The Reason To Close Out The Tab

I am all kinds of sluggish right now. Do not feel sorry for me because I brought it on myself. If I don’t know by now that the second martini on a school night is a stupid idea, then I deserve exactly what I am getting. Still, it’s a bummer to know that there isn’t a good time to be had that doesn’t have some kind of payback. Scream your lungs out at a concert-lose your voice for a week. Enter a chili dog eating contest-get an upset stomach. Bingeread a fabulous book-ok, can’t think of a downside for that one. Indulgence demands balance, so at some point or another, everyone gets a hangover.

Ancient peoples could not account for the severity of their hangovers, attributing splitting headaches and the morning-after craving for ancient pancakes to angry gods. Now, after a big night out, you only have to go back 12 hours on your Instagram feed to find out what went down. There you are, in the backseat of your Uber, chugging Fireball. FIREBALL. What the hell were you thinking?  The night before, it’s all spontaneous musical numbers and high fives. It’s a magic bubble of invincibility, and since nothing can hurt you that fourth margarita is a good idea! And yes you can stay out until 4! You’ll be fine with 2 hours sleep! Of course you never are. The morning after brings the need for several extra strength Tylenol and a fountain Coke, and no small measure of gratitude that you woke up at home. As opposed to waking up covered in mud, blood, and body parts, because that is what happens when Donna Tartt is in charge.

First, a PSA: I am glad that Donna Tartt is a writer, because she writes my favorite books and I love having favorite books. Her novels are epic in scale, with her characters coming to terms with life events experienced at violent extremes. Some overcome, and some fail spectacularly, and it’s impossible to look away even when you can see what’s coming is not going to end well. The Secret History (Knopf, 1992) is a murder mystery reverse engineered from what is essentially a solved crime. The book opens with a confession to a murder, revealing that a cliquish group of six friends have killed one of their own, Bunny Corcoran, staging a hiking accident by pushing him down a ravine. The story then centers on the backstory of the motivation for Bunny’s death and the friends’ tangled and twisted relationships. Donna Tartt explores the way that the human desire turns into greed – greed for knowledge, greed for experience, greed for power – and how that greed turns cancerous.

Donna Tartt publishes one incredible book about every 10 years. I assume she could publish an incredible book anytime she wants to, but she is a badass who does not care how many books you think she should publish. The Secret History was her first book and it was an immediate bestseller, making her a literary star. This book shows how toxic hubris and arrogance are and movingly illustrates the beauty inherent in sacrificing for the ones you love. It also gives me perspective on my own wild nights, because there’s hangovers, and then there’s The Secret History hangovers.

My hangover: My head hurts and that light is too bright
Secret History hangover: Can anyone confirm or deny that we killed a dude last night

My hangover: Wow, I danced for several hours!
Secret History hangover: I drank myself into a fugue state

My hangover: I thought we’d never go home
Secret History hangover: I thought I was a deer

My hangover: I need greasy diner food
Secret History hangover: Breakfast is booze, cigarettes, and determining an alibi

My hangover: I’m taking a nap
Secret History hangover: Let’s invite Bunny to go on a hike

There’s always a price to be paid after a party is over, and if Donna Tartt is writing the hangover, payback isn’t just bitch. It’s a bitch with a baseball bat and access to all of your bank accounts. It makes me a little bit glad that I’m a book nerd with a love of down time. My “about last night” stories aren’t as flashy but then again I don’t have to budget for as much bail money. Still, some nights do go on longer than others. If you’ve got a hangover, please feel free to consult the handy chart below to triage your situation and determine the most efficient cure.

Symptoms: You have a limp from the 50-yard dash someone dared you to run. Your hair hurts and you require sunglasses to brush your teeth.
Hangover Level: Tore up from the floor up
Cure: Ketchup-based fast food and one whiny Facebook status post.

Symptoms: Right hand has three nightclub stamps on it. Left wrist has a medical id bracelet from a colonic clinic. You’re still dressed, but the bra you are wearing isn’t yours.
Hangover Level: Run over by a truck
Solution: Travel back in time and make new friends who won’t encourage you to qualify for Olympic Beer Pong. It isn’t even a real sport.

Symptoms: The good news is you’re awake and at home. The bad news is the dog woke you up because he’s hungry, but you don’t own a dog. Or the motorcycle in your living room.
Hangover Level: Football bat
Solution: Feed the dog. Change your name and move.


I like your motorcycle.

Action Items
Watch The Philadelphia Story, the best movie about hangovers ever.




The Reason For Date Night

Romance isn’t dead! Unless the romance in question is Romeo and Juliet in which case, yes, romance is unequivocally dead. If your version of a love story with a  happy ending is “deceased newlyweds and resolved grudges” then Romeo and Juliet is the play for you. Normally, I am completely down with a high drama forecast of 100% chance of accidental poisonings with intermittent stabbings. Who wouldn’t like that? Romeo and Juliet is Shakespeare’s greatest hit, his most well-known work, and literature’s definitive tragic love story. The narrative around Romeo and Juliet is what sells-the instant love, the white-hot chemistry, the inevitability of their union and the tragic ending. I am not here for any of that, though. Nope. I do love this play, but not for why you think.
Romeo: what do you mean
Me: wait for it, damn
Romeo: tell me now
Me: ok  THIS is why you make me nuts

It’s not terribly romantic to admit it, but I don’t crush on Romeo and Juliet’s romance.  I blame myself for lacking depth and an inability to relate to human emotion. My problem begins and ends with Romeo. We meet him pre-Juliet, hanging out with his friends and mooning over the beautiful and unattainable Rosalind. He goes on and ON about her. By the time he’s done extolling her virtues, he’s convinced me to date her.  His boyishness and impulsiveness are intended to charm but because I am mostly dead inside, he seems more sulky and capricious than anything. It’s not a case of active dislike. It’s just that Romeo is so relentlessly self-absorbed as we get aquainted with his character that I want to punch him. By the time Romeo dons his disguise, sneaks into the Capulet costume ball, spots Juliet and dumps Rosalind, I am done with him. Is Romeo really in love, or does he have the earliest dramatized version of ADHD? It’s hard to tell and as it turns out I don’t particularly care. Since I am not invested in Romeo, I’m not capable of working up the energy to swoon when he goes gaga over Juliet. I just wait patiently through all the Romeo and Juliet parts of Romeo and Juliet so I can enjoy the character it feels like Shakespeare created just for me.
Romeo: not cool
Me: omg did you hear that

One of the timeless aspects of Romeo and Juliet is how Shakespeare captures the dynamics of adolescent male friendship. The comraderie, the dirty jokes, the restless energy –it’s all there and it’s perfect. It’s just like any modern group of high school students, with fewer codpieces.  I love the wordplay and the fights and the teasing, but make no mistake. I am here for Mercutio, Romeo’s best friend. Can I please get a Tiger Beat with him on the cover? Plus a bonus poster that I can hang over my bed? I also need him to have a spinoff series, endorse a line of activewear, and maybe host the Golden Globes next year. I JUST NEED HIM IN ALL THE THINGS. Mercutio is Team Montague, the solid, acerbic yin to Romeo’s boy toy yang. He is a dreamy combo of smart and smartass and I want to have all his iambic pentameter babies.
Romeo: but I’m ROMEO
Me: meh
Romeo: what do I have to do
Me: plot more stabbings?
Macbeth: totally on board with that

Mercutio is my first action hero, the guy who made brains and brawling an irresistible mix. He’s got Romeo’s back, challenging his friend’s moody ruminations on love with vulgarity and humor while trashtalking the rival Capulets whenever the opportunity presents itself. His quicksilver personality is alluring and his intelligence is just sexy. In the play’s climactic battle scene, the rival gangs from the houses of Montague and Capulet clash and Mercutio is mortally wounded. His death sets in motion the chain of events that get Romeo banished from Verona. Even while he’s bleeding to death, he’s snarky and joking, laying the groundwork for the dialogue in every single 80s action movie.
Romeo: i don’t understand what’s happening
Me: so…did Mercutio ask about me?
Romeo: what?
Me: tell him I said hi but just like, hi, not HI
Romeo: ffs

Mercutio might have stayed in the background, perennial Hot Boy #2, but for the amazingly silky Queen Mab speech. It’s just beautiful, one of my favorite things ever written. Hypnotic and foreboding, the Queen Mab speech is delivered right before Romeo enters the Capulet’s ball, meets Juliet, and changes his life forever. Using the story about the how Fairy Queen Mab delivers dreams, Mercutio ruminates on the many faces love wears. The language, the rhythms, are deceptive, seducing  while describing’s love’s worst possible outcomes. Mercutio shows his vulnerability and hints at the bad stuff coming and now I’m planning our wedding and I’m thinking bohemian with pastel colors.
Romeo: what was that sound
Me: everyone’s panties dropping
Romeo: for that?!?
Mercutio: happens every time

church flowers

These flowers will be the perfect detail at the ceremony

I’m always bummed when Mercutio dies halfway through the play, but I hang in there while everything spools out. In the perfect execution of a bad idea, Juliet fakes her death, and that’s all it takes to fool Romeo into thinking she’s really dead. One double suicide later, it’s time to flip back to page one and start over. Just let me fix my hair and lipstick first.

Action Items
For a coma lasting longer than four hours, consult your apothecary.




The Reason Looks Are Deceiving

My life is kind of eat up with Kardashian-level glamour. It’s never my intention to brag about it, so please forgive the anecdote that follows.

I was at the pet store getting twenty pounds of cat food and three tote buckets of cat litter when the nice woman standing near me in the aisle struck up a conversation about herpes. I’m not apt to casually discuss herpes with strangers, but the cat litter containers are the refillable kind, and I was elbow deep in a big vat of cat litter scooping and filling. I was in a fixed position and since I was not the one who started the interaction it wasn’t up to me to choose the topics. Anyway, the woman (who was killing time while her husband shopped) was relaying the origin story of every cat she had adopted in the last twenty years. She seemed really excited about her feline genealogy, and it was nice to have the diversion from my task.

She got to the payoff, which was about the time she adopted TWO kittens at one time. See, she went to get the one kitten? And it was really cute? And she found out the kitten had a brother? And it turned out both kittens were hard to adopt because they were sick? Suddenly, she interrupted her narrative and fixed me with a hard stare. “Do you know what herpes is?”, she asked me. I was so taken aback I froze mid-scoop. I thought I had misheard her, so I asked her to repeat the question. She carefully enunciated each word, keeping it simple since I was obviously a little slow. “Do…you…know…what…” I affirmed I did, and satisfied, she proceeded to tell me the kittens had herpes and she adopted both of them. At this point, her husband came and collected her and off they went.

I was a little dizzy from the cat litter fumes, so it took me a few minutes to process what had happened. The follow-up questions piled up: I look like a person who doesn’t know what herpes is? Am I blithely going about my business, day after day, projecting a herpes-ignorant vibe? Is it all viruses, or just herpes? Then I got super bummed because if I had told her “No”, how would she have explained herpes to me?!? Would I have been deserving of the two-cat adoption story?  Then I did what I always do when confronted with randomly absurd situations. I blamed John Irving.


Probably not thinking about herpes.

John Irving has broken my heart, made me cringe, and played with my emotions. He has bitchslapped me up and down the page, but more than anything, he has shaped my sense of the ridiculous. The Irving universe is filled with the eccentric, the unusual, characters for whom boundaries don’t apply because they are already more evolved than the rest of us. The formidable Jenny Fields. Gentle, stubborn Homer Larch. The survivor Ruth Cole. John Irving takes these larger-than-life characters and has them speak to what it means to be human by placing them in the most absurd situations. Their reactions are little sloppy, a little violent, a little offensive, and always a little unexpected.

If you would like to witness some spirited, heated conversation, and possibly a fistfight, here is what you do. Get a half dozen people together, sit ‘em down at a table, and ask them what their favorite John Irving novel is. Safety tip: back away after you ask, because you pulled the pin on a literary grenade.  John Irving has been publishing marvelous fiction since 1968 and as is the way of passionately told stories, people connect to them passionately. There will be lots of A Prayer For Owen Meany people. Someone will talk about Hotel New Hampshire. (Keep your eye on that person.) There will be love for A Widow For One Year. No matter what book is being advocated, it’s the funny, rambunctious, surreal scenes that will be brought up and described with delight. Like how Jenny Fields gets pregnant in The World According To Garp. Or the car castration in The World According To Garp. Or Garp disguising himself to attend his mother’s funeral in The World According To Garp. Okay, a lot of weird stuff happens in Garp, but you get the idea.

I know what you’re thinking right now: “What if I don’t look like I know what herpes is?” Don’t be upset! You probably do. But just in case you needed more proof that we are all living in a John Irving novel, here you go:

I got a bottle of fruity-smelling body oil in a gift basket during the holidays. The bottle has just been migrating from surface to surface while I work up the effort to throw it away. Recently, in a frenzy of straightening, I tossed the bottle in my nightstand drawer. The drawer is full of the usual: pens, a couple of notepads, five thousand ponytail holders, and a big loose wad of cash. A couple of days later, I opened the drawer to grab a pen and instead of finding a writing instrument with which to record my brilliant thoughts, I shoved my hand into what was essentially a pile of lube-covered one dollar bills. I had managed to knock the bottle open and it had slowly poured out, saturated the cash, and coated the bottom of the drawer. I emptied an entire box baking soda into the drawer to soak up all of the oil, then washed the bills out with soap and water. I then spread the money out over every available flat space so it could dry off.

The sum John Irving total:
My bedroom looks like someone made it rain at the world’s only OCD strip club.

Action Items
My favorite John Irving book is The Cider House Rules. FIGHT ME.






The Reason To Bring A Diva

Books are radioactive. They must be, because apparently I glow in the dark when I open one. There is something about sitting down with a book that makes me visible. From space. Look! You can’t miss me. I’m the one who went off by herself into a room, closed the door, and is trying to read. At least–that’s what I thought I was trying to do. To everyone in my vicinity that knows me, a book is a Bat Signal, frantically begging for rescue from reading the book that I purposely picked up to go read. Knowing I’m likely to be interrupted will often keep me from picking up the big books, the ones that are gonna need me to pay attention. When I really need the time and space to fall into a book, I have to find the perfect place to hide in plain sight. For this, I crave the company of strangers. And for that, I need an airport.


GAH just let me finish this chapter

I really love airports. I realize I am the president, founder, and only member of that club. I know everyone else hates them, because I can hear everyone articulating all their hate while I am standing next to them at the airport. People standing in the line for security complain about the line for security. People not in first class complain about not getting their first class upgrade. People getting their luggage searched because they packed a scimitar cushioned by fireworks complain about getting their luggage searched. I don’t understand these people. I love the energy and purpose in an airport, that sense of suspended animation that comes from being in a parallel world that’s part aggressively overpriced jewelry kiosks, part cutting-edge art exhibits, and part uninhibited daydrinking. But what I love most about airporting is the sustained reading time it affords. Of course, this only works when I am traveling solo.
You: what do you want for your birthday
Me: a roundtrip ticket to Newark
You: you want to go to Newark?
Me: no! I just want to fly there
Orville Wright: those bastards took my scimitar

Packing books for travel in a car is easy. Just fill up the trunk (and camper top) with every book you own and you’re done. Flying is tricky though, because you have limited packing space converging with an ever-present threat of delays. The thought of being stuck without anything to read is enough to make me rashy. This anxiety drove me to prepare for any flight with ridiculous overpacking of reading material, hauling one or two Main Books along with three or four objectively ranked Backup Books. (Then I’d buy a paperback when I got to the airport. Just in case I didn’t look obsessed enough.) I could barely fit my nonessential items like money and underwear in my bag. Musculoskeletally speaking, I wasn’t doing myself any favors. 
Doctor: you’re developing what we call Book Hump
Me: oh no
Doctor: yeah we usually only see it in successful, pretty people
Me: thanks?
Doctor: here’s some cream for your rash

Books have personalities. Some books don’t mind if you stop and start them a million times. They are the mellow morning deejays of your reading list, happy to let you grab a few words whenever you have the opportunity. That’s not what you want at the airport. You need a book that will boss you around from the second you crack the cover, demand you bring it a latte and some coconut water, and completely take over your entertainment schedule. In short, you need a diva. I figured this out one cross-country flight when I picked up my #3 Backup Book, In Cold Blood, instead of my #2 Main Book. In Cold Blood had been sitting around my bookshelf forever, but I’d been avoiding it because it had that “required reading” aura. Once I was buckled in and had paid close attention to the safety presentation, I idly flipped it open to the first page to prove to myself it wasn’t worth starting, and that was it. I was mesmerized. I could have been sitting next to the Rockettes doing their Christmas show on that plane and I would not have known it. Next thing I knew, I was on the last page and the plane was landing.
Me: aviation is miraculous
Wright Bros: you think we invented flying so you could read
Me: yes
Wright Bros: you are bad at epiphanies

Truman Capote knew a thing or two about divas. He was already a famous writer and literary personality when he published In Cold Blood in 1966. The book’s combination of curated journalism and fiction-style prose was a sensation and it’s considered a classic today. In Cold Blood documents the murder of the Clutter family in rural Western Kansas in 1959.  It opens with the last day of the Clutters’ lives and ends with the executions of their killers. The meticulously researched motivations and machinations of everyone involved with the crime give the book the gravity of truth while Truman Capote’s shifting narrations and ruthlessly apt descriptions lift the story into something larger. It examines the capriciousness of the American dream and the banality of evil, and it won’t tolerate being in the same stack as all those cheap paperbacks you brought, because it’s a STAR. I’m still mad I can’t read it again for the first time.

When I am at the airport by myself with a diva book, I don’t care how long anything takes. Truman Capote taught me the art of the long game. I’ll get there when I get there and I’ve got good company. Hell, if the book is really good, I want to sit at the gate. It’s sick. I KNOW. But for sure, it’s not such an obsession that I carry around a plane-shaped voodoo doll that I stick pins in to cause minor mechanical delays. HAHAHA! Because that would be crazy! Even if it does buy me an extra hour of uninterrupted reading time! Of course, pulling out a plane-shaped voodoo doll can cause some misunderstandings.
Orville: that woman over there is jabbing pins in a vibrator
Wilbur: maybe she’s mad at it
Orville: I don’t even want to know what it did
Wilbur: flying to Newark just gets weirder
Orville: how long you think before i get my scimitar back

Action Items
Truman Capote has a very diva cameo in the supremely silly movie Murder By Death.
I avoided The Sun Also Rises forever, too. I was also wrong about that.