Archive for the ‘Parrothood: Twenty Years of Caring for a Vengeful Bird Determined to Kill Me’ Category

A Little Aside…

Monday, September 6th, 2010

I know I’ve been pretty slack about keeping my blog updated. Excuses, excuses, I know, but really, life’s been crazy busy.

So rather than toiling away at a new post today, instead I’m going to just throw some names out there. Writers I enjoy. This is a random off-the-top-of-my-head selection, so if I’ve forgotten someone, I’m sorry! It’s early and I’ve been sick all week so have slept like a snake with one eye open. Bear with me.

So I’ll start out with my friend Kim Stagliano, whose memoir, ALL I CAN HANDLE: I’M NOT MOTHER THERESA: A LIFE RAISING THREE DAUGHTERS WITH AUTISM comes out this fall. I’ve known Kim for several years now and am so delighted that her amazing story is soon to appear on the pages of a no-doubt bestseller (it”ll be out this fall). She is one of the smartest, funniest women I know and I have admired for years how she handles with such grace, aplomb and humor what would drag many other people under. You’ll just have to read her memoir (or “Kimoir” as she likes to call it) to understand what I mean, but truly, she is about as close to a diminutive Albanian (with Indian citizenship) nun as you’re gonna get without having to have taken vows of chastity (she has, after all, had three children).

I can’t wait to read the entire book and I hope that you’ll run out and put it on your pre-order list right now.

Another author I’ve been thinking about is Lisa Dale, who is so delightful and whose writing is evocative and thought-provoking. I’ve been promising Lisa all summer that I would do a book giveaway with one of her books and I really have meant to but you know my excuses about being overwhelmed  (see above, crazy overloaded schedules). Lisa—if you’re reading this, let me know and I’ll add it in here!!! Lisa is a lovely writer and a lovely person and just a very thoughtful one as well. She is on the fast track to becoming a big name in women’s fiction so do check her out.

Okay, so some other writers I’d like to mention. I often cite Danielle Younge-Ullman when I discuss the inequities with the book business. Danielle is one of the most talented writers I know. Her book Falling Under is one of the most kick-ass books I read the year it came out (the same year my novel Sleeping with Ward Cleaver was released). In fact it’s about the kick-assiest of kick-ass books. But as you will note when you link to it on Amazon, it is no longer available from the publisher, because it was left to wither on the vine. Which is a shame, because the book is awesome. So while Danielle won’t even see a penny for the sale of the remaining used books, you should buy them anyhow, because you’ll be amazed at her writing and the passion therein.

Eileen Cook is another friend whose writing I love. She’s funny, smart, clever. While she started out writing humorous women’s fiction, that genre is for some bizarre reason not in favor with the reading public, and so she took a turn to YA and mid-grade fiction, and is starting to burn up the charts there. I LOVE the cover for her YA novel Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood. I love that Eileen didn’t let that little detail about no one buying humorous women’s fiction get in the way of her forging onward in her writing career, and instead her little flower is pushing through the sidewalk cracks in another neighborhood. Check her out.

JoAnn Ross is a lovely writer as well. Despite being a hugely successful New York Times bestseller (The Homecoming is kicking butt on the Times list), she is always willing to take the time to talk with readers and other writers. She’s toiled in this business for many years and has seen a lot of ups and downs and many, many changes. Talking with JoAnn is often simply reassuring, which is a good thing in this business.

Malena Lott, well, she’s another of my writer homegirls. I love her savvy business sense when it comes to marketing and publicity, and am charmed by her writing style. She needs to have had about ten books out by now, but that women’s fiction market is prickly at best, so she treads water while deciding what her next course of action is, but whatever it is, you should check her out. I really enjoyed Dating DaVinci and think you will too. I have a feeling she’ll be doing what many authors are doing now–putting her next book up digitally, as she has a fan base anxiously awaiting her next novel.Throwing a few other names into the pot: Jamie Ford—adore him, his writing, and absolutely love that he hasn’t let success go to his head. He’s a talent to be reckoned with. Beth Hoffman, ditto. She’s sweet, clever, smart, fabulously talented writer. Check her out. Sarah Pekkanen—she’s hilarious and charming and much fun, love her writing. Eve Brown-Waite—her fish-out-of-water memoir First Comes Love Then Comes Malaria: How a Peace Corps Poster Boy Won My Heart and a Third World Adventure Changed My Life about contending with life in a sometimes confounding difficult African nation is fabulous and hilarious. Ad Hudler—such fun, terrific writer, very truthful in his writing, which I love. Hilarious. Oh, in the better-late-than-never category, I just got around to reading Mary Kay Andrew’s Savannah Blues. Charming, fun, intelligent. She has a keen reporters eye for details that I appreciated, and she is great fun to hang out with (and has such a lovely agent and publicist, to boot!).

Ooooh, there are soooo many writers I’d like to shout out to right now but my middle-aged brain is only coming up with a handful. I’ll add more as they come to me. But in the meantime, check out the aforementioned and I hope you find you love them too!

This Little Pig Went Wee Wee Wee All the Way Home

Monday, May 4th, 2009

Don’t worry, I’m not about to write about swine flu. Just had to clear the air on that, what with the pig reference in the title. No, instead I’m going to regale you with far more compelling subject matter: wee wee. Well, not exactly. I’ve been thinking about wee-wee a bit lately, but really I’m not going to talk about it. At least not in it’s truest form.

You see my daughter is in an upcoming musical at her high school. She loves to sing and do all of those theatrical things and my husband and I have enjoyed watching her grow as a performer and we were duly thrilled that she was going to try out for the musical this year. I pictured her belting out songs about the corn being knee-high by the Fourth of July, or being Hopelessly Devoted to whomever was the closest thing to John Travolta that the school could scratch up, or maybe even getting a bit edgier and joining the ensemble cast in a rousing rendition of Seasons of Love from Rent.

But instead, she and her peers will be singing about pee. Yeah, I know, that sounds so terrifically disgusting. But really, it’s nothing but funny. They had a new drama teacher this year who wanted to undertake something a little bit different than the usual high school musical productions, to give everyone something to talk about, and she decided that this year they would put on Urinetown. Yep, that’s the title. Urinetown.

And then I got asked to help to publicize the play and I have a background in public relations so I was more than happy to do so, but then the reality kicked in once I actually started talking it up. Every time I’ve mentioned this play to anyone, I’m met with this:

“Urinetown? As in urine town? Oh.” And then their eyes glaze over. And I can’t say that I blame them because, I mean, the title is a little off-putting. 

I even thought about pitching it as You’re In Town, figuring nobody would know the difference. I came up with the line I’d use for reporters:

“I wanted to let you know that the high school will be putting on a play, and it’s been fabulously well-received on Broadway. Tony Award-winning, in fact. Yeah, uh-huh. Uh-huh. It’s called You’re In Town.”

I figured they’d just sort of in their minds mix it with Our Town, an old chestnut that gets dragged out by all kinds of high school drama departments during play season. 

Admittedly I’m not quite “in the know” in the world of drama, despite a potentially lurid addiction to People magazine. But that’s more to do with pop culture than actual theatrics. 

The extent of my acting prowess consisted of a quasi-starring role as Aunt Sally in Mr. Popsack’s sixth grade production of Huck Finn. I made quite the memorable entrance when I tripped over a tree stump prop in a night scene during the first few minutes of the play, flipping heels over head and landing on my back. Despite my abject humiliation from that gaff, I received rave reviews, and Charlotte Tragard, the actress in our modest little high school, pulled me aside and told me I had a future in the arts.

Little did I know that future would be in trying to convince people that a play about pee is a must-see production. 

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Urinetown, don’t let the title scare you. It’s good, clean fun for the whole family. And perfectly relevant for the times in which we live, complete with corrupt politicians, corporate greed, and ecological devastation thrown in for good measure. What’s not to love? 

Yes, sometimes I feel as if I’m flacking the live action version of the children’s book series,Captain Underpants. More like Captain Dirty Diapers. But I take heart in knowing that it’s a fabulous play and has lots of terrific singing and you know, in some ways it brings me back to the day when changing diapers with my own babies and I probably sang about wee-wee, just to keep the kids entertained. So it all comes around. 

Plus, my friend had a good point the other day.

“Hey,” she said. “At least it’s only pee! You could have been asked to publicize a production of The Vagina Monologues.”

Welcome Guest Author April Henry

Monday, April 20th, 2009

April Henry is the newest addition to the Girlfriend’s Cyber Circuit, and is celebrating the launch of her latest novel (co-authored with Lisa Wiehl), Face of Betrayal, which is sure to keep you up reading and the lights on till dawn.

Here’s the story: When 17-year-old Senate page Katie Converse goes missing on her Christmas break near her parents’ white Victorian home in Portland, Ore., law enforcement and the media go into overdrive in a search for clues. Three friends at the pinnacle of their respective careers–Allison Pierce, a federal prosecutor; Cassidy Shaw, a crime reporter; and Nicole Hedges, an FBI special agent–soon discover that Katie wasn’t the picture of innocence painted by her parents. Did Katie run away to escape their stifling demands? Was she having an affair with the senator who sponsored her as a page? Has she been kidnapped? Is she the victim of a serial killer?

About the author

April Henry knows how to kill you in a two-dozen different ways. She makes up for a peaceful childhood in an intact home by killing off fictional characters. April had one detour on her path to destruction: when she was 12 she sent a short story about a six-foot tall frog who loved peanut butter to noted children’s author Roald Dahl. He liked it so much he arranged to have it published in an international children’s magazine.

By the time she was in her 30s, April had come to terms with her childhood and started writing about hit men, drug dealers, and serial killers. She has published six mysteries and thrillers, with five more under contract. Her books have gotten starred reviews, been on Booksense (twice!), translated into four languages, short-listed for the Oregon Book Award, and chosen as a Quick Pick by the American Library Association.

April co-wrote Face of Betrayal with Lis Wiehl, a legal analyst on FOX. They have a contract for three more Triple Threat mysteries. 

In March, April’s young adult thriller, Torched, came out from Putnam.

“A sizzling political thriller. … The seamless plot offers a plethora of twists and turns.”

–Publishers Weekly

4.5 stars [and they don’t give out five stars] “Wiehl and Henry have penned a winner that seems to come straight from the headlines. Captivating suspense, coupled with tightly written prose, will entertain and intrigue.”

–Romantic Times

Welcome, April!

JG: Tell me a little about your book.

AP: In Face of Betrayal, Katie, a 17 year old Senate page, disappears. The prime suspect: the Senator who may have been more than just a mentor. Three women – an FBI agent, a federal prosecutor, and a TV crime reporter – team up to find out what really happened.

JG: What got you writing in the genre in which you write.

AH: It was kind of accident. I wrote the book I wanted to write –Circles of Confusion – and my agent told me she thought it would sell well as a mystery. The idea of it selling was enough to sell – I had already written three other books that hadn’t sold. She was right – I had a two book deal in three days. I’ve since realized that the kind of books you right at first are like a brand. Readers expect you to continue to write in the same genre. 

JG: Favorite thing about being a writer?

AH: When the words come so quickly it’s like I’m transcribing and grinning like a crazy person. That happens about once a year. Unfortunately.

JG: Least favorite thing about being a writer?

AH: The one time I couldn’t get on the same page as an editor. It was excruciating.

JG: What is the most interesting thing that’s happened to you since becoming a published author?

AH: Watching a book come close to being made into a movie. It was a huge long shot that didn’t pan out, but it was fun while it lasted.

JG: What’s your favorite type of pie?

AH: Cherry, made with bright red pie (sour) cherries. Runner up: lemon meringue.

Romancing the Smart Bitches

Friday, April 17th, 2009

I am so excited to host my friend Sarah Wendell from the fabulous Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog, who along with co-author/Smart Bitch Candy Tan has penned the perfectly titled Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches Guide to Romance Novels (Fireside, now available). Smart Bitches is my go-to spot when I’m looking for a good laugh, a healthy dose of smart-ass and some interesting discussion. With their just-released book, which has been selling gangbusters, Sarah and Candy take the iconic romance novel and turn it on its head, dissecting Old Skool and New Skool and all sorts of hilarious terminology that you probably never knew existed (and didn’t, until they coined it). Anybody who can successfully incorporate Angsty McAngsterson, Bastardy McBastard and man-titties into one book gets huge kudos from me.

Sarah has been kind enough to give us all a little lagniappe–a first peek at a coveted outtake from Beyond Heaving Bosoms–so you can see for yourself why these ladies really are two very Smart (and also quite literary) Bitches. So enjoy this little sampler of Sarah and Candy’s hilarious wit and then go get your very own copy of the book!

 

Beyond Heaving Bosoms: Smart Bitches Guide to Trashy Novels

Beyond Heaving Bosoms: Smart Bitches Guide to Trashy Novels

 

 

Are Romance Novels Inherently Feminist, Inherently Sexist, or Something Totally Different?

Why Does Everything Have to be Some Sort of Polemic, Anyway?  Geez. Lighten Up.

Are romance novels feminist? I think so. And I’m not going to get into a discussion of how I or anyone else defines “feminist” – but since it’s such a loaded word along the lines of “racist,” “homophobic” or “baked potato,” I should perhaps use a different term. Or a different question. The word “feminist” sadly has become polluted to the point where one person hears the word and thinks “equal rights and status under the law for women and men,” and another person hears it and thinks, “butch women marrying other women while wearing giant shoes, not shaving their legs, and hating men with virulent shrieking fury.” So let’s leave “feminism” alone. That poor word is exhausted.

New question! Are romance novels examinations, celebrations, and subversive accounts of the society of women, written largely by and for other women, with female-centered narratives that develop a subculture and parallel world centered on and devoted to the female experience? 

Affirmative. 

Yes, yes, oooooooh Goooooooooood, yes! YES YES YES!

In any good debate, one should acknowledge the points of the other side. So I acknowledge that romance novels have a disturbing history of rape narrative, overbearing alpha heroes, insipid stupid heroines who wander into dark alleys wearing impractical shoes, misunderstandings predicated on the idiocy of that heroine, and a sexual double standard that will make your head and your head’s head spin. 

BUT! Despite and through those points, romance novels are more than merely female-centric, because they are written and consumed by women. Women exploring and creating a fictional narrative of the Most Sexist Asshole Hero On Earth is still a subversive act, because in my opinion, women authors creating anything, much less narratives that focus on sex and emotions, for a marketplace of women consumers is an act invested with layers of subversion, like a really diverse lasagna with meat and vegetables. Long, hard vegetables, like zucchini. 

Narratives of the female experience, even if that female experience is happily and decisively following word-for-word the expectations of a patriarchal, repressive society, are also subversive in my opinion. So every romance novel, from The Millionaire’s Boardroom Mistress’ Secret Baby to She’s A Warrior Who Cut off His Balls and Sewed Them Back On, is a radical creation. 

My short answer to the question, “How can you read those books and be a supporter of women? They are so sexist!” is, “Anything written by and for women is an assault on the subjugation of women.”

However!

I don’t think that all women who read romance question the plots enough. Nor do they ask themselves why there’s certain combinations of heroes and heroines that really do it for them, and that questioning, aside from being the root purpose of our website (along with gleeful leaping at the sight of man-titty), is important. There are a number of old skool romances that end, as Candy says, with the heroine required by the narrative to adopt the hero’s worldview, acknowledging that her own is flawed and useless, while his and her position in it, are superior. These are the novels which might hold hands and skip with Germaine Greer’s criticism of romance novels of the time, which was in and around the 70s, that they were methods of “slavery for women”, teaching them to “cherish… the chains of their bondage”.  These are not the romance novels of today. 

The romance novels of today are powerful narratives created by women for women, and that is inherently powerful in and of itself, deserving of recognition, examination, and applause.

FROM FOUL MOOD TO FOWL MOOD

Monday, April 6th, 2009

I’d been in a funk for days. A whole lot of life circumstances had conspired to form a perfect storm that ushered in a seriously foul mood in me. To top it off, the weather seemed determined to contribute to the cause, as cold rain had descended to hover over us as gray and dismal as my temperament seemed to.

As much as I wanted to get over it, I couldn’t  escape the shackles of my unpleasant mood.

Then my kind friend Aggie showed up on my doorstep, surprising me with a dozen eggs. And with little more than that humble gesture, suddenly I felt much better.

Right about now you’re wondering how weird I must be that I would be cheered up by eggs. But these weren’t just any old eggs: these were fresh from her henhouse. Coveted eggs with bright orange yolks as cheerful as a May morning. Eggs that aren’t quite so easy to come by in this day and age. The fact that my friend wanted to share her limited supply of her treasured eggs was such an act of impromptu kindness, it couldn’t not brighten my mood.

And it reminded me that we all ought to try to remain better connected with one another, because ultimately it is those bonds with our friends and family that help to elevate us when we’re feeling most down.

Sometimes in this world of disconnect it’s hard to personalize one’s sentiments. We’re so busy zapping out emails and staccato’d text-messages and scurrying to and fro, we never find the time for conversation. As much as I enjoy catching up with friends on the phone, for instance, I rarely have the time to talk when it’s convenient to me.  So instead? I communicate electronically, until I can find the time to squeeze in a chat with someone. And I don’t think I’m alone in this–it seems to be the norm. Yet somehow that email or e-card just doesn’t have the same grand delivery as does a simple thoughtful deed. Like Aggie’s.

You know the crazy thing is I don’t particularly even like eggs, although my family sure does. But I do greatly appreciate the sentiment behind fresh eggs, and as a cook and avid supporter of buying locally, I know that fresh, local eggs are vastly better than store-bought. I actually find it extremely gratifying to crack into an egg and see that brilliant yellow-orange yolk: it means something to me. So in Aggie’s message was much more than an egg, it was sharing of something relevant, something to be savored.

There is a tradition in the Cajun French culture of lagniappe: something for nothing. For instance, throwing in a thirteenth donut when you get a dozen. A little extra something. It makes imminent sense how that little something can ultimately mean so much.

With Easter time upon us, I could go all deep and exploratory and ponder the symbolism of eggs, the poster child for renewal, being that which lifted me up from my bleak mindset. Or I could just tell you I was one of those children perfectly content to play with the ribbon, rather than the expensive toy beneath the ribbon. Either which way, there is something so very right about that gift: the sweet simplicity of the thought behind it. From one friend to another: “Have some eggs.” And to be reminded that someone cares.

It’s Not Easy Being Green

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

I so very much want to be as ecologically-minded as Al Gore (well, that is when he’s not consuming vast amounts of jet fuel bopping all over the world, or hauled about in lux limos, as he spreads the word about saving the planet). Really, I do.

 

For years, I have held my breath as spring approaches when I venture into the entrails of those enormous warehouse super saver stores (you know the places, where one can purchase that much-needed lifetime supply of cinnamon because surely you, too need a two-gallon bottle of the stuff). It is on the cusp of spring—when nature demonstrates her boundless capacity for beauty, what with tender shoots and delicate flowers of every hue, and leaf buds almost aglow in their yellow-green splendor—that the mega-humongo-I-can-outdo-you-in-super-sizing stores stockpile toxins galore, in the form of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, all sorts of -cides. And they are stacked floor-to-ceiling in an effort to prove how very BIG the store is and how very MUCH everyone must kill everything which we deem needless springing from the loamy earth.

And I realize that I stand at the altar of but one tower of death, yet there are hundreds, thousands more in other mega-humongo-I-can-outdo-you-in-super-sizing stores all over the world. And all of those tons upon tons of toxic-yet-sanctioned-by-our-loving-government-thanks-to-massive-contributions-from-such-megaliths-as-Archer-Daniels-Midland-products spew out untold amounts of vile ingredients into the atmosphere in the making of them, and then add double insult to our globe by then ensuring that consumers world-wide will while away their weekends from now until November dousing the earth with yet more of the poison, the one that kills birds and bunnies and bugs and pets if they eat it but hey, it must be good because it’s sold in massive quantities just about everywhere and Miracle Gro says it’s good and all that corn that Archer Daniels Midland couldn’t unload on anybody ten years ago is now jacking up the price of life in general for all of us in the “name” of environmentally sound fuel usage, despite hard evidence that bio-fuels made from corn really aren’t the best thing. But you can be certain that now that that horse is out of the stable and every farmer with an eye on the prize will be planting corn, corn and more corn because even though mono-culture farming has destroyed so much of the most fertile soil throughout the world, hey, we’re saving the environment, right? Wrong.

 

see the lovely ethanol plant, surrounded by cornfields

see the lovely ethanol plant, surrounded by cornfields

 

 

But off of my soap box, because I have to localize this Save the Planet thing. And admit that while I really want to contribute to saving the planet, it really ticks me off that my son won’t flush the toilet in order to save water and I so cannot stand the nasty ring that forms in the bowl and it makes me sick to know that the dogs are no doubt sneaking in there and drinking from it and of course my son doesn’t want me to be using toxic cleansers when there isn’t anything but water and pee in the toilet but UGH!!!!!

And while for years we conscientiously saved paper, plastic, glass, and cardboard for recycling, it became a problem when that cardboard became food for mice in our garage. Thus we fell off the cardboard recycling bandwagon, even though actually it was probably a beneficial circle-of-life sorta thing, feeding the wayward mice with cardboard—it did help to slightly reduce the amount we had. But it also came with stockpiles of mouse poop and they say the Hanfa virus comes from mouse poop and no way was I going to jeopardize my kids’ safety and well-being to help out the planet, dammit!

 

how's this for a humane mousetrap?

how's this for a humane mousetrap?

 

 

To eradicate the mice I tried to use the humane approach. I bought about 40 “humane” mouse traps and scattered them throughout the garage. The only problem is I forgot to check the mousetraps, thus rendering them radically inhumane. Alas, many a mouse died a slow gruesome death in my garage. They’d have been better if they’d have been snapped out of their misery in the blink of an eye. Sorry, little mice!

When we moved out to the country ten years ago and the recycling program was killed off one day, I admit, it simplified life to just dump all the trash in one bag and to hell with it.

 

But then my kids grew older and fortunately there are those who try to teach kids to be conservation-minded, and my kids came home from school decrying our lack of concern for the planet’s future, which made me feel especially guilty. So when my oldest got his license he took it upon himself to be the one to have to haul the recycling things to the recycling center (here in the sticks, no one is picking it up at our doorstep). This was a reasonable commitment. All it meant was I had to start rinsing, sorting and stashing containers once done with them. We set up three recycling tubs for glass, aluminum and plastic, and a large trash bin for cardboard (having remembered how cardboard accumulates rapidly). At first the plan worked relatively well. But then my son got busy. No time in life for hauling stuff. So our piles grew. First the bins in the shelves in the mudroom began to overflow. Then came the dog factor. Our one dog (the alpha) is a de facto weather forecaster, and knows a good 18 hours before bad weather sets in. She gets nervous and paces, her paws sweat, she gets surly with the other dog (the beta). Poor Sassy the beta gets very anxious when her friend/boss/dominatrix gets out of sorts. And so in sympathy, Sassy then eats the recycling. I’ve come home to Sassy having indulged in plastic bottles, tin cans of all sorts, she even got into the glass—amazing, I know—and finally, she started eating the tubs themselves. Yes, she is a Labrador. No, she is not a billy goat. (This past weekend, Sassy ate a magnetic marble roller coaster off the refrigerator. I know we need to figure out how to placate her before she becomes so driven, but that’s another story altogether).

 

yes this sweet, innocent dog eats glass
yes this sweet, innocent dog eats glass

So this meant that all containers then had to be relegated to the garage. And now our recycling overflows in the garage. When visitors see the veritable trash fest in our garage, they are temporarily speechless. It overflows from everywhere. It seems as if while everyone in our house has time to recycle in theory, no one in our house has time to recycle in practice. From garage to recycling center doesn’t happen on a regular basis, unfortunately, and now I find myself tripping over empty plastic bottles, grousing about boxes stacked to my eyes, and lamenting the day we decided to green up our evidently gray-ish existences.

We recently had our longest run in between trips to the recycling center. Six weeks. The garage reminded me of the apartment of that man in Manhattan from the news a year or two ago, who had stockpiled so many newspapers and magazines that they ultimately caved in upon him and he was buried beneath them all. At least only our cars would be buried, and not any humans (that I know of anyhow!). But perhaps this collapsing detritus can have an upside, and perhaps crush any uninvited mice who might decide to find their way into my cardboard extravaganza in the garage some time soon. In the meantime, I guess I’ll just keep not throwing things in the garbage, avoid all toxins, flush toilets behind my son’s back, and turn a few lights off. Here’s hoping that’s doing my part to better the world?

If This Van’s A-Knockin’…

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

I’m delving deep into the archives for this one. I wrote this several years ago when driving to South Carolina with a car load of kids, who asked about these particular billboards we kept seeing… 

 

this is what they should see...

this is what they should see...

 

 

 

Summertime means road-tripping. Whether to the beach or to visit family and friends, we often find ourselves traversing major automotive arteries on a more regular basis during the summer. Maybe I get really bored on these long drives, but my curiosity has been piqued by a strange presence along the highways and byways of America. Peppering these less-than-scenic roads are enormous lurid billboards showcasing voluptuous vixens, touting the glories of Tommy’s Tittie Palace, The Topless Treasure Chest, and other charming go-to destinations such as the Triple X Porn Center. Why do the proprietors of these establishments feel compelled to blanket major highways with jumbo “Girls! Girls! Girls!”  signs promoting a smattering of sex shops of one form or another? Is there something about car trips that makes men excessively horny? Why are they so hot-to-trot on highway 40? Whose idea was it to launch screaming signage tempting the nations’ highwaymen to divert from their tiresome treks to enjoy the pleasures of Bambi, Penelope or Ginger?

I wonder about the genesis of these types of shops along major highways. Did the owners see a need, anticipate a need, or create a need for highway horndogs. Are their customers just tooling along the interstate, when the lightbulb goes on in their heads and they think, “Hmmm, it sure would be nice if there was someplace right off the road here to find me a lap dance, or cop me a feel.” Or “I’ve been meaning to replenish my supply of triple X movies, thank goodness this shop is on my way to Florida.” Which came first, the chicken or the egg (or should I say “the rooster or the sperm?”)?

Is it the vibrations of the van stirring up their libidos? Is it the bump, bump, bump of the potholes that make them want to hump, hump, hump at the first available rest site? It kind of bums me out having to explain to my impressionable children why there are so many billboards featuring unnaturally buxom blondes leering seductively down from their bird’s eye view atop the tree line along I-95.

I’m a little concerned about these roadsters whose sex drives are on overdrive. Isn’t this just as bad as drunk driving? Is a man in a heightened state of lust fully in control of his driving skills? I can see it now, the flashing red lights, the blaring sirens, as the state trooper pulls the guy over, “I’m sorry sir, but I’m going to have to charge you with driving under the influence of testosterone. You’ll have to come with me.”  Let’s hope for the sake of the cop that this command isn’t taken too literally.

This may seem counterintuitive, but perhaps we need to install more of these testosterone depots along roadways. Supposing there is an excess of horny guys behind the wheel: maybe these little stopping points could help mitigate the ongoing problem of road rage. Perhaps if these pent-up drivers lighten their loads, so to speak, the roads will be a much more pleasant place to spend your afternoon.

Nevertheless, I’m still trying to erase from my mind this image of the average patron of one of these highway happy palaces. No doubt he’s a grizzled, creepy-looking gray-toothed guy, beer gut straining for release from his sweat-stained undershirt, pack of Camels rolled up his sleeve, tongue lolling lecherously, desperate to stop at Booty Land to break up the monotony of his long drive. Man, when I get bored on a road trip, I pull out a book tape to keep me entertained.

 I’ve recently discovered that satellite radio is great for entertainment during road trips. In fact, they even offer up Playboy Radio, for a slight extra fee, to keep you from falling asleep at the wheel. Which gets me thinking, will this option eventually preclude the need for even stopping along the way, or can this business be conducted in the privacy of your very own vehicle, going 70 MPH? Does get you to wonder if someone is actually coming or going, doesn’t it?

It’s kind of funny that there’s a concerted effort now to get people to stop using cell phones while driving. Apparently road safety experts fear that phone usage while driving is distracting. Honey, that’s nothing compared to what the Playboy Channel is gonna make some folks do. All I know is this: the next time I see a bumper sticker proclaiming “If this van’s a-rockin’, don’t come a-knockin’”, I plan to take that warning at face value. I’ll be sure to steer real clear of that guy.

 

Assets, Liabilities and Coughs. Oh My!

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

I remember one time years ago my four-year old daughter had an argument with her best friend over their coughs. Yes, their coughs. One claimed to have a “mommy cough” and the other one insisted that no, she had a “baby cough,” and then one staked her claim on a “daddy cough,” and then there were tears over who owned the dominant cough. At the time, I realized, wow, I really need to get out more if I’m now relegated to refereeing disputes over strange theoreticals that don’t even exist.

A few years back, my husband and I had to update our wills, something we’d forgotten to do following the birth of our youngest child over a decade ago; we figured it was about time. After spending a few weeks navigating the delicate avenues of will diplomacy, I finally realized why it took us so long to revisit that lovely task.

 Will-writing can be a most humbling experience, not the least of which because inevitably you find yourself fighting over theoreticals. Who currently has what money. Who will have what money. Who keeps the kids. Who keeps the dogs. Who distributes your remaining assets.

 Ah, assets. That lovely vague reference to one’s ultimate dollar value. Something that stay-at-home moms will certainly find themselves lacking in. Moms are definitely asset-less, unless you count their ability to drive one-handed while turning around to referee an argument in the backseat while changing the radio station while answering a phone call to figure out what fellow mom can pick up Susie at violin practice because Johnny’s football practice ran late, while carefully avoiding all motor vehicles, pedestrians and wayward groundhogs within a two-hundred-foot radius of your moving vehicle. Asset or skill? You decide.

Anyhow, it was fair to admit back then that as a writer in search of an agent (not too far removed from a waiter awaiting a big acting break) I qualified as one who was long on optimism, and short on reliable income (i.e. asset-less). But I found great amusement in our estate attorney’s referring to my potential future earning potential by saying: “as assets are titled in your name.” A euphemistic way to say that I wasn’t worth squat–except if someone cashed in my minimal life insurance policy. Or figured out a way to bequeath my multi-tasking skills.

[And as an aside, I need to interrupt here for this ancillary observation: wills and diets are a volatile combination when undertaken at the same time--both stir deep emotion and can lead to one saying/doing regrettable things. I should never have dealt with will-writing on an empty stomach, because it only served to make me surly.]

As we reviewed our old wills, we were slightly embarrassed to realize that the executor we’d last chosen because of the lifelong bond we shared with him was someone we hadn’t spoken to in fifteen years. So much for that irrevocable friendship. If something had happened to us, authorities would have been left to log onto Anywho.com to track the poor guy down. Imagine the surprise for him!

So after assigning an executor we actually still knew, we had to decide upon whom we would confer the humbling responsibility of raising our children. This subject alone created a family version of the DMZ: bloodlines were drawn, creating a landmine-infested zone between two warring familial factions, with my spouse and I both gently but firmly arguing who had relatives up to the job of taking over child-rearing if called upon to do so. This task required treading very lightly so as to avoid permanent hostilities.

Talk about loaded with potential for major anxieties. After all, in this situation, you’re trying to pick the replacement for you, and of course no one will ever be the same as you. So instead, you have to wrestle with finding two people who will love your children, treat them equally, and educate them in the ways of life in much the same way that you would. Do their worldly philosophies and political views align with yours? What about religion? Would your children have to move to another state? Could they keep their pets?

Say you don’t select your or your husband’s parents for the job. That leaves them with hurt feelings. But who next to choose? Your siblings are already overwhelmed with their own kids. Can you saddle them with more? Plus, what about all of those lingering sibling issues that have festered unresolved for all these years. How does that affect your kids? Will your sister be able to truly love and respect your children despite her subliminal resentment toward you?

So then you look toward friends in search of compatible potential alter-egos. What about Cindy and John? Well, they punish their kids if their rooms aren’t completely picked up every day. Our kids’ rooms are only picked up bi-annually. That won’t work. Hmmm, how about Robert and Samantha? Well, no, that won’t work; they’ve only now let their teenaged girls grow their fingernails long. We definitely aren’t that strict. Matt and Caroline are out; I think they still smoke bongs!

After all of this internal debate (and external spousal “negotiating”), I realized I couldn’t think of anyone who would do things quite the same way that we would. I couldn’t bear to assign our children to a life with someone other than us. And I know that all of this theoretical talk of assets to be determined, and money gained and money lost pales in comparison with the idea of family lost. It leaves me feeling so bereft that I think I’d better grab a cookie. So much for the diet.

I think I’d rather go back to being the arbiter over who’s got the baby cough and who’s got the mommy cough and pretend that all of those other theoreticals are just that.

 

INFORMATION OVERLOAD

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

The other night at book club my friends and I were bemoaning what everyone’s inevitably lamenting these days: the disastrous economic Armageddon plaguing the world  the solar system the universe. A few of us admitted that we’ve given up listening to the media doomsdayers who are bent on bombarding us 24/7 with tales of world demise, and instead have decided to tune it out in favor of more pleasant things.  Except that sometimes even that is hard to find, given that we are being deluged with too much stimuli from every angle.

One popular escapist outlet is the myriad of social networking groups on the Internet, from that now-dinosaur/ADD nightmare, MySpace, to Facebook, to Twitter. Add to that blogs, grogs, Library Thing, Red Room, LinkedIn, Yahoo listserves, and niche chat sites that can run the gamut from professional networking to holistic parrot care. All this means absolutely no end to the realm of e-distractions that can drain your brain, and while you’re at it, every waking moment of your life as well. I actually found a social network site called VampireFreaks.com. Seriously. That I even bothered to spend the time on the Internet researching that is worrisome to me on some level. Talk about sucking your soul.

I know many sing the praises of this profusion of Internet connectivity. But one could argue whether social networking really is a boon to society, or is merely one more distraction that’s holding us back from living our lives more fully. I mean sure, thanks to Facebook (co-opted from the young, who hate us for that), you might now have re-connected with Tommy Stromboli, who sat behind you in sixth grade health class and sketched amazing pictures of Loony Tunes characters (and the occasional body part) while the rest of the class took notes. But honestly, did you need to be back in touch with Tommy? I mean, if you’d really wanted to communicate with him, would you have ever lost contact in the first place?

I have Facebook “friends” from childhood with whom was I not only decidedly not in their circle friends, I wasn’t even in their galaxy of acquaintances.  Interestingly, though, Facebook seems to be resurrecting that very social strata we all gladly left behind years ago. It’s middle school redux: the cool kids still only chat with the cool kids and the others are left out in the cold, this time from the LED screen of your computer in the comfort of your home.

Graduating on from Facebook, we have the latest rage, Twitter, a micro-blogging site. The place to be in the e-ether. If you don’t tweet, you’re so out of the loop. So everyone’s tweeting: a whole lot of blather bloating the e-waves. Twitterers can use no more than 140 concisely-constructed characters to condense their little moment in time for whomever in the world follows them on Twitter. A big New York editor recently endorsed Twitter to encourage writers to tighten their prose. Seems a stretch to me.

Now back when I was in school, I was a doodler. A doodler with absolutely no artistic ability whatsoever. So while I was stuck in classes like symbolic logic with my mind absolutely numb with boredom, I quickly ran out of things to doodle. After so many birds, sunshines, moons with faces, and garden-variety flowers, what was left to draw? But nowadays, instead of doodling with pen and paper, with Twitter you can doodle with your words. And instead of only Tommy Stromboli peering over your shoulder to bear witness to your mindless nothingness, well, hey, you have the entire e-world in which to infuse your verbal helium.

Just think of the people you can touch in the world with that 140-character tweet on Twitter, after all. A quick glimpse of tweets of folks I am following include: I need to shave my legs. Sigh. Or: Finally found a small carton of the elusive pink malted milk balls. Commence sugar shock. Lastly this: Wheat Ritz crackers are just wrong. Who wants a healthy Ritz cracker? There’s also a link to a photo of one twitterer eating her foot. She felt compelled to post it after being proven wrong about something she insisted she was right or she’d eat her foot. Okay then.

The thing is, I totally “get” Twitter and have gotten pulled under the riptide of reading and writing tweets myself. Sometimes it’s just more of a challenge to come up with something fun or stupid or entirely useless in 140 characters than it is to do something you ought to be doing. But that’s the thing of it: it keeps us—i.e. however many hundreds of millions of subscribers to Twitter, Facebook, or you name the site—from doing useful things. Like talking to someone nearby, for instance. Or conducting brain surgery. You laugh, but on the news the other day (that very news we’re supposed to be avoiding, due to its glum nature), I heard about doctors tweeting while removing some man’s cancerous tumor in his abdominal cavity. I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer my doc not tweet while in my gut.

Makes me want to dial 9-1-1, stat, because I fear we have become victims of information overload, and we’re now hemorrhaging all that useless knowledge.

My tweet response to that? Remember when ignorance was bliss? Sigh.

I’m not old enough to have experienced the days when you’d pick up the phone and an operator would connect your call for you—hence adding a layer of actual human interface. But I think I miss that sort of interaction nevertheless.

Come to think of it, even more, I miss the days when social networking meant going to a really fun party.

           

 

Always the Bridesmaid

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

I got to be a bridesmaid again just a few years ago. At the ripe old age of 39, plucked from my post of matronly mother to magically metamorphose into the role of sprightly ingenue.

this is definitely not the dress though

this is definitely not the dress though

The thing is, middle-aged, of which, alas, I’ve become a card-carrying member, just doesn’t seem to cut it in some roles. I mean, you reach a certain point in life and you start to look stupid wearing long hair, for example. Or bleaching it blonde, for that matter. And eventually, if you wear a mini-skirt or a bikini, you’re likely to be accused of trying to be your teen-aged daughter. This is kind of how I feel about mid-life bridesmaids. It just doesn’t work. You gotta know when to call it quits.

Nevertheless, that’s where I found myself. In the whirl of pre-matrimonial frenzy, negotiating dress sizes with the brutally dictatorial bridal shop employees, mean women who insist you are lying to them about your dress size, and insist you’re doomed to be wedged like a sausage into a too-tight dress if you don’t follow their advice.

Did you know that bridesmaid dresses standardly measure about five sizes up from your rack size? I thought it was bad buying bathing suits, which invariably size far larger than your street clothes. I suspect this bridesmaid sizing is intended to make the bride feel that much more superior. Place her up on the pedestal, the only time she’s gonna get to enjoy this position. So the bride is sporting her size 4 clingy little number, while the bridesmaids are ordering their dresses in a size 20. No doubt created by my favorite designer, Omar the Tentmaker (see below).

When the day finally arrived that my bridesmaid outfit was delivered, I was shocked. My two-pieced strapless floor-length number in steel gray sateen was practically shiny enough to see my reflection in.

Then came the time I’d dreaded: trying on this flattering bit of haute (or should I say “not”) couture. The moment of truth was humiliating. All I needed was a trunk and a swishy little tail and I’d have been placed on the endangered species list because I was hunted for my ivory tusks. The words “husky” and matronly kept swimming through my head. Husky is fine, if you’re a blue-eyed sled dog, but not so flattering if you’re a blue-eyed mom, even if you are a beast of burden. And matronly, well that’s a word that evokes its own connotations, none of which are too great. Suffice it to say, a red hot mama, I was not.

The whale-bone support structure in the strapless top pushed my breasts up to chin-level,  preventing my arms from resting flat at my sides. I wondered how I was going to negotiate eating and drinking at the reception with my newly-endowed cleavage getting in the way of my wineglass. Perhaps I’d be able to just rest my dinner plate right on top of my boobs, doing away with the need for a table. The small mercy for which I was thankful was that the dirndl style of the skirt hid all sorts of figure flaws. Of course, by hiding them, this amplified my amplitude, if you know what I mean. Add 18 wheels and this baby could’ve rolled on down the highway, ten-four good buddy.

yeah, this is not the dress, either

yeah, this is not the dress, either

How sad, in middle age, when I have finally come to accept my imperfections with something close to good grace, that I then have them flouted at me by my being forced to parade around alongside a bevy of young, slender beauties, the lone matronly bridesmaid. Here I was, fully prepared to attend this wedding dressed in an age-appropriate, somewhat elegant dress, and instead, I was relegated to laughingstock status—looking much like a dingy gray London sky, in my shiny sateen gown. The wedding guests sniggering as I sashay down the aisle, “Good lord, who on earth is that? She must be someone’s sister, poor thing.”

The good news, though, is I think I’m out of relatives of marrying age now. I’m pretty sure the next wedding I’m invited to, I’ll be able to dress as me. Only problem is if I end up picking some hideous looking garment, I won’t have the bride to blame it on—I’ll have to take all the credit myself.