Wednesday, August 31, 2005

There Aren't Words ...

I sit on my couch and watch World News Tonight and my mind cannot comprehend what I am seeing.

I look at the ceiling of the room I sit in and try to imagine if water were that high outside my window.

New Orleans looks like the set of a disaster movie.

And here, the weather is perfect. Sunny and warm. My curtains billow in the breeze.

How come, when a disaster happens, it feels as though the whole planet should dim?

For that matter, how has life felt so normal since we went to war? Is the suffering more palpable in Europe? Are we too far away to feel it? Is it like sound waves that flatten into silence as they travel?

The Power of Kevin Trudeau ...

Very rarely, I receive a spam comment on one of my blog entries.

I do not understand technology enough to understand how this happens. Some of the spam seems innocent enough, though I don't click the links to see what it's really about. Some of the spam is very crude.

But yesterday's post about Borders.com's reply to my Kevin Trudeau letter resulted in a torrent of spam to that post. (If you want to call 10 spam comments a torrent. I do.)

What gives?

Is is the presence of Kevin's name?

This will be another test.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Amazon.com's Reply ...

... to my Kevin Trudeau concern:

Hello Beth,

Thank you very much for your expression of concern of our promotion of the book "Natural Cures They Don't Want You to Know About" by Kevin Trudeau.

I'm very sorry that we were unable to answer you more quickly. Although we strive to answer customers within 24 hours, we sometimes receive more inquiries than we anticipate. If you need or prefer immediate assistance in the future, you may wish to contact our Customer Contact Center at 1-888-81-BOOKS.

We believe our customers are particularly well educated and informed. One of the main reasons they shop with us is our wide selection. As a retailer, it is not our role to provide guidance as to the content of any of the books we offer, but it is our role to make available to customers the books they are interested in reading and buying and this title is in demand. Again, the bottom line is customer choice.

Thank you again for contacting us. Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of further assistance.

Sincerely,

Malcolm
Borders Customer Care

Mantrouble ...

Sunday in the New York Times there was a story about MySpace.com. I read the story. I thought, "Hmm, I wonder what that site's about?" And then I toasted a bagel.

Later, that night, my friend Brian sent me an invitation. He had just joined MySpace.com and was recruiting friends to join his online compound. The idea is to build a network of people.

OK, I thought. I'll play.

So I went to MySpace.com and signed up. One of the first things you're prompted to do is post a picture.

OK. I posted my headshot, my de facto picture for all picture occassions. I have a headshot from when I was pursuing voiceover work becasue my producer insisted on it. So I have a headshot. I have no voiceover work.

I didn't fill out the rest of the profile. I thought I'd do that some other time. Instead, I searched for Brian.

Didn't find him.

Yesterday, I received a notification in my inbox that I'd received mail on MySpace.com. It's from hrumphgrumble. Funny user name.

I logged onto the site and looked for his message.

It said: "Well I like the minimalist style of page. If it has a photo of a very beautiful lady. I would love to learn more about this mysterious woman."

Mr. Grumble is a 56-year-old man who lives in Charleston, South Carolina, and his entire site is filled with pictures of young women, most of whom are in various stages of undress. Under "Who I'd Like To Meet" he's written: "A beautiful woman dressed in a French maid's outfit and carrying a can of whipped cream."

O.K.

When I was on match.com last year, I received a lovely post from a guy who had clearly just returned from a "Sopranos" audition (complete with pinky ring) which said, simply, "You're stunning. I'm interested. Tony."

And, after catching a Todd Rundgren show at the House of Blues last year, I wrote this to Dave :

"Oh, I wish you would have been there to save me from Don. Oh, Don. What is it with me and weird male experiences this week, I ask you? Don's this tall guy, noticeably taller than me, a big guy, like he could be a football player. Don introduces himself, sticks out his hand, asks my name, I tell him, but I'm not sure if he got it right. He notices I'm standing behind this shorter woman and yells (cuz it's loud), 'Are you here with your girlfriend (as in 'friend' not as in 'girlfriend') or ...' and I say, 'I'm waiting for someone' (seemed the wisest answer). Don kinda screws up his face and says, 'Oh, OK. I get it.' And turns to go on his way. I kinda pat him on the back as he's leaving, and he turns to me and I just mouth, 'Thanks.' Nice of him to be interested, I guess, right? Later, though, Don and his two pals, all of whom are acting like the most obnoxious dorks, anything to call attention to themselves, managed to form a semi-circle around me and Don says, 'Aw, Beth, you look lonely.' Eesh. I say, 'Thanks, I'm OK.' And one of his friends, who would look like Joe Pesci, if Joe Pesci were slightly taller and had curly hair -- I swear I am not making this up -- puts his three middle fingers up to his mouth and kisses each of them really slowly and then tilts his fingers down toward me to blow me a kiss. EEEEEEEW! I couldn't help it: I gave him a look like, 'Oh. Come. ON.' And turned away from them. When the house lights went up and they were leaving, I purposely waited for them to go down the stairs, never looking at them as they passed, and then made it a point to go to the other stairs to leave.
THIS is why I am single, my friend. Because of the Dons and Don's finger-kissing friends in this world. Oh. My. God."

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Something We Seem To Know Nothing About ...

I love that the Chinese version of "The Apprentice" will not feature the phrase "You're fired," but instead, "You will have a better opportunity somewhere else."

Ah, those Chinese! So polite.

My cousin Barry, an architect, travels to China frequently and once noticed (and photographed) a "Keep off" sign in a park that said, in its polite Chinese way: "Please do not disturb the dreams of grass."

Ah, those Chinese! So surreal.

Fun With Fashion Fotography ...

Every once in a while, I click the "next blog" button on my blog page.

I often find a lot of crap.

Today, I found a site with some very clever writing about fashion photography. Click on the headline of this post to go there.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Life Envy ...

Envy is a wasted emotion, right? Why be envious of others? Why not simply be grateful for all that is yours?

But emotion defines the human experience, and so far in this life, I haven't discovered the secret to turning any one emotion off. And so envy: there it is.

Paul McCartney is coming to Chicago in October. Tickets went on sale in April. I bought two. I didn't know, at the time, who I'd go with. I just bought them. Someone, I presumed, would want to go, too.

That night, I went to see Bruce in Detroit. On the phone, in the car after the show, I raved to Dave about the set. My voice is rarely so high-pitched. "And!," I said, "And I scored tickets to McCartney this morning! Did you get tickets?"

"No," Dave said. "I didn't realize they were going on sale today, and by the time I heard about it on the radio, they were gone."

I invited Dave to go with me.

Last week, instead, I gave him the tickets, so he could go with his wife.

Some of my friends think I've lost my mind, and to them I say this now:

Dave is a musician. Dave is a musican because of The Beatles. The Beatles set the course for his life at an age when most of us probably still wanted to be cowboys.

Who of us can understand what that means? I am a writer, but I'm not a writer because of another writer. Yes, there are writers I admire, admire greatly, but I did not read their work when I was young and think to myself, "I am going to devote my life to words."

Dave did. He wrote to me once (and I don't think he'll mind my sharing this with you):

"The band and their music are the most powerful memory I have of my mid to teenage years, and it is a priceless memory that has not faded a bit.

I can remember vividly seeing 'A Hard Day's Night' at the Cinema theater in Mt. Prospect.

My life changed right there.

I already knew all the words to all the songs, and had held a broom like a guitar and tried to look like them in the mirror, but to see them playing their tunes on the set in the movie gave me a feeling that I hadn't yet known, and it still feels like yesterday."

I envy him his direction, his assuredness, from early on, that he had found in the Beatles his life's guides.

I recognize that life is a journey. Andrew Malcolm, a new favorite writer and father of a friend, recently wrote to me, "Don't fret too much about where you're going or you'll miss the pleasure of the ride, which (I'll tell you a secret here) is what determines where you're really going anyway." Still, I wish I were more sure.

Friday, August 26, 2005

"Hero" ...

Visually one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen. More beautiful, even, than "House of Flying Daggers."

But I'm done with people-on-wires, flying-through-the-air, swashbuckling marital arts movies.

Female Freedom? ...

Ah, Canada. Click on the above headline to discover what female freedom you've been missing, but is now within reach, thanks to our neighbor to the north.

One wonders, though, if women are really going to tote these around with them everywhere they go. And given that they're made of cardboard, um, ew.

Maybe Not So Normal After All ...

I've always felt older than my chronological age.

Maybe because I'm the youngest in my family by several years. My brothers are nearly six and eight years older than me. Maybe I'm just an old soul.

For most of my school career, I felt like I could relate to my teachers more than my peers.

Ms. Prinz, my first-grade teacher, used to give me her markers when she'd buy a new set. I loved markers. Still do, really.

When was in second grade, with Mrs. Skibinski, I used to return to Ms. Prinz class, and, for lack of a better word, "tutor" the first-graders. What was I sharing? The vast knowledge I gained in the year since I'd been in first grade? What were the teachers thinking? Did they see in me some natural knack for teaching? Shouldn't I have been in my second-grade classroom, learning second-grade things? Or was I just ahead of the second-grade curve, and had time to spare?

Regardless, I remember taking little trinkets with me to the first-grade classroom, to incentivise the "kids," I guess. I remember taking a small pinecone and a little green plastic ... thing. Was it a comb or a bus? And shouldn't I remember the difference?

But the weirdest thing was that I used to carry them in my purse.

My purse.

In second grade, I was carrying a purse.

What does a second-grader carry in a purse? Cigarettes? Credit cards? A kicky lipstick?

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Don't Play Into His Hands ...

I receive regular e-mails from Borders, promotions. Save 25 percent off any paperback book, save 40 percent off of selected titles.

I received one such e-mail today. I could save 40 percent on one of six books, and one of the six is Kevin Trudeau's "Natural Cures They Don't Want You To Know About," which I've blogged about before.

I wrote to Borders customer care division immediately:

"I'm dismayed that Borders is not only selling Kevin Trudeau's book, but featuring it in e-mail promotions.

He's being investigated by federal authorities -- again -- because his book is basically a load of crap, if you'll excuse my language. It offers no real information, as his infomercial claims, and directs readers to his Web site, where they must pay a fee, to get more information.

I understand that he has a legal right to write this book (a nifty loophole in all the restrictions that have been placed on him), but Borders (and Barnes & Noble, and Amazon, and ...) are not obligated to peddle it for him.

His infomercial for it airs hundreds of times a week.

I wish Borders wouldn't make it easier for him to dupe more people."

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Part Of Who I Am ...

Over the past 24 hours, I've learned some fascinating family history.

I've never known much about my father's side of the family. Growing up, we were never close with them. My father didn't talk to his mother for most of my childhood. We never really spent any time with his half-brothers. That side of my background wasn't very family-centric.

My mother's side of the family is the complete opposite: It takes 30 minutes to say goodbye for all the hugging and last-minute chats. So some might suggest that my father's family was simply more standard, compared to the love fest that occurred whenever the Serbs congregated. But no: Dad's family was more family in name than in practice.

Yesterday, in a casual conversation, my brother Brian mentioned the death of my paternal great grandmother. The story goes that one day, when my grandmother was a girl, her mother sent her to the park to play, then went to the store and bought the ingredients for lemon meringue pies. Came home, made said pies, ate one, and lapsed into a diabetic coma, never to regain conscioiusness.

That's right: My great grandmother died of lemon meringue pie. This, I know, is not (supposed to be) funny. But as a writer, I was astonished at what a great detail it is. Lemon meringue pie poisoning.

I mentioned to mom this morning that I'd never heard that story.

"Really?" she said. "Do you know how your great grandfather died?"

Uh, no, as a matter of fact, I don't.

"Overleeching," she said.

"Bloodletting?"

"Yep."

Turns out ol' great granddad went to a woman for a little leeching to cure what ailed him, only the leech woman wasn't around (mom didn't know if she was merely absent or dead), so the leech woman's daughter tried her hand at it. Leeching, turns out, is not for amateurs. He lost a lot of blood, but made his wife promise that she'd never reveal what happened, so even when he went to the hospital, and the doctor remarked that he'd lost a lot of blood, mum was the word.

So my paternal great grandparents died of lemon meringue pie and leeches.

"How am I even remotely normal, coming from that?" I asked my mom.

She told me that my maternal great grandmother died of heart disease and her husband died of an unknown illness, but I'm assured that desserts and insects were in no way involved.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

I Solemnly Swear ...

Click on the above title to be taken to Quizilla.com, where you can answer a few short questions and find out which swear word describes you best.

My result?

"Your word is F*CK. You like to come across as rude and rebellious, and often you do. You also are intelligent and maybe surprisingly sensitive, though God help anyone who said that in front of your friends."

According to the site -- highly scientific, of course -- 16 percent of quiz takers have gotten this result.

Funny, I figured it would be way higher.

But I am oddly proud to have gotten the mother ... lode of all swear words.

A Voice Of Love ...

Adam and I were friends.

He lived down the hall from me in the dorms at UIC. He shared a triple with Brian and John. It was the biggest room, as far as we knew, in all the dorms. The first-floor rooms had very high ceilings, and their room, being a triple, had more than the average share of space.

Adam and I would see each other in the hallway, but neither of us spoke to each other for the longest time. One day, we did. Maybe it was outside the laundry room. The conversation was not remarkable.

Adam, however, was. His laugh could be heard through closed doors and down hallways.

Adam came to my mother's 50th birthday party. I would visit his parents' house and sit at the kitchen table and kibbitz with his mom.

We stayed in touch for a while after graduation, but our lives drifted apart. Phone calls became sporadic. Years went by.

In October 2001, I did the Avon Breast Cancer walk in Atlanta. I knew Adam was working for the event organizer. I hoped to see him at Day 0, to run into him as I completed my registration. Yeah, right. There were thousands of people. But I had a feeling, as I walked up a particular road, that I would see him. Later that day, walking down the road to the shuttles, I had the same feeling. I looked over to the right. Adam was there.

We screamed and jumped up and down, hugging each other. One of my walker pals took our picture. (Though I never did get it from her.) I introduced him around. We hugged some more. We were both crying.

On the second night of the event, Adam found my tent. It was cold that night. Too cold for an early October evening in Atlanta. He came into our cramped quarters (8x8 feet, for two people and their gear) and handed me a red plastic bag. Inside, he included a T-shirt (I wear it now to train for this walk), a waist pack, a page-a-day inspirational calendar, and a button displaying a big number "2."

In Pallotta Teamworks' world (back when there was a Pallotta Teamworks), walkers wore buttons to denote how many events they'd participated in, both as a badge of honor and to let others know that they'd been through events, in case the first-timers needed help or advice.

On the back of a Pallotta flyer (the closest thing he could find to paper), he wrote to me (among other things), "The most important item included is the #2 event button. I can't imagine a 3-Day next year without you."

I didn't do the walk the following year. And Adam stopped working for Pallotta Teamworks. And we lost touch again.

Last year, transferring numbers from my old cell phone to my new, I ran across a number for Adam. No way, I thought. No way it's still active. I put it in my new phone anyway.

For the past two nights, I've dreamt of Adam. No real reason why. I haven't been talking to other college pals, or thinking about the Atlanta event. He's just been on my mind.

Today, I called up Adam's number on my phone and hit "Send." His voicemail answered.

I left a message.

Walking up Michigan Avenue this afternoon, the phone rang. Adam.

I made my way to the Water Tower park and sat and talked to him, catching up on the past four years. He was on his way to work at Clark and Diversey. We decided to talk next week and make a plan to get together.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am quite possibly the world's least-patient person. I walked over to the CTA Red line stop at State and Chicago and headed north.

When he saw me, he laughed. "You came!" he said, and hugged me tight and held on. It had been four years. Far too long.

"Do you realize we could have graduated from college again since we've last seen each other?" I asked.

And then I had to go. I literally saw him for less than a minute, but after our conversation, I didn't want to wait a moment longer. And we'll see each other again.

It's taken four years for me to sign up for another breast cancer walk, but as I write this, I'm looking at my "2" button and will carry it with me to, as Adam wrote in his note to me in Atlanta, " ... remember this event and remember how much I love you."

Call someone you love.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

To Have A Look Or Not To Have A Look ...

Jay, my friend in Raluca Agape, which I went to see a couple Wednesdays ago, popped up in an IM screen recently to tell me that my blog entry about what the bands wore that night at Elbo Room was causing a bit of a stir in the Ralucan camp.

I wasn't sure why. Everything I said was true. I didn't think any of it was mean-spirited. "It's just blogging," I reminded him.

He said that the band had decided, before the gig, that everyone would wear what they wanted, lest individuality be quashed.

"Otherwise," he said, "you get the Spice Girls."

I've been mulling that over. First of all, the Spice Girls all had a different look, yet the fact that each had a different look was what lent them their sense of cohesiveness. Their sameness stemmed from intentional difference. Second of all, everyone reading this has heard of the Spice Girls. So maybe their schtick wasn't such a bad thing. Maybe marketing works.

Jay is a marketing mastermind. I think he'd agree.

The whole question of whether or not bands should have a look stemmed out of a discussion with Composer Dave (who's also in a band) as we were listening to "Space Age Love Song" by A Flock of Seagulls one day.

"See?" he said. "This is when bands dressed for the stage." Dave is in a '60s cover band (Look for The New Invaders under my Links) and they have several looks. One is very matched, the others are very individual, but every outfit everyone wears has a '60s feel. (Dave was pleased to have an excuse to buy blue suede boots.)

Jay doesn't think a band needs a look. I disagree. The more I think about it, the more I side with Dave. Everyone doesn't have to wear the same outfit necessarily, but I think there should be an overarching style that ties in with the band's sound. I think the look is part of a cohesive message about a band and its music.

Or maybe if it's your goal to play the occasional gig at Elbo Room for 50 people, it doesn't matter much what you're wearing. Or does it?

Yeah, it still matters. Which, of course, is just my opinion.

And if I've ruffled any Raluca Agape feathers anew, remember: It's just blogging.

Cuz We Are Living In A ...

There's a new show on TLC called "Material World."

This is lifted from the channel's Web site:

"Material World, a new 12-episode series on TLC, is an irreverent, voyeuristic romp through the spectacular world of high-end interior design in the homes of the super-rich. It’s about taste, huge budgets, demanding clients and the high-end designers who serve them.

When it comes to building, renovating and designing a home, even millions of dollars can’t buy good taste. That’s where the designers of Material World come in. Viewers will see these in-demand professionals as they manage their high-profile clientele, catering to their every whim and weathering their every mood swing, while still maintaining a vision and staying on schedule. It’s no easy task."

I watched it today for the first -- and last -- time.

Are you kidding me? Are? You? Kidding? Me?

There were three designers and three clients showcased in the hour. One "celebrity" client was the guy who created the "Girls Gone Wild" video collection. Nice. He's made millions of dollars by convincing women to expose themselves on camera. I bet his mom is proud. Another client was a couple in Hollywood who were renovating their $6 million Tudor in Brentwood, and entrusted the construction to a guy in his 20s, who, it turned out, didn't know things like "Removing ceiling joists is bad." The third client, also a couple, hailed from Westchester but, as empty-nesters, decided to move to Park Avenue. The wife -- I swear I am not making this up -- had a borderline fit over the placement of an outlet in her powder room.

Good God. No wonder so much of the world hates us. There are probably people dying by the hundreds right this minute in Iraq. There are African children who are being orphaned as I write this as their parents die of AIDS, or starving to death themselves.

Even in this country, crimes are being commited every minute of every day, and this chick is bitching because of the placement of an outlet in her Italian-marbled powder room on Park Avenue?! So sure is she that someone is going to have to re-wallpaper the entire wall once that outlet is moved? Can someone please feel this woman's pain?!

If I were her designer, I would have slapped her. But I'm not her designer. Her designer is being paid a disgusting amount of money to kiss her ass.

Do you think, just maybe, that television producers are running out of ideas?

Clash Of The Titans ...

In the interest of pseudo-science, I Netflixed "Troy" and "Alexander," placing them in my queue so they'd arrive at the same time. I felt some need to watch these "epics" back to back and measure them against each other.

How male of me.

I watched "Troy" first, in several installments. (Each of these films is nearly three hours long.) My one-word review to L.A. Dave when it was over? "Eh." It was OK. It wasn't awful. The CGI battle scenes were a little ridiculous and overblown. I was supposed to be seeing 50,000 troops, but the CGIers clearly got a little happy with the cut-and-paste function on their computers. Brad Pitt spends a few minutes in the film not wearing any clothes, so that was nice. I'm not a big Brad fan (even before the Brad vs. Jen pop culture war), but kudos to his personal trainer and whoever was lucky enough to do the full-body makeup.

I started "Alexander" last night, finished it this morning. My one-word review to L.A. Dave when it was over? "Oy." It was less than OK. It bordered on awful. Mostly, it was disjointed. It's 323 B.C., now it's 40 years later, now it's 10 years earlier, now it's 10 years later, now it's nine years earlier, now Angelina's wearing a red dress! Mental whiplash. Like "Troy," there are lots of bloody battle scenes, but really, aren't we done with those? We've seen "Gladiator." One skirmish in this film literally made me say -- yeah, out loud -- "It's 'Braveheart' with elephants." Then again, at least that was new. Movie-goers aren't usually treated to a soldier meeting his end under the foot of an elephant. Colin Farrell is likewise pretty without his clothes on. And this movie dared to explore Alexander's love for men, where "Troy" never owned up to Achilles' tendencies.

A quick search on IMDb reveals that "Troy" had a budget of $185 million -- yikes! Its U.S. gross was $133 million. Ooh, a $50 million shortfall. Its RottenTomatoes.com score? 55. Rotten by the site's standards.

The same stats for "Alexander": Budget of $150 million. U.S. gross: $34 million -- ouch! RottenTomatoes.com score? 14.

For comparison's sake: "Braveheart's" RottenTomatoes.com score is 81; "Rob Roy," 76, both of which bowed in 1995, just as "Troy" and "Alexander" both bowed in 2004. "Braveheart" cost $53 milion and grossed $75 million. "Rob Roy" was a bargain at $28 million and took in $31 million. And both were much better films.

A lesson for Hollywood: It's not about who can spend the most money to film in the most exotic locations. It has been, and always will be, about the story.

Or, as Pulitzer-Prize winner Roger Ebert said so well: "Fascinated by his subject, [Oliver Stone] has things he urgently wants to say about Alexander, but his urgency outraces his narrative; he gives us provocative notes and sketches but not a final draft. The film doesn't feel at ease with itself. It says too much, and yet leaves too much unsaid."

Friday, August 19, 2005

Seriously Disgusting ...

I've always thought Rush Limbaugh was an idiot, but here's some incontrovertible proof.

This taken from mediamatters.org:

"Limbaugh baselessly compared Cindy Sheehan to Bill Burkett: 'Her story is nothing more than forged documents'

Nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh equated the actions of Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, with those of Bill Burkett, the retired Texas Air National Guard officer who provided CBS' 60 Minutes with unauthenticated documents regarding President Bush's National Guard record. Sheehan is currently staging an anti-war protest outside Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas. Limbaugh said that Sheehan's 'story is nothing more than forged documents.'

Sheehan's 'story' is, in fact, that her son died while fighting in Iraq. A Humvee mechanic, Spc. Casey Sheehan was one of seven U.S. soldiers killed in Baghdad's Sadr City on April 4, 2004, by rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire.

From the August 15 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: I mean, Cindy Sheehan is just Bill Burkett. Her story is nothing more than forged documents. There's nothing about it that's real, including the mainstream media's glomming onto it. It's not real. It's nothing more than an attempt. It's the latest effort made by the coordinated left."

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Alligator Allegory ...

Click on the headline above to be linked to an L.A. Times story about the alligator that will not be caught, not because it's a story about an alligator in an urban landscape but because it's one of the best pieces of writing I've seen in a long, long time.

Andrew Malcolm, the author, is the father of my friend Chris. Chris and I suffered at the Chicago Tribune together, suffering the kind of suffering that forms life-long bonds. So when L.A. Dave read the story to me tonight on the phone and I asked him who wrote it and he told me, I immediately fired off a note to Chris to ask if his dad was writing for the L.A. Times these days.

Yup, it's him.

If you're not in the newspaper biz, you may or may not know that journalists are experiencing a bit of a crisis of conscience of late. Many writers are so disgruntled with the news business -- and it has indeed become a business, laden with all the ugly trappings that entails, like profit margins -- that they're loathe to recommend journalism as a profession to the smart, eager young minds this business so desperately needs.

Then along comes Andrew H. Malcolm, who has a storied newspaper career to his credit, who can tell an alligator tale like nobody's business.

Newspapers may be going the way of the dinosaurs, but great writing will never die.

David Update ...

Work Pal David and I have decided that "Work Pal" implies a solely professional relationship, and as we've drifted more firmly into friendship, I asked him today to pick a new modifier.

And so, for the purposes of blog entry anecdotes, for those of you keeping score, Work Pal David shall henceforth be known as Enigmatic David, a title of his own choosing, but with which I wholeheartedly agree.

The fascinating thing about becoming friends with him is his illustration of the adage "You can't judge a book by its cover." First impressions are good for a lot, but they surely don't tell the whole story.

A Question For The Ages ...

This topic has come up before, and I just read a post on L.A. Dave's blog that brings it up again, and so I turned to Google, this generation's Great and Powerful Oz, and typed in "What is nougat?"

Wouldn't you know it: The Straight Dope is the first site that popped up.

So, L.A. Dave, this post is for you. And I quote:

"Dear Straight Dope:

Everyone loves the nougat in candy bars but what exactly is it? --SubJLH187

SDSTAFF Lar replies:

Speak for yourself, SubJ. I personally find the way it sticks to my fillings vile.

According to my trusty Joy of Cooking, previous edition, nougat is a combination of sugar, corn syrup, egg whites, butter and nuts. Joy claims that France and Italy are famous for their honey-flavored nougats, then cravenly declines to give a recipe for one claiming that more careful storage of honey-containing candy is needed due to atmospheric moisture. Whatever that's supposed to mean. It's not like a plate full of homemade candy is going to sit around for a week or two.

Of course, there's no guarantee that American candy manufacturers are going to limit themselves to such wholesome ingredients. But if you want to get into a discussion of petrochemicals, you're going to have to ask someone besides me.

--SDSTAFF Lar
Straight Dope Science Advisory Board"

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Free Music ...

This week's iTunes Download of the Week is "Face Down" by Katie Todd Band from Chicago.

Never heard of them until 20 minutes ago.

LOVE this song! Good for Katie Todd and her band!

Get yourself on over to iTunes and grab this tune.

What Matters ...

Strange, how life can change in an instant. How everything you take for granted can suddenly be thrown into the air, and you're not quite sure how it will all land.

Sunday, I received an early-morning phone call. In my world, phone calls after 11 p.m. and before 7 a.m. are never about anything good.

My mother was calling to tell me my brother was in the emergency room. And the past few days have been anything but normal, trips to the hospital, trips to his house to be with his kids, running errands, whatever was needed.

It was scary and tiring, most of all for his wife, but it was also a welcome reminder of what matters: there's nothing more important than your health, and family is a pretty close second. I smiled at the steady stream of visitors Brian was receiving, all people whom he sees on a regular basis, but still heartwarming to be reminded of how much they care. We don't tell each other often enough.

He's home today, earlier than expected, sporting a heart montior around his neck, with weekly appointments to visit the hospital for other tests.

I'm so grateful that he's OK, and I'm also, as a result of this out-of-nowhere scare, newly committed to eating even better, exercising even more.

Thanks to those of you who sent good thoughts his way.

They worked.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Our Support Is Not The Question ...

I know my voice is just one among hundreds of millions, but I've gotta add mine to the fray:

Speaking as one person who didn't agree with this war, who knows that Bush lied to the country about his justification for the nightmare in which we now find ourselves, in which thousands of soldiers have died and tens of thousands of Iraqis have perished: Just because I despise Bush does not mean that I don't support our troops.

I am sick to death of people condeming Cindy Sheehan for her anti-war stance. She is not lowering the morale of the troops. She is standing up the the commander in chief and demanding to know why her son had to die, why we're fighting this war.

Who among us doesn't think that the troops are asking the same exact question, every second of every day?

God bless our armed forces who enlist fully aware of the price they may be asked to pay. Conversely, it should be demanded of our leader that he not send our troops into war on a whim.

Bush's decision to go to war was not born out of last resort. The Downing Street Memo, which has gotten embarrassingly little play in this country, is clear and direct evidence that he architected talking points to justify a decision that had already been made.

I think the president of the United States is despicable, and I think he has led this country down the road to ruin. Our stature in the world has shriveled, and we are infinitely less safe as a result of his bullying tactics. We have stirred the sleeping giant of extremism, pissed off a whole new generation who will take up arms against our tyranny.

But that does not mean for one second that I do not gratefully applaud the men and women who have been sent to do this bastard's bidding. They are soldiers, following orders as they are trained to do.

I sympathize with the families who have lost wives and husbands, daughters and sons. And I wish each and every one who has not yet fallen into harm's way could come home.

But I also recognize that we have to clean up the enormous mess that we've made in the Middle East, and that effort will be years in the making.

Cindy Sheehan is the brave face of a grieving nation whose despair has driven her to demand that Bush be accountable for his actions. I did not vote for him, but more than 53 million people did. He is supposed to represent this country's citizens. He is the face of a nation.

And he is hiding his face at his Crawford ranch, refusing to speak to Cindy Sheehan, refusing to give her the only measure of comfort she seeks.

I will endure the rest of this man's term only by reminding myself that he does not represent all Americans. His political life will soon end, and history will write his legacy.

He cannot hide from that.

Walking Toward A Cure, Part III ...

The Breast Cancer 3-Day is just over a month away. Hard to believe, as I signed up for it in March and thought at the time, "Wow, September is a long way off."

Time really does seem to move faster, the older you get.

I'm glad that I'll be participating in the Chicago event this time. It will be nice to have friends and family at Montrose Harbor at the end of the event. When I did the walk in Atlanta, I had my walk friends with me at the end, people I had gotten to know during the course of the event, but the only other person I knew (who wasn't a walker) was a freelance writer I used to work with in my Thomson days whom I had never met face to face until the moment she found me after closing ceremonies.

She brought flowers. I handed one to each of my walk friends. It was sweet, but I was sorry not to share the moment with my closest friends and family.

This year will be different. I can't wait. I'll post a recounting of the walk here when it's over.

In the meantime, if you'd like to contribute to my fundraising, you can click the link at the right to go to my 3-Day Web page.

xo,
B

Friday, August 12, 2005

Censorship, Anyone? ...

Very Astute Friend L.A. Dave just sent me a link to this story:

WUKY cancels radio program over offensive content

By Jamie Gumbrecht
HERALD-LEADER CULTURE WRITER

A few weeks after The Boston Globe called The Writer’s Almanac radio program “a confection of poetry and history wrapped in the down comforter voice of producer and host Garrison Keillor,” WUKY-91.3 FM canceled the daily featurette for offensive content.

The five-minute segments aired on the University of Kentucky’s public radio station at 11 a.m. until Aug. 1. It opened with soft piano music and the voice of A Prairie Home Companion’s Keillor remembering major moments in writing history. It was a break for history between news broadcasts and pop music, each day ending with a poem and the wish to “be well, do good work and keep in touch.”

But in a time of Federal Communications Commission crackdowns on radio content, WUKY officials say, the poems Keillor read were too risky for airplay.

“I don’t question the artistic merit, but I have to question the language,” WUKY General Manager Tom Godell said. “It’s not that he’s behaving like Howard Stern, but the FCC has been so inconsistent, we don’t know where we stand. We could no longer risk a fine.”

-- snip --

The warnings, issued by the program’s production company, came about Curse of the Cat Woman by Edward Field, which contained violent themes and the word “breast”; Thinking About the Past by Donald Justice, which also used the word “breast”; and Reunion by Amber Coverdale, which contained the phrase “get high.” The poems were scheduled for broadcast between July 23 and Aug. 12.

WUKY never heard complaints about The Writer’s Almanac because the station always edited potentially offensive language, Godell said. Prairie Home Productions and American Public Media, the segment’s producer and distributor, do not edit or select the content.

-- snip --

Keillor, who will perform Feb. 21 at Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts, said in an e-mail that stations are within their rights to cancel the Almanac but he’s proud of the poems he reads.

“There isn’t one of them I would hesitate to offer to any high school English class,” Keillor wrote. “The fact that someone is troubled by hearing the word ‘breast’ is interesting, but what are we supposed to do with A Visit From St. Nicholas and the ‘breast of the new fallen snow’? Should it become a shoulder or an elbow? I don’t think so.”

-- snip --

“The purpose of public broadcasting is not to be safe, but to be useful, good, to give people something to think about, something to grow on,” Press said. “Survival is not more important than being useful.”

Press, an ardent fan of Keillor’s writing and performing, called the cancellation an overreaction.


Not a day goes by anymore that I don't run across something that leaves me shaking my head in utter disbelief, and my fist at the idiots who are allowing this to happen.

By this standard, if I went on this station, would I be barred from talking about the breast cancer walk I'm doing next month?

And yet, people are allowed to protest funerals of gay soldiers? Funny what purposes the Bill of Rights suits these days. Because clearly, the First Amendment is about to go the way of the ivory-billed woodpecker, once thought extinct. I hope someone finds the First Amendment in Arkansas again someday, because it's clearly vanished from one radio station in Kentucky.

The Beginning of The End ...

It's not one of the seven signs of the apocalypse, but it might as well be:

The New York Times had a story yesterday about restaurants that have installed televisions at each table, a la the cute little jukeboxes of yesteryear. Restaurant owners are reporting that people -- especially families -- will wait upward of an hour for a table with a television, even if they could be seated immediately at a table that's television-free.

If you're prone to eating out alone, I suppose the TV can be argued to be like bringing a book or a newspaper with you.

But families? Families are going out to eat, spending possibly some of the only time during the entire day that they'll all be together, and instead of engaging each other in coversation -- "So, Billy, what did you learn in school today?" -- they're all sitting and staring at the TV? Do they turn away from it when the server comes? Why don't they just order a pizza and stay at home?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

This Is Insane ...

Months ago, I wrote a gushing post about "Extreme Makeover, Home Edition," specifically about an episode featuring the Leomiti family who had welcomed another family's children into their lives after the children lost both their parents within 10 weeks of each other.

The kids are suing the Leomitis and the show.

A excerpt from AP:

"Five Siblings Sue 'Extreme Makeover' Show

Thu Aug 11,12:33 PM ET

LOS ANGELES - Five orphaned siblings who received gifts and a new dream home on the hit ABC television show "Extreme Makeover, Home Edition" are suing the network, the company that built the house and the couple who took them in after their parents died.

The lawsuit is rooted in a falling out between the children — who range in age from 15 to 22 — and the couple, Phil and Loki Leomiti. The children ultimately moved out of the Leomitis' home in Santa Fe Springs, a small city southeast of Los Angeles, and are living separately with friends, said Charles Higgins II, the eldest sibling.

Their complaint, which was filed Wednesday, alleges fraud and breach of contract.

-- snip --

The parents of the Higgins children died 10 weeks apart in the spring of 2004 — the mother of breast cancer and the father of heart failure. The Leomitis, who knew the children from church, took them in to their home in July 2004, according to the lawsuit.

Producers of "Extreme Makeover" learned of the children's plight from a television newscast.

Workers demolished the Leomitis' house in February. Pardee Homes replaced it with a 9-bedroom mansion, and show producers arranged for the siblings to receive cars, groceries, computers, stereos, and other gifts.

Pardee paid off the mortgage on the new house but the Leomitis retained the title, according to the lawsuit.

But around the time that the episode first aired in late March, the Higginses moved out. Their lawsuit alleges that the Leomitis engaged in "an orchestrated campaign" to drive them away by insulting them and treating them poorly.

"We were promised a home," said Charles Higgins II. "They broke that promise."

-- snip --

The suit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages."

Seriously? Seriously?!

So we're supposed to believe that the Leomitis pretended to care about these kids, in the hopes that they'd get publicity and someone would knock down their home and build them a new one, and then they'd systematically do everything they could to drive the kids out of the house and keep it for themselves? My mind will not process that anyone could be that diabolical, and do it on national television, to boot.

I saw this episode. If the Leomitis were acting, they should all win Emmys this year.

One More Point on Tipping ...

Waiter, he of waiterrant.net, blogged yesterday about the tipping vs. service charge issue.

I wrote to him this morning and asked him if he's submitted it to the New York Times as a guest op-ed piece.

He should.

It's good.

Worth your time to read it.

The Epitome of Insincerity ...

As one blogger I read every day put it, "We'd like the corpse back when you're done raping it."

Can we please call it what it is: The We'll Send Your Sons and Daughters To Die For No Reason But Then We'll Try To Make A Feel-Good PR Event About It Walk.

Excerpted from the DOD Web site:

'Freedom Walk' to Commemorate 9/11, Celebrate Freedom
By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 9, 2005 – The Defense Department today announced the first "America Supports You Freedom Walk" to honor the victims of 9/11 and America's military personnel, as well as to celebrate freedom.

The Freedom Walk will begin at 10 a.m. Sept. 11 in the Pentagon South parking lot, near the site where the airliner crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11. The walk route will consist of a two-mile trek through Arlington National Cemetery, over the Potomac River, and will end by the reflecting pool on the National Mall, where a free concert featuring country music star Clint Black will take place.

"I am proud and honored to be part of the America Supports You Freedom Walk to honor the victims of 9/11 and to support our men and women in uniform," Black said.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld made the announcement today at the Pentagon.

"Every year since the Sept. 11 attacks, Americans have commemorated that anniversary. This year the Department of Defense will initiate an American Supports You Freedom Walk. The walk will begin at the Pentagon and end at the National Mall. It will include many of the major monuments in Washington, D.C., reminding participants of the sacrifices of this generation and of each previous generation that have so successfully defended our freedoms," Rumsfeld said.

"America Supports You" is a nationwide program launched by the Defense Department with the goal of highlighting how Americans across the country are supporting the men and women of the armed forces.

Easy To Read Story Du Jour ...

"A Noisy Guest"

"Dottie is not enjoying the party. It is too quiet.

Then Dottie sees a toy horn, and starts to blow on it. No one else can talk because of the noise. Dottie has a wonderful time.

The other youngsters are glad when Dottie goes home."

Subject Line ...

I'm blogging at an unGodly hour, and I hear "Ding!" I have mail.

It must be spam. Or maybe it's L.A. Dave. He's often up at crazy hours, and in L.A., it's two hours less crazy than it is here.

It's from Andrew Mcdermott, who, of course, I don't know. It's spam. But the subject line gets me. Nothing to do with porn or refinancing my mortgage. This subject line says, "Be want no tremendous."

Does that mean that I don't want to be tremendous? I think so. I should be a person who wants not to be tremendous. Right?

It's ubiquitous spam for knock-off Rolexes. But some of the fine print says, "When he was waiting to be the object of your munificence, so It was so expressively done, that she had no need to say a word" and "I should like to see such a Parliament anywhere else."

Where does this crap come from?

Wired And Playing Dress-Up ...

Dave, the musician, often comments that he can't get to sleep when he gets home after a gig. He's too wired.

Apparently, the same is true for some members of an audience, as well.

I went to see my friend Jay's band tonight at Elbo Room, and here it is, nearly 3 a.m., and can I sleep? No.

Dave laments that bands don't dress for the stage anymore, so part of my run-down for him tonight centered on the outfits from the three sets:

From Fires Over Phoenix:

The lead singer was wearing a button-down shirt, jeans, and flip-flops. A bit of a heavy-set guy with wanna-be Elvis Costello glasses. (He even said that he wants to be Elvis Costello. I don't think he's gonna make it.) The guitarist was wearing a T-shirt that had "If it ain't jazz, it's crap" printed on it, cargo shorts, and flip-flops. The other two guys' outfits were nondescript.

From Raluca Agape:

The lead singer chick was wearing almost the shortest jean shorts I've ever seen and at least four-inch heels. She has great legs, I'll give her that, but she was standing between Jay, who was wearing a striped, button-down shirt and a pair of jeans, and the guitarist, who, I kid you not, was wearing a shirt that must have been made out of mylar. You know, that plastic stuff that looks all silver or gold, but it has all the colors of the rainbow in it when it moves? Yeah, he was wearing a gold shirt made out of that stuff. Completely bizarre. Raluca Agape does not have "a look."

From Alexander Webb:

He wore a long-sleeve waffle-weave henley, jeans, and white socks -- he played without his shoes on.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Waiter Responds ...

So, I wrote to Waiter, he of waiterrant.com, about the tipping issue.

This is what he had to say:

"Well at the French Laundry the service charge is 18% so I assume it's the same at Per Se.

The problem with the 18% is if the waiter knows they get paid no matter what - quality of service might go down. The FL and Per Se have their own internal quality controls that are not dependant on tipping.

However 18% is a nice number. Most people leave 15% or less if they can get away with it. Hmmmm....

I'm against it in my Bistro -because it would reward slacker waiters. However my opinion on that may change!

You can always leave more! Just tell the waiter you want to leave extra or stick some bills in the book.

Got to run. Best wishes.

Waiter"

Good, Affordable Food ...

Why is it, in this country that is constantly screaming about the obesity epidemic, that I can go to McDonald's and buy 1,000 calories worth of heart-stopping slop for $2, but if I want no-cheese/no-mayo/no-oil Subway for lunch, it'll set me back nearly $7?

This topic has come up more than once recently with pals. We need to start a revolution demanding affordable, healthful food for everyone. And I'm not talking about genetically modified frankenfood that may or may not kill us years from now.

How is it that this country can have an obesity epidemic *and* have millions of people who go to bed hungry every day? Something is seriously out of whack.

Last time I checked, there were still a few fields around my house that haven't been converted into cookie-cutter subdivisions. Yet Willie Nelson and the boys continue to hold Farm Aid concerts to help the farmers who haven't yet had to shut down. But we're quickly running out of farmland in many communities, because it's more viable for farmers to sell off their land to developers.

Suddenly, I feel the need to really understand the agriculture system in this country.

Tipping Point ...

There's an interesting op-ed piece in the New York Times today about tipping in restaurants.

Thomas Keller has abolished tipping in his New York restaurant Per Se, instead opting for a service charge, a la the way of the Europeans. The piece doesn't offer the service charge's percentage, but I seem to remember everything in London was marked up 17 percent the last time I was there.

But I wondered: What if you want to give a server more?

Fifteen percent is an acceptable tip, but unless the service is truly crappy, I always tip more. Twenty percent is my usual minimum, and I've been known to leave 33 percent. The other day at lunch, the bill was $22 and change. Mom left our server $30. (I have mom's tipping gene, apparently.) She was nice, our server. We liked her. The food was fine. It came out when it was supposed to. But the tip was because she was really pleasant. And my water glass stayed full.

So the servers in Thomas Keller's place, while they'll be earning a decent buck under this new system, because I can only imagine the prices at a Thomas Keller restaurant (I once helped my cousin make an appetizer out of Keller's The French Laundry cookbook for our millennium dinner; it took two days -- seriously), could they earn more under the usual system?

I know some people tip well and others stiff their servers. I guess I always thought that it averaged out.

One of the blogs I check every day is www.waiterrant.net. Excellent stories of F&B insanity. I wonder what he thinks of this. I think I'll ask him.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Easy To Read Story Du Jour ...

"Handsome Skeeter"

[Skeeter, FYI, is a rabbit.]

"Skeeter is all dressed up for the party. His hair is slicked down and he is wearing a big bow.

But the other guests laugh at Skeeter. 'Look at the sissy,' cries Butch Bear. All the boys think the bow looks silly.

Skeeter is sad and ashamed. He thought he was so well dressed. He throws away the bow."


Yeah, like Butch Bear doesn't have a skeleton in his closet?

Monday, August 08, 2005

Older Men ...

(Dipping into my "memoir ideas" file tonight for inspiration ...)

I've always had a thing for older men.

When I was younger, my friends had things for the likes of Shaun Cassidy and Leif Garrett.

Not me.

Two of my most vivid celebrity crushes of my childhood were Bernie Kopell from "The Love Boat" and Ricardo Montalban from "Fantasy Island," which aired back to back on ABC.

Saturday nights were heaven.

Tiger Beat magazine, the chronicler of heartthrobs of the day, was featuring Shaun and Leif, Tony Danza and Scott Baio. One issue (God bless the Internet for allowing me to find this instantly) featured Leif sitting on what appears to be a stuffed Dino (yeah, from "The Flintstones") with a coverline that says, "Win my dinosaur!" And "Scott: His Tender, Loving Ways!" Are you swooning yet?

(I never understood Tiger Beat. What does it mean, anyway? Were the guys on the cover the "tigers" in question? What about when girls were on the cover? I'm not sure why I'm using past tense. According to Wikipedia, you can still buy TB. If you go to www.tigerbeatmag.com, you get nothing much to speak of -- unless you want to subscribe online -- but there's a link to its sister pub, Bop. I clicked it and saw this quiz:

Who's the hottest rock star?

Billie Joe Armstrong
Pierre Bouvier
Benji Madden

OHMYGOD. I've never heard of any of them. Oh, hold on. AARP is at the door ... )

I was a subscriber, back in the day, to Dynamite magazine. I still remember the day the issue arrived that featured the cast of "The Love Boat" on the cover, supplying me with a permanent picture of Doc to fuel my preteen lust.

Today, the tradition continues. I wouldn't kick Liam Neeson out of bed (he's 53) and Sting's almost 54 (hey, his middle name is Matthew). Pacino is 65. DeNiro is days away from 62.

Back in my Thomson days, I made a list, a la the episode of "Friends" in which Ross and Rachel each pick five people they could sleep with if they ever had the chance. I'm firing up my old laptop from those days to see how today's choices match up or differ.

Ah. I picked 13, but asterisked my top 5. In no particular order, then:

Liam Neeson (53)
Harrison Ford (63)
Kevin Spacey (Only 46! Yeah, I know, he's supposedly gay. Don't care.)
Sting (53)
Colin Firth (Only 44.)

Average age: 51.8

Bernie Kopell is 72, and, according to IMDb, has a movie in post-production. Ricardo Montalban is 84 and is following up his turn as the grandfather in "Spy Kids 3-D" by voicing a character in the upcoming animated flick "Ant Bully." Do you think he's reprising his role of Khan, with the fake pecs? "It is very cold in space ..."

Ah, love.

Easy To Read Stories Du Jour ...

"Rollo Won't Eat"

" 'Now eat your supper like a good boy,' says Auntie.

But Rollo doesn't want to eat. He pushes the food away.

'We'll have no more of that,' says mother, firmly. She feeds Rollo and he eats now."


Yes, mother, cram that food down little Rollo's throat. See him grow up to have an eating disorder. Eat, Rollo, eat.


"The Brave Hunters"

"Harold, the hound dog, and Casper, the cat, are going hunting. They are brave and blood-thirsty. They boast of all the squirrels and birds they will catch.

Suddenly, they see something!

The brave hunters turn and run. A skunk has scared them!"

Blood-thirsty?! Who wrote this thing? Quentin Tarantino's father?!

Peter Jennings ...

L.A. Dave told me Sunday that rumors were starting to swirl: Peter Jennings' death was imminent.

I'm glad he told me, otherwise this morning's news would have come as more of a shock.

Peter Jennings was my favorite network newsman.

On September 11 and the days that followed, I rarely left my television, and was so impressed by Peter's near-constant presence behind the desk, and his poise through it all.

That week, I wrote to compliment him, my first-ever letter to anyone at a network.

During last year's presidential election, I stayed up late, watching the returns. My friend Brian on the phone and Peter on the screen. Brian eventually hung up to go to bed. Peter and I stuck it out.

Once he disclosed his cancer, I never thought he'd return to his desk. But I still watch the evening news on ABC, and I've been proud of the news division for continuing to include his name in the title of the broadcast.

The New York Times obituary ends with an anecdote of Peter in the office during his leave, his shoulders draped with a gray sweater, marking up a broadcast script, a newsman and editor to the end.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

'Easy To Read Stories' ...

Mom and I made an unplanned stop at a not-so-local antique store yesterday on our way home from the not-so-local outlet mall.

The problem with antique stores is that merchandise usually sticks around for a long time. Finding something new to buy is rare. But we wandered about, and in the far back corner, in a booth that never has anything worth noting, was a small book. "Easy To Read Stories." Hmmph. No hyphens. It should be "Easy-To-Read Stories." But the book was cute and small, so I picked it up and opened the cover.

It once belonged to Sylvia White. Her (incomplete) phone number was 2-9588.

The first story:

"The Unhappy Bunnies"

"Benny and Betsy Bunny are pets. They have a warm home and are comfortable. But they are discontented. They want to be free. So they run away.

Benny and Betsy find that life in the big world is hard. They are cold and hungry. They can't find a safe place to sleep.

The little bunnies scamper home. They have discovered that being pets is a good life, after all."

Easy-to-read stories? With words like "discontented"?


"The Conceited Donkey"

"One day, Dubby Donkey meets a squirrel. 'I'm smarter than you are,' boasts Dubby.

'Can you climb a tree?' asks the squirrel. Dubby is silent. He has learned that he really isn't so wonderful."


"The Polite Pigs"

"The baby pigs are hungry and they rush to get at the food.

'Don't be so impolite,' scolds mother. 'Even a pig can have good manners.' She makes them eat slowly and slaps them if they push each other.

Everyone is surprised to see how polite the baby pigs are. Their mother has taught them the right way to act."

Ah, slapping, the teacher of etiquette.


And finally today:

"Toasting Marshmallows"

"The children at the picnic sharpen long sticks to toast marshmallows.

Bob sticks his marshmallow right into the fire. The outside burns, but the inside is sweet.

Betsy takes longer with hers."

Do you think we're still talking about marshmallows?


More installments to come. Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

'The Woodsman' ...

As I wrote to L.A. Dave after seeing "The Woodsman," "There's a big frickin', heapin' helpin' of happy."

He hasn't seen it yet, but we just had a discussion about the making of this film from a business perspective. It's a film about a child molester who's recently left prison and is trying to rebuild his life. Who's the audience for this film? It's not a date movie. It's not a hangin'-with-friends-on-a-Saturday-night movie. What kind of mental state do you have to be in to pick up this film at the video store? "Hey, honey? Want to see a movie about a man who molested little girls?"

Of course, you're saying, "But Beth. You've seen this movie. Been feelin' OK lately?"

I watched it because it received critical raves. Oscar buzz for Kevin Bacon. And he's outstanding. And it's a fascinating portrait, actually, of a man whose heinous acts have rendered him the most despicable of social pariahs and his effort to rebuild his life, who wants only to know from his therapist, "When will I be normal?"

Artistically, I understand that sometimes projects aren't about the money, that actors want to challenge themselves and hone their art. This, then, is a suitable contest. Kyra Sedgwick is great. Mos Def is great. The arc of Benjamin Bratt's character is very real.

Gritty. Painful. Heartbreaking. It challenges you to consider the humanity in those who do unhuman deeds.

Bad News Wedding Crasher Bears ...

Two movies, two days. Once again, not slacking. Research.

"Bad News Bears": I don't have a very detailed memory of the original. Walter Matthau, Tatum O'Neal, kids doing things kids shouldn't do. Often, I want to see a remake just to see what the hell the studio execs are thinking, greenlighting remakes instead of bothering to develop something original. This time, I wanted to see Billy Bob Thornton. I think he's a terrific actor in his dramatic roles, but he was so brilliant in "Bad Santa" (if you haven't seen it, rent it, but be sure to score "Badder Santa," the unrated version) that once I saw the trailers for this flick, I was committed.

I went to see this before meeting Dave for coffee earlier this week. This is exactly the kind of movie that would have had Dave squirming in his seat. It's so crude in so many places, the profanity flies fast and furious, and there are two Helen Keller jokes. It's so un-PC I almost felt bad about laughing. But I sat in the back row, and I left before the credits rolled, so I chuckled in darkened-theater anonymity.

(Note to city-dwelling, movie-going friends: If you haven't been to the 600 N. Michigan theaters lately, they've been rehabbed. The chairs could be a bit more recline-y, but the armrests flip up now. Good to know if you're on a date.)

"Wedding Crashers": My cousin Patty is in love with Vince Vaughn, so she saw this movie almost the moment it hit the theaters, and has prodded me to see it so we could "debrief," which, come to think of it, is kinda funny, given the subject of the movie. Last year, I promised her I'd go see "Napoleon Dynamite," but didn't, and she's still watching those scars heal. (Though she bought it for me for Christmas, so we got to watch it together, which was better than seeing it separately and talking about it later.)

So I went to see "WC" yesterday. It was fine. I laughed out loud a few times, which is more than I can say for a lot of movies I see that are supposed to be funny. To Vaughn and Owen Wilson's credit, they refrained from the now-ubiquitous movie gags of walking into walls and falling backward or tripping up stairs and falling foward. Someone, please, tell Hollywood it's just not funny. It's not even funny on "America's Funniest Home Videos."

But as with all movies of that ilk, you know how it's going to end before it even begins. And I don't want to see Christopher Walken as a high-ranking politician. I'd rather see him on SNL as "The Continental."

Are Stupid Women Hotter?

I keep getting porn spam (honestly, I don't know why) and while I've noticed this phenomenon before, today was the first time I articulated it as a question, to Doreen:

Why does all the porn spam I get feel the need to mention in the subject line that the women are stupid?

Tell me, guys: Are stupid women hotter? Or are spammers targeting misogynistic men?

Well, no, that can't be. Spammers don't target anyone. If they did, I wouldn't be receiving porn spam about stupid women. Then again, I also wouldn't be receiving spam about penis enlargement, and my friend John wouldn't keep getting all those missives about how to increase his bust.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

'Glitter' ...

I did not hate this movie.

I have yet to read any of the reviews of it (I don't read reviews before I watch a movie; I read them after), and I won't yet, lest I color my own opinion, but I think Mariah Carey is right: This movie was unfairly maligned.

No, it's not groundbreaking cinema. No, it's not the best performance ever commited to celluloid. But Carey is a singer, not an actress, and as a singer, I think she more than held her own in this movie. She was an ingenue, so I think her lack of acting chops made her performance more genuine.

I thought it was rather ridiculous that once Billie became a star, she was able to freely wander around Manhattan. And I saw the big climactic moment coming a mile away. (Though "Carlito's Way" pulled it off better -- have I given it away yet? Does it matter? Wasn't I the last person on the planet to see this film? Oh, no, wait. As L.A. Dave pointed out, it only made 18 dollars, so apparently a lot of people didn't see it.)

But I did not hate this movie.

Basically, it's the '80s version of Barbra Streisand's "A Star is Born," which wasn't adored by the critics, but wasn't so badly panned, either. And that movie made a lot of money. I guess if a film's singing star has at least one Oscar on her mantel, it's hard to gripe about her as an actress.

So maybe 9/11 did have something to do with "Glitter" flopping. (The nation was in shock, after all. Who was thinking, "You know what I want to do this weeked? Go see 'Glitter'!" Probably a good thing, as It's set in NYC, and there's a background shot of the towers.) Maybe people just wanted to hate this movie and never gave it a chance. It's not high art, but it's not "Battlefield Earth," either.

Umbrella Stories ...

I remember my first umbrella. It was a bubble umbrella, mostly clear plastic that curved far down, so you stood underneath it, walked inside it, and thanks to the clear plastic, could see where you were going through the clear rain, not veer into traffic or a fire hydrant or something equally painful.

But mostly I remember feeling like such a grown-up, as if a first umbrella was both rain gear and a rite of passage.

As an adult, my fondness for umbrellas waned. They became utilitarian. I opted for an umbrella with a duck-head handle once, but it quickly lost its charm. Mostly I bought basic black. I liked the umbrellas that folded into tiny bundles.

One year, I asked for an umbrella for Christmas. My brother Paul bought me an automatic Totes. Beige.

I was working at the Tribune then. Rick Kogan walked up to my desk on a rainy day and asked if I had an umbrella he could borrow. I handed it to him. "Don't you have a black one?" he asked.

What did I look like, an umbrella store?

Soon after, I was out shopping and bought him the smallest fold-up Totes I could find. Black. Brought it back to the office and tied the clear plastic box it came in with an embarrassment of red curling ribbon. Walked it over to his desk, whumped it down, and said, "Here. It's black. Now you don't have to borrow mine."

He smiled.

Later that year, I received a black umbrella from Bob Hope for Christmas, black with his "signature" printed along the edge in red ink. Bob Hope used to send out gifts to newspaper people. I don't know how you got on the list to begin with, and the gifts didn't come directly to me, but I ended up with them. One year it was a very modern silver letter opener engraved with his signature (someone stole that out of my desk), one year it was a CD of Christmas tunes, with Bob and his wife and all their dogs at the piano (I still have it, unopened).

I still have Bob's umbrella, and my beige one, and a small fold-up black one I bought for a trip to London.

They all bore me.

My friend John's daughter Miye and her husband David (yes, another one) jumped into the brella business in New York City last year, and just the other day opened their own store, BrellaBar (www.brellabar.com) around 61st and 3rd. The store was featured in the New York version of DailyCandy, and their site received more than 15,000 hits. Needless to say, they're off to a good start in their new digs.

I popped by the site to peruse their wares. Beautiful umbrellas. Really. Most people don't give a lot of thought to their umbrellas, I suspect, but if you find yourself rethinking your umbrella needs, I encourage you to visit brellabar.com. Yes, they're somewhat pricey, but maybe if you shell out a couple hundred bucks for an umbrella, you'll remember to take it with you when you get out of a cab the next time it rains.

An actual umbrella store. I should drop Kogan a line and let him know.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Levi's Store ...

I met Dave today at the Levi's store on Michigan Avenue.

Dave, as you know, is in a band. And after a recent gig, a bandmate, Jimmy, left behind a pair of jeans (they dress for the stage, though I don't know if the jeans in question were part of his "look") and while I won't bore you with the details, Dave, the nicest man on the face of the planet, felt it was his duty to replace them.

So since we were meeting up for coffee this afternoon anyway, we rolled the Levi's Store errand into the excursion. I was early, and was poking around the store, feeling very much like my father as I noted that the purposely distressed jeans were much more than the new, unharmed denim. Why would I want to pay someone an extra $24 to pre-rip then pre-patch my pants?

Dave walked in the door. "This store makes me feel old," I said.

It got worse.

The Levi's Store is arranged by sex: Boys' clothes on one side, girls' on the other, much like a grade-school dance.

Dave drifted toward the girls' side.

Dave, the one who always notices when I do something to my hair, loves to shop. He loves clothes. Loves them. Just yesterday, we were on the phone and he gave me the URL of a site to visit so I could see the next jacket he wants to buy.

I know what you might be thinking, but I can assure you that Dave is a man very secure in his heterosexuality.

The point is, the jeans he felt the need to replace were women's jeans. Jimmy had bought women's jeans. The very helpful salesguy assured me that lots of guys buy women's jeans.

Really. Really? I know some women buy men's jeans, but I'd never heard of the roles being reversed.

Here's where it gets really bad:

The size Dave was looking for was a 7.

A 7. I was shopping with a man who shopping for a man who was about to buy jeans that wouldn't fit most of my female friends.

Dave thought it best to try them on. We traversed the store again, this time to the boys' dressing area. It was a bit weird, picking up a pair of jeans on the girl side and walking to the boy side to try them on.

Very Helpful Salesguy motioned to a chair in the corner. "You can have a seat," he offered.

I sat, thinking, "Please, God, please, please don't let them fit him."

Dave is a very trim guy, but I just couldn't face any man in my life fitting into a size 7.

He emerged from his dressing room, jeans in hand. They were too tight. Way to go, God. (Mind you, I don't consider myself a religious person. Spiritual, yes. Religious, no. "God" in any context here can be substituted with "Universe," but it doesn't read as well.)

"I think I should try the 9s," he said.

Back we wandered over to the girls' jeans. He assessed a few more styles, decided he had originally picked up the wrong kind. Found the right pair in a size 9. Back to the dressing room we went. Well, he went. I waited.

The 9s were too snug, too. But he decided that the pair he was holding was the right pair to buy for Jimmy. If they were too big, he could return them.

Very Helpful Cashier Girl rang them up. We walked out of the store and into the steamy Chicago day on our way to coffee. At Starbucks, I ordered our new usual summer beverage for us. Dave very kindly paid. We waited. We chatted. We left, headed back to his studio, sipping.

Outside, I turned to him. "Walk or cab?"

"Cab, don't you think?" he asked, mindful of the heat.

"If you don't mind, I think I want to walk," I said.

I was with a man who nearly just fit into a 9.

I'm not taking cabs again until I can, too.

The Story Behind The Story ...

The title of this post is a link to a piece I have today in the Chicago Tribune, where I once worked.

The funny thing about the story running today is that today is the one-year anniversary of the day I filed it.

It's taken a year to get a 1,000-word story into a daily newspaper.

Even I don't think it was worth the wait!

But at least I can get paid now.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Getting Some Perspective ...

Today has been frustrating. On the phone (damn those voicemail trees), to the bank, to my mom's to use her fax machine, all to try to correct an issue with my mortgage company that's not of my making.

"Tsuami," Doreen reminds me, one of our trigger words to bring the other person back down, a soft little three-syllable slap across the face. One word that's become our shorthand for, "You want to talk about problems? How about your entire existence as you know it being wiped out in seconds? Your home, your family, everything you know, gone."

She's right, of course. And I reminded myself of that as I was in my car, driving to the bank, to pick up a copy of a canceled check that I needed to rectify this mortgage error, a mortgage on my home, my air-conditioned home, in which I had just eaten lunch that I couldn't finish because it was too much food. I have a car. I have money. I have a home. I have the "problem" of too much food? And I'm typing this on my computer, in my office, with a high-speed Internet connection.

Most of us are so insanely blessed, it's no wonder, given all that we have, that life's little annoyances become so magnified. Because we really, in the grand scheme of things, have nothing to complain about. Almost without exception, everything is so good that we've become blind to the blessings, and when something small creeps into our days, we short-circuit over it.

So the next time someone cuts you off in traffic, take two seconds to realize that you couldn't be cut off in traffic if you didn't own a car, into which you can afford to pump gasoline, which probably has air conditioning and a stereo, with a $4 cup of Starbucks and a cell phone sitting in the armrest.

Tsunami.