Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas, Day 12

Five Golden Rings!

Wait? How did we get to day 12 already? I thought we were on day 4 yesterday?

No, you’re not mistaken. We were on day 4 yesterday and now we’re done. Because the thing about “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is that nobody wants to hear all 12 verses. Have you ever been to a concert or carol sing-along where they start doing “The Twelve Days of Christmas?” Pretty much once you hit five golden rings, people start mumbling and asking around, “They’re not really going to do the whole 12 days are they? Seriously? Oh, Jesus.”

No, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is like 99 bottles of beer on the wall: once you hit 97 or 96 bottles, everyone returns to what they were doing before, usually drinking bottles 95 and 94. Even the inimitable Bob and Doug McKenzie had the good sense to cut things off at, like, verse 6 and who I am to try to outdo them and their five golden tukes? God, how I love that song. They never play it in these parts, even on the all-Christmas-music station. It must be because of the anti-Canadian bias that’s so palpable around here. Surely the DJ’s have sufficient air time to play it, considering that they play that Carpenter’s song, “Merry Christmas, Darling” on a loop with about ten other Christmas songs 24/7. That Carpenter’s song has a line in it that cracks me up every time I hear it: “The logs on the fire fill me with desire.” Maybe it’s just me and my dirty mind but singing about flaming phalluses with your brother….kind of weird. Karen Carpenter had a lot more issues than any of us ever realized.

But more to the point, the reason I must break off the Twelve Blogs of Christmas is because I need to stay off the naughty list by making amends with the Handicapped Newsmen’s League of Upstate New York, who did not take kindly to my characterization of them in a recent post. I also did not endear myself to the Italian-American Bakers Union, and I am being flamed like kids pajamas at the Consumer Reports lab for suggesting that Italian Christmas cookies are anything but fabulous. It’s a good thing I didn’t mention how much I hate panettone, which is always, always stale. I think they make it that way.

No, instead I’m choosing to concentrate on getting my New Year’s resolutions in order. So far my resolution list only includes one item: going metric. That’s right, I’m tired of waiting around for the good ole U S of A to get with it. I was told growing up that the reason we needed to learn the metric system was because by the time we were all adults, America would be using the metric system. Well, it never happened. Obviously. So starting in 2010 I am taking matters into my own hands and going metric. If you ask me what the temperature is, I’m going to give it to you in Celsius. If you ask me how far something is, I’m going to tell you the distance in kilometers, and if I refer to buying milk at the store, I’m going to translate it from gallons into liters. I’m going the whole nine yards – er, I mean, meters -- whatever that works out to be. In other words, I’m going to be an ass about it, which probably puts me right back where I started 2009.

Anyway, I hope to see you on the flip side of the holidays and I'll sign off now by wishing you the joyous light-filled warmth that only a Christmas tree on fire can bring. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukah!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas, Day 4

Italian Christmas Cookies of Doom

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-teens that I realized that Christmas cookies could actually taste good. My mom wasn’t much of a Christmas cookie maker, nor my grandmother, but my mother had this friend who loved to bake. We’ll call her “Mrs. Fields,” even though Mrs. Fields was first-generation Italian-American. All right, instead let’s call her Mrs. Fieldazzo just to make the pseudonym a little more culturally accurate.

It was accepted wisdom that Mrs. Fieldazzo was a good cook and baker, and every year Mrs. Fieldazzo would bring over this elaborate tray of Italian Christmas cookies she’d prepared. At the time, I didn’t know they were necessarily Italian Christmas cookies, they were just plain old Christmas cookies to me. So she delivered her cookies, and everyone seemed to ooh and ahh over them. They did look good. They really did. It’s just that they tasted like poop-covered poop with a chewy poop center. Every last one of them. The ones with icing and the ones with raisins and the brown ball things. God almighty. They were just terrible.

For years I assumed that Mrs. Fieldazzo just didn’t know her way around the kitchen at all, the poor addled thing, but over the years I tried several different versions of the same Christmas cookies that Mrs. Fieldazzo used to make, and I realized that it wasn’t her. Italian Christmas cookies, as a rule, are heinous. As far as I’m concerned the Italians have one decent dessert: tiramisu. Everything else? Pleh. Those pizelle cookies? Awful. The pine nut cookie things? Horrid. Those anise-flavored thingamabobs? I need to gargle with haggis to get the taste out of my mouth after eating one. How can a people who have created some of the most beautiful food in all the world – people who created Parmigiano-Reggiano, which, were I wealthy enough, I would buy four wheels of and put them on my car as tires -- get Christmas cookies so painfully wrong?

Not that the English are much better. I realize that the English practically invented Christmas with all its decking of the halls and sleigh riding and God Bless Us, Everyone, but the English as a people are responsible for some of the awfulest holiday desserts in human history. You know what mince meat looks like to me? Stewed flies. And hey, gingerbread ain’t much better taste-wise. There’s a reason they use it to build houses. I don’t want to eat a cookie that could also double as drywall, but maybe that’s just me. And lest we forget, I believe it was King George XIV who directed his chief cook to create the first fruitcake, only back then they didn’t have access to any good fruits so they used chopped kidneys instead. I think there’s a reason the English soak everything with booze. They’re probably hoping everyone will be too drunk to notice that there’s beef tallow in the Christmas pudding.

But let me get back to trashing Italian baked goods because it didn’t just end with my realization that Mrs. Fieldazzo’s Christmas cookies were bad. As an adult I have been to any number of wedding showers and baby showers and holiday fetes that feature those plates of assorted Italian cookies for dessert. Waiters put them down in front of you like they’ve just delivered the Baby Jesus himself to your table. I’m talking about the cookies with the chocolate cream filling; the ones dipped in chocolate and covered in colorful sprinkles; the ones with raspberry jelly centers. These cookies were made by professional bakers and you know what? They look great but they suck too. They do. They suck, they suck, and they suck some more.

You know what nationality makes good Christmas desserts? OK, yeah, the French. No surprise there. The French have wisely concentrated their national capacity not on doing stuff like stabilizing the Post-World War II economy, but on propping up the cheese makers union with trade subsidies and perfecting a holiday specialty known as croque en bouche, which is, if you are unaware -- and if you are, I am very sad for you -- a CARAMEL-COVERED TOWER OF CREAM FILLED PASTRIES. God, that is beautiful to think about, isn’t it? You have to love a people who take one good thing – profiteroles – and combine it with another good thing – custard – and then add yet another good thing – caramel – and then pile all of those things up and up and up into a dizzying display of redonkulous Christmas excess. Vive le France!

The French are also responsible for another favorite for your bouche: the bouche de noel, otherwise known at the Yule log cake, which is equal parts whimsy and tastiness. The only thing the French make to go along with the bouche de noel that I have no use for is meringue. I don’t understand meringue, especially in cookie form. The only time I want to eat a meringue cookie is when I’m in the mood for a cookie that doesn’t taste very good. And when that happens, well, then I just pop over to the Italian bakery and ask for three amaretti cookies to go with a paper bag on the side for when they come back up again.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas, Day 3

Heart-warming Stories of Holiday Tragedy: News at Eleven

As you’re rushing through your to-do list this holiday season another thing to remember is not to set your house on fire. Where I grew up, in Upstate New York -- or as we liked to call it back then, “Quebec” -- every year, like clockwork, each and every local television station ran a piece wherein the local fire department would demonstrate what happens when a kiln-dried tree is not given sufficient water, is sprayed with highly flammable, aerosolized fake snow, and then wrapped in a shorted-out string of lights. Poof, kids. Poof. “So tell your Daddy to remember to put that cigarette out before putting the star on the top of the tree."

I slept with a fire extinguisher under my pillow every Christmas Eve just hoping to make it ‘til morning without perishing in a blaze of pine-scented flames. I never got any rest. You just can’t sleep with a loaded canister of chemical foam under your pillow.

For years I thought this fiery Christmas tree story was just a “down market” kind of news story. By down market I mean, if you’re covering the local news in Upstate New York, you probably graduated last in your class from journalism correspondence school or you have a second head or you were recently released from a penitentiary and you're just trying to get back on your feet. We had local news anchors with speech impediments and two glass eyes. Upstate New York is just not the kind of place that attracts people at the top of their field, and like I routinely tell folks nowadays, but for the pedophiles we wouldn’t have had any Little League coaches at all when I was growing up. So don’t knock ‘em.

Now I live in an up-market television locale, and yet I still see these same news stories every year, which oddly makes me feel better somehow because it’s one less bumpkinny thing I have to feel self-conscious about. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ruined Christmas parties by asking why there weren’t any cocktail squirrels.) The up-market addition to this flaming Christmas tree story is the news broadcast concerning a fire breaking out and displacing a local family of nine. You’ll see these folks talking about how they have nothing left and perhaps in the background you’ll see the smoldering remains of their home and all their water-soaked possessions. Always there’s a mattress on the lawn but then, it’s quite possible that the mattress was there before the fire even started.

The reason the Seasonal Home Fire story is so great is that it then provides opportunities for follow-up stories about neighbors reaching out in the wake of this tragedy to provide clothing, toys, and chewing tobacco. In other words, it's a great way to finish out the year without having to beat the bushes for actual news. I hate to say it, but I suppose it’s entirely possible that journalists all over America are the ones setting these fires so they can keep busy during the holidays. But really, who can blame them? The last two weeks of the year are called the news hole for a reason.

Now, just to reiterate: I do not think you should put lit candles on your Christmas tree. It's a bad idea just like sticking your sneaker into a moving escalator is a bad idea and licking cane toads is a bad idea. Additionally if you see someone in your yard with a can of gasoline and a boom microphone, get the hell outta the house. But don’t call the fire department, whatever you do. They’re busy doing a dry run of next year’s public service announcements on lighting fireworks in areas of drought and the perils of deep frying turkeys. In other words, they, like everyone else between Dec 20 and Jan 2, are phoning it in at work.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas, Day 2

Yo Christmas Tree

As God is his witness my husband will not abide a fake tree for the holidays. Where this commitment to natural evergreens comes from, I don’t know. Had he been raised on a Montana Christmas tree farm and his family driven out of business by the excesses of the corporate fake Christmas tree industry, I might understand it. But the man grew up in Flatbush so it’s not like he and his dad were out cutting down Christmas trees with an axe every holiday season. In Brooklyn real Christmas trees can only be acquired by ambushing tourists in Times Square and taking theirs.

In deference to his need for a recently-deceased tree to adorn our home at Christmas, every year we celebrate the holidays by gathering ‘round Ye Olde Tannenbaum to decorate with our odd assortment of Christmas tree ornaments, most of which are missing limbs for reasons that you are about to find out, and then we step back to admire our handy work. Then we shout, “Timber!” Because for the fourth time in the last six years, the goddamned tree has tipped over after we finished decorating it.

A fully loaded Christmas tree falling over has a certain sound that you will never forget once you’ve heard it …four times. Imagine British Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson in full military dress, his chest full of war medals, and now imagine him having one too many egg nogs and hitting the ship deck face first. It sounds just like that. Following that there is the rush of water out of the tree stand accompanied by the sound of a dog lapping up the puddle off the floor because, you know, we don’t give her any water in her water dish ever which is why piney fresh, sap-tainted tree water is so precious to her. Immediately following this is the sound of someone’s wife saying, “That is IT! Next year we’re getting a fake tree! I am SICK OF THIS!” In the background, children are weeping softly.

Getting a fake tree is an idle threat, however, because a real Christmas tree makes my husband happy. Or rather, having a fake tree would make him unhappy, and unhappy husbands have a way of ruining the holiday mood, especially when they start drinking and muttering about nobody having any standards anymore because fake trees are morally WRONG and the day he gets a fake Christmas tree is going to be the day he starts using moisturizer and wearing sandals because that’s a day that is never going to come and if it ever does, we’ll all know he’s gone cold and dead inside, and when THAT happens, then you can get your damned fake tree. Our compromise is that we have rigged up a guy-wire between the Christmas tree and the wall. You know why it’s called a guy-wire, right? Because some guys from Brooklyn will never stand down on the real Christmas tree thing. Not ever.

And so every year I must reconcile myself to picking up the pieces of our toppled tree and vacuuming pine needles out of the rug until Arbor Day. Perhaps next year I will find a store that sells rubber Christmas tree ornaments, or better yet, maybe next Christmas we can save some wear and tear on everybody’s nerves and just set the stupid tree up horizontally. We’ll call it “Brooklyn-style.”

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas, Day 1

On Sending Packages to Loved Ones: Going Postal

Surprisingly enough, the only time I ever have the urge to kill strangers is when I stand in line at the post office during the holidays. OK, not really kill, I just want to vanquish them – vanquishing is a lost art, really.

It’s just, as I stand there, watching the precious moments of my life tick away while the postal employees repeatedly disappear into that back room for minutes at time only to reemerge to assist the four idiots ahead of me who have shown up to mail unwrapped items without having boxes, packing materials, or tape because they assume it’s the post office’s job to provide them with these necessities, I get this very vivid image of myself standing triumphantly atop a heap of squirming, broken bodies with a scimitar in one hand and a human ear in the other.

The reason I say this is surprising is because it seems hard to believe, even for me, that there aren’t more situations in my life that arouse a desire to do violence upon the general public, holidays or no.

Yes, I’m well aware of the stereotype of going postal. But that has more to do with postal employees themselves going on shooting sprees. What I’m saying is that maybe we should consider “going postal” as synonymous with “self-defense.” If I, an upstanding and not-very-homicidal American citizen from an intact nuclear family, can be pushed to the limits of my endurance after a mere 19 minutes in the post office, what hope do postal employees have for not getting twenty-five-years-to-life? It’s a miracle that each and every employee of the U.S. postal service isn’t a cannibal by the time they hit retirement.

The reason for this? Most people sending packages at Christmas time are hateful narcissistic slime. I am continually amazed at the demonstrations of oblivious, entitled behavior on the part of people sending things out at the holidays. Sometimes I want to just step out of line and say: “Ladies and Gentlemen, may I direct your attention to the man mailing a glass jar filled with marbles who has just expressed shock that he’s being charged extra for bubble wrap! Yes, and now he’s wondering what’s taking so long and why everyone is glaring at him! Let’s give him a round of especially slow and sarcastic applause for being the most self-absorbed jackass of the decade!”

Here's my suggestion: let us, the American people, pledge to do better this holiday season. Let's redefine “going postal” to mean this: “I have properly prepared my package to the best of my ability. I know the zip code to which I’m sending this package. I have a job to which I need to return immediately, and I understand that other people’s time is as precious as my own.”

We should encourage all Americans to regard package mailing the way we regard auditioning for "American Idol." You should be prepared. Professional. Brilliant. People should gawk at the taping job you’ve done, at the elegance of your address label, at the civility of your dismount as you depart the postal counter after a mere 45 seconds. If we could all do our part, yes, Virginia, there need not be a shooting spree this Christmas.

Monday, December 7, 2009


One of my first few blog posts was about renewing my love of classic rock and music in general through the acquisition of an iPod (see “Deep Cuts,” 10/28/09). About two weeks after that posting, I suddenly started receiving a subscription to Spin magazine. I can only assume Spin must have some software program that seeks out bloggerians who are talking about the music scene to trawl for new subscribers. Little do they know how hip I am not.

But here’s the funny thing: the December issue of Spin includes this article called “33 Rock Myths, Legends and Lies Debunked.” You know the ones: Ozzy Ozbourne bit the head off a bat, Nirvana killed heavy metal, Rod Stewart swallowed a whole lotta you-know-what -- and all that gossipy rot. But there’s this one short article about the punk rock band Fugazi, famously revered for never selling out and for charging only $5 for concert tickets. The myth Spin was debunking was that the members of Fugazi, though admirable in so many ways because they stayed true to the spirit of punk, were actually big jerks. Spin magazine says the public got that all wrong; they weren't jerks, they were misunderstood. They were actually “the most fun-lovin’ band of the 90s.”

Huh, I thought, how odd. And here I believed I had nothing to contribute to discussions of the rock scene, but it seems I do after all. Let me share with you a little anecdote that illustrates the point that Fugazi was not mean. At least lead singer Ian MacKaye was not mean. The reason I know this is because he used to be my neighbor, which was something I found out just before our elderly-lesbian-diabetic-chain-smoking neighbor died.

So here’s the story: we moved into our house in 1997 and our neighbor across the street, Virginia – the aforementioned elderly-lesbian-diabetic-chain-smoker – immediately endeared herself to us by calling the cops on us for parking backwards in the street while we were unpacking our car, literally the first day we moved in. To make a long story short, my husband, being the good guy he is, had no hard feelings -- unlike me -- and one day offered to help carry Virginia's groceries in from her car. After that we became friends. At least we were as good a friend as one can be with someone who is housebound and drinking herself to death. But she would knock on the window and wave at us sometimes, and one time when my husband and I were both at work, she shooed away a vagrant who had decided our back porch looked like a nice place to take a load off and drink some malt liquor. No doubt he bought the malt liquor at the 7-11 on the corner, about twenty yards up the hill.

The 7-11 figures prominently in this story, which is why I mention it. For many years I noticed this grungy office on the lower level of the equally grungy commercial space on the corner, which also housed the 7-11. It looked like the kind of place where young men were wasting vast quantities of their youth avoiding responsibility (which I in no way condemn). Whole walls of the place were filled with CDs. There were a few desks and a phone or two. The UPS man stopped daily for pick-ups, and there was always a steady stream of hipsters going back and forth between this basement office and the house across the street, which was your average-looking group house complete with a couch on the front porch. Occasionally I’d see one of the guys who lived there skateboarding around the neighborhood.

One day I was finally moved to ask another neighbor, Judy – who lived directly next to the “hipster house” as I called it -- “Hey, I've always wondered what the heck goes on over there in that office in the basement of the 7-11. What’s the connection with that office and the hipster house?” Judy told me that the people who worked there, they sold CDs. I said, “Like used CDs or something?” No, she says, they sell their own CDs. “Oh,” I snorted derisively, “What, they’re like a band or something?” Yeah, a band, she said. She couldn’t think of the name right off the top of her head. “It’s kind of weird name,” she told me. “Let me think. Oh, yeah… Fugazi.”

Fugazi. Seriously? Well, don’t that beat all.

Fast forward about a year, sometime after Virginia, the elderly-diabetic-lesbian-chain-smoker’s death, and I happened to speak to Mr. MacKaye about a matter relating to the fact that 7-11 totally sucks to have as a neighbor because people just loved buying Bud King Cans and then sauntering around the corner to party and piss behind the building, which happened to be about fifteen yards from both our houses. So in the course of our conversation Mr. MacKaye -- I won’t call him Ian because I wouldn’t presume to be more than a neighborly acquaintance -- told me some funny stories about the neighborhood, like that the people who had previously owned our house were two middle-aged queens who used to sunbathe in the front yard in matching banana hammocks. He also told me this tale about Virginia, the elderly-diabetic-lesbian-chain-smoker. Seems when he and his housemates moved into their house several years before we moved into ours, Virginia took an instant dislike to them much as she had done with us. When she found out they were a rock band, well, that made things even worse, and any time they had a party – which was quite often -- she called the cops on them. Even when they were having, you know, a really quiet punk rock party. This really irked several members of his household/band, and they began playing their music even louder during party time and then one night, a couple of the guys erected the band’s stage lights on the front porch and aimed them at Virginia’s house. (Note for future reference: do NOT get in a pissing match with a punk rock band because you will lose.)

Well, apparently the idea of blasting this old woman with stage lights made Mr. MacKaye realize that things had gone a bit too far. He couldn’t in good conscience act like this toward this poor old lady, even if she was calling the cops on them routinely for no good reason (she had told the cops they were doing drugs, which if you know Fugazi's rep, ain't so), and he was moved to extend an olive branch to her. He apologized for their behavior, and thereafter, a truce was observed, and a cordial if unlikely relationship sprang up between them.

When Virginia died, it was one of those typically grim deaths of the old and lonely. First a trip to the nursing home that gets extended and then, suddenly, people were cleaning out her nicotine-soaked house. We didn’t even know she had passed away until a few weeks after the fact, when I was invited in to take whatever I might like. Seems she had no one who wanted any of her things. I found out later that the only people in attendance at Virginia’s funeral were two neighbors, including Judy, who had sort of looked after her over the years… and Fugazi.

So Spin magazine, you got it right. Fugazi were indeed nice guys or at least Ian MacKaye was a nice guy. It’s just weird that that article should appear in that particular issue of Spin that I got for free after writing about rock music even though I am not hip. Seems like there’s a song about that phenomenon. Synchronicity or something.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Private Sector Service Roll-backs Taking Place in 2010

Perhaps it’s not surprising given the fragile state of the domestic economy, but the recession is finally taking its toll on me. That’s right. I am being forced by new fiscal realities to institute several cost-cutting measures to avoid having to lay anyone off. I would like to say that despite all the rumors that have been floating around the house for the past few weeks, I do not anticipate having to reduce our payroll. I should point out, however, that this should not be taken for granted. Performance evaluations are coming up, and each and every employee here in the household will be scrutinized to determine whether or not we are functioning in the most efficient manner possible. If not, you know the rule: last hired, first fired. I'm sorry, Emma. I know you’re only 4, but consider this the first of many lessons about instability in the marketplace and the lingering effects of the housing bubble.

In lieu of workforce reductions right before the holidays to make our bottom line look a little better for the sake of our shareholders -- which, frankly, was my preferred option as it would have been the easiest way to improve our outlook for 2010 -- instead I will be scaling back on my services in the coming new year. While service pricing will remain the same or, in some instances, increase, service roll-backs will occur in all sectors of the household in one of four ways:

• Some services will be eliminated;
• some services will be combined with other services (“service dilution”);
• some services which we had promised we would think about adding we will no longer even pretend to be considering;
• and still others will make us laugh out loud like Santa Claus – that’s right, the whole clutching of the belly followed by hearty ho,ho,ho’s -- if you have the stones to ask.

Specific examples of these rollbacks are as follows:
• I will no longer be turning sleeves and whole coats right side out when they have been removed by the wearer and dropped on the floor just inside the front door.
• Lights that have been left on in bedrooms when no one is in them for more than five consecutive days will be dealt with in the following manner: the light bulbs will be removed and put aside until the user swears on a stack of Miley Cyrus CD’s that she will remember to turn them off before leaving for school. Daytime usage will be closely monitored thereafter and repeat offenders may be forced to do homework exclusively during daylight hours.
• And further to that, all Hannah Montana wigs (aka, “pint-sized tranny wigs”) will be thrown in the garbage when they have reached the point of being uncombable. I alone will decide when that point has been reached, although generally I find that they are unusable within about three days of purchase.
• No projects requiring hand-sewing will be undertaken during FY 2010. If you lose a button, take it up with Nana.
• Socks will now be paired – if at all – without regard for size or color.
• I will now encourage all toilet paper users to carry their own roll with them. Just like they do in the army during war time. Or when you’re camping. Or when you're visiting certain lesser developed countries. Please see my full list of in-service training videos for further information on correct installation of toilet paper rolls if you don’t like this policy change.
• Caps will no longer be replaced on any marker or pen that has been left out on the dining room table. The only color which will now be available for school projects is burnt sienna. My loyal assistant, aka, the dog, will conveniently consume all other caps that have rolled onto the floor thus reducing my need to nag you all further.
• Anyone who lets the dog in on a rainy day without wiping her off will be beaten, fined, shunned, ridiculed, beaten again, mocked, taunted, and then put in the recyclable bin with a note pinned to her shirt that says “Number 3 Plastic.”
• I will no longer be killing bugs or spiders for free. Requests for pest eradication will be considered on a case-by-case basis, depending on how loud you’re screaming and if your father is home at the time and also awake.
• Razor scooters left in the front yard or behind the car in the driveway will be either given away to the first interested passerby who claims to be able to remember to put it away in the damned garage, or, as the case may be, run over.
• Double A batteries will no longer be given out indiscriminately. Factors that will be considered when “AA” battery requests are received: 1) How recently was the last set of “AA”’s given out? I.e., was the last set of batteries used up because the electronic item they were in was left on for several days? Really? Are you lying to me because I can tell, you know? 2) How loud and annoying is the electronic item for which it is being requested?; and 3) Did I have such an item when I was a kid? If the answer is no, and I don’t feel like getting off the couch, you will probably not be getting any batteries any time soon. See form 4311A “Battery Requisition Form” and be sure to fill in all required fields or the system will kick your request back out and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Let’s hope this downturn is only temporary, and we can get back to the full-service culture that you have come to enjoy during these “boom” years. Best wishes for a brighter 2010.

Yours sincerely,

CFO and Regional Ballbuster, East Coast Division
Winner, 1999-2009, “Most Effective Parental Sarcasm," as determined by J.D. Power & Associates

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Edward, Bella, and the Romance of Romance

I’m going to decode the mystery of “Twilight’s” appeal for y’all, but in such a way that you can still feel good about liking it. It's the perfect solution to the thinking woman's conundrum that is "Twilight," and I'm taking my cue from the book itself.

First, let me just say that I don’t feel guilty about liking “Twilight” any more than I feel guilty about liking Cheetos. I understand why I like Cheetos just as I understand why I like "Twilight." One because they're cheesy -- Cheetos, I mean -- and two because it's cheesy. "Twilight" is fabulously unreal. Just like that Cheetos-orange food coloring.

Yes, you say. Of course I know that "Twilight" isn't real. It’s vampires and werewolves and all. No, that’s not what I’m talking about. I'm talking about romance here. Let’s take a look at the series of questions and answers below, shall we, and you’ll see what I mean:

• Isn't part of what appeals to Bella the secret, opulent world that Edward comes from? Do you think Bella would have fallen for Edward had she found him and his fellow vampires living in a tin shack in the woods, reviled and impoverished, making and selling moonshine to scrape together a few bucks? What if living with them meant living a hardscrabble life in exile rather than simply shopping for expensive cars in exile? I mean, I think we could all handle a little exile if we were wearing Chanel couture while enduring it. Don’t you think that the fact that Edward is incredibly wealthy and Bella would never again have to worry about making ends meet might have a teensy bit to do with her single-minded determination to become one of them?

• If Edward’s heart of gold was not wrapped in such an attractive package, would Bella have fallen for him so hard? Or let's say, even if he was just as beautiful but, like, had this really annoying sneeze or a stupid donkey-like laugh. As it is, he has no annoying personal habits of any kind. Zero. Bella never has to bite her tongue when he says something dumb in front of her friends. But then again Bella doesn't have any friends.

• And further to that point, if Bella had any personal ambitions or interests in, say, ANYTHING whatsoever – I don’t care what it was, politics, soccer, macramé, actual humans, ANYTHING -- would she have been so willing to jump into his world and forsake her own? What if she’d had to give up any chance of being a neurosurgeon like she always wanted? Oh, yes, I can’t forget her concerns about her parents. She worries about how Charlie will cope without her and how her mom would feel. Right, the father she used to see once a year who now needs her to cook him spaghetti and a mother who is out on the road with her loser Triple-A baseball player husband. Some real strong familial bonds there obviously. Plus – once again – no siblings, but then again, teen literature is populated with only children.

• If Edward and his vegetarian vampires had been forced by need to drink actual human blood and not the blood of animals, would she still have found them appealing? And what if her darling alabaster hunk had a moment of weakness and killed to survive as is the case in all other vampire mythology? In other words, what if to love him was to be an accessory to murder? She’d be no different than those women who help their pedophilic husbands keep girls out in the tool shed.

• Do you really believe that any human being should focus exclusively on the happiness of another person as a condition of the relationship’s success? Edward is a vampire; he has no need of sleep and is never tired. Because he is never tired he is never grouchy or cranky or distracted. Sure, he broods. But he broods about Bella so we’ll let that slide. He has to fill hours upon hours of the day and has no external demands on his time whatsoever. No job, no nothin’. What better way to fill the days than to dote on Bella? He’s already been through high school 17 times and has nothing to learn and therefore, no need to struggle with homework or studying. He is also 90-something years old and therefore wise and patient and has long-since mastered his "needs," both adolescent and vampiric. He’s a sexy grandpa, really. All he’s missing is a sweater vest.

• Because vampires, as they are explained, are changeless, Edward and Bella will forever live in the throes of their young passion. Didn’t you read that and think, really? Like in a thousand years, they’ll still be going at it like crazed weasels? How utterly tiresome to all those around them. Can you imagine how incredibly mortifying that will be for poor Nessie? Like, to have horny toad parents who can't keep their hands off each other? Gag! Although you’ll note that Carlisle and Esme do manage to keep a lid on their urges sufficiently to act as parental figures. So I guess it’s possible their love would evolve, although that might have only been for the sake of the narrative. You’ll note Reneesme is a good sleeper, too. Like THAT is realistic.

If you believe everything would have turned out just the same for them if any one of these details were even slightly more realistic, then you are a true believer, and I wish you well, although I fear you might have a few divorces under your belt by the time you’re forty. What we have here is the adolescent ideal of living a life without any real consequences. In “Twilight” world, it all works out perfectly and nobody gets hurt -- in contrast to tiresome reality where being a grown up is realizing that everything has a cost and sometimes people do get hurt but you do your best to minimize that. Plus, while vampires never change, people do and they can never predict in what ways that change will happen. This requires you, again and again, to take leaps of faith. And we all know what a drag that can be.

When all is said and done, Bella pays nothing for her choices and gets everything in return: beauty, eternal youth, wealth, power, and a happy little family. Edward is the sexy bad boy who’s also a good boy. Would that it were so, ladies, would that it were so. Although it may seem like it, I’m not trying to be a kill-joy here. I say, don’t feel guilty that “Twilight” appeals to you, be sorry that not a single aspect of Edward and Bella's romance is possible in real life.


When all is said and done, loving “Twilight” is an act of willful disregard for some of the more pesky facts of life. And I applaud that. We should hold onto our rebelliousness and keep the teen in us alive ... eternally.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a big bowl of Cheetos to get through while I stand in line for the midnight showing of “New Moon.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

An Open Letter to the Video Electronics Industry

Dear Sir or Madam,

I included the “madam” thing in my salutation so as not to seem sexist right off the bat, and while I’m sure there are women working in all segments of your industry (blah, blah, blah), I’m even more sure that you’re probably a him and not a her.

I write this to you even though I know my plea may well be drowned out by the latest round of high-five slapping in your research and development department, but I’m going to say it anyway: in no way do I need more pixels in my television set. I haven’t said this before, and I don’t mean to pile it on, but I might as well tell you that I also don’t need more pixels in my computer monitor.

Well, there it is. I guess we both need to deal with this now that it’s out there. Please, just hear me out.

The definition of my television set is as high as I need it to be – it’s as high as I’ll ever need it to be in fact. Actually, if I’m being totally honest here, it’s already too high insofar as it exceeds my eye’s capacity to tell the difference between 720i or 1080i or anything higher than that. I know this might come as a shock to you because I seemed so happy when you first told me – via your last press release -- about your new 3200 x 6400i television that would produce pictures so sharp, images so well-defined, that interaction with actual human beings would become obsolete. I did think it was cool. At first. But then…well, I don’t know what happened. I guess as I began to contemplate the implications of this pixel race for supremacy, I began to worry.

We both know that hi-def as a concept is something that guys -- not women – really want, and I think it’s time that you – the video electronics industry -- recognized that perhaps this is something you’ve focused on a bit too much. I’m sure it all started with the best of intentions, although maybe not. Guys are good at egging each other on and maybe at some point, some engineer guy said to some other engineer guy, ‘I bet you I can cram even more pixels into this damn thing’ and the other guy said, ‘no effing way, dude’ and pretty soon you were off to the races. This is nothing new. After all, 98 % of You Tube videos are of guys getting other guys to do stuff that is not remotely advisable, but they do it anyway just to see if they can. Then somebody else tries to one-up them. Then somebody films it. Then somebody calls an ambulance. That’s what high definition has become for you guys. A dare, a bet, an arms race that has gotten out of control. You’ve lost your sense of proportion in your quest to see how precise and detailed you can make our video screen interfaces. Not that a lot of your engineers are your typical guy types who hang out trying to eat as many Buffalo-style chicken wings as possible just to prove their manliness, but, hey, they are still guys and as such they’re prone to this sort of thing too, even if they did it in a really geeky way – like trying to see who could get the lowest standard deviation on their research data. Like it’s a limbo contest or something.

Now this is not to say that I don’t appreciate a great many things that men’s tendency to over-focus has produced. Rockets, computers, quantum mechanics, hot sauce, cat fish noodling. Great. Love all that stuff. I am not saying the over-focusing doesn’t have its place. What I’m saying is that I do not need more pixels in my television set. That’s all. Don’t be all like, “Well, fine! Forget it! I’m the bad guy here, I guess! What do you want from me?” and then go have a few drinks and find a hooker in some misguided attempt to get back at me. That’s not the reaction that I’m looking for. I just do not need more pixels in my television set, and if you can’t just sit there and listen without blowing up about it then I’m not sure where we go from here. Not to be sexist again, but I think we all know that it’s the girlfriends and wives and mothers of the world who put the kibosh on stupidity -- or as you might know it, “fun” – and try to reel the men of this world back in before they burn their eyebrows off or puncture a testicle, whether it be their own or someone else’s.

And if I might play armchair psychoanalyst for just a moment, I think I know how this particular pixel fixation may have gotten started in the first place. When you were a kid, probably you, like me, filled out the back of the Bazooka Joe bubble gum wrapper and sent away for a pair of X-ray vision glasses and when you got them, they totally didn’t work. You could not see through people’s clothes like you’d been promised and ever since then, you’ve been fixated on creating something capable of greater and greater definition, definition so intense that you can actually peer into the fabric of another person’s soul – or through underwear, as the case may be. Whereas I got over the betrayal, you ... well, you became fixated on pixels.

Again, I’m just asking that you please stop and think about this. Not for a minute am I saying you are bad people, it’s just that we’re good on the pixels. That’s all. Let’s just leave things as they are before we all end up with high def electron microscopes in our homes. It takes a real man to walk away from a dare, and all I can say is that perhaps it’s time to be a man and put the calipers away before you ruin any more of your testicles.

Thank you for your time.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sour Grapes and Toe Socks

So here’s the thing, I have this tendency to hold onto empty cardboard boxes. Not really hold onto them. That’s too passive a way of putting it. I hoard them. I don’t know why, and I don’t know what explains it. Was there some sort of Great Depression of boxes when I was kid and good cardboard was hard to come by? Do I have some gypsy gene that fires off occasionally to prepare me for packing up all my things on a moment’s notice? You know, in case there’s a sudden purge of my people, but they’re letting us take our photo albums with us. Around this time of year, the box thing gets even worse as I convince myself that I need to stockpile empty boxes in case I need to wrap presents for the holidays. I suppose the "holiday excuse" kind of justifies the hoarding, temporarily at least, but nothing justifies the keeping of empty boxes in February or April or July. It’s not like I’m this super thoughtful person who sends care packages to the troops or anything. It’s all about me. I want these boxes just in case I might want them later.

I’m sure there are others out there who do this box-collecting thing, and if I could find say, ten or fifteen of us, we’d constitute a demographic group. This doesn’t mean box-collecting is not weird, of course. I’ll bet you could get a bunch of serial killers together and they’d have a lot in common too. (“OMG, I totally like torturing small animals and setting fires too! How funny is that?”) Demographics doesn’t spare you the label of weirdness, in fact it just sort of codifies it, and once it’s codified, we’re able to console ourselves with knowledge that since there are others with the same quirk, it’s all O.K. I mean, don’t you think your grandmother thought it was perfectly reasonable to send you loads of random newspaper clippings from her local paper and put tissues up her sleeve and reuse her tea bags? Don’t you think that she had several friends – even dozens of them -- who did exactly the same things? It was still a behavior that left you scratching your head.

What’s stranger still to think about is that right now, I am a part of several demographic groups, and one of the things we all have in common is a deeply held misconception of one sort or another. And years from now, that misconception is going to be revealed for what it is, and we’re all going to look back and wonder what the hell we were thinking. That’s right. Even now, we are all suffering from a mass delusion, and we don’t even know it.

Now don't go thinking you're the exception here because you’re not. I saw your high school yearbook photo and your hair did not look like that naturally. You tried to get to do that … that swoopy thing in the front and the feathering on the side. You went off to junior high school every morning happy that you had two sausage-shaped curls on the sides of your face. Two words, people: toe socks. Two more words: rubber bracelets. And still one more word: Windsong. Come on, you remember; it stays on your mind.

If I have to take a guess as to what this mass delusion is going to turn out to be – well, at least one of them anyway, I’m sure there are loads of them – I’d say this… now get ready because you’re going to be in for a's granite countertops. Yes, I know. You feel like you've just been kicked in the ribs, and you are now pointing at the screen and shouting "NO! You are WRONG! I won't accept it!" I realize it’s hard to believe, but I’m telling you, in another thirty years people are going to be ripping granite countertops out of their kitchens like they’re asbestos, wondering what the hell we were all thinking. All those granite countertops we all love and adore, they’re all going straight to the landfill where they can’t be broken down any further since they’re already, you know, rock. And in about twenty thousand years, thin slivers of granite with bullnose edges are going to be one of the mysteries of the ages.

I know you might still be reeling at the mere thought of all this but frankly, granite countertops littering the landfills of the future oddly cheers me up. You know why? Because when that happens, when granite countertops become as reviled as avocado linoleum flooring, the fact that I could never afford granite countertops is going to make me look pretty darn prescient. Of course, I probably won’t get credit for my forward-thinking because who pays attention to an old woman with a house full of empty cardboard boxes? But here it is, blogged into the record in 2009. I'm already planning my "I told you so" world bus tour in 2039. You're welcome to join me.

And for the record, I never owned toe socks, but it was not because I didn't want them. I wanted them desperately, but I couldn't wear them because of my handicap, which I don't normally like to talk about but with you, I will. I have webbed toes, you see, and for me, toe socks were but a distant dream that could never be.

You too? Seriously? No way! OK, that makes me feel a whole lot better.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Hostess With the Mostess

I can’t watch most of what’s on television because I am a big chicken. If there is rising tension, undercover cops shouting at each other over their dying partners’ bullet-ridden bodies, or decomp of any kind involved, I can’t watch it. I also have a strict policy against watching anything where kids get killed. So pretty much there goes all primetime network and cable television right there. Oh, and if there are ghosts trying to avenge their own murders or even ghosts who are perfectly nice but just want to chat because no one else can hear them? Can’t do that either.

What I do watch is the Food Network because here’s an empirically proven fact: food is never scary or stressful. Food is never stressful even when they try to make it stressful with those competition shows or Food Network challenges where the pastry chefs have to reinterpret the work of El Greco in fondant and so on. OK, there’s a time limit and sure, they’re rushing to finish but let’s face it, if your giant sugar sculpture falls over right before judging, well, that’s a shame but a general rule of thumb in my life is, if you make a mistake that can be eaten off the floor by your dog it’s not all that bad of a mistake.

Seeing as my regular T.V.-viewing options are so limited because of my chickenhood, I have probably tried to watch every show on the Food Network. To my dismay, I have found that I cannot watch just anyone chopping onions. For me it’s not so much about the food itself as much as the host’s personality and delivery. Plus there’s what I call the ITWRR -- “in touch with reality ranking” -- with 5 being “fairly grounded, doesn’t insist that we make our own chicken stock” and 1 being “I nearly always have a film crew around me, and I have no idea how average people without access to Japanese eggplant actually live.” If a host’s ITWRR is too low, I just start throwing toast at the television like I’m at the midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

I’ll break things down for you host by hostess in case you ever get tired of watching “CSI: Montpelier” and need a break from the endless parade of recently-discovered corpses:

Paula Deen: OK, I'll admit it. Hers is the only show on Food Network that stresses me out. I fear that someday I'll be watching her show and she will choke to death on her own tongue while trying to pronounce the word “oil.” But if you like that sort of thing, go ahead and watch. Are you over fifty? People over fifty love her. She’s like Garrison Keillor that way. ITWRR: 2.5

Sandra Lee: I have nightmares about that woman and her elaborate tablescapes. I dream that I am caught in a giant doily and she is laughing and wants to put me in one of her signature cocktails that she’s created from the blood of the unrighteous who cannot coordinate their outfits, kitchen décor, and dining room table cloths. ITWRR: 3.14

Bobby Flay: Why is he always insisting on showing up places and demanding to challenge people for dominance? What is he, like, the Scorpion King of food? ITWRR: 3

Giada DeLaurentiis: She and Todd are going to get divorced one day and I’ll tell you why: When your husband has friends over to watch the game, they do not want to eat swordfish on ciabatta bread with tapenade relish. That poor, pasty man probably just wants a plate of goddamned hamburger helper once in a while. Please, Giada, for the sake of your daughter, make some dang cheeseburgers once in a while and, please, NOT with tangy, easy-melting Fontina cheese. Either that or just leave your husband out of it altogether and keep throwing dinner parties for your vapid girlfriends to help celebrate the launch of their new handbag line. ITWRR: 0

Ina Garten: I watch her a lot. I love her show. It’s on Logo Channel, right? Oh, wait, maybe I’m thinking of something else? Her show is the one with all those gay guys who show up and set the table for her and bring her flowers. Then they all eat her food and tell her how fabulous it is. Isn’t that the one? ITWRR: -6

Tyler Florence: He talks too fast. He moves too fast. He once tried to cook an entire Thanksgiving dinner on a 2-minute Today show segment. I think he might be manic. Do you think I should try to contact him and tell him my concerns? I’m sure there are medications that might help or maybe we could just all pitch in and buy the guy a crock pot. ITWRR: 3

Nigella Lawson: She is perfect in every way except that her show’s on too early on Saturday mornings, and I always miss it. I’ll bet you even she wouldn’t get up that early to watch her show but then she couldn’t anyway because most weekends she’s probably stuck to her own sheets after an ill-advised middle-of-the-night icebox raid to dunk pork tenderloin into caramel sauce. ITWRR: 4

Jamie Oliver: I adore him. I would like to carry him around in my pocket like my own little troll doll and periodically muss his already mussed hair just because he’s so cute. Then I would bring him up to a cabin and chain him to the stove and force him to cook meals for me made from ingredients that he gathered in the forest. Because that’s the only way you can make his recipes – to have him do it. I have two of his cookbooks and I can tell you firsthand who can make these recipes: Jamie Oliver can make these recipes. Which is why I needed him to cook for me, officer. I was gonna let him go as soon as he finished with that wild mushroom crepe with ginseng foam and pan-seared brook trout, honest. ITWRR: 2

Rachael Ray: She’s the best thing to come out of Upstate New York since Ironweed. (I’ll just wait while you look that reference up. ) All right, fine, I admit it. I’m a little jealous of her success because I’m from Upstate New York, too, and as we all know there is this huge quota thing going on and only one person from Upstate New York per century can be successful and I guess she’s it. So yeah, take what I say about her and her “delish!” with a grain of salt. ITWRR: 4

Anne Burrell: I like Anne Burrell. OK, bear with me a minute, but I am very certain that Anne Burrell might be the same girl I met once on Spring Break in Fort Lauderdale. I just remember going to this party at a motel and there were these girls there who were running around in nighties spraying shaving cream at people off the balcony and playing Romeo Void really loud. They were not attractive girls, OK, let’s be honest, but they were having a fun time of it anyway even with no boys in sight. And they invited us to come and hang out and so we did. Then there were shots of flaming Jell-o and the next thing I knew, I was awakened by the most amazing smell because some angel of mercy was cooking sausage and eggs on a hot plate and they were fargin’ fantastic. And I tell you, that girl who was cooking, she didn’t seem hungover at all, but I am sure she drank more than all of us combined. I’m telling you, it was her. It was Anne Burrell. This is a woman you want to learn from especially when you've had too much flaming Jell-o in a Florida motel room. ITWRR: 5

One last thing: I don’t trust skinny chefs. I know you claim that you looooove food, Robin Miller, and I do believe that you love cooking, but I do not believe for a moment that you like eating because people who love eating are easily recognizable by their fatness. The proof’s in the pudding, people. Or rather, the junk’s in the trunk. So my advice to you is to watch Sunny Anderson and make her stuff ‘cuz girlfriend can OBVIOUSLY cook, if you know what I’m sayin’.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

S.A.H.M. Laborers Union, Local 185

MEETING MINUTES, November 4, 2009

We got a late start because Sally O., our president, was trying to park her Odyssey out in front of the meeting hall. God knows Sally's got a good heart, but that woman cannot parallel park to save her life and I think she'd be the first to admit that.

When we finally did get underway we discovered that once again we didn’t have a quorum because more than 75 percent of union members’ kids were sick and they had to cancel at the last minute. This being the case we were not able to vote on some of the more pressing issues on our agenda, namely our wages, benefits and compensation packages for FY 2010, which is probably just as well because management hadn’t responded to the previous four proffers anyway. This of course means we’ll be working without a contract for the seventh straight year. Normally we might be able to kick this issue to the next meeting for fuller discussion but our next meeting is already cancelled because it conflicts with something. The school Winter Festival? The Soccer Banquet? Something like that. We couldn’t remember but it’s on the calendar. So suffice to say, wages, vacation and sick leave will remain unchanged in the coming year as they have for the last sixteen centuries.

The eight of us in attendance then moved on to old business. Plans for the New Year’s Sweatpants Ball were in full swing until Emily T., the chief organizer of the ball, said there was no way she was going to be able to get a babysitter since the high school girl who used to babysit for her now has a boyfriend. As a result, she said, she was doubtful about her own attendance on New Year’s. She then said bitterly that every time she called her, the stupid girl says she’s busy but Emily T. says she knows full well the two of them are just making out somewhere or playing Wii. We briefly and jocularly offered suggestions for ways to split the young couple up (cruel Facebooks postings? Anonymous phone calls to the girl’s parents about the boy’s immoral intentions? Spike his Axe body spray with sulfur?). Our ball organizer laughed a little too hard and then said, ‘Do you seriously think that might work?’ More than one of us raised our eyebrows and observed that perhaps it might be time for Emily T. to step back and reassess her priorities or perhaps discuss this with her therapist, which at least two of us already knew she had been seeing off and on for the last year although it doesn’t seem to be helping. It was suggested that the simple answer was that another babysitter be found as a substitute. No one else was willing to share the name of her sitter, however, and after an uncomfortable silence, we cancelled the Sweatpants Ball and moved onto new business.

Before we could continue, the meeting was interrupted three times by phone calls from two husbands. One couldn’t find matching pajama tops and bottoms and was told, rather harshly, to improvise. The other husband wanted to know what time the kids normally went to bed and then expressed dismay that he was expected to actually bathe the children before putting them to bed. The first husband then called back and said that one of the kids was now clutching the union member’s nightgown, crying hysterically, and running around on the furniture. He asked when she would be coming home. When that was finally resolved by pretending to lose the cell phone connection, another member was rebuked for reading her email during the meeting (she always does that, by the way; that woman would read emails at a funeral). Rather than put her Blackberry away, she sighed and asked when things would be wrapping up because she was still hoping to meet up for a Girl’s Night Out event with a few other moms who had allegedly had sick kids and couldn’t attend tonight’s union meeting. After an uncomfortable silence, we moved onto the budget report.

Although dues have not been collected in more than four months because our Treasurer Laureen B., remains on bed rest in anticipation of her fourth child, assets for the Local 185 were steady at $1988.67, less the cost of tonight’s donuts, which everyone claimed they couldn’t possibly touch because they were all on a diet, although curiously enough all the donuts were gone when it was time to clean up. One union member asked if our membership director Janet W. had attended any meetings in recent memory and perhaps should be replaced but Sally, our president (who if you ask me is way too quick to cut people slack) said that Janet really meant well even if she got herself overextended from time to time, but that she would talk to her about it when she saw her at spinning class on Thursday morning. With that, we moved onto announcements, which led to an outbreak of inward groaning.

One mom -- you know the one -- used this opportunity to promote her home-based business selling luxury bath products from MoFaux because "who needs pampering more than moms" (trademark protected). She passed out cards and urged us to attend her next bath product selling party the day before Thanksgiving, a day she thoughtfully picked because she knew everyone would be totally stressed out in preparation for the holidays. She mentioned that some of the stocking stuffers were only $35, and there were candles on sale for $48. One member then fell to the floor, her hand pressed to her left eye. She asked that someone call 911 because she was certain she had just suffered an ocular aneurysm. In the flurry of activity surrounding the arrival of the EMS workers, two union members slipped away unnoticed after depositing their MoFaux business cards discreetly in the garbage can. After ascertaining that the union member in distress had no known allergies and could receive a shot of Demerol (lucky her), three other members asked the paramedics if mercury was used as a preservative in the injection. Emergency responders said the stricken union member in all likelihood had had a muscle spasm, probably caused by rolling her eyes back into her head too often. She was transported to the hospital, where she was treated and released.

There were no other announcements.

**I want to give a shout out to Denise L., SAHM Union Organizer, El Cerrito Chapter.**

Saturday, October 31, 2009

D.I.Y. Will Power

My renovation mojo has left me. Yes, it done left me cold, and I’m not going looking for it. It can steal my car and go back to its ex-wife for all I care.

This ought to tell you something: I went to the Home Depot the other day and left with the one item I needed and THAT WAS IT. No paint chips or pieces of molding or any other ingredient for whatever projects I can usually cook up that instantly cause my husband's eyes to roll into his head and send him into convulsions about all the lost weekends yet to come.

Back in the day I did it all: paint, wallpaper, drywall repair, drywall hanging, tile work, low-level structural engineering, homemade load-bearing walls, and hydraulic cement application – you name it, I did it and without one of those pesky Class A contracting licenses.

In any other circumstance I might be glad to be rid of this burdensome need to remodel and improve, but the loss of my renovation mojo is a problem because I would not say that my house is actually “attractive” or that many of my projects are in any way “finished.” Things need to be painted and holes need to be patched. Grade C construction plywood, I must remind myself repeatedly, is not a floor covering.

Fortunately I am a compassionate person who does not like to see others make the same mistakes I have made, and in seeking ways to avoid doing any of these “incomplete” projects, I’ve come up with a system that may help you as you undertake your own DIY projects. I'm well aware that there are many guides to home remodeling out there that can tell you HOW to remodel. But only this questionnaire will tell you if you have the mental toughness to proceed. That’s right; this questionnaire will determine if you have the most important thing you need before you begin work: the indomitable will to renovate.

For the sake of argument, I have assumed that 1) you are an American citizen and/or a legal resident; 2) you are over 18; 3) you own your own home and you are not upside-down on your mortgage or for that matter, sideways; and 4) you have asked your doctor if you are healthy enough for sexual activity.

And just because we're friends I’m going to spot you 50 points to start….OK, you may begin:

· Do you have a realistic sense of your project’s costs and enough money in your budget for any unforeseen cost overruns? If no, subtract fifty points. If yes, subtract fifty points anyway because I already know that you’re lying.

· If you would describe yourself as an optimist, add ten points.

· If others suspect your optimism is pharmacological in origin, add twenty points. That's assuming your doctor has a liberal policy as regards prescription refills and is open to middle-of-the-night phone calls.

· If you work well in close quarters with others and never lose your temper AND if you have never, not even once, called a work partner an incompetent assmonkey, add fifteen points.

· When was your last tetanus shot? If recent, add one point. If more than five years ago, subtract six points and sign attached waiver.

· If you don’t necessarily have a big budget but you have a lot of spare time, no friends, and are not active in your community in any way – in other words if you are the proverbial quiet loner but one without sociopathic impulses -- add three points. If sociopathic tendencies are present, we’ll call it a wash.

· Is this home renovation project in any way compulsory or part of a plea bargain in lieu of jail time? What I mean is, do you NEED to complete this home renovation project as part of a court-ordered community service requirement? If yes, add twenty-five points.

· Subtract one point for every year old your house is.

· If you have children -- and I mean even ONE -- take away one hundred sixty-four points.

· If you have a dog, subtract five points, unless it’s a really, really good dog that you are certain will not drink latex paint or run off with a power tool while it's still plugged in, then you can hold steady at your current tally.

· If you have an elderly cat that frequently misses the box, subtract as many points as you feel appropriate. (In my case, that would be 823.)

· Subtract one point for every additional pet in your household, including fish, hermit crabs, and gerbils. Actually, you know what? Forget that. They'd all eventually die of neglect anyway even if you weren't renovating.

· If you have a recurring problem or maintenance issue in your home that you’ve attempted to fix several times without calling in a professional because you believe all carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and general contractors are crooks, subtract eleven points.

· Subtract thirty points if the above-mentioned problem is a roof or leaky basement and an additional five points if remediation of said problem has resulted in a trip to an emergency room.

· And speaking of that, you do have good health insurance, right? Not too big a deductible? Nothing written into the terms of your coverage about not paying out in the event of "self-sustained injuries as a result of failing to read goddamned directions" or "ladder-related fractures"? If not, subtract forty-four points.

· If you have something better to do, subtract ten points. (And, yes, a sigmoidoscopy does count.)

· Are you working on a bathroom remodel? If yes, what would you say is the capacity of your bladder to hold liquids? Are your neighbors close by? Are they accommodating, decent people who could be described as "long-suffering"? If your bladder can hold more than 200cc’s and you can answer yes to both neighbor questions, add two points. If the answer to the neighbor question is no on both counts, but you have a private fenced yard, add one point.

OK then, let’s tot things up and see how you did. If your point total is a negative number, well, then it’s probably for the best that you not undertake any projects until such a time as you can make improvements to yourself that might boost your score. The severing of your corpus callosum being but one example.

If, however, your point total is positive, then congratulations, you clearly have the right personality for long-term home renovation. Of course, I must wonder if you are already under the care of trained medical professionals because if you have enough patience, time, money, no kids or pets, health insurance, and the good sense to leave complicated projects to the professionals, then what the hell are you doing your own renovation work for anyway?

**This blog entry is dedicated to my friends Wendy and Don Skinner, who have the greatest will to renovate I’ve ever encountered, and are, oddly enough, NOT sociopathic loners.**

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Another Million Dollar Idea

I’m probably going to regret posting this because someone is bound to rip off my idea but here we go: after a week of dealing with sick kids single-handedly while the husband was traveling for work, I feel like the world is ready – or at least I am -- for my brain-child: Pibble.

Pibble, quite simply, is kibble for people. It will utterly, completely, and finally solve the problem of having to cook dinner when you just don’t want to freaking do it.

Now, hearing about this revolutionary idea, your first reaction may be to shrug and say that we already have something like that; it’s called cereal. No, Pibble is wholly different from cereal. For one thing, it’s infinitely easier. Let’s face it, for many people, even maintaining the extremely low levels of sundries necessary to make cereal a reality is too much to manage or maybe it’s simply too much of a hassle. Cereal requires that you have cereal and then on top of THAT, cereal requires milk, which requires getting off the sofa and going to the store. Herein lies the beauty of Pibble. With Pibble you need not be inconvenienced by the lack of milk because Pibble doesn’t require milk. Pibble is the perfect food unto itself. If you’ve got a sack of Pibble in your pantry, you’ve got all you need to sustain you until the Meals on Wheels gets around to you or until your roommate orders pizza. And it certainly saves you the trouble of having to egregiously mooch a couple pieces of that pizza and pretend you had no idea that he’d just ordered from Domino’s, and it also saves you from having to make empty promises like “my treat next time.”

Just think of the applications. Haven’t you ever gone through a period in your life when you were so busy/sick/depressed/hung-over that the mere thought of going out to get half a gallon of milk was akin to a Sherpa-less climb up K2? Or what about when there’s an unexpected snow storm and the weather forecasters have whipped everyone in the local viewing area into a frenzy? No need to join the scramble for dried pasta and Velveeta down at the WaWa: you were smart enough to lay in a sack of Pibble that could carry you through ‘til the March thaw. As a matter of fact, you might be so squared away that you thought to order the Pibble “Survivor Pack” which includes 400 pounds of high-grade Pibble and 128 rolls of toilet tissue suitable for use in any backwoods septic system.

Just think of how nice it would be after the arrival of a new baby. Instead of flowers or your neighbor’s cardboard lasagna and bag of salad you get a sack of Pibble. Or when there’s been an extended illness in your BFF's family and you want to do something for them but not something that would require actually having to cook: Pibble again. Or, heavens, with our new Bereaver’s Deluxe Pibble Pack, you can finally stop feeling so awkward when someone dies. Nothing would speak more eloquently of your concern and thoughtfulness than a bulk delivery of Pibble with a tenderly worded condolence card that says, “Here. This will keep you alive for awhile. Whoops. Probably shouldn’t have mentioned the A word there so, like, sorry and all that.”

Pibble also doesn’t go bad. You just shovel it into a bowl with a scoop or perhaps one of my Pibble accessories, the Pibble Shovel (patent pending), and voila: breakfast, lunch and dinner for as many days as you need or until you get sick of nacho cheese, which for many people is a time that will never come. Heck, you don't even need utensils to eat Pibble. I'm not going to tell on you, and so long as you brush the crumbs out of your neck creases, no one needs to be the wiser.

You can see that I’ve clearly thought this through extra thoroughly even if I haven’t pulled together a fully fleshed out marketing plan or financing, or for that matter, a recipe. But I’ll get to that. Perhaps the next time my husband leaves me alone for days on end with a bunch of sick kids.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Deep Cuts

I stayed up way too late watching a documentary about The Who on VH1 Classics last night. I’m sure you’ve watched your fair share of these things too. “Behind the Music” was a favorite for a while, but it ran its course due to redundancy. There are only so many ways to dramatically render shooting, smoking and snorting your money away while your friends watch helplessly or nearly as often, don’t realize you had such a problem because, you know, they were drunk. All budding musicians should be forced to complete a scared straight program that consists of watching these rockumentaries for 28 days before being allowed to sign with any major record label. Call it “pre-rehab.” So I stopped watching because they were all so sad and dumb, which I think is an accurate description of many lead singers. That being said, if they should ever do a BtM episode on The Wiggles I will definitely not miss that one.

I grew up in a region of the country known by those of us who know these things as The Classic Rock Corridor. I’m sure there are other pockets of space-time scattered throughout the lower 48, Alaska, and Hawaii where these exist, but this particular area is located in central Upstate New York. Classic Rock inexplicably persists there despite the advancing years and a drastically changed music scene. It is the land that rock forgot – or where rock is eternal, depending on how you look at it. You can tell you’ve entered into the Classic Rock Corridor because suddenly your radio station will fritz out and the only station you get is playing Yes or Pink Floyd or, more often, Boston – and more specifically still “More Than a Feeling,” which I’m pretty sure is the national anthem of the Classic Rock Corridor.

Getting back to The Who for a minute, I should say, they were never one of my favorite bands. I never doubted Pete Townsend was as cool as cool gets, but I think I suffered from “Baba O’Reilly” overdose from too many years of living in the corridor. Now, mind you, I don’t reject my upbringing. I haven’t forgotten where I come from. You want to duel Classic Rock lyrics? Bring it. I know every word of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” and who among us has not said to his kids at some point: “How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat!”

But I stopped talking about music a long time ago, and I stopped buying music for a long time. I felt that talking about music and bands had become this way to quickly eliminate people from your list of Those Who Should Be Taken Seriously. I thought it was an adolescent thing, but then it seemed to follow me into adulthood as well. People need you to know what bands they like and don’t like. Nowadays I think we no longer worry about having clean underwear on in case we’re hit by a bus. Instead we worry what people would say if they saw every song on our IPod. What if someone found you by the side of the road and saw every single one of your songs – I mean every single one -- and you didn’t have a chance to explain that your girlfriend was the one who’d loaded Lady Gaga? Some people might not bother calling an ambulance. I worry that soon we will not have to have actual conversations; we will just have a bar code on the back of our hands and carry scanners around with us like cell phones. Want to know someone’s whole life story? Just scan them and you can move on if you don’t like their playlist.

Ah, but this is modern life. Short cuts are a fact of our existence, I guess, especially since we’re all so busy, but I will always resist them just the same. When we were younger we all tried to like the same stuff. Now we all seem intent on being as different and singular as possible. But I, for one, want you to know that you should feel free to confess to me that your music tastes are NOT exotic, obscure, and terminally hip. I will not walk away from you at a party. In fact I might find it charming.

My husband gave me an IPod for Christmas two years ago. It was literally the first piece of technology I’d owned since having a portable CD player in 1994. Getting that IPod, not to overstate in any way, allowed me to rediscover one of the lost passions of my youth. My father once told me that the first time he heard a song in stereo – it was The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” – it was so beautiful, such a great leap forward in experiencing the fullness of music, that he wept. It was like that for me, too – getting that IPod was just really effing awesome. One of the first songs I picked from ITunes was “Let My Love Open the Door.” I guess I’ve aged into Pete Townsend finally or maybe, now that I have a choice about it, I can choose the occasional Classic Rock song and feel good about it. If I got hit by a bus tomorrow, I hope that you’d notice that it got played a LOT. The rest of the songs, well, I’ll keep some of them to myself and just beg for your understanding. After all, it’s not what the music is, it’s what the music does for you.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Panda Has No Clothes

I hate pandas.

This realization is the closest thing to a Joycean epiphany that I've ever experienced. I can tell you exactly when it happened. I was at the National Zoo one day with my kids a few years ago, and I saw a huge long line snaking down and around the Elephant house and out of sight. What was it for? Ah, yes. The panda exhibit. Everyone wanted to see those Chinese charmers, so furry, so cute. Who doesn't love a panda?

Now, as long-time readers of this blog are well aware, I don't stand in long lines. I think it goes hand in hand with my desire to not join in trends. If I see a long line, I walk right away from it, even if they're giving away chocolate-covered gold at the head of the line and especially if it's hot and let me tell you, it's always hot during zoo season and that whole dang zoo is uphill. There is no downhill at the National Zoo. That place makes you yearn to be elderly or infirm so somebody will push you around in a wheelchair along with a portable IV bottle so you don't get dehydrated.

As I stood there contemplating whether I should override my usual aversion to lines for the good of my kids, I notice that everyone at the back of the line is excited in anticipation of seeing the pandas and yet everyone who walks away from the exhibit is terribly disappointed. Why? Because they waited and waited in line and they couldn't even see the panda. OK, maybe they caught a glimpse of some dingy yellow fur balled up in the corner, but that was it. The pandas were sleeping or they were otherwise unavailable and the kids, they were so sad that they didn't get to see the panda because everyone but everyone has been telling them since the day they were born how cute and loveable the panda is.

Let me tell you something: No one has EVER seen a panda at the zoo. Certainly no one has ever seen one move or behave in any way other than lying around picking its toes. If the panda were human, it would be living in your basement playing World of Warcraft and listening to its old Boston albums. You'd have to lock it out of your T.V. with parental controls because it was spending hundreds of dollars a month on pay-per-view porn, OK? And that's because pandas are lazy, good for nothing, sacks of crap who by all rights should have been removed from the ecosystem by the cleansing fire of evolution. The more I have learned about pandas over the years has only increased my loathing of pandas, for example, every time I read about the zoo's repeated attempts to get the female panda to mate with the male panda and how this inevitably fails so they have to do IVF. These animals are naturally incompetent at mating! I'm sorry but if you are too dumb to hump, your particular branch in the great evolutionary delta should run dry. And certainly your existence shouldn't be propped up by millions of taxpayer dollars that we the United States give to China to have the right to stand in line at the National Zoo in the blazing sun walking uphill to NOT see a panda.

The point is this: Pandas suck. They do. People will try to tell you that they're great and so cute and we really ought to save their habitat but don't you listen. Open your eyes to the truth all around you. Once you do, I guarantee you'll start noticing other "pandas" in your life and you will come to see that not-really-a-bear for what it is. And when that day comes I hope you will vow, along with me, that you will not have the black-and-white fur pulled over your eyes ever again.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Girl and Her Rock

I have begun to blog. This after promising to never, ever blog so help me God. But here it is. Somebody check the weather forecast for airborne pork.

I've had good reasons not to blog until now. Those reasons are currently 9, 6 and 4 and before they were on the scene, well, gosh, we didn't have blogs back then. Plus there's the trend thing. As a card-carrying curmudgeon-in-training, I naturally seek ways to not join into trends, even accidentally, which is a lot harder than it sounds because let me tell you, those bastards are everywhere. For a while I figured not blogging was the literary equivalent of reducing my carbon footprint: if everyone's blathering, I'm going to shut up. For the sake of our children's children. That's what I told myself but really, the truth is I didn't blog for the same reason that a lot of people don't blog: I had a profound and pervasive case of 'who cares what I have to say?'

Nevertheless here I am, writing my inaugural blog -- hold on while I release the doves ... OK, there we go, had to shake the last one out, he was gripping the bars with his beak. I will begin by explaining why this blog is entitled "A Rock in My Pocket" and if this story holds your interest, I hope you will come back for more because if you value a good rant, then heck, I'm your girl. And I've been bottling it up for long time so I'm bound to get myself into a nice, soapy lather on a variety of topics including: coffee drinking, why I hate pandas, and Tiresome People and Their Works, all of which will be featured in coming days and weeks.

OK, let's get back to it: Many years ago when I was in writing school, I had a teacher who, on our first day of workshop, handed everyone a small rock and said, "Write about the rock." Oh-kaaaay. Write about the rock. Write about the rock. Well, gosh I'm sure there's something interesting about this rock or she wouldn't be asking us to write about it. Heck, every life has a story. Maybe this holds true for rocks as well. Maybe we are all the same, you know -- rocks, people. Aren't we all one? Maybe that's what we're supposed to write about. The oneness of things. We ARE the rock. Yes! That's it! No, OK that's way too whatever. Zenny. Is that the correct adjective for zen? Maybe it's Zennish? No, of course it's not. Zennish? What are you, a dumbass? Wait, everyone else is already writing. What do they know about THEIR rocks. Maybe they got better rocks than I did. Should I ask for a different rock? This one is so, I don't know, uninteresting. I mean that girl over there has, like, some Ivy League rock fer pete's sake. I've clearly got THE WORST ROCK IN THE CLASS.

I did end up writing something about how the rock was smooth and flat and would have made a good skipping stone because, you know, it would have. I don't remember the exact details but I can assure you, whatever I wrote, it was nothing special.

I gave up writing a couple years after graduation out of the same sense of duty that causes a young man of 28 to sell his amplifiers and get a real job because Dad wants access to the garage again. I had written my heart out, finished two literary novels that caused several well-respected agents to lose all their enthusiasm (if you get that joke then you have experienced the joys of querying), and I figured, well, there it is. It's not meant to be. Time to get on with life.


See, I had this manky old rain coat back then in graduate school (I had a manky old everything back then in graduate school). That day, that very day that I did the rock writing exercise, it must have been raining and at the end of class I must have put the rock in my pocket. And for whatever reason -- no real good reason -- that's where it stayed. In that rain coat pocket. For years and years and years. And then one rainy day I realized I'd been carrying that rock in my pocket for ten years. Then it was twelve. Now it's been fourteen. At some point during these past fourteen years, I looked at that rock and I thought, when I finally get published, I'm going to chuck this rock like a skipping stone, where I don't know, but that's what I'm going to do. I'm gonna send that rock flying.

I still have that rock in my pocket and it's still nothing special, but I love that stupid thing. If anything ever happened to it, it would break my heart. I LOVE MY ROCK. This skipping stone taught me that what gives something meaning -- what really makes something spectacularly important -- is that you keep on caring about it when no one else does.

So that's my story, and I'll bet right now your thinking, "Who would hate pandas?"
Until next time....