Monthly Archives: September 2011

Lame Adventure 235: Christmas in October!

It is that time of year again, Christmas in October for Milton and me.   Here in the Big Apple the New York Film Festival is underway for the 49th time.

Yay, it's here!

Milton is a longtime member of the Film Society of Lincoln Center so we were able to purchase our tickets in advance in August.  This year’s festival is packed with films that already have theatrical release.

For example, opening the festival today is Carnage directed by Roman Polanski (a guaranteed no show).  This film is an adaptation of God of Carnage, Yasmina Reza’s smash hit play that won the Tony award in 2009.  It stars Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly.  We figure that most, if not all of them, will attend.

Milton and I were in complete agreement to pass on this one, not because we have issues with Polanski, the story, or the star-studded cast, but it will open theatrically in December.  If we do not luck into a free screening, we’ll see it in a movie theater for $13, significantly less than the $250 opening night admission price (but it will screen three more times at the festival to the tune of $40 or $20).  Milton and I are fine with waiting to see this one later in the year.

What we strive to see are films that have not scored distribution but we also indulge each other’s guilty pleasure.  This year my GP is a screening of a two-part HBO documentary George Harrison: Living in the Material World.  It’s directed by Martin Scorsese and will be broadcast on HBO next Wednesday and Thursday, October 5th and 6th, the day after our screening.  I told Milton that since I can no longer afford to subscribe to HBO I’d like to see all 208 minutes of it in one sitting on Alice Tully Hall’s giant screen.  Milton swallowed hard and said:

Milton (groaning deeply):  Okay.

Milton’s guilty pleasure is The Turin Horse, possibly the last film by the Hungarian filmmaker, Béla Tarr.  It’s shot in black and white, it runs 146 minutes with minimal action, and the little dialogue that is spoken is in Hungarian.  My boss, Elsbeth, who is of Hungarian descent, wanted to get a ticket, too, but when she revealed this to me I discovered that it was already sold out.  As fate would have it, the FSLC has posted the trailer online and voila!  Tickets are suddenly available again.  I cocked my head like Nipper the RCA dog and thought:

Me:  Huh!  How’d that happen?

Painting of Nipper allegedly listening to the sound of his master's voice, but it could have also been a recording of the cat next door.

Then, I watched the 45 second trailer.  I urge all Lame Adventures readers to do so now:

Hm, I wonder if there might have been an onslaught of returns and Milton and I will have the theater all to ourselves?  I’m debating whether or not to tell my superior that tickets are available again.  I could sorely use a raise but I’m unsure if passing on this news will grant me one or get me fired.

Lame Adventure 234: My Crack

When I was young, it was easy for me to equate theater, particularly Broadway shows, as the domain of rich oldsters and out-of-towners with money to burn.  Most years, I had seen one or two plays on or Off-Broadway, but theater was seldom on my radar.  Even when peers raved about shows they’d seen, I’d stifle a yawn and calculate in my head how many films I could catch for what they shelled out for tickets. I once met a Tony-award winning Broadway producer who took me out to breakfast and urged me to write a play.  I thought:

Me:  I’d rather split an atom in my kitchen.

Then, something happened in this millennium.  Although I’ve never been rich, as I grew less young I had an itch to slightly expand my mind entertainment-wise. Theater began to catch my attention.  Often as I was reading theater reviews while puffing on my Sherlock Holmes pipe I’d think:

Me:  Hm that sounds interesting.

Once I made the escape from working mega-hours in network news to my current get-rich-slow career, Minister of Tile Labeling (an industry that Coco claims has the capacity to age the face faster than vodka), I had the time to make plans after work and on weekends.  During the brief period before the economy capsized when I was paid a salary that resembled a living wage, I could indulge theatergoing with Milton to my heart’s content.  Since my pay was slashed 20% nearly three years ago, I have had to make some tough financial decisions in order to feed my inner theatergoing beast.  Yet, I know that my life will have entered freefall when I can no longer find a way to see the latest Stephen Sondheim revival or catch the transition from Off-Broadway to Broadway of one of the hottest new plays – the erotically charged Venus in Fur starring Nina Arianda (who originated the role of Vanda in the production staged at CSC in 2009), and Hugh Dancy.

Arianda and Hugh - hot couple, hot ticket.

Milton was particularly thrilled with the addition of Hugh to the cast.

Milton:  I’d see him play a tree!

Due to my ongoing financial limitations, Milton and I attend far fewer Broadway shows now but he did score us deeply discounted tickets to see that latest Sondheim revival, the lavishly produced, Follies, starring Bernadette Peters and Jan Maxwell.  They play long retired showgirls from a bygone era that reunite shortly before the theater of their youth is razed to make room for a parking lot.

That description leaves a helluva lot out including thirty years of disappointment, disillusion, infidelity, suffering, humiliation and that treasured chestnut, rejection.  All of these emotions are illustrated with powerful singing, excellent dancing and it’s haunted with ghosts.  What’s not to love when a show this complex and elaborate is as beautifully staged as this revival?

One thing that immediately comes to my mind is the 50-year-old mama’s boy sitting next to me with his date (yes, his mother).  He mimicked the entire score from start to finish with a low, off-key hum, that I initially thought was either a new breed of mosquito buzzing outside my ear canal or I was channeling someone’s prolonged death rattle.  Yet, even that unanticipated annoyance was incapable of destroying the brilliance of Sondheim’s inventive lyrics, but had I access to a polo mallet, a large sock filled with crushed brick, or simply a baseball bat, it is possible I would have ignored my inner pacifist and smashed Sonny’s head.

Afterward, Milton announced that Follies “was good,” but then his face contorted slightly into the Milton-wince, my cue to ask:

Me:  What was your problem with it?

Milton:  Anything Goes has raised the bar too high.  This wasn’t at that level, so I was a little disappointed.

B&W playbill for very colorful show.

Last July, Milton and I scored 2 for 1 third row aisle Orchestra seats to this madcap Tony-award winning music comedy revival.  It’s a Cole Porter masterpiece starring the reigning queen of Broadway, Sutton Foster play nightclub singer, Reno Sweeney.  To put it in perspective about how terrific Anything Goes is, due to the boneheaded mistake of eating a single hot wing prior to curtain, I suffered near-debilitating heartburn apparently for the entirety of the first act.  I say “apparently” because I was so completely captivated by the book, the elaborate choreography, spot-on singing and Sutton’s megawatt charisma, I did not realize until intermission that my feel sharp chest pain had escalated and it was possible that I was actually suffering a massive heart attack instead.  Had I bought my rainbow while watching that show, I would have exited this life in toe-tapping bliss.   Fortunately, a single hot wing is not lethal.  I recovered during the second act that was as wonderful as the first.  For me, this show was as healing as a visit to Lourdes.  Theater is that wonderful.

Collin Donnell, Anything Goes leading man outside stage door -- photographed by eagle-eyed Milton.

Lame Adventure 233: We means you

On a Monday in July 2007, the halcyon days of the economy when I was paid significantly better — before my wages were radically reduced in 2009 and have remained as frozen as a dead polar bear in the Arctic ever since, my boss, Elsbeth, arrived at work carrying a flat HP Planet Partners Return and Recycling box.  This box was for her used home printer cartridges.  She was feeling very proud of herself for being environmentally responsible.

Elsbeth:  When we fill up this box, we ship it back to HP – postage paid!

Me (placating tone):  Okay, we’ll do that.

I knew that the we she was referring to was actually me.  My lord and master proceeded to assemble the box.

Elsbeth's empty box.

She then placed it in the warehouse outside our office where I proceeded to forgot about it.

Me (thinking):  It’ll take her a hundred years to fill that box!  Ha!  There’s some schmuck or schmuck-ette out there right now that’ll be stuck shipping it back.  Loser!

Fast-forward four years, two months and 84 cartridges later …  On a recent Thursday Elsbeth enters our office, excited.

Elsbeth:  My box is full!  We have to return it!

The night before, I had been up until 5 am writing.  Therefore, I was not at my most coherent.  In fact, I seem to recall being 90% asleep.  I slap myself in the face and hack a hairball.

Me (thinking):  Where’d that come from?

Me (saying):  Huh?  What box?

Elsbeth:  My printer cartridge box!  It’s filled up!  We have to return it!

Me (zero enthusiasm for I know this means I have to move my exhausted carcass):  I’ll deal with it.

I sleepwalk out of our office into the warehouse where I take the box.  I notice that mid-way over the course of the four years and two months that my liege was depositing her spent cartridges into the box her aim ran off course and she was dumping them around the inner plastic bag rather than in it.  Although I could easily say:

Me (easily saying):  Screw this.

And then seal the box as is, the lapsed Catholic in me knows that’s wrong.  Sighing so loudly, the flock of pigeons perched outside the windowsill takes flight; I proceed to repack all the cartridges.

84 spent HP printer cartridges.

Siamese twin adhered yellow and magenta cartridges that apparently brought out the mad scientist in my boss.

Yet, I suppose things could be worse, I could be unemployed or I could be my friend, Coco, who the next day encountered, in the middle of our luxury showroom floor, a customer that breast-fed a toddler that was so large, this kid could easily try out to play on the Knicks – whenever basketball season gets underway again.  I know I’d much rather repack a box while suffering a coma than have that site shoved in my face.

Sealed repacked box good to go home to HP.

Lame Adventure 232: Papering the House

Last week Milton scored an invitation for two to the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s blue carpet 50th anniversary celebration of Breakfast at Tiffany’sThe film is also being released on Blu-ray DVD.

We want you, Milton!

This Hollywood classic stars Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, in her most iconic role, a free-spirit that accepts $50 from gentlemen admirers for powder room visits; George Peppard, as Paul Varjak, a struggling writer with perfect hair; and Patricia Neal, as 2E, Paul’s cougar sugar-mama.  2E does not exist in author Truman Capote‘s original novella, nor is the writer named Paul Varjak and he actually works a crummy day job, something the filmmakers must have considered too tragic to show on the silver screen.

Perfect Hair George frame left, Audrey Hepburn center, Patricia Neal frame right.

Screen legend in her own right, Julie Andrews, the widow of the film’s director, Blake Edwards, was enlisted to walk the blue carpet en route to delivering an introduction before the screening of the beautifully restored print at Alice Tulley Hall in Lincoln Center.

Even though other attendees paid for their seats, since the screening was not sold out, the FSLC emailed members that they could have a pair of tickets for free on a first come, first serve basis.  Milton said we were being tagged to paper the house.

Milton:  Do you want to go?

Me:  From now on call me Boise-Cascade!

Precious ducat.

Press and photographers crowded the space in front of the blue carpet making it tough for onlookers like us to see much behind a barricade. One of a cluster of women of a certain age who very likely first saw the film when it was initially released in 1961 opined about the blue carpet:

Woman of a Certain Age:  That’s the blue carpet?  It looks more like a bathroom rug.

Crappy blue carpet.

Milton and I agreed that she had the right idea.

A celebrity arrived, actress Bebe Neuwirth and her husband, Chris Calkins.

Bebe Neuwirth with her husband Chris Calkins of the Obscured Face.

The women of a certain age banter amongst each other.

Woman of a Certain Age:  Who is that?  Is that Rachel’s daughter?

Me (thinking):  Who the hell’s Rachel?  That’s Bebe Neuwirth.

Another Woman of a Certain Age:  I think that’s Bebe Neuwirth.

Woman of a Certain Age (who thought Bebe was Rachel’s daughter):  How old is she now?

Another Woman of a Certain Age:  Who?

Woman of a Certain Age:  This Bebe Neuwirth we’re looking at.  What is she, 60?  Do you like how she looks?

I want to scream, but I’m mute.  For the record, Bebe’s 52.  Milton and I thought she looked great.

Press swarming Bebe.

There’s a roar to our left.  For a flash Milton and I think that Holly Golightly has arrived, but it’s second best, Julie Andrews is in the house!  She looks radiant wearing a blue tuxedo, which should have been the shade of the carpet.

Milton times this shot of Juiie Andrews perfectly.

Milton is on a tear taking pictures with his iPhone, but he presses the wrong button and he starts photographing himself beneath the chin, so we have a selection of shots of his goatee at an odd angle.

I am not allowed to post any of those images.

Fortunately, we get a few decent shots, so decent that a woman of a certain age declares:

Woman of a Certain Age:  You finally got a good one!

My good shot of Julie Andrews. Finally.

Once Julie, who takes her time talking to members of the press and posing for photographs moves on, a blonde enters.

Mystery "Who cares?" Woman.

Me:  Who’s that?

Milton: Probably a real housewife of Lincoln Square.

A cameraman starts filming us.

Filming us. We return the compliment.

We lower our cameras and head into the theater.

After I take this shot a guard approaches me:

Inside the theater.

Guard:  There’s no photography in the theater.

I pack my camera away, but when Julie takes the stage with the FSLC program Director, Richard Peña, it seems like every iPhone in the joint is whipped out.

Julie Andrews and Richard Peña moments earlier on the crappy blue carpet.

I could easily breakout my camera again, but instead, I breakout a ham sandwich.  It’s late and I’m hungry.

Julie and Peña conduct an easy exchange about the film.  She was appearing on Broadway when she first saw it on her day off in 1961 at Radio City Music Hall.

Julie:  I never dreamed that the director would be my husband.

This makes sense since she would remain married to designer Tony Walton for another six years.

She speaks warmly about Audrey Hepburn, who became a close friend of hers, and says that Blake Edwards adored her, too:

Julie:  She might have been my competition!

She speaks about the memorable party sequence and says that Blake:

Julie: Cast his friends and everyone he knew.

After praising the contribution of Hubert de Givenchy’s wardrobe, Julie announces:

Julie: When you’ve got Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy, I don’t think anyone for a second believed that this was a heavy hooker, for God’s sake.

This is true, the screenplay that George Axelrod loosely adapted from Capote’s  novella takes many liberties with the author’s beautifully crafted World War II era story; a much grittier and poignant tale that I recently read again.  Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe cast in the role of Holly, an excellent choice, but she turned down the part because she was advised that playing a woman of questionable repute would not be good for her image.  Milton thinks that had Marilyn played the part instead of Audrey, she would have won an Academy Award.  Also, happily ever after romance lovers, although this harder, colder creature is recognizably Holly, and the writer-narrator is both fascinated and smitten with her, they’re just platonic friends.  Holly is from start to finish “a wild thing” — untameable, independent and mysterious.  She also eludes to being bisexual, something else excluded from the script.

Milton wonders if Capote was livid about the boatload of changes made to the source material to make it the crowd-pleaser it’s been for fifty years.  He deems this film is a precursor to another highly successful and completely implausible fairy tale romance, Pretty Woman.  I reason that back in 1961, there was no way that this novella’s darker open-ended tale could have been adapted.  Yet,  the audience at this anniversary screening seemed to be watching in a state of bliss.   What brings out the sap in me about this film is the Academy Award winning Henry Mancini score and the song Moon River with lyrics by Johnny Mercer.   That catchy song has been playing on a loop inside my head for a solid week.  Every time I come across the lyric “my Huckleberry friend” I’m stumped.  What the hell is that?  The Urban Dictionary has two answers:

1. A very special, good friend that’s been in your life for years, typically since youth.

2. A fuck buddy.

Outside the theater, following the screening Milton and I are a safe distance from the adoring masses.  He voices a unique observation about this film that surely would have gotten both of us killed if said inside:

Milton:  Just because something’s classic doesn’t mean it’s good.

Fifty years later, we’d like to suggest the unthinkable – not a remake, but a version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s that is true to Capote’s original novella.  Todd Haynes, if you’re wondering what to work on next, how about giving this a try?

Source material.

Milton and I noticed that the one character that perfectly made the transition from novella to screen was Holly’s “poor slob without a name” cat played by Orangey.  He certainly made the most of his close-ups.

Orangey as Cat center frame.

Lame Adventure 231: Who I want to be in my next life

This is Leo.  Pampered.  Happily unemployed.  Well fed.  Perfect BMI.  Barely 20 in people years.

Leo playing in his back yard.

I’d call him the reincarnation of legendary San Francisco 49er wide receiver, Jerry Rice, but Rice is still very much alive, so Leo is just Leo the Care-free Border Collie.  Leo lives in Wine Country, Northern California as opposed to me, a long-time resident of Whine Country, New York.

Since the country is going to the dogs, Leo is my American Idol.

Lame Adventure 230: The Agony of Intellectual Ecstasy

I have been subscribing to The New Yorker for exactly half my life, specifically for over 1,200 issues.  It normally arrives in my mailbox on Monday, but there are times when it’s delivered on Tuesday.  If I don’t see it by Tuesday, I go completely out of what’s left of my mind.  Even though I can access it digitally, since I only have a dumb phone and I don’t have a PDA, I’d have to print the stories I want to read and that’s a hassle.   Also, I like to flip through the pages.

Every Monday, The New Yorker emails me a link to that week’s issue, along with headlines about the stories.

New Yorker headline news.

This Monday they notified me that several of my favorite writers are being featured in this issue.

Ariel Levy, a journalist that is brilliant, babelicious and bats on my team, has written about the sexual revolution. This excites me almost as much as getting laid — if I did not already have a date with my TV to watch the US Open Men’s Tennis Final.

Ariel Levy interviewing Alec Baldwin at The New Yorker Festival in 2010.

My favorite short story writer, Alice Munro, has written a memoir piece, Patricia Marx, an excellent humorist, has taken on Shouts & Murmurs.  There’s a Roz Chast Sketchbook called “Walkabout”, Gay Talese investigates Tony Bennett collaborating with Lady Gaga, Art Spiegelman has an Artist’s Sketchbook called “Crossroads”, Michael Schulman covers playwright Katori Hall, and last but not least, the fiction is by Ann Beattie.

Could this be the best issue of The New Yorker ever?  Probably not, but it’s an issue I will likely read cover to cover.  As soon as the tennis match is over, even though my guy, Rafael Nadal, loses, I will have this Christmas in September issue of that magazine to provide solace and to distract me from my mental anguish.  There is one glitch.

When I open my mailbox, my magazine is missing.

On Tuesday, I half-heartedly suggest to my pal, Coco, that we get a drink after work.  Half-heartedly since the delivery of my magazine is possessing 98% of my thoughts.  Fortunately my gym rat friend has other plans.  She later texts me:

Coco’s text:  I ran 9 miles and lifted weights.

I up the dosage on my morphine drip and text back:

My text back:  Jesus, did u circle the entire island? After that epic workout did u quaff 2 martinis & call that home cooking?

Coco ignores my questions, counts to 100 and changes the subject; her tolerant way of telling me to go fuck myself.

I am in a foul mood after discovering that my magazine has not been delivered on this second day.  If I don’t see it by Tuesday, odds are good that I will never see it.  I have the sinking feeling that my treasured magazine has entered the void.  It occurs to me that it’s possible that my letter carrier deposited it in another tenant’s mailbox.  This makes me brood.  I wonder if that tenant made my loss his or her gain?  This makes me seethe.

Me: For the love of David Remnick, do something!

I force myself to do the unthinkable, wake early on Wednesday and call my post office, Ansonia Station, to lodge a complaint.  Bill, the supervisor, puts me through to my letter carrier, a very defensive woman who insists that she “always delivers” my magazine.

Me:  I’m sure you do always deliver my magazine, but can you say with 100% certainty that you put it in my mailbox this week?

She has no response and hands the phone back to Bill.  He also insists that I must have received my magazine adding:

Bill:  How can you prove that your letter carrier didn’t deliver it?

Me:  I didn’t get it so that’s a pretty good indication that it wasn’t delivered – at least to me.

Bill:  Are you sure though?

Me:  Am I sure of what?  It’s 7:57 in the morning.  Are you implying that I’m calling you at this hour about a magazine that I have and this is all some ridiculous game playing on my part?

Bill shifts gears and is now blaming Conde Nast for my missing magazine.

Bill:  Contact the publisher and ask them to send you another one.

Me:  Send me “another one” as if I received my copy of it already?

Since I am fully aware of the US Postal Service’s dire economic reality, I go in for the kill.

Me:  I suppose I could do that and see this week’s issue a month from now.  Maybe what I should really do is invest in an iPad, and just read it electronically.  That way I wouldn’t have to rely on the Postal Service at all.

Bill:  Hold on.

Bill puts me on hold probably to chew a Rolaid.

Bill:  I just saw that we still have some copies of New York here.

Me:  I got my copy of New York on Monday; I didn’t get my New Yorker.

I resist adding that I also subscribe to Time Out New York – since that might give the impression that I have a fetish for periodicals with New York in the title.

Bill:  I meant to say The New Yorker.

Me (intrigued):  Really?  Is there one with my name on it?

Bill:  I don’t know, but we do have some copies of it here.  I’ll see what I can do.  I can’t guarantee anything.

Since there is still the possibility that my letter carrier had simply placed it in the wrong mailbox, I pound out a letter to my fellow tenants as well as my letter carrier.  I ask my fellow tenants if they got it by mistake to please return it me personally, or leave it on top of the radiator cover.  I ask my letter carrier if she sees it on the radiator cover to put it in my mailbox.  I conclude that I am now completely out of the closet about being a loon, and should have myself fitted for a straitjacket.  I dread the idea that some douche bag or baguette might write something profane on my note.

A lunatic's plea.

When I come home, there is a message scrawled on my note by my letter carrier:

“It just arrive today.”

I open my mailbox and I have both my copy of The New Yorker as well as Time Out New York.  Inside the jukebox in my head, Edwin Hawkins is crooning the Gospel classic, “Oh Happy Day”.

Possibly, the happy ending to this debacle is the highlight of my year.  I lower my morphine drip and start reading.

Lame Adventure 229: Superman vs. Super Duperman

I was pleased that the US Open Men’s Tennis Final was played on Monday allowing Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic a deserved day of rest in preparation for this climactic match in this year’s tournament.  Yet, I was practically spitting blood when I heard that the start time would be 4 pm.

May I join you in your primal scream, guys?

Since I am a working stiff making ends meet in a get-rich-slow job, I still had to put in another 90 minutes at the grind before quitting time, and I had to invest another half hour in the commute home from TriBeCa to the Upper West Side.  I considered begging my boss, Elsbeth, to let me exit early, but she would ask:

Elsbeth:  Why?

Me:  I’m dying to watch the US Open Men’s Final.

Elsbeth:  You’re into golf now? [snarky] That’s a new development.

Elsbeth is not a sports fan, and for the record, I loathe golf.  Masochist that I am, I decide it would be best to avoid conflict with my superior about my urgency to kneel at the altar of bouncing balls and swinging rackets.  Therefore, I stick out the workday, a day I spend adhered to my desk crunching numbers with glazed eyeballs.  I encounter one Elsbethian interruption:

Elsbeth:  How do you spell Agnes?

When I am sprung at 5:30 I am aware that my beloved Rafa has lost the first set to Djokovic 6-2.  I could not have rocket-launched myself faster out the door than if my Jack Purcell badminton shoes were manufactured by NASA.  Emitting a trail of smoke all the way to the Chambers Street subway station, I deftly side-step two waist-high demon seeds pummeling each other with balloon bats but that maneuver makes me bounce off their mother’s heavily cushioned left hip.  Fortunately, she is immune to hyperactivity and the resulting G-force allows me to sail down the station’s staircase at warp-speed — just as an uptown express train arrives.  I emerge from the 72nd Street subway station at 5:51 where I’m greeted with a text from my buddy, Coco:

Coco’s text: Nadal needs to focus on his game not his wedgie.

My text back: Maybe u should b his coach.

Coco’s text:  Or at least take him shopping for briefs that fit.

When I reach my sanctum sanctorum, Nadal is trailing in the second set 4-3.  No sooner do I settle down than Rafa breaks Djokovic and the score is tied 4-4.  Yet, before I can emit a sigh of relief, Djokovic breaks back, the sixth time he’s broken Rafa thus far in the match.

Djokovic returning serve.

As Djokovic serves for the second set Rafa looks discombobulated.  Djokovic wins the set 6-4.  I stare at my TV in disbelief.

In the third set, Rafa seems to have rediscovered his game.  The points are long and the shot-making extraordinary.  Nadal fights back hard and breaks Djokovic’s serve at love.  The score is 4-3 Nadal.  Yet, Djokovic, who’s possibly playing the best tennis of his life, elevates his game, too.  Following a multi-stroke rally where Nadal brilliantly saves at least four Djokovic winners, Djokovic wins the game, looks towards his box with his family and friends and spreads his arms in a gesture of relief or maybe it’s winged victory.

Mr. Momentum.

Nadal might be thinking what I’m thinking (but in Spanish):

Me:  Djokovic looks invincible!  What do I have to do to beat this guy?

Rafa does exactly what he has to do, he gets the game to reach a tie-break, he never falls behind, and he finally wins a set.  Hola!

Psyched Superman.

I want to pray to someone that this match will go the five set distance and Rafa’s game will continue to improve but I’m an atheist.  Who do I pray to?  My long-dead mother, who, even if I had fallen down a well she’d shout at me:

My Dead Mom:  God helps those that help themselves.

Count her out.

What about my favorite Beatles, John Lennon and George Harrison, conveniently in this instance, also both dead?  I’d feel like such a jerk asking them for a favor that has nothing to do with world peace or the sitar.

"I can't believe she'd ask us to do this."

Franz Kafka has always been one of my favorite writers.

Franz K.

A voice in my head that sounds exactly like Coco’s shrieks:

Coco:  Franz Kafka, who’s been dead what, 85 years, that wrote that weird story about the giant waterbug I was forced to read in high school?  Really?  Why the hell don’t you pray to someone practical like Arthur Ashe?

American tennis icon Arthur Ashe.

Imaginary Coco is right!  I should pray to Arthur Ashe.  Right now, Djokovic and Rafa are beating each other to a near-pulp in a stadium named in his honor!  Just as suddenly, I come to my senses and wonder why would a legendary sportsman take sides?  Arthur Ashe, who was integrity incarnate, would never do that.  I quit my pursuit of channeling divine intervention in Rafa’s behalf.

After winning his first game in the fourth set and leading Nadal 1-0, Djokovic is granted a medical time out to have his sore lower back massaged.  When they resume play, Djokovic breaks Nadal.  Then he proceeds to win his serve and Nadal sinks into a very deep 3-0 hole that he is incapable of escaping.

Super Duperman in flight.

Barely fifteen minutes later, Djokovic decisively wins the set and the match at 6-2, 6-4, 7-6, 6-1.  It was not the outcome I wanted, but the guy that played better deserved the victory.

Okay, Novak, you earned your trophy.

As dismayed as I was, Rafa, as always, was gracious in defeat.  I text Coco:

My text:  I love Rafa, class act.

Coco’s text:  Ass picking and all.

That’s the real Coco.

Lame Adventure 228: Blowhards and Underdogs

As much of the nation, or at least the nation’s media, focused on the ten-year anniversary of 9/11,  I primarily focused my weekend TV-watching on US Open Tennis played here in New York City, specifically Flushing Meadows, Queens.  The women’s final between three-time US Open champion, Serena Williams and Samantha Stosur, the 27-year-old underdog from Australia who had yet to win a women’s singles Grand Slam tournament (as opposed to Serena’s thirteen singles titles), was played Sunday afternoon.

I like both players very much.

Serena, who turns 30 in a few weeks, and was ranked a very deceiving 28, has made a remarkable comeback from a lacerated foot injury suffered in June 2010, and this past February she was hospitalized with a very scary sounding blood clot in her lung.  Couple her physical ills with her sister, Venus, having to withdraw from this tournament after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, Sjögren’s syndrome, Serena won a double dose of sympathy points from me by default.  Yet, my close pal, Milton, who is still in a recovery of his own from Novak Djokovic defeating Roger Federer in a heartbreaking men’s five set semi-final has loathed Serena for years.  What he loathes most is her personality.  He thinks she’s a jerk and it infuriates him when people assume that Venus, who is always gracious, is the same way.  When Serena last won the Open in 2008, as she was exuberantly jumping up and down, Milton called.

Thrill of victory Serena-style on September 7, 2008.

Milton:  My TV’s shaking.

The following year, 2009, during the second set of the Open’s women’s semi-final against Kim Clijsters, Serena displayed one of her notorious fits of bad temper.  She was already down a set, and the second set score was 5-6.  Serena was serving to stay in the match at 15-30.  Then, the lineswoman called her on a foot fault twice and the score was now 15-40; Clijsters had two match points.  Enraged, Serena profanely threatened to shove a tennis ball down that lineswoman’s throat.

Serena not making nice at line judge in 2009

This display of ugly antics awarded me another Milton phone call.

Milton:  Do you believe this?  She deserves to lose!

Just as he said that, she was smacked with a one-point penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.  The victory went to a baffled Clijsters.

Fast forward to the present.  Throughout the entire 2011 US Open Serena has been the model of poise and power dominating opponent after opponent.  She had not dropped a set in her entire comeback run leading to the final.  Prior to the start of the match, Serena the Magnanimous announced that she was playing for her country in honor of 9/11.

I had been feeling neutral over who should win.  I’ve always had a soft (or maybe it’s a wet) spot for scrappy underdog Stosur, who has a powerful serve and a wicked forehand.  Her matches, all brilliantly played (including a riveting 32-point tiebreaker against Maria Kirilenko), received second billing.  None of her matches leading to the final rated network TV coverage. Only snippets of her semi-final were broadcast live since her match conflicted with the men’s semi-final where Rafael Nadal defeated Andy Murray.

Milton can recognize Stosur’s athleticism but he has issues with her highly toned arms; arms that make me drool.

Female Thor.

Milton insists that they look like a man’s.

Milton:  They make Rafa’s look wimpy.

Wimpy? Really?

When it came down to Serena playing Sam in the women’s final, the pressure was on heavily favored Serena to win her 14th title.  Since she was vocal about playing for her country on this historic date, the fans were fully on her side to make mincemeat out of the Aussie.  Even I, a rare American Stosur fan, assumed that Stosur’s luck was about to run out, so I was rooting more for my country(wo)man due to the symbolism of this day in history.  Then, the match got underway …

Serena served first and won her game, Stosur did the same during her serve, but then when it was Serena’s serve again, the unthinkable began, Stosur broke her.  When the score was 4-2, Stosur broke her again, and then she served for the first set, a set she won impressively at 6-2 in 31 minutes.  I thought:

Me (thinking):  Holy crap!

Stosur had all the momentum, but when Serena was facing break point on her serve in the first game of the second set, she flubbed.  She hit an obvious forehand winner but made the relatively innocent mistake of shouting at the ball, “Come on!”  Everyone knew why she had shouted at the ball.  She’s an aggressive competitor and was feeling frustrated with her game, which was sluggish.  I felt bad for Stosur was actually making mincemeat out of her.  Yet, according to an arcane rule, a player is not supposed to scream before the opponent makes contact with the ball.  The chair umpire, Eva Asderaki, correctly called the error on Serena and that gave Stosur both the point and the break.

Serena detonated.

Steamed Serena.

She berated Asderaki, and the crowd booed in her favor, rattling Stosur.  During the changeover, fuming Serena continued her tirade against Asderaki:

Serena: If you ever see me walking down the hall, look the other way,

[Serena confused Asderaki with another chair umpire she locked horns with over a controversial call back in 2004.]

Serena:  Because you’re out of control, you’re out of control.  You’re not only out of control, you’re a hater, and you’re just unattractive inside.  Who would do such a thing?  And I never complain!  Wow.

My full allegiance instantly shifted to Stosur as soon as Serena declared, “And I never complain!”  I am sure that gaining my positive vibes was all Sam needed to regain her focus and convincingly defeat Serena in two sets 6-2, 6-3.

Samantha Stosur's thrill of victory moment.

After her loss, in another display of no class, Serena refused to shake Asderaki’s hand.

Milton did not call, a sign that he resisted tuning in.  I considered calling him, but I thought better of it not wanting to raise his blood pressure.  If Serena was truly intent on being a sports hero and honoring her country with a victory on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, she should have suppressed her inner jerk, shut her pie-hole and played her guts out.

Lame Adventure 227: Bad Influence

Our employer closed business early on Friday so my colleagues and I happy danced our way out the door to the tune of Born Free into the three-day weekend.  The weather was lovely as I entered the subway station determined to have a highly productive 72 hours focusing completely on household chores and writing.  Just as I set foot on the subway platform I noticed that I received a text message from my buddy, Coco.

45 minutes later, my original plan is drowning in Sangria.

On our way to Sangria-land, Coco and I walked from TriBeCa through SoHo.  As we strolled west on Houston Street, we passed several street vendors selling their wares.  We have sauntered past street vendors countless times without them ever registering on our radar, but on this occasion, one stand that was essentially full of junk caught all four of our eyeballs.  In lockstep we motored over to this table to further inspect a Mad Men-era Polaroid 150 Land camera.

Don Draper's Polaroid.

Coco:  This is such a cool camera!

Me:  Yeah!

The vendors, two women in their mid to late sixties, or maybe they were in their late forties and just looked to us as used as the goods they had on display, or possibly they were in their late seventies and they’re of French descent, and are actually aging far better than the rest of us … but I digress.  However old they were they were oblivious to Coco and I drooling over this relic designed by Polaroid’s founding father, Edwin Land.

Coco:  I want it!

Since I am the older and by default more level-headed half of our equation, I frequently remind young Coco that there is no such thing as retail therapy. It is infinitely more important to save than spend. Therefore,  I dole the following advice:

Me:  Go for it!

It’s a camera and cameras are my kryptonite, and apparently, they’re Coco’s, too.  You know someone for over six years and go figure, you continue to learn new things about them every day.  Coco signals for one of the vendors to approach.

Coco:  I’m interested in this camera.

The vendor takes it out of the box, and shows us how to open and close the bellows.  She has no idea how old it is but insists that being in the original box enhances the value.

Folded Polaroid 150 in box.

She’s pretty certain that this camera is still operational.  Upon hearing that, I briefly escape my delirium.

Me:  But they discontinued making the film.

Vendor (cornered):  They discontinued making the film?  Huh.  Hm.

Coco:  How much is it?

The vendor asks her partner the price and is told $50.  Coco and I look at each other.  I reenter Delirium-i-stan, anticipating she’d be told at least a few hundred dollars.

Me (confidentially):  Is this for Winthrop?

Winthrop is Coco’s guy and his birthday is approaching soon. She unloaded a mint on an alleged Rafael Nadal autographed tennis ball for him last year.  I call this autograph “alleged” for we still have our doubts about its authenticity.  She thinks it’s possible that it was just as likely signed by a shyster named Alowishus Hornbuckle.

Coco holding fake or real Rafa (or Alowishus?) signed tennis ball.

In response to my question, Coco looks guilty.  I look back at her with my “did I miss something here” expression that she knows very well.

Coco (barely audible):  Or maybe I can get it just for me?

Who am I to thwart the dream of a close personal friend that’s financing my social security?  Why destroy Coco’s spirit?  Plus, if she displays it on her bookshelf, I can play with it to my heart’s content.

Me:  You can always go to Barney’s and get Winthrop a nice scarf.

Coco (boldly to vendor):  I’ll take it!

Afterward, we are sipping our Sangria and chowing on tapas with the camera on display on our table.

Box with bullet hole, but Coco's okay with that. She'll claim that it originally belonged to a member of the mob.

Suddenly, we both have an eiphany and do a spit-take at each other:

Me:  You could have bargained with them!  We had leverage!  The film’s obsolete!  Why didn’t I think to tell you this?  Am I losing my edge?

Coco is wiping my Sangria out of her eye.

Coco:  What’s wrong with you, what’s wrong with me?  Am I so used to shopping at Barney’s I have no clue how to price haggle with old ladies selling junk on the street?

Then Coco reasoned that even if she did overpay for it by $15, she’s okay with springing for drinks for those vendors.

We later did some research on that camera.  Approximately 400,000 Polaroid 150’s were manufactured between 1957 and 1960.  In its heyday, it sold for $109.95, the equivalent of $873.14 in today’s dollars.  Upon reflection, Coco got a pretty sweet deal on this novelty after all.

Say cheese.

Lame Adventure 226: Summertime Sax

Now that Labor Day weekend has arrived and the ending credits are beginning to roll on summer 2011, my sidekick, Greg, and I have taken it upon ourselves to once again collaborate on a music video where he does the playing, I try not to let my delirium tremors get in the way of holding the camcorder steady, and we both do our best to ignore the stench of stale urine on Staple Street, where we recently shot this video in TriBeCa.

The tune we have chosen is Summertime from the folk opera Porgy and Bess, with music by George Gershwin, book by DuBose Heywood and lyrics by Heywood and Ira Gershwin.  According to Summertime Connection, a web site completely devoted to this one song, for the past seven years eleven guys from all over the world have been collecting as much data as possible about how many times this song has been recorded and performed.  According to this site:

“At May 1st 2011 at 00.01 GMT we know of at least 41,915 public performances, of which 33,345 have been recorded.  Of these we have 25,998 full recordings in our collection.”

This treasure trove of information impresses me much more than the state-side guys that are walking encyclopedias about Abbott and Costello. The guys at Summertime Connection have concluded that Summertime is one of the most covered songs in music history, so Lame Adventures is joining the herd in time for the upcoming revival on Broadway of Porgy and Bess, now re-titled The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess (yes Heywood, the writer, is neglected title-wise).

In a scathing letter to The New York Times directed at the creative team that’s reviving this show, music-theater legend Stephen Sondheim vents his spleen, and almost every other organ in his being, at the liberties they (Suzan Lori-Parks, Diane Paulus, and Diedre Murray) have taken including the renaming of this masterwork.  Had I been subject to the intensity of his wrath, I would have either hidden under the covers of my bed for the remainder of the year, or made the humiliation easy on myself and simply blown out my brains.

Fortunately, the creative team forged ahead and their revival is currently in out of town tryouts at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts before it transitions to Broadway this winter.  The initial review by Ben Brantley, top theater critic at The New York Times, gave the star, Audra McDonald, who plays Bess, a rave, and the overall show an endorsement, so the creative forces behind this revival must be breathing a huge sigh of relief.  Possibly, after he sees it, even Stephen Sondheim might give it an upward digit.  Naturally, I’m thinking about his thumb but he might choose to stick with his middle finger.

Check out Greg contributing to the almost 42,000 public performances of Summertime as summer slips away.