AFI #63: Cabaret

I get it. Cabaret is a metaphor for the decadence that leads to the rise in nationalism that makes it possible for the Nazi Party to rise to power in Germany. Sounds like a good plot for a musical (insert sarcasm here).

I’d like to dismiss this film because I’m not a big musical guy, but the truth is I don’t mind a good musical. I love the film version of The Music Man. I loved Evita with Antonio Banderas and Madonna. A Chorus Line with Michael Douglas is one of my favorites. Hey, I even like Sound of Music which also includes Nazis so that’s not a good enough reason for me to have not liked Cabaret. I just found Cabaret to be too wannabe 60s, theater of the absurd, experimental trash. Not my cup of tea. That being said, it was a huge hit in 1972 and won eight damn Academy Awards so what do I know.

Cabaret is the story of cabaret performer Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) and takes place in Berlin circa 1931 just as the Nazi party is coming to power. Sally is an over the top dreamer trying to make it big with thoughts of becoming a world-famous actress, but she’s really just using her body to make a living. She meets an English expatriate (Michael York) who turns out to be bisexual and both he and Sally fall for the same German baron. Meanwhile, the Nazis are gaining power and the mood of the city is “narrated” by the master of ceremonies of the cabaret, a creepy and pansexual dude played by Joel Grey. The musical numbers are raunchy and loosely tell the tale. The musical version of the show won eight Tony Awards including Best Musical in 1967.

Again, not my kind of musical and it was filmed during a film era that I don’t typically enjoy (there was something about the late 60s and early 70s that didn’t do it for me). Oscar disagreed with me and awards were handed out for Best Actress (Minnelli), Best Supporting Actor (Joel Grey), Best Music and Best Director (Bob Fosse). It did not win Best Picture…thank god. That rightfully went to The Godfather, but what it does mean is that Francis Ford Coppola not win Best Director for what was in my opinion one of the greatest films ever made. Joel Grey also stole the Oscar from the likes of Al Pacino, Robert Duvall and James Caan (who perhaps split votes leading to Grey’s win). Minnelli actually beat Diana Ross for Lady Sings the Blues which is also quite a crime.

Life may indeed be a cabaret old chum, but I hope my cabaret is a little more fun with fewer Nazis.

Next up: American Graffiti.

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The Heart of the Matter

Valentine’s Day is a silly made up Hallmark holiday designed to con men into buying flowers and candy, not to mention a corny greeting card inscribed with someone else’s sentiment. When you’ve been married for nearly 18 years, it’s hard to take Valentine’s Day too seriously. I can never figure out what to do for my wife on Valentine’s Day. She doesn’t eat candy and flowers seem so cliché. Jewelry is out of the question because she isn’t a big jewelry person and what she does wear belonged to her dead mother so how can I compete with that? This year I can’t even really take her out to dinner because I can’t eat much of anything on my post heart attack diet. I’ve been thinking about it for a few days now, and what I’ve decided to do this year is give her a gift from my heart — hell, it is my heart.

Dear Leslie,

Tomorrow is the four-month anniversary of my heart attack and I have made so much progress it is remarkable. But what is even more remarkable is how much you have been there for me. I always thought wedding vows were just a formality, but I have a new appreciation for “in sickness and in health.” It’s one thing to stand by your partner in tough times, but there are degrees of being there — not everyone is capable of giving as much as you have given to me over these past few months. From the moment Dr. Kerr called you from her office and told you I was headed to the emergency room you changed your entire life for me. Hell, you beat the ambulance to the ER and was waiting for me when I arrived! At that moment I put my faith in you to make decisions about my health because I knew after 17 years of marriage I could trust you more than anyone with life and death decisions. I never once felt scared because I knew you were there for me, which is why I seemed to be so cavalier about the whole experience. I was scared inside, but I also had a tremendous peace about things because I knew you were going to take care of me.

In the days and weeks that followed you took the bull by the horns and made my care your top priority. You didn’t just sit by my side, you owned this crisis and became an overnight expert on heart health. You researched all of my medicines and asked a million questions of my healthcare team, all so you’d know how best to take care of me. And then there was the food! I don’t think people understand how critical food is in the first six months post heart attack, but you do. Reading labels is only the start…but you went so far above and beyond the call of duty its astounding. I don’t think I had to cook a single meal in the first few weeks, and even today you make my eating life so much more amazing than it would have been had I been in charge. I don’t think there’s any doubt had I been alone on this journey I would be eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for every meal. In the past few months you have made — from scratch — a variety of meals fit for a heart-healthy king. Pizza. Lasagna. Sweet and Sour Chicken. Chili. Soups. Fish. Casseroles. Grilled cheese. Even hamburgers this week! All low fat and low sodium. This is no small task and I want you to know how much I appreciate it. And have I mentioned the bread. I had no idea that when you bought a bread machine I’d be eating every kind of low sodium bread under the sun. Rye. Pumpernickel. Wheat. Sourdough. Homemade bagels and buns! You are not normal and I am so damn lucky.

Not every wife would have come with me to all my doctors appointments, or reminded me to take my pills (and there are so many of them!). When I started cardiac rehab you came three days a week with me until I settled in and got comfortable. You are one of the only spouses who regularly attends the learning sessions so you can have even more knowledge to take care of me. But it’s so much more than my physical health that you’ve taken care of these past four months. You’ve managed to do all of this while still making me laugh, and going on walks with me, and taking me out to restaurants and parties and friends houses. You planned my first post heart attack “vacation” with an incredible weekend for all of us in Coronado over New Years and while it could have been so stressful it was instead a new beginning and it shed the light on our future together. We can travel and eat out and enjoy the life we were meant to share together. You even encouraged me to buy the expensive impractical car and you haven’t complained yet about my new (is it permanent?) facial hair!

It hasn’t always been easy. But I really haven’t had too many down periods since all of this shit hit the fan. On the rare occasions when I’ve felt overwhelmed, you’ve simply been there for me to talk to or to hug. You have been so strong through all of this, and though I know you’ve had your moments as well, they have been few and far between. You are such a strong person…I could only hope to be as strong as you someday.

Through sickness and in health. We have been together for 20 years and it hasn’t always been easy. Relationships are hard work, and there is a reason why most marriages don’t make it. But through it all, you have been there for me. This may have been the biggest crisis we’ve had as a couple, but there were plenty of smaller ones. The common theme though is that you always rise to the occasion. Whether it was Connor’s health issues or our ill-fated move to Georgia or my career fiascos, it never mattered to you — you simply did what comes natural to you and took charge. I think you are the most remarkable woman on the planet and I don’t know what I did to deserve you. You are the most beautiful, intelligent, funny, caring, sexy, amazing woman in the world and you’re my Valentine. And I’m your Valentine. I wouldn’t want to be with any other woman in the world…ever.

I love you and Happy Valentine’s Day.

Lenny

AFI #64: Network

A couple of year’s ago I stopped watching television news because it had become a cesspool of crime and horror. My New Year’s resolution last year was to stop paying attention to politics because it was bringing too much negativity into my life. Yesterday a friend of mine reported that he too has limited his intake of “news” because it was far too negative. Television in general has become a wasteland of “reality” that is anything but real. These days save for a couple of solid cable shows  and a whole lot of sports I use TV purely as background noise…I doubt I’ll ever be one of those people who claims to not have a television or says they don’t watch it, but I get it. Soothsayers have been saying since its inception that TV was a beast that would eventually control us, and while that seems farfetched it’s hard to argue that we haven’t become a society of slaves to the tube. Some people argue that TV is simply a reflection of society. If that’s true, god help us! Network was released in 1976 and it caused quite a stir. It’s dark humor explored what would happen if the accountants took over the news department and TV news became beholden to ratings and profitability and was run by corporations. Yep, it came out nearly 40 year’s ago even back then the disease of corporate control was under scrutiny. There’s nothing new under the sun.

The film is most famous for the iconic character of network news anchor Howard Beale, who because his ratings were slipping had a breakdown on live television and because his meltdown was good for business he was given the green light to continue to proselytize about the demise of society and the devil inside the box known as TV. His famous line “I’m mad as hell and we’re not going to take this anymore” became a national catch phrase and Peter Finch’s portrayal of Beale won him an Oscar for best actor (albiet posthumously). I’m not going to share that famous scene, but rather I’d like you to take a few minutes to watch this scene that I think sums up the spirit of Network‘s message:

I don’t think I’ll say much about the film itself other than to say it was ahead of its time and its message was eerily prophetic. But I would like to comment on where we have found ourselves in 2012 in terms of the sort of television this film considered satirical. Have you spent much time flipping through the proverbial dial on your cable box these days. Most of us are guilty of watching some of this so-called programming (I have my guilty pleasures). What the hell are we watching? Hoarders Buried Alive. To Catch a Predator. Celebrity Rehab. Hillbilly Hand Fishing. Strange Sex. Cops. Toddlers and Tiaras. Bad Girls Club. Kourtney and Kim Take New York. I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant.

These are real shows…not satire. Network was supposed to be satire. Showing the assassination of a newscaster on live television was a joke. The “Mao Tse Tung Hour” in which a left wing terrorist group filmed themselves committing crimes was a crazy idea. But honestly, how close have we come? Would anyone be surprised if the next big reality hit was a live broadcast of an execution?

What I’ll say about Network is that it was a film that made you think about the state of the media and society in general. Not too shabby for 1976. I also think a great sequel to the film (or a perfect complement for a radical double feature) would be Natural Born Killers! That’s one of my favorite films and it too takes the reality TV concept to its potential horrific end game.

Next Up: Cabaret

Take this With a Grain of Salt

I promised I wouldn’t be preachy about heart disease awareness, so take this post for what it is — a cautionary tale. I have been on a very strict diet since October as I try to ensure my heart has the best chance it can to remodel itself following the damage of my heart attack. As you can probably guess, I’m seriously watching my cholesterol and fat intake. You may also know that there is a pretty clear link between salt (sodium) and heart disease, but I bet you didn’t know how clear.

Excess sodium can increase blood pressure which increases the risk of both heart disease and stroke. My cardiologist and the American Heart Association recommend heart patients limit daily sodium intake to less than 1,500 mg per day. One teaspoon of salt equals 2,300 milligrams of sodium. One Original Rubios fish taco has 450 mg of salt. A Big Mac has 1,040 mg of salt. A six-inch Subway Spicy Italian sandwich has 1,520. Get the idea?

Yesterday I made what I thought was a pretty healthy decision at lunch. I had mahi mahi tacos with nothing on them from my company cafeteria. A few hours later I went to cardiac rehab and my resting heart rate was elevated — with medications these days it’s usually around 60 bpm and it was close to 80. What caused the jump? The friggin tortillas! Two small flour tortillas together probably had about 700 mg of sodium and there was probably some seasoning on the fish I wasn’t aware of. I’ve been doing a really great job of sticking to around 1,000 mg per day so my lunch was way out of line — and it instantly affected my heart. That salt is some scary shit.

Ironically, yesterday was also the day that the CDC came out with a new report that most Americans were getting far too much salt in their diets. You can read the article online, but here’s a fact:

Americans eat on average about 3,300 mg of sodium a day. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg a day, and about 6 out of 10 adults should further limit sodium to 1,500 mg a day.

I can tell you from experience that limiting salt is a pain in the ass. Eating out is nearly impossible and so many food items you bring home from the grocery store are also overloaded with it (ever looked at the nutritional values on a typical “healthy” frozen lunch?) This has become the hardest part of my post heart attack lifestyle. Salad bars are even dangerous. Leslie has done an amazing job of cooking for me and is even baking sodium-free bread from scratch. It’s still tough to stay on target.

It’s not that I miss the salt or the taste…it’s just so hard to find true low-sodium foods.