Saturday, October 30, 2010

In Which I Meet Bernadette Peters

My friend Anne (with whom I went to Thailand in 2008 and worked at Hoofbeat for many years) came to stay with me in New York for a few days before setting off on an around-the-world journey. We had a marvelous time going on adventures around the city, including attending a steam-punk fashion show (our favorite designer was Kristin Costa), walking across the Brooklyn Bridge (which I have done probably a dozen times now and I'm not even close to being sick of it), and watching the Packers beat the Vikings at Kettle of Fish, New York's local Packer bar.

I regretted having to go to work during the day while she was here (such is the life of a paid-by-the-hour worker with no vacation time), so our weekday adventures were restricted to evening-time. We kept Wednesday night reserved to go to some kind of show -- I told Anne to pick up tickets to whatever she wanted while she was exploring during the day, and I'd meet her wherever after work. So all day, I was wondering what she'd pick and what I had to look forward to.

Around six o'clock, she sent me a text message to say she'd gotten tickets to A Little Night Music. I had heard of the show and knew it was Soundheim, but never seen it before -- but I knew that Bernadette Peters was in it, which was more than enough to make me excited about going to see it. (I'm not particularly well-versed in Broadway actors, so basically, if I know who someone is, they are more likely than not a huge star.)

The show was totally incredible. I could see exactly why Bernadette Peters is such a star -- she is positively magnetic. I couldn't look away. The part of Desiree seemed written for her, and at one point I tried to imagine anyone else in the role, and couldn't. There's something life-affirming about seeing a beautiful, radiant, talented, 62-year-old woman on stage. Elaine Stritch was also great and very, very funny. And while it approaches cliche to say that something made me laugh and made me cry -- it pretty much did. Sometimes I laughed a lot and then unexpectedly, the play reeled me into something so human and heartfelt that I couldn't help tearing up a little (and I'm not a crier when it comes to plays & movies).

After the show, Anne & I started to walk out, and we noticed a bunch of people waiting at the stage door. It occurred to us that Bernadette Peters might come out, so we decided to wait. I'd never waited at stage door before -- I'm not really that into getting things signed in general -- but I really wanted to have a moment with Bernadette Peters where she looked at me and acknowledged my existence.

Ramona Mallory, who played the character of Anne (not to be confused with my friend Anne), came out first. I didn't get her autograph because I was standing with a group of obnoxious actor-teenagers, and I think she was a little afraid of them (I don't really blame her). She seemed in a hurry to get home, though she was gracious and smiley.

I did get signatures from Stephen R. Buntrock (Fredrik), Katherine McNamara (Fredrika), Bradley Dean (Count Carl-Magnus Malcom), and Hunter Ryan Herdlicka (Henrik), who came out next. Stephen R. Buntrock has silver-fox laser-eyes. It occurred to me how crazy it must be for Katherine McNamara, who is 14 or so and already in a Broadway play with Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch. I mean, where can life go from there?

Then it was quiet for a few minutes. One of the stagehands stepped out and announced, "Elaine Stritch has left the building. I repeat, Elaine Stritch has left the building."

And then we waited. I continued to be annoyed at the obnoxious actor-teenagers, who were talking about how they wanted to call Bernadette Peters "Bernie" when she came out and tell her they wanted to have her babies. Or something like that. Meanwhile, my knees were starting to shake.

Then she came out.

I didn't want to seem too rabid, so I just said thank-you when she signed my Playbill, and then proceeded to grin like a fool. Anne got a picture (thanks to her for taking the photo, and to my brother Zach for editing to reduce my crazy-eyes):

So now my question is, what do I do with the Playbill? Normally I am the type to hold onto them for a few months, then think, "What am I really going to do with this?" and throw it out. I'm not a hoarder. But I can't exactly throw out a playbill signed by Bernadette Peters. I am accepting suggestions on what to do with it. Keep in mind that I live in New York and do not have a ton of space, so a shrine is not a realistic option.

Anyway, I'm headed out to a Halloween party for which Cliff is DJing. (I feel like I consistently switch to talking like I am in Dinosaur Comics when I am writing about him -- but seriously, you guys. He is super rad.) I am currently dressed as a watermelon (sexy watermelon? just kidding), because that is my lazy go-to costume where I don't have to buy anything.

I'm not sure what that says about me.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Reading List + Garage Band

I had a request to post my reading list from the past year, so here it is. This is approximately since the beginning of last September, when I left on my Greyhound bus trip. Books are in no particular order, and I noted "pending" beside any titles that I haven't finished but intend to. I didn't include The Road by Cormac McCarthy in this list, because I started it, hated it, muscled to halfway through, then heard that it didn't get any better and decided it wasn't worth it. (It takes a very special kind of writer to be writing about killing people in a way that is excruciatingly boring. Also, McCarthy could stand to befriend an apostrophe or two.) I've made no intentional omissions, and have included library books, books borrowed from work, books picked up off friends' shelves, books given to me as gifts, etc., etc. I would also like to note that I in no way endorse all of the opinions expressed by authors on the following list (which would actually be quite difficult, considering that some of them are in staunch opposition to one another). Rather, I like to read what other people think and react -- to what the author got right and wrong from my point of view.

The Watermelon Shirt List of Books Read, September 2010-present

1. Feminist Theory from Margin to Center, by bell hooks
2. The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women by Jessica Valenti
3. The Art of Travel by Alain de Boton
4. On Love by Alain de Boton
5. Kettle Bottom by Diane Gilliam Fisher
6. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
7. A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
8. The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker
9. Don't Vote: It Just Encourages the Bastards by P.J. O'Rourke
10. I Love a Man in Uniform by Lily Burana
11. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
12. Secrets and Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World by Bruce Schneier
13. Exquisite Desire: Religion, the Erotic, and the Song of Songs by Carey Ellen Walsh
14. Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson
15. The Penultimate Peril (Series of Unfortunate Events Series, Book #12) by Lemony Snicket
16. How Did You Get This Number? by Sloane Crosley
17. Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture by Ariel Levy
18. The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women by Naomi Wolf
19. Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality by Gail Dines
20. What The Living Do by Marie Howe
21. Sinners Welcome by Mary Karr (pending)
23. Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse by Mary Oliver
24. Financial Serial Killers: Inside the World of Wall Street Money Hustlers, Swindlers, and Con Men by Tom Ajamie and Bruce Kelly (pending)
25. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
26. Boy by Roald Dahl
27. Going Solo by Roald Dahl
28. I Know I Am, But What Are You? by Samantha Bee
29. The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt
30. Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life by Steve Almond
31. Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Saffron Moyer (pending)
32.The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America by Bill Bryson (pending)
33. Wetlands by Charlotte Roche
34. Voodoo Heart by Scott Snyder
35. How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely
36. Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen
37. Model by Cheryl Diamond
38. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
39. Hungry by Crystal Renn
40. This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel J. Levitin
41.Shopgirl by Steve Martin
42. What a Girl Should Know About Sex by Bernhardt S. Gottlieb (out of print from 1962)
43. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
44.Girls Gone Mild: Young Women Reclaim Self-Respect and Find It's Not Bad to Be Good by Wendy Shalit
45. Strip City by Lily Burana (pending)

I just finished Girls Gone Mild a few hours ago. My main problem with it is that Shalit callously divides women into two groups -- good and bad. While I don't subscribe to every idea that Jessica Valenti presents in The Purity Myth, one concept that really struck home for me from her book is that dividing women into this false dichotomy perpetuates rape culture. Valenti points out how difficult it is to be a "perfect" rape victim -- how details like what the woman was wearing, if she participated in consensual sexual activity in the past, and whether she had consumed alcohol could influence judges to condemn her as inviting the attack. Shalit has a particularly egregious example of this when writing about Koren Zailckas, author of Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood. Shalit summarizes Zailckas's memoir of alcohol abuse, casual sex, and rape. Then, Shalit gives the reader this curveball: "[Zailckas] polishes the rum off a few days later, and not surprisingly is then date-raped once more."

Non-weasel-worded translation: "She had it coming." Victim-blaming at its finest.

I mean, surely it couldn't be the fault of whoever raped her, right?

I've read a lot of analysis on why people insist on warning young women about the dangers that are lurking down every street they dare to walk down alone. The theory that seems the most emotionally accurate to me is that people want to feel like they have some kind of control over their lives because it makes them feel safe. They want to watch the news and think, "Oh, that girl was attacked because she was x (when x=by herself/with another woman/wearing a short skirt/wearing jeans/talking on the phone/not talking on the phone). Therefore, because I do or do not do x, I am safe and such a thing could never happen to me." When we recognize that, despite taking every precaution, sometimes attackers will attack and there's nothing we can do about it -- it's scary to think about.

Shalit also complains about women who "steal each other's husbands" and describes Alice, one of her interview subjects, as "not the 'other woman' type" (whatever that means). I find the entire concept of "husband-stealing" to be completely offensive to both women and men. Essentially, women are painted as nothing more than sultry temptresses, while men are depicted as animals who lack the rational thought necessary to make moral decisions. I have my doubts that a husband who didn't want to be "stolen" could be -- and let's not forget that, in the "husband-stealing" scenario, the husband has vowed fidelity in marriage while the so-called "other woman" has made no such promise. The same would be true, as far as I'm concerned, if the genders in this situation were reversed -- though Shalit is too busy blaming women for the alleged "husband-stealing" epidemic to panic about the "wife-stealing" that surely also takes place by her logic. (Although, according to society -- if a man cheats, it's the woman's fault for not pleasing him [see: response to Hillary Clinton after Monica Lewinksy scandal et. al.].If a woman cheats, it's because she's a slut.)

But I'm getting carried away with myself here. My point is, as a society we need to stop pretending that there are only two types of women -- good & bad, madonna & whore -- and that of those, one or the other (perhaps which one depends on your politics) is worthless. Everyone loses.

(I know, I know. "This is why [I] can't sleep.")

In other news -- I was inspired by my dear friend Nomester's music upload (already knew she could sing from summer renditions of "Wagon Wheel", but seriously, she sounds amazing), and decided to tinker some more with Garage Band to see if I could figure it out, for actual musical purposes at a later date. My friend Christy and I played with it a little, to record some songs she'd written with me on backup vocals, keyboard, and flute, but I also recorded my warm-up improvisation and us talking.

This one's just the Garage Band sample clips, plus me singing a little and playing with effects.

This one's the tinkered-with improv. Everything is me except for Christy talking toward the end. The effects are crazy because they mess with the tuning in a way I think is interesting -- you can especially hear the discrepancy when the keyboard comes in.

Looking forward to recording actual stuff at a later date -- but for now the laptop tinkering will have to suffice, considering the hour and the sleeping roommates.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

So, today I walked the length of Manhattan.

Today Liza and I decided to follow through on a borderline insane idea we've had for awhile -- walking the length of Manhattan.

To spare the uninitiated a bit of Googling, the walk is about thirteen miles in total. For anyone considering embarking on a similar mission, we started around 12:30 noon and got to Battery Park around 6:30 pm (also, we took a long break for lunch). The goal was to start the day off the 225th St. 1 train station in the Bronx, walk over the Broadway Bridge, and then walk all the way down to Battery Park to take the Staten Island Ferry. We had some delays in getting to our starting spot due to subway construction (read: my accidental trip to Queens). But after that, it was a surprisingly easy walk, considering comfy shoes, company, and conversation.

We walked from 225th to 110th without stopping at all, primarily down Broadway. Then we made a brief stop to visit the Cathedral of St. John the Divine:

We ate lunch at an Italian restaurant and enjoyed sitting down for awhile before continuing our journey. We zig-zagged a little, cutting over to Amsterdam and West End and walking through Hell's Kitchen before going back over to Broadway to walk through Times Square.

When we reached the southernmost tip of Manhattan, we watched the sun set in Battery Park (you can see the Statue of Liberty in the background here).

To complete our mission, we took the Staten Island ferry round-trip before taking the subway back home to Brooklyn. Which means, of course, that if you count my accidental trip to Queens that I set foot in all five boroughs today!

Monday, October 11, 2010

It's True: America IS Great

So for Cliff's birthday, I got us a bus-and-park-admission package to Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey. I admitted right away that this was partially because I had the ulterior motive of then getting to spend the day with him riding roller coasters. He didn't seem to mind much though.

The New Jersey transit dude recommended that we get to the Port Authority Bus Terminal by 7 am to ensure a spot on the 9:30 bus. I am saying this to shamelessly impress those who know how much I dislike mornings. I actually left my apartment voluntarily around 6:15 in the morning. Somehow it feels so, so much different to wake up and do something fun versus to do something that you have to. And then at the bus station I got a delicious muffin and bought The Week and relished the fact that now, not being in school, I actually have time to read for pleasure. (Cliff had me write him a list of all the books I've read in the past year, and I am proud to say that it worked out to about 42 or something, so almost a book a week. Not bad!)

The bus actually left about half an hour early, so we got to the park before it was even open. Cliff was excited to recognize Bob Katz, a famous audio recording engineer. (I readily admit to borrowing the descriptor "audio recording engineer" from Wikipedia, where I read about him after I got home.)

I realized that I probably hadn't been to a theme park not-with-children-to-supervise in probably close to 10 years. This did not, however, keep us from riding the carousel.

The harried mother in front of us in line pointed us out to her carousel-objecting daughter to say, "See? It's not a baby ride! These people don't even have a kid with them, and they're just going because they like the ride!" We were friendly and agreed that yes, we think carousels are awesome. So I do feel like we served some practical purpose to society and didn't just get in the way of the actual children.

Because we got to the park so early, we were able to ride a bunch of roller coasters with almost no line, including Superman, Nitro, The Dark Knight, Bizarro, and Batman. We also went to go see dolphin show which made me revert back to childhood ambitions to become a dolphin trainer/princess/cowgirl/movie star, and we saw one of the supposedly spooky Halloween shows which was tacky but had flame-throwers as pre-show entertainment. When the park got dark, park employees dressed like ghouls came out to try to scare people for Fright Fest. I really wanted to see Cliff get caught hilariously off-guard, but it didn't happen. We did however observe some obnoxious teenagers get their comeuppance, and an awesome dad jump out at his kids and basically scare the pants off them.

The weather was perfect and I found $20 on the ground (actually), which paid for lunch at Panda Express, so all in all an exceptional day.

It amuses me how prominently and accidentally Panda Express is featured in this photo, so it seems appropriate that I post it here:

Also we got to ride over the park in one of those sky tram things, which is where this photo was taken:

I am mentioning things about the bus to emphasize that it is a super easy day trip to make from New York, except for getting up early. Also, the great thing about riding the bus is that you can sleep on the way home! Sleeping while driving, on the other hand, is heartily discouraged by the Surgeon General.

We had such an awesome time that we are thinking about getting season tickets next year, which are surprisingly inexpensive, especially if you get a group rate for at least 4 people. I overheard the middle-aged man behind us on the bus on the way there that he had been there 11 times already this year!


PS If you were wondering, the most awesome ride in my opinion was the Superman ride, because it puts you in this weird position where you sorta really do feel like Superman. So in other words, I fulfilled my goal in life.