Sunday, December 24, 2006

hallelujah! hallelujah! and so on.

Handel's Messiah is a three-hour long experience, a little dazzling, a little painful. There's no story to speak of, no arc to follow; it just goes stanza by stanza until the last Amen (which lasts and lasts ...) So here's my arc, as an audience member seeing it for the first time: for most of the first act, I found myself distracted and unsettled at points by the focus on little baby Jesus, as predicted (sort of) by Isaiah. By the time the second act started, I had stopped swimming against the current. By the famous Hallelujah Chorus, when the whole audience rises to their feet as though to take the pledge of alliegence, I was saved.

By the end of act three, that Indy 500 loop of an Amen, my head was on the verge of exploding.

I emerged feeling like I'd been dunked in Christianity -- baptised, if you will. The soprano making her Metropolitan Opera debut really gave it all she had, as did everyone else, but I had to wonder: out of the 150 or so people on stage, counting orchestra, choral members, and soloists, how many actually believed what they were singing? How important were the words, per se, to them; and how important did they have to be to me?

Dinner at Outback Steakhouse with Mr. Ben's family felt equally strange, yet somehow appropriate, considering we were all gentiles.

Tomorrow morning, however, I turn back into my little jewish self. Mr. Ben and I wing it down to Florida to spend a week with my family, and then wing it back only to ditch the plane for a car and drive all the way up to our friend K-Ross's house in Wanakena. It'll be pretty packed, for a vacation, but hopefully a good start to the new year.

Happy 07!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"air is the enemy of spice"

Glum. Why glum? Perhaps it's Maureen Dowd's fault. She actually started her column today like so: "The only sects that may be more savage than Shiites and Sunnis are the Democratic feminist lawmakers representing Northern and Southern California." (I know because I can access Times Select at work, courtesy of an assistant in the Boston office who sent her username and password to the entire company.)

Setting aside for a moment the fact that Dowd didn't specify "Sunni" or "Shiite" TERRORISTS, that she thought it sufficient merely to name a religious denomination and assume that her readers would figure "mass murderer nutballs" was implied -- following that sensationalistic, racist, and horrifically untrue intro, did the column proceed to explain why Nancy Pelosi and Jane Harman compare unfavorably to religious fundamentalists on the verge of civil war? Did it even ultimately RETURN TO THE SUBJECT of California feminists once Dowd moseyed on to her real hobby-horse, Silvestre Reyes? No! Because you know why? Because Dowd is *actually* Michelle Malkin. And Hitler. Rolled into one! And given the best real estate in Manhattan for some reason because life is very very fair.

Really, I can't blame MoDo. She's just an awful person doing what awful people are paid much too much money to do. My glumness began shortly after we hired a new Assistant to join my department. She was quite shiny, and lo, we dubbed her Shiny.

After accepting our offer, Shiny asked for two weeks before she began; and then, the day before she was to start, Shiny jumped the ship she hadn't even boarded in order to work at some other publishing company that will remain nameless and thinks it's so cool just because it publishes Harry Potter books and can pay her a lot more money. Well, we publish grammar, okay? And grammar is way cooler than magic. Ask any ... English professor.

However, I can't complain. I am very fond of my office. In my post-college life, I have moved from the equivalent of Oliver Twist's orphanage (wherein his asking for more gruel was analagous to my asking whether it would be ok to attend graduate skool classes at night) to the equivalent of hanging out with Fagin and his band of thieves (wherein my having to clean the bathroom, take out the trash, and listen to coworkers discuss US Weekly all day was analagous to having to pick a pocket or two). This job is like living with the rich old lonely guy who adopts Oliver and gives him an iPod and then the entire Series of Unfortunate Events box set, AND a bonus, AND (supposedly) a raise.

Still -- a little glum. I'm working on that.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

arts, lately

Not long ago this year I found myself increasing distressed with my literary options -- Special Topics in what? Fortress of who? Why can't you people stop being so exhaustively clever and just WRITE? Lately, however, I have experienced an uptick in quality. The trick, apparently? Switching from longform to short. Essays/stories read fast, and often funny; and best of all, if you find yourself despairing of one, you can flip to the next.

In this fashion, I have read:
- The Ladies of Grace Adieu (Clarke, Susanna)
- I Feel Bad About My Neck (Ephron, Nora)
- Shiksa Goddess (Wasserstein, Wendy)
- How To Be Alone (Franzen, Jonathan) (thanks, Yanni)
and a little earlier this year,
- Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith (Lamott, Anne)

In general, I am very much a girl of novels. Some memoirs sneak in now and again, as do some "serious" books, but in both cases, usually those written to resemble novels. It's been interesting to focus on the small, the concise and self-contained.

With movies, I've had less luck. Stranger Than Fiction and Little Children, my most recent theatrical experiences, are both entertaining in the moment, well-directed and bursting with well-acted pathos. But neither has enough substance, really, to compare to the Queen, the only truly, 100% worthwhile thing I've seen this year. (Little Miss Sunshine runs a close second, with 49 Up in third.)

I have to admit I preferred STF's ending to LC's, which I found predictably disturbing. I hope it's not giving too much away to reveal that STF, being a darkish comedy, chooses to pursue a happy ending, while LC, being a literary tragedy, revels in an unhappy, supposedly redemptive one. Frankly, part of me wishes they'd swapped. Who needs all that resolution? Let the wrong people die! Let the good-hearted sinners be rewarded!

Apparently the Departed and the upcoming Letters from Iwo Jima are excellent. But why do they have to be so durned, well, masculine? Like Apocalypto, the testosterone emanates from the screen when I watch previews. First I'd have to grow loins and then gird them to watch either flick, and who has the energy, or the stem cells?

Babel and Volver remain on my list. I'm not terribly optimistic that I'll have a horse in this race that I'll be as passionate about as I was about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

citizenship rights

How horrifying is this? Sen. Tim Johnson is hospitalized, maybe (but not) for a stroke. Or could it be Polonium 210? Those damned Republicans -- who would benefit from a Senate retilted -- are in totally in league with the KGB; after all, their fearless leader did say he looked into Putin's eyes, saw the man's soul, and pronounced the president of the most corrupt, bullying, autocratic administration in the Western hemisphere "Good."

Even if Sen. Johnson is incapacitated, I hope he retains hold of his seat. It's hardly even required of him to have a beating heart; he just has to vote occasionally. Strom Thurman was functioning on a lung and half a liver for three years and he kept his seat. I think they rigged up a thing so he could vote from his hospital room. You have to imagine he sometimes registered a "Yea" for an appropriations bill while trying to get his bed to go down.

In cheerier news, I've been wondering how long a person has to live in NYC before s/he can claim NYer as an identity. Having started as an east coaster born of a city AND as a card-carrying member of the worldwide conspiracy, I feel like I must have a leg up. So, another two years? Another four? Is there a court I have to appear in front of? Cuz I even know what I would say:
Ladies and gentlemen of the panel, thank you for taking the time to hear my appeal for citizenship. Allow me to state my credentials.

- I happily overpay to share a studio in Brooklyn.

- I'm on chatting terms with my Egyptian grocer and my Korean tailor.

- I can list several places that Carrie and the girls visit on Sex and the City, and I've been to lots of them, not just Magnolia Bakery

- Also, I know that Carrie's apartment was supposedly on the Upper West Side but the building facade is actually from the West Village, not far from where SJP herself lives. I can also tell you where Heath Ledger lodges and can list the various brooding, bookish, boyish authors that live in Park Slope

- Since I've been in the city, I've had close encounters with James Gandolfini, Michael Imperioli, Gabriel Byrne, Paul Giamatti, Mary-Louise Parker, who showed me her ass, Ice T, Coco & Little Ice, Sarah Chalke, Lili Taylor, Rip Torn, Cynthia Nixon, and Jeffrey Tambor, who I called "Jeremy" and who called me "Rachel." Then he kissed my hand. True love; AND a true story

- I have close friends in four of five boroughs, and a creative writing buddy from Staten Island. I asked him if he was Republican and he said, "Very."

- I have ridden back and forth all night on the ferry. Well, I've ridden it. And I've crossed the Brooklyn Bridge on foot in both winter and summer

- I survived the transit strike

- I have reservations at Babbo for January

- I've never gone to see the ball drop at New Year's Eve or the Rockefeller Center Xmas Tree

- I have an opinion on the Atlantic Yards project, the potential 2nd Avenue Line, the Disneyfication of Times Sq., the Yuppification of the Lower East Side, & whether singing should be allowed at Strawberry Fields

- I've been to all sides of Central Park, to the Zoo, and to the Bronx Zoo too

- I listen to New York Public Radio WNYC about two hours a day. I give them money; they give me the New Yorker and I read that on the subway

- I say "subway," not "metro," even though I grew up in DC

- I've eaten the pizza at Grimaldi's, Lombardi's, Patsy's, Totonno's, Joe's, Ben's, and John's. (Also the fabulous Pizza Napoletana)

- I've ridden the Cyclone

- I've taken yoga

- I've gone in for one of those $10-for-10 minutes quickie acupressure sessions that leave you feeling more sore

- I carry an overly heavy bag

- I read the New York Times and I can do the crossword puzzles through Thursday. Friday's too tricky. But I can make inroads

- I was an underpaid, underappreciated peon in Entertainment; now I get the same money to be, more respectably, in Publishing

- Did I mention how happy I am? In general?
What other bona fides do I need? Is a like signing a lease, where I'd have to get a guarantor who's been in the city long enough to qualify?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

blogging the sunday papers

Wherein I laze around for two hours, eating a cranberry scone and browsing the Washington Post and the New York Times, so you don't have to.

What topics focus the attention of the intelligentsia this weekend?

** Diamonds **
The NYT covers Hollywood's faddish interest in conflict diamonds, and then makes clear that the gray lady herself couldn't care less.

** Blond ladies of show **
The NYT favors chipper cherub Kirsten Chenowith with a profile, while the WPost chooses the no-less-bubby Dolly Parton. Both tiny but pneumatic and powerful entertainers bewitch their respective interviewers. The NYT's Jesse Green wins the prize, however, for describing Chenowith as being "like a bag of puppies" and for making her so darn likeable! Much more so than her doppleganger on Studio 60.

** The rich, mating habits of **
When readings Weddings & Celebrations headlines, you often see an entry that makes you think, for example, "That Hearst? That McInerney?" In this case, you can finally nod in relief, realizing, "Yes, and yes." And wow. Though you have to read down to figure it out for sure, the fact that Guiliani officiated should be an early tip off.

Consider yourselves enlightened! You're most welcome. Enjoy your Sundays.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

one big fairy tale

Nothing I wear fits. My bras are the wrong size. My underwear sags. The waistbands of my jeans hang around my hips like hula hoops. Even my beautiful new coat, which makes me look like le petit prince, only better, is several inches too long.

Then there's this ring. It's the ring Mr. Ben bought me for Engagement, Take Two, and now that the awesome jewelry store from which he obtained it has resized it for free, I can finally wear it. It's not too loose, not too tight.

In the six months of ring-less engagement, I fielded lots of questions about why I wasn't wearing anything and spent a decent amount of time thinking about whether I wanted one. For sure I didn't want a diamond. Nothing that flashy & problematic belongs on my hand. Nor did I think I wanted to deal with gold. I didn't want to be high-maintainance; I don't want to show anything off or be tagged as someone's property. In short, if I wanted anything at all, I didn't know what. It was all too loaded with symbolism.

Except I liked the idea of being able to look down and be reminded, This is happening. This is good. This is what we want.

Last night I dreamt that someone, possibly one of the twins from America's Next Top Model, told me to turn the ring over. Sure enough, the back of the band had a box of Nutrition Information, and it listed the ingredients: tin and glass.

In actuality, the ring contains neither. It's vintage, and it looks like a crown. My hand has a crown! Weird! I haven't worn it outside of the apartment yet. Maybe tomorrow I'll feel brave.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

oh, turkey. i never eat you.

Another Thanksgiving is behind us. I have been up to Westchester and back again, which is not exactly like going into the heart of darkness or the heart of Mordor. It's more like being in the suburbs and being well-fed for a while, and getting to watch a lot of the Office. Funniest show ever! Who knew? I moved Season One to the top of my Netflix queue so I can make sure that the six or seven hilarious episodes weren't a fluke.

I got to see my three first boy cousins, all of whom are very tall, and my little brother, who is also tall. In the car with my family driving me back to Brooklyn my grandma reflected with satisfaction on the fact that all five of her male grandchildren are around 6 foot. "None of them is short," she said. "Good." I sat next to her, slightly awkward in my 5-feet-1-and-3/4-inches, until she added, "It's lucky you're a girl!"

Back here, I saw Stranger than Fiction. All of the reviews feel compelled to mention that it's like, Charlie Kaufman lite! Which it is only in the sense that any movie that involves an ensemble of characters who sometimes talk at the same time is an homage to Robert Altman, or anything misanthropic, stylized, and anti-American is Lars Van Trier-ish. Film critics need to expand their imaginations, or at least their repertoires.

Stranger than Fiction is about a guy who realizes he's a character in a story and has to determine whether his life is tragedy or a comedy. It's not mindblowing, but since it has the courage of its convictions, it ends up being really enjoyable. I even cried a little. So what if it doesn't approach the films in the Kaufman pantheon? It's cute! It showcases Maggie Gyllenhaal, Emma Thompson AND Dustin Hoffman, all of whom are on my eternal crush list.

The Egyptian grocery store clerk where I bought ingredients to cook tonight thought it was weird that Jews celebrated Thanksgiving at all. "It's not a Christian holiday?" he asked doubtfully.
"No," I told him. "It's secular. American."
"What about the Orthodox Jews? Even they celebrate it?"
"No, they probably don't, you're right."

He peered at me. "You're not Orthodox?"
"Nope, we're just regular."

As his family's back in Egypt and he seems to work at least part of every day, he said he didn't celebrate at all. I don't know if he's Christian or Muslim. I felt a little funny asking, even though he knows Ben and I are Jewish because, several months ago, he asked us (!). And then asked if that meant we were Israeli. It weirded me out a bit at the time, but he still smiles at us and makes small talk at the register. Egypt and Israel do have a peace treaty, you know. Maybe that extends all the way to Brooklyn.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Ys is good

I've meant to update practically every day this week. I would be a really bad participant in that Blog November thing that Mrs. Kennedy has going. Sigh. Since I've written, Rupert Murdoch's empire threatened to reintroduce the blood-sucking tick that is OJ Simpson back onto the body of the American public; AND he has apologized like a chagrined little boy and replaced the tick in his pocket.

Considering the depths of esteem in which we, as a country, seem to hold Murdoch and OJ to begin with, they could hardly have fallen further. The person who seems to have really lost face in the "If I Did It, Here's How" debacle was Judith Regan. Even her friend Nora Ephron politely disapproved of Regan's by turns scattered, illogical, and sanctimonious defense of her decision to inflict OJ on America in book form. Everyone else reacted as though Regan had exhumed the body of Joseph Stalin and dragged him around the floor of the Senate, taunting Senators and demanding kisses.

A lot has happened in general. Since work has been slow, I've had lots of time to catch up on my world happenings: TomKat weds in Italy; Kramer reveals a frightening racist streak; but most notably, Robert Altman dies. Should I wait several days before I admit I was never crazy about Altman's movies? That I walked out of Nashville, turned off Short Cuts, and couldn't make it past Act 1 of The Player? In fact, the only one of his movies I've enjoyed from start to finish is the least Altman-esque of them all, Gosford Park.

Perhaps I should return my Film degree. Or does having seen Borat at last redeem me? I laughed. I laughed and I laughed and I had to drink water or I might have puked too; that movie is Gross with a capital Gagging Sound. What made it grosser was that the seat directly in front of me contained a four year old boy. I'm not kidding. His father, who was maybe my age, had brought him. It's not all his fault; why'd the theater let him? Regardless: outrage & disgust! Although some of the humor was perhaps more suited to him than to me (viz., nude wrestling; feces at the dinner table).

The movie itself made me feel pretty dirty afterwards for that reason, not on behalf of the Jews or those (litigious) citizens of Glod who are the stand-ins for the people of Kazakhstan. Those parts were so over-the-top, so silly, it's inconceivable to me that anyone would be legitimately offended. & I actually thought they were brilliant send-ups of 1) anti-semitism in this day and age, and 2) dim American ideas of what the developing world is like.

On a note of higher culture: when I spending that cheery evening in the ER with Ross a week ago, I missed a concert I was supposed to see with the fire boss and my friend Lana, both of whom reported back that Joanna Newsom, in my absence, proceeded to give the best show ever in history since the burning of Rome. To make it up to me, Lana, amazingly, bought me Ys, Newsom's latest CD. As reported, it's fantastic, like a harp-playing, warbling lovechild of Bjork and Joan Baez developed an album around an obsession with Mists of Avalon. Give it a try. You may never get past Newsom's distinctive voice, but if you can, it's mesmerizing.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

how the mighty have fallen

**NOTE - I've now been given permission to name my friend by my friend. His name is Ross, and he is recovering nicely. Thanks for all the emails and phone calls I got from the expert worriers.**

Mr. Ben and I intended to have a fancy dinner at Babbo to celebrate our (re?)engagement. Instead we ended up feasting on reheated veggie burgers & fries in the Bellevue Hospital Center Cafeteria because a friend of ours (and Ben's best man) Ross, visiting from Philly, got hit by a car.

We had all been standing at the corner of 12th and Broadway at about 6:00 PM, in front of the Strand bookstore. Ben and I crossed the street to escape the rain; Ross waited for the light to change and then attempted to join us. Two steps into the intersection, a speeding car caught him, carried him forward and onto the sidewalk, dropping him there before careening into a store and down the sidewalk, finally coming to a stop at the end of the block.

It was the most horrific NYC street scene I've been a part of. Ben and I had turned away, so luckily we didn't see the collision; but we heard the panicking and the screaming, and when we turned back, Ross was gone. "Where is he?" I asked Ben. "Where is he?" I called his cell phone and Ross picked up, sounding dazed and incoherent, and then we saw him, a heap on the sidewalk, about thirty feet from where he'd started.

He was lucky. The guy the car hit next was bleeding from the head, immobile, covered with glass. The sidewalk seemed littered with people who I couldn't focus on because I was holding onto Ross. "Ow," he said from time to time, and, "I can't see very well. It's getting dark. I can see lights. The lights are cool."

When the ambulance came, Mr. Ben and I rode with him strapped down to a stretcher alongside a very reassuring EMT. The EMT even told our friend how to avoid getting his much loved sweater from getting cut off.

We landed at Bellevue Hospital Center and there we stayed for about seven hours as our poor friend was poked, prodded, bandaged, x-rayed, x-rayed again, casted, slung, and told repeatedly how lucky he was. Lucky indeed: aside from the two fractures (elbow, ankle) and lots of scrapes and bruises, he was okay. But the night wore on and the ER doctors showed no signs of running out tests to perform on him, and the poor guy showed no signs of being able to hobble all the way to Brooklyn. Finally Mr. Ben and I tagged out at 1:15 AM, when another friend came to relieve us.

The experience was exhausting, in part because we spent most of our time hovering by Ross's makeshift bedside in the ER where there were no chairs. Once the nice orthopedic doctors let us follow our friend to the x-ray room, where we sat on the hallway floor marvelling at the various pieces of bad art someone had hung to try to dispell the hospital gloom. Then a nurse sternly instructed us to get up, wash our hands, and burn (all right, wash) our clothes. God knows what contamination lingers on hospital floors.

We did manage to chase down a balloon for our friend that read "Aliviate, pronto!" And I think we managed to make him more comfortable. And at least, thank god, he's okay.

Monday, November 13, 2006

the fiancee proposes

After a great, if hectic, weekend, Mr. Ben finds it in himself to get up at 6:00 this gray monday morning and is gone to get more work done by 6:30. I leave for work at the more human time of 8:30 but stop right outside the door to the building. Mr. Ben is there. Why is he there? And why is he carrying those flowers?

At first I'm confused, thinking it's some Day of Importance that I've forgotten. Meanwhile Mr. Ben is grinning that boyish grin. He hands me the armful of blue-purple flowers and before I understand what's going on he gets down on one knee right there in front of our apartment building and pulls a small black box out of his bag.

Instead of going to school this morning, he had gone to Fassbinder's and gotten me a ring.

"Will you marry me?" and "It's a sapphire," he says helpfully because I'm laughing and crying. I don't know what I'm reacting to: the pageantry, the ring, the surprise. He takes the flowers & the ring to bring inside and we finally stop kissing so I can go to the subway. I'm completely happy.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Christmas for the Jews

I'm so happy that I almost can't take stock of how happy I am. It's almost unfathomable. For sure I've never been this happy on a rainy Wednesday in November.

Let's list the top five, shall we. In order of Exactly How Exuberant This Result Makes Ester:

#5) A moderate Muslim man in Minnesota makes it into Congress. First ever, and, oddly, not even in Michigan. (Bonus points for alliteration.) Lots of firsts, actually:
First woman to serve as speaker of the house: Nancy Pelosi

First Muslim elected to U.S. Congress: Keith Ellison

First Democratic Socialist elected to U.S. Congress: Bernie Sanders

First Jewish governor of New York: Eliot Spitzer

First African-American governor of Massachusetts: Deval Patrick

And, according to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, 67 openly gay candidates were elected to state and local offices (more than ever before)
{full list here}

#4) We won the House decisively AND a majority of the governorships! We are Master of the House, master of our domain, kings of the castle. Even our Dear Leader had to admit it. I would have loved to listen in on his call as he made nice to Pelosi, the woman who, previously, he could only refer to as "that liberal lesbian who's gonna steal your children, bus them to the nearest ghetto for abortions, and then sell them to illegal aliens."

In the process of taking the House, we #3) wiped Santorum off the floor of the Senate. His son cried; that was sad. Otherwise, wha-hoo! Take THAT, you brown-shirt in a suit.

#2) The ballot initiatives country-wide didn't do badly at all. It looks like stem cell research got approved in Missouri, the gay marriage ban failed in Arizona, and, most excitingly, the anti-abortion bill imported to South Dakota straight from Nicaragua was voted down. Three cheers for choice, and for the voters in South Dakota!

#1) We're within spitting distance of the Senate. In fact we may as well start acting as though we have it. Allen doesn't seem to be fighting hard for his seat, which is the deciding one -- he hasn't insisted on a recount, for example, if the initial poring over the votes doesn't discover an extra 7,001 for him in a box somewhere.

Webb seems to have gotten this memo: he's acting confident. We should follow his lead. Although, honestly, even a 50/50 split in the Senate feels like a huge victory to me, especially when coupled with the other huge gains of today. God bless Rahm Emanuel. God bless Chuck Shumer. And god bless America: thanks to you, now I can see Borat!

... On that note, I should add that I'm also deliriously happy about my office. Finally, I'm in a place where people are politically engaged, friendly, funny, eager to talk about what's going on while they congregate in the kitchen over free, company-supplied snacks & the free, company-suppled copy of the New York Times. Finally, I'm home.

ETA: Rummy. Yes. The first head to fall.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

I am in an abusive relationship with the month november

Every couple years, I let myself hope. I let myself be soothed and thrilled by the prospect of the independents, the young, the disatisfied making their voices heard at last. Every two years I look a grinning Karl Rove in the face and say, "Get thee behind me, Satan! I trust in THE LORD."

And every two years, I wake up to a sour morning in November with a hangover that only the truly pious could understand.

Why? Why do I let myself get yanked around this way? Why can I not merely accept the continued supremacy of the Republican machine, the 110% effectiveness of its fear- and hate-mongering? Why am I like the hero of the movie, three-quarters of the way through, when everything seems so dark, when he's struggling against everything and being taunted by the bad guy with the upper hand? "Join me," hisses the bad guy. "It's your only chance to win." "Death first!" the hero hisses back heroically, even as he's suspended over the shark tank full of apathetic voters.

I just don't want to be crushed again, is all I'm trying to say. In fact, I won't let myself see Borat: Cultural Learnings of Something Something to Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazachstan UNLESS the dems manage to pull this one out. Only then will I be able to laugh freely at the foibles of red state America without stopping periodically to sob in my sleeves.

On a completely different note, I realized while talking to my oh-so-literate buddy Johnny that I'm a friend to books from virtually every period in recent history except 1850-1900. In a glaring omission, something about the writing of that era does nothing for me. Shelley is silly. Stowe is sentimental. The sermonizing of Wharton, Trollope, James, and ick! Dreiser all leave me cold. I can't immediately think of an exception or an explanation. If you can help, please! do.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

what is, M?

too cool for skool Part of living in New York is going to your friends' concerts. Amazingly you have lots of friends who perform music, and they perform it near-constantly. This is Mr. Ben and me looking fierce at the Knitting Factory, enjoying two opportunities in one evening to indulge a friend's performative tendencies. When you actually miss a concert -- as I just did, recently, to my chagrin -- it's a very sad thing. You get so used to being there, you know? Of course you do.

I missed a friend's concert and book release party because I was at home, in bed, shivering. Much less fun. I blame the wedding. I had just spent a couple whirlwind days in DC learning from the florist that I'm too short to carry certain flowers. Lilacs, luckily, are okay. Incidentally, the extremely gay florist was named David; his partner is named Jonathan. No one else found this funny, because very few people appreciate subtle bible humor.

Over the weekend, we also came within striking distance of picking an invitation, if only we can agree what color celadon is, and we learned that at many rehearsal dinners, the wedding couple (gloried and sanctified be It) will show slides, listen to speeches, eat all night with the guests to a three-piece band, and have a fancy cake. What distinguishes this from the actual wedding party? I'm still trying to figure that out.

Ah well. Meanwhile at least I have the election to wholly consume me. The con, obviously, is the frikkin horrible attack ads wedged into all the available commercial space for America's Next Top Model and 30 Rock; but I'm more or less willing to put up with it for the general distraction. (My concentration pays off: I got an A+ on that test. An A+. No kidding: I am the next Carville. Who, by the way, I could probably also identify.)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

hilarity, by brittany

Check out this user review from
The book that I have chosen is not only one book but it is a series of thirteen books. I will only be writing about eight of the books. The reason that this book has influenced my life is that there are three children named the Baudlaires. These children where one day out at the beach and the had received a terrible message saying that there parents had just been killed in a terrible fire in the Baudlaire residence. after the fire sunny, klause and violet baudlaire where now known as the "baudlaire orphans." they were being moved around from crazy family member to the next. Every single one of the family members had died because of a terrible man name "count Olaf." the only thing that he wanted was the baudlaire orphans huge fortune that there parents left them. the reason that this book had influenced my life is because a lot of times I can take my parents for granted and in this story these children have no family, friends or parents. I did not realize that I have a good life until I was finished reading these eight books about three children getting pushed from family member to family member.

Written by: Brittany McDermott
Priceless! Now, some of you might take issue with my making fun of what is clearly -- or should I say, hopefully? -- a child. To you, I say, PISH TOSH. In fifteen years, this "Brittany from California" will have a better career, hotter husband, even hotter lover, and way more money than I. What will I have? Only the ability to mock grammar.

The last Snicket book, The End, outsold every other book in America last week, according to my office's copy of Publisher's Weekly. No mean feat. I contributed, I am not-quite-ashamed to admit. It's the only book that's really caught my attention lately, succeeding where Water for Elephants, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, and Fortress of Solitude have mysteriously failed.

In grown-up book news, I have finally picked up another that's met my standards: Arthur and George by some stuck up British postmodernist. Yes! I wish I had an audio version. The only thing better than reading British writing is having it read to you, complete with sexy sexy accent.

Friday, October 20, 2006

friday afternoon politics

A sample from a conversation Bush had with O'Reilly:
"O'REILLY: The secular progressives don't like you because you're a man of faith.

"BUSH: Yes.

"O'REILLY: You know that.

"BUSH: Yes. That causes me to be sad for people who don't like somebody because he happens to believe in the Almighty.

"O'REILLY: But you know that's in play.

"BUSH: Absolutely."

"O'REILLY: They think you are some kind of evangelical. God tells you what to do and you go out and do it. And they hate that."

"BUSH: I guess that I have pity for people who believe that. They don't understand the relationship between man and the Almighty, then."
Just so we all know what country we're living in.

I say, Draft Obama. Who's with me?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

five year plan

A friend of mine was just on Jeopardy!. He did fine -- didn't win but seemed calm and smart, and he seemed to have a good time. I'm scared that, in that position, I'd get all star-struck, forget Alex's name, doodle on the monitor ... Still! I want to be on Jeopardy!.

Okay, with that in mind, here's my new plan for life.

STEP ONE: Find someone to publish my novel. It shouldn't be too hard; it's not like there are very many writers in NYC competing for attention.

STEP TWO: Get a lot of attention as a result of the publishing company's masterful marketing of the book. Watch book rake in huge amounts of money. Oh, wait! Get to enjoy huge amounts of money!

STEP THREE: Who are we kidding? Me, enjoy money? More like just add it to my Orange savings account. First maybe buy another pair of Fleuvogs and see a movie at the Angelika.

STEP FOUR: Get married. It'll probably be time for that, right?

STEP FIVE: Become exhausted trying to juggle media interviews with full-time work. Explain to my office that I need to take some time off for the book tour.

STEP SIX: Book tour! Gotta buy clothes! Gotta remember not to mention Franzen while on Oprah!

STEP SEVEN: Backlash. Escape to New Zealand. Accept advance for second novel, perhaps about monkeys. Plot plot. Try not to cry about what they're saying about me back home.

STEP EIGHT: Decide to take a little time off from the monkeys and study to be on Jeopardy!

STEP NINE: Take test to be on Jeopardy! Pass test!

STEP TEN: Deny being romantically involved with either of the Olsons. Cling to Mr. Ben, call him "my support."

STEP ELEVEN: Discard monkey idea. Monkey idea crap. Start thinking about all the second novels of wonderkinds. Panic.

STEP TWELVE: Long for the kind of uncomplicated, happy life I had as an early twenty-something before fame got in the way. Autograph another copy of the book for a starry-eyed little girl. Watch some TiVo. Consider a record deal.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Politics, at all levels: baffling

I don't know what to make of either of these two stories. First, my alma mater REFUSES TO ACCOMODATE PRESIDENT CLINTON. That's Bill, you understand. Everyone's hero. The last democrat to get anything done on a national level, the fundraiser, the kingmaker, the bloody wanderer, at least according to that Remnick guy. Who turns down Bill?

And for what?
LPAC Managing Director Jim Murphy said “What they were requesting was a space that held 1,000, which we don’t really have, at 3:15 on Wednesday. The closest we could come indoors was LPAC, where we had a long-standing endowed lecture scheduled for [4:30].” The lecture was the Annual Lee Frank Lecture in Art History. This year’s lecture was “A Japanese Potter’s Study Trip to Edo: Ceramic Research and Development in the 17th Century,” presented by Louise Allison Cort, who is Curator for Ceramics at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.

Swarthmore is not merely a Quirky Little Skool of Quirkiness and the Wearing of Outmoded Shoes (scroll down to the very end). It should be taken seriously. Yet I can't imagine any other comparable college treating an American icon so shabbily and hiding behind such a flimsy excuse.

Also today, in the forehead-smacking section of the internet, this gem: Mark Warner, the Dem's frontrunner and my horse in the 08 race, is bowing out to spend time with his family.

Not only is the event itself perplexing, the reasoning is laughable. May as well pretend he had a lecture to attend on Japanese pottery in 2009 and he didn't want to be distracted. Family -- please. No one's family is that interesting unless you've been hit, and I mean mob-style, by some serious scandal. He must have been hiding a diddled page or two in his closet. Maybe Hilary knew about it. Maybe Bayh did. In any event, I'm disconsolate.

Monday, October 09, 2006

fashion victim? or ensembly challenged?

Oh my god! Jessica Simpson is wearing my junior prom dress from 1999! Where did she find it? And why does she look so angry about it?

At least SHE wasn't asked to prom in the middle of French class, with everybody listening. At least the Clinique counter makeup lady didn't pancake her face as white as a mime. At least HER mother's Greek hairdresser didn't iron her 40 pounds of hair straight, Elvira-style!

Okay, calming down now.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

the jimmy buffet band!

In town for the weekend, my parents had very important questions for me:

1) Why did you cut off all your hair?
2) Where do you want to register?

The second, I guess, assumes that either my hair will grow sufficiently or that somehow I can still scrape enough femininty together to be a bride even with what my father called a "garcon-ish" do.

Best I can tell, I want to register on where adults invested in my future happiness can feel free to buy me Criterion collection DVDs. And maybe one of those portable DVD players -- those always seemed cool. It's such a funny custom, registering, at this point. Do I need silver? A china pattern? Mr. Ben and I live in a SQUARE. No kidding. There is no room for extra pillows, let alone single use kitchen appliances.

Taking this into account, my family also wants to know when Mr. Ben and I are going to inquire about maybe moving into a bigger apartment in the building. Just to have a place to fit all the stuff.

Can I register for restaurant coupons? Not to Denny's; to one of Morimoto's places or Bobby Flay's. Or maybe that amazing sushi place in the Time Warner Center, where you sit at the counter and eat out of the hands of -- and at the whim of -- the chef. That would be the best wedding present ever. Are you taking notes?

My family wasn't in town merely to twist my head about the wedding. They know that I'm headed down to DC the last weekend in October and they will have about 48 hours to keep me tied to a chair, force feeding me samples from the caterer while parading potential corsages past me. What they were actually here to do was take a really interesting car tour of Old Brooklyn, one that could have been subtitled, "Maybe we should roll up the windows and lock the doors."

The idea was to take my 93.5 year old grandma back to her old stomping grounds, the neighborhoods she grew up in. The primary hood, where she was born and lived until she was twelve, is now more commonly known as Bed-Stuy. Needless to say, it's a pretty different place than she remembered. For me, it was fascinating to drive around Brooklyn, since I haven't, really -- and I got to ask lots of history questions of our well-informed, hard-boiled, hardcore-New-York guide.

Also this weekend, Mr. Ben and I went with a couple friends to see 49 Up, the latest installment in a British documentary phenomenon. In 1964, a director chose, virtually at random, a cross-section of seven year olds kids. Apted was then the director's intern, but he quickly took over the franchise: every seven years since, Apted checked up on them, interviewing them about their mundane lives. Some subjects are embarrassed, some proud, some understandably resentful but unwilling to extricate their lives from Apted's project. It's fascinating viewing.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

picture time!

Check it out:

photog by benj
more like a blog, less like a banana

Exciting things have happened lately. For example, yesterday, the Day when We Take Our Souls to be Dry Cleaned And Have to Stand around and Wait til They're Done, Mr. Ben and I atoned and then went for a long, lovely walk by the water on the Upper East Side. In case you're not down on your Manhattan geography, that's where the beautiful go to procreate. After some sunbathing on a bench watching the stroller parade, we took a brief tour of the Gracie Mansion area and the neighborhood in general before Ben stopped short and said, "My coat!"

His beautiful black leather coat that he found in a thrift store in Carreboro, NC! The one that makes him look just a little like James Dean. (Or Jason Priestly. Carpe Diem - he looked hot in it!) Apparently it had gone the way of so many items of clothing he's had over the years that I admired, that he can't remember not to lose.

But maybe not. I remembered that he had last been wearing it on the bench 15 blocks and an hour back. "This is the Upper East Side!" I reasoned. "These people wouldn't be caught dead stealing your second-hand coat. Unless it was Prada." We wound our way back, found the exact bench we'd been warming, and sure enough, slumped over the banister, there it lay, as though drunk! Best ever.

That could have been enough suspense and drama for one weekend. But no! I also bought my very first pair of Fluevogs, the shoe brand I've been eyeing for a YEAR, because getting all my hair cut off made me giddy. That's right: I have only an inch or two left, and the resulting bobbish cut has been called Cute, Dykey, and Sporty (which is just another way of saying dykey, except when referring to the _____ Spice). I, when taken together with the hair cut, have been called an Ingenue, told that i Sparkle and seem to have Grown Wings.

My favorite exchange so far goes like this.
Me: "I kind of look like Sigourney Weaver!"
My friend: "Yeah! Except she was really tall. And really thin."

Saturday, September 30, 2006

safety first

My mother sent me a safety-tips laden email yesterday, even though the only dangerous thing I do on a daily basis is read two newspapers and occasionally walk by Cranes of Doom. Being a dutiful daughter, I did the email's instructions one better: instead of merely forwarding them on to some chicks I knew, I decided to post them here for the edification of all. My personal favorite is #7, but feel free to pick your own.


After reading these 9 crucial tips, forward them to someone you care about. It never hurts to be careful in this crazy world we live in.

1. Tip from Tae Kwon Do: The elbow is the strongest point on your body. If you are close enough to use it, do!

2. Learned this from a tourist guide in New Orleans . If a robber asks for your wallet and/or purse, DO NOT HAND IT TO HIM. Toss it away from you....chances are that he is more interested in your wallet and/or purse than you, and he will go for the wallet/purse.RUN LIKE MAD IN THE OTHER DIRECTION!

3. If you are ever thrown into the trunk of a car, kick out the back tail lights and stick your arm out the hole and start waving like crazy. The driver won't see you, but everybody else will. This has saved lives.

4. Women have a tendency to get into their cars after shopping, eating, working, etc., and just sit (doing their checkbook, or making a list, etc. DON'T DO THIS!) The predator will be watching you, and this is the perfect opportunity for him to get in on the passenger side, put a gun to your head, and tell you where to go. AS SOON AS YOU GET INTO YOUR CAR, LOCK THE DOORS AND LEAVE.

a. If someone is in the car with a gun to your head DO NOT DRIVE OFF, repeat: DO NOT DRIVE OFF! Instead gun the engine and speed into anything, wrecking the car. Your Air Bag will save you. If the person is in the back seat they will get the worst of it. As soon as the car crashes bail out and run. It is better than having them find your body in a remote location.

5. A few notes about getting into your car in a parking lot, or parking garage:
A.) Be aware: look around you, look into your car, at the passenger side floor, and in the back seat.
B.) If you are parked next to a big van, enter your car from the passenger door. Most serial killers attack their victims by pulling them into their vans while the women are attempting to get into their cars.
C.) Look at the car parked on the driver's side of your vehicle, and the passenger side. If a male is sitting alone in the seat nearest your car, you may want to walk back into the mall, or work, and get a guard/policeman to walk you back out.
IT IS ALWAYS BETTER TO BE SAFE THAN SORRY. (And better paranoid than dead.)
6. ALWAYS take the elevator instead of the stairs. (Stairwells are horrible places to be alone and the perfect crime spot. This is especially true at NIGHT!)

7. If the predator has a gun and you are not under his control,ALWAYS RUN! The predator will only hit you (a running target) 4 in 100 times; And even then, it most likely WILL NOT be a vital organ. RUN, Preferably ! in a zig -zag pattern!

8. As women, we are always trying to be sympathetic: STOP. It may get you raped, or killed. Ted Bundy, the serial killer, was a good-looking, well educated man, who ALWAYS played on the sympathies of unsuspecting women. He walked with a cane, or a limp, and often asked "for help" into his vehicle or with his vehicle, which is when he abducted his next victim.

9.Another Safety Point: Someone just told me that her friend heard a crying baby on her porch the night before last, and she called the police because it was late and she thought it was weird. The police told her "Whatever you do, DO NOT open the door."

The lady then said that it sounded like the baby had crawled near a window, and she was worried that it would crawl to the street and get run over. The policeman said, "We already have a unit on the way, whatever you do, DO NOT open the door." He told her that they think a serial killer has a baby's cry recorded and uses it to coax women out of their homes thinking that someone dropped off a baby. He said they have not verified it, but have had several calls by women saying that they hear baby's cries outside their doors when they're home alone at night.

Please pass this on and DO NOT open the door for a crying baby ----This e-mail should probably be taken seriously because the Crying Baby theory was mentioned on America's Most Wanted this past Saturday when they profiled the serial killer in Louisiana.

Monday, September 25, 2006

... and so on

Does anyone else see these headlines for articles about the Pope meeting Muslims to work out their differences like this one, "Pope says 2 faiths must overcome enmity," and imagine that they continue "... in order to be united against the Jews"? Or is that just me?

Happy Rosh Hashanah! Especially you, George Allen, you racist lying liar. Things are going so badly for Allen that I almost feel bad for him -- the news cycles about him lately have gone revealed that he is a Racist, a Jew, and a Racist again -- but mostly I spend my taking shaking my head over the fact that my ancestors and his may have at one point swapped garlic-scented spit or hid from the Cossacks together. Ugh. Allen is definitely from what I like to call the Abramoff branch of the family: those of which we are ashamed.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

it took exactly one year

I have finished the first draft of my nahvel. I have just under 350 pages and no title. Please feel free to offer suggestions or just tell me your favorite title. I'm trying to tap into how they work.

Meanwhile, whee! One year ago I sat in Rosh Hashanah services, reading the story of Hannah and her son Eli, the priest who becomes the kingmaker. And I thought, "Gee! Wouldn't it be great to break the monotony of my shallow, dead-end job with a project? Set in Brooklyn Heights? About a family who could be sitting here with me right now? Wouldn't it be great to write a book?"

I didn't have Lindsey Lohan threatening legal action to entertain me while I was in my old office, you see, and after three months as a receptionist I could feel my brain leaking out of ears. Although I hadn't written any fiction since a sour experience in a class my freshman year of college, I figured what the hell, give it a shot. While I was at it, I could try to immortalize my first out-of-college professional experience at the Very Important Talent Agency.

If I hadn't, three months later, lost that shallow, dead-end job, I would never have had the time to devote to writing that enabled me to put together the bulk of the book. So thank you, employers, by the way, for cutting me loose right before Christmas, during the transit strike, after I had trekked all the way in from Brooklyn and gotten in EARLY. Thank you for reminding me that there are things I am better at than loading and unloading the dishwasher, cleaning up after models' children and dogs, answering the phone, mopping piss off the bathroom floor, and taking out the garbage.

Although, in the spirit of this season of atonement, I should add, also, I forgive you.

And, again, whee! First draft done! Now I can entertain dizzy fantasies of the book getting sold and made into a movie, wherein all the Jewish characters will be played by totally goyish types like Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson. One thing for sure: the sexy angel? Definitely Jude Law.

ETA: I finally pasted all parts of the first draft into one document and got the word count. 110,591. Yowza.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

You, too, can be treated like Katie Couric!

This is the most disgusting thing I've ever seen. Granted, I've never been in a Bombay slum, or public school in Boston. But still: a camera that SLIMS DOWN its subjects. Isn't that great? You will notice, of course, that in the ad, the people worthy of slimming are white women. Why not just call the camera "the Male Gaze C3000"?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Primary day! Considering that I had little knowledge of and no personal investment in any of my local candidates, and that I wasn't sure I was even going to vote, I hit quite a high after pulling that level. Self-gratulation maybe. I fairly glowed with it.

Of course, I couldn't help but wonder how awesome I'd feel if I'd voted in a race that mattered. One race! Any race! Casey v. Santorum, DeWine v. Brown, Allen v. Webb! I mean, most of the time, I love living in a lefty area. If I needed the morning after pill, for example, I could be confident that I'd have access in a safe, well-lit pharmacy, probably for free, and to the soothing accompaniment of a string trio. But when it comes to casting a vote, MAN do I wish I could cast it in Missouri or Arizona, where it might conceivably make a difference.

My book group this evening discussed, at my suggestion, Baker's the Fermata, which is about a guy who uses his ability to stop time to fulfill certain fantasies. Not an uncontroversial book, and I was, to be honest with you, a little nervous as to how it would be received. I shouldn't have been: my book group rocks the Brooklyn casbah. One of the things we ended up discussing was what we'd do if we had the same power -- would we, for example, stuff ballot boxes?

One of the women, who has in her own words been increasingly radicalized lately, said why not. Especially if the other side is doing it. Couldn't it just be seen as keeping up with traffic?

I argued that by subverting democracy, ultimately, you'd lose even more faith in the system. And while going back to stuff ballot boxes in Germany 1933 would avert disaster, we're not facing a facism certain enough that immoral measures would feel worth it. At least not yet.

Basically the only legal (and physics-permitting) thing I can do is give money. I'm happy to do it, but I make under $30K a year; I have to be judicious. So where do I go? The TN race, where Ford looks ascendant, maybe? But could still easily lose? The PA race, just for the thrill of contributing to the ignominious defeat of that dumbquatty asswipe Santorum? Except I buckle internally, a little, at the idea of giving money to Casey (you know, THAT Casey). Somewhere else entirely? I'm open to suggestion.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Six degrees of separation + one bad idea

Considering that I've been officially diagnosed now with a Crazy (I mean, everyone has one, sure, but this one's mine and it's my first so I'm naturally a little defensive / protective / ashamed of it) and I've realized that this is going to be a hard year for my Crazy since thinking about the future is what tends to trigger it, and one's engagement year often entails thinking about just that -- with all of that in mind, what I really shouldn't be doing is reading Heartburn from start to finish.

Who knew I did so much of my living on the edge?

Part of the appeal of the book is that Ephron is a straightforward, drama queen type writer, not afraid to let herself look bad. That she's telling an engaging story, the break-up of her marriage to Carl Bernstein, doesn't hurt. Part of the appeal is that it's a roman a clef set in Washington, which means, for those of us who grew up in Washington, that it's fun to ponder who's who and what's what and I wonder which bench at Dupont Circle they were making out on.

But part of the appeal is also the funny coincidences. This book, which was made into a movie, started Ephron's film career (and gave Meg Ryan a reason to exist, for better or for worse). Meryl Streep plays Ephron and Jack Nicholson of all people plays "Mark," or Carl Bernstein, or, as I like to think of him, Dustin Hoffman. Coincidentally, Streep and Hoffman share the screen as a divorcing couple in Kramer Vs. Kramer, a movie that you really should see if you haven't. None of the issues it brings up are passe today. None! That's incredible!

To proceed: Ephron's writing (and, to a degree, her life) reminds me a lot of Carrie Fisher, who also grew up with literate, witty, alcoholic Hollywood types and eventually wrote romans a clef about the experience. Fisher herself co-starred in Ephron's brilliant When Harry Met Sally AND paralleled Ephron's trajectory when her most famous memoir-type book, Postcards from the Edge, was made into a movie. And who played the Fisher character? Who else? Meryl Streep.

I guess when they say she can do "accents," what they really mean is she can play all KINDS of real-life privileged LA women who get cheated on. Just kidding, Meryl! I love you!

To add redunancy to redundancy, both movies were directed by Mike Nichols. And I'm pretty sure the handsome, randy actor the Fisher character meets at the funeral is supposed to be based on Jack Nicholson. And I'm going to stop now, because I imagine you get the point.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

late to the party

I am not nor will ever be a You Tube junkie. That means that other people have to separate the wheat from the chaff for me. Here, friends, is some serious wheat: the can-you-believe-they're-American indie boys of OK Go dancing on treadmills. Wow.

Monday, September 04, 2006


Nothing makes me miss college more than attending the kind of entertainment that was rampant on campus. You know the radical cheerleaders? We had some of those. And though the choreography of cute, earnest, androgynous adolescents never convinced anyone of anything, it was totally great to watch.

Circus Amok, the subversive clowning show which Mr. Ben and I trekked out to Coney Island to see today, reminded me a lot of them. In fact one of the performers looked SO MUCH like a thicker, butcher version of my friend and former radical cheerleader S. Kelly that I felt a pang go all the way out to Seattle, where S. Kelly is currently buttering cupcakes for the ACLU. Or something. S. Kelly, and all those other fugitive '04ers on the west coast, come home!

More to the point: Circus Amok gathered a huge crowd, and when I say it was diverse I don't mean that it was, like, black. I saw black families, Hispanic families, Orthodox Jewish families, Muslim families, and lots of assorted vagabond types like Mr. Ben and me. The parents in general didn't seem to be turned off by the cheerfully political bent to the show (one of the acts is a gymnastic tribute to the lefty governments of South America) and the gender playfulness of the performers.

While the performers managed to weave a statement on immigration or health care or race relations into every one of the acts I can remember except the one wear a guy takes a wire coat hanger and works it all the way up his body and eventually over his head, none of it would have worked if the clowning and acrobatics weren't so much fun to watch. All of the details, from the colorful ragtag costumes and the klezmer-style band, worked to the troupe's advantage and made sure that, first and foremost, their show was entertaining.

The rest of the weekend was notable principally because I began eating adult food again. Three cheers for feta, scallion and tomato omelettes! They taste especially good when you've been eating nothing but noodles for DAYS. And while I participated in two social situations where I felt like I had to play hostess (ick), I also got to spend a lot of quality time with my nahvel. I will have a first draft done by Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. So help me, I will.

Thursday, August 31, 2006


An evil restaurant poisoned me almost a week ago. My recovery's been pretty rocky. The best part is I keep getting more information as to the things I can't eat. The list now consists of:

- caffeine
- alcohol
- fruit
- vegetables
- dairy
- anything sugary
- anything spicy
- fiber
- fat

At one point, I interrupted the nurse to tell her, "I'm a vegetarian, and I'm swiftly running out of food." Seriously, how many meals of simple carbs can one person eat?

To the list I have to add -- after some disasterous experimentation -- Excedrin. I tried taking some for a headache brought on by not drinking caffeine; my stomach exploded. Apparently stomachs don't like aspirin when they're feeling sensitive.

Not all is lost. Though I did end up staying home today, coddling my stomach, trying to woo it back with saltines, soup, and bland pad thai, I broke the 300 barrier on my book. I am officially on page 302. At what point the head of Knopf will call me, begging to sign me to a three-book deal and a six-figure advance, I can only guess. And I've been reading Freakonomics, a nice follow up to The Tipping Point, which I finished last weekend. Both are pretty easily digestible, the vegetable udon of social science books. Still, I hardly read any nonfiction except for the news; doing so feels like something of an accomplishment. Take THAT, gender stereotypes!

Oh, and speaking of stereotypes -- and some serious dumbquattery -- did you happen to see this study showing that short people are less smart than tall people? I could actually discuss the flaws in the reasoning -- like to say, for example, that the [taller than average] people running the study didn't discuss whether, since people on average are taller than they used to be, we're smarter than we used to be -- but I'd rather just say that the findings are clearly impossible because everyone knows jews are not, on average, tall.

Dumbquat is my new favorite word, coined in honor of a fuckwit who broke my friend's heart. But it may be applied liberally.

Monday, August 21, 2006

this birthday brought to you by O. Henry

Set up: Mr. Ben the Birthday Boy had been told by his father to hold Monday evening for a special birthday surprise. Expecting dinner at a fancy restaurant, I am in the office dressed all fancy-pants, waiting for word to trickle to me as to where to go.

Lunchtime, Mr. Ben g-chats me with the trickle.

1:24 PM Benjamin: ester! sweetie.
me: hi babydoll
Benjamin: hiya. just talked to my father.
me: hi :) whassup? and? and? did i dress up for nothing?
Benjamin: he said, as i sort of feared that we're going to mother courage tonight
1:25 PM me: are you serious??
Benjamin: yeah!
me: that's hilarious!
well, we did want to see it again
1:26 PM did you tell him we just saw it last night?
1:27 PM Benjamin: yes.
it's a little ridiculous. i also told him we wanted to see it again,.
1:28 PM apparently lisa got up at 4 in the morning in order to wait in line for us.
so there are only two tickets and we get them.

Apparently no Mother Courage is too much Mother Courage. Considering it was one of the most technically proficient, beautifully acted, emotionally searing theatrical productions I've ever seen (and for free!), I guess that's all right. Especially because, despite having torn up the asphalt to get back to NYC from Philly in order to make it to the show, Mr. Ben the Birthday Boy and I were thwarted by the subway weekend wackiness and missed the first half hour.

Still, two nights in a row of 3+ hours of Brecht might leave me a little loopy. If I come into work tomorrow tearing my cheeks with my fingernails while screaming in German about the bitter unfairness of the world, you'll know why.

Friday, August 18, 2006

ex-cult members. there's no reasoning with them.

R: So my annoying co-worker, the ex-cult member, asked if she could ask me something. I should have run screaming. Instead I said okay. And she said, "You're Israeli, right?" I tried to explain, "I'm an American Jew." And she said, "Same thing. So, as an Israeli ..." I stopped her: "I'm a Jew, but I'm not an Israeli. It's not the same thing. I don't agree with a lot of Israel's policies, and neither do most of my friends; we have a conflicted relationship with the country." She said, "Uh-huh, uh-huh. Okay, so as an Israeli, don't you get annoyed at all the horrible things your country does?"

Me: No!

R: Yeah! I shouldn't have even bothered but I tried to explain again, you know, cuz maybe third time's the charm. I said that historically a lot of people haven't been able to make the distinction and it's sort of dangerous. I told her I haven't even BEEN to Israel.

Me: Boy. You're a really bad Israeli.

It's been a busy week and there must be a hole in my pocket or something because I've been leaking money. Since Mr. Ben returned from Allemande, we've had a very full social calendar. It's actually been super fun. Courtesy of WNYC, I scored us two free tickets to an advance screening of The Illusionist. It turned out to be a middle-brow brew of middle-browness that falls apart the closer you look at it. However it's enjoyable enough in the during AND it provided me with a much-needed dose of my personal heartthrob, Edward Norton.

The next night, courtesy of my friend Erin, I scored us two free tickets to The Fantasticks, possibly the silliest, most middle-brow musical I've ever seen but also enjoyable enough in the during. Especially the first act, before it gets all Wizard of Oz on you, wagging its finger in your face for DARING to think that happiness might be found outside your own backyard. My friend Erin, of course, was awesome.

To compensate for these intellectually passive activities, I've also been doing the NYT crossword every day. I even managed to finish yesterday's (Thursday!!) with help from co-workers. Today's I couldn't dent. But life is long. I'm going to be ambitious and consistent about this. Just watch me. But first I'm going to Philly for a party weekend to sacrifice a few brain cells for the greater birthday good.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

best perks

My corner of the company celebrated a 25th anniversary, in honor of which it decreed every employee would receive a gift. Having worked at offices before, I was not about to hold my breath over said "gift." My first office gave me a thermos with a packet of hot chocolate and $30 for Christmas; my second office gave me a pink slip. So my standards were pretty low.

This office? Gave me an iPod.

Me. iPod. It's even an ester-sized iPod, being a Nano. I don't want know what to call it, except maybe, "Exceeds expectations." And that's a pretty lousy name for something that could get stolen on the subway. I'll keep thinking.

Better still, this week all the bosses have been away at a conference. As per the tradition among the assistants during this annual event, a few of us took a long lunch break and went to see a movie. The new Woody Allen, which answers the question, What does Woody Allen hate more than women? The British!

Seriously, what is with his obsession with those suave, handsome, rich fellows across the pond? Are they the most anti-Woody Allen thing he could think of?

That aside, the movie was cute and enjoyable. I prefer his comedies, when they're funny anyway. And Scarlett Johannsen, though she seems really awkward at first, is mystifyingly sexy -- not so surprising, you might think, considering she has the body of Marilyn Monroe, BUT costume designers always drape her in unflattering clothing. She has to look great in these movies despite her clothing, and I admire that she's up for the challenge.

The movie more or less fried me for the rest of the day, productivity-wise. But it was fun.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

somewhat un-PC question

Aren't these "opt out" men of recent NYT fame the new Welfare Queens? Except possibly worse, since at least the so-called welfare queens were usually raising children?

Part of me sympathizes with these fellows. Their skill sets having gone obsolete, they don't feel compelled to work simply for the sake of working. Certainly not having them clogging the pool of job applicants helps more motivated other folks. And they're not hanging out on street corners with 40s, or playing game after game of Grand Theft Auto; they're playing pianos, writing bad novels, having a grand old time.

I enjoyed being unemployed. Far be it from me to begrudge anyone else their early retirement.

But. This article strikes a very interesting tone, in my opinion, staying verrrrry carefully this side of judgement. Is that because the subjects are generally middle-of-the-road white men, men who put the I Am in American? Why isn't the government passing legislation intended to get them from welfare to work? And their poor wives! Where are they in this tale of sloth? While I don't agree with this Huff Poster's cry of sexism, I do think the piece is subtly trying to incite hysteria of a specific kind. White men! In America! Aren't being productive!

Only Laguna Beach type women can get away with being entirely self-indulgent. The vast majority of women work, either outside their homes or inside them or both. Now, an article about WOMEN that showed large numbers of them drifting out of the capitalist system not to have babies or to be wives but to cultivate deadend artistic ambitions and lie around -- what would that look like?

Monday, July 31, 2006

Can you spell 'Schadenfreude'?

M-E-L G-I-B-S-O-N.

The rest of the news of the past week has been so grim, the revelation that when Gibson was arrested for speeding under the influence, he cursed out his captors, called one officer "sugar tits," attempted to piss himself, attempted to run away, and, most notably, finally abandoned all pretense of not being an anti-semitic asshat. "Fucking Jews," he ranted to the cops, and that's just the beginning -- please help yourself to the police report, linked above.

In short, he took the mask off and put the white hood on.

Abe Foxman condemned him, of course; more interestingly, so did Ari Emanuel, the power-agent represented by Jeremy Piven on Entourage. This leads the cognoscenti to ask, when they're done chuckling: will Hollywood abandon him to his shame, despite Mel's recent mega-success? Or will studio heads, regardless of their personal religious affiliation, choose the allure of the bottom line over the demands of their conscience?

My money's on the money winning out, of course. But it will be fun to watch Mel spend some time eating (kosher) crow. What do you think he'll do to try to convince people he's changed his fuckhead ways? Perhaps he'll be prescribed the Hollywood version of penance: make three miniseries about the Holocaust and one documentary about sexual harrassment.

It's been a hard week in Lake Woebegone for the chosen people. With Israeli airstrikes killing Lebanese civilians at a frightening rate and no end to the violence in sight, Al Qaeda demanding worldwide retaliation against Jews wherever you find them, and one man in Seattle having proven himself eager to do his part, how can you not want to hide under the bed? At least the prospect of mocking Mel in company gives me a reason to leave the apartment.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

your face = your life

This MyHeritage site is better than the best web site ever because in addition to being frivolous, entertaining, and a first-class time sucker (all of which any contender for "better than best web site ever" would have to be) it also answers the vital question we face throughout our lives: what celebrity do you most resemble?

Depending on the picture, I resemble: both Olsen twins, Scarlett Johannsen, Heidi Klum, Bobby Fisher, Alexis Bledel, Cristina Ricci, Oscar Wilde, Rachel Corrie, Michelle Rodriguez, The Rock, Reese Witherspoon, Sally Field, Billy Bob Thorton, Kris Kristofferson, Claudia Schiffer, David Carradine, AND Colin Firth. ReMARKable! Did you even know those people looked alike? Me neither! Imagine what it would be like to get them all in a room together. (Just squint hard at my face and I'll assume that's what you're doing.)

I burst out laughing when it delivered "Rachel Corrie" as a result. I feel kinda bad about that. A friend of mine at work tried it and got that she resembled YASSIR ARAFAT. He was in among the movie starlets and Hollywood nymphs. Hilarious! My friend found it disturbing. More soothingly, but incredibly, in the very same picture she also looked like Meryl Streep.

Sad that in no picture do I resemble Kate Winslet. Deep in my heart of hearts, that's what I kinda wanted. Still, Heidi Klum and Billy Bob Thornton. I should consider myself lucky.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

but my heart, maria! but my heart!

I may have physically left the Entertainment industry, yet sometimes my fingers still clutch at the air where a copy of Variety should be and I thirst for utterly irrelevant information about movies. For example: we seem to have been inundated with "blockbusters" this summer, even worse than usual. As I haven't ventured out to spend $11 for Death By Superhero IV every weekend, from my perspective it's all been kind of a blur. Today I wondered, How have they been doing? Clearly none has tanked, or we'd know about it; which succeeded, though, and which were the kind of disappointments that get you fired while you're in the maternity ward?

In case you're as weirdly interested in these things as I am, I gathered the data. No, no, don't thank me. I'm increasing your dork quotient by .45 every minute you spend reading this.

#1) Surprisingly, despite its mediocre reviews and what I had thought was a lukewarm reception here in America, the record holder for 2006 is The Da Vinci Code. Closer examination of the numbers explains it: the stupid Catholic conspiracy movie that ended up pulling its punches only made $214 million at home. Its standing in the charts comes from the whopping $740 million it made from the Akiva Goldsman-loving hordes of people worldwide who were desperate to have their beloved religion challenged -- except not too much.

#2) Pirates of the Caribbean II, starring Keira Knightley's ribcage, Mr. Squidface, a translucent Orlando Bloom, and some promising young unknown fellow who's wearing a lot of makeup for some reason, has drawn a whopping $326 million so far domestically and HALF A BILLION DOLLARS worldwide. Some studio should really sign that newbie playing the pirate -- I think he's going places.

#3) X-Men: The Last Stand $232 mil here, $439 out there.

#4) Mission Impossible III: $133 domestically, $373 worldwide.

#5) Superman Returns: $179 domestically, $289 worldwide.

While these movies aren't done running yet, it's fair to say though that their momentums are set. Superman Returns is probably not going to stage a sudden, violent comeback to challenge Ron Howard's work of surpreme nonsense for first place, for example. To know more deeply who's a winner, who's a loser, though, you need more info. Making $200-some million dollars is a huge achievement, UNLESS you cost that much to make. Let's check budgets.

#1) Production budget: $125 million. That doesn't even include advertising which, as we all know, essentially rented out Times Square as its bitch/billboard for two weeks prior. Let's assume, oh, $40 million for that. That takes the budget up to $165, which means that domestically the film only eked out $49 million in profit. If not for those Frenchmen and Ghanains who needed their faith not so much shaken as lightly stirred, Tom Hanks would never work in this town again.

#2) Production budget: $225 million. Wow. Can we stop and think about that for a second? Wow. I've never heard of a movie costing that much to make. That's how much Catherine the Great would spend, maybe -- except, instead of the Winter Palace, you end up with 2.5 hours of celluloid pirate shenanigans. They've spent on advertising, too, but not as much as the Da Vince folks. Let's assume $25 million. That puts the domestic profit at $76 million.

#3) Budget: $210 million. Jesus! Those are still Marie Antoinette levels, and we saw what happened to her. Assuming $25 million for advertising, it actually LOST $3 million and was saved only by the grace of those spend-happy audiences abroad.

#4) Budget: $150. It only made $133 here! That means, even before you factor in advertising, MI:3 was in the red by a significant amount. Shameful.

#5) Budget: $260. Excuse me, I have to wipe off the monitor -- my head just exploded. Who decided to bet the farm on this dutiful, mediocre remake of what's considered a classic in the genre? Even factoring in worldwide grosses, this one has only barely broken even. Oops, wait -- factoring in advertising, it probably hasn't broken even at all. Astounding.

The last movie I saw in theaters, by the way, hasn't done too shabbily by itself even with competition from these monsters. Inside Man made $88.5 domestically and $185 worldwide, but only cost $45. Let's assume $10 for advertising. That comes out to a respectable $33.5 in domestic profit. AND it was good.

There's a moral to this story somewhere, kiddies. Let me know if you find it (and if you discover the name of that delightful up-and-coming swashbuckler! Let's just hope he doesn't get typecast as fey. Then he'll never get work, poor kid.)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

a holman in my heart

Seemingly another run-of-the-mill summer flick, Aniston and Vaugn's The Break-up actually holds a box-office record. Spokespeople claim that it has the highest three-day opening ever in the United States for a romantic comedy that was released in June.

In other news, I hold the record for being the only person who has sat in my room with the lights off watching Simpsons dvds and eating Choco Tacos during the month of June.
The reclusive Eva is back, just in time for summer! Enjoy this limited time offer while supplies last.

So, I turned 24. One of my coworkers draped a shiny metallic birthday sign on the wall by my desk to give everyone who walked by a clue what to say to me instead of just pretending they don't see me checking gmail. Another dropped by to tell me that my birthday was nothing compared to hers, which this year fell on 6/6/06 -- she was so preoccupied with potential apocalypse she ended up celebrating by watching An Inconvenient Truth. By herself.

As I had a more run-of-the-mill sort of day, we decided to take a totally normal two hour lunch and go to Tabla. We brought one of the fellows from this site to help bolster our hoity-toity NYC restaurant cred.

When the chips were down though he failed us: he didn't know what "cru" was either. For a while we played the menu version of Balderdash, all offering our wackiest guesses. Short for "crudite"? Short for "cru d'etat"? A miniature chocolate rowing team (served on a boat, of course!)? Jay-Z's posse? To relieve the confusion, I ordered it in my haughtiest tone of voice and was relieved to discover: cru is hip for delicious. Saying any more would spoil the surprise.

The food was amazing, very Iron Chef (which I'm kinda hooked on), and since it's restaurant week, 3 courses only cost $24.07. Then I hung out with friends, but would the almighty Ruth Reichl describe my friends as "impressively offbeat" and "so powerful, original and unexpected that they evoke intense emotions"? Case closed.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

sap sticks to your hands

I opened my mail today to see the face of a tall, skinny, white woman draped with something translucent and bedecked with flowers. She looked very pleased, perhaps because she had just learned from the accompanying text that "DREAMS ARE POSSIBLE!"

Not if you've just been killed by a rocket fired by someone in an adjoining country who doesn't know you yet cheerfully hates you on principle; but if you're a typical tall skinny white woman? Sure, why not. On that note, I have to wonder why Israel is bothering bombing the middleman, as it were. Yes, Lebanon serves as Hezbollah's happy host. If Syria and Iran are funding the crazies, though, you have to assume the craziness won't stop until you attack them. Of course that might be suicide, but there's a certain nobility (not to mention efficiency) in trying to destroy the nerve center, as opposed to just hacking at tentacles and not caring what innocents you hit along the way.

I'm not sure how many metaphors I mixed there; let's just move on. I was going to talk about weddings! They're way easier to make light of than war, especially when cities you get really nostalgic for are being targeted. ("Dear Sir or Madam Hezbollah: Perhaps you know that your rockets are hitting Haifa. Haifa is a very pretty, apolitical city, and Jewish-Israelis and Arab-Israelis have a record of getting along well inside it. Also there are Bahi gardens. Have you been? They're splendid, almost as splendid as the beaches. Please aim elsewhere. Sincerely yours, An Infidel.")

One of the charming women in my book club -- which basically consists of six post-menopausal women named Jane, and me -- gave me a copy of I Do, But I Don't: Walking Down the Aisle Without Losing Your Mind. Author Kamy Wicoff struggles in retrospect with all of the societal nonsense that surrounded her wedding like The Fog, rendering obscure her feminist objections to the process. Essentially Wicoff, having been a relatively typical bride despite herself, is trying to atone for that sin by writing about it. Since I'm sure she received a hefty advance and got, you know, published in the first place, I'm a little skeptical: isn't she basically trying to have her wedding cake and eat it too?

Still, Wicoff comes off as an honest narrator. She exposes her flaws as well as her decision-making processes as she attempts to retrace her steps from Thinking Feminist Person to Drone Bride #1,140,562,311. It's interesting reading for me. Some of it doesn't apply since luckily my mother, a party-planning goddess, has taken charge of everything stressful; and I'm young, and not a lot is expected of me as a Woman, let alone a Wife in Training, yet. But a lot of it rings true. The nahrishkeit about the diamond ring, for example. Oy! Who needs it. The idea of carrying your wealth around with you on your hand makes me tired, and that's before I even start to think in terms of carats and cartels.

It is odd, being so young a person and having a wedding in the works. It means that in many respects the thing seems like a second bat-mitzvah. I get to make some decisions; my mother retains most of the control and the veto power. On the other hand, the resulting event, I'm sure, will be more memorable and classy than anything I could arrange, and we have compromised on most things that matter. And I do get to occupy myself with wondering Who Will Come to the Wedding?, an inversion of the question I used to ask my morbid teen self, Who Will Come to my Funeral? That morbid part of me still wonders to what extent the guest lists will overlap.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

crazy vampire doctor and his blown-up house

I'm not sure if this awesome story made it out of New York and I'd hate for you folks not lucky enough to be here to miss it. Precis: an Eastern-European immigrant, Dr. Bartha, marries, moves to America, buys a house, succeeds. Has two little girls. House appreciates in value. It's the American dream!

However. (Cue the ominous music.) Things begin to go sour between the doctor and his wife. Husband is dark, angry, abusive. His harrassment includes decorating the house with swastikas. Wife, whose Dutch Jewish family was persecuted in Nazi-occupied Holland, cannot stand it anymore and moves with her daughters to a tiny apartment in Washington Heights. Begins divorce proceedings. House is valued at $12 million. Wife feels entitled to part of that money. Judge agrees.

Dr. Bartha says, Over my dead body. And, with a consistency I frankly find refreshing, next thing you know, Dr. Bartha's charred body is being dragged from the 62nd street rubble. Not dead, though -- those who want to die never do. They end up wasting away, increasingly bitter and frail, until their expiration comes not as relief but as the ironic nail in the coffin. (Viz., Dorothy Parker.) Besides, in my professional opinion, Dr. Bartha is a vampire, and it takes more than some gas and brick to kill one of those.

The other great spat currently accesible over the internet is between Katha Pollit and Ana Marie Cox. As you may or may not be aware, Cox panned Pollit's new book last weekend in the NYT book review. Pollit responded today with an Op-Ed: "Thank You for Hating My Book." Now you might think these intelligent, talented, professional women were arguing about the state of feminism in this country. The second wave vs. the third wave! The old vs. the young! The rational vs. the sexy! The past vs. the future! In actuality, I think the disagreement is more subtle (and the review less damning) than it seems.

Let's add it up. Ana Marie Cox once helmed the almighty site, Wonkette. Was funny, nasty, raunchy, smart, but was not confined to Sex and the City and so was also taken seriously. +5
Cox left Wonkette at the height of her popularity. +2
Wrote a disappointing book that didn't end up doing very well, causing people to wonder, Was she overrated in the first place? And why aren't those new Wonkettes very funny? -2
Hasn't done much since the book to resume vaunted place in spotlight. -1
In review, bashes "feminism" while calling herself a feminist. References high heels and Hilary Clinton, bra burning, and other cliches. Tries to be snarky, yet profound; kinda fails at both. Does, however, make the valid point that people just aren't on the Pollit wavelength anymore; acknowledges war on contraception/abortion; nods at complexity of situation. 0
(Bonus points for being sexy AND funny: +3)

Total score = 7

Katha Pollit writes for The Nation and has been around, making herself heard as unapologetic and intelligent, for decades, without getting written off as a Crazy. +5
She spoke at Swarthmore though and actually wasn't that great. -1
Has written books, articles, poetry, op-eds up the wazoo. +2
Her most recent book was panned (or didn't you hear?) -1
Although she then wrote a funny piece about the experience, which takes some serious can't-buy-'em-online balls of steels. Also, her title "Virginity or Death!" is a reference, whether inadvertent or not, to the fantastic Eddie Izzard "Cake or Death!" routine. +2

Total score = 7

Holy smokes, it's a tie! What are we going to do? Examine the funny in their respective recent works to see who really holds sway? No! This is America! The bottom line is THE BOTTOM LINE: the Amazon sales rank. Virginity or Death is currently #423. Dog Days? #137,949. Today, at least, Katha Pollit wins the title. Better luck next time, Cox.