Monday, June 22, 2009

A Calming Little FAQ on the Current Pandemic Panic

We've all seen the headlines:

W.H.O. Raises Alert Level as Flu Spreads to 74 Countries

More City Schools Closed by Flu

Everybody in Japan Ordered to Wear Stupid White Medical Masks

We're All Going To Fucking Die

And what is everybody so worked up about? Is it a plague transmitted by rats, like the Black Death? Is it a virus that can chew your skin off, like Ebola? Is it a disease that can actually kill you, like Swine Flu? Hell no. It's a sickness that, tragically, has the potential of infecting 100% of the marriageable female population of the planet. You know what I'm talking about, ladies. I'm talking about Swain Flu. The dirty little secret of the double-X chromosome. (And you guys reading this? Double-X is not a size, so take a cold shower, okay?)

So what is Swain Flu? Here, for the willfully ignorant, is a brief FAQ:

QUESTION: So what is Swain Flu?

ANSWER: Swain Flu is a recurring virus which makes it impossible for women to live without a boyfriend in their lives. Women infected with Swain Flu are sometimes referred to as Serial Daters, Clinging Vines, Chain Locas (because they're so crazy they date guys the way chain smokers light their next cigarette: from the butt of the one they're just about to stub out), and the incredibly uncomplimentary Chick Ticks, because of their habit of hopping from lover to lover like a carnal flea.

QUESTION: How big is the current Swain Flu outbreak?

ANSWER: Swain Flu was declared a global pandemic on June 11, 2009, in the first designation by the World Honeymoon Organization of a worldwide romantic pandemic since the death of Barbara Cartland. Although the virus is now widespread in the United States and continues to spread from one woman to another through texting and Facebook updates, the W.H.O. has recommended against attempts to contain it, arguing that it would piss off all the men who are currently getting a lot of frantic sex because of it.

QUESTION: So what are the signs and symptoms of Swain Flu in women?

ANSWER: The symptoms of swain flu are: the inability to sleep without someone next to you in bed, dizziness when more than arm's length away from anything with a Y chromosome, fainting spells when faced with the prospect of seeing a movie alone, and advanced malnutrition due to lack of spooning. And, for that matter, forking. Also low self-esteem and an unbridled passion for shorter and more revealing LBD's*, and higher and more painfully constricting FMP’s**, which is reflected in the old jump rope rhyme:

One is my LBD
Two are my FMP’s
Three are the G & T’s
He has to drink till he’s on his knees.
Pepper pepper pepper pepper Vodka!

QUESTION: Is Swain Flu some kind of new disease?

ANSWER: God no. It's been around since the invention of courtly love by Marie de Champagne in 1099. Troubadours sang of it, Provençal poets rhymed about it, jongleurs made fun of it, and (like everything else in the Middle Ages) the Jews were blamed for it. Outbreaks of Swain Flu have been happening for centuries: there was the Amoroso Ague affliction in Italy during the reign of the Borgias, the Caballero Cholera complaint in El Cid’s Andalusia, the Gigolo Grippe which went up and down the East Coast of America during the first Grover Cleveland Administration, the famous Beau Brummell Bronchitis blight in Regency England, and the well-documented 1939 outbreak of Sugar Daddy Shingles in Hollywood. Social historians are in agreement that these recurring appearances of Swain Flu in the human female population always occur during hard economic times, and point out that the most recent pandemic took place during The First Great Depression, an event which was immortalized in Edna St. Vincent Malaysia's famous poem, What Lips My Lips Aren't Kissing Now, And Why The Hell Not, Huh?:

I cannot walk without a crutch
Or reach without an arm to touch
Or sleep without a second crotch
Beside me in the bed.

If I'm alone for half a sec,
I turn into a nervous wreck.
Without a man to (rhymes with duck)
I might as well be dead.

QUESTION: So can women contract Swain Flu, or can guys get it as well?

ANSWER: There are strains of Swain Flu which do intermittently infect the heterosexual male population; these are usually referred to as Jane Flu. But since current research has proven that most straight males go through their lives with a near-total 24/7 inability to be alone for more than five minutes at a time, unless there's a TV on in front of them, the toxins at the root of the Swain Flu virus appear to be already inherent in the straight male biological makeup. (Which, unfortunately, is the only kind of makeup ever associated with straight males.) This is probably why the accepted scientific term to describe a heterosexual male who cannot exist without a woman in his life is "Being Awake."

QUESTION: Are there medicines to treat Swain Flu?

ANSWER: You’re kidding, right?

QUESTION: Well, there’s got to be something I can do if I get it.

ANSWER: Look -- it’s like heroin withdrawal. The only way to clean yourself out is to go cold turkey. Sleep alone. Stay home and eat ice cream. When you meet new guys, tell them you're seeing someone. Tell them you're married. (No--wait--that only encourages them.) You have to flush this insidious crippler of women out of your system completely. And while you are, you'll be feeling all the symptoms of drug withdrawal, which are coincidentally the exact same symptoms of Swain Flu: fever, chills, shortness of breath, increased heart rate, fatigue, giddiness, sadness, the shakes, the giggles, the shing-a-ling, the skate, the boogaloo, the philly, and the ability to read Ernest Hemingway without laughing. You may also notice the inability to wake up, lack of desire to interact socially, mental confusion, fatigue, and constant irritability as well, but these symptoms are harder to trace to Swain Flu, since they are common to everyone who works a day job.

QUESTION: And what if I don't want to be cured? What if I like swimming in a constant stream of meaningless hookups just so I won't feel lonely?

ANSWER: Then I have only one thing to say to you.


ANSWER: What are you doing tomorrow night?

*LBD: Little Black Dress.

**FMP's: Fuck-Me Pumps. Immortalized in Edna St Vincent Malaysia's famous poem,
I Didn't Wear This Dress So You Could Look At My Face, Romeo:

I'm wearing shiny FMP's.
They make my calves as hard as trees.
Say something complimentary, please --
Your silence kind of rankles.

I'm not a slouch -- I came to play.
I'm wearing sexy lingerie.
It's even sexier, they say,
When it's around my ankles.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Ten Things About Twelfth Night

Ignore the program notes. Like all program notes, those of Oskar Eustis have nothing to do with the production you’ll see. This Twelfth Night is not about loss and rejuvenation, it’s about the world going topsy-turvy under your feet. This is because, in this production more than any other I’ve ever seen, the Sir Toby/Maria/Sir Andrew/Malvolio subplot takes total precedence over the main plot. Why? Because

Anne Hathaway is the weakest link on the stage. Her performance is not bad -- it's just not up to the level of everybody else. And it's not a drawback, either. In a strange way, it's a definite asset. Because Hathaway is (you should pardon the expression) playing the straight man to everybody else, her performance exposes the dirty little secret at the heart of this play: it’s not really about Viola. She’s just the rock that shatters the mirror everybody else is staring at whenever they talk to each other. “Sick of self-love” describes not just Malvolio, but EVERYBODY in this play. In a different universe, where Viola gets shipwrecked in Bohemia? Everybody in Illyria will go to their graves without budging an inch from their stubborn positions in Act I, Scene 1, because those crazy twins who can sing both high and low never entered their lives. In terms of this production, this means

The real stars are Jay O. Sanders, Julie White, Hamish Linklater and Michael Cumpsty, whose Malvolio is Shylock-like in its sense of entitlement and wounded rage. But of them all, it’s Sanders who's the star. After winning the acting triple crown by playing the Ghost, the Player King and the Gravedigger in last summer’s Hamlet, he goes 4 for 4 as Sir Toby Belch, ably matched by White’s Maria and Linklater’s scene-stealing Sir Andrew. (The more I see the play, the more I realize that the role of Sir Andrew is the closest thing you’ll ever find to a totally bad-actor-proof part. Steven Segal could gets laughs playing Sir Andrew.) But still:

It’s not the funniest Twelfth Night I’ve ever seen. (That trophy was retired by the 1998 Nicholas Hytner Lincoln Center production with Helen Hunt.) One of the reasons, again, is Hathaway. She acquits herself well, but she tends to skate over the jokes in her part very lightly, when she should take a pause here and there to propel herself into a little pirouette. This is especially rueful because all her jokes are sly little asides to the audience about the fact that she’s really a girl, which means they only work when they’re delivered out into the house. Or at least delivered with a knowing sense that there’s an audience out there to get the joke. And she doesn’t do that. And it doesn’t help that she’s playing opposite

Raul Esparza as Orsino, who does the best he can with the thankless Zeppo part, but you can tell he’d rather be playing Malvolio. Especially in this production. The Sir Toby scenes are so much the heart of the play that when Orsino shows up at the end of the second act, you’re like “Oh yeah -- I remember him -- he’s that guy from the beginning of the play.” Something you do not say when you see

Audra McDonald as Olivia. Talk about epitomizing the whole world-turned-upside-down thing. She goes from stiff-backed widow’s weeds to giggling June bride whites like (duh) a great singer with a four-octave range. There’s a couple of moments she misses in the first half, but after the intermission, every time she walks onstage she’s so electric it’s like she just stuck her finger in a light socket. She gets more laughs out of ad-libbed Ngung-ngung-ngungs than Curly does in any 10 Three Stooges shorts. And speaking of stooges,

I found David Pittu’s Feste to be more arch than amusing, and certainly not as funny as he thought he was being. Maybe it was me, but I got that weird F Murray Abraham vibe I sometimes get when Abraham walks onto a stage saying “You owe me” instead of “Here’s something you’ve never seen before.” Speaking of which, during the last ten minutes of the play,

Director Daniel Sullivan steals two classic bits from the Hytner production, when Orsino mistakes Sebastian for Viola, and when, during Feste’s song, the minor characters are shown leaving Illyria. Not a criticism -- just a note; chalk that one up to me knowing too much to live. In which spirit, I offer up two pieces of advice:

Dear reader: go see it. You will be delighted. You will walk out happy. And if you’re lucky? Like me, even though you’ve seen maybe 20 different versions of this play, you’ll find something new in this production. What new thing did I see? Well, it wasn't really a sight, it was a feeling. (Don't all faint at once now, okay?) Maybe I’m getting sentimental in my old age, but it's the first time I have EVER been moved when the twins meet at the end. I thought it was honestly touching. Which made my happiness at the end that perfect, bittersweet, joy-in-departing mix of “Yay!” and “Awww . . .” And (because, y'know, WTF, right?)

Dear Anne Hathaway: play to the audience more. We’re on your side. We're in on the joke. We will laugh, I swear to God. All you have to do is wink our way. Or throw the lines over your shoulder at us. We want to like you. We want to care about Viola. We don't want to be sitting there thinking, "This is okay, but when are the drunk guys coming back?" We want to be laughing at the joke we're in on. And the more we laugh at that joke, the more we'll like you. And vice versa. I keep flashing on Susan Egan's great line as Léonide in the musical Triumph Of Love: “I LOVE me in this!” Viola needs more of that. She needs to feel totally cocky (pun intended), so that when she falls for Orsino, her world gets turned upside-down too. And the best way to do cocky? Play to the audience. And we'll be thinking, "This is okay, but when is Viola coming back?"

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Also "savage," "liplock," and The Nation's home page

QUESTION: What’s the difference between my current place of employment and Iran?

ANSWER: When it comes to goggling the word “hooker,” nothing:

TEHRAN — Back before the election and the ensuing pandemonium, some journalists stopped for lunch at a cafe in north-central Tehran, a place with pictures of Shakespeare and Samuel Beckett where the stern visage of the late Ayatollah Khomeini is more customary, and where the background music was American jazz.

What’s that record? a newcomer to town asked the proprietor. He held up a CD case of the great bluesman John Lee Hooker. Really? The singer known as the Boogie Man played jazz? “Hooooker!” he insisted.

Well, you never know. Worth a check. But back at the hotel, a Google search produced a yellow triangle with an exclamation point and a warning: Access to this site is denied.

What? Oh. Of course. “Hooker.”

Welcome to the Islamic Republic, where we protect you from yourself. You have much to learn

Dream Lovers, or, TMI on MJW

I recently had a dream where a female friend and I just started, you know, snogging like a couple of rabbits on Viagra, an act which was so inappropriate (even in my subconscious) that I woke up with a jerk at 3 AM saying to myself "What the fuck was that?"

Now personally, I hate waking up with jerks almost as much as I get creeped out by having erotic dreams about female friends for whom I feel no sexual attraction at all when I’m my normal waking self. I mean, why aren't I dreaming about one of the ones for whom I DO feel something more than friendship? Is that too much to ask?

Last week? Evidently, yes. Far be it from me to spend my sleeping hours in pleasant wish fulfillment. Oh no. My dreams have to be like my life -- they have to be based on wish withholding. When they're not based on desires I don't even know I have.

Which is not to say that I never have dreams about Other Guy's Girlfriends, The One I Can Never Sleep With Because It'll Ruin The Friendship, or That Brunette Reading Charlaine Harris At The End Of The Bar. But if I ever do have those dreams? It's usually the result of some deeply buried attraction that is clawing its vampiric way out of my subconscious and into the light of day. I think of these women as my Unloves, because they're the romantic version of the Undead. When I dream about bonking one of my Unloves, it's all about something I'm running away from taking an axe to the door and yelling "He-e-e-e-e-ere's JOHNNY!!!!!!" But when I dream about canoodling with one of my non-blood sisters? It's like I'm the evil creature of the night. Suddenly, I'm the Overlook Hotel, and I start to wonder: do I really have that room in me? Do I really feel that way? Or is there just a perverted little imp inside my sleeping mind who gets his jollies out of watching me do the horizontal mambo with Miss Pal and then waking up with the words “What the fuck was that?” on my 3 AM lips.

And then there’s the dream language issue. I don’t know about you, but the friends I dream about are usually there not because of who they are, but because of what they represent in my mind. They may be named Adam or Alice or Amy or Andy in real life, but in my dreams they’re all first name Ally, last name Gorical. You know how you have dreams where somebody you meet is two completely different people at the same time, like a personal friend and a famous person all wrapped up in one? Well I have dreams where everybody’s real and symbolic, like Tarot cards, characters in Everyman, and the entire cast of James Joyce’s Ulysses. (Speaking of which, Happy Belated Bloomsday.) Because, y'know, my dreams are not just about repressed desire, or screwed-up screwing. They're about self-knowledge, God damn it. He said. Hopefully.

So in that spirit -- and because it weirded me out so much to have that snogging rabbits dream last week that I started seriously thinking about all the other dreams I've had like that in my life -- here, for your edification and amusement, are five of the Major Arcana in my personal Carnal Tarot deck:

The one I can never sleep with because it will ruin the friendship. Real life model: Carole Stamm. Actual dream: we were having sex in a very tiny claw-foot bathtub (no water in it; me on the bottom), and we had forgotten to close the door, so during the whole thing I am (a) trying to shift position so my back isn’t killing me and (b) getting totally distracted by my naked male roommate typing up a letter in his bedroom down the hall. Dream symbolism: regret; lost opportunity; chronic back pain.

Other guy’s girlfriends. Real life model: Donna Andreozzi. Actual dream: a series of six or seven over the space of two years, during which she’d knock on my bedroom door and come in wearing next to nothing, I would make a half-hearted attempt to be loyal to my best friend Tom, she would give me a kiss that would kick loyalty out the window, and then we’d make the beast with two backs while she complained about Tom all night. These conversations were always totally identical to the conversations we had on the phone, except for the sex. Dream symbolism: guilt; nothing is ever perfect; just because you’re sleeping with someone, that doesn’t mean you aren’t thinking about somebody else.

The friend I now and then imagine something else with. Real life model: Sheila Greene. Actual dream: we were scientists working in a laboratory and, when we used the lab table to do our version of the Jack Nicholson/Jessica Lange kitchen table sex scene in the Postman Always Rings Twice remake, I accidentally knocked over a couple of beakers of highly volatile chemicals, causing a nuclear explosion. The moment before I woke up remains imprinted in my mind as the most keenly felt sensation I have ever had of various parts of my body being pulled and pushed at the same time. Dream symbolism: pleasure versus responsibility; carelessness; walking dynamite.

The one I secretly want to sleep with but don’t have the nerve to ask. Real life models: oh jeez, do you want them alphabetically or chronologically? Actual dreams: they all follow the same pattern. 1: I see you and my heart leaps. 2: You don’t even know I exist, do you? 3: Hey, you’re looking at me. 4: Hey, you’re smiling! 5: Whoa, you wanna do what? 6: Wow, I must be dreaming! 7: Well, actually, I am. 8: Whoops -- waking up now. Dream symbolism: frustration; fear of success; she is not thinking of me.

The bullet I better dodge or God help me. Real life model: Kate Barnes. Real life dream: it’s a doozy. Took place in the Marshfield cottage, where I found myself lying on my parents’ bed and watching Kate dress herself in various articles of my mother’s clothing. Dream symbolism: Go To Therapy. Go Directly to Therapy. Do Not Pass Go. Do Not Collect $200. And do not be at all surprised when Kate starts sleeping with your boss.

Friday, June 12, 2009


The last time I saw my friend Tom's brother Leni was in San Diego three years ago, when a bunch of us flew into town to surprise Tom for his 50th birthday. It was a great weekend, marred only by my congenitally abysmal performance as a golfer (I am to golfing what Wile E Coyote is to catching the Roadrunner, explosions included). Leni, the consummate sportsman, played well and partied hard. That's how I'll always remember him.

That, and this way: Morristown says goodbye to Len Muscarella

Monday, June 8, 2009

Weekend Update

Drag Me To Hell. The movie opens with the old 1980s version of the Universal logo, so right off the bat you know just where Sam Raimi is coming from, what he’s going to throw at you, and where he’s throwing it: right into your face. Remember the good old movie days of yelping with fright at the same time you’re laughing at over-the-top gross-outs? They’re back! The only thing that’s missing to make this the perfect 80’s horror movie experience is the Long Island Hair on the women.

Terminator: Regurgitation Salvation. If you loved Christian Bale’s intense Batman growly voice, then you are going to jizz in your pants over this flick. If you liked the first two Terminator movies, however, it’s definitely gonna be a dry hump, because this is yet another WGAS prequel where nothing can happen to anybody because they all have to show up in a movie directed by James Cameron. It has plot holes you can dump nuclear waste in, and they’re so deep that the radioactivity will decay into lead before the stuff hits bottom. So yeah, this is right up there on the prequel scale with The Two Musketeers, Prince Kong, and Quasimodo: The Early Years. As for the title, I have no idea what they actually saved here. Nobody’s career, that's for sure. And not the franchise either. Maybe money.

The Hangover. Could somebody please go into the AMC 25 Theatre in Times Square and look for my ass? Because I laughed it off watching this movie.

The Tonys. Wanna know why theatre rules? Neil Patrick Harris got up in front a live Radio City Music Hall audience at 11:05 and sang a parody of "Tonight" which rattled off the evening's Tony Award winners, in perfect meter and rhyme--a song that couldn't have even been written before 10:45, and he sang it like he had rehearsed it for weeks. THAT, my friends, is why stage actors have it all over film actors, okay?

Who is this SOB and why does he always want me to fail?

He’s the guy inside me who gets a great big kick out of telling me what a loser I am, and he’s been yelling in my ear for the past week. Why? Because I finished the Dillinger short story and I’m trying to figure out where to submit it, and I’ve finally stopped tinkering with Countrie Matters and I'm getting ready to send that out, too. In other words, the closer I get to the possibility of getting published or produced, the louder my inner Mr. Negative tells me the same 7 things over and over again:

YOU’RE WASTING YOUR TIME. No, silly. Doing the day job is a waste of time. Doing nothing is a waste of time. I’d be wasting my time if all I did when I wasn’t working is watch TV or sleep for the other 15 hours of the day.

YOU’RE NOT DOING ENOUGH. Are you kidding? Figure the 10 hours a day it takes me to get ready for work, work, and get home, and the (let’s say) 5 hours of sleep I get a night. That’s 9 hours left. Take an hour for dinner and that leaves 8. That’s a working day of hours I have left, at least 2 of which I use every weekday to write. With the rest I see movies, plays, friends and music, not necessarily in that order.

YOU’LL NEVER AMOUNT TO ANYTHING. Amount as in what, weight or currency? If it’s weight, I’ve got at last count 10 storage boxes of manuscripts finished and unfinished. That’s a couple of hundred pounds easy, which makes it the weight of at least one life. If it’s currency, then okay, ya got me there. I can’t support myself by writing because I’m not a success, if that’s how I define success, which it’s not. To me, success is doing something creative every day of my life, and taking my chances with what I send out into the world.

YOU HAD YOUR CHANCE AND YOU BLEW IT. The defensive answer to this is “Nope, sorry –- you can’t blow chances. You have no control over them; that’s why they’re called chances.” The slightly more honest answer is, “Yeah, you’re right. I’m a lousy businessperson, and when a door does open up for me, I don’t do enough to make sure it stays open, or that I sign a lease on the room.” But the totally honest answer is very simple. Whenever I finish writing something, I expect the skies to open up, a light to shine down on me from Heaven, and a great booming voice to say “THIS IS MY BELOVED PLAYWRIGHT, IN WHOM I AM WELL PLEASED. GIVE HIM A TONY, FOR CHRISSAKES.” Something that might actually happen one day if I spent as much time submitting my stuff as I do writing it. And there’s a big reason I don’t do that:

YOU WILL ALWAYS BE REJECTED. That’s the fear. That’s the big one. It’s me as the fox in the Sour Grapes fable. It’s me looking at [insert name of current crush here] and saying to myself “She’s not going to say yes if I ask her out, so why bother?” The key button here is “always.” Nothing is always. There have been times when I wasn’t rejected. But I only found out by stepping up to the plate and swinging. Yes, I can foul out; yes, I can fly out. But I know that if I stand there with the bat on my shoulder and do nothing, I will never get to first base because I will strike out. Getting a hit is not guaranteed. The chance to swing at a pitch is the only guarantee. And the more you step up to the plate, the better your chances are of getting on base.

YOU’RE A LOUSY WRITER. Bullshit—I’m a brilliant writer. In all senses of the word brilliant (a little too smart, a little too bright). A little more dullness and I’d be produced everywhere, like Henry Chettle. A lot more dullness and I’d be published and famous, like Updike. So sorry, you’re not going to depress me by giving me an opinion like that. In fact, you’re doing the opposite. You’re making me want to say “Oh yeah?” and write something that people will read 500 years from now and go “Yeah.”

YOU’RE A FAILURE AND YOU ALWAYS WILL BE. There’s that “always” word again. Another easy button to push. Because there’s something comforting in failure. There are no expectations. There are no demands or requirements. I never have to live up to anything bigger than my lowest moments. I never ask myself “A failure by whose standards?” I never say to myself, “The reason I’m not getting anywhere is because I’m not taking that first step.” Oh no. What I say to myself is, “You’re right. I am and I will be.” And the more I say it, the more I believe it. Because when it comes to failure, and blondes in trouble, and small dark sharp-tongued ingénues, I am a total fool. And every fool’s got a reason to feel sorry for himself, and turn his heart to stone.

Which is why, when Mr. Negativity pushed my failure button, I listen to this until I believe every single word of it: