Tuesday, September 16, 2014

If life was perfect, we wouldn't need irony.

If life was perfect we wouldn't need irony.  God gave us irony to deal with a reality that is sometimes intolerable and often annoying.  

What is irony?  Here are some dictionary definitions:

  1. The expression of one's meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.
  2. A state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result.

For the true ironist that doesn't come close. Good irony is a powerful weapon. It's a stand-off.  You on one side - the offending reality on the other.  You say, "I'm going to take you down."

If we had the time to sit around and think about life, some of us would be a little bitter.  God didn't want a group of bitter people so He thought,  I'll give that group irony.  If they can make fun of everything they'll be fine. What do I care?  I made them, too, you know.  So who is the ironist here?

The dictionary gives these synonyms for irony: sarcasm, cynicism, sardonicism. I don't think so.

Sarcasm is crude.  Irony is exquisite.  There is no hope in cynicism.  Irony on the other hand is optimistic.  It's problem solving.  Look,  here's a way to turn this around and make it fun.

Sardonicism a word only used in old historical novels, is more like sarcasm.

There are people who never use or have a need of irony.  They see life as a sunny, faith driven garden of delight.   I don't discount this one bit.  It can happen. I know how to talk to these people and even like them.  I park my irony at the door and engage sincerely.

On the other hand,  when two ironists meet and recognize each other, it is a  sight to behold. They will go back and forth, giggling and nodding.  I have a friend who comes to my house when he can't find irony anywhere else.  It's like going to your favorite pizza joint.  You need a fix, a compass point, to set your path and send you back into the world.

There is a store near me called The Irony.  It's on a highway and not easy to visit but I wanted to see what I would find there.  Would there be bins with menus of ironic statements for all of life's vicissitudes? Alas, no.  They make decorative fences, gates and objects out of metal.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

What I did on my summer vacation

I've done a lot of reading this summer on my Kindle.  I've discovered Live-brary and have  gobbled up Michael Connelly's crime novels.  Connelly writes two series The Mickey Haller series about a lawyer who works out of his Lincoln and the Harry Bosch series about a police detective who is a cranky loner but ultimately solves crimes.

I've tried to analyze why I favor Haller over Bosch.  What is the profile of a protagonist that takes charge of your attention and like my boarding school Mother Superior holds you on a tight leash and tells you when to look down and when to look away.

The main character, good or bad, has to be likeable.  Mickey Haller, of the Lincoln Lawyer series, is a likeable "bad" boy.  He sees the reality of a situation and is not timid about pointing it out and then using it to his advantage.  The way he points it out makes the reader agree with something that goes against values and ethics.  Here's how he opens The Brass Verdict, the second book in the Lincoln Lawyer series.

Cops lie. Lawyers lie. Witnesses lie. The victims lie. A trial is a contest of lies. And everybody in the courtroom knows this. The judge knows this. Even the jury knows this. They come into the building knowing they will be lied to. They take their seats in the box and agree to be lied to.

Mickey has a great support system including a second ex-wife who handles the details of his practice with efficiency and uncanny insight. She has moved on but still likes him.   Mickey also employs her boyfriend, Cisco.  I got to like this little family of realists. Mickey's first ex-wife is not on the Mickey train but she lets him see his daughter and even has dinner with him once in a while.  Mickey's clients are sometimes guilty and he knows they are guilty but as he often says, "I'm not here to prove their innocence, I'm here to disprove the case against them and find reasonable doubt.

I do not feel as connected to the prickly Harry Bosch.  Harry Bosch will bypass the law to get what he needs but not with the same sarcastic confidence as Mickey.  With Harry, a lot of bad stuff has gone down in his life and without even knowing what it is you feel a shroud of somberness surrounding him. You know this guy has not had a good laugh recently, if ever.

This summer, I tried to read Gillian Flynn's two early novels (before the blockbuster Gone Girl).  I say "tried" because hey are both creepy but not in the same stylish way as Gone Girl. Also there's not the thrill of discovery. I know now that Ms. Flynn is going to give me something very noir.  Sharp Objects is pretty good with lots of twists that kept my attention but I skipped some parts.  There is a point where the author could have introduced something wonderful and redemptive, but she chose not to.  Dark Places is relentlessly dark in both plot and circumstances.  By the way, the author of these disturbing novels, Gillian Flynn, is gorgeous and young.

I always keep the crime novels of my good friend Sandra Scoppettone on my Kindle as emergency reading matter when I find myself waiting or on a trip.  Sandra has written more than twenty books, all of them excellent.   Her Lauren Laurano series are my go to re-reads when I'm caught somewhere without new reading material.  Here's a link if you want to check them out. http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_6?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text&field-keywords=scoppettone%20sandra&sprefix=scoppe%2Cdigital-text%2C355

Thursday, August 28, 2014

10 simple rules for being a good dinner party guest

First, no dinner party is a real party. The word "party" implies fun, carefree antics, abandon and lots of merriment. None of that is true of a sit-down dinner party which is a sober, managed, time-sensitive event.  Remember what F. Scott Fitzgerald said of just such a gathering:  "The evening progressed from phase to phase with the sheer nervous dread of the moment itself."   Uh. Huh.

1.  Do not under any circumstances arrive early. Sit out on the sidewalk if you must. Most hostesses need every single minute to prepare for what is basically a staged and artificial situation:  a formal dinner party.  By formal I do not mean tuxedo formal.  I mean a situation where all the parties will check their bad habits, disappointments and marital bickering at the door and put on good public demeanor.
This is fun, right?

 2.  Do not bring flowers as a gift.  Cut flowers demand immediate attention and the last thing your hostess needs is the chore of finding an appropriate vase, clippers and moss to help the flowers stand up. Flower arranging is a tricky maneuver that sometimes demands a Martha Stewart video to accomplish.

3.  Do not under any circumstances arrive more than five minutes late.  The hostess has timed the dinner to be cooked and still edible by a certain time.  Being late messes up the timeline and makes the hostess anxious.  If you are late do not spend another twenty minutes telling her what happened to make you late.

4.  Do not take the hostess seriously when she says, "bring nothing." She doesn't really mean that.  A good bottle of wine will go a long way to making the evening bearable and possibly pleasant.  Yes, she has her own wine but inevitably guests will linger and that extra bottle will be helpful.

5.  Do not ask for hard liquor and proceed to get stinking drunk before the meal even starts. Liquor loosens the tongue and inevitably your "good public demeanor" will fall by the wayside and the real state of your life will be ruinously obvious, eliminating any chance of a pleasant evening.

6.  Conversely do not choose that night to stop drinking.  Going on the wagon will make you concentrate on your sobriety. Your scintillating qualities will evaporate leaving a cranky overzealous shell of your former self.

7.  Do not express an inability to eat anything put on the table. Do not say, "I can't eat shellfish," etc.  You should have mentioned any life-threatening aversions at the time you accepted the invitation.  Have a little sense for goddsakes. The hostess spent fifty dollars on those super jumbo shrimp and now they might as well be tattooed with a skull and crossbones.

8.  Do not pile your plate with all of the food you think will sustain you for the next month.  Take small portions until everyone has been served.  Judicious second helpings are allowable and show the hostess you liked her cooking.

9.  Do not offer help cleaning up.  Unless the hostess has both arms in a cast, she does not expect you to help with the dishes.  Dinner invitations are meant to give you a night of freedom from the daily grind of feeding yourself and cleaning up.  Accept it.

10.  Mail - yes, mail as in, with a stamp - a hand written thank you note to your hostess no later than two days after the dinner.  If you are so inclined, now is the time to have flowers delivered.  Your hostess has the time to arrange them and will think kindly of you each time she sees that lovely bouquet.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Couch and Me - together forever!

I cleaned the living room today.  I didn't just vacuum around the furniture.  I. Moved. The. Couch.  It's a big, low white couch.  I love that couch which I stole from the Bloomingdale's outlet store.  I use the word stole because there was a 93% markdown which I'm sure was a mistake made by a disgruntled worker.  The $2600 couch which was white and gorgeous and filled with down was marked down to $200.  No, it did not have a big red stain on it.  It had nothing but beautifulness and supreme comfort.

No matter how much money comes my way, the couch stays forever.  Today I took the couch cushions out on the deck and beat the dust out of them.  Then I vacuumed them with something called an upholstery attachment which I had to look on the internet to see what it looked like.  Yep.  I had three of them from various vacuums.

It was then that I decided to move the couch and take care of the space of floor under it.   Holy mother of god It was as if I had fallen through a secret door and gone to Narnia.  There was an entire universe going on under the couch. Stages of life lived and ended.  There was a cubic yard of dust that had height as well as width.   But Oh. So. Much. More.  There were pencils and quarters and Monopoly money and guitar picks and crayon stubs and the "shoe" and the "house" from Zingo. (You don't know Zingo? There was a tax bill several peanuts, a pacifier and four red paper clips strung together.

I don't have the gift of housekeeping.  I don't have the gift of shopping or cooking.  I'm not a visual person.  I'm not juiced up by sunsets or panoramic views.  However I do like to see a good result when I spend an hour cleaning up the living room and even though I had hand dusted the floor (after vacuuming) the room looked exactly the way it had looked before.   It looked exactly the same except I knew it was clean and slick under the couch. And the couch looked like it cost $2600.

You look marvelous, darling

Friday, July 25, 2014

10 simple rules for being a good guest (an oxymoron because there are no good guests). Redux

Right in the middle of summer, I'm re-posting my advice to guests.  Ignore at your peril.
Overnight guests were invented to introduce torment where none existed. if you are about to be a guest here are some rules to make you barely tolerable. 
1. Upon arrival, give a precise (to the minute) departure time.  Even before you say hello, say “I’m leaving Tuesday at 9:35 a.m.” The most distressing issue of overnight guests (outside of having them at all) is not knowing when they are leaving.  The worst answer is “I’m not sure.”  No?  Why not?  My life is not an open-ended deal at your disposal.
2.  Make your footprint as small as possible.  If you are a large person, hunch into yourself.  There’s nothing less lovable than a big ole guest hogging all of the oxygen in the room. On this issue, don’t bring a large suitcase.  Nobody wants all of your stuff in their house or any of your stuff.  They already have too much of their own stuff.  Come with a backpack or a small plastic bag.
3.  Don’t ask questions about the habits of your hostess.  There’s nothing more annoying to the hostess than having to explain why she does all the weird things she would do in peace/privacy if you weren’t there to question.  Don’t ask anything.  Not even where she got the bayonet or the saber.  You don’t need to know.
4.  Don’t lounge on the hostess’ furniture as if you are in your college dorm.  Furniture, though it might look shabby to you is precious to her. In fact don’t lounge.  It makes you look as if you own the place and breeds resentment.  Sit up straight and keep your feet on the floor and your hands in your lap.There aren't words to address a guest who lies prone on the couch.
5.  Don’t take a long shower and leave zero hot water for everyone else.  In fact, don’t take a shower at all.  Hearing the shower running for more than twenty seconds makes the host see dollar bills flying out of the window. Showering is overrated and creates laundry.  Needless to add don’t leave wet towels anywhere.  There’s nothing that reminds a hostess of a recent guest more than a wet towel.  And it isn’t a fond memory. It’s up to you how you make the towel dry.
6. Just because you are a guest doesn’t mean you must talk.  Think of talking as a bank account that only has a hundred dollars left and you have to ration it out for a year. Besides showing up at all, talking too much is an indelible black mark that will be on your forehead like an Ash Wednesday smudge that brands you as insufferable.  Bring a book and read on the porch.
7.  Slip out of the house early in the morning and get your own breakfast at the corner Starbucks but leave a note so the hostess doesn’t think you had a heart attack in your bed and now she has to do something with your body.   If you do go to Starbucks bring back a bag of Starbuck goods for the rest of the house.
8. Ask if you should keep your shoes on inside the house (especially if they are full of sand or mud).  If you walk into the house with muddy or sandy shoes, the hostess will remember. And not in a good way.
9.  Don’t argue with the hostess about anything.  If she says something is blue that is clearly red, it’s blue.  Period.  This is not the time to prove a point. She is probably not thinking straight because you are there.
10.  Call the day of arrival and cancel.  Something came up and you can’t come.  Your hostess might say “too bad” but her heart is singing, “Oh, happy day.”  The house is clean.  She has a fridge stocked with good food and nobody’s coming.  What’s better than that?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Importance of a fake laugh.

I realized today that I have perfected a fake laugh.  It's a good fake laugh. It sounds as if I'm having a good ha-ha over something that was said. My fake laugh is meant to appease the person before me.

The word "appease" is an interesting choice.  It means "pacify or placate by acceding to their demands." And why do I want to placate them?  I want to placate them in order to make the moment pass easily without bearing the burden of nuance, emotional extrapolation or lingering resentment. 

That's exactly right.  I fake laugh when I'm slightly afraid of the person before me. And what are the demands I am placating?  By offering some stale platitude or stale joke, or superficial assessment of life or contradictory evidence of common sense or just plain delusional personal long-winded bs, the conversational bully is daring me not to find them supremely amusing.  It has elements of superiority in it. You think the phrase 'daring me' is too harsh?  It's not too harsh.  It's true. 

My fake laugh establishes quick fake solidarity with a person that I will only see briefly but is important to the moment. A workman or the dentist or a cross the street neighbor. Many others. You know who they are.  My fake solidarity laugh will cement their neutrality and allow me to move on.    

That's right.  All of that.  Every bit of it.  I avoid any aftermath of an encounter with a bully with whom I have no emotional connection but who is in my life in a semi-important manner.
The fake laugh maneuver is not cowardly.  It is smart.  I'm sure the new Pope would approve.

Together with realizing that I had perfected a fake laugh, I realized that a fake laugh is one of the best social tools right along with eating with your mouth closed and saying 'please' and 'thank you.'

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What urinary tract infection are you?

This morning I took one of those personality divining tests offered on FB.  You know the kind, What character on Downtown Abbey are you? What color are you? What kind of chocolate are you?  

This morning's test was "What urinary tract infection are you?"  I thought there was only one type of urinary tract infection but apparently there's a whole menu of them.  There's slow and lazy, hot-tempered rampaging, sneaky invasive, shy and hiding and a millennial child infection that keeps coming back to live with you.

I answered a few questions such as When you enter a crowded room do you head to the center of activity or just drink yourself blind on the outer rim?
Do you wake up cheerful and ready for a new day or are your first words, "What fresh hell is this?"
What tv show would you be likely to watch a) Religion and Ethics b) I want to marry Harry c) The Walking Dead

It turns out I am the hot-tempered rampaging urinary tract infection.  Once I found this out, - that very moment - as I contemplated some self-knowledge that had been eluding me all of my adult life, I finally had the currency to effect real and total change. I had gained uncorrupted insight into my deepest self.  It was life changing.