Big Love

[spoiler free]

Some years ago my husband, who was spending a lot of time in hotels for business, told me about the series Big Love. We didn’t subscribe to HBO at home but he was free to enjoy an array of cable shows. I didn’t exactly feel deprived though, because a dramedy about polygamy sounded, well, stupid.

But when I noticed the series on amazon prime recently I decided to give it a try. I was quickly surprised by the brainy, dark humor and addictive intrigue that develops both in plot and characterization. In that respect it reminds me of AMC’s wonderful Breaking Bad. In fact the two shows share an actor- Aaron Paul, who in Breaking Bad plays the dopey Jesse Pinkman, and in Big Love plays ex-Mormon Scott Quittman.

This is a weird show. I’m up to season 4 and I still can’t figure out if the central message is anti-polygamy or pro-polygamy; moreover I can’t figure out if it’s even pro-christian or anti-christian. Most of the characters are deeply conflicted on some level and their motivations remain ambiguous. And while I’m sure some marriages, either monogamous or polygamous, can keep the pace, the constant passionate sex between Bill and his three wives seems implausible. On a similar note, why are Bill’s wives so beautiful and well dressed, while the other polygamists we encounter have frumpy, badly dressed wives?

For a large household with small children the three wives and Bill manage to find inordinate private time to have deep, lengthy conversations. There is occasional mention of “Ben and Sarah” (the two teenagers in the household) watching the kids, but these are magical hollywood teenagers. Having a wide age range of children myself, procuring even ten minutes of attention from one of the teens to watch the little ones is like squeezing blood from a turnip, and is usually accompanied by shouted complaints from the next room. However, the show does occasionally manage an accurate portrait of the struggles of running a huge household. Our family size here matches the Henrickson’s season 1 head count, though there’s just one of me, another facet that piqued my interest: you don’t often see huge families on television these days, unless it’s reality TV.

The Henrickson homes are immaculately clean though we never see anyone cleaning. Occasionally the wives carry laundry baskets or lackadaisically wipe an already clean surface with a rag. In one episode Margie works through emotional issues by vacuuming a lot. But otherwise the Henrickson clan is somehow impervious to mess and clutter.

There’s a lot of product placement in this series, which surprises me because I thought polygamy was generally frowned upon. The Henrickson wives spend a great deal of time grocery shopping, unpacking groceries, and there are ongoing references to how wonderful orange juice is (while pouring Minute Maid). Many of the food products “advertised” by the series are junk, yet the Henricksons remain slim and fit. Barb and Bill look heavier in Season 3, but appear to have lost it all by season 4.

A guess the million dollar question for any woman watching this series is, could I live in an polygamous arrangement? I can only tell you that around kid #5 I was just so exhausted all the time that another pair of motherly hands would have been a boon, though the long term psychological price of sharing one’s only sexual partner probably wouldn’t be worth it.

Strangely Big Love was created by two gay men, Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer. More than once corollaries are made between homosexuality and polygamy, including a hilarious scene where “prophet” Roman Grant lectures a group of reporters.

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lots of kids, polygamy style

While Big Love isn’t nearly as good as Breaking Bad, it does have its moments of comedic brilliance and emotional poignancy, and for that is well worth watching if you’re in the mood to binge watch an entire series.

Staten Island Summer

When I first noticed Staten Island Summer on Netflix I was delighted. A movie about Staten Island! Since when does that happen? I mean there was Copland which I believe was a thinly disguised version of Staten Island, but generally this island, despite its proximity to the cultural mecca of Manhhatan, has been left out of the cinematic universe. I eagerly clicked PLAY.

Sixty seconds in I knew I was in serious trouble. A “cartoon New Jersey” copulates with a “cartoon Brooklyn” to give birth to Staten Island. Yuck! Could they have been more crass? Technically this is true as Staten Island accents are a blend of Brooklyn and New Jersey- but animate it as porn? Blech. This was only the beginning.  From that initial point vulgarity, vapidity, and aimlessness only increased. Dick jokes, cleavage jokes, masturbation jokes. No, no, no!

I decided to lie back and think of England, enduring the whole damned 108 minutes of this monstrosity.

Let me state it bluntly: this is a horrible movie. Horribly written, horribly acted (with allowance for the disgusting, pointless script) horribly edited, there’s no significant plot, the characterization is abysmal and I’m pretty sure most of the scenes shot in “Great Kills” were in fact shot on the dreaded North Shore. Mysteriously no one in this film has a Staten Island accent except for the token guido, mafia boss, and extras. That’s right folks: the major players in a film about Staten Island sound like Julliard trained actors. I should have expected as much.

Staten-Island-Summer-Netflix-Premiere
Et tu, Brute?

There were a few funny scenes, or at least I found myself laughing once or twice through this sorrowful adventure. The scene where John DeLuca- the token guido- struggles with basic math on his Navy exam was funny. The animated scene where creepy pool manager (Michael Patrick O’Brien) births Satan’s spawn was humorous. The scene where the cops, mafia, African American drug dealers, and the crazed Hispanic maintenance worker all pull guns on each other was vaguely funny. But otherwise this was a giant waste of time and hardly emblematic of the city’s most verdant borough. Maybe writer Colin Jost spent too much time in Hollywood, but this was a useless, worthless, unavailing cinematic effort no matter which vantage point you approach it from. Don’t squander your life watching this film! Or at least fast-forward to the sparse scenes that might make you laugh.

There was one kernel of truth in this misery: the slutty Staten Island housewives congregating about the pool advise you don’t get the benefits of wine until the third glass. Cheers to that!

Bluegrass Gangnam Style

About a year ago I finally brought myself to watch the much hyped “Gangnam Style” video by South Korean musician Psy. Yes I was behind the times, and all I could wonder was what the North Koreans would make of this? I wasn’t sure what to make of it either, and forgot about it until I happened upon this bluegrass version yesterday.

This version is better than the original, IMO. I love the absolute deadpan expression on the musicians’ faces; is that part of fiddle culture? And the goofy dances mid-song. Somehow it all works.

Years ago when I was still homeschooling I befriended a lady from Arkansas who became an online penpal of sorts. Her daughters were award winning fiddlers so I gained some insight into the deep south world of fiddling, that I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.

Dance Moms

I’m ashamed to say I’ve been watching Dance Moms on netflix. I tried watching it upon first airing, but found it painfully boring and mind-numbingly shallow. So why I can stomach it now, I’m unsure. Perhaps, armed with the power of streaming, I can skip the worst parts. As my daughter Amadea intoned: it’s so horrible it’s mesmerizing.

For those who don’t know, Dance Moms is a reality show revolving around The Abby Lee Dance Company, her lead team of dancers, and those dancers’ mothers. Here are my thoughts.

  • Abby Lee. I actually like her. She’s tough and no-nonsense. It’s not unusual for her to tell a crying child to suck it up and deal with it. We need more adults like this in the world, because children these days are coddled. I often think my worst mistake as a parent has been being too easy on my kids. Abby is also really fat, which is weird for a dance coach presiding over stick-thin little girls. But it doesn’t seem to bother her; she dresses well for her weight and has success with speed dating.
  • The moms. The “dance moms” provide the bulk of drama in the series.These women are so unbelievably brassy, catty, shallow, back stabbing and emotionally vicious that I had to wonder if it was all scripted. But I honestly don’t think it is, at least not entirely; these ladies are genuinely horrid. They wear thick layers of makeup such that they appear to be sporting masks, and while not fat, they’re all chunky and dumpy. They drink loads of alcohol. The moms remind of Kate from Kate Plus 8. In fact many of them look like her. Is this a Pennsylvania thing? Nasty personalities, and harshly dyed hair?
  • The girls. The dancers are sweet, hard working little kids. I felt bad for them being caught up in this web of vicarious living at the hands of their crazed mothers.
  • The dancing. The dancing and dance techniques are subpar. They would be laughed out of town by a real dance school such as ABT or the Kirov. Their dance style is best described as stripper routines plus gymnastics, and even the best dancers are not that good. Which leads us to:
  • Hypersexualization. The costumes they put these little kids in are insane. I think every pedophile on earth must be glued to this series. A typical costume looks like underwear with a sprinkle of sequins. What the heck? I can’t imagine putting my girls in these outfits. What is everyone thinking? And it’s not just the costumes; the dances contain more bumping, grinding, and booty shaking than an evening in Atlantic City would provide. Except these kids are nine years old.

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you thought I was exaggerating

However, in watching this series I got the same feeling I derived from Toddlers in Tiaras. As crazed as the parents might be, they’re deeply involved with their kids’ lives and make sure the children are always busy with life outside the home. Again, if I were to fault myself as a parent it’s that I’m entirely too checked out. I feed them, I bathe them (the younger ones anyway) but beyond that they do their thing and I do my thing. Am I supposed to be ferrying them around town to a myriad of extracurricular experiences, watching their every developmental move? Maybe, but I don’t. I’m not nearly the helicopter parent these dance moms are. The closest I come is doling advice out to the the overachiever, who practically begs for it. Quite frankly I feel I deserve a medal for getting them to school on time for three years in a row. I do deserve that, don’t I?

The Wasp Oasis

For many years I’ve had a recurring dream: I’m back at school, sometimes high school, sometimes college. I’m frantically trying to find my classes, alongside having to deal with the fact that I have children. Sometimes I realize with horror that I’ve been sitting in classes while my helpless young children are alone at home. Then I wake up in terror, drenched in sweat, only to happily recall I’m a nobody housewife with no academic obligations whatsoever.

We have begun hauling our oldest son off to college tours: first the lowly CSI- The College of Staten Island, this island’s contribution to the CUNY system which, way back in the Grace Building is responsible for my meeting my husband. He had visited this campus some time ago and told me it was “a dump.” So I was surprised to see glistening fields, shiny new buildings, and a generally idyllic atmosphere.

A team of sweet women greeted us. At first they thought I was the student. Okay, I may look slightly younger than my age but no way do I look that young. I shoved my son in front of me and said he was in fact the touree. What is your preferred major? one woman asked. My son shrugged Idunnoyet. No problem! she chirped gaily. And they were off to the tour.

Next it was Wagner College, which I’ve driven past countless times but never actually stepped foot on campus. In fact I don’t think I’ve stepped foot on any college campus since abandoning my graduate studies, once knocked up with my son.

Wagner is a strange place. The best I can describe it is a wasp oasis in the midst of guidoville. I felt transported back in time to my starchy New England upbringing, where everyone was polite, a little too formal, and nicely dressed. No one had a Staten Island accent. In fact no one had a NYC accent. It was weird. As we sat down to the touree luncheon I asked the administrator across the table if he hearkened from Staten Island. He looked on edge having to confess that yes he did, but visibly relaxed when I explained we were Islanders ourselves. Strangely, he had no Staten Island accent to speak of.

If you’re wondering what a Staten Island accent is, I’d describe it as a hybrid between New Jersey and Brooklyn, leaning toward New Jersey.

Anyway I departed with a positive impression of the school, but I don’t know if the hefty price tag is worth it for a child who, despite being a good student, seems apathetic and ambitionless about the whole higher education process. His only concerns in life are computers and video games. In fact his only question during the tour was if dorm rooms have a usage cap for electricity.

He says he doesn’t want to leave NYC, so we’ll be touring a number of nearby schools.

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filling out forms

Beautiful Staten Island 2

Who says Staten Island isn’t beautiful? Not me! My beloved island is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Case in point, Snug Harbor. In my tireless efforts to remain fit and healthy I took a stroll through the botanical gardens yesterday. It was a ghost town- I assume due to the holiday.

This is the main entrance from Fillmore. Not a soul to be seen.

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As far as I know this building has no purpose, but it’s pretty.

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One of the main gardens of the cultural center; you can get a glimpse of the greenhouse that houses tropical plants and schools of goldfish in shallow, indoor pools. Behind all this, under heavy guard, is a secret room of orchids- but it’s not open to the public. There are two matching pools cupping the exterior that in summer are teaming with yet more koi. This is one of the most beautiful gardens in the center, harboring countless “antique” perennials.

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Pinnacle of the “Healing Garden.” This is a memorial to Staten Islanders who perished on 9/11. Beneath this fountain is a winding path on a steep incline lined with hostas and other shade plants. At the base is a swampy area dense with vegetation, circled by a footpath.

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The Tuscan Gardens. An homage to Staten Island’s Italian heritage, it often hosts weddings. In fact it was set up for a wedding as I wandered through.

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I don’t have a picture from yesterday, but I realized that Snug Harbor hosts a sculpture of Robert Randall wrought by  none other than Augustus Saint-Gaudens! How is that for coincidence.

Life and Death

My aunt visited Monday; I hadn’t seen her in at least 10 years. She got a job working for the CDC back then and moved down south, visiting northward only every few years, and then usually staying with my sister. Actually, come to think of it, I did see her briefly about seven years ago. She was at my grandmother’s (her mother’s) memorial service and later visited my parents where I vacationed for a period that summer. She was going to have dinner with us but abruptly changed her mind and departed. This was when we thought my oldest daughter might have MRSA (she didn’t) so perhaps the pathologist in her freaked out and fled.

A few years ago my aunt was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer. This right after my mother was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. Mom emerged unscathed- more or less- and is in remission but my aunt is soldiering on.

I dreaded seeing her. I’d only seen one photograph since her diagnosis and she was unrecognizable from the vibrant, sharp tongued woman I’d known as a child. As the hours ticked by Monday I grew increasingly anxious, but the car pulled into the driveway and there was my aunt- nothing scary at all- and while yes she looked different, she was the same aunt as always with her grating Boston accent and scathing wit.

My greatest dread was she elected to visit us because we were the bucket list. I said goodbye to my beloved paternal grandmother 18 years ago (when she died I felt decidedly like an orphan, I have yet to recover…) then said goodbye to my mother’s mother eight years ago. I don’t know how bad exactly things are for my aunt, but I know they’re not good. Yet despite all this she was remarkably upbeat and peppy for someone with an unforgiving disease. She even paused to take a conference call from work; through myriad chemo treatments she continues working full time.

So it was kind of strange to have my childless aunt in my home where kids pop out of the woodwork. She mistook my 7 year old for my 3 year old, and once that was sorted out I dumped a baby on her lap. They delighted in each other’s company for a while, and later she admired some of my daughters as they played with barbies and used watercolors.

aunt

Since these cancers are thought to have a genetic component I couldn’t help but feel I was catching a glimpse of my own future.

When they (my mother and her) left they absconded with two of my daughters; the overachiever and Amadea. Today they visited the Augustus Saint-Gaudens cultural center which is a place endemic to my childhood. I attended countless concerts, tours, and other events there. Shortly put, I grew up with these sculptures. So it was incredibly bizarre to receive photographs of my own children interacting with Mr. Saint-Gaudens’ work some 30 years later. Life is strange.

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Robert Gould Shaw Memorial, 1897 

There is a Saint-Gaudens statue in Manhattan, of William Sherman, situated in Grand Army Plaza near Fifth Avenue. I would occasionally visit that statue when I lived in Manhattan feeling I was getting a taste of home. I haven’t been there in a very long time.

 

Hot Girls Wanted

When I noticed the documentary Hot Girls Wanted on netflix I knew I had to watch it. Of course I love documentaries- I could happily watch a documentary about mold- plus I have a longstanding fascination with sex workers. What makes a woman cross the line to engage in the oldest profession known to man?

Hot Girls Wanted focuses on the internet-spawned “amateur” industry of very young women, most only 18 or 19 years old, trying to forge their way into online porn. Answering an ad in craigslist they are invited to the home of a “talent agent” who rents out bedrooms, and assists the girls in getting shoots. The girls advertise themselves on twitter (which does not censor pornographic content) and most have lofty plans to make it big in the industry.

As for their motivations, most express a desire for a quick escape from their parents; at upward to $1000 per shoot they amass sums of money that, from their teenage vantage point, appear vast. Some express a desire to feel “liberated” or “free.” Miriam Weeks, aka Belle Knox, the Duke University student who famously financed her tuition by working in porn, waxes poetic about the feminist empowerment she experiences on the set.

However all that glitters is ultimately not gold for these women. While the docu does not necessarily have an anti-porn bent, it starkly illustrates the paradox of supposed female empowerment against the degradation they are subjected to at work, including abusive fetish acts, and uncertainty about their contractual obligations if they’re not comfortable with a particular request by a producer. The film also exposes the heartrending conflicts of young women trying to come to grips with their choices, while remaining loyal to the values of family and loved ones.

In terms of raunchiness the film is relatively tame, at least considering the subject matter. There is some brief topless female nudity, and non-nude clips from disturbing “abuse” videos. So if you’re looking for titillation you’ll come away disappointed, as the film focuses on the psychological and logistical factors in the lives of fledgling porn actresses.

One thing that amazed me is that none of these women seem to be on birth control, and, filming in Miami, they don’t use condoms (which are mandatory in films executed in Los Angeles). One girl blithely describes getting “paid extra” for Plan B at Walgreens! This makes me think porn stars are not the most forward-thinking bunch, and are probably not considering the long term implications of their career choice.

Your Beauty Brought out the Sun

I’m sure there are people who, like me, were huge X Files fans in days of yore. And I’m sure like me you remember Gillian as being a pleasant, but somewhat frumpy, actress in the role of Scully.

Well no longer. My husband has been watching The Fall on Netflix and Anderson is drop dead gorgeous in her role- at the ancient age of 46. Moreover she doesn’t appear to have undergone much “work.” Her face looks like the real thing as does her body (except maybe her boobs, but if she had a boob job it’s a tasteful one).

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lovely and lovelier

I’m not into serial killers, but my husband, ever the murder mystery enthusiast, has been watching it and I couldn’t help but notice how gorgeous and artful Anderson was as the detective-superintendent overseeing the murder and mayhem caused by her nemesis. All with a fake British accent that is surprisingly convincing.

So how is it that Anderson grew more beautiful with age?! Don’t all women hit THE WALL somewhere mid-thirties where they look ghastly and despicable?

Yesterday I went to fetch bagels for the kids. NYC has experienced bizarre weather as of late; pouring rain one minute while sunny the next. As I drove to the bagel store it was a downpour; once arrived it was sunny. As I emerged with sixteen bagels in hand a (very, very young) guy unloading ice from an ice truck said to me: You see miss, your beauty brought out the sun!

Wait, who? It took me a few moments to realize he was calling ancient ME “miss.” I stopped briefly in my tracks to process it. Finally I laughed and said simply, “Thanks.”

The 20 year old me wouldn’t have said thanks. I might have processed a quick feminazi thought- how dare he assault me while I go about my daily routine!…  But the 41 year old me just thought it was sweet, and complimentary. I grinned all the way to the car.

People in France believe women reach their zenith of beauty in their 40s. How different from Americans who believe everything goes to hell by that point. I recently tried watching the netflix documentary Hot Girls Wanted but my husband flipped out. You can’t watch that! he cried. The kids will see it in “recently watched” (never mind he just spent hours watching Gillian Anderson combat serial killers). But a quote from that docu (I was able to watch the first 20 minutes) stuck with me: a girl turns 18 every minute.

But maybe there is some worth to us “older” ladies… Gillian being a case in point.

Thoughts on Reddit

Some years ago I noticed my son browsing what looked suspiciously like a message board.

“What’s that?”

“A content aggregator,” he replied, not looking up from the screen.

“You mean a message board?”

“No, a content aggregator.”

“Aren’t they the same thing?”

He turned and glared over his nerd glasses. “Hardly,” he hissed.

But I knew better. Call it what you will but reddit- by all appearances- was a message board. As a hopeless message board addict I stayed away, avoiding any link to reddit and covering my ears at its mention.

I did manage to break my message board addiction (that’s the reason I began blogging); I mean I did occasionally crack and peek in on one message board or another, but by and large I stayed clean.

Until a couple months ago when I noticed a link to a subreddit I couldn’t refuse. I clicked on it, and clicked some more, and more and more and more. I was like one of those rats in a cocaine experiment.

Thankfully I snapped out of it and remain message board addiction free, but I have garnered some thoughts on reddit. Namely:

  • reddit is remarkably efficient and organized, particularly when you consider its contributors are unpaid (as far as I can tell, reddit mods and admins are working for free)
  • the average post is surprisingly high caliber. Reasons for this might be the law of rediquette (you have to actually use correct punctuation and grammar) and/or the upvote/downvote system is too confusing for stupid people
  • the /r/conspiracy subreddit is hardcore. Sandy Hook never happened, the Boston Marathon bombing never happened,  and every, EVERY terrorist attack in the world is a Mossad-based false flag. Because, you know, jews are evil and control the world.
  • reddit is liberal. There’s an /r/conservative sub but beyond those shores it’s every Social Justice Warrior for himself.
  • reddit is young. I felt ancient reading about teenagers and 20 somethings complaining about their love lives.

As anyone who follows reddit knows, there was recently a great deal of reddit-drama with the banning of “harassing” subreddits. This follows the SJW ethos, and if anything, I’m surprised those subreddits survived as long as they did. Apparently voat is the place to go for those who desire true freedom of speech, but since I’m trying to steer clear of the habit I’ll abstain.