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25 posts from February 2007

February 16, 2007

Voices in my head

Voices in my head

By me, Margie

OK, is it just me, or are certain voices, you know, more powerful than others?

I don't mean the loudest drunk in the bar, or the biggest cymbals crashing in the band. I'm talking about voices that make you feel, uh, things. Sometimes good things and sometimes bad things. Depending on your definition.

Some voices are totally creepy - like it was ages before I could see Anthony Hopkins in anything without hearing that Hannibal Lechter voice. That voice still gets me: "...Clarice..." Jinkys, that gives me the shakes. I can barely drink Chianti any more, which is a cryin' shame.

Some voices are just the opposite. Men who sing with deep voices - Barry White, Trace Adkins, mmm, mmmm good. I was pretty blown away the first time I saw Barry White. I mean, come on, that body cannot walk that walk, if you get me, but close your eyes and he's the total shit.

James Earl Jones has a voice that says: "Don't ask questions. Just do it." Every time I hear him, I feel an urge to find the damn phone book. And I don't even use the phone book.

Mae West had a voice that said sex. Pure and simple. Almost didn't matter what she said, you knew what she wanted - and darlin', you knew what she got. Often imitated, never even close - that dame was the real deal.

Angela Landsbury has a nice grandma voice. Just don't watch the original Manchurian Candidate. Talk about mommy dearest. Plus, Frank Sinatra is so skinny - how did all those great songs come out of that scrawny body? Denzel Washington, on the other hand, who is in the new version of Manchurian Candidate, looks like he could sing your sox (at the very least) off.

Some people have voices that are like a cheese grater on the ears. Marge Simpson, for example. Cannot listen to her. Every one of the Three Stooges. What is about the Stooges that makes guys laugh and makes the rest of us cringe? Ditto for Jessica Simpson. It's a good thing that girl has a nice rack, because John Mayer has one of the hottest voices in music, and he's not rolling with her for the acoustics, I'll tell ya.

And some people have voices that are so compelling that you want to do what they ask, no matter what it is. Even on the phone. Like imagine James Earl Jones and Mae West and Barry White all rolled up into one voice crooning in your ear. Damn, I'd jump out my own window if that voice told me to. Well, maybe not out the window, but you know what I mean, right? And speaking of giving good phone, if you have the right voice and the right background, it turns out you can make decent dough working the phones. That's right - that kind of work. One of my friends is leaving her job as a legal secretary because she makes more money entertaining by phone - part time- than she does in a regular job.

Hey - somebody is calling those numbers. I've wondered if they play that muzak when you're on hold, or whether they play sleazy b&g music instead. Somebody can let me know, because I'm not wasting money just to find out. Hell, I can talk to myself if I want a voiceover.

It's no accident that people use music to set moods. Even the worst date can be salvaged if the guy has the right playlist. If he has a nice, deep voice, a rich voice with a bit of a growl to it, so much the better. Admit it - the right voice can damn near do it all by itself. Otherwise, use the mouth for something uselful and don't distract me with your chatter, know what I'm saying?

Now, some people, some of the Tarts included, are going to yell at me for that last part, but you know what? I don't care. Sometimes things just have to be said, and who are you going to call? That's right, baby, you're not going to call some giggly bubblehead with a voice like a dolphin, or some snob-aholic who looks down the same nose she's talking through, are you? No. You're going to call Margie. But not at work.

So tell me, who's voice is in your head?

February 15, 2007

Westminster Dog Show of Whining

Westminster Dog Show of Whining

by Nancy

I hate whiners.            

As a teacher, I thought I heard every whining excuse in the junior high lexicon. My favorite was the girl who announced she hadn't done her homework, "because I had to go bowling."

In recent months, we've fed the culture of excuse-making. Actors call colleagues by slurs.  Comedians speak the unspeakable.  Beauty queens can't control their behavior. But it's okay.--Rehab takes away all their sins and--voila!--they're socially acceptable again.

Among writers, you hear some champion excuses, too. "I couldn't finish my manuscript in time because my son's wedding was last October."

Oh, suck it up. Whatever happened to taking responsibility for yourself? Be a grownup, for crying out loud. Accept the blame, then make it right. Whining makes me grind my teeth.

But this week I've had a colossal headcold. My elderly aunt didn't feel well, so I whipped her off to the emergency room and got her settled in the hospital for a batch of tests and now surgery. I have a new book out in a couple of weeks and the PR is starting to snowball, plus my new manuscript is due in a few weeks and I'm not sure I can----well, see? Suddenly I'm whining.

There's nobody who wants to listen to me, either.

Except my mother, of course.

Your mother will listen to you snivel anytime--day or night. Even after the second hour of your Sudafed-enhanced venting on why you can't write, she's sympathetic. Those of you who don't have your mothers anymore deserve our sympathy. You lack that maternal sounding board so crucial to mental health.  Maybe everybody needs one outlet--one person who will soothe you no matter how many excuses you come up with for not doing what you're supposed to do? Your best girlfriend is a good substitute on the phone, but eventually she starts saying, "Uhuh," every fifteen seconds, and you can hear her playing Free Cell on her computer.

Maybe that's why we have pets. Your dog will put his head on your knee and gaze adoringly up at you with those deep, understanding brown eyes and listen for hours while you fuss about your troubles. I'm not crazy about cats, and besides my rash-and-sneezing allergy, maybe this is why: A cat will listen to you whine for a minute or two, but unless you're kneading her tummy while you ramble, she's liable to get fed up and walk away. See you when you shape up, chump.

So after a mental head slap, I treated my cold and spared my mother by using drugs, chicken soup and one of television's annual cures for the cold and flu season--the Westminster dog show at Madison Square Garden. If you don't have a Muppet movie handy, a televised dog show is the next best thing to lift an invalid's spirits.

Because what could be more cheering than a smiling Dalmatian prancing alongside a man in a tuxedo? Or one of those fluffy toy whatevers at the end of a leash held by a lumbering matron wearing the G-rated version of that number Beyonce wore at the Grammys last week?

It's uplifting, isn't it? While the rest of the world goes to hell in a handbasket (what is the derivation of that phrase, does anybody know?) it's comforting to curl up on the sofa with a cup of Red Zinger and consider what's really important in the moment: The undercoat of that beautiful Samoyed and the ribbon that allows the adorable Yorkie to see through all his silky hair. And is anything cuter than a beagle?

Yes, I love Bill Cosby's Dandie Dinmont, too.  And those Italian greyhounds look so cuddly; nevermind they're impossible to housebreak. Have you see the Bernese Mountain Dog? Like a golden retriever only even happier-looking. The boxer than bounds up into the air is joyous just to be alive. Even Martha Stewart's aloof French bulldog (let's not start, shall we?) is a real sweetheart in the show ring. I have a friend who left her house for a quick trip to the grocery story, and her four Welsh terriers heard a mouse in the basement.  By the time she got home, they had DUG THROUGH THE LIVING ROOM FLOOR to get the mouse. But at Westminster, the Welshie looks adorable!

I have been enjoying the euphemisms the announcers use, too.  No dog is bad. No dog is the wrong choice for a loving family. Feel free to interpret the Westminster spin doctors: Assertive? Territorial? High energy? Fearless? Bred to hunt wild boar? Do any of these words sound like the perfect companion? The ideal pet to lounge around your suburban home and play with the kiddies on weekends? The Akita, we're told, responds to "respectful" commands.  What does that mean in the real world, I wonder? The Westie has, "no small amount of self esteem." Translation: Look out!

This is my new favorite breed. The petit something. The PBGV. I call him the heebie jeebie dog. He's not exactly an ideal city pet because bays like a foxhound in full pursuit, and the mailman in my neighborhood is already twitchy, but I love him. Kind of the result if a girl basset hound fell for Asta:

Speaking of those announcers, I kinda miss Joe Garagiola. (The movie Best in Show wasn't just a memo to the kennel club on the subject of Joe.  It was a big, steaming poop message on the rug.) It was fun listening to his un-apologetic verbal train wrecks. Sure, Lester Holt is an upbeat addition to the television team, but he doesn't contribute the element of suspense that Joe did.  And I'm sorry that gentleman who read all the breed info over the loudspeaker passed away, because he was a colorful chap.  But doesn't the guy who replaced him sound uncannily the same? Is there such a thing as a voice-alike?

Another thing I like about dog shows is that the players don't talk. Unlike the Miss USA pageant where the audience cringes every time one of those ditzy chicks opens her mouth and proves how insipid or self-involved or downright stupid she is. (Or the trifecta--all three. Rehab, here we come!) We don't hear the Alaskan malamute whine that his job is now obsolete thanks to the proliferation of snowmobiles in the frozen north.

All dogs are good this week.  They don't make excuses if they don't win.  They keep their heads up and move forward. It's refreshing, don't you think? They make me ashamed for being human.  I'm proud of all of them!


February 14, 2007

High Times in Florida

High Times in Florida

It was a balmy January like this one when Don and I vacationed in South Florida. Each day was a gift.

Why were we wasting our lives shivering up north? If we lived in Florida, we’d never face winter again. No more snow shoveling or ice scraping.

But if winter is paradise in Florida, summers are a preview of hell. Before we moved there, we had to experience the worst.

We rented a tiny apartment for the month of August. The sun beat down relentlessly, making everything – and everyone – seem old and shabby.

If we could survive there for thirty days, we’d move to Florida.

Our apartment was part of a big house on the water owned by a husband and wife in their late fifties. Bill had a gray beard and a beer gut. Betty was cute, funny and losing the battle of the bulge. Both worked as – well, let’s just say they were clerks. I don’t think they brought home fifty-thousand dollars total.

Which made me wonder how they could afford such luscious waterfront property. Plus the big boat docked behind their home. The cabin cruiser was about forty feet long.

"How can you afford a boat like that?" I asked.

That’s a rude question anywhere. It’s a stupid one in South Florida. You never ask anyone how they can afford anything, what they do for a living, or where they used to live.

"Got it as salvage after Hurricane Andrew," Bill said. "Fixed it up ourselves."

Then he volunteered, "Inherited the house from Betty’s dad. He bought smart in the forties."

But even a landlubber could see the boat was in pristine condition. Its upkeep took major money. The house and grounds required constant attention from painters, tree trimmers, and other pricey workers.

His beer bill must have been staggering, pardon the pun. Bill had lots of friends. They were like him: easy-going older guys.

By the end of the month, Don and I decided we liked Florida. Summer was no hotter than in the Midwest, where we’d suffered hundred-degree heat waves. Here we could cool off at the beach.

Most days we went sightseeing. In the late afternoon, I gravitated to Betty and Bill’s mailbox, an oversized beat-up metal affair on a post, like you see in farm country. Its red flag went up when there was mail. Like most writers, I was always hoping for a check. Usually, I got more bills.

On our last day, Don was picking up some things at the store. I was watching the mailbox. I didn’t hear the letter carrier’s truck, but the next time I looked out the window, the red flag was up.

Mail! Maybe now I’d get that check.

I opened the mailbox, reached in, and found a huge package. Maybe my editor sent me a manuscript. Except this didn’t feel like one.

I pulled it out and nearly dropped it. I was holding a giant zip-lock bag of pot. The thing was the size of a couch pillow.

The cops drove down this street all the time. I could get busted standing here.

I shoved it back in and slammed the mailbox shut. Then I opened it again and wiped the bag with my shirt tail, in case I’d left fingerprints. I was sweating, but it wasn’t from the sun.

I went back to our apartment and paced, waiting for Don to get home.

I knew how Bill and Betty could afford the fancy address and the forty-foot boat. And why they had so many friends.

As soon as Don got back, I told him about the special delivery.

"What do you want to do?" he said.

"Nothing. Bill’s selling pot to the AARP set."

"Still want to live in Florida?" he said.

"Are you kidding? This place is a mystery writer’s dream. Even a mailbox isn’t what it seems."

Three months later, we moved to Florida and bought a place on the beach. It had a very small mailbox. With a big key.

By Elaine Viets

February 13, 2007

Harvard's New Female President: Girl Gone Wild

By Sarah

While it was missing the larger, more sociologically important story behind Anna Nicole Smith's poverty/sexploitation/untimely death, the New York Times was wetting itself over the impending nomination of Drew Gilpin Faust as Harvard's first female president.

It seems, the Times chortled, that Dr. Faust (don't even start with me) was a bit of a rebel in her Drew_faust day. In Dr. Faust's own words, she flagrantly revolted against huge "obstacles" that, I suppose, the average working woman would find daunting.

Racial discrimination? Lack of education? Poverty? Disability? Abuse? Inadequate health care?


To quote: "Her mother, Catharine, (Dr. Faust) has said, told her repeatedly, 'It’s a man’s world, sweetie, and the sooner you learn that the better off you’ll be.'”

Oh, dear. How ever did she manage while at that horrible sweatshop known as Concord Academy and then - gasp - in the rough and tumble, glass-strewn ghetto of Bryn Mawr. Why, it's enough to make a girl want to rip off her white gloves. Honestly!

Someone needs to teach the New York Times or Dr. Faust or both, that ignoring a raised eyebrow does not a feminist revolutionary make. At this point, I have more respect for the late Vickie Lynn Hogan's skillful use of her photogenic mammary glands than I do for Dr. Faust's evidently self-satisfied belief that she was a "rebel" because she refused - simply refused, I tell you - to be a debutante.

"No, Mummy, I will not come out!" What a stirring battle cry. Unless you're in Northampton, in which case that's an entirely different matter altogether.

And while the New York Times was fawning over Dr. Faust's miraculous leap from privilege to Anna_nicole_smith_1 privilege, the tabloids were raking over former high-school drop out and welfare queen Vickie Lynn Hogan, aka Anna Nicole Smith. Having been reduced to her parts - tits, ass, legs - in life, it is the contents of her mini fridge that are being ogled over in her death. Slim Fast. (Natch) Butter spray. Methadone. The individual that she was having all but vanished, except for her corpse on ice as the courts decide who fathered her bastard daughter.

(By the way, for the members of the younger generation who ask what's so wrong with girls being treated as sex objects, look no further than this poor creature.)

So illustrates the growing divergence between women in America, a chasm that is becoming ever wider despite the rise of women in corporations and politics. On one end there are the Anna Nicole Smiths, the impoverished, uneducated women for whom sex is currency more than pleasure or procreation. On the opposite end are the Dr. Fausts and the Hillary Clintons for whom sex is an inconvenience to overcome. Aside from their basic biology, what do they have in common? I mean, look at their pictures!

When Hillary Clinton said she wasn't some dame who stood by her man or that she wasn't at homeHillary  baking cookies, she thought she was proudly standing her ground as an assertive, independent feminist. What she didn't get was that there were thousands of women, some single mothers, holding lousy jobs with lousy hours who would have given anything for a man to stand behind. Who would have loved the luxury of being home to bake cookies for their children after school.

Our gender is splitting and the awful, nasty truth is that we privileged, educated chicks at the top - yes, I'm counting myself among the lackadaisical lucky here - are doing precious little to reach out to our less fortunate sisters. We're too busy padding our own nests, insuring that our own children maintain the advantage. One slip and who knows where our daughters will end up. After all the gap is wide - but maybe it's not wide enough!

It was a quote from Mary Maples Dunn, former president of Smith College (speaking of white gloves), and buddy of Dr. Faust, that really captures the prevailing cluelessness. In referring to the all-girls, exclusive Concord Academy and the all-girls Bryn Mawr Dr. Faust attended, Ms. Dunn said:

“I think these women’s institutions in those days tended to give these young women a very good sense of themselves and encouraged them to develop their own ideas and to express themselves confidently. It was an invaluable experience in a world in which women were second-class citizens.”

I have news for Mary Maples Dunn - Of the 1.5 billion people living on less than a dollar a day, the overwhelming majority are women.

That "world in which women were second-class citizens"? That's our world, now.

Here's to hoping that Harvard finally gets a clue.


February 12, 2007

Sex and the Sewing Machine

by Harley

The best advice I ever got as an actress had nothing to do with character motivation or casting couches. It was this:

Don’t tell anyone you can sew.

Here’s why. Actors abound, at every level of society. If you doubt this, next party you go to, tell a stranger you’re in the movies, rattle off a resumé (make it up; they’ll never know) and see how quickly that 4-star general/dental hygienist/FBI agent starts to reminisce about being in the chorus of THE MUSIC MAN back in high school. The field is so crowded, thespians don’t just work for free, they’ll pay you to listen to their Willy Loman monologue.

Seamstresses (or seamsters), on the other hand, at least those willing to toil away in dingy rooms in subhuman conditions for no money while providing their own rickrack are as rare as hen’s teeth.

Thus, if the Mudville Repertory Theater casts you in JULIUS CAESAR and you let it slip that you sew, guess what? You’re sent off to the basement to mend a toga. The next thing you know, you’re stitching 140 raglan sleeves for the Roman army and someone forgets to call you for rehearsal, and your understudy takes over your part.

I railed against this fate. “No one must know,” I cried, and kept mum about my time in 4H and my rural high school where girls automatically took Home Ec prior to joining FHA (Future Homemakers of America.) I sewed in secret.

And years later, when I realized that the money I saved making my own winter coats wasn’t anywhere near my hourly wage as a soap actor—I gave away my sewing machine.

For a Kozak, this is like living without a refrigerator. My Aunt Therese sewed wedding gowns for a living. My mom stitched up slipcovers before breakfast and curtains during coffee breaks. My sister Mary WEAVES HER OWN FABRIC. But me? I found it an utterly liberating experience, and never looked back.

Until now.

It’s these darn kids. They won’t part with the shirts that are coming apart at the seams and they won’t wear the jeans that aren’t the exact right length. And when the dogs eat their teddy bears, they become unhinged.

I cannot be taking teddy bears to a tailor, not until I make the NY TIMES bestseller list. Yes, I can mend things by hand, but honestly, it’s so ineffectual and tedious and I’m so lazy, I’ve been doing author events in a skirt whose ruffle is attached by safety pins.

Yet I can’t buy a sewing machine.

Target has them starting at $19.99. For a mere fifty bucks, I could buy a Hello, Kitty model. But I can’t do it. A pall comes over me, just thinking about it. I flash on that scene in Godfather II, when Al Pacino comes home and Diane Keaton’s hunched over the sewing machine, having just aborted his baby, and you know their marriage is kaput.

One thing is, there’s nothing sexy about a sewing machine. Or the person operating it. Am I wrong? Show me a seduction scene that includes a Singer 80-stitch function machine, in literature or film.

Plus, it’s a slippery slope. First it’s the kids’ jeans. Then it’s the husband’s torn shirt. Then “oh, I’ll just whip up a quick set of placemats” and then a couple of quilts later you’re haunting the fabric stores, looking at patterns for floral car covers. And then you can kiss those book deadlines goodbye. Not to mention sex.

I have no answers. Only questions. Help.

Happy Monday.

February 11, 2007



By me, Margie, who knows all about it

Blog_roken_heartHere comes Valentine's Day. Yipp-freakin-ee.

I hate it. Guys want you to get all dressed up and then eat out somewhere with cheesy balloons and stupid flowers on the table that don't even smell good. Plus, you're surrounded by every goofball in the universe who is finally ready to man up and pop the question. It's like a freakshow with these people. Whatever happened to just getting down on one knee? No, they have to do some lame trick: "Look, is that Elvis?" Squealing and giggling follow. Yes it is, and he's coming to your table to grunt through Love Me Tender while your big date sits back and adjusts himself. Or even worse: "Ooh, look honeybun, he hid the ring in the rice pudding - isn't that adorable?!" No. It isn't. It's grotesque and so are you. Do the rest of us a favor and try not to procreate.

Then your date starts to get all sappy and wants to talk about marriage and commitment, and why can't he be your one and only, and oh, baby, I just can't live without you. It makes me want to barf.

So now I know better. Know what I do on Valentine's Day? I go out with my girls to a male strip club. Yes, we know most of the strippers play for another team, and we don't care. We're all about the objectification, babydoll. And none of these boys want to put rings on our fingers and tell us what to do.

So I know a bunch of you got together last month and put together a nice Valentine's Day CD, but screw that. I am putting together a CD of songs that say: Get Out and Forget You. Or whatever you want to say.

Naturally, the first track would have to be Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive, right? But after that, it gets harder, so I'm going to need some help. I don't care if your current relationship is right out of some hearts-and-flowers romance novel. Everyone has been in need of the "Go To Hell, dickhead, and don't let the door hit your worthless ass on the way out!" CD, so cough up your suggestions.

Here are a few of mine.

"I Wanna Be Around" by Tony Bennett

"How Am I Doin'" by Dierks Bentley

"Hit the Road, Jack" by Ray Charles

"My Give-a-Damn's Busted" by Jo Dee Messina

"Piece of My Heart" by Janis Joplin

"How Do You Like Me Now?!" by Toby Keith

"Bye, Bye, Bye" by NSynch

"My Lovin' - You're Never Gonna Get It" by En Vogue (my personal favorite); and

"Son of a Gun (I Betcha Think This Song Is About You)" by Janet Jackson, Carly Simon, P. Diddy & Missy Elliot - old school meets new school and rocks.

Blog_screw_you_1So have a great Valentine's Day, suckers. I know I will.

And just a reminder - honey, unless your brother is a locksmith, you never give them a key.

February 10, 2007

How to Look, Eat and Act Like a Frenchwoman

Our guest blogger today is the tres chic Cara Black, author of the Aimee Leduc Parisian mysteries.  Cara's next book, Murder on the Ile St. Louis, just got a starred review from Publisher's Weekly. Not only do we love Cara's writing, but we think she's the most sophisticated person on the planet.  How could she not be?  She spends beaucoup time in Paree!  Below are Cara's tips on how we can be sophisticated too.

How to Look, Eat, Act (and Other Fun Stuff!) Like a Frenchwoman

By Cara Black     Go to fullsize image

Bonjour Book Tarts! Michele, my shopping buddy, asked me to wax poetic about springtime in Paris.  But zut alors! according to my Parisian friend's email this morning, there's a cold, grey mist winding in the cobbled streets and the sun's hiding behind a gun metal grey sky.  So give it another month or so until sprigs of daffodils will appear in the window boxes overlooking the narrow Paris streets, mothers will pick up les enfants from the neighborhood school in their chic agnes b. khaki raincoats that I, for one, would die to own, lines will form outside the Louvre for the new exhibitions http://www.louvre.fr and every Parisian will have nailed down their August vacances.  Yes, these people plan serious things, like the sacred August vacations, way ahead.  Unlike my family who hit Google in July and search the net for lowest fares anywhere.  Often with dire results.  French people I know have the agreement signed for the apartment on the Brittany coast, the hiking in the Pyrenees route planned, the grandparents countryside bedrooms staked out and strawberry picking fields scoped out to a T.  Makes me feel like I'm way behind already.  But I always forget they've got a whole month of vacation to fill, while some of us scrape together a week here, a long weekend there.  That's the French way, a long holiday with family and friends spent eating, talking, fitting in those daily visits to a ruin or two.  Leisurely, like it should be.

Speaking of the French way, I've long felt Parisian women have a scarf gene we don't have.  This encoded Gallic tradition of how to arrange even the most lowly scarf in an artistic, breathless way that looks put together and tousled at the same time.  Know what I mean?  And knot the scarf in such a way that dresses up jeans and manages to look elegant in a way I never can do.  Maybe it explains why they remain the idiosyncratic, artistic and savvy scarf-tying population I secretly aspire to.  Go to fullsize image

For those of us who are scarf impaired, and we are legion, try the following directions.  Be easy on yourself.  Like sailors, their knot tying skills are prodigious.
1. Fold the scarf in half the long way.
2. Fold that in half the short way.
3. Put the scarf, thus folded, around your neck.  One end will be free, the other the fold, forming a sort of loop.
4. Put the free end through the folded end and pull tight.

Oops forgot to say don't try this alone and choke yourself as I did on my first attempt.  Or on the second when my mouth was covered and I looked like I was in purdah.  Use a mirror.  Everything helps.

Speaking of mirrors, not only in small boutiques but in big department stores I discovered French dressing rooms use two different sets of lighting.  One for day (la jour) and one for night (la nuit).  No wonder women buy the right outfit.  They know how it will look when they wear it.

                Go to fullsize image

And I fear I've neglected mentioning the most important place to enjoy Paris in the spring . . . yes, the cafe-tabac, the home away from home, the living room for those who live in small apartments on the top floor without elevators.  Not only can you get the latest neighborhood gossip, assuming you're a regular, but also a bite to eat or more elaborate menu du jour if they've got a kitchen. You can buy a carafe of wine, espresso, your bus and Metro pass, cigarettes, lottery tickets and purchase your car registration too.  Merveilleuse, non?  Now that's for me.  Especially after having spent several hours in line at the DMV in San Francisco to renew my car registration.  I envy my friend, picturing her at the local cafe-tabac: dining, drinking and smoking (yes, they still can but there are rumbles about starting non-smoking sections) and taking care of business while sitting outside at a sidewalk table.

But for anyone who wants to avoid the airfare and security line at the airport and take an armchair visit to Paris in spring, here are a few book suggestions from the myriad of books written about the City of Light.  And I'd love to hear yours, so please share!

Maigret and the Fortuneteller -- A classic tale of Inspector Maigret, George Simenon's famous Police Inspector who's stuck in Paris in August . . . quel horreur . . . unheard of . . . but when a fortune teller is murdered who else can they call?

Talk to the Snail - Ten Commandments for Understanding the French by Stephen Clarke -- An expat Brit's 3rd literary foray into French culture.  He does have that wicked British wit poking fun at the French but reveals a superb technique for dealing with officious cranky French postal workers.  Not for the faint of heart.  Have a glass of red wine before reading.

Almost French by Sarah Turnbull.  Another expat, an Aussie, describing her trials and tribulations and final acceptance into Parisian society.  I found so much true here and loved it.

360 Paris -- A gorgeous photo book with 360 panoramic photos of the City of Light -- slim, rectangular and fits in your bag nicely.  The shots will take you up on the rooftops, even in high heels safely, and take your breath away.

Paris in Mind edited by Jennifer Lee -- Short vignettes by everyone from Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain to Saul Bellow and David Sedaris.  Three centuries of Americans writing about their romance and frustrations in Paris.  It's amazing how little has changed.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.  If you're feeling classical and romantic and need some tragedy.  My book group read it last year.  Poor Emma suffering for love is as vivid now as ever.

Bon voyage Lipstick Ladies,


February 09, 2007

Snow Clones

Snow Clones

By Rebecca the Bookseller

Today we're going to play a game. It's called the Snow Clone game. Snow Clones, I am told by my daughter, are those phrases that take on a life of their own. Since I love words, anything that involves cliches and idioms is something I want to know more about. Snow Clones are a combination of both. What makes them Snow Clones is not the fact that they become catch phrases ("I'll Be Back" or "You go, girl" - which is officially dead, btw) - no, it's much more.

Snow Clones start as catch phrases or cliches that become versatile. For example, "I See Dead People" from the movie The Sixth Sense is a catch phrase that became a Snow Clone. You simply insert some other word as a substitute for the word Dead. Hence: "I see Stupid People. They're everywhere... They don't even know they're stupid."

Here's another one: "My kingdom for a horse" Richard III, act 5, scene 7 can be used anytime you really, really want something. As in: "My kingdom for a hot fudge sundae with marshmallow creme and wet nuts."

Of course, in Shakespeare's time, it was probably more like: "My kingdom for thine own sweet nectar" or something like that. Shakespeare was a rascal, as you know. Who amoungst us did not giggle over Marc Antony's "..I know wherefor they do it" Julius Caesar, act 5, scene 3, or one of the earliest versions of the derogatory slang for prostitute: "Peace, Ho, Caesar speaks!" Julius Caesar act 1, scene 2. And Romeo and Juliet? Two blushing pilgrims indeed. And "A [rose] by any other name would [smell] as sweet." Romeo and Juliet, act 2, scene 2 is also a Snow Clone. Plus, we have Hamlet to thank for the "To [be] or not to [be]" Hamlet, act 3 scene 1, snow clone, which I used in last week's blog.

But back to the Snow Clones. I should attribute the moniker. Although Snow Clones have been around forever ("Is that a [rock] in your loincloth, or are you just happy to see me?"). They were not labeled until recently. The consensus attribution is to a man named Glen Whitman and dates all the way back to January 2004. And where did this great step forward in lexicology occur? On a blog. That's right - the Language Log Blog. Say that three times fast. The term is an homage to a classic clone (so classic that I was not familiar - which means I probably should be reading more magazines like The Economist, and fewer magazines like Entertainment Weekly): If [Eskimos] have a [dozen] words for [snow], then [Germany] surely has as many for [bureaucracy]". Hey, I didn't pick it, I'm just explaining why in the hell they're called Snow Clones.

Some fashionista created a Snow Clone with "Brown is the new Black". Now Anything can be the new Anything else. Not just colors - anything: Cold is the new Hot; Silence is the new Sound; 50 is the new 30. Dumbass is the new Jackass. You could do this one all day long.

Are you getting it? Here are some more, and then you get to play by adding your own.

"The [face] that launched a thousand [ships]."

"Not the [sharpest knife] in the [drawer]"

"First Rule of [Fight Club]: you don't talk about [Fight Club]"

"Save the [cheerleader], save the [world]"

"That's it. I've had it with these mofo [snakes] on this mofo [plane]."

And since someone mentioned the X-Files last week: "The [truth] is out there."

I've left out some easy ones, so have at it. This is not an easy game, but for people like all of us, who love language, it's a winner.

February 08, 2007

Snow Day!

By Nancy              

You're a math-phobic 3rd grader with the skinny, pinch-faced and terrifying Mrs. Lahasky for math class.  But you forget to bring home your math book and therefore don't get your homework done for tomorrow. The feeling of dread inside is a quadrillion times more awful than how you felt when you had the mumps, because Mrs. Lahasky--with her yardstick that she slams down on your desk with a noise like a whip crack--has a limitless repertoire of vicious, humiliating tactics that even caused toughest-kid-on-the-playground Gerald McFee to pee himself one day. The night you forget your homework, you weep into your pillow from the terror.

But when you wake up in the morning, a miracle has occurred.

It's a snow day.

No school!  No worries about homework. (Quick!  Call your best friend for her answers!) And a whole day of unexpected fun is ahead of you.  The proverbial blanket of new fallen snow covers the hillside behind your house, and your mom has already pulled the sleds down off the rack in the garage.  She's warming hot chocolate in a saucepan, and the entire family collection of mittens is warming on the kitchen radiator.  Oh joy!

As an adult, I became a writer who always worked in an office in my home, technically unaffected by weather, right? And I have guarded my work time vigilantly. (When you're  your own boss, self-discipline is key.  Otherwise, you never get paid.) When my kids were growing up, I feared snow days would break my concentration, put me behind in my daily page quota, mess up my headlong rush to meet my deadline. Once I heard the radio announce no school, I started planning activities meant to keep my children busy and out of my office.  Why not make them clean their closets? Organize those toys! Do something constructive! And while we're at it, how old does a kid have to be to learn how to plow a driveway with a tractor? Later in the day, there would be time for sled riding, maybe a movie or two (Muppets were very big at our house) and--if they were lucky--maybe I'd dig a brownie mix out of the pantry.  (Hey, they could work on their math skills in the kitchen!)

Sure, I had every intention of sticking to my writing schedule.

But there's something about a snow day that is contagious. So in no time, I joined in the spirit of things.  Hey, let's build a snow man!  No--a whole snow family!  Put that brownie mix back on the shelf.  Let's bake cookies from scratch! And isn't 8 the perfect age for a kid to watch THE PHILADELPHIA STORY for the first time?  And what about the 8-hour BBC version of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE? Concern for my deadline faded. By the end of the day, I was there on the couch with the kids while snowsuits dripped in the laundry room and the blizzard raged outside.

A mental heath day. Mother Nature has decreed: NO WORK! A surprise day off.  Let's have some fun! Even now, with my children grown up and slogging off to their adult jobs no matter what the weather, I still get a thrill when I see that crawl on the television:  All schools cancelled.  Yippeeee!

Here in Pennsylvania, we've had extremely cold weather lately.  On Tuesday, the thermometer outside my kitchen window read 4 below. (I know that's a heat wave compared to some of you further north and/or west, but it's damn cold here.) But a government-issued decree has mandated that school buses must use a low-emissions diesel fuel . . . that turns to sludge at low temperatures. (I'm all for preventing global warming, but---jeez, didn't anybody read the fine print?)  Which means there are more snow days than ever before.

And I'm thrilled.

Today's snow day has gotten me thinking about all kinds of stuff. Like Mrs. Lahasky for one thing.  Was she really such a bad teacher? Because I know my multiplication tables---up to the 8's, at least--better than my husband or my kids. And I think I learned how to handle myself around truly terrifying people by staying low when she lashed out at my classmates. And the pressure of getting your homework done NO MATTER WHAT wasn't such a bad life lesson.  After all, deadlines need to be met.

But today I think I'll see if those Muppet movies are still around here somewhere . . . .


February 07, 2007

A Dangerous Day for Men

A Dangerous Day for Men

Gentlemen, you are exactly one week away from the date that could wreck your love life. I’m talking about Valentine’s Day.

Most men do not understand how important this holiday is to women. Many men figure it’s something dreamed up card and candy companies. Sure they love you, babies, but why should a man declare his love on schedule, just because some PR person said so?

Many women feel the holiday is a test of their romantic life. If their man forgets this day, then romance has fled, and she's old and unloved.

Also, (and I’m telling you something very few women will admit) there’s a sly, secret competition going on. We women ask each other: "What did you get for Valentines Day?"

We can judge by the gush if a woman is lying.

It’s a way of measuring, sort of like guys slyly eye each other in the men’s room. I hate to be gross, but if I explain it that way, now do you understand what I’m saying?

You’ve got one week to measure up, boys, and buy a gift.

Here are a few helpful hints.

(1) If you’re completely clueless, log on to www.Tiffany.com. 

You can spend as little as $50 for silver jewelry at Tiffany’s. Of course, you can also spend $5,000 and up.

There’s something about those robin’s egg blue boxes that soothe the female soul. "He got me something from Tiffany’s" is always a winner in the sweetheart sweepstakes.

(2) Cook her dinner.

Women love men who cook for them. We think it’s sexy. If you don’t believe me, check out the heroes in mysteries written by women: The studly guy fixes dinner for the woman he loves, then they fall into bed for hot sex after a hot dinner.

Fix her your specialty. If you don’t have one, pick up a bottle of wine and a couple of steaks.

One more thing: If you cook dinner, clean up the kitchen. Nothing is more unromantic than waking up to a kitchen covered with cold grease.

(3) Take her to dinner.

Make those reservations today. If you’re lucky, you might still be able to get a table.

Can’t afford an expensive restaurant? Take her to that little place you went to when you were engaged. You’ll save money and get extra points for romance.

(4) Get her what she wants.

Right now, hints are dropping like stocks on Black Friday. You just need to recognize them. If your sweetheart says, "There’s a sale on cashmere sweaters at Saks. I love cashmere, and they have plenty in my size, which is eight" – that’s a hint.

You can’t go wrong with gift certificates, either. If she loves shoes, get her a gift card at her favorite store. Ditto for clothes, hair salons, manicures and pedicures.

(5) Books.

Many women love to settle in with a good book. Yes, they can get it at the library, but there’s something fine about your very own copy. If you need help, may I suggest Mary Alice Gorman’s store – Mystery Lovers Bookshop at www.mysterylovers.com/>. Mary Alice is a TLC regular. Her store can fix you up with books – including autographed copies – and other Valentine’s gifts.

Two things to avoid on Valentine’s Day:

(1) Anything with an electric cord.

Many guys love gadgets. Many women associate them with drudgery. Unless she says, "I’d love a new vacuum cleaner for Valentine’s Day," don’t get her one.

A gift like this doesn’t say, "I love you." It says, "I’m having sex with my housekeeper."

It’s the fastest way to get the plug pulled on your love life.

(2) A Whitman’s Sampler.

It’s a fine candy, but I’d buy it any day but Feb. 14. Generations of desperate husbands have rushed to the drugstore at the last minute and come home with a Whitman’s Sampler. In too many households, the name is now synonymous with "I forgot."

If you really do forget and it’s now Valentine’s Day:

Head for the nearest Barnes & Noble and get Godiva chocolates. Many stores stay open late.

Pick up a cold bottle of champagne at the supermarket or liquor store, and buy a bouquet from the homeless guy selling flowers on the street corner.

So what if he stole them off a grave? Come home with nothing, gentlemen, and it’s your funeral.

By Elaine Viets