Friday, June 29, 2012

The strange case of Ann Curry

Let’s talk about the strange case of Ann Curry.   Ann said bye-bye to the Today Show Thursday morning.  I usually don’t watch morning television but the promos had promised news of a new FDA approved diet pill and I thought, “Oh, good, my troubles are over.” A train wreck and a magic pill - now that’s a good show.

Ann started crying right away and then apologized for being “a sob sister”. Then Matt, in his effort to console Ann, did something weird and avuncular and patronizing.  He kissed the side of her head - right in her hair that was probably heavily sprayed.  I hope he got a mouthful of spray because right about then, he said something that almost encapsulated why Ann hadn’t succeeded:  He said, “You have the biggest heart.  You’ve made us all better.”  Crap, Matt.  Nothing about her talents as a journalist? No reel of her greatest hits?

“The biggest heart” is probably why Ann couldn’t hold on to the job. Ann was too caring.  She leaned in and spoke in hushed tones.  She seemed as upset as the person who was upset. I used to know a person like that.  This woman always approached me in hushed tones, rubbed my shoulder as if she was delivering bad news about my health.  How can you feel relaxed around a person like that?

There’s a paradox about Ann.  Ann is ....tidy is the best adjective that comes to mind.  Tidy hairstyle, tidy wardrobe.  She appeared to have come out of a black and white movie.  She was soft spoken, self-effacing and earnest.

The only trait that was out of character was her intense desire to make it to Number One or Number One and a half on the Today show.  She waited it out for fifteen years.  She even stuck it out when they hired Meredith to replace Katie even though Ann was the obvious choice.  She might have prayed to Saint Jude, the patron of lost causes because, against all odds, she finally got the job.

On Thursday, Ann choked back tears as she apologized to her fans. "For those of you who saw me as a groundbreaker, I'm sorry I couldn't carry the ball over the finish line.” (I thought Barbara Walters was the groundbreaker.) “This is not the way I expected to leave?” How did Ann expect to leave? She lasted fifteen years in the Circus Maximus.  That’s more than the full distance, Ann.  You’re a champ.  There are news stories that say Ann was clasping hands and clinging to her co-workers; reluctant to let go of her show but Savannah Guthrie finally disengaged.  She knew Ann would not even make it out of the next commercial break.

NBC gave sweet Ann a glorified title, anchor at large, and promised lots of fun trips. Take it, Ann, and be happy.  That show is probably going down.

Here’s the report on the new diet pill.  It messes with your brain to make you believe you are full.  You still have to diet and exercise and the glib know-it-all, Dr. Nancy Schneiderman, is skeptical.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Thank you so much!

Everybody does it.  Prince William did it when he was out in California with Kate. “Thank you so much,” he said in his fabulous British voice.  Even with that upper crust delivery I was disappointed that he, the standard bearer of all things subdued and traditional, had to add ‘so much.’  He had me at “thank you” and then lost me at “so much.”
‘You’re welcome’ is a perfect response but frequently I see the word ‘most’ squeezing through to leach some solidity out of ‘welcome.’ The physical equivalent is if someone takes your hand in both of theirs and squeezes it as if they are wringing out a washcloth instead of using a regular handshake.

The United States of America is now the United Overstates of America. Why?  Oh, wait, I know.  We overstate to cover up for lack of emotion and real engagement.  How do we really feel about anything?  We don’t know how we really feel and does it even matter?

We say: “Your guacamole is awesome.”
We mean, “I can’t get excited about anything you do but I don’t want you to dislike me.” 
We say: “That dress looks amazing. “
We mean: “Who cares how you look but if I don’t quell your insecurity, we’ll be here all day.”

Drew Barrymore was and is appealing.  She stood on David Letterman’s desk, pulled up her sweater and flashed him for his birthday. But sweet Drew led us down a wrong path when every third word out of her mouth is ‘amazing,’ or ‘awesome’.  Thanks to Drew and her ilk, many perfectly good words have been downgraded in the tsunami of “this rocks,” and “you rock.”

A “thank you” without frills means:  "I've proven that I'm polite,  now leave me alone.”
Nice means bland and boring
Good means tolerable or it is used like a period to end a conversation.
Pretty means “I've given the opinion you are after now let's move on.”
Pleasant means "In my present and future this (event, person) is invisible."
Satisfactory means “This is disappointing but what else is new?”

“Good morning” still means “Good morning.”  Let’s leave it that way.

Monday, June 25, 2012

"Fighting vainly the old ennui"

The phrase "fighting vainly the old ennui..." is from Cole Porter’s “I Get A Kick Out Of You.”

We need more ennui to fight.  The lazy definition is: boredom.  That’s not it.  Ennui is more of a recurring sulky lassitude because we know something really exciting and satisfying exists but we haven’t figured out how to participate.

I was riddled with ennui until it dawned on me that there was excitement and satisfaction in writing.  I wish I could dance.  I’m sure good dancing is the ultimate method of saying bye-bye to ennui.

Cole Porter also wrote “You’re The Top” a song that includes these lyrics:
            You're the nimble tread
            Of the feet of Fred Astaire,
            You're an O'Neill drama,
            You're Whistler's mama!
            You're camembert.  

Sunday, June 24, 2012

I am not at home (again).

(Sometimes, people who visit my blog will read old posts.  If an old post gets a lot of hits, I always go back and read it again.  Often, I've totally forgotten the old post and read it like a new customer.  Some of these posts have a kernel of goodness in them and deserve another view.  This post was from December 2010.)

I had to leave my house and go up island and it took me three days to force myself out of the front door and onto the train. I packed my bag on Friday but I left on Monday. I'm not sure if I made up being agoraphobic or whether I am really agoraphobic.  Or maybe  I made it up and it came true.  I always think the house will blow up when I'm not there because of something I failed to do.  I've only ever heard of three houses blowing up and two of them were blown up on purpose by the government. 

The train station is at the end of my block so I only cross one street to get on the train.  The modernized Long Island Railroad is a very weird customer with many levels of different sizes.  I always sit on the entry level in the nearest seat.  I realize this is for disabled people but no one ever makes me get up.  

My branch of the Long Island Railroad in December is what I perceive purgatory will look and feel like.  It is solitary and cold.  The view out of the window is of desolate tangled flora, deserted industrial buildings or contiguous backyards with abandoned above ground pools and utility sheds.  I try to read on the train but if you don't sit up straight, you tend to slide off the seats.  I tried to read "The Girl Who Played With Fire" by the swedish author Stieg Larsson.  This is noir, noir fiction and perfect for the train.  I've always loved Sweden because they always bought foreign rights to my books and kept them in print for a long time.

The good thing about traveling on this train is that it makes you review your life.  Okay that's not the good thing.  I'm writing this blog from my destination.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Sample Sunday: Whispers from the soul hole

(This is an excerpt from my novel One Hundred Open Houses.  You can buy it on Amazon as a kindle book by clicking on the title to the right of this blog.)

You were going along thinking everything was okay.  You weren’t noticeably dying or anything and even though your hair was thinning, suddenly for no reason, it stabilized – even began to get thicker – and you thought, huh, some new kind of  ‘fresh hell’ hormones must be kicking in but I’ll take it.  Still every morning, in the quiet few minutes when you swung your legs out of bed and decided to get up, this voice whispered from the old brain hole or maybe it was the soul hole and it said: “Wait!  If you were in an Ingmar Bergman movie and Death came and played chess with you, Death would win because you are not really living the best life you can.”
All through last fall and early winter I had that thought in my pocket.   Maybe it accounted for a new addiction to read real estate news. Maybe I thought a change of residence would do the trick   Real estate was the new drug and it was better than crack because it only cost the price of the Sunday paper and not even that if you read it on line. But also, you could go into any Open House and see apartments and houses where you would never be invited.  You could look in the medicine cabinet and in the closets and pretty much look at any damn thing you wanted.  Then, you could say, “No thanks.”
The New York Times had put out an entire magazine devoted to real estate.  It was called Key and on the cover was a stylized picture of a key with red lines radiating from it that looked like the vein and capillary system inside the body. Maybe that was the subliminal message they were trying to send: that real estate was the substance of life.
When I read Key magazine, I felt as if all the information had segregated me and shut me out.  One of the articles told you how much house one and a half million dollars could buy today. If you wanted to move to Szigetkoz, Hungary (no, I didn’t misspell it) you got a 30-acre, ten-bedroom castle.  In New York City, you got a one-bedroom apartment with lava-stone kitchen countertops and the noise of the West Side Highway at your doorstep.
That’s what I was going to have to do to save my life – move from my comfortable idyllic village and find myself some real estate in New York City.  I didn’t have a million dollars.  I was going to have to really hunt for a match like the innocent people in the New York Times they profiled in The Hunt.
Once I was at an open house in the Flatiron district. It was a one bedroom overlooking the big clock at Met Life.  The apartment had a mirror tile wall and swooping metallic lamps and glass tables and really no place you could sit and not be gouged by the unyielding materials. It was brittle in the way Bette Davis could be brittle. This man looked around and said,  “If this apartment were a relationship, my verdict is, okay to date but would never marry.”
Home should be where the heart is.  And where you can imagine your future.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Kale ceviche with cranberries and pine nuts.

I used to worry about Salman Rushdie.  In the late 80’s the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwã (that means kill the bad man) against “the renegade.” Despite the fact that I liked their use of the word “renegade” I didn’t want them to kill Salman whose crime had been to write a book ,The Satanic Verses, that Muslims felt insulted their religion.  One determined Muslim went so far as to blow up himself and two floors of a London hotel in a failed effort to deliver a “book bomb” to Mr. Rushdie.  I liked their sense of irony. I can imagine the bomber plotting it: Oh, yes, I will kill the renegade with a bomb facsimile of his book.

When Salman was knighted in 2007, a prominent Iranian cleric said: The old decrepit government of Great Britain should know that the era of their empire is over and today they are a valet in the service of the United States.  I love the civilized way that Iranians show their displeasure.  They could have just said: Shut up, Britain, you old dog.  Remember when Margaret Thatcher told the first Bush not to go wobbly on her about the Iraq war? Who was the valet then?

Throughout the last twenty years and even to this day, I thought of Salman Rushdie, a precious citizen of two governments, hidden and shielded, praised for his writing (he won the Booker Prize) and his courage, as an elevated heroic figure far, far above the ordinary people I would ever meet.

Imagine my surprise when I saw him on a cooking show on my local Plum cable station.  He was the guest of an annoying woman who threw the veal into the frying pan from two feet away as if it were a Frisbee so it wouldn’t spatter on her green silk shirt. He was standing around waiting for her to cook his lunch.  My first thought was, “good lord, cooking shows have now compromised everything holy.” This is a loose reenactment of the dialogue:

Here’s a wine spritzer with pomegranates.
Ummm. Thank you.
Do you prefer sweet or savory.
Good because I don’t have anything for dessert.
That’s fine.
Do you ever cook?
I cook for my little boy when he spends time with me.
Is there food in your books?
Yes.  Quite a bit. People have to eat.
Are you writing anything now?
I just ended a book tour.  There’s nothing that makes you hate your last book more than a book tour.
Well, let’s have our lunch. This is kale ceviche with cranberries and pine nuts
How do you like the scallopini?
Very good.  Food tastes good when you’re in a good mood.
I can’t cook when I’m cranky.  Food comes out awful.

So there you have it, Sir Salman Rushdie, once a marked man in hiding, is now relaxed enough to appear on a local television station and eat kale ceviche.  Nothing, not even the worst things, stay the same.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A whole stream of one's favor

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” Scottish mountaineer William Hutchinson Murray.

I did a little research on Murray on Wikipedia and was pleased to find that he wasn’t just sitting around contemplating life.

Murray did much of his most influential climbing in the period just before World War II. He climbed on many occasions with the slightly older J. H. B. Bell.
At the outbreak of World War II, he joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and was posted to the Middle East and North Africa. He was captured south of Mersa Matruh during the Western Desert Campaign in a retreat to El Alamein in June 1942 by a tank commander from the 15th Panzer Division who was armed with a machine-pistol. A passage in Mountain magazine (#67, 1979) describes the moments after his capture:
To my astonishment, he [the German tank commander] forced a wry smile and asked in English, 'Aren't you feeling the cold?' ... I replied 'cold as a mountain top'. He looked at me, and his eyes brightened. 'Do you mean – you climb mountains?' He was a mountaineer. We both relaxed. He stuffed his gun away. After a few quick words – the Alps, Scotland, rock and ice – he could not do enough for me.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Look, Dick, look!

I’m stripping my house down in readiness for repair and painting. I’ll describe the process in the style of a Dick and Jane reading primer.

Look, Dick, look. Look at the empty room.
I see the room, Jane.  The room is empty.
Sit, Dick, sit.
I will sit, Jane.  I will sit on the floor.
Do you remember the pictures Dick?
No, Jane, I don’t remember the pictures.
Do you remember the decorations Dick?
No, Jane, I don’t remember the decorations.
Remember, Dick, remember.
I can’t remember, Jane.
How do you feel in the empty room, Dick?
I feel good in the empty room, Jane.
What do you miss in the empty room, Dick.
I don’t miss anything in the empty room.
What about the others?  What will they say about the empty room?
Others will ask why the room is empty.
What will we tell them, Dick?
We like the empty room.  The others will like it , too.
Oh, Dick.  Funny, funny Dick.

Friday, June 8, 2012

"You're either at the table or on the menu."

"You're either at the table or on the menu."

(pundit commenting on who would win/lose if the Supremes vote down the health care bill)


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Is my default setting fear?

(This post was originally published 09/10/2011 but due to a recent conversation on just this subject, I thought it might be okay to re-post.)

On Wednesday morning as I swung my feet over the edge of the bed to get up, I had this thought: You don’t have to act out your mom and dad’s playbook. You are not Fred and you are not Blanche. You are Consuelo. You have your own authentic impetus and that impetus is untainted by the desire to show love for your parents by imitating their behavior. 

My father was born in Ramallah, the only Christian village in Palestine located ten miles north of Jerusalem. In those years, the Turks ruled the area from Constantinople. When World War I began, the Turkish army took over the village. He had to leave his home with his family, travel across the Jordan River and wait out the war in a convent where his aunt was a nun. When I say he had to travel across the Jordan, I don’t mean by a boat. They strapped all of their possessions on donkeys and crossed the river on foot. The currents were strong and some of their stuff got lost and he became temporarily separated from his family. Maybe he lost his favorite whistle or wooden soldier in the water,I don't know, but those early experiences left him an emotional cripple. As an adult he joined his jovial brother, Charles, in Washington D.C. and became a very wealthy man but always chose to live in a contracted way. He stuck close to his home, never learned to drive, spoke little and swept his own store (my father and uncle owned the boutique department store, Jean Matou, in Washington D.C.) As I’ve written before, my father once refused to take Bess Truman’s check. When Mrs. Truman said, “But Mr. Saah, I live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” my father replied, “I don’t care where you live, we don’t take checks.” My Uncle Charlie, the emotional opposite of his brother, had to take him aside and knock some sense into him. 

My father hid behind a quiet, modest life so no one would approach him and ask for anything. His money did not enhance his life; he used it as a protective wall. What he gave up was emotional engagement. What he also gave up was self-celebration. What he gave up was elation and joy.

My mother, although born into near poverty, thought she was a princess because her long gone father was a Frenchman and her skin was so white (in a family of olive skinned siblings) they named her Blanca. I never lived with my mother but from time to time, she would show up and look me over to see if there was any way I could enhance her life. The only time I was near my mother was when we traveled by bus from Mexico to Washington, D.C. where she deposited me with my father and five uncles. I remember that trip. I remember how my mother took care of herself, applying and re-applying lipstick throughout the day.

On this morning in early September, I created a clear and concise message to my subconscious. I spoke to that point of consciousness that engenders all action. Rules to live by: Going forward from this nanosecond, I cast off the need to be afraid of engagement (fear was Dad’s default setting); and the need (though beautifully masked) to act out of false pride (treat me like a queen or go away was Mom’s default setting). I’m free to act from my own fresh point of view.

Yeah, right!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Product placement and Andy Warhol

Touting a few things that have not disappointed me over the years. 

Costco’s wine store:  Although not officially part of Costco, the wine is the most generously priced commodity.  A fab Cote du Rhone that I thought was well priced from was half the price at Costco Wines.

Häagen-Dazs pineapple coconut ice cream: I spring for the pricy brand for this flavor.  There is nothing I like better.

Sue Grafton’s alphabet series: When I need to get my mind off of something, I count on this author to deliver.  It doesn’t hurt that I like her detective, Kinsey, and all the wonderful misfits in her life.

Breyers  chocolate chip mint ice cream: Tried it once and became addicted.
Edy’s coconut ice bars: I think they put crack in these bars because I can go through a box in two days. I love all things coconut.

Kashi brand:  I first began to dislike Kashi when they touted a free meal or snack on the air and then have it no longer available on their website.  The slogan is now annoying, too, as is the woman who delivers it.

Barilla multi-grain spaghetti:  If you must eat multi grain, this tastes the best.  (As opposed to Ronzoni that tastes like musty cardboard.)

Chock full of Nuts Coffee: Despite the fact that my eldest calls it Chock Full of Poverty because it’s not Starbucks or Peets.

The Andy Warhol Diaries: I once lent this book to a friend and then rushed to her house an hour later and begged for it back.  I couldn’t be without it.  Whenever I’m in a funk or can’t write I dip into Andy Warhol’s Diaries. Yes, Scott Fitzgerald’s use of the language is unparalleled, Hemingway invented the fab simple declarative sentence, John Cheever wrote about the noir side of suburbia and Something Happened by Joe Heller was the best novel of the deadening effect of the eighties and the real Mad Men.  However, Andy’s Diaries deconstructed the world of art, film, writing, high society, low society, advertising, finance and emerging talent and served it to us with a childlike wonder that never paled. It was like a special daily newspaper with real insight into pop culture and the passing scene.  The Diaries chronicle the late seventies and eighties but they could have been written yesterday.

The Diaries began as a daily morning phone call to his assistant recreating the previous day’s events so she could keep a running tab of his business expenses.  Here is just a random entry from Wednesday, January 31, 1979.

I worked all afternoon.  Then cabbed all the way down to Delia Doherty’s fashion show at Lafayette and Canal Street ($5). She had paper clothes made out of tubing.  The girls had to be rolled in, they couldn’t walk or talk.  It was absolutely great.  Jane Forth was there, she was just back from South America doing the makeup on a movie with Carol Lynley.  Jane said that she’s going back to makeup school because you can make more doing scars and burns than straight makeup.  She’s got a fat ex-lady cop who takes care of Emerson, the baby she had with Eric Emerson.  He’s eight or nine now.  He’s taking ballet lessons, he’s following in his father’s footsteps. (All punctuation is as printed in the book.)

Here’s part of another from January 26, 1979

Jenette Kahn - she’s the president of D.C. Comics, a friend of Sharon Hammond’s - called and invited me to see the Knicks on Monday because she wants me to paint the floor of the Knicks’ basketball court.
Paul Morrissey called from California about Bobby De Niro wanting to maybe rent Montauk, and Paul was saying to give him a cheap price so he’d be sure to take it because it’d be great to have him there, but I think we should raise the price - we’re not making enough renting Montauk to run it.

January 28, 1979

I saw a little of Taxi Driver on TV and the guy at the end reading the letter from Pittsburgh really sounded like was (laughs) reading from Pittsburgh. (Andy was from Pittsburgh.)
Oh, and on the news the lady who hijacked the plane said she had nitroglycerin and wanted Charlton Heston and Wonder Woman to read her letter on TV.  She looked like a normal schoolteacher . . . she was from California.  There were some famous people on that flight - the Jackson’s father and the guy who was with Mary Martin in Sound of Music on Broadway.

Andy Warhol was never mean.  He just told what happened.