Nora Ephron, a eulogy

In 1989, I was 14 years old and I didn’t know what kind of woman I was going to be yet. It felt like a crapshoot. Would I be the kind who gets married and has kids right away, like my parents did? Would I be a career woman like Melanie Griffith in Working Girl, wearing business suits and white tennis shoes, living in New Jersey, and listening to a lot of Carly Simon?

I really had no idea. And no one was telling me, either, which was both a blessing and a curse. My parents had divorced a few years earlier, and they were still very young. My mom was 34 and my dad was 36. (The same age I am now. Let me just trip out on that for a minute…)

They had barely grown up themselves. How were they supposed to guide their daughter into adulthood? They were just glad I didn’t join a cult or get pregnant.

That was the year that When Harry Met Sally came out. I don’t recall exactly when or where I first saw it, but I would guesstimate that as of June 27, 2012, approximately 2200 hours, I have viewed it more than 50 times.

Let me be clear. I FUCKING LOVE THIS MOVIE.

First off, I thought that Billy Crystal was the funniest man alive. And I wanted a sassy best friend like Carrie Fisher who whored around with married men. I wanted to get dumped and watch Casablanca. And I wanted Meg Ryan’s hair.

But when I see it now, I notice other things. I appreciate that both Harry and Sally are mourning a loss—not only of a relationship, but the loss of who they thought they were. At one point, Sally says that she doesn’t miss the real Joe as much as the “idea of Joe.” To which Harry replies, “maybe I only miss the idea of Helen” …pause… “nope, I pretty much miss the whole Helen.”

Though their circumstances are similar, they respond in opposite ways. Sally tries to think her way out of it. Harry sleeps with every woman in New York. That they fall in love seems to surprise them both. But they accidentally stumble upon one of the secrets of happy relationships: embracing each other’s flaws . By the end of the movie, we know Harry really means it when he says he loves that it takes her an hour to order a sandwich. He loves her, not in spite of her imperfections, but because of them.

***
Sally: All this time I’ve been saying that he didn’t want to get married. But the truth is, he didn’t want to marry me. He didn’t love me.

Harry: If you could take him back right now, would you?

Sally: … No… but why didn’t he want to marry me? What’s the matter with me?

Harry: Nothing.

Sally: I’m difficult.

Harry: Challenging.

Sally: I’m too structured. I’m completely closed off.

Harry: But in a good way.

Sally: No, no, no. I drove him away… And I’m gonna be 40.

Harry: When?

Sally: Someday.

Harry: In eight years.

Sally: But it’s there. It’s just sitting there like this big dead end… And it’s not the same for men. Charlie Chaplin had babies when he was 73.

Harry: Yeah, but he was too old to pick ’em up.

***
Two years ago, I saw Nora Ephron speak. She was so inspiring. She talked about being a young female reporter in New York in the 60s, and about becoming a screenwriter and director. She talked about her failed marriage, and about her body, about aging, about Hollywood. I thought about trying to find her after the talk to tell her how much I love her writing, but I didn’t do it. So now seems as good a time as any.

Dear Nora Ephron: Thank you for giving me permission to be difficult. And for showing me what kind of woman I want to be.

Big Brother is listening. And he knows you like that one Third Eye Blind song.

Well, that’s it. They’ve had a crack team working tirelessly, day in, day out, 24/7 to decode it. And now it’s finally happened. They have successfully mapped a complete human musical genome. That being mine.

They have collected just the right amount of data from hours upon hours of thumbs ups and thumbs downs and dozens upon dozens of Vista Print advertisements congratulating me for being specially selected to receive 200 free business cards. What kind of business do I have? Someplace where I listen to Pandora all fucking day and they don’t print me my own fucking business cards, that’s where.

LIke any good scientist, they started with the fundamentals. A Bon Iver song on the Bon Iver station. Okay. Then, they mixed it up a little and threw in a one-hit wonder from a few years back. Thumbs-up? Great. Let’s keep going then.

How about what used to be referred to in the record biz as a “B-side”? Still good?

What about an even more obscure song that topped out at #18 on the Billboard charts in the early 2000s, that you never liked, but it’s just so familiar, and you haven’t heard it in so long, that nostalgia alone moves you to act? Thumbs up again, huh? Excellent.

And before you know it, they are reading me as clearly as lgvrdlmnqvtthequickababmfxlqbrownfox. They know to play a track because it features pop rock qualities, a subtle use of vocal harmony, repetitive melodic phrasing, extensive vamping, major key tonality, melodic songwriting, electric guitar riffs, a good dose of acoustic guitar pickin’, a dynamic male vocalist, acoustic rhythm guitars, romantic lyrics and many other similarities identified in the Music Genome Project.

Why sugar-coat it? Why not just come out and say that you are playing this track because it features abandonment issues, an undercurrent of self-loathing, and because I seem like kind of a whore? Fuck you, genomenologists, or whatever they call you. Geophysicists? Geometrators?

Ohhh, geneologists. Right.

But a girl IS LIKE A SUNBURN. I would like to say. I don’t know what it means, but she’s just like a fucking sunburn, okay?

And, yes, I DO like that band Everclear. Specifically, the song “Santa Monica,” which reminds me of the time we saw Jamie Walters, aka, Mr. “How Do You Talk to an Angel,” at the food court in the Santa Monica mall. (How about you start by not throwing her down the stairs, eh, Ray?) And then we went to a party in Pomona and I puked corn chips out the window on the highway.

Now the question is, what are they going to do with this knowledge?

We need only look to the past for the answer. Decoding my musical chromosomes may be cutting edge science, but there is an historical precedent for how this plays out. Sometime in the future, I expect to pay 5 easy installments of $9.95 to own all of these hits in a single fucking collection.

LISTEN TO THE SONGS:

RELATED POST:
UGH! Why did I put all that Huey Lewis on my iPod?

A very Austin weekend

We honkytonked at Ginny’s Little Longhorn, stuffed ourselves full of queso, enchiladas, breakfast tacos, po’ boys, and Casey’s New Orleans sno-balls. Did some Texas metal bowling at Dart Bowl, froze (and did NOT climb on the rocks) at Barton Springs, danced in the kitchen, listened to records, and stocked up on essentials at the taxidermy shoppe and the army surplus store. All thanks to these cool people.

There was also Lone Star Luchador.

And Vegan Nacho Libre.

And Totopos Chico.

And I bought these cute yellow shorts, which look just fine when standing still.

But as soon as I move, instant momgina.

Let’s see that again:

“Hey, dudes, let’s ride our single-speeds to the Whip-In and drink beers all night by the Moon Tower…”

“On second thought, I’m going to pop open some Yellow Tail and read 50 Shades of Grey…”

I am too fucking lazy to even carry a shopping basket anymore. Thanks, Texas.

Then I noticed this magazine cover:

What did the rest of the shots on the photographer’s contact sheet look like? I can just hear the photo shoot in progress, “Bigger smile! More deadness in the eyes, Paula! Yes! That’s it!”

A simple Google search reveals that she ALWAYS looks like this. Folks, I’m just going to put it out there: Are we even sure she is human? I mean, those cylons are crafty. Can robots get diabetes?

But then I realized what is really going on here. This is 2012. Paula doesn’t even have to show up for photo shoots anymore. Hell, Conde Nast probably has a whole iStock library full of “Paula Deen heads.”

Well, two can play at that game, Southern Classics magazine.

So there…

How to be a badass

My sister and her boyfriend are avid movie buffs and possess what I can only describe as amateur expertise in the genre of cheesy action films. I only say amateur because I don’t know if you can go pro at knowing every Nic Cage movie by heart. If you can, my money is on them.

So, last night, sort of by accident and after a lot of queso and a lot more beer, we figured out that my apartment is ideally equipped for use as a home gym, or more specifically, a getting-fit movie montage. This is due to a hefty wood beam that can be used for pull-ups, and as a steadier for handstands, plus many, many other uses, I’m sure.

So, take that, Bowflex. Just give me a couple of bungee cords. I can work my abs, my delts, my bis, my tris, my gluts. All with a simple adjustment of a strap!

Naturally, this chain of events led me to bring up the classic exercise montage in the 1986 crime romp Ruthless People, wherein Bette Midler, having been taken hostage by good-folks-turned-criminals-by-circumstances Judge Reinhold and Helen Slater, has an awakening and begins getting in shape and caring about herself for the first time in her life. Using only the meager supplies in the room where she is being held, she transforms herself from a flabby, spoiled housewife into a buff, empowered diva. This leads her to join forces with her captors to get back at her slimy husband played by Danny Devito.

I offered that this was one of the best such montages in recent movie history. But then my sister got this sort of half-crazed, intense look in her eyes, like she was about to school me on something very important. “Oh, yeah, that’s great,” she said.

“But imagine doing all of that BEHIND THE IRON CURTAIN …

And with NOTHING BUT SNOW.”

Then she grew very quiet and exchanged a knowing look with her boyfriend, and I could see an understanding pass between them. They had been through something together. Something difficult. Something that took more stamina, more strength, more endurance than most people ever muster.

They had watched ALL THE ROCKY MOVIES.

See, my sister has been taking boxing lessons. She and her boyfriend saw this Rocky marathon as a sort of rite of passage. An indoctrination into an elite class of badasses.

“We’re not going to lie to you,” he said. “It wasn’t easy. At times we didn’t think we were going to make it.”

My sister nodded and turned to me with the pure emotion of someone who has lived through something that challenged everything she thought she knew about life, about love, about what it means to be a human being.

“Do you want to know what I learned from all of it?” she said. “I learned that Rocky is the only fighter with HEART.”

And then, out of nowhere, there seemed to appear behind her the image of an eagle with the American flag majestically blowing from the grips of its talons and the driving beat of a 1980s beard rock-era Kenny Loggins opus reaching a heart-racing crescendo.

“We are going to do Rambo too,” my sister’s boyfriend said. “But we’re going to wait until she goes into the army.”

RELATED POST (GUEST AUTHORS):
National Treasure—Deconstructing the hero archetype in the collected works of Nicolas Cage

Don’t sweat the small dudes

About four years ago, I was coming out of a long, serious relationship. I had also quit my high-fallutin’ magazine job because I hated it. I got rid of my car because I couldn’t afford it. And I moved into my parents’ basement because I didn’t have anywhere else to go. This might seem like a fairly normal thing for a person of a certain age — say 22, but I was 32. And I suddenly felt that my life was one big, messy do-over.

Luckily, my bestie got me a waitressing job at the hotel where she was a manager. Suddenly free of all my adult responsibilities, I was transported back to a time when I had nothing to do all day except lay out at the pool, and nothing to do all night except hang out with my friends and crash on their couches. It was a full-blown renaissance of my teenage years. I allowed myself to become totally immersed in it. If I was going to have a fucking mid-life crisis, then I was going to do it right.

So I guess it makes sense that I developed a crush on a tiny dude. I mean, not a dwarf, but a pretty small dude. With the delicate features of Brandon Walsh and the aloofness of Dylan McKay. Definitely with smaller hips than me. Smaller hands. Smaller feet. I think we were about the same height. Just like junior high.

He also worked at the hotel, so I crafted elaborate plans to casually bump into him in the storage room. I loitered near the place where he was often seen smoking a cigarette before his shift, gazing meaningfully into the parking lot.

One day, I timed this perfectly and we ended up chatting for a few minutes. It was just like being 16 again — I felt nervous and fluttery, as we shot the shit about the weather or our plans for the night. Then, as the conversation started to lag, I threw out one of those lame questions that people use to get to know each other.

“So, if you could have any super power, what would it be?”

No response. Oh my god. Such a stupid question. Ugh, he must think I am SO LAME. He isn’t saying anything. He’s just looking sort of blankly at me. This. Is. The. Worst.

Then, finally, after a really long time, I started to think maybe I should just tell him I had to get back to work. I was about to say this, when he replied:

“I would drink as much as I want to without passing out.”

(I told this story to my friend Brian, whose response was, “Maybe that guy’s superpower should be thinking of things faster.”)

You know that sound when you’re pinching the hole of a balloon together and then you let it go and the balloon goes flying all around the room with like a ssssssshhhhhhwwwwweeeeeeooooouuuummm sound? Yeah, it was like that.

I was suddenly snapped back to the reality that I learned the first time I was a lovestruck 16-year-old: Too-cool-for-school pretty boys with smoldering looks and quiet intensity are just bundles of goofy awkwardness wrapped up in high cheekbones and overstyled sideburns. It was over. Crush. Canceled.

A few months later, I got a real job at a magazine again. I moved into a great apartment, and I began to rebuild my life. So, what did I gain from my summer of ’92 in the summer of 2008? I learned that sometimes you can go back again, knowing everything you know now. But you really don’t want to.

And, btw, lest I give the impression that I am a mature adult who learns from her mistakes and uses her experiences to become a more fully-actualized human being, I still TOTALLY made out with that guy. And had several more awkward interactions with him, culminating in one of the most surreal moments of my dating life, when he creepily lurked near my group of friends, mouthing all the words to “Shoop” by Salt N Pepa. Crush. CANCELLED!

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Dude tasting notes

Just like wines, dudes come in many varietals—from the subtle and complex, with a lingering finish that will keep you guessing—(i.e., but what did he mean when he said he “had fun” and we should “do it again sometime”? Does that mean he’s going to ask me out? Does that mean he’s going to booty call me? Does it mean I am supposed to invite him to do something??)—to the cheap and easy that will fuck you up fast and leave you with a wicked hangover (i.e., OH MY GOD. WHAT HAVE I DONE? I AM NEVER LEAVING THE HOUSE AGAIN WITHOUT A RESPONSIBLE CHAPERONE. I REALLY NEED A LIFE COACH.)

There is no one “right” dude for everyone. You need to test out lots of different types to find out which suits your tastes. And just as with wine, the best way to keep track of which characteristics you like and which you should probably avoid is to keep detailed tasting notes. Here are the basics:

Sight
Find a neutral place for viewing, such as against a white wall with no other dudes around. Look for discolorations or abnormalities, such as spray-tan streaking. Also scan for shitty tattoos.

Smell
Try to get the dude to come to you rather than approaching him. Keep your head straight. It will help you take a better sniff and maximize the surface area in contact with the air. After the sniff, slightly agitate the dude — maybe do something that gets him to raise his arms a little. **The harder the aromas are to identify, the more complex the dude. If you can smell cologne from across the room, you can reasonably discern where this is headed: dry-humping in his mom’s basement.

Taste
We’re talking about kissing here. I mean, you’re not trying to MARRY the dude. Taste, also called smatch (!) or gustation, according to Wikipedia, is sensed through your approximately 100,000 taste buds at the back and front of the tongue; and on the roof, sides, and back of the mouth and throat.

There are five tastes distinguished by your tongue. There is no right or wrong here, just what suits your personal taste. You will probably encounter a combination of these tastes with any given dude.

Sweet: These flavors help to identify energy-rich foods, but in the guy department, too much sweetness might be concerning. I mean, are we talking very sweet, like he has been drinking schnapps all night (i.e., are you sure this kid is 21?) or mildly sweet, like milk. (Same question…?)

Salty: Could have been that tequila shot.

Bitter: In nature, bitterness is a warning sign of poisons. Conveniently, that tall vodka tonic you are drinking contains quinine, the bitter medicinal found in tonic water, which can be used to subjectively rate the bitterness of a substance.

Sour: Leaves a certain aftertaste, like cheese and feet. Excessive sourness is often found in heavy drinkers and smokers, especially toward the end of a bender. Unless this guy is the next Charles Bukowski (and frankly, even if he is the next Chuck B.) you should probably reconsider this life choice.

Umami: Difficult to discern and even harder to define, umami is marked by a “meaty” or “savory” flavor. Unless you have just eaten a gyro, kebab, or bratwurst from a late night food truck, this could also be questionable. **Important note: whatever you do, do NOT put that wrapper from your gyro in your purse and forget about it until the morning.

Download the dude scoresheet here. Happy hunting.

Welcome to Sucktown, Class of 2012

You’ve earned your college degree and now it’s time to step out into the real world of shitty office politics, lowered expectations, and crushing debt. Mazel tov!

First, you’re probably going to travel to Thailand or some shit. Or spend a few months in a daze of post-college keggers working on your flip-cup skills. Or just pick up more shifts at PitaPit. Or whatever it is you’re going to do to celebrate your graduation from the best higher education system in the world! Who cares if a 13-year-old in Finland or South Korea knows more math than you. The register tells you how much change to give anyway.

I’m probably not supposed to say this, but just like the cool aunt who lets you drink wine coolers and watch Sex and the City, I really just don’t give a fuck. You need to know.

Here’s the thing: You’re going to be hearing a lot about excellence. And about how important it is to be exceptional. To be the best. But that is absolute crap. Being the best is actually the fucking worst. You know what’s better than being good at shit? Fucking sucking at it.

I am not saying that you should intentionally fuck things up. Unless you’re an anarchist. But if we tear down the society, and get rid of all the government and structure, then we won’t be free to sit around drinking tequila, complaining about how shitty everything is, and watching Mad Men. I bet they would probably even stop filming Mad Men all together. Is that what you want? Is that really the world you want to live in?

No, I am actually suggesting that you try your damndest at something that you are NOT GOOD AT. Give yourself the freedom to be really, really bad at something. But the kicker is that it only works if you are actually trying to be good at it. You gotta want it. You gotta work at it, and eventually you won’t suck at it so much anymore. That’s ok, too. There are plenty of other things for you to suck at, don’t worry.

You know those people who never have b.o., make delicious cookies, look like fucking Michelle Pfeiffer, have fellowships to grad school and can accessorize the shit out of any outfit (a scarf with an evening dress? Fucking earmuffs with a bathing suit? Somehow it just works on her…)

Sleepytime Dr., Snoozeville County, Boretown, USA. Population: Those fucking people.

If you ever encounter such a person at a party, start a game where you go around the circle and everyone talks about their most embarrassing moment. Everyone will be falling off their chairs laughing about the time you shit your pants (granted, you’re all pretty baked). Meanwhile, Ms. Perfection’s story will be about the time she accidentally wore her shirt backwards, but then everyone thought she did it on purpose, and it actually became kind of a thing to do at her school.

It’s not your fault, Boring Girl. I’m sorry that you’re so lame.

The point is, go out there and fuck up. Try things that are actually difficult for you. You’ll know you’re doing it right when it doesn’t bother you so much to fail. You can laugh about it after your PitaPit shift when you’re in the baby pool in your front yard, drinking your last $2 in the form of a Lone Star tallboy.

And honestly, go see the world. Go to South America. Go to Asia. Teach English. Then maybe ask those elementary schoolers to teach you some math. Seriously.