Monday, September 25, 2006

The Lower One Is to the Ground

Of the handful of magazines to which I subscribe, Sports Illustrated is least likely to be instantly devoured the moment I discover it in the mailbox. But I do eventually get around to it, if only because back in the day when the subscription had my father’s name on it, SI was one of my inspirations as a writer. Before he became a sometimes syrupy columnist, Rick Reilly was one of the funniest, punchiest feature writers around, who stretched phrases and metaphors to contortions that left me in turns dazzled by his skill and depressed at my own shortcomings. The great Frank DeFord (shoes currently being filled by Gary Smith) taught me everything I needed to know about the deprivations of apartheid in a single unforgettable profile of South African distance runner Sydney Maree.

So I like to check in every once in a while to see what the fellas are up to and also to maintain my reputation as a “cool” wife who has more than a passing knowledge of and interest in sports. We were sitting around the other night watching a Notre Dame football game when I ripped off a reference to D’Juan and Hiawatha Francisco. I banked enough credit with that comment to cash in at least a dozen foreign film viewings.

Given its position in the front of the mag, Steve Rushin’s column is usually a first stop, meriting a quick glance at its subject matter before I move on to “Scorecard.” Like Reilly, Rushin has a sappy streak, but he can also be wickedly insightful and funny. In the column in question, I would argue that he was neither.

Boo hoo, went Rushin, tall people have it really rough. I must confess, that at 5’1”, I had no sympathy for the 6’5” author. I don’t doubt that some aspects of being vertically gifted are challenging, but I would say that life is less of a picnic the lower one is to the ground. And I told him so. More accurately, I emailed him so.

On any given day, I compose at least one letter to the editor or toss off a snappy diatribe to a politician, media personality or postal employee. These gems are written in my head; seldom do I actually commit pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. But the issue of height, and particularly the relative suckiness of tall vs. short, has irked me for years, nay, nearly my entire life. So I unleashed on Mr. Rushin.

A couple of days later, I got a response. I was afraid to open the email, in retrospect thinking perhaps I had been a bit harsh and hasty in my critique. I was worried my name would appear in print as some sort of nut case, who would then be eviscerated on sports talk radio programs across the country as “the bitch who couldn’t take a joke.”

I needn’t have worried. It was an automated reply.

Thank you for writing. I haven't yet read your letter -- I barely know how to work my computer, but I will read it. Until then, thanks for reading. And, again, thanks for writing.
Steve Rushin

So now I have another bone to pick with Steve “Best” Rushin. Had he blown me off with an, “I’m so swamped, I can’t possibly answer all my mail,” I would have understood. But the technophobe defense—puh-lease—I am so tired of people, but writers especially, thinking this is acceptable or the slightest bit charming. I’ll make concessions for old-timers, who prefer to crank their prose out longhand or on their Underwood typewriter (it is always an Underwood), but the Internet isn’t new anymore and sending email is less complicated than a universal remote. Does Rushin tool around in a horse and buggy?

My parents are in their early 60’s. They have high-speed Internet, a digital camera, and have figured out how to converse via Skype. They are, quite frankly, more tech savvy than at least one of their children. Rushin is 40 and has his email address printed at the end of his column. “I can barely work my computer” is just lame. Unless, of course, it’s a side effect of being tall.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Save Snejana

Now that “Access Hollywood” has weighed in on the whole skinny model controversy, what with Spain banning skeletons from its Fashion Week runways, I asked myself, “What more is there to say?”

First, let’s back up a bit. Last week, organizers of Pasarela Cibeles, Spain’s top annual fashion show, decided not work with models whose BMI (body mass index) measured below 18 (18.5-24.9 is considered “normal”). You can calculate yours at Under these guidelines, five models were banished from the catwalk.

So “Access” went straight to Heidi Klum and Cindy Crawford for comment and elicited non-answers worthy of Tony Snow. But thanks to Access-provided stats, I was able to calculate Crawford’s BMI as 19.9. Is Espana ready for a return of The Mole?

Then Billy Bush, or maybe it was Shaun Robinson, dug up a British designer—unaffected by the ban, I should point out—who basically said, and I’m paraphrasing here, screw Spain, nobody’s paid attention to them since 1842.

Lost in all of this scintillating reportage—which included footage of Spanish models circling a buffet backstage at the fashion show—was a quote from Catharine, a model of indeterminate nationality and last name. “Clothes look better on skinny women,” she pronounced.

Ah, there’s the rub.

I’ve watched “Project Runway.” I’ve seen these designers, both male and female, sketch. They draw impossibly long, thin silhouettes that if translated to an actual woman’s body proportions would approximate a pencil. On these, they hang their clothes. They don’t seem to know how to do anything else.

I’m not sure why it is that women, who surely outnumber fashion designers 2 to 1, continue to allow them to set the agenda in terms of acceptable/desirable body type. Would the universe implode if we said, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to starve ourselves on rice cakes anymore!”

I don’t have any answers to this dilemma, anymore than I know who really shot J.F.K. or why Jessica Simpson has a career. All I can do is hope to make a difference, however small, one emaciated model at a time.

I’m starting with the Save Snejana campaign. Because I am obsessed with pretty dresses, I wallowed in coverage of New York’s Olympus Fashion Week, and in slideshow after slideshow Snejana Onopka, a 19-year-old model from Ukraine, shocked me with her sunken cheekbones and flamingo legs. I don’t know her BMI, but she is 5’9” and has a 23-inch waist.

So what I’m proposing is that if you run into Snejana on the streets of London or Kiev or Milan, but clearly not Barcelona, offer her a Power Bar or take her out for a croissant. And be sure to follow her into the bathroom. This global outpouring of affection will surely draw attention to our cause.

When Billy Bush calls, I’ll be ready.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Oprah & Gayle’s Totally Excellent Adventure

Oprah and BFF (but not lesbian lover) Gayle King hit the road this summer on an 11-day trek from Santa Barbara, Cal., to NYC for the Tony Awards. With a camera crew in tow. In other words, just your average road trip.

Here’s what I learned:

* Oprah’s home movies are no funnier than yours or mine, but then we don’t air ours on a nationally syndicated television program
* Ms. Winfrey hasn’t pumped gas in more than 20 years, because when she needs to get from Point A to Point B, somebody else drives her. Actually, I always have a driver, too. His name is Dave. He’s my husband. In exchange, I pack his lunch every day. I know Oprah disapproves of this sort of compromise, called marriage, but she probably doesn’t need Steadman’s health insurance coverage.

“Oprah and Gayle’s Big Adventure” ate up the entire hour of the talk show queen’s debut episode of the 2006 television season. And reminded me why it is that she annoys me so.

Martha Stewart, who plies her own slightly uncomfortable mix of cooking-and-craft-show-meets-celebrity-interview, does not purport to be one of her viewers. She is infinitely superior to us in so many ways, other than her limited arsenal of adjectives (beautiful, amazing), and doesn’t pretend for a second to be otherwise. I can respect that.

But Oprah. Oprah likes us to think that she still remembers her po’ roots. Oprah likes us to think that she’s a woman of the people who just happens to have a gazillion dollars. Oprah likes us to think that when she sits on the couch with Jennifer Aniston, she’s our stand-in, equally awestruck by the glitterati before her.

I think not.

Oprah and Gayle were stymied by the check-in process at their Las Vegas hotel. Because they’re usually ushered to their room by a private escort. Oprah and Gayle were unable to locate a grocery store to buy healthy snacks. Because someone usually does their shopping for them. (As they circle around Vegas, Oprah notes that they are looking for a “place called Albertson’s” as if it were Mars. OMG. Albertson’s is the parent company of Jewel-Osco, which is only like the biggest supermarket chain in Chicago, where Ms. Winfrey shoots her show.)

I know that I was supposed to be amused, that O & G thought their antics were worthy of Abbott & Costello or minimally Bill & Ted. Instead, they felt like a slap in the face to anyone who’s ever taken an honest-to-god road trip, sans film crew, sans luxury hotel, sans XM satellite radio. I mean, King’s idea of a car game was something called “Would You Rather…” (supplied by Oprah’s staff, natch), which had her asking O, “Would you rather urinate out of your nose or smell through your genitalia?” I am not making this up. Holy crap, who hasn’t heard of the License Plate Game or I Spy?

The road trip is the quintessential American vacation; Dave and I succumbed to its lure ourselves last summer. To have Oprah appropriate it and turn it into reality TV, as if Gayle King invented the maneuver of napping in the passenger seat, is insulting. (That’s my move—step off.)

For the rest of us, hitting the road is not some lark when we get bored with jetting to Hawaii in our private plane—it’s the way we travel. By minivan and motorcycle, RV and VW Bus. We know how to read a map, we’re geniuses at the pump, we bring along coolers full of snacks and when we run out of food, we fill our pockets with bagels and fruit swiped from the hotel’s continental breakfast. We pull up to motels without advanced reservations and hope for the best. Some of us camp. We get grouchy and tired of being in the car. We spend far too much time at places like the Corn Palace.

That’s what we plain, simple folk do. We do it better than Oprah, who is not plain, simple folk. And we know not to bore our friends with the details when we get home.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Oh Baby

Oh my god, in just two days on “The View,” I think Rosie O’Donnell has performed some sort of Jedi mind trick on my brain. Because suddenly I’m not hating so much on Tom Cruise. Or, more accurately, TomKat.

Mystery baby Suri does exist, and looks enough like both her parents to prove she wasn’t purchased from Brangelina or otherwise scientifically engineered. Sure, she’s cute, as one might expect, but, and I say this with complete objectivity, not any more so than my 8-month-old niece or 1-year-old nephew. Which leads me to ask, why so much fuss over what’s essentially a poop and drool factory?

We were supposed to be disturbed by the fact that her parents have kept her under wraps for the past four months, if under wraps is defined as limiting visitors to friends and family as opposed to a global audience. Think about that for a minute and then get back to me on why that’s so Machiavellian. Or why the media expects and demands photos of celebrities’ children the instant they exit the womb.

I imagine most people don’t really give a damn about the little TomKitten. But the entertainment press does. How else to justify their existence? Denied access, they whipped up a little teapot tempest and in the process said some awfully nasty, and most likely untrue, things about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. OK, minimally Katie. (Why has she been hiding? Gee, I don’t know, because she has a newborn to take care of, because if she appeared in public looking anything less than svelte and magnificent, the press would crucify her.)

You know that dazed look on Katie’s face? Maybe it had nothing to do with Scientology. Maybe it had everything to with her lightning-fast ascension from the B-list to the A-Team, the constant glare of the paparazzi and all the incredibly cruel things written and said about her and her daughter.

Or maybe that’s just what they want us to think.

* * *

While Vanity Fair features editor Jane Sarkin hit the morning show circuit touting her magazine’s Suri scoop, another major birth almost escaped attention.

I’m talking about the arrival of the as-yet-unnamed male heir to the Japanese throne, which has set back women’s rights around the globe by at least a couple of centuries.

For those unfamiliar with Japan’s Imperial family, let me explain in simpler terms: Let’s say that Prince Charles and Princess Diana had two little girls—Wilma and Harriet—and weren’t able to produce additional offspring. Let’s say that British law wouldn’t allow Wilma or Harriet to become Queen. Why? Because boys just look better in ridiculously large crowns performing utterly superfluous ceremonial duties. What’s a country to do?: 1) change the law or 2) ask Prince Andrew and Princess Fergie to take one for the team and crank out a child with a suitable Y chromosome.

That pretty much sums up the situation in Japan where Princess Kiko (Fergie) is being lauded as a hero and Crown Princess Masako (Diana) has been reduced to a basket case, suffering from stress-induced depression. The Harvard-educated Masako gave up her career in diplomacy to marry the Crown Prince, only to be judged inadequate as a brood mare, having managed to only eke out a single pathetic female child.

I’m going to go kick the tires of our Honda in protest.

* * *

Meanwhile the other Katie, Couric that is, debuted as sole anchor of the CBS Evening News last night. And was promptly taken to task for wearing a white jacket over a black dress. Um, does anyone recall what Brian Williams wore his first day on the job over there at NBC?

So it hasn’t exactly been the best week ever for the fairer sex, and the feminist in me is left once again to ponder why sexism is so pervasive and so persistent. I know “The Da Vinci Code” purported to have the answer, but I still don’t believe it has anything to do with Audrey Tatou being the direct descendant of Jesus Christ.

Here’s hoping that by the time Prince What’s His Name-o marries Suri Cruise, we won’t still be asking this same question.