Tuesday, January 31, 2006

'Paris' Part I: The Day of My Life

Adam Gopnik has me falling in love all over again.

I’ve been reading his collection of essays, “Paris to the Moon” and dog-eared his discussion of “the day of our life.” These are the pleasures and duties we string together into routine; out of this repetition, we build our lives. I think of the lunches I pack Dave every morning before he leaves for work, the way he whistles for me every evening when he comes home. The hot cocoa I drink at night while I curl up with a “Sex in the City” rerun, as Dave battles the Nazis on his computer game in another room. On Saturdays, he mops the kitchen tile, I Swiffer the hardwood. And suddenly these don't seem like habit--they're Our Life.

Gopnik’s “day of our life” calls to mind a Japanese film that played the art house circuit several years ago. What if when we die, the movie suggested, we get to choose our own version of heaven, in the form of the moment we’d like to have repeated for all eternity.

I would pick “Sushi Night,” the exceptional evening that became the day of my life.


The phone rang. I’m not sure who answered, but it was for me. My friend Matt was on the other end, asking if I’d like to go out for sushi.

I hated sushi, but it was the night after Christmas. Unless you’re five and have new toys to play with, December 26 is the saddest day of the year. I was home in Ohio for the holidays, staying with my parents through New Year’s. We’d already finished a spaghetti with Ragu dinner—the dishes were washed and put away and it was barely after 6 p.m. I could hear the minute hand of the clock ticking down the moments of boredom until bedtime.

I asked Matt, “Who’s going?”

“Me and Tracy, my friend Joe and you remember his friend Dave.”

I had bumped into Dave three times over the past three years. This dark-haired, green-eyed boy had made an impression. Yes, I would definitely come along.

Matt and Tracy picked me up. Joe and Dave beat us to the restaurant. They sat across from each other at a table for five in the back corner of the room. Dave faced the door. He wore a pale yellow shirt and jeans and had traded in his contacts for glasses. The chair next to him was empty. He was waiting for me.

The rest of the evening is a bit of a blur. There was a coffeehouse after dinner. I ordered a steamed milk. Dave was opposite and Joe on my left, a gnat buzzing in my ear. I wanted him, and everyone else who wasn’t Dave, to disappear.

Joe left and Dave stayed. Later, the four remnants of our party piled into Matt’s Jeep, driving around in circles while Matt searched in vain for a particularly spectacular display of Christmas lights he was certain he’d seen before. I don’t recall a word that passed between Dave and I, only that we were there together.

We all went back to Dave's place and lingered for awhile. Matt and Tracy were in the living room. I was coming out of the bathroom, he was in the kitchen. Somewhere in the hallway I asked, “Would you like to go out sometime?” He always claims he was about to blurt the very same thing, but we’ll never know.


We forget, sometimes, that Sushi Night wasn’t our first date. That came two days later. But it was the official beginning of Us.


We’ve been back to Kotobuki just once, with Dave’s sister, for lunch. I scarcely recognized the place. The door was on the left, not the right. There was no open kitchen, and it certainly wasn’t situated behind “our” table. Most jarring were the colors—dark reds and greens, where I had pictured everything bathed in golden light.

I was glad.

There was no chance of my ever confusing the two events, so dissimilar was the experience. I could preserve my memory of that December evening whole and intact, and if the images I conjured up were more like a dream than reality, well isn’t that what happens at the moment when two people fall in love.


Matt and Tracy pick me up.

Joe and Dave beat us to the restaurant.

They sit across from each other at a table for five in the back corner of the room.

Dave faces the door.

He is wearing a pale yellow shirt and jeans, contacts instead of glasses.

The chair next to him is empty.

He is waiting for me.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Neighborhood Watch

I have become Gladys Kravitz. Like the nosy "Bewitched" denizen who was always poking into Samantha's business, I have taken to spying on the guy across the street.

He has an illegal construction dumpster in front of his house. He is not remodeling, he’s pulling a scam on the city. I watch a parade of pick-up trucks pull alongside throughout the day, coming from goodness knows where, as workmen pitch concrete blocks and shovel gravel from their flat beds into the dumpster. Each toss ends with a thud that echoes throughout my house.

When the dumpster is filled to capacity, a semi comes to haul it away and swap in a fresh substitute. The process takes close to a half-hour, with much “Beep, Beeping” accompanying each shift into reverse as the truck maneuvers our narrow street.

I peer out the front window, shooting darts of anger at our unscrupulous neighbor. I see him standing on the sidewalk, preening like a new father as the semi positions the replacement dumpster. I would love to confront the guy in person, but rumor has it that he’s either a former gang banger or ex-con or possibly both. I picture him torching our condo building or having me “silenced,” so I anonymously flip him the finger from behind our blinds.

But he doesn’t have me completely cowed. I’ve started to keep a log of the pick-up truck deposits and have reported the situation to the city’s 3-1-1 line, which followed up with the Department of Streets & Sanitation. (I am not alone in my mania. Both L. and H., who live upstairs, have contacted the Alderman’s office.) They’ve sent an inspector and I’m waiting for the report. I am certain that if anyone can out muscle a low-rent thug, it’s the Streets & San Man.

It’s not just the noise that aggravates me or the fact that the dumpster is taking up precious parking space, although feuds certainly have been fought over far less. It’s that I don’t like living on the same block with the sort of person who could be described as a goon. I don’t like this hint of criminality invading my personal space. I don’t like this metal bin reminding me that my home is not nearly the refuge I want it to be.

We can paint the walls Cucumber and Tucson Red, fill our rooms with Crate & Barrel and Room & Board (OK, we do have those shelves from IKEA) and surround ourselves with books and music and photos of the people we love. But we can not keep the outside from creeping in.

Outside there are rats. Little kids pee on the sides of buildings. Pigeon shit covers the sidewalk. Broken glass litters the curbside. Once, Dave and I decided to stage our own personal Earth Day. Broom and garbage bags in hand, we swept up the garbage on the street. The beer bottles and food wrappers were expected, the dirty diapers were not.

I want a Gap around the corner. Instead, there’s a store that sells phone cards to misspelled countries and a car stereo shop that tests out new installations at impossibly loud decibels. Perfectly charming restaurants, boutiques, a bookstore and movie theater are just a 15-minute walk away, but mentally they seem a world apart.

We moved to this area four years ago when we were priced off the charming tree-lined street where I gladly would have spent the rest of my life. Our building houses a number of similarly situated refugees, who sacrificed external comforts and conveniences for square footage. It's as if an airline were to put first-class seating in the cargo hold. As much as I think it's cool that the local market caters equally to its Bosnian and Latino clients and that on Saturdays you see huge extended families picnicking in the park (playing volleyball with a soccer ball), the neighborhood has never felt familiar. Never quite home.

The dumpster unsettles me, mocks me even. Perhaps whether it ultimately stays or goes will tell me which one of us belongs.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Turnabout Is Fair Play

The irony of the human condition is that we spend our youth in a hurry to grow up and our adulthood in a series of vain attempts to recapture our youth.

I turned 39 on January 17. Such is my nature that I will spend this entire year anticipating 40 and yearning for 36. Of course, I spent my 36th year yearning for 31. But this game of Beat the Clock has a terminus, and it is 18.

I paid a little visit to the past last night, chaperoning the Turnabout Dance at the high school where my husband teaches. Our duties were so vague as to be almost non-existent. I had envisioned myself standing next to the punch bowl, waiting to pounce on any young ruffian with the temerity to pull out a flask in an attempt to spike things up. There was no punch bowl. I saw a couple making out on the dance floor. “Are we supposed to break that up?” I asked my better half. He turned his back to the action.

Much has been said of the current Xbox generation. We are to believe them some collective version of the Six-Million Dollar Man, “bigger, stronger, faster” than anything we’ve seen before. I do not challenge their supremacy when it comes to text messaging. But they are not a breed apart.

Because boys are largely an accessory at any event where girls get to wear fancy dresses, I focused my attention last night on the females. Like a couple of D-list Isaac Mizrahis, M. and I positioned ourselves at the Arrivals entrance. The predominant fabric was “clingy.” Necklines plunged (in a couple of cases, I imagine some double-sided tape was involved), hemlines soared. I thought I was in the presence of J. Lo herself when one young vision in white strutted her way into the gym, halter top scooped down to her navel, silver-appliqued skirt cut up to her hip bone. “Oh my good lord,” was the best I could muster. “Did her father see her before she left the house?”

The lace and taffeta and puffy sleeves that dominated my own Homecoming and Prom were nowhere in sight. But the to-ing and fro-ing of packs of girls to the bathroom—very familiar. The high pitched squealing and hugging and kissing of your Very Best Friend—been there. The awarding of King and Queen—done that. The sense that this is the most important night of your life—déjà vu all over again. They may be geniuses with their opposable thumbs, but kids today are still just kids.

“I’m trying to remember the purpose of these dances,” I said to M., my husband’s colleague.

“It teaches them how to act like adults,” she explained. “They get to practice going out on dates, getting dressed up.”

(Ah yes, I thought, going out on dates, getting dressed up, no curfew, money in your pocket. I believe it’s called “the twenties.”)

I did not envy these girls, tottering in their heels, tugging at the tops and bottoms of their dresses to limit their feelings of exposure, betraying the million little insecurities being held at bay. I watched them dance, grinding away at their dates in an approximation of sexiness, their faces screwed up in expressions that looked more like constipation than ecstasy. I saw the bleachers packed with wordless couples, boys with their hands in pockets, girls with their arms wrapped around their shoulders. This was their idea of life at the Big Peoples’ table.

It looked boring.

We bona fide grown ups retreated to the Chaperone’s Lounge, a history classroom adjacent to the gym. We sipped our bottled water and diet pop and munched on crackers and nachos. We talked about the state of secondary education in the city. The inhumanity of hand-to-hand combat vs. the inhumanity of precision bombing. Free Speech—why were Americans so afraid to exercise it. That article in The New Yorker about the truck driver.

It felt good to be 39.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Soundtrack of My Life

My iPod is still in its box. I am, I must admit, a little afraid of it.

It’s not that I’m a Luddite or a technophobe per se. I’m writing this on a laptop computer, not all Larry McMurtry-like on some manual typewriter. But I am lazy.

I hate manuals. I don’t want to read about how to get something to work. I just want it to work.

The iPod doesn’t come with an instruction booklet—it has a how-to DVD. This suggests a level of time commitment and complexity that I can only label excessive.

But I’m dying to ride the train with the telltale cord of my little white earphones peeking out from under my coat just so. Or go for a run with the iPod strapped to my bicep like all the other cool kids.

So I’ve taken that all-important first step toward the day when the iPod makes the leap from object cluttering up the bedroom to electronic device that changed my life. I’ve started compiling a list of songs I’d like to (legally) download.

I've already transferred my current CDs onto the computer, so my new-ish favorites are covered. And at some point I imagine I'll be capable enough to hear a tune on the radio and download it while it's hot. But my first priority is to get my hands, electronically speaking, on songs that have already proven their staying power--the ones that I never want to get out of my head. I find it mildly irksome that I already own much of this much of this music. On cassette. Or LP. Or, mortifyingly, in one instance on 8-track. (I loved our 8-track player, which resembled an astronaut’s helmet. It was like a messenger from the future. It had a mouth for the cassette and a lighted number display that clicked to signal the shift from Track 1, 2, 3 or 4.)
Technology, in the form of the CD player, took these songs away from me. Now technology promises to reunite us. I need only to crack the code of the iPod and I can recapture these bits of my past, these pieces of myself.

I hear John Denver’s “Country Roads,” and I’m five years old, sitting on the Whirlybird in the Hatfield’s back yard (or was it the Molar’s) shouting “West Virginia, Mountain Mama” at the top of my lungs.

“Bennie and the Jets” reminds me of our babysitter, Jackie Yohe. We thought she was impossibly cool with her David Bowie and Elton John LPs. I remember us all doing “The Bump” in the living room. And then my parents caught her with cigarettes. Our next sitter was a Donny Osmond fan.

I was solidly in the PG category when the R-rated “Saturday Night Fever” was released, and I’ve never managed to sit through the movie in its entirety since. But the first time I heard “How Deep Is Your Love,” I had to have the soundtrack. It’s Barry Gibb’s favorite and you can’t argue with the man who put the BG in The BeeGees.

Whenever I find myself pondering the popularity of Britney Spears, I take a deep breath and say, “Duran Duran.” If Boy Bands are defined as masters of style over substance and the purveyors of largely throwaway tunes, I guess the Durans qualify. But Missy Clark and I loved them anyway and would sit in front of MTV for hours waiting for their videos to queue up in rotation. I have no idea what became of my life-sized poster of the Durans, or of Missy for that matter. But if I saw her today I know we would both agree “Save a Prayer” is their best song ever and that John Taylor is still a hottie.

I can not stomach another listening of “Tainted Love” but I would like to cherry pick some of my favorites from the ’80s by The Cure, Depeche Mode, Bryan Ferry, Marshall Crenshaw, R.E.M., Style Council, Scritti Politti, Psychedelic Furs, Guadalcanal Diary and Trash Can Sinatras. My sister took one listen to a mixed tape of these iconic “alternative” artists and pronounced, “They all sound the same.” If a person can’t appreciate the difference between “Black Celebration” and “My Ever Changing Moods,” well that explains why said individual was a fan of Michael Jackson.

While my personal Top 10 has evolved into the CD era (currently at #1 is James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful”), previous holders of that distinction still have me cranking the volume to 11: The Pretenders, Don’t Get Me Wrong; INXS, Don’t Change (non-“Rock Star” edition); U2, Eleven O’Clock Tick Tock; The System, Don’t Disturb This Groove; Tears for Fears, Everybody Wants to Rule the World; Oasis, Champagne Supernova; Cheap Trick, I Want You to Want Me.

I can’t wait to hear them all again, in their no doubt digitally re-mastered glory.

All I need to do is take the damned iPod out of the box.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Two Cents Worth

It’s 3:45 p.m. and I’m standing in line at the Post Office. I just need 2-cent stamps. There are 17 people ahead of me. Only two of the four service stations are open, and one of them is manned by Crazy Asian Lady. I hope she does not wait on me. I do not like my odds.

I don’t want to be in this line. My preferred postage dispenser is a vending machine, not a disgruntled human being, but the contraptions in the lobby have been “temporarily” out of order for months. I used to buy my stamps at work. One of those little benefits I hadn’t given proper weight to before I quit my job. So now I’m at the Post Office, wondering why, at 3:45 p.m. on a weekday, 17 other people are not at work, either. They are not all retirees or stay-at-home moms (or nannies). They are not all trying to “find themselves.” Only one guy looks like he might be a bicycle messenger or in a band.

Welcome to the alternate universe of Day-Timers, non-conformists in the world of 9 to 5. Some of these people work nights or weekends. Or part-time. Some of them are decidedly homeless. I suppose a few are independently wealthy. I imagine that another percentage is, like me, on “hiatus.” In the late afternoon, our ranks are swelled by high-schoolers (which is when the rest of us go into hiding).

We are a disparate lot, from well-heeled Soccer Moms to bona fide freaks—they don’t all come out at night. The other day I saw this guy standing on the corner, waiting for the signal to cross. His face was shrouded by the hood of his sweatshirt and something that resembled blood appeared to be oozing from his mouth, covering the entire bottom of his face. I didn’t feel it was polite, or safe, to take a second look. I trailed him my entire walk home, struggling to overtake this curious specimen, for what purpose I wasn’t quite sure. From the rubbernecking of oncoming pedestrians, I knew my eyes had not betrayed me.

The line behind me at the Post Office now snakes to the back of the building and out the door into the lobby. I count more than a dozen who people who join us for a moment or two and then leave in disgust. I watch them mentally calculate, “How badly do I need to mail this today?” and apparently determine “not badly enough.”

I recognize myself, my old self, in these people. They are interlopers into the Land of the Day-Timers. They have someplace else to be. A clock to beat. They can not be bothered to stand still.

But we Day-Timers wait. We don’t flip open our cell phones, sigh loudly, roll our eyes or dramatically shift our weight from one foot to the other. We patiently bide our time, perhaps amuse ourselves by pondering the seemingly complex nature of postal procedures being conducted by our fellow citizens.

I am next in line. Crazy Asian Lady is wrapping up her transaction. Her colleague is in the back room, attempting to locate a package for pick-up. “Please no, please no,” I telepathically transmit to the Postal gods.

(Once, in my presence, Crazy Asian Lady went into a public harangue against a colleague about sexual harassment. Every time you thought she was finished, the rant would start anew. She kept up a steady stream of muttering while continuing to serve customers. Angry muttering people make me nervous.)

The woman at Crazy Asian Lady’s counter has a question. The colleague returns from the back, package in hand. I’m saved.

I pay for 10 2-cent stamps and throw in a roll of the new 39ers for good measure. It’s 4:16.

On the way home, I pop into the produce market to pick up a couple of avocados. I’m a Day-Timer. I’m in no rush.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Lost Connections

I will leave the commentary on last night’s episode of Lost to the professionals and fans with Tivo. But the Charlie-centric show got me thinking.

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon:
Dominic Monaghan, plays Charlie on Lost, where he co-stars with...
Matthew Fox, Jack on Lost played Charlie on Party of Five, where he co-starred with…
Neve Campbell, who appeared in Wild Things with…
Kevin Bacon


Either Lost is getting to me, or conspiracies really do abound.

Charlie’s fictional band Drive Shaft, which he fronts with his TV Land brother Liam, has been compared to Britain’s Oasis, led by the Gallagher boys—Noel and Liam. The recently merged SBC and AT&T have set their “Look, we’re The New AT&T” commercial to the Oasis hit “All Around the World.”

Which aired last night during Lost.

The marketing gurus at The New AT&T might want to rethink this tune. I believe the Gallaghers are officially known as the rock ‘n’ rollers Most Likely to Commit Fratricide, not exactly the poster boys I’d want for my joint venture. Sure, the ad makes good use of the chorus—All around the world, you’ve gotta spread the word. Tell ‘em what you’ve heard. You’re gonna make a better day.—which appropriately signals how buoyant we all are at the prospect of The New AT&T without saying anything about how, exactly, this will make it easier to order voice mail.

I’m just wondering whether anyone bothered to read the song’s final verse (not used in the campaign).

So what you gonna do when the walls come falling down?
You never move you never make a sound.
So where you gonna swim, with the ridges that you found?
If you’re lost at sea then I hope that you’ve drowned.


MCI keeps sending me a bill for 32 cents. I keep throwing it in the trash. I severed my relationship with the company years ago, when my long distance calling plan jumped without warning from 8 cents a minute to a quarter. I still hold them in contempt. If they want their 32 cents, they can come collect it in person. Hell, it would cost me more in postage than the actual bill.

This month’s missive, however, told me I owed 98 cents. I decided to actually read the communication. It seems that MCI was still my carrier of record for local toll service, that No Man’s Land between local and long distance. I used to write for a telecommunications magazine and I still don’t quite grasp the concept. But apparently the calls that we placed from our cordless phone to our new cell phone—solely to verify that the latter was indeed working—fell into the local toll category. We were literally being charged for calling ourselves.

I wrote out a check for 98 cents. I wanted to send pennies, but the envelope told me this was strictly prohibited and aside from consistently not paying a 32-cent phone bill, I’m generally law abiding.

Then I called SBC. (Or is it The New AT&T?)

SBC is our just plain local telephone company. Would they like another 32 cents worth of our business, I asked, with just a hint of flirtation. I was fairly certain they’d say yes, but I didn’t want to come across as presumptuous.

The friendly customer service assistant graciously agreed to take on this new responsibility and even explained what a local toll phone call is—anything more than 15 miles from our house, but not out of state (I think). But I wasn’t quite off the hook. She could tell from her magic customer profile crystal ball that I wasn’t exactly a heavy user of the local toll wire. I knew what she was thinking: Not much upside for SBC here. I suddenly felt like Dorothy begging a favor from the Wizard and feared I’d be sent back to the clutches of MCI. I stammered that my family lives in Ohio, so most of my calls are long distance.

Why, SBC could handle that for me. She threw out a price—more than twice what my current provider charges. I didn’t want to offend and I certainly didn’t want to name any names—I pictured PowerNet Global suddenly swimming with the fishes—so I mumbled a “I’ll have to think about that.”

Ms. All Knowing saw that I’m an Internet user. Wouldn’t I just love a faster DSL connection? SBC could set me up. Well, we already had DSL. Through Earthlink. Using the telephone line provided by SBC. I don’t know why, but I felt like I’d just been caught stealing cable.

“Cell phones?” she inquired. Already got one. From Verizon. A pair, in fact, although I didn’t mention that. Here at least I was on solid ground. God bless those two-year service contracts.

She had run out of options and could only fall back on the value of one-stop shopping. (I vaguely see the sense in this but have always suffered from a contrarian streak.) I smelled a retreat and used this opening to confirm that we still had a deal on local toll. We did. Of course, it’s going to cost us $2 a month.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Baby It’s Cold Inside

The gas bill arrived. The envelope notified me of “important messages inside.”

Besides, “prepare to empty your savings account,” I wondered what Peoples Energy could possibly add to the discussion that hadn’t already been said a hundred times over by experts on every media outlet since last September. We get the picture already—gas prices are sky high.

Oh, right, Peoples Energy is not responsible for the cost of heat. They just deliver the gas. It’s those nasty folks at OneOk Energy Services, Occidental Energy Marketing, Tenaska Marketing, ConocoPhillips and BP Canada who are gouging us (**my interpretation, not Peoples’ actual language). I’d never heard of half these companies; I’m sure they appreciate the shout-out in Peoples’ mailer.

I opened the bill. $114.76. About $12 less than last year. That’s right—I said less. How can that be, you ask? Simple. We’re freezing our asses off.

I hate being cold. But I hate being poor even more. So we’ve turned the thermostat down from 71 to 67 degrees.

Not that the temperature in our condo ever approaches 67 except for the spot in the hallway where the thermostat is located. Our building was constructed circa 1920, apparently prior to the invention of insulation, and rehabbed haphazardly in 1999, when the comfort of the residents was not one of the developer’s priorities. Our unit has south, west and east exposure. The heating vents are positioned for maximum inefficiency, located in the ceiling (9 feet high where the warmth tends to congregate) and sparse in number. There are none at all in the kitchen, which doubles as the rear entry, and the two in the master bedroom stare 13 feet across at the windows opposite. The thermostat sits snugly between interior walls. Save for days featuring sub-zero wind chills, the furnace is scarcely told to run.

Were one to traverse barefoot east (living room) to west (bedroom) one would move from comfort, to chilly, to artic. But one never walks about in less than a double layer of stockings and slippers. I’m guesstimating actual air temp in our bedroom is somewhere in the 50s. I can’t see my breath, but there’s frost on the inside of the windows.

I’ve done my father proud.

I grew up during an energy crunch. Back then, our arch nemesis was the Electric Company. Waging unilateral war against Toledo Edison, Dad kept the house in the mid-60s range. The tip of my nose was constantly chilled, my fingertips perpetually purpled. I suppose my father thought I carried around my childhood “bankie” for Linus-like security. Not so. I needed the extra layer for warmth.

We quickly earned a reputation among our extended family. Relatives would arrive for Christmas dinner packing extra sweaters along with their casseroles and pumpkin pie. My aunt would plead for a fire in the fireplace, plant her chair in front of the flames and vacate the hot seat only for bathroom breaks.

Pops taught us well.

A flurry of emails made the rounds among my siblings in November. Matt was holding out until Thanksgiving to switch on his furnace. “Our apartment got down to 57 degrees last night. Yikes!” Dave and I had engaged in a bit of “How Low Can It Go” ourselves, but caved the day he came home from work and found me wearing two sweatshirts and a scarf. Indoors. The thermostat read 64.

We got a note from Dad in early January. “Got my bill today and it was $344. Which is $94 more than last year and a 38% increase.” (Some fathers collect Playboys. My dad has stacks of spiral notebooks that chart utilities and other household expenses back to the 1960s.)

Based on his calculations, I was prepared to write a check to Peoples in the neighborhood of $175. When I saw $114, I immediately called Dad to gloat. I had beaten the Heat Miser at his own game.

Now I can take that $12 in savings and buy another pair of long johns.


Twenty-four days into the New Year, I have broken one of my resolutions. I vowed not to eat cookies, chocolate chips and popcorn for dinner. I begin today with renewed commitment.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Wake Me Up When It’s Over

I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning. According to British researchers, January 24 is the most depressing day of the year. I don’t know if they polled people globally or just the ones who live in parts of the world where it’s cold and the sun never shines. Like Chicago.

I turned to Oprah for comfort. But she picked today to devote an entire episode to the deadly bird flu. Great. Her infectious disease expert now has me completely freaked that we DON’T HAVE ENOUGH SURGICAL MASKS!

In the spirit of the day, 10 things that I find depressing:

• Duh—we’re all going to die from the bird flu.
• “West Wing” canceled. So you’re telling me that some guy named Bush actually runs this country?
• Wonder Bread introducing wheat version. You have to eat it with organic peanut butter and 100% all natural fruit spread. Does everything have to be good for you?
• Petite “fashions.” Never wandered into this section at your favorite retailer? Here’s what you’ve been missing: the sensation that you’ve stepped into your grandmother’s closet; a fraction of the options available to “regular” women; really ugly clothes. We’re short but we ain’t blind.
• Dust. It just keeps coming back.
• I’ve never traveled outside the U.S., unless you count Canada, which I don’t. Not even the French-speaking part. Our upstairs neighbor just got transferred to a job in Oxford, England. And here all this time I thought it was his life’s work to annoy me with his guitar and bongos. I’d be turning cartwheels if I weren’t so full of envy. I hope he gets deported (after they confiscate the bongos).
• I’m pretty sure we’re the only people who lost money in the stock market in the ’90s.
• Snowboarding is an Olympic sport. No it’s not.
• Postal holidays. I miss my daily dose of love from the credit card companies.
• I just turned 39. But if I catch the bird flu in the next few weeks, I’ll never hit 40. Hah! I feel better already.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Extreme Measures

Are Dave and I the only people fantasizing about the sorts of tragedies that might befall us, in the hopes of earning the sympathy of those earnest DIY guys and gals on “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”

Because I’m pretty sure a “just the facts” approach will not tug their heartstrings. Here’s what I’ve got to work with: I am one inch above 5 feet tall and can not reach the top shelves of my kitchen cabinets without a step ladder. Our white tile does a poor job of hiding dirt, so we’re forced to mop more often than we’d like. The furnace in our condo unit is so loud that we have to watch TV, remote in hand, prepared to ratchet up the volume whenever we hear the pilot light ignite. If we’re watching a DVD, we switch to “subtitles,” usually in English but sometimes in French if it’s a foreign film.

Not particularly compelling stuff compared to those people whose front yard was a sewer.

So I might have to embellish: I’ve been diagnosed with an extremely rare disorder that only 1 in 2 billion people suffer from. Annoying sounds, such as those emanating from the stereos or home theater systems of my neighbors, send an impulse to my brain, triggering life-threatening seizures. If I die, there will be no one to pack my husband’s lunch in the morning. Or track the insidious spread of the word luminous.

Extreme Makeover comes to the rescue. In Fantasy Scenario #1, they install sound proofing between our floor and the neighbors above and below and, noticing our space heater, throw in some thermal insulation as well. In Fantasy Scenario #2, also known as Preferred Option, they buy out “Jackass” below and “Asshole” above, creating a triplex for Dave and me. I get the kind of stainless steel appliances that don’t smudge and granite countertops (concrete would be cool, too). And they hire a guy named Serge to reach for all the stuff on high shelves.

Cue the tears by the guy with the clunky glasses.


Luminous Sightings

New Yorker, January 16 issue, Talk of the Town, Nick Paumgarten, pg. 27: “All the walls are glass, and there are luminous fish tanks everywhere—seventeen in all.”

Entertainment Weekly, January 27 issue, Lisa Schwarzbaum review of “The New World,” pg. 62: “The good news for all who are not awards voters is that this newer, shorter World…communicates Malick’s luminous artistic vision of innocence and loss…”

Entertainment Weekly, January 27 issue, Will Hermes review of Roseanne Cash’s CD “Black Cadillac,” pg. 84: “But the best of Cash’s nuanced compositions, especially the luminous piano ballads “I Was Watching You” and “The World Unseen,” turns her healing process into great art.

Colgate Luminous toothpaste. It promises to reinforce enamel and protect against stains and yellowing. Available in three enticing flavors: Crystal Clean Mint, Cinnamint, Paradise Fresh.


All Is Not Luminous speaks, Hollywood listens.

Harry Hamlin, so good in his role as Supportive Spouse on Dancing With the Stars, was cast today as Uncomfortable Celebrity Guest on Martha Stewart’s show. Harry helped MS prepare delectable, low-fat breakfast and lunch foods (pronouncing the oatmeal “awesome”), while confessing he doesn’t actually partake in either meal. “If I did, I’d just blow up,” quoth the extremely svelte former Sexiest Man Alive. Thank you, Harry, for being brave enough to admit that those Hollywood bods are not the result of high metabolism or Pilates but of starvation. Now if I could just get that on the record from Renee Zellweger, I could die happy.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Veggie Does Gibsons

First, I’d like to apologize to Chris Botti, the “trumpeteer” (that’s the stadium announcer’s term, not mine) chosen to play the National Anthem at today’s AFC Championship Game between the Steelers and the Broncos. Remember when sports fans used to wait until “home of the brave” to start cheering the musician off the field? Now we barely get past “Oh say can you see” before the crowd has to hear itself roar. And that’s just rude.


Dave turns the Big 4-0 today. We got the celebration rolling last night at Gibsons Steakhouse. This has been Dave’s personal Yeti ever since I ate there with my father 10 years ago and reported back on the ginormous portions and equally prodigious prices—over $100 for Surf ‘n’ Turf. I should note that Dad was in town for a convention and a salesman was picking up the tab. And I did not get the lobster.

The reservation was for 9:30 and we allowed ourselves a 45 minute cushion. We wanted to make a good impression. Our ages belie the fact that we feel like poseurs whenever we do anything remotely adult. (We celebrated my birthday at Glenn’s Diner, which features cereal as an entree.) Things like coat check and valet parking confound and intimidate us, but we managed to accomplish both with minimal show of nerves.

Gibsons is the sort of place where men smoke stogies, women of a certain age show too much cleavage and you expect Frank Sinatra (or maybe just Dean Martin) to pop out and say, “Ring, a-ding, ding.” Jack Nicholson and Bill Clinton have dined here, part of the “nightly procession of the famous and powerful.”

Last night, the celeb wattage was low. Passing the Wall of Fame on my way to the Ladies Room, I locked onto a photo of Morgan Brittany, who last I checked was one of the rotating vixens on “Dallas” that tried to steal Bobby from Pam.

Which isn’t to say we were short on entertainment. There’s nothing like watching two aging single men, who think they’re players, try to hit on women, who are mortified that they’ve been deemed assailable. The advances of our Romeos, charmers with their Thumbelina-sized glasses of Port, met with withering stares and conversation killers. As the ladies exited, I imagine their backs met with a “those bitches.”

Finally seated, at nearly 10 p.m., we were shown menus and a platter of fresh samples of the various cuts of meat available to order. London Broil, Flank steak, a 24-ounce Sirloin on the bone, Filets, Porterhouse, Ribeye and something that looked like brains but turned out to be the lobster tail, all two-and-a-half pounds. I watched the Meat Guy move from table to table, warning diners that the peppercorns were very hot and that “medium” in this joint meant really red.

Did I mention that I’m a vegetarian?

This is why Dave and I seldom go out to eat. As a mixed couple—he’s a Carnivore, I’m an Herbivore—it’s difficult to find an eatery that meets both our criteria (especially mine). Just travel through Montana sometime and tell me I’m not right. Token nods like Portobello Mushroom and Eggplant sandwiches do not count. Not only do I eschew meat and seafood—and yes, chicken is meat—but also foods in the “rubber-ish” category.

But it was Dave’s big night and my boy loves his steak. He pronounced his “W.R.” signature cut “the best ever.” Yeti was no longer a myth. I gnawed on my salad and side dish of steroidal broccoli and asparagus.

I didn’t mind. I’d been here before and I knew what was coming next. In a place where the baked potatoes are the size of footballs, the desserts are hefty, too. Our “slice” of pie measured 6 inches tall by 10 inches wide. I got no beef with chocolate mousse.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Giselle, We Hardly Knew Ye

And apparently didn’t want to.

She kept telling us she didn’t have a fan base, so we finally took her at her word. TV “journalist” Giselle Fernandez became the third “celebrity” voted off Dancing With the Stars.

If she’d bothered to do a little homework—like watching Season One of DWTS or the last two presidential elections—perhaps she’d still be around. We vote on personality, not talent. If you’ve got the skills, you’d better charm the pants off us, too.

How else to explain the appeal of P. Miller, who remains in the hunt despite the fact that he can not dance. Dave and I took ballroom lessons a year ago. Even with the instructor leading, Dave could not get the moves down. And I tell you he’s better than P.

But P.’s got heart. We weren’t sure about Giselle. There’s a fine line between competitive and cuckoo to win, and she failed to walk it. Or maybe it was her bio. Anyone voting online could have stumbled across this gem, which refers to the 44-year-old as “one of television’s most seasoned young journalists” and offers up an endorsement from no less than Oprah, who apparently once described Fernandez as “magical.” In what context I can’t imagine. We’d like our D-list celebs to show a little humility, please. And then there were those abs. Ain’t no woman in Middle America gonna vote for those abs, especially if she’s over 35 and struggling with persistent belly fat. Lisa Rinna, you’ve been warned.

Speaking of Ms. Lips, am I the only person who thinks it’s more than a little sad that Harry Hamlin is always in the audience cheering on his wife, even during the Results Show? I mean, it’s cool to be a supportive spouse, but what happened to his career. He used to be the Sexiest Man Alive. Next to Nick Nolte, SMA 1992 (I must have blacked out that entire year), Hamlin’s fallen farthest from his perch. Maybe former L.A. Law-er Jimmy Smits could find a job for him in the White House.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Gift That Counts

I got an iPod for Christmas. It was a gift from my husband. I haven’t taken it out of the box yet.

In light of the fact that I quit my job last June and have yet to replace it with another one, this was the first year Dave and I had capped our spending limit on each other’s gifts.

I hunted for bargains but still aimed for quality and quantity. I purchased:

  • Shirt from Banana Republic. Back when I was employed, we had finally reached the ultimate rung on the Old Navy, Gap, Banana ladder. I feel guilty for dragging us back down to lesser brands.

  • Shirt and cords from the Gap. Dave persists in buying wide wale cords that make him look like a 40-year-old high school teacher. Which he is, but you don’t have to broadcast it. So I bought him skinny wale.

  • Crown Royal whiskey. He loves to drink Manhattans and had restocked with inferior Seagram’s 7.

  • South Park, Season 5 on DVD. Respect my authority! Dave already owns Seasons 3 & 4. This will be my coup de grace.

  • Shaving lotion from Lush. The closer he got to 40, the more obsessed he became with “exfoliating.”

  • “Teacher Man” by Frank McCourt

  • Gift cards to Blockbuster. He rents movies (that I won’t let him see in the theater) to watch while he works out on our elliptical trainer. Recent picks include “Alexander” and “The Great Raid.” Enough said.

  • Assorted fancy coffees. Put him on the endangered species list. Dave does not go to Starbucks. He brews his own java, at home, in a coffeepot, and drinks it out of a mug.

Nine gifts, all of which I knew he would enjoy. I measured this against my anticipated haul, the mound of which eventually swelled to six. Three of them I guessed to be annual gimmes: pajamas, slippers and a toothbrush. The toothbrush started out as a joke until Dave realized I seriously wouldn’t swap mine out unless he intervened.

We waited until dark for our gift exchange, the better to soak up the glow from the Christmas tree. I led off with the gift cards and coffee, hit the meat of the order with the clothes and whiskey, and mentally reserved South Park for my closer. His lineup:

Gift #1. Toothbrush. Thanks.

Gift #2. Pajamas cotton top and bottoms from the Gap. Thanks.

Gift #3. Slippers, again from the Gap (I see neither of us feels we’ve fallen on Old Navy times yet). Alrighty, we made it through that threesome, now I was ready for the big guns.

I opened Gift #4. Skin lotion. He explained how he had bought it at Anthropologie, my all-time favorite clothing boutique. If you are going to shop at Anthropologie, do not walk out with hand lotion. And if you do walk out with hand lotion, don’t break my heart by telling me you were even there. I felt like one of those t-shirts: My husband went to Anthropologie and all I got was this stinking bottle of hand lotion. I began to get a little testy.

I know Christmas is supposed to be all about the thought that counts, giving not receiving. Blah, blah, blah. And I do get all warm and fuzzy buying things for my guy and then watching him morph into a six-year-old boy as he unwraps his presents. But with my disposable cash dwindling, I was counting on Dave to come through with things I now think twice (or three times) before buying myself. Like skirts.

I opened Gift #5. The soundtrack to “Garden State.” Granted I had put this on my Wish List. And he had gone to a number of stores to find it. And had taken the time to cleverly trick wrap it amongst a number of CDs we already own. I didn’t care. This was my next-to-last present. I looked at the two small packages still sitting under the tree. One was South Park. I didn’t even want to think what was left for me. I compared our loot—he had hit pay dirt and I had hit dirt. How much, exactly, do pajamas set a person back these days?

True confession: When I was a kid, I piled my presents atop each other on the floor next to my dresser. I’d mark their summit on the wood with a piece of Scotch tape (don’t tell my Dad), and write the date with a ballpoint pen. The tale of the tape would indicate whether this had been a good year or a bad one.

Dave knows this story. Christmas 2005 was not stacking up well. I was pissed.

I practically threw the package of DVDs at him and curled up on the floor in a fetal position. “Is something wrong?” he asked. Was he kidding?

He handed me my final gift. I couldn’t have been less interested and barely mustered the energy to peel off the paper and ribbon.

It was an iPod. And not the little one. I’m talking 30GB, 7,500 songs.

I started to cry.

“I know I overspent but you’ve always gone overboard on me in the past and I know you’d never buy one for yourself….”

I’m such a beeyotch.

I got an iPod for Christmas. It’s still in the box. I’m not worthy.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

All Is Not Luminous

Struck once by lightning, you can call it a fluke. Twice, a coincidence. Thrice, a disturbing trend.

The first time I noticed the word “luminous” in print, it referred to the quality of Meg Ryan’s skin. It seemed a unique descriptor. Accosted by “luminous” a second time, I thought it was perhaps like the freckle under the lower lid of my right eye—something that had been there all along but managed to escape attention. Upon a third encounter, I started to suspect a conspiracy funded by the Luminous Lobby.

Actors give “luminous” performances. A new building’s design is “luminous.” The word jolts me out of whatever I’m reading, much the way cilantro can ruin an otherwise serviceable salsa.

While I have no proof of a malevolent agenda—I tried to keep a file of my various run-ins with luminous but the manila folder was never handy when needed—I am unsettled by the tentacle-like incursion of the word into our collective punditry.

Why does luminous plague me so?

My quarrel is not so much that the word is applied incorrectly or at best ambiguously—although I do believe this frequently to be the case—as that it is applied too liberally. (For the record, the definition: 1. Emitting light, esp. self-generated light.2. Full of light; illuminated. 3. Easily comprehended; clear.)

I chafe at the suggestion of so much radiance, at all this luster. It simply raises unreal expectations. Where once the term may have been rationed, reserved to describe Mother Theresa, now it’s applied to our pearly whites. We are being led to believe that anything and everything has the capacity for brilliance.

I know this not to be the case.

A walk to the Post Office ends not in an epiphany but with the failure to purchase two-cent stamps. Dinner is not a grand epicurious event but a bowl of popcorn chased by a handful of chocolate chips. Sometimes even Christmas feels like just another day.

All is not luminous. Stop telling me that it is.