And a Little Bit About Some Other Stuff

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Monday, August 14, 2017

What Story Will You Tell A 6th Grader?

Mrs. Dorozinky's 8th Grade Class, 1984
St. Margaret's School, Waterbury CT
I'd say that 5th grade was approximately the age when a poor-to-middling American Catholic education began to escort groups of plaid-clad, doe-eyed whelps outward into the news and talk about how current events connect us to history. It's when we start to sort out who are the good guys and learn to form our own ideas. We had brains of soft clay when we first began to engage with the outside world. I respect teachers in general, but threefold for those Catholics that helmed the U.S.S. Gen X from 4th through 8th grades. It was a wild, windy, sticky affair.

History was not a real thing before 4th grade. That Catholic education was a mindfuck. Our world view was a disaster. They gave us this Bible as big as our history book. Both books had pictures and stories and dates.

We wove red, white and blue construction paper flags for July 4th and we hunted eggs on Easter. On Christmas Eve we went to bed leaving milk and cookies for Santa, then we squirmed all through mass on Christmas morning. George Washington and Jesus and Santa all figured into the narrative about the same, more or less. We played Cowboys & Indians and they had us putting on plays dressed as angels and pilgrims. They had us tracing our hands to draw Thanksgiving turkeys and yadda yadda'd over some key facts.

I had so many questions. Including why such a big a deal was constantly being made over our knees. Hey nuns, guess what? At no time in life, as it turns out, were my knees ever the thing about me that got me into trouble. Would that it were so, but thanks for contributing to the lifelong body issues. Also, you know what would have covered our knees? Pants. You could have simply given us pants.

In 6th grade, we were given an assignment to write a history essay from a personal point of view. That meant interviewing a person who was there during this Major Event We Children Shall Drone On About Very Importantly.

My mother suggested Grandma DiPoala. My grandmother had apparently been quite a snappily dressed good time gal who liked to go dancing, until she was left alone to raise three kids after the war. Grandpa DiPoala was "shell shocked," in the parlance of the time, and spent the rest of his life hospitalized. None of us ever met him, then he died. To make ends sort of almost meet, Grandma DiPoala had worked in factories, waited tables and did other jobs to put food on the table.

I was thrilled. I was Lois Lane at last. I came up with a studious list of questions for Maggie. I wanted to write the best essay Mrs. Signori had ever read. I had daydreams like Ralphie in A Christmas Story. 

The whole thing turned out to be a disaster.

I think I started by asking my grandmother what was the most memorable headline she could remember from when she was my age? She said "That's when I was a girl." I asked about the places she had worked. She said "That's when I was a girl." I asked what exactly she did there every day, and what she thought about unions. She said she did "piece work." She had no thoughts about unions.

On every other day, Madge DiPoala was a non-stop talker. A small, doughy banshee of a woman, Maggie kept up a steady commentary. She veered from complaining about the neighbors to the high price of bracciole. She'd make you sit and listen to turn-by-turn directions to places you'll never visit. She'd tell you the whole back-and-forth over a dime with the nun at the church tag sale. On every other day, Maggie had opinions. Except on the day that I asked her about what it was like to be a poor working single mom in 1950s America with immigrant parents. She had no story to tell, no opinion to give and in fact, she looked vaguely puzzled. It was as though she had lived on the outside, isolated in the neighborhood and distrusting anyone and everyone else.

I had to fudge that whole essay.

How do you live through those fraught decades and have no story to tell?

Are You Paying Attention? 


Boston Common, January 21, 2017
This feels like the worst Monday ever, and what scares the shit out of me is that it's not. There will be so many more worse Mondays, and Wednesdays and Sundays and any other days.

Just so it's clear, a growing Trump-emboldened, hoodless militia has been campaigning for the right to rid America of "defectives." They equate "free speech" with the idea that those freedoms extend to mean "free of consequence," and they demand that we unravel generations of progress. They are armed. When challenged, they come carrying torches and waving the flag of both the Nazi party and the Confederates, who they honor as their forebears and whose patriarchal traditions they seek to revive and strengthen -- that's the central "Make America Great Again" talking point. They call themselves white nationalists. The press calls them Alt-Right. Mr. Trump has obliquely suggested that there are "many sides" to the unfolding story that led us skidding sideways into August 2017. True to his bloviating barrage of campaign promises, here we are barely six months into this fiasco of a presidency and I have to go out next weekend and literally object to Nazis.

Your grandkids will ask you about what is happening right now. They'll ask what it was like before Trump, and what was your reaction, and what you did next.

What story will you tell?

Women's March, Boston
January 21, 2017


I'll Just Leave These Boots Right Here By The Door



So about these new Nazis. They've been riled up by the KKK (yes, those people are still around in 2017) and other extremist leaders and they see Trump as their savior. They view the concepts of diversity and equal rights as a a direct threat to them, personally. "You will not replace us!" is one of their paranoid battle cries. Hey guys? No one is trying to replace you. That's weird. Your heads are not right.

These torch-bearing individuals claim they're coming to Boston next weekend. Boston -- as much trouble as we still have here with race relations -- always gears up. Right now, people are canceling plans so that we can gather at the Boston Common again on Saturday, August 19th. A whole new wave of anger, fear and disappointment has been surging all weekend.  Now I need to get a Sharpie and write my mom's phone number on my damn arm again and go back down there. Fuck these people, seriously.

In my story, I'm firmly against Nazis, just so that's clear. ∎

Boston always gears up.
(Photo: Uncredited from the Women's March Boston site)






Saturday, August 12, 2017

These People Are Nazis. We Had A Whole World War About This.

Dear Everyone,
Please stop staying "Alt Right" like it's an actual platform.
There is no "Alt Right." 
The term you're looking for is
WRONG.

Monday, July 31, 2017

I Thought By Now People Would Stop Judging Me For Not Having Children

"You need to give him children. What are you scared of? Responsibility?" 

These are actual words said to me yesterday. By a total stranger. In the park.

It's amazing to me that people still feel entitled to lecture women about something as personal as procreation. I am 47 years old. It is 2017.

Yesterday was such a beautiful Boston day that I took my sketchbook and went for a walk. People were out and about, walking dogs and strollers, riding bikes and generally participating in the pastimes that make up a Sunday in the city. I got a kale smoothie and stopped on a park bench. Before long, a man sat nearby and struck up a conversation. He told me he was from Morocco, he'd just moved to the neighborhood. We made the usual kind of chit chat, until the subject of kids came up somehow. No, I answered. No, my husband and I don't have children. Then the interrogation kicked into high gear.

Why not? CAN you have them? Well then why don't you have children? What about your husband? You need to give him children! What are you scared of? Responsibility? 

Why not? Because I don't want children.

CAN I have them? I don't know. There was never any medical reason to find out.

Why don't I have them? It's not for me. I'm not cut out for it.

What about your husband? He does not want children either.

You need to give him children! There is no such rule. We don't want children.

What are you scared of?  I'm not scared of anything.

Responsibility? Okay, that's just about enough. Actually it was enough five minutes ago. People think it's okay to just outright demand personal information such as "Can you have children?" That's amazing. And the social contract still allows the thing where women get instantly judged as failures unless they've become mothers? That's all I'm here to do, "give" a man children? Still? Yes, sir, sure, why not. I'm a failure. My womb remains barren, my life therefore meaningless.

Come to find out that he has three children by two different ex-wives. They live in New York and West Virginia. He never sees them. He isn't in their lives at all. Please, by all means, tell me more about responsibility.

It's amazing to me that people still feel entitled to lecture women about something as personal as procreation. I am 47 years old. It is 2017.⧫

Related:
The Mommy Problem ("I Hate Jake's Turn")





Friday, July 21, 2017

We Have A Winner: Twitter Is Now Closed for the Night

Thanks to Frankie (@phranquigh) for the awesome, clean dead-center Gen X tweet for July 17, 2017. I stumbled across it 4 days later, but of course I immediately followed this chick. This thread, am I right? 

Powerful stuff here, people! Set SNARK level on stun -- so funny I was laughing in that dangerous zone where I can catch just enough breath to gasp, "I'm gonna pee!" Sarah Silverman re-tweeted it. Because of course she did. Though Frankie started it, most of the replies are pure gold, so tonight, EVERYBODY WINS! Here's a glimpse of what's going on over there.

Sarky (@anotherNWkid) pulled out a truly astonishing vid, with Chris Christie playing the lowbrow Violet "Cool it dad, this is my show!" Beauregard. I mean...is this great or what?


@XianJaneway started off the lyrics volley by lobbing this gem. I know I don't even have to tell you to sing it in the tune of the Oompa Loompa song. Aaaaand, go! 

@XianJaneway
Because you're scared of tapes full of PP/Geeks that resist you will screencap and tweet/You will be given a swift. Defeat.

In the next election



Not to be outdone, @cmclymer added a verse. Well done, young man. Well done, I say! 

Oom-pah Loom-pah
Trump is a tool
If you work for him
You'll end up one, too




@BrianKrohn is maybe not as well-versed (see what I did there, Poetry Club?) but in this world, I'm giving out points for even getting close. 

Trump's just a rich boy
He hired his family
Caught in a scandal
Watches Fox & Friends on the TV...


To be clear, Mr. Krohn appears to be using Bohemian Rhapsody, not The Oompa Loompa Song. The Queen song is having its own glorious Gen X Renaissance over in the #Scarramucci thread.   

This thread's got legs. Who's in? It could be like a crowdsourced Leondard Cohen ballad where we can collectively write as many verses as it takes until we're all sick of each other. Who's in? Or, be like Jessica (@princessadrkbl), and I couldn't have said it better. 

@princessadrkbl
"I came for the comments and I wasn't disappointed" 


Thank you. Cute kitty. 

Thank you all. 

Goodnight.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Wow, Misconduct Is A Terrible Movie!

I was looking for something to watch OnDemand one rainy afternoon, and this 2016 movie looked as though it would provide all of the legal drama and corporate intrigue of such thrillers as Enemy of the State, Disclosure, The Firm, et al. "Misconduct?" I said to myself. "How did I miss this one?" 

I fell for the seductive Misconduct trailer. They got me, I admit it. The truth is, I am such a sucker for any movie set in a high-caliber workplace where unscrupulous lawyers, journalists, CEOs and/or politicians would kill each other to either keep or find out some scandalous secret, for money, power, or all of the above.  Are there plush corner offices with skyline views and whiskey on the credenza during the daytime? Fantastic. Does a breathless & bruised power suit make a furtive phone call urging his wife to get out of the house? I'm in, get the popcorn. I hope there's danger music shaping tense scenes over missing files or stolen files or secret files or forged files. Give me at least one hacker, please. I'm an easy sell with this stuff. But in the end, I wanted to punch myself in the face for wasting 106 minutes on Misconduct.

Misconduct wants to be a suspenseful legal thriller starring Josh Duhamel's hair flip, flanked by the asterisked academy award-winning star power of Anthony Hopkins and Al Pacino. Julia Stiles and Alice Eve play two of three blondes, along with Malin Akerman, whose fame I don't even understand.  After my unfortunate decision to watch it, I took to the internet to see if utterly abject disappointment was mine alone. It was not. I read about a dozen reviews penned by film buffs as puzzled and annoyed as me. So thoroughly is Misconduct already panned online, in great detail, that those lovely writers save me the time of doing a play-by-play. I'll sum up and include a couple of specifics, but below, you'll find links to a few well-written reviews for you to read later. I wish I'd read them first. But at least I feel validated: yes, in fact, this is a terrible movie.

No, Seriously. Misconduct Is A Truly, Tremendously Terrible Movie

So here's what's going on in Misconduct. This is what I'm calling the A-story. A workaholic lawyer named Ben Cahill (Duhamel) will do anything for billable hours and another win. When his mentally unstable college girlfriend Emily (Akerman) shows up ten years after an apparently volatile break-up, he unwisely meets her for a drink, because that always works out well for married men. Emily has snooped around where she shouldn't have, and found hard evidence implicating her current boss/boyfriend Arthur Denning (Hopkins). Denning is the decades-older bazillionaire big pharma CEO of Pierson, a company that may have faked clinical trials, knowingly letting their bad drug kill people. With this illegally acquired evidence, Cahill sees dollar signs, plus a chance to be a big shot in front of his even bigger big shot boss, Charles Abrams (Pacino).

Now, that all sounds like fine fodder for a compelling legal thriller, doesn't it? But the tidy way that I wrote about this A-story is not how Misconduct unfolds. An off-kilter storyboard (not in a good way like Memento) is so confusing that it simply ruins whatever it is they were trying to accomplish. Any suspense is awkwardly forced through excruciatingly slow camera pans across nothing for no reveal. Any tension is unconvincing, contrived as it is through needlessly bombastic music. Other weakly contrived attempts at building suspense are merely scenes that take too long. These include all the walking performed by Anthony Hopkins, well-documented elevator rides, hearing only one side of a phone call, and characters that are reacting to something we can't see out of the frame. Just because we don't know what's causing Josh Duhamel to make that face doesn't mean it's "suspenseful." It's merely annoying.

If this story were presented in any sort of logical sequence, there may have been a chance to build tension. If the characters had been developed, their actions may actually trigger some reactions in us, the viewing audience. If we understood what was happening, we may have felt some of the apparent suspense they're trying to build. If the plot elements had been given any real room to unfold, there may have been a chance for some thrilling twists. How can you have a plot twist when no one knows what's happening in the first place? You can't "twist" first. That doesn't work at all.

Misconduct wants so badly to be edge-of-your-seat compelling, but in the end, you get a confusing pastiche of dramatically lit scenery through which a fledgling director (Shintaro Shimosawa) sends a cast of a few big stars plus a whole raft of relative unknowns whose characters possess no discernible motive for anything they do until this movie's puzzling anti-climactic "conclusion."

I Should Have Bailed Five Minutes In...

I should have known. The first shot, through the opening credits, is a close-up of the Louis Armstrong statue at Algiers Ferry Landing in New Orleans. But it's shown from the side. You can't see the face, so you'd have to already be familiar with the statue in order for it to usefully place the action in New Orleans. The camera pulls back from the statue for a long 30 seconds, accompanied by audio of TV news reports that serve to inform us that Pierson is being investigated. Denning dismisses a petulant Emily's suggestion that the two of them leave town for awhile. Then Denning, as he walks (and walks and walks) around his house, gets a text implying that Emily has been kidnapped. Then Denning is walking (and walking and walking) to, and around, the Octavia Gallery. That's where he will pay some un-named kidnappers 2.5 million in cash that he just happened to have laying around. During the ransom drop scene we get the back of Anthony Hopkins' head for an obscene amount of time.

"Do we still have to pay these guys if we only shoot them from behind for many endless seconds?"

The expert security adviser (Julia Stiles) is so visibly barking orders into a communication device that I really wondered if these movie makers have ever seen a surveillance team in any other movie in the history of time. If there WERE kidnappers watching, which this viewer never believed for one single second, they would have spotted these "security experts" in an instant. Mind you, this is barely seven minutes in at this point, so we're assuming this kidnapping is the A-story. It's not. There is no reason at all to open with this scene sequence, except that Anthony Hopkins is in it.

The B-stories are disconnected and never fully play out to any satisfying conclusion. Characters are plunked into the story without exposition, or float in and out of position as protagonist and antagonist, alternating from being victimized to having the upper hand.

There's a sickly nameless Asian guy. We assume he's a soon-to-be-fatal victim of Pierson's bad drug, but otherwise we never really learn his role in all this. Even when we suspect (correctly) that he's a hired hit man, that still doesn't explain his motivation. Why does he hunt down Emily's hapless neighbor? What's his payment for brutalizing the Cahills? Revenge for something we don't even know happened? Money?

There's the Cahill joyless marriage, which seems to have hit the skids after a late-term miscarriage, and may or may not explain the intense weirdness of Charlotte Cahill (Alice Eve.)

There's the unknown nature of Emily's relationship with Charles Denning. It's "unknown" because Emily is an unreliable character. Though she claims to be unhappy when she tells Cahill that Denning "won't let her" leave, there doesn't seem to actually be any such duress in the first scene. In fact, Emily is the one suggesting a trip to London with Denning to wait out the heat from the bad drug scandal.

There's Ben Cahill's stilted dalliance with Emily, utterly devoid of any spark or chemistry. For one thing, she acts surprised to find out he's a lawyer, but then later it seems like she purposely sought him out, for the express purpose of giving him this evidence against Denning. But that's confusing too, because what does she possibly gain? And not only that, but Cahill was the one who made first contact with Emily, by friending her online and making the date to meet for drinks. But that's even more confusing later, when it appears that Ben Cahill and Emily alike were set up by powerful people to take the fall for...wait, for what again?

There's the power dynamic between Cahill and his boss, Abrams. We don't trust that guy for a second, and in the end we find that we were right. That's more about Al Pacino's prowess, probably.

With all these threads, you'd think that any two or three would resolve in the end. You'd think.

Who Are These People?

The relationships between and among all the characters are vaguely rudderless, but none are as inexplicable as Ben Cahill's marriage. Charlotte is an ER nurse who works as many long hours as he does, in theory because they need the money. But why, if he's such a big shot lawyer? Alice Eve's performance as Charlotte is so stone-faced and monotone ("catatonic" as described by one of the reviewers) that I was positive she'd turn out to be a ghost in the end. Misconduct cribs from so many other movies, why not crib from The Sixth Sense. But she's not a ghost. Other characters see her and interact with her. Later I read that the Japanese director, Shintaro Shimosawa, is known for horror. That explains a few things. Japanese horror movies don't have the same A-B-C story progression that American viewers expect, and they rarely make sense in the traditional storytelling way. The accepted storytelling tropes -- the Chekhov plot point principle, the mystery's red herring, characters with actual motives -- none of these are necessary in Japanese horror. How much better would Misconduct have been if it turned out to be an insane psychological thriller where Josh Duhamel was the only one who interacted with Charlotte, because she wasn't really there, and in fact it was he who acted out everything Charlotte did, in the end. Like Norman Bates, because why not, if we're cribbing.

The real ending (which is nothing like what I just said) is just...I tell you what, I don't even know what to say about the ending. And I honestly can't decide whether to advise my movie-loving circle of friends against watching Misconduct, or beg them to watch it, so that next we meet we may collectively unpack this mountain of dreck.∎

Misconduct Reviews Elsewhere

These are some of my favorite pieces written on the 2016 would-be thriller directed by Shintaro Shimosawa. By all means, enjoy yourselves.

The plot is gossamer thin, the twist would take a two-year-old about as many seconds to see coming and it's a miracle there is any scenery left by the time Pacino and Hopkins were done.
- Jamie East (The Sun UK)

A meandering mess, the story lurches from one contrived intrigue to the next.
- Nathanael Hood (The Young Folks)

It shamelessly cribs from 90s potboilers (a last-minute twist is stolen from a notable film of the decade) and Pacino is hammier than a hog roast, but it's too lurid to be dull.
- Benjamin Lee (Guardian)

Terrible thriller wastes great actors in a ridiculous story.
- Sandie Angulo Chen (Common Sense Media)


Friday, June 16, 2017

1313 Days Left

"This is a man who was coddled and spoiled as a child. Then, as an adult, he surrounded himself with people who fed his ego and told him how amazing he was at everything he did. This created a person whose view on the world is so completely warped that he lacks the ability to understand that he’s not a very bright person. But he’s so incredibly ignorant that he truly believes he 'comprehends better than almost anybody,' that he has a 'very good brain,' and he’s a 'really smart person.'" - Allen Clifton

https://howlonguntiltrumpleaves.com



Saturday, June 10, 2017

Losing Our Heroes: Adam West, 1928 - 2017

Some days, you just can't get rid of a bomb. 
Adam West was my Batman. His was the Batman that I knew first, so he's the one whose visage my mind's eye still summons whenever I hear someone say "Batman." In those days, Batman as a franchise was campy. It was a comic book lifted right from the cartoon pages and performed by people doing very silly things in a very serious manner. Decades before the franchise turned so dark and sinister, Batman was good wholesome family fun. Just like Roger Moore was my James Bond out of all the James Bonds, and Christopher Reeve was my Superman, so was Adam West my Batman.

I've decided that this is the hardest part of growing older. It's not the milestones marking your own personal mortality, or the gray hairs, chubby chin or crinkly eyes looking back at you from the mirror. It's having to say goodbye to contemporary heroes, first crushes and pop culture icons.

I remember exactly where I was when Michael Jackson moonwalked on stage for the first time, now he's gone. I saw George Michael perform with Wham UK (later just "Wham") on Dance Fever before anyone had really heard of him yet. The song was "Young Guns" and there were two girls in the band back then. Hard to believe he's gone. When John Ritter died, my mom called me, "How he made you laugh when you were a little girl!" So true. Makes it hard to watch "Noises Off" now, as funny as it is, because we've lost John Ritter and Christopher Reeve. Hard to watch "When Harry Met Sally" because we've lost Bruno Kirby and Carrie Fisher now. Hard to watch "Dirty Dancing," Patrick Swayze was so strong and sexy, and then there's "To Wong Foo...", a movie I love, because now we've lost Patrick, Robin Williams, as well as Chris Penn, delightfully playing the small town homophobic cop. All my guys are dying.

You guys, my Batman died.