Sunday, June 26, 2005

Cleaning House

Somebody besides me must have been complaining in the neighborhood; so far this has been the most orderly Gay Pride Day I've seen in years. It was even possible to get out and run errands before the marchers hit the block. I caught a glimpse of the festivities a while ago. People on floats were throwing free t-shirts. Everybody loves free t-shirts.

I still had planned to stay in and catch up on household chores, which began unexpectedly last night when we were trying to medicate Ashley.

We have a tall, narrow metal cabinet in the kitchen that we brought here to use as a pantry when we had to clear out Jim' s mother's house back in 1999. It's the kind of thing that should've been scrapped then: It has a rusty, wobbly bottom and the doors have to be closed with masking tape because the latches have been broken for years.

And to compound matters, this cabinet can't be placed smack up against the wall because of the old-fashioned baseboard moldings and the tilt at the edges of the floors that you always get when you live in a 150-year-old building.

So this cabinet's always been about six inches away from the wall, with cardboard under it to shim it in front and storage boxes on top and the whole thing sways precariously whenever Chico jumps on it, as he always does.

There's this window of opportunity when you have to medicate the average cat where you can grab Fluffy and get the drops into his ears or eyes or mouth before he's hip to what's going on and bolts. Last night my timing was slightly off. Maybe I was cocky because the last three nights went well. At any rate, Ashley bolted to the six inches between the cabinet and the wall and we spent the better part of four hours chasing her back and forth between the swaying cabinet and the nether regions under the bed.

Finally, we both decided that the cabinet had the potential for harm more than good, and at two in the morning we decided to empty it out, put the canned and packaged goods in other places and then this morning with the help of a friend, we carried it downstairs and junked it in the backyard. And then we got rid of a lot of other stuff we'd been meaning to get rid of to make room for the stuff that had been in the cabinet, after we'd gotten rid of half the stuff that had been in the cabinet.

It was a great, cathartic purging and I now feel mighty. I've been released from the obligation of finishing packages of gourmet coffee that I tried and didn't like, and pouring it into gift mugs that I never used. I threw the packages in the trash and placed the gift mugs downstairs in the front hallway of the building. Maybe somebody can pass them out at the parade.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Medicating Kitty

Chico and Ashley
Originally uploaded by brunobaby.
Ashley (in gray, with fashionable black back stripe) has to get an antibiotic squirted into her mouth until pretty much the end of the Summer. Which means that if we're lucky enough to have an overnight trip somewhere, we'll have to book a vet tech to sit because I wouldn't have the nerve to dump the job of trying to catch her on any but the most gifted amateurs. It's like trying to lasso mercury.

The last time we had to medicate a cat every night for that long a period was the last two years of Phoebe's life, when we had to give her subcutaneous hydration for her failing kidneys. Which means that every night we had to hang an IV bag on the kitchen wall, put a cardboard carton on the table, fetch Phoebe and put her in the carton, and then hold her still for a couple of minutes while we stuck a needle the size of a baseball bat into the skin at the scruff of her neck.

As icky as this sounds, you get over the ickiness after the first couple of times. And the needle is extremely sharp, as I found the times when I accidentally stuck myself, so the worst the cat feels is a little pinch when you insert it.

The toughest part was catching Phoebe and holding her still. She was a big cat, and very strong right up until her last days. Plus, she had a lethal swat and a powerful scratch, not to mention a shriek so alarming that it would frighten the other patrons in the vet's waiting room. It often took the two of us holding her plus a neighbor to distract her before we'd get the job done.

And I swear, after a while, that cat learned how to tell time. Every night, we'd clear the table and then, "Where did Phoebe go?" A search of the house would find just her nose sticking out from under the furniture, with a world of stubborn determination expressed in an inch of cat snout.

The night of the day she died, we missed her, but we also kept getting this feeling of, "Isn't there something we're supposed to do?" After five years of medicating geriatric cats, it felt awkward not to have to fret about the wellbeing of an elderly furry creature.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

"We're Here, We're Queer, We're Blocking Traffic"

In an early episode of "Mad About You," Jamie looks out the living room window and remarks that the Gay Pride Parade is blocking the street.

"Again?" replies Paul. And I know I wasn't the only person in my neighborhood to respond to this with the laughter of relief.

You have to live in the Village for a while to know the feeling of walking on eggshells when you give your opinion about the Parade to people you don't know very well. Will they peg you for a homophobe because of your complaints, or will the very mention of "Gay" anything bring out a burst of latent homophobia in them?

The first couple of years I lived here, watching the Parade was fun. Like New Year's Eve in Times Square, it's the kind of thing everybody has to do...once. Also, the first few years I lived here, the Parade attracted maybe four or five thousand people, and it was possible to navigate the streets and buy a quart of milk right up to the moment that the Dykes on Bikes roared into view.

Now, the onlookers and marchers are at least ten times that number, clogging the streets of the Village like cholesterol in an artery. Except with our tiny, narrow streets, it's more like capillaries. And the intersections start to become impassable by Saturday night. So if circumstances require that you stay in town, you spend Saturday afternoon loading up on provisions for the next day, as if you were about to be rendered housebound by a Nor'easter.

This situation has only intensified in the past few years, with the extra security necessary for a gathering of this size. In 2002 I spent an hour and a half in 90-degree heat with a migraine and a quart of melted ice cream trying to convince one of a phalanx of policemen that I had been a bona fide taxpaying resident of my neighborhood since the middle of the Carter Administration.

Similar complaints were lodged years ago by Villagers about the Halloween Parade, which used to wind around the side streets until it grew so huge it had to be moved to Sixth Avenue. But this would be unlikely to happen with the Gay Pride Parade because of The Stonewall, the hole in the wall bar on Christopher where it all began. Like the Cavern in Liverpool, the Stonewall that stands now is not the original, but an antiseptic tourist attraction built decades after the closing of the original.

In fact, the commercialization of the whole event has made it somewhat acceptable to complain about. Slap a rainbow on a beer can and you're in business..."The Official Gay Beer!"

I can appreciate that there are parts of this country, let alone this world, where gays would give their eyeteeth to be able to live in a city where Gay Pride can be allowed to be this huge and commercialized. I wouldn't want to live in those parts myself. You wouldn't see a lot of Jews and Italians.

Still, as I batten down the hatches, I look forward to Monday morning, when the trucks pick up the police barricades, a summer rain washes the glitter into the gutter, and my neighborhood belongs to me.

Um...And That's Just How I Said It, Too! Yeah!

Bull Moose says what I said this morning as I watched the news over my coffee, only he expressed it a great deal more politely than I: "Apologize Rove":

According to the New York Times, this what was said by this representative of a President who pledged to be a uniter and not a divider,

"Speaking in a ballroom just a few miles north of ground zero, Karl Rove said the Democratic party did not understand the consequences of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks

"Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers,'' Rove said Wednesday night. ''Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war.''

These comments are not just vile, but also untrue. The left, right and center were all united after 9/11 behind the effort to fight Osama and the war in Afghanistan. That was a unique moment in recent American history that Rove is attempting to defile to serve his President's political interests. The Administration is faltering, and it needs a diversion from the public's unhappiness.

If I recall correctly, on the morning of September 11th, 2001, as my husband and I stood in the middle of Seventh Avenue amid fleeing businesspeople trying in vain to get a signal on their cellphones, and watching a plume of smoke where there had been two tall buildings, my exact words were a calm yet resolute, "We're gonna get the f***ers."

Then when we went back upstairs and tuned in to CNN and saw bombs exploding over Kabul, my response was, "Good!" I was kinda disappointed when I heard it was two Taliban factions fighting each other, but then figured, "Even better. They'll blow each other up and no more Americans will be killed."

I live in downtown New York, and nobody I knew was talking about understaaaaaanding the terrorists or sending them to a shrink. Only the groups furthest out on the fringes of the left were putting up flyers suggesting the chickens had come home to roost or that the attacks were the result of "American imperialism," and they were matched by folks on the Far Right who also blamed America, only they said it's because tramps like me wear pants.

A couple of people out of hundreds in my e-mail groups said the inevitably politically correct "It's racist to assume it's Arabs" and "the name Timothy McVeigh comes to mind," and they were both from two different e-mail lists and each said the exact same thing independently of the other. Memes disseminated into a frightened population won't take long to find a willing host for their viruses on either the left or the right. Witness the "Macy's won't let their employees say 'Merry Christmas'" rumor of last December.

And I'm not afraid to admit that I assumed right away it was Arabs, because it had been Arabs the last time. In 1993, a group of fanatics attacked the WTC through a bomb in a parking garage, and my first thought on hearing that what I was witnessing was a terrorist attack was, the same or a similar group had now returned to take it, as they say, from the top. Anyone listening to the news for the past twenty years would not be oblivious to the fact that the idea of blowing yourself up in the cause of slaughtering your enemies has achieved a lot of popularity in that part of the world.

In other words, myself and everyone I know in this blue city, and about 98 percent of the people I know in the rest of this country, responded to the 9/11 attacks with outrage and the certainty of justice being meted out to those responsible. Most of us were perfectly okay with the idea of justice being meted out by weaponry. We answered the question, "Can you blaaaame them?" with "Yeah. They did it."

But in the three and a half years since Osama slipped away in Tora Bora, many of us have found ourselves saying, "Wait a minute...did I miss something?" when it comes to the foreign policies of the Bush Administration. The gung-ho attitude post-9/11 has become more and more infiltrated with cries of "Yeah, but..." and those of us stopping to ask just what's going on here have been branded "wimps" at best and "treasonous" by the most loony.

It could be that I haven't been a perfect example of a liberal since I grew disgusted with the "never get angry" aspects of political correctness twenty-five years ago. No thinking person can believe in anything too long without a "Hey, wait a minute" moment. But that doesn't matter, because to people like Mr. Rove, no matter how frequently or articulately I verbalize and vocalize my patriotism, I can never toe his line perfectly enough.

So I give up. A liberal? Sure. Okay. I'm "Flora The Red Menace." Thank you, Karl Rove, for helping me understaaaaaaand myself. Now I don't need therapy.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Tell Me About The Rabbits

I was Googling around looking for an outlet to sell my "General Woundwort Lives" button that I purchased when I saw the movie "Watership Down" back in 1978. I stopped collecting buttons over a decade ago but have held on to most of my collection, figuring they would be worth something someday.

Over the years, I'd remembered "Watership Down" as having been a tad too "misty-moisty," "fair maiden" and "Man Is Evil" for my liking. The music was by Art Garfunkel, for cryin' out loud!

So today I saw a lot of fan pages ("Find out what your name means in Lapine!") and fanfic, but also this study guide that summarized the story and made me remember what was good about the book and the movie.

The tagline that was on the movie posters: "All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and when they catch you, they will kill you." I loved that tagline. The constant flight of the rabbits and the warren being gassed always gave the story Holocaust overtones to me. Rabbits: The Chosen People.

I'd found the rabbit language a kind of cutesy device, but as soon as I heard the rabbit word for droppings, my mind worked overtime imagining the possible uses it could be put to, and as the book went on, I wasn't disappointed. (It's also the name of a popular blog.)

General Woundwort could be any totalitarian dictator from Hitler and Stalin to the Ayatollah. And the warren of snares, where rabbits become dangerously complacent, could be any warren of cubicles in a large corporation. Sure, they fatten you up, but...

And I did sniffle a little at the Art Garfunkel song. Also at the end.

I don't know if I'd go out of my way to rent "Watership Down," but if my husband were channel-surfing and I heard British voices saying "Hazel" or "Fiver" or "hraka," I'd definitely walk into the living room and tell him, "Watership Down! Let's watch this if there's nothing on you really have to see." And I would take the book out of the library again, maybe every few years.

But I'm still selling the button, so let me know if you're interested.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Swank Swink

I went with some friends to a party last night for the literary magazine Swink, which has just produced its second print volume. The party was at The Cutting Room, which is co-owned by Chris Noth of Law & Order fame. Chris wasn't around, but his burgers were good.

Lubricated by free Stoli vodka in flavors, we enjoyed readings by five writers: Sam Lipsyte, David Goodwillie and Manuel Muñoz, who did some short fiction, and two people who did excerpts from their memoirs. Felicia Sullivan read a piece from "Fighting Shoes," about having to be a parent to her coke-addicted mother. And stirring the most whispering was Jesse Friedman, whose family's story was related in the documentary, "Capturing The Friedmans."

In 1987 Jesse and his father Arnold were arrested at their Great Neck home on child molestation charges which are now widely believed to have been falsely alleged. At the age of 19, Jesse was sent to prison for 13 years. His essay, "Sitting the Backseat of a Sedan," tells of a trip from Elmira to New York in chains to attend his father's funeral.

Looking at Jesse, who is soft-spoken and balding, you realize that one does not have to appear to be as wacko as Jacko to be suspected of lurid goings-on with children. Remember Buck Henry's "Uncle Roy" character from Saturday Night Live?

I wondered, if there were not strong evidence to the contrary that this guy didn't harm any kids, would Swink have still had him doing a reading? Would it still have been cool or would it have been morally bankrupt? If I had kids, would I instinctively yank them out of the way when I saw this guy coming?

At any rate, the case of the Friedmans is a sad and horrifying one, and now the DVD with the extra disc is on my "rent this soon" list.

Neil Weekend

I picked up the MOJO Neil Young Special Edition this weekend. This British magazine is chock-a-block with great stuff, my favorite of which is the do-it-yourself Neil Young Box Set. Fans of the Godfather of Grunge have been awaiting the long-promised box set since the late 1980's, and MOJO tells you how to compile one yourself with a variety of both officially released and unofficially unreleased tracks from Buffalo Springfield days to the present.

I also ripped some MP3's for my iPod from the DVD of Rust Never Sleeps. This and the Decade two-disc set would comprise a quick-and-grungy box set of Sixties and Seventies Young.

And in Neil-related news, I was in Barnes & Noble on Sunday and saw that the book "Diary of a Mad Housewife" was back in print. This novel of a frustrated Upper West Side mom and her social-climbing twit of a husband portrayed Yuppies a decade before the word was coined. It was made into a film in 1970 with Richard Benjamin and Carrie Snodgress, but the film is currently out of print and not yet released to DVD.

What does this have to do with Neil Young? After garnering rave reviews as Tina, Snodgress dropped out of show business for several years to live with Young in unofficially unreleased connubial bliss.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Home Again, Home Again

Ashley is currently resting under a cabinet in the bedroom. She was given IV fluids while she was knocked out, so the tech said she won't dehydrate if she wants to skip a couple of meals and rest.

Meanwhile, he gave me instructions for the two different ear medications, a different medication for each ear. Also an antibiotic pill, but I can pulverize that and hide it in some smelly food.

I'm definitely looking into getting vet insurance for her and for Chico. By the time I'd heard about it for my previous cats, they were old enough to play golf in Century Village with Red Buttons.

The vet thinks the ear infections started with an attack of ear mites as a kitten and when she was rescued, they treated the mites but the damage had already been done deep inside. It's amazing that Ashley's never shown any symptoms--I wonder if she thinks that this is how she's supposed to feel. Who knows what goes on in those little heads. They're probably following instincts that have kept them going for a thousand years in the wild. And we're probably going to be repairing the damage done by her inauspicious beginnings for years to come.

Yes, insurance would be a great idea.


The vet got back to me at about 4:15 saying that Ashley was doing fine, but the "polyp" that the emergency hospital had seen and not removed wasn't a polyp at all, but an infection going all the way into her inner ear, puncturing the ear drum. It's something they wouldn't have seen unless she'd been put out.

"Does that mean she's deaf?"

"Oh no, I go scuba diving and puncture ear drums all the time."

"Is the infection life-threatening?"

"No, they're just very stubborn to get rid of."

So she's running some cultures to determine the right meds, and determine if there's bone damage. I swear, this cat has shown no symptoms of any kind of infection. If she had, we would have had her to the vet in a nanosecond.

So Far, So Good...

I called at about 2:35 and Ashley had been given her sedative with no ill effects. They'll be giving her laughing gas while they're working on her teeth.

"She's up next in about 10 minutes."

Or as we used to say in the nightclubs, "A singer and then you."

I Google'd "Isoflurane gas" just to reassure myself. Meanwhile, I got this site for a kind of apprentice for which Donald Trump has not yet started recruiting.


I called the vet's office at about 1:20 and was told that Ashley is still awaiting her dental. They have a tech out today and a lot of patients stacked up.

Kinda sounds like planes, not pets.

So I wait with baited breath, while Ashley waits with bad breath.

Kitty Teeth

I dropped off Ashley at the vet's the morning to have her teeth cleaned, and am now breathing a silent prayer that all goes well with the anesthesia.

We couldn't give her any food after 10 last night, which was okay with her because she's not a night eater. However, this morning she started with cries that escalated from the insistent to the pathetic to "Damn this lousy service, I'm never eating here again!"

We didn't feed Chico either, although obviously it would have been okay if he'd eaten. We could have put him in the bathroom with a dish of food, but he wouldn't have eaten it. This is because Chico never eats when you first put the food in front of him. It's usually: You put the food in front of him, he runs and jumps all over the house, and Ashley samples the food from her dish and from his. This would be like, if you went to a restaurant and when the waiter brings the food you do ten laps around the restaurant, and then when you come back your dining companion has eaten your salad and your soup.

We feigned nonchalance as we battened down the hatches, trying to second-guess where Ashley would be likely to hide once she saw us pick up the carrier. Then Jim held the carrier and I held a beach towel to throw over her head and wrap her in. She kept slipping out like a greased eel, slinking under cabinets and bookcases until I finally cornered her behind some boxes on top of the refrigerator and dropped her butt-first kicking and screaming into the carrier. I felt like Cruella DeVille.

Then we feigned nonchalance for another ten minutes while I put on my work clothes and make-up. She wasn't fooled.

I grabbed a cab outside the house. On the way uptown, the driver, a middle-aged Jamaican man, said, "Tell me...these blind people who walk with the do they get dressed? How do they know what they are wearing? Does somebody help them?"

"I guess they do it by feel," I replied.

"I saw a story on the news, these blind children were riding bicycles, and they could tell where they were going because they would make a noise. A clicking noise, and it would bounce off the buildings. So they would tell where they were going like bats. Bats are blind, but they can tell where they're flying by sound."

So, reinforced with this knowledge of animals, I arrived at the vet and checked Ashley in at the desk where they showed me an estimate to get my kitchen refinished. A guy was checking in a little dog. The guy was scared about the anesthesia for the little dog.

Before I left, I told her what I've told every cat I've ever brought to the vet: "Hey, we always bring you back. On the day we don't, you won't care."

And now I wait, holding my breath until I hear that she's okay.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Wolves and Coyote

The vet called early this afternoon--on a Sunday--to tell us that Ashley's bloodwork was "perfect." Yay! Still scared about her having the anesthesia on Friday, though.

I spent the afternoon checking out the thrift stores on 23rd Street. At the corner of 23rd and 3rd, in the drooling 90 degree heat, there were two actresses in wolf costumes handing out CDs. "Free audiobook," they announced. It was "Wild Animals," narrated by Peter Coyote.

I considered taking one. It was free, it was Peter Coyote, and I've always had a trace of sympathy for anyone making crappy money by putting on a costume in a heat wave. At least Pluto and Goofy have a dental plan.

But then I figured, we won't listen to it. There will be a Yankees game, and then stuff we've time-shifted, and then something else and something else and then in November we'll end up saying, "Let's face it, we're not gonna listen to this" and donating it to Housing Works.

So then I turn around and go into Housing Works and in the Donations piles, somebody's already donated one.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Ashley's Vet Visit

We had an appointment at 1:40 in the afternoon. Given the ordeal of getting her into the carrier the last time, we decided to leave ourselves about an hour to accomplish it this time.

It took us 30 seconds.

Fortunately, the vet had a cancellation and took us early. We're going to get the bloodwork results tomorrow, but she thinks Ashley's doing well and the digestive thing is probably nothing serious.

She is, however, in need of dental work, something the emergency hospital had not told us in April. This is understandable, since they're a trauma center and their job is limited to determining whether or not your pet's been poisoned, has broken bones or their innards are falling out. You know, an emergency hospital.

So we have to drop her off on Friday morning and pick her up after five. Hopefully, she should be okay for anesthesia. I always worry a little more about Ashley, partly because I'm one of those crazy cat owners. But also it's because Ashley had a bad start in life, and when I say "bad," I mean that when she was first rescued they weren't sure she was going to make it. She was so weak and undernourished that she needed a month's worth of vet work and the home nursing care of a City Critters volunteer before she was healthy enough to be spayed.

She's still a little smaller than average. For one thing, she's got the smallest head of any cat I've ever seen. It's like a weasel's head. But her face is beautiful. She was a little plumper when we got her than she is now, but this is because in foster care she loved dry food, which is carb-heavy, whereas in this house any cats get the higher-protein canned plus an occasional crunchy thing for a treat. So it's sort of like the kitty version of Atkins.

Whenever I meet a City Critters volunteer and I mention Ashley, the volunteer will always respond "Oh, you have Ashley!" as if we've won a prize. Which we have. And hopefully, good food, good vet care and a lot of love will keep her going for a long time.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Capitalist Candy Bars

A conservative radio talk show host in Denver was having a canary over a politically correct textbook designed to teach math using stories of social injustice. (Link courtesy of Ann Althouse.)

VekTor reprints a sample from the text to show what I'm talking about:

For example: Let's say two teachers use word problems to teach double-digit multiplication and problem-solving skills. They each present a problem to their students. The first teacher presents this one:

A group of youth aged 14, 15, and 16 go to the store. Candy bars are on sale for 43¢ each. They buy a total of 12 candy bars. How much do they spend, not including tax?

The second teacher, meanwhile, offers a very different problem:

Factory workers aged 14, 15, and 16 in Honduras make McKids children's clothing for Wal-Mart. Each worker earns 43 cents an hour and works a 14-hour shift each day. How much does each worker make in one day, excluding fees deducted by employers?

While both problems are valid examples of applying multi-digit multiplication, each has more to say as well. The first example has a subtext of consumerism and unhealthy eating habits; the second has an explicit text of global awareness and empathy. Both are political, in that each highlights important social relations.

VekTor is steamed about this because it's inculcating "leftist values."

Me, I'm a Middle-ist, or according to the latest Pew study, a Communist. I take issue with the book for another reason. While it's never a bad idea for American kids to appreciate how good they've got it here as opposed to the "Children of Other Lands" who have to sew their fecockteh overpriced sneakers for them for pennies a day, making this a morality lesson in school is only going to make the kids feel guilty. When I was a teenager and adults were trying to lay a guilt trip on me, I'd rebel by doing just the thing they were afraid I would do.

Therefore, you can expect to see a backlash: Gangs of teenagers with a big piece of red meat in one hand and a cigar in the other, Rush Limbaugh blaring from their boom boxes, wearing the pelts of endangered species on their heads.

Let's face it: Those Children of Other Lands would be rabid little consumers in a minute, given our opportunities. They'd be going "To Hell with the Rainforest, gimme Nintendo! Bwah ha ha ha!" or whatever the equivalent is in their language for sounding like a villain in a melodrama.

I've never found morality and math to be a good mix. It reminds me of a bit that comedian Bill McCarty used to do about Catholic school. The nuns would ask:

"If Jeeee-sus has five loaves and two fishes, how many people can Jeeee-sus feed?' And the answer is, as many people as Jeeee-sus wants to! That's why most Catholics suck at math. That's why most accountants are Jewish.

Me, I didn't really learn math until my first babysitting job, $1.00 in multiples of hours and half-hours. I added to this knowledge with my first real, wage-earning afterschool job at Alexander's on Queens Boulevard, where I multiplied the minimum wage for 1971, and learned percentages and subtraction through my employee discounts. Then when I was temping in the '80s, we had to round every billable hour to the nearest tenth of a decimal point.

And then in 2001, the job I was doing got outsourced to Children of Other Lands.

More Cat Troubles

Originally uploaded by brunobaby.
Ashley had a recurrence of the digestive problem this week. We called our regular vet, who'd received all the test results from the emergency vet a month and a half ago. She saw something in the bloodwork she wasn't entirely pleased with--some kind of mild anemia--and wants to retest.

So tomorrow we have to load Ashley into the carrier and bring her to the vet's. Oh joy. Then we'll need a doctor for ourselves. We'll have to plaster all the cracks in the wall tonight. She'll probably figure out how to hide in one of them.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Wife and Chair

You know you're a New Yorker when you look at this picture and think, "Wow! What a big kitchen."

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

A Day In The Country, With Stores

Hunter-Gatherer Mel has returned to her lair to eat of her kill...of Career Sportswear.

I left for the Shortline bus at the Port Authority Tuesday morning carrying that ubiquitous piece of New York City luggage, the J&R Music World shopping bag. In it was a light jacket in case the air conditioning was at Warp Ten, and a Key Lime flavored Luna Bar, which is tastier survival food than dried pemmican. I would have taken my iPod or a book to read on the way up, but I knew that within the first hour of shopping, it would have felt like a cinderblock.

I made the 9:30 bus, which was so popular that they had had to add a second 9:30 bus. The people on the bus wore an air of happy anticipation. We would have broken out into camp songs if we could have found a language we all knew. Most of my fellow passengers were tourists from Europe and Asia, taking advantage of the strength of their currency. Guidebooks in various alphabets extolled the pleasures of day trips from New York.

The bus made good time through Bergen and Rockland counties, and deposited us at Woodbury Common at about 10:30 . The air smelled like honeysuckle, and oldies wafted out of loudspeakers placed at regular intervals. Having picked a Tuesday to go up there was a good idea, perhaps too good. The stores were nearly deserted, and eager salesclerks would come up to me one after the other saying "Can I help you?" They'd look crestfallen whenever I'd answer, "No, just looking." Either that, or they were looking at me like I was nuts. Who comes to an Outlet Center to just look?

After a few stores, I knew what the cousins had meant when they said it wasn't a real factory outlet. It was more like a fairly decent sale at the average mall. I had downloaded the map from Woodbury Common's website the night before and spent an hour drawing circles, stars and arrows as if I were planning the Normandy Invasion. I wanted to make sure I didn't miss any place that might conceivably have something I'd like, and I was also afraid that I would get lost. This last fear turned out to be groundless, because there was a Colonial Williamsburg-type tower at the entrance that could be seen from just about anywhere in the place. Also, all paths led to the Food Court in the middle, where I replenished myself throughout the day with salads, sandwiches and Starbucks.

Since I hadn't come up by car, my search was limited to what I could carry, i.e., clothing and accessories. So this eliminated Le Creuset cast-iron saucepans and Mikasa china, as well as the lawn furniture line from Crate & Barrel. And my other condition: If I had any doubts, don't get it. Most of the stores will not let you return anything at their regular branches, and I didn't want to have to spend thirty bucks to bring back a $20.00 shirt.

Conversely, I discovered after the first hour or so that if I saw anything I really liked, it was best to buy it on the spot rather than say, "Eh, maybe later." This is because with 220 stores, not only was it possible that I wouldn't have time to go back to any of them, but that after 220 stores, I'd forget where I'd seen whatever it was I'd liked. Ergo, there was a necklace of semi-precious stones for $15.00 that will remain just a fleeting memory.

I surprised myself by checking out all the high-end places that I'm usually not interested in. When in Rome, etc. In fact, at Zegna, an Italian clothing outlet, I saw this great little black dress that was so expensive that at first I'd thought the price tag was in lira. The only way I could have justified this purchase to myself would have been to have worn it every day, all day, like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Every women's clothing place seemed to feature capri pants, which are frowned upon at the conservative company in which I work. And whatever pants weren't capri were low-cut, which make most adults look like Homer Simpson no matter where you buy them. So I think I would have found more clothing that I liked at the outlet if there were more clothing being made to my taste in general this season.

But I did have a couple of enlightening moments of "Zen in the Art of Shopping":

One, I go clothing shopping at least once every weekend. I joke about shopping until I drop. But the fact is, it's usually about four hours of shopping interspersed with other errands and appointments: dropping off stuff at the thrift shop or the dry cleaner, going to the library, getting a haircut. However, being faced with eight hours of enforced clothes shopping soon takes on the characteristics of a lost "Twilight Zone" episode. ("Melinda Bruno, doomed to wander about a shopping center for eternity.") And the 90 degree heat didn't help, although it was a better-smelling 90 degrees than in Manhattan.

Two, although shopping alone in the City may be the smarter option than dragging somebody with me as I zip around town like a pinball, an excursion out of town can be more enjoyable when shared. For one thing, by three in the afternoon I was starting to feel like a bag lady. For another, if you separate when you get there and then agree to meet at, say, noon for lunch and three for coffee, you get to do the ever-popular, "Where did you get that?"

"From that place over there!"

"Oh man, I've gotta check that one out! I missed that one."

I realized this on the return bus. The young Japanese woman sitting across from me had a Williams-Sonoma bag with a cute and colorful child's lunchbox sticking out of it. I would have liked to have bought one, but hadn't even bothered to look in Williams-Sonoma because I'd figured they only had heavy kitchenware.

The young woman also had a Zegna bag which held something black. Perhaps she's going to live out her own Holly Golightly fantasies back in Tokyo.

The next outlet to explore will be the one in Secaucus, New Jersey, where there is no sales tax on clothes and where I will live out my Carmela Soprano fantasies.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Woodbury Common

Every time we visit Jim's cousins in Cornwall, we pass the Woodbury Common Premium Outlets. The complex is nestled in a valley, and as our Shortline bus or rental car rounds the bend on the Thruway, it appears into view like a little slate-roofed Shangri-La, or a theme park for shopaholics.

"It's not like a real factory outlet," say the cousins, dismissively. "It can be a rip-off. What do you need with it? You're in The City."

I try to persuade whoever I'm with to swing by there. It's maybe a 15-minute drive from the cousins, but over an hour's ride from home.

"You can drop me off there and then I'll meet you later on the bus going back." No deal.

I'd been meaning to take a ride up there, but something more important would always come up, like the fact that I live a ten-minute subway ride from any discount designer goods one could want. And then we'll go to Cornwall again, and we'll pass Woodbury Common again, and again my curiosity will be peaked.

I have some vacation time, and have decided to use it gradually a few days here and a few days there for something that's more fun than a colonoscopy. So tomorrow, I'm going to take a ride up there for the day.

My husband kept suggesting people I should take with me, coming up with less and less likely possibilities until he was down to people I hadn't seen since fourth grade.

"No! I went to Europe alone! I went to California alone! Why can't I go shopping alone?"

"But you'll be lonely!"

Ah, but I must be alone when I shop. I must be Hunter-Gatherer Mel, intent only on tracking down my own heart's desire, untethered by somebody who takes ten years to make up her mind over a pair of earrings. Nor do I have a clear conscience about dragging some poor suffering soul with me like a ragdoll as I dart from bush to underbrush in search of...well, it has to be cotton and it's usually black.

And then, my husband actually went shopping with me a few weeks ago and was so traumatized by the experience that he's stopped arguing with me.

"Frogs" Is Good

I've read the first few chapters of "You Have To Kiss A Lot of Frogs" and it's good! It's not just this "I can't get a husband" kind of whining nonsense. It's more like, "Why am I in my 40's and still doing the same stupid things with my work and my love life that I did in my 20's?" It's a midlife crisis told with wit and warmth, and not hackneyed at all.

In describing 15 years in the life of her protagonist Karrie Kline, Laurie Graff has a deadly accurate ear for dialogue and keen powers of observation. This comes out in a scene where Karrie is visiting her mother and stepfather in the Catskills and they talk about her single state more in what they don't say than in what they say. When Karrie's stepfather follows her into the kitchen and tells her, "You'll forget all about the City and the acting," he could have been speaking for the thousands of well-meaning relatives and friends who have ever told independent-minded women inadvertently, "You'll forget all about this 'being yourself' crap when the right man comes along."

As if whatever you've spent the first 30 years of your life building was cute and all, but the day after your thirtieth birthday you're supposed to put it all aside and the only thing it's important to be is married. As if maintaining your individuality wasn't something you have to do the rest of your life, and keeping your identity isn't even more crucial after you've merged.

And at the same time, you can't just shrug these comments off, because there's always this voice that tells you deep down inside that there must be something weird about you if you haven't successfully merged. And this voice is still a part of you even after you merge.

I'm looking forward to reading the rest of this, and it's come to my attention that when I dismiss something as "chick lit" in my Geek Girl, "Pink Makes Me Puke" kind of way, I'm perpetuating the kind of thinking that says that so-called Women's Issues are in some way inferior to "Regular" issues. Or the corollary: That they're better in a kind of "Noble Savage" way ("You ladies are so in touch with your feelings!").

The "Girl Ghettoes" of Women's Night at New York City comedy clubs gave many comediennes some valuable development opportunities, but there was always this stigma attached of being not funny enough to be on in the "regular" shows. Meanwhile, the guys at the bottom of the comedy club food chain were resentful that a girl with a crappy act could at least get a lousy spot on Women's Night.

So you took advantage of the opportunity and meanwhile, worked on your act until you were just good, with no qualifier. And then made sure people knew you were good. So if Red Dress Ink is the Women's Night of fiction, then (Kelly Ripa and Fran Drescher and) I say, this book is just good.

Sunday, June 05, 2005


I found another "Red Dress Ink" book this afternoon, and actually paid money for it. Looks like I've found my guilty pleasure for the summer just in time for the heat to melt my brain. I bought Laurie Graff's "You Have To Kiss A Lot of Frogs" at Housing Works Thrift Shop on 17th Street, so I only paid thrift shop money for it. There's a quote from Kelly Ripa on the front, and an endorsement from Fran Drescher inside, so Laurie must be one of Red Dress Ink's heavy-hitters.

I skimmed it and saw references to the character's mother buying her a dress in a store on Queens Boulevard and her wanting to grow up and move into The City, so I'll probably relate to this one more than the last one.

Also, in the middle of a page of Acknowledgements, the author thanks Nancy Giles. Nancy is a friend of my sister-in-law's, a talented actress and a great person, so any friend of Nancy's is good in my books.

Housing Works on 17th Street recently renovated and added something new: security tags on the clothes and one of those sensor things by the door. As one of the two "designer thrift shops" on that block--the other is Angel Street--they've long had stuff worth stealing, but it's sad to think that people actually would.

Time to make myself a big peanut butter and Nutella sandwich and read my latest acquisition.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Chick Lit

The downstairs hallway of our building is the repository for everybody's old books, magazines, exercise equipment and whatever you don't feel like hauling to the thrift shop. It's given me a great opportunity to sample stuff I probably wouldn't otherwise pay attention to.

Yesterday, somebody left a copy of "Slightly Single" by Wendy Markham, which is a "Red Dress Ink" book. "Red Dress Ink" is the "new, edgy, single girl in the city" division of Harlequin Romances.

I enjoy reading a good "young single girl in the city" novel, seeing if I can recognize my younger self in the protagonist. But by a few pages into "Slightly Single," I realized that Tracey Spadolini was not me twenty years ago but more like some obnoxious girl who used to follow me around punching me in the arm while chattering obsessively about whether or not her boyfriend is interested in her.

I've been wondering who the audience is for "He's Just Not That Into You," knowing it couldn't have been me: I've been highly cynical since childhood and have tended not to trust that a guy was really into me unless suicide pacts were being mentioned. But now I know who these self-help books for the clueless are aimed at...they're for Tracey Spadolini.

That being said, I enjoyed the book. It was a good Friday night read. Maybe a good beach read. It moved along quickly, and the heroine grew on me. Most of us can remember having one too many margaritas, or making a phone call you shouldn't have made, or having a boss who's a jerk. Also, her apartment is pretty realistic: One room, a tiny kitchen, one window. And I enjoyed the descriptions of the other secretaries in her office, her catering jobs, and spending a three-day weekend with her family in Buffalo. I could definitely see this as some kind of "made for Lifetime" movie.

What really impresses me is that this genre has become mainstream enough for Harlequin to have its own renditions of Bridget Jones. Twenty years ago, when I actually was a young single edgy stand-up comic, I was often told that the kind of stuff I was doing wasn't going to sell in Mainstream, America.

"You're not suburban enough," one promoter said.

"So what does that mean? I should drive onstage in an SUV?"

"Ha ha! You're funny."

"So book me if I'm funny."

"Send me a tape."

What I ought to have done is written a book of "things that promoters say when they're Just Not That Into You."

Spoiler alert, in case you happen to read "Slightly Single." She doesn't end up with the "nice guy" at the end. That's how these stories always ended when I was growing up: The crazy, mixed up single girl would come to her senses at the end and marry the Nice Guy. This is because in the old days, the writers of these stories were always Nice Guys.

Friday, June 03, 2005

The One That Goes "Da Daaa Da Da Da...."

I saw a feature on this thing yesterday on NY1 News. It's called "Name My Tune." You sing or hum a few bars of some tune for which you need the title/artist, and the site will identify it for you.

It's free.

I could have used this four years ago when I was Googling "Bway-Oh" because I couldn't remember "Sun Goddess."

You can also listen to other people humming and singing, and then help identify their songs for them. And then you can also say, "Oh, that guy sings as bad as me!"

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Out Sick

I took a sick day yesterday due to what's either a sudden cold or an extremely bad allergy. My money is on "allergy" because it seems to come and go with no progression. Today it's being kept in control by Claritin and this herbal cough syrup made from licorice and whatever was in the blended drink that Ruth Gordon brought to Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby.

I did solve the mystery of the DVD recording software, though. When I didn't hear back by yesterday evening from LaCie's tech support, I called them on their non-toll-free number. The guy said that our computer does support their drive without my having to install the stuff from the disc, and that I should be able to choose the drive to which I want to burn stuff once I'm in the program and there's a disc in the drive.

So I tested this in iTunes by selecting "eject disc" and it responded by opening and closing all of the little drawers on all of the drives, as if it were going "You mean this one? How about this one?" But it eventually got around to the new DVD burner. Of course, this means that I upgraded the system software for nothing, but it's nice to catch up with the curve for a few minutes.

Oh yeah, and after I got off the phone with the tech support guy, somebody answered my tech support e-mail from the other night.

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