Sunday, April 30, 2006

Long & Winded

They say that no time is ever perfect to buy a house or apartment, and if you keep putting it off waiting for the ideal convergence of savings, interest rates, market pricing, etc., you'll be renting forever. I don't know if that's true, but I hate seeing my savings grow over the years and still not be enough to cover a down payment for most of the places I see advertised. But I think I just need to stop stewing about it and get out there. I want to go to at least one open house this afternoon. Put my toe in the water, see how it feels.


Yesterday was a frustrating day. I'd finally made an appointment for an eye exam, after calling ahead and confirming that the place I've been going to over the past few years took my new insurance. I saw the same optometrist, who I really like, and was out in the front picking out frames when one of the employees informed me that, oops, they don't take my insurance after all, sorry. Sorry? So instead of a $10 co-payment, I had to fork out $59 for the eye exam. Then he had the nerve to ask if I still wanted to purchase glasses. I might not have paid for the exam at all except that a)I really like the doctor and it's not her fault and b)I wanted them to give me my prescription so I can just go and buy glasses at another place that takes my insurance. Luckily I was on Montague Street, where optical stores are outnumbered only by real estate agents. (Seriously, there are two of each on every block.) What does this say about Brooklyn Heights? Home of the near-sighted who move around a lot?


The head of our department is retiring, suddenly. Seems like one of those "suggested" retirements although I'm too new to really understand the politics of the situation. There is some fear that this may change the nature of our department, but I'm choosing to be an optimist. Next week we are having a cruise/bon voyage party for him, complete with dinner and dancing. I keep thinking of the booze cruise episode on "The Office." I think I'll stick to Diet Cokes.


(Funny how I always capitalize Diet Coke but never christian or god or jesus. You could do an entire analysis of me based on my punctuation.) (Like my habit of overusing parentheses - and dashes.)


I finished reading Jonathan Safran Foer's "Extraordinarily Loud and Incredibly Close." I'd stopped for a bit because I was revising my own 9/11 related story, and didn't want to be influenced. His novel is about a young boy dealing with the loss of his father who dies in the towers. I loved "Everything is Illuminated," which I think is a brilliant first novel. I went to a reading/book signing when the paperback came out, and he read from an early draft of "Extraordinarily Loud" which was also really good. And it is - but not quite as good. The novel frames the boy's search for answers to a mystery about his father with the grandfather's experience during the bombing of Dresden at the end of the second World War. "Everything is Illuminated" is the story of a contemporary young man's search for information on his grandfather with his grandfather's story during the Holocaust. So not that much of a departure. He's still a strong writer, and there are some wonderful passages, including some great images about the 9/11 tragedy that I wish I'd thought of first. But he uses letters and journal writings (including drawings and photos) so much that I think the "originality" of the structure gets in the way of actually telling the story. Maybe I'm just a traditionalist, but really, there's nothing that fresh or unique about an annotated diary as novel material.

I might just be jealous because, having met Jonathan Safran Foer, I'm forced to face the fact that I will never be a brilliant young novelist. Maybe a brilliant old one, but my chance to be a young hot prodigy are behind me. He's in his late twenties but looks like he's 18. (And he lives in Brooklyn. It's like he's living the life meant for me.)


I still can't really bring myself to completely like the HBO series "Big Love." Some of the characters are really interesting and fun, (the hard-on plagued teenage son, the fifteen year old "pre-wife" of the grizzled old prophet, the ex-football player brother with dreams of running a fish farm), but I still can't get my arms around the idea of polygamy. Not the idea of loving multiple people, but the idea that a woman has to happily accept sharing her man but can't get some nookie on the side herself. If it's okay for the husband to behave perfectly normally as he hops from bed to bed, seems logical that the wife should have the same freedom. Why is it godly for him and sinful for her? I know the entire culture is based on male control, but I really want one of the wives to start looking for a new husband to add to the family.


My lazy procrastination has cost me $948.06. When I left my last job, I received a letter in the mail with instructions for my 401(k) - I could leave it where it was or roll it over. I didn't do anything right away, although to be fair, I had to wait because they screwed up and paid me an extra paycheck. It took them 6 weeks to reverse the direct deposit, which also meant taking back my contribution to the 401(k) from that paycheck. But a month later, without my realizing it, they took out another $948.06. I only found out in March when I finally got my act together to call to make arrangements to close the account and put the money in another rollover account. It took another month for the plan administrators to research the reason (a miscalculation in my eligibility for company match) and only now do I have my check. But if I'd taken my money out before they did that? They would have been out of luck. And I'd be almost $1000 richer - no to mention how much that would become by the time I retire.


I am giving serious thought to getting a blackberry/treo. I know, I know, I'm turning into one of those people. But I don't think I really would - even now I can check my email from any internet browser and I rarely do on nights and weekends, because I like the separation of work and home lives. But there have been occasions where I'm at a trade show or another office or on a train where it would have been easier to deal with email rather than have to wait for a time when I'm busier and it's piled up. But I'm not going to be the person sitting in a restaurant or a movie theater or at a kid's dance recital tip-tapping away. I don't use my cell phone the way other people do, so I don't think it's in my nature.

But the real reason is that I'm a gadget-hound. And with our corporate discount I can get a $750 treo for $315, and the company will pay for the monthly charges after I buy the actual equipment.


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Karma, Sometimes

At 4:15, I woke up to use the bathroom. At 4:30, a car alarm started going off outside my bedroom window. (I'm not suggesting a connection between the two events.) At 4:33, my upstairs neighbor jumped out of bed and clomped her way to her the front window, and then her apartment door, into the hall, and down the stairs. Sound of front door slamming. Of course I went to my window to see where she was going. Maybe she bought a car! What other explanation could there be for rushing out into the night toward a beeping car alarm? Was she planning on glaring at it until it shut up?

Apparently. She paced around it a few times, stood in the street and stared, and then came back inside. Amazingly, it worked, because as she was stomping up the stairs back to her apartment, the beeping stopped.

I still don't get what she expected to do out there. Confront the car's owner? At 4:30 am in a dark Brooklyn side street? Practically in front of the house with the trashy teenagers who I called the cops on once because they were going at each other with baseball bats and broken bottles? Did it ever cross her mind that the alarm went off because someone was maybe breaking into a car? Someone not so savory? (I know, I know, it's more likely it was a pigeon landing on its roof.)

Here's the irony: this same neighbor, who used to be a friend of mine, once berated me for asking her if she could maybe walk a little more quietly in the early mornings as she invariably wakes me up. Among other things, she told me that I need to be realistic about apartment life.

Is it mean of me to be secretly pleased at how annoyed she was at being torn out of bed this morning?

Good morning, dearie.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Thank you for Money (or Smoking Friends?)

I never wrote about "Thank You For Smoking" and it's been two weeks now and the movie has flitted out of my head. (Like a wisp of... oh, never mind.) I don't think that's really a surprise, as it's not intended to be a deep, thought-provoking film that you can't shake. On Elvis Mitchell's "The Treatment," director Jason Reitman said he was most influenced by "Citizen Ruth" and strove to create that same balance of not taking a side in a controversial issue, but to point out the hypocrisy and sometimes the foolishness of both. To a limited extent, he did, but there's a great difference between a highly passionate and divisive issue like abortion and the question of smokers' rights. I was a smoker and I never convinced myself that it wasn't killing me, or that marketing to children was cool. For most people, being asked to sympathize with Big Tobacco is a stretch, while I can imagine audiences walking away from "Citizen Ruth" with entirely different impressions of what they just saw based on their own strongly-held opinions about reproductive choice. I'd recommend "Thank You For Smoking," though, because sometimes it's just straight-out funny, and Aaron Eckhart is fascinating to watch.

"Friends With Money" is packed with actresses I'd watch in almost anything: Catherine Keener, Joan Cusack, Frances McDormand. And, yes, Jennifer Aniston, who the movie wants to revolve around. Unfortunately, she's just not as interesting a character - whether that's the actress's fault or it's inherent in the writing is a mystery. But I could've watched an entire movie about Frances McDormand and her husband, and I wish I could have seen more of Joan Cusack and hers. The best thing about Jennifer Aniston's role is that she meets this somewhat shlubby-looking guy with beautiful eyes and smile and a weight problem that the film ignores. (Check out his imdb bio - he plays mostly security guards and cops. If that's not the sign of a non-leading man's physique... And he's eating ice cream in his publicity photo.) I loved him because he's not Brad Pitt and loved the movie for not shoving it down our throats that he wasn't.

I was momentarily stunned when Frances McDormand's character celebrates her 43rd birthday. (Then depressed as she and her husband debate whether her life is now in a downward spiral. Yes, I'm 43.) Isn't she a lot older than me? Turns out she's 48, so it's not much of a stretch, but I identify more with Cusack (yep, she's 43), Keener (46) - damn, I guess it's all relative.

But they aren't - relatives, I mean. A few reviews I read pointed out the lack of explanation as to why these four women were friends, so maybe I was looking for it, but it did seem like a hole in the film. Even if we accept the older three as contemporaries who could have schooled together, Aniston is clearly too young (37) to have been anything but a bratty younger sister. But I guess if she were, the basic premise of the film (how much do you owe your friends? what keeps your friendships intact?) would be meaningless because of the family bond.

But don't ask me, as I was always curious as to how the "Sex and the City" women met and bonded. No explanation ever given there, either, as far as I know.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

What's Annoying Me This Week

Blind hypocrisy in the morning news. Well, that would cover most of the broadcast, so let me be more specific: Obsessive media attention on the subject of obsessive media attention. Now, I happen to listen to NPR's "On the Media" every week and love looking at the news from the angle of the media approach, but that show is purposely self-analytical and informative. (And available as a podcast, if you care.) I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about an interview I stumbled on while surfing channels at the gym yesterday. It was on one of the morning network shows, and I don't blame myself for not remembering which since they are practically interchangeable (and will be more so when Katie Couric, who at least is memorable to me, checks out.)

The interview was with another member of the press - specifically celebrity press, a reporter/columnist/editor from People or US Weekly or something I don't read. The topic was: the latest celebrity spawn, the child of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. As I tuned in, the interiewee was commenting on how remarkable that the couple managed to leave their house, drive to the hospital/medical facility/birthing center where the baby was born, and come home - all without the paparazzi catching them. The host (Katie C.? Maybe she's not as memorable as I think she is) agreed, and there was a few seconds of chatter along the lines of "Oh, how terrible to have to live like that." And then Katie C./Whoever asked, so what's the deal with this "silent birth" we've heard rumors about?

Hmmm. So let's agree that it's sad that they have no privacy, and then in the next breath, let's dish about the intimate details of their child's delivery. Yes, that makes perfect sense.

Am I the only one that sees the irony in this?

(Yes, I know that most of these celebrities play the media as much as the media plays them, and that they benefit from all of the attention, and so it's also hypocritical of them to demand privacy for some parts of their personal lives and flaunt others (Tom jumping on a couch, anyone?) But I wish mainstream media would stop pandering to it. They want privacy? Stop talking about them! Ignore them! Maybe they'll go away.)

Monday, April 17, 2006

Wee small hours of the morning, times two

Friday night I woke up at 4, went to the bathroom, and then couldn't fall asleep again. It was tragic - I was physically exhausted but after tossing and turning for an hour I finally got up and sat at the computer and didn't move for three hours.

It was a beautiful sunny spring day and so I made myself go outside, ran most of my Saturday morning errands in a daze, and finally attempted a nap in the afternoon. Why are naps always so appealing, until I actually take one? I always wake up feeling more dazed and disoriented than before, although a bit more physically rested.

I purposely stayed up later on Saturday night, thinking Sunday would be a good morning to sleep in (noisy upstairs neighbor having gone away for the weekend and so not around to wake me with her clomping.) I should never count on anything. At 4 am (a trend?) I woke to the sound of a woman moaning in the throes of passion. Now, I've lived in this building for 12 years and I've never heard that. And I don't think that nobody has ever had sex here (we've had a few married couples - oh, whatever, shut up.) I turned on my tv just enough to drown out the sound, setting the sleep timer to 15 minutes (too optimistic of me?), and fell asleep. Only to be woken again TWO MORE TIMES. I narrowed it down to my next door neighbor, whose footsteps I heard moving around after one bout of screams;he walks so heavily that the pictures and mirror I have hanging on my walls shake. Well, apparently he has other talents. Part of me felt happy for him - I've never seen him with a woman in the year he's lived here and this one seemed pretty happy to be with him - but the other, more dominant part, was just disturbed by having to listen to the fruit of his accomplishment. (I considered briefly that he was watching porn, and the woman's voice was from the video, but there was no background music so I discounted that.)

Finally I turned on the fan, which creates a decent amount of white noise, turned the tv on even louder, and went to sleep. Either it worked or she'd finally exhausted herself (or him.) I slept until 8:30, which felt deliciously deviant.

It's not exactly something I can complain about, is it? Without sounding old and cranky and jealous. What would I say, "Hey, congrats on scoring, there, buddy, but can you put a pillow over her head next time?" It just adds to my reasons for wanting to find another apartment. And, yet, how do I determine if another place is as noisy as this one? "Excuse me, how thick are the walls? Can I hear my neighbor having an orgasm?" My mother always taught me to turn on faucets when looking at a place, to gauge the water pressure, or to look at places when it's cold and rainy to see if they are well- heated and leak-proof. (The latter generally for suburban houses, not city apartments.) I don't think I can find a realtor who will show me apartments at 4 am just to check out the acoustics.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

I had a dream.

The other night I dreamed, again, that I was at my mother's farm, but not my mother's real farm, but the very different-looking farm that in the dream I know is hers. My brother was there, and my mother, and my niece, and she was throwing a tantrum and now I can't remember the details, but we were all angry, and I went outside to get away from her and the sky was pink and red like the sun was about to set only against the brilliant colors hovered hundreds of small dark aircraft, silent and still. There was one just above us and I knew that we had to run and hide somewhere and my brother came out and then we were running toward one of the barns, trying to find a deep cellar to hide in, and my niece didn't know what was going on, so caught was she in her own misery, and the plans began to move, slowly, and I could just see them, black and ominous against the beautiful sky, and I knew that they were sent to kill us and we could not get away, there was nowhere to hide, there were just too many of them.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

More Odds & Ends

Last night, I voted in my first interactive poll using my remote control. It just popped up on my screen during "Top Chef" and I looked at my remote and realized, hey I have those same three buttons! It appeared to be just a Brooklyn/Queens Time Warner poll - not sure if they are doing it in other areas or this was a test. I only managed to vote once, as I missed the other questions, so conditioned am I to ignore the boxes of words that sail/pop/wiggle into the bottom fifth of the tv screen. Remember when tv was free of that? When you only had to watch one thing at a time? I started thinking that producers these days must have to be very careful not to stage anything that has anything significant going on in the bottom of the frame, because it will invariably be blocked by a reminder that "Deal or No Deal is on Wednesday!"

Oh, the poll: 56% of people think cooking is the hardest part of hosting a dinner party, 25% think it's cleaning, and 19% think it's the guest list.


A woman at the gym called me a bitch. She was on an elliptical machine next to me, gabbing on her cell phone, so I asked her to stop, as it's prohibited in the club. She made a face and told her phone-partner that she had to go because of some bitch. Yeah, I don't think so. I put up with having to overhear people's inane one-sided conversations on the street, in restaurants, in line at the drug store, on trains - and I say nothing. If I asked you to stop your jabbering when we're standing on line at Starbucks, maybe then I'm a bitch, but when I'm in a place where someone has decided it's not allowed? Nope. Just taking advantage of the ability to work out without knowing your plans for after work.


Here's something I don't get: walkie talkie calls. I saw an ad that boasted "Free Walkie Talkie calls!" I was astounded - do you usually pay for them? Are they above and beyond the free normal calls you get with your phone? Because then I'm just clueless as to their purpose. I figured they must be the cheapest way to have a conversation, because otherwise, who would use them? I mean, other than those who just want to annoy the people around them ten times as much as a normal cell phone call, since not only do we get to hear that person's side of the conversation, but that of the person on the other end, not to mention those delightful and loud beeps that start and follow each. No, really, that was always an EXTRA cost? Can we make them more expensive instead?


I rented "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" as one of my last Netflix rentals. My free year is almost over and I don't think I used it enough to start paying. In fact, the guilt of seeing the red envelopes sitting there unopened for weeks was just too much. Anyhow, "Sisterhood" was a pretty bad movie, with so many cliches I was audibly moaning. At least Alexis Bledel was less annoying than usual - I really can't stand her on "Gilmore Girls." Her voice grates on me like nails on a chalkboard (or for me, the squeak of fingers running along guitar strings - you know that sound? - practically sends me into convulsions.) I find it hard to describe exactly what she sounds like to me - like she has a mouth full of marbles or her jaw is wired shut or she's been told if she modulates her voice more than two notes she'll be shot by a sniper. I only recently learned that English is her second language, although I'm not sure if that's what it is.


I saw a trailer for "The Sentinel" starring Michael Douglas and Kiefer Sutherland. I don't know why Kiefer took the part unless he really doesn't mind being typecast, or he's too lazy to learn another part, because it looks exactly like "24" on the big screen. Look, there's Jack Bauer holding a gun, saying "Drop your weapons!" Almost every clip he was in could have been a preview for next week's "24." Well, except that he was wearing different clothing in some of the scenes. Maybe that's what he considers a "stretch?" More than one wardrobe change?


On Saturday I saw "Thank You for Smoking" which I'll talk about in more detail at another time. But I found myself calling it "Thank You for Not Smoking" when I asked for the tickets, and several times since. I think it's conditioning.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Why I Stop Watching 24

I'm losing interest in the tv show "24" again. It's happened every season since the first, although this year I hung on longer than most. I think I've figured out what my issue is; it's a lack of a strong season-long story arc. If that seems contradictory to the very nature of the premise of the show, it is. But bear with me for a moment as we look at this current season.

[SPOILER ALERT: If you are not currently up to date with Day Five, stop reading here because I'm going to give all kinds of shit away.]

In the first episode, ex-President Palmer is assassinated, while attempts are made (successfully and unsuccessfully) on the lives of three others. The mystery is solved by episode 5. We know who did it and why. There is a mole in CTU - we learn who it is shortly after we realize there is one. There is a mole in the White House - yup, in the very next episode we get to see him confess and kill himself. The airport hostage crisis in episode two is averted in episode four and turns out it's just a ploy to remove nerve gas canisters. We find out who's behind that, too, and what they're after. Etc., etc. No mystery lasts more than one or two episodes before resolving itself and revealing another related one.

I get that it's difficult to maintain a level of interest over multiple episodes, and that the structure of the show (one hour in real time each 42 minute show) also has to offer a weekly dose of satisfying drama, but I find it tiring. After awhile I just don't care because it's all going to work itself out in a week or two anyway, and I've already forgotten what set us on this trajectory. I'm satisfied that I know who shot Palmer and I don't feel compelled to watch any more. If that were still a question, I'd probably be hanging on every episode looking for clues, waiting for the big reveal.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Over and over

Warmer weather (well, except for the freak snowfall yesterday), spring breaks, easter vacations - all of these are conspiring to bring more tourists into the city. I was in Times Square last week for a business event and nearly bowled over by the large clumps of matching sweatshirted teens on every block. I'd almost forgotten what it's like, since downtown is not quite as popular. Unless, of course, you work in an office complex that has public spaces with large walls of windows looking out over Ground Zero.

It's odd to have people lined up taking photographs as I hustle past carrying a stack of brochures with my corporate id dangling from my neck. I'm immersed in my normal workday routine and they are attempting to experience something profound and meaningful. I'm not sure how I feel about it. I want to be cynical and call out, "Nice construction site, huh?" but truthfully, I can understand why they are drawn to staring at it. The idea of so many people killed so suddenly, so brutally, is incomprehensible and so you find yourself doing seemingly shallow things to try to get close to it, to try to gain some kind of insight that will settle it in your mind. But I also think that looking at that construction site, at the roads and ramps and PATH trains and trucks, can never be the same as seeing the piles of rubble, the clouds of smoke, the destruction. Looking at the posted photographs of the towers will never do justice to how massive they really were, how impossible it is to grasp that they disappeared. I almost feel sorry for people now who stand in awe of what is there now, because it can never represent the real horror. And ultimately, that's why they are there, isn't it? To share in the pain?

It's strange for me, too, as I have always worked in midtown before, and while I had visited the World Trade Center and the surrounding blocks on occasion, I have now spent far more time in this neighborhood than in the entire seventeen years I've spent working in Manhattan. So my experience, my true experience, is the construction site I pass twice a day, and less and less the columns of smoke I saw billowing up Fifth Avenue as I crossed on 42nd Street as the first tower fell.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

LL Zuzzzza

I don't consider myself a hip-hop fan, but watching MTV and VH1 in the early mornings at the gym has exposed me to music I would have otherwise avoided. (Both stations show actual music videos in the early am - shocking, I know! Not a tepid reality show or talking-heads pop culture show in sight!) Lately I have become somewhat obsessed with LL Cool J's "Control Myself" video. There is something about the way he licks his lips and "zuzzazuzzzazzz"es at Jennifer Lopez that makes me... well, understand why Ladies Love Cool James.

Spring? Really?

After a week of warm and sunny weather, it's now cold and rainy. They are even saying we might see snow flurries today. Ugh. I cleaned my closet over the weekend, packing up the thick winter clothes in exchange for lighter, summery ones. It always happens that there is one last cold spell after I do this, so I am banking on this really being the last.

Since I've outgrown most of my winter clothes (as in shrunk enough that they look ridiculously clown-like), I had little to pack away. I filled three shopping bags with discards before opening the summer clothes boxes and discovering even more that are now too huge to wear. Final result: 5+ shopping bags for the thrift store. If there is a size 18 woman out there heading for Housing Works for career clothes, you are about to hit the jackpot.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

At Sea

I went to the aquarium last weekend with visiting family. It's funny, nobody ever realizes how much fun the place is until they go. I've had that reaction from other people in the past. The aquarium is at Coney Island, and even on a non-summer day you can look out over the sand and the ocean and be reminded that we are, really, a coastal city.
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