No Holds Barred: Fear of Failure

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Gena Rowlands in John Cassavetes‘ Opening Night.

So now what?  Elders and essential front liners are mostly double “vaxed.” And we all feel a touch of relief with lower infection rates and quieter surges. But our country is lost in confusion. Some states are still in lockdown, some are wide open, and some are open and closed.  Emboldened seniors now want to make up for lost time and party hardy ASAP; hug a grandchild, get out with bridge player pals and wear lipstick and earrings, get a martini and a taco maskless with other “vaxettes.” Enough of Zoom.

Then we have Miami Beach’s spring break bacchanal and Palm Beach’s alternative reality bubble. Lots of people tell me — never mind booking cruises to Alaska in June or trips to Sun Valley in May — why not get your facelifts, tummy tucks, boob jobs and face fillers done NOW. Plastic surgeons are booked. So are knee and hip replacements. Medical procedures are the boldest post-vax activity going. And who knows, maybe all that Botox and joint implant gel will end up protecting you from the next variant.

Miami Beach’s spring break bacchanal!

For sure, the post-vax guidance has been spotty and conflicting.  Meanwhile governors are busy getting recalled or fielding daily drops from women with sexual harassment charges. Again, what happened to leadership?  Even Fauci is getting constant blowback.  So here we are left to navigate our “coming out” on our own. And I thought after 12 months the anxiety and fear of the unknown would evaporate — we would finally reach a universal “safety zone.”  Fuhgeddaboudit. Keep the masks, sanitizers and Xanax at the ready.

We all get that “people need people” and community is essential for our mental health. As some TV psychiatrist commented, “People need to get out and see a new face. It will keep you engaged and young.” But with masks, who is seeing a new face? For instance, shopping (grocery or clothing boutique) requires real connection with sales help and other shoppers; not to mention the up close and personal touch and feel of the merchandise.  With online shopping it is all hyper-digital and disconnected, and quite frankly a lonely experience.  It may be accessible, but with online shopping, the thrill is gone.

My big post-vax “comeback” was getting to Trader Joe’s (not at 7 a.m.) for a 20-minute aisle sweep and out-the-door.  I found I had lost my “interactive” mojo — to linger, browse and even banter with the check-out clerks. I couldn’t master the mask routine of “smiling with your eyes.” I just felt exhausted and wanted OUT as fast as I could.  And yes, there were a few scary maskless faces which I still don’t get.  You are vaxed therefore you can blow caution to the winds? Or are you just stupid?Now you have to be mindful to not remind people of the mask requests sign at shop doorways.  It could turn into an altercation. This is the place we are in right now.

RR in his spring catalogue.

It will take me a year to get my shopping cruise skills back. After all, shopping is a form of diversion and amusement.  I don’t have that emotional level back yet. I have no fancy occasion to “shop up a storm” for. Personally, I liked my year of shopping sabbath. I really didn’t need anything and being off the conveyor belt of constant consumption was welcomed.

As Robert Redford said in his spring Sundance catalogue: “A slower pace provided us with the opportunity to look around and appreciate what is familiar in our own surroundings. Details that can easily be missed become meaningful reminders to treasure what we have.” But in the end even Redford wants you to treasure what you have and then go blow a wad in his pricey store of boho chic.

Meanwhile, retailers know you have to bring back that psychological lift and purpose to purchase anything or No Go. And it can’t just be about redesigning sweatpants for streetwear like Norma Kamali is now featuring. “Sweats to go out in.” Who wants to do that after a year of sadly sitting at home in schlubbery? It was bad enough pre-Covid that we all started wearing the terrorist bomber chic uniform of black hoodies, leggings, sneakers and backpack. I think most of us have lost not only our sense of community and self, but we miss a kind of vitality. And I don’t know how to revive that. Whether it be by shopping or the return of Broadway and live concerts, or ultimately some new exciting unheard-of experience born from this past year’s misery.

“Sweats to go out in.” I think not.

There are two factors to consider which could bring about a retail splurge — “Revenge Shopping” and stimulus checks. What will people now spend on? Apparently, it’s not about more cheaper clothing but back to pricey handbags, stilettoes and expensive “Dad” sneakers.  Beauty will boom (it always does), though I can’t imagine having a makeup job done by a masked aesthetician at a department store counter or even Sephora. But I am also not a 24-year-old make-up addict who is about to be a bridesmaid.

I do remember post-Katrina when people whose lives, jobs, and homes were devastated  got stimulus checks for their rents and grocery survival. And even they were often spent on Louis Vuitton luggage and Gucci watches. So now that we are vaccinated and employment numbers have climbed, we can “shop for hope.” Who cares if we don’t have an occasion to wear a Chanel or Armani jacket — let’s just get “stimulated” and shop till we drop. Why not blow it big on a gambling weekend in newly opened Vegas! We have suffered enough. Entitlement wins every time!

As for fashion weeks and fashion shows, there have been some done virtually, but nobody knows or cares. As British designer Jonathan Anderson says, “We’re entering a period where fashion might actually be better, more interesting if it completely burns to the ground and then we build it up in a new way that is more relevant for the time … let’s hope everyone remembers a year ago they were all saying things couldn’t go on the way they were. We need to start afresh … but we never do.”

That is true about a lot of pre-Covid issues. It took Covid to upend politics, Hollywood, book and magazine publishing and a whole lot more.

Anderson goes on to say, “I can never go through the anxiety of another fashion week — that’s done for me — but I’m super excited about fashion and I think the game has changed with new people and ideas coming out of the woodwork, who just need to show who and what they are made of and don’t care.”  That is already happening.

Presently on a more basic level, some malls will return with more theme park (which are going to do gangbusters) features. It can’t be just “shopping” anymore. Stores need “experiences” and big holiday promotions will start early and last from August to December.  Shopping will allow consumers to book online consultation and come in to browse along with actual purchasing.   There will be less cashiers and more contactless pay systems. Maybe the ultimate post-pandemic travel will be “a trip to the mall,” not an African safari.  And remember, delivery and curbside are Covid gifts that are here to stay! Hurray!

A trip to, or rather through, the mall …

The other welcomed shift is how meaningless award shows and red-carpet events have become. The Golden Globes, Emmys, and Grammys got the lowest ratings. But so did this year’s Super Bowl half time show. Specifically, red-carpet luxury name branding stars parading and talking about their labels has been history since Joan Rivers died in 2014.  As is the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute Ball. The party’s over.

Movie viewing has had the most drastic change.  We are now all home streamers — and I think for the better.  Though many movie theaters have opened, I don’t know anyone who wants to go anymore, even to the ones offering gourmet food served at your deluxe recliner seat.  You now have your own recliner and gourmet take-out at home. No concerns of parking, babysitters, or even show times.  You can start a movie and stop it and pick it right back up the next day. Toddler potty break?  Freeze frame the feature. You can even spend your stimulus money on a giant screen, surround sound and then invite your pals over for a feature. Do you get the picture here?

Personally, I tried watching two Oscar nominated films. At home. Mank and Nomadland. I bailed on both with the push of a button. I didn’t even have to sneak up any dark aisle feeling angry for making an effort to see them. I also didn’t bother to read the critics praise as I saw it the day it dropped and was done with my viewing displeasure.

For those of us in bad movie theater towns (no art theaters or film festivals) we are thrilled with streaming.  I have seen more documentaries this year than ever before. I can already tell there is a great one debuting on Netflix April 1st, Worn Stories. Based on a book by Emily Spivak, it explores the connection between clothing and memory in eight 30-minute episodes. Just watching the trailer, it truly is a “wonderfully poignant show about clothes, ourselves, our lives and our memories — our cultural figures and storytellers.” Better than any fashion runway or fashion digital show!

And one more thing about certain streaming viewings.  It does remind me of “vitality.” One night I watched an episode of a 1955 quiz show What’s My Line with John Daly, Bennett Cerf, Dorothy Kilgallen and Arlene Francis. They still appeared so erudite and looked truly classy and spoke with quips sounding so crisp, urbane and sharp. I remember how excited I was to watch them and how I wanted to move to NYC and have them as friends!

I also watched John Cassavetes‘ Opening Night with Gena Rowlands, Ben Gazzara and Joan Blondell (1977).  Loved seeing Rowlands act her heart out, dragging on long skinny cigarettes and swinging her terrific blonde hair around (she was playing a role as an aging actress losing it). Ben Gazzara at his most ruggedly handsome played the director in dire straits slamming down the receiver to a lot of push button phones in a lot of LA and NYC hotel rooms.

The movie is about the theatre, real spontaneous exchanges, and most of all, fear of failure.  The final scene of Cassavetes and Rowland (who were married at the time) historically improvising on acting, truth telling, and bottoming out is iconic.  Cassavetes wasn’t called “The Father of independent movie making and cinema verité” for nothing.  He lived by his own rules and flew high.  Those were the days.

No red carpet needed!

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