Monday, April 16, 2012

a little paint

When I was in Washington D.C. a few weeks ago, my friend Sarah was painting her nails, and I - possessed by some Kardashian spirit, evidently - asked if she would pass me her dark gray polish. Without really thinking about it (I'd had somewhere between 1 and 7 glasses of wine at this point, by the way), I sloppily applied the paint to four of my fingers. Yes, just four. (I suppose this was my way of dipping my toes - or, in this case, fingertips, LOLOL - in the water without jumping off the ledge.)

When I presented my painted nails to Sarah and our friend Sonia, they both sort of shrugged, perplexed, the way you might react to an incomplete sketch. "Uhhh, let me redo them," Sarah said, handing me the nail polish remover. After Sarah painted them over, I gawked, dumbstruck, at my hands. "These look, like, professionally done," I remarked. We poured ourselves more wine.

When I got back to New York, I was excited to show off my "new look" to my friends. I'd always harbored fantasies - all well documented on this here blog - of dying my hair blond or getting a small tattoo, and this felt like a smaller-scale version of those moves, a way of effecting psychological change through a physical one. I was somewhat discouraged, however, to arrive at dinner on my first night back and have my friend ask, "Ummm, did your fingers get slammed by a door or something?" I hadn't realized until that moment just how much the dark polish on the four fingers visually resembled bruises. "No," I said, "It's nail polish." "And why just four?" she asked. "No reason, really," I said, somewhat annoyed and self-conscious. On the subway later, I looked up from my magazine and for this really weird and disconcerting split second, I didn't recognize the fingers holding the pole as my own.

(Related observation: You become so aware of your fingers when they're painted... especially when you're typing, when you're gesticulating, when you're eating, when you're washing your hands, etc. It's kind of like the "your own hands" equivalent, I guess, of when you notice an actor's weird facial tic and you can't concentrate on his acting anymore because you're so focused on the bizarre blinking thing he does when he speaks or whatever. In a way that I found kind of thrilling (?), it makes you so much more conscious of your physicality.)

It took about three weeks before the chipping began and I swiftly removed the polish (I didn't want to be riding around town in a car with dents and a missing bumper). Now, reflecting on the "experience," I feel kind of... proud of myself? I would never have dared traipse around New York - do things like hand over money at Duane Reade, sit in a business meeting, etc. - with painted nails before, I dunno, six months ago maybe. Most of my friends didn't notice or thought the nails looked ridiculous, but ultimately I found myself not caring about that, either - a realization which also pleased me. Really, I just liked how they looked; and I liked how I would forget they were painted and then notice them and remember again. When it comes to shaking things up, a little paint goes a surprisingly long way.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

the understudy

I don't go to Broadway shows very often, so, on the occasion that I do, I'll usually make it into something of an event. I'll dress up; I'll splurge on a fancy dinner beforehand; I'll turn off my phone before the show starts (even though I know I could just leave it on vibrate) to somehow differentiate the experience from seeing a common movie.

The last three shows I've been to, though, have each been preceded by the announcement (via leaflet inserted in Playbill) that one of the lead roles would be played by an understudy. All three times! (Of course, I now believe I have some kind of weird star-sabotaging Broadway curse... I imagine a disconsolate understudy eating kale in her bed when she gets an e-mail from a stage manager that's like "Duboff is coming to the show tomorrow night!!! U know what that means! Start warming up!")

Given these circumstances, I have been spending an unusual amount of time lately thinking about understudies. The initial feeling, of course, is one of intense disappointment: you shelled out all this money for the ticket and you know you're not going to see the show again (meaning you'll never get a chance to see the "real" actress do her thing). It feels like you're parched in the middle of the desert and all you have to drink is a warm can of off-brand soda. "I'm just so annoyed," you'll whisper gravely to your friend, as if your laptop's been stolen or something. "Can you believe this luck?"

The show begins, and the wide-eyed understudy comes out and starts doing her thing, and you can't help but wonder whenever she's singing what the real lead's voice sounds like. But, as the show goes on, you start to pick up on the understudy's hustle, the way she over-enunciates a little and lurches into each song. You imagine her texting her friends that morning something like "I can't believe I *finally* get my chance today!!!" You picture her drinking all this tea and reviewing her notes over and over and grinning dumbly as she puts on the costume that's been wrapped in plastic in her closet for weeks. She's been watching the lead every day in rehearsal and has this whole entire performance - a symphony of reactions and gestures and high notes - stored away inside, ready to be revealed at a moment's notice.

Before you know what's happening, you're full-on rooting for the underdog. Sure, there's some cognitive dissonance going on - it's nice to think you haven't been completely short-changed - but there is something that really ends up inspiring you about this understudy, playing the part with gusto and enthusiasm despite knowing that everyone in the audience is disappointed to be seeing her on stage.

The show ends and you turn to your friend and you both do a wide-eyed nod. "She was actually, like, really good, right?" "Yeah, I mean, great, I think?" You make a mental note to Google her when you get home, but, invariably, you end up forgetting.