Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Catering to the Bottom Line

Am I the only one sickened by the fact that Sean Penn, Jim Carrey, and Benicio del Toro are going to be the Three Stooges in a feature? I sense a real lack of outrage here and the notion that we can just nick something classic and remake it so reflective of the times we live in. Can't we value the past and then just leave it the hell alone? I understand that musicians peform covers as an homage to their favorite composers and lyrics, but covering film equates to just stealing it outright and devaluing it in the process. I can't think of a single remake that has actually improved the original and fail to understand how Sean will squeeze another Oscar performance out of the Academy with the inevitable prat falls he has lined up. And I know that I'm whipping a dead horse here, but really, what's next? Meryl Streep as Deborah Kerr in End of the Affair, although I think they already remade that with Jennifer Lopez. Forgive me. Then we definitely need to redo His Girl Friday (George Clooney and Julia Roberts, of course, with a steamier script by Judd Apatow perhaps), and Roman Holiday (Joaquim Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon heat up the screen again), Dirty Harry (Ed Norton playing Eastwood), and many, many more. Let's not leave out the talented Ashlee Simpson, Britney Spears, Miley, or any of the other dispensable charmless human widgets put out by the Hollywood machine. And let's not forget that the whole point has little to do with entertainment -- not real entertainment that gives you something of value for the big bucks wrestled out of your wallet. How silly. It's all really about the bottom line, isn't it? And we all know what bottom's produce.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

It's My Blog and I'll Rant If I Want To....

What do you do with your anger if you live in the city? I'm not entirely sure what you do with it in the suburbs other than drink yourself into a quiet oblivion (then go pick up the kids), or take a little fury out on a fellow soccer mom (or dad if you're feeling really choleric). In the city, there is so much external stuff to fuel the internal combustion that I often reach a point at which mercury would be considered somewhat unsafe. I tried kickboxing and had to be wrenched physically off the bag once the session was over, so I guess I could install one in my apartment and risk bringing the neighbor down via my bedroom ceiling, or I could do what I usually do and throw things. The walls are marked with small indentations that record the missile-style trajectory of everything from books, shoes, wooden coat hangars, and pens. The cat knows enough to disappear, fast, lest he find himself hurled through space. Considering that he has already visited this sorry misfortune on himself at least once (he fell out the window, but no biggie, we're only on the third floor), he is obviously loathe to revisit the experience. Which brings me back to the question at hand. How to channel anger in a healthy and meaningful way? While you're pondering it, I'll just nip out for a 30-mile run, and if you happen to have any ideas while I'm gone, be sure to send'em over. Have rage, will try (almost) anything.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Too Hip to Handle?

We forayed into the depths of Brooklyn this weekend, to Williamsburg, where you don't need a passport as much as a woolly cap, a goatee (men too!!), a baby in a sling, chic clothes that appear to be thrift but are really costly designer, and a certain slouch that denotes indifference to anything that is not informally modish. A British accent really helps, which gave me a slight advantage, and while it was initially a relief to be among creative sounding and looking individuals, after a few hours it began to wear off and take on a homogeneous quality all of it's own. We browsed a few of the thrift stores, picked up some vinyl, and hung out in a suitably mellow cafe with an adjoining, indoor playspace, so that the members of our party who could barely walk (and I don't mean those with nasty hangovers) could toddle, bite, push and fall on soft foam, in relative freedom, while we adults sat nearby, sipping chai lattes and discussing sustainable and social networking issues. We even managed to duck into a quick open house -- a 1700 square foot loft -- where we were attacked by a broker who was so incredibly aggressive that we almost succumbed and bought the place on the spot just to get him off our backs. It didn't take that long to get back to Manhattan, making us realize that 'coollness' was just a subway ride away -- and a short one at that. But once we were back uptown, in the relative suburbia of our northern locale, we couldn't help feeling that hip really works best when it stands out and that relocating to a place where everyone looks, sounds, and feels just like you do becomes an emotional prison of it's own. Each to his own, of course, and while it's definitely comes closest to the Portabello Road that we miss dearly, we fear that, generationally-speaking, we have missed the boat. Then again, my fifteen-year old, who I consider pretty chill, pronounced it a little too cool for it's own good, and that he prefers Brooklyn Heights. With you on that one, son.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Kung Fu Parenting

Unlike a car, or almost any gizmo on the planet, babies don't come with a manual. They just wrap 'em in a towel and send you on your way with a few bottles of formula, some disposable diapers, and lots of paperwork that eradicates any liability on their part. Anyone can have one, really, and they do. But the best part is that, once you get home, they're all yours to screw up as you see fit.

Thankfully, most of us have only the best of intentions -- too good really -- and indulge 'em with love. So much love, in my case actually, that it is only now, fifteen and a half years later that I take pause and think, wait a minute, what's with these grumbling, moaning, dogmatic, ungracious, unmotivated semi-adults living in my house, rent free?

Being members of the great child-centered parenting generation that we are, and anxious not to repeat any of the dysfunction that marked our own childhood, we have showered our little darlings with love and adoration. And as they scream back across the dinner table, whine endlessly, and roll their eyes when you dare suggest that they make a contribution to the household, such as making their beds, perhaps, or sitting straight, with their legs under the dining table, not half lying across the chair, you can't help thinking of the phrase 'spoiled rotten.'

Like tomatoes that are way past their due date, I often wonder if my three offspring aren't a little ripe at times? I discovered that I wasn't the only one, which led to a conversation with someone in the know about these things, someone who has my mental health interest at heart. Like a good parent really, except I pay him. And this sage and perceptive person revealed that he too has experienced the ungracious teen who will do everything in their power to make your life a misery, and that the root cause of it is, wait for it, too much loving. I kid you not. I call it Kung Fu parenting because of the image of myself leaping up into the air, a la Bruce Lee, parrying a grumble from all sides, with a deft kick here, an arm thrust out there. I never stop. I am exhausted and burned to a crisp.

Some of us love our kids to the point where they can do little for themselves. Don't really want to use the 'enabling' word but it snuck out and there you have it. In our effort to protect our chillun' from the big, bad, world, as such, we inadvertently disable their self-reliance, and independence, and motivation, leaving them with only one way for them to separate and show us that they are different. They stop doing what we want them to, and they sneer, to boot. Which makes (some of) us pull out our hair, rent our shirts, and wail in the bathroom as we puff at that forbidden cigarette, and in doing so, realize that we have become the cliche that we so dreaded -- the deeply disappointed, guilt-tripping, lecturing parent.

Which shows you that what goes around, comes around, however you choose to do it. Dysfunction is dysfunction. Teens are teens. And parents will always be parents. Poor, ignorant suckers, groping in the dark for a helping hand.

And the answer? Simple as it sounds, it makes sense. Love them but leave them be. Their failures are their failures, not yours. Stop catching them when they fall. Show them that you have a life, and get on with it. Stop making their actions the center of your existence, and when they realize that the emotional leverage has gone and that their behavior no longer affects you (visibly), who knows, it might change. It's a long, slow, work in progress. Watch this space.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Random Thoughts because it's Tuesday

Just watched Crimes & Misdemeanors for the umpteenth time and once again, I made discoveries among the interwoven tales of unhappiness, unrequited love, arrogance, sexual dysfunction, and envy in a questionably moral world. How apt during this time of get-rich-quick scams, mediocre talent, opportunism, war, and corruption, to list just a couple of the issues we appear to be facing right now. I can't help feeling like a bit player in a similar morality tale, watching the forces of good and evil duke it out on every continent of the planet. It seems like there's no safe haven any more -- as the world melts slowly before our eyes and men find even more obscure reasons to kill each other beyond the usual territorial or religious rights. Not to be left out of the fray, the IRA are back in the mix, adding their bullets to the global body count. What's a few more corpses when the numbers are so high, anyway? But it can't all be Sodom and Gomorrah. Like Judah, the rabbi in Allen's flick, I can't help believing that good can prevail and that we are long overdue for a major correction in the world. It isn't just Obamania but he's certainly a manifestation. It's a long-repressed ache for good -- good films, good literature, good communication, good people -- a genuine society that upholds bigger values than winning American Idol, getting your mug on Page Six, or achieving notoriety because it's better than not having been noticed at all.

As I ran this morning, on my son's thirteenth birthday, which is somewhat hard to take in, the notion of time became palpable as it often does when I am forced to remember how old I am. I thought of all the women, at that very moment, delivering infants who will see the year 2100 and I can't help wondering what we have in store for them?

Saturday, February 28, 2009

I am attracted to teenage boys....

I can't help it. Whenever I see a small knot of adolescent males gathered on the street, my eyes are drawn magnetically to their budding acne, gangly legs, sprouting and totally incongruous face hair, and voices that are stuck in a barren land, somewhere between alto and base. A year ago I would have walked right by them, without a glance. They would have been as transparent as the dogs being walked around me, or the strollers, or young couples, arm in arm, experiencing the first raptures of young love -- I always find this sight especially invisible, ever since Cupid's blunted arrow led to the very reason for all of this. I realize that the things that cause a second, or third glance, and still do, are those that relate to my own, self-serving interests. I'm guessing it's all very Darwinian, intended to keep us focused firmly on the most important things in our life.

Now that a thirteen and fifteen-year old actually reside in my apartment -- which is hard to believe -- and are eating me out of house and home and challenging my debate skills on the hour, my teen radar is on high alert. It's all I notice when I go out. Teens, skulking around, smoking, looking shift, walking in groups of fifty down Broadway, secure en masse but petrified alone.

Same deal when the kids were tiny -- unlike my single years when the mere sight of an infant had me running headlong in the opposite direction -- once I became a mother, I was instantly attracted to anyone in the same boat, which I would describe as fairly desperate at the time, given the overall amount of colic my kids brought with them into the world. Back then, anyone struggling with a stroller, or carrying a baby became my peer group, someone to sympathize with and relate to, and on through the ages as the babies grew into kids and developed their unique personalities.

With each milestone, the past became another country, so to speak, so that I have become somewhat intolerant of kids younger than third grade, and appear to struggle with latent hostility towards new mothers -- particularly the happy ones. Six of them trooped into a restaurant yesterday, in single file, each carrying a baby in a Snugli, looking very proud. As soon as the squawking began a few minutes later, I became a crochety old diddy, raising eyebrows and frowning at the invasion. Perhaps it was the memory that I could never get near a restaurant when my kids were babies, given their inability to sit passively while I ate. I was always the exception, circling the block with the stroller while everyone else dined, waving to me occasionally as I passed. That was a century ago and whoever would have thought that teens would seem attractive in any form?

That's really the most ironic aspect of this all given that there is nothing particularly redeeming about them -- having been one, and now being a parent to two of them. Teens are awkward, half-beings. Neither man, woman nor child. The teen is Nature's little inside joke -- bumbling outcasts, hanging in a limbo land of humanity.

Like I said, I just can't keep my eyes off them. And that's just the boys. Heaven help me when we get to the girl version. By then, I'll be veering unconsciously towards young twenty-somethings, which might ease the pain -- somewhat.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

All Things Bright and Beautiful

Can we talk about rodents for a bit? I don't mean the big gray ones on the subway platform, the size of small dogs. I want to talk about why parents cave to the reasonable but occasionally misguided notion, often directed by severe guilt, that children require rodents, particularly inner city children who have little access to nature in the wild, not counting the rats?

We good-hearted, animal loving parents run out and purchase these tiny creatures and their accompanying accessories -- organic food, roomy cage (a classic six at least), fresh-picked organic hay, house to sleep and hide in, non-bleached organic bedding, filtered water bottle, toys, flatscreen TV -- and $150 later, there it is, ensconced in your house. A tenant. Your kid spends exactly four minutes with it and then, guess who cleans, nurtures, feeds, coos, and spends quality time with the inmate? Guess who really bonds with it when the kids are plugged into the Wii?

Recently, we relocated our dear little friend, a guinea pig called Delilah, to New Jersey, after a mere three month sojourn in my daughter's room. We'd noticed a correlation between our cat's inordinate amount of time spent staring Delilah down from a distance, and her refusal to leave the cage except when pulled at full force (and even then she grabbed the sides of the door with her little hands as we tried to extract her). Delilah, who is now Lily, is delirious in Fort Lee. She has an older sibling, Lucy, and runs freely around a duplex townhouse, and obeys a single, nine-year old mistress. She definitely traded up and we have pics to prove it. My daughter cried for a day then the tears stopped as if on cue and she asked if we could try a couple of dwarf hamsters -- perhaps?

I was reminded of our experience while speaking to a friend yesterday who regaled me with the tale of Hamletta -- her hamster that broke its leg last week. The babysitter and the kids rushed Hamletta to the vet, who put a cast on her miniscule limb. The hamster, being of tiny mind and huge teeth, promptly chewed off the cast. The vet applied another, at no small cost. Same deal. Sorry, said the vet, the big heave-ho is your only option now. He didn't use those exact words.

At this point, my friend and her husband were already injecting Hamletta with a nightly concoction of antibiotics and painkillers, after a full day at work, followed by a full evening, chasing the terrified animal around her cage -- once a highly social and friendly creature that was now a petrified mess. It wasn't a life for them, or her. And it was costing. So they pulled their kids aside and came clean. Hamletta is going to, you know, well, not be here any more.
"The kids caught onto the euthanasia word really fast," my friend explained, and both of them abruptly fell to pieces, noisily, all over the floor. After much talking and explaining, they returned Hamletta to the vet, and my friend's daughter picked out a replacement and named this lucky creature Zippy. But hold it. The vet then tells them that euthanasia might not be necessary. Friend's kid stamps her foot. Now she wants Zippy. Hamletta can go to you-know-where. Friend is a therapist and explains the problem using lots of feeling words. Kid is contrite and then mournful. Kid is also sensitive (and smart) and wonders aloud if perhaps Hamletta should have been discharged to the great beyond a few days earlier to prevent her suffering? Limping hamster returns home but things spiral out of control and suddenly, playing God appears to be a wonderful option.
"It's like she knows," my friend said, sadly, having just administered another injection.
"Is the hamster going to be, you know, deaded, today?" her husband asked, reverting to the language of his three-year old, confused by the semantics of it all (he's a lawyer, language is a loaded barrel). His wife shrugged.
"So we can get Zippy?" the daughter asks, without missing a beat. Mother shakes her head. Hamster cowers. Daughter holds back a tantrum. Three-year old brother announces proudly to his sister that he is the only one in the house with a pet now (if you can call a fish a pet). My friend is wiped out -- exhausted, burned out, done with rodents for the foreseeable future.

As we leave this tragic scene that is undoubtedly being played out around the city, a word from the wise for those of you thinking that the furry-rodent, with a two year lifespan, is a small price to pay to stop your kid nagging.

Might we suggest taming some of those house-broken roaches that scuttle freely across your counter tops (only when there are guests around), or the pigeons that fight to get into your window when they aren't crapping all over it, or admiring adorable canines from afar, the ones that muck up your shoes with their enormous deposits (only when you are on your way to an important meeting)? And if all that fails to appease your cherished ones, may we suggest a great therapist, with firsthand knowledge of such things? We have the perfect candidate.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Monday Morning Moan

Where to begin? Do I start with the retail wasteland that once comprised the compelling elements of NYC -- unique stuff that brought the rest of the world here like moths to a flame?

I could be wrong but unless everyone is whizzing across the tri-state bridges because of a sudden urge to stock up at Duane Read (one on almost every block) or pay a hefty surcharge to withdraw funds they no longer have from Bank of America (one on every corner, there's even one in my apartment) there ain't much doing in the Big Apple beyond getting a mani/pedi, window shopping at Whole Paycheck, which you could do anywhere, or simply pretending that this metropolis offers anything challenging, different, or independent, beyond our huddled masses, waiting on cold platforms for trains that never come, when they aren't moaning about real estate and schools, that is.

It's hard not to feel the pinch when you have to check first to see if your favorite take-out joint is still in business each time you pick up the phone to order. Just yesterday, another local sushi restaurant bit the dust, although nothing except a drive-by would convince my friend David of this fact, who insisted he had eaten there just a few hours earlier.

My local Indian gem is boarded up now, and traveling from the far and similarly sterile east of York Avenue over go the west side this weekend, I couldn't help notice how the city has become one big homogeneous ode to conformity -- mega-chain stores that punctuate long stretches of sad, empty storefronts. In their effort to get the highest rents in history, NYC's landlords have turned the capital from a character destination into a smiling mouth of capped teeth. They have emptied it all out, pretty much, including the wonderful old Vesuvio Bakery on Prince Street. "It has that authenticity to it that's just magical," said a neighboring retailer, which made me weep instantly into my $4.99 packaged white bread from Gristedes, not because of the statement's truth as much as its inanity. Well, duh! The old Penn Station was magical too but we still knocked that sucker down and put up Madison Square Garden. Will we ever learn?

With just one and a half movie theaters left to service the entire Upper West Side and not an independent toy store within sight; with family-owned bookstores struggling for their life (Morningside Bookshop on Broadway at 114th) and independent retailers going out of business faster than you can say stimulus package, where are we headed? And don't tell me it's because we're in a recession. The retail flight has been going on a while now.

But all is not entirely lost. One tiny, little piece of good news amid the wailing and coat-renting:
Tropicana Juice is reverting back to it's original packaging and ditching the generic crap that they have paid their ad agency millions to design, based solely on 'research.' Apparently, Tropicana's trusted consumers -- not the few polled for the focus groups -- hate the new look, me included. In a nifty and highly ironic PR move that underlines how much we have become a society that compensates failure, the agency behind the mess, Arnell, declared that the negative consumer response to the new OJ packaging was a good thing and that they were glad that Tropicana was getting "this kind of attention." Yes sir, they are feeling just dandy, applauding a job well done, all the way to the bank.

Gotta' go. I think it's my landlord calling.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Why Boys (and Girls) Need Plastic Guns

Lest you think this is a pro-NRA rant and that I am about to defend deer-hunting, pig-sticking, or moose-clubbing in the wilds (they can party all they want as far as I'm concerned), rest assured that not one of those sentiments shall be expressed here today. What I really need to discuss is the fact that boys -- starting from the moment they can stand on their two wobbly feet, through the first hint of acne -- have been deprived of those good old, made in China, plastic contraptions that resemble the real thing -- the toy pistol -- thus denying them an intrinsic form of role play that is as important as putting a foot or hand to a ball, or engaging in an all out wrestling match.

We happened across a bargain basement in Montreal last week, the kind that is irresistible to kids and thrifty adults alike, and beyond the endless walls of English candy that beckoned like a cup of steaming hot chocolate on a frigid day (keeping the metaphors very proper here), my boys were instantly drawn to a section of toy guns and rifles so alluring that the candy might well have been cement filler.

When we weren't trouping around the Old City, or quaffing bagels, or ice skating in Mount Royal Park in spite of the chill, the boys spent the better part of four days hurtling themselves across the beds, jumping in and out of the two adjoining rooms, hiding behind doorways, in closets, and behind chairs in a wonderfully old-fashioned game of Quantam of Solace meets Jesse James that healthy young chaps with pent-up testosterone once dared to play. What a bloody relief to see them off the computers and playing cat and mouse with gleeful abandon. I resisted that politically correct little whine from somewhere deep within my psyche, wondering if this wasn't going to subvert their normal, passive behavior and turn them into serial mass murderers? What folly, I thought, but confess to taking the extra precaution of hiding the toys deep inside our suitcases while the rooms were cleaned.

It seems that our uptight, self-aggrandizing, politically correct society has completely blurred the distinction between fiction and reality, thanks to a nonstop, media menu of violent programs. The resulting double standard has us moralizing about guns leading to violence, while making a quick buck from the very issue we claim to abhor. Instead, we deal with our fear of real guns and real violence by pulling the imitation away from the kids. It's far easier to suppose that little Jimmy's happy romp with a toy pistol is just one step short of going postal than to actually take on the NRA. No doubt that the odd sociopath might well emerge from time spent with some plastic, but isn't that the law of averages? Just hazarding a guess but it's highly possible, almost certain in fact, that the leap from toy pistol to an Uzi requires a considerable mental disturbance of some kind, and a few other variables such as negligent parenting, rage, and social ostracism, which is also something we should be attending to.

How about we work really hard on barring access to the real thing -- the easily accessible handguns, AK47's, etc. and letting little boys -- I'm making a big distinction here between school children and teen gang members -- act out an age old fantasy that is as much as part of their male chemistry as the hair that will sprout over their young lips?

In your dreams, boys, in your dreams. Meanwhile, go kill some bad guys on your Game Cube and leave me in peace. Can't you see I'm working here?

Monday, February 9, 2009

No Sleep Means More Time

I'm not even going to touch the sleep issue. It's been almost a week now since the eight-year old has run in at 3am. I've come to realize that the whole notion of shuteye is vastly overrated. Even though the Japanese used sleep deprivation as a method of torture there are people like Bill Clinton who claim that they can get by quite well with only four hours a night. That might explain quite a lot, as far as he's concerned, but what it tells me is that it's do-able, so I'll just continue the refugee-like wandering, pillow and comforter in hand, looking for a place to settle my weary frame, or possibly try a paradigm shift and look on it as an opportunity to extend the day and accomplish some additional projects. I can't vouch for the quality of what I will do, but why sleep when you can be wide awake and working?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Child wakes in night; mother drinks Scotch from bottle

We tried. Two nights in a row, in her own bed, which was pretty good. But last night the dreaded footsteps signaled her return. Then I really self-sabotaged.

I took her to see Tim Burton's Coraline. Word was that the Neil Gaiman's dark novel had been lightened for younger audiences, but sitting watching it, I couldn't help thinking that if that was really the case a) the book would scare the crap out of me and b) what the hell was I thinking? Well, actually, I wasn't. I hadn't slept, you see. I kept nodding off during the movie and shivered under my coat because the air-conditioning was full on, in spite of the 20 degree weather outside. I heard the girls laugh, seated in the row behind me but then, as the last credits rolled, my eight-year old daughter leaned over and whispered into my ear, "that was creepy." Her four friends, nodded, and Helena, a three-year old pistol, going on eighteen, was already sitting on her mother's knee, face buried. Even Olivia, who has no fear of enormous, vomit-inducing roller coasters and will watch the most suspenseful Harry Potter movies (that was the yardstick when they were seven) looked a little pale and her freckles actually stood out in the darkened theater. I looked at them all, decked out in their nightwear and bath robes (it had been Pajama Day at school), wearing their 3-D glasses that resembled Ray Bans. Did I mention those? It's a wonderful new feature that Hollywood has figured out as a means of extracting an additional $2 per ticket.

After we left and headed up Broadway, the girls marveled at the 3-D spectacle around them as they walked abreast, arms linked. I trailed them, wondering if the movie had renewed the ebbing nightmares afresh, and wondered if that sexy romp of a romantic comedy might not have been a better option? Making out and a little nudity were surely more favorable than the ghosts of dead children and Burton's signature, morbidly Gothic ambiance. Too late to be worrying about that. The deed was done.

When the movie ended, most schools were still in session but my daughter's is unique in that the first Friday of every month is a half-day, which ends at noon. Barely any point to going in. I often feel resentful of this lost time to work, especially if I am on babysitting duty, but then my resistance dissipates as I shepherd these young, chattering, women-to-be along the crowded street, which is rather like herding cats. They talk endlessly about fabulously insignificant subjects that are their life -- sleepovers, play dates, bad jokes, and the boys in their class. Passers-by smile, and the sidewalk opens up like the Red Sea as they approach. Sure, I thought today, I could be at home plugging away at an assignment, or trying to catch up on those lost hours in the night, but I also knew that, deep down I wouldn't miss these fleeting moments for the whole world.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Bedroom Tale

So here's the story: Last week it had been three months since my eight-year old daughter had slept in her own bedroom. The issue began at Thanksgiving. She had generously given up her space for guests and relocated to our floor on an airbed. When the guests departed, so did she -- for just two nights. Then the nightmares began and she ran in at 3am. We were wakened from deep slumber by the approach of her frantic footsteps as she torpedoed into the bed, sending the cat flying.

A week of it left me noticeably grumpy -- if that's how you describe screaming at everyone and everything in sight. But nothing could induce her to stay in her bed. She complained of noises, and shadows, and a growling in her ear. We tried everything -- threats, rewards, and left all the lights on so that it was brighter than Vegas. Bedtime always seemed promising -- endless stories, hugs, kisses, whispered talks, sitting in the armchair -- but come the middle-of-the-night we'd hear the familiar sound of her hurtling towards our room. She's a sensitive kid but not prone to drama, and she became increasingly anxious about spending any time in her bedroom. Her fear was contagious and I found myself questioning the vibe whenever I was in there. The room became somewhat neglected. The door stayed shut and I felt bad. In a city where space was so precious, we were being complacent about an enormous bedroom. But there was no avoiding the strange energy that we all felt in there. One night, when she had kicked me out the bed and I was left staggering about in the wee hours, I collapsed into her bed. But I slept poorly, and left the light on, which I did not tell my husband.

I happened to mention the issue to my friend Leah, who is Native American by birth. "Sounds like there's a spirit attached to the room," she said matter-of-factly. The hairs on my arms and neck stood on end. She offered to check it out. She brought her 3-year old son, who had been experiencing strange energy in his own bedroom. The moment he entered, he insisted on closing the door. "I don't get it," Leah said. "He never does that, anywhere. Not even at home."

As she stepped into the room, she paled noticeably. "The air's heavy," she said. "I feel as though I can barely make it to the window. It's like walking through fog." She paced around the room and then felt a pain in her chest. After a few minutes she was so overcome by sadness she fled to an adjacent room and her breathing had become labored. "Definitely something in there," she said. "Let's sage it."

I knew what it meant. It had been suggested once before and I had bought a large bunch of sage. When alight, it's aroma was so strong, that my daughter and I were enveloped quickly in a sea of it, whirling through the apartment. Small pieces of lit kindling started to fall on the floor and I might well have brought down the entire, fifteen story building. The irony is not lost on me. But this time, the herbal clearing would be done under controlled circumstances. The process is also known as smudging, based on the Native North American belief that homes and bodies are more than physical but bristle with invisible energy. Smudging is considered a speedy and simple way to remove negative energy, calling on the spirits of sacred plants such as sage.

Did I believe that we had spirits? I believed we had something and it wasn't roaches, I'd already rid the apartment of those. Later that night, I felt empathy rather than anger for my daughter. I even let her sleep in our bed but was relieved when Leah came over a few days later with a clay pot and tiny bundles of sage to burn. We circled the pot around our bodies, wrapping ourselves in the pungent smoke, to protect ourselves, according to Leah, and then we headed for the bedroom. Leah took charge. I was a trembling sissy. She spoke aloud and calling on my daughter's ancestors to help out, asked that the little girl in the room, the daughter of the house, be allowed to sleep in peace. "We honor you and wish you a safe journey, but please allow this child to her sleep. Let her room become a safe, loving place." At one point, I felt a strong chill near the door. Leah joined me and felt the same thing. Then she had a revelation. "There's more than one!" I grappled with a desire to follow the cowardly lion and hurl myself from the window. The energy in the room changed perceptibly. After an hour of saging the room, Leah turned to me and smiled. "I feel happy. It's peaceful," she said.

When my 13-year old came home that afternoon he took one sniff and gave me the once over. "You haven't been, you-know --?" He pretended to smoke.

When my daughter returned, I toyed with telling her nothing but decided to share the fact that Leah had heard about her nightmares and had put some positive energy into the room with the sage. She loved the smell of it, which we won't focus on, and sitting on her bed, she said it felt different -- safe. That night she slept and woke with a smile on her face. Last night, she slept again. Tonight....We'll see.

Was the whole episode an age-appropriate (me or my daughter?) psychological milestone? Perhaps. Something else? We'll never know but I have more sage and I'm not afraid to use it.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Pondering, Wondering, and Slumbering

There's nothing to suggest that it's a slow day in the blogosphere. To be sure, there's plenty going on out there, it's just that I'm hard-pressed to know exactly which issue should take precedence. I noticed that Pope Benedict XVI has demanded that Bishop Richard Williamson recant some of the abominable statements he has made about the Holocaust but hey, it's a bit after the fact, isn't it? According to the Pope, he had absolutely no idea that Williamson felt so at odds with documented world history when he lifted Williamson's excommunication ban, until it hit the press. Could be because he's just too busy figuring out why the Moslem world is still in such an uproar over his comment that Islam tends towards irrational violence compared to Christianity ("Nobody expects the Spanish'Inquisition!"). Then I noticed the noise about poor young Michael Phelps, caught on a cellphone camera smoking a doobie at some frat party (apparently he didn't inhale). One part of me thought "leave the kid alone, he's already proved himself plenty," while the other part of me thought "dammit, he took $100 million in endorsements on the basis that he would not light anything up," so couldn't he just be a smart boy and build himself his own private smoke room at home? The rationale for his behavior is flying in fast and furious (he's ADHD; it's medical; he thought it was a carrot; he's all brawn). I'll accept the last one, wish him luck, and leave it at that. Or I could write about the most important thing in the entire world that happened just last night -- my daughter slept in her own bedroom for the first time in three months, and did not stir once, until the cat crowed at 6am this morning. Can we have an action replay tonight? How we accomplished this victory is a fairly interesting story. I'll bore you with it tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

It's a Jolly Holiday

It snowed in England yesterday for the first time in 18 years and according to my mother, who lives in Central London, the entire country shut down and folded its arms. Inclement weather notwithstanding, you have to understand how big a deal this snowfall was -- like the heatwave that almost killed us there a few summers back. Just as they don't have air conditioners or ice cold drinks to ward off the heat, nor do they have a plan of action that will unclog the streets or train tracks when it snows. Apparently, Primrose Hill, my favorite high point, next to Regent's Park, was clogged with 600 gleeful souls, whizzing down the gentle slope on everything from street signs to an actual ironing-board. And if you're vaguely familiar with Monty Python, Absolutely Fabulous, The Office, Little Britain, or Katherine Tate, then you know that Brits are essentially lunatic beneath all the pomp and circumstance. It's not hard to imagine Her Royal Majesty, behind the safety of the palace walls, far from prying eyes, letting her hair down after a Guinness or two. I can imagine her bouncing maniacally on the four poster perhaps, with the Corgies springing up and down beside her. Philip, of course, is at the other end of the building, practicing his Groucho Marx gait, wearing the accompanying glasses and mustache, and perhaps one of Lizzy's glittery evening numbers, for good measure. In acting out their abandoned inner child, like every other Brit, they are proof that behind the repressed, tight upper lip of your inscrutable Englishman exists a frothing madman or madwoman, just waiting for an opportunity to burst forth. Excuse me while I go drink to that.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Stealing from the Past

I wept through a preview of Steve Martin as The Pink Panther, offering the fake French accent and stupid pratfalls, and I can't begin to articulate my complete revulsion at the sight, not only as an avid Peter Sellers fan, but as someone who feels strongly that if it wasn't broken, who the heck asked you to fix it? My suggestion to Hollywood, for what it's worth, is steer clear of remakes -- don't touch them with a 300 foot barge pole with Tony Scott riding atop. Then again, you might as well go all the way and shoot these remade horrors on duct tape, given the standard of the average script these days -- 80-page pieces of crap that seem cobbled together only to pull $12.50 out of those fool enough to go see them. Considering that the majority of current audiences have never even heard of the original movie, it's stealing formula from a baby. I have suggested that my kids accept no one other than Sellars as the Pink Panther and having sat through the abysmal Paul Blart recently (I was hog-tied to my seat, honestly!) I can only lament a lack of decent scripts and the fact that we wouldn't know a real dramatic arc if we saw it in a movie theater. A whole pipeline of remade fodder will soon muddy the big screens and join those already sacrificed to the altar of Mammon, such as Bewitched, To Catch a Thief, Rear Window, The Manchurian Candidate, The Poseidon Adventure, and Sabrina, with these on their way: The Taking of Pelham 123, The Birds, Straw Dogs, Westworld, Fame, The Witches, and The Dirty Dozen, to name just a few. We have truly hit the age of mediocrity, with nary an original thought in our profit-obsessed minds because it's way easier to dig back into the archives and take something that was unique and successful and do it over instead of producing something truly pioneering, fresh, and creative. I wonder what's next? Citizen Kane with Kiefer Sutherland? Casablanca with Joaquim Phoenix, rapping on the tarmac to Hilary Duff? Or possibly a darker, non-musical version of The Wizard of Oz, with Miley Cyrus as Dotty, haunted by a vapid character known as Hannah Montana, wishing that the bright lights would dim and that she could just go home and be a real kid again. Whatever it is, whichever classic Hollywood plans to lay its grubby, untalented paws on next, know one thing for sure -- nothing's safe and unfortunately, nothing's sacred. Now that was one great movie. Remake anyone?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Putting F-U-N into A-B-C

My son wonders why he needs to go to school and I can't help agreeing with him. Not because I am an advocate of truancy -- I believe that a quality public education is one of the most important aspects of any cultured society -- it's just that our outmoded methods of education makes me wonder whether the ultimate purpose is to create worker bees or independent, critical thinkers? Don't bother to answer. I just have a really hard time understanding why educational methods haven't changed in the hundred years since I feigned a stomach ache every morning. And I'm not talking about preschool or Kindergarten here, which are heavenly compared to my Dickensian experience. I'm alluding to the tedium that kicks in around Fourth grade, when the fun stops. Compared to the technological progress we've seen over the past thirty years and the tools that we could use to stimulate learning, it's hard to believe that schools still offers the same, mind-numbing diet of politically correct, vapid text books, and endless test prepping now thrown in for good measure, making it simultaneously tiresome and pressured. Aside from the occasional, wildly-inspiring teachers who pop up now and again -- incredible souls who shine like beacons on a foggy night -- we have barely evolved in our ability to tire the pants off our kids so that the notion of freedom, i.e. leaving school ASAP is something to be yearned for, not dreaded by those who aren't considered 'academic.' Surely we can come up with a creative way to inspire and motivate our kids so that they might actually crave information? Wait a minute. Was that a high pitched wail I just heard emanate from the dreary halls of the Board of Ed? Wouldn't it be logical to design educational units that are 'fun' and 'creative' as the springboard for a whole new system so that kids who are into video games might actually learn algebra while they're directing the earth's population into oblivion? How about using the online Lego-building application to teach spatial skills? I am a huge fan of Dr. Howard Gardener's theory of Multiple Intelligences that promotes the notion that each child learns via different forms of unconventional intelligences such as music smart, word smart, number/reasoning smart, picture smart, people smart, body smart, self smart, and nature smart. Schools focus mostly on the word and number smart kids and the rest are left to the guidance counselors, behavioral therapists, and ultimately, to a slow death of the soul, uninformed by education as it really should be -- a wondrous process of intrigue and learning that could seduce even the most unenthusiastic learners.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Network Nitpicking

In this age of information it would be oh so wonderful to get some news. Real news that asks tough questions, probes, investigates and demands answers. There used to be a job for those with the stamina and leathery skin suited to it -- it was known as journalism and it wasn't always a degree program at some elite grad school that got you directly into the field (in case Daddy couldn’t swing it for you). These days, the Ivy League is the fast track and almost a sure way to secure a gig and worthy contacts in the Big Press. It also helps if you have an enormous, teased, and highlighted Texas do – ladies too! But time was when those with a yen for digging in the dirt and unearthing gems spent less time in front of the mirror, bypassed the degree options (there weren’t any when I was in school) and headed to Fleet Street, in London (now gone), where the pubs were crowded from 11am through dinner with the owners of seriously pickled livers, who could sniff out a great story while completely plastered. These guys scoffed at the notion that a BA in English Literature, let alone Shakespeare or Gerard Manley Hopkins could inform your journo skills. But hang around in their shadows for a few years and you'd learn a thing or two about scoops and leads. They didn’t give a monkey’s ass about hacks or PR people, press releases, or spin, let alone celebrities. And to some extent, the English press is still paving the way and holding dear to the notion that there are two sides to every story and that everyone is accountable, no matter their status, wealth, or position. The higher you climb, the harder you're going to fall if you don't play by the rules should be the directive in every newsroom. Alas, this is apparently not the case Stateside, where we bow to Mammon.

Take Madoff, who managed to elude the truth-seekers, wherever they were, for nine years, or Bush and Cheney, who ruled supreme and subverted the laws, goodwill, and safety of the entire planet in full view of us all, to benefit their own interests while the press stood around and picked lint out of their navels. It was interesting to watch the sheer rage and outcry about Clinton's faux-pas with a girl and a cigar, versus the indifference, bordering on stony silence, in the face of the lying, cheating, stealing, and overall corrupt antics of Messrs. Bush and Cheney, not to mention sending a couple of thousand young American service men and countless Iraqis to their deaths. Forget about Palin. In any other country the press would have ended it for her before it all began.

It’s sad, that we as a nation, have lost our ability to follow through and expose the BS but I guess there is some truth to the aphorism that if you don't get what you like, you end up liking what you get. There is still hope -- Rolling Stone frequently offers excellent investigative pieces, shame about their format -- but the mainstream press? CNN's new promo boasts that they ask the tough questions, but didn’t bother to put any of them recently to officials at the National Association of Evangelicals who booted Pastor Ted Haggard when allegations of his same-sex dalliances surfaced. What happened to Love Thy Neighbor? Poor Ted. But he’s still a believer. And so goes our press. Offering us double standards and keeping us all in a house of mirrors where little truth but lots of crap emerges. As for the real news, the stuff going on beyond our borders, in places that some of us have never even heard of, visit BBC America and discover that there’s a whole world out there that isn’t concerned about whether or not chocolate or red wine will prolong your life.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Reflections on the cold, white stuff

Yeaaaa! It's snowing in New York City. It's the weather person's dream come true because they've been warning us for nigh on a month or so about the enormous snow storm headed our way. Temporarily forgetting the fact that in the nineteen years I have lived here the weather people have rarely predicted anything mildly accurate (I'm thinking of that school Snow Day a few years back that turned out to be an incredibly dry, sunny, 60 degree vacation for the kids) I ran out and stocked up on candles, dry milk, flashlights, and canned goods. Filled the spare room with bottled water, batteries, and matches as though it were Y2K all over again and hunkered down, and waited, and waited, and here it is -- at least an inch -- two perhaps! And it's still coming down, more like frigid rain than snow, but there's white stuff on the ground, and the Super across the street was scraping it at 5am this morning, so I can't help figuring, this is IT! Got the snow shoes out, cleaned off the skis and just checking to see if the ski pants will ease over my jeans. Then I'm outta' here, to brave it to the corner deli and see if they still have supplies. And then, wait for it, then I'm going to update my status on Freakbook, in case no one else has noticed it's snowing. As I write this, tires are swishing outside and the conscientious, neighboring Super just can't keep his paws off his mechanical snow blower -- he'll often do a midnight number if he sees so much as a piece of dander fall from a passing bird --and I know why. The "City," as in, the municipal arm of this fair capital, doles out instant fines to landlords who have not cleared the sidewalk in front of their buildings, which causes mania every time the accumulation is more than one flake. And what I have come to realize is that this concern from the powers-that-be is not about care at all, as I once suspected. It is about litigation and more importantly, revenue. As with the parking tickets, it's a quick way to raise cash. If it were truly about improving the quality of life here and making sure that the sidewalks and street corners were passable for the elderly and those with strollers or even clumsy clods, like me, then the salt would be out (which it wasn't) and my daughter would not have pratfalled directly into a three foot mound of cold, powdery snow as she emerged from the bus. I'd like to see a wheelchair mount that lot. As for the steps down into the subway -- a treacherous, icy entrance to hell -- take your choice and hold the handrail for dear life, or shoot down faster than a scud missile. Just the other day I was witness to an elderly man who had lost his footing and became downwardly airborne. But there you have it. The world's greatest capital dealing with inclement weather. Your triple tax dollars hard at work making this place a nicer, gentler environment to live in!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Friend Me on F%$#$#$Book!

Are you on F@@**book? It's my new term for the hip new way to stay in touch with your preschool friends from a century back, when phones were rotary and an answering machine was basically someone being home to pick up the call. Now the Mountain comes to Mohammed, sitting at home in front of the computer, clad only in Ghandi-style underpants while trading witty barbs or boring updates with the rest of the planet, but Frickbook has its pitfalls, the biggest being a declaration to the world that you have no life. "I'm headed to the grocery and I'm picking up the 1 percent," has been the general level of status update discourse from those channeling Jim Carrey in The Truman Show. Frickin'book has allowed us all to peep into every boring nanosecond of everyone's life, each time that person decides to share, and some people are taking it very seriously indeed. Which is great. Communication is what it's all about but in general, my suggestion is...TMI!!! I'm happy to hear that you found a parking spot, well done, but do you own a car is my question? Or are you planning to lie in the space until Passover when parking is suspended for a week? Perhaps you are driving a tractor-trailer today, in which case, you found ten spots in a row, and boy, am I impressed! Otherwise, keep it all to yourself, and I will do exactly the same. And furthermore, please learn the difference between writing on someone's wall and sending them a private message, which means less of "I just had a colonoscopy and I had no idea they didn't go through my mouth" and more of "wow, you are looking so hot in that new profile pic." And when you hang out with friends of friends, which is totally fine on the Frickin'book, have the subtlety to make your plans with them offline, or in private and then think twice about posting a record of the event.
"How come I wasn't invited to that dinner at your place last week?" a friend asked, having seen the Frickin'book photos that the people who were invited decided to post online.
"Because I don't like you," is not a conversation you want or need to have. In other words, can we leave something of our lives to everyone's imagination? A tempting tidbit here, an insinuation there, maybe? And then we can all preserve the idea that, sitting before our computers, underpants or fully-dressed, we are as fab and exciting and important as we actually think we are.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Liberty and Justice for All

Saw Milk over the weekend and I was mesmerized, not only by the outstanding performances, but mostly by the message that stayed with me long after the two hour nostalgia trip back to the seventies. The biopic focuses on the first, feint seeds of a national Gay movement, kindled by persecution, fear, and finally, the incredible and unlikely defeat of Proposition 6, an initiative to ban homosexuals from working in the public school system. Like any other witch-hunt, the story of Harvey Milk's rise to become the country's first elected gay official in the face of opposition from the country's Christian Right, is all too-familiar, particularly as we celebrate the nation's first black President. But California's November 2008 vote for Proposition 8, which overturned a state Supreme Court's decision to uphold the legality of same-sex marriage, suggests that although benchmarks come and go, the fight for equality and justice for all continues. Milk raises the importance of activism at every level. Progress begins with one brave or heroic person, driven by passion and injustice -- whether it's Rosa taking the seat, MLK's making a speech, or a guy called Harvey Milk deciding that he just couldn't take it any more. It only takes one person to start the noise, but it takes a moral majority to turn that noise into a cacophony and take the cause to the finish line. Milk is a must-see because it offers a universal truth about something incredibly fundamental, that we take very much for granted -- our civil rights -- and the message is loud and clear, that there, but for the grace of god, go we, be it black, white, Jewish, Moslem, Christian, male, female, or any group that has endured, or will endure persecution. No person should sit in judgement of another, let alone ratify that judgement as law of the land. In a world gone awry, with the Taliban on the rise and our basic rights and freedoms under assault from yet another form of fanaticism -- there are so many, pick your evil -- this movie could not have come at a better time.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Small Change

My eight-year old daughter commented quite casually yesterday afternoon that little had changed since President Obama was sworn in on Tuesday. "Not that big a difference," she said, as one who might be assessing our household budget or monitoring the impact of our nation's foreign policy on a daily basis only to find it wanting two days after the administration change. And it struck me that as an ADD, Web-addicted, information-overloaded society we have  come to expect instantaneous results from everything, be it our medical tests (do I have the disease or don't I?) to that plane that surfed the Hudson last week -- behavior moulded on a diet of video games, sensational headlines, and an  American Idol philosophy in which talent can trump time spent honing that talent. And when those who provide this information are in such a rush to get it out, surely something gets lost in the mix? Time was when there was time. Real time. Without the immediate access we are afforded by our 24-7 technology. And so, as we examine every facial tic, mispronounced syllable, incorrect syntax and nuance of the Inauguration, from beginning to end, and we chronicle, examine, and analyze every second of the our new President's waking moments, I have a strong compunction to turn off the radio, put the newspaper away and steer clear of the TV for a day or two and hope that, by the end of the week, there will be some real news to report. As for change -- let's not be impractical here. You have to clean the house before you can decorate it, after all, and this is one filthy dwelling that will require so much more than one guy with the world's biggest mop.