Friday, June 4, 2010

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.

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