Monday, May 21, 2012

Take me to your leader. Bloop bleep bloop.

This weekend, creative types all over Boston have been working themselves ragged as part of The 48-Hour Film Project. Cameras in hand, costumes on backs, they've been writing, shooting, and editing films in just 48 hours. At 7:00 on Friday night teams were assigned a genre, prop, character, and line of dialogue. The completed project was to be turned in at 7:00 on Sunday night.

I didn't do it this year. I've done the 48-Hour Film Project twice. I don't know why I even attempted the second time, given how my first year went..

The year was 2005. Springtime. Pope John Paul II had just passed away. Prince Charles married longtime mistress Camilla Parker Bowles. LOST fans wondered if Locke would ever be able to open the hatch. I had just started performing with The Tribe, an improv and comedy collective. I was so excited to finally be part of a creative community again. I'd largely given up on performing when I graduated from college five years before and found I was afraid to do anything outside my comfort zone of performers and producers I'd known in school.

Like a high school freshman desperate to be part of the cool crowd, I signed up for every project that would take me. I heard about the 48-Hour Film Project through another Tribe performer and was disappointed to hear that The Tribe wasn't looking for additional team members for their project. I signed up with 48-Hour Film as an artist in search of a team. A group contacted me and said they were looking for actors and writers. Yay! I volunteered that I could do both.

I got an e-mail from Annie, a group co-captain, telling me where to meet the team. She wanted us to get together early, so we could get to know each other. I arrived around 6:00, the soonest I could make it after work, and met Zelda, another co-captain, and her 3-year-old daughter Polly. Zelda said everyone else would arrive later. I sat on the couch and watched a video of past entries as Zelda disappeared into the kitchen. I tried to talk to Polly, but was told not to bother, as she didn't speak any English.

After about an hour, other people trickled in. Tom was a heavy-breathing sound and camera operator with a Frankenstein haircut and questionable personal hygiene. Mindy was a friend of Annie's. She wasn't sure why she was there and asked me “So why do you want to spend your time on this?”. Mitzi was Zelda's 8-year-old daughter, who does speak English. We, along with Annie, who arrived later in the evening, and Ed, the third co-captain, head camera person, and Zelda's husband, would the writing team.

We started talking about movies. Tom brought up a recent release and said he thought is was pretentious. Mindy asked why, and he fired back "I don't have to justify my opinion. YOU tell ME why you didn't think it was pretentious." I sat on the couch and tried not to look at either of them. Polly poked a finger into each of the avocado and cheese sandwiches Zelda had made for the team. It was the only food we would get all night.

The call comes in at 7:00 that our genre is science fiction, our prop is a string of pearls, the character is to be a former child star and the required line is "I'm not really like this". I broke out my stack of index cards and started calling out plot ideas, inviting the others contribute. Everyone was silent except for 8-year-old Mitzi, who suggested we could go to iParty and buy alien costumes and walk around saying "Take me to your leader. Bleep bloop bleep bleep bloop." All of the other adults in the room shot her bemused smiles and gently said that wasn't the kind of science fiction film they wanted to make.

I suggested a plot in which a former child star (to be played by Mitzi, as none of the other adults wanted to act and I didn't feel comfortable making myself the star) was genetically altered to remain the same age forever. Everyone nodded enthusiastically. “Okay,” I pushed on “So she's going to look the same forever, but now she's getting older, so what are some problems she could have? How do we get to the line of dialogue? What do people think she is that she's not really like?”

The room was silent, except for Mitzi, who suggested that we could go to iParty and get green alien masks – you know, like the ones with the big eyes - and ray guns and things that glow in the dark and planet stickers. Like, we could build a model of the solar system with styrofoam balls and pretend to be aliens. “'Bloop bleep bloop bloop. Take me to your leader." She had a jerky little dance she did every time she made this suggestion, lurching off the sofa and around the room.

Mindy suggested we talk about science fiction from which we might draw inspiration. I described The Handmaid's Tale, a science fiction story that isn't about aliens. I guess I gave away too much of the story, because Tom suddenly sprang out of his chair and yelled at me "You stupid bitch! I didn't want to know the book ends. You girls just stay here and have your estrogen fest. I'm leaving." He stormed out, slamming the door.

After a few shocked moments, those of us left started laughing. Thinking the tension was broken, I suggested we start over with a new story. “Okay, how about a new food that does something? An invention than changes how people communicate?” I tried to come up with new ideas, but the others kept coming back to the genetically-altered-child-star plot. Ed liked it, and so did Mitzi. In fact, perhaps she could secretly be an alien, suggested Mitzi. And we could go to iParty and get masks, and there could be a part where she has a ray gun and points it at someone and says “Take me to your leader.”

Mindy was worried that we hadn't come up with anything that was poignant. She had recently read The Life of Pi and found it poignant, and she cared a lot about our story being poignant, and she thought it was really important that our film have poignancy. She had no idea how to make our film poignant or ideas for a story, poignant or otherwise. She was insistent, however, that if she DID have ideas, they would be poignant.
“How do you think can we bring poignancy to this story?” I asked.
“Just... include things that are poignant.”

A few more people arrived, friends of Annie's with a bit of film experience. They were supposed to be production advisers, but got sucked into the writing process. The hours dragged on. We kept trying to pull a story together, and write actual dialogue, but Zelda shot down everyone's ideas. As the night wore on, Zelda said she didn't think Mitzi could pull off being the star of a film, and I had to agree with her. No other actors ever arrived, so the cast would be me and two kids, only one of whom spoke English. Around 11 PM Annie's friends left. One of them slipped me a note that said “You're good at this. Speak up more.”

We stayed up into the night and cobbled together a skeleton of a script. Mindy continued to complain that the story wasn't poignant. Mitzi continued to ask when we could get alien costumes. Zelda continued to counter every suggestion by saying she didn't think it would work, but didn't have any ideas as to what might be better. Ed said it was too late to start over and we'd have to go with the story we had. Polly jumped on my index cards with nary a word of parental interference. At 1:00 am I left with the agreement that I would meet them at 9:00 the next morning to start shooting. I slept fitfully, dreaming of big-eyed aliens.

At 8:30 am I got a call from Annie, who said that the kids needed more sleep and we'd meet at 11:00. At 10:30, while I was driving to meet them, I got another call.
“Hi, Lynne? It's Annie. How are you?”
“Tired, but functioning. What's up?"
"Well.... We were wondering, how are your improv skills?”
“They're good. What's going on?”
“Well, Zelda and Ed and the kids went home and decided they didn't like the script. They started playing around with the editing software and found they can morph people into each other, so they came up with a cute idea about someone who can change forms. It's really... cute.”

I wasn't in the mood for cute. Not poignant enough, I guess.

Epilogue: I went home and got some much-needed sleep. When I looked at my e-mail later in the day, I found a message from the director of The Tribe's 48-Hour Film Team, asking if I'd be available as an on-call actor. It had been sent earlier in the day, and it was way too late to for me to contact them. I spent the rest of the weekend moping and eating Chinese take-out.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Smug About Not Being Smug

At Easter Dinner a few weeks ago I got the nicest compliment from a teenage cousin. "Your Facebook statuses about being pregnant aren't annoying. They're actually relevant and funny." She explained that most of the pregnant women she knows are teenagers who are maybe a little bit defensive about the situation, so they post things like "I'm growing a fucking baby today, biatch. What're you doing?"

I've read the STFUParentsBlog. I've heard Garfunkle and Oates sing Pregnant Women are Smug.

I try to keep my social media declarations of fertility to a minimum and ensure they're entertaining. But this is the most interesting thing I've done in a while. (It's been a slow year.) I often want to talk about it, and as we all know - when your social media statements get repetitive, it's time to get a blog.

So perhaps I was a little bit smug when I bragged that my belly bump finally got me a seat on the T. I know no one owes me a seat and that in this day and age, pregnancy is a conscious choice, and an arguably selfish one at that when one takes into account global overpopulation. But balance is getting a little more complicated than it used to be, and it was so awesome to get a seat, next to the door, during rush hour.

And I am guilty of one Garfunkle and Oates's sins. We do think we know what we're naming him - we know it's a him - but we're not telling until he gets here, because we might change our minds and don't want to deal with people saying they liked the old name better. Until he's here, we're calling him Fonzie.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Heart of Glass

Rehearsal was at my house tonight. A glass was broken. Second one this week.

The first one was my Big Mac glass, which I will be forced to replace on eBay. I accidentally knocked it into the sink when I was washing dishes. It's a shame; I got it for a quarter at a yard sale.

I used to have a set of eighteen matching pint, water, and juice glasses, and only those glasses. I didn't want a cluttered cabinet. Although my apartment was a mess, I made a point of storing them in a very particular way, up down up down. Most of them never got used because it was just me and my boyfriend using them, and he didn't live here. I didn't have friends over. I didn't have many friends. I went from work to home and back to work the next day, and sometimes I went shopping. I let all of my friends drift out of touch.

I was so angry when the first glass in that set broke. Now everything was unmatched. It wasn't even. It wasn't right. And indeed my life wasn't right. I was bored. I was unhappy. Eventually I changed. I made friends. I left my relationship. I found a new relationship. I changed everything.

I lost two of the water glasses when a spontaneous rager was declared at my house after a night at The Burren. A pint glass the night the I'm the Rhoda Advisory Council had a meeting at my house while my basement was cleared of past relationship detritus. Susie Cat has knocked a few off tables. I picked up a few novelty pop culture glasses while cruising yard sales with my boyfriend. He moved in and brought his specialty beer glasses. We didn't register for new glasses when we got married. I've embraced having a life where the drinking glasses don't match. If enough people are over that we can't find a matched set, it's a party, and party guests care more about what's in the glass than what it looks like.

I can't own too much in this small apartment, and I like to use the things that I have. I try not to save things for nice occasions, or own pretty things I don't use. I like to own things that have a story.

I have a set of heavy glass mixing bowls that I love. Glass is impractical, but they're the perfect mise-en-place set for my kitchen. My friend Carly gave them to me. She's the friend I met by placing a personal ad in a local paper, back before social media existed. I helped her pack when she moved from Boston to Phoenix, and saved the bowls from a trip to Goodwill. I think of her every time I use them. I dread the first time one breaks, but I know that when it happens I will e-mail her and she will say something that makes me laugh.

It's only a bowl. Or a cup. Or a glass. Things are used. Things break. Ancient pottery shards tell us how people lived, what and how much they ate, what they bought and sold, what was valuable and what was common. I live a life where glasses are broken during games of Mansions of Madness, or because someone didn't see someone's bag on the dark patio. It is evidence of a life lived.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

YA-Again: Steffie Can't Come Out to Play

Sometimes when I leave the library, I leave with great literature. Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye: First checked it out the summer of 1992. The Count of Monte Cristo: Acquired a huge overdue fine when I borrowed it to use as a prop in an elementary school/Somerville Community Access Television production of Rod Serling's The Girl Who Could Predict Earthquakes. (I had the lead and, already displaying method actress tendencies, insisted that I use the actual book.) I finally read it when I checked it out again in the summer of 1998.

Sometimes I leave the library with this:

I like to re-read books. I even like to re-read horrible books. It comes from the same part of my brain that allows me to watch the VH-1 I Love The Marathons in repeats.

I first encountered Steffie Can't Come Out to Play in my elementary school library. It was a badly designed space, that library with a mezzanine entrance to the gym. At least once a year a basketball would bounce out of the gym and into the library, and the librarian's pent-up rage would erupt into wordless squeals. I spent more time there than most. I ate lunch there because I didn't enjoy the cafeteria's atmosphere. (This should not surprise you.)

It was in the YA section. I had special permission to read things in the YA section before seventh grade because I was a nerd and had already read everything in the age-appropriate fiction section. But this book was rumored to be so scandalous, so dirty, that I wasn't brave enough to take it out or be seen reading it. I read it in furtive bursts when the librarian wasn't looking. I read it so quickly that I forgot most of the details. Years later, when I had a nagging memory of a shocking book with a red cover, it took me a while to figure out the title and find the book.

Steffie Can't Come Out to Play is the story of a fourteen-year-old girl with a sad home situation, from a nothing town near Pittsburgh, who dreams of being a model. She runs away on a Sunday night with nine dollars in her pocket. She arrives in New York City on Monday morning, and immediately upon arrival (page 13) meets a suave and mysterious man at the bus station. His name is Favor, baby. Favor. He takes her to dinner and buys her wine, takes her home, buys her bubble bath. If you watch Lifetime you know where this is going. By the end of the week she's convinced she's in love with him and joins his prostitution ring to prove her commitment. That's the end of Chapter One.

The rest of the book is a cliche montage of Times Square in the 70s. You can almost hear the electric bass when you turn the page. Halter tops. Hot pants. Discos. Steffie gets a pair of knee-high high-heeled silver boots. Favor has other women in his employ and there's as much girl-drama as a Taffy Sinclair book. Steffie falls in and out of Favor's favor. She professes her love for him as he drifts in and out of Cadillacs with shirts unbuttoned to show his chest. Her roommate is attacked by a trick with a knife. Steffie herself is attacked by another girl over a teddy bear before finally meeting up with the jaded cop who keeps appearing in a distracting sub-plot with a third person narrative. He sends her to a shelter and she goes home.

When I was a kid, I was sure this book was for adults and got mixed into the YA section of our school by mistake. Reading it now - 33 years old and having read Portnoy's Complaint - it's not so vulgar. It's a book about a teen prostitute for the Ann M. Martin set. It dances around the subject. No dirty words are ever used. The most graphic it gets is a client who asks her to stand unclothed in front of a window, and she gets a cold. Which is actually a decent and age-appropriate metaphor for feelings of humiliation and helplessness that might be part of forced prostitution, but it's buried in pages and pages of Steffie's screamingly bad judgement, ellipses, and melodramatic pining.

Anyway, Go Ask Alice? Way dirtier.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Et tu, Werther's Originals?

It's come to this: I ordered Life Savers online.
This is after weeks of searching. I finally found the rolls for sale at Hidden Sweets in Harvard Square, but they weren't the right flavor and my craving was not satisfied. I've been craving them for over a month. I had to give in.

And did you hear me? It took weeks of searching just to find the classic five-flavor roll. Did you notice that Life Savers have disappeared from every candy display in every drugstore, supermarket, and megamart within... well, I've really only surveyed within driving distance of my house, but it took weeks of searching. Weeks, I tell you. I didn't notice until I couldn't stop looking for them. Sure, you can find bags of them in the candy aisles, but they're individually wrapped candies, and Life Savers come in rolls. Any idiot knows that. And besides, those bags don't come in the assortment I want.

What I was craving, what I'm still craving, and will crave until Amazon delivers, is the Tropical Fruits pack. When I was a teenager, I always had a roll of them in my book bag. They were one of the few candies sold at the strange little school store that sold Snapple iced tea and gold chains. There was nothing better than a study period with no one who wanted to gossip, a paperback novel, and an entire roll of Tropical Fruits. I remember realizing I actually liked Silas Marner as I struggled to let a Papaya Punch dissolve all the way without ever shattering.

To transition from Andy Rooney mode to Holden Caulfield mode, I'm actually pretty angry that rolls of Life Savers have disappeared. They disappeared because we weren't buying them. They disappeared because we didn't care. They were an American institution, like Coca-Cola or Bounty, and we stopped paying attention. They were such a nice, concise candy, with a minimal wrapper and easy to eat surreptitiously. Nicely portioned. Easy to share. Brightly flavored, nothing to get in your teeth. Now how will teenagers find ways to turn out the lights if not to prove that Wint-O-Green Life Savers really do make a spark when you bite them in the dark? Life Savers have fallen out of favor to gum, and I think that's a perfect example of what's wrong with society.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

(Almost Vegan) Vegan Cold Cut Sandwich

To clarify, it's the sandwich that's almost vegan, not me. I'm nowhere close to vegan. I'm not even vegetarian. I tried being vegetarian years ago, and it's not for me. I have a lot of respect for people who are ethical vegetarians, but it's not part of my belief system.

I acknowledge that, like most meat-eaters in America, I eat too much animal product. It's not healthy, it's not sustainable, it's wasteful. Whether you think eating animal products is ethical or not, sometimes it's a good idea to eat a handful of soybeans instead of feeding the soybeans to a cow and then eating the cow.

This recipe was inspired by the Tofu Cheese one at Serious Eats, but I've played with it a bit. The end result is a loaf of tofu with a chewy, crumbly texture and a salty, savory flavor that tastes a bit like lunch meat. Not a specific lunch meat, but lunch meat in general. When sliced and added to a vegetable sandwich, it adds that essential something most vegetable sandwiches are missing.

Part I - Prepare Your Tofu
  • 1 block of tofu
Step 1: Freeze your tofu - In the container, in the water, overnight. You can skip this step, but it really does improve the tofu's texture.
Step 2: Defrost your tofu
Step 3: Press your tofu - Wrap it in paper towels or a kitchen towel. Sandwich it between two cutting boards or unbreakable plates, and put weights (I use books or cans of beans) on the top layer. I like to press it a full 24 hours so the tofu gets really flat and compact and dry.
Ghostly backlight optional
Part II - Prepare Your Marinade
  • 1/3 cup miso paste - This is the stuff miso soup is made from. You can find it at Asian grocery stores and many conventional supermarkets, near the tofu.
  • 1 tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. mirin
  • 1 tbsp. sake
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. to 2 tbsp. optional additional seasonings of your choice - Minced garlic? Sure. Red pepper? Go ahead. Grated onion? Great idea. I'd advise making the basic recipe once, then going whole hog with experimenting. It's a forgiving process.
Step 1: Mix all of your marinade ingredients in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir until combined, and keep stirring until the mixture begins to bubble. Remove from heat. It will look somewhere between peanut butter and caramel sauce.
Step 2: Transfer half of your miso mix into a container that will snugly contain your pressed tofu block. If you've saved your tofu container, all the better.
Step 3: Put your tofu on top of the miso mix, then cover with remaining miso mix. Make sure all of the tofu is covered, turning it around a few times if you have to.
Step 4: Cover and refrigerate.

Part III - Wait
Let the tofu sit in the miso mix for at least 12 hours, preferably overnight, and even longer if you can stand it. It only gets more flavorful as time goes by.

Part IV - Make Your Sandwich
You already know how to do this, I hope. Two pieces of bread, stuff between. Slice the tofu loaf into slices less than a half inch thick, and put the leftover brick right back into the miso mix. The sandwich in the picture above has mayo (that's why it's not vegan), sliced tomato, lettuce (picked from the garden before it died), and thin slices of onion.

You can also dice the marinated tofu loaf and add it to stir-fries or salads. Or just eat slices straight up while you're snacking out of the fridge.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Tomorrow's Lunch: Wheat Berry Salad with Cranberries and Almonds

A family that was out of town last week gifted us their CSA pick-up. It was great, because we opted not to subscribe to a CSA this year, and I'd forgotten how much fun it is to be assigned food I'd never think to buy. It also reminded me of why we don't subscribe to a CSA anymore, because it fills up our fridge with unfamiliar vegetables that are most delicious cooked when it's too hot to cook, and leads to tense discussions that include statements like "We already have so much food here," and "Fine, we'll have salad."

The lot included a brown paper bag that rattled when I shook it. Organic popping corn? Locally grown coffee? Nope - wheat berries. They look like barley and the internet disagrees as to whether or not they need to be soaked before cooking. I avoided the issue entirely and used the slow cooker, one of the most useful items in my kitchen because it lets me cook things without heating the place up during the summer. (We don't have air conditioning.)

So, into the slow cooker:
  • 3 cups chicken stock (Because we always have jars of chicken stock in the fridge. If you're not in the habit of boiling carcasses, use veggie stock or water with some salt and a big spoonful of whatever dried green stuff you have in your spice cabinet. You'll be fine. This isn't rocket science.)
  • 1 cup uncooked wheat berries (Do heed the warning that they're a natural product that should be looked over carefully because they may contain stems. I found stems.)
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Stir to combine. Make sure the slow cooker is plugged in, then walk away and do other things. I used the time to buy dried cranberries, eat something else for dinner, write a sketch, and watch Sondheim teach on YouTube.

(Best watched at home alone, so you can wear your headphones and sing along without embarrassment.)

After three and a half hours, come back, and add:
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened dried cranberries (Be sure to complain that the unsweetened kind are a full dollar more per pound than the sweetened kind.)
  • 1/4 cup almond pieces (Because pistachios were too expensive.)
Let it sit plugged in another half hour while you watch more YouTube.

(I like the "dolphin, dolphin, dolphin, dolphin" part.)

Drain and let cool. While it's cooling, mix up the dressing*:
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice (Fresh-squeezed if you're feeling like a martyr, but the stuff in the bottle won't kill you.)
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp mustard
  • 7 mint leaves, cut into a chiffonade if you're practicing your knife skills and just torn up into little pieces if you're not.
Toss with the stuff you already cooked. Makes two lunch-sized portions.

*This makes a little more dressing than you need. Save the rest for one of the other salads you're going to have to eat later in the week.