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." (

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Meet the Mess

If a headache lasts for two days and doesn't respond to painkillers -- but you can apply eyeliner and make a pot of coffee without seeing flashing lights in your peripheral vision or puking -- then is it still a migraine?

Friday my head hurt so badly I couldn't remember Joe Lieberman's name when I saw him at the American Airlines departures area at LaGuardia. All I could think was, Hey, hey, it's ... it's ... The Grand Nagus!

I said to the cab driver, "Hey, that's Al Gore's running mate -- what is that guy's name?" He whipped around and said, "Bill Clinton's here?" And I said, "No, that other one -- " And here, again, I could only think, The one who's married to Hadassah!

Finally the driver yelled, "Lieberman!" and I yelled it too, and we both did that thing where you throw your hands up in the air and repeat the obvious thing you couldn't think of and bob your head a little.

This is one of the many reasons why I will never be a talking head on Meet the Press. The first and foremost being that I am not, strictly speaking, the press.

Then I went inside and got a real Coke from Sbarro and put my head down on a table in the food court. I was looking at the headlines in Hudson News (Britney pregnant, again! Angelina Jolie, not pregnant anymore!) and thanking the baby Jesus that no paparazzo would profit the dollahs from catching me slumped over with my hair making a big Kewpie-doll spray in my fist (one of the few poses in which my head didn't hurt).

When I got home my dad gave me one of the pain pills left over from his bout with pleurisy(!), and despite a fitful night of dreams in which Grace Slick narrated just off camera, the headache is, for the most part, gone.

On a sad note: I called the Comrade before dinnertime, and he thought I was coming home tonight. I'm not sure how he could have thought I'd be turning around and coming back the following day, but now that I think about it, I do remember him saying something like that, and I'd had no idea what he was talking about but vaguely agreed. I think we both have gotten so used to not understanding what the other one is saying all the time that we're too quick to affectionately ignore each other. I called him again after dinner and he'd eaten a whole Entenmann's pecan ring. "Are you depressed?" I said. "No,"* he said. "I just wished to eat.** And I wanted some hydrocarbates."

My mother laughed so hard at this she turned red and lifted her feet off the floor.

*Somebody thinks very highly of herself, I guess.

**Oh, to live in the country of men, in which a pecan ring can be just a pecan ring.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

And Ain't I a Woman?

Today on BBC Online there's a story about pole dancing as cardio, and whether practicing it is a betrayal of feminism. I feel comfortable sharing here that I had absolutely no opinion on this matter (save idle envy of the legs on the woman in the accompanying photos -- I don't know if they belong to reporter Jacqui Head, but if I had them I'd be hanging upside down from a pole all the time, and no one could stop me).

Then, four-fifths of the way down, an Arena magazine editor-at-large* scoffs at recreational pole dancers as "'fake dirty' -- it's a big men's saying because there are so many of these girls who are not actually very sexual."

If I'd gone to graduate school, I might have thought we were trapped in a Lacanian hall of mirrors; as it was, I just thought this guy should sod off. He followed that remark with "It's disingenuous in that the same person that goes to a class would turn their noses up at a pole dancing club," and what I believe he meant to say is that he thinks stripping-as-tourism is foolish and contrived. But I was thoroughly irritated by the implication that he and the rest of the men who say will decide what's really sexual, and n.b., it's only really sexual if someone's getting rewarded with a sweaty tenner at the end.

So girls take classes where they learn to mimic sex workers -- workers, as in for pay -- because that's what feels sexy to them; meanwhile, the men who edit the copy that runs underneath Jessica Alba's nipples insist that those girls aren't "very sexual" at all, since the pole-hanging is something they do simply because it's sexual, and not because they pay the rent doing it.

Yesterday I sat down on the subway across from a strikingly pretty Lady Who Was Not, Strictly Speaking, a Lady -- hands just a bit too big, jaw just a tad too there. She had chosen the best costume for the day, which was made up in part by purplish lipstick and, on every finger, multiple gold rings, one of which was shaped like a snake. This she pointed to when she fixed me with a look and said, "I-Like-Your-Bag-It's-Snake-See-I-Have-a-Snake-I-Like-Snakes-Too!" This came in one great rush that was oddly affectless -- it was like she'd been given a line of dialogue with {enthusiastically} in front of it but chosen to ignore that part.

With a sinking feeling I realized that she was a Lady Who Was Not, Strictly Speaking, Sane. This feeling was not alleviated by her further ejaculations about her pet snake, or the way snakes "aren't-slimy-at-all-they're-smooth-and-dry," or the purple snake miniskirt she had once owned. I was actually relieved when she got up and sat down next to me, because that alleviated the meta-misery of knowing that everyone in the car was smirking at my great good fortune (unless they were Arena editors, in which case they must have wanted to pay us to make out).

As girls will do, we fell on the topic of lotions for sensitive skin; she likes St. Ives. "Can you use it on your face, too?" I {eagerly} asked. "No-no-just-your-body," she said.

Now, here's the thing: I knew the lotion she was talking about, and I also knew good and well you'd never put it on your face. I asked because I was nervous, but also, I think, so she could tell me the answer -- beauty tips being a currency between ladies.

*You may be familiar with his work if you've ever picked up the British comedy fanzine Shoreditch Twat.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Laying Waste My Powers

When I think of it, I like to log on to my own blog to check the Quote of the Day, and I noticed today's is Henry David Thoreau's "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."

I'd like to confess here that last night I went out to get a good kitchen knife, and instead bought a bottle of Un Jardin Sur Nil. I can't decide whether this is glamorous or quietly desperate.

In other weekend news, the Comrade is in the process of moving offices from the Flatiron District to New Jersey, so this Saturday finds me alone again, naturally. I thought I'd cook us up some lamb tonight, but the Fresh Direct order just came, and when I unpacked the French-cut chops I'd ordered, I was dismayed to find that they are just about the right size for Saturday-night dinner in a dollhouse. It's one of those moments when I realize my hausfrau drag is just that. Speaking of drag, I guess I'll have to venture out into Brooklyn for more lamb.

Requiem for a Dream was on IFC last night; I may be the last person in the Western Hemisphere to see it, but doubtless not the first to want to promptly stick her head in an oven after the credits rolled. I got into bed where the Comrade had fallen asleep listening to our Sharper Image white-noise machine and cried.

Trivially speaking, unless I miss my guess, the Comrade and I looked at a place in the very building on Brightwater Court where poor Sara Goldfarb lived. The apartment was a windowless Skinner box, shared by a Russian lady (who must have sold cosmetics, judging from the army of potions) and her pretty little pigtailed daughter. If it hadn't looked on an alley we might have wound up sleeping there every night, in a tunnel of artificial wind.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Number Our Days

Tonight when I was walking home I passed a little army of Hasidim gentlemen, some of them brandishing big yellow flags with blue crowns and Hebrew lettering underneath. When a red-haired and -bearded one (why do I always go for the redheads?) had his little yarmulked son pass me a flyer, I figured they were Lubavitchers, and so they were. FYI: The King Messiah is already here, and for our generation it's Rebbe Shlita. Spread the Word.

For a split second I thought about taping the flyer to the door so the Comrade could find it when he comes home (the way I taped up pictures of Sasha Cohen during the Olympics), but then I thought better of it since (1) it's blasphemous and (2) the neighbors might think we're serious.

So I'd barely gotten the Good News about the Rebbe Shlita when I turned on the TV and flipped on to TLC's Shalom for the Home, with Shmuley Boteach, "America's Favorite Rabbi." Am I the last goy to know about this? I caught only the last minute or so of the episode, but apparently he'd reunited this family of indeterminate religious orientation sufficiently so that the dad was hugging the teenage daughter and the mom was salting a chicken. At the end Rabbi Shmuley left the parents with a little wisdom: A mountain is neither an obstacle nor a place to build a chalet, but just beauty to behold.

I'm a total sucker for this stuff. Isn't every fish-fry Methodist? Would it be so compelling if I were Allegra Goodman?

Let me see if I can explain: I was looking at another blog earlier this week on which the Texas blogger posted a video clip of her very cute and endearing family, and a number of posters pointed out the sexiness of her husband's Southern accent*. It floored me because for me, when I hear a man with a Southern accent he is always, always going to be (1) saying grace before the homecoming game or (2) ordering some extra Corona limes for the Deke kegger. Regardless of what he is actually saying. I make this point not to illustrate that Southern men aren't appealing, but that sex and faith both ride largely on mystery, which is why I perk right up when Rabbi Shmuley has something to say about the best way to love a mountain. Put that in Joel Osteen's mouth and I'd have already flipped past him to Bridezillas.

I wish Rabbi Shmuley could talk me out of the kitchen cabinets, from which I am eating baker's coconut with a spoon.

* I think maybe one person who reads this blog has never heard me talk, and so let me hasten to add that I have a middling-to-thick Southern accent myself, so no judgments.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


I feel like the scene in 2001 when the apes finally discover tools. Okay, I figured out how to get the photostream from Flickr up, and if you click on the "More of frostine99's photos" link, you should be able to see the vacation pictures (in reverse chronological order, so my swift descent into madness will be traceable only in reverse).

I also figured out how to title this link "Vacation Photos" ... but somehow it also looks as if I managed to bump the font size up, unless I'm hallucinating, and I'm unable to get rid of that ghastly Flickr error message in the Recent Posts sidebar. If anybody can offer advice, I'd greatly appreciate it. Otherwise I'll be rocking back and forth in my French Provincial-furnished suite in outer space.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Vacation photos

frostine99's photosMore of frostine99's photos

Trembling Before God

Yesterday I went back to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Rather than deprive the parishioners of their last drop of hooch, as I did at last year's Midnight Mass, I strolled coolly past the lady with the goblet. As coolly, that is, as one can stroll when one is consumed with white-hot rage, as I was when the two eight-year-old boys in the pew behind me could not seem to just shut up and behold the lamb of God.

Friends, it's not like I enjoy hating children. Frankly, it makes me feel like Elmira Gulch cycling through a cyclone. But if I'd acted like that in church, my Mama would have made sure I wore my ass for an Easter hat. Why couldn't the adult who kept half-heartedly shushing those little hooligans just separate them? "Some people are just lazy," said Mama (who taught fourth grade for 30 years) when I pressed her later for answers. "I would have just turned around and said, 'Do you think you two young men could settle down?'"

This is a measured response indeed from a woman who used to literally wring my jaws* when I was insolent -- she'd put the meat of one thumb in the middle of one of my cheeks and four firm fingers on the other, then squeeze until my facial fat puffed up like Gary Coleman's. (This is an incredibly effective technique because not only is it humiliating, but it hurts like a mofo. If Donald Rumsfeld had just consulted Mama, he wouldn't have to be worried about criminal indictment today, now, would he? Mother knows best!) However, I don't recall ever getting wrung in the jaws for being at play in the house of the Lord, because that's when Mama liked to invoke her considerable gifts as a rhetorician: "The Lord gives you seven days a week! Can't you give Him an hour?"

Anyway, I'm not a member of that congregation, and the last time I attended church regularly I wasn't nearly as cranky as I am now, so I don't know what the protocol really is: Can you shoot dirty looks in church? Or do you need to pretend that you're drinking a cupful of the Lord's infinite grace? Or, worst of all, is this not even supposed to be an issue because one is presumably already actually filled with the Lord's infinite grace?

I didn't know, and I was pretty sure Jesus was ready for me to leave. So as soon as I gobbled down the host I walked right past my pew and out of the church, and realized I should have sat outside in the glorious weather reflecting on my blessings and listening for the imam over on Macdonald Avenue, who manages to speak to my inner pilgrim without kicking me in the back of my pew.

Today I related this story to a co-worker who told me that once when he was at mass, an old lady got so irritated with some pesky kids that in the middle of the service she moved up a few pews and slam-dunked her raincoat into the seat, then either was or was not prodded by the missalette of her new neighbor, which prompted another huffy exodus and another slam-dunk, and the missalette-wielding neighbor muttered something about why she'd even bothered coming to church, and so Slam Dunk turned around and hissed, at full volume, "How DARE you tell me when I can and cannot worship!"

"This was right before we exchanged the peace of God," my co-worker said.

Christ's love! Good times.

*Let me hasten to add that jaw-wringing was invoked only when I really deserved it; exempli gratia, the fateful day I stuck out my tongue at her retreating back, only to have her turn around and catch me, thus turning me into a pillar of salt. She was far too wily to believe I was "pretending to be a snake."

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

At the top of "the world's most crooked street." Posted by Picasa

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

(In which I go West, and live to tale the tell.)

I spent last week in California, the place a stogie-smoking ex-coworker of an ex-coworker used to call "the land of fruits and nuts." There's been so much rain this year in northern and central California that yesterday Governor Schwarzenegger declared a second state of emergency. I'm just glad we got out before the levees broke. (Not to mention our relationship.)

The Comrade grew up in a city apartment block and got a driver's license only a few years ago, after he moved to this country. I don't mean to undermine his macho credentials here (he rolled under tanks in the Soviet army!), but I just don't trust drivers who learned as adults. Like gymnastics or French, driving is something you need to pick up early or it's never going to feel natural. Sure, you can learn any of those three skills at age 30, but your joints will always pop, you will always sound like a foreigner when you try to hawk out the r's in "crème fraîche," and you will always, always break a sweat when merging into freeway traffic.

I'm not going to bore you with the details, friends: Suffice it to say that the roads in California are not clearly marked; that when one is uncertain about which way to go, it is best just to pick one, for God's sake, rather than veering right down the middle; that, even though I understand one must be able to parallel park in order to pass the New York State driving test, there were times when we got out of the car and had to hitchhike back to the curb.

I'd say things came to a head at the rainy, dreary Glen Ellen intersection where I screamed, "What the FUCK are you doing!" and the Comrade stopped the car and screamed back, "Say you're sorry!"

But they also came to a head in a Sonoma picnic ground, at the intersection of Haight and Stanyan streets, and in the parking lot of the SFO Marriott on our last night. Drinking later in our room, we decided that maybe this wasn't the best kind of vacation for us. Not only was it driving-intensive, there was a lot of planning and negotiating to be done, and I found myself doing most of it, which engendered so much resentment I poured our leftover shiraz into a VitaminWater bottle for the plane trip home and swilled it along with big fistfuls of sourdough bread.

This isn't the Comrade's fault: he can't help it that English isn't his first language, and when one doesn't even know the difference between valet parking and self-parking, it's hard to form a coherent question about which one happens where, and even harder to get any kind of meaningful answer. Also -- and it hadn't occurred to me until this trip -- being a foreigner in New York isn't like being a foreigner elsewhere in this country; New Yorkers are used to foreign accents and pride themselves on being surly and disdainful toward everyone, compatriot or no*. But this time I noticed people would do a little double-take whenever the Comrade opened his mouth, and at the Glen Ellen Market (a place where they give out free samples of French vanilla granola), I even caught the sensitive New Age checkout guy giving him a look that, while I wouldn't necessarily call it dirty, was somewhere between suspicious and perplexed. I know I'm not making this up because the next day, a propos of nothing, the Comrade said, "Why was that guy in the market looking at me like that?"

Then there was the snack bar in Guerneville where he asked for coffee and the well-meaning proprietress handed him two paper cups of water with lots of ice. "Your 'coffee' and your 'water' don't sound the same to me," I assured him as we drank it on the freezing veranda. I know I should have gone back in and ordered him a cup of coffee, but frankly, by that point I'd had all the human interaction I could take. Sometimes one does long for the golden age of automats.

Lest you think there were no best of times, let me mention:

_ City Lights bookstore (There is NONE COMPARABLE. I don't know how they get everything you want, plus hundreds of things you never knew you wanted, in a fairly small space and arranged in unconventional categories that make perfect sense and are exactly the way you'd group a bunch of books if you only thought of it -- but they do.)

_ Lemon Pellegrino. I can only imagine how much better this would get coupled with a hot day and gin.

_ The Crepe House. We ate there four times in three days.

_ Stumbling on Alamo Square Park and the damned Full House houses, which I felt I really shouldn't leave San Francisco for the second time without seeing, but couldn't remember where they were and so led us on a wild goose chase through Pacific Heights, all the while thinking fondly of Michael Keaton with a chainsaw. We have a picture of me jumping up and down in front of them with my arms in the air, drunk with victory.

_ The farmland of northern California, which has perfectly round green hills dotted with perfect storybook cows. When the sun comes out (which it did, for at least half an hour), the clouds make huge shadows that float over the landscape.

_ The Napa Valley Wine Train. Easily the most bourgeois thing I've ever done, if not in fact the nexus of the bourgeois universe. It's pretty empty this time of year, so the Comrade and I had the little outdoor platform on the back mostly to ourselves. If anybody else came out we'd just get a little handsy so they'd get uncomfortable and leave. Handsy with each other, that is, not the other passengers. Though we might have tried that if we'd stopped first at the $5 tasting car.

_ The Napa Target. While there I recognized some of our fellow wine train passengers, which means I wasn't the only drunk woman who bellowed "TARGET!"and made her man stop so she could ogle Isaac Mizrahi throw pillows. They have a full wine selection, incidentally. Do northern Californians in recovery just have to move down the coast to L.A.? Because there is booze EVERYWHERE, even at ...

_ Taylor's Refresher, one of those picnic-bench roadside hamburger places with a notable espresso milkshake. And a wine list. Which means that it's actually not as much a roadside hamburger place as it is a bougie simulacrum of a roadside hamburger place! Northern California seems to be full of that kind of thing.

_ Repeatedly asking each other, "So, why are you so into pinot?" and knowing we had likely been the 80,000th and 80,oo1st people to make that joke in the Napa Valley since 2004.

_ Boozy, intense conversations about Russian cat names versus English ones ("Fluffy" = "Pushok"), the Pepsi Challenge, and the virtues of Alice Munro (I guess these last two were less conversations than lectures, from me, as I sat in the Jacuzzi with a gallon jug of Bull's Blood).

_ The Polish waiter who, in a show of Slavic solidarity, brought the Comrade a free orange brandy, which I promptly slurped, and some free caramelly ice cream, which I slurped also. You have to move fast, here in the free market.

So, dear readers, the upshot of it is that we had a few spats so bitter that I looked at an especially cute photo of the Comrade at the Golden Gate Bridge and told him he could use it for his profile after he broke up with me.

Yet I think we are, oddly, the better for it, or at the very least no worse. While I was on the trip I read Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, in which she writes that at times she and her beloved late husband wouldn't speak in any meaningful way for two days in a row, and that even at a point that would prove to be relatively late in their lives together, he wondered aloud why they weren't having more "fun." And on the plane home both the Comrade and I became engrossed in the Vanity Fair article about the mysterious disappearance of honeymooner George Allen Smith IV from a cruise ship in the Mediterranean. The night before Smith either fell or was pushed from the balcony of his stateroom, he and his new wife, Jennifer, had a brouhaha in the ship's disco about whether she had or had not been making googly eyes at a studly South African croupier. According to eyewitnesses she'd had too much absinthe and kicked her new husband in the groin. I guess every relationship has its attendant challenges.

*Once I believed this gross stereotype. Then I moved here and rejected it. Now that I've lived here ten years, I'm back to believing it again.