Together, Mr. Ben and I have been preparing to embark on the incredible journey of Home Ownership. It is a quintessentially American journey, more American than Route 66 or McDonald’s or pulling yourself up by your bootstraps — at which, by the way, apparently our people take a back seat to the Danes, Swedes, Canadians, and lots of other pinko-commies who have supposedly grown fat and lazy sucking on the government’s teat.
Over the years, we have pinched our pennies until the outline of Lincoln’s hat remained etched on our thumbs, and stretched a dollar til it was so thin you could read through it. Despite bouts of unemployment, Mr. Ben’s law school debt, and the fact that we got engaged and then married, we now have enough money for a down payment. What’s the secret, you ask? Well, for one thing, you let your parents pay for the wedding, even if it means they do everything their way and you get about as much say as the flower girl. For another, you re-use everything. Those sweatpants your mom bought you from the Limited when you were ten? Why *not* wear those to gym? So what if you look like Liz Lemon on an off day?
SIDE NOTE: I love it when people compliment Liz Lemon.
“You’re Liz Lemon, damn it. In certain lights, you’re an 8! Using East Coast, over-35 standards, excluding Miami.” –Jack
“There’s something about you lately. Make me want to put my feet in your mouth.” –Tracy
Um, I’m getting off track. The point is, I’ve been looking at apartments since late summer and discovered, as many good people have before me, that in New York, the definition of “amenities” has been broadened to include many things that residents of other places take for granted, such as “light,” “floorboards,” “non-lead paint,” etc. In order to get a whopping three (3) rooms, plus a kitchen and a bathroom, in a Stuff White People Like neighborhood, you need to produce a huge amount of money, the kind of dough that bought a prize racehorse in the Godfather.
Poor Khartoum came to a sticky end, as perhaps you recall.
Anyway, we have an accepted offer on our apartment of choice, and it’s all terribly exciting. In honor of this development (and in honor of Filmspotting, which I’ve been listening to regularly now for almost a year), I thought I’d do a Top 5 list of movies about houses, and I’m soliciting suggestions. What are your favorites?
In any such endeavor, rules are crucial:
1) The house must be a character of sorts in the film and not just a backdrop (so, like, the Austen novel Mansfield Park would count, but the Austen novel Emma would not).
2) The hotel in The Shining does not count as a house. Neither does the prison in The Shawshank Redemption. We’re being strict here, people.
3) The action must take place largely in or around the house; the house must be central to the plot and even the identity of the film.
Yesterday, at a party my boss took me to for work, an older gentleman used shaking my hand as an excuse to fondle my wrist. As his index finger caressed my skin and I tried not to barf, I reflected on how many odd face-to-face interactions I have had with people in the last month.
Most recently, I attended the Brooklyn Book Festival, an annual gala where writers and thinkers get to sit in close proximity with the only people who still buy novels. Even when less than scintillating, the panels always give you something to mull over, like when Sigrid Nunez, there to discuss the writing of her new memoir about her relationship with Susan Sontag, said that she doesn’t like to write about people she knows, but if one musts, the trick is to “be harder on yourself than you are on them.”
David Rakoff, also on the panel, said that he avoids writing about people he knows altogether — except his parents. And they, he feels, are fair game.
Jonathan Franzen’s advice on the same topic was to write about whomever you want but mention of any male character that he has distressingly small genitalia. Then no one will admit — or want to believe — that you’ve written about him.
All of that aside, the best panel over the weekend was about contemporary parenthood and featured Alice Bradley, an old favorite of mine from her blog Finslippy, who has co-written the funny/scathing Let’s Panic About Babies!; Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of my favorite bloggers and America’s best public intellectuals; and Adam Mansbach, the surprisingly smart & substantial author of Go the Fuck To Sleep. I had gone in with no expectations at all and really enjoyed hearing them all make jokes about children and about trying hard to be both a parent and a recognizable human being.
The best thing about it was the location (all those Jews in a church on Sunday!). Otherwise, it fell kind of flat. You can always count on Lebowitz to say something hilarious, and she was exactly as sharp as you would hope she would be. “In the Soviet Union, capitalism triumphed over communism. In this country, capitalism triumphed over democracy,” she said, all but pounding the podium. Later, she had acidic words for America post-NAFTA: “What has replaced factories in the Midwest? Meth labs and mega churches. It goes New York–>meth labs and mega churches–>LA.”
Sadly, Shawn and Eisenberg had only standard leftist Ivory Tower talking points to contribute, and as Lebowitz wandered into the well-worn territory of carping about Kids These Days, the event became steadily less interesting. No one addressed either of the two fundamental questions I have about contemporary political life:
1) In a post-socialism world–which is to say, a world in which the left has no ideological counterpoint to capitalism to offer–what idea should we be rallying around? Less unfair democracy? More restrained capitalism? As Aaron Sorkin might say, I can’t believe no one ever wrote a folk song about that.
2) Bearing in mind that the last progressive US president to get elected to a second term was Franklin Roosevelt, how is Obama supposed to win in 2012, especially without pissing off the left? Clinton sold out to the Republicans with free trade and welfare reform; that’s a large part of why he was popular enough to compete, and even then he got a strong assist from the 3rd-party candidacy of wacko Texan Ross Perot.
So I left a bit disappointed with everyone involved. Unlike the many other people who potentially felt the same way, however, I got to express my feelings (!!) because later that afternoon, as I headed to Trader Joe’s, I passed the three panelists and a fourth individual on the street. There they were, just hanging out, Lebowitz smoking of course. (She’s the only smoker I love and almost certainly the only one I respect.)
Hitching up my resolve, I walked right to her and said, “Can I shake your hand?”
Lebowitz took her cigarette out of her mouth, held it with the fingers of her left hand, and shook my hand with her right.
“You were brilliant up there today,” I said, looking all of them in the eye one by one. “But you were wrong.”
Shawn and Eisenberg looked startled and confused, as though a waiter in a restaurant had lifted the cover off a dish to reveal a live kitten. Lebowitz merely put her cigarette back in her mouth and gave a half-shrug, half-smirk that made me want to make out with her, even though she would taste like an ashtray. Instead, I smiled once more at all of them and kept walking.
VICTORY IS MINE, SAYETH THE LORD. Or perhaps he didn’t, but he should have.
The night before, some friends and I hit up the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival at the Bell House, where we got up and close and personal with more celebrities: Ira Glass, John Hodgman, and special guest star Rachel Maddow. Maddow told adorable, endearing stories about how she was hired by a woman to do yard work and ended up doing another kind of maintenance altogether, if you know what I mean. (In fulfilling that fantasy, for both parties, by the way, she probably deserves some sort of lesbian Medal of Honor.) Hodgman held his own, hilariously straight-faced as always, but Mirman, who I’ve also seen knock over grown people with laughter, was underutilized by the hosts, Elna and Kevin of “The Talent Show,” who seemed much more focused on making sure Ira Glass puked onstage.
They nearly got their wish, too. By midway through, Glass was so sloppily happy that he kept popping up from his chair and beaming at the audience, like a tall hipster prairie dog. Elna and Kevin kept telling him to take shots and, as Mr. Ben pointed out later, it was like improv — he couldn’t say no. By night’s end, we watched a great wave of nausea nearly topple him. His cheeks puffed out; his eyes sunk; and his wife managed to lead him offstage before he blew his cookies in front of everyone.
Also one of the comedians nearly got into a fight with some hecklers from the audience and had to be restrained. In general it was not the best show I’ve seen there but, still, watching Ira Glass turn sea-green was pretty memorable.
More to come! I swear. I have great Montana stories and at some point I’ll get to tell them.
Things aren’t objectively better around here. My dad is in the hospital after turning a toxic shade of yellow — they’re looking at his liver, which was possibly affected by the Tylenol 3 he was taking for the ribs he broke when he fell over a step in South Africa. (Phew!) He likes to pretend he was chased by an elephant, so if you talk to him please claim to admire his bravery.
Meanwhile, the economy remains precarious, which means I am holding onto my job with both hands. That time that I got let go right before Christmas during the Transit Strike — and while I was taking out the trash! — is, as they say, burned in my brain. As I walked home to Brooklyn in the twenty-five-degree cold, I knew I would never take employment through December for granted again.
Despite all this, though, my anxiety levels have actually decreased. Instead of feeling like I’m wobbling on the edge of a black hole all the time, I feel like I’m a safe yard or so away from the black hole. It’s right there, sure, but I’m not in immediate danger of falling in.
In honor of that improvement, here are two things that made me laugh so hard I made a spectacle of myself. First, Carolyn Hax’s annual Holiday Hootenanny, where readers compete to submit their funniest true Christmas horror story. One contender for my favorite:
On Grandmother gifts…: Several years ago, my grandmother gave my husband a welcome statue with frogs on it. The word “welcome” is written on this very elongated mushroom held sideways by the two frogs. The elongated mushroom looks very much like you would think an elongated mushroom would look like, which is to say, like a certain part of the male anatomy. There are even two smaller mushrooms sprouting out of the base. We all laughed about it, and my husband decided we would keep it, since it was so amusing. So the next year he gets… two more of the exact same statue. And last year, another one of the same statue. We have them all sitting out on our patio. And a few years ago, she gave my 6’5 brother a floral muumuu we’re desperately hoping was really intended for someone else. However, it has now become a family tradition to wrap the muumuu up and give it to another male member of the family on Christmas. Makes for some great Christmas pictures.
And, the runner up:
X-mas entertainment: We always saved my uncle’s gifts for last. Over the years they have included:
1) a duck decoy missing its head 2) an ink drawing of a head of lettuce and some celery, with “salad” written in large font underneath 3) a Christmas ornament made out of a lightbulb painted lavender and with sparkles glued on 4) a stuffed plant — as in, made of fabric, stuffed with whatever goes in stuffed animals.
For a while we assumed these gifts were expressions of hostility (in particular, the headless duck) but in fact, I think his taste just runs to the extremely odd. Turns out bathroom is tiled with the image of the Statue of Liberty, and the walkway to his house is lined with bowling pins.
I never had a holiday (or relatives) that crazy. Perhaps Hannukah doesn’t inspire people to go to reach such dizzying heights? Regardless, if that’s not enough giggling, check out this montage of 40 Inspirational Movie Speeches. Witness every heavy-handed cinema cliche knit together into a master quilt!:
Amazingly, it even gets better as it goes along, hitting a peak at “They’ll take our lives but they’ll never take our Independence Day!” It’s also amusing to think of how most of these moments can be traced back to / blamed on Shakespeare, who popularized, if not created, the St. Crispin’s Day speech intended to get soliders’ adrenaline pumping so hard they can’t hear themselves think rational things like “But we don’t *want* to die.”
It’s been an anxiety-ridden month for me, full of worry and sleepless nights and pill-taking, to the extent that I have to wonder, Jeez, what would I be like if Barack Obama had *lost*? Anyway, thanks to all of that, I have a head-cold and a renewed appreciation for anything that makes me laugh.
I went back to Dr. Feelgood today and in a first for psychiatry he sent me away with instructions to take up meditation and a promise that “you’ll be fine.” To be fair, he also suggested a certain brand-name drug. As this was the third time he’s brought it up and as I’m a smart-ass, I asked him, “What, are they paying you?” To which he promptly replied, “Yes.”
No one has ever made [bleep!]ing Matt Damon such fun.
ETA: I don’t think I made this clear enough. Tara Leigh’s book is smart and insightful and funny and it made me cry on the subway even though I’d read the whole manuscript before. Of all my friends, she’s one of the ones I’m proudest of. You should totally buy her book. Also, I’M IN IT. I’m a character in someone else’s narrative! It’s surreal yet awesome.