Sunset Boulevard:


I wrote about the Broadway production of Sunset Boulevard ages ago when I told y’all that I bought tickets to see the show in New York City over spring break. And if you are a loyal reader, you will be well aware of the storied history between this production and myself. I shall rehash it anyway. Many moons ago, in the last act of my teenage years, I acquired a Laserdisc player. I had long been fascinated by the gigantic discs that were superior to VHS but failed to catch on. I found a used bookstore that sold Laserdiscs, and I was eager to snatch up as many of them as I could. One of the films that I bought was Sunset Boulevard. I had never seen it, but I knew that it was going to be fabulous because of the image of Gloria Swanson looking resplendent on the cover. And it phenomenal. The story was absolutely sensational and I fell madly in love with every frame. I bought a copy of Gloria’s autobiography, Swanson on Swanson, and then later devoured that gorgeous book on my balcony of the Hôtel Welcome in Villefranche-sur-mer.


Watching the Mediterranean lap to the shore, I read all about Gloria, her decadent life, her struggles, her successes, and most intriguingly her failed musical based on Sunset Boulevard. This, of course, intrigued me something fierce, and when I returned to my apartment in the heart of Paris, I started a furious Google session. That was when I discovered the Andrew Lloyd Webber adaptation. Immediately, I downloaded the soundtrack with Patti LuPone, and for the next half decade, I would find myself belting out the songs. They were divine. Serendipitously, one night when I was in London, a small theatre was putting the show on, but I oddly decided to go to the Apple Store in Regent Street to watch Eddie Izzard do a show. I’m glad I did as I met the woman who is the voice actress for Piglet in Germany, and that’s just a silly thing to write, and I’m inordinately pleased to have had that experience. Years and years later, it was revealed that Glenn Close would be reprising her Tony Award winning role on Broadway, and it fit in my schedule, so I was off to New York. It was a hideous day, the mess after a blizzard, but I stomped in my poor suede to the Palace Theatre and took my seat. Reader, I shan’t go deep into a review, because I thought it was absolutely sensational, but I will tell you all about the fun I had. At first, Glenn’s voice didn’t seem right to portray Norma. I wanted a big voice, I wanted it to ring through the theatre, I wanted it to soar to the rafters, but as the production neared intermission, I realized, with a single tear, that she was flawless. The character of Norma is a woman who’s career was ruined by the introduction of talking movies. How fabulous that her voice was not theatrical and perfect, it was exactly what Norma needed to be. There had to be moments of frailty, of weakness, of almost reaching perfection. When she finally sang my favorite, “As If We Never Said Goodbye,” I was on my feet to applaud. The production was fabulous. It deserves another Tony. Glenn needs to be cast in a film adaptation of this wonderful musical. It really is a great show, reader, and if you have the chance to go, be there.


Glenn might even do a strip tease at the end and auction off one of her gloves for tremendous sums of money as she did the night I was there for charity. It was a fabulous evening. It was a marvelous moment. I love my life.

Leedz Salon:


Dear reader, a dramatic thing has occurred in my world. All of my hair fell off. Not really, I had it cut. It’s been a long time coming. Let’s begin this narrative back to where it all began. Picture it, rural Iowa, 2006, fat Ben in high school, long wavy hair. It was a mess and untamable, but I loved it. Then I had it cut off knowing that one day we would meet again. It took a great many years to make the bold and daring decision to grow it back out, but when I first began to admire the lovely locks of the lovely Harry Styles, I knew it was time. And so the journey began anew, and after too many awkward stages, I had long, luscious locks. This time I knew what conditioner was and how to do a number of styles, and it was much more fun. My hair and I had a riot of a good time. We were mistaken for Harry, we were complimented endlessly, but over time, the hair became a bigger personality than myself. I was living in the shadow of my hair. Isn’t that silly? So late last year, I knew that it was time to say ciao again for a spell. I held off, though. I was scared. I was sick at the thought. Then finally I had a recommendation for a salon in Ames that I felt I could trust. I read every review ever written about Leedz Salon, and I was convinced that I wouldn’t regret the decision, as I so frequently have. The day came, and I was graciously welcomed to the salon. Soon, my hair was in four ponytails and then hacked off and put in a bag. I looked in the mirror and was SHOOK. My head looked so small. Then the process of shaping my new look began and my stylist was thorough, thoughtful, kind, and did a marvelous job. (Her tip was more than half the cost of the haircut.) I was so happy when it was done. This legitimately never happens. I will never go to another salon if I’m in Iowa. After years of searching, I finally found a great place with kindly people that I can trust with my beauty. That’s a tremendous thing. I commend them and wholeheartedly recommend them. They’ve changed my life. I’m really getting into my new hair; I feel attractive again. I didn’t realize I didn’t for the longest time.

Genetic Memory:


We have discussed this topic at some length in the past a number of times. Still, whenever revelations befall me, I can’t help but become gobsmacked and unable to form coherent sentences. When I had my DNA analyzed, I was absolutely thrilled to read that there was a minute fraction of North African ancestry in my genome. It’s infinitesimal, but reader, it’s alive and well on one of my chromosomes. This provided me inordinate satisfaction. All my long life, I have felt called to the Saharan sands and those wonderful cities along the Nile river. It’s doubtful that this bit of my DNA is Egyptian in origin, the haplogroup types point to Morocco or Algiers, but still, isn’t that fabulous? I think my DNA was speaking up and some part of my brain was listening subconsciously. Fascinating. Well, my results were so fascinating that my father did his, too, and when his DNA was finally processed, my results were able to be compared with his to reveal mine with more and more clarity. Fascinatingly there is a significant minority chunk that is Iberian. Who knew? There’s a bit of Ashkenazi Jew in me, too. Who knew? But most spectacularly for me was a .8% reading of Balkan. That was utterly unexpected. Reader, dear and gentle reader, do you know what this means? Do you know what nation of my long obsessions is in the Balkans? Reader, the Balkans contain ROMANIA. Did you gasp? Did you shriek at the absurdity of this? Is it just me? Have I not shared enough about Romania with you? If not, let’s correct that. When I feel down or blue or in need of change, I dream of running away and slipping away during the small hours of the morning. One day I’ll pop up somewhere absurd and wonderful and my escape will have done me worlds of good. The place that I always fantasize escaping to is the Romanian countryside. I crave the rolling hills, the Carpathian mountains, the eggplant dips, the giggles about Dracula, and touring all the little painted monasteries. My soul needs this. But more than anything, I crave to live my life, every once in a while (roughly twice a year) as a Romanian hay farmer. Nothing would be grander, I think at these moments, than stacking piles of golden hay and breathing in the chill morning air. The day would be spent in glorious monotony as the sheaths of hay fell to the ground under the sharp blade of my scythe. My muscles would ache and I would fall promptly asleep after a hearty dinner. It would happen all over the next day and the next ad infinitum. So reader, it was delightful to read that I have the Balkans in me. Romania wasn’t a wild fantasy. It was genetic memory. My DNA knew that Romania is where I need to be. My DNA is homesick for Africa and for the Balkans. This is all fabulous. Get your DNA tested, reader. Live your real and honest lives.

Handheld Vacuum Sealer:


All of my long life I have wanted a vacuum sealer. I don’t rightly know why since I don’t really have anything that needs an airtight seal. Still, there is something oddly intoxicating about the process of vacuum sealing. Sucking the air out to preserve food forever intrigues me something fierce. I eat half an avocado every day for lunch, and I get sick to death of carving out the brown, oxidized bits of avocado the second day. I tried my best to suck all the air out of the ziplock bag that I used, but inevitably, air still gets in and rots my beloved avocados. I knew that the time had come to find a solution, but I did absolutely nothing about it. By chance the other day, I was roaming the housewares aisle of Walmart buying mugs and towels and things I really did not need when my eyes fell upon the vacuum sealers. Of course I had to look. I started squawking when I saw a handheld model. I’ve never heard of such a thing. I never knew such a marvelous product existed. It cost $18 and I immediately put it in my basket. Reader, that little machine is a delight. A friend and I did an experiment with an apple by cutting it in wedges, sealing it, and waiting for the apple to brown. It never did. I was delighted. That afternoon, I put half of an avocado in and sealed it. Two days later, I pulled it out of the refrigerator and it looks like I just sliced it in half. I am so happy, reader. I’m going to save very little money, but I’m going to have so much fun. Vacuum seal everything, reader. It’s a treat.

“No Room for Secrets” by Joanna Lumley:


Reader, the love of my life is Joanna Lumley. There is no other living person I would rather meet, that I would rather befriend, that I would rather see from afar than this splendid woman. She has lived the most wonderful life, and I do my damnedest to emulate her. I have been inspired by her for as long as I can remember, and I feel foolish that I only ever knew of her as an actress at the beginning. Joanna is the actress who plays Patsy Stone on Absolutely Fabulous, the iconic and wonderful program that helped mold me into the creature you know today.

When I stumbled upon documentaries that she hosted, though, my love for her grew exponentially, and I have never quite gotten over it. She has a program that I’ve mentioned a dozen times, Joanna Lumley’s Nile, that traces her journey from the mouth of the Nile down to its very source. Every time I go to Egypt, I watch it the night before the plane takes off to Cairo so that I can get in the spirit of things, get overwhelmed with the love of travel again, try to emulate Joanna as best as I can. She is graceful, kind, erudite, wise, thoughtful, compassionate, and has the greatest sense of humor. I love her. Let’s watch the beginning of that glorious show. Weep with me — seriously — as she says, “We are now, officially, in the Nile!”

All right, on to the subject of this post. She has a memoir called No Room for Secrets, which has been sitting on my coffee table for about a year waiting for me to have a spare moment. Finally I devoured it. Reader, I relished every page. The way the book is organized is absolutely genius. Each chapter is dedicated to a room in her London home and throughout each room, she will tell stories about the knickknacks found there, random memories, and stories of things that have occurred within those walls. It was gorgeous. The stories ranged from her childhood in India, to the pedestrian bridge she campions in London, to plane rides from Cairo to London, to discussions about products she wants to invent, to her philosophies on decorating. I have never read a more beautiful book in my life. Never have I ever heard somebody string together English words with such consideration for their beauty. I am now going to post far too many quotations from the book because I never ever want to forget them. Bear with me, my dears:

These suitcases…give me a thrill and a sense of security, of certainty that ‘travel’ will soon be here again, even if it’s not for good. The idea of stopping traveling fills me with an immeasurable dread.

I can’t wait to have enough time to catch up on all the books I want to read — I’ll never do it, there is so much to be known, I’ll go to my grave with books in my coffin.

This is partly complacency, partly idleness, mostly aimless. I have no ambition, except to do what I do better.

Something always comes along, and suddenly you find you have embarked on a new adventure, never at all what you would have expected to happen.

My hands never became nice skeletal claws.

‘How civilized,’ he would murmur, ‘how very civilized. Perhaps just one more slice.’

I’d be stifled and claustrophobic if I knew what I’d be doing this time next year. The great thing is to have confidence and enjoy things.

We are like icebergs, only a small part of us showing and about nine-tenths underwater, made up of hidden thoughts and a completely separate life.

Then there are all my coats for my parallel existence: coats to throw round yourself in Connemara, silk velvet evening coats for sweeping into the opera in New York, neatly tailored tweed coats for jumping out of a train at Vienna Hauptbahnhof, slinky jeweled mackintoshes for racing from a nightclub into a taxi in the rain in Paris.

The [cat] has gone now, and we miss him more than words can tell. Writing has become boringly simple without his dear furry body slumping down into the wet ink as I struggled to write round his soft paws; it was extraordinary what a huge emptiness such a little creature could leave behind.

One of the advantages of traveling alone is that you often sit next to interesting people who are happy to talk. Random conversations with complete strangers can be memorable.

‘Spread around us in this dense and dazzling tapestry are all kinds of opportunities for joy; but we have stopped seeing them.’

‘In Egypt, people are happy. They have so little, but they smile and are happy…they will offer you the hospitality of their home. That I think is good.’

My lifeline seems to go across my palm, round my thumb and start at the beginning again, so perhaps I’ll be alive for ages—perhaps forever. Now, back to my packing.

Isn’t she divine?

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