Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Jesus on a Cheez-It

When I did a search for an image of wisteria, all this TV stuff came up, and I couldn't resist the pun. I've only seen it once, the pilot--but I do love me some Felicity Huffman.

But seriously folks: Fuck newspaper corporations, fuck you, fuck you. That will be all.

The Alley Fence

I can't see a wisteria without
Remembering him telling me
About the snake that surmounted
The thick brown vine that twined
Along the alley fence,
Stretched itself, sunning.

His intention was to prune.
He'd heard snakes liked the plant.
He'd already cleared out "that, and that,"
He gestured with the long tongs,
Pointing to the corners of the backyard,
South and east, then paused to turn the meat.

I think it's a convenience
To attribute to them the motives
Of a human: The snake, we would say,
Is patient, is sly, even feels
A sense of ownership. He (the snake
Will be he; again, convenience) was there
Before they bought the place, after all.
But with summer slowing my breath,
I was moved to speculate:
Does that tightly focused bud
Of the reptile brain contain layers
Of elaborate perception I would never know?
What is it like to smell with the tongue,
To swallow it whole? The screen door slams,
And I jump, a skinny stray,
As his wife hands me a glass.

Friday, April 24, 2009

"You'll Be Surprised You're Doin' the French Mistake"

Even after 13 years of marriage (a lucky anniversary for a Dan Marino fan), there are always, always surprises! Like the other night, when I came home from rehearsal for a fabulous new production and flopped down in absolute exhaustion next to my husband on the king-size bed, as he attempted to watch some kind of game.

Me: I had choreographed simulated butt sex. Again.
DH (eyes not leaving screen): Oh God I hope I get it.
Me: (laughs)
Me (sitting up): Wait a minute. What did you just say?
DH watches game.
Me: Did you just quote from a musical?
DH (watching game): Yeah, just, you know.
Me: How do you know a line from a musical?
DH: I know things.
Me: But a musical? You've seen a musical?
DH: There's just six minutes left.
Me: That's until the year 2525 in non-game time. When did you see a musical?
DH: We lived in New Jersey. My parents took us to see Broadway musicals. A lot.
Me: (who would have given anything to have done that) No way! You've never told me that.
DH: I tried to forget.
Me: What did you see?
DH: The usual stuff. Annie. Jesus Christ Superstar. Godspell. You know.
Me: Jesus. You were getting more christian stuff than I was. (Pause.) Though that makes sense, I bet your mom went for that subversive take on God. It really was considered pretty subversive then. As musicals go. (His parents are Jewish atheists; mine, Catholic.) Did you like them?
DH: I was a kid, what did I know. I had to go.
Me: What was that line you said from?
DH: You know.
Me: I'm testing you.
DH: "One...singular sensation..."
Me: Oh my god. I never knew.
Me (laughing): That was pretty funny.
DH: What.
Me: That line.
DH: You should lie down. I want to see the end of this game.

Photo: The beautiful Uma, in one of the greatest musicals ever made. Used without permission because I can't help myself. And the headline is a Mel Brooks production, too.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The View from the Tube

A day of jury duty has left me staggered. I am happy I wasn't called to help decide anyone's fate.

Yesterday I rebuilt my garden fence, all by myself. Happy Earth Day!

Three good reads:

--Wells Tower attempts to recreate a sort of redneck version of Cheever's The Swimmer in a pimped out inner-tube on the rivers of North Florida. It had me on the floor laughing, it was so true of North Florida (and hoping I can get my daughter onto the Ichetucknee before you can't see clear through to the bottom anymore). And it reminded me how much I liked an older story about him traveling with his father after his father beat cancer and decided he had to see the world.

--John Goodman takes on Godot and his demons.

--And a horror story. There isn't enough money in the world to pay your debt if you have a catastrophic health crisis, by the way. You will never, never, pay it off, no matter how rich you are. You will sink completely if you have a catastrophic illness or accident:

"If there is an upside to the country's healthcare crisis, it is that the problem is hurtling toward a point at which it absolutely cannot be ignored without immediate and disastrous consequences. If there is an upside for me, it is this: returning to those difficult days of poverty and fear in 1969 also means returning to a place where anger inspires activism. I was a young woman then, of course, with a lifetime of battles ahead. I am not so young now. But I have enough years left to have one more fight in me. Healthcare is it."

Then go back and start over again with Wells Tower. Fear about health insurance is still not a good enough reason not to seize the opportunity to sit in a pimped-out inner tube in alligator-filled waters. Sometimes you have to put your butt into a slightly dangerous situation in order to feel alive. Just ask the guy with the whip.

Photo: Burt Lancaster is The Swimmer.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Good Man Is Hard to Find

On a friend's Facebook recommendation, I think I might break the no-buying policy and get a copy of Brad Gooch's Flannery O'Connor bio. (Certainly solely on his recommendation and not on the wretched review in the NYT a couple weeks back--the way it was written was wretched, I mean, not that it was a bad review. And thus is introduced our theme of precision of language.)

When the book came out, there was some controversy about new revelations, chief being that O'Connor used to seemingly revel in telling racist jokes to a particularly sensitive, liberal friend. I dip into The Habit of Being, Sally Fitzgerald's collection of O'Connor letters, which had expurgated the most obvious offenses, but not all, as you'll see. But the last time I read it through was about 20 years ago. O'Connor's formidable skills as an apologist almost had me getting unlapsed from being a Catlick, as she liked to write it, but I managed to hold onto my Old Time Religion (paganism), thank goddess.

Anyway, the reactions to the racist joke revelations tended to fall into two paths:

1) Oh, dear, I so loved Flannery O'Connor and those quirky Southern "characters" of hers! She was such an eccentric! So weird! So Outsider! Where did she get those names? But now I can't like her anymore, because she's a racist! I will never read her again. Why do all my idols have to fall?

2) She was a woman of her time, and she just couldn't HELP it if she thought like that. Everyone thought like that back then. Look at Fitzgerald and Wharton--they were anti-semites!

Both arguments are wrong in too many ways to know where to begin, and I think, just from my reading, that they're both wrong about O'Connor, too. Her other published letters, while not as explicit as perhaps the material in Gooch's book, make it clear that she just really, really liked fucking with people, especially Northern liberals. Check this little parody piece out from a letter to a friend and see if it isn't kin to Randy Newman's "Rednecks":

"What you ought to do is get you a Fullbright to Georgia and quit messing around with all those backward places you been at. Anyway, don't pay a bit of attention to the Eyetalian papers. It's just like Cuddin Rose says all us niggers and white folks over here are just getting along grand--at least in Georgia and Mississippi. I hear things are not so good in Chicago and Brooklyn but you wouldn't expect them to know what to do with theirself there."

She thought James Baldwin was a blowhard and got ticked when people kept telling her she had to meet him. But she also got ticked when her Catholic friends tried to make her go to Lourdes (and she made fun of the place, even as she caved and went on a pilgrimage). She was terribly impatient with the veneration of the Virgin, and she said just looking at the book The Nun's Story made her want to throw up. And all this from one of the most devout, thoughtful, committed Catholics anywhere. She mocked hypocrisy wherever she found it, flicked her own forehead for her petty sins of pride and vanity (without making a big, breast-beating deal out of it--because that's about the most vain, prideful thing to do of all). I recognize in the letters the character in the stories who is the modern thinker, the enlightened progressive, and usually grotesquely evil (she preferred, by the way, word grotesque to the word gothic). I speculate that in those characters she saw herself as she sometimes was, might have been, might be, but, quite literally, for the grace of God.

In short--equal opportunity hater, a woman with little time or patience for anyone. "My question is usually, would this person be endurable if white?" she wrote in another letter. And she found very few whites endurable. I don't think anything really mattered to her but the truth of the incarnation, the mystery of flawed people making up the perfect Church, and the mortal modern error of denying the existence of the Devil. Her God stops at nothing, including allowing the death of his son and self, asking simply if he deigns to speak at all: Where were you when I made the world?

None of which I believe, and none of which robs her writing of a bit of power for me.

It's not about people with funny names and odd habits and colorful diction. It's not about color much at all, but about our reaction to it, and our desperate need to believe we are good, decent people, when by most lights, we are pretty shaky, maybe mostly monstrous, and by the lights of a Catholic like her, without grace we are all condemned, and all the rearranging of bus seats in the world (Everything that Rises) won't change that.

I think if O'Connor were alive today, she might well be like Colbert or Sarah Silverman--or at least writing sketches making fun of movies with a Magic Negro, maybe, or the Crying Indian. Colbert popped into my head because he is also a Southern Catholic, and because of his still untopped and wildly, widely misunderstood jerimiad at the Correspondent's Dinner. But I'm glad she lived and wrote when she did.

And Fitzgerald and Wharton? Fitzgerald was a basket case who was so insecure he'd put anyone down that he could get away with. He wasn't so much a racist or anti-semite as a narcissist (those are related a lot, I think). But don't forget the venal Tom quoting Henry Ford in Gatsby. Balance goes to Fitzgerald. As for House of Mirth, Rosedale and Lily are two of a kind, the only ones who see the whole game and realize they have to play it carefully, and see each other playing it. He always respects her skills, but it isn't until the end that she sees past her prejudice and respects his. The snap judgments are in the mouths of the characters, not the author, in that case, I believe.

Photo: Once I went to Macon and everyone there kept telling me about Flannery O'Connor and Duane Allman. I don't know as how they had read or listened to much of either, respectively. It got annoying, because I am extremely fond of both. I have a story based on it maybe I'll polish up.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Keeping Up Appearances

"Modern society is too quick to judge people on their appearances. There is not much you can do about it; it is the way they think; it is the way they are. But maybe this could teach them a lesson, or set an example."
The Talented Voice and Impeccable British Phrasing of Miss Susan Boyle, 47.

I confess to sinning in this regard myself, because I watched five minutes of The Cougar and judged it entirely on appearances. The interior design of that house they were in made me cringe. Jesus, the leather, the iron, gaaaghh. It was like the house James M. Cain describes in the opening of Double Indemnity, on steroids.

I watched long enough to see the young men toasting on a party bus, then sliding slickly into the manse on a hair gel disaster of Valdez proportions. But even the vision of Vivica A. Fox poured into that ruched emerald charmeuse number couldn't distract me from that awful faux primitive tile.

So I switched over to In Treatment. That Gabriel Byrne, he's OLD, man. But he looks like he's really keeping himself up. Good for him! Stayin in shape! Good on you, dude!

Oh, he can really act, too. Almost forgot about that part.

The TV watching came just because I was looking for something to do while I enjoyed my two-three times weekly cigarette. I love to smoke, but I don't have time to do it very often. So yesterday I got home from work, got my kid, went to my friend's house for the kiddie Seder (9 kids under age 9), helped with that, came home, helped get my kid to bed, helped her past a meltdown inspired by my not letting her stay up all night and read, finished up some work, poured a glass of wine and sat down on the couch with the windows open and the fan on, and what should be just starting but...So I tried, and failed, to watch a full episode of a reality show, again.

But I was inspired to write a poem while running this morning.

To A Cougar
Dear lady, cease your striving, for they have not what you seek--
The breath of promotional vodka and Axe cologne from these Young Masters reeks,
And tomorrow's nachos soon lay waste to this night's taut physique
I tell you truly, best succumb to charms of the regal Vivic(a).

(For it is no secret that the fairest of the Deadly Vipers has my heart entombed
Ever since I saw her fire a gun through the bottom of a box of Kaboom.
But forgive me, lady, as I get distracted
From this TVland reality you have enacted.)

Your pride, your hopes, the fierce strength of your dream
Will come to naught, for I suspect most of these guys play for the other team.
While naught is wrong with that, no naughty nights ensue
For tis not their inclination to be that into you.

Bright golden Cougar, do not be trapped by time
You could still turn this bus around while in your prime:
Make a startling publicity-engineered revelation that it is really older men you prefer,
Marry a rich retired commercial real estate broker, settle in, and lick your fur.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Lady or The Tiger, The Cougar, or The Fox?

Because of my nom de blog, people sometimes send me cougar-related news. That and the ads everywhere you look made me aware that there's a "reality" dating show featuring an "older" (40, jesus on a ritz, she's only fucking 40!) woman and younger "men."

I named myself "cougar" out of irony, because I'm often surrounded by women with the dry-cleaned jeans and the manicures and the big, ugly, overpriced handbags, expensive jewelry, and I'm kind of in awe of them. I feel like I'll never measure up to what a woman of my age (47) is supposed to look and act like. I don't do manicures or makeup most of the time, I don't wear much jewelry, I can never seem to care about designers or men with money, I'm always doing foolish things--I'm just out of place, as always. So the name is a joke.

But back to the show. For once I'll be like my mother and just believe and quote unquestioningly what I read in the New York Times: Their reviewer said the young gentlemen were indistinguishable save for their haircuts, and wondered how anyone could keep their attention on a 40-year-old anonymous blonde when Vivica A. Fox, the host of the show, was in the house.

The really weird part is it's on TVland, the home of Brady Bunch reruns. Well, OK, Florence Henderson, someone had to say it. She had some Wessonality allright.

I was hoping to dig up some blogger rage about all this, but all I found even remotely readable was a a woman on Huffington Post who's all ticked about the show and says she's "the real cougar woman." That's kind of funny. She doesn't look like a cougar, either. She looks like a nice midwestern lady, and she's writing about things like her "journey into menopause." Come back, Shane! Guess you never can tell who's a cougar on the inside.

I've never seen a reality show episode all the way through, but I loved a "reality" movie--Series 7, The Contenders, where lottery winners have to shoot each other down to get the money. I was hugely pregnant (just like the star, played by the brilliant Brooke Smith) and laughing my head off in the theater, sitting between BA and my husband, and I think I scared some folks. But that "Love Will Tear Us Apart" video was priceless, wasn't it?

If there were real equality, there'd be a "rock of love" type show where the competing young men would wear silly clothes and get very drunk and stumble around and pee themselves and tongue-kiss for the cameras. Oh, forgot, that's Smith Point!

If there were real equality, there'd be a show called The Old Lech or The Roue or some damn thing with an old guy who likes young girls. Oh, forgot, that's...pretty much everywhere.

If there were real equality, there'd be a show where I could get a date with Vivica A. Fox! Oh, forgot, that's...only in my dreams.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

"Guess I'm a Fool; At Least I'm Not Innocent"

Did 10 miles on the towpath today; had been heading for the Crescent Trail, but took a turn at the last minute. Surprised to find easy parking at Old Angler, surprised to find the path deserted north of Great Falls, surprised at my respectable time. Bluebells all the way out and the wind behind me all the way back.

I'm in an odd dull place between any hurts, passions or obsessions. Paying work is only too happy to fill my every moment, and some of this packed-in-cotton feeling is the result of tamping myself down to meet the onslaught of relatives that has come my way in the past few weeks. If this keeps up, I'll have no choice but to become obscenely healthy and work on the novel. I'm tempted to do magic, just to see what spirit or spark or wave manifests, but with all the prosaic plodding, I don't have the time or the head space.

Besides, after a tarot reading I got recently at a witch event, I'm experimenting with not doing much intentional magic. It was a very intense reading with many scary cards (ever get the 9 of swords, the tower, the 5 of wands, the 7 of swords...I mean it was almost a parody!) but the reader couldn't have been kinder or more thoughtful about how he framed things. Nevertheless, what I was seeing--essentially, you will have no place to hide and every compromise and duct-tape solution you thought would hold is no longer viable--came through his words, and halfway through the reading I burst into tears, and kept on that track through the end.

But before that, there was the Fool. And here's how he described that card to me: You're used to thinking: There's something you want, so you choose the time and the accessories and the words carefully, and you create a ritual, and that's magic for you, right? Well, you're not going to need to do that anymore. See, the Fool is walking down the street, and he realizes he's hungry. And right up ahead, there's a hot dog vendor, and the Fool reaches into his pocket, and there's the money, just enough to get a hot dog. But it's only there when he needs it. If he's walking down the street and he's not hungry?--no hot dog, no money. That's the new way magic is going to work for you.

I've been testing the theory.

Right after the reading, I went into the ladies room and was wiping my eyes, and who should appear at the sink next to me but a woman, a writer and teacher who is pretty famous in witch world both for her work and because she is strikingly beautiful and charismatic. The last time I had seen her was 10 years ago in one of her classes, when I had burst into uncontrollable tears halfway through.

It made me laugh (not out loud). I said hi, and that I was looking forward to going to her class later. Then I wondered to myself if I sounded like some weird crying stalker. Then I blew my nose and went out and got some coffee. That's a fool for you.

I don't eat hot dogs, but I have a feeling a symbolic kind of hot dog might be just ahead.

"Symbolic kind of hot dog." That would be a good title.

Photo: Today's headline was written by Mr. Cole, the original big dark brooder.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

"It Is Certain," As the Magic 8-Ball Would Put It

Man I'm so tired of working and not sleeping and not running enough and sitting in restaurants and working and sitting in restaurants and working and working all night long. I feel like...hey, here he comes now! All the way from the Seventh Seal, ladies and gentlemen, it's--

Wait, Rider

I chose
My battles
He -- their end
His flag
A rose
The field commands
His crown
The sky
The reins -- clutched
In his hands

Before him
Rises majesty
Beneath -- the bones
Abound -- above
Wait, Rider --
Comes the cry
The hooves
Crush out

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The First Occasional Kiss My Happy Heinie Foundation Awards

Because I might spend time in another life under another identity encountering occasional clueless nonprofits that are really good at bumbling away money on "initiatives" that no ordinary human actually putting up some cash money will ever understand or see any results from...I started thinking a few years back that if I had a foundation, I could do better.

It gave me something to think about on long runs--If I won the lottery and started my foundation, how would I do it? I actually get paid to think of names and taglines for nonprofits, and that process can take weeks. But my name and tagline took less than a quarter-mile: The Kiss My Happy Heinie Foundation: Giving Money to Folks Maria Thinks Are Cool. Can't you just hear that on NPR?

Once on a women's weekend, a friend suggested I should soften the name to the Ki-My-Ha-He Foundation, to make it a little more accessible and give it some of that NA cachet, but that would be so damn wrong.

Obviously, this fantasy is well-formed. But you have to have something to think about to make you forget how much your knees hurt.

The "business model" is like the MacArthur: Surprise! Have some cash, you cool person, you! Sometimes I run into people or read about folks I wish I could give a Kiss My Happy Heinie Award to, but alas, I have no money. But this evening I thought, screw it, neither does anyone else, so I'm just going to give away imaginary money.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the first occasional KMHH award ceremony. It's all on a blog, so it's virtually free! Which means more imaginary money for you someday, when you win one, too!

From a Washington Post story on Chitown and other web-based micro news services trying to fill the gaps in Chicago, here's the first honoree:

"Megan Cottrell, 26, a former dancer who started last year as a volunteer, is now a full-time staffer assigned to the Chicago Housing Authority. "They despise me," she says. But spokesman Matthew Aguilar says Cottrell has mostly been fair -- and that the Tribune and Sun-Times no longer cover the authority regularly."

Honey, if they hate you, you're doing it right. They can Kiss Your Happy Heinie!

The site is funded by a foundation, which I'm not so sure about. There are Conrad Black types in foundations, too. And Rupert Murdoch types. And unfortunately, this graf is also true: "WMAQ-TV's Carol Marin, a Sun-Times columnist, says sites such as Chitown do "a good job" but don't have the resources to "push back against the powerful." The Sun-Times is helping her fight a subpoena to testify at mob-related trial. "One of the things lost in the stripped-down blogosphere is the ability to fight for your stories," Marin says."

Second, tho MacArthur might get to him first: Ari Roth of Theatre J for staging the readings and discussions of Caryl Churchill's Seven Jewish Children. Some people can open the mind and the mouth and give people a safe place to work out these complex issues, without denying any of their complexity. Heart, balls and everything in between--and people who blast off protests and view any "side" as absolutely faultless can Kiss His Happy Heinie!

The third, in the science category, goes to my Hot Friend E, so she can develop her health-promoting-cum-conceptual-art project, the Hydration Bra. It's a combination pushup bra and Camelback water jugs. You fill the cups with water in the morning, and sip through the tube throughout the day. People could tell by your boob size whether you have been drinking enough water that day, and call your attention to it, so you'll stay hydrated. And everyone would want to attend the morning meetings, right?

By the way, feel free to send a virtual donation. It's tax deductible in my dreams.