January 21, 2003

Achtung, Baby

I love a good discussion--whether spoken or written--with a clever sparring partner, and the emergence of email as a means of correspondence has meant that I do do quite a bit of writing, and that I’m much, much better about corresponding than I was in the days of snail mail. And I almost always spell everything out, and use proper punctuation and capitalization, and only occasionally rely on emoticons to convey tone of voice. It is unlikelier now that friends' prose will go completely unrequited with me, but if I have an engagement to run off to, I sometimes don't have the time to devote to a full and complete response to whatever issues are raised.

I'm can be wary of spending too much time on email, however. Two years ago, I carried on an intense email correspondence/ flirtation with a soi-disant poet who was pursuing me, and over the course of a couple of months, we exchanged about 400 emails, all told. I put my heart and soul into the thing, wrote him poetry, spent hours writing and thinking up witty multilingual puzzles for him to decipher, and he gave me the whole poetry/ flowers/ where have you been all my life shebang. I sat and listened to his whole "my marriage collapsed and I didn't even get any on my wedding night” spiel, but the minute, and I mean the minute I asked for the tiniest bit of support (it was the one-year anniversary of my father's death), he pretty much admitted he was just using me, and was zipoutthedoor. I was broke down. I felt so raw all over, it was like my skin had been peeled off and the exposed flesh rubbed with a nutmeg grater.

I am not going there again. Nuh-uh. And by that I mean that I’m not going to make that kind of effort for someone until I find out who they are, what they want from me, if they’re a good person, and if they are going to have violent objections to any of my personality quirks and blow me off for some bulls**t reason at the worst possible time. That doesn't mean I am never going to trust anyone again, or be giving to anyone again, but I don't have the time and emotional energy to spend on getting over a train wreck I could have avoided by being just a little more aware. The most recent man I met said, “I don’t want to use you,” but he also said, “Some people will tell you I’m a real jerk,” and although I have my theories about it, until I know why, I am going to tread very carefully, because there is something about him that says, “Achtung, baby.”

January 15, 2003

About Schmidt

I must say that I laughed hysterically through most of “About Schmidt,” despite, or maybe because of the fact that Warren Schmidt is such a pathetic character. We want Warren to be happy, but we can’t help laughing at how clueless he is, and how ridiculous the situations he’s faced with. Jack Nicholson gives a radically different, vanity-free performance, and his determined, deadpan manner in the face of frustration just makes every scene even funnier. And so we’re surprisingly touched when he discovers that there’s more to life after all. While this movie's subject matter seems to be conventional enough—a man retires and loses his wife unexpectedly, realizes that he’s been missing out on much of what’s important, and then tries to make up for it as he embarks on the next phase of his life—it’s risky because it skewers the tastelessness and apathy of average Americans, and it's thus bound to puzzle or offend those it's poking fun at. But for those with a sense of humor, the rewards are ample, especially if you pay attention to the little details; everything in this movie, from the priceless dialogue to the clothes, makeup, hair, and set decoration is comic perfection. I loved the damning-with-faint-praise inscriptions on son-in-law-to-be Randall’s award certificates in his bedroom and his awful, thinning-on-top mullet hairdo. Listen to the dialogue in the dinner-table scene–how Kathy Bates’ character (Randall's mother) emasculates her ex-husband with her impatience. Or the sounds in the background as Schmidt phones his daughter, who may not have “a job of some importance” after all. For some men, no matter how successful, who fear ending up like Schmidt, this movie may hit too close to home, but if it’s a cautionary tale, it’s certainly the funniest one in a long time.