Friday, December 31, 2010

Another New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve rang in this morning with news that a lifelong friend had died, and with it, came a day devoted to writing a Memorial for him. Because of the holidays, and his pre-expressed wishes for an absolutely private service, almost no one has heard the news, and for a while, it will be able to stay that way. Not long. He was beloved by many, known by very, very few. 

He lived a tremendous life. I have spent the day calling a few people, and putting off most others. It would be nice for them to welcome the new year without knowing something so unbearably sad.

I also know that unless they were on the call list, he wouldn't much care if they ever find out. The time for them to think of him -- to go see him and call him and invite him to dinner -- was long before his last few days. I am happy for the holidays and special occasions he was able to celebrate at my house this past year.

Because his death was so unexpected (no long vigil at a hospital bed), I found myself thinking all day: what would he want? what would he do? I believe he would want very little time wasted on grief or ceremony, and a lot of time spent celebrating his life by trying to do more of what he did -- which was walkin' his talk. If somebody was hungry, he fed them. If they were homeless, he took them in. He never screened a call. If he was alive, he picked up and asked what you needed. If someone was cold, he gave them the coat off his back. That's not an expression. He really did that. I saw him do it.

I went through the entire holiday season without experiencing one moment of faith, but I find myself clinging to one now, in my hope and belief that he is in a better world, because he was sure too damn good for this one.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Up on the Rooftop....

At one celebration last week, the Chef whipped up a batch of "fennel cakes" as a special Christmas treat for me. He could've made funnelcakes, but knows I won't eat them out of season, so, much as the title suggests, these represented a savory (and genius) take. I couldn't begin to tell you how to make them, but they were fennel-infused and lightly dusted with parmesan. For dipping sauces, we had an onion chutney/type/jam; sundried tomato pesto; and an herbed goat cheese spread.

They seemed like a truly extravagant amount of trouble, but God knows, I certainly hope they become an annual holiday tradition like Harriette's cheese straws.

I credit the richness of the holiday fare with the completely insane cartoon dreams I had all night, from which, I awakened at 4 am to a persistent scritch, scritch, scritch on the rooftop, just over my head.

I opened one eye.

The TV was off. The stereo was off. I had left the blackberry downstairs on the charger on my way to bed. The iPod battery had died and I had clawed my way out of the ear buds in my sleep. The only light in the room came from the dim glow of the on-switch for the electric bedwarmer (which I have named Steve, after my three alltime favorite boyfriends). The usual street sounds were completely deadened by snow. It was as quiet a moment as has ever existed in this house, until, there it was again. Scritch, scritch, scritch.

At this point, I sat bolt upright in bed, rubbed my bleary eyes with the backs of both hands, and said, out loud, with some fog-induced expectation of a clear answer: "Santaaaaaaa?"

It wasn't him. As far as I know, anyway.

After further listening, it sounded just like the raccoon/cougar/hobo/possum that got caught in the attic this summer. I'm not sure what the critter turned out to be, because he (or she) never took the bait that the critter-catcher set for him. Eventually, the scritching stopped, so I figured s/he died, or moved to a nice farm in the country.

Of course it might not be the same animal. It could be a cousin. It could be anything. I considered calling Trapper John, who interrupted a wedding to come check my traps last summer (and that's not a euphemism). But I quickly thought better of it.

They might be willing to come set traps on Christmas Eve, but certainly no one would come monitor them on Christmas weekend, and the whole point of a humane trap is to catch and release. If you don't release fairly quickly, it isn't very humane at all.

I already hate the holidays.  I don't think I could take the prospect of euthanizing a damn reindeer in my attic.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Spoke Too Soon

"Remember, you can't spell Families without Lies." 
--Robert Duvall, Four Christmases

a stocking stuffer from my Mom, 2010
 I don't mean to be smug about the Holidays, but I am far from the last-minute shopper type.

Sometime around Halloween, I procure everything I could possibly need from the suburbs for the next six months (dog food, 50 gallon drums of Palmolive... the usual). Then a week or two before Thanksgiving I issue a travel advisory, reminding everyone I know to stock up, as if preparing for the apocalypse. "I'm out of Eukanuba," they might idly observe. "GO!! GO NOW!!" I say. "You won't be able to get within a million miles of PetSmart til January," I insist. "Do you have shampoo?" I'll fret out loud. "You might need it."

Holiday traffic, like ballgame traffic, rarely "happens" to me. I plan ahead. I re-route. (I said I don't mean to be smug; I didn't say I'm successful.)

So it should be some indication of the love that I have for my mother that we ended up at Bed, Bath and Beyond two days before Christmas.

It's a mother-daughter tradition that we grab a movie and a meal sometime Christmas week. I remember the first ones were Terms of Endearment and Working Girl circa 1980s. One year was Brokeback Mountain. A couple years ago it was Four Christmases (Dwight Yoakam plays a pastor!) This week, it was Little Fockers. The movie isn't important (obviously). It's just a couple quiet hours away from the usual holiday chaos. Then we usually hit the January sales, a few weeks later.

This week, as I scoured Fandango for any movie playing as far from any shopping corridors as possible, she lobbed in a bombshell. "Would that leave us time to run in Bed, Bath & Beyond so I can use my gift card?" 

I think my response was along the lines of "WHAT??!! Bath and WHAT?!! NO. That would take FOUR HOURS." I wasn't even being hyperbolic -- for once -- I'd heard tales all week of people spending an entire day trying to turn left out of the Target parking lot. (And I chuckled a little under my breath when I heard these tales. "Amateurs," I thought to myself, a little self-righteously.)

"Bullshit," she observed matter-of-factly. "I went to Hobby Lobby yesterday and it was fine. I was in and out in no time."  It's "practically Christmas already," she added, along with some rationalization about how everyone had already finished shopping by now. (Seriously?)

I offered a few token protests. We were already going to have to re-route around ballgame traffic downtown. There might not be time to eat. We were all gonna die. That kinda thing.

This was met with an incredibly intricate array of shopping necessities revolving around two gift cards that were about to expire, a one-day discount that was maybe 150 percent off, and some sort of elaborate point system that I believe involved her becoming CEO of the company if she spent a certain amount before midnight. 

At which point, I shut my mouth. This was obviously important to her. And when we got there, I realized why. There were all sorts of restrictions that involved one special-per-shopper and one-offer-per-transaction and spend-this to get-that. I think at one point we schlepped one load out to the car, donned disguises outta the trunk, and went back for another round. I can't be sure. I know I lost her in the crowds more than once and nearly went to the register to have her name announced to come get her abandoned child. Then I would catch sight of her little red knit pom-pom Santa on the top of her Christmas cap bobbing along just under the rack of 2-for-1 balsam candles. 

As family jobs go though, there are worse gigs than Christmas Mule.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

If We Can Make It Thru December

"The office Christmas party. A time when they all think they pre-­ordered the beef wellington. Then, when you bring out the starters, they have remembered otherwise. But by now the entire group have swapped seats or are sitting on each other's laps and there are bodies on the kitchen floor."


Today is the shortest day of the year. From about Halloween on, I white-knuckle it til today. Tomorrow, the days will begin to get longer. Tomorrow, I'll begin to count the days til Spring. With all due respect to Hag, who might not "mean to hate December" ("it's meant to be the happy time of year"), I loathe it with everything I've got. I start with the weather and the miserably short days and work my way through to every single thing I hate about Christmas and the fact that I can't go to a bookstore any time from Thanksgiving til January 2 without a helicopter. This is the first winter in a decade I've lived without a garage (like an animal), so throw a perpetually iced-over SUV into the mix, along with a few impotent cans of Prestone, which precipitated something like a rage stroke when my windows perma-froze into the OPEN position last week.

From the moment that first "oh-oh-oh overstock.com" commercial rings in the season, I want to "oh-oh-oh open a vein." 

My pal Pete asked me a couple weeks ago just what it is I hate about the holidays and I had to admit I wasn't sure. After some thought -- besides the music and the decorations and most of the food (flaccid broccoli anyone?)--  I believe it's the disruption to routine that completely discombobulates my Rainman. I like order and I hate chaos and I don't like having things out of place. As long as I can run along on my little inner hamster wheel, I get along ok. Disturb my carefully controlled environment and schedule, and I'll either die, or I'll accidentally stress-eat all the other little hamsters. I am nothing if not a fear biter.

I do like presents. I like to give them and I like to get them. I celebrated with Electronics Santa last weekend and a new Blu Ray (for me, not him; he got a book; it is a very good book). It was supposed to come with ElectronicsSanta's flatscreen TV two Christmases ago, but I could only take so much change at once. I insisted on waiting two years to see if Blu Ray is really the last word on the agenda for awhile (having gotten screwed in the early years of 8 track tapes, although it is the best way to listen to my Jim Croce Greatest Hits collection), so now that I have one, expect something truly digitally extravagant to be invented later this week. I certainly don't require anything as grand as electronics to be happy though. One year, all my friends gave me batteries and light bulbs, because I constantly complain there's nothing worse than running out of either one. That was a great year.

The only other thing I like about the Holidays -- and they're soft of a present -- is Harriette's Cheese Straws. They are the stuff dreams are made of. In fact, I wrote a little song. It goes like this... Well, I can't write music, but if I could, I would endlessly compose odes to Harriette's cheese straws. They somehow manage to be simultaneously light and fluffy, yet delicately crispy. They're wafer-thin. The flavor is indescribably tangy and tart, with just a hint of bite. It would not be an exaggeration to say I think about them all year long. It is the only reason I am ever nice, because in the back of my mind, I am thinking that if I am good, I might earn some of them at Christmas. It's the only time she makes them. She's given me the recipe, but I've never attempted them. It wouldn't be the same. 

So it was a source of no small distress at my cousins' going-away dinner last night when we were head-counting for Christmas Eve reservations and it came up that Harriette will be out of town for this year's festivities.

What? Out of town? Where was she going? What would she be doing? Who would she be with? And then.... eventually.... Inevitably..."Well.... What about the cheese straws?"

What about em?

"Did she... you know... leave me some cheese straws or something? I mean... she wouldn't just leave town without... making provisions...?" Would she?  Surely not. This is the woman who, confronted with a mudslide on her road on the way to Easter brunch, somehow hiked down a mountain and handed her homemade country ham biscuits off to a fellow guest so that her offering to the gathering wouldn't even be late. In my mind, I think she handed them over a raging river and that river was filled with alligators. The road washed away... but by God, we all had country ham biscuits. The food gays have pointed out on more than one occasion that all of our menus suffer a bit from Gone With the Wind syndrome ("as God is my witness....")

This.... this is the woman who made dog biscuits from scratch last year for the neighbor basset (dog biscuits that Ian ate... Ian! the neighbor husband, not the neighbor hound).

At some point at last night's dinner, it was implied (if not stated outright) that maybe I was being a little... selfish. I think the question was along the lines of, "you mean with everything she has to do to get ready for her trip, you expect her to stop and worry about getting you cheese straws?" 

Why?

Would that be wrong? 

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sit, Jack. Stay.

"We ate, my father remarked, 'as if there were no God.'"
--Katherine Anne Porter

Jack camps out in The Cave
This is the week that my gay husband, finally undone by the kitchen renovation at his house, temporarily moved in. Even Jack  packed his little doggie bags and came along. The poor husband-in-law was left behind to manage the chaos and construction dust.

It has been the idyllic living situation. He likes to shop and decorate, and I like to cook. By the time I got home from work, he'd fixed the stereo and had Iris DeMent playing and had somehow found a roaring fireplace on HD TV. A warm cashmere sweater was waiting for me with my pajamas, and the Cave was softly lit and scented by a delightful series of what I imagine to be $432,000 candles.

The first night, we made my grandmother's macaroni and cheese. I had no idea I even knew how to make it. I tested a trial run, with coaching from my fellow southern pal Rache, the week before on my BFF. We agreed it was good, but I had made too many substitutions. Penne pasta. Fancy cheeses. A pecan crust. Not what I had in mind.

So once he arrived, we walked to DiscoKroger in The Driving (if hyperbolic) Snow for a box of honest-to-God elbow macaroni. I had never bought it. Never made it. You would be surprised how far a box of that stuff goes, as we ended up with 42 gallons of mac and cheese. (We're down to two or so now.)

The next morning before work, I somehow whipped up biscuits and sausage gravy for breakfast (again, I had no idea I knew how to make sausage gravy, but it turns out, I do).

By this point, it's fair to say that the kitchen was coated, floor to ceiling in a fine film of butter and flour. There was butter in crevices I didn't even know existed. (But by the time I got home from work, order had miraculously been restored.)

Last night, to celebrate his birthday, he treated everyone to a big night of Theater, and then we happened upon the one place in town that had Lamb Chops as the Special. After which, we concluded that we now completely believe in The Secret and the Law of Attraction and maybe even Oprah, because -- since we had had at least roughly 37 conversations about lamb chops this week (in connection with planning the Christmas dinner menu) -- we are completely convinced we conjured them onto this Menu (where we'd never seen them before). So while we ate these lamb chops, he was scrolling catering menus on his iPhone, figuring out where we could score more lamb chops in time for Christmas.

By the time the cheesecake arrived for dessert, that reminded us of the grilled cheese sandwiches he'd made last week and how good they were, but what we really needed was a good homemade tomato soup to go with them. Bisque. We needed to make bisque. Barely pausing long enough for them to wrap up our doggie bags, we marched straight to the DiscoKroger for the celery and onions we'd need for the mire poix. Then we stood there a little stunned in the glare of the fluorescent lights realizing there were no cashiers, and they had abandoned us to the U-Scans.  As far as I was concerned, at that point, we had two options. We could abandon this store in favor of one that was staffed, orrrrrrrrrr, one of us would just have to create a distraction while the other bolted out the door and ran for the getaway car. I was already busy creating just such a plan in my head when he mysteriously started punching buttons on The Machine. He eventually fed it some money; it burped up some change; and our incipient life of crime was momentarily delayed.

Within an hour, the soup was on, garlic was roasting in the oven, and we'd each staked out our respective positions in the cave, found a great movie (which neither of us remember), and were nodding off over our reading material (out of the 173 new releases on my bookshelf, he'd somehow unearthed my freshman year annotated copy of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness... I had the new Vanity Fair).

The night before, I'd fallen asleep in front of Restrepo, which I'd been looking forward to for months. It's an incredibly loud movie, and he made merciless fun of me for snoozing through it, while I insisted I was just resting my eyes (much like my grandmother and his Aunt Mae). Not surprisingly, I fight sleep violently, so he gets a big laugh watching the process. He says, "it's like Sunset. You know it comes every day, but you hardly ever catch it when it happens."

Last night, we fought the good fight til about 4. I heard him snoring and went over to tuck a blanket under his feet, at which point, he sat bolt upright and said, "Vigilance!"

Startled, I said, "What? Bilbo Baggins?"

"No. Vigilance," he said, and went right back to sleep.

Then I wandered upstairs to bed, and the only sounds heard around here the rest of the night was the occasional opening of the refrigerator door, followed by the unmistakable whisssssh of aerosol made by the spray-whipped-cream can from the Snooty Falooty Store. I don't even know if that was him or me.


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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Take Me To The River

"Gayle, I do not get out much, and I certainly don't get out to sandwich stores." 
--Oprah, to Gayle, on why she kept mispronouncing Panera on their big Yosemite adventure 

I am not a roughing it kind of girl. I did it when I was a kid: real camping, in the Smoky Mountains, with tents, sleeping bags, and inner-tubing down the river. (I should admit, however, there was indoor plumbing... geezus, we weren't animals.) I did my time. That was enough.

Once in a while though, I do like to get out of town and see some trees. Luckily, I have friends who live in The Woods and The Country. Some live on Farms. And another has a cabin down by the River, which is where we all went today for an all girls chili "campout." Meaning we "camped out" in the upstairs ski-lodge style great room, with our feet propped up in front of a big fireplace (it is possible the air conditioning was on to facilitate the apres-ski effect, because we hadn't expected it to be 78 degrees in November -- I would not, of course, post that on facebook for fear that crazy anti-air-conditioning lady will pop back up on there and accuse me of blowing the tops off mountains). After we ate for awhile and drank some good red wine, we "hiked" down to the River and observed some "Nature."

As usual, I refused to get too close to the water because everybody knows about my Jessica Savitch phobia of drowning in three feet of water (I don't want to drown in any amount of water, but it seems especially cruel to be afraid of water and then drown in a ditch, to say nothing of the fact that her dog died with her).

It was a tremendous day, with half a dozen highly interesting and entertaining women from all over the world, catching up on art and politics and our jobs and boys (nearly everyone had a new one to report).

I don't like Oprah. I think she's smug.


But this was a little like Oprah and Gayle's big Yosemite adventure, which I watched last week, so I could text the BFF all about it in real time, along with my plan to try fly fishing -- including the fact that Gayle managed to catch her shoe on fire.

If I were going on a trip, I would take my BFF, and she pointed out, it's because "we are united in the fact that we go to four star lodge or excellent three star lodge because, Hell, you won't fly. And we just forego the actual nature." She then clarified, "Nature = the lodge in that Wyoming/Montana-ish movie with Brad Pitt... but with wi fi. And paths through the pines. Definitely paths. I am not saying we get Brad Pitt. I am saying that we get the lodge."

I concurred, pointing out, "you know I don't like Brad Pitt. He's smug."

I said we are a lot like Oprah and Gayle, only straight.


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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Dad's Estate Planning

"Do you need a set of buggy springs?" my Dad asked when he called last night.

Hmmm. I know from previous queries this summer ("do you have any use for an anvil?") that this is partially another adventure in estate planning,  and partially a segue into a meditation on the state of health care reform.

"I can't imagine that I do," was my answer, as I pictured the looks on the neighbors' faces if I just parked a skeleton of rusty wagon wheels in the driveway.

"They're probably at least 150 years old," he added by way of modification - slash - persuasion. 

"Nope," I said, refusing to elaborate, knowing that otherwise this could turn into a fairly lengthy debate on their merits (which I'm sure are substantial).  Then I asked an open-ended question, certain that the full story would come out, uninterrupted. (According to the audiology tests after he punctured his eardrum last year, his hearing is about 70 percent gone... but to be fair, he never listened. His preferred conversational format has always been The Monologue.)

So his latest brush with death -- precipitating the necessary dispensation of the buggy -- involved some sort of injury incurred while feeding the catfish in the pond. Possibly, something was broken tripping over a bucket. Did he go to the doctor? Don't be absurd. Why not?

"Do you know what it cost me last time I went to the doctor?" he asked indignantly.  "A hundred and ninety bucks just to rub some salve on my belly!"

"You mean the ultrasound?"

"Yeah, I guess. But what I am saying is that was just MY PART of it. It COST more than THAT. A lot more than that." 

"Is that the one where they found out about those last couple heart attacks?" I asked.

"I got a new haircut," was the answer. "You know my barber retired. And every time I went in there I had to wait and wait and wait. And you know all those men in there don't have but seven hairs on their head all together," and this was followed by a long list of the virtues of Myra, the new barber, and how he found her.

So, what about this injury?

"What about it?" he responded. "Oh, I cussed more than I probably have in the last six months," he added.

Was that the entirety of the treatment? "Nahhhhhh. I found these two old pills from the Dentist. So I took them, and then I laid on the sofa and watched Gunsmoke."

Anything else?

"Yeah. Midnight Cowboy." 

What?

"Oh you've seen Midnight Cowboy. Jon Voight?  Dustin Hoffman?"

I must have paused too long there. "You knoooooow, Ratso Rizzo." 

I wondered aloud if maybe an X-Ray or something was called for... something more restorative than the powers of say, AMC or TNT.

"Did I tell you about my new phone?" was the answer.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Halloween Movie Recs: Paranormal Activity, One and Two

Wanna See Somethin' Scary? 

You either love scary movies or hate them. I love them. My typical problem with them, is they're usually not scary, or at least they're not scary as advertised. Sixth Sense? Don't try to Shyamalan me. Blair Witch? Oh, I'm so scared. Of twigs.

For Halloween last year, I recommended The Strangers.  It isn't precisely scary -- nothing supernatural or paranormal happens -- it's just a couple in the woods who answer the door to someone they shouldn't. That's the entire plot. The couple is played by Liv Tyler and the guy from Felicity (I think there were two; this is one of them).  When  Liv Tyler asks their uninvited guests (again: not giving anything away here) "why are you doing this?" the answer is: "Because you were home." It isn't my usual kind of scary movie, but I stand by it. It's good.

My type of scary movie is more Paranormal Activity,  which I watched for my birthday with Nick. I am not normally a fan of gimmicks, or low-budget, much less shot-on-video, but I did like the premise of inexplicable things that go bump in the night. We started out the movie with him on one sofa, with one dog, and me on the other, with another dog. I thought that would be fine. About ten minutes in, I gave up and said, "ok, you're gonna have to come over here and hold my hand."

We both have a high, high tolerance for scare-factors, and by the end, we were both whimpering in fear. Success.

I had high hopes for the sequel...and I still do. I just can't judge it properly, because we saw it sitting next to an insane clown family who spent the entire movie talking to the screen, "oh no you ditn't!" and "girrrrrrrrrl, Jesus ought not've let them make this movie." This was accompanied by a lot of screaming, and on at least one occasion, a break to answer a ringing cellphone. "What am I doin? Nuttin'...." (followed by, likely in response to a query about the noise,) "Oh. Yeah. I'm at the Movies."

Was it scary? I always judge people by the way they respond to the guy in the movie who says things like, "don't be ridiculous!" or "there's no such thing as ghosts." Aside from the normal horror movie conventions (that guy's usually the first to meet a terrible gruesome fate), it always irritates me, because in my experience, if one of my otherwise sane, reasonable, non-Addict, non-Drunk friends tells me about something out of the ordinary happening to them, my first response would never be, "oh ho, you must be nuts." (This doesn't apply to my friends who are already known to be nuts, because you always have to take what they say with a grain of salt.)

I know this much from all those childhood years of reading Stephen King. If somebody ever asks you, "Wanna see something scary?" the best-advised answer is always, "No."

So, here's what happened after the movie. And then I'll judge you by what you think of it.

We spent a long evening of prep work in the kitchen, and then my visiting houseguest turned in early, while I sacked out in front of the bigscreen. Before she went up to bed, I told her to close the door to the TV room (it sticks, and it takes a pretty hefty amount of force to open or close it). I pointed this out to her because... well, it was relevant after I watched the first movie. 

About a half hour later, I heard her walk down the stairs (probably to get something from the kitchen I assumed). And a few minutes later, the door to the TV room swung open. "Ha, Ha Sooz," I yelled. "Very funny." (Thinking she was screwing with me, which, admittedly, would've been a little funny.)

But there was no response.

After a few seconds, I got up and wandered out to the kitchen. No sign of her. She was still upstairs. With her bedroom door closed.  She said this morning she'd heard me talking but figured I was probably on the phone or something.

Do I wanna see something scary? Why no. I'd rather not, thanks.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

An App for That

"Next WEEK? That's the worst thing you can SAY to an early adopter."
--Phil, not getting his iPad the first day on Modern Family

After years of resisting the iPhone, I now have what I've always wanted instead, which is the iPod Touch, an iPhone without the irritation and annoyance of an actual phone. And because it was a birthday present, I have zero guilt about all the features it wastefully duplicates that I already have on my phone, or kindle, or laptop, or camera, or any of the other 417 devices currently quietly humming at me from the surge protector.

For a phone, I still have my BlackBerry. I switched to the Torch  the day it was released, which was, coincidentally, the night the lights really did go out in Georgia as AT and T service went out all over the south, and half of the eastern seaboard. It has the touchscreen I want, with the blackberry keyboard I stubbornly insist on retaining. If you wanted to talk on it (and I don't), it would be like trying to talk on a Labrador Retriever puppy. If I had to estimate the weight, I'd say it's about 17 pounds or so. (Don't get smug iPhoners; yours is at least a cocker spaniel.)

Which is why I love the iPod Touch...it's skinny and it's light, which is what I will settle for, until I can finally wear a phone on my WRIST like God and Gene Rodenberry and George Jetson always intended.

The important thing is, I can play Scoops on it. (Well, that, and Fruit Ninja...Blame the art department.) I am also hearing a lot about these angry birds, but I suspect they might be above my skill level.

It came along with a nice romantic birthday dinner (lamb chops) and a lengthy address about its many features. Apparently, I can add all of my music to it, and all of his music to it, for example. I refuse to type much on its stupid little electronic keyboard, but I can at least read social media and stay caught up. I just can't say anything, which is probably better. It has a lot of stuff the Torch probably already does, but I don't have to bring a Sherpa along to carry it for me. The present followed months of quizzing about what I might like, where he called on the first day of every month and erroneously wished me a happy birthday (because he can only remember that it is on the first, and that he has a one in 12 shot; this is one of those times where it would be helpful if he just joined facebook for chrissake).

On one of those days of repeat texting, my cousin (who happened to be over hanging blinds) suggested, "why don't you just switch your birthday to January 1st like the racehorses and then we can all keep it straight."

But the birthday app means I'm no longer burdened with even checking into facebook to appear appropriately thoughtful. 

My stepdad immediately fell in love with the maps feature and was trying to figure out a way to look into his brother's window via satellite in New Mexico. 

My mom's response was the usual "find the black lining in any silver cloud approach," eyeing us dismissively. "Yeah. Some present. What is THAT thing going to cost you to run every month?"

There was a temptation to explain wi-fi, but I knew what I was dealing with. When I moved earlier this year, I made the mistake of paying an offhand compliment to the summer Romance who was so diligently and solicitously helping out every hour of the day and night -- "so big, so strong," was I think what I'd said. And her comment was the usual sigh of pained resignation, accompanied by the non-sequitur to end all non-sequiturs, even for her:  "Well.... I just hope he doesn't hit you." I promptly envisioned Frankenstein accidentally squashing the little girl. I'd never make light of domestic violence of course, but even with the many admitted problems I have in forming lasting relationships and attachments, I can honestly say no one has hit me since third grade.

All I know is, I was scanning through a dozen or so of the news apps I'd promptly added, when I ran across this article about how Steve Jobs isn't selling computers at all, what he's selling is PRICING.  And the article is filled with details about how "Decoys explain why Apple often sells each gadget in a pricing series, such as the new iPod Touch's $229, $299, and $399 price points for different storage capacities. You may gladly spend $229 to get a hot media player, thinking it's a deal compared with the highest-priced version and not blink that you could instead buy an iPhone 4 at the lower price of $199 with more features."

Huh. I am happy to report that I had no idea what an iPhone costs, and that it does not bother me at all that it's apparently cheaper than the iPod. It's all Rainman to me (hunnerd dollars? bout a hunnerd dollars?) So I also had no idea what the iPod cost either, but am curious now as to whether I was worth the $200 or $300 model. What I had assumed was that it was something poor people buy because they can't afford the iPad, which I also have no interest in because, A. it doesn't have a keyboard, and B. as far as I know, it doesn't come in pink.

Yeah. Ol' Steve Jobs is gonna have to wake up pritty, pritty early in the morning to outsmart me.


###
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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Archives 2000. Confessions of a Beauty Pageant Loser

Have you ever looked at a picture of yourself when you were a kid?... There’s one of me in a cowboy hat, pointing a gun at the camera, trying to look like a cowboy but failing, and I can hardly bring myself to look at it now. I’ve put it back in a drawer. I keep wanting to apologize to the little guy: ‘I’m sorry, I’ve let you down. I was the person who was supposed to look after you, but I made wrong decisions at bad times and turned you into me.’
—Nick Hornby

To even make the qualifying rounds for the title of Miss Navajo a girl has to be able to perform all of the traditional Navajo women’s tasks — including slaughtering, butchering, and cooking a sheep.

Of course, I didn’t grow up in the Navajo nation, and vying for the title of Miss Nibroc back in the early 80s in my hometown wasn’t nearly so arduous. Lucky for me.

on the left
The only experience I brought to the event was a brief and glorious stint as some sort of Little Miss Homecoming something-or-other when I was five years old. I wore a fluffy pink dress, itchy white lace tights, and white patent leather shoes. My then-best friend (and later, arch-nemesis) Karen Sasser and I carried the train of the queen, Marie Cima. Or it might have been her tiara.

A dozen years later, I was ready for the real deal.

All I needed was a swimsuit, a few nice dresses, a convertible I could ride in for the parade, and a driver who’d be willing to wear something other than a t-shirt.

I didn’t have a “talent,” and fortunately, one wasn’t required.

In fact, I don’t recall doing anything especially strenuous to prepare — beyond lying in the sun, basted in baby oil, with my hair coated in lemon juice. But, I was probably going to do that anyway.

I’d like to pretend to be blasé and sanguine about the whole thing now — as if the pageant and the festival were things I just happened to do a few decades ago. Ancient history. A sign of the times that I just went along with. The same way I might now be vaguely embarrassed by pictures of me with feathered hair and leg warmers.

But that’s not true.

I had that initial taste of glory at 5 on that basketball court, and I’d been dreaming about my moment ever since. Every August I would stand in front of JCPenney’s with my family and we’d watch the candidates in their shiny Corvettes, waving benevolently at the crowd and smiling.

I thought they had it made. A handsome boyfriend in the front. A spiffy car. The adulation of thousands (maybe it was just dozens) of cheering admirers lined up to see them and talk about how pretty they were. They were the closest thing we had to rock stars.

And I fantasized about how one day I’d be the one in the convertible. (Only I — plotting with the cunning that any five-year-old might exhibit— planned to throw candy, so the crowd would really love me and applaud loudly.)

I grew up and developed real goals, of course, but I never forgot that one.

Oh sure, I got good grades. I held a few class offices, including president a couple times. I made the National Honor Society and was a National Merit Semifinalist (St. C had enjoyed a brief moment in the spotlight as the school with the highest percentage of National Merit Semifinalists in the country — though it’s worth pointing out that I think my graduating class was only about 17 kids. The high school has since closed). I was even headed off to my first-choice college (thereby successfully spiting Sister Agnes Marian who’d refused to even give me an application, insisting “trust me dear, your parents can’t afford it.”)

Frankly, at 17, that was all just gravy.

I wanted a parade.

I was sure it would change my whole life.


BIOGRAPHY OF A PLACE

The theme of this year’s Festival is “linking the past with the future.”

It seems appropriate as I drive through town and am struck both by how little and how much it’s changed.

The directions that I’m given for this trip are exactly in keeping with the nature of any small southern town, “turn right where the Stuckey’s used to be.”

I remember when the first McDonald’s came to town. I remember when Burger Queen became Druther’s. And I well recall the excitement of the first Pizza Hut, and how we longed in vain for something more exotic, like a Godfather’s.

Now there’s fast food from one end of town to the other. Wendy’s. McDonald’s. Burger King. Arby’s. Domino’s. Papa John’s.

A giant Wal-Mart has nearly invaded and supplanted Black’s Barn.

Bonza and Wyrick’s IGA burned down a few years ago (Mr. Bonza unwittingly foiled my incipient life of crime when I stole a blowpop in first grade and my mother made me take it back to him and confess). By then it was E.C. Porter’s.

The Southern States I used to frequent with my Uncle Don is now Farm and Garden. The former proprietor, Arlis Fuson — who gave me my first set of little yellow chicks to raise — is retired. Don tells me Arlis is now “growin’ dogs and sellin’ ‘em.” When I ask what kind, he says, “Whatever kind you want. Big or little.” But, he adds, “I believe he’s got out of the bird business.”

The Somerset Oil up the road from the Fusons’ house is now closed down.

The downtown has now been overhauled and realigned on a grid. Kentucky is now one-way south and Main Street is now one-way north. Depot is still two-way, and will lead to the old underpass, which used to flood in every hard rain.

Hall Watson still anchors Center and Depot, but Sterchi’s is now a parking lot.

Distad’s jewelry store is gone (where I got my ears pierced the first... and second time).

Daniel’s dress store just closed this year.

A Chinese restaurant sits where the old Holiday used to be.

A True Value hardware is in place of the old Piggly Wiggly (more commonly known as The Pig), and across the street the Tastee Freez has been replaced by a pizza chain. The downtown Sonic is now a car lot, and there’s a new Sonic out on “new” 25E.

The old Hippodrome Theatre on Main was torn down long before I left.

The JCPenney I worked in all through high school also relocated to new 25E. Belk Simpson moved from Main Street to the shopping center decades ago.

The nation’s first Kentucky Fried Chicken is still on old London Highway on the way into town, and doubles as a museum (also on the National Register of Historic Places)— a museum that serves fried food. Colonel Sanders knew one of my grandfathers, and I met him on several occasions as a child — but no one I grew up with cares about chicken.

All the natives from my generation know the town cuisine is all about the chili.

The Dixie, home of “the world-famous Dixie Dog”—where I used to eat on my lunch break—is still on Main Street, but under new management.

A few doors down, the Krystal Kitchen is still standing, but appears to be hollowed out.

Next to that is the Fad Pool Hall, equally famous for their chili, but also for the fact that, as long as I was growing up, women were prohibited. The ban might have been lifted at some point, but at any rate, I’ve never been inside.

Chili loyalty was and is fierce in the tri-county area, and my family came down on the side of the root beer stand on Falls Highway (on the way to Cumberland Falls, home of the Moonbow — one of only two sites in the world with a moonbow; the other is in Africa).

The stand was torn down a few summers back, and reconstructed in a site about 50 yards west.

I’d be surprised if they changed the oil.

As an adult, I’ve had to continuously explain the concept of “chili buns” to the uninitiated — it’s a chili dog without the dog. “Oh... that’s just a sloppy joe,” is the usual response. Well, no, it isn’t. And in fact, it’s blasphemy to even mention them in the same breath. (This is usually followed by a discourse about the relative merits of bun-chili versus bowl-chili — but at some point, spaghetti enters the discussion, and I’ve found that there’s no point in even attempting to talk to anyone who’d put pasta in a bowl of chili.)

I’m not sure how world-famous any of this was. Bob Green did write an essay about the chili there years ago, but I don’t remember whose side he was on.

When I worked at Penney’s, we sold a t-shirt that named my hometown and said, "It’s not the end of the world, but you can see it from here.”

THEN AND NOW
When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother, ‘what will I be? will I be pretty? will I be rich?’ Here’s what she said to me, ‘Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be.’
—Jay Livingston and Ray Evans

One thing I know, when I was 17, I traveled light — a tube of strawberry Kissing Potion lip gloss, a comb, and a dime to call my mother, and I was set.

For this trip, I am weighed down with a digital camera with spare battery and charger; a cellphone with spare battery and charger; tape recorder, tapes, and notebooks; and a laptop.

I look like a sherpa...  a sherpa from The Matrix.

The first thing I notice about this year’s crop of candidates is that they have a healthy appetite. I had invited myself along to their brunch hosted by the Woman’s Club and held at a local hotel. (We ate at the mayor’s house when I was a candidate, but I decide it might seem... smug to point that out.)

The girls are encouraged to “go on and get your pictures made now, in case you spill something on yourself like Miss June over here.”

I was happy to see them come away from the buffet with their plates groaning under the weight of bacon and eggs and sausage and biscuits and gravy.

The president of the woman’s club, Lib Fore (former proprietor of Jack’s Market) is glad too, confiding conspiratorially, “one year they didn’t even eat enough to pay for it.”

I resist the maternal urge to tell them to wash their faces because they’re too pretty to need all that makeup. Because the other thing that strikes me —as I scan their applications and do the math — is that they were not even born the year I was in the pageant. And if I’d been a little more ... precocious... any one of them could be my daughter.

I feel very middle-aged.

I wonder if they’ve even heard of any of the characters who populated the national consciousness when I was 17 — names like... Madonna... Michael Jackson... Tom Cruise.... George Bush.

Sigh. It’s a different world.

They’ve filled out questionnaires — the same way we did — answering questions like, “what do you feel is the most pressing issue facing southern  women today?” To a girl almost, they’ve answered with some variation on this succinct response, “Southern women don’t have enough confidence or ambition to stay in school, to go on to college and get a life, rather than get married and start having children in their teens.”

Almost all of them mention the dearth of jobs awaiting the girls who do go on to school and then try to come home — only to find that most of the opportunities for women are vo-tech or service sector (nurses and bank tellers and fast food servers can usually get a gig, for example), but high-paying professional options are still limited. (Though most of them assure me they will be back.)

So the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The night of this year’s coronation, the emcee promises an evening that includes everything from “pop to country to ... interpretive dance.” I sense that I’m not the only adult shifting uncomfortably at that last item. The upcoming carnival is announced (Tuesday you can ride all night for 10 dollars). Wednesday is a gospel sing. Mitch Ryder will do a concert the following weekend, along with the guy who wrote “Flowers on the Wall” (a song “made popular by the Statler Brothers,” as the emcee reminds us — but I’m thinking my friends would only remember it because it’s on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack).

The 1999 queen takes the stage, and this year’s candidates are introduced, as “American Woman” plays on the sound system. The theme of the pageant is “American Beauties” (hopefully a reference to the roses, and not the movie — which would really be tragically ironic as pageant themes go). 

The “big production number” has changed considerably. The girls are in capri pants and pastel tops, and they do a spirited little set of kicks and aerobicizing to Mellencamp’s “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” which (even though it’s over a decade old) was terribly contemporary compared to the number we did.

Although almost no photographic evidence from my pageant survived the fire when our house burned down my sophomore year in college, at one point, there was a Super 8 recording of my own blush-inducing role in “Waiting for the Robert E. Lee.”

First: we wore black leotards, black tights, and black bowler hats — accessorized by a neon green garter, waistband, hatband, and a tambourine.

“Way down on the levee in old Alabamy/There’s daddy and mammy, there’s Ephraim and Sammy/ While they are waitin’ the banjos are syncopatin’/ What’s that they’re sayin’?/...While they keep playin’ they’re hummin’ and swayin’./ It’s the good ship Robert E. Lee that’s come to carry the cotton away.”

Second, as we wound up to the big finale — shuffle, shuffle, step step, step-ball-change, Charleston, and HALLELUJAH HAND — they turned off all the lights and illuminated the stage with a black light, so we looked like a bunch of invisible, yet disembodied, dancers in a minstrel show.

“See them shufflin’ along./Go take your best gal, real pal, go down to the levee, I said to the levee/ And join that shufflin’ throng, hear that music and song./ It’s simply great, mate, waitin’ on the levee, waitin’ for the Robert E. Leeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.”

This year’s program also includes an actual on-stage “swimsuit competition.”

I have to confess I feel vaguely uncomfortable watching a group of teenage girls parade around in their tankinis (they are allowed to wear two-pieces this year, a rather scandalous new development that the organizers seem a little unsure of) — as the emcee says things like, “Miss So and So plans to major in molecular biology as part of her pre-med curriculum.”

When I competed, we actually attended a “pool party”with the judges — thereby affording us a nominal pretense as to why we would be standing around on any summer afternoon in swimsuits and stiletto pumps.

Now, it should be pointed out that none of us had any intention of going in the water. And there wasn’t one girl among us who’d have dreamed of getting her carefully coiffed, Aqua-netted hair wet. But the illusion — the excuse — for the swimwear somehow provided the chimera of seemliness that the stage does not.

I am told this year’s parade route will be just like mine was — proceeding down Main and back up Kentucky. Only this year, the organizers have scheduled all the pageant events and the coronation the week prior to the festival, so the Queen’s car will be labeled, and she’ll get to —in effect — reign over the festival week, as well as the parade.

It’s a good theory, but I’m not sure I would’ve shown up for the parade if I’d already known I had zero shot at the title.

It was traumatic enough as it was.

I had managed to secure the loan of a restored El Dorado Cadillac convertible that belonged to my friend Casey’s father. The rumor was that it had been owned, at one time, by FDR. But I can’t confirm that. I do know it was the dreamiest — candy-apple red with a white leather interior and it perfectly matched my giant white ballgown with red piping.

Mr. Taylor agreed to drive it, with the proviso that his two little boys be allowed to ride in the backseat, more or less underneath my copious skirts where no one would see them. I was extremely unhappy about that last proposition, but wasn’t about to look a gift Caddy in the mouth — and their presence ended up being fortuitous anyway.

As it turned out, the car’s mint-condition appearance was pretty much confined to cosmetics, and not the engine, which stalled repeatedly while we waited for our place in the queue on Falls Highway.

By the time we had turned onto Main, and the parade route proper, Mr. Taylor had figured out a way to simultaneously pop the clutch and gun the engine so that the car would lurch forward, a few feet at a time. At which point, gravity and the car’s forward motion would propel me backwards, plastering me, face up, onto the trunk. The only thing that kept me from sliding off the back was the hearty instructions Mr. Taylor boomed to his sons, “HANG ON TO HER BOYS! WE’RE MOVIN’!” and they’d each grab a leg as we jerked and sputtered our way down Main.

I never had a legitimate shot at Miss Congeniality anyway, but I’m pretty sure the stream of obscenities this chain of events provoked on my part probably didn’t help my chances any.

My face still gets kind of warm from the memory as the girls are winding up for the final high kicks of their dance.

The production number is followed by an intermission. Then the candidates have to get through an evening gown competition, and the crowd has to get through some more “entertainment,” before the coronation can commence, and the 1999 winner can hand over her crown and title to this year’s winner.

As I’m packing up my gear, it dawns on me how tiny the high school auditorium really is. I doubt it seats more than a few hundred people, and it’s not even full.

From the stage though, I know from experience it looks as big as Madison Square Garden.

And for those of you who said I’d never amount to anything? Good call.
—Jon Stewart

Driving north on I-75 at the end of the evening, I turn off the air conditioning and roll down my windows, letting the muggy August air pour into the truck cab.

I reach into the white sack I’ve stowed in the console and pull out a neatly-wrapped, warm package. There are traces of orange around the edges of the waxed paper where the grease has soaked through.

I unwrap it carefully, and stow the paper back in the bag, relieved that the seats are leather and I won’t be able to make too much of a mess. I have rules against eating in my car, but I make this one-time exception.

I demolish about half of the (first) bun in one bite— the perfect bite of chili, sharp mustard, soft white Rainbo bun, and pungent minced white onion, followed by a long cold swallow of root beer.

I find exactly the right Alejandro Escovedo CD to keep me awake and keep me company.

In a few hours, I’ll be back in my little kitchen dicing six pounds of tomatoes for the gallon of homemade gazpacho that I’ve promised to contribute to a dinner party the next evening.

By the time I get to that party, I’ll be back among my friends — friends who probably can’t imagine me wearing four-inch stilettos with a swimsuit. I doubt they’d believe I ever danced to the ‘Robert E. Lee.’ And I probably don’t strike them as the type of girl who would’ve spent her entire childhood dreaming about riding in a parade in the back of a shiny red convertible.

But I did.

I had forgotten it all myself. Forgotten that there was another muggy August evening about 17 years ago when all this mattered, and mattered desperately.

And I miss the excitement and passion and sense of relentless, breathless anticipation I felt that summer — as if something important might happen at any minute.

Maybe something great.



--sidebar from the column--
MISS AMERICA 1995

"Accidentally leaving the pricetag on your breasts." That's one of Letterman's top ten ways to get disqualified from the Miss America pageant. Another is "when asked about hobbies, reply 'rich, elderly men.'"

As usual, Dave has the right idea here-which is not to take any of this too seriously-unlike the rest of the free world, which seems to have gotten its collective panties into quite a bunch over this whole swimsuit hoo-ha. Why, it's as if physical attractiveness actually had something to do with the pageant's outcome! Say it ain't so!

They can call it a scholarship contest all they want, that don't make it rocket science. The pageant is, after all, an evaluation of physical, feminine beauty-which is, as we know, only skin deep, so why not evaluate as much surface area as possible? I'm not saying it's right, I'm saying there's a market for it. The participants involved volunteer, they aren't drafted. And unlike more obvious forms of prostitution, it's all perfectly legal.

So I ask you, just how coy is this nation going to get? What's next? An outcry from the prize 4-H heifers at the county fair about weight requirements?

Now I can hardly hear myself think over all the meowing and hissing in the background, so let me go ahead and make a confession right now (before someone from my hometown beats me to it): I was actually in a high school beauty pageant. That's another column entirely, but let's just say I don't think it will come as a surprise to anyone that I didn't get many votes for Miss Congeniality.

Nor did I win the talent competition. The things I was good at weren't necessarily anything I could show off for the judges. Although my then-boyfriend helpfully suggested that I ought to have tried sword swallowing.

If they'd had a category for irony, I might have had a shot at some points, but they didn't, so I went home with some lovely parting gifts instead. I've since managed to piece together the crumbled shards of my ego and get on with my life-but feel free to judge my ranting as mere sour grapes.

I didn't realize just how badly the pageantry circuit had deteriorated until we tuned into this year's spectacle in anticipation of the big swimsuit vote (cast, appropriately enough, by phoning a 900 number).

Apparently, the only acceptable "talent" (and I use the term loosely) is singing and/or playing piano. We longed for the days of baton twirlers, trampoline tumblers, or even a really cheesy "dramatic monologue." If they'd had a phone-in for that, Hoss was going to cast his vote for the "interrogation scene from Basic Instinct."

Mostly we entertained ourselves (while waiting for the swimsuit votes to be calculated) by proposing alternative talents for the candidates-ones we'd actually like to see. Perhaps a thematic approach where Miss Louisiana could come out and shuck oysters, Miss Kentucky could strip tobacco, or Miss Arkansas could blow the governor.

What we really wanted to see eliminated though, much more than the swimsuits, was that big production number. Not wanting to send the audience home unsatisfied, we propose replacing it with something else. Like, oh I don't know...maybe strapping Miss Congeniality to a big rotating wheel and allowing blindfolded semifinalists to throw knives at her. Now THAT'S what I call talent.

I think for me, the most excruciating portion of the evening was Regis's interviews with the contestants in which they announce their "platforms." That's where, in anticipation of a year of important speaking engagements (at state dinners, mall openings, and the like) the show ponies get to expound on issues of importance to them-such as split ends, exfoliation, and silicone. No, just kidding...that would've been great though, wouldn't it? In reality, this year's issues du jour included snoozers like sexual abstinence (for) and juvenile crime (against).

As much as I kid the show, it really was good cheap entertainment (which probably isn't the first time that's been said about some of those contestants). And there's just nothing more romantic than a man who turns to you at the end of an evening of Miss America watching and says, "Honey, I know your platform would have been much better than those girls'." Romance that is in no way diminished by the fact that he's just trying to get you to dust off your old sword swallowing act.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Facebook Movie: the Me Generation v. the iGeneration

"I really think this whole performing thing is a way for me basically to just be myself...and have a microphone. To be myself, and be louder than anybody else in the room."
-- Lyle Lovett, 1992
"Facebook profiles are always something of a performance: you choose the details you want to share and you choose whom you want to share with."



Security was irritating at last night's screening of The Facebook Movie (the Social Network), precipitating an exodus out to the cars to stow the banned cellphones. Kids could've been emptying bags of syringes and spoons as long as the iPhones didn't make it in. "Here's your lighter, miss. And your pipe."

It wasn't a sell-out, but it was a good crowd -- filled with exactly the 20-somethings director David Fincher aimed for -- all batting their eyes a little at the late afternoon September light, still recovering from the afternoon when facebook crashed.

Sadly, the news had to break on Twitter that facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had just given the New Jersey public school system $100 million bucks. (PC Magazine -- and the ultimate Twitter Transparency Mayor Cory Booker -- suggests that Zuckerberg nearly made the donation anonymously. But it's hard to imagine Oprah standing for that.  "YOU get an education! YOU get an education!" A commenter notes that it's like the "episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm where Ted Danson gets lots of praise for donating an art gallery wing 'anonymously' while Larry David is scorned because his donated wing had his name on it.")

It seemed cruel to deprive the audience of such a self-referential, self-aware movie an opportunity to discuss it while it played out in front of them. (If a tree fell...)

This is a movie made entirely, and expertly, by grownups Fincher  (Seven, Fight Club) and Sorkin (A Few Good Men, West Wing) and to a great degree: for grownups. The hippest thing about it is Trent Reznor's score and Trent Reznor is what...46 now? The dialogue is smart, sharp, and sparkly -- and bears no resemblance to how Zuckerberg speaks in interviews -- you can't handle the truth? On paper (if such a thing still existed), it might be hard to imagine how a movie with long sequences devoted to coding -- and explaining coding -- could be riveting, but it is.

This movie is big and expensive and almost 80s-like. It's the Me Generation vs. the iGeneration.

It is all Wall Street (the original), not the handheld verite of the new indie facebook-preoccupied Catfish.

(The movie previewed the same night that Twit My Dad Says premiered on TV -- painfully illustrating that not all social-media stories or phenoms are transferable to the screen. The TV suits took a slight, modestly amusing twitter feed and tried to shoehorn it into the nearly-dead sitcom format, brought to you by KoMut "Will and Grace" Entertainment.)

The grownups seem a little angry. Much like the 80s. Even cocaine  makes a comeback (at least for the Justin Timberlake Napster character, Sean Parker) ...just like the 80s.

Fincher, Sorkin, and Jesse Eisenberg (the Squid and the Whale), who plays Zuckerberg, go out of their way to "disclose" that they don't personally use facebook, and that it's immaterial to The Story (which is played out as half Shakespearean, and half courtroom drama, which has now been replaced by the new procedural: the deposition drama, where nothing ever actually gets to court).

Newsweek ("Friends Without Benefits") is pissed off because Facebook -- unlike the old HP/Intel/Apple days of Silicon Valley -- doesn't actually make anything. (In related news: GET OFF MY LAWN.) Plastics. Plastics. Their argument is, facebook isn't science and it doesn't solve problems. Elsewhere though, they turn in an elegiac rave review, quoting Thornton Wilder and the "typical American battle of trying to convert a loneliness into an enriched and fruitful solitude."

But facebook has made something -- and it isn't inherently good or bad -- it's a platform, a tool, a means for connecting, or not. The typewriter wasn't evil when it replaced the pen. The phone wasn't evil when it replaced door-to-door communication. In the early days, nobody wanted to be the douche who stood around Starbucks talking on his cellphone, but these are universal social network applications as well. (Just like everybody shuns the guy on Twitter or Facebook who always tries to sell you a house.)

As the New York Times review puts it, puts it, "Mark builds a database, turning his life — and ours — into zeroes and ones, which is what makes it also a story about the human soul."

###
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Monday, September 20, 2010

Archives. May 31. 2001. Whatcha Gonna Do, Moulin Rouge.

COLUMN MAY 31, 2001

WHATCHA GONNA DO? 


We were on our way to see Moulin Rouge (which I would characterize as visually dazzling rococo filmmaking surprisingly and yet effectively juxtaposed against conventional burlesque, play-within-a-play Noises Off-esque narrative) when I saw the flashing lights in the rearview and pulled onto a side street (overcome by a wave of panic-induced nausea).

"Do you know why I stopped you ma'am?"

I pondered several potential answers in the 5 seconds or so it took me to respond, the most obvious of which was, "because I drive a vehicle commonly and stereotypically favored by rappers and drug dealers and you don't think it belongs in this neighborhood, which explains why you let the Chevy Suburbans doing 65 in the right-hand lane cruise right by without so much as a second look, because THEY are the preferred vehicles of soccer moms, Martha Stewart, and the CIA."

That's not what I said though.

And my college-pal Bazz (who's a lawyer) confirmed for me later that the correct answer to ANY question posed by a police officer is NEVER, "because you're a racial profiler?"

So what I said, instead, was "No."

At which point I was informed I was going 40-something in a 30-something.

Whatever.

I gave him my license and registration and he headed back to his car (for an eternity).

At which point - trying to lighten the mood, I guess - my fellow cineaste joked, "Huh. Guess HE's not a big fan of your column?"

Which I countered with something vicious about the fact that if we'd taken his idiotic six-cylinder imitation toy car, we'd never have been stopped in the first place because it won't even GO 35.

I'm not usually so mean to him, but... well, that's not true. Sometimes I'm even meaner than that.

Then he wanted to know why I had LIED about why I was stopped.

I did NOT lie.

I did not know I was speeding, and for all I know, he could've been stopping us to see if we were wearing our seatbelts (we were).

Besides: I have 13 lawyers on my cellphone speed dial - all of whom would've crucified me if I'd answered ANY questions on any subject without a lawyer present... Duh.

Hop Sing suggested I should've responded with humor, along the lines of:
"because of the illegal drugs in the console?
the unregistered gun in the Kate Spade bag?
the pedestrian we ran over back on Main Street?
the expired tags?
...and finally,
because we stole this vehicle (from a drug-dealing rapper)?"

NONE of those things are TRUE of course - Hop Sing just has a vivid imagination (and poor impulse control).

The officer gave me all the paperwork to take to city hall and bid us a sarcastic good evening.

So we get to the movie; retrieve our tickets from my coworkers whom we'd sent ahead as scouts; and I promptly curl into a fetal position where I remained for the next two hours.

My date then went off to the concession stand and returned with approximately a bushel of popcorn and a what appeared to be a multi-litre keg of bottled water (approximately the same size as the kind you'd normally find attached to a water cooler) - positively elated that he'd scored this bounty for only a dollar more.

As I relayed this to Ouisie, she says this size obsession is common tribal behavior among the hunter-gatherers we know - as her betrothed has begun clipping coupons which lure him in with the promise of "buy ONE gallon of Picante sauce; get the SECOND gallon free!!" It seems to escape his notice that even if our entire social circle moved into a commune together and pooled our culinary resources - it would still take us the better part of a YEAR to consume ONE gallon of picante sauce, let alone two.

Anyway, the movie wound down more or less predictably (the narrator had already telegraphed the ending in the opening sequence - much like in American Beauty, except not). I hated it, and (as usual) my date loved it.

But as the denouement approached, he - worn to a frazzle by the middle-aged magpies sitting behind us who'd chatted throughout the course of the film - actually turned and SHUSHED them.

I was shocked (he is so passive he barely has a pulse). And aghast.

I was as annoyed as he was, but I'd had enough drama for one night, and I had no interest in him starting a fight I knew I'd have to finish. At the very least, I expected one or both of us to end up suffering a jaunty blow to the head.

In the event we had been hauled off to jail for assault, I was pretty sure I could take care of myself. At a minimum, I planned to swallow a razor blade wrapped in tape and then throw it up later to deal with the bulls and my fellow inmates. ('Cause that's just the kinda thing they teach you in the liberal arts.)

He, on the other hand, was sure to be somebody's bitch by morning. 'Cause I hear they like 'em pretttttty in Cellblock C. This is just one (of many) flaws I find in dating someone excessively prettier than I am.

Archives. May 24, 2001. Boys. Meat. Grill.

ARCHIVES. COLUMN MAY 24, 2001

BOYS. MEAT. GRILL.

It's been a long time since I've been to a dinner party where the lack of ketchup was the biggest problem to be solved.

I hate to be sexist, but sometimes this is what happens when you leave the menu to men in their late 20s.

But I was just so relieved not to be THROWING last weekend's cookout, that if they'd put an elk knuckle in front of me, I'd have eaten it, and been glad to get it.

In fact, I pretty much weep with gratitude when someone says, "HERE's what we're doing this weekend," as opposed to "WHAT are we doing this weekend?" (Of course, that means you have to live with the consequences, and not bitch about it.)

I offered to help (and included an array of items I could provide), but quickly got an email back saying, "Whoa there little filly!! Cookouts are for the menfolk!"

Hmmmm.


I was dubious.

I've relaxed my standards a lot. But I still think a good party should LOOK easy. A good hostess should be able to breeze in with a tray or two of crab puffs, drape herself across the closest male companion, sip a martini, and be prepared to gracefully greet the guests within five minutes of the party's designated commencement.

A good social gathering should be what Bird is to jazz, what Pollock is to painting. Everyone should THINK "Hey, I could do that." And they should be wrong.

It's why I haven't personally enjoyed most of the big parties we've hosted this year - because I think once you've engaged the teamsters, the ATF, the ABC, and security - and you have ordered a sorority girl intern onto her hands and knees to scrub a urinal in a Banana Republic sundress, your guests have a pretty good idea that some EFFORT has been expended on their behalf, and their expectations are UP.

It definitely comes to no surprise to anyone who's ever been to one of my parties that I am NOT the gracious hostess I aspire to be. As the guests arrive, I'm usually the one with an amp under one arm, a case of bourbon under the other, while I bark obscenities into two cellphones.

So I was justifiably excited by the idea of going to someone ELSE's house and eating food THEY had prepared.

I wasn't stupid though.

I brought my own provisions (some nice boursin herb spread and Bremner wafers), and I knew Ouisie had picked up some Parrano cheese and French bread. At least we wouldn't starve.

And there our pathetic little offerings sat....in the middle of the coffee table, surrounded by what looked to be the slaughtered carcasses of a corral full of livestock.

The first course? Big hunks of charred andouille sausage with barbecue sauce.

Pretty soon the second course was ready to come off the grill: barbecued chicken.

"How're we going to serve this honey?" was the hostess's question to the host.

His answer "uhhhhh, on buns?"

The only green in sight was the grass under the grill (which didn't stay that color for long), and the closest thing to vegetation at all was.... coleslaw. (Which reminds me of a suburban seafood restaurant I recently went to with my friends Greg and Lesli - where apparently the trend is to EMBED a bucket in the middle of the table? I was mystified. Is it for the convenience of bulimic diners? Or is it there for a demographic survey - just toss in whatever you find objectionable and they'll adjust the menu accordingly?)

Anyway.

This being a gathering run by straight men, by the time we GOT to said second course, we WOMENfolk realized that it had somehow escaped everyone's notice that we might be, at some point, in need of.... utensils.... plates even.

I offered to 1. run to the grocery for picnic products, or 2. go back to my house and pick up my service-for-16 fiestaware, but eventually we scrambled together enough to get by. I, for example, dined on the special "collectors' edition" of Hercules plates. I think the sportwriters took all the Little Mermaid series before I could get to the table. (I asked the hostess if we could register for these at McDonald's prior to her upcoming nuptials.... which she did not seem to think was funny.)

The fourth course - dessert - was brought by a late arrival, who showed up carrying two six-packs of bratwursts under his arm.

(Later on, we had cupcakes, but I can't be sure they weren't stuffed with veal.)

We're having another cookout this Sunday, and I've learned my culinary lesson here. (For one thing, eat a late lunch.)

If it ain't on a stick, they probably ain't gonna eat it.

I'm making gazpach-sicles.


Archives. May 17, 2001. The BIRDS.

COLUMN FROM MAY 17, 2001.

THE BIRDS


Last night, I was working late, standing by the copier when I look up and see a Chow-Chow  running loose (but wearing a collar, making my odds at a rescue at least 50-50).

I (naturally) go running out into traffic to try to keep him from meeting a messy fate.

I should also mention that I'm wearing a little tobacco-colored AnnTaylor shift, pearls, and three-inch heels.
(The story's OK if you DON'T know what I was wearing, but it's better if you've got an image you can work with.)

At some point, it occurs to me that this is not safe or responsible behavior.

And this is around the time I start getting a LOT of heavy commentary from 1. guys in lowriders; 2. guys listening to rap music with blacked out windows (I couldn't catch all the lyrics, but I think they went something like this: "@#$% #@$% %$!! #$%&"): 3. drunks shuffling past (because it WAS cocktail hour), and 4. rednecks with Confederate flags in their trucks.


At almost all times, I am within sight of our building - but I somehow dimly realize it would take all of 4.3 seconds for any one of these guys to drag me into a car and flee the jurisdiction. (Plus I can see my coworkers already have their hands full with the schizophrenic who's screaming into the imaginary cellphone. They're probably going to be of limited assistance. Plus, unlike me, they are pacifists.)

I wonder briefly if I really have what it takes to slip off my sandal, plunge the heel into a guy's eye socket, withdraw it, slip it back on, and continue on my canine rescue mission of mercy without breaking stride. (I decide I do.)

Then I wonder where the hooker is who usually cruises the nearby bustop? I wonder if she'll think maybe I'm crowding her corner?

Ultimately, I gave up the chase, recognizing 1. its futility, and 2. an incipient cramp in my left thigh.

I'm tired. I'm hot. I'm sweaty. I'm despondent - because I haven't even achieved my goal which was to get the dog back to his owner (who is PROBABLY a drug dealer, not that I'm stereotyping).

I dejectedly head to the back of the building to burn a little more midnight oil. As I climb the stairs, I hear a commotion from the west wing.

Of course the place is deserted. The security system is off. And the building has been unlocked the entire time I've been chasing the dog.

Naturally, I do what they do in EVERY horror movie - which is to stride forth and recklessly OPEN the door to my office.

The source of the ruckus? (Ominous music would be good here.)

A roomful of BIRDS.

STRAIGHT out of Hitchcock.

I was, as you might guess, taken aback (i.e., I slammed the door, screamed, and went running up and down the halls EXACTLY like a cartoon character).

Of course my cellphone was trapped in my office (with the birds) and I no longer know any phone numbers by heart.


So I just (very sanely) decide to go door to door, up and down our street until I could find someone who'd help me.

That didn't go too well. Probably, (and here I'm guessing), because I'm imagining people heard me screaming and banging on their doors with both fists, and quickly and logically decided they wanted NO part of whatever was on the other side of THAT. ("Sell crazy somewhere else Sister," is most likely what they were thinking.)

Luckily, our neighbor (and good Samaritan), the appropriately named Carleton Wing was A. home, and B. willing to answer the door. Not only that, he was COMPLETELY nonplussed. Almost as if Tippi Hedrin pounds his door down everyday.

He told Ginger (his dog) he'd be right back. He walked into my office (whereupon I dramatically slammed the door and braced myself against it - as if he was going to TRY to escape, like in Young Frankenstein), and within minutes, had it calmly and peacefully cleared of all wildlife. I was imagining a scene right out of Snow White.

The staff has been busy speculating all day how I COULD have otherwise resolved this scenario (if Carleton hadn't been home), the most popular being the one where I SHOT the birds.

After dispatching them, I would've paged Gary (we call him the Wolf, but he's really our cleaning guy) whose first question would've been, "what time's your staff gettin' there? 30 minutes? Be there in 7," as we cut to a shot of him squealing up out front on two tires.

The next thing I could picture is him and his crew patiently cleaning all the gore off my walls, rolling their eyes, and musing aloud, with their usual long-suffering sighs of goodnatured resignation, "I'm not EVEN gonna ask how THIS happened."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Running Out of Food at a Party: Shame on My Family, the Sequel

This picture, snapped by my BFF on Friday night, completely captures my response to every social gathering I've ever hosted, i.e., "WHERE'S MY FAINTING COUCH?"

 I woke up to this facebook message from my husband-in-law this morning, "The only other things I need to accomplish this fall is our kitchen redo. Are you up for our annual Holiday Party. I've already been asked about it."

Of course I knew he'd been asked about it, because people were quizzing me about the date at a little gathering we had this past Friday, and I told them all, "go ask Joe.

Holiday parties are a LOT of pressure, and this one moreso, because last year, it was the first party -- in all my years of hostessing -- where I ran out of food. It might sound funny now (actually, it doesn't... too soon), but it was scarring at the time. To this day, I don't know if I underestimated the guest list or overestimated the food, or what -- but I do know that by 11 pm, my husband and husband-in-law were ordering pizza for all of us. It was mortifying (tasty, but mortifying). It is the party where I learned the expression it's like havin' a dove field,  so I don't mean to imply the evening was a total loss.

Chef Baby Brother suggested at the time that I might as well move to New Jersey and start shopping for shrimp rings and Entenmann's coffee cake. I can't even repeat what my Mom said, but I think tears were involved.

It turns out, Joe shares his own burden of shame in that party because one of our best college buddies kept helpfully loading the dishwasher (and he kept going behind her unloading it, because the dishwasher doesn't work -- as far as I know, it's never worked -- it's more... sculptural).

It doesn't bother me, because, Social Hermit that I am, if I can get away with it, I will spend 100 percent of my time at every party in the kitchen washing dishes as opposed to socializing out front with the guests where I should be. I used to get in a lot of trouble at the McSwankertons in the 80s and 90s because their caterers did not like having me back there, so if they banished me to the front rooms, I would  compromise by sitting on the floor in a corner and feeding the hosts' dogs straight from my plate. (That got me kicked off quite a few guest lists, and that was ok by  me.)

This was my last message from Joe, "On my way to buy a dishwasher, new stove and a new fridge. All part of the kitchen redo which begins tomorrow. I wouldn't dare embarrass myself again with a fab party and a drab kitchen."

I told him to pick up a disposal while he's out. I have some cooking to do if I'm going to get this menu completed by Thanksgiving.

###

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Me and My Laptop

I have not yet adjusted to having tech roommates at work. The other day I was complaining about the slow speed of the browser I'm forced to use, and why I don't like it, when they asked why I didn't just switch? 

Welllllll, I explained (patiently... surely they knew this one?), because the other one is just too virus-friendly -- it's dominant, so all the viruses are written with it in mind.

"Whaddayou care?" they asked. "If you break it, we'll fix it. Big deal."

I had to let that sink in for a second. I have lived in fear of tech breakdowns for so long, I don't know how to live any other way. Til now, I've mostly considered my life with computers to be one long hostage crisis.

if you search "gerbil" by p10 you will hit Richard Gere
I don't know how they work and I really don't want to know.  If they told me I needed to stop at the store and pick us up some more gerbils to run the little wheels that power the hard drives, that would not seem unreasonable to me. Sad for the gerbils probably, but not unreasonable for me.

I look around my desk at the giant shiny monitors, the glossy new modem and router, and mostly I just pet them, reassured by their glossy high-tech gleam.

My spirit has been bruised and battered and a long time healing, but after that comment, I think there will come a time one day soon where this is a fair representation of me and my laptop.

I am Oofie the Chimp. 




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