Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Never Again the Festive Negroni

It was only two mornings ago that I dumped fresh tangerine juice into my cup of hot tea, and I made this spazzy mistake without being even slightly hung over. Indeed, I might never be hung over again because, evidently, while I wasn’t looking, I snuck out last June and joined up with A.A. Which is to say I stopped drinking in June--not because I was drinking too much, or even just much--but because my liver, shall we say, broke.

It did not break entirely, but it did decide to stop processing alcohol. I first noticed something was gravely amiss when just one glass of wine—one enjoyed with a vast obscene dinner, no less, eaten no later than, I sweartagod, six—became enough to give me a headache the following day. The gravity deepened when I realized I no longer had to wait overnight, as the headache seized me by my fourth or fifth sip.  

It felt as if the devil herself was putting Antabuse into my drinks while leaving pristine the drinks of others—say, Ed Head’s Negronis and Hank Fitz’s martinis. After weeks of denial and half-baked experiments (Maybe it only happens with wine! Okay, only vodka and wine! In months that have Rs! In months that do not!) which all, of course failed, I had to give up.

So now I’m the person who drinks Diet Coke with her shrimp salad lunch while her friends order what shrimp really screams for, a glass of luscious cold crisp Chardonnay. As for dinner, which I almost always eat home alone unless Ed Head carries my body into a restaurant, I still don’t get how people can make it without a glass of wine in one hand. I mean, really, what is the point of sautéing shallots when you can’t taste the wine you’re about to pour over them to make the sauce that goes with your steak? Why, for that matter, eat steak at all when you can’t wash it down with a good, or even bad, Cabernet? 

Oh yeah, because steak is still fun to eat and doesn’t make you feel insane the next morning, never mind that it murders you later.

I still keep vodka in my freezer for guests, also half-bottles of both red and white wine--the ones that have corks, not to be snobby but because the screw tops never let me unscrew them. And while I still feel envy while watching friends drink, my envy’s now joined by something even more creepy, which is of course the vicarious thrill.

Strangely enough for someone who always enjoyed it so much, I find I don’t really miss drinking. Which is to say that while I miss the taste and the gleam of the glassware, I don’t miss the high. But that's only because I am, by dint of age or brain tumor or both, already high--as in exceedingly stupid and inexplicably giddy. And, per the tangerine juice I just dumped in my tea, I still act like a hung over person. 

I do miss being able to face the odd crisis by getting purposefully, medicinally drunk, but, what can I say, now I face them with Xanax.  Which, though not nearly as effective as cocktails, is something my liver, for now, still allows.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Did I Mention the Mollusks?

Every morning when Boo claws my eyes open and leads me, bleeding and blind, to his empty bowl, I take a moment before pouring his Friskies to see if he has any houseguests.

The reason I check is I don’t want to step on them, and the reason I don’t want to step on them is not that they're dead (like the crusty mouse Boo left in our bedroom which I finally threw out the window) but that they’re alive.  Maybe not vivaciously so, but technically so: alive and vile and squishy to boot.

Yes, Dear Reader, these houseguests are slugs. Tiny slugs (praise the powers that be) but slugs nonetheless. And while they never show up in my part of the house, this is small comfort when I see them sitting--unless they are standing—let's say occupying--Boo’s private space.

As small as they are, I loathe them and fear them and have done so acutely for all of my life. Indeed, next to The Priest and The Barbie Doll, you could say The Slug was the baniest bane of my childhood. Back when there used to be regular rain (and not one long heat wave interspersed now and then with a festive tornado), hordes of huge slugs seemed to rule the whole world, or at least every sidewalk I had to travel to get from my house to my school.

To keep from making even the slightest physical contact with one, I had to suffer looking at them, which was almost worse but not quite. My one solace came when I realized that slugs didn’t run. Later I drew even more solace from murdering them with Morton’s Iodized Salt.

Since I’m way too evolved to salt a slug now, I use a paper towel (and I fully admit I could not live without them) to escort them outside and hurl them back into what they call Nature. And then I pray they’ll never return.

But oy! Answered prayers! Why don’t I have those? The horrid creatures always return and I have no idea how or where they get in. Through the floor? Through the wall? Through the mollusky mail? (And why do they come? They don’t touch Boo’s Friskies. With what would they touch them? Have they mouths? Have they heads? Aren’t they really just tentacled feet?)  Moreover, when they’re not there displaying their actual selves (which, praise god, is most of the time), they leave their calling cards in long silver trails to make sure Boo knows that they have dropped by.

But wait a minute—aren’t silver trails exclusive to snails? Do they visit too? How do they get inside with those houses?  And if snails do come, what can be next except Puppy Dog Tails? And then, what? Little Boys? Why not grown boys?  

By which, Dear Reader, you know I mean cowboys. Elderly cowboys in freshly- pressed Wranglers. One who might know how to get rid of slugs. Now that’s a guest I’d be happy to see. And thankful as well, as in Happy Thanksgiving.  And may you all have one, with nary a mollusk, just fabulous turkey with succulent stuffing, and friends (if you have them, more wine if you don't) and always forever the best pumpkin pie!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Living In The Animal Kingdom

Firstly, I'd like to thank all the kind persons who wrote me about that heinous raccoon. Secondly, let me just say that, happily, he hasn’t been back. Or that, if he has, he must have dined first because he ignored both my garbage and Boo’s horrid food. (Which in itself is sort of like garbage, no offense meant to Boo--I’m just, as the vernacular has it these days, sayin’.  Which doesn’t quite work when you split it up, does it, so here it is one more time: I’m just sayin’.)

Since I’m still waiting for that magnetic cat door to happen, Boo and I have had to regress to our pre-cat-door life, when Boo got in and out through our bedroom window. Of course, the raccoon could certainly get in that way too, but I always close this windowat night in hopes that he won’t. In hopes that everyone won’t, if it comes to that, but, as the vernacular also has it these days: Let us not go there.

Naturally, as soon as I began to relax about the raccoon, a brand new animal entered our house, and it did not need an open cat door to do so. That’s because this animal was a flea.

General Flea and his army (ten million at least) marched into my house in silent black waves and bit every single part of my body. And since I’m pretty much allergic to all signs of life, the bites swelled up into vibrant red welts. So itchy and ugly and leprous was I that for the first time ever I was actually glad The Cowboy was not on his way over to see me as he would surely have hollered and hightailed it back outta Boringame fast.

“Has Boo had his Frontline?” Hank Fitz wanted to know. He meant the supposedly non-toxic stuff I squeeze onto the back of Boo’s neck every month. It’s supposed to ward off all buggy evil to the tune of four million dollars a squirt.

“Yes,” I said. “But I don’t think it works.”

The truth is it probably works fine when it actually gets onto a cat, but when I apply it alone, which is of course every time, most of it gets onto the floor as Boo springs forth and goes into orbit.

“Perhaps it’s time for a new application,” said Hank. “I’ll come down tomorrow and you can hold him down while I squeeze.”

It’s amazing what two people can do in one second what one person cannot do in one year or for that matter ever but don’t get me started. Let me just say that when Hank Fitz (surely the most uxorious of all my P. Husbands) arrived he had a box of Flea Fogger Time Bombs in hand. After we Frontlined Boo and tossed him outdoors, we shut all the windows, set off the bomb, and flew like crazy bats from the house.

“The label says not to go back for two hours,” Hank said.

“Good, that gives us just enough time for lunch at Duarte's."

Since Duarte’s is in Pescadero, we actually needed more like four hours, which was fine with me as this  gave the fleas even more time to die.

And now let us all hail Hank Fitz, for one week later I no longer itched, and another week later I had no more welts. And just when I began to relax about both the raccoon and the myriad fleas--well, I think you can guess--another animal entered the house.

Not of its own volition, mind you.  Boo brought it in, and not in his fur. I saw it this morning when I awoke.  It was on the rug under our bedroom window, all curled up—and I do not mean as in with a good book.

“God DAMN you,” I said to the murderous Boo, as he lolled around on his nonchalant back. “Why can’t you be like a regular cat and leave your victims outside the front door?”  Outside being the operative word.

It's a stiff bloodied thing with a tail like an earthworm, and I am waiting for a husband to dispose of it for me.  Which, lest you think otherwise, I do realize means I'll be decorating it for Christmas.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

It Happened One Night--to Me and Boo

So there we were watching night-time TV—we being myself and Boo Radley, Unfriendly Cat and Fourth Pretend Husband--when my left ear (being luckily pointed in that direction) heard the telltale squeak of Boo’s new cat door swinging wide open.

Since Boo was seated on top of my stomach (and also because I am taking good meds) it did not take me overly long to conclude that it was probably not he who had just sauntered in.  And I don’t think it took me more than a minute to figure out that if it wasn’t Boo, it almost certainly had to be someone else. And since my friends always call before they come over, and Boo rather famously doesn’t have friends, I was pretty sure it was an intruder.

An intruder in our own private home. An intruder, no less, who could squeeze through a cat door.
Or, assuming the intruder were a three-headed serpent, would not even have to squeeze himself through, and could well be slithering toward us right now.

Muting the movie and hearing no slithers, I was seized by questions about Freddie Krueger. Was he short? Was he thin? Incredibly thin? An incredibly thin and bendy contortionist? On the lam perhaps from Cirque du Soleil, the better to kill me in Boringame?

It was only then that I realized that Boo had stopped watching the movie and turned his wee orange head toward the door. Not wanting Boo to think me a coward, I made myself do the same. And then I saw what Boo's green eyes were totally glued to: a large and utterly silent raccoon. Silent and thankfully, for the moment at least, also still.

Our four eyes stared at him like two deer caught in the raccoony headlights until what’s left of my instincts finally kicked in and made me put Boo into a vise grip. What’s a vise grip? I have no idea, but, knowing that raccoon could shred Boo to bits in two seconds flat, I put him into one anyway. And Boo, who perhaps also understood how easily he could be shredded, did not even try to spring out of it.

Though it felt like we stayed that way for an hour, it was probably more like a minute, after which the raccoon became bored and squeezed himself back from whence he had come.  I felt relief and then the requisite post-relief indignation.

“What an asshole,” I said to Boo.

“Meow,” Boo agreed. 

And then, our night ruined, we went to bed.

The next morning I strolled into my living room only to find my freshly washed carpet freshly carpeted with bits of strewn garbage. I followed the trail of chicken bones and avocado peels into the kitchen where of course my garbage bag had exploded.

“He was casing the joint!” I said to Boo. “Didn’t I tell you he was an asshole?”

But it hit me then that I was the asshole because this was the second time I'd found strewn garbage, and when it had happened ten days before, I’d put the blame completely on Boo. Which is one more reason we should not have a death penalty: Boo was the victim of a wrongful conviction.

I apologized to Boo 20 times, but what good was that since I did not even think to close up his cat door to prevent a raccoon recurrence? Then again, neither had Pretend Husbands Hank Fitz or Ed Head when I'd told them the story, they had just laughed. Nosireebob, it was only The Cowboy, my most elusive and thus most valued P. Husband, who threw his crippled self onto my floor to examine the cat door and lock it up tight.

“I didn’t even know it had a lock,” I said lamely.

 Not that I’d bothered to get down and look.  

“Well, Jeannie," he said. "That’s probably because you're the laziest person in the world."

"Well duh," I said. “You’re just noticing now?”

My landlady has promised to install one of those magic magnetic cat doors that only Boo will be able to open, and I hope she does it today. I hope this because the newly vindicated Boo is punishing me for his wrongful conviction by insisting I let him outside, and then back inside, and then back outside, all day and night every two seconds.  And if I’m even one second late, he screams at me like a banshee from hell.  For which I can't blame him because, let's face it,  I'd do the same, only 50 times worse.  

Thursday, September 29, 2011

How Open House Sent Me Back To The Movies

Thanks to HBO and the now-despised Netflix, I pretty much stopped going to movies--but when the house I live under was put up for sale, I started to go again big time.

For the last 95 Sundays I’ve been asked to tidy my in-law apartment (which mostly means hiding my myriad drugs from the millionaires who might want to steal them) and then, if you will, get the fuck outta Dodge for the duration of this week’s Open House.

The Open House goes from 2 to 4, but in order to not see the Vivacious Agent or any Encroaching Last Minute Stragglers, I try to stay out from at least 1 to 5. (Noon to 6 would be better yet, but I can’t spend six hours away from my Cat Pretend Husband without becoming quite lonely and mental.) Movies, of course, make the perfect escape and, better yet, the perfect distraction from my personal apocalypse of potential eviction.

Which is why the first film I chose to see was Contagion. I wanted its reputed world wide apocalypse to scare my own down to the size of a zygote, but, to my disappointment, it neither scared me nor remotely upset me.

I don’t know if this is because I am Old, or because it sort of pleased me to see Kate Winslet die, or because I’m finally on Really Good Meds---but it made me long to re-see On the Beach, where everyone really does get evicted in a really no-kidding permanent way.

For the next Open House I selected The Debt, mostly to worship the great Helen Mirren, and though this movie did distract me, it was only because I could not figure out which young men had turned into which old men, or why anyone thought that lame ending would fly.

And for last week's Open House---never mind that I completely expected to hate it and chose it only because it was over two hours long--I saw The Help. Which was not unlike seeing Bridesmaids again except, of course, not nearly as funny.

I’d read somewhere that the role of Hilly was over-the-top, a caricature, but let me just tell you that it is so not.  I understand that not everyone raised in the South is a Hilly, but I used to know a person who was, and thirty-five years ago, when we were still young, I had to explain to her—literally and slowly explain to her—why and how it just might behoove her--a woman who’d moved from The Junior League South to the Junior League version of San Francisco--to finally stop using the N word. 

As heinous as some people might seem in the movies, they are always twice as heinous in life.

The good news is that no one--so far--seems ready to buy the house I live under, but I won’t relax till the For Sale sign comes down.

And even then I can’t really relax because who's to say it won't go back up in a year?

If there’s another Open House here this Sunday, all I can say is: I just don’t know what. Do I really have to sit through The Lion King? Killer Elite? I Don’t Know How She Does It? And, by the way, how does she do it? That is to say, how does anyone do it?  Seriously—my cat and I are both desperate to know. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

How Hank Fitz and I Fell Down the Rabbit Hole Into Filoli Gardens

You know how every once a millennium you get to experience the odd serendipity? Well, that’s what just happened to Hank Fitz (my gay Pretend Husband) and me on our way to a high-end estate sale.

Hank Fitz loves to go to estate sales and since neither of us can afford real vacations, we pretend the estate sale IS the vacation, which sort of works because, after all, we get to fly (okay, drive) to a new country (all right, neighborhood) filled with new people (well, we don’t know them) and new things to see (salt and pepper shaker sets from around 1940). And, if Hank Fitz finds a tie that he likes, we even bring back souvenirs.

So this time, while trying to reach some crazy address in the high curvy hills of San Mateo, we got totally lost and found ourselves driving down the kind of beautiful road that makes you think you're in Italy.  And on this road I saw a sign that said Filoli Gardens. Which, because of the vowels, really convinced me we were in Italy.

That sign reminded me that Filoli Gardens was one of those places I’d always sort of wanted to go to but hadn’t because, as a lifelong paranoid, I’d assumed it would be Too Hard and Expensive, plus, like all well-known destinations, Relentlessly Crowded and Sweaty and Hot.

But when Hank Fitz told me he’d always meant to visit it too, I turned into a hippie—or maybe a Christian—and said god or karma must have brought us here (on a sunny day that was warm but Not Hot!) for A Reason. To which he replied that it was his inability to followYahoo directions that had brought us here, but he drove us through the gate anyway.

If you’ve been to Filoli, you know what we experienced. If you haven’t, let me just say that the entrance fee was $15 ($12 for seniors, not that I am one), which is what a glass of wine costs you now, and the parking lot cost nothing at all and was big enough that we could find a space quickly and not have to have nervous breakdowns.

Another good thing is that no one was mean to us. Indeed, the docents were so lovely and kind that both Hank Fitz and I wanted to take a few home to be our new mothers. Yet another good thing is that on this particular day (Saturday and yet for some reason not crowded) most of the other visitors seemed to be either Older or Fatter than us, which made us feel vaguely young and attractive. Granted, there were too many couples—okay, only couples—but since Hank Fitz and I sort of LOOK like a couple, we got to forgo the twin Envy-ectomies.

There’s no point in my trying to describe indescribable gardens (you can see them yourself on so let me just say they made me remember the Power of Beauty, how it can just overwhelm you and then make you weep as you sit with Hank Fitz on a nice wooden bench because your mother--who once, to your ten-year old puzzlement and despair, planted plastic pansies in your own back yard garden--never got to go to Filoli and now, being dead, most surely would not.

There’s a house to see too, which Hank Fitz and I strolled through but did not really care about because we’d both been spoiled by the completely crazed mansions in Newport, Rhode Island, which, if you've seen them, you know what I mean. But I’d recommend you walk through it anyway as a prelude to a two to three hour walk through the gardens, after which you will feel so Soothed and Relaxed and Inspired you will need to get something to eat.

And yes, even the café was sublime. Hank Fitz and I sat at a table outside and wondered aloud how we’d gotten so lucky and if we’d ever get so lucky again.

But then I realized we didn’t need luck. Filoli is about a ten second drive from the city of Boringame, where I am currently living (until the house I live under gets sold to a Horrid Rich Couple who will promptly evict me), so as long as we each have $15 to spend, we can visit Filoli whenever we want.
Which for me (I can't speak for Hank Fitz) might well be every weekend from now unto death.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Dinner Party From Hell: More TOTALLY RETRO Fiction for Foodies!

I STILL REMEMBER the morning I decided never to give another dinner party. It was foggy and I was hung over.

"Hal," I said. "Last night was the last time. We either decline all dinner invitations from now on, or accept them and reciprocate by taking our friends out to restaurants."

"Won't that be expensive?" he asked.

"Yes. But it's better than my going insane."

"How can cooking dinner for six make you insane?"

"I don't know," I lied. "It just does."

What Hal couldn't understand was that cooking was the least odious of the dinner-party chores. First there was the mixing and matching of guests, the careful separation of the shrilly ambitious from the quietly unassuming. Then there was the perusal of cookbooks, the search for the elusive recipe that required no more than 10 seconds preparation. This search always backfired with seduction of the most wrongheaded sort; I'd find myself stuffing six game hens with a far-too-expensive substance, then injuring myself with trussing needles, then dealing with six inevitably dried-out breasts.

Add to this the cleaning of bathrooms, the spinning of lettuce leaves, the assemblage of candles, flowers, appetizers, wines, desserts and coffees, and the last-minute emptying of the medicine cabinet in case Marilyn's husband still had that little problem, and there lay the roots of my looming insanity.

No, it wasn't cooking for six that shook me, because my paranoia always made me cook for 12. What if someone hated leg of lamb? What if someone liked it so much they had to eat four servings? What if I set fire to it? There had to be plenitude, alternatives, and excess. There had to be. To shortchange or disappoint an invited guest was unthinkable.

Hal was too male to appreciate this. The culture, after all, hadn't tyrannized him into feeling guilty for supposed domestic failures. He did, however, suffer vestigial guilt over failures of the wallet, which proved he was at least as retro as I.

"I don't think we can afford to reciprocate in restaurants," Hal said.

"Pizzas, Hal."

"We could make pizza at home for a third the cost!"

"Have you ever made a pizza, Hal?"

"How hard can it be?"

"Hard enough that everyone either goes out for it or calls out for it."

"Then I'll just make a big pot of spaghetti." Hal's eyes lit up like two blazing dinner candles."I'll do the dinner. I'll take responsibility."

I remember letting this notion sink through the hangover fog that shrouded my brain. This, I was thinking, is 1992 - not 1962. And Hal is an adult. And he is not from the generation of men that thinks it's perfectly acceptable to make spaghetti with sauce that comes from an envelope. He will understand that people require garlic bread, and that it can't be made with garlic powder.

"OK," I consented, against my better judgment. "Just don't invite anyone I like very much."

He invited the shrilly ambitious couple and two depressed singles who'd been set up three years previously to no romantic avail. "Go to an afternoon movie or something," he advised me. "I don't want you standing around telling me what to do."

"You mean like reminding you to make a salad and dessert?" I said brightly.

He just laughed. "Norman's bringing the salad," he said. "And Patty's bringing dessert."

"You're making the single people contribute?"

"They offered."

"So what? A potluck can't count as reciprocity."

"Sure it can. I'm doing the real work."

"I'd better make a vinaigrette before I go."


"Norman will bring bottled dressing. Low-calorie. With fake bacon bits floating in it. I know Norman. This is the kind of thing he does."

Hal almost literally threw me out the door, yelling after me that Norman was a splendid person for whom no woman was good enough.

When I returned from my double feature, the shrilly ambitious couple were seated in our living room lecturing Norman and Patty on what they'd bought that week while Hal poured scotch into smudged wine glasses.

"All right, I forgot about ice cubes," he muttered under his breath as I took off my coat.

"Hal's the official host tonight!" I announced, trying to clear myself of all potential dinner crimes, and taking a seat next to Patty. She gave me a defeated smile and gazed at the empty coffee table. No crackers, no cheese, nary a salted nut.

"There's no sense ruining our appetites," Hal said.

"No sense whatsoever," I agreed. "Besides, we'll need room for Patty's dessert, won't we?"

Patty's face fell into further defeat. "Oh shit," she said.

I told Hal in the kitchen that all human beings were undependable, which was why a good host always had a backup salad, backup dessert, backup everything. "I hate your uptightness," he said, leaning against a Pyrex bowl full of Norman's carrot-and-raisin salad.

"Not as much as you're going to hate that carrot business," I said, pouring myself more tepid scotch. "How come I don't smell spaghetti sauce?"

He pointed to an envelope graced with the buoyant grin of Chef Boyardee. "I haven't opened it yet," he said.

I didn't care that Hal served the worst meal anyone had since college. I didn't care that he ran out of wine or had assumed one box of spaghetti was plenty for six or that when Norman asked for bread Hal had to drag out half a bag of cold whole-wheat English muffins. What I cared about was that Hal was in no way humiliated. It wasn't just bravado, either. He said he would take responsibility for feeding his guests, but in reality he felt not one shred of responsibility for their well-being. He felt no shame, not one iota. It was brazen, bizarre, male beyond measure. He should have been wearing a codpiece.

"I don't get it," I said later. It was 8:30 p.m. Everyone was gone. "You're not even embarrassed."

"Why should I be? Everyone got fed."

"Everyone did not. They're probably out now, wolfing down cheeseburgers and cursing my existence."

"Why would they be cursing you? I made the dinner."

"Chef Boyardee made the dinner. And I'm the woman who let it happen."


"The woman always gets blamed for hospitality deficiencies! Everyone pretends they've advanced into occasionally blaming the man, but trust me - it never happens!"

"Gosh, you're uptight."

"Stop using that word around me. How much did you spend on groceries?"

"Three bucks. Home entertaining is really the way to go."

"Yeah. Especially when you don't buy anything."

The only good aspect of Hal's dinner was that we never heard from the shrilly ambitious couple again, and Norman and Patty told so many people what a horrid thing I'd allowed my husband to do that we stopped getting invited anywhere. This meant we didn't owe anybody anything, hospitality-wise.

"Except for the Lees and the Howards," said Hal. "I'll just make a big pot of spaghetti."

I knew I couldn't go through it again. I didn't have the strength, the wherewithal to distance myself from Hal's heinous acts. Even if our guests were progressive enough to hate Hal instead of me when he served them nothing for dessert, was I progressive enough to join them? My calendar told me it was 1992, but I had to admit it was still 1962 in the more damaged parts of my brain.

"Pizzas, Hal. Out."

"You're chicken," he accused.

Chicken, but relaxed. I didn't feel obliged to spin lettuce leaves, empty medicine cabinets, or cringe when food appeared. Even if I blamed myself for Hal's domestic deficiencies, I wasn't crazy enough to blame myself for a restaurant's. And the restaurant, as it turned out, was nearly blameless: The pizzas dripped Gorgonzola, the salads were well dressed, and Hal even found a decent merlot.

The problem came when Hal realized he'd forgotten his credit card and had 25 cents in cash. He stared at me piercingly; I reached for my credit card. Alas, this pizza place didn't take credit cards, and the Lees and the Howards fought each other for the check.

Hal's color was amazing. He turned redder than the merlot, redder than I would have if faced with 12 exploded game hens. He stammered, he stumbled, his codpiece fell off.

"Why be embarrassed?" I asked him on the way home. "Everyone got fed."

I refrained from further comment purely because of the expression on Hal's red face. It wasn't a look of insanity exactly. It was more like, well, you know, uptight.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Foodie Fiction! (As Published in 1886--Oops, I Mean 1986, Which, Never mind Math, Is Equally Distant)

     by the Eons Younger Ms. Gonick 
(If you've seen this before, please forgive and So Be It.) 

I WON`T SAY THAT BEN HAMILTON`S BEing a restaurant critic was the only reason I dated him. It was, however, the main one. And why not? They say you can fall for a rich man as easily as for a poor one; I say you can be as attracted to a man who has endless access to fabulous free meals as to one who frequents Burger King.

Opportunistic? Yes. Did I use Ben so I could go to the finest restaurants without making reservations six weeks in advance? Absolutely. Call me what you will -- like Edith Piaf, I regret nothing. If Ben suffered because of me, it was certainly no more than when his lamb was overcooked.

And I myself suffered a far more serious upheaval: I lost my lifelong love of fine food. And how am I convinced of this loss? Because I have just polished off a big bowl full of Kraft`s macaroni and cheese. Because, far worse, I enjoyed it.

I HAD READ Ben`s newspaper column for years, just as every restaurant-crazed resident of our city has. He has the power to make or break a new eatery with the stroke of a pen. I devoured his reports of festive evenings with feasting friends. Even more seductive than his accounts of duck breast with green peppercorns were the intimations of conviviality: ``The five of us agreed that no appetizer on the menu could match the leek pate with tarragon sauce.`` ``Although more than sated, our group shared a pear and ginger tart and a chocolate orange souffle, unanimously deeming the tart the superior dessert.``

I lusted for such pastimes as this: to luxuriate with my knowledgeable peers in this cocoon of fine food and wine, to share tender judgments, to evaluate, to discuss nothing more controversial than pear versus chocolate. ``I belong at that table,`` I`d reflect as I read.

I never dreamed I`d be so lucky as to meet Mr. Haute Cuisine, just as I have never dreamed of meeting Elvis Presley or Mick Jagger. He came to me, as miracles do, unannounced. At an elaborate cocktail party, I stood alone beside a gleaming chafing dish, and he walked up and introduced himself.

Did I panic and wish I had just freshened my lipstick? Did I wish I hadn`t just put a run in my stocking? No. I wished more than anything in the world that I was not in the middle of consuming a cold prawn dipped in mustard vinaigrette. I remembered him railing in his latest column against the omnipresence of the prawn: ``Are these crustaceans not the most ubiquitous of all? Can hosts not think of more imaginative fare?``

``Forgive me,`` I said quickly, nervously depositing the uneaten half of my prawn into a pitcher of aioli sauce. ``Oh God.`` I retrieved it clumsily and wrapped its nasty pinkness in a napkin.

``There is nothing to forgive,`` he said generously. He was 4 inches shorter than I, with blazing brown eyes. ``Try this,`` he said, slipping a scallop adorned with fresh cilantro into my mouth. ``Better?``

``Thank you,`` I murmured, as he fed me another one. Twice blessed. ``I read your column every week,`` I blurted.

``That`s very good of you,`` he said. ``And may I say that your dress is quite lovely? It is precisely the color of an eggplant.``

Imagine Priscilla Presley`s joy when the King of Rock `n` Roll chose her, from all the corners of the universe, to be his bride. Imagine mine.

``Do you fear innards?`` Ben then asked.

I didn`t, but if I had, I`d have lied. I prayed this was a prelude to something grand.

It was. ``I am sampling the sweetbreads in urchin sauce at Ernesto`s this Thursday. Would you care to join my party?``

``I adore thymus glands. I would be honored.``

OUR PARTY WAS comprised of three well-heeled couples. I was indisputably Ben Hamilton`s date. Oh, the unspeakable pleasure of being on a celebrity`s arm, even if the arm was attached to a shoulder that barely grazed my bicep.

The six of us unfolded our napkins as Ben uncapped his pen and ordered the entire meal. Appetizers covered the table.

``Let me squeeze just a drop of fresh lime onto your mussel,`` he said to me, solicitously. And one drop is exactly what he squeezed, rerouting the second one onto the tablecloth. ``Just enough to refresh,`` he explained. I ate it, and he was absolutely correct: Two drops would have overwhelmed the poor bivalve, while one drop made it sing.

Sweetbreads arrived; we discussed their tenderness, the complexity of their sauce. Wine flowed, as did well-pondered pronouncements on the tartness of the raspberries in creme fraiche.

Ben leaned toward me, the slightest trace of creme on his mustache. ``Are you having a good time?`` he asked.

``I`m in heaven,`` I told him.

I suppose this was the correct answer, because I was invited to the next five dinners. The membership of the convivial core group rotated, depending on who was in town, who owed whom what favor, who had a special feeling for sashimi.

By the fourth dinner, it occurred to me that Ben was starting to like me in my eggplant dress even better than he liked braised eggplant salad. By the fifth dinner, I stopped feeling so intimidated.

``I made a duck in cherry sauce once,`` I announced to the table. ``But I couldn`t figure out how to carve it. I think you have to be a surgeon.``

``It`s a snap,`` Ben said. ``You just need the right knives. But of course, the love affair between duck and cherry has long been over.``

I knew that, naturally -- my duck attempt had been seven years ago -- but, ever polite, I did not defend myself. ``How would you prepare it?`` I asked.

``With juniper berries,`` he promptly said. Inspiration lit his face. ``I`ll cook it for you all this Saturday. My house at 8. All right?``

All right? To be personally cooked for by Mr. Benjamin Hamilton? Was this how Priscilla felt when her husband sang Love Me Tender to her in their bedroom?

I SPENT ONE hour and 20 dollars selecting the wine to bring to Ben`s duck dinner. I figured if it wasn`t appropriate, at least it wasn`t dirt cheap. When I arrived at Ben`s spotless and cleverly decorated apartment, he was holding court in his model kitchen, emperor of the butcher block. We guests sipped champagne from chilled flute-shaped glasses and exclaimed happily over the first course of angel-hair pasta in a red-pepper puree. As everyone applauded, Ben turned directly to me and asked, ``What do you think?``

I was mesmerized by his perfectly alphabetized spice rack. ``It`s delicious,`` I said.

He beamed. A different wine was served with each course, and mine wasn`t one of them. ``Let me show you how to carve the duck,`` he said, leading me to the huge cutting board. He stood behind me, struggling to rest his chin on my shoulder, and guided my hand. ``See how easy it is?`` he encouraged, squeezing my thickening waist.

I inhaled. ``The duck smells like gin.``

``That`s because gin is made with juniper berries,`` he said. ``Very aromatic. And lovely, like yourself.``

I had never been compared to a juniper berry before, but maybe it was harmless enough. On the other hand, maybe it wasn`t. The next morning at 11 o`clock, my doorbell rang. When I answered it, a delivery boy handed me a large bouquet of gorgeous red radicchio.

The card read:  To my lovely juniper berry. I would have grilled these if I could. Love, Ben.

Now what? Although I felt no guilt about eating dinners he wasn`t paying for anyway, this juniper berry business was something else. Was I leading him on?

I put my radicchio in water and pondered a romance with Benjamin Hamilton. If there were a chance for passion it would have to flower on a turf not entirely his own. How could I get to know the real Ben if he were constantly surrounded by gastronomical sycophants? Could Jerry Hall relate to Mick if they never left the rock concert? Perhaps an all-day outing in the countryside would help: no waiters, no convivial guests, just sunshine and fresh air.

I decided to invite Ben on such a trek when I called to thank him for the bouquet. He loved the idea but wondered aloud what food to bring.

``I`ll make some sandwiches,`` I said. ``And I`ll bring some trail mix.``

``Trail mix?`` he echoed, as if this described the animal leavings one encountered on trails. ``Perhaps I could bring a few items.``

``Fine,`` I said, cheerily.

I WAS THE picture of the well-adjusted outdoors woman by 10 the next morning. But where was Ben? The ham on rye was wrapped and ready to go. It was 11, then it was 12. The doorbell rang.

``Sorry,`` he said. ``I had trouble locating the right pate.``

``Pate? In the sun? It`ll melt.``

He insisted it wouldn`t, but it did, all three kinds. All afternoon Ben carried a baguette that was half his height; it turned to cement by the end of our walk.

``I made sandwiches,`` I reminded him, handing him one. He stared at it.

``I used Dijon mustard.``

He sniffed slightly. ``I`m not an outdoor type,`` he admitted as we sat down to admire the view. He put his hand on my knee.

``Would you like to help me review Robert`s Bistro tonight?``

I declined. I told him I`d like him to meet some of my friends, that Dennis and June were giving a barbecue and all we had to do was bring our own meat.

``I would love to meet your friends,`` he said. ``I`ll supply our main course.``

MY LOVE OF fine cuisine aside, to me a barbecue is still a barbecue -- a good, old-fashioned, all-American tradition whether you use mesquite or not. But it was not to be that simple.

As Dennis and June`s grill sizzled with beef patties and foot-long hot dogs, Ben carefully laid our meal alongside: marinated duck liver and rabbit parts brushed with mustard.

Everyone gathered around to look.

``Duck liver?`` said my friend Bill.

``A delicacy,`` Ben assured him.

``I didn`t even know those little quack-quacks had livers,`` guffawed Bill, grabbing another beer.

When it was ready, Ben made up two perfect plates garnished with the papaya and ginger salad he`d brought and insisted we eat at the end of the table, away from the group.

``Don`t you want to try June`s potato salad?`` I asked.

``Certainly not!`` he said. ``This meal cries for papaya.``

My guilt, as I ate, was twofold: Our elitist meal tasted absolutely terrific and I, too, had no craving for June`s potato salad. I was also guilty because throughout the repast, Ben stared into my eyes and told me I was his juniper berry.

``I don`t think I am,`` I told him.

He looked huffy. ``It`s because I`m short, isn`t it?``

No, it`s because you`re crazy, a voice inside me said. But instead I told him, ``If you really like me, then you should let me do something for you. Let`s spend a quiet evening together. At my house. I`ll do all the work this time.``

I knew that no matter how hard I labored over cookbooks and Cuisinarts, I could never come up with a meal that would meet his standards -- but, perversely enough, I did not feel like trying.

Cooking badly is surprisingly easy and takes hardly any time at all. By the time Ben arrived, the Cheese Whiz waited in delicate twirls upon the Ritz crackers, assembled on my coffee table alongside the bottle of Thunderbird.

``Ice?`` I asked, tossing some cubes into a Fred Flintstone glass I had left over from childhood.

I could see he didn`t know if I was serious, but I kept my countenance sincere.

``You don`t seem very hungry,`` I said. ``Wait till you try the salad. You won`t resist that.`` At the table I presented him with a perfect square of lime Jell-O filled with miniature marshmallows and pimento and topped with a dollop of Miracle Whip. ``Come on and eat,`` I said with a straight face. He reached for the Thunderbird instead.

But I would not be put off. ``Now for the piece de resistance.`` I`d read the recipe for Frito Pie in a women`s magazine. You open a giant bag of Fritos corn chips, dump in hot canned chili and grated cheese and onion, mix lightly and serve directly from the bag. I guess the theory is that the chips melt into a pleasantly pliable state.

It was almost painful to observe Ben`s face. I thought he might barf, then I thought he might cry. ``Ben, don`t you like it? Aren`t I your juniper berry?``

He threw down his blue paper napkin. ``You are not!`` he squeaked, rising and heading for the door. ``You are perfectly disgusting!`` he called over his shoulder. ``To think I grilled a duck`s liver for you!``

Goodbye, conviviality. Goodbye, free meals. I don`t even care, and that is the problem. Thanks to Ben, I, a woman once obsessed with every subtle variation of fine cuisine, now crave Kraft macaroni and cheese, and prefer M&Ms to Godiva. He out-obsessed me.

I wonder if Priscilla Presley lost her taste for rock; I wonder if she listened to opera in the privacy of her room.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Bring On The Drano--It's Time to Watch Chopped!

I'm pretty sure it's not having a kitchen that drives me to watch the Food Network Channel. Trust me, I know exactly how loathsome it is, and yet I’m always thrilled to see the show Chopped.  That's the one where three Foodie Fascists ruin the lives of Four Aspiring Chefs by making them cook (at speeds so dangerous they slice off their limbs, hence the name Chopped) a creative, tasty, and lovely-to-look-at three course meal.

The rub, however, is not having to do this in twelve seconds flat, but having to do it with Satanic ingredients. Said ingredients, which range from Drano to cockroach filets, await them in boxes packed by Pandora, a.k.a. "mystery baskets."

Mystery? Try Jung's collective unconscious. Better yet, try looking in on one of my more obnoxious recurring dreams, the one where I am suddenly called on to cook for a crowd and must dash to the butcher to buy lots of meat. And, upon unwrapping my white paper package in my own (and considerably dream-improved) home, discover to my Absolute Shock and Primordial Horror that I have somehow purchased four pounds of snakes. 

(Or would it be snake. But just never mind.)

How can this be?
my dream-brain is screaming. When did butchers start selling snake(s)? And how in the world did I come to buy it? And without even noticing that I had bought it? And how can I possibly serve such grotesquery (let alone cook it since I can't bear to touch it or even regard it) to the hordes of hungry, unwitting guests who are, even now, approaching my door?

I've had this dream maybe four or five times and, as much as I abhor it and fear it, I've always drawn comfort from waking up to the Certainty that it really was "only a dream" and could never happen in Actual Life.

And then it happened. Maybe not in Actual Life, but on TV--which I use as a slightly less harmful substitute--and it happened—where else?—on Satan’s own Chopped. Yes, one day those poor beleaguered contestants opened their dreadful mystery baskets to find (along with the usual anvil and jackfruit) a white paper package that some might describe as slightly archetypal. 

And when they opened this archetypal package they saw exactly what I'd seen in my dream: a pile of vile (albeit also dead, skinned, and, thank you Jesus!, decapitated) snake(s).

The female contestant almost passed out while the males grimaced and then trundled on. And where were they trundling to? Ah yes, to the special Chopped pantry and fridge from which they can draw less crazy fare (arugula, shallots, butter, crème freche) to augment (but not overwhelm!) the horrible things they must use in their meals.

Normally, this is when I love Chopped the most—that pivotal moment when the panicked contestants must decide if it’s better to bake than to broil, to fry than to poach, or just chop it all raw and call it Cobb salad. The tiny part of my mind that wasn’t quite screaming (due to still working on Chopped autopilot), wondered if one of the aspirants would be gathering limes for a mean Snake Ceviche, or beating up eggs for a grand Snake Soufflé.

Thankfully, this wondering lasted only two seconds before the screaming part of my mind--which knew I would die if I witnessed either preparation, or any Snake Preparation at all--made me grab the remote and turn Chopped to OFF.
After which I drew comfort from deciding I had dreamed the whole thing.  And with no one to verify that I hadn’t (I’d watched it with Boo, an unconscious cat),  I was able to think this was actually so.  Which was good, because it enabled me to: (1) not lose my mind;  (2) keep watching Chopped where, to my sadistic delight, contestants kept getting eliminated for allowing the blood from their wounds to seep onto their food.  

But then one day--and you knew this was coming--I saw a Chopped rerun, and there it all was.

Totally real and just as atrocious.  And this time I ran out of the house.  

Sunday, July 31, 2011

How My Life Was Saved by a Neuro-Chiro Who Looks Just Like a Renaissance Cherub

I used to think chiropractors were all hippie quacks who pummeled their patients to karmicky pulps and dipped them in vats of patchouli oil.   Even when my lower back began to explode and “real” doctors proved to be utterly—and I mean utterly to the point of immorally-- useless, and my sister urged me to at least try a chiro, my suspicions of anything hippie-related made me, even while yelping and clutching my  back, stick to my fascist guns and resist.

But when my sister discovered a NEURO-chiro, a field I’d never heard of before, I caved. Lifelong insanity and the occasional (okay, just one so far, that I know of) brain tumor have made me wild for anything Neuro. And since this Neuro-Chiro did not, per his website, look (or write) the least bit like a hippie, last February I went in to see him.

The Cowboy, whose love will elude me unto my death but, oops, more to the point here, has been pretty much crippled by various industrial accidents and the odd horse standing on his foot for two days, warned me that any Chiro I saw (and he has seen millions, though none of them Neuro) would take all my money and leave me in pain.

As it turns out, he’s only half right. Thanks to the evils of health insurance, my Neuro-Chiro has indeed cleaned me out but here is the thing:  I do not even care.  

I do not even care because, and I know how vile and suspect this sounds, the man has removed the pain in my back.

And, as if that weren't enough, he's fixed my neck too, a neck which I had not even realized no longer turned, but which I can now spin around like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, if I should want to, and sometimes I do.

As for the Neuro part of it all (the right side of my brain does not seem to exist, so we feed the left with eyelights and such), he tells me I’m far less hysterical than I was when we first met lo these pivotal five months ago. And though I still feel completely hysterical (the cowboy, the moving, the aging, the longing) I think my behavior might look less hysterical, which, for an hysteric, counts for a lot.

Have I fallen in love with my Neuro-Chiro? 

Well, Duh, and No Kidding.  For one thing, he looks like a Renaissance cherub.  For another, he’s acutely present, kind without being the least bit insipid, witty, funny, and screamingly smart. 

But the person with whom I’m truly in love is my Neuro-Chiro-Cherub's receptionist.

The first few times I came in I begged her to turn down the music because it was literally hurting my brain (a reaction my Neuro-Chiro says is not uncommon for people whose brains are missing right sides) and she graciously did.  Later, when she asked me if by "down" I really meant "off" and I said "but of course" she did turn it off.   I'm not kidding you. She turned it OFF.

And-- talk about being not just Personally Accommodated but Thrillingly, Almost Maternally Anticipated--from that day forward she has turned it off the second she sees my hideous car careening to a stop in their parking lot.

And does not turn it on again until she sees for herself that it's careened right back out.

Which is just one reason I'll never stop going, no matter what that mean cowboy says, and damn his eyes anyway, if you know what I mean.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Des Moines or Death? Six Weeks Will Tell!

So my landlady tells me she’ll be putting the house (her house, that is, under which I have hidden for nearly eight years) on the dreaded market at the end of this month—but (she assures me) for only six weeks.

If it sells for the price she is asking by then, I will have a new landperson, one who will surely evict me, if not actually stab me for briefly blighting his new festive landscape. And if it does not, I can stay where I am.

I know I should banish all thoughts of moving until I know for sure what my fate is to be.  But in fact I cannot because: (1) I’m scared and obsessive (2) legions of men are outside my door racing to finish new stairways and decks, and, most importantly: (3) my fourth Pretend Husband just barfed in (and not merely on) our nicely appointed marital bed.

It was this copious mountain of Friskie-filled barf that made me aware of a Horrible Truth: I can't move.  I can't because however imperfect (or, let's face it, inadequate) this place may be, it gives me what no other place I can afford to rent will: my very own washer/dryer.

Into which I can hurl, without having to schlep them, barfed upon sheets as soon as I find them.

And this, to me, is the apex of luxury. Never mind that both washer and dryer live inside one machine, which, like shampoo and conditioner that live in one bottle, pretty much means that neither one works.  What do I care if a napkin takes six years to get dry? And not even dry so much as less wet? Whatever keeps me out of the laundromat works well enough. 

Only now there’s a problem: I can’t give it up. My new place, if I do have to find one, has to come with its own washer/dryer because if it doesn’t, I’m going to die.

Which brings me to yet another Horrible Truth: I have to move to a non-seedy neighborhood.  Eight years of living with well-tended greenery and mostly mute neighbors have left me so spoiled that anything less looks like Crystal Meth Drive.  And if I have to schlep my poor barfy sheets to the Crystal Meth Laundromat, I’m really but really going to die.

If I were even partially sane, I'd switch my focus from what I might lose in a move to the happier prospect of what I might gain.   Like a real kitchen with an oven and stove instead of a one burner hot plate that even a character from some Jean Rhys novel would probably find too depressing to use. 

Or a bedroom bigger than Michelle Bachman's brain.  

Or maybe a bath tub in which I can, at last, soak, and later on cower when my next door neighbor, Crystal Meth Joe, finally decides to march in and kill me.

The real problem is that now that I'm a hundred years old, and still waiting for the Cowboy to realize he loves me, which he will not because he does not, I am no longer willing to live in a place that doesn't give me the things (things, mind you, not a Non-Pretend Husband) that I want.  That's right: I am no longer willing.  I'm an aging diva, a cadaverous brat, a fed up thrower of odious tantrums. 

Of course, the most horrible of the Horrible Truths (that the mere prospect of moving makes me confront) is: I can't afford to get what I want.

Except, wait a minute, maybe I can!  

Yes! I can either: (1) move to Des Moines or (2) go through what's left of my dwindling funds as a grasshopper would instead of an ant.  That is to say, I can rent an entire house if I like, a house that comes with a washer and (separate) dryer, a guest room in case I ever have guests, and, if I should need it, a sordid jacuzzi. 

My accountant says I can live there (without eating too much) for 2.5 years (after which I can't live at all) but truly, you know, it's a thing to consider.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Why Is Moving The World's Worst Thing and Why Do I Keep Having to Do It? ?

Since I’m under not a few doctors’ orders to devote what’s left of my purposeless life to the Assiduous Avoidance of Stress, you can well imagine my horror when I noticed the workers outside my window.

I don’t mean office workers, which would be odd indeed, but men who are pruning, planting, paving and pounding--you know, beautifying the property. Not my property, since I of course have none, but the lovely three-bedroom home and environs that belong to my lovely landlords. If their home were a bridge, I’d be the troll who’s been living beneath it (in the proverbial tiny in-law apartment) for the past seven, nay, almost eight years. And the mere thought of having to move (which, if and when the house sells, is surely my fate) is about as appealing as going to dinner with a bipolar cobra.

Which, trust me, I’ve done, but just--never mind.

The real problem—besides finding a place I can bear to live in and also afford--a feat I can pull off only by robbing a bank or giving myself a thorough lobotomy—is that Moving is one of life’s Major Stressors and Major Stress is my Major Enemy.

Granted, it’s everyone’s enemy, and, granted as well, going to jail (which surely must count as the worst move of all) is a thousand times more stressful yet, but oh my god, I cannot even tell you how thoroughly I do not want to do it. 

It’s not the tedious purging and packing, it’s the being uprooted and dropped alone into the unknown.

What I’m thinking—and I know this is just as whiny as it is obvious-- is that when you move with someone, it’s not so upsetting because you’re bringing a Known into the Unknown. 

Which in itself makes the Unknown more Known and therefore less frightening, hence not quite so heinously stressful and likely to undo all the hard work of your doctors and meds and send you flying into the abyss. 

But what I’m also thinking, because I just must, is that the only thing worse than moving into the unknown alone--especially when you’re of a certain age which only keeps getting more and more certain--is moving into it with a bipolar cobra who will make the rent cheaper but ruin your life.

And that, Dear Readers--if indeed you're still there--is what I like to think of as Positive Thinking. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Facebook, Fecesbook, and Most Importantly, Mr. Blakely's Revenge

Facebook is kind of like Judgment Day: Both maketh the earth to split open and spew forth The Dead—the one difference being that Judgment Day is slated to do this just once while Facebook does it continually.

Sometimes it spews forth the Actual Dead, when a Friend surprises you with the obit. Other times it spews forth someone you’d merely prefer to be--well, if not necessarily actually dead, at least evermore dead to the fact that you’re not—and when such a nightmare occurs you stop referring to Facebook as Facebook and. if you're me, insist on calling it Fecesbook.

And every once in a fabulous while it spews forth someone you feared might be dead, but fervently wished and hoped to be not, and you’re so delighted to learn they’re alive that you go back to calling Fecesbook Facebook—on a temporary basis, of course, depending on whom it speweth forth next. 

This very thing just happened to me when a girl I’ll call Rose--a brilliant, edgy, hilarious girl whose chutzpah I worshiped throughout junior high until she moved on at the age of 15--left a message on my proverbial wall and let me know that she was still living.

Emails ensued, followed by phone calls, all of which hurtled me back to eighth grade when Rose was the only girl in our blond Republican trust-fundy school to dare come to class wearing beatnik black tights. She even wore them to English which was taught by the meanest man in the world, who was also the homeliest man in the world, the relentlessly mocked and maligned Mr. Blakely.

I didn’t have Mr. Blakely for English but I had him for homeroom which meant I started each school day studying his unfortunate head and, when I could manage to look away from his head, his equally unfortunate body which was always encased in an ancient, ill-fitting and sad, tattered suit, which was always in desperate need of a cleaning.

Feeling not so attractive myself, I actually ached for his homeliness, which was sort of a combo of Ichabod Crane and an aging decrepit Alfred E. Neuman if Neuman had just come back from the wars. Mr. Blakely actually had come back from the wars, or at least World War II, and, though of course we knew nothing about such things then, suffered from PTSD and off-putting tics that included a penchant for hideous humming.

One day, when class was about to begin but Mr. Blakely had yet to arrive, Rose found herself standing up to perform a spot-on imitation of Blakely, complete with the frightening buzz of his humming. Everyone laughed and of course Mr. Blakely lurched into the room just before she was finished. And Rose, who ran in horror back to her seat, wondered why he took it in silence instead of sending her off to the dean to be sentenced to several years of detention.

Ten minutes later she was still wondering. 

Fifteen minutes later she sort of stopped wondering and began to relax and even enjoy this unexplained but still vital triumph.

Twenty minutes later Mr. Blakely stopped reading The Red Badge of Courage and, with an abrupt change in lessons plans, lurched to the blackboard to teach the class to diagram sentences. He always, of course, looked worse standing up, when you could see him in his homely totality with his uneven gait, bald and yet greasy comb-over head, and stooped tweedy shoulders spattered as ever with several years' worth of old and new dandruff.

Clearing his throat even while humming, Mr. Blakeley wrote on the board, in giant letters lest somebody miss it, this somewhat atypical sentence:

The girl in the black tights looks hideous. 

Every eye swiveled  to Rose’s black legs, making her slump way down in her seat and, as often happens in the eighth grade, die a slow and distraught inner death.

A subtle and silent revenge, slyly doled out by a tormented man.

Almost fifty years later it warms me with hope.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Slouching Toward Cadavercise

Exercise: we’ve all gotta have it, but where do people with shattered nerves get it? Take me for just one crazy example: I joined Pervs (aka Curves) with all good intentions but had to quit because of the hideous, pulsating music. After that I joined a gym and had to quit THAT because of, no kidding, the hideous music.

That’s when I realized I needed an exercise class designed specifically for the shattered. Or the closest thing to it: the geriatric. A class whose teacher would understand that a vicious bass beat might very well kill off her tottering students. A class whose teacher might well play a harp. Not an actual harp, but the soothing sounds of a harp’s gentle strings emanating from some harmless boom box. Music to Not Want To Kill Yourself By. Music they play in tea rooms and Heaven. And, believe it or not, I looked on line and I found it.

My Cadavercise class is held, as it most certainly should be, in the bowels of a hospital, and the first time I went there I felt out of place. Since I feel out of place in my living room, this is hardly worth noting, and yet I must note it because this “out of place” was notably different: I was either the youngest one there by ten or more years, or simply the one who’d treated herself to the most plastic surgery, or possibly both.

When a woman of, say, 75 sidled up to me and asked if I wasn’t “too hot” in my outfit, I realized I was the only one in the room (besides the 30-ish teacher) whose arms weren’t fully covered by sleeves. Was she accusing me of wanting to show off my arms, never mind that they look like twin mortadellas? Or was she just put out because I wasn’t old enough yet to want the heat turned up every minute?

Either way, I figured she was trying to tell me that I wasn’t quite senior enough to be in the class, that I was not merely an impertinent interloper but the worst kind of young snotty whippersnapper.  So I quickly informed her that, even though I still colored my hair, I was a person “with issues.” The main one being the benign brain tumor that took half my hearing and half of my balance, the other one being that even at birth, and no doubt before, I was way too shattered to strengthen my biceps to the shrill screams of “Funkytown"---i.e., that I was Born Old and, thanks to the tumor, now qualified as Officially Ancient. She seemed to accept this and sidled off again back to her mat.

It's been a few months now and I can honestly say that I truly love my Cadavercise class. It meets twice a week for an hour and if I had my druthers, it would meet every day. I relish the slow easy stretching, the slow easy squatting, the crazed pelvic tilting, and yes, the lifting of weights to the sounds of the harp. Of course I have to sit two inches away from the teacher in order to hear even one thing she says, but that is true wherever I am, and my fellow cadavs don’t seem to mind.

Indeed, some of them have been so inclusive as to try to engage me in small talk, but this never goes very far because, naturally, they tend to talk about family, and naturally, since I don’t have one, I tend to talk about Anthony Weiner. 

Which, since I’m pretty sure they’re all rich Republicans (or merely people who take lots of cruises), you’d think they’d enjoy, but I don’t think they do.  Perhaps it's my youthful delivery.  Or my occasional  lauding of Genius Bill Mahar.  Not that it matters.  The point is they allow me to stay and have not, to date anyway, tried running me down in the parking lot.  

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Why the Young Woody Allen Should Have Had Himself Cloned

Granted, I only went to see Midnight in Paris to sit in a place that had air-conditioning, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have minded enjoying the movie as well. Or, to be perfectly honest, staying awake the whole time it was on. I kept passing out and then snapping back. Usually, when this kind of thing happens, you have to ask the person you came with to catch you up on the plot. Malheureusement, I came with no one. Heureusement, this didn’t matter because the movie, though gorgeous, was, zut alors!, plotless.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t go see it. If you’ve just come back from your first trip to Europe which you took right after you got out of college with a degree in English under your belt, you should go and see it this very minute. But only if you did all this in 1972, and even then, only if it’s still 1972.  Which would mean Woody would be playing Gil Pender, while Owen Wilson would still be at home about to turn four.

Don’t get me wrong.  I like Owen Wilson, and not only for his nose and depression. He has, as they say in the cesspool called Hollywood, the all important “shtuppability factor.” That’s why he got to play Jennifer Aniston’s husband in Marley & Me. The director was confident that the audience would completely accept that Aniston was happy to shtup him. This qualifies Wilson as “sexy” and thus completely unsuited to play Woody Allen. Especially the young Woody Allen whose humor was based on his being a nebbish. However often he might break his own nose, Wilson is still too tall, blond, and officially “sexy” to play a true nebbish, by which I mean an undersized, homely, redheaded Jew who wears giant glasses, fears the whole world (i.e. the goyim), is already balding, and never gets laid.

The role of Gil Pender was meant to be played by that young Woody Allen, who, of course, no longer exists. But since the film works on a time-travel premise, let us pretend that he does.

With the young Woody Allen playing Gil Pender, I would have bought a sensitive screenwriter wanting to marry a bitch like Inez because Gil would then be a self-loathing Jew, eager to live out a life of pure torture if it means he gets to shtup Rachel McAdams.

And Inez’s parents would have had a reason to be so Unrelentingly Horrid, the reason being that Gil would have to explain to us just how Californian their Horridness was, the way he explained just how Midwestern the Hall Horridness was even while dining with Annie Hall’s family--in a scene so memorable we still, well, remember it.

And imagine Young Woody meeting up with Hemingway, Picasso, and the rest of the luminaries. Imagine how, even as he romanticized them, he would have upset Fitzgerald’s eternal Gin Rickey, and, when challenged to an arm wrestling match, allowed Hemingway to shatter his ulna. As for the women, he might well have passed on the pretty abuse-a-muse and gone for drunk Zelda, or, better yet, Stein.
Plus he would have asked every one of them if they'd heard about a new up-and-comer named Hitler.

If the moral of the film is that we shouldn’t long for a rose-colored past but live right now as we are in the present, let me just say I did not get that message. Maybe it’s because I kept falling asleep, but I think it’s mostly because I know that the past was better than now because Woody Allen was still able to play himself--his paranoid, nebbishy, razor-sharp self--in his own movies.

(And also, no kidding, because I was young.)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Bring On the Vomiting Bridemaids

If you are a woman, or just sort of a woman, or even, like me, a woman who has never once been a bride or one of her unfortunate minions, get thee to a theater now and treat yourself to a viewing of the more than a little Shakespearean Bridesmaids. 

See it for Melissa McCarthy’s portrayal of Falstaff, wherein she channels Ricky Gervaise before he took off the weight and started wearing those stupid tight tee shirts. She’s a glorious id, completely unleashed.

See it for Kristen Wiig’s brilliant depiction of Lady Macbeth, if Lady M had been forced to sell jewelry to the deluded, and driven to calling a young girl a cunt.

As much as I thrilled to seeing a woman brought down so low that she cannot not call a young girl a cunt (an epithet used night and day by the British), my favorite line, also spoken by Wiig, is the terse damnation: You are a flight attendant. 

My favorite physical comedy is when Kristen Wiig mocks a woman she loathes with such enormous head-swerving zeal  that she makes her car start doing it too.

As for the notorious barfing and pooping, it’s nowhere near as upsetting as, say, the New Yorker’s David Denby, thinks it to be, nor does it seem tacked on or gratuitous. While the barfing pie-eating scene in Stand By Me is completely tacked on and gratuitous, the Bridesmaids scene is less about having to poop in the street than Wiig’s having to fight back her nausea while pretending to want the inane Jordan almond. 

What some (perhaps not always female) reviewers miss is that the comedy lies not in the Barfing, but in Lady Macbeth’s attempt to Hide Her Symptoms of Imminent Barfing from her nemesis, the Bridesmaid Iago.

Hence the close-ups of Wiig’s knitting brow as it exudes a River Thamesful of sweat that both shampoos her hair and makes her eye liner drop to her cheeks.  Symptoms which, if barfing were sex (which it surely is when Wiig schtups the horrid Jon Hamm), would be known more simply as foreplay.

The only tacked on and gratuitous part is, of course, the Happy Ending. I know comedies have to have Happy Endings, but in a movie that hollers such rarely heard truths about female friendships, desires, and acts of self-sabotage, it’s sort of jarring to see Wiig suddenly turn from the wrathful, outrageous Lady Macbeth into the young dewy Juliet, saved just in time by Perfect Cop Romeo. 

Which I don’t think ever happens in actual life, and if it does, please don’t tell me about it.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Maria and Arnold and, Oh Yeah, The Mildred

What I don’t get is why so many people are expressing their shock that Arnold would choose a Not Gorgeous woman for such a long-term schtupping assignment.

Are these people morons? Virgins? Naifs? Have they never had, or known others who’ve had, or even read the odd novel wherein certain characters have had crazy, schadenfreude-fueled, right-down-the-hall-from-my-stupid-wife sex?

Let me just bring up two points here: Willingness and Proximity.

Okay, four points: Perversity (Mildred evidently wants to be Maria, or at least wear her clothes, the better to mock her) and, oh yeah, Plantations. 

Remember plantations? Where the white slave-owners raped their slaves every minute and, being no more concerned with birth control than was Arnold, sired vast numbers of these slaves' children?

Well, they might have wiped out working plantations, but plantational thinking still rules the whole world—that’s what I said, Bub, the entire wide world—only now the Plantation is known as the Compound. 

Or, in some cases, like if you are French, the $3000 a night but oh-so-worth-it New York hotel room.  Just as rich (or poor) white men of old could do anything they liked to a slave without facing one single unpleasant consequence, rich white men of today can pretty much do the same thing. Maybe not with literal slaves, since we seem to have wiped out literal, that is to say legal, slavery, but certainly with women who, unlike Maria, enjoy neither money nor status, and especially woman of, no kidding, color.

Getting back to Mildred’s not looking like the young Ava Gardner, might I just point out how much money it takes to look any good after, say, forty? Do you know how much it costs to get those stupid streaks in your hair? To keep lifting your face off the ground and hiring surgeons to deal with those facial skeletal issues which, left unattended, will keep on making you look just like Eunice?

If you feel bad for Maria, let me just remind you that she knowingly married the son of a Nazi. I mean, really. Even the odious Joseph Kennedy might have chosen not to do that. Also, let’s ponder for just a moment her money. I dare say she will never have to work as a maid, nor will she ever have to live even one hour without squadrons of maids at her slightest command, washing her sheets and cleaning her toilets.

Is Mildred vile? Well, obviously. But she’s also Not All That Stupid. By making sure she had Arnold’s son, she’s achieved her own financial security (including a four-bedroom house with a pool, thanks) which should last her the rest of her ill-advised life. 

Which might be the best part about the death of literal slavery and the birth of the tests that prove DNA: Even a working woman of color can, if she’s lucky, get a hold of some kind of recourse. And I really hope that Jeffrey Shapiro gets to kick Monsieur Strauss-Kahn’s ass and win his client billions of dollars.  Dollars with which she too can hire squadrons of maids: all of them white, and of course male, and also completely, indelibly French.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Still Hating Thynneth, But So Loving Paradise

Just when you think it’s time to stop trashing poor Thynneth Paltrow, her blonde T-rex head erupts from the cover of (what else?) Self Magazine and—bam!—you have to—HAVE TO—trash her again. I know I shouldn’t have opened it but when you’re waiting to see your Neuro-Chiro in a room awash with just the one Self and 50 Golf Digests--and you happen to suffer from Unabated Acute Anhedonia—you have no choice but to open said Self and see what new Thynnie-Horrors await.

It was, trust me, the usual fare: an excerpt from her Oedipal Cookbook (The Food Daddy Fed Me While Mommy Worked), the latest update on the state of her butt, and a few tips on How To Spit-Roast Mr. Batali Without His Noticing/Getting Upset. 

This last bit, of course, requires abusing oodles of alcohol, which we all know Gwyneth knows nothing about, but let me just say that the next time she gets the urge to portray human frailty on the big screen, she can leave poor Robert Downey, Jr. alone and put her hard-working hands on a book. 

And I don’t mean a cookbook written for morons, but a novel by a Scottish genius, a woman genius, named A.L. Kennedy.  A novel called, rather perfectly, Paradise.

You know how it is when you discover the world’s best writer and wonder how it was that you, a person bent on reading everything good before the macular degeneration sets in, managed so dumbly to miss her before?  Were my well-read friends (two out of my four Pretend Husbands, never mind the cat and the cowboy) just not telling me? Or were they just too busy not reading girls? 

Never mind, I’m reading her now, and let me just say that as astonished and edified as I’ve ever been by the memoirs of women who’ve tortured themselves via alcohol (Mary Karr’s Lit and the late Caroline Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story stagger to mind), they are nothing compared to what this writer imparts in every sentence in Paradise.   Plus, of course, she is funny.

The good news is that she has published other books too (I’m reading one now called Everything You Need and so it is) and, due to not being dead yet, can keep right on writing. 

If you care about either writing or drinking or, perhaps better, both, do yourself a big favor and Google her now, and (Brief Note to Self:) Do Not Google The Dreaded T-Rex.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Gwyneth Paltrow: Person or Avatar?

Gwyneth Paltrow Works For Success
15 April 2011 12:15:14 PM

In case you were wondering if Gwyneth Paltrow really exists as a sentient being, or is rather more of a half-British vapor, or a very blonde version of Gertrude Stein’s Oakland (“There-is-no-there-there,” Gertrude decried), let me just offer this recent bulletin:

Gwyneth Paltrow "worked her ass off" for the good things in her life.  The 'Country Strong' actress - who has children Apple, six, and Moses, five, with husband Chris Martin - believes some people resent the fact she seemingly has it all because she is not afraid to try new things and says her desire to do her best is often mistaken for her feeling superior to others. 

Do you resent her for seemingly having it all? I didn’t think so, because I don’t either. Besides money and a really nice mother, I don’t see that she has anything much--except for the world’s most delusional outlook which would, in itself, be something to envy, except that it drives her to make revealing statements like this to the actual real life publishing press:

"I think my work ethic is the reason why I'm successful. I think that a lot of people don't want to put in effort and it's easier to not change, not do something good for you, not work on your relationship,
not make yourself a meal, not work out. They're just pissed off at someone else doing that. Everything in my life that's good is because I worked my ass off to get it and to maintain it.

The late James Brown was called—by others, mind you-- “the hardest working man in show business” and perhaps Gwyneth, too, believes she’s James Brown. But she can’t be James Brown if only because James used to get drunk on occasion and shoot up some wives and end up in the pokey. Which, if he’d only pursued an acting career, would have made him a much better candidate to portray the drunk singer in the unconvincing film Country Song. Evidently, Gwyneth had trouble relating to this particular realm of human experience and shared her puzzlement with the press:

“I just couldn’t understand how you could be so drunk that you could wreck people’s lives and then wake up the next day and pretend everything was fine. I struggled with that.”

To be 25 and still not understand that requires a strong work ethic indeed. To be 35 and unable to even imagine having committed some Bad Behavior, and feeling—or not--Deep Rue and Regret, requires that one wield so much self discipline as to have rendered oneself just slightly autistic.

Gwyneth - who has recently released her own cook book, 'My Father's Daughter', and is rumored to have landed a record deal - also admitted she pities her critics as she thinks they are projecting their negative feelings about themselves onto her. 

Okay, let me just say this about pity and Gwyneth’s evident need to invade--and not just by marriage--the Country of Music: The reason her music lacks any conviction is that she’s never cared about music per se; it was merely the country she had to invade (I’m thinking Poland) to get on to the waaaay more strategic Country of Sex. Or, more specifically, to the Country of Seeming to be Very Sexy. Which Gwyneth, for all her hard-working work-outs, somehow manages to completely avoid, as can be seen on her glee-free cavorting on Glee:,

And now, just to be completely unfair:

That was unfair, wasn’t it?  You might say the same thing about a film career that peaks way too early. Gwyneth was still in her twenties when she got the Oscar for Shakespeare in Love, and she was brilliant—nay, luminous—in Shakespeare in Love.  She owned that country for a short while and no one even resented her then.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Living Sober On Gossamer Wings

Imagine my shame when I had to tell Dr. Mars that I’d once again failed to fire (fire as in Donald Trump fire) The Cowboy out of my life. Imagine my further chagrin when I told him I was reading (only because The Cowboy, who never reads anything, had suggested I read it) a little booklet called Living Sober.

“It’s supposed to explain why he and I can’t have a relationship,” I told Dr. Mars.

“But you are having a relationship,” he had to point out.

“Well,” I said. “Evidently we’re not.”

Living Sober's pointedly non-aggressive subtitle is: Some methods A.A. members have used for not drinking. One of the myriad methods is going to meetings--which The Cowboy does daily if not sometimes hourly-- another is avoiding emotional entanglements until you are ready to handle them.

There’s a section called “Looking out for overelation” which I misread at first as over-relation, as in Any Relating Puts You In Danger of  Over-Relating Which Is Why You Can’t Risk Having Any Relationship, but later read correctly (and why don’t they hyphenate?) as over-elation. 

Which I took to mean: Do Not Get Too Happy About Anything Lest It Make You Imagine It Is Perfectly Safe to Celebrate With A Martini. 

“Perhaps falling in love with a recovering alcoholic was not the world’s best idea,” I told Dr. Mars.

“And why would that be?” he asked because, well, I pay him.

“Because the problem with me is, I want elation. Not martini elation, romantic elation. And, to tell the truth, I wouldn’t mind feeling a bit of over-elation. Some over-the-rainbow, over-the-top, the-cow-jumped-over-the-damn-moon elation.”

At which point I realized, without any help from the mute and most certainly way overpaid Dr. Mars, why The Cowboy had suggested I read Living Sober. It wasn’t to help me understand him. It was to help me notice that, sober or not, my own brain functions as if it has spent its whole life steeped in cheap gin.

I suppose this realization should have depressed me, but since I think like Ray Milland in Lost Weekend, it actually cheered me—indeed, came dangerously close to over-elating me—as I took it to mean that The Cowboy and I might actually have something in common. 

And commonality leads to relationship, no? 

So maybe some day we’ll get to have one. 

Hope springs eternal in the drunk human breast.

Monday, April 4, 2011

My Friend Mildred Fierce

Forget Joan Crawford and Kate Winslet too—if you want to meet the real Mildred Fierce, get a hold of James M. Cain’s novel and prepare to feel completely insane.

I spent all Sunday reading the book in one great gulp from beginning to end. By the time I finished I felt so deranged I had to call Pretend Husband Hank Fitz (who’d just read it himself and then lent it to me) to make sure I’d gotten it right.

“So it’s all her own fault, isn’t it, Hank?” I bleated. “Everything that happens to her—it’s all completely her own heinous fault.”

"Exactly,” said Hank. “It’s a Greek tragedy.”

“And Monty is not even evil!” I said. “He’s just a desultory sex king.”


“And even Veda’s not—well, okay, she’s evil--but what else would she be, given total carte noir?”

“What else indeed?”

“Thank you, Hank, I feel so much better.”

“Good,” he said. “Now how ‘bout that cowboy?”

For a second I thought he meant Herbert Fierce, who’d worked as a stunt rider for the movies before getting so unemployed and depressed that he’d had to schtup Mrs. Biederhof and get thrown out by cranky wife Mildred.

But he didn’t mean Herbert Fierce. He meant The Cowboy I wasn’t going to see any more. The Cowboy I was going to see face to face one last time just so I could deliver that news!

“So--did you tell him?” Hank asked.

“Of course I did. I told him on Friday.”

“Wasn’t that April Fool’s Day?”


Okay, so it was April Fool’s Day but that’s not why I’m still seeing the Cowboy. I have to keep seeing him—I’m Mildred Fierce!  A Mildred Fierce with no industry maybe, but a Mildred Fierce Manque nonetheless.

Hmm. Maybe that’s why Hank made me read that damn book.

Remind me to kill him when I have the time.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Few Crazed Notes on Elizabeth Taylor

So I told my esteemed shrink Dr. Mars yesterday that I was really going to do it this time—the “it” being telling The Cowboy that I'm not going to see him any more. Dr. Mars reminded me that I’d already tried this four thousand times to Not One Single Pathetic Avail, a reminder which put me in so bad a mood that I had to switch topic to Elizabeth Taylor.

“Here’s what I really loved about Liz,” I said, and I said it quickly because, thanks to some new insurance nightmare, I now get shrunk only every two weeks and have to talk fast to fit it all in –the “it” being my weakening tether to horrid reality and increasing need for romantic delusion.

“She could juggle all those ravenous appetites simultaneously without getting either confused or denied," I said.  "Like when she first fell for Burton---you’d think all that fabulous sex would have sufficed---but nooooo---she still had to have that chili from Chasen’s.

Never mind that Chasen’s was in Beverly Hills (never mind Eddie, never mind Sybil); Elizabeth knew that one flick of a kohl-laden eyelash would get that chili to Rome in such a big hurry her minions wouldn’t even have to reheat it.  They'd serve it up hotter than Burton himself. 

“It is so quintessentially Female,” I told Dr. Mars, who, being male, needs such reminders, “to be having the best sex of your life while concurrently planning your post-coital snack."

The other thing I told him I loved about Liz was that, in addition to her many Real Husbands, she liked to have Pretend Husbands too--a habit I well understand because I myself have four Pretend Husbands --(although, when I get my Pretend Divorce from The Cowboy, I guess I will only have threebut never mind that particular desolation, let’s get back to Liz)--my favorite story being when Montgomery Clift got in that car crash and she saved his life by reaching down into his mouth and pulling his teeth up out of his throat.

" I know Real Wives who wouldn’t have done that,” I told Dr. Mars who, although he admits he's never  been married, probably knew that already just from being: (a) Old;  (b) A Shrink; (c) Someone Who Watches Old Movies.

(Did I mention that The Cowboy has been divorced from two Real Wives himself, the first of whom he’s spent the past year driving to and from Kaiser while going insane while she slowly and painfully dies? Did I mention I'm going to stop seeing him?)

Speaking of death—and, let's face it, what else should one speak of, besides food, I mean--I told Dr. Mars that the two people for whom I felt the most pity upon hearing of the deaths of their loved ones were Elizabeth Taylor and Caroline Kennedy. Kennedy when her brother died, because he was the last person on earth who would ever know or share her whole story, and Elizabeth the day Dick succumbed.

“She’d married him—really married him--twice! I felt I had to remind him. “They’d had all that sex! All that chili from Chasen’s!”

“Time’s up,” he said, with his usual grateful glance at the clock.

“Okay,” I said, chilly but rising. "But mark my words, the next time I see you, The Cowboy will be a thing of the past."

My past, I meant.  As opposed to The Past.  Although who can tell about either.  

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Watching the Oscars While Knocking Back Nyquil

The entire telecast was horrendous, of course, and every mean thing a person can say (Franco was irretrievably loaded, Hathaway looks and acts like a Beagle) has been said already, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still have a few lingering questions:

The first being: what sadist allowed Kirk Douglas to do what he did and shouldn’t that person be charged with some crime?

Second, why does Helena Bonham Carter keep looking like that?  That being equal parts Puzzled, Irate, and In the Grips of Gastric Distress?

Third, did Matthew McConaughey always look like a barbecued seahorse?

Finally, I am asking God right here and now to get Charlie Sheen to host next year’s show. 

(Speaking of God, remember a few years back when everyone--and I mean everyone--ended their acceptance speeches with a humble and cloud-splitting Thank You to God?  What happened to that? When was God fired? Now it’s back to thanking the wife and their fabulous offspring, Twitter and Tweet!)

Please, God, after you get Charlie to host, make his co-host be Colonel el-Qaddafi. Give those boys whatever they want—Waterbeds! Tents! Armani diapers!

P.S. It would also be good if Gwyneth Paltrow could stuff all her hair in a pink vinyl shower cap and sing, a capella, our National Anthem.  

Monday, February 14, 2011

Blue Valentine and I Do Mean Blue

Valentine’s Day: do we hate it enough? If you’re asking me—no, never enough. Just when the scars left by Christmas begin to fade out, it rears its hideous red velvet head to make us feel Egregiously Single. Even on those psychotic occasions when we’re actually with someone for more than two minutes, it makes us feel like we’re not quite with that someone enough, that even a day of chocolate-filled coitus performed on a doily made by John Donne will not, ever, count as enough. 

Enough for what?
you might ask. Enough (I might answer!) to make even the least significant placing in the Unending Contest of Romantic Love. Because that’s what Valentine’s Day is, of course: a grotesque competition that, despite its pretensions to privacy, must, to count, be conducted in public. Hence the mobbing of florists and restaurants and jewelers and---gee, do you think this all makes me the slightest bit cranky? Never mind. This year, at least, the cranky among us have a great antidote: We can go (alone, of course, or with some fellow crankster) to see the movie Blue Valentine. Go, right now, while it’s still in the theaters, so you can enjoy a big-screen affirmation of why it is good—yes, in the word of Ernest Hemingway, GOOD—to be single, and even to be, and I mean this sincerely, No Longer Young.

Knowing this day would be coming, I went to see Blue Valentine ten days ago and while I was there I remembered (not that I ever really forget) just one of the nine thousand reasons I can’t have a real red pulsating Valentine. Two hundred years ago when the last man I lived with (lived with! egads! ) and I went to a movie, I saved him a seat while he went to get popcorn. Not just any popcorn, but compensatory popcorn, a special treat he got every time to make up for the fact that his poor frugal parents had never sent him to summer camp once. It filled a bag as big as a parachute and was buttered—nay, saturated with that rude jaundiced ooze—and could have fed, or killed, a whole village.

I waved my arms so he could find me and find me he did, at the end of the row. Encumbered as well with a diet coke silo, he extended the bag of popcorn toward me and I, the other half of our trustworthy team, extended my arm in order to take it. But being me, i.e., insane, I no longer saw the man as my boyfriend, I saw him as God. Not the God of our stupid relationship, but the God of the ceiling of the famed Sistine Chapel, the God who extends his finger to Adam in order to give him not popcorn, but life. And since their respective fingers don’t touch, leaving their mission forever in transit, my brain decided we must do the same. Neurologically speaking, I had no choice but to turn into Adam, to reach for and miss the popcorn by inches, letting that parachute sail to the floor and spew its contents hither and yon.

But that’s not the worst part. The worst part, of course, is how hard I laughed. Every kernel of the vision amused me, from the literal kernels now resting in filth, to God’s eternal missing of Adam, to Laurel’s eternal thwarting of Hardy, to my own continual failure to function as even one fraction of a romantic team.

“That cost me five dollars!” my horrified boyfriend yelled from the aisle, completely and justifiably pissed.

And of course this only made me laugh more. I’m a horrible person. But as they say in the bible, so be it.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Untimely Death of My Own Crate and Barrel

You know how Holly Golightly used to cruise Tiffany’s to cheer herself up? Well, I used to cruise Crate & Barrel for the same kind of therapy, and now my heart is thoroughly broken because the one I used to go to has died.

I didn’t even know it was sick. And, since no one bothered to notify me, I discovered its death only by accident while looking on line for something to buy for a friend's birthday. Not that I would have bought anything I hadn’t seen and fondled in person--I just wanted to get my shopping brain humming before heading off to the store. And then there it was:

Hillsdale Shopping Center
101 Hillsdale Shopping Center 
San Mateo, CA 94403

After more than 15 years, our lease at Hillsdale has ended and this location is now closed. We thank all our friends and neighbors for your continued loyalty over the years. We hope you to see you at our Union Square and Stanford Shopping Center stores. Or shop us 24/7 at 

Union Square? Are they kidding? That isn’t therapy, that’s death by parking. And the Stanford store is death by enormity. As for online shopping, let me just say that if Holly Golightly were with us today, I don’t think she’d be ordering tiaras from home.

No, the Hillside store was the perfect refuge for my pulverized self. It was small enough (one floor!) not to be overwhelming, close enough (ten minutes away!) to facilitate my fast, frequent fixes, plus it had easy (and not underground like a damn car coffin) parking. And, unlike Kohl’s (see previous post), it had employees. Not just employees, but women so consistently kind I never felt weird about spending six years floating around before finally buying a ten dollar vase. Or, as happened more often, spending six years drinking in the warmth of their glimmering merchandise and then, duly soothed, just going home.

Not to say I never bought anything. Looking around in my blurry-eyed grief, I see how thoroughly my dead Crate & Peril has beautified my environment: My “apartment-sized” couch in warm terra cotta. (Okay, Pretend Husband Hank Fitz and I had to go to Stanford to order it, but that’s only because Hillside did not do couches.) My sheer linen curtains that turns my windows into glowing persimmons. (Okay, I had to get those on-line but that’s only because they weren’t stocked in the stores.) The book case that made sense of my bedroom, the baskets that made sense of its shelves, my drinking glasses with their festive red feet, my perfect sautee pan, and oh my god, the great dead botanicals!  And the stupid sleek stones in which they are anchored, and the way they glisten through their vase of teal glass!

And talk about customer service! Did they look even one iota askance when I brought back my Simple Human compact dish rack and asked why the spout no longer worked (Pretend Husband Ed Head had broken it but never mind)?  No, they smiled gently and gave me a new one.

Ditto when I had to explain that I could no more locate this place they called Pick-Up than find my way through the Minotaur’s labyrinth, and thus needed—but seriously, needed—one of their Pick-Uppy he-men to find me instead and carry my unwieldy wall shelf (42 inches and 4,000 pounds) out of the store and into my car. Again, they did not report me to the Insanity Police, they just called the he-man and did it.

Yeah, I know: It’s only a store and stores sell only things, and as we all know, things aren’t important. And, lest we forget: Every day a little death. 

Who wrote that death part? Oh yeah, Cranky-Pants Sondheim. At least he hasn't died yet.  Or not that I know of.  And if you've heard otherwise, then please--really, I'm begging you, please--don't ever tell me.