Another City, Another Life. . .

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Since reading an Economist’s report on the competitiveness of global cities, I’ve been thinking about just what makes a city livable, and indeed how one thinks of cities at all. I have lived in many cities and, as a born romantic, never once asked myself the Economist’s practical question–how does this town compete in terms of physical and human capital? Never mused about what’s up with a burg’s institutional competitiveness.

Or I think I haven’t. As I actually read this chart and took in the (rather contradictory) concept of livability being equated with competitiveness, I began to think about the cities in which I’ve lived–and made a surprising realization.

I’ve always anthropomorphized them. Each city seems to me to have its own very particular personality, to the extent that I can not only give each a gender and an age, but also character qualities and often quite a bit of backstory. These are amusing fancies, though not nearly as impressive as those of my British ex, who has synaesthesia and glamorously associates days of the week with color (Friday is black and therefore suits everyone).

However, I will tell you this about the Economist’s analysis on this subject: compared to my own system, it tells you nothing, nothing, truly useful about a city. The best way to get the vibe of a town before you go is to ask two people — one a native of that town and the second a recent arrival — a single question:

If this city were a person, how would you describe them?

What do I mean? Here are examples from three cities in which I’ve lived:

Example #1:  London.  I recognized London right off as being a male urchin aged approximately 13. His cheekiness provokes my laughter and my affection; the urchin knows this and leans in for a hug, all the better to rub up against my chest while simultaneously picking my pocket. I don’t really care because I dearly love a laugh and there is something so brave and funny and grounded about London (except he does smell of cheap fried fat, and also a little bit of sperm).

Example #2:  Paris.  Duh. Paris is an older lady in love with a much younger man of a charming but slippery disposition. Paris is beautiful and embarrassed by her affection (which she knows leaves her open to being made a fool of) and  therefore spends as much time scolding as she does cosseting her love. This does not have a good effect on his character: he begins to flirt with Paris’ friends, particularly with lovely Venice. Paris worries that she is losing her charms. Fortunately, she re-encounters an old friend. This fellow is an aging banker with dark brows, a balding head, and angina. He has always been in love with Paris, so she immediately begins a strenuous affair with him in the hopes that this pastime will drive away her obsession for the younger man. The banker dies (blissfully) one afternoon. Paris and the young lover attend the funeral, and in the pure, slanting light of the cathedral she notices that her young man’s hair is thinning, and how smug his smile has become. Paris’ heart is free again.

Example #3: New York City New York New York, the town so nice they named it twice. Many say that NYC is a town that takes you in, rolls you around its mouth for a bit, and then decides whether or not to spit you out. My friend Courtney, when we were discussing cities and their characters, said that to her NYC is like a boyfriend who, when he hears you come in the apartment, turns down the volume on the tv and calls out, “Babe, is that you? Beer in the fridge if you want one!” (You can tell that NYC liked the taste of Courtney, and didn’t spit her out.)  

To me, NYC is female. Older, Jewish, and clearly doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She wouldn’t offer me a beer because it’d make me bloated, and who wants to look at bloated? No one, that’s who. New York has plenty of coin but she’s tight with her money and she loves who she loves with ferocious bias, yet she lives alone. She’s not shy. New York has no problem going down to the doorman and asking him to unhook her bra one winter’s night after she’s had her Feldenkrais class yet her back still hurts too much to do it herself. The doorman does this without thinking twice, because frankly his mind is on the crossword. In the elevator, New York scratches that itchy bit in the center of her chest where underwire bras always chafe, and she thinks about the menu for her friend’s birthday party next week. Screw ’em all, she’s going to serve ham.

Will Garbo lose her shirt to the tax bill?

A few years ago I saw an eminently forgettable Garbo film–one from the early 30s, when she was still using the heavy glances that’d worked so beautifully in the silents but didn’t cut it in the fast-talking depression era. In a foamy close-up Garbo gazes darkly sideways, sighing the sigh of a tired woman on a late night train heading towards a town she’d always heard of and never wanted to visit. . .yet another town in which she’d have to make her way. A convenient supporting player asks the boat-footed Swede what the heavy sighs are all about and Garbo again exhales, clearly yearning to take a Karenina dive beneath this steaming locomotive. Then– finally– she mournfully replies. “Another man. . .another life.”   

Pure Washington D.C., don’t you think?

 

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The Life of a Sex Zombie

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Veronica Lake

Veronica Lake was in my living room yesterday morning, poised and bored, with the lissome form of a young dancer and the dead eyes of.  . .well, the eyes of someone who’s seen Veronica Lake’s future.

Which wouldn’t be a cheery vision.

In the watchful coolness of this siren’s gaze, you’d be right to sense that although so gleamingly young, this was somebody who’d already encountered choppy waters. After a troubled childhood, Veronica Lake–nee Constance Ockelman–had lost her father to an industrial explosion, and later was kicked out of a Catholic Girl’s School for rebellious behavior (which seems to me indicative both of intelligence and possession of a spine). Lake was moved down south, where she was simultaneously lauded as the most beautiful girl in Miami High and diagnosed with mental illness.  Continue reading

The Great and Powerful Roz

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Hey, Brother–Can You tell ’em I’m no Lady?

Just now, while flicking Jungle Red fingernails through the spammed questions I receive for this blog, I noticed the sort of query I usually relish (since it would lead us straight to Kenneth Anger territory– I am worryingly familiar with that dirty turf).   The question was: “Could you tell me more about classic Hollywood’s grubby underbelly?” 

Why yes, friend, I could.  I absolutely could be a tour guide though Hollywood Babylon, leading you by your soft hand as we stroll by the “Hollywood” sign, where Peg Entwhistle jumped from the “H” to her death in 1932.  Then we’d wander near the house David Niven and Errol Flynn shared, which some wag* nicknamed “Cirrhosis by-the Sea.”  I could talk about Harlow’s Hubby’s death dildo and Jeff Chandler’s yen to wear polka-dot dresses.  Or about how Bogart used to hide under tables while his wife Mayo got into bar fights.  I could talk about all kinds of salacious useless crap, and quite often do.

But, dear reader, not today.  Today my nails are sharp but my spirit is yielding. Today I choose not to focus on the weary negativities of life, the injustices, imbalances, and the thrush-inducing mornings-after the night before.  So I won’t do a tour of syphilitic Hollywood, and not only because that’d be one lo-ong essay to write of a lovely October day.

Today I want to talk about lighter and rarer things than a rollicking dose of the clap.  Instead I want to discuss a truly great comic performance:  A great Female comic performance that is more balls-to-the wall than any other piece of acting in that annus mirabilis of 1939, and which should’ve put all that sexist nonsense about “Are Women Funny” to rest before WWII.  As if Mabel Normand herself didn’t do it decades before. . . Continue reading

The Undertow

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I recently re-read a USA Today article on our national disgrace–no, not that one. This stomach-churner didn’t even make the front page, though it’s moved to the center of many of our lives: Big Pharma is encouraging geriatricians to prescribe—and then keep prescribing—opiates at a feverish pace.

As Dr. Mel Pohl of the Las Vegas Recovery Center points out in the article’s online video, the US has four percent of the world’s population but 80% of its opioid users. And why’s that? Because America just keeps taking out its prescription pad. The video features a number of heartbreaking stories—including that of 67-year-old Betty Van Amburgh, who was prescribed “a constant changing of medications” after back surgeries and ended up  treacherously addicted. Van Amburgh entered rehab with a shopping bag full of prescribed fentanyl, hydrocodone, and Xanax. She was nearly unconscious, yet still in pain.

This medical system is rendering our parents comatose, but no one’s taking responsibility because they don’t yet know what else to do. . .plus there’s just so much money to be made from pain.

And it breaks my heart.

I visited my mother a few weeks ago. It was all the same: The bedroom smelling of urine; the nest of a bed, the tray of pills and white tablets scattered everywhere. I could grab one so easily. I hear they’re—Oh, I hear they’re delicious.

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Monroe: Some Kind of Mirror

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Marilyn MonroeIn just over a decade, she worked with the greatest directors in Golden Age Hollywood: Huston, Wilder, Cukor, and Hawks. Moviegoers paid $200,000,000 to watch her project her trademark combination of atomic-age sexuality and childlike, vulnerable astuteness. She was born into an orphan’s chaos and lived the shadowy Los Angelean life of a Raymond Chandler character—losing her soul in a struggle for acceptance, and then her life trying to re-find it.

I did what they said and all it got me was a lot of abuse. Everyone’s just laughing at me. I hate it. Big breasts, big ass, big deal. ~MM

It took me a while to like her at all. It was clear, early on, that she wasn’t for or about me. She was about Men and playing the game by their rules, contorting herself into their ideal, sublimating her rage into their ultimate frustration. The inimitable Billy Wilder might be the director most connected to the celluloid Monroe image, having directed her in The Seven Year Itch and Some Like it Hot. Of working with Monroe he said, “I have discussed this with my doctor and my psychiatrist and they tell me I’m too old and too rich to go through this again.”

But he was also a man who recognized the unusual gift she had, albeit in the way Hollywood usually did. “Flesh impact is rare,” Wilder said when talking about Monroe. “Three I remember who had it were Clara Bow, Jean Harlow and Rita Hayworth. Such girls have flesh which photographs like flesh. You feel you can reach out and touch it.” Reach out and touch it is right: each of these women supported violent lovers and financial parasites and all of them led tragic lives mainly due to their having been turned from poor girls into sexual commodities.

People had a habit of looking at me as if I were some kind of mirror instead of a person. They didn’t see me, they saw their own lewd thoughts, then they white-masked themselves by calling me the lewd one. ~MM

Wilder doesn’t mention the fact that Monroe’s fragility makes her far more appealing than those tits, or that much vaunted white skin. The sense of watching a trapped butterfly permeates her best performances; it’s the quality that the starlets set up to compete against her were missing. They might have had more professionalism, but they lacked Monroe’s self-lacerating perception. That Monroe was angry, there can be no doubt. All of her actions speak to it: The lateness, the passivity, the pills and the booze, the relationships. The paralyzing depressions that are the rage of those who feel they are not allowed rage. The pills just damped down the anger and became the only thing that killed it—and her. For only half a moment did fame do what she thought it would, and make her happy.

Fame is like caviar. It’s good to have caviar, but not every damned day! ~MM

After carefully building up her career, from a riveting cameo in The Asphalt Jungle, through bringing a needed naiveté to Miss Caswell in All About Eve, through the 1953 hat trick of How to Marry A Millionaire and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Monroe was troubled but game. She’d show up on set (albeit with a slightly creepy dramatic coach), know her lines, do her job like she wanted to keep it. It wasn’t until the smash hit of The Seven Year Itch in 1955 that Monroe felt secure enough to ask for better pay from Fox, and confident enough to study her craft like a pro. The Hollywood establishment balked, and the media had a field day with the idea of Monroe at The Actor’s Studio in New York. She stuck it out, but there was a price.

If I say I want to grow as an actress, they look at my figure. If I say I want to develop, to learn my craft, they laugh. Somehow they don’t expect me to be serious about my work. ~MM 

The image with which she’d found acceptance was a straitjacket from which she’d never fully escape. The Hollywood big boys found her efforts absurd—didn’t she know they’d be done with her soon? A blonde’s shelf life is so short—but for now they still needed her, still could make money off of her. She stepped up her game, forming her own production company and marrying the nation’s greatest highbrow playwright (incidentally saving him from further appearances before the House Un-American Activities Committee). And that’s how the tangled struggle continued—between stardom and self, pills and production schedules, Miller and Monroe and what each meant in the cultural shorthand.

What the world really needs is a real feeling of kinship. Everybody: stars, laborers, Negroes, Jews, Arabs. We are all brothers. Please don’t make me a joke. End the interview with what I believe. ~MM

In the end, she made sure she wasn’t a joke. There was chaos on the set of The Misfits as her marriage to Arthur Miller imploded and John Huston’s implacable camera rolled. The early 60s brought increasingly skimpy output, then “Happy Birthday Mr. President” and the demeaning stories of her in thrall to one Kennedy or another.

What would have happened next—indeed, was already coming over the horizon—was the inevitable upswing of a new generation with a different female ideal. However, the month before The Beatles’ “Love Me Do” was recorded, Monroe’s tragedy was played out with terrible, and artfully symbolic, timing. Can you imagine Monroe aged? Could any of us imagine the pain this sensitive woman who contorted herself into an atomic-era burlesque of sexuality would have felt, when the caricature turned cruel?

Published in Bust Magazine and Afterpartychat.com 

Missing the Adrenaline Rush

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I always knew there was something wrong with my heart. No other kid collapsed on the ground after playing, cradling their chest. It was only me, with a pain I instinctively ignored. At nine, I leapt from windows on to ice-hard lawns. At 12 I played in Chicago streets, tormenting drivers until they swerved their cars towards me.

In my early 20s, at school in Maine, I’d fallen for a broken-nosed Brooklynite who seemed as misplaced in New England as I was. One night I sat watching him play pool in the local dive bar. I had one beer, but felt dizzy. The room around me smudged into rapidly moving forms. Black and white linoleum rolled beneath my feet as I stumbled to the door.

A man’s face loomed enormously. “Honey, are you OK?” Gripping my elbow, he led me to the parking lot. My boyfriend appeared as I fainted backwards, my skull falling like an anvil against the rough cement. Continue reading

A&E Intervention Recap: Season 15, Ep. 13: Alicia (and Nexxus!)

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Intervention: AliciaA&E struck gold back in 2005 when they launched the Emmy-winning Intervention, a docu-style series following alcoholics, drug addicts and those struggling with other disorders from the depths of their addictions through a staged intervention and, if all goes well, off to treatment. Though briefly canceled in 2013, the show was revived just a year later and is now continuing its 15th season. This was the 13th episode of Season 15 airing Sunday, July 10.

This is Alicia

Alicia is a 29-year-old brunette from Staten Island whose accent harks straight back to MTV’s Jersey Shore—though she was probably too busy and bummed out to audition for that gig. She’s a long-term heroin and Xanax addict with a $1200 a week habit who states right off that “All I want to do is be fucking high, and I hate my life…if I had the balls, I would shoot myself.”

Instead she shoots herself up, and occasionally drops by the family plumbing business to “work,” i.e. pester her mother, Gina, for cash to buy drugs. Then she shoots up again and sits at her desk, giving Gina the joy of watching her daughter nod off while ignoring incoming calls. Perhaps, says Gina, Alicia thinks “stray cats will answer the phone.”

With one kohl-lined eye at half-mast, Alicia assures us, “I am 100% a heroin addict.” She nods off again, submerged in the opiate swamp, but pops back up just in time to chew a Xanax. At this point some info appears onscreen: mixing Xanax with heroin can cause respiratory failure.

Alicia’s a dab hand at obtaining money from Gina, but she is also a master shoplifter. As the camera scans rows of top-end hair products Alicia’s boosted from local shops, I am gobsmacked. How the hell does someone pull that off? Alicia must borrow Santa’s bag to haul that amount of Nexxus out of the local Ricky’s. Continue reading

A&E Intervention Recap: Season 15, Ep. 11: Oh, Ginjer

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A&E struck gold back in 2005 when they launched the Emmy-winning Intervention, a docu-style series following alcoholics, drug addicts and those struggling with other disorders from the depths of their addictions through a staged intervention and, if all goes well, off to treatment. Though briefly canceled in 2013, the show was (thankfully) revived just a year later and is now continuing its 15th season. The first of these new episodes aired Sunday, June 19th.

This is Ginjer

Ginjer is a 28-year-old self-described “sugar baby” with a six-year-old son, a sweet but shockingly amenable boyfriend and an addiction to shooting Dilauden that sends me diving beneath coffee tables. (Let’s just say that if you’re the kind of person who gets flipped out by seeing needles insterted into necks, our Ginjer’s going to push your bougie boundaries.)

Still, Ginj, who has the stunned eyes of someone who simply can’t figure out how the fuck life got like this, has agreed to be in a documentary about addiction and I’ve agreed to stick with her through it. Despite the fact that her neck is a map of puncture wounds, she says that “sugar babies” are at the top of the prostitute social structure. (This may not be revelatory but these sugar daddies, by the by, do not look like the ones in Lifetime television’s movies for women.) Still, Ginjer meets men online so she never walks the streets or brings home ones she doesn’t know unless she’s like really desperate or something. Madame du Barry: Take notes.

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American Pain: Coming Soon! (to a multiplex near you)

Screen Shot 2016-01-09 at 3.57.22 PM(originally on AfterPartyMagazine)

In a recent HuffPo essay, John Temple, the author of American Pain—a gripping, sordid history of a Florida Medical clinic that sparked the deadliest drug epidemic in history–explained what compelled him to write the book. First, a bit about the history: the clinic, simply called The American Pain Clinic, prescribed over 20 million doses of oxycodone before being shut down in 2010. Temple’s book addresses how this pill mill run by brothers with criminal backgrounds could tip an entire nation into the opiate crisis we’re seeing today. It is a hell of a story plus an important read, so don’t wait for the inevitable movie. Continue reading

Can We Stop Prescribing Seniors Opiates?

From After Party Magazine

Seniors and Opiates

I live in a walk-up building three floors above an old lady with the name of a Neil Simon character: Mildred Plotkin. Mildred is 84 years old, approximately five feet tall, and batshit crazy. She regularly greets my upstairs neighbor with a heartfelt “Hello, Bitch,” and a few months ago accompanied the hello with a punch to the stomach. Last week, Mildred assaulted another person in the building. Cops were called, heated discussions ensued, but little was done. What can you do? As the cop said, “I don’t want to haul an old lady to the nuthouse.”     

So What Do We Do? Prescribe and Hide.

We all have the instinct to protect our elders. Cops—and doctors—are no exception. That instinct could, however, be not only why doctors are prescribing seniors opiates at alarming rates but also why their overdose deaths are going under-reported. As Andrew Kolodny of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing told Al Jazeera, “No one wants Grandma to have died of a drug overdose.”

So many senior overdoses are falsely marked down as being of natural causes. And odds are that this is happening all the time. According to the CDC, more than 70 percent of prescription drug deaths in America are the result of opioid painkiller abuse. And 20% of our 40.3 million seniors received opiate prescriptions from their doctors in 2014. That’s 8.5 million prescriptions last year. As the population continues to age (the senior population will more than double in the next few decades), how are we going to manage pain without causing death? Seniors’ family members don’t know where to turn, and reputable doctors are torn as to whether they should write these prescriptions or tell their patients to live with pain.

How Marketing Changed Grandpa’s Trip to the Doctor

Kolodny, who is chief medical officer at Phoenix House, says that pain management for seniors changed due to drug corporation marketing. Previously used treatments like Tylenol or Advil began to be described as risky when used for long-term pain management. Enter the new opiates—admittedly expensive and constipatory but also ravishingly effectual drugs that were (according this Braun Medical media pamphlet) “rarely addictive when used properly for the management of chronic pain.”

Of course, that’s bullshit. Which might not be Kolodny’s idea of le mot juste, but he would support the sentiment. Kolodny says, “When we talk about opioid painkillers, we’re essentially talking about heroin pills.” Opiates, in his opinion, are useful for end-of-life care or for short-term pain issues. But otherwise people exposed to opiates on a daily basis “can easily become addicted…and it doesn’t make a difference whether or not they’re young or old.”

To Further Complicate The Issue. . .

There are two things that make it more difficult for our seniors as chronic pain becomes a part of their lives. First is our cultural Pollyanna-ism: We’ve all been taught that, in our endless American pursuit for happiness, there should be no pain. This point of view allies nicely with pharmaceutical marketing. Kolodny states, “The message there is that the patient shouldn’t have to feel any pain. They should just take the medicine around the clock, whether or not they’re experiencing pain. That message, that way of promoting opioids, has led to a public health crisis.” In short, we need to stop replacing reality with advertorial fantasies of pain-free existence.

Secondly, it turns out that there can be issues with taking Advil or Tylenol too frequently. In 2012, the British Medical Association reported that that normal three-times-a day doses of Ibuprofen triple the risk of strokes and increase the chances of a heart attack. And frequently ingesting slightly too much Tylenol can seriously damage our over-worked livers and lead to what the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology calls a “staggered overdose.”

Caught Between Pain Management, Inertia, and Mistrust

So it’s a minefield, choosing when and how we as a culture will manage pain. Preventing or managing pain through healthy living and physical therapy is of course ideal. Perhaps it’s not a case of us marketing a better answer for the issue, but one of accepting the realities of life (pain and all) as it is. But that’s a pretty brutal thing to tell an elderly person with chronic spinal pain.

I don’t know if poor Mildred’s craziness is caused by dementia, drugs, or a combination of the two. And, as with so many seniors across the country, no one knows what to do with her. One thing seems clear, though—just like Mildred, opiates are best avoided or treated with a great deal of wary, mistrustful respect.

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