A Few of My Favorite 2018 Things

To paraphrase John Mulaney, 2018 was “an on-fire trash can.” But it’s been this way forever: to paraphrase another great philosopher, every year is trashy/fiery in its own way. To be sure, lots of bad things happened in 2018, but that’s not why I’m here today. My initials are CGB, not CNN. I’m here to bring you goodness, not unending coverage of an orange menace. Puppies, not plutocrats.

In semi-chronological, semi-I did what I wanted order, what follows are some of my favorite 2018 happenings, both from the world and large and closer to home.

Arm reloading

This one is first for a reason. It doesn’t get any better than an ARM RELOAD. “Mission Impossible: Fallout” was a lot of things, but this punch prep was the absolute best bit of acting in it. I saw this movie twice, mostly so I could see this in large format again. Henry Cavill is fighting dudes in a French bathroom, getting smashed into some porcelain and pipes, and has a confusing mustache that Tom Cruise may or may not have ordered in a fit of insecurity. But the context of why he’s doing this doesn’t even matter; the gesture stands on its own as a power move for the ages. He is reloading his guns so he can crush you into a jiggly figgy pudding. I for one am still crushed by association.

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Locking and loading

Getting Jeni’s in the mail

In February, the bleakest month of the year, I received a dry ice-encased surprise in the mail. There it was, a sherbet-orange box, with the sacred name “Jeni’s” inscribed on the side. Inside were three flavors of the best ice cream this city has to offer. It may as well have been sent from heaven, a place I’m never going because I have a handbasket already reserved in my name. It was an insanely sweet gift pulled off by a master of the delightful and unexpected, a tasty version of the arm reload I’m still reeling from. A poster in the box informed me that “these ice creams are made to be devoured, shared, paired, spooned, licked, lopped, and loved.” Which is exactly what I did.

Anything written by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

One of my favorite authors kept putting out hit after hit in 2018, like she’s a girl group from the 1960s. Seemingly every other week, we got another excellent profile from Taffy. Early in the year, she gave us a dive into the mind of Tonya Harding, then explained what is going on with Jimmy Buffet. She even went to Gwyneth Paltrow’s house and ate dinner the GOOPster herself helped prepare. Taffy brought us Bradley Cooper insisting he hates celebrity profiles even as he sat down for one. Her portrait of Melissa McCarthy is not to be missed. Ethan Hawke, for god’s sake. There are too many to list in full. In all, Taffy gives us what we want – what are these famous people up to? – right along with what we need – what really goes on inside these various machines? She observes the manic panic, the drive and verve, involved in operating on such a public level. And then there was the news her first novel is coming out in 2019, and I don’t know what we did to deserve such a bounty. This woman is epically prolific, and I am thankful for it.

Fergie’s rendition of the national anthem

When the Dutchess (that’s how she spells it) sang the national anthem at the NBA All-Star Game in February, ears across the nation experienced a sonic experiment. Fergie jazzed it up, slowed it down, and inserted a cascade of extra syllables. Players listening couldn’t suppress laughs. After she got dragged over the internet coals for daring to switch it up, Fergie apologized: “I’m a risk taker artistically, but clearly this rendition didn’t strike the intended tone.” But who’s to say we shouldn’t let musicians take a public risk now and then? That “ba-ya-ner-yer” yet waves. (There was also a remix, naturally.)

Bob Ross on Netflix

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I’m not sure if episodes of Bob Ross’s famous “Joy of Painting” series appeared on Netflix in 2018 or before, but this year is when it came to my attention. How long I have I spent watching him fluff out happy clouds and conjure idyllic scenes? Well, the insides of my eyelids are now each painted with a Bob Ross original. His voice will put out the fires in your brain. I was so enthralled by the colors in one of the episodes that I wrote about it, bought a domain name, and here I am still, contributing more obscure drivel to the Interwebsticles.

Met Gala theme

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Speaking of focusing on the bright side of things, no one does fashion like the Catholic church. 2018’s Met Gala theme, “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” highlighted the holy haute couture this strain of Christianity has produced since before there were runways. Wait, the nave is basically a runway, priests are the supermodels prancing on them, etc., so this was a natural symbiosis since the beginning  (Pope Francis, don’t come for me.) Met Gala invitees don’t always do very well with the themes – see Sarah Jessica Parker’s headpiece in 2015, the entire set of outfits at 2013’s “Punk: Chaos to Couture,” as just a couple examples. But this one was both accessible and high stakes. Anyone can throw on a gown with a headpiece and call it an homage to the Virgin Mary, but art by and for the Catholic church through the years is a dauntingly rich area for expression. This red carpet did not disappoint: Zendaya in an armor dress as Joan of Arc, Chadwick Boseman as decked-out clergyman, Ariana Grande’s Sistine Chapel gown, Lena Waithe’s rainbow cape, Janelle Monae’s homage to her album. Frances McDormand’s body terrarium. And perhaps most deliciously, Rihanna christened herself Pope. 2019’s theme is camp, and I’m already excited for the possibilities that holds. We’ll see about the execution.

Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer in “Killing Eve”

Sandra Oh in a leading role is always a good move, and in the BBC show “Killing Eve” she shone as an under-used, neurotic MI-5 worker bee whose persistence lands her a secret gig hunting down the female assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer). The two chase each other across Europe in a spiral of obsession and intrigue. Despite the heavy subject material, Oh and Comer are simply great fun to watch as they circle each other, and writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge gives them a spicy web to weave together. Waller-Bridge leavens the proceedings with enough absurdity that we want to keep pushing into this insane yet everyday world. Lines like “Over there I saw a rat drinking out of a can of coke. With both hands. Impressive,” and “You tiresome think bucket” make me want her to take over all TV. Not to be overlooked: Oh’s fantastic hair and Comer’s zeal in embracing the couture-loving side of her assassin – she gets some of the TV year’s best fashion moments.

Emergency Contact – Mary H.K. Choi

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Mary H.K. Choi wrote one of the best books of the year – my thoughts here.

World Cup

France won, as expected, but for a little while I got to pretend like Croatia was going to win something. I also took this opportunity to revel in some good old bad hair.

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Marathon sign

For my first Grandma’s Marathon, my sister made me this excellent double-sided sign. My mom got a video of me when I caught sight of it, running past the 24-mile mark or so and wheezing in surprise and delight. I am beyond thankful to share genes with this genius human. Not only did she come to northern Minnesota from many miles away, she Crayola’d her heart out on a poster board and created the perfect motivational message.

The most special outfit

One thing I learned this year is that I am a social gambler. I like to think of ridiculous propositions and see how they play out. I bet hard, and mostly lose. But this instance was one of maybe two times it paid off and I didn’t have to ask a stranger about their fashion choices, take a shot of some heinous mixture, or reenact a Vine in a crowded bar. During a vicious game of “odds,” I asked my brother the chances he would  let my sister and I pick an outfit for him from a local Ben Franklin store and wear it all day at work on a Friday. For some reason I’ll never know, he said 1 in 3. When we counted down, we both said the same number, and a cherished memory was born. We marched him over to the enigmatic establishment and chose a winning ensemble for him. Who doesn’t need a camo hat with a zippable front flap and a deer cornucopia shirt? To make the pot even sweeter, my dad knows my brother’s boss, and asked him to make sure he fully carried out the bet. It was marvelous.

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Chicago Marathon

It rained, my shoes betrayed me, and I started to fall apart. But I made it. You certainly spend a lot of time alone training for a marathon, but on race day, everyone’s cheering and it’s a buoying feeling. When you cross that finish line, your legs and your brain are both useless after a long battle; you just know you somehow ran that far. I especially lost it when the British man who gave me my medal said “Outstanding work out there, well done you!” How did he know? 😉

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Leah and Rex

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Sometimes this person and this horse tolerate my presence for a morning or afternoon, and it’s glorious. Just look at these two. Also, have you ever fed a peppermint to a horse? It’s everything you’d hope for and more.

Springsteen on Broadway

I was extremely lucky to be able to see this show. I’ve loved Bruce unabashedly my whole life, and seen him perform in multiple phases of his career – with the E Street Band (with and without Clarence Clemons), solo turns, and with the Sessions Band. This show is Bruce come full circle – all the stages of his career knit together and presented in one night. He performs like a shaman, reaching back into each consciousness he’s held and channeling a strong energy to always tell stories. It was enthralling to be totally and completely in a space, in a moment, in those notes. It’s as close to church as I’ll ever get.

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Cakes

The people in my life really came through with the cakes this year. First my parents trolled both of my siblings in one racoon-themed birthday cake. Then I won a bet (only the second success out of many attempts) and a gelatin-filled wonder appeared. Pictures presented without further comment.

John Wick riding a horse through the streets of Brooklyn

As far as I can tell, Keanu Reeves’ life is one long excellent adventure. If you’re not riding horses in strange places, what are you doing? As part of filming “John Wick 3: Parabellum,” Reeves took to the streets and showed us all a bit of horsemanship. Not a bad way to get around.

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Shark Gnome

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There are times you don’t know you need a thing until it’s right in front of you. Or until you drive by it. I caught a glimpse of this beautiful monster on a suburban street on a sunny fall day in Minnesota, and I’ve never been the same. This sculpture (?) was prominently displayed at the forefront of a yard sale. When have you ever seen an artistic rendering of an aquatic animal wearing a Hawaiian shirt, serving something invisible on a platter? What surf and turf restaurant did it swim out of? To paraphrase Mr. Mulaney again, “but ohhhhh, the things it has seen!” So badly did I need to find out, I made my dad drive by the sale again so I could get out and ask the man running things, who was petting a cat, what he was asking for this specimen. “$450,” he said, with no trace of irony in his voice. “$750, if I had finished it.” While he regaled me with stories of how he acquired sundry other treasures in the yard, I let my mind wander over the mysteries of shark statue pricing. I had planned to offer $20 for it so I could laugh at it forever, but this man wasn’t going to have it. I slunk back off to the car, settling for the memory of Shark Gnome, forever deprived of his presence.

Maya Rudolph’s pronunciation of “bubble baths”

Maya Rudolph is a national treasure. She is what’s written on the back of the Constitution in invisible ink, despite what Nicolas Cage might think. In one of several star turns this year (see also: “The Good Place” and “Forever”), she gave voice to the Hormone Monstress in the animated series “Big Mouth,” and gifted us with a phrase I want on my tombstone. “If you need me, I’ll be in the bubble bath,” she intones, melting the syllables into gold. Her mellifluous cooing is a universal band-aid. Rudolph is the daughter of the late Minnie Riperton, so this isn’t surprising. Someone made this into a medley of sorts, and I love them for it. If you need me, I’ll be listening to this on repeat in the bubba baff. Bonus: Caity Weaver’s profile of Madame Rudolph is masterful.

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First ever viewing of “The Last Waltz” on Thanksgiving

On Thanksgiving Day, 1976, The Band put on what was billed as their final performance as a unit at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. Martin Scorsese filmed it. This concert has it all: giants of music from the late 1960s and into the 1970s, hours of indelible performances, a surprise alto sax appearance, obvious yet tamped-down infighting. Much has been written about how “The Last Waltz” is the quintessential Thanksgiving experience. People who may not love each other as much anymore come together to create something everyone can love. The underlying sadness of something ending, a ship sailing. Dynamics of long-standing friendships tested by fame and “the road.” I agree with all of that. But we need to talk about the outfits, and Van Morrison doing multiple high kicks whilst visibly intoxicated. About Mavis Staples stealing the show. How adorable Levon Helm is, especially when he yodels. It’s a Thanksgiving celebration full of Easter eggs: Joni Mitchell in a resplendent maroon ensemble, Muddy Waters tearing it up, Emmylou Harris, Van Morrison’s purple suit. The overall effect is an uneven cornucopia (what even fits in the back of those things?), but the buffet satisfies. As Mavis whispers at the end of “The Weight,” it’s “beautiful.”

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The kick is high

“Sound of Music” initiation

I saw this movie for the first time recently, and it delivered on many levels. It also left me with numerous questions. I recorded my thoughts here.

Puppies

No matter what else happened this year, puppies were always there to guide the way. We always found a cute bundle of joy to pet and feel better about the world.

Theresa May dancing

Brexit is terrible, horrible, no good, very bad. It’s not funny. But Theresa May trying to dance her way through public appearances and diplomacy is.

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