Friday, November 16, 2012

From Deadwood to 'Doble, Rome to Rumba! In which I Learn Dancing is Animal!

I used to have good televisual taste.  Way back, when the nights of the week were differentiated by what show was the daily highlight.  Deadwood Day!   Rome Day!  Those were my favourites. 

Deadwood with it’s blood and sweat and filth; characters so real I could smell them reeking from the screen; cursing with their “cocksucker”-ready mouths, depicting a society so degenerate and uncivilized, I squirmed with delight from the corner of my leather sofa.

Rome was similarly base and lusty, but with grapes and togas and incest!   Corruption and betrayal usually triumphed over honor and integrity, and love?  Forget that!  Whatever was good and noble was crushed or squeezed by sandal or fist, was thrust at with knives, delivered with a twist.  The female led, Atia, played by Polly Walker, was my heroine of an anti-heroine; she was neither nice, nor kind, but she was a passionate force to be reckoned with. 

The characters were vivid, the script was sharp, tight, witty and wonderful; amid the grit of these lavish productions, I would often find myself laughing until I couldn’t breathe, snorting like an asthmatic guinea pig.
Every Monday, my weekly wait for HBO Sunday would seem interminable.
But then, both shows were cancelled.  Both were touted to be made into films, but alas, projects that were obviously too costly, or too risky to gamble on.

I started singing, “Bye, bye, my historical porn,
Perhaps it was the cocksucking that won only scorn?...”

But the TV didn’t die.  It thrives on.  I just get can’t, or rather, I don’t allow myself, to get into True Blood, Mad Men, Games of Thrones, Once Upon a Time, Revenge, Nashville, the televisual circus --God, all the hours that would take up!  I have found a replacement though, and it’s not what you would think.  It’s my guilty pleasure, my dirty little secret… it’s hot and lusty in it’s own gyrating way; oh, there is vertical thrusting---lots of it—there are rippled men lifting scantily-clad females up and down and round-about like they weigh nothing, and the competitors are fed to the lions, the judges giving thumbs up or down, it’s… oh God, don’t judge me…  Dancing With The Stars.

Yes, bring on the too-white teeth, the spray on tans, the hair lacquer, the lettuce-diet.  We're not in Deadwood anymore, Toto.

I know.  I know.  I should not be condoning reality TV.  (Jobbing actors don’t hate.)  I know this is cheap programming taking acting opportunities away from professionals, but BOY this is entertaining!   The relationships, the effort, the physicality, the flesh, the sequins!  It’s a visual feast, this celebration of dance.  And it boggles my mind that someone who loved two programmes so seemingly opposed to reality TV, could be enjoying this harmless family-fun show so much!  Where’s the bleary-eyed, greasy-haired, pale-faced Al Swerengen, delivering his dramatic, almost Shakespearean, monologues to camera, shouting for more whiskey, whores and blowjobs?  Where’s the tangible, breath-holding lust of Mark Anthony and Atia going at it like rabid rabbits in a Roman orgy of wine and silk, with servants listening at doors?

It’s a different type of drama, but there is drama; there is life, there are stories, there are emotions in dance.

Now, perhaps I should confide to you, dear Reader, that I have always had a bit of an emotional tango, a love-hate relationship, with dance. Ballerina Eleanor, was not a thing of beauty.  Ballet En, was in fact about as stiff and wooden as a stick.  A flat, straight, unbending, uncurved, inelegant stick.  I started ballet at about the age of six, one of a small group in pigtails, pink up-the-bum leotards, itchy-mcscratchy tutus and hand-knitted pink wrap-around cardigans.  There was nothing comfortable or practical about this strange ensemble.  I recall, I regularly froze and spent the whole class itching.  The one item I did like was my fairy wings: a gauzey, iridescent panel of fabric that my mother had sewn for me, that gathered up the back and attached to my middle fingers with elastics. 

I thought I was amazing in those wings!  That this pointless, highly-flammable synthetic material conferred on me the power to dance!   I didn’t need Superman’s unitard, or Ironman’s metal, or Batman’s reinforced bat-shield armour; I had NYLON!

Most of the little girls in my class dreamed of being ballerinas, or princesses.  I didn’t.  I think this was principally because I wasn’t very good.  My limbs didn’t curve, so there were no such things as elegant swaying arms, they were goal posts; my jete leaps were vicious karate kicks with the attendant facial expression that was far from ballerina-serene.  In the Nutcracker, I was cast as a rat.  I think that really says it all, doesn’t it?

But, even though I did not dream of ballet shoes, I did love to dance.  I really clearly remember-- I couldn’t have been more than 6 at the time— my great Auntie Joanie had come down on the train to visit.  She sat in the big, red chair, by the window, and, as I flapped around the lounge, pirouetting and slamming into the splits with the grace of an intoxicated, baby giraffe, she asked me if I wanted to be a ballerina. 

I didn’t know this then, but this was quite the loaded question, as Auntie Joanie, back in the day, had been a dancer.  She lived to dance!   (She now has replacement hips to show for it.)  But the war scuppered her dancing dreams and lead to a career in the WAF instead.

It is one of my earliest memories: Auntie Joanie’s face in the soft light, her sparkling expression, her twinkling eyes watching me dance.  Her hands clasped, encouraging and applauding my improvised moves that probably looked as if I was in pain or being electrocuted.

“So you don’t want to be a ballerina?  Tell me, what do you want to be?”

I flapped my wings, shucked my itchy tutu, kicked it off into the air, and told her I wanted to be a stripper! 
She gasped, and then she laughed, and my mum laughed, and somehow it wasn’t scandalous, or perverted or anything, it was just me being a show off.  Now, don’t ask me how or why I even knew strippers existed, because I don’t know, but I thought if I would get to flap my wings and dance with no clothes on, that was alright by me!

Times have changed of course.  Shit, I have to be sedated before I peel off my togs in front of someone.  Give me gas and air, a vodka, a valium, a glass or three; but, give me strategically-placed sequins (or fairy wings) and I could dance the light fantastic until 3 am!

So when I finally stop working, I draw the curtains, light the candles, pour Self a glass of pinot noir and I get down and dirty with DWTS.  It’s quite the guilty treat.   Some friends mock me for this bizarre down shift in En’s programming.  But I won’t apologise for it.  There is merit in such a show, and while it may not be winning Emmys, like Deadwood or Rome, it has all the elements to make you feel.  And isn’t that the point of entertaining television, to make you think and feel emotions?   I sit there transfixed, holding my breath, mesmerized by the wardrobe, the talent, the choreography and I can’t help but sway and feel like I am wearing my fairy wings; slinking like an alley cat as the couples rumba, breaching like a serpent as they tango, flaring my nostrils as they paso doble; and in my mind, I can really dance. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

"I am INVINCIBLE!" In which I learn, pride comes before... a fire truck.

You recall that character in Golden Eye, Boris the Computer Programmer, played by the incomparable Scottish pixie, Alan Cummings; who, thinking himself the master brain, the King of Computer Code, raises his fists in victory and shouts in his rolling Russian accent, “I am invincible!”  RRRRemember?  Yeah, I was feeling like that: a Smug-Face, a Cock-Sure, a Chest-Puffer.  

In spite of my inability to read the instruction pamphlets for new appliances; in spite of the fact I have not replaced the blown light bulb that died oh… two months ago; I felt so sure of my abilities, I took on the… plumbing.  And I thought I won.  I thought I was, indeed, invincible.  But pride comes before a fall, or before a small drama involving a fire truck, five disgruntled firemen, one Scranton cop and a British bird in furry boots.  But I am getting ahead of myself…

Since moving, Home Ownership has been fairly uneventful—thank God—because I am not the kind of girl at home in overalls.  Please don’t misunderstand me here, dear Reader, I was not brought up to be a princess—I believe I have told you of that sad hospital mix-up in which I was not born to Lord and Lady Fortescue-Asquith-Smythe-Smythe-Featherbottom—the sibling and I were always made to help.  I'd be forced to collect the grass cuttings, fling the dog poo on the compost, weed the garden, iron the linens—oh yes, I was a regular little Cinders.  

Dad could and would fix anything, whether building walls, plastering, wiring, installing bathrooms and kitchens, making dressers, vanity units… you name it, my Dad put the ‘D’ in D.I.Y.  There was no electrician, builder or plumber, he was just known as “Dad.”  This was my paternal parental example.

My mum had a Singer sewing machine.  She was a post war baby—she would want me to make that very clear—but still the attitude of "make do and mend" was instilled in her upbringing.  She was hands on.  A do-er and a fixer of material things.  This was my maternal example.

But a little confidence, and no skill, should not a newly home-owning instant plumber make.

When I walked into my home yesterday, I expected the bone-chilling freeze of the outside to quickly  dissipate and my breath to disappear in front of my eyes again.  It didn’t.  I sat attending to my emails and kept my coat on, clouds of carbon dioxide puffing from my mouth.

 “By heck, it’s chilly!” I texted to a friend, which prompted me to inspect the thermostat.  It was 54 degrees of chilly.  It was then, dressed like a Christmas Carol reject, in pink fingerless mittens, I realized that the reason I was cold was that there was no heat dans le maison.  Quelle horreur!  Sacre bleu!  Mon Dieu!  MERDE!

I twiddled the thermostat.  I cranked it all the way to the right, beyond the 80 degrees.  Nothing.  Not a sound from the usually vocal old radiators, not a bump, thump or hiss. 

And so, with phone in hand, I made my way down the narrow, darkened stairs to the underbelly of 1111.  There it sat: the mighty, sleeping metal monster, surprising silent. 

Clutching the phone, a friend text-structed me to light the pilot light.  Sounded easy enough, thought I.  But as I removed the cover, the flame was clearly there, snoring away.  What followed was a comedy, a farce, an hour of feverish texting of photographs of every tap, faucet, lever, spigot; twisting, turning, with eyes half-closed, squatting in cream woolen mini-dress, furry boots, fluffy hat and fingerless mittens.   Finally a reluctant yank of the yellow lever and an oily black liquid gushed into an existing and—fortunately for my plumbing-inappropriate fluffy footwear—well placed pitcher.  The water line in the tube bobbed.  Things were happening! 

And then my dear, dear friend hit on the motherload… “How to flush out your American Standard furnace” courtesy of Youtube.  Because, guess what, Reader?  Furnaces, boilers, whatever the hell they are, GO OUT WHEN THE WATER LEVEL IS TOO LOW!  Duh!  Why did no one tell me this?  Do Americans learn this at school, because we Brits don’t!  Because every single smug son-of-a-goat has nodded sagely when I have retold this part of the story and said, “Oh yes, didn’t you know that?  You need to flush the old water through.”  NO!  No, I did not know that.   Had I known that I would not have spent the best part of an hour dancing like a constipated gazelle fannying around with phone in hand, twiddling knobs and pledging sacrifices to the Heating Gods.

However, Youtube-enlightened, I was able to half-fill the water, as instructed!  And the whoosh!  The roar!  The beast was awake.  I DID IT!  I WOKE THE BEAST!  AND I STILL HAVE EYEBROWS!  YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!  And there, in the depths of 1111 I partied for one with the hoots and hollers of a match-winning Superbowl touchdown.  It was ridiculous.  I WAS INVINCIBLE!

Or so I thought...

I grabbed my bag, reapplied my lip gloss, and sallied forth into the cold, breathy night.  I shan’t discuss the who’s, and where’s, but I enjoyed the bar banter, reenacting the story of my plumbing victory and crowing about my new skillz!

Hours passed.  Wine was sipped, pool was played, topics were traversed, finger tips touched, lusty looks exchanged.  And high on this elixir of surprise success and hungry hormones, I toddled off home excited, content and looking forward to a well-deserved one-to-one with my pillow.  It was nearly 2 am after all.  But it was not to be. 

As I closed the garage door and stepped ever closer to the house, I could hear something.  A sound I had not heard before in this obnoxiously loud, rattle-and-thump house.  It was a beeping.  A constant, pro longed beeping.

Gingerly, I twisted the door handle and pushed.  The house was warm now and I could feel the wall of newly-encouraged heat greet me.  I breezed through each room, trying to find the source of the beeping, the constant, tinny alarm.  Finally, I found it, the First Alert smoke and carbon monoxide detector, right at the top of the landing.  I rushed back down the stairs, nose in the air, inhaling deep yoga nostril-fulls.  (Okay, in hindsight, not smart, but I had to eliminate smoke as the cause.)  

I pressed the basement door handle tentatively, alert to the temperature of it; wondering if behind it, the woken beast was hungry for more than just water, and was burning up the underbelly of my house.  But the handle was cool.  I opened the door just a crack, then wider until I was assured I would not be flash fried by back draft.  I clipped down the stairs, the furnace greeting me with it’s familiar heat-producing growl.  Nothing a foot.  And yet the alarm still beeped.

I ran back up the stairs, texting frantically,
 “Are you awake?”
“Houston, I think we have a problem.”
“My alarm is going off.  No smoke.  Perhaps carbon monoxide?”

I pulled off my boots and started leaping for the alarm.  I jumped, stretching, reaching high, but precariously placed above the top stairs, I could not touch it.  I brandished the screwdriver neatly stashed in the bathroom—don’t ask—and leapt with it aloft to hit the alarm off.   Still it would not stop, in spite of my stabbing.  Finally, I neatly hauled Self up on the wobbly banisters and plucked the battery from the alarm. 
Ah!  Silence.

By this time my phone was blowing up.  Concerned replies, pleas to “GET OUT NOW!” suggestions to open windows, call the fire department, to bed down elsewhere.

I replaced the battery.  It continued to beep.  I removed it, sighed, and dialed the emergency number.   The voice on Dispatch was kind and courteous.  He said it was probably nothing, but I shouldn’t risk it with carbon monoxide, you know, being a silent killer and all.

My!  What a big hose you have!
So there I stood on my porch, in the early hours of Thursday morning, hopping from one foot to the other, trying to keep warm, welcoming the disgruntled, ruddy faces of five middle-aged firemen.  Slowly, they alighted from the huge fire truck.  A policeman arrived separately in his car and they converged on the porch, the first two firefighters and the cop trudged into my house.  FD calendar models, they were not. 

It was like a weird, late night, home tour.  “So, this is the reception room.  Please excuse the lack of furniture, I haven’t committed to any yet.”
“And this is my yoga mat…”

I filled the smokeless air with rapid, embarrassed explanations, as they led me straight to the furnace. 
“So, you …err… you did this yourself?”
“Yes,” I replied, with far less enthusiasm and chest-swelling than a few hours previously.  “There was a video on YouTube…” even I thought I sounded ridiculous.
“Well, no carbon monoxide down here.  Looks like you did it right.”  Thank God!  Thank God!  Thank God!
“Looks good to me,” the other fireman chirped in.
“Take me to the alarm,” demanded the first, still all business.

At the top of the stairs the 300 lb fireman balanced daintily on his tip toes and reached high, plucking the whole alarm down from its attachment. 
“Ah!  1999.  See that?  1999.  It was made in 1999.  It’s old.  You need to get a new one.”
“But… but… you are saying it was beeping because it is old?  That’s it?  I find it very hard to believe that it would go off just hours after I have flushed the furnace, it’s too co-incidental!”
“Yeah, coincidence, that’s all.  So, what’s your name?”
He raised his brows, “Is there more?”
“You’re Welsh?”  His eyes lit up.  “My family was from Wales…”

And so it was, that the cop stood down and peeled off in his car; the troop of tired firefighters slumped back to their truck, one of them a little less irked by this B.S. alarm after sharing his memories of his Welsh grandma; and I, exhausted, but happily not suffocated to death, closed the door and switched off the porch light. 

And as I wiggled my toes between my sheets, replaying the eventful evening, I thought that life truly had become a cliché: for pride does come before a fall; but it is better to be safe than sorry.  

Friday, November 2, 2012

Bite Your Tongue! It's about to get lyrical, not political.

Naked: vulnerable or confident?

Define deceit.
Is it that you wear opinions all too neat, and tailored?
A costume of counterfeit to keep your cheeks from glowing red?
You bite your tongue, turning puce, all to be polite,
Waiting for the question that's sure to cause a fight.
While your skin crawls with hypocrisy,
Brawls with the fallacy,
That underneath is clamouring for clemency,
“Please, dear God, let me be heard!
Stop with the drivel, give me a word!”

But the cloak is pulled tighter, stifling the heckles
Smothering the sound of the honest but reckless.
It's moral mutiny!  It's insubordination!
Instead you must practice public relations.
Silencing the clack of the tongue in your head,
As you allow yourself to be too easily fed, wed and taken to bed.
This shroud is a false skin you should shed,
Burst through the cocoon, not afraid to be alone.

There in the flesh, say what you think,
Shrug off the stares, tuts and blinks.
Laugh as they go cross-eyed and stupefied,
Stunned by the audacity that you step outside
The limit. 
Pirouette and pivot!
Gambol and frolic!
Eschewing the accepted, infected established bollocks,
That makes us merely mindless drones, all for profit:
Automated, fixated, fish-eyed, robotic.

Because wearing this clothing, people make assumptions:
That you're okay, assured, a clown at all functions.
The real deceit is wearing a suit that doesn’t fit,
That itches and pulls and disguises the real shit.
Fuck, where's the lust?  
It’s smothered into unwitting acceptance,
Crammed into Cinderella’s shoe that seemed to fit first.
Not now!  Every step, it cuts into your marrow
Leaving it hollow, a fertile field fallow,
As your real passion flows out in furrows.
It rapidly goes.
Leaving the bones empty-full of echoing space,
A place that rattles with grace, but no passion.
You wear it with sad smiling face, this deceptive fashion.