Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Massage !#$%@^@! Therapy

I was out of town, working on a show, and just about in knots from the stress. Things weren't going well, and I had woken up with a stiff neck and back, to the point where I had to turn my whole body to look to the left or the right. I looked like a life-size puppet.

I decided that I would treat myself to a massage; since I was without a car, I arranged for a massage therapist to come to me, bringing his table and the whole shebang. I just picked one out of the paper. My mistake.

(Okay, this isn't about THAT kind of massage. Just so you know.)

I was staying in the semi-deserted high-rise in Minneapolis. The wind was whistling around the building when Mr. Massage Therapist got there. He seemed nice enough, just a regular Midwestern guy, with a touch of a Minnesoohhtan accent. He set up the table in the living room, and I got all settled in under a towel, hoping to have my neck and back thawed by the massage.

My head was in the face cradle. All I could see was his feet as he took his place to begin the massage.

"One thing, before we begin," he said. "I have Tourette's syndrome. I hope that's okay."

"Well ... uh ... sure. No problem."

I had gone to school with a guy who had Tourette's. He kept it under control with medication. He had the occasional snort or wince, but it was very mild. I wasn't bothered by Mr. M. T.'s confession. How bad could it be?

He started in working on my neck, very gently. And then about two minutes into the massage, he had a spasm. I could see his toes curl and could feel his hands tense up on my body as he struggled mightily to control himself. It passed, and he kept on going.

Every so often, he'd be seized with a spasm and his whole body would clench. My body, in a sympathetic reaction, began seizing up with tension as well. By the time he was finished, I was a pretzel.

I felt like saying, hell, let loose with the swearing, if it's going to help any. Not everybody with Tourette's has that aspect of it, I know. But actually, by the end there, I felt like swearing.

I was polite as he he left. I admired his desire to help others, and his openness about his condition. But still, perhaps massage therapy was not his true calling.

The only time I'd had a worse massage, I'd gone to get a session on my birthday. The guy kept the radio playing "1010WINS" loudly (New York's traffic and weather station), so I spent my hour being coated in thick oil and being berated by announcers going on about the delays at the Lincoln Tunnel and the George Washington Bridge.

Back in the Minneapolis high-rise, I was worse off than before. I tried sleeping on the floor. As a result, not only could I not turn from side to side, I could barely bend over. I could only make a sort of Mandarin bow.

I resorted to doing the exercises I'd learned back in drama school. I laid on the floor in rehearsal and stretched. I rolled about curled in a ball like an onion. I dropped over like a rag doll and tried to realign my spine. A little better, but no good.

I checked into seeing a chiropractor, but in the end I called another massage therapist, this time on a recommendation from a friend. He arrived with a table and no bizarre behavioral problems. I cried a little bit as the tension flowed out of my body. He told me that each little knot carried with it a bit of muscle memory, a storing of emotion. Given the stress that was going on in rehearsal, it was a wonder I still had a spine at all.

Come to think of it, on that particular show, I wasn't exhibiting much of a spine. Use it or lose it, I guess.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


How easy it is to fall off the blogwagon.

I lined up to do my duty as an American consumer, and saw Star Wars Episode III yesterday. I hated the first two, but slogged through them also, trying to recapture the magic of being eleven years old and hearing that fanfare and overture for the first time.

I saw Episode I with three drag queens, and that didn't even help all that much.

When the original Star Wars came out, I saw it sixteen times in the theater. After the eleventh time, my parents said no more. I snuck in five more times. Of course by the sixteenth time, I knew the movie so well, half the time I turned around and watched the pattern the light of the film projector made in the slightly dusty air.

My cousin B., who is just a couple of months older than I am, became a rabid Star Wars figurine collector. He had them all, including the Millenium Falcon (the large size model.)

I hated him for that. Not that I wanted all those figurines all lined up perfectly on little shelves in my closet. Oh no. I think it was his gloating that did it.

I had the Star Trek action figures, along with the bridge set that included the transporter chamber, where you stuffed Captain Kirk in, whirled it around, and presto! He was gone.

My Star Trek guys all gradually lost their clothes, probably due to too many deep-sea diving expeditions in the jacuzzi. I'm sure that's it.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Tour guide syndrome, with a cameo appearance by Clint Eastwood

As David mentioned in his blog, I have a new addiction. I have become obsessed with the forums on a travel website, where people post things like "Please critique my itinerary!" "Which area of Maui should I stay Wailea-Makena or Ka'anapali - Lahaina?" "Candid opinions about Sandwich, MA" and "If we can't get the Ahwahnee, then Fish Camp?"

The forums are divided into regional boards; I spend most of my time on the U.S. board, where most of the questions are about either Hawaii, New York, Las Vegas, or Yosemite National Park. The New York questions tend to be the same: what are the hot restaurants? How does the Marriott Marquis compare to the W? And, can I get tickets to Spamalot?

Occasionally, someone will ask a question for which I have a helpful answer; I will then join the crowd of people rushing to post their opinions. Sometimes posters will snidely dismiss the advice given in the previous answer. "Sure, that restaurant is cozy - so cozy that the next table is in your lap!" Or, "[Restaurant X] is not a good is dirty, cramped, and unpleasant!!! Went once would never, ever go again! The food looked terrible, I would not eat it, my husband did and he thought it was terrible. " Or dismisses a hotel that one person recommends as "crowded, loud and tacky!"

Sometimes the questioners ask that to which there are no answers: "Which Mall of America hotel would you choose, and why?" These posts sit lonely, unanswered, ignored. (If you're staying at a hotel at the Mall of America, you clearly haven't considered the "why.")

But what's worse is if you ask a question which has been asked and answered every other day ("Where should we stay in New York? We want something convenient to all the major attractions!") you will simply be wearily commanded to search the forums for the answers given when people still had the enthusiasm to give an opinion. Questioners become demanding "Tell me about Waimea Canyon!" It can become quite a fracas.

This forum appeals to me for two reasons: one is that it presses the "I'm a helper!" button in me quite strongly. I crave secret knowledge -- both learning it and dispensing it. By reading the forum, I now know whether or not I should stay in Wailea-Makena or Ka'anapali, and I now have my own candid opinion about Sandwich, MA. My heart leaps when I see a question that I can answer - recently there were a spate of queries about the Renaissance Hotel in Hollywood, where I stayed a grand total of one night last summer. My stay there, of course, makes me an expert willing to bestow my considered opinion ("it was great!") on anyone who asks.

I was shocked to see a question about Michigan's Upper Peninsula recently; I raced to clack out a post covering the bits that I knew, all in the vicinity of Eagle Harbor - which is not even the most traveled section of the U.P. Still, it was information I had that nobody else had. I was needed!

The number of "Here's our itinerary - critique us, please!" posts is quite extraordinary. At first I was surprised that anyone would open themselves up to the often-finicky appraisal of know-it-all strangers, but then I began to see that there was something to be gained. First-time visitors to New York often don't have a sense of how much time it takes to get around the city, or a sense of which locations are near each other. I did point out to one traveler that her shopping plan for a Sunday took her from the Upper West Side to Chinatown and back again - on the weekend when subway service is usually disrupted in some way.

The most difficult cases are people who are trying to pack in every possible experience in a madcap Manhattan weekend. For instance:

Here's my itinerary for a long weekend in Manhattan. I know it's busy but I'm trying to be very efficient with my time. I'll come back later to see my favorites. We're staying in midtown at the Belvedere. Should I take the airtrain from the airport and then taxi the rest of the way to the hotel. Please comment on my itinerary, food choices, anything I'm missing or not worth it? Thanks!

FRIDAY (Arrive at hotel 7am ish)
NY Water Taxi @ South St. Seaport to Grimaldi's Pizza in Brooklyn, Ice Cream Factory, Walk Bridge
Shop Soho/Village/Canal St. (Shopping: Betwixt, Soho Market, Pearl River Mart, Best Canal St. bet. Mulberry/ Broadway) (Eats: Dos Caminos (Mexican), Dukes (American), Paul's, Tenesee Mountain House, Balthazar, Cupping Room, Florent, Mayrose, Pastis, Zoe, Elephant & Castle, Tartine, Ferraras Pastries) Taxi by Ground Zero on the way to Ferry Round trip on Staten Island Ferry to see Statue of Liberty
MOMA (Free 4:00-8:00) - Concentrate on 5th Floor exhibits
Go to bed!!!!

1 hr. bike ride in Central Park
Use restroom at Tavern on the Green
Lunch in Central Park (Boat House?)
Wicked The Musical - 2:00 matinee
See St. Patrick's Cathedral
See Trump Plaza Hotel
Top of Empire State Bldg (212-736-3100 for wait time and visibility)
Times Square at night

(Eats: Carmine's Italian, Blue Fin Sushi, Patsys, Becco, Cara Mia, Puttanesca, Marseille,Stardust, outdoor restaurants on Columbus, Trump Plaza Food Court, Café 123, Hell's Kitchen, John's Pizzeria, Grand Central Food Court on lower level, Serendipity)

(Bagels Everywhere: Essa Bagel or Pick A Bagel)

Do whatever we didn't get to/more shopping until it's time to go to airport around 1:00pm

Now of course, this man knew he could not eat at every one of these restaurants - still, a day that begins with a bike ride in Central Park, and includes seeing a Broadway musical, St. Patrick's Cathedral, Trump Plaza and the Empire State Building is just plain exhausting. At least there was a bathroom break scheduled in.

I used to plan itineraries just like this when I first lived in New York and friends came to visit. I would be gripped by "tour guide syndrome", when we absolutely had to get to every major tourist attraction, and my entire self worth was based on whether on not everyone was constantly having a good time. Oh, yes, those were delightful vacations for all involved.

For example: my college roommates Richard and Jill and I would always reunite for New Year's Eve (we did this 11 years in a row, right up until the Millenium, after which we were exhausted.) The first year that I was hosting the gathering in New York, Richard and Jill and I, along with my roommate Jeannette, set out for a day of sightseeing and theater. I believe this was December 30. We first went to the TKTS theater discount booth in Times Square. Silly me - after standing in line for hours, there was nothing available. But ah, here's a show that looks good, and it's playing in the Village. What? A discount you say? Off we rush to the Village on the subway to the theater box office, only to find out that there are no more tickets. Ah - but wait, we have to meet our friend Lorraine uptown for drinks in twenty minutes - rush back to the subway! We make it breathlessly to the Paramount hotel, where we shovel stuffed mushrooms and martinis down our gullets in the overheated and overpriced bar. We take a moment to recover in the lobby. Seeing a show is out - how about a movie? No movies are playing at any time that we would be able to see one, and still be able to meet up with other friends in the Village for dinner. We lay there, spent, still hungry, with hours to kill and no way to kill them. Rush rush rush back down to the Village to meet up with our friend Brett. I am marching along like a drill sergeant, while Jill is gradually turning green around the gills and lagging behind. Do I stop? No! We will be late! Hurry! Hurry!

Finally, Jill clutches a wire mesh trashcan somewhere along Christopher Street in the Village, and spews up her bad mushroom appetizers. Richard holds her hair. I fume and check my watch. There is no time scheduled for vomiting! In a surreal moment, Clint Eastwood stops to ask, "Is she all right?" I miss this, because I am again checking my watch and looking for a taxi.

In an incredible display of assholish-ness, instead of caring for my sick friend, I instead pack her off in a taxi by herself back to my apartment - we can't wait for her, we'll be late to meet Brett! If we had been in an Eskimo tribe, I would have abandoned Jill on an ice floe to be eaten by polar bears while we met up with Brett for a meal of blubber and more martinis.

We had the longest, most exhausting and unsatisfying day on record, where I marched my friends uptown and downtown until they literally collapsed from fatigue and hunger. And I was churlish and bossy, consumed with the idea that getting the troops everyplace on time was my sole responsibility.

This was only surpassed a few years later when I led Mr. Ex, his traveling partner and saintly friend Richard on a commando raid on Walt Disney World which began at dawn. "RUN to Splash Mountain! No! No! Don't turn here, that's Critter Country! Stick to the plan! STICK TO THE PLAN!"

Since these debacles, I have tried to spot the symptoms of tour guide syndrome whenever they creep up. It has certainly happened, as David will attest. New York has a way of making it worse, because if you are not incredibly early and already in line for something, you will NEVER GET IN. This is what led to my dragging David into the ticket line for Shakespeare in the Park at five in the morning, where we slept until one o'clock, when they actually handed out tickets.

I'm hoping that my obsession with the travel website can alleviate some of my tour guide syndrome just by allowing me to inflict it on total strangers, and not on my friends and family.

Oh my god. We've spent far too much time on this post already. Keep moving! Keep moving! KEEP MOVING!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Doctor Mom, Ph.D

Fell into a wormhole. I'm back now.

It's Mother's Day, so let's talk about my mother, shall we?

I suppose most people don't figure out what amazing people their parents are until long after the fact. I suppose I always assumed that everyone's mother was as incredible as mine is. But I've come to understand over the years just how lucky I am.

Here are a few examples... when I was about to turn six, and my sister and brother were about four and two, our family made the move from Sparta, New Jersey, to Tucson, Arizona. My father was going to take a job at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base training pilots in the National Guard while continuing to fly for TWA (who furloughed pilots often.) He may have been laid off from TWA at this point, hell, what do I know? I was five.

Anyway, my mother certainly knew what a change we were in for: the house we had in New Jersey was built into the side of a hill, with woods out back, and deer and bunnies that would come up to my bedroom window (which was ground level, as my room was on the lowest floor that was partly underground.) We went swimming in Lake Mohawk; my mother took part in the local Geranium Festival. There was snow in winter, with sledding and snowmen and scooping snow off the deck to put in the ice-cream maker for winter ice cream. Arizona was going to be very, very, very different.

So, she got hold of the blueprints for the house we were moving into (a new development which was, at that time, on the far northwest side of Tucson.) She laid it out on my dad's rumpus-room bar (this was the 70s) and gathered us all around. We had those little Fisher-Price people - one representing each of us in the family - and we played games, "exploring" the house like a treasure map, acting out our new life in our home-soon-to-be. I think we even picked out our rooms. So, when we finally got to Tucson (like the surface of Mars compared to the snowy East Coast we had left), we knew our way around the house already. It was familiar, and welcoming. Plus, I got the best room.

There were other difficulties involved in being the wife of an airline pilot who was often left to raise three children on her own for long stretches at a time. The three of us came down with chicken pox at the same time - remember, we're talking three kids under the age of five. I don't know how she didn't go insane. I remember being plunked into cornstarch baths and trying my best not to scratch. I'm sure it was a delightful time.

My mother also had to shepherd us on flights - we could travel on passes since we were an airline family, but it meant that we were always on standby. There were long layovers in St. Louis - seven, eight, nine hours - where a lesser person might have cracked. But, we had fun.

On some nights when my father was away, my mother would bring us all into their room, lit only by an oil lamp, and we would play "Poor Family" or "Farm Family" (this was during the era of "Little House on the Prairie"'s popularity. We lie there, spinning stories in the darkness about what chores we'd done that day, looking at the flickering shadows of the lamp on the ceiling.

My mother was also resourceful when it came to holidays. My father often had to fly on holidays, since he was low in seniority. When my father would have to be away on Christmas, my mother figured that, hey, kids our age don't know calendar dates. Who says Christmas is tomorrow? Maybe this year, Christmas happens a few days late. So, all we knew was that Santa took a while to get around to us (I mean, he does have a lot to do) but our dad always managed to be home when Santa had made his delivery.

When my parents decided to divorce when I was around nine, they did it with a minimum of stress. We all moved: we kids moved with our mom to a small townhouse complex with a playground and a pool, right across the street from our new school. My father moved into a swingin' bachelor condo complete with bead curtain, within walking distance. We could go home to either place after school. It was like having two different worlds to live in: with my mom, there was the comfort and security of all our regular toys and games and food, while at my dad's, there was Koogle and Kelloggs Variety Pack and playing poker and board game marathons. It worked out well.

During this time, my mother managed to get her Ph.D while at the same time working constantly and managing to raise the three of us. She would be working on her Olivetti typewriter, intently crafting her dissertation, and we knew this was Quiet Time. The townhouse we lived in was two stories; a heavy footfall on the second floor made quite a bumping sound below. My mother was understandably sensitive to noise as she tried to keep her concentration; sometimes we weren't very helpful. If my sister and I were playing upstairs and dropped a book or something, we would freeze: we knew that within seconds we would hear a familiar, desperate cry from downstairs:


".... nobody."

I wonder if she imagined that we were gleefully leaping on and off the beds, madcap hooligans trying to drive her nuts. Okay, sometimes we were. Sometimes.

I didn't move out of that house until my sophomore year of college. When I got into my teens, my mother replaced my old bed with a more grownup leather pull-out couch, which I was very proud of. When it was pulled out, there was a space underneath the mattress, where it ordinarily would fold into, which seemed perfect for hiding anything that I might want to keep out of sight. It became the repository for some publications of an adult nature, shall we say. Although I had a constant string of girlfriends, I was somehow compelled to sneak out and buy the occasional copy of Honcho. Just for research, you know.

My mother, who is extremely organized, occasionally would lose her patience with the post-tornado appearance of my room, and would straighten it up. Thus, I would come home to find the debris back in its place, my bed made, and on the bedside table, neatly piled issues of Honcho, BlueBoy, and Inches.

And she never said a thing about it.

Well, there was one time... I think we were getting groceries out of the trunk, and she said something to me like, "Okay, I just have to ask. Pornography: what's the attraction? I wondered this with your father, too." This was in a completely normal tone of voice, as though she had asked me if we remembered to get the kind of orange juice that had extra pulp.

I don't know what I answered. It's hard to speak when you're swallowing your tongue.

I'm realizing that this post might go on for pages and pages if I wrote about all the reasons why my mother is an outstanding person. It's not just to do with her mothering skills - her career has literally taken her around the globe. She has a enthusiasm for adventure and exploration that I admire. She's brilliant (I once checked her Ph.D dissertation out of the library and tried to read it. It's a mindblower when you realize just how incredibly, wildly, Einstein-ian-ly smart your mother is.) She taught me to cook; she thought every word I ever scribbled on a napkin was worth exclaiming over; she has come to every show I've written and has been a tireless cheerleader and also a thoughtful and insightful critic in the best sense.

Of course that's only a very small part of the story. She should write her life story someday. I hope she does.

Barbara, you're one hell of a person. We are lucky to have you in our lives.