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29 posts from October 2007

October 31, 2007

He’s out there looking for you

He’s out there looking for you

By Elaine Viets

"Dear Miss Viets:

"I saw you on TV and you are not too fat. I would like to marry you, but the doctors say I can never touch another woman again."

Brrr. My self-appointed fiancé also sent me a poem called "Darkness, Blackness and Very Bad Smells."

The return address was the state institute for the criminally insane. That sent chills down my spine, and they had nothing to do with Halloween.

The letter was unsigned, but I called the head of the asylum. He knew who I was talking about. "Oh, him. You don’t have to worry about him."

"Why not?"

"He likes to send letters to the President. The Secret Service keeps a close watch on him."

The asylum head said it was doubtful my would-be lover would be out anytime soon. He also said he couldn’t make the man quit sending the letters.

Fortunately, I only got one. That was several years ago, when I worked for a newspaper and had a local TV show. This wasn’t the only weirdo I’ve encountered.

How about the library talk where a man asked how many sixes were in my name? Three sixes were the mark of the Biblical beast in his mind, and apparently I had them all over me.

"I want you to write my life story," he said.

"Sorry," I said. "I’m under contract."

"Well, my story would sell a lot better than yours."

I asked a guard to walk me to my car after the event. I wasn’t toughing this one out. I never saw that character again, either.

When I worked in Hollywood, Florida, a man with a lot of homemade tattoos left love letters on my car windshield, along with a pack of off-brand cigarettes. As a final tribute, he put the keys to his Harley on my landlord’s front porch with yet another letter. Since this was South Florida, my landlord thought the love letters were for him.

"Call the police," a cop friend told me.

"I don’t want to bother them," I said.

"Your murder will generate a lot more paperwork," the practical cop said. "We like to prevent things."

I put the love letters and cigarettes in a ziplock bag, and called the Hollywood police. A streetwise officer figured out my admirer was a drifter who lived in a run-down apartment three doors down. The drifter spent his days smoking those off-brand cigarettes on the apartment’s porch. The streetwise cop brought the guy over to apologize.

"I’m very sorry," the man said. "My behavior was inappropriate."

He didn’t look like the sort of person who used "inappropriate" often. He vanished three days later.

The American Psychological Association said the "overwhelming majority of stalkers are male. It is estimated that eight percent of women have been stalked at some point during their lifetime."

Here’s something that will freeze your blood. Your stalker can now get a free map to your home, just by typing in your phone number on Google.

Valerie, a single friend, sent me a much-forwarded warning that "Google has implemented a new feature which enables you to type a telephone number into the search bar, hit ‘enter,’ and you will be given the person’s name and address. If you then hit MapQuest, you will get a map to the person’s house.

"Everyone should be aware of this," the email said. "It’s a nationwide reverse telephone book. If your children give out their phone number, someone can now look it up to find out where they live. The safety issues are obvious and alarming."

I went to Google.com and typed in my phone number. There was my husband’s name and a map to our condo. I clicked on the Removal form.

Another law enforcement officer told me to check 411.com. That site also had our phone number and address.

"I always get an unlisted number for home," the officer said. "I run all my bills through a post office box and try to ‘layer’ myself in case a nut job was out there. With the Internet and if you own a home, there’s so much information that’s public domain or available for a few dollars through a service."

What can you do?

Remove your name from these sites. If you discover another site giving out your phone number and address, take the time to remove yourself.

Before some weirdo does it for you.

October 30, 2007

I Do, I Do, I DO! Believe in Ghosts

I Do, I Do, I DO! Believe in Ghosts

By Sarah

Back_seat_ghost_lg The major news media seemed shocked last week when an expertly timed poll revealed that one third of us believe in ghosts.

Well, duh. Everyone knows that if you don't believe in ghosts they come to haunt you. Look at this guy. Thanks to his skepticism, he has a spooky back seat driver.

Frankly, I don't know how a person can't believe in ghosts, though I doubt highly that ghosts haunt graveyards in order to spook the occasional curious crowd of teenagers. That makes no sense. The living spend very little time around the place where their remains will lie, so why would they haunt it when they're dead? That's like going on vacation and showing slides of where you threw your trash.

No. Ghosts are merely reflections of obsessions. The lighthouse caretaker who is so bound by his duty to insure no ships crash on his coast that a certain part of his spirit still cannot leave. The nurse who walks the halls caring for patients. The murder victim who, having died prematurely, continues to believe she's alive. Ditto for some children or teenagers.

How do I know? Because the British say so. Our friends from London are perfectly sane, normal people (aside from a rather odd Big Brother fascination) who talk about ghosts like they discuss dogs. (Though perhaps not with the same loving tone.) To them, ghosts are just what come with old houses - on the same par with a creaking floorboard or a tipped foundation. Slightly troublesome, but not concerning.

For example, Anna - the wife and mother in this family - tells the story of a house her friend owns thatGirlinwindow2151x131  is haunted by a nanny who patrols at night insuring everyone is safe and sound. Anna herself has seen this specter moving from room to room, through walls and such. One afternoon she looked up to see the nanny peering at her from the upstairs window.

Still don't believe me? Consider a former editor of mine, a delightful woman not given to fancy in the least who, after living in her Manhattan condominium for many years, woke up one night to find a nicely dressed old man studying her from across the room. After giving her a good long look, he neatly draped his coat over his arm and walked through the wall.

She never saw him again.

But forget hearsay and friends of a friend. Here's a video posted on youtube (one of several) showing a ghost who haunts a pantry that opens and closes at night. For full effect, I'd watch this one first and then this one and finally, this one, the freakiest of all. (Though what the hell is a short escrow.) Also, here's a website (of many) devoted to ghost photographs.

(Okay...so I procrastinate when I'm hammering out first drafts.)

Toysghost_1_ Here's my favorite. It's of a Toys 'R Us where strange things were happening, toys were falling off shelves (is that strange for aToys 'R Us?), etc. It's the guy leaning against the wall in the back. He wasn't there when the photographer took the photo.

Or was he? Here's a link to read more.

Do I believe in ghosts ? Well, that depends on how you define ghost. Charlie and I had our honeymoon haunting I've told you about in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. And then there was this cottage my family rented on Lieutenant's Island off of Wellfleet. It was an old duck hunting cottage, isolated and small. A tinderbox. Even as a teenager I could not sleep in the back bedroom because "something" would visit me at night. Sometimes I'd feel fingers running through my hair, other times I'd wake bolt upright, frightened out of my wits. I hated that room.

Years later, when my brothers and I were renting the cottage and overlapping stays with friends, my brother asked if I'd ever felt odd about that back bedroom. He and his then wife had actually seen the ghost. A friend of mine woke up screaming in that room claiming there was a hand around her neck while my best friend since age four, a devout Catholic and Stephen King freak slept like a rock.

So those are my ghost stories. You've probably got a rational explanation for these sightings. (I'm reading Alan Lightman's book now.) Or maybe you believe, too. Either way, there is no better season than now, when the line that separates the living from the dead is at its thinnest, to dish.

Happy Halloween!

Sarah

October 29, 2007

Futurama

Futurama

                                                            

by Michele

The other day I had one of those classic experiences.  I went into a chic little boutique and picked out a cute little outfit.  A long red sweater, mid-thigh length and belted, with a pair of black leggings.  As I handed over my credit card to the teenager behind the counter, I realized -- I'd owned this exact outfit circa 1982.                                                         

"I should have kept my clothes from the 80s," I said.  "They're all back in style."

"My mom tells me that all the time," she said in a bored drawl.

Her mom.  And then it hit me.  Not so much that I've become my mother, or her mother, but that I'm living in my own future.  My kids are living in their good old days, their soft-focus childhood, but for me it's space age, science fiction, futurama territory.  The future has happened.  I'm walking around in it.

    I remember realizing how old I'd be in the year 2000.  Remember calling it that?  The very sound of the number seemed impossibly futuristic, and the age I'd be sounded so old to my young ears.  Well, been there, done that.  It came, it went, and what's more, it sounds young to me now.  And let's not even get started on how 1984 came and went well before that.

Some things seem oddly the same.  We're bogged down in an unpopular foreign war.  The people in the White House keep an enemies list and engage in domestic spying.  But other than that, everything feels really different.  Some of it's stuff we've known was coming for a long time, so we shouldn't be surprised.  How long have we been hearing that China would take over the world?  At some point in the 1960s, somebody looked at how many people they had over there and figured out that someday, China would be a superpower.  Well, the future is now.  China's economy is growing at more than ten per cent a year.  Nobody else can keep up.  We certainly can't.  The once almighty dollar is just so much green paper, losing ground every day to the euro, a currency unthought of in my youth.

The same is true for global warming.  We've heard about it for years.  There were predictions and counter-predictions, arguments and treaties, movies and books.  Argue all you want, but global warming is upon us.  We're walking around in it.  California is burning, we're running out of water.  The future happened while we were busy debating it.

Other things about this future we didn't see coming.  There are marvels we could never have imagined.  In grammar school, I learned about inventions that changed the world.  Electricity and the telephone and the automobile and the airplane took us from primitive times to the jet age.  Nothing else like that would ever happen again, I thought.  All the great stuff had been invented already, and things just weren't going to change that much.  For a while, it felt like they didn't.  But then all of a sudden -- shazzam!

                                                          

Thousands of blogs could be written about how the computer has changed the world.  Let's start with the fact that you're reading this blog right now instead of reading a newspaper.  There are good things about that.  This blog is free.  You can talk back to it (or me) and it (or I) will talk back to you.  But there are bad things about it also.  Newspapers are shrinking, and that has all sorts of unintended consequences.  There is no more book publicity.  The comics are dying.  I heard Garry Trudeau speak, and he said that cartoons are moving online because of shrinking newspaper readership. Because cartoons are moving online, it's possible to make them animated.  So the static, black-and-white newsprint cartoon strip is slowly -- or quickly, really -- being replaced by color animation.  That's okay with me.  I don't love cartoons anyway.  And yet, it's really sad.

Meanwhile, records and CDs and stereos have been replaced by downloads and iPods, which means that albums are being replaced by singles because nobody listens to an entire album by a single artist anymore.  My car has seventeen cupholders, a DVD player, satellite radio and a GPS named Carlos who lives in my dashboard and tells me what to do.  Even though I love Carlos, I also love this brilliant piece by David Brooks on how dangerous it is that we're outsourcing our brains to smart technology.

It's a brave new world, and we're walking around in it.  Is that a good thing or a bad thing?  As far as I can tell, it's both.

October 27, 2007

Costume Dramas

Costume Dramas

by Michele                                                   

This year we hit an important milestone in my house: my eleven-year-old is officially too cool to wear a Halloween costume.  His younger brother still cruises the iParty costume row with glee bordering on hysteria.  (Pirates!  Ninjas!  Soldiers with machine guns!  I could inflict a lot of damage with this stuff!)   But every costume I suggest to the older one is met with a disgusted, world-weary shrug.  We leave with piles of bloody, severed limbs and a strobe light to turn the barn into a haunted house, along with a rubber mask (to be worn with street clothes) that he allows me to buy for him only because I convince him nobody will give him candy otherwise. Adolescence has struck.

The same progression happened to me.  The princess and ballerina costumes of childhood gave way to edgier, more grown-up ones.  I was a witch; I was Marcia Brady, then for a couple of years, I wore black clothes and face paint.  Finally, I hit the no-costume phase, which comes once you realize that the mean girls are watching you, that their costumes cooler, or at least more expensive, than yours.  There's only one way out of the no-costume phase -- the high-concept costume phase.  The mean girls aren't too smart.  If you dress up as the subway, or as Proust's madeleine, they won't get the joke, and you can take a nasty satisfaction in that.  (Until you realize that a bunch of your friends don't get it either.)   

It's reassuring how little Halloween has changed.  If anything, it feels safer and more innocent today than it did when we were kids.  Our childhood Halloweens came with an edge of real fear.  In my neighborhood, kids trick-or-treated alone, sent off with dire warnings about razor blades in apples and LSD in popcorn.  This turned out not to be such a bad thing.  We were no longer expected to eat the bruised fruit and weird cereal balls from the strange neighbor with the cats.  We could focus on the neatly wrapped Hershey and Kit-Kat bars and throw the disgusting stuff away. 

My favorite all-time costume, I have to admit, is the little green onesie in the shape of a dinosaur, made out of fuzzy fake fur, that both my boys wore on their first Halloween.  But a close second are some of the unbelievable high-concept one-of-a-kind efforts in this video from youtube.  WARNING:  not for the faint of heart.

Happy Halloween!

October 26, 2007

Halloween Music

Halloween Music

By Rebecca the Bookseller

Bloglet_halloween_musicThere is a time for every purpose under heaven. There is also music for every purpose on earth, or iTunes, depending.

I had to go back and double check, but I am pretty sure we've never done Halloween music. Sure, it's not the powerhouse of Christmas, or Valentines' Day, but it's got more music than Purim, or even Light-Up Night.

Personally, I shy away from the scary movie themes because scary movies just freak me out. I've never liked them - even the really campy ones. But I can appreciate them, and am happy to hear suggestions. My list tends to the fun ones, because I play them during trick-or-treat.

My street is full of old houses, and enough of us still decorate and carve pumpkins that we get a lot of kids. My rule: no costume, no candy. And I always dress up myself, so they don't even try the: 'But I'm too old to dress up.' Uh-uh. You want the treat? You wear the costume. And it's worth it at my house - we do the real size candy bars. Not those little miniatures. And I don't care what the school lunch lady says - I'm not doing apples or carrot sticks. Please. Where I come from, that's a good way to get your house egged.

We hang ghosts and bats from the trees, we line the walk with jack o'lantern luminaries, and we carve a bunch of pumpkins. Several years ago, we discovered the re-usable ones at Michaels (our local craft store). So every year we do one or two of those to build the collection. Then we each carve at least one real one. I started doing those complex ones with the design you poke through. I only do one of those a year though - they're hard. And no, I did not spring for the Williams-Sonoma special tool kit, although I was tempted. There's an electric drill in there!

Anyway, here is a list of songs suitable for blaring down the street on Wednesday. And as you know, I am always looking for new music, so please make suggestions if you have them!

1. Ghostbusters - Ray Parker Jr.
2. Superstition - Stevie Wonder
3. Monster Mash - Bobby "Boris" Picket & the Crypt-Kickers
4. Bad Moon Rising - Creedence Clearwater Revisited
5. Thriller - Michael Jackson (Yes, he's a freak. The song still rocks.)
6. I Put A Spell On You - Creedence Clearwater Revival
7. (Don't Fear) The Reaper - Blue Öyster Cult (I GOTTA have more cowbell, baby)
8. Runnin' With The Devil - Van Halen
9. Sympathy For The Devil - The Rolling Stones
10. In the Midnight Hour - Wilson Pickett
11. Werewolves of London - Warren Zevon
12. Highway to Hell - AC/DC (damn you iTunes - still no AC/DC)
13. Witchcraft - Frank Sinatra (for the young and young at heart)
14. The Devil Went Down To Georgia - Charlie Daniels Band (the kids love this one - where else can you sing son-of-a-bitch with no consequence?)
15. Spooky - Atlanta Rhythm Section
16. The Time Warp - The Rocky Horror Picture Show Cast
17. Somebody's Watching Me - Rockwell
18. Bad to the Bone - George Thorogood (every one joins in on the 'bah-bud-uh-bah-bump')
19. Addams Groove - Various Artists (including Puff Daddy who has more names than Erica Kane)

October 25, 2007

The Book Club Menu

The Book Club Menu

by Nancy

My neighbor, the delightfully upbeat and energetic Deb, decided to form a book club in our neighborhood, and she invited me to join.

"I'm sure you do this a lot," she said.

Well . . . not really. I've spoken to a lot of book groups, but this is the first time I'm officially a member. And it's a book club of civilians!  How cool is that?

Do you belong to a book club? If you read this blog, I think the chances are high that you do. Or you've been tempted to join one. I think book clubs are the new bridge clubs. In the 1960s, my mother and her friends got all dolled up once a month to play cards at each other's homes. I associate Chanel No. 5 with watching her dress in stockings and fancy duds, and I can smell that cloud of hairspray in the bathroom before she picked up her best handbag (freshly supplied with a pack of Newports) and her mink stole (!!) and went off in the Buick to someone's home for an evening with The Girls. They nibbled on Brach's Bridge Mix and drank Brandy Alexanders.

Nowadays there are book clubs that read only high brow lit'ry fiction. Some that read only challenging non-fic.  One of my favorite book clubs to visit is the local women's bar association. What a hoot they are--dinner, a rapidfire argument about the book, then a free-for all discussion over dessert. And there's the book club my aunt, the shrink, belongs to. First they read the complete works of Edith Wharton, and now they're working through biographies of scientists, which are so boring, reports my aunt, that she'd quit except every meeting they have a big buffet of Syrian food.

Twice I've visited a book club that only reads romance novels--the steamier the better. (My books, I fear, were a disappointment to them. No bondage, no threesomes. Sorry.) To each her own, right?

At the first meeting of my neighborhood book club, we decided there would be no competition to fix fancy canapes or serve upscale wine.  (Which takes the heat off members like---uhm---me, who don't do fancy canapes and have to ask our grown children for wine tips.) At least, I think that's what we decided. But Deb served an array of fancy cheeses, some cookies from Whole Foods, and there were several bottles of wine opened so it kinda turned into a tasting.  Judging by the jeans and t-shirts my neighbor friends wore, there won't be any need to buy new stockings or invest in a fur coat, but the whole snack thing has me a little worried.

The first book we chose is . . . okay, a dud. At least, to my way of thinking. It's a classic first novel--a flashy MFA vocabulary lavishly deployed, but no discernible story. The theme has been done to death and executed much better by others--including the author's writing teacher, whom she thanks in the acknowledgments and who gives her a blurb. The protagonist is the least interesting character. Nothing happens for the first 82 pages, and I mean NOTHING. The author is so in love with her own verbiage that she includes an addendum of deleted scenes, just in case we want to be further bored---er, uplifted by her magical prose.

Someone (an editor? the marketing department?) has kindly provided a Book Group Discussion Guide at the end of the book.  This practice cracks me up.  Even authors of straighforward genre fiction are being asked to create discussion guides nowadays, as if our readers are a little dim.  I don't know about you, but I don't need much prodding to vent--er, explain what I do or don't like about a book. Have you ever actually used the provided questions at a book club meeting? Does it feel vaguely like tenth grade English class and Mrs. Cutler asking endless questions about The Scarlet Letter to make sure you understood exactly what adultery was?

The books my club members democratically selected are nearly all on the trade bestseller lists right now.  Some are Oprah books. All are what we, in the biz, now call "upmarket books"---current and mostly contemporary novels that have literary aspirations, perhaps, with solid content to provide discussion materal. Plot isn't as important as the subject matter---say, of female bonding, the nature of friendship, the mother-daughter relationship or the moral questions involved in conceiving a second baby to provide organ donations for a first child, etc, etc.  You'd recognize an upmarket book right away.--It's probably a trade size paperback with an artsy cover that you wouldn't be embarrassed to carry on the bus. No lurid pools of blood.  No children's shoes abandoned on a stretch of lonesome highway. No heaving bosoms unless they're tasteful reproductions of lesser-known paintings. The books have price tags of $14 or more, so it probably takes a certain amount of disposable income to afford 10 or 12 book club selections that all give the reader the impression that her mind will be improved without too much pain and agony.

I'm thinking that whether or not the book is good or bad doesn't matter much to a book club member. The real reason to get together is to talk, laugh, bond.  Forge even stronger friendship.  Or eat Syrian food.

But enjoying the books will become key to the experience, I'm sure. My father---a dignified and somewhat distant figure in my childhood--became my one-man book club after he retired. In ways unlike anything we enjoyed for the first 40 years of my life, we bonded over the novels of Donald Westlake and Patrick O'Brian. Earlier in my life, my mother and her sisters introduced me into the sisterhood of mystery readers.

Books provide the common ground for many relationships, don't you think? Do you still feel something for the teacher who led the class discussion of a book you fell in love with in school?  (Presumably not The Scarlet Letter?)

Tangent:  I get impatient with readers who claim they dislike literary fiction because, "it doesn't have a plot." I'm okay with a minimum of story, which I know is heresy for a pop fiction author like myself. Yeah, sure, I like a good yarn as  much as anyone. But I can also appreciate a book that's thematic rather than story-oriented. (One of my favorite book reviews of all time was written by John Updike, who included a story summary followed by the exclamation, "Down, plot!")

I'm looking forward to our first book club discussion. I'm interested to hear what civilians think and feel about books.  But part of me is already worried about what snacks to serve when it's my turn.  Do they still make Bridge Mix, does anyone know?  Somebody help me out.  What do you serve to your book club??

October 24, 2007

Bringing Home the Bacon

Bringing Home the Bacon

By Elaine Viets

My grandmother kept a pot of this in her kitchen and used it every day.

I know this will horrify some of our younger moms – she fed it to her grandchildren.

I’m talking about bacon grease. Recycled hog fat.

Bacon grease was the backbone of old-fashioned Southern cooking. Many a girdle-popping meal began with a big dollop of bacon grease melting in a cast-iron skillet.

Bacon grease was ideal for frying chicken, pork chops, baloney and eggs. It adds flavor to cornbread, grits and potatoes and onions with black pepper. Onions fried in bacon grease make a spectacular sandwich. Even shoe leather would be tender and tasty, fried in bacon grease.

Grandma kept her bacon grease in a special metal container that looked like a short fat cookie jar. Inside was a strainer that filtered out bits of bacon and burned stuff. The grease in the bottom hardened into lard.

After the food was forked onto the serving platters, the hot grease was poured back in the strainer to be used again. And again.

Whenever fat was required in a recipe, Grandma added a dollop of recycled bacon grease. God knows how old that grease was when it finally hit our plate again.

I can hear the health-conscious thinking, "Eeuw." Maybe by today’s low-fat, high-fiber standards, recycled bacon grease was unhealthy. Especially when it sat unrefrigerated on a kitchen stove, summer and winter. It had about 35 calories a teaspoon.

But in my neighborhood, kitchens ran on recycled bacon fat. Bacon grease was an all-natural ingredient with the amazing ability to turn health food into a nutritional nightmare. Vegetables went down faster with a hunk of melted bacon grease. Green beans were made for onions and bacon grease. In the summer, when folks had their own garden patches, my grandmother made wilted lettuce salad – white vinegar, hot bacon grease, sugar, new lettuce and green onions. Delicious, and endorsed by Elvis Institute for All-American Eating. I can feel my arteries clogging, just thinking about it.

You used to be able to buy a bacon grease strainer as part of a kitchen cannister set. The canisters would be marked FLOUR, SUGAR, SALT and GREASE. Some cooks preferred a Mason jar full of grease, or a coffee can.

Sometime while I was away at college, the bacon grease strainer disappeared. When I was a bride, I received many splendid and useless objects for wedding and shower gifts, but no bacon grease strainers. I’ve seen some sold online for about $15, but they lack authority.

Jinny Peterson used to keep a fake blue teapot filled with grease on the back of her stove. She believes grease strainers "disappeared with the coming of the microwave oven. That is when I got rid of mine. I ‘waved’ the bacon and the grease went into the paper towel and wasn't saved. I also started to steam the veggies and didn't put that big clump of bacon grease in the pot to boil them."

Many Jewish cooks used chicken fat instead of bacon grease. "It was a major treat to put chicken fat on matzoh during Passover," one friend told me. "Might explain why heart disease is rampant among Jewish people."

I suspect chicken fat and bacon grease oiled the way out of this world for many people in grandmother’s generation.

Grandma knew about Olive Oyl – as a character in "Popeye." But using that Eye-talian oil in American cooking would have seemed unpatriotic. America ran on recycled grease. It made our country great and our bodies as well as our arteries hard. For all Grandma knew, George Washington crossed the Delaware on bacon grease.

"Heart healthy" was not a term that would have impressed her. She smoked, drank, cussed a bit and poured bacon grease on everything but the davenport.

Her philosophy was, "Might as well enjoy yourself. Nobody gets out of here alive."

October 23, 2007

TMI

****NOTE: Please keep Harley and all our friends in the line of California's fires in your prayers and thoughts....As of this writing, 250,000 people have been evacuated - including Harley - with no end in sight. Thanks.****

TMI

By Sarah

I am on deadline for SWEET LOVE - my best book yet. I'm a busy woman with a month worth of rewritesNasa  ahead of me along with kid duty, housework, bills to pay, Thanksgiving to attend and lots of carpooling. Which is why I'm so very glad NASA, a federally funded organization, has announced that they will NOT be releasing data on near misses at airports because the public simply doesn't need to know.

Hear, hear.

IBritney_spearst's about time that someone in this age of information finally blew the whistle, drew the line and executed a whole bunch of other cliches that mean "stopped this craziness." Too much information. That's what we're dealing with these days. We know about everything from Dick Cheney's enlarged spleen to Britney Spears's custody arrangement and the color of her underwear. Of course, there's lots of stuff that we should know that we don't....but certainly the number of birds that fly into engines and pilots who stagger into the cockpit are not on that list.

Frankly, I'm overloaded. The data on red wine alone has my head spinning - and not in the normal good red wine way. First, alcohol is bad, but a glass of red wine is good. Wait. It's really good, especially if you live in France and eat lots of fatty cheeses. But hold on! Red wine for women is a no,Red_wine no. Even a glass a day can cause breast cancer. Though, if you can analyze the statistics, that's bull since only a certain percentage of women get breast cancer and, of those, a teeny tiny percent drink alcohol. Plus, red wine can help your heart. Conclusion? Ask your doctor since he or she has even MORE information, information you can't possibly understand without attending seven years of info-saturated me school.

As for taxes.....

Unfortunately, this Age of Information thing, the concept that with the speed of the Internet we can know Now and in Detail, has spilled over to everyday discourse. No longer are particular subjects taboo. People reveal the most personal tidbits about their lives with the least little nudge.

Look, I live in a bubble when I'm writing. I find it hard to leave my desk long enough to go to the grocery store. But when I do, I invariably run into an old friend or long lost acquaintance who is all too ready to dump about a relationship that's not working because her husband doesn't pay attention to her. Hours have been consumed, positively pissed away, listening to stories about dogs with mange, dogs with loyalty issues, dogs with bad attitudes and, worst of all, dogs with worms.

Health concerns are top of the TMI list. I'm sorry, but as much as I love you please don't tell me about the color of your urine. Urine color, along with snot consistency should never, ever be discussed outside a doctor's office. Ditto about these thick prospectus these companies in which I've invested keep sending me. I really don't care and I don't have the time to sit down and try to comprehend why section B of Article II is up for proxy vote. Borrring!

Tufts Last week, our daughter and I began the school tour. We looked at my alma mater, Tufts, Dartmouth and Boston University - three different schools within a reasonable distance. We came back with books - books! - the schools gave us listing their courses, professors, typical days, typical nights, requirements, admission standards, statistics on who gets in, who doesn't, tuition (don't ask - horrifying), scholarships, rooms, libraries, dining, extracurricular activities, tradition, alumni.....endless amounts of information I will never read. Wanna know a secret? We threw them away.

Even a trip to the dentist is fraught with unnecessary info, most of it technologically driven. Because they have digital equipment, dentists feel compelled to show you up close and in graphic, high definition detail, the decay in your right bicuspid. No, no and no! I don't want to see that icky black detritus left by devouring bacteria. I want to put my headphones on, open my mouth for the Novocaine and forget why I'm there or what they're doing.

Which is why I'm glad NASA's not telling me about how many near misses there have been. Flying is a fact of everyday life. Rarely can one get 25,000 feet into the air and ask to be let off. We're victims, really, poor sitting ducks with few options. Better that we don't know our plane nearly clipped a private jet flying too high.

Am I wrong? Or, admit it, you're sick of TMI too....

Back to the book,

Sarah

October 22, 2007

Albus, We Hardly Knew Ye . . .

Albus, We Hardly Knew Ye . . . Or Did We All Along?

by guest blogger Ramona Long

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Once upon a time . . . Three siblings--two brothers and a sister--are born to a Good Family.  Sadly, when the Sister is six years old, she is attacked because she is "different." This leaves her mentally impaired. The Father seeks revenge on her attackers and is sentenced to life in prison. The Mother moves the family to a small village to escape the scandal.

The Elder Son goes off to boarding school. He is a brilliant student. The Younger Brother also goes to this school, but he is not so brilliant. There are rumors about some things he does with goats. Elder Son finishes school in a blaze of glory and plans a post-grad tour of the world. Tragically, the night before his send-off, Sister suffers a raging outburst and accidentally kills Mother.

Elder Son is eighteen years old. His Mother is dead, his Father imprisoned. He has a mentally ill sister and a Younger Brother still in school. Elder Son is the Man of the family. He puts aside his dreams and gets a job.

And one day, a Young Guy moves to the village. Elder Son meets Young Guy and falls in love.

Elder Son is gay. It isn't really all that important to the story, but he is.

Anywho, Younger Brother comes home from school. The three young men come up with a cockamamie plan that would make them rich, powerful and good. But since they are hot-blooded young men, they fight. In the brawl, Sister is killed.

Young Guys storms away, which breaks Elder Son's heart. Younger Brother punches him, which breaks Elder Son's nose.

Younger Brother leaves home and becomes a bartender. At the bar, there are occasional complaints about a strong smell of goats. Young Guy falls in with a bad crowd and becomes a criminal.

Elder Son never falls in love again.

Elder Son feels terrible guilt about how his family fell apart. He is not sure he should be trusted with power. He goes on to live a long, meaningful life, but he always carries the burden of his youth. It affects every decision he makes for the rest of his life.

The End.

If this story sounds familiar, it's not because you read it in the local paper. It's because you read it in Harry Potter.

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On Friday and into Saturday, Potterworld exploded with reaction to J.K. Rowling's announcement that Albus Dumbledore was gay. I am not writing this blog to support JKR's commitment to push tolerance in her books (although I do.) I am not writing to show support for gay rights (although I do.) I am not writing to share jokes about Dumbledore playing with his wand or how he shared a room with Gandalf at boarding school (although I could.)

No, I'm writing to address the people who are saying that J.K.Rowling is WRONG.

Like this idio---guy. 

Narratively compatible? I wonder if any of the writers who hang here have heard this term before. Is it a legitimate phrase meant to question whether or not an author has sufficiently shared enough back-story so that the character's actions and choices make sense? Or do they think, cough(as I do)cough, that it is a term some blowhard dreamed up to get attention.

Just after the outing, JKR joked, "Oh my god, the fan fiction!"--proving that she's not only a talented and tolerant author, she's blessed with a sense of humor, too. She's right. The Shippers and Harmonians have gone apeshit. The wank on this one will be legion.

For those of you who think I've lapsed into another language, that's fan fiction talk. I bring it up because, in fan fiction, there is something called "canon." Canon refers to the original text the fiction is based upon. It's another word for "official." It's another word for "word."

Jo Rowling invented Albus Dumbledore. If she says he's gay, he is. And the correct answer to anyone asking her to defend that would be, "Because I said so."

She said it. It is Canon now.

But I will bite on the controversy, because I am open-minded and because there will be no more books in the series and I miss discussing them. So, do you think it is narratively compatible that Albus Dumbledore is gay? is there enough literary evidence in the series to make that valid?

Discuss.

PS. Disclaimer: If you are one of those folks who believe JKR made this decree in part to piss off the people who condemn her for her "evil" wirtings, I agree. I like that about her. But if you are one of those folks who believe she IS evil and her books should be banned or burned or so on, get lost. We have nothing to discuss.

I do, however, believe that Hermione's mother might be a NASCAR fan. It would explain why poor Hermione always had her nose in Hogwarts: A History.

October 20, 2007

The Matter of Kids Today

The Matter of Kids Today

By Kerry (The Martial Tart), regular TLC contributor and Friend of Tarts

When I started teaching full time back in 1988, I was only a little older than my traditional freshmen. Except for a few disconnects caused by the fact that I was basically TV-less for most of the 1980s, and that I grew up in California (I was teaching in West Virginia), the students and I inhabited largely the same world. Relating to them was basically pretty easy.

Of course, the distance between me and my freshmen has been increasing ever since. The real turning point for me was 2001, the year my daughter went to college. That first day of classes, I looked out over the sea of faces in front of me and thought Oh, my God, I really am old enough to be their mother!

That’s when I started turning to the Beloit College Mindset list (http://www.beloit.edu/~pubaff/mindset/). The good people at Beloit have assembled profiles of each freshman class, based on the year an 18-year-old freshman was born. Some of the information is pretty obvious, some is startling, and much of it goes a long way towards explaining why students don't laugh at my popular culture jokes.

I recently introduced myself to the class of 2011. Beloit is a little behind, so I’m settling for the mindset of the class of 2010 to help me prepare. Here are a few selected features:

1. The Soviet Union has never existed and therefore is about as scary as the student union.

Well, our student union can be pretty scary on rap day, at least to those of us over 40. But it's true that these kids don't remember duck and cover, and probably never had to read any of the post-nuclear-holocaust books that seemed to have dominated my high school English reading lists. And their male romance novels . . . er, suspense thrillers . . . have featured middle eastern terrorist groups or the Catholic Church instead of the Evil Empire.

2. They have known only two presidents.

Let's just hope that neither was in the biblical sense . . .

3. For most of their lives, major U.S. airlines have been bankrupt.

But they’ve always had both male and female flight attendants and, if they fly frequently at all, have probably heard a female voice from the cockpit.

4. Manuel Noriega has always been in jail in the U.S.

Manuel who???

5. A coffee has always taken longer to make than a milkshake.

The coffee also costs more, and comes with more variations and permutations, and is made by someone with a special job title. The shake is made with vegetable products and is poured by some poor kid in a fast-food restaurant.

6. DNA fingerprinting has always been admissible evidence in court.

But they probably don't remember "If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit."

7. "Google" has always been a verb.

So has text and AIM. And, before too long, Wikipedia will always have been the first reference of choice, rather than the Encyclopedia Britannica.

8. Text messaging is their email.

And their emails, even to their college professors, read like text messages - no capitalization or punctuation, weird spelling . . . oh, wait -- their papers read the same way, too.

9. They have always known that "In the criminal justice system the people have been represented by two separate yet equally important groups."

And the sad thing is that I actually had to look that one up.

10. Bad behavior has always been getting captured on amateur videos.

Which could explain a lot about their behavior. Now that I think about it, it could explain the behavior of a lot of people . . .

Check out the rest of the list. What do you think? Are kids today more different from us than we were from our own parents and teachers? Or is the generation gap part of some master plan to make us all crazy?