Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Invasion of the Dinner-Conversation Snatchers

Last night was a special night for the Boyf and me. I got gussied up in a black dress and black pumps and pantyhose (shut up; it was cold outside), and the Boyf showered and shaved and put on this blue-gray woven blazer that makes him look like Chris Noth and Cary Grant combined.

We walked to a swanky restaurant near my apartment that I'd been itching to check out for a whole year. Inside, it was cavernous and the decor was warm and smooth -- even more impressive than I had imagined previously, as I had walked past it on the way to the gym and peeked into the windows like a street urchin. The interior bar rose two stories, and the upstairs housed a champagne bar with a leather chaise lounge that Veronica Lake would have been right at home perching on. We had two pre-dinner flutes of champagne at a polished marble bar, and the Boyf presented me with a gift of jewelry.

I couldn't help somewhat humbly thinking, This was not my beautiful life.

This was not my Hollywood-actor-looking man. This was not my dress. My new pearls. My artfully presented dinner.

But I'll tell you what it most certainly, without its surreal Technicolor glaze, was:

This night was the night that we were seated roughly five inches from the loudest gaggle of 26-to-29-year-old rich SoHo women that I have willingly encountered, well, ever.

As we stepped around them and to our reserved table, they had to move their bags out of the way: five or six brown-leather monstrosities that took up the aisle between tables. The smell of new leather rose from the tiny herd of pouches and made me ever so slightly jealous.

The meal was fantastic, but as the ladies to our left had a few more glasses of vino, we could hear every morsel of their conversation. I'm infinitely grateful to the Lord that the conversation was funny, or else I would have slit my wrists with the blunt potato-serving spoon on our table.

"I lost my virginity when I was 13," the Alpha Girl with the immaculate bone structure and pulled-back hair intimated not so softly. "And it was beautiful and wonderful, and the perfect time for me. But I was worried about telling my parents. I was afraid I'd be punished because, you know, sex was bad."

The Alpha Girl continued the story even as I tried not to hear, and rather to focus on the risotto before me:

"We were in the woods in a sleeping bag; the wolves howled...." (At this point, I was trying to physically restrain myself from laughing.) "When I have kids, I'm going to let them drink at the house, because if they're going to do it, I'd rather them do it at home rather than drive somewhere and do it." (I rolled my eyes and contempleted having my tubes tied.) "If they want to drink, we're going to sit down and have a conversation about it. We're going to learn about how beer is brewed. We're going to learn about the different regions where wine is made." (I laughed audibly.) "And if they want to smoke pot, they should do it at my house. I mean, I don't have a problem with drugs as long as they're natural, like pot or magic mushrooms."

I had to turn my attention away at this point. It was just getting too funny. I did hear, though, one woman at the table tell a legitimately harrowing story about her first sexual encounter, and I won't tell it here, because it's hers to share. Their conversation moved on to current relationships. One of them knew the sous chef at the restaurant, and they were all having problems with their own boyfriends/lovers/crushes. I tuned it out as best I could, but then:

"You ARE Julia Roberts. You ARE 'Runaway Bride.'" (Another audible laugh from me. Did they not realize that that movie, like, sucked? Hard? Metaphor or not, the use of that movie in dinner conversation should be banned, right along with equally horrible movies such as How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Maid in Manhattan, and The Fifth Element.)

The thing was, these women weren't the textbook definition of dumb, no matter how much I wanted to think they were, with their money and their freshly slaughtered bags and their boys and their strange early sex. It looked like they were genuinely having fun and sharing their lives with each other, and they turned out to be very nice. They asked us about our desserts, and they took a sundae recommendation from me. And I loved that the laughter they provided prevented me from going into my own head after too many glasses of syrah, from berating the Boyf for something trivial, from going -- to put it delicately -- psycho, as I tend to do.

Every now and again, I guess, you have to cut the sorority house a break. A belated cheers to all of you at that table, ladies.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

"Well, the Jerk Store Called..."

Like any normal pair of twentysomethings looking to culturally atone for a previous night of boozing, the Boyf and I made our way downtown to the Outsider Art Fair in the Puck Building on Sunday around noon or so.

As we meandered down Lafayette Street, we passed three rough-looking guys outside of what we believed to be a rehab center. They were visibly and audibly disturbed by something.

"He's a fucking jerk!" one guy wearing chains and khaki-colored sweats yelled, gesturing at the street. "He's bumped into all the cars already!"

The Boyf and I turned to see some guy in a tiny vintage Porsche that was sandwiched between a green sedan and a white minivan with Florida license plates. And when I say "sandwiched," I mean sandwiched. He was trying to parallel park his penismobile where a parking space did not exist. You couldn't slide a sheet of paper in between this Porsche's bumper and either of the two cars.

And then Porsche guy hit the gas. Hard.

It was like watching a bad comic farce in action: As he jimmied his Porsche back and forth between the two cars, he would ram one car at least a foot, brake, put his car into drive, wait until the minivan rolled back to resting position, then he'd do it over again, in the opposite direction, with the sedan. This continued for at least three minutes.

All the while, the Boyf and I were watching in horror, not believing we were actually seeing this, and the bedraggled rehab guys are yelling at the street: "He's a fucking jerk! No! No! Don't do that! He's a fucking jerk!"

Porsche guy finally decided he had wedged his vintage automobile so tightly between the cars so that no one -- not even him -- would be able to pull out, and he exited his vehicle, with his longish brown hair and professorial green blazer, to inspect his job. The Boyf and I scurried along because we thought he was going to come after us, but no. He circled his car, and, apparently satisfied, left.

I think the lesson I learned is this: When rough-and-tumble rehab-center guys are repeatedly yelling on the streets of New York that you're a jerk, you probably are. And how.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

You Tell 'Em, Andy

Finally, someone has read my mind, and believe it or not, that someone is Andy Rooney. After watching his ending thoughts on 60 Minutes tonight, I clapped my hands together loudly above my head, The Pursuit of Happyness-style, and yelled my support loud enough for the upstairs apartment to hear.

It's "NEW-KLEE-URR"! How hard is that to say? Honestly...

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Currently Grossing Us Out...

I've read this story about the fake seventh-grader/sex offender three times now, and I still can't make sense of it. He's...29? And he' to fool people into thinking he's 13? And he' with three other guys? And...having sex with them? posed as his grandfather? WTF?

That story, though, is just one small piece of the spectacle/example we've made of child molesters. We love to see them caught, whether on TV or via an internet story, and we love to shake our heads and think, "What depraved human beings." And they are, make no mistake about it.

But what I find interesting is how we've made child sex abuse the most horrible, horrific thing a person is capable of, hence all the media coverage. Rape doesn't register on quite as grand of a scale these days. Murder is still there, but not as...trendy, somehow. It's an interesting study in social and cultural norms.

I recently read this delightful nonfiction book, Dirt for Art's Sake, about banned and/or obscene books throughout history, and the author makes a fascinating point: Society has shifting social mores, so what a culture vilifies varies. One generation's pedophilia is another's adultery. One era's homosexuality is another's premarital sex. It's somewhat telling that pedophilia is the thing we most revile in this day and age. The other taboos seems like ancient history.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

But I'm Not Bitter

I'm going to go to Kinko's this weekend.

I'm going to place an order for a large sign. I'm going to request some really nice paper stock in a 3' by 10' size. I'm going to make the letters raised and shiny. And I'm going to use a nice font. In a beautiful italic typeface, maybe Palatino, the message will read:

Don't Wear Your Fucking Sorority Letters to the Motherfucking Gym

And then I will post my custom sign directly above the front desk at my tiny, crappy Midtown gym.

I like to go to the gym to release tension. I like punching the air. I like kicking imaginary objects. I like classes that make you do 50 non-girl push-ups and then do biceps curls with heavy weights. I do not like bright-pink T-shirts calling my attention to the following:

Chi-O Barnyard Bash '04!

Alpha Beta Bitch Semi-Formal '05!

Lambda Lambda Chi Date Rape Philanthropy '06!

When I remember the sorostitutes I had to push my way past in college or listen to form words and speak during lecture classes, I want to beat the person who jogged my memory. And that, sorority gym girl, is you.

I'm happy your parents bought you friends who all look like you. I'm happy that you learned to store important house rules information in a binder with pockets. And I'm happy that that goddamned pink T-shirt probably cost Mummy and Daddy $279.40 if the cost of your entire Greek experience was averaged out among Natty Lights, drunken hookups, and black pants over four years.

But seeing it in my face at my gym as you loudly ask your sorority sister workout buddy over your iPod racket if "we're doing cardio, abs, and weights tonight? 'Cause I don't want to be at the gym until, like, 10"? Not cool. In fact, we midtown workers, with our black dress socks and tennis shoes, unhappy cubicle-life scowls, and ratty Umbro shorts will destroy your gym-going soul. Slowly -- oh, so slowly -- you'll realize that no John Mayer lookalikes work out here. In fact, no attractive men at all work out here. Or women, for that matter. We're fatties, we're pasty-white Caspers, we're unhappy, we just want to get out of here so we can go home and eat a frozen chicken pot pie, and -- P.S. -- we hate you.

So take your blond ponytail, your lariat, that God-awful T-shirt, and any memories of your totally traumatic hazing back in 2000 and get yourself a membership at Crunch or Equinox, which is where any self-respecting sorority bimbo can get her anorexia on among hordes of muscle-bound Murray Hill jocks.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Money Makeover, Newbie Style

I always get prematurely psyched when I see the headline for articles like this one from Money magazine: 5 Families Get Money Makeovers. "Oh, goody," I think, rubbing my palms together. "I'm going to make over my financial profile!" *Click!*

But then the disappointment sets in. None of the scenarios in the article apply to me -- even remotely. I'm not recently divorced, recently married and seeking a mortgage, married with kids, ready to retire, or, well, even in my 30s. I realize I'm probably not in Money magazine's demographic (yep, just checked here: median age 46). Maybe I'm more of a SmartMoney kind of gal. They do have a kick-ass website I enjoy. Oh, actually, nope. Their readers' median age is 46, too. Or, hang on, there's this cool new mag: Young Money. Eh, a little too college-centric for me.

Granted, though, there are a bunch of websites that more accurately target the 20s-to-mid-30s demographic (look to the right of my site for my favorite PF links). I appreciate them thoroughly. But, still, it's a little tough to know where to begin, especially when you're barely making enough to scrape by, as I very vividly remember.

And when you don't have a whole lot, the best you can do is save what you can, contribute as much as possible to your 401(k), and pray that your health/muffler/rent-stabilized apartment holds out until you can establish a respectable net worth or at least get your head above water.

So now I'm forced to do my own impromptu (read: silly) money makeover. Here are some budget cuts I should be making:

- Any more than one drink at the Flatiron Lounge (a.k.a. The Perfect Fancy Bar)
- Any more than two beers at d.b.a. (a.k.a. The Perfect Beer Bar)
- Dinners out -- On second thought, even I don't want to eat my own cooking -- oh, who am I fooling: the ready-made organic burritos sitting in my freezer -- any more than I have to. Let's make that...
- Dinners out involving copious amounts of wine (defining "copious" as more than one bottle of low-to-mid-price wine)
- Clothing costs (Oh, wait; I hate to shop. Never mind.)
- MP3s (Oh, wait; I have no iPod and am not music-savvy in any way, shape, or form. Never mind.)

And, um, that's pretty much it. So, Newbie, are you telling me that if I didn't drink I'd be a millionaire? Apparently! Let's hear it for money makeovers! And let's give a big thumbs-down to booze! Wait, come back, booze. I didn't mean it. Ike's sorry, baby.... Let's make up. Seriously. Don't go..... You'll come back for me! I know you will!

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Sunday, January 21, 2007


Unintentional Exploitation?

Like anyone who hasn't been comatose in the past week, I've watched as the story of two Missouri boys who were abducted from rural areas near their homes unfolded. It's hard not to view the retold rescue without pausing, waiting to hear confirmation of the expected repulsive details of their captivity. I'm particularly glued because I come from the Midwest.

There's a certain discomfort, though, to watching the depraved recesses of the human mind -- thoughts stored far away in the remote parts of our country's landscape. Whether the details of capture or abuse or rape are being broadcast to us in our armchairs or at our computer desks, there's an unintentional salaciousness in holding an all-access pass to the crimes. It seems inherently unsettling -- wrong, even -- to view the most desperate, desolate times of two very specific children's lives, but we watch again and again. We are, after all, a country that has made "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" a hit.

I think this op-ed piece in today's Times really hit the nail on the head. My prayers are with these boys.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Flow-Chart Fun

Kind of love this, if only for nostalgia's sake (via PlanetDan):

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Marriage, Schmarriage

Fifty-one percent of women are now living single, which means for the first time more American women are living without a hubby than with one, the New York Times reports today. (I'm saying "hubby" because there's no mention of whether "spouse" includes gay women as well.) Granted, that statistic could be due to a number of factors, including longer lifespans across the board, but I was excited to read this article nonetheless -- maybe because it helps me justify my decision to remain unmarried so far.

I have mixed feelings about the census findings, though. On the one hand, I'm glad women have choices these days. We have our own money, our own interests, and our own lives, and we don't have to depend on a man to put a roof over our heads and spending money in our pockets. But on the other hand, if singlehood is the wave of the future, does marriage mean much anymore to America as a whole? To certain individuals (I'm looking at you, Christian right), marriage will always be a sacred space where sex can be had and where women can bow their heads in deference to the men making all the important decisions and everyone can feel just peachy about getting up on their high horses and telling others how to live. I grew up in a conservative Christian church, people, I can make these statements.

But what about people who don't feel as strongly as conservatives? What does marriage mean to the average 18-to-35-year old? To popular culture? I think young people still romanticize marriage (even Time's awesome/scary article about Twixters a few years ago reports that most youngsters are looking for their soulmate), and I think most people expect to get married someday. But as we reach marryin' age, I think the concept starts looking a whole lot less appealing than it did when we were, say, five years old and playing princess and/or warriors with our dolls and/or action figures.

Who in popular culture exemplifies a sexy, equal, intelligent, quality marriage that works? Let's see, there's....

1. The Fat Husband/Hot Wife Union (According to Jim, King of Queens, etc., etc., etc.)

You, too, ladies, can be married to a fat, lazy, argumentative husband whose league you're WAY out of!

2. Sex and the City-fied Nuptials (Charlotte and Trey, Charlotte and Harry, Miranda and Steve)

Get in line, girls, to marry a sexually frigid mama's boy! Or a bald lawyer with hygiene issues! Or a manchild bartender with a really thick Brooklyn accent!

3. Life-Commitments of the Rich and Famous (The Real Housewives of Orange County, Trump and Melania, etc.)

Step right up, gentlemen, to grab your trophy wife! She'll look like she was cryogenically frozen circa 1991 and spend all your money!

4. A Match Made in Music (Kelis and Nas, J.Lo and Marc Anthony, etc.)

I love me some "Milkshake" as much as the next girl, but I wouldn't bet the farm on these marriages lasting. Do you disagree? I thought not.

5. Dear God, Kill Me NOW Married Life (Everybody Loves Raymond, 'Til Death)

Does an episode exist where someone's not either rolling his/her eyes, emitting bodily functions, or fighting with in-laws? I'll pass, thanks.

6. Friend-ly Weddings (Monica and Chandler, maybe Rachel and Ross)

I think we all know that the Mo-and-Chan plot line was more about the writers running out of ideas than anything else. Ditto for the Rachel-and-Ross wrapup.

7. Reality Vows (Newlyweds, Meet the Barkers, 'Til Death Do Us Part, Chaotic, Being Bobby Brown)

Um, yeeeaaaah. Enough said. (Actually, Carmen Electra and Dave Navarro had me fooled. I genuinely thought they were in love, and I was genuinely surprised when they broke up so quickly. I think that means that I am a sucker. An MTV sucker, no less.)

If you want my true opinion on the decline of marriage, though, I find myself agreeing most with this awesomely crotchety guy who posted his thoughts about the article on the Times's website. Here's my favorite snippet ([sic] throughout, natch):

[T]he “me generation” has no room for relationships, companionship, sharing, or compromise that coudl lead to bonding… its “my way or the highway”……this hardly promotes pairing and genuine bonding between the opposite sexes. both sexes are equally selfish.

All pervasive media/entertainment industries magnifys these negative characteristics and in fact fosters them as its so easy to be the ultimate in self-centeredness by sitting in front of a screen and visiting websites that agree totally with your point of view and reinforce compeltely your beliefs and ideas in a closed loop.

Surprise surprise surprise…..self centered and self focused people want to live alone and agree with themselves all the time !!!!!!!

You said it, Ray Capowich. Now where's my pillow, chick-rock music, and copy of The Feminine Mystique so I can zone out alone before sleeping solo in my bed?

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Shared New York

New York can be generic, and it's getting more and more so each day. Young 23-year-old women with straight, shiny hair and crisp red wool coats, fresh off of work at the publishing house no doubt, sneak by me on the subway platform with their half-read gossip magazines folded inside out, and they blend in with each other. Their profiles and backs do, anyway, because any true New Yorker knows not to look a stranger full-on in the eye.

In marble-floored buildings (that look like the other marble-floored buildings) there are iPods and striped shirts and shiny shoes and BlackBerrys -- and elevators full of identical striped shirts personified with their shiny shoes and iPods and BlackBerrys. Heads down. Scroll wheels clicking. Oblivious to anything but tiny letters and tinny sound. (Tip: They're the assholes in the packed theaters who check their messages on bright white screens during Jennifer Hudson's torch song in "Dreamgirls.")

Generic can be mistaken for connection ("OHMIGOD, I love your baaaaag. Wheredjyou gehtitttt? I totally have the same oonnnnne.") when what we really should be looking for are similarities that makes us feel less alone here. Like mass-produced bottled water, for example. Follow:

Last summer, during sticky heat and train delays, the V finally came down the pike in midtown, and every last soul was determined to take a deep breath and squeeze his or her body through the closing doors, barking conductor be damned. I had just gone to the gym, making the air and evening seem rather moist. I jammed my way into the car, and I saw a large black woman taking up three fourths of a two-seater bench by the door. I'm not a thin woman, I'm not a fragile woman, but I'm a small woman. So, like a human puzzle piece, I slid right in next to her, water bottle in hand.

I looked over at the woman's lap. She was holding an identical Poland Spring water, fingers interlaced over the grooves of the bottle, just like I was holding mine. She looked at my beverage, and she looked at me.

"Crowded in here," she said.
"Mmm-hmm," I emphatically agreed.
"Hot," she said.
"Yep," I said, half-smiling.

We rode a little bit longer in silence, and she looked over at me and nodded.

"I see you've got your water," she said.
"Oh, you've gotta have the water," I said, looking at her giving a nod.
"That's right," she said, my response having pleased her in some way.

And that was it. That was everything. That was the entire conversation. But somehow I remember that: A genial chat about shared subway misery predicated on a water bottle.

I like those moments in New York. You can have a conversation with a nosy woman in a bakery in Omaha, and that's nothing out of the ordinary, but in New York, out-of-the-blue conversations or meaningful exchanged glances across a sidewalk don't happen as much. So when they do, it means we've lifted our heads from our BlackBerrys and gossip magazines and traffic and the self-absorption, and it resonates. A genuine smile shared with a stranger means more here, even if there are millions of us milling around.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Money Ain't A Thang

Four political and financial thoughts:

1. Does it bother anyone else that we have a president who, after serving six years in office, still cannot properly pronounce the word "nuclear"?

2. I'm linked on Google Finance! (At least for now.) This is kind of a dream come true for me, being a personal finance geek and whatnot.

3. I love that more and more experts (financial and otherwise) are beginning to speak out about income inequality. It's one of the most important issues facing American society today, in my opinion. Here's a recent article I liked from Yahoo Finance. (Sorry, Google; Yahoo has better original content.)

4. But don't get too cocky, Yahoo Finance. Now I'm going to take you down a peg. As much as people fawn over Robert Kiyosaki, I just don't get the draw. I've read a good number of articles by him, and after I finish each one, I think to myself, "Now, what am I supposed to do?" Sure, the guy tells some nice parables, but the moral of the story is completely lost on me. Read his most recent Yahoo Finance column here. Now tell me if you can figure out what the hell he's telling us to do. Am I better off for reading this article? No. Am I feeling confused and oddly chastised for being "middle class"? Absolutely.

Take this passage:

Financially, there are three classes of people. The rich are those who play to win. The middle class plays not to lose. For the middle class, financial security is more important than financial opportunity. Ironically, today there's far more financial opportunity than financial security, yet the middle class still seeks security.

You'd expect some sort of logic to come after that to explain the mumbo-jumbo he just handed to us, but no. There's no explanation. There is smoke and there are mirrors.

That's why I love Yahoo's other columnists: Suze Orman. Ben Stein. The Automatic Millionaire. Because every time I read their columns, there's some sort of financial call to action or at least a nice tip that I can bear in mind or ponder and discard if I so choose. Lose Kiyosaki, Yahoo. That's my two cents. (As it were.)

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Must-Read Book for Writers

I'm reading an awesome book right now called Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I first heard about it years ago, as a footnote in some syllabus for some college class I've since forgotten about, but I bought it for the first time last year because the jacket promised some insight into this hairy world of writing that so many people are clamoring to enter.

I like the book because she speaks in metaphors, with stories as parables for the day-to-day experiences and struggles of a writer's life. It's also funny and high-energy, and if anything I write after I get off my desk chair/couch/elliptical trainer/excuses/ass is half as good as what she's put forth in this manual, I'll consider myself accomplished.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Two Fantastically Educational Stories on Money

I was genuinely affected by two stories about money I read today:

One is "American Roulette," Kurt Andersen's Imperial City column in this week's New York magazine. As Americans, we can do our share of generalized bitching and moaning about the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer and spout off over expensive goblets of malbec about social stratification -- Lord knows I've done my share of that -- but Andersen's column is the most incredibly well-written and well-thought-out observation and call for change regarding our current economic problem that I've read in recent memory. It's poignant and filled with appropriate metaphor, and I wholly agree with him in the hope that someone will bring the country together under an umbrella of fairness and hope after the 2008 elections.

The second is a great Moneybox Slate article called "The Wall Street Self-Defense Manual" by Henry Blodget. Blodget comes off as equal parts curmudgeonly and time-strapped, but the tone works in this bare-bones, chart-illustrated guide to how not to waste your money when investing in mutual funds. Like most people new to investing, I think I know more about the market than I actually do, and this article was a nice wake-up call. In fact, thanks to Blodget, I'm currently panicking about the high-ish fees (just below what he would call "average") on two mutual funds I bought earlier this year. It's not to late to change it, of course, but damn it if I'm stubborn about admitting I was wrong.

(To buy these super-hottt money glasses -- Maureen Dowd mannequin not included -- collect $12 out of your couch cushions and click here.)

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