Monday, November 1, 2010

Book Club? Just who do you think you are?

I'm going to a book club, I say to my husband. He looks at me as if I've grown a third eye. I rub my forehead and explain that this happens when a group of people all read the same book for the purpose of talking about it. Together.

He knows this but didn't fancy me the book club type. Neither did I. But during a late-night public television binge, I learn that talking to strangers and trying new things keeps your brain elastic, a good thing evidently, and wards off memory loss and Alzheimer's. (So does getting a good night's sleep. I'm shooting for two out of three.) The way I see it, if I'm talking to new people about books, I double the benefits. But that's my own math.

Late-night television can change your life.

Of course, I don't share this with my husband. That's not what marriage is about. And I ignore him when he gives me The Look, which tonight means it's-the-national-league-playoffs-and-I-just-bought-a-six-pack-but-you're-going-out-to-talk-about-a book-with-a-group-of-strangers-you-silly-woman-you. He doesn't understand that I need to get my brain functioning at full, make that half capacity again after spending a handful of years home with my son. And as PBS's Dr. BrainMan didn't mention anything about beer and baseball, Book Club it is.

The selection is John Irving's A Prayer For Owen Meany. I like John Irving and have read several of his books. Just not this one. At least I don't think so. I owned a copy once. But the only thing I can recall is the actress Ashley Judd getting knocked upside the head with a baseball, and I believe that's from Simon Birch, the movie adaption which I also didn't finish.

By Book Club standards, I'm guessing this is the same as not having read it.

I wonder aloud if I have time to Wikipedia the book. My husband, on the couch with beer in hand, rolls his eyes, loudly. I remind myself to keep inner dialogues ... in. Don't your Phillies have a baseball game to lose? I want to say this but decide on something more marriage-friendly. Go Phillies!

I'll have to fake it. I've faked it before.

Like that time back in 1993 when I sang in front of an audience while playing the guitar even though I don't play the guitar, a small detail that escaped my overly elastic 20-something brain. Or maybe it wasn't because of my brain at all but rather the fact that I was one of only a handful of Westerners living in that remote city in the middle of China.

It's like my BFF Julia Child likes to say, "Who's going to know?"

So, meeting a group of strangers for the purpose of examining a book about which I know squat, sounds fun. A mental challenge. Also Book Club is meeting near my Washington, DC apartment on a street named, ironically, Irving. Maybe I'll use that as I introduce myself around the room. Open with a joke.

I prepare some snacks, choose a bottle of wine and tie a scarf around my neck, which is odd because just as I'm not a book club person, I'm also not a scarf person until hearing recently that knowing how to tie a scarf separates the girls from the women, a tidbit I did not pick up from public television.

I blow mom and wife kisses out the door and prepare myself for greater brain elasticity.

I walk. And walk. And walk down Irving Street, which encircles the entire back side of my neighborhood, curls up a wooded street bordered by a zoo and then winds uphill. I walk a long, looping semi-circle when Irving runs out. There's not enough street to make it to the address. I call the host.

Oh, it's not on Irving. It's on another street, the street I wrote on an index card and placed in the pocket of my blazer. I look at my own handwriting and wonder how I could have possibly written one thing and read something completely different. I feel my aging Mother Brain hardening by the minute. The situation is critical. Must. Reach. Book Club ...

But that's not all. Just as I feel my brain hardening, I also feel my feet swelling. My sexy-in-a-graduate-student-kind-of-way, high-heeled espresso boots were a perfect choice had I not taken the circuitous scenic route around the entire neighborhood. Now with each step I'm pushing my luck, not to mention the whole heel height/walking distance continuum, which is precisely why I've never been a math person.

(This picture, a visualization of a diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) measurement of a human brain that I found on Wikipedia, is how I imagine my new-and-improved elastic brain will look, a mohawk in cool Winter colors.)

I'm late and breathy as I walk into Book Club. With a little sleight of hand, I distract the two other Book Clubbers with snacks and wine as my friend gives me a quick tour of the funky first floor of her house that could've been torn from an issue of Dwell magazine with it's modern, mid-century stylings. We talk furniture, home decor and how to incorporate Ikea items even if you're not an Ikea person.

I'm hoping that if we keep this up, we won't have time to actually talk about the book, a technique that got me through years of piano lessons.

But I need to sit and get rid of the annoying scarf that has done nothing but irritate my chin, something the chic French woman in that YouTube video demonstrating how to tie it properly did not warn against. As I decide that I'm not a scarf person and that I'll need to distinguish myself from The Girls in some other way (arm wrestling, might work), I notice something adorning all the other women. A book. They all brought a copy of the book. Of course. Blast, my poor accessorizing!

In fact, the host has an original first edition copy. This seems significant because she was hesitant to open it, let alone read it. The others comment on its beautiful spine. These people are serious. I think of my own dog-eared, water-stained, taped up books as I scan the host's gorgeous built-in book shelves. For what? A prop? I'll feel better if I have a book in my hands. Any book. Did I bring my day planner?

I have to think quickly. But I can't. That's the problem. That's why I'm here.
I was expecting to hide in the background where my occasional "hmm" and "that's a good point" wouldn't draw too much attention. Instead, I'm the fourth in a tightly knit square. No where to hide. I'll have to hold my corner. But this is good. My mind stirs, stiff from a five-year deep freeze as I psyche myself up. Speak in complete sentences. Be quick. Agile. Well, as agile as one can be while sitting, drinking wine and wearing high heel boots. T
hankfully, I remember to keep this inner dialogue where it belongs. See. Book Club is working already.

After we all share a bit about ourselves, the woman to my left, a lawyer, with book in lap and wine glass in hand, leans forward with an obvious air of Okay Let's Get Things Started and asks, "So, did anyone read the book this time?"

Well now. How very civil.

Even if it turns out that I'm not a Book Club person, these are my kind of Book Club people.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Closet Psychotic

Every time I open my closet, I hear voices.

They are from varied eras. Some have accents. Others speak in tongues. And they are all fighting.

A vintage suit circa 1960 is disgusted hanging next to the patchwork peasant skirt with a handkerchief hemline. Dirty hippie. Get a job.

The metallic disco shirt made without one stitch of natural fibers wonders rudely from what Mongolian rock the tribal wool coat has crawled. You're itchy and stink of yak.

The menswear bullies the delicate florals. And the ridiculous pair of skin-tight spandex pants that lace up the back is rocking back and forth in a corner begging to be taken seriously, muttering over and over, "I'm more than the bottom half of a pirate costume. I'm more ..."

I mean. Really. Look at them.

Look at them!

The waist ends at the top of the rib cage. And they are so long that you need to wear four-inch heels just to keep them off the ground. How could the same person who bought this elfin disaster have also bought the fully lined Italian linen hunting jacket hanging right next to it?

Who indeed. That's my point.

So, I've decided to let them fight it out. The strongest will remain. I'm not betting on the vintage suits or the hippies. A pencil skirt is simply too tight. And everyone knows hippies can't fight. And I worry about Disco. It's going to be hard to find a new gig. But the remaining rock-n-roll, equestrian, military-inspired, 1940s USO factory worker personalities will integrate and emerge anew. Regenerated. Reinvented.

The old me, with her divergent styles requiring too much attention, too much time and too much hanger space, none of which is in surplus, will become a streamlined individual who will breeze from school drop-off to client meeting to playground to drinks without the need of a costume change.

No more will I ask, "So, who will it be today?" The multiple personality sartorial disorder that is currently my wardrobe will no longer be a constant re-run of Sybil. The ill-fitting, the ill-conceived and the ill-behaving pieces who don't go with anything will be banished. I will soon be able to reach into my closet with only minutes to spare and achieve the "Oops, I look fabulous" effect.

This won't be easy. But I'm inspired by a woman I know. Diagnosed with multiple personality disorder, I once saw her change from a frightened child to a foul mouthed bar tramp to a middle-aged male trucker in the space of one hour. That was years ago. Now her personalities are fully integrated and, when last I saw her, wonderfully accessorized to boot. So, I know this is possible.

I will miss the personalities that don't survive, though. They have accompanied me all these years and have taught me much. Things like: Don't trust hanger appeal. And, showing a little clavicle is infinitely more sexy than showing a lot of cleavage. Color choice comes first. Beige is a death knell. Browns need to be tweedy and the reds need to be bluish. Grey is my new black. But, of course, black is golden. Florals must be Asian. And patterns must work with my crazy mop of curls and glasses. It can be a lot of look. And just about any mistake can be fixed with the right coat, especially a sweeping military one; so, have plenty on hand.

Create a mantra and repeat it aloud as you're tempted to buy the Same Mistake. Talking to the clothes helps. Undefined empire waists? No thanks. I've already done the maternity thing. Fitted-waist peplum? Get your pretty self over here. Bold geometric color blocking a la Mod? No. I'm no longer That Girl. English countryside tweeds and woolen riding pants? Well. Don't you look smashing. Let's put a kettle on.

You must be willing to spend quality time together and to talk it out. As with all healthy relationships, communication is key.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Post-election Day Clean-up. Who Let That Fly In?

The primaries in Washington, DC are over and life is returning to normal. Well. Relatively speaking.

Elections make for tight living in an apartment when your work-from-home husband is a political consultant. My love of organization is often theoretical, but not after election day. Win or lose, all the glossy, paid-for-by-the-candidate campaign promises are promptly thrown out of my home. I figure I lost about 10 square feet of precious real estate to political literature and posters alone. And let’s not even talk about the two large political banners hanging from the roof blocking two of our son’s bedroom windows.

Okay. Let's talk about them.

The color scheme of one candidate is red and casts a bordello-like glow throughout my son's bedroom. This I like. But their eerie flapping haunts my son's sleep and gives him nightmares. Sometimes you have to take one for the team, I explain. I have. I love my upstairs views that are now blocked by the waving blues and reds of two carefully conceived political colors. Not unlike gangs, actually.

And I’m more than a bit concerned that my husband plans to leave the banners up until November. He reminds me that legally we don’t have to take them down until after the general election. Who said anything about violating municipal regulations? I'm talking about aesthetics. Feng shui. Did I accidently speak to him in Chinese? Is that the root of this misunderstanding?

I wish it were that simple.

But we're different animals. If possible, he would live in 77-degree, climate-controlled, muffled, shaded Man Cave. Not I. (Well, unless it's 98 degrees and humid. Then suddenly I'm banging at the Man Cave door.) Mostly though, I like living with the windows unobscured so that sites, sounds and smells of the city … er, let's just make that the sites and sounds ... fill the apartment. The iron fire escapes. The grinding gears of buses. The blue neon of Heller’s Bakery bouncing off the walls once evening comes. Over-modulated Latino music. Couples fighting in the alley. Drunks. Drunk couples. All of it. And on this beautiful late-summer, post-election day I open all the windows, which unfortunately, lets in a fly. Not good. My husband hates flies. When he sees one, his eyes go black. Like a shark. He says drastic things like, "I won't live like this," which only confuse me.

But I'm not without my own domestic idiosyncrasies. If my husband were allowed to comment here, he may speak of my my habit of taking the vacuum out of the living room closet only to abandon it in the middle of the room for a couple days before actually using it. Or not.

It's the type of vacuum that has a squat body from which grows a long, spiraling hose ending in a series of interchangeable attachments, an appendage used to ensnare anyone attempting to walk by. (I show my disdain of vacuuming by purposefully not knowing the specific model I own. Kind of like pretending to not know who Snooky is. Or is it Snookie?)

For a couple of days it sits by my dining room desk like a deprogrammed Japanese robot pet. The vacuum, I mean. Not Snooky/Snookie. If I were the psychoanalyzing type, I could possibly connect this behavior with procrastination and fear of completion. But I'm not. I'm the type that doesn't like to vacuum.

So, after a couple days of Vacuum silently tripping my family, I hear it whirr to life. The sound traveling into the kitchen is shocking. Whatthehellwasthat?? Then it dawns on me what has happened. My husband has plugged it in and has turned it on. “Wow,” I think. “With all his post-election work to do, he’s vacuuming? Probably needs to clear his head with a little physical work.” I’m smiling, nearly giddy, at this life development when suddenly it goes quiet and he yells from the living room, “Well, that’s one less fly in the world.”

Oh no he didn't.

After a few comic beats, I yell back, "You know ... in addition to hunting, that thing is also good for sucking up dirt! From that thing on the floor called a carpet!"

"Yes. I've heard that!" He parries with equal comic timing.

Then quiet.


Actually, I can't say, “men" here. After sharing this incident on Facebook, two women bragged about how many invertebrates they've spinelessly killed remotely at the end of a vacuum attachment. But as these women are both related to my husband, I blame genetics. Although, truth be told, their mechanical approach does seem much more effective than mine, which is to load my son’s Galactic Grabber with a wad of about twenty paper towels, close my eyes and punch aimlessly until the home invader disappears into a corner.

Still. I can’t imagine plugging in a vacuum for the purpose of sucking up a fly. It starts me wondering. Did he use an attachment? And if so, which one? The angled corner? Or perhaps the rounded brush? Did he wait as if perched in a deer stand? Or charge boldly with the hose flailing behind him? Oh, to be a fly on the wall for that one. Well. No. Not a fly on the wall. Let's make that a dust bunny in a corner because obviously they weren't in danger of death by vacuum. They all survived unscathed.

I mean, really. What stopped him from attacking the warren of dust bunnies living only a foot from where he bagged his fly? Why not simply bend at the waist and suck up those crumbs from the night before? What? What am I missing? Single-mindedness? That alpha-male quality of not deviating from the task at hand? (I guess I am the type to psychoanalyze. The couch pictured below is Freud's. Not mine.)

And am I a typical multi-tasking female because while playing Go Fish or doing yoga, I also pick at the carpet like some over-attentive mother ape grooming her young? It's not easy holding a balanced Triangle Pose while scraping dried bits of yogurt off the carpet, something the instructional dvd would likely advise against. But I seem to manage.

Perhaps I'm over-thinking this. Maybe it has nothing do with the male and female brain and everything to do with my mother. (Now we're really getting our psychoanalytic dollar's worth.) After all, she was the one who invented Pick-A-Lint, a game where she unleashed her brood of seven on the floors giving a prize to the one who picked up the most detritus. Brilliant, really.

So many questions. But for now, Vacuum will go back into the closet. Yet again unused.

Unless you ask my husband.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Goodbye. Have fun. Please come back soon.

School started this week for Washington, DC's public schools. And as my only child takes his first taste of formal education, I’m split between sharing his cautious excitement and my desire to be alone. “Yes, Love, you’ll have fun at school and make lots of friends. Yes, of course, I'll miss you terribly ... er, but right now I have an office space to organize."

Very split indeed.

I was expecting this. With the exception of the occasional play group, a few concerts, one wedding and a four-day solo vacation in Miami, I’ve been with him continuously for nearly five years. (My lovely mother who had seven children and stayed home with all of us always laughs at this.) Even during my weekend gig at a neighborhood farmer's market, I'm often corralling him or sharing a homemade gourmet popsicles. He's been my museum-hopping buddy. My co-conspirator in all things silly. At times, perhaps my nemesis.

Excepting chocolate morsels, the start of school is what the term bittersweet was made for. Memories of nursing, first steps and first words wash over me as I return to my apartment without him by side. It's quiet. A little too quiet, as he likes to say. He's really funny, I realize. The tears come easily. And then they go. I have a list of projects as long as my arm. On his first day of school I redecorate the dining/office space, upending bookcases, moving furniture.

The second day, I exercise. A lot. On the third I write. I write uninterrupted. This is amazing. I can do whatever I want.

And I don't have to feign excitement over Candy Land or negotiate to play some other game. Any other game. Connect Four? Chutes and Ladders? Trouble? Anything but his beloved Candy Land. I hate Candy Land.

Don’t say the word “hate” mommy, he would remind me if he were here. My moral compass.

For those without children, just imagine the first morning after finishing an all-consuming five-year project. Or for my theater friends, imagine saying goodbye at the closing night party. How much time do you use to decompress? Or do you just jump right into something new? I guess everyone's different. I haven't written for my blog in months and selfishly blame my son even though I could've woken up at 5 am to write like J.K. Rowlings did while penning her way into Richer Than God status. I'll have time when he's at school, I reasoned. Well, now he's there. Here I go. No more excuses. Any minute. I wonder what he's doing right now. 8:45 am to 3:15 pm certainly is a long day. He's not even five.

I need some time to focus and get a new routine going. That's it. A routine. Brilliant. Armed with one of those I'll be able to regain my Chinese fluency which will decidedly be a part of my "real job" again someday. A real job. I'll use this newly-acquired time to reshape my career. Most people, parents or not, hit that point. For this I don't need a Life Coach. I need a time-out. A very long time-out. When my son was home, I would try to commit enough Bad Decisions, usually cursing, to get a lengthy time-out. But he always granted me clemency not because he's forgiving but because a time-out for me, albeit amusing, only meant playing by himself. So, now is my chance. For reflection, I mean. Not for cursing like a sailor although that would be fun too. I could also do yoga without someone crawling under my Downward Dog. I could curse while doing yoga to really confuse the Universe.

I could blare Queen and tap dance which will, luckily, not disturb my work-from-husband in the least as he is extremely tolerant and is also slightly hearing-impaired from 400 loud rock-n-roll concerts. Speaking of my husband, he keeps reminding me that now during the day we'll both be home. Alone.

He must miss playing Scrabble as much as I.

But there's no time for board games when I have a SteamPunk corset to design. It's to be versatile enough to wear with skirts or jeans, functional enough to hold money and a cell phone and forgiving enough to not require the removal of a rib or damage internal organs making it a hit with women from all walks of life worldwide.

Or maybe I’ll just clean my office. And as I'm doing that I'll think about what fun game I can play with my son when he gets home. Anything but Candy Land.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Gimme Shelter

Oh, a storm is threat'ning, My very life today; If I don't get some shelter, Oh yeah, I'm gonna fade away

As record-making snow from major blizzards melted away, a body was discovered in the woods near my apartment in Washington, DC.

Word on the street, which means Esther at the Korean convenient store, it's Bruce.

It was a tough winter for the homeless.

It was especially tough for people like Bruce who live in the woods. With a foot of snow, I struggled just walking down the sidewalk past those woods. Where he lived and where his body was found was under at least 3 feet of snow.

The remains were unidentifiable. So, I guess there's a very slim chance it's not him. But it's Spring, people are filling the streets of Mt. Pleasant and I have yet to see Bruce. I always see Bruce. And only a fool would doubt Esther about such things.

My apologies to Bruce for my drawing of him because I don't know how to draw.

More importantly, my apologies to Bruce if he's not dead.

Maybe he came into some money and moved to a kinder climate. Like California. Or Mexico. Maybe he's sitting on a beach enjoying the warm sun on his face and a clean pair of socks.

Or maybe he laid down in the snow and died in the woods alone. I wonder if he has family still living, a brother or sister. And do they know he's dead.

Bruce always nodded or smiled hello. He talked to himself very animatedly sometimes and walked with a crutch. I heard a woman once ask him about his feet. I think he had serious health issues. Not surprising.

He always said, "Thank you, Sister," when I gave him food or money. But he never really asked for anything. He just sort of stood in the right places at the right times.

He also sold things. I bought one of my son's favorite trucks from him. Looking out my kitchen window as I prepared dinner, I would see him sitting in Lamont Park with a stroller or toy or painting to sell. Once I saw him hobbling on his crutch with a huge, pink stuffed teddy bear slung over his back looking like he just escaped from the Island of Misfit Toys.

Once in awhile if I didn't have anything to give or simply didn't want to be reminded of homelessness, I'd busy myself with my son or my purse. We introverts do that sometimes to avoid engagement. But what did Bruce care about my Myers-Briggs personality profile? He just wanted to get something to eat. Not have an engagement.

You'd think I would've known better.

Dean, one of my half-brothers, was homeless in San Francisco for nearly 20 years. Anyone can hit hard times. "Dean, Dean, The Jellybean," I used to sing to him when I was a child. We thought he died in San Francisco's 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake because many highway bridges collapsed and we knew he was living under a bridge.

But he survived.

A few years ago when another of my brothers found Dean and tried to convince him to move back in with family, he said no. All his friends are in San Francisco, he said. And with the weather and social services, it's easier to be homeless in California than in West Virginia.

Hard to argue with that.

We used to be able to reach Dean by calling a pay phone near a diner. Anyone who picked up knew him or knew of him. Even the police. In a good way. But I think that phone is out of service. It is so hard to find a pay phone that works these days, isn't it?

When I ask my mother about Dean she always says the same thing with the same far-away voice, "He's doing his own thing and isn't hurting anyone. I have seven children and one just kind of drifted away." She also tells me that he has an apartment now and, never wanting to be a burden, has arranged his own funeral. Really, we should all be so considerate. He's to be cremated and family will be notified. Then her voice begins to crack and she changes the subject.

Sometimes it sucks being a mother.

I deliberated over whether to mention my brother and his homelessness. I intended to write only about Bruce. But then Dean came into the story and just wouldn't leave. If I imply that homeless people are just like you and me and that homelessness can happen to anyone, I shouldn't have hesitated. But I did. I thought, do I really want to write that one of my siblings was homeless? What if someone in HR reads this and doesn't give me a job someday? What if people think less of me? Or my family?

Then I came to my senses.

Nobody's life is perfect. And certainly nobody's family is perfect. Only children are perfect. Perfect little prepackaged bundles of hope and potential. Then we do the best we can. Even if every dream doesn't come true, there is no shame in that.

(Dean, Dean, the Jellybean 1957)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Marriage. A Game of Inches

Our television is slowing losing its light.

I'm not talking about the dearth of quality programming. Although that would not be a waste of poetics.

(Who is actually watching a washed up actress like Kirstie Alley lose weight? Again? No, don't tell me. I don't want to know.)

Actually, what I'm referring to is the dark band slowly inching its way down the television screen. I thought it would just go away. But the Comcast guys who came to digitize my family assure me that it will continue until the screen is completely black.

They deliver this news quite solemnly. For an instant the technicians are doctors at Comcast General Hospital giving my teary-eyed, Kleenex-clutching husband the tragic bedside news that Television isn't going to make it and that he should just pull the plug.

Back in real-life, my husband is ecstatic. “See. And they’re experts,” he says. The guys all nod. Even my son nods.

I don't trust them. Including my son who's not too young for ulterior motives. And the Comcast technicians are men. Of course they’re going to agree with my husband. They’re in cahoots. I’ve seen the commercials.

For the past couple of weeks, he's been hinting that we need a new television and now he has professional testimony to counter my but-the-old-one-is-fine argument. I look over at three grown men and one boy huddled around the new remote, deep in remote-speak as they discuss its potential.

But I am not an unreasonable woman. I watch some television and love movies. So the other day at 7:30 am, in a half-asleep, non-caffeinated stupor, I cross paths with my husband in the kitchen and mumble, “I think you're right. We may need a new television. The top of Audrey Hepburn’s head was cut off during Breakfast at Tiffany’s last night. Not a good look for her.”

My husband makes a bee-line to the living room and grabs his wallet.

“Anyway, I didn’t watch the movie,” I say to the back of his disappearing head. “You really need to see the tops of people’s heads to enjoy a film. But that's okay. I love the short story. And I’ve heard that Hollywood took out all the depravity. I guess depravity isn't a good look for Audrey either."

While I’m making coffee in the kitchen blathering on about Truman Capote and the sanitizing effect of Hollywood, he’s typing on his computer and not listening to a word I'm saying.

“There,” he says quite pleased. “It’ll be here in a couple days.”

"What will be here? What did you just do? I said I think we may need to buy one. Don’t we need to talk about this, do some research, take some measurements?"

“We just talked about it. And I want to buy it now before you wake up and change your mind,” he says.

It’s 7:48 am and he just bought a 32-inch television. Who buys a television before 8 am? Then again, who talks about Truman Capote before 8 am?

This is all unnatural.

He pulls up the website to show me the model. "Best of this type on the market," he says beaming. Seems he’s already done his research. Lots of research. Secret research.

I feel played.

But the new television isn't here yet and there's a much-anticipated semi-final college basketball game he wants to watch. This will take planning. And temperature maintenance. See, the longer the old television is on, the hotter it gets and the bigger the black band grows. His tactic is to keep the television off long enough to ensure a full screen of visibility up until the last minutes of the game. Evidently it's just as difficult to watch basketball without the top of the picture as it is watching a lobotomized Audrey Hepburn.

I ask if some bags of frozen corn will help.

"You know," he says wanting to pop my smart-ass balloon, "Your covering up the television with that shroud thing actually precipitated its death by blocking the cooling vents."

Okay. Yes. I like to cover the television when it's off. Ever since I saw The Ring with its slime-covered dead girl crawling through the television, can you really blame me? But now I feel partly responsible for the all-too-soon arrival of a bigger television in our all-too-small living room. It's not as if our apartment has a ManCave to house the impending 32-inches.

But I'll come around. Especially when I get to watch one of my beloved Pedro Almodovar films without squinting at the subtitles. Never again will I wonder what Penelope Cruz is saying. But really. It's so hard to watch subtitles when she's on the screen. Unless I learn Spanish, I may never know what she's saying.

When the television arrives, I'm shocked at how thin she is. (The television. Not Penelope.) And sleek. I like her. I like her a lot. She's surprisingly attractive and her black frame is actually less noticeable than her predecessor's huge, grey box. (Um, I guess I should be careful with the nautical, feminine pronoun.)

Oh and look. She comes with her own remote making the digital remote, which has been in my life for only eight days but to which I've grown accustomed, completely obsolete.


Besides having to attend my husband's "How To Consolidate Your Remotes And Optimize Your Viewing Experience" seminar, I'm quite excited. I can't wait to reserve a bunch of foreign films on Netflix.

My husband once said that the only reason he doesn't enjoy my foreign film selections is because he can't read the small subtitles. Well, now I can order all the French murder-mystery musicals and epic-length Chinese historical films I want.

I've been dying to see The Promise, a two-hour Tang Dynasty romance where a slave girl is transformed into a beauty by a goddess then falls in love with a general but no one ends up together and, most likely, dies tragically all the while dressed in multiple layers of very elaborate, non-revealing costumes.

He's going to be so happy.

Some may measure the longevity of a relationship by using time. Very traditional. Others may use things like children or natural disasters. Some may even use their bathroom scale. But that's just mean. One of my favorites came from my sister-in-law’s octogenarian grandfather who when asked how long he had been dating his lady-friend answered, “Oh, let's see. About 1,200 miles."

Up until I moved in with my husband, I had never owned a television. He came equipped with a Casio TV-1400 LCD pocket color television. Batteries not included. We would watch Jeopardy! on the tiny, fuzzy 1-inch screen. Video clues were difficult.

But look at us now. We're still going strong.

Even at 32-inches.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Making of Movie Memories. Or Juvenile Delinquency. Take your pick.

During a conversation about movies recently, I mentioned that I love watching The Goonieswith my 4-year old son. "Isn't that movie kind of scary?" said the other mother.

Yes. Yes it is.

"And doesn't it have some dirty language?"

Yes. Yes it does.

When one of the Goonies says "damn it!" my son always shakes his head no and says, "We don't say 'damn it,' do we mommy?"

No. We don't. I answer proudly.

And yes, The Goonies also has a fake suicide, guns and a dead guy all of which I try to obscure by stretching myself in front of the television at the opportune moments.

Motherhood takes flexibility.

But truth be told, I don't really care. To my son it's all about the treasure hunt in a dark, spooky cave and booty traps. "That's what I said, 'booby traps!'" (For those who know the film.) Throw in a big, buttery bowl of popcorn, piles of blankets and ... ta-da! one fuzzy childhood movie memory. If there's any latent psychologically damage from low-level violence, I'm sure he'll be fine.

Goonies, after all, do teach resilience.

How could I deny him? Movies add so much color to childhood. And I want my son's to be colorful. Mine was. Not just because I am one of seven, but because my parents took us with them. Everywhere. To boxing matches, the horse races. And best of all, the movies.

I remember us kids in slippers and pajamas piling into the station wagon to watch triple features at the drive-in where "family-friendly"meant the kids sat on blankets spread on the ground leaving the parents alone in the car.

Then there were the rainy Saturday afternoons sitting on a scratchy carpet remnant in a cold library basement listening to the hypnotic clack of the film projector spinning out movies like Fantastic Voyage, a 1966 sci-fi film where scientists shrink themselves to attack a deadly blood clot in some guy’s body. Very creepy in a medically invasive kind of way.

To this day, I can't help wondering if a team of miniscule scientists has stowed away inside the syringe each time I get a shot.

And when Star Wars was released my dad took us to see it, not once, but 13 times. In a row. The last time, the local theater owner didn’t have the heart to charge him. I remember feeling like a starlet, pulled out of line, the red rope unlatched just for me. "Please. Just go in. Your money's no good here."

There's a reason the zombie film Shaun of the Dead is my idea of the perfect romantic comedy. Seeing Amityville Horror on the big screen as a child will do that to you. So will getting locked in the basement by your brothers afterward. It took months before I could go into our basement's dark, dank fruit cellar, a Portal to Hell if ever there was one.

You don't have to tell me twice to "Get out!"

And sometimes the right movie is a gateway to wondrous, transformative, albeit slightly deviant, things.

Enter Heavy Metal, an animated, R-rated, rock-and-roll extravaganza that my father took my brothers and me to see. We liked it so much that he let us hide under the seats between shows, dodging ushers sweeping up popcorn, so we could watch it again without paying. Very rock-and-roll.

Actually, I'm not sure which was more transforming - the movie with it's blond, buxom, sword-wielding heroine kicking ass in a leather bikini or committing a misdemeanor with my family. But as a tall, skinny, frizzy-haired girl with glasses, braces and poor posture, I took whatever help I could get.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Stop the Bus! I'm Having a DC Moment.

If you aren't a very political person, living in Washington DC will change that.

Politics is all around you. It permeates the air. It's in the water. Along with lead and trace pharmaceuticals.

Take for example the DC moment I had yesterday. I'm sitting with my son on the H4 bus going to Whole Foods to buy some bulgar wheat. I had just read in this Magic Foods book that I really need to eat this grain if I want to live longer. And since I do, buying bulgar wheat moved to the top of my to-do list.

The bus passes by Sidwell Friends, the Quaker school where the Obama girls go. I look over and see Malia swinging a tennis racket with her classmates on the court just a few yards away from the road. Sigh. I hope my son gets into a good school where he can learn tennis. The DC school lottery, where parents learn the fate of their children's education, is tomorrow. And even with all my research and leg work, it feels so arbitrary. No chance of getting into Sidwell. It's private, for one. And even with one of their teachers, make that one of their former teachers, facing allegations of child sex abuse, it's still the elitist of the elite.

I know. I don't equate the Quakers with Elitism either. But there you have it.

The bus stops alongside a triad of young male professionals you might normally see in this neighborhood wearing black pea coats and khakis. Except these guys are all wearing dark sunglasses and have the distinctive white spiral wire curling behind their ears making them look like very casually-dressed androids. Oh. "These aren't the droids you're looking for." These are Malia and Sasha's Secret Service detail.

As the bus passes them, I wonder how they are trained to see us. Us Everyday People. Who arouses their suspicions? I bet that homeless guy hunkering down in front of a brick wall doesn't concern them at all. He could even leave one of his many bags unattended and they wouldn't blink. A luxury afforded the homeless.

I feel like waving. To the Secret Service detail. Not the homeless guy. Not that I have anything against homeless people. He would probably enjoy it. Then again, who am I to assume. But I don't wave. To anyone. Waving may be classified as stalker behavior, enough reason for them to throw me and my child in that Secret Service paddy wagon parked down the street.

DC is small. If you live here long enough you're bound to have many DC moments. And this one is warm and fuzzy. It involves children and Quakers. How could it not be?

Some DC moments aren't. Like the time my husband and I were having lunch after a Michael Moore matinee featuring Fahrenheit 9/11. Love him or hate him, it's really quite impossible to feel ambivalent after watching one of his films. I was sitting there feeling considerably non-ambivalent about the whole Let's Attack Iraq thing when then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice passed by on her way to her usual table. Her jacket sleeve brushed my back.

"Check, please."

Love her or hate her, Dr. Rice is not warm and fuzzy.

My husband's favorite DC moment, officially on record, involves Veep Dick Cheney, his motorcade and the Middle Finger.

It's the little things.

Please don't think us stark, raving mad partisans. Some of our closest friends are Republicans.

Well. That's exaggerating things a bit.

But I was nearly eviscerated at a party once for daring to question some of Obama's campaign promises. What can I say. I was raised on a healthy diet of Mark Twain and taught to distrust all politicians. Even the hot ones.

Anyway, if politicians didn't fudge the truth just a wee bit, we'd have to scrap all those good political jokes. "Politicians are like diapers. They should be changed frequently. And for the same reason." One of my favorites.

But it wasn't my intent to be political. Here or in general. It's just hard to avoid when you live in this town.