Prunes and Prism

RULES FOR YOUNG LADIES: Some arch advice on snagging a husband. Exercising the mouth into a pretty shape through repetition of certain words seems to have been an indoor sport for young nineteenth-century girls; in Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens' overly bred girl repeats, "papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes and prism." (

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Your Show of Shows

As soon as my sinuses cleared up, I was hit with a case of what my Aunt Goldie would call "epizoodie." I ache, I hack, I drift in and out of a NyQuil twilight punctuated with back-to-back episodes of Footballers' Wives and gigantic bowls of fat-free ice cream. This must be what it's like for Liza Minnelli all the time.

Around 11 on Saturday (in the 12-hour window between sinus and epizoodie) I was locking the door to my apartment when three strangers came around the corner and started talking over each other -- "That's her!" "Do you live here?" "Is this apartment XX?" I was simultaneously startled, annoyed, afraid that they were the rightful owners come to reclaim the place (in New York you never feel too secure about your real estate), and hopeful that I'd won some kind of prize.

As it turned out, one of them had lived in my apartment 45 years ago and just wanted to come in for a look. He lives in Florida now, and he and his wife were in town to see their thirtyish daughter, who lives in L.A., give a reading*. The trip down Memory Lane had been the daughter's idea; she surprised them with a car service, and after they left my building they were going to look at the mother's old place in Queens.

I got most of this information after they were in my kitchen, because of course I let them in, as soon as I raced back and yelled at the Comrade to get his pants on.

The former residents of Apartment XX kept their kitchen table where we have our Target cart, the one the Comrade slipped a disc assembling. The parents slept on a foldout couch in the living room, while the two boys had the bedroom, just the way the Comrade and Comrade frere** did when they were growing up. They had the very first TV in the building, and everybody used to come over to watch Sid Caesar.

I had to run out to meet the accountant, leaving them with the Comrade, who would later tell me he tried to offer them the rest of an opened bottle of Montepulciano in celebration. (They declined, as I guess they wanted to have all their wits about them when they got to Queens.)

Until the epizoodie crept in, I was on some kind of high, like I really had won a prize. I felt lucky and happy to have been there, and also reassured. The past couple of years have brought all kinds of enormous changes at the last minute. Enough horse doses of uncertainty, and you start to feel like you're choking on your own future. But people watched TV and brushed their teeth and ate oatmeal in this place 45 years ago, and they'll likely do it in another 45. It's like Wilford Brimley just sat down and offered me a bowl of Grape-Nuts.

*She'd written a book on how women bond over body issues but spilled out the title so fast I had no idea what she said, and no amount of Googling can recover it.

**Je jure, I still don't know how to make diacriticals on a PC. Forgive me, French majors; I know you're out there.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Notes From Underground

I always feel sorry for poor little unloved blogs that sit fallow for weeks at a time, and here I've abandoned mine. I'm sorry about that -- it's just that ever since I made that Prophet Mohammad Shrinky Dink, there's been a fatwa on my head and I've been lying low.*

Also, I have an unwritten policy of refraining from anything that's on the cover of New York magazine. Especially cuddle dating.

Finally, my will to go on has been wavering more than usual. This is partially due to my ongoing allergy problems. I will not bore you with the details, friends, but a desperate situation was alleviated somewhat with garden-variety Claritin-D. Who knew? It cleared my head but also made me feel as if I were on some kind of experimental Army drug that eliminated the need to eat and sleep. I'm still trying to decide whether it's a pleasant sensation or not.

Maybe I'm working through the impurities I sweated out on Sunday when I finally went to a Russian banya, where I neither (1) was beaten with birch leaves nor (2) rolled in the snow. (I did see Leonid Brezhnev, however, who is apparently alive, well, and living in Midwood.) For more details, watch this space!

Shizuka Arakawa skated a very nice program, deserved the gold, and can't help it that she's a fembot. I wanted Sasha Cohen and Irina Slutskaya to wrestle her off the podium and make her faceplate pop off. The Comrade and I were crestfallen last night and fell into a troubled sleep, only to be jerked awake by a caller with the wrong number. The Comrade said he sounded Japanese.

*As soon as the death threats are lifted I plan to marry a model and go to a lot of Vanity Fair parties.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Snowbound Posted by Picasa

Life During Wartime

I never write about politics, and whole days go by when I can't even care about politics. (There, I said it.)

And yet: Just this morning I heard a story on Morning Edition about a group home for women with HIV, remarkable in that it is not part of the 141 federal programs that George Bush has proposed to eliminate in the next fiscal year. Why spend $14.5 billion recklessly feeding and medicating the elderly, who are after all just scrabbling around for the last Social Security dime with their arthritic little claws?

I wasn't truly disheartened, though, until I walked through the turnstile to exit the West 4th subway station and found two beefy guys in fatigues and berets, handing out Army recruitment pamphlets as if they were flyers for a topless bar. (I guess the enlistment numbers really are as low as reported.) I was embarrassed for them, and ashamed for all of us.*

So far the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the nebulous war on terror, have cost the Dr. Seussian sum of almost half a trillion dollars.

Once when the Comrade would extol the dubious virtues of Communism (and they are dubious -- Soviet dentistry so macabre you'd pay not to get it), I'd counter that it was a society where the citizenry were all-important but the people were expendable, and that maybe it still is -- how could Putin just let those men in the Kursk die at the bottom of the sea, without asking for help?

You can imagine what happened to that infantile argument after Hurricane Katrina. When the Comrade came home he found me crying in front of the TV (unlike me -- emotionally labile though I am, I'm far more likely to cry over figure skating than natural disasters or genocide) and said the Russians had done a better job of evacuating Chernobyl.

So as not to end this with a nuclear accident: Flying in the face of this year's global-warming trend, we had a two-foot snow on Sunday. The Comrade and I went wading out in Prospect Park while I bored him with stories about Mary and Laura Ingalls, and how they used to put maple syrup out on the snow to harden into candy, and how this seemed to me the finest treat on earth. Also, snow cream, which is what Southern people make with snow, heavy cream, and a little vanilla flavoring. I don't know why, either, and Prospect Park snow would probably give you babies with nine heads -- speaking of nuclear accidents, which I can't seem to tear myself away from. It was beautiful, though.

*One of my therapist Father Intintola's most astute observations was that you're embarrassed by things you do, and ashamed by what you are.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

There's a special place in hell ...

for people who recount movie plots.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Why I'll Never Be an Olympic Figure Skating Coach*

Dear Zhang Dan,

You rock the house.


Your Humble Narrator

*Because I was on my couch with a glass of port screaming, "Get off the ice! You're 20 years old! You'll have other Olympics!"

Monday, February 13, 2006

Ten Thousand Things

Checking out at our Brooklyn Foodtown is not unlike getting through the intake at Ellis Island: huddled masses of people from many lands, yearning to get out of there with their cartloads of Huggies. There are impossibly narrow spaces; there are disaffected teenage clerks, also from many lands, dreamily eating pilfered Reese's cups. If you have any self-preservative instincts at all, you start bagging your own groceries as soon as the disaffected teen scans your Greenpoints card*.

Which is why I felt white-hot rage pooling in the backs of my knees on Saturday night when the older lady in front of me and the Comrade paid for her box of something, plucked another plastic bag off the rack, and then promptly fell into a K-hole as she tried to pull it open along its unhelpfully underperforated edges. We all stood there while the world slowed and finally stopped, and our groceries piled up, and our fellow shoppers piled up, and I prepared a fresh clip for my imaginary tommy gun.

So imagine my shame when the Comrade said, "Here, let me help you -- you have gloves on," took the bag, opened it and handed it back. Now imagine that shame multiplied tenfold when she said in a matter-of-fact way, "I just can't get it together, I have no money, and everything's falling apart."

I patted her on the back and said, "Well, your bag works now!" She laughed, and I laughed, and the Comrade laughed, and we all laughed.

I am naturally Chip-and-Dale polite, friends, but maybe not naturally kind. Imagine my disappointment in myself. Now imagine that disappointment multiplied tenfold when I realized I was wearing an overpriced Ganesh medallion I bought on Bleecker Street.

*I understand there are places here in our own United States where the teenager bags the groceries for you, and another wheels them out to your waiting car. O, to push a cart through those Elysian Fields!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Brokeback Molehill

The Comrade's co-worker -- let's call him Vronsky -- wants to buy a ring for his new girlfriend in St. Petersburg but has no idea what size she wears and no way to surreptitiously measure. They printed out a ring-sizing guide, they called me to ask what I wear, they measured Vronsky's pinky.

Finally the Comrade said, "Well, didn't you take her hand at some point?" Vronsky said he had, and to help him better guesstimate the dimensions, the two of them solemnly held hands. This didn't work because Vronsky said the Comrade's fingers were too chunky, but I find it precious nonetheless.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Miss America

My shoe guy from Tashkent -- let's call him Ivan Denisovich -- tells me some people never come back for their shoes, even when they've already paid for the repairs. He had a nice shoulder bag, the same olive green as the faux Balenciaga (the shame!) he fixed for me last winter, and it's been there for two months already.

"America," I said. "We can't remember how much stuff we have."

"Look at this big bag," he said, pointing to a big sports duffel on a top shelf that looked as if it would smell of Sock. "You need a big bag like this? And this" -- he hands me an ABC Carpet & Home sack -- "this has been here for a year already! Nice shoes, too! You see anything you like ..."

Then he went to help a customer who'd come in with a watch.* My mother says that, like Emily Dickinson, we should dwell in possibility, so I dug in.

_ One pair of Victoria's Secret platform espadrilles, with laces that would tie up the ankles
_ One pair of round-heeled stiletto pumps, Bananarama pink
_ One pair of high-heeled Lucite mules (which looked for all the world like the plastic shoes that came with the Miss America dress-up set I had at age six**), studded with tiny criss-cross rhinestones

I imagine whoever owned these shoes hasn't returned for them because she's too busy Turning This Mother Out. Everything was at least a half size too small, anyway, and I told Ivan Denisovich so. "Everybody in this neighborhood is so rich," he sighed, pointing out at the adorable West Village. "Everybody has 40 pairs of shoes!"

What I didn't say: I wonder if I could come up with 40 pairs of shoes, including both the summer and winter rotations and the unloved box underneath the bed.

The Comrade thinks I'm a woman of moderate spending habits, but that's only because he has no idea what I buy. Five days out of the week he comes home so late, I'm sitting around in nightclothes already, and if he does notice something new I just wave my hands around and look vague, like I found it under the tire of a bus.

When I wanted the faux midcentury-modern couch from the SoHo shop, the Comrade gently suggested we check the furniture places out in Brighton -- those nouveau showrooms that cater to his garish compatriots. Gentle readers, I'm 35 years old and well past the point in my life when it would be funny to have a red velvet sofa shaped like lips. Eventually he just lost the will to fight, so we're getting the couch. Though he threw his entire body over the $99 throw pillows before I could even pick one up.

I dread showing him the modest split-level where I grew up***: The refrigerator has one of those automatic ice things. Hardwood floors not because we couldn't afford carpet, but because we had carpet and my parents, in a fit of irrational exuberance shortly after I left home, ripped it up because it was ugly! Downstairs, friends, there is a free-standing globe with a mini-bar inside. Do you know what that will look like to someone who spent the early Eighties trying to get his hands on a D-cell battery?

I suspect growing up without any luxuries could lead a person to (a) conclude that they're vastly unimportant or (b) fetishize them, and that the Comrade is the former and that I'd be the latter.

When we were in the Kiev airport heading back home, we stopped in the duty-free and there was a leather Dior bag that was so especially soft and transcendent, I wanted to cradle it like a little animal. Its softness and transcendence and Dioressence were thrown into bold relief, of course, by the fact that I'd spent the week in various post-Soviet apartment blocs without a tub or a hair dryer. If it had been thrown on the pile in Ivan Denisovich's shop, I'd have probably just stepped over it.

I'm always lusting after something but have never wanted for anything, unlike my mother, who when she was a little girl used to cut watches out of the Sears catalog and tape them to her wrist. She has a number of actual watches now (including one from Coach that I got at my first magazine job -- the company handed them out to the employees, who lined up like serfs), and I like to think it's because she has always dwelt in possibility.

* To a man, every single shoe or watch repairman who has availed me of his services in this city has been from Russia or a former Soviet republic. I happened to be on the subway with Ivan Denisovich one night and asked him why this was so, and he said it was because the Russians know how to fix and make do. This theory seems to be borne out by (1) the Comrade, who claims his brother built his own running shoes out of spare parts in the Eighties and (2) this old joke: During the heat of the space race in the 1960s, NASA decided it needed a ballpoint pen to write in the zero-gravity confines of its space capsules. After considerable research, the Astronaut Pen was developed at a cost of $1 million. The pen worked and also enjoyed some modest success as a novelty item back here on earth. The Soviet Union, faced with the same problem, used a pencil.

** Also included: flame-retardant floor-length "gown," red, white, and blue Miss America sash, and, of course, tiara. Tendencies all this frippery was doubtless meant to encourage: Pretty Pretty Princess. Tendencies encouraged: Drag Queen.

*** In a less fashionable subdivision with a custom car-detailing place at the entrance

Monday, February 06, 2006

Emma, thwarted. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Mistress of No Grand Schemes

Dear Readers, Angry John Sellers may be full of free-floating rage, but he's got a heart o' gold! The recent posts are in a sidebar now, and I have a blogroll! He told me what to do, and I did it, and then the Comrade came in and advised me to do some more stuff AJS had already suggested, and it worked. Two sticks together, and -- fire!

(I must admit, I feel grateful but also sheepish. I know it doesn't take a Y chromosome to work the Internets, so why can't I act like it? And did I sit on my couch two weekends ago reading In Style while the Comrade dislocated a shoulder blade assembling our new kitchen cart? I did, friends. I did.)

It sounds like I'm due for another seminar in Deconstructing Feminist Ur-Texts. (Incidentally, that book I couldn't remember last post is Alix Kates Shulman's Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen, published in 1969.)

Anyway, thanks so much, Angry John Sellers, for your help. It's worth a price above rubies!

Friday, February 03, 2006

Red Lobster, Mon Amour

I missed the original airing of this week's Project Runway because I was busy drinking that gin martini, but I saw it last night and afterward lay in bed still laughing out loud. I knew Santino's impressions of Tim were funny, but last night when he crafted an imaginary scenario in which Tim and Andrae went on a date to Red Lobster? And Andrae threw a plate of lobster in Tim's lap? And Andrae ran crying into the bathroom? Comedy gold, folks.

I'd also like to acknowledge the bonus video on the Bravo site the week of the Sasha Cohen challenge (and yes, my life is kind of without form and void, thanks for asking!) in which Santino makes up a spiritual dirge, a pastiche of "Go Down, Moses" called "Don't Let Emmett on the Serger." Santino is the kind of hilarious semi-friend who scares you because he might turn on you next. ("Don't ... Let ... [Your Humble Narrator] Near the Doughnuts.")

Finally in Project Runway news, Tim's latest podcast is a real gem:

a) He refers to himself as "Big Daddy," and
b) decrying the Frank Gehryness of Santino's construction, utters the withering "This doesn't have to be Bilbao!"

It's enough to make me forgive him for saying Rachel has "Gumby legs." If Rachel has Gumby legs, I have Vienna sausages. Actually, I do have Vienna sausages, so let's move on.

Emma and the Comrade had grown so close that I joked about her loving him more than she loves me, but now it's just painful enough to be the truth. Sometimes she doesn't run to me when I come in at night, just lazes out of the bedroom ashing her Parliament all over the floor. Then as soon as the Comrade comes in she shoots to the door like a fat little beaver hurtling out of a cannon, and as soon as he sits down, she's crawling into his lap like Daddy's little girl.

The Comrade assures me this is just a mama thing. "Mothers are always doing things -- they're khazyaushki,"* he said. "My mother was the one who fed us, but I couldn't wait for my father to come home so he could throw me up in the air. When I got older I realized everything she did for us, and now when I call home she's the one I talk to."

This is heartfelt logic, and yet there's a big hole in it because (1) let's face it, Emma has a brain the size of a walnut and (2) will never bring her laundry home from Bard College and have an epiphany that I loved her best all along. Of course, she's also never going to take a seminar in Deconstructing Feminist Ur-Texts**, either, so I'm glad she'll never grow up.

* housewives, but more than that -- sort of like domestic majordomos

** What is the early-Seventies "feminist novel" in which the heroine is a promising philosophy student who builds a timeline of great thinkers on the walls of her dorm room, but by the end of the book she's married, and a mother, and her great subversive act is to leave the dishes for morning so she can engage in marital relations with her husband? Anybody? I've Googled every combination I can think of.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Hit me with your best shot.

A dear friend mixed me the finest gin martini last night. She served it in a perfect tiny glass bought in an estate sale, embossed with what must be the monogrammed initials of some couple who were parted only by death.

There's nothing like an alcohol-sodden Spanish olive to get you thinking about what a lousy wife you turned out to be, and what a lousy wife other people think you were, and what everybody must have said about it, or only thought.

Then I was leafing through Bust magazine on the bleary train ride home and saw that you can get your wedding ring melted down into a bullet! (Engraving available, as well as a drilled hole suitable for a chain around your neck.) Simply point your browser, embittered friends, to Either this is just the funniest thing in the world, or I don't get out enough.