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.

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