Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Top Girls

Kip and I have just returned from seeing Top Girls, a 1982 play by Caryl Churchill, presented by the Manhattan Theater Club at the Biltmore Theater. The play's action centers around Marlene, a career-driven woman who finds herself promoted to managing director of the Top Girls Employment Agency, but, as the MTC's promotional literature asks, "at what cost?" The play is widely thought of as difficult, as there is little in the way of plot, though the show is heavy on theatricality. This production is difficult. It is also exhilarating and terrifying.

The strength, really, is in the play itself. The first act is a quite surreal dinner party in which Marlene has invited five women of historical importance to celebrate her promotion. Pope Joan and Lady Nijo, for example. The second act takes place in the backyard of Joyce's home, --Joyce is Marlene's sister--and in the Top Girls offices in London. The action of the third act happens one year prior to the second act. In this way, the play has a circular overlapping that doesn't allow any kind of wondering about what happens to this character or that character--the end of the play is the middle of the action. So, not to spoil anything--but Angie has a nightmare, and we've already seen it.

The dinner party is full of overlapping dialogue, whole sentences are lost in the shuffle, and eventually you get the feeling that despite these character's shared histories--through time and geography--they are all alone in their suffering, Marlene included, unable to understand each other's experiences. This kind of disconnect is something Churchill is constantly returning to in her work.

The performances are also superb, though the accents can be a bit heavy at times, to perhaps some desired comedic effect, but often it tends toward the 'I can't understand her.' There are probably 8 or 9 accents all together, and, truthfully, they could all tone it down a bit. Martha Plimpton is so ravishing as Pope Joan, and then as Angie she is simply devastating. I remember seeing Martha in "Flesh and Blood," the stage adaptation of the Michael Cunningham novel, and wondering how could any actor be so fragile on stage; she really is outstanding. Marisa Tomei is fabulous--and at the end of the play she is allowed a long moment of silence, alone on stage dimly lit. It's a wonderful, deep moment; she stars out into the audience, seemingly right at us.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Letter from Utah: Part 11 of 12

This post is part 11 in a series of 12. You can download the entire essay by clicking here, or you can read the serial installments as they appear.

Back in Salt Lake City, I decide that I’ve had enough of cheap motels with bad restaurants, with beds that sag in the center. I beg Kip to look into the Peery Hotel, which opened in 1910 and retains much of its original charm. Surprisingly, they are affordable and have a room available—which is tiny, about as big as my bedroom back in New York, but with fabulous antique fixtures and the biggest, most lovely bed, which we sink into immediately. The concierge recommends a few restaurants, and I ask him to make a reservation at Metropolitan, a New American joint that has earned some of the best reviews in town. One of the more negative reviews of the place listed on CitySearch says it offers “expensive, small-portioned eye-candy.” This sounds divine. Metropolitan is also, according to reviews on the site—granted not the most reputable resource—constantly being picketed for continuing to serve foie gras despite being “informed about” it. Admittedly, something remotely Marie Antoinette about me loves the idea of feasting on foie while the little people shriek with disgust out on the sidewalk—though there are no protestors when we arrive.

Our waiter there is gay—of course. (Of course?) He does a bit of that thing that some gay men do, flirting because you’re gay and he’s gay and somehow that’s supposed to bring you closer together, even though you’re just trying to order a martini—which is a bit gay in itself, I suppose. Alcohol in Utah is regulated, but you can have a drink if you fall within the rules. The rules have to do with the amount of liquor, the time of day, what you do or do not have to eat, and other peculiar limitations. (There are private clubs, however, for members who pay a nominal fee, or for tourists who buy a temporary membership, where one can drink all you like while sitting at the bar.)

This means that when my martini does arrive, it’s half full—only one ounce of vodka measured exactly can go into a cocktail. (In New York, martinis are often filled to the lip of the glass, dripping liquor down across your fingers.) But this one is balanced well and tastes fantastic. They pamper us with cottage cheese rolls, and an amuse bouche that I don’t even remember. We have a roasted pear soup with fig and walnuts; a grilled Caesar salad with tomato confit and parmesan crostini; then the entrées: scallops as big as your head served with braised endive and pomegranate, and a superb loin of elk with Lyonnaise potatoes, wild mushrooms and a port demi. For dessert, we have a pumpkin soufflé and a cranberry cheesecake with orange clove sorbet, which was not at all like the cheesecake you’re thinking of, more pudding/ice cream than cake. Everything has big, big flavors; everything is fantastic.

This, after having eaten in one lousy restaurant after another all throughout the state. Every hideous salad bar, every strange side dish, and every “camper’s breakfast special;” it was all worth it to have a quiet, delicious dinner, with candles and peppermint tea and my boyfriend.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Vermont / Back Forty

--Vermont was lovely, despite all the bleary-eyed work we did. We canned about 45 gallons of syrup for the coming weeks of Greenmarket, so that I can have basically every grade of syrup in every container. (This means taking the syrup from huge 30 gallon drums and putting it into tiny containers from 3 ounces up to a gallon.) Our market table is becoming too small to hold everything, perhaps we'll need to expand. Also, I seem to have forgotten how much room it takes to have everything available, since over the winter we're usually down to one or two grades in most of the containers. So, the good stuff is here, too, the Deep Mountain Special Reserve, which tastes so utterly fantastic and subtle that I think the best thing to do with it is, um, just drink it out of the bottle.

--Howie, the sugarmaker, and I were walking through the sugarbush, talking about price points and candy sales. "This is where I almost died," he said. "What happened?" I asked. In the trees above us was a huge branch, broken and dangling from the trunk. "The wind was really crazy, and I got stuck in the snow right here. That branch was waving all around, ready to snap off and come down on my head." He paused, and I took in the reality of it--the situation was very real. "What was going through your head?" I said. He answered: "You never think it's going to happen. But some part of you does."

--The drive from New York City to West Glover, VT doesn't really get interesting until you're in Vermont. Until then, it is only the wavy stretch of I-95 through Connecticut and Massachusetts, which is spotted with rest stops infested with McDonald's. The radio, also, lacked excitement. We did have some interesting conversation.

--Last night, Kip and I took my friend John out to dinner for his birthday at Back Forty, the casual new foodie joint from Savoy's Peter Hoffman. Here's what we shared:
-Pork Jowel Nuggets, with jalapeno jam
-Buttermilk Biscuits, with maple chipotle butter
-Wintered Over Broccoli Rabe, with garlic and balsamic
-Green Wheat, with mint and yogurt sauce
-Toasted Fregola, with marscapone, caramelized onions and guanciale
-Drunken Potato Melt, with spring onions, fontina and appenzeller
John had the Grass Fed Burger, one of the most press-given dishes at the restaurant, and Kip and I shared the Whole Rotisserie Chicken. The kitchen, or somebody, mistakenly sent out the half-chicken instead of the whole, and they made quick note of it, and sent the other half. Then, as an apology, they sent out fresh doughnuts with a lemon thyme glaze. "For, you know, that whole chicken thing," the server said. I thought that was classy. Also, the server must have overheard us talking birthday, and saw us give John a birthday card, so without any of us mentioning it, they brought a slice of the seasonal pie with a candle. It was a citrus cream thing, much like a key lime pie, but better. The food was great, and the vibe was totally casual and classy. I thought the service was also superb--even with the chicken error, they were gracious, relaxed without being too friendly. Thumbs up, Mr. Hoffman.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Home Again

I've just returned from a few days in Vermont, walking through the maple trees, canning syrup, catching up with old friends, eating lots.

More soon, when I get back on track....

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Bike Riding Poem

10th Street is quiet at 1:00AM, when even the cats have gone to sleep.
But there are places to be, and cutting-edge, styleful,
never-to-be-seen-again dance moves to be performed
under jerking, acidic club lighting in hard-to-find lofts,
which overlook the wide green mouth of the Gowanus.
So you perch yourself on the seat of a bike,
pedaled by a woman drunk on whiskey and springtime,
and hold onto her warm sides as you roll down the slope, past
brownstones and broken streetlamps and cars
squeezed together so tightly that it strikes you as
a heart-wrenching humanoid imitation of a divine Utopian ideal,
where everyone gets a car and everyone gets a parking space.

There, clutching the milk crate tied to the back of the bike,
with your hips pressed against her
like a perverted version of a simple idea,
you are unexpectedly confronted with your stiff-necked, intractable self.

But, fleetingly, the opposite appears: you as an ancient butterfly,
full of lightness and depth and all the wisdom that comes from
having seen landslide
after landslide
after landslide
after landslide
in your million years of unhurried evolution,
ready to answer the inexorable call of stamens and petals,
ready to float down 10th Street in complete, utter, balls-to-the-wall trust
of the troublemaker, lowlife, loudmouth lady you adore
who helms the bike, and
who cared enough to offer you the seat behind her.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Letter from Utah: Part 10 of 12

This post is part 10 in a series of 12. You can download the entire essay by clicking here, or you can read the serial installments as they appear.

We’re driving north on interstate 15, just past Pintura, when the tie lines on a pick-up truck come loose, trailing furniture, mattresses and cardboard boxes all over the freeway. A flood of brake lights, cars scattering in every direction, broken table legs, strips of printed fabric sprawling out over the tarmac. The tenuous nature of driving—the agreement that I’ll stay on my side and you’ll stay on yours—is on my mind constantly as we’ve been moving across Utah in our tiny tin box. You are at the mercy of the reaction time of everyone else on the road—and an infinite number of other variables. This seems like a simple observation, but a dozen times in the last five days I’ve wondered, flirted with it even, what it might be like to turn the car just barely into the other lane, into the path of the oncoming semi. It’s not death I’m after, but the opposite—clearly, it’s madness. But I am curious about the speed, about the flipping the car might do, about the silence you could find in the noise. I manage to avoid the exploding junk, and after brief moment of white-knuckled panic, we’re out of it, it’s behind us, no harm done.

“Good job, honey,” Kip says.

My heart is racing. We are always one flashing instant from a new life.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Return of GLAMOK!

PS 122
150 First Avenue

Baby Dee, Julie Atlas Muz, Sarah Jones, Reverend Billy,
Peggy Shaw, the Dazzle Dancers, Fabio Tavares of STREB, and The Liberty Sisters!

*Mistress of Ceremonies*
Carmelita Tropicana!

The Circus AMOK Band with Surprise Guests!

*Fantabulous Auction**
featuring goodies from Heatherette, Town Shop, Brics, Spoonbill & Sugartown Books, Pure, Yogasana, Inner Princess, plus theater tickets, fine art, travel and more!

$50-$75 (Sliding Scale)

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Yesterday, I sat in the chair at the dentist office while he yanked two of my teeth out--numbers 1 and 32. I barely felt a thing, other than the initial shots to numb the area, and, of course, all the pulling and pushing that it took to get the teeth to release from my head.

It was far less traumatic than I had anticipated. I was sure that I would wake up in a coma--or, rather not wake up in a coma--or mangled, or left for dead, or something. I'm not really kidding, I do actually inflate things to this degree. I realize it's something I should work on.

Perhaps the most informative moment of the entire procedure was when the hygienist was hovering over me while the doctor stepped out to retrieve a "root tip extractor." I asked her: "How was that? Good? Bad?"

"That was just average," she said.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Letter from Utah: Part 9 of 12

This post is part 9 in a series of 12. You can download the entire essay by clicking here, or you can read the serial installments as they appear.

We meet my friend, the writer Rob Williams*, in St. George, a town of nearly 70,000, where he is doing research for a novel. We check into the Super 8 Motel, and find a Thai restaurant down the road. Despite being so close to closing time, they seat us quickly and the food is warm and good—and the company is lovely. At some point during the meal, the restaurant staff begins to move all the chairs around into a circle, away from us, but still in earshot. Everyone sits, and someone—the manager? The owner?—starts to lecture the kitchen staff about sending entrées and appetizers out in the wrong order. Then he starts delivering a strange, rhetoric-rich speech on why working at this particular restaurant, with this particular crew, is important, character-building work. He asks everyone in the circle to talk about how this job has made them better people. “Well…” we hear one of the waitresses say, “I know I do not work here for the money, so it must be something bigger.” Her tone indicates that she does not know what that something might be. They start vacuuming around our feet. Point taken.

The next morning, after a hearty breakfast at the Bear Paw Café, and compulsory photographs of all of us in front of the big Bear Paw sign, the three of us drive up to Snow Canyon, a National Park where much of the “The Conqueror” was shot, a 1956 Howard Hughes-produced flop starring John Wayne as Genghis Khan.

We climb up onto the red sand dunes where mothers are playing with their children. “Can you feel the radiation?” Rob says.

In the early 1950s, the United States Government began aboveground nuclear testing in the Nevada desert, only about 130 miles west of St. George. One of the tests, the detonation of a thirty-two-kiloton monster known as “Dirty Harry,” would cause citizens in St. George to remark on the sudden appearance of an odd metallic taste in the air. (Residents of Three Mile Island would note the same mysterious tang on the wind.) Dick Powell, director of “The Conqueror,” died of cancer in 1963. John Wayne died of cancer in 1979. The film’s other stars, Agnes Moorhead and Pedro Armendariz, also died of cancer. By the mid 1980s, 91 of the 220 cast and crew members had developed some kind of cancer, and roughly half of those 91 had died. Lots of things come into play with something as unpredictable as cancer—John Wayne smoked five packs a day—but these are significant numbers. In the nearby town of La Verkin, farmers reported that after fallout wafted through their grazing fields, their goats, literally, turned blue. William Sleight, a longtime resident of St. George, wrote about the blasts in his diary:
May 19, 1953:
Beautiful morning. We left St. George at 4 a.m. for Las Vegas, Nevada. We were watching for the A-Bomb explosion on the desert north of Las Vegas. At 5 a.m., just dawn, we saw the flash which lit up the skies, a beautiful red, visible for hundreds of miles away. It was a beautiful sight, a hundred miles or more away from it….I drove for ten minutes, then stopped the car on the roadside, got out and soon after we heard the report of the blast. It rumbled as thunder, not quite the same as other blasts we have heard. This is the 9th in a series of ten, another next week. It makes me shudder when I think of what misery we may face when men start dropping these terrific bombs on our cities. Some fanatics are now clamoring for their use in Korea.

After we came back on Highway 91, we were stopped and a young man examined our car with an instrument to see if we had picked up any radioactive dust while traveling on the Highway. Found none so we missed a free car wash (which would have been appreciated). . . .

Returned to St. George in a high wind, which seems to always follow these explosions.

*Okay, here you are Rob. Are you fucking happy now?

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


My friend Michael took this picture of his daughter, Vivien, reading my book. When it arrived in my inbox, I nearly squealed with delight and giddy. Actually, I did. Vivien is pretty much fabulous, and certainly in competition with my oldest nephew, Pryce, for the Most Amazing Small Person. But the great thing about our universe is that there doesn't have to be a winner--instead, they can share the title. Right now, Vivien, it's yours.