Friday, October 2, 2015

The Monster Speaks

Somehow during my middle school, high school and undergrad education, I missed reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (I can't even write that name without thinking about the movie Young Frankenstein where Gene Hackman keeps correcting the pronunciation of his name, "It's Frankenstein!").  In fact, the only book I can remember easing in high school was Silas Marner by George Eliot (a female writer, by the way). I wrote a paper about it or put on a play about it, or something, and I remember that the little girl's name was Eppie, and she had sausage curls to color of gold. One of my first brushes with symbolism--the gold of her curls mirroring Silas' own love of gold. But I can't recall any other books we were required to read. I read a lot anyway, so I got my Bronte and Austen from the public library or as gifts from my mom or grandma (Little Women, The Girl of the Limberlost). We probably read Mark Twain's Huck and Tom and we may have read some Conrad (not Heart of Darkness though. That's another classic I haven't read and don't want to). We did read a lot of short stories too, but books...I do not recall.

I've read Dracula a couple of times and liked it because it's got different points of views and it's scary and because Lucy dies. Frankenstein though...I started reading it this weekend and was surprised to discover that it doesn't take place in a deserted castle on a hill, there are no flashes of lightning that bring the monster to life, and the monster does not have greenish skin, a square forehead and bolts in his neck. In fact, he's very human, he speaks well, and like a gentleman. He also has only turned violent because he's been rejected by society. Did you know this? Did you know that the monster (unnamed or referred to as Prometheus in the books subtitle) could say things like, "I felt as though I had been pushed asunder by my almighty, my God, my creator" instead of only being able to say "Ugghhhh..."

Here's the story, in a nutshell: an ardent natural sciences student learns how to create life while at the university. In his dorm room, not a castle. No one ever suspects what he's doing or finds it odd that his room smells like decaying flesh. He is purposefully vague about how he re-creates life, by saying that he doesn't want others to figure it out. He then makes a man out of bones he finds in the cemetery, though this part of the story is skimmed over, so that it reads like, "The next day, I created a creature in my likeness from bones I stole and saw his limbs stir." The man he makes runs away to the woods (somehow, he makes it to Frankenstein's home town, though he has no money, no language, no knowledge of where the guy lives, no transportation and he looks like a giant freak). But forget that for a minute. He makes it this forest and then finds a hovel next to a house and learns how to speak by watching the poor people who live there. He spends most of his time watching them through a peephole. That's where I stopped for last night, but my guess is that the family will discover him someday soon and be repulsed by him and then he will have to kill them. Also, it's not scary. It's sad. and melodramatic, but not frightening.

I will probably finish it this weekend. I'll let you know if there is a surprise ending.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Presents from Strangers

Have you heard of this not so new but still startlingly American phenomenon of paying a total stranger to send you presents? You can do this for all sorts of products--makeup, dog treats, clothes, arts & crafts, whimsical house items. The way it works is that you sign up for the service, and add some specific details about your skin and hair coloring, your likes and dislikes, the size of your bra. For Stitch Fix, you give them all of your measurements and choose colors you like and dislike and take this little quiz that gives you options of sets of clothes in certain styles--like, one that's termed romantic because it has lacy blouses and floral prints, or "classic" which includes polo shirts and khaki pants and an anti-choice button. You also say generally what you want to pay for certain items, though there is no range option for 0 to $20. Once you've filled out your style sheet, a person in this company picks out five items of clothing or jewelry for you and then sends it to you. You try everything on and decide what to keep and what to send back, free of charge. The package also comes with a little note from your stylist that says something like, "Hi Aimee (no comma)! I picked out the Pirates of Penzance black stretch pants for a Friday night date. The Wrinkled Fleur de Lis Off the Shoulder T-shirt is good for on the go, and the Crushed Cranberry Swinging Skirt will be perfect for a shot gun wedding. x0, Brittany."
They offer this other incentive--if you buy all five items, the entire order is 25% off. That's not totally true though, because each month, you pay a $20 "styling fee" prior to your order being shipped out. So, even if you buy all five, it's 25% off minutes (or plus?) the $20 you've already paid. You could opt to just buy two things or one thing or none, but whatever you do, you will be paying $20.
You still might feel like you're getting a deal though, because the $20 comes out the week before, it's already lost money that you won't get back, so that $58 white T-shirt with the tiny pocket costs $38 at checkout which is somewhat more justifiable if you ignore that you're really paying $58 for a shirt you could buy at Target for $10. It took me about six months to realize this automatic $20 deficit. Buying nothing results in paying $20 for the fun of opening a box of clothes that you don't really like or that don't fit (note to Brittany: pant and shirt sizes vary by brand and cut). In the ten times I have done this so far, I have never bought nothing. Even if I only sort of like one of the items, I buy it, because I don't want to lose the $ I've already spent. This is why I have a magenta tie dye shirt hanging in my closet like a unwelcome step cousin. I think there have been four times that I've bought all 5, even if I don't love every single item, because I'd rather pay $190 for five pieces of clothing than full price for two items that total $110. Keep in mind that math is not my strong suit, so please intervene if my logic is faulty. I mean, I know it's faulty, but usually, I do like all of the pieces and love maybe two. No, not true. I usually love maybe two items, like two and tolerate one.

But I will keep doing it. Because it's nice to get presents, even if you're paying someone to choose them for you. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Mistress America vs. Shame

We went to see Mistress America on Saturday and it was charming and annoying and I felt like we were 20 years too old to enjoy it. The plot is about a first-year college student in Manhattan who feels out of place and so calls up her stepsister to be, who introduces her to the city and is quirky and funny and damaged and egocentric and grandiose. The young girl writes a short story about her called Mistress America and it's not flattering and then there is this long scene at someone else's house that felt like a play--all dialogue in the living room for twenty minutes between secondary characters. After the movie ended, I tried to uncover a second meaning. How the character played by Greta Gerwig is really a metaphor for the city or for lost youth or for America as this hopeful yet misguided place where amazing and terrible things happen, but I couldn't sustain it. Mostly, I watched the movie never forgetting that I was watching a movie, because the dialogue and acting appeared purposefully stilted (i.e. lines delivered in this self-conscious monotone as if the actors were doing a cold read; characters stringing together quotable sentences that don't happen that often in real life). But that could have been the director's intention--to keep us always aware of the artifice of these superficial situations. Mostly, I just felt like I was watching a super polished grad student film filled with characters I didn't particularly like or care about.

But that experience was starkly different and much more enjoyable then the one I had on Sunday, when we rented Shame. Michael Fassbender was on the cover of this past weekend's NYT Style magazine and so I read an article about how he got his start in films directed by Steve McQueen (not the 1960's actor), including Shame, made in 2011. I remember hearing about this movie, and rumblings about the nudity (i.e. his penis), but I didn't see it when it came out because I usually prefer Woody Allen films were Freudian references are made to genitalia, but you never see them in action.

In case you missed it too, Shame is about a thirty-something New Yorker who suffers from sex addiction. This means that he's preoccupied with getting his fix at almost any moment--- in the middle of the day at work, by watching live sex acts while eating Chinese food after work, through prostitutes and bar hook-ups.  He rarely smiles, and he rarely seems to enjoy himself. Then his very needy, messed up little sister shows up, and there's a weird tension between them--like, at first, you're not even sure who she is, she just appears naked in his shower and then you see her with no bra in the kitchen. She could be a former lover. She's sloppy and boundary less, sexy and vulnerable and needy. He agrees to let her stay with him, but he's not happy about it, in part because she is interfering with his masturbation routine.

The movie has a couple of very drawn out scenes, such as the sister singing the entirety of "New York, New York" in slow, pained notes and another of him jogging though Manhattan and then this other scene where he's with two prostitutes and it looks as though he's descended into one of Dante's circles of hell. It's all about habit and not being able to escape this need for his next fix, so that's disturbing and you see that he will always be alone because when he does try to sleep with someone he likes, he can't get it up. I kept thinking, Get a therapist! Talk to someone! But alas, he didn't seem capable of asking for help, even though he was clearly suffering and hating every second of his behavior. Then, something horrible and dramatic happens and he may be changed by it; it may be bad enough to break through the self-abuse, but at the end of the movie, we go back to the beginning, with him sitting on the subway, checking out this same married woman he chased after at the start, and he stares at her and clenches his jaw and we're left to wonder... Can he resist? Will he follow her and begin again? If the movie is truly about addiction, the answer is yes. Yes, of course. You don't necessarily wake up one day and find yourself able to put an end to your worst behavior. Then again, maybe this touching moment in the hospital  with his sister is enough for him to stop. Maybe his clenched jaw is a sign of resistance and not one of agonized sameness.

Whatever the case, watching that movie totally obliterated any of the pleasure of Mistress America.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Why you should buy my house

No one has ever died there (to my knowledge). One cat was put down, but not on the premises and it was his time.
Not this cat. This cat lives and has moved to New Jersey.

Exposed brick, built in bookshelves in the kitchen. Very lovely and perfect for cookbooks or a row of increasingly smaller Russian dolls.

This little secret toothbrush holder in the bathroom.

It's listed as a two bedroom, but there's a small room that could be a baby's room or an office or a huge luxurious walk in closet. My mom used it to keep her Singer happy. I used it for bookshelves. The previous owners kept a baby in here.

Along with having central air, it has ceiling fans in both bedrooms and the living room (I'm proud of that one because I commissioned it).

Which fan is it?? You'll have to come visit the house to see.

The bathroom and kitchen have both been redone in the last three years and I got this little bitty dishwasher, and there's a garbage disposal and a gas stove and these drawers that slide out. The shower has that kind of removable shower head with five different water pressure choices (make of that what you will).

Cute little backward with a new fence around the top and a little built in brick place for potting a rose bush or a small tree or anything else you may be inclined to add, sparkly lights?  Flower beds? A mini-waterfall?

Winton Street is featured in Rocky I. There are a couple of scenes where he runs down the street and you can go, "That's my house!" No one will really care but you; still, it's a satisfying thing to know, as if Sly Stone may drop by at any moment.

This is a scene where he's talking to Little Marie. Behind him, the end of my block near 12th Street. Those awnings may still be in place. 
The house is located on a quiet one way street right next to a church, which means, that unlike other houses on the block, you don't have houses facing each other--you are facing Jesus.

This may or may not be the church. 

You know how long it takes to get to the Snyder exit of the Broad Street line? Four minutes, not even hurrying. There used to be an added bonus of passing a store that had an all white cat in the window, but the business has since changed hands and the cat is nowhere to be found.

Some rich people bought the row of buildings on 12th street and will soon be renovating them and turning them into nice new condos. This will elevate the neighborhood and may actually bring in coffee shops.

Speaking of coffee, there's a Starbucks one block away on Broad St. and Jackson. They always have The New York Times, and people often leave behind the Arts & Leisure section, so you can do the crossword while sipping your latte and people watching.

The Pope is coming. You could rent out the apartment for a weekend and make thousands of dollars in profit.

You're really only a ten minute walk from all of the Passyunk Square businesses and the Italian Market and numerous good restaurants (including Fond) and Doggie Style.

The neighbors are nice and no one owns a motorcycle.

All hardwood floors and so no vacuuming, ever.

Charming hanging chandelier that Dan put in, You may also keep the wardrobe in the larger bedroom for extra storage. There are lots of closets and two of them are specially built cedar closets.

I was happy there. So was my mom. You will be too. Now, go look at it:

Emma Carol again, looking as if she hopes you will fall so she can eat your face.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Fall

I've been thinking a lot about college and a particularly bad crush I had. I don't know why this is on my mind, maybe because there are so many songs that remind me of college on the radio lately. For instance, every time I hear Prince's "When Doves Cry," I picture him, but only like the physical details of him, like my brain is making an amalgamation of the MTV video and his corporeal self--ladder-like abs, too-long curly hair and blue eyes. And it also reminds me of a certain stillness that would come over me in his presence, and awe that he didn't deserve, but I couldn't seem to stop myself from feeling that way.

And thinking of my younger self reminds me how long and short life is. That sounds trite, but it's weird how thirty years ago seems both like forever and not long ago at all. I was thinking about far away/close when I was singing to a Pat Benatar song this morning in the car ("We're running with the shadows of the night..."), imagining her big slanted eyes with the heavy eyeliner and short boy hair, and wondering how she's doing today and then thinking about how awful it is that the older you get, the more deaths you experience, and that includes seemingly God-like pop stars such as Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Sting (who, not so coincidentally, reminds me of the aforementioned boy--same chiseled good looks and far off look in his eye as if he is thinking of more important things, such as how to write a song that includes references to Lolita. That, in turn, reminds me of a Shakespeare quote I can't quite put my finger on "greater things than can be imagined in the dreams of men" or something like that, probably a line from one of his tragedies.Which also reminds me that there was a time when I memorized the entire balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, "In truth, fair Montague, I am too fond." And wouldn't it be nice if I had more verse in my head and fewer song lyrics?).

There's a tendency to romanticize the past and talk about how amazing it was, wow, what it was like to feel so deeply for someone else? Particularly someone who I never knew very well at all. To feel it in the palms of my hands; that's how I remember it anyway, this sharp pain by my life line, but it wasn't that I enjoyed it--i-t felt like a bad ending to every movie, every shot dog story you can remember, this inevitable loss, because I knew he would go away without saying good bye. He did go away.  He dropped out of school to be an actor and I stayed behind and slept with his friend who reminded me of him, except the difference was that his friend liked me back and so therefore wasn't interesting.

Maybe I'm thinking about the past because Luke just started seventh grade, and he has all of this anguish still to experience--first dances, liking the wrong person, sweaty hands, scribbled love notes left on car windows in the middle of the night. I envy that and also don't envy it, because it's terrible. Much of growing up and falling in love is painful; it's only in the looking back that we pretend it was better than it actually was.

Still, I wish I could remember more than I do. There are a handful of moments. I remember being at a theater party and wondering if he would show up.  I am sure I dressed in a particular way, probably wearing that green cardigan sweater with the soft suede patches my friend Debbie gave me (I still have it. It's in the bottom drawer of a dresser in the attic).  At the party, I checked every corner of the yard, looking for him, opened closed doors and peered into bedrooms. I took a plastic cup of warm beer and squinted into the dark living room. I felt a hiccup in my chest when I thought I saw his face, but it turned out to be someone else, someone not him. And then I turned around to go into the kitchen and bumped into him, recognizing the way he smelled first (he smelled good, like patchouli and wood smoke), and he took my hand and we went up to the roof of the house, standing on the dangerous, slippery tile. I didn't care if I fell.  I could feel that adrenaline rush you get when you've just swerved to avoid a bad car accident, and I could feel my hair, long then, down to my waist, blow across my face, perfect, and he brushed it away and said, Why did you make me wait so long? And then, of course, he kissed me.

I'm telling you, that's how I remember it. I remember so few things, but I remember him saying that, because it was just what I wanted to hear, like something from a movie, and also so wrong, because I was the one who had been waiting. And anyway, he had his own love who he ached over, his own unattainable person who had way more confidence than he or I put together and if you asked him today what he remembers about college, he too will think of a song or songs (always REM in those days. "Losing My Religion") and a girl with long hair (hers was lighter than mine) who only kind of loved him back (not me).

P.S. I found the quote:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, 
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. 


Monday, August 17, 2015

No Rhyme Nor Reason

For whatever reason, this super beautiful girl is into this super redneck wearing a flag for a pair of swim trunks. Pretty much all they do is make out in pool and she lets the curtain of her hair fall over his sunburned, cross-eyed face. Again, I feel bad for these cast members who have to pretend to care about any of this.

Samantha claims that she, as a human being, would never plot against another human being. After she says this, they show secret footage of her as human being, plotting. She looks like she stepped off the pages of Vogue, circa 1962. She has really long hair and a wide mouth and should be wearing white lipstick and go-go boots.

Everyone is upset because they feel like Juelia (who can't spell her name) has been played by Joe and that it was super unfair because she has a dead husband and a baby girl. Like, it might have been okay if she was single and no one died.

This new girl has arrived. Her name is Amber and she is of indiscriminate ethnicity (i.e. sort of black). Amber, of course, picks Dan who was supposed to be in love with Ashley who is a portrayed as the strange one, but all I've seen that is weird is that she uses the word literally too much. Like literally every second. Ashley will be kicked off the show. Literally. With a kick. They show footage of playing with a sand crab, in direct contrast to the woman last night who squealed when she saw a crab on a rock.

Megan and JJ go on a date. Megan is the one who was afraid of the crab. She has a black feather tattooed on her arm. She may or may not be wearing false eyelashes. JJ was for certain a member of the young Republicans of America. They go on a jet ski and she can't stop smiling. Back on the boat, they cuddle up and he stars at her fake breasts. Dolphins have been paid (in fish) to swim next to the boat.

Ashley may have had one too many Coronas. They show her going to talk to the birds. I mean, who cares? She likes animals. I mean, who cares?

Dan and Amber go on a date where she has to climb up a ladder in a short skirt for some reason. Dan wears a white pressed shirt tucked into jeans. The locals force them to kiss and fireworks go off. My Dan says, "Hey, that's what happens to us when we kiss."  Dan the TV person is crazily shiny in this lamplight.  He has his hair down in the style of a 1930s movie star, lots of gel and product and a serious part. My Dan says some more inappropriate things about what's going on under the table, that I will not retype here. Dan says he didn't expect that the conversation would keep going or that they would keep kissing or that it would be this intense and exciting and that he would sweat this much. Is she getting his sweat on her face? Is his beard sweaty? MD says that he hopes their next day will be going food shopping at Shop Rite (that's what are date nights involve).

Well, almost time for the rose ceremony. Going home will be Juelia and Ashley, even though she's the most entertaining. I don't know who else will be on the chopping block, because I can't remember who else is on fantasy island.

Once again, the guys have to stand around and drink things out of coconuts and pretend to give a crap that Joe knew Samantha prior to coming to the show. Samantha seems to be made of wax. JJ might threaten to beat up Joe. JJ confronts him and Joe gets up to leave, but then he sits back down again  JJ says that Joe lied to their faces. Joe calls JJ dumb for a banker. JJ calls Joe out for always making circular references. Jared is shocked that he likes JJ better than Jared. JJ wantsw to be the crap out of Joe because that's the better way to solve problems.

No rose ceremony. Damn.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Bachelorinos in Paradiso

I watched a little bit of last night's show and here's how I can summarize: the women all got together
and decided to wear fake eyelashes. The men all got together and decided to get bad tattoos. I don't know what else happened except that I felt sorry for the contestants because they were forced to have these phony conversations where they pretended to care about who is scamming who. I have no idea who went home (did anyone?) or what happened of any significance, but I'm confident that the first ten minutes of tonight's show will be a recap of those 3 important minutes. I also don't understand why the show is now three hours long per week, when it really only needs to be 9 minutes.

Clare and Jarrod/Ashton are on the sailboat, guided by a ghost. They will now be forced to go bungee jumping. Cue picture of love birds grooming each other. Both must go down topless. I'll say that it's pretty high. Clare and Ashton bond over Clare putting her nose in his armpit right before they are pushed off the cliff in an embrace. Clare poops her bikini bottoms as they tumble but the producers edit it out. He's holding on to her and they may be engaged in intercourse. It's unclear but not unlikely.

Where did the twin-ish sister go? Ashley is crying because Clare had a great date and Tenley is, like, so confused because two guys are into her. But guess what? Another dude has shown up and he too is in love with Tenley, who he calls "Elevensey" GET IT? He went to Notre Dame, you guys.

Here's a new dumb way that they're talking. They ask an obvious question and then answer it in an even more obvious or else oblique way. Like: "Do I want to their date too be a good one? Of course, I don't. I hope he pukes on himself. Do I want her to ride on a horse in white shorts while he stares at her butt? Of course I don't want them to ride on a horse, separately or together and especially not in those shorts. Is there an echo in here? Of course there's an echo in here, in here."

Tenley (whose name I have to re-type three times before my spell check will allow it) is so excited that Michael from Desiree's season is on the show She modestly asks why he likes her. He says, "Well, you're strikingly beautiful and you're always smiling and you have so much positive energy." Michael may want to re-think those white pants.

You guys, there is no way that they don't give these men some camera-ready kiss training. They totally coach them in how to first push back the woman's hair and then put their hands on either side of their faces before gently descending. And they must wear leather bracelets.

Jarrod turns into kind of a dick by reminding Clare that she's eight years older than him and that might be an issue. She's 34, practically ancient. Clare goes, "Well, that's it then." Thank you for not crying, Clare. The dude has not yet learned how to shave.

Two guys are telling this blond woman that she needs to send Joe home because he's not here for the right reasons and also because he's from the South and his eyes are too close together. Joe denies that he is playing her and then he lunges for a kiss to prove that he's sincere. Because no one would ever kiss you if they didn't truly like you. They should just cast this show with 15 year olds. Joe is passed and wants to beat the shit out of Mikey. "I swear to God, ya'll, I want to bet my brass knuckles out and take him out back..." By comparison, Mikey is starting to look like a dreamboat, samurai ponytail or samurai ponytail. Joe manipulates two of the guys into admitting they were wrong. Someone is crying in the bathroom but I don't know who it is. Who it's the other guy. Come on. That's okay.

I missed a few minutes because I was watching some guys with crazy hair on American Ninja Warrior. Ashton goes the crier and tells Herr that he wants to put his hands on her face and kisses her. She goes, "I was waiting for that long enough. Holy shit, dude!" So romantic.

Rose ceremony. That strange girl is still there. I wish she would stay the whole time. Clare could give the African American guy a rose. Clare gives an impassioned speech about how no one has asked her what she likes. Then she tells this other girl that if the shoe fits, she should wear it.

Blond girl picks Kirk with the bow tie. He's a ginger and reminds me and looks like an extra from The Walton.

The weird girl gives the rose to Dan.

Jade gives it to Tanner who elbows a few guys out of the way.

Tenley picks Joshua, the drug addict.

Clear, rather than forfeiting the rose, goes off to cry. She does not know who to give the rose too. It's to be continued...