Saturday, July 30, 2011

"Mary liked to pour gravy on John's ____"

I’m ashamed of everything I watch on television. If anyone walks in while I’m watching my lowbrow shows, I say, “Oh, my god, can you believe this drivel is still on the air?” If Cablevision hadn’t retooled my “Family” level and deleted the Game Show Channel, I would be watching a 1969 version of The Match Game with Gene Rayburn, Charles Nelson Reilly and Rip Taylor while President Obama was addressing the nation. The Match Game questions could be folksy “Name a kind of muffin,” or risqué: “Mary liked to pour gravy on John’s ______. “

I miss re-runs of Deal or no Deal so much, I watched the Spanish version Vas O No Vas on Telemundo where the contestants are not as chubby as the English version where most weighed three hundred pounds. I have about eight Spanish stations and six selling channels and Cablevision never takes them away because of a bandwidth shortage. I’ve been known to watch HSN when nothing else is on especially when Wolfgang Puck is cooking and saying "Look at that." every other second. If you ever want to feel better about yourself listen to the testimonial calls from “happy” customers when HSN is selling plus sized jersey tunics with palazzo pants in fuchsia.

When I’m at someone else’s house and Wheel of Fortune comes on and they say: I don’t mind Jeopardy but I will not watch this,” I enter my alternate universe where I wear high heeled shoes and good undergarments and tap my well groomed nails on counter tops. I roll my eyes in agreement and make a face. In other words, I abandon myself at the first alarm. If I were a prisoner of war and asked to reveal all the war secrets or be water tortured I would squeal like Porky Pig in about three seconds.

There are shows I watch to be annoyed. As I said earlier in the week. I watch, Morning Joe to be annoyed by Mika. I watch The O’Reilley Show to be annoyed by the titles he gives his segments: “Between Barack and a hard place” “Week-end at Bernie’s” “At your Beck and call” I watch Greta Van Susteren because she can’t quite speak, I like Greta but she leaves off the ends of words and they sort of slur together into barely recognizable communication. These last two shows repeat all through the night, which is when I come upon them.

Sometimes I venture to TBS and watch the fortieth re-run of Legally Blonde or The Holiday. I did this last night. The scene where Elle Woods decides that the pool boy is gay (he tells her snidely that she’s wearing last year’s Prada shoes,)and therefore couldn’t possibly be having an affair with the wife of the murdered man, is a fave.

I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of all I have to say about television, but I’ll leave the rest for another time.

Okay next blog will be on Lute Tablature. (Yes, there is such a thing.)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Nice gabardine in the good "Paul Stuart" khaki color

With some trickery, (because of my phobias) my eldest son got me into a restaurant last night. We sat at the bar and the enforced closeness propelled us into a thoughtful conversation about keeping simple journals of our everyday lives. I am devoted to personal minutiae and like to hear the mundane moment-to-moment details of other lives.

My son, who was turned to face me had in his sight a portly man who was eating by himself at a small table, facing the back of the restaurant. The man had on a summer business suit in what I can only describe as fine gabardine in the good “Paul Stuart Khaki” color. The diner had poured his wine out of the bottle into a wide based carafe and was eating at a leisurely pace. He wasn’t reading as solitary diners often do and he wasn’t looking around. He was perfectly poised to do what he was doing without any hint of self-consciousness. For all we knew, he ate there every night and that small backward facing arrangement was at his request.

We kept talking about the man. We admired him. But why? Was it his contentment in having his meal without company or distraction? Was it his leisurely pace in enjoying the food and the care with which he had decanted his wine even though this was a non-festive Thursday evening? Was it that everything in his demeanor documented the idea that this man was comfortable in his skin and his own thoughts as well as his nice summer suit? Yes, yes, and yes.

When we think of goals or happiness, I doubt we would ever say: Happiness is going to a nice restaurant by yourself and concentrating on the perfectly cooked lamb chops and decanting the wine to let it breathe and looking at nothing in particular and thinking your thoughts without being distracted by what is going on around you.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Building a brand one follower at a time

It used to be that when someone was following you, it wasn’t good. Especially in New York City. Now, I get all jumpy and gleeful when someone follows me. Yesterday I got my 21st blog follower. There are many people who read my blog regularly without being followers. I know this because Google gives me detailed stats of the viewers' originating sites and even their country of origin. I've had 126 views from Germany, 56 from Russia, 54 from South Korea and similar numbers from 9 countries.

It takes commitment for a reader to plug in his or her e-mail address in the little box and follow. You get a little kink in your frontal lobe where the critical “gatekeeper” warns: If you give out your e-mail address, someone is going to steal all of your money and maybe even blow up your house. Also you have all that other stuff you’ve signed up for and never look at, do you really need one more?

Yesterday, I took a good look at all of my followers to see what kind of people I had cajoled into my blogosphere. One lives in New Zealand and writes dark fantasy novels. Another writes gritty thrillers. Another imparts wisdom. There’s a Brit who is half of a crime-thriller writing duo that sells a ton of books. There’s a romance writer who also follows trends in tech and interiors. Bottom line: all my followers are accomplished grown-ups that have busy lives. One is a colleague from my copywriting days. Only one is related to me.

I’m doing even better on Twitter (335) although now that I’ve learned something about Twitter (from the awesome and informative Writers Guide to E-publishing).I’m attracting followers who have doped out my persona and targeted me. They want to sell me stuff or have me retweet and sell their stuff. Maybe it’s conceit to think I fit no definable profile but sadly Yahoo has me down pretty well. They tailor their homepage to tempt me with total crapola: The skinniest house in the world. (I’ve already read this but read it again.) 20 habits that are making you fat. Richards and Sheen are in a good place. Pa. woman sets fire with foreclosure docs. Spectacular Antiques Road Show find. (A middle-aged man brings in these Chinese cups that are worth 1.5 million. This show won’t air until 2012 but we see the clip. The owner says: You’re sure about that? The appraiser answers: I’m sure.

I can bet this is not the news menu they send to Rham Emanuel or Hilary Clinton.

So there you have it. I’m building a brand as the marketing gurus say I should.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"I look forward to being annoyed," he said.

Yesterday existed as just 24 hours to deduct from my alloted time. I did nothing. I didn’t even go on a circular thinking spree. I didn’t even cook anything because my daughter in law had given me superb leftovers in every category of a well-rounded meal. I ate the grilled tuna for breakfast, followed by some of the pie. I had the Orzo studded with olives, tiny tomatoes, feta and other tasty stuff at about 11 a.m. I ate the green salad around seven p.m with two bites left of the tuna and also the remains of an ingenious cupcake baked into an ice cream cone.

I played spider solitaire until my forearms had a crease in them that could hide a quarter. At different hours of the day I thought about blogging.

I started a blog on aphorisms (dumb meaningless sayings) instigated by someone leaving this on Facebook: “A woman who has no discretion is like a diamond in a pig’s snout.” Tell this to Roseanne Barr or Chelsea (Are you there, Vodka? It’s Me Chelsea) Handler who have made millions with their indiscretions. After reading a bunch of dumb self-delusional one-liners by Ben Franklin, I aborted the blog. (If you object to my calling BF dumb, Google “a penny saved is a penny earned” on BrainyQuotes.

I decided the blog was a dumb idea and went back to spider solitaire. Finally, I fell asleep to the harsh sounds of “The Real Housewives of NYC” Reunion, Part One. Reminds me of the reason Seymour Lipton (sculptor) gave for reading John Leonard’s old Times column “Lives.” “I look forward to being annoyed,” he said. I love that line because we all know what he’s talking about. I watch Mika Brzezinski (yes, I spelled it right) to be annoyed and when she has her father on the show, I am doubly annoyed.

I don’t know what this blog is about, but at least it isn’t about some banal outdated sayings that make little sense in our new complicated world. Make up your own aphorisms and send them to me.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

St. Mildred's Academy for Girls

Today I looked up my old boarding school on Google to see if it was still in existence or whether I had imagined it. St. Mildred’s was in Laurel, Maryland, a town midway between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. It is where I learned to sing the Mass in Latin and to withstand horrendous bullying condoned by the evil Sister Francisca.

I remember two happy moments in that school: winning the bingo game with the prize being several Hersey chocolate bars (maybe even a whole box) and being chosen as one of the girls to accompany Father Pete to a restaurant for a spaghetti dinner. The rest of my stay there was not joyful. The food was dreadful and we used to make a meal of mustard and bread when the main dish was inedible. We even made a song of the mustard and bread menu that is too long to go into. One night we were served tapioca pudding that several of us refused to eat and it ended in a standoff with Mother di Pazzi, the Mother Superior. That night, I gathered a posse of girls and convinced them to run away with me. We walked into the town of Laurel, borrowed bus fare from one of the older day students, (we banged on her front door) and took the bus to Baltimore. Our destination was a bar owned by the parents of a girl in the group. The minute we arrived, the bar owner (after a brief conversation with Mother diPazzi) put us on a return bus to the school.

St. Mildred’s, like many boarding schools, was rife with crazy kids from wealthy dysfunctional families (myself included). During my stay, all of the children from the Embassy of the Dominican Republic were there and occasionally, I would go home with them to enjoy fantastic formal parties. Fortunately, my father owned a boutique department store that supplied me with long gowns. I cannot stress enough how incredible that seems to me now.

Google is an insane miraculous tool that collapses time like it was nothing.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

It looked like it hurt when she widened her mouth to make vowel sounds.

(Ch.2 from novel in progress: Tough As Nails)

My first client, Charlene Gibbons, was a pretty woman with stunning red hair that made you want to look at her. Imagine a sculpted, fragile face with tough eyes - everyone else in the room blended into the woodwork. Charlene, who lived across the street and four houses over, had done all right for herself - two eight cylinder cars, professional lawn care.
Three weeks after my arrival, she gave a welcome tea and served a sheet cake iced with blue roses. When I caught sight of all those safely married suburban women waiting to meet me, I put a lock on anything resembling my true self. “If you’re smart,” Charlene whispered, “you’ll use the occasion to establish your credentials with these vultures.” Besides money, Charlene had a take-charge quotient. In a women’s commune, hers would be the menstrual cycle to follow.
After the second cup of coffee, I mentioned my profession. “What do you mean?” asked Janine Tobias. She was a patrician looking blonde, the kind that wears a barrette in her hair until she’s about eighty. “You spy on cheating husbands?”
“That’s one aspect of it,” I hedged. I could see them trying to decide whether I was weird or interesting when Charlene broke the tie. “This is great,” she said. “I want to hire you to find out who poisoned my dog.”
Selma McNeil, a buxom brunette saved from beauty by a too round nose, said, “Charlene, Tiffany was hit by a car.”
“She was poisoned first,” muttered Charlene.
I thought that would be the end of it but the next morning, I was putting Retin-A under my eyes when the doorbell rang. Charlene was at my door. It was only eleven but she had on high heels and a dress I would have saved for a wedding. She strode into the room as if she’d been there many times. “Tiffany was hit by a car because she was fed something that made her go nuts,” she said. “I need to know who poisoned her.”
Charlene sat down on my down-filled couch and rewarded me with an appreciative nod. I pulled up a chair. My instinct was to chat about the neighborhood but by some miracle, I had the sense to squelch anything personal and stick to business. “Was your dog a nuisance? Dig up yards? That sort of thing?”
Charlene’s face, so angular and tight it looked like it hurt when she widened her mouth to make vowel sounds, stretched in amazement at my stupidity. “Tiffany was an expensive pedigreed dog. I never let her out free.”
“Do you know why anyone would want to harm your dog?”
“The women in this neighborhood are jealous. Charlie’s in a cash business and makes money to burn which kills a lot of people. I can drop big bucks without thinking and the women hate me for it. Not to my face of course.”
There was no rancor in her voice. She was just letting me in on some facts of life. The idea that someone else makes gobs of money easily while they struggle sends some people through the roof. Someone as rough around the edges as Charlie Gibbons would piss people off if he flaunted his wealth. “But why take it out on the dog?” I asked. “That seems needlessly cruel.” That last statement was misleading. I’m ashamed to say I’m indifferent to most animals. We had a cat, Fred, that I fed grudgingly and I always bought the cheap birdseed with like three sunflower seeds per pound of gravel that the birds refused to eat.
“You tell me,” said Charlene reasonably. “How much do you charge?” She was already expanding one of those Gucci drawstring pouch bags.
I had never said my fee out loud so it took some control. “Fifty an hour plus expenses. Fifteen percent more for weekend surveillance.
She looked disappointed, then suspicious. “You new at this?” I shook my head. “You don’t charge enough. It’s a dead giveaway. It’s okay with me. You’re the earnest type which means you’ll work hard. And you live in the neighborhood. She paused. “Charge seventy-five. My allergist charges ninety for a two-minute shot. Don’t sell yourself short. You’re going to need the money to fix up this house.”
I wasn’t offended. I was thinking about the allergy shots. I guess that’s the price she paid for that gorgeous red hair. “Thanks for your confidence Charlene, but fifty will do it.”
She shrugged. “I’m not a fool,” she said. “If you’re going to work for me, you have to be one hundred percent on my side. I’m your client and that’s sacred. I looked into her eyes and was surprised by how much intelligence showed through the toughness.
“I know that, Charlene, but I don’t mind you spelling it out.” I found her statement too dramatic for the crime at hand and that should have tipped me off that there was more to this than a dead dog. Her conversation was studded with violent imagery: “money to burn,” “kills a lot of people,” “dead giveaway.” Otherwise, she appeared to be up front. She said what was on her mind and most of it made sense. The people I had lived among for twenty years, just ten miles north, never said what was on their mind. It was culture reversal. Here, in Roxbury Commons, people talked openly about money. They talked about the housewives on reality shows as if they were best friends. In this neighborhood, I could be dull and slow. No one even wanted snappy talk.
Charlene extricated five one hundred dollar bills from a slim alligator wallet, a material I thought had been outlawed. I would have bet she had a mink or two in cold storage. “Here’s something on account. Tell me when you use it up.” She snapped the drawstrings of her handbag as if it were a dog she wanted to behave. “You’ll probably want to know whom I suspect.” Someone had taught Charlene English usage.