Past Is Prologue

Love is strange

Image for post
Image for post
Los Feliz, Los Angeles, California, September 11, 2020. Photo: Sela Shiloni

I fell in love with a guy from New England before I knew anything about him, except his art. This is a dangerous practice, as anyone who has spent time with an artist of any sort can surely tell you.

I should know better. I do know better. But I swear this time it’s different.

I found out everything I could about him through the usual channels — not obsessively, mind you, nothing creepy. I made certain inquiries. I’m like that when I’m interested in somebody, as a friend or otherwise. I want to know where they came from so I can understand how they became the person I adore. Maybe it’s more about me than them. …


This Is Us

Seriously.

Image for post
Image for post
Photo courtesy of the author.

California is America, only more so. That’s its burden and its gift. It’s so big and tiny, crowded and empty, foggy and smoky yet bright and shining, and it shakes. If you drive the whole length of the thing, 770 miles from top to bottom, you’re going to need some great driving music. If you’re cool, you’ll blast a playlist of all the newer stuff that I never know about until it’s not hip anymore.

I do get to it, though. I’m a late bloomer and I travel slow, but I catch up eventually.

Recently, I asked some savvy friends for suggestions. I needed a soundtrack to complete a therapeutic assignment: a road trip, no small thing for an agoraphobe like me. I was recovering from a recent flare-up of the anxiety disorder that has crouched and snarled in me for as long as I can remember. I’ve been through this enough to know that I’ve got to do my cognitive behavioral therapy homework (like another program of recovery I’m in, it works if you work it). And I know that good music helps. Great music fixes almost everything. …


Mind Games

An agoraphobe’s advice on how to go out again

A photo of a red door in an empty room with bright yellow walls.
A photo of a red door in an empty room with bright yellow walls.
Photo: oxygen/Getty Images

Since the stay-at-home orders began in the United States in mid-March, I’ve been asked the same question over and over: “What is this like for you, since you’re, you know, agoraphobic?”

Journalists ask The Question while interviewing me for stories about working from home or about creativity or about mental health. These are the only three things I am interviewed about, except when I am on a book tour or when the BBC World Service needs someone awake at 2 a.m. to say funny things about an unfolding American pop culture contretemps or sweet things about a newly dead comedian. …


This Is Us

How we talk to the dead

Image for post
Image for post
Wee Kirk o’ the Heather, Forest Lawn Memorial Park, April 19, 2020. Photo courtesy of the author.

I went to the cemetery the other day, not for any particular reason other than we are still allowed to go to cemeteries, at least for now. Ordinary funeral gatherings are not permitted at this moment here in Los Angeles, a city of four million people that spreads out over 469 square miles. I could not find the number of deaths due to Covid-19 within city limits, but Los Angeles County has lost 848 people to this pandemic. By the time you read this, more will be gone.

I’m from Hunterdon County, a rural area in New Jersey that takes up nearly as much space as my adopted city but contains about 3,875,000 fewer people. The biggest thing to ever hit Hunterdon County was the 1935 Lindbergh baby murder trial, after which they electrocuted a German immigrant despite evidence that he didn’t do it. Pretty much nothing happened before that or after that. …


Image for post
Image for post
Art: MRCokeley Design

Why I unabashedly love every single dude on this show

I have not been in love with a real man in quite some time, but I love several imaginary men, and they live in a town called Schitt’s Creek.

When it comes to romance, the wisdom from women’s magazines and various fauxspirational Instagram accounts is this: Honey, you’ve got to truly love yourself before you can love a good man. The idea, as near as I can tell, is that we women are supposed to meditate, pray, eat lean pasture-raised meats and organic vegetables, indulge in one (1) square of dark chocolate per evening, take daily bubble baths, and become so goddamn happy on our own that we don’t even notice the hot, loyal, generous, unmarried heterosexual endocrinologist making eyes at us at the bookshop until he accidentally drops a copy of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “We Should All Be Feminists” directly on our pedicured feet. …


Image for post
Image for post
Art: MRCokeley Design

There is hope for Adam Driver’s character. First: get a better haircut, bro

For me, the biggest surprise about Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story is that I liked it.

It is a good movie that would’ve been a great sixty-minute standalone episode of an anthology series about breakups or sad white people with money or the breakup of two sad white people with money. It is not one of the best films of the year, but it is about successful artists with problems, the kind of successful artists who eventually gain voting membership in academies and associations that give awards to more successful artists with money who remind them of themselves. …


A meditation, with screaming parrots

Image for post
Image for post
Photo: Sara Benincasa

A flock of feral, red-crown parrots zooms around northeast Los Angeles and Pasadena. Now and then, they settle in for a couple of days on a hill near my apartment. They scream in terrifyingly human voices. They are very, very loud.

There are all sort of stories about the original group from which these green-bodied alarm clocks descended: They escaped from an exotic bird preserve in Alhambra, California during a storm. They were all purchased from the fancy bird shop on Glendale Boulevard in Atwater Village by some animal rights activist and released at Occidental College. …


Image for post
Image for post
Art: MRCokeley Design

Words of support for the Sheriff from Netflix’s hit show ‘Stranger Things’

Having recently watched all three seasons of the hit Netflix series Stranger Things, I’m now an authority on the program.

No, I can’t rattle off all the 1980s cultural references. Yes, I still call the characters by the names I invented before I could keep track of all these freaking people: Eleven is “Young Carrie Fisher But Also Elizabeth Perkins”; Will is “Somehow Not A Culkin”; Lucas is “Formerly Young Simba On Broadway”; Erica is “Perfect Delivery”; Joyce is “Winona”; etc. But I am an expert on one character in particular, and his name is Jim Hopper.

Before I espouse my wellness prescription for Hopper in this, my entry into the thriving Stranger Thinkpiece Industrial Complex, let me provide some context for why it’s taken me until the Year of Our Lord Have Mercy 2019 to develop this opinion — a Hop Take ™, if you will. …


What do you do when someone struggling with mental-health issues needs more help than you can give?

Image for post
Image for post
Photo: japatino/Getty Images

When a friend is in danger, there are times when you can, and obviously should, step in. For example, when a pal chokes on her avocado cheeseburger spring roll at the Cheesecake Factory, you should administer the Heimlich maneuver. When a buddy loses his balance at a pool party and drunkenly falls in the water, you should drag him out ASAP.

When it comes to mental health, of course, there are still moments when the answer is obvious: If a friend calls you and threatens suicide, try to stay on the phone and engage in a back-and-forth conversation; if your friend won’t go to a hospital, call or text 911, and stay in contact until you know medical professionals are present. And don’t feel guilty for any of it. This isn’t a betrayal, and it isn’t about saving a relationship. …


Image for post
Image for post
Art: Matt Cokeley

Dan Hedaya is a hard-to-beat make-believe father figure

Movie and TV dads matter, and not just because some character needs to do a dorky thing to which the cooler, younger main character can react with loving embarrassment. They matter because they show us a version of masculinity that may remind us of the fathers we have, or the fathers we wish we had, or the fathers we’re really, really glad we don’t have.

Almost invariably, a fictional onscreen dad reflects something about the contemporary world in which we live. And of all the movie dads whoever movie dad-ed — at least in the past three decades — my number one favorite, with a bullet — and a shovel — has got to be Dan Hedaya as Mel Horowitz, attorney-at-law, in the hilarious 1995 romcom confection Clueless.

About

Sara Benincasa

Author, REAL ARTISTS HAVE DAY JOBS (and other books). Comedy person. Acting services also rendered.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store