On Breeding

27 June, 2011

I used to be a fan of requiring an IQ test before allowing people to  have children. True, it will cut the amount of reality programming on television by at least half, but I think that the world will be a more drama-free place for it. It’s the greater good.

But then this afternoon, walking up 7th Avenue, I saw a couple pushing a stroller and I decided to revise my Breeding Prerequisites. I devised this simple questionnaire to determine how fit people are for parenthood.


FearOfSyndication Presents The Greater Good Parental Screening Test

For Mothers-Who-Want-To-Be

1.     Do you currently own a pair of shorts whose pockets extend below the “hem” of the shorts?

a.      If yes, did you make them yourself or buy them that way?

b.     If no, do you wish you did?

2.     How long is your belly-button-bling?

a.      .5″ – 1″

b.     1″ – 3″

c.      3″ +

3.     Do you plan on wearing tube tops after your baby is born?

a.      If yes, do you plan on wearing them before you’ve lost the baby weight?

b.     If yes, do you acknowledge that you know how gross that looks?

4.     For the health of the baby, are you willing to use less than 3 oz. of hair gel each day?

5.     Will you continue to wear those enormous earrings, even though they’re so big that they could physically harm your baby?

6.     Do you currently buy your clothes in the kid’s department because

a.      they fit better?

b.     they’re cuter?

c.      they’re skankier?

d.      you yourself are a child?

7.     Do you plan on continuing to wear the top strap of your thong above the waist of your shorts, a la “the whale tail”?

For the Baby-Daddys

1.    Do you wear more chains around your neck than the number of your age?

a.     Do any of them have sports teams pendants on them?

2.     For the health of the baby, are you willing to use less than 3 oz. of hair gel each day?

3.     Where do you currently wear the waist of your jeans?

a.     Around my waist

b.     Around my butt

c.     Around my thighs

d.     Around my knees.

4.      FOLLOW-UP: Do you realize that “busting a sag” went out in 1997?

5.     Will you try to discourage your child from getting the same hideous tattoos that you have?

6.     Have you completed puberty yet?

The responses to each questionnaire will be evaluated by a jury of me. Note that this questionnaire applies to hetero and homosexual couples, as bad taste, apparently, is universal.

x

One of the greatest disappointments of my early adulthood was the tragic and distressing realization that, at 24 years old, I was older than the angsty but attractive Gen-Xers in my favorite movie as a teenager, Reality Bites. Although nearly ten years younger than those characters, myself teetering on the Gen X/Y cusp, as a misunderstood fifteen year-old I looked to their hapless attempts at post-collegiate life and romance with envy. I couldn’t wait to be the frustrated creative pixie who would be lured by the well-dressed executive yuppie but ultimately choose my grungy, tortured, goateed musician best friend to fall in love with. I wanted their idiosyncrasies, their irreverent fun and games, I wanted ever third line my friends and I uttered to be a clever sound-byte (“You are a master at the art of time suckage.” “This girl is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.” “He’s the reason Cliff’s Notes were invented.”). I didn’t know it at the time, but my role-models may have been the country’s first hipsters.

When I was 19, I chopped off all my hair to replicate Winona Ryder’s ‘do (and found out it didn’t suit me, at 19, at all, despite my current coif). I bought vintage dresses and clunky shoes. I tried to fill my brain with as much esoteric pop-culture as I could get my hands on (not easy for a kid growing up without cable television). When I was 20, I found my first unwashed musician to crush on and rejoiced. When I was 22, I got a real job where I was overworked and under-appreciated by my ego-driven boss. I had dramatic friends, aimless friends and gay friends. I was on the right track to living the life of my bemused idols!

Quickly, though, I got caught up in the right track and where it was leading me. With the job, the friends, and another ill-fated relationship with a musician, time moved quickly. One day I woke up and had turned 24. I was old. I was past the rule-book that Ben Stiller had directed for me, essentially left to my own devices from here on in. Panic.

I’ll admit that as time went on and my adult life took shape, I gave up caring about those fauxhemian ideals that Reality Bites inspired. I created new ideals and discovered that (while I will likely always harbor a favoritism towards dirty-ish musicians) I am happy to have moved on into a more satisfying, self-actualized life than that in which I left Lelaina Pierce. I don’t have it in me to live as dramatically as 23 year old Winona, Ethan, Janeane, Steve or Ben did. Nor do I want to.

But I’d be lying if I said that I’m entirely immune to the allure of the sensational lives that movies and TV present. We may all know better than to expect a dreamy ending… but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who is entirely willing to abandon that dream. I may have gotten past expectations of Julia’s “I want the fairy-tale,” declaration when it comes to lurve and romance, there’s still something in the day-to-day that glimpses a sense of the drama that lives only on the Big Screen and Boob Tube.

Drama may be too strong of a word. The quirks of cinematic stories are supposed to be attractive. That’s why we cast beautiful people, even in ugly roles, and why too many people smoke cigarettes. Case in point: my all-nighter dinner of choice during my senior year of college was a bag of microwave popcorn and 3, sometimes 4, cans of Diet Coke. Yes, low-fat popcorn, and yes, diet soda, but a healthy dinner it was not. But look at me! I was just steps away from calling Cheez Doodles and Diet Coke dinner, a la, yes, Reality Bites! O, the glamour!

Beyond ill advised, nutritionally void meal choices, there really is an air of movie magic in certain situations. The other day, I had plans to see a friend and catch up on the last few months—tumultuous months for me, delightfully love-stricken months for her. As the work day was winding down, I looked forward to the evening’s plans and was surprised at what image my tumultuous head conjured up: I saw my friend and I at a delightfully chic cafe, dramatically light with vague and soft lighting filtering through a frosted window, as we sat across from each other at strategically placed angles. The din of the restaurant’s other patrons was muffled as our conversation overflowed with a balance of emotion, humor, sympathy and confidence. There’d probably be some sweet score swelling at the particularly poignant parts of our chat.

Then—POP! Like in a cartoon, the bubble of imagination burst as I realized that what I was considering was not a likely reality. It was what my evening would look like if I were living in my own New York-in-2011, 30 year-old single gal version of Reality Bites. Or, worse, some toned down and less extravagant downtown Sex In The City (perish the thought!). But you know what? Our evening was delightfully cinematic—low lighting, attractive ‘extras,’ indulgent food, smart cocktails and inspiring heart-to-heart . In fact, we even managed to swap a few clever sound-bytes.

Two weeks ago, I had a most fabulous girls’ night out — six dear friends and I gathered to see a powerful Adele concert at the Beacon Theater, we had pre-show beers, post-show wine and cheese, and hours of chatting, dancing, singing, revelry and — dare I say it, bonding. The night’s confabulations hit upon careers, friendships, family, lifestyles, hair styles, love, vacation destinations, the French language, movies, aspirations and relationships. It was the kind of night that Nora Ephron, Nancy Meyers and Nicole Holofcener dream of.

Keen observers might notice that this exact line of thinking is the antithesis of what Fear Of Syndication stands for. After all, this blog tries its best to abide by its log-line: The dramatic tales of an anti-drama Brooklyn gal. So why the veneration for Silver Screen imagery? How could I subscribe to that? In a way, I was surprised to see how fast I clung to movie-made beliefs. But then again, since the days when Reality Bites was looping on my VCR and leading through my career in the film industry, I’ve held on to a love of the cinematic life. I may not need the drama (although often it feels like drama needs me), but at the end of the day, everything is better with the right lighting and good sound design.

You know that over-used and abused quote, “You are the hero of your own story”? I’ll be damned if it’s not true… or, at least, mostly true. We may not always be the hero of our stories, but we are the protagonists. I was able to stop rueing the fact that my life is not a mid-90s ‘slacker’ movie because I no longer want that to be my story. I’ve realized that I don’t want my life to resemble any one movie, or even any one genre. The past year has brought me into a romantic comedy, a painful drama, a frightening horror, an empowering against-all-odds tale and, yes, even a chick flick. Every day, the opening credits roll. And the days play out one by one, ultimately amassing into some Divine Comedy.

Yes, I learned the definition of the word irony from Reality Bites. And, thankfully, like Lelaine Pierce, I know it when I see it.

x

On The Real Me

6 May, 2011

On my 27th birthday, I made one of the most important discoveries to my adult life:
the sheer, uncompromising power of the perfect red lipstick.

It was a revelation. I felt like I had truly entered womanhood (a mere 14 years after my Bat Mitzvah).

I quickly learned what the red lipstick was capable of. At once, it was a spotlight and a mask. I could draw in people’s attention then ensure that they could not get past the shield of pigmented wax on my smackers. It was the best of both worlds. I flaunted a new-found and legitimate confidence, proud of my bravery to embrace the deep scarlet, and did my best to keep other, bare-lipped versions of myself at bay. The security of the lipstick as a veil meant I could be virtually anyone I longed to be. Sirens wore red lipstick. Movie stars wore red lipstick. Femme fatales wore red lipstick. Women wore red lipstick—not girls. Beyond that, women who demanded something wore red lipstick. I didn’t yet know what I wanted to demand, but I felt the need for change, and demanding it seemed like as good a way as any to achieve it. If nothing else, I wanted to demand to be seen as a woman.

Quickly, red lipstick became my signature. Friends delighted in my new trademark, my teeth gleamed like Chiclets, outfits were chosen based on how well they complimented my lip color and the little caterpillar emerged a social and stylish butterfly. But the dizzying dichotomy of who I really was continued to spin. Red-lipsticked me still felt like a projection of who au natural me wanted to truly become, but was not yet. Au natural me was not simply un-made up. She was larvae. She wore sweatpants and PJs and didn’t brush her hair. She looked like a high schooler who’s just woken up at 2pm on a Saturday. She felt perpetually 16 years old, and that was neither a good nor pretty nor confident thing.

You can see why I was so desperate for the red lipstick.

As years passed, the two mes did merge. What’s remained constant is that the red lipstick, it’s blatant veneer, is an easy façade. “No, I don’t always look like this,” it says. “But that hardly concerns you right now.” Knowing that I am putting forth a face I don’t always call my own feels like method acting. It is inherently part of who I am but still a role nonetheless.

All this to point out my surprise when I received an email from a man my father’s age who was (until recently put in his place) relentlessly trying to date me, addressed to: “mandy – as you are – the real you + red lips.”

OK, first of all: creepy. This guy’s about to become a grandfather. He has a son my sister’s age. Second of all: does he really believe that how he last saw me–dolled up at a party with crimson on my lips–is “the real” me? Paint an inch thick, Hamlet scolded Ophelia. Paint is right. It’s a cover-up. And what came full circle for me the moment I read this email, and what I realized from this ill-placed attention, is that it’s not because of you that I hide myself, dear Grandpa-To-Be. It’s because of me. Yessir, I could show you the real me, the woman behind the brightly-hued mouth. But you don’t deserve that, you will never get that close.

Still: Gramps and I know each other through work, and in not wanting to jeopardize a professional contact, I agreed to have dinner with him on a rainy Sunday night. Just before leaving my apartment, I received a text from him, urging me to “be hungry and bring red lips.”

Whoa.

Hold up there, geezer.

Clearly, he does not realize that the one thing a woman with red lips has most is power. I decide when the lipstick goes on, and on whom or what it may wear off (usually, it’s a wine glass, not a whom). But this brought about a bit of a mini-crisis. He did not deserve to get nearer to me than the red-lipped mask would allow, but the last thing I wanted to do now was indulge him in his request. The result of this predicament was that he’d made me feel like a tart. And the distaste that I bore for him multiplied. I resented him before I ever arrived at dinner.

I made a narrow escape after dinner, to avoid his intentions, and the very next morning went out to make a new purchase: a lovely new lipstick called Vintage Pink. I think it looks fabulous.

A Never-Ending Play in Three Acts. Eat your heart out, Tom Stoppard.

Cast of Characters

MacMillan – a thrice-married woman, 45 year-old single mom, a premium cable television writer living in New York.

Ravitz – a once-engaged, never-married 41 year-old writer/blogger living in Atlanta.

Me – a never-engaged, never-married, 30 year-old woman living in Brooklyn, who cannot tell how many relationships she’s had because there’s no easy way to define “relationship.” She thinks it might be two, but on a good day could be as high as five.

Act I: MacMillan, who is equally as misguided as her single friends, tires of hearing those single friends complain about their singledom. She embraces her unwarranted High & Mightiness and writes a fairly offensive piece on the Huffington Post about how singledom is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Single ladies, she argues, want marriage, they want it more than anything they are willing to admit to. But we—she’s thrown Ravitz and Me into the mix, though she does not know us—are self-destructive creatures, we are petrified of our own happiness. And we’ll stoop to grievous lows (bitchiness, shallowness, sluttiness, dishonesty, selfishness and low self-esteem are MacMillan’s Six Self-Sabotaging Sins of Single Sisters) to ensure our safety within that realm of ceaseless singlehood.

Needless to say, Me and my friends—between us we can boast a history of every type of relationship imaginable—erupt in a collective cry of disagreement. As a 5’10” friend pointed out, the article assumes a huge double-standard, in that it chides women as being shallow for having physical preferences (such as, I hope I get a guy who’s taller than me, but if my soulmate is 5’7″, I’ll happily deal), when a guy having loads of physical ‘standards’ is just seen as par for the course. No one’s writing blogs telling those dudes to give it up. The same tall, astute friend also took issue because “the implication in the article is that to find a husband you must be sweet and never angry.  I know plenty of super angry bitches who have husbands.” It seems that’s MacMillan MO—why is she disproving her own point? Does she want to keep all the guys who are willing to be with angry women to herself?

Another friend commented that MacMillan “doesn’t deserve a pat on the back for marrying 3 times, (like she’s some kind of expert man-catcher), she deserves a dunce cap for not being smart enough to run away from what obviously turned out to be bad ideas.” She warned of MacMillan’s safety in her Glass House…

Act II: Ravitz, a better-intentioned writer/blogger at CNN is one of the thousands for whom MacMillan’s pointed diatribe pinched a very tender nerve. She offers a publicized counter-argument, in which she claims that it is not for our own self-hatred that we are unmarried. It is not lack of opportunity—but lack of the right opportunity (a swipe at MacMillan’s perhaps too-easy approach to wedded bliss). Ravitz tells of her own romantic history, one littered with oases and boulders, love and disappointment, self-admitted commitment issues, too much truthfulness and bad timing. Ravitz argues that sometimes, life wants you to be single, and it “just works out that way.”

Me and my friends are glad for the clever rebuttal, one in which we single ladies are not lambasted for the choices we have made. However, there is still a sense among us of something unfinished, of a still as-yet untold point of view.

Act III: In steps Me and My big, unmarried mouth.

I do not believe in, and cannot subscribe to, boiling down relationships to singular factors–whether you’re in them, or trying to find out why you’re not in them. If some TV writer were to finally define that one reason why relationships don’t work (the point MacMillan’s subtext was attempting to make), then no one would ever bother with relationships at all—hello, Children of Men-esque future. There’s a reason romantic partners are not interchangeable, and why we can’t just pick anyone and happily spend the rest of our lives with them (so long as we follow the rules). Firstly, that would be tediously boring. Secondly, and more importantly, people and relationships are nothing if not nuanced—which is a Very Good Thing. We cannot be reduced to 6 defining misdeeds, nor should we count our virtues and bemoan a plot by the universe to keep us loveless (even though I am often guilty of that myself). A million infinitesimal, incomprehensible factors are responsible for everything in our lives, from where we live to what television shows we watch, from what we eat to who we choose or reject to spend the rest of our lives with.

At the heart of both women’s arguments is that the key factor in relationship-finding is opportunity. Angry Slut Lady (guess who) says JUMP, don’t hop, at opportunity, at any opportunity, no matter how bleak it may seem, because at the heart of it, you’re rather unlikeable, and good opportunities don’t come along often, if ever, especially for the likes of you. She clearly believes that it’s better to be once, twice, three times a bride, than never married at all. Personal Drama Lady (Ravitz, naturally) says it’s not lack of opportunity, it’s lack of accepting the opportunities because you’re able to recognize that they’re not right for you… so calm your hormones, Angry Slut Bitch.

Yes, these are two points of view… and one of them might even be valid. But Grounded Romantic Lady (that would be Me) has to say what, seemingly, no one else has:

Any single woman knows that on certain bad days, we look inside ourselves (or into the mirror) and see all the reasons why we’re single. And on other days, sometimes good days, we know that our inside is stupendous, and we look outside ourselves to see that it’s not our problem that we’re single—it’s everyone else’s because they’re not with us. But unless you’re obsessed/crazy/desperate (like Angry Slut Lady thinks you should be), no one spends 100% of their time dwelling on either eventuality. We can’t. Because on most days, we know that there’s something else to it—something that’s not about our inside or outside, but about chance, and about how it can create a connection to someone else’s inside and outside. Some of my friends call it the X-Factor, others call it “clicking,” I call it Chemistry. Most importantly, we know what’s right when we see it—it’s not availability, it’s not looking good on paper, it’s feeling good from the tops of our heads to the soles of our feet, feeling good not only about the person, but about the situation. It’s thinking about someone who gives you butterflies in your toes, makes your whole body tingle with not only the sense of “This Is Right,” but also: “This is Right, for Me, Right Now.”

The beauty of this thing, this chemistry (my blog, my term), is that it is a giant heap of je ne sais quoi. It is undefinable, unquantifiable, and inarticulatable. Which means it doesn’t fit into the six designations of what you’re doing wrong, it can’t be counted like opportunities missed, canceled or aborted for any reason. I think of it like salt. It’s certainly not imperative in every dish. But most dishes—from brownies to curries to salads to margaritas—benefit from having some of it. You don’t need this to have a lasting relationship. But it often tastes better with it. For some people, just a hint is enough. For others, the more the better. (If you’re concerned about high-sodium risk in the metaphor—CC, I’m talking to you, too—we can just as easily substitute ‘spices’ in for salt. But I was afraid to complicate things with that one.) Everyone’s tastes are different, and yes, there are those bland people out there (Angry Slut Lady) who stay away entirely, claiming that just having food in front of you is good enough, you’re being greedy if you want it to taste good, too. I live in Brooklyn—I simply cannot submit to that philosophy (or metaphor).

There are some other crucial points that MacMillan needs to be reminded of in the search for why, why, why.

One: For many single people, being unmarried does not mean you are incomplete. Marriage need not to be an end goal, or a goal at all. The fact is, we are all real people by ourselves. Partners may enhance us, but they do not define us, at least not at the outset. I’ve met people (Angry Slut Lady, looking at you) who believe otherwise; they seem clingy, their urgent sense of finding someone—anyone—blurring all other priorities. They find vulnerable partners and wear them down until they get that ultimately dissatisfying ring on it. I know loads of people who have eschewed a balls-out search for a mate in favor of the rest of our lives, and have happily lived to tell about it. While we’re almost always open to the idea of meeting someone, and hope to do so sooner rather than later, we’re proud of who we are otherwise. We’re not just waiting on a wing and a prayer, but we’re living. So many friends caught on to Ravitz’s acute observation: “Maybe you’re a searcher with a healthy dose of wanderlust, someone who needed time to commit to furniture, let alone a man, because there was so much you needed to see, do and become.”

I honestly can’t think of anything better than to be a woman in her 30s with healthy wanderlust, single or partnered. Life would be terribly boring otherwise!

Two: Being single is not the same as being desperate. Angry Slut Lady certainly can’t grasp this one—she’s too busy being petrified that no one will ever love her. The few patronizing married friends I have can’t quite understand it either. But ask most any man or woman who’s spent a significant portion of their 20s or 30s single, and you’ll find that they know themselves well, well enough to be confident in the things they want and the things that they don’t. And why wait this long only to compromise when you’re 30? 35? 40? Wanting the affection, company, love of a relationship is not the same as being desperate for one. It’s something on the To-Do list, and we all go about checking that box off in our own unique ways. But the moment you give in to desperation, the moment you believe any of the BS that Angry Slut Lady is feeding you, that’s when you’ve got a big, big problem. In fact, my initial response to these blogs was:

Nope, no one’s ever asked me to marry them, no one’s ever fallen in love with me (that I know of), but that doesn’t mean I’m going to fucking slum it just because I consider myself desperate. Because the catch is that I *don’t* consider myself desperate, much to Angry Slut Lady’s dismay (and disagreement).

Epilogue

All that said, here is what I believe:

It’s not about men being crazy or women being crazy. Everybody is crazy. And if you’re lucky, you end up with someone who complements and supports your kind of crazy.

Where to go from here? One friend suggested, upon reading MacMillan’s piece, “introducing a new question on OK Cupid: ‘Is Kim Kardashian your ideal woman?'”

Would love to add that MacMillian, who wrote the Huffington Post piece, is a television writer for Mad Men and The United States of Tara. Fascinating to note that the woman who has had three marriages writes for a show that boasts misogynistic lotharios and one wherein the female protagonist has a dissociative identity disorder—a less severe version of which, you could argue, could lead to three distinct and doomed-to-fail marriages. Just sayin’…

x

On Nutrition

13 March, 2011

How To Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Protein

Step 1: Buy large bag of Peanut M&M

(A past-due bag of recent holiday candy works best. Shopping in this frugal way will make your binge eating more guilt-free.)

Step 2: Acknowledge cause for what you define as ’emotional eating,’ what other people might just call a heaping pile of bad luck.

Step 3: Eat large bag of Peanut M&Ms over the course of a few days (no more than 3)

Step 4: Feel your energy soar!

Diet Tool #1

ps: like what you see? head over to howtomakeirrationaldecisions.tumblr.com for more ill-advised hi-jinx and hilarity.

x

Is it the trolls?

7 March, 2011

This whole Charlie Sheen debacle has highlighted the hard work of the make-up artists on “Two And A Half Men.”

Sheeny

On #stfu

20 February, 2011

I‘m convinced more than ever that the more you complain, the less you actually have to complain about. The correlation is uncanny.

This morning, I actually heard someone bemoan the fact that “Everyone thinks I get 3 months of vacation. But I don’t. I only get six weeks of vacation.*”

Six weeks? Is that all? Pobrecita. (NB: no, she was not being ironic in the least. She was actually self-piteous.)

This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed this relationship, mind you. It’s just the most succinctly I’ve been able to articulate it — and maybe the most egregious abuse of people’s capacity for empathy.

Perhaps it’s also striking a chord  because I could paint a pretty vivid sob-story of recent events in my life lately, if I wanted to. But not only do I have no desire to make my life that public, I do not want to ask for pity that you may or may not think I deserve. Sympathy is relative. I may not get six weeks’ vacation, but it could always be worse. Let’s not lose sight of that.

I’ve decided I’d much rather rely on the sincerity of a few close friends than the faux-concern of whoever happens to be in earshot when I feel like opening up my pie-hole.

I’m thinking of spearheading a public awareness campaign to rid the world of whining, one whinger at a time. Won’t you join me?

* – So yeah, this woman is a teacher. And I know how incredibly hard most teachers work. I appreciate it thoroughly. But I don’t know any other teachers who would, while lazily eating brunch, bother complaining to a bunch of non-teachers and people who were working on a Saturday that six weeks’ worth of vacation is insufficient. Maybe she should move to Sweden and look for compassion there.

x

On The Road // Sulla Strada

8 February, 2011

What a funny face! Are you a woman, really? Or an artichoke?

Last year, I forged a rather unexpected friendship with an older guy who comes into the bakery where I moonlight a few shifts each week. He’s easily over twice my age, with a head of spiky white hair and a gravely voice that is as textured as the weathered grooves on his face. Currently retired, he ran a comedy club or two in the 70s and 80s, wherein he discovered the likes of Larry David. He has a sharp wit and decisive views on entertainment—he has no qualms letting anyone know that he thinks the top-rated, Emmy award winning sitcom that his nephew produces is really not all that funny.

I see him around once or twice a month, and my coworkers know that when he comes in, I will be wholly engaged in conversation with him, discussing, most often, the latest arthouse movies at BAM, the Angelika, the Film Forum. We don’t aim to sound snobby, but we probably do.

About a year ago, he mentioned to me that he had recently transformed a room in his house into a real home theater, complete with projection system, full-size screen, blackout curtains and about ten comfy chairs. He told me that he wanted to begin a film club for a small group of friends, and cordially invited me to be a part of this elite club. I was flattered. Various set-backs pushed our first meeting from September all the way to January, and the first official screening was held a few weeks ago, on a bitterly cold Friday night.

Once I arrived to his well-appointed townhouse, I was warmly greeted by a small group of middle-aged men and women, and introduced as “the only one who works in the film industry and thus legitimizes our group.” I didn’t quite know what to say in response; I likely just blushed. I then learned that this was not just any old film club. The plan was to exclusively explore Italian cinema from the 1960’s, that rich blend of story and style, ripe with fantasy and metaphors. Our host distributed lists upon lists of Italian films made in the 60s, and told us each to select one that we wanted to see. We’d all chip in about $5 per movie, and gather to watch them. The lists were exhaustive, and I was embarrassed to say that only a small percentage of the films sounded familiar to me.

Finally, after deferring my film choice to be sent via email the next day, we sat down to watch our premiere film: Fellini’s La Strada, his 1954 road-movie of sorts, and only his 4th feature film as director. I mumbled that I thought I had seen selected scenes from the movie in college, but I doubted myself – could it be that I had never seen this classic?

The film began, and I was soon forced to acknowledge that no, I had never seen this classic. Moments into the film, I was bewitched by Giulietta Masina’s elastic and expressive face, the way one move of her eyebrows spoke volumes more than the entirety of some present-day films. I quickly overcame the distraction of the dialogue we heard and the movement of the actors’ mouths never quite lining up, and indulged myself in poor Gelsomina’s tale as the ball to Anthony Quinn’s Zampanó’s chain.

We wrapped up the movie, each of us entranced, with a conversation about the film, how we interpreted it, and what we took away from it. Is it the ultimate love story, or the ultimate hate story? Did Zampanó love Gelsomina? If so, did he know it? Just how many screws did Gelsomina have loose in her head?

To me, the film provided ample food-for-thought, such that my long walk home through the frigid Brooklyn streets seemed to pass rather quickly. How many relationships do we engage in that manage to blur the line between healthy and unhealthy, clingy or repugnant, codependent or destructive? And even if the cracks within our relationships are more subtle, does that make them any more excusable? How do we define abuse, and how do we define delusional? I can think of loved ones in long-term relationships that have plenty of commitment but no affection—is that excusable? Does this year’s powerful film Blue Valentine recall some of the same struggles to survive in a loveless marriage that La Strada does?

I think any one who has seen La Strada will remember fondly Richard Basehart’s il “Matto,” The Fool, and his bumbling courtship of Gelsomina, his earnestness starkly contrasted against Zampanó’s indifference, and the delight that Gelsomina’s face betrays when she sees him. I also remember the smile he’s forced to slap on when Gelsomina makes her choice between the two men, and how bravely he saves face by facilitating her decision. At that point, we are as understanding and confused by Gelsomina’s loyalty to Zampanó as we’ll ever be. For me, The Fool’s fate was not forgotten; I knew the catlike tightrope walker would land on his feet. I couldn’t say the same about our main duo.

The Fool represents the opportunities that we are afraid to take, the ones that sometimes whoosh by us in a car, sometimes stop to talk to us, and on the rarest of occasions, extend us a hand to go with. I’ve certainly come to understand that those opportunities, the ones that seem so appealing but are equally as terrifying, are intoxicating and rare. We can acknowledge the opportunity, say “thanks, but no thanks,” and live forever speculating, or we can, with necessary trepidation, take that step forward because to know is sometimes better than to wonder.

The Fool is the curious cat. Gelsomina, by denying him, settled back into the comfortable misery she had come to rely on for survival. Yet, once The Fool meets his destiny, thanks to Gelsomina’s wayward “beloved,” three lives are irrevocably changed. And so fate manages to find a way to quell our curiosity, one tragic way or another.

Right now, I feel a bit like Gelsomina—when I recently tried to seize an opportunity, my plan was squelched. Was it providence, or good luck? Or bad luck? It’s plain to see that my intentions meant little to whatever, or whoever, was really dealing my cards that night. Thus, I can’t help but wonder if waiting around the corner is chance, again, just like The Fool changing his tire. What to do at that moment? Extend a hand, wait for a hand to be extended to me, or simply continue walking? Like Gelsomina, I have no interest in second chances. But I hope that I haven’t jinxed circumstance, and, unlike the pertinacious Gelsomina, can ultimately walk away from that one-day encounter with an appreciation for closure and the pride of knowing that the decisions I’ve made have made me stronger for them, no matter which strada I had to take to get to this place.

Next week’s film: Divorce, Italian Style. My blogging senses are tingling in anticipation.

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On to Brooklyn

21 January, 2011

After a fund-raising party on the Lower East Side, I tromped down the stairs of the Delancy St subway station just as an F train was pulling out of the station. That’s been my luck these days.

A group of girls – most of them a little heavy but wearing skin tight jeans regardless, all wearing too much make-up – approached me. The seeming leader of the pack called to me from down the platform. “Excuse me,” she said. “How can we get to Brooklyn, Bay Ridge?” She named it as though it was roll-call, or she was reading an entry in the phonebook.

“I’m not sure which train goes there, actually,” I replied, as there’s a good-sized blindspot in my mental map of Brooklyn between Kensington and Coney Island.

“But could you tell us,” another girl insisted, “like, how to just get to Brooklyn?”

I began to tell them that they were on a Brooklyn-bound platform, and that they had just gotten off a Brooklyn-bound train, when the first girl interrupted, addressing her mate. “No, there’s, like, two different Brooklyns.”

“Actually,” I said, unable to hide a smirk. “There are a lot of different Brooklyns.”

Blank stares from the Lost Girls.

Silence.

“I think there’s a map over there,” I offered. They were walking away, issuing half-assed “Thanks” over their shoulders before my sentence had even left my lips.

Three minutes later, they joined me again on the platform, en route, hopefully, to Brooklyn-comma-Bay Ridge.

God-speed, girls. Good luck.

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On 9′ Ceilings

14 December, 2010

I’m learning that perhaps worse than losing a boyfriend is losing a 6′ tall handyman. Currently accepting applications for one or both positions.

Today’s Lesson: Every Time A Smoke Alarm Dings, An Angel Gets Its Wings.

Look, Ma, no broken bones!

Or, what to do when your smoke detector’s batteries are dying, and it chirps every sixty seconds to remind you of that, but there is precious little (no pun intended) that your 5’2″ self can do to reach the 9′ ceilings, except balance four throw pillows, a coffee table book on the Rolling Stones and part of a flimsy, discount-store bought ironing board (and yourself) atop what was once a patio furniture table and hope that you don’t end up in the emergency room.


Tomorrow’s Lesson: Changing Light Bulbs, Changing Lives.

 

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