Go West

(no subject)

 So, recently the A.V. Club posted the latest in its series on the bestselling movie of each year, and they were featuring 1985's Back to the Future. I've been hosting a little parlor game in my head lately, revisiting '80s movies and how they stand up the modern more (obviously Revenge of the Nerds is well-nigh unwatchable now), and had a few thoughts about this particular one. 

Ever since I first saw this article I’ve been composing in my head a post about how this movie may be Marty’s story but it’s George’s arc. He was nervous enough to approach Lorraine in the diner (and yes, I love that moment where she first really sees him and how it’s essential, that moment, because it means there really was something there all along, that she wasn’t just manipulated into falling for George), and that was with a script in hand. Imagine how terrified he must’ve been to throw open that door and see BIFF there? And how easy it would’ve been to go away, not to provoke this bully. Biff is literally telling him “Just go away”—but he doesn’t. His quiet, shaky delivery of “No, Biff. You leave her alone”—his decency nearly reduces me to tears. Like, I feel proud of this completely imaginary character!

And thinking about it some more, not only has the script changed from Marty to Biff being there, from a staged confrontation whose outcome is pre-determined but a very real and terrifying and violent one—Biff is about rape Lorraine—but George has everything to lose from not “just going away,” from making a stand. At the very least he will be beaten up. And that’s what makes his reaction all the more extraordinary—he stands up for Lorraine simply because it’s the right thing to do. Because that’s the kind of guy he is.

And part of me was thinking last night—a major result of Marty’s actions in the past is that his present is much improved. He gets back to the future and finds that his parents are openly loving, openly happy with their lives, the house is nicer, the siblings are more successful (leaving aside the movie’s implicit snobbery and sexism re: the siblings, hey, it was the ‘80s)—but the main thing that drove this was because George in this timeline is a successful novelist. George’s choice to stand up for Lorraine because it’s the right thing to do somehow empowers him to do something with his writing, to pursue this as a vocation. Previously he’d been a writer in secret—now he is unafraid, he’s published, now he is living his truest self, because being a writer is also the kind of guy he is. Which makes me wonder—what if Marty instead of just introducing a new timeline—what if Marty fixed the timeline? Maybe this was meant to be the life George was supposed to be living all along? Maybe Marty was supposed to go back in time?

And I’ve been turning it over in my head and one thing that occurred to me was—okay, in the original timeline, George and Lorraine somehow got together because “Grandpa hit him with a car”? And then they went to the Enchantment Under the Sea dance? We can imagine Biff did not take this lightly, that he was still in the background, making things difficult, but in the original timeline George never stood up to him, never said back off (leaving aside the assumption that it should’ve been George to say back off—again, it’s an ‘80s movie, there’s a lot left unexplored about rape and harassment). So George and Lorraine mature, become adults, and meanwhile there’s this looming presence in their lives—BIFF. Biff, who continues to act as though he’s entitled to George’s intellect, attention. He dents George’s car, he makes the same homework-y demands on George, and George simply does not have the skills to stand up to Biff.

Then Marty is introduced to the timeline—and how much do I FUCKING love that Marty is completely unafraid to stand up to Biff. God, I want to CHEER in the cafeteria when he rears back, about to pop Biff in the face. He is at least a head shorter than Biff!!! I am a small person, I fucking LOVE that small Marty is unafraid. He takes him on on the cafeteria, stopping him from harassing Lorraine because it’s the right thing to do, and then later trips him in the diner and humiliates him with the scooter-turned-skateboard. Someone else on this board called him a hothead—sure, he is that. But he’s also modeling for George how to stand up for yourself.

And what I mean to imply is not so much fatalism, as in, it was “always” meant to be this way. But more—this is the person George always should’ve been. Because this is who George is. And Marty had to unlock that for him. 

I swear, this all is more thinking about BTTF than I’ve done in 30 years. But all classic cinema, even pop cinema, is worth revisiting. If it touched us—there’s a reason why. And BTTF is uniquely well-crafted.

Go West


 Had the greatest exchange a week ago with one of my kids, Z. He first joined my 7-10 class last year and was a little too excited. He interrupted me constantly, was always challenging me, and I had to put him in his place a few times (politely but firmly). He was with me all last year and was in the middle of the pack, as far as ability.

He came back this fall and had obviously been practicing. And he stopped interrupting me, and in subtle ways kind of championed me to the rest of the class. Not trying to be teacher's pet or anything, just you could tell he had bought in, as it were.

I'd been watching him during the scrimmages and he's one of the two best in the class now. Last week we played 2 v. 4--he and I against the other 4, and I couldn't score. (Whenever I play against the kids I don't score.) He was still able to score against 4 kids, only able to pass to me. I pulled him aside and said how much he'd improved, how I could see the hard work he'd been putting in and it was paying off. He said: "Well, it's also due to having a good teacher."

What a sweet thing to say! His mother is always at class and she seems really solid, it's obvious the parents are doing a great job. But what a kind thing to say! I'm still glowing.
Go West


So they have been showing the movie Flashdance once or twice over the past month on cable (I love the serendipity of cable) and I've had a chance to rewatch it. Full disclosure: I loved the shit out of that movie when it came out. I saw it many times in the theater, bought the soundtrack, was obsessed with it. I used to put the record on in Mom's basement and just dancedancedaaaaaance. The movie made you want to move, to jump, to throw your body across the room--it didn't just show the joy of motion, it compelled you to want to experience that joy yourself. And that's a really timeless aspect of that movie and I think a significant part of its appeal and success. It was the third most successful movie of 1983! (The first obviously was Return of the Jedi--I'm guessing the second was Trading Places?*checks list* No! Trading Places was #4; Terms of Endearment was #3.)

Anyway--so I like this movie. I like how it looks like Pittsburgh--it's set in Pittsburgh and has that dark, surrounded-by-gloomy-hills feeling, that old not-rich manufacturing city feeling. Movies shot on location should look it, and Pittsburgh isn't a cinematic cliche. I like the scenes of Jeanie with her family, that felt authentic. And I love the scenes of Alex and Jeanie together--doing laundry, working out, teasing each other. They seem to have so much fun together. The scene where Alex teases the cop is unexpectedly witty--it's scored to the Carmen piece where the children mock the soldiers, so clever!

However, herewith things that make you go hmmm. The Michael Nouri's character's last name is Hurley? He doesn't look remotely Irish--and a man of his age, in that area at that time, was highly unlikely to have been the product of a mixed marriage (mixed as in, someone of an Irish background and someone of a Mediterranean background, which is what Nouri looks like (and is)).

I love how Alex tells Nick twice, quite clearly and firmly, that she doesn't want to date him and why, which is completely appropriate and the right way to handle your boss asking you out...only for him to make a joke about firing her and for her to just give up and go along. Way to stick to your feminist guns, writers! *headdesk*

The skating sequence is weird. Is this an audition? It certainly isn't an amateur competition--they never would've allowed music with lyrics or a spotlight. (Which is why the climactic program in The Cutting Edge is also incorrect, Doug and Kate are skating with a spot. It's hard to see the ice properly with spotlights.) And Jeanie falling even twice wouldn't mean she can never have a second chance. Skaters fall all the time. It happens.

Where is Alex's family? We have so many great scenes with Jeanie's family and we know nothing about why Alex is living on her own in a big city at the age of 18?

As gross as the huge age difference is between Nick and Alex, at least they acknowledge it once or twice. Alex really does seem an age-appropriate 18 (i.e., still immature) next to him. But still...GROSS.

But whatever, I still love this movie. It wears its heart on its sleeve."When you give up your dream, you die."
Go West

(no subject)

So I had kind of a difficult train ride home from my classes in Lower Manhattan this morning. I boarded the 2 train on Chambers Street and immediately noticed a dude hanging out between the cars, which is obviously very dangerous and not allowed. Once the train started moving he opened the doors and came into the cars, and he was HUGE. A very, very big guy, and he sat down on my side, just a few seats away from me. And dude was weird--he kept shifting around and moving around and turning and staring at me. I got a weird vibe from the whole thing, and I believe in listening to my instincts, so at the next stop I moved to the next train down.
This train was also relatively empty but I noticed a bag lady sitting at the far corner so I sat down in the middle and pulled out my book. I read and noticed a family came on at the next stop--a mom and 3 young kids (a girl around age 6, two boys around age 4-5). And I also noticed the bag lady was quite vocal, screaming--literally screaming--about how YOU FUCKED XYZ PERSON and that sort of thing. As I was noticing this, I saw the mom noticing it. The kids, especially the two young boys, looked freaked out. The mom leaned forward and was telling the kids "the lady is mentally ill--that means she is sick in the brain. We're going to switch cars at the next stop." She was handling it very well, very casual, but the kids were still unnerved by the whole thing so I leaned over and started conversing with them. They had on Irish rugby tee-shirts so I asked them about that. "I really like your shirts. I have visited Ireland and I just love that country. Have you ever been there?" As it turned out, they had--all 3 kids are half-Irish and visit the country twice a year. We entered into a grand conversation about Ireland and Mom gave me a grateful look. When we pulled into the next station Mom and the kids and I exited the car--they went in one direction, I went in the other (toward the last car, the one in which I typically want to be when the train pulls into 110th Street).
This turned out to be THE WORST car of all three. JFC this was seriously the Freak Train. Cat Stevens had the Peace Train, I had the Freak Train. There was a guy in the corner, young guy, couldn't have been older than very early 20s if that, with a bike. Eventually he picked up his bike and started walking to the other end of the car, and didn't give a shit about the other passengers. Like, he was actively trying to brush up against us with his bike. I pulled up as he passed, and then he approached an older dude--maybe late 50s--and just started swinging at him, screaming at him, slamming the glass of the windows next to the guy's face. EVERYONE flipped out and I remember yelling "Jesus fucking Christ!" and grabbing the pepper spray I always carry. The guy was screaming at the older dud, and screaming at us. He still had the bike. He was kind of menacing the car with the bike but also kind of looking around for validation. The older guy was terrified--we all were--but would not move and GOOD FOR HIM. Because fuck anti-social shits like this dude. Fuck them hard. Anti-Social Shit came toward me, looking as though he was going to throw the bike at me or something, and I said "If you come near me, I will spray you."* What I really wanted to do was call him on his shit, push his buttons, but I figured it was better not to engage. He did recognize the spray and kept his distance.

He and I had a three-or-so minute staredown as we approached 110th Street. At one point he started to lurch toward me and I thought he was going to throw the bike at me. He was also babbling about how the older dude "was lucky" and "I can't even walk down the STREET!!!" I just made sure he saw that pepper spray. Dude, I don't GAF about your problems. The moment you start threatening some older dude with violence, you lose my sympathy. When we pulled in of course he ran across the platform like the coward he is to catch the downtown train. Another dude and I found a transit officer and reported the whole thing. (I doubt anything will happen.) The other dude and I were bonding about this sort of thing--it was actually rather sweet, there was a sort of world-weary "New York transit, ain't this some shit?" And he pointed out that my backpack was unzipped and did I want him to zip it up? 

Honestly, the most remarkable thing about it was that ten minutes later, I'd completely put it out of my mind instead of worrying endlessly over it.

*And part of me later realized--you should've said "if you go near anyone, I will spray you." I had a weapon, I should've used it to protect the rest of the car.  At least I was able to protect my half of the car.
Go West

Frank Lloyd Wright

The other day I was walking along 91st Street toward Fifth Avenue, and got caught behind a group of three semi-elderly people. They were pointing out the building at the corner of 91st and Fifth, the one that houses the Cooper Hewitt Museum. One of them commented on how beautiful it was and another replied "Yes, Frank Lloyd Wright designed it, that's why it's so beautiful." I opened my mouth to say "No, there's only one remaining Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building in Manhattan and that's the Guggenheim" and then I remembered maybe they wouldn't appreciate having a stranger correct them. Just to be sure, though, I Googled the building and I was right--it was designed by a firm called Babb, Cook and Willard. But seriously, anyone with even a basic knowledge of Frank Lloyd Wright's portfolio would guess right away he was not the architect. The Cooper Hewitt building clearly is Beaux Arts:

Cooper Hewitt Building in Manhattan

See, this building would fight right in in Paris, all that neoclassicism and the flourishes, the cornices.

FLW was not Beaux Arts--he was too late for that (arguably, his style was a reaction to the baroque-ness of Beaux Arts) and I'm not even sure you could put him into a school. Some of his stuff is Art Deco-ish but honestly, Wright was really sui generis. His designs are so original, and his style is immediately recognizable. But his guiding principles emphasized nature and integrating nature into the the design itself. I mean he had a tree coming right through the floor in one house he designed. And Fallingwater famously has the waterfall going under and through the house.


(I was lucky enough to be able to visit Fallingwater, his masterpiece. Thank you, Elizabeth and Andy! That may have been the one and only time I'll ever be able to see it.) I first became interested in his work when I read an article in the Washington Post magazine about a gas station he'd designed--the article also talked about Fallingwater and my fascination was piqued.

Anyway, it's obvious the three people in front of me were confusing the Cooper Hewitt Building with the Guggenheim, two blocks away.

Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan

That, my friends, is what a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building looks like.

Go West

College Admissions Scandal

 With the recent news about the college admissions bribery scandal, I have a couple of thoughts:

Some of those schools are truly WTF. You're going to break the law and risk prison and your reputation for...Wake Forest? USC? Seriously? Go big or go home, people.

The main reaction I'm having to this is how innocent my Mom and I were back in the '80s when I was applying to schools. I mean this in the best way but Mom didn't really help me a whole lot, except to remind me when things were due (and of course to drive me to interviews). She didn't read over any of my essays, I didn't have a tutor helping me write them or a tutor to prep me for the SATs. In fact I liked taking the SATs and the PSATs precisely because you weren't expected to study for them. (And in fact I did very well on both--I had the highest PSATs in my class.) These stories of elaborate strategies--tutors and fake accommodations for fake disabilities and re-writing essays, photoshopping--they're mind-boggling. I didn't do any of that and I don't think my friends did either. 

Here's how I did the essay thing: I procrastinated until literally the day it had to be mailed. I woke up early that morning and improvised an essay--I wrote an imaginary conversation between two women in 1947, one of whom has just seen A Streetcar Named Desire (a few months prior there'd been a TV-movie of Streetcar starring Anne-Margret and Treat Williams which served as my introduction to the play--Mom watched it with me and said some of the lines along with the characters and I was mesmerized). I wrote this essay by hand onto the admissions form--no typing, no computer, just wrote it all down. Didn't edit or anything. I mailed it off that day. And that, my friends, is how I got into Mount Holyoke :) My essays for Bryn Mawr and Sweet Briar were necessarily different since I didn't make copies.

Full disclosure: I got in everywhere I applied, but that had a lot to do with the fact that my generation was a lot smaller than the Baby Boomers. I wrote very well, and had the scores (and did a great interview since I was interested in everything) but my grades were not that great. The sponsor of the National Honor Society used me as a tutor (I was paid!) even though I wasn't actually in the NHS. I remember her lecturing me that I SHOULD be in the NHS, and I really need to take care of that. (I was a much better student in college, I will say.)
Go West

Little Things

 Inspired by Elizabeth's post...

Monday, I was walking from a class on the UWS to my evening job in Midtown. I was waiting to cross Columbus Avenue at that triangle just uptown of Lincoln Center. I was JUST about to dart across when the light turned red--as I stopped, I saw an elderly woman across the street go down HARD on the sidewalk. I was horrified but could not cross because there was now a shitton of traffic going past. I was waiting anxiously, catching glimpses of this woman lying on the sidewalk, and seeing people gather around her. Finally the light changed and I ran across. By now there were at least 10 people there--offering to help her up, I asked if we should call an ambulance, people were offering advice. People holding this woman's hand, saying "we're here for you." A young woman was walking past, paused, and said "you should call an ambulance. You REALLY should call an ambulance." People still standing by anxiously. Young woman walked down the sidewalk, came back and identified herself as a Physician's Assistant. She said we REALLY should call an ambulance and pretty much took it from there. Some guy in some kind of official-looking vehicle drove up and Young Woman had taken charge at that point, telling him "I'm a healthcare professional, she needs..." I finally drifted away, feeling secure this woman would be helped.

New Yorkers--we got your back. And I loved this because this applies to everyone. Iranians and Iraqis flying in to JFK--we got your back. Fuck Trump. We got your back.

Today. Walking to evening job, cross over to Fifth Avenue at 51st where there is a Banana Republic store. In the foyer is a pigeon, trapped, banging against the glass doors leading to the outside. I, and a number of other spectators notice this all at the same time. I jump forward to open up one of the three doors to encourage the bird to fly out. Another spectator does the same thing. Between the two of us we manage to keep open the three doors and the bird flies away. 

New Yorker--we got your back. Even the pigeons ;) 

Fuck Trump. We got your back. The funny thing is, the stereotype is that New Yorkers are cold and disinterested--this has never been my experience. New Yorkers take very seriously their stated values of inclusivity, liberalism. To all our friends flying into JFK from Iraq, Iran, Syria--we will not let you languish, all those . We have your back.

Go West

2016 continues to suck

 My mother's younger sister, my godmother Jenny, is very ill--breast cancer. She's been fighting it for awhile--this isn't the first time--but my Uncle Jon thinks this is it. My mom's flying out there right after Christmas.

Jenny is awesome. She is ten years younger than my Mom--profane, a ferocious fighter and FIERCELY loyal to her family. She helped me out a ton during the situation with the Fungus--in the interest of plausible deniability I am not sure exactly what she did because she wouldn't tell me. She loves her family. She and Mom adore each other.

My other godmother, my aunt Clarissa (on Dad's side), is also sick but it's not quite so dire yet.

My favorite uncle, my Dad's twin-separated-by-19-months brother Metty, died this year. They were very close, and I loved him a lot. He was always so nice toward my mother, always asked after her. I was able to FaceTime him several times this summer/fall.

It just all sucks right now. My poor Mother--my poor Dad.
Go West

(no subject)

 I am so effing stressed about Election Day. I had to leave one of my classes early today because I nearly passed out, I felt so nauseated.


I will be carrying my Anglican rosary in my pockets all day tomorrow (today, really). And doing a LOT of drinking once I get home.
Go West

Watching Fast Times at Ridgemont High right now...

...there's something strange about this timeline, specifically Stacy's pregnancy. Stacy and Mark have their one date in late December (when he leaves the house and looks back, the house is covered with Christmas decorations). A week or so later (Damone says "you fall on the horse, you gotta get back on," or something like that referencing their one date) , Mark and Damone come over to swim in Stacy's pool (the scene where Brad fantasizes about Linda). Then they show Damone getting Stacy's locker open, which helps solidify her crush on him. So, the earliest they could've slept together would've been sometime in January but more likely early-mid February. But it could've been even later--when they're on her house they talk about how the school annuals (yearbooks) are coming out soon, typically an end-of-the-year occurrence. So let's say late February? I'm thinking at least 6-8 weeks before she figures out she's pregnant and books the appointment at the clinic so now we're in mid-late April. That leaves just a month (finals are the beginning of June, per Mr. Hand's note on the blackboard) for the fight between Damone and Mark, the visit to the ME's office which leads to the gradual softening between Mark and Stacy...I don't know, it just all seems a little fast.

Also January is when Spicoli and Jefferson's little brother crash the car and they make it look as though the Lincoln football team deliberately trashed the car, which leads to Jefferson destroying the Lincoln football team in the game. But--in January?  What high school has regular season football games in January? Is that a Southern California thing?

Also--why are Spicoli, Stacy and Brad's girlfriend all in the same history class? Stacy is a freshman--who knows how many times Spicoli has flunked but the girlfriend at least should be a junior.