I am on TV, so that means I get letters. Here’s one now.
This is the envelope. Address and name redacted. Check out the lower lefthand corner, there. Let’s see what he has to say:
Listen, I actually didn’t freak out or feel too strange about it. So he wants to see my toes. So what? I have a rule: My wardrobe on camera is never dictated by the audience. I have enough sense to wear appropriate things, so whether a viewer is a grandmother who hates my shirt (I’ve gotten that letter before) or an inmate that wants to see my pedicure (see above) it matters little to me. I will wear the shirts I please and the shoes I please, open-toed or not.
Regarding this most recent inmate letter: I didn’t post it so we could all laugh at this guy. He’s done something heinous enough to land in prison, so none of us necessarily need to twist ourselves into knots to celebrate his humanity, but no one should be made to look like a fool; thus, a redacted name, which I would’ve done anyway, jail, foot-fetish or not. But the letter is entertaining, for sure, and I thought you all might get a kick out of it. What’s fascinating to me is that it’s the foot thing that strikes me as more remarkable than the prison part.
Isn’t just fabulous to get something like this in the mail?
A few months ago (in Las Vegas of all places) I saw the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.
Now, I’ve received a lover’s gaze, I’ve seen a child take his first, wobbly steps toward mom, and I’ve seen a miniature Golden Doodle puppy run across a lawn. Today, I’m speaking of the art visual, observation as opposed to interaction. And I can say that on its face, the most beautiful thing I have seen ever in my life was the Michael Jackson hologram in the Cirque du Soleil show, “One.”
I beg you: allow me to attempt, however feebly, to describe it.
I had never seen a Cirque du Soleil show before and I did not feel sad about this. I knew the performers were talented and I had respect for the whole operation, but trapezes aren’t a selling point for me, especially if part of the spectacle involves a small man in a lizard leotard climbing over me and sticking a forked tongue in my face. Wasn’t that Cirque du Soleil’s whole schtick?
I was in Vegas on business. Cirque’s Michael Jackson show was in previews. I had a last-minute opportunity to go, and I jumped at it. I bailed on Penn & Teller ticket I had purchased already and ate the cost, even. I wouldn’t miss Michael for anything. I had no idea how smart my decision was when I took my seat.
From the time the lights went down, I was transfixed. I sat straight up in my chair like I was an 8-year-old at, you know, the circus. The dancers were astonishing. They have rubber bodies! And if a dancer has a rubber body and can bounce off a damned wall and do a spin in mid-air, you can bet your sparkly glove they can moonwalk, breakdance, and destroy any hip hop move you can throw at them. Man, were they good. I was chair-dancing, boogie-ing as much as possible without actually standing up because there wasn’t room to do so. Michael Jackson’s music is just so good, you guys. It’s made for joy and dancing, for fun and for life. I love his music, always have.
And it’s painful, because we killed him. We did. The star-maker machine, the press. Pop life, the cult of celebrity; it was a homicide. I believe with grave sincerity we all have Michael Jackson’s blood on our hands. You can exempt yourself if you like — it’s not polite of me to say so, having never met most of you — but that man was a fragile person with a one-in-a-billion gift and as a culture, we crushed it into bone powder, slopped it with a mop, and smeared the slurry till it squished under our feet. And Michael still made great music, still kept living when he was deadened by the crush of the crowd on the streets, in the news, and in his head.
So there I am, I’m grinning from ear to ear while watching the show and in the back of my mind I’m deeply sad, too, thinking about Michael and how this genius in our time died so painfully. It was bitter and it was sweet, the worst kind of bitter, the best kind of sweet.
And then it happened.
The theater goes totally dark. Then: stars. Twinkling stars wink, wink, winking across us, all the way from the back of the house to high up in the grid. Woosh… Woosh… Golden stars twinkling, spinning, starting to pick up speed as they collect and move, impossibly, as a group, like a school of fish! Everyone is craning their heads around, a full theater of adults like children, looking here and there and back again at this crazy cloud of stars and the strains of music begin. One couldn’t tell exactly what it was, though it sounded familiar…
The stars floated to the stage. The stars whirled around each other like glowing hummingbirds, faster and around and then, just as it hit you that the music was “Man In the Mirror,” there he was: Michael Jackson. The stars made Michael Jackson. They made a hologram of him. I gasped. Everyone did. This was alchemy.
As I live and breathe, the man appeared as real and as vital as any flesh and blood person there that night. The effect was incomprehensibly executed, an optical illusion without parallel. Michael Jackson was onstage. Humans haven’t evolved to understand this kind of thing. He is dead, but he was there, he was there, young and talented and he was singing, dancing to “Man In the Mirror,” a song I have long believed must’ve been among his favorites because it simply won’t end. There’s an extended coda to MITM that would be uncomfortable if the song wasn’t so freaking great. After his first “shah-mo” at the final third of the song, you really think it’s going to wrap up but it just keeps going. One gets the feeling Michael wanted that song to go on a long time, maybe forever.
If it would have been appropriate, we all would’ve been clapping, but no one spoke or whooped or did anything. We were all just either crying or holding our breath. The dancers danced with him. They moved as an ensemble with him and it was beautiful. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.
It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen because it was human ingenuity that brought it into existence. The work that it must’ve taken to build that effect, the science that went into it, the tweaking, the bug fixes, the failures on the way to the end result. I cried the whole time, from the star cloud to the ending strains when the stars whooshed away into nothingness, partly for Thomas Edison for heaven’s sake: we have him to thank for this, too.
It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen because glowing stars are pretty. And it was the most beautiful because a brilliant entertainer who cared about the world way, way too much to be in his line of work, lived again. And he was doing what he loved the most in a place where he was totally safe and sound: onstage. I don’t believe in ghosts and I don’t believe in heaven. I don’t have to. We have holograms and Thomas Edison, Michael Jackson and airplanes to take us to Las Vegas (and back, thank goodness.)
If you can see that show, you should. Let me know if you do.
About a month ago, my sink was plugged up.
I emailed my building manager before going a business trip and she replied she had scheduled the fix. I came back several days later, late in the evening, and dropped into bed.
In the morning, getting my tea tray together, I found my sink still clogged. This was extremely gross and I was appropriately annoyed.
“Patricia!” I grumbled to no one and only half-awake. “Grr! This needs to be done immediately. I need my sink! Maybe she’ll send one of the guys up faster if I’ll tell her I’ll be entertaining this weekend.”
And there in my jammies, standing in the kitchen at 5 a.m., I began to laugh. Because the potential of “I’ll be entertaining this weekend” is comedy gold, if you ask me. Consider that “entertaining” is an adverb and a verb and play around with it. You will soon see the logic behind the following little play — and hopefully find it as funny as I did, writing it in my head while I made my tea. I threw my head back and laughed that morning, which is a great way to begin any day, especially when your sink is four days clogged.
by Mary Fons (c) 2013
Woman: I’ll be entertaining this weekend.
Man: Oh will you be.
Man: What are you gonna do, wear a lampshade on your head?
Man: What do you plan on doing?
Woman: Well … I thought I’d make dinner.
Man: That’s it??
Woman: (Confused.) What’s wrong with that?
Man: Little on the dull side of “entertaining”, don’t you think?
Woman: What exactly should I plan? A parade?
Man: That would be something: a one-woman parade.
Woman: I can’t afford — Look, I don’t… A parade??
Man: Maybe you shouldn’t be entertaining, then. Why try?
Woman: You’re awful!
Man: I’m only saying that you gotta go big or go home, that’s all.
Woman: Pru and Barry are coming over. It’s not going to be the party of the century or anything. Just a group of friends.
Man: Don’t they deserve your best?
Woman: (pause.) Well…yes.
Man: Don’t they deserve to be entertained ?
Woman: I suppose they do.
Man: So get a band. A jug band or a fiddle band. Dance. Work up a routine. Really push yourself. Confetti. Do some bear work. To prove you’re entertaining, you gotta entertain.
Woman: Confetti and bears.
Man: Absolutely. Costumes, confetti. You’ve thought of food already, and that’s good, that’s very good, but think: how can you use the food in your act? That reminds me: I’ve got a friend who trains poodles to walk upright. Want me to reach out? No, no. I will. Obviously, you have to sing. Loudly. Loud singing.
Woman: (Fumbling for a pen.) Okay…
Man: Are you gonna tell jokes?
Woman: I hadn’t … I didn’t … I don’t know.
Man: You gotta. You gotta tell at least a few jokes. I know a ton, so I can help you.
Woman: I like jokes.
Man: Make sure you’re waxed and polished. Buffed to a shine.
Woman: I don’t think Pru and Barry care about th—
Man: Oh-ho! Yes they do! People care about grooming.
Woman: I had no idea entertaining was … I didn’t realize how much it’s changed. Thank you, I’ll take your advice, I mean … God, I’ve got a lot to do.
Man: You’re welcome. I’m glad you said something.
I pass by the Joel Oppenheimer Gallery on Michigan Avenue at least a few times a week when I’m home. It’s on the ground floor of the Wrigley Building, and for several years I didn’t go in because it appeared painfully fancy from the outside. The Wrigley Building, referred to as “the jewel of the Mile,” is a two-winged castle, Chicago’s Big Ben, a tribute to human potential and intelligence, it is among our finest hours as a city. A gallery worthy of space on the first floor of a building like this can’t help but be intimidating, but then I reminded myself one afternoon that the whole Wrigley empire was built on chewing gum. That day, I went in.
The Joel Oppenheimer Gallery, which is staffed by a small number of terrifically friendly people (including the handsome Sarah and Mr. Oppenheimer himself, who on the day I met him was wearing a snappy bow-tie I’ll wager is part of his daily ensemble), specializes in John James Audubon prints. Did you have Audubon’s Birds of America in your house as a kid? We did. Kids are nuts about animals and drawings and drawings of animals and I remember poring over the illustrations in that huge book for hours, freaked out by what I considered ugly birds (vultures, and I was right) and delighting in the sweet ones (lo, the tufted titmouse!) All creatures great and small may be wise and wonderful but some are more wonderful than others:
I had my eye on a print in the window for so long and when greeted by the kindly Sarah on the day of a big sale at the gallery, I pulled the trigger. I love my art and I now love the gallery. On their website they say, “Inquiries are received with pleasure.” With pleasure! Note: Sarah’s desk is a bit foreboding when you walk in, all lacquered and finely turned, but her ever-present, generous wine glass of orange juice atop it quells nerves.
There’s one other piece I’m after. Something about life in the last few years has made me more open to a certain strain of ugliness. The jolie-laide is cool with me, surely because I’m more of a realist than I ever was and there is comfort in looking at things the way they are and the way they are is not always soft n’ glossy. While I don’t plan to inquire to Joel or Sarah’s pleasure about any vulture renderings, I have been obsessing slightly about that guy up top. The warthog.
He’s huge. Several feet across and so tall. Where would I put him? The bathroom? Would I get ready faster in the morning? He couldn’t go into my bedroom; I’d scare my guests. Perhaps the hall, but he needs room to breathe. If the price is even within the galaxy of possibility for my budget (doubtful) I’d get him and figure it out later. Maybe he could go in the kitchen. He looks pretty hungry.
I like him because he’s ugly. I like him because he’s so ugly, he magnificent. He didn’t choose not to be a titmouse. He’s just a lil’ peccary, squalling and stomping, feral and powerful enough to go into any building, faster than me.
When I moved into my condo, I chose not to get a washer and dryer.
There’s a hookup in my pantry (nearly typed “panty”) for this, but I have my priorities. These piorities include high heels, quality prosecco, and a refusal to allow enormous metal boxes to hold my pantry hostage. Besides, there’s a cheery, spacious laundry room in my building. Let the 21st floor have the metal boxes; my calves get exercise anyhow when I take the stairs with a hamper on my hip.
The best part of the laundry room is that there’s this magazine shelf. Done with your magazine, kindly resident? Put it on the shelf for someone else to enjoy! Give a magazine, take a magazine. This is almost worth my entire monthly assessment. On the shelf with astonishing regularity are Town & Country, Vogue, W for heaven’s sake! I leave New York and Harper’s and Elle and though the magazines are not always current, it doesn’t matter. Is Town & Country any more relevant to me now than it was in April of 2011? You see my point.
There are often, gloriously, issues of Food & Wine and Bon Appetite, though these go fast. It was in a hastily grabbed March 2012 issue of Bon Appetite that I learned a simple, fascinating way to discern a good cook from a mediocre one. Ready for this?
Ask the chef to roast a chicken, make a salad, and bake a chocolate cake. That’s all you tell them. Here now, excerpts from the article by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer:
“You can tell a lot about a person’s cooking skills from these tasks. Take a roast chicken. First, there’s choosing the bird itself: Is it organic and locally raised, or one of those hormone-injected, bodybuilder-like things? Do the cooks rub the skin with butter, olive oil, or nothing at all? How are those trussing skills? Do they roast long and slow or high and fast?”
“When they make the salad, what is the choice of greens–tender, crunchy, or both? How do they wash, dry, and store the leaves? Is the vinaigrette made with lemon juice or vinegar?”
And the cake?
“Even a simple chocolate cake requires some baking acumen, not to mention imagination. A sponge cake is really just two foaming batters folded together as the flour and cocoa are gradually sprinkled in. Visualizing those delicate batters, you can see and know how to carefully mix them together without deflating one tiny bubble.”
And so it is that I have a system for gauging my own cooking: In what manner do I roast a chicken? Just what is my chicken-style? If I have a signature salad, I can say with conviction that whatever it is, nuts are involved. As for the cake, I made a killer Sacher torte over the holidays last year and if I needed to impress, I’d do that again.
There’s a special feeling one gets reading words like, “rub the skin with butter,” “tender, crunchy,” and “two foaming batters” while doing a load of whites. To be learning and drying, well, it’s worth a nice roasted chicken for dinner, at least.