Thursday, April 10, 2014

Quick Lunch?

There's an elevator out of service in my building, which means long waits for one and crowded rides once you're on one.

"But, Meg," you might be saying, "You lazy bitch!  Why not just take the stairs?"

Well, there's no reason to call me names!  But I'll answer anyway - there's no entrance to the stairwell on the main floor.  Also, I'm a lazy bitch.

Get it? Get it?  It's a play on the word "bitch"
The car was full.  I'm pretty sure the guy standing next to me was only riding up because of my last FB status since he was likely more Drakkar Noir than human flesh.

Stinky got out on the second floor.

Couple of others emerged on the fourth.

It was just me and a couple of dudes, who picked up their conversation when it was just the three of us left.

First Guy: So it was a pretty good dinner.  Pleasant, good conversation. But at the end, I said, "Let's talk about the elephant in the room."

Second guy: But she didn't know there was an elephant in the room."

And I was all:


Fine - I'll get off the goddamn elevator then.

And now I'll never know what the elephant was in that room.

But I hope it wasn't wearing too much perfume.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Ruminations at Half Life

In a few hours, I'll be 45.

I'm kind of tired of internet think pieces about aging or parenting or any other effing ing that are just banality writ poetic, all clumsily executed universality.  Even if you're not 45, aren't you sick to death of them too?

Well, too bad because I'm fixing to write one and because it's my birthday you should read it and say nice things because it's my birthday.

Did I mention it's my birthday?
Here is my half life assessment,  the thing I am confident that I have learned, my speech to the graduating class of 2014, the bedtime story I tell my daughter. This is my mantra.  You ready?  Here it goes:

Don't be an asshole.

Always remember that the space you occupy is temporary and is shared, and that you are not, either by god or nature, more deserving of stuff than other people.  This awareness will lower stress and aid digestion.  Routine acts of simple kindness make your laundry smell fresher and improve gas mileage.  Not being an asshole puts a shine on life's apple.

I'm not talking about the big stuff. I'm not suggesting you move to Haiti and minister to the poor.  I'm talking about the little stuff.  I'm talking about that time you went to CVS and the clerk was rude and then you bitched about her all day.  Instead of bitching about the clerk at CVS, give her the benefit of the doubt - maybe she was having a bad day; she had cramps and then argued with her kid on the way into work and was late and got stink eye from her boss.  Maybe the last person she waited on yelled at her because he thought the thing he bought should have cost less.  Maybe she wasn't being rude at all and her face just goes that way.

Permanent bitch face is a diagnosable disorder!
Instead of being angry with the rude CVS clerk, be nice to her.  And not sarcastically.  Sarcastic politeness is an asshole move.

I am not calling JVDB an asshole. JVDB is a goddamn national treasure!

When someone cuts you off in traffic, entertain the idea that it was accidental.

Hold the door open for people.

If someone is standing awkward and alone at a party, introduce yourself to them, invite them into your conversation.

If someone tells you that Atlas Shrugged is their favorite book, don't make fun of them in internet comments.  Don't say jerky things in internet comments at all.  Mean internet commenters are the worst.

this is how the world looks at mean internet commenters
If a person leaves a bathroom with toilet paper stuck to their shoe, either tell them or step on it as they walk past.

But mostly, don't be resentful of people.  Don't assume bad action.  Assume good faith.  I'm MIDDLE-AGED now (like for real for real… there's no denying it), so I know: most people really are OK.  Most people deserve your kindness.

While I'm at it: wash your face and moisturize every night and then just moisturize in the morning.  You should probably floss too (my teeth are a mess).   Start doing yoga young so you can maintain some bendiness.  Have good sex, read good books, tell good jokes, eat good food.  Drink lots of water.  Don't get in wordless battle with tailgaters, just let them have the road.  Stop worrying about how fat you are.  Probably don't date someone who tells you they love Ayn Rand.

And be nice.

It's not that hard

Monday, March 31, 2014

I Find I Have Enough Thoughts for a Blog

I enjoy stories.  And I enjoy TV.  And one of the big disappointments of serialized television is how often the story-telling is disappointing.  I've written before about the propensity of some shows to sacrifice character to plot, which is the weekly way of being a bad story teller. But the worst have been when it was writ large -  Battlestar Galactica and Lost.  The viewer is hooked in by something the narrative tells you, repeatedly and with grand style, is really important.  But that thing was never important - it was snake oil; the first one is on the house.

Which leads me now to How I Met Your Mother, a show I started on because it seemed like a fun hangout show; comfort food, something to watch while I did the dishes.  But the longer I stayed with it, the more I appreciated (and enjoyed!) its narrative commitment. Nothing was snake oil - the clever call backs and narrative loops and, god, the smash cuts! They all served the story - the story of a grand romantic, an entertaining but unreliable narrator. Even the narrator served the narrative in that show.  And everything that happened served the same story.

There were times when I felt guilty for liking it so much.  Every time Lily made some "you're being a girl" joke to one of the guys.  And, god, Barney is a troubling character to pull for as a feminist...shoot, it's hard to pull for him if you're a decent human being.  But he was so beautifully acted by Neil Patrick Harris and he was given a backstory that made him make sense.  And not a last minute shoehorned excuse - it was organic.  It was always in vastly entertaining service to the story.

Ample spoilers follow (I mean, obviously!)

So, the internetz were abuzz for the past several months with the theory that the mother was dead and that Ted was going to end up with Robin.  And as I read that, I HATED the idea.  As I watched the finale and it grew more and more clear that this is where it was going, I though, "Dear sweet Jesus God, don't do this!'  But somewhere, with like 10 minutes to go, I realized, "this has always been the story," and I mentally slow clapped.

Every detail led up to that end - it was always going there. Forget about all the clues from the previous eight seasons (the biggest being, of course, why the mother doesn't even show up until the end game) but think of how when we finally met the mother, we meet her after the love of her life (up to then) had died.  The show was always telling us that there is no "the one," there's just this guy Ted whose belief in that romantic palaver was so integral he spent nine goddamn years unconsciously trying to convince his kids to disabuse him of that notion.  

And let's just take a moment for the other male lead - everything the show told us about Barney made it clear that romantic love wasn't going to reform him. Barney was always the guy who never got a real childhood.  Of course it would be parenthood that resolved his character arc.  It was always there.

HIMYM wasn't perfect television, but they did something bold and they did something so satisfyingly tidy. They walked in with a story, and they told it, and they were damn funny telling it.

And if you didn't like it ... well...

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Let's Have Lunch - Part Bleepity-Bloop

I ended up on the elevator with a cute young couple who work together in the office down the way and who are also clearly sniffing around, wondering if that whole "don't date coworkers" thing is really more of a rule or a guideline (FYI: it's a guideline, hinging entirely on the coworkers in question).

He: What're you going to order?
She: I dunno - what's good?
He: They have really good salads.
She: Hmmm. I had a salad last night, which is really out of character for me.
He: It is?
She: Well, I gave up fried foods for Lent, and that's normally a dinnertime staple for me [charmingly self-deprecating chuckle]

(At this point, my eyes rolled so hard that I worried it was audible.  And then I felt guilty for rolling  my eyes because what skin is it off my nose if she uses the convenient bookends of Lent as an opportunity for short-term dietary improvements or even if she wants to use a craving for french fries as a call to Think of God?   It is no skin off my nose.  To each her saturated fat free own.)

He: Are you doing the whole no meat on Friday thing too?
She: (scoffing) no
He: Yeah, that part is just silly

Look, as a former Catholic and a current vegetarian, if you're not eating fish sticks and tater tots on Fridays during Lent, you are letting a real opportunity slip away.

Mmmmm….. tots!
I was going to tell them that, but then the doors opened and off they went to have a meaty lunch, free of   unhealthy fats and full of longing looks.

Tastes like dog lips!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Ruminations on Absurdity

I heard this fascinating story on This American Life  about "The Meat Question." It seems that back in the early part of the 20th century, people were worried about the lack of meat since the American population was booming. A couple of dudes decided that the solution was to bring hippos to America and start farming them for meat.  There's more to the story than that. Click the link - it's pretty interesting.

Ira Glass was talking to the guy who wrote about it, a writer by the name of Jon Mooaliem.  And Ira Glass remarked that the idea was absurd.  Mooaliem said something to the effect of "I'm not disagreeing that it's absurd… but why is it absurd?"  I very smugly said to the empty passenger seat, "It's absurd because hippos are not indigenous to the United States and there are all sorts of problems that come from introducing non-indiginenous animals into an ecosystem.  I mean, obviously!"

Benedict Cumberbatch thinks I'm being ridiculous

And it was as if Jon and Ira could hear me because Mooaliem casually mentioned that almost none of the meat we eat now comes from indigenous animals. Cows, pigs and chickens were all brought here from other places.

At which point, I was stumped.  It is absurd, right? But why? Neither Ira Glass nor Jon Mooaliem could come up with a good reason.

Which brings me to last night. I found myself watching the 30 for 30 about Bo Jackson (that show is great, by the way!) and it got me to thinking about a thing I used to think about back when I was a huge Bulls fan.  You know, the 90s.  Back in those days, I ruminated that the thing Michael Jordan did was comparable to the thing great artists like Dickens or Tchaikovsky did.   You're born with huge native talent which you then hone and master until you're at the summit of your craft, a craft which brings great joy to your audiences.  They all engendered a special community among their fans.  And, I'd argue, they all elevated the soul, whatever that means.

A good Doctor (but not the BEST Doctor) meets Charles Dickens and discusses his cultural relevance
I suppose there's an argument that literature and music are More Important than sport.  Great art is something you pass on through the generations.  But doesn't that then take Martha Graham and Enrico Caruso out out of this equation (the only indigenous animal we consume is turkey… and that's like once a year)?

Michael Jordan is not as deserving of our cultural passion as Charles Dickens.  It is absurd to think he is.

But why?

When you read David Copperfield, did you say "Daaaaaaayyyyyuuuum"?
I'm not disagreeing that it is absurd to compare Michael Jordan to Charles Dickens. But why is it absurd?  And could I offer you some hippo jerky while you think about it?

I'm a vegetarian.  As such equally opposed to all the jerkies.
* Edited to add that apparently that conversation was between Alex Blumberg and Jon Mooaliem, which makes me feel bad for Alex Blumberg who has his own storied broadcast career and I'm so blithely confusing him with Ira Glass…

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Keyser Babbitt: In Which I Titularly Reference the Wrong Kevin Spacey Movie

This is a picture of my copy of Sinclair Lewis' Babbitt. Note that it's taped up.  And, if you can see, note that it cost .75 cents.  I think I probably took this book from my Mom's house at some point and that either she or my dear departed Dad bought it before I was even a twinkle in anyone's eye.  And I'm straight-up middle aged now!  I've been hauling this damn book around forEVER without reading it.  And I finally did.  And, honey, it was good.  I took a journey with ole George Babbitt.

Through the first part of my Babbitty journey, I found myself struck again and again by how Babbitt, this conformist upper middle-class Republican, could, but for some minor tweaks to his vernacular, fit right in at CPAC 2014.  Check it - Babbitt on religion:

Ashamed I haven't sat in more.  Fellow that's an influence in the community - shame if he doesn't take part in a real virile hustling religion.  Sort of Christianity incorporated, you might say.  But with all reverence.  Some folks might claim these Sunday School fans are undignified and unspiritual and so on.  Sure!  Always some skunk to spring things like that!  Knocking and sneering and tearing down - so much easier than building up.  But me, I certainly hand it to these magazines.  They've brought old George F Babbitt into camp, and that's the answer to the critics!  The more manly and practical a fellow is, the more he ought to lead the enterprising Christian life.
Doesn't that, despite the now pejorative connotation of "hustling," sound just like something Glen Beck might say?

I spent about 100 pages or so feeling really smug and sort of depressed about how "same as it ever was" things seem to be.  Babbitt is familiar - despite being almost 100 years old.

About 2/3 into the book, after a major shock to his system, Babbitt begins to rebel against his own conformity.  And he rebels so lamely!  This got to thinking about American Beauty, which is, albeit broadly, the same story.

But they end so differently!

At the end of Babbitt, Babbitt decides that it's all, at the ripe old age of 48, too late for him.  But he encourages his son to go for it, to live the kind of life he wants rather than what's expected of him.

At the end of American Beauty, as Lester Burnham is shuffling off his mortal coil, he realizes that life, even if you spend it conforming to social norms, is beautiful and profound and is so grateful for having been able to be alive.

Thinking about how these two things ramble through such similar territory but land so differently led me back to this post*, wherein my super smart friend, Paul, writes about how much we can get tripped up by feeling like a failure that we are not, I dunno, Tina Fey.  Or Amy Poehler.  For me it's Tina Fey or Amy Poehler.  For you it might be someone else.  

And I wonder, as I knock here at 45 with the understanding that I am unlikely to be Amy Fey, do I want to be dying Lester and embrace my life for the singular beauty that it is and has or do I want to be living(ish) Babbitt and encourage Laney to go for Tina Poehler-dom.

I lean towards the former.  Don't you?

That said, Babbitt is much, much better than American Beauty.  You should read it.  There's this part where Lewis begins a chapter like so:
It was a shame, at this worried time, to have to think about the Overbrooks.
That's the first time he mentions the Overbrooks.  But aren't you just dying to know about them?  I'll take an elegant segue like that over that fraught plastic-bag-in-the-wind monologue any day of the week.

I'm gonna go google now and see if this whole Babbitt/American Beauty thing has already been done to death.  I'm likely not nowhere near as clever as I think I am.

*Paul writes more about career and economics here than Life Writ Large.  But I've just decided to misinterpret for my own purposes. I do it allllllll the time.  :)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

It's Been a While - Let's Have Lunch

I headed out at lunch today in order to pick up emergency winter supplies (bourbon and hand lotion). During my walk over to Binny's as I gingerly picked through puddles of dirty melted snow, and in between berating myself for making the rookie mistake of heading out without a hat, I reminded myself that I love Chicago and fantasized about a way to make these winters a pleasant, nest-y time.

Namely: Live downtown.  Live within a block of a Trader Joe's and a Binny's.  Live within a block of a good public elementary school.  Work exclusively from home.  Have a whole bunch of money.

Because I do none of these things, I'm pretty sure I'm doing City Living wrong.  On the plus side, so are the bajilinionty million other people who shared my miserable commute (or even worse: the Sartrean nightmare that was the Kennedy today).

(This is what we all looked like)
So at least I am in good company.

And spring is coming.

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