Category Archives: Nonfiction

Two books try to figure out why Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election

It’s been over a hundred days into President Donald Trump’s administration, and liberals are still in reeling in shock over his surprise victory. By all reasonable accounts, Clinton – a former first lady, senator, secretary of state, and a one-time leading presidential candidate should’ve bested Trump, whose main claims to fame were reality TV and real estate. But on November 8th, Trump won a decisive victory with the electoral college (though Clinton won almost 3 million more popular votes). Right after Clinton’s high-profile loss, people were asking “What happened?”

The 2016 election will undoubtedly inspire a library of books trying to figure out how Trump succeeded and Clinton failed. Two of the earliest entries in this topic is Susan Bordo’s The Destruction of Hillary Clinton and Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes. Bordo’s book is a personal response to  Clinton’s loss – she is biased toward Clinton, and creates a long list of factors that contributed to Clinton’s loss including James Comey and the FBI, Putin and Russia, Bernie Sanders and the Bernie Bros, sexism, and misogyny. There is one major person that seems to be completely blameless: Clinton herself.

Thankfully, Allen and Parnes have written a far more nuanced and fair representation of the 2016 election. Though sympathetic and fair toward Clinton, the two writers present an alarming picture of a behemoth of a campaign that is in disarray. Though the writers understand that Comey’s repeated interference in the election made a difference, the duo also look at Clinton’s role in the demise of her presidential aspirations.


Bordo’s point of view is highly skewed, but that wouldn’t necessarily be such a bad thing, if she was a little more honest about Clinton. It seems as if Clinton could do no wrong, and it appears as if everybody in the world had a hand in the campaign’s failure, except for Clinton. She’s not wrong in that the factors she list did have negative consequences on Clinton’s fortune. But what about the candidate herself?

According to Allen and Parnes, Clinton was a figurehead of a sprawling and disorganized campaign that was split into various factions, each competing with each other for the candidate’s ear. Clinton also guarded herself with an inner circle that was made up of sycophants, all acting as yes people to Clinton to protect their jobs and their proximity to her. And Clinton herself at times appears to be self-serving, self-defeating, and unable to successfully communicate her message to the voters. Her ineptitude and mercurial temper makes Shattered feel like a script for Veep.  The research that Allen and Parnes did – including extensive interviews – means that the book is chockfull of testimonials from insiders who worked in the doomed campaign.

Bordo has done her homework, too, but most of it works as a book-length essay than a work of investigative writing. That doesn’t mean Bordo’s book isn’t worthy or valid; but it does mean that if one reads The Destruction of Hillary Clinton, one should manage the expectations. To Bordo’s credit, she never claims that her book is a definitive and journalistic take on the elections. Instead, it works more as a theoretical interpretation.

For Hillary Clinton supporters, Shattered will be a sometimes hard read. Though they ultimately paint Clinton as a decent, if flawed, candidate, they do not hold back. The Clinton in Shattered can be tempestuous, temperamental, paranoid, defensive, and at times, lacking in self-awareness. Her qualifications and her intellect is never in question, nor is her patriotism or her desire to do good. But the writers also put those positive qualities in context; they don’t allow for her estimable pluses to negate her unequivocal negatives.

As much as these books are on Hillary Clinton, they’re also about a DNC that needs serious evaluation and a reset button. That is the ultimate takeaway from both: the DNC cannot operate business as usual anymore because even with a supremely talented and qualified candidate like Hillary Clinton, it can still lose to a patently unsuitable candidate.

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‘Veep’ predicts the horror that was the 2016 presidential election in its 5th season

Veep‘s 5th season aired from April to June in 2016, three months before the horrifying election day that turned our political landscape into one long, unending Saturday Night Live sketch. In its fifth season, Veep managed to survive the departure of its showrunner, creator Armando Iannucci, intact and deliver 10 satisfying and hilarious episodes. Watching the show after the election takes on added irony, poignancy, and just sheer feelings of the uncanny and just how prescient the show would prove to be.

In the fourth season, President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) found herself in a strange situation on election night. She was tied with her rival (though she won the popular vote – the Electoral College screws over pioneering female presidential candidates even in fiction), which set forth an obscure and arcane set of rules that meant congress would vote for the next president of the United States. Much of season five concerns itself with Selina’s campaign in wooing members of congress to back her.

Throughout the season, Selina is not only trying to hold on to her position as president, she’s also trying to enact legislation that would leave a legacy (she even wants to push forward talks between Tibet and China in hopes of a Nobel Peace Prize). The problem is, as always, Selina and her band of misfits are incapable of not screwing up. In the reality of Veep, a narcissistic nincompoop like Selina Meyer can be president, which is a hilarious conceit. While she has drive and ambition, she’s also lazy, distracted, and extremely self-serving. And it doesn’t help that she’s assembled what is probably the most inefficient team in presidential history. While all of this politicking is going on, Selina’s daughter Catherine is filming Selina’s annus horribilis for a student film.

While Selina’s story takes center stage,  supporting characters have minor arcs, as well. Mike (Matt Walsh) is in the process of adopting a baby from China; Amy (Anna Chlumsky) and Dan (Reid Scott) are going through a will-they/won’t they; and Jonah (Timothy Simons, brilliant and deserving of some serious Emmy love) runs for congress. These stories provide background and often act as white noise for the main plot, which focuses on Selina’s desperate and oft-foiled fight to stay president.

I imagine that the writers of Veep had a field day creating outlandish and ridiculous scenarios to put their characters in – whether it’s in Camp David, where Selina tricks Catherine into thinking they’re sharing a family Christmas (when really, she’s hosting the Chinese president); or in a hospital bed, cheering over her mother’s deathbed because she got good news about her campaign – but watching Veep now feels scary in its accuracy. Selina is not meant to be president and doesn’t want the position out of patriotism or sense of duty. She sees it as a source of power, influence, and wealth. None of that would be so terrible if Selina was good at her job, but she’s a series of blunders and fuck ups, one more catastrophic than the next. And like any seasoned politician, Selina lacks empathy and self-awareness and cannot acknowledge her role in her downfall.

But despite her many flaws and faults, Selina remains a compelling anti-heroine that viewers will want to watch (though I’m not sure how many would root for her). She’s not a stupid woman, nor is she without any political instinct or know how. The problem is she doesn’t have an internal filter – she merely works off her id. And when her blunders result in some devastating loss or setback, her instinct isn’t to have a postmortem to figure out where she went wrong; instead, she lashes out at those around her.

Part of what makes Selina so interesting and fascinating to watch is the furious comedic energy Julia Louis-Dreyfus brings to the role. Veep is a wonderful opportunity for the comedienne to show off not only her genius for savage one liners, but also her estimable skills as a physical comic. Selina Meyer is a monster and there’s something subversive and awesome in watching a female sitcom lead not be likable or adorable. Even in moments when we are naturally drawn toward sympathy, like during the moments when Selina’s mother is dying, Selina still manages to reward our momentary lapses of judgement by doing something heinous and awful, thereby restoring order.

The sixth season started with Selina humbled and bruised. She’s a mere private citizen now, being buried underneath the shadow of the second female president of the United States, Laura Montez, who quickly swallowed up any lasting imprint that Selina left in Washington. The show has taken on unintended shading, given the state of world politics at the moment. It’s satire, but it’s satire that hits uncomfortably close to home. Veep has evolved over its six seasons into a gallows, whistling past the graveyard kind of show. It’s no longer just funny ha-ha, but also funny OhMyGodWhatIsGoingOn. And right now, we could all use some laughs.

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RuPaul’s Drag Race goes Sisters Grimm

The problem with reality show competitions is that sometimes the show runners struggle to come up with meaningful challenges, but often fail, coming up with stupid ideas, instead. Project Runway is a repeat offender (making dresses out of garbage, designing mail carrier uniforms, using material from hardware stores). RuPaul’s Drag Race has some goofy challenges, too – and “Draggily Ever After” is pret-ty goofy. The queens are tasked to create fairy tale princesses, and in a nod toward Disney (though I don’t think the House of Mouse was ever mentioned in the episode), each princess gets a sassy sidekick, too – sort of like the singing rodent or bird that keeps Disney princesses company.

So the queens have to be creative as well as glamorous, and not surprisingly, some queens fail, most do okay, and a couple hit the mark. During the workroom scenes, the queens chat about makeup, until the talk turns to the tragic Orlando Pulse shooting. I was nervous about the inclusion of the tragedy because often reality shows exploit tragic events to manufacture emotion; I also worry when people bring up tragic events and try to center themselves into the narrative, however tenuous their connection is to the tragedy.

It was a relief then, when the queens shared their feelings of Orlando, and it became about how the tragedy impacted the queer community. Cynthia has real, concrete stakes in the tragedy, having lost a good friend. The discussion turns to the feelings of empowerment that is integral to drag. These ladies are flouting societal rules, thumbing their noses at the patriarchy, and as Sasha Velour so sagely said, “It’s so important as queer entertainers to lead the way. We need to come together and be proudly, visibly queer.” I’ll be curious to see if the election will find its way in the show, as well, seeing how political RuPaul has been during the election year.

And even though Orlando has imbued the show some gravitas, the show is still a competition with drag queens, so there were huge doses of absurdity. When the queens were given templates to create their sidekick characters, the challenge took on a Mad Libs kind of tone, with Kimora struggling with the assignment, wondering aloud what an adjective is (Cynthia, putting on her teacher’s cap, did a great job explaining what the word meant). Kimora smugly said, “Thank god I’m pretty…”

Kimora is gorgeous, but she isn’t suited for the competition. She seems a touch bored and not up to the challenge. That she’s in the bottom two is not surprising, and I think that it should’ve been she not Jaymes that should’ve gone home last week. Jaymes was a nervous wreck last week, but I think she would’ve done better with this challenge, at least in creating the sidekick.

But Kimora’s sidekick character to her Tarzan-inspired princess was a boring, robotic mess; she read her nonsensical spiel like she was reading a ransom note.

The other queen on the bottom was Aja, who like Kimora, struggled to make any sense with her sidekick story. Choosing to be some kind of volcano princess. Though she was livelier than Kimora (which isn’t saying much, ‘cuz the RuPaul wax figure was more lively), her makeup was awful – too dark and messy – and she made the tacky mistake of wearing chaps.

The two lip synch to Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero,” a choice pick. Neither queen did great, though, Kimora’s phoned-in performance sent her home. It’s always funny when gorgeous, snotty, know-it-alls go home early.

As for the winner, Trinity wins with an under the sea outfit, topped by an impressive headdress of seaside paraphernalia.

I have to say that even though Kimora’s cartoon was a disaster, none of the characters were good because the premise was destined to fail: these computer cartoons had the queen’s face inserted, and each had to give a stupid monologue to explain the relationship each sidekick has with its princess. None of the queens have displayed the kind of comedic talent of Bianca Del Rio or Pandora Boxx, but Charlie Hides’ British fairy godmother comes close to the wit the challenge was hoping to achieve.

The guest judges this week were singer/actor Cheyenne Jackson and YouTube sensation Todrick Hall, whose made a career out of creating Disney-inspired music videos, so it’s super appropriate that he’s a judge, though both Hall and Jackson have such limited screen time, that neither makes a big impression. (which is a shame, because Hall is a fabulous talent, and should be tapped to be a permanent judge)

“Draggily Ever After” is the kind of Drag Race that highlights the show at its best and its worst, and it shows off its contestants at their best and worst. The runway, for the most part, was serviceable and eye-popping, and the creative part of the challenge was a messy hot mess.

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Bette Davis and Joan Crawford and Oscar: ‘Feud’ – “And the Winner is… (The Oscars of 1963)” a recap

And the Winner Is... (The Oscars of 1963) thumbnailI’m someone who thinks the Academy Awards is nonsense. The pomp and circumstance and the self-importance is absurd. But I’m not an actor. For an actor, an Oscar can mean more roles, better roles, more money, respect from the industry. In Feud, Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) sees the Oscar as a validation of her gifts. She’s proud as hell of her win for Mildred Pierce (as she should be), and desperately hopes to get nominated for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, a project she was chiefly responsible for. So when at the end of last week’s episode, we learn in horror that she doesn’t get nominated, the focus moves to Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon).

Throughout the series, Davis has been the workhorse, there to do a good job. But in “And the Winner Is…” we see that even a great artist like she isn’t above coveting awards. She’s hoping to be the first actress to score three Oscars (I believe that record goes to Ingrid Bergman). It makes sense that Davis is nominated for Baby Jane and not Crawford. The latter is solid in the role – even affecting at times – but it’s really Davis who creates something new and novel.

And the cliche runs that being nominated is an honor in itself. But Davis, who racked up 10 nominations, doesn’t really believe that cliche. She wants to win.

And so does Crawford.

This is where “And the Winner Is…” becomes very strange, and very sad.

Crawford and her pal Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis) hatch a plan to destroy Davis’ chances of winning. Hopper will inundate her column with bad press about Davis, while Crawford will campaign heavily with the Academy voters to vote for either Anne Bancroft who was nominated for The Miracle Worker or Geraldine Page who was nominated for Sweet Bird of Youth. But of her plan involves meeting with Bancroft and Page and suggesting to each that she’s available to pick up the winner’s Oscar. Page and Bancroft are both stage actresses, even more so than Davis. Bancroft is bowing out of the ceremonies because she’s in the middle of Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children.

When Crawford is needling Page (Ryan Murphy muse Sarah Paulson) to skip the Oscar ceremony, the latter is moved to tears at Crawford’s desperate grasp. She hopes that Crawford does show up in front of the cameras so that Hollywood can see “what they did to her” – Funnily enough Murphy’s vision of Joan Crawfor is so far removed from the Faye Dunaway/Mommie Dearest Crawford and in his mind, she’s more of a Marilyn Monroe/Judy Garland Hollywood tragedy.

When Crawford appeals to Bancroft in the same way, it’s even sadder as Bancroft is openly pitying Crawford. And when Bancroft acquiesces to Crawford’s demands, Lange expertly plays a sequence of emotions: cunning, desperation, elation in a few seconds.

And while Joan Crawford is doing her best to manipulate the outcome at the Oscars, Bette Davis is doing her best to keep sane under the pressure. And just as Crawford has a buddy, Davis has one in Olivia de Havilland (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Instead of just popping in as a Greek chorus, de Havilland is a character in this episode. Like Davis, she’s involved in a bitter and public feud of her own, with her sister, actress Joan Fontaine. We get more of Catherine Zeta-Jones’ bizarre interpretation of her character, but we also get something profound: female friendship.

Television is notoriously bad when it comes to showing female friendship. More often, it’s content to show women fighting with each other. That is why Feud may seem a touch regressive, if not for the unsubtle way we’re reminded that Hollywood is sexist AF. It’s good to see Davis find solace and companionship with de Havilland, especially since both women are also in competition with each other for roles. In another parallel, we see de Havilland being offered a Grand Guinol part herself, the schlocky Lady in a Cage (and she’ll later go on to replace Crawford in the Baby Jane? follow up Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte). In 1962, de Havilland was 46 and was facing a lot of the same issues Davis was (in fact, she would only have two more lead films before turning to TV and then retiring), but because of Zeta-Jones’ looks and the focus on Davis, we instead get the impression that de Havilland is doing fine. And this imbalance gives de Havilland a brief role in the show as Davis’ quasi-mentor, someone to guide her through all of this award bullshit with a semblance of dignity.

Still, we know how it all ended. Bancroft won. Sarandon ably played Davis’ shock and hurt at losing the Academy Award. In Murphy’s version of the events, Davis saw this as a chance to reassert herself as a major player in Hollywood. Her loss was a slap in the face. And Crawford, grinning ear-to-ear, glided on the stage and grabbed Bancroft’s Oscar and got to pretend to be a winner for the evening.

And that’s why ultimately, though Davis was the loser, Crawford was the real loser. Crawford believes she’s the cunning sly one for orchestrating this grande plan to get her rival shut out – and we’ll never be sure just how successful Crawford was, but in the diegesis of the episode, we’re led to believe that she and Hopper had some push. So, for once, Crawford’s the one with the upper hand, but her victory is both hollow and pathetic. She didn’t win the Oscar, nor will she be allowed to keep it.

In her memoir, This ‘N That, Davis sniped about Crawford’s Oscar campaign. Though in her version of the events, she only wanted to win the statue because that would mean bigger box office for the film, and more money for its stars. While the tome is surprisingly restraint and respectful of Crawford, she does openly wonder about Crawford’s obsessive desire to spoil the Oscars.

What is especially poignant about this episode is the knowledge that both Davis and Crawford would go on to make cheapie Baby Jane? retreads for a long time. Crawford, especially, never escaped the psycho-biddy genre and would destroy whatever was left of her film career by appearing in one crappy thriller after another. Davis’ film career also suffered as she made one b-movie after another, before being rescued by high-quality TV movies in the late 1970s and 1980s (and a final screen triumph with the well-received Whales of August in 1987). Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? was the last true artistic success for both actresses, though – which makes watching Feud all the sadder.

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Bette and Joan play mothers in the third episode of ‘Feud: Bette and Joan’

The third episode of Feud: Bette and Joan – written by Tim Minear – is entitled “Mommie Dearest” and I’m sure it was impossible to go in that direction. The episode largely avoids references to the camp fest (except for a mention of estranged daughter Christina Crawford). The episode’s title is reference to motherhood – both Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were famously difficult parents – both had children write tell-all memoirs, Christina Crawford’s Mommie Dearest the source material for the silly Faye Dunaway film. But Minear isn’t interested in camp; instead, he wants to show how difficult Davis and Crawford had it, trying to juggle motherhood and work. Minear also writes a tête-â- tête in which Crawford and Davis compare rough childhoods, giving some context to why these ladies are so hard.

Motherhood is obviously an important theme in “Mommie Dearest” and it winds its way throughout most of the episode. Crawford’s relationship with her kids is obviously more notorious, given that Christina Crawford memorably recounted the horrific abuse she received at the hands of her mother. Christina is only mentioned briefly, but there’s tension in the allusion: Crawford has to be convinced to send a note of congrats to her daughter when Christina makes her theater debut. Instead of signing the card bought by Mamacita, Crawford, in a gaze that could melt steel, starts to fume about how her own mother never gave her plaudits for her accomplishments. It’s a rough scene but it foreshadows her horrifying admission to Davis later, when the two meet for dinner. When asked by Davis when she lost her virginity, Crawford refers to being raped at 12 by her stepfather as her “first time.” Davis is human enough to be appalled at Crawford’s life and is shaken.

So motherhood is a complicated thing for Crawford because she had a neglectful mother who let her daughter be raped by her husband. So it’s no wonder that Crawford doesn’t really know how to be a good mom. And motherhood is a way to stave off loneliness, too. According to Minear’s script, she adopts her children so that she never has to be alone. And once the children start to grow up, she wants to adopt more, thereby continually keeping her house full of children. When age prohibits her from adopting any more children, she has to face a reality in which she is alone.

Davis, meanwhile, is much more together as a mother, even nurturing. B.D. Merrill, like Crawford, penned her own memoir that damned her mother, but in Minear’s script, the relationship, while fraught with tension and angst, has a base of love. Davis loves B.D., but like Crawford isn’t necessarily equipped to be a great mom (whatever that means). So, when B.D. is cast in a small role, and turns out to be awful, she rallies and supports her (even though, behind her back, she is appalled and free with her opinion). Davis was tough on her costars, especially those who she felt could imperil the success of her film (film folklore has it that she was so frightening to Marilyn Monroe during All About Eve that Monroe would regularly vomit from fright). And she finds a surrogate son in her costar, Victor Buono, who transfers the love he misses from his homophobic mother to Davis, who predicted her popularity among drag queens. Though Davis is far more nurturing than Crawford, she’s still an ambitious actress, and when B.D. wants to run lines, Davis is far more interested in working with Buono, who a) has a part of consequence in the film and b) is a fine thespian.

“Mommie Dearest” is a heavy show that gives both Davis and Crawford some space to feel out their characters and be quiet. That doesn’t mean there aren’t the histrionic we expect: this is Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, after all. The filming of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? was beset by the women sniping at each other and doing their best to sabotage the other. When Davis has to drag a prone Crawford out of bed, the latter weighs herself down with weights, causing Davis to wrench her back. And when Davis is called to kick Crawford around, she goes all Method and actually starts to savagely kick her costar in the head. The two haunt each other scenes, throwing the other off, and Crawford’s vanity means that as the film progresses, she uses tricks of the trade to pull, tighten, and pinch whatever is sagging or hanging, with the result being that as the film ends, Crawford has Benjamin Buttoned.

The third episode is continuing the awesome streak started by the pilot. Both Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon are wonderful in their scenes, and the latter especially gets to really develop her character into something interesting in this episode. For the first two, the balance has tipped slightly in favor of Lange’s Crawford: it’s the showier of the two roles, and Lange’s physical transformation is more drastic (the hair, the makeup, the eyebrows). For her part, Sarandon sidestepped much of Davis’ patented clipped speech (though it feels as if in this episode it’s stronger – “How nice,” she snaps at Hedda Hopper), and is more subdued. In “Mommie Dearest” she gets to explore many sides of her character’s personality, and does so with aplomb. As Victor Buono, Dominic Burgess is a find, while Kiernan Shipka is a brilliant sparring partner for Sarandon.

From the fourth episode on, it appears as if Feud will look at the publicity surrounding the release of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? as well as the hubbub around Oscar nominations – it was touched upon in “Mommie Dearest” that both Crawford and Davis want Oscar nominations, and Crawford ingeniously drops a story in the press that Davis would graciously put her name up for supporting actress to let her costar get nominated for best actress. This disagreement allows for Lange to probably have the greatest line so far in Feud history when Crawford roars at Davis, “And it was Gloria Swanson who was robbed in 1950, not youuuuuu, bitch!” (1950 was a good year: Anne Baxter for All About Eve, Davis for All About Eve, Swanson for Sunset Boulevard, Eleanor Parker for Caged, and Judy Holliday who deservedly won for Born Yesterday) To see Davis yearn for an Academy Award is interesting because so far, all we see and hear is that Bette Davis is the great artiste and it’s Joan Crawford who is the movie star sell out.

 

 

 

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Christmas in New York 2016

Image may contain: one or more people, night and outdoorAh, Christmas in New York. I always dreamed of going to New York for the holidays. Whenever I watched the Christmas episode of Saturday Night Live, I’d pretend that I was one of the skaters doing triple luxes on the skating rink at Rockefeller Center. Or I’d imagine seeing the windows at Macy’s, chomping away on a pretzel or a bag of chestnuts. Christmas in New York always seemed magical to me. I loved watching the Christmas episode of Sesame Street, and as a kid, I’d pretend that I would also be spending the holiday in Gotham.

This past Christmas – thanks to my mother – I was able to spend Christmas in New York. For the past few years, my mother has been working with a large corporation to open a number of hotels throughout the United States, mainly in Los Angeles, Miami, and New York (one year, during Hurricane Sandy, my mom was working on a property, and had to drag in the patio furniture by herself). Because she was an employee, she was able to get us discounted rates for New York City, and my partner, my mom, my cat, and I flew out to New York City on the 23rd of December for five days.

December 23, 2016

The day of our departure, I had to indulge in my ritual before flying. I have a severe fear of flying. It’s not bad enough to where I avoid flying airplanes, but it’s bad enough that I have a lot of prep work before I go. I even wrote about it. Because our flight was at 10:00 am, we had to leave the house at 7, which meant getting up at 6, which is something I’m averse to doing if it can be helped. I’m not sure what I was unhappier about, getting up at the crack of dawn or having to fly.

For our trip, we decided to take Bingley, our two year-old cat with us. This decision wasn’t easy and we hemmed and hawed quite a bit. Initially, I suggested we simply board him, but my mother and partner both looked at me as if I suggested we throw him in the garbage. After doing some research we learned that traveling with a cat is pretty easy. You call ahead and pay about a hundred bucks and you can stick your furry feline friend underneath your seat (in a carrier, of course).

Bingley is both an asshole and a Siamese cat, which means he screams a lot, tears into things, knocks shit over, and is basically a big piece of crap. We took him to the vet who gave us some tranquilizers, advising us to only give Bingley half a pill. It’s funny because like Bingley, I too was drugged up for the flight, so that I wouldn’t panic and go nuts on the plane, either. Similarities!

Because it was the holidays, the airport was fairly crowded, but the folks there are on top of everything, and we didn’t have to wait too long before an employee spotted our carrier and directed us toward a super-fast line, for folks with wheelchairs, kids, animals, etc. The only thing was I had to take Bingley out of his carrier to pass through the metal detectors, and he clung to me like Velcro out of sheer terror of being in a strange and unfamiliar place. Despite being drugged, he was quaking and practically climbed over my shoulders in panic. I was able to quickly pass through the detectors and shove him back into his carrier.

Our flight was very smooth. For our in-flight entertainment, we watched How Murray Saved Christmas, an animated Christmas special boasting the vocal talents of Jason Alexander and Sean Hayes. I couldn’t hear said vocal talents because I packed up my headphones (something tells me I wasn’t missing much). Instead, I just sort of, passed out from the pills, and slept through the hour and half before we landed with a big thud (so big, the coke I was drinking became airborne) in LaGuardia.

A quick side story about LaGuarida. Some ten, fifteen years ago, I took a trip to New York with my best friend for Thanksgiving. Budget and still-fresh 9/11 jitters prompted us to take a Greyhound to New York City. We were able to secure a cheap hotel room in New York City – but not in Manhattan, but the LaGuardia Wyndham in Queens. The bus ride was almost 20 hours long, and we knew we were facing another 20-hour trip back home, and staying next to an airport, it felt like the airplanes were mocking us with their hour and a half travel time to Chicago.

Anyways, so we get to New York exhausted and a touch stinky because, let’s face it, airplanes stink. The hotel was across the street from Madison Square Garden in the heart of Manhattan. I loved the area. It was loud, crazy, and insane. Every street corner had some guy hawking Middle Eastern food, and the lights from the jumbo screens on MSG made the area seem like daytime 24/7. The hotel was lovely, but there was a bit of a snafoo when we brought Bingley, because the folks there weren’t prepared for a cat. Even though we called ahead, we were welcomed with open arms but furrowed brows. Before we made our way to the room, the front desk clerk assured us that we’d get some supplies for Bingley – all we needed were two bowls and a litter tray.

As we were settling into our room – which was really cute. It had a large queen bed, a small seating area, and a tiny alcove with a writing desk. Our view was a partial view of the entrance to MSG and Penn Station, as well as the side of the neighboring building. The bathroom was really an upright coffin with indoor plumbing. As we were getting comfortable and unpacking, I noticed that we still weren’t getting any litter boxes or anything, so I phoned housekeeping, and a nice lady heard my request and said somebody would be there in about ten minutes. Bingley was still imprisoned in his carrier, barely making any noise, traumatized by the whole move (I don’t blame him), so I was eager to get the litter box so that we could let him roam the room.

After ten, fifteen, then twenty minutes, I called again, and another nice voice, this time apologetic told me they had nothing for cats. She suggested bringing up a cardboard box, which would be disgusting, so I thanked her and announced to my partner that we would have to make other arrangements. Thankfully, across the street, Penn State had a Duane Reade (Walgreens for you Midwesterners), so we were able to stock up on food and litter for Bingley. The problem was we couldn’t find a litter tray. My mom pulled out a Pyrex baking dish and suggested we use that. I thought she was kidding, but after looking for other less-weird options, we were stuck with buying a Pyrex casserole to put our cat in.

We laid out a tarp of Duane Reade bags all over the bathroom floor, at the foot of the shower, and put down the dish, filled with litter. We opened the carrier and Bingley was smushed in one corner, half-dazed, half-terrified. We pulled him out, and he clung to the sides of the wall, crawling, like the the chick from “The Yellow Wallpaper.” He found a plastic bag and burrowed underneath it. We pulled him out and took him to the bathroom and left him in there. There was s sense of deja vu because that was what it was like when we first brought him home. We put him in the bathroom, left the door ajar, and hoped he’d walk out on his own.

Since it was late afternoon by the time we showered and rested, we decided to go to dinner and then MoMA, which was open late that Friday. We ate at Ruby Tuesdays – a place I never patronized before. Because this was Bloomberg’s New York, all of the menu items had their calorie counts. The food that was high in sodium had a tiny icon of a salt shaker, and practically everything on the menu had a tiny salt shaker, except for a chicken dish with mushrooms and cheese (I’m glad there was no icon of a cholesterol-ridden vein).

Even though I was tired, I loved MoMA, and wished we had more time. It was open until 8:00 pm, so we had about an hour and some change to explore. I got to see Van Gogh’s The Starry Night and Rousseau’s The Sleeping Gypsy. It’s strange seeing work that’s been reproduced ad nauseum, because even though the images are very familiar, it still feels off to see the actual work. The Van Gogh piece was surrounded by tourists, all armed with their phones, snapping away. We also got to see Basquiat’s Glenn – Jean-Michel Basquiat is probably my favorite visual artist, and I’ve seen reproductions of his work (and own t-shirts and posters of his works), but still it was a thrill to see the work in person. I took lots of pictures (but I’m not sure how copyright works, so I won’t post them online). We also got to see Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans (which I think I saw at the MCA in Chicago during a Warhol exhbition – but I could be wrong).

Once we got back to the hotel, we chilled on the couch for a bit, reading, and Bingley started to peak his little head out of the bathroom, and carefully and daintily walked into the room, sniffing around. He looked at the different, unfamiliar corners and jumped on the new furniture, before settling cautiously on the couch with us. He was purring loudly, though he wasn’t vocalizing as much. Still, he was out of the bathroom and looked settled.

That night we also learned about Carrie Fisher’s heart attack. The initial reports were that the heart attack was massive, but that she was stabilized. I hoped she’d be okay. I still YouTube her crazy interviews.

December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve in New York. I woke up excited because it was really Christmas in New York. It was also, like, 60 degrees, so we wouldn’t have a white Christmas, which was fine with me, because the bulk of our trip was spent walking around the streets of Manhattan, so the warmer weather suited us.

Because my mom is a periodic New Yorker, she knew the ins and outs of Manhattan, and so we found ourselves plunged into the thick crowds. Sometimes I wished we had those little pennants like the tourist groups had, because there were times when we got separated from each other.

For lunch we supped at a deli and had paninis – my mom and my partner and Cuban sandwiches, while I had a chicken cutlet panini. We then forged ahead walking to One World Trade Center. The last time I was there was just a couple years after 9/11 and it was just a large, gaping hole in the ground, with construction crew. Hawkers were selling cheap photo albums taken of the attacks. I hadn’t been back to New York since, so to see it as built up as it was, it was very impressive.

We also went into St. Paul’s Chapel, which is the oldest surviving church in Manhattan. We couldn’t go through the church yard, but we were able to stop in, and we were just in time to see a small congregation, with children getting ready for a Christmas pageant. I remember when we did Christmas pageants as a kid – our costumes were charming – if homemade. When I played a shepherd, I wore an old witch costume with a tea towel on my head. The kids who were sheep had pillow stuffing taped to them. The kids at St. Paul’s were turned out – their costumes looked Broadway-level professional. We didn’t get to sit for very long, because my mother wanted to see the Statue of Liberty and the War Memorial, so we dashed around Battery Park in the dusk, before hopping in a cab and making our way to the East Village to eat at Velselka.

The line at the restaurant was almost out-the-door, and as we tried to get in, we heard two hardened old ladies grouse about the place. “You don’t want to go in there,” one of the ladies sniffed dismissively. “That place is too cramped, the tables are too close, and they rush you in and out.”

We waited for twenty minutes before being shown to our table. Velselka is a popular spot in the area, not just for Eastern Europeans, but for East Village hipsters, too. Lots of handle bar mustaches chomping down on pierogies. We didn’t order the Christmas dinner, and instead broke with tradition and had meat – gasp – for Christmas Eve (a big no no in the Polish Catholic community). I had hunters stew, which can be best described as Polish kimchi. Fermented cabbage served with Polish kielbasa. My partner and my mother both had goulash. We even had apple pie for dessert. Stuffed like crazy, we hopped into a cab and went home for the night.

December 25, 2016

Christmas day in New York and it’s still crazy and busy. I thought it’d be a little quieter and I thought the shops would be closed, but for the most part everything was still open and people were still walking around. We went to Times Square again. In the day time, Times Square looks different –  less manic. I know hip New Yorkers hate Times Square, and I know that it’s the epitome of our culture’s devotion to consumerism, but I love it. The bright LED and neon is beautiful to me. It’s like stepping inside of a kaleidoscope. Times Square reminds me of Oxford Circus with its lighted signs for Coke and McDonald’s. It’s trashy and ridiculous, but there’s something beautiful about it, too.

We went to Central Park for most of the day and strolled through the park. We passed by the Central Park Zoo. We didn’t go inside, but from the gate, we saw the seals in their enclosure, jumping out of the water and entertaining the guests. It made me think of the seals at Lincoln Park Zoo, who just sit on the rocks like big, blubbery lumps. We moved passing by the Alice in Wonderland statues and sitting by a lagoon. There we saw a lady with two greyhounds (each dressed in fancy coats). One greyhound was blind (its eyes were milky white), but it knew how to get around. A couple passed by with a tiny Yorkie that had a leg cast. She was very friendly and ambled over to us. The guys told us they named her Ladybird after Ladybird Johnson. Ah, family….

We moved on to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but it was closed. As we waiting for the light to change, we saw a guy in a cool roadster. We started to get hungry and walked to Heidelberg Restaurant – my mom’s favorite German restaurant in New York. The place was insanely crowded, but we managed to get seats – except, we were warned that they had upcoming reservations, and we were only allowed to stay for a couple hours. I ordered a sausage plate, while my mom and my partner both ordered Wiener Schnitzel. The waitress had to wear a dirndl and my glass had lipstick on it, but otherwise, the food was fantastic. I ate so much, that I thought I’d pop like an overfed tic. We staggered out of the place, and my mom thought she knew of a deli, but it was closed, so we did some more walking, looking at the elegant hotels. We wandered over to the Carlyle Hotel. I loved the Carlyle Hotel mainly because Elaine Stritch was a resident artiste there, performing in its piano lounge. In the Elaine Stritch documentary, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, we got to see Stritch performing and living in the Carlyle (her room was tiny and not very pretty).

As per usual, we did a lot more walking, a lot more pining for the beautiful lives that people led in New York.

In the evening, we ordered in Chinese food and relaxed.

We also found out that evening that George Michael died. I was gutted. I loved his music and was looking forward to the re-releases of his Faith and Listen without Prejudice albums. 2016 was being very 2016.

December 26, 2016

Boxing Day – at least in Canada and in the UK. This was our day of shopping. We went to the Strand, we went to UNIQLO, we went to Bolton’s. We ate Polish food – which was very exciting for me, because I don’t get to eat a lot of Polish food at home in Chicago. I know, a shocker, given that there are billions of us Poles roaming the streets of Chicago, but all of the good Polish restaurants are hella far in the West or South side, so unless I’m visiting my dad, I don’t get to eat much Polish food.

First, I’ll write about the Strand. What can I say about 18 miles of books. I’m an atheist, but I had a tiny peak of heaven being in the strand. It was gorgeous. Three floors of books. Even though it was stacked with people (it was a bit nuts), I still had fun, strolling the aisles and picking up books. A nice employee armed with tote bags saw me and handed me a tote bag so that I could unburden myself of my choices. It was great, and if I wasn’t with people, I could’ve stayed there all day. I didn’t even get a chance to look at the food literature because a bunch of store workers were having an impromptu meeting at the bookcase, and I didn’t want to linger. So, I bought:

  • You’re Better Than Me: A Memoir by Bonnie McFarlane
  • Kissing Bill O’Reilly, Roasting Miss Piggy: 100 Things to Love and Hate About TV by Ken Tucker
  • Cinema Nation: The Best Writing on Film from The Nation: 1913-2000, ed. by Carl Bromley
  • This Is a Book About The Kids In The Hall by John Semley

At the time I was reading Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm (probably the funniest book on the planet), so I couldn’t tuck into my new books until I got back from the trip (I already finished McFarlane and Tucker  since we got back). At UNIQLO, I got a bunch of pop art shirts – a year ago, the UNIQLO in Chicago had a great line of t-shirts with the works of Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, and Basquiat. I bought a few (at criminally low prices) but when I went back for more, they were done and moved on to a Lego theme, which yuck…But in New York, they had whole pop shops in the UNIQLOs that had these great shirts, so I stocked up on quite a few.

We had lunch at Little Poland in the East Village. It was really good. I had zapiekanki, which is Polish street food: it’s basically a French bread pizza. I also had the best matzo ball soup. My partner had pierogies and mushroom barley soup and my mom had latkes and cucumber dill soup. The waitress was Polish, so I got to speak to her in Polish – which is always fun – I love being bilingual. It was rainy and cold that day, so it felt very cozy, sitting next to the window, looking out of the window and relaxing.

We hung around the East Village for a bit longer, and went to the Organic Cafe for mulled wine. It was there that we got bad news: some very good friends of ours suffered a building fire that left them homeless. My partner and I were devastated as these are beautiful people. I celebrated Thanksgiving in their lovely apartment, and my heart ached for them. We learned about this while at the cafe. The news, plus George Michael music playing in the background made for a melancholy afternoon.

Because it was so cold and rainy, we decided to make it an early-ish evening and we headed home. We stopped at Europa Cafe for some pasta and called it a night.

December 27, 2016

I was sick, so I stayed in bed for the day.

Carrie Fisher died. I was devastated. She, Wendy Wasserstein, and Nora Ephron were my Holy Trinity of humor writing (now, all three are gone). I looked at all the tributes, and I was a bit annoyed that everything was either about her work in Star Wars and Princess Leia or about her being Hollywood royalty . I know that the film is iconic and it will forever overshadow everything she did, but I wish more attention was paid to her writing. She was an incredible comedienne and a razor-sharp wit. (I’m re-reading Postcards from the Edge at the moment – and in a weird coincidence, I gifted The Princess Diarist to my partner a couple weeks ago).

In the evening, I summoned up my strength to go to the Lincoln Center to see Verdi’s Nabucco. The Met is gorgeous and makes me think that Chicago’s Lyric looks like an outhouse in comparison. The starburst chandeliers, the sumptuous red carpeting, it all was dizzying in its beauty. I wanted to live in the Met. While waiting in line, I got a little sentimental because a good friend of mine died this year, and he was an opera fanatic, and he loved the Met and would’ve loved to attend.

Nabucco is good, but like a lot of operas, I feel that the story has some serious holes in the plots. From what I could follow, it’s about a King who is threatening the Israelites, who have one of his daughters hostage. She in turn is in love with an Israelite hero, as is her evil sister, who usurps her commanding father and takes over the Kingdom, only to kill herself in grief and suicide. I don’t know. The music was gorgeous and I swooned at some of the beauty of the singing.

December 28, 2016

It was time to go. I loved New York and didn’t want to go. I wanted to live there forever. Like on the 23rd, we drugged poor Bingley an hour before we left. He already started staggering around the room like a drunken sailor. We were wondering what to do with the Pyrex. We didn’t have space to pack it, but I was worried that if we left it, some poor maid would take it home, clean it (but not well enough), get some microscopic particle of Bingley’s feces, and then die of some horrible stomach bug. So we wrapped it in layers of plastic and threw it out in a trash can in the street. I spent part of the morning, scrubbing the bathroom floor clean of any errant kitty litter. I also wanted to shave, but the can of shaving gel was so weird and shut tight that when I finally got the top off, I accidentally sprayed electric blue shaving gel all over the bathroom mirror and wall. So then I spent part of the morning cleaning the mirror, too.

We cleaned up the rest of the room and gathered our things and left for the airport. The flight was smooth, save for a crying baby that wouldn’t shut up, plus my head cold, which coupled with the sleeping pills made for a very fuzzy trip. The air pressure also wreaked some serious havoc on my sinuses and it felt like someone was slowly driving in a needle in my eye. As with the flight to New York, the flight back ended with a huge thump as the plane basically drop landed.

When we landed, I also found out that Debbie Reynolds died. Fuck you, 2016.

We got home, and Bingley got out, and surprisingly, was really cool about everything and wandered around the house without issue. I went to bed to nurse my cold.

* * * *

The rest of the week was spent in and out of bed (I had a small fever at one point). New Years was uneventful because my partner caught my cold, so we spent it watching Kathy Griffin and Anderson Cooper on CNN, before turning the TV to the New Years celebration in Zakopane, Poland. I made lamp chops with black eyed peas for dinner.

My partner is a New Years baby, so we celebrated his birthday at Bistro Zinc in Old Town. He had the skate with brown butter, I had a zucchini quiche.

All in all, my New York Christmas was fabulous and I can’t wait to go back.

Some random thoughts

  • I fell in love with the delis in New York – especially the hot bars
  • Speaking of delis, I love how the delis also have flowers
  • I got to eat a pretzel on the street like a real New Yorker!
  • We tried passing Trump Tower, but I broke out in a rash. Just kidding.
  • I took pictures around 30 Rock, because of 3o Rock. It was there that I was schooled by my partner that the statue in front is not Prometheus but Atlas.
  • Our hotel was close to a Korean Franciscan church.
  • We walked so much, I bore holes into two pairs of socks.
  • I kept my eyes peeled but couldn’t spot any celebrities.
  • In the Walgreens in Times Square, just as we walked in, security guards were roughing up a shoplifter.
  • The exhaust fumes from the food trucks made the streets smell like a gas station. But the food from the food trucks smelled ahmazing.
  • In Penn Station when the train to New Jersey was announced, a drove of people – like an exodus, moved forward en mass toward their track. I just jumped out of the way.
  • The Strand has a cute tote bag with Michelle Obama’s picture on it.
  • The Pepsi cans in New York have “New York City” written on them.
  • One day at Starbucks, I was standing in line behind a family of six. No one in the family had ever seen a menu, and therefore I waited for twenty minutes to finally get up to the cashier. The guy behind me whined and whimpered like a puppy tied to a tree.
  • Times Square got so crazy crowded, that we just walked on the street.

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Dreaming about being BFFs with Leah Remini

I must have had Leah Remini on my mind a lot lately, because I had a very vivid dream about being friends with TV comedienne and Scientology whistle blower, Leah Remini. It was a very vivid dream. So vivid in fact, that when I woke up, I realized that I hadn’t yet written a Christmas card for Leah. And I realized that I didn’t have her address, but still, in the fog of just waking up, I made the strange connection that Leah and I shared a mutual friend who lives in Atlanta (we don’t), and so I would send Leah’s Christmas card, addressing it to Leah, but in c/o of my friend.

In my dream, Leah had a gorgeous ranch home, somewhere warm. I’ll assume it was L.A., but I’m not completely sure – it could’ve been Phoenix (I flew out there to visit in-laws a few times). She was very sweet. In my dream, she still had her thick New York accent, but she wasn’t as surly as her comedic persona. Not surprisingly, she was gorgeous and funny – just like she seems to be in real life.

This isn’t the first time that I had a celebrity dream that felt so real that I was still confused waking up. Once I dreamed that I was spring cleaning my apartment with Sharon Stone (who was, like 6″ in my dream) and I had the television on in the background, and the promos for the final season of Sex and the City came on, and suddenly, in the dream, I got very upset because when Kristin Davis came on the screen, I started to rant to Sharon Stone, “Oh my god, I’ve been calling Kristen for days, and she hasn’t gotten back to me. I don’t know what’s going on. She’s my best friend, and she hasn’t gotten back to me in days.” And I woke up and was actually upset that Kristin Davis was shining me on.

Celebrity dreams are weird – a boss of mine used to have a Website in which he compiled emails by contributors. These emails were stories of celebrity dreams. I was still working with him when I had the Sharon Stone/Kristen Davis dream, so he included it in his site (with a neat caricature of Sharon Stone).

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