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.”

 

 

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

Descendants-Poster I don’t own a TV and it’s not something I go around bragging about as if I’m the coolest person you know. I could probably fit a TV somewhere in my apartment if I got rid of a bookcase (unlikely) or my desk, but until then, there’s simply not any space. As a result, I don’t have cable and all TV I consume is watched on my laptop.

This means I missed the most recent Disney Channel Original Movie phenomenon, “Descendants,” until I was in the checkout line at the grocery store. No, not one of the food co-ops I buy groceries from, an honest-to-God supermarket. (I have a craving for Bigelow Lemon Lift tea rooted in memories of sitting in the dining halls of MSU with food and a book.) Among the magazines was a tie-in magazine for “Descendants” with an image of the four main characters on the front. Confused and intrigued, I picked it up and flipped through before my purchase was ready. I looked it up when I got home and discovered it was a Disney Channel Original Movie and my interest has been piqued ever since, only growing since I saw a copy of the DVD at Target and noticed Maleficent on the back and learned from the blurb there’s a lot of retconning that goes on in this movie.

The movie is set shortly after the marriage of Belle (Keegan Connor Tracy) and Beast (Dan Payne) in the United States of Auradon, a land created from the unification of all the kingdoms in Disney films. Beast is elected king of Auradon and he banishes all of the villains and their henchmen to the Isle of the Lost. Flash forward 16 years and Beast and Belle’s son, Ben (Mitchell Hope), is preparing for his coronation as king because apparently this is an elected monarchy where the descendant of the king becomes the next king, sans an election. Ben decides his first act as king will to invite four children from the Isle of the Lost to attend school in Auradon and he selects Mal (Dove Cameron), Evie (Sofia Carson), Carlos (Cameron Boyce) and Jay (Booboo Stewart), who are the children of Maleficent (Kristin Chenoweth), the Evil Queen (Kathy Najimy? Kathy Najimy.), Cruella de Vil (Wendy Raquel Robinson), and Jafar (Maz Jobrani? Maz Jobrani.), respectfully.

The children are tasked by Maleficent with getting the wand of the Fairy Godmother (Melanie Paxson), which will allow the villains to break free and get their revenge. While at Auradon, the four, erm, descendants work on trying to make the plan work while connecting with the children of the good guys and struggling with if they’re really evil as a result of who their parents are.

Oh, and it’s a musical.

The biggest issue with the movie is the logic right at the start. Beast is elected king of Auradon, not president. And on top of that, his son automatically becomes king? There’s no chance Prince Charming could be king? Or Li Shang? If we’re going to be honest, Shang and Mulan would be the perfect leaders. They have military experience and proven leadership. But then there’s the Isle of the Lost itself, where we have reason to believe the villains have found other villains to procreate with, even though the only villains we meet are the four mentioned earlier. Where’s Governor Ratcliffe, human Ursula, Gaston and Lady Tremaine? Did Frollo get banished to the Isle of the Lost or did he get to help out with state-sponsored discrimination against a group of people? Also, how are the Evil Queen and Maleficent alive? Why is Jafar running a junk shop and why is he the only person who has a new thing since being banished to the island? The movie just tells us these things are the case at the beginning of the film, assuming we’ll just accept the reality presented, but no, I’m sorry, I was raised on Disney movies and I know how these villains go.

The other big issue with the film, although it could be argued it makes the movie stronger, is how every child of a “good guy” is significantly less interesting than the main quartet, right down to the costumes, designed by Kara Saun. But on the other hand, the film presents us with four characters you can root for, particularly Mal as she struggles between pleasing her mother and doing what she really wants. Sometimes the movie tells us things in the most rushed way, like in order to prove to us Evie is smart she has her magic mirror stolen and she manages to still get a good grade. But the four of them are believable as being good people, with great moments like a recurring gag about Jay and Carlos loving chocolate.

The film also does something unthinkable even in 2015 and actually casts actors who are good for the roles, regardless of their race. This means having Robinson, who is black, play a character usually depicted as white and having a son who appears white. Similarly, Sleeping Beauty’s mother is also played by an black actress and her granddaughter also appears to be white. You can suspend all disbelief here because the actors are perfect in those roles, particularly Robinson, and the characters they play are all that matters, not the race of the actors, which is how it should be. Even if some of the characters come off as bland because of how they’re written–looking at you Ben–the casting for this film is pitch perfect, particularly the four leads and their parents.

I have unfortunately glossed over the fact the film is a musical, which is actually the only other demerit. The opening number, “Rotten to the Core,” is a catchy EDM-influenced number–Carson recorded a fantastic version of the song I recommend checking out–but at no point during the song did I truly believe the actors were singing the song. The rest of the original numbers are bland, but the worst I can say is they feel like a time suck and without the songs I feel like the movie would not be nearly two hours long. If you do watch the movie, I recommend skipping the bizarre pseudo-hip-hop cover of “Be Our Guest” the students of Auradon perform because it is flat out awful and feels like an arbitrary number dropped in the film to remind us all of how the movie follows the children of our favorite Disney characters.

The film does have the trappings we now cynically expect from a Disney Channel Original Movie, but thanks to some fantastic casting and protagonists I can actually care about it manages to be a fun movie to watch, even if you just put it on in the background. It’s a shame they really didn’t think through the logic of how Auradon works.

 

 

 

Slow Down…

A note was published on Gapers Block yesterday announcing the site will go on an “indefinite hiatus” on January 1, 2016. If you followed the site at all, it’s worth reading the entire thing.

Gapers Block was my journalistic home for three years and as a result of the time spent there I grew as a writer, editor and person. I started as a writer for Mechanics, the politics section, which always kind of surprised me because I viewed myself as being completely unqualified as I had been a theater blogger and the most notable thing in my background was I dropped out of The Theatre School at DePaul University. From 2013 through 2015 I was the editor of Mechanics, which was a fun adventure and I’m eternally grateful to Andrew Huff, the editor and publisher, and Ramsin Canon, who proceeded me as the editor of Mechanics, for giving me the opportunity to contribute to the site.

As a send off, I thought I would round up my favorite pieces I wrote or edited because Gapers Block was such a unique part of Chicago media some of these pieces feel like they only could have been published there.

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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: “Call Me Lucky” and “Nina Forever”

Call Me Lucky

Barry Crimmins made a name for himself as a humorist in Boston in the 1980s, influencing many young humorists, including Bobcat Goldthwait, the director of this film. Crimmins revealed he had been a victim of sexual abuse as a child and went on to take on AOL’s role in the distribution of child pornography in the 1990s.

Even though Crimmins left a mark on comedy with his incisive take on the United States government, he still manages to be a somewhat obscure figure, possibly because he’s largely been inactive for several years as he’s been living in a cabin in rural New York. But Goldthwait’s film gives you a reason to care about him even though he’s possibly the prickliest of subjects for a rather uplifting and moving documentary. One of the things the film excels at is showing how Crimmins could be an incredibly caring person while also showing his tendency to some times lash out at his audience members or other comedians. Even though it is made by a friend of the subject, it manages to be very even-handed and fair in the best way possible.

Although a dark film because of what the subject endured, Call Me Lucky manages to be an uplifting and hopeful film. This should come as no surprise for those who have seen Goldthwait’s other films that, although fictional, manage to find the right balance between hope and darkness. It is hopeful that although this film features a formerly volatile subject it brings hope to those who see it and an added familiarity to the subject.

5 out of 5 stars

Nina Forever

Rob (Cian Barry) is starting to move on from the death of his girlfriend, Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy), and decides to hook up with his co-worker from the grocery store, Holly (Abigail Hardingham). Unfortunately, Nina has developed a habit of coming back to life in the middle of Rob and Holly’s sex, violently appearing as a bloody figure through the sheets and bed. To complicate this, Nina usually makes some quip after interrupting the sex.

Nina Forever should work and be a great film, in theory. But it struggles to find the right tone as there is something inherently bizarre and humorous about a wise-cracking girlfriend emerging from a bed mid-coitus with glass shards sticking out of her face, which contradicts the rather thoughtful examination of love, loss and being in a relationship aware of the history a significant other has. The tones are at odds with each other, which is unfortunate because had the film picked one tone and ran with it, it could have been a fantastic film.

This does not detract from the fantastic visuals and imagery in the movie, including make-up causing Holly to appear to have sunken in eyes and the repeated motif of Nina’s parents drinking red wine. The three lead actors give fantastic performances, particularly Barry who is torn between wanting to be with Holly and having to put up with Nina occasionally popping up in the middle of sex.

3 out of 5 stars

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