living underground in the real world

driving / Kushner

December 2012 note: I wrote this in late November. The Chronogram happened to snap a photo of me getting my book signed, as discussed below!

And, also, um, on a driving note: the first thing I did when I got to Hawaii this year was bust the transmission of the 1993 Nissan beater truck we drive out here, the first time I’d ever driven it. The fourth car I’ve ever driven.* The second car whose transmission I’ve ruined.

*Below I say I’ve only ever driven two cars. After busting the truck, Jacob’s dad gave me his wife’s car to drive, which is an automatic which I only drove to the airport to pick up Jacob, which inspired this Facebook status update:

Just drove my very first automatic car ever. WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN THESE LONG NINE DRIVING YEARS, O ROBOT CARS? Driving with one hand and one foot, instead the full-body spasm that is stick shifting? No danger of stalling? No clutch to burn? IT JUST GOES!

In entirely unrelated news, just burnt the clutch in the second of the four (stick shifty) cars I’ve driven in my life.

Hallelujah, here comes my chauffeur off the jetway as we speak.

#ladydriver**

**I truly do believe women are terrible drivers [O essentialist me, how far I’ve fallen from my Women’s Studies world!]. Here’s why: women are a million times smarter than men. Men have the ability to focus on one very boring task (driving) at a time. Women, having been evolutionarily conditioned to multi-task, must always multi-task. Women are watching the road, looking at the trees on the side of the road and noticing they came down early this year, wondering if the gas station flying by has Peanut Chews, peeking into the Escalade passing on the right (like Escalades do). Just driving has to be one of the most boring tasks ever invented, for me at least. When it’s not terrifying, that is.

Later in December 2012 note: THE TRUCK IS NOT RUINED!! After sitting forlornly for a few days, a mechanic friend of Jacob’s dad’s came over and fiddled with the stick shift and it magically popped back into place, and now it works just fine. !!! ??? !!!

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I saw Tony Kushner speak tonight, at a synagogue in Kingston. I went all by myself, because no one else wanted to go with me and Jacob was on tour.

It’s weird to drive alone, in the dark, to a new place.

I get real nervous when driving, still.

Particularly to new places. I’ve been driving for about nine years, but I think I was so traumatized by learning to drive by doing NYC deliveries for the meal delivery service that I’ve never really gotten the hang of it.

I’ve only ever driven two cars: my car, and my car before that car. (OK, one time I drove a friend’s Prius 50 feet.) Both stick shifts. I’m a terrible shifter who uses the clutch like a crutch for all the wrong reasons.

I can’t quite ever relax when driving because somewhere in the back of my mind I’m thinking about how I could so easily kill people, or myself, with this metal robot machine I am piloting down the road.

It might not surprise you to know that when I am in the car with anyone else, anyone else will drive.

Jacob is so loath to let me drive sit in the passenger’s seat that once we were in Queens (= worst place to drive in the whole of North America) and I had to drive because he had forgotten his glasses, and my “I-am-driving-in-Queens-oh-god” panic set in to such an extent that he forced me out of the driver’s seat and drove home with his (prescription) sunglasses on in the dark. I had to narrate the entire trip: “There’s a pedestrian, that’s a green light, there’s a deer.”

Thankfully (yet, also the reason for many of these problems), my driving life consists of two miles to and from work every day, and not much else. Errands around town fairly rarely, most of them are walkable anyway. If I’m going somewhere “out,” I usually go with friends. Or else Jacob’s home. (Truthfully, I rarely go anywhere.)

So, as a solitary driver without enough driving practice and no one around to check my work (not being accumusted to it, driving with friends in the car makes me doubly nervous), I know I do a ton of ridiculous things. I only realized I cut the turn onto my street so hard that I routinely drive on the lawn when a cop pulled me over for it (I just thought I was being efficient, and had a rather murky understanding of the whole thing where the yellow lines break at the spot where you are allowed to turn left.).

Pretty sure I’ve mentioned before here how I failed my written driver’s test in Hawaii six times, right? And how I didn’t have to take the road test because I had a license from Arizona that I got without actually knowing how to drive, thanks to my dad being a drug dealer who knew sketchy people who made me a “fake” license that I’m pretty sure was an actual license, since I never had any problems using it? (What’s more scary, that my dad’s druggie friends had access to driver’s licenses that they gave out in exchange for a few bumps and a self-provided ID photo [I do believe mine was a full-body snap of me in a flame retardant Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles nightgown], or that the license worked as legal ID for me for 10 years? It expired in something like 2043, but that, even more weirdly, is the way things actually go in Arizona.)

Me and driving.

So, tonight I was an 80-year-old Jew, driving to synagogue, working myself into a most Jewy lather wondering if I will have to parallel park (I did) and/or if there will be a scary left turn into the temple (there was not.).

I got there OK. For one weird minute I thought it was lost and almost missed a crucial turn in my panic, even though I’d been on the road a million times. Darkness + nervousness does awful things to the brain.

I didn’t want to talk to anyone, which was unfortunate because if there’s one thing liberal Jews like, it’s talking to strangers (second only to how much they like talking to themselves).

It was strange to be in a temple, for the first time in maybe 18 years.

It was pretty.

We used to go to temple as a kid because we lived at a temple because, um, my dad was a custodian of the temple and the job came with free private school kindergarten for me, temple services for my mother and brother and me, and all the pomegranates we could eat from the tree in the courtyard.

I don’t know if the pomegranates thing was explicit or what, but we pretty much lived off pomegranates those years.

I liked living at the temple.

It was the only time in my life I felt at home with being Jewish. But we got kicked out in a few years because of who-knows-what, typical dad stuff going down. We had to do one of our famous middle-of-the-night moves, and after that we only went to temple on Yom Kippur. Or was it Passover? Or both? Who knows.

My mom tried to get me to go to Hebrew school at one point, but it didn’t take. All the other Jewish girls in Phoenix I knew (all five of them) were crazy JAPpy. High Jews, monied Jews. They lived in the nice part of town, flipped their curly hair into easy ponytails, got cars for their 16th birthdays.

I longed for Woody Allen-style middle class Jews. Jews who wore corduroy blazers, who talked about the meaning of life and made dismal, casual, snappy retorts at raucus dinner tables.

I know a ton of those kind of Jews now. I like them.

I think I am that kind of Jew now.

Fervently atheist and fiercely cultural, the kind of Jew who’s been trying to remember for three days now what the significance of Hanukkah gelt is. The best kind of Jew.

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So, at the temple, I sat alone.

I wanted to do that thing where art gets inside you and makes everything quiet and intense.

You know that thing?

It’s hard to have it happen with other people fucking yapping all around you.

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Tony Kushner has always been dear to me. I first saw Angels in America in high school, in a touring production that my mother (who was a theater critic at the time for the local alt-weekly) and I went to see over two days, since it’s so long. It profoundly affected both of us. I remember my mom taking the publicity stills that she got in a press packet, framing them, and hanging them in our bathroom (why the bathroom, I wonder?). I read all his earlier work while I was in high school, but Angels stuck with me most deeply.

I’m not sure why. I didn’t particularly identify with any of the characters, though I loved all of them deeply (the particular genius of Tony Kushner is that one day you realize that he actually made you love Roy Cohn, just a little bit). I was just incredibly moved by the world he had created. It felt very healing to me, before I’d even realized that I had suffered trauma (you call it “childhood,” I call it “trauma”—tomato, tomahto.) I needed to heal from.

After September 11th, as I’ve written about here ad nauseum, Angels became more important to me. The DVD of it, along with following Jacob in tour to Europe and seeing some Rothkos in London, was my primary coping mechanism. The play (I still think of it was a play, even though now it’s a movie) is the best depiction I’ve ever seen of the dichotomy between being in the world and being of the world. At its root, isn’t Angels about throwing one’s heart into the world and choosing life above all, even when looking squarely at how horrible life can be?

Lately, as I’ve rambled a bit here and there on these pixelated pages, I’ve been having trouble with the whole thing of throwing my heart into the world. It seems so much safer to keep it a little more sequestered.

Tony Kushner’s work reminds me that the only option an artist has is to live with an open heart.

That this means living with a heart constantly breaking is just part of the deal.

I took just a few notes at the talk I’d like to jot down real quick. Because Kushner wrote the movie “Lincoln,” his mind was on politics:

  • He likes Obama. I, in general, do not. But I liked what he had to say about him, which I’ll paraphrase like this: “There is great power in being on the outside—you can endlessly critique from a privileged position. It’s much harder to actually be in power.” While in general I think Obama is about 20,000 leagues to the right for me, this statement speaks to me as a doer, who is sometimes surrounded by whiny non-doers. I.e., the fucking internet. “Put up or shut up” is one way to put it. Or, as I think a lot about the shop (not so sure that this relates to the Presidency), that old Ani DiFranco lyric, “If you like it, let it be, if you don’t please do the same.” [That song also includes some truly ludicrous lyrics, alas. OH MY GOD WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT WATCH THAT VIDEO. WHAT. ON. EARTH. One can only hope Ani was more stoned than any human being ever has been when she made that, otherwise it’s probably the worst “music video” ever created. Oh, Ani!].)
  • Quote from Emerson: “Politics is the movement of the soul illuminated in power.” Two seconds of Googling can’t confirm that I jotted that down correctly. But I like it. I don’t believe it, but the West Wingian part of me wants to believe it. Ah, power!
  • On the old chestnut of Jews and their Jewy opinions (three Jews/six opinions): Judaism rejects fundamentalism by definition—the entire religion is about questioning, interpreting, and arguing.
  • The purpose of being alive is to figure out the purpose of life. (<—-most Jewy statement ever?)
  • The history of Judaism is the history of resistance to repression. (I’d argue here with that a bit, when it comes it post WWII history, at least, which is, in large part, about oppressing other peoples, but for now let’s just let that go.)
  • First question from audience: “Did Lincoln have any connection to Jews? Is Daniel Day-Lewis, who plays Lincoln, Jewish? I heard one of his grandmothers was Jewish?” Ah, Jews being Jews!
  • “I don’t believe that the power of theater (or art) is the power of activism—I think it’s deadly for artists to believe that their work is activism. I feel as a citizen, one of your jobs is to be an activist and participate in your democracy. It’s important not to kid yourself and believe that art will start the revolution.” This skirts awfully close to undermining my life philosophy (ethical chocolate not only will start the revolution, it actually IS the revolution) but I liked it anyway.
  • Like me, he likes writers who over-write. (I wonder why?). Like me, has no use for Hemingway. Aw, yeah!

As you can see, the man is fucking brilliant and I could listen to him natter on about anything he wanted to natter on about for the rest of time.

After the talk I scurried out so I could be front of the line for the book signing. (As terrible as I am at driving, I think my logistics-planning skills make up for it. I’d decided I was going to be first at the signing before the talk began, and I positioned my seat near the exit accordingly. The minute the talk ended I had paid for my books (I always think it’s rude to ask an author to sign an old copy of one of their books, but usually I want the copy signed that I know, so I solve this by buying another book of theirs or another copy of the book I already have. This time I did both, and I proudly presented my Angels book that didn’t have the “movie cover.” [it’s always humiliating to own the copy of the book with the movie cover, isn’t it? No matter how great the movie is.]) and was first in line for the signing.

I was thinking deeply about what art, and activism, and politics, and Lincoln (more on that later), and didn’t appreciate it when the woman behind me tried to engage me in conversation by explaining that her young son was there being rowdy because “my au pair just quit. Can you even believe it? I mean, I know how it is, you guys in school and everything, but….” I know I should have been pleased that she assumed I was at the talk on a school assignment or something, but I just wanted to stay in my head so deeply that I basically just stared at her until she found a friend in the line and talked to her. Her friend said to me,

“Wait, are there two books? And what’s the play about, anyway? You have two books?”

“One’s an older copy.” was all I said.

Aw, NOSY JEWS! I might love them, but I didn’t want them right then.

When Tony came out, he shook my hand and looked into my eye, and said it was nice to meet me. He asked who the book was for, and I said me, and spelled my name. He signed and asked me how one gets a name like Lagusta. “It’s the kind of name one gets when one’s parents met at Woodstock, and were high when they named me.” Everyone in line laughed and he said, “I bet you get tired of telling that story, eh?” and I said, suddenly flushed and crazy, “I don’t get tired of the story, but I do get tired of the hippie parents. Anyway, here’s a fan letter, thanks for your work, bye!” and hightailed it out of there. (Why can’t I be one of the cool kids, who ingratiates myself with cool famous people and hangs out with them after their talks? I see these people all the time backstage at the indie rock shows that are Jacob’s job. You know they just met the band, and here they are at the afterparty at that godawful bar. How does this kind of thing happen?)

My “fan letter” was just two lines about how his work meant a lot to me and I owned a little organic chocolate shop and had meant to give him some chocolates as a thank you for all he’d given me, but, oy, in the rush to get to the talk I left work without them so I’ll send them to his agent or someone and look out for them. Pretty dorky note. I had a lot more planned to write on my special Lagusta’s Luscious stationery, but the day got away from me.

Afterward, I went to a diner, got hash browns and grapefruit juice, and read Angels for an hour before heading home.

My bill came to $4.50 and I left $15. I was feeling lucky, thought I’d pass it around.

I drove home without incident, the road unwinding like a soft black ribbon, shifting like the clutch was made of butter.

Or, olive oil. Whatever.

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POSTSCRIPT: I saw Lincoln last night. Predictably, I loved it, and spent hours in bed afterwards reading about Lincoln on Wikipedia. Two lessons from it:

  1. If you have a kid and don’t name him Thaddeus Stevens, you’re basically an asshole, as he was the Greatest Dude Historical Figure Who Has Ever Lived. I am not being glib!
  2. Compromise. NOT MY THING! Which is why I run my own biz, so I can do whatever I want to do. Which is why i don’t get involved in politics, local or otherwise. But the movie reminded me that compromise has its virtues, i.e., sometimes it’s necessary in order to Get Shit Done. (At the shop we call this by its more PG acronym, GTD, and discuss it constantly. “I’m GTD today! FUCK YEAH!”) Even Thaddeus Stevens, Most Radical of Radical Men, saw when the time came to compromise and knew he had to do it, for the good of history and all that. He knew he’d get shit from his fellow radicals, and he did it anyway. Greatest Dude Historical Figure Who Has Ever Lived!

Go see the movie.

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16 Responses to “driving / Kushner”

  1. d.bear

    this is my favorite post of yours ever, tied with the cabbage & onion pie one, which might seem somehow wrong, but isn’t.

    Reply
    • lagusta

      Ha! Wow, you have a long memory. I just went to look that one up. Now I really want to make that delicious pie. Thanks for helping me with the 2 typos, too!

      Reply
      • d.bear

        no, i read through all (i think) of your recipe posts in a sort of marathon one night recently, but i will long remember that one. i’m hoping to find a printer and make a copy for my fridge. & thank you for being the sort of person who is eager to know about the typos.

  2. Dustin Rhodes

    OMG, I can’t believe you said that about women drivers! Some of the best drivers I know are women. Last summer, when I flew to Montana, the pilot landed the plane so softly, I couldn’t even tell we had landed. When I was exiting the plane, I said thank you to the co-pilot (mentioning the amazing landing), and he said, “the pilot is a woman, and they pretty much make the best pilots.”

    Multi-tasker is just a euphemism for attention deficit disorder; of not paying attention.

    Also, I thought Lincoln was a horrible, cliched move, Kushner (whom I love!) notwithstanding. One more movie with passive black folks who are saved by the white ones (and this is not an accurate portrayal of what happened in those months leading up to so-called freedom). The NY TImes, ever reliable, published a piece about this. Spielberg can pretty much ruin anything for me.

    Yes, I know, I know: saying I thought Lincoln was horrible is likely to be as popular as you claiming women can’t drive. But I am sticking with my story.

    :-)

    Reply
    • lagusta

      OK! Dustin, you’re so good at keeping me honest.

      Some of the best drivers I know are also women! And some of the worst. I just made a list of friends I can remember being in cars with:

      Lesbians: best drivers ever, obvs
      Lady farmers, queer or not: ditto
      Heterosexual non-farming women: generally awful
      Men, straight and gay: half awful. I know some terrible heterosexual men drivers, to be honest.

      So I stand corrected!

      Reply
      • dustinbuster

        That made me LOL.

        While we are stereotyping: Uptight Gay Men are THE WORST DRIVERS OF ALL.

        I hadn’t thought about until you said it, but you’re right!: lesbians really are good drivers.

    • lagusta

      Also! I heartily disagree (I’ve had several long fight-discussions about this with friends) that multi-tasker = ADD. I, for one, most certainly do not have ADD (apparently I’m the last person in the world) and am a champion multi-tasker. The two do not always go together! Productivity often means doing multiple things at once—it definitely does for me at work, where you often have five things happening at once because you’re waiting for caramel to come up to temperature, the dish cycle to finish, someone to finish helping a customer so you can yell at them (JUST KIDDING I WOULD NEVER YELL), and for your ganache to firm up so you can pipe truffles. It’s just the way it goes! Doesn’t mean you can’t focus like a laser on that one thing.

      Which is not to say I can laser-focus on driving. I can’t.

      ANYWAY! LINCOLN!
      I think sometimes I get this “I’m seeing a movie!!!!!”ness that takes away my critical faculties. I get so wrapped up in the work someone put into making a movie that it sort of blinds me. And I’m *more* than willing to admit that my Kushner-love might have blinded me to the issues you bring up. But…

      You make good points, and not to be a total Kushner-apologist, but he actually discussed that NYT article at the reading! He said he had a screening of the movie…somewhere? At Harvard? With a bunch o’ black people? Like, Henry Louis Gates and peeps? I dunno, I’m on vacay. I didn’t write it down. And he asked them what they thought of the portrayal of black people in the movie and they had a good talk and he didn’t come away thinking any changes were necessary. He mentioned other good rebuttals to the article, but having not seen the movie or read the article at the time I wasn’t that intrigued at that moment and didn’t take notes on it. Not that it helps, but you could tell he was CRUSHED by that article.

      I DO agree that (most) of the few black characters we got to know were very…PLACID. & that it’s obvs that slaves did tons to liberate themselves, and their stories should be told. And the article makes clear that the depiction of Keckley, in particular, could have been a lot more fleshed-out.

      But the movie wasn’t called “An Accurate Portrayal of How the 13th Amendment Came About.” It was called “Lincoln.” And the story was about such a tiny sliver of time (3 months, I think?), and such a tiny sliver of people. There wasn’t space for in-depth character development of everyone, you know? I absolutely agree that stories about non-famous, non-white people need desperately to be told. But does that mean we should hate on the well-told stories that feature white people? (I honestly don’t know the answer to this. Maybe rage at the fact that Hollywood money always goes to the white stories means we should, at least a little bit.)

      Also, this line in the NYT article:

      “As in “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan,” his purpose is more to entertain and inspire than to educate.”

      UM. YES. I wouldn’t go to a movie if it was just my high school history teacher lecturing about Lincoln, and neither would you. I know you, Dustin! You wouldn’t!

      On the other hand, this:

      “it reinforces, even if inadvertently, the outdated assumption that white men are the primary movers of history and the main sources of social progress.”

      YUP. (sad face here.)

      Anyway, you might recall I hated Avatar for the same reason you hated (or, let’s say, have qualms with) Lincoln. I hate deus ex machina stories where white people are always the deus. But…I dunno. Yay Lincoln! Yay Thaddeus!

      On to the REAL issue: TONIGHT I’M SEEING LES MIZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      GET READY!
      It’s not like I haven’t seen the play 20 times or anything. Not like I didn’t read the horribly boring books in high school or anything. Not like all the characters don’t already live in my head or anything. Not like every time J goes on tour I sing “On My Own” in the car on the way back from the airport or anything. I’m sure I’ll have *no qualms* with the movie…

      Reply
      • dustinbuster

        I also hated Avatar, for the reasons you mention. Bray calls Avatar “Dances with Wolves with Aliens.” Or something like that.

        Oddly, I don’t fault Tony Kushner, whom I also love, at all. Maybe I should. Maybe I am looking for more excuses to hate Spielberg, who just sucks. Blech.

        You’re right. I would not go see that movie (the history lesson one). Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion is one of my favorite movies of all time. That should tell you something about me. And it’s about sad, dumb white girls.

        I have never seen Les Mis in any incarnation, which means I will probably lose my Gay Card any minute now.

  3. dustinbuster

    Also, I love it when you are on vacation and treat us to all these amazing blog posts.

    Reply
  4. d.bear

    i hope it’s okay if i also say thank you to hawaii & your vacation in it, because there has been some much needed brain stimulation for little old me as a result. ( you know i am basically living in a pit of doom where people go to restaurants to order hot dogs & garbage plates with “meat sauce”.) here’s hoping that you’ll say some more stuff that will get dustin all ruffled up again because i love the way you two agree & disagree at the same time. i also hope there will be some posts featuring the local flora & fauna & tropical fruit, accompanied by more nice passels of rad swass.

    Reply
    • lagusta

      I’ll get right on it! : )

      Mostly what I’ve got for you coming up is: hair. And New Year’s Resolutions.

      Reply

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