Liz n’ Dick: Romance of the Century?

30 06 2010

I was at National Airport a couple weeks ago perusing the magazine stand for something to read on my flight to New Orleans when I spotted the new issue of Vanity Fair.   There was a picture of a young Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor on the cover with the headline, “Romance of the Century.”  The sub-head promised to reveal never-before-seen love letters from Dick to Elizabeth over the course of their two marriages and divorces, and, since I wouldn’t really know what it’s like to receive a love letter, my curiosity got the best of me.

So I read the entire cover story, and sure, it was titillating.  Richard was very intelligent, passionate and well-versed in Shakespeare, so his love letters were quite well-written and intense.  And I guess some of them could by considered romantic– if by romantic you mean scary and aggressive.

So here’s the love story in a nutshell:  Liz meets Dick on the set of Cleopatra.  She’s married, but he’s charismatic, so he shamelessly hits on her until their movie love scenes begin to bleed into real life.  She leaves her husband after cheating on him and has this passionate love affair with Dick.  They’re rich actors, so he buys her diamonds and takes her on lots of vacations and they drink too much when they together.  Trust issues develop.  She hates his excessive drinking, he’s afraid that she’ll have affairs on the sets of every movie she’s in because, well, that’s how their relationship started.  He writes her a creepy, threatening letter while she’s on the set of her new movie in which he calls her “Twit Twaddle” and “Twitch”:

Dear Twit Twaddle etc.,

I have the shakes so badly that it would be fatal for me to come out to the studio. There is no power failure here so I am warm but still shaking. So come here tonight. I’m afraid that I had one drink but will drink no more until you come home. Try and make it early as we can then see the Cassius Clay fight together.… Also I love you and long to see you but I don’t want to shame you. I may even do—with trembling hands—some work. How about that? I love you and miss you and I think you to be the most desirable woman in the world and remember, NO KISSING WITH OPEN MOUTHS or breathless excitement and all that stuff. Otherwise, I will be down at the studio and certain girls will have a very rough time with certain husbands. I love you my little Twitch. —Husbs.

“I may even do some work with trembling hands– how bout that?”  Or how bout you not drink yourself into a coma at work at then write to me about it, you dysfunctional scrub?

So Liz gets fed up with his shaking hands and obsessive letters.  They get divorced.  He threatens to kill himself, writing her more disturbing letters that say things like, “I worship you.  There is no life without you, I’m afraid.”

A couple years pass, she can’t find anyone else who is willing to call her “Twit Twaddle” and buy her 20-carat diamonds and write her threatening, obsessive love letters, so they get back together.  His drinking continues.  They have loud, violent fights.  They get divorced again, both of them remarry other people, and right before he dies of alcoholism, he sends her one final love letter that basically says, “It was you all along” (my paraphrase) to prevent her from ever fully moving on.

Now, is it just me, or is that definitely NOT the romance of the century?  I mean, VF presents this story like it’s supposed to be the divine model for mortal relationships.  Elizabeth Taylor, who’s really hot, we get it!, has this passionate, obsessive affair with an alcoholic coworker who writes her letters about how hot she is and then croaks, and we’re all supposed to swoon?

I’m sorry, that romance sounds pretty shitty to me.  I don’t need my boyfriend to buy me the Hope diamond and then tell me he will beat up my male coworkers with his shaky hands.  Love letters are great, but it’s really easy for them to border on creepy.  One time I got the following Dick Burton-esque love text from a dude I had met the day before (after I ignored several of his previous texts): “Why are you playing distant goddess to my humble mortal?”

Yes, he seriously wrote that.  But was I swept off my feet?  No.  I threw up in my mouth. Because he clearly had some severe mental problems.

No offense to Vanity Fair, but it’s definitely a sign of the times that they picked this particular relationship as the “romance of the century.”  Couldn’t they have picked a couple that’s still together, maybe a couple that stood by each other through hard times and addictions and grave illnesses and severe weight gain?

John Travolta and Kelly Preston come to mind.  He may or may not be gay, but at least they know what commitment means.





Diary of an Overachiever

23 06 2010

The problem with being an overachiever right out of the womb is that, for the next 18 or so years, success is relatively easy to achieve.  My second grade essay on the big bang theory won a prize.  I crushed the competition at state spelling bees and piano rallies.  When my 4th grade teacher asked us to pick an animal and build a model of that animal using any material we wanted, my classmates started making insects out of toothpicks and cotton balls while I made a gigantic life-sized whale out of iridescent satin and stuffing that took up half the room.

It only got worse from there.  In 7th grade, I was elected student council vice president because people were amused by my elaborate campaign posters, on which I pasted pictures of my face on the body of a basset hound with the slogan, “Laura Bassett is Top Dawg!”  I tried out for every sport in eighth grade and made all the teams because I was tall.  I founded the Pep Club in high school, attended Help-the-Homeless workshops in New York City, sang in the school choir, played on a traveling volleyball team, protested every A- I received until the teacher agreed that it should actually be an A, and applied early senior year to the one and only university I planned to attend.  There were no backups, no plan Bs.  And I got in.

I feel like I almost set myself up to feel like a failure in the real world.  You can’t study to make yourself experienced at your job.  There are no grades to evaluate your performance, no gold stars when you do something good.  If you’re the new kid in your office, you have to earn your respect by showing up every day and trudging through the work and helping your coworkers out, which may take a really long time.

It’s much easier to make an ass out of yourself when you’re new than it is to impress people, because nobody wants to be impressed by the new kid.  And if you’re used to being able to succeed by reading from a textbook and doing practice problems, it’s really difficult to cope with the days when you just suck at your job, and there’s no book to tell you how to do it better.

I remember working at a Congressman’s office as a Staff Assistant in 2006, one of my first jobs out of college.  The job was so simple and unchallenging: make the Congressman’s coffee in the morning.  He likes the hazelnut cream packet and two Sweet-n-Lo’s.  Arrange these five newspapers on his desk before he gets into the office.  Answer the phone, be nice to his obnoxious constituents even when you don’t feel like it, sort his mail and his faxes and distribute them to the appropriate staffers.

The job was so simple that I was bored out of my mind.  I wanted to rip my hair out every day, having just come from writing 20-page papers on narrative voice in Milton’s “Paradise Lost” to making coffee and sorting mail every day.  To make matters worse, his Republican staffers smelled my liberal-ness from day one and were determined to dislike me off the bat.

One day, to my horror, I forgot to turn the coffee pot off before we left the office.  It was on all night, and by the time we got to work in the morning, the burnt coffee had cemented at the bottom of the pot to the point where you couldn’t scrape it off with steel wool.  There was no coffee in the office that day, the whole place smelled like dead bodies, and I had to go buy everyone coffee from the local coffee shop.  I had failed at my one simple job, everybody in the office let it be known that they thought  I was a useless idiot, and there was no paper I could write or test I could take to convince them otherwise.

There’s nothing worse than being an overachiever your whole life and then being helpless in an office full of people who think you’re an idiot.  Even in my current job, which should be more tailored to my strengths than any I’ve had before, there’s no getting around the fact that I’m an inexperienced reporter with relatively little political knowledge working in an office full of experienced political reporters.

I make an ass out of myself every day.  When I try to pitch a story idea on a conference call, I hear ten seconds of silence followed by my someone completely changing the subject.  Yesterday, one reporter had to explain to me in simple terms what was happening with the one piece of legislation I was supposed to be following.  “No, Laura, it already passed in the House.  Now the House and Senate are working on a compromise.  You want me to just write this one for you?”

While the other reporters are churning out five articles a day, I publish maybe three a week. There are days when I sit at my desk fighting back tears because I feel so stupid, and I have a Master’s degree and 24 years of straight As under my belt.

I wish I could go back and tell my Kindergarten self, don’t worry about the stupid As, don’t worry about winning every spelling bee, and take a night off from the flashcards.   In fact, why don’t you let yourself be terrible at a thing or two so you can prepare yourself for how it feels later in life.  Work on not beating yourself up every time you make a mistake, and realize that it’s healthy sometimes to start from the bottom and slowly work your way up to a more respectable place.

I’m writing this down now so I can remember it later, because that’s what I would like to tell my kid.  The way you are measured when you’re young has nothing to do with the way you’re measured later in life.  We coddle kids with all these constant empirical evaluations.  You got four problems right, and Tiffany got three.  You will get an A and an award at the awards banquet, and Tiffany will get a B, and you will both carry these evaluations with you as mental baggage in some form or another for the rest of your lives.

It’s silly.  Learning to work hard and do your best is valuable– there’s no getting around it.  But it’s so easy for kids to lose sight of the main point of education, which is not to bring home A’s on their report card, but to become educated, useful, hard-working people.  A little perspective could benefit us all.





Twitter Etiquette: Tweets vs. Twats

22 06 2010

I was very wary of Twitter when it first came out, because I perceived it to be a purified extraction of the worst aspect of Facebook:  the incessant, mundane, over-sharing wall update.

“Just flossed my teeth and brushed for four minutes with flouride! Take that, gum disease!”

“Everybody pray for my Grandma… she’s having a colonoscopy tomorrow morning. :-(”

Gross. Nobody cares.  So I avoided Twitter like the plague until I was 5 months into unemployment and started seeing it under “required skills” on job postings:  Must be well-versed in social media–we will look for active Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn accounts!

I desperately needed a job, so I sucked it up and decided to conquer Twitter.  Now it’s an every day part of my existence, and I have discovered the many ways it can be useful outside of “I just wiped with 5 squares of toilet paper” kinds of tweets, which I will hereon refer to as “twats.”

I honestly think that Twitter would be a much nicer place if everyone understood the difference between tweets and twats. A tweet is a useful, funny, information-sharing post.  For instance, I am following political blogger/columnist Ezra Klein on Twitter, and his tweets are usually snoozefests.  But yesterday, right around the end of the day when I had ceased to be productive, he tweeted:

“Unlike the KFC Double Down, this guy’s got all the calories you’d expect: http://bit.ly/900ONA“.

I clicked on it, and it was a fabulous article about a cheeseburger with 2 grilled cheese sandwiches for buns that totally made my day and sparked an energetic office conversation about ridiculous foods.  That was a legitimate tweet because it actually improved people’s lives for a few minutes.

Similarly, Wall Street Journal tweeted this morning:

“Google is preparing to roll out a music download service tied to its search engine later this year http://on.wsj.com/daH2WO.”

Neat, we all know something new now.

Another example of a good tweet is one that isn’t necessarily useful or informative, but is at least universally appealing.  Even if it’s not laugh out loud funny, it refreshes and entertains people for a minute. Actor Russell Brand tweeted this morning:

“I’m in Ireland!  I’m snogging the Liffey, I’m caressing the castle and I can’t tell you what I’m gonna do to the Blarney stone.”

Cool, Russell Brand’s in Ireland, and he announced it in cool and mildly funny way.  My life is not worse for having read that, it just moves on.

Now onto the twats.  A classic twat is either boring, wildly inappropriate, self-promoting, a public “love-tweet” to another person (ahem Ashton and Demi), or has a picture of oneself (probably taken by their own laptop) attached.

Twat examples:

Angie Jackson live-tweeted (or live-twatted) her abortion and miscarriage on Twitter.  Inappropriate.

Paula Adbul twatted:  “But everyone’s armpits are in my face & I can’t see! Lol! Just kidding! :))) xoxoP www.PaulaAbdul.com.”  Dumb, pointless, self-promoting, too many emoticons.

Mark Shurtleff, Utah’s attorney general, twatted his approval for Gardner to receive death by firing squad last week: “I just gave the go ahead to Corrections Director to proceed with Gardner’s execution. May God grant him the mercy he denied his victims.”  ….Wildly inappropriate!

And a girl I barely know who went to U.Va. used to post twats like, “I love it when I wake up to a sweet e-mail from my boyfriend!”  While I’m sure she’s a great person, I am not “following” her anymore, because her twats gave me cavities. And probably hepatitis, or something.

The good news is that you can easily remove all the twatters from your “follow” list so they can’t take a poop on your life every day with their mundane updates.  But if everyone would just make an effort to understand the difference between tweets and twats and ONLY publish the former, Twitter could improve from 50% cool to 99% cool.  I’m just sayin’.





Crackheads to Jeremy London: ‘Hit This Or I’ll Kill You’

21 06 2010

Haha, remember that time you were changing a tire and a bunch of crackheads kidnapped you, forced you to smoke crack at gunpoint and then made you buy liquor and distribute it to their friends?

Yea, me neither.  But actor Jeremy London (Mallrats, Party of Five), who has a history of drug and alcohol problems, claims this is exactly what happened to him last Thursday night.  He was just innocently changing his tire when two men stopped to help him.

“After the tire was changed he offered to drive them home, and it was then they held him at gunpoint and drove him around terrorizing him for hours.

‘He told officers (during the kidnapping) that he was forced to smoke dope [crack cocaine or amphetamines] and then purchase booze and hand it out in a gang area of Palm Springs,’ a policeman told Radar.

Luckily London managed to escape around 3 a.m. Thursday, five hours after his kidnapping. His car was later found and two men were charged with the kidnapping Wednesday.”

…Hmm.  In case you find yourself questioning the possibility that a rogue group of crack dealers is running around forcing people to smoke their drugs for free, rest assured that you’re not alone.  Jeremy’s wife Melissa (who also has a history of drug problems) is one step ahead of you:

“Jeremy claims that the kidnappers told him, ‘Hit this! Hit this or I’m gonna kill you!’ while holding a gun to his head and forcing him to smoke some sort of drug.

Melissa addressed the doubters, citing a new wave of crime.

‘I just hope this never happens to them,’ she [said]. ‘Police told us this is the new thing to do down here… rob people at gunpoint and make them do drugs so they won’t be reliable witnesses. It’s happening more and more. I can tell you that Jeremy was scared for his life. He’s still scared.’

Hit this or I’m gonna kill you?  If I had a nickel every time I heard that from a gang of crackheads trying to get me to buy liquor for them and drive around getting high all night.

I’m sorry– if this whole bizarre ordeal really happened to Jeremy London, then I feel really bad for him and hope that justice is served.  But right now I find the naivety of the police force far more frightening than the overzealous crack dealers in Compton.  A rich white actor rolls in, claims some black dudes robbed him and forced him to smoke crack, and their immediate response is to arrest the dudes and ask Jeremy London if he’s OK.

No, he’s not OK– he’s coming down from a major crack bender.  Please get him some Advil, sunglasses, Vitamin water, greasy food, and a couple extra bodyguards.  Next time this happens, he might not be in such a forgiving mood.





Death by Firing Squad: Cool, or So Five Minutes Ago?

18 06 2010

Convicted murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner received the death penalty in 2004.  He was allowed to choose his method of death, and he picked firing squad, because the law hadn’t changed yet in Utah.  So at 12:17 am this morning, he was tied to a chair with a big white target on his chest and shot at by a number of anonymous police officers who had volunteered for the task.

People have been protesting this like crazy.  According to a WSJ article, “The American Civil Liberties Union decried Mr. Gardner’s execution as an example of what it called the U.S. ‘s ‘barbaric, arbitrary and bankrupting practice of capital punishment.'”  And John Knefel wrote in an article for True/Slant, “Now, I’m against all forms of Capital Punishment because I’m not a barbaric sociopath, but even if you’re in favor of Capital Punishment, certainly death by firing squad must strike you as cruel and unusual.”

First of all, how is firing squad more cruel or unusual than lethal injection or electrocution?  People seem to be saying, “Look.  It’s one thing when you strap a man into a chair, stick a bunch of wires to his body and fry the shit out of him with electric currents while people watch through a window, but shooting him in the chest with a bunch of guns is just way over the line.”

…Riiiight.

Second of all, why do all these protesters not also have a problem with us taking our firing squads overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan and shooting random “threats to society” over there?  Just because we don’t have to see it?  Or because these people aren’t American citizens, so ‘cruel and unusual’ doesn’t apply to them?  Or because a random dirt-poor dude with particular political and religious affiliations in Afghanistan is a far more imminent threat to our personal safety than a convicted murderer who’s already on American soil?

All I’m asking for is some consistency here.  Are we fine with shooting people we perceive to be dangerous, or are we not?  If not, end the death penalty and bring home our troops.  If so, then stop being such a hyprocrite and deal with the fact that this is what a firing squad looks like.  We see it once every 20 years in America– Afghani citizens see it every day.





Incredible Dancing Baby

17 06 2010

I was going to write a long, controversial post about a fanatic religious woman who stuffed Bible pages down her baby’s throat and sat on her until she died.  Then I came across this ridiculously entertaining video of a Brazilian baby samba dancing and I forgot what I was going to say.

This toddler has more rhythm in his hips than most white men will have in a lifetime.  And he’s in a DIAPER.  Just sayin’.





Why Does Tom Brady Have a Bowl Cut?

16 06 2010

Tom Brady showed up to the Celtics vs. Lakers game last week looking like a strange cross between Justin Bieber, David Cassidy, and me when I was 4.

I have nothing to say about this haircut, except that I will hereon refer to it as the “Superbowl.”