Monthly Archives: February 2015

This Could Be Our Last Decade of Hotness

Remember John Cusack in Say Anything? Probably not.

What I mean is, you probably remember Say Anything (if you were alive then, and over the age of ten), but you probably don’t remember the ripped, youthful, smooth-faced John Cusack in that film. You might remember Cusack, but what your memory sees is a more recent image of him. Say Anything was a long time ago, in the eighties, when we all looked just as youthful. And how well do you remember that?

I recommend seeing the film again, especially if your only remaining impressions of it are a forty-something John Cusack and a memory of your then boyfriend sitting rigidly in the theater, tight-jawed and fuming and refusing to hold your hand because, earlier in the parking lot, you’d made some humorous remark that he didn’t think was so humorous. He was the first of many, you would later learn, whose egos could be smushed by the smallest of observations…

…anyway, forget old boyfriends.

I caught a few minutes of Hot Tub Time Machine last night, and Cusack was still quite delectable in 2010. At the time of the film’s premiere, he was exactly my age now, 43. He was in his youthful forties. I could see that adorable young actor under the lines around his mouth and eyes, under the thinning hair and emerging paunch. I think that’s what makes some men in their forties so attractive to women and men of all ages—they’ve got their shit together, and they’re still hot. Chevy Chase, on the other hand, the clairvoyant hot tub repairman, was starting to fall apart. Chase, a comedian that I and John Cusack might have enjoyed in our youth, was well past his forties.

Five years later, having completely shed that delusional aura that allows us to still see what we want to see, a youthful version of the person under the white hair and the extra pounds, Chevy Chase stumbled on the Saturday Night Live’s 40th reunion set. He tripped on a small step, on nothing basically, the way a 72 year-old man or woman might do. Twitter fans were all abuzz with concerns for his health. Without any sort of professional degree to back me up, I’ll contend that his health sucks. It certainly sucks in comparison to his kamikaze Saturday Night Live days, or his Vacation decade, or even his cameo appearance in the first Hot Tub Time Machine, and that’s because he’s old. And that’s what happens when you get old—you take funny meds, and you gain or lose weight, and you trip on shit, and people start treating you like you’re old, start tweeting about your weight gain and over-enunciating when they talk to you. Chevy Chase is lucky that it took this long for viewers to notice his age.

These days, when I run into someone I knew in high school, the encounter can go one of two ways: I might see the person through my memory lens, superimposing taught skin and big hair over the present image until I’m comfortable with the adult standing in front of me, or I might find the person to be completely unrecognizable. Either way, we’ve aged. And when the old high school acquaintance says something like, “You look exactly the same,” she means that she can still remember what she used to see underneath your starting-to-sag skin, your extra pounds, and your fly-away hair. And unless you’ve undergone some kind of aesthetic transformation inspired by money or fame or success that makes you appear way hotter than you ever were in high school, that’s what you want.

We want to be in that limbo state between young and old, where our accomplishments and our confidence more than make up for our once flawless appearance. That’s hot. And this could be our last decade of hotness. So carpe diem.

Home, Home in the Suburbs…

So many folks in this affluent suburb are baking bread and returning to the range, raising chickens and bees in their quarter-acre backyards and jarring the fruits of our local farmers’ harvests. A buzz in the community newsletter referenced Michael Pollan without providing contextual clues for readers who lack subscriptions to The New York Times. I stopped by the kids’ mother’s house, and she answered the door in a flour-dusted apron. Just baking the day’s bread, she said, while participating in a teleconference. She sends the kids back to our house with date-labeled Ball jars full of jam and pickled heirloom tomatoes, which I eat with a mix a of gratitude and mild disdain.

Members of my community appear to be initiating a revival. They’re having their milk delivered in reusable bottles, and they’re befriending the butcher who carves up their grass-fed beef.

You know where this is going, right?

Before I have my critical say about this suburban revolution, I should mention that I have nothing against homemade goods or sustainable agriculture: I’ve disliked factory farms since the days when you were labeled a socialist for doing so (These days, I think “terrorist” is the new term for any kind of real factory farm protest*). And I was raised on seasonal picks from our large, backyard garden, supplemented by informal weekend visits to various growers—some professional, some just dawdlers with a lot of land and generations of knowledge of practical husbandry. My father referred to all of them by first or last name: “Let’s walk over to Wilson’s** and see what he’s got. Let’s ride over to George’s and see if the corn is ready.” I spent my summers consuming bowls of steamed Swiss Chard and boiled corn-on-the-cob. Whenever I visit my childhood home, I try to do the rounds, bagging up as many seasonal goods as I can keep and cook.

When I’m home, that is.

See, when I’m home, I can go to a local farm, walk into a barn, collect a pile of whatever happens to be in season—if it’s fall, maybe a couple of heads of cauliflower and cabbage, a peck of apples, some cider, a bunch of winter squash, some late-season greens, some beets—and the proprietor will look at my collection of goods and pretend like she’s adding something up in her head and then throw out some absurd number like, “Twelve dollars.”

There’s the rub.

I can buy similar, locally-produced and wholesome fruits and veggies in my town-square farmers’ market, situated near a consignment shop that pedals used Fendi handbags for $600 (OBO) and a boutique furniture store with signs on all the chairs that say, “Please refrain from seating yourself.” Just multiply those twelve dollars above by, oh, say ten, and I can have my country home right here in this posh metropolitan region. You can have anything you want for a price. You can take your kids on international vacations every school break, and you can still make apple butter.

Last summer, while listening to an organic gardener’s podcast***, I learned some equation for balancing money and time and labor. I don’t remember the mathematical construct, if he even shared that, but I remember his justifications for doing what he did—he used rabbit manure instead of fertilizer on the garden because it was cheap and plentiful. He fed the rabbits with garden waste, so he didn’t need to spend money on feed (And he ate the rabbits.). And he invested no time and effort in weeding his garden because the physical energy “costs” of weeding the garden would then be greater than the fuel energy supplied by its harvest. He saved a lot of money, fed his family, and—from what I was able to gather about his circumstances—didn’t take expensive vacations or own a GPS system for his bicycle.

Here’s what irks me about the suburban farm-to-table movement—it’s so expensive, and so conscious. It’s like seeing a completely restored, pre-eighties-gas-crisis muscle machine outside a two-million-dollar home. I still appreciate the car for what it is, for the nostalgia it evokes, but I know the owner just paid someone else a lot of money to do all the hard stuff with it before it ended up in his driveway.

But I think that analogy needs some work of its own, and I think I digress.

What sets the real homespun pursuits apart from those of the suburban breadmakers is, in my opinion, a matter of necessity. A friend of mine from back home keeps pigs in her garage, raises ducks and turkeys and chickens in her yard, and trades foul and pork for beef that her sister raises on her own, substantial chunk of rural property. Another friend of mine from the city survived a six-month layoff by living on whatever she could make from scratch with a ration of flour and oil, including her own daily bread. And some of my favorite childhood memories involve making elderberry jam with my mother, using the elderberries that we picked from overgrown patches along the roadside.

Necessity. One friend lives so far from her nearest grocery store that keeping a stock of fresh meat on her property is both healthy and economical. Another friend was flat broke. And my mother just didn’t want to see all those elderberries go to waste. Whether by choice or by chance, Mr. Organic Gardener and my mom and my friends who keep pigs in their garages have more in common with each other than my neighborhood nine-to-fivers who rush home in eight-lane traffic to feed the chickens. The former live a life of practical necessity. The math adds up.

I began this post with a caveat, that I have nothing against homespun pursuits. It’s true. In the big picture, it’s probably more noble to have your milk delivered to your doorstep 1950s-style than to decorate your driveway with an immaculate, 1950s coupe.   Both acts are quite retro, but one is retro in the name of saving the earth and America’s health and the livelihood of the small farmer. The other is just fun (I salivate at the thought of owning a vintage American car with a V8 engine. I confess.). But whether we spend a lot of money in social protest or we spend a lot of money to make a social statement (Hey, this car still has the original chrome detailing…), it takes money to do it. It takes privilege. Because of the prohibitive costs of maintaining a diet of locally-produced fare, our suburban food movement is not so much a revolution as it is a fad. And unless the price of local apples plummets to something closer to that of a bag of them at the local WalMart, it will remain a fad until something takes its place.

* reference from Green is the New Red.

**all names have been changed to protect the identities of the now dead or feeble.

***can’t reference it because I can’t find it anymore.

Shame is Universal

6:30 a.m.

My dog is sleeping in, which I think is comical. He spent the past week at my in-laws’, where no one gets up before eight on weekdays and before ten on weekends. He’s experiencing his own form of jet lag. I pay a lot of attention to the dog. I’m able to diagnose his ailments before taking him to the vet. My husband says he won’t question my keen power of observation concerning this dog because I’m always right.

I wasn’t so attentive with my last dog, and I think the guilt and shame of that semi-neglect inspires me to pay particular attention to this one—my forties dog. In my thirties, my pet was just another prop in my drama, a reflection of the fuck-up I was making of myself. In my forties, I have become aware that the world consists of other beings besides myself.

But I think it’s a bit reductive to blame my dog neglect on age, as if one can cross some sort of invisible line and become a mature person on her fortieth birthday. If it were that simple, then the world could be saved by thirteen year-old Jewish boys when they become gallant and responsible men on the day after their Bar mitzvahs. Maybe I would have reached my epiphany via cotillion. We cross hundreds of invisible—and not-so-invisible—lines to become what we are.


On the subject of reductionism, a very brilliant friend of mine wrote a not-so-brilliant comment in a recent letter. I had told him about one of the more visible lines that I believe has marked my character in this decade—a suicide in a family I am very close to—and he asked me why she did it. “Was it shame?” He asked. Then followed up immediately with, “I think it was shame.”

I replied (rather diplomatically, I think) that “shame” is probably involved in every mess we get into, suicide included, and that—of course—this event was much more than that. If we went around offing ourselves at the onset of “shame” then nearly every sentient woman in the world would be dead. Men worldwide would be like they are right now in China, looking around and wondering where all the women went and hitting up anything with ovaries in a desperate attempt to couple before they die. Here is where I separate women from men.

I’m in the middle of reading Lena Dunham’s memoir right now. In this memoir, especially in the first section titled “Love & Sex,” she reveals some of the sources of her own shame*. I’ve highly regarded her HBO series, Girls, for representing young relationships and sexual encounters as they really are—underwhelming and confusing at best, often disgusting and shameful.

I’m thankful that Dunham put herself out there.   Now I don’t have to. And I wonder now how many other women should be thankful that Lena Dunham was creative enough or crazy enough or young enough to put herself out there, to share those secrets that never make it to print because they’re the real, the shameful, kind of secrets that victims of low self-esteem or women who lived through adolescence never tell anyone.

Dunham is making me think differently about shame.   I’ve felt it before, acknowledged that shit happened, that I was once a complicated girl and, later, a complicated woman (and by “complicated” I imply a level of fucked-up that isn’t so much funny as it is sad). I’ve thought about my transgressions, but not in the way that I’m thinking about them now.   Since Dunham cracked herself open and let me view hers, I’ve stopped thinking about my secrets as shameful tales that only I am stupid enough to be privy to. These are collective tales, like the 800+ recorded versions of the Cinderella story that permeate every culture and time period in the world. Shame is universal.

But I digress, again, into reductionism. And before going even further with some maudlin thoughts about death being the only universal that there truly is, I will stop myself. Maybe take the dog for walk. I’ve spent enough time in my head today, and it’s not even 8:00 a.m.

*reference from Not That Kind of Girl.