Monday, September 29, 2008

XVIII: thickening chill

***This is the story of my marriage and divorce. If you are new to the story and want to catch up, you can do so here. If you can't remember where we last left off because I have left you hanging for so long, you can also read here.***

That February, when I finally gave in and allowed Mitch to take over the duty of assessing how much I was worth, was a cold one in so many respects. I had moved closer to my family but there was an icy tension in our visits. When Mitch was with me he didn't touch me or even look at me and he rarely interacted with anyone but my sister. His very presence in my parent's home had a chilling effect on the familiar warmth generally offered there. In my mind I was faking my way through the visits and assumed I was the only one monitoring his waning interest in me. After enduring the strained Sunday dinners or occasional drop-by, I would then have to gird up my emotional stamina to persevere the litany of grievances Mitch would hurl at me on the drive home. By his count, my parents never did enough for him. Specifically, there was the car. He presumed that when we married I would continue to drive the oh, so lovely and adventurous blue and rusting 1984 Pontiac 6000 which I often described as a "4wd in training." My sophomore year of college I drove that thing everywhere - I even managed to get it stuck in the snow on a desolate dirt road leading to the foothills a little south and east of Cedar City. My roommate and I had to trudge back through the snow hoping and literally praying that someone would happen by to drive us back to town. Amid the worrying about missing my late-afternoon jazz band rehearsal and the furtive prayers of pleeeeeeease let a non-psycho killer come and rescue us, we tried not to be afraid of the cows. Or more specifically, the bull. And, if my memory serves me correctly, we snapped photos of each other in our jewel-tone Victoria's Secret ribbon bras in an attempt to be "artsy." I have no idea what happened to those photos but I do remember being very afraid of our so-called rescuers who were three men supposedly on the lone road in search of a Christmas tree . . . in early-ish November. Feeling this was our only hope of rescue we climbed in and tried to ignore the smell of alcohol as we urged them to just drop us off at the first gas station we encountered at the edge of town.

But the deal I struck with my parents in getting married and becoming an independent adult did not include keeping the 6000. Instead, much to Mitch's disgust, my parents gave us the old 1979 Mazda GLC wagon, aka "The Mystery Mazda." The Mystery Mazda had a long and convuluted history that included years of being sent away, only to return boomerang fashion, or a la ressurrection as it continually rose from the dead. My parents inherited the car from my paternal grandparents at some vague time in the early 80s when I was still in the early years of elementary school. I have vivid memories of lying in the "backety back" (you know, the wagon part with no seats) driving home from Idaho Falls wondering how the moon managed to follow me home and also of burning circles into the humped carpet between the stick shift and parking brake. Later, I was sitting in the backety back (we didn't wear seat belts so much back in the day) with several flats of fruit my mom had just purchased at the fruit stands along 800 North in Orem when the back hatch flew open. I started shrieking to "stop! Stop! STOP!!!!!" and wondered why my mom was taking so long to heed my cries, not comprehending as an 8-year old the consequences of my mom slamming on the brakes and stopping as abruptly as I demanded. In junior high we learned the value of the seatbelt in that car when my mom was cut off in traffic and had to veer to the side of the road to avoid a collision. I was sitting in the passenger seat and we discovered her lightening fast compulsive arm swing across my lap which I had toppled right over and onto the floor was insufficient to brace against actual impact. I solemnly buckled up then and there and have done so (save for in the back seat of cabs for an inexplicable reason) compulsively ever since. But sometime before I turned 16 the Mystery Mazda died and was sent away. I assumed the illness was terminal and did not expect to see it again.

But lo, it made a glorious return to our family in time for my senior year of high school shortly after my first car - the nerdmobile, which was always a bit of a poseur trying to live up to the truly great brown wagon that was the Mystery Mazda - was sent away for good. It was christened the Mystery Mazda for unknown reasons in those early days of its return for the many adventures - both good and bad - that were shared within its remarkably sturdy interior. The radio rarely worked and required some banging of the dash with a fist which sometimes toppled my plastic dinosaurs that were wedged in under the windshield. There was an accident in which the driver's side doors were rendered useless and the door frame stuck out an inch or two from the roof resulting in a creative patch work solution of duct tape, that foamy strip insulation stuff and some plastic. The driver's side window didn't roll down for a period either so a drive-through window meant reclining the driver's side seat fully and ordering and retrieving items through the back window. A tricky maneuver I perfected involving the parking brake, unclasping the seat belt, rolling down the back window, reclining the seat and shouting out an order and then leaning forward to pull through to the window (with the seat reclined) and then pulling up the parking brake again and crawling back to retrieve the food. Luckily I was usually with friends who helped, unless they wanted to witness my acrobatics. The ash tray was always full of coins and usually held enough to purchase a 99 cent bean burrito at Taco Bell. The horn never worked which resulted in me developing a terrible habit of hitting it at the slightest provocation to express my road range and a foreign exchange student friend from Denmark inexplicably deciding oinking was a good horn substitute. I doubt all Danes (or more than just the one) oink at other cars but in my mind they do. The oinking eventually morphed into a language of encouragement anytime the car was in poor spirits - which was often. One night, due to the peculiar inability of high school students to travel in more than one car regardless of number (or was that just my friends?), I was driving to some long forgotten destination on the west side of the Salt Lake valley along I-215 when the car began to lose power. The overly packed car of girls started oinking and, we believed, this got us to a Chevron at the near-by Redwood Road exit where the lucky shot-gun rider unloaded all 6 to 8 of us through the back hatch. Because we thought it was funny. I know, you so wish you could have hung out with me in high school. We were awesome. And cool [HA!]. All the Mystery Mazda needed that day was gas. But more often than not, the treatments were more complex. Sometimes the problems were of my own making - like when my sister and I decided we wanted to fish in a more remote lake in the Uintas and drove the Mazda into some backcountry roads where only jeeps dared tread. We lost the muffler and very likely destroyed the shocks but I think my dad was too proud of his off-road, thrill-seeking daughters to scold us. With all its failings, the aging Mystery Mazda did not travel to school with me my freshman year save for a week at Thanksgiving during which I made the most of having a car and made a couple of treks to Zion National Park.

But after another period of sequestered renovation and a year of driving the 6000, the Mystery Mazda returned in all its glory to my possession when I married Mitch. The driver's door was fixed and everything else was put back in running order. I didn't mind. I loved the Mystery Mazda despite its many, many faults. I had participated in too many high school drive-bys, ill-advised road trips and late night "talks" to hate the car. But Mitch hated it. And he hated my parents for it, despite the fact that it was a free car. For whatever reason he felt entitled to receiving a car from them - as if they owed it to him, or at least to me, despite the fact his parents did not give us a car. All they gave us was a vcr on our wedding day during our first private moments together as a married couple. And all this despite the fact that he did not own a car or offer to go to the effort to purchase one. It was yet another point of contention to say the least.

He thought so little of the car that he had no qualms in driving it into the ground. I don't think he ever fully understood how to drive a stick and he rode the clutch incessantly. He tore the bumper off backing out of our covered parking spot and he never bothered to check the oil - a near-sin in my mind since that was the demise of my nerdmobile, seizing of the engine after failure to check the oil. He left garbage lying around inside and treated it like a junker and it, in turn, started acting like one. After surviving all my mom's errand running with four small children bouncing around the back with a German Shepard and who knows what mistreatments during its dead years in some auto shop and my high school friends and I climbing over seats and shoving too many people in - the interior wasn't really wrecked until Mitch came along. Despite all its shortcomings, I loved it for its persistence. Or, at least, my dad's persistence in keeping it running.

It was an especially snowy winter in early 1996. I was working almost due west from where I was living - a commute that did not lend itself well to anything but a car. With only one car, we had to get creative. Which meant Mitch would drive me to work in the morning and pick me up at the end of the day and lie to me about looking for a job or going to a job or exactly what he was doing during the intervening hours of the day while I toiled away in the most ergonomically tortuous position possible in an office setting. I sat at a desk too low for my knees in a chair ill-suited for the human form at a keyboard situated too high for the hours of typing required by my employer who referred to me in the miniature tapes he piled in my in-box as "steno" back in the days before carpel tunnel became an every-day office complaint. I typed out the hours of dictation by pedaling the tape machine on and off with my foot and tried to ignore the seemingly steel-tipped head phones burrowing unwanted piercings into my ear canals. I was sequestered to the back cubicle of a room which no one ever entered except when an insurance adjuster returned from an accident site and dropped a new tape in my inbox from the opposite side of the cubicle wall without so much as a hello. My shoulders and ears and back ached incessantly. There was no email, no internet, no cell phones, I didn't even have a desk phone of my own. If I wanted to place a call (and this was strongly discouraged), I had to use the one near the door to this small oddly, cubicled office which was primarily there for me to use when I covered for the receptionist's lunch break. All I had was an aging (even then) computer with a form to fill in with the dictator's rushed words.

But worse yet, I had no ally. I believe one can survive even the worst jobs with a co-conspirator. Often we find the most surprising friendships when thrown into difficult work situations - whether they are long-lasting or just to endure the trial of the job. But everyone else was permanent and I was a "temp" and therefore sequestered out of fear I might contaminate the others . . . or something. I had to prove myself before they were willing to pay me more than $6.50 an hour or whatever piddly amount I collected for their torture. I sat at the same table in the break room with the other stenographers who happily chatted away about their enviable lives - the complaints they made of their husbands seemed so very minor to what I was facing and yet, I took it as an excuse for my own. . . everyone struggled in marriage, I guessed. When I was included in conversation it was mostly belittling. I was younger than the others but not by much. I was not yet 21 and the other girls were in their later 20s. Perhaps they resented me for my youth. But whatever it was I cringed when they focused on me. They pointedly asked about my husband - what does he do? At one point he worked at Gart Brothers, another he worked for an auto parts store but most of the time I believe he played Nintendo and spent money on items I never saw. I was reassured that they had each quit school once they got married and tried to ignore the knowing glances they exchanged after I insisted I would be starting school again in the spring, I was just in the process of transferring. I dreaded becoming one of them and yet I longed to be accepted by them.

Valentine's Day was the worst. The other girls (I think there were three) spoke in fast, high pitched tones on the days leading up to the 14th about their lofty hopes for the day. One girl in particular stands out in my mind and in that fuzzy image she is perpetually wearing yellow stretch pants and an oversized sweater with permed hair tied up in a scrunchy. She was pregnant and completely self-absorbed. Lunch conversation revolved around and was led by her. For Valentine's she received the largest bouquet of red roses I had seen to that date, which isn't saying a lot since I had never received more than a single rose (and never from my husband) and due to my dad's allergies, my mom never got flowers at home either, but I had seen some stunning roses delivered to my freshman roommate so I felt I could judge. Yet, at lunch she lamented how off her husband was in pleasing her. She just knew he had not purchased whatever precious item her heart desired. I was jealous and tried desperately to concentrate on my meager lunch and sink into my slightly removed corner of the table but inevitably she asked what was in store for me. I fingered the new locket hanging around my neck and quickly elaborated the story of its origin with sweet elements of thoughtfulness on my husband's part as I showed off the pictures of Mitch and I inside.

The truth was we had been in Shopko a week or two earlier where I had spotted it. I never wore much jewelery but the romanticism of a simple, every day locket appealed to me. I pointed it out to Mitch and hinted that maybe he could get it for me for Valentine's Day and he shrugged and said "why don't you buy it" and walked away to look at something that could hold his interest. I tried to get him to buy it but he shrugged and said it wouldn't make any difference so I bought it knowing if I didn't I wouldn't be getting anything. I carefully cut up one of our left-over sepia-toned wedding announcement photos and placed our photos inside but waited to wear it until Valentine's Day. I felt it was a lie when I said it was a gift from him because he wasn't involved in the process one bit.

At the time, my dad played cello in a community orchestra which performed an annual fundraiser ball at the Capitol each February. The seats were pricey but my dad gave us a couple of sets of tickets and encouraged us to go with friends. I had never been and was excited at the prospect of getting dressed up and dancing with my husband. He agreed to go if he could invite his best friend Benji and his girlfriend Christy. I consented because I wanted him to go. As with the locket gift, I embellished the story of the ball to emphasize how elaborate and well-thought out the night was planned by my husband when describing it to my co-workers, when reality was very different. No one dared dance at the ball because none of us knew how to waltz or do anything but sway back and forth and turn in circles when dancing in pairs. Essentially we knew how to hug in relative time with music. I still wanted to try it out as others were doing but Mitch refused. I left that part out. But the real reason I embellished the evening to my co-workers wasn't necessarily to show off or misrepresent my marriage, I really thought it was a magical evening. Relatively.

Things had been so hard and Mitch was less and less interested in me all the time and that night, after the ball we went to Benji's apartment to soak in his apartment's hot tub and watch a movie. I have no idea what I wore to that ball or what I did to suddenly become enticing to my husband again but after we changed into our suits and we were sitting on the couch waiting for the other couple to reappear, he turned into the horny teenager he had been before we married. He could not keep his hands off me and before long we were completely making out on the couch and I felt a little scandolous and attractive. We didn't stay for the movie and instead quickly made our way home for a rare night of actual love making. It stands out in my mind due solely to the singularity of it. Which is a tragic thing in a marriage.

But the only real acknowledgement of Valentine's Day I received was a giant heart-shaped cookie in a brown paper bag my parents dropped off on their way home from work. By then the fleeting attraction Mitch had regained had waned and we were back to our daily plodding without a word for the special dinner I was concocting. I still remember my parents standing awkwardly in my living room as I removed the cookie trying not to reveal how touching a cookie was on a day that felt so devoid of love for me while Mitch was off in the wings somewhere to avoid them. It was snowing so they didn't stay long. Or at least that was everyone's excuse.

Needless to say, by the end of each work day, I could not wait to see the Mystery Mazda's crooked little smile pull into the industrial park with my dumb little dog Stuart panting in the back seat to take me away. Mitch was usually still wearing a flannel shirt and sweat pants with a baseball cap when he picked me up - the same thing he wore when he dropped me off - and he was often animated about some new scheme or another he enthusiastically relayed to me as we drove back across town to our apartment where the living room floor was almost always damp from snow somehow leaking in. Mitch continued to talk as I prepared dinner and sunk deeper into myself upon realizing I must first clean the kitchen because once again, Mitch did nothing while I was away all day.

One early morning in February the snow was falling pretty rapidly. I think Mitch tried to convince me to not go in so he wouldn't have to make the round-trip drive in the snow but I knew how precious each hour of work was to our precarious financial situation so we ventured out, leaving early to account for the harsh condition of the roads. We didn't make it far. We turned out of our neighborhood just north of 3900 South onto State Street and while waiting our turn to make a left onto 3300 South, the Mystery Mazda died. In the middle of the intersection. During a near-blizzard. Amid the rush and short-tempers of morning traffic. Mitch completely lost his temper and blamed the embarrasment and inconvenience of the moment on me. On my parents. On this f#*&ing car that was a piece of junk. I wouldn't have dared to try giving it a few encouraging oinks to bring levity to the situation as I would have in years past. With Mitch these situations do not lend themselves to levity of any sort. He just wanted to lash out. And I was there to take it. All I could do was worry about how to get to work. Someone pushed us into the gas station across the street and I called my dad. Mitch complained about how long it took for him to arrive and about how cold it was and pretty much anything else he could think of. I called work, explained the situation and was told I needed to get there as quickly as possible because I was the only one coming in that day so it was vital I be there. Everyone else stayed home due to the bad weather.

My dad came to our rescue and handled everything. He explained the situation to the gas station attendant so they wouldn't tow our car. He took me to work and made all arrangements to repair the car. I believe he even returned at the end of the day to pick me up from work where I had sat doing practically nothing all day while my co-workers enjoyed their snow day at home. And yet, Mitch continued to think my parents did nothing for us and told me the same.

The car was repaired but it never fully recovered. There were other stranded moments and my parents were our dependable rescuers. Even when it was just Mitch, needing a jump in the parking lot after work (he occasionally had a job) when it might have been easier to ask a co-worker. Although I'm not sure he would have known how to work the jumper cables.

Despite how much he hated our car, he monopolized it. He shuttled me around or I begged rides off my parents or occasionally a sibling. On another particularly snowy day - I could swear every day was unusually snowy that winter - Mitch thought it would work best if I took the bus home from work. He had something or other he deemed more important than collecting me after work so I decided to try navigating the complex bus route which required a minimum of two bus transfers. The first bus supposedly stopped at the corner near my office and took me to Valley Fair Mall. It never came so I walked on the shoulder of the road trying to stay out of the snow drifts created by the plows as the streets grew darker in the early winter dusk. Wet and tired and increasingly furious I finally made it to my transfer point after an hour or so's walk without ever seeing a bus. After another 20-30 minute wait I boarded a bus that I hoped would put me in the vicinity of my home. It was in the vicinity but still a significant walk in my sketchy neighborhood in the now black and gray darkness of a snowy winter night. The later it got the more I convinced myself that Mitch was worried about me. While I was waiting for my bus at Valley Fair Mall I debated whether I should run to the pay phone and try and call Mitch to let him know how the commute was going but feared I would miss the bus so I didn't. When I arrived home, wet, tired, hungry and angry I envisioned Mitch running to the door insisting I dry off and warm up and eat some dinner before I had to rush out the door again. I assumed he would notice that despite the fact I had left work a bit before 5 it was nearly 7:30 pm. He didn't. And I didn't have time to be upset or confront him because when I walked in the door he was joking with brother and they greeted me curiously. Mitch indicated that he thought I said I wouldn't be home because of that "thing" I had for school. Yes, that "thing" I had was transfer orientation at the University of Utah and it was at 730 and how could I have possibly gotten there without the car? I barely managed to get home! But I didn't have time to argue or even lament his thoughtlessness, I could only grab the materials I needed for the orientation and the car keys and run back out into the cold and hold back the tears as I drove to the U praying the heater would kick in soon.

By the time I got home I was energized by how well my transfer orientation had gone and the fact that I was retaining the bulk of my transfer credits and how I had convinced my counselor that I did not need more math! I viewed starting school again as the cure-all. I would escape my mind-numbing job and all would be well with the world again because my life would have a purpose. I was losing my music minor but had talked the counselor into some creative uses for the credits and I discovered I was still on track to graduate on time even with my quarter off and the transfer. I had selected my courses for the coming quarter and voiced - for the first time - my desire to possibly go to law school and inquired as to what "pre-law" might entail (nothing, if you are wondering). My head was dancing with the possibilities as I drove home and I was also anticipating a hot meal waiting for me since Mitch and his brother were cooking when I rushed in and out a couple of hours earlier. When I walked in the apartment later that evening Mitch's brother was still there and the smell of dinner still lingered in the air. The memory of my soggy slog home earlier was wiped clean by the anticipation of getting back to school.

But my high spirits were quickly slashed down to size when I was told there wasn't any food left. None. Mitch's brother snuck out as my face fell and my voice tone dropped. Mitch threw something back at me about assuming I had eaten. I tried to fight back but gave up, I didn't want to ruin the evening completely so I took my materials and went to bed hungry clinging to the dream that starting school again would fix everything.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

the big reveal

There is something most of you probably don't know about me. It is a strange little obsession that started when I was in elementary school. It was fourth grade and I was paired up with Eric B. for vocabulary. We were given a list of words and a dictionary and our task was to hunt those words down and write down their definitions. A fairly common and forgettable fourth grade task. Well, Eric B. was distinguishable from the other Eric in our fourth grade class by more than the "B" at the end of his name. He was our class clown. He was a husky kid who always had a comment or two at the ready which he tossed around hoping for a chuckle. And me, while I may not be the funniest of people, I have never been afraid to laugh. In fact, I am a great mate for a class clown because I am easily set off into fits of uncontrollable laughter. On this date, sometime circa 1984/85, we were leafing through the dictionary not exactly looking for our vocabulary words. Mostly we were looking for words that would make the other laugh - you know, words like "fart" or "poo" or maybe naughty words like "damn" or "hell" - when we stumbled on a photo which, if it wasn't this one, it was very similar:


Neither of us had ever seen anything like this furry sheep slash camel slash giraffe? It has been far too long for me to remember precisely what it was about the alpaca that struck me so acutely as the funniest animal I had encountered, but the laughing has stuck with me. Instead of studying the words on our list we hunkered closer to the dictionary to figure out what this alpaca thing was.
For whatever reason, to my 9-year old brain, the defintion contributed to the hilarity of this furry beast. I disctinctly remember it saying something about alpacas being used to make coats as well which led both of us to envision a person walking around with the same woolen coat as the tiny-headed alpaca in the picture. After ignoring a couple of shushings from our teacher and a few more comments about the ridiculousness of this muppet-like mammal, I had tears streaming down my face and I could not stop laughing. Needless to say, Eric B. and I were never allowed to work as a team again. And after that all he had to do was look at me and say "alpaca" and I would be lost in a fit of giggles.
I still love the word alpaca, it is especially fun to say when one lingers on the first syllable and quickly and sharply bite off the last two in a slightly higher tone. Try it, you will laugh. Over the intervening years the memory of that first introduction to the alpaca has stayed with me and my ears perk up anytime the alpaca, or its friend the llama is mentioned. I was entranced.
I met my first llama about ten years after the alpaca dictionary encounter. I was in college and my roommate and a couple of friends and I were visiting Las Vegas for the weekend. Just outside Vegas, near Red Rocks is a farm for unwanted animals. I, and my friends - oh, so thoughtfully - referred to the place as the retarded animal farm. All of the animals had something wrong with them - missing a limb or ducks with wings that wouldn't fold in. As we wandered around the farm it became a sort of quest to discover what was wrong with each animal even though not all of the animals had visible physical deformities. When I first spotted the llama I was a bit taken aback. Again, I had never seen a llama in real life and my alpaca love was buried just under the surface so you can imagine my joy at meeting its cousin for the first time . . . only, I feared his deformity was that he was a quadraplegic. Observe:For years I wondered about that sad legless llama in Las Vegas. I wondered how he came to be there and whether he was born legless or had some sort of packing accident. So imagine my surprise to discover at some time far removed from that date that llamas do not sit (as I assumed) like dogs or horses or other four-legged creatures with their legs sprawled out on one side of their body or the other. No, llamas daintily tuck their legs neatly under their body and hide them beneath their lengthy fur. All this time I was feeling sorry for the legless llama when he was simply hiding them from me!
My latent alpaca/llama love grew even stronger when I finally attended the Utah Kirshna's llama fest in Spanish Fork, Utah after another handful of years passed by. I had been wanting to go for several years but hadn't matched up my timing until the summer of 1999. At Llama Fest I met this cute baby llama (note the bonnet):
And this lovely llama (please note that although it appears that I am threatening the llama with a stick of some sort in the photo, I am not, it is a broom propped up against the barn in the background):
He was very obliging in posing for a photo:
I believe llama fest is where I picked up this little guy, who hung on the rear view mirror of my car until I moved to NYC, you know, for good karma:
I also picked up this great postcard of a llama hanging out of a taxi which I meant to mail to my sister once but couldn't bring myself to part with it so it hangs on the bulletin board in my office: (please note that I could swear I uploaded a photo of just the postcard last night but this is all that was here so it will have to do)
So, what I am telling you is I love llamas. And alpacas. Which is why my brother was so excited to tell me about these commercials when he moved to the east coast:

Aren't alpacas cute? Don't you want to be an alpaca farmer now? I kind of do.
But none of that is quite what I set out to tell you in my so-called "big reveal." This is just background so you will understand why I am so excited to tell you about where I am going on my next vacation . . .

PERU!!


Because I would love nothing more than to see this:A llama calmly overlooking Machu Picchu.
And, possibly this:A Bolivian man with the most adorable alpaca! How can you not love that face? When my sister and I booked the trip a week ago our intent was to spend a short time in Peru (Cusco and Machu Picchu) and then go on to Bolivia for a volunteer project with Choice Humanitarian. However, due to recent events in Bolivia - civil unrest, mandatory evacuation by military airlift of Americans by the U.S. Embassy - we may have to settle on just touring around Peru instead if Bolivia doesn't pull itself together in time. We're going at the end of December. If you have any tips or must-see, must-do sites, please let me know! (You know I'm looking at you Michele!)

p.s. the last two photos are from wikipedia: here and, they have other great photos of llamas and here alpacas and their beautiful eyes as well.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

this day in history

1620 - Mayflower leaves Plymouth, England
1776 - General George Washington led troops into Harlem Heights to restore American confidence during the Revolutionary War
1810 - Mexican war of indepence begins
1893 - the largest land race in history began with more than 100,000 people chasing land in Oklahoma
1903 - Rolls Royce successfully tested the first gas engine
1920 - Wall Street explodes - a horse-drawn wagon full of explosives detonated killing approximately 30 people
1924 - Lauren Bacall was born
1932 - Ghandi began his fast in protest of caste separation
1940 - the first US peace time draft imposed
1949 - Warner Brothers debut the Road Runner
1977 - opera singer Maria Callas dies
1978 - 7.7 magnitude earthquake rocks Iran killing more than 25,000 people
1981 - Sugar Ray Leonard knocks out Thomas Hearns to unify middleweight title
1995 - I got married

You can read a short blurb about it here. Or, if you haven't done so already, catch up on the lengthier version here (start reading from the bottom). I should have another chapter ready sometime toward the end of the week.


**all of my historical events (save one) came from here.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Kami's Movie Clip Party

Okay, now I'm really playing along. Kami, over at The Biggie Blog, is hosting a Movie Clip party this week. And while I kind of worked a movie clip in nicely into my last post it was more about the book so I decided it doesn't really count. So this is my real entry.

This first clip is from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I beautifully filmed brilliant piece of cinema that taught me I actually like Jim Carrey because he is an amazing actor - especially when paired so well with Kate Winslet. It was really hard for me to settle on one clip (I almost did "Am I Ugly", check it out because it captures all the vulnerability of loving someone) but I've decided to go with this one, "Just wait" because it illustrates so well that angsty (I'm sure this is a word, right?) point in a relationship when you each feel it is futile to go forward but your heart just won't let go. Perhaps you will think my view of relationships is off when I tell you I think this movie captures real love in a way that few films manage to do so but that is how I feel. It is heartfelt and funny and real. And this scene captures a lot of that, have a go (apologies for the F word at ~1:06):


Next up is Spanglish. Again, lots of scenes appeal to me in this movie but I especially love this one line in this clip (you can skip ahead to the 4 minute mark) that so humorously illustrates how hard Adam Sandler's character is fighting his attraction to this woman while his wife is heading for crazy time.


I feel like this clip from High Fidelity is a secret glimpse into how a man's mind works. I love when he gets to the line "I'm tired of the fantasy" for many reasons. It is easy to idealize someone else when nothing is real, but all you are left with is fantasy and no substance. (oh, again, warning about the language):


This is Roxanne from Moulin Rouge. I just think it is beautiful - visually and love the tango version of Roxanne. Enjoy!


This clip is from one of my absolute all time favorite movies - About a Boy (yet another Nick Hornby book - High Fidelity is also by Hornby - the books are better but transferred well onto film). This is the "ooh, I'm really scared" clip near the beginning when Marcus first inserts himself into Will's selfish life ("That's the problem with charity, you have to mean things to help people."). Another favorite line "The worst part was when they closed their eyes." Such a great film:


This isn't the clip I was looking for from In America but I discovered this movie is not as readily accessible as the others so I had to compromise. But this is a good one. If you haven't seen the movie I hope this clip entices you. I cannot say enough good things about this movie:


Finally, this one is going way, way back - to 1940's "The Philadelphia Story" with Carey Grant and Katharine Hepburn (Gregory Peck as well but he isn't in this clip). From the witty reportee between Grant and Hepburn at the first of the clip to Hepburn's famous nostalgic line "my, she was yar", this scene stands out. While Audrey is the Hepburn women look to for style and grace, Katharine is the Hepburn I have always aspired to be. She just comes across with so much guts and independence and was so quick-witted and slightly tom-boyish. And despite all the bravado she displays with Grant, she so convincingly reveals vulnerability in the final line "I don't want to be worshipped, I want to be loved." Which is why I chose this scene:

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Jane Austen's Persuasion

Last night I finished re-reading Persuasion by Jane Austen. As I put my head on my pillow, as is often the case, I managed to draft a beautiful opening paragraph for a blog post in my head. Or at least it seemed beautiful in my semi-conscious state. I believe my best writing is done in my head walking home from work, in the shower and falling asleep at night. No one can argue this because they have never read the brilliant prose that flows through my head that never lands on paper (or screen).

I had a beautifully crafted line about why I love Jane Austen's writing despite the tra, la, la predictably happy endings. But I forget it now. I also drew an incredible parallel with myself and the protagonist, Anne Elliot that amounted to more than our sharing the same initials. I am not like Anne Elliot. She is shy and withdrawn and prefers to be in the background. I am loud and often obnoxious and enjoy attention. She was persuaded out of making a hasty match at 19. No one could have, even if they had tried, persuaded me out of making my hasty match at 19 (engaged at 19, married at 20). However, I can and do relate nontheless.

I am going to go ahead and tell you that I don't want to love Jane Austen. I feel, in recent years, it has become almost trendy to love Austen. And I don't really like being trendy. There is a great Simpson's episode (bear with me here) where in excitedly discussing a dog that came to school, Bart (I think) exclaims "I knew the dog before he came to school!" I love this line and feel this way often when something I love grows popular and hyped up. Kind of like Little Miss Sunshine and Juno and even Napolean Dynamite which my brother and I viewed on opening night and laughed alone until our sides hurt and tears ran down our faces while the rest of the stalwart theater chuckled on occasion. I like to believe those people laughed later after they were told it was ok to laugh.

I'm not saying I was the first to discover and fall in love with Jane Austen or any of the movies cited (clearly, I'm not).
{{But I did fall in love with Pride & Prejudice the first time I read it in high school and continued to love the book enough to not only re-read it but in August 2000 when my sister and I were riding a train through Switzerland when I prematurely finished the novel for the fifth or so time, but I did not hesitate (much to her shock since she had not yet read it) to start the book anew while I waited for her to finish her novel to trade. I hadn't yet seen the 1995 BBC movie and had no idea of the crazy following the book had. Wikipedia claims, in 2003 it was proclaimed the UK's Best Loved Book by a BBC poll.}}
Nor am I saying I don't want anyone else to love Jane Austen or any of these things I feel territorial over. Obviously I would not be foisting my tastes in movies, books and other sundries on you if I didn't want you to test them out. What I don't like is feeling like I'm on a bandwagon. I strongly dislike bandwagons. Too crowded. And you should know by now how I feel about crowds.

Hate them.

And yet, when it comes to Jane Austen, no matter how crowded it gets, I can't help but love her and her beautiful writing. And her wit. And delicious use of irony. And don't forget her strong female protagonists. Even with the tra-la-la happy endings. Maybe because of the happy endings, I don't know. No, more because every single heroin endures much heartache, misunderstanding and long-suffering before she finally lands at that happy ending. Which is much more true to life. Plus (and I realize none of this is profound, just my thoughts), I cannot recall a single one of Austen's leading ladies who is desperate. An Austen heroine does not waste away because she is not married. She may nurse a broken heart or have some regrets or have hopes for the future but she does not sit around feeling sorry for herself. Instead, what I believe they have in common is perseverance, fortitude and a focus on self-improvement. And this during a time in history when women's social and economic status lived and died by who and when and if she married. Jane Austen accepted that cultural limitation but still strived for more. I feel I can relate to that. I can focus on improving myself and still hope for the romantic ending without naively waiting for happily-ever-after to happen upon me.

What is unique about Austen is not only do I love her books but I also love many (most) of the movies I have seen based on her books. And I principally thank the BBC for somehow managing to pull off that tricky transition from print to screen so well. I don't know how they have managed to make movies out of books I love without ruining them. I guess they have just learned how to adhere to the novel and not re-write anything critical the way most screen adaptors do.

That being said, one of the things that prompted me to re-read Persuasion was watching the new 2007 version of the movie. I loved it from the start, the way it was filmed, the actors (perfect Captain Wentworth and an Anne that grows on you, as she should) . . . until the end. And I will go ahead and tell you that if you have not read the book or seen the movie, you might not want to read (or watch the clip) for a bit because this is a **SPOILER** of sorts. They ruined the ending. The book contains one paragraph that is breathtakingly simple as it reveals that Captain Wentworth had been furiously writing a love note to Anne Elliot while they were in a crowded room. The climactic paragraph, in all its subtle beauty reads:

She had only time, however, to move closer to the table where he had been writing, when footsteps were heard returning; the door opened; it was himself. He begged their pardon, but he had forgotten his gloves, and instantly crossing the room to the writing table, and standing with his back towards Mrs. Musgrove, he drew out a letter from under the scattered paper, placed it before Anne with eyes of glowing entreaty fixed on her for a moment, and hastily collecting his gloves, was again out of the room, almost before Mrs. Musgrove was aware of his being in it -- the work of an instant!


For me, this scene makes the book. It is the pinnacle moment to which everything before it is building. And the old 1995 version of the movie does it as much justice as possible outside of one's imagination, for how do you put onscreen "eyes of glowing entreaty fixed on her for a moment"? See for yourself here (the key scene is at 2:20 but the rest is good build-up):

This clip won't feel dramatic with all the subtle angst and fear and jealousies that were building up to it but I love it. I feel the newest version ruined that climax by changing the scene completely by leaving out the best part - the eyes of glowing entreaty fixed on her for a moment." They panicked and changed the climax. And while the closing scene was far more dramatic, it disappointed me and I had to re-read the book to remind myself that the first was correct. Why mess with a perfect dénouement? See here for the contrast in the 2007 version, or just watch the whole movie and judge for yourself:

One last thing, and this is completely nit-picking and I am only saying this because I have to get it out and just tell someone. I noticed that early in the book, Austen referred to the Musgrove's home as the "Great House" and then later the "Mansion House" and back to "Great House" before settling on "Mansion House" again. This annoyed me. I was ready to blame the Barnes & Noble Classics publication I was reading when it switched again and I had to know where the inconsistency was coming from. So I pulled down my Jane Austen The Complete Novels (I told you, I knew the dog before he came to school. . . ) and checked. The mistake is there too. I was a bit disappointed in Miss Austen for the error, but ultimately decided to forgive and forget because we take our favorites with their flaws.

P.S. Kami threw out an invitation on her blog to post favorite movie clips this week. This isn't exactly that assignment but I suppose the first clip qualifies as it is one of my favorite literary scenes translated onto film.

P.P.S. While I'm semi-reviewing Austen novels and movies. The old super long version of Pride & Prejudice (which I have watched more times than I can count) kicks the trash of the Keira Knightly version which I originally enjoyed in the theater because it was filmed so beautifully and the music was so good, etc. but never felt compelled to see it again and when I caught a bit of it on TV recently it only prompted me to pop in my BBC DVD for a full viewing of the original - with Collin Firth of course.

dribs and drabs: a family visit in July

In July I also had the pleasure of hosting a visit from my brother and his wife who took a harrowing journey on a cheap bus from DC. I say harrowing because I was anxiously awaiting a call indicating they had arrived so I could leave my office a little early on a sunny Friday afternoon. The bus was scheduled to arrive sometime around 5 pm. My brother texted me to tell me they were just waiting to go through the Lincoln Tunnel. I finished up a few things and left the office thinking we would arrive about the same time. I called him to get the latest ETA and they were still hanging out in New Jersey. This was 45 minutes or so later. So I decided to stop at Whole Foods and pick up a few snacks and asked what they wanted. I did not hurry but still no call. I was home, changed, snacking on grapes when they finally arrived, very weary from the nearly 7 hour bus journey (that should have taken about 4 hours). That night we walked down 11th Avenue to the no-frills Daisy May's BBQ for a delcious dinner of ribs, sweet potatoes, corn bread, etc. We ended up running into some friends of mine I hadn't seen in a while and then walked back to my apartment along the Hudson River.
The next day we awoke early and had brunch at Norma's. I ventured out of my comfort zone of huevos rancheros and egg white frittata (both of which I highly recommend) and ordered the Red Risotto "Oatmeal" in a Crispity Wafer Bowl. I almost immediately regretted stepping out on this limb of trying something new which was not properly described to me by the slightly surly waiter. I envied that my brother was going to enjoy my favorite huevos rancheros and his wife was anticipating "Country Style Buttermilk Pancakes with Juicy Georgia Peach and Walnuts". I feared I had mis-ordered. But all that fear melted away with the first spoonful of what turned out to be a rich and creamy hot rice pudding with berries.
After breakfast we decided to walk through Central Park, until we looked at the sky:Which, in the span of the 5 minutes it took to walk to the Park entrance had gone from slightly gray to ominous and forboding with an unseasonably chilly wind. So we made an about-face and turned back toward MoMA for a rainy day at the museum. For reasons I do not understand, this is the only photo I took of my brother and his wife the entire weekend.We walked into the museum just as the clouds opened up and spit out a terrific summer monsoon-like thunderstorm that seemed to be the style for this past summer. MoMA had two special exhibits - one on pre-fab homes and one of Salvador Dali. I really enjoyed the home exhibit but did not enjoy the rude, abrasive, oblivious and jostling masses who all found it necessary to step in front of me and walk into me as if I was invisible. Before I grew too irritated I managed to take a photo of something that is used in building these houses. I have no idea what it was and I'm too lazy to track it down but I liked it:The Dali exhibit, however, did me in. I was tired and sick of tourists and Dali's bizzare-o films and drawings and paintings adorning the walls somehow just added to my irritability. I couldn't look at anything without being bumped or cut off. My head started spinning and my stomach squeezed itself into knots. At the end of the exhibit I ran into this which so completely confounded me I needed out. Normally it would have made me laugh but on that day I needed space, I needed my own air to breathe and I needed to get away from Dali's twisted dreams that put too much tension in my shoulders and a permanent furrow in my brow. I reunited with Nick and Meadow after having been separated by the overwhelming crowd and threatened to leave but felt the pull of the calm that was offered by the permanent collection. Just as I was about to part ways on the next floor, I was drawn in by Wyeth's Christina's World. A painting Nick recognized and admired. For a moment the throbbing in my head slowed and my eyes felt a little less strained, so I decided to stay. I thought if I could just go stare at Rothko's brilliant canvases or Van Gogh's Starry Night, I would feel better.
But it wasn't better. The people were still loud and rude and the herd-like movements once again separated me from my brother and just could not enjoy any of it. The last straw was the yammering mass clustered in front of Monet's Reflection of Clouds. It was difficult to maneuver anywhere and I needed out. It took me a significant amount of time to relocate Nick and Meadow (and found them separately) and gave my excuses and fled, promising to rest and be ready to venture back out when they finished up.
The rain had stopped by the time I walked back onto the sidewalk and it felt good to be alone without stray elbows and shoulders pushing up against me. I made one last effort at enjoying the museum by wandering into the lot next door to MoMA that displayed the pre-fab homes I had witnessed be speedily erected earlier in the summer. Unfortunately, due to the rain, no one was allowed entrance into any of the dwellings, so I snapped a picture and then took the bus home.I read and slept and enjoyed a quiet afternoon and then Nick and Meadow's company after they were worn out by the bustling museum. We spent most of the afternoon lounging and then ordered dinner in from Penang - a Malaysian favorite. Later in the evening Nick grew restless and I agreed to go for a walk with him to fetch dessert. While walking down 9th Avenue to try the cupcakes at Kyotofu, we ran into a friend of mine who was waiting for another friend of mine. I was feeling very popular in front of my brother to run into so many people I know in just two days. My brother was mocked for allowing me to take him to a place called Kyotofu but we were both very satisfied with the delcious souffle-like chocolate cupcakes we carried home, especially after we topped them with sweet cream ice-cream collected from Cold Stone. They left early the next morning and I prepared for vacation.

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In other, not-really-related-but-I-have-a-picture-so-I-will-share news, at a work event this summer we went bowling. I had not bowled (other than on the Wii, which doesn't actually count) in about six years. And I was never a good bowler. So it came as no surprise to me that my team came in last place. It was a surprise when my team voted me most valuable player of the losers. Wasn't sure if that meant I was the best of the worst or, more likely, the worst of the worst. I think it just meant my team appreciated my cheering for everyone, even gutter balls. I don't think I actually bowled the worst on my team, which is sad since I only hit triple digits in the speed round I played at the end with one other person. Here is the team in all our glory. My prize, as MVP, was a plastic set of bowling pins so next time I have visitors we should utilize my long entry hall so I can practice.
Wow, I must say, this ended up being a much longer post than I anticipated. Originally I was just going to throw the photos up and call it good. I think I'm falling back into my blogging groove.

Monday, September 08, 2008

summer odds and ends: July boat cruise

Remember the Olafur Eliasson exhibit I mentioned back in June? Well, he is an Icelandic artist who, in conjunction with his exhibit at MoMA did some amazing waterfall installations in the New York harbor along the East River. In July, I had the pleasure of going on a boat cruise to get a closer look at the waterfalls. These are the pictures I took that I've been keeping from you all this time.
Here is the boat:
And the sky:And more sky - with Ellis Island in silhouette:And a beautiful sailboat - there were tons in the harbor that day:And lady Liberty herself, standing proud:And finally, the stars of the show, the waterfalls:This one under the Brooklyn Bridge was my favorite:Although I liked this one as well, it started raining so some of the photos were a little hazy:Luckily no one snapped a picture of me in the drizzle, especially after a rogue wave left me with a soaking skirt.More fun pics of summer fun to come . . .

{{ahem}}

Hello? Is anyone still reading? Or, I guess, still trying to read? Sorry about the lack of new content. I guess I should tell you I've been super busy at work or with a social life or something. But that wouldn't necessarily be true. The truth is I just fell out of the habit and have had a difficult time pushing myself back into the habit. Not sure why but this is my first step to getting back into the blogging habit.

[[[Please reward me with comments]]]

I spent a blissfully solitary weekend during which I had many good ideas about what to write and how to write, etc. But Saturday I was concentrating on staying out of the way of the remnants of tropical storm Gustav by not leaving the confines of my apartment and living off the odds and ends I deemed food. Mostly I read. I picked up The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway which I purchased a year or so ago from a discount shelf at Barnes & Noble and never got around to reading. My first impression was - really? This is Hemingway? I have vague memories of reading and loving The Old Man & the Sea in high school but this just didn't seem remotely similar to my memory of Hemingway's style. It was so conversational and simple. I guess I was expecting something more akin to Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh which I finished a week or two earlier and was written about the same time period. Waugh's writing was quite elevated and took me a couple of chapters to get into and understand (it didn't help that I thought Evelyn Waugh was a woman . . .). But Hemingway was all conversation and only sparse scenary. Once I adjusted my expectations I couldn't put the book down. As torrents of rain snapped at my window I affixed myself to the couch and was transported to Paris and then Spain in the 1920s until I hit the last page. It was an engrossing novel that flew by. The perfect way to weather a tropical storm.

I went to bad sad that summer was over but looking forward to pulling out the tweeds and sweater of fall. But Sunday was a reminder that summer never completely ends before October around here. It was absolutely the most beautiful day. I decided to go for a walk on the Hudson River and instead of my usual routine of walking south to Battery Park, I ambitiously decided to walk to the George Washington Bridge. For some reason I thought the bridge would be about the same distance. Nearly 13 miles later (round trip), I realized that is not quite the case. Roundtrip to Battery Park is roughly 9.5 miles. Those extra 3.5 miles really made a big difference! (By the way, did you know you can calculate miles you have walked here? Being a big walker in NYC I have grown to love this site as a good reality check - no, you did not just walk a hundred miles today, only 13.) But in a good way. I had water and granola bars and a book in my backpack and collapsed in a lounge chair facing the river only a couple of blocks from my apartment at the end and took off my shoes and enjoyed the end of summer by opening a favorite book - Persuasion by Jane Austen. It has been several years since my last reading and after recently seeing two different movies adapted from the novel with two different endings (well, the same ending just different versions of the ending), I have been curious about how the novel staged the ending. And yesterday the book was staring at me on a shelf so I abandoned the book I had intended to read in favor of Austen. Such a good decision. Now I'm half-way in and had to force myself to turn out the light last night at midnight so I could wake up for my morning work out.

So now you know what I've been doing: reading. I'm not sure why I read so much more in the summer. I don't know if it has to do with traveling or how much I love sitting outside with a good book but I have been reading a lot lately. And I will just say a couple more things about it.

First, I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to be on an airplane and discover your book is missing thirty pages right in the middle. After flipping through the pages to see if maybe pages 154 to 182 (or thereabouts) were incorrectly stashed somewhere in the back, I had no choice but to just read on. I went to Borders the next day to request a replacement since I still had 100 pages or so to go only to discover there were no longer copies of Brideshead Revisted on the shelf. I decided they must have discovered the mistake and made further inquiries. I was told there was a new shipment of the book but they were still in the back, unshelved and likely still shrink wrapped. I agreed to return. I never did. Now there will forever be a 30 page gap in my understanding of that book.

I also recently read Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. Several years ago I read The Poisonwood Bible yet despite really enjoying Kingsolver's writing I never picked up any of her other books. For some reason, in my head, I had decided (retrospectively) that her writing was simple and indulgent. I have NO idea how I came to that conclusion but it is anything but simple. And while I would definitely describe it as indulgent, not in the same way I had in my head. I learn from her writing so much about imagery and character development. Her writing is beautiful and I recommend it.

Okay, so enough about books (although I could go on about how I also loved both Into the Wild and Into Thin Air by John Krakauer but I'll stop).

Aside from reading, yesterday I reminded myself how to cook. I finally put the new knives I received for my birthday in June to good use by mincing garlic, chiffonading (is that a word?) basil and slicing mushrooms and tomatoes for an augmented can of spaghetti sauce. For some reason, it feels overly indulgent to cook for myself. I used to do it all the time but I've fallen into the habit of snack-type meals at home such as carrots/pitas/crackers and hummus or apples and cheese, cereal or breakfast foods that even making something as simple as spaghetti felt extravagant. And delicious. And simple. So why don't I do it more often.

Anyway, as a preview of things to come (because I will be blogging more this week), I will be doing a retrospective pictorial of How I Spent My Summer, including my summer vacation. There are so many things I've missed telling you........
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