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Entries in elizabeth barbee (8)

Friday
May192017

In Which Feigning Illness Appears A Solid Bet

Sisters Before Misters

by ELIZABETH BARBEE

As a child I preferred the nurse's office to the playground. Tetherball wasn't my thing, and after an unfortunate spill, I swore off swing sets. To be clear, I wasn't a wimp. I was sophisticated.

Like many Americans, elementary school teachers view disinterest in contact sports as evidence of a deeper problem. Convincing them to let me skip out on dodge ball was a struggle. Feigning illness seemed like my best bet. I faked sore throats and stomachaches. I became so adept at mimicking the symptoms of sickness that I began to believe I actually was sick. I staggered through the halls almost daily, the back of my hand pressed against my forehead like Greta Garbo. If I had known the expression “woe is me” I would have used it.

When I reached Nurse Hoover's office I flung myself onto one of several white cots and demanded peppermints. Their mentholated taste made them seem medicinal. “Could it be Lupus?” I asked. “Give it to me straight.” Basically, I was Anna Chlumsky in My Girl only not as cute. I had a jaggedly cut chili bowl that my mom tried to feminize with grosgrain bows larger than my head.

I knew about Lupus because I had recently discovered a series of young adult novels centered around teenagers with incurable diseases. They were authored by a woman named Lurlene McDaniel, who must be a really intense person. Her books are titled things like Too Young To Die and Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, so you look hardcore when you read them in public. I do not think my hypochondria could have reached the heights it did if not for the aegis of these texts. They provided me with great material.

Any time a mysterious bruise appeared on my body I knew the end was near. This inspired  many philosophical questions. If I die, who will take care of my Tamagotchi? Should I leave my rock collection to my best friend, Allison, or my crush, Derrick? Derrick works at Cracker Barrel now and is probably not into rocks. Thank God I went with Allison. Sisters before misters!

My parents were fairly supportive of my macabre habit, because I am their only child. If they lose me, they don't have a spare kid to prove they can keep something alive. The second I complained of a twitch in my left eye or a faint tightness in my chest, they rushed me to the pediatrician.

Dr. Murphy was no Nurse Hoover. For starters he charged. At the end of each appointment he offered my mom the bill and me a lollipop, which was a real blow to my ego. He also had a moderately famous twin brother, Vince, who didn't do his reputation any favors. Vince owned a local music store notorious for terrible commercials that I was sure Dr. Murphy had a hand in producing. Reflective sunglasses and screeching guitars seemed just his style. Worse still, he was onto me. “You aren't running a fever and your vitals look normal,” I remember him saying. I wanted to wipe the smile from his face and seek a second opinion.

It was not that I wanted to be sick. It was that I did not want to be crazy. Our culture is more forgiving of poor health than insanity. Cancer gets you pity, but an imagined medical illness just lands you in the looney bin. People do not send flowers to the looney bin. I learned this from watching Girl, Interrupted.

In my experience, hypochondria is not something you overcome so much as it is something you learn to ignore. After taking myself to the emergency room twice in college, I decided it would be better to die quietly in my apartment than suffer the embarrassment of learning I was just having a panic attack. This has greatly influenced my interior decorating. I refuse to go down looking at a mass produced Breakfast At Tiffany's poster. If you have any hand drawn art at a reasonable price, send it my way.

Elizabeth Barbee is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Texas. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

Tuesday
Feb102015

In Which We Prefer The Dim Lighting Of The Torkelsons

Serious Youth

by ELIZABETH BARBEE

I discovered The Torkelsons where I discovered everything I loved in the nineties - the Disney Channel. Of the two children's networks popular at the time, it was the only one worth watching. Nickelodeon seemed seedy and excessively juvenile. Even at the tender age of seven, I found youth, and the programs that accompany it, a little embarrassing. Neon colored game shows like Wild and Crazy Kids and Double Dare never appealed to me. I preferred dim lighting and convoluted plots. For whatever reason, I thought tears were more sophisticated than laughter. The Torkelsons had a little of both, so I gave it a shot.

I saw myself in Dorothy Jane, the show's 14-year-old protagonist, who describes herself as “a woman trapped in a child's shell.” Unlike the rest of her family she is sensitive and literate. While her hillbilly mom and gaggle of siblings make asses of themselves downstairs, she holes up in her attic bedroom. Sprawled on a window seat, she reads poetry, learns French, and laments the loss of her father, who abandoned the family to work on an oil rig. I guess he spends his money on booze and strippers, because the Torkelsons are dead broke. A washing machine is repossessed in the pilot episode. The children wear clothes made of curtains and dish rags. For a few extra bucks, Mama Torkelson lets a stranger live in the basement. Boarder Hodges is a Mr. Rogers type, but he has the eyes of a murderer. You can never be too careful. Especially when there are kids involved.

Nothing irrevocably terrible happens to the Torkelsons. Most of their struggles are just momentarily embarrassing. The most iconic episode, according to the three other people besides myself who watched the show, is called “The Cotillion.” It centers around Dorothy Jane's first high school dance. She finds a dress at a thrift store that is perfect aside from an ink stain on the left hip.

Thanks to her mom's sewing abilities, they are able to conceal it with a silk rose. Things are going well until Dreama, the class bitch, recognizes the dress as one she used to own. To prove it, she yanks the rose off the fabric to reveal its imperfection. Dorothy Jane is horrified but smart enough to realize this reflects badly on Dreama, not her. Plus, she's probably a little clairvoyant and knows that in ten years it will be cool to shop at Goodwill.

In addition to her remarkable ability to detect bullshit and predict fashion trends, Dorothy Jane has good taste and big dreams. She is also a little horny. Michael Landes plays the object of her affection, Riley Roberts. The casting is great. With his floppy hair and well-shined Doc Martins he's the ultimate 90s babe.

When he moves next door it's a wonder Dorothy Jane doesn't hump him at once. Rather than act on her desires, she talks about them to the Man on the Moon, a secular stand in for God. “Man on the Moon,” she says in broad daylight, “He's four years older than me and out of reach. The rest of my life will be unending sadness.” The girl is prone to hyperbole. In another episode she doesn’t get a scholarship to study abroad and decides she’ll live in Pyramid Corners, Oklahoma for the rest of her “pitiful existence.” As a reluctant Texan, I could totally relate.

Landes' character never falls for Dorothy Jane because he is an idiot. She possesses all of the traits I covet: curly hair, intelligence, an attractive sort of melancholy. She's the type who goes largely unnoticed in high school but thrives in college when she discovers cigarettes and Derrida. Though the series only documents her failed attempts at romance, I imagine she grows up to have many interesting lovers. Someone like Ben Gibbard would totally dig her.

The Torkelsons existed in its original incarnation for 20 episodes at which point it was re-branded as Almost Home and lost my interest. In the second season, two of Dorothy Jane’s siblings, Steven Floyd and Ruth Ann, disappear without explanation. Mama Torkelson moves the remainder of the family to Seattle where she takes a job nannying Brittany Murphy (R.I.P.). The scenery is better and money is not so tight. It was all a little too hopeful for me, so I switched to Dawson's Creek. Thanks to YouTube, most episodes of The Torkelsons are available for free online. I have attempted to get several friends interested in the show and failed miserably. “It's like Roseanne but not as funny,” one said. Maybe. But who's looking for funny anyway?

Elizabeth Barbee is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Dallas. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about a convincing French woman.


Thursday
Nov202014

In Which We Make A Convincing French Woman

Blame the Mob

by ELIZABETH BARBEE

The Hundred-Foot Journey
dir. Lasse Hallstrom
122 minutes

I ate a microwavable chicken fried steak, several under baked cookies, and a couple handfuls of reduced fat Cheez-Its while watching The Hundred-Foot Journey. My meal felt ironic and a little perverse, because this movie is a two hour ode to good food.

It opens in Mumbai, where Hassan’s family has owned a popular restaurant for generations. His mother, the head of the kitchen, is superstitious and takes a mystical approach to cooking. She says obnoxious, new-agey things like, “To cook you must kill. You cook to make ghosts.” While this sentiment leaves me squeamish, it only whets Hassan’s appetite. He learns to prepare dishes using curry, cardamom, and sea urchin. He develops a fetishistic relationship with the last ingredient, one that haunts him throughout the film.

When he is in his early-twenties and terribly handsome, the restaurant, and the sea urchins contained within it, is destroyed by an angry, fire-wielding mob. The source of the rabble’s wrath is unclear even to the protagonist. “There was an election of some kind,” Hassan offers in way of explanation. “And there was a winner, and there was a loser.” He leaves it at that. Everyone escapes the flames but his mother, and even she lives on in spirit. When Hassan’s father later mutters to himself in Hindi, it doesn’t mean we need to turn up the volume (I tried that) it means he’s communing with his dead wife.

Her influence leads the family to make a series of terrible decisions. They move to England and then France, where they purchase an abandoned building just a hundred feet away from Helen Mirren. She plays Madame Mallory, a raging bitch and the proprietor of a Michelin starred restaurant that operates more like a boarding school. All the chefs seem to live on site, and their artistic impulses are frequently stifled by their rigidly traditional boss.

Mirren makes a convincing French woman. Her accent slips at times, but she has the stereotypes down. She walks with her nose stuck in the air, wears lots of scarves, and believes no other culture is worthy of existing.

When Hassan’s father decides to convert the abandoned building into an Indian restaurant, she is at equal turns disgusted and threatened. Why she thinks people craving quiche will suddenly decide they’re in the mood for Tikka Masala is beyond me, but I don’t have a fickle palate.

Her fear of losing business turns out to be baseless (obviously). Maison Mumbai is empty the night of its opening, and Hassan’s family essentially pimps themselves out to get customers. The father changes into his most elaborate turban and instructs his daughter to stand on the side of the road so passing cars can see how pretty she looks in her sari. You can hear Edward Said groan in the background. This isn’t the only instance of Orientalism in the film, not by a long shot. Though the French characters usually walk in silence, sitars follow Hassan’s family everywhere they go.

The movie is rated PG, but it is highly sensual. Every bite (and there are lots of bites) is accompanied by an orgasmic sigh. Women’s mouths are a camera favorite. Hassan falls in love with one of Madame Mallory’s employees, a French girl named Marguerite, presumably because she picks her own mushrooms and chews with her eyes closed. Marguerite is frustratingly coquettish. She rejects Hassan’s advances, but gifts him suggestive recipes. “Mix until silky to the touch,” one instructs. “Pour into a pan. Spread your cherries over the top and bake until the skewer inserted into the batter comes out clean.”

Though this is clearly a metaphor for sex, she doesn’t let Hassan touch her until he starts wearing blazers and working at a Parisian restaurant that is more science lab than brasserie. The blazers are hot, as is the new gig, but Hassan was a babe from day one. I suspect Marguerite has some deep seeded childhood issues that prevent her from accepting love. What she lacks in openness she makes up for in Anthropologie dresses. Practically every scene features a new one: some plaid, some lace - all ethereal, gorgeous, and much more expensive than they appear.

It’s no surprise this movie was produced by Oprah Winfrey. Her aesthetic is everywhere. I’m familiar with Oprah’s taste, because my mom subscribes to her magazine, which I flip through every time I visit. The pages are always filled with brightly colored images and stories that are inspiring without being controversial. The Hundred-Foot Journey is similarly luminous and nonthreatening.

I had an ex-boyfriend who refused to watch movies unless they were rated PG-13 or higher. He said sex and violence contributed significantly to his enjoyment of a film. I was initially horrified by this reveal. “What kind of freak am I dating,” I thought. But when I ran through the list of the movies I love most, they were all a little scandalous, a little gritty. There is something unsettling about a movie for adults that ignores, or in this case talks around, some of the most important facets of adulthood. The Hundred-Foot Journey wasn’t bad, but I might have enjoyed it more if an F bomb had been dropped or Marguerite and Hassan had consummated their love. That’s just the kind of depraved individual I am.

Elizabeth Barbee is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Dallas. She last wrote in these pages about an apartment. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

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