Sister, Sister (July 31, 2010)

Me and Jen2

I have my only sibling Jen (photo right) on the brain his morning. Though most of our interaction this week took place over text message (she is team iPhone, myself Team Blackberry), with one phone call thrown in, we had a great week by any measure.

On Tuesday, I helped Jen recover a very important document she thought she’d lost for good, by going to the sent folder of an email account I have had since the dawn of mankind. On Wednesday, we exchanged quick hits about the latest act of parental aggravation. On Thursday, we discussed strategy for dealing with negative personal distraction, and made plans to go a Cubs game Monday night. On Friday, Jen texted her pleasure in hearing the Guns ‘N Roses classic “Paradise City” on the radio, and I told her that song was played out.

Jen is a superhuman suburban mother of two wonderful little girls, who also manages to have a pretty awesome broadcasting career. I am a truly citified woman who has chosen to remain childless, instead devoting unconscionable hours to two careers. On paper, there is plenty to distract us from keeping up the kind of contact we always had growing up. And yet every time Jen reaches out to me, or I to her, I feel like a teenager again in wonderful ways I just can’t experience anywhere else. Case in point: Jen and I attended a book signing for blogger Perez Hilton at Borders two years ago. If this damning evidence doesn’t demonstrate our ability to go tween together, nothing will.

This of course doesn’t mean we can’t share serious emotion. On the contrary, Jen and I have been through a truckload of unimaginable things a deux. The book waits to be written on our childhood experiences, and in the meantime we have cried, yelled and wearily lamented in nonjudgmental companionship. We talk about our marriages, Jen’s kids (who truly do little else but amaze) – everything. It is a true gift to have such a friend, someone I would hang out with any day, without the ties of blood.

I know this will sound unbelievably corny, but when I was senior in high school, and Jen a sophomore, we actually chose to have lunch together, with a smattering of our mutual friends, everyday. Smart ass boys used to call us lesbians as we walked around with our arms around each other. Other, less snarky folks, used to mistake us for twins. In fact this still happens.

On the coldest winter day of early 1996, when the air temperature registered 60 below in Chicago, Jen put on a second pair of pants, and every other layer we could find, to brave the elements with me and get to school. She did not have to do this. In the first place classes had been informally cancelled due to the unbearable weather, and in the second, Jen was not a part of the demanding nerd program that I was, which required me to use school resources no matter the climate. She just wanted to keep me company.

I need not belabor the obvious point. Though we are known to have our occasional differences, which do have the capability of devolving into Jersey Shore-style throw downs (we are merely a couple of guidettes at the end of an angry day), I go to sleep at night knowing that nothing can ever really separate me from my sister. She is the coolest person I know, after myself of course.

She needs to stop watching The Bachelorette, though. For real.

Semantics 101 with Mel Gibson (July 24, 2010)

This article was originally published in RootSpeak on 7/20/10

I took up the idea of writing this piece nearly a week ago, and at the time wondered about the lag between thought and fruition. Would the Gibson story seem passe by the time my words went to print? It appears I had no reason to fret. Our friend Mel remains as relevant, in the very loosest sense of the term, as he did a fortnight ago, when the story broke of his ugly, and allegedly violent breakup with 40 year – old Russian pianist and singer-songwriter, Oksana Grigorieva.

Still, aren’t we all, Whoopi Goldberg notwithstanding, just a little bored of “Meltdown” Gibson (so nicknamed by celebrity blogger, Perez Hilton)? For 25 years, the man was a bankable, and beloved Hollywood film star – before he spent the last four years self-destructing. In a rare and career suicidal display of cross cultural bigotry, Gibson’s latest brush with TMZ notoriety includes rage-filled epithets hurled at every group from women, to Hispanics to African Americans. There may yet be a remote village in the farthest corner of the Earth upon which the actor did not drop a hate bomb. Oh and I almost forgot to mention, each one of these displays of human acceptance was directed, if only tangentially, at the real target of his unhinged explosions – the mother of his eight month-old daughter, Lucia.

It’s tough to hide from taped evidence, isn’t it Mel? If nothing else, 2006 should have taught him that. And yet despite the repeated and increasingly unsettling pieces of evidence to the contrary, somewhere, some part of us wants to believe it might all be a terrible mistake. For goodness sake, this is the Oscar winning filmmaker who gave us the true cinematic classic, Braveheart, in 1995. One of the many, many questions we ask ourselves was if Gibson has always been this way. Was he always a hateful, angry and intolerant man? If so, why didn’t we see it?

Maybe we didn’t want to. We liked his public persona, the handsome face and the solid acting a little too much. I am not about to say that children are always guilty of the sins of the father – far from it. However proverbs become so for a reason, and in this case, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Gibson’s equally colorful papa, Hutton, is a renowned reactionary Catholic, who has publicly espoused the beliefs, among many plums, that the Holocaust is a hoax, and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were perpetrated by remote control. He also considers himself the enemy of 1965’s Vatican II reforms, labeling them “a Masonic plot backed by the Jews.” With a strong parental figure of this nature, it seems nearly a foregone conclusion that young Mel would develop some backward looking ideas in his own right.

And yet all seemed well as the young Aussie burst onto the Hollywood scene. He worked with a multicultural, diverse talent pool over many auspicious years. Most conspicuously, he starred with the African-American acting legend Danny Glover in the wildy successful Lethal Weapon franchise. There were no obvious signs during Gibson’s sexy 1980’s heydeys that anything was amiss.

However the world has changed considerably since the Me Decade, a time when entertainment news was gleaned from glossy pages of Peoplemagazine, or dealt out in measured televised doses by John Tesh. Since the explosion of the Internet and its naughty band of guerrilla journalists, the news cycle is never off and everything is on the record. Gibson’s biggest personal failure, in more than one respect, is to adapt with the times. Grigorieva, tired of serving as a human punching bag, and obviously nobody’s fool, was ready with the audio recording capability to capture her babydaddy’s true colors. The world wide web was more than willing to help her publicize them.

At least in 2006, Gibson was able to plead a feeble case for his diarrhea of the mouth by hiding behind the bottle. After being pulled over for a suspected DUI in Malibu, California, the actor, drowning in a tequila bottle of his own hubris, managed to greet a female officer as “sugar tits,” and declare that “Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world,” before being hauled in for his now classic, half smiling mug shot. A breathalyzer test registered Gibson’s blood alcohol at .12%, one and a half times the legal limit. We’ve all said insane things we didn’t mean while extremely intoxicated, things we remembered with disgust and shame the following morning, so after a long mea culpa tour, America seemed poised to consider letting the actor out of the pop culture penalty box, however cautiously.

But something never sat right with most of us, and I think it’s becoming clear now that our collective suspicion of the entertainer’s slip as the Freudian kind was well justified. Forgive me for saying this, but 0.12 isn’t that hammered, not intoxicated enough anyway to allow a grown, healthy, man to say things he doesn’t at least partly mean. The cast of the Jersey Shore blows a 0.12 before noon. Liquor frequently leads to ugly revelation of the darkest, but still integral self. In vino, veritas after all.

Then the question remains: should Mel Gibson waste our time, in addition to his own, with another image rehab trip? I would argue that it’s pointless, and if he has good people (who truly have a yeoman’s work in the actor’s employ), they will send him underground for a long while before they allow him to say anything to anybody on any topic. What can he do at this point, deny that these awful words are his own? Anyone who has logged on to Radar Online has heard the repugnant and vicious spewings of Gibson toward his former girlfriend. They are difficult to take. The man simply has no credibility in claiming he has learned from his mistakes or grown as a human.

No less a writer than The New York Times columnist David Brooks, pens of Gibson’s verbal assaults on Grigorieva, “He’s not really arguing with her, just trying to pulverize her into nothingness, like some corruption that has intertwined itself into his being and now must be expunged.”

If that interpretation is typical of the average American mindset, Gibson has an impossible mountain to climb. Culture has a funny way of moving forward without the buy-in of would be standard bearers, and suddenly the 54 year-old Gibson seems a relic of a bygone era, one with which post-Obama America wants nothing to do. There is no stint in rehab, no revealing interview with Oprah, or any amount of charity work that can put the blinders back over our eyes. The best gift Mel Gibson can give the public from here on is silence.

This Minute in Pop Culture…. (June 29, 2010)

pop culture

I don’t know about you guys, but my brain hurts, not in the “I’ve been concentrating too hard and now I need an aspirin” way. It’s more like, “OUR SOCIAL FABRIC AND THE WORLD ECONOMY ARE DISINTEGRATING BEFORE MY EYES! AH! EVERYTHING SUCKS BUT THE WORLD CUP! WE’LL NEVER BE ABLE TO ‘WIN’ IN AFGHANISTAN! THE GULF IS TOAST! MAYDAY! HELP!”

Yeah it’s kind of like that. I know that awareness and consideration are part of my job as a responsible American citizen. If I attempt to bury my head beneath clouds of sunshine and rainbows, in the first place I will find no such place exists for my weary noggin’. But in the second, I understand that avoidance of circumstances never, ever leads to resolution. I am but one small person in this terribly troubled global community, but I am committed to doing whatever I can, whatever form that takes, even if my only available weapon is the pen, to move our human race forward and out of this persistent downward spiral.

That said, there’s nothing illegal about taking a break from absorbing the constant assault of bad news (Russian spy cells are active in American again!?) and indulging in a bit of escapism. My drug of choice for dulling my overstimulated senses is the popular gossip website run by mini-media mogul Perez Hilton, though one could easily substitute E! media, Entertainment Tonight, TMZ or a host of other pop culture news outlets.

After spending half my lunch hour furiously clicking the buttons of my Blackberry, trying to drink in as much nonsense in 30 minutes as my limited vision could stand, I spent the next few moments challenging myself (using the word “challenge” very loosely) to come up with stream of conscious impressions of my information gathering. Ah but that we could always live in the comparatively simple world of entertainment reports! My thoughts went something like this, and in EXACTLY this order. After all, I must remain faithful to the parameters of this exercise:

– So Mel Gibson’s left his wife of 28 years, the mother of seven of his children for a plastic-faced baby tramp, and now she’s stirring up ugly allegations of abuse and non-payment of child support? Perhaps conservative Catholic types ought to broaden their studies to include the Eastern philosophy of karma.

– WHY am I still reading about Heidi and Spencer? No seriously, someone tell me why. I have never watched an episode of The Hills in my life. And yet I am somehow dying to find out if their “divorce” is a sham or not. These two have the oddest, most predatory love story I’ve ever seen play out publicly. It’s like Star 80 for 2010. Except Heidi is no Dorothy Stratton.

– Poor misguided Jessica Simpson. Turning to Eastern medicine traditions will never bring Nick Lachey back. You know it ain’t Tony Romo your bed and career are regretting.

– Lindsay Lohan – Linda Lovelace, SCRAM bracelets, a new Lohan reality show and father Michael is engaged to a 25 year-old who also once dated Jon Gosselin. Not sure who the current poster family for white trash America is since the Hogans slunk off into ignominy, but I think we have a clear front runner.

– I hate the new season of So You Think You Can Dance. Eliminating Mary Murphy from the judges table was the dumbest decision ever, and I don’t accept a clearly-trying-to-be-less-of-a-bitch Mia Michaels as a substitute. I want back on the Hot Tamale Train!

– I still miss Lost as much as I did six weeks ago. When will I get through the withdrawal?

– Most welcome comeback of the last decade: multi-talented and super hot Neil Patrick Harris. Christmas with Harold and Kumar? Hell frickin’ yeah!

– I can’t believe Michael Jackson has been dead a year. I still can’t believe he died at all. People with that much talent always seem immortal.

– So stoked for the next season of Weeds. Zack Morris is going to get some good loving and herb from Ruth Jamison. My little 80s and 90s heart goes pitter patter at the prospect.

– I still don’t care about any of the following and vow that I never will:Harry Potter, Twilight and True Blood. Do we still need fantasies and monsters anymore? The world is frightening enough. Although I do find Emma Watson adorable. R-Patz? Over it! However Taylor Lautner is more than welcome to do other films where he doffs his shirt and I will consider attending. Meow.

– Tom Cruise is a fabulous actor, but I think consumers are telling him they’d like him to disappear for awhile. Think Jeff Bridges. He dropped off our pop culture radar for a time and came back with an Oscar. You don’t have a Golden Guy, do you Tom? Food for thought.

– Midway through the year and my favorite celebrity of 2010 remains Brett Michaels. I am as shocked by this as anyone. Dude is just so disarming.

See the answers are easy at this low brow level! I feel invigorated, don’t you? We now return to our regularly scheduled program of gloom, already in progress…

The Case of the Ex (April 22, 2010)

ex-boyfriends

Trying to get settled into my new life (apartment, job, a bundle of freelance projects that seems to grow everyday) has left me exhausted, not to mention woefully ignorant of anything important in the realm of news. I have stayed abreast of pop culture through furtive Blackberry readings of Perez Hilton on my daily commute (cut to image of Boop hanging her head in burning shame). Therefore, instead of one of my signature topical rants, you will keep getting anecdotes from my daily life until I can find time to re-enter the larger world.

My new office, located at Lake and Clinton is, quite literally, a stone’s throw away from one of my former employers, a company called Information Resources. I worked at the consumer spending tracking company from 2005-2007 while completing my Master’s in English Lit. at Northeastern. If you have ever seen the movie Office Space, or are familiar with the similiarly named TV show, The Office, you will be easily able to bring an image of IRI’s employees and work ethic to mind. It is, without the shadow of a doubt, the silliest place where I ever did time. I mean that in the best way. Full of happy hours, sloppy floor parties, hookups, rumor and innuendo, I am not sure much work ever got done. This may be part of the reason the company has gone through massive layoffs since I left, but I digress…

Boop was a single graduate student during her tenure at IRI, and I will own upfront that I was a great partaker in the aforementioned bundle of shenanigans (see paragraph above). My fellow employees and I got on, as Forrest Gump might say, “like peas and carrots.” I had nicknames such as “The Prom Queen,” “The Happy Hour Genie,” and “The Makeout Bandit.” It is all too true. During those freewheeling single days, I did use my place of employment as a de facto dating service. And not unsuccessfully either. Eddie and I met while he was a consultant at the company.

The problem is that some of my failed dalliances remain very much employed at IRI. I like to think I have morphed somewhat into a more respectable person since I left the halls of Information Resources: married woman, graduate, thriving career of sorts. Long gone are the days when I did three or more messy rounds of after work cocktails per week. My liver and gym routines will not allow it.

However, I cannot reasonably expect my discarded paramours to recognize my newfound maturity. So each day in my new role at Illinois Partners contains the same routine: I disembark from the Metra and run like hell for the safe confines of my building’s vestibule. At 5:00, I skedaddle back to the Ogilvie Station with sunglasses firmly in place, praying to avoid running into anyone who hates me.

This plan carried me through a full week free of the ghosts of boyfriends past. However, my luck ran out on Tuesday afternoon as I was lazily returning from lunch. The enemy always seems to attack when your guard is down.

He was getting out of a cab and oh no! It was the worst possibility of all: Kiran, the guy I left to get together with Eddie. The fact that Eddie and I have been married for 2.5 years, and Kiran’s own status as a happily married fella with a one year-old daughter, lulled me into the belief that perhaps we had grown, and could have a cordial conversation with bygones being where they belong.

Wrong. I could see recognition wash over Kiran’s face, followed closely by what can only be described as a look of withering scorn. I prayed very hard for the sidewalk to open up and swallow me, a la Baby Jessica down the well, but that shit never works when you need it to. So I braced myself for the stilted, unnatural conversation that was to follow.

It took all of about 30 seconds, but of course the discussion felt like hours. I left with the distinct impression that Kiran thinks he “won” because he has a child at this point and I don’t. Ah yes, baby making as some sort of contest: yet another reason I don’t go there. I didn’t feel the need to explain to him that there’s nothing at all wrong with my eggs or Eddie’s sperm. Let my personal choice make him feel avenged if it means an end to sidewalk nastiness.

It’s only week two at the new job and there’s at least five or six former suitors left for me to run into. Stay tuned…

Isn’t There Still Room for Both? (December 28, 2009)

Us mag cover

 ny times

Admittedly, I am writing this post whilst a little hot under the collar. I was affronted in one of the worst ways, according to me, by my partner Sam this morning. Sammy and I are teammates on the Chicago Office of Tourism Neighborhood Mapping Project, and normally get on famously. One of the hallmarks of our dynamic however, is a little good natured intellectual sparring now and then.

We were having one such debate over the war in Afghanistan. Sammy, just flat-out anti-conflict no matter the situation, feels we ought to pull every U.S. troop out of the region, like yesterday. I am a bit more gray in my approach, believing that leaving Afghanistan without a plan will cause further terrorist chaos locally and internationally in the long run.

At some point, Sammy made what I thought to be a rather judgmental, narrow comment, and by way of dismissal, I turned my eyes to the pages of the most recent Us magazine. This was both my way of announcing a break in the argument, as well as distracting my attention with something a little lighter. However, Sam dove upon me immediately, insinuating that perhaps my naive international opinions were influenced by my substandard literary tastes.

Now we come to the point: I am an avid reader, but I have very few rules as to what is considered “literature” in my lexicon. Who is to tell me that celebrity gossip and other airier fare do not have their own merits? Isn’t one of the goals of reading and literary consumption to be entertained? I have an International Baccalaureate diploma from my high school days, and an MA in English Literature. I have read the “great” books, but am not such an ivory tower snob that I wish to be out of touch with what turns the masses on. After all, I am a member of that mass. And I state proudly here and now that chick lit., Entertainment Weekly and Perez Hilton do it for me every bit as much as Jane Austen, Edgar Allan Poe and Wordsworth.

I hate to be pigeonholed, but when it comes to an activity like reading, which I hold so dear as one of the ultimate coping tools provided for us, I cannot abide labeling. I am neither the stuffy bookworm nor the vapid gossip rag connoisseur. I am both, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It is people like me who made a mashup like Pride, Prejudice and Zombiessuch a hit in 2009.

I abhor the overall “dumbing down” of our culture every bit as much as Sammy. We are absolutely on the same page there. I will never accept the Red Eye a real newspaper, the way some of my other contemporaries have. But at the same time, I console myself that at least people are reading the paper in some form. It may not be a day far off when I am mourning the loss of even this abbreviated tabloid. I have picked up theRed Eye once or twice myself, as my thinking is that you cannot condemn that which you do not understand.

The act of reading, in any form other than off a computer monitor, becomes more a lost art with each passing year. Those who cherish the antiquated form of entertainment found in books and periodicals should not be so cynical as to start cannibalizing each other. I realize this argument is far from over, and I may be called upon to defend my love ofThe Devil Wears Prada again. So be it. I will do so gladly.