Wednesday, February 27, 2008

August: Osage County

L took me out to see a play tonight, "August: Osage County." The play is about this big Oklahoma family that reunites after the patriarch goes missing. Even though it deals with such uplifting themes as suicide, drug abuse, incest, and general family hatred and resentment, the play was hilarious. It was a long one -- three hours, with two intermissions -- but I devoured all of it and wanted even more.

Coming from a family that isn't afraid to do a little yelling in order to work through problems and concerns, some of the dynamics felt very familiar. It was great to see people screaming at each other, cussing, stomping around, and throwing plates, in the kind of cathartic moments that never really happen but perhaps sometimes should. Yet the play hit all the other, more subtle notes, too -- the sense of loyalty, camaraderie, a shared history that is known to only the precious few.

The funniest part, to me, was when one old biddy was telling her niece about a scandalous family secret: that her cousin was actually her brother. As the old aunt is in the process of explaining this, two of their other clueless relatives come wandering in, blithely asking what's new, and the niece suddenly goes jumping over the back of the sofa, waving her hands at the newcomers and yelling, "Go back! Go back!" to make them scurry away so the story won't be interrupted. It was really funny; I guess you had to be there.

Anyways, it was a great night. In classic fashion we had the cheapest possible tickets, which meant we were in the extreme last row of the theater, literally against the wall. But because most attendees of the dramatic theater are richer than us, our area was fairly deserted, so we could spread our coats out, stretch our arms, and crinkle our bags of Skittles and M&Ms with impunity. It was a great night and I was very happy to be there -- so thank you, wife of mine.

Monday, February 25, 2008


Today is my 28th birthday! On my favorite radio station back home, they used to do this sing-songy thing in the morning when people would call in with birthday wishes for their friends and family. It would go, "Hey yo MIKE!...Starquisha called, and said, ahhhh IT'S! YOUR BIRTHDAY!" I have had this little ditty bouncing around my head all day, because, as I mentioned before, it's my birthday.

Because it's my birthday, this morning I departed from my standard all-Cheerios breakfast regime and indulged in one of my favorite forbidden passions, Lucky Charms. They're delicious and turn your milk gray. After class I hustled over to the movie theater and caught an afternoon show of "No Country for Old Men," since it had been validated by the Academy, and actually enjoyed it since I could figure out when to look down to avoid seeing a variety of Texans get air-pistoled. It was nice to catch a movie by myself, surrounded by maybe a dozen old people or others with some unexpected weekday freedom. In a little while a few of our friends are coming over for dinner, and later on this week we're going out for some karaoke. It's a very pleasant day.

And I'm ready for a new year to start, too. Twenty-seven was getting a little thin, a little ragged around the edges. The evenness of 28, its divisibility by so many numbers, is a good sign. And it's a pretty inconspicuous number, as far as ages go; just another lap around the track, something to note as you pass by on your way to something new or familiar or unexpected or utterly predictable. I'm ready for some renewal. And today it begins.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Western violence

Do you have Oscar fever? I really don't. I don't know why, I'm just not feeling it right now. Usually I enjoy the Oscars, since L and I are movie freaks and have seen the nominated movies by the time the awards roll around. (Our friends always assume we have seen everything already, in the theaters, since we usually have; but this often gets communicated to us in the same disdainful tone you use when you talk to chain-smokers or felons, as if seeing movies in the theater is a giant character flaw. Well, excuse me if I like the whole movie-going experience: the overpriced snacks, the embarrassingly large sodas, the previews; that kind of excess is part of our birthright as Americans.)

The problem this year is that the dominant theme in the movies right now seems to be: Western Violence. Between "There Will Be Blood" and "No Country for Old Men," if your movie doesn't involve taciturn men beating the shit out of other, mostly clueless people, you're going home empty-handed. I saw "There Will Be Blood" and really liked it until the last twenty minutes, when Daniel-Day-Lewis started mauling on people with bowling pins and yelling out random phrases like a crazy person. During that scene I started wondering about how heavy bowling pins are, and if they would really be an effective weapon. I stupidly assumed they were hollow. What if you carried one in each hand? Would that be more useful?

I didn't see "No Country for Old Men," but I read the book and that was enough. Although now I sort of want to see the movie. In recent years, though, I have tried to move away from the extreme violence and horror; I just don't need to see it. In the meantime, though, it is interesting to note how these movies have gained such prominence now. Are they a reflection of our national mood? Definitely. I read something about how western movies always make a resurgence in times of war; the lawlessness and wanton violence of the frontier west is a useful metaphor in times of national conflict and agitation.

Maybe next year things will be a little different, and we won't be looking to the same kinds of movies to reflect and symbolize the year in film. I hope that is the case. In the meantime, though, tonight I will be pulling for "Juno."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Back from Naples

L and I had a wonderful, restorative, sunny long weekend in Florida. My grandparents spoiled us rotten as we indulged in the best of Florida fare: shrimp, stone crabs, key lime pie, fresh tomatoes and strawberries and cantaloupes. We spent some time walking along the beach, watching the sun sink to the horizon over the water. We slept with the windows open and the ceiling fan swirling above us. We read on the lanai and watched the birds skim the water of the lake. it was heavenly. And here are some photos!

Grandma, Pap Pap, L and me, at our last dinner at Riverwalk, stuffing ourselves with one final helping of seafood.

The freakishly mottled duck-vultures of Florida. They liked to hide under our car.

Grandma and L on the beach. Wowza!

Grandma, Pap Pap and me at the Old Marco Lodge. Stone crabs, grouper sandwich, and key lime pie.

Grandma, dramatically lit on the lanai.

Happiness is a half-pound of shrimp and a cold Corona.

Pap Pap and I honoring the arrival of a new key lime pie.

My sweet wife and me.

What a great weekend. I am so grateful for the time we got to share.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Country time/R&B face

Last night L and I celebrated Valentines' Day early by going to the Keith Urban/Carrie Underwood concert at Madison Square Garden. It was a great time -- Keith definitely has a rocker sensibility about him, so the evening was punctuated with a lot of guitar solos and people rushing to his side to switch guitars and him swinging guitars around him as he ran across the stage. For a while he and his band used a more intimate little stage in the center of the arena, which was great and brought him much closer to us, in our seats in the absolute rear of the arena, right in front of the wall. I found I actually enjoyed his ballads more than his up-tempo stuff, which sort of sounded all the same to me. But at one point an entire drumline called the Hawthorne Caballeros came out to punch up one song with some strong percussion and syncopation, which was a thrill.

Carrie Underwood looked extremely good and sang pretty well too. She has some room to grow with her audience banter, but her voice was amazingly strong and she really wailed the hell out of a few songs, in a way that was beautiful and controlled and mesmerizing.

Overall the night had a few moments where we were up on our feet dancing and clapping, listening to Keith or Carrie sing about the simple joys of life with that fundamental optimism that you only find in country music, and you really did feel a wave of happiness touch you oh so briefly -- which made the night definitely worth the price of admission. And, it was the whitest crowd I have ever seen gathered in this great city of ours.

The other musical thing I wanted to note this week: after enjoying an episode of MTV's "Making the Band 4" the other night, I downloaded the band's main single from last season, "Exclusive," and let me say that I love it. I already know the lyrics from watching them on tv, which means I can sing or lip-sync along with a very emotive expression on my face. I've already figured out how to do emo eyebrows, which is good when you're singing sensitive white boy songs, which requires you to arch your eyebrows in the center and keep a pained expression on your face. R&B eyebrows are pretty similar; just keep your brow furrowed and your lips loose, make sure you follow the runs and ad-libs, and emote the hell out of the song. This track, from a band that was made purposely for television, is excellent for that, and I love it. But that's why they made the band, y'all.

And tomorrow (actually in eight hours) we're going to Florida for the long weekend. See you later, alligator.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The lighthouse

As soon as class ended today I took the subway to Penn Station, bought a ticket on New Jersey Transit, rode out to Newark Airport, took the AirTrain to Terminal C, and found my way to the Continental counter for a reunion with my old friend James. He had emailed the night before to say that his flight from Toronto to Barcelona had been rerouted through Newark, and -- because I hadn't seen him since last summer, because being a student drifting through my last semester of law school offers a degree of flexibility, and most importantly because of my personal vow to make all efforts to see James when he and I happen to be on the same continent -- I knew I had to be there.

There is something so restorative and energizing about spending time with somebody who knows you well, and with whom you can talk about both everything and nothing. We spent two hours sitting in some shitty little cafe in the baggage claim, drinking four-dollar Pepsis out of plastic bottles and watching people in sweatpants waddle to and fro, yet there's nowhere else I would have rather been.

One thing I love about the size and significance of New York is the fact that wherever you happen to be in the world, you can make your way to New York City. When L was spending a year in Greece I found a surprising degree of comfort in the fact that I knew that wherever she was, there would always be a flight, boat, a train, some kind of ride that would eventually bring her back to our city. And so it is now, with the friends who have scattered all over. I will live in the lighthouse, I will live in the beacon, with happiness and solace in the fact that the light from here is visible for a long, long ways. Until the next time. See you soon. Safe travels.

Friday, February 08, 2008

"Is everything all right, my man?"

Tonight I emerged from my head-cold stupor to go out to dinner with L. We went to a restaurant that opened next door to us, Commerce, in the space formerly occupied by Blue Mill and Grange Hall. It seemed to be the kind of high quality restaurant where real adults go to have meals with multiple courses and glasses of wine -- in other words, the kind of restaurant I walk by and glance into wistfully as I carry my burrito and soda back home from Chipotle. The reason we were able to pretend we were real adults, though, is that all the food was 20% off in celebration of their opening weekend. Sensing an opportunity that rarely presents itself, I took a night off from beans and rice and we had a date.

The restaurant lived up to our hopes. The interior of the place was rich and warm and oaky, the food was creative and artfully plated. I had homemade cavatelli with walnut pesto, then a roasted chicken breast along with potato puree and some other things I couldn't identify, and then I had a chocolate mousse with some little gelatin cubes. L had a warm roasted salad, and then spaghetti carbonara with an egg yolk nestled in there, and then a bizarrely good rice pudding with kaffir and something else.

The restaurant was packed, though, and we were sitting near the bar, so there were many people (trendy, adult people) swarming around. I was sitting in a banquette in such a way that the guy at the table behind me was sharing a seat back with me, so our chair-unit would occasionally shift around. As the meal progressed, I realized the guy behind me was slouching with his arm slung across the back of his chair, so that it was in my space. He kept doing this, and eventually I unthinkingly leaned back and he retracted his arm. Moments later his arm was back in my space. This guy is kind of a dick, I thought.

Then, a few minutes later, there was a weird, fast rush of events. Amid the din of the restaurant I could hear yelling right behind me, then all of a sudden the guy behind me was darting up from his chair and yelling at some other man passing through the crowd by the bar; as a result of the quick motion, my seat shifted violently forward into the table. I turned and saw the two guys having a weird confrontation. "Are they fighting, or are they laughing?" I asked L. She couldn't tell. Things simmered down, so I pushed backward to scoot the chair back, so that our table wasn't hitting me in my gut.

There was a bang on the table behind me, and the guy turned around to face me, and suddenly his small, leathery face was very close to my own. "Is everything all right, my man," he said in a broad New York accent. "Because you just pushed my chair back, it's very cramped now."

"Yeah, you pushed my chair forward so we had no room," I said, my heart pounding. This kind of confrontation is to be avoided at all costs. This is not how I engage people.

L chimed in, "It's a very tight space, we have no room over here."

Across the table, the man's wife let out this weird wail; she looked utterly humiliated. She started yelling at the man, who turned back around. I could hear him over my shoulder, barking about how I had slammed my chair into him. The woman was embarrassed, the guy was livid. The man suddenly got up and stormed out of the dining room, and L said the woman looked like she was about to cry. It seemed as though the man had been fighting with that other random guy, and then when he sat back down and I pushed the chair back, it just set him off again.

As the man returned to his chair, I was half-convinced I was about to have a wine bottle broken over my head. But nothing happened, thankfully, and the man became loud and boisterous and happy, yelling at the waitress jovially and making jokes that didn't make her laugh. As we left I told L not to look at them as we walked by. We made it out of the restaurant, and back to the relative safety of Commerce Street. When we passed by the window we could see the man sitting there, still, with his arm slung over the chair yet again.

Monday, February 04, 2008


Today I called up 866-VOTE-NYC to figure out if I'm all set to vote tomorrow, Super Tuesday, in the Democratic primary. Since only Democrats are allowed to vote in this primary, back in January I took a deep breath and changed my party affiliation from "Independent, free thinker, too complicated for mere labels and slogans," to "Democrat." Yet when I received my confirmation in the mail, it listed me as having no party affiliation. Uh oh, was my immediate reaction.

This afternoon I spoke with a friendly guy at VOTE-NYC and explained my situation. He pulled my records up on the computer and told me that I have no party affiliation right now, when I want and need one, but that I am a Future Democrat (the capitalization is my own). No, not a Democrat wearing a jet pack and a mylar suit, but a Democrat who is somehow not a Democrat today, but will be one the next time around. Apparently, if you wanted to be a Democrat for the purposes of this primary here -- the Super Tuesday one, the only one that has mattered since before I smashed into puberty -- you had to register back in October.

"So I can't vote tomorrow, but as a Democrat I can vote in November?" I asked the guy on the phone. "Yes, but everyone can vote in November," he said helpfully. Of course.

So here is where things stand: I can't vote tomorrow, but I am somehow, or will be, a Democrat when I actually can vote, except then it doesn't matter. I have no innate desire to be in the Democratic party; sure, I agree with them more, and George W. Bush isn't one, and it's de rigeur to be a Democrat in New York, and they have more celebrities, so their conventions are marginally less boring, but still. (See that? I even used French in a sentence, I should totally be a Democrat, but I still don't want to be one!)

So my next step is to change my party affiliation back to nothing, and cross my fingers that the Democratic party, which I am apparently too tardy to join, comes to its senses and swings to Obama. Tomorrow should be very exciting.