Category Archives: Nonfiction

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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Andy Cohen’s new book ‘Superficial’ is deeper and more thoughtful

Andy Cohen’s second collection of diary entries Superficial: More Adventures from the Andy Cohen Diaries reads a bit like a solid descendant of Andy Warhol’s diaries. Like Warhol, Cohen’s tome is filled with entries of running into celebrities and his unvarnished opinions of those famous people. And while the title is self-referential and tongue-in-cheek, Cohen is surprisingly introspective and candid throughout the book. Even though he’s pretty free with his judgment on his celebrity pals, he’s often hardest on himself.

For most, Cohen will be reality TV’s ultimate carnival barker. A former executive at Bravo, he has since become a TV star in his own right, a sort-of 21st century answer to Truman Capote (though are less literate). He’s most famous now for the Real Housewives franchise. Because of him, women like NeNe Leakes, Brandi Glanville, Teresa Guidice, and Bethenny Frankel are household names. Cohen’s successfully shepherded these women into fame and has foisted them onto the public consciousness.

But as shown in Superficial, the housewives are just one part of a busy life. One thing readers will notice about Cohen’s life is that it’s busy. Yes, he’s not working in a coal mine, but for a rich privileged white guy, he’s got an exhaustive schedule of meetings, appearances, talks, TV and radio spots, brunches lunches and dinners, and vacations. Celebrities pop in and out of his professional and persona life – Anderson Cooper, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kelly Ripa are regulars in Cohen’s world. To his credit, though the book is heavy with names dropped, he’s not obnoxious about it.

In fact, despite enviable wealth, good looks, lots of friends, a rewarding job, Cohen’s approach to his life and work feels like a yeoman effort. Often Cohen sounds tired, irritable, and lonely throughout the book. He doesn’t grumble about his work, and he does have perspective, but often his tone reflects a “done with it” attitude. It’d be very lazy – though tempting – to suggest that he’s going through a midlife crisis; it does seem though that Cohen’s life is a less rosy than outsiders would assume.

And though Cohen’s public persona is that of an affable gay BFF, he’s a bit crustier in real life. He’s honest though about his moments of petulance – there’s the shockingly immature reaction to his “loss” at a silly lip sync show, in which he owns his “sore loser” status. Also, he owns his ignorance and naiveté about intersectionality and cultural appropriation when he obliviously (and quite stupidly) stepped into a controversy about race after criticizing Amandla Stenberg’s public statements about cultural appropriation (which he dimly reduced to a celebrity feud between Stenberg and Kylie Jenner over hair) It’s commendable that the author doesn’t try to pass himself off as perfect. Far from it. In fact, the Cohen we get is fully three-dimensional, and quite interesting.

Some will be disappointed by Superficial after finishing it: Cohen’s US Weekly public image, his association with trashy reality TV, and the candy-colored dust jacket of the book will lead readers to assume that this is a breezy, silly affair. And a lot of it is dishy, gossipy tea about celebs that orbit around Planet Andy, but there’s just as much of Andy Cohen, the hardworking, sometimes unlikable, sometimes lonely man who is looking for companionship and stability in his whirling, high-paced world.

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Kathy Griffin’s funny new book is a case of not enough of a good thing

Kathy Griffin’s comedy comprises of tales of the comic’s dealings with celebrities, good or bad. Throughout her career, she’s had many confrontations with famous people, and instead of ruing and being moody about, she has taken the experiences and made a multi-Emmy winning and Grammy winning career. In her new book, Kathy Griffin’s Celebrity Run-Ins: My A-Z Index, Griffin has compiled a selection of celebrity encounters, good and bad, and laid it out in alphabetical order like a dictionary.

Because she’s somewhat trapped by the format of the book, some of the stories feel abrupt and some of the celebrities get such a short shift, you wonder why she included them in the first place. And the stories that do get more ink feel somewhat rushed, too, which is a shame because Griffin’s an ace at translating her quick-fire wit to the page. And when she wants to be – as in the passages devoted to late pals Joan Rivers, Jackie Collins, and Garry Shandling – she can be an emotional writer, too. Those readers who remember her first book, Official Book Club Selection, will know that despite her reliance on humor and wit, she doesn’t shy away from darker aspects of her life. Celebrity Run-Ins is different, though, much lighter in tone and content, so there are only a few spots that feel like a shift away from the general jocular tone of the book.

And that’s a shame, because the years since Official Book Club Selection, a lot has happened in Griffin’s life, including the deaths of several friends (including mentor Joan Rivers), the cancellation of her talk show, the embarrassing Fashion Police fracas, the end of her popular reality sitcom,  her win of a Grammy, a notable dust up with Elisabeth Hasselbeck, and a seeming end to her relationship with Bravo. Some of these events are alluded to in her book, but it would be great to read more about how she dealt with these difficulties, and how she sees them now, with perspective. Of course, none of these stories would fit into the rigid format she’s constructed, so hopefully she has another book in her.

That’s not to say that Celebrity Run-Ins isn’t funny or not worth picking up. It’s hilarious and often an astute look at our celebrity culture. What inspired the book, according to Griffin, is she realized with a start that she knew or worked with the principal figures in the excellent documdrama Straight Outta Compton. And the list she’s compiled is an impressive array of figures from sports, politics, film, television, theater, and music (her adorable bother, Maggie, a celebrity and fan favorite in her own right also gets a chapter). While expected names make appearances  – Gloria Estefan, Anderson Cooper, Gloria Vanderbilt, Chris Colfer – it’s the names of folks you wouldn’t necessarily expect like Suge Knight, Warren Zevon, and Marshawn Lynch that may be a pleasant surprise for readers (the Suge Knight story is very funny). And because she’s known for her brutal irreverence for celebrity (along with her devotion and obsession with it – she’s our Andy Warhol), some of the celebrities included – and I’m looking at Jon Hamm in particular – may want to skip her assessment of them.

Celebrity Run-Ins works best when Griffin is indulging in her love of gossip, Hollywood, and admiration for her subjects. The book hits various high points, most notably when she writes with great affection about Anderson Cooper, Cher (who gets dialogue written in funny phonetic spelling) Jackie Collins, Gloria Steinem, and Jane Fonda, among others. It’s in these passages that she combines her sharp wit with her big heart. It makes for fun reading that gets sentimental, but never gloppy. Her relationship with Cooper in particular is wonderful because the two have a sibling-like love for each other, and Griffin is forever subjecting him to her hilarious pranks, and he seems to be the perennial good sport about it all.

Hopefully there is a weightier tome in Griffin, yet. Her Twitter has posts that reflect her attitude and opinion on politics, race, age, gender, the election, queer rights, and culture. I’d love for Griffin to pen an essay collection in which she addresses Black Lives Matter, ageism, sexism, homophobia, Trump, Clinton, as she does in her stand-up and social media. But that’s for another time. For now, Celebrity Run-Ins does a commendable job in providing its readers with some laugh out-loud moments.

 

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Megyn Kelly’s ‘Settle for More’ is a jumbled but admirable effort

Megyn Kelly’s public persona is a study in contradiction: on the one hand, many see her as simply one of a giant roster of beautiful blonde talking heads on Fox News. On the hand, she’s a feminist hero, bravely standing up to the bullying tactics of Donald Trump. The truth is a messy in-between, which Kelly tries to present as an authentic human being instead of a two-dimensional figure concocted by a team of TV producers, image experts, managers, and hair and makeup people. In Settle for More, Kelly works to humanize the glossy image she presents so successfully on her various appearances, by sharing anecdotes of her childhood, her frailties and vulnerabilities, as well as her ambition and drive. She makes a convincing case for herself as a complex and complicated person with many sides to her. But often her rather stark limitations as a writer fail her, muddying the impact of her words.

Some of why Settle for More fails in part is because Kelly seems unsure of what kind of book she’s writing. As a straight-up memoir it doesn’t work because Kelly’s childhood and upbringing isn’t that interesting, and she doesn’t have the literary flair of a Sarah Vowell or a David Sedaris to inject her storytelling with anything amounting to interesting yarn spinning. She grew up in a solidly middle class New York State family, and went through a hellish year of bullying in junior high and suffered through the unexpected death of her father. To be sure, these are traumatic events, and Kelly’s perseverance is to be admired. But these experiences aren’t enough to warrant a book, at least not the one that Kelly’s written.

It’s when she writes about her professional life that Settle for More becomes far more interesting. Her career is fascinating in that she started off as a lawyer, but disaffected and unsatisfied, she decided to shift gears in mid-career and jump over to broadcast journalism. When she writes of her time as a female attorney dealing with condescension and sexism, Kelly’s work shows much more promise. Here we see the assemblage of the public persona and image of Megyn Kelly, and she does a solid job of showing the real person underneath. She shares anecdotes of sparring with politicians and fellow journalists (including an amusing bit about a terse tete-a-tete she shared with Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart), and she highlights some of the misogyny and sexism that she faced.

Unfortunately, because she’s part of the Fox News brand, she cannot indulge in any semblance of feminism – and she even indulges in some stupid and simply untrue characterizations of feminism – and hedges her bets continuously throughout the book by stressing just how much gender doesn’t matter. This theme becomes tiresome and feels a little bit like overcompensation, as if she was worried that if she sounded too much like Gloria Steinem (whom she dings for wearing a “I had an abortion” t-shirt), her fan base may abandon her. In her quest to downplay gender, she comes off a bit desperate to be “one of the guys.”

But despite her ambivalence toward gender issues, they are major themes throughout Settle for More. And why shouldn’t they? After all, as a lawyer and then a journalist, Kelly has succeeded in male-dominated industries that still operate in large part, on the boys club mentality. Throughout her career, she has faced obstacles that will be relatable to female readers, including sexual harassment and unwelcomed advances by colleagues and superiors. The most notable – and high profile – passages in the book involve Kelly’s interactions with Donald Trump and Roger Ailes.

Trump’s fights with Kelly were well-publicized. The now president-elect took to Twitter to slam Kelly’s questions during the debate, using typically boorish and sexist language (referencing her menstrual cycle). Kelly tells a riveting tale of rabid Trump supporters who take to social media with sexist and misogynistic threats and slurs. Surrounding herself with security detail, Kelly would become haunted and hunted by Trump’s supporters, and became an unlikely hero of the left, while the right thought of her as a turncoat. What’s important about Kelly’s account is that she is taking control of the narrative, instead of allowing for the media to shape it, and her writing does a solid job in complicating the reductive assumptions people came to, when the Trump fracas was dominating the media.

Her disclosure of her experience with sexual harassment at the hands of Roger Ailes is also important in that highlights an important issue that too many people disregard, minimize, or trivialize. Many question Kelly’s timing and motives for her candor – some will go the predictable route of victim-blaming, victim-shaming, misogyny, and dismissal, which is why it’s so vital that we continue to hear stories like Kelly’s, and that we continue to encourage victims to speak. Our job as readers isn’t to question why or how Kelly dealt with her experience of harassment, because there is no one right or ideal way of responding to sexual harassment. Our job is to hear Kelly’s story and listen.

If Kelly had focused on her career when writing Settle for More, she would’ve had an above-average book. If she focused on gender issues, and stopped hedging her bets when it comes to gender identity and gender politics in law and journalism, she’d have a great book. Unfortunately, Kelly chose the traditional memoir, and as a result, she merely has produced a competent book, with flashes of great potential.

 

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Dave Chappelle and Kate McKinnon work out their post-Election blues on ‘Saturday Night Live’

Dave Chappelle and A Tribe Called Quest Bumper Photos

Whew. What a week. Saturday Night Live had a pretty rough assignment: follow up the awful of Donald Trump’s victory and remind shell-shocked Americans that shit can still be funny. Host Dave Chappelle was in a strange position because he’s a performer that is too electric for the mainstream trappings of SNL, and when booking the comic, one runs the risk of either pushing SNL to an area it’s just not prepared for, or shoving him into an anodyne TV-friendly personality (just review Chris Rock’s disappointing hosting turn a couple years ago as evidence).

But last week’s episode managed to overcome these difficulties with grace, style, and compassion. As a host, Chappelle unsurprisingly dominated. His sketch show is legendary and he is a dynamic presence in the different sketches. And thankfully, as with most stand-up hosts, Chappelle devotes his monologue to a bit of stand-up work. A couple weeks ago, Chappelle seemingly defended Trump in a concert, drawing ire and anger from fans. In his monologue, Chappelle took the opportunity to highlight the absurdity of the election as well as pinpointing how white liberals’ shock over the election is just a repercussion of their privilege. Black voters, female voters, queer voters all know just how tenuous progress can be – and how vulnerable it can be to backlash. Chappelle points out that white people aren’t as surprising as we think – an important point because disenfranchised groups are used to being royally screwed over on a grand scale. Chappelle – not the most sympathetic voice in comedy, isn’t cruel in his assessment, just brutally honest. Towards the end of his monologue, he talks about approaching Trump’s impending presidency with hope – and uses a poignant anecdote of a White House party he attended, in which all of the guests were Black (with the exception of Bradley Cooper). He mentions seeing the portraits of the presidents, and notes that when Frederick Douglass was invited to the White House, he had to be escorted by Abraham Lincoln; he also shared how Franklin Roosevelt kowtowed to public pressure and never invited a black guest to the White House again after feeling a backlash.

From the Set: Dave Chappelle and A Tribe Called Quest

And as potent as Chappelle’s monologue is, it’s Kate McKinnon’s cold open that not only outshines this episode, but possibly anything SNL did since having 9/11 first responders stand on the stage with Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Lorne Michaels. McKinnon – dressed as Hillary Clinton, maybe for the last time – sits at the piano and performs a stirring – and truly heartbreaking – rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Two things are happening here: McKinnon is paying tribute to the late Cohen who died earlier this week, and she’s paying tribute to Hillary Clinton who lost a very bruising and important presidential election. The song is an apt choice because it’s a melancholic tribute to regret. When McKinnon-as-Clinton sings “I tried my best/it wasn’t much” it takes on even more poignancy as one remembers just how hard Clinton worked throughout the primaries and the general election, and it’s a sad follow-up to Clinton’s apology to her supporters during her beautiful concession speech. It’s a heartbreaking moment – McKinnon, an openly queer woman and feminist embodying a woman who for many represented progress for queer folks and women – and it’s a rare moment when the show knocks it out of the park.

The Election Night sketch – with guest star Chris Rock – was a fantastic sketch, too. And scarily accurate of the tiny dinner party that I was at on election night. White liberals played by Cecily Strong, Aidy Bryant, Vanessa Bayer, and Beck Bennett, spoon fed with  happy talk about Clinton’s chances of winning the election – are slowly realizing throughout the evening something that Chappelle and Rock  have known since forever: America is often very racist. As the evening begins, the party is jubilant and the white guests settle in comfortably for what they think is going to be a great evening (Bennett’s character even predicts that we’ll never have a Republican president again – we can dream, can’t we). As the evening progresses, though, and Trump starts to pile on one victory after another, the party goers start to get desperate (Bryant is great as she concocts an impossibly convoluted path to victory for Clinton – again, I did the same thing). Meanwhile, Rock and Chappelle – playing a Greek chorus of sorts – remind their friends that this isn’t a huge shocker. When Strong gasps in disbelief that she thinks “America is  racist”  Chappelle responds with a sarcastic, “Oh my god, I remember my great-grandfather telling me something about that…but he was a slave or something.”

The sketch is exactly the kind of thing that SNL needs more of: it can get very smug, particularly when it comes to liberal vs. conservative politics. Though the show is often very toothless, it does hit slightly harder against conservative politicians (at least in the last 10 years or so – the awful early 1990s SNL was a different animal all together). Rock and Chappelle aren’t mean when they school their friends – but again, they’re doling out some much-needed medicine about privilege and awareness – something that the sheltered white liberals in the sketch (and throughout the country) need a lesson in. And there’s a great shot of intersectionality in the ignorant rant of Strong’s character who asks her Black friends, “Do you even know what it’s like to be a woman in this country where you can’t get ahead no matter what you do?”

The Kids Talk Trump continues to worry expectations – this time Vanessa Bayer is talking to a group of small children and asks about Donald Trump.  Among the usual garbled six-year-old answers that refer to his “funny hair” or that he’s a “bully,” a little girl starts to share her perspective, in the same, innocuous cutesy way that her friends are, except she’s relaying her father’s hard truths about a Trump presidency, including legitimizing racism and xenophobia and that her black cat, Pussy, will be stopped and frisked. It’s a queasy sketch – but for all the right reasons – as a lot of the commentators were asking after the election “What about the children? What do we say to our children?” When Chappelle pops by as the little girl’s woke father, he joyfully announces, “Hey sweetie – sounds like somebody’s dropping some truth!”

Kate McKinnon makes another strong impression as Ruth Bader Ginsberg during Weekend Update. Like her other impersonations, Justice Ginsberg is more of a character than a detailed impression (she’s not an  astute mimic like Jay Pharoah is). Like her Clinton, McKinnon’s Ginsberg is an amalgam of public perceptions, namely the woman’s stamina and no-nonsense demeanor. Now that Clinton’s lost, McKinnon’s Ginsberg is raring up to stay fit and healthy for the next four years so that Trump can’t replace her with a conservative justice. It’s a great – and silly – stab at partisan politics with Ginsberg burning Trump’s possible cabinet (calling Guiliani a vampire), and downing a giant packet of Emergen-C. It’s not a terribly smart joke – it’s very easy, but McKinnon’s energy carries it (and her implication that Mike Pence might be a little light in the loafers is funny – if again, a touch easy).

The rest of of Update was as always – okay…Though when Jost announced the record number of female minorities in the Senate and suggested we see all their names, I laughed heartily when just four names quickly zoomed by and we barely got through two seconds of Rachel Platton’s “Fight Song” (it cuts off at “This is my f…” The other jokes about the election were softballs – Trump’s old and unqualified, that kind of thing – though Michael Che handled a goof well, when he tried to land a Trump vs. Mexican immigrants joke.

Though the other sketches – the non-political sketches – were solid, they feel like above-average afterthoughts to the meat of the episode which was the country post-Election. Chappelle showed off some strong versatile acting chops and his subversive quality had an effect on the show as a whole, elevating it to something higher. As usual, when a strong comedic voice takes on the hosting duties, he/she is usually the dominant force in the sketches, and Chappelle’s turn at bat is no different. He proved himself to be an estimable live performer and his monologue was masterful.

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