Thursday, October 26, 2017

Nostalgia... Sweet or Bittersweet?

                  Truth is, I think it’s a little of both, although I am reluctant to use the word “bitter” with respect to myself. I have been called the eternal optimist on numerous occasions, and being bitter just doesn’t sit right with my overly hopeful nature. (I’m one of those people you’ll catch saying, “Don’t worry, everything always works out,” as if it’s my personal mantra.) However… bittersweet? Perhaps that’s more of a pill I can swallow. After all, there is a “sweet” tacked onto the end, right? And when it comes to revisiting our past, it isn’t always sweet the second time around, as I've recently discovered.

                  I’ve been thinking about this a lot while re-reading Stephen King’s book “It”. I read it in my twenties and I LOVED it. I absolutely ADORED it… one of those books I was unable to put down. When I found out a new movie was coming out, I decided to read the book again to fully appreciate what I was going to see on the big screen. After all, when you’re a book lover, reading the book first allows you to pick up on every nuance of the film (even though many of those nuances are left out or completely changed). I was so excited to begin my journey with “It”! Unfortunately for me, the excitement was short lived. After the first few chapters, I found myself continually checking my kindle for percentage progress. I kept thinking, “How can I ONLY be that far along? Am I ever going to make it to 50%?” Okay, the book is about 1400 pages long, but come on! I read a 400 page book on the train to and from Venice over the summer! Could it be that clowns are universally silly and never, EVER scary to me, and thus a poor choice for a villain? No, because I felt the same way in my twenties. I’ve always LOVED clowns. I was always the girl at the circus waiting with baited breath to see how many clowns could jam themselves into that tiny Volkswagen. As I continue to trudge my way through the book, I keep saying to myself, “I love you, Stephen, but can you get to the point already??” (He and Tolkien should’ve been drinking buddies.)

                  As I talked to another bibliophile last night, she shared her insights upon revisiting the Anne of Green Gables series. These books were beloved to her as a child and many fond memories are attached to them. And although my friend isn’t as frustrated as I am, she finds that the latter books in the series—which like me, she is only reading for the second time—are not the same experience as she remembered. We’re both wistful about recognizing that as we change and the world around us changes, our views of how we perceive the things we read can change too. And in my case, it makes me a little sad. And it makes me wonder if it’s a mistake to revisit the books of our past.

                  Suddenly, I remember Jane Austen. Oh, Jane Austen. The woman who is discussed in my very first play “on the rocks”, and is never far from my heart. She is one of the keenest observers of human behavior and relationships I know, and her wit and wisdom are still relevant to today’s world. I have read “Pride and Prejudice” more than once (okay I’ve read it a lot) and each time, I find myself gasping in horror at the same passages as if I’m reading it for the first time. Even more thrilling is when I find myself discovering something new that I never noticed before. Some books, like a good wine, improve with age. The saying “It just never gets old” definitely applies here. And it’s not just books. Places can improve with age as well. Take Ithaca. I have been going there since I’m 21 and the thrill never wears off. The sights (i.e. waterfalls and gorges aka “Ithaca is gorges), the sounds (amazing live music) and did I mention the wine, are absolutely divine. Although I have experienced Ithaca with different partners (friends as well as lovers) over the years, I never find myself melancholy or sad at my past experiences. I simply smile at all the wonderful memories secured to this truly magical place.

                  My acting teacher always says not to look at the past too closely. It’s nice to visit, but you don’t want to stay there too long. Case in point with Stephen King’s “It”. Nostalgia is great, but I don’t want to get trapped there. I want to make sure the books, places and anything else I’m revisiting is worth the effort. If I’m not gaining new experiences and memories, then I need to ask myself why I’m going there again in the first place! That said, I’m still planning on finishing “It” for the second time, in case anyone is wondering. Call me a dog with a bone (you won’t be the first, I assure you) but if I say I’m going to do something, then I darn well DO it. But someone please smack me upside the head if I tell you I’m still reading this book come Christmas. And make sure you remind me of the law of diminishing returns!

Monday, October 16, 2017

What Does It Take To Get Some Peace and Quiet Around Here?

In a place like NYC, apparently it takes a lot. We New Yorkers live in a VERY noisy city. And sadly, most of the time it becomes the ambient noise, when in reality, it’s the ACTUAL noise. But none of us city dwellers want to acknowledge it. We’d rather pretend it goes along with the chirping of the birds and the rustling of the trees as if it’s something pleasant to the ears… the soundtrack of the city if you will. Well I won’t. Not anymore. It’s NOISE POLLUTION, ladies and gentlemen, and I am quite frankly over it!

Let’s start with the noise pollution in my own neighborhood. In general, I love living in Astoria. I’m still close to the heart of Manhattan, but far enough away to avoid some of the sounds that are unavoidable with midtown traffic. But don’t think we don’t have cars out in these parts. Oh, yes we do. And they are LOUD. Let me repeat… THEY ARE LOUD. I’m not sure why Queens people think having a car that roars at volumes exceeding an airplane at take-off is a good thing, but I assure you it’s not. And my street is one of the few that crosses over Astoria Boulevard and thus becomes a thoroughfare for every jerk who thinks he has a hot car (or crotch rocket). Think you’re cool or hip just because your car can zoom down my street with deafening sounds that practically burst my eardrums? Think again. At the end of the day, you’re just a goomba riding around in your dumb vehicle. (That’s my Italian way of saying you’re a loser who needs to get a life).

And of course we can’t forget about the noise pollution on the subway. Why do certain people think we want to hear ALL the songs stored on their smartphones? “Who Let the Dogs Out” isn’t on my playlist so I truly don’t want to hear it blasting from yours. Also, what about those people who talk on their speaker phones? Hello – where is your headset? Or better yet, just put the damn phone up to your ear like we did in the good old days of landlines! I get that we all feel like we need to be in touch at all times. I’m guilty of having my phone permanently attached to some part of my body, but even I know it isn’t appropriate to be broadcasting both sides of your phone conversation via your speaker for the entire subway car to hear.

I must also mention the noise pollution in our social settings i.e. BARS, though restaurants are by no means exempt from this ruckus. I was recently in a bar with a few friends, hoping to catch up over a few drinks. It was pretty early on a Friday night – 8:30 p.m. But there we were, in a bar SOOOOOO loud, my eyes felt like they were going to pop out of my head, the beat of the music was vibrating throughout my body, and I had to scream to be heard. The kicker was there were only like TWENTY people in the whole place!  What is up with that? And it’s not a NYC phenomenon. Bars all over the globe LOVE to crank the music up to full blast—the whole “it goes to eleven” for those of you Spinal Tap fans. And when you ask a manager about it, he or she gives you a dumbfounded look, as if the manager has no idea where the offensively boisterous music is coming from. Newsflash bar owners/DJs: This is not a packed club in Ibiza. Turn the music down and let us have our friendly chit chat. My theory is bar owners figure the less we’re able to talk, the more we’ll be forced to drink. All I can say to that is, “For shame!!!”

I won’t even get into the noise pollution of people’s voices. I’m sure you’ve walked down the street and heard two people next to each other bellowing at one another, even though the tone of their conversation is pleasant. I was running yesterday and had my headphones on with the music cranked up full blast. (Admittedly, I like my music LOUD when I’m running.) Even through my headphones I could hear these two ladies talking about invitations to a party. Maybe all the headphones we wear 24/7 are destroying our hearing and forcing us to speak more loudly to one another, but it’s annoying nevertheless. However, I don’t want to delve too deeply into this topic. Why, you ask? Because I know I contribute to it. Yes, everyone, I’ve been told that my voice… ahem... *carries*, so I’ll just apologize and say I’ll try harder in the future not to contribute to the cacophony of sounds that make our ears bleed! Here's to hoping we all find moments of serenity in this mad, crazy city!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

If You’re Blind, Let’s Hope Your Seeing Eye Dog Isn’t.

            When it comes to cars, I’m blind. Oh don’t panic, I CAN see to drive the car, but beyond that, I’m basically blind as a bat and have to rely on others to lead me around and show me what to do. Other than knowing where to check the oil level, I know NOTHING about the vehicle I own. Check the tire pressure? Nope. Put air in my tires? Yeah, right. And the truth is, I don’t really want to know either. That is, until my car breaks down and I immediately panic: “What’s wrong? Why isn’t my car working? What do I do? SOMEONE HELP ME!!” (Hence the Seeing Eye dog.) And here we are at the present moment. As I prepare to have my brakes replaced on my car, I must ask myself: “Does the person fixing my car know what the hell he’s doing?” (Answer to be determined.)

            I admit it. I’m not mechanically inclined. (Read here for further proof: I am not the slightest bit interested in how things work, as long as they DO work. When things break down, some people try to figure out what the problem is. And to my credit, I am willing to do a little bit of digging if my iPhone or computer is not working properly. There are enough message boards out there to lead a blind person like me to the light of day. Sometimes. But I usually get bored after a few minutes and would rather just call 555-FIX-THIS. I don’t have the time or the desire to know why it’s broken. Just make it work again PLEASE, pretty please with sugar on top, okay?

            And thus we come to my brakes. While bringing my car into my Honda dealership to change the oil (now I don’t even have to check the oil… a lamp lights up on my dashboard to tell me it’s time to change it), the lovely folks at Honda ran what they called a “100 point inspection”. (It was free, so I really shouldn’t complain.) Lo and behold, they determined I needed to have my front brakes replaced to the tune of $550. WHAT??? The brakes in my brain slammed to a halt as I processed this information. Then, I drove my car right out of there and hoped the brakes on my tires still had enough life in them to do some research on mechanics.

            And that’s where the fun begins. I don’t have a mechanic. I went to my local Citgo station in New Jersey where my dad used to go and discovered it’s under new ownership and they ONLY habla EspaƱol. I don’t even know how to say “brakes” in Spanish! (FYI, it’s frenos.) Somehow I was able to use my high school Spanish well enough to communicate with the mechanic, and he quoted me a price of $300. Phew. That sounds a lot better than $550. But as time went on, I kept wondering, “How do I know if this guy is a good mechanic? Who am I to judge? I only understood every other word he said, AND I can’t even change a flat tire!” Everyone I knew advised me that $550 was way too expensive for a front brake job, but could anyone advise me on where the hell to find a good mechanic? One friend said, “Don’t worry, you’ll know if the mechanic didn’t do a good job on your brakes.” And I’m thinking to myself, “Yeah, when I go careening of a cliff because I can’t stop?” But he goes on to say, “Bad brakes will always make the tires go black.” WHAT???? My tires are ALREADY black! What does that even mean?? I’ve heard of shades of grey, but are there shades of black?

            What I’ve come to realize is that it doesn’t matter how cheap you can get something fixed. The expression “You get what you pay for” applies here. Who cares how inexpensive a repair is, if it DOESN’T WORK? And thus, I’ve gotten some recommendations from friends who have worked with mechanics in the past and know way more about their automobiles than I do. And worst case, I just bite the bullet and pay the $550 at Honda. At least there, I have recourse should something go wrong. So I’m off now, to go see someone named “Jimmy.” According to my friend, he’s genuine. As long as he can GENUINELY fix my car, then hopefully my problem will soon be solved. And away I go!