08.27.08: the dirty dozen, part I {her smell is not possible}

01 via the people's popsicle, a crew that makes frozen treats out of greenmarket goodies at brooklyn flea every sunday, a recipe for peach, chamomile, and honey pops: now, where was this when i brought peaches home from the upper west side last month? verily, i'll be hunting for a bouquet of chamomile flowers down in union square this weekend.

02 last friday, to my great surprise, george and joe agreed to watch teeth, better known as "jaws meets the vagina monologues!" (per the village voice). we were all fairly unmoved (saved! did a better job of spoofing the abstinence movement), though joe and i did enjoy adapting and singing songs with "vagina dentata" rhymes under our breaths for the next few hours ("hakuna matata" in his case, "escape (the pina colada song)" in mine). what a wonderful phrase indeed.

03 in bruges (the first feature-length film by martin mcdonagh, the irish playwright) didn't inspire song, but it's the first UK gangster flick i've appreciated in years - probably because bruges itself is such a spooky beauty (and mcdonagh's sets are all about purgatory via hieronymus bosch, one of my favorite painters). i recommend it, especially if you're the sort who lets movies influence your vacation plans: i'm all about planning a belgian expedition after next year's iceland trip (i realize i'm talking about 2010, but hey).

04 karl lagerfeld on the media, from an interview in the sunday times:
"I have no problem with journalists – many are friends," he says. "Only if they are really stupid, or if they've got bad breath, or if they smell. Yesterday I had a problem. I said, 'I'm sorry, you've got to tell this woman that she needs to be taken away. Her smell is not possible.' "


"I'm mad for books," he says, sitting motionless behind his black Dior shades. "It is a disease I won't recover from. They are the tragedy of my life. I want to learn about everything. I want to know everything, but I'm not an intellectual, and I don't like their company. I'm the most superficial man on Earth."

05 as cable news crews hunted for cra-a-azy hillary fans on the convention floor after the keynote last night (they only found one, but she haunts me still), i was reminded of that oldie-but-goodie, current tv's target: women's take on suffrage ("you watch army wives? i watch army wives! i'm voting for you!").* i am over the question of whether or not PUMAs will make a difference in november; i thought hillary's delivery of harriet tubman's lines was thrilling, but i don't know that it mattered. was what she said significant for undecided voters? it's been so very long since i've seen or heard from any that i really couldn't say.

06 reusable/washable produce bags with tiny skulls! between the free stuff table here at casa de ladymag and the four thousand craft fairs i attend, i don't really need any more tote bags for the grocery store; i do occasionally take those wimpy little disposable produce bags, as the bundles of cilantro i buy at the amish market appear to be ripped straight from a bog and muddy up the rest of my veggies. these (less wasteful, with skulls) are much better.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 how can you tell if a peach is ripe without squeezing it? apparently squeezing is discouraged.

02 ever been to bruges? is it as magical as it seems?

03 what did you think of hillary's convention speech?

*the whole series (sarah haskins's comedy shorts on how women are pitched) is pretty excellent; chick flicks and birth control are especially zesty.

08.26.08: doctor omnibus

like millions of manhattanites and actors playing manhattanites in movies before me, i went to talk to a therapist yesterday. i am not unwell in any sweeping sense of the word: on the contrary, thanks to the combined effects of physical fitness, relationship zen, and not being in my early twenties, i'm happier and more centered than i've been in years. that said, i really do dread meeting new people and being the center of attention, which can be a problem when, you know, one works in the media. i scrolled through my insurance company's list of providers and found someone with an office in midtown and an earnest profile (i think he might actually have characterized himself as "tough but warm," which seemed charming at the time). he was also ex-military, which...i should have given a bit more thought.

DOC: when my daughter was little, i sent her to one summer camp for a week. then i pulled her out and moved her to another one. after a week there i pulled her out and moved her to another one. know what she learned?
LMO: [horrified silence]
DOC: to adapt!


DOC: what you need is total immersion. you need to volunteer at the front desk at a hospital.
LMO: i've settled into my misanthropy.
DOC: you're supposed to save that for when you're eighty.


LMO: i was an ENFP for twenty years. isn't that long enough?
DOC: you could always just try having a couple of kids.
LMO: [horrified silence]

i'm sure it's no picnic to psychoanalyze me, given that by seeking advice i was placing myself in just the sort of problematic situation for which i was seeking advice. that said, this guy really was singular: i felt like i had to be a caricature just to keep up. of course, when i complained to joe that i'd been accused of overthinking, he sniggered quite uncharitably. so much for conjugal solidarity.

08.20.08: three sizes that day


my husband's mother's brother's wife's son's wife, ann, a lovely woman i met four years ago at a memorial service in arizona, saw ferris pass out at 31 flavors last night called me out of the blue a few weeks ago: she and her husband and their little daughter would coming out to nyc from utah this week, and how would we feel about getting together? i thought it was a fine idea, so we met them down at south street seaport to take a harbor cruise past the statue of liberty and those olafur eliasson waterfalls all the kids have been talking about.*

it was steamy and horrible in the city on monday, so getting off the island and being breezed about for an hour was more than fine. it was also nice to have an excuse to do the tourism-in-one's-own-city thing: i can be diligent about getting out to museums and things like shakespeare in the park, but i tend to forget about things like liberty island. it was also also nice to demonstrate to myself that i can handle hanging out with people i don't know very well (silly, but a huge deal for someone as shy as i am). i'd met ann and mike a grand total of once - at the aforementioned memorial service - but they're such effortlessly warm people that my nerves stopped jangling within minutes of meeting them on the dock.

the softest high note of the day, though, was spending time with mike and ann's little daughter. at eighteen months, with wispy blond hair, bottomless brown eyes, and a fluorescent green pedicure, she's a heartbreaker. ann's fluent in sign language and has already taught her eighty or ninety signs, so she responds to speech with both typical wee girl adorableness and surprisingly complex gestures (when i asked her if she wanted a water bottle i was holding, she signed, "no, mom! - and cheese."). she got to joe, too, and the look on his face when she passed out in his arms like a little sack of potatoes gave my shriveled old heart a kick. being childfree doesn't mean that i hate kids, internets: on the contrary, we get along famously (i spent two years as a camp counselor, long ago when the earth was flat: i'm like a jukebox for the under-7 set). achtung, friends and siblings! we are totally going to spoil your children.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 what's your relationship with the touristy stuff in your neighborhood?

02 what do you think of eliasson's waterfalls? how about christo's gates?

03 new york described michael phelps's body as being like "one of those long balloons you make animals out of, except for someone filled it with water and gerbils." what on earth does that mean?

*actually, most people responded to these with a really aggressive yawn, which sort of surprised me. what's so offensive about water sculpture? i have taken other public art extremely personally, though (i really hated christo's gates, for reasons i am nowhere near understanding), so maybe i shouldn't judge.

08.14.08: cotton*

when i was a kid, i knew exactly one woman who kept her maiden name and a few more who hyphenated their maiden and married names.** i myself was of the "doodling my first name with various imaginary boyfriends' last names in my trapper keeper" school of thought, and always assumed i'd Make That Change, as michael jackson would say. i then moved out of super-conservative orange county and, eventually, to the land of professional writers, where changing your name means forfeiting your old bylines and masthead appearances (and many of my colleagues have both professional and personal names, like rock stars and spies). i stuck with my plan, though: we were going to look like a family on envelopes, by god, and i would finally get to ditch my middle name (i was going to replace it with my maiden name). i practiced my new signature and resigned myself to a new monogram (one's last name can't always begin with a vowel).

then joe totally shut me down at city hall. he'd made noise about being less than eager for me to change my name (his is a pain in the ass to spell, he said; why welcome that chaos?), but i figured he'd have a change of heart when we got down to filling out the paperwork. actually, no became NO. my fiancé bullied me into keeping my name: i can't even do the post-post-feminist math on that one.

so here i am, two years after deciding to remain the lauren i was*** - on paper, at least. appearances (and papers) are nothing, of course, but i'm wearing the lace top i wore downtown that day (and to a lunch i can barely remember, for i was blown away every time i looked across my impromptu bouquet at joe and my mom: my husband! and his mother-in-law!). we were truly married a week later when we stood before everyone in oxford, to be sure, but i won't lie: the part of me that doodled my name back then gets a kick out of today, too.

*that "how to buy a second-year wedding anniversary gift" page is the bomb: the "things you'll need" list includes chardonnay and "credit cards and loans."

**i am still tempted to do this with the cats' names, especially since they both have really long names as is. then again, my vet already has plenty of reasons to think i'm a few slow jams short of a prom.

***on the third anniversary of the biggest blackout in north america.

08.12.08: the cheese stands alone

feats of kitchen magic i attempted this weekend, arranged by vivacity of reception (ascending):

ye olde vegetarian chili. i still love this recipe - hell, i nearly marched up and congratulated the woman who created it when i recognized her at a bar in brooklyn last month - but it's not as easy as it once was to eat it for three days in a row (i'd halve the ingredient portions, but what does one do with partial cans and peppers?). joe has started scooping out an extra-small quantity for himself when we execute the Vegetarian/Omnivore Couple's Mid-Recipe Split for Meat or "Crumble"-Adding, which is as close as he will come to saying he's over it. this batch of chili was a bit more interesting than the few that preceded it, as the red habanero i added was made of witches and at least twice as strong as i'd expected it to be, but that's not the sort of interesting i had in mind.

fourth of july roasted tomato salsa. i knew i wanted to try a roasted salsa for our friends' barbecue in jersey on saturday, and this recipe (from one of jen's favorite food sites) beat out a similar one (from a pepper porn site, which can be the best or worst place to search for salsa, depending on your audience) because it calls for a dried guajillo; i've been looking for an excuse to visit our local mexican deli/grocery (a wondrous place with both huitlacoche quesadillas and a whole wall of dried peppers for sale; it's second only to penzeys in my spice-hunting affections). the roasting tomatoes and caramelizing onion made the apartment smell glorious on friday night, and the guajillo did indeed give the salsa a deep earthy flavor. in concentrating on keeping the heat level under control, though, i managed to forget about keeping the onion in check: if you like them, like me, you'll dig this salsa (which functions like a sweet tapenade, almost). if you don't, like joe, well...make sure you use a small onion (i didn't), and maybe cut the amount in half. also, keep LOTS of salt on hand: salt makes everything better, but it makes most salsas sublime.

"don pablo's" queso dip. salsa was my first barbecue contribution, but a fellow jerseygoer's paean to all things nacho stirred up my own feelings; when i suggested bringing queso as well, i had a cheese mob on my hands. i've tried making queso fundido with authentic queso blanco, but the finer cheese, she is temperamental and clumpy (and forms big unsatisfying curds without a constant heat source). i needed something that would withstand an hour in a tote bag on the A train and revivification in a microwave, and that something was, er, queso ghetto. i didn't actually find the two-pound brick of velveeta the recipe required, so i bought forty singles and spent five minutes peeling and dropping them into my vat of buttery onions and off-brand ro*tel. i ended up cheating on the heat - i added two diced jalapenos to the sauteed onions and two pickled jalapenos to the finished vat - but i must say, internets, my hat's off to the processed queso. when we switched from chips to dinner, the cheese came along and ended up on hot dogs, too. god bless america.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 how much does a velveeta log cost in your neighborhood? have you ever thought about buying one?

02 do you guys have any good chili tricks i should know about? note: pork does not count.

03 how about mosquito bite relief tricks? those jersey bugs hit me like we hit that cheese: i suffer, internets.

08.08.08: culture blotter {hair @ shakespeare in the park}

to paraphrase julia roberts's ex-husband, i don't like hippies, and i don't like musicals, and i don't like much. that said, the delacorte is the perfect place to check out hair, ye olde american tribal love-rock musical: james rado and gerome ragni wrote it about the kids who hung out in central park's sheep meadow in the sixties, and a free show outside at dusk in the summer softens even the hardest haters. so do a picnic dinner of panini and olives from the ninth avenue vintner and an aluminum thermos of kitschy shakespeare wine.*

so did the massive summer storm that galloped across central park twenty minutes after the show started. it was big and mean, but came as no surprise: the unruffled onstage band pulled a plastic tarp around itself like a giant shower curtain and stayed put. umbrellas sprouted like mushrooms all over the theater, and we pulled out one of the hamlet ponchos we'd picked up back in june (and the shakepeare wine). we also shared an umbrella and gave our spare to the guys on our left, which i thought was very hair of us. when the cast crept back to the sponged-off stage forty minutes later, we all looked like dirty love children, the wine was gone, and i was prepared to try to appreciate counterculture via broadway.

according to artistic director oskar eustis, "hair was the last time that a stage musical became our national soundtrack; that's what gives it an unbelievable pull." the show's big stick is, for younger non-broadway types, also its biggest liability: for me, songs like "aquarius" and "let the sunshine in" recall the dance number at the end of the 40-year-old virgin, or recent commercials for retirement funds and antidepressants.** most unhelpful when one is to be thinking of flower power and/or the horrors of war. the tune i liked best - the wistful, belle & sebastian-ish "frank mills" - was unfamiliar to me, and lovely. the ones that have been knocking about in my head for the last week - "manchester england" and "hair" - are two of the most pernicious earworms i've ever heard (very disconcerting to jolt awake at three, as i did last night, singing "oh say can you see my eyes / if you can then my hair's too short"). all things considered, the songbook was pretty muscular, and the cast (led by jonathan groff, who was nominated for a tony for spring awakening) had great pipes. plot, on the other hand, was virtually nonexistent: hair is a revue that develops themes (musical and political), not characters. there's a vague draft - deployment - death - denouement at the end of the second act, but most of it happens in the last ten minutes of the show (i understand that being forced to go to war is a shock, but "because it was barely mentioned before" is disappointing). it's telling, i think, that the production's most affecting lines are shakespeare's ("what a piece of work is man" is straight outta hamlet), not rado's or ragni's.

all things considered, hair was imperfect but winning: as i learned by spending nine months in a teensy dorm room with an extremely charismatic phish enthusiast from vermont, hippies can wear you down. who needs pride?

*which turned out to be quite fine. my original plan had been to find wee boozy-school-lunch boxes of french rabbit (which is both lovely and dirt cheap), but they don't seem to be available yet; the samples that materialized at work must have been promo only.

**it's easy to see why madison ave loves hair so much - the fifty- and sixty-year-olds who danced onstage at the end of the show were so transported by nostalgia that i think they were actually weeping.

08.05.08: culture blotter {stephenie meyer's twilight series}

stephenie meyer is pretty inescapable these days: breaking dawn, the fourth and final book in her vampire series for tweens, spawned harry potter-esque* release parties at bookstores all over the country this weekend. the stars of the first twilight movie (in theaters this december) landed on the cover of entertainment weekly (and, as a result, on go fug yourself) a few weeks ago. bloggers who haven't been tweens for a long-ass time (like ariel and, well, me) confess to mowing through her books almost against their will. what gives, eh?

me, i'm loose when it comes to the bloodsuckers. i've spent time at the highbrow end of the spectrum - i wrote my first college research paper on vamps, and i've lost count of how many times i've seen nosferatu - but i'll happily stare at a box of count chocula on a grocery store shelf if it's the only game in town. i've watched more than 70 episodes of dark shadows, one of the most amateurish shows i've ever seen (there are boom mike shadows in 15% of the interior shots, and the production assistant who holds the chalkboard at the beginning of each episode can't always be bothered to stop smoking), in anticipation of the celebrated barnabas collins. when my quest for guidebooks on iceland took me to the columbus circle borders in the middle of its breaking dawn hoopla (that is, when there was a pile of $10 copies of twilight crouched like a beast in the middle of the store), well, i was sold.

on the vampire continuum, twilight is hanging with count chocula. that's no secret, really, as meyer herself says she's a storyteller, not a writer. her breathy, hyperbolic language is made for YA fiction: she sounds like her teenage heroine (i think she should have been edited much more aggressively because of that: she's got a seventeen-year-old's infectious energy, but she's got her cloying stock phrases and anemic vocab, too).

so there's that, and then there's what time calls "the erotics of abstinence." forget sex - twilight's bella (a human girl) and her beloved edward (a vampire) can't even make out, as that sort of charged contact would compromise poor ed's ability to control his lust for bella's blood. per time, meyer (a practicing mormon) offers
an alternative to the hookup scene, Gossip Girls for good girls. There's no drinking or smoking in Twilight, and Bella and Edward do little more than kiss. "I get some pressure to put a big sex scene in," Meyer says. "But you can go anywhere for graphic sex. It's harder to find a romance where they dwell on the hand-holding. I was a late bloomer. When I was 16, holding hands was just--wow."
if we're talking contemporary booty-laden bodice-rippers, well, okay. if we're talking plain old romance, i would beg to differ - and point meyer toward just about anything published before lady chatterley's lover - but hey. she's got her hot hand-holding, and that's fine. chacun à son vamp action.

it's not really fine, though, because bella catches hell every time she tries to kiss edward; she sort of catches hell every time she initiates something he doesn't fancy. edward is jealous, sulky, and prone to fits of rage. as jessica of go fug yourself notes,
[A] lot of the plot points which are presented as being Super Romantic are actually creepy and stalkery and, listen, you just should not be okay with it if you find out that this dude you're seeing has been sneaking into your house unbeknownst to you and watching you sleep all night, every night, even if it's under the guise of "protecting you" or something because for one thing, if you need protection, don't you have a right to know that from the get-go instead of being treated like someone from a 1940s three-hankie weeper where the doctor and Bette Davis's husband, like, make the executive decision not to tell the little lady that she's got a giant brain tumor? ....I'll stop there.
i'm okay with The Youth of Today reading some sloppy prose, and with their exposure to some "true love waits" hype in the process - we do what we must to get our vampire fiction fixes - but i don't know how i feel about girls envying a character who's convinced she's ugly and dumb compared to her flawless immortal boyfriend. a lot of ed's "i know what's best for you, and you could never love me the way i love you" speeches read like emotional abuse to me; that's misogyny, not romance.

but! i've only read two of the four books, and bella has plenty of time to grow a spine and stop fainting every ten minutes. stephenie meyer has umpteen opportunities to go for dynamic adjectives. i'm not especially hopeful, but people can change, internets. if you've read these monsters, what did you think?

*time magazine's april profile: "stephenie meyer: a new j.k. rowling?"

08.04.08: culture blotter {the dark knight}

imax tickets are still in short supply out here, so george and joe and i had our date with batman at the faux-old movie house up by lincoln center yesterday afternoon. it was a decent date, if a bit longer than i would have liked: i wasn't thinking clearly when i bought a tureen of diet coke on the way in, but i think my soda and director christopher nolan share the blame for my thinking/hoping the movie was over at about six different points. i agree with david denby, who noted in his new yorker review that the early scenes in hong kong ate up screen time that would have been better spent fleshing out more important plot points later on (the financier's little story arc was completely superfluous, and the technology introduced in china could've come up in a short scene later on). i also agree with the crowd predicting awards for heath ledger, who deserves them all: after campy, stylized jokers like cesar romero's and jack nicholson's, it was fairly shocking to watch a plausible one. batman has always been less fictional than the rest of the supers: he's got great gadgets and a lot of time on his hands and...that's kind of it. his origin story is unlikely, but it's not impossible. in letting us follow his work over his shoulder - letting us see the little vulnerabilities and psychoses that add up to his character - heath ledger gives the joker the bruce wayne treatment: he's terrifying because he's not impossible, either. the dark knight wasn't great, but that was extraordinary. what did you think, internets? i've tried to avoid spoilers, but comment boxes just love 'em.

08.01.08: on the sewage premises

my friday morning coffee-glugging and internet puttering began with a thorough investigation of L.A.'s top dogs (via my sis) - that is, an integrated database of dog names and breeds in los angeles county (also searchable by zip code). a magnificent subsection: lord of the rings names. it makes my heart smile to know that, somewhere in los angeles, there is a dachshund named gandalf.

a home entertaining pitch then led me to yesterday's new york times and "the dining room takes to the streets," a piece on how locals are reappropriating public space for personal use: throwing dinner parties on the brooklyn bridge, turning the empty loading dock next door into a home office, and so on.* the loading dock lady sounds pretty irritating from where i'm sitting, and i haven't decided how i feel about sharing the sidewalk with socialites on safari: "conscious gesture[s] of civic engagement" sound lovely, but what about bringing enough to share with the whole class? that said, times readers' weird, marvelous comments on the article (on memorable 'public' meals) pretty much charm my pants off. easter dinner on a submarine! a banquet in a chinese sewage plant! i need to befriend some foreign dignitaries, or throw together some flash fiction about those meals.

we'll be sticking to personal spaces this weekend, i think: poor joe is in his second week of a tolerable-but-exhausting mystery malady that has stumped new york city's many lazy specialists (seriously: it took two days for the vet to give us the three-legged cat's full blood panel, and it took joe's doc a week to figure out whether or not he had mono), and i will finish a craft project or die tryin'. air will be conditioned! soccer games will be watched! dunkin' donuts workout socks will be worn! i'd sell you the whole seat, internets, but you'll only need the edge.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 heard any good pet names lately?

02 how do you feel about private parties in public spaces?

03 ever strolled by a sidewalk cafe and had an almost irresistible urge to grab one of a stranger's french fries?

*on the flip side, a san francisco-based art collective has gone national with PARK(ing) day, a project that transforms parking spaces into temporary public parks. i loved that idea when it got rolling on the west coast: hooray for pop-up parks out here!