Thursday, June 1, 2017

In Defense of "Hollywood"

Just a little rant for a sec. Don't worry, it's not political. Sometimes the littlest things do set me off, though.

In the wake of the whole Kathy Griffin BS and to all of you Hollywood Haters that pile on whenever someone like Kathy Griffin does something distasteful or a famous actor takes a stand at an awards show, this is for you. For those of you who complain about the "Hollywood swamp" or the "Hollywood elite" or how shallow we all are in Los Angeles, this is for you, too. To everyone who might talk smack or throw shade at "Hollywood" then go home and spend three hours in front of the television watching "Big Bang Theory" (filmed in Burbank) or "Scandal" (filmed in Los Angeles and Hollywood) - STFU.


If you don't live here or have never visited friends here, you know nothing about my city or my industry. I'm sure I speak for my fellow Angelenos when I invite you to come and visit for longer than a trip to Disneyland or a TMZ Tour of Stars Homes,  Is "Hollywood" generally liberal? Yes. Happily. But we have differing opinions just like you. Some conservative some progressive. Not everyone agrees with each other. We are a diverse group of people in a really interesting and beautiful city - unlike any other. No, we are NOT perfect, but neither are you. Can we be full of shit and impatient. Sure. Just like people in your community.

Believe it or not, we are also generous, philanthropic, creative and kind. We work hard. We are not just actors and directors and celebrities. We are truck drivers and teachers and make up artists and security guards and EMTs and lawyers and janitors and mechanics and office workers and writers and designers and food service staff. Think of any job that people you know do and there are people doing that same job in a studio or a production company. They are just like you only they live in a different place.

You know what? We are also mothers and fathers and friends and neighbors. We have families just like you. Our children go to schools. Our grandchildren play with dolls and ride bicycles. Sound familiar? Los Angeles, "Hollywood" to you, is full of of some of the most interesting, creative and intelligent people I have ever known. We all have nice friends who are funny and can laugh at themselves and also help a neighbor with a flat tire or broken water pipe. We volunteer for church functions and political marches. We vote. Some of us are meat eaters and some are vegans. AND we are one of the most diverse cities in the country. We are a city of many colors and every religion.

Now, come for a visit. Bring a bathing suit, a hat, and some sunscreen. Prepare to have the best pastrami in the country. Get ready for some great museums, exciting theatre, high-end or vintage shopping (if you care about that sort of thing), one of the largest urban parks in North America, and a great music scene. You'll love everything but our traffic. Guaranteed.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

New Musings on Mother's Day 2017


Whenever my mom would get mad at me she would call me by my entire name. Wayne Caldwell Watkins. I'm sure many moms do this. My memmory of it reminds me of the episode of Star Trek. In "I, Mudd," Harry Mudd is harangued with a stern, "Harcourt Fenton Mudd, where have you been? What have you been up to? Have you been drinking again, you miserable sot! You good-for-nothing...!"

I know that tone. I know the dread and distress that accompanies that full-name exclamation. Yet, I have only heard tell of mothers using this technique on sons. I cannot imagine a mother turning that on a girl child. I don't think it would be the same. I am not implying that mom's don't get mad at their female children, just that it must manifest itself in a much different verbal or emotional form. Let's face it, girl's names are different than boys. They are (I'm gonna catch heat for this, but) prettier. Elizabeth, Heather, Jennifer, Samantha, Dorothy...see, pretty. Wayne, Bob, John, Dave, Paul...not pretty. It would be pretty hard to retain one's anger when saying a few pretty names in a row. How would you even do that? That would be like trying to use a mean voice when saying "unicorn and mermaids," "rainbows and butterflies," "Julie Andrews." You just can't do it.

My beautiful daughter has two beautiful daughters. Both with very pretty names. For the life of me, I cannot image her ever being angry enough to use the "three-name-shout-out" on them. Granted, I'm sure my girl can get heated, but I've never seen it, personally. (That is the dad's prerogative, by the way, to only see in his daughter that which he wishes to see. Given the circumstances of our own personal story, this is even more the case.) Of course, I see perfection: temperance, patience, kindness, support, you know - the perfect parent, the perfect daughter.

Not surprisingly, moms are often placed on pedestals. Even through their brief moments of anger or frustration, they still rise to a level of near-sainthood. Dads, though, are never put on more than a step ladder. Dads are great, don't get me wrong. I absolutely LOVE being one and my son-in-law is a champ, but moms are...well...MOMS! Sure, sure, dads have these stereotypical traits that are, thankfully, not holding up through our societal evolution, but they still exist. Mom uses a cute little spoon to feed the toddler, Dad just shoves a piece of cheese into the teeny little pie hole. Mom reaches down and picks up the fallen banana slice, Dad kicks it under the sofa in order to retrieve it later when nobody is looking. Mom worries about her beautiful ballerina stepping on the seed pod from the sweetgum tree and Dad encourages the same hoofer to jump off the roof onto the trampoline. (No, Eric, this is not really directed at you.)

The pedestal on which I have placed my own daughter is very high as a result of her being A) my daughter, as well as B) a fabulous mother, and C) to quote the movie Mary Poppins, "Practically perfect in every way." Yes, I know I am laying it on pretty thick, but if you knew my daughter you would totally get it. Certainly, it is a pedestal she shall never be able to climb down from should she even try. In addition to it's height, I have firmly glued her feet to the cornice. (Well, I think it's called the cornice. Whatever the very top part of a pedestal is called.)

Please understand, I do not say any of this to put any pressure on my beautiful child. She has her hands full just being a mom. Besides, I mean, that would be a pretty shitty thing to do on Mother's Day - heap insurmountable expectations on a person who already is super busy. I say these things because I have seen what good moms do. Including my own mother, of course, I have known some pretty terrific female parents. Moms of twins who, despite the frenetic chaos that two tykes must create, have remained relatively sane even before the kids leave for college. Perfectly amazing moms that have children who are dancers and actors and singers - often all three. These are the road warriors of parenthood, shuttling their talented offspring to ballet class, rehearsal, and voice lessons. While "soccer moms" may be a term not used as often as it once was, we all know what that means -- SUVs filled to the sunroof with smelly shoes, ball bags, and juice-pouch-swilling future Olympians. Then there are the moms who stay home with their gifted science student turning the kitchen into a bubbling workshop of goo and fireworks. And finally, the single moms, who by hook or by crook, raise the most fabulous human beings under the most trying of circumstances.

Moms the world over have sacrificed everything to raise their children. Their own dreams, their own passions, their own health. Moms compromise and juggle. They balance and negotiate. They put friendships on hold and forge new ones. They smile, they frown, they laugh, they cry, they play, they discipline. Sometimes all of those things in the course of a few minutes. So, it's no wonder that every once in a while they would let fly with a torrent of names in an effort to catch our eye or draw attention to the fact that we really shouldn't be pulling the dog by the tale.

My mother has been gone a couple of years now. As a result, I now use this holiday as an opportunity to give thanks for other people's moms that have graced my life. My mother-in-law whose name, appropriately, was Grace. My daughter's mom, Yvonne, who, with some help from her own mother, Violet, raised a wonder woman. Finally, that same wonder woman, Heather, who is the the mother of my two granddaughters, without whom I would no doubt have quickly put aside any celebration of Mother's Day at all.

Thanks for that, Heather. Happy Mother's Day.



Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Lost Art of Kissing (On Screen and Stage)


People kiss. I don't know why and I don't care. Sometimes it's just a little peck on the way out the door in the morning. Other times it's part of a more...uhm...how shall I say this...elaborate ritual. A kiss can be a casual greeting accompanied by friendly pleasantries. A kiss can be a gentle reminder that the other person is in your thoughts. Then again, it can also be the culmination of an emotional journey that suddenly runs out of words.

It is a natural and, very often, intimate thing that happens countless times every single day the world over. Not all cultures kiss, this is true. A study that appeared in American Anthropologist in 2015 found that out of 168 cultures that were studied, only 46 percent of them kissed in a romantic sense. (And to answer your next question, no, I do not spend a lot of time researching these kinds of things. I just figured that I needed a little extra weight to this post, so I Googled some shit.) Thankfully, most of us weren't raised in those cultures and find kissing pretty great.

Funny thing is, kissing is something that is much more fun to do than it is to watch. That might be a good thing. It would be kinda pervy if we all walked around watching people kiss all day and laughing under our breath. In fact, we'd probably wind up in the county slammer on some sort of public nuisance charge if we got caught doing it too much. Doubtless, I'd be the first one arrested. The director in me would want to choreograph that couple in the restaurant or the lovers at that table in the corner. "Buddy, look, put your fingers on her jaw and let them slide to the back of her neck. Slowly. Slower." "Young lady, you're spending too much time biting his lower lip. Tilt your head more. There. Perfect."

In the cinema and at the theatre, however, it's okay to watch. A well-designed kiss can transport us into the very heart of the characters we watch. "Breakfast at Tiffany's," "To Have and Have Not," "Gone With the Wind," "Casablanca," "From Here to Eternity," "It's a Wonderful Life" all have kisses that define the relationship of the characters we've been following for two hours. If executed properly by the actors and staged perfectly by the director, they take our breath away as if we were on screen ourselves.

Kissing takes a deft and specific approach on screen to work. Occasionally, even our best actors fail miserably during a celluloid snog. Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp in "The Tourist," awkward.  Liv Tyler and Viggo Mortensen in "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" were smashing into each others noses so hard it looked painful. Adam Sandler kissing Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore, and Jessica Biel. Eeeew. Please. They just don't work. In all of these cases, certainly the directors could have done better in helping the actors find the right moves. (Except for the Adam Sandler ones. Those poor girls.) In fact, it is the director's job to do that. Regardless, the actors are left in awkward moments and the audience is left unfulfilled and often disappointed.

As in real life, not all movie kisses mean the same thing. There are romantic kisses, comedic kisses, dramatic kisses, passionate kisses. Not every kiss should necessarily be sexy, either. Actors have an old adage about how to play an intoxicated person. The secret? Don't play drunk. Play trying NOT to be drunk. Most people who have had too much to drink try not to appear drunk. That's key. Same for kissing. Sometimes it's is the reticence, the waiting, the anticipation of the kiss that makes it work on stage and on screen. Alfred Hitchcock's "Notorious" has one of the most intimate kissing scenes ever filmed. It's not a constant lip-lock. It's not a slobber-fest. It's not a non-committal smooch. It's not a bad-breath-avoidance-stick-and-move. It’s a masterful two-and-a-half minutes staged in such a way as to bring us a long for a very romantic ride. Hitchcock intention was to circumvent the Hays Code of the time. The ludicrous Production Code banned kisses longer than three seconds. So Hitch had them kiss for three, then whisper and nuzzle and go back to another three second kiss. Stop and murmur a sweet nothing, then kiss. Sigh, breath, kiss. Then repeat. Just may be the best screen kiss of all time. If you don't believe me, take a look below. Feel free to try this at home.

The stage kiss is very different from the movie kiss. The stage kiss isn't 40 feet high and in close up. These are normal sized actors (although many stage actors have heads quite large for their bodies, but that's another post entirely) and seen from ten or twenty rows back. There needs to be much more set up. The audience needs to see it coming a little. They need to feel the tension as the characters get closer. On stage the kiss has to be perfectly planned and executed to take advantage of angle and light as well as emotion and character. Timing must be perfect. Not too long, not to short. You can't "fix it in post" like they do in the movies. Hey, this stuff ain't easy.

The best actors pay attention to each other. They feed off of each other. They are professionals doing a job. You don't kiss a "co-worker" in a show the same way that you kiss a significant other on a date. Movie and stage kisses take work. Rehearsal. Usually that happens in front of a bunch of people doing other jobs while you're trying to look all Rico Suave or Pussy Galore. It's not as fun as it may sound and it definitely is not anything your life-partners should worry about. The finished product may look erotic or passionate, but believe me, getting there can be difficult.

Sometime in the 50s or 60s (okay, I just made those dates up because it just seems about right), movies and the actors in them forgot how to kiss. Kissing in the movies was better in the very early days of Hollywood. Perhaps I should say - more effective. In real life, the kiss is either the beginning of something bigger (oh, you know what I'm talking about) or so casual and commonplace it doesn't serve in your daily narrative (that morning peck as you both drive off to work). In movies, and on stage, the kiss is usually the climax to the scene. (Yes, okay, pun intended.)

After "Streetcar Named Desire" in 1951, with rare exception, everything went to shit. I blame Marlon Brando. And James Dean.  Did Dustin Hoffman EVER kiss anyone on screen? Come to think of it, did Paul Newman? Mostly, I blame Lee Strasberg. The screen kiss lost it's fantasy. Strasberg and his "Method" sacrificed romance for realism. (Again, fodder for another post.) We started to see on screen kissing become more and more like actual real life kissing. But, that is not it's purpose. The reason we go to see movies and plays, any art really, is not to have real life replayed before our eyes. It is to experience heightened levels of emotions in heightened situations. To see larger than life people deal with larger than life challenges. To experience emotions on a scale beyond that of our regular life. That is the very purpose of art.

So the message for all my actors and directors out there is this: Never underestimate this important bit of blocking. It can make or break a moment on stage or on screen. Well, actually, that's not right. It's not just for my actors and directors. I'm really telling everyone, pay attention to the kiss.  You, too, can elevate the ordinary to an art form. And.....action!


Friday, December 23, 2016

Holiday Words


I have no problem with Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. In fact, I think it is a very polite and appropriate greeting during this time of year. I also think it rather hypocritical for people who claim to be Christians, to get all worked up over how people wish you well during a particular time of year. Be grateful, thank them, and return the greeting. It’s akin to men putting the toilet seat down. Just do it. It really isn’t a big deal. It takes you 5 seconds, no effort, and your wife will brag about you to all her friends. (Sorry, this is a rant for another day.)

Season’s Greetings is another holiday term some people use. Usually in greeting cards. Rarely in speech. Have you ever heard someone leave the office party with a hearty “Season’s Greetings, ya'll!” No. You have not.

The one thing I do like about the Merry Christmas greeting, however, is the word merry. I like that word. Every other holiday is preceded by the word happy. Happy New Year, Happy Valentine’s Day, Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Hogmanay. Happy, happy, happy. But then there is Merry Christmas. Merry is just so nice and smiley.  There is a cheerful and light-hearted feeling behind the word merry that happy just doesn’t have. You can be happy anytime of the year, but you can only be merry around the winter months. It even looks like a very convivial sort of word the way the letters all follow each other and finish off with that devil-may-care “y” at the end.

Jolly is another really good holiday word. Usually used in describing Santa, jolly is what I would deem an autological word -- a word that is what it describes. Outside of Christmas (and maybe a few times in Shakespeare) you never hear the word “jolly,” do you? Too bad. It’s fun. It’s one of those words, though, that if you try to use during any other time of the year, you will always sound a little pretentious. Or British. 

Other holidays are equally resplendent with fabulous vocabularies. Hanukkah has some fun words that are only heard during that holiday, too. Dreidel. Latkes. Shamash. Even if you don’t know what those words mean, just the saying of them makes you want to find out. Each of the seven principles of Kwanzaa are great to say out loud. Especially, Umoja (Unity) and Kuumba (Creativity).  Both Islam and Hinduism have holidays with fantastic vocabularies (Eid al-Adha and Diwali, respectively). But since those dates move from year to year, they aren’t always strictly winter holidays. 

I think my New Year’s resolution (or one of them anyway) for 2017 is to use more merry and jolly words in my daily life. Even at the risk of sounding like I went to Eton or Harrow, I’m going to make it my mission in 2017 to be creative and daring in how I speak. I’ll try to honor the intention of good words by enunciating them properly. (Mr. Cooke and Dr. White will look down approvingly on me for this.) I’m going to use fun and unusual words for more than just the holidays. I think I’ll even make a concerted effort to put the “g” back on words ending in “ing.” I’m not a Cockney, after all. The down side to this resolution for all my Millennial friends and students will be that if I hear you saying words like bitten, kitten, or written without pronouncing the ‘t” sound, I will correct you. You’re not a Cockney, either. 

Not that we needed the lesson, but 2016 has reminded all of us of the power that words can have when used improperly or carelessly. Words wielded by the wrong mouths can topple governments and influence elections. They can cause pain and fear. They can threaten and intimidate.  Thankfully, words can also inspire and heal. They can motivate and enlighten. Lined up in the right way, they can make children laugh, can serve as a tonic for a lover’s tears, or can trigger an apology in the face of an argument.  Using words, a person can also wish a total stranger a Happy Holiday – and mean it -- no matter what religion either of them practice or belief system they hold dear. 

I wish you all a Merry Holiday and a very Jolly New Year. Here's to using your words - old ones, new ones, right ones.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Rules of the Road Trip


You are doing it wrong.

Rules and regulations are everywhere. Some people may think that, as a society, we are over-regulated. However, there are reasons for rules. The road trip is no exception. Oh, sure, it seems harmless enough. There's the family outing to another state, you have your couple jaunting up the coast for a couple days, and the classic four friends gassing up for an epic journey across country. To the uninitiated, these are simple excursions in a vehicle to travel to a destination. To the serious road tripper, these are highly planned and completely immersive experiences. They require military level logistics and detailed organization.

As we look forward to some potential road trips over the winter holidays, here are some helpful tips to make sure you enjoy your road trip in the manner it was intended.
A. Dress Code
    1. Jeans and shorts only. No khakis. Please. Don't make me explain. Also, this is the ONLY time in your entire life you are EVER permitted to wear cargo shorts.
    2. No swimsuits or bikinis. A seat belt on bare skin can leave a mark. Plus it gets kinda sweaty. Also, when you get out of the car the back of your legs are red and have the imprint of your seats on them. 
    3. Wear shoes. Do not drive barefoot. What if you have to dash into a gas station bathroom? Gross. Do not wear flip flops (or thongs and some people call them) either. You are on a road trip in a car. Take the driving part seriously.
    4. Wear a hat. For men, a ball cap, flat cap, beanie or stocking cap, trilby, pork pie -- all acceptable road trip wear. No berets, cowboy hats, boaters, derbys, or bucket hats. You are on vacation not auditioning for a TV period drama or cop show. For women, anything you look cute in. Face it, girls are cute in hats. Maybe try a scarf. Go ahead and rock your inner Audrey Hepburn. 
B. Music.
    1. Generally, the best road trip music is from the 70s and 80s. You may not know this, but road trips are social activities -- you and everyone else on the road are communing. If you are a millennial, older road trippers will think you are way cooler than you are.
    2. Real road trippers customize their music for the trip.This is where you can sneak in some more contemporary tunes.
    3. No one listens to country music on a road trip. NO, they don't. Only professional truck drivers. This is a road trip not a job. If you really WANT to listen to country music (which I do not recommend) pull over and go into a bar or country diner. Order some chicken-fried-steak and mashed potatoes, get your fix, then get back on the road. Now, don't panic. Lynyrd Skynyrd is not considered country. If you need a quick primer on the difference between country music and southern rock, please DM me immediately. You obviously have some learnin' to do.
C. Food
    1. Plain potato chips and regular tortilla chips are for picnics NOT road trips. The exceptions are for things that are spicy and hot flavors. Stock up on Cheetos (any flavor), Chex Mix (any but the new chocolate flavored sweet ones - WTF, General Mills!), popcorn, and anything else that crumbles easily and gets all over the place. Barcel and Tom's are the best brands for road trips. Convenience stores and gas stations carry them.
    2. NO DIP. This is not a cocktail party - it's a freaking road trip. Don't get fancy, get serious.
    3. No chocolate bars. Only candy like Red Vines, Gummy Bears, Circus Peanuts, etc. If you really have to have chocolate M&Ms are fine. 
    4. No napkins. (See exception D.1. below)
    5. Ignore serving sizes. I know I didn't really have to mention this, but, there you go.
    6. Only get snacks with wide-mouth bags. (Basically, just buy a big regular bag.) No small or snack-size bags as they are unsafe for the driver. Oh sure, everyone in the car can manage the stupid teeny ones you put in your kid's lunch box, but you are a grown-ass adult and need to get a handful in one smooth motion. Here's how it should flow: 1) Hands at ten and two on the wheel, 2) Release at two, 3) grab, 4) shovel, 5) wipe on pant leg, 6) back to two. (If this is your first road trip, practice this a few times before you actually pull out of your driveway for the trip.)
    7. Don't bother bringing fruit. Too much trash. Bananas and apples have the skin,  apples have the core, grapes have the twiggy little whatever they are. Bag it. They are a hassle. Just wait until you stop somewhere for dinner and order a salad or a side of fruit. You'll live.
D. Misc
    1. Don't even think about packing Kleenex. If you need to blow your nose use a napkin. Even the little travel size are terrible. Leave those in you suitcase when you go on the airplane. Grab a bunch of napkins from a fast food restaurant or steal a handful from Starbucks. Do not use these for wiping your hands. (See C.4. above) These are official road trip snot rags. (Yes, that's the real name). 
    2. Road side rest areas are there for a purpose. Use them often. You need to get out and stretch your legs. Even if you are only driving for a couple hours, stop at a rest area. Chat to the couple from Wisconsin. That's their RV parked over by the pet poop area. Make small talk with the tattooed girl from Albuquerque and her skinny boyfriend in the sagging jeans. They are very nice people. You should probably stay away from the the really mean looking guy with the Chihuahua. He's probably on parole and not use to people yet. The Chihuahua might be his therapy dog.  Use caution in the bathrooms. The floors are gross and slippery and there will never be anything to dry your hands are. Use the napkins from D.1. when you get back to the car. Don't get grossed out, but you WILL have to flush the toilet prior to using it. Just do it. It's part of the fun.
    3. When filling up at the gas station, always wash your windshield. It's tradition and should not be ignored. 
    4. Over pack. That's right, I said it. You are in your car. Pack some extra of everything just in case you need it. Take twice as much underwear and socks, a couple extra pair of shoes, some dress pants, a nice shirt or blouse, a swim suit. You know -- extra stuff. Even though you are on a road trip, you don't lose your humanity. Be ready for a spur of the moment adventure.
This is far from a complete list. You are welcome to customize it a little (the food part, certainly has some wiggle room) so long as you don't stray from the main tenets.

Have fun! Don't drink and drive. NO TEXTING. Enjoy the trip, ya'll.*




*Road trips are the ONLY time you are allowed to say "ya'll" if you are not from the South. This will be D.4. on the revised edition.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thanksgiving. Have a Happy One.

Thanksgiving is always about family, right? Well, usually, anyway. Family and food. And football.

Early in my creative career (read: when I couldn't afford to go home because I was a struggling actor without two nickles to rub together), Thanksgiving was about what we now often refer to as "tribe." Community. My peeps. A circle of friends, lovers, cast-mates, and theatre orphans that had one thing in common -- each other.  Well, that and we were stuck in LA together on a big holiday. If we pooled our money we could buy a turkey and some Almaden Savignon Blanc (or Carlo Rossi Burgundy if none of us had worked in a while.) Of course, my roommate and I would always have a bottle of Jameson in the house for special occasions and an orphan's Thanksgiving was always one such event.

For the last 20 years or so, Thanksgiving has been about driving 1000 miles (one way) to visit my mother and her long-time significant other. My younger brother in Las Vegas would also make the trek (500 miles one way). Our older brother lived very close to Mom, as did a couple of cousins, so we got a lot of obligatory "visiting family" points on Turkey Day. As the years passed, Thanksgiving morphed into an inconvenient few days off each year that took more and more planning to execute successfully. The holiday needed to be stage managed like some exotic expedition.

Logistical issues aside, a three or four day visit to Mom's was always just a little bit too long for me. Her computer was slow, she cooked with too much salt, and if I had to hear one more time about how my lawyer brother was a better actor than I was because he was  lawyer... Ack! Enough already.  Then again, this was my mother, my brothers, my family. So familial guilt made me believe that a couple days was never quite enough. I love my family, but (and let's be honest, here) there is a reason we live 1000 miles away (one way).

But we suffer through. We bitch and moan. We eat. We laugh. We drink a little too much knowing we can sleep it off during the Detroit Lions game. We bring up old memories and ancient feuds that continue through the years with no resolutions in sight. All of these things are part of what family means.

The great thing about Thanksgiving has always been the lack of any real pressure. Oh sure, there is the complexity of shopping. Try to find a 16 ounce can of anything. Can't do it. Don't make 'em anymore.  All the recipes still call for that size, though, so you have to figure out how to adjust recipes. I should have paid more attention in math class. Prepping and cooking can be stressful, but by the time you are an adult, you pretty much have your mojo working on the traditional family stuff. Try anything new and adventurous and you are on your own. You should know better anyway. Stick to the basics. Cleaning up is usually where the party breaks down. Once the food and drink is gone so are most of the helping hands you were counting on to scrape the bones into the trash and make sure the wine glasses are dry. Generally speaking, if you play your cards right you can drop a few hints that will let people know they are expected to, at the very least, carry their place setting into the kitchen without dropping a turkey leg for the dog to get. If someone does happen to fling some stuffing into the fish tank, just know that they are going to blame it on the youngest person there. Or the oldest, if there is a nasty aunt that no one likes.

Compared to the other holidays, expectations for Thanksgiving are relatively mild. Navigating a mall to buying Christmas presents is like being in a real Lara Croft video game - shimmying past the slow moving wall that is the family with corn dogs and pretzels; tripping over the old biddy with the fake "service dog" as she jerks it away from the fresh puddle by the perfume kiosk; digging through piles of unsorted ladies lingerie at Victoria's Secret looking for something in a red or black lace that is sexy but not slu...uhm, wait, oversharing. I digress. Shopping online is not much easier. So many choices. Is shipping included? Calculating delivery online can be like one of those sixth grade story problems that I sucked at. "A hoodie being shipped from Stamford, CT at UPS Ground will save you $5 if your total order is greater than or equal to X. Solve for X."

Then there is Valentine's Day. A whole day only for people in relationships. That is just sad. Sorry single people, you have to wait for New's Year Eve. Oh, and guys, don't get lazy on this one. Pay attention and you'll do alright. Fourth of July? Those parades are terrible, but the neighbor kids are gonna be on the Boy Scout's Statue of Liberty float, so you are obliged to go. And, by the way, admit it, you never get the best seat to watch the fireworks at the local park. Your kids always have to run around the family with the pop-up tent and the portable Weber kettle or you have to distract them from staring at the couple making out two blankets over.  Memorial Day? Veteran's Day? Stock up on flags, because if you don't people will think you are not a patriot. You can make up for it a little with some red, white and blue cocktail napkins, but nothing says patriotic holiday observance more than a faded flag that you only trot out a couple times a year.

Thanksgiving is the one. Camaraderie and canapes. Wine and wisecracks. Human beings sitting around a backyard fire-pit or a well appointed dinner table just enjoying one another. Somebody spilled something on the new sofa? No problem. A toddler reaching for some whip cream just broke a wine glass? You probably had that glass long enough anyway.
 
My Mom is gone now and I miss those ridiculous trips to Colorado. Yet, I am so thankful for them. My family has grown in a very special way the past few years, so this Thursday in November lets me ponder that. I have gotten closer to some family members and more distant from others. My tribe is changing. Sure, there are the founding members of my tribe/my family that have remained constant. There are the close friends and the friends that are close. Friends that were and are again. Friends that all but disappeared for decades but by some magic force of the universe become practically neighbors. Family members get married, divorced, married again. Some move away, others move in. Tribe is the right word. Thanksgiving, by it's very nature, is meant to be tribal. Whether it's the tribe you were born into or the tribe you choose for yourself - maybe both - you come together for the most basic of human reasons. To eat. To tell stories. To enjoy each other while you can.

Don't worry, as sure as you will have left over turkey, the Detroit Lions will probably lose and things will go back to normal on Monday.  But for a few days, enjoy the characters that make up your tribe. Give thanks for each and every one of them. Oh, and pass the sage and sausage dressing. It's my favorite.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

On Losing Things. On Finding Things.

Sometimes you lose stuff. You just do. Nobody's fault. Shit happens. A cuff link rolls off your dresser and gets sucked up by the vacuum. A ten dollar bill sails into the wind as you're pulling out your car keys. The world is cruel sometimes. Your Star Trek NCC-1701 Enterprise Pizza Cutter gets accidentally thrown away with the last pizza box. Good thing it was a gift or you'd be pissed off.  It was pretty cool, though. (Stop laughing. Have you ever SEEN one of those? They are COOL.)

Sometimes other people lose stuff and you find it. That's exciting. Occasionally, a little uncomfortable. I found a $100 bill once. I felt guilty for a month afterwards.  The poor sod probably needed that C-note for something important.


However frustrating losing something may be, when you find it again, the joy is immeasurable. Especially if you find it on accident. The tale of loss and recovery becomes epic. A party story told over and over again to rapt throngs. The cuff link winds up in the cat's litter box. (Yeah, don't ask. It's a mystery.) The ten-spot ends up blowing against a rose bush getting stuck on a thorn for a week and returned to you by your gardener. (Who clearly could use the money more than you). The pizza cutter mysteriously appears years later on the same day the new Star Trek movie opens. (Kismet.)

Sometimes, just sometimes, you will find something without having lost it at all. A relationship, a love, a friend, a memory. One of my very best friends from high school reconnected with me via a phone call out of the blue. I had forgotten how much that person meant to me and, strangely, still does. While I didn't actually lose him as a friend, I found the importance of him again. As a result, that simple little action of a phone call, we have gotten back in touch, have spoken many times and actually took the time to meet after a million years and visit for a while face-to-face.  So fun and heartwarming, really.

For those who read my posts or follow me on Facebook, you will know I "found" a daughter I didn't know I had. More accurately, she found me. While I didn't officially "lose" her, the change in our lives once we found each other was profound. I would daresay miraculous even.

Just last year, I had the pleasure of finding some "junk boxes" my mother had kept over the years. She kept Mother's Day cards from the 90s, birthday cards from the 80s, newspaper clippings from the 70s. Letters from her children. Not junk at all. At least not to her. What I really found was what my mom had held dear throughout her entire life. Memories.

It's not that I really needed that Star Trek pizza cutter. I mean, really, it's a pretty limited utensil. It was just awesome to look at, to hold, to have. It was fun. Naturally, I was able to cut pizza after it went missing. I bought a new pizza cutter at Ralph's. It worked. Cut pizza. I forgot about the lost item pretty quickly, to be honest. Until one day, you move something or clean out a drawer or rearrange a cupboard. Hum. What's...that? Hey, it's my  Star Trek NCC-1701 Enterprise Pizza Cutter! Then you cradle it like a long lost love. The memory of losing now itself a memory. So glad I got a couple DiGiornos in the freezer.  Now, where'd I put that corkscrew?