Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sex, Violence and Vogue

I remember the first time I heard someone say Madonna was a bad role model. I was probably seven or eight and I overheard two of my friend's moms bad mouthing her from the driver's seats of their Dodge minivans. "She's so inappropriate. It sends a horrible message to girls." Wait. What? Inappropriate? That was a word for farting at the table or calling someone a tard. What was rude or mean about Madonna? (In retrospect, a lot of things, but I was too young to fully grasp the shit that was going down between her and Sean Penn.) In my view, Madonna was the epitome of class: gorgeous, amazing style, and dancing skills that made me hunger desperately for leg warmers.  Also, what was this message they were talking about, and why did it only apply to girls?
After a few lunch recesses surveying my friends on what was wrong with Madonna, "She changes her hair too much,"
 "She has pointy boobs,"
One of my friends finally nailed it, "She talks about sex too much."
Huh. This was honestly the first time it had occurred to me that anyone would view Madonna as problematically sexual. Sure, she preformed in her bra and had a song about virgins (hehe people who had never humped before), but that was just one of the many things that made Madonna Madonna. Madonna was a bizarro princess who had moved to New York as a teenager to follow her dreams and achieved wild success and didn't give a fuck what anyone thought about her and, sure, sometimes she talked about humping, but as far as I could tell she was all anyone should ever want to be. 
 It's probably my mom's fault that I never properly learned to hate Madonna. My mom was always a giant pain in the ass when it came to watching violent movies. There are a slough of classic shoot 'em ups and slasher flicks that I have never seen because as a kid my mom was religious about keeping them out of the house. "Those movies are bad karma," she would say, not quite grasping the concept of karma (she was new to California), but making a valid point nonetheless. Movies with strong ratings for sex she was less strict about. She articulated this distinction many times: sex was not that big of a deal, but violence was terrible for us. While I still feel culturally bereft every time someone brings up Freddy Krueger, I'm pretty glad I was raised in a home where violence was shamed and sex viewed as a fact of life, because that is the complete opposite of what virtually every news source, TV show, video game, and social media outlet has been telling me my entire life.

Miley is a disgusting slut and a videogame where you kill hookers is a fantasy.  Kim Kardashian is a useless whore and Kobe Bryant probably didn't rape that girl because he is really good at basketball. Make a sex tape once, be subhuman forever. Go through a little murder-y phase, and feel free to return to your job in the NFL as soon as everything blows over. Now, as clever as it is to draw illustrations of cum and coke on celebrities' faces, I think there are a few problems with this mindset.

The first issue is this "horrible message to girls," bullshit. When we ostracize grown ass women for being sexy or sexual, the only person sending a horrible message is us.  The reality of being a person is that basically everyone is super DTF.  Seriously. Not liking sex is a much weirder and more problematic than liking it. Everyone knows this, but we act like the thing that thing we've been biologically programmed to do, which comes from, at the very least, a desire to have fun and be affecionate, is some dirty habit that we'd be able to quit if only we were stronger people. It's not fair that we beat ourselves up for something that we can't help doing, so to deal with this moral problem, we find someone else to blame, namely women. It makes sense that women take the fall for this universal non-problem, we ate the apple in that snake tree or whatever. The downside to this, though, is that shaming women for their sexuality or lack thereof has a way of totally devaluing them as a human being. There are few, if any, things that negate a person's humanity like implying that they are either a cum dumpster or too fat/ugly to be one.
On the other hand, we do not have the words in our vocabulary to properly shame people who commit atrocious acts of violence. Sure, we may all agree that they are sick and depraved, but we don't revel in lambasting them the way we do overtly sexual women, nor is much of what we say about them an attempt to turn them into an object. A celebrity who publicly likes it in the b is defined by that and only that, but we often attempt to give dimension to famous criminals by delving into their backstory. What were they like in high school? What kind of music did they listen to? What was their last Facebook post? 

I'm not saying that finding new ways to diminish our fascination with criminals would solve anything, nor that Call of Duty is causing wars or anything like that, but maybe if we stopped feeling so ashamed about something everyone should do and started feeling more ashamed of things that no one ever should, we'd realize there are much more inappropriate things in this world than a singer dancing around in her lingerie.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Everything I Need To Know About Sports I Learned From Musical Theater

I’m addicted to coconut water. I’m obsessed with my dance class. I have a tramp stamp.  Seriously.  I’m that big of a white chick. Is this the reason I didn’t care about football until I started watching Friday Night Lights? Maybe, but I actually think no.

It’s not that I’ve ever hated sports. I’m from L.A., so I’ve always had an emotional attachment to the vapid flashiness of the Lakers. I’m also a goddamn American, so you’ll never have to twist my arm to get me to drink a beer and watch anything.
It’s just that instead of sports, I was raised around musical theater, so to me, sports have always seemed obnoxiously melodramatic yet somehow boring.  They were never something I thought much about – the background noise at a bar, the reason to make guacamole. That is, until I fell in love with someone who was in love with sports.

As a sports agnostic, I try to be tolerant of my boyfriend’s athletic beliefs. He gorges on football in eight hour stretches, and I keep a straight face when he claims not to watch T.V. I watch him slam chairs and slurp tobacco when his team shits the bed, and keep the thought to myself that there are more relaxing ways to spend a Sunday. The lost bets, the raised blood pressure, the idolizing of athletes who will never reciprocate his love. I mean, sure, they’re talented, but Jesus Christ; it’s not like Adrian Peterson is Alice Ripley.


(For my fellow lay/me people) Adrian Peterson was this year’s NFL MVP. Not only did he push past a torn ACL and legions of other hungry players to claim said title, he clawed his way through a childhood of extreme adversity to attain his wild success. He intercepts like a shark bearing down on its prey. He runs like beast being hunted. In a life littered with status updates and manufactured thrills, watching that kind of unbridled tenacity and skill tear through the stadium reminds us of our simple human capacity for greatness. It’s the space shuttle launching. It’s the pyramids at dusk. It’s a fierce bitch belting a high F from her pussy while she’s airborne and dressed like a witch.

I spent my childhood singing Think Of Me to the balcony in my bathtub. I used my fourth grade project on the pioneers to shoe horn in my rendition of On My Own. Fed, bathed, and housed by my parents in suburbia, I obsessively told an imaginary Argentina not to cry for me. This was my shooting hoops with a phantom Michael Jordan; my throwing a football to a Joe Namath who would one day be my teammate. The romance of these figures barely fades in adulthood. They will always remind us of who we want to be when we grow up.

Lucky jerseys and peanut shells tossed onto stadium floors are a new dress and candy unwrapped quietly between scenes. Going to a game or show is an event: wrapped in familiarity while pulsing with the excitement of not knowing what you’re about to witness. The first movement of the orchestra, the lights of the scoreboard are as comforting and important at Christmas music or fireworks on the Fourth of July.

I wish there was a football Sunday for musical theater. If livestreams of Catch Me If You Can, Newsies, and Book of Morman happened all day once a week, you can bet your sweet ass where I’d be with a wedge of brie, my girls, and my gays*. (*I am not trying to make some hackneyed statement about gender or sexuality here. I am fully aware that there are plenty of women who love sports and plenty of straight men who love musical theater. I’m just saying that in my particular case, that crowd would be comprised primarily of girls and gays.) I can only imagine what it would be like to bet on said livestreamed theater. If I could win money and watch Patti LuPone go up on a line?...Just the thought has me downing mimosas and cussing like trucker at a rest stop. But, alas, this beautiful institution exists only in my mind, so for now, all I can do is crack a Coors Light, eat some tots, and watch my boyfriend yell at his divas in tights. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

I Did It

My alarm goes off and for once in my goddamn life I don’t hit snooze. The motel room is dark, and I unroll my yoga mat, kneeling below the chipped ceiling mirror. The carpet smells of ointment and cigarette smoke and the broken mini fridge buzzes next to the T.V. that has three amateur porn channels and this is where I’ve chosen to spend my last moments before running a marathon.
I stretch. I’d planned on relaxing, but I’m already calm. I knew this was coming: The day last spring my sister-in-law mentioned the Long Beach Half Marathon. ‘I want to do it, but I’m running the full. I’m only doing this once.’ The vacations I packed running shoes for, the mornings with sunscreen dripping into my eyes, the nights on Sunset with a motorcycle crew beside me chanting  ‘Get it girl! Get it!’ The blogs, the books, the breathing.
My mom calls.
It’s time to go.
In the car, my mom and her best friend feed me bananas and ibuprofen. ‘That’s all you’re going to have is a banana? Come here. Let me pin your number on. Have another banana.’ My mom is forever trying to get me to eat more breakfast and do some variation on letting her braid my hair.
The streets are blocked off. They drive me as far as they can.
I walk to the start line alone.
The sun is up. The harbor is damp.  A woman with meaty belt finishes the national anthem on a P.A.
The road ripples with strangers. All of us are numbered. I’m 4080.  I find myself a little pocket to stand in.
An air horn blares. The first wave goes. Then the second. My stomach drops. Third wave. Wait. Shit. But – the horn wails. My wave starts.
Crossing the start line is passing a border. Now I’m really here. I’m really doing this. I kick off with Jay-Z’s Run This Town. Shut up. It’s my marathon and I’ll be cliché if I want to.  The weather is perfect. Handmade signs tell me I’m awesome. My legs are children on their first recess after a week of rainy days.
I’m addicted to the thrill. It’s a dangerous love affair.
I had planned to take a shot of tequila before my first time doing stand up. I drove off anonymously into the night and arrived at an art gallery that sold only tea. Signed up, crossed the street, and drank a forty alone in my car. When it was my turn, all I could see was bright light in my eyes. My knees knocked. I squeezed out my jokes through throat spasms. In the black beyond the lights, people laughed. Whoa. I can do this.
Whoa. I can do this.
I round out mile six near the Queen Mary. More strangers. More banners. Even the guy with the Romney sign is rooting for me. Today, they’re all on my side. My boyfriend waits by himself in the sand. When I see him, I run faster. He kisses me but won’t let me stop. ‘Keep running!’
I do. Six and a half miles. That’s a half of a half marathon. Three and a half to ten and then just sixteen after that. Just sixteen. Just sixteen? Plus three. So, nineteen. I become aware of the tape holding my big toenail on. (Sorry boys, I’m taken.) This tape won’t stop rubbing.
Keep running.
I always knew I’d struggle in my twenties. I even looked forward to it. I’d wait tables and substitute teach. I’d have other starving artist friends to practice improv and drink Two Buck Chuck with. I’d live in a shithole and blow too much money on headshots. I would also have a pilot read by a big production company and lose sleep before the meeting where a barefoot Buddhist executive would tell me I wasn’t edgy enough. I’d buy new shoes for a meeting with a cable channel who would tell me that women could either be funny or pretty and wonder if they were calling me ugly or unfunny. I’d sell an idea that would give me enough money to finally quit my day jobs and tell all of my friends and family about it before learning that the economy had tanked and the deal had been aborted. I’d hang up from learning said news, and look into the eyes of one of my students who didn’t mean to make me cry when she asked, ‘Ms. Barker, will you be a substitute teacher forever?’ Jesus Christ. How much longer was this going to last?
Nine miles.
I’m at nine miles. A little sore, but this is what I signed up for. Last mile of the single digits. Nine miles is nothing. I eat nine miles for breakfast. This isn’t my normal nine miles, though. I’m running a marathon right now. I said I’d do this and here I am. The beach. Look at the beach. Powerade. These wonderful people keep giving us Powerade. Thank you. I said I’d do this and here I am. Thank you. Keep running. Ahead, they’ve made a real song and dance out of the ten-mile marker. A big ass inflatable ‘0’ we’ll run through. Double digit time, brought to you by Cliff Bar. So clo--
My right knee.
It’s a sharp, searing pain. Keep running.
I hobble, deflated, through the inflatable ‘0.’ This isn’t how this was supposed to happen. I have so much further to go. Keep running. I falter like a gunned down animal. Why. Why. Why.
I stretch on the side of the path. People pass me.
So many people have passed me. She got that job? He’s doing late night? I know jealousy isn’t healthy, but neither is a cold, and I get those sometimes too. The race is long, and only against yourself and you lose yourself when people won’t stop passing you.
I have to finish. I’m already ten miles deep. It’s not broken. You can do this. I run-limp, focused on the pain that shoots up and down my leg. I’ve lost my rhythm. At least I’m moving forward. A woman holds up a sign:
Someday you will not be able to do this. Today is not that day.
I was not a good chair aerobics teacher. In my offense, I didn’t really try. How hard could it be to move around in a chair? We met in the common room of the nursing home. They were sweet people with transparent skin and joints that moved liked rusty gates. ‘Okay. Let’s start out with some…uh…lift up your arm. Great. Lift up the other one.’ They complied. I checked the clock. One minute down, fifty-nine to go. What the hell had the last teacher done for an hour? ‘Lift up your arm again?’ A respirator gurgled. A student in the front row snored.
Today is not that day.
The pain in my legs are the braces Forest Gump wears and as I run I separate from them and they break and fall by the wayside. A fork in the course. The half marathoners veer off. Thirteen miles. I only have to do what I’ve already done. To my left, the course has turned around. I watch the faster runners pass mile twenty-two. How are they so far? Eventually you’ll be there. Just worry about right now. More Powerade. Thank you. A high five. Thank you. You’re lucky to be here. Thank you. This is bitchin’.
The last time I ever drove with my step dad he picked me up from the airport. I had come home from New York, where I’d done the first staged reading of my musical. ‘Hey T!’ He’d bounded toward the baggage claim in his long shorts and sneakers. Jim bounded everywhere. He’d had a brain tumor before we knew him. One they told him he wouldn’t survive. After he proved them wrong, we wouldn’t stop smiling about it. Not for anything. Nothing could make him as annoyed as the simple act of being alive made him happy. He never bitched, but everything was ‘bitchin’. ‘ He and my mom saw The Stones. ‘They were bitchin’!’ They got a DVR to record his cop shows ‘This is bitchin’!’ He hurled my suitcase into the bed of his pick up. ‘We’re so proud of your play. It’s just… bitchin’.’ Four months later, he would lose his license to seizures. Two years later, we would lose him to the same.
Guess my ankles are sore. Guess my knees are throbbing. Can’t think about that. Just short mantras to match the fall of my heels: I can do this. This is possible. Mom and Jim run beside me. The three of us alternate phrases in rhythm. ‘Go T!’ ‘This is bitchin’!’ ‘Go T!’ ‘This is possible.’ They get me to mile sixteen.
My siblings run up next. Seventeen. My boyfriend. Eighteen.
Water. Thank you. Banana. Thank you. You’re awesome. Thank you.
Dad. Nineteen.
I have no body and I am only a body. A robot made of muscle. A streak of light that pulses with every shot of encouragement.
A little hill. Push harder. Pain so normal now it doesn’t hurt.
College kids line the course. Their magic marker enthusiasm surges as I pass.
‘Yeah! This guy is the man!’
Oh. The seventy year old man in front of me.
‘Woohoo! You’re amazing!’
Thank y—Oh. The guy in the wheelchair. Also in front of me.
‘Yay! You’re great too!’
Okay. This time they mean me. Somehow, I’ve managed to run a marathon and still get pity cheers.
Keep running.
I’ve been saving Uncle Mike for nineteen to twenty.
We sat on the deck overlooking their farm: berry vines and wild grass and a ’72 Chevy tucked into the arms of an oak tree. ‘I always wanted to be a pilot. To me, that’s closest you can get to God, being up there.’ He ran his hands across the controls on his wheelchair. ‘I got to drive a glider plane over the Sierras last month. Go to hold the steering wheel. That kind of control…when you spend most of your life in one of these…’ We both looked back out at the sky. ‘I didn’t know this would happen to me. I’m glad I got to be pilot before it did. Got to live my dream. I don’t look back and wish I’d worked in a cubicle. You’re following your dream. You’ll be okay.’
Knees. Thighs. Ankles.
You’ll be okay.
One foot in front of the other. Uncle Mike runs next to me. Runs. He smiles. He’s not in his wheelchair. When you spend most of your life in one of these. Just keep running. You’ll be okay.
Mile twenty. Oh my god. Mile twenty. The homestretch. You’re really going to do this. I switch to a mix one of my best friends has made. This will get me through. This will get me through.
‘Tess Barker, this is all you, baby! This is me and Eric, and we just have one piece of advice. Keep going! Go Tess Go!’ My own homestretch song! They sing Britney Spears lyrics and chant ‘Go Tess, Go,’ and now it’s my friends who run with me. The ones who did drugs on the Price is Right with me, the ones who’ve rode bitch in the backseat to Albuquerque with me, the ones who I’ve shared countless flasks and pizzas with. Some to my left, some to my right, some run behind me and push. And push. I’m so lucky to have people to push.
Mile twenty two. You said you’d be here, here you are. You said you’d be here, here you are. I run with my mom again. This time just her. She chants to keep my feet moving, ‘I’m always rooting for you. I’m always rooting for you.’ That’s a lyric in my musical.
Opening night in New York, the new dress she wore. The way she cried all the way through. The champagne she let herself have at the reception.
I’m always rooting for you.
At the end of the mile, she’s there in real life. Like she knew. She and Mary scream and thumbs up and take pictures. Moms are so good about pictures. ‘You’re almost there! You’re almost there!’
I’m almost there. I’m almost there.
This phrase alone gets me through the next two miles.
Bigger crowds. More signs. Holy shit.
Last mile.
A firefighter hollers ‘Looking good, 4080!’
I go back to Jay-Z.
Victory’s within the mile. Almost there don’t give up now.
I’m about to finish a marathon. You said you’d do it, here you are.
Ocean. People cheering and cheering: the best kind of paparazzi. Everything in slow motion. I could stay in this mile forever, but the finish is close. Where’s Sean? There The finish gets closer. Closer.
And I’m done. Done.
The end happens fast.
I did it.
I just ran a marathon.
I take out my headphones. Time and sound return to their normal speeds. Sean runs up and kisses me.
Oh yeah. English. Normal conversation. Say something.
‘Thank you. Now let’s get a fucking beer.’

(...and I'll probably do this again)

Monday, June 4, 2012

On Target

Target dressing rooms are lit like gas station chip aisles. Light that is at once bright and gray, severe and dull.
Every year I come here high to pick out a bathing suit.

I should just do plain black. Black top, printed bottoms. Will that make my ass look big? Or my boobs look smaller? Is the print supposed to be on top? What did that magazine say? Maybe the ruffle one. It’s weird. I like it. No. I’m high. Can I pull off strapless? Stick to halter. Halter always works. I love halter. I hate this black one.
I end up with a controversial purple and gold thing. One strap. Braids of fabric. Sparkles. Later this summer, on some impulsive Tuesday, I’ll come back and buy a black one.

I’ll always be chasing the Perfect Black one of 2004 :The year I get too into yoga. (It isn’t my fault. I live in Santa Monica.) Perfect Black is from the Macy’s in the Promenade. Buy it on my birthday with a check from my grandparents. It rubs against my schoolwork at the beach: sandy notebook pages and wind wrinkled drafts of scripts I’m too proud of. It soaks at night in motel hot tubs: the hot Indio air wicks the spit from your tonsils and yes I’ll have another beer I just graduated college. It droops through the dusty slats of my mom’s pool recliner in its later years: dogs lick droplets of pool water from the concrete and more protein shake, forget what it’s like to chew, the raw meat of my face held together with screws, more Vicodin, and at least I can work on my tan here. Perfect Black Top disappears quietly.  Perfect Black Bottoms stay with me through four apartments.

Anchor Print is bought in the dead of winter, and maybe that is why it’s a trooper. Quick Target stop before Big Bear. It makes it’s premiere at night: the water sears our legs and the cold air cuts our faces and it’s hard to say which feels better and later I’ll have to pretend to like Scattergories. It’s faded when summer starts. It comes on after my bridesmaid dress: Coors Light and chlorine and Lauren’s still in her veil, and here comes security again, and I should go to bed but instead I stay up and make out with the wrong groomsman (I have a boyfriend. They’re all the wrong groomsmen) and Anchor Print spends the next two weeks in my trunk tied up in a Vons bag. It gets saggy and comes camping the next summer: string cheese moist from the cooler and flip flips left at the creek and mushrooms and Jameson and Jameson and someone come pee with me and these are the best people I’ve ever met and I don’t have a boyfriend anymore.

Blue Stripe is from a Target in Texas.  We drive to Austin in a rented SUV and listen to Britney and smoke pot from an apple and never get tired of staring at the sky.  It pops its cherry in the hotel pool, where another girl has Blue Stripe as well. She’s there with her parents. It bothers her more than me. Sucks to be fifteen. Sucks to get a bathing suit from a Target in Texas. Back in L.A., Blue Stripe is on all the time: rinsed and hung and back on before it’s dry. Pool parties after sleepless nights: naps in rafts and dance music over huge speakers and Blue Moon to kick the hangover. Weekday pool parties: chips and salsa and the smoke of charred chicken and another perfect day. Pool parties with good people and great dogs: cannonballs and grown ups being thrown in and water guns and floatie noodles and who left us here unsupervised and this is why we live in L.A.

And anyway, now here I am with this purple and gold thing.