Friday, June 30, 2006

Vintage U.M.

The show Mortified operates on the clever theory that within those self-indulgent diary entries you've squirreled away during your teen years, there lies a comedic gold mine. Adults everywhere are encouraged to pick at the great scab of adolescence by dragging out their old journals and reducing -- or perhaps elevating -- them to an onstage act, played for laughs.

I have chronicled every single day of my life in writing since the fifth grade. I keep five-year diaries, which have room for about two or three sentences on each day. I have filled up five of those. For long-form angst that transcends the 24-hour agenda, I keep journals.

Watching people read at the latest Mortified show in San Francisco a few weeks ago, it struck me how often diary entries seem to be addressed to another reader, even though they certainly are written in utmost secrecy and meant to be kept that way. They are filled with apologies ("I'm sorry I haven't written lately"), sign-offs ("Until later,") and queries ("You know what?").

That's how being a teen feels -- like you'd be just as well off talking to paper rather than a human. In terms of loyalty, relatability, and the kind of understanding that can be conveyed only by silence, a journal is about the only thing that will never let you down. It will remain steadfastly -- mercilessly -- true to you, preserving your deepest feelings without rendering judgment. It will stay so true to you that it begs to be betrayed, and that's what Mortified is all about.

I carried my purple, polka-dotted journal (1983-1989) to a Mortified audition one morning last weekend. In a nice parallel of my high school experiences, the casting director had forgotten who I was and that we had arranged an appointment. Nonetheless, he let me in to read.

It's surprising how easy it was to stand up and read mockingly from my own, heartfelt longings as if they were just random discoveries penned by some jackass I never met. I won't even pretend to have evolved much from the 14-year-old who wrote entries such as this one:

DECEMBER 25, 1985

Here I sit on the last hour of Christmas, 11:07 PM exactly. And what a great Christmas it's been! We got a keyboard and the Prince concert video, great clothes and other things. We got a lot of presents. I'm happy, but I feel like crying, because not only is my favorite holiday of the year almost over, I also think about how lucky I am. That's not something to cry about, but I just think about other people who aren't so lucky. Maybe I sound corny -- or hypocritical because I don't do a lot for charity. But that's the way I feel.

I love X-mas so much!!! I love my things, my house, my parents, my family, my health. Maybe I'm making you throw up. Maybe I'm tempting fate, pressing my luck. So I'll shut up....

Every time I read something about Prince, it amazes me how much we seem alike. I always thought if I became a musician, I would play things by ear -- like I do now. Wouldn't learn to read music unless I had to. But I thought, maybe if you're going to be a musician like Prince, you'd have to learn. Then today I read that he couldn't read music either!! He played TV tunes by ear when he was young, just like me! Not to say that just because I have some things in common with Prince that others don't also. But it just freaks me out sometimes. Am I being strange?

It's only because I feel like we're so alike that we should meet or something. I don't know. Maybe we're not as alike as I think. Maybe I'll never know. Maybe it's just an idiotic fantasy. Probably. I'm so strange sometimes. But everyone's a little strange.

I've also been thinking about God more than I used to -- and it's not because of Prince. I think it's Christmas! I may not go to church, but I worship God just the same. I pray more than I used to because I'm starting to relate him to what happens to me. This is not to get really religious or commit myself to a convent (although I might as well, boys are too scared to ask me out or talk to me anyway).

...I realize I sound weird, but don't get the wrong idea. I'm kind of pouring things out because I'm a little melancholy -- end of '85, Christmas, etc.

What I'm trying to say is, I thank God for the things I have. The other thing I'm trying to say is, life is fine, this Christmas was GREAT, and I want to meet Prince, because I think we have a few things in common, and I like him a lot. Now, when you think about it, I'm not so weird after all.

You'd think it would be humbling enough to read such material aloud in front of other people. But what's really humbling, or mortifying if you will, is the possibility that your own failings aren't even compelling enough to pass muster as comedy.

It will, in fact, take more digging and edits if I am to achieve the privilege of publicly humiliating myself under the Mortified imprimatur. But who needs those people? I have the World Wide Web, and all five of you loyal readers out there.

Postscript: OK, so the casting director from Mortified saw this posting and notes that he did remember who I was and that we had an appointment, but just didn't think the time was confirmed. But then, the fact that I always put the worst spin on things is the reason this blog exists, after all.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


My future mother-in-law turned 65 recently. When we asked her what she wanted for her birthday, she answered that she would like us to take her to Gary Danko.

At first I thought maybe this meant we were going to a magic show or a motivational speaking engagement. It turns out that Gary Danko is the eponymous restaurant of a chef who is so confident in his own skill that he need not be concerned by the fact that his name is about as appetizing as a prison dungeon or a movie villain.

Danko is force to be reckoned with. It demands two months' notice for reservations, a large sum of money and a willingness to dine at an establishment whose chef has a logo. We knew, and embraced, the fact that we were going to pay a lot of money ($130 a person, it turned out) for one meal. We hoped, quietly and nervously, that we would not be culinarily hijacked.

And Danko was kind to us. The service was impeccable, the food glorious and the bathrooms equipped with shoe buffers and a feng-shui fountain. I tasted risotto, foie gras, a vegetable tart, various cheeses, lobster, salmon medallions, bananas flambe and a very good pinot noir.

It was necessary to point out how great everything was, earnestly and assiduously, throughout our meal. Why? Because having a meal like that is like going to a movie. You don't break the frame. You decide to believe: believe in micro-cilantro, believe in $2,800 bottles of burgundy, believe in the amuse bouche, believe in Mobil Star ratings. To do otherwise is to let in the notion that what you are doing is vaguely obscene, and perhaps foolish. So we say things like "It's amazing how you can tell the difference with a true quality wine," and "Other places are kind of a rip-off, but this is really worth it," and "This is the best [insert dish here] I have tasted in my entire life!!"

All these things may even be true -- but anyway, they have to be. At Danko you have to shut an eye, open your wallet and bask in the experience. You also have to try not to imagine actual dollar bills being cleared from the table when you fail to finish your dish or beverage. When you discover later that the flawless $100 bottle of pinot is readily available from the vintner for $42, your only consolation is to remind yourself that in the moment, you allowed yourself to believe that it tasted like $100 wine. And it tasted good.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Going to My Head.

One evening in New York, I was making my way through the crowds in Union Square and noticed that one guy, in a group of passing guys, had trained his gaze on me. He was preparing to say something, I could tell. I braced myself for a "Hey, baby" or something of that variety.

As he faded past me and into the crowd, here's what came out: "Nice forehead."

It was the first time that I had ever been publicly mocked by a stranger for my forehead, but it wasn't exactly surprising. I learned early on that my sizeable frontispiece was an aesthetic liability. I wore bangs for my entire childhood and adolescence -- first because that was the cute hairstyle that my mom had picked, and later because hairdressers informed me that I "needed" them.

When I decided, at age 18, to seek independence for my forehead and grow out the fringe, it felt like a major rebellion. On the one hand, I had set myself free from my grade-school look. On the other, I became subject to people telling me that I looked like Helen Hunt, a comparison I do not find desirable. The Hunt comments later gave way to Leelee Sobieski comments. I hoped that the similarities would remain superficial, and that my life trajectory would not mimic those actresses' careers.

I know that Helen, Leelee and I have company in our forehead status, but none of them makes me feel better. It's one thing to have a fivehead and be famous with a great body. It's another to resemble Clint Howard.

Having extra space up there affords me little advantage, as far as I can tell. It would be nice if it meant I could rule a planet, or come up with the cure for cancer using my huge frontal lobe. Instead, all it really means is more real estate for my skin problems.

Women's magazines always say to accentuate anything "different" that you may be self-conscious about, thus turning beauty lemons into lemonade. I'm not sure how one would accentuate a large forehead, other than using it as space for advertisements or tattoos. Lately I'm wondering if it's time to just grow my bangs back instead.

No Relation.

A coworker brought her young daughter in to work today. The coworker looks to be in her late 40s; the girl is probably eight. They both have full cheeks, fair hair and blue eyes. "You guys look alike," I say.

The girl smiles. "Do you hear that a lot?" I ask her. She nods and kind of rolls her eyes.

"Yes, we do hear that a lot," my coworker says. "Which is very funny, because she is adopted."

There's really no way to recover from that, is there? Nonetheless, I tried to defend my comment by continuing to point out the specific similarities between these two totally biologically distinct people. I didn't really get anywhere in trying to convince them that they could be related.