Saturday, December 31, 2005

"Hold Me Closer, Tiny Danza"

I'm going to get this t-shirt.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

"I Hate Your Politics"

This oldie but goodie had me chuckling so hard, I was getting looks from adjoining cubicles:

Liberals: The stupidest and weakest members of the political triumvirate, they allowed conservatives to turn their name into a slur against them, exposing them as the political equivalent of the kid who lets the school bully pummel him with his own fists (Stop hitting yourself. Stop hitting yourself. Stop hitting yourself).

Conservatives: . . . Less interested in explaining their point of view than nuking you and everything you stand for into blackened cinders before your evil worldview catches on like a virus. Conservatives have no volume control on their hate and yet were shocked as Hell when Rush Limbaugh went deaf.

Libertarians blog with a frequency that makes one wonder if they're actually employed somewhere or if they have loved ones that miss them.

And in a follow-up entitled "Scalzi the Blog Killer," the author has some insightful comments about blogging vs. "real" writing:

This freedom and immediate and active feedback is emotionally much more compelling than, say, shutting the door, writing an article, picking a market and then sending it off and waiting for weeks before receiving a single binary response to it (accepted/rejected). And it's certainly more fun than spending a few hours coming up with query ideas to pitch to an editor who has to riffle through a couple hundred other query ideas from other writers that same week, many of whom had the same idea you did (yes, it happens, the bastards).

Link from one of the ninety million and a half commenters on Althouse.

Monday, December 26, 2005

At The Quik-E-Nail

There are these chains of manicure-pedicure places that are springing up like Starbucks all over the city. They're usually run by Korean or Russian immigrant women. I was in need of a manicure today; I'm going to wear the "good" pantsuit tomorrow and it looks wrong without a faceful of make-up and painted fingernails.

Usually, I go to a small, boutique-y salon near my office for this kind of stuff, but I swore to myself and the co-workers who insisted I take those use-'em-or-lose-'em vacation days that I would go nowhere near the office until I return to work on Wednesday. So I walked up to the reception desk of a nail place in the neighborhood and asked if I needed an appointment.

"No, I take you," said a young woman in a Bloomie Nails apron, sotto voce. "Come quickly." She led me to a seat in a barracks of manicure stations which faced a barracks of nail-drying stations. I picked a color from a phalanx of bottles and followed hastily, since she seemed to be in possession of the knowledge of some secret plan.

At my usual salon, the esthetician is Mickey, a woman about my age who emigrated from South Korea when she was in her 20's, and who keeps up a steady patter while she's working. She'll regale me with tales about her family, her other customers, and where she got the designer suit she's wearing for $1.98. By contrast, my manicurist at today's place, whose name tag identified her as Linda, sawed silently away at my fingertips with an alacrity that strongly suggested that she was getting paid per customer. It was kinda like the difference between having a mistress and going to a $20 'ho.

She even asked for the money up front, or at any rate, before she put on the polish. The price I'd been quoted at the desk did not include the special quick-drying topcoat or the manicure tools; I'd brought a few of my own but for some reason, lacked a buffer.

After the polish was applied, I sat at a nail drying machine and watched a flat screen TV with the sound off and the closed captioning on. It was showing "The Gauntlet," an MTV reality show where groups of well-oiled youngsters competed and partied on a beach in the Caribbean. About fifteen minutes later, as the contestants ran with coconuts on bamboo poles, Linda was standing next to me holding out my jacket.


Wham, bam, thank you ma'am. She clenched her hands to indicate to me that I should do the same in order to keep my surface-dried nails from touching anything as I put my arms through the sleeves. I had the tip handy without having to dig into anything snaggy, thanked her and left.

A leisurely walk around the neighborhood without using my nails, and they were indeed dry all the way through. Although probably not "hold a steaming pot of mashed potatoes" dry as I reheat last night's leftovers.

So here I am at my keyboard getting ready to visit my mother tomorrow at the convalescent home and wear the "good" pantsuit. And reflect that at this time when old acquaintances are so important, they extend to something as seemingly trivial as finger- and toenail maintenance. Having stable relationships is important, although a quickie can sometimes be a satisfying, albeit empty experience.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Not A Creature Was Stirring

Happy Merry Whatever
from Melinda, Jim, Ashley & Chico

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Warm Christmas

It was unseasonably warm this afternoon, so I went to look for snow boots.

The stores along 14th Street were practically deserted; at one shoe store I had four clerks ask simultaneously if they could help me. So it was a great day for individualized service. Unfortunately, this was a store where they never have the shoe I've asked them for in my size; if I ask for a nine, they give me a ten and an excuse.

"This is an eight and a half, but it runs wide." Runs wide? How does this help me? Will my foot change shape, while still maintaining the same amount of mass?

Finally, I decided on a fresh pair of New Balance trail shoes. While not snow boots per se, the pair I've had has seen me through all but the worst blizzards, in which they just get a little wet.

There was a vendor at a table on the street selling socks with Christmas motifs. One pair was inscribed, "Dear Santa...Define 'Good'".

On the way back, I stopped off at the pet store to get the cats a replacement for their scratching post. I chose Cosmic Catnip's Alpine Scratcher, which is a little cardboard ramp with a picture on the side of a cartoon Chico in lederhosen. I brought it upstairs and the actual Chico jumped on it before I could remove the shrink wrap, and set right in digging his claws, front and back, like a man with a job to do. Ashley is just twanging on the catnip mouse on a cord that's dangling inside the ramp. Her scratching post of choice remains my mattress.

Then Jim and I took some stuff to donate at Housing Works, who had already figured there would be no further business and had closed their doors early. They opened them again for our stuff. They had some attractive mid-century modern-looking chairs, which I'm sure Ashley would choose as her new scratching post.

Tomorrow will be a quiet day at home, with visiting stretched out over subsequent days. No big deadlines; everybody seems to be scattered this year around work, traveling, etc. I longed for years like that when I was a kid instead of the same old things all the time. So, tomorrow will be a new thing, and it'll have whatever it has.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Fares and Fairs

The buses and subways were back in full force this afternoon. I used my Metrocard liberally, which means that I used it to save the whales.

Unlimited Metrocards are getting three days' extension. Mine still gave an expiration date of Jan. 2 when I fed it into the slot on the bus, but the driver assured me that the days would be added.

NY1 is having a feature right now on people who work in the subways, whose livelihoods depend on there being subways. There are stores down there, and also those Peruvian guys who've been playing "El Condor Pasa" for the past twenty years, and all lost a lot of income this week.

Also losing money were those holiday fairs: Grand Central, Union Square, Bryant Park, a couple of others, most of which are only running until tomorrow. These are small vendors who sell their stuff at street fairs when it's warm, holiday fairs when the street fair season is open, and online and through catalogs the rest of the time.

I checked out Union Square, which included:

It should be noted, for the benefit of my husband, that C.O.P.A. Soaps and High Fidelity are both Philadelphia-based companies. It should also be noted that in light of the fact that I won't be able to stick my nose in their soaps again until April, I sprang for a range of C.O.P.A.s in the Spicy, Relaxing and Herbal categories.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Shuffle and Rest

No sign of the crosstown bus a couple of hours ago, when I was out grocery shopping. The transit workers are having trouble getting back to work because there's no public transportation.

Meanwhile, the building's furnace is malfunctioning again. Last week it merely piddled on and off, but now it's on full blast, rendering the air into cubic feet of concrete.

We've turned on the fans, and a breeze is oscillating languidly back and forth as I lie on the bed listening to my iPod shuffling its mid-60's mix. And so my week comes full circle.

They're Going Back

A spokesman for the TWU just announced outside their HQ to a flurry of news mikes that they had voted to go back to work immediately. He then retreated back into the building, ignoring the entreaties of reporters including the one who was asking questions adamantly in Spanish, maybe figuring he'd have a better shot because the spokesman was Hispanic.

Then another spokesman appeared and called for amnesty: Being exempted from the fines and from getting docked two days for every day they were out.

Sitting This One Out

I've got vacation days today and tomorrow, so I didn't have to deal with the walk this morning.

I felt guilty about it, but could assuage my guilt by reminding myself that unlike half the people in my office, I could remember the strike of 1966. My father drove me to school, just like the kids in the suburbs, and in the afternoon I walked home. Eight blocks in the snow, you little whippersnappers. Flibblety-floob.

I've spent the morning doing the business of sleeping, taking small breaks from my business to eat breakfast, feed the cats and make a list of chores and errands to do once my worn-out carcass has had all the sleep it can take. I've also been watching NY1 and according to the ribbon running along the bottom of the screen, negotiations are happening and the TWU may tell its workers to get back to their jobs while the negotiations continue. So we could see a crosstown bus as soon as tonight.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"Who's That Man With The Soup On His Head?"

Not Soupy Sales, but Soupy George.

Day Two

Got up at a quarter to six and watched NY1 interviewing people at the ass-end of Queens who were waiting two hours to buy tickets for the Long Island Railroad Train.

The PATH and the streets seemed much more crowded today, and there are more people present in my office than the skeleton crew that was here yesterday. I think that yesterday, a lot of people just said, ah, the hell with it, and today they're saying, "Well, you can't stay home forever."

I have two use-them-or-lose-them vacation days tomorrow and Friday. Tomorrow morning is a special challenge: I have to get to a doctor's appointment at 91st and Park. It would be a ten-mile walk, my husband wants to come with me, and ten miles is a bit too much of a hike. The cabs are making out like bandits: They're charging $20 per person each way to take you from the Village to the Upper East Side. That's as much as renting a car for the day. The private car services are not taking reservations until further notice.

Update: Doctor's appointment postponed till next Thursday. So apparently, it's not crucial. They may settle the strike by then. The one in 1980 lasted ten days, but as much of a pain as it was, it wasn't as unpopular as this one.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Walking in Space

Two of the Queens people got to the office at about ten, having carpooled it in with two other Queens people and then parking at exorbitant rates. Most of the other Manhattan people had walked distances similar to mine.

Two of the Jersey people said I could use my Metrocard on the PATH. They swore that they'd used one successfully just the other day.

When I left the office at five, it was as cold and dark outside as the moon. I pulled up the fake fur-trimmed hood on my down coat and I felt like a Space Eskimo. In my muffled hood universe I could hear stray lines of conversation.

"Remember the last transit strike?"

Then an inaudible reply, followed by:


"Yeah, 1979."

Somebody else was saying, "Are they even talking?"

"I saw CNN before when I went out on a break. Pataki scolded the strikers. Fat lot of good that's gonna do. He's on his last legs and he's hootin' and hollerin'."

Maybe tomorrow, I'll make some new friends.

Sixth Avenue was amazingly clear of major traffic snarls. This was, no doubt, due to the "Minimum four people per car" rule, and the fact that a lot of the side streets were closed off. Fifth and Madison are "Emergency Vehicles Only."

The Manhattan Mall was doing a livelier business than usual, because it's at the 33rd Street station of the PATH and a block away from Penn Station, two of the few contingency means of exit from Midtown right now. Guys from Modell's Sporting Goods were passing out flyers. "Strike Special! Strike Special!" I checked out a new cheap, trendy store called Charlotte Rousse and then went downstairs to the PATH platform, where extra personnel were shuttling hordes of displaced persons.

I put my Metrocard into the turnstile, and a buzzer went off and a red light went on. "Invalid!" said the light. Gee, thanks, Jersey people. A PATH guy hurried over.

"Pay per ride?"


"Is it pay per ride or unlimited?"

"Unlimited." A monthly unlimited with half a month left on it.

"Won't accept unlimited. Just pay per ride."

"Oh. Well, maybe they'll give me a refund."

"Haw haw haw! I don't know about that."

"Of course you don't. You're PATH." I hate it when people go haw haw haw.

A clean train dropped me off gently in the Village. There was a machine where you could buy PATH multiple-ride cards which reduced the price per ride, and this creates a new dilemma: Do you invest in a PATH card, when this may be over soon? New York is a bigtime union town, but this particular strike has very few fans. Combine that with the huge fines the TWU is amassing for striking illegally, the fact that it's less than a week till Christmas, and the face-shearing icy chill, and I have a feeling this particular strike may end by the end of the week.

They Really, Really Meant It

The transit workers called a strike at 3 AM, about twenty minutes after I'd given up waiting for an announcement and turned off the TV to get some sleep.

Fortunately, the PATH is still running, and I left an hour earlier than usual this morning to head over to the station at Sixth Avenue and Ninth Street. At my corner was a clutch of Wall Streeters waiting for a shared cab ride downtown, chattering excitedly and warming their faces over the steam from cups of Starbucks. It's still in the "adventure" stage right now.

The PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson) is a separate, non-MTA subway line, sort of like the BART train in San Francisco. It runs from Jersey City and Hoboken, across the river through the Village and Chelsea to 33rd Street near Macy's. It's the one that New Yorkers go "Oh, it's so clean!" when they get on it. PATH was prepared for the extra ridership this morning with enough trains to cause serious congestion. They also had extra workers at the stations, showing us Metrocard zombies how to use their machines and turnstiles.

The only challenge so far has been the mile walk to my office after they ushered us off the PATH at 33rd. I joined a steady stream of people marching up Sixth Avenue. We were resplendent in our sneakers and walking shoes, except for this one woman I saw on 48th Street wearing stilettos--but I think she was pulling a Rosie Ruiz.

I ended up getting to the office fifteen minutes early. The people who have it the toughest are the ones from Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx. They're too close for the commuter trains from Long Island and Westchester, and too far to walk. I did see a Green Bus at one point, but the other private bus lines went out on strike yesterday. The Queens people in my little warren of cubicles have yet to arrive. But then usually, I'm arriving and settling in about this time, so they may show up yet.

I'd thought that management would be springing for bagels and donuts and other round, starch-like objects, but no. Just as well; the walking could get me in shape.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Shuffle and Walk

I've given my iPod instructions to shuffle "Songs" in one of my '60s mixes. Oh sure, I could just tell it to shuffle the entire contents of its little hard drive for that wonderful "Unstuck in time" feeling. But this way, I can pretend it's fifth grade and I'm in my room listening to my transistor radio, wondering when that new Beatles song is going to come on.

Usually, I don't shuffle, because my playlists and mixes are done in a very specific order, like a story with a beginning, middle and end. So when I play them, I'm enjoying the song and also enjoying the little movie soundtrack I've created. But shuffling makes them feel fresh and you notice the song more, because your head isn't thinking ahead and it's unexpected.

Also, when I was a kid in the Bronx, I never realized the Shangri-La's had accents...for obvious reasons.

I'm killing time until midnight, when the new transit strike deadline arrives. The Workers and the Management keep appearing in press conferences, with the outraged posturing of WWF wrestlers. The TWU has assured the Bosses that this time, they really, really mean it, and they're not bluffing.

So in case they really do mean it this time, in a little over two hours I'm going to find out if I'm walking three and a half miles in the freezing cold tomorrow morning.

Meanwhile, shuffle shuffle shuffle. Oooh, here's one I remember from camp.

Giuliani Yes, Larry King No

Michael Totten gives us an inside look at Hezbollah, those truck-bombin', Jew hatin', Ayatollah-lovin' folks who've set up their own fiefdom in Southern Lebanon.

Everything is all hunky-dory when he speaks to their PR guy:

“I used to live in New York,” he said. That explained his terrific English.

“Really?” I said. “Did you like it?”

He looked at me as though I had asked if he liked rotten cheese.

“You must have lived there in the ’80s,” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “It is better now, I know. I have heard about your Giuliani.”

“What do you think about the media in the United States?” I asked him. Hezbollah routinely denounces the American media as “Zionist.”

“I don’t like CNN as much as I used to,” he said. “Just look at Larry King. We need someone more fresh.”

But then, a few days later:

“You are a liar!”

“What?” I said, shocked to hear Hezbollah’s “friendly” media liaison in a rage.

“I can’t believe it. You lie about Hezbollah!”

“Slow down,” I said. “What are you talking about?”

“I saw your Web site.” He meant my blog. “You are writing against the Party!”

Welcome to politics, Hussein. This is what democracy looks like.

Yeah, them Parties of God just don't get it.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

I Think I Just Conjugated "Baby Boomer"

What I recently viewed on Amazon:

Friday, December 16, 2005

Performing Apartment Therapy On Myself

Last night, Apartment Therapy had their holiday party, in a space that answered the question, "What would happen if my apartment were twice as long and somebody took all the furniture out of it and put in a hundred people?"

The space was a store called Built, which makes very expensive reproductions of Scandinavian mid-century modern furniture, all of which was moved to the back of the store for the occasion except for some benches along the walls that served as an impromptu bar/buffet. My friend Nora was there and as I scooped Chex party mix from the buffet, she got to be the lucky recipient of my truculent "I don't know anyone/I can't hear anything" complaints. At one point, my Super-Ego was ready to bitch-slap my Id and my Ego, who were acting like bratty preschoolers. Nora, behaving more sanely than I, suggested to our hosts that we all should have had name tags.

Now normally, this would be kind of a dorky thing. But in this case, where everybody knows each other primarily by their posting name in the "Comments" section of the Apartment Therapy Web site, it would be very practical. There have been a few people whose pictures have been posted at the site for one reason or another, but otherwise, unless you were at a smaller get-together where everyone had a chance to sit or stand around and talk, you wouldn't connect the name with the face.

Meeting people in "meat space" that you've corresponded with online for a while is always a little awkward. You figure, Are they going to be easy to talk to in Real Life? And if you make a jerk out of yourself in person, how will you "face" them online the next day?

As I left the party last night, walking up Broadway in Soho in a freezing drizzle, I remembered the first time I'd gotten together in Real Life with people I'd known from an e-mail list. It was a list for The Monkees, the made-for-TV-sitcom band whose members went on to reunite in 1986 and 1996 for some great high-energy oldies shows. People who had grown up watching the show, either on its original run in the late '60s or in syndication ever since, wanted a central place to exchange info on Monkees memorabilia, events and opinions on pop culture in general, and in 1995 the Internet provided it. Since there's only so much you can say about a band who had their last top forty hit in 1968, conversations gradually took on a more personal note and acquaintanceships, friendships and even a few marriages eventually developed.

Over the years, I've remembered my heyday--or Hey Hey Day, as the case may be--on the Monkees list as being this great social outlet where I was sort of a minor celebrity, or at least one of the core people posting to the list. But at the first get-together I'd attended, which was after I'd been on the list for about three months, I knew a few people who had posted their pictures, and nobody knew me. They were nice enough about it, but you could see the look on someone's face as I'd say, "I'm Melinda" and they'd shake my hand and go, "Oh...yeah, how are you?"

I had gone home feeling crappy about it, and figured, I'll unsub from that stupid list. But then I realized that I hadn't really posted that much, hadn't sent my picture to the Listers' Page, hadn't really participated much beyond reading. So I stepped up the posting a little, both on the list and occasionally in private e-mails when appropriate, and patiently established myself as a "voice." And since this was around the 30th Anniversary Reunion hoopla, there were many Real Life meetings of listers in 1996 and 1997.

So now everybody and their cat has a blog, and some of the lessons that I've learned in e-mail, in school, in life can be applied.

For one thing, I'm considering putting my picture on this blog. You figure, that's a simple thing, what's the problem? The main problem right now is that the utility that Blogger uses to do this is for Windows only right now, and I have a Mac at home. One of my New Year's Resolutions is to stop being so perfectionistic about a home page and just put one up and connect it to the blog, so that there is a whole Land of Brunobaby, with the blog being the everyday, interactive room.

But another conflict about putting up a picture is that I would feel an invasion of privacy from people I'm not looking to run into. Like, what if I'm in line at the supermarket, and someone too close behind me says, sotto voce, "Hello, are Chico and Ashley?" And then frantic musical stings will play in the background, and I will look desperately and wide-eyed at the camera as I flee for my life.

Amba from Ambivablog recently added her picture to her blog. From what she's posted, I know she lives somewhere in my neighborhood. What if I ran into her at the supermarket and introduced myself? Would she feel it as an invasion of privacy? When you're at your keyboard, your blog, you've got your Blog personna on, your Blog-sonna. But when you're out buying bread and wrapped up in your own little bread-buying thoughts, it's startling to run into somebody you even know well.

At any rate, Apartment Therapy does have a lot of reader participation things, like the Smallest, Coolest Apartment Contest, and this fall's Nesting thread. These could be good opportunities to network, and also to find out which contractors will put up new kitchen cabinets without leaving your place looking worse than they found it.

This pre-holiday weekend, we'll be doing some therapy on this apartment, primarily in the area of new window shades, a thorough cleaning, and going through the Shelves of Media exclaiming, "Oh come on, we never watch this one." The end of the year is a good time for sorting out stuff, and sorting out thoughts.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Can't Hear The Orient

As part of the quest to own the movie adaptations of my favorite books, last week I ordered the DVD of "The World of Henry Orient," the wacky 1964 comedy about two preteen prep school misfits and their pursuit of an eccentric musician. I hadn't seen it since I was a kid. It arrived last night and we watched it.

It has the usual changes you make from print to screen: Combining characters, compressing events, changing exposition into action. Plus, the novel is written from the first-person point of view of Gil, the more quiet of the two girls, while the movie's narrative is third-person omniscient. This saves it from being a Hayley Mills "Parent Trap" thing and gives us sophisticated scenes from Peter Sellers, Paula Prentiss, Angela Lansbury and Tom Bosley--in fact, there's surprising gravitas here from the guy who played Richie Cunningham's father.

In contrast to the book, the movie has a more upbeat, less ambiguous ending a la "Take Her, She's Mine." This is very "of its time" and perhaps had the movie been made a few years later, it would have ended with Gil and Val running away to the Haight in pursuit of Jerry Garcia.

The movie is true to the spirit of the book and I'm no purist, so I have no complaints with the adaptation. My complaint is about the sound. You can hardly hear the friggin' dialogue! And if you turn up the volume, the soundtrack just blares at you. Plus, if you're watching it with somebody, you miss additional lines, because for some reason the other person just assumes they've gone temporarily deaf:

Husband: What did he say?

Me: I don't know. I can't hear.

Husband: But you read the book.

Me: This scene isn't in the book.

Husband: Now what did he say?

Me: I don't know. You were talking.

Husband: Roll it back.

Me: We'll be watching it all night!

And why do we say "Roll it back" anyway? It's a DVD. It doesn't roll. This is a holdover from the days of VHS. Decades from now, people as yet unborn will be saying "Roll it back" and some aficionado of pop culture ephemera, perhaps Lileks' daughter, will be telling them where the expression comes from.

At any rate, I'm keeping the DVD until a better remastering is available, which will probably be never since it's part of MGM's budget line and not a big priority. I can enjoy that romping Elmer Bernstein score and the love-letter-to-New York scenery. Perhaps I can play it on the computer with headphones, reading the actors' lips onscreen until I've memorized it, the way Gil and Val memorized every detail of Henry Orient's life.

A couple of trivia:

Merrie Spaeth, who plays Gil, grew up to become a Public Relations guru, an assistant to Nancy Reagan and a PR Consultant to those Swift Boat Veterans who made a lot of trouble for John Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign.

Nora Johnson, the author of the book and daughter of screenwriter Nunnally Johnson, was a student at Brearley in the late '40s. She had a friend who had a crush on Oscar Levant, and the two would spend their afternoons stalking him.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Classic Transit Strike

The transit workers are threatening to walk out Thursday at midnight. They've threatened that three times in the past fifteen years, and it's been settled before a strike could happen.

The last strike was in 1980, and WCBS-TV has archival footage of news broadcasts here. Oooh, I had hair and glasses like that. I looked like a combination of Elton John and a human fly.

The 1980 strike was in the Spring, and it was less painful to walk to work or school. This is when the trend of wearing sneakers with a suit really took off, as illustrated by Melanie Griffith and Joan Cusak in "Working Girl."

Famous Face

So I'm running down 55th Street at lunchtime in the bitter cold and I'm thinking, My face is frozen my face is frozen, when who do I pass running the other way but Joan Rivers, looking all tiny and blonde in a fur coat and spike heels.

It didn't seem like the appropriate time and place to tell her what a big influence she was on my comedy and how much I loved her autobiography ("here is a picture of someone deeply feeling her very personal comedy") so I'm putting it here for the record.

Monday, December 12, 2005

December Dilemma

Okay, so we've resolved the "dead tree card" portion of our holiday celebrations with a box of "Season's Greetings" bearing a wintry snowscape, plus some Hanukkah cards for our older Jewish relatives.

So now there's a new problem: Return address labels and postage stamps.

I must get at least one set of address labels a week from every charity and cause known to humanity, including Habitat for Humanity. Many of these have a decidedly Christmas theme, which means they're inappropriate for the Hanukkah cards. It would also be rather awkward to put them on the "Season's Greetings" cards, since it would be like saying, "We don't personally believe in this stuff, but we hear you people set great store by it." Likewise, I don't expect our Christian friends to send us Hanukkah cards.

So I picked out the address labels that seemed wintry and festive without being overtly Christmas-y. Of course, since the older Jewish relatives are mostly old school liberal Democrats, the labels from the progressive causes ("Equality! Human Rights!") are still somewhat appropriate.

On Saturday, I went to the post office for an extra book of stamps. They gave me "Holiday Cookies," which is, let's face it, Christmas, the way a holiday tree is, let's face it, a Christmas tree. The stamps have, alternately, pictures of Santa, gingerbread men, snowmen and angels. The Santa and the snowmen, maybe I can get away with. And the one with the beige gingerbread man standing side-by-side with the brown gingerbread man could go with the "Equality!" address labels. But angels, that's getting into religious territory. (Although they also constitute part of a uniquely "American religion" that transcends all denominations and that I'll get into here at a later date.)

Fortunately, I have other stamps left over and can use the Christmas ones on envelopes for people who couldn't care less. Today, I used one to pay our cable bill. In fact, I may use them to pay all of our bills along with the "Habitat for Humanity" address labels, so the landlord, the credit card company and the utility company can think I'm some kind of radical who's making a statement about what a bunch of Scrooges they are.

Personally, I don't challenge anyone to a duel when they wish me a Merry Christmas. It's not like they're saying, "Merry Christmas...and here is the tree from which your ancestors hung our Lord!" In fact, I've lived in New York City most of my life and half the people who wish me a Merry Christmas aren't even Christians.

I love the pagan aspects of Christmas: The bright lights on the darkest days of the year, the holly and the ivy and the momentary scent of pine as I pass the tree vendors at the corner. Perhaps I am a Jewid: Half Jew, half Druid. Although sending greeting cards with pictures of Barbra Streisand dancing sky-clad through a forest holding a rum babka may be pushing it.

Elsewhere, Ann Althouse, who I was never really mad at, posts about a controversy in Madison:

Most ordinary people, I think, don't want any political fighting stirred up over Christmas. Look who's doing the stirring here: "46 state legislators, mostly Republicans, wrote and signed a letter to Gov. Jim Doyle...." Doyle is up for reelection next year -- have you heard?

Warm greetings of the season... the election season.

While her ex, Richard Lawrence Cohen, initiates this thoughtful discussion (thoughtful because I agree with it):

As a Jew, a liberal, a lover of the Constitution, and a loather of Fox News, I wish to declare that the word "Christmas" does not faze, throw, offend, upset, or disconcert me in the slightest.

And AmbivaBlog will have this vision at the top of her blog throughout the season, with commenters sharing their interpretations. So far, Michael Reynolds has the funniest.

My Own Personal Pryor

It was May of 1981 and I was visiting some cousins who had HBO. I was recovering from a brief involvement with some people who used "being honest" as an excuse to belittle, abuse and manipulate. I started watching Richard Pryor Live in Concert and spent the next hour doubled over with laughter. His honesty helped me to recover from those other people. This is why he was one of the better things to come out of the Seventies.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Your Own Personal Lennon

NY1 News had a feature this morning on an exhibit of John Lennon photos. One of the interviewees kept talking about "John's Message." When I hear that, I know what to prepare myself for: John was a man of peace, John was a man of peace. Who was the guy, friggin' Gandhi?

Just like everybody has their own personal Bob, everyone has their own personal Lennon. Mine was the wiseass, the drunk and proto-punk of whom even his friends were a little afraid. The one who could marvel that the Beatles were more popular than God, and then take acid to expand his ego to Godlike proportions. I could imagine this Lennon having a few terse words for that same media fame machine that, in the days following his murder, gave it the treatment of a second JFK assassination, with Sean's "Now Daddy is part of God" standing in for John-John's salute.

This Lennon had been an angry young man who was in the process of mellowing out into a thoughtful middle-aged eccentric when his story was ended...and his legend began. It's a Lennon that many of us who cut our teeth on Beatlemania are emulating now.

Other New Yorkers talk about their personal Lennon here and here.

Friday, December 02, 2005

"Food On A Stick Season" Begins

Last night was the company holiday party.

Usually it's held after business hours at a restaurant around the corner from the office. This year, management must have landed a great deal on a place on Park Avenue South, which means they listened to the people who'd grumbled that the place around the corner was too damn small.

And usually, around a quarter to six, everybody just gets up out of their cubicle and moseys in little groups over to the restaurant around the corner. Yesterday, however, people looked up at about a quarter to six and said, "Uh...who knows how to get there?"

This resulted in impromptu meetings about the feasibility of shared cabs during rush hour versus buses versus trains, with the consensus being the "R" train and a short walk. It also resulted in little groups congregating on the subway platform, standing in little circles and shifting back and forth on their heels with their hands in their coat pockets and a "what do I say to these people outside the office" look on their faces. Of course, dissing those not present is always a fine way to break the ice.

The restaurant was in a renovated loft building. There was an open bar, and snacks were plentiful. No sit-down dinner, but there were crudites and there was a huge platter of cheese. The international head of our division was at the cheese with me, and I complimented the choice of venue. There was also a hearty complement of waitstaff cruising by with platters of hors d'ouerves and kebabs.

My department established a beachhead at one of the tables, with people from other groups shmoozing by. There was an interesting conversation with one of the techno guys, the kind of guy you sort of don't notice usually but always proves to be one of the genuinely nice people around. He was relating stories about the new condo he bought with his wife, and how they were doing the repairs and painting with the help of his teen stepson. He also warmly greeted one of the waiters, who he knew from somewhere. Given the bursting of the tech bubble, perhaps this was another tech guy taking an extra job.

Every year at the holiday party, the highlight is the management trainees putting on their "skit," where they spoof their supervisors with the kind of in-jokes nobody outside the company will get. As somebody who's had professional experience, I was taught that it was a form of blasphemy to use the word "skit" instead of the word "sketch," so I was a snob about it. Until I figured out that some of those management trainees are ringers: People who've had experience in their college drama club, or summer stock, or an improv group, and have somehow gravitated towards corporate life instead.

This year, the skit was in the form of a film, which explains why I looked up from my cubicle a few weeks ago to see a camera pointed at me. I haven't found out who edited it yet, but given the use in the titles of more typefaces than a ransom note, it was somebody outside the graphics department. The caricatured portrayals of the executives were broad enough to get laughs without being libelous. And one of the great things about having some female executives is seeing young male assistants putting on wigs and skirt suits--guys who you're pretty sure don't do that every weekend, although who knows these days.

After the skit is usually when the big exodus occurs. Being that I've become an old person, I've been in that exodus. In my younger days, I would stay until the bitter end of such festivities, when you would be at a table with people who usually don't give you the time of day, and they would have had just enough alcohol to start telling you what they really thought about their jobs and their lives. For some confidants, this would have been an opportunity for blackmail, but for me it was always reassurance that the "normal" people in the suits had their problems in life, too.

The food on a stick had been filling enough to count as dinner, but extremely salty. So on the agenda when I got home was a peanut butter sandwich washed down with a gallon of milk, while enjoying the much-hyped Dave and Oprah Reunion.

When I came in to work this morning, some people were wearing chinos. Yesterday had been "business casual" all day, with some women going for "light festive,"sequined sweaters and stuff like that. Our company only does business casual in the Summer, but it seems strange to have business casual on Thursday and then back to formal business attire on Friday, an orphaned day of formal business attire between Thursday and the weekend. Some people aren't in at all, giving themselves a three day weekend. It could be because they're partied out. It could also be because you can't carry over your unused vacation days from one year to the next, or trade them for cash. So it's use them or lose them, and I'm planning on using them.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


I was reading the customer reviews for the book I quoted from yesterday, and I saw that one of the reviewers is Orin Judd of the site, The Brothers Judd.

I've checked out his reviews before, and there's two things I can say about Orin Judd:

1. He's read and reviewed a truly admirable number of books;

2. What is he, crazy?

This is what I'm talking about:

These people can be great forces for good and/or evil; for every Moses, Christ, Luther, Washington, Ted Williams or Reagan there's a Jim Jones, Caesar, Robespierre, Lenin, Hitler, Charles Manson, OJ Simpson or Clinton.

He's putting Reagan in the same category as Christ and Clinton in the same category as Hitler?

Oh sure, I realize there are Democrats who would do it the other way around, but I find them just a tad over the top as well.

How about Reagan and Clinton are in the same category apart from Christ and Hitler and Moses and O.J. Simpson? How about they're in a category called "Popular US Presidents?"

I'm beginning to think there's no difference between the Democrap and Rethuglican presidents anyway. They campaign like there's a difference, and then when they get behind closed doors there's this Great Big President Book they all read from. Clinton and Bush 41 have these gigs together now anyway.

I wouldn't even classify Nixon as evil. Dark and disturbed, maybe.

Or maybe, heck, I'm naive and the people who are over the top are normal. Maybe everything is some Manichean manifestation of good and evil, including this office coffee I'm drinking.

No, definitely this office coffee I'm drinking.

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