Monday, August 31, 2009

A Sunny Second Show

Another fun show last night. Not much variety in my posts the last few days, hmmm? No one seems to be reading them, so I suppose it doesn't matter. (I'll just be over here.)

If anything, it was hotter, or at least muggier, than the day before. I thought that the wig would be the worst part of my ensemble, but really, it was all the fake jewels. They slid around on my sweaty neck, cold and slimy on my hot skin. Just delightful. Hannah and the others laughed at the sight of me driving in full regalia. My wig touched the ceiling of my car. Parking was hard again, but eventually Eva and I found a space and hiked. Unfortunately, the distance precluded my going back for the wedding veil once I realized I'd forgotten it. Oops.

I was excited to see I had peeps in the audience. Lots of them. Mary and Paul and Joy, Robyn and Jared and Joshua, and David and Jarrah, of course. Jen S. was there for the first time at one of my shows, sitting with Steph. And a big surprise was seeing my Nia students Bonnie and Beth out there, front-row center. Our theater peeps Mary, Liz, Lisa and Kenny turned out for all of us. It's extra-fun to have loved ones present.

The night was inevitably more frantic than Saturday, due to my multiple costume changes, but no comparison to last Thursday, when I was trying to dress alone. This time, I had the inimitable Patty--frequent stage manager and all-around babe--to handle every last detail for me, even hanging up my previous costumes when I was ready (well-before expectation, I might add.) And I think the audience got a kick out of the quick-change--a few people mentioned it to me.

I kind of lost it on the 15-year-old cast member who shall remain nameless who is supposed to hold my train during my first entrance. For some reason, she decided I needed to be shoved with two fists in the small of my back in order to remember my cue. I was not down with that, and told her so, in a voice like I had just discovered Jarrah cutting up my knitting. And I got told off myself for being off the beat in the final dance number--just when I thought I had totally nailed it. That may or may not be, to quote another character. And there was a rather amusing moment when a very cute spaniel barked his head off at me while I was doing my menacing crawl towards the audience in the gypsy scene. I guess the menacing part was a little too believable. Good doggie!

But I had a great time out there, and for the first time, my illicit lovers tryst with Eva (did I mention she's in drag?) was lively and playful without me feeling like I needed an oxygen tank (in the past, the costume change and the gypsy dance right before took all I had.) Despite the heat, I felt good and we got some laughs. And it is really fun just walking around Shelter Island in that dress and wig. Everyone stares. I don't mind that a bit. I even stayed in costume after so the youngsters could get some photos with me, just like at the Junior Theater. Whee!

Afterward, Hannah said we were invited to a restaurant where the previous show used to go every night. That made me happy--I always felt left out of that little perk. We shut the place down, as usual. They just don't have restaurants in San Diego that stay open late enough to suit us. But I really enjoyed getting a little warm and fuzzy drinking a Cosmo on the patio, feeling the air (especially since I had forgotten my carefully chosen apres-show, non-soaking-wet outfit--I found it on the bed when I got home) and doing what I do best--talking. I was thrilled to learn that after-parties are already in the works for both nights next weekend, no prompting from me (the self-appointed Cruise Director) necessary.

It's going to be hard to wait for next weekend. Harder still for it all to end after that.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

In Which Opening Night Lives Up To The Hype

Last night's show was a blast. In a couple of hours, I have another one--this time I'll be playing the "young, pretty child" Dorimene, she of the "bulging little breasts." I've got my push-up on--that's all I can do. As for the young part, well, at least I know I'll be glowing: we're in the midst of the first real heat wave of summer, and there's nothing like eight layers of floor-length polyester to get you in the mood to emote.

Last night, I didn't have any costume changes because I was a gypsy the whole time. After changing at the theater (our first meeting spot) I was free to start sweating like crazy in the clothes I would wear throughout the show. I watched Rachel affixing the tall, white wig with terror in my heart, knowing that would be me the next I really can't imagine how hot my head is going to be, and what a fright my hair will look when I take it off for the gypsy scene. David suggested I stick a "freezer brick" in there to cool me off. He has such adorable terms for things.

We arrived at Shelter Island in full costume, ready to trot around greeting our potential guests and offering them brochures about our play. A few people threw their arms over their faces when we approached, yelping about having been accosted by several others of our kind. We were like the "free French farce" version of the Hare Krishnas. If we had promised a vegetarian feast afterward, maybe we would have gotten a better reception.

Parking is scary down there--we were lucky to find a space ourselves--so I was kind of worried that David and Jarrah would be very late. They made it--just barely--and indeed we had quite the audience, nearly all of whom actually stayed put until the curtain call. They were even enthusiastic during the "seventh scene stretch," which I took part in last night--tonight I will be performing elaborate moves in my underwear while others do-si-do.

I was sitting in the audience for most of the show, and while we didn't get the belly laughs I had been hoping for, people seemed to like it. Everyone was really on, and the energy was high. And when I crawled cat-like through the audience for my gypsy cue, I was in the zone and ready to make the most of my 30 seconds. I do think the gypsies were very well-received and we got a couple laughs. I'm not sure what sort of moves I was doing out there, but today one of my feet aches.

After the show, we all returned our costumes and props to the theater, and then headed to Tender Greens for a celebratory dinner. For once, a show was actually getting out at dinner time, which was nice. I had planned said dinner, and really had no idea how much of the cast would show up, but everybody was there--EVERYBODY. That felt really good. And eating really lovely, healthy food at a huge table together on the patio in the no-sleeves-required evening air rocked, too. A few of us hung back and told stories until midnight, which is apparently my new favorite thing to do. Nice work, if you can get it. I could get used to this.

Whoops, I already have.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Moonlight, Theater

Last night was our dress rehearsal for Moliere's The Forced Marriage, which will play for the next two weekends on the grass near the sea, first at Shelter Island, then at Ocean Beach. What I'm trying to say is, we open tomorrow!

I was very nervous last night, because I am sharing the female lead with a friend (who is going to be out of town for half the performances) and it was my night "on." This was scary for two reasons (well, three, if you count "standing in front of strangers and shouting things," but that's never really been a problem for me): one, it was actually my first time (and I mean rehearsing) to play the role all the way through, and two, it was my first time learning the true amount of time it was going to take me to change from full gypsy regalia into a giant dress, a bridal crinoline and a towering white wig while the rest of the cast stalls the audience with a "seventh scene stretch."

Readers, on the subject of Number One, I am happy to say I had a ball out there fluttering my hands around, talking in a baby voice and swishing my baby-blue lace gown ("more like Scarlett O'Hara than Marie Antoinette," I remarked last night) as I sashay about, itemizing my goals in life, which include pleasure, shopping, parties, shopping, people and shopping. We had a small audience, which seemed partly invited, partly randoms who happened to be wandering by when they saw a dozen people kitted out like 17th century loons and couldn't look away. I really enjoy this kind of stylized role (which I don't think I've ever done before) and hope to make it even bigger and kookier for the real thing. I am also happy to have so much to do, even if it means some frantic machinations backstage to make it possible.

Ah, yes, that. On the subject of Number Two, the evening felt less successful. The Seventh Scene Stretch was but a memory when I hadn't even been zipped, and even with two people helping me arrange that two-foot bird's nest on my head, I still wasn't ready until the silence on stage was yawning and awkward. Clearly, I'm going to need another plan. But I know it can be done, because I saw Irma Vep and those guys had to do full changes every two minutes, sometimes even switching genders within that time frame.

I'm getting a little too attached to Shelter Island, where--amazingly--I had never been before this show. Twice now, a few of us have stayed after rehearsal to admire the view and chat, and given my druthers, I'd probably be out there until the sun came up. There's something weirdly magical about the spot, a perfect circle of grass in a roundabout, with a bell tower in the center, surrounded by bay, boats, the San Diego skyline and twinkling lights from every direction. The only sounds are the splashing water, sea gull screeches and the barking of seals (which grow more urgent with the hour, as if the seals are having a rager of a party out there.) I forget to be sentimental about the pleasures of San Diego most of the time, but on a warm night after a 95 degree day, I can't avoid a wave of gratitude for a moment in which I am laughing hysterically with new friends, each of us illuminated under the half moon at the very end of a beautiful summer.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dolphins and Rainbows and Death

We had a lovely afternoon. Jarrah's ears were feeling better, and we took the day off from camp for a beach outing with Steph and Nathan. Last summer, we did this all the time, but could this have been our first such excursion this year? Indeed, I believe it was. The sand was kelp-covered, but people-free, the sea sparkled, the breeze whipped my inland blues away, and the dolphins gamboled and cavorted on the horizon. Trader Joes chewy molasses cookies and some scarily good chicken salad with apricots and almonds mixed in, on sourdough. My toes in the sand, a big blue umbrella. Jarrah and Nathan spent a solid four hours running cups of water to and fro, watering the beach. There is nothing cuter than two kids crouched in the wavewash, heads almost touching, tiny swim-suited tushes sticking out, little hands furiously digging. Nothing more serene and soothing for the soul.

So imagine my surprise when, after a short bout of tears and a round of accusations that seemed to come out of nowhere ("Nathan got two cookies. Why didn't I get two cookies?") on the ride home, the little philosopher composed herself and asked out of the sunset pink sky:

"What happens if you die?"

This startled me. I thought for a moment I must have misheard her. Then I realized that a lot of time had already gone by so I said:

"I...don't know."

That was sort of useless, but it was all I had without advance preparation and notes. She pushed ahead. And I should have seen the next part coming, because the topic has been well-covered in our car:

"Why did Michael Jackson have a heart attack?"

The kid has no clue who Michael Jackson is. She couldn't identify a Michael Jackson song for all the fruit leathers in Costco. But ever since the news, she has been strenuously occupied with his departure from this world.

"Well..." I hesitated. What to say? "He took a lot of medicine. A lot. And it made his heart too tired to work anymore."

"That's not why," she said.

"No? What have you heard?"

"He died because he didn't try to stay healthy. He needed to go outside and exercise every day. That's how you don't die."

"That is a good idea, yes."

"He also needed to brush his teeth. And eat his dinner. Eat healthy foods. Also listen to his mom and dad."

"Those things are important, true."

"Finally, he needed to only take a little medicine, because it makes the doctor happy, and then his heart would not get tired. Also the exercise and the healthy food. That really keeps you from dying."


"Mostly, he should not stay inside and sing. Singing songs makes you die. You need to exercise instead of singing songs."

"Actually, singing songs is not so bad. I think you can do both. Go outside and exercise, and sometimes stay inside and sing. Both of those will help you live, I think."

"And eat your dinner. And listen to your mom and dad."

"Of course."

Monday, August 24, 2009

See You On The Flip Side

Conversation with Jarrah on the way to the car after camp today:

Jarrah: Mommy, can you tell me about the Haunted Mansion?

Sam: What do you want to know about it?

Jarrah: Is it scary?

Sam: Yes. Well, sort of. There's music, and ghosts flying around, and you ride in a little car...

Here's where I had one of those moments that make me want to kick myself.

Sam: (in a confidential tone) I loved that ride. I used to kiss boys in there.

Jarrah: (alarmed) They make you kiss boys in there?!?

Sam: No, no, no. They don't make you. I wanted to.

Jarrah: Were they ghosts???

Sam: No, they were human. (under my breath) I think.

Jarrah: Why did you want to kiss boys in there?

Sam: Well, it was dark, and only two to a car, and the ride took a long time...

Jarrah: It sounds really scary.

Sam: It wasn't that scary. There was music.

Jarrah: And ghosts.

Sam: They don't bother you. (pause) When I was really little, I used to get soooo scared at the beginning when they stuff you into this little room. I'll never forget how this scary man's voice would say "THERE ARE NO WINDOWS AND NO DOORS. OF COURSE, THERE'S ALWAYS MYYYY WAY OUT. MWAH HUH HUH HUH."

Jarrah: Can you tell that part again?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

"That's Not What I Meant."

Just one more post on this topic and I'll shut up, I promise. (Maybe I shouldn't promise.) But I know some of you are wanting to view the film, and now I have links! (this one is higher quality and can be watched full-screen)

Last night was the Best of San Diego screening, and the Cane Toads were once again out in force. I was feeling red-carpet ready since Robyn flat-ironed my hair before we went (is there any arena where that girl doesn't dazzle?) and I had on my "Film Noir Red" lipstick. Sadly, there are no photos.

We were in a smaller theater and it sold out, but luckily everyone in our group managed to snag a ticket. Thirteen films had been chosen by four judges, but this time there were no ballots--we were just there to celebrate. That's what I told people, but I'd be lying if I didn't also admit that the butterflies were pounding my ribs in anticipation of the judges' awards (determined earlier) that would be announced after the screening. These were for specific categories, such as Best Editing and Best Directing and Best Acting. Long ago, for our movie "Burnin' Love" (which you can still find on YouTube) we won Best Cinematography, which was cool but seemed disconnected from MY experience with it. It was a techie award, ya know? I was hoping for something more...personal this time.

But I didn't want to hope too much, because I had sworn to anyone who would listen that any more awards would just be gravy after sweeping the audience vote and being chosen for Best of San Diego. And I meant that. Did you hear me? I meant it.

We had the dubious honor of appearing first, which meant our laughs were muted--the audience needs to be warmed up. This group of films had more comedies, and some of them were truly hilarious. I loved the one about the lost singing duo "Milla" and "Vanilla," and the one that combined "stoner film" with "martial arts film" (which, believe it or not, was really smart.) There was even a cop buddy film where one of the buddies was a big-haired puppet. We laughed a lot, and I winced a bit, wondering if some of these had been in our screening group, would the Audience Award have been lost? (That's me, as Polly Sunshine as ever.) The last film of the night was about two guys in 1979 who decide to make money to impress chicks by robbing a liquor store, and it was pretty funny, but I guess it was the judges' darling, as it swept the major awards--Best Acting, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Directing and Best Picture. It was like they were with Spielberg or something.

I was a twinge sad not to win Best Script or Best Directing, since I could have pointed directly to myself (in part) for those honors. However, we did win "Best Use of the Line of Dialogue" (to refresh your memory from last Friday-- "That's not what I meant") and I am choosing to see that as a writing award. First of all, we ended up using it like 10 times, and second, didn't we have to decide HOW to position it in the surrounding dialogue that WE wrote, in order to make it funny? Yeah, it's a writing award. You're not going to talk me out of it, so don't even try.

And we won a second award! "Best Use of Prop," which was a crayon this year. David did tell me that we were one of only two teams to use the crayon for something other than its intended purpose (the Stoner/Martial Arts gang poked an eye out with theirs) so right there we had an edge. And the shot of Marie in close-up, seductively applying the crayon to her ruby-red lips, is pretty hilarious. What amuses me is that it's been six years, and every year I'm convinced we've been robbed of Best Use of Prop. And this year--well, we weren't robbed. We have the certificate to prove it.

A couple of our guests murmured that we WERE robbed of Best Cinematography, Best Script, Best Acting...which was all very nice to hear. I said to David, "Well, our script certainly had the MOST words!" which made him laugh--on that point, we are always bitterly divided, since he's a real "less is more" kind of guy, and I'm a proponent of the Mae West school of life: "Too much of a good thing can be wonderful." I'll drink to that!

This time, it was just a Shirley Temple, which really hit the spot. We celebrated afterward at the Cheesecake Factory (did you know they now post the calories per slice, and that each slice provides the recommended daily allowance for a 200 lb. man?) and basked in the glow of a full week of congratulations and plaudits from our friends and the city of San Diego. Whew! It's a bit exhausting being a celebrity that no one's ever heard of. I'll need about a week at the Beverly Wiltshire with a fur-lined eye mask and room service before meeting with any more studio heads.

Check back with me then, and hold all my calls.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

I'd Like To Thank Those Who Believed In Me

Readers, does it seem a little chilly to you? Feeling a nip in the air even though it's the middle of summer? Perhaps you wander to your calendar and find, to your great perplexity, that today simply is not on it. Is there a gap in the time-space continuum? So very odd. Well, wrinkle your brow no further; I'm here to clear up the mystery. Everything seems a bit askew because HELL HATH FROZEN OVER AND IT'S THE TWELFTH OF NEVER.

That's right, dear Readers. Don't make me yell it (because heaven help me, I will, and many times, with increasing volume:)


And not by a hair, Readers. (Hair! I crack myself up.) By a freakin' landslide. There were 400 people voting, and we had like 40 votes more than the second-place finishers.

But let me tell the tale in a more luxurious fashion, as I am wont to do. There were 52 teams entered in the San Diego competition this year. Five were disappeared. Seven more were disqualified for lateness. But every movie that is submitted receives a screening (there are four) at the UltraStar Cinemas and is eligible for the Audience Award, or popular vote, conducted by an exit ballot. Everyone may vote three times, which makes it more fair if one team invites 50 people, for instance. Though the cinematography and acting awards will be pending for some time, the Audience Award is tallied right after each screening.

A big shout-out to Robyn (Hi, Robyn!) for her tireless promotion this year. She and her boyfriend, Steve, created a "vintage" '40s poster we were permitted to display outside the theater. She also made mini-posters, and ballots featuring photos of each cast member, with the question "Guess Whodunnit?" about the fate of our giant bunny. (David designed a DVD of our movie as a prize, but we, um, got distracted and still have it.)

Before the show, most of the cast and crew trolled the crowd, handing out cards and ballots, and best of all, Eva reprised her role as the giant bunny, sweating mightily and nearly blind under all that fur, but making a visual impression the impact of which we may never truly know. At one point, she begged me to let her take it off, but I'm a cruel taskmistress and said no. (We freed her before the films started.)

Robyn also created gorgeous t-shirts for us, with the poster on the front. For the three writers (Robyn, me and Calvin), she included "I'm not married to it." on the back, which became our catch phrase because so many people asked us to cut lines (and sometimes we wanted to chop each others') that the weekend became an exercise in playing nice and sharing with others.

The theater was nearly full, and our film was second to last, so we had a nail-biting wait. It was especially torturous because so few of the films in our group were comedies--lots of horror, fight scenes, and tense drama with scary music. Don't get me wrong--most of them were very well-made; in fact, David (who's in a position to know since his company does the transfers for the screenings) said he's never seen such a uniformly competent group of films. But the laughs were few and far between, and I was in agony waiting for ours.

When it was finally time, people were ripe for some laughs. The bunny emerging from the purse was the first big one. Thrillingly, the laughter kept building, so towards the end they were laughing almost constantly. I sat back and marveled at how gorgeous the lighting and angles were, how masterful the acting, how effective the costumes, how atmospheric the music, how clever the editing, and--wow--how brilliant the dialogue. Who wrote that script? So smart and hilarious, really capturing the stylized flavor of the period and genre. I mean, wow--I was just speechless. I'll stop now.

Afterward, I went to the front of the theater for the Q&A, but there wasn't much Q and I think I got a bit cheated on my A, being at the front of the line and wanting to mind my manners. Never mind--I was just up there to look pretty, I mean, to represent the Cane Toads.

On the way out of the theater, I dropped my ballot in the box, and I could see the two on top had voted for us. Wow. That was like a punch in the stomach, but in a good way. A little voice in my head whispered, "Could it be true? Do they like us, do they really like us?" But I couldn't let myself continue. My people don't do that--it would be unseemly to be optimistic about anything.

We walked next door to the DoubleTree Hotel, where there was a reception for our screening group. Almost everyone from our team was there (though Tyler--sniff--had returned to Seattle on Tuesday. For some reason he thought it was relevant that he, like, LIVES there, and has, like, work or whatever) and we made a big, jolly crowd in one corner. I was perfectly content to laugh and play with our peeps, reliving the best moments of the screening and the overall experience, and believe me when I say I had completely forgotten that we were waiting for a very significant piece of news.

Right. Completely forgotten. So, when, Duane the Organizer entered the room holding some envelopes, it definitely wasn't me who screamed like a bunny (which, if you've never heard a bunny scream, sounds weirdly like a woman.) Without fanfare, he announced the third place winner (that one surprised us a bit) then the second (which I voted for--a sort of super-hero gang/martial arts fest that was really quite funny) and right after that my last thought was "The superhero one came in SECOND? Does that mean we could..." and then Duane was saying something else and I couldn't hear and I said to Lisa, "What did he say?" and she said, "Wild Hare?" and then I heard Duane repeat, louder, "Wild Hare! The Case of the Wild Hare!" and then the rest is fuzzy because I was screaming so loud I almost passed out. We were all jumping up and down and hugging each other and it was like winning an Oscar.

With my heart pounding, I kept yelling "Six years! Six years!" because I honestly thought we'd never see the day, and you have to believe me when I say that when people ask me which award I've most wanted to win, the Audience Award is it. That's when you know you're The People's Princess. You've captured the hearts of the nation. What could be better that that? Not some cinematography citation, if you ask me.

Everyone was lovely. There was some hand-shaking with the competition, and congratulations and protests of "No, it wasn't me, it was YOU" all around. All of it heartfelt and sincerely meant (at least on my end.) We got a certificate. And I took a moment to admire the radiant faces of my fellow team members before a shadow crossed the sun and I suddenly wanted to pat everyone's shoulder and say "Awww. You're getting the idea that you enter the 48 Hour Film Project and fame and glory follows, aren't you? That couldn't be more deluded." I did sort of say it, but not very loud.

And I shouldn't have said it at all. For one night, a girl can dream, can't she? And so can everyone else. We made a movie. It was fun. It was good. The people liked it. And then we won. THE END.

After David drove me back to my car, I wanted to savor this moment, all by myself. Do you ever feel that way? I had celebrated with loved ones, and now I wanted to just bask in the glow, not let the night end. I was also starving, since dinner had been sort of unsatisfying (another story.) I let David head home to pay our babysitter, and I drove to In n Out Burger, where I haven't been in years. That line is always a commitment, but I cranked up the radio and started texting everyone I could think of (texting, where have you been all my life?) Finally, I was on the road, singing at the top of my lungs between bites of a burger that tasted like it'd been airlifted from Mount Olympus, and smiling from ear to ear like a total dork. It was about 1:00 a.m. on a Wednesday night, the roads were deserted, and I was alive and awake and deliriously happy, thinking: Right now, Samantha. This is it. One of those times.

Don't you love that?

Monday, August 17, 2009

"I'm Not Married To It:" Filming in 48 Hours

This year's 48 Hour Film Project was the most exciting yet, and not because everything went wrong. Oh, things went wrong, sure. Lots of things. But many, many more things went oh so right. Won't you join me on a recap of the madness?

Friday 6:00 p.m.

I'm at the starting line with a few members of Cane Toad Productions. We are joined by Tyler, a business associate of David's who has flown in from Seattle for the weekend. Remember his name: it will be important later. Everyone is milling around, eager for the kickoff. Finally, it's time for Shelley's son, Joey, to draw our genre out of the hat (an actual hat, worn by festival organizer Duane's actual dad in an actual movie.) I'm so nervous. Will we finally get Musical? Will we get Fantasy AGAIN? It's official, we have...Detective/Cop! Well, I'm not sure how to feel about that. It's the most specific genre we've ever gotten, that's for sure. The three elements follow shortly:

Character: Amy or Amos Belanger, Historian
Prop: A crayon
Line of Dialogue: "That's not what I meant."

We are off to Denny's to discuss our fate.

7:30 Friday

There's a massive crowd in the back room at Denny's, as big as last year, but except for me, David, Craig and Robyn, everyone is new. We have seven people from my theater group, and I'm excited about that, though also nervous I will have a total meltdown and the theater will become all kinds of awkward. No time to worry about that now. We order some bad food and start discussing our options. Shelley, Robyn and I have already begun leaning towards film noir. We like the idea of '40s-era dialogue and a really stylized look. I am really determined to incorporate crowd scenes, since we have so many actors this year.

8:30 Friday

Things start to get chaotic, as they always do. But this year, Shelley is on it. She suggests we divide into groups, brainstorm, and then present a story idea to the rest. It's so crazy it just might work. Amazingly, all three groups produce a coherent plot in about 30 minutes. I'm in group 3, and I think we have the most ingenious idea ever. A private eye's assistant poses as his boss for an alluring new client, then tells her a wild lie about a case he solved involving a giant bunny. We all go nuts at the image of a pep rally screaming as an empty bunny head goes sailing over the crowd in the gym. I think it will be the best thing ever. So imagine my surprise when the other groups are just as married to their own ideas. One of them is about a woman who thinks her husband is having an affair, but actually he's trying to hide that he's become a quilter. Another is about a girl who persecutes a professor for giving her a "B." I'm sure these ideas have their, um, charms, but giant bunny suit, hello??? I'm shocked and appalled we don't get the most votes.

9:30 Friday

There's a bit of squabbling about which way to go. Things get a bit tense for a minute or two. I go to pee and Eva actually comes in to check on me, to make sure I'm not crying. I have warned the new team that I never make it through the weekend without bursting into tears. The problem is that I am bossy and always end up in a position of authority, but I'm also a marshmallow and get my feelings hurt easily. It's not a great combo. When I come back, the conversation has returned to the giant bunny, which surprises me. We end up agreeing to go the bunny route, but with elements of the other concepts mixed in.

11:00 Friday

Everyone is gone but Calvin and me, and we're sitting with my netbook trying to get started on the dialogue. I keep wondering what the waiter thinks we're doing, sitting in a Denny's in the middle of the night, typing. He probably could care less. We don't get much done. My writing style is to pound out a burst of text without a thought in my head, and then edit it back to something workable. Though he is polite, I think this is bizarre to Calvin, who seems slightly panicked every time I commit a lousy line to the screen.

12:00 a.m. Saturday

I'm so tired, it's making my stomach hurt. I'm noticing that every time words come out of my mouth, they don't seem in any way connected to my brain.

2:00 a.m. Saturday

We have maybe a page and a half of outliney-type stuff when my battery dies in a blaze of glory and we are--by default--done for the night.

3:00 Saturday

David is asleep when I get home, but I can't seem to stop myself from waking him up and then slowly torturing him by asking him question after question. At one point, he says weakly, "I really need you to stop talking." Is this effective? Unfortunately for him, no. He admits that he's been to the store, shopping for batteries and carrots. And he watered the yard. At midnight.

4:00 Saturday

I am nodding off when I suddenly bolt awake, convinced I need to do some internet research on film noir. I Google a bunch of stuff, making a big file of incredibly complicated film analysis crapcake, including suggestions for Dutch angles and chiaroscuro lighting. I highly doubt anyone ever read it. I know I didn't.

5:00 Saturday


7:00 Saturday

David is up, so I'm up. We barely acknowledge each other, running around and gathering bags of stuff. I have "hippie" clothing, makeup, hair products, jewelry. He has our bedroom fan and office desk light. He leaves before I do. Rachel has already called from Vons, wondering how many bagels to get. When I call her back, my voice sounds like Betty Davis. I can't believe I'm so wrecked already.

8:00 Saturday

Call-time at CineForm. David's work. We're here because we couldn't think of where else to go--all our location ideas have fallen through. CineForm has lots of rooms, and no danger of the equipment losing power. Those are pluses. I'm amazed to see that almost everyone is already there. My writing partner, however, is not. I sequester myself and a donut in an empty office and try to concentrate on the script notes, which are looking paltry in the light of day.

9:00 Saturday

Calvin and I are finally back to the script. Strangely, we are a bit snappier, even though neither of us are morning people. It starts coming along. Shelley arrives, with triumphant news: she's secured permission and keys to a high school gym, which is the one set we absolutely have to have.

10:30 Saturday

I hit a wall. So tired, eyes stinging, too many stale bear claws. I ask Calvin how he feels about bringing in a relief pitcher. He's cool with it. I open the door (everyone has been avoiding us, though we can feel the seething expectation through the laminate) and call out for Robyn. She becomes writer Number Three. And not a moment too soon. Now we're really pounding it out at a brisk clip.

11:00 Saturday

We come out to peek at the "set," which is someone's office. I really am impressed. There's an old phone, an antique globe, gold letters on the "detective's" window, shutter shadows on the wall. Our set decorators have hung certificates on the walls, and a wanted poster (of an actually wanted guy.) This could actually work.

12:00 Saturday

We emerge, triumphant, with a completed draft. I'm very proud, I tell Calvin and Robyn, because we've never had a completed script with a beginning, middle and end so early in the day before. I know that sounds bizarre, but the structure of the competition doesn't lend itself to anything else. Trust me on that. I'm sort of in awe because I have a sense that the script is actually VERY funny, with no filler. David assembles everyone in the conference room for a table read. I read with elation, since everyone laughs, and a lot. I figure we are in for some serious back-patting afterward. Instead, David's immediate response is that it's way too long. Tyler gently backs him up, saying he thinks we have a nine-minute script (and seven minutes is the max.) I'm kind of childishly furious, but later I will realize that Tyler was right on the nose. In the moment, though, I still yell at David for not telling us how awesome we are.

12:30 Saturday

We are furiously cutting. It's not that hard, actually--we're in the zone now. We lose a page in 15 minutes. The three of us are like a dream team.

1:00 Saturday

First shots being set up. This is where we wait...and wait. All told, it must be close to an hour just to shoot the opening sequence with no dialogue. Later, it ends up on the cutting room floor anyway. Such is the nature of the biz. It's clear that we have some beautiful subjects when I see Greg--as our detective--and Rachel--as our femme fatale--all lit up. I love the fedora, and the red dress.

3:00 Saturday

There was a brief period of giddiness with the finished script, but that's been replaced by anxiety about how little we've shot. I've been the director the previous two years, but this year I am co-directing with Shelley, and she has been dutifully watching the monitor and recording our time code for every shot. Ultimately, this makes Tyler the editor's job so much easier. I've never been patient enough to do it myself. My directing style is getting up in the actor's faces and telling them I want more, then making them do it again. I'm a multiple-take kind of gal. The kind of director that editors hate.

4:00 Saturday

The natives are getting restless. Those who are new to the film world seem gobsmacked by all the lolling about. Those of us who have done this before know this is why movie stars have trailers and get involved in tempestuous affairs with co-stars. There's just not that much to do when the tech is happening, unless of course, you are tech.

5:00 Saturday

Deep into shooting the detective office scenes with Greg and Rachel. Eight of us are crammed into the tiny office--one on lights, two on sound, one on camera, one on monitor, and a couple of us just to be nosy. I shout out "helpful" suggestions to the actors between takes. So does Shelley. It occurs to me later in the weekend that we probably should have fought about how we both did that, but luckily, we never do. The scenes are looking good.

6:00 Saturday

Taking a break at "craft services" (a long table covered with candy and cookies from Costco) when a roar goes up from the office...they have captured the perfect shot of a live bunny emerging from the leading lady's purse, right on cue.

6:30 Saturday

I really can't believe we haven't left for the gym yet, especially since it's on the other side of the county. Sigh. We will be shooting late this year. No time to fret about that now. Time to pack everything and everyone up for the trip. I talk to Lisa on the phone--she and Eva have been driving around getting props, and have gotten to the gym early. Lisa warms my heart when she reassures me that it's "nice and sunny" down there.

7:00 Saturday

I'm in the car with Robyn, Steve (Robyn's boyfriend) and Calvin, driving to Linda Vista. We are screaming with laughter about everything, but now I can't remember most of it. More's the pity, because it was an especially hilarity-filled shoot. We get lost trying to find the high school, and it's a while before everyone is found.

7:30 Saturday

The gym looks amazing. It's going to be perfect. Lisa and Eva are dolled up like the cheerleaders from hell, in tight sweaters and giant pigtails. I "direct" the cheerleaders and Robyn in the bunny costume in a little choreography. Amusingly, Lisa asks me to give them a cheer, but luckily someone else remembers that she's the former cheerleader, and soon they're yelling about cookies and crumbs. It's fabulous. Robyn is sweating like the lead singer in a rhumba band in that suit, but she's a trooper, as always.

8:30 Saturday

Shooting the "big" scene between the detective and the lady reporter, played by Marie, who is also our composer. Marie is having trouble remembering her lines, and keeps looking at her clipboard. I don't like it. It breaks the energy; the spark between the two of them is lost every time she looks down. After about 10 takes, I tell her to put the script down. She tells me she can't. I say do it anyway. She does it--it's almost perfect. The next take is slow again, and I realize she has her script. "Did you pick up that script after I asked you to put it down?" I bellow in a dangerous tone, like I'm talking to Jarrah after she's covered the walls in pudding. I can feel my heart pounding out of my chest. But that's as close as I come to losing it. We get what we need on the 18th take, but it's still not as lively as I'd like. Only later does it occur to me that Greg has given us 18 perfect takes without a peep of protest, with the last as fresh as the first. That's why he's the Golden Boy.

9:30 Saturday

Shooting the bloody bunny head flying through the air. This is the money shot, people. David has brewed up some fake blood with corn syrup and food coloring, and it's nasty, viscous stuff, but luckily, doesn't stain. We pour it over the poor bunny head, and shoot Greg snapping photos of it, reaching out a finger to take a taste. It's hysterical--all his idea. We get footage of the cheerleaders hurling their bodies over the remains of their mascot friend. We shoot the lot of us in the bleachers, screaming, first in spirit, then in horror. And finally, punchy as all get-out, we shoot all of us in the bleachers shaking our "bunny tails" at the camera. I am a big believer in the wacky impulse shots--they always make it in somewhere.

10:00 Saturday

By some miracle, we've gotten everything we need in the gym (which was a lot) and are ready to clean up and move out. Some people ask to go home. I feel like a bitch, but I say no. I try to explain up front that once we're on the clock, I can't waste time looking for people if we have a need. It's why I like people to come in on Sunday even if they're not tech. It just feels fair and right to me, and the convenience factor in the event of the unexpected is high.

10:30 Saturday

Time to shoot the interrogation scenes in the conference room at CineForm, under a single bare bulb. There are a few of these, but at least they're all in one place. I'm annoyed that we all spend another hour waiting around while David and Tyler do a data transfer and check our earlier footage, plus take forever getting the light correct in the conference room. I realize that stuff has to be done, but it's getting so late, and some people have to work in the morning. Like, all of us.

11:30 Saturday

We start with the cheerleader interview, which is so dementedly funny. Lisa and Eva are ON. The best bit is unscripted--Eva reaches for a donut in the middle of the table, and Greg smacks her hand before she can get to it. Then there's a show-down between Greg and Steve, playing a football player. Shelley is our school historian, and hilarious, getting it just right in a couple of takes. Finally, it's my turn--Robyn and I are animal activists. Just to be wacky, I am wearing a big white mink coat that Calvin brought in (he seems to have a vast collection of vintage women's clothing. He also brought feather boas, and when someone says "You brought your boas?" he whips back "Not my good boas. Just my everyday boas.") For some reason, I decide to play my character sort of crazy, and I make Greg lose his concentration. Soon we are all laughing so much that we have to do shot/reverse shot not looking at each other. It comes out pretty funny, I think, but my voice is so demented I don't even recognize it as mine in the finished film.

12:00 Sunday

Tyler returns! He's been at the Seahawks game, and I'm so relieved that the Seahawks won. He's clearly in fine spirits, and announces that he will edit all night and have a rough cut for us in the morning. Wow. We've never had dedication like that before.

2:00 Sunday

A series of voiceovers, mostly for Greg. I watch him read, and see how pink his eyes are. I realize he's been acting for over 12 hours with hardly a break. What a champ.

2:30 Sunday

It's a wrap! Everyone leaves except for David, Tyler and me. I give Tyler some notes about script changes and preferred takes and finally peel myself away. David says he'll be along presently. It's only when I get outside and am alone in the courtyard, elevator and parking lot at 2:30 in the morning that I start to get skeeved out. But I make it home okay.

4:00 Sunday

I head to bed. Strangely, I'm still pretty pumped up. David is not home.

8:00 Sunday

I'm awakened by a gasp, which I realize is David. I don't know when he came in. He's out the door within 30 minutes. I sit stupidly over some coffee and the paper for another 30, and then follow. I bring all my supplies just in case. And a good thing, too.

10:00 Sunday

Shelley has actually beaten me there. A few others are already there, too. We end up having more than half of our 16 crew members for part or all of the day Sunday. Which is really nice, because the editors need that support.

10:30 Sunday

We review the rough cut. Parts of it look great--really tight, fast, funny. But the opening and closing shots are baggy and slow. Shelley and I decide--reluctantly--that we need to call Greg and Rachel back in to reshoot. And re-do the voiceovers while we're at it, which have "noise artifacts." That's my new favorite techie-speak. Greg is clearly fast asleep when I call, but replies "I'll be there in 20 minutes." Rachel is at church, but she is prompt, too.

11:30 Sunday

Selfishly, I am glad to have Greg and Rachel back. It's cheerier with more of us around. I curl Rachel's hair and Shelley takes an order for Mexican from Fidel's. That makes me even cheerier.

12:30 Sunday

Re-shoots. We do an opening montage, new voiceovers, and re-do the ending. Our team member Craig appeared in the original footage, but someone realizes it would be more noir-like if we only saw that character in shadow on the door. When we change it, we get Editor Tyler to record a voiceover in his fabulous booming voice. Combined with new reaction shots from Greg and Rachel, the ending is way punchier.

1:30 Sunday

Most of us are lolling about. Cookies, chocolate and Coke are going fast. Somewhere in here Tyler tells us we are 26 seconds over the limit, and Shelley and I have the hard conversation about what has to go. Shelley has three ideas. The first is Steve's footballer, which makes Greg sad, but it will save us re-shoots. With vast irony, I call Greg a diva and tell everyone he is pouting. The second is where Rachel prompts Greg about his investigation. I say okay, but then Tyler says no way--he likes it. The last idea is Eva's cheerleader, which makes me wonder if Shelley is on crack--it might be the funniest line in the whole thing, and not because of how I wrote it. In the end, we make the time by less than a second by omitting part of the football sequence, but keeping the part that Greg likes. The timing is key, because last year we were a minute over and didn't realize until it was too late. I'm glad Tyler is on it. In fact, Tyler is on everything. The man is a national treasure. I keep wanting to hug him.

3:00 Sunday

Some of this is blurry. Calvin comes in after work. Eva comes in, briefly, and says she'll be back later, and she is. Rachel stays, but goes for a walk. Greg lies down to read. Most of us can only contribute our physical presence at this stage. I do think I save the day a little when Marie says she wants to go home to work on music because her laptop's not working, and I promise her David's instead. She doesn't have a cell phone, and we are way behind on music as it is. In fact, music is the only thing panicking me at this point. Tyler has been showing us decent rough cuts all day.

4:00 Sunday

The whole gang goes into an office to record ourselves screaming. First in pep rally delight, and then in abject horror (that's how I direct it--"abject horror") since we will be watching the flying bunny head. The screaming sounds great; no one holds back. The things we do for art.

5:00 Sunday

This is usually when everything starts "breaking" or "getting corrupted." Things inexplicably disappear or jam or refuse to come out. The sync is off; the sound is missing. None of that is happening. Yet. I refuse to celebrate. There is talk that, no matter what, we won't be late, because we have a music-free version ready to turn in. I harumph at that. I don't want a music-free version. That says "amateur" to me. Music makes the mise-en-scene.

6:00 Sunday

I can see Marie and Tyler sitting together, which seems promising. I'm trying not to bug Marie too much, because I can see it's upsetting her. Marie is a kind of famous local singer-pianist, so I know we're in good hands, if we can just get her stuff into the show.

6:30 Sunday

We are twiddling our thumbs. I'm nervous. Everyone is wondering if I'll cry. I say I might, if we don't get the music in. Tyler is a champ. He has his head down and is powering the soundtrack into the film. He and Marie play it for us--amazing. He still needs to fix the levels, and export it to the original version. No telling how long that will take. In one hour, our film will be late. David tells him he has 25 minutes. I tell him he has 15 and then I don't care about levels. He is awesome about it. When I give him a 5-minute warning, he actually says "thank you."

6:45 Sunday

We send Shelley to the finish line with the no-music version and all the documents. We cheer as she goes, knowing that at least this version will be in before we can be disqualified.

6:55 Sunday

I can hear David chattering and laughing during the final render. I'm too afraid to go in there, but that seems like a good sign. Usually by now, David is pounding around the corner in his giant Skechers, waving his hands in alarm and shouting "Well, there's nothing to be done." That hasn't happened. And the laughing. That can't be bad, can it?

7:00 Sunday

It's not bad. The render will be done in 90 seconds. It is done. It comes out of the machine. David runs for the door, all of us cheering. We start calling Shelley.

7:15 Sunday

Message from Shelley. Where is the finish line? No one is there. ACK! Run for the web site. The finish line has been moved. David calls. He is half-way there. Thinks he'll make it.

7:28 Sunday

Everyone sits together, wringing our hands. Well, I'm wringing mine, anyway. My phone chooses this opportune moment to jam up. I can see all the calls and texts I'm getting, but can't check them or call anyone. I'm ready to throw it across the room. Everyone is frantically dialing David and Shelley to make sure they know about the new finish line, but no one answers. Craig says that David is dialing his phone, unaware Craig is on it. Craig can hear David, and Shelley, and a massive crowd of rowdy people. So they are together. And the massive crowd means...

7:35 Sunday

They are there! They've just heard the countdown, and they're in. We're in. With the good version. We all scream. I want to call and text people, but I can't. Damn.

7:40 Sunday

We clean up. People have to use the office in the morning, and it's covered in clothes and food and props. We do a decent job. I can feel exhaustion wrap around me like a polyester quilt, now that the adrenaline is ebbing. I feel like I could lie down on the all-weather carpet and stay there until morning. But it's time to get the gear to the car and go pick up Jarrah.

8:00 Sunday

At Paul and Mary's. David is on the phone, wondering why he can't reach me. Jarrah isn't really speaking to me. I get her to the car, and she falls asleep almost instantly. I drive home, wishing I had toothpicks to prop my eyes open, looking forward to the dinner David is picking up, to getting in my pajamas and watching TV, to sleep, sleep, sleep. And for the first time in three years, I feel that golden glow of achievement, knowing we did everything we wanted to do and more. Can't wait to see us on the big screen this Wednesday.

Friday, August 14, 2009

It's A Working Title

Tonight begins the 2009 incarnation of the 48 Hour Film Project. Here's a description of the contest from their website:

What We're About

The 48 Hour Film Project is a wild and sleepless weekend in which you and a team make a movie—write, shoot, edit and score it—in just 48 hours.

On Friday night, you get a character, a prop, a line of dialogue and a genre, all to include in your movie. 48 hours later, the movie must be complete. Then it will show at a local theater, usually in the next week.

In 2008, some 30,000 filmmakers made films in 70 cities. This year, we're even bigger, with filmmakers around the world taking the challenge to make a film in just 48 hours.

Sounds pretty crazy, huh? Even crazier is that David and I have entered for the past five years--this will be our sixth. And we're still married. Barely.

Our team has changed from year to year. This time, we have a bunch of fresh blood from my theater group, all eager and bright-eyed. Suckers.

If you are new to the blog and want to know how it turned out for us the past couple of years, you can read all about it here and here.

And if you want to see what we come up with this year, sashay on down to the Hazard Center UltraStar Theaters on Wednesday, August 19th at 8:00 p.m. to see us on the big screen. And vote for Cane Toad Productions--I'm not telling you all this in the name of art and altruism, people.

The big question is: will we get Stoner Film/Martial Arts as our genre? Or something actually difficult?

Before I go, a big shout-out to Paul and Mary, who whisk Jarrah away from the sordid underbelly of the fringe entertainment world for the entire weekend so we can indulge our inner teenagers. We owe you big-time, M and P.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I Heart Erin

Erin of Blogging Is For Dorks (don't you love that name?) tagged me with the following meme that she made up all by herself. I would feel all special except that she tagged the entire blogosphere, so don't mind me, I'll just sit here in the dark.

I don't usually gush about other bloggers (and what is wrong with me? I should!) but I'm going to today. The girl speaks her mind, and does it hilariously. She also manages to be upright and breathing even though she has four children and--are you ready for this?--she's 28. And none of them are babies. As if that's not inspiration enough, she also knits these little hats that are so cute you want to frost and eat them. I especially love Erin because she reads all my posts and says nice things about them. I'm sort of simple-minded that way. And though she may not know this, she was my very first follower: what possessed her, I may never know, but I am thankful often.

1. Describe the person nearest to you, or if no one is near you at this moment the person who was last nearest to you, duh.

I think it was David, when he smooched me goodbye before driving Jarrah and Amelia to gymnastics camp. His hair was wet and cold; his lips were soft. He is 6'2", Australian and has a tendency to bump into things. He's also an evil genius. Just the other day, a lamp we got as a wedding present wouldn't turn on anymore. He went to Home Depot and masterminded a recovery operation with his vast knowledge of electricity, and damn if that thing isn't better than new. It's like he said "Let there be light!" and there was.

2. Who do you think you resemble most in your immediate family and why?

We have one of those weird families where no one looks that much like anyone else. I have heard "Gasp! You look just like your father!" and "Gasp! You look just like your mother!" usually when I was with the opposite side of the family. I have been told I look like both my sisters at various times in my life. I've never heard that I look like my brother; in fact, one time at a high school party (we were only a grade apart) someone asked us how long we'd been dating. Believe it or not, I have even been told I look like Jarrah once or twice, to which I had no response.

3. Who do you think (what nation, group or individual) is the biggest threat to our nation's security?

Definitely Australia. For one thing, they have all these subversive ideas like mandatory voting. They're suspiciously cheerful and easy-going. Also, they sent Olivia Newton-John and AC/DC over here to spy on us. And they have an international plot to infiltrate our water supply with an extremely toxic substance: Vegemite. Their military industrial complex runs on it. It's deadly and difficult to detect until it's too late.

4. What do you do at night before you go to sleep? Do you have any rituals, usual behaviors?

The whole idea of bedtime rituals has become more elastic since parenthood. I used to have a lengthy regimen of creams and potions that had to be applied in a precise order. Now I'm lucky to brush my teeth. I do have to read before bed, even if it's crazy-late, even if it's just a page or two. It's the beginning of my body's shut-down response and has been since childhood.

5. What's the most challenging thing about being a parent? OR If you don't have children, what do you think will be the most challenging thing about being a parent?

I had heard that I'd be tired, so I was prepared for that. But it's not the physical tiredness, it's the fact that I lost the space in my head completely and don't think I'll get it back. That head space is filled up with my kid's needs and schedule now, and I think that's also why my short-term memory is so bad. Also, boundaries: I came to the parenthood table very late, when the appetizers were already gone and the soup had been cleared. I had to jump right into the entree, and I'm still a little unsettled. When do I get to do whatever I want, and first? Oh, never. Thanks for clearing that up.

6. What do you think is your most attractive feature?

My eyes. They are an unusual mix of colors, and even strangers comment on them.

7. Who is your favorite blog friend? Link them!

I don't really like to play favorites. But I certainly have a lot of blogs I like, including the one above.

8. Max just got in trouble for hitting Olivia in the throat. She's now sitting in time out screaming 'I'm STUPID!' at the top of her lungs. Should I ignore her till her time out is over, or should I talk to her now and ruin the time out?

Em, I think scenarios like this are why I decided to stop at one child. I am useless on the subject of time-outs--my kid won't do them. If we so much as mention a time-out, she hits us.

9. Who was the first person you kissed and where are they now?

Aw, what a great question. It was Steve Cohen, at Camp Alonim in Simi Valley. I was twelve. Wherefore art thou, Steve? He was the Bunk Six hottie. I couldn't believe he liked me. On movie night, he pulled me inside his sleeping bag and stuck his tongue in my mouth. It was sort of limp and mushy, and I thought "Oh, this is not something I'm going to want to do all the time." We ended up doing it lots more, and it got better. The funny thing is, all the cool kids were talking about "Frenching," and I thought I was behind the power curve. Looking back, all the clues suggest I was actually the first girl in Bunk Six to do it.

10.Ok, here's the final crapola questionado: What's the grossest thing you've ever done or has ever happened to you?

Nothing can compete with Erin's story about getting baby poop in her mouth. Nothing. But there was the time we took Jarrah to the emergency room with pneumonia and while I was holding her in the check-in line, she vomited into my cleavage. The sensation of hot vomit sliding down my torso and gluing my t-shirt to my skin stays with me, like the smell of New York City on an August night. And I had to wear it for the next six hours.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Meow: Etymology Of A Wild Thing

So, I'm reading our local paper the other day, and there's an article about the Del Mar Racetrack and a contest to find Miss Cougar 2009. This title was handily captured by one Rosie Goldstein, a lady of burnished gold and tousled blonde, who is...well, let Walker McBride, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club promoter, tell you: "an attractive woman in her prime."

That doesn't sound like a bad thing to be, does it? But what should we call "an attractive man in his prime?" A Siberian white tiger? A Burmese warty pig? But no, there doesn't seem to be a companionate term for the male of the species. We'll come back to that.

The article further describes a cougar as "a woman who looks young, dresses young and dates young." With all that looking and dressing and dating, we can infer that she ISN'T, in fact, young. What exactly young means, we're left to speculate.

Goldstein is proud of the appellation, and defines it for herself: "a woman who's independent, in control and not afraid to take chances." That's nice. If I were a 200 pound ambush predator, I wouldn't be afraid to take chances, either. Chances, schmances--whaddaya gonna do about it? You're just meat to me, baby.

On that crazy internet, I found some more, um, specific definitions of the cougar. She likes clubbing and showing her cleavage. She can range from "an overly surgically altered wind tunnel victim" to a "milf." (I'm not going to parse that one--suffice to say it's an acronym and rather flattering, in its way.) True to her namesake, the cougar is "on the hunt" for "innocent" males. When she finds them, she will "sink her claws" into them before "going for the kill." She is also alluring to young men who are looking for sex because she won't play games--she has plans for that "strapping buck" once she "bags" him.

Cougars are riding the wave of the zeitgeist. There's a reality show called "The Cougar," and Courtney Cox will star in a sitcom this fall called "Cougar Town." Courtney, who is married to David Arquette, says: "David is much younger than me. I think it's great to be a cougar, if that's what they're called. I just don't know what the term is for a man who dates a younger woman." Right, Courtney. I already said that.

But the way I know for sure that the cougar is having a pop culture moment appeared in the paper the same day as Rosie Goldstein: "Panda cub makes debut in early morning at zoo." San Diego's star brood mare (brood bear?) Bai Yun welcomes her fifth offspring--what could be cuddlier? Perhaps the zoo's description of Bai Yun as "something of a cougar--not the cat, but the contemporary female of a certain age who keeps herself in great shape."

Okay. Let me get this straight: Pandas are not cats. Pandas are also not bears. But Bai Yun is a cougar because fuzzy black-and-white babies spring from her loins every two years. Sounds like being a cougar is a lot of work.

The cougar thing has come a little too close for comfort in my own life. Last winter, I was chilling (literally--there was no heat) backstage with my castmates during a show, and the discussion turned to a girls night out. "We can get all dressed up and go out on the town," said Shelley. "Just us cougars." "Ewww! Don't call me that!" I yelped. She was joking, but I think she found my instinctive disgust kind of over the top. It just sounded so icky; I wanted no part of it.

Perhaps I just can't get it out of my head that in a recent issue of US Weekly, Lisa Rinna--she of the platypus lips--admitted to having a little work done because: "I do what I can to stay fresh."

Now I am all for freshness. I would prefer to be fresh, rather than--as my Australian husband adorably describes old milk--"gone off." But when I think about achieving freshness through procedures with recovery time after which I will look perpetually startled, I balk. Hell, I can't even sit still for blonde highlights. I can barely make it to the gym. I'm happy to donate my (unretouched) cleavage to the cause, if that helps. But otherwise, my pursuit of freshness involves a session with my little electric friend from the bedside drawer, followed by a nice, long nap. The sparkle in my eye and the spring in my step may be temporary, but at least I enjoyed the ride and didn't spend any money.

Interestingly, the actual cougar is an unprepossessing sort, with a plain, beige coat and non-picky taste in snacks. Not into calling attention to themselves, those cougars. They're also reclusive and solitary. Maybe it should have been cheetahs? At least they're the fastest animal in the world.

But the raunchier definitions of the human cougar certainly speak to what makes me profoundly uncomfortable about the name. I mean, if I claim to be a cougar, what exactly am I agreeing to? I'm wild and can't be tamed--sure, sure. Majestic beast of the open plain--I'm okay with that. Have an insatiable need to sink my teeth into small animals and rip them to bloody shreds? Not so much. Because I think we know who the defenseless creatures in this scenario really are. And that's why there are no male cougars--men are "natural" hunters at every age, right? It's what they do--it's why some scientists have even argued that men are not capable of monogamy. Cougars are women who aren't doing what's "natural" in captivity--caring for children, shunning sex and letting themselves go all soft and squishy. That last bit is only decent, after all. All the men are doing it.

Transparently, cougars are cougars because they are hungry. Hungry for something men are expected to crave at any age--fresh, young flesh. But when women get a little more mature and still have a hankering for the juicy set--well, now they require a whole new name.

Let me be frank. I'm as uncomfortable as the next domestic cat about aging. I fret that I have to work twice as hard for half the results. I remember once waiting in line for the bathroom at UCSD between classes--glancing in the mirror, I checked us out, 10 undergrads and me--and determining the one thing that looks good on every girl, short and tall, plump and skinny, big-nosed and bushy-browed: YOUTH. Youth looks so sweet and creamy and delicious, you want to lick it. Youth looks FRESH. And I was thinking this? Ten years ago.

But I'm not ready to be a cougar. I don't think I ever will be. When I look in the mirror, I don't see a trickle of blood in the corner of my mouth. If you like, call me a panda. Or I'll hold out for the next animal. I'm sure one will be along soon. In the mean time, I'll be over here, fluffing my cleavage. Throw me a steak, will you?

Friday, August 07, 2009

"Demented And Sad, But Social"

"Well, you're stupid. I always knew you were stupid."

That's Mary Stuart Masterson's (as Watts) idea of pillow talk in the final scene of Some Kind of Wonderful. Eric Stoltz (Keith) has been running his ass off to find her (only in John Hughes movies did the characters run because they just couldn't wait another moment for romantic fulfillment) and she's crying, face wet under her two-toned pixie cut, looking like the cutest little baby dyke you've ever seen. She's been waiting for idiot Keith to figure out they belong together, waiting the entire movie, and he just couldn't catch a clue, even though he is the most scrumptious, chewable Orange Kid ever to appear in a rom com. Just looking at him standing there, mouth hanging open, getting kissing instructions from Watts (to be used later, on the always-two-named Amanda Jones) I get a bit weak in the knees.

They start to kiss, and his hands tighten their grip on her hips, and she realizes that she's not as cool as she thought she was--she can't pretend. She shoves him away, with a line of pure poetry:

"Lesson's over. You're cool."

But the pieces fall where they're supposed to, and as the credits roll and I try to put myself back together, Keith and Watts walk into the sunset arm and arm as she puts on the earrings he had bought for Amanda Jones, and he says:

"You look good wearing my future." Hell, yeah. That's what you want to hear from your high school boyfriend. Anything less would be unacceptable.

And that's precisely the point of a John Hughes movie. You may suffer your whole birthday and be humiliated by everyone in your orbit, but Jake is going to show up with a cake in the end, no matter how unlikely it may have seemed when you woke up. You may be pinkalicious at your prom with your wiseacre best friend, wearing a homemade sack and a brave face, but you'll still end the evening in the arms of the delectable Andrew McCarthy, he of the rosebud lips. You may use your own dandruff to decorate your drawings, but after a bit of eyeliner, you'll get smooched by a hunky wrestler who never noticed that your outer beauty matches your inner--until now.

Sigh. Some kind of wonderful, indeed. I am alarmed at the recent trend in which the pop culture icons of my youth are checking out, and I'm left here with my memories, my wet face, and a vacancy where my tender teenage heart, puffy as a throw pillow on a canopy bed, used to be. Where are my earrings? My birthday cake? Bueller? Bueller?

My life is a series of signposts with John Hughes stamped all over them. I endured a childhood in which I was frequently known as "Sammy Davis Baker, Jr." even to the members of my own family. I had every line of The Breakfast Club memorized, and when I worked in a law firm during college, I put up a sign in my cubicle: "Yo, Wastoid! You can't blaze up in here!" The attorneys would walk by and repeat it slowly, no comprehension. If you wanted to crack me up, all you had to do was widen your eyes and say "Shana" like Bueller's sister Jeanie (a pitch-perfect Jennifer Grey) does when an extremely high-looking Charlie Sheen asks her name, right as a demented song about Shana starts playing in the background. I spent hours agonizing over the age-old question: James Spader as Steff in Pretty in Pink: pretty/hot or pretty/creepy?

I wanted to believe in a world in which The Breakfast Club could happen. Truly, I did. I wanted to know what detention was like, not just detention but a sort of all-day reprogramming session where all the Jerichos of the high school caste system (in which I had been born an untouchable) come tumbling down around a shared joint. I wanted to be Claire, tenderly giving Bad Boy Bender her diamond earring at the end (hey, does Hughes have some sort of ear fetish, or what?) But really, I was much more of an Allison, and though I cringe to admit it, probably in no small part a Brian. Yeah, that would have been me--watching it all from a distance, not making out with anyone. And narrating the lessons learned at the end. Oh, well--it's nice to be able to identify somehow.

But Some Kind of Wonderful was it for me. Even though Keith and Watts probably didn't last until those earrings were paid off. And I guess that's the point. Sure, I eventually learned that real-life love is better and lasts longer, but I didn't know that then. The movies were my fairy tales, and every girl needs fairy tales. Who needs princes and balls and godmothers when you had John Hughes? I'd much rather kiss Andrew McCarthy or Eric Stoltz than some random prince. His movies made me believe in happy endings, and we all need that.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

I Saw Her Today At The Reception

I'm pretty freaked out right now. I just heard from the wife of one of my writing students, who had just heard from the husband of another writing student (still with me?) saying that she died last night. He had been very concerned that the writing group should hear the news right away.

Shock. I have been teaching this writing group since 2000, and since Jarrah we have been meeting in each others' homes, once a month. My students are all retired UCSD administrators. Juliet joined us about a year ago, but she hadn't been attending regularly until recently. She actually hosted the last meeting.

Juliet had told me she had some health problems, but she wasn't specific about it. I just know that she had trouble speaking above a whisper, and often asked one of us to read for her. She was a lovely writer with an elegant turn of phrase. She seemed very engaged with the group, and would sometimes tear up when we complimented her. And her own critiques were incisive and helpful. I'd say she was one of the more experienced writers I've encountered in this class.

I cringe to remember last month in her home, when I was rather testy with her. She'd written a piece about her memories of Baltimore, and it was all over the place. After we read it, my first comment was "Juliet, I have no clue what this is about." It was one of my tough-love days, when I break someone down only to build them back up. I don't do that very often. I walked her through the piece, paragraph by paragraph, pointing out how there were no transitions and about 12 different topics. She seemed stung, defensive. And then the rest of the students strongly disagreed with me, saying they loved the piece and thought I was on crack. Which was great, I mean, I always want the students to speak their own minds, not just agree with me like cyborgs.

At the end, she got up and started to lay out tea cups and plates, and a big platter of cheese and crackers and fruit. "Should I put this on the table, or let people come help themselves?" I said, "I think we're leaving now. We usually eat during the meeting." What was she doing? Whoever hosts puts out snacks and coffee for the rest of us, and we partake while we work. It's always been done that way. When we arrived to a coffee-less, snack-less table, we just sucked it up and carried on.

"Well, why didn't someone tell me?" she snapped. I thought that was so bizarre, and I actually felt sort of unsettled and annoyed as I drove away. Why would someone tell her? Wouldn't that be rude, to demand food and drink when it was clear none was available? We were just being polite, overlooking the omission. And why didn't she remember the protocol? It's been the same every time. Grrr. I even called David to kvetch to him, but he didn't answer. By the time he called back hours later, I wasn't annoyed anymore and felt a bit silly for having called him.

So, I don't feel like I left on the best of terms with Juliet. And now I won't have another chance to shower praise on her writing, as I have in the past. My last contact with her was snotty and supercilious. I'm reeling about that. It's a good reminder that you never know the last time you'll speak to someone, so say something nice.

Juliet died from an undiagnosed brain condition, not from her chronic complaints. No one expected her to go so suddenly. When I called Pat (my student's wife) she said that Juliet's husband had seemed very eager to hear from me. Really? I've never met him, and I didn't know Juliet outside of our monthly meetings. So now I'm torn. Readers, I need your advice, because if there's any social intercourse I'm totally hopeless at, it's how to behave in the face of death.

What should I do? Call and express my sympathy? Ask for their address? Send flowers? Attend the funeral? I did send an e-mail to the rest of the students, bringing them up to speed. I hope I don't seem callous and boorish. I'm just no good at this.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Love Will Keep Us Together

I was kind of on a roll there for a while with the posting, but now it's been a few days. I think I've been a little blue that my comments have slowed down this summer, despite having nobly claimed that I don't do this for the comments.

Jarrah seems to be over her wog, and I got to witness her new swimming skills firsthand on Saturday when we went to the Tierrasanta pool with Steph and Nathan. Gone is the toddler who clung to my neck like a starfish; now she's all about barking instructions about where I'm to stand and how to place my arms to facilitate various demonstrations. I wouldn't say she's dog paddling exactly, but she is certainly willing to have water go over her head now.

Most of our apres-camp conversation revolves around "the game of Star Wars," the rules of which are hard to follow but involve her hair "getting messed up but just pretend." They also use "those long sticks with the ends that glow up but just pretend."

"Light sabers?"

"Yes. Light savers."

"Actually, it has a B. Buh. B. Light sabers."

"Light savers."


Her counselor, Nicole, also told me she's been holding hands with a new boy, so I asked her about it. "I just had to hold hands with him because he was so nice." Makes sense to me.

I taught my last preschool dance class of the summer on Monday, and overall, I think the whole experiment went pretty well. I never really did capture the heart of my one little resister, apparently. As I was saying goodbye to them, I said "I'll miss you guys! I hope you had fun this summer."

"I didn't have fun," he said matter-of-factly. "I'm glad it's over, though." That made me laugh. One thing about four-year-olds--they don't make you wonder where you stand with them. If only it had been a class about books. I had all five of them saucer-eyed during my dramatic readings.

Sunday night we had my theater group over for a karaoke BBQ. I am a karaoke fiend and had really been looking forward to a crowd who would not demur when offered a microphone. And they were into it, though the Big Group Sings were the best, no microphones required. The evening was a good exercise in flexibility for me (I struggle with the F word) since a bunch of people who said they were coming, didn't, and some who I didn't even invite, did. But it all worked out.

There was an especially awesome moment when a bunch of us were playing keep-away with a beach ball (or two?) in our non-furnished living room, and I was moved by how sweetly the youngest members of our group Eva, Lisa and Calvin treated Jarrah, who was practically non-verbal with glee from their attention. Part of me (the narcissistic part) wants to see their kindness as an extension of their regard for me, but I'm guessing the real reason is that some people genuinely like kids and have fun playing with them. Since hanging around kids was the furthest thing from my mind at their age, I sort of marvel at the ability to enjoy the company of a child whom one is not raising. I certainly had no idea how it was done when I was 20. I hated babysitting, and always felt like children were speaking some other language that I hadn't learned yet, or had forgotten. Anyway, I had the surreal experience of laughing and playing while feeling sort of choked up at the same time. I won't forget it.