My Taste in Quarantine

There is no accounting for taste.  Especially my own.  These days.

After many decades alternately employed as a critic, journalist, screenwriter, college professor and generally professional opinionist on way too much, I know what I like and don’t like.  It’s not that I’m not occasionally surprised or appalled by where my tastes take me but, for the most part, it’s unsurprising.

Until now.

In this world of social distancing self-quarantine there is no accounting for taste. Especially my own.

We are living in a judgement free zone

During these endless hours/days/weeks at home I find myself falling into endless rabbit holes of entertainment, diversion and amusement even though I have all the time on my hands to do everything I’ve ever wanted to do that can be done solo inside the solitude of one’s own home.

Which is, let’s face it, quite a lot in our 21st century.

The problem is, I don’t want to do much except gawk at everything I can’t experience up close and personal.  In other words – LIVE. 

That is the only explanation I can come up with for the majority of my entertainment hours this week.

Which, as I’ve said, is pretty much the majority of my hours in every single day.

That, and that alone, is why I spent six of them (in one 24-hour period) on Netflix’s reality/docuseries Tiger King.  Sure, I realize it was TV’s  #1 RATED most popular show last week AND the #1 featured choice in Netflix logarithms (Note:  Whatever they are).  But I HATE sh-t like that.

WHY am I watching this?

No, really.

The last time I remember watching TV’s number one show was a Miss America Beauty pageant as a wee lad in the 1960s.  I thought the gowns were cool and I was dying to gawk at some poor bubble-haired young woman from the south or Midwest almost burn herself to a crisp as she threw three fire-lit batons high into the air.

These were they type of diversions I needed back then as a young gay boy trying to not acknowledge reality.

And yet, here I am again, right back where I was, watching a 21st century version for that same type of escape.

Me, working on my wave

But this time in the form of a different spectacle.  That of a gay, polygamous, self proclaimed redneck who cuddles with numerous 400 lb. tigers, has a padlock piercing on his penis and is frenemies with multiple felons that enable him to control an exotic roadside animal sanctuary where he may or may not be plotting the murder of others and may or may not be engaging in all kinds of meth-fueled sex parties with any number of hunky younger lovers.

That’s the amount of distraction required from MY 21st century reality.  And clearly most of YOURS.

Yet I’m not sure how I account going from that to the best screenplay winner at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Portrait of A Lady on Fire. 

Guilt, perhaps?

Maybe not.  It feels like a much more natural fit for me to watch a very artsy and very French film about two young women in the late 1700s fall in love/lust very, very VERY slowly in a stripped down rustic Nancy Meyer-ish type home by the sea.  One’s a painter secretly hired to do a portrait of the other, a young woman of means promised into marriage by a domineering mother.  And each has a secret that dare not speak its name.

Plus Fire! (just in case you needed that confirmed)

It was really good, I liked it and yet….I dozed off three different times and had to rewind to find my place back into the story because hey, subtitles and lingering looks.  In these times, they’re not as compelling on the faces of people who could actually reach out and touch each other.  In the same room.  Without masks!

So, I mean, watch it or don’t watch but know it’s incredibly well done and under any more normal circumstances I would NEVER have fallen asleep.  I swear.

I SAID NO JUDGEMENT!

Of course, it could have been anxiety that made me that tired.  So as I made my way into the bedroom, knowing my husband was going to be working late downstairs, I was determined that this one night I could finally get my much-needed, fitful, say, at least 6 or 7or 22  hours of sleep.

Whereupon (Note:  A word I must have heard in the French film) I rest my head on my pillow and suddenly become WIDE AWAKE.  Like, not even tired slightly.

So what does one do with that these days?  Check one’s email and look at the link some well-intentioned friend sends you on some well-intentioned diversion to take away your psychic pain of the moment (aka what you saw on the NEWS that day).

Not a good idea.

I just can’t quit you MSNBC

Because after watching that YouTube offering you stumble onto something else and then something further and wind up watching:

A 1973 two-part FIRST EVER television interview with Katharine Hepburn.  You want to talk about three hours of blissful bliss without commercials.  I was up until 3:30 in the morning learning these essential facts:

– Kate thinks that you CAN’T HAVE EVERYTHING, meaning, career, love AND your own family. 

– Kate thinks the reason she was a success is that she had great parents who were always attentive and ALWAYS encouraged her in everything she wanted to do (Note: F-k her).

– Kate knows the other reasons she was a success was that she was incredibly hard-working, didn’t drink or do drugs, and, most of all, didn’t indulge in self-pity (Note #2 – Double f-k her).

– Kate said that in addition to talent, the reason people become movie stars is that they have a distinct voice, the camera somehow loves how they photograph and that they are incredibly….LUCKY. (Note:  Really?????) 

Click here to watch the whole glorious interview

Though in the case of a legend like Garbo it was the added element of mystery, she noted.  No matter how much time you spent with her and no matter how well you liked her (and Kate copped to both) you NEVER REALLY KNEW HER.  NO ONE DID.

See, I don’t know what to do with that.

And probably already knew it at 1:00 a.m., anyway.

Which is why, when I look over the last three self-isolating weeks and am being totally honest – I have to admit – that despite all of the above and much, much more –when you total it all up –  I have still spent the majority of my mindless entertainment time – on my usual time suck….

You know you love it!!

There are hours of home makeover shows but this week I was all about Love It Or List It and Nate and Jeremiah Save My House.  Rather than being romantic, reality show bizarre or biographically uninstructional, these two series are most particularly, and hopelessly, predictable.

Come for the design, stay for Hilary’s coordinating accessories #necklaceandearringsfordays

A mess of a house is presented to a duo of two experts (Note: Cause a duo is always two) and in the end, they always always, ALWAYS  have the same inevitable outcome.

The homes are so colorful, so functional and so vastly all that and more you can’t help but be blindsided.  And, unlike the type of blindsiding we’ve grown used to, in a hopelessly great way.

Sure, no matter how great my house might be it won’t ever be that bright, perfect or airy.  However, these days it doesn’t matter because NO ONE AT ALL who wants to LIVE will get to redo their house from the ground up because NO ONE AT ALL can be a ONE-PERSON BAND OF reconstruction in self-isolation.

And somehow I find that reassuring.

As reassuring as I find Nate and Jeremiah’s coordinating outfits #howcutearethey #somuchBEIGE

Not to mention, even if you could do everything YOURSELF, where would you get the materials?  Someone (and certainly more than one) would have to deliver it ALL to you and then YOU would have to Lysol or Clorox wipe them ALL down.   Every.  Last.  One.

Even with all the time in the world, none of us has time for that.

2011 Tony Awards Performance (with Sutton Foster) – “Anything Goes”

The Chair’s Guide to Quarantine

 

My husband was at the market today and unwittingly made a woman smile.

She was unsuccessfully trying to juggle SIX DOUBLE ROLLS OF PAPER TOWELS in her hands as she hurried towards the checker and, seeing the futility of her efforts, met his eyes, nodded and laughed.

Perhaps your story involves insane amounts of hand sanitizer, tissues, toilet paper, or aspirin – either falling out of people’s arms (or your own) or not on the shelves at all.

Funny because it’s true (and there’s nothing wrong with that)

But THIS is a typical part of the day in the life of America today.

The calm before the storm, the panic before it could inevitably get really bad.

In order to stop myself from indulging in such behavior, I automatically think about what my mother used to say when Too Sensitive Me was getting overly upset by something going on in my world.

Just keep it up and I’ll really give you something to cry about!

Or, if my Mom’s brand of tough love isn’t working for you (Note: It certainly doesn’t for me), how about this admonition from the immortal Cher:

Perfection

Screenwriter John Patrick Shanley wrote those words for her to deliver in the classic 1987 film Moonstruck but they are no less timely 30 years plus later.

Still, this does not mean they are not overly HARSH.

If we want to weather the storm (or tornado or typhoon) of COVID-19 we need to practice….     um…..       Social    ……………………………………………     distancing.

What this means is not getting too close to others, keeping our hands clean, resisting the urge to touch our faces or mouths and, most importantly, and when possible –

STAYING HOME

Just remember to wash those sheets!

Yes, this is an economic hardship, especially for those who will no longer get paid for their jobs or others who are either unable to work virtually or have children now home from school.

Still, it’s just been announced every worker affected by self-quarantine (nee staying home) is at least eligible for unemployment.

Not to mention, remember all that guilt you might have felt for not spending enough time with your kids?  Well…..

If all else fails, empty boxes will do

Okay, who am I kidding?  I don’t have kids and am fortunate enough to be able to do my job from my bed, I mean, um, home… office.

Nevertheless, as one out of the many fortunate millions who managed to live through the raging AIDS epidemic of the eighties (and beyond ) who is still around to tell the tale, I do know something about viral panic.

There was a time not so many decades ago that I remember washing and disinfecting my hands so religiously and profusely that I actually scrubbed the surface layer of skin off the top of one of my palms.

Not feeling nostalgic for this

It was then, and only then, I began to understand the futility of hysteria and the hilarity of my own neurosis.   No matter how appropriate I believed I was being that is how much my reactions weren’t helping.  Certainly, they weren’t making me any cleaner.

So until they get more information and come up with a reliable, available test/treatment/cure for this virus en masse, here are some handy survival tips:

1- TAKE POSITIVE ACTIONS OF YOUR CHOICE – Demonstrate on the streets (alone, or with a few folks 6ft apart please), commiserate with friends and loved ones (more on this below), rant at the TV and politicians (Note: Well, THE politician, wink wink) , research and come up with position papers that will solve the entire thing but Do NOT FEEL GUILTY about NOT doing EVERY ONE OF THESE THINGS EACH DAY.

I support Netflix, I do not support pizza in bed (I mean, there is a line)

Seriously, no one is Mother Theresa, not even Mother Theresa.  She might have done great unselfish things but even she is a construct, a gold standard of perfectionism and self-sacrifice that is non-human and can’t possibly provide you a true unvarnished 100% human X-ray of a real woman.  Or man.

Therefore, do what you can but don’t beat yourself up for not doing enough.  You’re not letting yourself off the hook for anything, you’re simply being yourself.  And you get to wake up and try again the next day, and the next, and the day after that.   Because you’re one of the lucky.

2- COMFORT FOOD TV – This does not mean binge watching The Wire or finding a streaming service offering all 14 episodes of Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz.

Instead it means marathons of The Simpsons, The Bachelor (or Bachelorette), Law and Order SVU/CSI/NCIS/Blue Bloods or WWE (Note: That’s Worldwide Wrestling for my fellow gays).

Gotta love that Olivia Benson brand of encouragement #benson2020

A few days ago someone told me that a really smart person they knew had taken to watching countless back-to-back Big Bang Theory episodes they’d already seen.

But I have that beat.  This weekend I tuned in Logo and in one sitting tore through twelve straight episodes of The Nanny, a show I seldom if ever saw in first run.

THOSE. OUTFITS.

 

Maybe it was Fran Drescher’s voice, or the fact that Renee Taylor, the comic actress who played her mother, reminded me of my mother, or just maybe it’s the fact that, like me, the title character is from Flushing, Queens AND Jewish and likes to wear loud clothes and is a scheming nag when she doesn’t get her way.  But after all those decades, in this particular time of this decade, boy is she hilarious.

3- START A SILLY CREATIVE PROJECT DOOMED TO FAILURE –Maybe it’s the book, screenplay, poem , song or short story you always wanted to write.

Perhaps it’s rearranging the furniture in your living room.

Or even hanging the framed picture that’s been sitting in your closet for a year because you are sure you’ll f-k up your wall if you try to do it yourself.

When I was in my twenties I thought it was a great idea to use high gloss black paint on every wall in my bathroom and to this day I treasure the reaction of my landlady when she saw it.

The point is, why NOT?  God knows you have the time and it will give you something to talk about instead of the virus.

4- “PHONE” A FRIEND – This might sound silly or obvious but there is a lot to unpack here.   Living in a world where EVERYONE is being told to stay inside as much as possible means that for one of the first times in your life you are truly NOT alone.  So use it as an excuse to reach out to…..ANYONE because, well, you actually have a reason.

it’s time to Facetime!

This means someone from your past, present or perhaps…future?  You don’t need to pretend anymore.  We’re all a bit crazed.  Some aberrant behavior is to be expected.   So take advantage of the fact that there’s a wider berth of crazy for all of us.

The office acquaintance, the best friend who is no longer best, the former or future lover of your dreams.  Even the individual you at one point wanted to tell off but now actually miss.  Does it REALLY matter???

And know that in 2020 coronavirus parlance, “phone” clearly means, Skype, text, gchat, zoom or any virtual reality of your choice.

5- BE.  OF. SERVICE. –  Nothing takes you out of your own insanity or isolation more than helping someone else with his or her own stuff.  This means ANYONE and ANYWHERE.  Oh, and there is little noble about this.  Most likely whomever you are helping has it FAR WORSE than you do and you will get to feel mighty good about YOUR life afterwards.

This + thinking about Tom Hanks (and Rita!)

This is how many of us got through the eighties.

And how many of us will get through today.

Justin Hurwitz – “Quarantine” (from First Man)