Category Archives: bodies

SLEEP NO MORE and My One-Night-Hand-Stand

vanity fair sleep no moreLast night a strange man held my hand. That’s right: I, Ester Bloom, married lady, mother of a young child, partnered with the same dude since I was 18 years old, committed hand-adultery. I had an anonymous one-night-hand-stand.

Mr. Ben and I were at SLEEP NO MORE, the immersive theater experience where you wander around a huge, five-floor, dimly lit but extravagantly designed set that was once a hotel, forbidden to speak or to remove your opaque white mask. Around you, actors and dancers silently recreate scenes from and inspired by “Macbeth.”

To reach peak surreality, as an audience member, you are encouraged to explore the dreamscape solo. Mr. Ben, who takes this shit very seriously, waved me goodbye early on and dashed off to try to get as many one-on-ones as possible. (That’s when certain cast members take you “off-stage,” into a small enclosed space, for a special bonus dose of weirdness.)

So there I was, be-masked, silent, and alone, watching the banquet scene in the basement, when another audience member — a well-dressed white dude — took my hand. TOOK IT, LIKE IT WAS HIS. Like he was Christopher Columbus and my hand was America.

I cycled through several immediate thoughts:

+ Oh, how embarrassing for him! He must think I’m someone else.

+ Is he a member of the cast who’s going undercover, The Prince and the Pauper-style, by wearing the mask of an audience member?

+ His hand-holding sure is confident! He probably works in derivatives.

+ If I can’t speak, how can I say “no”?

+ Is this like improv, where I’m not supposed to say “no,” at least unless he does something super creepy?

While I was wrestling with all that, Christopher Columbus assertively led me out of the ballroom and to another scene, and then another. After a few minutes it became impossible to shake him off, not just because he was holding my hand so tightly but because perhaps I had missed my window of opportunity. Soon we would be joined together for life! What would I say to Mr. Ben and Babygirl? “Sorry, Christopher Columbus grabbed me. Gotta go. See you maybe in twenty years when he lets go!”

His hand was very warm, yet dry. I didn’t hold his hand back, per se, but I did allow my hand to be held. In almost fourteen years, this is as close as I’ve come to sexual contact with a person besides the father of my child.

Finally, Christopher Columbus led me to the bar on the second floor, which is the oasis in the SLEEP NO MORE desert: the place where you’re allowed to eat and drink and catch your breath and talk.

“Hello,” I said, because I’m exceedingly clever and make my living using words.

“Can I buy you a drink?” he said.

“No thanks?” I said.

He shrugged and smiled and disappeared. That was the last I saw of Christopher Columbus. I put my mask on and went back to SLEEP NO MORE.

“For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.” —
Romeo & Juliet

Jewish Christmas

As far as I’m concerned, the holiday season has already begun. My email inbox at work looks like Target on a Sunday afternoon, while the only phone call I’ve gotten has been from a guy in Ghana. In a couple hours, the office closes completely.

In terms of seasonal semiotics, I’m set. Boston got coated in snow while I was there for a multi-day conference, and last night, my friend Logan and I toured the famously — and egregiously — ornate neighborhood decorations of Dyker Heights.

All presents for Russian Christmas, to be observed this year on Sunday the 26th, are bought. They require only ribbons.

But before we get to the beets-and-vodka version of this holiday’s celebration with the family in Westchester, we have to make it through Actual Christmas Eve and Actual Christmas Day in Brooklyn. Which means deciding between:

OPTION I: X-MAN: A True Grit and Fighter double-header.
PROS: Great acting. Or, at least, great-looking guys acting tough.
CONS: Too much testosterone can make hair sprout in odd places.

OPTION II: XX-MAS: Tiny Furniture and Black Swan
PROS: Spending time with the ladies. Body image issues engendered by one will be canceled out by the other.
CONS: That would be a lot of obsession for one holiday.


OPTION III: XXX-MAS: Love and Other Drugs and I Love You, Phillip Morris.
PROS: Beautiful naked people doing what beautiful naked people do best.
CONS: The movies are supposed to be flawed, even if the bodies on screen aren’t.

The Gun on the Wall

When I picked up an unabridged (though yes, translated) version of the the Canterbury Tales a couple of weeks ago, I’m not sure what I was expecting. Stories, of course. So many novels lately successfully weave together loosely-related stories: A Visit from the Goon Squad, which was so exciting it had me up at 3:00 AM thinking about narrative; The Imperfectionists, which is not quite as good as I hoped it would be, but still worth reading; Olive Kitteridge; and the Ms. Hempel Chronicles, off the top of my head. I wanted to see how the master, and perhaps originator, of the genre pulled it off.

I knew some of the stories would be a little bawdy, others would be religious, and many, if not most, would have morals. But I was not prepared for what I found. In fact I was so unprepared that, reading it on the subway one morning across from an Orthodox mother and daughter, I got so flustered I had to turn the book over on my lap.

Friends, Chaucer likes the word “cunt.”

Sure, he’s not the only one. Characters on the Sopranos made liberal use of the word, usually as a prelude to or an excuse for murder. Henry Miller sprinkles it on his prose like salt. But everyone knows that Henry Miller is rated R, or NC-17. I had no idea the Canterbury Tales were. They seem so staid simply by virtue of being old.

That’s the real shock here. It’s not just that Chaucer enjoys an edgy, monosyllabic word that perhaps carried less weight in England 700 years ago than it does in the US today. (Seems possible, according to one etymological history.) It’s that these pilgrims, Chaucer’s characters, have such gleefully filthy imaginations. Wives cheat on husbands with students, lodgers, cousins, monks, anyone available, really. Virgins are hardly immune from the lust that seems to overtake married women: when they are surprised by amorous fellas, they give as good as they get. And men? Men will leap on anything with two legs and a hole.

That, in short, is the venerable, aged, enduring classic the Canterbury Tales: smut, smut, more smut, some boring moralizing, a dash of out-of-the-blue Jew hate, followed by smut, smut, smut, and smut. Okay! Now the naked Chaucer from A Knight’s Tale makes more sense to me.

Also shocking: I discovered this weekend, when I went home to join my family in picking out a headstone, that my father had a gun. True story. The man who, as far as I know, only ever shot off his mouth, bought a Smith & Wesson in New Mexico and brought it to DC shortly after moving there. The same Wild West instincts that were guiding him told him not to bother with a permit, apparently.

My mother bound the gun up in a kerchief inside an Anne Klein shoebox, which she taped shut and kept in her closet. And that’s where it stayed. I never heard about, nor saw, the gun. Until now.


freakish and disproportional

I INQUIRED about the price of a ladies’ tuxedo jacket, since I couldn’t find the tag, and learned that the jacket was not sold separately from its matching black satin teddy ($1,700).

“Would you still like to try it on?” one of the tattooed ladies asked.

“I’d rather see it on you, actually,” I replied.

She very sweetly and immediately obliged.

I inspected the peplum and the Balmain-esque shoulder pads. “It’s a very small size, isn’t it?”

“Well, I’m a 32D, so it fits great,” my helper said in response.

It was refreshing to hear a demi-couture jacket’s merits discussed in terms of cup size. I was surprised that a 32D didn’t look at all freakish or disproportional, like a Japanese robot or Pam Anderson during her Kid Rock phase.

Is it my imagination or does this seem like the opening of a mediocre piece of erotica? Maybe handling all those ben-wa balls made this author feisty. Regardless, I’d appreciate it if, in the future, she kept her surprise that ordinary-sized people are not, in fact, hideous monsters to herself.

Pamela Anderson is 36DD, which would translate to a 32G. Not that that makes her freakish, either, but the author may as well get her insulting facts right. Seriously, Meghan McCain is on the right track here, and you, Cintra Wilson, are feeding guppies to the piranhas of women’s insecurity and body-hate.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: WTF, NYT.

death cannot stop true love

For continuity’s sake, I should mention how amazing the Erin McKeown show was, although it feels like AGES ago, darling. E McK is as smashing as a tiny, adorable, Brown graduate with folky-jazzy sensibilities and a sharp sense of humor should be. When she cross-dresses, she’s even cuter.

I’ve been wedded to Erin ever since I saw her a weekend-long folk festival even longer than ages ago. When I gave her my notebook to autograph, I’d forgotten that I had written my impressions of her performance at the top of the page. Naturally, seeing her name, she took the book from me and read what I’d written: “She’s Bjorklike!”

Erin looked at me from across the table, as sternly as her babyface would allow. “Anyone who says I’m Bjorklike,” she said, “is my Best Friend.”

There ended up being a small army of us smashed into Joe’s Pub to hear her, and she, there with the Little Big Band to promote her new Retro Redux album Sing You Sinners, did not disappoint. In short: every straight person has a list of people they’d go gay for. Erin McKeown tops mine.

On another note entirely (or not?), I’ve been thinking a lot about Bodies. Also last week, a friend persuaded me to see a Fat Activism documentary at NYU with her — “fat” being the word the panelists themselves used, although apparently the word “size” has its proponents. FWIW, I’d prefer to use the word “size” because “fat” has such negative connotations to me. One panelist explained, “Fat is what I am, and it’s who I am.” While that may work for her, I found it disquieting. I’m very used to thinking of myself as a Self and my fat as the Other. If it’s not quite a parasite, it’s pretty close.

The documentary itself was short and simple. You can be fat and fit! (I know.) People of all shapes are deserving of respect! (I know.) And then it was over. Irritatingly, the discussion afterwards was moderated by a shameless gay bottle-blond gym bunny in a t-shirt that looked like it would have to be peeled off. He stood in the corner and tried to be all Oprah, nodding sympathetically when the panelists recounted experiences of discrimination. I wished I had darts to throw at his biceps.

The word “pride” came up more than once, and it really made me think. Why is it, in America, that we have to have these relationships with our bodies that come down to cycles of intense animosity and self-indulgence? No one ever says, you don’t have to love your body — just figure it’s Good Enough. Possibly because that doesn’t sell any products, either for dieting or for pampering. Possibly because it feels easier to go to the opposite pole than to settle down with Hillary in the lonely middle. (That should be a folk song.)

Michael Pollan’s much-emailed NYT Mag piece this past weekend perfectly summed up what I wish the prevailing attitude was toward food/fat/bodies. Although I don’t think it’s perfect — for one thing, he suggests picking one ethnicity and eating it:

Eat more like the French. Or the Japanese. Or the Italians. Or the Greeks. Confounding factors aside, people who eat according to the rules of a traditional food culture are generally healthier than we are. Any traditional diet will do: if it weren’t a healthy diet, the people who follow it wouldn’t still be around.

But what about those of us who love Thai food and Korean food and Japanese food and the occasional slice of pizza or dish of guacamole? Isn’t the point of living in America that we don’t have to be restricted to what our great grandparents ate? Mr. Ben also points out: “What about the Russians?” Not all surviving diets are worth emulating.

In general though I think he’s so right we ought to throw him a parade. You don’t need to obsess about food! Since we don’t fully understand a carrot works, we can stop thinking we can get what you need from the carrot some other way; we can just eat the damn carrot. Our waists will forgive us, and hey, maybe we won’t get cancer. It’s not love or hate, pride or fear: it’s fact based, it’s reasonable, it’s straightforward. I should read his book, I guess.