Friday, June 30, 2006

The Week That Was

According to published news reports, Madonna has decided that the best way to preserve her voice on her current tour is to turn the air conditioning down at concert venues. Are you thinking what I’m thinking—what voice?

* * *

After facing virulent opposition, a state representative in Massachusetts has withdrawn his proposal to ban “Fluffernutter” sandwiches from school cafeteria offerings. For those more familiar with Salisbury steak, the “Fluffernutter” is a combination of marshmallow fluff and peanut butter, so you get your legume and mallow food groups rolled into a single serving. In related news, the latest weapon in the fight against fat American kids—heavier toys. Studies show that when playing with beefier stuffed animals, kids burn more calories. My challenge to researchers: How many bicep curls with My Little Pony does it take to neutralize a Fluffernutter?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Luminous Sightings

Entertainment Weekly, June 23 issue, Owen Gleiberman’s review of the film “Loverboy”: “It’s fascinating to watch Sedgwick try to make Emily into a luminous wack job….”

The New Yorker, June 19 issue, Oliver Sacks’ article on stereovision—twice in the same paragraph: “She had mentioned to me that the bay there was sometimes full of luminous organisms…. When we arrived, in the middle of August, we found that our timing was perfect—the water was aflame with the luminous creatures.” Dude, I appreciate that you’re a world-famous neurologist played by Robin Williams in “Awakenings.” But seriously, get a thesaurus. Although kudos for actually using the word correctly.

The New Yorker, June 26 issue, Sasha Frere-Jones’ article on the band Radiohead: “I’ve discovered that with each successive record the fog around the music dissipates a little and Radiohead’s luminous teamwork comes more clearly into view.” To borrow from the world of soccer, a Red Card to Ms. Frere-Jones for egregiously vague usage. I have no idea what she could possibly be trying say. Check out various synonyms: beaming teamwork, incandescent teamwork, lustrous teamwork, resplendent teamwork, vivid teamwork. I give up. Were the band members all dressed in sequins?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Just Another Random Monday

Dave and I traveled to Ohio over the weekend for a reunion of sorts with my cousins. To give you a sense of my family’s sweet tooth: To satisfy the 17 adults in attendance, my aunt whipped up 7 dozen—that’s 84—cookies, my brother Joey brought a chocolate sheet cake and I contributed a pan of peanut butter Rice Krispie treats with chocolate glaze. That worked out to roughly 10 servings of sweets per person, which I’m pretty sure is not the recommended daily allowance. I’m also fairly certain that we are the only people who would consider my mother’s concoction of pudding, whipped cream, cream cheese, Snickers bars—oh, and apples—a member of the salad family.

Because there’s nothing I can’t turn into a competition, I noted there were fewer remnants of my dessert than Joey’s. “See, my strategy worked,” I bragged. “Cut smaller pieces and people will come back for seconds and thirds.”

“See, my strategy worked,” Joey countered. “Cut bigger pieces and people won’t eat as much, which means more leftovers for me to take home.” Pure genius.

* * *

Driving back to Chicago on Sunday, I marked the progress being made on the new home of the RV/MH [Motor Home] Hall of Fame, located in Elkhart, Ind. I just have to ask, shouldn’t this attraction, by its very definition, be a mobile exhibit?

* * *

A brief update on Idiot Boy: When it sounded like IEDs were exploding in our living room last night, I finally took action. I knocked on his door—10 times to be precise, that’s how long it took for him to hear me over the din. When he finally appeared, I was struck by how much smaller and human he is in real life vs. my imagination. I was a bit flustered and flubbed the lines I had carefully rehearsed last week, but I still managed to eke out something like “Hi, I live downstairs. I think my husband talked to you about the noise. It’s really loud in our place—our ceiling is shaking. Can you turn it down?” I realized later I had forgotten to add “you little piece of shit” but I guess that was never the smartest of ideas.

Idiot Boy offered to unplug the sub-woofer for the time being and to “play around” with his system later. I scampered back downstairs and downed a half a bottle of wine. In perfect silence.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

I Am Going to Give Myself an Aneurysm

We have a new neighbor upstairs—he’s renting the unit from its owners, who were temporarily transferred to Merry Olde England. It took them awhile to find a tenant, so for the past few months I’ve been reveling in the sounds of silence.

Then along came Idiot Boy.

I knew we were in trouble the second I saw his buddies unload the big screen TV. I keep hoping our building will attract mild-mannered horticulturalists who spend their evenings quietly honing their bonsai technique, but the reality is always closer to Johnny Knoxville.

Idiot Boy’s first purchase for his new pad was a sub-woofer. You know those cars that pull up next to you at a stoplight, and the street starts to shake from the sonic boom? We now have one permanently parked above our living room. Dave politely complained about the noise, but apparently his comments fell on deaf ears, which might explain why Idiot Boy needs to play his music so loudly in the first place.

When our dinner was interrupted last night by House Party III, I lost my cool. By now, I have my tirade down to a routine, as we’ve had a Jackass living downstairs for the past two years.

Here’s how it works: First, I step into the hallway to trace the thumping to its source—above or below. Then I approach the enemy camp, a stream of invectives straining to be let loose. Then I lose my nerve and retreat behind friendly lines. (I have always had a thing about knocking on other people’s doors. I can’t do it. When I was little, my sister Anne would take me by the hand, walk me to over to the Carnovale’s house, do the knocking for me and ask if my friend Amy could come out and play. Oh Anne, why hast thou abandoned me?)

And then comes the tantrum. “Do you HEAR that? We should NOT have to put up with this shit. I HATE these people. They are so fucking rude. I HATE them. I CAN NOT live like this. We have to MOVE.” I punctuate each point with a forearm slice through the air. For added effect, I will either stomp on the hardwood, which might be how I injured my shin, or throw a book in the air, which is definitely how we got that blue smear on the ceiling. Frequently, I interrupt my stream of consciousness with additional forays into the hallway and subsequent drawbacks.

While, in my ideal fantasy world, these actions would be intuited by Idiot or Jackass as “Shut the fuck up,” I am really putting on a show for Dave. If only husbands came equipped with magic decoder rings, he would understand me to mean “You suck for not making this stop.”

They say that opposites attract, and in many ways that’s true for Dave and me. In the simplest of terms, he doesn’t care which lane we choose at a toll plaza, whereas for me, getting in the shortest, fastest line of cars is a matter of vital importance. But when it comes to asserting our Right to Peace and Semi-Quiet in our own home (I believe it’s a sub-section of Right to Bear Arms), we are both a couple of weenies. Now, I don’t blame him for not wanting to enter into a potentially confrontational situation with people who live in such close proximity to our personhoods. We are just a deadbolt away from being knifed in our sleep. All I’m saying is that he’s the boy and as far as I’m concerned, chewing out neighbors is part of the job, like taking out the garbage and opening pickle jars. I’m looking for a show of chivalry.

So sometimes when Idiot Boy or Jackass is pumping out the jams, I simply walk out. I do this to convey a heightened level of hysteria, similar to a Terror Alert Red. Dave should be afraid, very afraid. My intent is that once I’ve vacated the premises, Dave will pull Jackass or Idiot Boy aside and say, conspiratorially, “Listen, I don’t care if you crank your stereo to 11. But my wife is a total nut case—seriously psychopathic. You’re driving her crazy, and that means she’s driving me crazy. I just want to watch the ballgame and have a few beers without her going ballistic. So I’m begging you, man to man, please keep it down.” In this situation, I am willing to let that pass for Sir Lancelot.

In actuality, every time I come home from one of my jaunts, Dave is playing “Blitzkrieg,” his WWII computer game. (Apparently his non-aggression pact does not extend to animated Nazis.) He shoots me a look that says, “I’ve hidden all the knives—your padded cell awaits.”

I’ve come to the conclusion that in the matter of Us vs. Idiot, I’m going to have to be the one to grow some cojones. So I went for a walk in the park to rehearse a number of conversations with various audiences. In theory, so easy. In practice, never gonna happen.

Chat #1, Idiot Boy. I can’t decide whether to cuss or not, but I do like the way “you little piece of shit” sounds. In this scenario, I actually summon up the courage to knock. “Hi [you little piece of shit]. I live downstairs. I think you talked to my husband about the sub-woofer. Yeah, well, this is a really old building. We can pretty much hear your phone ring and your clothes spin in the dryer. Now, I can live with your dog [zing]. What? Well, I’m guessing you have him in a crate and he whines all day long. Yeah, I work at home. It goes something like OWWW, OWWWWW, OWWWWWW. And I don’t really mind the treadmill [zing, zing]. What? Yeah, it sounds like thunder. Not a big deal. But the sub-woofer is just too much. I thought maybe [you little piece of shit] you could come down to see what it sounds like in our place. Great [you little piece of shit]. Thanks.” I will not mention the retaliatory measures I am prepared to take, which include running my vacuum cleaner at odd hours or studding his back porch with push pins—that’ll really give pooch something to whine about.

Chat #2, condo board. “Let me just say that while you dither over where people can place their satellite dishes, you fail to address matters that would actually improve the quality of life for residents. What we really need is an amendment to our constitution that bans sub-woofers. And people I hate.”

Chat #3, real estate agent: “Got anything with soundproof insulation between floors?”

Chat #4, Dave: “I don’t care if we have to put our stuff in storage and live in a studio apartment, we are making a plan and getting out of this place—today.”

This didn’t really calm me down. In fact, as my walk progressed, I was reminded of more and more things that piss me off.

People Who Water Their Lawns: Chicagoans do not have yards in the same way that a person who grew up in suburban Ohio would define one. You could not, for example, play a game of whiffle ball here without drafting the property of several neighbors. Yet homeowners persist in employing sprinklers to water their lawns when a squirt gun would do. In the process, they wind up spraying not only the grass but the sidewalk, and sometimes even the street. I have this to say to them: “I think it is inconsiderate to water the sidewalk and annoy pedestrians [me] who aren’t in the mood to get wet. What if I try to avoid a soaking and twist an ankle or pull a muscle? Then I will have to sue you. And then you won’t be able to pay your water bill or your mortgage and you will wind up with an uncontrollable facial tic whenever you see a garden hose.”

Dog Owners: “Hey you with the leash in your hand, try attaching it to your dog.” I know people love their pets, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us hold Fido in the same regard. Once, I was out for a run in our old neighborhood. I turned a corner and was tackled by a dog off its leash and hit the pavement hard. The owner felt a “Sorry” sufficed for the near-death experience. I felt a “fuck you” was in order. Ever since then, I’ve been skittish around dog owners who fail to rein in their charges. “She’s just being friendly,” they say when Fluffy starts to paw me, uninvited. “She won’t bite.” Lady, I’m not worried about Cujo there mauling me to death (well, maybe just a little). I’m picturing her tripping me, me falling head first onto the asphalt, me smashing my face and losing all my teeth, me spending months in and out of hospitals having my jaw reconstructed. And you still walking your dog without a goddamned leash.

“Cyclists”: You could ride the lakefront bike path end to end, and back again, and not amass more than 40 or 50 miles. Lance Armstrong eats that kind of distance for breakfast. So why do so many cyclists treat the city’s byways like the Tour de France? By all indicators, mainly copious amounts of brightly patterned Spandex, they take the sport seriously. Their speed announces they are not some loser mountain biker. Yet they insist on careening along pathways choked with rollerbladers, strollers, joggers and people carrying on an imaginary tete-a-tete with Idiot Boy. I am not impressed. When Dave and I were out West last summer, we came across cyclists on some of the lonesomest stretches of road I can imagine—lean, haunted figures testing themselves against nature, frontiersmen on two wheels. I remember one guy, straining his way up a mountain pass in Colorado that was taxing our car’s transmission. I admired his strength, his grit and his calves. “Now that’s a cyclist,” I thought. To all others, if your trail takes you within 5 miles of a Coldstone Creamery, put away the yellow jersey.

If I keep this up, I am going to give myself an aneurysm.

By the time I got home, I was so hyped up about the cyclists, I had all but forgotten Idiot Boy. Dave was sitting on the couch reading a book. The ceiling had ceased to throb, through no efforts of my little scaredy cat. But he had taken out the garbage.

The next evening, Idiot Boy continued to profess his love for the sub-woofer. I decided to go on a different kind of rampage—I got all sugar-buzzed on a half a box of Strawberry Yogurt Burst Cheerios, chocolate chips and Diet Coke. We hunkered down in our “den/office/fitness center,” which is as far from the living room as we can get. I watched Dave play “Blitzkrieg” and have to admit there is something soothing about gunning down German tanks, especially if you picture Idiot Boy’s face plastered to the gunner.

Then I lay awake until dawn rehashing Chat #1. Maybe tonight will be the night. Or maybe tomorrow I’ll invest in a giant box of ear plugs.

Monday, June 19, 2006

It’s Easy Being Green

We caught a showing of the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” over the weekend, which serves to dispel a pair of falsehoods promoted by the current administration, namely that global warming is “fuzzy science” and that “Al Gore” and “entertaining” are mutually exclusive terms.

The film plays like the most amazing lecture delivered by the coolest professor on campus; Gore is animated and passionate—that’s right, I said animated and passionate—whether presenting a line graph on the rise in carbon emissions or video footage of massive ice shelves breaking off Antarctica. I fixated on a slide of Grinnell Glacier in Montana’s Glacier National Park. Dave and I had hiked to this very spot last summer, and I had no idea at the time that we were looking at the remnant scraps of a once vast and majestic ice field. I wish I could have seen Grinnell 10 years ago—I hope it’s still there 10 years from now.

I realize this sort of “tree hugging” talk is precisely why people don’t care about global warming. Why so much fuss over an evaporating glacier or two—they might be pretty to look at but they’re not a necessity like food, clothing and gasoline.

Gore gets this, too. Which is why he’s so adept at explaining that actually, yes, it turns out we do need those glaciers. Because without them, tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people could be displaced when their homes are underwater. And that includes San Francisco, Florida and New York. Really.

I was overwhelmed. Gore has been beating this drum for the past 30 years, and our politicians still aren’t listening. Apparently Big Oil speaks louder and carries a bigger lobbying budget. But he assures us that the situation, while dire, is not irreversible or hopeless—even small changes in behavior at the individual level can contribute to the solution. I walked out of the theater mentally chanting,,, the web address posted on screen during the closing credits.

I logged onto the site and took a short quiz to determine our carbon “footprint.” I input the make and model of our car, how many miles we drive a year, how frequently we fly and how far, plus our typical monthly consumption of electricity and natural gas. We scored 10,700—the number of pounds of carbon dioxide we emit as a household—well below the national average of 15,000.

I decided to play around with the results. All things being equal, what if we drove a Ford Expedition? Our score spiked to 13,600. How about if we traded in our Element for a Civic? It dipped to 7,900. I couldn’t wait to see what a Hummer would do, but it wasn’t an option, since the manufacturer doesn’t provide statistics on the vehicle’s gas mileage. So I went with a Ferrari, which shot us up to 15,500. A Prius plunged us to 6,500. We’ve seen a few of these hybrids around town and have joked about leaving the owners a thank-you note for saving the planet. I’m not kidding anymore.

(Now, I’m not here to cast aspersions on the owners of SUVs, it’s a personal choice and America was founded on the Right to Do Whatever We Damn Well Please. Witness the Element—we’re as guilty as anyone else. And I’m not even going to point out that the mere existence of the fossil fuel-guzzling NASCAR circuit is probably singlehandedly responsible for the melting of Greenland. Because I noticed something while playing with my carbon calculator—Range Rovers and Mercedes wagons score surprisingly well. It appears you can manufacturer oversized autos without killing polar bears. You just have to want to—Detroit, I’m talking to you—or be forced to—Congress, I’m talking to you.)

I felt pretty good about our 10,700, but because I was the sort of student who always had to get the top grade in the class, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with what I determined to be a solid “B.” I wanted to see how we could do better without, you know, giving up the Element.

The folks at ClimateCrisis offered a number of ways to become “carbon neutral.” I was discouraged. We already do most of this stuff.

  • Walk, bike, take mass transit. Check. I hate the CTA, but I ride it everywhere.

  • Eat less meat. Check.

  • Buy fresh instead of frozen. Check.

  • Use the energy saver setting on the dishwasher, and only run it when it’s full. Check.

  • Wash clothes in Cold or Warm. Check.

  • Replace furnace filters. Check.

  • Set the thermostat low in the winter and high in the summer. Check and double check. (In fact—True Confession time—we had gone to a matinee of “An Inconvenient Truth” because it was 90 degrees outside and pretty much the same temperature in our condo and I hate being hot and the theater was air conditioned. So yes, we were both victims of global warming and perpetrators of it at the same time.)

And that’s when it struck me—everything I know about being eco-friendly, I learned from my father.

How could this be? My dad is a Republican and staunch supporter of George W. “I’m a Destroyer, Not a Conserver” Bush. He would personally drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge if he weren’t so busy playing golf.

But he’s also the guy who insulated our home to within an inch of its life to ensure no molecule of heating or coolant escaped into the atmosphere. If one of us so much as cracked a door, he’d bark, “In or out!”

Not that we ever used our air conditioning. It was reserved for Emergencies only, like Dad not being able to sleep. Mom would rouse us at 1 a.m. from our sweat-soaked sheets: “We’re turning on the air. Close your windows.” Note, that meant also pulling down the storm windows to hermetically seal in the A/C. Which was promptly turned off the minute Dad drove away later that morning in his air-conditioned car on his way to his air-conditioned office. We kids spent the rest of the day down the basement, sucking on Flavor-Ice.

Movie critic Roger Ebert says he went home and started turning off lights after viewing “Truth.” My dad invented this maneuver. Frankly, I’m surprised he ever had a problem with his weight, considering the amount of exercise he must have gotten prowling the halls of our house, following us from room to room, switching off lamps the nanosecond we moved from the kitchen to the family room. He took no holiday. The Christmas tree could only be lit between the hours of 8 and 9 p.m. Do you know how many kilowatts those tiny little bulbs burn per second? I’m sure Dad could tell you. (True Confession #2: For complicated reasons, Dave and I were alone at my parents’ house on Christmas a couple of years ago. I left the tree on overnight.)

Last summer, I went camping in Wisconsin. Showers at the site were on timers; I had to insert a quarter for every three minutes of water. How did this contraption escape Dad’s attention? I am stunned my father didn’t install a similar system in our home and for once am grateful that as kids our travel accommodations were limited to cheap motels as opposed to tents and the great outdoors.

But lo’ these many years later, I discover my father was just doing his part to protect the environment. All this time, he’s actually been Green, when I just thought he was cheap.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Next Year, Everyone Gets a Sailboat

It must be awesome to be a guy. You can stroll into Walgreen’s at 2:30 p.m. on Father’s Day, head to the greeting card aisle, pluck out a sentiment that in only the vaguest of ways resembles your relationship with your father, and be on your way by 2:33. And you fellas don’t see anything wrong with this.

Being a woman, I scoured the city’s stationers a week in advance of the big day, searching for the perfect message for my Dad. As I noted when on a similar quest for his birthday, such a Holy Grail does not exist. I wound up taking the humor route and then scrawling a heartfelt note beneath the punch line to cover my ass vis-à-vis my siblings’ contributions.

You see, I know how my parents operate. Following each anniversary, birthday or holiday, salutations are displayed on the fireplace mantel in the living room, to be supplanted only when the next event rolls around. Should one occasion follow closely on the heels of another (as Mother’s Day does my father’s birthday), the newest cards take possession of the mantel, while their predecessors are demoted to the foyer. Every time I visit, I check out the competition.

So before making a purchase, I have to picture how my card will play against the opposition. I don’t want it to be the smallest or the cheapest or the only one that rhymes. In terms of sheer emotion, I don’t even attempt to top my brother Joey, who never met a tear he couldn’t jerk. So I pin my hopes that one of the other two will crack under pressure and settle for something featuring Snoopy and Woodstock.

That’s a lot of baggage to lay on a card.

Imagine my horror, then, when I realized I had not one but three fathers to shop for—both Joey and my brother-in-law Rob have become dads in the past year. The motifs for Father’s Day are already absurd—the fishing and golfing themes, the duck decoys and the lighthouses, the jokes about beer and remote controls—which basically all send the message that men would rather be doing anything other than fathering. (Dad and I pondered the sailboat theme. I grew up in a Great Lakes state, so this sort of makes sense, but what about people in Oklahoma or Kansas? Are their shelves stocked with geographically appropriate images like tumbleweeds?)

Options for brothers are downright scarce. If not obscene. My eyes scanned the rows of “to dad from daughter,” “for my husband,” “like a father,” and finally alit on a single “Hey, brother.” It was my lucky day.

On the outside, it read: “Brother, I still can’t believe you’re a Dad.” I could tell this was going to fall on the “stupid humor” end of the spectrum, but I was in no position to quibble. I flipped it open for the kicker:

“In fact, I still can’t believe you found someone to have sex with you.”

Yuck and double yuck.

Maybe it’s a male-female thing. Maybe from one brother to another—if both are the sort who frequent Hooters—this would be completely acceptable. Or maybe it’s just a me thing. After my parents (and grandparents, and Ted Koppel) the people I least want to associate the word “sex” with are my siblings. It ruins my illusion that we’re all still 10 years old, prepping for another round of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots.

I envisioned the opening ceremony. Joey slicing through the envelope, reading the cover with a sentimental grin, quickly followed by a “What the fu*#?” My sister-in-law issuing a fatwa against any future visits or contact with their infant son.

I put the offensive material back in its slot like an issue of “Hustler,” went home, took a shower and made my own card. It was cute, it was sweet, it was touching. A top tier mantel-worthy effort.

“We went with the lighthouse,” Dad said later, when we compared notes. Lesson learned. Next year, everyone gets a sailboat.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Luminous Sighting

The New Yorker, June 12 issue, Alex Ross article on a gala at the Metropolitan Opera: “Desay sang it as if with one breath, unfurling a long, luminous ribbon of tone.”

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

My Cup Runneth Over

Every four years, Americans greet the World Cup with a yawn and the pundits respond with a quadrennial chastisement of the U.S. citizenry. Seems everyone else on the planet is Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs over soccer—excuse me, futbol—while we xenophobic philistines in the U.S. of A. fail to find the sport remotely appealing. We’d rather watch a bunch of drug addicts grope their crotches and spit sunflower seeds.

This year, I vowed to strike a blow against isolationism.

My path to conversion:

Step 1: FIFA (think NFL) has enlisted no less than God, er Bono, to shill for the World Cup. The U2 frontman narrates a 60-second TV ad featuring a montage of geographically diverse World Youth from every continent, but mostly Africa because that’s Bono’s favorite. While the kids, and a few Burka-clad women, gleefully cavort, bouncing a soccer ball off their feet and heads (but not their hands, because then that would be Rugby, I think), Bono informs us that the World Cup “gives people everywhere something to hope for.” Like human rights, I take it. “Once every four years, it does the impossible: It closes the schools. It closes the shops. It closes the city. IT STOPS A WAR.” I thought this Nobel-wannabe had overshot the mark just a tad until I read elsewhere that Ivory Coast has called a truce in its three-year-old civil conflict because the country’s team qualified for its first World Cup. Heck, the World Series can’t even unite New Yorkers behind the Yankees. If Jesus, er Bono, doesn’t get a Peace Prize for this voice over, damn it, FIFA deserves one.

Step 2: Sport’s Illustrated’s 2006 FIFA World Cup insert. I don’t care that it’s basically an ad for ABC/ESPN—this is the coolest thing ever. It’s like an Advent Calendar if Chris Berman were in charge of Christmas, with each of its 32 windows hiding a team profile underneath what I gather is the corresponding nation’s official Cup coat of arms—at least that’s my interpretation of the graphics, although they could be a symbology exam proctored by Robert Langdon. (Seriously, Japan, your bird has wide-tooth combs for wings. Are you planning on detangling your opponents?) Once I unlocked the first window—hola, Costa Rica, “proud spoiler”—I was hooked and didn’t stop until I reached Tunisia.

Step 3: England vs. Paraguay. Yes, David Beckham is as pretty as advertised.

Step 4: Sweden vs. Who Cares. Yes, Sweden is a team of Beckhams (I offer captain Olof Mellberg, above, as Exhibit A).

Step 5: The U.S. vs. Czech Republic. Here, I nearly faltered. We lost our opener 3-0, an inauspicious start that doesn’t bode well for advancing past the first round. I am trying really hard to care—work with me boys.

My FIFA Advent Calendar suggested I might need a back-up favorite. Much as I would love to jump on the Trinidad and Tobago Cinderella story bandwagon (and if you’re not familiar with T&T, you haven’t watched enough Miss Universe pageants), I selected as alternates the homelands of my assorted great-grandparents: Germany, Czech Republic and Switzerland. Which horse to back into the finals?

Doc’s Sports Service (“30 Years of Handicapping”) puts Germany’s chances at 7 to 1. They’re also the host country—I don’t think they need my support.

The Czech Republic, the less spellable half of the country formerly known as Czechoslovakia, is listed at 25 to 1 and “likely to tighten.” Honestly, I’m not sure if my roots are Czech or Slovak. Should I love or hate this team? Or make like Switzerland and remain neutral?

At 100 to 1, the Swiss are more than an underdog. I prefer my dark horses just a shade lighter.

Which brings me back to Sweden (40 to 1). Which I believe I mentioned is loaded with hotties. So Sweden it is.

And therein I believe I have solved FIFA’s conundrum vis-a-vis getting Americans to give a rat’s ass about their little tournament: Sell it to women.

Hook the ladies with a little T&A:

Time. Sisters know that in NFL and NBA parlance, “But honey, there’s only two minutes left” translates as “dinner’s gonna get cold, the movie will start without us and that baby better not be in a hurry to be born.” Soccer matches last 90 minutes give or take halftime and the clock never stops ticking—no time outs, no “icing” the place kicker, no confabs between players and coaches that could be summed up as “we need to score more points.” Girls, you might not even need a bathroom break.

Abs. When it comes to the six-pack, football players drink 'em, futbol players have 'em. These guys are fit and they’re not afraid to flaunt it. The pantaloons favored by basketball players hit below the knee—I’ve seen sexier hemlines at Talbot’s. Futbol players got legs, and they know how to showcase them—their shorts fall to the middle of their muscular thighs, their socks caress their finely toned calves. Baseball players lose points for donning hats and helmets, who knows what horrors lurk beneath? Futbol players are coiffed just this side of Queer Eye.

And correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t players rip their shirts off when they win the Cup? Hey FIFA, there’s your 2010 Advent Calendar.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Luminous Sighting

Entertainment Weekly, June 16 edition, Scott Brown’s review of the film “The Heart of the Game”: “On these terms, the film is a furious full-court press, its subjects aflame with the kind of passion only youth can furnish. Even their bruises are luminous.”

Really? Bruises?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Luminous Sighting

The reach of luminous has become long indeed. First, Pulitzer winner John Updike. Now Nobel Prize laureate Jose Saramago.

On page 107 of the hardcover edition of Saramago’s latest novel, “Seeing”: “Everything seems to be normal, there are no violent muggings, no shoot-outs or knife-fights, there is nothing but this luminous afternoon.”

Shockingly, there it was again on pg. 247: "The morning still retained some of the luminous quality of dawn."

And, horrifically, again on pg. 259: "...a face in which the eyes had become limpid and luminous, the face of a man of fifty-seven..."

What the Jose was going on here? I was distraught until it struck me that Saramago writes in his native Portuguese. So did he actually pen the word “luminous” three times in single novel? I prefer to think not. Let’s blame the translator. Margaret Jull Costa, we're onto you.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Luminous Sighting

Print and television ads for Gillette’s Venus Vibrance razor: “Venus Vibrance gently exfoliates your skin, leaving it smooth and luminous, revealing a more radiant you.”

I’m awaiting a response from Nair.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

I Put Blueberries in My Oatmeal

My mother is going to the doctor. This is earth shaking news.

Since my dad lost his job and the health insurance plan that came along with it, my parents rarely avail themselves of modern medicine. A $10 co-pay is one thing, picking up the entire tab for office visits and procedures will cause one to ponder whether something like skin cancer can’t just be treated with, say, Cort-Aid.

Not that Dad was ever an advocate of needless trips to our family practitioner. We kids knew our garden variety sore throats and ear infections needed to approach strep or ear-drum bursting levels before meriting a consultation with Dr. Swindaman. God help us if our symptoms abated before the day of the appointment. If we didn’t walk out with a prescription for penicillin, indicating the presence of an actual illness vs. youthful malingering, well, it wouldn’t be pretty around the dinner table. Dad would launch into one of his patented diatribes, the gist of which being that we were all conspiring against him, sabotaging his best efforts to “get ahead,” “catch a break” and/or save for retirement. We were clearly operating under the misguided theory that money grew on trees and it was his personal mission to disabuse us of that notion.

My mom’s beef with the health care system is not so much financial. She simply doesn’t trust physicians and their chemical potions, preferring to diagnose and treat herself.

What this amounts to, of course, is that Mom suffers far longer than the rest of us from commonly treatable maladies. Muscle aches? Advil’s for wimps. For god’s sake, the woman gave birth four times without benefit of an epidural and swears it didn’t hurt. Over-the-counter cold medications? Only if you consider yourself a giant wuss-ass. There’s not a Sudafed in the house, but at least I can take comfort in the knowledge that my parents aren’t running a meth lab on the side.

Then again, your average wuss-ass hasn’t been congested since March, when my parents sojourned in Florida, only to return home with the sniffles and scratchy throats. “I think it was the pollen,” Mom deduced.

A month later, they were still miserable and the pollen defense was looking less tenable. Dad threw in the towel first. He rang me up to say they might have to cancel a planned weekend visit to Chicago. “I’m dying,” he said. Translation: “I think I have the flu.”

“Do you have a fever?” I asked.


“Do you feel nauseous?”


“Are you achy all over?”


“I’m pretty sure it’s not the flu.”

One outing to the M.D. later and the visit was back on. The verdict: a really bad cold. He did not, I should point out, receive a prescription for penicillin. Nor was he forced to remain in bed, watching endless “M.A.S.H” re-runs, as punishment. It’s good to be king.

Mom basked in the glow of her own superiority. According to her, the score sheet read: Dad + doctor appointment=sissy, Mom + home remedies=tough as nails.

“I take care of these things myself,” she bragged. “I’ve been gargling, drinking tea and putting blueberries in my oatmeal.”

But when I gathered with my siblings and their assorted spouses and children at the old homestead a week ago, Dad was right as rain and Mom was still hoarse from post-nasal drip. Apart from the gargling, she had now taken to holding a home-made heating pad up to her face: a gym sock filled with I don’t know what—hot coals perhaps.

We went to take my nephew Connor for a spin in his stroller. Mom stayed behind in the hermetically sealed house. “I can’t be out in that air,” she said. You know, the pollen.

When a nap failed to improve the situation, my brother Matt proffered her an Airborne tablet. She accepted. Airborne (as seen on “Oprah”) meets my mother’s stringent criteria:
* created by an elementary school teacher, not a drug manufacturer or other certified Institute of Health,
* a “natural” remedy containing key buzz words like herbs (used in Eastern medicine, not the pesky Western variety), vitamins, anti-oxidants, amino acids and electrolytes. Not an anti-histamine in sight.

Of course, Airborne is supposed to be taken at the first sign of a cold, not when one is in the throes of a three-month bout with pollen. The electrolytes provided limited relief and then Mom was back to the gym sock. I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear that leeches or “bleeding the ill humors” were next on her list of treatment options.

Matt pulled my brother Joey and I aside: “Want to place bets on which of us comes down with a ‘pollen attack’ when we get home? We’re all going to get sick.” Poor Matt—it’s not wise to mock Mother Nature. He shot out an email the following week:

This weekend was truly a learning experience. For example:

*I learned that changing diapers is not as time consuming as I once thought.
* Unfortunately, I also learned that “allergies” can be quite contagious.

So it comes as a relief that Mom is finally willing to cry “uncle,” that she’s able to admit the limitations of her personal powers of healing. I’ve actually lain awake at night working myself into emotional distress imagining the following exchange:

Mom: “I’ve had this horrible pain in my stomach for months. I’ve tried gargling but it won’t go away.”

Doctor: “Ma’am, you’ve got a tumor the size of a watermelon.”

Mom: “How that can be? I put blueberries in my oatmeal.”

I’m eagerly anticipating the diagnosis that will explain her nasal congestion and water-logged ears. My prediction: a sinus infection.

But I wouldn’t rule out pollen.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Luminous Sightings

Entertainment Weekly, June 8 issue, TV Watch: “All month long TCM [Turner Classic Movies] fetes leading ladies like the luminous Ann Sheridan.”

Sheridan passed away in 1967. Proving you can run. You can hide. You can die. And still you can not escape the luminous.

Friday, June 02, 2006

The Windpipe Is an Aeriferous Tube


I will take this word with me to the grave. It’s the one I missed in my sixth-grade Spelling Bee.

I did not ask for its language of origin (Latin, I believe). I did not ask for its definition: conveying or containing air. I did not ask to have it used in a sentence: “The windpipe is an aeriferous tube.” I simply tried to spell it. And failed.

At the time, Bees were not the nationally-televised haven for homeschoolers that they’ve become today. Students didn’t receive a booklet of words in advance of the competition or spend hours each night studying etymology on the official Bee-sanctioned web site, mostly because we didn’t have computers and there was no web.

But one thing hasn’t changed. Some poor kid always gets screwed.

In a recent column, Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune addresses the inherent unfairness of the Spelling Bee. I can attest first hand that the margin between Champion and Also Ran boils down to the seating chart.

Speller in Seat #1 is given “relevant.” An underhand pitch. Speller in Seat #2 receives “anthropomorphism” and a one-way ticket to obscurity.

I have always been a good speller. In the fifth grade, Mrs. Clark kept a chart of our weekly spelling grades: a gold star for each “A” earned in honors spelling, red for an “A” in general, blue for an “A” in remedial. The space next to my name was paved with one long unbroken line of gold. I loved that piece of poster board.

So I reached the finals of our school district’s Bee feeling fairly confident. Fewer than 10 of us remained in the competition. We had just had our picture taken for the Suburban Press. That’s me, on the far left, in my gold-rimmed glasses and peasant skirt and blouse. In Seat #1.

The pronouncer threw out “aeriferous.” Spell Check keeps changing this to “auriferous,” which says something about the rarity of the word. Try looking it up online and Merriam-Webster will send you to its Premium Unabridged Service. According to the web, references in Classic Literature: none. My point being, I had no chance. I took a stab with “airiferous” and the Bee was lost.

Subsequent finalists were sent packing with equally ridiculous obscurities. And the winner? Well she was sitting in the very last seat. She stepped to the microphone. The pronouncer gave her “carioca.”

Word of origin: Portuguese. Definition: a dance similar to the Samba. Used in a sentence: “Let’s dance the carioca.”

Carioca. Pronounced like it’s spelled.

We had our champ. Or did we?

The Challenge is a staple of Spelling Bees. Ours was no exception. You see, the words had been projected on a screen behind the spellers’ backs. Before she got to “carioca,” Miss Winner had to correctly spell the preceding contestant’s word, otherwise we were all back in the hunt. There were some who thought they saw her glance at the screen during the previous turn. Which would make her a cheater.

Cheater. Language of origin: Middle English. Definition: one who deceives, swindles; a fraud. Used in a sentence: “That girl is a cheater.”

The Challenge was overruled and Miss Cheater took home her tainted trophy. I would always have my gold stars.

Am I bitter? You bet.


Thursday, June 01, 2006

Luminous Sightings

The insidious spread of “luminous” has claimed another victim, this time no less a literary giant than John Updike. Yes, it appears even Pulitzer Prize winning authors have fallen victim to the adjective’s wily charms.

In his review of Peter Carey’s new novel “Theft: A Love Story,” featured in the May 29 issue of The New Yorker, Updike writes: “Russia for Nabokov and Ireland for Joyce became luminous reconstructions, shimmering in every lost and recalled detail.”


I expect less of the folks at Us Weekly and they always deliver. In a piece on self-tanners and bronzers in the May 29 issue, the magazine reports: “Jergens Soft Shimmer moisturizing lotion is both a self-tanner and luminizing lotion.”

So now it's a verb, too.