Sunday, March 30, 2008

Can you repeat the question?

What do Vanity Fair, Quincy Jones, Ellen Degeneres, Deepish Thoughts, and American Express have in common?

Marcel Proust. Duh.

I just got a copy of The Proust Questionnaire, a slim blue book with a survey popularized by the French writer and designed to measure the thoughts and desires of its respondents. It's where the idea for the current AmEx campaign came from, as well as the interviews in the back of Vanity Fair each month. The book has Proust's answers from different times in his life, answers from other writers and celebrities, and blank pages so you can record your own responses.

Here's a snippet of my interview with Rob:

Me: Your chief characteristic?

Rob: Smelly.

Me: What?

Rob: What’s the question?

Me: What is your chief characteristic?

Rob: Ohhh. I thought you said cheese characteristic. I don’t have one. I’m well-rounded.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

More on names

If your name is Elizabeth or James, I have good news for you today. Other people think you're successful. If your name is Helen or Brian, sorry. Other people want to kick your ass. Or at least doubt your abilities.

Don't get mad at me. The BBC said it. A study was done, the people spoke, and these were the results. Names like Jack and Lucy were considered lucky. Sophie and Ryan were probably attractive people, the respondents agreed. It's rather amazing how much is in a name.

"Past research has shown that such perceptions can become self-fulfilling prophesies, with teachers giving higher marks to children with attractive names and employers being more likely to promote those who sound successful."

This was according to Richard Wiseman, who led the study and probably does not like it when people call him "Dickie."

Turns out none of the names the study illuminated, however, made it onto the 10 Most Popular Baby Names from 2007, courtesy of Here's what did:



Wow. Aidan, Braden, Kaden, and Jaden. Doesn't anyone like Hayden anymore?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Signs of the Times

New York City, March 2008. Earth Day approaches, the Fed cuts interest rates, the Euro continues to gain strength, and one 23rd Street guitar store makes its move.

Have a tiny carbon footprint, New Yorkers? Pat yourselves on the back and make some music. Tired of spending all your money in the Apple store, Europeans? Come in; where once we would have scoffed if you offered us foreign currency, now we might lick it off your fingers. It's so colorful. And valuable. Where are you going? Out to dinner at Per Se? Take us with you.

OK, that's me talking, not Dan or his guitars. They're not desperate, after all. All they're saying is that they take Euros now. (I expect next week's sign to read "We speak French.")* Because in their last store meeting they decided that a good marketing plan would be to target the people with the money.

*Somewhere in middle America, a guy who still eats "freedom fries" is having a heart attack.

Monday, March 24, 2008

What's wrong with this picture?*

I was looking through old pictures tonight and found myself jabbing Rob in the arm each time I got to a memorable one (until he threatened me with violence and wandered off to hang socks on Smokey because "Smokey wants to wear clothes, too.")

Anyway, there were a couple of really old ones, and I am including one here because I've discovered that as you get older, if you can't laugh at yourself, then you can at least laugh at your sister. For not wearing pants.

*So, so many things.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Little names

A couple of years ago, when I thought I might try to become some kind of corporate ass-kicker, I bought a book called Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office. Among the nuggets of wisdom (Learn to waste a little time, Don't feed others, Don't smile too much) was one section that says it is a mistake to use the diminutive of your name in the office.

"Even if you've gone by Kathy, Debbie, Maggie, or Sandy your entire life, begin introducing yourself using your formal name. Over time, people will take your cue. Change your business cards, desk nameplate, or formal letterhead to read Kathleen, Debra, Margaret, or Sandra. You'll be much more likely to be taken seriously..."

I wonder what Betty Spence, president of the National Association for Female Executives, would think of this.

To me, it sounds like an outdated opinion, but obviously it's not an issue I have to deal with. I definitely work with and know several women who use their nicknames in the business world and don't seem to suffer from it. But I also know those who have decided to go formal in the corporate setting and perhaps they're better off.

Just to be safe, I'm going to change the name on my letterhead to read Debra. I can't wait to see the looks of impressed awe on the faces of my coworkers.

Also in the world of names, Tiger Woods now has his own energy drink, "Gatorade Tiger." His parents made a good choice with that one. There's a reason we don't have "Gatorade Arnold" or "Gatorade Phil." Although focus groups suggest that the latter would go over well with math teachers and meteorologists.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Happy Friday!

I saw this painting the other day and thought "Whoa, am I looking into a mirror?"* This is exactly how I felt all week. I am truly glad it's Friday.

This is Gustave Courbet's Le Désespéré, in case anyone is curious.

*Yes, I am overdue for a waxing appt.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Little gifts in unexpected places

A woman named Hazel comes to clean the apartment twice a month. She may be familiar to some of you as the woman who can never remember my name. She is a really sweet person who gives me big hugs when I see her, leaves us flowery notes, and unfortunately also sometimes leaves other the toilet.

I feel sort of bad telling this, but it's now the fourth or fifth time this has happened and so I am sharing. I don't think she is doing this on purpose, though I clearly can't prove that. But I will try:

Exhibit A: Once she left her lunch in the fridge, so perhaps she is just forgetful.

Exhibit B: She takes all unused plugs out of the outlets, so it's possible she's extremely environmentally conscious and believes that you shouldn't flush every time. Even when you really really should.

Whatever the reason, I forgive her. As I hope she forgives me if she ever finds out I wrote about this.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Not feeling much like a thin mint

Note to self: when someone at work sends an email about how their kid is selling Girl Scout cookies, do not feel the immediate need to walk over to that person's office and drool on the brightly colored cookie list. Do not then feel compelled to order several boxes because you are ostensibly helping the children. Helping them what, exactly? Learn to be tiny entrepreneurs who trade on guilt and sugar fixes, all the while making new friends but keeping the old? I guess that's worth the freezer full of cookie boxes.

Since Rob is in California for work, I have been fighting a lonely battle with the cookies. Their numbers continue to dwindle, but I'm not sure if that's to my advantage or theirs. I just ate 4 Thin Mints and a Peanut Butter Patty. I'm on a roll now, so I'm thinking of running out and getting some ice cream. It should go well with the Caramel deLites. Victory is mine, people.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A guest blogger blogs on the blog!

Ten Commandments Redux
by Joe

Imagine how the world would have been different if God had had the
foresight to include slavery in the Ten Commandments. Sometime in
history---for example, during the Babylonian Captivity, control of the
intellectual Greeks by the conquering Romans, centuries of
inter-tribal slavery on several continents, or the shameful episode of
slavery in America, the land of the free---God must have realized the
omission, slapped his forehead, and said, "What was I thinking?"

Now, I don't mean to tell God how to run his business, never having
been in that line of work myself, but if you're going to take the time
(especially if you have a limitless supply of it) to tell people how
to act, why not use that opportunity to protect the most vulnerable?
If I may speak for the human race (and with all due respect), you may
work in mysterious ways, but we're the ones getting our asses kicked
down here.

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently said that to run a country,
a legislature only needs the Ten Commandments as a guide. But are
they so all-inclusive? You can have slaves while honoring your
parents; they might have had their own slaves. You can have slaves
without killing them, stealing from them, or even lying to them. In
fact, though I don't know of any such instances, I have to believe the
Bible was used by people like Vice-President, later Senator, John C.
Calhoun in the 19th century to support their idea that slavery was not
a necessary evil, but a "positive good."

Maybe there was something important about the number ten that
precluded adding any more ideas---maximum marketing impact? Making
allowance for ADD?

In that case, he could have combined a couple: "Thou shalt not steal
thy neighbors goods or even think about it." (Keep in mind that his
phrasing has always been better than mine.) If there was not
something important about the number ten, how about also adding one
about rape?

Maybe our hope is that a prophet will come forward with an update.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A trip to our nation's capitol

Rob and I took the train to Washington, DC to celebrate Penny's 40th birthday this weekend. Because some of my dearest friends also live in DC, we split up the first night for dinner with two different groups. Everyone met up for drinks afterwards at New Vegas Lounge where we proceeded to dance like children of the night. When people describe themselves as dancing like children of the night, they mean drunk children, right? Drunk children in their mom's heels?

The next morning when I woke up around 10, I tried talking to Rob about our upcoming day. That's how I found out that it was "quiet time." Moments later, he declared a moratorium on quiet time long enough to explain what food/coffee items he wanted me to bring him from the outside world. And I did it. Because I am a loving and responsive partner and also because I was the one who didn't drink 12 glasses of wine the night before.

After we ate breakfast, it was quiet time again.

Penny's party was Saturday night at our hotel. It was a total blast. Lots of people came in from out of town, there was yummy food, and Bill put together a wonderful slide show of pictures that were mostly of Penny, but also featured Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, and Janet Jackson's nipple.

When the official party was over, a smaller group moved to a hotel room and continued drinking champagne until we finally peeled ourselves off the furniture and stumbled to our own rooms.

I think you can guess what that means. Sunday morning? Quiet time, the revival.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Get the Huck out

Dear NPR,
Please do not wake me up in the morning with stories and/or interviews featuring Mike Huckabee. This morning as the radio came on and the soothing voices of Renee Montagne and Steve Inskeep filled the room, I was jarred out of sleep by the following line "Well, no one ever says 'no' if they're offered the role of vice president." That was upsetting for a few reasons.

First of all, Mike Huckabee is, like, so January 3rd.

Second, as much as I would love to see John McCain royally lose the election were he to be dumb enough to run with a bible-thumping bonehead like the Huckster, I just don't want to be reminded anymore that our country has granted such attention to someone who thinks that evolution is a farce.

Third, I like to hit snooze at least seven times in the morning. But after hearing a snippet of this interview, I was wide awake. Thanks.

Love you,

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Deepish Thoughts Wednesday

Eliot Spitzer resigned as Gov of New York. It's not worth blogging about two days in a row.

Several more important things are going on:

1. I haven't had coffee in more than two weeks. It just hasn't had the same appeal since I had the flu. The same thing started to happen with wine, but please. Who are we kidding? I got thirsty.

The coffee thing has been interesting. I don't really miss it much and--bonus--I've been feeling less violent in the morning. So now when Rob goes to kiss me on his way out the door, I'm less likely to kick him in the stomach and laugh as he hobbles away (don't freak out. This only happened three times.)

I feel so zen-like.

Now that I've openly admitted to the coffee thing, I'll probably go and have some tomorrow. But it was a nice break.

2. We moved the furniture around in the living room to...I don't know why, actually. But last night I found myself pushing a large object around the room and when I finally got Rob where I wanted him, I also moved the big armchair and the storage bench. The cats are livid, as they strongly object to change of any kind.

3. I hired someone at work. I don't want to talk about work on the blog, but this is a big deal since it means I may actually begin visiting the gym again. And by visit, I mean online. But it's possible that one of these days I'll go back to a real yoga class.

4. And this probably should have been #1. It's Joe's birthday! Happy birthday, Joe!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The moral of the story

Last night as we were falling asleep, I asked Rob to tell me a story. Daylight saving time is screwing with my head, so I wasn’t tired enough to fall right asleep. I was thinking it might be something about his day or maybe a time when he was little and he lit something on fire, I don’t know. He began “Once upon a time there was an attorney general…”

So yeah, everyone here is talking about Eliot Spitzer. And people aren’t saying the same things: I heard one publisher in my office yesterday yelling into the phone “Prostitution is NOT corruption!” He seemed to think everyone was making too big a deal out of this. I think that’s the attitude of someone who doesn’t expect much from our politicians and isn’t surprised by situations like this. Other people are shocked, horrified, amused, or sympathetic (but mostly just towards Spitzer’s wife and three daughters.)

It’s not that I’m surprised that yet another politician has landed in the center of a controversy. But I don’t think people are making too big a deal out of it when they say that Spitzer’s a hypocrite who has in the past taken the moral high ground when it comes to his peers, and is now looking pretty foolish. It would be preferable to have leaders we can respect, and who believe that they are not above the law.

I imagine that he will resign over this, though no decision has been made. This would give New York its first Black governor (and the third in our country since Reconstruction), David Paterson. So for now we can just wait and see what the end of this story is. In Rob’s version, he just sort of trailed off, mumbling something about seven high-end prostitute dwarves.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Vatican Adds Sins

In a clear attempt to be relevant in the 21st century, the Vatican has added seven more sins to their original deadly list. It’s great that there are all sorts of new ways that you can find yourself burning in hell. Here they are:

Being excessively wealthy
Carrying out morally debatable scientific experiments
Participating in genetic manipulation
Ruining the environment
Doing or dealing drugs

No word yet on whether Brad Pitt will be back for the sequel to Se7en, which is reportedly being called You Know What You Did Last Summer.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

A financial update

My money is back in my checking account after the fraud fiasco! It seems my credit is fine, as well. Citibank, aside from tormenting me when I was sick, actually handled this very well.

Rules is Rules

Although it looks like the DNC will hold to their rejection of the initial Michigan and Florida primary votes, I have to say it’s disappointing that Hillary Clinton is trying to get those votes to count. Not surprising, perhaps, but…I think the technical term I’m looking for is “lame.”

Obviously, she would not be doing this if she hadn’t won the primaries and it’s especially unfair in Michigan considering her name was the only one on the ballot. I understand the race is tight and both sides are doing what they feel they must. But it’s really beneath her and the whole convention to go back on rules that everyone agreed to at the beginning of the process.

Republican strategists are positively giddy about the state of affairs at the DNC. All they need to do now is sit back and watch as Clinton and Obama turn up the heat on each other, doing their work for them.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Perhaps a nice poncho won't let me down

Our apartment is the place where umbrellas go to die. I swear this is true, though I can't figure out why. We buy umbrellas all the time. Yet whenever I go into the closet to grab one, I inevitably come out with something that looks like Edward Scissorhands was playing with it all night.

So this morning, I was pleased to find that the only problem with the one (how did we end up with ONE?) umbrella we had was that its handle wouldn't go all the way in. It hadn't started raining yet, so I walked to work with it stuffed into my bag, and it was a fairly effective weapon, poking out and slamming into people on the sidewalk. I apologized and tried to protect everyone from it, which made me look like I was trying to smuggle a metal stick across town.

In the afternoon, it rained. So walking back from grabbing lunch, I had to open the umbrella. Huge mistake. I got back to the office and the stupid thing wouldn't close. I stood outside the revolving doors, knowing I would never get through them, and tried to jam it closed. I pushed it into a stone wall. Nothing. I looked at the rather disheveled man next to me and explained "It's broken." He didn't care. Then I tried to manually pull each tiny umbrella wire towards the others, willing them to close. No. I gauged my odds of getting through the door with it and not killing or embarrassing myself. Not good. I tried reasoning with the umbrella while I pulled at its wiry tentacles. This went on for at least 5 minutes until I finally walked down the street and placed it into a garbage can. Of course it filled the entire can and made the whole thing look like a mushroom, blocking anyone else from being able to put trash into it. I felt bad and I walked back down the street in the rain, not without profanity.

I'm not saying it's the greatest story ever, but I believe it proves my point.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Probably not loving the consequences

I just read in the New York Times that yet another memoir has turned out to be a fake. A 33-year-old woman from a good neighborhood in LA pitched a story to publishing houses about her upbringing as a half-White, half-Native American gang-banger in South Central LA. After reading an interview about the book (titled Love and Consequences), the author's sister called the publisher to inform them that their off-the-streets star was all-White and all full of crap.

I can't believe it took them that long to realize this story wasn't true. After all the steps publishers took to protect themselves after James Frey's lies blew up in his face, you would think they could take the time to do the minimal research and find out where this woman came from.

It's fascinating how many people a) want to write memoirs and b) think their lives are actually interesting enough to merit a read by others. Memoir is one of the fastest growing categories in publishing and it has a lot to do with people believing that true-life dramas are better than anything a novelist could create, because after all, they really happened. Except when they didn't.

Would it be as satisfying to read a book like The Glass Castle if it was a novel? I mean, anybody could make that stuff up, right? If Eat, Pray, Love were a novel, the way Liz Gilbert's life falls so meaningfully into place after such a traumatic beginning would just seem like an author's gimmick to achieve the happy ending.

But if your life simply isn't interesting enough to write a mesmerizing and moving memoir, do the reading public and your publisher a favor. Pitch them fiction. It may not sell as well as nonfiction, but at least you can save yourself the embarrassment of being added to the list of authors who faked their own lives.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Learning every day

Rob was flipping channels on TV tonight and came across The Wild Bunch, an old western from 1969. We were only watching for about 30 seconds when there was a shoot-out scene in a bedroom, involving a topless woman.

Me: Whoa. Boobs.

Rob: What?

Me: Boobs. See? (I'm still sick, this is my excuse for talking like a 10-year-old boy)

Rob: So?

Me: I'm just surprised. It's an old movie.

Rob: They had boobs back then, too.