8.31.2010

Up in the Air

Yes, I’m always praying on planes. For safe journey. But it’s not like I wake up everyday and ask, “Please God, don’t let me get hit by a car today.” While I was flying somewhere, my friends visited Brian age 21. When he asked what he was like in the future, they said, “The same!” That was a little comforting and a little disturbing to my present self, but I always loved when we laughed a lot and went to eat together. That is what Philadelphia is for. (“I’ve got my friends in the world, I had my friends…”)Meanwhile, in present day, I was in a meeting in Brazil and said, “Quick question about Shrek.” And then my performance, my act as manager broke down for a brief minute, and I laughed out loud and followed up with, “Wow, I never thought I’d say that in my life,” because I couldn’t help it, it was so fucking ridiculous. In Gilead “to be useful was the best thing the old men ever hoped for themselves,” and there I was asking questions about Shrek. And I tried really hard, for a few days after reading, to “put the obvious question, that is to ask what it was the Lord was trying to make us understand.” I don’t have the answer yet. I thought a bit, too, about how “Memory can make a thing seem to have been much more than it was,” how I obsess over people, over songs, over the empty squares of Sudoku, over hands on hands on steering wheels. I feel for you, reader, you must be getting bored with it all by now. I remembered my grandmother, endlessly crying over the twin she was separated from. And now is as good a time as any to tell you I have always loved in the History of Love the section on love among the angels. “Angels don’t get married. To begin with they are too busy, and secondly they don’t fall in love with each other. (If you don’t know what it feels like to have someone you love put a hand below your bottom rib for the first time, what chance is there for love?)”

8.29.2010

The Remains of the Day

“I have never wanted to slap some sense into a fictional character so much.”

Elena wrote that of the Princesse de Clèves; another Elena would say the same about Edna Pontellier. I have discovered that I’d like to smack around Mr. Stevens of Remains of the Day.


*******Some spoilers, maybe*************

In terms of technical achievement the novel is great and deserving of all the praise it gets. In terms of how much it annoys me, I can’t say that I enjoyed it, but I can say it wasn’t a waste of time. (As opposed to, say, Great Expectations, which I despised and felt no better off for having read.)

Stevens is the consummate English butler. The writing has to be applauded because it is perfect in conveying this. You feel like he is a real person. The question is can you stomach an entire book written in this tone? This is how Stevens describes refueling the car that had stopped running the day before: “Any fears I had that some deeper trouble was afflicting the Ford were laid to rest when I tried the ignition and heard the engine come to life with a healthy murmur.”AAAAAARGH! That alone makes me want to slap him.

But, of course, one of the best things I learned from my Language Arts teacher eleven years ago was the simple lesson that perhaps we hate in others what we see in ourselves. (What book were we talking about?) So here is Stevens, who is making a journey but the entire way he is recollecting an earlier time. Half of what he is thinking about are the things that did not happen. This is like me, this is too much like me, remembering driving up McNab Avenue when Rich put his hands on my hand on the steering wheel of the Dodge Spirit, remembering sitting in a Seaside Heights hotel room prom weekend when I was a junior, alone for a minute with Jared before Scott H came in, wondering if I should ask him the question. Yes, I hate Stevens for that.

Stevens believes that dignity is what makes a butler great, and dignity “has to do crucially with a butler's ability not to abandon the professional being he inhabits...the great butlers are great by virtue of their ability to inhabit their professional role and inhabit it to the utmost; they will not be shaken out by external events, however surprising, alarming or vexing.” In the middle of an important dinner at Darlington Hall, Stevens’ father (a former butler) is dying upstairs. Stevens does not go to be with his father. He continues to execute his professional duties. Later, he even points to this experience as an example of that dignity. It made me think of my grandfather. I was at a meeting in Chicago for a client I disliked. I noticed my mother called me repeatedly, and finally excused myself to take the call because it was unusual behavior for her. She told me my grandfather had passed away, when the wake would be. It was sudden, and while the family had rushed to get to the hospital, there was no way I would make it. Then I had to go back into the meeting, put the professional face back on, and pretend like I gave a shit about cell phone advertising.

Then there is this issue of loyalty, of the blind trust he places in his employer. I don’t think I’m as bad as him. I know the corporation is not your friend, but at the end of the day, I understand that my credibility and my employer’s credibility, their actions and my actions, are linked. I hate how Stevens does not see when he is being played, I hate when he turns a blind eye, I hate when he doesn’t stand up for what is right. The Ken Mehlman story came out just as I finished the book, and I'd like to ask him, too: why didn't you intervene when it would have meant something?

So, yeah, I guess I recommend this if you want to get mad and feel bad about yourself.

8.24.2010

Wishful Drinking (Mostly Quoting)

The reading list was getting heavy.

Months ago I read about half of Carrie Fisher's Wishful Drinking standing in front of the memoirs table at the bookstore because it was so damn funny. This is a quick read and I laughed out loud the whole time. Certainly, her life comes with a bunch of heavy topics--addiction, bipolar disorder, etc. All of it is approached with humor. I enjoyed the account of George Lucas' explanation of why she couldn't wear a bra under her white dress in Star Wars:
...I have a sense you will be going to outer space very soon, so here's why you cannot wear your brassiere, per George. So, what happens is you go to space and you become weightless. So far so good, right? But then your body expands??? But your bra doesn't--so you get strangled by your own bra. Now I think that this would make for a fantastic obit--so I tell my younger friends that no matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra.

That has to be the best-placed triple question mark ever.

I have to return the library book, but I wanted to hold onto this talk with her daughter:
"Well, baby--if you want to be a comic, you have to be a writer. But don't worry, you have tons of material. Your mother is a manic-depressive drug addict, your father is gay, your grandmother tap-dances, and your grandfather shot speed!"

And my daughter laughs and laughs and laughs, and I say, "Baby, the fact that you know that's funny is going to save your whole life."

Gilead

I would have never read Gilead if I hadn't read my sister's post about it. It's a simple, beautifully written story of a preacher from a line of preachers writing a letter to his young son. When I finished, I had the desire to directly start re-reading it.

I liked his friend Boughton's idea about heaven. "He said, 'Mainly I just think about the splendors of the world and multiply by two. I'd multiply by ten or twelve if I had the energy. But two is much more than sufficient for my purposes.' So he's just sitting there multiplying the feel of the wind by two, multiplying the smell of the grass by two."

I feel glad that I read this book. It provided a little jolt to the spirit. It reminded me to count my blessings. "Ah, this life, this world."

Dear Tini

Darling,

I'm sitting in Business Class for the second time in my life, on a flight to Brazil. I chose Champagne over water or orange juice and thought of you and our trip to Paris. When I'm fortunate enough to see a new place, I say Champagne is in order. A toast to opportunity, a toast to friendship.

Yours,

Brian

8.21.2010

Democracy

I love Joan Didion's style. I haven't read much by her and look to remedy that.

1. The way Democracy is narrated, with Joan Didion, author, being a person the characters interact with, makes the story feel like non-fiction. Very cool.

2. There is a fixation on certain details that feels realistic. Who ended up with Leilani Thayer's koa settee? (While reading this, I learned that my maternal grandmother's mahogany bedroom set is the bedroom set that my paternal grandparents had when they were first married. This movement of furniture seems important, and I like to know I'm not the only one who thinks so.) Other details fall away. The major cost of public life is memory, says Inez.

3. "'Anyway we were together,'she said. 'We were together all our lives. If you count thinking about it.'" Killed me.

8.20.2010

30-Second Nostalgia Sublime

(With apologies to shakesville for the post title.)

Along with the Mount Airy Lodge commercial, this is the best in terms of ad recall:

8.19.2010

Dandelion Wine

Dandelion Wine should be read in summer. It took some time for me to get into, and there are some beautiful passages and other whole sections that I thought were boring. Sometimes I thought, "I liked this better when it was Our Town." However, when Mr. Bradbury covers death and other goodbyes, I'm all in.

Colonel Freeleigh is the Time Machine. He remembers the Civil War and buffalo stampedes, things no one else in the town can access. (He is "a breathing time machine," to quote my musical obsession of the past four months.)

John Huff leaving town during the game of "Statues" was touching.

I also enjoyed the love story of Bill Forrester and Helen Loomis:

"I know you...I was in love with you once," he said.

"Now that's the way I like a conversation to open." She dug quietly at her ice cream.

Douglas, the 12-year-old main character makes a list based on his experience that summer:

YOU CAN'T DEPEND ON PEOPLE BECAUSE

...they go away.

...strangers die.

...people you know fairly well die.

...friends die.

...your own folks can die.


Now that is a list after my own heart, much like opening a conversation with "I was in love with you once."

Douglas makes two lists in a notepad about the summer of 1928. One list is "Rites and Ceremonies", the other is "Discoveries and Revelations." I loved that idea. And being out in Shirley when I was finishing the book made me think of those rites and ceremonies over the years. When we were kids there were wild blueberries in the overgrown lot next door. We played the "Hat Game" that our grandfather taught us, and this year I struggled to remember the rules. (Becky remembered one key ingredient, which was when you retrieved the ball from your hat, you yelled "HALT!" to make the other players freeze.) We used to throw a tennis ball on the slanted roof and catch it when it bounced off. This was typically accompanied by a lot of parental yelling. On the beach, Becky, Erin, and I would play in the sand and pretend we worked at Carvel. Our imaginary customers were always mean to us, so with a sassy retort we would throw the sand ice cream cones in their fat invisible faces. In recent years, the rites and ceremonies involve tabloid magazines, beer, Roy Rogers, Shark Week, and wondering where they import those lifeguards from. Also: bonfires and S'MORES (and always buying those long skewers even though there's already a package in the cabinet from last year). Another thing, though, is that Dad's cousins are there, so a recent blessing is I hear stories about my parents when they were young, what their summers were like.

The book made me remember lightning bugs (though it calls them "fireflies"), their existence, and how I haven't seen one in ages.

8.16.2010

I Was Nineteen

Jeezy Creezy, have we talked about how much I love this song?

8.15.2010

My Blue Heaven

When Mom and Dad first moved to Whippany, the kitchen was a hideous aqua. I had heard that story before. What I didn't know was how Mom used to sing "My Blue Heaven" and change the words to "Just Dougie and me, and Jenny makes three..." In Shirley, she sang the same tune and put in Imme's name.

8.14.2010

In Short

I've been living to see you.

8.10.2010

To Read

Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture, by Naomi Cahn and June Carbone, after reading about it in an interesting post by Jonathan Rauch.

8.08.2010

All The Lovely People

I lived for a week at the Pun Shop. It was a good feeling, spending the nights and mornings with friends. It’s the season when we normally head to Shirley, so it felt right to be together. We watched Shark Week; I finally saw Ocean of Fear in its entirety. Dre and I took the subway to work. We did Facebook friend list maintenance. Sam and I talked about moving in with our SOs. Erin and I talked about talking about feelings and how do they really want you to do that with everybody, all the time? I told Bob about advertising. I lost the phone charger I bought the weekend before. I laughed my head off. I asked Erin what was the worst kind of cake (Patty told me on the way to New York. Correct answer: urinal.), and she said, “Shitcakes?” Mike told me to suck it when he gave me the date of his wedding. Samantha violently shot down a Pocahontas duet. Bob brought Brownie Batter ice cream and said, “Brian, it’s your favorite.” I heard a telling of the Montclair Jumper Debacle. JP stayed over the first night, and I loved having all the lovely people in one place.

Blue Sky

I was at the bakery (because how else do you kick off vacation?), and I was tongue-tied by the man who was presumably the owner. I don't know! Was I blushing? It felt like small talk that ran into overtime, but everything I said was stupid. This was the beginning.

“It’s such a nice day, isn’t it?”
“It certainly is.”
“I guess I need to read my widgets more closely.”
I laughed. “Well, I don’t have a smart enough phone to do that!”
“Me neither. I still have a flip phone. I meant on my computer…my five-year-old Mac, so…”
“Not exactly the cutting edge of technology?”
“But it’s how I check the weather every day.”
“It gives you what you need.”

Talking about the weather was never so charming.

8.07.2010

Bending Towards Justice (or More Burt Bacharach)

This happened on August, 4, 2010.

From Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling on Perry v. Schwarzenegger:

"Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite- sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional."

Towleroad posted Sean Chapin's clip from outside the courthouse:



Stephen Colbert came up with a plan to fight back.

8.04.2010

Promises, Promises

I got a chance to see a show last weekend. I liked this number best and wanted to be able to find it again.