Archive for March, 2008

Mar 31 2008

Book Report

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I seem to have felt increasingly frivolous lately:

An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England, by Brock Clarke

It’s been a long time since I was as taken with a book as I was with this astonishing, witty novel. The last time was Jeanette Wall’s heart-rending, yet inspirational memoir, The Glass Castle, and before that (you guessed it), Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. With a fresh, unique voice, Clarke gives us the unlikely story of a teenager who accidentally sets fire to Emily Dickinson’s house, killing a husband and wife in the process. He does his time, is released from jail, and starts a new life. But he can’t escape his past, especially when writers’ homes start going up in flames again.

A tragi-comic delight, from start to finish.

Bridge of Sighs, by Richard Russo

It’s been six years since Russo’s tour de force, Empire Falls (the mini-series was, unusually, as good as the book), so I was more than ready for one of Russo’s guided tours of small town New York State. In all fairness, I will disclose that I have a sentimental attachment to small town NY, having been brought up there (mostly) and to Russo’s poignant portraits of everyday, small town life. As with Jane Austen, it’s a small canvas, but painted with great richness.

Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, by Dana Thomas

Thomas knows whereof she writes: she writes for the New York Times style magazine, that staple of my Sunday reading, and covered fashion for Newsweek in Paris for 12 years. This gives her access to the big guns of the big luxury houses, gets her behind the scenes at factories and offices, and gives us a peek into the secrets of the world’s most famous designers and brands. Sadly, luxury brands are now almost entirely owned by huge conglomerates, and few women wear couture. But for the very wealthy, true luxury is still available – at a price. And the rest of us can read all about it.

The Deep and Other Stories, by Mary Swan

I went looking for Ms. Swan’s latest book, The Boys in the Trees, but the library didn’t have it. They did have this earlier work, and by page 7 I was completely enchanted, in a different world. Graceful, lyrical, with characters popping in and out of stories. Unexpected. Moving.

I’m going to have to buy the new one.

The Little Lady Agency and the Prince, by Hester Browne

The third in a series of fizzy books about a well brought up London girl who opens an agency to help hapless men. Not in the traditional way, but helping them to buy stylish clothes, get good gifts for their girlfriends, improve their manners, break up gracefully, and other things that most men just can’t manage on their own.

When I was at the hotel waiting for my things to arrive, I ran out of books so I picked up the first in the series at the local Borders, and couldn’t wait to read the second one. Great escapism, lots of fun, like a champagne cocktail beside a Riviera pool.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon, by Crystal Zevon

What with the excellent Californication (a must-see; just get past the silly title and even sillier first scene and it’ll charm the pants off you) constantly playing Zevon songs and/or referring to them, and at least two of the New York Times book critics choosing this book as one of their top ten of the year, I had to check it out. I couldn’t put it down. You don’t have to know anything about Warren Zevon (I didn’t) to be fascinated by this book. He knew everybody and did everything. As he put it himself, “I was Jim Morrison for a lot longer than he was”. Amazing.

The Spare Wife, by Alex Witchel

The title refers to the glamorous former model and current socialite Ponce Porter, who acts as a “spare wife” to both people in a couple, equally helpful to husband and wife without being threatening. Quite a feat, as is her being a pro bono lawyer who never gets up before noon.

Her perfect existence is threatened when a power-hungry assistant editor at a well-regarded magazine learns Ponce’s deepest and darkest secret and threatens to expose it. But Ponce won’t give up without a fight.

Set in the glittering high society of present-day New York, it’s all surface and no substance.

Gossip Girl, by Cecily von Ziegesar

Apparently her real name and pretty much her real life, since she grew up on the Upper East Side and went to a fancy private school, like the girls in the book. The drama! The drinking! The heartaches! The shopping! Frivolous fun, and I’ve already started downloading the TV series. What can I say? I’m the world’s oldest teenager.

Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella

I can’t help myself, I’m a “Shopaholic”-aholic, even though I know their heroine is irresponsible and the consequences of her actions would be anything but amusing and easily resolved in real life. Reality, whether on TV or in your life, is overrated in my opinion, especially when your current reality includes the shopping cart people and buying groceries at Lucky. So I need my escapism, and I need it bad.

Shopaholic Becky is missing from the latest effort, replaced by the delightfully named amnesiac Lexi Smart, who wakes up in the hospital one day to find that she had a car accident. She can’t remember a thing, including her gorgeous millionaire husband, her insanely luxurious apartment, and her high-powered job. Is her glamorous life everything it seems to be? Will Lexi regain her memory? It’s a fun premise and a romp of a read.

On deck:

The Monsters of Templeton

Like You’d Understand Anyway

Later, At the Bar

Summer at Tiffany

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Mar 27 2008

Officially Cute

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The bunny makes up for the bad paint job on my front door.

I was surprised and delighted by the mail earlier this week. And it’s not even my birthday*.

I heard a clunk in the mailbox as I was doing my favorite form of multi-tasking: working on the couch with the TV on. Even Bewitched wasn’t enough to stop my Curiousness from immediately checking out the mail. Also, any excuse to pause in working is a good excuse as far as I’m concerned.

Making sure the curious cats stayed inside – I never let them get the mail – I peeked in the mailbox. It was full of intriguing packages, which would remain a mystery less than ten seconds longer.

One in particular was remarkably heavy, and addressed to my name in its entire non-glamorosity (all you expectant mothers out there: don’t inflict something as dull as “Susan Jean” on someone who may well grow up to be far too fabulous for such a dull label – you can do sparklier than that!), so of course that was first.

Guess what it was? My license plates, at last! For some reason, there were also three extra sets of keys with the plates, so baby, if you drive my car, you can use your own set of keys. And in one of the envelopes, my fetchingly pink title to the car. It?s official.

The other star of that day’s haul was the adorable bunny ornament pictured above, from my former neighbor P, to celebrate Easter, the equinox, spring…you decide. P keeps me up to date on the neighborhood (a mutual friend sold her entire show of 38 sculptures to a single collector; my former pad is now, sadly, being used for storage) and sends me surprise cutenesses in the mail. For Valentine’s, I got two perfect handmade chocolates and an eraser with a heart on it.

It’s nice to feel loved. And to have your license plates.

*Though it should be noted that it’s just over two months until the most important day of the year. And there are zillions of things on Etsy that I would love. And I’d love you for giving them to me.

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Mar 19 2008

Miss Suzy’s Neighborhood

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The secret stream

I walk to the corner store through the early twilight. I love this time of day, when the sky is an ethereal blue, just about to darken, the lamps start glowing through windows, the stars begin to wake up. I pass by a bower of palm trees, unpruned, the wind rattling the stiff leaves, and notice that there is a little stream. A lemon tree stands sentry and ivy grows beside it. The rippling water is golden in the setting sun. It?s like a little secret, a little gift. The world is quiet here.

When I arrive at the store, someone?s being arrested. The police car lights are flashing and the police are bustling around with their arrest duties. Makes a change from people being arrested and their cars towed right across the street, I think as I go into the store. In the store, I notice that they actually sell Thunderbird, Night Train, and Boone?s Farm* wine. I don?t think I?m their target market. I?d like to take a picture, but I can?t imagine that would go over very well. I?m already being eyed suspiciously by the cashier.

On my way back home, I think of how different it must have been here in the 1920?s, when my house and most of the neighboring houses were built. It would have been quieter: no freeway, few cars rushing down the narrow roads. Most houses don?t have garages, or if they do, they?re clearly built long after the houses. One house has alyssum carpeting its driveway with white blossoms. I?d love to go back in time for just a day to see the way it looked then. I imagine its original residents would be shocked at the way it is now.

*When I got home, I just had to Google these fine vintages. The reliable sources at BumWine inform me that all are made by our friends at Gallo, the same ones who merrily advertise their “premium” wines. Surprisingly, these are not listed on their website. Apparently they also made Ripple, as popularized by Sanford & Son, back in the day, though it’s no longer manufactured. Wonder why it didn’t make the cut?

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Mar 17 2008

Thinking of You

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My father would have turned 77 today.

He might have gone up to town and visited a gallery, maybe the Tate or the National, or done some research at the University library, or edited his journal, or gone for a walk on Wimbledon Common. He would almost certainly have done some gardening, spring being so near and his garden being so near to his heart.

Whenever I visited him, one of the first things we did was take a tour of the garden, with Dad pointing out the new additions and features (the one I liked best was the little table and chairs set above the goldfish pond which looked over the whole garden toward the house). At breakfast, we’d watch the birds in the garden while we had our toast and coffee and planned the pleasures of the day.

He would also have planned a menu meal, even though he never cared much about his birthday, or about fuss of any kind, especially when it came to himself, but an excuse for a menu meal could not be passed up. So here’s my menu meal for my father’s 77th birthday. It’s still his birthday, and it always will be.

17th March, 2008
Happy Birthday, Dad

Sole with Fennel, Watercress & Grapefruit Salad

Local new asparagus

Guenoc Pinot Grigio 2005

Assorted cheeses

I think he’d like the local aspect of the menu, most of it from farmers’ markets, and he was never one for dessert (or “pudding”, as my stepmother calls it), always preferring cheese, and perhaps just one more drop of port…

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Mar 12 2008

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Mar 09 2008

Doesn’t Work for Me

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My boss observed recently that “nothing works anymore” (I hasten to add he did not, at least at that point, mean Me), but rather the world in general, and he may be right. The evidence is certainly piling up in the chaos I call my life:

Cable & Internet
You guessed it, more fun and frolics with yet another utility company. In this case, the internet has the work ethic of a particularly lazy and capricious sloth. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes, just to make it interesting, it stops working in the middle of something. This is especially effective when the user has been lulled into a false sense of security by the internet service actually working for a day or days at a time*.

The service itself is bundled into the phone and TV cable, and though my understanding of such esoterica is extremely limited, I will just say that when the cable guys come to “fix” the internet, nothing works for the duration. The phone unexpectedly cut me off during a very important conversation with the fabulous K, which is how I learned this hard way.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have seen more of more cable guys than I have of my friends and family. One visit lasted more than three hours, during which they changed all the cables, climbed around under the house, and had incomprehensible consultations with still other cable guys by radio.

The internet remained unmoved.

On the most recent visit, I was still in my pajamas and just waking up in the living room (see “Bed” below) when the latest guy in the series appeared. They are supposed to call first, but this guy didn’t get the memo, since he just turned up, peering in the door at PJ-clad Self. It was quite embarrassing. Or like the beginning of a porn movie. “Did you call for…service?” “I certainly did!”

Bed
Somewhere between here and there, the salt flats of Utah and the Donner Do Not Pass Go, my bed was mortally wounded. I did not become aware of this important fact until I got into bed, having been fully preoccupied with checking off the list of my earthly possessions as they were unloaded from the giant truck into my tiny house and wondering where I was going to put everything.

So the movers put the bed back together here, as they taken it apart there, and either didn’t notice or didn’t care that the center beam, which supports the whole cheap IKEA thing, was broken. Possibly they thought it would be funny for me to learn this the hardwood floor way after nearly a month of inflatable bed hell.

Either way, I was summarily dumped like a first wife when the trophy wife rears her cellulite-free rear. I propped up the broken beam with bricks, but this was a band-aid on a fatal wound. Since I now had all my all-too-many belongings, I got out the inflatable bed I kept on hand for guests. It features a sort of stand on which the inflatable mattress resides. As I unpacked it, I noticed that the stand

has a disturbingly bier like appearance.

I should have realized this was a sign, because the inflatable bed died a thousand deaths. At least it was already on the bier. All I had to do was give it a proper burial.

The dead IKEA bed, on the other hand, got an improper non-burial. I had to pull it apart with a hammer, and discovered that it was cardboard inside. It’s always upsetting to discover that someone you’ve been sleeping with is not who you thought they were. The remains of the bed remain in my driveway until I can figure out an inexpensive way to get them to the dump.

I went bed shopping, and discovered that they are surprisingly expensive (like children’s clothes, where the amount of fabric is in inverse proportion to the price). I actually ended up buying one from Wal-Mart. While I was waiting for it to arrive, I slept on the pull-out couch in the living room like the early Mary Richards, hence the close encounter with the cable guy (see “Cable and Internet” above). On the bright side, it has yet to collapse, but I still can’t believe I resorted to Wal-Mart.

I have the worst bed karma ever.

Car
The car itself is fine, despite the ticket, but I still haven’t received my license plates. It’s been three months since I bought it, so this may be a record. I finally made an appointment at the DMV, and and when I arrived there and saw the line and its huddled masses quality (I?m sure they were all yearning to be free of the line), I was glad I did. I eventually learned from a girl named Brazil that the dealership didn?t do the required smog check, or, if they did, failed to report it. I checked my bill of sale, which indicates the smog check was done, and, more importantly, that I paid for it. Brazil suggested that I call the dealership, so I did. They said they’d call me back.

They didn’t.

I called the dealership twice more. The last time, I refused to hang up until I got an answer, any answer. Eventually, I was assured that they?d submit the necessary paperwork to the DMV and I?d receive my plates in two weeks. Now, where have I heard that one before? I?m hoping that it just slipped through the cracks at the time I bought the car and that they really will do the paperwork this time. I?d hate to have to go to Fremont and wait for it. I?d rather wait at home, even if I am waiting for Godot.

*Great. Now I have that One Day at a Time theme song in my head. As if the constantly barking dogs next door weren’t enough.

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Mar 07 2008

Politics Suzy-Style

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I usually leave serious topics like politics to greater and wiser blogs than mine, but the need to complain has outweighed more weighty considerations.

Is it just me, or have the primaries gone on forever? I think they started when I was approximately 18, and now look! There are either too many states (really, 50 does seem a little excessive) or too many primaries. Isn’t there some way of streamlining this process? I can’t believe we have eight count ’em months until the actual elections. That’s almost a whole year, you know. Almost a whole year of bickering that would be considered petty in a grade school school yard. Almost a whole year of pointless, repetitive rhetoric. Almost a whole year of boredom. And you know how I feel about that.

Unable to escape the political tide every time I put the TV on (it’s either the primaries or Britney Spears, take your pick), I noticed that Barack Obama’s ears stick out in a truly comic manner. Now that I?ve noticed, I can?t stop staring at them whenever he?s on TV. I also think his name sounds like a noise a bird would make on ?The Flintstones?, maybe one of the ones they have doing all the work. ?Ba-ROCK, Ba-ROCK!? Something like that. I wonder if he ever wishes his parents had given him a middle name like Steve instead of Hussein. I did vote for him, though, in my spare time when I wasn?t musing over his name or mentally making over Hillary and then giving up on it.

As for the Republicans, I’m glad that Huckabee dropped out, not only because he’s a bananaheaded weirdo (“training our children to be our replacements”), but because it would be so embarrassing to have a president named Huckabee. It’s too silly. Maybe in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, but not in the real world.

Whenever I hear McCain’s name, I think of frozen food. Coincidentally, his wife’s face is so frozen that she looks like a scary doll. Barbie for First Lady?

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Mar 04 2008

Feeding Time at the Zoo

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Audrey wonders if she has a new sister

Audrey kept biting the sequins off the toes of my slippers, so I got new terrycloth ones with kitty faces on the toes. OK, I saw them on the way to Safeway yesterday and had to have them. Fi’ dollah! Fi’ dollah! Anyway, I had to try them on as soon as I got home, even before the groceries were safely put away from prying paws. Audrey was totally mystified by them, and kept sniffing them suspiciously, then looking up at me as if to say, “What the…”

I’m sorry to tell you that Audrey isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. In fact, she may be the butter knife. Adorable, yes (hence her official title of The Adorable Audrey Grey). Intellectual, no. The intellectual slack is picked up by The Beautiful June Bug, who is too clever for my own good.

I feed the kittens (they were 8 months old two days ago) twice a day. Of course they get fabulous, though repetitive food. I have to hide the bag in one of the few kitchen cupboards that actually closes, since June is accomplished at opening doors of all kinds. You can tell I learned this the hard way, because the bag is taped shut from all those secret snacks.

So twice a day (bi-daily?) I ask the kittens if they’re hungry. They race into the kitchen, where they proceed to mill around under my feet, making it almost impossible to extract the food and get it in the bowls without tripping or paw injury on all sides.

Once I get the food in the dishes (and June has grabbed the scoop at least twice to make sure she got everything that was coming to her), June starts eating and I go to look for Audrey. For some reason, when I put the food in the dishes, she runs away. So I have to go and get her and persuade her to come with me. I promise I’m not taking you to the vet! Finally after I capture her and place her wriggling body in front of her familiar bowl she looks up at me questioningly, as if I had given her a particularly difficult calculus problem to do.

Eventually they both eat, while somehow conveying that feeding time was far too late and the food disappointing. And such small portions.

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Mar 02 2008

Last Reel

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I really should fill you in on the rest of the Film Noir Festival instead of blathering on about mundanities like my utility bill.

I soon learned that parking is nearly impossible in the Castro. I never had to worry about this during the halcyon days of living in the city: I either walked or took a cab. Sometimes I’d resort to public transit, but all the really important things, like the office, restaurants, gym and the lingerie store were within walking distance. And why waste valuable real estate on a parking lot? I discovered a street up the hill where there were no meters and am inordinately proud of my secret Castro parking space. I’ll tell you where it is if you come out and visit. I might even show it to you personally.

On with the show.

On Day Two, I saw Conflict (1945), which is widely regarded as the “lost” Bogart film, and is not available on DVD. Bogart and his then-wife, Mayot Methot, were known at the time of filming as “The Battling Bogarts”, and many people feel this played into his portrayal as a wife murderer with a crush on his wife’s sister. After spectacularly disposing of the troublesome spouse in question, he is haunted by her presence, smelling her perfume, glimpsing her on the street. Will his demons or Sydney Greenstreet catch up with him first?

Coincidentally, the woman Bogart couldn’t wait to get rid of is the same one Joseph Cornell was obsessed with: Rose Hobart. Cornell even took footage of one of her movies, cut everyone else out, colored it his favorite blue, and with a wild leap of imagination, called it…Rose Hobart. It is his most famous film. Like everything else, including your third birthday party and the time you stole that money from your mother’s purse, it’s on YouTube.

Also unfortunately unavailable for home viewing is Roadhouse (1948), with a sultry, sexy Ida Lupino stirring up trouble between friends Richard Widmark and Cornel Wilde at a small town roadhouse. Any movie fan knows you’d better not cross Richard Widmark, and after he loses the girl, he loses it and makes life hell for all concerned. With Celeste Holm in her always reliable gal pal role, and Ida Lupino singing torch songs in lam?. And driving Cornel Wilde wild in her tiny shorts and impromptu bathing attire. Yowza.

The final film was the bleakest, Night and the City (1950), with the most radiant star, the gorgeous Gene Tierney. Tierney plays a trusting woman in love with a scheming hustler played by our old friend Richard Widmark. Dark in every sense of the word, it ends in disaster. No happy ending here, but beautifully filmed on the mean streets of London and absorbing in its headlong rush to ruin.

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