Monthly Archives: October 2010

Lame Adventure 118: Bottoms Up

Will Skyy respect you in the morning?

I know this billboard is supposed to make me want to don my red vinyl leggings, strap on a coordinating pair of ankle spikes and proceed to get intimate with the nearest Stanley Cup-sized bottle of Skyy vodka.  That is the message here, right?  Yet, every time I look at this ad when walking down West Broadway en route to the Chambers Street subway station, all I can think about is suffering a glass shard in a very intimate soft body part.  The thought of finding myself bleeding profusely in the emergency room due to a self-inflicted extreme act of embarrassment does not make me lust a supertanker of vodka.

My clear spirit of choice is gin but I do have a taste for sake, too.  Since I’m more dull center than cutting edge, I prefer both while sitting upright and holding a glass.  In the case of the sake, a wooden box, or a handle-less miniature cup works nicely, too.

A little background about Skyy vodka, for those of you that read Lame Adventures primarily for its vast educational component … it was created by Brooklyn-born inventor and entrepreneur Maurice Kanbar, who launched it in 1992.  Now 80-years-old, Maurice resides in San Francisco, where Skyy is produced.  He could be lifting a glass of Skyy vodka today in response to the Giants trampling the Rangers for the second straight game in the World Series.  Among his vast and varied accomplishments, Maurice is the mastermind behind the D-Fuzz-It sweater comb and New York’s first multiplex, the Quad Cinema.  He owns much of Tulsa, Oklahoma and in 1997, he opened his wallet and donated $5 million to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, so the film school is now called the Skyy Vodka Institute of Film and Television.  Possibly I’ve gotten the name in that last factoid wrong.

No Grey Goose for Maurice!

Lame Adventure 117: Loose Screws and Queens Bees

One night after work this past summer when I was feeling overheated, cranky and tired, I needed to run an errand.  I needed to purchase shampoo.  Even though I have downsized my life radically since suffering a 20% pay cut in January 2009, which remains fully in effect almost two years later, I will know I have completely bottomed out when I can no longer afford my favorite brands of toothpaste (Tom’s) and shampoo (Kiehl’s).  Initially, when my pay was slashed, I did try cheaper brands.  In both cases, my body violently rebelled.  The cheap toothpaste tasted terrible and coated my teeth with a film that nearly made me vomit.  The inferior shampoo gave me the impression that I was developing scales on my scalp.

Immediately, I returned to using Tom’s and Kiehl’s.

On this humid summer evening, I enter my neighborhood Kiehl’s store to purchase a bottle of Protein Concentrate shampoo, a wonderful herbal product I have been using loyally for many years.

Best shampoo ever.

When I last tried to purchase it a few months earlier, it was out of stock.  Since I was almost out of shampoo, I sniffed every tester and settled for the one with the most innocuous scent, Tea Tree Oil.  On this summer evening, it is still out of stock, and so I seethe.  If I am going to purchase a luxury product shampoo, I want to at least get the one I like most.  I again snag the Tea Tree Oil variety and head to the register, where I encounter a cheerful cashier who makes some friendly banter that sets me off like an atomic bomb.

Me:  Where’s the Protein Concentrate shampoo?

Cheerful Cashier:  We’re out of it.  I’m so sorry.  This Tea Tree Oil is very good.

Me (exaggerating like The Customer from Hell):  I hate it!

Cheerful Cashier (stepping on a landmine):  Why don’t you try the Amino Acid?

Me (channeling my inner Ted Kaczynski):  Because I don’t like smelling like a Pina Colada!

To appease me, the clerk calmly reveals that she’s the manager and I can have the bottle of Tea Tree Oil shampoo gratis.  Instantly, I deflate and wonder, “Am I behaving like a mental patient over shampoo?  Is this outburst going to screw up my karma?  Will the penance for this meltdown result in Nadal and Federer not meeting in my dream men’s tennis final at the US Open?”

A few months later, after Nadal defeats Djokovic in the men’s US Open tennis final, I am running low on my free bottle of Tea Tree Oil shampoo.  I check the Kiehl’s web site to see if the Protein Concentrate shampoo is available on line.  It is, but it’s out of stock.  Just as I am accepting this as a sign that the product is being phased out, I learn that my shampoo is displayed prominently on the Twitter site wallpaper of the company’s president.  This gives me renewed hope.

I visit my neighborhood Kiehl’s store again, but alas, my shampoo is nowhere to be found on the shelf, but again, the manager is behind the counter.  She is reading a document and declares that she has good news for me.  My shampoo is not on the discontinued products list.

Me (barking):  Then, why isn’t it on the shelf?

Manager (insisting):  It doesn’t appear to be discontinued yet.

Me (snarky):  It shouldn’t be.  You know, it’s prominently displayed on Mr. Big’s Twitter page.

Manager:  WHAT?!

See for yourself. Best shampoo ever circled in red.

She gives me her card, takes down my number, and says she will investigate the matter further.  I urge her to do so quickly, “I’m running low on shampoo.”  I look at her card.  Symbolically, her name is Pains.  If I were completely paranoid I would assume she has two business cards, one where she calls herself something like Dolores, and another for migraine-inducing customers like me.

I do not hear from her, so I send her an email asking about the status of my shampoo.  She does not respond.  A week later, I am walking up Columbus Avenue with my friend, Lola, en route to dinner.  As we are walking past Kiehl’s I notice Pains inside the store.  We enter Kiehl’s.  Pains recognizes me.

Pains (cheerful):  Hi!

Me (cutting to the chase):  You don’t have the capacity to answer customer email?  What’s the story with my shampoo?  Pains, I need shampoo!

Pains (defensive):  We’re still out of it!

I groan thunderously and grab a bottle of the Tea Tree Oil variety and return to the register with a deranged look in my eye.  I slam the shampoo bottle on the counter with force … or maybe it was more like an anemic tap.

Pains (sympathetic):  Why not try the Amino Acid?

Then, Pains recalls how much the Amino Acid sets me off.  On cue, I am so angry; I suffer a full body spasm.  Pains looks at me in alarm.

Lola (reassuringly):  Ignore her.  She just got fitted for a new strait jacket.

Pains starts coughing uncontrollably.

Me:  What’s wrong with you?

Pains:  I have allergies.  They’re out of control.

Me:  You should try eating local honey.  Honey acts as an immune booster.

Pains (finally losing it):  I live in Queens!

Me:  This is New York.  We have everything out here.

Pains, coughing endlessly, tosses yet another free bottle of Tea Tree Oil shampoo my way — and urges us to leave, but resists adding, “Please, don’t come back!”

Lola:  You have an effect on people.

Me:  Do you think my riding her back is going to cost me in karma?  Do you think something terrible will happen like the Yankees won’t reach the World Series?

Lola:  You better find her a bottle of Queens honey fast.

Although the beekeeping ban was lifted in New York City this year, finding a beekeeper in Queens is not as simple as determining how to attain world peace.  For the two weeks it takes me to find this source, the Yankees plow through the Minnesota Twins during the first round of the divisional playoffs, but they struggle against the Texas Rangers.  With the Yankees down three games to two in the ALCS, and make or break game 6 occurring that night, I score a bottle of Queens-based honey harvested by the Queens County Farm Museum.

In Floral Park there’s an anomaly, the Colonial Farmhouse Restoration Society, a non-profit corporation owned by the NYC Parks Department.  This farm also happens to house their own hives.  When I call them I ask in a tone reeking of cramps, “Do I have to go to Floral Park for a single jar of your honey?”  I imagine if I do, with my limited sense of direction, I could end up in Delaware.  They bring a jar of it to their stand in the Union Square greenmarket.

Real deal fall harvest Queens honey.

With honey in hand, I rocket to my neighborhood Kiehl’s.  Pains must anticipate my visit for she is nowhere in sight.  I consider leaving it with a member of the staff, but instead I ask the greeter at the door:

Me:  Where’s Pains?

Greeter:  Who?

Me:  Your manager.

Greeter:  Do you mean Dolores?

Ah ha!  I knew she had two business cards!

Me:  Whoever’s the manager; that person.

Half expecting a 50-year-old man named Egbert Firefly to emerge from the back office, I see Pains.  She sees me and makes explicit eyeball sign language at the Greeter:

Pains (speaking in fluent eyeball):  Don’t go far and call security.  Also, whoever removed that copy of People from the bathroom, put it back.

I extend the jar of Queens honey.

Me (demure):  This isn’t a regift.  It’s Queens-based honey I got just for you.

Pains looks suspicious, but when she realizes there is not a lit fuse, she graciously accepts my peace offering.

Pains:  This is thoughtful.

Me:  I’m doing it more for the Yankees.

Pains:  What?

Me:  How are your allergies?

Pains:  Still pretty bad.

Me:  I’m sorry to hear that.  Maybe eating this honey will help.

Not that I believe that for a nano-second.  This woman’s seasonal allergies are so severe, she needs to visit Lourdes.

Pains:  I’m afraid I have some bad news for you.  It’s about the Protein Concentrate shampoo.

Pains draws a cut line across her throat.

Cue the music from Psycho.

I could not control myself.  I blow a gasket, and deliver a ten-minute soliloquy about every disappointment in my life starting with discovering that Santa Claus is a sham through the ascent of the Tea Party.

That evening the Rangers make mincemeat out of the Yankees who lost Game 6, 6-1.  <sigh>

Lame Adventure 115: Shape shifting

Although I do not possess an ounce of elite, or even sub-par athleticism in my DNA, if ruminating were a sport, I would be on that varsity squad.  For several months, I have been thinking about getting back in shape.  For several years, I used to work out six mornings a week riding my exercise bike and lifting free weights for a combined total of 45 minutes.  Therefore, I was quite lean and fairly fit.  I cut back on that masochism when I started my current job as Minister of Tile, but I continued my workouts for at least four or five times a week.  When the economy tanked, and my pay was slashed forcing me to live low on the hog, I started writing more, staying up late and exercising less.

Now I feel like a slug.

All summer I promised myself I would start riding and lifting again, but this past summer was so brutally hot, I was certain that extreme exertion could result in a heart attack, or at the very least some excruciating stiffness.  Now that the weather has cooled considerably, my new excuse for avoiding exercising is that my terrycloth headband is loose.  Naturally, my first thought was how did I manage to lose weight in my head?  Then, a fear shot through me; do I have osteoporosis of the skull?  I examined my headband and diagnosed that it was simply stretched and I needed a new one.

Recently, a Modell’s sporting goods store opened on Amsterdam Avenue.  As I was walking up the street towards Amsterdam, my D-cup nose inhaled the decadent aroma of something freshly baked with chocolate.  This sensual smell was emanating from the Levain Bakery over on 74th and Amsterdam and I knew that another batch of their giant 6-ounce chocolate chip walnut cookies had just emerged from their ovens.  A hot and gooey Levain cookie fresh out of the oven is one of life’s greatest indulgences.

Levain Bakery Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie -- cookie shaped heroin.

With my spastically sniffing nose trying to pull my entire body into the Levain, I reminded myself that the sole reason I have yet to look like a full replica of the Liberty Bell is because I avoid that bakery, and must continue to steer clear of it until I resume working out.

Therefore, I made a beeline for Modell’s.  I enter the store where I am greeted by a six-year-old, Tilda, the friendliest rescue Schnauzer on the Upper West Side.  She stands on her hind legs, wraps her paws around my thigh (no, she’s not a humper), looks up at me and says, “Pet me!  Are you blind to how cute I am?”

Happy to oblige Tilda.

With gusto, I pet Tilda around and over the ears and under the beard beneath her jowls.  She basks in the attention and I love giving it to her.  Julie, her caregiver, tells me that she named her people magnet after Tilda Swinton, an actress she loves.  I tell Julie that I’m also a big Tilda Swinton fan and I add that I have just seen the stage adaptation of Orlando.  Julie is a big fan of that film.  Meanwhile, Tilda the Schnauzer, asks, “Are you going to pet me more or what?”   Since she is also a hypoallergenic breed, that does not activate my allergies in the least, I comply.

Julie tells me that she adopted Tilda from Biscuits and Bath five years ago when she was around one-years-old.   Her favorite hobbies are eating and lying on a pillow in front of the fan.  I think, “Wow, she’s just like me!”  As other customers enter the store, Tilda give a little howl that almost sounds like, “Hellooooooo!”

Once Julie and Tilda depart, I find the selection of terrycloth headbands, but the joy rapidly drains from this visit.  All of the headbands they have are decorated with logos for either Nike or Adidas.  Since I am endorsement-averse I ask a clerk if they have any plain headbands but he says no.  The clerk working the register suggests, “Turn it inside out.”  Inside out, there will be an unsightly seam showing while the pressure from the logo will leave my forehead embossed with either a Nike or Adidas logo.  I ride the subway.  I don’t want anyone staring at my forehead.   I leave still headband-less and flabby, but content that I at least had a spontaneous fix of adorable dog petting.

Lame Adventure 114: Un-astonished

This weekend I eagerly awaited Saturday when Milton and I were seeing Gatz, a more than eight-hour long marathon reading of The Great Gatsby, complete with two intermissions and a dinner break, currently playing in a sold out run at the Public Theater. I was also avidly anticipating Sunday when I tuned into the season ending finale of Mad Men.

Now that I have seen both, I am in a state of anti-climax.

Gatz is set in a shabby office that a worker enters one morning. As he waits interminably for his ancient malfunctioning computer to boot, he opens an oversized Rolodex and out pops a weathered paperback copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel. The worker starts reading the book aloud, and as his colleagues and boss enter, everyone assumes a role, or various roles in Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, even though none of the actors look much like the characters Fitzgerald illustrates. The excellent reader, Scott Shepherd, becomes Nick Carraway, the book’s narrator. I agree whole-heartedly with every critic that called this premise by the theater company, Elevator Repair Service, inventive.

The New York Times chief theater critic, Ben Brantley, called Shepherd’s performance “astonishing.” Time Out New York went one step further and called the entire six-hour production “astonishing.” Astonishing to me, is entering my home and finding Barack Obama in the kitchen making me dinner, not seeing a veteran theater professional deliver a terrific performance. I expected Scott Shepherd to pull this off, and he fully met my expectations. Scott Brown of New York Magazine called Gatz a “spell-binding” six hours. Hm.

The one clear-eyed critic who nailed this production perfectly was Elizabeth Vincentelli of The New York Post:

“Still, hearing a book read aloud wears really thin. “Gatz” comes with a hip reputation — it was extended twice before opening, and has been performed around the world — but it’s as maddeningly tedious as it is brilliant. By the end, my mind was as numb as my butt.”

Furthermore, our performance seemed to have endless lampooning on stage that elicited so many peels of laughter from a novel we never considered remotely comic that Milton remarked, “This is so camp, I feel like we’re watching a marathon Carol Burnett skit.”  We found that disconcerting, and we know we’re in the minority here, but we thought it was an insult to the beauty of Fitzgerald’s prose. The guy sitting next to me was the loudest howler in the theater. I am certain that throughout the first two acts, he thought he was watching a hilarious comedy. I wanted to stick a sock down his throat.

Following the 75-minute dinner break, I briefly suffered food coma during Act 3, but Act 4, when there was little for our audience to laugh at, redeemed it for us. Afterward, Milton told me that he could not get gay male porn star, Billy Wild, off his mind. This is because Wild bears a striking resemblance to Scott Shepherd.

Scott Shepherd channeling Nick Carraway.

Billy Wild channeling Scott Shepherd?

As for Mad Men, featuring the somewhat Gatsby-like Dick Whitman-invented Don Draper, played brilliantly — but not astonishingly — by Jon Hamm, I will sum up the finale with a single word that could pertain to the entirety of season 4, “Douchbags.” And I mean that in a good way. Rather than join the dedicated herd compelled to deliver a blow by blow recount of every gulp of alcohol, tryst (including allusions to oral – woo hoo), chunky heave and clever bon mot, that was swallowed, spewed, and snarked this season, I will resist the urge to reveal any spoilers and simply say that it appears that no animals were abused in filming, with the possible exception of those worn as vintage furs. Mad Men remains a consistently entertaining TV show, and for anyone who has yet to follow it, it’s a very enthralling form of escapism and worthy of DVD rental. I am already looking forward to season five.

Series creator, Matthew Weiner, blows his former boss, Sopranos creator, David Chase, completely away. Week after week, every episode of Mad Men is compelling and unlike David Chase, Matt Weiner does not start sub-plots, drop them and leave the viewer hanging. Overall, Mad Men is a superior TV series, well written, well researched, well acted, even though The Sopranos was not TV, it was <cough> HBO. Provided AMC does not prematurely pull the plug on Mad Men, if Weiner is allowed to wrap this series when he’s ready to do so, I give him a big vote of confidence that the last episode of Mad Men, whenever that will be, will be a million times more satisfying than the over-hyped, ultimately flaccid and forgettable series ending finale of The Sopranos.

Matthew Weiner, not exactly the second coming of F. Scott Fitzgerald, but a terrific TV creator.

Meanwhile, I am also relieved that I probably have at least 39 weeks where I no longer have to feel obligated to bring my life to a screeching halt Sunday nights at 10 pm to tune into Mad Men, not that I anticipate I will accomplish anything of life-enhancing significance with that extra 39 hours. If I did, that would be astonishing.

Lame Adventure 113: The Return of the British Comedy Invasion

The British Comedy Invasion headed by funnyman Stephen Frost returned to the Marlin room at Webster Hall with their special brand of uproarious improv.  Bill, a tile vendor-friend from California, was visiting and wanted to get together with Milton and I after work.  Milton had already made plans, but I recalled how Zen-like Bill was during our meeting that morning when there was a thunderous crash in our showroom’s back room as the distinct smell of something burning wafted into our elegantly designed shrine to tile, bath and lighting fixtures.  While one member of our sales team checked to see what had smashed to the tune of a million dollars worth of bits, another shut a window and announced in a cheerful tone, “The burning [editorial suggestion: of Atlanta] is outside!”  The first sales associate returned with an explanation of the crash, “It was nothing.”  This made me wonder how he would have described an event like the bombing of Dresden:

Sales Associate:  Just some smoke.  It was nothing.

I suggested to Bill that we join Ling and Lowell Milton-less and see Frost, Steve Steen, Andy Smart and Richard Vranch.  Bill was intrigued.  Although we could have bought tickets on line, I thought they might be available at the door, which I don’t think they actually were.  Fortunately, a venue worker introduced me to Janet, who was working as the boys’ manager – the same role that Elaine, my UK-based friend and colleague, filled when they played Webster Hall last June.  As Janet spoke to me in her mellifluous British accent, I asked if she happened to be acquainted with Elaine.  She and Elaine are great buds, and being Elaine’s American friend guaranteed Bill and I entry to the show.  In the future, when they play Webster Hall again – and surely they must return – I urge anyone wanting to see them to purchase tickets online ahead of time.

Janet to the rescue!

The four of us settled in a banquet as we waited for the show to start.  A  Buddah-shaped woman sat next to me in what should have been Milton’s place.  Lowell asked, “Who is that?”  I explained, “She’s with us.  She’s improvising being our friend.”

Stephen Frost giving us the index finger.

The boys delivered their usual brand of spontaneous mayhem and lightening fast wit but this time they even seemed a little more physical than last, with Frost sucker slapping Smart not once, but twice, and Steen, improvising a circus elephant’s trunk by waving his arm, and then dousing Frost in the face with projectile water shot out of his mouth.  This brought the house down, as dripping Frost announced to no avail, “That’s not funny!”  Vranch provided improvised musical accompaniment that was a joke in itself when he played a completely unfamiliar tune in a skit about the Beatles.  Smart bellowed, “What Beatles song is that?”  Vranch defended his performance and said it was an improvised Beatles tune.

Their repertoire is jam-packed with numerous funny bits inspired by audience shout-outs that these comedy veterans twist into contorted stories such as one about Queen Elizabeth’s ill-fitting thong with the Windsor crest on the label that somehow ends up inside out, and possibly on Prince Philip, or maybe it did not go quite that far, or it went even farther.  This quartet is equal to musicians entering a zone that begin to riff and every note of what you hear sounds great as you’re listening but when you leave, you know you’ll never be able to hum what you just heard.

Bill was particularly impressed with Vranch telling a story about cooking and wooden underwear (intimate apparel was on the audience’s mind Friday night) in fluent gibberish accompanied with flamboyant gestures, which Smart hilariously translated as, “I am not a well man.”  How one could speak nonsense in what sounded like an actual accent from some remote country, while the other spontaneously tells the story in English is brilliant to witness.

Steve Steen’s specialty is the dirty joke, and he seemed to thrive in a skit with Frost where they played surgeons in an operating theater removing a patient’s testicle, but somehow by the skit’s end Frost had sewn Steen’s shoulder to the unseen patient’s half-hollow nut sack.

As usual, the foursome wrapped the evening’s entertainment with a routine that grows in hilarity as it completely implodes.  This is where they tell a story, but each guy voices another guy’s character.  Therefore, they have no clue what anyone is going to say.  This routine should come with a warning: if on medication do not attempt doing this at home, but if you do, this might be a fine time to operate machinery if your goal is to drive yourself off a cliff.

The skit was something about a John Wayne-type father disapproving his daughter’s marriage to a weasel as the vicar prepared to conduct the service.  As this skit descended into complete chaos, Frost, who was mouthing the father spoken by Smart as Smart stood across from him mouthing the daughter voiced possibly by Frost  … I think, or possibly it was the other way around since this zany routine is almost as hard to follow as it is to perform.  Frost, his head about to explode, announced, “I don’t remember my character!”  Neither did we, but it sure was funny.  I think he may have then sucker slapped Smart again, or maybe that second slap happened earlier.  I do know that however that skit ended, all was right in the world of British Comedy Improvisation once more.

Expert funnymen from across the pond (left to right) Frost, Vranch, Steen and Smart

Lame Adventure 112: Orlando the Ultimate She-Man

Thursday night after work, Milton and I met at the Classic Stage Company, an off-Broadway theater to see Sarah Ruhl’s adaptation of the Virginia Woolf novel, Orlando.  In my confused youth, the second I whiffed that Woolf had written a gender bending time-traveling semi-biographical story about and for Vita Sackville-West, a woman she had an affair with in the 1920s, fireworks exploded in my head.  My friends were drooling over David Cassidy, Bobby Sherman, and Donny Osmond, a trinity of bland teen idols I found about as exciting as a TV test pattern.  What excited me was getting my sweaty little mitts on that book about a nobleman who transforms into a noblewoman.  The premise blew my adolescent mind.  Orlando was my first exposure to Woolf.  Since I was barely 13, I found the story completely bewildering.  Yet, I managed to read it in its entirety even though it essentially entered one eyeball and exited the other.

Early edition of the novel.

Years later, in 1992, filmmaker Sally Potter directed an accessible film version of Orlando featuring Tilda Swinton in the title role, and Quentin Crisp as Queen Elizabeth I.  Billy Zane played Orlando’s male love interest; this was when he had long flowing tresses and looked dashing.  Nearly twenty years later, what I most recall from the film was after Orlando changes genders from male to female, she looks straight at the camera and matter-of-factly states, “Same person, no difference at all.  Just a different sex.”  I loved that moment and have been a Tilda Swinton fan ever since.

Movie poster.

Sarah Ruhl’s spirited theatrical adaptation makes me want to give reading the novel another try, but more likely, Milton will rent the DVD of the film on Netflix and he’ll let me borrow it.  The play is packed with droll wit.  Director Rebecca Taichman has overseen a very inventive production.  Even though the set, designed by Allen Moyer, is minimalist with a giant mirror suspended over a large swatch of fake grass filling the stage, this use of artifice perfectly personifies nature as a shimmery sheet symbolizes snow and ice.  Another element that contributes to this production’s depth is Annie-B Parson’s flowing choreography.  The entire ensemble cast deserves a loud shout out.  Their energy is vital in bringing this story to vivid life.  Francesca Faridany is wonderful as ageless Orlando, in any gender.  At one point, she exited the stage to sit on the theater’s steps where she continued to interact with her fellow cast members from afar.

She sat next to me.

I thought, “This is surreal. Orlando is sitting next to me.”  My next thought was, “I so hope I don’t sneeze or cough right now.”  For once my body functions did not betray me.

David Greenspan, a man of many vocal inflections, is hilarious as Queen Elizabeth I and a cloying duchess who later returns as an equally cloying duke.  Tom Nelis is spot on as both a multiple hankie dropping jilted girlfriend and Marmaduke Bonthrop Shelmerdine, the man Orlando marries, as well as numerous other characters.  He can also belt out a song in grand opera style.  Howard Overshawn in one moment embodies a maidservant who vows to never remove her wedding ring and just as easily segues into the solicitous captain of a ship.  Fluid gender bending is everywhere in this play, with the sole exception of lovely Annika Boras’s Sasha, the ethereal ice skating Russian princess that breaks Orlando’s heart in his male youth.

Girls playing boys and boys playing queens.

At the play’s close, Orlando exuberantly declares, “I’m beginning to understand now!”

As does the audience.

Then, the actors took their bows to rapturous applause.  Once the cast left the stage, the audience made a stampede for the exit with such aggression, a guy who could have been the body double for Sasquatch stepped on my candy bar, giving me the impression that he and almost everyone else in the room had been trapped in a deep hole in Chile for 69 days, as opposed to two hours in Virginia Woolf’s Wonderland courtesy of Sarah Ruhl.

Closing Sunday October 17th.

Lame Adventure 111: Gay Christmas Preparation Time

Gertrude Stein’s most famous quote is a sentence she wrote in 1913 for a poem she penned called Sacred Emily. Stein wrote, “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.”  This quote is often interpreted to mean that things are what they are.  Had Stein written, “A Tazmanian Devil is a Tazmanian Devil is a Tazmanian Devil is a Tazmanian Devil,” instead, it is likely that this observation might have shot straight out the window and into oncoming traffic rather than standing the test of time for nearly a century.

Recently, I was walking up Broadway where I spotted Mike, dressed for work outside a Rickey’s Halloween pop-up store in a man-sized costume that brought to mind a six tall hound, located between West 77th and West 78th Streets.  If I were inclined to get a Halloween costume, Rickey’s would be my go-to source.  When I do shop there it is for unusual items, such as the cat-butt magnets that scored a big hit with my former sidekick, Jewel, on her birthday.

Formerly a Ruby Foo's restaurant; now Halloween costume shop central.

Bracing myself for Mike’s response I revealed the infinity of my ignorance and asked, “Who are you supposed to be?”  Barely able to hide his contempt for such an imbecilic question, he muttered in an annoyed tone, “Taz.”

Easily recognizable Taz.

In fairness to Mike, many decades ago when I went trick or treating, dressed as Fred Flintstone, nothing annoyed me more than some old-timer asking me, “And who are you supposed to be?”  I wanted to say, “Fred Fuckin’ Flintstone, you moron!”

My protective father hovered behind me like my very own personal Tazmanian Devil.  No sooner would the candy-giver close their door than my dad would channel his inner Ethel Merman/Mama Rose; a Rose Ms. Stein would surely see as unlike any other Rose had she the chance to catch the musical Gypsy.  My dad would be coaching me on how to announce, “Trick or treat!”  The more he urged me to “shout out” the quieter I’d get, to the point where I’d stand mute, and just tap an anemic knock on a door.  This drove my Type A personality father so crazy, he took it upon himself to stand behind me and voluminously bellow, “Trick or treat!”   A deep male voice emanating from a pint-sized girl – dressed as Fred Flintstone — thoroughly confused the candy givers, but somehow he and I got through Halloween together that year.  After we returned home I was popping the Milk Duds, and he, the Anacin.

I asked Mike if he had a choice of costumes.  He mentioned Super Mario and a character I had never heard of called Yoshi.   To camouflage my blank expression to the latter half of his response, I rubbed my chin, puffed my Sherlock Holmes pipe thoughtfully, and said, “Interesting.”  When I returned home, I immediately did a Google search on Yoshi who happens to be the dinosaur in Super Mario Brothers video games.  Small world.

Yoshi

What I remember most about my childhood Fred Flintstone costume was nearly asphyxiating behind the plastic mask that fit over my face with a string of elastic wrapped around my head.  Already, by the tender age of six, my nose was B cup bordering on C cup.  The pinpoint-size air holes just didn’t cut it with my industrial strength ventilation system.  I could not have been sweating harder than if I had been hiking the Sahara at noon as opposed to walking a few evening neighborhood blocks in chilly San Francisco with my dad.

It might seem perverse that my mother chose to dress her whippet-thin daughter as Fred Flintstone for Halloween.  Yet, she instinctively knew I would sooner throw myself in front of a moving bus than be seen in a tutu or some princess getup.  Therefore dressing me up as anorexic Fred was the perfect solution.

A real Taz Devil. "Dad, can we keep him for a pet? Can we, can we, can we? I want to call him Marvin!"

Lame Adventure 110: New York Film Festival – Joe Dante’s The Hole

Since Milton’s nasty cold has escalated to the point where he’s now phlegm on feet, a site that does not mesh well with sequins and glitter, he gave our mutual friend and horror film buff, Ulla, his ticket to Joe Dante’s The Hole, our last New York Film Festival screening.  She was thrilled with the idea of having the crap scared out of her since this film was shot in 3D.  She said, “I’m coming prepared.  I’m wearing a diaper.”

The Hole, was attended by a very excited crowd that included director Dante’s collaborator, John Sayles, who wrote the screenplays for Dante directed comedy horror classics, Piranha (the original 1978 version), and The Howling, released in 1981.  Dante joined the moderator, Film Comment editor, Gavin Smith, in introducing the film.  To further psyche the eager audience, he walked onto the stage wearing his Dolby 3D glasses.  Smith followed Dante’s lead and donned his.

During his introductory remarks, Dante, who was born in Morristown, New Jersey in 1946 and grew up in Parsippany, mentioned that he first attended the New York Film Festival in 1965.  He did not say what he saw, but he implied that he never imagined that this elitist institution would ever screen one of his films.  Ironically, The Hole, was one of the few screenings that sold out well in advance this year illustrating that today’s audience, even in a city as sophisticated as New York, has a much greater appetite for mainstream as opposed to the more marginal-stream fare that the NYFF usually screens.  Also, the ticket price for The Hole was a bargain — $12 rather than $20 for most of the other screenings.

The Hole, full of wit and intrigue, is a taut and fun slice of horror-lite.  It is not packed with gore nor are buckets of blood spilled, but it has some nice, creepy moments.  The tale is about a pair of bored bickering brothers, who have just relocated with their single clueless mother, Susan (Meet the Fockers Teri Polo), from their beloved Brooklyn to a rental home in the town of Bensenville.

The older brother, Dane, is a sullen teenager played by heart-throbby-type Chris Massoglia.  He looks a bit like Justin Bieber, if Justin Bieber looked more like a masculine 16-year-old boy than a surfer dude-ette 35-year-old lesbian.  The younger brother, Lucas, is a sweet grade schooler, played by scene stealer Nathan Gamble, who delivers some of the film’s best lines.  During a moment of  rough housing, the boys discover a heavily padlocked door in the floor of the basement that, of course, they must open, or else there would be no film.

Only the insane or curious kids send a video camera down there.

Their new friend, Julie, the yappy Pekinese owning neighbor-girl (the competent Haley Bennett), refers to the boys’ hole as “the passageway to hell,”  and she enthusiastically adds that it is “so cool.”  This is before she realizes that the hole is full of haunting surprises that will include her.

Screenwriter Mark L. Smith has hit on an intriguing premise, a hole that recognizes the worst fears of anyone that looks into it.  Even if Dante does not hammer his audience with gross out clichés, composer Javier Navarette’s eerie music score provides chills and more than a few goose bumps.  Bruce Dern, an actor with a reputation for playing memorable whackos, makes a delightful cameo as Crazy Carl, the previous tenant of the boys’ house who is now the resident loon in an abandoned glove factory.

The Hole kids after glimpsing some crazy shit.

A bit of trivia about the climactic scene at the end – if something about it looks familiar, Dante, who shot the film in Vancouver, BC, recycled the set from James Cameron’s TV series, Dark Angel, which ran from 2000-2002.

Overall, The Hole is a family-friendly production and would be a very good “starter” horror film for children under ten.  Older kids will probably be intrigued by the hole itself.  As a certified case of arrested development, I certainly was.

Afterward, Dante, gave very generous Q&A, reflecting how horror, which was always considered grade B cinema in his youth, remains one of the most popular and successful genres today.  He said his influences for this film were Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder and Italian filmmaker and fright master, Mario Bava.

Joe Dante, seated left, during Q&A with Gavin Smith.

Even though The Hole won the inaugural 3D Persol award at the Venice Film Festival in 2009, Dante claimed that he would have preferred if it had been shot with RealD 3D technology, but due to budgetary constraints, he was forced to settle for Dolby 3D.  His likely third choice was probably No 3D.  His issue with Dolby 3D is that he thinks it looks darker, but to our untrained film going eyes we thought it looked fine.  He said he made it for around twelve million dollars, a pittance when one considers what Hollywood produced 3D films cost.  The Hole has yet to find US distribution, but it has opened in Europe.

After screening, Joe Dante, chewing the fat in the theater lobby with a fan.

While I was writing this post, Milton called to say that he felt so ill on Saturday and was coughing so violently, he was wondering if he had tuberculosis.  He slept heavily through Sunday, when he woke feeling both considerably better and ravenous.  Therefore, he ate an entire pie – the new cure for the common cold.

Lame Adventure 109: New York Film Festival – Black Venus

By the time this post is published, Milton should have a full-blown monster cold.  It does not help his condition that we have been attending New York Film Festival screenings almost every night of the week, but there was no way he was going to miss Black Venus, a film from France directed by Abdellatif Kechiche.  Albee and I had seen Kechiche’s last film, The Secret of the Grain, which was lengthy, frustrating, depressing and since the grain in the title was cous cous, which always looked delectable, we left the theater ravenous.  Someone could have salted our armrests and we would have devoured those.  Instead, we settled for burgers.

Black Venus, a historic drama based on Saartjie Baartman, a woman who lived in the early 19th century, has a 159-minute runtime.  When Village Voice film critic and member of the NYFF selection committee, Melissa Anderson, introduced it, she referred to the performance by Yahima Torres as “astonishing.”  I groaned in Milton’s one unclogged ear, “Hyperbole.”  Milton, clutching two fistfuls of tissues, and possibly a roll of toilet paper he absconded from the men’s room, muttered, “This better be good or I’ll be snoring fast.”

As with The Secret of the Grain, Black Venus is also lengthy, frustrating and depressing, but where it differs from Kechiche’s earlier film is that it’s excellent. Not only was it excellent, “Mortimer Snerd” (Milton’s name for Melissa Anderson) knew what she was talking about in her introduction.   She earned our respect.  Yahima Torres was brilliant.  Torres can convey more while silently smoking a cigarette than Hillary Swank babbling eight pages of dialogue.

Living a life void of mirth.

Saartjie Baartman was a tragically exploited slave from Cape Town, South Africa who traveled to Europe in 1810 with her owner where she became infamously known as the “Hottentot Venus.” This was due to her enlarged buttocks and elongated labia.  Her unusual anatomy fascinated white people.  Saartjie’s owner forced her to perform in freak shows in London and later, Paris.  In their act, she is shackled and introduced huddled inside a cage.  He constantly cracks a whip and orders her to perform a salacious dance, and it gets worse …  The on-screen voyeurs watch in sheer delight, while the off-screen viewer cringes in horror.  The film relentlessly pummels the viewer with this woman’s degradation.

She’s lonely and miserable, with no friends or family and trapped in a country where she cannot speak much English or French.   As she struggles to maintain her dignity, she tries to drown her pain with alcohol.  In a deeply moving scene where a French journalist interviews her in a carriage, she recalls the life she had before coming to Europe.  Emotionally, Black Venus is a devastating portrait of racism, sexism, and abuse, but there’s a “happy” coda at the end.  Oddly, it almost brought me to tears.

During the Q&A with Torres and Anderson, a young African American woman detonated.  She ached to give director Kechiche, who was not in attendance, a piece of her mind about how much this film offended her.  She took her anger out on Torres, but before Torres could respond, a middle aged African American woman sitting behind us, shot out of her seat and begged Anderson to let her have a say.  Anderson ordered both audience members to pipe down. Torres delivered her defense of both her character and the film which did not satisfy her detractor in the least.  She wanted a fight, and spoke over Torres.  Anderson, to her credit, lashed out at the detractor, “You’re being rude!  Let her finish speaking!”   When Torres finished, the detractor was eager to regain the floor, but Anderson gave the go ahead to the woman behind us to have her say.  She articulately defended the film, explained why it so resonated with her, and praised Torres’s performance.

Yahima Torres's interpreter, Yahima Torres and Melissa Anderson.

The audience enthusiastically applauded her remarks.

Anderson decided to close the Q&A there; so I did not get to ask my two-part question, does it have a distributor yet and when will it be released over here? I hope soon, but it is very controversial.  As Milton pointed out, “People are going to bring a lot of their own baggage to this one.”  As we left, he added, “That was so good, I forgot I have a cold.”  He continued, “I feel like we just saw the black version of Breaking the Waves.”

Yahima Torres feeling love from viewers that were impressed with both her performance and the film.

Yahima Torres' shoes. Milton also loved her fancy footwear.

Lame Adventure 108: An Invitation from Suzan-Lori Parks to Milton and Me!

Recently, The Public Theater, where Milton and I share a membership, sent us an email that said the following about a playwright we both admire:

Suzan-Lori Parks Invites You to Watch Her Work

This performance piece, a meditation on the artistic process and an actual work session, features Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks working on her newest writing project in the main lobby of The Public Theater. The audience is invited to come and watch her work and/or to share the space and get some of their own writing work done. During the last fifteen minutes of the performance Parks will answer any questions the audience might have regarding their own work and their creative process.

The problem is that S-LP is doing this during the workday proper and my boss Elsbeth’s calendar is already packed with notes about my comings and goings related to all the New York Film Festival screenings I have been attending.  I ponder how she might digest a request from me to cut out for a seventy-five minute adventure, excluding travel time, to watch a writer write in a lobby packed with students, retirees, and people that called in phony-sick from work.

As much as I would like to employ the “something came up” tactic, I fear that this could backfire badly:

Me:  Elsbeth, something came up. I have an opportunity to network* with a brilliant playwright.

Elsbeth:  That’s great.  Who?

Me:  Suzan-Lori Parks.

Elsbeth:  Who?

Me:  She won the Pulitzer for Topdog/Underdog.

Elsbeth:  Should I know about this?

Me:  You do now Boss!

Elsbeth:  When are you going to meet with her?

Me:  That’s the thing.  I have choices.  Today, at noon, tomorrow at three, or Friday morning at eleven.

Elsbeth:  I have a better idea.  How about you stay chained to your desk, get some work done since I’m paying you, and you don’t go at all?

That’s the type of suggestion I would make to my sidekick, Greg, if he tried to pull this on me, after I had granted him three days worth of favors in the same week, and I also had an eyelash stabbing me in the iris.  Greg is straightforward with me when he needs a favor.  I could try the straightforward approach with Elsbeth.

Me:  Get a load of this, I’ve got an invitation from The Public Theater to watch resident playwright Suzan-Lori Parks write.

Elsbeth:  You’re going to watch someone write now?

I instinctively know from that imaginary reaction the conversation will crash land.

Milton is not inclined to barter with his superiors to attend S-LP’s writing session.  He even purposely resisted the opportunity to attend a book signing with one of his favorite authors, Michael Cunningham.  Milton’s purpose was to stay home and write, although we did spend forty-five minutes on the phone discussing his act of extreme self-sacrifice.

Milton:  I really wanted to see him, but we’ve been going out so much lately, I’m not getting any writing done.  At this rate, I won’t have anything finished until next year.

Me:  I’m torn over missing S-LP.  I just think if I laid this on Elsbeth right now, I’ll cross the line with her and she’ll finally detonate.

Milton:  I don’t think missing seeing her write is missing much.  No one would want to see me write.  That’s for sure.

Me:  You think?  First you open a bottle of wine, pour yourself a glass, and check your e-mail.  Then, you open Word.  You top off your glass of wine and play Bettye LaVette on your iPod.  You decide to change the font from Arial to Times New Roman, and write a sentence.  You hate the sentence, and then decide what you really hate is writing in Times New Roman.  Instead of changing the font back to Arial first, you delete the sentence, save your changes, but then you cannot recall what the sentence was.  Frustrated, you pour yourself a third glass of wine and watch a DVD.

Milton:  Have you been watching me write?

*This is no more of a networking-type event than I could claim I once had a conversation with baseball hall of fame catcher Gary Carter.  Years ago, when I was working as a production assistant on a Pringle’s potato chip commercial featuring then New York Mets catcher, Carter, I was told to fetch a can of Coke for him.  I did.  When I entered his dressing room and handed it to him, devout Christian Carter said, “God bless you.”  Dedicated atheist me asked, “Who sneezed?”  Fortunately he laughed at my snark, and I was not fired on the spot.