Fat geese: A Christmas snarl

I promise to give a little seasonal yin…later. But now for the yang:

In prehistory, Xmas hoopla and madness didn’t start until the beginning of December. Then it migrated to right after Thanksgiving. The Macy’s parade would end with Saint Nick in a sleigh.

Awww.

But now, well into the new millennium, you can’t begin the insanity too soon. I do believe there have already been weeks of Christmas ads and the fomenting of angst-ridden must-have-it-ness. I know there have been more than a few media-embellished bare knuckle brawls about getting the first big box bullshit present for a few dollars less. People have foregone their turkey dinners to wait in the grey pre-dawn light to get the discounts early, earlier, earliest.

Really? May I just say, what the fuck?

Are we infected as a culture beyond redemption? Is this the new American way? Brutality in the service of buying?

In all fairness, I must acknowledge that it’s really hard to resist. But try. Give it a go. Don’t just succumb like sheep (or a pea-brained bunch of partridges in pear trees).

The one un-ballyhooed factoid is that this is an ecumenical enterprise. It’s certainly not only Christians who are in the thrall of the rush to purchase at all costs. Jews have long jumped on the “let’s inject Hanukah with ersatz significance to match the mishigos of Christmas.” And now there’s hardly even a need for my people to pretend it’s about their holiday.

Christmas has become non-religious in these ways: Just buy. Don’t stop. Not till you’ve maxed-out every credit card. Your whining, glazed-eyed children (of all ages) will re-ignite your fervor should it die down for a moment. But MOOOOM. I really have to have a… Are you getting me a….? PLEEEEZE!!!!

Taking begging, beseeching, and brazenness to a new level, our offspring are the robotic byproduct of being bombarded by advertising and the mutual assured destruction of boundaries that repetition generates. The soul-catchers of the systemically interwoven greed merchants have accomplished their mission.

There is, additionally, a saccharine quality rampant across the land which is already making my teeth ache. Cutesy stories about animals and children and the best Christmas lights and the most heart-warming miracles. Okay. A little goes a long way. Let’s take a break. You know, give it a rest. Stop pumping us full of forced joyousness. Humans can actually feel authentic feelings, not just manufactured ones.

Am I the only one being adversely affected? Feeling like I want to embrace my inner meanness in compensation for being overloaded with the non-stop collision of bare-faced commercialism and fake love?

IS THERE ALWAYS ROOM FOR MORE…?

Call it “issues,” “problems,” or even “tsuris” – we are never full up. The human capacity to take on drama and pain seems endless. Why is there no inbred off-switch, no That’s it, I’m not going to take it anymore?!

We could certainly look at this on the macro level – world events for example. But I’d like to demonstrate how this plays out in a much smaller arena. My apartment.

It’s an old building. Over 100 years old. True, true. But, as we know, things can be updated, and for sure they can be fixed. I’m one of the Upper West Side renters who pay through the nose. (Aren’t you curious about where that phrase comes from? Two seconds of Google to the rescue: In ninth-century Ireland, when the Danes conquered the Irish, they imposed an exorbitant Nose Tax on the island’s inhabitants. They took a census (by counting noses) and levied oppressive sums on their victims, forcing them to pay by threatening to have their noses actually slit. Paying the tax was “paying trough the nose.”)

I hope you enjoyed the little side trip….

So, I’m paying ridiculous bucks for a quite large apartment. But, over the fifteen years I’ve lived there, it has decayed. A strong word. But accurate. First, the wood floors began to show cracks and gaps in the boards. My assumption that this would be remedied was stonewalled and then ultimately dealt with only minimally. My anger at the situation was viewed as me being “difficult.”

Somehow, I accepted the situation. But then the kitchen counter and floor began to show significant wear. Oh, that’s not something the landlord was even going to consider redoing. Nope. You can replace things if you want. Maybe we’ll contribute. But that’s on you.

Now I was clearly at a crossroads. Move or stay – and accept the degrading environment. There are accruing examples I could offer, but we’re still here. Part of it is inertia, part the reality that we would probably have to pay even more in a new place. But I think the depth of the well in which misery of all kinds gets stored is really at play. I have adapted. To noise and smells and drips.

Does this tolerance for the unwanted, the disturbing, the demoralizing, forward the species in some way? Does it prepare us for the ultimate tsuris, you know, the big D?

I would like to rally the troops at bit here. Myself at the helm. You know, if we all refuse to swallow more crap, it would back up and mess up those dishing it out.

There needs to be a shift in perspective: to hold on longer to the notion of a thing being a problem. Because – what makes a problem a problem? The possibility of a solution. Without that, it’s just a “given,” like water being wet or rocks being hard.

Thought for the day? Hmmm. Maybe more important than that.

 

ON BI-CULTURAL RESTAURANTS

Once upon a time, there were Chinese restaurants and Japanese restaurants. They were separate entities, not readily confused (or fused). Somewhere in the past several years, when I wasn’t looking, (I need to remember not to look away – things change radically if I’m not paying attention), these two great bastions of culinary culture began to merge.

I think this: Do one thing well, not two things poorly. Which reminds me of my father’s injunction on how to buy presents. If you only have five dollars, buy a very good handkerchief (this was the 1950’s), don’t buy something bigger, fancier to impress. Buy quality. Quality. The watchword.

Making sushi with one hand and Kung Pao Chicken with the other invites a kind of lassitude into the kitchen. Maybe the vinegar rice gets served with the Chinese meal; maybe that mysterious Kung Pao sauce accidently gets on your sashimi.

I just don’t trust the crossover. It’s more like a diner. And I’m not ordering anything but a burger and fries from a diner.

There is, I realize, a trend toward the more mélange-y inter-ethnicity of the beige future. That’s all fine with me. Maybe if there are fewer perceived differences between us homo sapiens, there will be less reason to hate. Could be. (Or else the impulse to kill your neighbor is hard-wired and we’ll just keep finding new reasons.) But let’s keep the food out of it. Distinction needs to be maintained. I want to believe that the chef has dedicated his life to making those dishes which have been in his family for generations.

And a growl-out needs to go to Tex-Mex too. Mexican and Texan ought not to be conjoined. That’s just asking for trouble. But it’s creative you say. Well, just because you slap two colors on a canvas doesn’t mean you made “art.” I will fight for the pure bright line of mono-culture.

No blurred lines, please. I can taste them.

In defense of too much. Part two of the Thanksgiving message.

Sure it’s easy to stick a target on the holiday which effectively has no content, except for eating and drinking until everyone passes out in a tryptophan coma on the couch with any of several football games blaring and kids running amok high on sugar from sampling seven pies and SOMEONE really pissed off because they’re on cleanup and no one is helping.

But I love Thanksgiving. At its best, it’s a gluttonous encounter among people who have been irritating each other on a regular basis for decades. At its worst: well, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. It might devolve into a plate clearing (I mean via brute force) confrontation, with no expletives deleted; an opportunity – after uncounted glasses of hard cider, wine or gin and tonics – to tell those connected to you by birth and marriage just exactly what you think of them and why. You might regret it the next day. But that won’t stop you after hour seven of the “feast” has clicked by.

I seem to have lost the thread.

My point is thus: It’s a coming together, like a marriage, for better or for worse, in gastric distress and in health, a communal breaking of bread and cake and pies and muffins and cookies and crackers. Passing the gravy to your 87 year old uncle Timothy, who has no idea what it is once the ladle is in hands, may not seem like a significant or desirable experience. But there’s an opportunity for humility in all this.

These are folks you’ve sprung from; this is your very own Ancestry.com. Look around on Thursday, and before you roll your eyes, give thanks that the yammering, self-aggrandizing, big-mouthed, knee-jerk, and just plain jerky people around that creaking table – and the children’s table too, are your kin. If you are willing to do something a bit counterintuitive, try to come up with something you really like about each person in the room. Yes. You can. Aunt Julia is a fabulous baker. Your dad is a really honest man. Your sister is very compassionate – even with strangers (okay, only with strangers). But you get my point. Go for the gusto. Why not? You might find more than a few things to be thankful for.

Is that my son or is that a drumstick? Holiday confusion.

For as long as I can remember, the biggest day of the year in my family was Thanksgiving. It is only now (and I mean within the last few hours) that I developed any insight into how skewed my perspective had become. It seems as if I have conflated the seasonal festivities with the value of the people in attendance.

Come again?

For weeks in advance, lists and food orders and planning took precedence over the mundane of daily existence. Would I add a new side dish or dessert? Was there a new improved method of cooking a gigantic bird that I might employ? These were the all-consuming questions. Arrangements for the immediate family to attend what was now the new standard, the Manhattan Thanksgiving, were made. This included a flight from Miami, a couple of sets of hotel accommodations, driving from upstate New York, and taxis to and from Queens. We’re not a big family, but issues are plentiful.

This year presented a new challenge, or six. The chief one was that two central members of the team had moved to California. As the late summer and early fall unfolded, it began to be clear that they weren’t making a pilgrimage to New York for the big dinner. Really? For me it was like those stages associated with death and dying. You know: denial, anger, bargaining, depression…acceptance, not so much. Working toward that last one.

Blinded by my habitual obsession, I was hard-pressed to even think about what would be entailed in the cross-country trip home for the holiday. I was willing to throw money and guilt at the problem, not necessarily in that order.

As the day has drawn nigh, partial discussions went unfinished. Until today. The magical mystery tour is not happening…and I had to bite a sizable bullet in order to hear something other than the mewling of my disappointment and unfulfilled expectations. It just wasn’t going to work. This year. Nope. Nada.

Because of a slew of other factors, a small segment of the family will gather on SATURDAY (OMG, not even on the day ITSELF!) My husband is buffering himself for the waterworks we anticipate when the full reality sets in on Thursday. But, unlike Captain Picard, I can’t make it so.

Is everyone feeling sorry for me? Well, maybe it’s not the end of life, nor a traumatic loss. Maybe it’s just a day without turkey.

 

HOW SWEET IT IS!

For those of you who have been following this blog since its inception, you will understand very well my glee – no, my sense of righting a great wrong, of evening the score. That’s what I felt this weekend.

My granddaughter has recently taken up the clarinet. (You can foreshadow here, can’t you?) We had previously talked about both her playing for me during a visit, and the beauty of the revenge I might exact on the hated upstairs neighbor. (He’s the one I must remind myself not to kill.) She was totally on board, having heard the incessant noise filtering down from the ceiling.

And, lo. It came to pass. An overnight with the beautiful and intelligent 11 year old was at hand. Also at hand was a hard black case. She immediately told me she’d brought her clarinet. I could spend a few column inches here waxing eloquent about her innate musicality, and how impressed I was with her dexterity and focus.

But I won’t.

Instead, I’ll go right to that soul-warming moment when the reverberations of her quite formidable wind instrument echoed and magnified. I knew the sounds were carrying upward to the floor above.

If you had been there, you would have seen me strike a fierce pose: fist clenched and held high in victory. A (perhaps) diabolical smile on my face.

She played on. And on. It was understood that her purpose had several intertwined threads. One of them was to support my need for payback. It’s hard to smile with a reed in your mouth, but she did. That’s my girl!

Most of the notes she played were sweet and savory. But, after only a few months of practice, she would occasionally hit a shrieky one. Yes, I thought, take that, upstairs blowhard! I’ve been listening to your squeaks and squawks for more than a decade. Suffer a little bit. It might create some empathy. Nah. Narcissists are not so inclined. All right then, just feel the pain.

 

 

Everything is better at the ballet. But everything is passing strange at the opera.

This is going to be a much longer post than usual, but it’s part of my homage to the opera…which does go on and on.

I came to my passion for opera late in life, only as a by-product of a desire to provide a grandchild with the full New York cultural experience. I was seduced like one of the round-heeled women that are the centerpiece of so many librettos. But each time I visit the stately chambers of the Metropolitan Opera house (or another of the several venues in the city), I am struck by the bizarre behavior – not on stage, but in the audience.

It was a Wednesday night, and it would be fair to say that only the most valiant lovers of the three-and-a-half hour passion play were in attendance. Waiting for the curtain to rise, the delightful anticipation was heightened by the presence of one of my favorite people in the world: Cherise. We share a love of opera, among many other things.

The orchestra began its overture; the lights dimmed; quiet descended.

Nudge, nudge. (That’s me.) I directed my friend’s attention to the woman on my left. She had some damn ultra-bright book-light in use, to see whatever it was that was the object of her unrelenting attention. Understanding the unspoken “can you fucking believe her?” my friend appropriately squeezed my arm; I could make out her compassionate eye-rolling even in the darkened space.

Then there was the crinkling. Isn’t there a law on the books prohibiting the eating of anything in a noisy plastic wrapper – in any theatre: movie, play, opera, ballet…? Well, if not, let’s make it so! I said nothing – which was an excessively difficult stance for me. The noise stopped.

Intermission: For those of you who don’t know, sometimes there are several during an opera. The first one was obvious. But when the second began, it wasn’t clear (to either of the two of us) whether the show was over or not. And we could tell we weren’t alone in our confusion. People were shifting in their seats, waiting to see if there was a curtain coming down. There was. But, as it turned out, that didn’t signify the end of the opera. Strange, and a bit forced (may I say staged?) And then the lead singers stepped out from behind that curtain and took the atypical intermission bow. The uneven smattering of applause was a coherent communication: What the hell is going on?

Taking advantage of the break in the action, I sped to the bathroom. There was, of course, the usual line of women. I’m convinced that theatre owners have colluded in hiring people to stand in line just so no woman can relieve herself in a speedy fashion. I’m paranoid. True. But that doesn’t mean I’m not also right.

There was a washroom attendant directing traffic. But that wasn’t her only mission. She had decided she was the appropriateness police. She commented on each person as they walked out – noting with scorn those who failed to wash their hands. I admit to being intimidated. All things being equal and anxious to get back in my seat, I would have employed the logic of another old friend who famously asked: What exactly were you doing with that hand? And I would have taken a pass on the sink. But I didn’t want to hear the shaming commentary at my back – so I did a quick rinse.

A bit of digression: Before the opera, my friend and I had dinner in the resident restaurant of the Metropolitan Opera House: the Grand Tier. It’s up – not surprisingly – on the third level, also known as the Grand Tier. Coat racks were outside the restaurant. We were told they would be moved down to the lower level where coats are usually stashed. Miraculously, they were there at the close. It’s a magical thing, to be taken care of with great competence. I felt a little like royalty.

No night at the opera is complete without the end-of-evening agonizing about how to get home. For my friend, it was a serious drive to the wilds of Long Island. For me, it was a mere mile and a half, but – wait for a bus in the cold? Deal with a late night subway? Or, hope to get a taxi? The outflow of Lincoln Center will often absorb the entire universe of cabs. But this was to be a stellar night; taxis were plentiful and the final act ended on a most positive note.

A random day on the street…in two acts

ACT I

Do you have to decide right now?

This was “asked” in a loud, I’ve about had it voice, by a 40ish woman standing at the top of the outside stairway leading up to the parlor floor of what I quickly realized was her townhouse. Her words were directed to a well-groomed workman – I would say a contractor – who was standing, clipboard conveying (he hoped) professionalism – on the first step up from the sidewalk.

They sparred back and forth for a while. He asserted how time-sensitive the decision was. And how he had first asked her many days ago. She rejoined with her frustration at the pace of his progress. (Doesn’t she know the rule? Multiply the promised time to completion of any construction project by three). So, the idea that NOW she had to join him in hurry-up mode, just burned her ass.

I never heard the resolution. Usually, there is none. Only a temporary cease-fire. Ah, the joys of home ownership, New York style.

ACT II

Walking uptown on the east side of Columbus Avenue, the dreaded bike path filling my field of vision like the interloper it is, I stopped for a light at the corner of 96th.

From behind me and to my left, I heard the sounds of bicycles approaching. What?

Five of assorted sizes stopped behind the leader, a young mom, properly helmeted and in the vanguard of several children and one other adult. She spoke, turning her head to get the words well-projected over her shoulder to her minions.

Now, we are on the bike path. But we’re going the wrong way. (Columbus Avenue goes North to South. They were traveling South to North!) So be really aware of your surroundings!

What about NOT going the wrong way?

My outrage flamed. But quickly turned to the ash of hopelessness.

Idiots abound. And many of them are on two wheels.

MEAN GIRLS OF THE MELTING POT

I was having lunch  on Sunday at Dan’s Japanese Restaurant near the movie theater on 69th and Broadway. At an adjacent table were two under thirty-ish women. I couldn’t help overhearing their dialogue. But what captured my attention was the second speaker. She was the one facing in my direction: dark-skinned and with a distinct Indian accent.

She was reacting quite vociferously to what the other woman had said, with a lot of no fucking way’s. She used the all-purpose pronoun, “dude”, when referring to her companion. She was bitching out everyone they mentioned. Nothing good was ever said about anyone; everyone was a “fucking asshole.” Each “girl” was someone she’d never trust.

This is the great hope of the world. Your parents can come to America from anywhere, with the promise of access to the American dream. The dream that anyone can be a nasty piece of work and sound like an ignorant valley-girl, no matter their country of origin or ethnicity.

A pride of wet dogs; a herd of drowned rats

It rained today in New York City. Not such a big deal you may think.

It was as if it never rained before. The pissing and moaning. The inability to manage puddles, raingear, etc. True, it was the first kind-of cold rain of the season. It wasn’t an April shower or a summer sprinkle. But it wasn’t a deluge. Yet, the denizens of the soggy apple were scurrying for the ark. In pairs, triads and in the special New York singleton.

We New Yorkers are walkers – in all kinds of weather. So there is a very complex umbrella protocol. If you don’t live in a city you may not know what I mean by. You’re in your car and then you run for it. But here we are, already irritated with the density of our neighborhood. Now there are hemispheres of taut fabric, with lots of pointy stuff that can stick you in the eye or puncture your well-being in various unexpected ways. They are buoyant which means they are hard to control. They get in your way and must be dealt with – sometimes sequentially, sometimes in a bunch.

Now here’s the protocol part. Who goes up and who goes down? When two bumpershoots pass each other on a sidewalk, there could be a collision or a standoff. There’s just not enough room – in many instances – to blithely coexist without some hierarchy or pecking order. There’s the ballet of lifting and lowering, which most do unconsciously. Is there an order to it? I think so.

Graciousness is not the most prevalent quality in my city by the sea. Not that it’s entirely absent. But it isn’t the driving force. In the rain, however, it’s mandatory that someone voluntarily defer, or risk ripped cloth and the ensuing exposure to the elements. But who? There are those who ignore the situation: I like to think of them as the ball-busters. There are the hesitators, which just creates a bit of unnecessary drama. I personally like to mix it up: sometimes I raise my umbrella, sometimes I lower it, sometimes I swing it to the side. I’m pretty sure there are people who would rather risk impalement than be the one to accommodate someone else, and there are those who never assert their right to be rain-free. Because when you move the damn thing around, inevitably the equilibrium is disturbed and there is that unwelcome splash in the face or on the back of the neck.

In New York, everything is an occasion for subtle status seeking. And the rain is no exception. My biggest bitch is with those who have to have the gigantic golf umbrellas. They take up the entire street and then some. Greedy grunts, sucking up the space of three. I’m always sorely tempted to close my normal-sized umbrella and turn it into a lance, and then “accidently” run them through. I haven’t acted on that impulse (yet).

Public transportation, always an iffy situation, becomes an ocean of virulent hostility when a passel of wet dogs, coats saturated, find themselves pressed together with fewer free hands than the ride requires. The threat of a pierced toe as the bus bumps along, becomes too real; scowls and incipient snarls pour forth if a wet umbrella grazes a leg on an overcrowded subway.

Stay home, city dwellers. Wait for the sun to come out. Tomorrow? Maybe, maybe not. If there’s nowhere you must be, wait it out. Order in. That’s the up-side of the down-side. There’s nothing you can’t get by picking up the phone. Runners will be sent, with sushi or simpler fare. You can stay high and dry, maintaining the illusion of civilization.