Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bad Marriage News is Mostly Delivered in the Kitchen

(Penguin/Viking sends me books to review. I select a few to share.  I liked this breezy, feel-good self-discovery story and gave it four stars on Amazon.  Ms. Pancol is a bestselling author in France.)

The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles by Katherine Pancol

Most bad marriage news is delivered in the kitchen while the wife is preparing a meal for the dirty dog who is about to break her heart.

So it is with Josephine, the heroine of The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles who receives the news that her unemployed, self-indulgent husband is having an affair with a manicurist.  She tells him to leave and he is happy to oblige.  Josephine has been preparing all of her life to be trod upon.  She has played the plain nerdy sister to ambitious well-married Iris. She has played the socially inept daughter to her icy mother Henriette and she even allows her teen-age daughter Hortense to pile on the insults. Did I mention that Josephine is being left with only her own tiny salary to sustain her and her two girls and without a clue how to manage the finances?  If you haven’t guessed by now from the names, this book (a huge bestseller in France) has been translated for American audiences.

The reader knows that this heap of trouble for Josephine is the perfect roadmap for a journey into the land of self-discovery, new beginnings, and “look who is laughing now.” We aren’t absolutely sure how things are going to get better for Josephine or how her detractors (family) are going to be left with egg on their face but unless the author is playing a ghastly joke we are pretty sure it will happen.  The trick in these breezy romps into “Life couldn’t get worse but oh, look, it’s better now than before” is to keep heaping trouble on the main character until we beg for mercy.  The other trick is to let us see the weak underpinnings of the supporting cast slugs who beat up on our heroine.  We want a front row seat when their downfall arrives.

Ms. Pancol delivers all of this with good pacing, a colorful cast of characters and an
interesting menu of sub-plots and dénouements. The translation is clumsy in spots especially in the transitions and idiomatic expressions but not enough to spoil the story.

It's New Year's Eve. I'm sitting in my office in the house.

It’s New Year’s Eve.  I’m sitting in my office in the house. There are two windows in the room and I’ve covered them with venetian blinds because the sunshine in the morning is so beautifully invasive that I can’t see my computer screen. 

This room was originally a bedroom.  It was the Jill part of what developers like to call a Jack and Jill set up.  I sleep in the Jack part across the hall from the bathroom.   This room is located inches to the right of the front door and in the early days (I was still tolerant) when carousing co-workers needed a place to sleep I would tell them to come in the door, make a sharp right and just get in the bed. I never locked any of the doors even though my house is only one block from a main road and the Railroad Station. (I was tolerant and crazy.)

With the arrival of my first dial up internet connection I made the bedroom near the front door my office and moved the bed upstairs. This became the room where I re-invented myself as a publisher and purveyor of digital books that I learned to build and upload to Amazon.  I also created a rudimentary blog and began posting simple ideas that seemed brilliant in the shower. In this room I've received good news and disappointing news.  I’ve cried in here several times. (Not recently,)

Here is some of the good news I’ve received in this room over the years:
1.  Can you come in to town, I think I’m starting labor?
2.  Can you come in for the award luncheon?
3.  I’ve been asked to work on a show.
4.  Grandma, it’s me.  Can I come over?
5.  We got the house.
6.  Consuela, I read your manuscript last night.  It’s wonderful. (This from my devoted agent who never in twenty-five years has gotten my name right.)
7.  “Daughters is the best book I’ve read this year.” (Daughters has received 119 5-star reviews and 47 4-star reviews.  One reader gave me four stars because she was mad when it ended.
8. One Hundred Open Houses does not sell well but when someone buys it and connects - aaah! “I loved this book.  Now, how did the author get into my mind and pick out every thought I’ve ever had, do have and will have and get it all together in this book?” This is my personal favorite.
9.  Hello, Ms. Baehr.  This is Rachel from Fast Company Magazine. We’d like to include you in our Kings of Content article if you’re willing. Do you know anything about me, I asked?
10. We’d like to publish Thinner Thighs in Thirty Years as a Kindle Single.  Ok. 

2013 was a good year.  I got rid of a couple of bad habits. (Well, almost.) I did not lose a single pound although I was sure I would lose about five every single day. (Oh, you have to stop eating? Who knew.)

What I liked best were the e-mails and comments from people who read The Repurposed Writer.  The post goes out with a little click and the next morning readers weigh in.  I’m always surprised.  Who knew these good times were waiting for me?  Thank you. Thank you.

Happy New Year! 

Monday, December 30, 2013

High profile. High stakes. Hijinks

(Everything in this post is alleged.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about President Obama and not because of the Healthcare dust-up.  I’ve been thinking about him because of the dust-up at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela especially after I read in the National Inquirer (What? No good?) that it wasn’t just the selfie with the Danish Prime Minister.  There was a lot more to it.

I strive to get my news from many outlets and by that I mean standing in line at the supermarket and reading the tabloids. What I love more than anything is when they give me a drama that has so many potentially explosive repercussions that I have to step to the side and let the person in back of me go ahead.  (What? They make up stuff?)  That’s what I thought until John Edwards.  Besides, in the case of the Anglo/Dane/Yank selfie we have PICTURES.  And by the way was David Cameron acting as the beard?  And it’s not just the selfie.  The National Inquirer has more pictures and although you won’t believe it one of them is of the President kissing - yes, kissing, the Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt.  (All right it was a greeting kiss.) 

The headline writers had a field day Flirting with Dane-ger!  You’re going to get Helle from Michelle.

You know what’s strange?  We’ve become so enamored of the dazzling hook-up - good golly Miss Molly -two good-looking heads of state shamelessly flirting for our viewing pleasure. This hook up is so novelistically right that we DON’T CARE if it’s the Prez and his wife is sitting right there witnessing it. Am I seeing what I think I’m seeing? AND AT NELSON MANDELA’S MEMORIAL SERVICE!!!  It doesn’t get any better.  Who cares about unemployment and the economy when we have this vignette to contemplate.

Anybody who saw Michelle’s scowl and bought the spin that her expression was photographed at another event or she was reacting to something else is delusional. I’ve seen Michelle show displeasure. She tends to roll her eyes as if to say, “Can you believe I’m being subjected to this crap?” as she did during lunch after the 2012 inauguration.  Everyone denied that she was rolling her eyes at John Boehner who was seated next to her.  Anyway, Michelle’s expression almost corroborates that something unusual was going down.

Here’s the story in pictures.
Barak is carousing with Helle - Michelle is not amused

Seats are changed
Barak kisses Michelle’s hand to show his devotion and Helle looks annoyed.

Barak continues flirting.

Michelle strikes back by putting her hand on Bill Clinton’s knee.

Is this any way to run a country?
Yes. Yes, it is.

Now I’m going to tell you something serious.  You know Charles Krauthammer?  He’s the political commentator and although he comments for Fox News (What? You know it as Devil News?) he also has a column in the Washington Post, has won the Pulitzer Prize, has been a presidential speech writer and was once a Democrat.  Although most of the viewing public was not aware of it (myself included), he is partially paralyzed and uses a wheelchair.

Krauthammer stated this about Barak Obama recently and I believe it is a brilliant and astonishing observation.  Whatever scandal afflicts the White House - IRS targeting, citizens’ phone tapping, Benghazi, the billions given to and lost by Solyndra, the untruths about the Affordable Care Act, the un-kept promises about transparency, banishing lobbyists, closing Guantanamo, the increasing use of executive privilege for passing legislation, the stealthy way the Affordable Care Act was passed in the first place, none of it - NONE OF IT - is ever fundamentally ATTACHED to the smart, ironic, well-built Harvard dude known as Barak Obama. He can do anything he wants and we are almost embarrassed to call him on it.  His trust numbers are down.  His performance numbers are down.  But his popularity is not down.

Fox News can run a continuous loop 24/7 of Obama saying “If you like your health plan you can keep your health plan” (this won the “Lie of the year” award from PolitiFact) but in our mind’s eye he is not a Nixonian liar with a five o’clock shadow, he is the smiling hottie ordering a burger with his posse at the local joint and nobody cares about consequences? Is it any wonder the Republicans are so stressed?  The president has the kind of charisma that is so mesmerizing - we are in a trance. And gosh darn it, as Stuart Smiley used to say, people like him.

He has us in his thrall.

Disclaimer:  Naturally, this scenario comes out of my own highly inventive head and I cannot confirm that it actually happened.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Go bus, go!

Last week I had to take the bus to get my car from the mechanic and I found that bus riding and bus taking in an upscale enclave like the Hamptons (unlike the city) is a sub-culture activity.

No one that I know takes the bus or would think of the bus as a way to get from one place to another.  They would think taking the bus would be (at best) quaint - odd in an old-fashioned kind of way. At worst, they would think of the bus like the reduced produce rack at the supermarket - not for them

I pass by the bus stop whenever I go to the supermarket.  I see the people waiting. These bus riders are often holding take out dinners.  They lounge against the wood fence with a plastic fork in their hand, stabbing at their food. Some sit on a little embankment and listen to their music.  Many carry a lot of stuff in shopping bags.

Each time, involuntarily I have the same group of thoughts.
1. If you take the bus you are not a driver.  If you are not a driver, you don’t make enough money to own a car.
            a. You are probably a dayworker.
2.  Or you are a habitual drinker whose license has been suspended.
3.  Or maybe your friend who got you to move here because there is day work can’t give you a ride today.
4.  Or you are a teen-ager who doesn’t drive and whose parents are not able to pick you up because they are working.
5.  Or you are one of the seniors who lives at the Windmill Village Trailer Park or the Affordable Senior Housing.
6.  Or your wife/husband/son/daughter needs the car to go to a regular job far away.

I could probably extrapolate a bunch of socio-ecomic truths that follow but let's just say these bus regulars are not participating in the upper portion of the American Dream.

There are implied rules on the bus.
            1. The bus need not be on time and there’s no talk about it when it finally arrives.
            2.  The bus will let you off wherever you like as long as it is safe.
            3.  A few “regulars” have a camaraderie with the driver.  They greet him both boarding and leaving.  They converse in single sentences followed by long silences.
“Look at the funny way they angled that new house.”
“Some drunk will drive into it.”
The regulars don’t discuss sporting events but they do discuss other regulars or other drivers who aren’t there.
“Jimmy’s not here today.”
The rest of the riders say nothing. There is no intra-rider conversation except if you ask a bus question and then everyone weighs in.  The driver knows the habits of each regular and accommodates them.  Some don’t have enough change that day and they put in whatever they have.

I can’t tell you why but I felt safe and comforted on the bus. Even though it was shabby, I liked the simplicity of it and that I had no responsibility.  All I had to do was sit, look around, look at the passing scene and get off.  

If you took away the Public Relatiobns deficiency, the bus is a wonderful resource.  My fare was seventy-five cents.  If I wanted to go all the way to Riverhead - about forty miles - it would still be seventy-five cents. 

Go bus!  

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Manchurian Candidate but with barley.

(During one of the most stressful weeks of the year, thought I'd take your mind off of Christmas by reposting this totally off subject blog entry.)

When I made barley for the first time I couldn’t stop eating it.  I kept going back to the big pot and ate it all day long.  About 4 p.m. I began to feel sick and disoriented.  My mouth tasted like lead but I continued eating the barley.  Something in my mouth, my saliva, my salivary glands, my right brain or my left brain steered me to the pot, put a spoon in my hand and put more barley in my mouth.  I was like the Manchurian Candidate but with barley.

As I do with most grains, I had bypassed the recipe on the package and substituted lemon juice for some of the water and added salt and butter so it was like the best thing I had tasted in a long time.  Not that it mattered.  I was cramming the barley into my mouth so fast and chewing it so carelessly that it could have been flavored with roadside oil slick.  I wasn’t really tasting it.

I never made barley again.  When I passed the barley in the store I shivered and soon after I was gratified to learn that barley was full of the devil gluten anyway so there was no need to long for it. 

Last week I received A five pound bag of quinoa.  What the heck was I going to do with five pounds of a grain that was already annoyinglyoverpronounced (like Alex Trebek upchucking his tonsils to sayNicaragua) so that you had to Crazy Glue your hands to your pants to keep from slapping someone.  One day I had nothing to eat in the house (it happens) and I made some of the quinoa.  In my usual maverick style, I made it with lemon juice and water plus butter and red pepper flakes.  Do I need to tell you what happened? Do you know that song Sugartime by Johnny Cash?  Quinoa in the morning, quinoa in the evening, quinoa at suppertime. Be my little quinoa fix and I’ll love you all the time.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

My day with big brother/sister

This morning I was innocently eating breakfast. There in the glossy white of my eggs over easy was a picture of a pair of Dansko Pro XP Clogs I had just look at on Amazon.  It was refreshing to see those clogs at the edge of the yolk.  For about a week, I had been seeing the Little Pete Multi-Catch Mouse Trap in the pancakes, the panini, even the bathroom mirror.  Little Pete was all over the house.  

It was like the apostles finding the imprint of Jesus' face on Veronica's Veil.  Uh, well, no, it wasn't like that at all.  Sorry.

While I could tolerate the shoes and Little Pete, I rebelled at taking my grandchild to the playground and seeing that bellyfat lady squeezing her stomach right on the side of the slide.  And then when I tried to rub her out finding her stamped every few feet on the sidewalk all the way home.

That night,  I plumped my pillow hoping for a pleasant sleep only to catch sight of the Vita-Mix 7500 framed by the hemstitching on my heirloom pillowcase.  I had clearly only looked at the Vita-Mix 5200.  Geez, Amazon, get it right.  It’s enough to make you want to take out a restraining order.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

For Xmas: a medically induced concussion.

I read recently about a young man who had a concussion playing football but when he came to he could play the piano like nobody’s business.  The young man said, “I think I got rewired.  Something just changed." 

Another man, after getting kicked in the head in a mugging discovered he could visualize difficult mathematical formulas and turn them into complex diagrams.

There’s a medical term for this event:  Acquired Savant Syndrome.  The brain rewires itself after a head injury in an attempt to compensate for the information it lost and demonstrating new astonishing capabilities.

We’ve all read about blind or deaf people who have slipped and hit their head on the coffee table and when they came to they could see or hear or bake a pie.

It annoys me that sometime in the future they’ll figure out how to rewire the brain without an accidental concussion.  They’ll be able to give you a medically induced concussion.  We won’t have to go to the shrink to avoid self-defeating behavior.  We’ll just re-wire. 

Hey doc, I need a re-wiring. 

No prob.  I can schedule your concussion for next Tuesday. Give your "to change" list to the nurse.

The doctor will execute your medically induced concussion and rewire you to dislike cheese and bread, to enjoy not speaking, to love the outdoors and possibly also to play the piano.  When someone doubts miracles, I always point to Google.  If someone had told you ten years ago that you could find out the answer to anything in three seconds would you have believed them.  Exactly.

Monday, December 9, 2013

I'm done with the top sheet. No really!

Here’s what’s wrong with the top sheet (or the flat sheet as it’s called) (or the super effed up whose idea was this sheet) and why we must blow it off the face of the earth. What me too angry?

The top sheet is NEVER going to be big enough to allow one person (let alone two) to twist and turn throughout the night in decent REM sleep without becoming a major roadblock to unimpeded nighttime comfort and freedom. 

When I was a child, the top sheet in good bed making was tucked in at the bottom.  In those simple days, Ike and Mamie were in the White House.  Pogo was our source of irony.  The plumber charged $16 dollars for fixing almost any water issue.  We slept quietly on our backs and didn’t budge until the first ray of sun pierced our curtains.  Didn’t we?   

Today after another hell day at the cube farm the top sheet is an intolerable border constraint - the 38th parallel - roadblocking our healthy sleep.

Let’s talk purpose.  A top flat sheet is meant to be a shield between the body beneath and the warmth instrument on top.  If we touched our warmth instrument - a blanket or a naked comforter - with our body it would be impractical or itchy or just plain gross (or so we are told.)

Let’s talk dimensions:  the sheet is only big enough to tuck in a few inches at the bottom if we are to have enough fabric left to get that buffer up top between our chins and the itchy blanket or to keep us from drooling on the duvet. What no one else drools in sleep?

Let's talk about side dimensions.  A queen-size mattress - and by the way who chose these regal names? - is 60 x 80 inches. Even in Fieldcrest’s super luxe one million thread count supercale, organic, Egyptian cotton sheet set the most generous queen flat sheet is 90 by 102. Deduct the eight inches in mattress depth, leaves you twenty-two inches to play with length wise and a mere eleven inches per side.  Even if you are slim and sleep alone, your body heft will eat up those inches in a gulp and you have nothing left.  If you thrash side-to-side because of “I’m  naked in the supermarket dream”, your sheet will turn with you but it will not return for the "I fell off the roof of my house but have not yet hit the ground dream." What you don't have those dreams?    

At the foot of the bed, your feet have fought the good battle and are now free of sheet prison but god knows where the sheet has gone. After the first bathroom break, don't even bother to look for the sheet.

The top sheet has become as useless as the appendix but what to use instead?  Recently, I found a super soft encasement thing, zippered on three sides, in my linen closet.  I had no idea what it was or where it came from.  Maybe the gods of good sense put it there just for this issue.  The fabric was a beautiful matte cotton, super soft. It was too shallow to be a mattress cover.  I measured it and found it was the exact size as my generous comforter.  I put the comforter into the case and zipped it up.  I started sleeping under this new zippered thing without a top sheet.  It was trouble-free, simple, soft, shifted easily and stayed where I put it.  It provided warmth and held the promise of easy on-off for washing.  Canon, Springmaid, are you listening?  I’m handing you a million dollar idea for free.  It even has a campaign.  It's one a.m. do you know where your top sheet is?  Yes.  It's on top of me.