Monday, February 23, 2015

My Review of the 2015 Academy Awards

At the beginning of last night’s Academy Awards, after a song and dance number I barely glanced at having been traumatized by decades of awful Oscar night musical numbers, Doogie Howser told us that we were about “to fall in love with moving pictures all over again.” 

Speak for yourself, Doogie. I never fell out of love with them. 

A good movie, one that whisks me away from the realities of a full litter box and a mountain of laundry, is precious and always has been. While, occasionally there may be a dry spell of new releases I'm anxious to see, hand me the clicker, sign me up for Amazon Prime and I am on my way. 

The Oscars, however, are less and less about the movies and more and more about the red carpet, gossip and scandal as well as providing a pulpit for an increasingly pompous Hollywood’s political and social agenda. 

Therefore, I intend to focus on these very  aspects today which means this review will be very easy. I am sitting back with a bellini and a copy of "Fifty Shades..." while it writes itself.

At the Oscars, after the host has nattered on for a bit, they hit you with a few big awards so you emotionally commit and don’t start flipping around looking for CSI re-runs. One of the first awards of last night was for best supporting actor... 

Won by the familiarly jowly JK Simmons, whose status in the movies is such that you know his face as well as your husband’s but never knew his name, is an excellent and reliable supporting actor and this was his moment.

"Yep, it's me."
“Oh, look who it is!” people across America murmured but, in his acceptance speech, he made it very clear to the universe and beyond that he must have pissed his wife off very badly sometime before the broadcast.  JK kissed Mrs. JK’s ass to the point of confusing everyone, including her, and then segued into an odd warning about the evils of texting. The Oscars were off to a weird start….

Soon after, the ever lovely Adam Levine, thanks to the tightest pants of the award show season, performed something in so high a voice that only dogs could hear it. He did so while wearing not just one ear piece but two and was soon followed by the normally stunning but shockingly drab Reese Witherspoon who presented an award for hair and make-up both of which she, apparently, chose to decline before taking the stage.

Nicole Kidman

Silicone bakeware

But, wait—the great and gorgeous Viola Davis showed up wearing all the make-up that the previous presenters had refused while Gwyneth Paltrow proved that it is, indeed, possible to actually walk like a bitch.
"I know. Too much."

One alien greets another.
Did Liev tell you this
looked good, Naomi?

After Jared Leto, in a pale blue tux straight from your cousin Dee Dee’s 1976 wedding in Jersey made me smile and I asked myself why Emma Stone had borrowed a dress from Betty White, a parade of some of the weirdest dresses I have seen since a Blondie Concert followed: Siena Miller in a strangely cut black number, Scarlett Johannson wore the crown jewels of the Klingon empire while Naomi Watts wore a tube top with straps. 

Everyone’s stylist seemed to have gone to the same place for these edgy (and I mean that in a bad way) clothes and were all sharing a good laugh as they cashed their checks at the ATM across the street from the Dolby Theater.

Thank the god of scientology that John Travolta appeared! Wearing someone else’s head and a dog collar, he was creepier than ever as he fondled poor Adele Dazeem above the neck until Kelly Preston threw up on the seat filler next to her.

"If he touches my face one more time, I will knee him in the groin."
One of the evening’s few highlights for me was Lady Gaga and her over the top rendition of some of our favorite songs from “The Sound of Music.” I knew Lady G could sing but she surprised me with her range. She camped it up just enough to trouble us slightly but not offend the 80 year old Julie Andrews who appeared after the performance, all while flashing a trumpet tattoo on her inner upper arm and a hint of wig glue at her hairline.

"I will Birdman your ass, Eddie."

I was happy "Birdman" won for best picture.  I loved it (and its star, the gritty streets of the theater district in New York) but wanted to warn little Eddie Redmayne to watch out for Michael Keaton at the after party. 

Michael who had been vigorously chomping gum throughout the evening, spit it out before the winner for best actor was announced which means he thought he had it sewn up.

All in all, this was one of the worst Oscar nights I, wearing my best jammies and grippy socks, have experienced in years.

I intend to spend the day drinking spiked cocoa until the image of Neil Patrick Harris with nothing but a thin weave of cotton separating what he, apparently, is quite proud of and my eyeballs,fades away. Speaking of balls, some might say that stunt not only showed balls but took balls, too. I say that not even balls could save this boring and meandering broadcast.

Yes, please.
No, thank you.
On the plus side, I enjoyed being reminded of my abiding love for Idris Elba as well as my eternal loathing of Sean Penn who was as surly, poorly groomed and hideous as ever. To my happiness, his attempt at humor – who brings up a green card in Hollywood?? -- fell gloriously flat.

At some point during the show, it was mentioned that each nominee and presenter received a gift bag valued in excess of $160,000. Yes, you read that number correctly. Next year, instead of blathering about your personal plights and beliefs and then basking in the fevered applause of a bejeweled crowd hot for social causes, refuse your bag  and, instead, send its net worth to your cause where it can do some good instead of getting you a rhino spleen facial at Canyon Ranch.

Next year I hope John Travolta hosts.

Let your freak flag fly, Jared.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Winter's Tale

My birthday was not looking good.

Stranded without a car that could traverse the fresh three inches in the driveway and a sore back that couldn’t shovel it, I had gone to bed the night before in my mid fifties only to wake in my late fifties. The day was gray and quiet.  I could feel the muscles of my face settling in for a lengthy pout.

Sitting at the kitchen table, even my coffee tasted lousy as I disconsolately watched the branches outside bend in a stiff February wind. Suddenly, my nemesis -- the red squirrel named “I’ll Kill You!” -- made a leap out of nowhere, managing to successfully cling to the tray of the squirrel proof feeder that hangs outside the window. Jumping up, I ran over to use my successful squirrel deflecting technique of cranking open the window to tap the feeder and scare him off. Today, however, there were different results.

I’ll Kill You, in his panic, somehow managed to squeeze inside the Lucite feeder.

He quickly realized he’d made a big mistake--after thinking for a second or two, he began hurling himself against the sides of the feeder. This morphed into a pitiful mime’s routine of feeling around inside the clear plastic as if searching for a seam through which to burst. He then tried to push himself though the conical top but soon realized that, since he wasn’t a cartoon character, this was impossible. He proceeded to thrash wildly for a very long time, causing the black oil sunflower seeds to scatter and fly, settling around him as he, in resignation, decided to try and eat his way eat out, perhaps in hope of locating an escape hatch once the feeder was empty.

My nemesis.
This was not the first time I’ll Kill You had squeezed into this feeder but Seth had done some tinkering to prevent him from getting back in which, now, was only preventing him from getting out. The irony of this predicament was lost on little I’ll Kill You as temperatures plummeted. There was no insulation inside the feeder.

I called Seth. Please come home and get I’ll Kill You out of the feeder. Seth responded with a few not-nice-to-say-to-a-person-on-her-birthday-words but promised to do it when he got home later but I knew evening was too late. I considered calling the police or Animal Control but I’ll Kill You had already grown listless.

"Squirrel proof." Really?
I could not allow this gutsy little guy to freeze to death and I certainly wasn’t going to let it happen on my birthday! Not wanting to add a frozen squirrel to my list of regrets, I opened the slider and roared out into the wind, “I WILL SAVE YOU, I’LL KILL YOU!! YOU ARE NOT DYING TODAY!!”

The feeder was beyond my reach so I dragged the old step stool up the stairs, returning to the garage for boots (there was two feet of snow on the deck), my warm coat, a hat, gloves and an assortment of tools whose names and uses I do not know but looked like they might loosen the frozen nut that held the top of the feeder on so tightly.

All the while, despite my determination to save him, I am sputtering curses at I’ll Kill You as I worried about falling, injuring myself and being found later--squirrel and birthday girl frozen motionless on a frigid day. I tucked my cell phone into my bra to call 911 in case I survived long enough to request help.

As I gathered my supplies, I kept checking to see if the squirrel might have escaped on his own but he was now dreamily eating seeds as if he knew this was his final feeder raid. My last trip downstairs was to grab the sledge hammer.  If I could not remove the nut, I was going to put the feeder upside down and bash the outer edge, smashing it to bits and, hopefully, not killing my friend as his prison splintered around him.

As I reached the top of the stairs and looked out--to my  jubilation, I saw that the feeder was empty!  I’ll Kill You had freed himself! It must have been an adrenalin fueled burst of energy because the feeder was now totally askew, its lid forced off at one edge. I sat down, sledgehammer at my side and smiled, joyful that I could remain safely inside and I’ll Kill You and I would meet to fight another day.

From that moment, my birthday changed. I was happy that I had decided to stop at nothing to free a little squirrel who I, apparently, like more than I hate.  Phone calls and flowers followed. It was an excellent birthday.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Riding in Cars with (Baby) Boys

Twenty six years ago tonight, I was standing on the frozen steps of a small apartment building in Brooklyn. The snow-covered streets were empty and my mother stood beside me. Her cotton candy hair blew about in the wind, as we waited for the car service to take us to the hospital.

The evening that preceded the night included a massive bread baking session in my tiny kitchen as a result of the hormonal madness inspired by the fact that the baby I was waiting for was nine days late.

So, I baked.

Kneading bread with my hands, proofing dough and shoveling the loaves into my ancient oven kept me busy. But, in my craziness, I had forgotten to grease the pans and none of the perfectly domed, yeastily aromatic loaves could be freed from their pans. 

I tried running a knife around their golden edges and rapping strategically with a knuckle on the bottom of the pans. Nothing worked. So, totally in character, I flung them, one by one, against the kitchen wall. This did not loosen the bread from the loaf pans but it did cause my water to break. So, off we went.

Seth--a merchant marine at the time--was in Florida, waiting to head out on a cable layer for AT&T. Dispatched just days before and, in a world before cell phones, he had to be tracked down by a marine operator. Due to a miraculously timed postponement of the ship's departure, he was able to fly home and attend the birth of his first son.

Labor was painful. And long. And it worked it's way, fruitlessly, through several shifts of nurses. My doctor, a fabulous Russian, with a mane of hair more magnificent than that of the MGM lion's, stayed through it all, waiting with me...soothing me with corny jokes told in a deep, rumbly, heavily accented voice.

Ultimately a C-section became necessary and I was trundled, delirious, into an antiseptically austere surgical delivery room. Back then husbands were not invited in for anything other than natural births, so Seth and I parted at the door. He was able to see Tommy as he was lifted onto the table and examined. I caught a glimpse of him, too. His mouth was huge and open. I fell in love at first sight.

There were some benefits to the old days. One of them was that, if you had a C-section, you stayed in the hospital for no less than five days. Can you imagine? Tommy and I lived the good life....he was whisked away at night while I slept, visitors brought balloons and stuffed animals....but I did have to say goodbye to Seth whose ship was ready to sail for Okinawa.

My little mother and I were on our own with "the baby." On the day we were to leave, we had to call another car to bring us home. As those familiar with the questionable fleets of privately owned car services in 1980's New York know, some of the cars were pretty icky.

The one that arrived for us was a battered two-door but having just had a section, I was limited physically. The driver stuffed my mother into the back and settled me in the front, holding the baby as I backed my tuchas into the passenger seat. To my surprise, the seat had no springs and I sank down so low that my knees almost touched my chin. Did I mention there were no seat belts?

The driver then handed me the baby and off we holding a baby in my arms, unbelted. And no one thought a thing of it. There were fewer laws, restrictions,, I would be arrested for child endangerment.

When we arrived at the house, the super happened to be outside having a cigarette on the front steps. He held the baby while my mother and the driver, each holding one of my hands, pulled me out of the car and set me on my feet.

Then, the driver refused to take a penny. He told us, in beautiful broken English, that it had been his honor to drive us home. I will never forget him. Or anything about that day.

So, twenty-six years have sped by. Raising Tom meant screaming and laughing and shrieking and singing and crying and laughing and ranting and roaring and laughing some more. It meant running through the house to close the windows before a fight so the neighbors wouldn't hear and it meant laughing so hard or singing so loud that the neighbors must have wondered if we were all certifiably insane. Or been damn jealous.

So, Tom, both our lives began on the day you were born. Yours in the literal sense. Mine, in the sense that you fulfilled my destiny. I am so very glad that you are exactly who you are. Happy birthday. Many more. Love, Mom

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Stop & Chat

Going to our local supermarket is not just a trip to the store to grab a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread. 

It’s more than even accomplishing a massive shopping after which you struggle through the automatic door balancing your giant pack of paper towels atop a towering cat with one hand while pushing with the other. Oops, watch out for the curb!

A visit to Stop & Shop is a trip to the general store of old where townsfolk exchanged gossip ‘round a cracker barrel topped with a checkerboard, or rocked in an old bentwood chair on the porch while sucking down a sarsparilla. 
Kind of like this....
Our supermarket is the spot to run into friends and enjoy a chat, catch up with neighbors and also the place where, occasionally, what was intended to be an in-and-out grab for a six pack of Diet Coke becomes an hour (or more) as the stars align for you to run into everyone you have ever known since the glorious moment you burst from the womb.

For me, this was the case last Saturday. 

Two feet of snow were predicted.
It was the perfect storm, really: after lunch on a typically busy Saturday when all the weekend shoppers converge from the farthest corners of town. It was also the Saturday before a predicted snowstorm; toss in the toilet-paper-and-bottled-water-crowd and you have congested aisles and long check-out lines.

Add to this the fact that I was feeling needy after days home alone. Seth takes my car whenever there is winter weather build-up on the roads. His truck cannot even make it up our steep driveway which never sees the sun due to tall bushes and subtle angles and will retain a stubborn patch of snow until the Fourth of July. So, I was lonely and primed for seeing a face other than Buzzy’s. I needed to talk to someone who does not use a litter box and has a little gray nose.

Did I hear what I think I heard?

I was not disappointed.  

There were old friends and new, neighbors and conversations that, literally, included a few tears as the travails and challenges of life were analyzed amidst tubs of cookies and seeded breads in paper sleeves in the bakery section. Luckily there was laughter to follow as high emotion morphed into the welcome sense that life can be funny through it all. 

There were acquaintances to nod at and even a few chatty strangers and, in general, my smile muscles got an excellent work-out. In fact, there were people from every phase of my years spent in town and my children’s various stages from school to sports and beyond.

Stop talking, just
stop talking!
Amazingly, this excursion was free of the occasional person you spot from a distance who, I’m sorry to say, you’d rather avoid.  There’s the one who simply won’t shut up (this trip, by the way, that was me. Sorry, Meg.) and does not recognize signs of imminent distress (eyes rolling back into one’s skull, clawing at one’s face and gagging or simply crumpling to the floor in a heap) and keeps on talking. There’s the occasional bore or whiner, the person you offended when your son was in high school, the one who offended you--also when your son was in high school, etc.  

When confronted by this, there are several methods of evasive action. There’s the aisle switch which involves spurts of full-out running as well  as skills of strategy. There’s the busy yourself in the fascinating ingredients of the box of rice pilaf you just happen to holding  and there’s also the lean into the freezer case as far as possible in order to grab that package of curly fries in the way, way back. These tactics are immediately recognized by your opponent because they don’t want to talk to you either.
So does Seth.

I was gone so long that my famous non-worrier of a husband began to hope fear that I had been abducted by aliens and transported back to my home planet but upon realizing that my disappearance would  mean that he will be solely responsible for procuring his own pretzel rods and Budweiser, he’s relieved to hear the rattle of the garage door rising upon my return.

I'll probably pop back in next Saturday. See you there!