Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Taste the Rainbow

My cousin texted me last week, asking me to blog about a practice he’d recently heard about: vajazzling. Now, if you think I’m going to devote a section of my blog to an exceedingly odd process of body decoration…

OK, this is too twisted not to comment on. Vajazzling is, um, how to describe this? Vajazzling is when a woman covers her Ho-Ho in a sparkling array of colorful sprinkles.

OK, seriously – how can this be fun for anyone? Are the lady parts really so uninteresting to look at that they require being painfully adorned with sequin or glass crystals? I know I’ve never shown much interest in that particular anatomical feature, but it’s not because it needed to be decorated like a cheap Mexican restaurant.

And I can’t believe this is painless. I don’t know if they get implanted with some sort of stapling device like a Bedazzler, or an adhesive like a hot glue gun – but it can’t be comfortable. And what about for guys? Does any man want to trade a soft landing for a shot at road rash? Ladies – if this is what turns your guy on, let him suck on a Christmas ornament and rub his dick with sandpaper – but don’t turn your hoo-hoo into a kaleidoscope.

Call me old fashioned, but I’m perfectly satisfied with plain old sodomy.

Anyway – I have lots to tell you all from the weekend, but first – a quick review. I was out in California last week and got to visit the Viceroy Hotel, at the edge of Santa Monica, just barely out of Venice. The lobby is done in that very retro-70s-updated thing that a lot of the Morgans properties (the Mondrian) have done. All very baroque and patterned with the white leather and the very lounge-y, lounge-y thing going on. It works – but only in Florida or southern California . It helps if everyone around you is pretty, under 30, and gorgeous.

The hotel is right across the street from the beach (and a restaurant called Capo, which I ate at about 2 years ago, and has the honor of being one of the most expensive places I ever ate. It was good, but not good enough for the prices they charged. Skip it, and go up the block to Chez Jay – a true “dive” – still around from the 50s. It’s an Italian seafood restaurant – you can smell the garlic from the street and practically envision Sinatra and Dean-o sitting in a booth holding court and drinking scotch.)

Anyway, we ate at Whist, in the Viceroy. A limited menu, but superb, with a focus on fresh fish. My sea bass was excellent - well-cooked and flavorful - and one of my dinner companions had the halibut, which he said was equally good. He was a little fart-y the next day, but he blames that on the beet salad, so maybe skip that and get the burrata, which is served with a bread salad and cherries. Not cherry tomatoes, but actual cherries. Yum.

We sat outside, in a pool area filled with little nooks and private seating areas. It’s a total L.A. experience.

I arrived home to a busy weekend: Saturday we had a graduation party for Neil’s cousin’s son up in Westchester, and Sunday was Gay Pride.

We took the Metro-North up to Katonah for the graduation party. I thought it was a little weird that they threw the party on a Saturday night – wouldn’t the kids want to be with their friends, rather than family? I associate Sundays with family celebrations – but, what do I know? This particular cousin is a Jehovah Witness, so maybe they don’t go out on Saturday nights? Or they get up early on Sundays so they can go knock on doors? Whatever – I just hoped there was alcohol, otherwise it was going to be a long night spent nibbling on cheese and sneaking off to send text messages to my girlfriends.

Fortunately, when we got there, the place was awash in liquor. Unfortunately, the hors' d'euvres consisted off one vegetables tray with some ranch dressing and a small bowl of Tostitos Scoops. For 25 people. For 2 and a half hours. By the time dinner made it to the table, Neil and I were plastered.

He spent most of the night talking to his late uncle’s first wife, as well as her sister who was wearing what appeared to be a one-piece bathing suit with a pair of shorts. Oh – and high-heeled sandals with rhinestones. Really, the only accessory she was missing was a bowl of fruit on her head.

I spent the night talking to his cousin’s daughter’s boyfriend’s parents. They were very nice, and are clearly close in age, despite the fact that, in appearance, he seems to be 20 years older than she. She meanwhile, kept talking about several guy friends that she spends time with, leading me to wonder if there are a lot of gays up in Columbia County (she could totally hang with the ‘mos) or if she’s getting a bit on the side. This idea amused me as I continued to get drunker and drunker.

Oh – and have you ever heard of people barbecuing with aluminum foil on the grill? I’m not talking about wrapping fish or corn or something that might be too delicate for the grill, but hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken. The result was that the fat didn’t burn off onto the coals, but pooled right there under the food, resulting in an effect similar to boiling. Or poaching. Barbe-poaching. Everything grilled in its own fat.

And before we ate, a group prayer was conducted. I don’t really mind brief, overt displays of religiosity like this. I really respect people who have that kind of faith – they seem to have a sense of peace about them (those who haven’t let it slide all the way from peace into self-righteousness, indignation or smugness.) I just wish they had prayed for a better meal. (This isn’t entirely fair: the pasta salad – which was basically penne, basil, tomatoes, mozzarella, garlic, salt and olive oil – was outstanding.)

Fortunately I had a bag of licorice in my bag for the ride home.

On Sunday, we celebrated Gay Pride – or, as I like to call it, Gay Shame. I’m sorry – but this thing just feels like a relic to me at this point. I don’t really like parades to begin with, and don’t really need to stand on a hot, humid street corner watching Dikes on Bikes and four hours of clubs and organizations like the Gay Dominicans from Yonkers. Plus, the city gets overrun with a bridge and tunnel crowd, you can’t get around easily, and a bunch of sweaty, tweaked-out freaks is not my idea of a good time.

Still, the boys wanted to get together for brunch, which seemed harmless enough. Neil and I both had such a hangover that a Bellini or two was just what the doctor ordered (seriously, it’s only a matter of time before I’m forced to re-name this column: Mean Gay Drunk.) Another friend of ours stopped by briefly – long enough to tell us about the party he went to on Governor’s Island the night before – a new event for Pride week.

Apparently, “everybody” was there. “It was like they took all the gay boys from Fire Island and combined it with all the gay boys from the Hamptons!” This sounds like a riddle. What do you get?

Ummm, I don’t know? In island full of the same obnoxious drugged out middle aged homos I ignore on non-holiday weekends?

Oh no! I’ve missed the gay social event of the season. (Ack. Ugh. Wretch.)

But, after brunch, a trip to the parade was, dispiritingly, inevitable. We managed to hang out for half an hour or so, then head over to some party the guys had gone to the previous year.

This was the strangest party I ever attended. It was in a very nice apartment in the West Village, and, in the midst of cocktails, crudite, and a very nice cheese plate, some boy was getting tied up and stripped.

Ok, look. Now that I’m married and almost 40, a sex party isn’t my thing – but I’m not shocked by them. And it’s not like I might not find it an appealing novelty if I were younger and single – but this wasn’t even a sex party. It wasn’t like some Colt or Mustang video – all dark and porn-y. It was someone’s apartment living room, with a naked boy in rope being groped desultorily while the rest of us sort of ignored it, except when we were debating the relative wisdom of eating the grapes.

So, another weekend down. I hope you enjoyed the stories, because experiencing it – let’s just say I wasn’t Vajazzled.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Family: Old and New

Can we all agree that Florida is the weirdest state?

I know - West Virginia is shaped like a bunny rabbit and California has that whole $19 billion budget gap and Louisiana has the weird French form of government and can't seem to escape disasters headed towards it from the Gulf.  But Florida - hanging-chad recounting, orange-growing, DisneyWorld family vacationing, weird Republican-turned-Independent-and possibly-closted-gay Governor Florida pretty much takes the prize.

(One plus for Florida: Coconut Patties.  Sweet, chocolatey, airport-gift-in-a-yellow box Coconut Patties.)

So, it's appropriate that I had a weird week in Florida.

I should have expected it when my flight landed on time, only to pull within 20 feet of the gate and stop.  Apparently, if there are thunderstorms, they can't tow you in or extend the jetway.  So you get an extra hour of recycled air on a plane that was so old I think I saw Amelia Earhart in the cockpit.

But I'm not here to slam Florida, with humidity so intense I was sweating simply sitting still.  Or the models sunbathing nude at our hotel (take that, Marriott Courtyard.)  Or the number of Indian casinos popping up along I-95.

I'm here to tell you about going to dinner with someone who was my best friend in college.  Someone I haven't seen in almost 16 years.

After I graduated, I moved far away to go to Law School, after which I moved again.  I also didn't come out of the closet until after college.  As a result, I lost touch with a lot of my high school and college friends, and sort of felt awkward re-connecting with them; your like changes a lot after coming out.

But Facebook has put me right back in touch with a lot of people from a time in my life that was pretty much lost to me.  It's not that I don't remember that time in my life, but I have very few people I can reminisce with. So Facebook has been a total gift from that perspective- and, while many of the re-connections have been superficial, a handful have been really meaningful. This was one of those.

Chad and I spent most of my junior and senior year hanging out.  In addition, I spent two consecutive summers in his hometown - Miami - and countless days with his family.  Dinners, barbecues, afternoons at the pool - I can't even fathom how much time I spent with them; it was a surrogate family.

It was weird to walk in to a restaurant and come face to face with my past.  Other than his sister - who obviously looks different at 24 than she did at 8 years old - I would have thought it was 1994 again. And they welcomed me as if no time had passed at all - which initially made me feel ungrateful and uncomfortable; guilty for letting relationships lapse.

That was quickly replaced by feeling totally at ease; that's the thing about family --- time may pass chronologically, but not emotionally.  I was reminded, again, how kindness is such an incredibly important and largely undervalued attribute.  I was really moved.

Meanwhile ... did you know that I am related to Batman?

Also, Spider-Man, Supergirl, and a Disney princess - all of them alter egos of my neice who turns four on Saturday.  She managed to cycle through each of these personas in less than hour last Sunday afternoon, experiencing a fluency with multiple personalities that only a true psychopath could appreciate.

Can I just say?  My sister - who is no stranger to self-martyrdom, really does deserve more appreciation.  Pretty much every family holiday falls to her.  Neither of her sisters-in-law have kids; Neil and I live in Manhattan, which everyone on Long Island finds inconvenient (I don't know why - the trains come here dozens of times a day, we live near 8 different parking garages, and we're in a nice neighborhood.  I know the argument is that, since everyone lives on Long Island, it's less of a schlep, but -it's not like we haven't offered.)

Anyway - between Mother's Day (which her mother in law covered this year), Father's Day (which she pretty much always gets) and Christmas (written in stone - my brother-in-law invites more people every year, to my sister's growing chagrin (she sort of loves it.))

Still, it can't be easy when it's always your house, your expense, your mess. 

We try to help out however we can - entertaining the kids (which we love doing anyway), cleaning up after ourselves; bringing loads of gifts.  But it's really all a gift to us.  I know everyone thinks their kids/grandkids/nieces/nephews are the cutest/smartest/whateverest - but we feel a pretty special pride in being uncles.  I love seeing how smart and articulate the eldest is becoming.  She's so sharp and intuitive, you almost can't wait for her to get older because she's going to do really special things.  And her sister is so brazen - brave and funny and demanding of attention - there's a stage in that kids future.  And the baby (told you - he'll be "the baby" til he's 40) - can a 2 year old be possessed of charm?  Meanwhile, he's so attached to his sister he just randomly says her name if she ventures more than 5 feet away from him.

Wow - sentimental post.  I need to go to a diner and send some soup back...I'm losing my edge.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Do You Know Who I Am?

Clearly, the end of times is coming.

I was in a Duane Reade on Saturday and the guy behind the counter was polite and actually hurried to provide assistance.  In Manhattan, this is the equivalent of finding a Leprechaun riding a Unicorn.  Something's up with Duane Reade lately...the stores are cleaner, their new line of branded products is pretty good (beware the brownie bites at the checkout stand - pure evil in a delicious chocolatey square.)

But we can't dwell on the DR - we've got too much to cover today.

First, I need to tell you about the funniest job interview ever.  No not me - I love my job (which will remain my official position as long as my boss and co-workers read this blog, but has the advantage of actually being true.)

My friend, ummm, (this nickname thing sucks.)  Let's call her, Croquette.

You see, Croquette is one of the thousands of New Yorkers whose youth evaporates as the enthusiasm of their 20s rapidly slides into the bitterness and alcoholism of their 40s with a single bitter career move known as working for a large law firms.  You know these places: operating under a string of surnames that could only possibly belong to long-dead white protestants who once owned a completely different kind of slave (or, more recently, possibly-still-alive but totally fossilized old Jews who are descended from slaves and we should know better - shame, shame!) These law factories are responsible for the fact that virtually everything you do these days is front-ended by a process that requires you to give up your legal rights (that little pop up window that you simply click "Agree" to everytime you purchase a new Apple product?  Congratulations, paragraph 384(b)(7)(ii) requires you to name your child Harold.  Even if it's a girl.)

Anyway, Croquette has had enough, and she's getting out.

So, finally, she dedicated at least 15 minutes (which was billable to a client because she was sort of thinking about them while she was pursuing a career change) to updating her resume, her linked in profile, and reminding herself that she didn't go to Princeton and Georgetown to work a pole, or a corner, even metaphorically.  The result was an interview with a storied New York firm of Surname Surname (not their real name).

Be not confused, dear reader.  Despite bearing the names of rich white people, this is not a law firm, rather a financial services firm - though the difference in life or lifestyle is negligible.  This would not be a trade up.

Still, an interview is an interview and it's always good practice.  So Croquette took the day off, put on a clean black conservative suit (of which New Yorkers own several dozen apeice) and headed over to their offices.

You'd imagine a firm this sophisticated would have a crack HR process for recruitment, especially since their turnover is so high.  Yet, Croquette had to talk to three people before she found someone who had any clue why she was there, or what she was interviewing for.  I suppose this wouldn't have been so trying, if the people who kept coming by to figure out who the hell she was didn't keep leaving her in a small HR office.  In the dark. 

By the way - her name isn't Croquette, but it's not exactly Jane Smith - the fact that they didn't even know who she was is inexcusable.

Finally, someone figured out who she was and took her through a labyrinthine venture to a conference room where she was told to wait and, if anyone asked why she was here, to just say she was there for "a meeting."  Apparently, these oblique instructions would be enough, as a company which attracts some of the most talented financial minds in New York probably doesn't employ people who would have the slightest curiosity as to who the "meeting" was with, what the "meeting" might be about, or why this girl no one's ever seen before was attending it (not to mention, where she came from.)

So, clearly, at this point Croquette has figured out she's interviewing for a job not yet vacated by its-soon-to-be-previous occupant.  And the story could reasonably end here.  But, it would be incomplete to omit that, despite accepting these circumstances (and the knowledge that should would NOT accept a job here under any circumstances,) Croquette inquired about using the restroom.  To which the HR lady asked, "Can you hold it?"

This is the point in the story where, if it had happened to me, I would have peed on the conference table.  And left.  After getting them to validate my parking.

I guess it really is a rough job market folks.

What I'm Learning at the Airport Newsstand

1. Fergie slept with rich men for cash (The Globe) - Who doesn't?

2. Cher's new life-threatening condition (National Enquirer) - what happened to the old one? Did it stop threatening her life and move on to collecting Hummel figurines?

3. Cops shoot two-headed bigfoot (Weekly World News) - Great. Another story about Cher.

4. Los Mas Sexy (Mira!) - I can't understand this magazine, but the shirtless soccer players are cute.

5. Glee Secrets (Us Weekly) - Yeah. Here's a secret: one of the guys is straight. Shhh!

6. Drugs! Lies! Secret Lovers! (Star) - Oops. Cher, again.

7. Who's Gay and Who's Not (National Enquirer) - Ummm, me.

And - on the cover of Architectural Digest: Cher's New Hollywood Home. Guess those drugs, lies and life-threatening illesses are paying off.

Friday, June 4, 2010

New information

An avid and engaged reader has pointed out that Jennifer Hudson has a Grammy and several other music awards.  In the spirit of open dialogue, we at Do This New York welcome such feedback, and - as always - invite our readers to start their own damn blog :)
Now I've seen everything...diapers that are designed to look like denim cutoff shorts
Watching Regis and Kelly at the gym; Is it a good idea to have a regular sequence about firefighters grilling out when most people shouldn't play with matches? And how did Katherine Heigl go from being a 27 year old blond to a middle aged brunette? Lose the short sweaters.

Long Weekend

For those of you not native to New York, you may be harboring an impression of us fostered by the narcissistic navel-gazers of Seinfeld, the chatty, pretty Friends, and the cosmo-swilling (and near-menopausal) gals of Sex and the City (skip the movie, by the way, I don’t even need to see it to tell you it’s awful. I work blue, and even I want to vomit at the line, “Lawrence of my labia.” It’s an insult to those of us who can work the word “cocksucker” into a business lunch and get away with it.)

Nevertheless, it’s worth remembering that New York is equal parts queens (as in, $400 designer shoes and weekends in South Beach) as it is Queens (as in $4 plastic shoes and the end of your life in Miami – which is in “Flah-ridda.”) If you’d like a real-time illustration of this dichotomy, you’re more than welcome to ride the Long Island Railroad with me and Neil out to Hampton Bays.

Our weekend was actually fantastic – we spent most of Saturday doing our own thing – gym, errands, etc., then met up at 3pm to see a movie. While I tend to be a pretty big fan of Nicole Holofcener (Friends with Money), I didn’t really love her latest film, Please Give – which opened to generally strong reviews. Catherine Keener, whom I ordinarily like, turns in a performance that is striking in how cold and remote it is for an actress who is usually very relatable. I found her character whiny and her story lacking any real conflict or drama. Oliver Platt and Amanda Peet do a good job playing people you don’t really like or care about, leaving the audience the choice of relating to Amanda Peet’s boring sister, a sullen teenage girl, or a mean old woman.

I chose the old bag.

Saturday night Neil whipped up a tender braised veal shank with crispy polenta and Brussels sprouts while I got silly on red wine and the season finale of House (no one in television turned in a stronger performance this season than Hugh Laurie. No one. From the premiere, where he struggles with both his drug addiction and his isolation, to the final episode where he faces the degree to which his injury and addiction have crippled his ability to form any real human connection, his work was funny, vulnerable and brave. An actor playing a character full of tics and tricks could easily rely on those to create an illusion of character. This season, Laurie threw them all away, and turned in a bravura season as a result.)

While Saturday, with a mix of sun and clouds, was conducive to indoor activities – Sunday and Monday promised to be sunny and hot, so Neil and I threw a few things in a bag, picked up some colorful sugary treats for the kiddies (and Neil) and jumped on the train to see my sister, my brother-in-law, and the kids.

The 9:40 train hits the stops for Jones Beach, the Fire Island Ferries, and the Hamptons – so it was packed with daytrippers toting their beach detritus, fussy children, and various intoxicants. In a testament to it always being five o’clock somewhere, several young ladies on our train were brown bagging it well before 10am. Really, is there anything more attractive than an overweight bottle blonde huffing a 40 in her acid washed denim skirt and a black wifebeater. And speaking of wife beaters, I must have wrong when I said that Dep and those creepy tattoos that go all the way around your bicep were on their way out. Apparently good taste never goes out of style.

The upside is that it was easy for my brother-in-law to spot us when our train pulled in – Neil and I being the only people who didn’t look like we’d appeared in a movie whose title ended in “…Gone Wild.”

The kids were all in great spirits when we arrived. My eldest niece is really smart and articulate and she’s outgrowing a period of shyness – it used to take her a while to warm up when we visited. Her little sister is a total ham – a little less wild than she used be – but with a lot of charm and feistiness. And the baby (who, I am afraid, may wind up being called, “the Baby” until he’s 40) is clearly in his terrible twos – fussy and difficult to please – but when he’s well-behaved he’s an angel.

We had a quick lunch, then trooped off to the beach where we joined my brother-in-law’s family.

Can I just say, here, that I have a hard time when I set out to write about family. It’s easy with my own family – they know me, and realize that sarcasm and snark is just my way. Also, they know they’re crazy and damaged and easy marks. And Neil expects that my treatment of him is fair payback for his endlessly reminding me of my terrible crimes which include an inability to wash a fork the second it leaves my mouth and wanting to take him on vacation.

But with in-laws, it’s harder. It’s not your family and you’re only privy to the crazy by association; it’s someone else’s to own. Thus, if those posts come off as a bit subdued, understand that I’m not holding back, I’m trying to be respectful – since I never apologize for jokes. (OK, I did once, which is where I learned this lesson.)

Suffice it to say that every family has its own crazy..

Well, almost suffice it to say…I can skip over my sister’s mother-in-law without commenting that if you’ve ever lost anything in your life it’s probably somewhere in her living room, because she’s also the most generous hostess you’ll ever meet. You could show up on her lawn with 27 friends, and she’d invite you all in and feed you. And I can skip his sister who got divorced from the gay guy because that’s my mom’s story, too – and when a woman gets married thinking it’s forever, only to find out that her husband’s a cocksucker – it does some pretty fucked up things to you.

(BTW – I told you I could get that word in.)

(Also BTW – I know most of my audience is, at this point, wondering if gays are really randomly 10% of the population, or if it’s just my family spitting them out like logs out of a flume ride.)

But there comes a point where you can’t just gloss over someone because they’re someone else’s family, and you just have to take the gloves off. I found that line this weekend.

This is what we will call The Cousin Barbara Rule.

Cousin Barbara is one of those random relatives that somehow shows up in the middle of your life almost without explanation. She’s the daughter of the grandmother’s brother (making him a parent’s first cousin) – relatively close by blood, but remote in the experience of your life.

Everyone has one of these – I was nearly a teenager when my father came home one night ready to introduce us to a whole slew of cousins we had never heard about . It appears my grandfather, who I always thought had one sister, apparently had another. They hadn’t spoken in years, so when her daughter – my father’s first cousin – reached out “wanting to connect with family” (a phrase that generally follows a divorce or precedes a request for money), we got new cousins.

So, much as Cousin Diane got drop shipped into our lives in 1983, so did Cousin Barbara arrive. (Cousin Diane was her own packet of crazy. Recently divorced (told ya), with a live in boyfriend who she finally married, like 23 years later, and three kids. One was an aimless administrative assistant with dreams of becoming a country singer (because all great country singers come from Long Island), one was an aimless student who’s now married and – wait for it – might be gay, and the third was just aimless and I’m too tired to try and find words to describe her. All I remember is hair and teeth. Whatever. They were crazy, but they had a boat. That was fun.)

Return to actual topic: Cousin Barbara. Cousin Barbara – recently divorced (natch, but her ex probably wasn’t a homo, so she’s not winning Queen for a Day with this crowd unless he’s in prison), she’s just moved back to New York after many years in Miami (Flahridda) and Charleston, South Carolina. I can imagine her in Charleston about as easily as you can imagine Barack Obama wearing a full length evening gown and belting out the State of the Union address to the tune of “Cabaret.” She sports that weird hair style where the top layer of her hair is blonde and the bottom layer is brown, so it’s all very half-and-half – like a vanilla/chocolate Dixie cup that you used to get from the ice cream truck. She might do something in photography, and she might have kids – it’s hard to tell; not because she doesn’t talk about herself – she does that incessantly – but because the thickness of the accent and the thickness of the cigarette smoke creates a distancing effect. I find it easier to simply let myself be soothed by the scratchy scratchy scratchy quality of her voice.

Anyhow, we came to get some sun and play with the kids – which provided a convenient excuse for escaping further conversation with Cousin Barbara, who had begun to remind me of Faye Dunaway in Barfly, without the bar. We dug a big hole, then fed the kids chips, then dug another big hole, then fed the kids Goldfish, then took a nice long walk. For a popsicle. I don’t eat sugar and bread for weeks at a time so I can visit these kids who never met a carb they didn’t like.

Anyhow, all that snacking made us hungry, so we hurried back to the house to shower and change and get drunk enough to endure dinner. As mentioned, my brother-in-law’s mother is always prepared for an extra guest or 12, and a cookout at her house is an endless parade of food. Corn, beans, cole slaw, pasta salad, potato salad, macaroni salad, regular salad. Virtually everything’s the same temperature because it’s all been on the kitchen counter for somewhere between 20 minutes and three weeks. Except the food off the grill – rapidly defrosted steaks (in case there weren’t enough burgers), 30 burgers, turkey burgers, lamb chops, sausage, hot dogs – piping hot and served in such voluminous quantity you can barely stand by the time the cupcakes, cake, pie and fruit land for dessert.

It should have come as no surprise, 6 hours later, when my niece woke up unable to sleep and making heaving sounds, which woke my brother-in-law, who then spent a good bit of time throwing up his guts.

You know, between the Thanksgivings that manage to include a screaming match before the turkey’s even out of the oven, the Christmas Eve’s where my sister runs around taking care of everyone else while my parents snack on cheese and shrimp like they’re actual guests, and the number of family events that have included vomiting (Cooper’s birthday, this Memorial Day, and virtually every Christmas since my sister got married) – I wonder why we even show up at family events anymore. Though, I will say I’m pretty lucky…I really love these people and if they weren’t so absolutely batshit crazy I wouldn’t have anything to write about. Who the hell wants to read a blog about normal people who marry heterosexuals, dress appropriately in their 40s and don’t leave early to cruise the bars.

We took the train back early Monday morning, having avoided Sunday’s daytrippers who were sure to have been sunburnt, drunk, and in the mood for a hate crime. The train was relatively quiet, and after we got home we had a quick breakfast and headed over to the park to rent canoes and row on the lake. Then we checked out the renovation of the old Limelight (a church which was turned into a nightclub and was the heart of the Club Kids scene 20 years ago.) I miss the Limelight – I miss all those clubs from back in the day – Tunnel, Bedrocks, Club USA, Twilo, even Roxy – all gone and replaced by Boobs-in-your-face bottle service by almost-hookers and a bunch of rich stupid finance guys who played high school lacrosse, barely managed a C average through college and made a mint torpedoing the American economy with derivatives and other financial weapons of mass destruction.

The renovation is neat – they’ve got some interesting food stalls and boutique shops (or outposts of boutique shops around the city) – but the navigation is pretty weird (if you’ve ever been in the Limelight, it’s a maze.) Plus, it messes with your head to see someone serving gelato in the corner where you used to do blow.

And that’s all for now folks. Lincoln (as in, Nebraska) awaits … I’ll talk with you all from the prairie.

Grand Finale

OK, I went so long without posting that now I have, like, 14 posts running around in my head. So bear with me, this could be a prolific week.

With so many potential topics, I am going to focus this week on the recent end of the 2009-2010 television series - particularly the finale episodes - before the topic gets stale. While I could go on forever covering Survivor (Parvati should have won,) The Big Bang Theory (Hi, Blossom!), 24 (which over the course of seven seasons in real time went from having so much energy that each episode felt like it passed in 30 minutes, and ended its run so sluggish and labored that each hour felt like, well, 24.)

But we're going to focus on three particular finales, which are a good microcosm of the state of television - indeed, the state of America - today: Lost, American Idol, and House.

I'll start by telling you that I stuck with Lost all the way through six seasons. I have seen every episode. I was drawn in during season one - compelled by the mystery of who these people were, where they landed, why they were there, and what was happening to them. Season two sort of Lost me a bit - the narrative seemed uneven and I wasn't sure where the story was ambling - but when Michael shot Ana Lucia and Libby, and then got Jack, Sawyer and Kate kidnapped in order to get off the Island, I got sucked back in. Finally, the third season was a total mess - it was sort of clear they couldn't continue writing a series that hinged on so many mysteries without resolving them, but they couldn't resolve them without ending the show. So when the producers announced they had struck a deal to end the show in season six, I figured they had a clear narrative arc for where they wanted to go.

It started promisingly enough. The third season finale "Through the Looking Glass" were two of the best hours of scripted television I've watched, and provided a structure to the series, propelling the narrative forward clearly. The emergence of the Others as villains and the shadowy Charles Widmore as their nemesis anchored the series - both groups wanted the Island our survivors were so desperate to leave. The backdrop of both faith (the "Jacob" subplot) and reason (the scientific wonders of the Island; the Dharma initiative) seemed to indicate that the battle had real meaning; that the stakes were high. You got the feeling that the Island was worth something, and this battle was centuries old. Getting some of the castaways off the Island only made the story more urgent - their journey back was just as urgent as their journey to leave.

Personally, I loved the season five finale. Part of me wonders how I would have felt if they had simply ended the series there, or with the season six premiere. Something very Lady or the Tiger, where we see the choices, but don't get to know how it plays out. I almost could have lived with that. Instead, though, I wound up slightly disappointed.

It's not that the sixth season, with its "Sideways" storylines, wasn't compelling. And I didn't feel cheated by the revelation that those stories took place in a kind of purgatory after the characters had died (and I'm not the least bit curious about the age they all appeared to be, or the vast differences in when each of them must have died.) Actually, I sort of liked that that choice - or rather - it was one of only a handful of choices the writers could have made and allowed both the "original" timeline and the "sideways" timeline to be "real."

No, what ticked me off is that I feel the central story itself was essentially unresolved. Charles Widmore got shot, but we never really found out why he wanted the Island so badly. We never really found out why - or how - Ben managed to "lead" the others for so long. How, if Jacob was essentially the embodiment of good, he tolerated Ben's leadership when it was executed with so much malice? We never really understood why Walt was special? Why the Others went after kids, and what happened to them? We heard about how "evil" the smoke monster was, and what awful things would happen if "it" escaped the island, but all we got were vague allusions and no real understanding of those stakes.

So, in the end, I enjoyed the show and I'm glad I watched it. And I liked the finale - mostly because I'm a sucker for reunions. Shannon and Sawyer got me misty, but Sawyer and Juliet totally had me in tears (and I TOTALLY knew, when she made that remark about going dutch in the season premiere, that it was going to wind up in the finale when they met in Sideways world – I just didn’t know what that world would be.) That’s not saying much, though, since I also still cry every time Fantine shows up at the end of Les Miserables, and I've seen that five times.

However, looking back over the complete series as a dramatic work - I'd give it a B. It was engrossing and intelligent and literate and, often, inspired. I just don’t feel like it hangs together completely, tightly, as a single narrative. The six season arc tries to tell too many stories, and the central plot throughline feels incomplete. Basically, the series posed the central questions of: (1) who are these people? (2) why have they been chosen to come to this place? (3) why is it important? In the end, in order to be great, the series must specifically, explicitly, and completely answer those questions with actions and answers that are as elaborate and specific as the questions themselves.

That said, I will say that there’s very little happening in serialized television today that even attempts to achieve the level of narrative storytelling achieved in literature or film, or which challenges its audience with topics of faith, spirituality, economics, sociology, history, or science the way Lost did. It easily surpasses, in intelligence and storytelling, most of what we’ve seen on television.

American Idol and Survivor offer a far different lesson; a cautionary tale if you will, about laziness, boredom and stupidity. About why you shouldn’t let America vote, except when you should. I’ll explain.

I was engrossed by both shows right from the outset, mesmerized by the slow elimination that resulted in a “last man standing.” It’s a compelling device – dating all the way back to the Ten Little Indians nursery rhyme (and, later, a novel and play of the same name by Agatha Christie.) The inevitable winnowing of the field, coupled with the survival mechanisms of the players, makes for compelling television. The difference has been in the deployment. Survivor exists, ostensibly, to create good television. On that level it succeeds; it may not be intelligent television, though there are plenty of lessons about using social skills and managing group psychology that can be observed.

American Idol, however, exists, ostensibly, to find a great musician or musical performer. It’s track record hasn’t been bad, but it hasn’t been great. Two of nine winners are verifiable stars, though only one has shown real staying power (Carrie Underwood). Two other finalists (Daughtry and Jennifer Hudson) have gone on to achieve stardom, though, I’d wager to only call Daughtry a musician, while Jennifer Hudson (complete with Oscar and film career) is an actress who sings. Other than that, we’ve gotten lot of folks with recording contracts but no real commercial success, and a bunch of musical theater singers who probably would have found their way to Broadway somehow.

This season was BOOOOOORING. The show’s been on too long and the casting formula (the rocker, the sensitive ballad guy, the rebel chick, the kooky girl, the theater queen (male or female), the quirky re-mixer/beat-boxer/accordion player) has grown predictable – and predictably limiting. And letting America vote has resulted in three seasons in a row where the unexciting lite-rock contestant has beaten a more interesting musician (and this is from someone who preferred Cook to Archuleta and Lee to Crystal.) So next year, when your office has a pool to pick the winner, figure out which contestant is strong enough to make the top 6 and boring enough to be heard in your dentist’s office or your mother’s car, and you’ve got your winner.

It’s hard to find a great pop star on the television – kind of like going fishing in a tree: the medium is all wrong. Yes, great musicians need to be great performers, but they need to be great musicians, first. They need to bring to the table a voice that comes from self-awareness and life experience and creative expression. Many of those people aren’t under 26 (I know, now the age limit is 29), and aren’t necessarily going to get cast on a tv show where America votes for the winner. Listen to the early albums of Nina Simone, Roberta Flack, Joni Mitchell, and think about how they’d fare on the show. Would Kara have told Carole King that she’s got a lovely voice but she should really try something younger and more modern, and enough with the introspection and the yearning already? Would Randy have told Billy Joel that the piano stuff is a’ight, but maybe get out from behind the piano and show some range?

Which brings me to the judges. Does anyone care anymore? Randy hasn’t offered a single bit of constructive criticism in nine seasons. He’s supposed to be an industry executive, for crying out loud! Kara is a songwriter who works in A&R. Does these people have nothing to offer? How about saying – “Folks – this show is basically the biggest rotating cover band in the world. When you remake a song that someone else, somewhere, has already done – ask yourself, ‘Why am I singing this song? How does it showcase my voice and my voice? What am I adding to it?’ Think about songs that have been successfully remade and ask yourself why. “I Will Always Love You” became a power ballad; “Total Eclipse of the Heart” became a dance track. Think about how current musicians sample existing works into their music. Why are specific songs chosen? What does the sampling achieve?”

I won’t even comment on Ellen, because I had such high hopes for her humor and the ability to see armchair opinion played out on the show. Instead we got tired, retread commentary. Which, of course, qualifies her to start her open record label. You know, I once judged a Miss America state pageant (Miss New Hampshire, 1995), but spending four hours judging women in bathing suits doesn’t make me heterosexual. (Actually, I’ve spent 37 years judging women in bathing suits, it’s just that I’ve only gotten paid for 4 hours of it.)

But if American Idol is an example of weak judging, and why America shouldn’t vote, Survivor is an example of why it should. Coming off of two progressively more interesting seasons in Tocantins and Samoa, the most recent chapter, Heroes vs. Villains was appointment television. 20 of Survivor’s best contestants battling it out for a second (and, in some cases, third) chance at the big prize.

I won’t recap the whole season, since I’ve commented on it plenty – but the folks America responded most strongly two were back in what was easily the best season of Survivor since its inaugural run 10 years ago. Some folks left their personalities at home (Candace, Amanda); others their prowess (Colby). But plenty of folks came to play, earning a respect (Jerri) and redemption (Coach) or the humility (JT) that eluded them the first time around. And, fittingly, Russell – who should have won last season, proving that sometimes America makes a better decision than the jury (but that’s not the game – the game is convincing a jury of your peers) – made the show compelling, week after week after week. He may not be able to convince the jury, but he’s earned his back-to-back fan favorite prizes.

So, what’s the lesson in all this. Sometimes, when America votes you get stuff like George Bush – which we regretted too late; others you get stuff like Obama (which it seems to be regretting too prematurely.) And sometimes America gets a great story with a crappy third act (Mike Bloomberg, anyone?)

Still, we keep tuning in…