Film Review: La La Land

la_la_land_filmFrom its opening scene under a big blue sky on a bumper-to-bumper L.A. highway stretching as far as the eye can see, in which drivers exit their vehicles to join in singing and dancing with a precision, energy and choreography that I haven’t seen since the Jets and the Sharks danced their way down the west side highway, the film La La Land, written, directed and produced by Damien Chazelle, transports us into a world of dreams and aspirations, both delightfully magical and often achingly familiar.

Set in a land known for dreams both fulfilled and quashed, this Hollywood setting, awash in primary colors, tells a story of two ordinary and young adults who each have talent and a dream. But this entertaining musical stands out because it defies our expectations of a classic “boy meets girl” story. In modern day real life, love and career often battle it out. La La Land confronts this head on, as the characters dance and sing their way through their lives in a delightful score by Justin Horwitz.

He, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), an aspiring jazz pianist, reveres the jazz greats and wants to open a club of his own someday, where the greats’ music can be heard and appreciated again.  For now, his talent is squashed at the dinner clubs where he is hired to play the song set requred by the restaurant owner.

She, Mia (Emma Stone), the aspiring actress, captivates because she struggles as any human: She squints in the sunlight, struggles to put on a smile after being rebuked by an employer, doesn’t fix herself up for the audition, and then attempts to justify her humiliation (“That was fun!”) when she hears the words, “Next…” Mia contrasts to the typical prototypes of the aspiring actors she brushes by at the various social events she attends who “worship everything and value nothing.”

The two get off to a wobbly start, which Mia is able to do because she overlooks a number of Sebastian’s more obnoxious character traits and is willing to learn about his passion, jazz. The two inspire and encourage each other in their respective fields. A modern-day couple, they have no expectations of where this relationship will lead. At least that’s what each says or, rather, sings.  But as the story and the romance continues, greased by some wonderful dance scenes, the audiences’ hopes that they’ll make it are raised.

I found their dance numbers charming. No, they are not polished like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers but they are Mia and Sebastian. We may find ourselves rooting for them as a couple, and realize their professional dreams as well, but the past does not predict the present nor does the present portend the future, a dimension which Keith (John Legend) adds to this story. Keith, the leader of a jazz fusion band, shows up out of Sebastian’s past at just the right time with an offer for Sebastian to play in his band. This might be just what Sebastian needs to make his dream come true – if he is willing to let go of his reverence for pure jazz in order to tour, and then record, with the group. “You’re holding onto the past but jazz is about the future,” Keith advises.

But it means also having to tour for long periods of time, and leave Mia behind. Mia, we know, wants to further her career. loves acting, how much acting or writing talent does she actually have?

Sebastian encourages her to write her own one-woman play and to then produce it and act in it, which she does, but again we are not shown any part of the performance or even told what her play is about. It was unsatisfying to not see any part of her performance, we don’t even learn how much acting talent she actually has, but she has a dream. And perhaps Chazelle has a different storyline in mind.

At Mia’s next audition, she’s asked not to read lines from a script but to tell a story. She reaches within, to what she knows intimately and loves – and finally breaks free of her inhibitions. Her breakthrough comes as she extemporizes, to song, verses about her aunt, in the song “Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” and where La La Land connects the strongest with the audience.

Leapt, without looking
And tumbled into the Seine
The water was freezing
She spent a month sneezing
But said she would do it again…

This song is, after all, notwithstanding our investment in this romance, the film’s anthem:

And here’s to the fools who dream
Crazy as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that break
Here’s to the mess we make

Up until this point, Mia and Sebastian have given advice to the other – but what about the decisions each makes for himself?  In the quest for love and a career, which comes first? How do modern day couples negotiate that? Do we read lines, or create our own meaningful script? Can one flame burn out, only to find another that’s brighter? Or is it all about timing?

Movie-goers who want their storybook ending won’t find it here and, unlike the passion in West Side Story which plays itself out throughout the story, the heat produced in La La Land‘s opening-number does not resurface later in the story line. The best music is when Keith’s band performs; and some of the dance music, such as that with the harp and flute, while brilliant, is counter to a unified musical whole, and the most memorable lyric is during Mia’s audition number.

But movie-goers will love the performances of both Gosling and Stone; they’ll also find a truer arc of life and reality where hearts are broken and messes are made but one’s dreams – whether about profession or romance – should and do still come true.

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What’s A Little Pound Here and There?

270px-SpaghettataMy pots and pans were pretty scrappy, picked up in a supermarket or hardware store here and there over the years. But the name Calphalon had a nice ring about it. This Calphalon pot, however, significantly shinier than anything I’d had, was three times larger than any pot I had ever cooked in, or lifted, or washed. A box of spaghetti would last me weeks. But suddenly I was cooking up the entire box in one night in the shiny Calphalon pot, every week. There was also now three times as much water to drain! Another mess, too, and a steamy one at that.  Then there was the job of transferring the pasta to the large celadon ceramic pasta dish also three times larger than I had ever known.

Dinner had to be served not whenever I was hungry but carefully calibrated to be too early and not too late. It had to be sandwiched nicely in between my new step-daughter getting home from her after-school activities, and before she went upstairs to practice her flute and do her hours and hours of homework and before the dog got his evening walk. After homework and before bedtime was evening snack time. Ice cream! Ice cream all around, in our bedroom, on the bed, in front of the TV! Everybody loved dinner, everybody loved the spaghetti, and everybody loved the ice cream.

And I felt sick!

The calculation was simple: From a single person cooking or one, I was now cooking for three – myself, a husband (who ran 50 miles each week) and a teenage step-daughter.

Considering as a single, I didn’t even purchase ice cream, my new refrigerator, double the size of the one I had in my Brooklyn apartment, with an entire side being the freezer, held temptation in all forms, shapes, flavors, food groups, and temperatures. It was a very bad day when my step-daughter innocently enough, said to me one day, “There’s nothing in the fridge!” Apparently Dad did a much better job of keeping the refrigerator stocked than I did.

There were a lot of firsts those years. It was the first time somebody had gotten down on one knee and asked me, “Will you marry me?” It was also the first time my physician said, “You have to lose weight.”

Of course eventually my step-daughter went off to college and I was only shopping and cooking for two. I was sure that my waistline would be saved. But no! I was shopping and cooking for two – but the scale, digital and accurate, and I were at a standoff.

Gone was the spaghetti from my shopping cart. Gone the different meal each evening. Gone is the ice cream. But in its place is my husband’s new love and evening snack: frozen yogurt. Coffee frozen yogurt. Quarts of it. And only him and me around to eat it.

Then came another first, as my doctor said, “You’re pre-diabetic. You have to meet with the nurse and go over your diet.”  Loyally, I created a little chart for my weight and checked off food types as I ate them: Dairy, protein, fruit, vegetables, carbohydrates, nuts and oils… I was always the athlete: Bicycling to work, swimming, tennis, but then another first from the doctor: “What are you doing for exercise?”

Gone is the orange juice and Mango Tango. Replaced with countable oranges. Gone the cashews. Replaced with a serving of 8 almonds. Gone the white basmati rice, replaced with brown basmati rice. Gone half an avocado for guacamole; now 1/4 the avocado for guacamole. Two years later, my blood sugar level is acceptable. My weight is still not.

Last month hubby and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary. Sixteen years of love, giving, sharing, supporting each others, sixteen years of happiness. And sixteen years of frozen yogurt in the freezer and cake in the bread box for my long-distance runner husband.

That’s also .63 pounds for every year of marriage. This statistic probably wouldn’t bother anybody but me.

“What’s a little pound here and there?”

“You still look good!”

“But you’re so active!”

I swear I can hear my bones saying to me, “Ouch. You’re putting too much weight on me. Lighten up!” I’m sure my digestive system is saying, “Why you making me work overtime? Easy. Easy. Easy!”

Last night I went into my third cooking mode: Cooking one meal for my husband and one entirely separate meal for me. I’m going to try eating high protein: Sliced turkey, egg salad, boiled chicken, tuna and salmon for snacks and for dinner. The husband is getting various Indian food dinners with rice cooked in tumeric, a little wine on the side. Or maybe a mini-pizza. He’d better hope I lose significant weight soon.

For the record, I’m not saying that I won’t try a few of his leftovers as I walk the dishes from the table back to the sink… I am saying that it’s sure a lot harder to take it off than to put it on in the first place.

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Feminism Among the Plaques and Tangles

senior votingIn the tumult and the excitement of the decades of the ’60s and the ’70’s, my dad insisted that I go to college, and ranted and raved if I indicated any level of disinterest or interest in attending a college that wasn’t on his list. Although I would be the first child, and daughter, to attend college, the word “feminism” was never spoken in our home. I was expected to attend college but, ironically, the notion of women’s rights was taboo.

My mom knew when to keep quiet so as not to raise her husband’s hackles, and quiet she continued to keep for years when he had his temper tantrums — even for years after he, the self-appointed chief of our family’s Thought Police, walked out. It took another 45 years after Dad left home for my parents to be officially divorced, allowing Mom to finally sell the family home and discard as much of the old (emotional as well as physically moldy) baggage as possible, and move into the present. The hallelujah celebration was muted, however. Just a few months earlier, signs of Alzheimer’s had appeared. Mom now finally free from one form of oppression, another toxic and unknown form took its place.

Among all the millions of little details of moving an elderly parent from one home to another, and one year later to yet another, is the change of address for the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. And in that process is yet another question:

If you are a registered voter in PA and are changing your drivers license or photo ID address, would you like us to notify your county voter registration office of this change? Yes or No?

YES!

Sometime later, she received her official new voter registration card, which I put in a safe place.

In a political vacuum, Mom and I would talk about whether she was registered as a Republican or as a Democrat. The ghost of the conversation was always about what party her ex-husband, my father, chief of the now former Thought Police, thought was best. Pennsylvania had a long history of being a Republican state.  Meanwhile, her memory and cognitive functioning were in declinem as was her ease with walking.

And then came Hillary.

Primary after primary I heard my mom talk about Hillary. Mom wasn’t interested in watching the debates on TV.  If the content of the debates was lacking in substance or difficult to follow an argument or a position, the brain disease of Alzheimer’s made it even more impossible for her to follow the candidates. No matter. My mom knew whom she wanted to vote for. Hillary. She also knew whom she hated.  Trump.

“I want to throw things at the TV when I see him.”

The Pennsylvania primary was months off but meanwhile we would just have to figure out how to get her to the polls. The senior community would be running buses to the polling site. My biggest fear was that I would determine she had registered as a Republican and would be unable to vote for Hillary in the primaries. When I had time one day, I checked that out… Nope, Democrat. My other fear was that when she got into the voting booth, she would forget whom she wanted to vote for, or wouldn’t be able to figure out how to actually vote. Or maybe she just wouldn’t want to get up and out of bed on that day.

The Pennsylvania primary was one of the last.

The afternoon before the primary, I phoned her to check in. “Hi, Mom.”

In the most casual voice, she answered: “I’m sitting on the floor. I just fell. I used my cane to pull the phone toward me. My legs are off to one side. “

Okay, I remind myself to not panic. Among all the other thoughts encircling what remained of my brain was: Had she broken a bone? Had she fractured the hip that had been replaced years earlier? Did I need to figure out how to get her to the hospital for evaluation and x-rays?

“Mom, I’m going to call the front desk but they might want you to go to the hospital for x-rays. Would you be willing to go?”

“I’d rather not.”

I phoned the front desk, who got security there right away and a nurse from the clinic to her apartment to assist. The nurse determined that it was most likely a groin pull. That was a relief! Still, the nurse asked me to make a judgement call on whether to get her to the hospital for x-rays, just to be certain. I hate making judgement calls like that. Just to be certain.

The rest of the evening, her aid made a special trip in offer assistance, as did my mom’s sister, with ice, food, anti-inflammatories, over-the-counter painkillers, and love and comfort. Mom’s sister brought the supplies of a democracy: a paper sample ballot for a serious training session.  She had my mother practice picking the candidates of her choice. Also of concern was now getting my mom to the bus to the polls the next day. Mom already was walking slower than a sloth even with the assistance of her walker and making more and more stops along the way to catch her breath. How would she ever make it to the Main Building where the bus was picking everybody up?

The following day, my mom’s aid showed up, got Mom dressed, and fed, iced her knees,  groin area, and hip area, applied Voltaren Gel, and had her take more over-the-counter painkillers and anti-inflammatories. She stayed a little longer, long enough to get my mom into her car and drive her to where the bus would pick her up for the 4pm run to the polls.

At 3:35 I phoned my mom. “I’m sitting outside. The breeze is blowing and it’s lovely here. I’d rather be here than inside.” So far so good. Her sister would be along shortly and the two would take the bus ride together to the polls. Mom was relaxed and calm. I was not. “This is so exciting, Mom!”

“What’s the big deal” my mom asked. “I’ve voted before.”

Later that night I phoned my mom.

Through all the amyloid plaques and the tangles of the Alzheimer’s brain, through the loss of memory and what they call cognitive functioning, through her depression and her desires to stop living, feminism – and Mom’s voice – had finally broken through. Mom had voted for Hillary.

Said my mom a bit later, after she’d had some rest, “She’s a woman. I like the fact that’s she’s married to a president. I like her policies. Liberal woman. Aggressive. Conservative. I think she’ll do what’s good for women. Good for the country. Her husband was a good man and they can talk it over. I voted for a Republican candidate once but I can’t remember who.”  Then she answered the question that hung in the air, which settled this question, “I wouldn’t have voted for a woman if I didn’t like her policies.”

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If That Wedding Ring Don’t Shine

WeddingringI first saw the small dark blue ring box on the front table as I was heading toward the kitchen, my eyes picking it out from the odd paper clips, mail waiting to be posted, set of keys, small jar of automobile touch-up paint, used AA batteries, loose business cards that had not been collecting for months. Hmph. I lifted the box and opened it.

Two gold rings sat in the empty hole of the small box. Typically people worry about their valuables being lifted. Here we seemed to have earned them.

The first one was a wedding band, not rounded but, as I lifted it from the box, eight-sided. Nice gold! Nice band. The second band was my husband’s initials. Also nice, nice work, nice gold. Fourteen caret. But he definitely did not have this made during our marriage. And the rings were really quiet, not giving anything away.

“Hey, honey,” I asked. Do you know anything about these rings?”

“Sure,” he answered. “Rachel (now a mother in her own right) brought it over from her mom’s this morning and handed it to me.”

“Just like that?”

“She said, “Daddy, Mom wants you to have this.””

I didn’t do the math at that time. I didn’t need to calculate that his divorce had taken place over 23 years ago and that his ex- had moved at least two times. In 23 years, your newborn kids will have grown up, gone to college, begun careers, and maybe even had kids of their own. But it’s never too late to put your children in the middle of your failed first marriage.

A few evenings later, when the only sounds to be heard were the ticking of the clock and the snoring of the dog, I took the wedding band out of its box again and gave it a closer examination. This time I saw an engraving on the inside. I took it over to where the light was pretty good, and strained to read it. Something about a heart and love. The words were familiar, but it was funny to think that there was a time when he meant them to somebody else. It’s okay. Man can neither create nor destroy gold; he can, however, melt it down and create something anew from it. Such would be the case with love. With that love.

The next day, my husband was downstairs in the TV room watching something. I called down,  “How about if I sell that wedding band for cash. You mind?”

Like a boomerang, the voice called back up: “Go right ahead.”

Today was a good enough day for that. I wrapped the ring up in a cheap plastic baggie, so as to not glorify it. Only a few blocks away was the first “We buy gold” shop. A pawn shop but really nice you wouldn’t think of it as a pawn shop; no guns, no interstellar aliens, certainly not the pawn shop I knew from “Men In Black II.” Regular people, musical instruments – flutes, electric guitars, acoustic guitars, horns, electric pianos, all in really good shape. Golf clubs. I guess a pawn shop reflects the town where you live.

“How much would you give me for this ring?” I asked the main guy at the counter, as I  unwrapped the baggie, removed the ring, and set it down on the counter. “Probably just the value of the gold but that’s okay.”

The main guy got out his scale, he and the other guy were talking back and forth and determined today’s price of gold, weighed the ring, did some calculations, and  and the one guy set the ring back on the counter and said, “Fifty dollars.”

“So what’s the story?”  I’m almost sure they thought I was selling my own wedding band. A recent divorce. Or maybe a bankruptcy . “It was from my husband’s ex” and I filled them in on the details. Big smiles! They liked the story.

This was a good price. It was the going price for gold. The ring, with the inscription, could never be resold, and it was better that way.

To my surprise, they asked for my driver’s license. That’s where things got really painful. I just last month had had to renew my license and get a new photo taken. It was a miserable morning and I was totally unprepared for that. Oh, what an awful photo this driver’s license photo is. Definitely looks like a mug shot. But the guys need to make sure the merchandise not stolen, just in case the police come looking for just that ring, reported as stolen. I decided not to say anything like “Don’t look at the photo” figuring that if I said anything, they’d look at it, and if I said nothing, I stood a chance that the would not.

I signed the receipt, got my money, and left, telling everybody that if I hear of anybody who needs a musical instrument, I’ll send them their way.

The cash was great. Only a few days later, my husband and I went to the movies and dined on popcorn, tea and soda paid for in fresh  cash, my wedding band and his securely on our ring fingers and coated with butter.

And I learned that the next time I get my photo taken for my driver’s license, I should go to the hair salon first.

The Completely Forgettable Moments (of How We Met)

The Online Dating Ecosystem

 From Visually.

“How did you two meet?” is the question.

What is the beginning, anyway?

Our story begins one evening when I decided to clean the filter of the air conditioner. It was pretty dirty, and it was, in the scheme of life, one of those totally forgettable moments.

A few weeks later, I set out one morning to work (teaching) on my bicycle, as I’d been doing for years. I crossed under the Belt Parkway, and turned on a service road that paralleled it. The service road was empty and, like many service roads, otherwise deserted. There was some honking coming from the direction of the highway and I must have turned my head in its direction when, distracted by the sound of a honking horn, I lost my balance and ended up on the hard-surfaced road, trapped under my bike. Alone, and before the days of cell phones (who would I have called anyway?), I got myself together and continued to the college (stopping by a corner store to try to purchase some band-aids), washed the blood off my face and hands, and cancelled my class. Then I got checked out at the college’s medical clinic, who called the local hospital’s emergency room and arranged for them to receive me. Next, I biked to the emergency room at a local hospital.

“Life is too difficult to live alone. I need somebody,” I thought to myself, along the way. I had many friends, but it was the middle of the day. I had nobody to call to help me, to drive me, to wait with me at the hospital. While in pain and hurrying past Avenue X, past Avenue U, past Avenue T and S, past Avenue O and N to get myself some care and treatment, I thought back on the years before when I had been a crime victim and endured a brutal physical, emotional and legal struggle all by myself. No, “I don’t want to be alone again, like I was then.  I need a husband,” I concluded, as I biked up the alphabet. “Life is too difficult to live alone, and it’s not getting any easier.” It was my formal DECLARATION OF NEED.

At the emergency room I noticed an awful pain in my jaw when I tried to close it.

“Doctor, I think I broke a bone in my jaw” I said, after which he examined my jaw and ears and replied:

“No, your jaw is fine. You have an infection in your ears.  That’s the source of the pain” and he then wrote me a prescription for some antibiotics.

And life went on.

One Saturday about a month after my DECLARATION, I had been reading a local newspaper and had seen an advertisement of an online dating service based in Canada. I didn’t live in Canada, but this was cyberspace!

That night, I thought to myself, “I’m going online tonight and I’m going to find my husband.” Home computers were fairly new at that time, but I had one!

Powering up my computer, I got into that site. I selected the geographic area where I thought “he” was most likely to be residing in. I studied the eligible bachelors who appeared. There were no photographic images on this website; good. I wasn’t likely to be thrown by how somebody looked (nor was he!). I read carefully what he wrote. Then I chose him.

Emails graduated into more emails. I was advised, “You have to get out of cyberspace.” Telephone calls followed. Then meeting face to face. We were engaged within two months and married within 7 months of my bicycle fall.

Months later, I was still bothered that I had tipped over on my bicycle. I was a cyclist, after all. I had never in my life fallen off my bicycle. although I’ve raced, biked long distances, crossed railroad tracks,  and had been a regular bicycle commuter for most of my life. Also, before I fell, I hadn’t felt any pain in my ears or anywhere.

Then it occurred to me. The air conditioner filter that I had cleaned had been totally grimy. For sure that’s when I picked up an ear infection, which festered, UNTIL I fell, at which time the sudden jolt dislodged the infection, which quickly spread all around my jaw and hurt like the dickens.

The knowledge that I had lost my balance due to an ear infection wiped away any embarrassment to have fallen simply for having lost my concentration, and put a halt to my questioning myself as a proven bicyclist, and restored my pride to me.

So what about the very very little things?

The common answer to the question, “How did you two meet?” is “We met in cyberspace.”

But probably it all began the otherwise forgettable night and the otherwise forgettable moment when I cleaned a very dirty air conditioner filter.

It just goes to show the power of those completely – otherwise – forgettable moments and of the very little things and moments in life!