Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Love You Save

“The 8:10 train to Montauk is delayed due to equipment problems, please stand by.”

Oh, brother.

I already know what Neil’s expression is going to look like, so I contort my face into one of commiseration and sympathy.  I’ve found, in marriage, when your spouse is frustrated with someone or something other than you, the best strategy is complete agreement.  Do you really want to engage in argument about whether there are too many Thai restaurants in Hell’s Kitchen when there are only two on the Upper West Side?  Or why every restaurant in our neighborhood is Japanese?  And whose side are you taking?  Some shadowy dining club that’s conspiring to make it impossible to walk through the west 40s without being subjected to the alluring aroma of kaffir lime and cilantro?  A mysterious organization of Japanese restaurateurs who have so dominated the area surrounding the Museum of Natural History that you can practically get a salmon skin roll at the entrance to the dinosaur bones, but can’t find a decent drunken noodle between Lincoln Center and Columbia University?

“All these people up here with their museums and their kids and their classes at the Y.  They’re the ones who keep eating all this damn Japanese food.  Meanwhile, the rest of us can’t get a decent pad thai.  Even Vynl (which used to serve pad thai) closed, and that was a diner.”

Only my husband could use the language of the red-state blue-state divide to articulate migratory dining patterns of Manhattanites.  Like Sarah Palin blogging for Menupages.

All of this is by way of explaining that tortured empathy was my only option here, particularly since it’s my fault we’re on the platform in Jamaica shortly after 8am on a Sunday.  Getting Neil out of bed before 7:30am on a workday can require not only an alarm, but an icepick, so 6am on Sunday demands something more creative, like a fire or a live Cobra.

“She better show us some good houses today or she’s fired.”  Neil’s only playing; the truth is he really loves our real estate broker.  And I can’t fault him for being frustrated: we’ve been looking at houses in the Hamptons on and off since we got engaged, much less married – a span of almost four years.  In all that time we’ve only seen three we liked enough to buy.  One was too expensive, one left us with some concerns about the construction, and one was so perfect it had to fall apart – and did when the seller pulled out of the deal as I was headed to my lawyer’s to sign the contracts.

“Stupid train.  It’s fucking Jamaica.  Aren’t there, like, 800 other trains in the yard they could use?”  That’s me.  When I’m supportive, I go whole hog.

“Let’s take the train and go visit your Mom!”  This is the joke Neil makes every time we change at Jamaica.  It’s funny because visiting my Mom ranks somewhere between oral surgery and a trip to Gitmo.  I love the woman, but the last time we went out there, I told her I was up for a show on the History Channel and she changed the subject.  Halfway through the story.  If you’re wondering why I lacked the confidence to pursue a career in the creative arts until my mid-30s (Ok, fine, late 30s.  Fuck off.), this is why.

“I think she gets back from that cruise today.” I remind him.

“Another cruise?  She and your dad should take one together.  They’d have fun.”

This is funny because my parents taking a cruise together would threaten to replace the Titanic as the worst nautical disaster of all time.  Over the years, the list of places that are too small for my parents to occupy at the same time has grown so large it actually includes the state of Michigan. The idea of my father and his lover (yes, he’s gay, catch up, we’ve got lots to cover) and my mother and her newly-moved-in boyfriend (this is going to be fun – my mother can’t share a dessert, much less her home) on a cruise ship together spawns visions of an ending that would wind up on Dateline.

However, I will say that between my parents and their respective significant others, they've logged more hours on a cruise ship than Captain Stuebing and Charo.

Still, I think a Sunday in the Hamptons is a perfect ending to a lovely weekend.  Yesterday morning I got up early and cleaned out the TiVo again.  I’m pleased to report that Crying Christopher, who departed Project Runway in a rustle of grey fabrics, didn’t disappoint at the end.  Still, for all his high drama and low fashion, I have to give the guy credit for making it to the end despite a lack of formal training and no real outlet for his work back in Minnesota.  I hope he looks back at the season and sees how his earlier work compared to his later designs.  He has some real talent, and if he can prevent himself from falling victim to too many ideas at once, he’ll have a future.  Somewhere amid the frenzy of creativity, there’s a vision. 

Controversially, Gordana was also eliminated, though I personally would have dumped Althea (she of the “paper bag waist” which I still don’t think is a thing.)  I tend to agree that Gordana’s work tended towards being very “off-the-rack;” competently executed and fashionable, but not overly inspired.  Still, based on the last challenge, her dress was definitely one of the top two designs.

Over on Top Chef, the regular proceedings were halted for a Reunion Special.  Again.  Snore.  Sorry, but they keep bringing a potpourri of chefs back from previous seasons and it’s just so dull at this point.  Fabio hosted a dozen or so chefs from all five seasons, with each season having to work together to make a course, but it wasn’t really a competition.  Thus, it lacked pace and structure.  And the potential conflict is so dampened at this point, who cares?  Ilan and Marcel from season two seem to have mostly buried the hatchet.  And even though Marcel is still such a prig you want to stuff his head in an oven, it’s old at this point. 

The evening did have one potential: the reunion of Casey from Season Three and Carla from Season Five.  Carla, with a real shot at winning her season coming off three or four episodes in a row where she totally blew the doors off the competition, blew it in the finale after Casey served as her guest sous chef and convinced her to sous vide her entrée.  The move pretty much cost Carla the title.

It could have been epic.  Like Joan Collins-Linda Evans epic.  Amanda Woodward epic. (For anyone under thirty who doesn’t get these allusions, think Blake Lively-Leighton Meester in Gossip Girl, but you should really be schooled in the classics.)  I mean, is there anyone who wouldn’t have tuned in to Carla coming unglued and chasing Casey around the Top Chef kitchen with a meat cleaver.  That’s appointment television.

But, NOOOOOO.  Carla had to be all nice and sweet and Carla about it, with all the “it was my decision” and “I accept total responsibility for it.”  Really, such behavior is almost completely un-American.

Speaking of un-American, there's a new Latin American restaurant in Hell's Kitchen on Ninth Avenue and 53rd Street.  Agua Dulce.  It is terrific.  The decor is modern and hip and the lighting is impeccable.  The service is a little uneven - a bit over-solicitous in places, but it's better than the alternative (which is negligence and disregard, the hallmarks of popular new New York eateries.)  Neil and I shared the guacamole, which was good, though it could have been chunkier, spicier and served in a more generous portion.  My chicken was wonderfully prepared, crispy skin and tender flesh served with roasted potatoes that approximated a good patatas bravas.  Neil had the arroz con pollo which was seasoned more appropriately, rich and bursting with flavor.  We each drank a specialty cocktail and can completely recommend the fresamenta, a blend of vodka, strawberry, mint and club soda.

Go - now - before the good reviews come in from the majors.

Friday night we saw that Michael Jackson movie, “This Is It.”  I have to go on record saying that I loved it.  Loved it, loved it, loved it.  And I’m surprised, because I never EVER thought of myself as a Michael Jackson fan. The last concert I saw was the Victory tour in 1983.  The last album I bought was Thriller.  I had a familiarity with the music, but never really understood it – or him as a performer – until I saw this movie.  Yeah, I had something of an appreciation for his stuff, liked some of it, but mostly thought he was weird and creepy (which he was) and made mean jokes about it because that’s what I do.

But something happened while watching the movie.  All of a sudden, Michael Jackson as an artist is revealed to you.  More than his music, which was actually ground-breaking – leveraging sounds that were rhythmic and catchy and completely familiar and turning them into something totally new.  More than his dancing, which was inspired in its creation and near-flawless in its execution, even at the age of 50.

This Is It taught me two things I never knew about Michael Jackson.  The first was, despite the child-like voice and horror-movie-spooky accoutrements (the monkey, the glove, the hair, the surgery, I could go on) – Michael Jackson had a clear artistic vision, and was not a diva.  As captured on film, he comes across as a generous performer and manager who, though a total control-freak, respected the breadth of people it takes to create a project like the very ambitious concert they were developing, let them do their jobs, but set clear expectations and had a crystal clear idea of what he wanted.

Second, Michael Jackson had a message.  Evolved across multiple albums and nearly 25 years, the story he weaves together is a completely innocent and totally naïve world-view about peace and love and freedom and equality.  It’s stunning in its simplicity, and a perfect perspective at a time when the depth and breadth of crises in the world cries out for a message of healing.  I’m not ordinarily this sentimental, but I found the movie inspiring because it exhorts making the world a better place.  For you and for me. 

We should probably just leave it there.  Otherwise, I might ruin this moment by telling you about the guy I saw on the subway platform yesterday.  He was so round he looked like Violet Beauregarde after eating the gum in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. 

But he wasn’t, you know, blue.


DO THIS, New York:

Go to Agua Dulce.  It's delicious.

See This Is It and appreciate Michael Jackson's total mastery of his art.  That concern would have been worth seeing.  He took the best of his work, added magnetic new layers without sacrificing the familiarity we unconsciously look for in works we already know and love, and created new music that will stand with some of the best in his songbook.

Heal the World.  Make it a better place. (I told you I was touched.)

DON'T DO THIS, New York:

I don't recommend picking a fight with Neil over the varieties of Asian food available in Manhattan.


  1. Glad the broker wasn't fired. Geez Louise! As a set designer, the broker works behind the scenes so the set is perfect and all is organized and suites the mood and needs of the characters! LOL....Author's Mom sounds as though she isn't listening...gosh, just when her son is about to lift off to his dreams!!! the blatant funny aging a part of humor for the young? and by the way...where is a good Thai restaurant in the Hamptoons? Sag Harbor? xoxo

  2. I still can't help but wonder what would life be like if Rachel had married Dario.