Friday, February 19, 2010

The Courage of Leigh Ann & Jenny

It only takes a moment to change your life, or someone else's. What happens when you decide to help someone who has nothing? How is their life changed? How is yours? What happens when you decide that an education is not important? You decide that instead of a life filled with boredom, as you perceive those who are educated, you would rather live a life of fun and excitement? A life which you think can be provided by another person. Only to find out when you've given up everything, the other person was a fake.

I can't even begin to imagine the courage it took for Leigh Anne Tuohy to open her home to Michael Oher. I don't know what it feels like to have that much generosity. I have received loads of kindness, love, and generosity from my family and friends, but I've never opened my heart that wide for any one.

I don't know Leigh Anne Tuohy. My only reference is Sandra Bullock's performance in the film "The Blind Side." She's an amazing human being in my opinion.

Jenny, played by Cary Mulligan in "An Education," decides that girls who go to college, in the 60's, live only boring lives as educators or civil servants. Her father wants her to go to Oxford. Her teachers want her to go to Oxford. Truth be told, she wants to go to Oxford. However, the excitement she finds in life with an older man is too exciting for the normalcy of teenage life. She gives up her education and accepts a marriage proposal only to realize it was a mistake. The good thing is, her teacher has a generous heart. Her life is not over, and mistakes are just mistakes.

Both of the above are life changing experiences. Both of these women took chances. Leigh Anne's paid off in a big way. She opened her heart and expanded her family. Jenny's paid off by allowing her to learn something very important about herself. She did want college. She learned that she could create her own life of excitement while also acquiring an education.

Both films are nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture and both actresses are nominated for Best Actress. Having a good time at the movies is what we always strive for. Learning something while having a good time is something I personally find exciting.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bland. With a Side of Spicy!

Finally, for a brief moment, I'm back to getting off work at 5pm on Sunday. That means that I can get to Queens, and the relaxation of Michael's house, earlier than my recent 8:30pm arrival time. It's nice to be able to just get there, uncork a bottle or two, and relax for the evening.

This past Sunday, I decided that I wanted to cook something. I usually bring a bottle of wine or something for dessert. Sometimes I just bring my southern self with the very unsouthern "nothing" to give the hostess. Tacky, I know. I never said I was perfect. Oh, I strive to be, but sometimes I'm just lazy. And God forbid, cheap. There, I said it. I can be cheap. Of course, it's because I worry about money. Having enough of it that is. In regards to Sundays in Queens, it's mostly about being lazy in getting something to take with me. Back to me cooking. The one thing that I know how to cook without the recipe is my Mamaw's Mexican cornbread. It's not exactly hers anymore, as I've had to modify it for what I could purchase in NYC. You see, when I started making this cornbread, I couldn't find corn meal in the grocery store. It struck me as odd 10 years ago, but being a New Yorker now, I realize that items I might find back in KY differ from items that people want to buy here and vice versa. So I started making the cornbread with Jiffy cornbread mix. It's a little sweeter than regular cornbread and I kind of like it better. It's a good base for all the ingredients. It's sweet with a little spicy thrown in the mix. Not providing the recipe, so don't even ask.

I stopped at the Ctown grocery store in Queens on my way to Michael's place. I was able to get almost all of the ingredients there. The one thing I couldn't find, I knew I could do without as I've done without it before. I got to Michael's just as he was leaving to go to the grocery store himself for the ingredients to make chili. I went upstairs, uncorked a bottle of Rioja, and began preparing the cornbread. After Michael returned, he realized he forgot cheese and sour cream for the chili. I realized I forgot to get milk for the cornbread. I also realized that the cheese I purchased for the cornbread was imitation. How could I be so stupid as to get imitation. I want real cheese. No imitation. No fat free. No reduced fat. Call me Paula Dean, but I want real cheese. Maybe it's a little more Julia Child and her love of real butter. Doesn't matter, it was back to the grocery store for me. The Trade Fair this time. I got milk, sour cream, and real cheese for the cornbread and the chili.

Back in the kitchen, with the sounds of jazz coming through the speakers and wine swirling in my glass, I began to scoop out the shreds of imitation cheese I had poured into the cornbread mix before realizing it was fake. I retrieved a Pyrex cake pan from it's storage space only to realize, after spraying it with non stick spray and starting to fill it, that it was too big. I went with a smaller backing pan. I'm used to making this cornbread. However, I usually make it in a rectangular metal cake pan and bake it for 40 minutes. This pan was Pyrex and smaller so I had to watch the timer and periodically check to see how brown the top was. After 35 minutes, it wasn't done, so I placed it back in the oven for 10 more minutes. Here's where the real fun began.

Michael had been slaving away dicing onions and peppers, browning ground turkey, and adding spices to the large pot. Ingredients that would eventually simmer and mix and blend into a pot of chili. Perfect for a chilly Sunday evening, a glass of red wine and Mexican cornbread. During the final 10 baking minutes of the cornbread, Michael decided he should try the chili. It was the first time he had ever made it. He had gotten the recipe from the Internet. He dipped the spoon into the bubbling red liquid, blew on it to cool it down, and tasted his concoction. He nearly choked. It was so spicy that he began searching for something to drink like a crazy person. Sweat broke out on his forehead. I suggested the wine. He gulped. Not literally like you would gulp water, but a gulp for wine. We didn't know what to do. He thought it was going to be inedible. All that food wasted. Thank God we had cornbread to eat if it really proved inedible.

He rushed to the computer to search for ways of "cutting the hotness" of chili. All the results were things to do before cooking. Nothing for what to do after it's basically complete. I called my friend Matt, a chili maker, for suggestions. I did not reach him. I then called my friend Josette, Matt's fiance, hoping he might be with her. I didn't reach her either. I called my mom. No answer. I then called my friend Neal. Success! He began Google searching things to do to make the chili less spicy.

Here's what we did: Added sugar. Added more ground turkey. Added a can of tomato paste. Added red wine. Added salt. Added more sugar. Added more water. Scooped off a mug full of the liquid. Added a can of Campbell's Beef Consomme.

When all of these things were done, we had a slightly less spicy, incredibly bland chili. I still don't know how it's possible for the chili would end up bland, but it did. More salt helped, but didn't repair. The damage was done. We knew that the dairy of the sour cream and cheese would help with the spiciness, but the blandness was another layer of contention.

Forty-five minutes in the Pyrex pan turned out to be the right amount of time for a perfectly browned cornbread. We cut ourselves large squares of it. I put mine in my bowl and ladled the chili on top. That's the way I had been craving the two dishes all day. Married together in one bowl. Flavors uniting for a burst of heaven in my mouth. Well, it wasn't exactly that. The chili left a lot to be desired by each of us. Michael couldn't finish his even with the sour cream and cheese on top. The cornbread did help with the flavor, but as I'm not a spicy food person, the spice was a bit too much.

Let me just say that thankfully, we had wine to wash it down and cookies in the refrigerator just waiting to be backed. Chocolate chip and mint chocolate chip. Yes, they were from a break and bake package, but who cares. They were fantastic. They helped erase the taste of the spicy, bland chili.

When our friend Tynan arrived home to the apartment she shares with Michael, we recounted the story. Had she been there while we were cooking, she would have known how to fix the chili. She suggested we add beans and/or Cumin. So, instead of dumping the pot of chili out and wasting all those lunches/dinners from leftovers, Tynan was going to work her magic and fix it up right.

It's so nice to have friends with whom to share moments like: sitting in the kitchen and laughing about the chili, recounting the story to Tynan and watching her face react, realizing I bought imitation cheese. None of them would be possible with out the love and generosity of friends. I'm glad that I've at least had the sense in my life to know to open my heart to people who are going to fill it with joy.

I'm so grateful for the friendship and for the Sundays in Queens.

Monday, February 8, 2010


Inspiration can come from anything, anywhere. A speck of color in a piece of trash on the sidewalk. An article in a magazine. A line of dialogue in a book. Fashion. Music. A bottle of wine. Art. Film. A flower in Central Park.

On a recent trip to Boston, I was reading a back issue of Vogue that had been lying around my apartment since October '09. The article I was reading was called "the ex files" written by Tad Friend. He was doing research for his memoir and decided to look up and ask ex girlfriends to recall what it was like being in a relationship with him. The following two quotes I found extremely interesting and vivid. "My greatest danger is the everydayness. If it descends in full force I'll simply get depressed and I'll ingrow like a toenail." Amazing! I know exactly how the woman, who wrote this line in a letter to the author, feels. To have nothing on my calendar and no plans means that the only thing happening is the boring, everydayness that can happen in life. I am acquainted with that depression. I know how alive I feel when there's something to do. Having somewhere to be so that I can see people and be seen is a life saver. I crave it. The second quote was from the author himself. "Sometimes remembered lightening was just a lightening bug." How true is that? Something that in the moment is amazing or mind blowing can be remembered for what it truly was when we get some distance between us and it. Sex, kisses, dates, a movie, a moment when hands touch for the first time, a nice bottle of Bordeaux. They can mean so much at that moment. But time fades the memory. Or clarifies it. That burst of love was really nothing more than your heart racing.

How many times have you been inspired by a movie? Speaking solely for me, that number is countless. More times than I can remember. Sometimes there is even a moment of inspiration to glean from an otherwise dismal film. It was not a bad film that inspired me two nights ago. "Up", the most recent animated release from Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios, filled me with inspiration. I learned that I am never too old to open my heart. I am never too old to learn something new about the world or myself. I am never too old to change. I am never to old to achieve my goals. And, I am never too old to dream. Dreams can come true. All I have to do is believe in myself, close my eyes, and take the leap. Hell, maybe I should try taking the leap with my eyes open.

Inspiration came today in the form of this quote from Brian Gallagher while I was watching yesterday's CBS Sunday Morning. "When you invest your time, your money, just your energy, into things beyond yourself, you will be more successful." I need to do that more. I need to be more charitable. I was told recently that maybe if I would give more to charity then I wouldn't worry so much about having money. The point being, it all comes back to you. Karma, blessings, whatever you choose to believe it is. It's like the golden rule of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. If I give for the right reasons, then it can only come back to bless me. How amazing is that? Kind of inspiring I think. The first thing I did was give more to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS than I normally do at this time of year. I heard a woman on the street yesterday asking for 75 cents. Normally, I would ignore the request, as I always do, walk by, and try to block it out. Yesterday, I felt change in my pocket and whatdya know, three quarters. I gave it to the lady. It felt good. Those two giving moments happened before I even heard Brian Gallagher's thoughts on giving. I needed to hear them. Reinforcement!

The following quote was also from the CBS Sunday Morning program. I'm not sure who said it, but it immediately spoke to me. "If you're out there in the world, and you let the world in, it's almost impossible to not feel that there's some place where you can make things better."

I am inspired by many things in my life. What I want to be is a better person and an inspiration to others. That would be a beautiful achievement. I think it's time to open my heart, make a change, learn, live, and thus, inspire.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Search Is On

The great apartment search has begun. A mere six months after I moved into the current apartment I'm ready to leave it. I've been happy to be in a space that is all my own, but unhappy with the place that I chose to make my own. One's home should be a place to feel comfort. A place to relax. A place that is a sanctuary from the hard life of the City. The place to which Calgon takes you away. It should not be a place you avoid. I avoid mine all of the time. I find excuses to not be there. I go to Barnes & Noble for the umpteenth time and look at the books I wish I had, but don't need, just to avoid going home.

My anxiety and stress levels overwhelm me sometimes at the thought of being in my apartment. Especially on weekends. It stems solely from the noise level. I'm sure that other city dwellers might be able to block out the noises that annoy me. I'm the one living here right now though, not them.

So the search is on. I'm looking for someone to take over my lease at the same time that I'm searching for a new place to live. My search is centered in Astoria, Queens. I think to find what I'm looking for it might be time to leave Manhattan. Even saying that out loud makes me take a second to just breathe. I love Manhattan. I've had a love affair/hate affair with her for almost 13 years. Mostly a love affair. When you've done something for that long it's hard to give it up. Maybe it's scarier than it is hard. Anyway, I have to give Queens a try. I might find my serenity and be happier than I've ever been in my life.

I'll never know until I try right? Right!

Monday, February 1, 2010

My Familiars

Fa·mil·iar: one that is familiar; especially an intimate associate, companion; a spirit often embodied in an animal and held to attend and serve or guard a person; one who is well acquainted with something. That's how defines familiar. I can define it with three words: Neal and Matt.

Neal arrived in the City late Friday night, joining Stephen who was already here to conduct Emerson's fall auditions. I know I had just seen him in Boston a mere 13 days before, but it's always nice to hang out. In Boston, we hang out at the house. In NYC we go to dinner and have drinks. Different cities, different entertainment.

I met Neal at the Crowne Plaza on 49th and Broadway at 5:30pm on Saturday evening. Stephen had a dinner break from 6-7pm so Neal and I hung out in the room until Stephen joined us and then we headed out into the City to get him dinner. It was too early for Neal and me to eat, we were being joined later by Matt for dinner anyway, so we just sat at the table and talked while Stephen ate. I think we went to Cafe Europa, but I wouldn't swear to it so don't even ask me to raise my right hand. With Stephen's dinner complete, he had to run to the next audition location.

Neal and I began to saunter back to the hotel. Well, saunter as much as one does in the cold. I wanted a drink. We stopped mid street to discuss where to get a glass of wine. Hmmm, NYC, where to get a glass of wine. That should be easy. I mean just turn around oneself in a circle and there's bound to be a bar somewhere. Divine Bar occurred to me. We headed toward 54th. Neal realized he had forgotten his cold meds so we did an about face and headed toward the Crowne Plaza. Hey, they have a bar in the hotel. We could've just as easily had a drink there.

Back in the room we had a moment of talking about what we each wanted to drink. Neal thought he might have a Maker's, neat, and I was completely salivating for a Jameson with a single cube. The light bulb above my head went off and I knew where we should go. The Time Out Lounge. Yes it's at my place of work, but it's also where I get a discount. Done. We were off to the TONY Lounge.

We sat at the bar and talked, enjoying the warmth of the drink as we froze our asses off. You see the TONY Lounge is located at the bottom of the stairs below the main lobby of New World Stages. So every time one of the six doors opens off of the sidewalk, cold air is sucked down the stairs and chills the patrons of the Lounge. We were only going to be there for roughly 45 minutes as we were meeting Matt at 7:45pm so we just dealt with it. That time turned out to be a gross miscalculation on Matt's part. We called Matt just after 8pm as he had not responded when Neal sent him a text to meet us at the Lounge instead of John's Pizzeria. He was still uptown, having just finished walking the dogs, but walking out the door to meet us. We gave it a few minutes and then headed down to John's ourselves.

I don't go to John's anymore without Matt and Neal. It's just something we always do together. So it felt good to be back in the familiar surroundings of the former church building again. Neal and I sat at the bar, ordered a pitcher of Brooklyn Lager, and waited for Matt to arrive. Neal finished telling me a story that began on the walk down while the bartender poured us each a glass from our pitcher. Familiar. Comfortable.

Matt arrived. Hugs all around. Matt went to our table as Neal settled our bar tab. We took the remainder of the pitcher to our table and poured Matt a glass. We had to take care of our friend. I mean it's the southern thing to do. Just because we're all Yankees now doesn't mean we left our roots in the South. It was so nice to be together again. I don't remember the last time just the three of us hung out. It was reminiscient of the old days. We are all in different places in our lives these days. Matt is engaged, Neal is going to grad school, and I'm working on finding a place to live and be happy. But we're all the same. Familiar stories and actions find their ebb and flow just as they always did. The cadences were still the same. We're just a little (and I do mean just a little) older and a bit wiser.

Watching us pay for things is always comedy. I never carry cash so I always need to split it on my card. I paid for the drinks at the TONY Lounge and Neal paid for the pitcher at John's. I paid for the pizza which left Matt wondering what to do. I told him to pay for breakfast the next morning. He also paid the tip on the pizza.

We hailed a cab and headed to 57th Street to meet Josette, Matt's fiance, for a birthday party of one of Matt's clients. The cool thing was, I knew the man too. The boss of a former roommate who also does marketing for many shows that I've sold tickets for in the past and present. There were lots of gays there, a few women, and a couple of cats. Our little quartet spent most of the evening in the bedroom, drinking vodka and grapefruit juice, just talking. The funniest thing that happened at the party was when Neal saw the female cat of the pair of siblings. The owner had already mentioned that the pair were identical, but that she was a little bigger. We were also told she only drank water from the bathroom faucet and therefore liked to sit in the sink. She was hilarious just sitting there when I went to the bathroom. Back to the funny moment. Neal hadn't seen her yet. He had only seen her brother. She came sauntering (I seem to be loving that word) out of the bathroom and Neal said, "Hey Puss...(gasp) she is fat!". There was no filter. I nearly fell out. It reminded me of something that Neal and I used to say in college about a girl who didn't strike something from a scene during a dance concert one year. Our ballet teacher, upon questioning her whereabouts, was informed, "That girl had to shit!" We used to say that all the time and Neal's delivery of the "fat" line was the same. Again, I nearly fell out.

We had already decided to meet the next morning at 8am for breakfast. It was late by that point and the 7am alarm was going to come quickly and sound as bad as nails scrapping on a chalk board. I decided, with Neal's permission, to stay in their hotel room on the chaise. It was a little shorter than comfortable though so I eventually ended up on the floor. I was happier to be on that floor than sleeping in my own bed with the anxiety that attaches itself to my chest when I'm in my apartment.

The next morning, breakfast was at Georgio's Country Grill. Stephen and Josette joined us. We made it just past 8am. Matt paid.

The three of us are well acquainted, companions, and though not as animals, guardians of each other. My familiars, my friends