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TV shows you should watch

I don't know, I just spent a whole year watching Frasier. I am not "of the zeitgeist."

I tried but did not like Stranger Things, which the social media in toto are way too yappy about. 

Yesterday I on demanded season 2 of Better Things, which I enjoyed tremendously, even though Pamela Adon's character Sam makes a lot of bad choices and two of her daughters are brats. (Let me know when they make a show called "Good Choices and Nice Daughters," which of course would be terrible.) Mostly I like that Sam is a grown adult female on TV who doesn't saunter about in high heels and tight skirts or pretend she's 25. That's a deeply refreshing thing to witness. Plus she can be very mean, so two thumbs up.

Other shows I've recently enjoyed tremendously include High Maintenance, Atlanta, Search Party, and... I think that's it. The Good Place, although I'm about a month behind. Anything over 22 minutes or not funny is not for me right now. I had to start listening to Xmas music on November 1 as an artificial mood lifter (pro tip: it worked!).

I'll admit it, for a while my determination to finish Frasier nearly destroyed my will to live: it was the kind of experience where the goal itself outstripped the objective, which was simply to "enjoy" the thing. It was like getting sucked into a bog, or training for a marathon. I don't regret it, exactly, since it taught me a lot about tenacity and sticking to your guns even in the face of adversity, but in the end I bear a mild grudge against everyone involved. I suppose somewhere in there is an important lesson about making better choices myself, huh? I'll think about it. Too much personal growth and you won't even recognize me as me.

Kari GTVComment
CATS!

I went to see CATS tonight, then came home and fired up some pizza rolls, and I have some thoughts.

a) Is it a common feature of CATS that the audience is invited onto the stage at intermission? Because that happened at these CATS. And while I’m not saying the stage is a sacred space, exactly, it is—to me—a space that holds, or should hold, at the very least, some reserve of magic, so I found this to be a frankly grotesque spectacle: a bunch of grubby lookers up there snapping selfies and pawing at Old Deuteronomy. I’d feel better if it were some famous CATS gimmick that only true CATS aficionados are informed of beforehand, I guess. If you are this CATS fan with underground info, do tell.

b) CATS is not a very good show. Empirically, I mean. And I say this as someone who adores Mamma Mia, which I will admit to you is also a bad show. But this was like 45 very loud, repetitive dream ballets strung together when one dream ballet is already too many. I really only liked Mr. Mistoffelees, which is akin to saying I like Santa Claus. Lame. But that CAT’s coat really sparkled.

c) They ain’t kidding with that title.

d) When they reached the 11 o’clock number (you know the one I mean), it 100% did not fail. The CAT who performed it (Mamie Parris) certainly did it justice but I kept thinking what it would have been like to sit up in the mezzanine at the Winter Garden all those years ago and hear Betty Buckley—whose voice can light your hair on fire on a slow day—lift that thing into the rafters. I did hear her sing it at City Center once, at a benefit concert that also featured Donna McKechnie and Deborah Gibson, so it’s not too far off. However, she did not come dressed as a CAT. Ah well.

“We still hope for a happy ending”

Annie Proulx just accepted the lifetime achievement prize at the National Book Awards with a speech that was both a call to arms and an ode to happy endings:

The happy ending still beckons, and it is in hope of grasping it that we go on. The poet Wisława Szymborska caught the writer’s dilemma of choosing between hard realities and the longing for the happy ending. She called it “consolation.” Darwin: They say he read novels to relax, but only certain kinds—nothing that ended unhappily. If he happened on something like that, enraged, he flung the book into the fire. True or not, I’m ready to believe it. Scanning in his mind so many times and places, he’s had enough with dying species, the triumphs of the strong over the weak, the endless struggle to survive, all doomed sooner or later. He’d earned the right to happy ending, at least in fiction, with its micro-scales.

Hence the indispensable silver lining, the lovers reunited, the families reconciled, the doubts dispelled, fidelity rewarded, fortunes regained, treasures uncovered, stiff-necked neighbors mending their ways, good names restored, greed daunted, old maids married off to worthy parsons, troublemakers banished to other hemispheres, forgers of documents tossed down the stairs, seducers scurried to the altar, orphans sheltered, widows comforted, pride humbled, wounds healed, prodigal sons summoned home, cups of sorrow tossed into the ocean, hankies drenched with tears of reconciliation, general merriment and celebration, and the dog Fido, gone astray in the first chapter, turns up barking gladly in the last. Thank you.

For a long time I've had this nagging feeling that leaving New York will mean I failed somehow, failed some meaningful, important test. That because I waited so long and worked so hard to get here, moving back to Chicago will be an admission that I wasn't smart or strong enough to succeed. Then yesterday I read this:

New York can be a crutch. Yes, your music career is stalled. Yes, your art remains unknown. Yeah, you’ve yet to be published or your startup is only hype. But you live in New York, and that makes you better than the people who don’t (or so you reassure yourself). Where you live is not an accomplishment.

That seemed profound, although it probably isn't (I'm a very shallow thinker). But it's true for me. I thought being here would be enough—that the act of living here would be a self-fulfilling achievement, and would mean I had done something—and that I wouldn't have to work anymore to figure out what I want from my own life. What I wanted was to live in New York! It's big, it's glamorous, it's loud and cool and hard. Only that isn't enough anymore. I've reached the point where it makes me lonely and sad, where it has crippled my desire to create anything, and my only real failure is letting myself pretend otherwise. But that's the one thing I can fix, so now I'm planning and tossing and counting the days until I can go.

Kari Gpersonal 8 Comments
Waving Goodbye by Wesley McNair

Why, when we say goodbye
at the end of an evening, do we deny 
we are saying it at all, as in We'll 
be seeing you, or I'll call, or Stop in,
somebody's always at home? Meanwhile, our friends,
telling us the same things, go on disappearing
beyond the porch light into the space
which except for a moment here or there
is always between us, no matter what we do.
Waving goodbye, of course, is what happens
when the space gets too large
for words – a gesture so innocent
and lonely, it could make a person weep
for days. Think of the hundreds of unknown
voyagers in the old, fluttering newsreel
patting and stroking the growing distance
between their nameless ship and the port
they are leaving, as if to promise I'll always
remember, and just as urgently, Always
remember me. Is it loneliness, too,
that makes the neighbor down the road lift
two fingers up from his steering wheel as he passes
day after day on his way to work in the hello
that turns into goodbye? What can our own raised
fingers do for him, locked in his masculine
purposes and speeding away inside the glass?
How can our waving wipe away the reflex
so deep in the woman next door to smile
and wave on her way into her house with the mail,
we'll never know if she is happy
or sad or lost? It can't. Yet in that moment
before she and all the others and we ourselves
turn back to our disparate lives, how
extraordinary it is that we make this small flag
with our hands to show the closeness we wish for
in spite of what pulls us apart again
and again: the porch light snapping off,
the car picking its way down the road through the dark.

— "Waving Goodbye" by Wesley McNair

Kari GpoetryComment
Three short things

1. There was a little girl singing on the bus this morning. She was sitting right behind me and singing very softly, not performing for the crowd in the way of annoyingly precocious tots, or even in a way that indicated she wanted to be heard, but in a way that sounded like she was singing to herself—the way I whistle to myself—because she had a tune in her head and letting it out made her happy. I listened to her and thought about how different the bus felt this morning compared to a year ago, when we were all sharing a collective mental breakdown, and how I wouldn't relive that nightmare for a million dollars served up by a buck naked Mark Ruffalo. It felt good to remember what it used to feel like to not be embarrassed by America the morning after an election. Grammatically that's the saddest sentence I, Kari, have ever typed but I don't even care. It's a blog, dummies. You get what you pay for.

2. I'm no longer reading or believing articles about nutrition, I decided last weekend as I enjoyed a lunch of Flamin' Hot Cheetos. They were terrible and I had some regrets, but I just can't be some maniac who cares what she eats all the time. That's a ridiculous and exhausting way to live a life. If I wake up one morning and my pants don't fit I'll just wear what I wore the day before and then buy some new pants. Case closed. Not guilty.

3. As a coping mechanism over the past year I've slowly been watching the entire run of the television series Frasier. Perhaps you're familiar? I remember watching a few episodes in a casual way when it first aired a thousand years ago but I was never a major fan. I can't imagine being a major fan of Frasier. (Does Frasier have major fans? Please feel free to self identify! Also the show Wings: speak up, people who cared enough to keep that on the air.) 

Anyway, it's on Netflix. I just reached the end of season 7, where Niles and Daphne drive off together in a Winnebago, an event that should have occurred much, much earlier, I feel, if only to relieve some of the boredom of watching Niles drool over Daphne for seven entire years. Sheesh. But although the writing can be shockingly lazy and overly dependent on stereotypes, it's also pleasant and comforting, like Martin's old chair. The characters, if you think about it, are very sad. As sad as the characters on Cheers, or The Office, and I suppose that makes sense. Most sitcom characters are sad. As are most people in real life.

Sitcoms are more realistic than a lot of dramas in this way, in mixing the light with the dark (save The Leftovers, which hit both at a perfect pitch & tossed a boatload of absurdity on top), although not much else about Frasier is realistic. But it's so much better than reading the news or watching just about anything that's really on TV. The things I love best are Frasier's apartment and his devious agent Bebe Glazer, who shows up once a year to get him a better radio deal. Bebe is my hero: she's like Irene Dunne as a sociopath, like an Irene Dunne who just killed and ate Katharine Hepburn for breakfast on her way to kill Rosalind Russell. She reminds me of that vine, clematis, which this gardening website calls "the queen of climbers." One episode I saw last night ended with her and Frasier riding a donkey onto the set of a morning talk show they were temporarily hosting while she simultaneously tried to get him a better radio deal. None of it made any sense but nobody besides me seemed to notice. I enjoy Niles most of the time and Daphne has grown on me over the years but Martin is the only person I relate to out of the regular Frasier milieu: all he wants is a beer, a chair, a dog, and a TV. Those are not bad goals. Sorry to report that Frasier is my least favorite character on the TV show Frasier, but that's life. Or TV, I guess. Like most things, however, he's getting better as he ages.

4. Look at that, not so short! And now officially more than three.

5. Maybe this will be the holiday season when I fall in love with people walking slowly in front of me while staring at their phones. Fingers crossed.

Betty Buckley @ Joe’s Pub

There was a time, a couple of iPhones ago, when the iPhone I had played ghost music at random every once in a while. I would be sitting on a bus, or at home, minding my own business, and music would spontaneously burst forth from this otherwise silent machine. There was no rhyme or reason to it—it happened only rarely and seemed unrelated to anything I’d recently been listening to—so I didn’t think much about it until SarahB and I were coming out of a theater one night, chatting as we made our way down the sidewalk, when she suddenly grabbed my arm and said, “I think I hear Betty Buckley coming from your bag.”

Anyway. At the risk of sounding pretentious (FYI not a crime), I will quote myself:

Betty's voice scares me sometimes, like getting a jolt from an electric fence and then stepping on a rake right before you stumble into a hole that might be your own grave. But in a good way.

The most distinctive voices are seldom the prettiest, and the music and we are better for it. I’m not saying her voice isn’t beautiful—it’s gorgeous—only that “pretty” is oversold. It's surface shine. Stephen Sondheim wrote, “Pretty isn’t beautiful… / Pretty is what changes / What the eye arranges / Is what is beautiful” (yes, there’s a Sondheim for everything), and this is true of the ear, as well. The hard wire of Betty’s voice, her habit of moving between singing and speaking in the same line and lingering on a syllable a beat longer than expected, are what make her sound like no one else, are what carry the songs through a room, through a radio, through a speaker or headphone, and turn them into stories. For me that's a gift and a fine grace, forever & ever, amen. 

She sang this one last night (written by Lisa Loeb, and also included on her Bootleg album), along with some Steely Dan, a couple by T Bone Burnett, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Joni Mitchell:

I've already employed every superlative I can think of to describe the experience of seeing Betty Buckley perform live—from year to year to year, from Town Hall to Feinstein's to Birdland to the Blue Note to Joe's Pub—so all I have left is this: she is one of the best markers of my time here, of what I wanted my life in this city to be. I'm awed still by these chances, and forever grateful.

Life on the Upper West Side

This is from cartoonist Roz Chast (long story short: it’s all true): 

The Upper West Side, by contrast, offered good diners and lousy restaurants, a beguilingly terrible supermarket, zero cool bars or boutiques — nothing, in short, to attract people who do not live there.

“I really, really like that,” she said. “When I go home after being in Midtown or even the Village, the vibe is so much more people going about their business — I need to buy shoelaces, or I need to buy a new wastebasket and some hangers, and then I’m going to go home. It’s not like, Hey, there’s this new hip restaurant on West 83rd street. I don’t think so. I really doubt that.”

Kari Gnew york, roz chastComment
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. Stars are not your friends, ma'am. This should never be news to people.

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 a small dish of 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 delightful New York City eves 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, also for free.

Kari GJudi Dench, new yorkComment
Mary Jane

I saw 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. 

Kari Gtheater, carrie coonComment
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 but 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, illustrating some true personal growth on my part.) 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 wise 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 believe 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 if you're working more than 15 hours somewhere you may obviously be excused. All other things considered, though, it's a low 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:

Donna Murphy in Hello, Dolly!

I don't use the word "blessed" very often (or ever) because I find it silly, but there are times when it's all that fits. I've been blessed that my life 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 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:

Kari Gtheater, donna murphyComment
Transit notes

I left work 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 modestly packed, 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.

Kari Gnew yorkComment
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.

Kari GComment
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 was so dazed by sugar that 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.”

Kari Gnew yorkComment
Walking home after the movies
IMG_0843.jpg

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.

Kari Gnew yorkComment
The revolution will be typewritten

Any club that includes Tom Hanks is a club I will gladly join. Luckily this club (it's actually a movie) is playing at the old folks' cinema AKA Lincoln Plaza on this, MY DAY OFF.

Update: as a noted fan of feel-good documentaries, harmless obsessions with writerly tools, the no-win debate between digital/future and analog/nostalgia, and dreamers of all stripes extolling the virtues of working hard at jobs they love, I award this picture many thumbs up!

+ movie site
+ The Typewriter Revolution
+ California Typewriter

Kari GmoviesComment