Archive for September, 2009

The Gap Gap

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

When I met John, he sported a wardrobe fashioned by function, comfort, and inertia. He had Uggs before Uggs were Uggs, which he paired with running shorts and frayed pastel t-shirts. He wore boxy, short-sleeved button-downs from the 80s with peppermint pink and mint green stripes. He layered stretched-out waffled Henleys with loudly patterned fleece vests.

He wore sweat pants. In public.

I found him button-cute, but the clothes were a hindrance. Much as I wish for aesthetic immunity (John: “It’s all about the inner”), I am in fact swayed by fashion. Or at least style. And, much as I did not wish to impose my own vision upon him, over time we came to a joint understanding that a) when John dresses with style, I am a happy woman; and b) John likes to make me a happy woman, especially when it’s as easy as throwing on jeans, a white t-shirt, and a cotton button-down.

Fast-forward several years. We have shopping, which John abhors, down to a routine: twice a year, in Santa Cruz, at the Gap. He walks in, shuffles from the front to the back, droopily paws a few items, and announces that there’s “nothing.”  Meanwhile, I whip clothes from the racks, hefting a pile over my arm. In the back, I pass him the lode and shoo him into the dressing room. Then I take a seat and watch as the outfits come to life, as John’s style ratchets up several notches, and as I instantly become a desirous, fawning flirt who whispers sexy things into his ear.

Not bad, right?

Today, we were in Berkeley, but the Gap was having a sale, so we decided to pay a visit after several hours of house hunting. We were tired, and on our way to the store John announced, “Inspiration has to strike, or we are out of there.”

“No problem,” I said, nearly snarfing my watermelon juice.

In the store, as I began to do the pull, I noticed a pile of corduroys.

M: Wow, cords.

J: Huh?

M: I’ve never seen you in cordoroys. Do you wear corduroys?

J: I mean . . . what’s the point?

M: Have you ever worn them?

J: Yeah. Every day, for three years, in middle school.

M: [Hilarity.]

J: [Hopelessness.]

M: [Pity, love, and hope.]

J: [Fretfulness.]

M: I’m going against you on this.

J: Yeah?

M: Yeah. I’ve seen you protest styles before, only to have them work beautifully.

J: Yokay.

And you know what? They were fantastic. John looks beautiful in corduroys, especially when paired with a white t-shirt, checked button-down, and flip-flops. He looked like a hot, preppy, scruffy surfer. I whispered sexy things in his ear.

The September Issue

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

On Friday night, we had to choose between two guilty pleasures: Fame, almost guaranteed to disappoint (and, worse, incite), but which promised stunty dancing; and The September Issue, which seemed likely to give Anna Wintour more attention than she’s worth but which we knew would serve up chewably thick hauteur. We chose the latter.

We were glad we did. TSI is a good movie, not just because Wintour as a silent seether is almost endlessly watchable but because Grace Coddington, Vogue‘s Creative Director and genius stylist, is a warm, welcoming artist with a rich backstory. (Rural English childhood, modeling in Europe, car accident, editorial.)

In the course of the film, we learn tantalizingly little about Wintour, but Coddington lets us in. She’s a pleasure to join: magnetic and romantic, smart and firm. And it’s the duel between the two—Coddington and Wintour, creator and curator, artist and editor—that makes the movie and, one suspects, the magazine.

I’d have loved to have gained more entry into Wintour. My guess is that the director would have liked to as well but, hitting a wall, went for Coddington instead. Smart move.

If You Are a Novel and You Want Me To Like You

Friday, September 25th, 2009

You may not:

1) End an unwanted or ambivalent pregnancy in a miscarriage. (Way too easy.)

2) Introduce a financial windfall that solves everything. (Way, way too easy.)

3) Marry a poor woman to a rich man, thus solving her financial problems. (Exception: everything written before 1940.)

4) Align physical appearance with morality—i.e., the conventionally beautiful people are good; the conventionally unattractive people are bad. Also manifests as thin people good, fat people bad.

5) Make a previously unattractive character “attractive” by having him/her lose weight.

6) Romantically pair a young woman with an old man.

7) Include an extended dream sequence, or really a dream sequence of any kind. I hate dream sequences. Also, as Stanely Elkin apparently said, it’s cheating.

Last night, as I finished The Monsters of Templeton (more to come), I was worried that it would commit #1, #4, and #5. #1 averted, very cleverly. #4 barely averted. #5 indulged. Ah, well. I liked it anyway.

Zombie Soap

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

[This is an addendum to yesterday's post.]

M: Is that the grapefruit soap on the bed?

J: Yeah.

M: I threw that in the compost.

J: Yeah.

M: You fished it out?

J: It’s a perfectly good bar of soap!

M: Of the compost?

J: There was nothing else in there!

M: And put it on the bed?

J: It’s dry.

M: It’s a shriveled piece of scummy nothing!

J: No it isn’t. It’s just dry because we didn’t use it enough.

M: I hate that soap. I tried to kill that soap.

J: There’s nothing wrong with it.

M: You were out of town, and I tried to kill it, and I thought I had, and now IT IS BACK FROM THE DEAD. It is ZOMBIE SOAP.

J: I’ll just use it in the shower.

M: I THOUGHT I WAS SAFE. I THOUGHT I NEVER HAD TO SEE THAT SOAP AGAIN.

J: I’ll use it up really quickly. Right after I get through the oatmeal bar. And the glycerine bar. And the leftover hotel soap.

M: NOTHING EVER DIES IN THIS HOUSE! NOTHING!

J: [Hilarity.]

M: [Hilarity.]

J: [Hilarity.]

M: Seriously. I can’t throw anything out. Even when you’re out of town!

[Tickle fight.]

John’s Secret Caches

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

Last night, we had matching hankerings for Burmese food. As we were walking from the car to the restaurant, John suddenly yelped.

M: What?

J: I lost my shoe!

M: You what?

J: [Hobbling after his flip-flop, which lay overturned on the sidewalk.] My shoe fell apart!

M: [Giggling.] Do you need a rubber band?

J: [Giggling.] You have a rubber band?

M: [Fishing around in purse.] Yeah, here.

J: Wow, awesome!

The shoes were the sporty, banded kind of flip-flops, amenable to on-the-spot rubber-banding. He hobbled a bit to the restaurant; we ate; we left. On the walk back to the car:

J: Oh!

M: What?

J: I lost my other shoe!

M: [Laughing.] You what?

J: [Laughing.] The other shoe! It just broke!

M: No way! Seriously?

J: Yeah. I glued them a couple of weeks ago.

M: Both of them?

J: They fell apart at almost exactly the same time. Isn’t that amazing?

M: That is kind of amazing.

J: And I’ve had them for at least ten years!

M: That does not surprise me.

J: And I got them for free! On the side of the road!

M: No! Don’t tell me anymore! I can’t take it!

Back on our street, we parked the car and walked to our door. As we passed our garage, John threw the sandals at the door and let them flop into a little pile.

M: What’s that about?

J: I have a pile. In the garage. Of old shoes.

M: Of course you do.

J: They need to be recycled.

M: I’m sure they do.

J: I’m going to—

M: Don’t say it!

John has more than a couple of secret stashes around the house, of items intended for recycling. Of course, these items never actually make it to their intended destinations—or at least, if they do make it, it takes years. So I prefer not to know.

Once, a couple of years ago, I decided to reorganize the area above the higher kitchen cabinets, which was overcrowded with water bottles. When I stepped onto the ladder and got my head above the top of the cabinets, I found a large stack of plastic green strawberry baskets, lodged stealthily in the corner.

M: Hey, Sweetie? What are these doing here?

J: That’s my stack of strawberry baskets!

M: I know what they are. But why are they here?

J: They’re need to be recycl—

M: Don’t say it!

More on Moore: A Gate at the Stairs

Monday, September 21st, 2009

As my fervid readers will no doubt recall, in July I posted a wee bit about my relationship with Lorrie Moore. And now, the sequel.

I read her new novel. And then, immediately, I read it again. For one thing, in a book that is very much about racism, I was shocked to discover blatant, anti-Arab racism in the portrayal of an important character. And I needed to see whether it was really there, or whether I was imagining things. I also wanted to track more carefully how Moore sets up one of the book’s biggest surprises, which on first reading came out of nowhere and on second was, in fact, adroitly set up. And, finally, I wanted to make sure that my initial instincts about the problems with the voice and language weren’t baseless.

Because, my friends and fellow Lorrie Moore devotees, this book has major problems:

1) Narrator Tassie is twenty years old, but the voice is vintage Moore: anxious, bewildered, analytical, funny, and middle-aged. Lorrie Moore sounded middle-aged when she was 20; now that she’s in her fifties, her voice feels even more deeply grooved, entrenched in sorrow, loss, and bitterness with a side of wry.

2) The language, as reviewers have noticed, is exhausting. Where is Moore’s editor? One gorgeously turned phrase is enough for a sentence, or even a paragraph. Too many of these in succession, and you feel like you’re watching a court jester overshoot the amount of assimilable mirth. Plus, every character makes exactly the same kind of jokes. Moore’s jokes. Which is an intrusion, Moore’s compulsions popping up in the middle of scenes where her characters should rule.

3) At the risk of sounding like an accountant whose ears are deaf to art, three major tragedies in the final third of the book is at least one tragedy too many. To me, it’s obvious which one should have gone, especially since it involves the character with the racist portrayal. (Why, why was that plot line allowed to survive? Again, where was the editor? Or a good friend? Some truth-telling intern?)

Of course, there’s plenty to love about the book, since Moore is still a genius and still capable of gorgeous, shockingly sad work. There’s a scene at the end that is almost unreadable and very, very brave. If some honest soul were to publish it in an army recruiting pamphlet, enlistments would surely plummet.

It’s been interesting, too, to hear Moore on the press circuit. She’s not a great interview. She sounds defended, put-upon. I’ve seen her a few times in person, and she comes across as hostile and unwilling to play the game. (In a Q & A at a book store, she responded to a question with, “I don’t like that question.” Someone then said, “What kind of questions do you like?” and she said, “Not that one.”) I imagine it’s shyness, plus a distaste for sharing personal information, but argh. I wish she were more forthcoming. It would make me like her more.

Having written all of the above, I wish Moore would publish another new novel. Tomorrow.

A Bloodbath, with Poetry

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

We saw Macbeth. And, while I’m not normally a fan of bloody, Gothic, horror-infused political thrillers, I loved it.

1) The set: a deconstructed, industrial-chic staircase spiraling from front stage left to the tippy-top of the stage at back right—a crazy elevation gain, with actors basically having to launch themselves up the final few yards. And skirting the front rim of the proscenium was a sculpted sea of dead bodies, lodged in a bog, protruding at various angles. It looked like bronze, but it must have been plaster, with an excellent paint job.

2) Lady Macbeth’s wardrobe: scarlet. Everything she wore was gorgeous and reflective, sequined or sheeny, with the level of formality increasing as the play went on. She began in a floor-length sheath, hair in a partial up-do, and graduated, in the banquet scene, to an Oscar gown with a train, hair in a sculpted bridal swoop. (Her wigs were blonde, perhaps to challenge expectations. It worked: I had to overcome my resistance.) On a dark stage, with almost everyone else in black, the effect was stunning. And of course, in the nightgown scene, Lady M was in white cotton, scraggly hair in a nest. She unraveled beautifully. It was, in fact, one of the best bits of theatrical unraveling I have seen.

Still. I had questions about the play.

1) Why are there witches? True, Shakespeare is fairy-positive. You see woodland sprites in his plays. But there aren’t witches elsewhere in his work, except for Sycorax, Caliban’s mother, who never appears on stage.

You might argue that the witches are there to plant the seed of Macbeth’s ambition. But he seizes upon the idea of killing Duncan way too quickly for any kind of psychological sense, unless he’s already been thinking about it—which is what the director posited in the program. He views the witches as a manifestation of what’s already happening within Macbeth. So . . . again, why do we need them? Shakespeare’s very good at getting psychology across without resorting to the paranormal.

2) What’s the point of the comic scene with the porter? Macbeth has just killed the king. Macduff is pounding at the door. The stage is practically shaking with horror. And Shakespeare takes five minutes for punning about drunken impotency? Tonally, it’s all wrong.

John and I spent some time mulling these questions. (He was in favor of the porter.) And then, the following night, we saw a fantastic world premiere which answered both of them.

It’s called Equivocation (Bill Cain), and it takes Shakespeare and the King’s Men as its protagonists. King James, newly on the throne, commissions a play that is basically propaganda, and Shakespeare has to wrestle with how to stay artistically honest in a repressive regime. What does he write? Macbeth! Cain comes up with hilarious, touching, and utterly believable reasons for both the witches and the porter. Apparently, he has the same questions I do about the play—and that was my favorite thing of all.

Zappos 2 + Julie et Julia

Monday, September 14th, 2009

Back from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which was rich with bloggable material. But first, comments on a movie we saw before we left. And before that, a Zappos update:

The New Yorker has a profile of Zappos that’s, well, as delicious as it is alarming. As you no doubt recall, I blogged previously about the great pains that Zappos takes to overdeliver in customer service, and how that overdelivery, gilded with chirpiness, can become a burden for the customer. The New Yorker article reports that:

a) Zappos has a culture of almost cultish “positivity” and “celebration.” Quotes are all mine—though I think writer Alexandra Jacobs, whose wry tone delivers CEO Tony Hsieh’s false pieties on a platter, would agree.

b) In his single, Vegas-ized, protracted-adolescence lifestyle, Hsieh resembles nothing so much as a Judd Apatow brotagonist.

c) About a third of all products ordered at Zappos are returned—which, you know, I thought so. Because that’s the whole problem with ordering shoes online. Fit is everything. Or almost.

Profile takeaway: Zappos scares me. Why does even seemingly positive corporate culture always have to be so forced? And fake? (Example: Whenver anyone rings the office bell and, town-crier style, delivers a personal announcement, all residents in the giant cube farm cheer. Does that not make you want to kill happiness and joy for everyone? Forever?)

Also: Zappos was just bought by Amazon. Which doesn’t make sense, given the uniqueness of the Zappos brand, and the CEO’s promise to uphold it. And which also means that their raison d’etre, which apparently has to do with customer happiness (as opposed to corporate profit), is destined for management book history.

In other news: Julie & Julia. Not a great movie. But not bad, either. Nora Ephron dialed it back a little, always a good thing with her. And, as everyone has reported, it’s great fun to watch Meryl Streep relish a good role. (Amy Adams, again as reported, is not very good, but I think it’s the writing.)

The thing I came away with, in addition to a longing for Ephron’s movie-fied version of Paris, was the sense that Julie Powell decided to stunt-blog about exactly the right thing at exactly the right time. No? Because even a year later, everybody and her mother was stunt-blogging about trying to read the entire dictionary or attempting to live without smiling. Of course, Nora Ephron does only candied versions of life, so maybe it was less about timing and more about Nora.

To come: more on Moore, plus Macbeth, Much Ado, and maybe a little John lurve.

Remote Readiness

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

We leave for our honeymoon on Monday. Last night:

Me: Are we even remotely ready for this honeymoon?

J: Yes.

M: How is that?

J: We are aware that we need to begin packing, and that we are leaving on Monday morning.

M: We don’t even have lists.

J: Yes, but we know that we have to pack. We’re not suddenly going to discover, say on Sunday, that we have to pack, without having realized it sooner.

M: Wow, your “remote readiness” bar is really low.

J: That’s why it’s called “remote.”

M: Because I would say, for instance, that for us to be “remotely ready” for this honeymoon, we’d have to have already made lists, done laundry, and possibly even packed a few items.

J: That is not remotely “remotely ready.” That is much closer to ready.”

M: Huh. Well, I guess we are remotely ready.

J: Yep.

M: [Frantically grabs paper and clipboard and begins making packing list.]

Fred Mudhut

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

Dwell magazine had a piece on building a $20,000 home which, naturally, appealed to my environmentalist husband. He was disappointed, however, to learn that the home had been built from milled wood.

“It’s so much more efficient to use cob,” he said.

What’s cob? Apparently, it’s earth/straw/sand, in various and sundry combinations. John recommends finding a suitable patch on your property and using the earth you find there.

Me: What about electricity, heating, and plumbing?

J: You can build that right into the walls.

M: And what if you have a problem?

J: You just dig out the wall and build it back up again.

M: Huh.

J: It’s awesome. And in a hurricane or tornado, it costs you almost nothing to rebuild.

M: Yeah, because you’re dead, buried in mud.

J: [Eye roll.]

M: Seriously. You’re dead. Especially in an earthquake. Then you’re totally dead.

J: But—

M: Oh my God, I married Fred Flintstone! [Beat.] No! Not even! I married Fred Mudhut!