Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Girlbomb, Uninterrupted

I started reading Janice Erlbaum's autobiography Girlbomb at the library last Tuesday when I went in to look for something else. I checked it out and then I couldn't put it down until I finished reading it at four in the morning. Since I had to get up at six, I then got to experience the brain-fried exhaustion in which the protagonist spent her adolescence, which made the accounting that much more real for me.

Long story short: In 1984 at the age of 15, BUST columnist Erlbaum fled her abusive stepfather and abuse-junkie mother in Brooklyn and went off to live on her own in Manhattan, first in a Hell's Kitchen shelter, where she was referred to as The White Girl, and then in a multi-ethnic group home on the Upper West Side. She went downtown every day to hang out with her Sex & Drugs & Rock 'n Roll crowd from school and party nearly every night. And yet, impossibly, she manages to carve a normal adolescence out of this mess: She stars in the school play, has crushes on boys, holds down a part-time job and gets into the college of her choice.

In fact, if you substitute "work" for "school", her experiences are not very different from that of me and my friends in the mid-80's...except we were ten to fifteen years older than Janice and her friends at the time. Which means that they grew up too darn fast, and we grew up extreeeeeemly slowly.

Also, unless she's hiding something major in her story, she escapes unscathed save for a broken heart and a near-OD. Some of her peers are not that lucky...one 12-year-old girl is seen hooking at the Port Authority after she disappears from the shelter, one of the most popular senior boys gets his brains bashed in as a result of a drunken antic in a subway car, and three of her friends from her part-time job get busted for robbing the till the day she calls in sick.

There are some who would say that these kids are lawless because their mothers have careers. But it's Janice's mother's earnings that make it possible for her to ultimately underwrite her daughter and possibly stop her from making the same mistakes.

Rather than physical absence, I think the kids' dysfunctions are rooted in the way that their mothers had had kids without first doing even the most preliminary work at growing up emotionally themselves. Janice's mother adapts the opinions and behavior of every jerk who tells her "I love you." Janice's friend Hope has a mother who's about to give up her apartment to move in with her boyfriend without making the slightest provision for where and with whom her 17-year-old daughter will live. But it's not like she doesn't care: When she finds Hope smoking pot in the house, she whales the shit out of her. After all, Hope was smoking her private stash.

As crazy as my crowd from 20 years ago could be as we celebrated our last over-aged hurrah before actual adulthood set in, none of us were making that final leap while dragging a small child behind us like a rag doll. We were aware that we were wrapping up some unfinished business. Although if we had had kids, I would hope they'd be as resilient as Erlbaum turned out to be. And this holiday season, I've made a note to write a check to a home for wayward girls for some Christmas gifts. Apparently, even pre-teen crack whores really, really like nail polish.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Blogging Personna

I finally met Amba from Ambivablog on Friday evening. We had been meaning to meet in Real Life for a while, especially in light of the fact that until Saturday morning she lived about four blocks from me. She was amazingly upbeat, energetic and attentive to my sleep-deprived ramblings, considering she was facing a six-hour drive with hubby and four cats early the next morning.

She's settling into their new digs in Chapel Hill, thrilled by the abundance of storage space and appliances. Meanwhile, I've spent the weekend absorbed by two residences: The renovation work I'm planning for our apartment, and my virtual space on the Internet.

I'm always apprehensive about meeting people I've gotten to know online. Not because I think the other person will be some kind of a nutjob, but because so far, they've only seen Online Bruno, a very concentrated and controlled substance rationed at different amounts, depending on the venue. There's Blogging Bruno, who picks a topic or two a day and writes a mini-humor column. There's Commenting Bruno, who wipes her feet like a good guest before entering someone else's blog. And then there's E-Mail List Bruno and, more expansively, Private E-Mailing Bruno.

What they don't see is me wandering distractedly through Gristede's after a knock-down, drag-out day at my job, me yelling at my loved ones--the people who can always make you yell the loudest because they're the closest, or the me that blurts out, "Oh sit on a tack, you @sshole" before counting to ten and leaving a more rational comment.

And of course, with a personal blog, it reflects a part of you, but not You. Sometimes I think it would be easier, and more exciting for me, to blog as a character with a single message, like this star-spangled girl here, or this guy masterminding his own Netroots revolution. Being a political independent, I could take on either point of view the way an actor takes on a character.

In fact, here's the old "And Blogging Reminds Me of Stand-Up" analogy: Back in the '80s, I worked with a comic named Joe Campaiolo, who was a club favorite in New York with his off-beat, acerbic and slightly campy observations of everything. But Joe didn't get anywhere until he went out to San Francisco, hooked up with Bob Fischer from The Holy City Zoo and created a character named Dexter Madison. "Dexter" was an over-the-top bon vivant, a cartoonish David Niven. When Joe would do the same lines through Dexter that he'd been doing onstage for years, the filter of the character suddenly made everything focused, and a wide variety of audiences could connect with him. He'd gone in a few months from being "A Comedian's Comedian," where you'd go grab your friend out in the bar and say, "Joe's going on," to someone who was winning comedy competitions and getting talk show spots.

I'd love to be able to tell you what became of Joe, but despite his considerable talents, he wasn't totally committed to the business, art and bullshit of comedy. There's more to life than show biz, and more to a career than a personna. But in an extremely crowded and noisy world, it couldn't hurt.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Sacred Ground

I was visiting a studio last night that has an interesting history: It had once upon a time been used as a writing studio by Woody Allen and Dick Cavett.

My jaw dropped in awe as I stood in this veritable shrine to the joke writers' creed, temple of the faith of my comedy forefathers.

Actually, I was imagining where I would put my desk.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Meat Cat

This morning on the way to work, I passed a calico cat who was loping casually into the butcher's, where she's The Cat. (Hopefully, she's not The Meat.)

I figured, what a lucky carnivore, getting to live in a butcher's. Chico and Ashley would be beside themselves if you let them loose in a butcher's. It would seem as if there were 100 cats swarming as they wouldn't know what to lick, chew, gobble and gorge themselves on next.

Meanwhile, the butcher's cat is probably as blase about the whole thing as a rock superstar surrounded by models. "I'm borrred, so borrred."

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


I've been telling myself I'm going to do it for the past two years, but this November I have marked NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, on my calendar. It's a 30-day fiction writing marathon/contest where you pound out a 175-page (50,000-word) novel between November 1 and November 30, which will be perfectly awful and in serious need of editing:

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing

Hey, what the heck, you can always sculpt something decent out of the crap once it's out.

I checked out the NaNoWriMo book, No Plot? No Problem! and I'll get it out of the library rather than buying another book right now, because I've declared this month to be Get Rid of Half the Crap in Your Bookcase Month.

P.S. It has to be a novel that you start from scratch for the contest, although you can bring notes. You can always go back to those half-finished previous novels afterward, when you're full of the momentum of Novelwritingness, or NaNoWritingness.

Monday, August 21, 2006

That Sinking Feeling

In addition to getting some new sheetrock on our walls, which, as you see, resemble papier mache, I was thinking of replacing those acoustic ceiling tiles with sheetrock as well. Some previous tenant put them up, and I always thought they looked as if they should be in a rumpus room on Staten Island.

But then, a funny thing happened to comic Jen Dziura last week when she was running out the door to a gig, and suddenly, sheetrock on my ceiling may be a bad idea.

So maybe I'll keep the current ceiling, since it only sustains a net damage of one or two tiles every time my neighbors' plumbing breaks. Or I'll stick with tiles, but I'll restore the genuine original antique beauty of my landmarked tenement by using these phony tin tiles.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

True Story

Melinda: I want to go shopping, but I don't wanna bring anything new into the house until after we get the work done on the walls.

Jim: But that's not for weeks. If you need something, get yourself something.

(Three hours later.)

Melinda: Hi, honey, I'm back!

Jim: What did you get?

Melinda: (beaming) A book on how to put up drywall!


Saturday, August 19, 2006

"The Graying of AIDS"

Because of the improvement in AIDS treatment, many HIV-positive people are living for decades now, and are in their 50's and beyond. Time has a great photo essay on how these middle-aged and old people are coping with the heavy-duty medications they need to keep the disease at bay, along with all of the other problems of aging; i.e. all the other things that start trying to kill you when you're over 50, as well as finding some meaning to the rest of your life here on this planet.

I like the conga players.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Early Cats Get the Worm

I woke up this morning to find our cats in the living room standing over the dried-out body of an earthworm. I don't know where it came from, since we have no earth in the apartment. Perhaps it came in on somebody's shoe.

This leaves me with unanswered questions, such as, "Was the earthworm alive when they found it?" and "How long does something have to be dead before it loses moisture like that?"

I had had similar questions a few months ago when I awoke to find them batting around a dried-out dead waterbug.

And the thing is, when you go "Ew!" and take the corpse away in a paper towel, the cats get resentful. "Hey! That was ours! Boy, that's the last time we make you a gift."

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Explodo-Pod and Doors

Word (that I can't locate right now) has it that the SONY batteries powering the exploding Dell laptops are also being used in the latest generation of iPods. I've checked Apple's site and other iPod sites to see if there's a recall, but so far can find no word.

If there is a recall, it'll be the third time I've had to replace this iPod in four months. My 3rd Gen 10-gig one still works even after being used as a hockey puck. Go figure.

Meanwhile, while waiting for my iPod to explode and blow away a finger, a rib or an ovary depending on how I'm carrying the iPod at the time, I've been re-listening to The Doors: The Complete Studio Recordings to see if I want to keep it. And I've decided that yes, I do. Even though by The Soft Parade Jim Morrison was beginning to lose it so badly that if you took away the other Doors, you'd have a recording of a homeless guy walking down the street talking to himself.

It had not always been thus. You couldn't do an impression of "Light My Fire" without Densmore's opening rimshot, Manzarek's Mephistophelean opening organ riff, and Morrison's lugubrious vocals, with Krieger's guitar solo completing the wild, three-or seven-minute Dionysian romp--neatly bookended by the same rimshot and organ riff.

My husband contends that The Doors would have been better off without Morrison. I disagree. Oh sure, their arrangements stayed tight as their lead vocalist drifted further into a self-imposed Hell, but without The Lizard King they wouldn't have had The Legend. And if The Legend has enticed successive generations to appreciate some great jazz-influenced rock, then it's worth skipping a few tracks on albums 4 through 6.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Bright Elusive Closet of Love

Blogging is slow this month, for me and for a few of the blogs that I read. I think the heat wave made my blood thicker and it's running more slowly. I've even put aside some of the heavier tomes I've been plowing through in favor of brainless, fun stuff like In Style Makeover Magazine. Hey, skull and crossbone motifs are in this season. Cool. I can go to work dressed like a pirate.

Saturday afternoon was gorgeous, though, and I spent eight hours looking in what felt like every thrift store in the city for the elusive "Wardrobe closet that's exactly what I want."

One closet was attractive, but about eight feet tall and eighteen inches deep, dimensions that would have required it to be bolted to the wall lest it fall and flatten myself, my loved ones and my pets. I want something as sturdy as the Rock of Gibraltar, or about six feet tall by two feet deep. Besides, the shoulders on my winter coat are wider than eighteen inches.

Another was about forty-two inches wide, which, given the size of the average NYC apartment, would have required rearranging every piece of furniture in my entire apartment. Not out of the question, but not what I had in mind, which was thirty-six inches.

Another looked like something in which Henry the Eighth would have hung his extra raiments. If Prog Rock were furniture, it would have looked like this cabinet. "Ladies and Gentlemen, Emerson, Lake and Closet."

I like furniture with clean lines: Either Scandinavian or Shaker style. And I'd like to have a mirror on one door. And make it a color that wood actually can be in nature.

And yet another one looked perfect from the outside: It was dark wood with blond inlays, and had approximately the dimensions that I wanted. It even had a mirror on the door. At $1,100, it was a bit more than I had intended to spend, but would have been that one piece of furniture that makes you visitors go, "Wow! That's an attractive piece of furniture!" But when I opened the doors, it had non-movable shelves and no hanging rod. I don't trust my DIY skills enough to fool around with antique furniture, and right now I don't know anyone who does.

Frustrated and despondent, I stopped into Bed Bath and Beyond to pick up one of those portable clothes racks with a canvas cover. But then I thought, once I don't need this anymore, where will I put it? In the closet? The store was having a sale on cleaning supplies, so I bought a brush to clean the grout in the bathroom tile. At least I would accomplish something.

Sunday I did merely a perfunctory sweep of the thrift stores on 17th Street, and then stayed home to rest and take care of some chores. My mother called at about six and I told her about shopping for a closet. I'd thought that she would say "You're being too picky" or "That's too much money" or "You're not trying hard enough," you know, the kind of stuff your mother says to you when you're a kid because your parents are afraid you'll grow up to be a ward of the state or live with them the rest of their lives.

"Why don't you hire somebody to make you a closet," my mother said. "You know exactly what you want."

"Yes, that's true."

My mother's getting on in years. "The old girl ain't what she used to be." Well, we all change.

I used to be able to run around non-stop from Friday evening to Sunday night. Now, if I'm out Friday evening and all day Saturday, I spend Sunday cleaning my grout.

Time to look for a carpenter.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

No Wardrobes, But Lots of Armoires

The thrift shops and furniture stores I covered today had plenty of armoires, but no wardrobes.

In case you're confused about the difference between the two, an armoire usually has a chest of drawers on the bottom, and then two doors with either shelves or a hanging rod inside. Whereas a wardrobe looks more like a closet, about six feet tall with a hanging rod and a shelf. You can hang winter coats in a wardrobe.

If you didn't know the difference between the two, then you are as smart as at least one salesperson in one trendy home furnishings place I was in.

"Oh sure, ma'am, right this way," she said, leading me to an armoire.

"That's an armoire," I replied.

"An armoire? What's that?" So I educated her on the difference, for the benefit of the next customer, and I left, closet-less.

Of course, had I been looking for an armoire, I would have been a very lucky girl, indeed. Housing Works Thrift Shop on 17th Street had some beautiful ones, majestic restored 1940's and 50's-looking pieces in dark woods for about $750 each. I almost relented and decided to get one and then just get really short winter coats.

This being Sunday, the place I really wanted to check out was closed: The furniture thrift shop at Calvary-St. George's Church in Gramercy Park. The church was in the middle of services with the doors open, but I restrained myself from running in and yelling, "Elaaaaine! Elaaaaaine!"

The St. George's furniture shop is more expensive than a thrift shop, but much less expensive than an antique shop. When I was there about a month ago, they had a Heywood-Wakefield living room set, which would have gone well had I decided to do the living room like this.

Meanwhile, my hangable clothes are divided between my husband's wardrobe closet, a tiny closet next to the kitchen, and a hook.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Blackout Watch

Word spread throughout the office this afternoon in the form of e-mails and mumbled conversations between cubicles: "A friend who has an acquaintance whose father's cousin works for Con Ed," yadda-yadda-yadda. Long story short: Don't take the subway home from work; there may be a blackout at rush hour.

The subway platform's been a new form of hell this week. Besides, I felt like a change of pace; I'm forever diving frantically into a hole like a rabbit on crack. So, iPod burbling early '70s music, I rode the bus home in air-conditioned comfort.

It's nearly two hours later now, and so far, no blackout. I'm watching NY1 and there's now a thunderstorm watch. After that, it may cool down. I'm watching the hearings to investigate the blackout that left thousands of people in northern Queens without power for over a week last month.

I Added Bartleby.com to "Useful Stuff"

That's the sum total of my accomplishments for today.

I hate this f***ing weather.*

*f-word deleted so that my blog won't be firewalled from me in my office.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

And Then My Head Will Explode Like A Zit

I stayed home from work today with a temperature of 100 degrees, beating the temperature outside by about one degree.

They're dimming the lights on the Empire State Building tonight to save electricity.

Tomorrow, the high is expected to be 103.

End of the Middle

The Mighty Middle is folding:

I have recently come to realize that fans of our kid's books are reading this blog. I have always despised the "role model" burden that parents who aren't doing their jobs like to lay on athletes, rock stars or, at a much more obscure level, authors. I think adults should be able to live their lives, do their jobs, without forever being harrassed by cries of "think of the children!"

Yes, I know that search engine filters should have kept kids away. God knows I drop the f-bomb often enough that Safe Search should have figured it out. But despite that it makes me squeamish to realize that kids are listening in on this conversation between and for adults. I am after all, a daddy.
The comments were closed when I got there, but several regular fans suggested that Michael start another blog under a pseudonym. Count me in as a potential subscriber to that one.

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