Saturday, May 29, 2010

Between the Lines

It's always odd to see my column headlines show up in newsfeeds with actual news. Sometimes the happenstance order is almost poetic, other times it's just amusing.

Today's sequence read like this:

"Giant 'USA' display of American flags honors veterans"
 followed by me:
"Still More Things That Are in My Stomach"
 and wrapping up with
"A nation mesmerized: Can BP plug the Gulf gusher? "

Still More Things That Are in My Stomach

If it's Memorial Day weekend, it must be time to play Things That Are in My Stomach right now.

Are there any dark-chocolate pecans?


How about Mingua Beef Jerky?

Of course.

Any Sour Apple SourPatch Straws?

You bet. 

Wasabi cashews?

I can't imagine why not.

That's just a small sampling of the Smugglies Rachel and I stuffed our purses with, prior to her hosting a girls and gays night out for Sex and the City 2 --attendance at which has become the sort of thing one has to justify and explain. (Though from what I read on Facebook, Paul Rieckhoff was seeing it at the exact same time I was, so I'm not apologizing.) A 40-something single woman writing about Sex & the City? Why not just slap some Cathy cartoons on the fridge and adopt a houseful of cats?

As reluctant as I am to devote space to it, the backstory  is pretty simple: I started writing a column around 1991 [here is where a click would indeed be helpful, and if anybody figures out a way to read those old floppies, I'll be sure to post it]. My column, then and now, wasn't really about anything, per se, but providing a "Single perspective" was one of the reasons I was asked to write it. Candace Bushnell started writing the Sex & the City column circa 1994 (no shortage of links there). I still occasionally get asked if her column inspired mine, and I always assert the timeline defensively.

Somewhere around 1998, HBO kicked off the series, hewing fairly close to the source material, and season one was abysmal -- self-conscious and contrived. By season two, the writers had switched from a "based on" to an "inspired by" approach, which is when the show sharpened up. (Favorite episode: Season 4, My Motherboard, Myself, not just because I lived through it. )

The first movie was not exactly Oscar-material, but the central theme of heartbreak and healing was at least a little beautiful -- Samantha spoon-feeding Carrie because she hasn't got the strength or will to eat is a universal moment in the lives of girlfriends. Everybody takes to their bed at some point; everybody recovers.

The sequel is more of a trainwreck. It's culturally insensitive and out-of-touch, but Michael Patrick King has always been those -- somebody has usually just been around to rein in his drag show tendencies. In this, nobody did. It's not always good to be King. What Sex & the City 2 misses most of all (in addition to an Editor) is The City. The series took road trips too -- to L.A. and at the end, to Paris -- and those episodes were jarring. You can take the girls out of the city but you should never take the City out of the girls, as those episodes did (and as the new movie does).

In the sequel, each one of them is written as a caricature that takes the character's limits to the most absurd conclusion. Always the most trying of the group, Samantha is now the saddest -- she's not amusingly outrageous, she's just crude and vulgar. The series used to know the difference. Poor Aidan is reduced to a plot device who no longer sounds (or acts) like himself. Carrie is the cliched defensive 40-something who doesn't want kids,  but has to preface every answer to that inevitable question with "oh we love children, butttt....." Why? It's perfectly ok to not want kids and to not like kids. At all. (A quick glance at Charlotte's crop is ample justification for admitting that a lot of children -- like a lot of grownups -- are just assholes. And usually, they're stickier.)

That said, a bad movie can still make for a fun night out. I met new girls and gays. I got quality time with my own girls and gays, and my BFF. The bar, as usual, ran out of most of the food we wanted (prompting one order revision along the lines of  "Crab cakes." "We're out of those." "Then I'll have a Woodford Manhattan.") Pink panties were passed around the table, and I'm relieved to report, they weren't mine (one Mom was returning them to another Mom, after her three-year-old son had apparently charmed the other one's daughter out of them). It was too hot and too crowded and my feet hurt, but I was still where I wanted to be -- which is the absolute best thing I can say about being single -- I usually am right where I want to be, right when I want to be there. I like it like that.

That's my unidentified thigh crammed into the booth.  What wine goes with watermelon sour patch kids? I don't know, but something about the salt in a margarita offsets the tang nicely.

In real life, of course I have my own Big and my own Aidan (probably every girl does), but I was happy to leave them both at home (separately) in favor of some all-too-rare girl time. In real life, the now ancient question -- "which Sex and the City character are you?" -- is as frayed and cheesy as the franchise, which is somehow showing an almost Vaudevillian, burlesque warp and wear. The long-held critical wisdom, going all the way back to The Simpsons, is that the four women really add up to four sides of one gay guy. The one guy happens to be Michael Patrick King, who apparently has an affinity for the old Bob Hope road movies, and "comedy" so dated it would make the borscht-belt circuit sound cutting edge. It's been described as farce and/or satire, but that's giving it too much credit for being in on the joke, when it doesn't seem to be.

The series (and now the movies) took a lot of criticism for lack of realism, but as far as I know, it was never meant to be a documentary. The size of the apartments?! The cost of that bag with those shoes?! Who cares.

The biggest fantasy element to me was the idea that four girls kept making time to be girlfriends even when marriage, kids, and careers intervened. I have not always been that lucky -- and when I am -- I try to take time to be appropriately appreciative.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Livin' the Dream

I met a really happy guy today -- which isn't all that unusual, in and of itself -- it was just the sheer sincerity of his ebullience combined with the circumstances under which I met him (he was at my office to snake my drains, and that is soooooo not a euphemism), that pleasantly surprised me a little.

We exchanged the usual polite greetings when I answered the door -- he asked how I was doing, so I asked it back -- and his response was, "Livin' the dream, young lady! Livin the dream" -- and then he burst out laughing, and I did too.

The thing is, he really seemed like he was. I kept him company while he worked (any opportunity I get to learn about flanges and flue baffles and foot valves and so on is an opportunity I'll take) -- and he talked very affectionately to the pipes he was cajoling ("come over here, you..." and "just do the best you can, baby!") He didn't seem just happy; he appeared to take real joy in what he was doing.

As always, I'm just impressed by people who clearly like and value the work they do, and that periodically elicits a dubious response from observers who say that it depends on the job. But I don't think it does, and that's the point.

I was a happy kid at eight years old, earning 25 cents an hour in my Uncle's tobacco fields (my ultimate goal was $15 bucks in pocket money for a summer trip to DC which happened to coincide with the Watergate hearings). I was delirious when he gave me a raise to a buck an hour the next summer. And by the time I secured my first high-school Christmas job in gift-wrapping at JCPenney -- for minimum wage plus tips -- I more or less thought I'd won the lottery.

I contrasted that with a snippet of "news" that scrolled past me somewhere this morning from one of those bachelor/ette shows (where everybody hot-tubs in search of Mr. or Mrs. Right as I understand it). In this clip, some guy was blathering on about how he was "unfulfilled" in his "consulting" gig in Chicago and so he'd run off to Paris to find himself as a Poet, or something like that. He was obviously recounting this as an asset, whereas my immediate inner-monologue response was "Get a job, Loser." (Or Poser, I couldn't decide which, but I'm sure I would have an opinion if I'd watched the show; I'm not too good for trash TV; it's just that particular brand strikes me as more "sad" than "escapist.") And that shows you just how out of touch I am, because he advanced to the next round.

It reminded me of a dinner date I was on recently where we were exchanging the obligatory first-date information about professional fulfillment, aspirations, dreams etc. And it turned out this guy's idea of epic success was "a job where you could smoke all the weed you want and never get drug-tested." Seriously? Had I accidentally wandered into a scene from a Judd Apatow movie? I won't identify his profession, but it's fair to say it's one most people his age would envy and that he makes plenty of money; his only objection seems to be that he can't do it all while high. I don't want to be judgmental. It's good to have goals, and I don't especially object to anybody's recreational enjoyment of some occasional relief from the heartbreak of glaucoma, but it didn't seem to occur to him that buildings or roads or things might fall down if he was stoned on the job. (He did not advance to the next round with me.)

I'd just like everybody to be as happy with their work as the plumber was when he tightened one last screw and pronounced (I think he was talking to the toilet, rather than to me), "The end is near, baby! The end is near."

Saturday, May 22, 2010


As we were ordering BBQ tonight for dinner, mah Sailor (home from the Sea) asked the waitress if the cole slaw had any dairy in it. No, but the cornbread did have buttermilk, and she asked him why he wanted to know (presumably to avert any dietary allergy disasters) -- which is when I interjected, "because he's a big baby."

To which he responded, "no, you're a baby," prompting me to lean over to the waitress and inform her in a conspiratorial stage whisper, "he's not really lactose intolerant, he's just being self-indulgent."

The debate was pretty much settled when he asked, "do you want to see my rash?" Well no. Nobody wants to see that. (I don't know. Maybe the waitress did. She seemed rather taken with him, now that I think about it.)

All I know is, he ate plenty of dairy before this last stint overseas, and he seemed just fine, so I was reluctant to coddle what I immediately characterized as this new "affectation." (He said "just think of me as Vegan," as he tore into a giant plate of mutton, "but add the meat," he clarified. I responded, "vegans are smug." [I could be a vegan who just ate vegetables maybe, but all that fake cheese and fake bacon?])

The rest of dinner, I mostly just re-acquainted him with all the little nuances of Western Civilization that had evolved during his absence, like the iPad (we share a mutual and enthusiastic horror at a lack of keyboards and would probably both carry around an IBM Selectric if it were at all practical), and Twitter.

He knows how to post updates of course (he's not some godless savage), but it was futile for me to try to convey its utility for conversation. I explained, for example, how handy it was for locating groups of friends at fairs or fests or other large events (imagine how long it would take to text all those people individually! Like an Animal!)

It took a few minutes for me to realize he was getting that "blah blah blah Ginger" look in his eyes -- which is about the time I remembered that this is a guy whose cell phone was inadvertently packed away in a box that now apparently lives on an aircraft carrier in an ocean somewhere.... and that he hasn't missed it

Personally, I agree with him about the phone part of the equation -- nobody wants to talk on it less than I do -- but I'd be lost without social media in my pocket, always at fingertip's reach.

I tried to tell him how great it was for even the simplest conveniences -- like letting your friends know when you're tied up and unavailable. I posted a picture of our dinner, for example -- assuring that wouldn't be disturbed and could eat our ribs in peace -- at which point my BlackBerry practically caught fire from the sudden and dazzling number of incoming texts and phone calls.

(I hadn't turned it to silent because my parents are traveling and my Mom likes to check in everytime they are about to cross the Canadian border -- not because she has any fear of our wily northern neighbors, but because "it's seventy cents a minute there!!" and she wants to make sure my brother and I don't accidentally call them while they're in expensive foreign territory.)

I finally went outside to take the third call, only because it was work-related, returning to the table with the awareness that my proselytizing had been undercut. He then did an excellent (if sarcastic) impression of what it's like when writers call me, feigning breathlessness, followed by "Can't.... talk..." before panting, "Deep...Throat."

Ha. Ha.

I would like to say I heard all about his adventures, but his job had something to do with "security," so he never talks about it. Or, more accurately, I never listen. I definitely know he was not a Sniper, because that is the career I always thought I was cut out for, and I give him a hard time about the fact that his job would allow him to shoot people and I can't believe he never takes advantage of it. (As far as I know.) I've pointed out that if he ever goes back to practicing law, I'm the perfect repository for a vast array of secrets because I can't remember anything post-Ambien (and I wasn't much of a listener in the first place).

Thanks to Twitter though, I knew we were in for an 11 pm squall (also, because I felt a few drops while I was outside on the phone), and we walked home just before the clouds burst.  So there. (Plus everybody got a good seventh-grade laugh over him asking the waitress which was bigger, "jumbo or large?")

Suddenly, I felt incapacitated as a hostess. It's not like I usually serve guests after-dinner butter (though I think it might be a great idea)... but I was sure that the assorted cakes, pies, and brownies lined up on my kitchen counter were delicious contaminated by some sort of dairy. After surveying the options, he asked, "your friends do realize you just moved, don't they? That nobody actually died?"

Please. There is no wrong time to share baked goods. If he isn't careful, we won't let him join in any of our  Foody Falooty games-- all of which, by the way, involve heavy whipping cream, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. Look, over the years I have bent over backward to accommodate cooking for heart disease, diabetes, multiple cases of diverticulitis and diverticulosis, Crohn's disease, and one vegetarian -- all of which, at some point, I have dismissed as "picky." (I grudgingly agree to take nut allergies seriously only because nothing ruins a good cookout like anaphalactic shock and an impromptu trip to the E.R.) My new attitude is "Let them eat gazpacho."

He said "hey, marriage is compromise..." positing sardonically, "what if I just get sick on the weekends? Would that satisfy you?"  (Well, yeahhhhhhh. That'd be ok by me. Til he specified that on the days he's sick, he's not getting things off high shelves -- which is basically his side of this sham marriage we've cooked up... solely because his property management company recently inadvertently re-rented his house for another year -- the one he just theoretically returned home to, from the Sea -- and he's going to need Shelter.) Luckily, he is irresponsibly tall, and this place has a lot of high ceilings. Hey. Marriages have survived on less.

He was also the first guest in the new place to point out that if I wanted to disguise a loose floorboard, maybe a chair was not the best thing to put over it -- a fact he discovered when he went to sit on it, and I all but jerked it out from underneath him with the exclamation "you can't sit there!" I protested that the end-table he proposed as an alternative didn't go there, which he countered with, "Neither. Does. That. Chair." So now he wants the job of furniture-arranger, and I didn't have the heart to tell him my Gays would have a stroke if he infringed on their design territory.

I explained my idea of marriage is "each according to their means." I have no interest in somebody who can do the things I can already do myself -- they have to bring something to the table that I can't, or won't do. I love to cook, so we'll never go hungry (as long as he doesn't mind those aforementioned rashes punctuated by occasional bouts of intestinal distress...allegedly). But when I pointed out he'd have to kill spiders, his lip curled in revulsion. "Why can't you kill them?" he asked, presumably rhetorically. "Because I'm phobic," was my obvious answer. (Hello. Have we met?)

"Well, are you phobic of stepladders too?" No, I'm not phobic of stepladders -- they're just ineffective -- even at the top, I still can't reach most stuff.

"Maybe you're just phobic of dairy," I countered.

"Hey, you know what you need?"  he offered helpfully, suddenly standing to survey the floor to ceiling built-ins in the TV room, "a Library Ladder...." the kind that slide back and forth across the shelves.

In fact, he continued, "why do you need a man at all?"

I agreed heartily. A library ladder. So simple. All. This. Time.

All. Those. Men. Those long, tall men.

When all I really needed was a Library Ladder.

He pointed out, "you know... they probably sensed it..."

Sensed what? (I was lost in a commemorative reverie at that point.)

"That you didn't need them."

Well duh. And following that through to its logical conclusion, I added, "and now that I know that's all I need... you do realize you're back to being homeless?"

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Come to My Window

I finally saw the movie Crazy Heart this weekend. The Ex came over for a good old-fashioned dinner and a movie night -- we had the most incredible Spanish beef stew -- so good, I really toyed with passing it off as my own, but I confessed the reality, which was that we were the lucky recipients of friends cleaning out their fridge pre-Vacation (my friends... if his friends had cleaned out their fridges, we'd have had mustard packets and Belvedere shots for dinner).

We had planned to see the movie when it was in town, but it was only here for a blink-and-you-missed-it run.

We have a history that made it the kind of movie I wouldn't want to see with just anybody. He's good-naturedly gone to a million singer-songwriter concerts with me over the decades -- the kinds of artists and shows I got my start writing about as a music critic, from Townes Van Zandt on. He has a lot of strong opinions in a lot of areas, but I don't really know what he listened to before I came along, and since me, he's mostly listened to whatever I was writing about in a given week, or whatever show I dragged him to. He's an early adopter on all the technology -- iPods and iPhones and iPads and docking stations and all that -- but I've always been in charge of the playlist. It's a good system. We've honed lots of good arrangements like this over the years.

(Like the one where I cook and he cleans the kitchen. Though when he didn't load the dishwasher to my specifications this weekend, I did learn a codicil, which is that I'm not allowed to complain about his cleaning any more than he'd be allowed to complain about my cooking. Or as he put it under my disapproving direction, "they're just fuckin' plates.")

Yesterday, I recommended the movie to a guy I'd recently gone on a first date with -- and the conversation turned out to be the perfect introduction to our respective musical tastes. It hadn't really come up so far, and I was thinking if he liked this movie, the odds were good he wouldn't be subjecting me to Coldplay (show tunes would be an entirely different story). Any excuse to judge is an excuse I'll take.

What surprised (and amused) me was that he was just as obviously using the discussion as a litmus test, as his questions got more pointed.

When he seemed increasingly surprised by my long list of favorite singer/songwriters, bands, shows, and albums (yeah, I still call them that), I finally wondered what he was getting at. I asked if he'd pegged me as a closeted Taylor Swift fan or something?

Not exactly.

Turns out he was thinking more along the lines of, and I quote, "Melissa Etheridge... kd Lang... " Which I suppose was the equivalent of me quizzing him about Lady Gaga. He was wondering how seriously I take my... Ry Cooder, as it were.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Bon Voy-Ageeeeee

I had a great time at the Snooty Falooty store this afternoon picking up a road-trip snack menu for the Food Gays for their upcoming vacation. (I'm sure they have food on the boat, but they have to get to the boat first for God's sake. I can't have them wandering the Blue Ridge Mountains foraging for wild berries. Like an Animal.)

When I say "afternoon," I mean that literally. Because I was determined to get ChefTom a bag full of the pineapple gummy bears he loves (the clear ones), but the Snooty Falooty store doesn't sell them that way. So I stood there at the bin and hand-picked out every clear bear I could find. Then I moved to the left and picked out all the clear gummy alphabet-letters (I wanted to spell out Bon Voy-ageeeee, but as it turns out, they mostly had vowels in pineapple.)

This is the candy aisle I always visit before date night at the Movies (the fake-bottom popcorn box is only one of the reasons I am the Best Movie Girlfriend ever), so I know my way around the good stuff -- the dark-chocolate espresso beans, the wasabi cashews, the watermelon sour patch kids, the peanut butter malted milk balls, and so on, and so on....

I just hope I got enough, because, um.....I'm not sure I'm going to be ...allowed back into that store for awhile. After about 15 minutes of sifting through the gummy bears, the dirty looks escalated. Screw it, I say let 'em get a bouncer. 

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Tao of Craigslist

I hate my old sofa. It's a good sofa; it probably has a million years of wear left in it, I just don't like it anymore. It was my first grown-up furniture purchase, about 20-some years ago. Up until then, I furnished everything via the design school of "Want this?" which meant my apartment was where all the relatives' cast-offs went to die. So buying the sofa was a big deal -- a proud moment.

At the time, I liked antiques. About 15 years ago, my taste shifted to contemporary. Not crazy-modern, just something you'd see in Dwell or Metropolitan Home (before it went out of business), as opposed to say Southern Living (not that there's anything wrong with that). It's hard to find something simultaneously insanely stylish, dog-resistant, and movie-night-comfortable. This is for the TV room (the living room furniture can afford to just look pretty -- but the TV room is where everybody hangs out most...after the Kitchen.) I've been actively shopping for this dream sofa for at least a decade, but I haven't been able to commit. It's like porn, I can't define it -- but I'll know it when I see it.

This Graham and Green number is nice, for example -- and it'd be great for the parlor -- but this isn't how I dress to lie around and read books in Howard the Home Theater. Also, it was ID'd as a sofa, but I'm pretty sure it's a loveseat, or else she's a GIANT. Although as demonstrated by the BigAssChair purchase, I clearly don't know the difference between the two.

I finally realized that as long as I kept the old, loathed sofa, the law of inertia would keep me from getting a new one. (Or as my Mom put it, I needed to "fung the shway" in this place -- nothing new comes in til something old goes out -- not that she would approve of getting a new sofa when there's still life in the old one.) Maybe sitting on the cold wood floors would be a motivator. So my pals Phoef and Dave dragged the old sofa to the office, and then I posted it on craigslist. (I just saw on the news where somebody got killed when a robber came to his house to buy his craigslist diamond ring -- which is where I feel compelled to point out: I do not have any diamond anything. I don't even have a sofa for chrissake. Keep it movin' pal...nothing to see here.)

So far: not one nibble. Nobody seems to want my old sofa (though it has come in handy a few times at the office, and that will probably end up being its permanent home).

I headed over to craigslist this morning to check out my competition, and I was embarrassed I hadn't done a better job of "selling" it.  Because every sofa (but mine) has a story.

One guy writes elaborately, in defense of his sectional, "I am recently divorced and honestly [would]  just rather have a futon for my place. No other reason I am getting rid of them." (I find myself wondering if he's protesting a little too much? What are the "other reasons" someone might infer? Somebody died on it? Somebody was born on it? Something worse?)

Another owner of a "nice sleeper" discloses,  "There is one small burn hole on the left arm of the sofa but we do not smoke in the house. It's really no big deal." (Points for the correct spelling of It's, but that seems a little antagonistic -- it's probably up to the buyer to determine whether or not burn-holes and smoke damage are "a big deal.") They add, "Also, we have dogs so the couch will need to be vacuumed." OK, I can see that (but I do wonder why they don't just vacuum it themselves?)  They close helpfully with, "The color in the picture looks a little weird but it's just the lighting and the fact that it was taken with a cell phone camera."

Apparently, no one's satisfied with the quality of their cell. Another ad points out, "The pictures make the chairs look worn down. They are not worn, it's just the type of fabric. Kind of like what suede does when brushed different ways?" Fair enough.

The chairs look pretty good actually.

But I wouldn't give $100 bucks for 'em. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Down the Rabbit Hole

Nearly a week after Critter Invasion 2010 , I am disappointed to report my traps are still empty. TrapperJohn has checked them vigilantly almost every day, and hopefully, he escaped back into The Wild (the critter, not Trapper John). I have come home to a giant bunny in the yard every night -- I accidentally paralyze him with the headlights -- but I don't think he's what was living inside my ceiling, unless rabbits have mutated considerably.

That, of course, got me thinking about the 1972 classic, Night of the Lepus (based on the Australian novel, Year of the Angry Rabbit... but apparently, all they thought they could capture was 24 hours).

Aside from that, several people sent me links to the big CNN story in the following days about Trappers catching an 800 pound gator in Florida. That was one of the few things I'd ruled out. I rarely do this (if I did, I'd never get any work done), but I followed one of the links down the rabbit hole. For whatever reason, I never landed on the actual story -- just the comment threads.

I thought 800 pounds didn't seem that big for an alligator, but then I don't know what sort of trap they caught him in. If it was a mousetrap, 800 pounds would be a lot. The big news seemed to be that once caught, he was shot, and that seemed to provoke a lot of outrage. (Again, I don't know what the normal procedure is for dispatching an 800 pound gator, but I assume it's more complicated than what I used to do with the mice that ended up in the Iams bag, which was to relocate them to the park. I'm not a fan of the "humane" traps, because it seems to me that walking through a door that slams shut behind you, so you can be plunged into total darkness while you beat your brains out against the walls would drive an average mouse batshit crazy. I don't know about an 800 pound gator.)

My favorite comment, hands down was, "I agree with Itchey." (Unfortunately, I was never able to trace back to see what it was "Itchey" had said.)

Another commenter suggested that he hadn't seen any children traumatized by the gator-shoot, just a bunch of adults who could, as far as he was concerned, move to Canada if they didn't like gators.

Another reasonably pointed out that this is just what happens when we "two-legged critters" move into wild animal territory and leave them less habitat.

That reminded me of my favorite episode of Six Feet Under, Ecotone -- it's probably best remembered as "the one where Nate dies" -- but it isn't titled that, for obvious reasons. I also think of it as the one where I first heard the term ecotone, a transition zone between two environments, basically (where you get cougars, for example, mauling hapless joggers who pause to check their pulse). It also made me wish I had a job writing the imdb summaries, because of great lines like "Claire is accompanied the whole time by Ted, so she respects him despite the fact that he's Republican," (although I think Nate is sent to Saint Bridget and not Saint Bridger, but it's possible all this time, I could've been hearing it wrong.)

Anyway, that's where I live now. I've moved back to The Ecotone -- with bunnies in my yard and critters in my attic, which might or might not turn out to be Cougars.

Monday, May 10, 2010

No Place Like Home

Twenty minutes into the workday this morning I got a call from my Mom, "By any chance, did you bring a broom with you when you moved?"

Now, I don't really think that's why she called me at work. The broom was standing right next to the back door, in the utility room, which, I imagine, is where most people keep their brooms. What she meant to imply was: A. clearly, the floor had not been swept; B. the place was so chaotic, it was impossible to find a broom; and C. that she intended to take charge, and the sweeping was about to commence. What I'm amazed by, is that she lasted twenty minutes. I would've had odds on ten.

The first question out of her mouth when I walked in from the office was, "do you have anything else you want me to wash?" (Anything else? What else? Friday was Clean Sheets Day... maybe better known now as "Not Clean Enough Day," as regular readers already know. ) She added admiringly, "Look at this stainless steel drum on this washing machine. I'm sure we could even wash the comforters in here." (And we could. Except that they just came home from the dry cleaners. But the way she said it, they are an episode of Dateline waiting to happen -- the ones where they turn the glow-lights on the hotel linens?)

Her mother's day grace period had already expired, so I left her in the kitchen to go open the laptop and get some work done. All houseguests know the rules -- if they visit on deadline days, they don't see me except for meals. But her joy doesn't come from the act of cleaning, itself, so much as the act of lecturing me while she does it.  She followed me in, sorting my mail with one hand, and carrying a spray bottle of bleach with the other. "Why did you bother to move all this mail?" she asked ("all this" would consist of this month's electric bill, a Triple A renewal, and an invite I had to have to "present" to get into a McSwankerton party). "Well," I explained, "I have to pay for the electric, or they turn it off." The return dirty look suggested she did not care for sarcasm.

I tried to get back to work, but it was maybe five minutes before I got yelled at from the kitchen, "Come in here. I need to show you something." It was a grocery list of cleaning supplies -- the right fabric softener, the right kind of Shout (Tide Sticks won't do apparently). This was accompanied by more hands-on instruction, "See here... when the dishwasher doesn't get the glasses clean? I just run a nice sink full of hot soapy water!" (She was mortified by the spotty wine glasses we used at dinner last night.)

"You know," she said dryly, but (I am convinced) not idly, "I was watching this woman on Hoarders? And they threw away nine years of mail from her house. You could not walk in her house for all that mail."

I believed her, just as I believe she really thinks I am a candidate for an episode of that show.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Too Dark for Georgia

I constantly give my parents grief about the drug-dealer tints on their car windows. They're impossible to see out of at night, and passers-by would have to assume Jay-Z, at a minimum, was on the other side of their highly impenetrable windows.

housewarming trinkets from my Mom'sGays on Mother's Day

She was explaining the ensuing episodes to the Food Gays tonight (they joined us for Mothers Day dinner) -- like the time they were driving to Florida and a state trooper caught up with them at a rest stop after my stepdad had blown past him at 90 plus mph. My stepdad was helping himself to sandwiches from the rear hatch, while Mom was greeted at her window with a very large belt buckle... belonging to a very, very large state trooper. "Can I help you?" she asked. "Your windows are too dark," he explained. She told him No, they were within the letter of the law -- and they were -- in her home state. His response was "well they're too dark for Georgia, ma'am." We've all seen Return to Macon County Line, so this could've gone badly. It could've gone much, much worse if the officer had searched the car... where he would've found dozens of syringes, painkillers, bags of pharmaceuticals, and at least one gun.

The dinner conversation from there veered to Friday night's drag show -- which we all wished we'd taken her to -- and from there, her comment, "Well you know your Uncle Alec always wore dresses?"

Ummmm, No. I sure did not. Cause I'd remember that. It turns out, he died before I was born, but before he died, Yes, he wore dresses, kept a lovely house, and made exquisite quilts apparently.  In the 50s. In the most southern, rural community you could imagine. Huh. I am just now finding this out?

After dinner, TrapperJohn dropped by to check on the critter-trap -- no luck -- and, of course, to wish my Mom a happy mothers day.

It's a nice holiday in this family. 

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Wild Kingdom

You find out who your friends are when you post this at 2 in the morning: "SOMEthing is walking around on my roof. It's either a giant raccoon. Or a hobo."

My text immediately lit up with volunteers to help, but I couldn't think of a thing they could do.

Something was walking around up there -- and it was way too heavy to be a squirrel. Possibly a raccoon, but they're typically more light-footed and go pitter-patter, pitter-patter, whereas this was more thunka-thunka-thunka. Also, it sounded like it might be dragging something with it.

After a few minutes of the ka-chunking, I realized the sound wasn't coming from the roof... it was coming from the ceiling...just over my head. Whatever it was: it was inside the house.

I had two immediate theories: first, having killed one spider on Monday, and then  its cousin last night, I thought this was possibly retribution -- and a giant, plutonium-enriched Twilight-Zone-ish spider lurked just on the other side of the ceiling.

Second, I thought it was possible that, with all the contractors here in the last month, possibly, one of them had built out the walls and was now living in between them, watching me. Which is, of course, what anyone would think ... anyone, that is, who saw the 1992 movie, Through the Eyes of a Killer (and who hasn't?).

In it, Marg Helgenberger plays (I think), an architect, who hires Richard Dean Anderson (MacGyver), to renovate her apartment. In the process, he builds himself a secret perimeter just inside the exterior walls where, of course, he secretly lives, because that's the most effective way for him to stalk her after she dumps him. (Oh, also: they have a mid-renovation-affair. Master Builder, indeed. All I can say is, having once had a mid-renovation-affair many years ago, she got off easy.)

Also, it could've been a third option: which was the aforementioned Hobo. (Possibly a wolverine.)

I banged on the ceiling several times (which didn't even slow the scrambling pattern at all), and then I turned on the tv and turned it up as loud as possible to the scariest-sounding thing I could think of (HBO's Real Sex). But neither of us went to sleep til daybreak.

Once the sun was up, the skittering died down and I got dressed and went to work. I came home for lunch to meet my gay husband when one of my girlfriends called to let me know a critter-control guy was on his way over.

He looked exactly like Bill Murray from Caddyshack... except with a lot of tattoos. We quickly made friends with him and it turns out he's a general contractor, moreso than a critter-control guy, but he was happy to help.

Partly because I think he initially believed I hallucinated the whole thing. He first asked, "are you sure it wasn't ...a bird?" I was a little insulted. Me? A Farm Girl? "Oh, I know how a bird goes," I said. "Caw. Caw. Thwock. Whappa Whappa Whappa. Thwock Thwock." It didn't sound anything like this: scritch, scritch, scritch. Then I explained the footfalls of raccoons versus possums vs squirrels, and so on.

When he sat down in front of the crawlspace door, he realized he'd broken his flashlight, and asked if I had one. I do, but I have no idea which box it was in, so I ran downstairs and got him my keychain, which has a little squeeze-light on it for finding keys and keyholes.... not so sure it was designed for R.O.U.S.s* (*rodents of unusual size, Princess Bride).

Ten seconds later, he said he could see the flat whites of its eyes. He invited us in to take a look, whereupon we took the opportunity to quietly close the door between the bedroom he was in, and the bedroom we were in. It's possible we might've held it shut, briefly. From there, Nick could narrate the whole Wild Kingdom episode from the other side of the door.We were Marlin Perkins, commenting safely from the top of the Land Rover, while Jim wrestled the rhinos.

He opened the door and motioned us in. When we joined him (with great trepidation), he asked if we wanted to kill it or relocate, and of course we selected relocate. Then he stood all the way up and was nearly decapitated by the ceiling fan -- at which point, his Bill Murray-esque hat took flight across the room. He snatched it mid-air, and without missing a beat, drawled, "That's nothing. It's gonna be worse than that if I have to fiiiiiight it,"  and he looked a little green around the gills at the prospect.

Trapper John left and returned a little later with this crate -- which I feel sure will be no match for whatever it was I heard inside the walls the night before. He gave me his cell number and told me I could call any hour of the day or night and he'd come retrieve the prisoner (though I do wonder if what I have is the number to Dominos.)

Nick and I then left for our night out on the town, where I took great delight in reminding everybody constantly, "I have to leave early, 'cause I gotta get home and check mah traps."

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Chekhov's Sequel

My mom rarely calls me -- usually, I'm not worth the AT&T minutes she'd spend -- so it was unusual to see her number ringing through tonight. "Call me back on the big-phone," she said. "I have the whole house to myself and we can chat" (my blackberry Unlimited Minutes just being another example of my outrageously extravagant life in the lap of luxury).

I called her back just as she was finishing up Antiques Roadshow, topping off an entire evening doing what she wanted to do (my stepdad being off on his annual camping trip with the boys) which consisted mostly of eating edamame, ordering pizza, and talking on the phone (again, something we rarely do --partly because my stepdad's ever-increasing deafness makes it hard to hear a private phone conversation, as he frequently chimes in, "WHAT'd SHE SAY?? WHAT? JESUS CHRIST, I COULD HEAR FINE IF YOU TWO WOULD STOP MUMBLING!"

His deafness poses not the slightest imposition to him (nor does my Dad's to him; he has also lost almost all his hearing), because they are both monologuists, and were never listening in the first place.

Midway through tonight's conversation, I gasped, and when she asked what was wrong (because the gasp was apparently the sort you might hear if, say, an axe had just come crashing through the front door), I said, as calmly as possible (not wanting to alarm her), "Mom... There is a spider on my bedroom ceiling. I have to call you back." (I'd also unintentionally lowered my voice, probably to avoid alerting him to my plan.)

"Well, what are you going to do about it?" she asked in an almost accusatory fashion -- correctly doubting my ability to handle the situation.

I had no choice. There are boys that could be summoned at 10 o'clock on a school night, but they might get the wrong idea -- though certainly a lucky halftime ritual would be included for any spider-slayers.

I wasn't up for company, but I also wasn't up for moving... which was the other alternative -- and a nice fat Tina Fey-Esquire got the job done.

I called Mom back to exclaim, "MAN, that is TWO spider episodes this week. What are the odds?" To which, she sighed, "welllllll, I guess you'll just have to learn to keep things clean enough that they won't want to build their webs there."

I asked for clarification, "Exactly how clean would a house have to be for a spider to refuse to build a web in it?... Because this place is spotless." I just moved in. 

"Oh I don't know," she backpedaled a little, but not much, "I'm sure there are just some homes that are more hospitable than others."

Then she asked, "why don't you have that nice marxist come over and kill all the spiders? Is he kind of a sissy?"

"No Mom. He's not a sissy. He's extravagantly manly, and in fact, is almost circus-like strong." It's not unsual to find him sauntering up and down my stairs with a dresser on his back. (I thought this might impress her, given the physical frailties of some who'd come before him.)

"Well," she sighed, and took a deep, pressimistic breath, "I just hope... he ... doesn't hit you" (like this is the sort of thing that just routinely comes up -- the way she said it, so matter-of-fact, you'd think I'm constantly calling for makeup tips on how to hide bruises or something). How on earth does she think I spend my time?


Are you serious?!  Whatever my issues might be with the opposite sex, there has never been a man within a million miles of even thinking about hitting me (fantasized? possibly; but not contemplated) - and if there were, they'd never live to tell that tale. Yes, yes, I realize violence crosses all socioeconomic and educational barriers and so on and so forth, but it hasn't crossed this one. 

 "Mom," I explained patiently, "the first, last, and only person to ever hit me was.... come to think of it... YOU."

(Oh relax. She didn't beat me or anything. But I sure did get the occasional smacked mouth growing up. Go figure.)

I'm sure she remembers it slightly differently. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Chekhov's Spider

I am an excellent driver. Excellent. Excellent Driver. Typically. But not today.

When I left for the office this morning, I noticed a wispy cobweb across the steering wheel. I tried to reassure myself it was just a stray left over from Move2010 (the ex-basement was covered in them). But in the back of my mind, I was thinking of Chekhov, and the dramatic rule that says, more or less, if a gun is introduced in Act 1, it better blow somebody's brains out by Act 3. (I'm paraphrasing.)

So, by Act 3, I was driving home -- dodging all the construction barrels -- when I glimpsed movement out of the corner of my left eye. It was coming from inside the car.

On closer inspection, it was (and this is the technical term), "a black hairy spider" crawling up the driver's side door. I tried to google it just now to get the correct name, I swear I did -- I wasn't going to post an image (unless I wanted to guarantee that I could never flip through my own blog ever again) -- I just wanted to know what it was, so I could fully convey the depth of the horror of how awful it was. But I looked at two images and then had to flip the Pank shut. (I can't see a picture of a spider in a magazine without needing to throw the magazine away... and the magazine has to go all the way out to the Herbie; it can't stay in the house.)

This isn't a girl thing, and I am not a girlie girl. (I feel compelled to point that out because somebody said just the other night that they thought Military History seemed like a surprising choice for half of my undergraduate work for someone like me. When I wondered aloud why -- maybe he thought, erroneously, I was a pacifist? -- it turned out it was just because I'm a girl. And then everybody had to sit through a lengthy discourse on the state of the modern military... tracing its roots back to the Peloponnesian War. I don't think I'll be invited back by those cocktail party hosts.)

Phobias -- obviously -- run in my family. With my Mom, it's snakes. With me, it's spiders.  I had to move out of an old apartment years ago because of the spider that took it over. Everybody thought I moved out because the crazy guy upstairs set the place on fire with the candles he had on the altar he built to beloved character actor Victor French (Mr. Edwards on Little House on the Prairie). In fact, he set the place on fire three times, but that is not why I moved.

I moved because one night, I came home and flipped on the kitchen light and there was something that looked a lot like a tarantula skittering down the wall over the sink. (I think I wrote about it in the first book, but if I did, so what, it's not online and I can't find it.) I realize they're not indigenous here, but I am not exaggerating. And this was before Ambien was invented, so my memory is crystal clear. Here is how big it was: when I turned on the light, it scampered down the wall to seek cover. OK. This was a very old house that had been converted to apartments, and the baseboards had long since come loose, with miles separating the baseboard from the walls. This spider was so big, when it tried to disappear into one of those giant crevasses, it actually couldn't slip between, and just kept bashing his fat furry head in futility against the wall.

I promptly abandoned ship and went to stay with my former roommate Marj, and called my then-fiance, who responded that he didn't see how there was anything he could reasonably do about it from Atlanta, where he lived at the time. Whatever. Rationally or not, I refused to go back there until he went with me. (Marj's husband would've gone of course, but this was MY man's job, and I had no intention of sub-contracting it out.)

So I went to work the next day, and by quitting time, he had made it to town. We went back to the apartment and he turned off all the lights -- hoping this would lure it out -- and then we went to dinner. When we got home, I stayed in the hall -- refusing to budge. The look on his face clearly indicated how ridiculous he thought I was being, but I think he also secretly kind of liked being The Big Strong Man (a role, I might add, he very rarely got to play in that relationship, but that's another story for another day).

He unlocked the door, went inside, and snapped on the lights (again, it was an old house, so those lights really did snap on, and I remember exactly how it sounded that night). As soon as I heard the snap, I deftly leaned over and softly shut the door behind him -- while I stayed safely on the other side of it, in the hall. The living room must've been clear, but then I heard the kitchen light go on. Followed by a shriek (again: not exaggerating; there was a reason he didn't often get to be the man). It went something like "holy SHIT," and this was followed by a scutter, scutter, scutter, and then a brisk jerk of the door so he could escape, close it behind him, and then lean against it, panting in shallow breaths... exactly like a cartoon. 

Although it seems like something I would take great delight in, I almost never do this, but that night, I said, "I. Told. You. So." Then he went out to the car for some hard-soled loafers (we both had on flip-flops at the time). When he went inside for the second time, I heard what sounded like maybe a brief scuffle, and then a loud smack. He came back outside and assured me it was all taken care of, but you know what, I never really did trust him. And that is why I moved. NOT because of Mr. Edwards and the pyromaniac upstairs, which is why everybody (plausibly) thought I moved.

I say this by way of explaining what my first split-second idea was when I saw this aforementioned movement out of the corner of my left eye -- which was to slam on the brakes; shift into park; abandon the vehicle in traffic; post it on craigslist from my blackberry; and hope someone would buy it before it got impounded. I didn't say this was a good plan, and it admittedly had a fatal flaw. The spider was blocking my exit. It was kill or be killed. I was Athens, and he was Sparta (if I am remembering my Peloponnesian War accurately -- for a Girl -- and I think I am), settling in to commandeer my fleet.

I grabbed the closest weapon from the passenger seat -- the Oxford American Music issue -- and I started whapping it at the driver's side window.  (Also: maybe this is where I should disclose that I was screaming.) I think I got him on the first blow (shut it), but with his dying breath, he braced his furry little legs against the window and pushed off -- striking a glancing blow against the upper left thigh-hem of my sundress on his way down. And this is where it's lucky that there was no one behind me, for several reasons.

The first being: OFF came the dress. Over my head and flung into the passenger seat. Luckily: I was wearing a t-shirt underneath it. Not so lucky? I wasn't wearing anything else. (It wasn't a sexy/commando kinda day; it was just laundry day.) Luckily: my vehicle sits several feet off the ground, and nobody got much of a view -- I did still have to stop at the bank on the way home, but this one time, I used the far lane (I always use the window-lane, and I'm sure they were curious as to why I didn't -- I never deviate from my Rainman routines -- but they didn't say anything).

Once I got home, I stepped into the driveway, shielding my nakedness as best as possible with the car door (where the neighbors already hate me for ripping out their utility lines on move-in day, to say nothing of the Ambien-Walrus that summoned me, in a thong and a wifebeater, to the patio last Saturday night for chocolate-covered cashews) and shook out the dress as hard as I could, til part of the little spider corpse floated free. (I took the Oxford American subscription card and ruthlessly scraped the rest of him off the window.)

When I went to put it back on -- standing there in the harsh glare of the sun -- I noticed that my favorite sundress has holes in it. And, it must be pointed out, that these holes were strategically located in such a way that it instantly became apparent that I had made some very, very poor choices about Laundry Day.

I don't remember what Chekhov would call that.

Monday, May 3, 2010

We Eat Animals

"On the second, third, fourth, and fifth days, our friends Sam and Eleanor brought us food. Lots of food. Far more than we could eat: lentil salad, chocolate truffles, roasted vegetables, nuts and berries, mushroom risotto, potato pancakes, green beans, nachos, wild rice, oatmeal, dried mango, pasta primavera, chili -- all of it comfort food. We could have eaten in the cafeteria or ordered in. And they could have expressed their love with visits and kind words. But they brought all of that food, and it was a small good thing that was needed."
-- Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals 

Every single time we have a potluck (today was the fifth this year), someone proclaims midway through the first plate, "THIS one is the best ever." And they are always right. Because we up the ante every time. I have had to stop saying anything about "THIS" being the "best bite of food I have EVER put in my mouth," because it is starting to sound like hyperbole (but it has been true every time I have said it this year).

So far, it's been my goal to just make something that would actually get eaten, and at least there was a dent in today's shrimp and grits. [Photo by Chef Tom.]

I've read three food books in the last few weeks: Elizabeth Bard's Lunch in Paris; Cathy Erway's The Art of Eating In (inspired by her blog, Not Eating Out in New York), and now I'm finishing up Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals -- the one that everyone says turned them vegetarian halfway through.

I'm still an omnivore -- but Foer's book came up a few times during today's potluck/housewarming brunch. Along with Hannah Arendt's Origins of Totalitarianism; Monsanto as thinly-veiled in Michael Clayton; "Hoarders;" and 52 Loaves: One Man's Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust. (Here's the npr interview that came up -- I haven't read the book yet, but plan to.) The first guests arrived at 11 am and the last left at 9:15 pm, so there was a lot to cover.

We didn't have any vegetarians today (sometimes we do). We could probably best be characterized as Michael Pollan-Moderates, though I don't think any of us found anything new in Food, Inc. Factory farming is a disgusting, unhealthy, reprehensible business. We all know a lot about it and we all do our best not to subsidize it, to varying degrees. (Even if you could get beyond the bad politics, bad economics, and disease of factory farming, no one could doubt its culinary crimes -- it tastes like what it is: wretched and hateful). My Dad is a lifelong farmer and utterly committed carnivore (with the triple bypass scars to show for it) and he still won't eat chicken. He's fond of saying (with some drama) that if you opened a can of chicken soup in his kitchen and he "had to smell the stench of misery that went into that can," he would "throw up." I know people who gave up bacon after Food, Inc. -- but not chicken. Though I didn't learn anything I didn't already know, at least maybe Foer will school a few on what a joke most "free-range" labeling is. (He gives "organic" far more of a pass than I would.)

At any rate, our now-monthly gatherings have developed a set of rules -- all of them related to snobbery, and none of them sociopolitical. Non-Foodies are allowed to attend, but they are limited to contributions of ice and liquor. There are always a few offers to "pick something up" (presumably a Kroger pie), but no one is allowed to pollute our Food Religion. Every single thing on the table is homemade. Every single thing is a labor of love representing the best effort possible to outdo our neighbors and make everyone sick -- sick -- with envy. Oh sure, you can pick up dessert... if you want Rachel to have an aneurysm right in front of you.

It was an impressive turnout, given the epic -- nay Biblical -- rains. A few maybes stayed home to mop up their flooded basements (but Maybes don't get invited back anyway), but it was otherwise a full house and a full menu.

Mostly, I just spent the evening trying to think up stuff I could slice with my new deluxe $437,000 housewarming-present Williams-Sonoma mandoline from the FoodGays. (Now I can stop relentlessly borrowing theirs -- though I will always be a Special Occasion user, whereas I suspect theirs gets a routine workout.)

All I can say is: watch your fingers.