Here for It w/ R. Eric Thomas, #176

Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?

This week: I must mask you a question, I must ask Patti Lupone many questions, and I must ask the robot dog to stay far away from me.

There’s a line in Jay-Z’s song “Big Pimpin’” that goes “I got no passion/ I got no patience/ and I hate waitin’” and it has bothered me for years. First of all, it’s always seemed to me that having no patience and hating waiting are essentially the same thing. I remember hearing this song in the 90s and thinking “wait, this feels like a semantic distinction but maybe Jay-Z is trying to communicate something deeper about the nature of presence and endurance in his ode to ::checks notes:: having a lot of sex.” Okay, I didn’t really think that but every time I heard the song I did think “he’s saying the same thing twice and this will probably stick in my craw for 20 years.”

The other thing about this line is that the contention that “patience” and “waitin” work as a slant rhyme is dubious to me. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the aural chaos of a slant rhyme. I love when a rapper or a poet just throws two random words together and they’re like “Let God sort it out!” My ears are calling up to my brain all panicked like Scotty from Star Trek “I’m connecting as fast as I can, Captain! But ya have to admit, they’re different words!” If I was a judge in the Rhyming Supreme Court, I’d be notoriously liberal. They’d call me the Sonia Sotomayor of Rhyming Supreme Court. (A lengthy nickname, but one I’d wear with pride.) Lawyers for the DOJ would be like “Your honor! The defendant tried to rhyme ‘pumpernickel’ and ‘rose petal’!” And I’d be like “I’ll allow it! Case dismissed!” (I know this is not how the Supreme Court works at all. I could have just made it a regular court in this scenario but I thought it would be funnier if it was purposefully completely wrong. This joke itself is a slant rhyme.)

Anyway, I bring all of this up—the patience and the waiting and such—because this has been a week that has really tested my patience. Or maybe made me wait. Or maybe both? Help me, golden era Jay-Z, with your strange rhymes and problematic lyrics. I can’t go into details but there’s some stuff with our bank this week that I expected would be quicker and it hasn’t been. Even as I type this, I’m waiting for a phone call that has been rescheduled once and is now ::checks watch:: 7 minutes late. And I get testy when there’s funny business with my money. Or, as Jay-Z said, “I’m not a businessman; I’m a business, man.” (I don’t know how this applies to me outside of the fact that I have an LLC, but let’s just go with it. Slants everywhere!)

Of course, in this uncertain time, it’s important to extend grace to everyone adjusting to new systems and to acknowledge that not everyone’s clock is running at the same speed. I know in my life and work, there are things that used to be very quick that now seem to take forever. And there are things that seemed to last for a long time that now go by in an instant. So… grace all around. But that said… run me my money! (You can tell that I am not the pastoral half of my marriage.)

Because there was so much happening and not-happening this week (and because of the ever-present, well, ever-presence that has come to define social isolation) I jumped at the opportunity to take an online cooking class on Saturday. I’m doing so much writing worrying and waiting, that two hours spent learning to make three Filipino dishes seemed like a vacation. I relished the chance to work with my hands, to see something begin and end, to not have to turn my camera on. I’m not someone who has sought refuge in cooking during the past two months, which is odd because I really like cooking. Maybe it’s because I also really like a leisurely stroll through the grocery store before cooking and that’s not a possibility right now. Maybe it’s because I have too little patience for something to braise or rise or stew and my ability to wait has recently been limited to the amount of time it takes for a delivery driver to speed by and toss a bag from the car right into our empty building lobby. In any case, that seems to be changing so when Baltimore’s Chinatown Collective announced they were streaming a live cooking lesson from two local chefs while they made chicken adobo and tinola, I was sold.

It was a great event—they had a charming and funny host to keep things going, the camera work was interesting, the instructions were clear. But, I have to note, it got off to a hilariously rocky start. I’d laid out all the ingredients they’d told us to buy in advance, including a whole chicken (for $3! Can you believe it? Three dollars American for an entire chicken! What is this, Ancient Rome?). I had a bunch of pots out just in case and two cutting boards. I realized I didn’t quite know what else I’d need but I have a well-stocked kitchen and I was confident. The broadcast started and, after a minute of banter, the chef picked up his whole chicken and in a blur of knife work, completely deconstructed it in 20 seconds and moved on. The chat feature on the broadcast lit up with comments from people asking him to go back or repeat or slow down. For my part, I couldn’t type out a chat because I was holding an entire $3 chicken in one hand and three different knives in the other hand, standing in my kitchen, plaintively calling out to the screen “Wait! Wait! Wait!”

This week: robot dogs want to help you social distance, a mask for happy hour, and a talk with Laura Dern. But first!

Patti Lupone Wants To Sign Your Stimulus Check

Has the way you've chosen to speak your mind changed over the course of your career? Do you feel more at liberty to say what you think?

Well, I've always said whatever I thought. And I was punished for it. But there's no denying talent and I know that I have talent. I know it's God-given, it's not something I created. I have a responsibility to it and they can't deny talent. They can say you're a flaming asshole, but they can't deny talent. And someone's going to want it, you know what I'm saying? Someone is going to want to hire you because you're talented.


The Terrifying Robot Dog Will Now Yell At You About Social Distancing

So, to catch you up on the month's news: last week the hornets pivoted to murder and this week surveillance dogs with the horsepower of a Prius are joining your run club. Coming next week: a plague of frogs that also have the ability to steal your identity and ruin your credit.


I Have A Few Questions About The New Face Mask With A Drinking Hole

Let's start with the pro column on this project: They're super cute. Who doesn't love a decorative mask moment? A little sequined social distancing! In these masks you'll be the most fabulous fashionista on Fury Road. It's amazing how quickly we've moved from "wow, it's weird and scary to have something medically-directed covering my face" to "can this PPE be more PP Me?" Nothing says "this is fine" like staying up late at night shopping for the perfect mask to accessorize every outfit that you've haven't worn outside in months. We're a nation that isn't sold on universal healthcare but is all in on merchandising medical care.


There's A Laura Dern Speech For Every Quarantine Mood

If you're having a rough day, I highly recommend taking a phone call from Laura Dern. That's my health and wellness advice to you: Give your phone number to an Oscar winner and then wait for them to ring you up. Repeat as necessary. Such was the remedy I sought for a case of the Mondays that beset a recent Tuesday. As it so happened, it was my birthday, though time does not exist in quarantine and I am refusing to age as a result. Still, I had been cooped up in the house for weeks, reading scary headlines, and I was in no mood to celebrate when I got on the horn with Dern.


Let’s Hang Out!

TONIGHT, 7pm Eastern: Reading during the “COVIDSLAM Open Mic” fundraiser for “Helping Hands for COVID”. Info here.

Saturday May 30, 6:30pm Eastern: Hosting virtual red carpet at Baltimore Center Stage’s annual gala. Info here.

Random Thing on the Internet

I’m only part of the way through The Encounter, a videotaped live performance with 3-D sound design, but it’s so fascinating and it has transferred brilliantly to home viewing, mostly because when it was live, the audience still had to wear headphones to get the experience. I think there’s something to be explored there, particularly considering how many theater patrons already use headphones or other devices to increase accessibility of live theater. How can we merge all the worlds—the virtual and the live and the accessibility-minded and more into a cohesive and intentional whole? And what is the intention? I’m working on some new work commissions for the presumably post-pandemic world and I’m excited to dig in while also being really stymied by the technological and logistical questions that making theater in the future pose. Not to mention the existential ones. But—and this is a cold comfort—these are the questions that greet me at every blank page. We’re always making theater (or art or work in general) for a world we know nothing about, trying to retain a part of the old world that first beguiled us while also working to harness the power of the present. Sometimes we get lucky and we’re able to see a glimpse of what could be and we write toward that. But other times we just have to hope that what we’re making means something in a time beyond our horizon. And we have to wait.

The joke itself is a slant rhyme,