Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Word from the Front

Every summer, the Public Theater of NYC puts on 2 free plays in Central Park’s glorious, outdoor Delacorte Theater, as part of the Shakespeare in the Park extravaganza. Scoring the tickets can be a bitch – but one that’s always worth it.

This past weekend, I was seated in the front row for The Merchant of Venice, featuring Al Pacino and Jesse Martin. In my long history as a patron of the arts, this was the first time I’ve ever sat in the front row for anything. It’s nice up there. I felt like I owned the place. I could (and did) do leg lifts, there were no giants sitting in front of me to contend with, and I could see the saliva spray out of the actors’ mouths as they emphatically intoned their way through this literary classic. In other words, the front row is where it’s at and, the next time I walk into a theater or auditorium or baseball game, it’s anyone’s guess how I’ll be able to ungrudgingly park myself elsewhere. It’ll be just like when I used to get unexpectedly upgraded to first class when I flew home for holidays in college – and then, a few days later, they would send me back to coach for the return trip back to school. Once you’ve been bumped up, the bump back down has a way of becoming the more memorable of the two experiences.

Anyways, back to the good stuff: while I was up there, Pacino and I locked eyes more than once. I wanted Martin to follow suit, but he was in the zone (big time) and I couldn’t will those eyes of his to wander.

The last time I was in this very theater, I was literally sitting in the last row of the joint, with my back to the uppermost wall. The official weather conditions were about the same as this time around (and I was wearing the same amount of layering) – only last time, I was shivering the whole night. No shivers this time - I was comfortable from start to finish. It must have been the heat from all of those nearby stage lights.

That last, back-row experience in the Delacorte was in 2006. Back then, I was living a no-good, back-row kind of life, squinting at all that was decent from way out in the nosebleed section. I was going through a particularly rough spell of decline and defeat, and most of my attempts to turn things around didn’t work. My permanent address was shaping up to be a foul (but reliable) little place called up shit’s creek. It’s not easy to read some of my personal journal entries from that era.

Now it’s 4 years later, and I’ve advanced to the front line - in more ways than one. My life doesn’t suck nearly as much as it did back in that day. I’ve been methodically taking care of business in such a force-to-be-reckoned-with manner that the notion of invincibility no longer strikes me as all that unthinkable.

Methinks this choo-choo train is finally chugging down the right track.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Seniority Rules

At one of my nearest and dearest’s baby shower last weekend, I hung out with a 93-year-old Ontario resident who doesn’t look a day over 74. She’s eloquent, exceptionally beautiful (clearly without any artificial intervention), and of unquestionably sounder mind than I am. (It should be noted that she also has exquisite posture.)

There’s nothing like the elderly. I mix well with and instinctively flock toward them - especially the old women. It might have something to do with the idyllic childhood bonds I forged with my grandmother and a great-aunt; it could be that the hardship I’ve already faced has led me to identify more readily with those who have lived twice or thrice as long as I have; or maybe, back at the outset, I was just naturally implanted with an old soul. All’s I know is that I want to align myself with the oldest souls I can find. Whenever one of my friends has a wedding or some other multigenerationally-attended milestone gathering, you can count on me to ignore the people in my crowd and head straight for the grandmothers – and it’s with them I’ll usually prefer to stay for the duration of the event. That’s where the real conversation and insight tends to be. Too many insight-free conversations aren’t good for you.

As far as I’m concerned, elderly women = safety. I become more free around them. The guard comes down because they get me, or at least make me feel as though they do. I view even the very high-strung ones as agents of calm. They’ve beaten any raging insecurity they once had into the ground, and what’s left is a brand of self-comfort and a lack of self-consciousness that’s re-hydrating – and in the desert I constantly find myself slogging through, I’ll take all the water I can get. It’s too bad and too weird that this country’s culture so often chooses to marginalize (instead of magnify) the senior league.

As I continue along the ongoing coming-of-age pipeline, I’m already looking forward to giving back and mentoring any of my junior journeywomen who care to listen. They better get ready - I’m in merely the early stages of building what damn sure promises to be a well-stocked wisdom arsenal. The wisdom-cobbling process hasn’t been a joyride. What helps is that I’m continually inspired and influenced by the counsel of and the example set by a lot of glimmering golden girls who help make my ride a little smoother.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Can I Get Some Popcorn to Go with These Shows?

For reasons I shan’t get into right here or right now, I’ve been bamboozled into buying cable TV. As an adult, I haven’t been much of a TV watcher. In fact, I’ve all but shunned the practice. So cable has never felt like a valid addition to my bulging budget. But it’s suddenly become an official part of my household (although it took Time Warner long enough to send someone over to finally seal the deal).

Last Saturday morning, my Time Warner installation maven finished puttering around my apartment a little before 11 a.m. I had alot of grocery shopping and errand running to take care of but right after Time Warner finally took off, I curiously flipped through my new stations with the help of the intimidatingly more complicated remote control that had just been passed off onto me. At 11:33 a.m., I was right about to turn it all off and head out the door – until I stumbled onto the TV-guide listing and was like: “Oh my God, the Real Housewives of New York City is coming on at noon – and, oh shit, it’s the one where Jill and Bethenny meet up for lunch to discuss their failed friendship!”

Even though I haven’t clocked as many TV-viewing hours as most people in this country, I know alot about what the kids are watching via my friends and various print-based publications such as Newsweek. I can’t remember at whose house I was when I first came across this Housewives series – all I remember is how good it felt. I most recently caught a pivotal NYC Housewives episode in a hotel room, while on a brief Memorial-Day-weekend vacation. Thus, I was trembling with delight at the prospect of being less than 30 minutes away from my next sure-to-be-fascinating brush with this charmingly flawed troupe of Upper East Side provocateurs.

The only niggling problem was the groceries matter – there was hardly any solid food left in my home at the time and I was starting to feel hunger pangs. But Housewives was coming on in T-minus 20 minutes and I doubted I could make it to the store and back by go-time. And I saw that this 12 p.m. airing would be immediately followed by Part I of the three-part Housewives reunion special – so it was a given that I’d be in the throes of Bravoland for a full two hours. I leaned back into my couch and resigned myself to wait it out and just enjoy the show. Then I was like: “Man, imagine how much better the viewing would be if I had a wide range of satisfying snacks at my beck and call.” As if on cue, my stomach started growling and I began to feel faint. That settled it. I grabbed my wallet and ran out the door. I will not starve myself for Bravo.

But I will, evidently, fly into a frantic fit for Bravo. I hate Races Against Time – they can spawn so much bad energy. After trotting the 5 blocks to the grocery store, snubbing neighbors and dashing in front of oncoming buses along the way, I manically zoomed up and down the frustratingly crowded aisles, grabbing bags and boxes off the shelves and fruits and vegetables out of bins, cradling everything in my arms, underneath my armpits, and in between my right cheek and shoulder. When I got to the check-out area, there were a number of people milling around in front of me with unclear intentions/absolutely no direction. Exorcising the native Midwesterner out of me, I pushed past all of them to insert myself at the head of the line. I helped my slow-moving, well-meaning cashier with the bagging process, encouraging her to follow my lead and just throw everything in wherever it would fit. Afterwards, I tried to haul ass back home before High Noon, but I was seven minutes late for mini-marathon episode #1, and it seemed like I had missed the meat of Jill and Bethenny’s emotional tete-a-tete. But Bravo likes to constantly re-air this shit – which now makes me question what the earlier tizzy was all for.

I had been under the impression that I was above these kinds of impulses when it came to something like a television reality show. But it looks like Time Warner has made a fool out of me and I’m not as high-rent as I thought. It was relaxing to spend two hours with these back-to-back segments. It gave my over-taxed mind a little rest, and watching these petty socialites in action made me re-appreciate the long-term importance of distinguishing between authentic friends vs. the more surface-level relationships we all have. As the Housewives are re-teaching me, the surface-level people won’t ever really get you through the night.

I’m very critical of contemporary pop culture and the entertainment industry. But in order to most effectively and responsibly criticize something, it’s best to know exactly what you’re bitching about, to the full extent possible. So thanks, Time Warner, for foisting this costly service more squarely into my purview and for potentially providing me with more pointed padding to my material and retorts. It’s you who very well might make a better, more well-rounded judgment-passer and writer out of me.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Fervently Favoring Fela

Something grand happened the other night – I got to see Fela! on Broadway. Ever since The Lion King, I’ve been completely turned off to the idea of the Great White Way ever re-taking up any representation of Africa. But Fela! completely exceeded my expectations. I was annoyed when it ended and am already jonesing to see it again. Even my dad liked it, and he’s someone who’s even less easily impressed than I am.

There’s so much unmemorable, unoriginal crap on and off Broadway these days, so it was nice to be reminded of what going to the theater in a cultural epicenter like New York was meant (I’m assuming) to be. Everything in Fela! was so top-shelf – the acting, the music, the dancing, the message. The whole experience renewed my already sky-high African pride as well as my lifelong conviction that the arts are central to the propagation of any legitimate civilization. Hell, I might even watch the Tony Awards this year (or, rather, keep it on in the background for a couple of hours), just for Fela!-rooting purposes (it’s nominated for 11 Tonys, including Best Musical).

For those of you who live in NYC, but hardly ever go to shows – budget the time and the funds for this one. And really plan on getting into it once you’re there. For those of you who will be passing through NYC anytime soon, even if it’s just for a couple of days on business, here’s something worthwhile to do during your off-time. (Don’t wait for it to come to your city via a national touring company – there’s no way it’s going to be as good as with this original, Broadway-based cast.)

If I ever have a son, I’m now thinking of naming him Fela. I can’t remember what they said it means, but it was something good. I also might sign up for African dance classes this fall, instead of opting for the long-postponed tap dancing lessons toward which I’ve been tentatively earmarking my dolla bills.

The only displeasure was the temperature in the theater. I don’t know if it was just that the AC was down that particular night – or if they were deliberately trying to recreate the on-the-ground conditions of a 1970s Lagos nightclub (or of Nigeria, in general). No, I don’t care so much about the rationale, I’m only interested in the results – which were that I was sweating almost as much as the constantly-moving members of the ensemble cast. There were two times when my view of the stage became obstructed by a person in front of me aggressively fanning herself with her playbill.

Yet the feat was worth the heat, and my buzz still hasn’t worn off.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Whither My Charmed Life?

I was recently riding up in an elevator with a group of likably rowdy teenagers (the kind of teens that make you remember the incomparably exhilarating aspects of the puberty years instead of the really creepy ones). One of them suddenly noticed that the clock had just struck 11:11. “It’s 11:11 – everyone make a wish,” she instructed. When asked to explain herself, she reported that 11:11 is a lucky time of the day, prime for wishing, hoping, and dreaming.

I later took this information straight to Google, and her story checked out. 11:11 is supposed to be pretty golden.

I’m all shook up because I was born at 11:11 a.m. This has to mean something earth-shattering. I should get to be a witch or have other dormant special powers. And you’d think I’d at least have the lock on luck, birthright-wise.

So when is this luck going to kick in? Other than a Starbucks gift card that I won in a raffle last year, nothing even close to pure, traditional luck has ever graced me with its presence. I’ve only bled, sweat, and teared for everything I wanted. But ever since I learned that I actually belong to this VIP caste, I’ve been paying much more attention to digital clocks and wishing it up, come 11:11. I wish big, I wish small – and nothing’s happening. It’s still like it’s always been. A few 11:11s ago, I wished that I would stop spilling things on my light-colored clothes. Two nights later, I spilled more red wine on another white shirt. Which could be my cue to start upgrading to gin.

I guess I’ll still keep at it for the time being. This kind of regular, organized wishing can’t hurt. But it always feels like it’s 11:12 and I’ve just missed the boat.