David Edelstein

       Triumph! I’ve made a test version of the bottom layer of my wife’s best friend’s wedding cake, and it’s so good that I believe I’ll have another piece. That was yummy; I’ll have one more. Now, just a sliver, to scrutinize more closely the raspberry buttercream, the lemon-infused fondant. Damn, I’m one hell of a cake baker. Sugar high! Adapting the original recipe to serve 75 people was quite a task, but with the help of Rose Levy Bernabaum’s The Cake Bible, a calculator, Microsoft Excel, and several calls to the math department at Princeton University (which, curiously enough, has a cake-recipe hotline), I have arrived at the perfect proportions. Tomorrow, I’m going to teach myself to pipe icing.
       After less than five weeks of matrimony, it sounds strange to write “my wife,” and I still suppress an urge to put her in quotation marks. In truth, there have been one or two occasions when I’ve wanted to put her in quotation marks, add some parentheses, and drop her in a bog. But we can usually laugh at ourselves, even when our hands are around each other’s necks. We instructed our rabbi to adapt the marriage vows so that we promised to love, honor, cherish, and amuse each other–this in a marvelously egalitarian service that had my brother, firmly Orthodox, whispering darkly into his beard. On honeymoon in Italy, I’d always mispronounce the phrase for my wife–miamoglie–as “me emollient.” Then, when I thought about it, I realized that she is me emollient. She softens and soothes all the rough patches.
       Of course, she now and then finds my sense of humor crass, and she has had to police my comments on our joint wedding-gift thank-you notes. (She did like the tag I appended to the cousins who sent us the Wusthof knives I’d coveted: “Thank you also for the knit cap and the Bruno Magli shoes.”) She finds my Tab drinking “disgusting” but is otherwise good-natured about it, especially as I have no other addictions, having given up alcohol approximately 417 days, 11 hours, and 32 minutes ago, along with a gig as the “beer critic” for New York magazine. (She’s grateful that she no longer has to phone me at some bar at 3 a.m. and have me holler at her, “Leave me alone, I’m working.”)
       But she draws the line at Leno tonight, when I choke with hilarity at a bit about children’s books you might want to keep away from your kids, especially the one called James and the Giant Canker Sore. We agree on the classic movies, though, which is the real litmus test: Notorious; The Godfather; Truly, Madly, Deeply; Dumb and Dumber. I once dated a woman to whom I eagerly showed The Lady Eve, and she groused that slapstick bored her and besides, she didn’t know what the film was “about.” I stammered something about things that men project onto women, but I wasn’t very convincing, and by then my faith in the relationship’s future had sunk. To me, the joy of The Lady Eve is irrational, and if you don’t get it, you don’t get it. Besides, if you can sum up what a movie is “about,” chances are it’s … Volcano, which is about a big fucking volcano under Los Angeles that wastes a lot of Angelenos.
       The emollient and I see Volcano and have a pretty decent time. The crack director, Mick Jackson, knows how to move masses of people across the screen. He’s great at drawing out those eerie moments preceding an eruption, like the sizzling stillness before the popcorn pops. (One lyrical touch: a seismographic needle intercut with an old black man drumming in MacArthur Park.) The lava looks cartoony, though, like the monster in The Blob, and the climax is blown–too much emphasis on Tommy Lee Jones saving his daughter in slow motion, not enough on the gusher being diverted. And the brotherhood-of-man, anti-Hieronymus Bosch theme is a tad hypocritical: If man does not “incline toward sin in defiance of God’s will,” he certainly loves watching fellow humans get royally wasted in disaster pictures like this.
       Mostly, we goggle at Anne Heche, who is more alive (and sexy) on-screen than any young actress I’ve seen in years. If her recent disclosures about her private life end up limiting her roles, it will be a terrible waste. Then again, Volcano doesn’t exactly stretch her. It wouldn’t be the worst thing if she made a “girl” movie with, say, the Sichel sisters, whose All Over Me I caught in a matinee yesterday while waiting for my fondant to harden. The story of a teen-ager separated from her best friend by a thuggish boy, and her subsequent coupling with another girl, the film paints a portrait of heterosexuality-as-slavery that I found hard to stomach (and me emollient had better agree). But it does an amazing job of capturing the visceral intensity–the rawness–of adolescent friendship.
       Walking back from Volcano, Rachel and I find 23rd Street shut down again by the filming of Godzilla. This monster really has paralyzed a major city. In the morning, the police have moved to the streets around my apartment, immobilizing Washington Square Park and its environs for New York University’s graduation ceremonies. As I write this, I can hear the voice of New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman giving the commencement speech. Where is Godzilla when we need him?