What I'm Reading

Stardust by Joseph Kanon
Coming out in the fall, the next novel by the author of The Good German. It's so good I kinda want to lick the pages.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Pumpkin Carvers

I met my friend Nancy last night for dinner and shopping in Union Square, one of those quintessentially New York nights out. We went to Zen Palate, a vegetarian Asian restaurant where everything looks like it could be meat, except you know it’s not. We both had the “Sweet and Sour Sensation,” which is essentially the same thing as the Sweet and Sour Chicken served at other Chinese restaurants, except made with soy. They redid the d├ęcor to look more upscale—low booths with pillows instead of chairs—but if you eat in the regular restaurant, you can still get 2 entrees for $20, so I don’t entirely get it.

Nancy and I have been friends for years, since we both worked at Penguin and she was my Nora Roberts book hookup. There are many things I love about Nancy—her spark, her fabulous, over-the-top, “make more heads turn than mine does” laugh, her creativity, the fact that we can talk about anything, the more outrageous the better. She’s one of the most fun people I know. We were in DC once, and she went back to the hotel early with our sick friend, while I stayed out. As I rolled into bed in the middle of the night, I accidentally woke her up. She turned to me and asked, “Hey pumpkin, did you have a good time?” and then fell right back to sleep. That’s Nancy.

But what I love most about Nancy is the way I feel when I’m with her. She makes me feel smart and witty and cute when we’re together, like people who aren’t with us are missing out. Maybe they’re just staring because we’re so freaking loud, but I think they’re a little bit jealous.

We were walking around last night, giggling madly and taking turns telling stories, when we came up with a new dating term. See, it seems one of her friends recently went out on a third date, and she invited the guy to her place. Third date. Staying in. The writing was on the wall. She bought wine, lit candles, put out crackers and cheese. And then told him her plan for the night—to carve pumpkins. Wait. Huh?

Nothing says “I can show you a good time” like pushing cozy domesticity WAY too early in the process. He, of course, trotted out the “I’m not looking for a girlfriend” line. Relationship over before it even started. We all know the bunny boilers, the “break up with me and I will make your life a living hell” girls. Well pumpkin carvers are the girls who give off such an air of desperation that they might as well be wearing a sandwich board that says, “I dream of picking out china patterns.” Pumpkin carvers. You heard it here first. Feel free to propagate it.

Monday, December 4, 2006

What I'm Reading

I’ve been reading the Janet Evanovich Stephanie Plum books. It’s a bit of a moral dilemma for me. See, I normally don’t believe in supporting any author who has played an active role in making one of my friends miserable. And she tried to get one of my friends fired a few years back. Every publishing person has at least one Very Bad Author. You see their name on an upcoming pub schedule and cringe, because you know that every bit of the process will be painful. My personal VBA, I’m convinced, sold her soul to the devil to achieve her fame. There’s no other way to explain why she has lost any shred of humanity. My friend Polly used to really like her work, but had to stop reading her after the second or third time I called her crying. For ethical reasons, I don’t want to like someone else’s VBA, but the truth is that she’s a great writer. She’s funny and sarcastic, and the books make me snicker out loud. So I guess it’s only fair. If you’re one of the people who’s been banned from my VBA, you’re allowed to start reading her again. What’s good for the goose…

My friends Tink and Carolyn did a reading at Borders yesterday. Carolyn read from her brand-new novel, Rain Village, which is about a girl escaping her abusive childhood by learning to master the trapeze and joining the circus. It’s beautifully written magical realism. I read it years ago in manuscript form and couldn’t get the characters out of my head, so it’s so great to see it published. Check it out.

Tink’s book, A Rip in Heaven, came out a few years ago. It’s true crime, about a tragedy that happened in her family. While they were on vacation, her two cousins were raped and murdered, and her brother was falsely accused of the crime. It’s wonderful, but not exactly easy to read emotionally. And as she said, “A pregnant woman in a sparkly red top crying isn’t exactly festive.” So she read from her novel in progress, about Irish gypsies, which sounds like it’s going to be great. I took the bus to the reading, one of my first adventures in carlessness, and learned a valuable lesson. People who take buses during the week are commuters. Once you leave Manhattan, though, people who takes buses on weekends are just poor. At one point, I saw another young, professional-looking couple on the bus, and it made me feel better for a second. Then I took a closer look, and realized I knew them, and they were going the same place I was. Sigh...


I also just finished Disobedience by Naomi Alderman. It’s wonderful, literary fiction set in an Orthodox Jewish community in London. The main character is a modern, bisexual woman living in New York. When her estranged father, a respected rabbi, dies, she goes back to the community she fled years ago. It was smart and illuminating and just in general wonderful. I loved it for the writing, but also for that “peek into another world” aspect, the same way I’m always fascinated by books about the Amish.

Friday, December 1, 2006

On the First Day of Christmas, My Sister Gave to me…

Despite the fact that we spent our childhoods trying as best we could to make each other’s lives miserable, my sister Jean is my best friend. She’s the next one up from me agewise, and was almost 8 when I was born. (For those of you doing the math at home, that will make her 40 in 6 months. He he he.)
Ours was not normal sibling fighting. It was a 15-year battle. We did dishes together after dinner every night, and at one point there was a rule that we weren’t allowed to speak, look at one another, breathe on one another, or cross to each other’s side of the double sink. We were vicious. Before she got married, we got in a fight so big that she threatened to kick me out of her wedding and I suggested she try the personal ads to find someone else to wear the dress. Not our best moment. But some time before she had her first son, we started to realize the other was tolerable. By the time she had her second son, she made me his godmother. By now, we’ve reached a state of complete codependence, if that word can have a positive connotation. Despite an intense fear of big cities, she surprised me by showing up for my 30th birthday last year. We email daily, and talk nearly as often.
And every so often she does something so incredibly sweet that I almost can’t believe it. Today was one of those days. Jean made me an advent gift. For the non-Catholics out there, advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Jean gave me a big Christmas gift bag, filled with 24 individually wrapped presents—one to open each day in December. But wait—there’s more. Each gift was wrapped in Winnie the Pooh wrapping paper, my very favorite. And once I unwrap the presents, there’s a little post-it note stuck to each one with a note from her. She did this for me a few years ago, and I still have the Post-Its saved, they made me that happy.
I opened the first gift today, and it was a copy of her Kathy Mattea Good News CD (her very favorite Christmas CD), and a note that said “I hope you derive as much joy from this as I do!” And while I undoubtedly will, it can’t even compare with the joy I derive from her.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Christine, Fashion Guru

I got a very weird, but very nice, compliment on the train this morning. I was holding on to the pole and reading (my default commuter position) when someone tapped me to get my attention. It was a 40-ish, heavyset woman, who asked me where I buy my clothes. Now, having been fat since some time around birth, I’ve spent my whole life learning to dress down my weight. I remember being in elementary school, and the other fat kid in my class would wear tight shirts. I would ask my mom, genuinely appalled, “But why? Why would he do that??” I was 8.
But when I slipped over to the dark side 4 years ago (also known as “Plus Sizes”) it created a whole new challenge. Now I had the double adventure of dressing down my weight while having this tiny little pool of stores I could shop at. Not good times. Bad times. Plus, buyers and designers seem to think that anyone my size should also be old. If you want anything in mumu shape, with lace overlay, or in mint green, you’re in luck. Young and fashionable? Not so much. Where were the clothes for the 30-something who was screwed with bad genetics and a fierce love for ice cream?!??!
So I totally felt this woman’s pain. And that fact that she liked my clothes enough to want to duplicate my style, of course, made her my friend for life. I gave her stores, departments, brand names, directions. That’s me—making the world more stylish, one fat woman at a time.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Farewell, Sweet Nicholas


I’m not ashamed to admit it. Nicholas was a Toyota. And I loved him.
My dad first bought Nicholas in 1987, the winter I was in sixth grade, when he finally sold his orange VW bug (dad wasn’t one to change cars lightly). In high school, I learned to drive standard on him. When I went away to college, dad and Nicholas came to get me every time I wanted to come home, and then brought me back at the end of the visit, 800 miles round trip. My dad would drive to Long Island to get me on Saturday morning, we’d eat lunch and then get right back in the car and drive back to Rhode Island, and then do the same at the end of the trip. And when I moved to New York for good in 1998, my parents gave him to me. Since then, he’s been my most loyal companion, and more importantly, a symbol of a lot of good things in my life—independence, freedom, my means to see my family whenever I wanted to. We took him to the mechanic this weekend while I was in Rhode Island, only to be informed that one of the wheels wasn’t actually attached anymore, and was only being held on by the weight of the car. If I had hit a big enough pothole, it could have fallen off. (Which, needless to say, has made me seriously question the three mechanics who saw him in the past 6 months and didn’t catch that. Thanks.) He had 226,000 miles, and was just six weeks short of his 20th birthday, so I really can’t complain. But there were still a lot of tears this weekend. I’m working on convincing myself that a car is a self-indulgent luxury in New York (which it is) and that I’m enough of a New Yorker that I’ll be fine without one (which is debatable). We’ll see how I do. My guess is that I’ll make it to spring and then cave when beach season comes around. The thought of having to take public transportation after a day at the beach makes me die a little inside. (Me? Melodramatic? Nah…)
In other news, the Christmas season in midtown, as beautiful as it is when you’re just walking through it, takes on a whole new feel when you work here. I love Christmas, love, love, love it. But even I have my limits. (Something that could be debated, I concede, by anyone who’s ever seen my apartment decorated for the holidays). Cartier has this giant display with a jewelry box that opens and closes and plays Christmas music VERY loudly. Pretty to look at. Not so much fun for my friend Jen whose window is directly above the box. And the tree lighting is tonight here in Rock Center, which means that everyone and their grandmother is swarming through today. I’ve taken refuge in my office, and didn’t even go to the concourse for Starbucks. My window overlooks Sixth Ave, but the offices on the Plaza side of my building were actually vibrating a little during the rehearsal this morning, it was so loud. My office, for now, is still a safe haven. But all that will change once the holiday street performers start. Their 6-song repertoire is great the first time, but starts to wear after an hour or 6. And I can’t lie, Celine Dion’s The Heart Will Go On, played on the pan flute, brings out the ugly in me. Two Christmases ago, my friend Aimee and I made a cop check their permit to make sure they really had a right to be there. They did. Bastards.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Food Network Made Me Do It

I’ve long contended that the Food Network is the single biggest contributor to my weekend productivity. See, I like television. I like to cook. But I LOATHE the Food Network. Rachael Ray’s voice goes right through me. The Everyday Italian chick is so skinny she looks like a bobble-head doll. In general, I think cooking shows are about as interesting as watching paint dry.
So on Saturdays, I get up early and catch up on my DVR’ed shows for a couple of hours. When my roommate gets up, I share the remote out of a basic sense of fairness. She inevitably puts on the Food Network, and I can’t get out of the living room quickly enough. So the main drive behind my Saturday cleaning and cooking? Not responsibility. Getting away from the television.
Jodie was away this weekend, and my theory was proven without a doubt. An object at rest stays at rest, particularly when that object is me on my couch. The only thing I had to do that was pressing was some cooking for the week, and making a pie for a party I was going to on Sunday. I did those things. But not until 10 pm, when I had been on my couch for 13 hours.
The bad news? I’m disgustingly lazy. The good news? I watched the entire Band of Brothers miniseries on demand, and it was the best television I’ve ever seen. At points I was sobbing out loud.
I also had my book club this weekend, and we discussed Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich. It’s that kind of great narrative nonfiction that even I can enjoy, which is saying a lot since it’s nonfiction. It’s about the working poor in the United States, and the author went “undercover” working at a number of low-paying jobs—working at Wal-Mart, as a maid, as a waitress, and serving food in a nursing home. It was really interesting, really well-written, and also really uncomfortable to read in a lot of ways, since social class is something Americans just don’t talk about. I loved it, and would recommend it.

Monday, November 20, 2006

A Confession

I have a confession to make. It’s my dirty little secret, and I’m not proud of it, but it’s time it comes out. Here it goes. I can’t make coffee.
It doesn’t make sense. I consider myself a domestic person. I can bake. I’m a good cook. I don’t sew my own curtains like my sisters do, but I could in a pinch. I can’t keep a plant alive, so not so much for me and gardening, but I’m great with kids. And this one, basic domestic skill—brewing a drinkable pot of coffee—completely escapes me.
For a long time people made excuses for me—“If you had a better coffee pot, you’d be fine.” But when Jodie moved in, she came with one of those fancy, expensive coffee pots with a timer and everything. And my coffee still sucks. So badly that I’ve been banned from making it. Same coffee maker, same coffee, and yet somehow it tastes totally different when I make it. She was on a business trip this weekend, and I made a valiant effort to make some for myself. I didn’t have to throw it out, which for me is a slam dunk, so yay! But yes, I can’t make coffee. Go ahead and scoff. I deserve it.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Not All Surprises Are Good

My parents and my sister Denise visited this weekend. It all went according to plan – the Museum of Natural History, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, 2 days in Cardiac Care at St. Luke’s Hospital… Oh wait, that wasn’t in the plan.
The weekend was over and my parents were on the bus on their way back to Rhode Island. I was napping on my couch in pajamas when I got a phone call telling me that my dad had chest pains and passed out on the bus. They had to pull over in Harlem, call 911, and bring him by ambulance to the ER. The good news: he’s fine, and it wasn’t a heart attack. The bad news: have you ever spent 2 days in a big city hospital? Thank God Denise was here too. She’s a nurse, so she handled all the doctors and nurses, asked all the right questions. I’m a control freak, so I handled phone calls, anything that fell into the category of “getting shit done,” and provided comic relief. The beauty of a big family -- everyone plays to their strengths.
It was a weird case of role reversal. Being 200 miles away, I’m never involved in family crises as they’re happening. I hear everything secondhand, and if my mother has her way, after it’s all over. But this time I was the one who was in charge, and my sister Celeste, my parents’ rock, had no idea what was going on. And quite frankly, we both prefer our usual roles. After I dropped them off, I called her and said “They’re back on their way to Rhode Island, where they’re your problem. Sucka…”
My dad had heart surgery in July, and it just so happened to be the week I was on vacation with them that time too, so I’m beginning to think trips with my parents are a bad idea. Maybe he’s allergic to me? The truth, no matter how much I joke about it, is that this is all pretty scary. My parents are aging. And while that’s always been a slow process, it seems to be accelerating pretty rapidly these days.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Between the House, the Senate, and Rumsfeld’s resignation, it’s like Christmas came early this year, isn’t it? Merry Christmas!
The neo-con fuckwittage? No thanks.
Absolute power for Bush and Cheney? We’re gonna take a pass.
Living in New York, our election was completely insignificant—I follow politics, and still didn’t know who Hillary was running against until I walked into the voting booth. One of the national commentators referred to the New York Senate race results as “about as surprising as the end of a Doris Day movie.”
But I’ve never been prouder to be from Rhode Island. The incumbent Republican is pro-choice, pro-gay rights, and anti-marriage. He’s as moderate as they come. And exit polls showed that the vast majority of Rhode Island voters supported him and thought he was doing a good job. But they voted him out anyway, because when it came to party leadership, his vote was going to the wrong party. I called my parents the next day (one had voted for him, one against) and told them how exciting it was—how tiny little Rhode Island had made a difference in the national balance of power, and had totally helped shift the political landscape. They, of course, had no clue, but were duly impressed.
They're jackhammering out on 6th Ave, and I'm blasting the New Editions Greatest Hits CD so I can concentrate, but my neighbor is still in his office. How much do you think he hates me right now?

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Sometimes Sucking Marginally Less Is Enough

My fantasy football team this year is dismal. I mean, SPECTACULARLY bad. I had this great roster, and it looked so promising before the season started. And then a combination of underperforming (Randy Moss) and injuries (the rest of my team) just shot my season to hell. My record going into this past weekend was an impressive 0-8.
But all that has changed. I won a game! Now yes, it’s fantasy football, not real life. And I’m still in last place. With 150 points less than the person in second-to-last place, and 450 less than the leader. But at least I won. The term “playing for pride” has taken on a whole new meaning for me. I called a few of my friends in the league, and left a little song on their voice mails. It was simple, yet had a certain je ne sais quoi.” It went “I won, I won, I won, I won, my fantasy team finally won a game.” Picture then sung incredibly off-key, to the soundtrack of my giggling.
Um, did I mention I won?

Monday, November 6, 2006

The Miss My Moms

Even though I left Woonsocket 13 years ago, I still get homesick. I can go two months, and no more, before I get a bad case of what I call the “Miss my moms.”
Since I go to Rhode Island so much during the summer and then go cold turkey until the holidays, I can pretty much pencil “miss mommy” into my schedule for right about now. It’s like clockwork.
And that’s one of the reasons I’m SO excited my parents are coming to visit this weekend. When I was in college on Long Island , they used to visit me, but once I moved here permanently they told me, “You’re the one who left, not us. If you want to see us, you come here.” And they were true to their word. They’ve visited me exactly three times in nine years. But my oldest sister turned 50 this fall, and we decided to plan a weekend here to celebrate, so my parents and Denise are coming for the weekend. I’ve got it all planned out – I’ve got dessert places scoped out for my mother, the Museum of Natural History which my sister and dad will love, tickets to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular (at their request). The only thing left is Saturday night dinner. I keep coming up with, and then rejecting, places. Denise is a country mouse who likes to play at being worldly in New York, so we usually do something exotic. But my parents are suburban senior citizens who don’t eat spicy food. I’m coming up with blanks on something that will satisfy everyone. Anyone have suggestions?
What I’m reading:
I’ve been reading The Education of a Coach, this great biography of Bill Belichick, the Patriots coach. Memoirs and sports biographies are pretty much my sole exception to the I only read fiction rule…