Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Insight into one man's life

From time to time I'll come across a post by a blogger who's compiled funny Google searches people have done that have fed on to their site. I finally have mine.

A couple days ago someone at the Environment Protection Agency came upon my site by Googling:

when will my wife grow up


Of course his search landed him on my "will today's man ever grow up" post, but the mental image of a guy in a suit at the EPA in DC taking the time to Google when his wife will actually grow up (like Google has the answer to that?) made me laugh out loud. I wonder what finally pushed him to his tipping point to type those very words?

Monday, March 28, 2011

How much money is enough?

Great car, great man, great weather. Life is good.
The other day something my dad told me when I was young crossed my mind and since then I can't stop thinking about it. 

"As people get older, no matter how much money they have, it's never enough," he told me. "You have more bills, more responsibilities, bigger desires." Of course when he told me this back when I was around 16, money was fun but it wasn't everything. I was in high school and worked part-time at Pacific Sunwear (not like I wasn't already at the mall enough without that job). My biggest concerns were friends, boys and clothes. Money was an afterthought. As long as I had my bi-monthly paycheck and I could afford to pay for frivolous amounts of clothing at Forever 21 and all the gas needed for cruising the strip downtown (yes, we were very American Graffiti) then I was happy. 

From age 16 to 25, my father's words never quite rang true and so I assumed they must have only applied to him. But then this crazy little thing called 30 started knocking on my door the other day, warning me of its impending entrance into my life in about one year, when I realized, suddenly, that my dad was completely right. I have more money now than I've ever had since leaving the comfortable confines of my parents' house for college many moons ago. If I see something I want then I buy it. Rarely do I have to "save up" for most of my purchases (purchases like homes aside) -- a far cry from where I was just one year ago in DC. I now dine at fine restaurants, drive a nice car, tote around my stash of Nars as though I've owned it my whole life. So why isn't it enough?

Needs aside, I think what it basically comes down to is the more I have the more I want. I know that money isn't everything (in fact if I could pick just one sticking point for my entire life it would be perfect health), but money is amazing. It's fun and so far it's freeing. Suddenly things I never imagined owning or doing in my 20s -- designer things (aka not from Forever 21), trips to cute destinations like Napa, routine massages -- are a reality. It's surreal. And as disgusting as it sounds, it's not enough. I don't know why I should feel ashamed or apologetic for saying it.

I want more; I want better. Not just material things, but experiences, tastes, sights. I love where I am right now and I enjoy myself in the now, but I never want to stop fine-tuning our guage so the only way is up. Maybe I'm turning into a full-blown hedonist. Who knows.

We all have different wants and needs, but I think my dad was right: The more comfortable you grow to be, the more your standards rise. In turn many of us are forever playing the magpie -- reaching for that sparkly whatnot just out of fingertips' reach. And once you're able to grab at it, then there's something else even sparklier on the horizon. Your nest and your memories become more distended by better things and better experiences but you continue reaching. Because everyone should see a sunset over the Mediterranean once in their life, because that wine aged 18 years was the best you ever tasted, because that nice car you commute in to work makes you smile each time you fasten your seat belt. 

I guess we continually strive for more because we want to top what we've already done, no matter how great.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Learning to let go ... tango-style

Last night J and I braved the heavy rain to attend our first tango class together. I was uber excited as I've always been fascinated by tango and it's been ages since I took a formal dance class, so I got suited up:

Red lips? Check.
Tango shoes? Check.
...and waited for J to get home from work so we could get this party started.

Now, when I hear “tango” I think sexy glides across the dance floor, legs wrapping themselves around partners with frenetic control and the occasional circular dip. Naturally I was expecting to leave class being able to do this.

Which was not the case (and rightfully so). Our instructor was an Argentine named Marcelo (of course this was name) with a thick Spanish accent who's been dancing traditional tango in Buenos Aires, Spain and France for most of his life in competitions and festivals. Marcelo spent the first hour or so teaching our class of six The Walk, which is the backbone of everything in Argentine tango. It looks easy enough and is definitely simple to do on your own. 

But, when paired with J, it was initially disastrous for something that looks so simple to do as a pair. We kept fumbling and staring down at our feet and the whole time J kept whispering "You need to let me lead, you need to let me lead," which started making me really frustrated since it wasn't all my fault. Part of the problem was he wasn't taking the lead. 

As we glided, stinted, across the floor, that scene from My So-Called Life suddenly popped into my head where Patty and Graham take that ballroom dancing class to help save their marriage but they find out that, as in life, they don't work well as partners on the dance floor either. Not that J and I have any marital discord or that we're taking this class to save anything (I just want to learn to tango!) but it was frustrating, nonetheless.

I read online last night that "Tango is a conversation between leader (masculine energy) and follower (feminine energy). To dance well requires connecting with your partner." Tango done perfectly is just that. The woman looks swept up in the man's movements -- she follows and he leads her around the floor. It's a very sensual yet controlled dance that is 100% masculine with the male steering the course. 

I'll admit that my biggest problem last night was learning to let go. I'm used to taking charge and that translated poorly into my movements on the dance floor. I need to surrender and let J guide me. This is what I plan to work on most. At the same time J needs to build up more confidence in his dance moves (to be fair this was our first class), stop blaming me for not following, and just take the unspoken lead.

A few times Marcelo cut in and danced with me to show J and I exactly how it's done and I could already feel that with a maestro it was much easier to follow since his moves just....well, made me. 

"Berry good," Marcelo finally said near the end of class when he gave me back to J. 
Apparently J and I were already getting better at this. 

After we got home we tried practicing in our tiny apartment but there's almost no space to do any dancing in here and I ended up smacking my ankle bone hard against my coffee table. No fun. What we really need is a pied-a-terre in Buenos Aires with a large living room that J and I can dance tango in to our hearts' content. In the meantime we'll continue using the narrow hallway in our apartment to shuffle down in unison.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor, 1932-2011

It was inevitable that Elizabeth Taylor would pass on any day here, but nothing prepared me for when it finally happened.

Today the world lost yet another icon and I lost my favorite actress. To me there are few stars in Hollywood history that epitomized the class and elegance of Elizabeth Taylor. She was part of a small echelon that included greats like Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn -- women whose beauty and refinement transcended what seemed humanely possible.

Her stunning lavender eyes, dark hair, 16'' waist, and lifelong love affair with diamonds were what roped many in, but Elizabeth's real gift was how talented she was on screen. My favorite of her movies are:

1.) Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

2.) Giant

3.) Butterfield 8

At Elizabeth's 65th birthday party, Madonna told the audience that "When I was a little girl, I wanted to be as beautiful as Elizabeth Taylor." I think all of us did and still do.

Arrividerci, Ms. Taylor. You were the stuff legends were made of.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Athens to Rome or bust

Fabulous news, lambs: I'm doing Europe this summer!!!

I'm going with my fam, which is great since that means my sister (aka one of my BFFs) and I can hang out shopping together every day in "giant floppy sun hats" as she says. I concur. She and my mom are going to Turkey for three weeks in June, then taking a train to Athens, Greece where my dad and I will meet up with them. From there we'll explore Greece and some of the Greek islands. We're still planning an approximate route from Athens to Patras, which is where we'll cast off for Corfu, but I do know that Corfu will be our last Greek locale before taking a ferry over to Italy. 

Once we dock at the port city of Brindisi in Italy, we plan to rent a car and drive up to the Abruzzo region, which includes some of Italy's best medieval castles and villages. (The area is also where Clooney's The American was filmed.) Towns I want to see there include Castel del Monte, Sulmona, Castelvecchio, Pescara and Teramo.

From Abruzzo we'll head back down the boot and cut over to the opposite coast. Again, not sure how far south we'll go -- we might try doing Sicily, but we're not sure yet. I do know we're planning to head up the Amalfi coast where we'll rent an apartment or villa in either Naples or Sorrento for a week and use it as a base for day trips to places like Positano and Pompeii. At the end of our trip we'll fly out of Rome after spending a couple days there too (funny enough I am the only one who wants to see Rome again, everyone else is sick of it. How anyone could ever get sick of Rome eludes me.)

Anyway, mapped out our trip is going to look something like this (not counting the still-unplanned path from Athens to Patras):

One thing I love about traveling with my family is that they're a very off-the-cuff bunch, especially my mom. Making sure we know exactly where we're going to spend each night is not their style, which means advance hotel reservations aren't in their vocab. We usually pick a starting and ending location, buy our plane tickets, then plan a rough idea of where we might be every couple days. Aside from our rented apartment on the Amalfi coat and whatever hotel we book in Athens when we land, I have no idea where we'll be staying along the way and I love the spontaneity of that. I need a good adventure.

Anyway, is it weird that I've already started packing? I guess its symbolic of my near-pornographic eagerness to get this party started. The last time I went on a major trip was when I went to Rio and Buenos Aires in the summer of 09. As on that trip, J won't be coming on this one either since he has to work, but he's very happy for me (I think some of that may have to do with the fact that he can play golf the entire month of July without me getting on his case about it).

The best thing of all about this trip, over all the indigenous olive oil and pasta and wine I'll be consuming? I don't have to ask for any time off to do it. I'll be gone for three weeks and no one can tell me I can't have those days off or I can't leave for that long or any other bureacratic bs. Winning!

Friday, March 18, 2011

First-world problems

WARNING: Frivolous shopping experience painfully recounted ahead.

So yesterday I had a minor meltdown. Nothing of the nuclear plant variety, but something much more superficial. It all started with a certain dress (the way so many stories begin).

I'll preface this with saying now that I get irrationally obsessive when I see something I want. Like Gollum-with-his-ring obsessive. I sit online forever staring at the thing, analyzing the specs, reviews, color, quality, sizing (if applicable), not to mention talking about it 24/7. In the past "the thing" has included Eiffel Tower measuring spoons, a first-edition printing of Tender is the Night, and a wide array of shoes.

So I saw a dress on a woman a few weeks ago and made it my mission to find it. And I did last week, on Nordstroms' website. It's turquoise, knee-length, very Jackie O meets Joan Holloway. Something I could wear to a luncheon (like I go to those), the Queen Mum's Easter egg hunt if I was ever invited, the occasional lawyer function, or...well, just because. I'd been meaning to walk to the Nordies near me to buy it when I noticed yesterday morning that the size 4 had been completely taken off the page. Damn. It.

All that was left was a 6, 8 and 12. None of which help me. No need to start entirely freaking out about this predicament, I told myself as I started freaking out. After all the store has had a great track record finding and ordering me things they don't necessarily have on location. I threw on my Sunday best and traipsed over to Nordstroms listening to Doobie Brothers' Minute by Minute on my iPod. Because in this situation every second counts.

When I got there a fabulously glamorous Persian saleslady asked if I needed any help and I began sputtering through frustration about my dilemma.

"...and I wanted to wear it on my birthday," I said in conclusion.

"Don't worry," she said, putting her hand on my shoulder. Obvi she had been there before. "We'll get you that dress."

But after guiding me around the floor, not only did they not have my size in the dress, they had no more of the dress, period. She explained they'd had it for about a month and "popular things sell out fast", which is like telling someone that stuff we breathe in is called "air".

"I know you guys sell out of things fast," I said irritated. "I wanted a pair of Tom Ford sunglasses last season that sold out before I could even come in and try them on."

"You need to watch our website for new things every day," she responded. As if this was all my problem and I don't already spend enough time on their website.

Being half Persian I knew I had to get pushy with my ilk. I told her to look up the nearest stores asap that carried a size 4 and get one of them to send a dress over. After a quick scan she found only ONE left in my size in the entire country. And it the Anchorage, Alaska store. I was just happy there was still one left somewhere out there for me, but she still had to call to confirm they hadn't sold it that day.

"If they don't have it there's nothing we can do," she said, picking up the phone to call. Unfortunately the lady in the dress section of the Anchorage store barked at my saleslady that she was too busy to do a dress check. Strike 1.

"I'll call back in five minutes," she said, apologizing. "In the meantime you can look around."

"We wants the dress!!!"
So I looked around and saw many cute dresses but none as cute as The One I Had To Have. Five minutes later I returned to the counter, she called back, and the same exact thing happened. At this point my forehead was sweating profusely beneath my bangs and I was drumming on the countertop as though I'd just had four shots of espresso. I felt as disgruntled as Miss Piggy when her love for Kermit goes unrequited. She tried to calm me down in the interim but I was beyond the point of accepting that my desires might end up unrealized. She asked for my cell number and said she could call me later, but I never trust sales people to come through on these kind of things unless I'm right there with them, so I told her I'd go do some shopping and return later.

I left Nordstroms en route to White House Black Market, where I bought another fabulous dress I'd seen online around the same time I'd found The One. This dress was also very Jackie O, but in white. Cocktail-meets-resort-wear. (Later that night I tried it on for J who loved it and said all it needs is an Hermes scarf, which I wholeheartedly agree with. But that's another story.) I checked my clock; only 20 minutes had gone by. <long drawn out sigh>. With nowhere else to go that didn't involve more clothes or calories I didn't need, I marched over to Barnes and Nobles and bought a copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover before killing time in the origami kit aisle and almost losing it as the tension mounted. I walked back to Nordstroms determined that this was going to happen. Or else.

Of course when I got there the saleslady had not tried calling at all, so she jumped on the horn and finally -- finally -- someone out there in Anchorage decided to throw me a bone that afternoon and found that godforsaken dress on their store floor. I will be receiving it within one week.

Moral of the story: Sweat (some) small stuff and be persistent -- no matter how trivial the situation seems.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Reason #112 why I love my husband

Last night I was in the shower when I heard our pup going crazy at the front door -- meaning J was home from work. After he popped his head in to say hi, I asked what he wanted for dinner since we had nothing planned. He told me not to worry about it because he had a surprise for me. "Ok...," I thought, with shampoo in my eyes.

After I stepped out of the shower he'd just finished arranging this masterpiece, which he'd placed on our table with two glasses of wine:

He may not be the perfect man, but he is perfect for me. I love him.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Editing begins

I haven't blogged that much this week because I've been going cray cray with a certain red pen. I've started unmercifully editing my book and let's just say this type of editing takes much, much longer than writing. Which is surprising since conventional wisdom says writing down made-up ideas is the harder of the two but conventional wisdom, like most things, is wrong.

I'm happy to report that I've put my book away long enough to now see gaping plot holes, problems with character development, and straight up bad writing in more than a few areas. (I think reading Updike's four Rabbit novels last year gave me an education in the art of consistently good writing and how much more practice is needed to get even close to his level, if that's even possible. The dude is a master.)

Anyhoo here's what they looked like before, all pristine and happy to be sparkling words on a clean white page:

And here is the aftermath:

So far a couple pages have huge red X's through entire blocks of texts, and some pages need to be rewritten entirely, but it's coming along swimmingly and is -- dare I say -- actually fun? It's empowering to be able to truly criticize your own work, call it shit, and change it until it looks like a shade of its former self but is made into something much better.

On another note I have been listening to this song nonstop today and I suggest you do as well. After the first couple listens I was hooked. Apparently over 5 million other people were too:

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Will today's man ever grow up?

When Wedding Crashers came out in 2005, there was major buzz going into opening night. Fresh out of college and just starting our careers, my friends and I were a key demographic for the film. Weeks after its release some of my friends had seen it twice, even three times in theaters, pegging it as "one of the most hilarious movies of all time."

Where have all the cowboys gone?
At this point I hadn't witnessed the alleged comedy magic they spoke of, but was reluctant to do so. "Why," I asked multiple times, "would I want to spend money and time watching a bunch of adolescent men make like they're back in high school?" I know it sounds so bourgeois when it's down on paper, but seriously -- why was this concept so hilarious? After finally paying my 10 bones and watching the damned thing I still didn't get it. What was all the hype about? Was this supposed to be funny? Because to me it was just depressing watching older men act like idiots by choice. Like freedom equates the desire to regress, which is just not attractive. Period.

Now, seven years later, we've got yet another film glamorizing regression in Hall Pass. Roger Ebert's  film review begins pitch perfectly:

"I was just reading an article about the oddly prolonged adolescence of American males, especially those in the movies. There's a common fantasy where the guys get away from their wives and girlfriends, and escape to where they're free to guzzle beer, eat sloppily, belch, fart, leave pizza boxes on the floor, scratch their butts, watch sports on TV, and in many other ways become irresistible to hot chicks. When was the last time you saw a man under 30 in the movies who had a stable marriage, a job, children, and a life where he valued his wife above his buddies?"

Ebert writes that the most honest words in Hall Pass are spoken by Joy Behar, "as a more experienced older woman who tells the two wives that their husbands, like all men, believe only marriage is preventing them from being irresistible to women. It is probably a good thing for the species that so many men believe they're irresistible, because so few are."

So this begs the question: What happened to all the real men? And by real men I don't mean you need to be putting up drywall and chopping wood, but where are those men who embrace maturity and look forward to being the responsible head of households that they were before the Brothers Wilson made movies like Wedding Crashers and Old School, trumpeting how "cool" it was to regress into frat-boy college students?

Maybe I'm just old fashioned, but there are facets about traditional roles that I love, and the career-driven, confident, organized man is one of them. Not that I think every man needs to be a briefcase-wielding accountant, but whatever that career is -- art, business, communication, law, medicine, science, etc. -- that's driving said man, why does he need to backpedal into adolescence to feel himself again or to "have fun"? Last I checked you can be a rock for your family and be goofy without doing kegstands with your bros and getting stranded on the rooftop of a Las Vegas hotel.

I read a great article in the Wall Street Journal recently called "Where Have All the Good Men Gone" by Kay Hymowitz who argues that too many men in their 20s are living new kind of extended adolescence. In her words:

"I see it as an expression of our cultural uncertainty about the social role of men. It's been an almost universal rule of civilization that girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, but boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors and providers. Today, however, with women moving ahead in our advanced economy, husbands and fathers are now optional, and the qualities of character men once needed to play their roles—fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity—are obsolete, even a little embarrassing.

"Today's pre-adult male is like an actor in a drama in which he only knows what he shouldn't say. He has to compete in a fierce job market, but he can't act too bossy or self-confident. He should be sensitive but not paternalistic, smart but not cocky. To deepen his predicament, because he is single, his advisers and confidants are generally undomesticated guys just like him.

It's almost as if the new parameters of what being a "man" means are debilitating to the pre-adult males who are suddenly being faced with having to move to that next level beyond video games and casual girlfriends. But why? Is it because staying the same is easier than stepping up to the plate?

Hymowitz continues:

"Single men have never been civilization's most responsible actors; they continue to be more troubled and less successful than men who deliberately choose to become husbands and fathers. So we can be disgusted if some of them continue to live in rooms decorated with "Star Wars" posters and crushed beer cans and to treat women like disposable estrogen toys, but we shouldn't be surprised.

"Relatively affluent, free of family responsibilities, and entertained by an array of media devoted to his every pleasure, the single young man can live in pig heaven—and often does. Women put up with him for a while, but then in fear and disgust either give up on any idea of a husband and kids or just go to a sperm bank and get the DNA without the troublesome man. But these rational choices on the part of women only serve to legitimize men's attachment to the sand box. Why should they grow up? No one needs them anyway. There's nothing they have to do." 

I don't agree that "no one needs them anyway", but I do feel like we're quickly losing our good men to a generation after them that finds it easier to remain in pre-adult purgatory and eschew conventional responsibilities for whatever is easier. Easy is crippling. 

I hope things change course in this respect, but part of me feels that in general men will continue to regress while women become more complacent with doing everything on their own -- having children, raising them, having careers, etc. The disparity between sexes will grow and the already-changing nuclear family will become a shade of what it barely even is today. To me, this is unsettling.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The art of introductions

"This is my adopted daughter, Margot."
That same day The Nana gave me her perfume bottles and pearls, she took me to a cute little French bistro for lunch. While we ate at a table near the back of the restaurant, a young trophy wife of a blond waltzed by.

"Hi Jeanne!!!" she squealed, waving at Nana and grinning through perfectly white teeth. (Something tells me this woman greets everyone in this manner and that her teeth have always been this sparkly white. Jealous)

Nana looked up from her coq au vin and squinted for a second as though she'd just seen Jesus in a piece of toast.

"Hello" Nana waved back, smiling pleasantly. The blond continued to make her way to a table at the far corner of the restaurant, where another trophy wife of equal maintenance and pedigree sat waiting for her.

"Who was that?" I asked quietly.

"I don't know; I couldn't see her," Nana replied, reaching for her glasses. Apparently Nana's eyesight is a bit worse than I thought. She can see, but only really with her glasses on. Which made me wonder: Why had she been eating across from me this whole time without them on? Was she trying to block me out? Pressing on.

She picked up her specs and peered through them across the room at the blond. "Ohh, that's my neighbor Janice," she said. "She's the youngest one on our street." 

An afternoon on Nana's street is like stepping into a Golden Girls episode. Everyone on the road is above 70, tending to their gardens and relentlessly checking their mailboxes every hour because it's a good excuse to get out of the house and take a walk, after all. When they aren't outside they're perched near their living room windows watching their neighbor's every actions before they pick up their phones and call each other to gossip that "Marilyn's lawyer son just pulled up to her house for a visit," or that "Sue must be hitting the bottle again since she's outside in her bathrobe with a trowel."

I love them. All of them. But now the million-dollar homes on that street have begun to change hands, with their older more feeble tenants shipped off to nursing homes or their children's houses where care is more readily available, and a new generation of families are moving in starting with "Janice", who looked no more than 35 and fabulous, like a well-polished diamond. 

Later, after our meal, Nana grabbed my arm and said she wanted to stop by Janice's table to say hi and introduce me. (One of the great things about grandparents is they show off their grandchildren -- no matter how old -- as if they were show poodles. Doesn't matter how much or how little you've accomplished, just being a grandchild seems to give grandparents ample pride.) We sidled over to their table and the seated pair beamed at us like a couple characters in that "Black Hole Sun" music video. 
"Hi dear," Nana said to Janice. "I'm so sorry back there, when you said hi I couldn't see who it was. I wasn't wearing my glasses."

"Don't worry about it Jeanne," Janice said. 

"I just wanted to introduce my granddaughter, Crystal..."

"Hi!" I said, shaking her hand. 

"...Crystal's between jobs right now." Nana added.

 Um, okay. Awkward. Normally you follow up a name introduction with some other pithy factoid, like "She lives just down the freeway from us," or "She's 28," or "She's my oldest grandchild." Not: "This is Crystal, and oh by the way she's between jobs right now."

I felt like that scene from The Royal Tenenbaums when Royal introduces Margo to his party guests as: "This is my adopted daughter, Margot." 

Like Royal's introduction, Nana's was just a smidge unnecessary. Especially coming from a woman who has never worked a day in her life (the family inheritance that was passed down to her at a young age was, well, huge). But then I figured Janice might be some corporate power player, where occupations and careers are of dire importance to how she sizes up strangers. 

After we left the restaurant I needed to know. 

"What does Janice do for a living?"

"Nothing," Nana replied. "Her husband makes a lot of money as an engineer, so she does whatever she wants. Lunches, spas..."

"Ah, that would explain why she looks so well taken care of," I said.

"Oh yes, she's very well taken care of."

I wanted to ask, then, why Nana felt it necessary to update this Janice woman on my current job status ... but then thought against it. The only person who's probably worried about it is Nana herself since she constantly brings it up. And that's fine, I know she wants the best for all her grandchildren. I just wish she'd understand that she's got nothing to worry about. 

I am fine.