Sunday, December 20, 2009

I Cannot Live Without My Literature!

It's been too long, blogosphere. The intervening month has brought grading, sickness, and paper writing. And, most importantly, reading the Twilight Saga.

I could easily write one post per day on the antifeminist, antihumanist, or antipathy towards emotional stability themes of the novels... No wait. I could write a post per day on *any one of* those topics, from only *one* of the novels, and I would have a blog for a year. That might be an idea if I didn't think I would just get pissed at all the tween flames it would encourage.

But here's the thing:

Now don't get me wrong: if this marketing ploy works in getting a generation of rabid twihards to read Shakespeare, Austen, and Brontë, I'm all for it. You might remember a similar rant I made about Oprah's Book Club and the inclusion of Steinbeck, Márquez, Tolstoy, Faulkner.... Look, lady, you can't just make up for semi-trashy "women's lit" by bolstering your cred with "the classics."

But they used the same red and white flowers on black background jacket design, the same ridiculous taglines (If Pride and Prejudice is "the love that started it all," does that mean Romeo and Juliet wasn't chronologically first? And if, as Wuthering Heights suggests, "love never dies," how many people are going to expect vampires?), and the same FONT as Stephenie Meyer's books and website.

What really gets me, though, is the quotes they're using to sell these. "Mr. Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her." "I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!" "These violent delights have violent ends / And in their triumph die, like fire and powder, / Which, as they kiss, consume." And if none of that was blatant enough for you, Wuthering Heights has a seal on the cover boasting "Bella and Edward's favorite book!"

I don't know whether to be angry at how poorly they're representing these works or to be angry that someone came up with this design campaign before I did.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

For The Person Who Has Everything...

This holiday season, why don't you treat your favorite friend to a Snuggie... for DOGS?

Yes, that's right, for the four-legged friend-of-a-friend who needs to keep his chest warm and his paws free, the Snuggie for Dogs is the perfect invention.

Except for the following problems:
~Dogs can sit, stand, or lie down, just as humans can, but humans do not go about dorsal-upward in two of these situations; the Snuggie for Dogs would *fall forward off the dog's back* if it were lying down or walking around!
~More importantly, dogs, unlike humans, have no reason to "keep their paws free," because they have no opposable thumbs: they do not need to hold a book, telephone, remote control, or any number of other activities that humans are pictured as enjoying from the confines of their backwards-sweater-blanket.

I've never particularly thought the Snuggie was a useful invention. This leaves aside the problems that arise when you consider that the Slanket came first, or that you might resemble alternately a lazy monk or a hoodless Klansman in your ridiculous blanket-gear of choice.

But this? I'm sorry. There's no excuse. This is a new low in cultural failure.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

"When You're Here, You're Hammy"

Recently, young gentleman Chase Pearsall brought my attention to a particularly obnoxious and stilted ad campaign. Stop me when you've heard this: "When You're Here, You're Family."

Okay, you've stopped me. Now I'm going to go on about why the Olive Garden ad campaign makes me never want to eat there again. Let me for a moment ignore the, um, political implications underpinning "Sicilian Cooking" and "Part of the Family." Let's just look at a sampling of the commercials:

Figuring out all the permutations of pasta and sauce that a person could order. Who would do that? Let me rephrase: who would do that at a full table, surrounded by supposed friends, possibly coworkers, while everybody is obviously squirming in their seats to order some food so they can just eat and shut up the idiot who thinks this is the time for elementary mathematics? These people are not his friends: they pity him for not having anything better to do with his time. Some of them probably regret having invited him.

waitress: So what'll you have?
horrible d-bag: [upon seeing a passing entrée] I think I just saw it!
[everybody laughs]

waiter: More salad and breadsticks?
ravenous postmenopausal women: Always!
[everybody laughs]

white dude: You know what always gets us together?
token ethnic friend: Endless soup and salad!
[everybody—including the white dude, white chick, and token ethnic friend who comprise this bizarre love triangle—laughs]

brat princess: I like it. And soooo do my roommates!
[cut to overfed-freeloader roommates & family laughing]
creepy dad: I just want to make sure my little girl's okay.
brat princess: [with decidedly inflected Electra Complex overtones] Daddy!

Okay, forgive me if I'm being rude in rejecting mafioso hospitality, but I want no part of this family. My family does not laugh forcedly at jokes that aren't funny, and we don't stuff ourselves stupid on never-ending soup, salad, and pasta. In one of my favorite iterations, one character seriously says "Sometimes we're so busy eating, we forget to talk."

Wow, that does sound like fun. Sign me up for the next time those social geniuses get together to stuff so many breadsticks in their gobs that they nearly choke.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

No, I *Know* I Can't Dance

I understand the appeal of talent reality shows. I even understand the appeal of non-talent-based reality shows. But I don't think I've ever understood So You Think You Can Dance.

Why is it that every time I stumble across this show (before the infinitely superior Glee), it looks like ev-er-y-body is advancing to the next round? I'm not even kidding. Last week I thought they were advancing people to the top twenty. Tonight I think I saw *six people in a row* get promoted to the top twenty. Did they do this two weeks in a row or am I mistaken?

And okay, I understand there are different styles (our top twenty apparently specialize in contemporary, jazz, krump, hip-hop, ballroom, and tap), but why do they all look to me like spinning, kicking, lurching bodies? I don't see a pattern, I don't see a rationale, and I don't understand why this is fun for people to watch.

I don't think I'm uncoordinated or gawky, in spite of the ridiculous number of bruises that always bedeck my limbs. I have in fact had dancers tell me that I walk like a dancer ("with great turnout"), but perhaps I should have taken more than one ballet class as a kid. For Glee or American Idol, I can understand the talent because I know when the "good" people aren't actually that good. And with Glee, you get the added bonus of dance *and* song, *AND* acting (but maybe that's because it's the best new show on television this fall).

Do you have to be a good dancer to appreciate dance?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Request to the People of America

Dear My Fellows in Language-Use,

Can we please agree on a concerted effort to outmode the word "sex" as a verb? And more particularly, in its transitive form (cf. "I'm'ma ~ you up.")?

I would appreciate it.

Once that bomb has been dismantled, we can move on to eradicate the pernicious persistence of "eats" as a noun.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Grounded Criticism

I've taken it on myself to uncover the location of Los Angeles' best iced latte.

Disclaimer: This is the worst personal quest I could thrust on myself.

I've been trying very hard over the last summer to curb, if not entirely eliminate, my need for caffeine. I am, on the other hand, a graduate student, which makes said quest antithetical to my very existence. At very least, I have avoided soda in favor of tea or coffee. And I have avoided coffee in favor of good coffee. Again, an unfortunate choice, as good coffee costs more, and perhaps more than grad students can reasonably afford on a regular basis. From thence the paradox: go more broke or go less functional without my drug of choice?

The first attempt: L.A. Mill. A fortuitous occasion, since it was hot but I wanted a latte. It had a delightfully subtle gradation of color, as the coffee sank to the bottom, and the milk stayed above. Quite good.

Following attempts:
•Naturally, Starbucks. You know, because they're so unique to the Los Angeles area. Good, but obviously inconsistent at different locations (I've tried at least 10 different locations, people: Trojan Grounds, Vermont at Hoover, Beverly in B.Hills, Santa Monica at Fairfax or LaBrea...), with an occasional burned flavor.
Psychobabble in Los Feliz Village: never had a good iced latte from this place, which is sad, because I like their hot beverages. Iced, somehow, it's always a very acrid brew for which no amount of sweetener can compensate.
The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf: Again, depends on the location (I've been to three of these), but generally better flavor than Starbucks, if a weaker cup. The Grove & Hillhurst at Franklin are good locations.
Café Teuscher in Beverly Hills: as you might expect from the site, their mocha is waaaaaay better than their latte, iced or no.
The Downbeat Café in Echo Park: Again, as with Psychobabble, I prefer their hot drinks. This, however, cannot but be avoided during hot summer months.

So far, though, the best iced latte L.A. has given me was from Peet's Coffee & Tea in Beverly Hills. The Peet's in the Glendale Galleria falls somewhat short, as it's just the coffee bar and not an entire coffee *shop*, per se. The iced latte I had in the BH location had not only the pleasant color gradation as first exemplified at L.A. Mill, strong flavor without bitterness, and subtle but palpable caffeine buzz, but the crowning achievement: a frothed top. With frothed milk, Peet's definitely set the iced latte beyond something that looks just as much like an iced coffee that you could get anywhere else.

Now here's the scandal to bring you back home to the disclaimer: some days I was just looking for caffeine, not a great beverage; some days I got a nonfat or 2% instead of whole milk; different baristas prepared the drinks; different times of day... blah blah blah. There is no real control in this experiment, which is irksome even to me. Maybe I should start it all again.

Or, if you like, recommend me to some new places: Intelligentsia, you'll notice, is not on the list. I haven't been there since Judy and I saw that really tragically ugly hipster: the experience was scarring. I'd also like to include Coffee Table or others that I'm obviously forgetting.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Weighty Issues

I sometimes wonder about the efficacy of such reality television shows as 'The Biggest Loser' or 'More to Love'.

The former is post-scripted (briefly, to my dismay) with the notice "All participants have been supervised and monitored by medical professionals during their participation. Consult your doctor before embarking on a weight-loss regimen." The latter seemed to suggest alternately that you should be comfortable and confident with the person you are, but also that it's ridiculously difficult to do that when confronted with all sorts of media representations that lie beyond your control (not to mention that the intended "prize" of the show was the love of a man who was already self-confident enough, suggesting that women should be more concerned with self-image than men should).

Tonight on 'The Biggest Loser,' I realized a particular facet of the show that makes me decidedly uncomfortable. During the elimination round, practically everyone was crying. I understand the emotional bond that forms between people when they are thrust together for an extended period of time (further speculations on this subject as applicable to my studies abroad are in line). What struck me, though, is that during this weight loss program, the body is suffering all sorts of physical, hormonal, neurological, and psychological trauma.

Of course these people are going to be emotional! The body does strange and unexpected things during extreme weight loss.

My concern now has shifted from the dangerous D.I.Y. implications of "weighty issue" shows, and have come to rest on the social, psychological, and emotional exploitation of people who, on account of side-effects, literally can't control themselves.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Call Me Christopher Because I'm Walkin'

Okay, does anybody else have this problem?

You're heading down the street, and someone comes veering into the pedestrian walkway out of nowhere. They're walking right in your peripheral vision, so you lengthen your stride to leave them in your wake, but they speed up, nearly unconsciously, to match you. Then you try to slow down to let them pass, but they stay directly at your side. So *then* you have to do a full stop and look like a fool, or slacken your pace to an unnatural slowness, which is even worse, *or* you have to freaking truck it and start sweating from the exertion because *some* idiot doesn't understand personal boundaries and *why* would they walk so close to you anyway?!

My point is, these people are probably the same jerks who get reckless driving citations.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

My (Only) Friend (The End)

Recent outings have provoked my thoughtful speculation on the politics of prefixing "my friend" before introducing one's companions. I have a weird sense that the weight of the cue is considerably less pervasive in LGBTQ circles, but maybe I only think that way because of my limited perspective of said circles.

Here is a situation: [Miss A introduces Mister B to Mister C] "Hey, C. This is my friend B."

Good. A counterpoint: [Mister X introduces Miss Y to Anygender Z] "Z, hey, how's it going. This is my friend Miss Y."

I have a theory about this. A theory of coded language. In the first situation, A has introduced B as "my friend" because she wants C to know that B is decidedly *not* her boyfriend, just a boy who is her friend. Translation: "Hey, C. This is my friend B, whom I'm not dating. I'm making the fact clear that I'm NOT dating B because I want you to know that you have a chance." B could indeed be introduced to any acquaintance of A as "my friend": after all, A wants everybody to know that she's available and looking. If A introduces B just as "this is B" to C, she is hoping that C suspects the most and will back off in any unwanted advances.

Now the counterpoint. X, being a heterosexual male, has probably been raised to believe that emotion + masculine = negative connotations. Translation: "Z, hey, how's it going. This is my friend Miss Y. I kind of think I want to date her, but maybe I'm just in it for the conversation, and I'm confused about whether or not she likes me, and I'm not sure how to recognize whether or not what I feel for her is anything more than genial friendship. I'm too much of an emotion-coward to define the relationship at this point, so I will continue to qualify her during introductions as 'my friend' because I wouldn't want her, myself, or anybody else to suspect that something romantically emotional, and therefore bad, might be going on."

Oh, the dynamism of language. I'm not kidding when I say that every example I've ever witnessed of this prefixing phenomenon fits my defining criteria. I defy you to produce a situation (real, not hypothetical) that disproves my theory.

The final word: for women, "my friend" means "my friend;" for men, "my friend" means "my confusion."

[Pam: "Hey, Nico, this is Jim Morrison." // Jim, later, to Nico: "Oh yeah, that's my friend Pam."]

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Jewel of Denial

The website was on the news tonight. The opening lines of the script went something like this:

"You're so in love. You're so happy. For now. But after it goes bad, every time you tell yourself 'It's time to move on!' there's a beautiful piece of bling staring up at you."

Two things: First, *every* time you tell yourself to move on there's jewelry involved? And second, who still says "bling"?

I can't say that I understand the financial or political implications of a broken engagement, having never been engaged. I would hope that I could eventually remember that I would be able to move on and make a rational decision about what to do with the ring. The whole process of residual jewelry, though, makes me cringe.

This should probably be prefaced with the following: heteronormative, yes. Also, I've never dated a guy who has given me jewelry. Of any kind. Let alone of the expensive variety. Unless you count the kid in elementary school who gave me a ring from his CrackerJack box, which I'm sure was the height of expenditure at the time. Honestly, I'm glad about this: I think jewelry and flowers are generally easy choices early in a relationship from a well-meaning guy who can't think of something that speaks to you because he doesn't know you well enough yet. But nobody wants to spend *that* much money so early a relationship. And also, who said He has to buy Her things?

Anyway, I've heard there are "rules" for the jewels. For example, She gets to keep the ring if He proposes on Her birthday, or on Christmas. I've never heard of exemptions for couples who do not celebrate Christmas, suggesting that perhaps only Christian Americans have these bizarre "rules," or alternately that Muslims, Jews, Hindus &c. do not marry (the latter is obviously false). I've heard that if He breaks it off, She gets to keep it no matter what. If She breaks it off, She keeps it only on the birthday/Christmas clause. And of course, the "who breaks it off" language is little more than the blame game (e.g. "I ended it because She cheated, so she'd better give me back my ring!").

But back to Out Of Your Life. Check out their web slogans: "Ex-boyfriend, Ex-jewelry." "Request a free Break-Up Box," in which you mail your symbolic emotions for money. And my favorite, "For Richer or Richer."

Yes, because every time I break up with a guy, it would have ended in years of bliss otherwise. Grow up, people. Every romantic relationship will end one of two ways: happily ever after, or not. This accounts for casual dating, hookups, engagements, marriages, second-marriages, and Liz Taylor. And "happily ever" isn't always happy: there are messes and disagreements and it's work and you learn things and you deal with it. I dare say I feel the same about money: it doesn't just plop into your lap because you mailed in your cast-off diamonds. There's honest work that should be behind it or else there's no value in it. So maybe there's a parallel between expecting quick cash and expecting fast and flawless love.

Or maybe marriage hasn't changed so much from the days in which the practice was all part of an exchange economy. My parents have ten nubile female goats and two milk cows to my name. Prove me wrong.

Something is seriously weird here. Financial compensation isn't going to stop the problem. Or maybe it will. I guess I wouldn't know because I've never received that sweet cash reward.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Jason and the Jargonauts

This week and last, I and my cohorts have been involved in a rigorous and exhausting teacher training "boot camp." For now, let's leave aside my own frustrations (i.e. it is entirely impossible to learn theories of teaching without practice, and it is impossible to practice without students, and it is impossible to practice *on* students during the summer when they are all enjoying their last vacation days).

I know a lot of teachers. A lot. Including people whose job descriptions never seemed to indicate any teaching component. I understand the need for specialized language in different disciplines (e.g. it is impossible to talk about mathematics without "algebra," "calculus," "quotient," and the like). But there's a certain painful confusion amongst teachers when the conversation turns to The Language of Teaching.

Do you call it: (a) syllabus, (b) curriculum, (c) course plan, (d) course description, (e) semester plan, (f)... you get the point.

And this is the tip of the iceberg. It doesn't even deal with uncertainty *within* a given discipline: for Freshman Composition, do you call it "exposition," "argumentation," "claim-making," "position-staking," "debate"? Do you hand out "assignments," "prompts," "topics," "drills," "essay questions"? Grading scale? Rubric? Scoring chart? Conference? Discussion? Office meeting?

I've seen organization, arrangement, "flow," paragraphing, construction, control; thesis, claim, position; cogency, originality, rigor, innovation, invention; support, evidence, examples, outside source, quotation; style, diction, tone, word choice, vocabulary, fluency... the lists suffer constant growth (expansion, accretion, lengthening...).

This is not to be confused with academic tendencies to create b.s. words that mean what they sound like they say (incorporealness?). That's a different beast and blog post altogether.

Why, save my soul, do institutions not normalize a language of teaching?

A provisional answer: 'We're a unique institution. Nobody does it quite like us.' Translation: 'We figured out the RIGHT WAY to do things! U-S-A! U-S-A!'

Thursday, July 30, 2009

An Open Letter to the Swiffer People

Dear Swiffer® People,

Why you gotta go and make me feel like a slob?

Let me explain.

I'm moving from an apartment with tile and hardwood floors. I undertook a necessary move-out cleaning ritual: dust, spray, wipe-down, vacuum, sweep, mop. You will notice that I am quite thorough. Indeed, between the stages "sweep" and "mop," I usually add the Swiffer® Stage, in which I attempt to pick up any dust bits small enough to have evaded the watchful gaze of the broom, the long arm of the vacuum extension. This is the point at which you and I come to terms.

I am not a slipshod cleaner, Swiffer® People. I have OCD just mild enough to make it difficult for me to work in dirty or cluttered environs. I fixate on spots, scratches, and other discolorations on the floor that other people would not notice. Sometimes I use my hands to sweep up the last bits; sometimes I vacuum the bottoms of my feet to avoid tracking around any clinging crumbs. My property manager commented that I had a meticulous eye for flaws during the move-in inspection, so to detail any damages for which I would not want to be held responsible.

So then. Why, after having dusted, vacuumed, and swept, does the bottom of every Swiffer® Sweeper™ Dry Sweeping or Wet Mopping cloth always turn a disgusting grey color?

I know the claim: your products pick up what brooms leave behind. But brooms *and* vacuums, *AND* dusters? Swiffer® dusters, mind you, so you may not lay the blame on a bright blue plastic dusting bandit. Nonetheless, these are the facts: I am not a slob, but something tells me that repeated, full-on OCD cleaners would still find persistent dirt.

In short, whence comes this guilt of pre-Swiffer® Squalor?


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Angelinos' Ten Commandments

...And Charlton Heston descended from the Hollywood Hills with the following commandments sent directly to his iPhone Twitter app:

•I am the Jerry your Bruckheimer, who brought you out of the land of reading, into the house of reality television and explosions; you shall have no other producers before me.

•You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; unless it’s an Oscar, a Golden Globe, or, to a lesser extent, an Emmy.

•You shall not take the name of the Arnold your Governator in vain.

•Remember the premier night, to keep it wholly a media circus; you shall not be seen at any event, be it a premier or grocery shopping, without full makeup and designer fashion.

•Honor your freeway system with your middle-finger.

•You shall not kill, unless you know Kato; or in an act of gang violence, in which case everyone will dehumanize you anyway, so it won’t matter.

•You shall not be stupid enough to get caught if you commit adultery.

•You shall not steal from anyone living in Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Pacific Palisades, or Malibu; nor from any stores on Rodeo Drive; nor if your name is Winona Ryder. Everything else is fair game.

•You shall not bear right or left while driving without first refusing to signal the turn to your neighbor.

•You shall not covet your neighbor's industry connection, nor his trophy wife, nor his Ferrari.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Forget Paris!

I wonder if my biggest transformation is not having transformed….

So ModCloth is doing this terrific transformations contest, and I wanted to come up with something witty yet heartwarming, perhaps that would make my reader tip her head slightly, gazing fondly into the distance, a smile just at the corner of her mouth. You know, that “best blog ever, could’ve won me any college scholarship, what I did on my summer vacation” kind of entry. Uh, yeah. Easy.

No. Transformations are not so apparent. It’s not all black and white.

Or is it?

In high school, I went to Paris with some classmates and our French teacher. I’m sure I imagined walking away from the trip unbearably chic: a fantastic haircut, new unique clothing, some je ne sais quoi. Instead, of course, we were shuttled around like a certain twelve little girls in two straight lines. No freedom for high schoolers.

People dream their whole lives about going to Paris. Why did it seem like I was getting a dull version? Oh yeah, because everyone in Paris, it seemed, dressed in black and white. No subtle shades of color, no subtle shades of grey, even. Heaven forbid mad couture dresses flouncing down the Champs Élysées. The hub of fashion, right? Maybe they’re saving their fancy outfits for clubbing. Maybe they’re going for a minimalist look.

Maybe ::gasp!:: they don’t really care what other people think of their clothing.

Not just clothing. Slowly, of course, the trend caught. I don’t mean the black and white, I mean the devil may care attitude. Because seriously, why should they wear rainbows just because a schoolgirl tourist expects it? And why should I want to transform myself into a grande dame when I’m not?

So yeah. My transformation was not to transform: no pretending, no phonies, no Parisian savoir faire for someone who’s not from Paris. But strangely, after this trip, I did live differently. I laughed more, I danced more, I found it easier to socialize, and I finally (uh, eventually) figured out how to be myself.

Maybe you’d wear bright green in a crowd of black and white to be noticed, but maybe you won’t be. Maybe if you dress similarly to everyone else, you’ll feel like you belong. Maybe if you’re cynical, you won’t care what other people think of you because usually they don’t think of you. Or maybe you’ll find something subtly unique about each person, in the cut of the fabric or the breadth of the stride.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Fashion Foe Pas

My favorite online clothing source, ModCloth, has invited its street team members (of which I am one) to join fashion-sharing website Yes, I posted a couple of looks and tagged them to hype the ModCloth brands. Yes, I've hyped other MC users' looks so they get more publicity. Yes, I'm doing similar now.

CMDP's New Addiction:

I love the clothing. Since moving to L.A., I've found myself more and more frequently considering styles, textures, colors, and movements of various fabrics. Not that my Midwest days were spent in a vomitous haze of mismatched color, but there's just so much more here to choose from.

Loving the clothing aside, then, I've got some huge problems with the site. Pralines, a fellow lookbook user, posted a look recently entitled I'm Tired of lookbook. Whether or not she's serious (after all, she is still a user), I can see several reasons to share a disgruntled attitude.

(1) Some of the most-hyped looks are not cute: they look like a wardrobe ate too much neon and jewelry that didn't sit well and it puked something out on the wearer (or alternately, it looks like Edith Head puked, and that puke designed these).

(2) Some of the most-hyped looks are not cute: they are on suggestively posed models. Sex sells, I guess.

(3) But keeping that last thing in mind, you get a whole lot of this:

The outfit is unquestionably stylish, but the stats say it was posted by a fifteen-year-old girl*. Fashion Industry, I've long had a problem with your demand for underage workers, whether in your factories or on your runways. I've heard the argument that "clothing hangs better on thin bodies." No, Fashion Industry; clothing hangs on hangers. More likely than the practicality of displaying the clothing on human-hangers, I'm convinced that models are thin and young because of a fashion, and overall social taboo regarding pædophilia. No, I don't want to believe it either, but think about this: isn't that also why women in certain cultures are encouraged to shave their legs, armpits, and pubis? You start growing leg/arm/pubic hair at puberty; shaving suggests that you have not yet reached puberty. If depilatory practices are said to be "proper" because they "make you more attractive," this must mean that "more attractive" is equated with "prepubescent." Not okay.

For this, Fashion Industry, I challenge you. For this,, I refuse to hype outfits of underage women girls.

*I understand that people lie about their ages on the internet, but to lie that you're fifteen instead of, oh, twenty-eight, suggests that you know something about the pædophilic tendencies pervading fashion, and you're trying to capitalize on it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Short(-Rib) Cut

A little while ago, I remember watching Paula Deen's Food Network show. I was certainly enthralled and mildly concerned at all the butter and oil going into the dishes, but what caught my attention most was the following sentence:

"Sprinkle some kosher salt on the bacon."

If you aren't already marveling that Ms. Deen is salting an already salty food, you might have noticed the irony of using kosher salt with bacon. In fact, she does in many of her recipes. I understand that the texture of kosher salt is different, but so is that of flaky sea salt.

Ms. Deen, could you please stop offending my sensibilities? I mean, I consider myself a religious tolerant, and a multiculturalist. I believe in unlikely friendships that transcend cultural expectations (see also, Romeo & Juliet). Still, I draw the line when "multicultural" means "making cross-cultural alliances between two foods that were never meant to be friends."

Monday, June 15, 2009

Löst Highway

I often wonder how many people driving through this city at any given time are perpetually sedated or regularly hallucinating. No need to use your turn signal: The Man can hear your every thought. Also, please enjoy driving in my blind spot for several miles: I am so hypersensitive I can feel anything within twenty yards of me, regardless of my large, metal mode of conveyance.

To counteract any potentially regrettable acts of road rage, a friend of mine once told me that he likes to shake his fist and growl "Lousy Sunday drivers!" but I have found that the shaking fist is often too visible. In view of California's hands-free cell phone law passed last summer, to see someone's mouth moving without another living person in the car with him is no longer uncommon. Thus, lately, I have chosen to speak quietly and calmly to the offending driver from the privacy of my car.

They don't know what I'm saying, or even if I'm saying it to them. Or even if I'm talking and not singing along to some music. So what do you suppose I'm saying?

Nothing so crass. Imagine everyone's favorite modular Swedish furniture chain, IKEA. Haven't we all, at one time or another, found their product names hilariously obscene while knowing full well that they are not? For example, my mom and I enjoyed assembling "those flärke bookcases," and I know many people would have an adolescent-style laugh to know that the Grundtal Line manufactures scales and toilet paper holders.

I refuse to believe, however Germanic and guttural these words sound, that they are obscene. This is, after all, the land that brought us many good things from Ångström to Zetterberg Since this is, then, an infinitely respectable country, I have taken to stringing together syllables that sound as though they could be assigned to IKEA product lines.

So remember: blaerb before you tröng, yupuppup means you need to slandegen, and there is no fleungling allowed at any ingedde.

Friday, June 12, 2009

I Am A Camera

Few things in life give me a better sense of satisfaction than good photographs. Antique images particularly fascinate me, and recently it has a lot to do with my Master's thesis adviser's book and my assistantship in a course on American Visual Culture. This fascination also likely has something to do with the longstanding tradition, since Eastman revolutionized point-and-click technology, that anyone can take a picture. Attend any art fair, and you will see stall after stall of flowers and rocks, and you will think "I could do better."

(my grandma feeding chickens)

And probably you could. With an eye for shot composition and now through the miracle of Photoshop, everyone is going pro — Photoshop's efficacy in this is debatable, since although undoubtedly easing the process, it perhaps cheapens truly excellent photography. Suffice it, something there is that doesn't love a digital camera: maybe for the same reason I would rather frame and hang my own picture of a mossy tree stump, or better yet, something actually interesting, I have come to fetishize film cameras. And since anyone can take a picture, you'd think my walls would be covered with prints. Yes?


You see, I have a camera curse. I'm sure this started during youth, when it seemed that every Christmas or birthday, members of my extended family would give me cameras. Not that they might have thought I would like one, but probably because they won it in a raffle, or got it as an office gift, and just needed to unload it. I don't remember other cousins getting cameras, but I thought it was destiny. But no. My brother, never prodigal with his allowance money, saved and developed (no pun intended) a hobby of collecting antique cameras. He now has his own darkroom and develops his own film. Maybe I should have become a doctor first with a cathartic hobby second, instead of someone who has tried to make a career out of a cathartic hobby with a doctorate.

But this curse. No kidding: my brother let me borrow his fantastic film camera during a trip to Salem for research. I learned the buttons, the shutter speeds, the f-stop, the modes, gears, and everything. What I didn't learn was how to load the film: after several days of photographing landmarks and gravestones, I learned that the film never took up on the reel. I had to go back and do it all again. This time it overshot and ripped the end of the film out of its canister. I cried when I opened the film door and an unwanted ticker-tape parade of undeveloped, now ruined images came cascading out. And that's not all: one of my cameras, which I had prepared and packed, that I let my parents use for our family trip to Arizona, was also improperly loaded. No family Christmas photo by the Grand Canyon or the Camel Back Mountain or the red rocks of Sedona this year: she's done it again. My first digital camera took a tipsy lurch off a bookshelf (why was it stored all the way up there, you ask? Because I'm an idiot.) and the last image it captured was a streak of white light and a blurry grasping Me that well represented its death.

(go to the light, little darling)

Today, the curse is broken! My mom found me a used digicam on Shop Goodwill that arrived in the mail. Completely functioning, with memory card, two batteries, power source, and... wait. USB connector cord? Son of a bitch...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Cab Drivers: A Hate Song

Los Angeles is well known for its hoards (and hordes) of terrible drivers. Last night, I met one of them.

My friend Stew gave me a statistic about the number of people in this city that drive without a license. I don't remember the number, but I do know it was staggering, and also that I wholeheartedly believe it. Since I moved here eleven months ago, I have watched countless red lights run with impunity, have been cut off without a blinker to warn me that someone doesn't find it necessary to check his/her blind spot before switching lanes, have had two people scrape my car in parking garages without leaving a note, have enjoyed weekly car chases on the news, and have even had a man sideswipe me and drive away.

Once I overestimated my knowledge of the Vue's proportions and scuffed a woman while I was trying to get into a left-hand turn lane; more than being upset with myself, I was filled with rage for a city in which I could be made to feel bad for being the responsible one. Oh no, we can't have that in this city. Let us instead reward those who screech about in thousands of pounds of forged metal heedless of their surroundings. They are the true heroes of Los Angeles.

Even after Stew gave me the statistical factoid, I found a new level of motorist excellence. I had dropped off the guys who came to the Smog Cutter for karaoke, and was exhaustedly heading home for sleep. Driving south on Edgemont avenue, about to stop at the Hollywood boulevard intersection, the light turned green. I had enough green light to think, "My lucky stars! This stop-light changed for me because it wants me to get home more quickly!" How long did it take you to read that thought? About five seconds. I had a green light for five seconds, and a taxi cab comes barreling eastbound along Hollywood blvd. so quickly that I wonder if he's going to stop. He does not. He coasts, still at about 25 miles per hour, into the intersection although he has had a red light for that same five seconds. More in fact, because there is a second delay before the lights switch.

After he almost broadsides my car and I warn him off with the horn, he turns behind me, and tailgates me for half a block. I am driving 25, which at this point is probably over the speed limit because it's a hospital zone. Instead of learning his lesson (i.e. "Don't get upset with someone who has honked at you for disobeying the law."), he floors the gas and speeds past me. In a hospital zone. Over a double-yellow line. And he gets caught by the next red light, so it was a good thing he passed me, or he would have had to wait longer in order to... wait. At the red light.

For any other car, this would be a moment of disgust. Cab drivers, on the other hand, openly ask you, in text, on the back and sides of their vehicles, "How's my driving?" Oh, I'm glad you asked. I dial the number, which LA Taxi lists as "Checker Cab" company and let their call center receptionist know that taxi #3619 is driving like a maniac, disobeying traffic signals, right of way, posted speed limit, and no passing zones. Victory is mine, "Cab Calloway." Don't you forget it. My project to censure Los Angeles drivers is off to an auspicious beginning.

The moral of this story: Don't get into Checker Cab #3619. He does not deserve to share the road.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Fizzy Lifting Drinks

As a child, my parents, like good parents, forced me to drink milk with dinner. Although I appreciate this now, I have come to resent the why/wherefore because certain brands of milk have an aftertaste: the milk they served at school lunches tasted not like milk, but like warm cardboard water thickened with paint. If you want to get utterly compulsive (answer: you do), the milk also has to be at the right temperature. My parents would laugh when I commented "Mmm... the milk is good tonight," but there is something very particular about my taste buds in which temperature, age, milk-fat content, and not having those disgusty-crusty bits around the cap are necessary factors to quality milk.

But this is not about milk. This is about those fun times when we went out to dinner and my parents let me cast milk to the side in favor of soda-pop. Oh, sweet, syrup-based indulgence that is a fountain drink! Sprite was always my favorite (because my parents, like good parents, denied me caffeinated beverages). One day, my life changed forever when I was presented with a particularly ebullient glass of Sprite. I took one drink and my mouth recoiled. "What is this product of hellish nonsense!", I thought, but it came out "Ew!"

"Be polite," says my mom. My dad takes a drink. "Ew, she's right! This is gross!" This restaurant had neglected to refill the syrup in the fountain, and the wait-staff brought me a glass full of soda water.

Somehow, the initial shock slowly resolves itself into fascination. Why would anyone make a divisible soda product? Tonic water, and not static, in which to *mix other flavors*? How very droll! Imagine me as a child working through these problems. Imagine me as an adult drinking my first gin and tonic. Imagine me switching my beverage obsession gradually, over fifteen or more years, from soda-pop to flavored, calorie-free sparkling water. Imagine the flavors becoming too artificial, and me switching permanently to the sparkling mineral water, the likes of which purveyors Perrier or San Pellegrino market to those foolish enough to pay money for something more delicious than still water.

Imagine, nay, enjoy the strength of the bubbles, the thrill of the acrid flavor, the refreshing experience of chilled sparkling natural mineral water.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Roommating Season

SWF seeks non-Single White Female living situation. Must like literature-PhD-spurred profound asocial tendencies, demanding meticulousness, obsessive compulsive cleaning, over-protective ownership of inanimate possessions (including kitchenware and bath products), Crazy Cat Lady decor, claustrophobia, passive-aggressive use of post-it notes to remind you of "chores," Fox television lineup (including House, Fringe, Dollhouse), timid fear of monopolizing common spaces, self-hermitage to bedroom, impending insanity & worse claustrophobia from completing all work in cloister-bedroom, frequent whining about how men/women/small dogs don't like me, respectful quiet and restraint from conversation while I'm reading. Stay away from my Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Non-smoker only.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

With great readership comes great responsibility...

With four official followers already, and others who have pledged to follow, I feel compelled and inspired to begin my journey of mastery in the short-essay form. Taking a cue from that acid-tongued Algonquian Circle member, I start with "The Men I Am Not Married To."

In my last post, I mentioned two dashing gentlemen who convinced me to start blogging again. Woe betide me that they weren't the only gentlemen who approached me that evening. Oh no. There were, of course, the prematurely aging lawyers, one of whom gave me his card "in case I ever need help in copyright litigation;" a balding gay man; one who blew cigarette smoke in my face as we sat on the patio (and thank goodness for the patio, or else he wouldn't have been able to smoke *at all*!); and the most curious find of the evening, a small Greek man who remarkably resembled Jonathan Levinson from 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer.'

I was sitting and telling my compatriots about my summer course (find the PDF syllabus here), and how we were reading Leopold von Sacher-Masoch for the next class. "Masoch?" you say? "Sounds familiar...." Add "-ism" to the end and you have it. So just as this wee Greek was seating himself, I held my tongue momentarily, lest I frighten or enthrall him. Everyone begs me to continue, so I conclude "...and the story is all about this guy getting whipped."

Now something must have been lost in translation, because wee-G didn't understand that I was speaking for the author of the book, not for myself. He approached me later with the regard, "[imagine the most stereotypical Greek accent] So, you're the BDSM girl." No, thank you, but I'm reading it. "Oh. Yeah. It's cool. I'm into being tied up." Fine, but I don't think you understand. "I can tell I'm freaking you out." Not really. I know people do this; I'm reading about it, you know? I just don't think it's very classy to talk about that with someone you've just met. "But you did...." No, I was talking to my friends. I know them. "I just don't like to have trivial conversations. I think it's better to be more adventurous." Very well. Take your adventures to the girl in the thigh-high boots, then. I'm sure she's much more your type.

Well then. As sorry as I am to have missed the paddle-boat, I wonder what it is about South-East European/Mediterranean cultures that says propositioning is socially acceptable. An acquaintance of mine who is currently in Greece apparently recently had a man ask if he could call her or "feel her" later, so it wasn't just wee-G. Having invented democracy, Western philosophy, and spanakopita does not make it right for you to tell me your proclivities on our first meeting, so please stop displaying your prominent bodily hairs and oils.

So what is the cultural train-wreck, here? I mean, we're both acting according to cultural mores, so is anyone "wrong" in this situation? Must there be an impasse? Is there a point of compromise between offending/offended? Or is someone always going to be the bottom?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

"If all the girls at Harvard were laid end to end..."

Yesterday night, I went to an Ivy League social mixer in spite of never having attended, or indeed ever visited an Ivy League campus. A friend of a friend invited the friend, who then invited... and so on. In a moment of "bored now," I was ten seconds from leaving with the cousin of the friend, when two gents stopped us on the way to the door. We ended up staying two more hours.

Like myself, and apparently like many of the others at the event, these two gents were gatecrashers. No, they didn't even know Ivy Leaguers in attendance, shame and horror! They knew the event organizer. And for all the prematurely-aged, presumably-intoxicated, and preternaturally-arrogant lawyers at the event, I was regularly singled out as someone who could drop puns, barbs, and banter among the best of us. One of the gents asked if I had a blog he could follow, and the group of listeners agreed that I should.

So here you are. A charming stranger who knew exactly how to flatter the target demographic of the evening (no wonder he was invited...) has convinced me of my worthy wit. I've abandoned blogging in the past as self-indulgent; I always seem to end up whining about my problems. I suppose if I change my focus (i.e. whining about what I see as absurd social problems), it might be less self-indulgent and more ...self-indulgent? Because, oh, I noticed these strange cultural foibles, and aren't you glad I did? But at least entertaining, and not so much about me.

An example: Blogger suggests labels for my post, "e.g. scooters, vacation, fall." The latter of the three suggests poetic musings; the median, perhaps the ecstatic ravings of the leisure class; the foremost, hipsters. A caveat: without intended ill will, with all due introspection that I also fall into the social pits worthy of satire. Agreed? Agreed.