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" 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.