Last night in New York City

You can watch Dame Judi Dench here for free; it cost us $50 a piece and was worth it ("how could anything involving Judi Dench not be worth it?" is one of my general rules for living). She told a dirty Merchant of Venice story and taught us a new word ("the irrational fear of being stared at by a duck": anatidaephobia). There were the usual boneheads determined to relay their own life history during the audience Q&A portion of the event, which is always a mistake, and for some reason the first lady up to the mike thought it would be a good idea to bring Dame Judi Dench two books to read (one on the art of losing [?!] and the other a collection of poetry by Wisława Szymborska [who I personally adore]), neither of which, I am quite sure, ever made it into the hands of Dame Judi Dench. C'est la vie! I can't believe this needs to be said, but People of earth! Stars are not your friends! They will never be your friends! They do not need nor care to know you! It’s exciting to share the same space as a famous person but they are not superior human beings! They are just strangers you’ve seen on a stage or on a screen! Remember this always. Write it on a post-it and staple it to your bra strap or panties or wherever if you have to, before you leave the house, and do not even for a fraction of an instant forget it.

Afterward SarahB and I stopped for a nightcap at a magical restaurant called Thalassa, which at 8:30 on a Monday was light on eaters but generously staffed: she ordered a glass of rosé and I had a Greek lager, and both were refilled by the bartender for free, along with a plate of cheese and fresh, plump, oily olives. We had a lovely old time chatting, and when we finally exited we were each handed a bottle of water and a tiny to-go bag filled with cookies. It was one of those perfect New York City nights that are worth savoring, and we did! We really did.

Then we hit the streets for a ride home, which you can enjoy right here, for free. I apologize in advance for all the laughing.

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I love this photo of Dame Judi Dench giving Jake Gyllenhaal a stern dressing down, aka "a talking to" (also ♥️ the English language, btw). And how she's wearing her usual sensible footwear and earthy linens while he goes full-on Johnny Cash at 7:30 in the morning. I love them both! SarahB and I are seeing her tomorrow @ TimesTalks where she plans to do, apparently, more talking.

p.s. I only found out about this photo via the Jake Gyllenhaal newsletter, which is going away after Halloween so get in while you can.

Mary Jane

I got to see Carrie Coon in a play today, Mary Jane, which is in previews at the New York Theatre Workshop in the East Village. It's about a single mother caring for her chronically ill son, surrounded by female nurses and doctors and Buddhist hospital chaplains and mothers in similar circumstances (all of the actresses but Coon played multiple roles; there were no men onstage). The character was very much like Nora Durst—who along with Laura Roslin was the greatest TV hero that ever was—which is to say a no-bullshit, take-charge seeker of answers who finds nothing but more questions yet refuses to let go. From now on I'll know them as "Carrie Coon types," whose animating forces are tenacity and fearlessness and hope. 

Notes on Tuesday, September 12

I left early this morning so I could vote in the NYC primary before work, only my voting location was not where I expected it to be (I was one block and one school short. Why are there so many blocks and schools in this town?). I decided to vote after work instead and then realized I'd left my MTA pass in the jacket I was unexpectedly wearing yesterday so I had to haul my whole ass back up four flights of fucking stairs to fetch it. (There was less cursing than you might expect!) Then I decided I was too mad to take the M7 down Columbus so I took the M10 down Central Park West instead. This turned out to be a smart decision, since who couldn't use a 20-block-long view of Central Park first thing in the morning once in a while? Especially in late-late summer in sharp, vaguely humid sunshine? Come on, the answer is nobody. There isn't a single person in the world who wouldn't make that deal.

<<Work work work work work work>>

After work I voted because SarahB would never speak to me again if I did not, and also because I think people who don't vote are idiots. It's literally the easiest thing you can do as a citizen of this country. The polls are open from 6am to 9pm, which is a pretty wide spectrum, although I suppose if you're working more than 15 hours somewhere you may be excused. All other things considered, though, it's a low goddamn bar to meet.

After voting I went to Barnes & Noble to see Robin Sloan read from his new book, Sourdough. I've been a fan of Internet Robin Sloan for a very long time (he used to have quite an active blog) and have been a fan of Novelist Robin Sloan since Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, which is as charming as its title. He has a background in tech (he once worked at Twitter) and a broad curiosity about a lot of things, which I find refreshing, particularly in this fractious socioeconomic climate, and his views on technology today tilt toward optimism without excluding what came before: he's both forward-looking and backward-grateful. He revels in imagination and appreciation and finding use for things. He signed books after the reading and stamped them with the GPS code of the exact location of the bookstore, which was delightful and also a very Robin Sloan thing to do. More superheroes should be like Robin Sloan.

Then I shelled out some heavy clams for a bunch of books, and here's why:

Summons by Robert Francis

Keep me from going to sleep too soon
Or if I go to sleep too soon
Come wake me up. Come any hour
Of night. Come whistling up the road. 
Stomp on the porch. Bang on the door. 
Make me get out of bed and come
And let you in and light a light. 
Tell me the northern lights are on
And make me look. Or tell me clouds
Are doing something to the moon
They never did before, and show me. 
See that I see. Talk to me till
I’m half as wide awake as you
And start to dress wondering why
I ever went to bed at all. 
Tell me the walking is superb.
Not only tell me but persuade me.
You know I’m not too hard persuaded.

Donna Murphy in Hello, Dolly!

I don't use the word "blessed" very often (or ever) because I think it's a little silly (IMHO! YMMV!) but I've been blessed that my time in New York has been filled with so many performances by so many performers I used to—once upon a time—only dream of seeing live on a Broadway stage. If I'm honest, they are probably the reason I wanted to live here in the first place, and if in the decade since they have proved not enough to get me to stay forever, that's due to a slow but steady shift in my own priorities over the last few years. They have been endlessly giving and I have been endlessly rewarded. They are everything I wanted them to be.

The line for Hello, Dolly! stretches long into Shubert Alley, and on certain nights there is some grousing along the way from out-of-towners who for some reason did not realize that purchasing or holding a ticket labeled

HELLO, DOLLY!
DONNA MURPHY

means they will not, in fact, be seeing Bette Midler. I'd like to tell them how lucky they are to see Donna Murphy do anything, but if you're not a person who recognizes this already, I'm not sure you could understand—unless you stay and see the show.

Donna Murphy is one of those stage legends, a two-time Tony winner and consummate theatrical pro who excels in both comedy and drama (she won for Passion and The King and I), that Hollywood has no earthly idea what to do with. You have to see her perform live, and to see her perform in Hello, Dolly!—an across-the-board stellar production of a dated but thoroughly delightful show—is a gift and a small miracle and yes, okay, a blessing, She is sharp and funny and wise and never less than true, drawing every joyous belt and wink and mug from her copious carpet bag of tricks and gleefully sending them all up to the rafters to you, in the audience, who are seeing what it actually means to be a star. 

+ I can find no YouTube evidence of her performance yet, but here she is recreating a number from Anyone Can Whistle, in which she played the devious Mayoress, Cora Hoover Hooper, at (where else) Encores! way back in 2010. Lord, was that something. I was so lucky!

+ this mean, delicious bit from Follies, at Stephen Sondheim's 80th birthday celebration at Lincoln Center, also in 2010:

10-minute doodle session, etc.

I like people who think with their hands; it's just a different kind of poetry.

+ see also: Austin Kleon, who is never-endingly inventive & inspiring

+ Cartoonist Lynda Barry teaches at UW Madison & posts her assignments on her tumblr. Wouldn't you love to show up to your first day of class with this:

  • roll of scotch tape
  • black papermate flair pen
  • box of 24 crayola crayons
  • 3-ring binder
  • 100 plastic sheet protector sleeves

?!!

I would be so happy!

+ her love for Family Circus

Transit notes for Wednesday, September 6

I slipped out of work five minutes early because it rained most of the day and when it rains all bets are off. Three packed D trains in a row might show up and I'll be standing on the platform forever (or ~15 minutes). Sometimes I think they just forget to send the B train through. I imagine it re-routing through Pittsburgh somehow, or winding through the Catskills, and since nobody ever looks up from their phones, how would they even know? They could be sailing across the Adriatic Sea. But it was there when I reached the bottom of the stairs, and only lightly peopled, two small public service miracles. I was home by 5:50.

.  .  .  .  .  

The young woman sitting across from me had a wrinkled Sephora bag tucked between her feet. Her hair was long and dark and I could see out of the corner of my eye her head pitching forward, over and over, as she tried to keep from falling asleep. Finally she gave up and pulled out her phone. The universe's great multi-tool: I hope it saved her.

I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.
— John Burrough

p.s. Pleased to announce that my hot dog shirt is expected to arrive between September 11–25, 2017.

How a thread works

A woman seated behind me today at the matinee of For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday: "I wrote to Mary Martin once. She wrote back to me—on Peter Pan stationery."

.  .  .  .  .  

In this On Being podcast I listened to yesterday, Nikki Giovanni mentioned that she has a "Thug Life" tattoo on her arm. It's a tribute to Tupac Shakur. I thought that was pretty cool. When I got home I looked it up and I thought to myself, I'd like to be cool like Nikki Giovanni. Maybe I should listen to some rap. ("Some rap.") Setting aside the enormous fact that Nikki Giovanni had a sincere, non-trivial reason for getting a tattoo to honor someone clearly meaningful to her, I know nothing about rap music: I'm a middle-aged, middle-class, middle-of-the-road woman who listens almost exclusively to 80s pop, Neil Diamond, Bruce Springsteen, and showtunes. No artist of today wants me as a fan, dragging down their hip quotient. Is "hip" still a word? Trend-wise, I'm the lamest of the lame.

At some point in the past couple of years I actually bought into this narrative about myself, which is both intellectually stifling and soul-destroying, and which has stopped me from doing a lot of things that would help me develop as a person and also, obviously, open up new avenues of joy, culture, etc. I talk about wanting to learn new things all the time, but very little of anything ever takes me out of my comfort zone. This is a blind spot and a fault line for me, but I also have phobias about A) jumping on bandwagons and B) adopting artificial likes in an attempt to keep up with the zeitgeist, because people who do that make me sad. I have done it myself and it has made me sad. I have no good antidote for this yet but I'm working on it. As with most things, I just need to find a way in.

Also I wondered about listening to rap in the same way I used to wonder if maybe I'd be okay eating cheeseburgers a couple times a week, since that's what Lorelai and Rory ordered at Luke's all the time and it didn't seem to be doing them any harm: on the one hand, it almost seemed realistic as a pursuit, and on the other hand most dreams are just thoughts you do nothing about.

I'm sorry if you ever thought I was smart.

Then late yesterday I saw this Eater tweet about Chance the Rapper working the grill at Nando's in Chicago to raise money for his non-profit organization that supports local arts and public schools. Chance the Rapper grew up in Chicago! He supports Chicago arts and Chicago public schools! I found that very charming, so I downloaded his 2016 album Coloring Book to listen to on my way down to Playwrights Horizons today. New horizons & all.

.  .  .  .  .  

Cut to this afternoon: I had just reached the song "Same Drugs" when I walked into Playwrights Horizons.

.  .  .  .  .  

Sarah Ruhl in the author's note in the program: "I wrote For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday as a gift for my mother (for her 70th birthday)." It's the story of five siblings who return to their childhood home in Davenport, Iowa, as their father is dying. The oldest sister, Ann (Kathleen Chalfant), played Peter Pan in a local production as a teenager and the role has followed her throughout her life: she wants nothing more than to never grow old, to never leave, to never lose, to never say goodbye.

Over the course of an evening the siblings argue about politics, religion, and what it means to be an adult. Their arguments are good-natured and comfortable: there's no rancor, no dark secrets tucked away, no regret,  and no menace. They loved their parents and they love each other. They've only come together to learn how to let go. In the final act, as they all sleep in their childhood beds one last time, they take their places in dreamland—in Neverland. One by one they rise to act out their roles in Peter Pan and start to fly, and one by one, slowly, they come back down to earth as they realize their grownup lives are still there waiting for them. They can honor their childhoods, but they grew up for a reason. It's time to go home.

Sarah Ruhl has become my chosen playwright over the last couple of years. Her voice is tuned almost perfectly to my pitch: a little melancholy but not somber, a little literary but not pretentious, a little magical but not wifty. There are always tiny miracles in her plays—in In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play), it was a moonlit winter garden; in Dear Elizabeth it was letters falling from the sky; here it's pixie dust, a Tinkerbell, a couple of harnesses and a floating bed.

She grew up in Chicago, by the way.

.  .  .  .  .  

When the play ended, I went downstairs to the bathroom, as always, and hanging on the back of the stall was this:

People Who Live Alone by Nikki Giovanni

People who live alone
Fart in cars
Pick their noses
Sleep naked
And never flush
In the middle of the night

Most people who live alone
Are compulsive
Things have to stay where
Things were put
People too
Like there is no room
In my heart for change
Or hamburger that I don't grind
Or coffee that drips
Or tears because
People who live alone
Soon learn
It is all
right

In today’s times

My newspaper never showed up yesterday, even after I logged into my NYT digital account to report it missing and asked that another be delivered. It stressed me out all day, this kink in my weekend routine. It threw everything off balance. I took the bus down to see a 2:00 showing of Logan Lucky, but that was sold out so I bought a ticket for the 3:00 instead. I wandered around Lincoln Center for an hour, sitting in the plaza next to the Met and then sitting on the concrete steps outside Alice Tully Hall. There was nobody around. I ate one of those enormous, hugely messy Wafels & Dinges wafels slathered with Nutella (a mistake) and listened to Krista Tippett interview Nikki Giovanni. I watched the traffic from on high for a while:

At 2:50 I reported back to the theater and was told the 3:00 had been canceled. Technical problems, they said. I got a refund & a free ticket for some other time, so I walked home. It was disappointing but not. By then I felt sort of blank. I stopped at Book Culture and bought Nikki Giovanni's Chasing Utopia, so the day was giving after all. Somehow the paper knew how it would go.

Today's Times arrived as scheduled (by 7:30, as I prefer), and I found many non-news items to enjoy. It's still strangely cool outside, and it was gray and misty and quiet, as I also prefer.

Exhibit A: Paul Newman's Rolex is coming up for auction and is expected to fetch at least $10 million, which would amuse no one more than Paul Newman:

“As far as he was concerned, it was a tool,” Ms. Newman said. “He definitely didn’t have a strong attachment to things.”

Meet and greets are usually reserved for performers early in their career, or for those trying to hold on to one. This is not the way Ms. Dion works.

She gives all of herself. She doesn’t want to sound pretentious. She doesn’t want to sound like Mother Teresa. “But they tell me, ‘Don’t talk too much,’ because I’ll make myself sick,” she said. This is difficult for her, to hold back. If you’ve ever seen her perform, if you’ve seen her speak publicly, or if you watched Ms. Dion furiously wipe tears from her cheeks as she spoke about Hurricane Katrina (that video is now making the rounds again because of the Houston flooding), you know this to be true.

Exhibit C: Jason Fried on hiring (Basecamp is my #1 wishlist workplace, but sadly for us all, I am no techie):

Our top hiring criteria — in addition to having the skills to do the job — is, are you a great writer? You have to be a great writer to work here, in every single position, because the majority of our communication is written, primarily because a lot of us work remotely but also because writing is quieter. And we like long-form writing where people really think through an idea and present it.

Exhibit D: this lady at an art show in the Hamptons:

You’re a shoe designer. Are those your shoes?

No. I am a big fan of what they call old lady shoes. These are like orthopedic sandals, you know, for an old lady like me.

I wouldn’t have known. They look kind of chic.

Style has nothing to do with money. I have very eclectic taste, and I don’t spend more than $5 for anything. So it’s called the $5 rule.

Exhibit E: Laura Shapiro on Instagramming your food:

Could Instagram capture today’s version of that story? Could it zero in on the third consecutive night of frozen tacos or the mug of milky Sanka that makes you feel like somebody’s grandfather but has become an unexpected nighttime addiction? Next time you eat a meal that’s certain to be forgettable, that’s the very moment to pull out your phone and hit “share.”

Walking home after the movies

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My favorite block in New York City is Columbus between 67th and 68th. There's something about the shade on the sidewalk as the light hits the trees, and the red brick apartment building and the orange awning over the wine shop, and the fact that it's a wine shop. I tried to shop for wine there once but the aisles were exceptionally narrow and I was afraid of causing destruction with my overeager stride. But the block is perfect.

Another time I waited for a bus across the street and overheard one woman telling another woman that she had to move out of that red brick building soon because the rent had gone up, and we all sighed together simultaneously even though I wasn't even part of the conversation. 

There's a post office on the opposite corner, and the AMC Loews Lincoln Square cinema is a short block away. I've seen an insane number of movies there, dating back to Juno, and have the many Swarms to prove it. The best Barnes & Noble in the world used to be just down the street, too, where people would sprawl out on the floor and read theater books and where I once saw the cast from the revival of Company perform a few hits from Company, but that store closed in early 2011 because nothing gold can stay.