Friday, December 21, 2007


It's occurred to me that my little blog is a year old this week. To commemorate this small milestone, I've spent the past couple of hours at work reading over some of my old posts. I've never kept a diary (despite a few half-hearted attempts when I was a preteen, which mainly consisted of writing about boys I had crushes on and how my parents were fascists for not letting me watch R-rated movies), so it's a new and interesting experience to have a written record of a year of my life.

I suddenly remember very clearly where I was and why I started this blog a year ago. Basically, I was stuck. I was tired of my job and of writing articles I didn't care about for people who didn't much care to read them. I was tired of suburbia and maintaining a semi-long distance relationship. I was also soon to be homeless, as my wonderful roommates were all moving on to the next stages of their lives. I needed a creative outlet, and I was hoping that the New Year would bring a much needed change; something to shake me out of the lethargy I had fallen into.

And did it ever. In the past 12 months I: began a new job, moved to L.A. and into my first apartment with Matt, started grad school and got engaged. And somewhere, in the midst of night classes and learning to color coordinate home furnishings and talking about wedding plans, something shifted inside me--I could actually feel myself growing up and moving into a new phase in my life. It's been a little scary at points, and I certainly don't have it all figured out yet. But mostly it's been pretty great.

I can't say that starting the blog directly led to any of these changes. But maybe it made me a little more optimistic, or changed my perspective and helped me to look at my world in a slightly different way. Sometimes when you don't know what to do, it's best to just do SOMETHING.

So here's to The Notebook. Even if I sometimes neglect it (see the month of December), and even if my readership is small (yet unerringly loyal, thanks guys!), I have a real affection for my humble little corner of the Internet. And I can't wait to see to where 2008 takes us!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Back To The Future

I'll be the first to admit that I don't exactly live on the cutting-edge of technology. I was very slow to embrace online social networking until I discovered the addictive joy of cyber-stalking people via Facebook. I still don't really know how to work the four remotes that are mysteriously required to operate our one TV. I didn't own an iPod until a year ago. Hell, until about 2002 I was dragging a Walkman with me to the gym. Not even a Discman, people. A WALKMAN.

So it might just be the non-techie in me talking here, but I just do not get this new Kindle contraption. Apparently, the great appeal of the product is that it's a wireless, hand-held electronic reading device that's approximately as small and lightweight as...wait for it...a book! Books, I might add, are also wireless, hand-held reading devices.

According to Amazon, it can instantly access more than 90,000 titles and store up to 200 books at a time, which I admit would be pretty handy for traveling. But it also costs $399. I mean, think about how many actual books you could buy for $399! For someone who reads at a steady pace of about a book a month, it will take at least a couple of years for the Kindle to start being cost effective. (Hey, I just did math!)

Who knows. Maybe digitizing books is what it will take for people to start reading again. The AP reported a few months ago that 25 percent of adults didn't even read A book last year, which is sort of horrifying. Maybe it's all that archaic paper and exhausting page turning that has been holding the literary world back.

Still, I have my doubts. In my experience, book lovers tend to hold onto their favorite tomes like treasures. As Jo March from Little Women once said, "Some books are so familiar, reading them is like being home again." (She might have just said that in the movie version, but it doesn't make it any less true). It's hard to imagine a Kindle evoking the same kind of response. Books are meant to be loved and dog-eared and displayed on shelves. And let's face it, if you slogged your way through Ulysses or The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire than, dammit, you want everyone who visits your home to know it!

And then there's the whole issue of the name. I'm not quite sure what they're going for by calling it "Kindle." Does it mean that they're hoping to ignite the general populace's love of reading? Or that we should all run out and burn our old books now that the Kindle has arrived?

It's hard for me to imagine it really catching on, but I've certainly been wrong before. It could be that in a few years almost everyone will be reading by Kindle-light, while the remaining holdouts cling to our outdated paper and wait for books to come back as retro-chic---like people in the 70s who hung on to their vinyl and swear it still sounds better.

I guess I'm just a retro kind of girl.

Monday, November 12, 2007

In Which I Make Al Gore Cry Non-Biodegradable Tears

A few days ago, I read an article in the New York Times about how Portland has become a super bicycle-friendly city and has the nation's highest percentage of workers who commute by bike

After I read it, I felt a pang of guilt about the fact that I live in the most car-centric city in the world. The moment passed quickly, however, when I remembered that I love my car, and hate bicycle riders.

Yes, driving in Southern California can be torturous. It's ALWAYS rush hour here, and when it rains people completely forget that their vehicles come equipped with brakes. Sometimes when I'm sitting in traffic on the freeway I momentarily lose my mind and scream at the cars around me, "JUST MOVE ALREADY. MOVE! LUCIFER'S BEARD, WHY AREN'T YOU MOVING?!"

But the point is that I can scream. I'm safely tucked away in my own little temperature-controlled cocoon of steel and glass, where I can listen to NPR or sing along with my awesome mix CD as loudly as I want. I know it's wrong, but I just can't help it. As much as I miss living in a pedestrian-friendly city, I do NOT miss public transportation. I do NOT miss standing outside in sub-zero temperatures in the middle of winter, waiting to cram myself into a jam-packed train full of people with questionable personal hygiene.

(For those who may not know, Los Angeles does actually have a subway. This is something I often forget, but I was reminded the other night when I caught the last 20 minutes of "Speed" on cable. I have yet to meet anyone in this city who has ever actually ridden it, and it wouldn't surprise me to find out that someone built it for the sole purpose of filming a movie scene and then just decided it was easier to leave it there.)

As for my general dislike of cyclists, well the truth is that they just bother me. They pedal along, blithely unaware of all the disgruntled drivers behind them, and seem to believe that their two-wheeled dexterity exempts them from following the rules of the road. The run-ins I've had with bicycle riders over the years have done nothing to dispel my prejudice. Back in college when I was Rollerblading (remember Rollerblades?), a man who was riding behind me accused me of somehow causing him to crash and fall of his bicycle. And because I stupidly gave him my real name, he sued me for $2,000 worth of damage to his bike. Another time, while jogging, a cyclist running a red light smacked into me and sent me sprawling into the middle of the busiest street in Boston.

Need another example? My friend Neetu (who is an avid cyclist, but I forgive her because she has many other admirable qualities) once took a nasty spill while riding her bike around the college town she lives in. While she was lying prostate on the sidewalk, a man with a hook for a hand attempted to administer first aid to her. Which just goes to show you that nothing good ever comes from riding a bike.

So, my apologies to Al, the lovely, outdoorsy people of Portland and Plant Earth. On this particular issue we're just going to have to agree to disagree. When it comes to my little blue Toyota, my attitude isn't very green. In fact, it's more of a smoggy gray.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Ballroom Blitz

Bet you thought that after I got engaged my posts would be full of sappy declarations of love and dreamy visions of my upcoming union. I kind of thought that too. But after only two months of engagement bliss and being mesmerized by the sparkling addition to my left hand, reality has sunk in.

Being engaged means there will be a wedding. Which means we have to plan a wedding. Which means we have to figure out to pay for a wedding. And when you have two large sets of Irish Catholic families anticipating a full and robust bar, a sister who is morally opposed to bridesmaid dresses, and a mother who is a rabid ABBA fan--well, the task of putting together an event that will make everyone happy becomes quite daunting.

We took our tentative first steps a few weeks ago when we went to Barnes & Noble to pick out a wedding planning guide. There were literally hundreds of books and planners promising to deliver the crucial advice needed to achieve the wedding of your dreams on any budget. One particularly unhelpful guide recommended that to save money we should forgo the open bar and just buy a keg. It also suggested choosing an inexpensive yet memorable venue--like the Minneapolis City Zoo!

As I looked at Matt across the stacks of bright pink books full of pictures of happy brides, I could see the rising panic I was feeling reflected in his eyes. If we couldn't t even commit to choosing a book about wedding planning, how were we going to plan an actual wedding?

So this is where you, dear reader, come in. To anyone who's ever planned a wedding, had a wedding or even ever been to a wedding, I'm pleading for any advice or guidance you can give me. In exchange for your assistance, I promise not to turn this blog into a forum for my bridezilla-esque rantings.

Unless, of course, you've long harbored a desire to visit the Minneapolis City Zoo.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Delurk If You Love Jesus!

The Great Mofo Delurk 2007

Ok, so I'm a day late on this. When have I ever been on time for anything?

The point is that now is the time to come out of lurking. If you're just stopping by, or if Google--in its infinite wisdom--brought you here by accident, drop a line and tell me something about yourself. Like, what's your favorite Jeopardy category?

If you're a regular commenter, post something anyway. I need validation, damnit!

Monday, October 01, 2007

You Are What You Watch

Last week was a very eventful week out in the world. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (that's pronounced "I'm in a dinner jacket," thanks Katie Couric!) visited Columbia University. Bill O'Reilly made an even bigger ass of himself than usual. Some truly awful stuff went down in Myanmar/Burma.

And, oh yeah, Tyra Banks demonstrated the proper position to assume whilst receiving a bikini wax on national television--thus heralding the beginning of another Fall TV season.

I was a little bummed when it occurred to me that I wasn't particularly excited about any returning show. My beloved Veronica Mars is gone, off to solve the mystery of why we should care that The CW even exists. I've declared this season of Grey's Anatomy Dead On Arrival, and Battlestar Galactica doesn't come back until the winter. For the first September in a long time, I was sans appointment television.

Then, I realized that this is really an opportunity for a fresh start. My Season Pass function is a blank canvas waiting to be filled. So I decided to treat the new television season as if it were all-you-can-eat night at the Schezwan Palace--that is to say, stuff myself with little bit of everything and then see what brings me back for seconds.

So here for your viewing pleasure is a quick run-down of the hits, misses and first impressions from the past week:

Heroes: Unlike the rest of America, I didn't really fall in love with Heroes last season. I'm giving it a second shot to suck me in, mainly because Kristen Bell is joining the cast. The real battle this season will be to see who emerges as the most adorable, blond super-girl on the show. (My money says Veronica Mars kicks the cheerleader's ass).

Gossip Girl: I figured that if it was even half as fun as the first season of The OC it would be worthwhile. So far it seems trite and over-the-top soapy...yet still better than seasons 2-4 of The OC. I doubt I'll stick with it. Could it be that I've just gotten too old for teen dramas? (Nah....)

Chuck: The nerds have indeed inherited the earth. Or at least a bunch of national security secrets. The pilot was fun, we'll see how it goes.

30 Rock: The new season hasn't started yet, but I'm planning on bumping this up to Season Pass status. I adore Tina Fey. I kind of want to be her.

Dirty Sexy Money: I decided to check this one out because it starred Nate from Six Feet Under. The money part is accurate, but I'm not really sold on the dirty and the sexy. (On a side note, Dakota Fanning's little sister is on the show. She looks so much like her older sibling that I'm really starting to think there's a factory somewhere in Hollywood that mass produces Fanning children.)

Watched this one because V.M. alum Jason Dohring is in the cast. Instead of playing the bad-boy high school love interest, he now plays a bad-boy immortal vampire, which is like three steps up the bad-boy ladder. But still, a show about a vampire who fights crime in Los Angeles? It's already been done--and byJoss Whedon, which automatically means it's been done better.

How I Met Your Mother: I recently watched the first season on DVD after hearing some good things about it, and I was totally charmed. The show is sort of like Friends' cooler, more down-to-earth cousin. And if his appearance in "Harold and Kumar" wasn't enough to renew your all-encompassing love of Neil Patrick Harris, his performance on HIMYM will. It might even be leg-en-dary.

That's all for now. If you have any suggestions or recommendations feel free to pass them along, although it looks like my plate is going to be pretty full. Also, sometimes I like to, you know, read stuff.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

As Time Goes By

Matt and I were 18 when we met, which I admit is a ridiculous age to meet the person you're going to end up spending your life with.

We were Freshman in college, and we lived on the same floor in our dorm. Matt says he remembers seeing me at the floor meeting on the day we all moved in. I remember that meeting too...I was terrified and excited and, if I'm not mistaken, I was wearing my hair in pigtails (probably my idea of dorm fashion at the time--cute but not trying too hard). Icebreakers and pigtails are a ridiculous way to meet the person you're going to end up spending your life with.

Over the next few months, I don't exactly remember how, he became my best friend. And then he became more. I won't subject you to all the details of our eight-year relationship, but suffice it to say that along the way there were break-ups and break downs, long-distance drama and moments of uncertainty. When people ask me how we've stayed together through all of our tumultuous young adult years, my stock answer is that it hasn't always been easy, but it's always been worth it.

Sometimes I think our entire relationship can be summed up by our first subway ride together. One night, very early into that first fall, we decided to take a study break and head over to Tower Records. It was only a few blocks away, but we were new to the city so we jumped on the Green Line for a two-stop ride.

I don't really remember what we talked about on the way. What I do remember is that when the conversation finally paused, we realized we'd overshot our destination by about seven stops. Instead of heading right back, we got off the train and walked around the Boston Common; the first of probably a thousand times we'd wander around the city together, just walking and talking. Of course I didn't know it at the time, but that night became a blueprint for all the nights that would follow--never running out of things to say to each other and never wanting the ride to end.

So now, we are engaged. In some ways it feels like everything has been happening very fast. After all, just six months ago we were moving in together, picking out our couch and stressing about the $700 price tag. Now we're talking about planning a wedding (talk about escalation). But really, we've spent the better part of a decade getting here.

And what a ride it's been.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Climb Aboard The Funship

I've been thinking a lot lately about the paths we choose in life--probably because I recently underwent a career shift and am also going back to school for the first time in more than four years (scary).

In college, I majored in journalism. It's hard to remember now whether I chose that because I deeply wanted to be a journalist, or because I wanted to get paid to write and reporting seemed like the best way to accomplish that. Either way, that's what I did and eventually--after a prohibitively expensive undergraduate education, a few non-paid internships and a brief stint of unemployment--I landed a real reporting job at a newspaper in Southern California.

Journalism is one of those jobs that look extremely glamorous and interesting on television and in the movies, but which in reality consists of more drudgery than you could possibly imagine. I'm sure it's quite a fabulous life if you're a New York Times columnist or spend your days in the White House press room, but I was a city reporter at a mid-size regional newspaper, and therefore spent most of my time at city council meetings listening to officials harangue over land use zoning and whether to allow another Wal-Mart in town.

Not to say that the job was all bad. Even the most ordinary lives and places have extraordinary moments, and occasionally a story would come along that was truly interesting and inspiring. But after a while I just burned out on it--the long hours, the crappy pay, the nightly deadlines, living in the burbs and wearing my car into the ground by chasing down stories through two counties.

So a few months ago I took a new job and went in a different direction. I still work in media and still write for a living, but it's a totally different experience. Now, my days are structured and relatively low-stress. I work with great people who promote a healthy work-life balance and bring in a salary that keeps me above the poverty line.

Day-to-day, I'm so much happier and less bitter than I used to be. But there's this small, nagging part of me that wonders if maybe I've robbed myself of something by taking a path that's smoother and, in some ways, less challenging.

My friend Susannah has this great word for experiences that suck while you're going through them, but which you remember fondly once they're over. She calls it "funship," which I assume is an amalgam of Fun and Hardship. Funship is the trip you take where everything goes calamitously wrong, but which provides you with the best stories to laugh over and share for the rest of our life. (And really, who remembers the trips where everything goes swimmingly?) Funship is the battle scar you end up being grateful for, even thought it hurt like hell at the time.

I realize, in hindsight, one thing that I do miss about the daily news grind is the funship--like the time shortly after I started the job that I was sent into the mountains to cover a wildfire while wearing open-toed wedge-heeled sandals. (What I learned from that experience is that a reporter always carries jeans and an extra pair of sneakers in his or her car). Or the afternoon I spent staking out a goat farm where the father of a wanted man was purported to be living. Or when, as a lowly intern, I was sent out in the middle of the night to investigate the reported appearance of the Virgin Mary in a hospital window.

At the time, I cursed the job and the gods of news for putting me in such ridiculous situations. But now that I have a little distance I'm grateful for those years at the newspaper, even if I have no real desire to go back to them. They challenged and shaped me; at times they pushed me out of my comfort zone and tested my limits.

It seems like sometimes we try so hard to insulate ourselves from funship--not just in our jobs, but in our lives as a whole. I guess it's natural to crave security and a life free of frustration. But why is it that, when we look back, it's the unexpected adventures and the minor catastrophes that enrich our lives and make us more interesting dinner conversationalists?

Whatever path lies ahead of me--whether it's straight or crooked, rocky or well-paved--I both hope, and fear, that it's full of funship.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Hip To Be Square

One of the more interesting aspects of life in Los Angeles is the ability to observe hipsters in their natural environment. Of course, the species* can be found in virtually any major metropolitan area, but in L.A. they seem to flourish like hothouse flowers.

Because I enjoy indie music and movies, and have several friends who are wannabe filmmakers, I occasionally find myself hovering on the fringes of hipster culture. But even after four years in Southern California, I still feel more like a cultural anthropologist than a member of the tribe. Maybe it's because my bangs--despite being carefully sculpted by a Beverly Hills stylist every six to eight weeks--never seem to fall quite right. I've tried the leggings under an oversized shirt thing a few times and, while I thought it looked rather fetching, I still walked around all day saying to myself, "good God, I'm a 26-year-old in tights!"

Alas, unhipness seems to be coded into my DNA, like the Midwestern twang I've never quite shaken and my inexplicable love for Kenny Loggins (who, I have on good authority, is dead sexy in concert).

While I can take solace in the fact that I would probably be the coolest person at a Kenny Loggins concert, such is not the case in my daily life. Still, living in the epicenter of tragic hipsterdom does have its moments--like when you're at a Los Feliz bar (which, incidentally, is located next to a cafe called the "Bourgeois Pig") and a group of people in funky hats at the table next to you break into an impromptu script reading. Or when you show up at a concert in Echo Park and see Santino Rice from Season 2 of Project Runway standing outside the venue

(I fear I may be going overboard lately with reporting my celebrity sightings. But then again, what's the point of living in the superficial cesspool that is L.A. if you can't regale people with stories of bumping into the enfant terrible of reality television outside of Echo Park clubs?)

When I saw Santino, resplendent in skinny black pants and a hot pink bandanna underneath a fedora, I suspected I was a little out of my coolness league. Surely enough, the Bishop Allen show was chockablock with waifish twenty-somethings sporting stovepipe jeans, black-rimmed glasses and artfully sideswept bangs.

Still, my lack of the proper accoutrement did nothing to damper my enjoyment of the show, and Matt and I even decided to splurge on t-shirts to advertise our love of all things Bishop Allen. Matt was at first reticent, fearing the t-shirt would suggest he was trying to acquire a false geek-chic aesthetic, when his look is really more straight-up geek. But I talked him into it and, if I do say so myself, he looks dead sexy in it.

On a side note, if you get a chance to check out the band, they're pretty great. I stalkerishly feel like I have a connection to the two frontmen, who formed the group while living in Boston in the early 2000s. (The band is named after the street they lived on in Cambridge.) Also, they have both been featured in this guy's movies, who used to work with Matt's friend Kate at the Trident Bookstore on Newbury Street.

As you can see, me and the band are practically BFF.

Anyway, midway through the show I noticed a guy standing near me who appeared to be even more out of place than I felt. The poor sod was at least 40, and was wearing stone-washed jeans, a button-down shirt TUCKED IN and some kind of bizarre cowboy boot/loafer hybrid upon his feet. At one point between songs he leaned over to the young Elvis Costello doppelganger standing next to him and said, rather sheepishly, "what do you think the average age here is, "25?"

Costello just shrugged his shoulders dismissively, and unhip old guy returned to his place at the edge of the group. Part of me wanted to go over to him and offer some words of comfort--something about how maybe no one ever really feels like they fit in and it's all just bullshit anyway.

But of course I didn't actually go up to him and say anything. In the end, I figured he probably just got lost on the way to the Kenny Loggins show.

* In case you are wondering if you meet the criteria to be a true hipster, you may find this helpful.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

No Spoilers, I Promise

It's done.

For five consecutive nights that stretched well into the early morning, my head has been filled with horcruxes and hallows, wand lore and wizardry. And friends, I am tired.

So it's time to close the book on Harry Potter and return to the real world. As an unabashed fan of the series, I have to admit that I feel a bit of loss now that it's over. At the same time, I hope that J.K. Rowling sticks to her guns and ends it here for good. If the dreadful Star Wars prequels taught us anything, it's that even grand epics have a limited shelf life. When the story's told, it's time to walk away.

Still, it was easy--and fun--to get swept into the frenzy that accompanied the release of each book. Cultural moments like these are rare and, if ever a body of work was mostly deserving of its hype, it's Harry Potter. But as compulsively readable as the books are, I think there's an even stronger force at work behind Potter-mania.

Over the last few years, I've read the latest installment in the series while riding the subway in Boston (back when adults were still embarrassed to be reading the books in public and removed the dustjackets), in the common room of the London flat I lived in, the stifling hot Brookline, Mass. apartment I subletted the summer after college, an airy suburban California house and, finally, in my new apartment in Los Angeles. If you've been a fan of the series since early on, then Harry Potter and friends have probably been with you longer than half the people in your life right now.

It's tempting to scoff at pop culture and the over-the-top displays it sometimes inspires. The phrase itself suggests something that is disposable and frivolous--but to discount the impact of pop culture in our lives is to overlook what a powerful unifying force it can be.

Sure, it may seem stupid to bond with someone just because you both share a love of cheesy WB coming-of-age shows or, at one point in your lives, could sing along with the entire soundtrack of "Rent." (I've had lasting friendships develop from both of these things). But we live in a world where we're constantly moving--changing jobs, changing cities, changing friends and communities. Pop culture is one of the few shared experiences we take with us wherever we go.

It seems like we now tend build our communities around the things we love: the books and music that inspire us, the TV shows we slavishly follow, the movies we line up for on opening night. When something as massive as Harry Potter comes along then, for a short time, we're part of a global community.

While I myself draw the line at costumes, I can understand what drives people to don their Hogwarts finest and head to their neighborhood Barnes & Noble. Sometimes we just need to feel swept up in something much bigger than ourselves. (Unless of course it's something creepy, like the Manson Family. Or Scientology.) But if you like to go to Comic-Con in a strom trooper costume every year, may the force be with you. If camping out at your local bookstore on Harry Potter-eve is your poison, I say embrace the obsession!

Then go grab yourself a squishee and get in line for The Simpsons movie.

Monday, July 09, 2007

And the Award for Best Celebrity Sighting Goes To...

Matt K. (Although I don't know if this story can top the time I saw Ben Stein reliving his Ferris Bueller glory days. Or the time I was on a flight to Florida with Kirk Cameron and he started proselytizing the passengers. But that's a story for another post.)

Anyway, Matt (who has recently discovered his inner Emeril) was in Crate & Barrel loading up on supplies for our woefully understocked kitchen. While searching for a suitable mixing bowl, he noticed Courteney Cox browsing nearby. After a couple of minutes she turned to the woman she was with, exclaimed "$35 for a bowl!?" and walked away in disgust.

Of course Matt, not being a celebrity stalker, just continued to go about his business. Had I been there, I might have been tempted to walk up to her and say, "Excuse me, Ms. Cox. Or Cox-Arquette, or whatever your name is. While I admire your frugality, remember when you were making a million dollars an episode for that show you were on? Why not go crazy and treat yourself to that $35 bowl?"

Or, I might have just burst out with, "I loved you on Family Ties!"

Either way, I guess US Weekly was right after all. Celebrities are just like us!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Moorening Sickness

So, I recently saw the new Michael Moore documentary "Sicko." Actually, this post is coming a bit late as I saw the movie a week before it opened at a special screening in Santa Monica. (Let it never be said that I'm not at the cusp of the cultural zeitgeist.)

There is a very specific kind of audience that attends a screening of a Michael Moore film in Santa Monica a week before it opens. To put a finer point on it, it's a group that leans so far left it's a wonder the theater didn't tip over into the Pacific Ocean. Since I have a long standing love-hate relationship with Moore's films, it was interesting to watch the movie in the church of his most devout disciples.

There's a reason Moore has become such a polemic. His movies are provocative, entertaining and anything but objective. His greatest talent may be in his ability to take on Goliath-sized issues and dissect them down to a basic human perspective. It's one thing to know that the health care system in this country is broken; it's another thing to meet a man forced to decide which of the two fingers sliced off in an accident he could afford to reattach. Narrating with an air of wry weariness, Moore makes a pretty airtight case for a U.S. health system that has failed the people it's supposed to serve on every level. (With a few jabs at Republicans thrown in for good measure.)

But the biggest problem with Moore in general is just that you don't really believe him a lot of the time. It's never enough to allow the overwhelming evidence to speak for itself, he's compelled to make enormous factual leaps to hammer his point home. In "Sicko" he takes us on a whirlwind international adventure to show just how much the U.S. sucks in comparison to everywhere else.

To this end, he spends the second half of the film extolling the virtues of socialized medicine in Canada, the U.K., France, and Cuba--places where health care is universal and free to all. He makes his jolly way across several countries, interviewing helpful doctors and satisfied patients who gently mock the U.S.'s inferior system. Admittedly, it will make you green with envy to hear about free hospital stays, doctors who make house calls in the middle of the night and social services that provide live-in help to new mothers. One of the best ironic laughs comes when Moore--playing the skeptic--triumphantly uncovers a cashier window in a London hospital. Only it turns out this is not where patients come to pay for services rendered, but rather to be reimbursed for their travel expenses.

But here is where my Moore frustration really kicks in. A few years ago, I spent a semester studying journalism in London. While this hardly makes me an expert, I do distinctly recall media reports about long wait lists for procedures and patients left unattended for hours in hospital emergency rooms (sounds familiar). As we were walking out of the movie a couple of weeks ago, I overheard a woman telling her companion that her friend in Britain pays for private insurance because of frustration over the inefficacy of the government-run system.

This is not to say that I'm opposed to socialized health care or anything that would be an improvement over the managed-care system we've got now. But considering that I was confronted with evidence of an imperfect European system without having to leave the theater, it's surprising that Moore was unable to uncover even a shred of discontent on all of his travels.

I imagine it is because he is less interested in documenting than in sending out a call to action. And his main point, that we should free ourselves from the yoke of for-profit insurance agencies, is well-taken. One of the most interesting observations he makes in the film is that many aspects of American life are already socialized--education and public safety to name a couple.

Imagine living in a nation where privatized police and fire departments tried to increase their profits by expending as few resources as possible. What if when you called 9-1-1 to report a crime in progress, a board had to review your claim and determine whether it merited a response? It's a lunatic notion--but surely responsive and affordable health care is just as essential?

I guess the basis of my Moore-inspired schizophrenia is that I admire him for raising these points, but dislike the arrogance that leads him to discredit himself at every turn. He's a guy who views the world in black and white--an irritating habit that liberals are constantly berating Republicans for. In some ways, Moore really isn't that different from a neo-con, except that his evildoers happen to be Republicans.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Perfect Wives Club

I've always had mixed feelings about marriage.

When I was 18 I declared, rather impetuously, that I would never get married. But I've grown up a little since then, and I think it's a fine institution. I've been to about eight weddings in the past year-and-a-half, and all the couples seem very happy together. I'm sure that one day I'll join their ranks, and I'll like it just fine.

But there's something about the word "wife" that seems so foreign to me. How could I be a wife? It's a role that seems fraught with all kinds of cultural expectations and stereotypes. Wives cook nutritious meals, drive small children around in giant SUVs and hem things. I don't do any of those things. In fact, I have made a point of actively rejecting such practices, a decision that could probably be traced back to college when I took a class called "Psychology of the Family" to fulfill my minor requirement.

In this class, we learned about how married women are more likely to be depressed than unmarried women. One study showed that while unmarried couples who live together tend to share household responsibilities equally, married women take on about 70 percent of the household chores and child-rearing--even when both spouses work full time. So horrified was I by this bleak picture of matrimony, I determined it was in my best interest just to never learn to do these things. The result is that I'm a 26-year-old woman who can barely make spaghetti, but I'm ok with that. Fortunately, I found myself a guy who's ok with that too.

But there are moments when I wonder if I'll ever be marriage material--particularly after a recent run-in with the dreaded Perfect Wives Club.

Here's the back story: A couple of months ago, in an effort to recapture his high school glory days, Matt joined a baseball league. Every Sunday there is a game that consists of much manly back patting and yelling of things like "Atta Boy." Last Sunday was the first time I actually attended one of these games, mainly because they always take place at some ungodly hour of the morning somewhere in the Valley. (If you're not from Los Angeles, it's hard to imagine the amount of scorn that can be infused into the word "valley.") Sunday's game was also in the Valley, but at least they had the decency to schedule it in the afternoon, so off I went.

Matt had already informed me that there is a small cadre of wives and significant others who go to almost every game. Not only do they go to every game, but they bring snacks for the team and keep score and hand out candy bars to the guys who make the best plays. I encountered two of them on Sunday. They walked up to the stands--where I was busy leafing through the latest In Style magazine--carting lawn chairs, a portable stereo and a cooler full of Gatorade and candy bars.

"Oh hi," Perfect Blonde Wife said. "It's nice to meet you...finally."

Chagrined, I put my magazine aside and attempted to follow what was happening on the field. For the next eight innings, I listened to Perfect Blonde Wife and Perfect Brunette Wife discuss the following topics:

1. Who made the best offensive play (Matt, yay!)
2. What decorations to have at the upcoming end of season party (baseball themed, of course)
3. What snacks to prepare (rice krispie treats in the shape of baseballs)
4. How hard it is to get to baseball uniforms clean

At this point, Perfect Blonde Wife turns to me and says, "was it hard to clean Matt's uniform that one time it got really dirty?"

What I was thinking at that moment went something like this... How do you remember the time it got really dirty? He spends three hours a week rolling around in the dirt with it. It's always really dirty. And why would I be washing his uniform for him? Neither of his arms are broken. Even though we now cohabitate, we're still individuals capable of cleaning our own clothes as we have been doing for the past decade or so of our lives, thank you very much.

Instead of saying all this, I smiled serenely and said, "it wasn't a problem."

So maybe I'll be never a Perfect Wife. But I sat through the whole game, and even let Matt pick the movie we watched later that night--which I think makes me a Pretty Good Girlfriend.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Catching Up

I know I've been away for a while, but let's jump right in with a discussion of the series finale of "The Sopranos."

I'm sure many viewers will read lots of existential meaning into the abrupt cut-to-black that ended the ground-breaking show. I'm not one of them. I thought it kinda sucked.

Did the dark, silent screen mean that Tony has finally made his violent exit from the world? Or are we meant to believe that it's not really an end...that the movie never ends, but rather goes on and on and on and on? Maybe the tension-filled final minutes in the diner were meant to represent a kind of purgatory, and the Soprano family is destined to eat fried onion rings together for all eternity.

Who cares. In it's heyday "The Sopranos" was a brilliant, original, operatic drama. The last couple of seasons it seemed to become bloated with its own importance (sort of like Tony Soprano himself). After a penultimate episode that saw the end of Silvio's pompadour, the death of teddy-bear-like Bobby Baccalieri, and ended with Tony holed up with a shotgun--all I wanted this week was some good old-fashioned whacking. Instead, I got a philosophy lesson courtesy of Steve Perry.

I'm choosing to believe that in those final seconds, Tony went uncharacteristically gently into that good night. However, the main things I will take from this finale are a bit more prosaic:

1. That you should never trust a guy in a Members Only jacket and
2. That I'm not the only one who requires three attempts to parallel park

Moving on...

Last week, I vowed to go on a strict Paris Hilton-free media diet. After a week spent following updates on her scheudenfreude-filled trip to the pokey, enough was enough.

Why? I wonder. Why this frenzied fascination over a woman known for little more than sporting an impressive array of blond hair extensions and coining the phrase "that's hot?"

The only explanation I can come up with is that Paris is sort of like a modern-day Marie Antoinette. Anger over her shamelessly irresponsible and over-privileged lifestyle has reached critical mass, and it seems the only way to restore the balance is to chop off her head. Or, you know--since we don't do that anymore--take away her hair extensions and send her to jail.

Think it's a bit of a stretch to compare Paris Hilton to Eighteenth Century French royalty? Well, I would point out that her name IS Paris, and that both women seem to share a love of baked goods.

And finally...

If, like me, you're desperately in need of something to restore your faith in pop culture you should check out the film Once. It's a really beautiful and understated love story. I saw it this weekend, and I adored it. You will too, promise.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

In Defense of Ally

Where have all the good women gone?

That was the only question I was left with after watching last week's episode of "Grey's Anatomy." Once a devoted viewer, I only catch the show sporadically now--usually tuning in just often enough to be utterly confused by the plot line. (What...Izzie slept with George?!?!) But I was kind of curious about the new spin-off, and Taye Diggs is on it, so what the hell?

The entire two hour episode of the reigning chick show fluctuated between the female characters at Seattle Grace obsessing about their failing relationships and upcoming marriages, and the female characters at the Los Angeles wellness clinic obsessing about their failed relationships and inability to get pregnant.

In the most painful scene from the episode, the main character breaks down in a hospital stairwell after successfully performing a life-saving surgery. Pouring her heart out to her potential love interest, she wails that she feels "dried up" and "barren," two phrases surely guaranteed to bring the boys a-runnin'.

Then, in perhaps the worst line of dialogue ever intended to sweep a woman off her feet, the potential love interest says, "I'm going to kiss you now. With tongue. So you feel it."

"Ok," she dazedly responds, clearly swept away by the romantic impetuousness of his declaration.

Are we really supposed to believe that we are most attractive to men when we're on the verge of a nervous breakdown? I guess it's lucky for us then that emotional distress is so easily cured with a little bit of good tongue kissing.

In a New York Times review of the episode, Alessandra Stanley laid it all at the feet of "Ally McBeal." Ally, she argues, was the beginning of the end--the cultural turning point where sex-starved basket case became the new female model.

I've always been a defender of Ally, since I was a bona fide fan of the show for the first couple of seasons. After all, pop culture has always embraced adorably daffy career gals as its heroines. Ally wasn't the first, she was just the most extreme example to date. The ladies of "Sex in the City" also took some heat for spending so much time talking about guys despite being successful career women. Again, that part never really bothered me. I have a number of extremely bright, career-oriented female friends, and I know we spend more time talking about relationships than the stock market.

The thing is that we relate to these fictional women not because they're perfect models of feminist ideals, but because (just like us!) they're works in progress. They struggle with figuring out really matters, juggling intelligence and ambition with the desire for boys to like them. They just do it in bigger apartments and with better shoes. I always felt that the best female characters possess an inner well of strength that ennobles them even while they're breaking down.

No matter how her heart had been broken or how Mr. Big had done her wrong, Carrie Bradshaw would strap on her Manolos and strut down that New York City sidewalk. Buffy didn't curl up in a fetal position after sending her boyfriend to a Hell dimension; she got up the next day and kicked some more vampire ass. Even poor, scrawny, neurotic Ally usually ended each episode on an optimistic note, rocking out to yet another Vonda Shepard song or cavorting with her imaginary baby.

The difference between those characters and the women of "Grey's" is that they never seem to get off the mat. A show that started out as a dramedy about young doctors is now about women who exist in a persistent state of distress over their annoyingly nicknamed boyfriend du jour. There's a fine line between relatable and pathetic.

Even sadder is that several of the remaining good female characters in TV land are disappearing from the airwaves. Those fast-talking Gilmore Girls will not be returning to Stars Hollow next season, and Veronica Mars' tough-as-nails teenage detective is fighting for her life. Apparently, a modern-day Nancy Drew who lives by her wits can't compete with a reality show that equates female empowerment with the ability to bend your leg behind your head.

Maybe those wannabe Dolls can find a new career path in Seattle as wannabe surgeons?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Just Don't It

During the 40 minutes or so it usually takes me to traverse the ten miles from work to my apartment (L.A. has bad traffic, who knew?), I have a fair amount of time to take in the city's roadside sights. Lately, I've been seeing ads for this new Reebok "Run Easy" campaign cropping up all over town, and I find I'm kind of fascinated by them.

Have you seen these things? The whole point of the campaign seems to be based around encouraging people not to work too hard, which is either a brilliant marketing ploy or the dumbest move ever for an athletic wear company. My favorite ad features a picture of an exhausted marathon runner collapsing by the side of the road, with the words "What Are You Doing?" plastered across it. Other gems include "Why are you hitting the wall? It hurts." and "Run + Puke +Run=Crazy"

It's clearly meant to be the antithesis of Nike's hard-charging "Just Do It" slogan, and I kind of get it. Most of us have no real aspiration to compete in a triathlon or scale Mt. Everest. If you're like me, you're proud of yourself if you manage to make it to the gym a couple of times a week and not fall off the treadmill. (Believe me, it happens). There is a certain irony to companies like Nike marketing their unattainable iron-man image to a nation of people sitting on the couch in their pajamas watching Joey Fatone cha-cha his little heart out.

But, seriously, what does it say when even our sports equipment requires only minimal effort from us?

In Boston--where I spent my halcyon student days--Marathon Monday is a city-wide holiday. Thousands of runners clog the streets, while even more drunken revelers toast the athletes as they sweat and pant their way towards the finish line. As one of those drunken revelers, it would never have occurred to me to go up to one of the runners and say "what are you thinking?"

I'm quite sure I thought it...but I would never say it.

It's a little troubling to me that even advertisers for athletic companies are deciding that it's in their best interest to appeal to our inherent laziness. Maybe I'm overthinking it, but in a culture where becoming the next Pussycat Doll is a viable career path and to win a million dollars you only have to prove that you're smarter than a fifth grader, do we really need to be instructed to lower our standards even further?

While it may not rank high on my list of life to do's, running a marathon is a huge undertaking and an even bigger accomplishment. Regardless of what the good people at Reebok seem to think, I believe that people who set goals and push themselves to excel should be congratulated, not mocked for their efforts.

Except for Joey Fatone, he totally deserves to be mocked.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

For What It's Worth

It's been one of those weeks.

When something like Virginia Tech happens, it's hard to really focus on anything else. It's one of those all-encompassing events--the kind of tragedy that forces us to forget the b.s. and come together in a spirit of national unity and shared grief.

That is, until the shock begins to wear off and it's time for recrimination and the parsing out of blame. Fault has to lie somewhere, right? Is it the university's, for failing to shut down the campus in time? The mental health system's for not locking the shooter away before he went completely nuts? The media's for rewarding psychotic killers with instant celebrity?

The one thing that plenty of people--including our president--are quick to point out is that it's certainly not the fault of our nation's gun laws. After all, guns don't kill people. People kill people. Some have even suggested that the tragedy could have been avoided if the school had been more lenient in allowing students and faculty to cart guns around campus for their protection. (I myself find the idea of arming thousands of college kids who spend half their lives inebriated less than reassuring. Although, it certainly would make pledge week more interesting.)

Even Democrats have backed off from calling for stricter gun laws because, apparently, you can't even run for president in this country until you've established your hunting prowess and posed for your obligatory photo op dressed as Elmer Fudd. Some political analysts speculate that Al Gore's tough stance on gun control was part of what cost him the 2000 election, and who wants to relive THAT national tragedy?

So, it's up to the rest of the world to hold us accountable for our sins. The day after the shooting, the Associated Press ran a story summarizing the international outcry against our open-gun policy:

"While some focused blame only on the gunman, world opinion over U.S. gun laws was almost unanimous: Access to weapons increases the probability of shootings. "

When a gunman killed 35 people in a Tasmanian tourist resort 11 years ago, the Australian government responded by changing the laws to prohibit automatic weapons and handguns. Last year the U.K.--a nation of about 50 million where handguns are banned--had 46 gun-related homicides. By comparison, New York--a city of about eight million--had 590. And that was in a good year.

Yes, we have a Bill of Rights in this country and it's a sacred document, but it's also a living document. If we suddenly discovered that--like the characters in "Harry Potter"--we all had the ability to kill each other with a word, I'd understand the need to revisit our concept of freedom of speech. When the founding fathers drafted the Second Amendment "Glock" wasn't exactly a term on their radar.

Maybe it's unrealistic to think we can magically make 200 million guns disappear from this country (we being only mere Muggles, after all). But we should at least be talking about how we're going to crack down on their availability.

After all, it's pretty difficult to imagine the shooter at Virginia Tech (or at Columbine or Nickel Mines, Pa.) wreaking the same amount of destruction with a tire iron. Maybe people do kill people, but guns certainly drive up the body count.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The IKEA Effect

Since there has been such a clamor for me to return to my regular scheduled blogging program (ok, just from Neetu, but still), I think it’s time for me to get back on track. The only excuse for my posting hiatus is that moving, decorating and starting a new job sucked up way more of my creative energy than I anticipated, besides leaving me Internetless, cableless and generally cut off from the world for the past three weeks.

The biggest problem with being a nomad for the first half of your twenties is that when you finally settle on a place where you plan to stay for a while you find that the only things you’ve managed to accumulate in the last four years are a bed and a toaster. And eight boxes of VHS movies your significant other has been collecting since he was ten and refuses to part with.

So most of my time has been occupied with how to fill an 800-square-foot apartment on a 400-square-foot budget. This project can be pretty much summed up in two words: Target and IKEA.

These twin titans of moderately priced home furnishings have become my second home over the past few weeks. And while Target remains my favorite one-stop shopping destination, I’ve recently discovered that IKEA might actually be the unhappiest place on earth. Some could probably make an argument for Iraq, Guantanamo Bay or the Department of Motor Vehicles. I say it’s a toss-up.

I grant you that IKEA is, in theory, an inspired idea. Those crafty Swedes sought to create a big box Xanadu of affordable faux-wood furniture that even the most boneheaded among us can assemble with relative ease. The reality is that IKEA is actually some kind of brain fever-inducing Hell mouth.

Think I’m exaggerating? Spend a Saturday afternoon wandering around their cavernous showroom and you’ll observe hundreds of hitherto completely sane people screaming at each other over items with elfish names like “Mumsig” and “Ektorp.” I witnessed no less than three couples descend into outright name-calling, and Matt and I barely avoided a brawl of our own when we realized we had left the room measurements back at the apartment. I wonder how many relationships have been destroyed over whether the extra-wide bookshelf will look unwieldy in the living room.

Fighting your way through the hordes of would-be bargain decorators and screaming children, you can actually feel your sense of decency and order disintegrate into a kind of primal survival instinct. Suddenly, your desire to pick out a damn coffee table already and get the F out of there overrides any other consideration. You find yourself grabbing at the first things you can get a hold of and wandering aimlessly through Media and Storage for the fifth time because Bedrooms seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth.

And finally--once you’ve made it through the unending labyrinth of furniture and home décor--you grab a cart and lumber through a giant warehouse stacking up large boxes of unassembled wood like a little worker ant. You wait in line to pay, and then push your laden-down cart to the loading area where one of you guards the haul while the other pulls the car around. The most horrifying moment of all comes when you realize that you’d gladly back your car over a family of four if it meant they’d get out of the loading zone faster.

Then you get back home, hoping to banish all thoughts of the previous four hours of your life, and realize that the birch veneer you thought would complement the couch perfectly is all wrong and that those fire engine-colored curtains that you grabbed in a frenzied haze not only don’t match your lovely dark red accent pillows, but they make the entire room look like a giant stop sign.

So, this weekend we're going back into the fray armed with receipts and a new mental toughness. Furnishing our apartment with the perfect combination of style and thrift has become my white whale, and I remain undeterred in my quest.

Call me Mumsig.

Friday, February 16, 2007

L.A. Story

Some places, you immediately fall in love with.

The moment I arrived in Boston as a freshman in college, I was smitten. I fell head-over-heels for the city’s charm and history, the noble brownstones lining its crooked streets, the omnipresence of tricycle guy, whose incomprehensible bellows could guide you through the darkest of nights. When I left the summer after my senior year, it broke my heart. I cried all the way to the New York state line.

And then, like many an unemployed and directionless soul before me, I washed up on the shores of the Pacific. My relationship to Los Angeles could probably be best described as a creeping affection. Arriving in Southern California was like touching down on the face of an unknown planet—a planet of garishly colored Mediterranean architecture and incessantly blinding sunlight. It was intriguing, but it seemed too unreal of a place to imagine myself actually living here for any extended period of time.

Now, more than three years later as I’m preparing to become an official resident of Los Angeles, I find there are things about this foreign land that have started to feel like home. Things like late night Astroburger runs, Saturday afternoons at the West Hollywood Farmer’s Market and movies at the Arclight (where they have assigned seating and kindly allow you to bring your cocktail into the theater, which makes it totally worth the $14 price of admission). Searching for an actual home, however, has been a bit of an odyssey.

In the past couple of weeks, we’ve looked at apartments that are--in L.A. real estate speak--Culver City adjacent, West Hollywood adjacent and Beverly Hills adjacent ( and a couple that are actually in Beverly Hills—I know, aren’t we posh). Where some of these buildings were actually located, I’d be hard pressed to tell you. But I know exactly which desirable neighborhood they are within spitting distance from.

In L.A., you’re always adjacent to something. Adjacent to celebrity, to the ocean, to a Coffee Bean franchise. Which perhaps makes sense in a city where everybody is trying to be something else. It’s a philosophy based on the utter rejection of the idea that wherever you go, there you are. Because here, it’s not about where you are, but where you’re going.

Today, you may be a paid-by-the-day production assistant eeking out a meager existence in an unglamorous part of West L.A. But one turn of the screw and you’re a high powered producer with major square footage in Brentwood. Mobility here isn’t just upward, it can be stratospheric. So isn’t it more affirming to think of yourself as “Brentwood-adjacent?”

I think this is both the magic and the curse of Los Angeles. It can be painfully image-obsessed and as disingenuous as the non-native palm trees that define its topography. But, as corny as it sounds, it’s still a place that draws people with big dreams.

During the countless Friday night drives I’ve made from my bucolic suburban domicile to my boyfriend’s Santa Monica adjacent apartment, my favorite part of the drive always comes when I’m maneuvering around a twisty hill on the I-10. At one specific point, if the smog’s not too heavy, you get a glimpse of downtown L.A. rising up in the distance. From this particular vantage point, the city’s usually pitiful-looking skyline appears to be floating on a cloud above the earth—sort of like the first image of the Emerald City in "The Wizard of Oz.”

I guess this is kind of how I have affectionately come to think of my new home. A poorly conceived, sprawling, carcinogen-infested Land of Oz. Run by an actor pretending to be a wizard.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

When a Donkey Becomes an Ass

Democrats have been ticking me off lately.

First off, there was that ridiculous controversy a couple of weeks ago over Bush referring to the “Democrat majority” during the State of the Union address. Apparently, some Democrats found this horribly offensive. Why, I don’t know. Maybe Bush did mean it as an intentional dig, but come on. This is a guy who has access to all the nuclear launch codes, but can’t pronounce the word “nuclear.” I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt since it seems like we should have slightly more important matters to worry about.

And anyway, who cares if Bush neglected to put the “ic” in Democratic when we’ve got the fellows mentioned below to do it for him:

Let's start with Joseph Biden's comments about Barack Obama. Just in case you missed it, the Delaware Senator announced he was running for President last week and then proceeded to describe his rival for the Democratic nomination as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”

Now, sometimes—maybe because we pride ourselves on being the party of inclusion or because of our need to feel everybody’s pain--I think we liberals can be a tad oversensitive. This is not one of those times.

I’ve seen Biden appear on The Daily Show a couple of times, and previously found his frankness and candor rather refreshing. But what the hell? You think Barack Obama is such an impressive candidate because he manages to be both black AND clean—is that what we’re supposed to take from your comments? This is how you choose to introduce yourself to the nation?

I thought no prospective presidential candidate could commit a bigger gaffe than accidentally calling American soldiers stupid, but clearly I was wrong. To quote Billy Madison (and the recent Kazzie awards): “I award you no points, may God have mercy on your soul.”

And, finally, Gavin Newsom. Gavin, Gavin, Gavin. I left my heart in San Francisco back in 2004 when you opened city hall to all those happy same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses. And while your bold act of civil disobedience may have contributed to a heap of reactionary anti-gay laws being passed a few months later, I adored you for being a man of principle. You’re still much better eye-candy than, say, Ted Kennedy, but get it together, man!

Still, I haven’t lost faith. I believe that this will be a banner year for the Democrat-ic Party, and that the 2008 election is ours to lose. But perhaps our venerable leaders need a gentle reminder that with great power comes great…something.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

These Vagabond Shoes...

My favorite times at my house are Taco Tuesdays. The best thing about Taco Tuesdays is that they can actually occur spontaneously on pretty much any night of the week. One of the roommates will come home from work, and instead of a throwing together a hastily prepared meal eaten at the counter, will declare “I feel like tacos tonight.”

Then there is great jubilation over the inspired idea. Plans to go to the gym, do laundry or run errands are abandoned. Sufjan Stevens, or something equally soothing, is played on the stereo. Erin will start cooking the meat (real for us, soy for the metro-sexual men of the house), I’ll chop the vegetables, Nick purees the avocados, and Corey brings out the chips and salsa for pre-dinner snacking. When the feast is prepared, we all sit down at the table like the bizarre pseudo-suburban family that we have become.

The last such night was especially significant, because we all knew there was a good chance it would be one of the last. Change is always a little bittersweet even when it’s welcome or even sought after. This week, I accepted a job offer in Los Angeles and will be moving there in few weeks. By the end of the summer, the three delightful people I’ve shared a home with for the past year-and-a-half will likely be scattered around the globe when they leave to teach overseas.

I’m rejoicing at no longer being an urban snob trapped in the suburbs. No more will I be stranded miles from a Nordstroms and good Indian take-out. After three years of living 60 miles apart and mutual shuttling back and forth on weekends, I’m leaving tract-home Hell for the relative civilization of Los Angeles and domestic bliss with Matt.

It’s incredibly exciting, and long overdue, but it also closes a chapter in my life. With the exception of the nine months I lived in a one-bedroom apartment alone, I’ve always had roommates.

There’ve been the Good (the current roomies, my 1601 girls from senior year of college), the Bad (my freshman year roommate who sold drugs and kept her stash hidden in the cereal bar box) and the Ugly. (My former housemate, Jen, who listened to rap full blast in the morning and actually thought she should only have to pay half the rent one month because she was going to be out of town for two weeks. Also, my other freshman year roommate who went to bed at 10:30 every night and at 12 a.m. would inevitably march into the floor lounge and tell everyone to “go to bed, idiots!”)

Now, that part of life that is spent shuffling from place to place, essentially rootless and able to pack my life into a few boxes on short notice, is over. Matt and I will purchase furniture and hang framed pictures on the wall. I will spend an inordinate amount of time drooling over Pottery Barn catalogues. My books will be displayed on shelves instead of shoved under my bed in shopping bags.

If things go according to plan, I will be somewhat settled and Matt will be the last roommate I ever have. That is unless somewhere down the line, in my golden years, I end up sharing a house in Miami with a ditzy blond from St. Olaf, a slutty aging Southern belle, and a sassy elderly woman who starts every sentence with “Sicily, 1952…” (I guess in this scenario I would be Dorothy.)

The next stage of my life is sure to be a journey fraught with adventure and some peril. Can a slob and a neatnik co-habitate without turning into characters from a Neil Simon play? Who will emerge as the ultimate master of the remote, and how many televised Red Sox games can one woman endure?

I can’t wait to find out.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

TiVo Is Life, The Rest Is Just Details

All the buzz last week may have been about the Oscar nominations, but I was so excited about the mid-season return of my two favorite shows (Veronica Mars and Battlestar Galactica) that I thought this was a good time to take stock of my television viewing to date. Part of the last few weeks has been devoted to catching up on Heroes. I refused to allow another pop-culture juggernaut (like Lost) pass by while I watched forlornly from the sidelines. It’s too much like a Jr. High School dance. I won’t have it.

So I started in on Heroes during the hiatus and have pretty much caught up on the characters and the backstory. It’s a really clever concept with great twists and cliffhangers. But with the possible exceptions of Hiro and the indestructible cheerleader, I don’t really feel invested in most of the characters and their inner lives. So I think it’s good—good enough to rank a season pass slot on my TiVo—but not great.

Moving On…

Biggest Disappointment: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
Way back in the fall I was insanely excited for Studio 60. West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin, Josh Lyman and Chandler Bing joining forces? How could it miss? By being painfully self-important, that’s how. Self-important works when you’re writing about the White House, but not an SNL knockoff. I cannot handle one more pompous speech about how the culture war is played out every week on a late-night comedy sketch show. It’s not. The last funny thing I saw on SNL was Justin Timberlake singing about his dick in a box. How’s that for high-brow?

On the flip side, I’ve been strangely charmed by 30 Rock the couple of times I’ve caught it. This could be because I have a bit of a girl crush on Tina Fey (the thinking man’s hot chick), or because Alec Baldwin is a comedic God.

Best New Discovery: Weeds
Take heed, ladies of Wisteria Lane. If you want to skewer the suburbs, this is how it’s done. I always knew I loved Mary Louise Parker, and now I know why. She leads a great supporting cast in this dark, caustic comedy about single parenthood, suburbia and the mind-altering drugs you need to survive it.

Most Over: Grey’s Anatomy
Forget about all the backstage scandal. I know we tune in for the McDrama, but can’t the characters at least PRETEND to be doing some actual doctoring once in a while? Also, American Idol. Every year I say I’m not getting sucked in, this time I mean it. I’m holding strong.

Most Excited For: Finding out who killed the Dean, and who the Final Five are. If you don’t know what that means, I can’t help you.

That’s all I’ve got for now. In the future I plan to dedicate an entire post to the demise of The OC, and tackle why the American version of The Office is NOT as good as the British in its own special way. Until then, happy viewing!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Critical Mass

It seems that high fashion models—those gazelle-like creatures that Tyra Banks keeps trying to bring back to relevancy—may now have to follow rules other than “Don’t leave your blow on the toilet seat” and “If you’re going to abuse your assistant by chucking a phone at her head, make sure you offer a generous settlement.”

A few weeks before the start of New York’s Fashion Week, a council of fashion designers have cobbled together a list of “guidelines” aimed at keeping their human clothes hangers from looking like, well, human clothes hangers. The geniuses who decided that it was high time to bring leggings and skinny jeans back to the masses have put forth mind-blowing suggestions such as placing nutritious snacks backstage and requiring models identified as having an eating disorder to receive professional help.

In a stunning act of hypocrisy, great avatars of fashion like Anna Wintour and Diane von Furstenberg actually came out in favor of a so-called crackdown, apparently realizing that the jutting clavicle beast they’ve created has spun out of control. When models become so distractingly thin that they pull the attention away from the couture, it’s a problem. When five Brazilian modes die in quick succession from anorexia, that’s just bad P.R.

The recommendations fall short of the more drastic measures taken in Milan and Madrid, where fashion show organizers banned models whose body mass index fell below World Health Organization standards. And in an even less promising sign, several elite clothing brands have announced the advent of a new size—the double zero.

Downsizing seems inevitable since “zero became the new two and two became the new four.” So says Stanley Tucci to Anne Hathaway in a scene from “The Devil Wears Prada”—a film that mirrors our own schizophrenia by simultaneously skewering and revering the fashion world. Although it’s played as satire, hearing Anne Hathaway’s slender but healthy body derided throughout the film strikes a nerve. It hits us where we live, knowing that no matter how thin we are, we’re never thin enough. (Six is the new fourteen, didn’t ya know?)

Granted, we live in an obese nation where the associated health risks rightfully receive a great deal of attention. America needs to put down the chicken wing and lose some weight. But the skinny obsession has a lot more to do with status than with health consciousness, and weight has become emblematic of the growing divide between the haves and have nots. Americans are fat and getting fatter every day. Kids are fat and getting fatter every day. But as the average mortal expands, the standard of beauty has shrunk to literally deadly proportions.

The recent backlash against models and actresses with negative body fat might be a sign that toothpick-chic has officially outlasted its welcome. Or it could be a signal that we’re squarely trapped in the Catch-22 being played out daily on tabloid covers, where slim frames are celebrated and celebrities who gain weight are splashed unflatteringly across the pages. However, celebs who lose too much weight—as Nicole Richie and the Olsen twins have learned the hard way—become the unhappy recipients of even more derision.

True, outright revolt is always an option. Like peasants storming the Bastille, we could hurl carb-loaded breadsticks at models strutting the New York runways and shout to the heavens, “I’m hungry as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” But it’s hard to fight against a cultural ideal that’s slowly ingrained and then re-enforced a thousand different times a day. Logic and reason seems like insufficient weapons against such a stealth campaign.

The only comfort is that every cultural pendulum eventually swings back. By the time it does we will have likely found a new and more ingenious way to wreck ourselves in the name of fashion. But someday, maybe sooner than we think, six might once again become the new six.

Friday, January 19, 2007


The L.A. Times wrote a story a couple of days ago about the sad state of independent bookstores in Los Angeles.

I feel pretty cool knowing that I shop at the same place as Diane Keaton.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Things That Make You Go Hmm...

When I started this blog (a whole three weeks ago) I intended it to be more of a forum for my observations of the world at large, rather than a personal online diary. That’s still pretty much my intention, but I have to share a few stories about my friend Gina.

Gina—one of my dearest friends from college—is in Los Angeles this week on a business trip. As much as I love her, it’s a general rule that when Gina comes to town it’s time to break out the survival gear. Much like Halle Berry from the X-Men movies, Gina controls the weather. Well, not so much controls it as brings it with her wherever she goes.

Our Junior year, we both spent the spring semester in London. After the semester ended, we spent a couple more weeks traveling together. We started in Switzerland, with a plan to take the Eurorail south through Italy. On our first day in Geneva, it rained torrentially. We quickly learned that Geneva—known for its botanical gardens and beautiful vistas—is not an indoor city. The storm followed us all the way to Italy and down the boot. We got stranded in Milan and were waylaid for a night in fair Verona while we struggled to get out of the waterlogged city on the last train.

Thinking that I was going to be spending the trip soaking in the late-spring Italian sun, I packed mostly capri pants and tank tops. The rest of our luggage was left in storage at Heathrow Airport. I had packed one sweatshirt, one jacket and one pair of jeans in case it got chilly at night. I wore those clothes for six days in a row.

A couple of years later, Gina, two other friends and I went on a cruise that stopped at an island off the shore of Haiti. At about the same time, Haiti was hit by a hurricane.

Not long after that, Gina came out So Cal for a visit. The week she was here marked the most consecutive days of rain in like a century. Mountains fells and giant sinkholes swallowed houses whole. The day she left to fly home?—75 degrees and sunny.

Gina arrived back in town on Wednesday. Today, I woke up to a dusting of snow on my front lawn and car. IT SNOWED. IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA.

I am now convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that medical science and atmospheric researchers need to be contacted. This is a phenomenon that must be studied. The plus side is that if she learned to harness her powers she could be a one-woman solution to global warming.

Remember Gina…Save the Cheerleader, Save the World.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The End of a Beautiful Friendship

I’ve always loved bookstores. Whether they’re small independents or corporate behemoths, I love them all. There’s something indescribably comforting about the rows of unread books ripe for browsing, the fact that Jane Austen and Michael Chabon can share a shelf, the soothing affirmation that we’re not quite living in a post-literate society.

So it’s with a heavy heart that I say good-bye to one of my favorite Los Angeles haunts. The one and only independent bookstore in Beverly Hills closed its doors at the end of December. For Matt and I, it was a favorite stop on our semi-regular expeditions into how the other half lives. Hang a left at Jimmy Choo, and there it was—a small inviting space tucked away on an unprepossessing street in Beverly Hills’ shopping district. Even though it was just a couple of blocks away, it felt far removed from the gawkers and self-conscious opulence of Rodeo Drive.

But this is L.A., people, and even a bookshop isn’t without a hint of glamour. It was the location of my infamous Ben Stein sighting. (He was spotted walking through the store saying “Phil?…Phil?…Phil?” I’ve often wondered if there actually was a Phil present, of if Mr. Stein does that in public just to mess with people.) We exited the store that same afternoon to see Djimon Hounsou engaged in conversation on the sidewalk.

Then there was the time we observed a guy introducing his blond, model-esque girlfriend to the wonder of reading. He kept stacking books higher and higher in her arms. When he shoved Love in the Time of Cholera at her, explaining how it had changed his life, I thought she was going to faint. It was like watching Henry Higgins instruct a large-breasted Eliza Doolittle.

Despite our frequent visits--and the patronage of sundry monotone celebrities--I realize that we are precisely the reason why the place couldn’t stay afloat. All of their best efforts to drive actual book purchasing were completely lost on us. There was the time we ambled inside to find we had missed Al Gore signing copies of An Inconvenient Truth by mere minutes. Our visits were always punctuated with sentences like, “why didn’t we know Amy Sedaris was going to be here last week?” We didn’t even know the place was closing until we walked past and found the doors locked. To be honest, I think the only thing I ever actually bought there was a birthday card.

Apparently that means that I am complicit in the spread of the evil corporate empire. I’m a mass-consuming drone lured by the promise of Internet purchasing ease and 30 percent off of all bestsellers. But the truth is that I like Barnes&Noble, just as I like Banana Republic and find Dunkin Donuts coffee to be superior to just about anything else in the universe. In the end, a bookstore is a bookstore. It’s not like B&N has stopped stocking Dostoevsky in order to free up shelf space for more copies of The Da Vinci Code.

I’m guessing that, much like myself, most people don’t go to places like Dutton’s to actually buy books. It’s a discovery. A haven in the midst of the retail jungle where you can linger peacefully for hours without having to actually purchase anything. That’s why we come to love such places. Why, when we find them, we plant our metaphorical flags there and declare them our own. It’s a shame they can’t survive on love alone.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Hear me roar

Will 2007 go down in history as the year of the woman?

Nancy Pelosi was sworn in this week as the first female Speaker of the House, bringing with her the advent of the dreaded “San Francisco values.” (I’m not sure what that means, but apparently it has something to do with gay people being able to hold hands in public.)

On her well-tailored coattails: a Democratic Congress that boasts the highest number of female lawmakers in our history. As stunning an achievement as this is, it begs the question…. What Took So Damn Long?

We could have this conversation about any minority group that’s underrepresented in our profoundly white and male government. The only difference being that women aren’t a minority. At last count, we still comprise about 51 percent of the population. That means, in theory, the share of women in our representative government should be hovering around half. This year, a record 16.5 percent of Capitol Hill will be female.

According to the Associated Press, the United States lags behind 79 other countries--including China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, and even Afghanistan--in the share of women serving in the national legislature. The U.K., Israel, India and Chile are just a few of the nations that have been led by women while we’re just now grappling with what it might mean to have our first formidable female Presidential candidate.

One of the major reasons there are fewer women in American government is simply that fewer women run for office--often because of child care concerns and the fact that they are less likely than men to be asked to run for office by party leaders, according to the A.P. Once women decide to run for office, they are just as successful as men.

But I think it’s fair to say we’re a nation still conflicted by the idea of women in power, as opposed to the more traditional role of political helpmates. Laura Bush, the spotlight-eschewing, oh-so-ladylike First Lady, has remained popular despite her husband’s downfall. Yet, I’ve always suspected that the main reason so many people hate Hil so very much is not because of her politics or even her shaky moral compass, but for being a calculating striver who used her role as First Lady to ascend to the highest rungs of national power. In some circles, that might be called gumption.

It’s a strange dichotomy we’re living in when it comes to messages about female achievement, especially for the younger generation. Girls are consistently outperforming and outpacing their male counterparts in college admissions and academic achievement. At the same time, there’s a noticeable cultural backlash against feminism, characterized by the dominance of the Pussycat Dolls and Paris Hilton. How are we to reconcile these conflicting phenomena?

While its troubling to think young women may have abondoned the notion of “housewife” in favor of “sex kitten” instead of, say, “CEO”, maybe the role of women in this country defies such neat labels. Perhaps second wave feminism and it’s goal of a gender-blind equality is no longer relevant in a culture where the rules are slowly being rewritten and where push-up bras and straight A’s are not mutually exclusive. The next generation of girls may simply take it for granted that you can grow up to be either Carrie Bradshaw or the President of the United States.

It will be interesting to see where this road and this new Congress take us. There’s a lot riding on the next few years, which will likely be seen as a referendum on both the Democrats’ ability to lead in a time of war and on the ability of women to chart the course of the most powerful nation in the world. Let’s hope we’re all up to the challenge.