Monthly Archives: June 2010

no, i don’t mind holding

6/15/10

A couple of things have happened lately that brought up some ancient metaphors for my life. First off, the wife and I got new wedding rings in London during our trip in April (longtime readers have been bored by my lost ring lamentations for a year now) and we got them fitted at the gorgeous shop in Highbury. We got our ring sizes by trying on several generic rings, of course, and Tessa’s was easy.

Mine, however, kinda sucked. I tried on ring after ring, and each time I said it was too tight, they said it “had to be a little tight” and “fingers change diameter all the time” and finally everyone convinced me to get the size that I KNEW was going to be too small.

After a few months metalsmithing, the rings arrived via post to our house last week, and when I put mine on, I could barely get it off, and my finger bloated up with blood retention.

Okay, story #2: Tessa and Lucy have been doing a lot of ice skating recently, and I’m not going to let them have all the fun, so I started lessons myself. I even bought my own pair of ice skates, mostly because I want to zip around the arena like a hockey player. However, the ice skates themselves are excruciatingly painful.

“They take ten hours to wear in,” I was told. “It’s supposed to be uncomfortable.” “Skaters always get a size down from normal and wear thin socks.” “You feet aren’t THAT flat, they’ll be fine.” Halfway through my lesson with Gary Visconti (yes, the two-time U.S. Champion gold-medalist, thank you), I had to lean over and stop actual tears from rolling down my face, I was in such unbearable agony. Gary was awesome, because his feet were as flat as mine, and knew this was not a problem that was going to go away by grinning and bearing it.

All this to say… why doesn’t anyone except U.S. Figure Skating Champion Gary Visconti listen to me? I get it, I’m a whiner, sure, but I feel like I spent half my childhood telling people something was wrong, and having them tell me I was imagining it. I know shopkeepers (like the ring boutique and the ice skate shop) have long soured on human nature by the placebo effect, thinking that 95% of customer’s problems are psychosomatic. But when I say something is fucked up, it’s almost always ACTUALLY FUCKED UP.

Typical sequence of events in my youth:

1. I tell an adult that my stomach hurts, or that someone at school is beating me up.

2. I am told that it will stop soon enough on its own.

3. A day later, I come back and say, no, it’s worse.

4. I am given a platitude, along with an unworkable “solution” by an adult is busy doing something else.

5. As I leave the room, I hear something about being “way too sensitive” and a general remark about “redheads”.

6. My parents are called by the principal the next day because I’ve “been involved in a major school fight” OR I need to be rushed to the hospital because my appendix is bursting.

7. REPEAT.

I have had enough! I am 43 years old, and I love this ring, but I want it to fit, so FIX IT AND DON’T TELL ME I’LL GROW INTO IT. SAME GOES FOR YOU, ICE SKATE VENDOR. I’ll be WATCHING.

woodhouse-jarman-vandekaamp-smyth, betty – pls come to the red courtesy phone

6/14/10

One more word about name changes after marriage, the kids, etc… most of you know that Tessa kept her full name, so did I, and Lucy has a hyphenated last name. Hyphenation is actually a pretty standard tradition going back centuries in England, when the progeny of a couple would take whatever names had the most social importance, or relations to royalty, money, etcetera. Hence the easily-mockable silliness of many old British names (and why our daughter’s full name sounds like a bank in London).

However, we are always met with the same criticism when it comes up: what might happen in the next generation with those hyphens, what will become of all our names, until we see it in their eyes: a world, not too many decades hence, when the planet is drowning in a surfeit of hyphens, slashing their way across America like a billion gnats.

To which I must reply: the hyphen has been around a long time, and hasn’t killed anyone yet. I have faith it’ll all work out. If we manage to get through childhood safely, then perhaps we’ll deal with the hyphen issue, but Lucy will be free to choose her own destiny, and can keep both or either.

In the meantime, it was the most egalitarian way to combine our forces. I don’t want to ruffle too many feathers here, but the name-changing issue is one of the last vestiges of the true patriarchy. There are men who consider themselves feminists, yet still rankle and feel betrayed by their wife not assuming their last name. Or, more commonly, the wife will keep her last name, but the kids automatically get the father’s.

It’s impossible to talk about this without coming off as holier-than-thou, high-falutin’, judgmental and pissy, but if you think about it, there is absolutely no empirical reason anyone should have to take the patriarch’s name. You can take it because you like it better, or because the act of doing so has a wonderful innate meaning to you, or because you’ve always hated your own, or because you like the tradition… but it is only tradition.

Likewise, giving your kids the father’s last name may appeal to you as well; you may do it in an effort to avoid the hyphen, but you must admit, giving them the mother’s last name hardly, if ever, is discussed as an alternative. In both cases, there is a message being sent, whether it is spoken or not.

I don’t mean to judge anybody, blog pot-stirring notwithstanding. I would crouch in a foxhole lobbing grenades at the enemy, if it meant keeping your right to name yourself and your family anything you damn well please. I expect nobody to wear my peculiar pair of PreciousPants. But it is worth asking why the most modern of us sit out so many rituals yet still stand on tradition.

edwina st. tittington von horff said so

6/11/10

Right, so yesterday’s entry was disastrous, so lesson learned. I’m not even going to segue to today’s question, which has come up in a lot of conversations lately. Namely (is there such a thing as a “pre-pun”?) what is your take on women changing their last names when they get married, and/or the child’s last name automatically being the father’s?

Opinions on feminism-based opposition? Hyphenating? Keeping your middle name somehow? Both genders please weigh in…

my tribe slays more bison than your tribe

6/9/10

Someone at Lucy’s preschool asked me why I (and therefore Lucy) was rooting for the Celtics in the NBA Finals, given the fact that we, you know, apparently “live” in Los Angeles. It’s a bit complicated to explain, especially to someone who was wearing a Lakers jersey, but it’s a little of everything: my disgust for Kobe Bryant, the whole Dook obsession, the starfuckery, the hollow glitziness, and perhaps just my own fatigue of Los Angeles as a place.

Yeah, I know Mitch K. is in charge, and they had Worthy and Perkins and Fox and other heroes of Carolina past, but I can’t help it. I don’t hate them like I hate the Klown Kollege of Durham, but I vaguely dislike them with unwavering intensity.

One’s loyalties are always an odd assemblage, so I thought I’d go ahead and put mine in writing so it’s less confusing for me. I encourage all of you to do the same.

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College Basketball: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Why? Because I went there with about 22,000 of my best friends, but it’s so much more than that. In fact, I have spent 25 years writing about it, eight of those years right here. I love my Heels so much that it eclipses all other sports. However, if forced to choose other schools to tolerate, I don’t mind Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Sewanee, Brown, Smith, Williams, Hastings College, U of Iowa, BYU, Tulane, Warren Wilson, or Boise State for reasons too lengthy to explain here.

Pro Basketball: The team with the most Carolina players on it.

Why? See above. However, I did like the Celtics as a kid, and would be a Knicks fan if they ever got their act together.

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Baseball: The Baltimore Orioles.

Why? I loved Cal Rip Senior and Junior as a kid, and Cal Sr.’s principles make a pretty convincing through-line to Dean Smith. I was at the penultimate game in Memorial Stadium. Those who follow baseball know it has been a disastrous decade for the O’s, but at least we’re not the fuckin’ Yankees. My other team is the Mets, precisely because they’re not the fuckin’ Yankees.

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NFL: The New Orleans Saints.

Why? I’ve already told why the longest field goal in history made me a Saints fan when I was about three, but the truth is I was a Los Angeles Rams fan at the same time. Ultimately, the Rams shat the bed, I moved to England, and the Rams moved to St. Louis, leaving me loyal to the Black and Gold forever.

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English Football: Manchester City F.C.

Why? Because when I was a schoolboy in northern London in the late ’70s, the Manchester United fans in my form were real tossers. We lived near the Tottenham Hotspur club, but my friend Adam was a Derby fan and said he liked Man City better than Man U. Sometimes that’s all it takes for a kid, and I’ve been following them ever since. Just ask Chip, who is a Dallas Cowboys fan because his uncle gave him a shirt when he was five, or something. Speaking of shirts, check out Manchester City’s colors above. It’s all beginning to make sense, innit?

Mac or PC? Mac.

Why? My mom got the first Mac in 1985 and bought me a Mac Plus for my senior year at college. Besides a few years at jobs laden with Windows, I’ve never had to stray. I stuck with them even through their disastrous years of the mid-90s, and now they’re making the best machines in the world. Yes, I said it.

Boxers or briefs? Boxer-briefs.

Why? Because it’s the best of both worlds. Supporting and liberating at the same time. Because if you love your nuts, set them free.

one less egg to fry

6/8/10

I’ll admit it right here: I really ought to have been gay, given my musical taste, love of interior design, my sewing lessons, longtime admiration of dance and ice skating, the fact that I cried when I saw “The Secret Garden” musical BOTH TIMES, and how much I love cock.

Add to that my overwhelming affection for Glee, a show Tessa and I adore almost as much as my brother Sean hates it. Which is delicious irony, given that Sean was the director of his show choir, and traveled all around America, communist Eastern Europe (during glasnost) and Hawaii while singing over-the-top Broadway musical numbers wearing enormous costumes. I’m sure it’s precisely because of his intimacy with the subject that he’s not able to grok “Glee”, but I think he should give it another shot.

I’m well aware of the show’s problems. It walks a high-wire between cheesy high school stereotypes that haven’t existed in 20 years, and maudlin weepfests that produce occasional eyerolls. As someone who had formal, high-intensity music training for most of my life, I know how unbelievably silly it is to start a song in a classroom and have a four-piece back-up band instantly play along as an 88-piece orchestra, complete with vocal correction and “spontaneous” synchronized choreography.

But that misses the point, really. It’s no different from any musical, be it “My Fair Lady” on stage or “Grease” on the screen, when characters suddenly break out into song, backed up by an unseen band or pit orchestra. “Glee” is also a specifically visceral high school experience, which, if you remember, was an amped-up, fueled, sexually-confusing opera set to whatever song was in your brain, on your Walkman, or cascading from your iPod.

I was among those who thought the original pilot was a bit painful, but pretty much any pilot is a disastrous mix of good ideas and network notes; once it was a semi-success, the creators were no longer beholden to the suits, and began to make the show they wanted. Quickly, here are some reasons why it’s among the bravest shit currently on network television:

• Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester. She gets the best lines on any show, and that includes cable. Seasons are made great by lucky casting, and Fox should be over the moon that Jane Lynch exists – she’s the only actor in the world that can say “I’m all about finding a freakish depressed kid and showing them what winning’s all about,” then go to the hospice to read books to her sister with Down’s Syndrome… and pull it off.

She makes delivering lines like this sound easy:

“I know you think I’m heartless, Will, and you may have a point. I spend large segments of each day picturing you choking on food, and I recently contacted an exotic animal dealer because I had a very satisfying dream that the two of us went to a zoo and I shoved your face into one of those pink inflamed monkey butts that weeps lymph.”

National. Treasure.

• Heather Morris as Brittany. Let me just say that when they did “Can’t Touch This” in the library, Brittany did the MC Hammer dance in the parachute pants. And, well, this:

• The guest stars have been INSPIRED. Idina Menzel as Rachel’s mom is so obvious that it seems incomprehensible that it wasn’t planned from the get-go.

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Neil Patrick Harris actually did outsing Matthew Morrison, and Kristin Chenoweth…

• “Glee” has small inside-baseball moments, or little touches of insane beauty, that make life worth living. Case in point: when Kristen Chenoweth spends the night at Mr. Shue’s house as they’re both going through divorces, they enter a slow burn duet/mashup of “A House is Not a Home” by Burt Bacharach and “One Less Bell to Answer” by the 5th Dimension… in adjoining rooms. The orchestration is stunning, with Will in his bedroom, and Chenoweth on the couch, until she finally winds her way down the hall and climbs in bed with him, both facing the opposite direction, their hands meeting as the two songs coalesce, one brief moment as the music fades.

Or how about when Finn, finally disgusted with Kurt’s unwanted gay advances, calls their room arrangement “faggy” and throws a pillow out… only to be confronted by Kurt’s formerly-homophobic dad, who delivers a raging defense of his son, a diatribe that Finn doesn’t really deserve, because Kurt has actually been manipulating things all along. It’s complicated, powerful, satisfying and frustrating all at once.

How about last week, when the pregnant Quinn delivers her best performance yet, in a version of James Brown’s It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World, flanked by unwed pregnant teenagers, who sing backup while doing odd contortions with their distended bellies, and exhaling in time with the familiar Lamaze exercises… there’s NO WAY it should work, but it does.

The finale last night featured their most theatrical spectacle yet, where Quinn’s birthing scene is intercut with the rival show choir’s version of “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Her birthing screams are in time with the “Galileo-Figaro” section of the song, and the dancing mimics the actual head coming out of the birth canal. Corny? Obvious? Slightly ham-handed? Guilty on all counts, but also motherfucking brilliant, and proof that network television, for all its flaws, can still be a place where rough bits of magic still happen.

rook, rook, by hook or by crook

6/7/10

Everything happens for a reason. I put that in bold text because it may well be the stupidest, vilest, wishy-washiest, cruelest, most cosmologically unhelpful thing to say to anyone, for any occasion. Not only did kjf mention its buffoonery in yesterday’s blog, but it came up again last night as Tessa was reading her friend Dani Shapiro’s book, where it mentions the phrase as one of the two worst sad-sack clichés in history (the other being “God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle”).

When anyone says “everything happens for a reason,” my first thought is “go fuck yourself”, then my second thought is “no, wait, go tell that to the charred corpses buried outside Dachau, and then go fuck yourself.” It seems to me the pinnacle of self-important, astronomical narcissism to assume that everything in our lives happens for a reason, presumably a Very Special Reason by which we will learn an important lesson from the entity responsible for all these happenings.

It has the intellectual heft of middle-school yearbook quotes, and for anyone suffering, it comes across as judgmental bullshit by way of locker room motivational posters. For those undergoing loss or bitter disappointment, the phrase asks them to bypass the natural mourning process and take a left turn into the unpaved wilderness of why.

And yet, for those of us who have rejected organized religion’s answers as unacceptable, there is some bizarre comfort in thinking our fate was some small, manageable part of a larger plan. None of us are geared for utter randomness; all of us look at clouds and see dogs and whales.

I was faced with something similar in 2000, when I came to New York City after three abjectly horrible years in Los Angeles. Before I’d gone to LA, I was confident, moderately successful, had no problems dating, felt worthwhile and had lots of irons on the fire. Three years later, I was a hollowed-out monk living off borrowed antidepressants, wondering how I could kill myself without bumming out my mom.

It was my contention – once I’d gotten a job and cleaned up my psyche in Manhattan – that those three years were wasted and worthless, had left me bankrupt and torpedoed my prospects. They weren’t just “nothing” years, they were “anti” years: they actively took away experience, actually made me stupider, causing a three-year regression that would take three years to surmount.

But as I began my life over, I began to see it for what it was. It may well have been those three years that killed off the weeds of my questionable behavior towards women, and get the fuck over myself. Tessa needed that time to return from Kosovo, stop dating her high-society boyfriend, and then get over a few months of seclusion. In short, those years in LA allowed me to marry (in your narrator’s humble opinion) the most wonderful woman on the planet, and start a family.

Is that “why” I went to LA? Did it happen for that “reason”? Hell no, but the responsibility of every agnostic is to imbue meaning when it is most needed – otherwise you will live a life of existential nothingness, which is no good for parties, and can really screw up a good road trip. The agnostic’s credo is not “everything happens for a reason”, it is “everything happens, so give it a reason.” In other words, make this make sense!

never mock the moon while menstruating

6/6/10

I need help with something here… a CODE WORD question for all of you to ponder:

What commonly-held belief, idea, “old wives’ tale” or “thing everybody knows” do you know to be utterly wrong, and also drives you insane that it exists at all?

you are found wanting, sir

6/3/10

Hello. Perhaps you know me. If not, I’d like to introduce myself: I am THE SHAMER. Yes, I’ve met lots of people with awesome resumés, with jobs that require great skill. Yes, I’ve listened to writers for the New Yorker prattle on, I’ve endured plumbers talking about their years in trade school… I mean, as if *I* didn’t have to do a shitload of work to get where I am today. Let me tell you, in order to be The Shamer, you have to be a master musician, a botanist and a DJ of the highest order.

Allow me to acquaint you with my three areas of expertise:

The Needle Dragging Across the Record Guy – You’re at a party, having a good time, and suddenly a COMPLETELY INAPPROPRIATE COUPLE walks in the door. Or maybe it’s some NERD. It doesn’t matter; all you need to know is the music stops, and everyone hears this:

That’s me! It used to be a lot easier when everyone had record players, because now I have to surreptitiously load in my turntable gear, get the appropriate music on vinyl, and stare at the door. But if I’m not there to SHAME unwanted attendees before they get too far, what kind of shitty-ass party is that?

Throwing Rotten Vegetables Guy – Why endure horrible live performances when you can make your opinion real and palpable with fetid legumes and tubers? My work in the area of vegetable criticism is not only the stuff of legend, but gave rise to the Rotten Tomatoes movie review website (my friends said I should sue, but I informed my lawyer that my work is a public service; the more tomatoes the better).

First you need to grow your plants with proper fertilizer, sunshine and water. Pick when fresh, then leave in the back seat of your car for almost one week. NOT TOO LONG! You want your vegetables to still have aerodynamic properties, but explode on impact. This is an art, not a science. I pride myself on removing the foodstuffs from the “ruining rack” at precisely the right time, then dispersing the offensive orbs throughout an audience about to suffer through an embarrassing performance.

Because of me, their suffering will be short.

Brass Instrumentalist Wah-Wah-Wah-Waaaah Guy – Listen, people. You don’t just wake up one morning knowing how to play the trombone. You can’t waltz into life with the lip strength for chromatic scales on the trumpet. It takes about FIFTEEN YEARS to sound like this:

You have to be proficient in the use of the Harmon Mute, as exemplified by this guy (around 3:10) which means playing your notes of shame WITH ONE HAND. While everyone else was practicing “Stars and Stripes Forever”, I was in my vegetable patch practicing the Vibrato of Humiliation.

I remember in the early ’70s, when Bob Barker came to me and said he was doing “The Price is Right” and needed a really good cue to play when the contestants botched shit up. I told him I play all my shame cues live, and he said “we plan on taping about four thousand shows” and that’s when I sighed and decided to orchestrate the Valkyrie of Shame Horns:

Did you like how I incorporated the “Price is Right” theme in there? That’s what takes it to the next level.

So I leave you with this thought: serious shaming takes serious commitment. You can’t expect these shimmering instances of disgrace and inadequacy to happen by themselves. Someone’s gotta be there with a turntable or a spoilt eggplant.

may said april and june should march

6/2/10

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If it is your contention that a party’s purpose is to ensure that new memories get formed, that conversations never get stuck in the “good old days” rut, and that you and your friends err on the side of Experience, then you have set yourself a very high standard for a party. It’s not always necessary to accomplish all these things, mind you, but putting forth the effort takes you 90% of the way there. Sure, we could have a weekend where the high point is beer, but I’m afraid I’ll never be satisfied with that.

Every year I try to set a goal for the Memorial Day get-together, something that can be considered “the big idea”. It has to have most of the following characteristics:

a) Tessa will call it “hare-brained”

b) when you mention it, more than half say it won’t work

c) it has to take a lot of physical labor, and won’t be done even when people are showing up

d) it has to fail spectacularly, or actually be a pretty good idea.

Past ideas have included a quiz show with working buzzers (now a tradition), a full band rendition of a hard ELO song, and even a five-hole 3-par golf course mowed into the cow pastures surrounding our farm – complete with radar golf balls that can be found with a special machine when your 9-iron shot ends up in 5-foot-tall grass the cows haven’t eaten yet.

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The golf endeavor was a perfect example: it was utterly stupid, involved backbreaking labor beforehand, the end product was crappy, Tessa rolled her eyes throughout, and when we played on it, we had the best three hours of shitty golf known to mankind.

This year I was inspired by my friend Tammy, who had been on a roller derby team in Colorado – and Tessa, who has been making a comeback in ice skating. I figured the top floor of the barn could possibly make a roller skating rink, if only it were cleared of most of the stuff, and had the right ambiance for a good old-fashioned rink from my childhood.

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Which, of course, meant lights. You can get a cheap disco ball on the internet for nothing, and with the new LED technology, you can light up almost anything without blowing a fuse. My favorite part of the setup was hoisting the disco ball into the old hay unloader on the ancient rails at the top of the barn. If that isn’t repurposing, I don’t know what is.

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Most of the DJ lights you get these days have built-in microphones that change the light patterns with the music, so once they were on, I was amazed to see it all orchestrated:

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Better yet, were the folks like Tammy, Dana and Salem, who all had roller skating skills lurking beneath their exterior, and there’s nothing better than seeing a hidden talent unleashed.

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The roller skates themselves were used-but-decent, and some of them were less than $20. After getting a couple of lots off eBay, I had a pretty good free rental center.

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And the rest? A hooping performance by Annie made me cry, my daughter did an interpretative dance as Jamie and I played guitar, we had the best North Carolina BBQ ever… I’ll just post some pictures so that old friends in far-flung places can see there’s still room for them…

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we project one of this year’s pilots on the wall

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Sean, Michelle and I fill in “Give a Little Bit” by Supertramp for the talent show

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I defy you to find a more wonderful-smelling flower than the peony

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Lucy holds an apple – this pic, and most of the others, by the amazing Lars Lucier – pics also from my new stepbro Jon V.