The One With the Bard

I am trying to win the lottery. This is folly. I do not usually have a right-place-right-time kind of aura. Okay, there was the time I played tennis with NPH, but other than that, no. Luckily this is not like Portia’s lottery. If I don’t win, I won’t be cast out of NYC. But if I win? I’ll be spending the evening with a guy named William in a horrible storm. One might even call it a Tempest.

Every summer The Public Theater stages one of Shakespeare’s plays in Central Park’s Delacorte Theater. They call it (wait for it) Shakespeare in the Park.

What’s past is prologue. ~William Shakespeare, The Tempest

Shakespeare in the Park started in 1962 as a way to make Shakespeare, and theater in general, accessible to all. It’s f-r-e-e. Hence the lottery.

There are several ways to get tickets.

Option A: The Lazy Method. You enter online for a virtual drawing. Easy = everyone does it = you have to be very fortunate. We’ve already established this is not me. I refer you to paragraph one of this post.

Option B: The I-Have-All-Day Method. Line up at the theater; distribution is at noon until they run out of tickets. People begin lining up hours before. Sorry, William, I only do that for Bono.

Option C: The Bingo Method. This involves a trip to The Public Theater’s main location in Nolita. You drop a slip of paper into a canister and wait anxiously while names are plucked one by one. There are no set number of tickets available each day. This is where I wait now with my evening’s fate hanging in the balance.

We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep. ~William Shakespeare, The Tempest

The theater interns (or possibly volunteers) begin with the obligatory spinning of the canister. A few dozen of us are milling about, hoping that the odds will ever be in our favor.

“It’s good karma to be happy for the winners,” one of the interns says as he calls the first name. “Richard Mayweather.”

Richard pops out of the crowd like Drew Carey has just called his name on The Price Is Right. The rest of us clap politely to bring forth positive vibes. One woman shouts, “Yay, Richard!”  So we get into it. Each time a name is called we hoot and holler.

Then…my name is called! I’m so excited I nearly brake into a jog. I’m mentally preparing my acceptance speech, but the intern just hands me a voucher for two tickets as he moves onto the next name. (I would like to think that I broke my cycle of karmic near-misses, but as it turns out, everyone’s name was called today.)

Your tale, sir, would cure deafness. ~William Shakespeare, The Tempest

Over the years, Shakespeare in the Park has drawn big names to the stage: Meryl Streep in The Taming of the Shrew, Kevin Kline in Much Ado About Nothing (among others), Anne Hathaway in Twelfth Night, and John Lithgow as King Lear to name a few. Tonight, I’m seeing Sam Waterston as Prospero (formerly of Law & Order) and Jesse Tyler Ferguson as the jester (Modern Family).

Lovely long shot of the seating and stage. This is from a previous season's performance.

Lovely long shot of the seating and stage. This is from a previous season’s performance.

Shakespeare in the Park

All this star power is exciting, but I find the theater itself the most enchanting aspect of Shakespeare in the Park. The Delacorte is a small — maybe a few hundred people — outdoor theater in Central Park. I love that I can feel the soft breeze and hear the leaves on nearby trees rustle. The sky isn’t completely dark when the show begins. Soon, though, the mosquitoes are buzzing around the stage footlights and we wonder how the actors can keep their concentration. When Ferdinand says, “Hark, there is a noise from above,” and a helicopter flies overhead, we can’t help but laugh. Even Ferdinand breaks character and chuckles.

A shaky shot of the stage during intermission.

A shaky shot of the stage during intermission.

There’s something about experiencing a Shakespeare play live, especially in this setting. You’re miraculously transported from an urban jungle and washed up on a small island after a terrible storm.

Have you seen any plays recently? Shakespeare? 

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

The One With the Good Intentions

A few weeks ago, I bought Reggie a new dog bed. It’s a hypoallergenic, cooling, memory foam, plush, state-of-the-art, super duper, space-age bed. This is a dog bed fit for Canis Major, the king of the dogs.

Reggie hates the new bed.

He will go so far as to lie next to the bed. On the floor.

I’ve tried to show him the fabulousness of this bed. I put treats on the cushion to lure him into the bed. He would eat the treats and slink away. Then I put the old bed cushions on the new bed to transfer the eau d’ Reggie. No dice. As a last ditch effort, I sat in the bed myself. I realize this was ridiculous. He knows how to enjoy a dog bed. He used his old bed every day.

This was taken during the thirty seconds Reggie used the new bed.  I'm not ashamed to say I bribed him with cheese.

This was taken during the thirty seconds Reggie used the new bed.
I’m not ashamed to say I bribed him with cheese.

Then why buy a new bed? The old bed was getting a bit tattered and the stuffing had gone lifeless. Reggie has some arthritis in his back legs and I thought he’d need something with better cushions.

My mother had some silly advice. “Why don’t you just let him use the old bed? He obviously likes it better.” Pfft.

Yet I conducted a mini-experiment.  I put the old bed back, he climbed in. I put the new bed down, he stared at it unflinching. Deep breath. Was he doing this to annoy me? Okay, I know this isn’t really about me. But I want him to want to use the new bed. I want him to be comfortable.

My mother again. “Despite your good intentions, maybe he is more comfortable on the old bed.” Good intentions. The road to Hell’s Kitchen is paved with them.

A work friend knows this all too well. She took her two children, ages seven and four, to Disney World during Spring Break. She’d been planning the trip for months. She had it all mapped out: where they would stay, the daily itinerary, meals, a breakfast with princesses. She was careful to include breaks, making sure the kids weren’t overwhelmed. The vacation wasn’t cheap, but she and her husband had scrimped and saved. I bet you know where this story is going.

From the moment they arrived at the Magic Kingdom until the day they left, the kids (and, she admitted to me sheepishly, the parents) were in complete meltdown. It was hot and humid. The crowds were suffocating. There was whining, kicking, screaming. One princess had to excuse herself to clean vomit from her gown. But a real low point came when my friend dragged the older child to the It’s a Small World ride saying, “Stop crying! We paid $400 to come here today.”

She was horrified, but she meant well. She didn’t want to throw in the towel. They could still salvage what was left of the trip. If her family could just get it together, then things could end on a high note. If Reggie would just enjoy his new dog bed, I’d feel so much better.

I learned that good intentions gone awry have a lot to do with our expectations. There are strings attached to our good intentions. We expect our thoughtfulness to be received a certain way and we’re surprised when the recipient doesn’t match our enthusiasm.  That leads to disappointment and frustration. We want others to share our vision, and when they don’t, it can be difficult to part with the original expectations.

Reggie still isn’t using his new dog bed, but I haven’t given up hope yet.

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

Friday Five (or More)

It’s time once again for the Friday Five.

“There are two types of people in this world: those with hundreds of unread messages, and those who can’t relax until their inboxes are cleared out.” Which one are you? Joe Pinsker at The Atlantic reveals the psychology of the feed.

TJ Grist’s firsthand account of the Nepal earthquake. “The first thing I noticed was the noise. It was excruciatingly loud—as if four jet airplanes were flying low over the mountains. Then the ground began to tremble.”

Zen Pencils is one of my favorite sites. Artist Gavin Aung Than adapts inspirational quotes into illustrations. This week, he sheds light on the plight of Atena Farghadani, who faces twelve years in prison for drawing a cartoon criticizing the Iranian government and posting it to her Facebook page. She’s there right now, while I am free to type this.

A professor at Texas A&M fails his entire class. “I was dealing with cheating, dealing with individuals swearing at me both in and out of class, it got to the point that the school had to put security guards at that class and another class,” he said.

“Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope.” One of my favorite lines from The Great Gatsby. (There’s also this favorite: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”)   50 of the most beautiful lines in The Great GatsbyIs yours listed?

Smithsonian Magazine released the finalists and winners of their 2014 photo contest. The categories were travel, people, natural world, American experience, altered images, and mobile (phone pictures). Stunning! These images make me wish I knew what an f-stop was.

As we recently passed the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII in Europe, writer Jonathan Alpeyrie traveled to 12 countries to “meet, photograph, and interview men who served in the war, on both sides, and survived.” His goal is simply to record their stories. He says, “This project offers no pretense to judge, criticize, or celebrate the actions taken by any of these men, but merely to recollect their stories before they are gone.”

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

The One With Prêt à Porter

For years I wore a poop-brown sweater. Sorry for the terrible image, but that’s the most accurate way to describe the color. I often paired the sweater with brown pants and brown boots.  I also should mention that the sweater was a turtleneck.

So, to recap, that’s brown hair, brown eyes, brown turtleneck, brown pants… One day I had the stark realization that this was not a good look for me (or anyone) and I put the sweater in the back of my closet, to be visited only by mothballs.

I have a small closet—thirty-seven inches wide—because I live in an apartment building built when people had a lot less stuff. (According to a Forbes article cited in Joshua Becker’s post, “The average American woman owns thirty outfits—one for every day of the month. In 1930, that figure was nine.”) The tight quarters were the source of all my fashion woes, I reasoned. I envy those of you who have walk-in closets that could host the Rockettes. If I only had more space, somehow I would be visited by the spirit of Coco Chanel, who would bestow me with a sense of style.

I often lamented that I had nothing to wear. But how could that be? My closet was overflowing. In fact everything was jammed in tighter than a toothpick between two molars. Things were piled on the floor. Dresses and pants were a wrinkled mess. Nearly every morning I was suffering from decision fatigue. From the New York Times: “There is a finite store of mental energy for exerting self-control.” This seemed to explain the brown sweater.

Buoyed by a recent article and a TedTalk about taking control of one’s closet, I decided to attack mine with nothing but sheer determination (and the self-promise of a slice of Steve’s Key lime pie). I was going to be ruthless and teach my closet who’s boss.

Does anyone's closet really look like this?

Does anyone’s closet really look like this?

While I’m no expert, here are a few things I learned that might help you too.

  1. Start fresh. I took everything out of my closet. Everything. Anything that went back in had to pass muster.
  2. Allow time. Don’t try to squeeze this project between Real Housewives commercial breaks. I set aside an hour. Enough time to sort, but not too much time to get distracted.
  3. Dispense with Dynasty. In the interest of full disclosure, I found a jacket with shoulder pads too large even for Krystle Carrington. And, no, they aren’t going to come back in style.
  4. What was I thinking? A nicer way to say this would be: Would I buy this again? Sadly, most of my clothes fell into this category. Maybe it was the aforementioned decision fatigue, but I’m looking at you, brown sweater.
  5. The 12-month rule. If I hadn’t worn it in the past year, it got an automatic pass to the donation bin. Exception: special occasion wear.
  6. Memories. I was holding on to too many clothes because of memories. I wore this to the U2 concert back in 199-whatever. And that was the dress I wore on a date with so-and-so. Someone went to X and all I got was this lousy t-shirt. Out. All of it.
  7. One question. There was really only one question to ask: do I like the way I look in this? As I was sorting, I realized I didn’t like most of my clothes. Either it didn’t fit well, or the color wasn’t flattering, or I had nothing to pair it with. So I ended up wearing the same handful of items. Why not keep just those?

In the end, I’d reduced my clothes by about half. When I look in my closet I see only items that I love and want to wear. Now that I can see light between the hangers, the goal isn’t to refill that empty space; it’s to live within what I have.

Have you reorganized your closet/garage/cupboards? Share your tips in comments. 

Have a great weekend, everyone!   

The One With the Cemeteries

When I was in New Orleans, I couldn’t help myself. As I passed the gates of St. Louis Cemetery No. 3, the tombs shaped like tiny houses invited me in. Like a friendly suburban neighborhood, they stood shoulder to shoulder in front of small sidewalks. The sidewalks lined paved streets. Some of the tombs had fresh flowers on the stoop. There were apartment-style tombs for those who couldn’t afford the stand-alone model, and there were large tombs for guild or league members like firemen and masons. It was a small city. A city for the dead.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 3

This cemetery was established in 1854 and was well tended. Most of the marble tombs gleamed white. There were no weeds and hardly any broken tablets. As I wandered up and down the lanes, I scanned the names and ages of death. Life was so much shorter back then.

Some tombs had ten or twelve names engraved on the tablet. How did all of those bodies fit inside? They can’t dig crypts below the tombs—the water table is too high. A guide told me this: A simple coffin is put in the tomb, which is then sealed with a closure tablet for a minimum of “one year and one day,” according to tradition. At the time of the next burial, the first body is removed from its coffin and placed in the rear or bottom of the tomb. The coffin of the next deceased is added and the first body can return to the earth. This process allows more people to be buried in a smaller area.

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1

Twelve bodies are buried in this tomb dating from 1870 to 2014.

What happens if two people in the family die within the “one year and one day” period? Unfortunately this was common during epidemics like the yellow fever outbreaks that regularly swept through the city. (In 1853 nearly 8,000 New Orleanians lost their lives that year alone.)  In these cases the newly deceased would be laid to rest in a vault until the mourning period had ended and the person could be interred into the family tomb. These wall vaults were also used for poor families that couldn’t afford a larger tomb.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 3

Vaults for the poor or those waiting to be moved into the family tomb. These tablets are written in French. 

Some of the wealthier family tombs were made of marble with elaborate details, but most were constructed from inexpensive plastered brick.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 3

A quick hop on the streetcar and I was at the Lafayette Cemetery No 1. Established in 1833, it is the oldest of the city-operated cemeteries.  It is located in the Garden District, one of the wealthiest areas in New Orleans, but this cemetery was filled to capacity within decades of its opening—before the surrounding neighborhood reached its greatest affluence. More than 7,000 people are interred in this one city block.

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1

This cemetery had much more of a “spooky” vibe than the St. Louis Cemetery No. 3. Maybe it was because the day had turned rainy and gray, or because the weeds were overgrown, or because the plaster was caked with grime. Whatever the reason, I knew I didn’t want to be here after dark.

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1

This cemetery’s most famous residents are of the blood-sucking kind. Anne Rice’s vampire Lestat. among others, “lived” here, and Anne Rice herself lived around the corner. But I was far more interested in the everyday people, the ones who are all but forgotten to history, except for these markers that said they were here and that they “went about doing good.”

Part of the epitaph below reads: Dr. George S. Brown aged 76 years, died 1943 — “He went about doing good.” His son Grayson Hewitt Brown, aged nearly 20 years, died in WWI –“Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1

Dr. George S. Brown aged 76 years — “He went about doing good.” His son Grayson Hewitt Brown, aged nearly 20 years, died in WWI –“Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

If you’re planning a trip to New Orleans, check out Save Our Cemeteries, a non-profit group working to restore these historic cemeteries. They also offer tours.

Have you toured a cemetery? Have a great weekend, everyone!