Wednesday, November 26, 2008

An early morning waffle. Indulge me, please.

It's Thanksgiving tomorrow, so we should turn our thoughts to family. I have had a plentiful dose over the last week and as one set of sheets revolves in the dryer, and all remnants of the previous visitors is clearned, the doorbell rings on a new set, ready to partake of the festivities. Caught up in the groundswell of all this relative activity I am trying to figure out how I feel as I come down from a roller-coaster of emotions, not to mention the late night crying jags, remonstrations, venom, and dramatic apologies. Left in the wake of it all, I am giddy from the effort of peacekeeping, negotiating, mediating, strategizing, and drained from the experience of outrage, anger, sadness, guilt, and relief, but not much joy, unfortunately. It is hard to watch one's parents age and in doing so, replace your image of them as all-powerful, knowing beings. They become fallible and doddery and their decision-making instincts, never the best anyway, become worse. And the siblings behave as they always do and the children watch you all and vow secretly that they won't repeat the lunacy. But we live in Groundhog Day and what goes around must surely come around. Oh what would we do without the emotional exercise of some good old family dynamics, with a side of cranberry sauce and a spring of parsley on the top?
Happy eatin'!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A propos not that much

Listening to Radio 2 streaming from the BBC across the cyberAtlantic and there is a tailback on the Westway, leading to the Marylebone Road. I feel nostalgic and homesick and the light rain puts me in the mood to walk along the Embankment and take in the ancient and contemporary London skyline. But a siren passes by and I am back in New York City, which is both alluring and repellent. Saw that rat on the platform again this morning, sipping from an overturned yogurt carton and like every other assault on the quality of life, one learns to just take it in stride and not scream at the top of one's lungs, like the 'career' woman who broke composure to run towards us at full throttle, away from the rat. Get a life, lady. The rat, meanwhile, scurried as fast as it could towards the tunnel once the decibel level went up and disappeared over the edge, onto the tracks. 

I've switched to NPR and I'm listening to all the inevitable cuts that Albany is going to make to education, Medicare, etc, and social services, so that we can try and balance the insane budget. Meanwhile, the taxpayers (that includes us triple-paying suckers in NYC) are going to continue to fund executive compensation - AIG is still partying on their handout -- as well as the auto industry, for their failure to see that Hummers and SUV's were not the way of the future. Don't even get me started on the lawyers who will be on the meter to the Capitol for the foreseeable future. Now here's the question: if the well is open to all and sundry and we aren't a Socialist state just yet, can I send any debt that I accrue to the Federal government for a quick bailout? I know that I didn't really need that flat screen, and it's true, I could do a grocery shop less often, but hey, if major industry can insure itself with the bucks they're taking out of my paycheck, where's my payout? Just wondering.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Gassing it Up

Gasoline isn't regulated in New York.
That was a joke and if you live here, you should be laughing your overpriced socks off.
I've always known it but it really stung this weekend, after a trip upstate, where we filled the tank for $2.35 per gallon on the New York/Mass border. A few hours later, back in the depths of the concrete jungle it cost us $3.05 per gallon. I have the picture to prove it. And I couldn't help thinking, gee, we New Yorkers really fork out a ton for the privilege of living in this glam world capital, where the trains don't run, the stations are subterranean stinkholes not to mention glaring fire traps (we were joined by a rat on the platform this morning), you can't get a family-size apartment for a decent rent, and a gallon of milk, sans the hormones, is a steal at $5.99 at Gouge City, also known as Gristedes, where it's faster to walk to Boston, pay for groceries and come home again, than get out of this store. And yet, we cling to it all as though there is nowhere else in the world that can match the sophistication, ambiance, and unique vibe that is the Big Apple as we wantonly destroy everything that made it what it is in the first place, oh let me count the ways. But the world's changed baby. If you really can't live without Coach and Victoria's Secret, well, you can find them almost anywhere now -- no need to confine yourself to Broadway at 84th street. Everything we got is ditto for the rest of the planet and I can't help thinking back to those pre-gentrification days, when it was still cheaper to eat at the local diner than Nobu, when your favorite, independent bookstores weren't being evicted to make way for a nail salon or yet another bank, when condo wasn't a dirty word. Welcome to the global city as it contracts to face the economic downturn. Who's going to fill all those empty retail stores now, and the half-finished ugly skyscrapers cobbled together with sheetrock?
When the dust settles on the last one out after the financial rape and pillage of this poor old town, perhaps it will revert to a place where creative people can live somewhat affordably once more. They won't mind the dirt. Bring it on, I say. Bring it on.

Monday, November 10, 2008

On the road

We were coming home from Massachussetts on 684 last night -- raging at the usual morons with access to a gas pedal -- tailgating at 90 miles an hour; weaving in and out of the traffic as though they were actually skilled and masterful; and cursing at the usual 200-ton SUV's with their obnoxious, blinding brights on. As usual, we were enraged by the mania, ignorance and sheer incivility on display that was nothing less than the Bush era, manifested at that moment as ultimate rudeness on the road, at super high speed, amid the very real risk of life and death. And then it hit us. Almost. The car in front stopped. Just stopped, for no reason whatsoever and within a nanosecond, we were all screaming as, in slow motion, we plunged forward towards the rear of those terrifying red brake lights. I glanced in the mirror and saw that there were no options -- the car behind was gaining fast and the lanes to each side of us offered the same view. I cringed and waited for the massive impact in front and back and thought of the three children, jammed in the back, and saw our car concertina'd on the road in one those very real, utterly nightmarish moments flashed by. So this is it, I thought. This is how it happens. Just like that. It's all about stupidity. Nothing more or less. And so avoidable.

It didn't. We swerved out of the mess and we were beyond shaken by the near-miss. Later that evening we passed a car turned upside down on 106th street, in a sea of broken glass on the road. As we hustled to get by the rubbernecking, I couldn't help noticing the person, upside down in the front seat and the circle of cops, gathered around it. My heart sank and raged simultaneously as we drove away from whatever disaster some family had to deal with last night.

This morning I ran around the NYC reservoir and saw the light reflected off the water, and the golden treetops shimmering in the slight breeze with the Manhattan skyline, a hazy backdrop to it all. I picked up the pace, breathed in the air as deeply as I could and only one thought came in, loud and clear. We are alive. Saved by inches, but alive.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Word on Words

Ever hear that saying 'Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me?' I never really thought about it until recently, when a seven-year old I know called Leo told me that it was a completely dumb statement. Words can hurt more than anything and unlike a physical cut, they don't really heal that fast.

I know, I know, you've had the kid, read the book, paid for the preschool through college, and now they're out of the house, you're done with parenting, but don't you ever wonder if somewhere along the line you might have furnished fuel for therapy? How do you or did you rate as a parent? I only ask because I was witness this weekend to what I consider the worst kind of parenting which involves the two big sins -- shaming and labeling. A mother who I have come to know quite well, and have tried to talk to about such issues since she raised the problem herself, as in "I know that I'm doing exactly what my mother did but somehow, my mouth opens and those nasty sentiments just come pouring out." It's a reflex, like running from an open flame and it's completely learned, at the aprons of our own fair parents, and unless it is consciously unlearned we are doomed to inflict the assault on our kids. So I watched in horror as this woman, who is a very funny, sharp soul, who is under an enormous amount of pressure these days, yell in frustration at her two girls, very publicly, in front of several of their friends. Words such as idiot and moron were bandied about, and then, the big question: "Are you a baby or are you almost 11-years old?" followed by "Do you want to go home or are you going to behave?" Guess what? Kids can't answer those questions. They're way too busy crawling into a quiet, safe space inside their own head where they might stop feeling like a leper. On the outside they just grin and bear it and often, they'll even repeat the behavior, just to prove that they are as bad as you say they are. Isn't that weird? Inside they want the earth to open up and swallow them. So I'm begging you, asking you, pleading with you to listen to yourself when you speak or yell at your kids. Listen to what comes out and decide how you would feel at the receiving end of it?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Paris is Ain't

OK. That's a cheap shot. There are many reasons why most of the world's capitals aren't Paris. After all, there's nothing quite like the City of Lights. After 10 days there, staying with friends, it's a bit tough to be Stateside again, politics aside. Sure, the Parisians have their issues like the rest of us -- immigration, unions, a major dislike of Americans (I can't really blame them these days) -- but from a purely aesthetic, quality-of-life point of view, they are an advanced culture that isn't predicated on the comings and goings of trailer trash posing as talent -- since that could mean any number of our elite celebrities, you choose -- which I consider pretty evolved. And they cook. Fresh food -- small amounts of it -- and eschew restaurants cheek-by-jowl in the main street. Instead, their streets are lined with the world's most delectable choices of patisseries, boulangeries, epiceries, and cafes, with a few clothing stores thrown in. Nary a bank or drug store in sight, other than the pharmacy -- an upscale, old-fashioned chemist store with its familiar green cross of a logo, with a resident pharmacist, that stocks both homeopathic and mainstream choices, in between the Estee Lauder and Biolage beauty treatments. If our culture is any barometer of where we're headed as a society, then I choose one that embraces Candide over Couric anyday. Sitting around one evening with our friends and their parents, the discussion moved between Sarkey, as they know their rocking premiere, and the vintage of wine we were drinking, with mother-in-law weighing in on her favorites to rival any oenophile and discussing, down to the minutiae, the range of fresh cheeses and olives available at the local open-air produce market. Their kids are polyglots and flow easily from French to English, with a little German, Italian, and Portuguese thrown in, and they are not addicted to the Internet, even though they use it frequently. In fact, traveling around Paris by metro, few people were using a technological excuse to escape reality. No one was anchored to the cellphone or blackberry, texting Mom as though their life and self-esteem depended on it. Few people were plugged into their iPods. Instead, they did that old-fashioned thing. They just sat, and stared out the window. It was so annoyingly old-fashioned, I didn't know what to do with myself. And the lack of lawyers in Europe is something else that I can't help noticing. Sure, it means the odd Van Gogh disappears occasionally, but the freedom within the museums and galleries is well worth it. We roamed, examined, and pointed and not a single guard ran over to monitor the fact that we had walked in a straight line, as opposed to counterclockwise, or were pointing when we should have been head-nodding. Recently, my (older) kids decided to lean back on one of the center benches at the Met, only to be yelled at by a guard for them to sit up. Why?! Whatever. The overall atmosphere is grownup compared to our Lord of the Flies. Adults dealing with other adults, without the assumption that hell will break loose and lawsuits will follow with every misstep.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Transportation Worthy of a World Capital

It's rush hour and guess what? No trains, no buses. As usual, the platform is jammed enough to spill a couple of poor, unwitting souls onto the tracks -- more room on the train for everyone else -- as the rest of us suckers resort to pure faith that a train will actually arrive. But when it does, after an eternal wait, the carriage swells to bursting with those who have already jostled themselves headfirst into the mass -- in spite of those who insist on blocking the door -- and now protude precariously from the exits, looking helpless and fearful. but hey, they're on the train aren't they? Going somewhere, aren't they? Which is why the conductor decides to just let them all suffer this while the train waits and waits and waits, before the doors close. Such is the joy of the MTA in New York City -- world capital -- where the subways stop when it rains, or it's just too frickin' cold, or the drivers slept in, maybe, and just can't be bothered. Let's not talk about the asbestos falling off the station walls, or the wires protuding, or the dirt and garbage strewn everywhere. Never mind the rats, or the rude clerks, or the lack of signage so that it's a game to discover whether you're going up or downtown, let alone what train you're on. And then, after not getting to your destination, the trains usually stop running completely. My local station has decided that it needs to do track work in the middle of the day, so the train has skipped us between 10 and 3pm, for two weeks. That doesn't mean they post a notice to let you know, BEFORE you run down the stairs, into the pit, which is why a woman who had lugged a heavy suitcase and hand luggage recently was only just discovering at the turnstile, underground, that is, that there were no trains.
The message coming from the MTA is loud and clear. Screw you, miserable buggers of New York City!!! Screw you who don't have the means for a chauffered limo, or the excessive cab fares required to ride in the yellow, sub-standard pieces of junk also known as medallions. And don't even get me started on the buses. What buses? Buses? Did anyone see a frickin' bus lately? Hello?!!! Anyone? Because I'm frozen to the bone and I'm feeling pretty angry. Can you tell?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Why Does Everyone Love Juno?!!!

I don't get it. Is the entire country on something or have we simply lost our ability to evaluate the difference between talent and effort? Juno is alright but it's completely derivative and offers characters who live in their own spheres and barely make emotional connections with themselves, let alone each other. For a start, why is Juno so frickin' sassy as the product of that mundane and sterile environment, where there don't appear to be any other kindred spirits in sight? That's not to say that it's impossible but give us a clue here. Writers sometimes call it backstory. Was it the mutant gene from the rebellious mother who abandoned her for a trailer park? Or is it something in the Sunny D? And why oh why was she attracted to Michael Cera, who has as much personality as a plank of wood? And why didn't his folks weigh in on their grandchild-to-be? And how much fake folksy music can one listen to in the space of two hours? Excuse me but a cute expression, a few lines of snarky dialogue, and someone plucking on a guitar do NOT a movie make. Give us motive. Give us first, second, and third act. Give us conflict but at least give us a damn movie where the hand of the writer/director isn't apparent as grafitti, all over the screen, in every shot.
The antidote? Go see the Diving Bell & the Butterfly and decide for yourself which of the two movies endures, and make sure you read the book.