3 things for today

1. 3 things are seldom "3 things." Please note!

2. I got to the station early Wednesday night and hopped on the wrong train home, forgetting that suburban transit lines don't function as inter-city subway lines do; i.e., a train is not a train is not a train. Ultimately it took me 3x as long to arrive at my destination as it would have if I had waited 10 extra minutes at the station in the first place. Other than that it was a nice week, my first week at work. I think I'll be okay there. I think I'll survive.

3. This tweet is the truest thing I know: 

People are as tired of me bitching about this as I am about living through it, I'm sure. Don't check on me, though. Obviously I don't want to talk to anybody about anything. Except seeing Lady Gaga in Las Vegas next spring. CV and I have talked a lot about that.

4. John Prine in the New York Times: “I’ve been subscribing to Archie for 40-some years and I just like to receive it in my mailbox. I subscribe to it under the name ‘Johnny Prine, Age 71,’ and I give my correct age and you know, you go to the mailbox once a month, and there’s an Archie comic there with your name on it — it’s kind of a nice feeling.”

Semi-related sidenote: in 2013, Mel Brooks wrote a piece in NY Mag about growing up in New York, and it remains a stellar gem that I revisit approximately once a week. Reading about people who appreciate small, weird, personal things is one of my favorite hobbies, just as appreciating small, weird, personal things is one of my own favorite small, weird, personal things.

5. For example, this song:

6. I realized last night that in the past 5 months I have completely and successfully changed my life. Still humble & chill though. I also watched "The Fugitive" and thought about how tired I was, and then I went to bed.

7. About "The Fugitive": I read a number of appreciative posts re: this film in the last week, and luckily it was available to me for free as a subscriber of HBO (that word "free" meaning in excess of $X00 per month), so I wrote a note to myself mid-week to "watch "The Fugitive" and support movies for grownups!" So I did that. The best moment in the film is when TLJ is chasing a man he thinks *might* be Dr. Richard Kimble down the stairs at the county jailhouse or courthouse or wherever they're supposed to be on St. Patrick's Day and he suddenly just stops and takes a chance and yells "Richard!" down the stairwell and my longtime lover Harrison Ford stops and looks up at him, because he can't help himself. That was such a smart story beat to hit, calling on a small, recognizable, natural human reaction to hearing your own name called, even when you're fleeing for your life, and it blew me away that it existed in the world and in a major Hollywood mid-90s production. So, support movies for grownups! is what I'm saying, even if they're 25 years old.

[ see also: "Richard! Richard!! Richard?!! REEEECHARD!!!!?" ]

8. I read a thing somewhere about how blogggggers shouldn't apologize or offer excuses to nonexistent readers for not posting regularly and while it was written in a snide tone, AKA "who gives a shit what you're doing?", it was also a kick in the can that I owe explanations to no one about what happens on this lazy blog.

9. Two newsletters I pay for: famous people and two bossy dames. Support writers you love, dummies! Help them shine on!

10. Warren Ellis on the future of online communication: "Invisible Monasteries and Black Mountain Colleges.  Not the worst way to deal with it. Private accounts and locked spaces and phantom movement and communication via the Republic of Newsletters and RSS signals across the Isles of Blogging.  We are as ghosts and might as well get good at it." You can subscribe to his newsletter for free.

11. Samantha Irby on eyeliner: "i have a few marc jacobs eyeliner pencils that are smooth and pigmented and beautiful but the last time i wore one this dude asked if i had an eye infection and that was the end of that."

12. Remember when Jeremy Piven scandalized America 'n Broadway with his random sushi addiction that ultimately caused him to withdraw from a Mamet play co-starring Peggy Olson and my longtime lover Raúl Esparza? Well, I've eaten sushi for lunch three days in a row, because I wanted to, and I'm afraid now I'll be visited by some spicy tuna parasite or develop sudden brain fever. Please advise.

13. Another note I wrote to myself this week, about my devotion to soap operas: "I’m not claiming these are great art, but why do they have to be? Why should 'quality' (an arbitrary, subjective rating) be the only measure of a creative property? Why should there even be a measure?" So no apologizing for soap operas either. They're as valid a frame of reference for social interaction/civil discourse/entertainment as a big-budget mid-90s action movie about a vascular surgeon chasing a one-armed man across Chicago while being pursued by the feds.

14. A note about soap operas from this book Loving with a Vengeance: Mass-Produced Fantasies for Women:

...soap opera is opposed to the classic (male) film narrative, which, with maximum action and minimum, always pertinent dialogue, speeds its way to the restoration of order. In soap operas, the important thing is that there always be time for a person to consider a remark's ramifications, time for people to speak and to listen lavishly. Actions and climaxes are only of secondary importance.

“Lavishly” is a nice touch.

15. And boy is that true: all my favorite GH scenes involve two or three actors sitting or standing or walking across a room while they sip brandy and talk to each other. There is zero "action" happening. This can best be demonstrated by the following clip I watched last week, where the same three actors repeat the exact same stupid conversation four or five times in 12 minutes.* You can skip right ahead to 10:40, which is where the actress playing Monica Quartermaine decides the dialogue is too boring to pretend to care about and just inspects her nails for a while. At around 10:57 she actually sighs out loud before she finally gets to deliver a line:

God I love it so much. Early-80s soaps still had that cardboard set look with flimsy doors and shabby furniture and once in a while you can see a boom mic drop into the frame. They are a glorious artifact sealed in an amber time capsule buried deep inside my heartlight.

*The repetition is, as they say, a feature, not a bug. Soaps originally broadcast live and were designed to allow busy, distracted housewives to move in and out of the room during an episode without missing critical plot points. The same extends across weeks, months, and years of narrative, since episodes air daily but only once and, if skipped, are lost to the ether (more true in the days before DVRs and streaming, obviously, but still a defining feature of the format—there's no official long-term archive available to viewers, which makes it more like theater than most other TV series or film. Although in theater they're not producing a new script every day for 60+ years.).

16. Don't worry there's plenty more where that came from! Stay cool, etc.

Ship it

I got scolded the other day, at the post office, by a postal worker. I used a free Priority Mail envelope to ship a postage-paid package when what I was supposed to do was buy a damn box. "I'll let it go this time," she told me, the weight of the world clearly on her shoulders. As if my single $1.59 oversight were the cause of all their billions of dollars and decades worth of difficulties.

I apologized and offered to buy a box anyway, just to make things square, but she brushed me off and I bolted without waiting for the tracking slip, fully expecting the return of my regrettable Eileen Fisher purchase would fail to reach its destination—would, in fact, somehow live to haunt me through the rest of my days—but there was an email from Eileen herself waiting in my inbox by the time I got home, letting me know it was already being processed. Thanks America! Vive la poste!

The reason I recount this riveting anecdote is that I've been watching old General Hospital clips of Alan and Monica Quartermaine on YouTube lately, since the world is too much with us, and I realized for the first time what a profound impact those characters had on my mental and emotional development as a tween (early '80s, natch).

I've talked about the soaps and my love of epic soap love stories and general soap idiocy before, but it hit me that this pair in particular really made an impression, relative to my long obsession with terrible marriages and people who love each other in spite of the fact that they also deeply loathe each other and should never even occupy the same room. On some very literal level I fear their constant bickering and cheating and splitting up and making up actually may have made me think that's what a marriage was supposed to be, and that anything less dramatic wouldn't even be worth it. Which is a huge bummer and probably something I should investigate in detail one day soon, after I finish all the napping.

But they were also very sexy together, and very together together: rich and smart and snarky and beautiful, and resolutely grown up. They were doctors who lived in the mansion he bought her for their wedding (?), along with the rest of his insanely wealthy and constantly meddling extended family (??). Alan was possessive and wildly jealous and once tried to kill Monica and her dumb lover Rick Webber by dropping the roof of the mansion on them (only to injure his own hand in the process, thereby destroying his career as a surgeon), and later in life he faked amnesia and got addicted to pain pills before tragically dying of a heart attack during a hostage situation. Monica had a fling with Alan's nephew at a spa and survived breast cancer and menopause and multiple hostage situations, and she was confident and conniving and would never, ever have felt bad about using the wrong envelope at the post office.

Anyway, that's it. As I pulled out of the post office parking lot I shook a fist and cried to the heavens, "Monica Quartermaine would never apologize for this!"

The end.

How “Days of Our Lives” is like the Royal Danish Ballet

I spent a lot of time indoors over the weekend, since the weather was weird and for reasons I can't remember I agreed to copyedit four projects simultaneously this summer. Higher education textbook publishing stops for neither lord nor country, is the moral of this story, which really isn't so bad since summertime is horrible and I'm already tired of looking at everybody's feet. In addition, I'm giving up wheat for the month, which means cooking for myself instead of eating out, and using cheese to fill up all the holes in my life that used to be crammed full of bread. (So far so good! scream my arteries, now toss us a ham.) I'm also a little homesick.

Thankfully, 'twixt the chapters and Manchego binges and sadness I managed to read my way through the latest New Yorker and watch about a thousand Youtube clips of Days of Our Lives, genus: Classic '80s; species: Roman and Marlena.

It's no secret that daytime soaps are dying, and I haven't watched one in decades, but back in the '80s this pair was one half () of the televisual dynamic that informed almost all of my gauzy romantic notions about things like falling in love and being in love and the nearly certain yet clearly ratings-driven impossibility of staying that way for more than a season without your husband falling off a cliff.

Anyway (transitions not being my strong suit), Joan Acocella, my favorite New Yorker writer, makes two salient points in her article "Danish Modern," about the Royal Danish Ballet's recent return to New York:

  1. "We are won without being pushed, always a satisfying experience.... This is related to a moral appeal. [Former director and choreographer] Bournonville's world is Biedermeier. It is centered on home pleasures, middle-class virtues: reason, harmony, fidelity, affection. The ballets feature ordinary mortals. One is hot-tempered; one likes the ladies too much. These flawed characters are still cherished, if also chastened. Bournonville frankly instructs us, and the fact that the ballets are both kind and commonsensical makes the lesson seem true. You exit a Bournonville evening vowing to be a better person."
  2. "I think all male ballet dancers should perform in kilts." ()

I like that: "a moral appeal." After I looked up "Biedermeier" () in my Webster's, I realized this was what Roman and Marlena and Days of Our Lives did for me in the '80s:

They made adult middle-class home life seem ordinary and comfortable, dramatic and funny, romantic, hard, honest, sweet, sexy, responsible, respectful, affectionate, honorable, frustrating, and joyful. They made it look like a true and decent life, an earned life, and one that I wanted to live. ()

Here I'll go ahead and guess that most of my Important Readers who were actually alive back then are either male or were too smartypants to sit around watching soap operas in their spare time, so I'm going to lay it all out for you and assume you're reading every word.

Roman & Marlena, the cop and the doc, were one of the Fabled Soap Opera Supercouples of the '80s—the decade of Fabled Soap Opera Supercouples—and at the height of their fame were even featured on the cover of TV Guide, which in spite of Luke and Laura was still no small feat for a daytime soap:

Look at that hair! They were pure '80s sunshine and pop ballads, all Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes, frosted tips and pre-Miami Vice jackets. She was the classy shrink and he was the blue-collar flatfoot assigned to protect her from the Salem Strangler by sleeping on her living room floor. (Hey! It's the soaps!) Opposites attracted; of course they argued, of course they fell in love. Of course they were parted constantly—by circumstance, by necessity, by assassination attempts and kidnappings and fake honeymoons and faked deaths—there was a house and a wedding and babies, lots of laughing, lots of sex, oceans and oceans of crying, and then: THE END. Somebody's contract is up and they fall right off a cliff.

Apart from the usual silliness, though, the stranglers and slashers and superhuman nemeses, they were both grownups, another gift of the soaps, whose biggest stars—at least back then—were actually allowed to age. They teased and hurt each other and forgave each other, and above all they enjoyed each other's company. It helped that the actors were obviously friends, but what seems notable now is that the characters spent most of their non-working, non-sex, non-serial-killer time on square, low-rent pursuits like picnics in the park or engaging in earnest conversations on foggy piers. They weren't driving fancy cars, they didn't wear fur coats or own vineyards or mansions or charter private jets. They argued about whether or not they could afford a house and worried about their loan from the bank. So what changed all of that? Aaron Spelling and Dynasty, maybe, or just the onslaught of the rest of the American decade, when everything turned big and glamorous and rich and mean. I wouldn't know, man, I was only 13.

But here's the thing: I watched Dynasty, too, and Dallas and Falcon Crest and god knows what else (Remington Steele!), but I never wanted riches or glamour, a world that was exotic or even slightly mysterious. I was a dreamy kid, but I didn't dream of diamonds and penthouses and gold mines. I dreamed of a small life rounded with reason and care and marked by ordinary kindness. I wanted to grow up to be both warm and cool, to be pretty in that open, smiling way, and a little goofy, with a strong mind and a good heart and a man who would make me laugh. I wanted that because I saw it here, on a daytime soap in the early '80s, and they made me believe it. Because as corny as it is, I watch those Youtube clips again now and believe it still.

1 The other half: Cary Grant screwball comedies, which taught me how to be a tart dame with an eye for trouble and a sassy comeback for every occasion. You no longer have to wonder why I'm so single.

2 The part about kilts doesn't really relate to anything, I just think if male soap stars were required to wear kilts while "performing," soap operas might not be dying.

3 Biedermeier : adj. : of a style of unostentatious furniture and interior decoration popular esp. with the middle class in early 19th century Germany

4 It should go without saying that I'm talking about the early- to mid-'80s characterizations here, up to the point where Wayne Northrop's Roman actually fell off that aforementioned cliff, and not the garbage pit of storylines that Marlena (played by the great and seemingly caramelized Deidre Hall) got sucked into when Faux-Roman—he of the burnished cheekbones and smell-the-fart acting prowess—showed up to ruin everything. John Blech, that's all you need to know.

Hey Laura

I have a lot of favorite TV moments, mostly involving soap operas. Especially watching Laura come back from the dead.

This was 1983, in the sad days before my parents bought a VCR. My family never had anything first (apart from five damn kids), so I had to watch General Hospital after school at my friend Heather's house. It was winter and in the winter it snowed all the time. There was never not snow in the winter in Wisconsin in the '80s. It wasn't even possible. In early November it started snowing, it was always cold and always snowing and the snow was always higher than your knees. This is true, by the way. You don't need to go "confirming" it with outside "facts."

Heather had a new house in a new development in what used to be the woods where we used to build forts in the summertime, so her backyard was mostly trees. Nothing but trees and snow outside a big bay window. We sat on the floor in her living room—as close as possible to the TV—at twilight and watched it grow dark. No; we sat on the floor in her living room and watched the night fall. I love that: the way the night falls and the day breaks. Time, huh? Fragile but determined!

All we cared about was Luke finding Laura, which took months and months of screen time. Laura had been presumed dead for a couple of years—which was a tragedy because together they were LUKE AND LAURA, and without her he was just luke—but of course she had actually been kidnapped by Luke's evil nemesis, Stavros Cassidine, from whom she eventually escaped in order to sneak back to Port Charles and stalk Luke. Who had recently been elected mayor.

I'm a little fuzzy on the motivations driving this narrative arc.

Remember that song "Think of Laura" by Christopher Cross? "Hey, Laura! Where are you now? Are you far away from here? I don't think so, I think you're here..." General Hospital took those words literally. For months, every time a character would mention or even think about Laura, that opening "Hey Laura" refrain would waft over the soundtrack, and Laura the character would be hovering right there in the background, watching from behind a flagpole while wearing mysterious sunglasses. So you go download that song from iTunes and play it on repeat two or three hundred thousand times and maybe the storyline will work itself into your brain through aural osmosis.

What I do remember is Luke being sworn in as mayor and then returning alone to his big mayoral mansion (?) and wandering alone onto the balcony with a bottle of champagne. Although he should be celebrating, he is melancholy. His love is gone, his victory meaningless. And then, suddenly, he gazes out at the wide expanse of lawn—the same lawn on which he and Laura had been married years before—only to glimpse on the grass, far below, the very wife whose presence he (and his hollow heart) is still so desperately missing.

He stops. Stares. Sets down the bottle. Stares some more. Oh no, her back is turned, she's walking away, she's walking away!

He says nothing. Turns and slips. Runs. Scrambles down the steps, onto the lawn. She's almost gone...

"LAURA!" he screams. The music stops.

"LAURA!!" we scream.


Well, you can go watch it on Youtube if you want. Elizabeth Taylor is in the flashback at the beginning, looking glossy.

We rewound that scene at least 25 times, both of us crying, because say what you will about daytime soaps, they had the best payoffs. They made a moment count. For 35 months you watched and waited—they are masters of the close call—and then finally, whammo! With the dramatic hair and the pauses and the horrible dialogue? You cannot believe the romantic hearts that flutter in some 13-year-old girls over shit like this. Somebody ought to sell old episodes of General Hospital on DVD now because I would buy it all.

Even better than the reality of it was leaving Heather's house that night, stepping back outside into this white and blue world—pristine bright sparkling snow under a dark velvet starry sky, and so quiet—and walking home slowly, rewinding, remembering, wanting it to last and last and last, and just feeling ... lucky.

You know those moments you have sometimes, when the world feels very small because you know exactly where everybody you love is? When you just close your eyes and breathe deep and it's like being held in somebody's hands, and feeling safe? I felt like that a lot when I was little: safe. Cocooned. Small town, small house, small life. (My father hates it when I refer to our house as "small." I guess that's why he finally moved across the street.) I very specifically felt that way that night, and I knew it even as it was happening. I knew everything was right with the world and my place in it, if only for that moment, and all because of TV.

I took a deceptively circuitous route to get to my point here, which is that I canceled my cable service earlier this week. Time Warner is sending a guy to pick up the box Saturday morning between 8:00 and 10:00 — "if it's God's will," according to the customer service rep I spoke to on the phone. I have no idea what this means. But I suspect that even if I manage not to get sucked into the hellmouth, my best TV days are still far behind me.

Currently playing in iTunes: Think of Laura by Christopher Cross.