Thursday, December 31, 2009

All About (New Year's) Eve

Well, it's New Year's in the Big City, the Broad Meadow, and across the world. There's a new coat of snow on the ground and the city is abuzz. It's hard to believe another year has gone by. It's even harder to believe that we are about to enter a new decade. Wasn't Y2K just a couple years ago? This New Year's promises too be bit more memorable than my previous holidays, if anything because I will be working and sober instead of passed out in a gutter somewhere. Just kidding, I'm not much of a drinker. . . anywho, we have a fairly healthy list of reservations for tonight's New Year's prix-fixe celebration. Hopefully it means lots of money and lots of people ready to have a good time, because by golly, I'm going to show them one! Yesterday and Tuesday were surprisingly busy at the restaurant, people must be celebrating early this year. I joked with one of my tables that we were having a preview party, a promise of fun things to come tonight. Perhaps people are hungrier for the new year than usual this December, ready to put 2009 in the books, and wish for better things (namely, the economy) in 2010. 2009 was certainly a big year for me: I graduated from college, directed my first play, saw two cousins get married (don't worry, not to each other), my sister graduated from high school, finally saw the end of Bush, I moved to New York, became really poor, said goodbye to my great-grandmother, and started this blog you are now reading so I can cope with it all. I'd say this is one to remember. Let us hope that 2009 was a year of work, a year planting seeds, and that 2010 will be a time of reaping what we sow, a time of harvest and peace. Perhaps I'll get my big break? Perhaps I'll wrack up a lot of credit card debt? The possibilities are endless. I do know one thing: that I am going to stick with it and give 'em hell all along the way. I know that my friends and family will always have my back and be close to me, and theirs the opinion that really matters. I know I promise to not give up on myself or my dreams. As Granny says, "Life is for the living," and this is one year I am going to live. Recently, I made a mock-up list of resolutions during my whiskey sour-induced visit to the US Airways terminal at LaGuardia. I hope I don't jinx them by writing them down now. At least I didn't say them out loud. 1) Lose 10 pounds (I think that one's been on the list a good ten years and counting), 2) make more money (is it greed or necessity), 3) be creative (to survive), 4) face my fears (scary), 5) stop settling (for the same old shit), and 6) stop giving a fuck and be myself. Though I think these are all admirable goals, though perhaps not worthy to be hung up in an elementary school, I think the last is both pressing and practical. Your boss driving you crazy? A customer giving you a hard time? You could get upset, or remember that wait, you're not giving a hoot this year. Someone tells you your ugly? That you're not their type? Fuck them, you're great just the way you are! Worried about what someone might think? Afraid to take the next step? Thank God you're not giving a fuck. What ease, what wrinkle-free features. Now, I'm not talking about some Nihilistic, unfeeling mentality, destructive and depressed, but rather one of freedom and bravery and sass. If there's one thing I have learned in the Big City, meekness and shyness do not always get the job done. To get the best things in life, we have to reach out and take them. Referencing my title, I think I will borrow a bit from Ms. Bette Davis - her sass, her hunger, her outspokenness, and maybe even her eyebrows. The way she could silence a nay-sayer with a simple glance. Though I will try my best to accomplish these things without a cigarette and a Scotch in my hands at all times (though not a bad idea). Most of all, I pray for growth and good things for myself and my loved ones. And perhaps a little mischief. Now, would you like to start with the Lobster Bisque or the Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hello, Goodbye

Hello, New York. It's good to be back. Hello hipsters and Halal carts, bodegas and gypsy cabs. Hello, Locale. Thank you for welcoming me back and excusing that clumsy impostor who showed up to work last night. Hello blustery winds and hissing steam pipes; hello, winter. Hello, rent check, is it the first of the month already? Hello, rehearsal; let's hope I learn my words in time. Hello airport bar, airport security, airport peanuts, thank you for taking care of me this holiday season. Hello, old friends: it was so good to see all of you, I hope to see you soon. Hello to all those I missed this trip, my love goes out to you wherever you are. Hello aunts and uncles and cousins aplenty. How did we all get to be so grown up? Hello New Year's Resolutions and what adventures may await me in 2010.

Goodbye, Broad Meadow. Thank you for your gentleness, your peace, and fresh air. Goodbye, car, I don't know when I will be behind the wheel again. Goodbye, family, though I think I will see you all soon. Goodbye roast beast, chicken and noodles, collard greens, country ham, and pecan tassies - until I get a taste for you again. Goodbye, Christmas, you're my favorite time of year. Goodbye slow drivers and friendly faces. Goodbye giant-size Wal-Mart full of giant-size people. Goodbye cable television, we really must see each other more often. Goodbye 2009, it really was one for the books. Here's to good health and good luck in the future. Goodbye, Granny. Rejoice and run free and see with perfect vision - you've earned it. Tell all the others we say hello, and we will see you before we know it. Sweet dreams. Goodbye home and vacation, it's back to work for now.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Back in the Broad Meadow

This Christmas season has found me once again in Indiana, a little older, a little thinner (all that walking), a little paler (goodbye Bloomington Total Tan), and very much with my family in mind. Following my first semester in New York (a nostalgia for the safety of academia - no?), I find myself once again in the country, in the quiet, and surrounded by the many faces I left behind. And now, after a 2 week hiatus, back to my blog. Gone are the bright lights of Time Square, the legions of yellow taxi cabs, and the inexhaustible trains, snaking their way through the city, giant arteries feeding the city's hustle and bustle. After a delay-filled flight featuring grumpy airline employees and several whiskey sours, I return once again to the Broad Meadow, the place I travel to so often in my mind. Breathing fresh Hoosier air once again, I am filled with nostalgia for my childhood and clinging to the safety of family and friends and work-free days. According to New York Magazine, nostalgia has been one of 2009's overriding themes, so it seems I am right in line with the rest of the country. Since my arrival here, things have mostly been quiet and even - dare I say it - serene. Instead of New York's dizzying pace, my surroundings are for the most part slow and calm (well, excluding a gutsy trip to the Wal-Mart and the Wantz's gift exchange). These past two weeks have been very strange, time mostly spent watching time go by, anticipating what's coming next: Christmas at home, seeing Granny, New Years, and my upcoming show. The trains come and go, the tables arrive and leave the restaurant, each nightfall gets me closer to vacation and loved ones. Now that I am here, I have the strange sensation of putting part of my life on hold, my journey at a pause, while at the same time returning to myself, returning to my center, and (lucky for you) returning to my blog. We are currently in the middle of our Christmas-ing, having partied with my Dad's family yesterday, spending the day with each other today, and looking to celebrate with Mom's family this weekend. I am looking forward to continued gluttony (jambalaya and fried turkey lead the menu tomorrow), unwrapping gifts, and familiar faces. While other Yuletides have been filled with excitement and expectation, this Yuletide finds me somber, sobered by the solstice, rather than drunk with the season. I think this means I am getting old. I feel very thankful for all that I have, for my home, my freedom, my family, seeking their company rather than Santa's. This Christmas has had a bittersweet note, as I am sad to say that after a long, long ride, Granny went home to the Lord early Tuesday morning. As we still sort out our feelings and reel from the shocking loss, I know I must find a way to say goodbye, though I am sure she will find her way into my life (and this blog) again and again. But for now, I choose to celebrate the holiday, embracing those around me, thankful for God's gifts, and maybe even spreading little cheer. I'll borrow a phrase from my friend Judy and invite you to "have yourself a merry little christmas." I know I am.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

'Tis the Season

December has found me struck with new inspiration, new ideas, and seemingly, lots and lots to do. After a couple slow months, I feel I am back on the ball, getting things done, trying to move ahead, reminding myself why I came here. There are to-do lists aplenty. Perhaps a mixture of the approaching New Year, the promise of heading home, my recent Broadway viewings, or Stefano's continued tyranny have pushed me into gear, jolting me from an autumn slumber and re-igniting my ambition. Next week, I am scheduled to get my new NYC-quality headshots taken. I am both excited and nervous, this step an even further plunge into the starving New York actor lifestyle. I have been taking deep breaths, thinking skinny and acne-free thoughts, and pinching my pennies like never before (this new level of frugality, or cheap-ass-dom, has helped to severely limit my drinking and trips to McDonalds). Yesterday, I got my first haircut in NYC, luckily at a little Colombian gem of a place here in Astoria, rather than some overpriced, opulent salon in Manhattan. So what if no one else is speaking English, less pressure on me (though I did try a little of my increasingly rusty Spanish with them). $17 plus tip for a haircut and eyebrows is a-ok with me. I think that beats any cut I had in Bloomington and perhaps even equals New Castle prices. Note: follow the Latino crowd for the most affordable curly hair cuts, best dancing, and good eats. The show is a-rolling, with less than a month before opening and lots and lots to do, this "dream of passion" may, in fact, come together. At this week's rehearsal, I was rewarded yet another shining bit part, that of the finale's New Year's Baby. Those Depends already have me thinking even skinnier thoughts and seriously considering my hairdresser's suggestion of shaving my back ("trends are little bit different here," he said, looking at my furry espalda with shame). If any agents come, I can at least be sure they are going to get a real good look at me, whether they want to or not. I have been ditching yoga class for the past few weeks for free and train-less trips to my gym. That crappy little place is starting to feel like home, and I am definitely getting my money's worth ($200 for 15 months is murder). Should I move to another part of the city, looks like I will be returning to Astoria for the good deals. Christmas is fast approaching, and try as I may to get into the holiday spirit, I'm just not quite there yet. It's cold, then it's sunny, then it rains and rains and rains, and I never know whether to wear my winter coat or fall jacket. I have even broken out the long underwear some nights. What I need is a good snow and some consistency to feel like December (though I will give the weather a break; it's not officially winter until December 21, the day I fly home). I've sent out my cards, but have yet to do any shopping, merely browsing then running from the huge lines and incredible crowds. Perhaps the lack of academic pressures, holiday parties, and finals' week have me all confused. Christmas seems far away, an extended weekend at the end of the month, surrounded on both sides by work. What happened to 3 weeks of gluttony and sloth? New York seems very abuzz right now, a combination of holiday planning and holiday worries. December's arrival has seen business at Locale come to a slow grind, bitten by people's busy schedules and unwillingness to part with their oh, so precious dollars. Perhaps a corporate angel will shine down upon us and host a knock-out Christmas party at our place, though reports of these lavish affairs seem far and wide nowadays. Instead of people laughing and caroling, they are holding their breaths until Santa Claus arrives. In ways, even I am more stoic towards the holiday, but also much more thankful, the bittersweet joy of time-off and visiting with family mixed with money woes and weariness. I am excited to see friends and family and celebrate all that we have, as well as anxious to see loved ones after several-months' absence, all of us getting older and older all the time. This year, I am the brief visitor from afar, there and gone before you know it, but making the time count double. For now, I am praying the next 11 days fly by, then time will slow way down again once I smell that Indiana air. Though, somehow I suspect the opposite may be true.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Lessons from Granny

This past week, I have been doing a lot of thinking about the Broad Meadow and my family, especially my great-grandmother, or as we call her, Granny. Last week, hurrying to the bathroom (a situation I am constantly in; we must be related), she fell and broke her hip. Requiring surgery, she has been in the hospital since last week and looks to endure a long and tedious recovery, especially for a woman of her age. Did I mention Tuesday was her 105th birthday? So, along with the current holiday, my mind has been traveling back to the country, back to where I came from, and to the people who made me. Granny has always been a very strong presence in my life, the grand matron, a titan of character, wisdom, and sass. When I was young, we made frequent visits to Granny's little house on 23rd street (she lived by herself until the ripe age of 98) for long chats, games of UNO, and fried chicken. I would pound on her screen door and yell, "Ma Boiles, Ma Boiles," and she would slowly come to the door, saying, "I'm a-coming." Oftentimes, she would watch me while my mother ran errands or was at work. My mom loves to tell how Granny used to sit with me and read, and as she or I would begin to doze off, I would nudge in the side to "Read!"
I think one of the most important lessons she taught me was to celebrate and value the important things in life, and for us that meant food and family. A fresh peach, a ripe juicy yellow tomato off the vine, homemade applesauce, and long green beans, grown mature and beany. A little glass of milk and cornbread. A homemade pie, sitting fresh and pristine on the counter. These were all causes of joy and wonder. Food has never ceased to grab my attention or warrant my praise. For a long time, we would go to the orchard every summer to pick up bushels and pecks of fresh apples and peaches and drink fresh apple cider. Food was a time to celebrate, a time to share. Days spent canning beets, making homemade jelly, husking corn, or snapping beans, were really opportunities to visit and gossip, to appreciate the wonders of God's earth. It was never treated as a chore. For many years, every Halloween, Granny would make homemade popcorn balls, a most delicious treat, and a truly daunting task. To make these confectionary spheres (the store-bought stuff doesn't even come close), you take freshly popped popcorn (knowing her made on the stove, not in the microwave), and combine with a hot corn syrup mixture to gel the kernels together. Then, trying to not completely burn the living daylights out of your hands, you reach into the vat and form this sticky mixture into balls, working quickly before the syrup cools and hardens, then wrapping each ball individually in plastic wrap. They were so good, and so sticky, one of my favorite parts of the holiday, something to be savored until the last bite. Next up came Thanksgiving, which was always a major affair, hosted at her sister Eula's house in big Fort Wayne (not quite as big as Big New York, but still big in comparison to our town). Every year, she would invite gobs and gobs of people into her house, relatives from all across the spectrum, and we would eat and eat and eat to our heart's content. I can't even begin to list the number of dishes she made, not to mention the dozen or so pies laid out for dessert. One of my favorite memories of her house is waking up early the morning after Thanksgiving, always one early to rise, and eating a big piece of homemade cherry pie for breakfast. Whether it was a mammoth holiday celebration or a simple lunch at Granny's, it was always a time to share, savor, and celebrate. It's funny, I remember in French Women Don't Get Fat, with the book's point being on enjoying and savoring your food, Mireille talks about her grandmother's joy in the kitchen and appreciation for each season's produce. Though rural Indiana and the French countryside are quite different, I'd like to think I know exactly what she's talking about.
And so, as I anticipate heading back for the holidays and pray for Granny's speedy recovery, I have to celebrate my life, to find the joy instead of the woe, appreciate the little details that make life special, and be brave. As Granny says, "Life is for the living," and that's just what we have to do. Though, to try to savor and cherish hospital food, seems a bit of a losing battle. However, I hear she's been receiving smuggled goods from the outside world, so it looks like she's in good hands. After all, we have to break the rules a little now and then.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Fun in the City

After a sleepy and fairly unproductive Tuesday, mostly spent reading old NY Times e-mails and creating a "Locale Mix" on my iPod, I awoke early yesterday to sunshine (somewhat) and a big day in the city. Having planned on seeing at least one show this week, I was checking things on Playbill for student rush info and the NY Times for the day's news. And thankfully I did! To my great surprise, the current revival of David Mamet's (Ma'am it) Oleanna, starring Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles, is set to close early this Sunday after slumping sales. Lacking a green witch, a Tony, Disney backing, or megawatt stars (sorry Bill and Julia), the show has not been able to compete with all the other rich offerings on Broadway this year. My $25 cash in pocket, I headed out to the big city to secure my tickets and spend a solo day in Manhattan. The show was fantastic; searing in its intensity and scope. The play follows a college professor and one who student, who after seeking help from him in his office, charges him with sexual harassment, threatening his upcoming tenure decision. The play is part classic Realism, an office-bound version of cat and mouse, and part philosophical debate, a dually visceral and intellectual work. I thought the play was relevant for me and for now, having just come from the world of academia and all its committees, rules, and regulations. The economic squeeze that Carol (the student) eventually puts her professor is very real, thoughts of losing a house or loan falling through all the more pressing as our economy continues to tank. I thought the two actors' performances were quite stellar, living up to one of Mamet's best and most famous scripts. As the lights slowly faded, the office blinds mechanically lowering, a sound effect giving the impression of the coming battle, Stiles and Pullman appeared out of the darkness, as if in mid-scene. With the house sparsely populated (it was a Wednesday matinee after all) and the news of the show's closing made public, I was anxious to see what these two actors had to give us. They did not disappoint. After somewhat of a slow start, the fire ignited between the actors and didn't let up until the play's shocking ending. What was most exciting about this production was that rather than watching two celebrities onstage or expensive theatre magic, the acting (and the script) was really the star of this production, rather than the dancing, music, or flashiness of most Broadway shows. I told Julia Stiles as she was signing my Playbill (oh yea, I got the ink), that I hoped to see them both back at the Tony's. She politely smiled and looked at me like she thought the Tony's was a bad thing. She was very down to earth, simply signing programs for the few of us that were waiting at the Stage Door, then walking down the street for lunch with a friend, disappearing into the crowd. Mr. Pullman was a little more movie-starish, having been famous little longer than Ms. Stiles, but still kind, signing programs and taking photos with fans. It was an excellent way to spend an afternoon and an excellent use of $25. The rest of my night included a bit of shopping, avoiding the rain, a yummy dinner of Asian noodles and grilled Japanese eggplant, and karaoke with a friend. It's funny, as we took a taxi back to Queens, fed up with the rain and the subway, the view from the Queensboro bridge was still able to take my breath away, the moonlight reflected on the water between the mountains of bright skyscrapers, the city calm and tranquil in its rainy slumber. How lucky I am to live here, living my own life, seeking my own dreams.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Shows and Showers

Well, it is another rainy Monday and back to the grind. After a wonderful holiday weekend, it has been back to work, back to doing dishes, back to the gym, and back to food made without butter or bacon. The march to Christmas begins now. I had a very nice visit with my aunt this weekend, and we got to do lots of fun things. On Friday, we caught the special matinee showing of Finian's Rainbow. Given my student rush ID-status, we had tickets up in the box (where u get to sit in a real seat, not the folding theater contraption) for only $27 a piece (what a deal!). On Broadway for the first time since the 1940's, this old-timey musical was nothing but a good time. Though the story and style of the musical are certainly not new or thought provoking, this production reinforces all the traditions and magic that are the foundations of musical comedy, rather than aiming for something or trying to reinvent the wheel. The set was splashy, colorful (given its many-hued title), simple yet stunning. The cast was quite excellent, not only showing their skill at dance and song, but also seeming to share their love of musical theatre. And one would certainly need that in full to excel in this musical. The story follows an Irish father and daughter, newly relocated to Rainbow Valley in the fictional state of Missitucky. There, they encounter the local sharecroppers, led by the hunky Cheyenne Jackson and sassy Terri White; a leprechaun named Og, and a bigoted senator who in the course of the show gets turned into a Black man. Though the show certainly does not avoid the term hokey or corny, it embraces instead of hides those qualities. The production felt very genuine, despite its strange and racially questionable subject matter, from the writing to the direction and individual performances. I felt this most deeply during the show's most noted song, "How Are Things in Glocca Morra," beautifully performed by Kate Baldwin (I'm betting she gets a Tony Nom), which tells of longing for home and family. Given I saw this during the Thanksgiving weekend, I was particularly struck by the song's sentiment and my own longings for home. The dancing was quite stellar with excellent choreography from the director-choreography employing jazz, ballet, Irish, and American popular dance into the work. Of particular note is the dream ballet sequence, oddly placed in the musical, but certainly ethereal and moving. A solo dance by Susan the Silent (the town's mute who communicates solely through dance - a little hokey I know), the piece is moving and reaches for deeper waters than other numbers in the show. Susan dances to the mostly unaccompanied harmonica music of a Black sharecropper, combining ballet and modern movements to a colloquially American sound. In the scene, she steals the pot of gold (ok - hokey), but through this action and the dance, we sense her longing, channeling a hidden womanly strength, rather than the cutesy, juvenile energy she employs earlier in the show. The show deals with racism in a pretty blunt manner: it is silly and wrong. Rather than trolling the depths or elaborating on this idea, the production simply let it be, without much comment. The senator looked bigoted and stupid, and everyone seemed to live in perfect harmony. One striking moment occurs when a young black servant is being taught to be a "proper waiter," saying 'Bosss' and taking on the characteristics of a Sambo. The scene is quite funny, but only a blip in the show, the actor's finally expression reading "now that's enough." We really enjoyed ourselves at this show, and it certainly was a welcome retreat from the cold winds of Black Friday.
The weekend also saw us briefly scrambling through the Macy's, observing the Black Friday madness, before scurrying off to the subway station for less crowded spots in New York. We visited Ground Zero (Nancy had never been there before), a much more solemn and silent scene. It was inspiring to see how much work has been done and how much more is in the works. The proposed 9/11 memorial looks quite stunning, reminding me of the tranquil memorials throughout the DC area. For dinner on Friday, we ventured down to Ten Bells, for more yummy oysters, sparkling rosé, salmon tartare, and prosciutto and goat cheese cigars. We had pondered going to the MOMA for Target Free Friday Nights, but the line was insurmountably huge, so we decided drinking and eating oysters seemed a much better idea. After brunch at Locale the next morning, I sent Aunt Nancy on her way, back to good old Indiana.
It has been really great to shows the past weeks; I am making a vow to myself to get to theatre more often since I am 1) in New York and 2) that's why I moved here. I am already having dreams about seeing A Little Night Music. It's on my absolute must list. In fact, it's already haunting my dreams. I had a nightmare I missed Angela Lansbury's number, much as I missed her performance in Blithe Spirit this spring (why, why, oh why did I go seeImpressionism). Somehow in this dream universe, I then was sitting with Ms. Lansbury, having a wonderful time, until the truth came out that I had yet again missed her performance. From there, things got ugly. It opens in the next couple weeks, and I am counting the days. Oh, and did I mention Catherine Zeta-Jones is in it? Check.
Book-wise, I have moved on from Alan Cumming's naughty Tommy's Tale to the Fitzgerald classic Tender is the Night. Things on the Locale front have been going ok. I had my best table thus far last Tuesday, when a visiting aunt and her nephew (a recurring theme) came in and spent about $260 on very nice wine and food. I am hoping we get some good holiday business over the next month, so I can buy Christmas gifts, theatre tickets, new underwear, and other important stuff like that. The next round of rehearsals is about to come up for "If This Ain't It," and we will see what those hold. There is a number in the show called "Waiting," and that is what I feel I am doing a lot of lately: waiting for Christmas, waiting until closing time at work, waiting for the train, waiting for this show to get going, waiting on my stolen Internet. Like I said, this is the March towards Christmas and it begins today. For now, it is head to the grind, looking to shake things up once the New Year has passed.