Another City, Another Life. . .

Tags

, , ,

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:

Continue reading

Mutti Dearest. Daughter Dullest.

Tags

Hollywood Books (Part Ein): Marlene Dietrich by Maria Riva

Ahh, Veteran’s Day not long ago. The leap of Spring is now long gone, along with the smoked salmon celebrations and the psyche-graveling guilt of Mother’s Day. Back in olden times, when dinosaurs played canasta and ice cubes could speak, AMC aired Mommy Dearest on repeat all day. As a nation we all settled in, savoring every moment as sulky Christina received the cleaning tips and financial abuse she so richly deserved!

But today I have put away childish things to dip my toes in a more sophisticated Hollywood mother/child battle, one in which European sophistication is routinely condemned by American complacency (and alongside each condemnation there floats the heavy, hamburger-ed scent of defensiveness).

I’m talking about the 1993 book, Marlene Dietrich, by her daughter, Maria Riva. If you haven’t read it, it’s a pippin.

Screen Shot 2018-05-16 at 5.09.12 PM

In one corner we have the face, the myth, the joyously intemperate, prudently slutty and self-absorbed monster of fabulous. 

Screen Shot 2018-05-16 at 5.15.23 PM

And in the other corner, Maria Riva. Who likes hot dogs and ice cream and lawnmowers and baseball and shit. But who also can write

This book is salacious in the grandest way possible: Riva’s a writer with no real concept of her own prejudices (she refers to women who are “openly” lesbian; I hear the sealed variety don’t get much action). But she does also provide quality gossip in absolutely clogging doses, each well-salted with a Teutonic tsk of disapproval. From bulimia to abortion to suspicious death, Marlena did it all with casual virtuosity and daughter in tow. In between these girlish hijinks Dietrich also ruined the sanity of her own husband’s mistress and gave Our Boys at the Front several rollicking doses of the clap–meanwhile proclaiming herself the perfect wife and mother.

But honestly, it’s Riva’s lack of self-awareness that brings acid to this mother/daughter Hollywood tale. Beneath Riva’s prickly pride in being a virtuous American wife and mother, in Plain Cooking and Homey Simplicity, is a deep suspicious certainty that her self-vaunted virtues are far less interesting than her mother’s secret vices. Anyone, anything–man, child, dog, cadaver, blades of grass, emery boards, whatever –would rather spend time on this planet being warmed by Dietrich’s hot voodoo madness than by Riva’s cold stew.

Riva is actually an odd sort of genius who both brilliantly depicts her mother’s kaleidascopic, cracked charisma and wetly rages against just how deep those cracks were. And how powerfully overwhelming the charisma.

So while I do acknowledge that life handed Riva a lemon on one front–Dietrich was beyond dispute a sable-coated monster with the face of a fallen angel and the ego of Caligula. One who dragged “the child” around continents, lying about the child’s age and alternating between smothering affection and cool indifference. But Dietrich also got Riva out of Nazi Germany in the 1930s and to a safe country where the child was educated and (as Edith Piaf snottily bitches) even gifted a Manhattan townhouse by her loving mutti. Many daughters have been both victims and veterans of crueller parental wars than this one.

So while my heart does go out, a bit, to poor Riva, always the dark moon to her mother’s blinding sunlight. But like the rest of the world my hat’s off to you, Lily-Marlene! With a coil of my long diamond-braceleted arm I will again pick up your daughter’s book to read, again, about the time you banged old Joe Kennedy. How your seaside antics do make me laugh. . .

 

Picture Cary in a Boat on a River. . .

Tags

, , ,

PoliceGaz1967_2Here’s a piece I wrote for Afterpartychat.com on how acid is coming back into play for scientific experimentation. Naturally, I had to take a look at early experimenters–like the sadly tormented, surprisingly intrepid Cary Grant: Continue reading

The 5:17 to an Ass-Kicking: Million Dollar Baby

Tags

,

mdb1

Moody, yet Macho.

I once read an article in London’s Evening Standard in which a journalist took England’s most famous female boxer, Cathy Brown, to see Million Dollar Baby. Brown had recently knocked out Hungarian Viktoria Varga after just two rounds– exactly the type of fight Hilary Swank’s character, Maggie, excels at in the film. I’ve seen the film again recently and nowadays it’s even more satisfying to watch Swank swing out a meaty arm and knock someone senseless. I just wish we could CGI a #metoo tattoo on her knuckles.

Continue reading

Missing the Adrenaline Rush

screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-10-48-04-am

(Originally in the Guardian Weekend Magazine, by Dana D. Burnell)

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!)

Tags

, ,

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

Tags

, ,

Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 8.08.33 AM

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

New Book on Garland Spills Sad Revelations

Tags

Judy Garland Sad Revelations

This week brings us a new Judy Garland book upon which one should look down with a high-browed disdain for salacious gossip.  I’ll definitely remember to do that later, once my hands aren’t so busy plonking down hard-earned coin as I buy the book TODAY.

Oh, Poor Judy. And yes, ghastly Judy. According to the NY Post Article and Vanity Fair, we didn’t know the half of it. The incessant and hysterically public breakdowns, the rage-filled complacency of her constant suicide attempts. This book promises some strong stuff and Holy Rainbow, Toto–it delivers!

Stevie Phillips, who wrote the memoir, Judy & Liza & Robert & Freddie & David & Sue & Me, worked for Garland for four years. She deserves both a medal and a lobotomy for having done so. Or perhaps a double of each, since Philips then turned around and worked for Liza, too. She must be the Catholic Saint of Enablers.

Old school star dish doesn’t get much better than this. I promise to be thoroughly, heartily ashamed of myself. But first–page one. . .

Also linked: My earlier Judy obit, written last year.