A Review of Trainwreck, From a Girl Who Actually Lost Her Father to M.S.

My dad wasn’t a tough talking, Mets-loving, “drinker”. He was rather soft-spoken most of the time, a Yankee fan, and I can’t ever recall seeing him take a drink. I don’t know that I could qualify as a train wreck. My sexual tally is probably not as high, I’ve never smoked anything, and I’ve probably never had more than 5 drinks in one night (except when I lived in Scotland for a year… because that’s what you do in Scotland). But I can relate to Amy Schumer’s masterpiece Trainwreck more than the average viewer, and I thank her for that.

For basically my entire life my dad battled with Multiple Sclerosis. I could have phrased that as “suffered from” or “struggled,” but it was a vicious war from the very beginning, as he was a mighty opponent. Sure, the enemy was subtle in its tactics – numbing his feet, shooting pain throughout his body, weakening the vision in his eye – but make no mistake, it was a war. Maybe there wasn’t a lot that could be discerned from the surface, aside from his gait, his hunched posture, an angle that decreased in degrees with years if not months, or the cane that he used to walk, because he refused to use a wheelchair until he had literally no choice. He was always afraid that kids would just think he was a clumsy drunk. Being an art teacher, he hated for students to catch him vulnerable.

A year after I moved to New York, to start graduate school, my dad suffered a massive heart attack. I was at work, at a fancy museum gift shop helping with inventory, when my sister texted me that something wasn’t right with him; he was having trouble breathing. I couldn’t bear to say anything to my supervisor – himself a middle-aged man who had just mentioned an appointment he had to get on a treadmill and have his heart tested. I got through the day, crossed the street and walked up alongside Central Park West, terrified. No matter what was wrong with my dad, I knew it wouldn’t be good.

When I was in first grade he had a grand mal seizure at the breakfast table. From what I remember, he was at the table with my mother, and my sister and I were in her bedroom, down the hall. I have a blurry memory of seeing my mom hold my dad’s arm as he jerked around in a chair. I have a distinct memory of my mother shouting to us to call 911. Of course, I was maybe 6, it was all very traumatic, and it happened fast. I don’t remember paramedics arriving, I don’t know if my mom went with him, or what happened with us while he was gone.

I remember hanging out on our patio when he came home, and that he seemed most afraid of scaring us. Somehow I knew, even at that age, that most of all our dad didn’t want to scare us. He was worried that we would view him differently, that we would be afraid of him. I don’t think we were. We just wanted him to be better, and even as a little kid, it sucks to know that you can’t do anything. And with a disease as mysterious as Mutliple Sclerosis, when nobody can really do anything, well imagine what that does for a kid’s sense of reassurance.

I can recall some other times my dad was sick before the divorce. With the diagnosis of M.S. came new medications and treatments, a lot of which have unpleasant side effects. It was unusual for my dad to be home during the day – he worked a lot as an illustrator for newspapers and in freelance. Seeing him home, and sick, was very odd. He didn’t want us to see him vomiting but I could hear him.

After a while he returned to work and immersed himself in so much medical information that he probably could have been a doctor. My dad went through every “ABC” drug. He even began going to a local support group for M.S. that he ended up leading. I know that couldn’t have been easy for him. Softie that he was, talking about emotions with anyone, let alone strangers, was not easy for him. I only saw him cry a few times in his life; when he found out his only brother had cancer, and then again after his heart attack when he was terrified of death.


Just like in the movie, with Amy’s dad, death struck without warning in our story. After a person suffers the trauma of a heart attack, in a body already ravaged by M.S., you could imagine that 24 hour care is essential. Surviving the essential reparative surgeries on his heart, we knew the road ahead would be difficult. He kept getting sick – various infections, fevers, confusion – they even told us he had early signs of dementia. Well no shit. What do you think happens when you have scar tissue in your brain? It finally came to a point when we had to say enough was enough. Do you know how fun it is to have a young female doctor, probably your age or younger, look at you with concern as you tell her to “just make him comfortable”? It was more fun when I asserted that no priests or other such religious people were allowed near my father. The mere sight of someone like that would surely alert him to end times, and I didn’t want him to have any stress.

All my dad had was two young daughters – me, 27, trying to stick out on my own in the big city, and my sister 28, in town and doing the best she could to deal with emotions and the endless barrage of medical terminology, bills and legalities. When he first entered his care facility, we kept up the illusion that he would return home. I had fantasies of somehow finding a way to be able to afford at home care. Of course our meager resources were quickly devoured by the medical care system. The condo had to be sold. I spent my month off between summer classes and the fall semester packing up his possessions.

Years before, our dad had to put his father in a home because he had Alzheimers and needed surveillance. He had been living with our dad in his condo until we were afraid that he would set the place on fire. It killed him to watch his father die, especially in a care facility. He always asked us to promise not to put him in such a place. There is guilt there that I will never get over.

The place where he settled could had been much worse. It could have been cleaner for my liking – the food could have been more whole, plant-based, and nutritious than the decrepit junk they served. But most of the nurses were genuinely caring, and they even let our dad have a corner of a recreational room for one of his giant easels. But by the time he wheeled himself down the hall, with his repurposed briefcase full of paint tubes, and got set up, he would fall asleep, slumped in his chair. He never did finish that final painting.

I did my best to put on a brave face when I went to see him. In the year or so he was there I did a lot of crying in transit. While driving, on the subway, on an interstate bus. The great thing about crying in New York city, say in line for a bus at 5am behind Port Authority, is that nobody gives a shit. In fact it’s almost like everyone silently understands. I highly recommend it.

The people that didn’t seem to understand were my peers. The shiny, bright, happy graduate students I was surrounded by, had no idea what I was going through. How terrified I was every time my phone made a noise.

For a lot of people who see Trainwreck, they’ll think it’s just funny, maybe even empowering how Amy Schumer would portray a young woman who is always out for a good time. For those of us who have used the cloak of a good time to mask the really really bad time we are truly having, it makes more sense. I once had a guy I was sort of seeing, look me in the face and ask me why I had to be “so crazy”. Good question. He had no idea what I was going through, and I’m sure didn’t genuinely care, but couldn’t begin to understand. Another winner, an actual boyfriend, new little of my father’s plight, and one night when I finally broke down and talked to him about it, which felt like littering in his hygienic, carefully curated Brooklyn world, he reacted as if I had told him that I didn’t get the lead in the school play or something.

In the movie, when Amy finds Aaron, and is confronted for the first time by a guy with a heart, she doesn’t know what to do. It’s a beautiful storyline, and I at least won’t ruin that for you, but it did leave me a tad resentful. I didn’t have someone like that by my side when my father died. I didn’t even have any friends at the gathering we held, in lieu of a funeral. I did have that bartender, though, at the karaoke bar in the East Village, who gave me a kiss on the cheek upon leaving way after all of my friends left. Oh, and I had sporadic booty calls to bask in the glow of (declined, thank you very much) from the guy who called me crazy.

I find it interesting that Schumer would choose to have her dad die in the movie when in real life he is still kicking. I can’t help but think that she is trying to prepare herself. I tried to prepare myself for most of my life, and it was pointless. But I didn’t have a film contract, or Bill Hader, so maybe she’ll have better luck.

Just like a microcosm of life, this movie truly made me laugh really hard and cry really hard, at some points simultaneously. It wasn’t flawless, but it struck a deep nerve. Right through the myelin (that’s an M.S. joke, people). I could be pissed with Amy for going ahead and taking my idea for a movie about a gal with daddy issues, but I don’t begrudge her. Just like the song used during one of the montages, Wilco’s Please Be Patient With Me, I feel like this movie offers people insight on how to deal with broken people. We can’t control the events that shape us, especially the ones early on. But we can choose what we do with the shape that results – even if it’s lumpy, has crooked fingers and transparent skin (all metaphors. Definitely just metaphors).

It feels silly to admit, but Amy gives me hope. She uses her pain to entertain others, and to create her success. I’ve got a surplus of pain and I am eager to make use of it. She also gives me hope for finding someone compassionate and willing to explore a mess rather than run from it. But I still refuse to dance to impress anyone. Especially to Uptown Girl. Everybody knows the best Billy Joel song is We Didn’t Start the Fire. (Just kidding, it’s totally A Matter of Trust.)

We’re coming to the edge, Running on the water

Last week I watched Working Girl again, and was pleased to discover that it had an original theme song, created by Carly Simon. The track plays over the ending credits, but if you pay well attention, you can notice it as a motif throughout the movie.  I’m not a big Carly Simon fan by any means, but the song, and the fact that it is hers, fits so perfectly with the late 80s style of the entire work. It really is a masterful slice of life for career women of that time.

And the guitar player looks like Judge Harry Stone from Night Court!

Somehow this won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1989. Even more incredible: “”Let the River Run” is the first of only two songs to have won all three major awards (Oscar, Golden Globe, Grammy) while being composed and written, as well as performed, entirely by a single artist – the other being “Streets of Philadelphia” by Bruce Springsteen from Philadelphia” (Wikipedia).

It is a perfectly corny song, that left me wishing that more films had such companion music. When did Hollywood stop taking soundtracks seriously?! Then it got me to thinking about other supporting character roles the Staten Island Ferry has played in music videos. What came to mind first? Madonna of course!

Madge dedicated this song to Pope John Paul II, who called for Italians to boycott her Who’s That Girl World Tour in 1987.

Classic. I remember watching this video as a kid and more than anything just fearing for Madonna on those stone steps that are missing a railing.

Surprisingly to me, the only other work I could find that was filmed on the Staten Island Ferry was this much newer work called “All Day” by Girl Talk.

It doesn’t do much for me, perhaps because I know they basically just morphed the song “Tenderness” by General Public. Also, if a girl like the one in the video was near me, dancing on a boat, she better be able to swim. To cleanse your palate:

Too bad there isn’t a companion music video for Trainwreck, set on the ferry.

Frankie and Johnny

At first, I was just going to post a short ode to Jane Morris and her perfect portrayal of Nedda.

Jane Morris is the best thing about this movie. Above is a snap from right after she places an order for liver and onions to Pacino.

I wish I could find a picture of her dancing at Peter’s party.

Nedda goes bowling.

But then, this movie hit me pretty hard, unexpectedly. At first, it was just how easy it was to empathize with Frankie. Someone trudging through work who’s been burned and is more or less in hiding. But then I found myself sort of empathizing with Johnny. He’s a romantic fool, which can be annoying, but as I came to realize, he tries so hard because he’s fighting for depth in life. And that is admirable.

Frankie: Why do you want to kill yourself sometimes?

Johnny: I want to kill myself sometimes when I think that I’m the only person in the world and that part of me that feels that way is trapped inside this body, that only bumps into other bodies, without ever connecting to the only other person in the world trapped inside of them. We have to connect. We just have to.

The most endearing screen moment he has in this movie is when he’s talking about how he couldn’t bear to get out of the car and reunite with his kids, and how it felt like he’d lost them. And the expression on his mug when he says to Frankie “Everything I want, is in this room”. I was done. Marry the schmuck already.

How ideal to have someone like Nathan Lane for a friend who lives across the hall.

I also like a movie that has the nerve to play Debussy over a shot of middle-aged people spooning on a pull-out sofa in a studio apartment. Highbrow colliding with lowbrow. Still, it’d be nice to ever see a story in which a woman is persistent verging on obnoxious and creepy, leading to a happy ending. There are endless stories of men being overbearing and “winning over” women, but how many times does the woman get to be excessive and successful? Excessive for women is tantamount to crazy.

I would love to see this with Kathy Bates as Frankie. Supposedly the role was written for her by playwright Terrence McNally. Not only that, but for this particular film, Jeff Bridges was up for the role of Johnny. I WOULD LOVE TO HAVE SEEN THAT. EARLY 90s Jeff Bridges! HELLO.

Adopt me, Alice Carey!


Alice Carey is amazing. A few months ago I was sitting on a bench on the Highline,  scribbling in my journal, and along she came. I recognized her from Ari Seth Cohen’s endlessly inspirational blog – Advanced Style. We didn’t exchange any words, but Alice certainly looked me over carefully; me in my big railroad striped overalls that I’d scored in a Monoprix in Northern France over the summer. I believe she liked my outfit. I want her to adopt me and take me shopping for vintage tweed.

If I’m not lost, how can I be found?

“At eighteen years of age, I dropped out of college and moved to New York City. It was 1989. The city was scary to me at that moment. The lower East Side seemed to have drugs sweating from its pores. Prostitutes actually walked the streets. You could see them in their fur coats and garter belts purring around the fountain in front of the Plaza Hotel… and that was the “nice” part of town. Brooklyn was as far away as Istanbul. Walking up from the subway at Times Square was like stumbling into a gang fight. That’s what it felt like to me. What is strange is that I LOVED IT. I loved it all. It was humanity on full display: pimples, sweat, love, heartbreak, addition, brilliance, despair, and bliss. It was terrifying, but it was genuine and without pretense. There was no doubt that when you stood with both feet in NYC you were in the center of the universe.

The authenticity is harder to see these days, as the world seems to be owned entirely by three or four people. The same chain restaurants, newspapers, TV shows, video games and advertisements follow us everywhere. We are never lost. The computer in our pocket vibrates and there is somewhere we are “supposed” to be. We are made to be comfortable at all moments, but, for me, there still is that scratchy feeling in my gut where I long to see under the surface, to know, and to be known. If I’m not lost how can I be found? Without fear how will I be courageous? I want to stay up late, high from the connection I’ve made with another traveler on the road. To see deep into someone’s eyes, not just hung up on the eye “make up” or the “face-life,” but to see something real.

It’s all still here… it’s just hiding like we are.”

– Ethan Hawke on New York