Monday, May 31, 2010

A Smart, Funny One-Act Play (if anyone's looking for one...)

A Marriage for the Gifts


Rat: a woman, late 20s to mid 30s

Dragon: her boyfriend, the same age

Act One

Scene One: Outside Rat’s house. Dragon knocks on the door and Rat opens, wearing a black wig and black velvet cape.

Dragon: (jumping back) What the hell? (laughing) What happened to you? I didn’t know it was Halloween.

Rat (crossing her arms, looking aggravated): Don’t laugh at Hecate. She’s a very powerful Greek goddess. Her symbol is the moon and she represents choices.

Dragon: Don’t tell me you’re becoming one of those New Age Hippie freaks. Is this more of that female empowerment stuff?

Rat: Yes. Why are you so threatened by that? Do powerful women really scare you that much? You know, women don’t need men as much as you think we do.

Dragon: Dude, stop trippin. Get your stuff. We’re gonna be late.

Rat: Late for what? I thought we were driving to Vegas. We have an estimated time of arrival, or something?

Dragon: Just get your stuff and meet me in the car. (Turns and walks toward the car)

Scene Two: In the car. Dragon is driving. He plays with the radio, turns his head from side to side nervously, keeping time with the music by tapping on his steering wheel.

Rat is holding a white rat, petting it and holding it up to her mouth to kiss it. She is mumbling things to it and smiling, as if she were talking to a baby.

Dragon: Why did you have to bring that thing with us?

Rat: (staring at the rat and talking in “baby voice”) Don’t listen to him, little girl. You’re such a sweet little girl…my little girl. Dragon only respects you if you’re a mythological animal, symbolic of strife and overcoming.

Dragon: Dude, it’s a rat. It can’t understand what the fuck you’re saying.

Rat: (turning to him) She understands the vibe, baby, the vibe. If you’re acting hostile, she can sense that, like kids do. That’s why kids who grow up in violent households become violent.

Dragon: Yeah, so what was my excuse then? Why did I become so violent? My dad wasn’t even around when I was growing up.

Rat: And his absence impressed you with a perpetual inferiority complex that manifested itself in your violent behavior and drug addiction.

Dragon: (looking at her and smiling) You think you’re such a psychologist. I fuckin love that about you. (He leans over and kisses her)

Scene Three: A cheap motel room, dingy walls, wallpaper peeling off. Rat is lying on the bed, smoking a cigarette, with her pet rat beside her in a pink cage on the floor. Dragon is standing by the dresser, watching himself do kung fu moves in the mirror.

Rat: Life is kind of like a motel room, don’t you think?

Dragon: (Still staring at himself doing kung fu) Yeah.

Rat: (Sitting up on the bed) No, think about it. Sometimes you feel like the Motel 6, and sometimes you feel like the Ritz.

Dragon: What’s the Ritz?

Rat: The Ritz Carlton. It’s a hotel in New York City.

Dragon: Oh. (He holds a pose in front of the mirror for a moment, then resumes his kung fu moves) Does this look good or do I look like a total douchebag?

Rat: (falling over on the bed laughing. She continues this until Dragon stops his poses and looks over at her.)

Dragon: What?

Rat: (Sitting back up and attempting to talk between peals of laughter) No…………. It’s just that………. I……….. (She falls over laughing again)

Dragon: (Shaking his head) You’re trippin, Rat. (Resumes poses in the mirror)

Rat: (Composing herself ) No, it’s just that, when you said that, I literally pictured a douchebag with legs, doing karate. And it cracked me up.

Dragon: Kung fu.

Rat: What?

Dragon: It’s kung fu, not karate.

Rat: Oh right. Sorry. And no, you don’t look stupid. You look great. I think it’s hot. You should take your clothes off. That would be even hotter.

Dragon: (Holding a pose) All you ever think about is sex.

Rat: No it’s not.

Dragon: Oh yeah, right. Since the first day I met you you were trying to get me into bed.

Rat: I was not! That was you, sweetie.

Dragon: No it wasn’t. I was an innocent student. They sent me to you for help in English, and you seduced me.

Rat: Stop living in a fantasyland. You love being able to say you’re sleeping with your tutor. Everyone is jealous of you, admit it.

Dragon: They are jealous, cause you’re sexy. (He stops his kung fu moves and comes over to sit next to her on the bed. He runs his hand through her hair.) With your wig and your female empowerment stuff. (He leans in to kiss her) It’s so cute.

Rat: (Backing away) Cute? What’s so cute about female empowerment?

Dragon: (Catching himself before he falls over on the bed) I don’t know. It’s just cute. Calm down. I was just trying to be nice.

Rat: Nice? You think belittling my personal belief system is nice? That’s so typical of you, Dragon. I don’t attack the things you’re into. I don’t make fun of your karate stuff.

Dragon: Kung fu.

Rat: What?

Dragon: It’s kung fu not karate. I thought I told you that before.

Rat: Whatever. You know what I mean. I don’t attack it. That’s what I’m saying.

Dragon: No, you just sit there and tell me how hot it would be if I did it naked. That’s really nice. (Sighing) Look, don’t go getting up on your high horse again. I was just trying to be romantic, pay you a compliment, and now I have to sit here and defend myself. That’s bullshit. Just give me a blow job and shut up.

Rat: Fuck you.

Dragon: (Laughing) No. I was hoping to fuck you. That was the point, until you had to get all defensive and shit.

Rat: See? That’s exactly what I mean. Men think they can say a few cute things to women, to appease them, and then they’ll get sex. Why do we let you guys think that?

Dragon: Darlin, I’m not speaking for all men. I’m a depressed asshole who used to shoot up every day. You care too much about what men think.

Rat: No. I really don’t give a shit what you think.

Dragon: (Laughing) You want sex all the time, but then get pissed off because you see it as a male control thing, so you’re constantly fighting with yourself when you should just be enjoying it.

Rat: It’s stupid, isn’t it?

Dragon: (Leaning into her again) Yeah, it’s all stupid. (Starts kissing her cheek, pulling down the strap on her dress)

Rat: (Moving away, causing Dragon to fall down on the bed) The whole love and romance thing is stupid! (Laughing) That’s it! That’s what I am going to write my Masters thesis on. Women have been conditioned to believe that their Prince Charming, knight-in-shining-armor is coming to rescue them, when really the whole notion is a sham designed to keep them passive. (Pointing her finger to accentuate her point) From the Bible on down, society has conditioned us to believe in this big lie. Love is a big fucking lie.

Dragon: (Sitting back up on the bed) It’s not a lie. Love doesn’t exist. Period. Just because people said it did, doesn’t mean it’s true. Life is totally pointless. So what? Accept it and move on.

Rat: So what’s the point of anything then? Why do anything?

Dragon: Sex.

Rat: Sex is the point of everything?

Dragon: (Smiling) Yeah. I think the Bible says that too.

Rat: (laughing) Shut up.

(Dragon leans over and kisses her and they fall back on the bed.)

Scene Four A booth at a coffee shop. Rat has her sunglasses on and a red feather boa around her neck. Dragon is leaning back against the wall, his feet stretched out on the seat. He also has his sunglasses on and is smoking a cigarette.

Dragon: Dude, you gotta love Nevada. Hookers, gambling, and smoking. I’m gonna move here.

Rat: We should go to the casinos when we get to Vegas. I love playing Black Jack.

Dragon: Craps has the best odds in the house. I’ve gotta go check in at the kung fu tournament. You can go to the casino if you want. Just don’t get shitfaced drunk and make me come looking for your ass.

Rat: I’m insulted that you would even say that! I told you, I haven’t gotten really drunk in over six months. I’m mellow now.

Dragon: No, I know. It’s cool. I’m just saying…in Vegas, dude? They fuckin hand the drinks to you at the casinos, for free! If they were handing out heroin, it would be really hard for me not to get fucked up. (Staring at the cigarette as he puts it out in the ashtray) Yeah, sex, cigarettes, and coffee are the only addictions I need anymore. So, where are we staying again?

Rat: The Bellagio.

Dragon: The whaaaat?

Rat: It’s Steve Wynn’s hotel. I heard it’s great. I don’t know. My dad made the reservation for me. He gets air miles on his credit card so he wanted something that cost a lot.

Dragon: Dude, you’re spending a hundred dollars a night so that your dad can get air miles? That’s stupid. It’s gonna end up costing him way more than it would’ve just to buy the fucking ticket.

Rat: I don’t know. I don’t have to pay him back. He did it as a gift.

Dragon: A gift for what? Oh no, you didn’t tell him we were getting married, did you?

Rat: You wish! No, a gift for being a wonderful daughter, who just happens to be a spoiled princess, only child. Be happy. It’s a sweet hotel.

Dragon: I bet your dad is real happy with all the guys you bring home. Have we all been ex-convicts?

Rat: Yeah. Or should’ve been.

Dragon: (Laughs harshly) Maybe that’s why you’re so bitter about love. You’re bringing home the wrong guys. Why don’t you try dating stockbrokers or something?

Rat: (Leaning into the table speaking with a delicious quality to her voice) Because stockbrokers don’t stimulate me. I love the tortured soul.

Dragon: (Sarcastically) And we love you too.

Rat: No, you don’t, that’s exactly it. The only men I really want are the ones who don’t give a shit. I am completely turned-off by too much attention. Isn’t that sad?

Dragon: Kind of, but you’re choosing that.

Rat: I don’t think so. I think certain energies are just drawn together and there’s nothing you can do to stop the momentum.

Dragon: What the fuck are you talking about?

Rat: Forget it, Dragon.

Dragon: (Smiling) I knew that about you though.

Rat: What?

Dragon: I knew you were one of those chicks that was used to having men fall at her feet. The only ones they ever fall for are the ones they can’t have. It’s a challenge.

Rat: (Sarcastically) Oh that’s so calculating of you.

Dragon: Yeah, I’m tricky like that.

Scene Five: Dragon and Rat walk down the Vegas strip, then turn a corner and walk down a lesser lighted street.

Dragon: Dude, I can’t believe you just won $700.

Rat: (Laughing loudly) I was so drunk off my ass. I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing!

Dragon: I told you craps had the best odds in the house.

Rat: I’m going shopping tomorrow! I need new clothes…and a purse. I need a new purse really bad.

Dragon: And you’re gonna hook me up with some nice jeans… a suit. I don’t even own a suit.

Rat: (Grabbing his hand) I love Vegas! Where else can you indulge like this without feeling guilty?

Dragon: I know. I feel like we just got married or something.

Rat: (Stopping in front of a streetside chapel, with the word “weddings” in pink neon) Wouldn’t that be funny?

Dragon: What? To get married?

Rat: Yeah, just to see what it felt like. Do you think it feels any different when someone pronounces you “husband and wife”?

Dragon: I don’t know. Wanna find out?

Rat: (Doubling over with laughter) Oh my God! Did you just ask me to marry you? (Hysterically laughing) That is so funny.

Dragon: (He looks uncomfortable at first but then starts laughing too) That is funny, huh?

Rat: We should go get married.

Dragon: And then we could go home and tell everybody so we could get gifts, and then we could split them and use them in our separate houses.

Rat: Yeah, get married for the gifts and then lead totally separate lives.

Dragon: ‘Cause then it wouldn’t even be like being married, you know? You would be more like my girl, my family or something.

Rat: You should take my last name. It would be really cool if you did that.

Dragon: (Laughing) I don’t even remember your last name. Why don’t we just keep our own names? We’re not living together.

Rat: But what about the children? They’re going to have to have one of our last names. Why can’t we take mine? The conventions of patriarchal society will never…

Dragon: (Excitedly cutting her off) Oh! How about this? The girls can take your name and the boys can take mine. Or we could reverse it, whatever. We could split it up, just to be fair. Oh dude! I can’t wait to teach my kids kung fu. That’ll be awesome!

Rat: I know! That would be so cute. I think I’ll homeschool. I’ve always wanted to do that. You know, live somewhere out in the woods and be that earth goddess kind of mom.

Dragon: I can totally see you doing that. (Leaning in to kiss her, taking her face in his hands.) So, what are you going to give me for a honeymoon present? It’ll be our wedding night tonight.

Rat: (Closing her eyes, smiling as he kisses her cheek and her neck.) Hmmmm, I could think of a few things. Those fuzzy handcuffs we saw at the lingerie store down the street. I could do so many things to you with those.

Dragon: (His mouth to her ear) What about the things I could do to you? What about that French maid costume?

Rat: (Abruptly pulling away) A maid? You want me to dress up like a maid? Why? So you can demean me as a woman? Is that what you think of me? I’m your servant?

Dragon: (Jumping back. He stares at her and shakes his head, laughing.) No! That’s not what I meant! You were talking about fantasies. (Getting angry) You think it’s so bad that I want a French maid costume? You were just talking about handcuffs, Rat. Handcuffs! I’m sick of your high horse feminist shit. It’s OK for you to want to tie me up but I can never do anything to you. I can’t even say anything without you biting my fucking head off. That’s bullshit!

Rat: (Shocked) I never get to tie you up. You never let me do that.

Dragon: No, you just fucking say it all the time. (Pausing and chuckling deviously) I’ll let you do it tonight if you give me one thing.

Rat: What’s that?

Dragon: (Coming up close to her, speaking low and seductively) I’ll let you get the fuzzy handcuffs, the whips, whatever you want, if you say you love me right now. (Suggestively looking her up and down) Say it once and you’ll get whatever you want. (He runs his hands over her shoulders, down to her waist, and begins kissing her.)

Rat: (Closing her eyes, taking a deep breath) Mmmmmm… that sounds like a good deal.

Dragon: (Still speaking low and seductively) Just say it…once.

Rat: (Backing away from him, squinting her eyes.) Are you just doing this to feed your ego? Just so you can say I said it first? Or do you really want me to tell you I love you?

Dragon: I just wanna hear you say it, Miss Ice-Cold, bad-ass feminist. I wanna hear those words come out of your mouth.

Rat: (Pausing for a second) I don’t know. It’s just an ego boost for you. Why should I contribute to your already huge ego?

Dragon: Handcuffs. (Coming up to her and putting his arms around her waist again, his mouth close to her ear; speaking low and seductively again.) Picture me, completely helpless, lying on the bed…completely at your mercy.

Rat: Oh, you are such a tease.

Dragon: (Backing away) Say it.

Rat: (Laughing nervously) I don’t know.

Dragon: Say it, Rat. Say it.

Rat: (Sighing) OK, fine…God! (Clearing her throat, stepping back, adjusting her shirt, staring at him.) OK. (Sighs again, then pronounces each word slow and dramatically.) Dragon, I…love…you… (Dragon says nothing, but stands there smiling, a mixture of mischief and satisfaction on his face. There is a pause as the two face each other in silence. Finally, he walks right up to her and grabs her by the shoulders.)

Dragon: (Speaking as slow and dramatically as she had.) I…love…you…too. (He claps and starts laughing loudly.) That’s how you said it! You were all mooooviiinnnnggg your mouth so slllllloooooowwwlllyyy. (Clapping and laughing again.) That was awesome though! You were all serious, talking to me like I was deaf. Why were you so loud?

Rat: Shut up! I said it. Now, I get to go buy those handcuffs.

Dragon: After the wedding.

Rat: (Laughing) Yeah, after the wedding.

Dragon: (Throwing his arm around her.) Come on darlin. Let’s go get married.

Rat: (Putting her arm around his waist and looking up at him, smiling.) Let’s go! (They start walking.) Are you sure you don’t want to take my last name?

Dragon: We already talked about this.

Rat: I’ll tell you I love you again. (Dragon shakes his head and they walk into the chapel.)


The First Ten Pages of My Novel!!!

He Never Wore Khaki in My Fantasies

Chapter One

Brenda rolled her window halfway down, keeping one hand on the wheel while the other fished in her purse for a smoke. I picked the lighter up from the dashboard and held it out to her, hoping she would look back up before we drove off the freeway.

“Bloody car lighter doesn’t work,” she said. She leaned over and I lit her cigarette myself, wishing I could make “bloody” anything sound that hip and natural.

Brenda had spent a semester in London when we were juniors in college, and she came back with the greatest pseudo-English accent. It was nothing obvious, but every so often you could detect an inflection change in her sentences, or a softening of her “a” sounds. If I were talking instead of writing, I could demonstrate, but I can’t on paper, even though my writing teacher says I should be able to. She said that’s what good writers can do, make you hear things and see things, just by writing a few words. But I’m not that good yet.

I write sports articles for the local paper, and only joined the writing class because Brenda wanted me to. She wanted to impress an author she met when covering a fashion show, and thought he would take notice of her if she said she was writing a novel. He turned out to be gay, which gave her some good material. I told her people have been writing about unrequited love for centuries. She got through half of it, but then turned her attention toward a local musician on the verge of making it big, so she stopped the first novel and began work on a new one, the one she calls her “masterpiece.”

We worked for the same paper, but her assignments were a lot more glamorous than mine. She was the “Style and Fashion” reporter and I was a tomboy fighting for word space on a man’s page. I enjoyed the challenge, and sometimes, I knew that my low cut shirts got me access that those overweight, balding reporters could never get. Sexism did have its benefits. I was a good reporter. I knew sports, and grew up watching football religiously every Sunday, the only child of a father who had pro linebacker dreams himself, but settled for a job as executive sales manager instead.

He didn’t want a boy. He was content raising a rough and tumble girl who could hold her own against any man. I guess that’s what he got. I enjoyed a challenge and could talk football statistics with the best of them. The contradiction was amusing, even though it confused a lot of men. I didn’t look like a tomboy. I had long, curly black hair and brown eyes, with long lashes. I liked getting dressed up every once in awhile and enjoyed listening to classical music and reading poetry. Brenda told me once that I scared men away because I was intimidating.

“Face it darling,” she said, “You aren’t exactly easy to categorize and that sometimes scares men. You just need to find someone who respects that and isn’t afraid that you know more than he does.”

I knew she was right, but I didn’t think that sort of man existed. He was a fantasy, a figment of our female imagination: someone who was caring and considerate, sexy yet gentle, and focused always on us. I didn’t like reality most of the time. It was boring and repressive. I preferred to live in fantasies.

It was dark on the freeway and the lights of Sacramento faded in the distance, as the early fall chill blew through the car window. It was midnight and we were driving back to San Jose from a party Brenda’s new boyfriend Eric had invited us to. Brenda was holding her cigarette in the same hand that held the wheel. She was pushing buttons on the radio with the other. Her bracelets tinkled when she stuck her cigarette out to ash it, and her rings tapped the glass. Everything about Brenda was melodic and graceful, sophisticated and elegant; everything except her name: Brenda. It had all the delicate conjurings of a scowling librarian in a mumu. She was tall and willowy, with long blond hair and high cheekbones. She deserved a more elegant name. Her parents might as well have named her “Ruth” or “Alice.”

I studied her out of the corner of my eye. In my novel she would be called Ivy or Lauren, something classy. No wait, Ivy sounded too much like a stripper. Cicily. In my novel she would be named Cicily and would be a fashion designer in Paris.

“So, what did you think of Eric?” she asked, as she threw the cigarette out the window.

Smoking fit Brenda because women who smoked in their 20s and 30s still looked sexy doing it. It was ethereal. Exactly when did it start looking pathetic? When did you go from ethereal beauty to crouping old lady playing the nickel-slot machines in Reno? It was a long way to fall and it happened so quickly.

“I like him,” I said. “But you don’t.”

She laughed. “OK. I know he’s a Republican, but he’s cute isn’t he? He’s really smart and always wears Polo shirts.” She paused and rolled the window back up. “Conservative but cute. He reminds me of Alex P. Keaton in those old ‘Family Ties’ episodes.”

I laughed. “I haven’t thought about that show in years. My cousin used to think Alex P. Keaton was cute, but I always thought the dad was better.”

“God, Danielle,” she said. “You and that father figure thing. Why do you always go for older men? You know, the trend these days is older women and younger men.”

“Who cares what the trend is. I think for myself, thank you very much.”

Brenda shook her head. “So, tell me about this hot football coach, Mark Quaid. Have you shagged him yet?”

I felt a familiar giddiness rise up in my stomach. It was the same feeling I used to get in tenth grade watching Corey Sherman in his navy blue Speedos, diving at the swim meet.

Corey never liked me. Said we were better off as friends. “It’s not you, it’s me.” And then he stared straight into my eyes, creased his brow, and said, “I just don’t want to ruin our friendship.” Friendship? We didn’t have a friendship. We had two classes together and my friends used to dedicate songs to him from me at the dances, when they knew he liked Carla, a senior, on the swim team.

I was obsessed with Corey for the good part of two years. I tore his picture out of the yearbook and hung it above my bed, right there in between Johnny Depp and Joe Montana. There was Corey, with his goofy gap-toothed grin and blond hair hanging down one side of his forehead, wearing a striped shirt.

“Oh I get it,” Brenda said. “You love talking about my sex life, but you won’t tell me about yours now? Come on Danni, we’ve never kept secrets from each other before.”

I stared out the window, into the darkness on the side of the road and thought about what I wanted to tell Brenda; something so good and sexy that she would be impressed with me for a change. I pictured it in my head. Mark was sitting there staring at me, his deep blue eyes lowered, with a look that suggested he wanted to do a lot more than talk about football. He was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt with the team logo on the pocket, a pair of faded jeans, and black leather boots.

Where were we? A quaint French café? A downtown coffee shop?

No, we were at an expensive restaurant, with the lights dimmed and one red rose in a vase on the table.

“I’ve been expecting you,” he said, standing up to greet me. He put his arm on my shoulder and guided me to the chair.

“You look beautiful,” he whispered. His lips brushed my ear and I could smell him: that mixture of fresh aftershave and smoky cologne.

“So, is it true about football players?” Brenda asked, oblivious to my silence. “Are they great in bed? Someone told me that once, but I’m not sure I believe it. Aren’t they all on steroids?”

“They’re not all on steroids,” I said reproachfully. “Why would the coach be on steroids? That’s just stupid.”

“God,” she said. “Sorry. Don’t get so defensive.”

A brief silence followed as I tried to resume my fantasy. Why would Mark be wearing his team sweatshirt out to dinner? He should be wearing a blue suit with a green silk tie. Green? Too flashy. Mark wasn’t the flashy type. He would prefer a blue tie, or no tie at all. The only times I ever saw him he wore jeans and one of those team sweatshirts, hanging loose around the chest.

One day he was talking about special teams and I just melted into that shirt, right through the fabric and onto his chest. He worked out with the players everyday, and had that one vein traversing his arm the way so many bodybuilders do. It wasn’t bulging out, but merely suggesting itself there on his upper arms, a quiet suggestion of his strength. He liked to pull up the sleeves of the sweatshirt and you could see his muscular arms, with a small shamrock tattoo on his left bicep. What would he look like without that bulky pullover? With nothing on but a pair of skimpy white briefs? I must have thought about those questions more than I ever did about football.

“Danni?” Brenda said. “Why aren’t you talking to me? OK, forget Mark. Obviously you don’t want to talk about him. Are you going to the work party next weekend?”

“Yes, of course,” I said, watching the sea of car lights passing us on the other side of the freeway. There was something calming about all of that movement. “You are, aren’t you?”

“I guess. I’m trying to get Eric to go. That will be our first formal date.”

“You put too much emphasis on all of that, Bren,” I said. “Just relax and enjoy it. Trust me, you won’t be together for that long. Don’t stress.”

“Oh, that’s nice,” she snapped. “Why are you trying to sabotage my relationship? You just want to set me up with some football player, don’t you? So we can double date?”

“No,” I said. “I don’t care who you go out with, but I know he’s not your type. What is he? The State Senator’s aide? Come on, Bren. You need the Senator himself, not the peon at the bottom.”

She turned to me in the darkness and then looked back at the road. I could tell that she had flashed me one of her signature condescending looks, with squinted eyes and pouting lips, but I was being honest. Brenda and I had known each other too long to hide the truth. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Eric, it was just that he was content meeting the needs of others and not becoming someone himself.

Brenda was a climber. Everyone she had ever dated since college was an upwardly mobile person, a person who had goals. She needed someone to satisfy her expensive tastes. Just to go to the party that night, she wore a Hermes scarf, a silk blouse, and wool skirt. True, she could afford it with her own salary, but she didn’t want to buy it. She wanted someone to give it to her, to lavish her with gifts and treat her like a queen, the way her father did.

Brenda sighed as if thinking it over. “I know. You could fix me up with one of those cute little rookies, straight out of college: a twenty year old with not much to say but a whole lot of money. Fabulous!”

I nodded. “I’ll see what I can do. You should come to practice with me one day. Tell your editor you’re doing a piece on gridiron fashion. I’m sure you could make something out of it. The team is hot. You should come take a look.”

“God, I feel old,” she said. We’re already almost thirty and those guys are babies compared to us. Isn’t that sad?”

“I always feel like a kid next to Mark. He just turned forty, but he always calls me a kid for some reason.”

“Oh that’s sexy,” she sneered.

“Well, in a way it is,” I said, feeling giddy again. “He’s like the wizened mentor.”

“Danni, this guy could call you a stupid bitch and you would think it’s sexy. You are so far gone.”

“I am not,” I said.

“Yes you are. You were making judgments about my man, so I can do it about yours too.”

“Yeah,” I said, “But there’s one difference. I’ve met Eric and I’ve seen you two together. There’s no chemistry between you. I can tell. You’ve never met Mark.”

“I don’t think I ever will,” she said. “Isn’t he married?”

“He’s getting divorced.”

She chuckled. “Yeah, likely story.”

“He is! They’re already separated. He moved out two months ago.”

“Were you shagging him two months ago?”

I loved the way Brenda said “shagging” and was tempted not to answer her just so she would have to repeat it.

I hesitated, lost somewhere between my fantasy dinner with Mark and the answer to Brenda’s question. The wind hummed outside the car and the sea of lights moved steadily along the other side of the freeway.

“We haven’t done anything yet,” I said, blushing. I was glad she couldn’t see me in the dark.

“Oh my God!” she said, banging her hand on the steering wheel. “You haven’t done anything? You mean you’re wasting all this time on someone who hasn’t even asked you out? Are you crazy?”

“I don’t care if he asks me out or not, Bren,” I said, trying to sound nonchalant, but instead sounding flat and monotone, like a robot. “We have a good relationship and get along well. That’s all I ever said. I never said I wanted him to ask me out.”

She spoke slowly, dragging out each word. “You… are…such…a…liar.”

I started laughing. “Well, OK. I want him to ask me out, badly. He has become my absolute number one fantasy, and I think about him every waking minute. Is it that obvious?”


“Yeah, I thought it was. It’s just that I see him all the time, and I have to interview him all the time. He’s so cute. He’s got this little boy quality to him, and he always looks like he has been caught doing something naughty. You know what I mean?”

“Yeah!” Brenda’s voice became louder. “Now it’s getting good.” She grabbed her purse from the floor and fished around for another cigarette. “I know what you should do,” she said, before she put the cigarette to her lips. “You should write a story about him. You know, something really romantic, and then give it to him as a present. That way you never have to tell him how you feel. He can just read it and guess what you’re saying. I’m always trying to do that with men I like. It’s really quite cute.”

“I can’t do that,” I said. “I write articles about him for a living. That would look so unprofessional and stupid. And I’m such a dork compared to those cute cheerleaders he sees at all the games. Why would he care about what I have to say?”

“You are so lame!” Brenda squealed. “I can’t believe you are too chicken to do this. You know Danni, this is why you never get the guy you want. You are too scared to make the first move.”

I thought again of Corey Sherman and the way I used to watch him diving from the corner of the bleachers where he wouldn’t see me. I would sit there for the entire swim meet, just watching his every nuance, and he would never know. I studied the way he shook his head back and forth three times when he got out of the pool; and the way he would take the little blue hand towel and rub it up and down his legs, leaving his arms to dry in the sun. He liked to go over and talk to his brother in the stands and high-five his dad. In my fantasy I was sitting there beside his family and they loved me. They wanted us to marry right after graduation. He would come up to me after he got out of the pool and kiss me after every dive.

“Leave me alone Bren,” I said. “I don’t think Mark Quaid would be flattered by some weak attempt at romance writing.”

“Alright,” she said, sighing. “I tried to help you.”

Some Copy I Wrote for a Housecleaning Service

Brittany Hogan

Some of my friends think hiring a cleaning service is elitist. I think it’s a necessity. I didn’t hire a cleaning service because I wanted to impress anyone. I hired a cleaning service because I simply cannot keep my house clean!

It’s a skill I do not possess, like excelling at math or doing crossword puzzles.

Let’s face it, there are some people who are organized and some, like myself, who seem to require a certain amount of chaos in order to be productive. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those people who leave dishes in the sink for a week. I’m clean enough. It’s just that I seem to attract clutter. I don’t even know where it comes from. I clean off the counter on Monday, and by the following weekend, I am drowning in a stack of tabloids and discarded papers all over again.

I don’t require much in the way of maintenance, just a weekly primping to make the house presentable. I don’t need a live-in maid. A simple service, once a week, by safe, honest professionals works for me. I need to be able to trust that the cleaning service I let into my house won’t steal my belongings, throw away anything important, or use dangerous chemicals. I need to be able to depend on them to arrive on time every week and to do a thorough job. That is all I require.

They do not have to be trendy, profiled in any magazines, or clients to the stars. They just have to be dependable.

I didn’t hire a cleaning service because I wanted to show-off. I hired a cleaning service because I needed to survive!

The Style over Substance Problem in American Society

The doctor looked at us. “Sorry,” he said, “But I am not really qualified to deal with this. To me it looks like Asperger’s.”

“But they already ruled that out,” I protested, yet again. “Our pediatrician recommended that we take Will to the Autism Spectrum Disorder clinic in the city, and after two days of extensive testing, they ruled it out.”

He nodded. “On what grounds?”

I sighed. Sisyphus standing at the precipice. Here we go again. I leaned back on the couch, thrusting my hand out in the direction of the clinic’s report, lying on his lap. “It’s a processing issue. He’s processing things at a 7 year old level.”

Will was 10.

“And,” I continued, “they said he was virtually incapable of abstract thought.”

The doctor shifted in his chair, now attacking the problem from a different angle. “And the school? Why did the school turn him down for an IEP?” He glanced down at the report, opening the cream colored folder and flipping through the pages.

“He didn’t qualify. They did a battery of tests.”

Suddenly, he jumped out of his chair. “Maybe…” he reached up to the top of his bookshelf, “if I can find a DSM diagnosis, it would convince them to provide the services. Maybe they just need a clinical diagnosis.”

Despite having my reservations about the DSM’s efficacy (Didn’t they declare homosexuality a mental disorder not too long ago?), I feigned optimism. Maybe if he wrote a letter, the school would feel legally obligated to provide resource services to Will. Maybe, in this litigious society, they had to.

After five years of worry, chasing the tail of my son’s unspecified psychiatric/neurological disorder, I was starting to better understand why people hate our current healthcare system. But to me, an out-of-work middle school English teacher, Will’s case obviated the need for a symbiotic community of healthcare and education; each working separately to fulfill their goals, while routinely meeting to discuss areas in which their goals overlap, which are indeed many.

What struck me, after spending four years in a public school classroom, where students’ IEPs were neither strictly followed nor completely understood, is that education is a symptom of good health. When one is of sound mind, one is of sound body; and of sound mind I mean free of mental distress, the kind exacerbated by a deficiency of the mental tools necessary to alleviate it. When a country educates its citizens, the country is full of well-being. Conversely, when a country is repressive and hierarchical, as is the United States today, it foists its neuroses upon its citizens. We are not only sick in spirit, we are sick in mind and body as well; all of us, dependent on drugs for survival, held captive by our love of excess to the corporate machinations of greed and deceit.

The financial woes befalling our public schools are leaving education prey to the same malevolent forces, as charter schools become more popular and the current Secretary of Education enforces policies tantamount to wholesale privatization. What is education now but a money game, a place where lawyers lie in gluttonous wait, all too eager to strengthen their reputations while lining their pockets with a litany of litigation? My former superintendent began his inaugural speech to our district with the mantra, “No more lawsuits.”

What I began to better understand as I sat in the doctor’s office was that in 2010, America was suffering a catastrophic drought of substance the likes of which I had never seen in my lifetime (And I was born during Watergate!). The frolicking Ford years; Reagan’s shoot-em-up Western audacity; Clinton’s indiscretions, none of it compared to the complete lack of substance prevalent in American culture today. Is it just me, or do you get the sinking feeling that nobody really cares about anything? Or maybe people care. They just care about the wrong things. We pay lipservice to the environment; to human rights and the earthquake in Haiti; but what we really devote our energy to is vice. Vice is so prevalent in American society today that it forces even the most ardent among us to react to it. We are constantly having to defend ourselves, against what we say, who we say it to, lest we get sued. Doctors can’t make a diagnosis; teachers can’t advise; people can’t have an opinion, lest they get sued.

Civil rights in this country have faced a steady erosion since 9/11, turning what used to be an inalienable right (having an opinion) into a seditious thoughtcrime. Barack Obama’s friendship with Jeremiah Wright was considered a near fatal liability to him during the 2008 presidential campaign. Conservatives were quick to paint Obama, a former college professor and man of great intellect, as a “radical” who possessed nefarious ulterior motives for wanting to be president. Obama’s curiosity was never painted as a positive thing. Not once did any of the pundits, Democratic or Republican, put forth the view that a person interested in others’ opinions could actually be a good thing. What better way to deal with world leaders, some of whom do not share your views, than to be tolerant and hear them out? What could have been a seminal moment in American, and therefore, world history, was reduced to the familiar realm of fear-mongering and overhyped insecurity. Our golden moment was tarnished, and Obama has been encountering road blocks ever since.

The Democrats’ frustration over their squandering of a national mandate for change is embodied in the areas of healthcare and civil rights. Healthcare and education again find themselves coconspirators in an insidious plot to retain their funding while also placating the status quo. Along with their failed healthcare initiative comes an added blight: a one-year extension of the Patriot Act. It seems that Obama’s support of it was disregarded when he ran for office. He voted for it as a senator after all. So swept-up were Americans in an almost evangelical fervor during the 2008 election, that they let Mr. Obama’s positions on national security go unnoticed. Since taking office in 2009, Obama has advocated a 30,000 troop surge in Afghanistan, placating liberals by stating a timetable for Iraq. While Obama plays Whack-a-Mole with foreign policy, his Democratic allies in Congress, anemic and divisive as they are, lose seats along with supermajorities, what was sure to be the cornerstone of a resurgent revolution for change. The healthcare bill seems interminably stalled, and now, the Patriot Act has slipped through once again.

While the media becomes more bifurcated, engaging in increasingly partisan arguments, consumed by their verbal tennis match, the citizens become increasingly self-obsessed. Where else is this more evident than in the plethora of reality shows that have sprung up in the Clinton and Bush years? Americans are obsessed with fame, each of us intent on relishing our God-granted 15 minutes before settling back into the depressing obscurity of debt and greed, frustrated desires and low self-worth. We love the machine that controls us, but we see a way out, a fabricated way out to relieve us of our fears. Money. If only we were as rich as Paris Hilton, as driven as Oprah Winfrey, if only we could assume that, happy consumers one and all. And how does money control us? The same way it controls education: By promising instant gratification, an end to suffering.

The fascist strain is alive and well in America because it is the control by those who have the most resources. Moneyed interests target areas for “improvement” and then they begin their take-over, through lawsuits and bribes, threats and incentives. The status quo remains and the citizens blindly follow along, too assuming and consuming, too wrapped up in their own neuroses, to know or even care what havoc the moneyed powers have wrought.

Healthcare and education, both in dire need of transfusions, both abused and broken, but neither truly being fixed. Lawyers can gut the system all they want, for there will always be someone to sue, but true change will never come about until practitioners can again express their opinions. Change comes with dialogue. Otherwise it is dysfunction; otherwise it is a sham; otherwise it is nothing more than style over substance.

Sex and the City 2 - Official Trailer [HD]

Sex and the Twenty-First Century

I don’t like when politics intrudes into my movies.
Because, as Goebbels said, “Whoever can conquer the street will one day conquer the state, for every form of power politics and any dictatorship-run state has its roots in the street.”
Politics + movies = propaganda.
Do they really think we do not know this? But maybe we don’t. What is the modern American paradigm if not opportunistic and manipulative? Is it possible to be consciously manipulated? The producers of “Sex and the City 2” think so. Watching this movie just confused me. I wasn’t sure if I should feel sorrier for Liza Minelli, women in burkas, or all of the American women they convinced to see this film, which they billed as some kind of contemporary look at women’s studies and gender roles.
Usually, propaganda in movies has to be somewhat concealed. This movie felt like a promotional piece put out by the Abu Dhabi tourism board. The characters make references to the “new Middle East” throughout the film, and seem intent on reminding us that they were traveling to “the future.” Then we have Aidan walking through the arches at the hotel reciting the names of the seven countries that make up the United Arab Emirates. Aidan wouldn’t know the seven countries, much less waste precious time with his long, lost love reciting them. And what’s with that plot twist anyway? How desperate were they for material? They make Aidan an international rug dealer, who just happens to be on the same street of the same market as Carrie, at the same time? And then she just happens to be pissed off at her husband and her bad book review, so she kisses Aidan and then runs back to her hotel room to call her husband and tell him. Manufactured drama isn’t drama at all. Drama only works when there’s a grain of truth in it.
Samantha also seemed to be drawn out of character, as if wanting to appeal to the large gay audience the series has developed over the years. She was hornier than ever, and in her menopausal haze, seemed to be too tired to even bother with the intelligent, yet provocative conversation for which she has become a fan favorite. Now, her conversation drifts pointedly to sex from the beginning. She utters lines like, “Are you a big boy?” as she grabs her date’s crotch in the middle of an Arab restaurant. He leaves visibly aroused, however, I fail to see how her cheap, to-the-point talk could have done anything other than make him laugh.
I understand the need for rapprochement with the Middle East, but do the producers of this movie really think they can do it with fashion? Carrie and her girls prance around the desert looking ridiculous. My guess is that the first movie was written shortly after the series ended, therefore keeping the continuity; whereas the sequel has completely lost its way, forgetting who all of these characters really are. Their lives are completely consumed by fashion. (Carrie walking through an Arab bazaar dressed in a tacky Dior getup, carrying a lorgnette? A lorgnette?) And, I’m sorry, but if you put a contemporary writer in the middle of the Middle East, she’s going to have something to write about. Carrie decides to mope about her marriage and a bad book review instead.
The women seem completely oblivious to their surroundings, and that is what makes this film so maddening. They laugh and point out the cute head scarves and the Burka bathingsuits, but they are too consumed with their own frivolity to take into account where they are and what they’re doing there. Even Samantha’s final showdown with the town elders is weak. Look how easily they escaped! Look how American capitalism can charm its way through your city, despite your laws and customs. The premise screams social critique, but the producers of “Sex and the City 2” missed that. They only cared about profits, maximizing profits amidst their newfound patrons. I went to see this movie for the ribald banter; the situations to which every woman can relate. Instead I got gratuitous pandering, which is the worst form of flattery.
So, next time (assuming there will be a next time), let’s see Samantha battling menopause, or facing her fears of getting old; let’s see Carrie questioning her marriage to Big; Miranda grappling with being a working mother; and Charlotte grappling with being a mother, but let’s see it in its natural setting, on the streets of New York, which is where it all began. Let’s tackle real women’s issues, the ones that prey on their self-esteem, and not just their rampant materialism. Better yet, maybe we should consider retiring this series once and for all. There’s nothing worse than an idea whose time has passed.