Super Rituals (February 7, 2012)

super bowl party

As I get older, I am starting to realize that social and cultural rituals for which I used to think I was too evolved are beginning to adopt personal meaning.

I am not speaking of the big markers of the annual societal calendar, like the November/December holiday season. I simply have too many family and failed romance issues to get down with that period. Besides I hate the cold and the push to spend money I don’t have.

The touchstones to which I am referring are of the more mundane variety: St. Patrick’s Day, the annual Oscars telecast and the Super Bowl. I want to BE somewhere on these days, feel a sudden urge that I don’t experience at more obvious times to participate and belong. What is it about a community of strangers that can make one feel so at home?

I experienced the now familiar lure this past Sunday. As a huge sports fan generally, and an NFL devotee more specifically, I have always enjoyed the Super Bowl. Once you take into account the commercials, National Anthem suspense (will the chosen singer forget the lyrics?) and Halftime Show (Madonna!!), the whole glittery spectacle is almost too much to resist. And with any luck, the game will be dramatic too, as the latest Giants/Patriots faceoff certainly was.

I met a couple friends at a popular Wrigleyville bar, a place I had never been, but on this day it didn’t matter. Every inebriated Chicagoan was an instant pal trying to assess team allegiance, looking for potential kinship and maybe an excuse to buy a shot. It’s like all the eye contact avoiding, brisk walks and dehumanization that can often serve as the hallmarks of urban life take a time out upon which everyone has silently agreed.

I used to think that those drawn to participate in the corporate-enhanced mass market rituals that comprise American culture just so didn’t get it. Couldn’t these lemmings see they were being preyed upon under the guise of collective enjoyment?

Yet paradoxically as I gain life experience and heartbreak, become more used to disappointment, these ceremonies inspire a childlike suspension of disbelief in which I am wholeheartedly willing to engage. Perhaps that is the point of rituals in the end. Everyone needs a break from isolation and introspection. Sometimes we just need something to celebrate.

13 Going On 33 (February 8, 2011)

I felt stretched nerves pushing against my skin as Eddie and I searched for a parking spot on the familiar side street. Covered in a blanket of nearly 30 inches of snow, we had to be careful about where to leave our little Honda Civic if we wanted to depart without getting stuck. And on this Super Bowl Sunday, I required the security of knowing I could make a break for it at any moment.

For the first time in 14 years, and longer since we had substantially interacted, I was about to see Cara. Cara was my closest friend and confidante from kindergarten through fourth grade, the first person I idolized, the first person I allowed to make me feel less by comparison. That is not to say that Cara was a Mean Girl in any sense. In fact the situation was quite opposite. With her diminutive stature, smattering of freckles and unforced smile, my friend was one of the easiest people to get along with that I have ever known. Not only was she cute beyond all reason, but I can’t recall her once mistreating anyone. In a way this pained my bitter heart more than if she were a total bitch. We enjoyed the imbalanced dynamics of all lopsided relationships where one half possesses the perfect combination of beauty, academic excellence and athleticism while the other proceeds to bully herself before anyone else has the opportunity.

I don’t think Cara ever knew how much I envied her, because she exercised a frustrating lack of awareness of her own superiority, which only served to make her more damningly likeable. I was pretty intelligent myself, smart enough to look at Cara’s educated, healthy family and the way that every boy I had a crush on grew besotted with her instead, and experience a painful, burning jealousy.

After we completed our fourth grade year, my parents pulled my sister and I from formal education for a disastrous experiment in home schooling. When I saw Cara again at age 13, we had traveled down different paths: she now best chums with the other two most fabulous girls in our class, while I ran comfortably with the outcast, delinquent crowd.

Somehow the situation had actually gotten worse. I was the last girl to wear a bra, the last to get her period (that really seemed important at the time – oy!). I wore huge glasses and was desperately in need of braces after a first grade radiator collision caused all of my adult teeth to grow in haywire. I was in short, the most awkward looking, embarrassed young teenager to discharge hormones. In the meantime, if it were possible, Cara had grown more charming and attractive. I hated her just as much I wanted to be her.

Flash forward to February 6, 2011, the scene of my handsome husband and I parking our car in a snow drift. Almost poetically, Cara now lived with her brother in an apartment across the street from our grade school. Though I have supposedly matured, long since traded the Harry Caray glasses for contacts, and had my braces removed a year ago, I feel a familiar panic. After two years of missed opportunities, my old friend and I are about to reunite for some Super Bowl tailgating and a long overdue gab session. What should I say? Do I look ok?

Over the course of the next 90 minutes, there are multiple moments when I wish to take myself out to the shed and kick my own ass. It’s like no time has passed. When I laugh, I instinctively cover my mouth, as I used to do before orthodontic intervention, so that no one can see my crooked teeth. I reach up multiple times to push up slipping eyeglasses that haven’t been there in 15 years. Meanwhile Cara is effortlessly vivacious, chatting with Eddie, making genuine inquiries after my family and showing real interest in my career as a writer. It was almost more than I could take.

And that’s when I realized what I am certain I knew all along. I am my own Mean Girl. I am the one who stood in front of the mirror as a primary school student, poking at the various imperfections and mistakes in breeding I saw reflected back. I still do it now. In a quick flash I recall all the efforts at self-improvement I have undertaken that I vowed would make me happier – contacts, braces, Botox, personal training sessions, extensive therapy. Yet there I was, 13 again, feeling like a loser, the last picked for the team, though no one but I enforced the segregation. All along I needed Cara to put a face to my own feelings of inferiority. I required her to be perfect so I could indulge my own petulant worthlessness.

As the hour and a half session progressed, I felt myself relax by increments. It turns out, naturally, that Cara has her own set of adult problems. Once I finally took her off the pedestal and spoke to her like a real person, I was reminded of what drew me to her as a kindergartener in the first place. I began to castigate myself for being such an insecure wingnut, but abruptly ceased when I realized this is how all the trouble began in the first place.

One of the lessons I have learned in life is that in some ways, we never grow up. We may have careers, children and adult responsibilities but “they” don’t warn you that passing through life stages will not produce a corresponding level of maturity unless you do the hard work. I have fixed all of my visible imperfections, the aesthetic weaknesses I always believed held me back. It’s time to get out of own way psychologically. It’s fitting that Cara, long ago the impetus for outward improvement, now serves as the catalyst for a desire to be less petty.

Oscars 2010: Boop Calls Best Picture/Best Director (March 6, 2010)

Oscars_2010

I have a plethora of nerdy stories to share, and I will share them in time, that will clearly illustrate I have always been uncool. It’s not like publicizing the fact on a blog makes it shocking. It is a truth universally known in my own circle. Not only have some of my past hobbies made it amazing that I ever had sex at all, but it redoubles the thrill of victory that I managed to land a hot husband. Because honestly, I might look alright, but I am a DORK.

Case in point: in the spring of 1996, as a member of Lincoln Park High School’s Academic Decathlon team, I won a gold medal in the interview category. It was the regional competition at Senn High school, and though I had a decent day overall, I knew as soon as I walked out of the classrom where students chatted with judges, that I had nailed it. The crux of my repartee? A detailed, charming and lengthy chat about why I hate to find myself out of the loop on Oscar night; my quest to be as informed when I watch the annual telecast as I am while watching the SuperBowl after 17 weeks of play. Seriously, this superficial swill won me a gold medal, out of about 100 contestants, because I was so freaking earnest. I leave you to decide which is the most nerdy part of this anecdote: Academic Decathlon, a Hollywood insider’s rant about the Academy Awards, or the fact that I was earnest in doing so (there’s honestly no better word to describe it).

But I digress: another year, another Oscars awards show. This year, the producers (including the fab Adam Shankman) are mixing it up: two comedic hosts (Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin), no more Lifetime Achievement honours during the televised program (thank you!) and count them, 10 Best Picture nominees. The latter change is a throwback to the Oscars of yore, pre-1950, and has already lived up to its potential to be exciting and controversial.

Although, in the end I did not see many of this year’s Best Picture nominees, having watched A Single Man and Crazy Heart be shamefully overlooked in favor of the overrated and overhyped Avatar (yes, I said it) and The Blind Side (Really?), I am prepared to call the race for a film I still very badly need to fit into my schedule: The Hurt Locker. I have yet to hear anything less than stellar feedback about this one, and I think it’s high time a female helmer walk off with the Director’s trophy too. Recent bad PR karma caused by an overzealous producer aside, I think it’s Bigelow’s year all around. Please let it not be James Cameron.

If I am wrong, I hope the error favors Precious, Up, or Up in the Air. Who is your favorite this year? And do you like the 10 nominee format for Best Picture?