Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Five Bad Movie Ideas (one of those damn memes)

I don't go down the meme road often (being over the age of fourteen and all), but this one came out of nowhere; name five dumb things you did as the direct result of a movie. Having read a few variations where people did dumb things while watching movies (use your imagination), or made bad fashion choices as a result of movies (some of them old enough to admit indulging in the Annie Hall look), I figured that my five were at least a bit off kilter.

Most of them take place in the mid to late 80's, which at least means that I chose other dumb things to be inspired by later in life. Feel free to add your own dumb things in the comment section, we don't judge here.

1. Took part in a staging of Dante's Inferno based loosely on the movie Godspell

This might take some 'splaining. In prehistoric times, I went to a performing arts high school and knew a genuine prodigy, a kid who was designing and staging scenes from Strindberg's Dream Play at 14 or so. A few notches about Max Fischer as far as talent goes, but not without weird ideas of his own. At one point, he'd gotten a small company together and rented a tiny theatre to stage Dante's Inferno, and showed us Godspell to give us an idea of the kind of scene-study/improv that the project required.

This didn't turn into Virgil and Satan romping about in clown makeup singing Day by Day in the end, which is a blessing for all involved. I dropped out before it came together (I got a rare professional gig and money is always a good thing), and I never saw the finished product, but apparently he pulled it off. Maybe it wasn't so dumb after all.

2. Learned to play the entire soundtrack of Streets of Fire on the piano

I'm not sure this qualifies as dumb exactly, I'm going to call it misguided. Streets of Fire is, admittedly, an acquired taste. But I know a few guys who unrepentantly mist up at a good chorus of Tonight is What it Means to Be Young, so you take your resonance where you find it, right? As for me, I sent away for the score, and learned to pound out all of the Ry Cooder/Jim Steinman tracks, which almost nobody recognized since the film was pretty much of a flop.

3. Made out during Ridley Scott's Legend

I'm sure this qualifies as dumb, but I'm not sure if the dumb part stems from seeing Legend in the first place (it's pretty, but incredibly silly) or from the extended make-out session which has permanently welded images of Pinewood Studio unicorns and overlit shots of Mia Sara and Tim Curry as Satan-Upon-Thames with the plinky synth music of Tangerine Dream into some kind of bizarre erotic haze.

I actually bought the double-disc set of the film (as said before, it is very pretty), and can't actually watch it without an embarassed memory of being 16yrs old and goofy over a Romanian girl with long eyelashes and pouty lips. I admitted this to Norm Wilner (who'd asked why the hell I'd actually want a copy of the film in the house), and he said "I understand. It's a much easier film to revisit if you've got memories of boobies attached to it." So voila.

Most people outgrow making out at the movies at an early age, which is for the best all the way around. It makes the theatrical experience for the other people in the theatre far less awkward (except for those who take an unnatural interest in such things), and removes the possibility of awkward remember-when phonecalls later in life:

Dude: Amanda, I was channel-surfing the other day and I saw that Legend was on TV. It really took me back. I remember that time at the movie was kinda special, the whole wrapping up of you and me and that time and place and everything. I saw it with a secret smile and the fond haze of days gone by.

Amanda: (after a second) That was you?

No, this didn't happen to me. But there's some dude out there...

4. Showed up at a Wim Wenders movie dressed like an angel from Wings of Desire

The most dumb part of this was that it wasn't on purpose. Wenders came to Toronto to introduce Until the End of the World and a friend of mine brought me to the screening. It was December, and I was working retail at the time (where I got some very nice clothes in lieu of a living wage) and showed up in a dark blue overcoat, blue chinos, black shoes, and a crew-neck sweater with a barely perceptible V at the neck. If I looked like Bruno Ganz it wasn't on purpose, I was actually dressed to sell t-shirts and relaxed-fit jeans under the company's dress code. I was lucky enough to get Wenders to sign a copy of his Faber book and wondered why he looked at me strangely. The movie sucked, by the way.

5. Identified with a character from a Martin Scorsese movie

The wrong movie. I had just gone through a bad break up and decided that my life was paralell with Newland Archer's from The Age of Innocence. And it's a fine film, but c'mon. He's not one of the most vibrant protagonists in film history. Edith Wharton fans are free to beat me up (which I think would be quite out of character for them) but I could have at least chosen somebody who gets out from time to time. A good friend of mine fixated on Travis Bickle for a long time (no, he didn't shoot anybody), and I've known a few variations on Jake LaMotta (most of them far more pleasant). I've never known a Kundun. At least I don't think so. If Buddhist monks start showing up at a local Starbucks or some such, I'll update the posting accordingly.

Anybody got anything to add...?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Frenzy completed, frenzy begins again

I wrote about suicide in January after reading about a case where everything - event, response, summation - felt wrong and inappropriate. And it's coming back to a media outlet near you. Forwarned is forearmed.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


"If we meet again
to discuss our differences
we must share a meal that reflects my intent;
I will lay you a table
of bread and oil
bitter greens
caldo verde
walnuts and figs
black coffee
and blood-red wine."

Go back in time with me, if you're bored. Around a decade ago, I met a former friend (we'll call her Judy). She looked delighted to see Abby and tolerated me with as much distance as she could manage while barely remaining polite.

Judy had been a friend of a woman I'd been seeing for a long time. Things had ended with a certain degree of tension that I didn't think was anybody's business but ours, but Judy had clearly chosen her allegiance. All of this happened a long time ago, but she thought that it was worth making a statement, and we were young enough to feel that this kind of thing required clear lines of delineation.

A year after that door-slamming on her part, she called Abby and I before our wedding and asked politely to be invited, or at least to be able to contribute to the day in some way or another. She also asked to meet us to make her case. She had been close enough to me at one time that I didn't didn't laugh or cringe at the request for too long (there were a few choice remarks, however), and in all fairness, it seemed unlikely for Judy to re-open lines of communication simply for free food and drinks after the ceremony. I was determined for her to be our guest for this fact-finding mission. If she wanted our time, she'd have to eat our food. My food, to be precise.

I roasted a pair of chickens with lemons in their cavity to flavour the meat and make for a tasty jus. I tossed diced potatoes with olive oil, onion and parsley, roasted them alongside the bird.. I think there was a red romaine salad with a simple dressing, fresh crusty bread from Brunos, and homemade ice cream that I had mixed and turned the night before.

There, I thought. You didn't want to speak to me? That's your prerogative. It was a long time ago, in one way or another. Now eat my food. It's perfectly good. I went to some trouble. You don't owe me anything for it. Except for honesty. Eat it and tell me why the hell you're here.

She ate it. We exchanged small talk for most of the evening, most of which was between she and Abby. Judy finally said "I know you're wondering why I'm here, in the grand scheme of things..." and I said "The last time we met, you wouldn't speak to me. You jumped back like I was poison when I tried to hug you. And you've called us a year later and ask to come to the wedding. So, yes, I do want to know. I also want to know why you recoiled. And..." since it was all getting terribly heavy, "you'll get dessert whatever you tell us. But you've got to tell us something."

She did. It was reasonable and mature and not without affection. It boiled down to her admitting that she chose sides, without apology - she thought it was something she had to do at the time. But it didn't matter anymore, things change, perspective, maturity, most of the things you'd attribute to this kind of situation without putting it into words. Basically, she wanted to wish us well. We'd mattered enough to her. And even if we didn't invite her, she still wanted to wish us well. And she wanted dessert.

This story ends relatively well. Judy came to the wedding. We haven't seen her for a few years, but not through a conscious avoidance, just life being complicated and time being short. And something about it all wouldn't have worked in a restaurant or over coffee. It was a weird manifestation of anger and a sense of betrayal on my part, granted. I felt like we were being sued for peace, and while I welcomed the intent, I wanted it to be sincere. Sing for your supper, dammit. Earn it.

Now. This was crazy on my part. It had to be the first instance in history of somebody cooking out of spite, but it made sense at the time.

Maybe it translates into wanting to both recognize and make an effort. She apologized, I wanted to accept it properly. She didn't have to tell me that I could cook with any degree of proficiency (the jury's out on that one), but there was something intimate about homemade food that was required. I knew where it came from, what it in it, what it took to make. If it went bad on my watch, to hell with it. We'd order a pizza. If it worked, it was something unique. Maybe it means something.

My son is two and a half years old, and is a fussy eater from time to time. In general, we've gotten off light; he doesn't have a sweet tooth, likes relatively healthy food, loves whole wheat breads and spicy foods when in the mood.

When he's not in the mood, he wants bread and cereals, lots of pasta. I try to spike the deck in favour of vegetables. I simmered beef broth, grated carrot and ginger and garlic, added finely chopped peppers and parsley run through a food processor.

The broth steamed until the ginger and onion ran through our townhouse. It went in my son's bowl over soba noodles. It was his first experience with fresh ginger, and it disappeared when I turned my back. I watched him run his spoon over the smooth bowl, wanting more.

Food addresses a need. We choose what we eat. Even if it isn't elaborate, it can be different from time to time. We hold it dear. If my son enjoyed his introduction to ginger, I've done something right. He might remember it for a long time.

Deus in nomine tuo salvum me fac et in virtute tua iudica me

Back to food and spite. On the day my father died, the house was left with six people - my mother, sister, wife, and two aunts - for whom the worst had happened and we were too exhausted to start planning the funeral. The house was as horribly empty as it could be.

Eventually, somebody laid my mother down for a nap. Somebody else said we needed Kleenex. I said I'd take care of dinner, simply to get out of that place to the relatively sane Dominion supermarket a few blocks away. I don't know what I intended on the way out - I sure as hell didn't want to cook - but after arriving at the grocery I realized that I had no choice. We had to have something that could be shared and not simply bought. It had to be created, however simply, to contrast the loss of the day.

It wasn't elaborate. I want to say that I pounded chicken breasts flat for a caccitore, but instead I bought fresh cutlets that had already been rolled in breadcrumbs and seasoning. I did buy some peppers, onions and mushrooms, softened them in oil with a little bacon before adding tinned tomatoes and wine, let it cook down for an hour, added parsley at the end. I fried the cutlets until crispy with a little garlic in the oil, careful that it didn't brown and become bitter.

I boiled water for a side of rigatoni. The salad came out of a bag, the dressing was lemon and oil and a little mustard. The bread was a long baguette with a thick crust, I cut it on the bias. I wanted kalmata olives because they always taste bitter and alive in the best sense of the term, but I didn't want to risk my family picking them out of the sauce if they disliked them. I ladled some sauce on top of the cutlets, left the rest in a bowl beside the rigatoni for people to add as they liked. I had bought some feta as well, chopped it small and dropped it on the salad and threw some on the caccitore. And dinner was served. It wasn't entirely out of a box, nor was it from a menu. It was on the table and complete before anybody could tell me not to go to the trouble, we'll make some sandwiches. My father had just died and the rest was going to be lousy, at least we could have a decent meal.

Comfort food. From somewhere. Not from my own upbringing, exactly. My father's comfort food was scrambled eggs and bacon and toast - "A suppery supper," he'd call it - but at some point, my comfort came out of wine and tomatoes and a slow simmer. Everyone likes Italian, right? It's a cliche. But it was prepared and the family hadn't noticed I'd been cooking until it was on the table, real enough for them to stare at it, surprised.

It's not entirely homemade but it's fresh. Eat it. We've got the rest of time to mourn. It'll be awful and hit you when you least expect it. But there's also time to recognize and recover and continue to be alive. Skip the melodrama and eat. It's good food. Have some rigatoni, it's filling. Use the bread to sop up the sauce. There's a little smoke among the onions from the bacon. The chicken's crispy and juicy and gives you strength. It's all good for you, more or less. Eat something for God's sake.

You'll feel better.

We ate. My aunts made some noises about how I didn't need to go to the trouble, but only briefly. And everyone at that table cleaned their plates. ___________________________________________

I was grocery shopping with a cranky toddler when I saw a box of Old El Paso Cheesy Tortilla Bake. It is what it is. I thought That looks terrible. And it looks really good. And terrible.

Abby was teaching a late class that evening. I knew I had some time, so I bought real tortillas, green onion, ground beef and some chipotle peppers in a can. I went home, put my son to bed and started to cook. To fake it. Chipotle and cumin and garlic and some wine in a small food processor. I added it to the meat as it browned. I went online and found a recipe for queso blanco (improvised with feta and mozzerella on short notice), and stacked tortillas, meat, more spice and the queso into a strata until it looked like something approximating the Old El Paso box. But real. Or at least with fewer preservatives. Or something. It baked slowly and smelled rich and spicy.

Abby came home. Something different, I said, I thought you'd want something new. She smiled. We ate together. It was good.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Not being petty, of course...

Yeah. There's no way that this can go off the rails. Nice to know the Nader supporters have changed camps. Again.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

An open question

Why does nobody leave my life? How have I earned this bit of karma? I can't be that damn charming.

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