Race Or Whatever

Om Nom Nom Nom Nom

So, The Hunger Games, talk about a bait and switch. I didn’t read the books but I made sure to see the movie because I thought it was about a sassy independent woman named Katniss who is trying to diet down to her birth weight to win the love of Gale, a blood diamond magnate, all while being plied with carbs by a sinister doll-faced baker who harbors a slightly creepy love. Apparently, I was wrong. I am using italics to telegraph my disapproval.

Despite the italics, I did enjoy The Hunger Games. I love any movie about food. And I know that The Hunger Games is not technically about food so much as it’s about a totalitarian state that has lost its humanity to an obsession with status, leisure and possessions. Or whatever. But I try not to pay attention to that and focus on the food. Trust me, if you take away the carnage, The Hunger Games is basically an episode of Chopped.

Anyway, to kick off the Thanksgiving holiday, I went to see the Hunger Games sequel, Catching Fire. I felt it was an appropriate choice given that Thanksgiving is the greatest eating holiday of the year. I enjoyed it too, even though there was much less food in it. It was like my favorite episode of Lost plus my favorite episode of Project: Runway plus Stanley Tucci’s cackle times two hours of unrelenting human cruelty. So, a great time  for the whole family.

Caesar

Best part, that bit where the island starts spinning. Thrilling! I was like, “Oh, I know what’s happening, Desmond forgot to put the numbers into the computer on time. Katniss needs to go to the Swan station and punch in 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42 and then Capote will stop spinning the island. That crazy Capote.”

When they make a Hunger Games amusement park I hope that’s one of the rides. But, now that I think about it (I try not to put any thought whatsoever into what I write before I write it. That’s my process.) a Hunger Games amusement park is the absolute last place on Earth I’d like to go. 1) Everything will probably kill you; 2) The concession stands will likely be empty.

Unless, of course, it’s an amusement park modeled after the Capitol. That would be fun, if morally awkward. (BTW, “Fun, if morally awkward” is what it reads on my tramp stamp. The more you know.)smileson

Speaking of the Capitol, can we talk about Capote some more? When Plutarch Heavensbee (Lord,  these names. So ethnic!) showed up I was like, “Is Phillip Seymour Hoffman confused? Why is he not wearing a costume? Did he just wander on to the set after teaching a class at Fordham called ‘Symposium on Rumples and Sighs’? Is he cameoing as himself? ” Elizabeth Banks spent 6 hours in the makeup chair (those eyelashes! I die!) and he’s picking a blazer from his personal collection, running a comb through his hair and showing up looking non-plussed. There are no plusses in that scene. He’s like “Hi, I’m Oscar-winner Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Pleased to meet me. Where do I stand? Never mind; doesn’t matter. I’ll stand wherever I want.” Meanwhile, Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence is dressed like a character from Zoobilee Zoo and going through the nine stages of struggleface and Elizabeth Banks is in the background lip-synching for her life. She is giving you everything! Hair! Glitter! Curtains! Sashay, you stay, Banks.

effie_mahoganyI do find it confusing that her character’s name is Effie Trinket because I always think of Effie White from Dreamgirls and then I think Is JHud here? IS JHUD GOING TO SING?! Which is, I guess, my one criticism of the Hunger Games movies: they don’t have enough moments where JHud enters, the screen goes dark, she looks directly into the camera and sings the hell out of a ballad. Maybe in Mockingjay.

Despite my love for Effie, I think my favorite character is Peeta because in every scene his primary motivation is to get back to baking bread. This is a man who has priorities (And a pretty, pretty face. And absolutely no survival skills. But such a pretty face.) His life is on the line and he’s like “Challah anyone? Freshly baked challah.”peeta

My second favorite character is Finnick, a man who just fucking eats sugar cubes because he can. This guy knows how to live. Plus, he’s like a strangely appealing tornado of sex appeal, cuddly grandma love, and probably diabetes. That’s exactly what I search for on OkCupid ever damn day. As God as my witness, one day I will be Mrs. Finnick O’Dair-Thomas and we will feast on sugar cubes and wear rock candy necklaces forever!Finnick

My least favorite characters are Rue and Beede because I imagined them as blacker.

I’m kidding, INTERNET.

Anyway, what am I talking about? This post isn’t even about the Hunger Games; it’s about food. TWIST! ::cue Lost sound effect and tinkling bells::

Actually, can I be serious for a minute? I know this blog isn’t really the place for seriousness, but I do have a rather sober thought.

Wait, before I get serious, I just want to say that my favorite scene in Catching Fire is the one where Peeta gets electrified and Finnick has to give him CPR because obviously. I love how they edited it so craftily; one gets the impression that Finnick is giving Peeta mouth-to-mouth but there isn’t ever a clear shot of it. Probably because the GIF of their lips touching would break the internet. When I become an overnight singing sensation I’m going to perform at the VMAs in front of a video where Finnick breathes life into Peeta’s obviously Burt’s Bees’ smothered lips on loop.

Okay, now seriousness.

Just kidding! Here’s a GIF of a cat who was shocked by my sudden change of topic!

shockedcat

But seriously. Catching Fire was surprisingly heavy. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised at how heavy it was; it’s a movie about kids locked in a stadium and told to kill each other. I’m just saying, it’s not exactly Best Man Holiday. It’s weird to claim that I enjoyed a movie that I grimaced through the whole time. And I kind of wonder what it says about our culture that this mentally taxing, dystopian film is such a massive blockbuster.

I found the scene where Gale was whipped to be especially disturbing. It took me by surprise, too. This was the first time I’d seen on-screen whipping since seeing 12 Years A Slave and the combined effect of those two paeans to human darkness really threw me for a loop.

I saw 12 Years the week before. For a month everyone my Facebook had been saying “Oh, you must see this movie! It will destroy you.” But I couldn’t really find a clear spot in my schedule for utter psychological collapse until mid-way through November.

I’ve been trying for weeks to find words to write about the movie but I think I’m just going to give up. It destroyed me. And there’s absolutely no way I can write about it on my ridiculous whimsical blog. I sat, hunched forward, arms crossed through the entire movie. I held my breath. It was oppressive. And the minute the screen went blank and the credits started, I burst into tears. Like sobbing. It would’ve been embarrassing except the theater was full of crying people. The place was a disaster. Even as I fell forward, keening, I started thinking about the kids at the concessions stand. What must it be like to work at a place where every 2 and a half hours, 100 people have complete breakdowns? It was like a psych ward.

I could not stop crying. My friend Daniel sat next to me and rubbed my arm. I’m glad he was there because what I really wanted to do was lie down on the floor and ugly cry. Like I desperately wanted to melt out of my chair and just lay my face in the puddle of tears and popcorn butter and mourn.

This is me after the movie ended:crying

This is me 10 minutes after the movie ended:Crying3

This is me 20 minutes after the movie ended:crying2

This is me the next day:Oprahcry4

I want so much to write about that movie but I just… I have no words. So, I’ll tell you this Thanksgiving story instead:

As every year, I had Thanksgiving at my parents house. In the past, I’ve gotten in trouble for “talking to my friends on the Internet” about the people who gave birth to me, so let’s say I’m not talking about my parents. Let’s say I’m talking about Cliff and Clair Huxtable from The Cosby Show. Anyway, it was a nice intimate dinner, just Cliff and Clair, my brother Theo and me, Lisa Bonet.

This is what happens when we discuss my 401k.

This is what happens when we discuss my 401k.

My mother cooks every year, using recipes from a huge binder that she’s been compiling since before I was born. Every year she makes the same thing, so the binder isn’t full of new recipes but rather the same recipes copied over. My grandmother’s rolls recipe in her handwriting, then in my mother’s handwriting, then typed. My aunt’s orange jello recipe photocopied, revised. The stuffing recipe in my mother’s perfect penmanship, then in my teenage scrawl from the year I was entrusted with making it and decided to revise it, then the same recipe typed up from the year we got a computer and a printer.

SECRET FAMILY RECIPE

SECRET FAMILY RECIPE

My mother makes and revises a schedule for Thanksgiving dinner preparation every year, mapping out her plan up to a week in advance. And she saves each year’s schedule, and each year the binder grows. In the back of the binder she keeps the Christmas recipes, the Christmas schedules and every person’s Christmas wish list from every year. And so the binder has become a sort of family history through food, a beautiful scrapbook of our traditions. Nowadays, when we don’t see each other but a few times a year, the binder represents the thread that ties us together even when we’re physically apart.

After dinner this year, Theo went to work (he’s a detective, like a real one, not just a nosey person who watches too much of The Closer like I am) and Cliff and Clair and I retired to the living room to watch TV. Clair had DVR’d an episode of The Big Bang Theory that she really wanted me to watch. Like, she was serious about it. She’d texted me twice to let me know we’d be watching it. After that episode, we switched to TVOne where they were playing old Thanksgiving episodes from The Cosby Show, A Different World, and Living Single. 

rollsI was immediately taken back to a time when my conception of the world, of my place in the world as a black person, was shaped by the people I saw on TV. Inasmuch as 12 Years A Slave destroyed me, The Cosby Show made me by portraying a black family that loved each other, laughed with each other, and wasn’t weighed by oppression. It was liberating and it created a place for me that didn’t exist in the world I knew outside of our happy, literate, talkative home.

macandcheese Similarly, A Different World created a cultural reference point that, with every episode, made me feel more and more in touch with–for lack of a better term–my people. On the night that Whitley was supposed to get married and Dwayne Wayne burst into the ceremony and objected, Clair and I were at Security Square Mall (the black mall), and we stood at the window of a Montgomery Ward store with a crowd of maybe 15, 20 other people watching the now-iconic scene take place, watching Diahann Carroll scream “Die, just die” as Dwayne came running down the aisle. The store manager turned off the TVs just before the end of the episode because they were closing so, of course, we rioted.

At my parents’ house, we eat Thanksgiving dinner at a big wooden table. Just before we sat down, my mother came in and surveyed the room. “Oh no! I didn’t even put on the nice tablecloth,” she said. I replied. “It’s fine. No need to put on airs.” She said to me, “At my age, airs means gas.” We sometimes speak in punchlines.

My mother would like you to know that this is not the fancy tablecloth.

My mother would like you to know that this is not the fancy tablecloth.

We all sat down to eat, my father said grace, and we dug in. We talked about work, we talked about my other brother’s newborn baby, we told old stories we’ve all heard before. We re-wove the fabric of our history, our present and our future, over food.

On the wall behind the big wooden table, my mother has mounted two photographs of a dilapidated gray shack. This is the slave cabin that my great-grandfather was born in. It still stands today in Virginia. My mother and father visited about 10 years ago. It’s no bigger than a common half-bathroom. It’s slats don’t look like they kept out the wind or the rain or the heat. I sat at my parents table, beneath this picture, eating the food that symbolizes our shared heritage, and as with every year I felt the loving embrace of my childhood home, the familiarity of old patterns, the excitement of new ideas. But more than anything I felt grateful. I felt grateful to be free.

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Happiness

Let’s Start At the Very Beginning

Over the holiday my parents asked me what my five-year-plan was. In previous years when confronted with that question I’ve responded by bursting into tears and re-enacting August: Osage County by myself until someone stuffed my face full of mac and cheese. “Life is very long. TS Elli–horff norff num num num.” But this year was different! I have a plan!

1) Win a People’s Choice Award. Or at least a perfect attendance award at work.

2) Appear on Oprah’s Next Chapter. Or, the sequel Oprah’s Choose Your Own Adventure Where You Know You’re Just Going to Skip Ahead to See What the Good Option Is

3) Be listed on the New York Times Weddings & Celebrations page

I’m obsessed with the Weddings & Celebrations page. I read it online every Sunday night. And I am so serious about it. It’s probably my main life goal. I love how they subtly write the class into the blurbs without ever having to say “these bitches are rich. Their centerpieces are worth more than your life.” I love how they use “the” to connote importance that’s beyond your comprehension. “The groom’s father is the composer, Danny Elfman.” I love that they occasionally just name-drop celebrities like it’s no big thing. “Among attendees was the bride’s cousin, the rapper Jay-Z, and his wife, Beyonce.” I especially love when they do a longer feature on a couple and upon further examination their lives seem strangely blemish-free and yet slightly creepy. In the most wonderful way ever!bovy_portlandia

I’m obsessed! And I need to be on there. There’s this site called FutureMe.org where you can write e-mails to yourself to be delivered at any time in the future, from tomorrow to 100 years from now or more. One of those options might be over-reaching a bit and the other is kinda missing the point, but I’m not here to judge. (Yes, I am. Never forget that. NEVER FORGET IT.) Anyway, I write my future self e-mails all the time and I always end each one the same way.

“Is it worth it? Let me work it. Put your thing down, flip it and reverse it.
Love, Eric
PS: ARE YOU MARRIED YET? WERE YOU ON THE PAGE?”

Listen, I fully intend to be married within 5 years. That’s why it’s on my five-year-plan. If I didn’t think it was going to happen, it would be pretty ridiculous to put it on my plan, now wouldn’t it? God.

So it’s Sunday and I’m reading the Weddings & Celebrations page. Well, it’s Sunday where I am. Not for you, though,  because you’re in the future. PS, am I married yet? Was Beyonce there?

Me reading the Weddings & Celebrations page

Me reading the Weddings & Celebrations page

The thing I love most about the Weddings & Celebrations page is, I think, the thing I also hate most about it. It shows a kind of life that looks fanciful and romantic and just out of reach. It’s the movie version of life. But, just like all romantic comedies, it’s totally attainable and rooted in reality.

Weddings aside, there are moments where my life does seem exactly like the life of the version of myself who stars in the movie that plays in my head (That’s the one who is going to win the People’s Choice, just so you know.) This weekend I had one of those moments.

I went to a dinner party thrown by my perfect friend Michael. He probably hates it when people call him perfect. It’s probably annoying because it happens all the time. Or maybe he doesn’t hate it. Maybe he’s like “that’s right, bitch. I get up at five, do some yoga, paint a watercolor of a mountain I hiked, bake some fresh bread and then I’m off to work. On time. Cuz I’m fucking perfect.” Meanwhile I’ve been known to make the “I’m going to be a couple minutes late” call a full 15 minutes after I was due in to work. Like, I know I’m late. I just want to make sure you know that I know.

Michael is amazing. He’s one of those gays that makes gays look good. He’s stylish (his clothes always fit! How does that happen?), he has an interesting career (he’s a park ranger! Delightful!), he writes a food column called “Spooning” (I write a weekly recap of his column called “Swooning” but don’t tell him that because it might make it weird). And he seems to be effortlessly creative, from his homemade recipes, to his watercolors, to his print making.

This is a thing that was at his house! A pinecone!

This is a thing that was at his house!

He’s a Martha Stewart gay. He was able to to have a full spread–hummus, pesto, meatballs, pies, bread, candles in mason jars, random pine cones–all ready and waiting for us when we showed up. And I showed up on time because I wanted to catch him in the act. The last time I threw a party I didn’t finish cooking until 10 the next morning. People were gone, the living room had been vacuumed and I was still sweating my balls off in the kitchen, yelling “Give me five more minutes; these brussels sprouts are almost done.”

Michael, however, was all ready, hadn’t broken a sweat, and, when I arrived, was casually engaging the other guests in high-minded conversation while making a second set of meatballs to be served in an hour, just in time for fashionably late guests. Brilliant!

ACTUAL FOOTAGE OF ME ARRIVING AND FINDING NARY A NAPKIN OUT OF PLACEGoldie shocked

He’s Weddings & Celebrations page material. I am not that kind of gay. I’m a Florence from The Jeffersons gay. Here’s what kind of gay I am: I cook well; I like to do it but when it’s all said and done there’s going to be a sink full of dishes and the food is going to taste good but it’s going to look like it was thrown together by Florida Evans who, Lord knows, ain’t got time to be bruleeing figs. Michael gets his recipes from his own brain; I get mine by Googling “easiest pasta sauce recipe never mind I’m just going to buy Prego thanks”. You’re not going to be Instagramming my culinary creations.

Michael makes it look so easy. I won’t ever go kayaking at 5 in the morning; it’s hard enough for me to wake up on time, make a half-assed protein shake (read: Frosty), and get out the door wearing matching socks. I don’t have any kids (that I acknowledge) but I am already a wild-eyed, harried Desperate Housewives character.

Me. Most days.

Me. Most days.

So, going to this party was like a visit to another world. And I loved every minute of it.

The only fault I find with Michael is that for the entire time we’ve known each other he has resisted admitting that he is completely in love with me.

Maybe he’s shy.

I mean, there’s no evidence that he’s in love with me. But I would really prefer it.

hes just so wonderfulA few weeks ago, he said to me “Your Facebook posts are always so crazy. I want to illustrate your life!” True love.

I suggested that he draw illustrations for the book of essays I’m writing. He agreed. Guys, he wants to draw my life in pictures. That’s tantamount to a promise ring.

Anyway, back to the party. It was amazing. I kept loudly exclaiming “I’m having a fabulous time!!” because I have no social skills whatsoever. Here’s five reasons it was amazing.

LOOK AT THIS LIGHTING!!

LOOK AT THIS LIGHTING!! LOOK AT THESE PEOPLE!

1) The lighting. OMG the lighting in his apartment was so attractive. I love good lighting but I hate hanging things, nailing things, installing things or doing anything. So my apartment usually looks like the center spread in Better Homes and Gardens: Mordor Edition.

2) The people. Everyone was so interesting and funny and engaging and pretty. There was a mix of gays and straights from all different places. Michael’s sister was there and she was wearing the most fantastically-draped scarf I have EVER SEEN. And she works for InStyle Magazine and lives in Brooklyn and I could just die! Also, someone recognized me! Like, he’d coincidentally seen my TED talk the day before! I LOVE A PARTY WHERE PEOPLE RECOGNIZE ME!

3) The music. I have never heard a better mix at a party. It was primarily late Motown with an odd indie hit thrown in. Phenomenal. It was like an episode of Scandal where nothing bad happened and everyone was happy and they had to change the name of show to Just Living.

I’m so overwhelmed, I can’t even keep listing reasons. Just look at this fucking picture.

I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT THIS IS BUT IT'S AMAZING AND I LOVE IT.

I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT THIS IS BUT IT’S AMAZING AND I LOVE IT.

As if the party wasn’t perfect enough, I met one of those perfect gay couples. You know, when two perfect gays come together to form a more perfect union. That’s the majority of the couples on the Weddings & Celebrations page. This is not a relationship I will ever been in. I am not a perfect gay. I’m a David Burtka gay. But that’s neither here nor there.

My first interaction with the perfect gays was not very successful

My first interaction with the perfect gays was not very successful

I was sitting across from these two guys and I asked them what they did. One was an architect and one was a doctor. Of course. Then I asked them how long they’d been together. Five years. Oh, stability? How nice. I asked them how they met. They met at church.

They are a doctor and an architect that met at church and fell in love forever over the sound of jazz vespers.

The doctor was quick to quash my romantic musings. “Let me tell you what it’s really like dating a doctor,” he said. “I am up at 4 every day. We never see each other. The thing I look forward to most is going to sleep.”  I was like “Lah lah lah don’t care. You both have adorable sweaters and nice smiles and you seem vaguely put off by how desperately I want your life. That’s a hat trick in my book. I want it. Give it to me now.”

I continued, raising my voice to command the attention of the room, “Tell us an interesting story about the way you interacted with each other when you were first dating.” They looked at me askance. I said “DONT CROSS ME! I AM CHANNELING OPRAH! I AM WEARING LOUBOUTIN TAP SHOES RIGHT NOW! ANSWER MY QUESTIONS!” oprah squintEventually they acquiesced, telling me charming stories about their lives and how they met and then surrendering their phones so I could page through their Instagrams and giggle quietly.

I love origin stories. That’s really why I love the Weddings & Celebrations page. I love talking to people about how they met. I love how even the most matter-of-fact things become fairytale bread crumbs when you tell them in the middle of your happy ending. That’s what I want: not the whole story, but the good parts.

Sometime in the near future I’m going to start a web series that’s just that that: me talking to people about how they met. Friends, lovers, co-workers. I love how narrative arcs are built by distance and inevitability, how suspense is a natural by-product even though the conclusion is foregone. I love a good origin story. I love when it seems perfect.

Sometimes I’m sure of what I want out of life but I’m not always sure where to begin.

pie

P.S.: the morning after the party Michael sent me a Snapchat of a piece of pie with the caption “Pie for breakfast”. The Snapchat was sent at 8:13 a.m. on a Sunday. Bless his heart, Michael doesn’t seem to realize that on Sundays breakfast doesn’t even start until 11:30. But, more importantly, pie! No one has ever sent me a picture of pie before. That’s the most romantic thing I’ve ever seen. Life is perfect!

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