21 September 2016

In Which My Mother Eats An Apple

Today would have been my mother's 81st birthday. Would have been.

Since she's no longer here to celebrate with nine times nine candles, I have to remember her here, eating an apple, sometime in the 1950s, when she was in college.

I've always liked this picture - the red in the foliage, the red apple, the red red lips, the red fingernails. The grey of the wood fence / rock wall matching the grey sweater. The oh so turned up jeans. Jeans! The dorky socks. The bottle of wine, clutched in her hand, the open brown bag it came from.

Who took the picture? Is it the photographer's shadow at the lower right? What kind of shoes is she wearing? Where are they?

Happy birthday, Moky. I'm sorry you can't tell me the answers to all of these questions.

06 September 2016

The Once Good Grey Lady, or, here comes USA Today

I am annoyed at my newspaper of record. I have been reading the New York Times since I was a child. I remember the ENORMOUS headline when Nixon resigned. I remember when they went from 8 columns to 6. I remember when it was truly grey - there were no color photographs or advertisements.

Last week, I learned that they had dropped coverage of suburban arts, restaurants, and theater. This is a terrible move. Not only is it a disservice to the institutions that will no longer be covered, it's a disservice to readers who might frequent those institutions.

I grew up in one NYC suburb and now live in another. For all intents and purpose, The New York Times is my local paper. I want to hear about openings at the museum a couple of towns north, and what an objective writer thinks about the new restaurant at the train station down the hill from me. And the flip side is that those institutions need the imprimatur of the Times for their success.

Days after I heard that metro coverage was being curtailed, I spotted a little announcement:

Right. The New York Times is upping their coverage of California, while jettisoning coverage at home. So I can find out what's happening 3000 miles away, but not in my own backyard.

Then, adding insult to injury, I read the really nice New Yorker profile of restaurant critic Pete Wells, only to learn that Pete's gonna be reviewing restaurants in California.

Sigh. They stop covering local venues, and start reviewing restaurants in Santa Monica. It makes me spitting mad.

I think the good grey lady has downwardly mobile aspirations to become USA Today.

18 August 2016

Always Send A Condolence Card

The other day I came across something on the intertubes that struck me, hard. It turns out to have been posted more than 10 years ago - on NPR's All Things Considered - but good things are still good, 10 and more years later. Except eggs. Eggs are not good 10 years down the road.

Back to NPR. Always Go To The Funeral. It's a lovely little essay which says just that: you should always go to the funeral, because it means so much to the living.

A couple of weeks ago, the father of an imaginary friend died. I've never met her in the flesh, though I sent her a copy of Jenny Lawson's book for her birthday last month, and she sent me a wonderful hand knit scarf about 10 minutes after we'd met online. She is indeed a friend, though until I've had a chance to hug her and share a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc with her she will continue to be imaginary. It's a term of art, yo.

Last weekend, the sister of a local acquaintance died. She's someone I know her mostly from Facebook because we poke sticks at similar town- and school-related issues, but I run into her at the farmer's market from time to time, so, not imaginary. I had never met her sister.

Stumbling on Always Go To The Funeral in the aftermath of these two arms-length deaths, something resonated deeply in my soul.

I would like, therefore, to offer a corollary, or perhaps a subtitle.

Always Go To The Funeral. And if you can't, Always Send A Condolence Card.

Honestly - get out a card, or your good writing paper, and a pen, and write two or five sentences, and put it in the mail with a live stamp on it. It is the least that you can do, and in my book, it's acceptable if you have never met your imaginary friend's father or your casual acquaintance's sister.

10 August 2016


1. Babysitter. One family paid me by check, $2 and $3 at a time. Another had The Story of O on the living room bookshelf.

2. Mail sorter at Publishers Clearing House. We sorted the incoming sweepstakes entries by hand - and ripped the corners off of all the postcards that had uncancelled stamps. I think I didn't buy a stamp for about four years.

3. Legal Assistant at a small family owned law firm. I sorted a lot of paper. When I became a mother upteen years later, that same lawyer drafted wills for my husband and me.

4. General office worker (typing, bookkeeping, filing) for a production music library. One day a tiny black cat wandered in the front door. She weighed 2 pounds on the mail scale. I took her home and my mother named her Peeve - her pet peeve.

5. European Sales Representative for that same production music library. I'm not sure that I earned them back the expense of sending me to London for four months, but I had a good time. The lasting result, though, is that I'm not allowed to give blood: too much time in the UK and I'm at risk of mad cow.

6. Records Department Clerk at a big New York law firm. Friday lunch was usually hamburgers and beer. On an extreme Friday, it was more than a pitcher of beer per person. Filing in the aftermath was not so good.

7A. Office Services Special Projects Assistant at that same big firm. Did I even have a title? I had a wonderful boss who set me loose on all sorts of odd projects, like finding a new cafeteria vendor and rethinking the office supplies department and planning alternate transportation in case the MTA carried through with a threatened transit strike.

7B. Teaching Assistant while in graduate school. All the undergraduates at Columbia had to take a basic music appreciation class, so all the graduate students in the music department had to teach it. I actually loved teaching that class; it taught me a lot about what I know and what I can do. But I never wanted to teach again afterwards!

(7A and 7B were contemporaneous.)

Somehow, I have never worked as a waiter or a sales clerk or any other job that requires regular interaction with the general public. It's probably for the best.

Your turn, if you haven't already.

07 July 2016

#TBT Child In Shopping Cart

Throwback Thursday to ... back when she was a toddler, or a month ago when we were at Target?

When she was little, she always wanted to ride in the truck shopping carts at the supermarket.

Now, she can't even get inside.

29 June 2016

How TV Can Lead To Education

So we dropped the kid off at camp the other day. And every time I tell someone where she is and what she's doing, I find myself explaining that it all has to do with the Gilmore Girls.

Back in the fall, the girl and I embarked on some mother/daughter TV watching: we set out to watch the entirety of the Gilmore Girls - all 153 episodes. This is not a show that I had ever watched, but enough smart women that I like told me I'd like it, and that she would too. If you have no idea what it is, it's a TV series which ran from 2000 to 2007, about a girl (Rory) and her single mother (Lorelai) who is only 16 years older than she is. Frankly, it's kind of adorable. And Rory is a pretty good role model for a tween, because Rory is a good girl who loves books and is educationally aspirational: at the beginning, she is dead set on going to Harvard.

A couple of weeks into what turned into a seven month marathon of kicking Daddy off the couch so we could watch another episode (or two), the girl came downstairs and told me "Mama, I want to go to summer school at Wellesley. I searched it up and I found this program. I really want to go there; can I?" I don't know about you, but when my kid seems hungry for something that isn't a new pair of shoes or lousy fried rice from the local pan-Asian restaurant, I pay attention. We looked into it, and found that it seemed like a really interesting summer camp - more geeky/academic and less sportsy/crafty although there are plenty of sports and lots of crafts. It's just that they take courses like Girls on Film and So, You Want To Be A Doctor? every morning - and they live on a college campus, in the dorms (and have to do their own laundry). And I swear, the reason that my daughter decided she wanted to go to summer school at Wellesley was because Rory Gilmore wanted to go to Harvard.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

She needed to be there on Sunday. While we could have driven up and back in one day, it occurred to me that it would be nice to break the driving into two days, and stay overnight in Boston. So we found a hotel room, checked in on Saturday afternoon, and played tourist. We went to see the USS Constitution, which was in dry-dock - a phenomenal structure built of granite in 1833 when Andrew Jackson was President. From there, we took a ferry across Boston Harbor to the aquarium, where we consorted with rays and tortoises and sharks. We migrated back to our hotel by way of Quincy Market, which was depressing as hell - so crowded and tawdry. Sunday morning, after a nice breakfast, we continued our touristing, and rode to the top of the Prudential Building so we could look at the Hancock Tower,

and the boats on the Charles,

and even Fenway Park.

It was a nice mini-vacation.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Because this started with the Gilmore Girls, I'm going to leave you with this sweet tweet video, in which Rory drops in on Michelle Obama to give her a pile of books to read on her flight to Africa for Let Girls Learn:

Because girls everywhere need to get the education they deserve.

24 June 2016

21 = Hair

Today, our marriage has reached the age of majority: twenty-one. Or it would be, if we lived in Mississippi. As we are in New York, we reached adulthood three years ago.

But never mind that, because the real question is "what is the appropriate gift?"

The thing is, the charts generally go year by year until year 15 or 20 - and then they start skipping. So 21? Who knows?

McSweeney's to the rescue. According to their list of TRADITIONAL WEDDING ANNIVERSARY GIFTS FROM MEMORY, the gift for the 21st anniversary is ... hair.

I could buy a hair mattress. A hair shirt. I went down a crazy rabbit hole looking for things made out of hair; there are surprisingly many very very strange items out there.

But the single oddest and most intriguing find was a leaf. A textile artist works with human hair to recreate leaf skeletons, ineffably lovely objects.

Happy anniversary, honey! I didn't make you a leaf out of my hair, but know that I was thinking of you!