Archive | Age Matters

The Church of Harriet the Spy: All Grown Up

Early this morning was lovely—clear, bright, and cool enough to merit a light sweater—so I kept wandering after I fetched my Americano. The old Italians were beatifically sipping espressos on their stoops; the neighborhood dogs seemed especially glad to be alive; even the Polish ladies managed thin smiles. It was so lovely that I felt unexpectedly melancholy about being on my own. No family with whom to somersault into the day, no strong arm through which to link my own. So I did what I always do when I feel blue: I wandered some more.

After a bit I stumbled upon a bagel place I’d never noticed before. As soon as I entered I knew it’d been a misstep. Junky mid-’90s music was blaring; the countermen looked like they’d gone from clubbing to schmearing with nary a wink of sleep. I ordered anyway. As a New Yorker, I consider it my civic responsibility to monitor all iterations of the city’s signature baked good.

Ahead of me in line stood an older couple who looked even more nonplussed than I felt. Both were clad head to toe in cheerful pastels that clashed boldly with their sour expressions, and the obvious care they’d taken with their clothing–neatly pressed and perfectly matched, right down to their socks–seemed obstinate rather than fastidious. Overall a fascinating fuck-you lurked in all that Sunday finery. When I leaned in to catch their conversation, though, they clammed right up, so I had to content myself with sneaking tiny looks at them as I inspected the shrilly tinted doughnuts on display. The man’s eyebrows and mustache were so bushy and grey they inhabited a century of their own, and she wore a pout so pronounced that the effect was more of a sulking bulldog than of the coquette she once might have been. Both sported the ornery bulk of people who weren’t going to modify their diets no matter how they’d been advised. I imagined they’d been together for at least 50 years, if only because they were too stubborn to part ways. Continue Reading →

The Cautious Joy of Short Term 12

Short Term 12 is a hopeful movie about seemingly hopeless lives. It shows us young people whose stories already appear permanently written—desperately so—and then suggests they still can be rewritten. It is that rarest of films: one whose very flaws teach us to accept everyone else’s. Even our own.

At its center is Grace (Brie Larson), the floor supervisor of a co-ed group home for adolescents who aren’t safe anywhere else. Scrubbed free of makeup, clad in tee shirts and jeans, and straddling the ten-speed she rides every day to work, she looks barely older than the kids she’s supervising. When she opens her mouth, though, it’s clear she is tapping into a core that only could have developed through years of hard-earned survival. The kids themselves are not so broken that they don’t still engineer scenario after scenario from which they must be rescued, if only to gauge whether someone still will. Grace and her colleagues willingly step up to those plates, cueing institutional methodology that works mostly because of their brisk, jocular kindness. One kid in particular—a scrawny-chested boy who caresses his collection of fuzzy dolls like they’re magic talismans—likes to don a cape and bolt from the institutional grounds until staff members tackle him in big bear hugs. Maybe he just runs to get hugged. So much of this film reminds us of how much we do either to get hugged or to avoid a hug lest we then feel too much.

There’s a tidiness to the plotting that doesn’t quite work. Early on, Grace discovers she’s pregnant and schedules an abortion. Soon after, Jayden (Kaitlyn Deve), the daughter of her boss’ friend, is checked onto her ward. Stonily fragile and bearing the unmistakable scars of a cutter, Jayden strikes a chord in Grace, who senses the girl’s secret is like her own. Continue Reading →

On Living Softly, and Not Having a Big Stick

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Thug

Growing up, “soft” was an insult. The ultimate one, actually. In my family it was an umbrella term that meant out-of-shape, clueless, indolent, addled, unvigilant, prissy, overly sensitive, entitled. You were soft if you didn’t take it in the chin. Soft if you asked for a ride when you could walk. Soft if you whined “I can’t.” Soft if you couldn’t run a mile or sported a gut. Soft if you cried when you dropped your ice cream. Definitely soft if you were a tattletale.

Every usage of the word was anathema to us, and by “us,” I am referring to my dad and therefore my little sister, my mother, my myself—my father’s subjects, in other words, to whom principles came down by edict.

Soft hands meant you lacked a work ethic, the might or tenacity to do physical labor. A soft voice meant you were namby-pamby, couldn’t assert yourself. Being soft-hearted meant you were a sucker. There was a long list of what was soft, and at the top of it were the rich people in my Greater Boston town, which literally had a “wrong side of the tracks” since the Mass Pike divided the more working-class sections from the wealthier people on the Hill. The rich girls wore rugbys and braids, had sleepover parties with cutesie PJs, whispered about their crushes. The girls in my neighborhood wore tight designer jeans and feathered hair, hung out at the corner store, had boyfriends with whom they did more than hold hands long before they hit puberty.

Though gentle, Charlie Bucket was not soft, which is why he inherited the Chocolate Factory. Harriet the Spy was not soft; all you had to do was look at her work uniform and you knew she was tough as nails. In those slippers and knitted sweaters, Mister Rogers and his braying singsong was ridiculously soft. And the Beatles, oy the Beatles. With their thin voices, those fa-la-la proclamations of love—forget it. So soft. As a matter of fact, all white music was soft, except punk rock and, of course, the Stones. With their big bass lines and bigger tongues, the Rolling Stones were hard in every sense of the word. Before I even understood what sex entailed, I groked that the Beatles were the equivalent of making love and the Stones were all about fucking. Which, by definition, was not soft. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy