Thursday, December 31, 2009

Grazie!

Hope everyone had a terrific holiday season and is excited to ring in the New Year!

I just wanted to thank you all for signing up as a follower of this blog and for reading it--I'm still amazed that there are others besides my husband who do, so many thanks indeed. It means more than you know. My quest to become a published author continues apace. To that end, my New Year's resolution is more frequent blog posts. There. I've stated it publicly.

I have every confidence this commitment will go better than my resolutions in previous years to: learn Italian, exercise every day, read every issue of The New Yorker cover to cover, re-learn Spanish, run a half marathon every month, eat less chocolate and perfect every recipe in The Professional Pastry Chef. Especially that "eat less chocolate" one...I don't know what I was thinking when I avowed that bit of insanity.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

As Seen on TV

The Comas doggies have a Secret Santa. And an ironic one at that.

Yesterday in the mail we received two Snuggies for Dogs. Yes, the blanket coat with sleeves has been such a runaway hit that pooches of every size clamored that one be made especially for them. Readers of this space are familiar with my position on all things Snuggie, so needless to say this Snuggerific present positively tickled me.

What I perhaps love most about the Snuggie for Dogs is the marketing. It’s nothing short of brilliant.


First, right there on the front of the box, the copywriting addresses dogs, noting in big bubble print that the Snuggie “keeps you warm and your paws free!” Finally a company selling things made in China is addressing its canine audience in a straightforward fashion. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve strolled the aisles of my neighborhood pet store with our pups only to walk out with them grumbling about how nothing caught their eye. Why? Because no one took them seriously enough as consumers to market directly to them. The Snuggie for Dogs silences that complaint once and for all.

Second, The Snuggie for Dogs addresses that age-old issue of dogs not being able to have their paws free to engage in everyday doggie activities. You know, like backgammon.

Or channel surfing.

After reading all about the advertised promises on the box, our pup couldn’t wait to try his Snuggie on. The adjustable hook & loop Velcro tabs in the back indeed provided the perfect fit, just as the box said.

Now, our pup’s paws are free to put his own shoes on.

Surf the Internet.

Read the newspaper.

Practice his short game.

Make eggs.

Our puppy’s life has been made all the more full by his new blanket coat with sleeves! Snuggie sender, reveal yourself!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Morning Call

We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog post for some important breaking news: Retailers' profit margins for the holiday shopping season are now seen as coming in better than expected. This comes as a surprise to many on the Street who were expecting all peddlers of plastics and playthings to limp through December like a three-legged My Pretty Pony. But this morning's Littlest Pet Shop Indicator changed all that.

The closely watched Littlest Pet Shop Indicator has served as a barometer for consumers' shopping habits since....well, since this morning. But that's not the point, the point is that the LPS Indicator started flashing green at about 7 a.m., effectively changing the tenor of trading overseas.

Indeed, the LPS Indicator is confirming that retailers are keeping inventories lean--so lean in fact that the remaining stock on their shelves is selling at premium prices. With nearly two weeks left before Christmas, that means that what toys are left and available for purchase are getting pricier by the day.

One woman in New York City told this reporter that she wanted to purchase the Littlest Pet Shop Tail Waggin Fitness Club Playset for her niece. This item, which normally sells in the $30-$40 range, cannot be found on store shelves anywhere--brick and mortar or virtual. Sure, there's the Daycare Playset available for purchase, but it's blue and her niece doesn't like blue. Not only that, but the Daycare Playset only has one level. What fun is that? One level to "walk" your littlest pet shop pets around? C'mon, Hasbro, that's not fun. Two levels is fun! Two levels of glorious molded two-tone pink plastic--nothing's more fun that that! But get this, everyone is sold out of the Waggin Fitness Club. Wait, Amazon.com beckons, come here, look...I'll sell you the Waggin Fitness Club for $80. Eighty freekin' dollars?! The New York City woman cannot believe it. Buy within the next 10 minutes and guarantee delivery by Dec. 24, Amazon coos. The New York City woman refuses, positively refuses to pay double for this toy. Forget it! There are only two left. Your niece loves pink, Amazon helpfully reminds. Do you really want to show up without a gift? On Christmas? For your three-year-old princess niece? UNPRINTABLE WORD UNPRINTABLE WORD UNPRINTABLE WORD!!!!!

Sorry, this reporter got caught up in her man-on-the-street interview.

The LPS Indicator is heralded as a better predictor of consumer behavior than the Lipstick Indicator, the Underwear Index or even the Hemline Length Indicator, and Wall Street is abuzz with the LPS's latest reading. Jim Cramer screamed about it. Maria Bartiromo stated the obvious about it. And a nameless, unidentifiable Bloomberg reporter interviewed three experts about the LPS, its history and ramifications...effectively draining any interest viewers had in said Indicator.

With only one-half hour before the market's open, expect retailers to trade higher and this season to be the one that gives "pay to play" new meaning.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Flooding the Zone

I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume you’ve heard about Tiger Woods's recent troubles. It’s like sitting in front of a bag of chips or a package of Oreos—you can’t just read one story about this ongoing wreck. There’s the New York Post’s splashy coverage, complete with trademark headline puns. There’s the gossipy screeches of TMZ. And there’s the various and sundry online links and analyses that are sprouting up like so many lost balls at Bethpage Black (sorry, couldn’t resist).

But what I find so funny is that much like Tiger’s drives (last lame analogy, I promise), this story has such loft, such carrying power, that even legitimate news outlets can’t ignore it any longer. And they’re all starting to cover it in their own fashion, which is to say, lamely.

The Wall Street Journal chimed in today with the expected corporate survey: which of Tiger’s endorsements have dropped him (none), which are withholding their televised ads (all) and which are retooling their Tigerific products. And here we get to the hard news hook: Gatorade, the Journal reports, is discontinuing its Tiger Focus sports drink. As if this should be a surprise. Gatorade Tiger Focus? You mean it's still around? Were we honestly to believe that Gatorade happened upon that magical ratio of high fructose corn syrup and water that actually improved concentration? I’m not sure which of Gatorade’s marketing assumptions were more off the mark: Presuming that consumers would buy its “Focus” drink, or its weird commercial cartoon campaign designed to appeal to toddlers, a demographic known for, if nothing else, its insatiable quest for improved concentration.

Time, with its own take on Tigergate, offered up a column comparing “attention controllers” like Tiger and “attention seekers” like the couple that crashed the President’s state dinner. It was wordy. It was analytical. It was a snore fest.

Finally, The New York Times, churned out a below-the-fold story today that captured the culture of the moment so perfectly, so succinctly, so….predictably. Its take? Today’s adulterer’s text message is the Digital Lipstick On The Collar. Get it? You know how actual lipstick on a collar was a sure sign of philandering? Well, see, the text message is digital and can leave a mark just like old fashioned lipstick! Leave it to the Times to declare a trend years after the fact. Bravo Gray Lady. Bravo.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Reality Bites

This is what our reality show-addled society has spawned: a Congressional hearing devoted to a couple of no-name celebrity wannabes who crashed the President’s party.

It was bound to come to this. Reality programming stopped passing the drool test a long time ago. Survivor, Top Chef, old seasons of Project Runway—they’re all good stuff, great stuff, in fact. But production of such shows with premise—and in the case of Top & Project, talent—fell by the wayside in favor of Brett Michael’s misogynistic skank fest and Sharon Osborne’s trashy televised “tutelage,” not to mention the incessant documentation of freakish fertility stories—predictably followed by a family’s sloppy unraveling.

Reality programming not only resuscitated Flavor Flav’s “career,” it also upchucked a series of shows that successively circled the drain with greater intensity, which, in turn, lowered our national IQ by another 20 points. With reality TV, we got to watch wife swapping, bachelors date, bachelorettes date and nannies discipline unruly children. We were given a voyeur’s view into celebrity “rehab,” hoarders’ messy homes and struggles with weight loss. P. Diddy made a band. Then he made another band. Those were so good, he made two more bands. And now, he’s making his band. I know, it’s totally novel. Completely new. Never been done. Thank you reality TV.

And, lest we forget, there’s the glimmering franchise that is The Housewives. Orange County, Atlanta, New York and even Jersey served up their embarrassing members of the so-called upper class. The shows were such hits that Washington D.C. is going to showcase its own attention-seeking housewife horrors.

Which brings me back to the House hearing slated for tomorrow that will really take a tough look at these reality-TV party crashers. If our elected officials are worth their salt even a bit, they’ll decide that trashy reality television is a threat to our national security—or, at the very least, our national taste—and ban it altogether.

I doubt it, though. If reality TV has taught us anything, it’s that it begets more reality TV. So don’t be surprised if you see House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. John Boehner on their own show soon. Diddy, after all, needs a new band.

Monday, November 30, 2009

May the Force Be With You

What exactly does it take to make a Millennium Falcon cake? It being the thought foremost in everyone’s mind, I thought I'd share.


It takes two boxes of chocolate cake mix, a vat of homemade chocolate buttercream and a good amount of vanilla frosting. I'm talking an alarming amount of vanilla frosting—like eight tubs of it. For those of you counting calories at home….oh, never mind. This post isn’t for you.

My sister and I undertook the making of this fantastical cake for my nephew’s birthday. It took hours to create over the span of two days. We whipped up a decadent buttercream frosting for the center, baked off a chocolate cake the size of a hula hoop and tinted a fraction of our otherworldly quantity of vanilla frosting three different colors: metal gray, blue and black.

We cut and shaped our enormous cake into what we figured looked like an approximate shape of the Millennium Falcon, applied a crumb layer of frosting and allowed it to chill. We were so proud of ourselves and downright giddy with anticipation at what my nephew would think. Oh, the glee he’d exude when we revealed the cake!

Unable to wait another moment, we let him take a peek at the cake before we’d done any of the frosting details. My sister pulled the cake out of the fridge. We looked proudly at our cake in-process. We smiled smugly at each other, flashing looks that said, “We should have done the whole flippin’ Rebel Alliance fleet. We are THAT GOOD!”


My nephew gazed upon our frosted cake monstrosity and asked with, fittingly, child-like innocence: “Is it…a dinosaur?”

Undeterred, we forged ahead with our elaborate piped frosting plan—white for all that ubiquitous detail work commonly found on the outside of space ships, metal gray for yet more detail, black for…wait for it…even more detail. And there was some thick blue piping on the back for the smokin’ Hyper Drive. Or is it the Warp Drive? I always confuse the faux technical terms from StarTrek and Star Wars.

Anyway, we thought that all our fancy frosting would surely transform our unidentifiable slab of cake into the Millennium Falcon. After practicing our space-age designs...

...we piped all the details on the cake.

And then we piped some more.

For hours we piped. Literally. Yes, there is such a thing as “piper’s cramp." Inexplicably, some frosting was lost in the process.


What we ended up with was a close facsimile of the Millennium Falcon—or at least as close as we were ever going to get after having consumed a sickening amount of frosting.


The best part? My nephew not only recognized it, he actually liked it. He’s gracious to his elders like that.

It is, after all, the Jedi way.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Come Fly With Me

The perpetual dumpiness of La Guardia Airport is, as ever, an embarrassment to every New Yorker.

The first impression of our city—our vibrant, exciting and modern urban oasis—is an airport that smacks of a flea-bitten motel in a backwater town. It's the kind of place where it's not at all uncommon to come across a dirty wastebasket in the middle of the concourse that’s collecting dripping water from the stained drop ceiling above. Being at La Guardia is like being in someone’s horribly cramped, unfinished, dirty basement, complete with ghoulish fluorescent lighting, stale pastries and iffy plumbing. You never know when a gate agent will be issuing a warning to everyone in the security checkpoint snarl that none of the bathrooms in the concourse is working. Seriously. Only at La Guardia do these types of things happen.

This armpit of the airport world makes travel such an aggravating chore that you can’t wait to get out of town. Not only that, but as soon as you’re on the airplane (delayed for an interminable amount of time on the tarmac, of course), you begin plotting how in the future, for all of your travel, you can avoid the perpetual horror that is La Guardia. Suddenly, driving eight hours to Cleveland seems completely reasonable. Fourteen to Chicago? Not a bad idea. Biking to California? Ideal.

Meanwhile, Chicago’s O’Hare Airport flaunts its air travel fabulousness. Not only does it showcase wide open concourses with soaring ceilings, superb signage and soothing lighting the likes of which are usually reserved for comfy living rooms, but everything is decorated this time of year with miles of evergreen garlands interwoven with royal red velvet ribbon. It’s a veritable celebration of travel.

Those fortunate enough to be arriving to or departing from this most delightful of hubs float through the yawning concourses upon little clouds of fairy dust. Travelers joyfully choose appetizing meals and snacks from a bountiful array of stores. They select reading materials from cozy bookstores and quaint newspaper shops. Perhaps they do a spot of shopping in any number of the luxury stores dotting the concourse. Elves frolick from gate to gate, helping travelers with their baggage. Little woodland animals scurry around cleaning every inch of the airport, whistling while they work in true Disney fashion. Gum drops in every flavor gently float down from the ceiling into travelers' waiting mouths. Ok, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit. There's no cantaloupe-flavored gum drop.

It doesn't take long before you start pondering how all of your trips could be rerouted through O’Hare. Maybe stop over on your way from New York to Sonoma. If flying from Des Moines to Los Angeles, backtracking hundreds of miles to enjoy the treats of O’Hare seems perfectly reasonable. It is the happiest of all air travel places.

Alas, La Guardia remains a roller coaster of discontent; it crams travelers into a tight space, pulls them laboriously up a hill of discomfort, and then plunges them headlong into a black hole of frustration. Maybe it’s fitting. La Guardia is, after all, located on the site of a former amusement park. Figures.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Get Your Glee On

If you haven’t seen Glee, the quirkiest TV show with the biggest heart, you’re missing out on the finest hour of comedy on television today. Bar none.

Take a simple premise—an earnest teacher trying to save a high school glee club—mix in an outstanding cast with an eclectic group of crazy-talented kids, multiple story lines of unrequited love, power struggles of every ilk, a terrific soundtrack and a generous helping of smart, laugh-out-loud humor, and that, my friends, is Glee.

Why does the show sing (pun intended) on every level? Because it’s based in Ohio, the place where all good things come from? (Ok, save football and baseball teams.) No, it’s because of brilliant writing.

The stories are crafted with soul and humor, which is a true rarity in this age of reality-show idiocy (see Jon & Kate Plus Eight, Wife Swap, Rock of Love Bus, et al). It’s a novel idea: Forego the mail-it-in ease of reality programming and make a show that actually pulls on the heartstrings and tickles the funny bone with tight writing and compelling storytelling. I know, it’s a crazy concept.

Watch Glee once and you can’t help but get drawn into its campy wittiness, its schmaltzy fabulousness, its utter brilliance. Why? Because we all went to high school and the pathos of those stories is universal. Maybe you were the jock, the cheerleader, the handicapped kid, the mean girl, the drama club queen, the brainiac, the moody artist or the homecoming king. Maybe you wanted to be popular, not be pressured by your popularity, or were envious of someone else’s popularity. Whatever your story was, you’re a part of Glee.

If you’re like me, you were weaned on The Breakfast Club and all other adolescent cinematic therapy of its time, courtesy of John Hughes. We related his movies, gobbling them up with an insatiable appetite. If we made a meal of Hughes’s films—and we did—Glee is the surprisingly fun dessert that we’re better equipped to enjoy because we’ve shed our teenage angst (well, most of it, anyway) and grown up. Now, we can look back at our high school years and empathize with, laugh at and even get choked up about those situations that at the time were writ so large. And that really gets to the heart of it: When it comes to drama and comedy—and that catch-in-your throat place where they meet—there’s no setting richer in story fodder than high school.

So tonight, do yourself a favor and watch Glee. It’s a toe tapper. A finger snapper. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry…it’s better than Cats.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Phlegm-Free Zone

While riding the bus home the other night, I read a sign that is stuck prominently where everyone can see it:

Please
No Littering
No Smoking
No Spitting
No Radio Playing


No spitting? That’s right. Bus spitting is apparently such a problem that it requires special mention on MTA signage. Granted, it’s not the scourge of public transportation that littering and smoking are, but it’s a bigger issue than radio playing.

Hey, MTA: The 1970s called. They want their sign back.

What He Said

So, I was all set to write something on all the variations of the Snuggie. You know, those ridonkulous blanket-cum-robes that, despite their lunatic premise have sprouted up in a rainbow of garish colors for people and pets alike. Yes, pets.

Many talented writers have opined on this most important cultural phenomenon, not the least of which is Joe Posnanski, who, in my opinion, has written the definitive Snuggie treatise. Surely, I thought, there was something else I could add. In my intense research of the Snuggie, I came across this video. It's not new, but like the classics, it's worth revisiting. I think I'll just leave it with that.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Thanks, but No Thanks


‘Tis the season for hostess gifts—those small, tasteful tokens of appreciation presented to whomever is throwing that holiday celebration/obligatory family gathering you attend. What follows is a collection of some of the more...er, noteworthy.

For that hostess who has everything, there’s the wicker football cookie bowl, courtesy of Neiman Marcus, where all things practical are procured.

For some short-lived enjoyment of your host’s initials, there’s monogrammed soap.

If you want to give a gift that allows your hostess to cut and spear her food with one utensil (and who doesn't?), there’s the knork, which, incidentally, is one of Redbook Magazine’s recommended hostess gifts of the season (kno, I’m knot kidding).

There’s the horrifying and disturbingly functional gift.

As well as the inexplicable.

After all, nothing says “Thank you for having me to dinner” like large pleated bunting.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

You Say Bombe, I Say Bomb

The fiercest and most unruly of forces descended upon Chicago this week. It was a battle unlike any other, perhaps one of the scariest clashes ever recorded in the Windy City. Simply put, a community was threatened, a social order was wrecked, and milk was spilled.

Literally.

That’s right, students at a middle school engaged in…wait for it…a food fight. Fortunately, administrators were quick to quell the rampant flinging of lunches. They did what any overwhelmed and under-weaponed domestic unit would do in dealing with an aggressor so intense and wily. They called in the police—yes, the Chicago police—to quell the uprising and have the eighth-grade perpetrators arrested and hauled off to jail.

What about detention, you ask? Please, that’s too tame a punishment for such a heinous and serious crime. We’re talking about the throwing of grilled cheesethe flicking of mashed potatoes with a spork! People, we have the community to think about here! What, pray tell, would happen if these hooligans—nay, these cafeteria terrorists—took their fight to the streets? Think!

All I can say is thanks to the just and prudent “no-tolerance” policies of the Perspectives Charter Middle School, citizens of Chicago will never be faced with such a horror.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Boilerplate Redux

Perhaps you’ve wondered what Carly Fiorina has been doing since Hewlett-Packard’s board of directors sent her packing with a lavish paycheck before she did further damage to the legendary company.

Turns out she found a home in politics. She was an advisor to Sen. John McCain during his presidential race. She made the rounds on political talk shows. And today, she announced that she’ll be making a run for Sen. Barbara Boxer’s seat.

Having listened to Fiorina while at the helm of HP and on the campaign trail, I think I have a good handle on her positions and what she hopes to accomplish in public office.

To wit: She would build bridges so people could come together to find a middle ground where they could then forge a compromise—a compromise based on best-in-class practices. She would create synergies, build partnerships and knit together a fragmented electorate. She would find a place for everyone at the table. She would listen to every voice. She would cut the fat, oil the gears on the machine, sweep away the cobwebs. Most importantly, she’ll problem solve and come up with innovative solutions.

Or, as she put it in today’s Orange County Register: “Throughout my career I’ve brought people together, and I’ve solved problems. And that is what is needed in our government today. People who are willing to set aside ego and partisanship and instead work to develop solutions to our problems.”

Somewhere, Sen. Boxer is smiling.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Friday, October 30, 2009

An Apple a Day

Behold the bounty!


My friend and I headed upstate yesterday with a tank full of gas and a dream—a dream of picking bushels of our own fruit at someone else’s farm.


It started out an idyllic morning, walking around with our baskets, marveling at the autumn scenery, picking apple after juicy apple.




But then we entered a dark, shadowy part of the orchard. The trees in this ominous-looking corner of the farm did not want to relinquish their precious fruit. At first I thought I was imagining things. There would be a shimmy or a shake of branches that would leave a red apple just out of reach. No matter, I thought, I’ll just pick a different one. There was another shimmy. Another shake.


And then it happened: A tree threw an apple right at my head. The tree next to it, equally as peeved, did the same. Before we knew it, we were in the throws of a full-on apple tree assault. Apples were flying everywhere. We ducked and weaved, dodging the fruity fastballs coming our way, and, in seeking shelter from the onslaught, we came across a tin foot...attached to a tin leg…

Oh, wait. That’s The Wizard of Oz.

Never mind.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sugar Rush

Halloween, God bless it, is the only time of the year that manages to conceal the fact that I have a sugar tooth the size of a football stadium.

No one at the drugstore looks at me askance because I’m buying bag after enormous bag of candy. Kit Kats, Snickers, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Tootsie Pops…the list goes on and on. It’s all, you see, for the children.

There is, however, one type of candy that I cannot abide and that is never foisted upon trick or treaters at our door: candy corn. These one-note triangular concoctions of gag-inducing sweetness are an affront to the entire candy aisle. Remember getting candy corn in your bag at Halloween? Few disappointments were ever greater. And if you traded candy at the end of the night, how many times did you try to unload your sorry bag o’ corn on someone? Answer: each and every time.

Judging from the foot traffic we had in our building last year, I’ve got about two king-sized bags of candy per kid. That’s a good ratio, I think. Gotta make sure I have enough for myself.

I mean, the children. Enough for the children.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Burn Notice

The other day I wrote about harvesting a garden. Part of that agricultural wonder was a massive amount of hot peppers. Like more peppers than any family—or neighborhood—could possibly consume.

This, predictably, led to me making lots of hot pepper dishes. To the point of pain. Now, I’m not sure what classification of hot peppers these little darlings were, but after a full 48 hours of burning skin I can only assume they were of the Holy-Christ-These-Are-Hot genus.

Here's the story: last week, we had a friend over for dinner. I started out with homemade salsa (wicked hot), which was followed by seared scallops and roasted shrimp (insane hot) with a roasted potato/corn relish (Hades hot). Not the most balanced of menus, I’ll admit. Separately, everything would have been great—taken together, however, it proved a capsaicin calamity for my fingertips.

I went to bed with my hands ablaze and quickly found myself unable to sleep because of the pain. I’m guessing I was the only person in Manhattan at 1 a.m. pouring half-and-half over my hands. I did this twice more in hopes that it would magically erase what felt like volcanic eruptions emanating from my epidermis (alliteration, how I love thee!).

I awoke the next morning to flashes of phantom pain. Undeterred, I went to the gym, and after a vigorous 8-mile run (read: kinda-respectable 2-mile jog), I hit the steam room. This apparently aggravated whatever dormant capsaicin remained because not only did my hands instantly flare up again, they then proceeded to scream—literally, scream—at me for the remainder of the day. And this is what they screamed:

“Hey, Top Chef, try wearing gloves next time you chop habaneros!”

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Kitchen Cravings

I tend to punctuate trying or joyous times in my life with food.

After graduate school, when I wasn’t pounding the pavement for a job I was baking bread. My passion for bread baking nearly derailed my budding journalism career. On one particularly depressing Valentine’s Day more than a decade ago, I took a truffle-making class and have since parlayed that therapeutic three hours into a happy holiday tradition. And every promotion or professional accolade that I’ve been fortunate enough to receive has been celebrated by me whipping something up in the kitchen.

Now that I’m freelancing at home and inching toward becoming a published author with what can only be described as hold-your-breath hope, my schedule and professional commitments have changed. Translation: I can cook pretty much whenever I want.

Case in point: Yesterday I made lentils and spaghetti sauce…because it was Monday. Today I’m going to make a flourless chocolate cake…because it’s raining. You see, I don’t need a milestone or annoying event to coax me into the kitchen these days. In fact, I might make a spice cake right now.

Why? It’s 9:30.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I See London, I See France

We’re awash in clutter. Not on the sidewalks. Not in our parks. I’m talking about up in the sky.

Maybe you’ve noticed the countless new buildings dotting our fair island: soaring monuments of glass and steel with windows like so much cellophane allowing everyone to see everything.

I don’t care so much about the exhibitionists who are taking full advantage of such transparency; it’s the view of everyone’s stuff I have a problem with. The piles of unsightly bric-a-brac, the thousands of unmade beds, the mountains of clothing strewn every which way—it’s all there for us to see. Passersby of these modern obelisks, these fanciest of fancy new buildings are subjected to a front-row viewing of everyone’s clutter. These multimillion-dollar apartments are more akin to flop houses or unkempt college dorms than they are to high-end living. It is, simply put, an ocular assault of epic proportions.

Windows are much coveted here, and with good reason. After all, living atop one another in such close quarters means that a view outside—even if it’s just a tiny sliver of sky—is all we got. Back in the day, when downtown tenements thrived, people hung everything outside: laundry, food, more laundry. Ropes crisscrossed the streets in order to hang whatever could be hung out the window. We’ve essentially come full circle.

Didn’t developers or planning boards consider for even the briefest of moments what these buildings would look like from the sidewalk? Did no one ponder what all those see-through buildings would behold?

Apparently not, because now we’re stuck with an unsightly panty parade up above.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Farmer Mon

I found myself digging for potatoes in Central Park last week. Let’s just say that ended poorly. Seems the Central Park Conservancy doesn’t encourage that kind of thing. On Monday, I walked behind a pig while he rooted for truffles near the trees at Centre Street. The Court Clerks weren’t amused. And today I picked what I thought were edible flowers along the East River bike path—an altogether inadvisable endeavor.

I can’t help myself. I might live in one of the most urban spots on the planet, but there’s farm in my blood. Maybe you have some too. If you find yourself fondling produce at the Union Square greenmarket on Saturdays, or plotting an escape from your concrete confines to an orchard three hours outside the city to pick your own, you’re probably harboring a farm gene or two.

Fortunately, I was able to get my farm on last month when I visited family in Cleveland. My grandmother’s garden was ready for the final harvest. I picked two giant baskets of tomatoes, upwards of 100 hot peppers, a massive bunch of parsley and one zucchini. A giant zucchini. A zucchini so impressive in its enormity it put all other zucchinis that had come before it to shame.

It was five pounds and bigger than my head. Bigger than my forearm. Heck, it was as big as the puppy.



It took days to eat. There was grilled zucchini, zucchini fries, zucchini sauté. By Day 4 of cooking nothing but zucchini for my husband, my quest to consume every last bit of this most massive of vegetables assumed a Dr. Suessian quality to it. Will you eat it off the grill? I will not eat it off the grill. I will not eat it off the sill. I do not like zucchini roast, zucchini toast and most of all, zucchini poached!

Suffice it to say we eventually (some might say “unwillingly”) ate the entire zucchini. Which is good, because I hear it was a bumper crop year for squash.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Farewell, Gourmet

Foodies everywhere felt a disturbance in the force this week. Yes, I speak of the surprise shuttering of Gourmet, the magazine that chronicled all things culinary for nearly seven decades. Upon hearing that Condé Nast had pulled the plug in the most unceremonious of ways, I did the only thing a self-respecting foodie could do: I made myself a chocolate-hazelnut torte and promptly consumed half. What can I say? I was mourning.

Gourmet’s many obits have discussed the reasons for the publisher’s move—declining ad rates, slumping circulation, the changing landscape of luxury lifestyle mags and, of course, the trying economy. There are myriad reasons, but the end of the day you just can’t get around the fact that from a return-on-investment perspective, you get a lot more bang for your buck online. And that leaves me with mixed emotions—kind of like when I’m faced with the choice between a flourless chocolate cake and a chocolate pot de crème.

Don’t get me wrong, as someone who worked in online journalism for years, I fully appreciate the immediate nature and community feel of electronic media. But I’m also old school. I got into journalism, many years ago because I loved writing and reading. Newspapers, yes, but especially magazines. There’s something about the feel of them—the pleasure that you get from leafing through a new magazine can be positively transformative. Much like when you unwrap a Baci chocolate.

So Gourmet is gone now and it’s a loss. A loss as sad as a gummy meringue, as a burnt cookie, as a dry, overdone steak.

You’ll notice I left out deflated soufflé—no one, after all, likes over-the-top food analogies.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Another One For the X-Files

It's October. If anyone is even reading this blog anymore, my apologies for the radio silence. There is only one explanation and I must be honest and own up to the lack of words on my end: I was abducted by aliens.

All I can say is that I'm happy to be back from the tight confines of the spaceship that hoovered me up from midtown more than a month ago. No more meals of green algae and moon rocks. No more reruns of Three's Company. And no more square dancing. Man, do those aliens love their square dancing.

And polkas.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Foodies of the World Unite!

I’m an unabashed foodie, something I’ve yet to delve into at length on this blog—probably because I wanted to appear well-rounded, interested in other subjects. And I am. To a point.

But once talk turns to truffle-making technique, salt (with which I have an intense and ongoing love affair) or olive oil, all bets are off. I become a singularly focused conversational missile, only able to talk about all things culinary. Tuna steak preparation, that new restaurant downtown, my latest green market find—I can offer a more learned opinion on any of these topics than I can about health care reform, which I realize is nothing to be proud of.

I started thinking about the power of cooking and great food last night after dinner—two of our dear friends cooked an amazing, thoughtful meal and brought it to our home. (Everyone should have friends like these.) Food, like sports or even politics, has the ability to stir up passions within people. It offers connection and comfort, and sometimes, near-death experiences.

Take salmon. Back in the mid ‘90s, I lived in an Oompah Loompah-sized studio apartment that had a cramped galley kitchen outfitted with appliances made by, I think, PlaySkool. In this fraction of a kitchen I attempted to make a fabulous-looking salmon recipe, which involved successful broiling, glazing and proper ventilation—all of which I failed. Miserably. Fast forward 10 years to my folk’s backyard grill in Cleveland where I tried to grill an entire side of salmon. Never mind that I’d never grilled before (living in Manhattan might afford you a lot of things, but access to a barbecue isn’t one of them). I slathered it with more oil than the Exxon Valdez spilled (my first mistake), put it on a blazing hot grill (my second mistake) and then left it there for much, much too long. Like 45 minutes long. That was my third and final mistake before the neighbors called the village fire department because they thought my parents’ house was ablaze. It wasn’t, but I still haven’t been allowed near the grill.

Ok, so maybe cooking salmon isn’t exactly my strong suit, but the point is that cooking can bring happiness, tether people to one another and even mend fences.

That is, provided a team of burly firemen doesn't intervene first.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Anything You Can Do...

The other day I opened up the latest issue of Martha Stewart magazine to find a calendar listing everything I won’t be doing in the month of September. It’s uncanny.

Take, for example, Sept. 8, a day I won’t be picking hot peppers or stringing them to dry. On Sept. 13, I won’t be taking a horseback ride (don’t even know how). Nor will I be picking apples or making applesauce. And I won’t be taking fall sweaters, coats and boots out of storage (I keep everything smushed in one closet). Not only that, but on Sept. 21, I won’t be scrubbing porch floors, ceilings and walls (don't have a porch to scrub). I also won’t be sowing greens in cold frames. I don’t even know what that means. Finally, on Sept. 26 I won’t be touching up indoor paint while the humidity is low and the windows can be opened.

See what I mean? It’s like Martha is a mind reader or something. I won’t be inspecting deer fencing, harvesting potatoes or adding the last of the tomato plants to the compost pile. All I can say is I’m awed by her insight into my life.

Hang on—this isn’t a calendar chronicling everything I won’t be doing. It’s Martha's 30-day organized list of domestic insanity: a.k.a. what she'll be doing.

Naturally.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

This Month in World News

In case you’ve been away in August and missed the biggest news stories of the month, I’ve encapsulated them below.

– Peru and Bolivia moved to the brink of international crisis, with both countries crying foul, accusing the other of committing unthinkable theft and reaping economic devastation. A trade agreement gone awry? A serious diplomatic breach? No. The subject was bigger than Peru’s never-ending reshuffle of its presidential cabinet, more alarming than the uptick of coca shrub cultivation in Bolivia. I speak, of course, of the Miss Universe pageant costumes. Seems those of Peru and Bolivia looked alike. This horrifying development stoked the ire of both the Peruvian Congress and Bolivian diplomats, prompted a protest in front of the Peruvian embassy in Washington D.C. and caused the Bolivian government to run commercials defending its ownership of said costume. There was talk of going to The Hague for resolution. Seriously. In the end, it was Donald Trump, he of all things classy and diplomatic, who settled the dispute: Miss Venezuela was crowned the winner.

– In order to curry votes, German candidate Vera Lengsfeld took a page from the playbook of Italian Prime Minister/Top European Horndog Silvio Berlusconi. Lengsfeld erected humongous signs of herself in a low-cut number next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who, in her photograph, donned an even more risque and revealing top. The billboard's tagline: "We have more to offer."


– Every now and again there's a story so dramatic, so heart wrenching, so utterly crucial to the global community's welfare that it captivates the masses. Yes, I speak of Paula Abdul's departure from American Idol. For those who thought Ms. Abdul's relevance faded in the 80s after she danced her way through a video with a cartoon dog and Arsenio Hall, you couldn't have been more mistaken. For the past however many years she's happily gurgled her encouraging platitudes to hopeful stars, offered up countless excuses for odd behavior (including that well-worn chestnut "The manicurist did it!") and...well, I'm having trouble thinking of a third thing. Although a third accomplishment remains elusive for Ms. Abdul, obviously she was worth more than her $5 million-a-year contract. It’s a loss we’ll be mourning for years to come.

– Finally, in news that’s bigger than the ongoing slugfest over revamping US healthcare or Iran’s continued march toward developing nuclear weapons, Tyra Banks announced that she’s going to reveal her real, weave-free hair on the Sept. 8 broadcast of her eponymously titled talkshow.

I'll end the roundup here, because news doesn't get bigger than Tyra's hair.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Lessons Learned

I've been fortunate this summer to visit several different beaches (all in the name of good reportage, of course), and I've learned there are certain immutable truths when it comes to that hallowed place where sand and water meet.

1. Kids are impervious to extreme temperature and the amount of sand stuck to them. In the course of a month, I've witnessed intrepid toddlers wade into the icy waters at the Cape to frolic unflinchingly while adults looked on from the beach, teeth a chatter. And I've seen kids at Long Beach, sand stuck to every inch of them, eat snacks from a sandy towel in a manner that can only be described as anteater-esque.

2. Potato chips taste better at the beach. There's a direct correlation between one's proximity to salt water and the number of Ruffles consumed. No sense in fighting it--you might as well try to defy gravity. At least that's what I keep telling myself.

3. I am the only person slathering on Coppertone SPF 60 for Babies like it's my job. While everyone else is getting Bain de Soleil beautiful, I'm acquiring the ghostly pallor of Casper. I am officially the only person on the East Coast who's actively getting paler by going to the beach. This is not an exaggeration--Guinness has phoned me. Ditto for Weekly World News.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sheer Madness

It’s T-minus 5 until the season premiere of Mad Men, which, I can safely say without a hint of hyperbole, is one of the best shows on television on any planet, in any galaxy.

Like any good Maddict, in preparation for the Big Event, I’ve made a computerized Mad Men character of myself, courtesy of MadMenYourself.com. I’ve submitted pics to an open casting call for a walk-on part in an upcoming episode (fingers crossed!). I’ve picked out an appropriate 60s-era style outfit for Sunday’s televised extravaganza. And I plan to watch the marathon of last season’s episodes so that I’m fully prepared for every plot twist and boozy innuendo that may arise on Sunday.

I know. This isn’t normal behavior for someone older than 13. DuranDuran might evoke such insanity in a seventh grader, but Don Draper prompting such lunacy from a…well, someone considerably older?

Here’s the thing though: I’m not alone. There are Maddicts everywhere—thousands, nay, millions of us. It truly is a mad, mad world.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The News from Long Beach

It’s a steamy 86 degrees here at Long Beach, a place where all the women are tan, all the men are buff and all the children are excellent surfers.

The beach is pure peace in the early morning. True, everything has a certain calm to it at 5:45 a.m., but when you’re standing with your toes in the sand and can look for miles and see nothing except for beach, surf and sky, you feel like you’re smack in the middle of serenity. And that’s a nice place to start your day.

Today, the baby stroller brigade power-walked up the boardwalk in its usual purposeful way. Everyone knows to stay clear of the swarm of spandex-clad women pushing their most precious cargo and squeezing their hind quarters. Once, in August of 1989, someone didn’t heed the call, “Comin’ Through!” He walked with a limp for a month.

Tanning begins early here. It’s a sport for some, a job for others. The locals have a range of sun-kissed skin tones—cocoa, caramel, bronze—all of which are well-developed. You can tell who lives here year round by their degree of tan, and who is riding over a bridge into town with their SPF 60 that’s the consistency of glue. The locals abide the tourists, but that’s about it.

Parking in Long Beach isn't so much a chore as a crusade. Spots near the sand are hard to come by and expertly managed by local residents. Some move motorcycles from their garages to hold a space on the street if their car is being used. Others jump to move their car from their designated space to an open spot if company is dropping by. It's part Survivor, part Seinfeld.

Tonight is the annual Sun Dance, a time when everyone in town holds hands on the beach and bows three times: Once for the sand and sea, twice for the invention of surf boards and thrice for those squat, aluminum beach chairs that fold up to the width of a pancake. So, if you’re around this evening, by all means head to the beach for the festivities. And if you’re coming from that craggy rock to the west, one recommendation: Get a spray tan first.

My regards to Garrison Keillor.

Water from the Rock

The other day, water started gushing from the sidewalk in several spots near my apartment—kind of like an urban geyser. Since Manhattan is not Saratoga Springs, I thought something was probably amiss. Not that passersby cared—they merely walked around the Second Avenue sidewalk spring system. Some jumped over it.

Then the water began pushing through the sidewalk with greater force. Shortly thereafter, five fire trucks and one fire chief SUV screamed to the scene, transforming Second and 55th into the set of Rescue Me. Firemen strode to and fro around the spring system and eventually began circling in the street in front of it. A frenzy of activity commenced, including chopping pavement, pounding a big metal rod into the street and threading a fire hose into the underground labyrinth of aging pipes and infrastructure upon which everything on this island is built. Then the red ConEd truck arrived: the ultimate harbinger of utility doom.

By this point, the Second Avenue Springs had attracted quite the crowd of onlookers. Word quickly spread that the water sprouting forth from the sidewalk was said to have curative powers. Others said that it was the fountain of youth that the Manhattoes (the Native Americans who reportedly sold Manhattan for a couple of MetroCards and a street pretzel) used to bathe in. Soon throngs were rushing to the Springs with empty water bottles, filling them up by the dozens. Finally, folks said, there was a cure for deep vein thrombosis/joint pain/sinus headaches/acne/stress/hair loss/the common cold!

The businesses near the Springs wasted no time: The antiques dealer hurriedly hauled out 20 carpets to display in front of his store; the gelato place started handing out free samples of gelato; the Chinese food place rolled out a dim sum cart. A kid selling “I Drank From the Second Avenue Springs” t-shirts angled for room next to a bearded preacher who cautioned against turning away from the Lord to the Springs. Then a fight broke out between two deli owners over who actually owned the Springs. Donald Trump declared that he intended to purchase the air rights over the gushing water, which brought community activists to the Springs to protest any and all development around this natural wonder.

Suddenly, the water stopped gushing. The Springs just went dry. The firemen high fived each other, another job done—and just in the nick of time because there was a sinkhole on East 38th Street to tend to. The crowd, having got word of the magical earth crater that had revealed itself to Murray Hill, headed south.

It was, in other words, just another Tuesday.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Easy Rider

As I write this I'm in a car, cruising along 495, a banged-up bit of pavement that will bring me (traffic willing) to Long Beach. I'm in the passenger seat, typing, surfing the Internet and doing it all without wires. The words, they just cannot be held back!

That I'm utilizing such technological wizardry is the real wonder here, considering that up until a couple of years ago I still had a VCR, a walkman (yes, with cassette tapes), a TV the size of a Kia and home phone with an actual cord. When I first moved to New York back in '94, I lived too close to the Empire State Building and my cordless phone picked up the top-40 station whenever I used it. Conversations had their own built-in background music. I talked with friends and family to Counting Crows, argued with my landlord to Ace of Base and called for pizza to Sheryl Crow. Two weeks after I moved into that apartment I couldn't take it and gave up on wireless telephony entirely. For more than a decade.

Then I married an early adopter--a term for tech-savvy folks who gobble up the latest and greatest technological whiz-bangs like M&Ms. Shortly thereafter, I had all manner of iPods, televisions and wireless gadgets everywhere: phones, computers stereo systems, books. If Captain James T. Kirk were to walk out of my kitchen, touch his communicator and request to be beamed somewhere, I wouldn't even bat an eye, because when you live on the Starship Enterprise, see, these things happen.

There is one thing that all this technology can't do: prevent car sickness...gotta post this thing before I ralph.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Modern Day David v. Goliath

I love a good underdog story. Being from Cleveland and forced to suffer through season after season of sports heartbreaks, you pretty much have to be. (A moment of silence, if you will, for the Cavs.)

But this isn’t about Cleveland sports (Shaq? Really?) or their tough seasons (the Indians: currently the second worst team in baseball). No, this about corporate underdogs. And by that, I mean Microsoft.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking: Microsoft is the Antitrust Godzilla, the Bully Bundler, the Strongarmer of Operating Systems. Maybe that was true—a decade ago. The PC game has changed, as everyone knows. Everything is knitted to the Internet, which is why Google is the new bully, the new Big Brother. Literally. Microsoft isn’t scanning your email for keywords to see what ads it can display. Google is. Microsoft isn’t taking pictures of the front of your house and your neighbor’s house. Google is. And guess what Google is also doing now: Developing an operating system to bundle with its Internet browser.

Google’s tentacles are getting longer and stronger, something to consider today when everything about everyone is online. It’s only a matter of time before Google becomes Jabba the Hut of all that is tech. Bottom line: Steve Ballmer is going to have to find something else to rally the troops. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4860483760049380308

Hang on—I just realized that I use Google blogger...and they’ll pay me to show ads. Ok, nevermind what I said earlier. Google on, people. Google on.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Ratatouille

There are some upsides to New York’s rainy season. Everything has been washed clean. It’s not too hot yet. The park is as verdant as you’ve ever seen it. The sunlight has that summer sparkle to it. It is, simply put, urban perfection.

This idyllic time of year always takes me back to 2003 when I was working as a financial journalist. The tradeoff to the long hours was the office’s proximity to the park, which meant evening runs. I remember I’d just wrapped up a very long day—Steve Jobs had burped or something and Wall Street was all a twitter with what that meant for Apple’s valuation—and all I wanted to do was lace up my sneakers and hit the park.

I ran up to the reservoir, breathing in the fresh air. I ran around the reservoir, fully appreciating the leafy canopy. I headed back south along the main drive and at the top of one of the hills, it was there in that amber evening light, with a soft little breeze, that the peace of it all hit me—it was one of those moments where I thought, Yes. This is why I live here. This is why I pay an ungodly amount of money for 250 square feet of personal space. This feeling right now. Right here.

And then I saw it. A big, fat rat on the other side of the street. It was so big and so fat it looked fake. It was grotesque in its size. I picked up my pace to get past him as quickly as possible. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the rat start running. Right for me. The frackin’ thing was galloping like a Belmont racehorse toward my legs. I ran faster, pumping my arms, convinced I that I could outrun him. The rat altered his trajectory and galloped faster and faster still. I looked to the left at the rat locomotive coming at me and then straight ahead, running faster and faster. Look left. Omigod, omigod, omigod. Look right. With each terrifying peek to the left I took, I realized the rat was gaining on me. The next look left confirmed what I feared most, it was gunning for me.

When the rat tank was about a foot away I started yelling. Kind of a low yell at first, still in denial that this was actually happening, that built into a shrill crescendo of pure panic. Then what I thought couldn’t be happening, wouldn’t ever happen, did: The rat smacked right into my legs, his bulbous ratty body and long, thick tail tangling up with my Sauconys. I screamed. I screamed louder. I screamed so loudly that the speedster bicyclists, who normally only slow down if they hit a child or animal, actually stopped to take in the horrific rat/screaming-girl wonder that was taking place before them. Then they laughed and rode away.

So much for urban perfection.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wee Me

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I’m revising my manuscript. That’s a lie. I’m actually weewaring.

Perhaps you’re not familiar with the online phenomenon that is Weewar. It is, as the name suggests, a war fought on the wee-est of scales: a computer screen. It’s a grand, turn-based battle game with wee armies made up of wee tanks, troopers, heavy artillery, hovercrafts, destroyers and battleships—it’s all wee! For procrastinators such as myself (English major/editor/writer), this is, simply put, the purest cut of time-suckage crack.

In fact, I’m engaged in a weewar battle as I write this. As I type, my hovercrafts are delivering a wee whomping to johnmd20’s feeble forces. (Ok, they’re not. But you don’t know that. For all you know, I’m Patton when it comes to wee strategy.)

Yes, there are folks out there who are researching cures for diseases, working hard to keep our financial system afloat and cleaning up environmental disasters. I’m blogging and weewaring. I mean, I might as well be a New York state Senator.

When asked about weewar, I typically pause (thoughtfully, of course) and then liken it to chess, proffering that it presents all the strategic challenges of this timeless and most intellectual of pursuits. By the end of my description, you’d think playing weewar was akin to debating the nuances of Plato’s cave. That’s how much lipstick I put on this pig. To explain why I’m playing a computer game. Like it’s my job.

Yes, I’ve wrapped myself in such a thick armor of denial that even a heavy tank couldn’t bring me down. You see the problem, right? The need to own up to my actions fully and completely. The duty to take responsibility for my weewaring. I’m doing it, after all, so who else can I blame?

My husband.

Now, I make it a point not to drag family or friends into this blog, because, really, they didn’t sign up for that. But I cannot in good conscience discuss my ceaseless, near-problematic weewaring without laying blame squarely where it belongs: not on me.

For those of you who haven’t been enlisted to weewar by this most ardent wee recruiter to whom I’m married, you soon will be. My advice: join before a draft is instituted. There is an upside: I now get a great break on tuition and can buy yellow cheese by the 10-pound brick at the Ft. Hamilton military commissary in Brooklyn.

Be strong. Be weewar strong.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Life Under the Big Top

Not sure if you’ve been paying attention to the veritable three-ring circus that is the New York state Senate, but, really, you’d be hard-pressed to find a higher-quality production of Theater of the Absurd in the tri-state area.

So far, Democrats have locked out Republicans from the Senate chamber, both sides have fought to bang the big “official” gavel, and each has held separate legislative sessions (in separate corners of said chamber), passing entirely different bills.

And that was just Tuesday.

It all started earlier this month when an entitled billionaire felt his voice wasn’t being duly considered by the Democratic Party, whose campaign coffers he’d lined. He is a billionaire, after all—and billionaires have rights. So he did what any fat-cat contributor would do: orchestrated a power shift involving one Democratic state Senator who’s accused of assaulting a woman, and another who’s been fined for failing to disclose campaign contributions and whose nonprofit is being investigated for allegedly misappropriating funds. Our billionaire Iago (whose political action committee is currently being investigated) pinned his ambitions on these two upstanding elected officials in hopes that nudging them to the other side of the aisle would give Republicans a slight voting advantage. Maybe this party would listen to his money. I mean, him. Listen to him.

The ensuing allegiance mash-up in early June led to Democrats locking Republicans out of the chamber, one of the flip-flopping Senators dramatically producing a skeleton key, everyone threatening litigation and, predictably, the appearance of a clown (sent to the Capitol by The New York Post).

Granted, such loony-toon antics aren’t new to Albany, which ranks as one of the most ineffective state seats in the US. This is, after all, the body that hasn’t managed to pass a budget on time since the late 1700s. But even by the ant-belly lows routinely reached by the New York state legislature, the current state of events looks pretty bad.

So, this is where we are, New Yorkers. Bills that ultimately will determine such weighty matters as same-sex marriage and the control of New York City schools are effectively back burnered. And while a billionaire-cum-politico is enjoying his Happy Days, we the people keep waiting for Senators to behave like Senators.

Samuel Beckett would be proud.

Monday, June 15, 2009

My World and Welcome to It

I'm not the only person trying to get a book published.

I know. I too was floored when I found this out. There are upwards of 50,000 of us. Turns out I'm not the only one who's stepped off the corporate treadmill to pursue a writing career. (Full disclosure: my last gig was at Citigroup, so the treadmill wasn't actually moving. Or plugged in to the wall.) There are like 290 million of us trying to break into the market. Or is that the population of the US? Whatever. Point is, it's a really big frackin' number and the odds are precisely a googleplex to one that I'll be published. This is what happens when you attend writers' conferences. Where's a can of vanilla frosting when you need it?

I much prefer living in delusion in my living room where I write. There, I'm a smashing success. My book's been published, the characters are adored (so real!), the writing is applauded (so witty!), the concept is lauded (so original!). Oprah can't get enough of me. She delights in the story I tell about why I decided to write my bestseller. When I appear on her show, she revels in the details I share about a sequel. Then she unsheathes her sword, taps me on both shoulders and knights me. Dame Monica Comas, Writer of All That is Smart, Funny and Commercially Viable. The title's a little clunky, yeah, but it's Oprah, so really, I'm not about to quibble. All of this unfolds like a fairy tale on daytime television, where all things wonderful happen like Judge Judy, Judge Alex, Judge Hatchett, Judge Joe Brown, Judge Karen, Judge Mathis, Judge Jeanine Pirro, Judge David Young and Judge Penny. Ok, nevermind. Point being, Oprah loves me.

Some might say this pitch conference I recently went to was timely given that I've come perilously close to slipping into a full-on Walter Mittyesque coma. They'd be right.

Cleanliness is Not Next to Me

I'm coming off of a four-day stretch of daily showers. This is, I realize, not exactly something any adult should be sharing. With anyone. And I made a promise to myself that I would never, ever write about such matters on, of all things, a blog. But this isn't about my personal hygiene achievements, remarkable as they are, it's about writing.

Leaving a full-time job for a more flexible stay-at-home schedule of freelancing in order to finish a book can affect your daily routine. Work clothes, for example, are optional. Heels: optional. And the longer you keep this alternative-work schedule, showers too become optional.

It's a slippery slope though. Soon enough, you're lounging around in a tank and a pair of well-worn pants that have a goodly amount of elastic (or, at least they used to). You start to forego the daily showers, perhaps the combing of hair. If you have a dog, maybe you throw on a pair of cargo pants when you take him out for a walk then change back into your comfy pants to write. This gradually starts to typify a good writing day. The words are flowing, the pages are piling up, everything is clicking. But you've already started cruising down on this unkempt highway, so where do you go when you have a bad writing day?

Remember that movie Death Becomes Her? Goldie Hawn's character experiences a bit of a personal setback. At one point she reels around--hair a horror, resplendent in a pajama top/sweat pant ensemble--and uses two fingers to scoop out vanilla frosting from a can and mash the blob into her mouth. This is a close approximation of what it's like to have a bad writing day.















I'm currently working on revisions of said book. I used to be a financial journalist, and despite the risk of having the SEC charge me with passing along insider information, I put forth this next tidbit (do with it what you will): In February 2007, affiliates of The Blackstone Group acquired Crunch Holding Corp., parent company of Pinnacle Foods Group Inc. Pinnacle Foods makes...wait for it... all 22 varieties of Duncan Hines frosting.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Celebrity, Thy Name is Spencer

It’s happened again. I’ve been sucked in to what can only be described as the lowest-common denominator of television programming. I speak not of Rock of Love, Brett Michaels's hopeless ‘ho fest, that wades unrepentantly into the shallowest, most degrading end of the XX gene pool. Nor am I talking about Wipeout, where hapless contestants trip over, smash into and fall off of all manner of padded obstacles (a step up from last year when contestants had to contort their bodies to match cutouts in a wall speeding toward them or else have the wall smack them into a pool of water). No, I’m referring to I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.

The show offers a veritable cornucopia of moments to critique, so it’s difficult to know where to start, but the title is a good place. The name of the show presupposes that cast members are card-carrying members of the celebrity set. Janice Dickenson, Spencer Pratt, Torrie Wilson (I know, I had no idea who she was either). Enough said.

It’s hard to say what’s more horrifying about the show: Janice Dickenson’s rubber-faced contortions when she’s in the mad throws of a cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs fit (which occurs with the regularity of the sun rising and setting), or Spencer Pratt’s proclamations of possessing a level of fame unachieved by Anyone. Anywhere. Ever. I’m going to go with the latter.

Before losing all semblance of judgment and tuning into I’m a Celebrity, I’d seen this California hobbit on the covers of gossip mags. So right there, you see, I knew he was a celebrity. Just like Jon and Kate, the Octomom and Dina Lohan. And like many celebrities, he has a sidekick: his wife Heidi, who, in one episode, picks at Spencer’s hair like a chimp grooming her young. She’s the whiney Robin to his delusional Batman, the brassy-blonde Starsky to his hairy Hutch, the…you get the picture. In one dramatic episode, Spencer proclaims to the camera as he’s being driven away in a white SUV that he doesn’t volunteer (the celebrities are allegedly “playing” for charities), he gets paid. In other words, just like a celebrity. Of course, the next episode showed Spencer and Heidi begging to be allowed back on the show. What a twist! These celebrities, you never know what they’re going to do.

So, Spencer is the most famous person in the world. This much is irrefutable. Sorry Mother Teresa, Shakespeare, Oprah. You guys should be so lucky as to realize the greatness, the fame, the pinnacle of societal contribution that Spencer Pratt has. Then you too could eat bugs, deliver verbal bitch-slaps and make a mockery of the human race once a week on television.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Toiletries Unite!

I consider myself to be a connoisseur of drugstores. Some girls know fashion or decor. I know toiletries. I can spend an hour in a drug store in contemplative bliss, reviewing all the products that can make my skin dewier, legs softer and teeth whiter. It's my own cocoon of personal-improvement. All I have to do is reach for a product on the shelf, place it in my plastic shopping basket and I'm that much closer to being more moisturized, less stinky, better makeuped.

Of course, living in New York, I'm cursed with the drugstore wasteland that is DuaneReade. It's one of those crappy institutions that's part of the unwritten tradeoff for living here. You want to order sushi at 3 a.m.? Fine. But you have to get your toiletries at DuaneReade. Want a certain type of cream--maybe a nice aloe-cucumber blend? Too damn bad. You'd take whatever Russian Cold-War era selection DuaneReade offers.

At some point some years back, competitor chains--CVS and Walgreens--caught wind of the dearth of Manhattan toiletry competition and they moved in with their well-lit, amply stocked stores. They offered choice--even food. It was cause for celebration. Since then, I've been known to disappear into the welcoming aisles of these stores for an alarming amount of time, emerging with all manner of candies, lotions and makeup.

So you can understand my horror when I popped by a relatively new Walgreens on the Upper East Side last weekend, eager to get my drugstore on, and found the toiletries locked up. That's right, under guard. Lock and key. Surely this must be a joke, I thought as I strolled through the aisles in disbelief. All varieties of Degree deodorant and Head & Shoulders shampoo were jailed behind thick lucite doors, secured with brass locks. Ditto for the EPT pregnancy tests, the Children's Motrin and its kiddie medicinal neighbors. I walked by entire stretches of toiletry shelves that were secured like they were part of a precious art exhibit or something. It was unreal. It couldn't get any worse in drugstoreland. It was then that I saw it: the imprisoned Extra bubblegum.

Now, this particular Walgreens is across the street from a swanky new building, the Lucidia, where condo prices are said to start at $2 million. (I say "said to start at $2 million" because this is one of those exclusive residential fortresses that doesn't advertise prices.) I'm sure you see the screaming societal message here. Upper East Siders are so cash-strapped and hygienically challenged that they've taken to stuffing their Louis Vuitton carryalls with whatever their manicured hands can grab. It's sad, really. These are tortured people, to be sure. But has anyone considered the plight of the Upper East Side toiletries that are, at this very moment, being held against their will? Was it because of their demands for a free press? Democratic elections? I can't be sure. But I do know this: We cannot lock up the brands of antiperspirants and shampoos that we don't agree with. We must free these poor plastic containers of personal-improvement product from their captivity! Join me in this most important of campaigns. This oppressive Upper East Side Walgreens regime must be toppled!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Ham for the Holidays

I don't know if it's because I was an English major (we are, after all, a people beset by overthinking, inaction and a dearth of business sense) but I've held an eclectic array of jobs as an adult.

Most college students use their summers to strengthen their resumes by doing internships, perhaps some meaningful volunteering. I worked at a Jersey shore ice cream parlor scooping ice cream. Many college grads have jobs lined up before graduation. The year after I graduated, I waitressed at restaurants in three different states, taught English as a second language (for two months...for free) and took a pottery class (which my parents paid for). Then, like any good English major, I went to graduate school.

But the position that I think defined this ratty patchwork quilt of part-time jobs was my stint at Honey Baked Ham. For the uninitiated, there's a chain of stores in the Midwest dedicated to the peddling of pig. It's quite the brisk business during the holidays. So it's little wonder that my predisposition for challenging part-time employment drew me to the wood-paneled, oddly cavernous shop. Here I would fulfill my ham-hawking destiny.

Now, the holiday business being what it was, customers knew to call ahead and order their hams. Thus, part of the job entailed manning the Ham Hotline. We followed an elaborate script to carefully match customers' dinner needs with appropriate ham sizes. It went something like this:

1) Ask customers how many servings they need.
2) Look at Ham chart.
3) Tell customer ham size.

Then--this was the key part of the entire exchange--we were to give the callers a letter. "A" for a small ham. "B" for a medium-sized ham. And "C"...you get the picture. It was at this point in the conversation that much confusion ensued. Customers would question why they weren't required to give their name. Didn't they have to give their name? How would they be sure they'd get a ham if they didn't give their name? Could they give their credit card number to secure a ham? Customers' fear of not having a more formal contract in place guaranteeing their right to ham produced no shortage of angst. We assured them they didn't need to provide a name, or anything else. And here was the beauty of why: People got to come in and personally select the exact ham of their dreams.

Which brings me to the second part of the job: working the Ham Counter. I never understood why the store was so bizarrely large. It was about the size of a small roller rink, yet there were only a couple displays of mustard in the entire place. The rest of the store, covered in this rust-colored carpeting that concealed all manner of spills, was empty. After the first day of ham pickups, I understood why, as frenzied throngs descended upon the store, filling it up entirely, anxious to select their hams.

If you were working the counter, you had to haul out hams from the refrigerator cases behind said counter and "show" them. Like some pork pageant. Say a "B" ham customer came in. You'd pick out a ham from the case, set it on the counter, carefully unwrap the heavy gold foil and show the ham. You'd look at the ham with pride, as if to say, I wish I could have this ham...or, yes, this is a good ham. If the customer didn't like that particular ham--say it had too much fat, or was too small--you'd rewrap the ham with a smile, put it back in the refrigerator and retrieve another to show. You'd repeat your same fawning over the next ham. Customers could ask to see as many hams as they wanted. There was no limit. No matter how much ham juice dripped on you, no matter how much of that hard, honey-baked coating stuck to your shirt, no matter how many times you cut your cold fingers on that industrial foil, you kept showing hams. You'd get customers who would ask to see 10, 12, sometimes 14 hams before they settled on one.

For 12 hours at a time I would do this on the days I worked the counter. I didn't even eat meat. I didn't care, though. I realized I had reached the pinnacle of my part-time employment career: I was the Vanna White of ham.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sign of the Times

While driving down a highway, you've no doubt seen those Adopt-a-Highway signs. It's not the program I take issue with. Adopt-a-Highway, which operates in some form or another in all 50 states, according to the New York State DOT website, is an admirable endeavor: a public/private partnership that aims to make our roadways cleaner. That's good stuff. Great stuff, in fact. It's the signs I have a problem with.

I ran by one such sign today on the East Side Highway. A big, rusty blue sign announcing that Gabelli had adopted the next mile of road. A gold star for Gabelli for sending someone out there to pick up trash four times a year. Does that merit a sign? No. The sign is just another unsightly bit of pollution that should be disposed of. Why is such signage necessary anyway? I understand that the various departments of transportation across the country want to entice businesses and civic groups to participate in these programs. But really. Does Gabelli, which has like a gazillion dollars under management, really need a huge sign to acknowledge its civic charity? Does the Hospital for Specialty Surgery? Does Trump? (Ok, dumb question.)

Why do we as a society need more pointless signs? As it is, we're crowded by them from every side. As if that weren't bad enough, sports franchises and landmark venues trip over themselves to sell off their naming rights to the highest bidder--or just to any two-bit bidder (hello Citi Field)--creating yet more excuses for signs.

The larger issue, in the case of Adopt-a-Highway, is that we're a society that needs acknowledgement to an obscene degree. Why can't we just show up somewhere and pick up trash on our own volition? Why does it have to be acknowledged with a big garish sign? Surely we can do better as a people, no?

And that includes myself, of course. Not only did I run by the sign today, I ran past all the trash that carpeted the grass alongside the road (bang up job, Gabelli). Then I came home and took the mightiest of all mighty steps: I blogged about it. Nice.

Fortunately, not everyone is like me. Because when I had turned around and passed the sign again, what did I see but a woman in her 50s or 60s, walking with her lumbering bulldog and slowly picking up trash along the side of the road with her bare hands. Like she was tidying her own backyard or something. That's the beauty of New York, really: Every now and again you see someone treating a public space so respectfully you'd think it was their own. And, of course, the point is that space was hers--and mine. Although I just ran on by.

Amazingly enough, she didn't need a sign applauding her efforts. She just did it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

All Hail the Boob Tube

If you’re like me, you’re eagerly anticipating the return of Mad Men, one of the best shows on t.v. What is going to happen to Don and Betty? Will he return home? Will she crumble like a dry cookie again and return to her housecoat-wearing, a.m. wine-drinking, chain smoking ways? Will Salvatore ever emerge from the closet? Will Joan find happiness? What will happen with Peggy? With Peggy and Pete? So many questions, so many cocktails—and it’s not even 9 a.m.

And then there’s that bit of Miami spy fabulousness that is Burn Notice. Michael! Fiona! Their friend with the enormous chin! I can’t wait for their return….christ, I watch too much t.v.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Not Exactly Grrrrrrrrrrreat!

I’m learning how to golf. I’ve been learning how to golf now for 20 years. Ok, two. But it seems like 20. Here’s the insane part of it all: I actually like it. Why is that insane? Here’s a typical outing for me at the range:

1) Remove pitching wedge from bag.
2) Tee up ball.
3) Realize I’ve forgotten glove, so go back to rummage around in golf bag to find it….oooo, gum!
4) Eat piece of gum.
5) Find glove, put on, set up over tee again.
6) Get nervous.
7) Step away from tee, adjust velcro on glove a la Mike Hargrove.
8) Chew gum furiously.
9) Decide need another piece, retrieve said piece from bag.
10) While working massive gum wad in mouth, approach tee again.
11) Stand over ball trying to remember how I’m supposed to move—arms first, or hips?
12) Wonder to self why am at range, feeling very self conscious around all the men who are swinging with grace and perfection.
13) oh god oh god oh god oh god (thinking to self).
14) Take what I’m sure isn’t anything that would be considered a golf swing.
15) Miss ball entirely.
16) Remind myself it’s ok, because I get three strikes before I’m out.
17) Repeat steps 6-14.
18) Strike two.
19) frakfrakfrakfrakfrakfrakfrakfrakfrakfrakfrakfrak.
20) Man next to me looks in my direction and I realize my string of profanities wasn’t an internal monologue.
21) Chew another piece of gum. Like it’s my job.
22) Repeat steps 6-14.
23) Strike three.
24) Make like I meant to do that.
25) Gaze knowingly out at the range, the place where none of my balls have traveled to.
26) Walk with purpose to golf bag and retrieve 5-iron. Because, clearly, it’s the club.

Urban Dog Etiquette

If you don’t have a dog and you don’t live in New York, you might not be aware of urban dog etiquette. But there is such a thing. And all owners would do well to adhere to it. A few tenets of said etiquette follow:

First, don’t let your dogs go sniffing around other dogs’ behinds when they’re in the midst of serious business. And by that, I mean pooping. You just can’t throw another pooch off his game like that. Think about it: How would you feel if someone barged into the bathroom at the crucial point in your morning sitdown? Started sniffing and nosing around your bum? It could throw off your whole day. If you have an older dog and that happens, forget about it—he needs to start the entire poopy process all over again. In fact, he might not be able to muster up that poopy feeling anymore, which means he’s going to be impacted all day long. Have a heart, owners, keep your dog away from another dog’s butt when he’s in mid-poopy. For everyone’s sake.

Second, and this one is for the male dog owners out there who are blatantly using their dogs as pickup devices, do not follow a woman walking her dog and try to make small talk with her when she’s clearly not interested. Just don’t do it. Among other things, it’s creepy. And when she’s made it clear to you that she doesn’t want anything to do with you, don’t pepper her with questions about which dog runs she takes her dog or what routes she normally walks her dog. Does someone really need to tell you that this is double creepy? Yes, Midtown East Golden Lab owner, I’m talking to you.

Third, don’t let your dog get near another dog and start sniffing before you declare with a smile, “Sometimes he bites.” Thanks. You know what? Slap. Sometimes I hit.

Is This Thing On?

I know, another blog...exactly what the world needs. I was told by a prescient man years ago--years, mind you--to start blogging. Today, I'm finally getting around to it. What can I say? An early adopter I'm not.

Anyhoo, thought I’d use this inaugural posting to discuss, what else, but the Utter Awesomeness That Is LeBron James And The Cleveland Cavaliers. For those of you otherwise engaged in watching Dancing with the Stars last night (and really, why?), you missed King James leading the Cavs to a victorious sweep of the Atlanta Hawks. Granted, the game would never be described as their best. Not by a long shot. There were bouts of outright sloppy offense, but the Cavs kept digging in and fighting and that’s what made the game great. It’s a good metaphor for Cleveland, come to think of it...economic times being what they are and all.

Speaking of Cleveland, I’m running a half marathon there next weekend (not the full, mind you, the half). I should have run more/worked out more/stretched more/eaten fewer chocolate chips in preparation for the Big Run. However, as the days have slipped by and the race date has neared, I’ve come to fully embrace the theory that resting as much before the big race is the best approach. I’m on week three of rest.

My sister, on the other hand, is running regularly, mapping out the miles she’s racking up on her GPS-enabled super computer. Basically, preparing for the race like any sane runner should. (Note: There is really no such thing as a “sane runner”—just ask any runner.)

I don’t know why I’m so blasé about the race. Actually, I’m not blasé about the race, just the prep. I’m really excited for the actual race: It’s going to be a good time, it’s a great course (my sister and I ran it last year in the pouring rain and it was still frackin awesome) and it’s in our hometown. She comes in from Chicago, I come in from New York, we pack about eight day’s worth of carbo-loading into a 24-hour period and then we go out for a 13.1-mile jog. Afterwards, we get massages. In other words, it's a perfect couple of days. So why haven’t I prepared more? Maybe because after running two marathons and countless long runs in preparation for said marathons, the half marathon (which is shorter than many of the long runs you do before a marathon) feels more manageable. More fun. Less serious and stressful than the full. And that’s what the half is: fun. Then again, that’s coming from a runner, so consider the source.