August 2, 2010

KISSING THE COW

“‘To each his own,” said the old lady as she kissed the cow.’” Or, if you prefer: “That’s what makes horse races;” or “Chacun à son gout.” (“To each his own, is also the title of a 1945,  post war movie and a dreamy 1946 ballad. On occasion, we’ve probably all  invoked one of these pithy phrases to counter someone’s proclamation that theirs is the preemptive judgment on a matter that falls within the confines of taste. We use these adages when we want to say, in a tactful way, “Sorry, pal! Yours just isn't the final word.” Like it or not, no one, professional reviewers notwithstanding, is entitled to claim autonomy when it comes to  issues of taste, though many of us feel that we are the de facto final arbitrator. (I have been known to be guilty of this conceit. Often.) I don’t think you will disagree that it is human nature to want others to see thing our way. And admit it. When you feel very strongly about something --  a book, a play, or a movie -- isn’t it hard to accept that a dissenting opinion can possibly have validity?

But, hold on there! What is taste -- anyway? What are the ingredients that produce our highly individualized and unique sense of taste? The list of factors and influence must be endless. In addition to the standard demographics -- age, sex, ethnicity, income, etc. -- we must also take into account our DNA, IQ, background and life experiences. Allegiances. Personality type. Right or left brained? Empathetic, rigid, intuitive, analytical, outgoing? Sense of tempo: Like things fast? Slow? It goes on and on. I doubt  that no matter how extensive the list, the question will still go begging, because the issues are elusive and complex.

Vantage Point (Single-Disc Edition)
 The conundrum about taste was brought home to me one evening, about a week ago, when TV-surfing, and came across the  movie, "The Vantage Point,” a 2008 release. Vantage Point is an action-suspense thriller with Dennis Quaid, William Hurt and Forest Whitaker. I thought it was terrific. Afterwards, I found some old reviews, curious to see how it had been received. Did the agree with me. No way. The movie was either dismissed, or soundly scorned. Credible reviewers characterized it as “gimmicky…a repellent conceit…herky jerkey…forgettable dialogue.” I, on the other hand, who’ve been known to dislike highly esteemed films, was enthralled. I found the film’s cinematic structure -- an updating of the Rashomon effect using an ingenious series of flashbacks centering on the pivotal opening scene -- gripping. I forgave the movie its flaws, or more accurately, they didn’t seem to matter. And what I find so very curious is, that even though I’ve always put the action-adventures-with-car-chases genre on my to-be-avoided list, nontheless, this shoot-and chase somehow managed to find its way into my gut.
I Am LoveConundrums are everywhere. Recently, I went to see “I Am Love  (2010),” the award winning Italian art film starring Tilda Swinton. Unlike The Vantage Point where, except for my admiration of the Rashomon effect, I can’t  tell you why I was so swept away, I can easily tell you what made me love, pardon the repetition, "I Am Love."  I Am Love teems with an abundance of earthly delights. The sounds and scents. Dinner parties. Sumptuous Food. Interiors. Style. Yearnings. Family intrigue. Great landscape. The Milan cityscape. I did, however, have several reservations. I thought the ending didn’t live up to the rest of the film. Some of the final scenes dissolve into simpering melodrama. And worse, the director  played a mean and gratuitous trick on the  audience that wouldn't be fair to divulge. And I would recast Tilda Swinton’s love interest.  I can’t imagine anyone, much less edgy her, falling madly in love with  actor, Edoardo Gabbriellini, though she made the viewer believe that she did. I hope in her next film she gets someone really divine. So, until then – Black Angus or Charolais? Moooooooo!

See related posts: “Greenberg” and “My Dentist and I.”

July 31, 2010

NEVER SAY NEVER

In my previous post, “Gone Fishing…” I gave notice that I’d write nary a word until this interminable agonizing summer was over. Clearly, I broke my covenant with *Momus, but only because I want to give thanks to **Zeus for his gentle breezes that, on delightful occasion, he sends to us down here on earth. When I’ve been lucky enough to be graced by one of his zephyrs, I want to run, into Sheep’s Meadow the lush, 15-acre lawn in Central Park, NYC, and shed my clothes to more fully enjoy. Then, after being sated, it might be appropriate to perform some ritual of praise and gratitude. Perhaps, I should build a statue in his honor as the ancient Greeks are wont. Perhaps the sacrifice of a Tea Party member, or two, might be appreciated. Any nominations?
       *The Greek God of satire, mockery, censure, writers and poets.
     **The Greek God of the heavens and the upper regions of the earth;
         master of destiny; god of weather; protector of guests; guardian
         of law; upholder of morality.

The miseries of Summer 2010, gives one ample opportunity to speculate why a fresh breeze feels remarkably life-saving event, notwithstanding the sensual pleasure and cooling effect. Since all pleasure experience is rooted in our survival mechanisms, what critical functions did summer breezes offer primitive man that secured the experience a place in our genome? I’ll take a stab. Breezes can blow insects and noxious fumes away; they can direct scents in our direction, alerting us to potential harm such as an advancing predator, a fire, or they can carry a warming of an impending dangerous geologic or atmospheric event. That’s as much as I can come up with, for now. Please let me know if you have any other ideas. In any event, we know that pleasure and *happiness promotes survival. Happy people don’t hurt others. So bask in those rare and delicious summer wind songs, but please don’t disrobe in public because, even here in New York, there’s always a chance, rare though it might be, that you’ll end up in the clink where, I know for a fact, Zeus hasn’t visiting privileges, but I’ll be there with the proverbial cake, though minus a file.
              *Emotions such as pleasure and happiness originate in the
               limbic system, the earliest developed region in the brain of
               modern man.

July 28, 2010

GONE FISHING...

Summer 2010. Unequivically, a torpid, suffocating cauldron of misery. It seems to have melted the part of my brain that usually responds to self-directives such as: “Get up early!” “Get to work!” “Produce!” I find myself in a state of unrimmiting sloth. My coiled blob of grey matter could benefit from a visit to cool and pristine Montana. Perhaps trek up Big Timber Canyon to go casting for Rainbow Trout and when it’s caught its fill, it will return home, back to me, here in Manhattan, replenished and renewed, ready to get back in the saddle again. Therefore, I wanted to alert my faithful readers that until this transpires, you probably won’t see any new posts from me, but I have every faith that as soon as the nights become cool and one is able to benefit from the relief that autumn brings, new posts will  appear again. Until then, I send my very best and, if I may I suggest – why not go fishing, too?

May 19, 2010

THE DRAIN TEAM!

Egad!* The kitchen sink got stopped up. The water level quickly approached that of a mighty Great Lake,** even though I subscribe to all protocols purporting to mitigate against just this sort of geological phenomena.
          *Often a clue-answer in the New York Times’ crossword puzzles.
         **The extant:  Erie, Huron, Michigan, Ontario and Superior.
       Freddy, a new handyman, arrived with a huge snake contraption and a smorgasbord of other weapons to use to bail me out. NPI: Don’t you just love it when this happens? Freddy was a big serious man with an imposing square head. He got to work with alacrity. (Alacrity was a favorite word of my Mother’s, e.g., “Valerie! Use some alacrity!”) Since I’m the friendly type and also have an abiding interest in tools and mechanical stuff -- my screw driver wardrobe (flat-heads and phillips) are the envy of one and all! -- I tried to strike up a conversation with Feddy. I got nada! And I mean – Nada! So, I started not to like Freddy. Grrrr... Rebuffed, I  left the kitchen and left him to his own snake-like devices. Take that! I said to myself.
         Freddy worked for over an hour, making raucous grinding sounds -- the snake, not Freddy. In due course, I ventured a “How’s it going?” and for the first time, Freddy starts to open up. “It’s nasty. Real nasty. Bad.” It seems his snake will only go up, and not down, where the blockage lies, even though he spooled-out a record-whopping 15 feet. I started to understand that Freddy isn’t stand-offish at all. He’s just shy. And now he’s a shy [handy]man stymied and in pain. It became clear that his assignment meant more than the dislodgement of a gob of gunk. His self-respect was on the line.
       Act III, Scene III. A little while later . . . The ominous final lines were delivered: “It is time to CALL IN THE PLUMBER!” (I can assure you, Dear Reader, I didn’t clap as the curtain came down.) In defeat, Freddy reluctantly gathered up his tools and prepared to leave. His failed mission would now be assumed by the powers that be. Freddy looked at me with baleful eyes and expressed grave concern that the real plumber, who has “so much more experience” than he, might plumb to the depth of the problem lickety-split and put Freddy to shame. I knew, and he knew, that if this eventuality came to pass -- not that Freddy didn’t wish me and my sink well -- he would suffer a deep, dark unremitting sense of shame. Shudder. Shudder.
       Sigh. I called the plumber. I described the problem, gave the necessary info and then – and get this – they said: “WE’LL SEND IN THE DRAIN TEAM!” Do you believe it? Everyone is branding their services these days. I almost fell over laughing, though not at the price.
       Well, all’s well that ends well and, in this case, there was a double happy ending. My sink got fixed within the two hour minimum and, to my great relief, I was able to report to Freddy that the plumber not only had an assistant and didn’t have to go it alone, but he also had benefit of a special “hard” snake available only to the cognoscenti. And yet :-) :-), he still had a difficult time accomplishing what noble Freddy had tried to do all alone and with only a humdrum, run-of-the -mill snake at his side.
       Happily, Querido Lector, I can now report that Freddy, completely exonerated, now holds his head up proudly and high. Adiós and Gurgle! Gurgle! Gurgle!
                     

May 7, 2010

MY DENTIST AND ME

The Secret In Their Eyes: Original SoundtrackI was afraid that if I didn't go to see “In Their Eyes,” awarded an Oscar for Best Foreign Film, the next time Bob, DDS, had the opportunity to strap me down into his diabolical chair [Hi Bob!] he might take his displeasure out on my pearly whites because Bob just luuuved the film and was so sure I would, too. Little did he know that although I thrill to Socrates and “Leaves of Grass,” if asked, I would fearlessly declare that my all-time favorite movie is the hilarious romantic comedy, “Pillow Talk” (1959) starring Doris Day and Rock Hudson -- she of wonderful Jackiesque outfits and he a handsome, romantic cad. Quelle bliss! This gets to the crux of it. There are exceptions, but I tend to like movie-movies, not motion pictures that are designated as "Films." More on that in a moment.
       Even though Bob has been peering at me with a magnifying glass for lo' these umpteen years, there is an aspect of  my  psyche about which he clearly wasn’t aware. I am a pragmatist. A born problem solver. Sure, I have a sensitive, squishy side, but not when it comes to life’s bigger issues, e.g., being in love and making it happen, or at least trying, whereas the protagonists in “. . . Eyes” spent most of their adult lives in Argentina/subtitles [Ugh! to sts] not declaring, much less consummating, their love. (There's also murder mystery woven in.) I have no sympathy for those two. These two are just cowardly poops. But back to movies vs. films. Everything in film seems to take so much time and move like a snail. Hey stop throwing popcorn at me! It was inevitable. I became impatient and bored and, once again, left before all was said and done. (See "Greenberg," the May 5th post)
         It’s awfully lonely being me. I don’t dare go to the movies, except alone. My freedom to come and go as I please is paramount NPI. And as I did to my poor dentist, I’ve inadvertently disappointed and aghast many a friend with my minority opinions on some of their favorite films. I know: I’m an awful person. I guess I’ll just have to take out my video of  Pillow Talk once again, because it seems Doris and Rock and I really do seem to see eye-to-eye. Sorry again, Bob, DDS. Ooooouch!
       Even though, this time, I was the one inflicting the pain, Bob magnanimous told me what happened in the end. Can't tell. That's the reason I've kept coming back for more [torment.] It's because Bob, DDS, is one heck of a terrific guy.

May 6, 2010

BE KIND TO A DRIVER TODAY!

Would you please join me in celebrating the “First Annual Be Kind to Drivers Day?” Hurray! Hurray! This may come as a surprise, but a recent survey (mine) discovered that in the teeming streets of New York, it's actually the drivers who conduct themselves with propriety and decorum. Not us. We, the self-absorbed pedestrian, are cloddish and rude. We think we own the streets. Yes! We most certainly do. “Cars-and-drivers, be damned,” we say, as we lunge and plunge into oncoming traffic with nary a care, along with every expectation that the cars will part for us just like the Red Sea.
        There’s more. While waiting for the light, we stand yards into the street, instead of at the curb, effectively creating a human barricade that prohibits cars from ever making a turn. Doesn’t matter if you’re a VW or a Porsche. We treat all price ranges the same. (It is ridiculous that at most corners, cars are trying to turn at the same time drivers are trying to cross. What's with that?) And if we’re caught crossing the street when the light begins to turn, do we hurry it up so we don’t hold up the flow? Heck, No! We just take our merry old time.
       It’s true. There are many incentives to keep drivers from running us down. Jail. Fines. Licenses revoked. Being hung by our thumbs. But I think there’s more to it than that. Drivers are somehow -- just nicer. That’s why I care about them so. (Sometimes, I’m one of them, too. Aren’t you?) So shake a leg. Get out of the way. Do something nice for a driver today. Give him a sunny smile along with the right of way. And please don’t forget-- today is his very special day. It’s The First Annual Be Kind to Drivers Day. Yeeeeeeeeeah!

May 5, 2010

“GREENBERG” Stay? Go?

GreenbergI recently left “Greenberg even though there were still 20 minutes left to go. You’ll probably look at me askance, but I’ve always given myself permission to leave a performance before its conclusion, whether or not it's a meaningless something on TV, or Puccini at The Met. It’s all the same to me. I feel this is entirely reasonable strategy if  things start to bore. Or offend. Or ones emotions are being toyed with for no discernible, or worthwhile purpose. (Most of my friends usually stick things out until the bitter, life-draining end.)
          Greenberg is dark, actually charcoal gray. Nihilism comes to mind. The acting, however, was just great, but given the lack of significant content, one has to wonder -- to what useful end? Greta Gerwig, who is Florence, opposite Ben Stiller’s Roger G., appears in her [quote]breakthrough role[end-of- quote.] Florence is a silly, misguided girl, as unkempt inside as she is out. She flounders and flails. Greenberg is your average joyless, boring confused neurotic. But even though Florence is so authentically real, I knew that Greta, the actor, could not be playing herself because that girl probably wouldn’t have made it to the audition on the right day. But about Ben Stiller, I wasn’t so sure. Was Roger Greenberg actually the real Ben Stiller finally revealed? OMG. I hoped not. In this film, Stiller didn’t have the marvelously idiotic Derek Zoolander, or Greg Focker to inhabit. Here he was just playing a "Guy." But don’t worry. It’s OK. A few weeks later, when I saw him interviewed at The Times Center and I knew. No Greenberg – he. Roger Greenberg was just an act! In real life, Ben Stiller is an immensely likable, winning, funny, life-embracing New York kind of a guy. Wheeeeeeew!
          I left Greenberg before it was over because Yuck! I simply couldn’t stand to be in the same room with Florence and Roger any longer. (High praise for the magical reality that good acting conjures up, but a pity when the material doesn’t.)
          So,  Dear Reader, you’re welcome to borrow my MO. You, too, can quit while you’re still ahead. Leave. Go home. Enjoy life. Anytime. Anywhere. Money, be damned! There’s more where that came from, but I doubt whether that applies to your very precious time. (BTW -- Does anyone know how Greenberg ends?)

Black or White?

Did it ever cross your mind that if a black person has some white “blood,” they are always identified as “Black” and if a white person has some black blood they are also identified as “Black?” Contrary to the way things really are, the conclusion one must inescapable draw is that it is better to be identified as Black than designated [the heretofore superior designation] --  Lilly White.” Ironic, isn’t it? If this idea ever caught on, most certainly our prejudices and demographics would fall into cacophonous disarray.

May 3, 2010

THE WINNER’S REWARD

The Kentucky Derby, 2110. The track was shiny. Slick with mud. The race began in a drizzle of gray, but by the time the handsome Thoroughbred Super Saver won, the sun was out, celebrating his feat. After the valiant field reached the finished line, in victory or defeat, most of the horses began their promenade back to the barn, except for the lucky few, destined for the winners’ circle and all the accolades. Jockey Calvin Borel was in ecstasy. Though still mounted on Super Saver, he was jumping up and down. Trainer Todd Pletcher, who got his first Derby win, basked in all of the attention, hardly able to wait for the roses and the flow of champagne. And what of Super Saver, the hero of the day? His lead pony had joined him on the track. It's the pony's job to keep him calm on the way to his mantle of red. Was Super Saver preening and expecting a reward? No way. Here was no high-stakes winner of world-renown, just a mud-covered horsey whose only wish was to nuzzle his old friend’s mane. I ask -- who is the wise one here? Man who whoops and hollers and rakes in the dough, or a horse for whom nothing is more golden than the company of his friend.

April 23, 2010

VAMPIRES

I believe in vampires. Really, I do. They terrorize me with fangs smeared with clotted crimson blood, sending uncontrollable painful spasms down my cringing spine. I used to be an empirical realist until unequivocal proof was laid before me and I could no longer deny it: vampires actually do live among us. This is how I know. One day, soon after I bought a new computer, determined to give it a wonderful home, I discovered, to my horror, that deep within its turgid bowels there lived a ménage of ruthless vampires, given to attacking without pity, or reason, even though I treated it with all the love and respect to which a desktop could ever aspire. I dust  its keyboard. Wash its monitor ‘till it's sparkling clean. Feed its mouse. I even let it stay up late. And in the morning, when it awakes, I never fail to greet it with a warm “Hello,” But, no dice. None of it works. And forget about pleading and prayer. The only thing that scares the nasty buggers off is when I donate huge amounts of time and energy to an unintelligible, evil Microsoft minion who dwells in India – far, far away. New Delhi, to be exact. The minion, armed with a collection of [electronic] stakes, thrusts them deep into the desiccated hearts of the undead and things work OK for a while and I enjoy a slight reprise. Until next time.
         And though, here I sit here before you, still smarting from my latest bites, I must admit the following: Having survived so much, I have come to believe that I’m a really a better person because of my travails. Better insulated, better equipped to deal with the vagaries of life and all the ups-and-downs. And that’s a very good thing. And like most of life’s important lessons learned, it did exact a price. (I wonder,  Dear Reader, when looking back, do you feel as I do -- that this is a cost  you are more that willing to pay? I think if one can survive Microsoft, what is there really left to fear?

April 21, 2010

VENTURING FORTH

        It’s true. There are many benefits to working at home. There’s always lots of food. It’s O.K to stay in frayed-and-faded jammies. And there may be an orange tabby curled up on your desk editing your prose, or a Golden Retriever laughing at your side. But it’s not all rosy. There are downsides. Distractions abound. Gee, Federer’s playing Nadal. Take a nap? Bad, bad dog! Sit! Stay! But arguable the biggest drawback to working in the embrace of one’s own nest is that it’s too darn easy not to get up and leave all that comfyness behind, especially if: Will it rain? Or, should I take a nap? Or, and or, and or. Unlike leaving a regular office, leaving a home-one somehow seems like a big, big deal. So, you’ve just got to push yourself out the door and into the bounteous world, keeping firmly in mind that rarely are such efforts not met with rich rewards. Yesterday was just such a day.
       To forth. As I was waiting for the light, I noticed the man next to me. I was pretty sure he was a well known character actor* who played bad guys but on the other hand, maybe he was just the same type. He had a lionesque head and scowly, ferociously worn features. The clincher came when I checked-out his shoes. It was definitely – Him. His shoes were actually boots -- beautiful, minimal, black calf boots with pointy toes, worn with a classic blue blazer. Cool, no? I opened with, “Good work.” His raging features turned into a beatific smile. When I told him that I’d verified his credentials via his footwear, he was extremely pleased to tell me that he always wore the self-same boots, both on and off the set, and that they were even written into his contract. “Really?” “No, just kidding, but [Ha-Ha] it saves them money [not to have to furnish him with footwear.]” We happily said our good-byes, both of us flattered, each in our own way, and me grateful for yet another enchanting New York chance encounter.
       From forth. On my home, as I walked past Lincoln Center, I was struck that its plaza looked sterile and bare. I realized that the hand railings on the front steps were gone. Quelle fou, I thought. People need railings. They do. Just then, as if by magic, a friend, a respected [woman] civic leader who I hadn’t seen in quite some time crossed my path. That in itself was a pleasure, but now I also had an opportunity to express my no-railings displeasure. This knowledgeable lady heartily agreed with me and that made my ego smile. If only they’d asked me first. I would have reminded them that “Form follows function.” Every single time. Now and always. And forevermore.
        So, please promise me, DR, that you’ll remind me the next time I’m dragging my heels about the rich rewards just waiting for those who venture forth and then give me a great big shove out the door.
         *Found his name. He’s Kevin Conway and, in real life, he’s really kind of cute.

March 24, 2010

“Bluuuue Moon, I saw you…”

Years ago, in “The New York Times,” I came across a list of names for each of the 12 full moons. I was so enchanted by the lyricism of it all that I kept the list as sort of a souvenir of sweeter times, clearer dark skies and once passionate hearts. I always hoped I’d be able to use it in some way, but I never knew how. Until now. When, you, Dear Reader, thankfully came along. I hope you'll find the list as evocative and pleasurable as did I, as well as the concept that -- just like you and me -- moons have names, too. Here goes!
  • January – Wolf Moon
  • February – Snow Moon
  • March – Work Moon
  • April – Grass Moon
  • May – Flower Moon
  • June – Strawberry Moon
  • July – Thunder Moon
  • August – Green corn Moon
  • September – Harvest Moon
  • October – Hunter’s Moon
  • November – Beaver Moon
  • December – Cold Moon 
Blue Moon And now for the Grand Finale! THE BLUE MOON. When two moons occur in only one month -- the second is known as “Blue.” Oh, you mysterious Blue. You’re such a bad, bad boy. .
N.B. Every culture has designated their own names for the Full Moons and in many instances, a moon is known by multiple monikers. This list is somewhat of a compilation

March 22, 2010

The Turnstile Man

In  Manhattan subway stations,  one of the exit turnstiles is made up of predatory looking curved bars.  I’m always worried that I’ll get caught in the mechanism if the person ahead of me goes through too quickly. Today, with my usual trepidation, when I was exiting the #1 train at 28th Street and Broadway, the man ahead of me -- a blue-collar, tough looking sort --  turned back toward me and with a shy smile,  assured me that he would indeed push the turnstile very slowly and that I had nothing to fear. My heart soared. How beautiful and reassuring is the kindness and goodness of strangers. Tennessee, you got it right.