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33 posts from August 2006

August 31, 2006

Hotter Than Katie Couric

by Nancy Martin

I am so hot.  I mean, hot, hot, hot!  Much hotter than, say, Katie Couric.

"Are you okay?" my husband asks nervously."You're all red."

Last week, after I gave a library talk on a warm Saturday afternoon, one of the organizers came up to me afterwards to offer me a Kleenx, her face full of sympathy.  "I felt so sorry for you!"

Yes, I've been having hot flashes. Turning red and sweating buckets as my hormones bounce off the charts.  Yes, it's the "M" word.  Gentlemen, you are excused from today's blog.

To make matters worse, this year's fall fashion police insist I must wear "layers."  To be fashion forward when I attend an Ann Arbor, Michigan book festival next week, I'm supposed to put on a knit top and an over-sized "grandpa" cardigan sweater with a thick belt and--oh, why not?--a coat on top of it all. Let me tell you how much that is not going to happen.  I mean, NOT! 

I'm lucky if I can stand to wear a t-shirt and shorts here in my office. I have the AC turned down low enough to threaten the entire east coast electrical grid. I keep a glass of ice water within reach at all times. (Some day, I'm going to knock it into my keyboard, mark my words, then you'll really hear some screaming.) In desperate moments, I've been known to clap one of those gel-filled ice packs to my neck and pant like Rin Tin Tin.

And of course--like everyone else in a nation that has nothing better to be concerned about right now--I've been reading and watching all the preliminary coverage of Katie Couric's debut on the CBS news. I can't help noticing that Katie and I are approximately the same age.

And I wonder if she'll have hot flashes on television?

I don't think it will matter if she does, because the deck is already stacked against her. Katie can't win. If she flashes, everyone will call it flop sweat. If she's too perky, she will be condemned as fluff. If she's too serious, everyone will say she's overcompensating. If she wears a business suit, she's trying to imitate the men. If she dresses too casually, she's too girly to be reading the updates from Iraq. If she asks one single insipid question of a world leader, she'll be drawn and quartered.

Media moguls will assess every blink, cough and throat clearing. The voting public will count the number of times she smiles when she says "Bush" or "Clinton." (Did you know somebody really did a study and discovered that Peter Jennings was more likely to smile when he spoke about Ronald Reagan--thereby, so the logic went, encouraging citizens to vote Republican?) And surely somebody's got a spreadsheet all ready to keep track of what shoes Katie wears and when.

Even Barbara Walters--the first woman to at least share the anchor desk--wonders what Katie's going to wear on her first night in Walter Cronkite's chair.

Does Katie have the gravitas to give us our evening news between all those commercials for Depends and Metamucil and denture adhesives?

Will she show her famous legs?

(Me, I kinda liked Bob Schieffer, and I'm sorry he must be displaced. He did a great job.  And, like, j'adore his pastel ties!)   

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Everybody's acting as if Katie's debut is the most important feminist issue to come along in ages.

Whereas, over on The View, people are hoping Rosie O'Donnell will trigger a cat fight. And why not? Put more than two women in the same room, and the fireworks are bound to start popping. Hey, who doesn't want to see Hillary Clinton take off the gloves with Nancy Pelosi? Or even Laura Bush? Put a couple of females on public display together, and the world assumes there's an undercurrent of competition or jealousy or adolescent conflict going on behind the scenes.

Oh, come on.

All I really want to know is what Katie plans to do when she's hit with a hot flash. 

Can you hear the likes of Dan Rather if he'd suffered the same indignity?  "Hoo-eee," he'd say as he mops his brow with a red bandanna, "this chair is hotter than Texas asphalt in July!"  Tom Brokaw would have headed for those cool Montana hills a heck of a lot faster if he'd been forced to cope with The Change.

But Katie's going to have the real thing.  And I'm very interested to see how she plans to cope. Because that's news I could really use.

August 30, 2006

Hurricane Hope

By Elaine Viets

You need the nerve of a riverboat gambler to live in a hurricane zone. Every season, we bet everything we own that we’ll survive.

Odds are, we’re going to lose. But we hope we’ll win.

This hurricane season, it’s winner take all in South Florida. I live in Fort Lauderdale. We have to make it through November 30 without a major hurricane, or experts say we’re looking at a decade of economic ruin.

Last season was a bad one for our state. By this time in 2005, we’d had some ten named storms, including Hurricane Katrina. Then we got slugged by Wilma in October.

Lauderdale wasn’t hit as hard as New Orleans, but we were still badly damaged. Our story barely made the national news. But everyone I know was hurt.

Don and I live on the seventh floor of a pink condo overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway. The unit above ours blew out, and the water that poured in through the shattered upstairs windows ruined our ceilings. The roof peeled off our building and the wind bounced our rooftop air-conditioning equipment around like a basketball.

We were lucky. Our damage was repaired within two months. I can look out my windows and still see the destruction from last year: Leaking roofs are covered with blue tarps – the famous FEMA "blue roofs." Boarded up windows, blown-out signs and the skeletons of blasted awnings are everywhere. Roof tiles, high-impact hurricane glass, awnings and signage are in short supply. When we find the supplies, we can’t get the workers to fix the damage.

One friend will not be able to move back into her condo for two years. She’s renting another place while paying the mortgage on her ruined condo.

That hurts.

Last year’s storms walloped our wallets. Two family-owned restaurants within walking distance of our home closed after the hurricane. So did the cheap gas station and a long list of other small businesses.

Nearly everyone I know had huge condo damage assessments or uninsured home repairs. The hurricane insurance for our building has tripled. Home sales have slowed dramatically. Sellers are offering their homes at pre-hurricane prices. Buyers are hoping to scavenge storm bargains.

If we can get through this hurricane season, Florida will go back to boom times. If not, property prices will fall.

Some are simply leaving. One friend is moving to North Carolina. "I can’t stand the waiting," she said. "I want out."

Everything has slipped into a strange limbo, while we wait and see what happens.

Will South Florida get through this season without a major disaster?

It’s not enough that Don and I survive unscathed. Everyone in this area has to make it or all bets are off.

So we live a split-level life. We plan for disaster, while carrying on with our daily lives.

While Ernesto beat up Haiti and Cuba, the lines were half a mile long at the gas stations in Lauderdale. There wasn’t a parking spot at the supermarket, and if we could get one, we couldn’t find a bottle of water in the store.

Again, Don and I were lucky. We had a tank of gas, a freezer full of ice and lunch meat, and a cabinet bursting with canned tuna and flashlight batteries.

While we waited for Ernesto to hit us or miss us, we pretended life would go on. It’s the only way to live in a hurricane zone. I vacuumed the rug and polished the furniture, even though it could be blown out the window tomorrow. Then I took my clothes to the dry cleaner.

"They’ll be ready Thursday," the owner said. "Provided we’re still here."

I’m posting this at 4:30 Wednesday morning. Ernesto turned out to be a little rain and some gusty wind. Everyone is saying they knew this hurricane would be a bust.

Sure. That’s why we waited two hours in the gas line.

Three more months to go. Three’s a lucky number, right?

August 29, 2006

Living Long is the Best Revenge or Why The Red Sox Suck

By Sarah

The oldest living woman died last week at the age of 116. I find this all the more amazing, since, according to news reports, she wasn't even a Red Sox fan.

In my family, the key to a long life has been the ability to suffer excruciatingly long periods of pain and disappointment at the hands of the Red Sox who, by the way, suck so bad right now Fenway is Manny hosed clean. Manny Ramirez needs to either be bitch slapped or get a note from his mom to be excused from playing. At the very least, he needs to stop whining about his "bad knee."

But don't worry - this isn't a baseball blog. I swear.

No, this is a blog about perseverance and the beauty of the Red Sox on AM radio. Also, it's about my grandmother, Marie Stucklen Jordan, who died at the age of 106, shortly before her 107th birthday, thirty four years after her husband (a charming philanderer) died and four years before her own daughter's death.

How Marie lived so long and so well, being fit way into her late 90's, had a lot to do with genetics (there is a Methuselah gene in the family) and the fact that she was a rail-thin German who never drank more than one sherry on a Saturday night and who used to jog in her clod-hopper shoes back Cat_of_nine_tails when women wore heavy black cotton swimsuits for "bathing" at Revere Beach. Abstemious is the word that comes to mind, but so is Nazi. You can't get past that German in her. Did I mention she owned a cat o' nine tails and whipped my mother with them?

She was born in 1890 and grew up on Blue Hill Avenue in Roxbury when Roxbury was pastoral farmland and not the crack ho heaven it is now. A huge scar ran down the side of her left face, ruining her classic good looks. Her line was that she "fell on an iron," but the truth is her father was a notorious drunk with a cruel streak. One night, when she was a little girl and heard him beating the horses, she ran outside to stop him. He responded by dragging a hot branding iron across her cheek thereby making her "unmarriageable." Fortunately, my grandfather came along years later and happened to be desperately in need of money that my great grandfather, the drunken vintner, possessed. She married at age 27, right before the end of WW I. Or, as I like to think of it, the 1918 World Series when Boston beat Chicago.

When she was forty or forty one, no one can remember, Marie was diagnosed with uterine cancer and took the #86 Waverley bus to her surgery. When she was in her seventies, she had a mastectomy and drove home herself. She had three sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Louise, to whom she spoke on the phone every day on schedule. She never missed her 2 p.m. nap and slept with a portrait of Jesus, praying, above her double bed - like many die-hard Sox fans.

Perhaps it was because of Jesus that my grandfather, a handsome bon vivant insurance man in Boston who survived the Depression quite well, maintained a "kept woman" on the side for most of their marriage, thereby cutting the family income in half. He called her his sweetheart - a term my mother, then a young girl, found very upsetting. He founded a country club and brought back "boys" to sing around the piano and died of emphysema, blowing smoke from his contraband cigarettes out the bathroom window right up to the moment of his passing.

But my grandfather wasn't a Sox fan, not like my grandmother. Every night she would sit in a rocking chair in the dark since, what the hell, why spend the money on lights? A lone wire ran from a transistor radio to her ear. This was her routine. East Coast game. West Coast game. It didn't matter. If the Sox were playing, Marie Jordan was there.

I know this because one summer I lived in Boston and stayed with her, the two of us sitting in the dark as Roger Clemens worked his magic. I can remember her fists clenched, her jaw set as her chair rocked back and forth in the shadows. It was August. And because it was August, the Red Sox were losing. Sweat beaded on her forehead. We suffered together in silence. She trained me to endure the pain.

My mother used to say my grandmother hung on year after year out of nostalgia. She wanted to relive the moment of 1918 when the Sox won the World Series, when she was pregnant with her first daughter, Louise. (Louise, by the way, a former chain smoker and vodka lover, is still alive. Chalk one up to genetics.) My grandmother never did live to see the 2004 World Series or, better, when David Ortiz hit the game-winning RBI in the 14th inning of game 5 against the vicious New York Yankees during the playoffs that year.

But I sure as hell am grateful she's not alive to see this massacre. A never-ending losing streak, an injured team that has for all intents and purposes, thrown in the towel.

Moral of the story? I'm not sure. Maybe you can find one for me.

Manny, if you read this? Call me. We need to talk,

Sarah

August 28, 2006

Shakespeare Got It Right

Shakespeare Got It Right

by Susan, Retiring Book Tart

There's a fight going on in North St. Louis, and it's an important one to the people involved.  So important that a pastor I know had plans to preach about it in his Sunday sermon, something along the lines of, "What would Jesus do?"  As in, "Would Jesus go to Hooters?"

Hooters Because the conundrum that's facing the community of Florissant is this:  Should they allow a restaurant to open across the street from a middle school?  And not just any "family" restaurant, but one where the waitresses wear push-up bras, tight shirts and short-shorts?  Where the logo on said tight shirts is an owl with unmistakably rounded eyes that bear a striking resemblance to the flesh that's contained in said push-up bras?

Of course, there are plenty of upstanding folks in opposition, touting the family values angle and how having such a debauched establishment would ruin the image the area is trying so hard to build as an old-fashioned hometown (as opposed to a place where crime has increased frighteningly in recent years).

There are others staunchly defending good ol' Hooters, declaring that the waitresses are clean-scrubbed young women earning a decent living with their (skimpy) clothes on.  And besides, the hot wings are damned good.

The mayor has even stated that the city council can't reject Hooters on the issue of morality, that it's all about building codes; and, if the restaurant complies, it's as good as in (which it is, by the way, "in," that is).

The most interesting statement that came out of this saucy debate--to me--was uttered by one Jeanette Mattingly, a 79-year-old Florissant resident who said, "By its name, Hooters restaurant has targeted a woman's body part and is being disingenuous by calling it a slang word.  Let's drop the euphemism and just call it 'Breast Restaurant.'"

You go, Jeanette, girl.  Tell it like it is.

We all know what Hooters is about.  Hell, Hooters knows what Hooters is about:  chicks with boobs who deliver jugs of beer to dudes who want to eyeball chicks with boobs without having to drive to that place by the truck stop on the highway that advertises, "All Nude Girls 24-hours."

My point?  Probably not what you think.

We have such a problem in this country with being ourselves, particularly if that self falls outside the boundaries of what's politically or socially correct.

It's the sheep syndrome, and it's everywhere you look.  If you're a kid, it's called peer pressure.  If you're an adult, it's the whole "keeping up with the Joneses" mentality.  It's one of those implied lessons we're taught early on:  in order to be accepted, we must follow the pack.  We must tow the line.  We should fit in, nod our heads, and not make waves.

It's the fear of speaking out and voicing an opinion that's different for fear we'll be rejected, Sheep ostracized, left out of the group.  It's why nice boys do things in packs they'd never do solo.  Why nice girls learn to cave instead of growing a backbone.

Don't we all recall our mothers asking us, "If Tiffany jumped in the lake, would you do it, too?"  For far too many, the answer was--and still is--"yes, in a heartbeat."

So often I was the new kid in school, and it seemed so important to blend in as quickly as possible.  I remember wearing knee socks with skirts when I was in the sixth grade, the tail-end of middle school in Greenwich, Connecticut; only how was I to know that the kids in seventh grade at Spring Branch Junior High in Houston, Texas, thought knee socks were gauche and that 12-year-olds should be wearing pantyhose and high-heeled sandals?

My sister and I took more than our share of ribbing for our East Coast apparel, and we adapted as fast as we knew how (after a shopping spree with Mom at the local Foley's department store).  I mean, what junior high kid in her right mind wants to stand out?

As someone who's felt different all her life, as most creative people do, I couldn't wait to grow up.  I imagined that, once I got to be an adult, peer pressure would evaporate.  I figured there had to be a point where it was okay to be yourself, without explanation, without repercussions, without the fear of being resented by those whose opinions differed from mine.

Man, was I wrong.

There's as much pressure to be accepted in our adulthood as in our youth, and it's damned hard to pull away from the pack, no matter if you've got rebar where your spine is supposed to be.  I know I wanted to do the "right" thing, be the person I was expected to be, which is how I ended up at UT-Austin, pledging one of the best sororities on campus, and feeling like a fraud in my Cole Haan and Ralph Lauren.  I wanted to write, not go to business school.  I felt less than compelled to only attend mixers with carefully selected fraternities, to always have a date for football games (AND wear a skirt, for Pete's sake), and to heed who I hung out with so as never to embarrass my "sisters" (many of whom I didn't even like).

I wanted to be me.

Only it's hard to find out who that is when there's so much pressure to be like everyone else.  I finally got up the nerve to leave school, go home, and write a book, before enrolling in a different university entirely...one where few people knew me so I could start over without any pretenses.  Thanks to the support of my mom, I had the chance to figure out who I was, and I liked myself.  I'd never felt more free in my life.  Though staying on that course--recognizing I was, perhaps, a tad eccentric and prone to coloring outside the lines--has been tough, no matter how many years I've got under my belt.

Sometimes it's hard to remain true to yourself when you feel the grown-up pressures to bend to another's will.  It's hard to say "no" when people are so used to hearing "yes" all the time.  It's like when your sister asks if her butt looks big in her jeans--and it does--but you tell her, "no," just to avoid hurting her feelings.  If all your friends are yes-men, whom can you trust?  With pals like those, who needs Mr. Blackwell?

Truth, I read somewhere, is action.  It's not passive.  What results from being honest with yourself and others isn't always neat and pretty, but it's real.  Often truth won't make you popular, but when is life about being popular?  It's about finding our own paths, making a difference however we can, and not living each day of our lives afraid to step on someone else's toes.  It's about loving ourselves so we can love others who are important to us (and realizing that we can't love everyone any more than everyone will love us).

There will always, always be plenty of sheep.  There are never enough eccentric shepherds.

Take it from Audioslave (hey, you knew that rock music would enter into the picture somewhere!):  To be yourself is all that you can do.

March to your own drummer, dance to your own beat, write the story that only you can tell.

And, Hooters, c'mon now.  Isn't it time you got real?  Stick out your chest and be proud of who you are, because we all know it's not about the chicken wings...it's about the breasts.  It's not the hot sauce that draws the boys back...it's the hot pants.

True_1This above all:

To thine own self be true.

Amen, Willie Shakespeare.  Amen.

Okay, that's it for me at Lipstick!  Y'all take care, and I'll see you around!

Much love,

Susan

August 27, 2006

It's The Heart of Tartness Book Club!

On behalf of all the Book Tarts, I am delighted to announce the name of our new online Book Club:
The Heart of Tartness Book Club

And the winner is -- Kerry (the Martial Tart) - yippee!  Kerry - we'll be in touch directly about your fabulous prizes!
Thanks to everyone who entered - now we can all look forward to our very first meeting, this Friday, September 1st - we'll be discussing The Cinderella Pact by Sarah Strohmeyer - so finish it up and be ready to talk!

That's it for now - except - OK, I have to say it --- Barry Manilow?!  I love the guy - I was even a Fanilow (hey, I was 17) and I still love the music - but WTF?!?!  A complete Colbert shut-out?  It's a conspiracy, and confirms  - as many of us feared - the Academy is controlled by a Bear Cabal.  Emmys - you are On Notice.  Thank heaven Stephen had a vacation already scheduled, or they'd be Dead To Me.

The Weekend Link

The Weekend Link

Here it iBlog_cruise_fireds, our choice for your entertainment:

Tom Cruise is Nuts                                                   

ALSO - stay tuned for the WINNER in our Name Our Book Club Contest, and don't forget that our Online Book Club has its inaugural meeting this Friday, September 1, 2006.

The book is The Cinderella Pact by Sarah Strohmeyer.

And remember the first rule of Book Club: Everybody Talks About Book Club.

Check back later today for more details!

August 26, 2006

Scary Stuff: Snakes on a Plane v. Hep on a Bus

Scary SBlog_jackson_w_guntuff: Snakes on a Plane v. Hep on a Bus

This week was scary.  First, we saw Snakes on a Plane.  It was so campy, it was a scream.  It's your basic B Summer Movie. I spent about a third of the movie covering my eyes, and a third of the movie cheering at the cliches.  We had a great crowd in the theater - every time Samuel L. Jackson did or said something cool, people would cheer.  Face it, that's the reason people go to this movie; Samuel L. Jackson is the shit.  He got two standing ovations, as well.  One when he tasered the first snake, and one when he delivered the classic: "I've had it with these MF'n snakes on this MF'n plane!"  Anyone who has been following this pop culture phenom knows that the line, along with other Samuel L. Jackson kick ass stuff, was added after the film was already shot, in response to major internet lobbying. 

But the silly/scary movie was nothing compared to what I experienced the following day.  Orientation at an Urban Public High School.  I went to public school - in my hometown, there was no choice.  But for the sake of both safety and academics, our kids have thusfar gone to private schools.  At a private school, the big topic at Orientation has to do with volunteering to help with the Book Fair and whether or not to sell wrapping paper.  I'm not kidding about the wrapping paper.  If you haven't been hit up for this stuff, keep a low profile and be thankful.  We knew it was a sheltered environment - hell, that was one of the main attractions.

But our oldest prepared a portfolio, auditioned  and was accepted at our city's High School for the Creative and Performing Arts.  It's pretty exclusive - only about 100 kids out of about 500 applicants are accepted, so it's very exciting.  It's a non-traditional environment - all the academic classes are in the morning, and the afternoon is dedicated to the artistic majors. We think that's terrific for our daughter, who is an asynchronistic learner.  It's diverse in every way imaginable, which is also a big selling point.  Here's the problem.  It's in the middle of the city, and it's part of a huge public school system.

Our first clue that things were going to be significantly different were the registration forms.  We were used to filling out a bunch of forms about field trips, class parties, fundraisers (can't forget about the wrapping paper), who was allowed to pick up the kids, and lunch.  At the new school, we only had to fill out two forms:

1.  An affidavit confirming that our child had never been expelled from another school (if yes, please explain); and

2.  A questionnaire on which language(s) were the primary ones used in our home.

O-Kay.  Fair enough, both ask for important information.  And then came the presentations.  The highlight was when a City Police Officer did an hour long Power Point Presentation on City Safety.  Some of it was common sense; don't flash the cash, don't fling the bling, don't cut through alleys by yourself.  So far, so good.  It was boring, and I was trying not to get into trouble.  There is just something about a high school lecture that makes me want to wreak havoc.  Childish, yes, but then as Ferris Bueller will tell you, so is high school.

Blog_bus Anyhoodle, here's a word that got my attention: Hepatitis.  Apparently, you can get it from homeless people on the bus (how one would know the residential status of bus passengers was left unexplained).  Also, according to the Officer, there are many kinds of Hep - "Probably up through Q or R by now".  Super.  Also unexplained was how one could contract Hep, especially on the bus, because we were on to the next slide:

"How to Be A Good Witness to a Crime"

As the Cop was explaining how to look for identifying marks and so forth ("Nose to Toes, kids, try to get as many details as you can") my friend and I were furiously scribbling notes to our kids with messages like - "Forget the tattoos, just run like hell" and "This is not your job - your job is to stay safe and let the police find the criminals".  Obvoiusly, if you are in the very unhappy situation of being witness to a crime, you should try to provide details, but this guy made it sound like it was our civic duty to hang around and do a police artist-quality sketch. 

We weren't the only ones getting testy.  There were a lot of general rumblings in the audience, and finally, the presentation moved on to other City Safety topics like "Loiterers"; "The Mentally Ill" and "Solicitations", which had several sub-categories of its own.  As I said, the school is in the middle of the city.  Not surprisingly, about half a block down is a Strip Joint and Hotel.  The Hotel has flexible rates, meaning, you don't have to take an entire day.  So I figured there was bound to be something about Solicitations of a Very Personal Nature.  There wasn't, but we did decide later to advise the kids, if they see trouble and can't get back into the school, to run screaming in the direction of the Strip Joint, since there were bound to be public safety personnel of all kinds in attendance.

By the time it was over, I felt like one of those hovering Pre-K Moms, who stay with Junior through half the day.  The kids, of course, took it all in stride.  They kept the little notes, and mused about whether the term Hobo is politically correct.

So - to sum up.  Don't get near anyone on the bus.  Better to be a safe and fleeing potential victim than a good witness.  And given a choice, I'll take the Snakes.

August 25, 2006

Kegels

Kegel Exercises

By Margie, once again left in charge on a Friday afternoon, and who got away with the blog about vibrators last time, so what the hell?

Are you doing your kegel exercises? You should be. My doctor says there are many good reasons, but as far as I’m concerned, you only need one. Sex. I mean, come on, is there a better reason for doing anything, when you get right down to it?

If you are asking yourself : What the hell is a kegel? Don’t panic - you already know, you just might not know what it’s called. As a public service, I looked for the official definition, since my own version would get me fired - for real, this time.   I couldn't find a good photo that wouldn't get me fired either, so you're on your own for the visuals.

According to the medical experts, Kegels are a muscle group named after Dr. Arnie Kegel, but he didn’t discover them. Turns out the ancient Chinese Taoists had a whole lot of information on kegels in a practice called the Deer Exercise. I don’t really want to know what deer have to do with it, so moving on (but if you’re an ancient Chinese Taoist, call me). The purpose of Kegel exercises is to strengthen the pubococcygues muscles, aka the pelvic floor. Doing that has benefits for both men and women, and I don’t mean just in the sack. There are other benefits, too. Look it up.

Now, here’s what Kegels really are, without the medspeak, and with no foul language, which is harder than you think. For women: you know when you have an orgasm, those internal muscles that clench and relax? Those are your kegels, baby. You’re supposed to be exercising them all the time. Try some now - just squeeze and release. Don’t take your clothes off, and keep your hands on the keyboard - it all happens inside. Gawd, sometimes I wonder about people. If you are a woman and you’ve never had an orgasm, get a vibrator - shit, they’re everywhere now - and then come back. If you’re not sure whether you’ve ever had one, then you haven’t, okay? I mean, not everybody gets the fireworks every time, but if you’ve never like, blacked out for a couple of seconds and/or screamed stuff you wouldn’t normally be caught dead saying, you need to do some research. Get a freakin’ book or something, sit your partner down and say: "Hey! Whatever we’re doing is not working for me - read this damn book, or you’re out and the vibrator’s in - capisce?"

For men, I know where the kegels are (they’re underneath the middle of everything, basically) but I have no clue how you get them to work unless you’re climaxing, or doing the towel bar trick, so pay attention next time, or ask your doctor. I can’t do everything for you. Besides, let’s be honest - one of the few things men don’t have to work at is getting off. And do not even start on Viagra - that’s another blog.

Now that we all know what we’re talking about, let’s get down to the good stuff. The stronger your kegel muscles are, the more intense you can make your climax - your partner’s too, because it’s like the difference between a really great massage and someone just rubbing your back, savvy? I’ve always done kegels, from the time I figured out what they were. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I discovered weight training. You read that right, my friends - they make weights. Just like any work out, you start with low weights and move up.

I don’t know what kind of gym you go to, but I’ve never seen them outside of a specialty store or a catalog, and that’s the way it should be. I do not want to see little racks of them lined up next to the dumbbells, okay? They come in different styles. Some are for internal use only, so you can use them anywhere, and some are more extensive, so you can’t really walk around outside with them. You can also make your own, I guess. That would make a funny party game.

Like any other exercise program, I guess you should check with a doctor before you begin. Especially if the doctor is single and hot - and I don’t mean your OB/GYN - I mean any doctor. Talk about a great ice-breaker.

I suppose you could overtrain (another reason to find a hot doctor to supervise) but so far I’ve never heard of that - and I don’t think taking steroids would help either. Anyone who has ever spent time with a guy who took steroids will tell you there is nothing good going on down there. In fact, it’s bad. The entire downtown area is a wasteland kind of bad, you what I mean? You could have a batting average of .399, but you’re not swinging anything outside the batter’s box, and I think you know what I’m saying.

So - whether you’re a gym rat or a couch potato - do yourself, and that someone special, a favor and do your kegels. You can thank me later. But don’t thank me during - people will get the wrong idea.

Anyone else have any exercise secrets to share?

August 24, 2006

Block Party Bloodshed

by Nancy Martin

There's this woman who has her squinty, predatory eye on my husband.

We hosted the block party over the weekend, and most of the neighbors showed up with big smiles and potato salads, including a woman who has mastered the Nancy Reagan look--you know the one I mean--the worshipful, unblinking gaze of adoration. But this broad is giving it to my husband!  She also brought him brownies. With sprinkles.        

I'm thinking: Neighborhood smackdown.

My mother and dad were  married for 49 years, and my father was an attractive man right up until the end. A lot of ladies admired him. One particular church lady really, really admired him, and every time she saw my mother, she would ask with feigned concern, "How are you feeling, Barb?"

Hoping Mother would have a heart attack on the spot, of course.

Mind you, Jeff is oblivious to the hussy from the neighborhood. He doesn't notice that she changes sides of the street for her evening walk on those nights when he's mowing the lawn. She flags him down for heart-to-heart homeowner advice even though we have a real life Home Depot employee two doors down. Also, her dog "accidentally" slips its leash and frequently ends up in our garage at the moment Jeff gets home from work.

"Don't you look just like Kevin Costner!" she gushed one day when he got out of the car wearing a dark suit and tie.  "Or James Bond!"

I've seen dear Jeff at his best--and his worst--and although I love him until death do us part, he's rarely James Bond.

Some of the Greatest Hits of Our Marriage:

The time he decided to forgo switching off the breaker before snipping the wires to replace a light fixture. He climbed an aluminum ladder and used a pair of wire cutters. The boom was heard around the block, the blade of the cutters melted on contact, and the force of the jolt sent him tumbling to the floor, shaken, not stirred.

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Or the time he loaded up a garden wagon with bricks---way, way too many bricks--and tried to pull it up a hillside by himself.  ("I don't need no stinkin' tractor.") The heavy wagon began to roll backward, gaining incredible momentum as it headed down, straight for our neighbor's lovely patio.  He held on tight, tried to brace his feet, but ended up getting dragged on his butt through a hedge (ooh, the ice packs!) and over a newly planted vegetable garden before plowing into the picnic table which had been set for a birthday party. Fortunately, the 6 year-old guests had not arrived yet.  I made an emergency run to the Piggly Wiggly for a replacement cake.

My 007 fainted in the labor room when the nurse struggled to shove an IV needle into my hand.

You'd think after all my years of writing romance novels I'd have a more dewy-eyed opinion of my chosen mate. But frankly, his heroic moments haven't been as endearing as his klutzy ones.

Except:  After the neighborhood picnic, I was flat out on our bed with post-block party exhaustion, flipping between The Food Network (is there anything more soothing?) and the latest JonBenet update, while Jeff was downstairs watching his beloved Steelers. (They lost.  We don't despair, though.  I'm told Coach Cowher is keeping his powder dry.)

I was almost asleep when suddenly something flickered around the upstairs hallway.

A bat.

In the movies, bats fly with a wet sort of flapping noise, but when they're in your house, they're silent.  Which is creepy.

I leaped from the bed. In a single bound, I reached our bedroom door and slammed it.

Heart pounding, I peeked into the hall, and my husband called very calmly up the stairs, "Keep the door closed. I'll take care of it."

But we had given up our tennis racquets the last time we moved, so he lacked the appropriate bat-removal equipment.  He swatted at the thing a few times with a rolled up magazine (Architectural Digest.  A guilty pleasure, I'm sorry.) but that didn't work.  Bat radar, you know. I had the brainstorm of giving him an empty laundry basket to use, but that involved opening the bedroom door, which I wasn't keen on. So Jeff came up the stairs and bodily shielded me from the bat long enough to grab the laundry basket, which he used to swoosh the beastie out the front door within two minutes.

My hero. 

As we got ready for bed a little later, I left the bedroom TV on, and a movie trailer came up.  The Black Dahlia. Have you seen it? The male voiceover intones phrases like, "A woman devoured!"  The victim's body is also, "Cut in half!"  And her mouth is, "slashed ear to ear!"

Around his toothbrush, Jeff said, "Eew."

Bless his heart, right? Although he loves to watch football players beat each other senseless, he's not interested in movies about women who are hideously victimized.

He said, "Am I getting old, or are movies getting grosser these days?"

I think some lines have been crossed in recent years, yes. Hurting children in books, for instance, used to be a no-no. After A TIME TO KILL, however, that unwritten rule went out the window. We've been desensitized to the point that lots of writers feel the need to ratchet up the gross factor, and women are good targets. Maggots crawling out of naked breasts. Rape on the staircase. Skinning the fat lady. Bring it on--the more horrible, the better. Jerry Springer used to be taboo TV, but now he's playing in the waiting room at dentist's office. Every gory detail of a little girl's murder is laid out on the Today Show ("... semen in her underwear!") and fascinates even the most delicate among us, who would have changed the channel just a few years ago.

I must admit that lately I've been thinking about crimes against women.

Well, one woman specifically. Do you think I should tell her I'm on to her? Or just plot my revenge in silence? If the neighbor lady thinks she can win my husband with a pan of brownies, she'd better think again.

Because I spend a lot of time thinking about how to commit murder and get away with it.  And I have the best brownies, honey.

                                

August 23, 2006

Confessions of a Customer Service Rep

By Elaine Viets

Fran was in a red rage. "Those idiots screwed up my bill," she said. "They overcharged me $80. I’m gonna call them up and scream."

"Don’t," I said.

"Why not?" she said. "They’re stupid – or crooked. I can’t decide which. Fixing this bill will cost me half a morning."

Screaming will cost you more. I’ve worked customer service for my Dead-End job series. I’ve been threatened, cursed and screamed at. I expected that.

But if someone did the unexpected – if they were courteous or cracked a joke – there were surprises for them. Nice surprises.

Most customer service reps can waive fees, reduce minor charges, remove late penalties. Don’t get me wrong – you’ll still have to pay your bill. And we won’t remove a charge just because you say so. We’ll investigate your claim. But we might spend a little more time helping someone pleasant.

If you’re really nasty, you’ll pay for it. Most customer service reps apply what I call a jerk surcharge.

Here are five sure-fire ways to get a jerk surcharge:

(1) "I’m calling my lawyer."

If I had a dollar every time I heard that, I’d be on a yacht sipping mimosas with six bronzed hunks. Ditto for "I’ll sue you."

Customers love this threat. How many sue?

None. Zero. Zip. "I’m calling my lawyer" is the customer service version of "I’ll tell Mom." All it gets you is a jerk surcharge.

Some people actually do have their lawyers call us. "I hope this won’t result in legal action," the lawyer oozes.

He knows it won’t. The lawyer is milking his witless client for a fat fee. That’s a double jerk surcharge.

(2) Misplaced sympathy.

Say you missed a payment because your husband was in the hospital, you were laid off work, or your grandmother died, and you’ll probably get a break. Remember, you’re only allowed two dead grandmas.

Sometimes, I’m a quart short on sympathy. Especially on Mondays. People get their bills on Saturday and seethe all weekend. Service reps expect dozens of irate phone messages, all demanding call-backs. Meanwhile, the phones are ringing with freshly furious customers. It can take three or four hours to return calls.

One woman screamed, "You should have called me back an hour ago. I’ve been sitting by the pool with my cell phone. How can I enjoy myself when I have to wait for YOUR call?"

I could have waived the $50 late fee on her bill. But she was sitting by the pool and I was in a dusty office. I figured she didn’t need the fifty bucks.

(3) Lying: "I talked with that girl, Paula, in May," a woman told me. "She said I didn’t have to pay that $600 charge on my bill. She was supposed to remove it. It's still on my August bill. Can you take off the charge?"

That "girl" Paula is 50 years old. She warned me about people like you. You’re lying, ma’am. Your teenage son used your card, and he ran up that charge. You’re responsible for it, and Paula said so.

How do I know?

Every customer has a "comments" or "notes" section in the computer file. Here’s what Paula really wrote: "C. said she didn’t buy $600 in electronics. Pulled ticket. Signed by son, Jarrod, who is on her card. Explained to C. that she is responsible. She said son no longer had the items and they could not be returned. C. vry unhappy."

"Vry unhappy" is code for "yelled and screamed."

Every telephone tantrum is recorded in the "comments" section. Rack up some of those, and you get a bad reputation – and no more favors.

"I’m sorry, ma’am," I told her. "But our records show your son bought the merchandise. You are responsible."

"I’m not paying that bill," the vry unhappy customer screamed.

"And there’s a late fee," I added.

She hung up on me.

"Customer called about May bill," I typed in her file. "Explained charges, as per Paula. Vry unhappy."

(4) Hitting on the rep: Some men love to proposition women in customer service. "You have a sexy voice," said one. "Did you do 900 numbers?"

No, sir. But this call will cost you big time.

(5) "I’ll have your job."

It would serve you right.