Sunday, December 30, 2012

Reading Rainbow

It is once again time for my Best Of Books list. This year, I read 65 books, a good dozen of which were re-reads at the end of the year, when my brain cannot handle anything new, but I still need to read something. I'm weird that way. I know some people never read the same book twice. I am not one of those people. I have my go-to books the same way others have go-to movies. I did experiment with a Kindle this year and while I understand its appeal, it isn't my thing. Reading a new book on a Kindle made me feel like I was trying to read with only half my senses. You can't feel the weight of the book or the texture of the pages. I also have a very visual memory. I can look at a book, turn to roughly the right section, and know which side of a page, then how high up or down in the paragraph a remembered sentence or section ought to be. All that is lost on a Kindle since it is akin to reading on a computer screen. Also, I need to know how long a book is, how small the font, to help me decide if I am in the mood for it. But my Kindle came preloaded (Thanks A!) with lots of awesome books I have already read, which makes it perfect for waiting rooms, dance class, etc. and my daughter already likes to borrow it for car trips.

In no particular order, the top five:

1.  We Need to Talk about Kevin - Lionel Schriver Why this author isn't more popular is a mystery to me. Her book The Post-Birthday World is one of my top reads of all time. This book is much darker, but equally excellent. The subject matter is horrific (mass murder at a school), but the book asks the most basic question of what makes a child, nature or nurture, in a truly revelatory way. Every sentence is a jewel, hand crafted, and complete all on its own. There are no throwaway words. This is not a light read, but it is a really, really good one.

2. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon  I always take recommendations, especially from people whose taste I trust. In the Raleigh NC airport is perhaps the best used book store I have ever seen, so I trusted the owner when he recommended this book. Set in Barcelona, it is both a mystery and a coming of age story and has, by far, one of the best imaginary locations of all time as a set piece. There is wonderful atmosphere just oozing off the page that once you start, you will find it very difficult to stop reading, and when you do look around, will find yourself surprised to be anywhere as ordinary as your living room.

3. The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern Maybe I just like atmospheric books, because this is another one where you are dropped into a fully realized world where you can practically taste the caramel popcorn and smell the scents that waft out of tiny glass bottles. An tale of magic and love, both twisted and neither very clear, is set among a Night Circus, a roving amusement filled with both the mundane and the fantastic.

4. The Passage - Justin Cronin Part one of a trilogy (part two, The Twelve is already out), it set in a world destroyed by a sort of vampire never before seen in fiction. Part vamp, part zombie, it exists only to feed. Often, books like this feel like fleshed out screenplays, just ready to be made into a movie. And while this one has some truly terrifying sequences (there is a train chapter that will rival the Lincoln Tunnel scene in Stephen King's The Stand) it is the littlest details that are the most riveting.

5. Heart-Shaped Box - Joe Hill. This is an excellent book to read in the darkness of winter. However, if you actually want to go to sleep at night, perhaps a midsummer day would be a better time. It is horror at its finest (the author learned at the knee of a former master). Our protagonist finds himself owning a dead man's suit and things go from bad to worse very quickly. The best part for me was the main character, a complete bastard who is richly detailed and not just a foil for the action.

This year, I don't actually have a bottom five. While I still shake my fist at the heavens to rail against the fact that in a year with no Pulitizer Prize in fiction, 50 Shades made millions, I will allow that it was a gateway book for a lot of people who had stopped reading and/or stopped having sex and that this book helped people come back to both. The rest of the books were good, maybe even very good, but each had one central flaw that kept them from being great.

Angelology - Danielle Trussoni  - Not once, in an entire book set in the real world, with characters who were being introduced to the idea that angels were real and evil, not once did any character ask, "Really?"

Broken Harbor -Tana French  - This book is supposed to be mystery. However, since each "clue" is practically highlighted and bolded on the page, that part falls short of the mark. Instead, read for the excellent interrogation scenes, her gift for characters, and the Irish setting.

There are several others that I would complain about, but to do so would be to give away important plot points and I firmly believe in not spoiling books. Suffice to say that I wouldn't be one of Michael Connelly's clients, I'm tired of long lost loves being reunited at the expense of the memory of the people they loved in between, and while George R.R. Martin is not my bitch, I would highly appreciate it if he actually merged character arcs here and there so that every single character wasn't flailing about in their own storylines with little to no interaction with each other.

Also, the award for authors who really have to stop destroying their characters is a tie between Steig Larsson (posthumous) and Charlaine Harris. Larsson gets it for the ridiculous choice of relegating Lisbeth Salander to a tertiary character in The GIrl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest and since that book was so bad, I can only hope the two other books supposedly hidden on his computer remain there forever. Charlaine Harris get the whip for apparently forgetting that her main character, Sookie Stackhouse, is a telepath, and perhaps should stop walking into trouble she should have known about long before she entered the room and for writing entire books where no one has any sex.

So, my friends, the new year is almost upon us. My to-be-read shelf is newly stocked, my brain is just about ready to take on new fiction, and the good rocker by the fire is calling. As my buddy Levar says, "Butterflies in the sky/I can fly twice as high/Take a look/It's in a book."

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Ritzy's House of Horrors

I consider myself a cultured woman. I've seen everything from Broadway to Cirque de Soleil. I've been to the ballet, to musicals, to Shakespeare in the Park, and to countless dance recitals. In this past week alone, I've seen The Nutcracker (twice) and Scrooged! But, good Lord in Heaven above, save me from local children's theater.

Years ago, I went on the preschool class field trip to see Frosty at, you guessed it, the local children's theater. About ten minutes into the "show", the little girl sitting next to me asked when it was going to start. You see, a bunch of adults wandering around the fully lit theater wearing sweats wasn't exactly her idea of a production. It wasn't my idea of one either, but I did try to keep that to myself.
This year, same preschool, but a different kid and a different show. Instead of Frosty, We were treated to what my husband refers to as Mrs. Tinkerton's Toys of Terror. The plot is simple, a bunch of broken toys are sad that they are relegated to the back of the toy shop, the toy shop owner realizes that they are alive, and one by one, teaches them that they all have different talents that make them lovable. Blah blah blah. What makes this show horrifying is the lead character, Mrs. Tinkerton.

In an artistic choice that leaves me baffled, the sweet (female) toyshop owner is played by a wolf in woman's clothing.

The mascot, as it were, of this theater is a wolf. He is, quite possibly, the most demented looking thing I have ever seen. Red sweat pants, a spangled red sweater stolen off the back of a chair during the annual Boca Raton Senior Citizen Home Christmas Gala, stage makeup more reminiscent of Kabuki than cannibal, and as a final touch, two wolf ears, one of which (I swear) was on backward. He kicks off the show by chatting with the audience and waiting for Mrs. Tinkerton to arrive. Very quickly, we learn that Mrs. Tinkerton is out sick and the wolf has to play her part. He happily dons her apron, capelet, and bonnet (with the already pale and strange makeup, turning himself from a deranged wolf into a zombie Mrs. Claus) and we proceed with the show.
So, to clarify: there is now a guy wearing both a crappy wolf costume AND a crappy knock-off Mrs. Claus costume AT THE SAME TIME pretending to be a woman.

Moving on.
There were other strange artistic choices through the production that I just couldn't wrap my head around. A drummer toy, who had a broken arm and only one drumstick (the other one and the drum itself were the casualty of a what must have been a short-lived but particularly violent war), spent the entire show up on a pedestal conducting the other toys in their various songs and dances using his drumstick as a baton. Yet, when it came his turn to learn his true worth, it wasn't for his skills as a maestro, but for being a one-armed drummer. But! But! He already WAS a one-armed drummer! WTF dude!

The ballerina with a broken foot (who spent the entire show twirling on the one with the cast) learns that she is very good at making funny faces and the dancing bear who can't dance learns that he is an excellent comedian. Well, funny thing that, since they are both toys, I imagine they won't get to make faces or tell jokes to anyone since, you know, they aren't supposed to move! Wouldn't it have been better to teach the ballerina to twirl on her non-broken foot? (Which the actress can't seem to remember to do for love or money.) Or, this being a toy shop and all, actually fix the foot? Also, since the only reason the dancing bear can't boogie bis ecause his batteries ran out, you know, maybe insert new batteries?
I am going to ignore the rest of the toys because, let's face it, a good toymaker could have just fixed them all. Instead, Mrs. Tinkerton finally confesses that she keeps these broken, beaten toys in the back of the shop because she loves them best of all. Isn't there a word for someone who prefers consoling the sick instead of healing them? Munchausen by proxy anyone?

Thankfully, the show itself is short and ends, as everything must during the Christmas season, with a visit from Santa Claus. And while I want to put both preschool teachers on the naughty list for subjecting all of us parents to this little slice of madness, the kids laughed, sang, and enjoyed themselves immensely. They didn't notice the bad puns, the bad cross-dressing, and the even worse singing. But I did. Oh, I did indeed.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Is There a Santa Claus?

At this time of year, my goal is to keep my children out of stores as much as possible. It isn't because they are whiners and beg for all that they see. Put them in a toy store, and they will simply ask for me to take pictures of stuff to put on their birthday or Christmas list, depending on which is closer. I'm always very proud of their behavior - which, because I am nothing but truthful here - is a direct opposite of their behavior in a bookstore, where they act like circus animals until they get a new book. Yeah, I created my own monsters there, I know.

Anyway, the main reason I keep my kids out of stores is all the explaining I have to do.

"Mommy, why doesn't our Elf look like that one? " (pointing to stacks of Elf on the Shelf boxes)

Those Elves are tricky bastards. Last year, a kid in my daughter's class told her she didn't have a "real" elf because he wasn't the standard issue one sold in stores (proving irrefutably that little girls are bitches pretty much right out of the cradle). This question was relatively easy - my daughter has a private, family nickname and our Elf references that name. The next one was harder, "Why do people buy Elves when Santa sends one to your house?" Hmph. I think my answer here was something about wanting the book that came with it, so people understood what to do when their real Elf arrived, and that the Elf included was just a stuffed animal. This of course led to a long discussion about what the elves do the rest of the year. (Just so you know, they work from February to November in Santa's workshop, are sent to spy on families for the month of December, then get January off. They like to vacation in Bali.)

"Mommy, why doesn't Santa bring toys to everyone?" (after listening to a Toys for Tots commercial)

Toys for Tots is an excellent organization and one that has received many a toy from me (especially if there is a Marine doing pushups in the front of the store. YUM!) However, in my son's world, Santa brings toys to all good children. Period. End of story. There are no parents involved. No money. No midnight sales or online shopping. Elves help Santa build all his toys at his workshop in the North Pole, then delivers them on Christmas Eve via sleigh and reindeer.

So, who, exactly, are these children who aren't getting any toys? As an adult, I realize that many situations can occur that keep kids from getting toys -but they all involve parents and/or money. But as a kid, the only way you don't get a toy is if you are bad. Luckily, the little guy got distracted and I didn't have to answer the question, but woe is me if my daughter gets hold of that train of thought. She's got a little streak of evil in her and would see the loophole immediately; i.e., if Santa doesn't bring you toys, then the people at Toys for Tots will, regardless of the good vs. bad question.

"Mommy, why are those stores so busy?" (in Toys R Us, buying a birthday present for a party)

See above about the Santa myth. No parents. No money. No shopping necessary. I told her there were a lot of birthdays in December.

And finally, "Mommy, we've seen six Santa's today. Which one is the real Santa?"

That one led to an explanation of how Santa has helpers, dressed just like him that he sends all around the world to keep an eye on kids and to visit with them to find out what they like and dislike. The helpers report back to the one true Santa. But then, to make sure they kept waving and giving all those hard-working Santas the respect they deserve, we told the kids that the real Santa does spot checks. He likes to nip out during his lunch break and randomly show up on street corners waving a bell, or at the mall to take pictures, or to preside over a breakfast at a firehouse. Today, he may decide to visit our town, tomorrow, he may be in Guam. Or Hawaii. Or the Netherlands. You never know which one could be the REAL Santa, so better be nice to all of them.

One day soon, Santa will be a mystery no more.

One day, some nasty child will share that he isn't real, or I'll slip and talk about buying a gift that was supposed to come from Santa, or she'll finally figure out that all the boxes that arrive in December aren't all for Daddy's job (a hide-in-plain-sight trick that still miraculously works), or she will catch us in the act of either moving an Elf or the gifts. I know that I'm tap dancing on quicksand trying to keep the magic alive for another year for my daughter and hopefully another few years for my son. I know that while I bitch and moan endlessly about the Elf, and all the running around I do during this season, that the magic of Santa really surrounds the entire family. I love hearing the kids giggle as they find the Elf in a different hiding spot every morning. The serious discussions about what Santa does with his time, the look of utter delight as Santa talks directly to them (via video), or when they receive a personalized letter from Santa in the mail. Their eyes really do shine, their faces really do glow. They really, really do believe. And I'll do anything in the world to keep that going as long as humanly possible, even if it does mean shopping at 3am on Black Friday or racing around like a lunatic the one day per week my son is in school til 2pm to get all everything on my list. Helping Santa may be hard work, but it really does pay off.

"A thousand years from now Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood." - editor, The Sun of Chicago, 1897

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

I recently talked about traditions. The joy of them, the pleasure of reliving cherished memories. But, there is a dark side. There are those things that once done, cannot be undone, and you suffer through them year after year after endless year, hoping that one day, there will be a merciful end.

First, it was the pajamas.

Every year, the kids get matching pjs for Christmas (from the Elf, but more on that later). Both kids were once happy wearing gender neutral footie pajamas in a T size. All I had to do was find a pattern I liked and order two of them. Easy! Then another year passed. One left the T's behind, so I found myself running back and forth between the toddler boy and the little girl department, but both still wore footies, so life was still good. Another year later, and I had to match a nightgown to a pair of button downs. It took two adults, two laptops, multiple web sites, and a lot of cursing to find a match. This year, I thought the search would kill me. Black Friday? Nothing. I must have gone through a bottle of Visine hopping from site to site clicking on this pair of pjs for him, then that pair for her. Every time, one pair was sold out of the size I needed. This went on for days. DAYS. I even contemplated the wicked expensive ones that coordinate with embroidered names on the shirts, but I couldn't quite stomach the price. Finally, finally, Amazon answered my call. Then, filled with the thrill of victory, I went and found a matching set of pj's for the damned American Girl doll, complete with era-appropriate sleep cap. Who's the dumb shit who will now have to accomplish this hat trick again next year? That would be me.

Then, it was the Elf on the Shelf.

(Side note: our Elf is not the standard issue one, but a miniature green Care Bear with a Santa hat and vest.)

The problem started last year when one over-achieving parent at school started "doing things" with the Elf. (See the link below about how crazy some people get about these dumb things.) So-and-so's Elf left pictures of his family. I dutifully found a close up of a different Care Bear online (so I can claim it is our Elf's "sister"), this one wearing a jaunty scarf and left it lying around. Then So-and-Sos buddy decided to ask her Elf questions. So I dutifully wrote out answers in teeny tiny block letters to such questions as where do you live (Guam), how old are you (186), and what is your favorite color (magenta), which I, of course, dutifully wrote down so I wouldn't forget. I even congratulated myself on acquiring that second Care Bear during the course of the year. The day after Thanksgiving arrives, both the old Elf and the new Elf appears, my son is thrilled, my daughter turns to me and asks, "Where's the scarf?" Oh. Fuck. Me. So what do I do? I get a (very kind) friend to make the stupid scarf. For a stuffed animal that I tell my kids is a magic spy from Santa. It is this type of thinking that gets people put into asylums.

Finally, it is the Christmas Calendar.

When the kids were tiny and still completely adorable no matter what they did, I took hundreds of pictures of them. When one got into the cookie batter, I made sure the whip out the camera, then let the other one do the same so I could get matching shots. Thus, making the end-of-year calendar at the online photo store was really easy. Both were out playing in the snow - January! Both were swimming in the pool - June! You get the picture. (Groan.) Then, I added in individual photos of every family member on their birthday. The entire job would take me roughly one televised football game. You know where this is going, don't you? This year, it took me four days. They aren't so cute covering in food anymore, so I take far fewer pictures.  They also don't do matching activities, so finding shots of both kids doing anything, let alone something relevant to each other and the month in question is incredibly difficult. So, the first day was spent picking pictures. Then another day to try to match in pictures of their adorable cousin. A third day was spent actually uploading the photos and trying to make the calendar itself, pulling and adding shots, moving things around, etc. The final day was spent on the birthday shots and trying to get my BILs photo sharing website to stop crashing long enough for me to illegally download pictures from it. Of course, there was a time crunch as it had to be done by midnight of a certain day in order to get roughly 65 percent off the order. (I also usually have to do two separate ones for each side of the family.) By the time I hit the order button, I was ready to throw my computer through the nearest window. And where do BOTH sets of parents hang this fantastic work of art that I shed blood, sweat, and tears for? On the INSIDE door of the pantry. 

So for those of you who think that going the extra mile this year is a good idea - think of the marathon you'll wind up running before it is all said and done. I'm looking at you, Queen B, who has already posted pictures of your Elf zip-lining across the living room. Instead, follow the example of my very wise SIL, enjoying her first Christmas as a mom, whom, when I asked if I could buy her son pjs to match my kids (for a picture), laughed and told me that if I wanted to drive myself crazy, it was all on me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Once More, with Feeling

Traditions are funny things. One year, you do something because it seems like it would be a lot of fun. The next year, you do it again, and by the third year, you have stumbled into a tradition.

When I was in college, and for a number of years after, my Thanksgiving tradition was to come home Tuesday night and spend all day Wednesday in New York City with my friend T. He and I would go in bright and early, spend the morning wandering the Village, hit Ray's Pizza for lunch, then go to Times Square to buy half-priced tickets to whatever Broadway show was available. While I blank on what we did for dinner, we always ended the night watching the balloons being blown up for the Macy's Day Parade. T was (and still is) a big guy at 6'4", so we never had a problem moving through the crowds and making quick time from block to block. I probably carried nothing more than a wad of cash and chap stick and we walked, window-shopped, and blissfully chatted a day away.

While T and I remain friends, due to distance, time, and our respective spouses (Hi D!), that tradition had to end. What replaced it was one build on travel. Once my husband and I started dating, we started sharing family holidays. In fact, he met my parents for the first time at Thanksgiving during one of the last years we had a big family dinner at my uncle's house, so he got to meet everyone all at once. Poor guy. Until we finally moved to the same state (roughly) as our parents, we spent each year on the road, trying to avoid traffic. Some years we succeeded and made the trek from Boston to either Jersey or Pennsylvania in record time (usually helped along by the fact that we left insanely late at night.) Other years, we got stuck and once spent seven (or nine, we can't remember) hours making a three-hour drive. Once we moved to the area, we split holidays, alternating Thursdays and Saturdays with either set of parents (and siblings on his side, random hanger-ons on my side). As per tradition, we do celebrate my daughter's birthday (as we once did mine) because it falls so close to the holiday.

Now, I've added a new tradition to the mix, spending at least one day with my best friend (my old college roommate and the godmother to my oldest) and her daughter, who usually fly in for a week or two from the West Coast. Our daughters are three years apart in age, but only one day apart in birthdays, which means we get to celebrate them together. The past few years, this meant taking them for ice cream. This year, it meant taking them to NYC and the American Girl store.

Obviously, this trip was a tad different than the ones of my halcyon youth. No Village (though we did get cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery), no Broadway show, and we were all probably in a dead sleep long before that first balloon got blown up, but it was still awesome in its own way. This time, I saw NYC from a child's eyes. Times Square, in all its lurid glory, at nighttime is like being stuck in an overly bright, crowded, and commercial-filled laboratory. It's unnatural brightness made it seem like an alien planet. While the grownups marveled at the tree at Rockefeller Center, a survivor of Hurricane Sandy straight from the Jersey shore, the kids just wanted to know why it wasn't lit yet. They enjoyed the Ferris Wheel in the giant Toys R'Us, but had no interest in looking at toys they weren't allowed to buy. Instead of window-shopping along 5th Ave, they sang and held hands, ignoring the diamonds beckoning from the displays. When we asked them to take a picture in front of a dazzling array of jewels, my daughter looked at the storefront and asked if it would be a good place to buy her new earrings. The store in question? Cartier. The answer, no.

When we finally entered the Holy Land of overpriced dolls, the monument to parental stupidity and indulgence that is the American Girl store, the girls made the most of it. Each one deliberated carefully over her choice of doll and clothing. The adults just made gagging noises over the prices. My daughter was using her own hard-earned money for the doll and one outfit, but still managed to con me and her godmother into buying her additional ones. The other little girl was enjoying the benefits of birthday money from grandparents (and me). We reminisced over the first time I had my eyebrows waxed (a complete disaster), while watching her daughter's new doll get a complicated new hairstyle at the doll hair salon. (Yes, a hair salon for dolls. Dolls!). We finished out our long and exhausting day at the American Girl Cafe, a restaurant on the third floor of the building designed to delight children and adults alike. Honestly, it was the cutest restaurant I have ever seen. The dolls get to sit in chairs at the table and are served little plates and cups, right alongside their new owners. The staff talk directly to the children and the food is surprisingly good and very prettily arranged. Back in college, my old roommate and I would have never missed an opportunity to drink with dinner. While the store had an extensive drinks menu (to soften the edge of the credit card bill, I'm sure), I stuck to lemonade, she went with unsweetened iced tea and coffee. Boy, how times have changed.

Next year, we might take the girls to Radio City Hall and tea at the Plaza. We may even try to include their little brothers. Who knows? But it's been three years, so the tradition of a shared birthday for our girls is pretty much stuck. This is a good thing. One day, the girls will get to old for this, or situations will change and my friend will no longer be able to visit us during the holiday, or any number of things could happen. But I'll always look back on these days as good ones, filled with love and joy, gossip and goofiness. Maybe one day, T and I will do the city again, with spouses and kids in tow, and take our lives full circle. Maybe not. Maybe my old roommate and I will ditch the kids and spend the day shopping, or taking a tour, or getting facials. Who knows what the future will bring? But for now, I will enjoy what I have and take next year when it comes. With or without the overpriced doll.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Rise! Rise! RISE!

My husband has a problem. He is obsessed with inflatables.

He doesn't have a life-size blow up doll issue, like Lars and the Real Girl. That would be weird. No, I'm talking about those inflatable monstrosities you see on people's lawns around the Christmas holidays. Except in our yard, we don't wait til Christmas.  This year, we had an inflatable pumpkin and are now proudly displaying an inflatable turkey, which my son keeps calling a chicken. Every night, my kids fight over who gets to plug it in and every night, when I unplug it, the turkey head falls right over like I've just hacked it down with an ax.

Last year, if you recall, my husband was on a mission to find and purchase an 18-foot tall reindeer. Well, I honestly think he spent all year secretly trolling eBay for the blow up decorations of his dreams (and my nightmares.) I have evidence - namely the fact that every now and then, he sent me a random e-mail with no description, just a link to a website. I received notices about multi-hued Christmas trees, Snowman families, and Santas the size of SUVs. But the true quest was that damn reindeer.

So, being a loving and supportive wife, I joined in the search one night. And all I can say is, Santa is one busy, busy (inflatable) man. Name a mode of transportation and Santa is riding it. There is the standard train, plane, and automobile (in your choice of sled, RV, Harley, fishing boat, quad, tractor, snowmobile, helicopter, bi-plane, tow-truck, food truck, dump truck, fire truck, and of course, rocket ship.) Distinctly non-standard but also available are Santa riding a hot-air balloon, sailing a pirate ship, and quite improbably, riding both a polar bear and black bear.

Would you like to display Santa in a more candid scene, straight from his daily life? You can inflate Santa at the stables feeding the reindeer, making toys in his workshop, hosting an ugly sweater party with a group of snowmen, and of course, taking a bath. Who doesn't want naked Santa on their front lawn?

Would you prefer Santa in action mode? He jet skies. He walks the dogs. He plays soccer (in shorts, no less.) He reads a story to a gaggle of small children and he also sing carols with gentle woodland creatures. He checks his mailbox. He makes snow angels. He also obviously spends his off-season down the shore because there are many tableaus of him carrying a surfboard, reclining under palm trees, taking a turn in the lifeguard stand, and driving a Woody.  

For those of, shall we say, less discerning tastes (and I realize what a slippery slope that is in terms of inflatable Christmas decorations), there is also Santa in a deer stand, riding a John Deere tractor, wearing a cowboy hat and gun belt (with our without stage couch), and of course, taking a dump in an outhouse. Really Santa? You can't just use one of the bajillion indoor bathrooms during your rounds? The pinnacle of tastelessness is not a Santa, thank God, but a "redneck" Nutcracker, which has a gut overhanging his pants, a trucker hat, and, I shit you not people, an actual inflatable can of beer in his fat little hand.

Would you like a Black Santa? No problem.

Santa roasting to death while stuck in a chimney while a hapless reindeer tries to work a fire extinguisher? Yes, Virginia, there is a third-degree burnt Santa Claus.

There are also a multitude of Mickey Mouse, Snoopy, and assorted polar bears, penguins, snowmen, and reindeers doing all sorts of odd and bizarre things for your lawn. Would you like to keep the Christ in Christmas? Then you can inflate the Three Wise Men, the Holy Family, and even Jesus Christ himself. (Personally, I think if Jesus is going to deflate and rise again every night, it at least should be around Easter.)

The little plastic figurines of my youth are gone. They've been eaten by the Godzilla-like Santas and snowmen that loom over the tops of houses and take up every square inch of lawn space. Last year, we found a home that displayed the 18-foot tall reindeer of my husband's dreams. The oversized mansion sat on a plot of several acres with the blow-up right up front. When driving past, the wind made its head shake and I think my son almost wet himself in fear. If a creature that size actually existed and tried to pop a squat on my front yard, I'd call down the National Guard.

So, come by the day after Thanksgiving, when my husband ceremoniously blows up the 10-foot tall reindeer (we compromised) and the 10-foot long "Sexy Snowman" (so called because he reclines on his elbows while giving a come-hither look), please come by to take a picture, have a laugh, and watch law enforcement arrive. Will it be the fire department come to make sure I don't Griswald my home into ashes? Will it be the police department, reacting to neighbor complaints and/or gunshots from those hell-bent on bringing down the biggest buck of their lives? Or will it be the town council informing me of code violations? Because I assure you, if there isn't a law on the books in my little town that regulates the size of outdoor decorations on Black Friday, there will be my Cyber Monday.

Friday, October 26, 2012


It's been a long couple of weeks for the local meteorologists. Sunny skies, balmy temperatures, nary a cloud in sight. It might have rained one day, but just for a little while. In short, they are bored out of their ever-loving minds. This explains why this current storm, Hurricane Sandy, has their panties in such a bunch.

I understand the storm is historic in that it isn't following the normal epicenter of destruction, with outlying circles of mess and mayhem. Instead, this one is sort of cone-shaped, so it is going to hit everywhere all at once. The weathermen (yes, I know there are women in that profession but typing weather people is just ridiculous) are behaving as if this storm may just wind up being the End of Days. I understand that trees filled with leaves are bad news for storms. The heavy leaves clog storm drains, adding to flooding, which adds to the number of tree roots that become oversaturated and fall down. Plus, high winds cause lots of limbs to crash down on stuff like cars, roadways, people, and power lines. I understand all of this is a problem.

What I do not understand is why we are all acting as if losing power equates losing our lives. Surely we all have a few candles around? Even if they are banana bread scented, they still expel light. Everyone has batteries, even if you have to pry them out of remote controls? Our land lines may go out but I somehow doubt Facebook and Twitter will go silent being that we all have smart phones. We won't be able to play Words with Friends so we can save our charge, but we'll still be able to text friends and relatives to check on safety and ask for/offer help. Schools will find a way to tell us they are closed, even if they have to break out semaphore flags. In short of an actual generator, I'm pretty sure we all have enough of the basics to survive.

If you can read this blog, I will bet that you already have enough food in your pantry, fridge, and possibly second freezer/beer fridge to feed yourself and your family for a week. The meals may not be well-balanced, but everyone has enough cans of old soup, frozen food, and snacks to survive for a few days. This isn't a television show - if the power goes out, it will go back on! Long before we perish from rickets or stupidity, we can just drive to the local big box store, convenience store, chain restaurant, grocery store, or diner to eat a hot meal or buy a cold one. While it may take days for suburbia to get power, I've never yet heard of a situation where Fortune 500 companies let their stores languish in darkness. No power equals no money and how can you sell the necessities of life at twice their market value if you don't have operating cash registers? Even if it takes a few days, we all have enough friends, family, and gym memberships that we can get ourselves washed. The laundry may pile up, the dust bunnies may start to party plan, and you may go through enough paper plates and cups to start your own landfill, but you will survive.

And if the power fails and you have to go to bed early with your significant other, well, there are worse ways to spend a long night, ya know?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Party Like Its 1992

I went to my husband's 20 year high school reunion this past weekend. In preliminary discussions, it had been decided that I was not "worth" the cost of an extra ticket and a babysitter. Per our agreement on such matters, there were no hurt feelings because I heartily agreed. I'd much rather send him off to reminisce while I stayed home to watch movies. I'm still a season and a half behind on Doctor Who and two behind on Torchwood. I'd much rather spend the evening with Captain Harkness than Captain Morgan. But, in the end, my designated driver status got me elevated to "and guest."

At the hotel (where we picked up some out-of-town friends who rightly refused to ride the party bus), I could already tell that my choice of clothing was inappropriate. While I looked cute (for me), and had even managed to put on eye makeup and lipstick, I had apparently forgotten that I was in Jersey. While big hair and Aquanet are gone (but not forgotten), micro-minis, hooker heels, and cheap fabrics in bright colors never go out of style. These women needed puppy pads to sit down lest they catch a communicable disease before they stood back up. Before we had even left for the event, I was already shooting my husband the side-eye.

I think the first apology was given when we pulled up to the venue. While on paper, the E-Lounge sounded at least relatively benign, in reality, the E was for the name of the town and the lounge part was just a pseudonym for fire hall. The giveaway was the fire truck you had to walk past to get to the second floor. The space was decorated entirely in low, flat white couches, and cubed, light-up coffee tables. All of the tables were lit in different neon colors, the servers trays flashed and glowed, and there were strobe lights. It was an epileptics' nightmare. There were also photo booths that must have come equipped with wind machines because every woman came back out fixing their hair and tugging down their hems. I wasn't going in there without a set of Clorox wipes. And of course, there was the gallery of dead people. Or, in this case, a cheap poster board with five photos cut and pasted straight out of the high school yearbook. Didn't any of the senior class scrap book?

I headed for the dark recesses of the room while my husband headed straight for the bar. Smart man. When the server came around with the first tray of passed hors d'oeuvre, I asked if there was a buffet dinner as there didn't seem to be a separate dining area. Her reply? Nope. To be clear, this was a $65 per person event, not a basement kegger. Miniature food served on pointy sticks was dinner and a scant meal it was. In fairness, a crudités table did eventually make an appearance, but for some strange reason, all the food was served in tall vases. Have you ever tried to use a pair of tongs to get sliced cucumber out of a two-foot tall receptacle? It cannot be done without flinging vegetables hither and yon. The sum of food put out for the entire reunion could be purchased in two pre-made platters from the local warehouse club of choice. By the time the sheet cake came out, we practically mugged a server to get a slice. My friend and I (another abandoned wife of a graduate) each took one bite then put the plate down. How bad do you think the cake had to be for a hungry fat woman to refuse it? How bad did it have to be for a hungry drunk to almost spit it out? Very bad indeed.

Over the course of four hours, my husband got increasingly drunk and I got increasingly snarky. The bartenders, when they could manage to make a drink without looking at the Bartender's Bible, had a very generous pour. (Hell, I would too since all the money for the tickets was obviously spent on alcohol.) I didn't have to ask if my husband was drinking Captain and Cokes, I could smell them before he sat down. The combination of no food and plenty of liquor meant that I had a front row view to the depravity that is a gaggle 38-yr olds gone wild. I rolled my eyes so often and so far back that I thought I was going to lose a contact lens. The DJ must have only brought four CDs with him because he played in order: an hour of 80's, an hour of Glee soundtracks, an hour of wedding music, and an hour of dance music. He also played Piano Man in the beginning of the night, when everyone knows you play it at the end so everyone can howl along. There were group dance numbers. (To the left, to the left.) There was grinding. There were bitchy speeches. There were downward dog positions that should never be seen out of a yoga room being performed, with reckless abandon, by drunk women wearing sensible shoes. It was a bloody nightmare. At one point, I thought I was about to witness a first lesbian experience, right there on the dance floor. People sang along to Journey without a hint of irony. When Vanessa William's Save the Best For Last came on as the final song, I might have accidentally screamed "Oh My Fucking God" at the top of my lungs while making violent knife motions with my fist.

My husband, luckily, was well aware that the entire event was a bust and when we weren't making each other laugh out loud with rude comments, he was coming up with increasingly extravagant ways to pay me back for sitting through it all. Sadly, none of the suggestions of tickets to Wicked, a ring, a car, or even the purchase of my own Barnes & Noble store were remembered the next morning. Since he spent the entire evening double fisting, most people with his blood alcohol content would not have remembered the night at all. However, my husband has a superpower. He can metabolize alcohol at four times the human rate. Once, at a friend's wedding, I witnessed him drink for 12 straight hours only to wake up cheerful and well-rested meanwhile I, who had two glasses of wine at the cocktail hour, needed to be helped into the shower. After the reunion, I did help him out a bit by making a run to Mickey D's after dropping off the sitter. I think the late-night meal of salted cardboard made the crucial difference between suffering through my daughter's investiture ceremony at church the next morning and enjoying it.

Obviously, I will be holding this evening against him for the rest of his natural born life. Like a Christian who converts to Judaism for love, "I went to your reunion" is going to be my version of "I gave up Jesus." The knowledge will always be there.

Friday, October 12, 2012

American Girl aka Marketing Madness

Can someone please explain to me the allure of the American Girl dolls?
This will be the third year that my daughter asked for one. When she was six, she was interested, but it wasn't the highest priority item on her list. That spot was reserved for an iPod. When she was seven, it was much higher up the list, but still right under the iPod. Now going on eight, the number one spot, finally bumping the iPod down a peg, is Caroline, the newest historical American Girl doll.

Why haven't I bought my daughter the doll yet (especially when her birthday is also in December)? Simple. The damn thing is wicked expensive and she already two dolls complete with multiple outfits, to dress at will. Why am I going to buy her a taller one with clothes pricier than her own?

Obviously, I understand that kids want what other kids have. I remember getting a Darcy doll when everyone else had a Barbie. Darcy was just bigger and taller than Barbie so none of the Mattel clothes fit. Damn, did I hate that doll. When my parents finally did give in and buy me a Barbie, it was a Business Barbie, complete with briefcase. I get that my parents were trying to offer a solid role model and all, but the whole point of Barbie is her lavish lifestyle. The Dream House, the mall, the bus, etc. I wanted a Barbie who lived a life of leisure, not one who was a corporate shill.

However, I refuse to pay for something that we essentially already own. Call me cheap, call me practical, call me, maybe, but that was my stance. So my kid did a runaround and decided to hold lemonade stands in order to earn the money for the doll herself. As we live down the block from a high school and it is football season, she already had a prime location. I made the lemonade and bought cookies, her father set up the table and bench under a shady tree, and her brother would yell at everyone who passed by, "LEMONADE AND COOKIES!!!". In three games, and with a minor nest egg already accumulated, she earned enough for the doll ($105) and an outfit ($28). How? By cutting her brother almost entirely out of her profits, by stiffing her supplier on start-up costs, and by cleverly asking everyone who bought a 50 cent item, "Do you want your change?" By the time I caught on to this little game and started insisting she automatically give people their change, it was already the third game. Plus, she would smile so sweetly at people that many simply handed her a dollar as they passed by, without even taking a drink or a snack. Honestly, if I ever can't pay a bill, I'm just going to send her out to run another stand.

Of course, it won't end with one doll and one outfit. She already has her eye on the bed, the nightgown (for her and the doll), etc., etc., etc. This merchandising for the dolls is wide and varied. Oh, and did I mention expensive? I bought my son's actual bed for less than the price of Caroline's doll bed. Sure, I'm already trolling eBay, and etsy, and all the local craft festivals for off-brand items I can get for cheap, but I'm still paying more for a doll dress than I am for a human one. That's just wrong.

Right now, we are still trying to work out a date to get to the store. Internet shopping has been ruled out for fear the doll won't arrive or will arrive broken. (Her fear, not mine.) She wants to walk into the store, eat at the cafe (with her doll, of course) and bask in the insanity that is the American Girl brand. I'm sure we will visit the doll hair salon and doll hospital and I'll find myself at the sale rack (if it even exists) so that I can be a nice mommy and buy her a little something extra.

Will she still ask for an iPod, an iPad, and Taylor Swift tickets this year for her birthday/Christmas? Probably. But I'm leaving that to Santa.

Friday, September 28, 2012

To Forgive, Divine

I think any frequent readers of my blog could guess that I am not exactly a shining  example of Catholicism. I have broken multiple commandments . I consider it my duty to dishonor my father and mother, I take the Lord's name in vain often and creatively, and when my kid asked, I told her Jesus was married. I was a fallen Catholic (which sounds epic and dark, but really just means you don't take communion during mass), moved on to being a lapsed Catholic, and now am what my mom calls a cafeteria Catholic, meaning I pick and choose what I believe. The church and I disagree on gay rights, women as priests and allowing priests to marry, abortion, conversion missions, and a few other odds and ends. I refuse to use the new responses in the missal, sticking with "And also with you" instead of "And with your spirit" (which is clunky as hell and makes me think my patronus is going to come out to shake hands) and I think whomever decided "consubstantial" was a good word for a group response has a really wicked sense of humor.

So obviously, I am going to have a few problems with helping my daughter work her way toward receiving two holy sacraments this year: penance and communion. Last night was our first meeting to explain how it all works. This year, they have changed the system and the entire family gets to go to confession (not together, thank the Lord and all his ponies), but back-to-back. I'll be honest, I don't think I have entered the confessional since pre-Cana [mandatory marriage counseling in order to get married Catholic]. That's almost 12 years of sins, all piled up waiting to be confessed. Father is going to need a bigger booth.

Luckily, the lovely woman running the religious education program talked about this very subject, aka, how to confess your sins without embarrassing yourself or the priest. She started by first explaining the difference between mortal and venial sins (which can be summed up as the difference between death and vanity.) What I found worrisome, however, was that she seemed truly concerned that some of us might have actually murdered someone. Lady, this ain't North Jersey and we are not on The Sopranos. Of course, this has prompted an entire group of second grade moms to ask each other where the bodies are buried and to try to get each other to 'fess up to homicide every time we greet each other. Then she moved on to giving examples of issues we may find awkward to confess. Now, I personally would have gone for the small potatoes, coveting thy neighbor's Coach bags or using the Sabbath to run errands. Nope, this soft-spoken, almost baby doll-voiced women went straight to abortion and porn. (Not just regular porn either, but a porn addiction.) Jesus! I think even the priest popped an eyebrow at that and this was the guy who had already admitted that our confessions go in one ear and out the other. I think he is going to start paying more attention when she enters the booth, don't you?

Plus, who in their right mind is confessing that level of sin on family penance day?. You certainly don't risk talking about that with your husband, kids, and a dozen other families from the parish sitting outside in the pews waiting their turn. Sure, you may go for the out-of-town priest brought in for the day to handle overflow to ensure the parish priest doesn't recognizing your voice, but even then you are taking a risk. If you really feel like that is the day you need to make your soul glossy and clean with the Lord, then by all means, but I am going to stick to the day-to-day sins, thanks so much. While in theory, no one is supposed to be listening, in practice, the booths aren't soundproof, the church is really quiet, and some people have no concept of inside voices.

Luckily, I have a few months to relearn the Act of Contrition and get my sins in order. I am trying to decide if now is the time to commit the big ones, since I'll be forgiven for all, or just stick to perfecting my ability to commit the little ones. Either way, I am going to try to go last in my family. It's bad enough that I worry lightning will strike every time I step into the vestibule, but I certainly don't want to be responsible for giving the priest a heart attack. Somehow, I don't think the other priests will be quite so forgiving about that.

Friday, September 7, 2012

House Rules

My husband and I have an arrangement. It is one of several little deals we have worked out during the course of our marriage to keep both of us happy. I'm not talking the basic, "don't dingle the strippers" or "paychecks are not for beer and lottery tickets" type of stuff. I'm talking the meat and potatoes of day to day life.

For example, we have a rule about cooking. "If I make it, he cannot complain about what time it is served. If he makes it, then I cannot complain about what time it is served." What this boils down to is that I cook early, he cooks late. We are eating in daylight when I'm in charge and by the light of the moon when he's in charge.

There is also a well-known rule about working late. I've mentioned it here before. It's the Barnes and Noble tax. For every egregiously late night, I get a $25 BN gift card. Look, I'm not a monster. I understand that shit happens and sometimes you have to put in the extra time. Those nights don't count. A quick phone call and a reasonable explanation is all I require. However, on those nights when all communication is nonexistent, or "I'm leaving in two minutes" turns into two plus hours, or one late night becomes three late nights, plus the laptop gets broken out as soon as he sits down? I get paid for that nonsense. Why? Why punish my husband for following his own basic, workaholic, human nature? Because it reminds him that there is a price to pay for ignoring his family, for not being home in time to put his kids to bed, for forgetting that when he dies, God isn't going to ask him for his résumé. It's actually sort of sad, it has worked so well that I haven't bought new books in months.

Recently, we had to come up with a new rule. I just joined the PTA and as a result, am expected to attend a multitude of family functions. My husband, the anti-social misanthrope, hates these things with a flaming passion. Hates. So our new rule is our simplest - I go, he doesn't. Our biggest fundraiser takes place on a Friday. I'll be at school from sunup to way, way past sundown. My husband agreed to take the entire day off - with one caveat. He does not have to step even one foot inside the building. He's not getting out of the Father/Daughter dance for love or money and the soccer beef & beer is required for coaches, but everything else? I'm flying solo and he's got the kids.

This all sounds like we have a very distant marriage, but he much prefers to stay home and watch goofy lawyer shows on TV and I way prefer to socialize with the ladies and not worry if he is having a good time. It also saves on babysitting fees. One ticket to an event, zero alcohol, and an extra $20 for the inevitable basket auction is one thing. Two tickets, enough alcohol to get him through the event, double the amount of auction tickets because he gets competitive about seeing who can win, plus $10 an hour in babysitting? That's a whole other thing entirely. Why throw money away so we can look like a happy family? Instead, we can save the money and actually BE a happy family. He always stays up and waits for me and will attentively listen to me vent or gossip and I always smuggle him some dessert and wait to chat until he finishes what he is watching. It really does work out well for both of us.

So, when you see me out without my husband, don't worry that things are rocky at home. Know that I got a kiss on my way out and I'll get another one on my way in and that the drunk guy in the corner singing karaoke at the top of his lung? He isn't with me.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Don't Boo

When I was a child, maybe 11 or 12, my parents took me to the St. Patrick's Day parade in New York City. I don't remember much about it, to be honest. I had a really good view, it is possible I had a friend with me, and the weather was cold.

However, it was the first year they were letting a group of people who were gay march. Whether they were police officers, or a social group, or a dance team - that is lost to the ether. What I do remember is there was a gap in the parade, an unusually long space between one group and the next. As the gay pride group marched toward us, a man to my right started to boo. Loudly. Repeatedly. Enthusiastically. The closer the gay banner got to my section, the more noise he made. Then a gentleman to his left, a tall man, British, with thin hands wrapped in fingerless gloves turned to the naysayer and said, very distinctly, "Don't boo. If you don't agree, don't clap. But never boo."

I have never, ever forgotten that.

Today, CFA is allowing people to boo. Loudly. Repeatedly. Enthusiastically. The one near my hometown is packed, all three adjacent parking lots filled to overflow. One friend in Virginia saw a line wrapped three times around the store. Another friend in Pennsylvania saw 32 cars lined up in the drive-through.

I believe CEO Dan Cathy has the right to free speech. He has the right to say that he does not believe in gay marriage. However, when he uses corporate money (supposedly $3 million so far) to donate to causes that are trying to suppress gay marriage, then he is no longer operating as a private citizen but in his role as corporate employee. And yes, CFA still has that right as a corporation to make a stand one way or another. The Jim Henson Company very publicly just made one in response to CFA by pulling all of its toys, ending any future participation with CFA, and donating all of the money earned so far through the partnership to gay rights. All of this is perfectly within their purview of citizens, corporate and private to make their views known.

My problem is the lines and lines of people who believe that they are best served by showing up to say boo. Their speech isn't free - they are paying $5.25 per sandwich, $3.49 per kids meal, and $2.99 per ice dream shake to say that they do not support gay rights. They are saying boo to someone else's life, to someone else's marriage, to someone else's kids, to their parents, to their family. Every ka-ching of the cash register is another boo, and another, and another.

When a family member is dying in the hospital, friends and neighbors usually lend their support through gifts of food, free babysitting, lawn care, etc. They don't go to the hospital and yell boo through the doors. But today, every person buying a CFA sandwich is doing just that. Instead of holding it open, they are locking it closed, because you see, gays don't have the right to visit their dying partners in the hospital.

When a wedding is celebrated, people stand when the bride comes down the aisle in respect. They don't boo through the vows. But today, every person ordering waffle fries is doing just that. They are jutting their legs out to trip her aisle after aisle so that she can barely make it to the altar. Instead of singing during the ceremony, they are shouting, because you see, gays don't have the right to marry.

Today, people are booing. Loudly. Repeatedly. Enthusiastically.

Just like they did about slavery.

Just like they did about suffrage.

And now they are doing it about same sex marriage.

One day, they will be embarrassed that they booed. That instead of standing by or standing up, they instead kicked the legs out from under others. One day, the taste of that chicken fried in peanut oil, those fries cut in waffle patterns, and those high-fructose corn syrup drinks, loaded in calories and food coloring, will no longer nourish, but sicken then.

You don't have to clap. But never, ever boo.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Hot Times, Summer in the Suburbs

I find myself singing a lot of Annie during the summer. Particularly, It's the Hard Knock Life. That song runs through my head every time I pick up or drop off my children from their various summer activities. As they are busy little beavers, I hear this song a lot. Sadly, the irony is lost on them.

You see, summer is not about sitting lazily around the house, playing happily in the yard, whiling away the time with books, board games, and bike trips around the block. Or, at least it isn't for my kids. My kids get evil when they have nothing but time on their hands. Give them an empty day, chock full of opportunity and they will give me nothing but hell on earth. I don't live in a mansion by any means, but I do happen to have both a living room and a family room, plus a downstairs playroom, and each kid has a toy bin in their own, private rooms. Even with my rudimentary math skills, that adds up to four possible play places for each child at any given moment, not counting the great outdoors. Where do I always find them? In the same room, on the same couch, fighting over the same toy, trying to sit on the same cushion. Why? It's a mystery.

To ensure that I end the summer with the same number of kids I started it with, I enrolled them in multiple summer camps. Of course, both kids can't do every camp, the number of days per week range from two to five, some are at night, some only once per week but over a month-long period, some were free, some were not, etc. (But strangely, all end by noon). An actual spreadsheet was created, color-coded, and continually updated to keep track of who was going where when (and for how much). Oh, and don't forget, we joined the town pool to keep them busy in the afternoons, so a secondary calendar was created to log just how many days we spend there to get the proper ROI at the end of summer.

The town pool has proven to be a Godsend as both kids always find someone their age to play with and can happily ignore each other. The big girl is a free-range swimmer who wanders at will between the diving well and the deep end of the regular pool. The little guy still requires my attention, but he's only allowed in the three-foot deep section and that is well within his comfort level. The pool also helps me keep the fainting goats at bay. The higher the heat index, the harder my stupid syndrome is to manage. As I don't want my kids to do nothing but watch movies in air conditioning all summer, the pool allows me to keep my body temp down while keeping their exercise and socialization up. Win/win!

In between all the various camps and time spent at the pool, there are our weekly trips to the library. My daughter is fully embracing multiple summer reading programs and is on a quest to win as much junk and as many free books as possible. My son, while too little to participate, is enjoying the ancillary benefits of being bought new books because we feel guilty whenever she gets a new one and he doesn't. As a result, our collection of superhero books in growing in leaps and bounds. Then there are of course the movies, the play dates, the BBQ's, the day trips, sporting events, and all the summer fairs. It's exhausting.

Am I complaining? Nope. I know damn well that I am incredibly lucky to spend all this time with my kids. I'm lucky that I can afford to keep them out and about. Growing up, summer consisted entirely of arguing with my father over which was one of was stuck rubbing Ban de Soleil on my mother, a dedicated sunbather who rotated every 30 minutes via egg timer and started every summer beige but ended it burnt umber. She didn't have a buffet of vacation bible schools (religious affiliation not necessary), or sports camps, or story times, or free movies to for me to attend. Cable barely existed and VCR's were still a few years away. I sat and I read indoors (in a haunted house without air conditioning) or I sat and I read outdoors (and tried to time my bathroom breaks with her egg timer).

So, in this summer of heat and drought, the sun will always come out tomorrow/You can bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, there'll be sun - and my kids will be out enjoying it, with or without my direct supervision.    

Friday, July 6, 2012

Where's the Beef?

I didn't go into a stripper movie expecting much. In fact, I was pretty clear that I wasn't interested in the "talky bits." I wanted hot, naked men dancing for my amusement without the hassle of a two-drink minimum and a handful of dollar bills that I am supposed to stick into dirty, sweaty, spangled thongs. I wanted a movie made for women - sweet romance with a hot lead, swoon-worthy secondary characters for comic relief, and at least one really good sex scene.
Sadly, I got nuttin'.
What I got instead was a movie made by men, who, as usual, proved they have no idea what women really want.
I was in a theater full of women ready and waiting for a good time. The initial buzz was happy, giggly, and silly. The first ass shot got a round of applause. The first dance number got some woo-hoos, and there was one "Hey-yah" from the crowd that was not only well-timed, but well-earned. But slowly, as the movie went on, all the life got sucked out of the crowd. The woman two seats to my right spent the first 20 minutes on the edge of her chair, head in her hands, staring at the screen as if she were trying to figure out a way to climb into it. Inch by inch the end of the movie found her slumped into her seat, unable to even muster a smile.
SPOILERS. You want to lose your cherry? Then proceed. But if you want a virgin movie experience, stop reading now.
Yes, it was a stripper movie, but couldn't it have been good as well? Would a full-frontal would have been so hard? (Snerk) There were tits aplenty (as usual), but not one dick shot. I love Joe Manganiello and Matt Bomer. When one has a character is named Big Dick Richie and the other is named Ken, well, I want to see the big dick and I want to know if Ken is anatomically correct. I don't want to see a prosthetic dangling in shadow. I want a full on, Boogie Nights shot and I want it now! Plus, they barely had any lines! I am usually the first to point out that hot men need not speak, but in this case, a little dialogue would have gone a long way. Or, a plot, really. A plot would have been nice. Romance? Romance would have been lovely. Instead, we got a lousy actress (who I am sure was not hired because her father is a studio head), terrible chemistry between her and the lead actor, uncomfortable sexual chemistry between her and the guy who plays her brother, and, of course, she had to be bitchy, condescending, and belittling. She wasn't charming, or intelligent, or funny. She also must have been absolutely hated by the hair and makeup team because while the men all sported flowing locks and perfect tans, I don't even think she wore lipstick.
So, why do I think the movie was made by men who had no idea what women actually like? Let me give you an example. A pretty young thing spends her 21st birthday at the stripper bar, partying with two of the hottest men she has probably ever seen, but she ends the night with a blow job. Men, let me let you in on a little secret. I can count, on one hand, the number of women I know who enjoy giving head. When women are drunk and horny, they want to get laid. LAID. Not swallow.
Here's another example: while the movie starts off auspiciously with a shot of Channing Tatum's ass, we are immediately treated to a scene where he puts his clothes on but the woman keeps hers off. Why does a theater full of women need to see tits? We all have a pair. We can see them every day. We are not impressed. Show me a schlong.
However, the last scene of the movie was by far the most egregious example of men being from Mars and women being from Venus. Finally, our hero and heroine are getting together. While I am not Channing Tatum's biggest fan (a) because judging by his inability to speak clearly, he probably has cow tongue and would be the worst kisser ever and (b) because he has a stupid name - even I will admit that he oozes charm. He's moving in for the kill and finally, we are going to get the honest-to-God sex scene we've been waiting for this entire movie. The crowd is rustling, anxious, waiting for this final release. What do we get? End credits. Are you fucking kidding me? The entire audience let out its breath in one unhappy whoosh. It was like a kid knocking on the bedroom door when it is locked. Reading 50 Shades supposedly gave women blue balls? Well, that last scene in Magic Mike kicked them in the balls.
They couldn't even get the casting right. The secondary character, the Kid, was so soulless, so dead-eyed that he practically had the word "skeevy" tattooed on his forehead. No one was rooting for him. While most of the strippers were easy on the eyes, one of them mysteriously looked like Mickey Rourke. Who wants to see him naked? Matthew McConaughey, a man who spent a considerable time on my list, is now such ancient history that I must have written his name with a quill. You could have used his skin for one of his infamous bongos, it looked so leathery. The plot, such as it was, managed to biff even minor points. One character is thrilled to have earned $230 in one night. My cousin earns FOUR TIMES that much in a single shift bartending. After six years of stripping (and working three day jobs), the hero of the tale has only managed to save $13 grand. Apparently, stripping really doesn't pay that well. Though, perhaps the rent on his beachfront, two-floor house, filled with real wood and lots of light, is setting him back a bit.
So, to the friend who was unable to attend because the movie was sold out -I promise that I will go see a movie with you, but it won't be this one. I'll buy the tickets and the popcorn, but I will not sit through this movie again. I should have just stuck with the trailer - a little flesh, a little music, and a lot left to the imagination.  

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Riders of the Storm

My husband is not a fan of people. Certain people he loves dearly, many he enjoys, and a few he actively dislikes, but the great bulk of mankind could disappear off of the planet and he really wouldn't mind. This attitude toward others is never more apparent than when we are on vacation.
Last week, we took the kids to the Williamsburg area to visit Busch Gardens, Colonial Williamsburg, and Water Country USA. I have an entire system on how to avoid crowds worked out and will scour guidebooks and websites for info on which days, weeks, and months have the fewest number of people in attendance. This is both to avoid lines and to avoid, well, other people. I was never so sad as when my daughter started school and we had to give up going down the shore the second week of September, when the weather was still perfect, but everyone with a child in kindergarten or above was long gone. We only go to Orlando at off-peak times, we try to go to amusement parks mid-week, water parks in the cool of the morning, and we begin every trip by walking to the extreme back of the park and then moving counterclockwise. Crazy? Absolutely. However, this system works quite well for my little family.
Due to this belief that everything is better when there is no one else around to enjoy it, when the weather channel warned of approaching thunderstorms, we headed straight for Busch Gardens. Mid-afternoon, with dark clouds gathering, we got a front row parking spot and headed into the park in the firm belief that the storm (singular) would pass and we would be left in an empty park. So, off we went, jauntily walking toward the entrance as the thunder rolled and hordes of people streamed past in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, my daughter is afraid of both thunderstorms and being locked inside a closed building, which at that very moment, merged into a single keening overwhelming terror that, combined with a raging nosebleed caused by a sudden temperature drop of 25 degrees, caused her to fall into the abyss of uncontrollable hysteria. Within seconds, the drops of both blood and rain increased exponentially and I had to bring my husband into the women's room to try to try to help me calm the poor child down before she bled to death.  All of this happened before we had arrived at the ticket booth. 
Our immediate goal was to enjoy some of the shows the park had to offer while waiting out the storm. Eventually, we were able to coax my child out of her fear cage with the promise of singing and dancing. We made it to the first show with nothing worse than wet feet and exited into promising rays of sunlight. My son (who had not even noticed his sister's descent into madness and was happy to play in the puddles) had been promised the first ride, so we trekked across the park to his promised land - Elmo's World. Upon arrival, we chose a sunny, dry spot to wait for the rides to reopen. Sadly, this was not to be as a lovely young park employee came over to tell us to seek shelter immediately as another severe storm was on its way. Joy. With his help, we plotted a course to the next show and set off. We had to stop multiple times along our route to avoid the worst of the weather, but the number of people we saw kept diminishing which kept me hopeful that when the storm ended, the park would be our personal playground of delights.
Our final destination was an enormous building that could comfortably hold 1500 that was currently holding about 150. As the park-wide announcements changed from "we are experiencing weather delays" to "we are keeping the rides closed for the safety of our guests" to "please seek shelter immediately",  we were safe and dry indoors while the severe storm raged outdoors. Unfortunately, the 60 mile per hour winds, hail, and torrential rain caused interior flooding near the doors as well as some minor leaks in the ceiling. Finally, finally, the storm abated to the point of venturing forth, hopeful that now we would be rewarded with no lines. As I rushed toward the first park employee I saw, asking when I could expect the rides to reopen, she explained very gently that instead of opening the rides, they were actually closing the park.
We choose poorly.
This of course meant that the next day, the park was twice as crowded. As my son refuses to ride anything but basic transportation-inspired rides (bumper cars, trains, very slow moving boats, or the carousel), I had a rather dull afternoon moving from shady bench to shady bench with him. As my daughter begs to ride anything that goes upside down, sideways, with a big drop, preferably into water, my poor husband had quite a different afternoon. At one point, after I had just enjoyed a breezy 20 minute scenic loop around the entire park on a train watching deer frolic and looking fruitlessly for bears, I found him slightly green and wobbly-eyed as he tried to recover from the latest ride while my daughter waited in line for the next nausea-inducing one.  
In the end, a good time was had by all (even with the crowds). Luckily, our next trip of the summer will be with friends so good that one time (not in band camp), the husband almost punched a guy for me. So even if the Inner Harbor is filled with idiots, my little circle will be that much larger and that much more intelligent. But I will still make them move in a counterclockwise formation.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Clip, Clip, Screw

The other night, while flipping channels, I happened upon Extreme Couponing. Now, we all know I watch a lot of crap TV.  While I have been accused of being both a movie snob and a book snob (mostly by people who have NO taste in movies {cough, cough PG}), I am definitely not  a TV snob. I may not watch The Bachelorette, but I watch almost everything else.
To those of you smart enough to change the channel (or to avoid TLC entirely), in each episode two different people go to the grocery store and try to buy as much stuff as possible while paying at little as possible. For example, if Snapple Iced Tea is on sale for $1.00 and there is a coupon for $.50 off Snapple and the store allows the doubling of coupons, then you are receiving that one dollar item for free. If the store does not have a policy that limits the number of either coupons or purchases of a sale item, you can then buy cases of Snapple - all for free. 
Or, if you have a manufacturer's coupon that is MORE than the sale item, say $1.00 off of Snapple Iced Tea, but the iced tea is on sale for $.75 each, then some stores will actually credit you back the $.25 per bottle you purchase.
What I don't understand is why it is necessary to purchase multiple cases of an item. If I need a case of Snapple, it is certainly nice not to have to pay for it. But unless I am throwing one hell of a party for AA members, I certainly don't need more than two, right? Even those lunatics who feel the need to stockpile food and beverages for the end of the world, the zombie apocalypse (Hi M!) , or the Third World War still probably know enough to rotate the expiration dates out now and again. No one wants to face Judgment Day with food poisoning. But you can't possibly drink dozens of cases of Snapple in time to beat the expiration date unless you want to face the end of the world with a mouth full of cavities (and I don't think you can kill anything, undead or not, with bad breath). So why buy more than you need? Last night's episode showed a woman buying at least a dozen gallons of Almond Milk. Isn't that going to expire relatively quickly? Does lack of use negate lack of payment? I certainly think so. I have spent my entire life trying to explain to my mother that just because it is on sale, doesn't mean it is a bargain if you don't actually need/want/use it. She hasn't quite grasped the concept yet but I'm still trying.
Most of the women (and the few men) shown have storehouses of food, cleaning supplies, beverages, and junk food. It's like hoarding, except everything is organized in neat rows. One guy claimed that he donated everything, but he didn't say where or to whom or even how much. I'd be impressed with someone who used their mad coupon skills for good, but even if they did donate the whole stash, it is still unfair to the store and manufacturer  you basically just screwed out of payment. What may seem like a fun game to you ends up being a huge headache for a store manager in a business that already has slim profit margins trying to figure out how he is going to restock the entire Snapple display without the money to pay the distributor.
I also wonder at the wisdom of showing how you screw the system on television. If I owned Snapple and found out someone was advertising how to acquire my product without paying for it, I would immediately contact my marketing team to rectify the situation. No Snapple coupon would be worth more than $.25 and could not be used in conjunction with any other coupon. If I were a grocery store owner, I would immediately set limits on both the amount of coupons allowed (say one per item) and the amount of items allowed to be purchased (say maximum of six).
The coupon craze is conspicuous consumption writ large. The concept of acquiring multitudes of items just to have them, is such an American (and Ferengi) mindset that I can only imagine what other cultures would think of such a TV show. Also, since most of the coupons are for boxed, canned, bagged, bottled, and frozen food, most of what they are eating isn't even healthy. It's all just empty calories filling empty spaces. Either way, I can't imagine this craze will last long. The more the big corporations learn about how the coupons are being manipulated, the more they will change how coupons can be used. When you allow a TV crew to follow your step-by-step process on how to beat the system, it isn't going to take long for the system to change the game.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Smart, Not Pretty

Raise your hand if you like bathing suit shopping. Anyone? Aw shut it Gisele, put your hand down.*Anyone NOT a super model? Alrighty then.

Look, I realize that bathing suit shopping is torture for almost everyone. But when you have triple D's and an ass you can rest drinks on, it becomes a bit more problematic. Personally, I'd like to go back to old-timey bathing costumes. Who doesn't look good in dark blue serge? Add in a cute little ruffled hat and I'd be all set. Sadly, they don't make them anymore. Trust me, I've checked.

What they do make for ladies who lunched on sugar and carbs are bathing suits of such a hideous nature that they could only have been designed by the blind. When you are roughly the size and shape of a couch, surely you don't need to wear clothing that looks like upholstery? I live in Jersey, the land of leopard print, but does it have to be on everything? There is also a ratio of cup size to sparkles that I have yet to understand. So far, it seems like the bigger the boob, the bigger the bling. This means that if I were to buy a bedazzled suit, I'd probably cause temporary blindness if looked at in direct sunlight.

I found all this out during my recent foray bathing suit shopping. While many people recommended Land's End (and their generous free shipping policy), they only makes "soft cup" suits. I need underwire and rigging and possibly even miniature cranes. Land's End is out. Instead, I hit the mall. I wandered through store after store fingering triangles of fabric that would barely cover my areola. I found bottoms that were so small, they should have been sold as dental floss. Finally, broken and dispirited, I wandered into the plus-sized clothing store. Why had I avoided it for so long when I am obviously their target demographic? Two reasons: they have pretend sizing and they appear to charge by the (cheap) yard. If I am going to pay a thigh and wing for an outfit, I at least want to recognize the material. But, when it came to bathing suits, this store was actually fairly restrained. Not only did some come in basic black, but they had built-in bras. While it may have been a win, buying those awful things still felt like a loss. I came home pissed off, depressed, and just plain mean.

This is when Jennifer Weiner stepped in and saved the day and reminded me of one very simple phrase I tell my daughter all the time, which is, "It is better to be smart than pretty."

That night, while I was sitting on the couch brooding, hating myself and my body, I decided to check Twitter. (I have an account mostly so I can follow people.) There, my beloved Weiner was holding a contest to see who could post a picture that included her books but referenced The Bachelorette. I quickly set up a tableau wherein my entire collection of Weiner novels were surrounding a mini-guillotine/bagel slicer where a copy of Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections was placed, ready for death. I titled this piece, "What happens after the rose ceremony." Within minutes, I had a direct message from the author, telling me that she loved my joke and was sending me a free galley copy of her yet-to-be published new novel.

This happy moment, when I won a free book from a great author based entirely on my sense of humor (and knowledge of her cantankerous history with Franzen) pulled me out of my black mood and taught me a very valuable lesson. Over Twitter, she couldn't tell that I was fat. She could only tell that I was funny. Judging by beauty alone, I may have become the person you refer to as, "she has a great personality" or "she makes me laugh" but really, is that such a bad thing? I have told my daughter that it is better to be smart than pretty so many times she can recite it on cue. Well, not to too my own intellectual horn (because based on my SAT scores, I'm not even half as bright as my husband) I am at least smart enough to be funny.

I'll take that as a win.
* Joke lifted directly from my eldest sister-in-law.