Wednesday, January 23, 2008

r.i.p. heath

If I am at my computer, I know the instant I get an email courtesy of the gmail notifier on my task bar. I audibly gasped when I opened and read the CNN alert that said, "Actor Heath Ledger, 28, has died." I glanced over at the gchat column ("AIM for grownups") and a friend of mine already had "HEATH LEDGER DEAD" as her status. And then the messages popped up on the bottom my screen: "Did you hear?" "OMG!" Within minutes it seemed the whole world became aware of this untimely death.
Ordinarily, I wouldn't really think twice about a celebrity's death (although I did almost cry when I heard Chris Farley died several years ago), but for some reason the passing of Heath, who is named for Heathcliff in one of my favorite novels, Wuthering Heights, is haunting me.
He wasn't fellow Aussie, Russel Crowe, who is consistently portrayed as a Hollywood "bad boy," throwing phones at desk clerks and such, nor was he the typical young Hollywood coke addict...he was the young father of two-year-old Matilda, and you never heard about him unless it was praising his work.
He was excellent in Brokeback Mountain ("During the [S.A.G.] awards show [this week], religious protesters gathered across the street from the Shrine Auditorium, carrying signs that read “Heath’s in Hell”, a reference to his sensitive portrayal of a repressed gay cowboy in Brokeback Mountain."--GET A LIFE MORONS! How insensitive could you possibly be at this time of mourning?!), and I most recently saw him in I'm Not There, a wonderfully imaginative film "about" Bob Dylan, in which Ledger has a comparatively lengthy amount of screen time. Again, wonderful performance.
When I first saw him on the big screen as Patrick Verona in 10 Things I Hate About You ('99), I remember thinking, now that's the kind of guy I want to marry. He had the most beautifully contagious smile I'd ever seen and that ingenious mix of sincerity and don't-give-a-shit attitude.

I played Kate in the original version of 10 things, Shakespeare's Taming Of The Shrew, in 8th grade English class. During a scene where "Petruchio" (played by childhood friend/former crush, P.J.) was supposed to kiss me, Aaron, the tattooed, Nine-Inch-Nails t-shirt-wearing, slacker of our class yelled out, "Slip him the tongue!" Turning some shade of mortified, I glared at Aaron, relieved when our teacher excused us from kissing in front of the class and pissed because secretly I wanted Aaron to be Petruchio.

As a sophomore in high school we studied TOTS once again, which coincided with the release of 10 Things, so Mr. Anderson offered extra credit to anyone who saw the modern-day remake.
In the movie Heath's character falls for Kat (Julia Stiles), who reads Sylvia Plath, pines for acceptance to Sarah Lawrence, drives the coolest car (by my old-school standards), attempts to boycott the prom and gets drunk at her first ever high school party and dances atop a table, while her trendier, cooler, boy-attracting little sister looks on, half revolted and half relieved to have a sister who's partially "normal."
At the time I drove a beat-up '89 Sentra with the following bumper sticker: "If dance were any easier, it would be called football" (which did not sit well with our beloved sports team), planned on going as far away from suburban Illinois as possible when college came around, bought my first book of poetry--incidentally "Ariel" by Sylvia Plath, and seemed to be ever-mystified by the Dennis Rodmans of the world.

Tonight, in memory of Heath, I rented Candy a relatively new release about two lovers who happen to also be heroin addicts. It was so disturbing, I had to follow it up with 10 Things before going to sleep. Interestingly enough, there's a similar scene in both movies where there's a close-up of Heath's character trying to wake up a girl from a drug (Candy) or alcohol (10 Things)-induced "coma." One disturbing, one relatively light-hearted. Both made sad, as I couldn't help picturing the poor housekeeper who probably did the same thing to him--in real life.

But this is how I want to remember him:

Thanks, Heath, for all your work. I wish there could have been more to see. Looking forward to Batman...
Rest in peace.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

i hereby banish hummers for all eternity

Being a driver as my stated occupation for the past year and a half I've become much more of a "city driver." I used to get made fun of for driving "like a grandma" and being overly cautious and slow. (I never told anyone that this partly had to do with one of my friends gruesomely dying in a car crash two weeks after I got my license...and a week following her death I was a passenger in a car when my best friend who was driving got in an accident...luckily we were all ok. But that was enough car trauma for December of '98.)
But now I'm swift behind the wheel. My job is exhausting because not only do I worry about obeying all the traffic laws, but I am responsible for a 13-year-old kid most of the time I'm behind the wheel and therefore have to keep an extra careful eye out for the enormous amounts of idiots on the road.
I'm happy to say that up until my stint as a "personal driver" the only thing I've ever gotten pulled over for was tinted windows (twice. once of which i had to go to court) and for "drunk driving" when I was 20 and had never had alcohol in my life, when clearly the cop had nothing better to do than follow me around town. And accident free no less.

Here's the problem, especially in urban settings: People do not respond to horns. Max's mom speculates that this is due to so many people using their horns at unnecessary junctures, so peoples' ears are just immune to recognizing a legit horn when they hear one.
I.E. You're about to reverse your utility van into my car while I'm stopped at a stop light! (which is what happened to me last year)...or I.E. Your ginormous HUMMER is about to MERGE into my drivers seat!

This is what happened. I noticed the driver suddenly decide she needed to be in my lane as I merged onto the Dan Ryan from I55 on the way home from picking Max up from school--headed right towards the driver's seat of our small Volvo. Thanks to my acquired driving skills, I was quick to react, pressing the pedal to the metal and my hand to the horn and speeding up enough so she only managed to hit the back corner instead of flattening my sorry ass. She then proceeded to drive around me, wherein I assumed she was leaving the scene of the accident, as I had already pulled over. I immediately began following her, verbally expressing my disbelief. I noticed as she switched lanes, that she was in fact motioning for me to follow her down the Canalport exit. I couldn't see before because she was seated about five feet above my vantage point. Once off the expressway she pulled into an alley and I'm thinking, oh shit she's gonna shoot us.

Instead she took a lap around her huge-ass vehicle, where she obviously found no damage because she's driving a machine, then walked around mine.
"Well. What do you want to do?" she asks me. No "I'm so sorry" or even a "My bad" thrown in my direction. Just impatient eyes batting purple eyeliner in my direction.
"Call the cops," I replied, even-toned.
"They're not going to come because our cars can drive and we're not injured."
You don't deserve to call that thing a car, I thought."Hm, yeah I guess you're right. That's what happened when some guy hit me last year."
"So we should just exchange information then."
"Fine," I said.
As I shuffled through the glove compartment for the insurance information, I saw her already waiting for me. "This is unbelievable," I said to Max.
"She's a dumbass," he said.
"Well she hasn't even apologized, so I agree with you."
With my driver's license, insurance card, and car registration info in hand, I approached her next to the chunk of gold on wheels.
"What are you writing down?" she asked me.
I saw she already had already written her name, phone number and driver's license number on a torn piece of a yellow envelope flap. "My name, address, phone number, driver's license number and insurance info..."
"Oh you're putting your license too? Fine."
I started copying everything down on the back of a piece of paper which already had directions written on the other side (I hope not to anywhere important...).
"Could you write a little faster?" she asked two seconds later. "I have somewhere to be."
"You just hit my car!" I half-shrieked, bewildered by this woman's nonchalance.
"I understand that, but this doesn't have to take all day."
What nerve! I thought and rolled my eyes. Here I am not even freaking out or screaming at her like a lot of people probably would were they in my shoes, and she has the audacity to tell me to write faster?!
I handed her the piece of paper, and then she told me that the "car" actually isn't hers and she's on her way to work, so she'll call me later tonight or tomorrow morning.
Sensing that there was something fishy going on, seeing as she never actually showed me her drivers license nor had any insurance info on her, regardless of whether it was her vehicle or not, I said, "I don't mean to be a total bitch, but would you mind if I called this number you wrote down to make sure it's correct?"
"Sure, go ahead. That's a good idea," she insisted.
She climbed up into her driver's seat and answered after a ring. I saw her holding the phone in her side mirror and her "hello" in my ear. Before I backed out of the alley, Max suddenly started yelling, "Write down her license plate number! Quick!"
"Oh good call!" I wrote down the seven numbers and then reversed onto the road, allowing the Hummer to back out behind me.

I called Max's mom and left her a message about the accident, my heart pounding in my chest. Even though the collision was not my fault, it's still not the easiest thing to relay to a mom who is paying me to safely and responsibly transport her child. I drove with Max straight to the police station on Larabee and Division because that's where I had to go last year when I got hit. As soon as I started the relaying the accident and said, "I was driving west on 90..." the Chicago cop interrupted and said, "If it happened on the highway, we can't help you. You have to contact the state police." He wrote down their phone number at the top of the Hummer info.
Max and I had both complained about headaches before the accident occurred, and now we had to leave the station both rejected and dejected. Before leaving the parking lot I called the state patrol, who informed me that the state police only go to certain stations and the one closest to our home in Wicker Park would be 5151 N. Milwaukee. "But don't go now," he said. "It's rush hour, so it'll be hard to find someone available."

After dinner I headed to the recommended police station, which ended up being all the way in Jefferson Park. And the woman there told me the same goddamn thing. As soon as I mentioned "I90/94" she said, "Oh we can't help you here."
"Well that's funny because I was specifically told to come to this location." Apparently I misunderstood the patrolman earlier and thought he meant the addresses he gave me were "state police stations" but really they're just Chicago police stations where state patrol will actually stop by.
She picked up a phone and called the state trooper line, then hung up and said, "If you want to wait here, a state patrol can be here in at least an hour."
"No. No I don't. I want to go to bed."
"Well since there were no injuries, you can report the accident over the phone at this number between 7 and 9 tomorrow morning."
"I wish someone would have told me that FIVE hours ago!" I said.
She apologized and said she didn't want to come across as the bad guy, to which I apologized and said, "I know it's not your's just been a long day. Thanks for your help."

The following morning I called the provided number and after going through a bunch of automated menus, spoke with a human who took down my name and number and gruffly informed me that someone would contact me after 9 a.m.
Around 10:30 I got a phone call from State Trooper W., (I'll stick with initials here) who I liked right from the start because she sounded like Wanda from Curb Your Enthusiasm. I gave her the full report. She then proceeded to call me back at least four more times. First to tell me both the driver's license number and license plate number I provided her were registered to an Anna W., not a Leslie W. (same last name). Then she called to inform me that L.W.'s voicemail says it's Deanna, which is neither name we thought we were dealing with, so Trooper W. left her a message threatening possible arrest. Then she called back just to inquire whether I had three-way calling on my phone so we could potentially call her together and she would "take over." I didn't, so we hung up and a few minutes later she called back to inform me that instead she "went ahead and blocked the number."
"She answered and I said, 'Leslie!' and she said, 'Yeah!' So I said, 'Oh good it's you. This is State Trooper W.' So anyway, I think I scared her, but that's a good thing, and since you've totally overextended yourself in trying to get this resolved even though it's not your responsibility to do so, I want to make sure I help you get to the bottom of this."
"Well, thank you. I really appreciate everything you're doing," I said. And I meant it.
Trooper W.'s best call, though, was the following:
"Miss Liebovich. I'm sorry to be bothering you again, but I just wanted to double check something with you."
"No problem at all. What can I do for you?"
"Well I just ran Leslie through the system, and it says here she also has a Hummer registered to her name. You didn't say the license plate you saw was 'BOOBS 82,' correct?"
I almost spit out my hot tea. This is turning out to be possible inspiration for a horrible rap music video, I thought.
"No," I said, trying to restrain from laughing. "I think I would have remembered that. It was..." and I listed off the 7 numbers.
"Ok cause incidentally the name you gave me also owns a Hummer with the license plate 'BOOBS 82.'"
My friend Zach asked if she was born in '82, but she's almost 50, so no. My friend Giana e-mailed me and said, "I wonder if the 82 has significance or it was just that 1-81 were already taken." And my cousin, Barb, said, "I bet that's when she got 'em [boobs] done!" Perfect.

I've spoken to Leslie twice. Once in between Trooper W.'s updates, when she (Leslie) said she'd call be by 3:00. And again at 7:45 when I called her and said, "I thought I was going to hear from you by three." She said she'd been stuck in traffic and would call me in 20 minutes. Forty-five minutes later she called and [finally!] transcribed her insurance info, stating that all the previous info she'd given me was her sister's. And still no "sorry."
So now I'm just waiting for All-State to call me for my dissertation about the accident, so I can consequently get the deductible I need to get the massive dent out of the Volvo. Until then, I guess it's like people--for every scar, there is a story.

I maintain what I said in my posting about the dog insemination, when a Hummer almost demolished myself, Max and the two dogs, one recently impregnated--If you want to show-off that you're that disgustingly wealthy, why don't you just sew some hundreds together and wear a money suit--not drive a war machine like a fucking maniac!
All I can say is if one's going to get hit by Hummer, this at least resulted in the best possible scenario.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

waiting out the storm

Ok, so I still watch Desperate Housewives. Sue me. Lynette's whole family survived the relentless tornado (tornadoes typically touch down for mere seconds in a single space, but this one continued like a godforsaken hurricane for about 43 minutes), which was a relief. Victor died by getting a stabbed in the back by white picket fence (oh the irony), and Carlos is now blind. Also, a lot of the housewives are sans homes right now.
Although it's not yet tornado season here in the Midwest, I sure thought there might be one today. The past four days have been unseasonably warm--I'm talking 65 degrees when it should be -65 degrees. Accompanying the warm weather, pouring rain and lightning storms. On my drive home from Max's school this morning I saw the Chicago skyline like I've never seen it before. Invisible...all except for a middle portion of the Sears Tower. The skyscraper, both above and below this circle of breaking fog, was hidden behind the thick clouds, so as rendering the visible chunk of tower a levitating wonder. (I about kicked myself for, once again, failing to have my camera on me at ALL times!)
By 3:00 returning from school once again, the skyline had returned but with a background of strange-looking clouds, ranging from the darkest gray to a faint greenish tinge. I pointed out the green to Max and had flashbacks of all those tornado warnings growing up, which all began with a similar coloring.

So here is an anecdote I wrote a few years ago about one such day...
(originally published in issue 2 of Make This Magazine)

I was eight or nine years old. That Saturday my mom had to work, so my dad, to keep us occupied, decided it was time to teach my younger sister, Sheri, how to ride a two-wheeler. I stayed home. I was proving—to who, I’m not sure—that I was old enough to be alone. The two of them departed from our suburban cul-de-sac and headed for the deserted church parking lot at the edge of our neighborhood. The same parking lot where he let go of the back of my banana seat two-wheeler and sent me squealing as a six-year-old into weaving patterns among the faded and cracked white lines of spaces. And ten years later where he took me on the first snowfall to teach me how to do “donuts” in his car, somehow trying to instruct safety to a new-driver-to-Chicago-winters.

It was nice out that day, although July could be vicious, and I was unsure as to what the capricious weather might bring our way. Everything was still. As pathetic looking as the single tree by our mailbox looked, I knew it was capable of making some noise with the few leaves it housed. Nothing. I rode my bike around the circle a few times, a few of the revolutions one-handed. Even if Sheri succeeded in losing her training wheels, she would never attempt such a daring feat.

Round and round and round she goes…where she stops…nobody knows!

A low droning noise sounded in the distance. Its volume increased instantly. Could there really be a tornado touching down in Hoffman Estates, Illinois? Up until then I thought all those tornado-drills we participated in every spring at school were just useless precautions. I don’t have a math book to hold over my head out here, I thought. In fact, the entire sky (which had morphed into a sickly green ominous ceiling) could come falling down on me and my bike any second, or a whirling cloud could whisk me away to the land of Oz or an untimely death. And if that happened, a textbook--math or meteorology--was not going to be of any help.

Auntie Em! Auntie Em! Dad! Sheri!

I pictured them finding my lifeless body atop our roof in someone else’s backyard, which of course would have been ripped off the house the exact time gravity reversed and I got pulled into a spinning cloud of household objects and ordinary air gone mad.
Why weren’t they back yet? The rain started. A hesitant drizzle at first and then the green monster began spitting water out like it was choking on all four oceans. Terrified of being alone I ran to the edge of the circle hoping to see the familiar Honda headlights coming around the corner. Again, nothing. I pivoted and as I headed for the shelter of our car-less garage, I made it halfway when our next door neighbor, Paula, appeared at her front screen door. Her voice penetrated through the rain. “Alyse, honey, why don’t you come inside here and wait with us.” I had never been in their house prior to this. Only knew that the two boys, Mike, a year older, and Chris, a year younger used to threaten to beat me up or smash my pumpkins on Halloween and that I was best friends with their enormous dog, Morgan.

Their kitchen was nicer than mine. They had an island counter--the kind without overhead cabinets to bump my head on--which they let me sit atop like a princess. And they had a bay window; the kind you could sit in and read a book, although I doubted any of them took advantage of it in that way.

“Who wants some whip cream?” Paula asked. Was she kidding? I brushed a piece of wet hair out of my face. She was closing the refrigerator door, a squirt can of RediWhip in her hand. The two boys opened their mouths instinctively like two baby birds waiting for worms. I watched in awe as she pushed the red plastic tip with her finger and filled their mouths with the chilled delicacy. Never had I seen an adult so eager to spoil a child’s appetite before dinner. And without utensils!

Chris put one hand to each side of his face like he was going to deflate his expanded cheeks by aiming the edible ammunition at me. “Don’t you dare!” I squealed and lifted one of my dangling legs straight out in front me, threatening to kick him in the face. After all, I did have the height advantage. Mike giggled. I shot him a look that said he was next should he try anything. This counter sure gave me power.
“Your turn,” their mom said to me. “Just a little please,” I said, fearing that I would choke if I had as much as the boys and that my mom would be upset if I didn’t want any dinner. Everyone was all smiles, and I had forgotten about my mission to get in a basement. I didn’t stay much longer after someone announced that there was a car in my garage. I hopped off my throne and walked home through our adjoining yards with a new appreciation for nature’s wrath, eager to share with Sheri how big kids cope during a storm.