Tuesday, April 19, 2011

X-Factor Auditions, Part Two: The registration...

Kind of creepy to be walking around White Plains at 4:30 in the morning. No lights on, no cars, no people. I felt like I was in a zombie movie. And, really, at that hour, I'm sure I looked like I was in a zombie movie.

But that was what I had to go through to get myself to the Prudential Center on time. Take the Metro North train into Grand Central, grab a shuttle to Times Square, hop on the subway to Penn Station and then take yet another train to nobody's favorite destination... Newark, New Jersey. That's where the hopefuls were gathering to wait for a chance to be on Simon Cowell's new show, X-Factor.

On one of the trains, there was a good looking kid in back of me who talked openly about a great number of things. How X-Factor was going to be different from American Idol, how worthless his agent was, how badly he had to take a shit, and how he left his other outfit in the bag on his lap. "THIS?!" he said. "No way, man! I'm not wearing THIS!!! I'm gonna change when I get in there."

A seventeen year old Thomas Jane/Justin Bieber hybrid with (probably) a squeaky clean boy band in his past, an agent... and a costume change. And, this wasn't for the audition, mind you. This was just for the registration. The auditions would be held the following day.

I was convinced right then and there that this dude would make it onto the show.

The little bastard.

I've heard a variety of different estimates for the crowds on that Wednesday. Fifteen thousand, eighteen thousand. The Star Ledger estimated twenty thousand, but, if I were to offer up a guess, I would have to go with 16,428. Give or take a dozen Rhiannas. And I'm certain that a strong majority of those folks were standing in front of me by the time I arrived at 6:40 am. In the rain. It was crazy. And it was the longest line I'd ever stayed in without the promise of a roller coaster at the end of it. Instead, if I stood my ground, I would walk away from that endless ordeal... with a wristband.

I suppose it's inevitable, in a line that long, that you would come to learn a good deal about your neighbors. I certainly did. It was truly comforting, in a way, actually, as-- y'know, while we all had different backgrounds and all came from many different places, we were able to find quite a bit of common ground. Most of the people around me, for instance, shared a love for laughter, a passion for music of course, and, most importantly, more than anything else, a fervent desire to smack me in the face with their gigantic and pointy umbrellas.

That we were so sardine-packed a crowd made most of this fairly forgivable, but after awhile it really got to be ridiculous. About every third minute there was a thunk on the top or the side of my head. Thunk! ...Thunk!!! .....THUNK!!! Thunk, thunk!!! I felt like the whack-a-mole.

Through the magic of my iMac computer, I was able to recreate what I think is something of an accurate representation of said events, without, unfortunately, the many, many hours of thought-provoking swear words that were swirling about inside my head...

All this was so much more than bearable when compared to the woman I was stuck behind for the better part of three hours. "I don't understand why this line isn't mooooooving!" she whined. On and on and on, and without taking a breath, she rambled, "Why do they have us WAITING out here like this?! Don't they know it's RAINING??? This isn't right! It's NOT RIGHT!!!!! They shouldn't have us waaaaaaaiting out here like this!!!! ...In the rain??? In the RAIN??????? It's not right!!! It's just! Not! Right!!!!! ......I just don't understand why this line isn't even MOOOOVING!!!!"


...is what i wanted to say. But I didn't. Because I am a gentleman.

Also, I wanted to preserve my delicate vocal chords. Because I am a diva.

At any rate, sometimes it's just better to scurry away from people like that. And, to be fair, it very, very much was a long ass wait. FOUR HOURS after we stepped into that line, we were finally-- finally!!! FINALLY!!! --told by a man in a headset that it would probably only be another two more hours before we walked into the building... And then he complained to the group standing next to me that there weren't enough people stabbing me in the cheekbones with their umbrellas.

Two and a half hours after that I was in the building, about to receive my very own wristband! This nice young woman fastened it on for me and told me that I had to keep it on my wrist for the entire audition process. "But, don't worry," she said, "you can still shower with it on."

And... I dunno, something about the way she said it kind of bugged me. I mean, I know I was probably just being paranoid, but I couldn't help but wonder if that was something she mentioned to all of the contestants, or just the people with scraggily beards. There was just something in her eyes that made me think that she wanted to tell me more...

"In addition to bathing, you could also brush your teeth with your wristband on... And, just so you know, your wristband will not get in your way should you decide to ...(ahem!) change your socks. Oh, and, I should probably tell you, too, that your wristband will most likely not fall off if you want to just go on ahead and apply a little deodorant tomorrow, so... m'hm..."

I didn't really appreciate it at the time, but on the train ride home I started to see it as a welcome reminder to get a good night's sleep. Tomorrow was the audition. Kind of a big day. Best not to show up looking like a ripe zombie.

The five things i fell in love with today...

1) I don't believe in omens. Which is good, because before I walked out the door that day, my house key somehow managed to flip its way off of my key ring. Pretty weird, actually.
2) I've never been a Simon Cowell fan at all (at ALL!), but I did begin to understand him a little more after listening to a 14 year old in line butcher Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" for twenty minutes.
3) My scraggily beard. I kind of miss it today.
4) I recovered some dude's wallet on the subway early that morning and he seemed genuinely touched that a stranger returned it. Made me feel good. And it made me wish I believed in karma.
5) Best thing I'd heard in line that day, bar none... "It's CHICKEN!!! Chicken ain't meat! Chicken's a bird!"

Song of the night...
"Umbrella" by Rhianna

Movie of the night...
"Leonard Cohen: I'm your man"

Sunday, April 17, 2011

X-Factor Auditions, part one: Why would I want to do this???

Most of the regrets I have from my childhood come from a place of fear. I was too scared to lift the bat off my shoulders in Little League, so I struck out. I was too afraid to be myself around the girls I liked, so I struck out. That type of thing.

When I was in high school, I auditioned for the All South Jersey Chorus, which is just about as prestigious as it sounds. But it meant a lot to me. And I thought I had a pretty good chance to get in. I had the house to myself the night before, and had belted out the required song in a way that made my cat not run away in terror. And, y'know, like Sinatra sang, "If you can sing out loud and the cat's ears ain't bleeding, you can make it anywhere!"

But the day of the audition came and I completely choked. To prevent favoritism, the judges were sitting behind a chalkboard so they couldn't see if we were a member of a school in their district. I'm pretty sure they called it a Blind Judge Audition because I remember thinking, while I was halfway through my song, that they probably would have preferred it if it were a Deaf Judge Audition.

I was very funny and clever when I was in high school.

But, really, I sounded awful. I was so nervous, so terrified. My voice cracked on the very first note and it just got worse from there. It seemed to go on forever, and all I wanted was to be put out of my misery... I'd had better Saturdays is what I'm trying to tell you.

I should say that I got over it eventually. It's not like the moment had scarred me permanently. But it really did bother me quite a bit. And, yeah... I guess it still does a little. I mean, I love sports, but I was never going to be a great athlete. I've always been a hopeless romantic, but I was terribly geeky as a kid.

But, dammit! I knew I could sing better than that! I'd heard myself the night before and I was actually pretty good! Seriously! I was there! I sounded alright!!! It wasn't a fluke, I had simply let my fear overtake me. And that really is a difficult thing to live with, whether you're talking about the All South Jersey Chorus or the Broadway stage.

Fast forward just a few short (short) years later to the present day... I fell in love with a girl who broke up with me, and I'm heartbroken. What's worse? I'm a diehard Mets fan. So it's clear to me at this point in my life that love and baseball were not going to be the cure for my sorrows.

I was flipping through the TV one day last month, however, and I saw... a challenge. Simon Cowell was producing a new show called X-Factor. It was going to be similar to American Idol except it was open to just about everyone. Groups, and everybody else, ages 12 and up. And! The auditions were going to be close by...

This was it! This was not only what I needed to get myself off my ass, but this was also my chance to stand up and reclaim whatever dignity I'd lost all those (not that many, really) years ago!

The winner of this show is getting $5 million, but I didn't have any delusions of grandeur about that. I just wanted to do my best. Step up to the plate and take my shot. Take a swing, take a chance and see what happened.

So, the next day, I put in for some vacation days and I prepared myself to go to the city of a million dreams. The city of hope, the city of light, the city of promises fulfilled... the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The five things I fell in love with today...

1) South Jersey!!!
2) Surviving humiliation. And it was humiliating. There was a woman in between me and the judges who was playing the background music to the song I was singing. I'd been so dreadful that, apparently, the judges were making faces at my expense. Every time this woman kept looking over to them she had to restrain herself from laughing at whatever the hell it was they were doing from behind that blackboard. Those bastards.
3) Surviving high school in general, really.
4) I did get a hit once in Little League... once. And it was a fluke, but I stood on first base with pride nonetheless... Well, no, it was more shock than pride, but, whatever.
5) Frank Sinatra.

Song of the night...
"There goes the fear" by Doves. This is a really good post-breakup album to listen to; it's called "The Last Broadcast." Also an excellent First day of Spring album. Makes me happy.

Movie of the night...
"(500) Days of Summer" A great post-breakup film to watch. Particularly, for me, this breakup. Lot of similarities there. I'm such a Tom.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The time I nearly died...

In the Bible, God spoke to Moses by way of a burning bush. In 1987, God spoke to me through a fortune cookie.

During a somewhat perplexing time in my teenaged years, I cracked open a message that said something along the lines of, "THERE IS YET TIME TO CHANGE YOUR PATH." And, whether it was God or not, it meant a great deal to me at the time.

But, I do believe that God can use silly things like that to inspire people. I do believe He moves in mysterious ways. I hadn't thought about that in awhile, but yesterday morning I opened a new pack of Altoids and read this on a thin, white sheet of paper...

"Wave this in case of surrender."

Now, I know this is just a fun and quirky marketing thing. And I refuse to believe that Al or anybody else in the Toid family had anything profound or spiritual in mind when they approved this phrase. Still, I couldn't help but stare at it for a really long time, thinking... "What am I going to surrender to?"

It brought to my mind a summer afternoon in South Jersey (a few years after the fortune cookie), when I was a camp counselor. I was nervously paddling the front end of a two man canoe with our head counselor, Dan. We turned a corner a bit too quickly, Dan mumbled whatever the Christian Camp Counselor equivalent was to "Oh shit!" and before I knew it, we were in the water. Which was not at all a good thing for me, as I couldn't swim.

I remember how cold and slimy the water felt. I remember watching our overnight supplies tumbling into the lake after me. But, more than anything else on that day, I remember the utter terror I felt when I realized that my feet were not touching ground. I was in deep, deep trouble.

At the top of my lungs, I pleaded for my life. "DAN! HELP ME!!! I CAN'T SWIM!!! I CAN'T SWIM, DAN!!!!!"

It was a minor miracle, with all my frantic splashing, that I could see anything at all, but I did notice that our flipped-over canoe was in between Dan and me. And I had enough time among the panic to start to get pissed that he wasn't coming to my rescue.



"WHAT?!?!?! ...OH!!! ......oh."


Now, it's some twenty years later, and again, I feel like I'm drowning. A week ago I was in love, and now I'm heartsick. I had to take some time off work, as if I were grieving a death in my family. My eyes are a rich crimson for the lack of sleep, and my ribs are hurting from six days of sobbing. And yet, the question remains... What am I going to surrender to?

My sorrow? This fear of sinking? This feeling that I might never return from such a murky body of water? Or to the thought that there's something out there, keeping me afloat.

the five things i fell in love with today...

1) We have a two year old in our classroom whose Friday afternoon snack time melted-chocolate mustache made her look EXACTLY like Inigo Montoya. I wish I could share a picture with you; it's uncanny.
2) Life jackets.
3) Fortune cookies.
4) Stopping myself at snack time before I completed my recital of Inigo Montoya's famous speech. Not, as it turns out, toddler appropriate.
5) Well, hey... whatever my decision, I know I won't have to surrender to chronic halitosis! Thank you, Altoids! You really are curiously strong! :)

Song of the night...
"No one is alone" by Mandy Patinkin

Movie of the night...
"The Princess Bride"

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My brand new favorite song of all time...

(by Linford Detweiler of Over The Rhine)

All my favorite people are broken
Believe me
My heart should know

Some prayers are better left unspoken
I just wanna hold you
And let the rest go

All my friends are part saint and part sinner
We lean on each other
Try to rise above

We’re not afraid to admit we’re all still beginners
We’re all late bloomers
When it comes to love

All my favorite people are broken
Believe me
My heart should know

Orphaned believers, skeptical dreamers
Step forward
You can stay right here
You don’t have to go

Is each wound you’ve received
Just a burdensome gift?
It gets so hard to lift
Yourself up off the ground

But the poet says, We must praise the mutilated world
We’re all workin’ the graveyard shift
You might as well sing along

All my favorite people are broken
Believe me
My heart should know

(As for) your tender heart—
This world’s gonna rip it wide open
It ain’t gonna be pretty
But you’re not alone

‘Cause all my favorite people are broken
Believe me
My heart should know

Orphaned believers, skeptical dreamers
You’re welcome
Yeah, you’re safe right here
You don’t have to go

‘Cause all my favorite people are broken
Believe me
I should know

Some prayers are better left unspoken
I just wanna hold you
And let the rest go

the five things i fell in love with today...

1) Over the Rhine. They're just plain old amazing.

2) "The Long Surrender" is the name of their new album, and it's one of their best. Which is saying quite a bit.

3) God's good timing... I wanted to pre-order (and thus get an advanced copy) of 'Surrender' a few months ago, but I just never got around to it. But, much like God's way of using the foolish things of this world to shame the wise, I've found that He will oftentimes use my procrastination to my benefit.

I would have loved this record no matter when I heard it, but i desperately NEEDED to hear it today. Nearly every song touched my heart deeply. It was as if Detweiler and Karin Bergquist were eavesdropping on my life over these past few horrible days, and then decided to sing (beautifully) to me-- and just me-- the things I needed to hear. Among them...

"Come on boys/Now don't be shy/If we gotta walk away/We gotta hold our heads up high/You’re not the first one to start again/Come on now friends/There is something to be said for tenacity/I’ll hold on to you/If you hold on to me..." (Bergquist)

"I’ve got a thousand lost songs (Far too many they just got away) I’ve done a thousand things wrong (Far too many for me to name) But I’m not too far gone/To fall/Headlong/Into the arms that love me..." (Detweiler)

Shitlouise, they're good.
(Side note: There's another tune on this album called "Oh yeah by the way" And it might just be my brand new second favorite song of all time. It speaks just about the exact words I'm thinking at the moment, and absolutely rips my heart in two.)

4) My unbelievable friends. In particular one who today showed her amazing capacity to love by taking a verse from the Bible literally. (The second part of Romans 12:15... King James version.)

5) 'Eat Pray Love' Yes. It's the movie of the night for two posts in a row.

Now, I'm not embarrassed to love that movie as much as I do. And I'm not embarrassed to say that it makes me cry. But, when the young hipster dude behind the counter at the White Plains Barnes & Noble asked me if I needed any help finding anything, I was embarrassed enough to pretend I still had a girlfriend.

Hipster: Can I help you, sir?
Me: Uhm, yes, I'm supposed to pick up some movie called, uhhh... What was it...? 'Eat Pray Love'...?
Hipster: Oh, okay, yeah, I think it's right over here.
Me: Ahh, great! Yes (chuckle, chuckle), I would have been in a bit of trouble if I didn't bring that back home with me tonight! (chuckle, chuckle)...
Hipster: (chuckle, chuckle, chuckle)...

This actually happened.

Monday, February 7, 2011


This is a challenging post. Because I feel horrible. I feel confused, a bit lost, and I'm heartbroken. But, this is one of the reasons I started writing this damn blog, isn't it? To focus on the amazing and good things in my life-- even when I'm feeling down...?

And, you know...? Now that I'm at a significantly low point in my life, I can't help but think... what a piece of shit idea that really was. Seriously, I recall it seemed like such a good plan at the time, but, shitlouise, what was I thinking?!

(Side note: I just re-read this post and realized that, because I didn't mention many specifics about the cause of my heartbreak, most of you will more than likely assume I'm talking about Super Bowl XLV. But, no. Bummed as I am that the Steelers didn't come through for me... at the end of the day, it's just a game. So, who cares?)

Anyway, here we go...

the five things i fell in love with today...

1) Heartbreak equals weight loss...
One of my main resolutions for this new year was to drop 45 pounds. And I did that this afternoon. Well, no, not really, obviously, but I have lost six pounds since Friday, which... y'know, isn't "good" necessarily. But it's not all that worrisome to me, either. My appetite will return soon enough. And, in the meantime, it's been pretty cool to step on the scale the last few mornings.

2) Gaining strength by way of kicking temptation's mint-flavored ass...
In the past, when I've been low, I've clung to unhealthy foods for support. So, it feels really, really good to have avoided both Ben and Jerry this go around.

3) Neil Young...
Being the 14 year old girl that I am, I usually tend to listen to The Smiths after a punishing breakup. But something told me to turn up Neil Young this afternoon, and I was glad I did. There's enough sadness and passion in his album "Everybody knows this is nowhere" to get me through another hour. And, for that I'd like to shake his hand.

4) Good advice from great friends...
I have a lot of truly wonderful friends. Best in the world, I figure. One stood out this morning, though, because she gave me advice despite the fact that she had a pretty damn good reason for not writing me back at all. Her words meant a great deal to me... I can't explain the situation, because I know it would very much embarrass someone I love (myself). But, knowing that she was kind when it would have been much easier to ignore me? I won't forget that.

And her advice was quite good, too, by the way: Don't back away from feeling like shit. Don't ignore your emotions. "Take them in and experience them fully so you can let them go." To not deny yourself the experience of feeling bad, because that's when the real lessons in life tend to kick in. Easier said than done, sure, but very true.

5) The weather...
A few weeks ago, when I was on top of the world, I passed by these monster snow drifts with such a huge smile on my face. It seemed like everyone else around me was grumpy, trudging along like they had a misguided hatred for Al Gore, because he hadn't done enough to bring global warming to our New York winter. But, the thought struck me of the kids in my classroom. The toddlers walking by these enormous, blistering castles of white, their eyes wide open, their imaginations soaring into the heavens.

Saturday, however, I was walking in the freezing rain for two and a half hours. The mist and fog quickly filling up my glasses and mixing with tears, assuring me that not only was I walking around aimlessly, but I also had no idea where I was going. I was pissed, I was hurt, I was a basket case, and I noticed that the same snow drifts that had given me joy, had now all turned desolate and dark. A dirt-infested dark, with deisel-engine soot, and little-tiny chunks of mud, spare tire and road garbage.

And it looks like that today. And it will look like that tomorrow. And the next week. And probably into March.

But, dammit... Spring's coming. And all that nasty junk has to melt away eventually.

Song of the night...
"My eyes adored you" by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons

Movie of the night...
"Eat, Pray, Love" ...Being the 38 year old woman that I am, I'm totally going to buy that movie on dvd tomorrow and watch it twice.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A rose by any other name...

Today, for no apparent reason, I found myself thinking about Alice Cooper.

I've never been a big fan, really. The song "School's Out" was always being sung by some of the older kids on the bus on the last day of classes. Fourth grade, fifth grade. And, while it seemed like a catchy tune, it also got a touch repetitive somewhere in between the 20 minute trek between Leda Shishoff Elementary and Thomas Avenue. Usually right around Tuckahoe Road.

Anyway, I'd never given him much thought, and don't know a great deal about him, but somehow or another, I have picked up some random information on the guy over the years. I've learned (somehow) that Alice Cooper put on a stellar live show back in the day, and is a pretty nifty golfer. And apparently Bob Dylan once told Rolling Stone magazine that he thought Alice was not too shabby. Or something.

I've also heard-- and this is what was on my mind today-- that "Alice Cooper" was originally the name of the band, not the man.

Again, no particular reason this popped into my head. Just kinda struck me funny. Y'know, just the thought that, at some point in his life, after a certain amount of gigs and misunderstandings, he had to have this conversation with himself...

"(sigh)... Okay, fine, people, you win. I'm Alice."

It was just easier that way, I guess. People kept calling him Alice, and eventually he just kinda went with it. And I thought that was interesting. Kind of makes me wish I was a cruel, mad scientist of some sort, so I could set up experiments on the topic. Lock somebody up in a room for a bit and repeatedly call them Betty or Leonard or Goldfish until they forgot who they were.

But, and I think this is the part I find the most interesting, did Alice Cooper forget who he was? Does Alice Cooper think of himself as Alice Cooper now, or does he still think of himself as Vincent? Has he spent more of his life as Alice? Would he have always liked to have been Alice? Do his friends back home call him Alice? When people approach him in dreams, what do they call him? Does he regret not naming the band Roger Cooper? When waiting for a table at Cracker Barrel, does he say, "Yes, uh, table for four, please, for Alice?"

When he became Alice Cooper, did he lose his identity? And, if so... is he okay with that?

I suppose it's fascinating to me because, as dreadfully flawed as I am, I quite like being who I am. But, I tend to think that, if I had to change my name to become a world famous rock star or actor or librarian or whatever, it probably wouldn't phase me all that much. I used to be the kid on the schoolbus who was afraid of being called names, but, now I'm a bit like the lady in the Elvis Costello song: "you can call me anything you like, but my name is Veronica."

But, of course, as soon as I put that on the computer screen, I immediately regretted it, thinking that some of you will now start calling me Veronica. So maybe I still don't know what i'm talking about.

the five things i fell in love with today...

1) Minature golf. I rock.
2) Elvis Costello.
3) Wikipedia, for letting me know what Alice Cooper's real name was. Who knew?
4) The Eddie Izzard routine about Englebert Humperdink. Classic stuff. It's probably on youtube, but I'm too lazy to look it up at the moment. If anyone finds it, though, don't be shy to put it in the comments, thanks!
5) Leda Shishoff.

Song of the night...
"My Science Fiction Twin" by Elvis Costello

Movie of the night...
"Alice doesn't live here anymore"

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Some typos are worse than otters...

This afternoon I received an email from an institution of higher learnin'. I'm not kidding-- they offered me an opportunity to earn...

..."A Maste's Degree in Creative Writing"

Yeah, uhm... No thanks.

the five things i fell in love with today...

1) The thing is, for about a good solid minute, it really bugged me. I thought, "What's a Maste's Degree? ...Is that sort of like... between a Bachelor's and a Master's or...?"
2) The other thing is, of all the letters in the alphabet, you're seriously going to forget the 'R'?????? C'mon, dude.
3) Tonight, I cooked myself a delicious and healthy dinner of Chicken Stir Fry!!!! The number one New Year's resolution on my list is to lose a ton of weight (Literally. A ton.). And, I'm happy to report, I am off to an amazing start!!!
4) Typos from institutions of higher learnin'. I really don't know what this says about my confidence as a writer, but... it really does make me happy to catch this sort of thing.
5) Well, hey, at least, y'know... I guess it is creative, in a way, no...? Maybe that's what they're doing? Breaking new ground? Maybe that's what they were going for...? Maybe it's some sort of French New Wave-kinda... Bohemian-sorta thing where they don't have to, y'know, spell every word correctly, or live by the rules, or bow down to the laws of nature, or shower.


song of the night...
"Spelling Bee" by Missy Elliot

movie of the night...
"Spellbound (2004)"