Nine Stories from My Childhood I’m Inexplicably Not Embarrassed By

I’m not going to say my parents weren’t the most observant parents. They weren’t bad parents by any means, but things were different in the 80s. The helicopter parenting hadn’t really caught on, so after school kids were just kids in their own world. Our parents didn’t check on us all that often unless someone started crying.

Which perhaps explains why my parents never noticed the series of strange behaviors I exhibited as a child that would have most people believing I had a raging case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Here are just a few examples:

1. Every year I would run a census of my stuffed animals. Each critter would be documented by name, location in my room, and occupation. For example, Swiftheart Rabbit the Care Bear Cousin pursued a career as jackhammer operator because of his ability to bounce and balance at the same time.

2. Rather than eat all my Halloween candy at once or simply keep it in the bucket until it was gone, I decided it would be better to ration it out. So, I put 5-7 pieces each in Ziploc bags and hid them around my room. I kept track of where they were located by drawing my own version of a treasure map, thinking my candy stash was not too unlike “The Goonies”.

3. My favorite day of the week was Sunday because the local paper included an insert that listed what was on all the TV channels that week. I would nab that section first thing in the mornin and go through it with a highlighter, trying to determine what I would theoretically watch every given hour of every given day, that way I would never be at a loss of what channel to put the TV on.

4. I used to organize my fun sized packs of M & Ms both by color and by number of each color. There is a color hierarchy with M & Ms, you see. Browns are obviously the worst, while yellows taste the best, so you have to partition out how you eat them accordingly.

5. Did you guys used to get the Service Merchandise catalog? This place was a catalog/story where you picked out what you wanted to buy from the catalog, then went to the “store”, which was more just the front of the store where the item you wanted would come out on a conveyor belt. I used to make long lists of what I would purchase from Service Merchandise when I got married, almost as if I was making a registry. I am not sure if this is a tip of the hat to my OCD or my raging love of consumerism. Likely the answer is somewhere in the middle.

6. Over the span of three of four years, I played an elaborate game with myself at the mall, which had linoleum floors in two colors of tile. I allowed myself a certain number of steps on the white tiles before I had to step on a green one. The more times I successfully hit my step goal, the more steps I would earn for the next trip. I also used to never step on cracks in sidewalks. This might explain why, to this day, when I walk, my natural reaction is to keep my head down.

7.For a period of a year or so, I would go home and watch the Disney live action musical “Newsies”. I would sing along with all the songs and, if I missed a lyric, I would rewind the tape and start the song over again. To this day, I could probably act out this entire movie by myself in a pinch. I also maintain that this is the finest work Christian Bale has ever done. I mean, he sings, dances, flirts with Ann Margaret, and rides a horse. Even Batman can’t beat that.

8. To this day, I refuse to ride on the same step as another person on an escalator. I don’t really know where it came from, but over the years, I developed an irrational fear of escalators, bridges, pedways, and any other structure off the ground that doesn’t appear to really have much of anything underneath it. Sometimes, this results in an impromptu dance of sorts in which it appears I am trying to do-si-do around my friends.

9. I don’t know if this next story is a sin of OCD or just that I was a little…er…mental? Like many other kids my age, I had a Teddy Ruxpin. As my mom tells it, I was four or five years old when she came downstairs to our playroom to discover me and my Teddy, but something was the matter. One of Teddy’s plastic eyes was missing. Turns out, it was just pushed into Teddy Ruxpin’s skull and bouncing around in there. When my mom asked me what happened, I could only offer one explanation:

“Teddy Ruxpin’s mom made me do it.”

I’d like to think it is probably for the best that, even with the menacing acts on my talking stuffed toys, my parents didn’t seek professional help for me. I’d like to think these tics made me quirky and perhaps see the world in a light I wouldn’t have otherwise should someone had made the effort to try to make me more normal.

Certainly, there is something to be said for kids getting help, don’t get me wrong, but I think I turned out as reasonably close to normal as I could have, penchant for organizing M & Ms or not. I mean, I am a functional human being, I haven’t gone to prison, and I can hold down a job and pay my bills. I may still walk with my head down too often and continue to set the yellow candies aside for last, but if this is what it takes to get through the day, then there is nothing wrong with that.

At least that is what Teddy Ruxpin’s mom tells me.

What Color is Bluegrass?

When I asked friends to suggest what to write blogs about, a friend and a writer I really admire, Pauly, suggested I should address a very important question:

Is Kentucky bluegrass really blue?

Thing is, I am really not sure what he is getting at with this question.  To give you the straightforward response, no, the grass itself is not blue, however bluegrass is completely different than your standard grass.  First of all, it is a very fine grass.  Blades look kind of like green porcupine quills.  Don’t think this grass is scratchy though.  This grass is, in fact, softer than any grass you will ever encounter.  It is so soft and downy, we used to take naps in the yard, not even on a blanket.  It is also delicious, though I can’t speak to that fact from my own experience.

There is a reason Lexington and Central Kentucky serve as the horse capitol of the world.  It is our delicious grass.  Our fertile soil produces our unique grass, which is chocked full of calcium, and our pretty ponies eat it.  Then they get prettier and faster and stronger.  Thankfully they don’t eat all the grass though, as I have yet to encounter a natural site as pretty as driving through the outskirts of Central Kentucky admiring the white wooden fences, the rolling hills covered in the green bluegrass.  This picture, taken on my trip to Lexington last fall, does not even come close to doing it justice:

image

While I think this answers Pauly’s literal question, I don’t think it quite suffices as an answer though.  Because when you say “bluegrass”, you can mean a lot of things. Yes, there is the actual grass, but the part of the country where I come from is called the Bluegrass region.  Is the Bluegrass region blue?

Yes. Very. Or, as you might say, it is Big Blue.

With no professional sports teams in the state of Kentucky, the University of Kentucky basketball team has become our NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, and raison d’etre all in one.  You are raised to “bleed Blue”, as, even if you aren’t an alum, you are a member of the Big Blue Nation (hence all my #BBN hashtags).  This week, I watched each SEC tournament game beaming with pride at “Catlanta”, the massive number of fans from KY decked out in blue packed in the Georgia Dome.  You can buy UK gear at gas stations, grocery stores, Wal-Mart, or one of the dozens of stores that exclusively sell the merchandise.  On game days, be it football or basketball, the whole town is blue.  Even today in Vegas, I put on one of my Wildcat Blue t-shirts.  I texted my friend Billy about the game and he responded with a picture of himself in head-to-toe gear even though he is here in Vegas too, not headed to Atlanta to see it person or even a bar in Kentucky to watch with friends.  This is what we put on to watch the games in our homes in Nevada.  So, you can only imagine what the Bluegrass region is like.

In fact, the basketball team is such a vital part of our town, that when you say the word “blue”, most people will think of Coach Cal, his Kiddie Cats, and the winningest team in college basketball history before the grass.

Of course, Pauly might also be asking about the music.  You may hate country, but you probably haven’t heard real country, and by real country, I mean bluegrass.  This fiddle-heavy, Celtic-influenced genre may be one of those hipster things to like these days, but I have been a big fan of the strumming of bluegrass notes since my childhood.  As I grew up, I became obsessed with bands like The Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, Alison Kraus, and my all-time favorite, the newly-reassembled Nickel Creek.

Like I said, this music isn’t your standard country fare, but is it blue?  I think it might be.  While there is happy bluegrass music like “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”, there is something melancholic and yet hopeful about country music.  As Aaron Fox’s “Real Country” notes, a common theme in country music are songs whose messages amount to: “Yes, life is kind of awful, but what’s new? We can always drink and sing our sorrows away and hope tomorrow things suck less.”  Even a loving happy song like Nickel Creek’s “When You Come Back Down” is a song about a man’s love for a woman that is so strong, he is going to send her away to live her life and take the chances she needs to take, and simply wait for her at home if she needs him.  See what I mean? It is beautiful, it is something I think we can all relate to, but it is a little depressing.

They are depressing, pessimistic messages I suppose, but it is what I love most about country music.  Country artists understand that rural working class people feel and are oppressed, unrepresented in modern media, and generally doing their best to make do with very little.  So, while this message may seem a little blue, it actually speaks right to the heart of the Bluegrass.

So, back to the question at hand…Bluegrass, huh?  Well, even though it may be green, when it comes to Kentucky and its people and its music and its heart, I think blue is pretty much the perfect color to describe it.

An Open Letter to Chipotle

Dearest Chipotle,

I love your food.  I eat at your establishment basically on a weekly basis. However, we have a problem we need to address.: Your rice. Namely, the fact it has cilantro in it.

A recent study suggest that almost 15% of the US population is genetically predisposed to hate cilantro.  On that note, let me ask you a question—have you ever met someone who is meh on cilantro? When you ask someone their opinion about cilantro, you will get the extremes in terms of responses. You rarely meet people who say, “I can take or leave cilantro.”

I am one of those people who finds cilantro disgusting. It taste like soap, it numbs my tongue, and it is generally disgusting on all levels.  And, unlike some of my other plain-food loves, a very large piece of the population is with me on this front.

So, I have to ask.  As a Mexican establishment in which rice is a base ingredient in pretty much everything you serve, why are you including an ingredient a good 20% of your customers can’t stand? Does it really make things that much more difficult or alter the taste to add cilantro after the fact?  Because you certainly can’t take it out and have it taste the same. That rice is ruined.

The thing is, at most of your restaurants, I can ask for the plain rice and it is available.  I must say though that many of your employees are not thrilled with my special request and heave a sigh before trekking to the back of the kitchen to fetch it. 

I want to be accommodating, I don’t like making trouble, really I don’t, but this is absolutely not my fault. The issue is yours. Why on Earth is the plain rice not the default and cilantro what people can ask for you to go fetch from the back?  You serve two types of beans and four types of salsa. Why can you not openly offer two types of rice?  I don’t like being shamed for asking for rice that doesn’t taste like it was prepared in an old sock.  Put it out front where it belongs. This isn’t In-n-Out and its secret menu.  People should know they don’t have to eat your crappy rice and that they have options.

I’m not saying get rid of the cilantro, I am just saying you need an alternative if you ever want me to put you on par with an establishment like Moe’s Southwestern Grill or the all-time greatest quick Mexican food establishment, Poquito Mas.  I know you have a lot of folks on your side, but you fix this rice situation and it could be game over for the rest of the Mexican quick service world, comprende?

Gracias,

Jess

I’m the Third Best Poker Photog Ever?

I’ve blogged before about how my life has a history of silly run-ins with celebrities and the notorious.  Between film school, a brief stint in Hollywood, and close interactions with the “poker famous”, I’ve amassed several hours of dinner conversation topics, including my run-in with West Side Story’s Richard Beymer or being a seat filler at the SAG Awards.  These stories aren’t so much accomplishments as they are just entertaining, which is why I always laugh when my friend Josh spurns my good fortune, as if it is only through my own hard work and dedication that I once had a meaningful conversation with Seth Green in a food court at the mall.

Really, most of these interactions are a little mix of being in the right place at the right time and a smidgen of hard work in that I was afforded the opportunity to be there in the first  place.

Such is the case in the story of this photo, which I snapped at a WSOP in either 2008 or 2009:

At the time, Brett Collson and I took this picture not because we wanted to get a big scoop or were concerned about traffic, but simply because we wanted visual evidence this had happened.  We basically wanted to prove our eyes weren’t deceiving us.  At the time, Twitter wasn’t big, so the photo didn’t really take off. It was only months after the fact that TwoPlusTwo and Twitter started to circulate the image along with stories of Phil Ivey (pictured, in case you are not familiar with the biggest name in poker) and his opulence.

I didn’t really think much of that photo in the years since taking it, so much so that I actually had to confirm with Brett the other day that I was, in fact, the one who did.  

Even funnier, the reason it came up is because it got mentioned in the awesome countdown series Wicked Chops Poker is doing with great poker photographs.  In the original post, they mentioned they couldn’t track down who took the photo, which makes sense, as PocketFives Live no longer exists as a website, so there is no archive where this picture lives.  Plus, many poker folks probably don’t remember I spent my first two WSOPs in 2008 and 2009 working for the small boutique site.

While it is flattering to have a photo included in the list, this is a prime example of funny dinner table conversation as opposed to an actual accomplishment.  Sure, it is nifty to say, “I took the third best picture in poker media history”, but it isn’t because it is stunningly composed. It is just that I was in the right place at the right time and happened to find something funny.  If it had been a year later, it would’ve been all over Twitter and there wouldn’t be just one photo of Ivey, it would have been a whole meme with an array of pics and angles.  In other words, when it came to the money shot, I just got lucky.  That is really how all of tournament reporting works though.  The ones who get the good hands roam the floor, looking for opportunities, trying to set up a situation where they get lucky and catch something good.  

Maybe that is my takeaway from this little walk down memory lane.  The skill set of a tournament reporter is pretty random, but one thing I got pretty good at wasn’t taking pictures, it was setting myself up to be there for the good stuff, whether it be because I put in the hours, learned where to look, or refused to settle for anything I didn’t want to read about myself.

I like that I helped contribute this little piece of poker history to the community, but I certainly hope that when my career contributions gets evaluated, this one makes the list, but isn’t the only entry.  That being said though, the fact I will be forever associated with something as mythic as Phil Ivey in his prime is certainly an ace up my sleeve for those dinner conversations where people want to hear my most poker-y of poker stories.

Seeing Scarlett Red

Let me start by saying the ABC soap opera “Nashville” isn’t really doing it for me in Season 2 like it did in Season 1.  This show, which was legitimately good stuff last year is more one I keep on the DVR out of habit.  In fact, when I do watch, it tends to be while I am working and need something to half-listen to as I plow through my daily tasks.  The joy and fun of the adversarial relationship between Juliet Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) and Rayna James (Connie Britton) is gone, as that relationship basically doesn’t exist as a plot device anymore and, in its place, I have to deal with all these ancillary characters who cut into my time admiring Britton’s gorgeous hair or observing Panettiere’s tiny, tiny hands (as an aside, seriously they are small like a carney, she just probably doesn’t smell like cabbage.  Plus, the props people always have her holding oversized mugs or giant bowls to just fully drive home the size of her teeny tiny fists).

These days though, instead of Rayna and Juliet, we get to hear more about Gunner the aspiring songwriter, Teddy, Rayna’s ex-husband, Zoey, the girl fresh off the bus from Mississippi, and, the worst of them all, freaking Scarlett.

For those who don’t know, Scarlett (played by Australian Clare Bowen) has been on the show since the start, but her role has grown larger, not to mention substantially more obnoxious, as the show has progressed.  Why they keep shoving this person down our throats is beyond me for a variety of reasons. Let me list them for you:

1. Clare Bowen is a horrific actress
2. I don’t really care that Clare Bowen is Australian, this is sincerely the worst Southern accent ever depicted on broadcast television
3. The writers have made her both boring and a horrible person all at the same time, prompting the audience to constantly just pray she gets hit by a bus.

Earlier this season, they teased a major character was getting shot.  My friend Elaine and I knew it was a longshot, but prayed they would finally off Scarlett.  We weren’t the only one, as the Fug Girls, various recappers, and just about the entire Southern “Nashville”-watching population of the United States chimed in hoping for the same.

First, let’s address Bowen’s acting.  She speaks in a weird, clipped cadence that makes her sound like she has some sort of handicap.  Here, look.  She stares a lot, but don’t let this clip fool you that she is emoting.  This stare is what you get when she is happy, sad, scared, drunk, upset, or any other emotion.  That is her emoting. Speaking in short, machine gun-like spurts, then just staring at people. It is Acting with a capital A.

Then there is the accent, which is like Yosemite Sam by way of a Muppet.  I have lived in or frequently visited the South my entire life. I can say with 100% assurance that I have never met anyone that sounds anywhere close to this.  While I have never been to Scarlett’s alleged home town of Natchez, MS, I have met plenty of people from Mississippi and the coach from The Waterboy sounds more like a believable human from that state than Scarlett does.

This scene I linked to shows you the staring and the accent, but it is also great because you get to see all the other awful things about Scarlett, like her wardrobe.  Yes, that is her bare midriff as she wears the same sweater I believe Julia Roberts wore in 1997’s My Best Friend’s Wedding, just in a different color.  It is paired with some sort of flouncy skirt, the kind girls used to wear on Howdy Doody.  In fact, most of Scarlett’s wardrobe looks like what would happen if Anthropologie created a Howdy Doody Collection.  Her strange, long, fake blonde hair is often styled in strange designs, pigtails, and other ‘dos you would expect Daisy Mae from Lil Abner to turn up in.

Then there is this diary her music producer is reading out of…You see, darling Scarlett never wanted to be a singer, oh no. She writes poems. In her journal.  She wanted to be a poet.  That is why she moved to Nashville. To be with her uncle and pursue her career as a poet in the literary hotbed of America. Screw Music City, Nashville is Sonnet City and darling Scarlett is going to make it her oyster.

She decides to fall back on Plan B, which is to be a singer because, as her friend and sometimes lover Gunner teaches her: songs are just poetry with a beat!  Amazingly, Scarlett never figured that out in elementary school like the rest of us, so when she puts two and two together and discovers there *is* a way for poetry to be profitable, she figures, “what the heck?”

We are expected to believe that this low rent version of the preposterously offensive Renee Zellweger character in “Cold Mountain” is somehow crafting work on par with Nickel Creek or The Avett Brothers or some other country band with indie cred, which seems hard to believe.  For a gal so in touch with her emotions she can channel them into poetry, the poorly-written Scarlett can’t handle just about any social situation. Being on stage? Too scary. Dumping a boy then having him end up with your friend? Hate them both forever.  Even a task as simple as showing up at a bar to watch her friends sing can’t be handled without her drink of choice, tequila and grapefruit juice.  Yes, even Scarlett’s drink of choice is unbelievable and annoying.  Seemingly every week, she is so awkward and stupid, she nearly gets fired from her lucrative record deal as she offends publicists, producers, and managers with her inability to behave like a half-normal human being. Yes, this person sounds like the type of person with such a nuanced understanding of her feelings, she is capable of drafting this:

I wanna melt in I wanna soak through
I only wanna move when you move
I wanna breathe out when you
breathe in then I wanna fade into you

If I was just ashes and you were the ground
And under your willow they laid me down
There’ll be no trace that one was once two
After I fade into you

She is the worst kind of depiction of a Southerner–a terribly accented hillbilly idiot who can only show the slightest bit of intelligence and depth when she is singing.  And therein lies the problem–worthless as Clare Bowen is in all other facets of the show, the girl can sing.  I can’t stop listening to Black Roses, even though I think the premise of the song is beyond dumb, and it is mostly because that girl just sings the shit out of it.

So here is what I propose that I think will at least start to fix what is wrong with Nashville:

We can still have Scarlett get hit by a bus and die.  This is a good plan we shouldn’t give up on.  Here is the trick though: we just have Rayna or Scarlett’s uncle, Deacon, or whoever learn that, during Scarlett’s recent addiction with pain killers, she pulled three all-nighters in the studio recording almost 50 original songs.  She can be the Tupac of Nashville, an artist who long since died, but keeps turning out tunes.  We will never have to see her dumb ass outfits, listen to her dumb ass talking, or watch her dumb ass pouty duck face pointedly stare at another character ever again, but darling Clare can still collect a paycheck churning out songs that make the show worth watching.

Who’s with me?

The Real and the Reality of the Real Housewives

http://player.theplatform.com/p/PHSl-B/yT7k3t_YLXoZ/embed/select/3Yv9TMb_o1cW

I’m not sure why I am so infatuated with a couple versions of the Real Housewives franchises on Bravo.  I almost think it would be better if I liked all the Housewives series, but I actually pick and choose which ones I watch. Moreover, I pick and choose the two least popular franchises, Orange County and New York, which returned to the Bravo airwaves tonight.

For some reason Atlanta and Beverly Hills always seemed too outlandish to me. These people seemed over the top from the jump, whereas the OC housewives, who are the OG housewives, didn’t really know they had to act crazy to be famous.  They are all crazy now, don’t get me wrong, but originally they were actually still sort of friends in real life prior to the show, plus they had legitimate drama, the kind that comes with raising teenagers and having jobs, not the kind that comes with throwing endless cocktail parties or launching your own boutique purse line.

The ladies of New York originally tried to keep it sophisticated and minimally dramatic too.  They were Manhattan ladies after all, they had to be above the drama.  That didn’t last long.  They quickly devolved into their own breed of antics that produced the most absurd, bizarre fight in Housewives history: Kelly Bensimon having a full blown mental break with reality on Scary Island.

What I love even more than these absolutely insane fights is the way the ladies attempt to rationalize their behavior once America has had a chance to comment and their comments amount to, “Holy shit, what a psychopath.”

It is terrible schadenfreude, I realize, but watching Bensimon try to pawn off her insane and sad breakdown as an example of “systematic bullying” was a marvel to see.  To watch this woman just refuse to acknowledge the undeniable video evidence she straight up lost her mind with such fervor and conviction was like observing the most fascinating psychological case study through a two-way mirror. Even though she can’t reconcile what is fighting and having a breakdown and what constitutes “bullying”, Bensimon clearly saw that everyone hated her and, from what I can tell, she kept tabs on what just about everyone was saying about her. So much so that, when that episode aired, I tweeted something about her being cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs and shortly after that she started following me on Twitter (she has since, wisely, pared down her list of followed accounts).

We have a great example of this image adjustment happening on the New York franchise right now.  Last season, Aviva Drescher was one of the new Housewives on the block.  Initially, the pretty blonde with a prosthetic leg, massive anxiety and codependency issues, and the fancy Manhattan upbringing was depicted as the new, nice housewife, while Heather Thomson was portrayed as the new instigator.  As Season 5 progressed though, Aviva’s patience with her castmates wore thin and she began lashing out at the “white trash” of the cast, Sonja Morgan and Ramona Singer.  At first, the frustrations paralleled those of the viewers, but once she started to become straight up vicious as opposed to a somewhat catty mean girl, she started getting the villain treatment from the editors and producers.  Rightfulyl so really, as this girl, who is supposed to be a high powered executive, couldn’t board and ride a small plane without her husband, couldn’t get on elevators in skyscrapers (which, um, why live in NYC, you know?), and seemed to be driven to madness by a couple middle aged ladies getting boozy and shaking their tatas.  In other words, she was on her way to being systematically bullied into a breakdown. The season ended with massive fights, and on the reunion Aviva continued to ride the Kelly Bensimon cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs crazy train insisting she was not overreacting at the behavior that is so unsurprising to the rest of the cast.

The beginning of this new season offers Aviva a chance to do what folks like Jill Zarin and Alex McCord have tried to do before her, which is redeem her image and ensure she gets more positive storylines.  Despite offering no credible explanation as to why she wants to mend the fences with two women that seem to drive her to the brink of her sanity, she spent the bulk of tonight’s premiere basically trying to win her way back into Ramona’s good graces without doing the one thing she needs to do in order to make that happen: apologizing for the fact she told this woman she was white trash, was likely an alcoholic, and appeared to be having her life spiral out of control in front of reality TV show cameras.

Instead, she awkwardly pulls Ramona aside at a birthday party and decides the best way to start this conversation is to ask for a hug.  Not forgiveness, a hug.  And I have to give it to Ramona, she says what most sane people would: “I don’t think I am up for hugging right now.”

While most people would relent after a person won’t even drop them a courtesy hug, Aviva’s quest to be perceived as nice by the viewership continued on with her calling Ramona insisting they should have a drink, patch their friendship, and try to soldier on.  Ramona, again, is like “not interested”.

Eventually Ramona gets peer pressured by the other Housewives to go and what does Aviva, who accused this woman of being a raging alcoholic less than a year ago suggest? A tequila shot.  

What fascinates me about Aviva and Kelly before her is the remarkable balance of complete self-awareness and complete lack of self-awareness the two display all at the same time.  You obviously aren’t thinking about how you come across to a person if you call them alcoholic white trash (fwiw, I would much rather hang out with alcoholic white trash than most any other of the social groups depicted on Bravo TV reality, so it doesn’t seem all that insulting to me), but you have to be a special breed of calculating to go out of your way to mend a friendship not because you want to, but because you know your image needs the boost.  As I mentioned, to not even pretend to offer an explanation why your reality show persona would ever want to deal with these women again indicates you don’t quite get how you’re coming across to people. 

They say these shows are vapid, empty drama that is completely scripted and devoid of reality.  But, as NPR’s Linda Holmes noted in her awesome piece on The Bachelor today, there is in fact a very real narrative taking place here and it takes place in these moments.

With these friendships basically being completely forced and manufactured for the show, with a few exceptions, the way these women engage with one another is basically a blank canvas for them to depict a version of themselves that will either earn them a bigger paycheck by bringing in ratings for their franchise or earn them respect and goodwill from their viewers.  Aviva can kiss and make up with Ramona (or at least attempt to) without feeling like she is compromising herself, because her friendship with Ramona is completely made up for the show.  She is just performing what kind of Housewife she wants people to think she is. And that performance is what I find to be the most fascinating part of these shows, because there is the narrative the show tries to put forward about what is happening, there is the narrative the housewife is trying to put forward, and their is a whole meta narrative where avid reality viewers get to read between the lines as these two narratives battle it out for supremacy.

As a lazy former film scholar, I love when the subtext is just right there for me to consume and interpret, so yeah, reality is, in a way, pretty junk foody, but really it is junk food for the lazy academic in me I was discussing the other day.  Here is a readily apparent struggle between production, cast, reality, and the show itself that I don’t even have to dig all that deep to find because if there is one thing the Housewives will never, ever do, it is subtlety.

Watching these moments where the persona on the show rub up against these ladies real lives, as it did with Countess Lu Ann’s shall we say nighttime activities while she was away from her on-show boyfriend on a girl’s trip, is where reality TV is at its best.  You see these women try to negotiate these two lives and construct a narrative that makes sense.  Lu Ann was a pro at this, always effortlessly exuding her haughty dignitary persona and simply batting away the rumors of infidelity, open marriages, and the poor house with one well-manicured hand.  The same way it is impressive to watch a skilled craftsman at work, it is impressive to watch Lu Ann navigate the murky waters of RHONYC.

But the true beauty of the show is watching not so savvy people who believe they are savvy struggle and strain their way through these unspoken conflicts between show self and real self.  It is mean to take pleasure in it, I realize, but when it comes to the Housewives, I don’t really feel too bad about relishing in the performance these ladies are so eagerly volunteering to give me and the Bravo audience.

This season is going to be a whole lot of Aviva trying to revive her good girl persona and, judging by the previews, failing. As you can see from the clip, she appears to possibly even embrace her evil ways by going after the one unassailable Housewife, the universally beloved seemingly normal by Housewives standards, Carole Radziwill. So you know things are gonna get cray and, if that isn’t enough, the season preview features Aviva’s prosthetic leg on the ground without her at a party, so one can hope there is a really salacious explanation of how it got there.  If you feel bad marveling at that leg, don’t.  It is actually a pretty perfect metaphor for the Real Housewives franchise.  You have a lady like Aviva who works very hard to make it seem like she is a person with two legs, even though that isn’t the case, and their is nothing Housewives producers love more than rolling up that stocking and unveiling that, it may have polish, shine, and work as an illusion most of the time, but in the end, it isn’t what it seems at first glance.

The Girl in the Yellow Shirt

A t-shirt made me irrationally happy this weekend.

Thing is, it wasn’t even mine…though it is now.  That is why I am so happy. This t-shirt, which was briefly in my possession back when I was in college, is now mine to keep.  I feel like Linus, reunited with his blanket.  I cannot explain the warmth and happiness, but I am unspeakably happy.

Funny thing is, I shouldn’t like this shirt to begin with.  First of all, it is yellow, a color that is completely absent from my wardrobe.  Like other gingers, yellow tends to make me look jaundiced, like my liver is in trouble.  However, this was a magic yellow t-shirt.  Similarly to the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants’ magical jeans, this yellow t-shirt complimented my complexion in a way no other yellow thing could.

Second of all, this shirt is huge, as it is a guy’s t-shirt.  It is the kind of shirt you only wear to the gym or around the house.

Finally, it isn’t really all that special. It is one of those Urban Outfitters sorts of shirts that reads “Copacabana Beach” in black writing with a green graphic skyline.  I have never been to Copacabana Beach, for what it is worth.  When I first became enamored with the shirt, I wasn’t even sure if it was a real place or not.

Yet, in college, all I wanted to do was wear this stupid t-shirt.  I can’t remember why I borrowed it from my friend Vince one day. I think it may have been a night of drinking where I elected to crash on the couch and got the t-shirt as something to sleep in.    

Six months passed and I did nothing of the sort. At first, I pretended to forget about it.  Then, I got brazen. I would wear it out to the movies with him, citing the impossibility of giving it back as it was literally the shirt on my back.  I can’t recall the circumstances, but I think the only way Vince got it back was by stealing it out of my dirty clothes hamper one afternoon.  My wondrous yellow shirt was gone.

I think part of the reason I just wouldn’t give the shirt back was because I enjoyed having a guy’s shirt to wear.  I’ve always been a sucker for the girl in her boyfriend’s button down as a night shirt.  I have always stolen boyfriend’s shirts to wear as my own, which explains why there are many family photos of me from Christmas break freshman year of college sporting a Tool t-shirt. While Vince remains to this day my most platonic of male friends, the lure of a dude’s shirt during a time I was single and all my friends had very serious boyfriends (and boyfriend t-shirts) was too much and I simply had to have it, even if there was no sentimental romantic value to it.

Over the years though, this old shirt did develop sentimental value.  All future nights on the couch, this shirt was my shirt, no questions asked, though I was required to fork it back over in the morning.  Whenever Vince wore it himself, I would complement him on his attire.  Numerous conversations were had about the stupidest of stupid Urban Outfitters t-shirts.

Then, I moved away from Southern California in 2006 and Vince and I didn’t see each other nearly as much for a few years.  Like a neglected plaything from Toy Story, we forgot about the old Copacabana Beach shirt.  In fact, it was maybe six months ago that I brought the old shirt up in the midst of a phone conversation.  Vince was shocked to learn I did not have it in my possession, as he convinced himself a year prior he had given it to me, knowing I would want it more than he did.

I was immediately excited to hear he was willing to give me the shirt, then suddenly concerned he may have given it away by accident.  Thankfully, he checked his drawers and Old Yellow was still there.

So, this weekend when I was over there for breakfast, I did what any normal person would do: I refused to leave until the shirt was in my possession.  Now, I am home in bed in Vegas, typing away on this blog in the comfort of my new t-shirt and I already have big, big plans for my old friend.

I have a period of recovery for a minor health thing on the horizon and, if this yellow shirt can’t make me look jaundiced, maybe its magical powers can make me feel better faster.  I plan to spend the weekend in bed in this t-shirt, taking comfort in its comfort and in the memories.  It started out as just a shirt, but now it is sentimental in spite of itself.  It wasn’t supposed to be a gift, it wasn’t supposed to be a gesture, it was just supposed to be something to sleep in. It still is, but now it is what I always wanted it to be in the first place too—a shirt from a guy I really care about.  Its cheesiness makes it all the better too, as he is the kind of guy who won’t let you get sentimental, will mock you for being hokey and emotional, and will never let things get too serious.  It is the perfect shirt for a recovery. It is the perfect shirt, period.

My Mom, My Dad, Sloppy Seconds, a Gorilla, and a Lesson on Love

The concrete details of my parents’ romance are, in a word, problematic.  Or perhaps troubling is a better descriptor.  These words make their love sound so much more harsh than it is though. Really, the point I am trying to make is that they did everything wrong yet ended up with something that remains my definition of right.  Their love is what I idolize and hope for myself, even though the way they went about finding it will always be a prime source of ribbing when it comes to my poor mother.

Really, all of the relationships in Dolores’ family seem ill-advised, yet somehow they all work.  She has six brothers and sisters, five of which got married.  None of those marriages ended in divorce even though all of the weddings transpired before the couple was 25 years old and, in most instances the time it took to meet, fall in love, get engaged, and get married was less than a year.  Yet, somehow, they all found happiness, or perhaps they just figured out the secret to making it work.

My parents met at a college dance where my mom was, quite literally, my dad’s Plan B.  He knew my mom’s sister, my Aunt Loretta, from school and made his way across the dance floor to ask her to dance. However, before he could reach her, someone else beat him to the punch.  Rather than turn around awkwardly, my dad, in an attempt to save face, asked my mom to dance instead.

It sounds so cute when you tell it, but when I think of myself in my mom’s shoes, I think about how my friends and I would react.  “Oh? Your first option didn’t pan out, so I should be flattered your attention can now turn to me? Thanks, but no thanks.”  I tend to refuse to get involved with guys my good friends have been involved with specifically because we are socially conditioned to believe that feeling of being second best will only end in heartache.

Yet, as I get older, I find myself increasingly willing to give someone another shot or try not to take it too personally if it takes them a little while to come around to me as a love interest because they may be preoccupied with someone else.  In my head, I think of a young Glenn Welman who didn’t mean anything shady by settling for Dolores when he set out for Loretta, he was just a young kid who didn’t want to look stupid in front of a couple of pretty girls.

My mom certainly didn’t take it to heart, for, as she tells it, by the end of that night, she had told my dad she loved him.  To quote Sassy Gay Friend, “Slow down, Crazy. Slow down.”

In a certain light, it reeks of desperation, but in my head, it is a testament to the fact my parents were destined to be together.  While society may always have me worried and concerned I am saying too much or being too affectionate or overbearing, I could probably use a good dose of Dolores in how I speak my feelings.  I clam up to the point where no one really knows how I feel about anything, thinking this is the low maintenance approach to relationships. Just don’t talk about your feelings and enjoy your time together. Keep it simple, you know?

Dolores’ bluntness was pretty simple in its own way too though.  She was straight to the point. No time to mess around with a guy who wasn’t on board with a relationship, she had places to go and people to see after all. And she found a guy who was on board, even though he didn’t do a great job of showing it on their next date.

Date number two was a trip to the Memphis Zoo.  My mom was quite impressed that her beau showed up with a fancy camera, just one of many gadgets my dad adopted far earlier than the rest of America over the years.  However, she thought a lot less of that camera by the end of the day.  My dad took exactly one photo on the trip.  Was it of his darling new lady love? Nope. It was of a gorilla. 

Dolores tried not to read too hard into her social standing that the gorilla seemed more photogenic to my dad than she did, but it did hurt her feelings just a bit.  That small hiccup was really the only bump in the road for them though.  Within six months, they were engaged, though even that they managed to bungle.  My dad and mom didn’t get married because my dad asked her to, oh no.  They got engaged because she brought him home to Missouri to meet her family one weekend.  While they were there, the small town gossips saw Dolores at church with a strange young man and did the next logical step: report in the local paper the following Monday that the two were engaged.

Rather than have my mom deal with the shame of being inaccurately married off by the local Glennonville, MO paper, my dad basically just shrugged and said, “Okay, why not?”

Within nine months, they were walking down the aisle.  Even their wedding attire defines bad romantic decisions, as my dad honest to God opted for the ruffled powder blue tuxedo that took the world by storm in the early 70s.  My mom’s dress was nice, though it should be noted that not only did she sew her own wedding dress from scratch, she also sewed all the bridesmaid dresses and managed to find time to make her mother an outfit as well.  Considering the planning for this wedding took all of five seconds, one has to wonder when my mom found time to sleep between prepping for her nuptials and sewing an entire department store’s worth of clothing. 

That is my parents’ story of how they fell in love and got married in June of 1972, when my dad was just 23 years old and my mom only 21.  Over the 20 years they were married, there were some struggles and compromises, such as my mom’s insistence Dad stop smoking a pipe or the numerous moves around the country as IBM transferred my dad from city to city.  Yet, from those years, I really only hear happy stories.  I hear about the camping trips when they lived in Colorado.  I hear about their first stone house in Lexington and sewing curtains for their first home together. 

From my own recollection, I can remember the moments where my mom underwent surgery and my dad was there to help her through it.  Moreover, I watched as my dad suffered through cancer while my mom stood by his side to the very end.  Through it all, there was never bickering or problems, the only thing I can remember at all is two people in love, supporting one another.

When I ask my mom how they did it, she can’t really offer any explanation, though she will often tell me where I am going wrong in her mind.  “You’re always so concerned about being able to talk with the guy you date. Why do you like talking so much?”

I will admit that she and Dad were never chatty. In fact, the adoption agency almost didn’t let them have kids because they were worried they might be too introverted.  Just being around each other made them happy.  They didn’t need to talk all the time to prove they got along.  I, on the other hand, feel the need to talk all the time to prove just about anything.  I have yet to find that person who I have no trouble saying nothing around.

I haven’t found that person, and when I think about my parents’ love story, the love story I think of as the ideal, I do have to question if, at 30, I have really figured out how to be in love at all.  For, Dolores and Glenn seemed to be doing it all wrong, yet they found something so right.  They broke all the rules, they rushed too quickly into things, and, from what I can tell, the discussions about their feelings were few and far between.

Nonetheless, it was a love that burned so brightly that, even 22 years after my dad passed away, my mom still makes no effort to meet someone else.  She has now been without her husband longer than she was with him, but she still wears her wedding ring every day.  Sometimes she thinks about finding companionship, but as she tells it, if she knows she will never find anyone who comes close to my dad, what is the point of looking?

When my search for the right person tries my patience, I think of my mother, a woman who has easily put up with 22 years alone because of how good 20 years with the love of her life were, I try to bite my lip, take my blows and soldier on.  When I think about my parents’ love story, I often start to mull about the sadder side of their tale, not to mention mull over why I seem to not have this whole dating thing figured out yet.  If you are so young and find such happiness so easily and so early, does it hurt that much more when you lose it?  If you’ve never really had to be alone, is it that much harder?

Then I try to look on the bright side. Perhaps I am just getting my time alone out of the way early so I can really relish the time together like they did.  My years alone are being served now so I can appreciate the ones with my person that much more.  At the end of the day, I keep an open mind and hope that, perhaps in the most unexpected of circumstances, an awkward, well-meaning young man might stumble into my life.  And, while he may initially think my sister or a primate might be more interesting than I am, eventually he will let me be his everything on our own terms, even if they seem absolutely crazy to everyone else.

Tips on LA From a Gal Who Hates LA

When people ask me about my time in Los Angeles, I am quick to inform them I will never live in that barren wasteland of inconvenience ever again.  I spent six years living in LA between college and life after college though, so while there is not money on Earth that would ever get me to live in LA again, I actually spend a fair amount of time there and there are a fair number of places I like to visit with regularity.

In fact, I am in Los Angeles right now and have spent much of my weekend showing my friend Josh the town, as he is a movie buff who has never been to Hollywood before.

The thing is, I am more an off the beaten path LA tour guide than most.  I will show people Hollywood Boulevard as I did today (which is where, btw, we just stumbled upon an incredible bookstore called Larry Edmunds).  I still get all giddy when I get to show someone the beautiful facade of the American Cinematheque Egyptian Theater.  I can drive Sunset Blvd, pop into the Beverly Center, hit up the beach and Third Street Promenade, but what I take the most pride in is showing folks the side of LA they may not really know about.

So, while Josh may not be getting your standard tour of the City of Angels, I’d like to think I am giving him some glimpse at the city that is arguably a little more worthwhile.  I am no Angelino expert.  Hell, I’m not even an Angelino.  But, if you ask me, these are the ten things I would suggest you do if you ever make it to the City of Angels:

1. Eat a French Dip at Philippe the Original

You can debate whether or not this old-fashioned lunch counter across the street from Union Station, but you can’t debate that it is probably the best French Dip sandwich you’re ever going to eat.  Bring cash, as this order-at-the-counter establishment doesn’t take cards, but don’t worry, it won’t break the bank.  The most expensive of the sandwiches, the lamb dip, is $8.25. Throw on a slice of cheese and it’ll cost you $.50 or so more.  I’d also advise to save room for pie, as they carry a wide array of slices and you can tell as soon as you walk in the place that this is the type of joint that knows how to make a good pie.  And they sure as hell make a damned fine sammich.  In the past two years, I’ve had a 100% success rate with friends getting Philippe and leaving completely satisfied. It is a slam dunk of a win of a meal, plus, if you want to walk it off afterwards, the charming Olvera Street is just two blocks away and worth taking a gander through. You may want to save room though, as the aroma of delicious tortillas and Mexican food might just win you over.

//instagram.com/p/lTXa32Cfwy/embed/

2. Indulge in some cookies at Diddy Riese

While on the subject of cash-only cheap but amazing eats, let’s talk cookies.  I am of the belief that there is truly no more perfect dessert in the world than a chocolate chip cookie and the chocolate chip cookies from DIddy Riese in Westwood are perhaps the most perfect specimen of them all.  Plus? You can get three of them for $1.  You will have to wait in line for those cookies, but it is most certainly worth the wait.  My friends are big believers in the ice cream cookie sandwich option (which is a slightly pricier $1.75), but I tend to just go straight cookie for the most perfect sweet snack LA has to offer.

//instagram.com/p/hhzYn4i0QK/embed/

3. Go see something, anything at the Hollywood Bowl. Bring a picnic.

Okay, okay, this isn’t exactly off the beaten path, but I don’t think the Bowl gets nearly enough love.  It is a truly stunning place to see a concert.  Even if you get the nosebleed benches at the back of this amphitheater, the acoustics are amazing and the views of the stage and the surrounding hills of Hollywood are spectacular.

What really threw me the first time I went to the Bowl though is that you can bring in whatever you want with you.  Unlike most concert venues that basically strip search you and confiscate your Juicy Fruit if you don’t buy it from the concession stand, the Hollywood Bowl encourages patrons to pack lunches, bring bottles of wine, and have a full blown picnic.  So, even if you may not feel like a night of symphony music is worth it, the experience of noshing on wine, cheese, and crackers, taking in the atmosphere, and spending it in good company will make even the most boring show well worth your while.

By the way musical theater fans, each August the Bowl stages a popular musical with an all-star cast.  In past years they’ve done Rent, Grease, and Chicago, and this summer they’ll be staging Hair.

//instagram.com/p/eQ-5TxRYN7/embed/4. Grab some breakfast from Mama Ella at Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles.

Over the past ten years, the concept of chicken and waffles has gotten a little more common.  When I arrived at USC in the fall of 2001, I hadn’t really ever thought of pairing fried chicken with a waffle, but nonetheless went on a dorm-sponsored outing to Roscoe’s.  A lovely waitress named Mama Ella refused to serve us if our elbows were on the table, insisted we mind our manners, and proceeded to serve us one of the more perfect food combinations in the world.

My order of choice is the Carol C special, a chicken breast and a waffle.  I also add a biscuit though, for as all Southerners know, breakfast is not breakfast if you don’t add a biscuit if it is an option.

You may think you can find chicken and waffles all over the place, but I implore you to understand that there are chicken and waffles and there is Roscoe’s, you may have tried one, but you have certainly never experienced the other.

//instagram.com/p/ajJJB5LqZT/embed/

5. Buy some fresh produce at the LA Farmer’s Market

Tourists go to The Grove because it is basically a celebrity petting zoo.  A small, confined outdoor mall where there is almost always some celebrity in the vicinity, it is a good place to people watch, don’t get me wrong.  But the real gem of this spot at the intersection of 3rd and Fairfax is the LA Farmer’s Market.

This place has been an LA institution for 80 years and shows no signs of slowing down.  Dozens of booths selling everything from fresh fish to fresh fruit to children’s toys, this bustling marketplace is probably the most European-feeling spot in the LA area.  Time permitting, you should absolutely explore the entire place, but if you have to pick and choose, some of my favorite spots are Kip’s Toystore, Bryan’s Pit Barbeque, any of the fruit merchants, Tusquella’s Seafood, and the piece de resistance: The French Crepe Company where a snack is pretty much mandatory.

//instagram.com/p/bCdYe-l6Pe/embed/

6. Grab a late night cup of coffee at Canter’s Deli

Just down the street from the Farmer’s Market is one of several Jewish delis in the LA area. While some people will laud Jerry’s or Art’s or Factor’s as the best, for my money as the most convincingly Jewish non-Jew in poker, Canter’s wins.  

My friends and I used to hit up this all-night deli after attending, of all things, poetry slams down the street.  Perhaps it is the late night availability that won me over.  The counter of baked goods and cookies that always provide good take-home treats helps too.  But the food is pretty solid.  The chicken soup is the star, but all of the breakfast items are more than sufficient. A benedict and a latke? Don’t mind if I do!

//instagram.com/p/jmKf5WiPD7/embed/

7. Crash Dr. Drew Casper’s Class at the University of Southern California

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that something USC-related made the list. Sure, a night at Traditions or a trip to Chanos is a lot of fun.  It goes without saying USC football is now Lane Kiffin-free and hopefully back to its fun and winning ways.  But the real star of my college days was Dr. Drew Casper, the foremost Alfred Hitchcock authority in the world and allegedly the highest paid professor on campus.  His lectures are more like performances and he might have the best taste in film of anyone I have ever met in my life.

It also helps that his classroom is actually one of the five nicest movie theaters n the country.  The Norris Cinema Complex features nothing but the best equipment, including a virtual one of a kind digital projector selected and donated by alumnus George Lucas.  The seats are a lush crushed red velour, just like an old movie house.  If you are a film fan, there genuinely might not be a better cinematic experience, just don’t get caught crashing the course.

//instagram.com/p/VcJaYzKBUX/embed/

8. Chow down on Mexican food at El Cholo

While you’re in the vicinity of USC, take the 15 minute drive over to the Mexican food institution that is El Cholo on Western.  While you want to go during blue corn tortilla season, it is going to be a delicious experience year-round.   While you may have to wait a while to get a table, you can pass the time sipping on a margarita scoping the place for celebs (we would often see Jack Nicholson hanging out post-Laker games).

//instagram.com/p/lJoGSiNAJN/embed/

9. Go see Marty and Elayne rock out at The Dresden

As a recovering hipster, I would be remiss not to include some sort of representation of the Los Feliz/Silver Lake hood.  I spent my 21st birthday there sipping on cocktails living out my “Swingers” fantasy of being that kind of Angelino.  The movie “Swingers” is really what put The Dresden on the map, highlighting the delightfully unique musical duo of Marty and Elayne.  This geriatric musical group does lounge music-style covers of pop music hits under the dim lights of this 50’s-esque lounge.  

You can go there for dinner, but this is really just a chill place to grab a drink or two, catch some memorable entertainment, and marvel at just how many hipsters this neighborhood has to offer.

10. Buy a slice of Village Pizzeria and wander the delightful Larchmont Boulevard

If I had to name my favorite place in Los Angeles, it would be the tiny stretch of three blocks or so that constitutes the Village of Larchmont.  My college roommate and I discovered this hidden gem that I would call the quaintest place in LA when we moved to Koreatown senior year (btw, we were way ahead of the curve on K-town being cool).  This area, which kind of feels like Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls boasts a ton of tiny cafes and restaurants, a wine and cheese shop that serves incredibly tasty sandwiches, and a ton of boutiques selling everything from books to toys to clothes to jewelry.

It is also home to the best pizza in Los Angeles: Village Pizzeria.  This New York-style pizza joint allows you to dine-in or take out.  You can order by the pie or by the slice, but be warned that a single slice is basically the size of my head.  For around $5, you can get a massive slice of thin crust tasty pizza and one of their signature garlic coils, which i sjust enough fuel to power your walk to the other side of the drag to grab a Crumbs cupcake for dessert.

When I lived in LA, this was my sanctuary.  Long walks, leisurely shopping, and dropping by Landis Gifts and leaving a book on the take a book, leave a book shelf.  It is the most un-LA section of LA, but it is hands-down my favorite and kind of what Hollywood is all about–a place providing escape from the real world, with all the clean and shine of a movie set that feels too good to be real.

//instagram.com/p/lRHYltifxi/embed/