Friday, March 22, 2013

The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me

On Wednesday, I lost my cellphone.

By all accounts, it should've been a tragedy.  I was in the middle of an incredibly busy week, on the way to meet a producer, a few hours before four people were showing up to my apartment to be fed.  This also happened two days before I was going to bid adieu to New York.  I decided that the only way for me to finish the final revision on my novel was to leave Manhattan and get the kind of calm and focus that is so elusive for me on the island.  I had arranged a week-long residency for myself at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, where I'm getting married in two months, where I'm teaching an Advanced Directing Class.  And because I was leaving New York, I decided that I needed to get everything done that I'd been putting off for weeks.

I splurged on a cab to the producer's meeting, since it was that annoying kind of meeting in the middle of the day, in a neighborhood I'd already been to a few hours earlier.  Ordinarily, I would've squatted in a cafe and earned the proprietor's ire by reading for hours and only ordering tea, but I had to get home, remove the chicken from the buttermilk brine I'd soaked it in in preparation for frying, grate the lime and lemon zest for my chilled cherry soup, and oven fry the bacon so that the salad I was planning to serve after the entree had a little kick.  I didn't have time to idle in cafes.

I stepped out of the cab, greeted the wonderful writer with whom I was about to step into the meeting, patted myself down, and said half to myself and half to her, "My phone is in that cab."

I had kept the receipt.  I called 3-1-1-.  I gave the medallion number.  They gave me the garage number.  My ringer was off, of course, so the driver wasn't picking up when I called.  I suffered through the meeting, came home, and somehow, had lost the cab receipt that had been in my possession just a few hours earlier.  I remembered the garage number, however, and used the magic of the internet to discover that the garage was just around the corner from my house.  I found it, and across the locked gate, saw the cab (Medallion Number 4P19) where I suspected my phone was hanging out, free for once from incessant usage and checking.  But I couldn't get to it.  And I had dinner guests arriving.  And the deep fry thermometer I had ordered from Amazon to get my coconut oil to the perfect 325 degrees of heat for frying chicken still hadn't arrived.

The dinner party, I'm proud to say, was a glorious success (I didn't photograph any of the food, and even if I did, I'm currently at the O'Neill, where the wireless connection feels more dial-up than broadband).  I started with the aforementioned chilled cherry citrus soup, followed by savory sweet mashed potatoes (I used bacon grease instead of butter), blanched broccoli rabe, Rafael's irresistible smoked salsa, and coconut friend chicken, followed by a salad with arugula, romaine, walnuts, cranberries and chopped bacon.  Then my guests (one of my fav guys from my soccer team, his bf, and a straight couple) humored me by playing Citadels, one of my favorite uber-nerdy board games, which was won by the only woman present (I came in second place by one point).

And through all of this, I didn't have my phone.  I've turned on the iCloud track option, and apparently, my phone gets turned on every few seconds every few hours, then turned back off.  I chart its progress from my computer, amazed at the technology that allows me to do this and befuddled by how it's supposed to help me get my phone back.

The last few weeks had been hard on me - every project I'm working on thrills and delights me, but somehow, with the wedding planning, I'd been feeling manic and stressed, not the creature of joy I'd like to be.  I felt it affecting my behavior, and for the first day or two without my phone, I felt its absence, the way you'd miss a cybernetic limb that had been hacked off.

What time was it?  Had someone emailed me in the last six minutes?  What was the weather in New London going to be like?  Was that a text or just my leg muscle twitching?  How many people have responded to my last Facebook post?

This and many other questions went unanswered without my pocket-sized portal to other worlds.  And although I was going through withdrawal, I also felt liberated.  I told myself that if I hadn't found my phone by the time I went to New London, I would spend the week without it.

So far, it's been great.  I do get scared, thinking about all the people who might be texting me, ignorant of my predicament, assuming that I'm unbearably rude in not responding.  But the impulses to check the time or my email every few minutes are already diminishing.  My dear friend (O'Neill Artistic Director and officiator of my wedding) Wendy Goldberg and I took the train up together, and had a two-and-a-half-hour conversation that wasn't interrupted by beeping or pinging or chirping electronics.  And when we got off the train, she was so inspired that she told me to take her phone and keep it so that she, too, would be phone-free for her week up here (seven minutes later, she insisted I return it so that she could check her email).

I love being phone-free, and feel positive that this week will be more productive without it.  And if I need to check my email, I can just use my computer, the way we used to in the olden days.  Or, I can use the iTouch that my family gave to Rafael for his birthday two years ago, that I brought up so that I could have an alarm clock. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Why Planning A Wedding Is A Cruel Fate That Should Only Be Reserved As Torture In The Ninth Circle of Hell

I Want To Get Married

I want to get married.  I do.  To Rafael Ascencio.

The idea that I found anyone who wants to spend the rest of his life with me, and that that person happens to be someone with whom I want to spend the rest of my life, and that the state in which we live made gay marriage legal are three deeply unlikely events that have colluded to make me want to get married.  I never thought I'd want to get married.  But now I do.  And when you want to get married, you have to plan a wedding.

Planning The Wedding

My sister looked at me in undisguised horror when I told her I was going to have a wedding party (she had her best friend standing up at the ceremony with her, and that was it).  In fact, when she and her now-husband were getting serious, she informed him in no uncertain terms that she did not want to be proposed to.  She thought it was demeaning.  If/when they wanted to talk about marriage, they would do it in a civilized, equitable way.  The incredibly talented Leslie Kritzer and Vadim Feichtner had a small ceremony a few weeks ago and invited everyone to meet them at a bar in midtown after, where there were toasts and libations and some of the most delicious cake I've ever eaten in my life.  The event was beautiful and it captured them in all of their glory.

I proposed to Rafael on May 24, 2012, on one knee, with a ring.  We're having a wedding party of our nearest and dearest, that includes my brother (who also didn't have a wedding party) and my sister (who seemed flattered, confused and disturbed when I asked her to be in mine).  There are many conventions of a traditional wedding we're not following, but basically, we've signed up for the kit and caboodle.  The irony is not lost on me: gays rush to the conventions of wedding and institution of marriage that our straight brothers and sisters eschew as old-fashioned and antiquated.  When you've had to fight for something, you appreciate it differently.

I can't wait for my wedding.  But planning it has been unadulterated hell.

Why Planning A Wedding Is A Cruel Fate That Should Only Be Reserved As Torture In The Ninth Circle of Hell be fair, I don't think Rafael would describe the experience of planning a wedding in any way equivalent to getting your wisdom teeth pulled out.  But in the same way that my dentist didn't really explain to me that getting my wisdom teeth pulled would involve a big, sweaty Iranian dentist yanking on them with a wrench, no one really told me what the experience of wedding-planning would be like.  Or maybe they did, and I just didn't believe them.  I'm a theater director, after all.  I'm used to putting on shows.  How could this be so different?

Most Wedding Vendors Are Hateful People Who Try To Rob You

If a vendor is primarily in the wedding industry (a wedding photographer, for example, as opposed to just a photographer, or a wedding planner as opposed to say, an events planner), chances are they want to rob you.  They want to use your insecurities, fragility and vulnerability to charge you at least twice as what their service would go for in any other context. 

 Delphi Harrinton, the gorgeous actress whose equally beautiful husband Norm just passed away last week, described to me how people in the death industry tried to take advantage of her, and I couldn't help but think of the local Connecticut photographer whose starting price to shoot my wedding was more than I had been paid for my last directing job.  Now, I know it's a lot of work, and there's overhead, and lots of other expenses.  But still.  It takes me a month to a direct a play.  It would take this photographer one day to shoot my wedding.  And not one full day, either, because her starting package was only an eight-hour period.

One of the best pieces of advices that I got about wedding planning that, whenever possible, don't tell the vendor that you're contracting their service for a wedding.  The guy who runs the BBQ joint down the street in Waterford has no idea that the two lambs I want smoked on May 26th are for a wedding.  As far as he's concerned, they're just for an event at the O'Neill.  Female friends have performed similar experiments - hairdressers and florists are notorious for the "bridal special," which as far as I can tell, just means +50% cost.

Part of why robbing brides and grooms is so easy is because most of us have never been married before.  Think about how much more you knew about buying a car or apartment the second time you did it (I, of course, live in Manhattan so I don't know anything about either of those things).  Because most people only have one huge wedding in their life, our newbie status makes us vulnerable.

Money Money Money

Rafael told me it would be tacky for me to discuss how much we're spending on our wedding.  I told him that I'm tacky all the time.  He looked at me with a mixture of pity and sadness in his eyes, so I've decided not to reveal how much money our parents are spending on our wedding (and yes, our parents are paying for it because there's no way we'd be able to).  Let me put it like this - it's half of what some non-rich friends of mine spent on their wedding.  It's more than the budget of some off-off Broadway shows I've directed.  And it's certainly more money than I will ever spend in a single day.  The idea that I'm spending this much money on my wedding makes me re-examine my priorities in a fundamental way

Last month, I bought a Calvin Klein jacket for $100.  It was at an outlet store, and had been marked down from $350.  It's actually, three jackets in one - a warm, puffy snug thing that can be worn on its own, a water-proof shell that can also be worn on its own, and finally it serves as a heavy winter-jacket when the two pieces fit into each other.  My only rain jacket was a trench coat (Burberry, natch) that my uncle had given me a decade ago, which is still awesome, but can't be worn in any casual setting unless I want to look like a flasher.  My old winter jacket was easily twenty years old.  I really needed a new jacket, and this one was a steal.  And yet, my hand still trembled as I presented the credit card to the cashier.

I hate spending money.  And the idea that I'm spending this much on my wedding sickens me .  And the fact that it's still not even nearly enough for me to to throw the kind of bash that I want sickens me even more.

The Crux Of It

And this is really the crux of it - the reason that planning weddings are such hell.  We are forced to compromise every day of our life.  If you're a theater director, as I am, you're sometimes even forced to compromise two or three times a day, which is much more than I think can reasonably be expected of anyone.  And there's this myth that on our Special Day (it will be Special regardless of how much mula you fork out), the most Important Day Of Your Life (I find the idea that there is a "most important day of anyone's life" totally ridiculous, and even more so if that day is your wedding) you should have everything exactly the way you want it.    

But as anyone who has gotten married can tell you, it's not going to be like that.  Wedding vendors want you to believe this lie, so they can highway rob you sans the highway.  And if you buy into it, all you're doing is playing into their nefarious, exploitative, evil hands.

Don't do it.  Pretend you're a theater director.  Compromise in the good way.  And like in great theater, the limitations will free you, leading you to imaginative and beautiful and unique solutions that a bottomless well of money could never offer.