Friday, June 29, 2007

Intellectual Property: of no value in LA

With Judi moving around the country, I’ve offered to do double duty. She’s presently making her way through the states between her coast and mine. We know these states exist as we’ve been there while touring colleges with our children. I think of this as "The Bicoastal Broad road tour" and hope Judi will be warmly received by readers, who will line up and honk as her entourage goes from the airport to the hotel.

In her absence, I will refrain from emulating Judi’s writing style. No lower case, no “the husband". I respect intellectual property. Years ago when my husband and I submitted a spec script to a series, the story was stolen and used as the premier episode the following season. Sure, you can scoff at the notion that a sit-com idea could be construed as “intellectual property” but this week a restaurant owner in our neighborhood sued a former employee who'd opened a restaurant with a similar menu, the premise being the menu was her intellectual property.

A menu is intellectual property? This restauranteur believes she owns the rights to the lobster roll. Does that mean someone should be paying royalties to the first Greeks who’d opened a coffee shop in New York and threw a burger on a grill?

Judi won't sue me. She’s too kind. Not only that, she wouldn’t want her writing to be characterized as “intellectual”. In LA that's the "i-word". Intellectuals can’t get arrested because skinny blondes are making the news. Intellectuals surely aren't on any maitre d's short list. It’s not been proven but I’m sure if Richard Haass and the Olsen twins are trying for the same table at Mozza, the head of the Council on Foreign Relations will have to go get a hot dog at Pink's.

Married Men Can't Make Dates

Martin, like so many of our male friends, freezes and immediately turns over the phone to me if someone asks, “When can we get together?” He doesn’t make plans. None of the husbands does. This is not an incompetent group. It includes brilliant men who’ve advised presidents (not the current one), are presidents (of law firms, corporations), write, paint, counsel clients, assemble furniture, are experts in their fields, raise or invest money, litigate, make speeches and diagnoses, create music, produce and direct shows, cook, teach and create companies. What they can’t do is get four people together for a dinner.

Yesterday I got a call from a friend, who was baffled and looking to me for clarity after she and my husband had exchanged a series of e-mails about our coming to their home for a barbecue. I made it clear that while I’ve delegated my power of attorney to Martin and given him the authority to pull the plug if I’m on life support, he's not supposed to handle any social plans. He has, on occasion, tried. The last family he invited to brunch never showed up or called, leaving us to deal with two pounds of smoked salmon. “We can freeze the bagels,” Martin said, trying to minimize the mishap, which required removing a huge container of frozen chili, two chickens and a gallon of ice cream to create room in the freezer.

Martin is alert, knowledgeable and detail-oriented. He can look at columns on a tax sheet or numbers from a blood test, understand the implications and ask astute questions. But he won’t remember to get a phone number for friends visiting New York. I wondered if the chromosome missing in men may be the key to the complexities of their making dates except that married men looking to have an affair are able to do it without any help from their wives.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

get a life!

Last night, the husband and i were invited to attend a screening of the original "scarface" starring paul muni and george raft and directed by howard hawks. the screening was held in glendale, at the alex theater, one of the last remaining movie "palaces" in los angeles. it is a beautiful theater, built in 1925, with a cross between greek and egyptian architecture. the show opened with a big band concert featuring a young man and woman singing songs of the 1930's.

as i was tapping my feet and swaying to the music, i happened to glance around at some of the other 1498 patrons of the sold out theater. i noticed that a large percentage of them were actually dressed in costumes depicting gangsters and their molls of the '30's. i was fascinated. what kind of people get all dressed in costume to come see a movie, on a wednesday night, in glendale? didn't they have jobs? didn't they know there is a war going on and that people are dying in darfur and that my housekeeper threatened to quit? who are these shallow, superficial people. had the husband not stopped me, i was just about to tap the ersatz al capone and his faux mae west, who were seated in front of me, on the shoulder and ask, "who are you"? not "who are you" in a conversational tone reserved for chance meetings at cocktail parties, but "who are you?" in that slightly judgemental, sarcastic, tone that the husband finds so very annoying.

i resisted my impulse and sat back to enjoy the very campy film but i could not let go of my wonderment at how strange some people are. how easily they can be led astray by pop culture and a chance to worship at the shrine of even antiquated celebrity. it took us almost an hour to get home. even at 10:30 pm there is no good way to get from glendale to the beach in less than that. by the time we pulled into our driveway we were both exhausted. as the husband got ready to go to sleep, i headed directly to the den. "what are you doing" he called from his side of the king sized bed. "nothing, i'll be in in a minute", i said as i was frantically pushing the buttons to activate our tivo. two more times he called out to me - two more times i told him "just a second". finally, he got out of bed and came into the den. i was too absorbed in the picture on the screen - an octogenarian with dyed orange hair interviewing a young airhead with dyed blond hair - to notice him enter the room. "paris hilton" he shouted - busted!

i had the good grace to look at him with shame but not enough shame to turn the t.v off. the husband turned to go back to bed but as he was leaving, over his shoulder he asked, in his most scornful of voices, "who are you"?

Speaking of Shame: Beauty Regimens Reach For the Gold Standard - News from LA

A friend in Los Angeles aptly described the city as “more for the mediocre” and this was long before people famous just for driving without a license were receiving astronomical amounts for an interview or women who hadn't yet even gotten their real estate licenses were handing over $3,000 for a handbag. An article in today’s “New York Times” tells us there are women on that other coast who see nothing extraordinary in devoting ten hours and $1,000 a week to their looks. And many consider that to be minimal.

They're not ashamed that they spend vast amounts of time and money on eyebrow waxing, thigh treatments, hair care, facials and massages, skin tightening, the delivery of Zone Diet meals, make-up, personal trainers and cosmetic surgery. To give credit where it’s due, these women must be incredible money managers as they afford all that while managing to fill the tanks of their Mercedes and lunch at the Ivy. I wish the writer had come across my friend, Marilyn, one of the few hold-outs in LA who does nothing but wash her face with a regular bar of soap yet looks thirty years younger than she is. Genetics, authenticity, energy and an inner spark can do more for staying youthful than all of their efforts.

I’m not New York-centric enough to make the claim that women here are more stoic about aging. Some of us are vain but we're not given to such excess. It may be that our smaller medicine chests don't allow us to stockpile moisturizers, foundations and concealing creams. There are, to be sure, plastic surgeons and the women who love them in New York. I’ll admit I hang onto the annual “New York” magazine that lists the names.

I’m no purist. I color my hair, have had things pumped into my facial crevices and occasionally enjoy a massage. In the late 70’s I shocked myself by spending $750 for boots, an unprecedented extravagance. $350 had come from the sale of my ’63 V.W., which I'd never anticipated would be a down payment for boots. The rationalization that allowed this impulsive and outrageous expense was that the move from LA to NY would turn walking into a mode of transportation and that shoemakers are cheaper than mechanics.

I have misgivings. For me, misgivings go a long way. Though not totally redemptive, I count on them to feel slightly less narcissistic and shallow when doing something shabby, such as having Sculptra injections. I'm prouder of the shame than I am of getting the shots. I make sure each employee at the cosmetics center knows I’m socially conscious enough to feel uneasy that the money going into my cheeks would be better spent on wells in Cambodia or to support an AIDS clinic in Africa. My husband asked me why I did it. "I don't know," I admitted. I saw a video and the woman in it looked a lot better afterwards.

"I like when you say, 'I don't know', he said, which made no sense to me but I liked hearing it.

On top of my ongoing misgivings, we went to Asia last year, where we were exposed to families living in huts, sleeping on wood floors, struggling to come up with a meal. It was sobering and added to my misgiving, making it now impossible to buy another meaningless vase, scarf or bracelet. In a recent conversation, a friend said she'd lost all interest in acquiring, adding, "I now ask myself if I need it or just want it”. We agreed that hauling things off to a thrift shop is far more satisfying than going to Bergdorf's and that unloading is the new shopping.

To balance my emotional budget and reconcile spending on self-indulgences vs. taking care of others, I came up with a formula: I won’t spend more to restore facial contours I had as a teenager than I do to restore homes of Katrina victims. If only those women in LA would adopt my policy, New Orleans could kiss off FEMA.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

You have to work out - and other reasons I hate the gym

Ten minutes on a treadmill is forever, so much longer than ninety minutes in a restaurant. And though I haven’t done the math, I suspect a few bites of melon puts back all the calories you just worked off. So why go? Exercise is the one thing all health mavens agree is essential.

Someone just came up with a formula about factors which affect longevity, postulating that working out adds a year to your life. That assumes, of course, you won’t catch an antibiotic-resistant germ from the abs machine, definitely a possibility at my gym, or get hit by a car on your way home. Living another twenty years would mean 3,000 of those hours will be spent exercising. Is it worth it? If only I could know what the bonus year would get me: seeing a grandchild graduate...or polar bears struggling to balance on an ice cube.

The health club I hate going to may be, in terms of cleanliness and amenities, a notch up from Rikers, but even if it were immaculate and attractive, I’d be no more enthusiastic about it. When I lived in Los Angeles, I worked out in luxurious settings. Gyms are to LA what schools are to Boston and cafes are to Paris. They validated parking, provided backgammon tables, complimentary tea and coffee. I was doing crunches (they were called “sit-ups” then) in an elegant, small, mirrored room and each time I sat up, along with my sweaty, reddened face, I’d see Cher, her equally svelte mother and a former Miss America, Mary Ann Mobley, all of them ready for their close-ups.

There are no celebrities at my current gym. It’s above a Gourmet Garage and has no cache. It's also conceivable that insurance companies who indemnify theatrical productions won't allow actors to use our gym, considering it (like riding a motorcycle or bullfighting) to be a high risk activity. I remain loyal only because it’s around the corner; any further and I’d forego that extra year.

You can pick out the serious work-out addicts by their spiffy, spandex outfits, gloves, thick leather belts, bottles of water with added minerals that hydrate and energize. They attach weights the size of tire trucks and groan like a mother at the moment the baby’s head is crowning. They feign no interest in me or my stretched out, Tufts University Proud Parent t-shirt, which is as I like it, preferring to watch TV, read or listen to music.

This morning I reached the tipping point at the gym. Not only did I still have 22 minutes more of sweating, but the despicable Ann Coulter was on every TV screen with some of my least favorite people – Joe Scarborough and Pat Buchanan – discussing her appearance on “Hardball”, where she'd taken vicious snipes at Elizabeth Edwards, who’d called to ask her to refrain from hurtful personal attacks. It was too much of a convergence for me, everything on my short list all at once. I ended my work-out, and, literally, threw in the towel. If this causes me to lose that extra year of my life, I know Ann Coulter will be no more sensitive to me than she is to Elizabeth and John Edwards. Ann Coulter is the reason I hope the karma people are right.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

paris, pickles and pastrami

i know what you expect me to be writing about today. paris hilton is free at last and once again, the entire city is on high alert. traffic is snarled, not just around her home in west hollywood but now that she has encamped at her grandparent's home in bel air, yet another area of the city is impacted.

yes, i was going to write about paris but then another news item caught my eye. al langer died yesterday. for those of you who have not lived in los angeles in the last 65 years, al langer was the owner of langer's deli. langer's was located, almost downtown, across the street from macarthur park. when it opened in 1942, the deli was the heart of a thriving jewish neighborhood. it was not unusual to see a long line at lunch time, snaking out the door and around the block. langer's was famous for their "mile high" pastrami sandwiches. over the years, the jewish community was replaced by a new wave of immigrants - latinos. while i am sure that none of the mexcian, guatemalan, or ecuadorian new comers had ever tasted pastrami, the line around langer's continued. people traveled from all over the city for pastrami. langer's managed to hang on long enough for the neighborhood to become upscale again.

the article said that al had died from "complications of old age". what does that mean? i am old and none of the complications i am experiencing seem to be fatal. can one die from memory loss, sagging breasts, brown spots or chin hairs? i wonder if old al might have died just because he was 97 or perhaps a lifetime of pastrami did him in.

today i had to choose between two newsworthy stories. while paris is a tempting subject - nothing can beat a good pastrami sandwich.

Whatever happened to my college roommate...and other information I get from Google

Was the man sitting next to me on the plane for real? What’s the answer to 23 Across, six letters? Which airlines fly to Myanmar? Where is Myanmar? Do we need shots? Which is the quietest dishwasher? Should I be worrying about an irregularly shaped mole? How is Hillary doing in the polls? Who was the art director on “Love Story”? Which car gets the best gas mileage? What did we do before Google? Please, may I never have to choose between my family and my search engine!

Most of my life was pre-Google. Somehow I managed, as unlikely as that seems. Even if my memory was more reliable, I was no Google. Sure, I remembered a few terms from biology – arthropod, hepatic duct, flagella - and I could get weather forecasts from TV, but I was hardly a destination spot on the information highway. Now you can ask me anything, the answer is seconds away. Google has narrowed the gap between me and The Book of Knowledge.

Google rendered useless almost everything I’d ever relied on: my dictionary, thesaurus, cookbooks, travel agent, Zagat and doctors. I don't even fire off questions to my husband the way I used to. I’m now a one-woman e-band, chasing down synonyms, lost friends, pasta recipes, hotels and diagnoses online. For a change of pace, I can move to Google Earth and check on the perennials I planted at the house we once leased. From what I see, the garden and the couple are thriving. I’ve never caught either sneaking out for a clandestine affair. I’m wondering if private investigators are losing work because of Google Earth. How far will this go? Might they be Beta testing a virtual husband?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Hitting the ground running, so to speak

I’m, like, amazing, you’re, like, sort of amazing, he, she it, well, you get the idea. “Amazing”, “sort of” and “like” (the Hamburger Helper of speech) bring nothing to the table (which also brings nothing to the table).

Maybe it’s hormonal; the new and over-zealous usages of these words makes me cranky. I’d like (acceptable use of the word) to propose outlawing, banning or otherwise eliminating the preceding as well as the following expressions:

“Quite frankly”. In the absence of, “just kidding”, “quite frankly” is understood.

“Having said that”. You said it, we heard it, move on.

“Let’s not go there”, acceptable only when your significant other (TBA) suggests going to Niagara Falls or eating at Friday's.

On the same page
Giving a heads up
Make no mistake
Down the road
On or not on the radar range
My bad
Hit the ground running
Tap into
At the end of the day

Why are we (and I’m excluding myself in that “we”) so quick to embrace phrases and run with them (just to see if you’re paying attention)? Do we honestly buy into (no improvement over "believe") that it shows us to be cool?

how old am i, anyway?

about six months ago i started to receive "more" magazine in the mail. i have no memory of subscribing to it but regardless of that, every other month it arrives. for those of you who have never heard of "more", it bills itself as a magazine that has "smart talk for smart women". what they don't say on the cover is that it is aimed at smart women over forty. i don't know what magazine smart women under forty are reading, but maybe those smart women are too smart to read anything that tells them it is for smart women only. i mean , if you are really smart, do you actually need to be told that or aren't you smart enough to pick out appropriate reading material for yourself? but i digress.

so far, every edition of "more" has told me, in one way or another, that 40 is the new 30 and 50 is the new 40 and 60 is the new 50 and, well, you get the point. now here is my question. if this is true, than what is 10, the new newborn? and if indeed 40 is the new 30, for example, does that mean that all the stupid mistakes and bad choices i made at 30, i am doomed to repeat ten years later, at 40? i am very confused. this is a magazine celebrating the older woman, while at the same time telling her that she is not really as old as she, or her birth certificate, think.

in addition to the age confusion thing, every issue of this magazine also includes at least one article about a grandmother who has scaled the face of the highest mountain in chile, rowed alone down the entire course of the river nile or, after taking up swimming in her backyard pool, competing in the olympic trials. interspersed between those articles of aging daring do, there is always, at least one story of a retirement age woman who started a multi-million dollar business in her garage/attic/basement. if all of the above were not enough to intimidate the average, over 40 woman, who has her hands full just holding down a regular job, taking care of her teenage children, her husband, the dog, cat and ailing goldfish, "more" magazine has a fashion section dedicated to and directed at, you guessed, women over forty. and i will let you guess again. just what do you think "more" has us aging beauties dressed in? sleeveless minis, skinny jeans , leopard skin prints and sling back heels.

i don't want to meet any of these "more" women. i know for sure i would hate them. i know this magazine's intent is to bolster the self-esteem of all of us baby boomers and above, but i think the editors should take a page from my mother's book. my mother, who is dead, (dead being the new 80) always said, that in most situations in life, less is more.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Quirks of New York

A woman has a piece in today’s “Times” about having put her virginity on Craigs List, which is only one of the eccentricities more likely to happen in New York than elsewhere. My husband didn't come across this listing while searching for movers on Craigs List, but we did find two Russian guys with a large van, who showed up on time (modern equivalent of a biblical miracle) to move our son’s belongings to his new apartment. As there’s no parking on our street, they asked me to sit at the wheel of the van so they could load up without risking an astronomical fine.

I remained buoyant and exuberant, distracted from the emotions accompanying our son moving into his first real apartment until we turned onto the street where my son had managed to score an apartment without paying a fee (yet another miracle). There was a street fair. You could buy lemonade, socks, grilled corn, Asian scarves, cacti, sausage sandwiches, rugs, dental tools, reading glasses and have a ten-minute back rub. What you couldn’t do was get a car, let alone a van, to the service entrance of the building.

My anguish about empty nest syndrome had been for naught as I saw no option other than returning to our apartment and unloading the van. Our family would have to remain intact until next weekend, when we could try again. The Russian guys, here less than two years and already fluent in English, weren’t so easily deterred. They swung the van onto the sidewalk and drove to the building, demonstrating their savvy and chutzpah, their New Yorkness. You're a better man than I, Vladimir Din.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

it's finally happened

i was about five or six years old and apparently having a very chatty day. my mother repeatedly told me to "calm down" and "be quiet" but whatever i had to say was obviously too important for me to shut up. finally, at the end of her rope, my mother sat me down, looked me straight in the eye and said "judi, when people are born god gives everyone enough words to last their entire lifetime, but if you talk too much when you are young you may run out of words. when you get old you might not have any words left. so, what i am saying is, before you speak, choose your words carefully. don't go on and on or you just may run out of words".

well, it has finally happened. i have run out of words. i have nothing to say and no words with which to say it. i went shopping with the husband today. i realized i had run out of words in the parking lot at the mall. the husband did a terrible job parking the car. it was on an odd angle, making it impossible for the driver next to us to get into his car. i opened my mouth to mention his mistake but nothing came out. i didn't think too much of it. maybe, i was just being kind. at j. crew after waiting 15 minutes in line to pay for two tee shirts (on sale, two for $30, i am happy to report) a woman with about 500 items (it was a really good sale) cut in front of me. once again, i opened my mouth to speak up and once again, nothing.

after the mall, we stopped at the coffee bean and tea leaf for an iced blended mocha. we took a seat on the patio of the shop and stared at each other. the husband spoke. the usual spousal chit chat. i nodded, i smiled, i opened my mouth and closed it again. i have finally run out of words. i have always been known as loquacious ( i have always wanted to use that word in a sentence or, at the very least, use it as a name for my first born grand daughter - if i ever have one). but now i will be known as the silent one. i can still think and write but i think my speaking days are over. it is not as bad as i thought it would be. you would be amazed at how far smiling and nodding can get you. actually, the only down side of this state of affairs, is that i just hate it when my mother's right.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Getting hit up, not hit on

Getting hit up is not unlike getting hit on in that both involve men who want something from you and require you to determine how to respond.

These days (and "these days" dates back decades), when a strange man starts talking to me, the opening line is either, "I'm homeless" or "I'm not homeless", and he's saying it not strictly to me, but to the entire car. He's likely to say he needs money so he can spend the night in a shelter or that he's selling newspapers to support the homeless.

Yesterday's subway ride was more original. "Mike had a stroke," the first guy bellowed out to nobody in particular, interrupting our conversations, reading, dozing. "One side of Mike is paralyzed," he added, somehow letting us know that he was describing himself. He then made his way through the car, accepting money from out-of-towners. New Yorkers sized up his story and he didn't score well on the credibility scale. Those of us with unlimited Metro cards just weren't convinced.

At the next stop Mike, despite the paralysis, jumped off, leaving the stage for a tall, neatly-attired man, who could have passed for a prep school headmaster. He was articulate and better groomed than anyone else among us. "This is awkward", he announced, "but I need help. I moved to New York with my wife and baby, and the only jobs I was offered paid $9 an hour. Today I got a job for $18 an hour, but it requires I indemnify myself. I have no family here and need $500, which is why I'm appealing to strangers. I have $403 and hope you'll help me get the rest by tonight".

This story was a challenge. I could identify. He might be on the level. Should I put out? What would Angelina Jolie do? If someone's desperate enough to beg on the subway, you feel a responsibility to come through. I grappled with what I'd do if I were desperate for cash and had no resources.

Once you've been taken by a stranger with a story, you tend to be less generous. Years ago, as I was putting a dollar bill into the paper cup of a who'd "had my wallet taken and need $30 to get home," I realized the paper cup was a give-away. I'd been scammed and was determined to be more discerning.

That guy may have ruined it for these guys, just as these guys may be wrecking it for someone else. Giving money to strangers feels too much like a one-night stand. Better to buy products made by women in developing nations.

the princes and the mothers

this week, i sat through matt lauer's hour long interview with princes william and harry. they seemed like very nice young men, obviously raised well, with good heads on their royal shoulders. i found the interview to be fairly routine - no new or scandalous revelations- but i did take particular notice of the homage they paid their late mother. not once did they complain about her cooking skills, or lack thereof, or her ever being late to pick up carpool while they and their buddies stood waiting, in the pouring rain. now, it is true that she died very young, so they never did get a chance to criticize the contents of her refrigerator and her total disregard of expiration dates on perishable food, but still. i shudder to think what my son would reveal about me, to matt lauer, should i ever make a wrong move while driving on pacific coast highway. i found comfort in remembering that the boys were so young when their mother met her untimely death that they never really had an opportunity to grow annoyed with her. so i felt better - until the next day.

the morning after mr. lauer's interview, i picked up my copy of the new york times, only to discover, on the front page of the style section, a whole article about prince albert and the gala planned to commemorate the life and death of his mother, the late princess grace (aka grace kelly). now, this boy was not in short pants when his mother died - also in a car crash (what is it with princesses and cars?)and yet he, too, wants the world to remember his mother in only the most glowing terms. he is even planning to display some of her clothing in an exhibit that will travel around the world.

i can just picture my son, rummaging through my closet, trying to choose the items of clothing that would best represent the true me. i only hope that he will pick the size 6 jeans that have been folded in the bottom of my drawer for the last 15 years and not the size 12's that i actually wear. i want to be remembered by my son the way the princes remember their mothers - not as a flesh and blood woman with faults and foibles, but as a saint. i am not planning to leave anytime soon, but i am serving notice to my son to start planning the gala. what's good enough for grace and diana should be good enough for me.

The good news about getting older

There's a lot of bad news about getting older, "older" defined as any number bigger than the one you're admitting to. The fun perks were getting to drink, drive and vote (even if yours never seems to matter and may not even get counted). And, for those kids trying to rent a car, 26 is the magical number.

But once the excitement of those has tapered off, there's a long lag until the last big perk, the senior discount. My husband particularly warmed to it because he's four years my junior. His voice booms as he belloww out to the ticket seller at movie theaters, far louder than necessary, "One senior and one normal person!"

Nobody prepared me for the one huge perk about being older,: the stakes are lower. Sure, you still get willies waiting for medical tests and can be taken down by a natural disaster or being thrust into retirement, but social and professional anxieties are minimized. Walking into a room of strangers no longer means hearing that scary voice, "What if they don't like me?"

Younger people feel, perhaps correctly, that their fate is in the hands of a mentor, boss, potential boss, lover, potential lover, teacher, even a roommate. Each new event is an audition. At my age, whether I'm a big hit or a major embarrassment, my circumstances won't change dramatically. I'm established, which doesn't mean things are over, just that they're in place. This allows me a measure of comfort, I appreciate, especially since I'll never again know the thrill of being served a drink with fake I.D.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Naricissist's Note to self: It's not about you

On narcissism: I have no statistics, but I never felt you had to drag all the way to Malibu to find pre-chewed salads being picked at by the self-absorbed wearing overpriced jeans. Narcissism, like sushi, is easy to find in LA; it’s at the strip malls and on jogging paths. It may, in fact, have been franchised.

The question I heard most frequently, upon becoming a writer, was, “Would I have seen anything you’ve written?” Posing the question this way turned it into a litmus test, requiring me to decide if the person had the sensibility of a “Northern Exposure” fan. Would I risk being insulting by including “Growing Pains”?

Narcissism isn’t the reason we left LA, but it’s one of the factors that made it easier to leave. It’s a city that attracted many people hoping to acquire deals, trainers, attention, private tennis courts and swimming pools, credits, gated estates, shrinks, adulation, expensive cars, agents, unlisted phone numbers, walk-in closets, valet parking and chopped salads. If you need more time to concentrate on yourself, you can hire someone to take care of the details, whether that means parking your car or carrying your fetus. There's some irony in the fact that those people aspiring to be recognized, famous and sought after then erect gates, hire security sytems and bodyguards to protect them from the public.

To be fair, there are narcissists everywhere, but LA seems to have more than its share. Maybe it’s something in the bottled water.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

fake breasts and chopped salads in malibu

today was a beautiful day in los angeles. the kind of beautiful day when you just need to put the top down, or if you don't happen to own a convertible, stick your head out the window and drive to the beach.

i convinced a girlfriend to ride out to malibu with me for lunch. she was game, but she refused to put the top down. this being l.a., the land of perfect weather, i could never figure out why most people prefer air conditioning. maybe they think it will keep them from aging. at any rate, after just a few short minutes we were in malibu, or as the residents like to call it, "the bu". because our adventure was taken on the spur of the moment, we didn't have reservations at the only place you would want to eat in malibu. when we asked for a table they told us it was an hour wait unless, of course, we were willing to eat indoors. we agreed. we were the only people inside the restaurant. malibu, being the land of beautiful and laid back people, what better way to work on your tan than to multi-task and catch the rays while you pretend to eat.

nobody eats in l.a., but in malibu they have raised starvation to an art form. food is ordered and forks are clasped in hands and yet you never actually see food being chewed or swallowed. when i was little my mother used to chastise me at the dinner table "don't play with your food". in malibu, playing with your food is all you are apparently allowed to do with it. the women who starve have the tiniest little bodies you have ever seen and are clad in the least amount of clothing that is allowable by law. the tiny bodies make sense. if you don't eat, ever, you eventually whittle yourself down to nothing. what doesn't make sense is that all of these tiny bodies seem to be topped with enormous breasts. in order to grow breasts that size one would have to ingest, at the very least, one normal meal a day. these breasts seem to live on air and water and oh yes, a little saline.

after lunch, we walked around the shops that surround the restaurant. all i can say is it's a good thing none of these women eat. they couldn't afford to buy both clothing and food so if somethings got to give, well let's just say, what kind of fool would give up a pair of $250 "7 for mankind" jeans for a plate of pasta? after checking out the $400 tee shirts and the $1500 beach bags we also noticed something else that all the women seemed to have in common. they were all mean. now i am sure there are some very kind women living in malibu but all the young women we encountered were mean. even the shop girls were nasty. you would think they would pretend to be nice, in order to try and sell us something but we seemed to irritate them just by asking a question.

on the way home we tried to figure out the malibu phenomenon. was it too much sun, too much money, or too many failed marriages that made these women so unpleasant? no, we came to the conclusion that they were just hungry. some of them haven't eaten in five years. factor in the ten pounds of extra breast weight they are lugging around and you can only imagine how irritable that could make one. so let's forget all this nonsense about darfur - we need to airlift some chopped salads (dressing on the side) to these girls and soon! that would be a true humanitarian mission.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

they come back

while my heart is with sybil and the pain of the final good-bye, i have some words of wisdom i would like to share. being that i am the mother of two (who are quite a bit older than sybil's one) i have shared sybil's pain, not once, but twice. two times i have stood at aiport gates and train stations. twice i have sent my babies to camp, to friend's homes in far away states, to college, to foreign countries where i was sure a war would erupt at any second or, even worse, my children would not take their vitamins or eat properly.

i have wept at good-byes both large and small. a half day at nursery school, a full day in kindergarten, a summer at camp, a junior year abroad, a first apartment and the most wrenching good-bye of all, a marriage. but here is what i have to tell you. THEY COME BACK!!

be it divorce, lack of employment or in my daughter's case, a beloved pet's illness that required that my daughter and her cat, stinky, take up residence in a safe and loving place, children come home. long after you have lovingly packed and stored all their things in the garage or attic, long after you have converted their rooms into a gym, guest bedroom or craft room, they show up. suitcase in one hand - english bull dog in the other.

at first you are overjoyed. the beloved child is home once again. home where they belong - in the bosom of their family. but with the beloved child comes their stuff. at first, being adult children, they manage to confine their stuff to their designated room but eventually, being children (adult or not they are still your children), they allow their stuff to slowly leak into other areas of the house. soon you find yourself tripping over tennis shoes in the den or cleaning up dirty dishes from the living room. ah, just like the good old days.

now, don't get me wrong - i love and adore my children and would be happy to keep them under my roof forever. they are the kindest, funniest, dearest children that ever were. it is just that, once they are gone, you mourn and you weep and you cry and then you move on. once you move on - once you re-decorate, there is no going back. you can't go home again once your mother has taken over your closet. that is just a fact of life.

so cry sybil, weep for those long lost baby days but don't invest in new carpet for the soon to be dreamed of guest room. he will be back.

Empty Nest Syndrome...Not Again!!!

I’m not sure if birds return home after camp or a semester abroad, but for me, empty nest syndrome has been a routine. Curiously, it doesn't get easier. Each time our son has gone, suitcase in hand, it’s been wrenching. Nursery school was a prelude when, clutching his Big Bird lunch box, he wailed and we tried not to as we experienced our initial bout of “separation”.

The experts use the term to define a process deemed crucial if children are to mature into independent, functioning adults. While it was our son in tears at nursery school, my husband and I have had to hold it together each time he's packed a suitcase and gone off. With other New York parents, we stood at the bus taking our children to camp, smiling and waving until the bus pulled away, when we were free to deal with our own feelings. Martin and I sighed, joined hands and started the countdown to visiting day. “He looked fine,” one of us would say.

We'd console ourselves that it was thrilling to provide our son with these opportunities. We'd take pride that he was secure and curious enough to seek out adventures.

“He seems fine,” we said at the airport in Boston after he left to spend his junior year of high school with a family in France. “He seems fine,” one of us said while walking away from his freshman dorm at Tufts. “They seem fine,” we said as we watched him and a friend wave to us in the airport, about to take off for a year of teaching English in Thailand.

Every departure was followed by several days of sadness. The apartment was hauntingly quiet. We missed him. We missed having his friends around. I longed for the morning ritual of tossing take-out containers and recycling soda cans that had been left in his room. We never lost track of when he'd be coming back. His room would remain empty except for occasional guests, who’d fit their belongings in with his ever-growing collection of t-shirts, trophies, sports paraphernalia, CD’s and books.

This time the leaving is different. It’s a move. He’s signed a lease. He’s taking his desk, bed, TV and laptop. It’s not clear who’ll get custody of the trophies and old Yankees programs. I'm collecting bowls, silverware and items he'll need for this new chapter of his life. but there's no return to circle on the calendar.

Children separate, and parents grieve.

Monday, June 18, 2007

So Many Fears

There’s a lot I worry about. Even when things are going well for my family and friends, there will be an e-mail with a map allowing me to unearth the exact location of sex offenders living in my neighborhood. This precipitated the last rash of nervousness, that particular worry moving to a back burner when I read how infrequently airlines clean the blankets they now so rarely provide, which was almost immediately overshadowed by the story on home grown terrorists all around us. I still haven’t forgotten the images revealed on television with a particular light that finds bodily fluids lurking all over hotel rooms (and not just of the Motel 6 variety)or the dangers posed by walking on New York streets due to faulty Con Ed wiring.

Those are just my personal anxieties, potential disasters that occupy a portion of my brain (I’m not sure if it's right or left side). I also don’t know if they’re in the same side as the horror I experience in response to the existing atrocities -- the genocide in Darfur, fighting in Gaza, global warming, trafficking of women, war in Iraq, our leaders, to name a few. But wherever these fears are stored, I suspect they’re in the space that was once occupied by actors' names, making it impossible for me to finish a sentence without saying, “the one who was in the movie with the guy done by the director who’d had that big hit, oh you know”.

This brings me to one of my most overriding concerns: memory loss. AOL posted a story last night that a test has been developed to test for Alzheimer’s. While reading that, in the background I heard a documentary on TV with the terrifying statistic about the percentage of people who will contract the disease. They maintained that if they find a way to put it off for five years, 50% less of the population will have it, and if they could postpone it for ten years, almost nobody would have it as it generally affects the last ten years of your life.

It would be so much easier if our fears would vanish from where they get embedded, instead of the names of movie stars.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

what a world!

yesterday afternoon, we were invited to a friend's home for a party celebrating their eldest daughter's graduation from college. the party was held in the garden of this really beautiful estate. their home is in bel air overlooking a golf course and with it's pool, terraces, boccie court and wine house it resembles nothing less than a mini ritz carlton. our hosts are warm and hospitable people and dear friends. their daughter is smart and beautiful and destined for great things. we all, well dressed, well heeled, white people, stood around, drinking margaritas, eating great food and enjoying the beautiful day.

that evening, i was invited to attend an event at the art museum downtown. in conjunction with "whack" an exhibit of feminist art that has been running at the museum for the last few months, 200 women were invited to a dinner. the premise of the dinner was that 40 women were invited to be "witnesses" to the rest of the group's stories. there were 40 tables, each seating one witness and four working women. we were to eat, drink and share our stories. i had no idea what to expect and, as usual, when i have no idea what to expect, it turned out to be an amazing evening.

throughout the entire night, women rose on platforms scattered among the tables to tell their stories. there we sat, under a blanket of los angeles stars, listening. listening to a woman who had risen from skid row to make a life for herself and her children. a woman who had walked across the brutal desert to find a better life and work in a foreign country. a young teacher, underpaid, overworked and on the verge of burning out. a young black woman who, despite her degrees still found job prejudice, in 2007, in beverly hills. there was a 55 year old woman who left her abusive marriage of 35 years and her mind numbing job of 30 years to pursue her dream of becoming an artist. the stories went on and on. not one of the women spoke of wanting riches or material things. they all just wanted one thing, dignity. the right to hold their heads up while working hard at honorable jobs.

at the end of the evening, after exchanging email addresses and promises to keep in touch with my table mates, the all women, african band played one last number. the music was infectious. two of my table mates and i rose and started swaying with the music. i reached out my hand to a woman at the next table who seemed to be dancing in her seat. she was an iranian who had fled her country years before. she in turn reached out to a mexican domestic worker and soon fifty or sixty of us, holding hands, were dancing, under the moon, among the tables.

yesterday was quite a day. i got to see the two faces of the city of angels. the haves and the have nots and it was very clear to me, perhaps for the first time, that we are not so very different. we all want the same thing. whether it is the fresh faced college graduate from bel air or the invisible domestic worker from downtown, we, as women just want that chance to be. to be, with dignity and honor.

A Summer Place

Every summer we're confronted with the same choices: East Hampton, Fire Island, the Berkshires, closer and further in Connecticut, the Catskills, Woodstock (Vermont and New York). No, we're not looking for a place. We’re invited to visit friends, all of whom, in addition to Manhattan apartments, have country or beach homes. If we're all on level footing the rest of the year, once winter coats go into storage, Martin and I emerge as New York’s answer to Brangelina. We're the couple everyone aspires to having in their heated pools and enclosed porches. We’re presented with a dazzling array of perks -- tennis courts, beachfront locations, bluefish dinners and blueberry pancakes, local artists and writers dropping by, concerts, galleries, auctions and produce stands.

The reason for our seasonal rise to the top of the charts is we don’t have a summer place, making us almost unique among our friends. We are, therefore, the designated guests. Our friends, who'd bought second homes when their kids were young are now left with empty four-poster beds and enormous kitchens with painted, wood chairs to be filled.

Early in our marriage Martin and I made a maiden voyage to Sag Harbor to the country house of close friends. On Friday night, shortly after Roberta had said to me, “Isn’t it great having all our toothbrushes in the same house,” Martin pulled me aside to ask how long we had to stay. From the moment we’d taken our overnight bags into the white, clapboard house, he’d been stressed. "There are no Chinese restaurants that deliver!" He was unable to fall asleep without the familiar sounds of sirens and brakes screeching. He finally nodded off around 5 and was woken almost immediately by the chirping of a bird. Not only did he hate being in the country, but he was not at all relaxed in someone else's house.

“I like walking on pavement, not grass,” he tells me repeatedly when we get an invitation. “Why drive for hours to see them when they live twenty minutes from us in the city?” is another argument he sets forth.

Friends, mindful of Martin's difficulties, try to lure us with concessions. “You don’t have to stay over." "Come for lunch and a swim. You can even leave the car running," one quipped.

We make the occasional day trips to the country, but most summer weekends find us in Manhattan. Martin doesn't mind that the subways don't run, the tomatoes are mealy and our bathing suits remain untouched. Getting to stay home is the gift that never stops giving. With so few natives around, we see it as our responsibility to assist tourists in our neighborhood, all of whom are thrown by the fact that Waverly Place intersects with Waverly Place.

Friday, June 15, 2007

i'm back...

while sybil, in her usual, hysterically funny and insightful way, was contemplating the idea of buying a bathing suit, i was actually out there trying to buy one. there is something about the impending july 4th holiday that forces, even sane women, into the neon lit dressing rooms of swimwear sections of department stores.

living in southern california, i am gifted with year round sunshine. the consequence of all that light is that my arms, face and chest gradually, over the year, take on a healthy tannish glow. i don't want to get any emails so i am telling you, from the outset, that i do use sunscreen but all the sunscreen in the world can't totally protect one from constant sunshine. the up side of this tannish glow is that my upper body tends to look healthy and youngish. my legs are another story. my legs are white. i mean really white. my upper thighs could accurately be described as flounder, underbelly white. it therefore goes, with out saying, that bathing suit shopping is not my favorite activity.

i don't mean to imply that my upper thighs are my only figure flaw - oh no, that would be too easy. i have problems with my butt, my breasts and my belly. actually, there is not a body part left that one could say was bathing suit worthy. and yet i shop. i shop because i love the beach and the sand and the sun. i love to swim. give me a pool, an ocean or a lake and i am happy. i just don't want to look in the mirror while i am doing it.

bathing suits come in three categories. the bikinis for the young and lithe, the tankini's which are like training bras for the bikini wearers. (it is the suit you wear when you are weaning yourself from young to not so young). and then there are the one pieces. the dreaded, one pieces are for those who have passed bikini, rested briefly in the land of tankini and are now firmly stuck in - you guessed it - old age. nothing says mother like a one piece bathing suit and nothing says grandma like a black one piece. now, i will admit that there are some one piece bathing suits that are cut up to here and down to there and held together with a tiny little string or a strategically placed piece of gold or silver hardware, but let's face it, those are not one piece suits, those are glorified tankini's with cut outs in places that no one over 21 can afford to have cut out.

the worst part about bathing suit shopping is not the pawing through miles of racks, overstuffed with bathing suits on hangers, each hanger guaranteed to get wrapped up in the price tag of the bathing suit next to it. just finding a suit you like, finding your size and then extracting said suit from the rack is enough to make a grown woman weep. but no, that is not the worst part. the worst part is yet to come. the worst part begins after you have waited on line for a dressing room and you are finally alone (except for that cute little security camera they warn you about in bright red letters. you just know that some stock room boy somewhere is getting a look at parts of you that even your own husband hasn't seen in years), alone in the cubicle. just you, 23 bathing suits and enough fluorescent lighting to make even angelina jolie look bad.

you get undressed, you start to try on and then the hot flashes begin. after bathing suit nine or ten you stop caring. the process has sucked the life force from you. you are beaten. you end up buying, as i have, year after year, what ever black bathing suit fits. you walk out of that dressing room, triumphant. not because you have emerged with the dream suit but because you have emerged at all.

i happened to have had lunch with an orthodox, jewish woman the other day. she was a young woman, somewhere between the age of bikini and tankini, and yet she didn't even own a bathing suit. fundamentalists of all persuasions, be they muslims, mormons or amish don't seem to like to see their women half naked. she laughed when i asked her if she didn't miss swimming. not only did she say she didn't miss it, she said she felt relieved. she never had to buy a bathing suit again. i thought about that long and hard and i have come to the conclusion there is something to be said for burka's.

Why I'm Not Starting a Diet Today

This is the season when bathing suits reemerge and force us to consider our bodies in ways we don't while wrapped in tweeds and wool. For many of us, it's diet time. I'm no more willing to eliminate carbs than I am to eat low-fat or, worse yet, think about portion control. This is why I perked up when I saw endorsements of NutriSystem on TV, promising weight loss without denial. Visions of lasagne dance on the screen. Upon closer scrutiny, I saw the problem, and may need to write on behalf of us all:

To: NutriSystem

You never seem to run out of newly downsized people to feature on television and on your website who, without giving up their favorite foods, have lost significant amounts of weight. All Americans believe they have to lose between five and five hundred pounds, so we feel hopeful when you show Dan Marino, who dropped 22 pounds, Mike Golic an amazing 51 pounds, Jim Stucky 60 pounds, and Mary Anne Shula 23 pounds.

Why, even Mary Anne’s little grandson was turned on, telling her, “Granny Mary Anne, you’re looking hot!” My grandmother, or “Baba” as she was known, would never have been dubbed, "hot". Her job was to provide unconditional love and over-cooked brisket. Even if they’d a kosher NutriSystem and she’d lost weight, we wouldn’t have noticed because Baba's shape was indeterminate in her loose-flowing, cotton housedresses with snaps down the front.

My personal favorite among the guys who've trimmed down is the one who announces with glee, “My wife told me I’m not as disgusting as I used to be”! You don't tell us if she whispered this into his ear while they were making love or if she went public at a huge Thanksgiving, family gathering. I'm not known to be overly tactful, yet even I would have said, “I can’t get over how fabulous you look”? You've got to find this woman before she goes up to someone and blurts out, “You were a lot more fun before you were riddled with cancer".

I was particularly interested in the older women, the ones whose last names you withhold, as if they're entitled to the anonymity afforded to recovering foodaholics. Or are we to think that post NutriSystem, they’re as iconic as Cher, Madonna and Hillary, ergo no last names needed? Cara has taken off 30 pounds, Julie is 22 pounds thinner and pleased that at forty years old, she can put on a bikini, but your big success is obviously Aliette, who’s dropped 101 pounds and boasts, “I no longer feel invisible. In fact, I’m getting noticed!” The woman is delighting in being noticed, yet she's the one we don't get to see. Has she tired of getting noticed, or is she still too overweight to move from one room to another without the help of paramedics?

However persuasive these commercials may be -- and I assume they are since they appear almost as frequently as Sally Field pushing Boniva -- I’m not jumping on the bandwagon. You want to know why? Maybe this goes by other viewers, but I've taken note of those tiny letters, almost subliminal, on the screen saying, “*Results not typical”. No high school would boast, “Lisa, Matt and Emily were accepted at Ivy League schools, however, the *results are not typical”. An airline doesn’t advertise, “Our flights arrived safely and on time, however *results are not typical”. We wouldn’t rush to a doctor who says, “I succeeded in saving Jonathan, Tyler and Wendy” but those *results are not typical”.

Most of us are typical, so how about giving us the typical results.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A reason a man's suit should come with two pairs of trousers

Roy Pearson, a Washington, D.C. judge, has filed a $67 million lawsuit against a dry cleaner who lost the trousers he'd planned to wear his first day on the bench. He claims he's endured "mental suffering, inconvenience and discomfort." The amount factors in the cost of renting a car get to another dry cleaner. Isn't there a cleaner that delivers in D.C.? Pearson is holding the cleaner to his promise: "Satisfaction Guaranteed."

Even I, who've turned griping into an art form, see this as excessive. I accepted, though not with a tremendous amount of satisfaction, a $150 voucher from American Airlines when my flight was delayed four hours because of the plane needing repairs, causing me to miss a connection and necessitating I pay for meals and a hotel room in Rome (as opposed to being a guest in a villa). Having our bill reduced by half from an exorbitant $250 per person for a truly terrible meal at Le Normandie in Bangkok's Oriental Hotel was, again, a concession and not a true victory. Generally, my complaining is more successful.

I aim to be reasonable and fair. I don't file law suits, just plead my case in phone calls or e-mails. My gripes are both about money and principle. I've walked blocks to return a container of blueberries when I've felt duped that the fuzzy, vintage blueberries had been hidden at the bottom. I see myself as a public servant and hope my zealousness will save others from devious fruit vendors, unreliable contractors and overcharging car rental agencies. The service that "Dateline" is performing to protect young girls from sexual predators is not dissimilar from my own work.

Though I don't often have occasion to quote this administration, when it comes to these efforts, "Failure is not an option". I'm currently distressed that Cop. Copine, a French clothing designer, has been unresponsive to my e-mails. I've sent photos to show that an expensive skirt I bought, worn only a handful of times, has sprung holes, no fault of mine but due to the fabric being flawed. Unlike this greedy Washington judge, all I wanted was a replacement. Maybe they'll hear about Roy Pearson and decide to get back to me.

I'm not sure if my assertiveness is a strength (as in, "she's not a patsy") or a serious character defect (as in, "doesn't she have better things to do with her time?"), but it's in my DNA. My mother returned bathing suits and wigs, which is prohibited by law. She had a whole other skill and mind set. I restrict my requests to those that are legal. When Astor Wines refused to take back undrinkable kosher wine I'd purchased for a fund raiser on the grounds that New York state doesn't allow it, I didn't argue. My mother-in-law has, on occasion, dabbled in griping, most notably at the New York brasserie, Balthazar, where she complained that the wine bottle didn't hold enough. This resulted in my getting a call the following morning from the restaurant, eager to atone by providing me with their private number. It was the only reward I received that could be termed, "griping by proxy".

I'm eager to see how the Pearson case pans out as it could set an extremely important precedent for my own efforts.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

come fly with me

it's summertime and with summer time comes the usual request from the husband. "let's go some where fun, somewhere adventurous". that statement is usually followed by trips to the newsstand and bookstore, returning laden with travel magazines and guide books. "How about thailand" he asks. "uh hum" is my usual response. he has tried to lure me to africa, india, japan, vietnam and once the lesser antilles. it's not that i don't want to go on vacation or that i am not curious to see other countries and cultures, it's just that if we are going to go on vacation i would like to go by car. i am afraid to fly. there - i've said it. this has nothing to do with the rash of terrorism that has taken over the news since 9/11. oh no, i was afraid to fly long before it was fashionable. unfortunately, for me, i am married to a man who suffers from a terminal case of wanderlust and so, over the years, i have been forced, over and over, to swallow my fears and board a plane.

here is how i do it. this might not work for other phobics but this little routine is what gets me off the ground. it all begins with the reservations. i can only fly in front of the wing and on the aisle. i know that statistics show that in the event of a crash you are more likely to survive in the back of the plane but i have a different theory. first of all, how many people actually survive a plane crash? not many. given that fact, i would rather be seated in front of the wing where there is less turbulence and closer to the seat of power, the pilot. now, sometimes the reservation person will give me a hard time. sometimes they tell me that none of those seats are available. that's when i tell them my sad story - how i am afraid to fly but my husband is forcing me to go. i tell them the tale of my weak bladder and how access to the toilet is crucial and if that doesn't work, i start to cry. nine times out of ten i get my seat.

part two of my routine is that i try to make sure that i am among the first to board. i need that extra time to carry out the most important mission of the flight. i must go into the cockpit and introduce myself to the pilot. after i have been assured that he is not drunk, blind or suicidal i then ask if there is any red on the radar (indicating thunderstorms) or if he is expecting the flight to be turbulent. most pilots usually lie and say no, but at least the lie gets me into my seat.

next comes an equally important step. i try to make friends with the flight attendants. this is a two fold plan. first, they are more apt to give me extra vodka, if needed, during the flight and secondly, i am sure that if i befriend them they will be more than likely to save me in the event of a catastrophe. the vodka is, as you may have already guessed, the last part of the plan. while i rarely drink on the ground i am quite the party girl at 35,000 feet.

the husband and i were flying from ecuador to miami and then on to new york for a meeting. the flight from quito to miami was a nightmare. the plane was two hundred years old and bouncing all over the skies. none of the flight attendants spoke english very well but, fortunately, they understood the international sign for vodka. during the four hour flight i managed to down four vodka tonics. we landed in miami with only twenty minutes to make our flight to jfk. twenty minutes is not long enough to recover from four vodka tonics and so i boarded the american airlines jet to new york just a wee bit tipsy. we took off in what looked to me like a thunderstorm. immediately, i felt i had sobered up and ordered the first of three more vodkas. at this point i was very happy. the husband was astounded i could still speak but speak i did. i formed a close personal relationship with our very gay flight attendant, mark. just before we landed at jfk i excused myself to go to the ladies room. i think mark was relieved to see me go . i know the husband was.

on entering the rest room, i took one look in the mirror and almost fainted. i looked like a monster. my eyes were mere slits and i had make-up smeared all over my face. the less said about the state of my hair the better. i staggered from the rest room and grabbed onto mark's arm for support. "Oh my god, mark, when i get to new york i am going to have to spend a week at elizabeth arden's" to which mark replied, straight faced, "honey, i was thinking more like betty ford's".

"It's our policy" - a professional equivalent of "Because I said so"

To our loyal readers: Judi appears to have gone on hiatus so I'll do double duty today.

When the regular programming (which is starting to feel like filler between "Breaking News" reports) was interrupted to tell us that subpoenas had been issued regarding the firing of U.S. attorneys to former White House counsel Harriet Miers and former political director Sara Taylor, I was elated. This meant they were closing in on Karl Rove, which is one of my own raisons d'etre.

Then Jeffrey Toobin stepped forward to dash my hopes by pointing out that the White House policy is not to let their aides testify. I remembered they'd set forth the position that if aides were forced to go public, they could no longer give the president sage advice. Sage advice? What evidence do we have that he's ever been given sage advice? And, let's say he has, did he take it?

I've come to see "It's our policy" is polite jargon for, "No way, screw you, our way or the highway". If there were reasonable justification for a position, that's what you'd hear and not, "It's our policy".

I now respond to anyone saying that to me with, "Think about that for a moment. Have you ever noticed that when someone says, 'It's our policy', it's because what they're saying is indefensible?" Mostly I'm speaking to an underling so I ask that they quote me to whomever formulated the policy. Since I have no contact with White House personnel, I'm unable to make my case on this occasion

Back to you, Judi...

"A Letter to Putin" : please don't poison my ex

Alexander Goldfarb is promoting his new book about the former Russian security officer, Alexander Litvinenko, who'd been poisoned with Polonium 210(a WMD produced only in Russia). Goldfarb and the Litvinenko's widow contend that the the idea was that the Polonium would not be detected as British investigators are not trained to look for it and that the conclusion could be made that this had been an effort to frame Putin. That so many anti-Putin journalists have met untimely deaths led me to wonder if any embittered, rejected woman has thought of writing the following letter:

Dear President Putin:

Having read about anti-Kremlin writers who’ve supposedly been poisoned, shot and pushed out windows since you’ve been in office, I’m worried about my ex-boyfriend, not exactly a fan of yours, who is planning a trip to Russia with his new girlfriend. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s true that he dumped me, suddenly and without any particular concern for my feelings, but I’m not vindictive and wouldn’t want anything terrible to happen to him. He’s passionately anti-Russian and some might say too curious for his own good, not unlike that former KBG agent, Alexander Litvinenko, whom we all saw on TV as he was disintegrating so I’m worried that my ex might be targeted over there. That’s why I’m appealing to you to protect him.

If anyone wanted to, it would be far too easy to kill my ex. It wouldn’t even require a gun or poison. The man has a serious peanut allergy and would die from eating just one peanut or even something prepared in peanut oil. Are blinis ever fried in peanut oil? It’s not that I’d go with him even if he asked, but if I were, you can be sure I’d have a conversation with every waiter and know the Russian for, “He’s allergic to peanuts” or, “Он аллергическ к арахисам”. The new girlfriend, from what I hear, is no genius and probably won’t be as protective. My hope is if I provide you with their names and itinerary, you’ll have someone contact their hotels and instruct them to alert the restaurants so that precautions are taken.

It’s a little fuzzy about what’s going on over there. The most recent report was about two women who now live in California but had been born in women, returning from there seriously ill. I haven’t heard a follow-up and maybe that means they’d gotten sick from something they’d eaten, which could happen anywhere. The Litvinenko poisoning got a lot of press here and may account for the paranoia people are feeling about Russia being dangerous for certain people. To be fair, we just had a bunch of dogs and cats who died after ingesting rat poison that was in pet food so shit happens. So far, nobody’s tried to connect you with these deaths.

My boyfriend, oops ex, was reading about Anna Politkovskaya, following her reports on human rights abuses in Chechnya, carping about politics over there, as if he wasn’t capable of abusing another human. Talk about people in glass houses, but I’m digressing. Even if there was foul play involved in Politkovskaya’s death, Litvinenko had eaten sushi, and we all know how easy it is to pick up something radioactive from an uncooked bottom-feeder. How is it you got an easy name like Putin? Was it shortened?

It must add to the suspicions about you that nobody’s been tried for the murder of any of the journalists, but I’m the kind of person who gives the benefit of the doubt. Is it fourteen or fifteen writers who’ve died mysteriously? Is there a Russian version of “Unsolved Crimes”? Regardless of what people say, I don’t believe you’d be that vindictive. Even our administration, which has been accused of pretty much everything, has never been charged with killing reporters. Oh sure, they may have the IRS do an audit or conspire to reveal that someone’s mate is a covert FBI agent, but character assassination is as far as they’ll go. Nobody has suggested it, not even on the Sunday morning TV shows, but I have wondered if Maureen Dowd’s single status (is that an oxymoron over there too?) is a government plot in response to her having relentless chipped away at the president. How else did she manage to avoid getting involved with Carl Bernstein?

Over here criticism of Bush is a major business, perhaps the only field left not monopolized by Halliburton. If our administration were eliminating journalists critical of Bush, they’d have little time left to concentrate on their other work: trying to sell the war, spinning and rewarding cronies. Our writers are free to publish books with titles like “Worse Than Watergate, The Case For Impeachment and The Bush-Haters Handbook: A Guide to the Most Appalling Presidents of the Past 100 Years” Bush Must Go”), “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them”)”, is that thirteen? I suppose American journalists could have fewer concerns about reprisal because this president doesn’t read.

Monday, June 11, 2007

21st century problem solver

yesterday i jumped head first into the twenty-first century. i bought my first ipod. a nano ipod, hot pink and tiny. the young man (and when i say young, we are talking fourteen) at the apple store was very patient with me when i told him i was an ipod virgin and not very handy around all things techno. he assured me that it was really simple to operate. all i had to do was "plug this thing into that thing and then that thing into the other thing and then just download my music". right.

he also convinced me to buy accessories. my hot pink ipod was turning into the barbie doll of the twenty-first century. first i had to buy a power adapter. the twenty-three other power adapters i owned would not work and so i could add this adapter to the pile of others that sit tangled on the floor of my closet. then i purchased an ipod case. this case is billed as "the ultimate sports case for the active ipod". i was beginning to become concerned that my ipod was going to have a more interesting, and certainly more active, life than i was. i also bought an adjustable armband, suitable for carrying my ipod on hikes and bike rides (like that will ever happen). lastly, i purchased a "low profile belt clip". i can't remember the last time i wore a belt. i think it was around the sixth pregnancy when my waist disappeared for the final time, never to been seen again, but the young man was so convincing and had such faith in me i hated to disappoint him.

when i got home i couldn't wait to get started. my little pink beauty gleamed at me from her snug little bed encased in a plastic box. i tried to find an opening. there was none. i tried to wedge it open with a pair of scissors. no luck. then i tried a screw driver. the box would not budge. i was frustrated. i went into the garage and grabbed the tool kit. my eyes lit on a box cutter. aha! if they could bring down a jet plane with a box cutter i could surely open this little plastic prison and free my ipod. let us just say that i would have made a terrible terrorist. finally, i let out a scream of frustration which brought the husband running. he tried the scissors, the screw driver and the box cutter, also with no success, but being a man he was not going to let a little plastic box get the better of him. finally, using a combination of the scissors and the screw driver he managed to liberate my ipod. now i was set.

i plugged the thing in the thing. then i plugged the other thing in the other thing. i followed the young man's instructions to the letter. i tried - i swear, but i got nothing. unfortunately, while the husband is good with tools he knows even less than i about things techno and so i had to call my son. this is the call of last resort. one, i hate to bother him and two, i hate that he knows how stupid i am. i remember when i used to know more than he but those days are long gone. he was very patient and talked me through the whole process. when i was ready to download my music i realized that the only music i had on my computer was put there by my daughter. i was going to have an ipod full of "ten inch nails" and "rodents on fire" but hey, music is music. i thanked my son, got off the phone and waited for the ipod to load. it finished pretty quickly. i placed the little ear pieces in my ear and - oh my god - there was music. it was a miracle! i tried to lower the volume and in doing so must have pressed something by mistake. suddenly, my ipod spoke only russian. having your ipod speak russian is a huge problem. all the commands were in russian and the worst part was, that unless you actually spoke russian, there is no way to remedy the situation. it was now 11:15 p.m. what to do? all i wanted from this little device was to play a few songs while i trudged along on the tread mill at the gym. i wasn't asking for anything fancy or even complicated. i just wanted a little frank sinatra, a little ella fitzgerald, a little johnny mathis to help me pass the time while i was doing time on the treadmill. and so i called my son - again. "did i wake you"? i asked. no, he was just sitting with a roomful of friends discussing the most important news of the day, perhaps the century, the finale of the soprano's i told him about my slight problem. when he stopped laughing and after he shared it with all of his friends in the room, he proceeded to help me out of the gulag and back to the old u.s. of a. i thanked him - grateful that i was smart enough to give birth to someone who actually knows how to do this stuff - and went to bed.

this morning, on my way to the gym i picked up my ipod, turned it on, at least i thought i turned it on, and there it was - chinese. i refused to call my son again. i had a talk with myself. "you are smart, you are capable. you can solve this problem". i thought long and hard and came up with a solution. i made a few phone calls and by the time i got to the gym, there was johnny mathis, waiting to sing to me while i exercised.

At our house "The Sopranos" got whacked

Martin and I returned from the airport after picking up our son, who'd e-mailed to say he'd take a cab since his flight would be arriving during the final episode of "The Sopranos", which he knew would be a religious event here. However, as parents, we're every bit as committed as Tony and Carmela, so we told him we'd TIVO it (and the Tony Award Show). It was a major moment as we settled in and turned on the set. I hit "List". What appeared on the screen were the names of holocaust and travel shows I'd been saving, but no Tony Soprano, no Tony Award Show. A message popped up saying there was no room left for new shows.

Martin, enraged that I'd overstuffed our TIVO, vented while erasing the bulk of my list. "If you haven't watched 'Patton' by now, you never will!" he spit out. All travel shows were trashed, meaning if I want to see Lyon or Reykjavik, I'll have to go there. Though this was precisely the sort of occasion where I remind him he'd dropped the keys to our Toyota next to the car, causing it to be stolen (and never returned), I didn't. Even I felt there was a statute of limitations to this 16-year-old harangue.

Aggressive erasing appeared to give Martin a measure of release and he then searched HBO On Demand and found "The Sopranos" would be airing again at 1AM. We'd get to see Tony though Lyon and Reykjavik were irretrievable. The Travel Channel doesn't offer On Demand, TV's version of room service, giving each viewer the opportunity to feel like a network programmer.

By 1 AM, I was too tired to watch, so I jumped up at 7 and hit our now pathetically minimal TIVO list so as not risk learning about the plot elsewhere. The episode was one of the finest hours of television, the truest and most philosophical finale. With all the speculation, no one had anticipated that David Chase would defy convention and piss on our need for closure. To be fair, he'd never presented himself as David Chase On Demand. He used the finale to make the point that resolution is only an illusion, a temporary respite before new challenges present themselves.

This series was always about more than it appeared to be, and last night was the finest example. We were left us with the message that so long as we live, there will be changes -- dramatic, mundane, predictable and shocking. This continues even after we're gone, just not for us. To freeze a moment is artificial and a conceit of art; it's not real life.

If the series had continued, it's possible that A.J, having been steered into show business by his parents, viewing it as better than his enlisting in the military at wartime, would fly to location in a small plane, a plane that might crash...or not. We may be desperate to have the illusion of control, but, alas, there's little we can do to insure our own safety or that of our loved ones.

Many of us were convinced that last night might be Tony Soprano's last, but we have only to look at today's newspaper to see that we can't know whose turn it is. Family and friends of Matthew Hopkins, a 26-year-old Brooklyn man, had no reason to expect he'd be killed by a hit and run driver this weekend. Another story about the absurdity of fate is revealed in the same paper by Yoko Ono, who said that John Lennon returned to their apartment to be offed by a stalker at the moment he did because he chose not to go out to dinner but to return home to see their son, Sean. The simplest, most innocuous choice can be fatal.

The realities of life are largely unpredictable. I learned that lesson last night, both from David Chase and TIVO. Things rarely happen the way you'd expected. The other surprise was I'm not suffering from post-Sopranos withdrawal, at least not yet. The episode left me satisfied, more so than I would have thought possible.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

now i know how valerie plame felt

i am so lucky to have a friend like sybil. not only is she funny, bright and adorable but she is generous and kind. for example, if you read sybil's posting today you know that she has risen to my defense in the most flattering way. it had come to my attention (mainly through reading my own postings) that i was beginning to sound like an empty headed, stereotypical los angeles woman. i mentioned that fact to sybil and she wasted no time in setting the record straight. i am grateful for that and yet, somehow, i feel as though i have been outed.

i was beginning to enjoy my literary persona. while not in reality a blond, i was starting to have fun with my platinum haired alter ego. blondie could go places i would never go and say things that would never pop into my head, much less come out of my mouth. while writing on my blog i was 5 foot 8, 115 pounds and had enormous breasts. i drove a bright red mercedes convertible and sported a ten carat (flawless) diamond ring. blog judi lived in a 22,000 square foot mansion in beverly hills with four in help, a heart shaped pool and a lear jet sitting in wait at santa monica airport. blog judi's husband was a famous hollywood producer with six academy awards and only one mistress who he discretely kept in a nice, but not lavish, home in encino. blog judi led the perfect hollywood wife's life and i liked it!

now sybil, in the name of friendship, has gone and spoiled all that. now i am going to have to face the cyber world as just plain, old me. short, dark, intellectually gifted me. i do not think i am up to the task. sybil is short, dark and much smarter than i and so i refuse to compete . in spite of what sybil may have said, i want you to continue to think of me as you once did. tall, blond, gorgeous and not much smarter than paris hilton. this way i will never disappoint and i can live in the land of fantasy forever.

Confession of a lapsed New Yorker: my new, improved face

In fairness to Judi, who rightfully resents having assumed the persona of "L.A. Woman" and all that encompasses (the blondness, self-absorption and superficiality), I'm acknowledging that Judi looks, feels and sounds more like a New Yorker. True, she has a huge home, gardener, trainer and a navigation device in her car that tells you how to get where you're going, but where she's going is likely to be a writing or book group. She's no bimbo. She kills at Scrabble, reads newspapers and though she gets up three hours later than I do, she's the first to finish the Sunday "NY Times" puzzle and claims not to google any answers. The truth is if you're trying to figure out which of us had extensive cosmetic repairs done on Friday, it was the New Yorker. Yes, there's work done in New York that doesn't happen on Wall Street!

How did I find myself in a cosmetic clinic? It started with a torn earlobe. Ouch! Though I've had pierced ears for some forty years, I was never told to remove the earrings before going to sleep, which is why a hole was in trouble. Where we live - in the West Village - you can buy penis-shaped pasta, books on gender issues and dominatrix outfits, but there's not a lot to spruce up a woman's appearance. In our neighborhood most spiked shoes are large sizes as they're bought and worn by men, so I had to shlep my earlobes to the upper East Side, which was still easier than going to Beverly Hills or Bangkok.

The New York Aesthetic Consultants Clinic provides free cookies and coffee, but that's not the reason for my frequent return visits. There had been complications with the earlobe procedure that required additional attention. While waiting, I looked at an array of pamphlets, all featuring photos of smiling, unlined women and promising that wrinkles could safely disappear into the universe. I bit, both into the cookies and pamphlets. "What would you do with this face?" I asked the doctor once he'd finished stitching up my earlobe.

He handed me a magnifying mirror, and pointing to two, vertical lines surrounding my mouth that brought to mind Howdy Doody, said, "Restalyne." I'd expected he'd be more ambitious - okay greedier - and propose everything Michael Jackson had ever paid for. "We can plump those up," he said, his moderation earning my trust.

"It's not permanent and it doesn't seem risky," I told my husband, who was helping me grapple with the decision. Would I feel shabby? Superficial? Less authentic? My fear, however irrational, was that cosmetic enhancements automatically cut into IQ points. "How is this different from coloring your hair?" Martin reasoned. With his encouragement, I went ahead and gave it a shot, which actually meant many shots. There were perhaps six or eight prickly, painful injections on each side of my mouth.

"I don't think it did anything," I complained to the nurse snapping pictures two weeks after the Restalyne had been injected.

"If you're not pleased, don't do it again," was the doctor's advice. They claim Restalyne lasts six months but I got a much longer run and didn't go back for more until two years later, at which time I had them toss in a bit of Botox.

The clinic has an incentives plan: the tenth procedure gets you a $350 discount. They learned from American Airlines, and I'm a mere three painful improvements away from the free taco. To commemorate becoming a senior citizen, this week I treated myself to a major overhaul: Sculptra for sagging cheeks, Radiesse (longer lasting than Restalyne for those mouth-framing lines), Restalyne to flush away the squiggly lines above my lips that look like unpaved, country roads on a map and Botox to deal with my eyes and forehead. Don't be fooled by the luxurious sounding names. They all involve needles and the numbing cream doesn't do enough. All the while, I was ironically staring at a Monet print, blue and yellow sunflowers reminding me we could have gone to France -- twice -- for what I was spending. After sitting with an ice pack on the bruises, I went home on the subway (yes, using my newly acquired, senior reduced fare card), certain a cab driver would have headed directly to a battered woman's shelter.

Martin, who's scrutinizing me in an effort to figure out how I'll look once the intensely purple spots fade, is, to use a currently overused expression, "cautiously optimistic". The contours of my face have changed (for the better), but I'm not unrealistic. Surely I'll still be able to get the senior rate at the movies and walk past a construction site without the work stopping and everyone shouting out obscenities.

The changes aren't dramatic, but maybe that's the desired effect. However great the temptation, I'm not going to divide the number of wrinkles that have been minimized into the cost. I was told to come back for more Sculptra and cookies in a month.

To come clean about the bi-coastal divide, I lived in LA for twenty-two years and moved back to New York in 1991. The only things I miss are the terrific friends I made, the Santa Monica Farmers Market and the sushi. I've been accused of being overly negative about LA, but a friend recently allowed that cities do have different values, explaining, "What matters in New York is what you know, in LA it's whom you know and in Boston, regardless of how old you are, it's where you went to school." That got me off the hook. And if my concession to vanity has done nothing else, it's leveled the playing field of our blog, demonstrating that New York women can be just as self indulgent as those in Los Angeles.