, experimentation, and tragedy.

It took a while for me to be firmly pulled into The Line of Beauty, because Hollinghurst's style is somewhat cold. This coolness, though, smartly reflects the carefully created facades employed by so many of the characters; the style helps pull the reader into the world Nick inhabits. The writing throughout is beautiful, and I second Anne's and Josh's raves.