Saturday, December 31, 2011

Doesn't this make you want to own a laundromat?

Second Avenue beween Fifth and Sixth: All it lacks is cocktails, crudites and dip.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why the young hate the old

So on Christmas, I asked my kids why young people hate old people. The consensus: Old people have no sex appeal. When they squint, it makes them look mean. They fumble with their change in the checkout line.

They're right. I'm hateful.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Sloth in the first degree

My friend S told a funny story that will resonate with any parent of a teen. S’s cousin accidentally left her door open. The open door prompted a visit by police, who entered the house and filed a report that one room appeared to have been “ransacked.” 

Not ransacked, it turns out. Just the usual condition of her teenager’s lair.

Bamboo outside the bathroom

Sometimes beauty can be found in unexpected places. The bamboo on our deck serves as a surprisingly lovely screen

Sunday, December 25, 2011

I think I'm a stegnersaur

Most novels are about love or betrayal or both. So it has been refreshing to read Wallace Stegner these past few months. I picked him up because he’d been a neighbor of ours decades ago when we lived in Silicon Valley, and my dad had mentioned that one of his novels featured an incident involving a houseguest of my parents’. I wanted something to talk with my parents about besides doctor visits and groceries and politics—the first two because they’re objectifying and the third because I can’t keep up.

But reading Stegner has had intrinsic pleasures too. I know much of the geographical terrain of “All the Little Live Things” (Los Altos Hills) and “The Spectator Bird” (Denmark). And I know some of the emotional terrain of “Crossing to Safety,” a fictional memoir of friendship and marriage, and I can vouch for their authenticity. 

And—uniquely, in my reading experience—they skirt sex almost entirely. Other says sex is the driving force behind every human activity. And judging from popular culture, he’s got a lot of company. I disagree. Call me prim and old-fashioned, but I feel driven by other forces. And it’s comforting to have so strong an ally in Stegner, who explores intergenerational friendship, intellectual fanaticism, and long and loyal marriages, and finds in them as much drama as the tawdriest tale.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Streep smarts

The opening paragraphs from an article in the L.A. Times:

Meryl Streep shuffles down a London street wearing a kerchief, a drab beige overcoat and enough prosthetic wrinkles to pass as an octogenarian in the opening scene of her new movie about former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, "The Iron Lady." For Streep, shooting the sequence provided a jarring taste of a specific kind of invisibility.

"There is no more dismissible figure on the street than an old woman," Streep said over a mid-December lunch with her "Iron Lady" director, Phyllida Lloyd, in a cavernous suite at New York's Waldorf-Astoria hotel. "I would search for people's eyes, and I would look people full in the face, and they would assiduously avert their gaze. It was really interesting. You represent everything that is terrifying."

That's how I feel every day.

Valley girls

I was reading Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner, this morning and came across a passage about a craze for pet tortoises, and I suddenly remembered an exotic fad from my junior high days.

In my little town in Silicon Valley, many girls wore Pendleton skirts and Peter Pan collars decorated with circle pins. But the fashion forward bejeweled themselves with chameleons yoked with tiny gold rings and tethered to their blouses with fine gold chains. The girls claimed the lizards changed colors, a prelude I guess to mood rings, which came a bit later. Looking back, I wonder how these elite girls felt about the need to feed their finery with live prey. Or perhaps they didn’t do it. It was a passing fancy, as I recall.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mussels vs. muscles

A family dinner at a nice restaurant—anyone would find that a treat, no?

No, not I. I realized that last night as I sat on a hard wooden bench with a vertical back in the boit-du-jour Joe’s Grocery. It wasn’t just that the seating was uncomfortable or that the air was ringing with overloud voices or that the menu was pricey or that the food was overflavored and meaty or that the presentation was pretentiously unpretentious or that the conversation at our table was tinged with an air of judgment about people’s culinary tastes. I’m just not that into eating out.

But then, what amounts to a special treat for me would be a chore or a snore for my family. A great yoga class, a long walk, a good read. I was just mulling this over when I clicked on the New York Times app on my iPod this morning and read that sweatworking is the new networking. Businesspeople are wooing clients by inviting them to spin classes and the like.

I’m so before my time.

Friday, December 16, 2011

This is the way it's supposed to be?

By the time my cancer treatment was completed, I had been transformed from a youngish-looking middle-aged woman into an elderly-looking crone. I’ve whined about it often enough: the hair that grew back after chemo was thin and gray instead of the thick mass I’d had before; my skin was left sallow and speckled with age spots; my figure, once reasonably good, became peculiarly bottom-heavy with the removal of my breasts; and my once remarkable strength and flexibility became a little less remarkable.

But the thing is, cancer struck me at menopause. And a lot of shit happens to ALL women around that time. O.K., most women hang on to their breasts. But hair thins, skin loses its luster, bodies sag, joints age.

I attend a weekly yoga class with a lot of women my age and older. And lately I’ve been noticing that doughty as they are, they look a lot like me. Maybe this is what I’m supposed to look like? 

Eat the poor

One of the things I admired about Occupy Wall Street was its effort to exemplify the value it placed on inclusiveness. It made an attempt to represent the entire 99%, including the long-term homeless who, understandably, jumped aboard for the freebies: the donated food, clothing, tents, sleeping bags and so forth. The effort was not entirely successful, because many of the long-term homeless have problems beyond poverty—substance abuse, mental illness, criminal behavior—but it was made in good faith.

I remember hearing from my parents that in 1989, after the last Big One in San Francisco, which caused structural damage to many of the luxury buildings of the Marina neighborhood, the city set up special shelters for the flossy residents. Trouble was, the long-term homeless got wind of the comfier quarters and a whiff of the yummier food and tried to move in on a good thing. So the city was left in the awkward position of trying to weed the truly needy from the not-really-needy and give the goodies to the latter.

I was reminded of that earlier this week, when a new Pret-a-Manger appeared in my neck of the woods. I was chatting with the manager the evening before it opened, and he told me that I should come the next day because Pret would be giving everything away—completely free—as long as the food lasted. I left scratching my head. My neighborhood, the Bowery, is a curious mix of the fabulously wealthy and the destitute. I suspected he was going to be inundated with the destitute, not his desired customer base. I don’t know how it all turned out, because I’ve been at work all week.

But it’s not the first time I’ve noticed the tendency in this country, from the government on down, to give the goodies to the rich and withhold them from the poor. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A timely death

My mother left a message on my voicemail yesterday saying she had "such a funny story" to tell me. When I called back, it turned out that the funny story was the news that the wife of my dad's old engineering partner had died at the age of 99. Now that is a little bit funny, but only because this woman had the misfortune to look as if she were 99 years old her whole life. Her husband was a handsome fellow with glossy hair and a charming smile. But she was as ancient-looking and stooped as a fairy-tale witch as long as I have known her, which must be 50-odd years. 

Indeed, she was so crone-like that people remarked upon it with wonder. "How old is she?" they would whisper to each other. He was so robust and ruddy, and she was so crabbed and gray, she looked like his mother, not his wife.

So the funny thing is that she outlived her husband and all her contemporaries and finally died when she got to be as old as she looked.

All the little broken things

If you had asked me a week ago how things were, I would have burst into tears and sobbed that everything—everything!—was broken. The expensive dryer that we bought two years ago was dribbling and clanking. The new boiler that we installed this fall was clogged with sludge and making a noise like bombs exploding. Even the damn cable remote, which had never worked properly, had clicked its last. It felt as if the material world was saying, "Die, old lady, die!"

But I didn't die, and Other and I have beaten back the demons of destruction and entropy that afflict all modern things. The dryer weirdly started working again on its own. The boiler was examined by the installer, the manufacturer and our own plumber, and in a miracle I can attribute only to some kind of mechanical placebo effect quieted down—and, more miraculous, the boiler-insurance company (yes, there is such an entity) has agreed to pay the full cost of the new boiler, which replaces one that was 70 years old. As for the remote, well, I trudged up to Time Warner Cable prepared to wait in line for hours and was whisked to a window where I was handed a new remote, no questions asked.

Too good to be true, no? 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tales from the hood

There are 8 million stories in the naked city. Some of them involve bare feet apparently.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Low-maintenance woman aims higher

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been trying to become a high-maintenance woman. It is a difficult undertaking. I’m so oblivious that I’ve put my yoga pants on backward—and worn them that way. Last week I put my underpants on inside out, which wouldn’t matter except that they have a decorative button—and it got snagged.

At the urging of my born-to-the-luxe-life daughter, I got my eyebrows threaded. The procedure made a surprisingly loud scraping sound and hurt more than I had expected. Nobody noticed. Even I can’t tell the difference, and I've looked long and hard at my brows. 

I got a facial. Blood vessels broke along the side of my nose. They look like grog blossoms, but I don’t drink. 

Yesterday I went to the high-end hair stylist my daughter found for me. I was supposed to get cut and colored. But the day before, I had an anxiety attack about the color part. I couldn’t face the questions. I couldn't face the little girls downstairs saying "I liked you better the way you looked before" or the woman who said baldly, "It looks terrible." I couldn’t face the silence that says “It is so awful I don’t want to embarrass you by mentioning it.” I couldn’t face the toxic feeling of a foreign substance on my scalp. I couldn't face poring over the statistics linking breast cancer and long-term use of hair dye among women over 50. I couldn’t face the monthly touch-ups. 

I canceled the color but kept the cut. And when I walked into the salon, I realized that maybe I AM high-maintenance after all. My hair stylist did a double-take and said, “Hey, look who’s had her eyebrows done!”

Sunday, December 4, 2011

My brilliant friend S

My friend S was trying to decide whether she should sublet her apartment or let someone use it free in exchange for cat care when S visits her boyfriend in the country. “I couldn't charge very much because it’s kind of funky,” S said, “I mean, I store stuff in the stove.”

Wow! I thought. What a great idea! And ever since then I’ve been eyeing MY stove with a newfound sense of possibilities. Think of all the things I could put in that oven! My 40-year-old college textbooks that I’ve been saving in case I decide to go to grad school and need to study for the GREs. My old tax records. The ergonomic keyboard from the dark ages of the computer era. My 50 fake pashminas that I pick through every day for the one that feels perfect. My 50 batiqued sarongs, too out of date to wear, too beautiful to toss. My dozen pairs of Crocs, which everyone ridicules so that I can’t actually put them on my feet and go outside—though they are hands-down my most comfortable shoes.

I could even acquire more stuff!

How brilliant S was, I thought. The other day, I saw S again. “Just out of curiosity,” I asked, “what do you store in your stove?” Turns out she stores … pots and pans. Which has its own quiet brilliance—and the advantage of being something Other would actually let me do.