Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Zoolander Phenomenon

On Friday, I confessed to my tennis group that I’d never actually seen the movie Zoolander. This would not normally be considered a liability on the tennis court. It’s not like being terminally uncoordinated or too decrepit to run (two deficits that I reluctantly cop to). But Zoolander is one of the two movies that Laura The Tennis Pro appears to know every line of (the other being Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery) and it was getting to the point where I was feeling a little, well, left out.

So I rented the movie and my suspicion was confirmed. Easily 90% of the chuckle-ridden conversation between Laura and Gina is either a reference to or verbatim dialogue from Zoolander.

Certainly all the chatter about Blue Steel now made sense. But a bigger mystery began to loom. What is it about the people who memorize dialogue, and why do I seem to know so many of them?

In high school, Donna G and I set about learning most of the Monty Python library. We could flawlessly perform at least 10 vignettes from the TV show and a good deal of the movie, The Holy Grail.

Nancy, whom I met as an adult, can seemingly reenact every scene from every Brady Bunch show ever broadcast. I know this not because she told me so, but because certain words or phrases will trigger it, like a Pavlovian response. “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!”

Years ago, I took my family to see Home Alone II. The theater was crowded and a kid sitting nearby was reciting the movie, word for word, as it was happening. Beyond being annoying, it was an impressive feat, made all the more so by the fact that the movie had only been out for a day.

I recently read The Road by Cormac McCarthy for my book group and one of the things we were all taken with was how much the dad knew about survival. It was more than just common sense. He knew what kinds of tools would come in handy when he was scavenging through a deserted barn, how to make an oil lamp from scraps, how to eat, stay dry, keep warm under impossible conditions. It made me realize that if I were ever to have a hope of lodging this kind of useful information into my long-term memory, it would need to be made into a movie. Not the movie of The Road that is the true adaptation of the novel, due out sometime this year. But rather some farcical comedy, with Ben Stiller at the helm, or perhaps another cult classic where the characters loom large and where a true apocalyptic emergency would summon that part of my brain in which I can actually hear those characters’ instructions to each other.

Financial strategies, first aid rules, survival basics. Even the Periodic Table of Elements. If that kind of information were imparted in the form of a ridiculous movie, I might actually know some things.

“Use the tarp, Luke”

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Is There A Dentist In The House?

“Are you kidding me?”
This was my first thought as I’m driving across West 96th Street and I notice the license plate on the black Mercedes in front of me. I don’t remember the number, just that it was some binary jumble, but the New York City plate had three distinct letters running discretely down the side – DDS – positioned precisely where the letters MD would appear on a doctor’s car.

I know, I know. Dentists are doctors. That’s not my point. My point is why do they need a license plate denoting it?

My understanding about tagging a Doc’s license plate is that it gives them parking ticket immunity. Although it’s surely outdated, the picture that’s conjured in my mind is one of a doctor screeching to a building to help an old man in distress, and his being able to just throw his car any old place, grab his big leather satchel, and rush inside to save a life. It may speak directly to my naïveté, but I’m not aware of any corollary involving dentists.

I have a lot of great dentists in my life. Dentists who call back in 15 minutes and will prescribe painkillers during off hours. And sure, this guy might be running a little late for a surgery scheduled at Mount Sinai. But is there any real reason a dentist requires parking immunity?

I’m just asking.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Jessica is...finding the teenager just the littlest bit challenging.

I was just banned from Facebook. Not from the whole site, but from anything even remotely interesting on my son’s page. I didn’t even know he could do that, but he did, right before my eyes, and he narrated his withholdings in an onscreen chat.

It started when he took issue with my Status Line. Jessica was just mocked by her 14-year-old for not knowing the name of The Immigrant Song, I wrote.

He said that event wasn’t a big enough deal to warrant a “stat.”

“Oh, since when are you the boss of my status lines?” I typed to him.
“Since now,” he typed. And then, “I’m blocking you from all of my stat lines.”
“AND I’m blocking you from all of my Wall Notes.”
“Because you don’t like my status line?”
“I just blocked you from seeing anything about me,” he typed. Then added this: =)

And then the remarkable happened. He left the screen of his laptop and came marching in to my office to have an actual face-to-face conversation. “Your status lines are SO STUPID!” he said, nudging me out of the way of my own keyboard. He scrolled down my Profile Page. “Look! Look at this!”

Jessica experiences an inexplicable glee when she sees the geese just standing on top of a frozen Edgemont Pond.
“Why don’t you just say: Jessica likes geese?”

Jessica is taking the new popcorn maker for a test drive.
“This should say: Jessica is eating popcorn.”

Jessica is worried that the gecko is depressed.
“This is so stupid it shouldn’t even be up there at all!”

I guess I’d have to agree with that.

Jessica loves discussing is her downfall.
"Just write, 'Jessica loves to use words that no one can pronounce,'” he said. " That’s what you’re really saying."

Is this my comeuppance for making my mother walk three car lengths behind me for my entire adolescence? (Everyone can pronounce minutiae – it’s just hard to spell.)

Have I mentioned that I was in labor with him for 23 hours and it ended in a C-Section?

Finally, he cut me a little slack.

Jessica hates wind.

“This one’s ok,” he said. “But it’s still stupid.”

Some of us have a ways to go...

I'm not mentioning any names, but I think you can tell a lot about a person by how they react to a bird on their court. 'Nuff said.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Spell Schmell

I can’t spell. Thanks to Spellcheck, I don’t even try anymore. My friend sent me a link to a spelling test and I ignored it. I don’t need any new reasons to feel bad about myself.

Then, another woman on the email list sent out a reply that she’d just gotten 27 out of 27 – a perfect score. For no good reason at all, this prompted me to go back and take the test. I either got 14 right or 14 wrong – whichever it was, it was nothing to be proud of.

Of course, the way I dealt with it was to belittle Miss 27’s accomplishments. This woman is perfect in every imaginable way and now I know she can also spell “judgment.” (Spellcheck just flagged that word for me. I always put in an extra E.) Big deal.

I had the same reaction as I had when I learned (in my last post) about Matter Eater Lad. Part of my issue with him as a Superhero is that “the ability to eat anything” does not seem heroic in any way. My son and his friends can (and do) eat anything and everything all the time and I don’t consider it a superpower. I consider it a shortcoming. But more to the point, it doesn’t even seem like a useful trait. “The ability to eat anything and never gain weight”… that’s a superpower worth mentioning.

After listening to my diatribe, my husband put some things in perspective. Matter Eater Lad, it seems, did use his superpower to help other members of the Legion of Superheroes escape from jail. I assume he ate through the bars, although my husband didn’t specify. That’s certainly a creative and altruistic use of his “talent.”

As for Miss 27, I suspect she competed in our town wide spelling bee years ago, and I imagine she was not eliminated on “embarrassment,” as I was. Beyond that, I’m not really sure what her ability buys her.

But who am I to judg.

Go on. Try for yourself:
25 Most Commonly Misspelled Words

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Lone Superpower

I was bragging this morning to a friend about my lone superpower. I have the ability (through certified letter) to persuade neighbors that would be otherwise disinclined, to cut down their trees. It’s not so much that I take pride in this superpower, as relief. Especially on a day like this one: 30-40 mph sustained winds, 60 mph gusts.

I would have read my friend the letter if he’d asked, but he didn’t. So I just summarized the events: neighbor’s branch fell on our fence, I wrote letter, they cut down two trees. If not for that fact, I would be spending the day in the basement, huddled under the ping-pong table. The gusts are coming about every 35 seconds now, and when they do, it sounds like the IRT is running through my backyard.

I guess the part I’m most proud of is that the letters I write are nice. Not just civil, but thoughtful. Yet they get the job done. My friend suffered through my back-patting and said simply, “You could join the Legion of Superheroes.”

At first I thought his statement was a dig, but it was actually his way of agreeing with me. Acknowledging that not only is my self-proclaimed ability effective, but also yes, it does appear to be the sole thing I do well. The Legion of Superheroes is a conglomerate of just that – regular citizens that have a single superpower. And they are named as such. Lightning Lad, the guy who can zap anything with lightning. Triplicate Girl, who was able to split herself into three beings (and who eventually had to change her name to Duo Damsel when one of her incarnations was killed in an adventure). And then my favorite, based on name alone, Matter-Eater Lad, who can consume anything. Anything!

There are only a few obstacles that keep me from joining the Legion of Superheroes. One is that the members are young – really young. They’re all named Lad and Lass and I think I miss the age cutoff by about 25 years. The other thing is that it’s comic book fare and (I’m sorry to break this to you, Dave) not actually real. But the last and best reason is: I may in fact be good at one other thing.

I just have to toot my own tennis horn for one quick minute. I played such a great net game this morning, I astounded even myself. Okay, it’s not a “superpower.” I missed a lot of shots. But I was playing across the net from a woman in her early thirties (if that) and all she kept saying to her partner was “Keep it away from Jessica.”

That is a sentence I’ve never once heard my entire life. Not only am I not even the least bit athletic, I’m not even mildly coordinated. But watching me play today, you’d never know that. I was paying attention. I was in the right place at the right time. Those two things alone can get you pretty far in almost any endeavor.

I have always believed that if you do something often enough, you will eventually become good at it. And today, on the tennis court, things magically clicked. I’d yell, “Got it!” and I’d actually get it! It was like I myself turned into Triplicate Girl, pelting and dinking all over the place.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

That's Real Mature!

Yesterday we played “Dink”, one of Laura’s many Fun Tennis Drills with Stupid Names. The point of Dink is to practice hitting the ball softly, but at such an angle that your opponents will not be able to get to it. Unless they’re under 30. Or Olympic sprinters. Or both. You’re basically just “dinking” it over the net. It’s a quiet shot; a soft-touch. When any of us actually dink in a game, we call it The Mature Shot.

My love for The Mature Shot is both counterintuitive and uncharacteristic. I revel in writing about Penis Cookies. How mature is that?

Once you master these gentle shots, you can win a lot of points with them. But they’re hard to execute, because, as far as I can tell, most of us are on the court for one reason only, and that is to hit that tennis ball as hard as humanly possible.

It takes an inordinate amount of restraint to dink. The ball is coming at you over the net and you are right there, ready for it, anticipating it’s arrival, and then somehow something wise and grownup kicks in. Although you crave it with every cell of your being, you choose not to smash the ball back where it came from. You choose not to say to this ball: Take that, you eye-rolling teenager. Take that, you willful toddler. Take that, you husband who will never load the dishwasher properly. Take that, you parent who is old and needy and can’t figure out where you put your bank statements. You are choosing not to say: Take that, you stupid ex-President who took a perfectly good country and systematically ruined it for all 306 million of us. Take that, you Ponzi schemers and fallen role models and greedy bank-running bastards. Take that, you childhood leukemia, you Stage IV cancers, you car accidents and plane crashes and epidemics and natural disasters. Take that you pessimists and naysayers and general inconsiderates -- every last one of you that is ready to quash the enthusiasm or spirit of your brothers or sisters.

You are not whacking that ball hard and fast and mightily and shouting: Take that you prolapsed bladder, you depleting estrogen levels, you AARP mailings. Take that, you short term memory that is deteriorating too fast, or maybe not fast enough.

Instead you are simply and quietly saying, “Dink. I win that point.”

When you watch someone dink, it’s like you want to just stop and bow to her. Not because of the skill or talent it takes to pull off a shot like that. But because you know what she’s had to let go.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Penis Cookies

Sometimes I’m a bit of a Nazi on the tennis court in that I don’t want to talk. I want to play. I am never condemning of my partner’s shots and I try always to make gracious calls (sometimes to a fault), but if there’s too much chit-chat and not enough hitting, I can’t help it, I get really impatient and speak up.

When Ann told me last week that she’d have to leave our Friday clinics a half hour early for work, I felt all the more entitled to hush everyone up so we could play, play, play and make the most of our time with her. Last Friday we all played very seriously, very quietly, and Ann left at 10 (as she said she would) and it wasn’t fun at all.

Magic happened in the days that ensued, and Ann got her conference call moved to 10:30. I showed up much lighter today, willing to let the gabbing go on and on if everyone wanted, because I was so happy Ann could stay and, I guess when it comes down to it, the chatting is what makes it special. But we were all uncharacteristically quiet this morning – a little too “all business” – and no one really knew how to break out of it.

Until Eileen started talking about the penis cookies.

She bakes – professionally – and the local sex shop owner had hired her to cater a party tonight. (Ok, it’s not a sex shop. It’s a store with sexy clothes and accoutrements to put some spice back in your life. Or so I hear.)

Eileen is always asking us if we have this or that type of cookie cutter, and invariably the answer is, no. She didn’t even consult us on this one, simply announcing that yesterday the three penis cookie cutters she’d ordered arrived in the mail – small, medium, large – and that she’d spent the night baking, her house now full of penis cookies.

Eileen has four young boys and they tend to get into things. It was mainly for this reason that she’d kept the penis cookies out of the way and under cover. Yet one of her sons unearthed one this morning. “Mom,” he’d said, trotting up to her, penis cookie cocked in her direction, “you made us guns!”

(Isn’t there an Army song about that?)

It was almost shameful how much four middle-aged women had to say about penis cookies. Needing to know how they were iced. In what state of arousal they'd been depicted. Descriptions of how to make them racially diverse. Circumcised? Un? How many points in a penis cookie, asked the Weight Watcher.

We all played great today. Maybe something about knowing that one of our own would be surrounded this evening by women cooing over her perfectly formed, tastefully iced goodies. She said she’d save us some and bring them along next week.

I hope they keep.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Wanters vs. Needers

Speaking of tennis (as I so often am), I might have a lot to say on that subject for a while.

There’s a lot of silliness that goes on in both my Monday and Friday tennis clinics. Gina and I are both in both clinics. On Mondays we are the unruly ones. On Fridays, we take a back seat to the antics of others. We didn’t plan it that way…it’s just the chemistry of the groups.

The point is, we play a lot of tennis together. We know each other’s game, and more or less what to expect of the other. What we don’t always know is how the game is going to play out – not just in points, but in metaphor.

As I learn the game of tennis, I see it more and more as a little microcosm of life. There is a real and reliable Tennis Karma that makes itself readily apparent when someone makes a bad call. There is a direct and palpable relationship between your ability to pay attention Here and Now and your ability to execute your shots. The virtues of patience, the backlash of greed – it all comes out so profoundly it’s almost biblical.

When a tennis game goes to a tie at match point, the game must be continued until one or the other team wins by two. So at that score of 40-40, or Deuce, you have two serves to go: one that gives either team the advantage of winning, and the next that either secures the win, or sends you back to Deuce.

During one such game, Gina blithely referred to us (the serving team) as either “wanters” or “needers.” From the first position, you Want to win the point – it will give you the opportunity to win the game. From the second position, you Need the point – either to win, or (if you lost the last point) to stay alive. Gina and I play completely different games if we’re Needers vs. if we’re Wanters. As Wanters, we play competently, but nice. There is no fire in our bellies. Perhaps we’re not used to getting what we want.

But once the game turns, and we’re about to lose – once it becomes clear that we Need this point in order to save face, we become completely different players. We’re like machines, finding the holes, putting it away.

This doesn’t win us the game. It just puts us back in the Tie position again. The position where we again are Wanters. It is there that we go through our same psychological detritus. And then we’re Needers again.

I can’t remember if we won that particular game. I think we did. But more important – far more important – was the gift of seeing that pattern. The ambivalence of Want. The desperation of Need. How you can go on and on and on in that holding pattern for what may seem like an eternity. Until you change your point of view.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

I Love Mondays.

I was grumpy yesterday when I got to my tennis clinic, and sho’ nuff, it was knocked right out of me.

Gina showed up with contacts in, and we all marveled at her duo-toned eyes. One eye is completely gray-blue and the other is mostly gray-blue. A mere quarter of it is brown. This aspect of her eyes had never been so noticeable in glasses.

Gina considers herself a brown-eyed girl. She explained that technically, the blue-gray is not considered “blue,” but rather the “absence of color.” Meaning, her eyes were meant to be brown but didn’t get colored in correctly, and now they’re a little bit brown, but mostly they’re “non-brown,” a concept almost impossible to accept while you’re looking into her big, gray-blue eyes.

Then she started talking about an incident at Panera Bread, and as she was telling the story I began to wonder what the Venn Diagram depiction might be: Men who found Gina attractive; Panera Bread employess; and I can’t remember the third thing.

I love Venn Diagrams and wish they’d crop up in life more often. I once had an argument with my cousin about Rude Drivers and BMW Owners and speculated that that particular Venn Diagram would not be two circles overlapping, but rather one circle completely inside the other, like a bulls-eye. My cousin said that configuration did not count as a Venn Diagram, but when she left I looked it up and she was wrong.

The point here is not Gina’s eyes color, or that Venn Diagrams are useful imaging tools. It’s how the people I love to spend time with can take little stupid conversational tidbits and re-reference them in quiet, wry ways and just infuse everyday situations with fun. It’s my personal celebration that my tennis mates spent 90-minutes with me yesterday not only whacking the shit out of tennis balls, but also speculating how our life data could be diagramed, referring now to losing teams as “non-winners,” and even when Gina got knocked in the back of the head with a tennis ball, struggling to keep ourselves upright, holding our sides so they wouldn’t ache, because the laughter that takes place on that court could just knock anything right out of anyone.

And that’s why I live for Mondays.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day doesn’t make me think of Bill Murray. (Although, it should.) It makes me think of my best friend from Junior High whose birthday was February 2nd. I can’t remember most of what I did this past weekend, but I can still remember, in vivid detail, conversations she and I had, what we wore when we were having them, what music was playing in the background.

I haven’t seen her since eighth grade. I still remember her phone number.

She was the one who ushered me from girlhood into adolescence. Often not so gracefully, I’m afraid.

It was through Sandy that I found my first true love: Donald. He was tall (but not too tall), cute (but not full of himself), and dressed in style that would later become known as Seattle Grunge. He lived just over the border in the next town, was a few years older and hung out at the local park. He actually would have been a perfect boyfriend in every way, except that he wasn’t real.

This, of course, was something Sandy neglected to mention. Instead, the reasons Donald and I never met face to face had everything to do with his being grounded, or sick, or forgetful of our rendezvous time, and nothing whatsoever to do with his not being at all.

Sandy herself had a boyfriend in the same town. He wrote her love letters and wore a floppy denim hat. I knew this because she showed me the letters and told me about the hat. But in the many months that she dated him, he never came around to meet her friends. He too, I’m afraid, was a figment.

Even when faced with scads of evidence to the contrary, I kept my tacit covenant with Sandy and behaved as if both her boyfriend and Donald were real. We were both lonely young girls, each for different reasons, and at that age it was barely more complicated to have a fictitious boyfriend than a real one.

I wish there were more Groundhog Days. So I could spend a bit more time remembering what it’s like to be fourteen and lonely and desperate to fit in. I think it would help me when I talk to my own fourteen-year-old.

You should have read those letters. God, did he love her.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Ok. I'm doing it.

During the last week, six people told me I need to launch a blog. I'm not entirely sure this is a good idea, but it seems, at the very least, that it may keep me out of trouble. In the words of my childhood nanny, "We'll just see about that, Missy!"