Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Watch This Space For A Massive Rationalization

I've sat on this a couple of days, desperately searching for the silver bullet of logic to make what I'm about to write not appear to be a complete reversal of previously published thoughts. I'm willing to believe a great many things about myself, but no matter how much sugar I sprinkle on this turd of a rationalization, it still tastes of, you know.

Someone who looks an awful lot like I do, and who has the password to this blogger account, wrote a scathing piece about why she could give a fig that poor, sad, Amy Winehouse made the leap into the inevitable, and how we should shut up about how it's a tragedy.

And then Whitney Houston goes and dies. And that writer feels, well, something. She casts around desperately for a reason that has more substance than sheer nostalgia and that can somehow justify her emotion at Houston's death when she nearly cheered at Winehouse's because, at least, we would get to stop hearing about the latter's antics.

Here's the pathetic result of that casting about:

Whitney Houston was truly singular. Much as it was cool to stop liking her after her airplay exceeded one's tolerance, I came back to Whitney in the 90s. Part nostalgia, part realization that, though Greatest Love of All is seriously sappy, no one else could have done it. One of the things that reality talent competitions have taught me (other than the fact that a lot more of you are getting pregnant in high school than I approve of, and more of you really need to consider college) is that there is an ocean of difference between talent and Talent. While discussing the X-Factor with my father this year, I noted that it was unfair to ask any of the participants to sing a song by Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey because, while they could likely get the notes out, their versions would only highlight how short they fall of the original. Whitney Houston's Talent was effortless and it's why I gave her first grudging respect and then true admiration once the 7th grade dance memories faded.

I don't know why she couldn't keep it together. I don't know how anyone in her position wakes up one day and decides crack is a good idea. I do know that she didn't then go out and cut an album whose title track was "Crack Is Dope!" (Unlike our previous dead drug addict whose claim to fame was that she had a hit with a song about how the people who wanted her to stop doing drugs and get help were lames.) We had to watch Whitney Hosuton's Talent evaporate.

So news of her death did make me sad. She had a once in a generation voice and she totally effed it up. So I guess I was sad and angry. I don't want Houston to get lumped into the sad sack remembrances we reserve for the merely talented who bump themselves off due to drugs. I don't want retrospectives to put her photo after Winehouse's in the annals of people who recently died and also did music. I want her to remain in a class of her own (and I don't think it's unfair to say that Jennifer Hudson couldn't hold a candle to Houston - she can't, that's the point, no one can).

I'm not going to go so far as to say that Houston's death was a tragedy - I still like to reserve that for truly serious things - but it was a death worthy of reflection. We knew Houston before she knew drugs and we knew what she was capable of. That she gave it up along the way, yeah, that makes me sad, and I don't mind if that makes me a hypocrite.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Catalog of Current Injuries

1 jammed knuckle
1 sternum bruise
1 left bicep bruise
1 blood blister on right index finger

In my defense, I maintain that I wiped out face first into the barrier because of my desire not to hit other people, but I will freely admit that I was the only one to be temporarily ejected from the go-kart course due to excessive crash. I also lost a button on my shirt which devoted partner said just made me look more NASCAR.

That having been said, go-karting is fun! We went Saturday night for The Boy's birthday festivities and all involved enjoyed it far more than we thought we would. After all, driving a fast bumper car around a track can sound kinda lame, but actually driving a bumper car around a track while desperately trying to beat your friends and family? Fun!

Despite my first round wipeout (and people, I used the universal scuba ok-sign to let you know I was cool; just because you saw me crash headfirst into a barrier doesn't mean I was hurt - I'm superhard), I would like to say that I improved my time each round and, had it not been for a "bump" by she-knows-who-she-is in the finals, I would have finished a respectable 4th.

As it was, I am pleased to say, my own devoted partner took the gold, sheepishly I might add as, apparently, he took out the birthday boy on his way to the podium. I was pleased to learn that all of the participants experienced age-related aches and pains, but I hope I was, at least, the injury winner.

Next year, I'm suggesting bull riding!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

What Have You Done During My Absence?!?

I know I don't live in Manhattan anymore. Even as I still consider hizzoner my mayor, and Mimi's my pizza place. But while I've been gone, something absolutely silly has happened, and you might not be aware.

I speak of something I discovered, purely by accident, yesterday: select bus service.

I attempted to board the M15 at 125th and 2nd and was told the bus did not accept metrocards. Wait for that to sink in. No. Instead, I was told to put my metrocard into a metrocard dispenser-looking thing outside the bus, by the bus shelter, and get, wait for it, a receipt. Then I could board the bus and, again, hold your breaths, not show anyone my receipt. Of course, by this time, I had missed that bus because, well, there was a substantial line of other people waiting to get receipts from the metrocard kiosk.

WTF? doesn't even begin to cover it.

I realize that I am of the old school that clearly remembers tokens and their phase out, but I also remember that metrocards were designed to be easier. Have metrocard, have access to public transport. Now, less than 20 years later, and the metrocard WON'T gain me access to public transport? Explain to me how this makes anything easier - to say nothing of the fact that I had no idea where this "select bus" planned on stopping and was just happy that I wanted to go to a two-way crosstown intersection which I felt sure would be a stop.

Devoted partner attempted to make sense of this by saying that it was, perhaps, designed to prevent long lines of people waiting to insert their metrocards into the slot on the bus - strangely enough, the MTA sort of agrees by claiming that you can now board at the front or the back of the bus. Hallelujah, praise jeebus. But explain one tiny thing to me: would it not have been ever so slightly easier to, I don't know - have a second metrocard reader at the back door of the bus? Wouldn't that accomplish the same thing and save me from a multi-step process to RIDE A BUS? After all, there was a second MTA employee on my select bus, presumably to check that I had a receipt (also, do you know how easy it is to misplace a receipt the second you receive it? Am I supposed to clutch this wispy piece of paper in my hand like it's a treasure map on the chance the receipt police come a-knockin?).

This is, easily, the silliest technological backstep I've seen in a while, and I can only assume it was allowed to happen because I moved away. And before you start to make it out like I'm the crazy one, how about this gem of information from the MTA website:

"Neither machine sells or refills MetroCard; they are not vending machines, and do not make change."

So to board a select bus you need to 1. Go to the subway station and buy a metrocard; 2. Walk to the bus stop and insert your metrocard into a kiosk that serves to only print a receipt; 3. Not lose said receipt because 4. Someone maybe perhaps will ask to see it.

Sorry, fellow New Yorkers, this is clearly my fault for leaving. But since I have no sway with your mayor, perhaps this is something you'll have to fight without me. Mention my name, though, I like to feel like I'm still relevant.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Because We Need To Finish The Veal Stew First

I had promised an ambitious food posting, but then there's still stew to be eaten and fish doesn't keep, so fish later, stew until there is no more, and something different for reading today.

Last weekend, we had brunch with my mother-in-law and devoted partner(husband)'s former minister whom I had only met once at a Border's in 19something and who wasn't able to attend our wedding. She asked us a question which, strangely, people have been asking: does it feel different to be married? And I don't want to belittle the question because it's a rather valid one in our circumstance. We were together a very long time before making it official and that perplexed people; as it perplexed them when, seemingly out of nowhere, we decided to go ahead and sign the papers and serve wine with them. I think if you had asked me to answer that question before marriage I would have given a flippant answer. Now, though, I have to admit that it is different. But in very specific, kinda cheesy ways.

I draw your attention to two things I've read about love and marriage in the past day, both courtesy of friend postings on Facebook. The first a story about a married couple whose lives were irrevocably changed when the husband suffered irreversible brain damage; the second about a single woman my age contemplating a lifetime with a man whose views on religion deviate so wildly from her own that crying is a frequent occurrence.

Both of these articles incited emotion from me; emotion that would have been different prior to marriage. I would have, without hesitation, assured you, in my pre-marriage state, that I was with devoted partner in sickness and in health. But I would have been under no moral, ethical, or quasi-legal obligation to do so. It was merely my love for him that prompted that response. Now, though, it's serious. It's real. Words are only words save for how you endow them with meaning, and when we recited our vows - our traditional, old-fashioned vows - we meant them. Literally. Irrevocably. I think it's why we wanted those vows. Those were the lessons of marriage that spoke to us and we wanted it to be absolutely clear that we were signing on for old-fashioned, irrevocable marriage. It wasn't just laziness on our parts. Or as Henry Rollins said, "Me and you until we die. For better for worse. You get cancer, I'm sticking with you, your tits get cut off, I'm sticking with you, you f-ing grow this melanoma lump out of your f-ing head, I'm staying with you. I gotta put you in adult f-ing diapers when you're 90, I love you and I'm going to do it every day."* We didn't think the guests would really get that, so we went with the book of common prayer. And this first article is absolutely heartbreaking because it resonates so strongly. Sure, we had gobs of years in the bag where that's what we thought, but being married feels different because we know we're going to do it now.

Which brings me to the second article where a woman is wondering if she should enter into what any rational person could see is a doomed long-term relationship simply because she's 34 and her pickings are slim. All the self-righteous crap I just spewed above, that's MY truth. MY life. MY stubbornness. And I do my level best not to judge how others do it simply because we decided on the Thunderdome interpretation of marriage. But it gets me in the gut to read and hear about this paranoia of being left alone and grabbing at anything vaguely compatible to avoid this. As if you get a medal for it, or that at your funeral they make mention that you lived your life summa cum somebody. Marriages are tough in the best of situations, but entering into one where you already have one of the three bellwethers of divorce checked off (the other two are money and kids) beggars belief. And doing so because you think it's the best you'll ever get (an outlook, by the way, which I believe dooms one to only getting the ok out of life)?

Listen, I'm now a big advocate of this whole spending-your-life-with-the-same-person thing, I like it, but the whole Big Capitalized Vow aspect? I never could have done that for someone who was just the best I could get. I'd like to think most people (or most of the people I know) get into marriage because they love the other person and think it's going to work forever, not simply so they can check "married" off on their bucket lists; it's terrible when it doesn't work out that way, but knowing it's not going to work out that way and having the party anyway? Ick. I mean these are the author's own words: "But if I decide not to be a part of this holy threesome, I could risk ending up on my own. That doesn't sound like a very good deal to make. In fact, that sounds rather like a deal with the Devil." Great, so marry someone with whom you have fundamental, intrinsic differences and enjoy the two years or so of getting to claim you're married before you kill each other or merely divide your stuff and flee to opposite ends of the country. Is there a prize for that?

So, yes, it feels different to be married. More weighty. More explicitly responsibility-laden. And while I clearly did judge the soon-to-be-married-and-then-divorced author, there are too many struggling marriages that deserve a chance for me to get worked up about a theoretical one that should never happen. We waited a long time, and I'm glad we did. Not because it is an amusing story to tell new people, but because, given our feelings about marriage, we wanted to be damn sure we meant it. Having set it down on paper? Yeah, that feels pretty damned different!

*Dear Henry Rollins, This is now the third time I have bought this album. Today I did it to find that one passage. Thank goodness for The Cloud because, theoretically, it means I won't have to buy it again. Love, Yelena.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

When The Pants Come Off

I should mention the things I'm reading more often, especially when I both like what I've read and I know the author. This morning it was an article by a college chum, Chris, on male and female body issues and a call for more nudity. Sign me up! Oh wait, as anyone who has ever had the (mis)fortune of living with or near me knows, I've already signed up.

Now, I may have an unfair advantage in that I grew up in a clothing-optional or, put a more accurate way, too-lazy-to-really-dress household. Some of this naturally arose from 4 people living in 650 square feet with one bathroom, but some of it was probably latent and subconscious hippiedom on the part of my not-that-hippie parents. We weren't full on nudists, we were just more of a "hey, is it ok if we wear our underwear to dinner?" kind of group. Other people tell me that's kind of gross.

Whatever long-lasting psychological damage I feel sure my more modest brother suffered from this, I do know that nudity and shame were never a thing we had in our house. It just wouldn't have occurred to us. Gym class? Not a problem. Those bizarre open changing rooms in some department stores? Ditto. I remember being shocked at the grown-up gym one time when I had been working out with a female coworker who went through all kinds of frightful contortions to cover herself after showering and wondering how that became her normal; similarly I may have inappropriately busted out laughing at college once upon discovering that a couple I knew slept in full-on clothing together. It's one of those things where what you grow up with really does become default normal. And just like the woman's side of the bed is the left side, the proper attire for sleep is nothing. It's just what I knew.

Now I can't claim all of the benefits Chris has discovered from an embracing of less clothing - I still weigh myself quite a bit (and can someone explain how the scale went up .2 pounds this morning from the time I woke up through the time I had finished my daily coffee and what comes after coffee?) and I still worry about how this or that part looks, but the root causes of my here-and-there body dissatisfactions don't come from a place of shame and for that I am eternally thankful to good old not-quite-dressed mom and dad.

It is, however, worth noting that the brain still edits. For example: would I be comfortable meeting up with Chris and his family at a clothing-optional mini-golf course? I honestly don't know. The stubborn, defensive part of me says, "of course! Naked mini-golf with open-minded friends is what all normal people should do!" But nudity in front of family or strangers is still far more comfortable than nudity in front of people one actually knows. However attired we were for family dinners, when we had friends for dinner, it wasn't like my dad actually showed up in his briefs, or encouraged his guests to do likewise.

So I'm going to think about this, Chris, because I like to be proven a hypocrite as often as possible (and lest anyone reading this gets the wrong idea, no naked mini-golf has been proposed). In the meantime, though, if any of you come over and want to take off your pants, we're chill with that!