Missing Milk

20160320_172416It was sixth period AP English Language and Composition and I was sitting there, ready to analyze the work of the great philosophers. I just had to make it through this class, and then I could enjoy the short walk home and start my homework.

The bell hadn’t rung yet to start class and I had something to say, a pressing matter on my mind. So I said it to everyone in my classroom.

“I have a really intense craving for milk right now.”

Almost everyone in my class looked at me like I had dropped in from another planet, which by senior year I was used to that look. I didn’t care, I just wanted to let everyone know that before we started discussing rhetorical choices I really wanted milk, even though only 49 minutes had passed between my lunch shift and class. (I had Independent Study Art during fifth period, so maybe doing graphite drawings of figures made me thirsty for milk.)

“Oh man, that sounds so good!” a friend said.

“Nice tall glass? Ice cold?” another classmate asked.

“You know it,” I said. “Straight from the fridge.”

“I think I know what I’m having when I’m getting home,” my friend added.

I credit my parents for raising me in a household where drinking soda was something that only occurred when we were eating out, and even then they usually encouraged me and my sister to drink juice. I grew up in a household where we drank milk with every meal, even though by high school I was drinking all natural cherry vanilla soda from the natural foods store in Cedar Falls. (RIP Roots Market.) By the time I was an adult, living alone in Chicago, I was continuing to drink milk. I have vivid memories of going to the Whole Foods in Lincoln Park to get milk before the Blizzard of 2011, wading through people stocking up on salmon and wine, to try to grab fat free milk before settling on 2 percent milk. (From that point on I had nothing but 2 percent milk.)

I went off to college and made sure I always bought a gallon of milk at Kroger, a little note on the label to remind me nothing pairs with milk quite like a package of Chipmates, the store-brand chocolate chip cookies it sold. While I lived on campus at Michigan State, I was usually running around, chugging a bottle of milk and eating something from the East Lansing Food Co-Op or Sparty’s, the convenience stores on campus. If I was sitting down an eating dinner in a dining hall, my dinner was always accompanied by a book, a cup of Lemon Lift tea, and a glass of milk.

Towards the end of senior year, I started to notice how uncomfortable I felt after I consumed dairy, particularly large amounts of dairy. I shrugged it off and just figured it was the result of stress, but after I moved to Wisconsin, I continued to feel discomfort after consuming dairy. I had an office job shortly after graduation, an apartment in a desirable neighborhood. Things were going pretty great for me, but I still felt miserable. I did the only reasonable thing I could think of, which was go on a vegan diet.

This lasted for about six months, with me realizing I should eat whatever I want as long as I don’t feel miserable or get sick. Maybe it was me accepting my love of quiche or the terrible service I had at an upscale vegan restaurant in New York, but I decided to just go back to eating meat and eggs to my heart’s delight.

Just no dairy.

I figured I had a dairy allergy and avoided it, but found myself caving in when cheese was put in front of me. I then noticed how I reacted and thought, “This doesn’t seem like an allergic reaction.”

I went to my doctor one day in January and talked with him about my reactions to dairy. He nodded and told me I probably was lactose intolerant and told me it was perfectly normal, just try to consume less than 10g of lactose in a week.

By that point, I acknowledged my problems with dairy in my writing, saying this in a review of a coffee shop when discussing me drinking a cortado:

Against our better judgment and the knowledge we would spend the bus ride home curled up in a ball feeling like someone punched us in the stomach, our next drink was a cortado with whole milk ($3).

I would make off-handed comments to people, but would occasionally cave for pizza or cheese. (I love cheese.) I found myself, usually during dinner, missing milk. Sure, I tend to drink tea, wine, beer or water during a meal, but I missed the creaminess of milk going down my throat. There was also the great benefit of milk helping calm my acid reflux disease and even soy, almond and coconut milk can’t help with that. I still decided to go about my life trying to do things like enjoy cookies and milk by having cookies with coconut milk. (It doesn’t cut it.)

During the WMSE Rockabilly Chili fundraiser, a friend turned to me and told me he was getting some milk from the milk bar to calm his tongue. He offered to grab some for me, but I declined, reminding him I’m lactose intolerant. He came back with two cups of milk and I decided to drink it instead of tell him, “I told you, I’m lactose intolerant. I’m going to spend the rest of the day bloated and having cramps.” I took a sip of milk and it felt like my eyes brightened.

It wasn’t because the heat on my tongue was finally going away, but because that creamy smooth milk was hitting my tongue for the first time in more than a year. There it was, the drink that accompanied a majority of my meals as a kid and young adult, comforting me after consuming gratuitous amounts of chili.

But as expected, I felt miserable for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening, deciding to curl up on the couch with my cat, some tea with ginger in it and a book. I didn’t think much about drinking milk until I was at Trader Joe’s to buy groceries. I walked through the store as I usually did, going through the produce section, up the aisle of bread, down the aisle of canned goods and pasta where I always grab a can of dolmas before putting them back on the shelf; walk up the frozen food aisle, look at the cheese section and then go down the aisle with the dried fruit.

(I’m a creature of habit.)

While in the aisle with the nuts and dried fruit, I saw a woman walk past me with a carton of Lactaid in her basket. I suddenly felt the lightbulb go off in my head and the voice of reason say, “You know, Monica, lactose-free milk is an option.”

“I know, Monica.”

“Go grab a carton and see how you feel.”

“Sounds good, Monica.”

I walked back to the dairy section, eyed the cartons carefully before grabbing one and dropping it into my basket. I got home, sat down at my table after unloading the groceries and opened the carton, pouring a glass of milk. I lifted the cup and sipped, a smile appearing on my face. I continued drinking the milk, fixing my dinner before heading to a rehearsal. I went about my evening, feeling perfectly normal, save for the overwhelming anxiety I was feeling regarding having to stand on a stage in front of dozens of people.

I was elated over being able to drink milk again and started frantically texting every person I could think of. I could drink milk, the thing I would heat up to help me calm down at night, once again.

The next day, as I was out running errands, I found myself having a craving for milk, not unlike the one I had before the start of AP English Language and Composition. But this time I smiled and thought, “You can have a glass when you get home.”

 

 

Hey, Where Are You Writing?

After going five months without writing anything for a publication–although I did write blog posts, an intentionally bad play with a NSFW title and a frantic emotional tweet after seeing “Fun Home”–I am writing again as a freelance journalist.

I have an essay in the December issue of Riverwest Currents about receiving a copy of the New York Times at the age of 12, further cementing the fact I was a weird kid. If you live in Milwaukee, I recommend picking up a copy of the issue. If you do not live in Milwaukee, you can read the issue online and there’s a lot of fantastic writing in there. (Huge thanks to Vince Bushell, the paper’s publisher, for asking me to write about a Christmas gift.)

I promise I’m writing about other things, which I will try to post about more regularly.

 

I Love to Travel, Don’t You?

One of the fun things that comes with having a full-time job is time off. Instead of staying at home, reading, curling up with my cat and crying while listening to indie folk records, I decided to actually travel.

I finally had the means to do so and after years of being the person who went home for break in college or stayed home in junior high and high school–which really isn’t fair because my family did visit Chicago and New York when I was in ninth and tenth grade, respectively. (Also, I went to New York with my family instead of going on the orchestra’s cruise. More on my feelings on cruises later.) Compared to a lot of people, it felt like I did significantly less traveling.

I decided to use my first grouping of vacation days to just pick somewhere and visit. I decided on a place that struck a lot of people as odd: St. Louis.

Hear me out on St. Louis, because I did live there: It has a lot of gorgeous historical buildings, features a brewery tour, has the freaking Gateway Arch and has what I’ve heard is a world class zoo that has free admission. I was also going to visit in June, which would also mean The Muny would begin its season. Plus, traveling to St. Louis would be relatively inexpensive between Amtrak fares and hotel rates.

I requested a tourism guide and began marking all of the places I wanted to visit. The City Museum, the Budweiser brewery, a farmer’s market, the St. Louis Zoo, a museum of religious iconography. I was becoming incredibly excited as I kept hearing from people, “St. Louis? Why? Do you know anyone there? What’s there to do in St. Louis?” as well as various racist and off-color comments about Ferguson.

Then, while I was still hard at work on a Friday, I found out Amtrak cancelled my train, so I had the option of taking a train to Urbana, Illinois and then taking a bus to St. Louis. I would arrive much later than I initially would and having taken Amtrak loads of times, I know the arrival time posted is when you should arrive, but rarely is when you do. I made the decision to call off the trip and find somewhere else to go.

I made this decision two weeks before I was supposed to travel.

After searching every travel website I could, I decided on New York City because plane fares to New York from Milwaukee are at least less than I would have expected. I booked my plane, found a hotel in the Flatiron District, bought a ticket for “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” and then embarked on a whirlwind adventure to New York.

This was of course met with some questions from people. “New York City? By yourself? Aren’t you scared?” “Do you know people there?” “Isn’t that expensive?” The answers to these questions were yes, yes, no, yes, and depends on what you do.

I loved being in New York and after years of hating flying, I felt relaxed while thousands of feet in the air. The only problem with being in New York for about 36 hours is you can pack a lot in during that time, but leave not feeling fulfilled. Still, I felt happy to get away and just explore somewhere.

I returned to New York City in September and decided to do my previous idea of just doing as few things set in stone and the rest I was going to just do by wandering around. Again, I was asked the same questions and managed to do New York City fairly cheaply, even if I was prone to popping into Pret a Manger to grab a fruit cup to keep me going through the day. I found a bagel shop in Brooklyn with cheap bagels not far from where I was staying, wandered into as many parks as I could manage and still squeezed in meeting with friends.

This brings in the part about the joy of traveling alone: I can do whatever I want. If I want to wander into a shop in Greenwich Village, I can do just that. There’s no itinerary, no limits, other than my bank account. I can spend as much time in a place as I want. If I feel like getting off a subway station and walking around Williamsburg, I just have to follow my feet.

Traveling, especially alone, is liberating in its own ways. Sure, I was frequently texting my parents and even called my dad a couple of times while on vacation, but that’s different from being with a group or with another person. Want to take the subway back to where you’re staying instead of paying for a cab fare? Go right ahead. (Also, take the express bus from Harlem instead of cabbing it to LaGuardia. You’ll thank me later.)

I’ve been revisiting my thoughts on traveling alone as I’m planning a road trip. I keep thinking I may want someone with me as I’m driving all the way to Michigan. But ultimately I’m going there for hockey and to catch up with friends from college. I don’t want to make someone feel like a third wheel or be dragged to a hockey game. I also realized driving alone means I can sing showtunes at the top of my lungs and not be asked, “We’re going to listen to “Hamilton” again?”

Besides, I have made the drive from Michigan to Milwaukee possibly a dozen times and have the routine down pat. Make sure you start off with “Dennehy” by Serengeti because you can’t be sad while listening to that song. Stop at the Portage McDonald’s, because it’s a really nice McDonald’s. If you have the extra money and want to save time, feel free to take the Chicago Skyway.

And above all, enjoy the trip.

Milwaukee Film Festival: “Iris” and “30 Seconds Away: Breaking the Cycle”

Iris

Iris Apfel became a fashion icon basically by doing her own thing and not caring what other people wanted. As she states in Albert Maysles’ documentary, “It’s better to be happy than well-dressed.” With her legendary over-sized glasses, chunky necklaces and bracelets and unique pieces of clothing, Apfel has become an artist in her own right.

Maysles’ has a unique knack for portraits of interesting individuals–If you haven’t seen Grey Gardens, which he directed with his brother, you should–as this film shows Apfel interacting with her husband and members of the fashion industry in New York.

The documentary manages to be breezy while giving us a good idea of who Apfel is and her rise to being someone beloved enough to receive a tribute in the form of windows at Bergdorf Goodman. (Really, that’s when you’ve made it.) The documentary doesn’t have any real heft to it compared to other films at the Milwaukee Film Festival about individuals who did their own thing, but this doesn’t require that. It suffers from the lack of a structure or a sense as to the timeline of when events occur for Apfel–even if you read a lot of fashion coverage you may feel lost as we bounce around from one thing to the other–but it manages to be a good portrait of someone who truly is 93 years young.

4 out of 5 stars

30 Seconds Away: Breaking the Cycle

Milwaukee, like many major cities, has a sizable homeless population, many of whom face problems including mental illness and drug addiction. Former federal agent Faith Kohler makes her directing debut with this documentary, filmed over the course of five years.

In an attempt to make a documentary looking at this issue from multiple perspectives–those on the streets, the Milwaukee Police Department, and Milwaukee County judges–Kohler ends up making a film that is scattered-brained. What could have been a good focus point, the attempts of Harold Sloan to stay sober, have a place to live and a steady job, is diluted with other examinations of homeless individuals in Milwaukee whose stories are discussed, but then dropped until the text epilogue. Sloan is someone audiences can empathize with as we see his efforts to improve his life and stay off the streets and as we see him in court, Kohler could have easily woven in the other aspect of the story from the criminal justice system and the struggle to balance trying to enforce laws while trying to truly help the homeless in the city.

Instead we are given a film that goes on for too long and features poor production, such as jerky camera work and muddled audio, making it often difficult to understand what interview subjects are saying. What could have been a moving examination of something Milwaukeeans possibly don’t think much about ends up being a frustrating film, making you wish a better movie had been made about this important issue.

1.5 out of 5 stars

Thoughts on “Fun Home”

“Fun Home,” Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir about her relationship with her closeted father and her coming to terms with her sexuality, was a book I found heartbreaking and brilliant when I read it as a freshman at DePaul University. Bechdel, whose work I was familiar with having read “Dykes to Watch Out For” in the gay newspaper in Iowa, managed to use a medium usually viewed as trivial and tell a very cerebral story without coming off as pretentious. Naturally I was curious to see how the musical adaptation turned out simply because it seemed like the least likely source material for a musical, but there’s currently a hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton, so 2015 is the year of Daring Concepts on Broadway Actually Being Successful at the Box Office. (“Fun Home,” although not grossing nearly as much as “Hamilton,” is consistently selling out.)

The musical “Fun Home,” written by Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron, manages to be an incredibly smart show without taking line-for-line what Bechdel wrote in her memoir. Discussions are had about “Collette,” kids sing lyrics about aneurysm hooks and the lyrics have motifs that work well to convey the pain of the Bechdel women living in the stifling facade of Bruce (Michael Cerveris). In one scene where Bruce seduces Roy (Joel Perez), the handyman, Helen (Judy Kuhn) sings “Maybe not right now. Maybe not right now” while in another room, aware of what is happening. A few scenes later, those lyrics and music pops up when Small Alison (Gabriella Pizzolo at the performance I attended) wants to wear sneakers and a shirt instead of a party dress, but is told no by her father before he tells her she can dress how she wants if she’s okay with everyone judging her. Somehow the show manages to still feel accessible even when book titles and discussions are being tossed around.

Kron and Tesori manage to avoid having any numbers that feel unnecessary. Out of context, “Come to the Fun Home” and “Raincoat of Love” could give an impression of being numbers where the show grinds to a halt, but both of them serve important narrative functions. “Come to the Fun Home” shows how the Bechdel children tried to have a normal childhood while also helping in the family funeral home, which then leads in very well to Small Alison being shown a dead body by her father. “Raincoat of Love” is a fantasy sequence where Small Alison imagines her family happy and Partridge Family-esque, not torn apart by her father’s secrets.

The production also manages to succeed because it’s staged in the round–I don’t know how this show can be taken on tour–and since it’s a memory musical, we see Alison (Beth Malone) interloping in her memories, cringing at the awkwardness of her as a first-year student at Oberlin College. It also makes it incredibly easy to watch everything happening on stage. There are also brilliant flourishes such as the items in the Bechdel family house disappearing through the trap doors, leaving large holes in the stage as Bruce sings right before committing suicide.

The only potential problem I could see people having with the show is Bruce is viewed as being gay by Alison, but Helen simply explains he’s had affairs with other men. In Bechdel’s novel, she writes the reason she refers to her father as gay instead of bisexual is possibly because it then gives them a connection. I didn’t have an issue with it since sexuality is complicated and I feel like the show dealt more with the very complex relationship Alison had with her father.

Sam Gold has done a fantastic job directing a terrific cast, with standout performances from Cerveris, Malone and Kuhn. (I was silently sobbing during “Days and Days,” Helen’s big number. The 2014-15 season on Broadway was a good season for supporting actors giving fantastic performances.) I have been incredibly lucky to see three productions this season where it felt like every element of the production was perfect. It really feels like a bold new musical and theater is better with it in existence.

I Can’t Believe I Just Watched This!: “Mystic Pizza”

Thanks to Meghan-Annette for suggesting this film for “I Can’t Believe I Just Watched This!”

I have a confession to make: I’ve never watched “Mystic Pizza” before now. It’s one of those girl things I hadn’t partaken in like manicures with your BFF or synchronized periods. My main point of reference for this movie was an episode of “30 Rock” where Jenna Maroney is in “Mystic Pizza: The Musical.” I knew Julia Roberts was in it and there was some pizza involved, but that was about it. To be honest, for the longest time I thought it was a movie about an interstellar pizzeria, which would be a pretty great movie.

“Mystic Pizza” is about three friends–Kat Arujo (Annabeth Gish), Daisy Arujo (Julia Roberts) and Jojo Barbosa (Lili Taylor)–who work at Mystic Pizza in the small town of Mystic, Connecticut. The film follows the three of them as they navigate romance and balance it with tensions arising between them, their lovers, family and friends. Kat babysits for Tim (William R. Moses), a married older man she finds herself falling for before heading off to Yale to become an astronomer. Daisy meets Charles Gordon Windsor, Jr. at a bar and they hit it off instantly, but the class difference could pose a problem. Meanwhile, Jojo has been dating Bill (Vincent D’Onofrio? Vincent D’Onofrio.) for a while and wants to have sex with him, but Bill wants to get married before they have sex.

It’s clear to me having watched this movie why it’s kind of a beloved film from the ’80s. It’s a nice cozy film about three young women on the verge of really starting their lives, fighting over relationships and being there to console each other when things go wrong and they feel betrayed. It’s the type of movie focusing on things many women have been through and seems like the type of movie many women would watch as a double feature with “Dirty Dancing”*.

The thing about “Mystic Pizza” is it’s a nice movie that feels like comfort food, but there’s nothing stunning or horrible about the film. The only thing I can fault the film for is that I only really care for Daisy, because Kat’s affair with Tim is doomed from the start and Jojo has serious boundary issues. Yes, it is kind of dickish that Bill renamed the fishing boat he works on the Nympho after you, but you are sex crazed and really need a good lesson on consent because Bill really doesn’t want to have sex, so stop it. Everything in the scene where Bill is telling Jojo he doesn’t want to have sex, but she has his pants pulled down around his ankles is so horribly gross and it’s deeply unfortunate the scene is played for laughs, but unfortunately this is the least harmful sexual assault to occur in any film for “I Can’t Believe I Just Watched This!”

The film features a terrific, nuanced performance from Julia Roberts that feels like a star-in-the-making performance, as well as a restrained performance from Vincent D’Onofrio. The movie also tackles class issues, which largely works well except in a scene where the audience is clobbered by the concept when Daisy has dinner with Charles’ family. The movie excels for being a movie about characters and exploring their problems instead of making it a problem about concepts, which some filmmakers and writers could do since it’s largely about working-class Portuguese-Americans.

Although “Mystic Pizza” isn’t a movie I would normally watch, it’s a movie that is well-made and one I can see many people being able to watch over and over. In the realm of “I Can’t Believe I Just Watched This!” it’s certainly the best film I’ve watched so far, it’s just not a film I can enthusiastically recommend. But it would at least be a good movie to curl up on the couch with a friend and watch.

*I don’t know why people treat “Dirty Dancing” as a feel-good movie. It’s kind of sad and a huge plot point is someone needing an abortion. But Jerry Orbach is there and I remember that being a big draw for me when I was a kid.

I Can’t Believe I Just Watched This!: “Myra Breckinridge”

I remember reading “Myra Breckinridge” about five years ago after perusing the selection of Gore Vidal novels at the Harold Washington Library Center in Chicago. I found the novel to be delightfully wicked in a way only Vidal could do and, in the context of when he wrote it, a fascinating critique on masculinity, femininity and what was considered “deviant behavior.” (I regret what I’ve read of Vidal’s work is rather small and I need to rectify that problem.)

I later learned there had been a film adaptation done and since the novel seemed impossible to film and also has a premise that only seems eclipsed in absurdity by a Chuck Palahniuk novel, it felt like it deserved a place in “I Can’t Believe I Just Watched This!”

At the start of the movie we meet a young man who is about to undergo sex reassignment surgery. The young man is named Myron Breckinridge (Rex Reed) and we jump forward to California where Myra Breckinridge (Raquel Welch) has come to take a job at an acting academy owned by Myron’s Uncle Buck (John Huston). Myra, as it turns out, used to be Myron and is hell-bent on destroying the very idea of masculinity and ensuring female dominance. She befriends student Mary Ann Pringle (Farrah Fawcett) and sets out to destroy the hyper-masculine student, Rusty Godowski (Roger Herren). Meanwhile, there is an agent and recording artist named Leticia Van Allen (Mae West), whom Myra tries to get to represent Rusty.

The biggest problem with transferring “Myra Breckinridge” from a novel to a film is it loses all of the nuance of Vidal’s novel. What works as a very effective satire of gender and sexual norms at the time comes across as an exploitative film with an edge of transphobia due to Myra being a crazed misandrist who uses sexual violence to emasculate a man. Although this isn’t too far from the premise of the novel, a lot of the message of the book ends up being muddled because of how this film is made. However, Vidal’s intended irony of the incredibly gorgeous feminine woman being transgender would potentially come off as transphobic no matter how you would make the film today.

It’s worth noting at the time he wrote the novel and this movie was made transgender women were likely viewed as horribly cartoonish women who had masculine features and feminine features. There weren’t prominent transgender women like Laura Jane Grace, Candis Cayne and Laverne Cox to shatter the preconceived notions of what transgender women are. Still, a lot of the things Vidal does in the book could in a critique today be viewed as poor satire, but in the context of the target of his satire the novel arguably works. (It’s worth noting the novel was published pre-Stonewall and although LGBT people existed prior to Stonewall, that was the spark that ignited the LGBT rights movement and after that awareness of LGBT people arose.)

If you push aside how Vidal’s razor-sharp writing is not well transferred to the film and came to this with no knowledge of the book, it would still be a terrible film because it feels like three different films were being made at once. The Van Allen subplot, which works out well in the novel, feels tacked on and West does not feel like she’s in the same movie as the rest of the actors. You could honestly cut out the character of Leticia Van Allen and maybe have a better film. But it wouldn’t be that much better largely because of director Michael Sarne constantly using archival clips from old films throughout the movie. Although this sometimes works for a comedic effect, it mostly serves as a distraction from what is going on during the course of the movie. Did we really need a clip of George Sanders applauding in “All About Eve” while Myra is raping someone using a strap-on dildo? No.

There’s also muddled scenes like one where Myra gives Myron a blowjob, which is either the world’s weirdest fantasy, or just a scene that seemed like a good idea to Sarne at the time–he wrote the screenplay–and doesn’t work well on the screen. The ending also lacks the impact of Vidal’s novel, but really anything in the movie lacks the impact of Vidal’s novel.

What is possibly the weirdest cast assembled in Hollywood history gives the most inconsistent overall performance. Fawcett and Reed give very lovely and natural feeling performances, while Herren and Huston feel performances where it feels like Sarne yelled, “ACT MASCULINE” and then pointed a camera at them. Welch gives what is a delightfully campy performance, but it would only work if everyone around her were being equally campy. Meanwhile, I have no idea what is going on with Mae West’s performance.

Finally, I would really like to watch a movie for “I Can’t Believe I Just Watched This!” where there is no sexual assault. All three films in this series have featured sexual assault or attempted sexual assault and I’m a little tired of seeing it in these movies. If it pops up in whatever the next movie is, I might just skip watching it.

Verdict: Skip the movie, read the book, unless you enjoy watching confusing trainwrecks.