Tuesday, November 6, 2012


The honor roll is nice but nothing boosts a fourth grader's confidence like winning a beauty pageant.  Which would you rather have, a certificate on the fridge or a tiara on your head?  As a ten year old winner of both accolades, I will tell you, the crown looks a lot better in photographs.

Much like the honor roll, I knew the Miss Pre-Teen Corn Queen title was destined to land effortlessly upon my bony shoulders.  Effortless for me, that is.  My mother, a lover of themes and spectacle, fastidiously pieced together my winning costume: an overalls-miniskirt combo, white cowgirl boots, red lipstick, and daisies braided into my hair.  I only had one competitor, and her outfit did not include shoes.

The competition at the 1998 Travelers Rest Corn Festival in the Pre-Teen Corn Queen bracket was far less cutthroat than my only previous pageant experience, the 1991 Wee Miss Berea contest.  For starters, it took place outdoors, on a high school football field, next to some 4H exhibits and a ferris wheel.  Back in 91, two other fluffy three year olds and I were locked in a three-way tie, but (reportedly) I winked at the judges and won them over.  I don't remember this winsome gesture, but I do remember telling the emcee I wanted to be a cheerleader when I grew up.

The third and final pageant I entered was the Miss TR competition in 2002 at Travelers Rest High School.  Like all of my freshman endeavors, the pageant was a shot in the dark at belonging in a world I didn't understand.  Despite years of orthodontics, contact lenses, and countless trips to the mall and Sally's Alterations, I did not win this one.  Like every other thing I ever discovered I wasn't good at (figure skating, the dulcimer, the Nuva Ring), I quit pageants.  Two out of three ain't bad, I thought, even if the two crowns I won preceded puberty.  You win some, you lose some!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

My Life In Holidays - The Girl From Carolina Christmas Spectacular

New York is fine but I love going home.  "But Breanna," you must be wondering. "How on God's green earth do you sustain yourself artistically in SC?  Don't you miss devising environmental theater pieces, going on fruitless auditions, and toiling away in a nonprofit theater office?  Don't you pine for the world of 'collaboration' and 'stipends?'"

NO.  At home I replace all that with a heightened sodium intake and Well Dang! Productions.

Alex Wroten and Joe Worthen first asked me to be in a movie of theirs when I was in 9th grade and they were in 10th.  This 2.5 hour feature was called Tapeworm and it was real weird.  I think they recruited me because I was the only girl they knew. Which was cool.  Years later Well Dang's aesthetic maintains its weirdness but thankfully those guys streamlined their writing, and now everything they make is awesome.

Like the two films we shot in December, 2011 as the city of Greenville grounded us all within two miles of each other over the holidays.  The first was Judy Truly, the sequel to 2010's Peter Bear.  I played the title role.  Judy has the charisma of a snail and the detective skills of an infant, and also shares the same name as my great aunt.  

The second was The Girl From Carolina.  Alex pitched the script to me as a "redneck film noir" but he needn't have gone further than "redneck."  I was all in.  I played the film's heroine Ferrari Thunderbird Taylor, a strong, passionate, driven young woman.  And I looked GREAT.  Between Mom and Jaci's wardrobes, the TR Wal-Mart, and me, my costume blossomed into a stunning medley of daisy dukes, bra straps, a Jesus necklace, and a Bump It.  Every morning before I left to film, Mama would take my picture and exclaim, "You look so BEAUTIFUL!"

Even though it was stupid fucking cold outside, filming was fun because I got to relive some Greenville glory days.  Hanging out at the Handlebar, strutting up and down Poinsett Highway, fist fighting with Prentiss in Gateway Park.  Watch the trailer; if you're anything like my family you'll think it's the best thing you've ever seen.

I spent the remainder of "Christmas break" running into people from middle school and navigating Greenville's new (to me) bar scene, usually at the same time.  I will tell you, the only thing more ridiculous than a gaggle of bike loving hipsters in a bar in Brooklyn is an identical gaggle in Greenville, SC.  At least the drinks are cheaper.  As always, I can't wait to get back.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

My Life In Holidays - The First Thanksgiving

Much to my family's dismay, I chose not to attend the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  I have too many fond memories of viewing the parade from the comfort of my weatherproof living room to sabotage my love of the event by fighting throngs of Staten Island families and international tourists who don't even know what Thanksgiving is.

I absolutely love Thanksgiving because I love cooking for lots of people.  And when you're hosting Orphan Thanksgiving, as Anna and I did last year, there are no rules!  You can put paprika AND cayenne pepper in the deviled eggs!  You can invite grown-ups who will contribute excellent bottles of wine and fancy cheese to the party.  You can hold a mandatory concert.  Anything is possible when you squeeze twelve hungry people into a kitchen/living room the size of a pool table.  

We were fortunate that Anna's parents and brother Nikhil were present at our apartment's First Thanksgiving.  This meant a few things: Anna's mom, Susan, hit up Whole Foods on her way into town, saving us from grocery shopping at the bodega across the street.  We executed a beautiful, entirely vegetarian Thanksgiving.  The wheat loaf with mushroom gravy was so savory and filling that I didn't miss having turkey at all.  In fact, the only dish I really missed was Granny's sweet potato casserole with all the pecans and brown sugar on top.

Lastly, having the Srirams over meant Anna's dad, Subramaniam, emceed an impromptu talent show.  He kicked off the performances with a dramatic reading/recitation of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, act 3, scene 2, when Brutus addresses the Roman citizens after Caesar's death.  His performance was inspiring, and not at all influenced by the painkillers he was taking due to recent oral surgery.

Who knows what this year's Thanksgiving will bring.  As long as friends, family, booze, and leftovers are involved, I'll be happy.  Last Thanksgiving, Subramaniam reported at the end of the night, "Susan, I can't feel my mouth."  If that's not the true meaning of this fantastic holiday I don't know what is.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

My Life In Holidays - Come On Irene

Like graduations, hurricanes are infrequent opportunities for massive debauchery. Hurricanes blow into town with as much pomp and circumstance, elicit concerned phone calls of “Good luck,” and “Are you going to be okay,” and “Fill the bathtub with water,” and ultimately keep the real world at bay for another couple of days. At least, this was my experience of that trick Irene.

If you are anticipating a hipsters versus nature horror story, allow me to lower your expectations: Hurricane Irene expressed her wrath in Brooklyn solely through heavy rains. In patches. I remember some humidity was involved, and the wind blew a little bit. However, to atone for its embarrassing mishandling of the 2009-2010 blizzards, the city of New York shut down all the bridges, tunnels, and public transportation between the boroughs and advised massive evacuations to “higher ground.”

This meant two things: first, all of my professional obligations were canceled for TWO DAYS STRAIGHT. I was teaching at the time; my classes were called off. I worked as a fake barista at the time, my coffee shop closed. I was in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the time and our TECH WEEKEND was postponed. Do you realize what that means?! Two solid days of mind-numbing twelve-hour rehearsals wiped off the face of the production calendar!

Second, Anna, Justin, and I made the executive decision to evacuate about 30 blocks north to a friend’s place. We demolished a 7/11, and along with the plentiful rations of beer and pasta and coffee we also stuffed bedding, movies, and art supplies into the trunk of my Yaris.

We spent the next forty hours in Fort Greene weathering the storm. I was drunk for at least 28 of those hours. Activities included cooking, drinking, eating, watching movies, drinking, playing Catch Phrase, making arts’n’crafts, drinking, wrestling on the air mattress dubbed ‘the bird’s nest’, drinking, and a rousing game of indoor hide-and-seek. Which I won, because Justin never even suspected I could fit behind the flat screen on the mantle!

After surviving day 1, I woke up around noon to a text from Mom, sent at 7:42am:

“Did the power go out? Are you in the eye of the storm, and the worst is yet to come? How is the car? Not safe to drive. Water still rising, I bet.”

To which I replied, as I am wont to do, “NO MOM”.

Oh, Irene. I remember you fondly. You showered us with a dilettante’s disaster, and heralded the mildest of winters. You allowed multitudes of 20-something Brooklynites to relive childhood without involving kickball, rompers, or nannying. If only every storm was perfect like you.

Monday, April 2, 2012

My Life In Holidays - July 4th

You don’t graduate from college every year, thank god. I don’t think I could stand that crucible of good will and utter anxiety more than once a decade. July 4th, however, retains its Birth of a Nation significance year after year, and grown-ups of New York celebrate accordingly.

Day-drinking, grilling out, and shooting fireworks occupy most of this great nation on Independence Day. But in New York most of these activities are conducted in public parks and on rooftops, or, in my fortunate case, on a sailboat in the Hudson. The fireworks show was exquisite and I could almost hear Beyonce’s live performance over the terrible techno blasting from a neighboring boat. I remember thinking, for the first in my life, that my Sperrys were actually appropriate outside of a sorority-laden state school in the southeast. Also, it was on or about July 4th that Anna and I stole a cat.

On our block lived the lovingest cat you’ve ever seen. He was gray and majestic, so we named him Grey Baby. On separate occasions, Grey Baby had flagged down both Anna and me (as loving cats are wont to do) and flung himself at our feet on the smoldering sidewalk. Also on separate occasions, different concerned neighbors had worriedly asked us, “Have you seen the sweet little old lady who’s always with this cat? You never see one without the other.”

Of course we hadn’t seen the sweet little old lady, and we assumed the worst. On the way home from some dedicated pregaming on Independence Eve, Grey Baby once again planted himself in our path. We scooped him up, traipsed up the stairs and unleashed him in our living room. Justin fretted about fleas and bedbugs while Anna brushed Grey Baby’s hair and I took glamour shots of him. (See above.)

I tried to make him sleep with me in my bed. But I woke up the next morning, July 4th, to a desperate scratching noise behind our couch. I was sweaty and hungover so I released Grey Baby back to the wilds of 15th Street.

I saw him a few more times after that. Often with a tinier grey cat who followed him around- I christened this little cutie Baby Grey Baby. I didn't try to adopt him, though. Rejection by a stray street cat was not something I wanted to experience twice.

I spent the rest of the day celebrating America, my bed bug-free apartment, and my TWO days off from teaching. The smothering humidity reminded me of home.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

My Life In Holidays - Graduation

After twenty years of school, the habit of measuring time in semesters is a hard one to break. In December, for instance, I left my four jobs to visit home for Christmas break. Lately my grandparents keep asking me when I "get out for summer." Gradually, however, I'm learning to delineate the seasons and months by the occurrence of Major Holidays. Being a New Yorker, this takes more effort than one from a normal place might imagine. It goes without saying that Jews shoulder the largest possible burden of special dates, but I find that we secular, young adult heathens have plenty of our own calendar crosses to bear.

I moved to Brooklyn mid-May of last year, so I'll start there. College graduations present a monumental opportunity for reckless intergenerational merrymaking. Relatives smother the graduate with love and pride and deluded charges to go forth and Do Great. They ply you with tear-stained cash, but not enough to cover four years of higher learning. Definitely enough to dull your sense of your own "cost of living" for the first moth or so, though, for which I was terribly grateful.

I feared my graduation would be stressful because the date would have marked my parents' 30th wedding anniversary. Of course they were both in attendance (they love me more than anything in the world), along with legions of family from both sides (ditto). Including my aunt's new beau whom I had never heard of (I put it together real fast that, oh yeah, I hadn't seen Uncle David in ages).

It wasn't, though. Graduation was stressful because I went into my typical itinerary-planning Family Trip mode. Organized activities included me shepherding a caravan across the Verrazano Bridge to show everyone my new apartment, and scrambling to find family-friendly events in the embarrassing town of New Brunswick, NJ that would make the North seem a little less shitty. My parents managed to locate sweet tea vodka at the Buy-Rite, so then the turnpike sprawl didn't seem so bad.

Of course everything turned out fine. It meant a lot to my family that I graduated with the highest GPA in the theater department, and not for a minute did it occur to them that this indicated a gross academic shortchange in Conservatory World. They were still enthralled with my academic prowess even after I veered into this maximum security prison en route to the Newark airport.

Graduation made me excited for my new city and new house and new job, but mostly it made me excited to visit home a couple of weeks later to see Jaci graduate high school. Her version was pretty similar to mine, only with better food and prettier people. The graduates were shiny and hopeful and, for the most part, had finally lost all their baby fat. White zinfandel haze notwithstanding, for Jaci and me both, graduation was a treasured bit of ephemera surrounded by the ones who love us best.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Learner's Permit

Jaci turned 15 but for some reason her innate teenage desire to drive had not kicked in to gear*. She preferred to be driven. Driven to school, to cheer practice, to her friends' houses, to the mall, to McDonalds, to the pool down the block. While this might have thrilled a safety-conscious parent worried about the abundance of other 15-year-olds crowding the roads, our mom had had enough. Feeling bored one day and fed up with ferrying her around, Mom seized the opportunity to coerce Jaci into the driver's seat.

Jaci laughed in that "nothing's actually funny; you're just stupid," kind of way. Mom insisted; Jaci panicked. I panicked. I yelled, "I'm not riding in the car with her! She doesn't even have her learner's permit! Mama, she doesn't know her left from her right! We're all going to get arrested!"

"I'd like to see them try." Mom scowled. She hates the Travelers Rest highway patrol and generally feels like they owe her one, due to their bad attitudes whenever they write her a speeding ticket. She said to Jaci, "For heaven's sake, you're 15 YEARS OLD. Get in that car and DRIVE."

I was fit to be tied, but didn't want to miss anything. Also, I knew Jaci would need the wisdom of my experience gently guiding her through this, her first, time behind the wheel. Mom and I started shouting over one another:

MOM: The first thing you do is put the car in gear-
ME: NO. The first thing you do is BUCKLE UP-
MOM: In this car the best thing to do is to PUT IT INTO GEAR FIRST.

Mom sticks to her guns; I will give her that. Jaci looked glassy-eyed and flushed. We crept towards the end of the driveway where she slammed on the brakes.

I said something like "Jesus fucking Christ Almighty she's going to kill us. Mom, do you want us to DIE?!" Mom topped my expletives with such tender words of encouragement as "Get your left foot off the brake! Remember when your father had you drive the lawn mower when you were two? It's just like that!" Mom and I both meant well, but Jaci was flustered from all the yelling. Not to mention she was probably scarred, being a survivor of my own checkered driving history. Haltingly she made it to the stop sign at the end of the road. That's when we noticed droplets on the steering wheel, and on the inside of the windshield. They were projectile tears spurting from Jaci's red face like bullets. Her eyes had swollen shut like they do when she pets Pepper, our rabbit, or Pumpkin, our guinea pig.

Bless her heart.

It took the rest of the drive to TJ Maxx to decompress (Mom was back behind the wheel at this point and Jaci was lying down in the back seat so her wheezing would stop). After we ran in and picked up some bathing suits, a yoga mat, and some flavored olive oil we were all in good spirits and proud of the day's accomplishments. And Jaci went on to pass her driver's test on the first try, a feat neither our mother nor I can boast.

*As always, PUN INTENDED.