Tuesday, October 6, 2009
But now? That's all changed. So I've decided to compile a short and nowhere near exhaustive list of some great horror movies you should try and rent this season. Yes, some are very common so you wont be surprised to see them here but I've tried to include a few that not as many people know about/have seen. I haven't mentioned many horror movies from the past few years because I tend to find them, for the most part, lame and unimaginative. (Not to mention a large number being remakes anyhow...) Note that all the movies I list here are the originals. And I know I may get a lot of "I can't believe you didn't mention ..." But space is limited. :)
The "No, DUH!" List:
1. Halloween (1978) - I don't even need to explain why this is here. General rule, stay away from most of the sequels although H20 despite it's obvious "Scream"-inspired style provides good closure (which be undone a few years later) and brings back not just Jamie Lee Curtis but Nancy Stephens from parts one and two. She's the cigarette smoking nurse who Michael attacks in the car in the first film.
2. Friday the 13th (1980)- I like this movie. A lot. Yes, it's a rip off of "Halloween" but it also works on its own. I love the early sequence when the young counselor is wandering through the quiet New Jersey town and is warned about the camp. It sets up some good atmosphere. Plus, while it's not the gold standard of acting, the cast is all pretty likable (including Kevin Bacon) and you really do feel the darkness and isolation of the camp.
3. Night of the Living Dead (1968)- What's more disturbing? The flesh eating zombies or the zombie-free final few minutes where a character meets a fate far too close to what was happening in 1960s America? Great, great movie. Plus, Judith O'Dea (Barbra) wears one of the most unconvincing falls ever.
4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1973)- The dinner table scene with the hammer is almost too much for me now, not sure what people thought in 1973 but damn. This is intense and there's a LOT of good screaming.
5. Poltergeist (1982) - Funny how I hated horror movies but did love this. Not so much pure horror to an adult as it is thrilling, for kids, this movie brings every childhood fear to life. Oh, and it was rated PG so kids streamed into the theaters in the summer of 1982 and a whole generation got messed up. Notable for the really strong performances and warmth from Craig T. Nelson, the great Beatrice Straight and the fantastic JoBeth Williams who should have been nominated for an Oscar for this.
Also: "The Exorcist" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street."
The "Be Sure and Look For This" List:
6. "Black Christmas" (1974) - Did you ever wonder what a horror movie starring Margot Kidder, Andrea Martin (SCTV and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding") and the girl who played Juliet in the "Romeo and Juliet" movie we all saw in high school where she flashed her boobs and Romeo his butt, would be like? (Her name is Olivia Hussey, by the way.) Wonder no more. This is a great, unsettling slasher/thriller set in a sorority house. The best thing about it is the air of mystery of who the obscene caller is, something the abysmal 2006 remake spells out for you. One of the scariest scenes for me is when a woman discovers something in a park and screams and screams but we are never shown what it is yet it's still horrifying. Good stuff. A perhaps apocryphal tale has it that when this was first broadcast on network TV, it was yanked at the midpoint because of viewers calling in and saying it was too scary. Another cool thing? It was directed by Bob Clark who nine years later directed the much gentler "A Christmas Story."
7. "Don't Look Now" (1973) - Ahhh, Venice. Canals, gondoliers, piazzas and murdered women. Wait, what? This is not the Venice of David Lean's "Summertime." This is Venice in the off-season. Gloomy, abandoned, eerie, dangerous. Is it haunted the by the ghost of Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland's dead daughter? Who is responsible for the murders? Who are the two weird sisters? This film is notorious less for the story than the sex scene between Christie and Sutherland that was rumored to be real. Warning: Donald Sutherland naked butt alert. But it's not as frightening as his curly wig.
8. "The Haunting" (1963) - remade as a crappy CGI fest in 1999, this is the real deal. Think you're tough? Watch this by yourself with the lights out. Go ahead, I DARE you. I saw this at the age of 24 and had trouble sleeping for the next three weeks. The scariest movie where you never see the ghosts. The music, camera angles and black and white photography are all unsettling. Plus, it has a great cast that includes Julie Harris, Russ Tamblyn and Claire Bloom wearing one great mod outfit. Again, watch it alone. Ha.
9. "The Innocents" (1961)- There have been a lot, lot, lot of versions of "The Turns of the Screw" (and why not? It's a kick ass ghost story) but this is a very faithful and very scary adaptation of the Henry James short story. Deborah Kerr is great as the nanny who's seeing evil, manipulative ghosts - or is she? Also in the cast is the creepy boy from "Village of the Damned." We do see ghosts in this movie, but there's also a lot of great psychological horror going on here as well.
10. "Let's Scare Jessica to Death" (1971)- Hey look! A movie set in rural Connecticut that was FILMED in rural Connecticut and not Ontario or Romania. Great movie about an unbalanced woman who has visions and weird experiences when she moves into an old farmhouse with her husband to "live off the land." Well, it *was* 1971. Vampires and ghosts and Jessica herself all prove pretty scary.
11. "Suspiria" (1977) - An Italian movie, set in Germany and filmed in English. A young woman goes to a dance school that turns out to be home to a coven of witches. Beautiful, rich, vibrant colors make it look like a gore soaked "Wizard of Oz." Not for the faint of heart (it's Italian horror and that's code for blood) but gorgeously filmed with a killer soundtrack.
Modern Horror List:
Since they're relatively new, I will only mention:
"Let the Right One In" (Swedish vampires!)
"The Orphanage" (Spanish ghosts!)
I don't want to say much about these two as they have plots that need to be experienced rather than described.
Not Horror but Horrific:
"They Shoot Horses Don't They?" (1969)- No, this is not a traditional horror movie but you'd be hard pressed to find a movie more unsettling and disturbing. And you thought dance marathons were only fund raisers that high school students participate in!
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Also compounding the general malaise is the sudden uptick in rejection letters that I am getting. I suppose it's good that there seems to be movement but none of the movement is in my direction. But I still send out those resume dutifully and faithfully every day. I know a job will come, but I just don't want it to happen too late. Yeah, the news is rather depressing about the job situation and I know so many others are in the same situation as I, but I get a little selfish and think, "Yes, but only I can control what happens to me." So I second guess myself, wonder what I am doing wrong, wonder if I have done nothing but take the wrong career path my entire life, kick myself when another rejection arrives as though it's some form of judgement.
Nevertheless, there is something satisfying about sending out resumes, knowing that you're working on getting it out there, that each day your name goes out to more and more people, like a ripple effect in a pond. And the more who know about me, the better the odds have to be mathematically. Right? RIGHT??? It's that conundrum: I know I can do the job well, but these people can only choose one person and in this competitive climate, they'll go with the most "golden" resume. And so I am still here and so ashamed to admit that last week, I made it a point to tune into "Oprah" to see the Mackenzie Phillips debacle. Oh, how I've fallen.
Geez, thank god for this blog so I can get it all out. I don't want there to be too much annoying navel-gazing here but every now and then I have to vent.
So, let's talk Sarah Palin for a second. And only for a second for that's all I can take. The woman is incapable of stringing together a coherent thought - this is not saying she cannot form a sentence, she can. It's just that her sentences makes very little sense. Therefore, her book will be completely ghostwritten as we know. The only thing that bugs me is that it probably will be a bestseller. I guess there's no accounting for taste.
And finally, a farewell to September, a month that began with me on Martha's Vineyard, having one of the most glorious vacations ever, to a more sobering month as some friends lost loved ones, members of the family sold their homes, ending an era, and a final gathering was held on the ground of another relatives home that will be sold soon. That was especially moving as it was the place where our families have been gathering since I was an infant (and before) and I'm sad to see the house go.
As I finish writing this, somewhere outside my window, some old creaky door is opening and it sounds like the effect used in horror movies for coffins. That can only mean that it's time for October.
Another month, more possibilities.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
I spent the better part of a month worrying about cooking up the boeuf bourguignon (god, I wish that were easier to spell) and as of last Friday night, I served it, people ate it, they seemed to enjoy it and that was it.
The last several months of my life have been very rote. A typical day goes with me getting up, taking my walk, going home, and sending out resumes while I have "The Young and the Restless" on in the background. (For those of you who used to watch it but haven't in years, you'll be delighted to know that Kay and Jill still hate one another. Since 1974.) Then I tend to worry about my future obsessively for the rest of the day.
Last week was a change of pace and it was nice to stave off the few work rejections that I did get and go shopping. I turned in my coin at the bank and bought items a few at a time. I think that was a psychological thing so it wouldn't look as though I had spent too much money all at once. Always the glutton for punishment, I even walked through the heat and humidity last week to the Fairway down under the viaduct to get the stew meat. And truthfully, I just didn't want to pay for a subway ride to the Fairway on 75th. A friend insisted that I should only go to Fairway, but I'm not sure why that should have been my only option. But I did get my meat and bacon there. Yes, the recipe calls for both bacon and beef. Vegetarians had best stop reading here.
My mind wouldn't rest. While lying in bed on Wednesday night, I was puzzling over what it would be like to cut the bacon from the "rind." I don't think I'd even seen bacon that hadn't been sliced before. The task of separating the bacon from the rind ended up being a lot easier than I thought. The rind is just the skin anyhow. And it all worked out swell. I bought a copy of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" recently but didn't want it to get all messy. perhaps I shouldn't have been so reticent. I always tell my mother that I want her old Betty Crocker cookbook one day, and that things is so splattered by grease and flour and shortening and god knows what else that the book could probably be cooked in the oven and taste good. But I couldn't bring myself to soil my new cookbook. I photocopied the recipe and had it right in front of me as I went step by step, bit by bit over the recipe. There were a few adjustments I had to make - the bacon didn't render out enough fat to brown the meat successfully and in the end, there was no fat to pour out. I started at 1:30 in the afternoon and was done by 7:45 pm. That includes the whole process of cooking in the oven (and frequently checking to make sure it wasn't simmering too much.) Unlike Julie Powell, I did not fall asleep and burn it. Although, my recipe looked a lot different than the one shown in "Julie and Julia."
And as Julia said, the flavors come together much more harmoniously when left overnight. There was barely enough for leftovers when the party was over. That's partly due to a nosy roommate with boundary issues but that's another story entirely.
So what do I tackle next?
Monday, September 21, 2009
First, here's a good quote from an"Onion" critic about the season that reflects what I've discussed with people about the slow nature of the show and is it better to watch all at once on DVD or week by week:
"I’ve read a lot of criticism—in the comments section here and in other places—that while Season Three has featured a number of memorable moments, it hasn’t really cohered. The leisurely pace that’s been Mad Men’s trademark mode has, at times, seemed a little indulgent, as though creator Matt Weiner were trying to convince us that there’s more happening than there actually is… if only we’d look hard enough. Since I enjoy spending time in the Mad Men universe whether it's drama-filled or not, I haven’t minded the slow-drip, scene-by-scene approach. I think of this show as being like one long novel, and though each chapter has its own careful construction and unique themes, it often feels wrong to judge the individual elements of the composition until we’ve seen the whole picture. Three years from now, when we see how much (or how little) everyone’s lives have changed over the course of Mad Men, those “not much happe
ning” times we’ve spent with them will be all the more meaningful, because we’ll have come to know these people."
I totally agree.
Some things about last night I really liked:
- Pete's reaction when they said that Ken Cosgrove is head of accounts as is Pete Campbell, "for the time being." Vincent Kartheiser has some great, momentary reactions shots, like a few weeks ago when the jai alai guy was talking about "balls coming at his face."
-Peggy fainting into Pete's arms.
- Joan. Joan. Joan. Was she great in this episode or what? How can she leave Sterling Cooper? And how can they let her go? I swore she was going to ask Don to help her get her job back when they were in the hospital but she didn't. Damn. But man, she and Don have some smokin' chemistry. But as Joan noted in the first season, he never went after her. I'll bet Don never has affairs with coworkers. Joan is the one with brains in her fingers, not her husband.
- Betty apparently still doesn't care for Bobby much. "Go beat your head against the wall. Only boring people get bored."
- Evil Bubble Cut Barbie.
- Why don't we know Don's secretary's name? Peggy has Olive, Pete's had Hildy forever, Paul has/had Lois.
- Did you notice the quick shot of Mr. Hooker and a secretary run into the room, all mussed up when the accident happened? Man, I wish Joan would put him in his place.
- Paul Kinsey going crazy over having to cut his beard and then playing the guitar while the top brass comes through.
- And the accident itself. Completely unexpected but this is the way MM always confounds our expectations. Here I was thinking, we now have this young upstart, he's going to cause all kinds of trouble and tension, everybody will hate him. There will be episodes worth of resentment and then blam!, his foot gets cut off by a lawnmower and suddenly the status quo is restored. Brilliant play on the title as well, "Guy Walks Into Advertising Agency" as his name was Guy and then of course, he doesn't walk out.
I love this show.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Amidst all this contemporary tea party nonsense, the ugly rhetoric being thrown around, the sense that everything is falling apart, we have lost one of the voices in the struggle for freedom and civil liberties. It was once said about folksinger Malvina Reynolds that her protest songs sound gentle, but she doesn't protest gently. The same can be said for Mary Travers.
I have a CD boxed-set from a few years ago entitled "Washington Square Memories" which is the folk music from the era. One of the photos in the booklet shows a young, pretty, teenage blonde singing along with a girl in a guitar. The photo is dated 1954-55. I can give you three guesses as to who that young blonde is.
If you want the quintessential 60s folkie, I'd say it would be Mary Travers. This isn't to put down Joan Baez because I love her but Travers was the archetype of the folkie. She was a city dweller who would go down to Washington Square on the weekends and sing along. Eventually, she played the clubs, was discovered and recruited to be part of a folksinging trio. Yes, you heard me right - "recruited." "Peter, Paul and Mary" did not form spontaneously but were put together by a record company. This doesn't take away from any of their legacy for me (or the fact that, as a book I once read noted, that Mary was blonde whereas the true authentic folk singers all knew that it was the brunettes who were the most earnest, the type who carried a copy of "The Bell Jar" in their purses.)
So there's both a hint of authenticity and the commercial in the story of Mary Travers. But to me, it doesn't matter. What I remember are the songs. My mother had a few Peter, Paul and Mary albums and when we were growing up, she would often play them when she was doing the dishes after dinner or on lazy Sunday afternoons. My mother owned their first album, the one when Mary is holding a bouquet of flowers and the name of the group is written on chalk on a brick wall behind them. The song I seem to remember best, and I have no idea why, is "Lemon Tree." But the song I grew to love when I started listening to them on my own at the age of 17 is "If I Had a Hammer." Yes, in the era of hair metal and Funky Colmadenas, I went in the opposite direction.
It's because of the influence of "Peter, Paul and Mary" I went and discovered all these other wonderful, brilliant folk artists from that era and beyond. It's why I always feel as though I was born too late and wish that the Greenwich Village I knew was not the one where I worked for 6 years in the '00s but the Village of the 50s and 60s. I know I idealize it, smoky coffeehouses, acoustic music, beatniks but there has to really have been something there for the legend to grow. It sure beats all the Marc Jacobs boutiques that have taken over Bleecker Street.
Goodbye, Mary. Thanks for the fight, the music, your voice, your inspiration and everything else. I was going to try and end this with some reference to one of her songs, like "your soul is blowin' in the wind" or "now you're much further than 500 miles" but I think it's best to show my love and respect and just stop right here.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
But this was a good week with which to end the month of August. And there was nothing especially amazing about it. Well, the weather broke so that was indeed a good thing after last week's heat wave. I think if the Russian kids who were staying with us last week were here now, they would have been exploring the city a lot more.
But I was outside a lot more. I visited a friend's mother who was returning home after visiting for a few months, I helped out with a Tuesday night community dinner and I spent the past two days volunteering at my friend's workplace to help organize things. My friend works in a private library setting and all I could think of was, "That was a wasted opportunity." I suppose if I went back in time, I would do a lot of things differently and taken an actual library job out of grad school rather than falling for the "dot coms are the here and now!" argument. Ah well...
But after two days of hauling boxes, sweating, running up and down stairs, handling books older than this country, getting red rot on my hands , I felt rejuvenated. It's a good thing I've been doing my four mile morning walks every day for the past several months because I didn't feel all that tired. But had I done this earlier in the year, I'd have been winded after an hour.
Man, it felt good to be working and useful again. Who thought I'd ever miss good old hard work?
And now as a reward, I'm heading out on vacation for a week (if one can really take a vacation when they haven't worked in forever. )
Monday, August 24, 2009
W.'s reasons for taking the guys in were not entirely altruistic; what W. really wanted was a passage to St. Petersburg. I think a lot of this "taking in people out of the goodness of our hearts" is more of a quid pro quo situation than anybody cares to admit. If you can stay in our apartment for free in New York, there's an expectation that people will reciprocate and let you stay with them gratis in their home country.
There was a problem with this theory right off the bat: these guys were only 19 years old (born in 1990!), probably don't even have their own places and while they were certainly not arrogant or rude, they didn't really have any interest in hanging out with two (curiously single) American guys, one in his mid-forties and the other in his *ahem* late-thirties. (And where is our third roommate, V.? V. is out shooting a short film in Bolivia and will be gone for a month. He left two weeks ago and W. asked me "Did he cut his hair before he left or does he still look like a homeless guy who you'd see asking for money on the number 1 train?" The latter.)
There was no bonding that happened with our foreign visitors, no moments where we sat around and talked and laughed. Most conversations we had were short and rushed; often I'd be left talking in mid-sentence as they would appear to lose interest, turn away and go onto the Russian language Facebook. I tried to get them talking about Facebook, but that went nowhere.
The most serious conversation I did have with one of them came about when I was in the kitchen getting a drink. The kid came in, looked me square in the face and in a very serious tone asked, "Do you know where we can get doughnuts around here?" Sadly, I didn't. This is just not a doughnut neighborhood. These guys don't have doughnuts in Russia and they came upon a bakery in upstate New York earlier in their travels and fell in love with the fried delicacies. It was hard to explain to them that bakeries in Manhattan don't really specialize in doughnuts.
As for the guys being out all the time and us never seeing them- lies, all lies. I think our visitors spent more time in the apartment than they did sightseeing. One day they went to the Brooklyn Bridge. The next, they took the Staten Island Ferry but were back in the apartment by 3 pm and stayed the rest of the day. They didn't just stay in a corner either. These guys spent almost all of their time in this heat trap, playing loud rock music, fiddling on the computer, organizing and reorganizing their luggage which they seemed to do about five times. They even cooked, something I haven't bothered doing since the summer began and it became far too hot to turn on the oven or stove. They subsisted on rice and some kind of stir fry vegetables the entire time they were here, washed down with a bottle of Dr. Pepper that lasted five days. Their luggage and belongings were spread out all over the front living room so we could see some of the things the guys had collected during their travels. Little American flags (from their trip to DC), bags of candy, toys and, oddly, dozens of packets of Sweet and Low.
I can't blame them for not wanting to be out too much. Their visit coincided with some of the hottest, most humid weather of the summer, but even the apartment was sweltering. The night before their arrival there was a microburst so severe that the city, Central Park especially, lost hundreds of trees. I'm still in mourning.
Now they're gone and a weird thing happened this evening. The apartment is quiet, the front room is empty and I miss the chaos. Just a little bit. Turns out, having a full house that was crowded and noisy, even for a short while, was a nice respite from all the endless days I have been spending here alone looking for work. Now I'm feeling lonely again. Joni was right, you really don't know what you've got til it's gone.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
The one thing the book "FML" did do was make me think about some of the embarrassing things that have happened to me over the years. It's a blessing and a curse that I have a memory like a steel trap. On the one hand, I am able to remember dates and incidents; I am the family historian. On the other hand, I remember times when people have hurt me or even worse, when I have been cruel to others and caused people pain. It would be nice to forget about all of those time by taking a pill, sort of like an "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" because really, I can still feel badly about things that I did YEARS ago. I feel my face turn red and it's as though the incident happened yesterday. Much like the story of the brown corduroys in 7th grade.
Remember corduroys? Not the wide cord kind, but the thin cord kind we wore in the 70s and 80s that would make the "vhoop vhoop" sound whenever we'd walk? The kind that would wear out at the knees and the behind but they were so comfortable we just didn't want to give them up? I wore a lot of corduroys in 7th grade (the 1983-84 school year) and preferred them to jeans. One particular morning, I was tearing about the house trying to find pants to wear and I couldn't find any clean clothes. (Too many incidents like this precipitated my mother giving us all laundry baskets when we were in our early teens and saying that our personal laundry duties were up to us now.) But at the last minute, I did manage to find pants in the dryer, a pair of tan corduroys. A lucky break! I put them on and went to school.
Junior High was not the high point in my school career: kids were crueler, teachers grew meaner (and nuttier.) There were all sorts of adjustments I had to make to get used to life at Kiley Junior High and I was only, at this point, (March of 1984) starting to get into the groove. But on this day, after lunch, the kid behind me (his name was Jason. Where are you now, Jason?) was laughing and pointing to my butt. A word about my butt: I don't really have one so that can't be what the amusement was. I wondered if my pen had exploded in my pocket; that had happened earlier in the school year but I didn't carry pens in my back pocket anymore. What could have been so funny that he was laughing and calling somebody else over to take a look? Were the pants torn revealing my underwear. A cursory feel back there revealed that no, the pants were intact. Thankfully, the line started moving and nobody else came to witness what was on my ass.
I then forgot about it. Jason didn't press the issue and the day went on. But when I was about to go home the day, one of the girls in my class looked at me in that oh so serious way only a twelve year old can muster and said, "Chic is for girls." I had no idea what she was talking about but something was going on and I was just glad to go home and find out what it was.
I got home and my sister, who is two and a half years older than me, yelled at me because I was wearing her pants, her "Chic" brand pants. I had worn them to school. And then, worst of all, she and my brother started laughing at me. You see, dear reader, those were NOT my tan corduroys in the dryer that morning, they were my sister's "Chic" tan corduroy pants. I had worn my sister's pants to school and all day I had the "Chic" label emblazoned across the back pocket on my ass. I was so humiliated by my siblings laughing at me that, in a rage, I overturned a small table. So then the day, which had been bad enough, ended with me getting punished because I had knocked over furniture. Something like this could only, only happen in Junior High.
And the worst thing about it all? That entire day I was going around wearing girl's pants, I never noticed any difference in the way my sister's pants fit me as compared to my actual brown cords (which, as it turned out, were still in the dirty clothes basket.)
I may as well say it: FML.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Four out of five of the Society members had met several years earlier while we were working together at a large bookstore near the Massachusetts/Connecticut border.I had started the job there after college, as part-time Christmas help that became permanent after the holiday. I was also working another job as an admissions clerk at a very quiet local museum complex, but it was the bookstore job that was the one I always looked forward to every night. There at the bookstore, I met several other disenchanted kindred souls who were working there because of the bad economy.While times were tough there was still optimism in the air as it was early into Bill Clinton’s first term – the ignominies of the Defense of Marriage Act and the Lewinsky scandal were still down the road - and after the previous twelve years of Republican rule, it felt like a new day. After we all left the bookstore, we remained friends and once Madeleine and B. moved back into the area after living on Nantucket for a time, we formed the group.
By this time in my life, I was looking for any escape from suburbia (where I lived with my partner) into Northampton, near where I had attended to college. To me, the area of the upper Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts was a fairyland in contrast to where I was living in Enfield, CT. I was secretly happy that the sojourn to Nantucket hadn’t worked out for Madeleine and B. I wasn't ready to cut them loose yet and I was glad that they were, for the time being, back in the area and back in my life. They moved into the handsome brick building, up the hill from downtown Northampton and directly behind Smith College campus. It was the only brick apartment building in the neighborhood. Memory has a strange way of making me think that their apartment was up several levels, like on the sixth floor but this can’t be possible as the place wasn't even six stories tall. The building was big but not tall.
Madeleine had decorated the living room with photographs and paintings she had created. The bookshelves were filled with all kids of different cookbooks; it was the first time that I had ever really considered cookbooks to be literature but Madeleine had them on the shelves with as much reverence as I used to place my first editions of modern novels. In Madeleine’s hands, even "Martha Stewart's Entertaining" looked perfectly in place next to her books on Gauguin, Josephine Baker and Pablo Picasso.
I can’t remember if there were drinks or food passed along at the first meeting, but I figured there had to be something. It was around dinnertime and I wouldn’t have had time to eat between my job as a bank teller in Springfield and then heading up to Northampton. I sat on the floor and Madeleine and B.’s cats, Punkin and Frida, came and went as they pleased in the room, not entirely thrilled by the strangers who had invaded their space and not willing to be affectionate. Since none of us were particularly sure as how to conduct a meeting, we went around one by one and shared what we had. Todd passed around some slides of paintings that he had made at college. We all would take a slide, hold it up to the light and try to discern what the image was in the acetate. Joe presented less of a short story than random thoughts of the state of the current literature and the real lack of anything exciting or new happening.
I had just recently read “Pride and Prejudice” for the first time and had been completely taken by it. Very few books before or since have held such a power for me, and it was one line in that book that I found both hilarious and worthy of seizing upon, the description of the temperament eldest Bennet daughter as “the super-excellent disposition of Jane.” I took that line and used it as the title of a short story I’d written in Jane Austen’s voice, but transported to the current world of Amherst, Massachusetts in the mid-1990s. I can no longer find any trace of my story and cannot even remember much of it, just that the heroine Jane (whose personality remains to me as some big blank, I was so busy trying to be witty that I forgot to give my character any personality) and where she lived that it must not have been a very impressive achievement. But when all we want to do is parody, what is impressive? (Embarrassingly, a year later a friend wanted us all to write short humorous essays on a theme and I again went to that Jane Austen parody well for inspiration. How lame!) Madeleine passed around some artwork, and B. presented some of his paintings.
The initial meeting got off to such a good start that we were all looking forward to the next week. We did gather, but Todd was unable to attend so we were already short one member on only our second meeting. I figured this would be a one time occurrence so we put things on hold and headed into town for dinner and walked around afterward. But the Prospect Street Society never got back on track. In subsequent weeks, there would always be somebody who couldn’t make it, or we’d be too distracted to get down to business. One night, there was a huge blowup between two members. It’s kind of hard to keep a meeting going after that. And so, only two months after the Prospect Street was formed, the Prospect Street Society mutually dissolved. Sometimes, when you try too hard to make something happen, it feels forced.
A couple of years after we ended the Society and I was leaving the area for graduate school, B. gave me a gift of an abstract landscape he’d painted that represented Northampton. It still hangs on my wall. Even though I am currently struggling and unemployed, I doubt I will one day have to sell it for food like Gertrude Stein did with some of her Cézannes during the Second World War and I don’t intend to ever get rid of it. But B. himself has faded from my life entirely; I don't expect I'll ever see him again.
I’m still friends with Madeleine and Todd and Joe and we sometimes reminisce about the Society and we laugh. It came to nothing, just like a lot of things have and will in our lives. And for the positive outcome - I have not written any more Jane Austen parodies in over a decade.
“On Todd Salazar’s first day of college, while his belongings were still in neatly labeled boxes on the dorm room floor, he had sex with his new roommate Darin.”
From the first line of the first page of Semesters, a loopy, original novel about gay life at a large New England state university during the early ‘90s, it's clear that the people populating this novel certainly are more interesting that those saintly, asexual members of the class of 10 percent portrayed in heterosexual college novels. Set against an era when gay marriage is a pipe dream and being “out” is still a precarious choice, the students of Semesters feel safe enough in their campus microcosm to be Here and Queer—so get used to it! They have sex, do drugs, have sex again, make all the wrong decisions, wage war against their conservative enemies, bum cigarettes, have more sex, all the while struggling with questions universal to young Americans. The writing is breezy and the drama generous. You'll encounter scandalous revelations, parties out of bounds, back stabbing, and an unforgettable, topsy-turvy final confrontation. Has it been mentioned that there is sex? Lots of it!
The protagonists are three gay men: BEN BRISTOL, the transfer student looking for sex or love, whichever comes first, TODD SALAZAR, the freshman who already has quite the track record but is looking for new conquests, and DARIN BURKETT, Todd’s whiny and underhanded first semester roommate, the self-appointed perpetual victim.
Ben Bristol is the heart of the novel. After two years of living closeted at home and attending a local community college to save money, Ben has high expectations for his junior year. But despite having a hot, straight British roommate who has a habit of walking around in his underwear, Ben’s only affections are from a fedora-wearing Trekker named EDGAR whom he met during orientation. Undeterred, Ben joins the University Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Alliance (UGLBA), writes a column for a newsletter, and falls hard for a guy who barely knows he exists—and that’s only in the first month of school. We follow the uninitiated Ben as he discovers the thrill of off-campus parties, drinks bad sangria and goes to the UGLBA-sponsored dances. Finally an active member of a gay community, is Ben happy? And what if his quest for love ends with Ben in the arms of somebody he’d never expected?
Among Ben’s new college friends are: JULIA, a fellow member of the UGLBA whose claims of bisexuality are suspect; JEREMY and ARTURO, who are at a crisis point in their relationship, which Arturo relieves by hitting on other men in front of Jeremy, oblivious to Jeremy’s growing attraction to a sexy TA; TOBE, the self-appointed DJ who plays music nobody requests and refuses to wear weight-appropriate clothing; and TERRI, the beleaguered leader of the UGLBA who discovers her ex-girlfriend is in an abusive relationship and finds herself thrust into a brutal life or death situation.
Countering Ben’s cautious and naive romantic tendencies, Todd Salazar is all magnetic sexual appeal. Todd can’t help but oblige the men who line up the moment he steps on campus in September. In addition to sleeping with his roommate, Darin, Todd seduces super-senior RICHARD, who already has a boyfriend. No matter. After Richard, there’s KIRK, a golden boy from California, who has his own apartment. But Todd is carrying a dark secret about a taboo relationship he had over the summer. There’s a problem with secrets, though ... they have a funny way of being exposed at just the wrong times.
And then there’s Darin Burkett, a weaselly freshman from the suburbs of Boston not thrilled to be stuck in a provincial western Massachusetts state school. The relationship between roommates Darin and Todd, at first full of passion, quickly dissolves as Darin’s inconsiderate habits drive anal retentive Todd crazy; Darin doesn’t make his bed, breaks Todd’s lamp [gasp!], smokes in the dorm room, and has people in at all hours, notably MARIA, the cynical fellow UGLBA member who lives down the hall. Together, Darin and Maria bring their own half-baked brand of stoner politics to a campus that Darin feels is too complacent. Eventually Darin takes up with the mysterious revolutionary and begins a prank campaign against the Young Conservatives Club. Darin also manages to acquire a boyfriend, the sexy LARS, a former swim team member with a great tan line who doesn’t seem to know why he's dating Darin. Tensions between Darin and Todd explode into a nasty fist fight which ends the first semester with a bang and sets the tone for an even larger confrontation just before Spring Break, the ramifications of which send shock waves through the campus.
So take a study break, wring out your wet Speedo and grab a cup of coffee and peanut butter chocolate chip cookie at the Blue Book Café. Semesters demonstrates how much fun college can be when you’re not attending class.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
I’ve been a man of obsessions my entire life and some previous fanatical leanings have been everything from Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” to Joan Baez to “As the World Turns” to Anne Rice to the musical “Gypsy.” With that last one, I ended up buying three different cast albums in the space of one month and then, not completely happy, I had to buy the original recording on vinyl to be a completist. Most of these former loves have never really left me and I still have the CDs in my collection, I still have “Alice in Wonderland” items in my room and I still listen to Joan Baez on occasion.
The Gertrude Stein obsession was brought about by an article Janet Malcolm had written for The New Yorker (and an eventual book) entitled “Gertrude Stein’s War.” The article detailed the story of how Stein and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, were able to survive the French Occupation despite being two Jewish lesbians. There was more to Malcolm’s article than that: it was a glimpse into Stein’s life in Paris in the early twentieth century. I was so taken with the article that I ran right out and bought a used copy of “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.” I’d never given much thought to the whole Parisian expatriate community, but suddenly I wanted to know everything about it and especially these two women.
And what true obsession about Stein and Toklas could be satisfied without owning a copy of “The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook?” The book is still in print and I bought it more for the thrill of it rather than trying any of the recipes which I had heard are notoriously difficult. “The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook” is more useful as a memoir of her life in France than as a recipe book, but there was one recipe that caught my eye. No, it wasn’t the infamous “Toklas Brownies” that, as it turns out, wasn't even a brownie recipe but for Haschisch Fudge that was added into the cookbook by a friend without Toklas really knowing much about the most potent ingredient.
The recipe that caught my eye had one of the simplest names: Very Good Chocolate Mousse. There were only two ingredients: 6 eggs and half a pound of sweet chocolate. Now how hard could that be, I wondered? I’m not a cook even though I used to love browning the ground meat for my mother whenever she was adding it to a recipe. It was just one of those simple pleasures…
My first attempt at Very Good Chocolate Mousse took place one summer night. My roommate's two new kittens were in the kitchen with me, both fascinated and terrified by the swinging electric cord for the mixer. And for a recipe that only had two ingredients, I made every mistake a person could make. I calculated amounts wrong and put in a pound of chocolate (I was an English major, okay?), ended up beating the chocolate and eggs together when then recipe does not tell you to do that (No excuse here - I was an English major) and then, at the height of everything, I lifted the beater (still whirring) out of the bowl and chocolate went everywhere. All over me, the walls, the kittens. The evening was a failure, enough of a failure that I did not attempt the recipe again for six more years.
This year, I finally went to Paris and had the time of my life. I brought a rose with me to the Pere LaChaise cemetery to lay onto the grave of Gertrude Stein- after all, had it not been for her, I’d never have started my interest in Paris to begin with. I wanted to thank her that I finally made it. Once, I got back to New York, I took out “The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook” again, blew off the dust and once again attempted Very Good Chocolate Mousse.
In a fairy tale ending to this post, I could tell you that everything went swimmingly this time out. But that would be a lie.
I do give myself credit this time for perfectly separating the yolks from the whites and correctly measuring the amount of chocolate (which, I must add, you need to shred in a cheese grater, bit by bit, until you have chocolate dust in your nose and under your fingernails.) But the mistake I did make this time was stirring the chocolate and frothy egg whites together when I should have folded them. This does make a difference (who knew?) and Toklas' promise for a spongy texture eluded me; I had mousse that was maybe a quarter of an inch deep in its bowl. It looked very sad. At least this time out, the result was edible and gave me enough confidence to not wait another six years to attempt the recipe again and get it just right next time.
After all, mousse shouldn’t be chewy.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Anybody familiar with the 70s sitcom "Maude" starring Bea Arthur knows that in the first season, there was a controversial two-parter about Maude discovering that she is pregnant at 48. After much debate, Maude decides to undergo an abortion (a procedure than legal in New York State but not yet in the country at large.) While this episode has become notorious, it's actually a very thoughtful, poignant and intellectual take on the issue. (And as a trivia question, it was written by future 'Golden Girls' creator Susan Harris!)
For me, the most striking part of the episode is not Maude's final decision, coming as it does in the very last moments of the episode, but something that occurs earlier. Maude and Walter are discussing the option and Walter lets loose with his own confession: he's never wanted to be a father. He says that in his life, people have thought he was crazy for voicing that opinion but it was just how he felt. I was nearly teary-eyed when I saw that because what Walter - a fictional character- and I - a semi-real person- felt were one and the same. And yes, I've often been asked why I don't have any interest in becoming a father.
The simple answer is: I just don't. It's not because I'm gay. I know lots and lots of gay guys who have children, consider it or are in the process but for me, I've never felt the urge. To some people, that makes me selfish. Yes, I've been called selfish. And maybe I am. But I think it would be a lot worse for me if I did adopt a kid just so I wouldn't be considered selfish.
My best friend Dave has two absolutely fantastic young boys who amuse me endlessly whenever I visit. My cousin Christine has a boy and a girl who are so cute it's painful. And my own brother has two really, honestly, great kids who are not only beautiful but good. I just don't feel as though I am missing anything after I've visited them. I look forward to seeing them again, but I still don't want to partake in being a father.
I never hear too much about this opinion in the media, and I think it is because some people are afraid of being labeled as "selfish." That's just how I've always been.
Yesterday, my old friend Allen (from my long lost UMASS days) invited me over for dinner. We’d both been feeling a bit down lately, career wise and personally so it afforded a chance to get together. I knew I’d probably get stuck watching the Will and Grace series finale, but what the hell. I’d gladly have to endure that so I could see an old friend.
Whenever I have gone to see Allen in the past, I’ve taken the subway so I never really saw much of Brooklyn, just Court Street and Atlantic Avenue but yesterday was a gorgeous spring day, sunny and warm. I love Brooklyn and thought what a great day to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. I had these grand ideas in my mind of walking over the bridge with the blue sky above me, seeing Manhattan behind me, Brooklyn ahead of me. And I probably even imagined it set to the tune of the Mary Tyler Moore theme, with all the gender specific pronouns changed to fit me. Yeah, this walk was just what I needed.
The only problem was I wasn’t sure how to get to the bridge from where I worked, so I asked Heather, a woman whom I work with how to get there. A few minutes later Heather came up and said she’d walk over the bridge with me; despite having been born and raised in Brooklyn she only had walked over the bridge twice and both times it was for emergency reasons: the blackout of ’03 and the Transit Strike back in December.
We left about five and the clouds were gathering and the sun wasn’t shining any more. The forecast I read said that there was rain due but not until about 6. I figured if we hit the bridge about 5:15, we’d have plenty of time. For those not familiar with the Bridge, the walkway for pedestrians and bikers is OVER the traffic. It’s pretty amazing and it also allows the views to be unobstructed by trucks and what have you. About five minutes into our walk, we felt a few drops but I figured it would pass. The dark clouds were above us but it was already lighter in the west so I figured we were fine. I did notice that to the South, it was pretty dark and things were obscured. And then it hit. Suffice it to say that for the next hour, Heather and I were trapped on the Brooklyn Bridge in the middle of a fierce, nasty hurricane-like thunderstorm. Once you’re on the bridge, you’re pretty trapped. You can either go back to Manhattan or forward to Brooklyn but there are no shortcuts. The rain was HORIZONTAL. I didn’t have my umbrella but Heather had some Disney Tigger umbrella that broke the minute she opened it and the wind hit it. All we could do was use it as a shield. We were drenched and I had puddles in my shoes.
We reached the first arch and huddled with a bunch of other people who’d been caught in the storm. After twenty minutes, the rain seemed to be easing up so we decided to walk on. The minute we walked out from under the arch, the storm howled right back up as though it had been laying in wait. Now I know why people give hurricanes names, as though they do have human characteristics of malice. Once again, we were trapped and this time the umbrella did half the work it did before. Again with the torrential rain and this time, we saw lightning. After forever, we reached the second arch and stood there with more people. We stayed under the second arch even longer because this time the rain was not letting up. WE did manage to befriend a poor tourist from Amsterdam who was soaked to the bone and gave him suggestions as to what to see in the city. Thank God he didn’t get wise to us and ask, “If you know the city so well, how come you crossed the Bridge when it looked as though it may rain?” I wouldn’t have had an answer for that.
The rain eventually tapered off, we got off the bridge and went our separate ways. Too bad for me, I was wet the rest of the entire night and my shoes may never recover. I was not the first person to be caught on the bridge in a storm, and this won’t even be my last time walking across it but next time, I’m making sure that there aren’t even slight vapor trails in the sky.
I was never a huge fan of Will and Grace to begin with and enduring the final episode while damp was not a fun experience. And poor Heather, she has yet to cross the bridge in a normal manner.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
From then on, everybody assumed that I would grow up to become a writer. I possessed a good imagination and from the few stories that I did put down to paper, (regretfully, there weren't enough) I showed talent but I never pursued the gift with much vigor. I wrote some well-received stories in junior high classes but whenever I tried to write on my own, I quickly lost interest or the story did not shape up the way I had hoped. The story I was writing down onto paper never came across as original or striking as the one I was hatching in my head. This disconnect stopped me from writing almost entirely until my sophomore year of college. Thanks to a wonderful Creative Writing teacher, I was able to write more than I had in years, but the problem remained: I was still unable to write for myself outside of school.
In college, I hung out with an unconventional, colorful crowd whom I figured would make great material for a novel. After graduation, the story grew in my mind but again, I had no idea how I would make the tale come alive. How could I make the story unique? What could I do to make the characters seem real? I didn’t have any idea.
Thirteen years passed. In the summer of 2006, I finally sat down at my new computer and began the story I’d put off for so long. Five months later, I had completed a 700 page first draft of my novel. Since then, I have gone through four additional drafts. I now have the story I wanted to tell. Is the novel publishable? Would anybody really ever want to read it? I don’t know.
What is this magnum opus? Is it a heartrending tale of personal adversity? A bildungsroman about a young, plucky kid? No. It's a novel entitled "Semesters" about gay and lesbian college students whose opening sentence is
"On Todd Salazar’s first day of college, while his belongings were still in neatly labeled boxes on the dorm room floor, he had sex with his new roommate Darin."
Not exactly the stuff of literary immortality. But I wanted to write a novel that was fun to me, one that I would enjoy. It was inspired by a story that had always been gnawing at the back of my mind ever since I graduated college. I just had no idea how to write the story until I read the novel that would make all the difference: Jackie Collins' "Hollywood Wives." Finally, a way to structure the tale! Yes, I suppose I should say it was Faulkner or Morrison - no less influential upon me- but it was Collins who sealed the deal.
What I do know is that I finally – after too much time- wrote that novel I knew I had in me. I keep telling people that the main reason that I want it to be published is so that I can take a trip back to
Saturday, August 15, 2009
- Get up and realize I am still out of work.
- Go on my four mile daily walk and get alarmed when I see the little schoolchildren looking taller than they were when I first started walking.
- Arrive home, shower and turn on "The Young and the Restless." (Oh Nikki and Victor, will you ever get it together?)
- Send out my daily quota of three resumes.
- Spend the rest of the day worrying about money.
So, this is a good place for me to get out my thoughts. Even better, you don't have to read it if I get all down and depressing and dull.
I know the blogging wave seems to have passed and people are all into Twittering and Facebook now, but there's some small comfort that I am coming into this so late. It seems to be my role to come into things late, after the fun has come and gone.
When I was a teenager, I joined a Catholic Youth Group, not so much because I was so devout but because my parents were worried that I didn't have enough friends and was too much of a loner. So I joined and made a good pretense of really being a good Christian boy. (To this day, I still don't drink but that's the only vice I didn't pick up.) But when I joined, there was this group of teens who'd been in the crowd longer and they used to spend their time talking about how much more fun things used to be.
I moved on, went to college and joined the local gay, lesbian and bisexual college group. A constant refrain around the student office then (which was painted lavender) was how things weren't as wild and crazy as they once were, how too many of the fun people had graduated. Oddly enough, despite so many people convinced that the magic was gone, I ended up having a pretty swell time .
My first job in New York was at a now defunct dot com that had seen a lot of growth in a short time. This was a place where beach balls used to bounce around the office on West 26th Street and bongos would play whenever a sale was made. But for the group of the original employees who saw themselves as pioneers and had fond memories of the summer outing at the founder's beach home where original Picasso's adorned the walls, the newer hires (me being one of them) were intruders and just didn't know how good things once were.
And then there's New York City itself. You can't swing a dead cat without hitting somebody who talks about how much better the city was in the 50s/60s/70s/80s/90s. What am I to do? Here I am, happening to be in the city at a time which is apparently the least fun, least exciting, most soul deadening time ever. Drat the luck. If only I'd had the hindsight to join any of these groups/jobs just a few years earlier, I'm sure that my memories would be just as rosy as everybody else's.
So I apologize in advance in my blog isn't as exciting or thrilling as blogs used to be. It's just my luck to always be late to the party.
DOB/Age: October 5, 1971 (37)
Status: Single for as long as I can remember.
Location: New York City
Achievements in Life: A completed novel, a sexy college romp entitled "Semesters" even though a friend told me nobody wants to read novels about college.
Goal: To get a job, get the novel published so I can one day visit Paris again.
Is any of this realistic? At this point, I'd say no.
Realistic goal: Get rid of the annoying rash on my left arm.
Really? That's it? That's all for now. This rash is really itchy.
Okay, once you get rid of the rash, then what? Master the Art of French Cooking.
And if you can't even do that? Chef Boyardee.