Monday, January 28, 2008

Live and Let Lick

The Ice Cream Snob Goes Bananas

© 2007 Leighann Lord

Much ado was made over a mention in a previous column about my dislike of chocolate ice cream. I've aroused the ire of a core group of loyal readers and for that I'm sorry. But if I can't be honest here, then where?

The question was posed, somewhat indignantly, "Well what kind of ice cream do you like?" Soft serve banana, of course. Not a lot of places to find this delicacy. I usually get it Denny's Ice Cream Shoppe in Coney Island. I go every Summer, the only time it's open, and cherish every loving spoonful. The rest of year I make do with banana milk shakes from Checkers.

Once upon a time McDonald's used to have banana milkshakes, but apparently I’m the only one who remembers this. People have argued me down that it never even existed. But I won't be Gas Lit. I still grieve its loss and assume it's gone the way of the Shamrock Shake.

People have suggested that I could make my own banana milkshake. No I can't. I'm not being lazy here. I've actually tried, and it turns out that I don't really enjoy the taste of real bananas as much as I do artificial banana flavoring. Once again, just being honest.

I hear you chocolate ice cream lovers out there bemoaning this travesty. You wonder, "How could a nice girl like you turn to the ice cream dark side?" Blame my Dad. He used to bring home banana ice cream from Carvel. It was hard packed, which I've never liked. I have an aversion to fighting with my food. So I'd let it melt. Very tricky business that. There's a knack to letting hard ice cream get soft but not soupy. It's all in the timing.

My preference for soft serve ice cream makes me big fan of Mister Softee, the ubiquitous ice cream truck that trolls around my neighborhood every Summer. Well, I was a fan until someone cruelly pointed out a few unpleasant logistics. If the guy spends all day in the truck, where does he go to the bathroom? And, more importantly, where does he wash his hands? This comes firmly under the heading of things I'd rather not think about, but you can't unthink a thought. My apologies if I've ruined it for you. I'm sure the guy has an arrangement with a local gas station and makes liberal use of hand sanitizer.

I'm not a total ice cream renegade. I also like more mainstream fare such as vanilla, butter pecan and Ben & Jerry's Sweet Potato Pie Ice Cream. I know the latter is not main stream, but it should be. It used to be served at the Ben & Jerry's in Harlem on 125th Street. I'd make a special trip just to get a cup. By special trip I mean: get in the car, drive from Queens to Manhattan and pay to get over the Triboro Bridge. It was that good.

I was heated when Ben & Jerry's took my precious Sweet Potato Pie ice cream off the menu. That location closed shortly there after. It's demise precipitated, I'm sure, by it's unwise removal of my favorite flavor.

I've since learned that Ben & Jerry's periodically retires flavors from it's menu. One of my goals is to become so famous that they bring this flavor back just for me; re-christening it: "Sweet Leighann's Sweet Potato Pie Ice Cream." I'm dead serious. This is actually written down in my list of goals. So let it be written, so let it be done.

Given my ice cream history -- hard to find flavors, discontinued items -- it would be so much easier if I liked something more readily available. Chocolate never goes out of style. But I'll begrudge you not your flavor of choice if you begrudge me not mine. I am called to walk the ice cream road less traveled. And when the path is dark, I console myself with sweet dreams of Breyers Viennetta. Better to have licked and lost, then never to have licked at all.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Apple of My Eye

© 2007 Leighann Lord

I haven’t eaten an entire apple by myself in over a year; not since I found out that Mr. Nubbins, my cranky Cocker Spaniel, loves them too.

I slice a red delicious apple every morning to have with my breakfast. The first time I cut said apple in the presence of The Mister he sat and stared at me all bright eyed as if to say, “You’re going to share that aren’t you?” I was surprised. My old dog, Scruffy, wasn’t big on fruit. If a piece of apple dropped on the floor she’d let it sit there until it rotted, or the ants came and carted it away.

The Mister is different. He doesn’t beg, per se. He’s a proud, noble, and rather aloof dog; supremely confident in his superior breeding. He sits next to me at breakfast, waiting patiently for his piece of apple. On the days when he’s impatient (he’s a busy dog, with a heavy napping schedule) he shifts positions frequently to keep himself in my peripheral vision. He's making sure he's not out of sight and mind.

I eat a piece of wheat toast and a hard boiled egg white, saving the apple for last. I quarter it, then cut a piece for The Mister. He’s a good dog, if by good you mean not completely evil; but the first time I gave him an apple slice, I came away with tooth marks on my fingers. Not hard or deep, but enough to let me know we couldn’t go on like this.

After a little training, things are better. I say, “Take it like a gentleman” and he gingerly takes the apple slice from my hand, digits never meeting the dentals.

Initially delighted at discovering his vegetarian tendencies and even encouraging it I now, of course, complain about it. I rail every morning about a grown woman not being able to enjoy a whole apple by herself in peace. My husband ignores me as he is busy slicing his golden delicious apple to share with The Mister. Apparently, a dog’s gotta have variety.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Super Kiddie Sweet 16?

© 2007 Leighann Lord
One of my concerns about having kids is the expense of raising them. The cost of college (not optional) is daunting. But higher education may be a lofty goal if we can’t financially survive the kid’s birthday party. "My Super Sweet 16" has trickled down to the preschool set. These mammoth soirees are a competitive sport that can break the bank long before junior high school with catering, flashy favors, and entertainment. We’ve come a long way from party hats, horns and pin the tail on the donkey. Spending over a grand for a child’s party? Who’s the ass now?

eighann, you don’t understand. You don’t have kids yet."
No I don’t, but once upon a time I was one. When I turned four my parents gave me a birthday party. Our house and yard were full of family, friends and food. We had music, party games, cake and ice cream, and I hated every minute of it.

I looked adorable in my pretty dress, lace stockings and patent leather Mary Jane’s, but I wasn’t actually allowed to run around and play because I might get dirty. Since the party was at my house I was in the precarious position of being both guest of honor and host. A guest of honor can do whatever she wants. A host has to please her guests and share her toys. Really not big on the sharing back then. Not that big on it now either.

I was a kid who preferred the company of adults as I found other children to be mean, nasty and willfully insipid. I didn’t dislike all children, just the ones I came in contact with. The fact that I now had a gang of them at my house was not my idea of a happy birthday.

I didn’t even enjoy my cake.

One of the joys of childhood is continually discovering something new. At my birthday party I discovered I hated pineapple cake filling. There was still the ice cream. What kid doesn’t love chocolate ice cream? That would be me. I, of course, preferred vanilla. In case you’re wondering, yes, Oscar the Grouch was one of my favorite characters on "Sesame Street." Clearly curmudgeons aren’t made, they’re born.

Before my fifth birthday rolled around I mustered up the vocabulary and the courage to ask my parents to please not give me any more parties. I just couldn’t take it. That money was saved for college, where the parties were a lot more fun.

Less you think I’m completely antisocial I did learn something positive at my fourth birthday party: that I prefer to celebrate my personal new year quietly, with immediate family and very close friends. Dinner and thoughtful presents, graciously accepted throughout the entire fiscal quarter is really all I need.

I can only hope that someday I’ll have a kid like me but I know it doesn’t work that way. I suspect fate will bring me a popular social butterfly who wants to party like it’s 1999. But on my budget, they’ll pin the tail on the donkey and like it. They’ll thank me later when they go to college.

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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

America’s Next Top (HIV) Model?

© 2007 Leighann Lord

have an agent who sends me out on auditions for on-camera commercials and voice overs. Recently they sent me out on my first print audition; a pleasant surprise since I'm not a model. Well meaning friends and a few industry people have suggested I go out for print work, but quiet as it's kept, I don't photograph well.

"Pshaw," you say. "I've seen your headshots." Yes, they’re good, but it's agony from start to finish. To be fair, it's not the photographer's fault. The vicious cycle begins with me: I don't think I photograph well, ergo I'm not comfortable in front of the camera. My discomfort and all physical flaws – real and imagined – show up in the shots. I then end up sifting through tons of awful photos just to find the one that doesn't make me cringe.

I tell this to photographers all the time. At first they don't believe me; then they start taking photos and fall strangely quiet. This usually means they're trying to find the best way to tell me about the wonders of Photoshop.

This bothers me sometimes, but I’m learning to live with the idea that I’m one of those people who’s beautiful live and in the moment. I think this is preferable to having a photo that looks a lot better than you do. When you meet people who’ve only seen your headshot they can’t always hide their shock and disappointment at the disparity. It’s so much nicer to hear,
"Wow, you look way better than your picture."

My first print audition turned out to be for a product called Lexiva, a medication that treats HIV infection. I heard my agent mention this on the phone but it didn't register until I was asked to sign a waiver stating that if hired, people may assume I am HIV positive even if I’m not. This concerned me but I figured this was an opportunity to get over my "I don’t photograph well" complex and get some print audition experience. I don’t think watching the first season of "America's Next Top Model" counts.

The session was brief. The photographer sat me down under the lights, asked for four looks, snapped a few shots and I was out the door. Looking at all the serious model types who went in before and after me, I didn’t think I stood a chance.

I was surprised when my agent called to tell me I was on first refusal. Figures. I seem to have a knack for doing commercials for products I don't use:

Century 21: Not in the market for a house.
Toyota Highlander: I own a Honda.
Lean Cuisine: I prefer home cooking.
US Cellular: I've got T-Mobile.
Elexa "The Female Condom"

I'm sorry, I firmly believe (no pun intended) that a man should buy his own. With my track record I’m surprised I haven’t done an ad for Lexus. My husband is a sweet and generous man, but I don’t think this will be a "Lexus December to Remember."

Now suddenly the waiver I signed and what it meant felt a little more serious. What if I did the shoot and my face appeared on bill boards all across America advertising an HIV medication? What if people really did assume I was HIV positive? I wonder if other actors have reservations about doing commercials or print work for drugs like Lexiva or even Valtrex (Herpes) or Cialys (erectile dysfunction)? How many of my agency’s regular’s said, "No" when they found out what the product was? This would certainly explain why I got such an out of the blue call.

Why not just take the money and run? Does it matter what strangers think? Personal goals and artistic integrity aside, a successful career in entertainment by it’s very nature depends a great deal on what strangers think. To pretend otherwise would be disingenuous.

That leaves friends and family. It shouldn’t matter what they think because they love you and know the truth, right? Well, a few years ago my husband did a print campaign for a diabetes medication. The campaign was targeted toward the medical community. My husband doesn’t have diabetes, but that didn’t stop our family doctor from assuming he did after seeing my husband’s face on the literature.

So yeah, I’m a little concerned that doing a print ad for an HIV drug will make people think I'm HIV positive. Am I being shallow? Is my attitude perpetuating the climate of misunderstanding and insensitivity for the people who are indeed living with HIV? If my own vanity and insecurity leads me to turn down this job am I giving up the opportunity to do my part in battling a disease that disproportionately affects my community and my gender?

These are uncomfortable questions I didn't expect to face on a simple print audition. But alas, I’ve expended all this mental anguish over a job I didn't get. My agent called a few days later to release me. Someone else got the job. The decision was made for me, and yet I still wrestle with the what if.

Deep down I know if they had hired me, that these would be the best photos ever taken of me. They’d have to be. If the goal is to sell medication, the manufacturer wants the people in the pictures to look supremely happy and healthy. Now, at last, I’d look way better in print than I ever could in person, because that’s how Mr. Murphy and his law works.

I’d need stock in Revlon, and a well training pit crew of makeup artists and lighting experts to maintain that look; otherwise, I’d seem ill by comparison. And then people really would begin to wonder and whisper about my health.

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