Friday, March 25, 2011

Visiting Tennessee

I recently flew to Chattanooga, stopping in Atlanta to change planes and wander about Concourse B for forty minutes. The first thing you notice when you change planes in Atlanta--aside from the constant stream of families, as there are no families flying out of LaGuardia on a Monday morning--is the number of men and women in military uniform. It's easy to forget that we are still at war. Either because of this, or in spite of this, I ate ice cream for lunch.

My father picked me up from the airport and we drove directly to the Waffle House, where I ate cheese-n-eggs, with hash browns scattered well and raisin toast. The raisin toast at Waffle House always comes with apple butter, and I'm glad to know that some things never change.

As we ate, I thought about the time my dad was in NYC for some kind of work, and I met him for dinner after my drawing class at SVA. This was maybe eleven years ago. We sat at the Lyric Diner on Third Avenue and I ate two grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. He didn't eat anything, for whatever reason. I felt at the time that I was starting to be a different person. At the Waffle House two weeks ago, I felt that I had returned to the person I was before that changing--the kind of tossed-at-sea uncertainty that the 20s can bring. So, maybe it's not a changing, just a day-trip. My dad paid the check and I felt full of greasy food and I was glad to see that some things never change.

We ate through the week, my mom's cooking, my own cooking, the cooking at a downtown restaurant, where my mother was introduced to the St. Germain cocktail, and later tried to order it at a comedy club bar where they didn't know what that was.

We drove out to see my friend Mary Beth's new house, which she basically built herself, on about 7 acres of land she purchased from her alpaca/llama-farming neighbors/employers. Her directions included the line "Turn left at the antique mall and go about 10 miles." It seemed to take forever to get there. But her house is a beautiful monument to self-sufficiency and a healthy reminder that sometimes the old way of doing things is the best way.

Her pantry was filled with canned goods--tomatoes, jams, pickles, corn--which sparked in me the desire to can everything this summer. And put up a big shelf of jars in the kitchen. Mostly that desire has faded. I tried to buy a book about how to do it well at the Strand, but they didn't have what I wanted. Friends with extra books about canning, and some with canning equipment, have promised to give them to me: "Really, you can have them." Their lack of faith doesn't bode well for my own future in canning. Look for an update long about August.

My friend June met me at The Castello Plan for dinner a few days after I got back. There were pea shoots on the special, and she and I shot looks at each other when the waiter mentioned this. It's still too cold for pea shoots, we said. When will spring come? Morels and ramps and green garlic and asparagus and tristar strawberries. I need all of you.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tom in Siena on TNB

I have a new short story, "Tom in Siena," which is up on The Nervous Breakdown.
Tom stepped out of the bar into a pool of yellow-ochre light from the streetlamp. Yellow-ochre is the color of this country, he thought, and terracotta. His brain, bathed in a loose veil of red wine and whatever the Italian football players made him drink, seemed to drift along behind him like an awkward, dumb animal. “Catch up,” he said out loud. “Put your hand in your pocket and find your keys,” he said, to the cracked sidewalk, to the slice of sinking moon, to anything listening. “Why is everybody so goddamn nice around here?”

Elizabeth had been gone for 37 days. Which is to say that his older sister had been dead for 37 days, although Tom was still unused to this idea, and still preferred to think of her as simply away. She was missing until further notice, and he needed only to locate her. She had gone to a paper-making workshop in India, to a yoga retreat in Western Massachusetts, to a vegan commune in New Mexico. She would return. Eventually. She would be renewed.

This is a story I've worked on in fits here and there throughout the years, as you can see in this post from a year ago and this post from 2006, where I didn't get it quite the way I wanted. It's finished now, though. I hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Arcadia on Broadway

During the play, I kept thinking to myself: "I could say on Facebook that the play is performed with much vigor." This says a few things, I think. It mostly says something unpleasant about the way I--or maybe we--have begun thinking about our experiences: as status updates. It also says something about the play, or perhaps more specifically, my reaction to it. That I was not engaged.

Something about Tom Stoppard's work is beyond me. I find his plays extremely frustrating. I am not a stupid person, but I can never understand what is going on in them. I literally cannot understand their plots. Two hours into it and I am still wondering why any of this matters? I go to Wikipedia to figure them out. I always feel like his characters are frozen in the space of the play, and when it ends, they will also end. They never feel like real people to me. So...the tutor is really the hermit, after all? And he gets embarrassed in the newspaper? That's it?

The most exciting moment for me came when Hodge, the tutor, sets a letter on fire and places it on a silver tray where it burns away to ash during his conversation with Lady Croom. Real Fire!! I wanted the letter to catch the whole table ablaze, and the actors to go screaming into the wings and we'd all trample each other to get to the doors. I don't really want this to happen. But I wanted something more exciting than what was happening on stage. (Is this unfair of me?)

All this said, the actor's are really performing with much vigor. Billy Crudup is doing his cocky/smart/charming/asshole thing he's really good at, Raúl Esparza is doing the brooding miserable thing he put to perfect, brilliant, transformative use in John Doyle's 2006 revival of Company...only in a more lazy way here. Bel Powley, as Thomasina, is so marvelously fun to watch--funny and sharp and honest and generous. The rest of them are, well, fine. At several points, you get a sense that the actor's weren't given much blocking and are asked to just wander around and indicate their own frustration through their physicality.

Oh well, can't win 'em all.