Saturday, November 26, 2005

Ticking Away the Moments That Make Up a Dull Day

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
You fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way.
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way.

--Roger Waters

Having spent the last 53 hours without walking no farther than across a Saturday-after-Thanksgiving-crowded bookstore, and back to the kitchen in my parents' house (or to check on the cake I baked), and also to the car after a movie last night, I am a lump. A slumping lump. A vapid, yawny pile of impulses. Eat now? Eat later? Too early for beer? Naaaah: beer now. Beer at 3:15 pm: good. Read On the Banks of Plum Creek for the 67th time? Watch Best in Show, or 1-AA football, or one-star 1999 Hank Azaria flick? (Don't they ever show Remington Steele, ER or, God, TJ Hooker, on cable anymore??)

I thought I was unmotivated back in Chicago, sheesh, I've devolved into a veritable over-nourished, under-stimulated, candy-popping (Dad loves Halloween candy year-round), disaffected suburban teenager since I turned the thermostat down to 63 (please don't freeze while I'm away, orchid-I-have-managed-not-to-kill-for-the-last-month!) in my apartment and left it Thursday morning. I should have an X-Box or Playstation and a bag of Flamin Hot Cheetos (with lime) to play just to make my recreant, newly adolescent self just picture-perfect.

About five minutes ago, I had an actual thought that wasn't about when we are eating again, if I should check Ebay to see if any new Mark Jacobs coats have been listed, or if I could wheedle my mother to take me to Fayette Mall tomorrow, instead of visiting my grandfather in the nursing home and because they hate it when I drive their cars--Christ, I am 16 again! The thought was: ... Oh, wait. Dammit. Damn it. I lost it.

...nooo, okay, yeah, it was: In Chicago, I walk an awful lot.

I mean maybe in the neighborhood of miles per day--depending if I am late for the express bus in the morning. Weekly miles and miles of treading, tromping, trawling necessitated by, well, existence. To work, to do, to live.

Thus and so, even after a couple low bipedal activity days, I feel absolutely stunted.

Because even if you feel like you're not moving, in the city, you are moving. Always going somewhere, about to do something, even if it's dropping off a four months' pile of delicates at the dry cleaners or taking out the garbage.

I miss how difficult life is in the city, because, however minuscule the destination, however much you feel like you're just waiting, waiting, waiting, however smothering the steely grey urban winter or grimy-hot street summer is--each step has purpose.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Liz Unphair

Liz Bashing Redux:

Maybe it's because I am still stunned she sold out (ha! punny! Sold! Out!) three nights at the Black Orchid (still locationally inexplicable), or that I'm stunned she's back again (Vic Theatre next Tuesday, thereby vitiating any sacred musical vibe left there by Tweedy and Co. during Wilco Week May 3-6), but I have to put forth another beautiful parenthetical slam on the former Blow-Job Queen, this time from Time Out Chicago's music calendar:

She's hired Sheryl Crow and Jason Mraz's producers for [her newest album], who have added more than a touch of Turning Leaf merlot flava to her Astroglide persona.

Am I going to fully (and in slobbery homage to the listings editor who's permanently sequestered behind a venti dark roast and a Mac who wrote this) bash Liz in these parts later?

Oh, hell yeah I am.

PS: Oh Christ. This just in. Now I'm glad I missed the Series game Saturday night.

Monday, October 17, 2005


I only have time to bellyache for this one moment:

May God hurl his sizzlingest, sharpest, pointiest lightening-bolt at people who purposelessly whistle. I mean whistle while they are walking around somewhere, say, like an office.

Like my office.

I work with far too many of these perpetrators of misplaced merriment (or, more truthfully, misplaced social discomfort)--and, yes, two is too freaking many.

The air here is waaaaay too frequently thick with poorly-aspirated, off-key, random notes that never, ever form even a semblance of a song, only the jagged migraine strains of a melody of pure futility.

To quote Bill the Cat (who was incapable of whistling): Ack-thpppt.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

"I'm Bare-Boned and Crazy... For You"

Dave Matthews' "Crash."

Unfathomably, gently gorgeous song.


...whispered latticework promises from someone who hopefully won't be so peculiarly new for long...

...being 27 and open to love's possibility, to chance, tipsy kisses, cold gusts up skirts, snowflakes on cheeks, being pushed on a long, link-chain, rubber seat swing next to Belmont Harbor...

My first months here, I tramped around a city that had a golden belt of possibility cinching it, listening to this song.

I do, I realize that at the same time, this lovesick anthem has whirred and clicked in the cd changer of every Kate Spade-ed female Loop-bound Account Manager who ever lived on Broadway and Surf and got groped in Tai's Til Four and thought it might be love.

But, yeah, it might have been for me too.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Magic Nose Goblins and Other Things I Loved About 1993

"On the Pulse of Morning"
Import Night
The Uptowner
Divine Hammer
Groundhog Day
Radiohead before they became Radiohead
Beavis and Butthead
Siamese Dream
Riverwest Stein
Finger Lickin' Good Y'all
UW at the Rose Bowl
Pasties and G-String, Beer and a Shot
Sidney Hih
The Beautiful and the Damned
Scary hot dogs in the side bar at the Landmark
Walt Mink
Oriental Drugstore
My little brown wool thrift-store vest over a white mens v-neck t-shirt
The Marriage of Bette and Boo
Brian Mitchell saying "My car was stolen and found over on 30th and Gibippy"
Exile in Guyville
More snow

Thursday, September 08, 2005

We Got Less Than Nothing

Okay, I have opened the floodgates.

Ouch! That was the wrong metaphor. But you know what I mean...

There is just too much being said--and not widely disseminated--out there to avoid sharing, musing. And to stop thinking.

In a speech Tuesday in Congress, our own freshman Senator from Illinois, Barak Obama, got to the heart of it:

And so I hope that out of this crisis we all begin to reflect - Democrat and Republican - on not only our individual responsibilities to ourselves and our families, but to our mutual responsibilities to our fellow Americans. I hope we realize that the people of New Orleans weren't just abandoned during the Hurricane. They were abandoned long ago - to murder and mayhem in their streets; to substandard schools; to dilapidated housing; to inadequate health care; to a pervasive sense of hopelessness.

This isn't political pontification. This isn't Reflex Liberalism, or its less diplomatic sibling, Knee-Jerk Reactionaryism (eg. "Bush doesn't care about black people"). This isn't even the unfathomably collossal fuck-up of FEMA and whoever actually has been running that organization besides two preppy former college roommates who are more accustomed to handling horseflesh and golfclubs than crises.

You and I saw it last week: it's real.

But that was Obama's conclusion. To start, he recalled his visit to the Astrodome in Houston:

...a conversation I had with one woman captured the realities that are settling into these families as they face the future.

She told me "We had nothing before the hurricane. Now we got less than nothing."

I urge you, read Obama's entire speech here.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

This Is Us Crying

I wasn't going to, but I am compelled to Blog About The Hurricane...

My obsession with the Hurricane Katrina coverage has been full-blown; last week I crammed chocolate-covered soy nuts for hours in front of the computer at home--after spending a good deal of workday gloomily surfing in the accounts of worsening destruction.

How is it possible that the catastrophe that nature wrought could so gruesomely downshift from hopeful recovery to horror to complete human demoralization? First I was aghast at the looting: in New Orleans, even blue-clad security guards trolled a sweaty Wal-Mart for free booty, pushing shopping carts piled high, for God's sake, not with food and water but with sneakers and GameBoys and tvs, while at the same time others in Nola clutched at the shingles of their roofs, some having torn holes through for escape, seeking rescue from the dirty, insistent water, and still others filled the soon-to-be hell on earth Superdome.

Finally, now--not immediately, not when they were told they would be, not until after thousands suffered like--well, there is no metaphor that can contain nor define that suffering--now they are being herded west and north, not a Dust Bowl Migration, but a sodden, saddened, soul-sickened Wet Bowl migration.

Then the violence:

Staff members at Children's Hospital huddled with sick youngsters and waited in vain for help to arrive as looters tried to break through the locked door.

That wasn't the worst of it. Accounts so harrowing I won't perpetuate it here.

But what do I know? Nothing.

This is what does make me want to yak:

Fame follows a $3,700 limo trip: It's been a busy week for Kyle Kogan and his family after they fled New Orleans on Sunday, just ahead of Hurricane Katrina on a $3,700 limousine ride back to Chicago. Kogan, whose first year at Tulane University was postponed last weekend, wasn't entirely pleased about the news media attention that followed, according to his mother, Carin.

"Kyle had a terrible headache from the phone constantly ringing," she said. "He said he walked out of one storm and into a media [expletive] storm."Chicago television news teams were there when the limo arrived at their first stop, father Marty Kogan's apartment in Chicago.

Since then, the Kogans received more that 80 requests for interviews, including one from MSNBC's Tucker Carlson, who landed a live interview by satellite Monday night

Ooooo, poor wittle Kyle has a headache from media calls because he escaped the hurricane that has killed thousands and destroyed the livelihood of more thousands who now won't even be able to afford a gol-frickin Greyhound bus ticket back to their city that won't re-exist until at least Christmas??

This is where news priorities were on Monday, Tuesday.

By Wednesday night, and by the end of vile Thursday, the media's dawning horror stretched from those shakily holding mikes in and by the fetid, swirling water, to the most stoic of talking heads back in the major urban studios. On, Jack Shafer observed the wrath unleashed by preternaturally handsome and calm Anderson Cooper against Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu:

Cooper suspended the traditional TV rules of decorum and, approaching tears of fury, said:

"Excuse me, Senator, I'm sorry for interrupting. I haven't heard that, because, for the last four days, I've been seeing dead bodies in the streets here in Mississippi. And to listen to politicians thanking each other and complimenting each other, you know, I got to tell you, there are a lot of people here who are very upset, and very angry, and very frustrated.

"And when they hear politicians slap—you know, thanking one another, it just, you know, it kind of cuts them the wrong way right now, because literally there was a body on the streets of this town yesterday being eaten by rats because this woman had been laying in the street for 48 hours. And there's not enough facilities to take her up.

"Do you get the anger that is out here? …

"I mean, I know you say there's a time and a place for, kind of, you know, looking back, but this seems to be the time and the place. I mean, there are people who want answers, and there are people who want someone to stand up and say, "You know what? We should have done more. Are all the assets being brought to bear?"

This story, amongst the thousands and taken from Maureen Ryan's media column in the Tribune, describes--still inadequately--the utter hopelessness that smothered that beautiful, brawling, beguiling city, and how it translated viscerally--again--to television:

Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard's appearance on "Meet the Press" on Sunday put everything into perspective, if, by that point, perspective was still needed. "Shouldn't the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of New Orleans bear some responsibility" for the tragic events in that city, host Tim Russert asked Broussard.

"They were told, like me, every single day, the cavalry's coming, been promised the cavalry was coming," Broussard shot back. "I have just begun to hear the hoofs of the cavalry… and we're almost a week out."

And Broussard wept, as veteran CNN correspondent Jeanne Meserve wept on Tuesday after hearing the cries of scared people trapped in their homes.

Through his tears, Broussard put a face on the tragedy. "The guy who runs this building I'm in, Emergency Management, he's responsible for everything," Broussard told Russert. "His mother was trapped in St. Bernard nursing home and every day she called him and said, `Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?' and he said, `Yeah, mama, somebody's coming to get you.'

Somebody's coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody's coming to get you on Friday… and she drowned Friday night. She drowned Friday night!" At that point, Broussard was sobbing.

"I'm sick of the press conferences. For God's sake, just shut up and send us somebody."

Send us somebody.

Who was that somebody?

For some, humans, with arms reaching, carrying, comforting.

But not soon enough.

For others...angels.

Too soon.

It hasn't rained in over two weeks in Chicago. Maybe, since August 29 at least, we've been holding it in. When it does rain, we'll say, This is us crying.

Friday, September 02, 2005

It's Perfection and Grace: What's Not to Love about Steely Dan?

There's a couple of people walking a wiggly beagle outside the window right now--but that's beside the point. It's precisely the kind of scene you won't find in a Steely Dan song.

The top's down, palm trees nod overhead, we whoosh toward TJ. Glass-top tables and ice buckets puddling on a half-moon patio overlooking the sinful city.

Living hard will take its toll
Illegal fun
Under the sun, boys

My love for Steely Dan is both indefatigable and inevitably met with confusion and dismay.

I am alone in a Steely Dan-hater world. They are the ultimate players to hate.

Yeah, I mean you, all you player-haters.

I had thought SD was a sound my dad should check out--yeah, my dad.

"Those guys?" he said, sort of high-pitched. "Ah, hell, that one was just too scary to look at, I can't listen to him."

But no, Dad, Steely Dan's not to look at, it's to feel.

It isn't jazz, it isn't quite rock--it sure as hell isn't easy-listening. It's complex, it's syncopated, it's funky, it's just...escape.

I love a man who sings in an Aqua-Velva voice with Humbert-esque glee of girls who just started shaving, wearing high, tight shorts. Of the hallucinatory joys of tequila and the glitter of California mansions clinging seductively to desert mountainsides. Of sucking down scotch-and-waters in a palm hut bar in Antigua til blind, twisting a bitter peg in the hole of your broken heart.

Who are these outlaws? And where can I find them?

I'm a bookeeper's son
I don't want to hurt no one
Don't take me alive

Now, don't get me wrong, they truly are a couple of scary-looking mofos. Actually, nowadays they simply look like quasi-wealthy, fully-nerdy men in their late fifties. Like computer programmers, software guys, who started out in, say, '81 or '83, and, as we all know now, were wheelbarrowing cash up the street by '99. Or at least that's what they looked like the day I saw them on Rush Street a few summers ago. Well, I didn't see them, but my companions, my boyfriend at the time and our friend, did, because they stopped dead in front of Carmines after these mid-life crisis nobodies passed us, looked at each other, and screamed in unison like a couple of cheerleaders: "Steely Dan!"

Now, if these Glamour Profession wannabes can recognize Walter Becker and Donald Fagen (who never seemed to be clearly depicted on album covers or sleeves) on the street, it was worth checking out. Which I eventually, then obsessively did. I obtained Pretzel Logic through Gaucho by the end of 2001. At my workaday desk, I could envelop myself in tales of hard living, fast driving, faithless women, supple girls, and activities suspiciously resembling smuggling.

Endless nights and and bottomless drinks that would become watery memories during the car ride the next day. Afternoons stretching out on beaches where no one has a tan line and calls are made on phones ferried over on silver trays. Gauloises and Veuve Cliquot. Later, once the jet lands stateside, Bushmills and Marlboros.

I'll learn to work the saxophone
I'll play just what I feel
Drink Scotch whisky all night long
And die behind the wheel

One of the recent times I went home to see my parents, when my dad suddenly inserted an SD reference into the conversation in the car from the airport, slying saying, eyes on I-64, "Drink your big black cow and get out of here," I was vilified.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Last One in the Pool's a Polyester Bride

And then he said, "Do you wanna be a polyester bride?
Or do you want to hang your head and die?
Do you want to find alligator cowboy boots they just put on sale?
Do you want to flap your wings and fly away from here?"

"Princess, do you really want to flap your wings and fly?
Because you've got time."
He keeps telling me, "You've got time."
But I don't believe him
"You've got time."

I keep on pushing harder
I keep on pushing farther away
But he keeps telling me, "Baby,"
He says, "Baby, yeah."

Yup, it's Liz Phair. Posted here perhaps in honor of her reappearance as a live performer at the Black Orchid at Pipers Alley (whatever...). Not that I am going. Not that I want to go, because, as Jim DeRogotis eloquently cranked in the Sun-Times about her current output of "adult contemporary radio pap a la Sheryl Crow" (whose lyrics I would never post publicly even though I've been known to touch a couple at Karaoke):

My God, what happened to this woman's self-esteem, let alone her brains? What possibly could have inspired one of the sharpest songwriters of her generation to turn to writing such utterly banal crap?
I know who's a Polyester, Sarah McLaughlin-ized Bride.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Move Over

"I like to use the expression 'to get out of your own way'...if I get out of my way, I won't make any mistakes, I won't have any regrets, I can do something I believed I could do but didn't know I would do. I find that works for me in film, and it works for me in life."

--Bill Murray, 2004

Flab, Thy Name Is Boyfriend

The road to weight loss--or let's just call it healthy eating, since I don't believe in dieting and I submit that stress and exercise drop pounds--is paved with rotten, fridge-chilled produce and boyfriends. I’ve had boyfriends whose diet consisted of, collectively: hot wings, dill pickle-flavored Lays, fried white meat dinner from Golden Chicken in Milwaukee, Leona's Cobb Chicken Sandwich, Tombstone supreme pizza, more hot wings, Hungry Man chicken pot pies, Blueberry Machine smoothies, beef nachos from Flash (In Your Pants) Taco on Damen, Coca-Cola, General Tso's Chicken, Orville Redenbacher butter popcorn (stovetop-cooked, thank you), and more fried chicken from the Shell gas station on the corner of Grand and Ashland.

Let me ask you, how can you eat room-temp iceberg lettuce and croutons while they are on the other end of the couch or table chowing on stuffed-all-over Pizza Hut? And breadsticks? You either fight ‘em or join ‘em. Oh--and be prepared to eat it all between the hours of 10 pm and 4 am.

On the other hand, there are those couples that discover the joy of cooking in their cozy, couple-y world. Armed with stainless steel pasta makers and George Foremans and the Rick Bayless cookbooks, they sequester in the kitchen. Then you run into them six months to a year after their first date and they’ve, collectively, put on at least 40 pounds: “Hey, wow, you guys. You all look…happy!”

I like to call it neck spread. It’s the first place couples pack on the pounds. Right under the ears.

[This post was meant in no way to offend and names have been omitted to protect the innocent. And guilty.]

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Stedman Rocking All Night Long

Today as I pulled a tab off the number ticker at the Italian deli, the one at the base of the Hancock Tower, and was salivating over the kind of sandwich I would select today, something nearly as huge as Big John loomed next to me; a shadow was thrown across the case of caprese salads and cannolis.


Yep, it was Stedman. Yes, that Stedman, Oprah's...uhhhh...boyfriend? Beau? Life partner? Swain? Sweetheart? Paramour? Intended? Permanent Fiance? Lover?


The man is...enormous. Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man-sized. (and it's clear, isn't it, that there's an entire generation that remembers 1984 in blinding clarity and that will employ this form of measurement, thanks to Aykroyd, Ramis, et al).

A teeny-tiny woman backed into him, and, once she peered upward and saw who it was, murmured his name, mesmerized (and it's clear, isn't it, that I am embellishing the story for blog-effect).

Then Stedman, the Most Useless Man in America, proved he's still the winner and champeen of that title by continuing to wander around L'Appetito in his gray Armani, scraping beige-colored gelato out of a cup and carrying some papers and a folder of some kind. Finally, he settled, alone, at a small cafe table, and continued to scrape-scrape-scrape and to stare into space. Or, rather, into Earth's upper stratosphere, because that man is HUGE.

Meanwhile, in Africa, Oprah continues to nurse starving children back to health with soccer balls and copies of "O" Magazine and chicken-salad sandwiches while supervising the construction of huts custom-designed by Nate.

What else is a Permanent Fiance to do, then?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Here's Why Flesh-Colored Pantyhose Should Be Banned Forever. And Ever.

There was a woman in the waiting area at work today who was clearly suffering, and not because she had one of those Female Business Monkey-Suits on. No, she'd added to her inexorable heatwave grief by donning a pair of flesh-colored pantyhose.

Later, my boss' boss strolls over for some input during an impromptu meeting (I crumble inside even uttering that phrase--sigh), and old girl is sporting the most heinous hose offense: hose- with-sandals. This is a woman with three, maybe four, advanced degrees. (And I am so joining the ranks of those fired because they blogged about work.)

See, it's some kind of bait-and-switch, an oh-so subtly-played trickery. One is supposed to believe that one is indeed viewing too-too solid flesh rather than a frumpy-looking leg encased in polymers manipulated and--most cruelly of all--colored in artificial hues by heartless machines.

Can we please, please make women (and, yes, drag queens and trannies even) stop wearing these sadistic, homely accoutrements? Here are a few reasons why:

1. It's not 1965. Or 1985.

2. You will never, ever be that color.

3. That's because "Nude" is not nude and mahoghany is lumber, not a skin color.

4. Come on, do you think that in nature, people's toes have a seam going across them?

5. Remember that commercial where the butt depicted on the pantyhose package "wiggled" and made a sound suspiciously similar to that of Samantha's nose-wiggle noise in Bewitched? Yeah, I thought so.

6. Carol Burnett: always, always wore them in every sketch, no matter if she was playing Eunice or Mata Hari or Little Bo Peep.

7. Because isn't pale and/or mottled flesh better than elephant ankles?

8. I don't care if they came in a plastic egg.

9. They're ugly. U-G-L-Y. Ugly.

10. Because. I. Hate. Them.

People of the world, unite against the foe, the Evil Axis of L'eggs, Hanes, and No Nonsense.

And I haven't even gotten to control top yet.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Just Look Above.

Maybe it's the way the evening sun slants through the longest day of the year, gilding the delicate under-wings of a gull that's wheeling over street grit and spilled tacos, and ambitious spires and useless billboards, hothouse condos and bitter minds that reminds: when a waterside bird can soar like that overhead, there's something bigger than this city.

Monday, May 30, 2005

What's Next, A Microwave Oven Beep?

Only in England would radio stations--I am assuming these are the culprits--place a cell-phone ring on the airwaves. It must be so thankfully brief, DJs can spin it multiple times. And, yes, it has an accompanying video.

Here I thought the death knell of the traditional music industry was Nick and Jessica.

LONDON -- Piracy may no longer be the music industry's biggest headache. A cell phone ring tone appeared set to top the British singles chart Sunday, outselling Coldplay's single by nearly 4-1."Crazy Frog Axel F," based on the sound of a revving moped, is the first tune used on mobile phones to cross into mainstream music charts, said Gennaro Castaldo, a spokesman for British music retailer HMV.Malcolm McLaren, the ex-Sex Pistols manager, told The International Herald Tribune: "Listen to this song and you can hear the death knell of the traditional music industry."

Pass the Dutchie: An Ultimate Where-Are-They-Now List

Add names, or identify current whereabouts...

Duncan Sheik
The Smithereens
Pure Prairie League
Voice of the Beehive
Howard Jones
Ric Astley
The Romantics
Right Said Fred
Robbie Nevil
The Jungle Brothers
Simply Red
The Bangles
Suzy Q
Was (Not Was)
Toad the Wet Sprocket
C+C Music Factory
Timbuk 3
Marcy Playground
Jody Watley
Taylor Dayne
The Dandy Warhols
Go West
Bad Company
Sir Mix-A-Lot
Skid Row
The Fixx
Morris Day and the Time
Blind Melon
Stereo MCs
The Housemartins
Dead or Alive
The Divinyls
Leo Sayer
The Motels
PM Dawn
The Plimsouls
Royal Crescent Mob
Dexy's Midnight Runners
Lisa Loeb
The Cranberries
Little River Band
Faith No More
The Blow Monkeys
Paper Lace
Bronski Beat
Fine Young Cannibals
The Georgia Satellites
Walt Mink
Victoria Williams
Soul Asylum
Gary Wright
Ozark Mountain Daredevils
Johnny Hates Jazz
Eddy Grant
The Dream Academy
Prefab Sprout
Bettie Serveert
The Fall
Eddie Murphy
The Cult
Lloyd Cole
Better Than Ezra
Charlie Sexton
Gin Blossoms
Joe Walsh
Billy Ocean

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

"My Mind is Filled with Radio Cures"

Funny how some songs or albums suddenly become the soundtrack of your life. You have to hear them in sequence, you have to hear them when it's way too late to be up but okay, just track 3 one more time while you empty your bulk email folder again, when you've been driving nowhere, really, a continuous Grand Prix of Western, Chicago, Wabansia and Ashland, when you've been in the car parked outside for, God, was it really two hours, when you're peering up to the broken clouds above Big John downtown and trying to remember if it's toothpaste or cotton balls you need at Walgreens. You have to hear them in the morning, and and fuck it if you're gonna be late for work again, and then, once at your fluorescent desk, Media Player unspools the soundscape your life's become for nine hours, docked under a spreadsheet you can't ever seem to finish.

But way, way beyond the urgency of listening is the fact that holy shit, how could he have written this song and known me-when he doesn't know me? And the guitar crescendoes at the precise moment I need to think of what I long to think of but shouldn't, and my eyes close at the gentlest piano bridge, and the whispering coda makes my fingers curl like I'm holding someone's hand in mine. Maybe I etched the lyrics myself while in that moonlit, half-awake moment of clarity just before falling asleep.


We went to see Wilco at the Vic Wednesday night. It was honestly one of the best shows I have ever seen, not just because they played over two hours and over 25 songs. I am not relinquishing the top spot to Tweedy et al because I love other shows for other reasons from other phases of my life. (Crowded House, 1991; Replacements, 1991; Beastie Boys, 1998; Erykah Badu, 2001) Let's say it's the best show now--but still damn close to the top.

What was amazing about the night was the feeling that every single human in that theatre really, really wanted to be there, and embraced every song with the same yearning, attuned precision with which the band played. We all had a huge crush on each other. I mean, I was drinking dregs from a stack of 5 cashed beer cups during the third encore, and I still felt it.

Tweedy's face is heartbreaking. It's boyish and hurt and fierce and doughy. A heart laid bare.

The soaring and aching of sex and the crashing and burning of love. The delicacy of a rose petal. A mosaic of sound created with almost painterly detail, layer after layer, each brush on the high-hat and feedback howl deliberate--and free.


Picking apples for the kings and queens of things I've never seen
Oh, distance has no way of making love understandable


How can this not score my daily walks and thoughts?

Friday, April 22, 2005

Our Lady of Perpetual Delusion

April 18, 2005, 1:35 PM CDT
Curiosity seekers joined the faithful today to view what some said was an image of the Virgin Mary at an underpass of the Kennedy Expressway on Chicago's Northwest Side, CLTV reported. About 20 people were among the first to perceive the image shortly before midnight on a concrete wall of the Fullerton Avenue viaduct in the city's Bucktown neighborhood, officials said. By this morning, television news crews were on the scene and media reports were spreading the word of the alleged apparition. People milled about, taking photos and shooting video of what some were calling "Our Lady of the Underpass," WGN-Ch. 9 reported. Some prayed and set lighted candles and flowers at the base of the image. Officers of the Chicago Police Department and troopers of the Illinois State Police were nearby in case they were needed to direct traffic."It's a miracle. It's an image. You can't describe it. It's the first time I've seen something like this," said one witness, Jose Recinos. Some witnesses told WGN the image was more visible on camera or when there was less light. Officials, though, said the pattern on the wall simply might be a stain caused by road salt dripping from the expressway. Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune
Okay, Roeper beat me to this in Wednesday's Sun-Times, but I just have to say that whole event, phenomenon, spiritual frenzy--whatever you want to call it--got me thinking about faith.

I don't get faith, but I think I have it. Faith is like the baseball bat my dad kept under the bed. I knew it was there, limned with what little dust was ever allowed to creep into our weekly-Pledged home, there to be used in case someone or thing ever broke into the house. How, when, or why--I never knew. But when I was laying in bed at night, listening wide-eyed to the creaks and sighs of our tiny post-war cape cod, the lash of branches at the window, the barely-perceptible-oh-my-God-was-that-a footstep on the shag carpet stairs to my room, I knew the bat was there--and there, for all intents and purposes, to protect me. It never was used, ever.

Or maybe faith works according to the opposite dynamic--the Horoscope Effect: you see what you want to see. But I worry sometimes that we are all just deluding ourselves, at our desks, over the deli counter at Jewel ("it really is fresh"), in front of the bank balance, the mirror ("I'm happy, really"), in the glance of a would-be friend, in the words of a knows-you-too-well friend ("Sure you should call"), at the corner of North and Milwaukee ("I will beat the light"), at dawn in bed, at church. If I just "believe" it's there, if I "see" it there, why, it's there! And I can live happily, hugging my tacit acceptance. I can send a photograph of a worm on the fizzy-wet sidewalk of Chicago Avenue to Japan in an instant (if I knew someone in Japan), so yeah, it's got to be there, anything can be there. It can be here---and it can be there. It's just past my fingertip, I can just barely discern it, so it must be there. In front of a salt stain on a sooty expressway ballast, in must be there.

Faith? Folderol? Fantasy?

Friday, April 15, 2005

There Ain't Much to Rake Anyway in the Fall

"A person can work up a mean, mean thirst
After a hard day of nothing much at all..."
--P. Westerberg

Friday, March 18, 2005

Over Her Dead Body

PINELLAS PARK, Fla. -- Doctors removed Terri Schiavo's feeding tube Friday despite an extraordinary, last-minute push by Republicans on Capitol Hill to use the subpoena powers of Congress to keep the severely brain-damaged woman alive, a source close to the case told The Associated Press.

It is expected that it will take one to two weeks for Schiavo to die, provided no one intercedes and gets the tube reinserted. The source had been briefed on the situation but spoke on condition of anonymity.

The removal came amid a flurry of maneuvering by Schiavo's parents, state lawmakers and Congress to keep her alive. Committees in the Republican-controlled Congress issued subpoenas for Schiavo, her husband, and her caregivers demanding that they appear at hearings on March 25 and March 28. But the judge presiding over the case later refused a request from House attorneys to delay the removal, which he had previously ordered to take place at 1 p.m. EST.

"I have had no cogent reason why the (congressional) committee should intervene," Greer told attorneys in a conference call, adding that last-minute action by Congress does not invalidate years of court rulings.

The tube's removal signals that an end may be near in a decade-long family feud between Schiavo's husband and her devoutly Roman Catholic parents, Bob and Mary Schindler. The parents have been trying to oust Michael Schiavo as their daughter's guardian and keep in place the tube that has kept her alive for more than 15 years. The tube has twice been removed in the past, but was re-inserted within days in both cases. Michael Schiavo says his wife told him she would not want to be kept alive artificially. Her parents dispute that, saying she could get better and that their daughter has laughed, cried, smiled and responded to their voices. court-appointed physicians testified her brain damage was so severe that there was no hope he would ever have any cognitive abilities.

...House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, told reporters in Washington earlier Friday that removal of the tube amounted to "barbarism."

Now that Washington has cut in on this bizarre and tragic dance between a Florida family and the state courts, it’s clear that conservative legislators and bigmouths have seized another opportunity to eviscerate the power of so-called “activist judges” with an issue over which the faithful can clasp their hands and keen and grovel in prayer.

But at the end of Terri Schiavo’s long days that bleed into the sameness of night, it comes down to the family pulling a hopeless tug-of-war with that feeding tube.

Is it wrong for her husband to want to move on? It’s likely the woman who was his wife is dead to him. She is gone. If he wanted to be with his girlfriend, with whom he has had children, why wouldn’t he just divorce Terry and leave her care to her parents?

Yet, is it wrong for parents to want to hold on to their child’s (she is still their child) needing grasp, to see signs of their daughter in every muscle twitch and flutter of eyelids, to believe she is still there?

And how wrong is it for Delay et al to exploit these contorted, grief-filled questions in order to pursue their puritanical agenda?

Monday, March 14, 2005

CTA: Take It!*

We came up with some new expansions of the CTA acronym:

Coming Tardy Always
Crap Transportation Administered
Crooked Transit Action
Corrupt Thieving Administrators


Cut This, Assholes

*I did not create nor appropriate this phrase. Mars and Kerri said their friend said it, and it was funny.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

She Disappoint Me

One night a few weeks ago I dreamt that I met filmmaker Spike Lee. For some reason I ran into him in a nice restaurant in Chicago, maybe in the Loop or Wicker Park, far from his native Brooklyn. Or maybe it was a bookstore, but it was definitely my turf. . I bashfully bloviated about his work and the companion books to his early films, which I read cover-to-cover when I was in college: She’s Got to Have It, School Daze, Do the Right Thing, Mo’ Better Blues. I don’t recall the details of my illusory rhapsodizing, which hopefully did not include highlights from the ten-page undergrad paper I wrote about Do The Right Thing, nor the t-shirt emblazoned with that film’s logo that I wore down to a rag, but rather I remember the distinct urge to impress on him that this twelve-years-of-Catholic-school white girl from the South was down with his films. Ya dig, Spike? When a letter a friend sent me in the hot summer of 1990 while I was a college student in France fretted about the riots predicted to follow the opening of Do the Right Thing, I couldn’t wait to see it. I did (twice) and went straight to cinematic heaven. What Spike had started in School Daze and She’s Got to Have It maxed out in DTRT. It was da bomb before there even was a “da bomb.” The colors, the ambiguity, the dialogue, Public Enemy, Rosie Perez, the shots—oh, the shots! Who else shot straight-in-the-face soliloquies, fast-tracking into close-ups, wide-angles, huge crane swoops, and made you sweat like you were standing in the summer heat of Bed-Stuy with Mookie, Sal and Buggin’ Out? My film vocabulary was limited at the time and my viewing experience even more so, but I had never seen the like: an intelligent movie with a clear-headed vision that didn’t suffer to answer the questions it raised. The real question was obvious: why weren’t other films like Spike’s?

After watching his latest release, She Hate Me, I am asking the same question fifteen years later. Okay, a slightly different question: Why isn’t this film like Spike’s? I think it’s possible that there’s two Spike Lee films trapped inside of the She Hate Me, which is fitting since Spike’s work primarily dissects trapped lives. With this July 2004 release, now available on DVD, we can perceive a biting commentary on corporate greed and malfeasance concealed inside a French sex farce—or maybe it’s the other way around. At any rate, neither satire reaches far enough in what feels like a hastily assembled (reportedly a twenty-eight day shoot) project. Jack Armstrong, an ambitious, young executive at a biotech firm that is preparing a vaccine for HIV, prompted by the window-jumping suicide of the company’s top scientist, exposes his bosses’ (Woody Harrelson and Ellen Barkin) insider trading and other nefarious Enron-style business dealings. As soon as the inevitable Securities and Exchange Commission investigation commences, Jack is fired and, though he’s pedigreed with a Harvard MBA, finds doors slammed in his face up and down Wall Street and his assets frozen at the bank. Jack’s up you-know-what creek—until his ex-fiancée Fatima, a beautiful and successful businesswoman, prances into his New York loft with her equally beautiful and successful businesswoman girlfriend, Alex. “We’re feeling maternal,” they announce, and Jack reluctantly takes the $10,000 (each) Fatima offers him to impregnate both her and her lover, no fatherly responsibilities required after the births. The women, especially when Kerry Washington’s Fatima puts on a petulant sorority girl face, approach motherhood with all the deliberation of adding the latest Birkin handbag to their wardrobe—only they can’t get a baby on order at Barney’s New York. Jack’s services are successful, and soon a newly-expecting Fatima sets her ex out to stud—collecting a nice percentage off the 10 grand a pop—and ushers a steady stream of ovulating lesbians of every imaginable stereotype into Jack’s apartment. A total of seventeen of them are also “feeling maternal”, in fact, and examine him like sheiks at a thoroughbred sale (or, as Spike is probably implying, plantation owners at a slave auction). This being a Spike Lee joint, there’s plenty of graphic, not-gauzy sex, and, despite the fact they play for the other team, not only do all of the women very volubly enjoy their baby-making trysts with Jack, they are all impregnated with his implausibly inexhaustible manhood.

Yet none of the knocking boots and knocking up, accompanied by the animated quest of Jack’s sperm, each bearing his smiling face, achieves the razor-sharp focus of satire. Nor do the actors, nor the script penned by Spike and Michael Genet, especially as the character Pierre Delacroix, centerpiece of Spike’s previous film, 2000’s Bamboozled, defines satire in the first moments of that film. Delacroix’s voiceover lays out the good old Merriam-Webster definition; that’s Spike letting us know that’s what we’re going to see, a satire on media depictions of blacks that uses the worst possible of all stereotypes: the minstrel show. Where She Hate Me seems befuddled and uninspired, Bamboozled hits its targets with the laser precision and courageous emotional investment and intellectual engagement we’ve come to expect from a visionary like Spike Lee. The former tiredly trots out the characteristic elements that are indelibly Spike, but the colors are strangely muted, Matthew Libatique’s camera work cannot match Spike’s early collaborator Ernest Dickerson, the dialogue is limp, and the digressions are meaningless. Case in point: Bamboozled concludes with a typical Spike technique, a monthage, a distressing one of disturbing images of minstrelsy and blackface, from Little Black Sambo to Judy Garland and Andy Rooney greasing up their faces, punctuated by Terence Blanchard’s expressive score. Did I mention She Hate Me’s ending? The conclusion to the Jack-Fatima-Alex love triangle is bewilderingly packaged as a ménage, or rather, family à trois, thankfully underscored by Blanchard’s sensual jazz scoring rather than the boom-chicka-boom of the soft porn this tableau closely resembles. Watching them trade kisses all around, I was disturbingly reminded of the time I observed a male acquaintance—who had a girlfriend elsewhere—and an unstable young actress I knew suck down more and more drinks and inevitably hook up: people who are going to go have sex and you really, really wish they wouldn’t. Watching She Hate Me causes a worse discomfort than the laughing-though-you-shouldn’t uneasiness prompted by the racist dissertations of Do the Right Thing’s Brooklynites or Mantan and Sleep’n’Eat’s shucking and jiving in Bamboozled: you just wonder, God, what the hell is Spike thinking?

She Hate Me’s male-fantasy finale adds little to nothing to the already meandering story, about as much as its Watergate break-in sequence, the pointed anti-Bush diatribes and the Mr. Smith Goes to Washington courtroom oration do. Oh, and the mafia sidebar that has always-able John Turturro spouting a dead-on Brando Godfather, I forgot that was in there, too, but apparently it appears because one of Jack’s Sapphic moms-to-be is the daughter of the mob (Monica Belluci), anxious to give her papa grandchildren. Usually, tangential stories about characters that you know Spike knows well (or at least has taken the time to learn about) add a subtle richness to his films that leaves you in hushed awe or doubled in laughter. Bamboozled’s aspiring television professional Sloane argues with her brother, who has renamed himself “Big Black Africa,” and fronts a black militant (think Public Enemy with low IQs) rap group, the Mau Maus. The crack epidemic that riddled black communities in the early Nineties is exposed in Jungle Fever through Samuel L. Jackson’s heartbreaking performance as Gator and as Spike’s camera takes us into the heart of Harlem darkness, into a crack den. And Spike can vocalize Bensonhurst, Brooklyn with equal effortlessness, in the strangled rants of Angie Tucci’s father and brothers and the gentle dreams of her boyfriend Paulie, doomed to wash his father’s back and run his sweet shop the rest of his life in Jungle Fever.

The seamlessness that singularizes his films from She’s Gotta Have It to Bamboozled, and the determined execution of Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X are sorely missed in the hollow She Hate Me, and I wonder if it’s because Spike just didn’t pose, starting with his script, the questions about identity that suffuse his best films. Was his heart even in this? Critic Stanley Crouch notes in the documentary that accompanies the Bamboozled DVD how well Spike understands “the prison of stereotype.” The only prison detailed in She Hate Me is the one into which Jack is inexplicably (for whistleblowing? for fathering nineteen children?) thrown halfway into the film.

If Spike wanted to, as She Hate Me’s press materials relate, “raise questions about the decline of morals and ethics in America – from the boardroom to the bedroom,” the moral and ethical—and emotional—implications of Jack’s actions are invisible to us. We can sense the depth to which the transformation of Manray and Cheeba into grinning minstrels Mantan and Sleep’n’Eat affects the former street performers as they apply blackface using the traditional burnt-cork method. Sadly, Anthony Mackie’s Jack Armstrong is merely a cipher as he screws his way out of the boardroom into the bedroom. “Survival makes a person do things they know in their heart is wrong,” Turturro’s mafia don Bonasera tells him, but Spike doesn’t let Jack do the right thing and instead rewards him with not one, but two, hot mamas.

Bamboozled’s coda, taken from African-American author James Baldwin and uttered by the pretentious Pierre Delacroix as he bleeds to death, actually could be a more fitting axiom for She Hate Me: “People pay for what they do, and still more for what they have allowed themselves to become, and they pay for it very simply by the lives they lead.” But Spike has no one pay for anything in She Hate Me, despite the fact that eventually the greedy corporate scum is correctly identified and thrown in jail by the film’s end. Spike’s been quoted (possibly misquoted, knowing his track record) as describing his films as “litmus tests” that measure the pulse of public opinion on social issues. I wish I could go back to my dream and ask Spike to—please—test us again by any means necessary, just not those that allow you make movies that you know in your heart are all wrong.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Not for the Feint of Heart

I noticed something during Karaoke Thursday last week: How come when my theatre/performer- type friends get up to the mike, we just…well, sing? And when the other 98.125% of the urban out-on-a-Thursday-night population yowls and warbles up there, it’s complete with ass-shaking disco moves, or Korn-style microphone management (cord wrapped around arm, right leg braced front), or Mick Jagger cock-strutting. I am fully aware that I clutch the mike stand like it’s the last paddle on the Titanic and just FOCUS ON THE WORDS. And those other people, they perform it. We, we just…plant it.

Friday, March 04, 2005

A Final Rose Is Not a Final Rose: The Anti-Bachelorette

I watched the live “After the Final Rose” finale of the latest installment of ABC’s The Bachelorette on Monday night. (To the peanut gallery: Let he who is without reality-show sin cast the first remote control…) Jen Schefft is a sweet-faced blonde from Chicago—it makes sense she is an event planner/public relations professional. Jen’s just the right combination of Midwestern practicality, 21st century assertiveness, and feminine acquiescence, with her soft voice, wide eyes and determinedly set jaw. I can practically see her tossing her hat on the plaza in front of the Hancock Tower, just like Mary Tyler Moore in Minneapolis thirty-five years ago, as well as extolling the benefits of upgrading to premium-quality sashimi for your next trendy cocktail event.

But Jen became the reluctant Bachelorette that night, not only dashing her swains’ hopes for a happy ending (and lucrative bottom-feeder celeb career and plenty of airtime on Extra!), but probably pounding the final nail in the coffin of ABC’s Monday night True-Love juggernaut. The bloom is off the Final Rose, folks.

"I just want to make sure that we do it right,” she vowed after turning down her second televised proposal, from Jerry. Runner-up John Paul was dissed and dismissed just before, in the first hour of the program, previously recorded in the New York penthouse or rooftop or wherever the final showdown occurred (I didn’t watch it since I couldn’t fast forward or Tivo through the lame—I mean lamer—parts. I cannot afford that kind of convenience).

Seeing him Monday night before a live audience after being (ostensibly) apart for the last several months, Jen rejected Jerry, an LA art dealer who actually appeared to be a wee bit too canny to appear on a reality dating—well, marriage--show, AGAIN. The newly terminated couple perched uncomfortably next to each other and gamely answered chuckleheaded questions from host Chris Harrison, who’s about as much a non-entity as you can get this side of a black hole, yet who still managed to feign enough surprise at the break-up to garner a Daytime Emmy nomination. If only the show was on before 5pm.

Then Chris turned the True Love Inquisition over to the audience. The first questioner was visibly perturbed with her Bachelorette’s decision (or non-decision). “I mean, what is it going to take to satisfy you, Jen??” she demanded, quivering under her carefully-chosen Banana Republic outfit.

That’s right, how dare she? Doesn’t she know you can marry someone you select from a group of bleached-teeth TV suckups you’ve romped across NYC with for six weeks?

“You can’t make yourself fall in love with someone,” Jen parried, both to the irate Bachelorette fan whose faith in True Love she had trampled, and to ex-almost-fiance Jerry. “You know that, don’t you?” she implored the sucker. Ever-suave Jerry was at a loss for words.

Chris alluded to the rumors swirling that Jen has been dating her boss, who turns out to be Chicago nightclub impressario Billy Dec (who has to have the most asshole-sounding name I have ever heard, ever). Jen demurred with enough shock to give Chris a run for his money in the Daytime Emmy race. "I'm not dating anyone," she remonstrated, widening those already-wide eyes, not even her first TV-fiance, the Tire King of San Francisco (also with an a-hole name), Andrew Firestone.

The first domino to fall in this go-round, eager-faced John Paul from Oklahoma City, told the cameras after his own sucker punch, "I think Jen made a mistake. I think six months from now she'll regret it. Jen's going to wake up, she's going to be 32 and [still] looking for a husband... looking for someone she knew was there and passed up, and it will be too late at that point."

Oh my God, the horror! She still might be single at 32, and thereby well on the way to a hairy chin, a bus pass, and 15 cats in a frowsy one-bedroom apartment in a Sheridan Road highrise.

Jen, let me have a moment with you, girl-to-girl: You are my new hero. By rejecting the Harry Winston engagement pabulum they offered you, in your own sweet, blond Kelly on 90210 way, you told the omnipotent architects of reality TV, millions of True Love brainwashees, and the ABC network (and hell, probably FOX too) to shove that Final Rose up their arses.

Maybe you should have stayed in Chicago and conducted your Husband Search from barstool at John Barleycorn. It's sad, but you might have had better odds.

Maybe He Wanted to Stay Next to the Shark Steaks

PITTSBURGH -- A gigantic lobster that may have survived two world wars and Prohibition before being plucked from the ocean will live on -- but only as a shell of its former self.

The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium plans to keep the shell of the 22-pound lobster, named Bubba, and use its remains to educate school children, said Rachel Capp, a zoo spokeswoman.

Some of Bubba's meat will be sent to labs for testing as officials try to determine why Bubba died, Capp said Thursday.

Bubba spent a week at Wholey's fish market after he was pulled from the waters off Nantucket, Mass. He died Wednesday, after he was moved from the fish market to a quarantine area at the zoo's aquarium. He was being checked to see if he was healthy enough to make a trip to an aquarium at a Ripley's Believe It or Not museum.

Randy Goodlett, a marine biologist and former curator and director of the zoo's Aqua Zoo, said the lobster likely died because something was slightly off in the salt water mixture it was living in. Capp guessed it might have been the stress of being moved so many times.

Based on how long it typically takes a lobster to reach eating size -- about five to seven years to grow to a pound -- some estimated Bubba was about 100 years old. Marine biologists said 30 to 50 years was more likely.
Not only are they going to exploit the exoskeleton of the poor centenary beast just because he was the size of a healthy toddler, the AP has to refer to its flesh as “meat.” I’m far from a vegetarian, but the semantics here are a mite bit bloodthirsty. Goes to show, lobster’s only good for one thing: eating. No, two things: eating and Ripleys Believe It or Not.

Maybe he gave up because he was named Bubba and he got freighted to Pittsburgh.

And I don’t know how he survived Prohibition. You know how they hit the bottle at 100 feet below sea level.

Monday, February 28, 2005

If This Wooden "O" Can Make It There, It'll Make It Anywhere...

Roseanne's mom "Bev" is on board to help construct a replica of Elizabethan London's Globe Theatre on an island in New York Harbor. Do I see Roseanne Barr as Desdemona in the inaugural production? And now that Dennis Franz's schedule has freed up..."If you prick us, do we not bleed, buttmunch??"

Imagine the groundlings...

A Globe Theatre for New York Suggested for Governor's Island

Mon Feb 28

Robert Simonson Playbill On-Line

British architect Norman Foster and Barbara C. Romer, a former management consultant at McKinsey & Company, are pushing a plan for New York Harbor's Governor's Island which would make the isle Manhattan's version of Elizabethan London's East End-that is, a place where citizens sail to see a play.

Foster and Romer see the defunct Castle Williams, a stone fortress built in 1811, and now in a state of advanced disrepair, as another Globe Theatre (which they, indeed, intend to call The New Globe Theatre). He has designed a version of Shakespeare's famous theatrical home that would employ the old, cylindrical building, which one served as a prison.

According to the New York Times, the Park Service has drafted three broad alternatives for public use of the site and the next step will be to issue a formal request for proposals. Barbara C. Romer, 34, a former management consultant at McKinsey & Company, is spurring the theatre concept. Her advisory committee includes top executives of Shakespeare's Globe in London; the actress Estelle Parsons; Randall Bourscheidt, president of the Alliance for the Arts; and Frank E. Sanchis III, the senior vice president of the Municipal Art Society.

Romer told the Times, "It is three tiers high, perfectly round. If you place a blueprint of the Globe onto a blueprint of Castle Williams, it fits like a hand into a glove." A model of Foster's design will soon sit in the Municipal Art Society at 457 Madison Avenue on Monday. The planned theatre would have a retractable roof, seat 1,200 and offer 400 "groundling tickets" for people standing on the ground below the stage, as in Shakespeare's day. The Globe in London-a recreation of The Bard's original Globe, and a popular cultural institution since its opening a decade ago-has a similar set-up for standing spectators. The castle's exterior would remain the same.

Friday, February 25, 2005

The Truth Will Set You Free, Single Disposable-Income Women Everywhere

It was enough to drive someone to the self-help bookshelf at Borders (or better yet, the silent, non-judgmental safety of The straw that broke this particular single person’s back was the married friend’s response to some reflexive whining over weeknight beers about not dating anyone lately:“There are plenty of people interested in you. You’re just too picky.” Okay, okay: that single person was me. Thankfully, I had a copy of He’s Just Not That Into You waiting at home. While not a boyfriend, at least it was hardcover, had that seductive and comforting new-book smell, and possibly could provide a brief antidote to loneliness, or at least future loneliness. Subtitled “The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys,” He’s Just Not That Into You is squarely aimed at a youngish (mid-twenties to mid-forties), sophisticated audience—one that would include viewers of urbane television programs like, say, Sex and the City. In fact, the slender volume’s authors, Liz Tuccillo and Greg Behrendt, both worked for the wildly popular program as a writer and consultant (for the “straight male” perspective), respectively. The book was inspired by an episode in which the Miranda character receives a lightning-bolt revelation from Carrie Bradshaw’s boyfriend that her most recent date, who had not yet called, was probably “just not that into you.” Apparently, for men there are “no mixed messages,” and if he doesn’t call after the date, he’s not into you. Period. Ever-resourceful Miranda puts this new philosophy into practice, but it backfires (no pun intended) after she tries to let a first-date fellow with gastrointestinal distress off the hook when he turns her down for a nightcap.

Nevertheless, Greg and Liz (they go by first names only, keeping with the chatty, confidential tenor of the book), as well as Simon and Schuster, sensed a trend afoot in this fault-free concept of relationships and wrote a dating-help book from an ostensibly male point of view, one that’s mercifully less cringe-inducing than some of the other for-singles guides out there, like Stop Getting Dumped! All You Need to Know to Make Men Fall Madly in Love with You, Marry “The One" in 3 Years or Less, How to Make a Man Fall in Love with You: The Fail-Proof, Fool-Proof Method, and the utterly grisly-sounding
Find a Husband After 35 Using What I Learned at Harvard Business School. Nauseated after ten minutes examining these tomes of desperation on Amazon (in preparation for reading Greg and Liz’s book, of course) I started to worry that He’s Not That Into You was going to be The Rules in Hugo Boss clothing. Since the book originated in the writers’ room at Sex and the City, it promises—and proves—to be a more palatable how-to manual than the typical delusional dispatches crowding today’s bookshelves and webspace, fitting neatly into 21st-century chick-lit landscape. At a basic level, not only would it replace How to Deal with Difficult Men and Still Keep Your Sanity on Bridget Jones’ bookshelf, a real-life gal could leave, without discomfiture, the dust jacket on it while reading on the El. Matters of vanity aside, though, He’s Just Not That Into You is flavored with Sex and the City’s salty wit, but just like television comedy, the book is as reductive as it is instructive.

The basic premise, explained in Greg and Liz’s light, laconic prose: if a guy doesn’t call after a date, ask for a date, seem physically attracted to you, or commits major league infractions like disappearing or sleeping with other people, then “he’s just not that into you.” Simple. As Greg, who is a stand-up comedian and former, possibly caddish, bachelor, says, “When a guy is into you, he lets you know it. He calls, he shows up, he wants to meet your friends, he can’t keep his eyes or hands off of you. I don’t care if he’s starting his new job as president of the United States at 0400, he’s coming up!” Another of the dozens of cute Greg epigrams that pepper the book includes “Don’t waste the pretty!” Greg wastes no time informing us that we, who are collectively “delicious” and “foxy,” are all dating the same guy: “He is a man made up entirely of your excuses.” How does he know? Need you ask? He’s a guy, one who finally settled down and married a woman to whom he is obviously devoted; one who knows that guys “would rather lose an arm out a city bus window than tell you simply, ‘You are not the one.’” And why does he care so much? “Because I am tired of seeing great women in bullshit relationships.”

Fair enough; he’s got our back. Liz, a single New Yorker, cheerily substantiates Greg’s proposal with her own bathetic one: “Assume rejection first. Assume you’re the rule, not the exception. It’s intoxicatingly liberating." This back-and-forth Carson-McMahon shtick structures the book, which spreads its already-thin hypothesis like a dusting of snow over the entire mountain range of relationships: the foothills of absent phone calls and follow-up dates, crags of all manner of breakups, and the hideous alps of abusive behavior and dating a married man. “Real-life” questions from fictitious women are answered by Greg to illustrate the myriad excuses those noncommittal men use to perpetuate all manner of “bullshit” relationships, like he’s “got a lot on his mind,” “afraid to get hurt again,” “just not ready.” Or this classic:

The "Maybe He Doesn't Want to Ruin the Friendship" Excuse

Dear Greg,
I'm so disappointed. I have this friend that I've known platonically for about ten years. He lives in a different city and recently he was in town for work, so we met for dinner. All of a sudden it felt like we were on a date. He was completely flirting with me. He even said to me, as he was checking me out, "So, what, you're working the whole 'model thing' now?" (That's flirting, right?)...Well, Greg, I'm disappointed because it's been two weeks and he hasn't called me. Can I call him? He might be nervous about turning the friendship into romance. Jodi

Dear Friendly Girl,
Two weeks is two weeks, except when it's ten years and two weeks. That's how long ago he decided whether or not he could date a model or a girl who looks like one. Can you be a pal and give him a nudge? Nudge away, friendster — but watch how fast that nudge doesn't get a return phone call…Here's the truth: Guys don't mind messing up a friendship if it could lead to sex, whether it be a "(expletive) buddy" situation or a meaningful romance. Go find someone that lives in your zip code who will be rocked to the core by your deep conversation and model looks.

Liz follows up Greg’s snappy and snippy dispensations to sympathetically explain “Why this one is hard;” Greg responds again with results from his decidedly non-scientific polling of other males about the excuse at hand. There’s even a checklist concluding each chapter to remind you what you should have learned (e.g. “You already have one asshole. You don’t need another”).

The chapters are titled with equally artless syllogisms (“He’s Not That Into You if He’s…Not Calling You; …Married; …Not Having Sex with You; …Breaking Up with You; …A Really Big Freak”) that lead to this basic and as I see it, two-pronged premise: 1. Men aren’t that complicated, and 2. If he has issues, other women to sleep with, phobias, lack of purpose or personality, he’ll get over them to be with you. So, women of the world, stop analyzing his mixed-message behavior like Jane Goodalls of the dating world and move on! That’s crystal clear in Chapter One. Then, after unfurling ten more exasperatingly redundant and sporadically amusing chapters of Greg-and-Liz quid pro quo, Greg reaches his pinnacle statement: “By staying with a guy that is not that into you, you are ensuring you’re never going to find one that is.” Thank God, I was getting worried we wouldn’t get to this—or any—core-shaking conclusion.

And buried at the bottom of page ninety-six is the peg on which the fretting single gals and hollow-feeling girlfriends, and Sex and the City fans can really hang their obsessive hats: “Remember always what you set out to get, and please don’t settle for less,” Greg announces. “These guys are able to exist because there are a lot of women out there who allow them to.” Hey, wait a minute—I’m still at fault here? Twisting the knife further, Liz concurs that “there’d be an awful lot of better-behaved men out there” if we ladies insisted on better behavior. Thus Greg, in his infinitesimal wisdom, not only posits that all guys are like him, ready to flop down like doormats in front of that transcendent woman who can finally make him change, but also that relationship behavior is simply a matter of supply and demand. It’s that…simple?

But it’s the simple tropes that embed themselves most deeply in popular culture—remember “Where’s the beef?” “He’s just not that into you” is an exercise in obviousness that is well on the road to maxim (not the magazine). How do I know it’s such a phenomenon? All of the (heterosexual) male friends I polled recently about the book—or the idea of it—recognized He’s Not That Into You immediately, and one demanded to borrow my copy. As I queried some of them at a pub about the soundness of Greg’s rationale, the greatest hits of Paula Abdul (all three of them) blared from the jukebox in the background. Now, I believe in Jukebox Fate (whereby a song appropriate to the occasion or conflict at hand will play at the precise moment in need of emphasis), so my quiz was underscored dramatically by Paula bleating “Straight up now tell me is it gonna be you and me forever?” and “He’s a cold-hearted snake (look into his eyes),” both songs that truly do describe the exact range of emotions unmarried woman in endures in the dating world. Needless to say, the respondents agreed that “Oh, yeah, definitely not into her if you don’t call her,” but trashed Greg’s theory that if women have to be the aggressor and ask a guy out, then—well, you know the rest. “Men like to pursue women,” says Greg, “We like not knowing if we can catch you.” However, even after a couple of rum and Cokes, one of my friends was decidedly more ambivalent: “I may not be into someone, but if she asks me out, then all of a sudden I am sort of into her.”

Would that it could, but Greg’s “powerful silver bullet” (as Liz calls it) can’t pierce the complexity of everyday life and every situation. In terms of “setting a level of what you will or won’t tolerate” in a relationship, the concept is compelling, but there’s a profound reason He’s Not That Into You is disquieting, and it’s that we have to instruct women in 2005 they are (loaded word) empowered. Sure, Fate’s Jukebox now blares Destiny’s Child’s “Independent Woman (Part 1)” instead of Olivia Newton-John sweetly warbling “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” heightening countless pick-up and breakup moments nationwide, but it’s alarming that women today still are struck by an emotional naïvete that requires the sort of reductive, smart-ass reasoning brotherly Greg offers up to lonely hearts. And it is lonely out there. He admits as much to us—after eleven chapters of chastising pep talk. He concurs that being lonely “sucks,” and then Greg suddenly morphs into the Jesse Jackson of dating, testifying that since he believes “life will turn out well,” it will. That’s a big leap of faith to make in a world that is soundtracked and wallpapered with true-love stories, one driven by a multi-million dollar wedding industry and in which singles, according to the He’s Just Not That Into You philosophy, should both assume the worst and hope for the best. Liz says she feels “more powerful” since implementing his strategy. For my part, I'm uncomfortable with such a singular and, yep, forced point of view. I mean, Greg is just a guy, too. I’m not convinced we should trust him, either. But even if I “waste the pretty,” at least I do know it might just be okay to be picky.