Wednesday, January 31, 2007

What I'm Reading Right Now

Richard Price's Samaritan, like his Clockers and Freedomland, melds two of my favorite fiction genres: Urban ethnic and detective.

Unlike most detective stories, after you find out who the perpetrator is you know there's going to be forty or fifty more pages of book to wrap up all the urban ethnic characters' stories.

No movie version of this one yet, but I'm imagining Ray Liotta as Ray and Queen Latifah as Nerese. Your mileage may vary.

Ze Frank Goes Hollywood

Ze Frank first gained Internet fame in March 2001 when he sent 17 friends a jokey video of himself dancing, and suddenly the video got passed from person to person all over the world. A web site and blog of fun stuff soon followed, and since March 17, 2006 he's been producing a popular daily video show/podcast.

Now, according to this article in the New York Observer, he's going to do his final show on March 17, 2007 and then concentrate on feature films. He'll still keep the site going, though.

Here are my favorite Ze Frank videos: The "My Cat Annie" series.

Here's a video of my cats here.

So what do you think, gang? Next: "Brunobaby the Show"?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Cancer Made Me A Shallower Person

I was at Gilda's Club in the Village last night. They have a library there with books about cancer, and all the books have the sticker on the spine with the "Gilda" logo. So you'll see some book like "Healing Thyself With Herbs" and it'll have that Jerry Lewis-type logo under the title.

I was surprised that they didn't have two graphic novels about cancer: "Mom's Cancer" by Brian Fies, and "Cancer Made Me A Shallower Person" by Miriam Engelberg. Since, presumably, Gilda Radner was this funny person who made people laugh and her sense of humor helped her survive, you'd think there would be these two funny books. At any rate, they cracked me up.

So go get them quickly, because we could all get run over by a bus tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Don't Help Me, Rhonda

Amba has posted another "ambivabortion rant." I always enjoy reading them, because it's a welcome change from the moral absolutism from both sides that permeates the whole abortion debate. And she speaks from personal experience, but she presents great thinking points even for people who've never faced this choice.

This particular rant centers around an article in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine, "Is There a Post-Abortion Syndrome?" and the evangelical efforts of a woman named Rhonda Arias. Long story short: "This movement encourages them to pinpoint their abortion(s) as the fountainhead of all their disturbance, a devastating act they committed in powerlessness and ignorance, one foisted on them by a no-good man, by an evil lying abortionist who told them it was only a 'blob of tissue,' by a callous culture."

The article describes a revival-type meeting Arias conducted at a prison. Here's my favorite part:

“I want to ask you a question,” she said. “If you found yourself in the situation of another crisis pregnancy, would you consider abortion?”

“No!” a chorus shouted.

“Can you see yourself living a life of chastity when you leave this place?”

This time, the response was muted.

The main problem with pinpointing abortion as the cause of all dysfunction in your life (and then repenting it as a one-shot deal at clearing up your life) is that, as sad and regretful as this choice can be, it's often a symptom.

I had a friend--and no, I swear it wasn't me--who constantly asserted that she wanted to be unattached and totally devoted to her career, yet she would get pregnant by every neurotic, commitment-phobe guy she hooked up with.

And she was seldom without a boyfriend, or, more accurately, guys she referred to as "my boyfriend" who said "don't call me your boyfriend." Guys who said stuff like, "Well, I can't be with you for your abortion because I have a date, but don't worry, it's just like getting a tooth pulled!" (My advice to her was to pull all his teeth and give him an abortion.)

For all that this friend set great store by her therapist's words, I have to wonder what kind of shrink, and what kind of patient, wouldn't get this message: "Your body is telling you something that your mind doesn't want to hear! Maybe you should get the act together for a consultation and start taking responsibility for what you want."

With all that I'm reevaluating in my life right now, I'm thankful that I've never had an abortion. Not just because I would forever be asking myself if I'd done the right thing, but because I wouldn't want there to be the slightest scintilla of a chance that I'd be vulnerable to being a useful idiot for this Arias character. My choice would have been my choice, as personal to me as my fingerprints and based on the circumstances of my own life. I may have needed help from time to time changing my thoughts and changing the circumstances, but to the best of my capabilities at the time, they were mine. And neither the Pro-Choicers nor Pro-Lifers can exclude those circumstances from the warp and woof of my life to make me a poodle for their cause.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Attitude Adjustment

I've been taking a few days off from posting, because I've come to a crossroads in my life and was mulling over the best way to present it on the blog.

The crossroads have to do with dealing with my husband's battle with cancer. It was one thing when I first mentioned it here in passing in May 2005, framed as having "beat" cancer. Which is what we'd really thought at the time, cancer being the sneaky bastard that it is.

But when it returns and starts waging some new battles, then you have to watch out that your blog doesn't turn into "one of those cancer blogs." As in, "Hey! I thought this was gonna be one of those funny blogs. It's one of those cancer blogs."

Part of my reluctance in posting about it has had to do with protecting our privacy, but the other part is risking alienating people. Yeah, I sound wimpy but I've already alienated several people with this, a couple of whom I had considered trustworthy. You would think that Jim was a drunk who fell off the wagon instead of a guy whose cancer came back. In fact, some people would prefer the drunk, since he'd be more fun at parties.

I took a few days off from posting to deal with it in private e-mails with people, and in my head. I've realized I've been pushing very hard to have life go on ten times better than normal, to show the cancer that it wasn't going to get us down.

I went to the doctor last Wednesday with what's turned out to be a stress disorder. Long story short, I've been like a motorist stuck in traffic who keeps gunning the gas pedal, convinced that the resounding VROOOM! will show everybody that they mean business. I've been in a chronic state of VROOOM! since May 2004 and have flooded my engine.

(Oh sure, I was still going to work, still functioning, still getting everything done, but you see, the wall was very very bad and it actually needed to get a hole punched in it. So there.)

My choice has been to go on posting about whatever moves me, since I'm not getting paid for this anyway. If it's how aggravated I am about something having to do with living with cancer, without violating anyone's privacy, then I'll bring that in. (Some of the people I've met in the support community are just begging to be satirized.) If it's something in the papers that has nothing to do with cancer, that'll still be here.

Mostly I'm acknowledging that I'm not superwoman and haven't failed...this would affect anyone, including a normal person, if I ever meet one anywhere. Life isn't always pretty or zany, and increasingly, neither am I. People who know me well, know that I would rather staple-gun my tongue to my forehead than admit defeat. And in this city, in the kind of businesses I've let myself get into, defeat is always right under you ready to suck you in. Defeat is the default.

So maybe if enough of us admitted defeat once in a while, we would realize that none of us were losers. Okay, except the people who really, really are losers. But that's not you. Or me.

Monday, January 15, 2007


Agh! I've been tagged. I'm honored. Truly. And to the best of my ability to think of a line of bullshit fast, here are my answers to seven intriguing questions:

1) Name a book that you want to share so much that you keep giving away copies.

I gave my sister a copy of Jimmy Breslin's "Table Money*" and Christine O'Hagan's "Benediction at the Savoia*" as a gift a few years ago, because I thought they reflected our shared upbringing in Queens in the '60s and '70s.

Also, years ago in an acting scene study class, I wanted to adapt a scene from Cynthia Buchanan's "Maiden." It's a novel about a singles community in Southern California, and a 30-year-old virgin. My scene partner demurred because he'd thought the book was "too weird," but I told him to pass it on to a friend, and then I bought another copy. Likewise with "Letting Go" by Philip Roth.

BTW, Lily Tomlin wanted to produce and star in a film version of "Maiden" back in the '70s and in the forward to the latest edition of the book, she says: What was I thinking, even I don't have the ego to do this thing justice.

2) Name a piece of music that changed the way you listen to music.

Watching the Beatles' first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show literally changed the way I listened to music. I was nine, and before that, pop music was the Broadway cast albums my mother played on our record player, or the easy listening station in the kitchen or on my father's car radio. Maybe if the baby sitter was there, it was Ricky Nelson doing a number with his band at the end of "Ozzie and Harriet." Or it was the kids' records that grown-ups would buy for me, like the soundtrack albums from Disney movies.

But after the British Invasion, I begged for and received a transistor radio, which almost did not leave my ear until I got into FM radio in 1970. This was the first time I'd sought out music and made it my own. In the parlance of the '70s self-help groups, I took responsibility for the music.

3) Name a film you can watch again and again without fatigue.

I watched "The Jolson Story" every day for a solid week on Million Dollar Movie when I was eight. I haven't seen it since.

Also, I can recite "The Producers," the original film version, from any point in the film.

But I don't think there's anything I can do again and again without fatigue! I'm an old person.

4) Name a performer for whom you suspend all disbelief.

I can't figure out that question. Suspend all disbelief, meaning "I believe that man can fly!" Suspend disbelief that this particular actor is playing the role that he or she is playing?

5) Name a work of art you'd like to live with.

Any Danish modern chair that looks more beautiful than it is comfortable. With 300 square feet of living space, everything has to be both!

6) Name a work of fiction which has penetrated your real life.

Any piece of fiction listed in my profile. (Good. That should get my profile more hits.)

7) Name a punchline that always makes you laugh.

"Get me a sponge. I want to clean the tub."

I'm going to pass this on to krunkbot, who is currently on a culinary tour of Manhattan.

*Oh look! Amazon has both books for one cent each. I can give them to everybody! Nice to know I love such popular books.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Hey, There's A Dead Guy in the Living Room

Jeff Cohen is the author of, among other things, the Aaron Tucker mystery series. He's got a new blog: Hey, There's a Dead Guy in the Living Room, and last month I attended a one-night class he presented through Mediabistro on how to write and sell a mystery novel.

I hadn't been to a writing workshop or seminar in a while and I'd forgotten how they give a jolt of caffeine to that part of my brain that does stuff for which I don't get paid. One of my novels-in-progress keeps going back and forth between chick lit and a murder mystery, depending on whether the protagonist discovers a dead body, herself, or both. So I'll be checking out this blog on a regular basis.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Blogging Will Be Light Today, Like My Head

Got socked with another big project at work. All I could understand of the instructions were, "The roe is a mythical animal with the body of a lion and the head of a lion, although not the same lion," and "The vessel with the pestle hides the lotion with the potion."

I was going to write about the strange gas-like smell in NY yesterday, but instead why don't you read Stacy's Horn's post. She lives in my neighborhood and, like me, had to really think before coming to the conclusion that West 4th and Bleecker do not intersect. (I also always forget whether or not there's a "c" in Bleecker.)

Note: I've never met Stacy, but enjoyed her book about her midlife crisis/cats.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Tour Du Queens

This afternoon, I took advantage of the beautiful unseasonably warm "Oh God Al Gore Was Right" weather to return a pair of pants to Target on Queens Boulevard and then take some long, exploratory walks.

One was down Broadway...Broadway in Elmhurst, that is, which runs perpendicular to a section of Queens Boulevard that's full of discount stores selling big puffy furniture. This stretch of Broadway in Elmhurst was full of mom & pop stores and looked like the section of Queens where I grew up 40 years ago, which doesn't look that way anymore. Except all the signs on this stretch of Broadway were in Chinese. But then again, in New York Chinese is the new Jewish.

Then I went to Jackson Heights and this time I found the Exiled Manhattanites section. It's about two blocks north of the Roosevelt Avenue-Jackson Heights subway station, a major transportation hub. It was exactly as lovely as I'd heard and read about, with 1920's luxury buildings like the ones on West End Avenue on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for about a quarter of the price. The other big difference is that the buildings were surrounded by trees and gardens, with about a million birds screaming in indignation at the combination of the Springlike weather and the Wintertime sunset.

Other than that, the streets were very quiet, although many Park Slope-type people and their kids made their way from shopping to recreation to home, and about half a dozen little kids whizzed by on wheeled implements of various kinds.

The intersection of 74th and Roosevelt Avenue is lined with Indian restaurants serving all-you-can-eat buffets. I had a great meal in this one for $10.00.

So in that little game I play called "If my building were condemned and I had to find a new neighborhood, would I live here?" I would move the Exiled Manhattanite section of Jackson Heights firmly into the "Yes" column.

Update: Here's another Exiled Manhattanite. I found that page through this one. Cool! Lookit all the tasty foods and pretty buildings.

Friday, January 05, 2007

I Love It When I'm Right

Ann Althouse linked to a quiz recommended by Andrew Sullivan. It's sort of a political Kinsey test, with a score of 0 meaning 100% liberal and 40 meaning 100% conservative.

Here's what I posted to the "Comments":

I can't resist a quiz. Must be all those years of reading Cosmo.

Too bad a lot of those questions give you only two choices. "Geez, can I say I don't trust either of them because they each have their own agenda?"

BTW, I scored 18, which is about what I had thought that I would before I'd even seen the quiz. Some of those choices appeared harshly worded, such as "Abolish public broadcasting."

Sure, most of the stuff on PBS is crap, but "Abolish"? It makes it sound as if somebody is holding a gun to the head of Big Bird.

Because of the wording, I often found myself having to make a choice between holding my nose and jumping into the pool called "ruthless," or wussing out and making a choice that reflected more liberalism than I actually possess.

And I point this out, not because I'm the most fascinating person in the world, but because I can see this being a choice that's going to face many Democratic candidates and their possible voters for the next two years.

Ann scored 21%, and Sully himself (not to sully himself) scored 26%.

And here's what I'm right about: As I've long contended, most of Ann's regular commenters skew to the right of Ann, even though we all--conservative and liberal alike--thought a lot of the questions were bogus. Which kinda reminds me of this, even though the test linked to today is a decade old.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Sometimes I Google Myself

And when I do, there's this other Melinda Bruno who always shows up ahead of me. She's a photographer in Bedford, Massachusettes. So there's this person I've never met running around with the same name as me, but a different life. Coincidentally, she's a commercial artist, but unlike me, her resume shows she's pretty much stuck to mastering one trade, photography, rather than being a Jill of All.

According to my tracker, someone else was Googling me today. I don't recognize their IP address or any of their other information. I'm intrigued. Perhaps it's a long-lost friend, or a jilted swain. Or maybe it's the other Melinda Bruno.

Oh, So That's What's In It!

What's in a 9-Volt battery? More batteries.

I'd always figured it would explode or something if you tried to open it. Apparently not.

9-Volt batteries and I go way back. I used them to power my transistor radio when I was a little girl.

I am very old.

When I would open the transistor radio, it looked like an aerial view of Levittown inside.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Day Off Over a Nice Guy

The large multi-national corporation that pays my bills was closed today in honor of Gerald Ford's funeral. Sort of like getting a small inheritance from a distant relative you forgot you had.

Half the people on my floor at work are too young to remember the guy. I'm old enough to remember the two years when Nixon was the only living president, between LBJ's death in 1972 and Nixon's resignation in 1974. I'm actually old enough to remember JFK being shot, assassinations of famous people seeming like regular occurrences for me between grades K and 8.

The local news stations here have run the expected tributes to Ford. The tributes all cite that Ford lost to Carter in New York in 1976 because of the famous "Ford To City: Drop Dead" headline in the Daily News. That's not why he lost. New York rarely goes Republican anyway. He lost because the country was tired of Republicans. Kinda like now.

After Ford rebuffed New York and told it to get its act together, he did come through. Ford actually liked New York and appointed Nelson Rockefeller as VP. And he may have pardoned Nixon, but he also signed the papers making it possible for John Lennon to stay in this country. And he had a cool wife.

He was the last moderate Republican in the White House, and lost to a Democrat who was too damn moderate. Together, they paved the way for Reagan, for whatever that's worth to you. So goodbye to the Last Nice Guy.

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