Monday, June 30, 2008

Without movies

No movies this weekend. And likely none next, either, unless we do so as a family, which likely means "Wall-e" which my brothers have already determined is the best-reviewed movie in a long time. I don't even know if I'm spelling it correctly.

Update on "Stop the Jail": I found this discussing the issue. Apparently, I am not alone in my aversion to the protests as indicating privileged NIMBY new residents. But there seems to be heated arguments on both sides; nothing new with that, of course. I suppose if I erase any consideration of where each of the jails reside and evaluate which would be more financially and procedurally responsible (i.e., the length of time traveling to and from Rikers for parties involved, which increases gas consumption and costs), then I could choose a side. But I still wouldn't care if the best option was to reopen the jail in Brooklyn. (My favorite comment on the blog above is someone pointing out that there is a comparable jail in Tribeca, and there is certainly no loss of property value there.)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Under the thunder

It seems like the last month or so, every weekend has been interrupted by thunderstorms. Sudden, loud, heavy rain, flashes of lightning, grumbling thunder. Yesterday I was caught in one just walking out my front door to a car waiting out front, and even with an umbrella I was soaked.

My weekend was broken in two by a trip upstate to babysit family kids. Somehow I managed to get a great deal done before I left yesterday, and I came home early afternoon today and found myself remarkably productive. Granted, I've not showered or gone to the gym or eaten a reasonable meal, but I've scanned photos I've meant to for ages, re-potted some plants (including an orchid I bought at Ikea yesterday - more on that later), and bought the correct mounting tape to hang a light under my kitchen counter (after more than a month of owing said light.)

Now I sit in my bedroom, having turned off the air conditioner in favor of having the rain-soaked wind blow into my window. It's a bit cooler, but not tremendously. I managed to wander outside between bursts of rain and buy my mounting tape and potting soil, and so feel safe and dry.

Ikea Brooklyn opened up last weekend. It's only a 15 minute bus ride from me. both by a city bus that's two blocks from my apartment, and a free Ikea shuttle that's more of a 10 minute walk. I went yesterday and as I expected, bought some great cheap things and still spent $50. I am not as interested in their furniture (I have most of the furniture I need, and anything else I may want in the future I want to invest more in than Ikea quality), but I go crazy in their marketplace. I see a set of three paring knives for $3.99 and my mind races, wondering who I can give them to. (I managed to put them back, figuring I live this close, I can plan a more focused gift-shopping spree any time.) For my $50 I purchased: the orchid, a hanging shoe bag with two drawers, a cloth children's book with removable stuffed pieces, a plastic colander, and a lightweight cotton throw. Oh, and a reusable Ikea shopping bag.

(I went into Trader Joe's last week with my Whole Foods shopping bag and the cashier jokingly gave my a hard time. He also told me that the Brooklyn Trader Joe's is supposed to open "fall or winter." Not very encouraging.)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Sunday I was revising a short story and letting my iTunes music shuffle and up came "Fix You," not the Cold Play version, but the one from Young@Heart. And I had to stop and listen, and then replay it. I don't know if you feel the same way about it if you haven't seen the film, but there is something about Fred Knittle's voice, the register he's in, that hits me. Maybe I'm just remembering the sight of him on stage with his oxygen tank, at what is one of the emotional high points of the movie. Or maybe his voice resonates with me because it reminds me of someone else. (My father? sometimes I think maybe.)

Anyway, I just started to cry.

Yesterday I had an incident at work where someone took something out on me in an email that wasn't my doing, in a way that was surprisingly sharp. It burned me up and it took everything I had to stop from firing back or screaming or tossing my computer out the window in a rage. I could feel the heat rise inside of me and it wouldn't go back down - whenever anyone innocently brought up a related topic, I found all my thoughts racing in 4-letter words. How could that %$#@! have said that to me?

But, the question sets in. Is this the start of the emotional roller coaster? I don't want this to turn into Medusa's menopause blog, but I fear my body is fucking with me. And I don't like it. At least I'm able to recognize that this is what it is, and tailor my response accordingly. So far.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Baby mamas, part deux

You know, when I was a teenager, I thought the most romantic thing that could happen to me would be to find the love of my life and have a baby with him. I don't think this is really new. I read many a teenage romance that ended with an elopement and young parenthood. Maybe because it was the 70's, and girls, despite the changing times, still were expected to see marriage and children as a goal? I don't know.

But I remember a book that I absolutely loved, about a pregnant teen living in a home for unwed mothers. All of the other girls had hopes and dreams that the men in their lives were going to come for them and save them, before the inevitable deliveries and giving up of their children for adoption. (Closed adoptions, back then. Immediate shut-down, no contact, goodbye-forever adoptions.) Of course all of them were wrong, and all were heartbroken.The heroine was a girl who knew in her heart that she was different, that her boyfriend loved her in a way that none of the other girls had experienced, and that she didn't belong with them. As soon has he figured out where she'd gone and found her, they'd run off together with their little baby (girl? boy? one didn't naturally know until it was born.) And, of course, he did and they did, and all was happy and romantic.

Maybe it was just that one book, but I think there were more. There was another book about a young father whose wife had died (cancer? childbearing?) and left him first a teenage dad, and now a twenty-something heartthrob with a beautiful toddler. The teenage heroine, just a few years his younger, fell for him and voila! instant family, one made even more special by the tragic death that had formed it.

The point of this is that I can understand that fantasy of thinking that having a child is going to make your life meaningful. Maybe it's biological - I obviously don't think that way now, nor did I in the intervening years, once I figured out all I could do with my life on my own. But I get it.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

I Now Pronounce You Stupid

And then there are the movies that are so mindless they are painful. I don't recall exactly why I started watching "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" but there I was one day last week, desperate for something to watch on tv, and my remote hand stumbled on it. It was bad, even with the knowledge going in that it would be lame. Still I watched for awhile, until I began to realize that the basic premise of the film made no sense: two guys marry in order to get benefits that would otherwise be denied them. But, you see, they are both working employed NYC firefighters. So what are they after that they don't have as individuals? Is it possible that the city gives couples more than it gives singles? How is that ever legal?

Trying to figure it out caused me to finish watching the movie, which turned out to be a waste of time. It's not explained. So I guess it came in the first 20 minutes that I'd missed.

Fast forward to tonight, when I see that it's airing again. So, determined to get to the bottom of this, I start watching. And it still makes no sense.

You see, Chuck (or Larry?) is a recent widower, and he goes to the benefits office to have his pension changed so that his kids are his beneficiary instead of his late wife. And he's told that it will take awhile. Not that it's impossible, mind you, but that it will take awhile, since he didn't take care of it within a year of his wife's death. So, we are to assume (it's never spelled out), that without this adjustment, if he dies in a fire, his kids won't get his pension. Because that makes sense. But the kicker comes when the benefits clerk tells him it would be faster if he married someone new, as that person could more quickly become his beneficiary than his own children. Because that makes even more sense.

So, instead of cursing himself out for not taking care of this for a year, then just hoping that nothing happens to him during the few months it will take for the paperwork to revert things to his kids, even though they've been "unprotected" in this same way for over a year, he gets the brilliant idea to marry his best (male) friend so his friend will get his pension, and take care of his kids.

Yes, that's it.

Naturally, hi jinks ensue. Silly, stupid, offensive, annoying, hi jinks.

Meanwhile, by the end of the movie, after all their inane adventures, I'm pretty sure the original paperwork might have gone through.

"Get Smart," get pregnant?

The tv news is obsessed with the story of the teenage girls who made a pact to get pregnant and have babies together. Every station floats a theory or two as to what would drive these girls to do something so unbelievably foolish, and every one mutters the word, "Juno." Really? Did nobody watch the movie? Because it's not about a girl who gets pregnant and becomes a happy teenage mother with a fulfilling life - it's about a girl who gives her baby up for adoption. Was this a pact of teenage girls vowing to create and deliver healthy babies to infertile thirty-something would-be moms? I think not.

I get the other cultural references, though, like the glorification of celebrity pregnancy. From the first moment a gossip magazine referred to a pregnant belly as a "bump," pregnancy began to be treated as a fashion accessory and not the creation of a living thing with needs and demands and physical, financial, and emotional costs. "With child" is a woman who is already marked as having the responsibilities of a child, while "Nicole's bump" is just a minor and temporary inconvenience.

Look at me, all high and mighty and preachy.

I'm trying to regain my sanity, regather my wits, after a time-consuming and mind-consuming project at work ends. I now can get back to the rest of the job I was hired to do, but the few days this week when I could, I became grouchy and easily-annoyed and bored. I told myself I just needed the weekend to recover and rebound.

Yesterday, Friday, I decided after the last of 3 conference calls I'd shut down for the day. Use up some vacation hours, stop reading work email, hide out. I was so determined to escape and run, that I did just that - hung up the phone, grabbed my stuff, and was halfway to Manhattan when I realized I had no idea where I was going or why. This is not me; I'm a planner and a list maker.

Luckily, I'd synced my treo before I left, so, careful not to click on the work email icon, I navigated to Vindigo and the movie listings, and found that there was at least one I wasn't too late or too early for. I got off the subway and made my way to "Get Smart."

I love Steve Carrell and like Anne Hathaway, too. I used to love watching the "Get Smart" TV show back in its heyday. (Although whenever I think of it, I remember the other show from its star, "Don Adams's Screentest, " an acting competition where two people had to film a scene from a movie and the best won a prize. But the fun part of the show wasn't the acting, but that you were able to see some of the behind-the-scenes magic that seemed so amazing then, like green screens and immobile cars that rocked as if they were being driven. Things now that probably sound quaint, but we didn't have "The Making of" featurettes on DVDs or populating the TV before a movie even comes out.)

But, yes, back to the movie. As a someone who never sees action films, I would say that the long, drawn-out chase scenes bored me. I just wanted to get back to the scenes of gadgetry and dialog. Fortunately, Steve Carrell is allowed to be funny, a bit of a fool but of a hero, too, and Anne Hathaway is glam and smart in the best way. The movie flew by quickly enough that I walked out feeling I'd wallowed in some good ol' mindless, yet not mind-numbing, fun. Nothing great, nothing horrifying.

(The movie even threw a bone to my endless annoyance at seeing 20-something women romantically entwined with 40-something men, without any selfawareness that the dude is just too old, by having Anne's character admit that the facial reconstructive surgery that she underwent after her spy cover was blown also shaved off a few years. So she really wasn't 20 years younger than Carrell's Maxwell Smart, no matter how it looked.)

There should be other movies I want to see this weekend, but I'm not really finding any. Today I've mostly slept and read. Maybe another movie tomorrow, when it's supposed to rain most of the day.

Friday, June 20, 2008

yeah i'm still here

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Night before my big event, I take a sleep-aid and am totally fine. Wake up fully rested, raring to go. A long and tiring day later, I figure I'll pass out and sleep like a log, and no, up for an hour and a half at two am, and again at 4:30, barely asleep before alarm buzzes at 5:15.

Today is day two of my event and I am crawling into it exhausted.

I am flailing.

But fortunately, not failing. So far, all feedback has been extremely positive. Spent most of yesterday maneuvering between congrats and kudos. (Hosting an event where the attendees are mostly event planners themselves has its perks; they, of anyone, understand what hell you go through behind the scenes.)

On a lark I bought a 4 pack of Red Bull over the weekend. (Since I've begun to blatantly ignore giving up caffeine, why not go full hog? Er, full bull?) The sugar free kind. I don't know what I was expecting, but it's very strange. Maybe the regular is better? Today I succumb to two cans thinking it will make up for little sleep last night.

This can't end well.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

3 Indy Films

A few weeks ago I saw "Reprise," a Norwegian film about a group of male friends in their twenties, two of whom have just finished writing novels. As the film opens, they stand at a mailbox and each drops his manuscript into the slot, initiating a narrated flash-forward of what might happen next. But then the movie pauses and goes back, because maybe that isn't what happens next. It plays out now, at a more normal leisurely pace, but you know you are along for an interesting ride, where time and truth are somewhat negotiable.

Luckily, this playfulness in structure and time never overwhelms the story, resulting in an exercise in form over substance. There is, in fact, quite a great deal of substance: really strong acting, especially by the two leads (who I read were not professional actors), and an interesting and engaging plot about the two and their circle of friends. I also found the setting interesting: Oslo is a city I know nothing about, and so had a natural curiosity about. It was also refreshing to spend time somewhere that hasn't been seen a million times in movies, to the point where cinematic shorthand (The Eiffel Tower! The Statue of Liberty! The Golden Gate Bridge!) is all that's needed to set the scene.

It's a fun and lively and smart film (the protagonists are literary geeks and novelists! Not young athletes or struggling actors or rock musicians!) and I recommend it enough that I might go see it a second time.

"Operation Filmmaker" is the story of a young Iraqi film student who appeared on an episode of one of MTV's less-brain insulting documentary shows. After seeing his brief segment, Liev Schreiber decides to offer him an internship on "Everything Is Illuminated," Schreiber's directorial debut, which is about to start filming in the Czech Republic. (Part of the experience of seeing this, for me, is also seeing behind the scenes footage of "Illuminated," a somewhat mournful experience as it was a movie I eagerly awaited, having loved the novel it was based on, only to be disappointed.)

Of course, Schreiber can't just hire the guy, he also hires a documentary filmmaker to join them and film the intern's experience. So, as I imagine is not unusual, we have cameras filming cameras filming. And of course, we have an intimate view of Muthana Mohamed, the young man who is now thrust into a world alien to him, even as everyone and everything he knows back home in Baghdad is being destroyed. What you sense that everyone wanted was a heart-wrenching story of a kid who is so grateful for this opportunity that the scrambles and hustles and puts everyone else on the set to shame with his passion and eagerness to please. But no, we quickly find out that Muthana is not really a likable guy. He's lazy, insulted by the menial tasks he's asked to do, and unprepared to handle doing his own laundry, let alone to manage the endless process of securing and renewing work visas and funding to keep himself employed and out of Baghdad.

As the film goes on, the documentary filmmaker becomes a character herself, coming out from behind the camera to try to help Muthana, and then to try to extricate herself from the endless cycle of providing that help. There is the obvious parallel to the U.S. occupation of Iraq, to the point of borrowing the phrase "exit strategy." You also see how many well-meaning Americans fall in love with the idea of helping, until their ideal becomes reality and not as pretty as they'd imagined.

"My Winnipeg" is a film by Guy Madden, with whom I'll admit I was not familiar prior to this film. I saw the trailers several times at IFC and it intrigued me: a man finds himself unable to fully leave his hometown until he exorcises his past by diving in and reliving it. He hires actors to play his family as they were in his childhood, rents out his old home, and sets out to set himself free.

I think if I were more familiar with Madden's work it would have been a different experience for me. Reviews I've read since refer to the film as a lyric and visual poem, and I agree. The whole actors-as-family bit (which is what drew me) is but a minor piece of the entire process he goes through of re-imaging Winnipeg, through archival footage, animated drawings, and newly staged scenes filmed in blurry black and white. My memories of the film are very much about the images - specifically one of horses frozen in a lake - and not of anything that happens.

This is different for me; I prefer narrative fiction to poetry. I wanted to know more about his family than the two or three set pieces we see enacted (but less than the repeated image of a large naked woman's pubic-haired lap, ostensibly his mother's.) There is a long passage in the start of the movie where Guy (or actually, an actor as "Guy") keeps nodding off to sleep on a train filled with other falling, sleeping people, and he repeats a mantra of phrases that are Winnipeg to him. I have to admit I dozed off a bit myself.

The reviews are overwhelmingly positive (93% on rottentomatoes), so I accept that it's just not my taste.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Not in whose backyard?

So on the way back from the gym I am besieged by a group plastering store windows, residential doors, and hands of passersby with fliers to "Stop the Jail." Maybe because I'm cranky and tired and sweaty but my initial reaction is, why? Don't they have something better to do with their time and efforts and funds (judging by the pretty glossy posters, they have some)?

The jail has always been in the neighborhood. It's been not used to capacity of late, (only for holding prisoners from Rikers overnight for morning court dates in the court houses down the block), but it's always been there, amid rumors of it being brought back into full functionality or of it being sold. (A fun idea bantered around was that of the city renting the lower floors to retailers, so you could shop at The Gap right underneath floors of the incarcerated!)

But they keep building luxury high rise apartment buildings in the blocks immediately adjacent, no doubt encouraging people to hope that the jail eventually goes away. But you know what? It was there first. It was always there. Take off your blinders.

Is it a safety issue? Are they concerned that escaped prisoners will suddenly become common in the neighborhood? Because you know, those same people are currently being bussed in and out of the courthouses on a regular basis. Should we close down the courthouses because Madison and her little fourth grade class might get frightened by the sight of a white and blue police bus with iron mesh windows?

I don't know. Maybe I should be more concerned about this, especially as I am someone who now owns property that could feel the impact of a changing neighborhood. But this just makes me feel like I'm looking at the dark side, the NIMBY side of gentrification.

Happy weekend

Ha. I managed so sleep later today, until 8:30, and was surprised when I got up and heard loud music coming from upstairs and loud conversations from below my window. I usually would be at the gym, so it usually doesn't matter to me how noisy my neighbors are on a Saturday morning. When I am up at 6:30 or 7, I hear nothing. Being on others' schedules is odd.

I made it through the week and now have a semi-sane weekend before Monday, when the big event I've been focused on kicks off. I will need to keep constant vigilance over my work email today and tomorrow, which is not easy for me, as I prefer to compartmentalize my work and personal life. This does not make me unique, of course; but I work with many people who seem to easily meld the two. But because of all the pieces I've lined up for the event next week, I have to be diligent and focused on any potential curve balls that are thrown my way. Plus I have about 2 hours of work to do. I think I'll wait until Sunday.

I have a couple of movies I really want to see.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Still here

Swamped with work, which is bleeding over the carefully-constructed wall into my personal life. It's okay, there is a hard stop, I'll be finished with this project next week and then can reestablish my sanity. For now, though, it's missing the gym and getting home after dark and working on weekends and greeting the office cleaning staff each night when they come on.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Cooler, now

Four days of ungodly heat, finally broken. I learned a few things: the air conditioners that came with my apartment work fine, the apartment stays pretty cool on its own, and my neighbors have really noisy air conditioners, so even if mine are off my TV volume climbs to double digits.

I worked from home one day to avoid the commute (cold trains but brutal subway platforms if you have to wait more than a minute, plus the usual 20 minutes of walking around Ground Zero in the swelter.) Of course, it's not cost-effective, with the added electricity cost to run the a/c and ceiling fans during the day.

I saw "Operation Filmmaker" over the weekend, and I realize I never wrote anything about "Reprise" which I saw several weeks ago. More to come, then.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Now I am just pissed

When I first moved in, an Amazon delivery by UPS went missing. I chalked it up to confusion over my living here, but never did find it - Amazon immediately just sent me another, no charge. I've received packages successfully since. A few weeks ago neighbors had a note up in the lobby that a package - a wedding gift - had also gone missing. They seemed pretty sure that it was stolen, as their note contained promises that all legal actions were being taken to track down who had signed for the package. The note disappeared shortly after, although whether or not the issue was resolved, I don't know.

You know where this is going, right? I had an ebay item sent to me yesterday: a glass cover for my aquarium, because Petco was out of the size I needed. The seller sent me the UPS tracking so I could follow it, and I saw that it was scheduled for yesterday. Cool, since I would be home in the afternoon, post-park. Not here when I got home. Not here when I went in and out for laundry. Not here when I went down after dinner to bring out trash. But this morning, seeing the UPS email in my inbox, I checked, and lo and behold, it was delivered at 1 pm. Signed by "Front Door" who seems to do a lot of signing (he got my Amazon box too) for someone without hands.

I just dressed and wend downstairs to confirm I didn't overlook it. I left a note (although because of who I am, it's a very different note, all "if you happen to know" and "please let me know" and not "since I imagine you won't have much use for a cover for a 10 gallon aquarium, please bring it back" or the more direct, "who the fuck is stealing stuff around here?")

There is a camera aimed at the lobby. I wonder if it is active. Where does it go? Are there tapes?

Friday, June 06, 2008

A Day in the Park, Part 2

Today was the annual community day at my company. Like last year, I chose to work in Prospect Park. This year we were meeting on the side of the park closest to me, so I decided to walk, a nice pleasant leisurely walk that got me there in just over 30 minutes. I'd also gone to the gym just before, which, in retrospect, was probably too much exercise to have taken before jumping into 2 1/2 hours of manual labor.

Because right now, I am exhausted. My back and arms ache. I walked partway home and then caught a bus, fully intending to get inside my apartment and get right to work. (We don't have to work today, but I thought I'd rather get things out of the way today and then have the weekend clear - I have much to catch up on, and it's technically a work day, which I am getting paid for, even if most of my co-workers are now at the Boat Basin After-Party drinking beer.) Where was I? Oh, yes, so I've just hauled laundry down the stairs and did another up and down the stairs run to move it to the dryer, and I'm spent. I don't want to turn on my work computer. I want to take a nap.

My job was once again picking up trash with the claw thing. My hand once again began to ache, although the shaking stopped about halfway through lunch. But we were in a different area of the park this time, and this time I was mostly picking up condom wrappers and condoms. (I must have gotten about 100 of the former, but luckily only 25 or so of the latter. I won't think too hard about why the difference in number.) Obviously we were in a popular location for trysts - I was thinking maybe prostitutes worked that corner of the park but someone suggested it might be a rendezvous area for just men. Either way, I would not walk past that section after dark, having seen what I've seen.

I also found 2 one dollar bills. One was half hidden under some leaves, the other under a fallen log next to it. The second had a slug curled up inside. I later wiped them down with the wet nap that came with my lunch, (as if the money we handle every day is that much cleaner) and decided if I saw a homeless person between the park and home, I would give them up. Of course I didn't. They are now in the register till at Starbucks.

What a lame story, right? Didn't pass a homeless person, but I found a Starbucks. I am a sad, sad, person.

Last year I wrote a story after my Prospect Park day, with a character who found a photograph in the park and went on a quest to find who was in it. I never finished revising that story, and I'm on deck for my writing group, so I should probably pull it out and dust it off. Maybe the story just needs some used condoms and a slug.

On a Friday

It's been a tough and busy week. I badly need this weekend.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Savaging Grace

"Savage Grace" is a very strange film, and I think, not a very good one. It has a salacious subject matter (murder, drugs, incest, bed-hopping, all set against the background of beautiful sunny European getaways), yet is populated by a trio of characters so cold and unforthcoming that there is no sense of what motivates them, or even, why a viewer would care other than a stare-at-the-accident-on-the-highway response. At first, these are exactly how you expect the characters to be: rich, idle, bored, living off the fortunes made by the husband/father's grandfather, they amble through Europe and through the 40's, 50's, 60's, and 70's, during which time the son ages from infant to young adult, and the parents remain stalled in self-centered immaturity. But as the move progresses, you start to wonder why any of this matters to any of the characters, and then you start to wonder, why does this matter to me?

Odd that what I found alienating about the structure of the film is what I often claim to prefer: instead of trying to skim across the surface and explain all that happened during the passage of time, the movie jumps forward in clumps, landing on days in which it squats for several slowly-played out scenes, so you are given individual moments that should add up to a whole. Unfortunately, while some of these are beautifully shot and startling, they accumulate into a sense of "why?" that never really goes away.

Julianne Moore is the only name actor I recognized, and she is okay, yet like everyone else in the movie there were times when I felt her performance veering too close to camp. So much strange happens here that you can't help but imagine someone sitting back and chuckling at what made it on the screen - and yet, apparently, this is based on a true story. Which is what it comes down to for me: if this were fiction, it would be a load of crap, but since it professes to be based on real events, it's hard not to wonder what was really going on in these people's lives. (You won't find out in the movie. It's based on a book, and I wonder if you'd find it there.)

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Savage Grace

"Savage Grace" is one of the strangest films I've seen. I'm still trying to figure out what to say about it, three days later. I don't think I'm ready yet.
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