Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Don't go baking my heart

The cookies have taken over.

There’s a restaurant located on our street, and parking can be tricky, especially the evening before garbage day when trios of waste receptacles claim much of the valuable space. Nevertheless, I nearly forfeited my husband’s coveted spot this evening when I attempted to move his car to accommodate our trash bins. I blame The Girl Scout.

I noticed the girl and her mother as I rounded the corner with Wolfie on the homestretch of our walk. The pair had freshly alighted from a parked minivan, and the 8-year-old drew back in fear as I passed her with my leashed, 10-pound Chihuahua mix. From my yard, I watched as they climbed the steps to Tony and Elise’s house, presumably for a visit.

Depositing Wolfie inside, I grabbed Matt’s car keys. It wasn’t until I climbed behind the wheel of the Prius that I realized the girl and her mother were now at the home located two doors down from Elise and Tony, the one on the other side of mine. Then I saw the tell-tale vest. The colorful patches. Surely they had observed me enter the car. Contact was inevitable upon my exit. I shifted to Drive and sped away.

We're under attack!
I got lucky: Matt’s parking spot remained vacant when I returned from my hurried lap around the block. And the girl and her mother had moved along. I wheeled one bin curbside but deemed it too risky to attempt the others. Darting inside, I fastened my shutters and switched off the lights.
Are there any adults who genuinely like Girl Scout cookies? Pardon me, but they’re tiny and dry and have been so for generations. Eons. The only mildly appetizing variety are the Peanut Butter Patty ones, but no coworker leaves an open box of those babies in the communal kitchen; it’s always Shortbread or Do-Si-Dos (Ahem, Do-Si-Don'ts). I suggest Girl Scouts try peddling items adults actually need and desire like six-packs of beer or Alka Seltzer. According to The Guardian, Boy Scouts raise funds for programming by selling popcorn and fertilizer. I’m not sure I need fertilizer, but at least it won’t shame me on the scale the next morning.

This morning, Wolfie and I encountered a neighbor’s house featuring Girl Scout cookie boxes functioning as lawn ornaments. Someone had draped them on bushes and positioned them within tree branches. I snapped a photo and texted it to Matt.


“Maybe it’s a warning,” he replied. “Like how they would hang pirates outside town to warn others.”

Personally, I considered it a hostile act, a threat, and Wolfie and I quickly trotted away.

The problem is I don’t like confrontation. I hate seeing those little doe eyes peep up at me with disappointment when I spew bold-faced lies like, “Oh dear. I already bought my quota this year” or “I’m so sorry. My dog’s a diabetic so we can’t keep that kind of thing in the house.”

Matt came home from running to discover our house swathed in complete darkness. After confirming he had not been accosted by that industrious little hawker of solidified glucose, I explained my reasoning. He seemed amused.

“They’re Girl Scouts – Not commandos,” Matt said. “What, you think they’re going to do a no-knock raid? ‘Buy the cookies!’”

Anything is possible. They do have quotas, after all.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The "Talent"

I wished I had washed my hair. And maybe shaved the hobbit toes peeking out from my thrift store sandals.
Prepping on the Silicon Valley Capital Club balcony

Such were my thoughts as we stepped out onto the 17th floor balcony of the Silicon Valley Capital Club, and I realized our party numbered six – not 60. The cameras might be a tad closer than anticipated.

Matt and I came to the shoot because our friend Sherif promised us free food and drinks. I imagined the experience would be similar to the time Guy Fieri filmed an episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” at the local Tex-Mex restaurant, and my sister and I gawked and gorged on free tortilla chips from a distant table. Or it might mirror my 30th birthday, when same sister drove me to the North Florida boonies to film an amateur rap music video in some redneck’s yard. (I was the oldest, saddest bikini babe alighting from the bed of that 4x4). 

This particular project, we came to learn, would promote San Jose tourism via commercials aired on Facebook and YouTube. Sherif’s friend’s friend was part of the crew, and she had recruited other members of Silicon Valley’s Egyptian diaspora to play young tech professionals chatting it up as the sun set over San Jose’s skyline. Ultimately, this amounted to four ex-pats, Matt (who looks vaguely Middle Eastern) and me, the pasty white girl.  We were “the talent,” a group in no way representative of any Silicon Valley demographic I’ve ever encountered (who forgot to invite the Asians?!). We clustered around an electric fire pit, watched the planes descend into Mineta San Jose International Airport and awaited direction as the crew, a decidedly more attractive group of hipster 20-somethings, fiddled with their impressive camera equipment. I noticed a drone – the first I’ve seen in person -- tucked behind one of the lounge chairs, and I hovered over it, marveling at the tiny but powerful propellers.
"Red" doles out the drinks.

“You guys want drinks?” asked a redhead in casually chic attire. She seemed to be second in command to a bearded fellow sporting a borrowed, stained dinner jacket over a graphic tee. (“Apparently, the Capital Club requires a collar,” he’d said, sheepishly.)

“Yes, that might help,” I said, nervously.

The drinks, when they arrived, were impressive: An electric-blue martini, a rum and cola, a champagne cocktail with raspberry garnish. Red positioned the glasses in our hands, reflected on the placement and then swapped a few between us. I was disappointed to lose the beautiful blue martini to Matt. Both of us were disappointed to learn none of the drinks contained a drop of alcohol. Mine, a martini with two perfect olives, consisted of mere water. 

Sherif’s friend’s friend, a petite girl with tight, bouncy curls, ordered an assortment of entrees, and a waiter positioned them around the fire pit: a skillet of meatballs, a shepherd’s pie erupting from its ramekin, king prawns, cheese wedges, grapes and apricot compote. These, at least, were real, but we could only admire the spread until the shoot wrapped. 

Once the sun descended enough to cast a golden glow, it was time to shoot. Red directed Matt and Sherif to adjacent chairs on one side of the fire pit and told the two other female “talents” to occupy the chairs on the other. I stood to the side, against the glass balustrade, and chatted with a short, moon-faced guy sporting a fierce chinstrap.
Sherif, left, and Matt

“Everybody should be laughing with their mouths open – not just talking – because otherwise, you look like ‘ugh,’” said the still photographer, contorting his face into a grimace.

We laughed for real and then, for the benefit of his camera, with our mouths wide open. Yep, I felt like an idiot.

“Just talk amongst yourselves,” Red said. “There won’t be any sound, so you can talk about whatever you want.”

By now, the Bearded Fellow was filming with a digital SLR, the drone was buzzing overhead and the Photographer was punching his shutter.

“I-don’t-know-what-to-say – ha, ha,” I said, taking a dainty sip of olive-flavored water.

“I-don’t-either – hahahaha,” Sherif said.
The "Talent"

Matt happened to be the only guy in a blazer, and the Bearded Fellow asked him and the attractive brunette with the short-cropped jacket to replace the moon-faced guy and I at the balustrade. They launched into a fake-laugh flirtation, and I vacillated between casting the stink eye at this coupling and staring longingly at the steaming shepherd’s pie before me. I decided it would be the first dish I tucked into once the crew let us eat the props.

It would be eight months before Matt and I viewed the final video product; Sherif sent Matt the Facebook link Tuesday. There are hundreds of people featured in the video’s dozen or so vignettes, so I was surprised to see our shoot providing the anchor shots that close out the whole thing. There we are sharing pretend laughter and clinking pretend drinks. Impressively, Matt and his blazer make an appearance in five clips. I think that’s my blurry forehead in the foreground encroaching on one of them.

“My amigos Matt and Megan are so fancy they are literally poster people for the Valley,” our friend Kelsey wrote in a Facebook post.

But Matt took it a step farther.

“I’m the King of San Jose!” he gushed to me via text.

I guess that makes me the queen.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Born again

I was born again yesterday -- by accident: I shimmied into a 19th century irrigation tower and discovered some strategically placed “artwork” within.

I photographed Frenchman’s Tower on Friday for a Town Crier article about an effort to update an outdated list of historic Los Altos Hills sites. The list, for example, lays claim to this stately tower, but it’s actually located in Palo Alto along Old Page Mill Road.

Circa 1875, a French refugee named Peter Coutts constructed his two-story brick tower to serve as water storage for cattle. There’s no door, and the gothic windows have long been bricked over, presumably to keep vandals out. The only way inside is by squirming through a tiny hole a particularly obstinate vandal busted into the backside, and doing so requires first lowering onto one’s hands and knees and then “diving in” head first or blindly backing in legs first. I chose the latter.

Looking up inside the tower
The tower’s roof, if there had ever been one, is missing and only rafters remained, so the inside is surprisingly light and airy. While visitors have scratched their initials and names into every brick within reach on the outside, those that ventured inside proved even bolder when obscured from view, and they have graced the interior bricks with spray-painted scrawls of names (“Peasey?”), dates, and yes, depictions of the miracle of life. Broken glass and trash litter the floor. Something unseen smells suspiciously like excrement.

I’ve always been attracted to romantic hideaways. As a kid, I accosted many an unfamiliar wardrobe in the hopes of discovering a portal into a fantasy world of fauns and talking beavers. And 12-year-old me once prided herself on transforming a neighbor’s firewood lean-to into a royal court for King Henry, Queen Jessie, Princess Violet and Prince Benny, titles and names my sister and our friends christened ourselves with. So it was with some satisfaction that I surveyed the interior of Frenchman’s Tower, my personal fortress for the 20 minutes it took me to photograph the sad, spray-painted bricks and stark shadows cast from the sun-lit rafters. Finally, I surrendered my imaginary crown and crawled back out (or in?) to await the bicyclist or casual hiker who would lend some element of action to my exterior shots.

Within 10 minutes, a minivan pulled up and parked beside the tower. A father-like figure and two teen girls alighted. I squeezed my shutter as they rounded my fortress and disappeared from sight, presumably to be born again too.

Additional Reading:

Sunday, June 18, 2017

"American Beauty," revisited

I’d like to issue a journalistic retraction 17 years after the offending publication: No, “American Beauty” is not “garbage-worthy,” as 16-year-old Me so boldly proclaimed in the Feb. 11, 2000, edition of “The Sting.”

Adult Me re-watched 2000’s Best Picture winner Friday night, the first time since viewing it in the theater. And I laughed. I marveled at the performances, particularly those of Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening as they each inched hilariously closer to insanity. Yep, 34-year-old Sam Mendes deserved that Best Director Oscar, and his film earned its Best Picture award. But I don’t need to remind you how good this movie is. I think the rest of the world knows.

Through the space-time continuum vortex, however, my 16-year-old self read my new assessment with gritted teeth. She, apparently, was not a fan of the film and wrote a scathing review entitled “American Beauty exposes the ‘ugly American'” for Roswell High School’s newspaper (Note: this was the same edition of “The Sting” that praised Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman for their “strong, loving relationship” and suggested teen singles spend Valentine’s Day belting out “I Will Survive” at karaoke bars.).

“Trash. That’s a good word to describe it,” 16-year-old Me wrote in the review. (I imagine myself spitting as I read this). “What a shame that you can have a great cast in a movie, add a little pornography, some profanity, leave out the morality, and be left with a two-hour film that you wasted $7.50 of your own good money on.”

Ha! Just $7.50 for a movie ticket? Can you believe it? What’s even more amusing is that chump change wasn’t even my own “good money” because my dad took me to see the film.
And there, perhaps, is the root of my myopic disdain: Can you imagine being a teenage girl watching a father do all the things Lester Burnham does and fantasizes about while sitting beside your own father? It was uncomfortable.

“If you decide to go anyway, remember to leave your dad at home,” went my smart-ass punchline. “I should know.”

I don’t remember what my dad said about the film at the time, but I have a feeling he appreciated the story but wished he had read the synopsis before selecting his movie date.

Curious, I texted him today to find out.

“Do you remember taking me to the theater to see ‘American Beauty’ when I was 16?”

“Yes with the rose petals mom would have hated that movie,” he replied.

“Do you remember if you liked it?”

“I liked it because it was something we did together but no it was very creepy.”

He couldn’t hear me but I was laughing from 3,000 miles away.

“You should rewatch it -- with mom. I think you might enjoy it this time. I rewatched it on Friday, and I think I appreciate it now.”

Adult Me rewatched "American Beauty" on Amazon Prime with Matt, who has been a fan since the film’s release.

“That’s probably one of the worst judgments I’ve ever made about a movie -- especially one that won best picture,” I confessed afterward.

“Wait,” Matt said. “What about ‘Shakespeare in Love?’”

I guess this means he’s still angry about that little gem winning Best Picture over “Saving Private Ryan.” He watched the former with his dad, in the theater, when it first premiered in 1998. Is it on Prime? Perhaps he should revisit it.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

My shot -- at 'Hamilton'

An audience member sobbed during my viewing of “Hamilton.”

 Although these were sobs spent during a death scene, they cut through the otherwise silent theater with an absurdity that made the rest of us laugh. What a wacko. Get a grip, lady.

I realize now the woman was likely lamenting the price of her ticket; I’ve seen “Hamilton” orchestra seats commanding four figures on resale websites. I’ve noted price gauging amongst neighbors on Nextdoor.

I said as much to my husband while we were stuck in traffic en route to the San Francisco show last week.

“We could have sold them and had dinner at the French Laundry!” Matt said.

Brag backfired.

I’m proud to say I spent just $100 each for our two balcony seats, but it took some maneuvering and goodwill from a kind co-worker. Months before the online box office opened, three of us in the office agreed to stage a concerted assault on the website the second tickets became available; whoever made it into the website’s inner sanctum would purchase six tickets – the limit – and resell them at face value to the other two. I was No. 77,654 in line, but Traci made good on her word. When Eliza managed to secure her own set of six, Traci sold a second pair at cost to my friend, someone she didn’t even know.

I can’t say if “Hamilton” at San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre is worth four-figures, but a balcony view of Lin-Manuel Miranda's cultural phenomenon is certainly worth $100. Even Matt was singing “You’ll Be Back” for days afterward; we both agreed Rory O’Malley’s King George commanded the most (and well-deserved) laughs, followed by Jordan Donica’s head-jiggling Thomas Jefferson.

If you go, be prepared for snappy choreography, thought-provoking casting (Those slave-owning Founding Fathers! They’re portrayed by black men! Those breakdancing soldiers! They’re female!) and thunderous applause punctuating the conclusion of each scene. There’s sure to be subtle illusions to America’s current political climate (the line, “Immigrants, we get the job done!” garnered perhaps the loudest applause of the night) and you’ll marvel at the strength of Emmy Raver-Lampman’s Angelica Schuyler and hairdo. Undoubtedly, most of your fellow audience members will sing along with the cast, including middle-aged mothers serenading teenage sons during intermission. I confess to assaulting Matt with a few enthusiastic whispered lines from “My Shot” (“I’m not throwing away my shot!”) during that early scene.

“All these theater nerds, they’ve been listening to the soundtrack on repeat for months,” I sniped during intermission.

“Well, you obviously were too.”


Friday, May 19, 2017

Where the seats have no name

I was in preschool when U2 released the Joshua Tree, so I don’t remember all the accolades and awards that followed in its wake. I do, however, remember “borrowing” the CD from my parents’ collection and listening to it on repeat as a teenager. The moody intro and anguished vocals of “With or Without You” earned the track top airplay on my boom box, while my sister and I developed a ritual of cranking up the volume to howl along with Bono whenever the song aired on the radio.
During "With or Without You"
But I was always puzzled by the indecisive musings of the protagonist. How could he be so crazy about someone who obviously made him crazy, relinquishing him to a bed of nails no less?

“I think I understand now that I’m married,” I told my husband Wednesday en route to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara for the Joshua Tree Tour 2017, commemorating the album's 30th anniversary. Matt was busy battling Lawrence Expressway traffic to merge onto Tasman Drive, but I think he caught the teasing glint in my eyes.

Among Wednesday’s 22-song set, U2’s “With or Without You” performance, however, left the audience waiting and wanting a little more; the intro started and ended, but Bono didn’t begin singing until after an awkward delay caused by a technical or mental lapse indiscernible from our nosebleed-inducing seats.

There were a few additional missteps, including delaying the start of the show until 9 p.m., a full hour after opening act Mumford and Sons vacated the stage, but Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. have earned a few allowances in a career spanning four decades. They still know how to rock, and they still have something to say.
During "Where the Streets Have No Name"

The band sandwiched the entire Joshua Tree (Grammy Album of the Year, 1988), between tracks from earlier albums War and The Unforgettable Fire and a six-song encore with later material from Achtung Baby and All That You Can’t Leave Behind. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” opened the set. The song, about the 1972 deadly shooting of protestors by the British Army in Northern Ireland, led off two hours of hits interlaced with celebrations of Americana (whispered strains of Simon and Garfunkel’s “America,” black and white footage of sweeping American West landscapes and the native people who inhabit them) and politics (blatant digs at President Trump and references to the Syrian refugee crisis, including the drowning of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi). During “Miss Sarajevo,” lower deck audience members passed a sheet-like square large enough to cover entire seating section around the stadium. It featured the passport photo of a 15-year-old Syrian girl featured in an interview broadcast on an LED screen behind the band during the song. The girl, living in a dismal Jordanian refugee camp, said she dreams of immigrating to the United States one day.

“We will find higher ground when we find common ground,” Bono said during “Pride,” as words like “dream” and “truth” broke away from the text of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and floated across the video screen.
That screen
Ah, that screen. Until it lit up with film footage of an endless desert highway during “Where the Streets Have No Name,” the unfortunate brown-colored panels and Joshua tree awkwardly emerging from it resembled a drive-in movie screen fashioned from cardboard. The album’s first track also marked the beginning of the live video feed broadcast. Up until that point, the band’s performance at the end of a tree-shaped catwalk resembled ants gyrating on a head of cauliflower – at least to us “cheap seat” occupants.

Bono dedicated “Ultra Violet” to the women in the band members’ lives and to women who “insisted and persisted” throughout history – or “Herstory.” The faces of these “Little Miss Icons” –from abolitionist Sojourner Truth and anarchist activist Emma Goldman to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, comedian Ellen Degeneres and Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai – cycled across the screen.

The band closed with “The Little Things That Give You Away,” a new song scheduled for official release later this year as part of “Songs of Experience,” a follow-up album to the band’s 2014 “Songs of Innocence.” The band revealed a square-shaped black and white image of a barefoot man and woman holding hands, presumably the album cover shot, during the performance. The woman appeared to wear an army helmet and the man resembled a teenage Bono, but it was difficult to identify him from a distance.
Bono, is that you?

“We have a new album,” Bono said. “This is a song on it. And we’re just warming up.”

High in the stands, where temperatures dipped into the high 40s and the wind whipped about, Matt and I were shivering, and I twisted my shoulder into his side for warmth. By then I wore the commemorative concert T-shirt I had bought him over my own clothes for added warmth. But he didn’t seem to mind.

Set list:
-Sunday Bloody Sunday (War, 1983)
-New Year’s Day (War, 1983)
-A Sort of Homecoming (The Unforgettable Fire, 1984)
-Bad (The Unforgettable Fire, 1984)
-Pride (In the Name of Love) (The Unforgettable Fire, 1984)
-Where the Streets Have No Name (The Joshua Tree, 1987)
-I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (The Joshua Tree, 1987)
-With or Without You (The Joshua Tree, 1987)
-Bullet the Blue Sky (The Joshua Tree, 1987)
-Running to Stand Still (The Joshua Tree, 1987)
-Red Hill Mining Town (The Joshua Tree, 1987)
-In God’s Country (The Joshua Tree, 1987)
-Trip Through Your Wires (The Joshua Tree, 1987)
-One Tree Hill (The Joshua Tree, 1987)
-Exit (The Joshua Tree, 1987)
-Mothers of the Disappeared (The Joshua Tree, 1987)

-Beautiful Day (All That You Can’t Leave Behind, 2000)
-Elevation (All That You Can’t Leave Behind, 2000)
-Ultra Violet (Light My Way) (Achtung Baby, 1991)
-One (Achtung Baby, 1991)
-Miss Sarajevo (Original Soundtracks 1, 1995)
-The Little Things That Give You Away (Songs of Experience, 2017)