December 31, 2011

Movie Review: War Horse

War Horse is the Gone With the Wind of horses, both in melodrama and length. Okay, it's not really four hours long - it just feels like it. There's even an, "As god is my witness..." line when the soldier takes Albert's horse for war duty and says, "Man to man, I swear I'll bring him back to you..." and swelling music plays in the background. Oh, please.
Nothing in this story rings true - not necessarily a requirement for a good movie, but nice if nothing else is working.
Albert, the main character, is very one-dimensional but...man, he's the king of horse whisperers. Not very creative, tho, when it comes to naming his horse. Joey? Really? You couldn't think of something better than Joey? Okay, well, I guess Trigger was taken.
Here are a few other nits to pick: 

1. Joey and Albert plowing a field (the size of Rhode Island) full of scrub and rocks, and turning it into rich, loamy soil.
2. The little French girl (with the laughingly phony accent) getting on Joey and riding like a steeplechase champion even tho she's never been on a horse in her life.
4. The grandfather traveling for three days and three nights to buy a horse he only thinks might be Joey to pay homage to his dead granddaughter (the steeplechase champion). Oops  sorry, that's a spoiler, but I promise you won't miss her.
5. Albert blinded by a gas explosion during the war and in the next scene, voila! he can see again.
You're probably getting the idea here so I'll quit ruining it for you.
One and a half stars out of five for War Horse. And those are for the cinematography.

December 28, 2011

Movie Review: Young Adult

If you like beautiful but hateful protagonists, Young Adult is your movie. Charlize
Theron is Mavis Gray, who goes back to her childhood home to seduce her now-happily-married-and-expecting-a-baby ex-boyfriend. If that seems like a funny concept, go see this movie.
Diablo Cody wrote the exceptional Juno. That was a sweet and funny film with flawed characters that you liked. Not so here. Mavis's flaws are sad and despicable. There's no rooting for her, even though she's spectacularly gorgeous.

Then there's the former classmate she hooks up with. "Oh, you're that hate crime guy," she says. He was brutally beaten as a kid for being gay, although he wasn't and isn't. Now his legs and penis don't work quite right, and to top it off people still think he's gay. And if that's not distasteful enough we have to hear about his dysfunctional dick (sorry) way too many times. It made me cringe.
You can see this coming for miles but this is a spoiler alert - he and Mavis get together, sexually, which doesn't work on any level, but the scene just comes and goes (thank god), and we never know if she 'healed' him.
The more I write the more I dislike this movie. My recommendation? Take a pass.
One out of five stars for Young Adult.

December 18, 2011

Calling All Book Lovers

Do you have a book lover on your holiday list? Need some last-minute gifts?
Reading is one of my passions - there's always a book (sometimes two or three) on my nightstand - and with all the books I've read this year it's not easy to pick only five favorites (so I may have to do a couple more lists) but these are the books that come to mind, the ones I read this past year and said, "Oh my god," the ones I want to share with everyone.
If you have someone on your holiday list who loves to read get them one of these:
The Grief of Others - Leah Hager Cohen 
Exquisitely-written story of a family coming to terms with grief, each in his/her own way.
This is Where I Leave You
- Jonathan Tropper
The funny and poignant story of a dysfunctional family full of human, real characters.
Plainsong - Kent Haruf
Beautiful writing, engaging characters, compelling story.
State of Wonder - Ann Patchett
I'm amazed and awed by this unusual story about a pharmaceutical researcher who travels to the Amazon to find out what has happened to a colleague, and the status of the drug research project. This may not sound like something that would draw you in but take my word for it. It will.
The Help - Kathryn Stockett 
Unbelievable that this is Kathryn Stockett's first novel. Fantastic writing, compelling storytelling, beautifully drawn characters. I hope she's working on number two.


December 13, 2011

Movie Review: My Week With Marilyn

My Week With Marilyn is kind of an annoying movie. Michelle Williams does a credible job as the icon but really, if Marilyn Monroe was truly that high maintenance (and that term doesn't come close to describing what a pain in the ass she appears to be) how did she ever get work? Yes, she was beautiful, yes she was appealing on screen, but so are a million other, more cooperative, women.
This film gives very little sense of her appeal except that people continually fawn all over her, and that's not enough to pull you in. Some dimension would have helped.
All in all, it's kind of an uninteresting story about a very interesting person. Of all the stories there are to tell about Marilyn Monroe's life I wouldn't have chosen this one.
It's aptly titled, tho, because that's how long it feels while you're waiting for this movie to end.
Two stars out of five for My Week With Marilyn

December 9, 2011

What More Could You Wish For

Check out the cover for my book. Just received it today!
What do you think?
I'd love your comments.The book will be released in August from St. Martin's Press.
Oh my god, this is real. And so exciting!

December 7, 2011

Movie Review: Melancholia

Here's my review for Melancholia: WTF???
As I was writing that I had déjà vu, and then I remembered another movie I reviewed
the same way: Tree of Life. These movies are of a genre, one that my friend Bill W. really gets into, that is: bizarre, quirky, thought-provoking, unusual...in other words, not your grandma's movie.
I have to say, I think Melancholia would benefit from a second viewing but there's no way I could sit through it again.
There was nothing surprising here, I wasn't shocked by anything that happened. It's just an unconventional story about a dysfunctional family.
And isn't that the definition of family?
I like Melancholia better when I think about it than I did while watching so I don't know how to rate it.
You tell me...did I like it and how should I rate it?

December 2, 2011

Family is Family

Where do you stand on gay marriage?
I have to admit I'm conflicted. Not that gay people don't deserve the same rights as everyone else, but why is marriage so important? It's just a word and a piece of paper. Civil unions give people the same rights under the law without rewriting the definition of marriage.
Family is family, and obviously this one did something right. Zach Wahls speaks very eloquently about the issue. Food for thought.

November 27, 2011

Movie Review: The Descendants

It's got George Clooney in it. Need I say more?
Okay, he wasn't enough to make me see The Men Who Stare at Goats, so I guess I do.
Alexander Payne is one of my favorite writer/directors. He directed About Schmidt
and Sideways, two movies I love. So between Payne and Clooney it was a no-brainer for me.
The Descendants is the story of "the back-up" parent (Clooney) reconnecting with his daughters (Shailene Woodley is wonderful as the older daughter) as his wife lays in a coma. Typical of Payne movies there's humor, pathos, poignancy, and a road trip - this one in beautiful Hawaii.
I connected with these flawed characters, sympathized with their situation and felt their desire to get to know each other and bridge the distance between them. It's a sweet story. Worth it just for Clooney's running scene where he looks like the world's biggest klutz. Certainly against type and a very funny visual.
Four out of five stars for The Descendants.

November 23, 2011

Thanks A Lot!

I've been going to my friends Lauren and Bill's for Thanksgiving for most of the last ten years, and it's always lovely with an elegant table setting, exquisite food and charming guests. I bring my corn souffle every year, and a bottle of wine, and for me the only stress to that meal is figuring out how much food I can pack away without throwing up. Thanksgiving's my favorite holiday and my favorite meal.

But here's the thing: Lauren's Bill always asks people to say what they're thankful for. He goes around the table calling on people who may or may not know about his tradition. So then you have to come up with something to say. Sounds easy, right? Well, there are rules: it can't be about friends or family, it can't be about work, and it can't be about health.
Oh. My. God. Try coming up with something that meets those criteria.
It's so stressful.
There's so much pressure to come up with something everyone will appreciate, and even better if it's something poignant but funny. Humor is always a big hit.
I start thinking about it the day after T'giving for the following year.
Holy crap, I'm a writer. How hard could this be?
IT'S TORTURE!
I'm thankful for so many things. I'm thankful for my whole life. But I can't say that. I'm thankful to have people like them to spend T'giving with. But I can't say that. I'm thankful that I have work that I love, family that I cherish, friends who make my life richer, a comfortable home in the most desirable neighborhood in Chicago...but I can't say any of that.
This year it's a no-brainer: I'm thankful that St. Martin's Press is publishing my book and making my dream come true. It makes me feel like a rock star. But that may be against the rules - Bill will surely consider that work. So I have a fallback position: I'm thankful that I don't have bedbugs. My neighbors had them but the little suckers don't crawl through concrete and for that, I'm truly thankful. At least they haven't made it so far. If one gets through during the night, tho, I'm screwed.

November 21, 2011

Two Kinds of People

There are two kinds of people in this world. You know, like toilet paper people - unders and overs; belly buttons, in'y and out'y; people who put bumper stickers on their cars and people with good taste; people who spit on the street and people with class.
And then there are pet people - those who will spend their child's inheritance to treat their pet's illness and others who will have them put to sleep to end their misery. On my morning run I've been seeing this guy with his dog, a terrier of some sort, who can't walk, so the guy bends over and holds the dog by the belly, moving him along, hoping, I suppose, that he'll move his little legs. He won't.
I stopped to talk to him one day and asked what was wrong and he said the dog just didn't want to walk any more. He had taken him to the vet and the vet said he needed to get some exercise so this was the exercise.
I saw him a couple more times doing the same thing and then I saw him carrying the dog. The dog, Popcorn, didn't want to walk. But the guy was hopeful. He'd just had him back to the vet; they ran some tests, did acupuncture, so he thought that would help. Popcorn's 15 years old.
Now, looks are definitely deceiving but this guy doesn't look like someone with money to burn. Popcorn's old and clearly tired. He looks so sad.
So I guess the question is, when do you let go?
Some years ago the same sort of thing happened to a friend's dog and she spent thousands looking for a miracle cure, buying leg braces, physical therapy, then carting the dog around in a little red wagon. When I suggested the dog was telling her he was ready to go she said, "If he was a person would you just let him die?"
My answer is yes. If only it were that easy and humane. If only we had the same option with people.
When my father was sick, almost 90 and in a nursing home, he told me he was ready to die. If I could have helped him along I would have. If I could have saved him the indignity of being cared for by strangers, wearing diapers, being fed, I would have.
I believe animals let us know when they're ready to die, and all we have to do is listen. It doesn't mean we love our pets any less if we let them go.

November 14, 2011

Pomegranate: The Really Ugly Fruit

I wonder who was the first person who thought of eating a pomegranate. The outside certainly doesn't say, "Eat me." But then grapefruit and oranges don't either. When you open them, however, you have some tasty fruit (mostly, depending on the season). Open a pomegranate and it looks like an internal organ. Not very appetizing. And all you get are seeds. Pretty-colored seeds, but seeds nonetheless.
Not to mention all the work it takes to get those friggin' seeds out of there and once you do...so what? It's not like they're all that good. Oh sure, they're sweet/tart but if you eat the whole seed you get that pithy seed part that tastes like fiberboard. So what you really want to do is suck the juice out of them and spit out the chewed up seed.
Not very ladylike. And not worth the trouble.
So are those pomegranate fetuses?

November 12, 2011

Movie Review: Like Crazy

I've been waiting for Like Crazy ever since I saw the trailer, probably six or eight months ago. It looked like the kind of movie I would fall in love with. It came to the Chicago Film Festival but I missed it then, but finally it opened. At ONE theatre.
So I went to see Like Crazy, and settled in with great anticipation. I can't even explain why I was so drawn to the trailer but I so wanted to love it.
And I almost did.
The beginning pulls you right in; Jacob and Anna meet, they fall in love, they're separated. It's the basic three-act structure - Act One: boy meets girl, boy gets girl, Act Two: boy loses girl, Act Three: boy gets girl back. It's a good formula, one that the great movies follow, a recipe for success. I almost loved it. But not quite.
Good performances by Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin, who are both appealing on screen but something about the last act fell off a bit for me, as if the filmmakers ran out of steam.
Still worth seeing.
Four out of five stars for Like Crazy.

November 8, 2011

Movie Review: The Skin I Live In

A picture is worth a thousand words. Is this image freaky and creepy? It nearly kept me from seeing the movie but I love Almodovar's films, tho they're far from universally appealing. They always have a weird, fantasy vibe.
It's a beautifully photographed film with beautiful characters and wonderful performances. And who couldn't watch Antonio Banderas for two hours?
But the story is so icky and off-putting. I wanted a shower when it was over.
Whew! That's not to say I didn't like it. But it's not to say I did, either.
Frankly, I don't know how to rate this movie. Go see for yourself and then let me know.
? out of five stars for The Skin I Live In.

November 6, 2011

Rasta Thomas and The Bad Boys of Dance

Wow, three of my favorite things: dance, music and muscular, lithe men without shirts.
Did you ever hear of The Bad Boys of Dance? Me either but who cares...isn't that the best name? How could you not want to see them?
These guys are so cute and fun and, oh yeah...great dancers.
Fantastic program at the Auditorium Theatre, who needs to do a better job at promoting these things. The theatre was only half full (if that) but if people knew about it they'd have flocked to see The Bad Boys of Dance.
The music is great: Black Eyed Peas, U2, Coldplay, Michael Jackson, and, bonus...my favorite rock song of all time: Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen.
The whole thing is inventive and creative and engaging. They did a number in the first act with blow-up dolls that was just hysterical, dancing to Maria Callas singing Carmen.
Too bad today was the last performance but if you ever have the chance to see them, do it.
Word of note: you have to wait for the second act for them to take their shirts off but it's worth the wait.

Movie Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May Marlene is one of the scariest movies I've ever seen. It's not a horror film, per se - the horror comes from the fact that it's so realistic and you're utterly sucked into the story. It's a fairly quiet movie but the tension just builds and builds and builds. I sat through much of it, dreading what was going to happen, hand over my mouth.
Elizabeth Olsen is Martha, who has spent the last two years living in a commune headed by an insidious Manson-like leader (John Hawkes who is suitably creepy). She's just run away from the cult (escaped, really), and calls her estranged sister (Sarah Paulson) who brings her to stay with her and her husband. Olsen is mesmerizing in this, her first leading role. She has a beautiful, expressive face and her performance seems effortless. We'll be seeing lots more of her, I'm sure.
All of the performances are stellar, so natural and real that you feel like you're watching a documentary.
I'm sure there are those who won't like the ambiguous ending but I, for one, couldn't have handled any more.
Five out of five stars for Martha Marcy May Marlene.

November 5, 2011

Just in Case You Don't Know How to Wash Your Hands

Washing hands has become a national pastime. In the Starbucks bathroom there's a big sign on the mirror saying ALL EMPLOYEES MUST WASH THEIR HANDS BEFORE RETURNING TO WORK. Well we've seen that sign for years, but now, just in case you were raised by wolves, there are six little graphics on the towel holder showing you how to do that.
1. Wet hands
2. Soap
3. Lather for 20 seconds - scrub palms, backs of hands, wrists, between fingers, under fingernails
4. Rinse
5. Dry hands with towel
6. Turn off water with paper towel.
Really?
Scrub? Wrists?
Come on...
Turn off the tap with a paper towel?? Oh, please. I'm surprised they don't tell you to also use your paper towel to open the door. I've seen people do that.
There are two types of people in this world: obsessive germophobes who wash their hands forty-three times a day, pump germicide when there's no sink, use an antibacterial wipe before pushing the grocery cart, sneeze into their armpit...
And then there are the rest of us. I'm one of seventy-six million baby boomers who grew up washing our hands before dinner, after using the washroom and before bed. Done. And we all grew up.
We're raising a whole generation of people who will have no immune system because they've never been exposed to germs. Germs won't kill your kids. Relax. Let them eat dirt.

October 27, 2011

Jonathan Tropper, Author

Jonathan Tropper's books are smart and breezy, beautifully written and poignant. I LOVE This is Where I Leave You - great writing; not a comedy but told with a humorous perspective. I also really like Everything Changes and The Book of Joe. They both get bogged down a little in the middle for me but worth staying with. I had tears rolling down my face for the last twenty pages of The Book of Joe.

Here's a sample of his writing - a perfectly written scene from Everything Changes. The main character, Zack, is in a bar and sees a woman across the room talking to her girlfriend. He walks over to her and introduces himself (told from Zack’s POV in second person).

“There’s no easy way to break this to you,” you say, “so I’m just going to come right out with it. I’m here to hit on you.”
Hope laughs, and it’s a rich, musical laugh, unguarded and comfortable, like you’re old friends. Not at all what you expected. “Well,” she says. “I appreciate your candor.”
“May I begin?”
“Go for it.”
And what follows is two hours of perfect conversation, the kind you couldn’t have scripted if you wanted to, the kind where it becomes instantly apparent that your sensibilities and wits jibe, and when the conversation turns to banter, it’s easy and fun and never veers away from the substance of the discussion. And she quickly becomes familiar, touching your wrist when she laughs, leaning in to you easily when the crowd jostles her. And after a while, you realize your friends have left, and her girlfriend is long gone, and it’s with mixed feelings that you realize that they’re ringing last call at the bar, because on the one hand, when was the last time you made it to last call, but on the other, what the hell do you do now? You’ve long ago determined that tonight will not be about sex (as if it were up to you anyway), not because you don’t want it, God knows you do, but because you don’t want to ruin this one with a crude one-night stand.
But you don’t want the night to end, either, even though it already has. So you offer to walk her home and she acquiesces, and that works out well because it’s bitterly cold outside and she doesn’t so much hold your arm as wrap herself around it, and the wind blows her hair into your face, drawing tears as it whips at your eyes, and there’s intimacy in this, so much more so than with casual sex. Her building is one of those posh monoliths on Fifth Avenue, and you start to say good night, your voice hoarse from hours of shouting above the jukebox, but she pulls you past the doormen – “Hi, Nick. Hi, Santos” – and into the elevator. And before you can work up the nerve for a good-night kiss, she does it first, kissing you deeply, hungrily, backing you up against the elevator wall, the full length of her body pressed against you, making you wish to God you weren’t both wearing thick coats. And this goes on for fifteen flights, and then a little bit more, since she doesn’t stop when the door slides open on her floor. And then she steps back, breathless and windswept, deliciously disheveled, and says, “That was lovely.” She pulls out a silver Cross pen from her bag and writes her name and number down on your hand, and under that she writes To Be Continued, and then she turns serious and says, “Listen, Zack. I’m not into games and I don’t like players. If you like me, call me, okay? There’s no appropriate waiting period. If I don’t hear from you tomorrow, I’ll assume you’re not interested.”

Didn't that put you right in the middle of that scene?
You should read his books.

October 18, 2011

So Many Movies, So Little Time

This is movie season. You know: end of the year, so films are being released in order to get Oscar consideration. And, if that's not enough, the Chicago Film Festival is in progress. Whew, it's tough to keep up. But I'm making a valiant effort.
I don't have time to write reviews of them all (have to keep moving forward on my new book: The Ones You Left Behind - yes, a shameless plug), so I'm doing a mass movie review: a quick synopsis of the films I've seen in the past month. (Probably more like three weeks but that's just embarrassing.) Okay, let's start with
Moneyball ***** Great baseball film, excellent acting-Brad Pitt is great. Jonah Hill is fantastic - he has such a great face that tells the whole story. If you like rooting for the underdog you'll love this film. I did.
50/50 **** Based on a true story about a young man with a rare form of cancer. The script is a little heavy-handed but it's basically an engaging story told with humor and poignancy. There's nothing funny about cancer but I believe that finding humor in life helps us with the tough times. So does this film.
The Ides of March ***1/2 How bad can it be with George Clooney and Ryan Gosling in it? Also Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood. Good cast, interesting story, acting/directing very solid (Clooney directs this film). My problem is with the script and the way it deals with the central theme of idealism vs. realism vs. corruptibility - just doesn't quite work for me, especially the ending.
Toast ** This could have been a sweet film about a young English boy who develops a love for cooking and becomes an accomplished chef. But the characters are so poorly written (except for the boy) that it's hard to get involved. The mother can't be characterized as a lousy cook - there are no words to describe a woman who boils cans unopened. Stupid, right? And the father is implausibly cruel. And then the mother dies and a caricature of a housekeeper (soon to turn evil stepmother) comes on board (Helena Bonham Carter) but there's no saving that role the way it's written. It was written by the screenwriter of Billy Elliott which was a very sweet film. This one is not.
My Afternoons With Margueritte ****1/2 Okay, now THIS is a sweet film. It's about an unlikely friendship between Germain (a super-sized Gerard Depardieu) and 90 year old Margueritte who meet in a park. The relationship is lovely and as we learn more about the characters we grow to love them. Beautifully told.
Contagion ***1/2 Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law. Story about a rampant virus that crosses the globe at the speed of light and the people trying to figure out where it came from and how to stop it. Pretty good story that pulls you in.
Without ***1/2 This is a film festival film about a young woman who takes a job in a remote location caring for a catatonic old man while his family takes a vacation. The man is in a wheelchair and cannot speak. We're told that he makes his needs known but we never see evidence of it and we don't know how aware he is of what's going on. The young woman slowly unravels in her solitude, alone with thoughts of an event that we slowly learn about. Really well done and beautifully acted, and I'd have given it more stars if parts of it hadn't been so difficult to watch.
What Love May Bring *1/2 Claude Lelouche's (a Man and a Woman) 43rd film about a woman on trial for murdering her husband, and the lawyer who defends her. Very self-indulgent film that repeats itself throughout and seems like a compilation of his (and others') previous films. I was bored to tears and annoyed by all the repetition and the songs we had to sit through for no reason. And then people clapped when it was over. Go figure.
Fireflies in the Garden **1/2 Great cast: Willem Dafoe, Julie Roberts, Ryan Reynolds, Emily Watson. Again, could have been a good story with better characterizations and more subtlety. Another implausibly cruel father. I'm sure there are cruel parents in this world (hard for me to imagine) but I have a difficult time believing that a mother would allow the kind of abuse that's depicted in this film. Michael (Ryan Reynolds), an adult now who has somehow survived his childhood, has turned into a fish-bludgeoning, firefly smashing role-model for his niece and nephew. Nice.

October 15, 2011

WebSite Story

Since West Side Story is one of my all-time favorites I couldn't resist sharing this video with you. It's a very clever parody from CollegeHumor. Check it out.

CollegeHumor is a comedy website based in New York City. Funny stuff.

October 12, 2011

Ushering in a New Era

I'm probably the last person on earth with a picture-tube TV, and I'm tired of waiting for the damn thing to break. It's got to be 30 years old. What's up with that? Things don't last that long today. (Jeez, I sounded like Jed Clampett just then.) So I've decided to euthanize it - I'm getting ready to send it to TV heaven.
Drum roll please...I bought a FLAT SCREEN TV. Yay!
You know you've got a problem when you watch TV shows and movies on your computer and the clarity is immeasurably better than your TV. The picture on my TV is fine, but hey, it's 2011. Time to get with the program. So I called Abt, told them what I wanted, gave them a credit card number and it'll be here on Thursday. They'll hook it up, fine-tune all the settings and cart away the behemoth and recycle it.
Can an iPad be far behind?
Hmmm...I wonder if I'll be able to hook up my Betamax to it.

October 6, 2011

What's Your Legacy?

Steve Jobs is one of the geniuses of the world, alongside Einstein, DaVinci and Isaac Newton, to name a few. Jobs changed the world; not just people around him but the ENTIRE world; the way we think, the way we live, the way we work and play, the way we communicate, the way we listen to music, the way we read...and the list goes on. How many people can say that? It's an awesome legacy.
Do you ever think about your legacy, what you'll leave behind? I think about it a lot, probably because I don't have children. I think about all the things I've collected over the years; the thousands of photos, the family antiques, tapes of my father's voice, videos of family events, journals I've kept for most of my life...and it's sad to know that when I die no one will want those things or care about them.
If you have children, you're lucky (on so many levels). They still might not want your things, but you have a built-in legacy. Right? So what's mine?
That's part of why I write - my words are what will survive me. With the publication of my book in the spring (yay!) - and hopefully many more - I'll leave a piece of me behind, something that people for generations to come will be able to pick up in a library or bookstore and in some way know me. It's my hope that something I've written will resonate, that my readers will be moved or touched in some way, that my words will have made a difference.
What more could you wish for?

October 1, 2011

It's a Strange New World

Mark Zuckerberg created the early derivative of Facebook in retaliation for a girl breaking up with him (if the movie is to be believed). That early version was mean and vindictive, unlike the Facebook community we know now. But when Mark and his friends were creating FB I wonder if they thought about what would happen when Facebook people are married or in a relationship and they break up.
Who gets custody of the Friends?
Gone are the days when your ex just vanished from your life. Today, all you need to do is open your Facebook page and voila! there's your ex and everything he or she is doing, right there in front of you, ready to piss you off or make you jealous or break your heart at a moment's notice.
In the olden days the only way to find out what your ex was up to was to drive by his or her house. Or call and hang up. Well, that doesn't work any more cuz you don't even have a car. Oops, I mean some people don't have a car. And caller i.d. has put the kibosh on the call-and-hang-up method of stalking. (I haven't done those things since I was 16. Truly. Well alright, maybe 30...when was caller i.d. invented?). But now it's a new ballgame. You can cyber-stalk your ex right on Facebook! But be prepared -
you may see some things you don't want to see. Like when this comes up on your FB page:
_______ (insert the name of your spouse/S.O./ex/FWB here) and _________ are now friends and you think...Hmmm, what's going on there? And then your mutual friends "Like" that, and you think...Really? I thought they liked me.
And even for people who are still together, isn't there a myriad of cyber ways to make yourself crazy? Suppose your husband or wife has just friended a high school sweetheart. Should you worry? Should you ask about it? Should you friend your own high school sweetheart and see how your spouse likes it?
Do you think Demi took notice when Ashton friended Sara Leal on Facebook? (I obviously read too much People magazine.)
How to deal with this strange new world we live in?
Vodka. It's the only answer.

September 30, 2011

Porn Chicken

PETA's offended by the NY Times' sexy chicken. Founder and president Ingrid Newkirk told the Atlantic Wire: "It's necrophilia. It's not amusing. It's just ghastly and sickly."
Necrophilia? Really? It's a chicken.

Chicken’s Attraction Is Truly Skin Deep
By SARAH DiGREGORIO
Published: September 27, 2011

THERE are white-meat people and there are dark-meat people; there are those who swear by the drumstick, thigh or breast.
And then there are skin people. They are the ones who cannot help themselves around roast or fried chicken, ripping off the crispiest bits of skin before the bird makes it to the table.
Nate Gutierrez, the chef and owner of Nate’s Taco Truck and Nate’s Taco Truck Stop in Richmond, Va., could not stop snacking on the skin left over from his roast chickens. So about six months ago, he decided to make the skin crisp on the flattop and offer it in a taco. The chicken-skin tacos sell out whenever they are on the menu.
READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE

And if you're so inclined, here's a recipe for the chicken skin tacos, which sounds deliciously gross.

Chicken Skin Tacos

Adapted from Nate Gutierrez, Nate’s Taco Truck, Richmond, Va.
Time: 45 minutes for boneless breasts, 60 minutes for bone-in breasts
1 pinch kosher salt
1 pinch coarsely ground black pepper
1 pinch ground cumin
1 pinch granulated garlic
1 pinch onion powder
1 pinch dried oregano
2 skin-on chicken breasts (these can either be bone-in or boned)

Corn or flour tortillas.

Shredded Colby Jack cheese, salsa, sour cream, shredded romaine, chopped cilantro, chopped white onion and lime wedges for serving.
1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the salt and spices. Rub the chicken breasts with the mixture. Roast until cooked through (160 degrees at the center) and the skin on the breast is crisp, about 30 minutes for boneless breasts, 45 minutes for bone-in. Remove from oven and cool. Pull browned skin from the chicken and cut into half-inch strips. Shred the meat, discarding any bones.
2. Warm a skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium-high heat. Crisp the skin in the pan, 2 to 3 minutes.
3. Fill tortillas with shredded chicken. If desired, top the chicken with shredded Colby Jack cheese, salsa, sour cream, and shredded romaine or with chopped cilantro and chopped white onion. Garnish with chicken skins, and serve with lime wedges.
Yield: 2 servings (2 to 4 tacos).

September 26, 2011

Movie Review: Moneyball

Moneyball has everything: appealing characters you care about and root for, a story that draws you in, great acting/directing, humor, inspiration...need I go on? It's based on a true story about Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), the GM of the Oakland A's, building a winning team with the lowest budget in baseball, based on on-base statistics and signing underrated players at low (read: reasonable) salaries. It's a great concept that should be part of sports in general, instead of paying exorbitant salaries and creating greed and inflated egos. Oops, sorry, I'll get down off my soapbox now.
Anyway, who doesn't love rooting for the underdog? Well, underdogs abound in this story.
This is Brad Pitt's finest performance in years - understated and real. And there's no better actor than Jonah Hill, an unlikely movie star with a face that tells his story before he's spoken a word. Nice play between the two of them.
I can't imagine anyone not loving this film. But I've been wrong before.
Go see it and let me know!
Five out of five stars for Moneyball.

September 17, 2011

Movie Review: Higher Ground

Whew, boring movie. Vera Farmiga has a great face that shows lots of emotion, and she's wonderful. And does an admirable job of directing. Unfortunately the script doesn't allow us to get close enough to these characters to really care about them.
Farmiga plays Corrine, who feels pressure to accept Jesus as a young girl and to claim she's been saved, but she never feels it. Not as a child
and not later when her husband finds god. She tries. She spouts the platitudes, recites the party line, but it's not in her heart. Faith eludes her.
She and her bible-thumping husband raise three children in this cult-like atmosphere, and Corrine's lack of acceptance and lack of faith sounds like a great conflict for a riveting story. Too bad it's not. The story moves excruciatingly slow and is so boring that I considered walking out. I didn't. Should have. Cuz nothing really happens. She has a big confessional moment at the end which is sort of touching but not enough to salvage the film.
One and a half stars out of five for Higher Ground. Take a pass.

September 15, 2011

Grown-up Mac 'n Cheese

4 to 6 servings

1 pound fettuccine or linguini
2 cups grated Asiago cheese, plus 1/4 cup for topping
2 (8-ounce) containers creme fraiche
1 cup grated Parmesan
1-1/2 tablespoons fresh chopped thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 9 minutes. Drain pasta reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking liquid.
In a large bowl combine 2 cups Asiago cheese, creme fraiche, Parmesan, thyme, salt, pepper, cooked pasta, and pasta cooking liquid. Gently toss until all the ingredients are combined and the pasta is coated.
Place the pasta in a buttered baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup asiago cheese. Bake until golden on top, about 25 minutes. Let sit for at least 5 minutes and then...pig out. This is delicious!

August 31, 2011

It's All About Customer Experience

Maybe I'm just a narcissist but if I frequent your business and you recognize me when I walk in the door I'll keep coming back, even if you charge a little more. And if you remember my name...well, I'm yours for life.
Mostly. I mean, you have to back that up with a good product or service, but it generally follows that businesses who consider their customers important enough to remember will provide excellence all around.
I went to my dry cleaner the other day, a business I've frequented for six or seven years. The lady who owns it knows my name and does a great job (although I hate that she staples the plastic bag closed at the bottom). She's not a smiler (some people just aren't) and she's never been the friendliest person but no problem, I'm not looking for a new best friend. That day I just had a question for her, wanted to see if there was a way to fix a small rip in a silk blouse.
Picture this: there's a quarter wall behind the counter and it has a small pass-through and she sits behind that wall and sews and talks on the phone and watches her little tv. When I came in she got up and poked her head around the wall and said, "Yes?"
Okay, first of all, don't you come up to the counter to greet your customer? Wouldn't you assume I have some dry cleaning?

Guess not.
"I just have a question," I said.
"Yes?" Still from behind the wall.
I asked my question.
She said, "Bring in. I see."
I said, "Yes, I will but I don't have time right now, I just wanted to see if it's possible."
"I have to see. Bring in."
"Okay. But are there ways to fix something like that?"
"I have to see."
Well excuse me, but fuck you. Can't you come to the counter? Can't you imagine a small tear in a blouse and spend two and a half minutes discussing the options? So sorry I interrupted your tv program.
My friend Jeannie Walters is a Customer Experience expert (I stole the image from her website!) and there's always great info on her website, like this one: Customer Expectations, Promises and Regret. She helps business engage with their customers, and isn't that what it's all about?
If you're in business your customers want to be engaged. And they have expectations. I don't think mine are unreasonable, dry cleaning lady (are they?), and if I'm loyal to you the least you can do is act as if you have time for me.
So I found a new dry cleaner. She cleaned my dress in one day and...she fixed my blouse quickly and easily and didn't charge me. Oh, and she smiled.
I don't expect her to remember me next time I walk in, after only two visits, but if she does I'm hers!

August 29, 2011

Chapter One of My New Novel

Have you read the first chapter of my new novel yet? Well, here's a slightly revised version of chapter one from The Ones You Left Behind.

When Jack wasn’t back from his run in time to go to Mollie’s piano recital I wasn’t surprised. Just pissed, for Mollie’s sake and she, of course, was beside herself.
“No,” she said, “we can’t leave without Daddy.”
“We have to, honey, or we’ll be late,” I said, and packed her and her black velvet dress into the car, her tears smudging the light coat of mascara she’d talked me into. “I’m sure he’ll be there before you begin.” Ever hopeful, she nodded solemnly, stopped crying, pulled down the visor and worked at the blackness under her eyes, spitting on a finger and wiping.
Schmuck, I thought, but of course I kept that to myself. You don’t say that to your thirteen year-old daughter about her beloved father.
You wait until she’s at least fifteen.
I was used to Jack going out for a quick jog through the forest preserve and not coming back for hours. Sometimes many hours. Jack often got caught up in nature, examining every rock as if it were from Stonehenge, looking at every twig and flower. He was a botanist, after all. When we were young we’d go to the Indiana Dunes and he could see the changes from one year to the next while I’d walk impatiently behind him tapping my fingers against my leg while he pointed out a newly formed dune or some new thistle. I think he really thought I was interested and I didn’t let on that I wasn’t. Well, not intentionally. But one time he caught me rolling my eyes and he took my hands in his and looked at me earnestly and said, “I know this isn’t as fascinating to you as it is to me but if you pretend to be interested I’ll pretend to be interested in your knitting and then we’ll both be happy.” I was knitting that year as if my life depended on it; not just sweaters and scarves and socks but afghans and coats and toaster covers. Jack joked that I was going to knit us a house one of these days.
“And sometimes if you pretend long enough it’ll happen,” he’d said. “Maybe nature will grow on you – pun intended – and maybe I’ll take up knitting.” That made us both laugh. And that’s when I knew what our marriage was going to be about; give and take, yin and yang, compromise, respect and laughter, and since we shared so many other things it seemed that feigning the occasional interest was a simple price to pay.
Jack’s never veered from his love of nature but I bounced from knitting to beading to children to throwing pottery to computers to water color…and he feigned interest in them all. And he did it well. Probably better than I, but I tried. And I know he appreciated my effort.
* * *
I didn’t save a seat for Jack at Mollie’s performance. I guess I wanted to punish him a little. I didn’t want him to think it was okay, that I’d always save his ass. But my punishment was for naught since he didn’t show up.
Mollie looked beautiful on stage. She never ceased to amaze me, this lovely, self-possessed child, our not-so-little “surprise” when I was forty-two years old. Whew, that had been a shocker. Of course there had been alcohol involved.
Clara was sixteen and Spencer about to go into junior high and there I was, pregnant. They were both very grossed out by this turn of events. And I had been horrified at first. Jack and I had been so ready to have some freedom again, to do more traveling, see more movies, maybe go dancing once in a while (we loved to Tango). But I warmed quickly to the idea of this tiny, new, dependent person who would love me unconditionally. Jack not so much. He didn’t have the benefit of those hormones. They do incredible things to your brain.
“We don’t have to do this,” he had said.
“What do you mean, we don’t have to do this?” I wasn’t stupid, I just couldn’t believe he’d suggest it.
“We have choices, Hannah. We didn’t make this decision but we can alter the outcome.” This from nature-man, the man who loved all things ecological and biological and environmental; the man who planted dune grasses in our Midwestern yard and cultivated wild flowers. “We’re almost at a point where we’ll have our lives back, when we can do all the things we didn’t get to do when we were young. We can go live in Bolivia if we want to, join Habitat for Humanities and build houses in Egypt,” he said.
I’d looked at him, his pleading eyes, the fine lines that were appearing around his mouth, the gray at his temples.
“You want to kill our child?” I said.
He’d flinched. “Jesus, Hannah,” he said, and dragged his hand over his face, pinched the bridge of his nose. I walked away from him and we never discussed it again, ever, and when our Mollie was born I was forty-two and Jack was forty-four, prime ages to have grandchildren.
Jack fell in love with Mollie the minute he saw her of course, and they have an even stronger connection than he has with the other kids, but it’s been tough on him all these years, having to postpone his dreams again. I know that.

Mollie sat down at the piano looking poised and confident, her mind only on her music now. For such a small girl she had a big presence, a natural appeal. I don’t know where that came from, certainly not me, but it puffed me up with pride. She played with energy and passion but her performance was unexceptional. It didn’t matter to the audience though, they clapped and cheered as if she were Billy Joel, taken with her bright, appreciative smile, her mass of red curls.
When I met her backstage the first thing she said was, “Did Daddy come?”
“No, honey, he didn’t. And he’s going to be sorry. It was a great performance. You were amazing.”
“I was not,” she said. “He didn’t miss anything. I messed up three times.”
“I’m sure no one noticed,” I said, “I know I didn’t.”
“Well you wouldn’t, you don’t know the music.” I held my tongue but it took everything I had. Of course I knew the music. I’d heard the mistakes. I’d only listened to her practice it about 6800 times in the last month.
She said, “Daddy would have noticed. I was awful.”
“Sweetheart, you were not.”
“Whatever,” Mollie said. “Let’s just go.”
When we got home the house was dark and I thought Jack had probably fallen asleep after his run. I’ll kill him, I thought. “Jack?” I called as I turned lights on and walked into the kitchen. “Jack!” I called again, louder this time, hoping to wake him. Not bad enough he doesn’t show up for his daughter’s recital but does he have to make it so apparent that it was so unimportant he could sleep through it?
“I’ll find him,” Mollie said, kicking off her shoes and shrugging out of her coat, leaving it on a stool at the breakfast bar. I started to suggest she hang it in the closet, but resisted the urge.
“Why don’t you go change and I’ll find him,” I said but she was already on her way upstairs. I was cloaked in sadness and frustration as I stared after her narrow, straight back. I had always been very protective of Mollie. Which she hated, of course. Well, she didn’t hate it so much when she was four or five or six, but at thirteen she found it invasive and insulting. She thought of herself as very grown-up and truth was, she was. But she was still my baby.
* * * *
I was cutting up a chicken for paprikash when Mollie came back into the kitchen, transformed into teenage self in torn jeans and T-shirt, her hair in a ponytail.
“He’s not here,” she said.
I stopped trimming and looked at her, knife in the air. “What do you mean he’s not here?”
“I mean I looked in your bedroom, in the den, in his workout room and all the bathrooms, and he’s not here.”
“Did you look in the garage?”
“Well, duh…we drove into the garage.” This gave me a glimpse of a future Mollie as an antagonistic teenager. I prayed she wasn’t going to go through that my-mother’s-useless stage like Clara had. That was so unpleasant. Why don’t they hate their fathers too? It’s so unfair.
I put the knife down and got my phone and called Jack’s cell. I didn’t hear it ringing anywhere in the house so I knew he had it with him but it went into voice mail.
“Jack,” I said, “where are you? Call me as soon as you get this.” Now my mind was going a mile a minute. What time did he leave? Was he dressed in running clothes? Had he told me he was going somewhere this evening? Had I reminded him about Mollie’s recital?
But I still wasn’t worried. Jack got distracted easily, he always had, and it took me probably the first ten years of our marriage to get used to it, but after thirty years you go with the flow.
I went up to our bedroom and looked in his closet. The floor was a jumble of shoes but his running shoes weren’t among them. Clothes hung haphazardly; pants in with the shirts, short sleeves and long all mixed together, sweaters hanging out of drawers. I shut the door in disgust. The thing that probably saved our marriage was the double closets in our bedroom. That and the fact that Jack did his own laundry.
His wallet was on the dresser along with his wedding ring and a pinky ring he wears, some slips of paper from his pockets; Post-It notes and small, ragged, lined sheets torn from a spiral notebook. I read the phone numbers, names and to-do kinds of things in Jack’s messy scrawl but nothing meant anything to me.
I went back downstairs and checked the pockets of his jacket and found his gloves and car keys. So it looked like he was still out running. But how long had he been out there? Three hours? Four? Was he training for a marathon that I forgot about?
Okay, so he obviously forgot about Mollie’s recital and was probably with his running buddy, Ted, and they went out for a beer afterwards. “We’re replenishing our carbs,” Jack always said when I pointed out the incompatibility of running and beer drinking. Beer or not, there was an explanation, I was sure. Nothing I would be happy with, nothing that would make Mollie feel better, but something rational and benign. And that’s what I told Mollie when she asked, “So where is he?”
“I don’t know. But you know your dad. You know how he gets involved in things and forgets about the world and everything in it. He’ll feel terrible when he realizes he missed your recital.”
“Whatever,” Mollie said.
So I finished making the paprikash and Mollie made a salad with arugula and pears and dried cranberries (delicious!), and then we ate and pretended we didn’t notice that Jack wasn’t there to eat with us. It was kind of a lonely meal but the paprikash was delicious, if I do say so myself.
Later, when Mollie was texting her BFFs, thumbs flying all over the minuscule keyboard, I called Jack’s cell again but still it went to voice mail. By now there was a little bubble of something like anxiety (but could have been heartburn) simmering in my stomach.
Why doesn’t he call me?
Still, I wasn’t going to get into the trap of working myself into a frenzy only to have him stroll in at midnight saying, “Oh Hannah, what are you so upset about? You knew Ted and I were going out tonight. It’s his birthday,” making him look like the injured party.
In times like these I let my mind go back to the night before our wedding, our rehearsal dinner where thrity people and I waited for an hour and a half for Jack to show up. After forty minutes I was a blubbering mass, sure he’d run off with Carley Vaughn, his lab partner in college, Carley Vaughn of the long, perfect legs. My mother was talking me down from sawing at my wrists with a butter knife when Jack came rushing in full of apologies and sweetness, kissing my face and lips and hair, wiping my tears with the sleeve of his shirt, swearing he’d never to do it again. He’d just lost track of time, he said, but said I meant more to him than his own life and that of his Golden Lab and that of his grandmother. I meant more to him than his Corvette. He pushed my hair behind my ears and looked into my eyes and said, “Can you ever forgive me for being such an asshole?” Of course I could, and did. And he showed up for the wedding on time and so in my innocence I believed the night before was an anomaly.
Hah! Little did I know.
So after Mollie went to bed I paged through an In Style magazine and watched TV for a while and fell asleep on the couch. And then I was awakened at 3:10 in the morning by my own snoring and there was still no sign of Jack and that’s when the back of my neck started to throb.

August 25, 2011

The Meaning of Life

Do you ever think about how amazing life is? Sometimes (often) I lay awake at night in my estrogen-deprived stupor, waiting for sleep to return, and I think about how we're all so unique in who we are, how we look, what we think, the choices we make. But it's the thinking part that never ceases to amaze me - all those thoughts going around in our heads...how do we do that? Do other species have thoughts?
Problem with me is I can't stop those thoughts from ping-ponging around in my mind. Can you? Meditation is completely and utterly beyond me. Sometimes at night I try this trick of counting backwards from 300 to get back to sleep (doesn't work). You're supposedly concentrating so much on the numbers that it drives any other thoughts from your head. Hah! Not from mine. I'm an excellent multi-tasker. I can count backwards and still plan the next day's menu or ruminate over a conversation I had or figure out where to hang a picture or come up with my next blog post, all at the same time.
That said, it's all incredible to me and I love being alive. Even when life is sad, like when you lose the one you thought you'd grow old with, it's all part of the experience. So if life doesn't turn out the way you expect (does it for anyone?) it's still amazing and interesting and baffling and extraordinary.
What's the purpose? I don't know. Do I care? Not really - I just want to relish it, and the people in it, for as long as I can.

August 18, 2011

More Condo Board Shit

(FEEL FREE TO IGNORE THIS)
Last year I wasted precious real estate on my blog (that should be devoted to vital things like movies and plays and food) to write about all the angst of the condo association in my building.
And then we elected a new board and things seemed to settle down. Unless you went to a board meeting and were subjected to the shouting matches caused by board member Brian Connolly. Brian was actually on the board some years ago and got kicked off in 2002 (not an easy feat) and somehow here he is back again, like a bad penny. Brian can be very persuasive, which would be a great attribute if he played well with others. He doesn't.
So now there's a movement to remove him again and this is long overdue.
My only agenda for our board of directors is that they be able to work together toward the goal of keeping our building financially solvent, running smoothly, maintained aesthetically and preserving our investment.
I’m all for dissenting opinions, that’s how you judge the merits of an issue - by addressing the pros and cons, listening to other opinions and talking through disagreements. Conflict on a board is inevitable, and reaching consensus is how you arrive at the strongest solution.
And let me say that as a person Brian Connolly can be very friendly and charming. As a board member he is neither. He is not fit to be on the board. His dissenting opinions might have validity but it doesn’t matter because he presents them in an incendiary, argumentative way that’s counter-productive. He’s accusatory, quarrelsome and unreasonable, and you only need to attend a board meeting to substantiate this.
If you don't live in my building you've undoubtedly stopped reading long before now, and if you do you will receive a special proxy in your email or via hard copy. This is just my opinion but I encourage you to vote FOR REMOVAL of Brian Connolly from the Association’s Board of Directors and FOR amending the Association’s Bylaws…
We need people on the board who are willing to work toward the common good. Enough of this bullshit.

August 16, 2011

Movie Review: The Help

However great the book The Help is, that's how good the movie is. It's rare for a movie to be as good as the book it's based on, but a special treat when that happens. The trailer for The Help makes it look like a comedy, which made me not want to see it, but fortunately I saw it anyway. It's not a comedy, altho there are some funny parts, but it holds true to the elemental story of the book - race relations in the 60s.

Watching the atrocities that were visited on black people in those days will bring tears to your eyes, especially if you were alive then and know how factual it is. It's hard to imagine that it's possible, but it is.
Viola Davis is brilliant. She's such a subtle actor, letting her face tell the story. Octavia Spencer is really good as Minnie - all of the performances are wonderful; Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard...
It's a moving story and a faithful adaptation of an amazing book. Read the book and then see the movie, or vice versa, it doesn't really matter, but you should do both.
Four and a half out of five stars for The Help.

August 15, 2011

On To The Next...

I just sent off the revisions of my novel (formerly titled Mr. Right-Enough, now called What More Could You Want) to my editor. Yay! The publication date is Spring 2012, right around the corner. I'm so excited!
So now it's time to get back to my second book, The Ones You Left Behind. I hadn't looked at it for a few months as I worked on the revision so I sat down and read it last night and I thought, "This is good! Did I write this?" Hah! What a nice feeling.
Okay, so now that I set you up, here's the first chapter. Let me know what you think (all comments welcome, even if you don't agree with my completely unbiased opinion!).

CHAPTER ONE
I was used to Jack going out for a quick jog through the forest preserve and not coming back for hours. Sometimes many hours. Jack often got caught up in nature, examining every rock as if it were from Stonehenge, looking at every twig and flower. He was a botanist, after all. When we were young we’d go to the Indiana Dunes and he could see the changes from one year to the next while I’d walk impatiently behind him tapping my fingers against my leg while he pointed out a newly formed dune or some new thistle. I think he really thought I was interested and I didn’t let on that I wasn’t. Well, not intentionally. But one time he caught me rolling my eyes and he took my hands in his and looked at me earnestly and said, “I know this isn’t as fascinating to you as it is to me but if you pretend to be interested I’ll pretend to be interested in your knitting and then we’ll both be happy.” I was knitting that year as if my life depended on it; not just sweaters and scarves and socks but afghans and coats and toaster covers. Jack joked that I was going to knit us a house one of these days.
“And sometimes if you pretend long enough it’ll happen,” he’d said. “Maybe nature will grow on you – pun intended – and maybe I’ll take up knitting.” That made us both laugh. And that’s when I knew what our marriage was going to be about; give and take, yin and yang, compromise, respect and laughter, and since we shared so many other things it seemed that feigning the occasional interest was a simple price to pay.
Jack’s never veered from his love of nature but I bounced from knitting to beading to children to throwing pottery to computers to water color…and he feigned interest in them all. And he did it well. Probably better than I, but I tried. And I know he appreciated my effort.
Anyway, so when he wasn’t back from his run in time to go to Mollie’s piano recital I wasn’t surprised. Just pissed, for Mollie’s sake and she, of course, was beside herself.
“No,” she said, “we can’t leave without Daddy.”
“We have to go, honey,” I said, “or we’ll be late.” And I packed her and her black velvet dress into the car, her tears smudging the light coat of mascara she’d talked me into.
“I’m sure he’ll be there before you begin,” I told her and, ever hopeful, she nodded solemnly, stopped crying, pulled down the visor and worked at the blackness under her eyes, spitting on a finger and wiping.
Schmuck, I thought, but of course I kept that to myself. You don’t say that to your thirteen year-old daughter about her beloved father.
You wait until she’s at least fifteen.
* * *
I didn’t save a seat for Jack at Mollie’s performance. I guess I wanted to punish him a little. I didn’t want him to think it was okay, that I’d always save his ass. But my punishment was for naught since he didn’t show up.
Mollie looked beautiful on stage. She never ceased to amaze me, this lovely, self-possessed child, our not-so-little “surprise” when I was forty-two years old. Whew, that had been a shocker. Of course there had been alcohol involved.
Clara was sixteen and Spencer about to go into junior high and there I was, pregnant. They were both very grossed out by this turn of events. And I had been horrified at first. Jack and I had been so ready to have some freedom again, to do more traveling, see more movies, maybe go dancing once in a while (we loved to Tango). But I warmed quickly to the idea of this tiny, new, dependent person who would love me unconditionally. Jack not so much. He didn’t have the benefit of those hormones. They do incredible things to your brain.
“We don’t have to do this,” he had said.
“What do you mean, we don’t have to do this?” I wasn’t stupid, I just couldn’t believe he’d suggest it.
“We have choices, Hannah. We didn’t make this decision but we can alter the outcome.” This from nature-man, the man who loved all things ecological and biological and environmental; the man who planted dune grasses in our Midwestern yard and cultivated wild flowers. “We’re almost at a point where we’ll have our lives back, when we can do all the things we didn’t get to do when we were young. We can go live in Bolivia if we want to, join Habitat for Humanities and build houses in Egypt,” he said.
I’d looked at him, his pleading eyes, the fine lines that were appearing around his mouth, the gray at his temples.
“You want to kill our child?” I said.
He’d flinched. “Jesus, Hannah,” he said, and dragged his hand over his face, pinched the bridge of his nose. I walked away from him and we never discussed it again, ever, and when our Mollie was born I was forty-two and Jack was forty-four, prime ages to have grandchildren.
Jack fell in love with Mollie the minute he saw her of course, and they have an even stronger connection than he has with the other kids, but it’s been tough on him all these years, having to postpone his dreams again. I know that.

Mollie sat down at the piano looking poised and confident, her mind only on her music now. For such a small girl she had a big presence, a natural appeal. I don’t know where that came from, certainly not me, but it puffed me up with pride. She played with energy and passion but her performance was unexceptional. It didn’t matter to the audience though, they clapped and cheered as if she were Billy Joel, taken with her bright, appreciative smile, her mass of red curls.
When I met her backstage the first thing she said was, “Did Daddy come?”
“No, honey, he didn’t. And he’s going to be sorry. It was a great performance. You were amazing.”
“I was not,” she said. “He didn’t miss anything. I messed up three times.”
“I’m sure no one noticed,” I said, “I know I didn’t.”
“Well you wouldn’t, you don’t know the music.” I held my tongue but it took everything I had. Of course I knew the music. I’d heard the mistakes. I’d only listened to her practice it about 6800 times in the last month.
She said, “Daddy would have noticed. I was awful.”
“Sweetheart, you were not.”
“Whatever,” Mollie said. “Let’s just go.”
When we got home the house was dark and I thought Jack had probably fallen asleep after his run. I’ll kill him, I thought. “Jack?” I called as I turned lights on and walked into the kitchen. “Jack!” I called again, louder this time, hoping to wake him. Not bad enough he doesn’t show up for his daughter’s recital but does he have to make it so apparent that it was so unimportant he could sleep through it?
“I’ll find him,” Mollie said, kicking off her shoes and shrugging out of her coat, leaving it on a stool at the breakfast bar. I started to suggest she hang it in the closet, but resisted the urge.
“Why don’t you go change and I’ll find him,” I said but she was already on her way upstairs. I was cloaked in sadness and frustration as I stared after her narrow, straight back. I had always been very protective of Mollie. Which she hated, of course. Well, she didn’t hate it so much when she was four or five or six, but at thirteen she found it invasive and insulting. She thought of herself as very grown-up and truth was, she was. But she was still my baby.
* * * *
I was cutting up a chicken for paprikash when Mollie came back into the kitchen, transformed into teenage self in torn jeans and T-shirt, her hair in a ponytail.
“He’s not here,” she said.
I stopped trimming and looked at her, knife in the air. “What do you mean he’s not here?”
“I mean I looked in your bedroom, in the den, in his workout room and all the bathrooms, and he’s not here.”
“Did you look in the garage?”
“Well, duh…we drove into the garage.” This gave me a glimpse of a future Mollie as an antagonistic teenager. I prayed she wasn’t going to go through that my-mother’s-useless stage like Clara had. That was so unpleasant. Why don’t they hate their fathers too? It’s so unfair.
I put the knife down and got my phone and called Jack’s cell. I didn’t hear it ringing anywhere in the house so I knew he had it with him but it went into voice mail.
“Jack,” I said, “where are you? Call me as soon as you get this.” Now my mind was going a mile a minute. What time did he leave? Was he dressed in running clothes? Had he told me he was going somewhere this evening? Had I reminded him about Mollie’s recital?
But I still wasn’t worried. Jack got distracted easily, he always had, and it took me probably the first ten years of our marriage to get used to it, but after thirty years you go with the flow.
I went up to our bedroom and looked in his closet. The floor was a jumble of shoes but his running shoes weren’t among them. Clothes hung haphazardly; pants in with the shirts, short sleeves and long all mixed together, sweaters hanging out of drawers. I shut the door in disgust. The thing that probably saved our marriage was the double closets in our bedroom. That and the fact that Jack did his own laundry.
His wallet was on the dresser along with his wedding ring and a pinky ring he wears, some slips of paper from his pockets; Post-It notes and small, ragged, lined sheets torn from a spiral notebook. I read the phone numbers, names and to-do kinds of things in Jack’s messy scrawl but nothing meant anything to me.
I went back downstairs and checked the pockets of his jacket and found his gloves and car keys. So it looked like he was still out running. But how long had he been out there? Three hours? Four? Was he training for a marathon that I forgot about?
Okay, so he obviously forgot about Mollie’s recital and was probably with his running buddy, Ted, and they went out for a beer afterwards. “We’re replenishing our carbs,” Jack always said when I pointed out the incompatibility of running and beer drinking. Beer or not, there was an explanation, I was sure. Nothing I would be happy with, nothing that would make Mollie feel better, but something rational and benign. And that’s what I told Mollie when she asked, “So where is he?”
“I don’t know. But you know your dad. You know how he gets involved in things and forgets about the world and everything in it. He’ll feel terrible when he realizes he missed your recital.”
“Whatever,” Mollie said.
So I finished making the paprikash and Mollie made a salad with arugula and pears and dried cranberries (delicious!), and then we ate and pretended we didn’t notice that Jack wasn’t there to eat with us. It was kind of a lonely meal but the paprikash was delicious, if I do say so myself.
Later, when Mollie was texting her BFFs, thumbs flying all over the minuscule keyboard, I called Jack’s cell again but still it went to voice mail. By now there was a little bubble of something like anxiety (but could have been heartburn) simmering in my stomach.
Why doesn’t he call me?
Still, I wasn’t going to get into the trap of working myself into a frenzy only to have him stroll in at midnight saying, “Oh Hannah, what are you so upset about? You knew Ted and I were going out tonight. It’s his birthday,” making him look like the injured party.
In times like these I let my mind go back to the night before our wedding, our rehearsal dinner where thrity people and I waited for an hour and a half for Jack to show up. After forty minutes I was a blubbering mass, sure he’d run off with Carley Vaughn, his lab partner in college, Carley Vaughn of the long, perfect legs. My mother was talking me down from sawing at my wrists with a butter knife when Jack came rushing in full of apologies and sweetness, kissing my face and lips and hair, wiping my tears with the sleeve of his shirt, swearing he’d never to do it again. He’d just lost track of time, he said, but said I meant more to him than his own life and that of his Golden Lab and that of his grandmother. I meant more to him than his Corvette. He pushed my hair behind my ears and looked into my eyes and said, “Can you ever forgive me for being such an asshole?” Of course I could, and did. And he showed up for the wedding on time and so in my innocence I believed the night before was an anomaly.
Hah! Little did I know.
So after Mollie went to bed I paged through an In Style magazine and watched TV for a while and fell asleep on the couch. And then I was awakened at 3:10 in the morning by my own snoring and there was still no sign of Jack and that’s when the back of my neck started to throb.

August 11, 2011

The Best Summer Meal Ever!

Okay, I know I said I was only going to eat gazpacho and ceviche until summer was over but variety is the spice of life. Right?
So here's another summertime option. This corn salad is OH MY GOD delicious. Serve it with salmon for an easy, impressive meal.

Roasted Corn Salad
Serves 4


• 4 ears of corn, cut off the cob (I used Mirai from Twin Garden Farms - the BEST corn in the world).
• 4 teaspoons unsalted butter, melted
• salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1/2 red onion, sliced
• 2 tablespoons diced roasted red bell pepper (store-bought is fine)
• 1 tablespoon slivered green olives
• 2 scallions, white and tender green parts, thinly sliced
• 1 avocado, chopped into pieces and sprinkled with lime juice
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
• 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
Heat large cast iron skillet on high heat till smoking hot. Add corn to dry skillet and roast and char kernels till they begin to pop.

Add in butter and red onion and mix. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring.
Add remaining ingredients.
Season and serve warm or cold.
I served it (to myself - and myself loved it) with salmon, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with s&p and sauteed in an iron skillet to medium-rare.
Yum!

Movie Review: Friends With Benefits

Cute movie, some funny lines, some stupidity. Nothing all that new, but all in all, not a bad way to spend two hours in air-conditioned comfort when it's 150 degrees outside.
It's that ever-popular theme of sex without attachment. Don't we love exploring that concept? There are lots of movies about it these days, some better than others, but don't they always turn out the same? No matter. If it's done well we can still enjoy it and this is done pretty well.
If you've ever seen Justin Timberlake on Saturday Night Live you know how funny he is - he can do anything, play any part, and he's so unselfconscious about it. I really love that about him. And I've liked him in most of his films. He's cute in this but there are times he seems not quite comfortable in this part.
Mila Kunis is very appealing on screen (they're cute together) and altho the part's written a little too glib for me she's fun to watch.
The flash mob scenes don't work and the magician kid is pointless but you have to have some gimmicks, I guess. It's a good cast but Jenna Elfman is wasted here (although she looks great), Woody Harrelson is a caricature and Patricia Clarkson is a reprise of her role on Six Feet Under (but with dark hair), but the best supporting role is from the reliable Richard Jenkins, a brilliant actor with the world's most expressive face. If you haven't seen The Visitor rent it now. It's my favorite performance of his and a great film.
Back to the concept of Friends With Benefits, I was watching a Sex and the City Episode the other day and Carrie says, "According to certain scientists, when a woman has sex her body produces a chemical that causes her to emotionally attach. This chemical may account for the series of questions that involuntarily pop into our minds. Like,
1. Does he like me?
2. Will he call again?
3. Where is this going?
Do you think sex without attachment is possible? Does it ever work for anyone?
Three stars out of five for Friends With Benefits

August 8, 2011

Broadway in Chicago

West Side Story is one of my all-time favorites, both as a musical and as a movie. I know every word to every song, every line of dialogue for every character. I could slip right into the role of Maria seamlessly. Well, okay, maybe Maria's mother. Anyway, I saw it seven times at the theater when I was a kid, and countless times since (really, I can't count them), and I've seen the stage production at least six times. It's been a while tho, so I just saw the new touring version that's here in Chicago for a limited run.
Can you see something you love too many times?
Maybe.
I settled in for two hours of bliss and imagine my surprise when I realized I wasn't loving it.
So sad. Oh, it wasn't that I hated it, or even that I disliked it, that's not possible, it just wasn't the same. Not necessarily a bad thing.
But mainly my problem was with the two leads who left me longing for Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer. Ali Ewoldt played Maria, delivering her lines as if she were auditioning for a high school production, and her voice was screechy on the high notes. Not pleasant. Tony was played by understudy Cary Tedder and while I liked his acting he seemed to be searching for notes half the time. This is a problem when you're talking about the key characters.
The other change is that the Sharks speak Spanish a fair amount. Interesting. And not a problem for me, I could have translated the lines since I know the script, but a loss for people who don't, and who don't speak Spanish.
All in all, it was fine. I was happy to see it again - I got my fix. But I don't know if I'll be so quick to search out another stage production. But no worries, I've got the video.
Three and a half stars out of five for this traveling version of West Side Story.