Watching: The Big Sick

This movie is so delightful! It's sweet and warm and truly, deeply funny. I would call it the best comedy I've seen in years, but I can't even remember the last time I saw a really funny comedy. Maybe "Spy," which was a billion summers ago and not about real people (sorry, spy wannabes, your time is still not now). This one is lifted by a stellar cast and a generous point of view, and Chicago. The main character is also a stand-up comedian who isn't a secret depressive alcoholic rage maniac or the teller of dick jokes, which is always welcome, by me. And it's for grownups! Grownups who like quick wit and smart banter and the bonus genius pairing of Ray Romano and Holly Hunter.

p.s. What I love best about Kumail Nanjiani is how much he loves his wife, his family, and Hugh Grant

The definition of luxury

When I first moved to Illinois and made hardly any money, my definition of luxury was the Embassy Suites in Lombard, which you can see from I-88 on your way from Naperville to Oak Brook or Chicago or wherever. There is nothing fancy at all about this hotel, but it's narrow and tall and it has a high domed green roof and the rooms form a ring around the perimeter of a hollow center lined with windows, which is lit up at night in a way that looks glamorous from the road, at least to me. I remember driving past that hotel year after year and thinking, someday I'll come back to this place from somewhere far away and that's where I'll stay, and I'll finally know what it's like to look out from the inside. That's where I stay now, when I visit, and what you can see is I-88, and a shopping mall, and a Chick-fil-A, and some low-lying office buildings, and the last time I stayed there, in May, I saw a car lit on fire on the side of the road.

The definition of luxury is different for everybody, but lately I've come to define it as small tokens of ease: tools or objects that make life better or more pleasurable in infinite, often unremarkable ways. So my idea of luxury these days is:

  • SPF 50
  • A car with air conditioning
  • Air conditioning
  • A car (no "small" pleasure, but still)
  • Spare rolls of toilet paper in the closet
  • Spare rolls of paper towels in the cupboard
  • Cupboards
  • A spare set of sheets in the closet
  • Closets

Furthest, fairest things

Furthest, fairest things, stars, free of our humbug,
each his own, the longer known the more alone,
wrapt in emphatic fire roaring out to a black flue.
Each spark trills on a tone beyond chronological compass,
yet in a sextant’s bubble present and firm
places a surveyor’s stone or steadies a tiller.
Then is Now. The star you steer by is gone,
its tremulous thread spun in the hurricane
spider floss on my cheek; light from the zenith
spun when the slowworm lay in her lap
fifty years ago.

— Basil Bunting (via Anecdotal Evidence)

Still thinking of Kevin

I'll go to my grave hearing Patti Levin shout "Kevin!" This video title spells it "Kyevan" but I think it's more like "Kh-yev-uhn"—no fewer than three syllables, at least towards the end. 

"Aw, you're on goddamn fire!"

She's so good! I'd almost say they were my favorite couple on the show but I love Nora & Kevin too much to ever make that claim.

Family photo

This was taken right before or right after we tossed my Uncle Gary's ashes into a stream, cupful by cupful, hand by hand. It was a beautiful day. We remembered him well, there in the sunshine, surrounded by trees and flowers and birds and the sound of that water, and it felt like a holy thing, at least in the way I understand such things to be: not trapped in a dark place surrounded by strangers, no solemn hymns, no talk of heaven or higher beings, just a simple passage marked by family with kind words and laughter. That's a good life, I think, and not a bad way to leave it.

It was a normal conversation

One of the New York Times’ favorite hobbies is batting down dumb things Chris Christie says about New York City, usually by pointing out that he’s from New Jersey, but also by highlighting the very specific nature of what it means to actually live in New York City.

Normal conversation here, as most New Yorkers know, consists of a garbled public address message that “downtown local trains are making express stops on the local track; for bypassed stations take the uptown express train making local stops on the express track,” followed by unprintable language, followed by someone yelling, “What time is it?” and his friends yelling “It’s show time!” followed by someone saying, “Are you getting a signal?

It goes on for quite a while, and is full of gold: 

In Highbridge Park in Upper Manhattan, Ira and Karen Simon, who moved to the city four years ago, said a normal New York City conversation was often one struck up with strangers.

“We go out of our way to act as an ambassador of the city,” Ms. Simon, 66, a retired teacher, said. Her husband, a retired principal, added, “And then we demand loyalty from them!

And weird gold, uttered by sages:

Andrew Vladeck, 39, who performs as a singing cowboy under the name Hopalong Andrew, said that a “normal New York City conversation,” if such a thing existed, was an attempt to connect — about “a late train, an odd person, an odd smell” — and was characterized by “speaking clearly and directly.”

“It’s not speaking in innuendo or a vague manner,” Mr. Vladeck said.

Of Mr. Trump’s remarks, Mr. Vladeck said, “That wasn’t a New York conversation,” but “more like an Atlantic City conversation, if you get my drift.

This piece is of course accompanied by a photo of Hopalong Andrew, and you should see it.

After The Leftovers

I will miss this show so goddamn much. In the end, the only question it asked—the only mystery—was how do you live your life knowing with 100% certainty that you will lose every single person you love. And the best answer it could give was this: you reach out a hand.

I've thought about this a lot lately, the defining characteristic of my favorite cultural and life endeavors, and I finally figured out that it's "generosity." A generosity of spirit and humor, an openness to asking questions that have not one but a thousand different answers, with each of those answers based on a personal experience, and each relying on a simple shared acceptance of understanding. What can you do but ask someone to trust that what you've experienced in this life is real? How can you express love or communion or faith or courage in any way but "yes"?

p.s. Neil Diamond

p.s. Neil Diamond was "the bomb," as they say in 2008. There was an overlong (and frankly unwelcome) bird interlude somewhere in the middle, staged to a video loop of swooping pigeons 'neath azure skies, along with some number I'd never heard before about a bunch of random people whose only connection to each other was that they were "done too soon." This was essentially a worse version of "You Didn't Start the Fire," itself one of the worst songs in the history of the world, only Neil's list included, for some reason, John Wilkes Booth. Now "done too soon" is the sort of nonsense tautology that could apply to literally every person who has ever walked the earth (you seldom hear "he lived exactly the right number of years" when somebody croaks), except for someone like Hitler or Idi Amin or, of course, John Wilkes Booth. It wouldn't even occur to me that this was debatable. At first I thought perhaps I misheard a lyric, but there was JWB's face in the corresponding montage video, which actually made it worse. And then I wondered why nobody ever brought this up to Neil. It made me concerned for him a little, that he hadn't realized what he was putting down in song was weird and unwise, and that nobody around him thought to mention it. In the end I guess I don't care about it all that much, except for being a thousand percent sure I don't need to hear any of those songs ever again.

Me shouting to Groucho during the bird segment: "This is like a Christopher Cross video."

Groucho shouting back to me circa John Wilkes Booth: "This must have been a low point in his career."

Here's where our faces tell the story of joy, followed by concern and confusion:

I realize I sound pretty harsh, but there was an entire row of very drunk forty-something men and women sitting right behind us who were enthusiastic about Neil Diamond in all the wrong ways, and even though Groucho and The Old Man and I were appropriately behaved, it sort of colored my enjoyment of the whole affair. The lesson here is sure, have your fun, but also don't use that fun in an oppressive and encroaching way—through kicks in the back of the head and non-stop chatter and the repeated middle-aged screeching of the made-up word "beautimous"—to fuck it up for others. I can't even believe I have to type that out loud, but there you have it. 2017.

He did sing all my faves, though, and wrapped it up with "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show," which I hope we can all agree is a pure and unfettered force for good in the world.

Rock on! Enjoy your diamonds while you can! etc.

At the weekend: in the burbs

People always ask me when I visit "Chicago" if I actually want to go "into Chicago" and I almost always say no. I prefer leaving one large city and immersing myself in the burbs of another: it reminds me of many happy former and hopefully future days. I know the burbs are full of chain stores and strip malls and cars and teens, but there are also good people and wide lawns and cool neighborhoods and really tasty tacos and pizza and beer. Obviously, hating on the suburbs or thinking there's only one legitimate place to live a fulfilled life says more about the person doing the hating than it does about any geolocation in question, IMHO. OOO. YMMV! Your life is yours, live it wherever you want.

So I got to do many of my favorite things in the suburbs this weekend:

  1. Stay in a big hotel room overlooking both a shopping mall and a major tollway
  2. Lie on a hotel room bed for hours drinking free room coffee and enjoying hotel wifi while watching Fixer Upper & Friends & a Search Party marathon on an enormous flatscreen TV before meeting my actual friends for meals
  3. Drive around for hours in a rental car with the air conditioning AND the radio cranked up way past the point of logic and comfort
  4. Purchase a lot of goods I probably don't need but probably won't regret, even though I just read and loved this whole article about how every single thing you buy is future garbage. I spent my money wisely on quality items/future garbage that will see me through many summers and storms, and most of it was on sale. I'm not really a bargain shopper but this is America and bargains never hurt.
  5. See actual friends!
  6. Eat in restaurants 3x a day
  7. Eat tacos
  8. Shop at Target
  9. Drive thru multiple drive-thrus
  10. See Neil Diamond!
Sorry my feet look so weird but I did move my bra out of the frame

Sorry my feet look so weird but I did move my bra out of the frame

I drove past no fewer than six of my former apartments Saturday morning while listening to XRT and knocking back a tall Starbucks Cold Brew (which isn't half bad!). Then I met CV for tacos at one of my favorite joints, and we each had two carne asada tacos and Diet Coke and shared the medium guacamole, and it was glorious. A family of four came in while we there and one of the little girls ordered her carne asada tacos with just carne asada, no fixin's, which was a bold move, and my heartlight faxed hers a silent salute of respect. CV ordered hers with onion and cilantro/no sour cream and I ordered mine with everything. We all made choices and walked away winners.

Here's a tally of things I've abandoned in hotel rooms over the years, deliberately:

  1. Bridesmaid dresses
  2. Ill-fitting shoes
  3. Useless, too-small luggage
  4. Shirts
  5. Crushed hats

I realize this is shabby behavior, but I can't feel guilty about everything. Sorry I'm not always the world's best person. I did buy a new hat at Nordstrom (America's greatest department store) this weekend: it wasn't cheap but it's woven with SPF 50 AND I can wear it with my glasses on (it's harder to find a brim that accommodates both ears and frames than you might think). HOWEVER, even though this hat strenuously advertises itself as packable, my mom is going to have to ship it to me next weekend, and now I'll hear for the next thousand years how expensive it was to mail a box. I suspect sometimes that I am her albatross, but we both made our choices and walked away winners.

Packable my ass

Packable my ass