4/26/10

The Show Must Go On (and On, and On...)

I was in the front row, so I was forced to keep a smile plastered on my face as the man two feet in front of me wailed a horrible off-key lament, and three other poor souls in tattered white sheets backed him up as bravely as they could.   I tried not to make eye contact with the actors.  The rock opera songs were what I think of as “lemon juicers,” because they made you want to scrunch up your face in pain.  The plot featured dinosaurs, the Rapture, a car accident and zombies. The props included puppets, a kitchen ladle and some kind of fog in a spray can.

There are not too many things worse than a bad musical (especially a bad musical endured while sitting in a bad folding chair in a tiny room with no air.)  But if you live in New York or LA, you are bound to know people who are performing in shows (or writing or directing them)--friends to whom you feel you must demonstrate your support.  And even a talented friend can have a misfire or get cast in a clunker.  So what do you say to these people afterward, when you feel obligated to go backstage (if there even is a backstage) or--worse yet--go out with them after the debacle?  Do you lie to their faces or just evade?  Do you hightail it out of there and later email them:  “Had to rush home to spell the sitter but congrats on the show!”?

For those who have trouble with out-and-out lying but still want to be polite, here are some strategies:

The Obfuscator: “Wow…What you did out there!” (This is my uncle Herman’s favorite post-curtain line) or “I’m so impressed with anyone who can get up there and do that!”

The Therapist: “So how did you feel about it?”  (Whatever they say, keep asking them questions.)

The Filled-with-Joy Ploy
: “I was just so happy to be able to come to this play!  What a great night!  I love the theater!”

The Pin Pointer:  “My absolute favorite part of the production was you!”  Or “The very best thing about it was the beginning of the second act.” (Even if you hated everything, you can still differentiate, right?)

One last note: Never forget the “Two-block Buffer rule” when dissing whatever cultural event you may have just seen, whether it’s with your companions or with other audience members.  You’d be surprised how fast the actors can get out of there.

4/18/10

Stand Here Often?

For the thousands of people standing in line, sleeping in rows of cots, fighting for chairs and otherwise enduring the nightmare of being stuck at the airport, here are Miss Mingle’s DOs and DON’Ts:

1) After re-arranging, re-re-arranging and re-re-re-arranging your various screwed-up business and personal affairs--and after checking for help on the Facebook group When Volcanoes Erupt: A Survival Guide for Stranded Travelers, and the hashtag #getmehome on Twitter--DO put your various iThings away and take the opportunity to meet and bond with as many strangers face-to-face as possible.  Airport disasters may be Hell on Earth but they are also a god-given mingling opportunity.  You never know; you might meet your next spouse, client or best friend.  Adversity brings people together.  And even if you never see the person again, good conversation is food for the soul.

2) DON’T engage in one-downmanship by assuming your own troubles are worse than anyone else’s.  You are in this together; everyone has a right to want to get home.  Commiserate.  Seek compassion and company.  But try not to compete.

3) After a sufficient amount of bitching about the volcano and the obduracy of the airline authorities and how this has totally messed up your life, DO move on to other subjects.  Talk about the amazing and surprising power of nature.  Talk about fate.  Talk about sex.  Ask to see pictures of the kids or the pets.  Discuss your favorite vacation.  Ask advice.  Tell your life story.  (Note:  Try to stay away from subjects like politics.  It’s a crowded place and tempers are short.  And people may have had either too much, or not enough, alcohol.)

4)  DON’T push.  Or butt in line, or yell, “I was first, dammit!”  Don’t scream at an airline employee unless they really, really deserve it.

5) DO offer to help others: Watch their bags while they go to the restroom (never mind what airport security tells you--this is a siege!)  Play with their kids.  Share your food and your Advil and your toothpaste.

6)  DON’T  give unwanted advice.  If you see someone about to eat a cheese sandwich which you happen to know is spoiled, by all means tell him; but if he has ordered a double bacon cheeseburger with a fried egg and hollandaise on top to help with his stress, don’t say, “That’s not going to do you any good you in the long run, buddy.”

7) DO smile as much as possible, even if you don’t feel like it.  Smiling in an arena filled with fear and negativity can serve as a balm and is a humanitarian act.  (Warning:  Do NOT smile, however, at people who are crying hysterically, screaming at the top of their lungs or using their briefcases as bludgeons.  They may just re-re-re-arrange your face.)

4/12/10

Doggie Bottle

When I saw the woman doing it I really thought I was, well, not exactly hallucinating, but not correctly understanding what was occurring.  There, at the table next to me in a perfectly reputable restaurant--white tablecloths and everything--this well-coiffed woman in a beige suit was very carefully pouring the contents of her almost full martini glass into an empty, plastic Aquafina water bottle! After which she tucked it away in her purse. (I confess I immediately assumed it was a vodka martini.  I know I am prejudiced but I can’t help it.  I just can’t imagine a gin drinker doing that.)

Now, I realize the economy is bad and many people are living on a reduced income and therefore can’t afford to waste anything.  And of course all of us have, on occasion, taken home leftovers from a restaurant.   But just how far does the term “doggie bag” stretch?  Leftover wine, leftover milk?  Leftover salad dressing?  And isn’t it basically wrong not to have the waiter put your leftovers in a container, but instead just squirrel it away yourself?  Even though by far the weirdest thing was the fact that the beige-suited diner was “doggie-bagging” a liquid, to me a major indication that it was not kosher is that I couldn’t imagine ever asking a waiter to pack up an unconsumed drink.  And in a restaurant the waiter is like the teller at a bank.  He has to put it in the bag for you or somehow it’s stealing. 

People do have widely different ideas about what one is allowed to take home from dining out: A friend of mine told me she knows someone who routinely orders a second basket of bread, knowing that she is not going to need it, and then takes it home. When I worked as a waitress years ago I always had a few customers who saw nothing wrong with asking me to wrap up large amounts of the “all-you-can-eat” salad from the salad bar.  And I have heard about people endeavoring to procure not just their own but their dining companions’ uneaten portion of food “for the dog.”

It’s true that the average martini in New York costs a whopping $11, and perhaps after the first sip, the woman, realizing she was not in the martini mood, just couldn’t bare to see it go to waste.  But by the time it was carried home in warm plastic and then re-iced, the drink would not have been fit even for the hair of the dog.

4/5/10

We'll Always Have Pears

I ran into him at Whole Foods, right between the Boscs and the Comices. My heart did a wild little jig. It was Steve C--a very cute, semi-famous writer I had had a blind date with once several years before.  At the time I had felt it was a good sign that we had not one but two mutual friends, from totally different areas of my life.  He was sweet, smart, sophisticated, centered, handsome, funny, paid for dinner at an excellent restaurant of his choosing and asked me about my career.  A 100-percent-perfect date, except for one thing: It gradually became clear that I was not his cup of anything.  When he left me in front of my apartment building (oh yes, just to add to the torture, he had impeccable manners,) I let him know I was interested.  But I was pretty sure I would not hear from him again.  Later I heard Steve had married a slim, 27-year-old trilingual poet.  Just after that he published a brilliant book that got a rave (of course) in the Times.  I knew that he and his wife had recently had a baby.

And now here he was.  Looking as self-possessed as ever.  I took a deep breath and put on my very best “my life could not be going any better” smile.

“Oh!…Hello, how are you!?”  I practically sang.  We exchanged the requisite “Fine thankyou’s.”  Oddly, he seemed genuinely glad to see me.  (Boy, he did ever have good manners.)

“And congratulations on the baby by the way,”  I beamed, relieved that I was revealing no signs at all of my inner rejected self. “How is your wife? I’m so sorry, I can’t remember her name.”  He told me she was great.  We talked about the baby for awhile.  I asked how his writing was going; he asked how mine was going.  After about ten minutes I began to notice a vague hint of bafflement in his eyes.  “Maybe he can’t remember my name and feels awkward,” I thought.

“Have you seen Paul?”  I asked, putting an avocado into my cart. (Paul was one of the aforementioned mutual friends.)

Steve looked at me blankly.  “Paul?”

Suddenly it struck me with horror that this was not, in fact, Steve C, but was an entirely different person--a Columbia professor I had mingled with on not one but two separate occasions, both of these within the last six months. Each time we had had lengthy and fairly deep conversations.  Sure, both men had dark brown hair and were roughly the same size, but I’m supposed to be Miss Mingle for god’s sakes!  And I don’t even know who I am talking to!  Naturally the professor also had a wife (what straight man in New York over 40 doesn’t?) and coincidentally a new baby; and he was published, like most professors. Which is why this case of mistaken conversation had gone on so long.

I flailed. “Oh my god, I thought you were…”  (What? Someone else? At this point that seemed inadequate.)  “….I mean, you know how when you see people out of context, it can be…. (This was getting worse by the moment.)  He raised his eyebrow and smiled a cool, tolerant smile. A smile that said, “I would be insulted, but this woman is mentally impaired so I should be kind.”  That was when I realized I could not even recall this man’s name.  I mumbled something about lack of sleep and fled.

 I think all the intelligent, handsome, unavailable men I have met in this city are starting to blur together.