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25 posts from February 2007

February 28, 2007

A Tourist Guide to South Florida

A Tourist Guide to South Florida

Thousands of tourist guides will tell you where to eat, sleep and shop. But I will give you helpful tourist tips you’ll never see anywhere else, in my

Viets Tourist Guide to South Florida

Sunglasses: Floridians may go nearly naked, but we keep our eyes covered. That sun is bright. Get yourself a good pair of sunglasses. Squinting causes crow’s feet.

Keep Florida beautiful: Floridians are casual about dress. We’re not afraid to show skin, even in our sunset years. We tolerate unusual dress, including leopard skin muu-muus and green satin toreador pants. We think there’s something funny about suits and ties.

But there is one subject where female Florida stands united, and our tolerance goes down to nearly zero: Speedos. Those little dinky suits that show off men’s dangly parts.

There are only six men in the world who look good in Speedos. You are not one of them, sir. Trust me. You’d be on the cover of a magazine if you had a body like that. Women would scream and faint when you took off your clothes.

If they just scream, please buy some nice baggy trunks.

Native customs: The sunset hours are sacred to Floridians. We celebrate them two ways: One is the Happy Hour, with free eats and two-for-one drinks. Happy Hour starts about four p.m. in many Florida bars.

So does the Early Bird Special, where seniors can enjoy cheap eats in restaurants and drive home before dark.

Enjoy your Happy Hour. It’s a short stretch from scarfing up free jalapeno poppers at Happy Hour to shoveling sheet cake and stale rolls into plastic bags in your purse at the Early Bird Special.

Drinking: Drinks with paper umbrellas will make you sick and stupid. Especially if you’ve had lots of sun and no food. They are the leading reason why smart women wake up in bed with guys who shouldn’t wear Speedos, and smart men wind up wrestled to the ground and handcuffed by the cops.

Driving: Everyone in Florida is either eighty going twenty, or twenty going eighty. During the tourist season, we add high-strung Easterners to the mix, whose only known hand signal is the bird.

Florida state law says all roads and highways must be torn up during tourist season. Every fourth highway exit is closed, and traffic is detoured through crowded shopping districts. Informative highway signs are also removed, although you will always know how close you are to Butterfly World.

Walking: Walking is even more dangerous than driving, due to "tourist brain," a blissed-out state in which otherwise sensible people wander into traffic, exclaiming, "Look at the parrot!"

Look at the semi, folks. Shipping tourists home in pine boxes is a little known but important Florida industry.

Jumping:

You cannot jump out of a ten-story window into the hotel pool. Even if they do it in the movies.

Shopping: In many Florida malls, you will see men selling stereo speakers, microwave ovens and big-screen TVs out of the backs of trucks in the parking lot. The warranty on these goods is null and void.

Go home: We love having you here. We think it’s grand when you call your friends in Poughkeepsie and said, "Ice? Yeah, I’m having an ice problem, too, Harold. It keeps melting in my glass."

But please go home when your vacation is over and your wallet is empty. Don’t move down here. We don’t need any more people. It’s getting crowded.

We’re the last tourists allowed to stay.

By Elaine Viets

February 27, 2007

Take this Job Interview and Shove It!

By Sarah

There's a lot to be said for the writer's life - especially once the manuscript that kept you chained to a desk for months is off to the printer's. (And THE SLEEPING BEAUTY PROPOSAL is. Yippee!) If nothing else, it allows me - in theory - to be a better mother. I said in theory. I ain't making any claims.

Right now the kids have seven days off from school, not counting weekends. One whole week plus Snow two extra days for "town meeting" smack in the dead of winter. They don't return until March 7th. Then they're in school for eight whopping days before they have another two days off for teacher whatever.

No wonder my newspaper editor regularly threatened to fire me every March.

Between this horror of a vacation (there'll be another week-long one in April), teacher in service days plus snow days and, of course, sick days, managing to get into the newsroom used to be a feast of scheduling time off, begging for mercy and interviewing confused officials while my elementary-aged kids, crazed with cabin fever, tried to lick off the wallpaper. It wasn't any easier for Charlie, then a state-employed lawyer. Frankly, I don't know we survived. I don't know how families still do.

Now, however, I barely think about this cruel vacation - except for when the occasional child falls face first onto the floor with boredom. I simply step over him or her and bless my stars that I bombed that job interview.

People tell you this when you botch a job interview or find yourself abruptly laid off or fired. "It will be the best thing that ever happened to you," they say. Though naturally you don't believe them. You're too worried or pissed to see beyond their annoying platitudes. It's not until years later when you've found your true calling (ideally), that you can look back and say in all honesty, "Shoot. I'm damned lucky I didn't get that job."

Newspapers The interview I screwed up wasn't any job interview- it was an interview with the only newspaper in Vermont that paid. Which meant it belonged to a chain. (I am, unabashedly, no fan of newspaper chains.) It was in 1997 and I was panicked for money, tired of being paid little more than minimum wage at a small New Hampshire daily after working for fifteen years in a business where I was expected to report for duty on weekends and holidays, dash out to cover an airplane crash on Christmas Eve, and possess a full spectrum of expertise on everything from municipal budgets to the biological basis for Mad Cow Disease. Plus, I had worked for the Cleveland Plain Dealer so I'd tasted a decent salary. I wanted it again.

The process had been ongoing for two months. First, I met with the statehouse bureau chief - several times. Then I submitted a formal application. Then I went out to lunch with a higher editor in Burlington and took a drug test. Never mind that I had worked at a newspaper ten times the size of this that had hired me after one day of interviews and a pretty measly test. I had two more interviews to go before this bunch would even think of putting me on the dental plan.

When it happened, it happened very fast. I was up in Burlington, at the main office, sitting in on an editorial board meeting when the Head Honcho blew in. I pegged him as the kind of newspaper executive who would have done us all a favor by never seeing All The President's Men. He suffered from serious Jason Robards syndrome - reading half-glasses on the head, feet on the desk, shirt sleeves (neatly) rolled up. After his poor impersonation of Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, he left and, surprisingly, I was summoned into his office.

The bureau chief told me I was a shoo in. I might even have the job by that afternoon.

Okay. I was not ready for this. I had at least two more interviews to go and I was not wearing myHothead  ultimate interview suit. (I was too freaking poor to own one!) Nevertheless, I went in, spied the fishbowl of Atomic fireballs on his all-too-messy desk and sized up the situation. This was Defcon 5 Dickhead.

"Tell me about yourself," he said, not looking up from my file.

A standard but boring question hallmarked by its meaninglessness. I answered in the way any normal person would answer, meaning that I told him about myself. I told him that I was a mother, that I had worked on newspapers since I was sixteen, that I had been editor in chief of my college newspaper (didn't mention the part about being brought up before the disciplinary committee for that), that I'd interned at Newsday and started my first-full-time job thirteen years before covering a Rutgers graduation less than twenty-four hours after my own....

"No, no, no," he scoffed, his face reddening for no reason. "You're reciting your resume. I said, tell me about yourself."

I was stumped. Immediately, the worst personal ad came to mind. I like long walks by the beach and sand between my toes. I like crisp cotton sheets in the summer and cinnamon apple tart in the winter. A warm fire, hot chocolate and someone to share it with. Making love in a spring rain...

"What does that question mean?" I asked.

"You don't know," he said, "do you?"

"Know what?" I knew he was a dickhead, for example, so clearly I knew something.

"Yourself. You don't know yourself."

Before I could respond, he closed my file and added, "This isn't some bullshit corporate question. This is a real issue. That's it. This interview is over."

I was befuddled. Worse, I felt as if I'd been set up. Being the plucky newspaper reporter I was, I asked outright, "I didn't get the job, did I?"

"No, no," he lied. "You did fine."

Plaid_pants I took a quick mental snapshot of his facial features figuring it might come in handy someday either in the Post Office or when I needed a character description. Balding. Red faced. Plaid pants. Got it.

That night, on the way home in the car of the bureau chief, smoke started blowing out of his heater duct. The car was on fire. I got out and watched him climb down the snowy embankment to call AAA and thought of my grandmother who'd died two weeks before. She had sent me a sign. That was just the kind of stunt she'd have loved to pull, setting an engine ablaze.

The next day I got the call. The bureau chief said the Head Honcho "went off" on me. I didn't know what that meant - had he ever been on me?

"You know," the bureau chief said in frustration, "I agree that was a bullshit question. But you don't tell him that. You say, 'Gee. That's a tough one. I'll have to give it some thought.'"

I stared at the phone.

A few weeks later, a small lesbian feminist press, God bless 'em, agreed to publish BARBIE UNBOUND. Not that that was going to save my financial situation. (Au contraire). Still, Geoff Hansen and I spent a fun-filled spring shooting the photos and the next I knew I was on national television and in the national press and big New York publishers were asking me if I had anything else to offer. We had a blast.

Two years later, I got my first contract for Bubbles and promptly quit my newspaper job. That summer was the first summer I got to spend with my children, playing and revising BUBBLES UNBOUND. Proofreading the manuscript, I took special delight whenever I came across Bubbles's newspaper boss, the irrational jerk Dix Notch whose fishbowl of Atomic fireballs was as red as his often irate face. Not that there were any other similarities between Dix and the Head Honcho. Hey - it's fiction.

The thing is, I never would have had the time to write Barbie, to promote her or, more importantly,Barbie_unbound  to write Bubbles (did it every night after work - thank you Charlie!), if I had known what to say when Dix Notch, er, Head Honcho asked me to tell him about myself.

So trust the universe. Sometimes, it's not as stupid as it looks.

Sarah

February 26, 2007

Oscar Shmoshker

Oscar Shmoshker
By Harley

I didn’t watch the Oscars. My husband watched, but I didn’t, except for the Dead People segment, which I love.

It’s a Scroogey thing to admit to on Oscar Monday.

This could be Sour Grapes, since I used to be an actress, one never nominated for an Academy Award. Not on the shortlist, not even on the medium-long list. And I have to say that if nominated, I would’ve run, and if elected, I would’ve served. But I wasn’t and I didn’t, and I wasn’t and I didn’t, and grapes aside, I’m talking now as a civilian. Jane Viewer.

It’s not that the show’s cheesy—I love cheese. I was raised on Miss Universe Pageants, allowed to stay up late one night a year to marvel at the fact that wherever you go on this earth, there’s a girl who is five feet ten inches tall, one hundred eighteen pounds, and thinks it’s normal to wear high heels with swimsuits. The problem with the Oscars is, it’s not cheesy enough. You wait for someone to show up wasted, dress badly, get booed, dance with Snow White or send in a Native American, but how often does it happen? Not often enough. And these days, it’s guaranteed to happen when I’m putting the kids to bed.

So then you’re left sitting through the worthy, the weepy, and the windbags (which would’ve been me if I’d ever won) and the occasional Class Act or Killingly Funny Moment or Absolutely Fabulous Gown, all of which you can catch on the eleven o’clock news.

Throw in the “Ladies and Gentlemen, the 79th Annual Academy Awards!” announcer, as though The Lord Himself is about to pop out of a limo, and you’ve got me reaching for the remote. I went once to an Oscar party, when I first moved to L.A. but I’d just put in a long day in the soaps, and I fell asleep.

Since then I’ve had three invitations to go to the Oscars but I’d rather spend those ten hours at the DMV. Unless you’re nominated or a presenter, you’re an extra. And being an extra is not A. fun, B. easy, C. progress on the road toward stardom, or D. a good idea for anyone whose self-esteem is not rock solid. I did go to the Grammys one year, as the date of a guy who was nominated for Best Music Video Director and that was a good time, because, frankly, I was in love with him. But it was also a long, long day. It was more like a month. If you think those shows go on forever on the tube, you should be part of the unedited version. It’s like being stuck in someone’s first draft, wearing uncomfortable shoes and holding in your stomach, praying for it to end, but the end is followed by another three hours in completely stopped traffic, where you hallucinate about being home and in jammies. You think you’d wind up saying, “Yeah, but on my way to the bathroom I bumped into Carlos Santana, which made it all worthwhile” but in fact, Elvis could’ve resurrected in the stall next to me and I wouldn’t have cared.

And living in L.A., it’s not like I can ignore Oscar Season, anymore than you can ignore Christmas if you work in the mall, or the Nebraska-Oklahoma football game if you grow up in Lincoln.

Of course, in the end, all this bitterness—you know what it’s really about, right?

They snubbed Casino Royale. Yeah, I heard Blond Bond was presenting, but I couldn’t watch. He was robbed.

So: who won?

Happy Monday!
Harley

February 23, 2007

Why Isn't Anyone Having Sex?

Why Isn't Anyone (Else) Having Sex?

By Me, Margie, who is, but what's with the rest of you?

Everywhere I go, people are bitching about sex.  Not the fun kind of bitching, like - 'can you believe he really thought I would do that?!'  Or the standard kind of bitching, like - 'doesn't anyone remember the concept of ladies first?'

I mean, people - men and women both - are really not having sex.  And they're talking about it.  Everywhere.  The salon.  In restaurants.  At the mall.  Online.  On their cell phones in the grocery store.  And by the way, Shelly - you know that conversation you had in the produce section about how you've been stepping out on Mark for months and he doesn't know it?  He does now, honey.  So I hope you did some shopping while you were standing there yakking.

Really, people - do you think the cell phone automatically provides some kind of cone of silence?  Well, surprise - it doesn't.  So the next time you decide to launch into a cell phone discussion invloving the details of your gastro-intestinal problems, how about taking it somewhere other than the booth next to mine at the International House of Pancakes, okay?

OK - so we were talking about sex, or no sex, as the case may be.   Lately, I feel like I am wearing a big sign that says: "Hi, I'm Margie.  Tell me you're not getting any."  And what am I supposed to say to that?  "Me neither?"  Shit, I've got enough reasons for going to hell without adding lying to the list.  No, what they want me to say is: "Oh, no problem, just do X, Y and Z, and you'll be going at it like bunnies."  I don't think so.  You don't amass a knowledge base like mine and then just give it away.

The thing is, I totally get that some people don't think sex is the greatest thing on the planet.  I myself cannot understand why they make vanilla ice cream.

But if people are kvetching about not having sex, then I have to assume that: (a) they remember what it is; and (b) they liked it.  And instead of making suggestions like - oh, I don't know, maybe changing things up a bit - maybe a light on or something - or maybe a position other than the one in the 6th grade biology book - whatever - I am going to try to nail down the reason.

After listening to a lot of people - and I mean a lot of people, here are my seven theories:

1.  People get married.  That's the kiss of freaking death for good sex, and everyone knows it.

2.  People are tired.  Winter is the worst for this one, because when the weather is lousy, people feel lousy.  And when they feel lousy, they can't get it through their thick heads that sex makes you feel so much better, and it's worth it to fake the first five minutes or so until your body has time to catch up to the good stuff. 

3.  Women don't like to shave their legs unless it's a sure thing, and then it's too late.

4.  People would just rather fly solo - it's easier, quicker and everybody goes to sleep happy.

5.  No one is going to hotels any more.  If there is anyone out there who doesn't know that hotel sex is always hot, wake up and smell the room service.

6.  People are afraid they're going to catch something, such as a loser who tries to stick like a barnacle.  Or, like, herpes.

7.  Mother Nature is a bitch.  In order to propogate the species (learned that in Sunday School), men are at their sexual peak in their teens and twenties.  But women don't reach their sexual peak until their 40s and 50s.  So good for Demi and Ashton, and the rest of you are screwed.  Which is what they call irony, right?

So listen, I simply cannot do everything for you people, and I didn't even put up any pictures because every time I do that and it's about sex, I get a note in the file. 

I can only do so much - now that I've alerted you to this crisis - let's call it Global Frigi'ng - you need to do your part to pull the rest of humanity out of this slump.

So shave your legs - or your face, guys - nobody likes a brush burn in the cold weather - and put on some perfume and some music and take one for the team. 

And remember - like I always say - you can thank me later.  But don't thank me during.  People will talk.

P.S. Uh, to the Book Tarts: I know I was supposed to post Rebecca's blog about depression, or seasonal affection disorder or whatever. Not a chance. This is Friday and I have a rep to uphold around here. Don't go playin' Captain Bringdown with my people. You can post that crap some other day.

February 22, 2007

After the Revolution

After the Revolution

by Nancy

Assuming the apocalypse has come and gone, civilization is in ruins, law means nothing and families do anything to stay alive, what will your contribution be?

This is a parlor game at my house. (Now you know: Writers are not made by playing Candyland.) This game is a hoot because it boils down all family members to their most useful and useless parts.  And it saves oodles of dough on therapy.

At Thanksgiving dinner one year, we howled with laughter over the contributions various family members could contribute to our mutual survival After the Revolution. My mother--a former tennis pro and somewhat of an historian--volunteered to earn her keep by scrubbing floors. My aunt Nancy, a psychoanalyst and child development expert, said she'd look after the children. My sister despaired until she realized she had one great talent--shopping--which suited her perfectly for standing in bread lines. I worried that I might be reduced to sweating over a hot stove (at the time my expertise in feeding casts of thousands at cocktail parties was much in demand) until I realized that my passion for growing perennial flowers could probably translate into harvesting vegetables as long as people liked zucchini a lot. 

My husband said he'd herd sheep.

After the Revolution (patent pending) germinated from my grandmother's most high praise of any female.  After meeting someone who met with her approval, she would say, "Now, there's a capable woman!"                       

My grandmother was no slouch herself. She raised five daughters during the Depression and WWII. She grew, canned, cooked and served three square meals a day. She ran a successful small business, too--a jewelry store, which surely tested her powers of salesmanship in that era. She ran a bridge club, the women's sewing circle, the Eastern Star, a girl scout troop, church activities--all the stuff of small town life.  She had grown up on a farm (no electricity or running water) four miles from town via a footpath.

Growing up with such a formidable mother, my mother and her four sisters came up with a measure of female capability they called The Bossy Lady contest. The sisters aspired to be not just capable, but wanted to recognize who was the most capable of them all.  (You know about sibling rivalry, right?)  To make the contest civilized, they created specific qualities a truly capable woman should possess.  Some of the qualities included:

1.  Skills.  Like fixing tractors, reading a topo map, catching trout, making jelly, changing a tire, pitching a tent.

2.  Appropriate emergency behavior.  If the kitchen curtains catch fire, do you run screaming into the yard? Do you call 911? Or do you calmly put out the flames yourself? (My mother won this part of the contest because she had put out numerous fires---including one in her college dormitory---with a garden hose.)

3.  The ability to quell an unruly crowd (small children, drunken frat boys, overly enthusiastic football fans, etc) with a single glance.  Bill Cosby claims he hired Phylicia Rashad to play his TV wife purely because she could deliver The Look. 

4.  The aura of authority. This quality is tricky to describe, but I bet you know it when you see it.  Some people have a certain bearing, a powerful manner, the unspoken air of command. A mob will turn to this person in a crisis. The added complication is that this quality must not be assumed by force.  It must be naturally exuded.

There were other, carefully negotiated and worded characteristics established for the Bossy lady contest, but you get the drift. Maybe you can suggest more. The competitors agreed to meet at the family summer house on a Canadian lake, and the contest took place on Shakespearean night with thunder and lightning and so much hysterical laughter that we honestly feared Aunt Martha might suffer a stroke on the spot.

The winner was Mary Jane, a forensic psychologist, practising therapist and college professor by day.  She was deemed the most capable woman, The Bossy Lady.

Years later, my girlfriends and I (all young mothers at the time) took the contest and updated it a bit.  We decided "bossy" wasn't a word we liked, nor was it a word that sufficiently communicated the "capable" component of the women we aspired to be. The result, we decided, was a Thunder Woman--a powerful, intelligent, independent, capable woman with some feminine qualities, too, but not enough to weaken her or make her ridiculous.

Paris Hilton need not apply.

Because Aunt Martha has been gone a few years, and Mary Jane passed away three weeks ago (and Aunt Nancy's in the midst of a health scare) the younger generation has been sneaking furtive--and yes, competitive--glances at each other. Who among is is the new Bossy Lady?

Or are we all Thunder Women thanks to those who came before us?

Anyway, that's how we play After the Revolution.  What's your skill?

February 21, 2007

The Poor Man's Baldness Cure

The Poor Man’s Baldness Cure

By Elaine Viets

The man on the Florida beach was dressed like a tourist. He had black socks, sandals, shorts and a second-degree sunburn. His shirt was loud, even though the parrots on it couldn’t talk.

But that isn’t what caught my friend Sarah’s attention. "Look at that guy’s hair," she said. "What’s he done to his head?"

The man’s brown hair was folded over his balding dome like an origami sculpture and plastered down with hair spray. Even the ocean breeze couldn’t move that hair stack.

"He’s honoring our great state," I said.

"He’s wearing a comb-over," Sarah said.

"Exactly," I said. "The comb-over was invented in Florida."

"Somebody actually invented that?" she said.

"And patented it."

The first time I heard about this, I thought it was a joke. Nobody would invent a comb-over on purpose. Women hate them. We prefer honest baldness to that tortured and sprayed mess on a man’s head.

But the comb-over isn’t for women. It was invented by men for men.

The comb-over is the brainchild of an Orlando, Florida, father and son: Frank Jackson Smith and Donald Jackson Smith. Their U.S. Patent No. 4,022,227 is called "Method of concealing partial baldness."

It was issued (when else?) in the tasteful seventies – May 10, 1977.

The inventors tried to help their fellow men. Their patent is a work of true compassion. Here’s what it says:

"For those people who are partially bald and wish to cover the bald area hair transplants, hair weaving and hairpieces are the most commonly used solutions. The cost of covering bald areas by one of these methods can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars depending on a person’s choice and financial means. Some of these commonly used bald area coverings require periodic care, which generally cost money.

"Obviously a partially bald person without the financial means can not afford the luxury of such hair coverings. This person, therefore, has few options; he can attempt to use his own hair to cover the bald area, but generally most people do not have the ability to properly plan a hair style that will look good, and most attempts result in brushing the hair in one direction over the bald area, or he can allow his baldness to show."

Many men cannot bear the thought of an unclad scalp. Frank Smith was one of them. Especially when his son, Donald, began "poking at him some," Donald told the Orlando Sentinel.

They got the idea for the patented comb-over "over a jug of homemade wine," which explains a lot.

Here, in government legalese, and without the aid of stimulants, is the official explanation from the patent:

"The method here disclosed uses the remaining hair around the bald area on a person’s head. The hair in this area must be extra long to cover the bald area. Generally the hair should be about 3 to 4 inches long."

The Smiths used drawings to illustrate a proper comb-over.

"To use the method of this invention, the hair around the bald area is divided into equal portions . . . the hair on a person’s head is folded over bald area, beginning with the hair from the back of the head, and then from first one side and then the other."

After the hair from the back of the head is folded over, "an object" is placed "over the hair and hair from a first of the sides is brushed over the object."

"Said object is a person’s hand," the patent said.

Spray. Fold in the hair from the second side, spray again and style.

There you have it – the patented comb-over.

Donald Smith said his dad planned to create "a spray-on hair tonic for men that would hold it all in place." Alas, he never succeeded. Frank’s hair and money continued to recede until he died.

But the Smiths created one of the biggest mysteries in hair styling:

The comb-over was invented to help the poor man. But it’s favored by the filthy rich Donald Trump.

Why would The Donald wear a comb-over, when he can afford better?

Is he too cheap to buy hair transplants or a good rug?

Or is he returning to his . . . roots?

***

Want to see the patented comb-over for yourself? Carol Giles-Straight, Patent and Trademark

Depository Librarian at the St. Louis Public Library, confirmed it’s no joke. She says you can read the patent filing and check out the comb-over illustrations at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Website at www.uspto.gov or on Google Patents at www.google.com/patents

February 20, 2007

Root Canal of the Apocalypse

By Sarah

I love slow news days because of articles like this one that appeared Sunday: a group of astronomers wants the U.N. to take action against an asteroid destined to hit and - possibly - destroy Earth on April 13, 2036. It was kind of odd, I thought, that they could narrow this collision down to a single day and so, following a hunch, I did a quick check and found, voila!, that April 13, 2036 will be Easter.

Impact Yup. This is the big one.

Actually, the big one comes as no surprise. I've been waiting for Armageddon and, frankly, I'm a little miffed it's taking this long.

After all, mine is a generation of nuclear age babies, weaned on the concept of mutually assured destruction. My mother was pregnant with me during the Cuban Missile Crisis. We watched Duck and Cover in fourth grade and, in college, our party song was Prince's 1999 where everyone had a bomb so let's have free sex. (Then AIDS had to come along and ruin all the fun.) Armageddon was nothing more than a backstage pass for all sorts of self-destructive behavior.

But it's funny how age screws with one's acceptance of total annihilation. Today I could care less whereas ten years ago the thought of an asteroid plunging into the world sent me running to my children's rooms with fears that we were all doomed.

It was a crystal clear night and Charlie and I, having found a rare opportunity for intimacy, had awakened to ....Well, whatever. The point is that during this moment, I looked out the window to see a HUGE STAR in the sky. At first, I thought it was a plane or maybe a trick of the eye, but no. This star was brilliant. And big. Oh-little-town-of-Bethlehem big.

I had a strange, creepy feeling that this was no ordinary star. This was the beginning of Armageddon. And what was I doing? Having sex! Oh, what a profligate I was.

Leaping from the bed, I ran downstairs to where our laptop was hooked up to the phone line (those days!) and found, much to my relief, that Christ had not come back to judge the living and theHale_bopp_1  dead, but that a comet called Hale-Bopp discovered by two amateur astronomers was passing by. It hung for days and seemed to perch on top of our house, its huge tail flying behind it. Neighbors stood in our driveway and took photos. It was truly the most spectacular thing I'd ever seen in the sky - better even than the guy who used to fly a bicycle over our house. (Long story.)

These days, though, my first thought about a comet plunging into Earth is - Does this mean I don't have to spend $7,000 on my teeth? That's right, you heard me. SEVEN GRAND! It's not like it's seven grand spent on a month traveling the world or a posh vacation in a Caribbean resort. No. This is seven grand spent on two root canals, bridgework, crowns, cavities, cleaning and teeth whitening.

I mean - the end of the world is coming! Who cares if my rear left molar is crumbling into decay.

Surely, with the days ticking away, I can find something better to do with my time and money than sitting in a chair with all sorts of metal in my mouth for weeks on end. Why can't they just yank out the teeth and let me be, anyway? In light of Armageddon breathing down my back, are dentures all that bad?

I think we need to prioritize. We have only 29 more years left - if Global Warming doesn't fry us first. We need to add up the money we have and figure out how to spend it to, okay, alieve the suffering of others, sure, but also to have fun! How about our TBR pile? That chocolate decadent cake we always pass on? The trip to Greece? The bungee jumping? There's so much to do and see.

And what about that job? Is it really necessary to spend day in, day out in an office park? With only 29 more years left, we shouldn't have to put up with rude coworkers or nasty bosses. We should be strolling on beaches, climbing mountains and breathing in what's left of the fresh air - not fighting for parking spaces.

Look, you and I both know the U.N. will never be able to get its act together to stop that asteroid. They'll get as far as a committee, maybe, and then they'll table the asteroid resolution and go out to lunch. We're goners! Rejoice! This so takes the pressure off.

Like our British friend who's staying with us for a week pointed out, the only reason why people over forty start having dental problems is because our teeth weren't meant to be used that long. By now we're supposed to be, uhm, dead.

I'm cancelling that root canal, pronto.

Sarah -

February 19, 2007

Help Wanted

Help Wanted

by Michele Martinez

I am a living example of the principle that book learning and common sense do not always go hand-in-hand.  Despite various diplomas moldering away in that box in the basement, sometimes I barely manage to navigate daily life.  For example, it took about five times of my kids shouting "YOU LEFT THE LIGHTS ON!" before I realized they were gleaning that information from the beeping noise the car makes when you turn it off.  But I do learn from experience.  Now when I turn the car off, I recognize that sound all by myself.

This cluelessness makes sense given my personal history.  I left the hallowed halls of Alma Mater Go to fullsize image armed with a nuanced understanding of the difference between John Locke and John Stuart Mill, ready willing and able to sit for any exam (essay, multiple choice or short answer), but not fit for much else.  I then immediately landed a job on Al Gore's Senate staff writing form answers to constituent mail and coding them for the word processing department. 

On any given day, I produced scores of letters like this:

Dear [NAME],

Thank you for your insightful comments regarding [ISSUE #17] and [ISSUE # 32].  I share your concern for the future of our great nation.  Rest assured that I am considering legislation that will [INSERT RESPONSE 342].

Sincerely [ACTIVATE SIGNATURE MACHINE]               

                                            Go to fullsize image

It was the perfect job for me, the only requirements being fluency in English and Doublespeak, a language brilliantly taught at Alma Mater.

Next, I went to law school.  Those of you out there with real jobs may laugh, but to me, law school was an oasis of practicality compared with what had gone before.  They didn't exactly teach me how to do anything, but they did teach fundamental principles underlying things I might want to do someday.  For example, in Family Law, I learned about Community Property, very useful if I ever needed to draft a pre-nup or get divorced, neither of which I've ever done, thankfully.  I also learned about the Rule Against Perpetuities (a/k/a/ "Purple Chewy Things").  Extremely useful in drafting a will, which I have never done, but also helpful in explicating "Body Heat," one of my favorite movies.                                              Go to fullsize image

I left law school with a tan (come to think of it, how stupid can I be if I went to law school in California?) committed to the ideal of Finally Doing Something.  After kicking around for a few more years clerking for a judge and working at a law firm where I didn't accomplish much, I realized my greatest dream and got hired by the U.S. Attorney's Office, a place where real life happened, where my actions mattered, where I would need -- GASP! -- common sense.

Luckily, the powers-that-be recognized that we all showed up fresh from the ivory tower not knowing a blessed thing, so they trained us.  My first taste of this was the day before my first oral argument in the Second Circuit.  Julie from Appeals was called in to give me the intensive prep session.

"What do I need to know?" I asked her anxiously. 

"Do you commute to work in your sneakers and keep your shoes under the desk in your office?"

"Yes."

"When you go to the Second Circuit, bring your shoes."

At last, I had come home.  A place where they truly understood my kind.  I'd already memorized all the case law.  The Latin phrases flowed trippingly from my tongue.  But I was unlikely to bring my shoes unless Julie from Appeals told me to.  I lived the next eight years in a state of perfect bliss, accomplishing important things without screwing up, all because I'd finally been told how to find the courtroom and which file folder to bring.

But then I switched careers.  Talk about impractical, I am now An Author.  Not only do I never need to get dressed or leave my house, but everything I write in my books, I'm allowed, even encouraged, to make up.  After six years of this, I am so out of touch with reality that it's amazing I haven't accidentally burned my house down.  Under the circumstances, I feel I must take action.  So I'm putting out a call for practical tips relating to being an author.  You know the type.  Things that will actually help me survive in this business day-to-day.  Here are a few that people have given me so far:

  • Set up your computer as far away from your refrigerator as possible;
  • A novel is about a lot of things; a short story is about one thing (courtesy of Reed Farrel Coleman);
  • At conventions, you can keep your money and room key in that nametag thing that goes around your neck;
  • Mr. Typepad works best if you sing to him (okay, that one's mainly about blogging).

Any and all help much appreciated.

February 18, 2007

Got Milk?

Got Milk?

By Rebecca the Bookseller

Remember Murphy Brown? What a great show, and the scenes where Murphy gives birth are classic. One of my favorite lines of all time is when she's complaining to Frank about nursing. "What next?!" she shreiks, "Is bacon going to shoot out of my elbow?!".

Gentlemen, you may be excused at this point, since this subject, unlike most of mine, is something only women will understand.

I've got milk.

No, I am not pregnant, and I never will be again, or my OB/GYN willl need to put his malpractice carrier on notice. So why is it that I found myself in a Bun in the Oven store, or whatever they're called, buying those nursing pads? Who the hell knows. Maybe I was a wet nurse in a previous life. Like Mammy - the brains of the operation that was Tara.

This has happened to me before - like when one of my sisters had a baby and I spent time with him or her. But my youngest niece is already 4, so what gives?

This crap is out of the clear freaking blue sky.

They think it's some kind of menopausal hormonal surge. No shit. As if the hot flashes, insomnia, and yo-yo of a drive wasn't enough. Do they have a clue why? No they do not. And why don't they have a clue? Because there is not a penis attached to the problem. Don't start with me, any of you - you know it's the truth.

If you're going bald, boys, you've got choices out the wazoo. Can't keep it up like you used to? Take your pick - the one-nighter, the all-nighter, the weekender package with complimentary warming oils. Prostate cancer? Fabulous treatment options including nuclear implants, no less, AND a free lifetime prescription for the ED drug of your choice and six months of Golf Digest.

Girl stuff? Not so much. Face it, we haven't made much progress since the tampon was invented in the Fifth Century, B.C. by the ancient Greeks, although the Egyptians may have been using them before that. When I need a source, and Hippocrates has a citation, I generally go with that one. I'll even give you progress in 1929, when the modern tampon (with applicator) was first invented and patented by Doctor Earle Haas. He later trademarked the product as Tampax. Since then? Not much. And don't give me the crap about the 45,000 different sizes of pads. Who cares? I'm talking real progress, not cuter ways to deal with it.

The good news is that I may have a new career path to consider - like the circus or something. Or maybe some rich family with a genetic calcium deficiency. Margie even offered to be my agent, but I'm not sure what that was all about. When it comes to Margie, I tend to smile and nod while leaving the room as quickly as possible.

So I know it's a lot to ask - but would anyone else like to share their story? I'll bring cookies.

February 17, 2007

Jim Born Guest Blogs

The Sexist Inside

By guest blogger and friend o' the Tarts, James O. Born who has been a special agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and if you want to see a hunky photo of him guarding a big ass shipment of pot, go here. 

There is no real test to see if you have hidden racial prejudice.  There is no test to find out if you’re a homophobe.  But the other day I was given a test to see if I was a sexist.  And it helped me understand a lot.  Let me explain what happened.

I was at The Sports Authority with my daughter.  She’s playing lacrosse and needed shoes, protective gear and other assorted sports items.  I admit, as the father of two kids, a boy and a girl, I might have raised them both as boys.  Sports are big to us.  We play them together and often our vacations are planned around playoffs or all-star travel games.  So needless to say I couldn’t have been happier shopping for sports equipment.

My daughter, Emily, and I approached a sales clerk in the aisle and I asked him where the mouthpieces were located.

Then the test came.  He looked at my daughter, smiled and said, “What on Earth does this little girl need a mouthpiece for?”  I shook my head thinking that this guy just insinuated that because she was a cute girl she couldn’t possibly play a rough sport.  It was all I could do not to look at her angelic little face and say, “Go ahead and kick his ass.” 

No one ever asked me what my son played that required a mouthpiece.  But the idea that Emily couldn’t possibly play a rough sport because she was a girl pissed me off.  Pissed me off in a big way.  I now understand the saying, “No father could be a sexist.”  It’s true.

I didn’t think I was a sexist, just like I don’t think I’m a racist or a homophobe.  I’m not tested on either of those subjects but I feel confident I would pass.  I might not have the righteous indignation I had for my daughter, but I’d pass.

I read a lot of books and often they follow the “damsel in distress” formula, which can be extremely entertaining and I use myself occasionally.  But I started thinking about it and realized I have female characters who use physical violence, curse and are even bad guys.  I realize that I like writing about tough women.  I always joke that I want a woman who can back me up in a bar fight and if the worst happens, she can work the farm with me after a nuclear winter.  Maybe it’s not a joke.  I married a woman who is athletic, tough and fun.  I’m raising a young woman who is a good athlete, tough and fun.  I like to write about women who are athletic, tough and fun.  Some are good, some are bad, but few are ever victims.  Since my books are based on my experiences as a cop, I’d be remiss if I didn’t portray women in all aspects of crime. 

No matter what I write or how I’m affected by reading about women, I feel confident I could pass another sexist test.  Not that I need one as I teach my daughter the value of a good elbow when someone crowds her on the basketball court or maybe the proper way punch if she’s ever backed into a corner.  I did it for my son, why wouldn’t I do it for my daughter?

Think about the characters you write about or the ones you enjoy reading about.  Are the men always stupid oafs and the women super cool and smart?  Are the minorities all criminals or cops all corrupt?  You don’t have to be white to be a racist and you don’t have to be male to be a sexist.

I’m not accusing anyone, I’m just saying consider what you write and why you write it.  Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to be given a spontaneous test and pass it.

James O. Born’s fourth novel, Field of Fire, is due from Putnam on February 15.  It follows the investigation of a serial bomber across the

U.S.

by an ATF agent.