Sunday, September 19, 2010

Adios, muchachos

Hello, goodbye.

The time has come to say goodbye to this blog.

Why? Frankly, I feel too many people read it. It's one thing having strangers around the world reading up on my weekly exploits, but it's another having casual acquaintances check out what I've been up to or read what I think about J, our marriage, my career, or other facets of my life. I never thought I'd be saying this but I don't want the details of my life to be so public. At least not to people I kind of know.

I want to be more honest about my thoughts; I want to be more raw about my life. And so I've decided to abandon ship here on Brunette on a Budget and start over again, completely anonymous on a new blog. I get that if I want to be private about my feelings I should probably just buy a moleskin and call it a day, but ever since I've started blogging I've fallen in love with it. I get a thrill each time I hit "publish" and don't want to give that up. Instead, I'm willing to give up my online identity. On my new blog there will be no name, no picture, no location, and I'm beyond thrilled to have a fresh, anonymous start. (Is this an iota of the way Madonna feels each time she reinvents herself? Because the feeling is so liberating.)

I will miss it here, though, and I'll miss you, dear reader-friends. It's been an amazing 2+ years and leaving now feels like the end of an era. When I started this blog in May of 2008, J and I were just settling into life in DC and this was meant to be a creative outlet outside of work on those long nights when J studied in the law library and Lola and I sat home watching Grey's Anatomy. My initial focus on this site was personal finance (hence the name) and I blogged about financial matters for months until my writing morphed into more personal narrative as I figured out my life and where I was going. That led to the infamous I did it. I quit my job post, which kicked off my journey into fiction writing and now, a year and a half later, my entry back into the workforce. P.S. If you're wondering, I do still write but wish, like before, that I could commit all of my time to it (she said, longingly).

Now I feel there are too many eyes on this blog and I can't say everything I want to say, and so I'm peacing out. I have one book review that I promised to write in October, but after I post it on Oct. 18th, this blog will officially become stagnant. Over on my new blog I'll continue to write about J, The Nana and the rest of my cast of characters; I'll continue to make like Rita Hayworth and Put the Blame on Mame; I'll continue to update about my book progress (J's currently editing manuscript #1 with me); and I'll update about writing my third novel in November for NaNoWriMo (my outline is already coming together -- I can't wait!!). Best of all, I'll continue to blog about my life, but this time more boldly. More honestly.

I'm almost finished setting up my other website, so if you want to follow me into anonymity email me at and I'll let you know once it's up and running (include your blog link if I don't know you.) If not you can always still find me on Twitter.

Hopefully we'll meet each other all again on our long journey to the middle -- till then, ciao ciao!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A night with Lady Gaga at the Monster Ball

In terms of concerts, the Monster Ball tour I went to last month was definitely in the Top 5 Best Concerts of my life (dare I say she beat out David Bowie when I saw him at the Shrine in LA?)

I got decked out in tranny heels and red lipstick; my bff donned a black and white Rhythm Nation ensemble (complete with fingerless-leather glove), and we had fun people-watching in the lobby before the show started:

This Gaga lookalike (above) only wore these sequin disco boots, booty shorts and hat. The rest of her body was covered with rhinestones.

More little monsters (above).

When all 20,000 of us were packed into the pavilion and the lights dimmed, the crowd erupted into screams and cries, waiting for Gaga to emerge. But first, for the intro, a giant projected video played on a 30-foot white sheet hung above us, hiding the stage behind it:

It was ah-mazing. The visuals mixed with her looped voice saying "I'm a free bitch" over a remix of CeCe Peniston's "Finally" made for the perfect concert intro (and ringtone, if I could just find this version online). The rest of the show -- which was more a "pop-electro opera" -- was spectacular:

Holding her Disco Stick...get it?

One of my favorite parts of the show (above and below) was when she sat down and sang Speechless -- just her and her piano. As she sang the ballad the piano went up in flames.

I mean, who plays a guitar with the stiletto heel of her patent leather boot? Gaga, that's who. Loved!

Singing "So Happy I Could Die" in a moving headpiece (above, below).

What I loved most about Gaga live was that unlike any other act I've seen (and I've been to many concerts), Gaga actually succeeded in creating a connection with her audience. Between each song she'd pause to speak with us as though she and the 20,000 people facing her that night were having an intimate chat over coffee (one-way, of course). I have no idea if she actually does care for her "Little Monsters" as much as she lets on, but the point is she made us believe she cares about us. She made us believe that she wouldn't be where she is without us, her fans, her little monsters. Many stars have spun the "Thank you to my fans" spiel, but none pull it off like Lady Gaga -- her love for her fans seems genuine, and this makes us love her more.

At the concert I also loved how empowering she was to the crowd. At one point between songs, she said (verbatim):

"I've got to know so many of you and you've made me so brave. I wasn't brave before but I'm brave now because of you. So now I'm gonna be brave for you. Tonight I want you to free yourself. I want you to let go of all your insecurities. I want you to reject anyone that's made you feel like you didn't belong or you didn't fit in or told you 'No, you can't do it' or you're not good enough or thin enough or you don't have enough money or you're not pretty enough or you can't sing well enough or dance well enough or play well enough -- you remember that you're a superstar and you were BORN THAT WAY."

"Tonight will be your liberation. YOUR LIBERACION!!" (with a snarl).

That was, without a doubt, my favorite part of the whole night. I knew, right then, that I was a diehard fan.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

One of those days...

Not to be too cryptic, but this basically sums up my mood for, oh, the entire week:

I've had enough; O-Ren Ishii is now my alter ego. Not that I'm going to run across tables chopping people's heads off now...but that's what your imagination is for, right?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A weekend of copious consumption

Last week was mucho stressful at work, so I was obvi ecstatic when the three-day weekend rolled around -- and for once it didn’t fly by like weekends so often do.

On Friday night I got home and stuffed my face with Trader Joe’s frozen pomegranate seeds (aka “kernels of rapture”) while waiting for my sister to arrive (she lives in San Jose and was heading up to visit for the night). We had no real plans other than to consume brownie batter, listen to ‘80s music and hold a finger-nail painting session with my newest pink polish, but after she arrived we all decided to head over to this fabulous little Japanese joint called Shiro for happy hour. Sushi is only $3.50 a roll during happy hour at Shiro (score) but we got so carried away that we ate $100 worth, which, as you can imagine, is a whole lot of sushi. (To be fair our friend Doug also joined us, so the meal was dispersed four ways.)

We decided to make a night of it by having “tastings” at other restaurants within walking distance. First up was Modern China, a lux Asian-inspired restaurant with standard, Asian-inspired décor. The kind of place you’d expect to see on a Sex and the City set. The swank patio out front housed a dozen or so tables near a tall, trickling Zen fountain in one corner and a giant Buddha statue near the back. I had wanted to try it in forever, but apparently I’m a sucker for atmospheric cliché, since Modern China was…well…underwhelming to say the least. We had cocktails and appetizers, which basically equated to pineapple juice in a martini glass and a two pieces of cold, ill-tempura’ed tempura shrimp with what tasted like Trader Joe’s sweet and sour sauce on the side. (Not that I don’t like TJ’s sauces, but c’mon, really? I thought, guzzling the last of my frothy pineapple frappe.) From the outside the restaurant seemed hip, but if you looked past the hollow Buddha statues and Zen fountains, it was just one big, hot mess. Especially since they were playing loud latin salsa music that really didn’t go with the décor, which begged for more of a downtempo, ambient soundtrack. Clearly the Modern China folks didn’t get the memo on that one. It’s like mixing a Western theme with chop suey -- just…no. I could go on and on, but I’ll save my review for the new foodie blog, “Eat the Creek," that J and I have started.


After imbibing on food and spirits all night, I sent J off the next day to play golf with his brother while my sister and I took in some cardio went shopping! Highlights included buying a Spaghetti Western-inspired camel-colored poncho from H&M. When I saw said poncho I suddenly heard: “In this world there's two kinds of people, my friend. Those with loaded guns, and those who dig” (uttered, of course, by Clint Eastwood in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly). I knew right then I had to have it. I own a certain pair of boots that have been practically begging to be worn with a poncho.

After a few hours of shopping sis and I had too many bags to walk the five blocks home with, so my chauffeur J picked us up after golf, we plowed through a bowl of brownie batter at home, then she headed back to San Jose.

That night J and I had dinner reservations at this Vietnamese restaurant called Élevé near our apartment. The calories from the last 24 hours weren’t settling well, but I threw a dress and heels on anyway, determined not to let some poor eating choices hamper my night. And I’m so glad I soldiered on because the food at Élevé was spectacular, in every varying shade of the word. Élevé is best-known for their cocktails (I tried the Moscow Mule on hand-chipped ice – divine!) but their food was top-notch as well. We had the shrimp spring roll appetizer in soft rice paper with peanut sauce, then for an entrée I ordered the sticky rice claypot replete with thick, succulent prawns, shiitake mushrooms and sweet onions. For our side we ordered the carmelized root vegetables – carrots and other “roots” tossed to perfection in a candied ginger glaze with hints of nutmeg and other spices.

The ambiance was cool and sophisticated (the bar against the wall had backlights, giving it that contemporary urban vibe), we got to sit at a table near a window, and the service was impeccable. In the words of Travis Birkenstock, “Two very enthusiastic thumbs up. Fine holiday fun.”

Then came Sunday, wherein J and I spent all afternoon admiring furniture at Scandinavian Design, before buying a living room set on clearance ($1,200 marked down to $479, die!). The sofa and chair set are very mid-century modern -- something you’d expect to see in an office at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce -- which is perfect for me.

On Monday I visited with friends over Chipotle and a big, honking scoop of ice cream from the San Francisco Creamery (i.e., solid, delicious fat in a cone, with chocolate chips). And...Jesus, reading over this post makes me feel ill; clearly this week will be all about detoxing (that Mrs. Field’s chocolate chip cookie I had today at lunch does not count). All the food and furniture buying was delicious and satisfying, but now I feel like my stomach and my wallet need a break from all the mass consumption.

Ever feel that way?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Young at heart

That is all.

Earlier this summer, back when I hung out with The Nana every afternoon, we one day found ourselves en route to a swank retirement community to pick up her 99-year-old best friend, Gladys.

Nana had wanted to introduce us for a while and officially inaugurate me into the “ladies who lunch” club so I happily obliged, not knowing what to expect as I’d never hung out with a 99-year-old before. What would we have in common besides a love for a coral nail polish, Glenn Miller and a shared disdain for today’s youth? Turns out my knowledge of 99-year-old peeps (which doesn’t really extend beyond George Burns in that movie where he played God), was way off.

Right away I was surprised by how spry Gladys was. Sure, it had been ages since she’d driven a car and probably should have been regularly using her four-legged cane for walking, though she refused (I don’t blame her: all a cane does is date you, plus it’s much more satisfying using some nearby person’s arm if you ever need to break a fall). But “old” was something Gladys was not. Maybe she wasn’t going to be doing handsprings down her front lawn anytime soon, but she was young at heart. Though I’d only just met her Gladys still had the sharp, witty personality she most likely possessed in her formidable years -- plus she still had the energy to drag a full watering can from the kitchen to the back patio to water her hydrangeas, and still wore makeup daily. My kind of woman (age is no excuse to let yourself go).

With Gladys in tow and Nana behind the wheel of her Volvo station wagon, the three of us headed to Gladys’ favorite lunch-spot, Fresh Choice, which I was more than happy with. (Ever tried their chicken noodle soup? It’s exquisite.)

After a slight situation in the Fresh Choice parking lot that involved Nana’s Volvo lurching over a curb to nab the last handicap space from another circling car of famished senior citizens with what I can only guess was a hankering for all-you-can-eat cornbread, we arrived. During the car-ride there, when Nana and Gladys weren’t discussing ceramics projects and misplaced handicapped placards, they kept raving about the muffins at Fresh Choice.

“They’re incredible, darling,” Nana said over her shoulder to me more than once. I told her I couldn’t wait to try them.

“…Oatmeal, pumpkin, blueberry…” she continued, as Gladys nodded next to her in the passenger seat and I grew hungrier with each flavor ticked off. My flavor palate swings wide, from Taco Bell up to 6-course meals, so I knew these Fresh Choice muffins were going to be simply divine.

And they were. Until my lunching companions let me in on a little secret, or was it a ritual? Induction into the club? I wasn’t sure. I’d just brought back a plate of their beloved muffins for us to share when Nana stood up to get more food. She returned with a stack of napkins and another plate of muffins, many the same flavors I had already carted back.

Me (pointing at plate): “Oh, Nana, I already brought muffins for us…”

Nana: “I know, dear.”

Did they really expect we’d eat all these? Gladys had barely touched her salad and Nana had only one bowl of noodle soup, but thus far each had downed copious amounts of muffins. A feat in itself for a couple lithe ladies with weak stomachs.

Just as I was about to ask how we could possibly eat all said muffins, they both pulled napkins onto their lap from the stack. Without speaking, they reached for a muffin each and slyly looked around as they pulled the baked goods onto their laps and into the napkins, where they wrapped them up and slipped them discreetly into their purses.

Okay. Were we seriously doing this?

My days of poaching food from buffets stopped ages ago when I learned to get my adrenaline high from other places like robbing banks and stealing cars. (Only in my dreams.)

“Nana!” I whispered, in mock horror. “What are you doing?”

“Honey, grab a napkin,” she retorted back in a whisper.

Apparently this was how Nana lived on the edged.

“It’s ok,” I said. “I –“

“Just do it!” Gladys whispered, chiming in. “Here.” She pushed the plate nearer to me.

So that’s how these women stayed young at heart. It wasn’t that they couldn’t afford the muffins or that the delicate flavors of pumpkin spice were so breathtaking. Rather, it was akin to the rush you got as a teen from secretly nabbing an antenna ball off a parked car or sneaking alcohol from your parents’ liquor cabinet. Did you really need the antenna ball or the alcohol? (Nevermind, don’t answer that.) No, but it was the act of getting it that was the thrill.

I couldn’t remember the last time I’d taken buffet food home in my purse but I thought, “What the hell.” You only live once. And maybe that’s what I needed to feel a little young again myself (recently turning 28 did a number on me, I confess.)

Placing the napkin in my lap I peered around, straight-faced, as I picked up a muffin and pulled it slowly onto my lap with “take more, take more” being urgently whispered in the background. Once outside, our purses full of just-for-the-hell-of-it muffins, we let out a laugh over our victory and hobbled back to the station wagon, Nana and Gladys on either side of me, our arms interlocked.

It was official: I had been inducted into the club.

Monday, August 30, 2010

I am Bill Lumbergh

"Oh, oh, and I almost forgot. Ahh, I'm also gonna need you to go ahead and come in on Sunday, too..."

I had an epiphany the other day at work.

There I was, red coffee mug in hand as I sat at my desk scanning news online and developing story pitches. I'd just returned to my seat after making my usual rounds with reporters at their desks, checking in with them about their progress, questions, problems, and any new story/source leads they might have dug up since the last time I talked to them...about one hour prior.

And after returning to my desk, it hit me: O
ne of the reasons I'm a good editor is that I have no qualms about continually bothering writers to ask what they're working on. I glanced down at my coffee mug, our publication's name printed in bold white letters on the side, and it suddenly all clicked.

I am Bill Lumbergh.

Now I hate micro-managing, but it seems like time-management skills are lacking in our generation's set. And can I blame them? Social media like Facebook and Twitter, breaking news, instant messenger, Gmail, viral YouTube videos of hippies crying over double rainbows... It's a feat in itself to shut out the digital noise and focus on the task at hand. All that Internet babel is entertaining, but it's like Kryptonite for writers whose ink-dipped quills are now computer keyboards -- the distractions suck all productivity and focus from any articles, books, columns, or blog posts.

At work I have the opposite problem. My writers don't seem to get too distracted by the online clutter; instead they get distracted by their the point of it being nearly debilitating. They agonize over each word, each interview question, and it severely limits how much they end up producing on a weekly average. I assure them that we'll work together to make their stories (nearly) perfect, that they just need to get the first draft written, because really, that's the hardest part. And I should know: This was my biggest problem when I began writing fiction. I never had a problem cranking out non-fiction, but with fiction simply getting words down on paper that first month was so stressful. Every word, every sentence, had to be perfect. Then gradually I realized that if I didn't let go of that perfectionist mentality I would never finish any books. I realized that I wasn't married to anything I wrote, that it was all malleable and fixing problems was what the editing stage was for -- to smooth out language, to reconfigure story structure, to cut and hack mercilessly with a red pen.

I don't think my writers get this, and I completely understand. It's hard when you're a perfectionist, when writing 1,200 words feels like pushing out a 10lb baby minus any epidurals. But there comes a point when you just need to let go. Especially if you have nearly a decade of journalism experience under your belt (which my writers have). Quality is key, but taking two to three days for a 1,000-word story is semi-ridiculous to me. Maybe it's because I've been on both sides of the spectrum and know how long it should take (as a reporter, and later in life, as a novelist) to punch out 600 above-par words. Perhaps I'm just too impatient, or my expectations are too high, but it is driving me batty how slowly my writers write.

And so I Bill-Lumbergh them.

Holding my coffee mug adorned with our company's logo, I meander over to my first reporter's desk and pop my head over her cubicle wall, leaning on it with my elbows, a tired look in my heavy-lidded eyes (because let's face it, I get no sleep now that I wake up at the buttcrack of dawn every day), as I drawl a "How's it goiiing...." in her general direction. "What are you working on?" I usually ask, or "Have you made your calls yet?" (Never: "Yeahhh....looks like we're gonna need you to come in on Saturday, too....." Okay, maybe once. But it wasn't my fault, the event just happened to fall on the weekend.)

This is usually followed with a typical response as to why they haven't gotten a hold of a source(s) yet, why they haven't started writing their story, why they haven't finished, etc. etc. (Just so I don't sound like a total Bill Lumbergh, this is after we've gone over what they'll be writing on for the week, who they should probably speak with, how they should frame their structure, what their angle is, and what other follow-up stories could be written concurrently. Normal editor/writer meet-ups, I don't just wander around micro-managing, I swear.)

Sometimes I can tell this me-with-coffee-mug-leaning-on-cubicle-wall thing is annoying them, but if I didn't feel like I had to come by so often, I wouldn't. I honestly don't care how what you're doing online or how much you obsess over the word "that" -- if you wrote more stories (I think a fair story count would be something like 2-3 per day) I wouldn't incessantly bother you. And saying, "There's nothing to write about" isn't really an answer in my book.

Not to say that we're not cool with each other. We have our inside jokes and some water-cooler chat (typically concerning certain Bravo TV shows), but I often wonder if they've made the Bill Lumbergh/Crystal connection yet. And if (when?) they ever do, I wonder how the parallel would haunt them, my head not only popping up over their cubicle walls, but in other odd places...behind doors...out of bathroom stalls...when they open the office their car's rearview mirror on the way home...even in the reflection of their coffee in their mugs at work. I'd be there, everywhere and anywhere they go, hounding them with my "How's it going's" and requests for more work.

Maybe I should invest in an Initech mug at work and truly freak them out.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Some "totally awesome" news

Guess who just bought a car!


J and I have been looking at cars for the past month and decided our favorite car within our price range was a 2003-04 C-series Mercedes Benz. (Jon Hamm being the official voice of the brand played no part in my decision. I swear.) We were going to take our time looking for the right one when J emailed me at work last Thursday, telling me our little Hyundai wasn’t going to pass smog this month because…it needed a new cat converter (wah wahhhh). Since the Hyundai was always supposed to be a temporary car and we had paid so little in cash for it nearly four years ago, we decided to nix dumping money into it and instead upgrade our lives.

So we did that Thursday night after I got off work:

It went down something like this on Thursday:

5:00 pm: Leave work
5:05 pm: J picks me up at the curb. (Curb-side service. Score.)
5:25 pm: Test driving our Benz.
5:45 pm: Going over price/technicals with dealer. Bargained down $2,000.
6:05 pm: Signing paperwork
6:06 pm: Freaking out.
6:35 pm: Leaving dealership to Black Eyed Peas on the radio.

I named it Andiamo, because it purrs down the freeway at 80. And it’s shiny. So shiny. I love how shiny it is. It makes me want to rub it gingerly with a diaper and sing songs to it in a Barry White voice. In the words of Lester Burnham (he, of American Beauty fame): “It’s the car I've always wanted and now I have it. I rule!”

I never thought back in April that my financial life would be so different mere months later, but it still hasn’t sunken in that it’s mine. Sitting there, surrounded by leather, I can’t help but feel that I’m sitting in a corporate rental car or something, mine only for the weekend till I have to hand in the keys and fly home. But it’s not a rental. It’s mine. And I’m already home.

Some people wonder why, in the last year and a half, I worked hard saving. Obvi it was because with no incoming salary and the little part-time work I had not amounting to much, my savings had to stretch. Which was expected and completely fine, leaving my job to write was THE best decision of my life. In the words of Madonna, “Absolutely. No. Regrets.” *said with a deadpan expression while wearing ostentatious sequined leotard and clutching disco-inspired horse-riding whip*

Sure the compromise was inevitably going to be scrimping, but it was a small price to pay. Andiamo was worth it. I paid almost entirely cash for the car and it felt so fulfilling driving off the lot, truly owning something of value. The feeling is so different than the quick high I used to get from buying a few nice dresses from Banana. This purchase, in contrast, feels like an actual reward for all that time I spent budgeting and saving. It's like that scene in Almost Famous when Stillwater upgrades from their broken down old bus and heads down the tarmac to board their shiny new plane.

Next big purchase: A house. Probs within two years, but we’ll see. In the meantime I’ve become one of those people who looms outside of your friendly neighborhood Safeway in front of the real estate publication racks, flipping through house catalogues and carting home dozens at a time.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sun, sea and ceviche

I’m baa-aack. Tanned. Rested. Ready to take another vacationrejuvenated. Cabo was spectacular (though let’s face it, anytime we get to travel with passport we’ve never been disappointed). The last 7 days/6 nights of rest, relaxation and “together time” were very much needed. It felt like my psyche (which has been uber-stressed out in the last month) finally got a full-body massage...if that makes sense.

Pictures at bottom, but highlights included:

Swimming in the Sea of Cortez. Me, floating in a tropical blue ocean = two thumbs up; fine holiday fun.
  • Ceviche. Lots of ceviche. All day, every day. There’s something so calming about sitting at an open-air restaurant and eating fresh seafood in view of turquoise waters a stone's throw away. The accompanying Spanish guitar music was also a plus. Well played, resort hotel.
  • Floating in the pool for hours, pina colada in hand. More than half our days were something along the lines of this:
  • People-watching. A guilty pleasure of mine, people-watching was taken to all new levels in our resort pool, which was more or less a tepid melting pot filled with people from all over the world. Our favorites? Two couples from Jersey on holiday together. The portly, tattooed, gold-chain-resting-in-a-thicket-of-chest-hair-wearing men would sit waist deep in the pool discussing what “ballers” they were as their wives took thousands of “kissy face” pictures (of MySpace fame) in bikinis on their pool chairs. On the other hand it was fascinating listening to so many conversations in so many different languages, all in one hotel/town and not just at an airport (where it's expected). One of my favorite mornings was spent eating breakfast at a table near a group of old tanned and leathery Italian couples. It was like I was in Italy all over again. Mi piace.
  • Food.Once the wristbands were in place on arrival, everything was unlimited and in excess. Let’s just say a certain serve-yourself fro-yo machine near the pool snack bar was a good friend of mine. There was one especially hot afternoon when J and I walked around the pool in our swimsuits for about an hour, each lap stopping to get another scoop of fro-yo. I think we had about five cones that hour. Calories don’t exist when I’m on vacation.
  • Uninterrupted reading, without social plans/work/commuting/errands/exhaustion from the aforementioned screwing it up. Every single day/night/weekend since we've moved back to CA has been planned and scheduled and I haven't had any downtime to relax. So I bought The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in the airport on our way down to Mexico and seven days later I was reading through the last few pages. I know this doesn’t seem like a highlight, but I had to include it because the only times I was able to devour a 650-page novel in under one week was a.) When I was in college and b.) The last year and a half I spent writing books myself, when 9 hours of every weekday weren't spent in an office. Freedom: It’s a truly underrated thing.
  • Live music every night. The mariachi band (the “best in Cabo”) was spectacular...and I'm really starting to think that when J and I throw our huge anniversary bash (I vote for our 5th, he votes for our 10th) we need to include a mariachi band in the festivities. Something about the blend of trumpets and violins...chills, reader-friends. Anyway at one point they were covering classic rock songs much to my excitement, and I was tempted to request a mariachi rendition of “Light My Fire," but by then they were out of time.

Sea of Cortez

Our sanctuary near the pool.

So now the question is...where should I go next? I get three weeks of paid vacation a year, plus the option of taking a fourth week unpaid so I'm thinking Barcelona for my birthday in April? But that's 8 months away. In the meantime...

Monday, August 9, 2010

My Monday is my Friday

I woke up today around 6am (like I do every weekday) and began grumbling (like I do every weekday morning) about it being Monday/how much I hate waking up early/how comfortable the bed is as I awake in a small puddle of my drool/how I just want to hit snooze a COUPLE more times (and by a couple I mean about 12)/general things of that nature -- when it dawned on me:

I’m going to Cabo tomorrow. *suddenly alert, an evil smile unfurls slowly across my face as I giggle quietly, maniacally, under the covers*

Yeah, yeah, I’m excited about Mexico, but I’m also happy about my one-day work week. I’ve decided Mondays are so much better when they also double as Fridays. Perhaps the French are onto something.

Even better: today I get to leave the office for a handful of hours to head down to Palo Alto with one of my reporters to have lunch with a gaggle of litigators at their firm. (Apparently there is such a thing as a free lunch.)

After lunch I’ll have a couple more hours in the office then I’m off to pack a week’s worth of bikinis and one very large-brimmed, Elizabeth-Taylor-in-Puerto-Vallarta-circa- 1963-esque sunhat for lazing poolside. Oh and dresses and heels for salsa dancing at night. And maybe I should take boat shoes just in case I get all Old Man and The Sea on J and decide to go marlin fishing just for kicks. Ample opportunities abound south of the border.

Obvi, I won’t be posting for the next week or so, but I’ll share pictures (and hopefully some great stories) when I’m back. Cheers!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

That one time I got the last laugh

Only in my dreams...

Tuesday night J and I planned to veg out...lay like broccoli, if you will. Perhaps check out the new Rachel Zoe season premiere (my idea, not his), share a pint of Chunky Monkey ice cream on our uncomfortable new Target futon, just “be”. Instead we got a call last-minute from his brother, Burt*, who wanted to swing by our place that evening (and by “swing by”, I mean drive an hour out of his way) to pick up our storage boxes since he and his girlfriend, Clothilde**, are moving in together soon.

* & **: Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

J told them both to head up, and figured since it was Tuesday we could all hit up $1 Taco Tuesdays at an upscale restaurant down the street called Maria Maria (as in “Maria Maria”, that Santana song that won a squillion Grammys the year it came out; Santana -- surprise, surprise -- co-owns the joint). Since a friend recently moved a few miles away, we also invited him to join in on the last-minute taco fiesta.

Now on prior Taco Tuesdays, the bar area had ample elbow room. This week, it was like every last extra from the Van Wilder frat house decided that night was a good night for Mexican food. Scores of would-be Tool Academy participants in their man-tanks and flip flops littered the space as they clutched their Coronas, hitting on every woman seated.

So we waited for the next open table. There was a group already waiting ahead of us, and once a table cleared for them, we were next up in line. More waiting. Entourage was getting restless. Suddenly the clouds parted when we saw people leaving their outdoor table. “Hurry,” I told J, who immediately bee-lined toward the patio door, but before he could reach the doorway a girl came flying in past me from the front door, pushing past J (I’m talking physically shouldering him aside -- and she was at least five inches shorter than him) and promptly sat down in one of the seats seconds before J could reach it. She didn’t look up, just stared at the cell phone through the pounds of makeup on her face, tapping at its screen with her trashy square-tipped acrylic fingernails.

Oh no, she di-int.

What killed me was that the whole staring-at-the-cell-phone-after-being-an-expletive-I-shall-not-name-here thing is SO passive aggressive. If you can’t even man up and make eye contact to avoid the confrontation that will most likely follow then maybe you shouldn’t throw down that figurative gauntlet, my dear. She knew EXACTLY what she had just done, elbowing J aside and plopping down at our table in her tacky polyester clothing. All of a sudden I felt my inner-Lauren Conrad well up and wanted to yell "You know what you did! You KNOW what you DID!!!" in her face. Something along the lines of this:

But instead we all stood inside, watching this situation go down through the large windows, and I saw RED. We watched J throw his hands up and mutter something to her. Turns out he'd said "Are you serious?" to her and she had continued to ignore him, tapping at her phone. According to him it “wasn’t worth it.” Upon hearing this I was seething at how inappropriate the whole scene was and how J was unfortunately too much of a gentleman to tell her to make like Smuckers and jam. What I wanted to do next was go outside and yank her from the table by her nasty little ponytail, but A.) I feel like there’s only a 10-second window of opportunity to confront said person about things like this, and B.) I’m a lady; I don’t go around yanking people’s ponytails like some Jersey Shore extra.

So we waited a couple more minutes and my anger continued to build (news flash: I have slight anger management issues). The bar wasn’t clearing out anytime soon and the entourage was beginning to grumble about leaving. I sighed. Apparently I was going to be the one – like always – to fix this whole debacle.

I strode up to the podium at the front of the restaurant, where a hostess and a guy in a suit were standing. Thinking that at least someone in a suit and a nametag could help me over the general incompetence in the miniskirt next to him I calmly explained to him – with a large smile -- what happened, and asked whether we could just have a table.

Man in Suit: “Uhh…(pause)… you came here for Taco Tuesday though, right?”

I nodded.

MiS: “We can’t do that for Taco Tuesday. I’m sorry.” (And he actually did look sorry, but it didn’t help his case.)

Me: "Look. I was thisclose to going outside and saying something to that girl who SHOVED my husband aside to get to that table, but I didn't want to make a scene in your restaurant…”

MiS: “Oh yes, of course. I’m very sorry that she...”

Me: “…I'm a regular here [ed. Note: I actually am a regular there, which made it even cooler to say since I’ve always wanted the chance to actually use that line] and no staff did anything about what just happened.”

MiS, looking off toward the bar area with an intense hatred of Taco Tuesdays on his face: “Let me see what I can do, hold on. “

Turns out I pick my men in suits well because he came back, shook my hand and introduced himself as the general manager of the restaurant.

“I’m going to put you at one of our dinner tables in the restaurant,” he said.

“Excellent,” was my reply.

My entourage looked on, smiling and satisfied at this news.

“…But first, you will have to sing karaoke,” the GM said.

Suddenly my smile froze. Not because I didn’t want to sing karaoke – actually quite the opposite. I’ve long told J that someday my whole life would culminate to a certain point where I’d be asked, on the spot, to sing karaoke -- and my biggest fear would be I’d have no idea what to sing. Needless to say, over the years I’ve mentally added songs to my karaoke arsenal FOR THIS SPECIFIC REASON, this moment, standing there next to the crowd currently being entertained by a white guy on a tiny corner platform, covering Third Eye Blind songs on his acoustic guitar. They don’t ever do karaoke here…but perhaps they were making an exception for me?

Of course my mind went blank in that life-changing, split-second of being asked. “Noo…” I purred. “You’re joking.” I let out an awkward, uneasy laugh that sounded more like an unintentional fart. “No I’m not,” the GM said with a completely straight face, as though he was diagnosing me with cancer. “You want the table? Sing.”

My smile remained static; my entourage: concerned. After what seemed like five minutes of silence and staring between the two of us, as I mentally ransacked my rolodex of saved karaoke songs and finally hurled it against one side of my mind, deciding in futility to just go with Lionel Ritchie’s “Stuck on you”, he broke out into laughter. “Just kidding, just kidding!” he laughed. “Come, follow me.”

Not only did we get seated at the best table in the house, he profusely apologized for what happened and thanked me for coming to him (and I guess not creating a scene? The wrath of Crystal, after all, can be extraordinary). After we were seated he offered us a round of drinks on the house (Maria Maria's freshly brewed pineapple tequila – let’s just say it was like a tropical island was making love in my mouth) and gave me his business card during our dinner.

I left a large tip after we were through, more than satisfied with the outcome of the night, and after thanking again on my way out, he stressed to call him whenever I come so he can make sure we're taken care of well. "You're a friend now," he said, patting my shoulder. (And somewhere, in the recesses of my mind, I was covertly laying the groundwork for my own Cheers-type place...where everybody knows my name.)

Moral of the story: Ask and you shall receive. But do it all with a smile, no matter how mad you are. It works wonders.

Monday, August 2, 2010

August: We've got big plans for you

  • As of last Thursday J is officially dunzo with the Bar! The three-day test went by swimmingly well and while the official results don't get released till November, we're not worried. J is Barack-Obama-cool under pressure and possesses nerves of steel (unlike some fellow test-takers, who, with a bad case of nerves, hacked their brains out in the public restroom the morning of. Yes, everyone in the test hall heard, the acoustics really made the sound carry.) I knew not to worry about J, though, when he called after the first day and said (I think his exact words were): "I don't have two days of the Bar left, the Bar has two days left of me." It was like Chuck Norris was speaking through my husband. So now I've got J far from the clutches of jurisprudence for the next three weeks (muwahaha), which means...
  • Cabo San Lucas in 10 days! I know I just started my job two weeks ago, but I already need a vacation. Being in the office at 8am every morning is quickly killing me, and I'm already wondering how I'll go first: lack of sleep or an ulcer from the 3+ cups of coffee I drink on a regular basis. Cabo will be a much-needed respite of sleep, beach, swimming and margaritas (preferably all at the same time?...) In a perfect world I would earn my Mexican citizenship and never come back.
  • Since I've started working it's embarrassing what little headway I've made in my 2010 reading list (posted to the right). Yes, I'm still reading American Psycho. Slowly. And though I'm not completely finished yet, I highly recommend it. The main character, Patrick Bateman, plays a 26-year-old Wall Street playboy in the 1980s, when greed reigns supreme. Patrick makes obscene amounts of money and obsesses about every last designer detail on himself and others, down to what type of paper his nemesis' business card is printed on. In Patrick's Wall Street world every man wears double-breasted Cerutti 1881 suits and non-prescription Oliver's People glasses; every woman wears Yves Saint Laurent and Ralph Lauren. Friends (and enemies) spend hundreds of dollars a night eating exotic sorbets and getting into exotic Manhattan clubs and everyone is high on coke and/or attempting to be seen at the elite hotspot, Dorsia. Now lump in the fact that Patrick is a serial killer (and a pretty heinous one at that; I was especially disturbed the day I read about him gutting a homeless person on a lone sidewalk), and you've got one fantastic book. Why? Because taken at face value this is one twisted novel. But Patrick isn't psychotic because he's a serial killer; rather, his serial killer tendencies are just a symbolic extension of the material values he's absorbed being so engrossed in a world that correlates your worth as a person to how much your gazelleskin wallet costs. It's both outstanding and terrifying. And what's even better is after reading American Psycho you feel yourself becoming one (minus the whole serial killer thing, of course). You start noticing what everyone is wearing, where they're eating, how their business cards look, what they drive, whether they think tasseled loafers are an acceptable shoe choice. It's disgusting and fascinating all at the same time. Next up on my reading list: Anna Karenina.
  • Me. Lady Gaga. San Jose. August. Yes, I'm going to see Lady Gaga in concert with a good friend of mine this month. Be jealous.
  • This month J and I have also decided to start a food blog just for fun as a couple. We're going to call it "Eat the Creek" (because we live in Walnut Creek, get it? GET IT??) and it'll be a way for us to review what we like and dislike every time we go out to eat (I'm hoping at least once a week). For a suburb of San Francisco there are a lot of restaurants in this area (and by restaurants I mean cute little bistros and wine bars and fusion eateries) so we can't wait to get started. I've only tried a handful of what our downtown has to offer and was highly impressed. Sure, it'll cost ample amounts of money, but I'm slaving away to enjoy the finer things in life. This includes imported bottles of aged Malbecs.
  • So, this isn't a highlight of August (or July, for that matter), but I needed to note it somewhere so those of you with weak stomachs, now is your cue to look away. The other day I was in the city walking to my office building from the subway stop when I saw a homeless guy on the sidewalk lurching toward this well-dressed Asian woman who passed by. Now this area of the San Francisco (the Tenderloin) is DIS-gusting. I won't go into too much detail but the streets smell like pee and garbage and on every block there's a crack-den hotel with a misleadingly lofty name like "Hotel Renoir," et al. So a homeless person in this area isn't the most out-of-place spectacle. But THIS homeless guy was different. Yes, he looked like he had JUST had his eyeball ripped out. There was a big pus-and-cartilage-filled hole where his eyeball should have been (and probably was mere hours before), with dried blood crusted all around the empty socket. Naturally, the Asian woman he hassled was terrified because what was even more eerie (aside from the fact that the guy was bleeding out his eye-hole and his overall hygiene was downright fetid), was that he wasn't moaning in pain or crying about his condition. Nope -- he was laughing. Cackling, really. And mumbling out loud about some Walkman as he lurched toward the woman, who walked even faster to get away from him. The whole disconnect between the severity of his wound and his reaction to it was quite disturbing and for the rest of the day I couldn't erase the picture from my mind.
  • And just so I don't leave you on such a bleak note today, I figured I'd throw in a current, questionably-less-disturbing obsession: I never thought I'd say this about a 14-year-old blogger, but I heart the inimitable Tavi Gevinson! Her posts are fresh and fun and (am I really admitting this out loud?) pretty inspiring. I want to be her when I grow up. Or something.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Overheard on the train last week

Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

I commute to work every day via public transportation (read: the subway) (read: I swore I was done doing the whole subway thing) (read: misery -- but it could be worse; I could be riding the bus). I could go on at length about how much I detest public transportation, and how much I loath commuting in general, but I'll admit it's good for one thing: Eavesdropping on people's conversations. Yes, I'm one of those subway riders who will take out her pen and paper and begin transcribing, verbatim, exactly what you're saying to your friend sitting next to me (except I'm stealthily covert about it; you'd think I was writing out a grocery list if you were actually paying attention). In other words: continue talking, people. You give great fodder for characters in future books.

In fact, these conversations are one of the reasons that compelled me to buy a Droid smartphone two days ago (the other reason? I needed something for private use at work, but that's beside the point). Never, in my wildest dreams, did I think I'd ever own a smartphone. I'm not a texter, and I've always used my old-school cell phone for what it was intended for: talking. But since my handwriting looks like rabid chicken scratches when I attempt to keep up with the nearest chatter/compose any sudden story ideas I get on the way home, I needed something more stealth and streamlined.

...Something I could use to transcribe one such conversation that I overheard last week:

SCENE: 5:15pm. Subway car barrels beneath the SF Bay en route home from the city. Two college freshman (or sophomores, I wasn't sure) are seated next to me, chatting loudly about their lives and places in the world. Middle-aged men and women, peering over their opened books and Blackberrys, study them as they speak. Me: incognito next to them, wearing big black sunglasses (though we are in a tunnel), reporter's pad and pen clutched in hand, waiting for conversation to continue....

Girl 1 (dark-haired a la Bella Swan from Twilight, in hipster clothing, and insists on ending every sentence with a higher inflection, as though she'd tacked a question mark to each one of her sentences):

"...I don't know though? There are, like, a lot of negatives to wanting to be on Broadway? And, like, that's why I'm afraid of double-majoring, but, like, I know that interior design is a good fallback major. I haven't really researched it, like, that much...but, like, I think I'd like it? It, like, looks really fun? Plus we're still, like, in college so I still have, like, a couple more semesters to change my mind."

Girl 2 (blonde, in similar hipster garb, strangely shares her friend's higher-inflection-at-end-of-each-sentence syndrome):

"For our generation it's, like, so competitive? In my mom's generation just, like, going to, like, college would, like, get you a job afterward, you know? I, like, wish that was still true? They had it, like, so easy?"

Girl 1:

"Like, I envy those people who, like, knew what they wanted to do as early as high school and, like, studied it in college? Like, I wish it could just be easy like our parents' generation, you know?"

Girl 2:

"I wish I could, like, fast forward to the part in life where I already have, like, a nice car and, like, a house and everything? But I'm still not, like, sure about my major? I just, like, don't know what I want to do for the rest of my life. Like, I can't make that kind of decision. It's"

Girl 1 nods and they smile at each other, sharing a moment.

At the next stop the doors opened and they stepped off, clutching their Urban Outfitters shopping bags and iPods and cotton hobo bags with witty environmental sayings printed on them. And suddenly, to all those middle-aged people in that subway car, the future seemed at once dizzying and terrifying.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A tale of two women

Since I started work last Monday (I know you're wondering how it is but I'd rather speak of such things anonymously on an anon blog I'm starting this week), there are things I miss from my pre-work life. Waking up without setting an alarm the night before...writing in the afternoons...lunching with family...staying up late to watch Gone With the Wind (again) on TCM (even though I own it) just because I can. But most of all, I miss hanging out with The Nana.

That six-week period, between when we moved back to California and when I had to start work, was amazing (for lack of a better term, and I know I overuse that word often but I really can't think of any other way to describe it at the moment). Having the freedom of my daylight hours to reconnect with Nana (who I wasn't that close to growing up) was wonderful. Though she's much older now, it was like I was given a second chance to reintroduce myself to her (and vice versa). And all it took was six weeks to erase a lifetime of formality and acquaintance.

It was grand. We'd go shopping every afternoon and scour the aisles at stores all over the tri-county area, filling our carts with nothing we needed but everything we wanted. (Tubes of coral pink lipstick (all her), coffee mugs, dresses, giraffe-print tote boxes, sterling silver wine-stoppers, authentic Portuguese olive oil. You name it, we bought it. (Her cart, suffice to say, was always much more filled than mine -- this was before I had the job, after all.)

We'd leave stores toting our wares in giant plastic bags, laughing the whole way home in her Volvo station wagon or her Land Yacht (a ginormous black Lincoln that belonged to my late grandfather) about the four ceramic chickens (of varying shapes and sizes) that I'd talked her into buying because of her well-documented obsession with the animal (they're all over her house: chicken sculptures, chicken tablecloths, chicken-shaped candles, chicken-print doormats. Heck, she actually just bought a red wingback chair with little chickens embroidered all over it. Without me, of course. I had to work that day. *pouts*)

If we weren't shopping for ceramic chickens or olive oil, than we were doing our other favorite thing together: antiquing. We'd spend hours at consignment shops and antique stores, strolling through the aisles and running our hands -- first old, than young -- across the wooden finishes of old tables and chairs and benches, marveling at the potential in such things with just a bit of sanding and the right stain. It was during these days in particular that I learned a lot from Nana, who's like the Obi Wan Kenobi of antiquing and furniture refinishing. Seriously. I am but a young Jedi when it comes to her knowledge of such things; she's been doing it all her life, back to her Betty Draper years -- yes she was a platinum blond with piercing blue eyes -- when she used to put my dad and his siblings to work sanding down dressers and tables with her in the backyard of their big stately house on a red-brick, tree-lined road in Moline, Illinois.

Anyway, every day the lunching and shopping would draw to a close (usually around 3pm), and we'd make our way back to her house where she'd reminisce about her life over a couple glasses of her classic iced tea (the secret ingredient? Crystal Light). It was during these conversations that I learned far more than I'd ever known about Nana. Sure I'd seen pictures of her back when she was spry (including one of her in a swimsuit on a beach feeding a sandwich to a man, who I should probably add was not my grandfather, on the cover of a 1940s copy of Holiday Magazine), but I never really pictured her having a life before my dad.

It's funny, isn't it? How certain people -- older family members, teachers, etc. -- all get frozen to a particular time period we tether them too? There is no beginning or ending for these kind of people. They just "are" -- held in place in our lives by markers like fathers and mothers, birthdays or graduations, Thanksgivings or Christmases. And any pictures we see of them outside of our parameters don't seem real. Like the Holiday cover my grandmother was on. I see it, but can't conceivably see that woman sitting on the beach, laughing with the sandwich in her hand, is actually who I've come to know as The Nana.

But over our iced teas every afternoon, between our shopping and our furniture refinishing, I began to see Nana as more than just...well...Nana. She actually had a life before she had kids and she even had a life before her marriage in the late '40s. Memories from her go back as far as the Great Depression, when she remembers neighbors and others in the community who'd lost everything come by her parents' house asking for handouts, food, anything to survive. She recounted her parents giving out food (luckily my great-grandparents were never affected by the Depression), and she remembered those people leaving, marking the stairs up to her front door with the symbol that food was being handed out at that address for any other passerbys desperate to eat. (Much like that "Hobo Code" Mad Men episode.)

She'd talk about her vacations in Florida as a young woman (just before she met my grandfather), when she and her girlfriends would dance with WWII GIs returning from the war. Or she'd tell me how some of the most favorite moments in her life were back when she lived in Illinois, near her best friend who also happened to be her sister-in-law. The two of them would load their old Norman Rockwellian station wagon up with all the kids (I believe they had around 11, combined) and antique all day with their children in tow. Just two young women in the 1950s, enjoying their all-American lives full of antiques and picnics and summer trips to Lake Michigan before things got complicated (her SIL fell out of contact after Nana moved to California in the early '60s with my grandfather) and the kids grew up. It's these times, back before the world changed and the country lost its innocence in the mid-'60s and on, that Nana misses most. I can tell by the way she talks about it.

Shortly before I started work, on one of the last full days I had with her before we'd be rescinded to weekends (if that), she told me in the car that she didn't see me as a granddaughter.

"You're more than that," she explained, laughing in disbelief that she even felt that way. "I don't know how to explain it, but I don't feel like you're my 28-year-old granddaughter. I look at you and I don't think of an age; I feel like we're the same age. We get along so well, that you're more of a friend. A good friend." She smiled, and I smiled back.

"Well, age is just a number," I said. "There's no reason why our age difference should be a matter. 20s, 80s, who cares? 'Cause I feel the same way. You're not my grandmother; you're a good friend."

Finally. Not only had we reconnected, but we'd moved past that onto a different, higher plane.

I still see Nana here and there. I try to make it over for dinner once a week and if I have time I stop by on the weekends, but because I work 40+ hours a week it'll never be the same. Then I start feeling differing shades of blue throughout my workday because of it. True, we have that bond that at this point is impervious to time, but still. It's different. I feel -- since starting work -- that there isn't enough time...and Nana's not getting any younger. I sit at my desk in SF, wishing I could be back in that station wagon across the bay, en route to some antique store or new Italian restaurant, listening to her stories. And then I feel sad, as though in a way I'm losing her all over again.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The whole world's gone Mad: Mad Men Season 4 premiere this Sunday!

What the new Mad Men S4 photo (above) tells us. (Yes, a body-language expert was actually interviewed for the article.)

It's almost time for an all new season of Mad Men!

Without giving away too much, the first episode will be titled "Public Relations" and -- from what I've read -- sounds like it's going to be amazing. 10pm on Sunday cannot come soon enough. To satiate your fix until the premiere, here's a roundup of my favorite Mad Men links:

SPOILER ALERT (seriously, if you read this article you are going to know exactly where everyone stands in episode 1; read at your own risk): Exploring Don Draper as a single man in Season 4.

New photos are out from the upcoming episodes! Peggy, that haircut is just not doing it for you.

Speaking of Peggy's hair, series costume designer Janie Bryant discusses Peggy's coif choice, Bryant's new mod line and vintage clothing.

A writer at admits that she most identifies with Mad Men's "brattiest, least feminist character": Betty Draper.

The NY Post is Mad about the girls. "Forget Carrie Bradshaw," they write, "today's girls are trying Betty, Joan and Peggy on for size."

SPOILER ALERT: The SF Chronicle argues that identity is key to the start of Mad Men season 4 (makes sense; creator Matt Weiner mentioned months ago that this year the characters would all be asking: "Who am I?").

We're in good company: Obama is a huge Mad Men fan. "He wrote to say he enjoyed Season 3," Weiner said. "He was congratulating me on my and the show's success, and I wanted to say, 'But wait, you're the successful person."

Since you've already Mad Menned yourself, maybe you should Mad Men your living room. I know I already have.

Christina Hendricks looks absolutely stunning on the latest cover of LA Times Magazine.

Slate contemplates how season 4 will handle Betty's storyline. Betty Hofstadt Draper Francis? I'm not a fan; drop the "Francis" and we'll talk.

Will Mad Men continue after season 5? If not then my life is over as we know it.

SPOILER ALERT: The Wall Street Journal is obvi still Mad about the Men (as they should be).

For the diehards out there planning to throw a premiere party, here's a how-to guide so you won't miss a thing (note to self: serve Old Fashioneds with Utz potato chips). For more party pointers, the Boston Globe shows how you can toast the return of Mad Men in style and also has tips on wardrobe and hair for your retro-themed party.

Spoiler-free reasons (finally) why you should be excited about the upcoming season.

According to the LA Times, "[Don Draper] may look great, but he has no heart, nor capacity for truth. He's Satan in a starched collar." I (of course) don't agree, especially when the writer attempts to make a Don-Draper-as-devil case by saying he chose that pseudonym because both the first and last name have six letters each and six is the devil's number. Creee-per.

For the fashion-philes out there, Janie Bryant gives viewers a sneak peak at season 4 garb (the costume closet = buh-nanas).

And if you're still unclear as to why 98% of women are in love with Jon Hamm, here's the classic SNL "Don Draper's Guide to Picking Up Women" video:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Book review: "How To Be An American Housewife"

When I was first asked to review How To Be An American Housewife, I was immediately intrigued by the title. I knew it was fiction and not some how-to guide (because really, that would be kind of awkward if they'd actually made a how-to book for acclimating to American domesticity), but the title piqued my interest, especially when juxtaposed against the photo of the Japanese woman set behind it.

It turns out the title was based on a book by the same name that actually did exist back in the 1940s when Japanese women were marrying American GIs in droves during WWII. The novel's author, Margaret Dilloway, noticed an old copy her Japanese mother owned, given by her GI husband (and later Dilloway's father) in an effort to help her acclimate when he first brought her to America. It was this book, which later turned out to be a manual of sorts for Japanese maids and therefore was never read, that was the inspiration behind Dilloway's debut novel of the same name.

How To Be An American Housewife is not only a book about mother/daughter relationships, it's commentary on cultural assimilation. Of yearning to fit into a new culture and land while missing family and letting go of traditions left behind on native soil.

The first half of the novel is narrated by Shoko, a Japanese woman determined to come to America. She marries an American GI she falls in love with much later in life, but her struggles going from Japan to setting up a home near a military base in San Diego, California, are at the same time both humbling and heartbreaking. Dilloway cleverly crafts Shoko's narrative so that everything Shoko thinks is written in perfect English, while everything she communicates to her husband, children's teachers, or fellow parents comes out clunky, broken and distorted (since English is her second language). Through Shoko readers have a window into what it's like as a foreigner in America, of the language barriers and sometimes physical traits that shouldn't but often cast one as "an outsider."

The story continues through Shoko's narrative, gliding along memories she has of experiences in both Japan and America and the transition between, when about half-way through the narrative baton is passed to her American-born daughter, Sue.

Sue is a single mother and working professional with one divorce under her belt. She hates her job, has no love life and feels misunderstood by everyone, including her parents (and especially Shoko). Even though she's in her 30s, Sue still feels like she has no identity since she was raised in a multi-cultural household and loathes the fact that she could never fully fit in growing up; Shoko with her broken English seemed always an embarrassment for Sue at school functions or when she wanted to invite friends over. Even at 30-something, Sue's still not sure where she belongs and because of this has remained quiet, withdrawn and passive -- a wallflower, through and through.

It's only when Shoko asks Sue to travel back to Japan for her to mend a decades-old family argument that Sue (with her daughter in tow) comes into her own as a woman and begins to see the beauty of growing up multi-culturally. The acceptance of her upbringing and heritage (which were both solid but much different than her peers) starts to quickly transform Sue into a new woman, and brings about a level of understanding for her mother and mother's life before America that is fascinating to read.

I recommend this book to anyone who's ever felt like their mothers (or daughters) misunderstand them, or to anyone who's questioned their roots and what it means to be a part of a certain ethnic group. Dilloway's excels at showing the uncomfortable situations Shoko finds herself in once she arrives in America, the loneliness Shoko experiences as she lets go of her past to build her future, and the wallflower Sue who eventually blooms by reconnecting with her origins as a favor to her ailing mother. For a debut novel, I was thoroughly impressed.
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