Sunday, March 16, 2008

People will see me and cry

Guilty-pleasure confession: I sat up much too late last night, past midnight, because...I was watching Ice Castles on ABC Family. Yyyeeeaaaah. Oh, dear Lord, how I loved that movie when I was 10 or 12 or so. I was frankly shocked at how much of it I remembered, vividly, music cues and line-for-line dialogue. Either I begged to rent it (on Betamax, naturally) 25 times or it was in heavy rotation on HBO during one of the infrequent periods in which we splurged on premium cable. It is a colossal cheese fest, and even though it is hilariously...unlikely, shall we say, I totally relished seeing it again. Nearly 30 years on (pause here for OHMYGOD inhalation), I was particularly enamored of the fashions, honestly: the little retro-70s ski togs, sporty striped sweaters and matching track pants with ankle zippers, so you could get them on and off over your boots. Wool...or, probably, some creepy polyester knit. I still wanted them...if not, so much, the extraordinary array of feathered-wedge haircuts on display.

Oh, man. The part where our heroine, Lexie, hits The Big Time? Before she is tragically blinded, I mean--where she goes to train at the Broadmoor World Arena and, like, lives in some kind of dorm of teen girl skaters? Like figure-skating boarding school? Ohhhh how I wanted that so badly when I was, what, 12? 14? Old enough to know better, honestly, but I longed for it. It would be like The Facts of Life--ON ICE!

Cintra Wilson, in her novel Colors Insulting to Nature, provides a sidesplitting dissection and analysis of this crappy dumbass movie, skewering all its Hollywood tropes and at the same time pointing out its perfect, desired effect on the book's protagonist, Liza. It's magnificent and I wish I had written it--hell, I might have except Wilson got there first. I could quote the whole thing but I'll just give you the money shot:

Liza, age ten, was devastated by the film's beauty and power.
She wanted more than anything to go blind and have Robby Benson restore
her, through Tough Love, to athletic championship, in both skating and

This same character, after Fame, also harbors a dream of attending the High School of Performing Arts in New York City. Which...uh, Cintra, give me back my Judy Blume diary, thanks much.

I was having dinner with a group of friends, some years ago now, when someone raised the question of "what did you want to be when you grew up?" I'd harbored vague ideas as a child about being a librarian--because I thought they got to live in the library--or a teacher, because I adored all of mine. And, probably always, some part of me wanted to be a writer. But I surprised myself and my dinner companions a little by answering thusly: "Famous." I wanted the abstract concept, more than any specific career; I didn't really care about the "for what?" part. Any opportunity to dance/sing/behave in a generally melodramatic fashion...oh, man, was I all over that. (Note that, in finally taking up figure skating, I deliberately selected a glamour sport; I owe quite a lot of that to ol' Robby Benson.)

In the privacy of my room, I sang into hairbrushes and talcum-powder canisters, or the pulley apparatus for my bedroom curtains. This was attached to the wall by a hinge, so that you could pull it out away from the wall or snap it back, obviously like a microphone in a stand. I practiced and practiced my award-acceptance speech(es), adding and cutting out my parents or whoever had mortally insulted me in fifth-period French that week. ("I'd like to NOT dedicate this Oscar to Joanna. She knows why.") And the fantasy of somehow, someday Being Discovered informed my every waking daydream, without question. I would be the diligent understudy, yanked from the wings when the lead got strep or the defending champion sprained her ankle. Or there would be a Hollywood talent agent at the next table at Perkins Cake & Steak--where Grandpa took us nearly every Friday night until he died--and he would look at me and just know. My moment was coming, I was absolutely certain of it. Any day now!

Any day now. Robby, call me!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Hell is for children

Pulling out of the Starbucks lot ahead of me is a sleek, black luxury automobile with a vanity plate: SATAN., really? That was what you picked? And they let you? Well, that's...interesting. I suspect that the actual Prince of Darkness would not feel so insecure that he would need to brag about it quite that much, but whatever. Also I am late, Dark Lord, so apply some pressure to the pedal on the right if you would.

At the next stoplight I pulled alongside to openly gawk at Old Scratch. I was hoping desperately that it would be Ray Wise behind the wheel, but it was a woman. Dark hair, kinda severe, only murkily visible behind the heavily tinted glass. She glanced back, with an irritated "what are you looking at?" expression. Um, lady, your licence plate implies you are THE DEVIL. Forgive me if I stare rudely. You can take it, I think. And should be used to it.

Then I noticed what she had in the back seat: a festive balloon bouquet. Jolly pastels, at least one mylar balloon with a smiley face. Happy Birthday? Get Well Soon? I couldn't make it out before the light changed and Beelzebub pulled slowly, regally away.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

No mere mortal can resist

The weather in Seattle has been doing this false-spring thing that happens almost every February: for a week, maybe two, the days are suddenly glorious, sunny, with temperatures nearing 60 degrees. The branch tips of all the ornamental cherry trees on my block are misted in pink; random crocuses erupt from the lawn at Bagley Elementary. And everybody responds in pretty much the same time-honored way: by running around outside like ninnies, wearing as little clothing as possible. This ensures that everyone gets a good head cold going just in time for it to start raining again, which it will do until June.

But it isn't raining yet. This week I reaped another one of spring's rewards, when I pulled on a lightweight jacket I hadn't worn in nearly six months, put my hand in the pocket, and discovered both a cheap stretchy headband I'd been missing, and my favorite sunglasses, which I'd long assumed had been left in god only knows what coffee shop. Hurray! I hoped that maybe there'd be a forgotten $20 bill in the other pocket, but my luck did not extend quite that far. Oh well.

To take advantage of today's sun (and, no doubt, to bring the rain around forthwith), I went up to the coin-op car wash near my house, to give the Cherry Bomb a good scrubbing. The place was packed, nearly every stall full. The car wash backs onto a residential alley, and so there are multiple signs posted over the wax guns and vaccum hoses: No Loud Music. But that hadn't deterred the guy parked dead center at the vacuum island, all four doors open, blasting his album of choice: Thriller.

Oh, Thriller. The good old days, man, before Michael Jackson lost his entire mind. Just a couple weeks ago, Krispy pointed out to me that it's been 25 years since that album came out, a number that seems impossible. Likewise, I can't conceive of a pop-cultural moment that could so entirely capture the entire freaking planet today. At the height of Thriller's prominence, Mom, Sis, and I each had a copy--a cassette for the car, vinyl to be played indoors on the Good Stereo in the living room. My dad favored Eddie Van Halen's guitar licks on Beat It, and he labored in vain, for what seemed like years, to master the moonwalk. "Is this it? I'm doing it! Am I doing it?" he'd ask, shuffling backwards across the kitchen in his yellow work boots. (, Dad. Sorry. That wasn't it. No, not that time either.) I remember when the Thriller video--puffing itself up a bit as a Short Film--premiered on MTV, a watershed event in itself, because Jackson was one of the first, if not the first, black artist to appear on the network. Yeah, go back and look at that sentence again; I typed it, I lived it, and it's unfathomably remote to me: MTV's Jim Crow period, coinciding with my lifetime. Anyway...MTV aired it every hour on the hour, for the first day or weekend or whatever...and I was incensed because we had to go visit my great aunt, and she didn't have anything as highfalutin' as cable. I missed three or four airings! My seventh-grade cool cred was suffering blow after blow!

So. Thriller at the car wash. Vincent Price rapped, and I couldn't see the other patrons in their respective car-wash cubbies, but...I can't have been the only one, I can't, to have been doing a little zombie shuffle-stomp, my sneakers slapping in the collected puddles of rinse-water and lime-green tire dressing as I wielded the foam brush.

We were up to Billie Jean, by the time I pulled alongside the guy by the vacuum station and set to work buffing with an old beach towel. Sadly, the buckled pavement did not light up underneath my feet, or his. Dude was taking his time, babying his car with about half a dozen bottles of different automotive unguents and potions at his feet. He was kind of a ridiculous specimen, on sight: tiger-striped (!) doo rag, mobile-phone ear bud hooked over his right ear. Not old enough, I don't think, to remember this album from the first time around. "Is my music too loud?" he asked me politely, and only now am I wondering if he asked me this because he thought I was old. Too old for loud, too old to jam.

"No--I love it!" I blurted helplessly. Quite the contrary, my ironic friend. It was taking everything I had not to outright shake my ass to the good old non-insane King of Pop, younger then than I am now. Yikes, man. It's all turned out quite a lot scarier than Quincy Jones ever anticipated, I expect. But oh, the memories. That album, raising the dead for the express purpose of getting down.