Nitpicking the Beauty Queens

Dearest Carla Fran,

I may have to switch careers. I think you hit the difference between Meg and Debra Messing’s hair squarely on the, er, head. Dyan Cannon I know from Ally McBeal, where she was marvelous, wattle and all. She pulls off a certain kind of old broad glam in a way that Meg can’t (partly because she’s still actually kind of young.) Dyan’s face doesn’t try to look younger; it looks sexual and sultry almost because of its lines and droops. And the hair is the feather boa to her sequined dress.

I was so touched by your description of our gawky companions at the shooting range. They were uncannily like us, as you say, and the offer of an upgrade was indeed polite–courtly, even. In hindsight I have a full-fledged crush on the blond British one with the brown shoes. These other ones were a different species altogether. They were the bullies in A Christmas Story, all grown up.

I’ve regressed a bit in the last day or so–the sudden contact with the outside world proved to be too much for me. The speeches! The Alaskan beauty queen with her glasses and impressive jawline, her self-command and humor and sarcastic spite. (Or “withering sarcasm,” as Christopher Beam calls her tactic against Obama.) She’s like Maurice from Northern Exposure–likeable in a way, admirable, even, and someone you might not even mind being in charge of your Cicely. But that’s because it’s Cicely–a place governed principally by interpersonal pressures and poetic spats and clashing versions of a particular kind of triumphant frontier philosophy. The nostalgia of that show is precisely that its world is so utterly dissimilar to the America we know.

It’s at times like these that I’m particularly grateful to Jon Stewart. The drama takes over and I get glassy-eyed, not from the political problems, but from the problems of celebrity. It’s an issue, for instance, that she went last (McCain doesn’t count, right? In fact, he’ll be slightly anticlimactic, right?). So. How much does chronology eclipse what came before? Can the Democratic convention get wiped out by an evening of one-liners? But in sail Jon and the TDS staff with their archives of footage documenting an entire tradition of self-serving sophistry, and they restore a smidge of accountability to what otherwise seems to be a competition for whatever can most fully occupy our minds at THIS PARTICULAR MOMENT RIGHT NOW, NEVER MIND WHAT CAME BEFORE LALALALA.

(Not that I think this is the exclusive province of the Republicans, but they’ve certainly been forced to do more of it under the current administration.)

It’s a coincidence that my final course is forcing me to deal with another irritating specimen of feminine beauty and (similarly problematic) talent. It’s being taught by a tall lissome spectacularly proportioned woman with red hair, fair skin, dimples and all that makes women of her caliber stop traffic and undergraduates in their tracks. I find her unbearable. It’s all I can do to keep from making faces at my colleagues. She is lazy. I find her incredibly hot and would probably be slightly in love with her if I felt she approached us with seriousness, rather than with an almost sickening friendliness and a slightly overdone need to be liked in that way.

It’s pure mischief that associates her with Palin in my mind, as they are in no way alike. It’s just dealing with two physically gorgeous women who have (and it is progress, in some weird way, that everyone is forced to regard one of them so minutely) other qualities too.

I hope you are well, and that the doldrums have abated. If not, I send you lollipop nickels for your Phantom Tollbooth. May you cross safely.



There was a time and a place for those curls

My Millicent,

I read your last letter while in my topless cubbyhole of an office, and surprised myself by uncontrollably tittering when I read your comparison of the gun cartridges to super-absorbent tampons. I am sorry that your last time at the range was so…deserving of note for all the wrong reasons. In one way, I expected more of that to be present during our initial dip into riflery. Instead, we were met by people just as calm and gawky as we were, and the nudging to try a gun upgrade seemed so polite. This gun you described sounds nothing like gunnie. It sounds terrifying, and I admire you for actually shooting it, not destroying anything, and keeping your cool while the cartridges hit your head. I think my biggest fear at the range is overreacting to a cartridge and shooting myself in the nose, or losing control of the gun with it’s kick, and accidentally killing or paralyzing somebody’s date or grandfather. I don’t think I would have been able to have tried. I would have seen all the possible disasters, gotten sweaty, and opted for good old itty bitty lethal gunnie instead. Of course, what we have also stumbled upon is that perhaps the ideal shooting outing is always in two parts, at least. The shooting, and then the bathing–or at least something that is as generously soothing and calm as shooting is firey and agressive. Maybe with wacking the system out of balance with the shooting (it’s danger, control, power, setting, characters, etc.), the real pleasure lies in the restoration of the soul afterwards?

I was also thinking about Debra Messing’s hair, and I think another important aspect to remember is that her hair was fab, for the nineties. It was made for black pants and Pottery Barn coffee tables. Even Debra’s hair doesn’t look like her Grace hair of old in ‘The Women’ poster. If anything, Ryan looks too arch to me, far too laquered (and not in a strong, laquer-is-power way).  You are absolutely right, the dandelion is gone, and I think the dandelion is what we loved.  If I wanted arch housewife, Gwyneth would have been just fine.  I also think Ryan’s strange new “I’m old, but young” look is very reminiscent of Dyan Cannon, who I know about for some reason, but have no idea what movies she has been in.  See?

She is over 70!

Dyan Cannon

Okay-while finding this picture (I must find a better way to include pictures in our letters), I found out that Dyan Cannon is pretty cool.  She was amazing in Bob, Ted, Carol, and Alice, (have you seen this? This movie has one of the most charmingly earnest and odd endings of any movie I have seen in a very long time. And it talks about sex retreats. And Eliot Gould is in it), and she was married to Cary Grant once.  She’s in her seventies.

Speaking of movies, I don’t think this ‘Women’ is here to be celebrated.  The original ‘The Women’ is a strange campy amazing movie (all female cast, Rosaline Russell, Joan Crawford) and it has an entire plot based around the nail polish color “Jungle Red.” I love this movie.  I have a distinct memory of watching it with my mom, and chatting about it’s writer, Clare Booth Luce, who, as a congresswoman, ambassador, etc., was always kind of pissed because she didn’t write more.  I was seventeen or so, and this made writing sound like the most important thing a woman could do.  So Luce was super conservative and her political views were a bit, emmm, strict.  I didn’t know that part until last week when her name came up in an article on thinktanks.  Whatever this ‘The Women’ is, it may be campy and high comedy, but I think it is going to go more in the line of ‘The Banger Sisters.’ Do you remember that one?

I’ve gone on too long.
More soon.  I send you a mental sitcom, 28 minutes full of delight and easy wonder,


Shoots and Leaves

Dearest Carla Fran,


I am sorry to hear about the stray verb that marred your cover letter. Those little things can disturb one so afterwards–even vicariously, as I can attest.  I heard a student yesterday use the word “brung” to a professor during a seminar on the Augustan Age. It bothered me enough on his behalf that I dreamed of the word “brung” last night. I woke up  feeling like the wizened grammarian I am, and wondering whether I should at long last read that book Eats, Shoots and Leaves. This led me to think about an ex-boyfriend who loves that book. He’s a brilliant swing dancer, doesn’t believe in God, and is getting a doctorate in neuroscience. I wished for a moment that I knew what he knew.


I will say, though, that one misconjugated verb does not–and I think Strunk and White would agree–a cover letter make or break. The student’s comment was actually quite brilliant, and the professor spent more time addressing it than he did on any of the other better-conjugated but less interesting remarks.


I spent more time with Meg Ryan. I agree about the overall “blurghiness” and I’m bothered too by the amount of product in Meg’s hair, the curls of which remind me of window tassels or gift-wrap ribbon corkscrewed by scissors. I don’t know why I never reacted this way to Debra Messing’s curls (which were similar) during her stint in Will and Grace.  Maybe the color helped. It’s like an overly manicured garden–there’s very little pleasure in such a thing. You can’t imagine it ruffled by a snuffling dog or happily hosting a picnic.  This grieves me, as Meg’s hair has historically evoked the dandelion more than the orchid.


This, I think, supports my aesthetic objection to the over-plucked ab-defined orifice-waxed cellulite-free woman. A body that consumes that much mechanical work (in the sheer physics sense) can’t possibly have a sense of humor about itself, and is committed to an unnatural stasis. A body in motion stays in motion, but a body that’s being constantly pruned and weeded hearkens back, in a sad Sisyphean way, to the Bantu tribesman hacking at the jungle as it encroaches on the area he cleared for farming. I suppose it’s the confusion in our culture about evolution, conservation and preservation–the first is inevitable, the second is commendable, but shouldn’t the third should be the exclusive province of museums? Even Snow White finally climbed out of her coffin.


I can’t decide whether or not to count the re-appearance of Meg, Annette, Debra et al as a victory. In one way, yes–the same way that the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Part 2 is a victory. Only with older and funny actresses! Hurrah! But why oh why are we (and they) in the abject position of having to accept and promote such a script? Why do we have to celebrate such blurghiness, such mediocrity?


I went shooting again. It was less fun. On the left of us were two large pink boys, the kind whose heads seem both cylindrical and square, each with a stiff little brush of hair at the top. They were shooting their own guns. The .44 was aerodynamic and pretty, which somehow made it a hundred times scarier than our Gunnie. It was a luxury gun, a needlessly big and noisy gun.


“This cartridge,” Pink Boy 1 screamed, holding up a shell the size of an ultra-absorbent tampon, “can go through a concrete ______.”


The shells flew out to the right and hit us hard on the head and back. They kept asking us to shoot it. We finally did. A blue flame flashes out. The kickback is painful, even after you lock every joint in your body. The noise is deafening. It’s impossible to aim with such a thing so their target was a mess, but they clearly thought they were the gun equivalent of the cat’s pajamas. On the right were two expressionless middle-aged Korean men who had chosen the target of the woman being held hostage by the thief (the only target, I now realize, that has anything really resembling a human, with a face and expression). They were blasting the woman’s face out. When they missed and got the man, they brought the target back and taped his face over again so it would look free of bullet holes.


After I left, there was no naked lounging and no pikapika. I missed you terribly.