It was very cold today. The temperature hovered around 25 degrees. I don’t know how I made it through so many Vermont winters. In Burlington, which is right on the water, there would be about three weeks that would get down to -30 degrees with the windchill. I could always tell when it was below zero because the hair in my nose would freeze. The strangest little feeling. My wintertime litmus test was to wiggle my nose around and wait to feel if the moisture in my nostrils would solidify. If it didn’t, I knew we were above zero. And anything above zero was damn near balmy.
A few nights ago at work, a customer put his feet up on the table. Drinking his beer, telling his jokes, feet on the table. After I told him to get his frigging feet off the frigging table, I laughed with coworkers about all the crazy crap people pull– we pick our noses in public, we correct your grammar in front of other people, we make fun of someone for having lousy music taste.
When I’m feeling particularly self-righteous and haughty my favorite refrain is “Oh, I would never do that!” And the list, at least in my mind, is kind of long. So many things I would never do, I’m perfect, I do everything like an angel. But of course that’s not true and I got to thinking of some of the awful little crimes I commit.
- I never give wedding gifts on time. Never, never, absolutely never. The worst offense was two years between wedding and gift and I was in the wedding party. For shame.
- I chew with my mouth open and talk with my maw full of food.
- I plagiarize jokes. If you said it and I think it’s funny, I’ll be saying it a week later to someone else and won’t give proper attribution.
- I’m a closeted know-it-all. I smile and giggle and act like I’m totally open to other people’s ideas, but I think I’m right all the time, and I pretend I know what I’m talking about it when I really don’t.
- I gossip too much. I will talk behind your back. I don’t mean to, I hate it, I usually won’t say something I wouldn’t say to your face, but I’m eternally sixteen years old when it comes to talking a bunch of shit.
These are terrible, I know. But I swear for every capital offense I commit, I try not to do something else equally damning. Maybe these will guarantee my entry past the pearly gates.
- I don’t talk about my dreams. You don’t care, you’re not interested, I see your eyes glazing over when I describe my high school teacher wearing the clown suit in Mississippi with the cow and the car and there was this guy and wow, it was crazy.
- I never ask for free drinks. I don’t go to a bar or restaurant and expect anything for free. Even bars where everyone knows my name, I promise I’ll never, ever, ever be that doofus to giggle and bounce and ask “Is this on the house? Tee hee, tee hee.”
- I don’t leave urine on public toilet seats.
- I give up my subway seat to little old ladies and pregnant women.
Okay, so maybe I’m not too, too bad. There might be hope for me yet.
This past summer I made myself go see Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Uncle Vanya. They brought it to New York as part of the Lincoln Center Festival, and because the tickets are expensive, the show is long, and the run is so short, I came up with a billion reasons not to go. But I really loved STC’s production of Hedda Gabbler at BAM back in 2006, and I feel like it’s silly to miss an opportunity to see Cate Blanchett on stage, so I just used that credit card that’s always $100 from being maxed out anyway and went to see it.
Whenever I’m feel particularly boastful after a drink or two, you might catch me claiming that “Uncle Vanya, hic, is my favorite Chekhov play.” When in fact, Uncle Vanya is the only Chekhov play I’ve seen in performance. But I really do love it– it’s slow, not much happens and yet everything happens, and it presents a kind of crushing, acute reminder of the pain of living and trying to love and deal in the world.
This production had all of that, but it also had a bouyancy about it that I can’t seem to forget. I’ve seen productions of Uncle Vanya that are certainly beautiful and poignant, but they definitely feel like “eat your spinach” theater– long, dour, a world without much light. Which I guess might be the Russia Chekhov creates, but he also creates a Russia where people need music, drink like Vikings, sing at the top of the lungs, crave the human touch, and break into dance. Their inability to have all of these things in a consistent way is one of the reasons his work feels so heartbreaking to me. And when you get a glimpse of how these characters might live if they could get out of their own ways, when you see how one’s life could be if perhaps fear wasn’t such a constant, it is absolutely both the happiest and saddest thing in the world. This production of Uncle Vanya allowed us to see how happy these people might be, how their lives could feel like a Saturday night as opposed to Monday morning– we see that glint of possibility, and when it’s taken away, when they realize their dreams are only dreams and life is probably one, long, monotonous stretch, the shock of the realization just takes your breath away.
This interview with writer Jennifer Egan. The Days of Yore website in general. Interviews with artists about all the days before they got their successes. Egan’s interview is funny and honest and I love reading about how people come to writing.
Nick Nastyy (aka my little cousin, although he’s not that little anymore, he’s 18, oh my goodness, where does the time go, I remember when he was a newborn, shit, I’m old) has released his third album. He’s amazing and I’m so proud and my favorite song on the album is “If the World Ended.” You can listen and download the album here.
The Hot Club of San Francisco Pandora station. It’s West Coast gypsy jazz, I think influenced by Django Reinhardt. Listening to it makes me feel like I’m living in Woody Allen’s “Sweet and Lowdown.” It’s the kind of music that makes life feel like bounce and sunshine. You’ll walk around on the balls of your feet all day after listening to it, I promise.
Hilton Als is a writer and theater critic for the New Yorker. He’s also one of my absolute favorite writers. Check out his Contributors page on the New Yorker website– funny stuff, smart stuff, observant stuff. Can’t recommend it enough.
Memories of Murder— a Korean murder mystery/horror/comedy directed by Joon-ho Bong. I love all of his movies, and I believe The Host got him international recognition. And I think The Host is really wonderful, but there’s something about Memories of Murder ( a pair of rural cops trying to find a serial killer) that is disquieting and really funny and creepy and unresolved and I love it.