Thursday, December 31, 2009

Day After Christmas - "The Blessing"

I received an unforeseen shock when I awoke the day after Christmas. I went to the computer room at my parents' house to check in for my flight back to NYC first thing. No coffee. No nothing. Just check in and get that taken care of. The flight was at 6:30am and I hadn't been assigned a seat on the Memphis-LaGuardia leg yet. I just needed this one task out of the way so that I could enjoy the last day of my Christmas vacation with my family. It wasn't to be. I couldn't check in. No matter how I tried, nothing would let me check in. I got different error messages each time. Finally, I called customer service. I was on the phone for over an hour. Most of that time was taken up holding for an actual person.

Seems that because I missed the Memphis-Paducah leg of the flight on December 24, I was automatically cancelled off of the return flight. It's a new security measure. Funny how I have provided my cell number and email address for every reservation I've ever made with this airline and they didn't have the courtesy to alert me to this fantastically ridiculous cancellation. No customer service agent or supervisor would help me. They were willing to book me on another flight for a fee of $20. I promptly told the customer service agent that I could book my own return flight. There was a moment after explaining my story to a supervisor that I actually had to ask if he was still there. The air was so silent and dead that I thought we'd been disconnected. He was there. He just couldn't do anything for me. He said there was no way to re-ticket me on the flight back to LaGaurdia. What they could do was keep that flight open for a year. Make it a flight voucher. Meaning I would have to buy a one-way ticket from LaGuardia-Memphis and then I could use the rest of what I purchased for this holiday. I tried not to use the Christmas excuse with the people on the phone. I'm sure there were a lot of people with problems based around Christmas. What I did point out was the fact that $933 was the most I'd ever spent on travel to this location and that I couldn't believe that there was no courtesy shown me via email or phone call. They had my money and expected me to rebook to get back home. Done.

Furious to the point of fume coming out of my ears like Sylvester on Looney Tunes, I whipped out my American Express card and booked a one-way ticket back to NYC so that I could get home for work the next day. The interesting thing about that purchase was that I bought seat 5C for the Paducah-Memphis flight. The seat I had already purchased. The seat that they wouldn't reissue me a ticket for. I wanted to take that damn seat home with me after paying for it twice. The only seat available on the Memphis-LaGuardia flight was first class. It was only my second time to sit in first class. I think all the people boarding the plane and staring at the first class patrons makes me uncomfortable. I might need to get over that though because it was a fabulous way to travel. Bigger seats. More room. Breakfast. A pillow and a blanket. First class indeed.

When all was said and paid for twice, it cost me $1575.30 for my 64 hours of memory making with my family. Next year maybe I'll hitch a ride with Santa. Surely he can swing by KY and drop me off.

My sister convinced me to go ice skating in Paducah later that morning. We had been talking about it as a possibility since before my arrival. Abbi really wanted to go. I think everyone else did as well. I was in such a fowl mood that I wasn't sure I could go. I wasn't sure my presence would be welcomed by the family members trapped in the car with me. I conceded to go. I'm so glad that I did. The ice skating rink in Paducah was tiny, but not too crowded. It only cost us $5 each. April, Leah, Abbi and Dylan rode in one car. Casey, Whit, and I in the other. It was another bonding moment between us. The rink provided milk crates for the smaller kids to hold onto for balance as they got their skaters legs. Abbi was balance free. It was so funny. She couldn't figure it out with or without the milk crates. Dylan just pushed off in a run and sailed across the ice laying on the crates. So funny and cute. I began to loosen up and have some fun. It brought back memories of the first time April, Casey, Whit, and I had skated at Rockefeller Center. By the time we needed to leave, I was ready to stay. Doesn't it always work out that way?

The seven of us piled into our respective cars and headed to McDonald's for a small bite to eat. During the airline fiasco, I missed the orange danish's Mom had baked for breakfast. I was hungry. Who am I kidding, we were all hungry. Ice skating and anxiety can do that to you.

Saturday night was the night that Mom's family was gathering to celebrate Christmas. It's been a while since I've been able to attend one of those gatherings. They tend to be the weekend before or after Christmas. I think my being able to stay in KY for three days this year, combined with the day after Christmas falling on a Saturday, led to it being held that weekend. I was thankful. As much as I'm about tradition, this year we broke with tradition for our meal. No turkey and dressing for us. We had grilled steak and baked potatoes and fresh salad. It was a welcome change. My eyes were bigger than my stomach. I wasted what amounted to a second meal. I hate that.

During food preparation, I needed a drink. Maybe I just wanted one. I just wanted to relax. The stress of the morning was basically gone, but the anxiety of the next day's travel was beginning to creep in. The entire day was difficult for me to live in the moment and not watch the clock and count down the amount of time I had left in KY. I tried. Believe me, I tried. I drank a couple of glasses of wine. Sweet white wine. Not really my bag, but it was the only thing available to me. Honestly, it did help relax me. There were a couple of locked-in-the-back-bedroom moments with the sibling-cousins that will continue to make me laugh for years to come. It's like we were children trying to get away with something even though we're all adults in charge of our own lives. Do we ever really stop craving approval from our parents? Do we ever get over disappointing them? No and no.

What Christmas gathering with my family would be complete without game playing and quotes from "Christmas Vacation?" I'm not as up on the quotes of the movie as the other sibling-cousins. Ask me "Golden Girls," "Big Business," "Steel Magnolias," or "Soapdish" though and look out. I'm a quoting god. My favorite quote of the evening was Leah being both Uncle Lewis and Aunt Bethany in the scene around the dining table when Aunt Bethany is asked to say the blessing. The best laughing moments of the entire trip. Let's face it, that movie is a brilliant, comic depiction of a family during Christmas. Two separate clans with ideas and traditions all their own coming together to make one special holiday. Working out the differences is important and getting along with the only people who love you unconditionally is even more so.

After all the games had been played and most people had gone home, there was one other thing that I wanted to do. I wanted to read Abbi the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. She paused her television program and I retrieved the book from it's box and went to her bed. I laid down and she laid in the crook of my arm. She wanted to be able to see the words I was reading. A few pages into the chapter, Whit walked into the room and joined us on the bed for the dramatic reading. Of course you know it was dramatic. It was me reading it after all. When I completed the chapter, I closed the book and asked Abbi if she wanted me to return it to the box. She asked me to read one more chapter. I actually tried to get out of it. Then she said, "Please." What was I thinking. I wanted her to love those books as much as I, and here was an opportunity to spend some quality time with her. I agreed to one more chapter. She went to get Whit and the three of us piled back on her bed and I read the second chapter. My contacts were so dry during the reading that Abbi had to keep correcting words I was misreading. I needed contact drops and a glass of water. No complaints though. I loved every minute of reading to her. BTW, she loves the book.

So, games played, chapters read, laughter still ringing in my soul, Mom and I drove to her house so that I could pack and try to sleep before returning to NYC the next morning at 6:30am. The trip was not long enough, but at least it happened, and was packed with love. Now there's a blessing.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Day - Tradition Alive

Santa came. In the middle of the night he crept in the front door of my sister's house and left amazing things for my niece and nephew. He left moon shoes, Woody and Buzz, a basketball goal with a basketball for each of them, a new dress for Abbi and a faux chain link costume with sword and shield for Dylan. My mother woke me as it neared 7am so that we could get to my sister's house before the kids ran into the living room to discover their bounty.

It puts a smile on my face right now thinking about it. Memories of my own childhood flood back. I can remember running into the living room to see what Santa had left me in the middle of the night. I always looked to see if the cookies and milk were gone. They always were. The same can be said for this particular Christmas. Santa ate the cookies and drank the milk. A sure sign that he had been there. As for the Google Map, it said that Santa was located at the North Pole. He was home after a long night of delivering packages.

We like to open gifts one at a time so that everyone can see what everyone else got/gave. This particular year, my sister managed to stretch the morning extra long. What could have been over in 15-20 minutes, lasted over an hour and no one complained about it. It made that special time last just a little longer.

You see, once the gifts are opened there's so much to choose from that nothing is really special any more. It's all just new stuff. Taking your time allows the magic, the pleasure, the excitement to sink in, and makes you really see how precious it is.

This year a major theme in our giving was LOST season 5. I gave it to my brother-in-law, Seth, my parents gave it to me, and in a surprise twist that no one saw coming, I gave it to my parents. I think there might be a picture of each of us holding up our copy of LOST. That made for much amusement and laughter. There were shoes given to Mom, loads of dvd's given to me, jewelry, bedding, and a jacket she wanted given to my sister, and Dad received the camouflage under armor that he had wished for. Santa and his helpers were so good to us. On a personal note, I gave Abbi the entire set of Harry Potter books. Something I've wanted to do for two years. She's now at the age where she can start reading them. My hope for her is that she loves them as much as I. As for Dylan, I gave him a blast-from-the-past in the form of Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots (from my mom's youth) and Toss Across (from my youth). He loved both.

I am big on traditions and my mom is as well. Many years ago, so many I can't even remember when, my mom started cooking a big family breakfast on Christmas morning. Scrambled eggs, fried country ham, biscuits and gravy fill the house with their unique smells while we fill the chairs at the table anticipating the first bite. The amount of people present at this particular breakfast varies every year, but when you can be there it's a moment that you will long to be a part of next year even as your current plate has just a little biscuits and gravy left on it from this year.

It's all about family. Family gathering to open gifts. Family gathering for Christmas breakfast. Family gathering to play games and eat together later that night. The older I get, the more important these family moments become. Anyone who knows me well, knows that I love the traditions that come with Christmas. One such tradition that I've had for years is to give my mom the Wizard of Oz ornaments from Hallmark. She has been a lover of that film for as long as I can remember. It gives me such joy to give those ornament to her each year. Some years they are part of her Christmas gifts and other years they are just ornaments that are sent early so they can be enjoyed on the Wizard of Oz tree she has for only those ornaments. Sadly, this year, the Wizard of Oz tree didn't make it over from the barn. It's okay though, the two new ornaments were hung on the regular tree. A new tradition started by me two years ago concerns my three cousins, Casey, Leah, and Whit. We have grown so much closer over the past five years. A closeness that began at our grandmother's funeral. I've written about them and our lives already so I won't go into again here. What I started giving to them is also from Hallmark. I give Casey the Rudolph ornament. Whit gets the A Charlie Brown Christmas ornament. Leah gets Frosty the Snowman. The reaction from them is joy and maybe a bit of nostalgia at receiving the ornament. I receive joy. Pure and simple. Joy is a good thing, even if you create it yourself. The older I get the happier I am at the giving.

Leah, Casey, and Whit all arrived Christmas night. My sister and I were so excited for them to get to her house. I hadn't seen them since October. I basically had one day to hang out with them so I wanted to make the most of every moment. I told myself before leaving NYC that I was going to live in each moment, enjoy it, soak it up, without the countdown worry to leaving the next day. My dad is the worst at talking about how quickly it's all flying by. I chose to not take part in any of that kind of nonsense this year.

Life with my family was good. Traditions were kept alive once more. The familiar sounds and smells of the holiday were ever present in the house. As for my favorite Hallmark ornament, it's the Grinch.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Eve 2009 - Finding Santa

Alarm goes off at 6am. I want to sleep a little more, but I know I have to get out of bed. It is a travel day. Christmas Eve. Flight scheduled for 10:45am. I normally choose 6am flights when traveling to KY, but flights during the holiday were so expensive this year that I chose the morning flight that cost me less than $1000. After making and stowing my Murphy bed, I went to the computer to check the weather and flight status. Weather in Memphis was less than desirable, but the flight was statused "on schedule." I went to the bathroom and put my contacts in then lathered up the shaving cream for a pre-shower shave. I needed to exfoliate so I wanted a smooth face when the beads sluffed off the dead, dry skin to reveal the younger looking skin underneath. With the shaving and showering completed, I headed back to the living area to get dressed. Of course I couldn't resist checking the weather again. It had been updated almost two hours before, but that was an hour later than when I got up. There was still a 90% chance of rain for my arrival time, but now wind advisories had been added to several hour markings leading up to my arrival. Fun times. NYC was beautiful and clear. I decided to be positive. I headed out of my apartment with the sun just beginning to come up. The sky in the west was a lovely lavender. It was crisp and quiet. Around 56th Street I just began to feel a sense of peace. I started to feel positive energy and light exude from me and shine around me. My choice to be positive and courageous, in the face of the fear I felt flying into a possible thunderstorm with high winds, was working. So far. I knew it would be a constant effort to keep my fear at bay.

Thirty-five minutes after leaving my apartment I was off the train at Astoria Blvd and waiting for the bus that would take me to LaGuardia Airport. My coat, with scarf wrapped tightly, along with gloves and cap try to keep the cold from biting into me. Three buses later with toes and fingers frozen I was on an oh-so-crowded bus to the airport.

The security line was long, but broken into multiple lines so it moved quickly. My life was compartmentalized into two bags, a bin for my coat and liquids, a bin for my boots, and a small black bowl for my belt. Oh the life of travel. It's not leisure anymore. I was at the gate with two hours to spare. My flight still "on schedule."

As I looked around the airport I couldn't help but notice all the babies. More babies than I've ever noticed before. I also couldn't help but notice that all flights seemed to be full according to the overhead announcements. I remember the days when I could fly to Paducah for $239 round trip and have two seats to myself. How travel has changed. It's become much more stressful. I think half the battle for me is just getting to the airport. Taxi, Super Shuttle, bus, and subway are all options. Since moving into an apartment of my own, I've gotten more frugal with my money. I will take the Bolt Bus to Boston instead of the Amtrak and I've started to take the subway to the airport. I buy a monthly Metrocard for $89 so the trip on the subway costs me nothing extra. Seems like something I should have been doing for years.

Still waiting at the airport I turned to HLN, sister network to CNN. I've always found the HLN morning anchors very animated so it's easy to get caught up in their morning routine. The story was of a little girl's wish to Santa. Her daddy is serving in Iraq and she asked Santa to bring him home for Christmas. He then walked around the corner in the mall where Santa was hearing wishes. Her mother had known for about three months that he would be home. She wanted to keep it a surprise but almost confessed when it seemed her daughter didn't want to celebrate Christmas without her daddy. Then the little girl told her mom that she was going to ask Santa to bring him home. Her mom decided to keep the secret and make it the ultimate surprise. I am one who knows surprises. Even last year I surprised my mom and dad for Christmas. I had to fight back tears at the airport as I waited for the flight that would take me home to KY to visit my family for the holiday. It's such an emotional time for me. Keeping my positive attitude about getting home as I continued to hear on the news, talk of the storm moving across the South made is very difficult. There were delays reported, but we were on time. Weather is beyond our control. I have so many memories wrapped up in this time of year and the stress of getting home is enough to make one's face break out with pimples.

Boarding began at 10:14am. It took longer to board the plane than to get through security. Full flights'll do that to ya. My seat was changed from 8C to 12D when the attendant scanned me in. Four rows further back but still an aisle. Pretty good since I had no choice in the matter. The overhead bins were full when I got to my seat, but somehow my bag, a duffel, collapsed enough to fit in the available space. How often does that happen? Positive light and energy.

We took off very close to on time. I was shocked. I anticipated, firstly, that we would be just one plane in a line awaiting take off, and secondly, that the Memphis weather might delay us. No such inconvenience. Not only did we take off on time, we landed thirty minutes early. The winds we're not a problem and the rain was just rain. It was a little bumpy while descending, but nothing crazy. I asked for a safe, limited turbulence flight, and I got just that. Thankful is my first name today.

With my family on their way to pick me up, I sat in baggage claim B of the Memphis Delta terminal. Whit, Casey, and I were Covington bound to meet up with my mom, sister, niece, and nephew who were driving from Arlington to meet us at our chosen half way point rendezvous! That destination was the Wendy's. We chose to have a bite to eat before driving to Mom's.

In Mom's car on the way home Dylan tore all the pages out of his Mad Libs book and gave them to me. Abbi and I played brickbreaker. We listened to Christmas music from a Pottery Barn Christmas cd. Abbi had April's Blackberry and recorded a voice note of us singing Eartha Kitt's "Santa Baby." Abbi kept saying we're jazzing along with music. We took pictures with my Blackberry camera. Abbi found it difficult to keep her eyes open with my bright flash. That led to many bad photos and lots of laughter. Oh yeah, at one stop sign April and I did a Chinese fire drill. Mom attempted, the wind almost blew her Santa hat off so she got back in the car. The kids looked at us like we were idiots. Maybe the best part of the car ride was using my Blackberry to track Santa for the kids. Thank you Google Maps. They asked me periodically throughout the evening where he was and I always found him. They didn't really know where any of the foreign locales were, but they knew he was flying up in the sky somewhere and would be at their house soon.

When I finally got to my parents' house, I had just about an hour to try and get my presents wrapped before we had to leave for my dad's brother's house for Christmas Eve with my dad's family. I did not get the wrapping accomplished. I managed to get three gifts wrapped. I knew at that moment it was going to be a while before sleep arrived.

Christmas Eve is so magical. The gifts are still beautifully wrapped under the tree. The anticipation of Santa's arrival is in the air. I'm not sure there is another day during the year like it. Sitting in Mom's living room and starring at the tree is not a waste of time, but a way to prolong the moment. We all know the next morning, the peace and beauty of that night will be gone as the gifts are unwrapped and the madhouse of a family gathering begins.

Before going to bed my niece and nephew spread a special mixture of oats and large sugar crystals in the front lawn nearest the house for Santa's reindeer. Oh to be young and so excited again. Who am I kidding, my mom and I are like little kids ourselves at Christmastime. As for me, I wrapped the remaining gifts for my family and took them to my sister's to place under the tree. "Santa" was hard at work. According to Google Maps, Santa had finally arrived in the United States. He was in Ohio, Indiana, then Newark, NJ, and my very own New York, NY.

I slept with the peace and contentment of a child returned home for Christmas. Safe, sound, secure, loved, and happy.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Disappointment at the Movies

November and December. The time of year when we get our winter coats out of the closet. We eat turkey and anticipate Santa's arrival. We see the first flakes of snow. We see trailers for smarter, more intelligent movies than a summer blockbuster can ever hope to be. Yes folks, it's Oscar season. Movies for adults with grown-up tastes. Heavy hitters, hoping to score nominations and dreaming of taking home gold, get released for public consumption.

Early in the Fall, trailers for some of the films begin to air. Trailers that are so beautifully edited and strikingly presented that the viewer can't wait to see the film. The problem is: sometimes the best part is the trailer.

"The Lovely Bones" was one of those instances where I couldn't wait to see the film every time I saw the trailer. I read the book of the same title on which the film is based. I enjoyed it. I didn't love it. But Peter Jackson, director of "The Lord of the Rings Trilogy" directed the screen adaptation. I wanted to see his vision. The film is narrated by a murdered girl who is stuck in the in-between. Her own personal heaven or purgatory. That in and of itself would benefit from Jackson's CGI expertise. It cried out for a fantasy world. He had already created an amazing fantasy world with "The Lord of the Rings." The cast boasted 2 Oscar winning actresses and Oscar nominee for "Atonement," Saoirse Ronan. It's not that everyone doesn't do a fantastic job in their roles. Especially Stanley Tucci who was creepy enough to raise the hair on the back of my neck, but there was no driving intensity to the film. The act of the murder, not shown, was terribly sad, but I never wanted to cry for any of them. I wanted the murderer caught and that didn't even really happen. Justice was served by wrong place/wrong time fate, but at the expense of the family ever knowing. The CGI in-between didn't always work for me either. I knew it would be fantastical, but I think I wanted a more heightened sense of our world. I left as soon as the credits started. When I don't stay for the credits that means something.

"Nine" was so hotly anticipated on my agenda. I couldn't wait to see it. If fact, I was trying to decide the night before it's release if I might attend the next day at the 11am showing at the Ziegfeld Theater or the 1:45pm. I ended up at the 4:30pm. I purchased my ticket a mere 30 minutes in advance and headed to the Au Bon Pain to wait inside out of the cold for seating to begin at 4pm. There was a line halfway down the block when I found myself at the theater to be seated. Not to worry, it didn't take long to get inside. None of this is nearly as important and how excited I was to finally see the film.

My History with "Nine" reaches back to the day I discovered that the stage musical version won the Best Musical Tony Award over "Dreamgirls." My reaction was one of dismay. Having never heard the score though, how could I possibly judge. I promptly went out and bought the original cast album. I made myself finish listening to it. At completion, I was amazed that this piece was deemed the winner over what I thought was the more fun, extremely exciting, highly innovative "Dreamgirls." Of course, this is all based upon hearing and reading as those were my only choices for learning about either production. Jump to 2003, when "Nine" is revived on Broadway starring Antonio Banderas. I saw the production and fell in love with it. I was moved to tears. I still have a strong opinion about the original beating "Dreamgirls," but seeing a production so beautifully realized, I found an understanding in the piece I hadn't had before. I began to listen to the recording of the revival regularly. Then I began comparing the original to the revival. This led to a greater appreciation for the original recording and the feelings I felt hearing those voices sing the score. Now, in 2009, I got the opportunity to see "Nine" again, directed by Rob Marshall of Oscar winning "Chicago" and "Memoirs of a Geisha" fame. There was no doubt in my mind that the film would be beautiful to look at. At that was true. It was gorgeously photographed. However, that was not enough to keep boredom at bay. The opening was glorious in my opinion. It made me salivate for what I knew was to come. What I wasn't prepared for was the snooze fest. The musical sequences perked me up. The opening as I've already mentioned, followed by Kate Hudson's number and Fergie's number. I enjoyed Penelope Cruz's number. I just couldn't believe it. I was bored at this movie musical. Then I began to realize that I didn't care about Guido. What a piece of work. Wanted to have his cake and eat it too. I wanted to play my imaginary violin for him. My question to myself is this: Did I care about Guido in the stage version? I don't know anymore. There are more songs that flush out the story. The songs on stage are not used as fantasy, in-the-head moments. They are communication between the characters. The fantasy moments worked so well in "Chicago," but I wanted to characters in "Nine" to communicate their inner most thoughts with each other, not just to me. Where was the heart? I felt like I was not involved in the story. I was on the periphery watching. I would rather have been at a coffee bar drinking espresso myself than watching Guido drink espresso.

There is a line from the stage version of the song "Folies Bergeres" cut from the film which sums up my experience with these two films hoping for a Best Picture nomination: "Thanks to [Contini] we have boredom at the movies." Acting categories aside, I think I can say with some certainty that both will go home empty handed come March 3, 2010, save for the possible technical or artistic win.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

MTA Down, Feet it is!

Yesterday I decided to get off my butt and do some things I've been needing to do. That included buying groceries ($102) and washing the dishes. I have been staring at those dishes for about two weeks. Now don't get all judgmental on me. They were completely rinsed. There was no food caked and dried on them. My friend Michael, upon hearing of my dirty dishes on Sunday night, exclaimed, "That's gross!" It wasn't really gross. It was annoying and took up what little space of a counter I have. Anyway, the groceries got purchased and the dishes got washed, dried, and put away. The bathroom got cleaned. The clothes got folded and put away. I caught up on a couple of weeks worth of "Ugly Betty" and watched the brilliant, mind-blowing season 4 finale of "Dexter." Most important might actually be that I finally went to the eye doctor. It was more than a year overdue. I got an exam, ordered a year supply of contacts, and ordered new glasses. Yippy kai yay!

I decided to take myself to the movies yet again last night. I seem to have had a rediscovery of going to the movies in the last few weeks. It is Oscar season after all. However, last year I saw hardly anything. This year I'm so into it that I've got two lists and I'm checking off the viewed. Last night's mark off was "The Princess and the Frog." It wasn't the best movie ever. It didn't leave me feeling like I felt after "The Little Mermaid" or "Beauty and the Beast," but it was so much fun. My face was covered with a huge smile at the end. I managed that even though I shared the nearly empty theatre with a family of three who treated the space like their own personal living room. Gotta love the inconsiderates of the world!

After the movie, I took myself across town to the TONY Lounge for open mic night. I attempted to get on the subway at 60th & 3rd, but the gates were all closed. Interesting, since there were no signs posted. I took it in stride and headed to another entrance. Success!

Open mic proved to be much the same as always, but taking the opportunity to hang out with people that you like is always important.

I headed home after midnight. I walked the half a block to the E train, only to discover that with no signs posted, there was no E train at that stop. WTF! The MTA needs to figure out what it's doing and get it's repairs completed. Thankfully, I don't live that far across town so I decided to walk home. When I got to 5th Avenue and 50th Street I turned left and headed North toward 54th Street. I knew I would pass a few of the places I mentioned in my last blog. What better time to photograph them than at night with the lights lit and few people milling about to block the view. The pictures are not the clearest or best I've taken, but they give a small idea of how some of the stores decorate for Christmas here in NYC.

1. This is Versace.

2. This is the corner view of Cartier. This store is next to Versace.

3. This is the Fendi store. I mentioned in my last blog about the belts. This pic gives you a good idea of what they look like. Such a cute idea.

So I guess choosing to walk and taking the photos is my making lemonade out of the lemons.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Single Man

I bundled up for the 20 degree weather and left my house heading toward 5th Avenue. It was time to do a little shopping. Fifth Avenue and Christmastime make for an exciting pair. The crowds get on my nerves, but it's the ultimate NYC experience. It's the epitome of the "City sidewalks, busy sidewalks" of "Silver Bells." Most of my Christmas shopping was done online. Ordering gifts from is the easiest. I just have them shipped to my parents' house. Then I wrap them when I get there for the holiday's. A trip that is costing me $933 this year, but that's another story, never mind, anyway.

I walked past Tiffany's and saw the lighted greenery around the door and the bundled greeter at the entrance in his Tiffany blue scarf. I crossed the street and walked past the windows of Bergdorf Goodman. Interesting and gorgeous as always. I was en route to The Paris to buy tickets for the new film "A Single Man" directed by Tom Ford. It's opening night for the film and I've been anticipating it ever since I heard it was happening. Colin Firth and Julianne Moore star in the sixties period piece. Tom Ford is a fashion designer making his directorial debut. A fashion designer as the director of a 60's period piece. I couldn't wait for 8pm. My friend Michael and I planned to be in line by 7pm.

After the ticket purchase, I headed down 5th Avenue toward Rockefeller Center. I hadn't seen the Christmas tree yet so it seemed like as good a time as any as I was heading to New World Stages to do a little "day off, unbothered" work. Along the way I passed Saks 5th Avenue, but their snowflakes were unlit. As for the tree, I have to say that I'm glad it has gone "green" but I do miss the days when the lights were bright and gorgeous even during the day. The skating rink was full of skaters. All it takes is a trip to Rockefeller Center to put me in the Christmas spirit.

It's kind of nice to be at work when it's actually a day that I'm technically not working. I was able to sit downstairs in the admin office and work when I wanted and chat when I wanted. Mostly I concentrated on my work as I really wanted to complete the tasks that I came in to accomplish. Once they were complete there was nothing stopping me from joining the conversation and laughs that were coming from the next room. As the holiday's are approaching and last minute cards and gifts are being sent out to friends, clients, and colleagues of the theatre, what better day than Friday to work on that project. That's exactly what was happening today after 3pm. It was good to just have the time to sit and chat and hang out with the office peeps.

Michael and I left the theatre around 6:30pm and decided on Chipotle for a quick bite before the movie. After dinner and a quick subway ride on the E train to 53rd and 5th, we headed to 58th and 5th to get in line for the movie. Along the way, lights were twinkling and people were in awe of a twinkle light pattern or a scene in a store window. I especially enjoyed the large, twinkling belts the looked as if they wrapped around the Fendi store. Nice touch.

Let me just say that it was in the 20's here pretty much all that day. I was told my Michael that the wind chill had been 8 degrees. Our movie was at 8pm. It was dark and a cold wind was blowing. The thing about The Paris is there is no where to wait inside. Audience members line up outside on the sidewalk. Ladies and gents, it was cold. And I had to pee. Being cold and having to pee is no time to be waiting to get inside. I made it though. Thank God!!

Michael suggested we sit in the mezzanine before I could ask him if we could sit in the mezzanine. So we headed straight upstairs to the front row. Perfect view of the large screen.


How do I even begin with "A Single Man?" I loved it. I thought it was a beautiful film. Firstly, I thought it was visually beautiful. Everything you read about "Mad Men" talks about how meticulously the set decorators and art directors pay attention to detail. It seems the same to me in this film. Just like "Mad Men," it's set in the 60's. It's 1962 to be precise. A day in the life of a grief stricken, deeply closeted, homosexual man. A day in the life. A solitary life. Almost void of color. The film shows George in a kind of sepia tone soaked haze. It's like looking through gauze. However, when he makes human contact, the film subtly and suddenly bursts with color.

George is lonely. He seems to have no reason to live. Work and friends aren't enough. Living through the routine of his day seems to be like trying to walk under water. Not that I know what that is like. It is just how I felt. Could be that the imagery of him at the beginning, struggling under the water, permeated my thoughts and reflected upon his life. Maybe that's what it was supposed to do. I don't know. Put him in a situation with genuine human contact though and you can't imagine that he wants to end his life. Everything seemingly bursts with life. Colors are vibrant. That is life.

I haven't experienced the loss of a mate in my life. Thank God! I don't know what daily life would be like after that. What I do know is that I wanted him to live. I wanted him to want to live. I wanted him to find love again. It seemed to me that he was ready to live by the end. He locked the gun away. The gun that would have taken his life. He burned the post-suicide notes to friends. He actually seemed happy. Then, wouldn't you know it, life beyond our control strikes.

So many moments in "A Single Man" moved me. Specifically, there was a shot of Colin Firth's face as his character, George, learned of and reacted to, his lover, Jim's, death. The camera just sat there watching him as we, the audience watched him. The realization sank in and the reaction was just what you'd expect. It broke my heart. Julianne Moore as his pal Charlotte (Charly) was a portrait of an aging woman full of regret.

I could see myself in both characters. The lonely existence of George. Everyday I strive to fill my life with something. Sometimes it's just superficial things. The woe-is-me existence of Charly. She complained a lot about the state of her life. I do that all the time. Sometimes I wonder if I can be happy without something to complain about. As I sat there listening to her. I could feel the spotlight shining on me as I thought about how I react to my own life.

I need to find the balance between a reason to get out of bed and being thankful that I have the bed to get out of. There is always something to be thankful for and always a chance that human connection in the form of love is just around the corner. I don't know where that corner is, but I know that if I continue to shut myself off from human contact I will never turn it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

If The Traffic Will Allow

Just past 5 o'clock, Michael, Katrin, and I exited New World Stages. We headed East on 50th Street toward the zipcar pick up location. About halfway down the block, Katrin said she should have gone to the bathroom. Michael told her to go back to the theatre and we would pick her up on 49th Street by the stage door.

After Michael checked in at zipcar, we waited 10-15 minutes on the attendant to bring the car around. Michael and I threw our bags in the back and jumped in to get on the road. You see we were heading to New Haven, CT. The trip is generally an hour-and-a-half without traffic. We were attempting a 5pm departure to give ourselves plenty of time to make an 8pm curtain of the musical POP! at Yale Rep. Hopefully, we were even going to be able to eat before the show.

Not so much!

When we got to the West Side Highway traffic was creeping along. It wasn't quite a parking lot, but it was barely moving. Michael was frustrated and rightfully so. He kept saying we should have left earlier. Hindsight is always 20/20. We continued on the WSH for a while until Michael decided to abandon the printed directions and attempt a faster route on Broadway. We made a right turn off of the WSH and headed toward Broadway.

I saw areas of Manhattan I've never seen before. Specifically the area from 103rd - 110th Street. It was beautiful. It's the Columbia University area. It's the area I was hoping to find an apartment when I was looking for a new one this past summer. Even though I had never been to the area, people kept telling me it was a great area in which to live. There seemed to be nothing available in my price range. Anyway, driving through it made me long for the ability to live there.

Katrin was sitting in the back seat and used her iphone to help navigate the direction Michael should take to reach I-95 North. The first choice was an exit that would take us back to the WSH. We could see that it was still barely moving. Michael chose to pass that exit and asked Katrin to find out what was the next possibility. We kept heading North on Broadway. The beauty of the lower one hundreds morphed into the less than refined area of Harlem. We saw the signs for I-95 N. It was 181st street. Easy. We followed the signs and started the loop onto the interstate. We could see the traffic. It looked as if it was moving about as fast as the WSH had been moving. We were racing the clock. As we merged into traffic on the interstate, it was moving faster than we first thought. Katrin was giving us updates about how long it would take from that point to our destination. Finally we were on our way

Honestly, we were speeding right along with no problems in sight until I saw a sign above the interstate that read: Accident ahead on the right. We all groaned. Time was ticking. Fifty-three minutes away. That would put us at the theatre with 15 minutes to spare. But we hadn't run upon the accident yet. Toll booth. We have EZpass. However, we missed all the EZpass lanes to our left and got honked at by a large trunk. We got into a regular pay lane. Katrin and I dug out the correct change and we sat there. Three cars in front of us and I wondered aloud how hard it was to put $1.75 in a plastic chute? Michael commented that the EZpass lanes didn't appear to be moving any faster. Finally we reached the booth and the board flashed that it had read the EZpass. Cheers!! Then: the parking lot. We passed the booth then alternately sat on and crept up the interstate. Traffic was barely moving. This must be the foretold accident. Time was ticking. As of now Katrin is thinking we aren't going to make it by curtain. We were hungry. Katrin had strawberry gum that we all chewed. Two pieces each. We crept and crept up the interstate until finally it started to move again. As we regained the ability to accelerate we were given the opportunity to see that there was no apparent reason the traffic had been at a stand still. We passed no accident. If fact, we didn't see an accident at all. Maybe that board hadn't been updated from an earlier accident. Who knows. As we started speeding again, the update on time put us there after 8pm.

The remainder of the drive to New Haven was smooth. We hit the city limits about 8:05pm. At New World Stages we start our shows between 5-7 minutes after 8pm. So I made a comment to that affect. Hopefully, we wouldn't be too late. Michael let Katrin and I off at the door while he went to find parking. We arrived at 8:10pm. We had to wait for a late seating cue. The facility had a flat screen television in the lobby for just that situation. It allowed us to see what we would have missed otherwise waiting to be seated. Michael arrived after parking the car just before we were to be seated. So, we all got to go in together.

I don't really want to say much about the show except that Michael and I didn't care for it and Katrin loved it.

After the performance we were all starving. Since we were late to the show we obviously didn't have time to eat anything for dinner. We started walking down the street and found a Thai restaurant. The kitchen was closing so we didn't stay. We crossed the street to another Thai restaurant. I looked at the hours on the window. They closed at 10pm. It was 9:50pm. All I could say was "we're not in Manhattan anymore." They kindly sat us, but quickly told us that the kitchen would be closing in 10 minutes. We ordered. Thank goodness. Food was on the way. We utilized our time to discuss the production. Our likes and dislikes. The commercial viability of the production for New World Stages or another New York City venue.


Even though we were tired and our bellies were full, we were perky as we walked to the car. Katrin wished we could stay in New Haven. I did too. Not having to be at work until 3pm the next day myself, I would have loved an evening in a hotel room in that cute little Connecticut town. It's a city, I know, but it's a college town. That somehow makes it feel smaller, more intimate.

Somewhere, either at the restaurant or on the walk to the car, dessert was mentioned. I think I said something about McDonald's drive thru for coffee and apple pie. Everyone agreed that was a good idea.

We quickly and rather easily found our way to I-95 South and began our trip back to New York City. Katrin chose the back seat again as she wanted to nap. Michael was driving. I was the passenger in charge of the music. At first we were going to listen to a musical. Something to keep us entertained on the drive back. Then I decided to play DJ and play selections from various musicals. All the while trying to keep things uptempo and lively. It was, after all, almost 11pm and we were driving. We listened. We sang along.

Soon after we crossed into New York State, Michael decided to stop for gas. Wouldn't you know it, there was a McDonald's just down the street. Katrin decided against dessert. Michael chose the pie. I chose a hot fudge sundae. No one chose coffee. It was almost like being back at the toll booth. One car in front of us and it was just sitting there. Again I ask, how hard is it to count your money and pay your bill? Pie and ice cream in hand, with rain now falling from the sky, we got back on the interstate for the final leg of our trip. The music of choice was Little Shop of Horrors and Rocky Horror Show.

We were back in Manhattan shortly after midnight. It literally took us about and hour-and-a-half even with the pit stop for gas and McDonald's. That's what happens when there's no traffic.

I'm glad that I was given the opportunity to ride along on the trip. I'm glad that we went by car instead of train. Even with all the traffic, and not arriving on time, we had a good time. I hope we get to do it again soon.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Smiles on a Fall Night

Last Wednesday night I saw the first ever Broadway revival of the 1973 Tony Award winning Best Musical A Little Night Music by Stephen Sondheim. This was just the latest piece of work to be revived by my favorite musical theatre composer.

Revivals are a very important way for us to remember the past. They give those of us who couldn't see the original a chance to see what we could, up to that point, only here on a cast recording. Revivals give us a chance to correct mistakes or to see the beauty that is seldom found these days. Some revivals are re-stagings of the original. Some revivals are vivid re-imaginings. Some use the original choreography but use different direction. Whatever the case, I'm thankful that producers continue to revive the beautiful, important works written by Stephen Sondheim.

Thanks to revivals I've now been able to see:
1997 - A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (1962)
2001 - Follies (1971) 1st Broadway revival
2002 - Into The Woods (1987) 1st Broadway revival starring Vanessa Williams
2004 - Assassins (1990) 1st time on Broadway starring Neil Patrick Harris
2004 - Pacific Overtures (1976)
2005 - Sweeney Todd (1979)
2006 - Company (1970)
2008 - Sunday in the Park With George (1984) 1st Broadway revival
2009 - A Little Night Music (1973) 1st Broadway revival

Along the way I've gotten to see two iconic musicals in which Sondheim wrote only the lyrics. Gypsy (1959) starring Bernadette Peters in 2003 and Patti Lupone in 2008 and West Side Story (1957) in 2009.

Anyone Can Whistle (1964), Merrily We Roll Along (1981), and Passion (1994) would complete my viewing pleasure. The first two were enormous flops in their day so it is unlikely that a major Broadway revival of either will happen. Not out of the question, just unlikely. After all, enormous flop Carrie may be heading back to Broadway soon. Thanks to the preservation of a performance on DVD, I can see Passion any time I wish. That's not the same as sitting in a theatre and consuming with my ears, eyes, and emotions, but for now it has to do.

There is a single chair sitting on stage. The orchestra can be heard warming up. A man enters, sits in the chair, begins to play his cello. Others enter, a quintet of men and women, and begin to sing. At that moment I am thrust into the world that is A Little Night Music. The playbill indicates the time is turn of the last century and the place is Sweden. I got the turn of the century part based on the costumes. How beautiful to hear the singers and strings come together for the Overture and "Night Waltz" that opens the production. You see, every song in A Little Night Music is a waltz. Seems rather a perfect fit for the setting. As the show is a series of love triangles, how better to musicalize it than to use waltz which is in three's. Rather genius of Sondheim. I wish I had figured that out on my own without having to learn it from a book.

This seems the perfect moment to interject that my only familiarity with A Little Night Music comes from listening to the original cast recording. I haven't seen the Ingmar Bergman film "Smiles of a Summer Night" on which the musical is based nor have I read the script even though I own it. So you can imagine my surprise to find the book scenes filled with so much comedy. I never thought of A Little Night Music as a musical comedy. Maybe that's because the most well known song from the musical, "Send in the Clowns," is not funny at all. I'm still not quite sure that the piece as a whole can be considered musical comedy, but there are lots of laughs ball-and-chained to the heartbreak. Being so familiar with the score, I loved seeing how the songs grew from the scenes, especially "Every Day a Little Death," Charlotte's heartfelt song after telling Anne about Fredrik and Desiree and Carl-Magnus. The quintet, sweeping through, changing the scene, commenting on the situations with some of the best songs in the show. And then there's, "A Weekend in the Country," one of my favorite songs, which closes Act 1. This song is genius in it's twists, set ups, and backfires as it prepares us for Act 2 - the country estate of Madame Armfeldt. Farce ensues.

This revival stars Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury. They play mother and daughter. Two women from different generations with non-filtered opinions of each other. Catherine plays Desiree Armfeldt, an actress with a child. Angela plays her mother, Madame Armfeldt, a former courtesan, now wealthy woman, at the end of her life who keeps said child from a life on the road with her mother.

Let me trace out the triangles. Countess Charlotte Malcolm is married to Count Carl-Magnus Malcom who is having an affair with Desiree Armfeldt who is in love with Fredrik Egerman who is married to the young, virgin, Anne who is in love with Fredrik's son Henrik, who is having dalliances with their maid Petra who chooses to kiss and sleep with the many before she has to settle for the one. Confused? Like the line in "Send in the Clowns" says, "Don't you love farce?" It is a bit farcical, but it plays out beautifully with the right partners ending up together.

I'm not going to explain in detail the plot of A Little Night Music as you can click the above link and read what someone has so graciously written about the show on wikipedia. I will talk about how amazing it was to sit in that mezzanine anticipating the first chord from the orchestra. The first notes of song from the quintet. The first entrance of Catherine Zeta-Jones. The first word out of Angela Lansbury's mouth. The director, Trevor Nunn, was sitting in the row in front of me, three seats to my left taking notes. That was also very exciting for me. One might think it distracting when his pen lit up to start writing on his yellow legal pad, but for me I was watching the scene and wondering what note he would give later that night and what change he would make. What was minutely wrong with this enjoyable moment?

I often skip one of my least favorite songs on the cast album, "Liaisons." That night, seeing it interpreted by Angela Lansbury changed things for me. The song still seems to be one that the show could do without. It's a character song for Madame Armfeldt. However, it is a reveling piece about her life while commenting on the situations going on between the characters with their liaisons. I never realized that until then. Maybe I should stop skipping songs. You never know what's important even when you think it isn't.

The show was never more exciting than when Angela was on stage. She's an icon. She's won 5 Tony Awards. She knows how to mine every bit of comic gold and heart felt tragedy from every line, word, gesture, or look. I was thrilled that my first Angela Lansbury experience was with a Sondheim show. How perfect for me. I don't know which moon was smiling on me, the one for the young, fools, or the old, but it was sure smiling on me that night. Leigh Ann Larkin was bursting with sexual energy as Petra. Just walking across the stage pulled focus. Her performance of "The Miller's Son" received some of the loudest applause and hoots from the audience that evening. Two scene stealing performances, a score full of beautiful songs, and an Oscar winner making her Broadway debut. It's amazing that I didn't burst all over the people around me.

First times are often full of heightened anticipation though. Mine was no exception. First time to see the show and Angela. Too much. I want to go back and see the show again, with no expectations, and just soak it up. Sondheim is almost always a hard sell at the box office. We've been having a resurgence of his work lately and it may be something that doesn't come around again for many years.

"Make way for the clowns. Applause for the clowns. They're finally here."

Up in the Air

Imagine you're wearing a backpack. Feel the weight of the straps on your shoulders. Fill the backpack with everything in your home. Pictures, linens, your clothes, that antique table that belonged to your great-grandmother. Now, set it on fire. Burn it all up. It's a powerful image. At first thought terrifying and second thought a relief. A chance to start fresh.

This idea terrifies me. It's part of a motivational speech given by George Clooney's character, Ryan Bingham, in "Up in the Air."

Ryan is a traveler. His job requires him to fly across the country. He spends more days traveling each year than at home. He doesn't really have a home, and when he's there, he's bored. He enjoys his life. It's a life of solitude though. He isn't really connected to his family and doesn't have many friends. He might meet someone on the trip, but that kind of friendship is fleeting.

I'm like this in a way. There are differences. I have an apartment. It's filled with all that stuff that should be put in the backpack. It's not bad that I have those things, but when I moved across town, I refused the thought of ridding my life of some of them. I did throw many things away, but for some things that wasn't an option even if I didn't have the space. My life seems to be made up of what I own. Do I own enough designer labels? The newest fragrance, ipod, television? Are my shoes the latest trend? My life defined by things!! Back to the connection between Ryan and me. We both enjoy being alone, but that is an armor. We both secretly long to be a part of something.

This is my life. I'm beginning to have a greater understanding of my inability to commit. My intimacy issues. I enjoy living alone, but I also enjoy hanging out with people. There is a reason that I would rather be at work or hanging out in the lounge most days. I want the camaraderie that comes with friendship. I enjoy when people are actually glad to see me. Who doesn't. It makes me realize that for all the game I talk about wanting to be alone, I want to be around people more. Not all people. NYC is tough as it is full of people and some of those people are idiots. The people I'm referring too are the gang you hang with after work or on the weekend or one night a week. Sometimes alone time is exactly what I want and need. But a lot of the time, fellowship is what I need.

This weekend I stayed at my friend Michael's house in Astoria. If you read this blog, you know that the upstairs neighbor had guests. I couldn't/wouldn't risk the noise and sleep deprivation that comes with feeling trampled on my elephants. Michael agreed to let me crash on his sofa Friday and Saturday.

Saturday night after work, I finally made it to his house and poured myself a glass of wine, warmed up my leftovers from the previous night and settled into the coziness of his sofa. Not long after my plate was empty, we started to watch Irving Berlin's "White Christmas." Shortly into the movie, Michael received a text from his neighbor across the street. She had just made spiked cider and invited him over. He asked if I wanted to go and I said I was game is he was. He got dressed and grabbed the plate of cookies/brownies I had baked the night before and we headed across the street.

Sitting in the living room with her, her roommate, and a friend of hers, I realized what my life is missing. I don't have that kind of "hanging out with friends" fellowship in my own life. I need it. I think I actually crave it.

I want to have my own space, but I want people to chill with. Living rooms to hang out in while telling stories and laughing. I want to shrink my carbon foot print, but increase the size of my life foot print in the world. I want to be happy. Two thousand nine has been such a year of change and realization and learning for me. It hasn't been a bad year, but it's been hard.

Thankfully, I do have a family that I care about and who cares about me. I do have friends here who want to hang out with me. I have to be willing to go hang out. I have to be comfortable with the alone time. I have to create the path I want. I refuse to come home to an empty home. It may be filled with only me and my furniture, but that doesn't mean it's empty. I guess that means I want to fill my life with something other than my own desire to be alone, surrounded by the armor I've built around me. I want my life to equal more than the sum of the stuff I own.

Maybe it's time to fill the backpack and light the fire.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Facing Fears, Feeling Good

Many of you know that I faced a huge fear in my life recently by coming out to my dad. Yesterday I faced another fear by writing a note to my upstairs neighbor.

That story starts like this. After 12 years of living in an apartment that I loved, above a bar and with a roommate that I didn't, I decided it was time to live on my own. I hated the whole process of finding a new apartment. I think part of it was that I was looking at new places on my own with no one to bounce ideas off of. I also was resisting the move because I really didn't want to give up the apartment even though I needed to in order to grow. So, I looked at several apartments, through several different brokers, in neighborhoods where I just didn't want to live. Finally I decided to go with a new broker. She listened to what I wanted and it seemed like a good marriage of client and broker. The person who showed us the apartment told me it was quiet. She said that I should have no problem relaxing with a book on a Saturday night and be free of disturbances. That sounded like heaven compared to the bar I'd been living above. I actually took that first apartment I was shown. It was so cute. Exposed brick. Newly renovated bathroom. After putting down a deposit, my broker told me that nothing else on her list for the day was as nice and happy feeling as this place. I began to freak out shortly after when I thought of condensing all of my furniture and belongings from my bedroom, living room, kitchen, and bathroom into a studio with a bathroom. I bit the bullet and bought a Murphy Bed to help save space. A friend layed out the space on graph paper so that I could lay out the room for the best use of space.

The move happened and the first thing I realized was that the real estate broker who showed me and my broker the apartment had lied. It wasn't quiet at all. I could hear music from other apartments. Sometimes so loud that I could understand the lyrics. I could hear the muffled sounds of televisions all around me. Most tenants in the building slam their doors. That is completely disturbing. Worst of all, the floors are terrible. I can hear every move that my next door neighbor makes, my upstairs neighbor makes and his neighbor makes. How is anyone supposed to be able to relax with that? I first wanted to move out then decided to give it a chance and stay. I began calling the building manager regarding the noise in specific regard to my upstairs neighbor and his hard soled shoes on the hard wood floor waking me up most mornings even with ear plugs in my ears. She said that she could help make sure he would get a rug as our leases say 80-90% of the floor has to be covered. I've been fighting this battle since August and it's now December. There is still no rug. She doesn't even return my calls. I don't know that she has done or is doing anything to help me.

So as much as I was freaking out about calling my dad to tell him I was gay, I freaked out yesterday when I started to write a note to my neighbor. I started the note. Put the pen and paper down and started to leave the apartment. I put down my bag and took off my coat and resumed writing the note. I told myself that I had to do it. I had to help myself. I made sure the tone of the note was nice instead of nasty and just told him what was going on and how I felt about the building in general. You know, notes can be hard to interpret, just like a text. You gotta get the tone right.

I was nervous all day that he might react badly. I kept trying to put the positive energy into the universe regarding my note. As I headed home that night, knowing he would have read the note by now, I kept hoping that the positive thoughts would out way the negative thoughts. There was nothing on my door from him so I relaxed and went to bed.

When I opened my door this morning, I found a post it from him. His name is Chris and he was very apologetic. He understood my noise issues as he too has them from neighbors and the hallway. He said he would do his best to keep it down*. He was sorry for any inconvenience he has caused me. I was so relieved that I had taken a step to help myself and thankful for facing that fear.

Of course this reminds me of an email from the real estate broker saying that no one had ever complained of noise issues. Interesting considering that my next door neighbor thinks it's noisy. My upstairs neighbor thinks it's noisy. I think it's noisy. And the girl at the top of the stairs told me on the day I moved in that she had already had noise complaints against her from someone. Liar or uninformed broker? Hmm!

That leads me to another fear faced tonight. I was at karaoke and it was a themed night. Something like, "break up songs," or "givin' it back to my ex." Something like that. I started by singing Taylor Swift's "Picture To Burn." Seemed like the perfect "ex" song to me. What I really wanted to sing was Effie's Act 1 finale song from Dreamgirls, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." It's a big song, sung by a black woman after she's been wronged by her man. In case you aren't aware, I am a white man. Thankfully, I'm gay so that gives me a bit of leeway in singing the song. I knew from singing along to the cast album that it was in my key. I just didn't know if I could put myself on that stage and sing that song in public. I kind of thought people would laugh, or roll their eyes, or wonder what I thought I was doing. However, I felt supported tonight and in a good place and decided to just do it. If I failed, I failed. If they laughed, they laughed. You know. I rocked it. It was exactly how I thought it would be. Every note was there. I hit them all. I was so proud of myself. I met my own challenge. My friends were proud of me too.

I've taken a couple of steps, facing fears, over the past two days and it feels good. If we ask for what we want, without demanding it, we can get our wish. If we just believe in ourselves we can do whatever we want.

(*As I'm proofing this blog entry at 3 a.m., my upstairs neighbor and two of his friends enter the building. They are so loud, I can hear them from the street. The volume does not change as they start ascending the stairs. All the people in this building are trying to sleep and they are clueless, obnoxious idiots. I did hear the neighbor shush them, but it didn't matter. When they reached his apartment it was like a herd of elephants up there. Not a care or concern for anyone else. You would think that after his kind note of apology he would be a little more aware of 3 a.m. noise levels, obnoxious friends or not.)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Road to Fantastic Mr. Fox

I've been wanting to see "Fantastic Mr. Fox" for about a week now. I was going to go see it on Saturday night, but as it was the last night of the Thanksgiving weekend I decided to take advantage of my nearly empty apartment building and stay home.

I'm glad I waited until last night. If I hadn't I would have missed a very sweet sight. A father brought his little girl to the movie. I would say she was no more than three. He brought a cookie with him which she sat on the bench in the lobby and nibbled on while we waited to be seated. He went to the concession stand to get them a soda. He kept asking her if she wanted popcorn, but she was too busy rolling around and jumping to really hear him. Of course, as is typical of children, about five minutes after being seated she wanted popcorn. Her dad was not upset. He got up to go get her some popcorn. Truthfully, he probably wanted the popcorn and her saying "yes" was an excuse to get some. Anyway, she wasn't convinced they could leave their stuff at their seat. Finally she left it and joined her waiting father at the door. The sweetest moment of all was when they came back into the theater. She was carrying the popcorn. He pulled out his cell phone and held it camera style. As soon as the backlight hit her face she smiled up at him as she climbed the stairs with the popcorn. I know nothing about that little family. I don't know if he is a single dad. I don't know if the mom is working and he and his daughter are just having a night out. Who cares. The look on her face was love and trust. She was happy and he seemed genuinely content to be with her. I'm so glad I chose that location and time for the movie. We can all use a smile on our face. It's good for the heart.

Now about the movie. I loved it! I wouldn't say it was a movie for children. Why do parents think because it's animated it must be for kids? Anyway, the important thing is I had a good time. Go see it. Not only does it have a funny, sweet story, it's not Pixar. Nothing against Pixar, but it's nice to see another form of animation that still works. It's stop motion animation. It's old school.

I don't want to give anything away with this film. It's so much more fun to discover it's story on your own.

I do want to say that since coming out to my dad I seem to have picked up even more on father/son stories. "Fantastic Mr. Fox," adapted from the book by Roald Dahl, is no exception. There is a great subplot running through the film about the son trying to get his father's attention. I don't know that I ever tried to get my father's attention. I think I just tried to steer clear of him. I didn't want to do anything to make him ask me questions about my life. I'm not sure that he's ready to ask me any questions now that we've had the talk, but I know that I'm ready to just try and relax and have us be comfortable together.

Okay, so there is another film I saw last week that is all about a father and son. No subplot here. It's the plot all the way. "The Road", based on Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize winning novel has been turned into Oscar bait this season. I read the novel right after it was announced as the 2007 Pulitzer winner for fiction. I cried at the end. I remember being so thankful that no one came to the box office window to purchase tickets during that moment as I was crying. It's hard to see the things that you've been able to conjure in your mind actually realized on screen. Especially when they are difficult images. "The Road" is bleak, gray, and cold. It's post-apocalyptic. It's a father and son's journey together. The father loves his son more than anything and is willing to do whatever it takes to protect him and keep him alive. I won't lie, it's a hard movie to sit through. The world as we know it is over. The saving grace is the father's love for his son. I don't ever want to be in a situation like that with my dad, but I know he loves me and would do whatever necessary to protect me and provide for me.

The two films are completely different. Completely! But a father's love for his son is reflected in both. I've always known, on the surface, that my dad loves me. But recent events have shown me how deep and real that love is.

I'm thankful for my dad and for the beautiful moments I was able to see between a father and son in both films.

My dad was very young when I was born. I'm not sure that his reaction to being in charge of me when I was the above mentioned little girl's age would have been the same reaction that her father had. That's okay. I'm okay. I wish our relationship hadn't taken so long to get started, but hopefully now, with less secrets, we will find joy in each other. I don't need to bond in a deer stand or anything, but I think we'll be okay just the same.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

What defines a life?

Am I defined by my work? Am I defined by my family? Am I defined by my friends? Am I defined by my relationship or lack thereof? Am I defined by where I live?

As Thanksgiving approached Wednesday night I was depressed. I missed my family. The holidays always bring out that emotion in me. I'm sure I'm not the only person who feels sad without their family during the holidays. However, I began to think about my life and how I respond to situations like this.

Many times leading up to Thanksgiving I posted a status update on facebook about needing something to do on Thanksgiving. A few people reached out who were going to be out of town and one person reached out with an invitation to attend an Orphans Thanksgiving at her apartment. There was also a Thanksgiving dinner at New World Stages for all the employees who couldn't/didn't go home or had to work that evening's performances.

I don't know why this should be a defining moment, but searching around for plans on a holiday makes me realize just how alone I am here.

I wanted to live on my own and as of July I am living on my own. I'm not always lonely, but I'm alone. Being alone can be a good thing. It can be okay. I can be sad and depressing. It can be necessary. It can be lonely. It can be fantastic.

I was hoping to spend Thanksgiving in Boston with one of my best and dearest friends. This was an idea that was running rampant in my mind. I wasn't invited. I was going to invite myself if he and his husband didn't have plans. Turns out they did have plans. So my imaginary trip to Boston faded like a curtain that always hangs in the sun. My other best friend and I are estranged right now and he went to California anyway, so there were two reasons that hanging with him was never even an option.

Many members of my family went to my parents house. That coupled with the fact that I'm having such difficulty finding a flight home for Christmas added an extra layer to my depression. I honestly don't understand why I can fly to Asia for less money than I can fly across my own country. It's so sad. The airlines know that people want to be with their families and that the seats will sell, but they insist are charging higher prices instead of reasonable prices. I digress.

Wednesday night I bought cinnamon rolls for Thanksgiving breakfast and a split of champagne to mix with my OJ for mimosas. The cinnamon rolls were a nod to my mom and the mimosas were a nod to me. Traditions are important to me. If I had been at my parents house, cinnamon rolls would have been served for breakfast this morning. So, I got them for myself and threw in the added touch of mimosas. I prepared my coffee with half-a-pack of cocoa mix and french vanilla creamer for the rolls, but when noon hit, I poured a mimosa.

I straightened up around my apartment. I traded out summer clothes for winter clothes on the racks in my closet. I called my family. I spoke to my mom briefly. I spoke to my sister, my cousins Casey and Whit, and my niece Abbi, and nephew Dylan. I realized I left my dad out of the conversation so I called back and spoke to him for a while. I spoke to Neal earlier in the day and sent Matt a text.

Two mimosas and two glasses of wine later it was time to head to Queens to hang out with Susan.

I arrived at Susan's apartment and there were no lights on in the stairway. I held on to the railing, lit my blackberry, and wound my way up the stairs. I found someone in the stairway that was talking on his phone who just happened to be a guest at Susan's gathering. He pointed me to the door. I was the fourth guest at the table of five. Susan was in the kitchen whipping up meringue. I joined Kim, Erin, and Chris in the living room for some wine and conversation.

When the preparations were complete and most of the food was moved to the table we had one problem. Who was going to carve the turkey. None of us had ever carved a turkey. Erin stepped up to the proverbial plate. She began cutting around the leg and decided she would call her dad and ask his advice. Knife and fork in hand and cell phone positioned between ear and shoulder, our turkey went from golden bird to succulent cuts of white meat. Platter filled and moved to table we began our Orphans Thanksgiving. Turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, homemade cranberry sauce, and rolls. Good conversation, good food, and friendship is what Thanksgiving should be about. I'm thankful for the fact that I had friends, old and new, to be with.

Post dinner and pre dessert we sat around watching Friends Thanksgiving episodes. That was like hanging out with old friends in and of itself. I laughed so much. I haven't watched Friends in ages. Who knew it could be so fun to watch those episodes on the actual day? During the viewing party, dessert made it's way to the table. There was pumpkin pie, chocolate fudge pie, apple crumble, sweet potato pie (topped with Susan's meringue courtesy of Paula Dean), two other desserts that I can't remember and a pot of coffee. We filled plates and coffee mugs and settled in for more Friends. At this point, three more of Susan's friends dropped by.

All in all, it was a fantastic day.

I don't know what this has to do with defining my life, but we are defined by the things we do. I was trying to find something to do which made the line of my definition blurry and confusing.

Maybe I don't want to be defined at all.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

There's Never Been A Musical Like Her

a novel by Stephen King 1974

Carrie was the first novel I read twice. I wasn't a big reader as a child. Actually, my love of books started in 1997 after my move to the City. Flashback to 1993 or 4 and I read Carrie twice in one summer. I identify with her. I went to private school from 1st - 8th grade and started public school as a freshman. Not only is it difficult moving from Jr. High to High School, it's difficult making that move as a new student. I had always lived in the county where both the private and public schools were located, but I hadn't gone to school with any of those people since kindergarten. There were a few people I knew from the community, but that made for very few friends in my class. I was an easy target: new student, effeminate, liked the company of girls more than boys. That's, of course, because I was gay, but afraid to be true to myself. I grew up in a religious household. Nothing like the one provided to Carrie by her mother, but religious nonetheless. I was called queer, faggot, sissy. I was picked on for my clothes, my shoes. I was picked on because I was a singer. There were signs taped to my back saying things like, "I like boys." Once in the locker room after gym class, for no reason, other than I was there changing into my regular clothes, a fellow classmate threw a basketball straight at my face and hit me. I could always completely understand Carrie's desire for revenge on the people who constantly picked on and mistreated her.

CARRIE the musical: music by Matthew Gore; lyrics by Dean Pitchford; book by Lawrence D. Cohen 1988.

Sixteen previews, five regular performances, $8 million completely lost. By the time CARRIE started previews on April 28, 1988, at the Virginia Theater, it was the first musical of the 1988-89 season. It had missed the cut off for the 1988 Tony Awards.

It took seven years from idea to full production for CARRIE to arrive on Broadway. There was a workshop of the musical in 1984 with a full production announced for the 1986 Broadway season. That production fell through as the money could not be raised. Then West German producers became involved and the production was back on track albeit in Stratford not New York. The musical became a production of the Royal Shakespeare Company and booked a three week engagement on the company's mainstage at Stratford upon Avon. Barbara Cook was hired to play Margaret White and Linzi Hateley was hired to play the title role. Speculation arose that this three week engagement was a Broadway tryout. Due to near decapitation on opening night, Barbara Cook dropped out of the production after the Stratford run. She was replaced for the Broadway production by Betty Buckley. Making her Broadway debut, seventeen year old Linzi Hateley remained Carrie.

Legend and lore surrounding this piece of musical theater has it that audiences alternately boo'd and cheered at each performance. Ken Mandelbaum writes in his book Not Since Carrie: 40 Years of Broadway Musical Flops,"Throughout Broadway previews, CARRIE was greeted with one of the most varied reactions ever, with derisive laughter and some boos mixing with cheers and wild applause." I have read every review I could find of the musical. They are scathing, blood drinched pieces of paper that I keep, to this day, in a red three ring binder. The red seemed appropriate. Clive Barnes in the Post gave the only positive review.

Mandelbaum writes, "As for the material itself, CARRIE's stunning mother-daughter scenes constitute the most geniuinely operatic material to be found in any pop opera and feature often gorgeous music. There were a couple of decent pop tunes plus a number of perfectly awful songs, but the Gore-Pitchford score is salvageable." He goes on to say, "What makes CARRIE so unique in flop musical history is its combination of soaring, often breathtaking sequences and some of the most appalling and ridiculous scenes ever seen in a musical. It alternately scaled the heights and hit rock-bottom." I wish I could have seen it.

After opening on Thursday and closing on that Sunday, rumor has it that never have so many people wished they had seen a musical. Bootlegs are said to have quickly begun to circulate. After a troubled preview period gave way to an opening night, the show became legend. It was the most expensive flop of it's time. The ads never seemed more accurate. "There's never been a musical like her." CARRIE was said to be fascinating, thrilling, horrible, and unbelievable. There would probably never be anything like it again.

The Reading: NYC 2009

It was announced several weeks ago that Jeffrey Seller and Kevin McCollum would be presenting an industry reading of CARRIE. The article said that Jeffrey had convinced the writers to revisit the piece. My jaw dropped to the floor. I had to figure out a way to get into this reading. The first thing I did was ask Jen, the company manager of ALTAR BOYZ if she could do anything as she used to work at The Producing Office - Jeffrey and Kevin's company. I mentioned in an earlier blog that I had met Dean Pitchford when he picked up his ticket for THE TOXIC AVENGER MUSICAL at my window. My brain was working overtime. I called the general management office for THE TOXIC AVENGER MUSICAL hoping to get an email address for Dean. I was willing to be very forward and ask him if I could attend. Turns out his request was put in through Diana DeGarmo through her agent. That was not going to be my way in. Then Ryan, company manager of AVENUE Q, realized the director of ALTAR BOYZ was the director of the reading. He made the request on my behalf to Stafford Arima. Stafford gave him the name of the person to email and two days later I was confirmed for one place at the 4pm reading of CARRIE the musical. I was so excited that I didn't talk about it for a while. I didn't want to jinx it. Then I slowly began to share with people that I was going to attend.

When I arrived at 42nd Street studios, my name was not on the list downstairs. I was not deterred. I had all my texts from Ryan confirming my name on the list and the gentleman downstairs said it probably wouldn't be a problem and sent me upstairs to talk to Caitlyn. I quickly found Caitlyn and as soon as I started my story she knew who I was and assured me it wasn't a problem.

I stood in the lobby upstairs in front of rehearsal space 3A and watched as more and more faces I recognized from on stage and back stage and theater management filed out of the elevators and filled the waiting area. The anticipation for me was so heightened that my heart was pounding a bit faster than normal and I had to take slow, deep breaths.

Something that I've wanted for so long was just beyond the door I was staring at. Amazing!!

When we were allowed into the space it was nothing more than rows of plastic chairs facing music stands and other plastic chairs. There was a very large door that separated the two rooms opened to reveal the cast. Conversations were taking place, vocal warm ups were happening, a picture of cast, crew, and producers was snapped for posterity. Finally the cast filed into our room and took their seats. There they were: Marin Mazzie as Margaret White, Sutton Foster as Miss Gardner, Jennifer Damiano as Sue, Diana DeGarmo as Chris, Matt Doyle as Tommy and Molly Ranson as Carrie White. There were familiar and new faces rounding out the ensemble. Was this really happening? Was I actually here and getting ready to hear CARRIE performed? Jeffrey, Kevin, and Stafford took center stage before the reading started. Kevin held a chalk slate for Jeffrey. It had the original artwork, as well as, other writing on it. Jeffrey erased it all and wiped the slate clean. This was a new CARRIE. I was euphoric as the first words of the show were spoken and the first chords were struck on the piano. I have been familiar with the score for many years. As a card carrying Equity member, I am against bootlegs. Here is the but. I was given a bootleg of CARRIE on cd for my birthday several years ago and it is one of my most prized possessions. All these years later and those bootlegs are still circulating. I sat in that space and listened to "In," "Carrie," "Evening Prayers," the soaring "And Eve Was Weak," "Unsuspecting Hearts," "Do Me A Favor," the heartbreaking/terrifying "I Remember How Those Boys Could Dance," as well as new songs written during the course of revisiting the material. At intermission the lady next to me asked what I thought. I told her I loved it. She said she also loved it. She said that Marin was bringing her to tears. Act two brought more new songs and I got to hear the heartbreaking "When There's No One" which made me cry. There was also the destruction number full of previously sung lines in the show. A mash up of thoughts running through Carrie's head. Then the "Carrie" reprise, sung as a lullaby by Margaret to Carrie, before the devastating ending. Not only were there new songs, the book had been retooled to more closely follow the film with subtle nods to the novel. There is a clear, clarified story.

When the reading was over and the applause had died away I had the opportunity to talk to people. I was able to express my gratitude for the invitation to Jeffrey and Stafford. I was able to tell Dean what an amazing experience I felt a part of. I was able to thank Marin and Sutton for their performances and talk about how fascinating the piece is. As for Marin, she blew my mind. And Sutton was amazing as a new teacher, believing that she can make a difference. The role is not Millie or Fiona. Later, at New World Stages, I was able to talk to Diana about the reading. It seems that all involved feel the piece if worth a second look. I agree.

Anyone who has heard me talk about CARRIE the musical knows that I've always believed the piece could work. I've always believed if it was grounded in reality it would work. The characters have to be real people. Today I sat in the audience and witnessed my thoughts on the show realized in front of me.

"There's never been a musical like her" and we just may get the opportunity to see her rise again.