Bohemian Rhapsody

Bohemian Rhapsody, Featured

What I learned from Miley Cyrus

9 Written by: | Wednesday, Apr 16, 2014 8:00am

Teen girl fans at the Miley Cyrus concert in DC

Jane and Lily

Last week I saw Miley Cyrus in concert at the Verizon Center in DC and what a crash course in modern culture it was. Wake up, Marion Winik, it is 2014 and WE ARE GOING ALL IN!

Having begun my own concert-going career in the 1970s, when a show consisted of a bunch of guys in blue jeans and t-shirts playing guitars under flashing purple lights, and not having kept up closely with the pop extravaganza developments of Gaga & Co., I spent much of the evening with my jaw literally hanging open. Though I doubt I can come up with any better phrase than did Washington Post music critic Chris Richards — “Twerk du Soleil” — let me tell you about my night with the lovely and talented badass, Ms. Destiny Hope Cyrus, aka Miley. (Billy Ray, what were you thinking?) Read More →

Bohemian Rhapsody, Featured

Some Things I Never Thought I’d Say

27 Written by: | Wednesday, Mar 26, 2014 8:00am

clock

Recently I got an email that was supposed to be congratulating me on a good review, but the writer managed to make it clear that she personally had some reservations about my work.

Immediately I clicked reply and began typing a sarcastic response. Read More →

Bohemian Rhapsody, Culture, Featured

Fear and Loathing in the Middle Ages

6 Written by: | Wednesday, Mar 05, 2014 8:00am

Photo via mnn.com

Photo via mnn.com

One of the things you’re going to see as soon as marijuana is legal is hordes of people in their forties, fifties, and sixties lining up outside the dispensary, finally able to get some weed without buying it from the kids. In fact, if you think about it, this is why decriminalization is upon us: the inaugural generation of American stoners is driving the lead bus of the social order and they cannot figure out where to cop.

Yet I will not be among the chuffed boomers dropping vac-packs of skunk into their Prius glove compartments, I’m sorry to say. I so wish I could enjoy marijuana — it’s clearly the most wholesome of the mind-altering substances, a superior vice in almost every way. Indeed, back in high school in the seventies I could not make it through fourth period without dipping out to the parking lot for a toke. But then I took a long break from my friend Mr. THC, first for spiritual endeavors, later, for poor choices involving hard drugs, finally for pregnancy and motherhood. Ever since, it hasn’t been the same. As much as I may love it in theory, bud is not my bud. This may be partly due to the fact that the weed of today is 50,000 times stronger than what was smoked in the bus-ports of yore, but I also suspect that have I some sort of cannabis allergy. Read More →

Bohemian Rhapsody, Featured

Madeleines of Baltimore

15 Written by: | Wednesday, Feb 12, 2014 8:00am

TCBY_NewCup_StrwbryBlubry

A favorite of the writer: tart fro-yo at TCBY

Almost Valentine’s Day, yeah, yeah, I know. I got nothin’. While couples are gazing into each other’s eyes over champagne and oysters, some of us will be ordering from the singles menu. And so, a love letter to food, which I adore and suffer from and play head games with as I would any bad boyfriend. In fact I just gained weight while visiting Africa, an accomplishment few can claim. Now back in the bosom of Baltimore I offer a Valentine to favorites from local eateries, which I seem to love as much for what they remind me of as what they are.

1. Huevos rancheros, Atwater’s

Of all influences I absorbed during the 20 years I lived in Austin, Texas, none has been more abiding than my passion for Mexican breakfast dishes, and I am always on the lookout for reasonable facsimiles. When my friend Ken was recovering from surgery in a rehab up north near the Beltway, I used to stop at the Falls Road location of Atwater’s to bring him a latte on the way to visit and thus came to try the non-traditional version of huevos rancheros served there. Three, count ‘em three, fried eggs served on corn tortillas with a thick, mild red chile sauce and queso blanco. No refried beans, no potatoes, no jalapenos, no ranchero sauce for that matter, but satisfying in its own way. Or maybe I’m just getting soft in my old age.

2. Cheese steak, The Real Thing, One World

Cheese steak was the signature food of my first husband Tony, born and raised in Philly. He used to go to the Italian market on South 9th Street with his grandma, and if he was good they would stop afterwards for a steak from Pat’s King of Steaks. Indoctrinated early in our relationship into this wonder of the junk-food world, I said farewell to Tony by ordering 100 cheese steaks from a sub shop in Austin for his memorial service in 1994. As you may know, Pat’s in South Philly is across the street from another cheese steak stand called Geno’s, and each has its own passionate fan club. The guy who owns The Real Thing on York Road in Towson used to cook at Geno’s, but we try not to hold that against him. And call me crazy but my daughter Jane and I like the vegetarian version at One World.

3. Tart frozen yogurt, TCBY Belvedere Square, Evergreen Cafe in warmer months

Probably due to my mother’s overzealous policing of my youthful eating habits, I have a kind of PTSD that prevents me from enjoying desserts. Fortunately frozen yogurt was invented after I escaped my mother’s surveillance. My first bite was a life-changing encounter with creamy cold sweetness for me, spawning an immediate fantasy of opening my own fro-yo store. Early frozen yogurt tasted like real yogurt, but soon a bland replica of soft ice cream took over. Only in the past few years has yogurty frozen yogurt come back. R.I.P. Mr. Yogato of Fells Point, a kooky, endearing spot where I first encountered the new “classic tart” flavor. Fortunately it has now caught on widely. Read More →

Bohemian Rhapsody

Out of Africa: The Baltimore-Kampala Express

11 Written by: | Wednesday, Jan 22, 2014 7:54am

 

The writer and her daughter on their African adventure.

The writer and her daughter on their Adventure in Africa.

“Think of the long trip home.”
-Elizabeth Bishop, Questions of Travel

For almost all of my twenties and thirties I resided in Austin, Texas; my widowed mother lived 2,000 miles away in our ancestral home outside Asbury Park, New Jersey. Game to the last, she visited often, particularly after her grandsons appeared on the scene.

She would come out of the baggage claim with her roller bag and tote, a Carlton 100 clamped between her lips, and after a quick kiss I would inquire, “How was your trip?”

For my mother, the reply to this question was no routine nicety. “Tough,” she might pronounce, sucking on the skinny white cigarette smoked in the car despite all protests. Then she would dive into the account with relish, exuding the triumphant yet embittered air of a field marshal summarizing a battle won after many reversals.

As her visit proceeded, others would politely pose the same question, and she would tell her tale again and again. Certain words would float toward me over the hum of conversation at a party or bar — runway, turbulence, layover.

Later, when I moved to Pennsylvania, she could get almost as much of a nail-biter out of her three-hour drive on the turnpike, fraught as it was with overturned tractor-trailers, inexplicable jams at Bethlehem or Pottsville, mysterious aberrations in the operation of E-Z Pass.

Well, the only pursuit more delightful than recalling one’s mother’s quirks is re-enacting them. I find myself adopting so many of the questionable habits of lost loved ones these days, from my father’s bellowing and name-calling, to my grandmother’s bottomless dish of Hershey’s Kisses, to my first husband’s weakness for synthetic codeine. An odd sort of memorial, but a memorial nonetheless, and in that light I present this logistics-only account of a recent trip to Uganda with my mother’s namesake, my daughter Jane. We flew there the day after Christmas to visit our friends, Jim and Steve, a writer and a medical researcher, who are based in Kampala for a year. Read More →

Bohemian Rhapsody

Assessing Your Assets

4 Written by: | Wednesday, Jan 01, 2014 8:00am

bottom

It’s New Year’s resolution time — no better moment to become obsessed with the possible flaws in one’s physique. University of Baltimore Assistant Professor Marion Winik offers this helpful measurement tool.

Welcome to the Butt Assessment Test (BAT)!

While factors such as personality, intelligence, education, and work experience are all important to a person’s self-esteem and prospects, these indicators are secondary compared to the importance of butt size. Even the most accomplished and beauteous among us can find herself trapped in a snake pit of self-loathing and madness if her butt is too big. And how do you know? When you end up in a department store dressing room with fluorescent lights and a three-way mirror and learn that a hideous alien life form is posing as one of your body parts? Fortunately, most of the time, your butt is in your head, and that is why psychologists have at last provided an assessment tool in this area.

While a written test like the BAT cannot determine the actual, i.e., “physical”, size of your butt, studies have shown that physical reality is less important than delusional projections when evaluating the effect of your rear on your daily life. So take a seat and let’s begin.

Sentence Completion Section

1. The best thing about my butt is

a. It looks so good in a thong.

b. Guys are crazy for it.

c. It is comfortable to sit on.

d. It is in a place where I rarely see it.

 

2. When I was a child, people made fun of my

a. little sister.

b. lunch box.

c. frizzy red hair

d. butt.

 

3. The most serious obstacle to my personal happiness is:

a. my boring job.

b. my tedious partner.

c. my drug and/or alcohol addiction.

d. my butt.

 

4. It is said that some men prefer women with big butts. This is

a. true in a song I once heard.

b. true in cultures to which I do not belong.

c. if true, proof of the existence of a benevolent God.

d. really not the point.

 

5. Which of the following is best for minimizing the appearance of your butt at the beach?

a. a French-cut leg.

b. a vertically-striped maillot with a belt at the waist.

c. a tricky skirted number.

d. a giant t-shirt which you never, ever take off. Read More →

Bohemian Rhapsody, Featured, Lifeline

My Dear Boys

8 Written by: | Wednesday, Dec 11, 2013 8:00am

images-1

Even before I was old enough to drink, I was desperate to get into the El Moroccan Room. I didn’t know why I thought I would feel more at home in a gay bar with a drag show than I did in the straight teenaged world of my New Jersey high school, nor did the bouncer at the door. When I produced a fake ID, he invoked No Open-Toed Shoes to keep me out.

I switched to saddle shoes and returned with a couple of swishy senior boys from the Drama Club. Success. I saw my first Tallulah, my first Judy, my first Liza. They were outrageous — husky-voiced, garishly painted, gleefully lewd.  Threading my way to a spot beside the runway, I stared up in admiration.

I had been having a rocky coming-of-age as a young woman; femininity felt like a put-on. All around me, girls seemed to be magically metamorphosing into silky, alluring creatures; I was still looking for the teen magazine that would tell me how. Vamping down the runway in their clodhopper high heels, those reckless, ironic drag queens appeared as beacons to me, fur-coat aunties from somewhere in my spiritual family tree. What a little pioneer of gender dysphoria I was. Read More →

Bohemian Rhapsody, Featured, Fells Point

Baltimore Dating for Dummies

13 Written by: | Wednesday, Nov 20, 2013 8:00am

shutterstock_100358054

Now that over fifty percent of U.S. marriages end in divorce, there are more single people in their thirties, forties and fifties than ever before. What does this mean? Where will it lead? Is this a problem to be solved, or a phase in the development of a new social order? I have no answer to these questions but I do know this — there are only two single men in Baltimore and they both have girlfriends.

Let me explain. In 2009, when I arrived in town newly separated, helpful friends pointed out two fellows I’ll call Monty and Elliot. Monty was a dashing silver-haired photographer known for his elegant cocktail parties, Elliot a clever bartender in horn-rimmed glasses who was also a sportswriter. I cast my gaze in both directions but didn’t end up dating either one of them.

Five years went by. Many more marriages ended. Numbered among the most recent crop of emerging singles is my fetching friend Strawberry Shortcake, a wide-eyed Girl Scout type fifteen years younger than I, hence not as scarred by the dissolution and depravity of the 1970s and 80s. This past Saturday I had the honor of taking Strawberry on her first night on the town as a single woman.

I am sad to report that it started with Monty and ended with Elliot and both Strawberry and I were home in bed by 11.

Plans for the evening were conceived when I received an invitation to one of Monty’s famous soirees, an event I assumed would be teeming with romantic possibility. When I asked Strawberry to come along, she readily accepted. In fact, another friend had already suggested she go. Five and half years later, Monty remains one of Baltimore’s leading men-about-town.

I suited myself up in black leather pants and boots; Strawberry appeared in one of her usual Little House on the Prairie ensembles, many of which feature gingham and shawls, yet have a weirdly sexy effect.  The party was congenial enough, but Monty had a girlfriend in the kitchen. There was at least one other eligible man there, though even from a distance he appeared gloomy and tormented; it turned out he was the “Hot Neighbor” of Lauraville whose very recent marital breakup had already gone out over the wires. I realized this early in our conversation and exclaimed, “Oh, I know who you are! You’re the Hot Neighbor!”

He looked confused. When I explained, he brightened for a moment before sinking back into his bitter malaise. “Well, maybe I will be soon,” he said.

With the possibilities chez Monty so quickly disposed of, I suggested to Strawberry that we hit the bars and see what might be available. Having recently attempted a similar reconnaissance mission with another cute young divorcee, Rainbow Bright, I decided to skip Hampden and Station North.

Just a few weeks prior, Rainbow Bright and I had hoofed it through 13.5 Wine Bar, the Hon, Fraser’s, Holy Frijoles, Joe Squared, Metro Gallery, The Depot, Club Charles, and several no-name spots on Howard Street. We turned up dozens of hipsters barely over their acne, two drag queens named Ellen Degenerate and Miss Construed, a bunch of my students from the University of Baltimore, and, briefly, John Waters, but even the open-minded and dauntless Rainbow Bright could find nothing of concupiscent consequence. At 1:20 a.m. we finished the last of our vodka-sodas and called it a night. Read More →

Bohemian Rhapsody, Featured, Lifeline

How to Celebrate the Day of the Dead

7 Written by: | Wednesday, Oct 30, 2013 8:00am

DAy of the Dead

Rejoicing Quietus by Thaneeya McArdle

Drape a small table with a cloth in the favorite color of the person you loved who has died. Adorn it with candles, flowers (marigolds are traditional) and framed photographs. Set out some favorite foods: a slice of pie, a bottle of beer, a Milky Way. Add the instruments of their hobbies and vices: a pack of Newports, a deck of cards, a banjo. A People magazine, a racquet, a Terrible Towel. A copy of Peter Pan, of The Joy of Cooking, of the Bible.

The ofrenda, as this shrine is called in Spanish, can be simple or elaborate. Set it up on November 1; leave it as long as you like. You can make one every year, you can make different ones for different people, you can do it once and not again. When importing traditions, there’s plenty of flexibility. When we set one up for my husband Tony in ’94, it wasn’t on the right day and there was a pair of ice skates still dangling from the ceiling six months later.

In Mexico, the Dia de los Muertos is a holiday for dead people and those who mourn them. At home there are ofrendas and tamales for friends who stop by; in the streets, there is a procession to the cemetery (in parts of Texas, this is a low-rider parade); at night, music and feasting and games of dice among the graves.  In the markets there is merch galore: frosted breads, skull-shaped candies, blackware candleholders and incense burners, little wooden figures of Catrin and Catrina, the skeleton lovers.

It may seem strange to celebrate mourning. Many of us can barely tolerate it, much less party with it. Grief is heavy, it is leaden, but it is also as insidious as gas — formless, ubiquitous, difficult to contain. It is chemical warfare for the spirit. Day of the Dead doesn’t solve any of this but it at least makes a tolerable space within it, declares a temporary armistice, a one-day treaty.

I have seen friends broken by grief, broken like a vase, a car, a bone. They can hardly go on and only do so because they have certain responsibilities that tether them to life. While there is no way to actually help these people, because when for example one’s child dies there is no help for it ever, I believe it is part of our job to keep them company. Despite the shame of our wholeness, of our children who are unharmed, despite the fear of saying something wrong, despite the fact that these people are now part zombie, and have little wish to be otherwise, despite the astounding awkwardness created by a horrible fact that won’t go away or succumb to our desire for things to be good and getting better all the time, we should still find a way to show up.

A few weeks ago, I heard of a thirteen-year-old boy run over by a car in Brooklyn, a week before his bar mitzvah. He was waiting to go to soccer practice, wearing his uniform and cleats, when his ball rolled out in the street. There had been various initiatives to slow down traffic on this street for years.

Often it is like this, some bitter ironic accident that shouldn’t have happened, and just as often it is not like this at all, it is drinking or drugs or murder or suicide. Whatever it is, when you hear about it, your heart flies to Brooklyn, to Pittsburgh, to Newtown or to India in an instant. Read More →

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Bohemian Rhapsody, Featured, Lifeline

The Southern Gentleman: Some Memories of A Friend

12 Written by: | Wednesday, Oct 09, 2013 8:00am

Dudley Clendenen

Dudley Clendinen’s author photo from his book, A Place Called Canterbury

Last night was the opening of the new show at the American Visionary Art Museum, in which my friend from Woodstock, Steve Heller, has five pieces. I was extra excited about this because I introduced Steve to Rebecca Hoffberger, the director of the Visionary, whom I met at a dinner at Dudley Clendinen’s house five years ago.

Dudley! The thought of him gave me such a pang. One of the hard parts of losing someone is the way things just keep happening that you so wish the person could know about. At the time of Dudley’s death in May 2012, his niece Lucy Alibar had just released her movie, “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” which ended up with four Oscar nominations. I could only hope they get Entertainment Weekly in heaven.

I pulled out a copy of Dudley’s book, A Place Called Canterbury, to show Steve and his wife Martha. Canterbury is the Tampa retirement home where Dudley’s mother spent the last part of her life. Dudley clocked 400 days and nights there with her, documenting how the first generation of super-old people was dealing with life in their 90s and beyond. His author photo is nothing but hot: classic features, tanned skin, a shock of gorgeous white hair, rock-star sunglasses.

He died without ever getting very old at all.

I met Dudley in 2008, about twenty-five years after he changed his whole life by quitting drinking, coming out, and leaving his wife all at once. I instantly loved him; he had a deep, luscious Southern accent, a courtly manner, and a wicked sense of humor.  His apartment was like an outpost of the Visionary, the walls covered ceiling to floor with paintings, some by his partner, Josh Batten. You could generally find Dudley in the kitchen, scrambling eggs for a lunch party or baking cheese grits and a pork loin for dinner. Read More →

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