HOW’S YOUR BRACKET?

A Cinderella Story

 

I’ve just discovered something new.  Which is great actually because I’ve been going through, to put it mildly, a bit of a slump.  I won’t sugarcoat it:  it’s been a bad time.  And at my age I’m not sure you could even call it a middle-aged crisis anymore, which really sucks.  Life has felt small, mean, and tough.  And while I know that everyone has ups and downs in this life,  lately I sure did feel like screaming at the universe “HEY!!  Universe!  Throw me a frickin bone here!”  Then something entirely unexpected came along just to remind me that life is in fact interesting, inspiring, hilarious, and vast:  I got introduced to March Madness, and the whole crazy world of Sports Center, ESPN, etc.

I do realize this has been going on for quite a long time, I’m not a complete idiot and you certainly can’t entirely avoid the sports headlines, but frankly I always ignored it.  Gonzaga?  Oh really?  Is that a type of cheese?  Kansas State?  Ugh.  How boring.  Purdue?  Whatever.  Then my brother, who now lives in London but does love to follow his favorite American sports stuff, sent me a strange text out of the blue: “Be sure and fill out your March Madness bracket in time!  We are all in!!!“.  I was sure he sent this to the wrong person so I texted back “Huh??“.

What is this “Madness” of which my brother doth speak?

Huh??

Anyway, to make a long story short, I enlisted the help of my friend Jeff who lives in Kentucky and definitely takes part in such foolishness and I FILLED OUT A BRACKET!!!  It’s easy!  Try it!  But then…well…I did set a small wager with my brother so I had to start watching the games and the updates and the backstories and the predictions and oh boy!  This. Is. Amazing. Life-Affirming.  Stuff.  Let me explain:

Generally speaking I’m more of a theater/literature/philosophy person, but let me tell you:  SHAKESPEARE HAS NOTHING ON SPORTS CENTER.  The feuds, the rivalries, the dramatic upsets!  The characters…villains, heroes, charlatans!!  How have I not known about this??  A few examples from just ONE episode of SC:

  • Alvin Gentry, coach of the New Orleans Pelicans:  OUTRAGE over bad calls that have gone on ALL SEASON!  His players have been PERSECUTED for God’s sake!!
  • Stan Van Gundy, coach of the Detroit Pistons:  also OUTRAGE at the way his players are being treated!!!  It’s absolutely DISGRACEFUL!  And he’s speaking up for the first time!!!
  • Leonard Hamilton, coach of Florida State:  Mature wisdom, calm reflection, and a virtuous modesty over an amazing and apparently quite unexpected victory.
  • The entire team from the University of Virginia:  Bitter tears, extreme frustration, and a RENDING of their uniforms at having lost to a NOTHING team whose mascot is a RETRIEVER for God’s sake!  “…the soul’s slow agonizing descent into a state of such loneliness and despair as to be finally indistinguishable from Hell.” ~ Macbeth

Virginia

Ah yes indeed.  Who needs the classics when you can just turn on Channel 26 in the Time Warner cable line-up?

And then there’s this:  Isaac Haas, 7′ freak-of-nature who is the BMOC of Purdue’s team, has a sister with severe epilepsy.  He has been a loving and devoted brother, very personally affected by her increasingly devastating illness.  As his star has risen, he has not forgotten her:  he started a GoFundMe campaign to raise enough money to get her a seizure dog.  Oh my God.  Watching this story I cried like a baby…you would’ve thought it was a showing of The Notebook.  I was so proud of Isaac!  Gives one hope for the future of humanity!  I love college basketball!!

As for my bracket…well.  You see, I chose the NOBLE SPARTANS as this year’s champions…excellent record, superior athletes, good ranking.  Of course you know they lost in the 2nd round.  Everybody knows that.  And so, my bracket is now up in flames.

Thanks Spartans.

 

“Life … is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.” ~ William Shakespeare

I disagree, Will.  You just need to make your picks and fill out your bracket.  It’ll cheer you up a lot.  I promise.

 

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MOLLY’S GAME

Some people learn the hard way.

 

I know I do…but is there really any other way?  How do you really know the depths of your integrity or the dimensions of your heart unless you bump up against life in a way that tests it?

Although her story is extreme, the experiences of Molly Bloom (the so-called “Poker Princess”) really started me thinking about lessons and motivations in my own life.  Well…that’s when you know you’ve seen a great movie, when it reaches in and gets you pondering like that.

Insanely well-written (by the great Aaron Sorkin) and barreling along at high speed, we follow the trajectory of a woman who was seemingly raised to train hard, push herself, achieve excellence, and go for the gold.  Literally.  And she ends up applying those skills in the dice-y arena of high stakes (VERY high stakes) poker.

Ah…but there’s more to the story.

Not just the “HOW?” but the “WHY?” is fully explored here, and I was reminded that there is a lot more going on in life than just the surface events.  Not everyone has a taste for these deeper motivations, but ya know what?  They are there, and they are RUNNING THINGS, whether you choose to examine them or not.

Every level of gambling is explored here:  financial, emotional, physical, spiritual, and of course, addiction.  You may start out risking just money, but at what point does it turn and you are wagering your very soul?  I’m not kidding.  It both captivated and scared the bejesus out of me.  (Some of the poker game scenes got me so nervous I wished I had one of those fidget spinner things to take the edge off.)

As the character of Molly, Jessica Chastain is on her best game (pun intended).  Whip-smart and intense and mesmerizing to watch, she is believable both as a sharp, opportunistic young woman who goes too far down the rabbit hole, and also one who painfully learns who her friends are, what she stands for, and where she draws the line.  She gets my vote for a Best Actress Oscar.  Especially this year, when women all over the country have been wrestling with much the same thing.  #metoo

Ultimately Molly must answer this question:  I may be able to gamble with and destroy my own life, but can I do that to others?  Under enormous pressure, she has to dig deep for the answer, and no bluffing this time.

When you leave the theater ask yourself, honestly, what would YOU do?

 

 

The Floridian: St. Augustine FL

If I was a restaurant I’d be The Floridian.

 

As soon as we walked through the homey brick patio and in the front door I felt this click of satisfaction, and a wash of warm familiarity.  Happiness?  Honestly, at first I thought I was just hungry and hot, but after we sat down I had a good look around.

Rarely have I walked into a place of business and felt my sensibilities aligning with theirs like that.  There’s not a lot of fanfare or anything, nothing to indicate I had found my “Restaurant Soulmate”.  The thing is, this place is kind of a sleeper.  I found it just by googling “Lunch St Augustine” and we were really just looking for a quick bite.

Here’s the deal:  You have to sit down, take it in, and go through the experience.  It kind of like…DAWNS on you.

First of all the decor is perfectperfectperfect.  This is because they have pulled off the neat trick of being both fresh-and-modern and sly-and-kitschy at the same time.  Hip, but without a trace of irony.  My first clue was the striking floor-to-ceiling print of a wide-open alligator’s mouth, seemingly about to chomp down on the unsuspecting diner seated below.

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Taking a fuller look around the dining room I saw that everything was definitely Vintage Florida Thrift Store.  One of my favorite genres!  But this DECOR is special, and carefully curated.

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And that’s not all:  in the next room is a bar that can only be described as Down Home Luau.  In a good way!  I wanted to sit there and have a cherry red cocktail made with that St Augustine New World Gin, which is actually on display.  (I thought immediately of my jaunty friend Al, who has been known to go quite a long way for a good Tiki Bar.)

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And in case you’re wondering whether this is a case of style over substance, have no fear: Describing themselves as “a synthesis of Down-home Southern Comfort Foods, and lighter, healthier, vibrant and creative dishes–with many vegetarian options.”  Well…they could use a punchier description because the food is AMAZINGLY good!

I had just come from a lengthy visit with my stepdaughter who is a vegan…

(I just typed that sentence fragment like it was nothing…but on a personal note:  I NEVER thought I would ever ever use either of the words STEPDAUGHTER or VEGAN in a sentence that pertained to MY life!  Isn’t it funny, that life thing?)….

Anyway.  I ordered a black bean sweet potato veggie burger.  Perfect consistency with slightly crispy edges, savory and well-seasoned, served with chipotle mayo and the lightest homemade potato chips I have ever eaten.  (My only quibble is that it was served on toasted bread instead of a ciabatta bun as advertised, and the burger needed a more substantial bun.)

My husband, who consistently out-orders me, pulled another fast one and opted for a beautiful salad with shrimp, mango, strawberries, and it was so good I wanted to eat HIS lunch as well as mine.  And we drank this all-natural root beer made with cane sugar…whoo-ee!  I just wanted to move into this place and call it home.

Oh.  Do I sound a bit dramatic?  Listen, I WORKED in restaurants for 25 years, so these observations and critiques are hard-won.  You can drop me down anywhere, in any food establishment, and I will tell you What’s What.  And if I tell you the Floridian is a sure thing, well…you better hightail it over there.

Don’t miss it.

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The Revenant

Uncompromising.  That’s what they say about this film.  What I say is “They sure don’t make Westerns like they used to.”

 

More terrifying than any horror film, the challenges faced by The Revenant’s protagonist are relentless.  The story is inspired by a real-life frontiersman and takes place in the early 1800s in the northern Louisiana Purchase territory, which is now Montana and South Dakota.  (I tell you this, but I had to look it up.  The film-makers don’t bother with the usual informative titles like “This is Where” and “This is When”.  They just throw you into the snow and dirt and start moving.)

Uncompromising?  You bet.  The story, the landscape, the acting… just WOW!  It absolutely delivers.  From one ordeal to another, it is masterful film-making that draws us subtly and imperceptibly into this dramatic adventure.  At one point I realized that I was completely invested in this character’s harsh odyssey, and that I was literally on the edge of my seat.

I happen to really like movies like this:  tough and gritty.  It’s you, the land, the elements, and whatever your idea of God is.  Which even that is a bit indulgent:  these folks are too busy in an “Extreme Outward Bound” situation to trifle over such issues.  But there IS an underlying spirituality to it all… mother nature, life and death, and the painfully transcending experience of grief.

Oh dear.  I’m afraid you’ll think this movie is a grind.  “Two and half hours?” you may think.  “Of snow and dirt and terror??”

Actually, it is extraordinarily beautiful and richly expansive, IF!… you have a taste for such intense films.  I was deeply moved and completely engaged throughout.

Inevitably, I was reminded how completely spoiled we are.  With our ya know, ELECTRICITY, and our of course, RUNNING WATER.  And, it randomly occurred to me while watching this outdoorsy freeze-fest, “Thank God for blow-dryers!”  (If you see it, you’ll know why.)  But I actually started being grateful for a ton of stuff while I was watching.

And I thought about that word uncompromising, how in this time in history we CAN compromise with life and even death, if we want to.  Whether it be through science, modern medicine, or just communications technology, we have so much more control over our experiences than these folks did.  And yet the universal truth that The Revenant focuses on is:

“Life is definitely one damned thing after another… But ultimately we are redeemed by the strength of our character and the purity of our inner souls.”

  

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Reflections on a Life-Changing Introduction to Ziggy Stardust

I had certainly never seen anything like that in my little, sheltered, suburban life.  (Had you??)  I still remember vividly the exact first time I saw this creature…and it changed me forever.

 

OK look:  People don’t think of me as a rocker.  They never did, it always took them a bit by surprise.  To be fair, I have never looked the part, I’m pretty white-bread all-american non-threatening rule-following type of girl.  On the surface.  But that’s okay, nothing wrong with flying under the radar a little bit.  Let people think what they think.

A rocker underneath, and those who know that side, well, they KNOW.  And you know who you are.

Herewith is the story of how I got in touch with my INNER ROCKER and broke through the, like, dull, unenlightened, like, totally mid-western haze into GLAM ROCK:

I was at home in suburban Chicago, babysitting for my little brother.  I was 13 years old I think.  So, 1973.  Nothing had happened to me yet.  And nothing was going on.  Nothing.  Like, bummer.

Anyway, there I am watching TV.  It’s late.  I’m feeling bored, clicking through the channels, looking for something… not sure what.  I ended up on the Public Television station, (yes indeed, those were the days!) and there was this highly bizarre personage:  bright red mullet, emaciated sunken cheeks, rainbow eye make-up, skinny bone white appendages, and, I think, high heels.

ZIGGY CATSUIT

WTF, A CATSUIT??

Wow-wee!  I immediately knew… NOW something was going on.  At last!  Thank you Jesus!

Ziggy Stardust was such a freak!  Freak.  Freak!  Freak show!  And it went on and on.  The costume changes, the music, the challenging strut, and insolent yet seductive facial expressions.  Each one fn freakier than the next:

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Zow-eee!  Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am!

It scared the SHIT out of me!

And I could not turn away.  I watched the whole thing, feeling vaguely awakened in some way that I wasn’t really in touch with, and a bit appalled, (actually quite a lot appalled cuz I was a goody-goody-type).  I honestly didn’t understand!  Especially the pink lip gloss, bodysuits, pale white thighs.

What was this madness??

By the end of the show I still didn’t really UNDERSTAND, but I knew I liked it.  A lot.  And I became just obsessed!  Such was my introduction to glam rock, and the end of a certain part of my childhood.

Let’s be clear:  when it comes to Ziggy Stardust and all that ambiguous posturing, you either get it or you don’t.  Am I right?  And do I really need to get into all the “CONTEXT STUFF”?  OK, here’s some context for you:  It sounds almost quaint now, to say that this outlandish character coming into our suburban Chicago living room through the TV screen that night, like, blew my friggin mind.  It just was so powerful.

Not just the outrageousness, but the talent, passion, and performance artistry.  Turned me right round, baby, right round.

Can you think of anything with that kind of impact now?  With 24/7 updates, and people seemingly willing to do anything in front of the camera?  And many things amazingly commonplace.

Lady Gaga anyone?  Marilyn Manson?  How about Caitlyn Jenner?

David Bowie was so brave, brilliant, sly, and ground-breaking.  Thanks David.  R.I.P.

Aladdin Sane

Aladdin Sane

Hey, I know I’m not alone in this, I’m sure many of you have amazing and compelling memories of David Bowie and his music, please take a moment and share them in the comments section… even just place/song/date!

“This is Major Tom to Ground Control

I’m stepping through the door

And I’m floating in a most peculiar way

And the stars look very different

Today…”

Space Oddity, David Bowie

 

Iris

I gotta be honest… Getting older freaks me out. All the clichés you’ve ever heard start to ring in my ears:

“Getting old…it ain’t for sissies!” and

“Youth is wasted on the young!” and

“My get-up-and-go just got-up-and-went!” and so on.

*Bleah*

I start to wonder how I’ll survive that seemingly long, difficult period that heads inexorably towards…well, let’s just say it: Death.

Then I went to see the dazzling, life-affirming movie “Iris”, which is about a woman… IN HER 90s… who has been kicking ass all over the fashion world: magazines, museums, runways from New York to Paris, and now of course, a documentary by a super-influential filmmaker. Hello! Not bad for someone who was apparently “discovered” only about 10 years ago!

Iris Apfel is being celebrated for her extraordinary style, but it goes much deeper than that. It is also who she is, and her unique-yet-straightforward approach to life. It’s also a look at the culmination of all the experiences… all the influences… which have made her so fabulous and have caused such a stir.

This is an audacious, accomplished woman and watching her made me realize not only is it OKAY to follow the beat of your own drum, to be truly creative you MUST do so. How rewarding and fun life can be when you stop trying to please everyone else and just start suiting yourself!

Iris Apfel may be one-of-a-kind, but the film’s message about her bold spirit and willingness to continue to say YES to life is inspiring to anyone and at any age.

Now, the filmmaker himself is no Spring Chicken, and perhaps it took his OWN age and experience to capture her unique vitality. He has since passed away, but I wish I could thank him because THIS is the quote about aging that I believe now:

“None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.”

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About Bruce

Well!  How do you like THAT!  Reality TV has gotten me again.  But THIS time the underdog character, the sort of unhip, laughable, ponytailed side-character… the unimportant one if you will, has COMPLETELY STOLEN THE SHOW!

At least for me.

The Kardashians, God love ’em, have built this huge multi-media empire on the most frivolous and transient subjects:  fashion, beauty, club appearances, flying around the world, and like, hair extensions.  (Don’t get me wrong, I love ALL those Hot Topics and they ALL have their place in life, but the Ks take on things is so wispy thin and insubstantial as to just be, like, well… it doesn’t take up ANY space in your brain.)

So this whole time, apparently all 8 years that this show has been on the air, the emotional tone has been self-absorbed, glib, occasionally vulgar, and very, very insular.  Most of the scenes are filmed in one of their huge houses in So California, and involves their latest marital or professional escapades, and they all seem to live in just their own little worlds of wealth, access, and entitlement.  And the whole MACHINE runs on moving through things FAST… they will have a meltdown-y melodramatic moment about something and then, as they like to say repeatedly “It’s, like, SOOO time to move on.”

Now a storyline has emerged that, like, nobody saw coming.  One that is so big, so freakin important that they have had to have TWO special episodes and a Diane Sawyer interview just to cope with!  The patriarch of this entrepreneurial clan, the out-of-step but likeable Dad, will soon be living publicly as a WOMAN!!!!

Now I am old enough to remember Bruce Jenner on the Wheaties box.  Arguably, one of THE top male athletes of our time.  OLYMPIC athlete in all those intense and uber-masculine events.  (I mean discus throwing??  Who even DOES that?)  He is so familiar in THAT arena that this news really throws you back.

And the fascinating thing to watch is the juxtaposition of this Superficial Franchise Operation dealing with such a… well, let’s be honest, WTF kind of situation.  Because they’ve had to show, like, REAL EMOTION.  And tolerance.  Not to mention delicacy!

All the Kardashian/Jenner kids obviously adore Bruce, and he gets so tickled and excited when talking about his future… letting his hair grow, painting his nails, putting on cute clothes… he is SWEET and SINCERE and GOOFY and… well…it is like, SO MOVING!  This man that we all thought we knew… we had a category for him:  All-American Olympic Hero… he has been living with a huge and painful secret his WHOLE LIFE… and now, at the age of 65, he has the courage to change everything about himself… well I just thought to myself:

“Huh!  So the REAL story of the Kardashians has been going on between-the-lines and off-camera this whole freakin time!”

Wow.  Good luck Bruce… we’ll try to Keep Up…