Yesterday, I woke up at 5 in the morning to be out the door by 6, in Manhattan by 6:40, and in the ground lobby of a studio-space building by 6:50, only be turned out with a handful of grumbling actors (one in sweat pants) to wait outside until 8. In that hour out on the sidewalk, the handful grew to a large number of not-grumbling-as-much actors (still just the one in sweat pants), and the reality of my chances as a non-Equity, non-EMC actor being seen at an in-demand EPA was starting to occur to me as being really, really, really slim. At 8, sign-up began, me landing the fifth or sixth spot on the non-Equity list, and I grabbed a seat, taking out my book to read, in the hopes of distracting myself from the ever-growing line of Equity actors checking in, each requesting “Earliest available.” At one point, it was overheard that there weren’t any open spots until 1:50, and the reality of the situation became even more reality-er: I was probably not going to get seen.
I have this terrible habit of falling in love too easily. I also have a terrible habit of not always being the most observant or attentive, and of quite often being oblivious to my surroundings.
I want to focus on the former for awhile; I’ll get to the latter here before too long.
When I say “falling in love too easily”, I don’t mean in that tragic, sick cycle, Mitch from Streetcar Named Desire sort of way (or Blanche from Streetcar, or anyone from Streetcar). To the best of my knowledge, I have never fallen so madly for someone that I signed over all of my money to them, only to be left in the lurch, yet again, having to turn to family for financial support. (No, I turn to them for support when it’s the result of my own poor choices.) I’m not Sugar Cane in Some Like It Hot, is what I’m getting at. (Aw, you guys, she’s dead now. Sad.)
By “falling in love too easily”, I’m referring to that thing a lot of us do, of seeing someone on the street and, for a split-second, finding them so unbelievably irresistible that I fall for them, head over heels, even if it’s just lust. Just as quickly I forget about it, move on, go about my life, and then I come across someone else, and it’s the same thing all over again. I know a lot of people who have done this (most of them still in grade school), so I know I’m in fairly decent company. And the entire time, there’s the part of me, the logical part of me, telling me that obviously, there are a million different reasons this won’t work(I don’t know this person, I’ve never met this person, he’s standing with his wife and child). But then there’s the irrational part of me, the illogical part of me, the Jane Austen reading, Douglas Sirk viewing, “Nobody’s perfect” spouting part of me that says “Well, you never know, do you?” Because, you guys, seriously, it could happen anywhere, any time, often when you least suspect it. At least that’s what romantic comedies from 1998 to 2006 and that one romantic novel cover I saw at WalMart have taught me.
There’s something to be said, though, for keeping yourself open to possibilities. It can come out of nowhere, and so I always keep myself open to the possibility. Today, for example, on the train, on my way into work, I met a guy. And by “a guy” I mean “a Man”. And by “met” I mean “made long, romantic eye contact with.” And by “long, romantic eye contact” I mean “eye contact.” It was really an exciting thing, in it’s own small way. He got on at the Montrose Ave stop, and from where I was sitting I had the perfect vantage point to check him out, his navy blue polo, his slight paunch, his ginger beard, Our eyes met, holding just a moment longer than they should before both looking away. But then that thing kicked in, and I had to look back, and sure enough, there he was looking back at me. This went on for a few minutes before he moved over to stand right in front of me. Aside from the fact that I knew absolutely nothing about this man and his crotch was practically at eye level with me, it was really the single most romantic moment of my life this week. That fleeting, occasional prolonged eye contact continued until he got off (the train) and I went on about my life.
From the moment we made eye contact, I knew it was going to go one of two ways: either it was going to be that one look, we’d both look away, and then I’d look back (just to make sure) and his eyes will be firmly set on that Don’t Drink and Drive ad, and that will be that. OR. The scene that was acted out, ending with anonymity. It could’ve been a lot worse than it was, with disease or threat of being gay-bashed or humiliated, having eye-fucked the wrong guy. That last part is a risk many of us face.
And it’s that last part that makes this scene so unique for gay men (and I guess lesbians, but without intending to sound flippant, I really can’t speak to their methods). We live or die (sometimes literally) on that wordless communication, reading that prolonged look, trusting our instincts, even if we know nothing more than a five minute fantasy is going to come from it most of the time. Instinct is all we have to go off of. It happens exponentially more since I’ve moved to New York than it did in Alaska, but it’s still a nice little thrill. I read Black Like Me recently (uh oh, here he goes with the race stuff), where John Howard Griffin often described the look he shared with black people while he was in cognito, the instant unspoken bond formed by acknowledging one of your fellow men in a crowd of others. Aside from the lack of pigment, it’s not unlike that feeling of camaraderie. There aren’t any physical signs, usually (a mesh tank-top doesn’t exactly scream “ambiguous”), no pink triangles. It’s intuition. And all of us like to be right, so we feel a thrill when our instinct proves us thusly. It’s not as if we’re more likely to encounter one another than we are to encounter a heterosexual male, There are more than 8 million people in New York City, and about 13% of the population is gay, depending on what area you’re in. That’s just statistics.
So I let myself fall in love numerous times, over and over again. Today, not including L Train Lover Boy (the L is for Lover Boy), I fell in love five different times. One was a janitor who spoke very little English, but in the right light he looked kinda like a young Danny Trejo, who’s hot in his own way. Two others even prolonged eye contact. Neither of them did I act upon, either because I’m chicken shit or because I know that nothing is likely to come from it other than a quick fling which (and that’s what Grindr is for. Ladies, amiright?). Or maybe because I have no desire to repeat a scene of flirting with what turned out to be a 19 year old film student from Brazil who didn’t know he was in Bushwick (true story).
When I went into Whole Foods tonight after work, grabbing a couple of ingredients for dinner tonight, trying not to feel overwhelmed, I was assisted by a clerk who showed me where to find the Rosemary. Nice man, so naturally, in a brief moment, I fell in love with him. That made six total for the whole day, a good cap to what was already a good day, of which I ran over the highlights again and again in my head as I tried to figure out that check-out line. See, I’d never been to Whole Foods before this particular visit, and I made the mistake of assuming it was just like almost any other standard grocery store in the country. So when I was at the front of the line and I heard the next available checkout announced, I just took the bull by the horns and went for it.
What happened next kind of all seemed to happen at once. The lady at the checkout, nice young woman (kinda fell a little bit in love with her, too), greeted me as any other customer. A second later, another man came up beside me to inform me that he, in fact, had been next in line, and in that brief second I had the realization that I was that douche who completely violated the standards and procedures of Whole Foods, Holy In All The Land TM. I was embarrassed, tried to explain in my ignorance that I really didn’t know how this particular process worked, while at the same time the next checkout attendant offered for the man to go to her, and then, out of nowhere, there was a third voice directly behind me, and as I turned to face a young man (no more than 22, I’d guess), in pants halfway down to his ass and a disgustingly stained wifebeater and a red hat, I processed these words:
“What the fuck, man? This guy was next. Motherfucker, get back in line. Make him get back in line. Fucking faggot. Faggot Jew. You’re a Jew, right?”
Humiliated, is the word you’re looking for.
Now, I want to explain to you, very clearly, how my thought process went at this point. Obviously, I was stunned. Here was a man I hadn’t even crossed up to this point, who was coming to the aid of someone who was admittedly cut in line, but simultaneously spouting some of the most despicable things I have ever heard in person, let alone said directly to me. In my entire life, I’m fortunate that I’ve only ever encountered anything even akin to this to my face less than five times; the last time involved RuPaul’s Drag Race and the AM 6 train at 51st street, and that one was so passive in nature (no less despicable) that I was able to form a quick thought and holla back. But this… This was out of nowhere, unexpected.
Adding to the confusion and humiliation of the moment was that fact that, to a point, he was right. This guy was next. I should have gone back in line. And, objectionable term aside, I am a faggot. (And what a faggot, you guys.) Like I said, I was That Guy, oblivious to all around me, not even bothering to ask where I should go, out of fear of reprimand, because I just assumed. Like this other guy had assumed, with no evidence to either my Jewness nor my Faggotry. I mean, I wasn’t reading the Torah while sucking a dick.
And that’s another thing. While he might’ve exhibited a certain shrewd sense of observation on my orientation (it might’ve been my shoes…?), he was entirely off-the-mark by labeling me “Jew”. Though, perhaps that was the point of him seeking clarification with his “You’re a Jew, right?” But if he was going to go as far as to throw two names my way, why stop there? Why not throw out “Nigger”? As John Howard Griffin proved, changing one’s pigmentation, while a process, is not impossible, so I could have been black as well. And “Faggot Jew Nigger” has a nice ring to it. It fulfills the Rule of 3’s. Was it my hair that convinced him not to add that part? I know my nose is deceptively Semitic, as many young Hebrews selling chocolate in Williamsburg in December can attest to.
Ultimately, though, I was just stunned. Left speechless, not an easy task. I looked from this kid (he was a kid) to the guy I had cut in line and quickly avoided eye contact, focusing intently on the pin pad I was to swipe my debit card through. I didn’t say a word to the checkout lady, who to her credit got me in and out of there quickly as possible. I kept my eyes on the ground, only looking up when I passed the man I had cut in line (who, to his credit as well, was quick to assure me it wasn’t a huge deal), apologizing profusely and explaining to him that I really didn’t know how this worked (I REALLY DIDN’T!), and asking him to explain it for me. He did, very kindly, and for a brief moment I fell in love with him. Then I remembered the whole reason I was speaking to him in the first place, apologized again, and left.
On the L train back into Bushwick, I kept my eyes focused on the divorce lawyer ad over the doors, despite there being a very attractive man in a wife beater, with arm tattoos and a dark brown beard only a few feet away from me. I was still too humiliated. And angry, incredibly angry. And, admitteldy, hurt. There are more than 8 million people in the city, so it was statistically unlikely that I would run into that particular man, at that particular time, in that particular line. About as unlikely that I would meet the love of my life on my morning commute. That’s just statistics.
Really, though, it could’ve been a lot worse. He could’ve called me Faggot Jew Nigger.
There are certain unwritten rules when it comes to riding the subway. When boarding, step aside and let those coming off exit before entering the train yourself. If the seats are filled, and you see a pregnant woman, an old lady/man, or a person with a physical impairment (because the City of New York isn’t allowed to call them cripples), you relinquish your seat to them. Keep the volume down on your headphones, unless it’s the 2006 Beyonce album B’Day. If you need to fart, for the love of God hold it in at least until you get pass Bedford Ave on the L train, because after that it all smells the same.
And then there’s the pole. That pole in the middle of the train, smack dab in between each set of doors. It becomes part of the setting, something we gloss over when boarding, reaching for it almost mindlessly when need be. More often than not, though, we don’t really notice it until a group of misunderstood misfits board the train in the middle of a Saturday, stereo in hand, and we pray to God that their legs stay within a safe diameter of that pole. And then they don’t, their foot gliding through the air just above that woman’s head.
We take that pole for granted, never really thinking about the reason it’s there.
When I was a kid, visiting with family and we were staying at a hotel, as a laugh I grabbed the pole on the end of the luggage cart the hotel provided, and pretended to dance on it. Like a stripper. Imagine, emaciated-looking 12 year old me, with a terrible haircut, writhing around like an epileptic with bad rhythm. It wasn’t even anything I really thought twice of when I did it, I was at a point where I still laughed at the stupidest shit and would do anything for attention, including embarrassing myself and those in my immediate company. I didn’t stop to consider what I was doing and how I looked until my brother laughed and yelled for my Dad to come see this. I immediately stopped, lest my dad see this.
On my commute back into Bushwick tonight, I boarded the L at 14th and Union Square and, gauging the lack of vacancy on the seats, stood at the nearest pole, shuffling closer to it as numerous others boarded, including a woman in a helmet with a bike. As the train lurched out of the station, I grabbed the pole without thinking about it, instead turning my focus to finding which podcast I was going to listen to next. Like that makeshift stripper pole of my pre-adolescence, it was instinct.
You might think that I would naturally be drawn to the pole, and you would be right. For two reasons, both rather obvious. The shape doesn’t necessarily repel me, reminding me on some subconscious level of my sexually confused adolescence and college spring breaks. And it’s shiny. Look, I’m an intelligent man, but I’m not exactly bright. it’s a big thing to be able to admit that, and I am big man in my willingness to admit that I am easily intrigued by shiny objects. (And once you see a freshly polished spoon yourself, you will understand,)
Sometimes we get cocksure, confident that, even with the mild turbulence, we can ride that train with no more support than that of our own two feet firmly planted to the floor. We forget exactly what purpose that pole serves, not just for our own safety, but for the safety of those around us. Especially on a crowded train on a Thursday evening, somewhere under the East River, a bike just a few inches away from you.
I’ve only ever hit a woman once in my life, and while that’s nothing to be proud of I feel I can at least take a little dignity in the fact that it was an absolute accident, And theatrical, in nature. While playing the Dentist in my high school’s production of Little Shop of Horrors, during an ill-advised rehearsal, I spread out and smack one of the girl gang actresses right in the mouth. That it was my best friend didn’t necessarily help. But beyond that, I have never hit a woman in my entire life. You may applaud for what should be expected of me and anybody, ever.
Until tonight. Somewhere under the East River, on a crowded L train, sometime after overconfidence kicked in, I had entirely forgotten about that pole and the purpose it served. Then a not uncommon but not welcome jolt, and instinct kicked in as I flailingly reached out for that big, shiny pole. And smacked the cyclist woman right in the face.
I will not excuse my behavior. In hindsight, it’s as if my life was leading to this moment, all the tiny, seemingly insignificant instances of my life pointing to this, undeniably life-defining moment of me, scrambling to grab on for security, and instead jabbing my fingers into the cheek of a woman next to me, her only defense to yelp “Ouch!” and grasp her helmet. I was embarrassed, incredibly so. My first instinct was to yell “I’M SO SORRY!” Then to grab the pole. Then check in with her again, her smiling and laughing it off and assuring me it’s okay. BUT IT WASN’T OKAY, I HIT A WOMAN ALBEIT BY MISTAKE. It wasn’t until two minutes later that I even thought to ask if she was okay. She said she was. Then she turned away, probably worried I was going to project an unnecessary spit take in her direction should we come to an unnecessary stop.
There’s a lesson to be learned here; Grab that pole, or partake in unintentional battery.
I really hope that woman can still bike.
I had no intention of wandering tonight. It’s an early day tomorrow, and after a hangover that zapped much of my energy, I needed the rest. But there I was, sitting on a florist shop stoop at the intersection of Greenwich and 6th Ave, a wad of Starbucks napkins on my though, a Papermate I bought from a bodega in my hand.
A woman had smiled at me on the N train earlier. It was one of those moments where strangers make eye contact, in spite of themselves, and the instinct is to politely smile, perhaps even nod, or flat out ignore, maybe scowl. The first two I did, and her response was the warmest, kindest smile, entirely unexpected. I was stunned by this, almost embarrassed by her unnecessary acknowledgment, but moved nonetheless. Restlessness kicked in and, getting off at Union Square, I went the opposite direction of the L train, ascending into the nearly abandoned quad. Making my way south on Broadway, then west on 11th, south on University, then west again on 7th, I wandered. Just wandered, no particular destination in mind, no plan, no consideration of how I would maneuver my way home. I should be in bed, or more accurately, on the couch in front of Netflix, watching that episode of King of the Hill where Peggy confesses to having slept with a gay man (he was not broken, just gay, very, very gay).
Somewhere between 5th and 6th Aves, floating over the sound of traffic in the West Village at the early stages of a Saturday night, I caught the random notes of a saxophone. Turning south onto 6th, I had to search for the source, first noting the neon Gray’s Papaya sign that had been the site of a hate crime the night before. A normally controllable superstitious paranoia kicked into overdrive, and I was close to high-tailing it, lest an encore take place and I, with my luck, end up in the crosshairs. My last words to my mother had been “I’ve got to go, I’m at the bar now,” and to my roommates it was something about orange juice or the bathroom. All fitting epitaphs.
But across the street from where two cops still stood, a grim reminder that wasn’t aiding my unfounded fears, playing away at a melody that was just familiar enough, yet barely out of my grasp, was a saxophonist.
When I was in sixth grade, I wanted to play the saxophone. My only reasoning for this was that Lisa Simpson played the sax and, perhaps in a telling moment of identifying most with the little girl with pearls and a skirt, I wanted to do the same. Nevermind that I had (have) no aptitude at the instrument or knowledge of jazz or any variation thereof. (As a point of interest, and to answer a question I have no doubt you are asking yourself, I ended up playing the trumpet, at which I put in minimal practice, and was one of only three instruments stolen from the classroom later that year, never to be recovered. The next day I was given a rusted replacement, the physical embodiment of my skill at the piece; this would also be the day I first recognized the universe’s knack at subtle reminders and cruel sense of humor, mocking a pre-adolescent boy of yet-to-be-determined sexuality. But I digress.) It wasn’t until my Sophomore year of high school, that I first took notice of Jazz. It could have been the success of the recently released Chicago musical film, or the required reading of The Great Gatsby that was dog-eared and collecting dust on my nightstand. But after what was even at the time a grossly humorous recording of a Japanese jazz quartet crooning “Night and Day” on public radio, I attacked the music with the fervor of an alcoholic discovering religion. (A cheap shot.) Every album I could get my hands on at the library was ripped into my personal collection. In college, I focused on Ella and Billie, Piaf, Vaughan, to say nothing of Armstrong, Coltrane, and to a lesser extent, Davis. The result was insufferable, me sharing with anyone was idiotic enough to give me the time, an entirely uneducated lecture on the art. I didn’t really know anything about Jazz, just that I liked it.
Somewhere in that posturing was a genuine love, a response to it. This would explain why, during a Scene Study rehearsal with my then not-yet roommate and best friend, from the first recital of it, the Gershwin “Someone to Watch over Me” would kick me in the gut, despite not entirely understanding it (yet). Any number of New York-based films that employed these artists were films I had to own immediately, to say nothing of the soundtracks. On the way to a first date, crossing the Williamsburg Bridge, the sun setting and Manhattan glowing through the train window, I was rendered as speechless as I was by that woman’s warm smile, when Ella’s “Every Time We Say Goodbye” came on my iPod. Woody Allen couldn’t have planned a more perfect moment; it didn’t hurt that I was wearing Diane Keaton’s signature vest and tie, having left my floppy hat at home. (I’m jut kidding; I don’t own a floppy hat.) (And as for that first date, it was good enough, and there was a second date, but no third. No further details are necessary.) A late night stroll through Chelsea on a cold March night saw an intermission of me standing at the corner of 23rd and 8th, swaying to Coltrane’s “Nancy (With the Laughing Face).” A manufactured moment of romanticism on my part perhaps, but one that provided a much-needed reminder of the overblown notions and ideals that fueled my move to New York City in the first place.
So it makes sense, in hindsight, that I’d find myself standing, leaning against a street lamp, mindful not to give the appearance of prostitution (again, a paranoid feat that history would repeat itself), listening to this saxophone. I recognized maybe every third song, catching myself humming along with some of them. I have an early day in the morning, the headache characteristic of my hangover was back in full-force, and I undoubtedly looked ridiculous, hunched over a napkin, scribbling and scratching away, in time to “My Funny Valentine.” The thought did cross my mind that had I been Allen Ginsberg, doing this would’ve given me an air of prestige. In my cardigan, tie, and converses, I instead just looked pretentious, and rightly so.
There’s a segment in the film Paris, Je T’aime, directed by Alexander Payne, wherein Margo Martindale plays an American tourist detailing her trip to Paris. The closing scene, a beautiful long shot of a park as Martindale watches from a bench, is accompanied by the narration of Martindale intoning “All I can say is that I felt, at the same time, joy and sadness. But not too much sadness, because I felt alive. Yes, alive. That was the moment I fell in love with Paris. And I felt Paris fall in love with me.” If you haven’t seen it, YouTube “14e Arrondissement” immediately. That, and “Tuileries”, a contribution from the Coen Bros, featuring Steve Buscemi as a hapless American in a Metro station; hilarity ensues.
After about 20 minutes, it occurred to me that I’d been treated to a free concert, and feeling guilted by the memory of a recent photo displaying a sign stating that jazz musicians deserve funding, I fished out a dollar that I had and deposited it into his case, with a request.
“Do you know ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’?”
“Any Gershwin or Berlin?” There was that pretentious posturing, lightly peeking out.
“Off the top of my head, no.”
I sat back down, as he continued to play, watching people walking by. An elderly couple strolling, holding hands; a homeless man with two pens (perhaps Papermates, perhaps Bic) in his ears; a first (or perhaps second) date. The street light turned green, then yellow, red, then green again. The thought that I still had to put away my laundry occurred to me, and I made a mental note, but quickly forgot it as I watched an ambulance, moaning it’s way downtown. It all felt like it belonged in a movie, one of those films I readily embraced just by virtue of it matching the romanticized idea I had of the city.
Then, as his final number, the saxophonist began to play, and after a few notes I recognized the melody of “Every Time We Say Goodbye.” That moment on the Williamsburg Bridge, the woman on the N train, that 6th grade acknowledgement of the universe’s long-standing memory and subtle reminders, the corner of 23rd and 8th, all of it rushed by. So he at least knew Cole Porter. When he had finished, the saxophonist packed up his instrument, counted his bills, thanked me for listening, and strolled south on 6th.
I still had laundry to do, a headache to nurse.
But for the moment, I was enjoying the immediately recognizable tune of the West Village at 11:00 on a Saturday night, a love song if I’ve ever heard one.
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Today is a day to celebrate the unsung heroes of our and any nation (except Lithuania). Or should I say heroines. Yes, it’s Mother’s Day. The one day out of the year where we call less out of guilt and more out of guilt that everyone else keeps posting how great their mothers are and you really should call her because, you know what? You only get one mother (unless you get two, or none), and you’ll be damned if that girl you sat next to in Intro to Psych your sophomore year is going to get away with lording over you and all the other three mutual friends you have on Facebook, how much better her mom is than yours. That is bullshit. Also, you should seriously delete her. Those Fry-squinting memes are ruining your enjoyment of a quality program, and taking up newsfeed time that could be going to suggested posts from Audible and Now You See Me, the Official Film Fan page.
A lot of people ask me where my material comes from. (Okay, one person has asked me that, and she was drunk. And thought I was someone else, possibly Robin Wright.) This question often provides me an opportunity for reflection, considering something I’ve often taken for granted. Do I blame it on my gay roots? My years of service in the public education system? The ridiculous amount of time I’ve dedicated to YouTubing Anne Hathaway interviews to make sure she’s consistent in all her answers the way Tina Fey is? My hairline? (Yes, sort of, really not at all, and absolutely.) But the source of my wit, my talent, and my penchant for the term “Piss on your rosebushes” must be identified as the woman who tolerated me for 18+++ years, come hell or high water (mostly water), my mother, Pamela Minton.
Mothers really don’t get enough credit. Looking back in history, what are some of the mothers that first come to mind, by virtue of being mothers? Mrs Bennett in Pride & Prejudice, Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce, Marie Antoinette, Mia Farrow, Maude, and Angeline Jolie in Alexander. Summarily: Nag, drama queen, head cut off, dumped for her daughter, Bea Arthur, and just plain creepy in a vaguely sexy, pseudo-Euro sort of way. The mothers don’t get as much recognition as their offspring do, despite the fact that much of the offspring’s virtues and celebrated qualities are almost directly the result of the top-notch lionesses that bred ’em, and sometimes you just didn’t realize it. But culture, both past and pop, is loaded with these fruit of the fertile crescent prodigies: Margaret Cho, Anderson Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Gypsy Rose Lee, Liza Minelli, Debra Winger in Terms of Endearment, Hamlet, Buster Bluth, Norman Bates.
You see, all of these people and more can lay claim all they like that theirs’ is the best mother of all time. But folks, I’m here to tell you: they are a bunch of fucking liars. Sure, their mothers probably made them delicious and healthy snacks, let them learn life’s lessons the hard way but with a constant net of support, and offered to murder and/or seduce any academic threats. But did their mother employ a long dormant Confederate flag that had been gathering dust at the bottom of their closet for years, strictly to prove a point and to beat the condo association at their own game? Did their mother remind them, mid-phone call, provoked by nothing more than the answer that, no, in fact, you did not read that Ten Best Gas Station Signs email she sent, the hours of labor she went through for you, only to undergo a C-section at the end of it all, just so you could be in this world, and you can’t even bother to read one email that she sends you?? Did their mother stalk all the way through Lowe’s Hardware only to find you snoozing on a swinging lawn chair, even though she’s been looking for you for the last fifteen minutes, which she recounts in explicit detail as she pulls you through the parking lot by your ear? Maybe.
Here’s the thing about my mom that, in the moment I could never adequately appreciate (what should have been appreciation was instead a seething embarrassment and confusion), but I now realize is a testament to the kind of woman she is: she is a woman who is determined, dedicated, fiercely clinging to her ideals and recipes like it’s the last drunk chef on the Titanic.
The best example of this came in the Spring semester of my Freshman year of college. The semester before, after an ill-advised rooming situation that didn’t pan out as I’d hoped, I moved back home. During the break, the funds and means necessary to move into the dorms were acquired, and all the while reminding me that I was welcome to come visit whenever I wanted, she helped me move my stuff. I took her up on the offer, dropping in every couple of weeks, with time to kill, catching up, walking around the lake behind our house, and taking mental inventory of all the creepy-ass tchotckes she adorned the hallways and commonspaces with. It was a condo, not much room, but room enough. Lack of space was never a thing to deter Mizz Minton, and given the chance, she would raid a yard sale like there was a tornado warning. “You mean you have three of these piglet napkin holders? Here’s $5 for the whole set.” And we rarely used cloth napkins.
One of these items, if I recall correctly, as a large ceramic rooster that perched atop a high shelf in the entry way. I’m not gonna quibble: it was ugly as sin. And I almost immediately ignored it after first crossing its path, all but entirely forgetting it was there. I didn’t bother it, and it never bothered me.
Until one day, as I sat in the commons, eating my University furnished breakfast, I received a call. It had been a particularly busy couple of weeks, Finals right around the corner, having just opened my first college production (but certainly not my last), and having a lot of Rome to catch up on. But she was calling, and the least I could do was answer. This was the first mistake.
“Jonathan? It’s your mother,” came her oddly controlled voice, and I immediately sensed something was the matter. Had I finished the milk without thinking last I was there? Racked up the electricity bill? Porn? Was it porn? “I have a question, and I want you to answer me honestly.” This was code: Shit went down, and I defy you to convince me you weren’t involved.
“Sure, mom,” I replied, attempting to sound casual, catching myself waving to someone who wasn’t even there, thinking this would read as nonchalant over the phone.
“Do you remember the rooster I had on the shelf in the entry way?”
“The rooster. On the shelf. In the entry way. Ring a bell?”
“Not really, no.”
“.. Jonathan. You know exactly what I’m talking about. And while I was getting ready to go out today, I happened to notice that the rooster was missing.”
I will allow you to take a moment to register this. She continued.
“There’s nowhere I would have put it, and it has sat there for months now. And now it’s gone. Your brother swears he didn’t take it. And that leaves you.”
I had to summon all my strength not to let the tears from suppressed laughter that were rolling down my cheeks reverberate in the phone. “I’m sorry, but I have no clue what you’re talking ab–”
“Jonathan. I want you to be honest with me.”
“I am being honest with you, Mom. What would I do with a giant chicken.”
“It’s a rooster, Jonathan. And if you didn’t take it, then where the hell else could it possibly be, huh? Answer that.”
“I’m trying to figure out why the hell you let a ceramic rooster perch in the entry way for this long and didn’t throw it out yourself, Mom.”
“Because it’s cute, and– Look. I am not accusing you of anything, but–”
“Yes, you are.”
“BUT. It is missing, I can’t find it, and I want. My rooster. BACK.”
I couldn’t help but snicker. This was my second mistake. A chill ran down my spine as I heard her eyes narrow all the way on the other side of town.
“Do you think this is funny? Do you think it’s hilarious that something of mine has gone missing?”
“I think it’s notable that the first time you’ve contacted me in two weeks is over your missing cock.”
I’d stepped in it now.
“Jonathan William. I know that my idea of decor doesn’t line up with your cool ideas of it. But there is no reason to take it out on my things.”
“Mom, why would I steal your rooster? What possible use would I have in my dorm room– that does not have a barnyard theme, I would like to point out, and you have seen it– What possible use would I have for a ceramic rooster?”
“I don’t know, that’s why I’m calling.”
“And further”- the humor from this situations was gone, replaced by incredulity- “Further. Where the hell would I put it? What would I carry it in? I don’t have a car, you know this. How would I take it? Could you picture me walking down the side of Muldoon, backpack over my shoulder, and a chicken under my arm?” There was a silence. She was considering it. “Mom!”
“Well, I don’t know, Jonathan. I don’t know why you do a lot of the things you do.”
It was time to wrap this up. The conversation had gone from anecdotal, to venomous, to downright ugly, all in a span of under five minutes. My fellow matricul-ees were getting an earful of a young man, arguing over the phone with his mother about farm life, as far as they knew.
“Okay, Mom. I’m going to go now, and finish my food. And I’ll talk to you later.”
“I want my rooster back!”
“I know you do, Mom. We all want it back.”
The matter wasn’t immediately dropped. The following afternoon, I got an email from my mother that she sent to both myself and my brother, with the very direct subject line of “I want it back.” and a message that, quite simply, went:
“I don’t know who took it, I don’t care why you took it. Just give it back, and we’ll drop it.”
Nevermind that the rest of us had dropped it the minute we got off the phone with her.
She eventually found her rooster, under a pile of newspapers, I believe. But she never owned up to having misplaced it, and she never retracted any of her threats or accusations. As ludicrous, silly and borderline insane it may appear to the casual observer, it was a moment that spoke to the ferocity that has always driven my mother and kept her going, through a whole pile of shit that I haven’t even stumbled into myself yet. I will be lucky if I can handle it with half the fire she has.
And as for that rooster, it’s still there. Over the next few years, whenever I came to visit, I always checked to make sure it was in place, perched atop that shelf, surveying all below with the same expression of tight-lipped pride that mother exhibited when I gave her the “I told you” look. Like my mother, that rooster don’t apologize for shit.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Now please, stop with the Garage Sales.
Got a story about your own mother you’d like to share? Write in the comments. Like, favorite, tell your friends, share on your Facebook or Twitter, and enjoy the day!
I’m an actor. (Ah-duh.)
It’s often easy for me to lose sight of the fact that, even though I have chosen a paying profession (read: temping) where I’m going to run into other actors on a pretty regular basis, not everyone I meet is an actor. Or musician. Painter, poet, writer, or any other sort of artist or with aspirations thereof. In fact, you may be as shocked as I am on the daily, to learn that there are some people who have NO FUCKING CLUE HOW IT WORKS BEING AN ACTOR/MUSICIAN/PAINTER/POET/WRITER/ACTOR OR ASPIRATIONS THEREOF.
I’ve encountered a few of these people, quite often on the same temp jobs that I’m working with other art farters (because, here’s the thing, the people we’re hired by are usually mid-40s dowdy Financial types who need someone to answer the door for them, and as an actor, I can widen my eyes and smile, thus ACT-ing that I’m thrilled to do so). Whenever the inevitable question of “So what do you do?” comes up, usually while cutting the edges off name badges or organizing colored pens, I brace myself for any possible response I could get, using past experience to help me maneuver the situation. (This is called Sense Memory.) (Its not called Sense Memory.)
“I’m an actor,” I say, dismissively, brushing a handful of shavings into my palm and dumping them into a wastebasket. And then I clench, my whole body tensing up, as I await either a “Oh, I am too, I just did an off-off-off-off-off-off-SoHo production of Passion. Not the same Passion NYTW was doing, but I saw that. We were better” or “… What, like Shakespeare and things?” Yes, like Shakespeare and things.
I want to be clear about something. I didn’t always answer the question this way. When I first moved to the city, I announced it proudly. “I am an actor,” I’d say, as if I was the first to grace these beige, beige halls. Turns out I was only the latest in an ever-expanding stable of the bunch. Okay, so I wasn’t the only one. I also wasn’t the only one with wildly delusional ideas of exactly how good they are and how beneath me this data entry assignment was, even with the Keurig in the staff lounge; and dammit, they weren’t afraid to let the whole office know. I quickly adjusted to a modest response, “Oh, I’m just an actor, that’s all,” hoping this would deflect raised brows of “Okay, let’s see whose got the bigger resume” or eye rolls of “Shit, Loraine, we got another one.” When I would receive the indifferent, monotonous “Oh, Shirley down in Accounts is also an actor, here’s where you’ll be sitting”, I’d breathe a sigh of relief; this would not be the day I had to explain the difference between Shakespeare, Moliere, and Taymor.
After awhile, I adopted the aforementioned nonchalance of “I’m an actor”; if I don’t seem interested, maybe they won’t be either. And while this really isn’t the case, at least I conveyed in that three word sentence that I knew my place, I knew I was one of many, and I wasn’t about to convince you how good I was. I had it all figured out, and I could go about my day.
One day a couple of months back, I was sitting with another temp, a 20-something blond woman with a hearty laugh and lipstick on her teeth, who for the sake of privacy we will call “Olympia Dukakis.” Olympia was a business major who had grown up out in Forest Hills, and was a big fan of Dave Matthews Band, Ryan Reynolds, and trains. Or maybe it was horses. Or the Duggars. I honestly don’t remember. After about ten minutes of content silence, she opened the conversation by telling me about a street fair she’d been to not too far back, and a fun hat she’d acquired there. I liked Olympia; we were clearly of different backgrounds and professional values, but she was nice (maybe she still is nice but, y’know, people change in a short amount of time; and honestly, I believe that if she put her mind to it, she could be a spectacular bitch), and I felt more than happy to converse open and freely with her. We chatted about hats, she told me about a cat one she had, with it’s cut little paws as ear flaps, and I told her about one that I got in college. It was gray.
Finally, the question came up. “So what do you do?” she asked with a genuine interest, that broad, smudged-toothed grin beaming at me. “I’m an actor,” came my response, as I searched through my messenger bag for a timesheet.
“An actor?? That must be fun!” I searched her face for a sign of heretofore unknown sarcasm, but found none. “I have a friend who’s an actor. He loves it. All that auditioning you do, I can’t imagine. Is it hard? Do you hate it?”
Here, I hesitated. I didn’t hate it, at all, I actually rather quite enjoyed it, despite how absolutely nerve-wracking it could be at times. But it had been awhile since I had auditioned, I’d been fortunate enough to go from one show to another. But I had had one audition recently, the first one in awhile, that had left me biting my nails more than usual. So I told her about it, about the preparation I had put into it, how alternately excited and scared I was, and how relieved I was that at least it was over, I’d gotten myself back into the auditioning world.
“And did they cast you?” she asked, her eyes wide with genuine investment in my experience.
“I don’t know. Maybe. I doubt it. I’m supposed to hear back from them if they want me, but I haven’t heard anything yet, so…”
She laughed, guffawed, really. “Sounds like my last date, you know what I mean?”
I didn’t. But I said I did.
Later that day, as I blocked one friend after another for excessive Cat-Meme postage (BRIEF WARNING ASIDE!), I got to thinking about what Olympia had cracked wise about. I’m sure there was a deep chasm of sadness behind that joke, but I didn’t care about that. I was thinking specifically about how it pertained to me.
She had a point. Auditioning was not unlike dating, particularly when compared to the 21st Century first date. New York is a busy, busy city, and many will tell you the best ways to get auditions are through the Internet (Backstage, Actors Access, Playbill, Castingcouch.uk); many will say the same about dating. I know I have spent hours upon hours, going through one audition notice after another, attaching headshot and resume to an email, keeping that email brief but personable, maybe a little humor but not too much that it looks like I’m trying too hard, and then hit send, with nothing left but to move on to the next audition notice, and wait until the following afternoon to start fretting over the fact that I haven’t heard back from them yet. Maybe I was trying too hard, maybe I’m just not what they’re looking for.
With this particular audition, when I finally did get that response to my email, inviting me in for an audition, that’s when it kicked into high gear. I spent three weeks preparing just the right thing to wear, rehearsing what I was going to say, how I was going to say it, seeming relaxed and easy (but not too easy, I didn’t want to give the wrong impression), practicing that opening line. We agreed on a set time to meet (rather, I left it to them to determine when we’d meet), and made sure to arrive early. They kept me waiting, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t briefly considered just leaving, a couple of times. But I didn’t, and when I met them face-to-face, I knew I had a short amount of time to make a good impression. Two minutes or under, to be exact.
When it was over, I was in a daze. I had done it, and now what was there to do? I didn’t feel different, exactly, except I did. People said I would feel different, but they never said how. I was a woman now, a woman of the world. Also, I wasn’t a woman, and despite the similarities to losing my virginity (lots of nerves, two minutes or less, there was a waiting room), I had done this many, many times before.
And thanks to Olympia and her unintentional fountain of wisdom, I felt like I understood the process a little bit more. I didn’t need to worry so much, I just had to be myself. Because I’m an actor. This is what I do. And I can do it in an Irish, Standard British, or Southern dialect, if that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for.
They never called me back, but that’s alright. I had a few more auditions after that, some that looked promising, others that didn’t. And I actually found one that called me back. We’re spending three weeks together this summer out in Pennsylvania. I hope there are many Amish.
I also hope that, wherever Olympia is, she’s not reading this. And that she cleaned her teeth.
Thank you, Olympia.
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Dear Amy and Tina,
I would like to begin by stating how big a fan I am of your work, individually and together. 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation are two of the finest sitcoms of the last decade, in no small part due to your tireless work and mastery of your craft artistry. Mean Girls captured an age so marvelously I thought I was looking in a mirror every time Lindsay Lohan graced the screen (if that mirror had a fiery red mane etched onto it), and those ten minutes from Hamlet 2 were full of on-the-nose portrayal of the ACLU. And your balls. And don’t get me started on the unsung cinematic masterpiece Baby Mama. That… oh, man… I mean…
So it’s with a heavy heart that I feel the need to address a recent addition to your resumes, and something that left me feeling rather unsettled and demeaned, and something that I have not till recently been able to stir up the courage to address.
As you may or may not be aware of, this past January you hosted the Golden Globe Awards Ceremony, as a duo, the two of you, together. I, like most people in America (and the Netherlands), was thrilled about this news, and awaited what was sure to be a stellar evening with bated breath and extended pants. The announcer called your names, and there you both were: Tina in a stunning emerald gown, Amy with those sleeves. The telecast began promising, a joke or two about substance abuse (something that anyone will tell you is a goldmine for comedy), a light-hearted jab at the uggos on TV. And best of all, a joke supporting girl-on-girl competition, because truth is funny!
And then it quickly took a turn when you rattled off a joke about Ricky Gervais:
Ricky Gervais could not be here tonight, because, um, he is no longer technically in show business.— Tina Fey.
We want to assure you that we have no intention of being edgy or offensive…— Amy Poehler
Now, I get it. Ricky Gervais made headlines by doing what he was expected to do, poking harsh fun at the people of Hollywood. But does that mean that all men are unsuited to host any awards ceremony of any kind because their attempts to be edgy can only come off as offensive? If that’s what was implied here, then it is grossly off the mark and an unfair characterization of the male sex.
You went on to applaud how great a year 2012 was for women in television, citing Lena Dunham as a prime example. There’s no denying that Ms. Dunham has had tremendous success, and rightly so (Girls is a great replacement for Fresh Air when I need something droning on in the background as I clean my apartment- or did you just assume that men no know how clean?). But you never once acknowledged the contributions men have made to television this year, most notably Charlie Sheen in Anger Management and the hard-working fellas of Work It. You of all people should know how difficult it is for anyone to churn out high-quality work while wearing Spanx. And to add insult to injury, you made the following joke at the expense of a Hollywood legend:
Kathryn Bigelow, nominated tonight. I haven’t really been following the controversy over Zero Dark Thirty, but when it comes to torture I trust the lady who spent three years married to James Cameron.— Amy Poehler
This joke is offensive on two counts: 1) you’re clearly assuming that James Cameron was an abusive alcoholic husband because you watched one episode of Beverly Hills 90210, and you assume all men are like that (and there is nothing funny about domestic abuse, I mean seriously), and 2) Are you implying that three years of marriage to a man is the equivalent of mass terrorist acts enforced by Osama bin Laden? “All men are terrorists”, is that the message you’re sending out with this joke? Not only is it untrue and out of date, it is downright offensive. I am offended, as a man who is not a terrorist, and is a man.
Shortly thereafter, you made up for it a little by acknowledging the roller coaster of success that Ben Affleck has had this year, but I was a little put off by your lead-in (referring to “all the gorgeous Hollywood stars”) and its demeaning approach to Affleck, even if it’s clearly an at-face-value compliment that really means only that someone is “gorgeous” and is saying absolutely nothing about their talent and intelligence, because that would require more than just one word, and you were just making a compliment, and I am offended.
And what was with that James Franco dig? Nevermind that he was a terrible, detached host who clearly didn’t want to be there, by saying that Anne Hathaway looked “alone and abandoned” clearly means that all men are good for is to cut and run. Color me offended.
The Hunger Games was the biggest film of this year, and also what I called the six weeks it took me to get into this dress.— Tina Fey
Ang Lee’s been nominated for Best Director for the Life of Pi, which is what I’m gonna call the six weeks after I take this dress off.— Amy Poehler.
Classy and topical, very well done.
But then you lost me again with the following joke:
Quentin Tarantino is here, the star of all my sexual nightmares.— Tina Fey.
There is nothing funny about grouping all men together with Quentin Tarantino and assuming that all men will haunt your dreams and disgust you sexually because we made Jackie Brown and that part of the script for True Romance. Please don’t demean us that way, and please try to see us as more than sexual objects.
I could go on and on about the evening- about how Jodie Foster was given the Cecil B DeMille Award (why was it a woman and not a man, as well?), even if the award is named for a man and Jodie Foster deserves it; I could cry foul to the Hollywood Foreign Press for giving Adele the Golden Globe for Best Original Song for Skyfall over any of the men, even if she was the by far the most deserving (this is a clear case of sex favoritism). And don’t get me started on how Anne Hathaway won Best Supporting Actress, but Samuel L Jackson was completely overlooked in the category.
I know, I know, it’s been over a month. Maybe I am behind the times, and as many thoughtful, intelligent and level-headed friends have pointed out, perhaps I’m displaying a degree of oversensitivity in a time when, for better or worse, humor of all types occasionally does draw on previously standing stereotypes, generalization and objectification to make people laugh, think, or both. And maybe, just maybe I’m looking way too deep into it, finding offense in something that is really nothing further than a one-liner that members of both sexes seemed to enjoy and in some cases were in on, recognizing that this is the 21st Century where the best way to address sexism is to laugh at how far society has come and move on, not letting it stop any of us from doing what we’re doing. Because we’re adults, who can’t have it both ways, but can be incredibly on the nose.
In conclusion, Miss’ Poehler and Fey, I await your official apology, along with a signed DVD copy of the fourth season of Parks and Recreation and a Who Farted? t-shirt. Thank you and good night.
PS. Why couldn’t you be more like Glenn Close? She knows how to properly offend.
*You can also find Butt-Hurt Baby at the following blogs:
— Seth McFarlane and Homophobia: Why His Objectification of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles Matters
— That’s Not Funny: Barbara, Starr and the Sexism of The View
— The Huffington Post
— Hot Tool Lovers 87 Tumblr page
— Home Depot
The other day, I was on 8th and 49th street, just out of an audition (I didn’t get the part, by the way. Give money.), and waiting for a friend to arrive to catch up. It’s a small-ish Starbucks, certainly not the largest I’ve been in, but it’s nice enough, and on this Saturday afternoon, it wasn’t too crowded. Grabbing an over-priced, under-prepped beverage and a cookie, I seated myself at the window, an empty seat next to me in case my friend arrived at any minute. After a few minutes of sitting there, reading, I felt a presence behind me, heard an “Excuse me, sir” and turned to find myself face-to-face with a tall black man in shades and a winter coat, and a pinky ring. This was not my friend. He eyed me up and down, chuckled to himself (demurely, I might add), then turned and sat at the end of the long table a few feet away, where he resumed reading a newspaper and remarking to the woman sitting with him. I checked my pockets. I checked my bag. I double-checked my coffee. I was sure he hadn’t taken or done anything, but it was such an odd instance that I had to make sure. I tried to get back to reading my book, but was distracted, glancing over my shoulder at this man. He continued to remark on the day’s events to his blonde, vacant companion. Then he got up, went to the condiment counter (are they condiments if they don’t go on burgers?), and reached into the trash can, withdrawing a single, grande sized coffee cup, which he then proceeded to open, pour 2% milk in, replace the lid and sit back down. It was at this moment that I realized the blonde to his right was not responding to anything he was saying, and was in fact not with him at all. Leaning in, I could pick up bits of his verbalized response to the rag in his hands, including “duck training”, “Bambino” and “pussy jumper.” Last I checked, “Pussy jumper” is not a front page subject, let alone an actual thing anywhere ever. Before too long, he stood up and made his exit.
Now, this is not an unusual occurrence for a few reasons, the most important being that key detail that this shit went down in a Starbucks. Please notice that I have not included the qualifier “in New York City”; crazy shit goes down in New York all the time, sure. But it is a universally acknowledged truth that wherever a Starbucks is erected, the people will come, and the impoverished, starved and beleaguered not too far behind. This is by no means to objectify or degrade these people, imply that they’re less-than (I’ll leave that to the Romney’s and my downstairs neighbors). But to paraphrase a great man*, C Montgomery Burns, from the lowliest peasant to the mightiest monarch, who doesn’t enjoy an establishment with Sugar in the Raw packets and public restrooms?
I don’t mean to imply that only Starbucks attracts these masses. But they seem to be most prominent at Starbucks. The problem of poverty and homelessness is a complex one, a problem I won’t pretend to have the solution to (though I could, and might, but this is neither the time nor the place). The Coffee Beene may get it’s fair share or burnt beans (word play!), but who gives a fuck about the Coffee Beene? People seem to give many fucks when Starbucks releases the seasonal Pumpkin Spice Latte. (And for good reason. That shit is goooood.)
While we’re living with the problem, though, we might as well make the best out of it. Among the common concerns in the US today are the dwindling state of the educational system, and the ever-present drug war. Series’ like Teen Mom, Breaking Bad, Intervention, and Ice Truckers show the lows and (arguably not-at-all) highs of public school drop-outs and drug addicts. It’s my personal belief that the solution to these two dilemmas lies in any Starbucks across the country.
What better place to expose our children to the real world they soon will be facing than a feeding ground for senility and tooth decay like Starbucks? For example: You’re a single mother who’s just discovered that your 16 year old daughter was smoking a tobacco cigarette. Knowing in your typically rational mind that such a foul act will, naturally, lead to crystal meth, you hurl her into the Subaru and take her to that new Starbucks downtown. You tell her you’re going on a little “field trip.” (Don’t mention it’s educational; this will encourage her to jump and roll.) Inside, you tell her that before she orders her drink, take a look around and really evaluate her surroundings. There’s the Park Avenue Jamaican nanny with the blonde hellion of a child, three Asian Columbia University students giggling about something, I don’t know, Chemistry or some shit like that. And exiting the restroom, the reason you came here: a next-to toothless woman in oversized jeans and a gangsta Tweety sweater. The line outside the door tells you she’s been there awhile, and the two employees manhandling her out the door tell you she’s been up to no good. “You see what happens,” you say to your shell-shocked daughter, “when you smoke cigarettes? Stay in school, honey.” She goes on to become valedictorian, study Law at Harvard, and cure cancer all by the age of 25.
You could really handle any number of issues with this method (Overeating? Check out the woman who puts fifty Splendas in her coffee; Wetting the bed? Go ahead and take a look at that restroom.), but for the sake of your reading time, and the lack of cohesive voice, I’ll refrain. In conclusion: If you want to keep enjoying this….
You might as well get used to this…
Make sense? Yeah, doesn’t to me, either.
*Is not a great man, and is a cartoon.
You sense it, just seconds before it happens. Feeling the wheels beneath your feet slow to a stop. The restless murmurs of your fellow commuters, as if in some collective thought they too realize what’s about to happen. The cavernous walls outside the rain and dirt-streaked windows become more and more clear, until the train lurches that last inch before resting back. Everyone shuffles in one large mass before finding their bearings. Then the speaker comes on.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are delayed because of train traffic ahead of us…” The rest of the automated announcement is obscured by the disgruntled groans of the passengers around you, but you don’t need to hear it. You’ve been through this so many times, you know what that announcement means. You’re stuck.
It’s 5:23, and you just want to get home.
You’ve been here before. Stuck somewhere under the East River, between Bedford and 1st Avenues. Surrounded by a Rainbow Coalition of Brooklyn-ites, and German backpackers who think they’re on their way to a sweet deal on a couch to crash on (but, really, they aren’t), mothers with three children of varying small sizes and large volumes, that smelly man. They all have places to be, too, but none anywhere near as important as your destination: ass planted firmly on the couch in front of a Netflix marathon of Frasier. This is vital work you have to–
The train lurches. Everyone looks up, expressions of relief and anticipation etched upon their faces. But it’s a false alarm. The train returns to its previous state of stillness. Your mind is racing, it can be any possible reason. A faulty brake, perhaps. Maybe a heart attack on the platform of Montrose. Maybe even a heart attack on the tracks. Oh god, what if someone was pushed onto the tracks? Or even worse, what if some jumped onto the tracks? Did the train stop on time? Did it even stop at all?
The millions of theories bounce around in your head, and you realize that you’ve been sweating heavily for the past five minutes. Oh my god, you’ve been on this train, in this spot, standing against the door for five minutes. Is that even your sweat anymore? You hazard to glance around you, knowing very well you may make eye contact with the wrong person. And right out the gate, you glance to your left and into the eyes of some sad bovine with a “Hands Across America” hoodie. You smile, to be polite, a smile that says We’re all in this together, right? MTA, what can ya do? But she doesn’t return the kindness. No, instead she recoils, her lips tightening into a sneer, her eyes narrowing as they size you up. You quickly turn away, looking in the opposite direction. It’s a hat. You’re staring at a hat. Made from discarded pizza boxes. Oh god, pizza. You could really use some pizza right now.
Somewhere, in this packed car, a small child has found a way to forge a path through the legs of adults, which he runs back and forth, back and forth, laughing and shrieking, his oversized backpack smacking against your shins every time he passes. You can hear your heart pounding between your ears. The train is getting hotter. The MTA intercom has come on a few more times, but you’re not paying attention, because you know, you just know, that this is it. This is how you’re going to die. Your face smooshed against this low-quality glass, gulping for air like some long-abandoned goldfish.
And the woman next to you just farted.
That child won’t stop running. You can feel the skin starting to break open under your pants with each and every smack of his backpack straps against them. Again. And again. And again. At the end of the car the doors slide open, and you can’t see the new addition to this car, but you have a good idea, and the following confirms your fears:
“Excuuuuse meee, ladies and gentlemeeeen…”
Fuck. And you have five ones on you. And you’re a terrible liar. Eye contact is damn near impossible to avoid with these pro-youth, anti-drug entrepreneurs. And everyone’s eyes are on you, everyone knows that you have those ones, that those Welch’s grape-flavored gummy snacks are looking delicious to you, and that you swiped Sandy’s last key lime yogurt from the fridge at work, they just know it. And there’s that fucking kid again. He won’t shut up, he won’t shut up!
Your mother was right. The big city may look like fun with its buildings and its lights and its movie stars in fancy bars, but there’s going to be crime, and hard work, dirty streets. And the subways. Watch out for the subways! If only you had listened. Why didn’t you listen? Why didn’t you tell her “I love you” last time she called? And why is that fucking child’s mother not reigning him in!!!?
And then he stomps on your foot. You can only scream inside, so he doesn’t register the impact he’s had on your sense of well-being. This is too much to take lying down, or standing flat against the door. You track him, following his re-treaded path through the forest of limbs. You time his intersection with you. You’re one door in from the front of the train. He runs pass you, running all the way down to the end. Glancing around to make sure no one is looking, you stealthily slide your foot out. Two more inches. Fuck it, as far as you can. Your heart is racing. Here he comes. Here he comes, a little closer. A little closer. A litt–
With a screech, the train moves forward. Everyone looks around to make sure they aren’t sliding back from whence they came and, when they realize they’re moving forward, release a sigh of relief. Just two inches away, the boy falls forward, flat on his face. You stand at military position, making it clear that your feet have been at perfect formation all through this ordeal.
As you pull into Bedford Ave, you hear the intercom come on. “Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen,” says the jaded train operator who is missing out on Basketball Wives for this, “because of a police investigation at Lorimer St, this train will end at Bedford Avenue.” Everyone else groans, whines, certain that voicing their complains will speed up the investigative process. But you don’t care. You’re free, you’re almost there. You can just get a cab. Hell, it’s a beautiful day, you can walk. It’s only 5:43. You’re in the clear.
But as the doors open, and you step out onto the platform, you are faced with this:
You’ll get no sleep tonight.
Something happened on my television (read: computer) that was strange and wonderful all at the same time (read: not pornography). It involved Jessica Lange, a giant Dusty Springfield wig, a mental patient slamming his head repeatedly into a pillar, and a jukebox. It wasn’t a Thursday night in Chelsea. It was American Horror Story: Asylum, episode “The Name Game.” Middle of the episode, Sister Jude (Lange) has been imprisoned in said asylum, given shock treatment, and is wallowing around in a puddle of her own metaphorical sick. Bitch can’t remember her name! So, naturally, she goes to the conveniently placed jukebox in the corner, and next thing you know she’s singing the Shirley Ellis hit “The Name Game.” If you missed it when you aired, boy did you miss out on something special. And by special, I do mean “gifted.”
It got me thinking about other such bat-shit, out-of-left-field musical numbers of the past decade. Musicals have become part of the mainstream feeding trough of late, thanks to the box office and critical success of films such as Moulin Rouge!* and Chicago, and no thanks to ill-advised television “hits” like Glee and Smash. (*The ‘!’ is mandatory.) So, while our parents weren’t entirely used to musicals on the big or silver screen, becoming frightened and confused when a character would burst into song, our generation (and future ones) have become used to it, rolling our eyes, stifling a yawn, or releasing a fart whenever those opening chords begin to strum. Which is why it’s such a unique thrill in our harmonically jaded day and age, whenever a musical moment catches us by surprise.
Below, I offer up a list of the Ten Best Surprise Musical Moments on Film and Television of the Last Ten (or so) Years.
10. “Everything Comes Down to Poo”, Scrubs
Rare is the musical number that can be both entertaining and informative, but in this fecal-focused number from the all-singing, all-dancing musical episode of the NBC comedy, both camps are accomplished. Is it the greatest song? Nah, perhaps not even the best in the episode. But imagine seeing it for the first time, sitting on your futon in an ill-fitting college sweater, downing your fifth bowl of ramen in as many hours, and hearing Zach Braff croon “Check the poo.” Entertaining and informative.
9. “Zou Bisou Bisou”, Mad Men
A lot of people hate Megan Draper, the buck-toothed Franco-Canadian who’s captured the heart, balls and frustration of 21st century throwback anti-hero, Don Draper. The gays especially seemed to have an issue with her, though why, I’m not sure. She was nice! She took care of Sally Draper! She didn’t take no shit from nobody! She even sang this French pop song in a skimpy black dress, while her gay black friend wore a boa and hit on that guy from Devil Wears Prada! Y’know the one, the one who wasn’t Meryl Streep! It baffles me; again, it may be those teeth.
8. “Dancing On My Own”, Girls
Ah, maybe this is a cheat, I don’t know. But it involves music and a character dancing without entirely deviating from the plot. I’m not going to recap (one of the titular girls is in her room by herself, the song comes on, and she starts dancing; there you go), but capping off the third episode of the HBO series, it was a surprisingly optimistic little moment in a show that takes a lot of material from rather uncomfortable, kinda scary stuff. (And when I say scary, I mean Andrew Rannels talking face. Eesh.)
7. “I Dreamed a Dream”, Les Miserables
Yes, it’s in a musical. Yes, it’s in a musical where everyone is singing literally all the time. And yes, it’s the song that was used for all this movie’s (it is not a film) ad campaign. It’s Anne Hathaway sitting in a barrel with a GI Jane ‘do, singing her heart out. It’s pitchy, it’s sad as hell, you can see her bare Frenchy shoulder! But once it’s over, it takes a little while to be able to describe exactly what you saw. It’s my blog, so I don’t speaking in hyperbole: this is the single best musical movie moment of the last twenty years.
6. “Midnight Train to Georgia”, 30 Rock
Anything can happen on 30 Rock (and kinda has, see Kim Jong Il, Julianne Moore with a Bawstun accent, Cynthia Nixon playing Julianne Moore with a Bawstun accent), but to round up an episode with plenty of different, rarely intersecting plotlines, 3o Rock employs one of the great Motown * (*might not have been Motown) hits, bringing the entire cast in on the song, plus Gladys Knight herself at the end! (Who doesn’t actually sing, but give the old girl a break, she’s trying to sleep.)
5. “Like a Virgin”, Moulin Rouge!** (**Again with the damn ‘!’)
Okay, again, it’s a number from an actual movie musical, and one where all but one song was an already established radio hit, to various success. Some of the songs were perfectly placed, and some of them are still baffling (I for one will commit mass murder the next time I hear that goddamn Elephant Love Medley on the Q). And then there was Jim Broadbent, wearing a table cloth like he was Little Red fuckin’ Riding Hood, being chased by perfectly in-sync waiters, screeching out Madge’s hit. It’s weird. It’s out of nowhere. It’s even kinda arousing, and then it’s weird again. And it’s on this list for a reason.
4. “Superfreak”, Little Miss Sunshine
The entire movie, you’re like “What’s that precocious little girl gonna do for her big pageant number? Is it gonna be Shania? Sondheim? Sylvester Stallone impressions?” Nope, it’s Superfreak. (Thank you, Alan Arkin.) And as uppity, potentially pedophiliac audience members stared on in horrified wonder, one by one the entire Hoover clan hops up onstage to help the tiniest member (hehe) literally steal a trophy. It’s inspiring. It’s hilarious. It’s Superfreak! (Yaw.)
3. “Cool”, Those Awesome Gap Commercials
Imagine you’re sitting on your futon, the same futon you witnessed “Everything Comes Down to Poo” on, that college sweater fits you better because this a few years prior (twist!), and you’re downing a pint of Neopolitan ice cream. You’re flipping through the channels, and you stop on a group of perfectly timed, attractive 20-somethings on a white jungle gym, in slim fitting denim, jumping and snapping, spinning and shuffling off to Buffalo-ing. This tune sounds familiar. What is that? Is it? No it can’t be… it is. And then you switch the station.
2. “You Make My Dreams Come True”, 500 Days of Summer
Zooey Deschanel haters, go find your own blog (but keep telling your friends about this). That said and done, this number has absolutely nothing to do with the Big Z, at least not directly. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Tom is feeling good, he’s walking on air, he could even sing. And he does (he does not, he lip syncs), strolling down the street as passers by join in and help create an out-of-nowhere, Hall & Oates group number. The boys all wear sweater vests (except the construction workers) and the girls all wear 50’s chic summer dresses (except the construction workers). And then the movie jumps back (forward?) a handful of days, and it’s depressing all over again.
1. “The Name Game”, American Horror Story: Asylum
Maybe I shouldn’t have opened this entry with reference to “The Name Game”, maybe I blew my wad on it. But I just… How can I… I mean, think about it. It’s Jessica Lange. She’s in a mental asylum, and she ain’t got no habit on. There’s a jukebox. Some inmate keeps holding a creepy-ass doll in her hair. And best of all, like the 10th entry on this list, the song’s educational (for anyone who didn’t know, you can rhyme “Mary” with “Bary” by dropping the M and replacing with a “B”. But don’t try to rhyme “Mary” with “Mary” at the end, ’cause all you have to do is drop the “M” and then “Mary” rhymes with “Ary”. If you’re not getting it now, immediately give up on your quest for higher education and try to get a job at the DQ). We shouldn’t be that surprised, given this is a show from the mind of Glee-tator Ryan Murphy. But dammit, it’s so infectious and so toe-tappingly fun, it deserves to be on this list. I mean, just look at that happy face!
… Well, maybe not that face.
And because I know you were wondering, The Three Worst Musical Surprises of the Last Ten Years Or So:
3) “SOS”, Mamma Mia!
You’re kind going along with it, then Pierce Brosnan opens his fucking mouth, and on the other side of the world China has an earthquake. THAT’S HOW IT WORKS!
2) “Bollywood-whatever”, Smash
Racist. Weird. Awkward. Sticks with you days after you’ve watched it. Not unlike that dinner I had on Curry Hill that one time.
… Just… Just Burlesque.