Wednesday, December 26, 2007

buttons and blogs

There's a button on my kitchen counter that is driving me mad. It is an unremarkable button in every respect. Small, mottled brown and white, it appears intended for a shirt collar or pocket, about which I have no direct knowledge. I've no idea where it came from other than it has never been attached to any garment that I've ever owned, although no doubt it was helpfully provided by the Chinese manufacturer in a quaint nod to tradition; to the old days when a lost button would be replaced and hand sewn by it's owner to great personal satisfaction. I have sewn many a button to shirt and skirt over the years, but none in recent memory. Come to think about it, I buy a lot of fastening-less garments these days ~ sweaters, tees, scarves. Shoes. The only thing that requires structured enclosures are jeans, and those are more like industrial grade metal rivets than buttons. And when one of those things comes off your pants, well, let's face it; out they go, and off you go. To Jenny Craig or Trimspa, or Elaine's Everlasting Elastic Emporium.

But there it sits , day after day, unobtrusively insistent against the shiny white porcelain tile. Dutifully, I wipe around it every night, shifting it's place; today next to my purse, the one with the graffiti-patterned fabric; tomorrow, alongside the unpaid bills and errant parking tokens; the next, letting it slip unceremoniously under the myriad newspaper clippings about art shows and travel deals long since passed. But which I might find useful. Someday.

When I was a kid my mother had a round tin full of buttons of every shape, size and color. I used to love to plunge my hand into the middle of the tin; to hear the crisp clickety-clack of impact and feel the cool polished smoothness of the individual disks as they tumbled through my fingers. It was like plunging your hand into a bottomless well of M&M candies, and just as pleasurable. Almost as pleasurable. Sort of pleasurable. I wonder whatever happened to that tin. I must look for Mom's button tin.

It would be a simple enough matter, of course, just to pick up my current lost button and put it in it's place, which is a shoe box in the top drawer of the guest room dresser. Surely it would be happy there with it's dozens of orphaned kin, awaiting eventual placement or my demise, whichever should come first, and I think we all know which one that will be. Or I could simply throw it away, which is what it warrants and of course what any reasonable person would do.

I do not. For I know, as you cannot, that no sooner will the garbage truck pull away from the curb than the phone will ring with a friend inviting us to dine at a marvelous restaurant that is serving goose for the holidays but requires a proper jacket for men, and my husband will holler that he can't, nay, won't go because his favorite shirt for his best jacket is missing the third button from the top and nothing else is clean and really, who needs to go out for goose for the holidays anyway? We'll catch our friend next time. And I will be disconsolate, because of course I need to go out for goose for the holidays and all.

Or I will be listening to the news and there will be a big story about how a local woman found the last small mottled brown and white button in existence and it was discovered to be the actual missing button from King Tutankhamen's' very own 501s, and today it sold at auction for 11 billion dollars and 14 cents. And she is going to use the money to buy an RV and an Xbox for her grandkids, and maybe feed a couple of homeless. And I will die knowing that that should have been me. Feeding the homeless and all.

My blog shares much in common with my button these days. It sits here gathering dust, it's origin but dimly recalled. With nowhere to go and no promises to keep it is content to languish, awaiting my command. I should file it or toss it, but of course I won't. For I know, as you cannot, that no sooner will I hit delete than the phone will ring and events will transpire that I will want to write about. Or nothing will happen and I will simply feel like sitting here, listening to a KJzz tribute to Oscar Peterson on my low tech little Craig, chattering on aimlessly about buttons and M&Ms and why don't I ever sew anything anymore? So I guess that for now I'll just wipe around it, shift it in it's place, and let it await my leisure.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

your call is important to us

***** Sylvia by Nicole Hollander

As we speak, I am sitting on hold with the good people of Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0, or rather with their on-hold musical selections, which today consist of an easy listening jazz trumpet and canned percussion accompaniment, which is really just jazz without the, you know, jazz. It is relatively inoffensive, however, which is a very good thing, as I have been on hold now for 19 minutes. It is quite an improvement, in fact, over yesterday's 29 minute-long veritable concert, not counting brief intermissions wherein I spoke to a technician before being sent back to said concert, which appeared to be some sort of Austrian marching band recital....

And I can't believe it I just got
fucking cut off!

Pardon me while I redial. Ah, there's my music. ~~Tall and tan and young and lovely, dit doo di dodo dit dada nana...

Where were we? Oh yes. Adobe Photoshop ~ the company, the customer service, the cliche'. To paraphrase Kanye, Adobe Systems does not care about people.

Now, I am a patient woman, truly I am. I understand that things go wrong and when they do it takes time to fix them. I will sit glued to this chair, staring into this computer screen for hours, days even, working on projects that interest me. And even some that kinda don't but I need to finish them anyway, just because I'm obsessive that way. The point is, I'm patient. I'm cool. I'm Zen.

I'm pissed.

Let the record show that I started writing this post at 2:00pm, after I'd already been on hold for 19 minutes, and before I was cut off. It is 2:29. There is simply no excuse for this level of customer contempt. ....

Phone answered! Issues discussed. John the Technician Guy is flummoxed. After a rocky start (my fault entirely) we are bonding, and I can tell he is impressed by the complexity and seriousness of my problem. He has gone off to research. I
am on hold. It is 2:42pm. I think I will upload a picture.

~~ Do di doo dit doo di doo....

3:25pm. John has done all that he can do. The problem, he has concluded and I am forced to concur, is with my operating system; the OS that Shall Not Be Named. I will suffer no gloating on the subject from those not similarly afflicted. Tomorrow, I look forward to hearing the musical styling preferences of the good people at HP, Windows and possibly Fry's electronics.

Now, I am finally off to the gym, where I will no doubt want to take issue with the Cell Phone People. Blood may be shed. Namaste.

~~ Do dit doo dit doo shah nah na ...

Sunday, November 04, 2007

con qué soñaste anoche'?

God, I hope that's Spanish.

I've written a few times in the past about how much I enjoy Mexico's Dia de los Muertos festivities; that wondrous time when the veil is lifted, the dead travel freely, families welcome their departed loved ones back into their homes and visit the graves of their missing kin with offerings of love and celebration. Everyone gets to see dead people, or at least assume their presence, and a fine time is had by all. I'd been toying with the idea of building an altar of my own all year long; part art project, part spirit quest; very much about recycling that cabinet that's been sitting around my garage for ages. You know, the red one; the one with 'spirit altar' written all over it. And then I had a dream last night about hanging pictures.

Specifically, it was about hanging a particular picture, one which has been sitting on my dresser since the furniture from my mother's apartment arrived, along with several boxes of her belongings. I propped it up over her jewelry cabinet, thinking it would be nice to keep them together in my bedroom. But I didn't hang it. For some reason it seemed important that I get it's exact placement right, and I'd put off making this relatively benign decision until, apparently, last night.

As my mother tells it, when my father came home from the war he was not the same man who had left. The handsome, gay charmer with the twinkling blue eyes and easy smile who had sent home handmade gifts and cheerful love letters returned a silent and morose stranger; one who sat staring grimly out the living room window for hours on end, immobilized by visions and memories he would not or could not share. Not knowing what to do but desperate to bring him out of himself, she came home one day and handed him some tubes of oil paint and a few brushes. He'd never painted before in his life, although he'd always been clever with a pencil. And he painted a picture.

On the back of the canvas he wrote "Life's Sunset," adding, 'my first painting'. Mom cherished that picture, claiming that the little old woman in the ancient wood was her, and that Dad was painting the future. I suppose in a way he was. The picture hung in the entryway of every house they ever lived in
together, and then in the one she lived alone.

I don't know what took me so long to figure it out. So when I woke up this morning I got a hammer and a nail (and a pencil and a ruler, because that's just how I roll) and hung the painting where it belongs. By the front door, where the little old lady of the wood can meet and greet all who cross the threshold. As it should be.
Dulces sueños. Sweet dreams.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

do not go gentle into that AARP night

They just won't leave me alone, that American Association of Retired Persons.

I, who only yesterday was proudly proffering my driver's license to incredulous teenagers in order to prove my eligibility to buy beer down at the local market, am now being hounded to join an organization that wants to save me money on car insurance and burial plots. Why, I ask you? It's not like I'm getting any better at driving. Just last week I tried to pull away from the pump with the hose still attached, something I've never done before in my life. And I'm not even blond. If anything, I'm getting worse with age. That's me, DWL; Driving While Lame, all over the place.

And now that I think about it, maybe it really was yesterday that I got carded at the market. But that the cashier was actually an elderly, somewhat surprised Korean lady. And that I was buying sake, not beer, for reasons that escape us all at the moment. And that have absolutely no connection to the aforementioned hose-theft incident, I can assure you.

The point is that they're persistent, these old people, wanting to jump me into their pernicious little gang whether I'm inclined to the lifestyle or not. I'm certain that some night, when I least expect it, they'll surround me in their walkers and threaten me with canes. They'll take me out to an Early Bird Special somewhere, get me drunk on a potent yet mysteriously drinkable cocktail of Metamucil, Celebrex, Grey Goose and stool softeners and the next thing I know, I'll be waking up at 6 am to check out a sale on polyester pants down at the WalMart and eagerly waiting for Matlock to come back into rotation on TV Land. I'll eat hard candy and donuts and slowly grow soft and amiable. This vision of my future scares me a lot. Especially the amiable part.

In the September Issue of Harper's Bazaar, Rita Wilson (A Size 8 in a Size 0 World) refers to the "creeping obesity" that befalls many women in middle age.

"Ah, yes, my precious. This is what happens naturally as we age. First it's a gain of one pound one year, then another next year, and before you know it, you have put on 10 pounds."

Rita goes on to conclude that she is happy with who and what she is, and if I were Rita I would be too. Rita Wilson is wealthy and beautiful and wise. I am not Rita. I am middle class, plain and frankly not very bright. I have put on 14 pounds in 2 years, my eyelids are drooping ferociously in their mutual race to the ground and my jowls seem to have developed ~ okay, wait a minute, when the hell did I develop jowls? Jowls now? Really? Oh, for the love of...

The point is, is self-acceptance does not work for me. It plays too much into my natural tendency toward laziness and sloth. In fact, I've been indulging in way too much self-acceptance lately. Don't feel like reading that lengthy article on Myanmar? Don't bother; nobody cares what you think, and what're you gonna do about it anyway? Looky ~ here's a piece on Britney's New Lips! Let's read that.

Getting fat? Oh, so what; you're old! Enjoy that bag of Trader Joe's Hawaiian chips, parked there on the couch watching reruns of America's Next Top Model. Can't be bothered to put on makeup in the morning because it keeps seeping into those giant cracks? Easy; stop looking in the mirror. Nobody cares what you look like. They never did. Give it up. Grow up. Have a cookie.

Fear works for me. Fear of being judged unattractive, unappealing, unlovable. Fear of being marginalized in a world that values women more for beauty than brains. Fear of growing old in a society that worships youth above all and relegates those that succumb to it's inevitability with grace to second class status. Fear is what gets me to the gym and keeps me from indulging my every gastronomical desire. Fear is my only self-discipline. It is what keeps me from staggering over the line into a state of total personal anarchy.

The papers are full of studies indicating that, as long as they maintain their health, people actually seem to get happier as they grow older. It seems they become less anxious, more accepting of themselves and others. They mellow. And this, I would argue, is how I know that I am not yet old enough to join the good people of AARP. I lack the requisite mellow. As Woody Allen once said, if I get too mellow, I ripen and then I rot. And nobody needs to see that.

So while I appreciate the interest AARPies, I am not yet ready to join your happy little gang. But keep those cards and letters coming. Maybe if we could just get some really cool tattoos...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

they call the winds Santa Ana

The 16 firestorms that have been sweeping California are for the most part under control, and we were extremely fortunate in that we were never in any danger. Today the skies maintain an eerie orange cast and the air has the acrid stench of smoldering destruction. This quickie video was taken with my trusty little Canon Elph over the back patio three days ago, when the hot, dry winds were blowing 50 to 80 miles an hour through the canyons, ripping a heavy canvas off the (closed) umbrella, knocking down potted plants and trees and generally rocking the walls of the house.

To his endless credit, Hootie the Plastic Guard Owl (who ain't never caught a rabbit but is still a friend of mine) never left his post. He remains there to this day, intimidating not even the most skittish of bunnies and reptiles.

Later things got really hairy.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

still life sewing table

October has always been my favorite month of the year. No matter where I've lived across the country, I've always managed to experience it as a golden time ~ amber and ruby-splashed trees, vibrant against sparkling cobalt skies; the air ever crisp with the scent of burning leaves and coming winter chill. That beauty will forever be tinted by sadness now, as maybe it always was, for it was a year ago today that we lost my sweet mother. I was therefore not unhappy to awaken to find that gray skies and a light drizzle had replaced the ubiquitous California sunshine ~ I prefer it when my internal and external landscapes combine to form a unified whole , and I always enjoy the company of ghosts in the rain. I spent the hours peacefully, painting on my little patio, protected from the damp.

I ran into a lot of trouble though, mostly having to do with color. I couldn't find the shade of pink I wanted for the floral highlights, nor the desired tone for the table's shadowed areas. I struggled with the essence of the Happy Buddha, casting a possibly fatal shadow upon his continuing joy. Muddy the pigment, spoil the mood. Somehow, I just couldn't find it.

But I'd taken a photograph of this grouping a few weeks ago because I loved the way the late afternoon sun playing through the lace curtains scattered long, eggy ovals of yellow and gold across my mother's sewing table. And I wanted to capture the way light seemed to come from within the vase itself to dissolve it's material boundaries.

I didn't quite hit my marks. I tend to overwork things and I'm trying to let that go. But there'll be other dancing, eggy-yellow globes and glowing turquoise vases after all, and the more you try the better you get. Or so I'm told. In the meantime, I enjoyed a wistful, rainy day custom made for music and melancholy, and for just a few hours material boundaries were, perhaps, transcended.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

geek like me

I have just spent the last 2 or 3 hours of the last 2 or 4 days, of the last 3 or 5 weeks of the past 6 or 7 months online with tech support. I do mean every flavor of tech support: Microsoft, Dell, hp customer service; AT&T sbc. The Af of L CIO; SPCA, PETA, FICA, Fema, Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers. As you can see, I am giddy with enlightenment.

So here, in the last 5 minutes of the total 15 minutes of online time that I have managed today I offer everything that I have learned in this, my 8 month, give or take, long tutorial.

There was nothing all that much wrong with my old computer, except perhaps that it was a little slow and old. Now, after a clean reinstall it's running well enough to service all the web browsing, intel needs of Homeland Security. And probably every bit as secure.

There is nothing wrong with my new Hewlett Packard computer. Nor the new Vista program with which it came burdened, I mean bundled. There is, of course, something very wrong with me. I too am a little slow, a little old. And came bundled with a pointlessly enigmatic operating system.

There is nothing wrong with my AT&T dsl service. No one really knows why I cannot get or stay connected on a consistent basis. It's inexplicable, like Paris Hilton or gay Republicans. Whatever the problem is, it is nothing that constantly 'refreshing' the setting and turning on and off the modem and security programs will not cure. I am told.

Most of all, I have learned that the good people of Upper Supportekiztahn are an uncommonly hardworking and almost pathologically polite bunch; so much so that I fear armed guards are standing by ready to pistol whip the first person who fails to assure me that none of this is my fault. Truly, their patience in the face of some staggering technical ignorance is nothing short of heroic, and I will hear nothing against them. As I learned from my good friend Joseph at...well, I'm not really sure which support service anymore; to be frank, by now I'm pretty much dialing random numbers and asking for help. The fire department was nice, although Mrs. McNulty got decidely testy.

Anyway, I discovered I was calling Joseph at 2:00am his time, which was close to the end of his shift. From his (undisclosed) office location he was planning to take the company transport for the 1 1/2 hour ride home.

At around 10:00 am he would leave for the university, where he is studying for a degree in something called 'commerce'. Afterwards, he would make the 1 1/2 hour journey back to work, there to spend long hours on the phone telling people like me to turn off their modems; click on 'run'; open Control Panel and reset the winsock; input number

Honestly, in this day and age I feel I should be able to get online just by clicking my heels three times and saying "there's no place like home." I'm willing to do a little chanting. That's it.

Waiting for my computer to reboot, Joseph and I discuss my desire to visit the Taj Majal, which he encourages, although he seems mystified by my interest in the River Ganges. I hope, even as I say it, that the Ganges is actually in India. Suddenly, I feel so American.

The next day I learned from my friend Guarven that August 15th is India's Independence day ~ I could hear the party in the background. Last Tuesday I learned from Dawn that yes, the Ganges is in fact in India, and that no one in tech support is ever allowed to reveal the exact location of their offices. How very Cheneyesque, I thought, although I did not mention this to Dawn. I think Joseph would have gotten it, though ~ oh, how we would have laughed! I find myself missing Joseph. I wonder what his number is.

Sorry ~ didn't mean to ramble on so, although of course it's not my fault. (*Note to self; call tech support for rewrite.) I think the problem's fixed now. Thank god summer's over. Time for this geek to go outside and play.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

just a cock-eyed, slightly depressed optimist

Found the quiz at Cynthia's. To the surprise of no one, my world view is based on a philosophy best contemplated whilst smoking cigarettes and drinking absinthe-laced coffee in the dimly lit interiors of Parisian cafes.

You scored as Existentialist. Existentialism emphasizes human capability. There is no greater power interfering with life and thus it is up to us to make things happen. Sometimes considered a negative and depressing world view, your optimism towards human accomplishment is immense. Mankind is condemned to be free and must accept the responsibility.











Cultural Creative






Fair enough, although I believe the phrase "...your optimism towards human accomplishment is immense" should be changed to "...your optimism towards human accomplishment is confused." I'm pretty sure one can't be a cheerful existentialist. At least not sober.

Once again, I am unclear on the concept.

What is Your World View?

created with

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

my blue kitchen

Poor Mom. I spent an unexpectedly cool and overcast Sunday last week working on her portrait. We've been having a bit of a go at each other for months now.

The problem is that I can't seem to capture a particular quality in her smile. Most (real) artists tend to avoid overt, opened mouthed grins, the kind best left captured in photographs, and for good reason ~ that split second of joy so easily caught by pixel or film can, in the hands of the wrong person, become a frozen, deadened grimace on canvas.

These are the hands of the wrong person.

Working from a recent photograph and determined to preserve a certain sweetness in her countenance (there was more there, but I started the picture in the first throws of grief, and must be forgiven an element of sentimentality) I painted her at first beaming broadly. Too broadly, I'm afraid, because the longer I worked the more her expression took on a somewhat demented aspect. By which I mean she looked crazy.

So I painted her mouth a little softer. Too softly, because in time I came to realize that she looked a little wistful. By which I mean she looked depressed. And who wants to go through that for eternity?

And on it went ~ loony laugh/woeful pout. Smooshy paint. And I began to wonder if this is less about me as an unskilled painter (although it is certainly that) and more about me trying to create a form of everlasting life for my mother. I want to paint her into an eternity of smiling bliss; to guarantee her happiness with gay dashes of red and yellow, banishing forever all the subtler hues of indigo and grey that too were a part of her life; all of our lives, in fact, and that need to be acknowledged, with all their implied whispers of mourning and regret.

I know that to deny this is neither sensible nor desired. I know that this is what makes makes portraits devoid of life and passion; it is what separates the kitsch from the real. And she would want it all out there. But I seem to want to make it prettier. Better. For me.

Then again, maybe this is just how I choose to remember her. Pink. Bright. Happy.

And so it goes ~ week after week of painting mom's smile in and out until, somewhere in this alternative universe, she doesn't know whether to laugh or cry. Somewhere, I have finally managed to make my mother bipolar.

At last I put Mom aside and finished a little picture I'd started well over a year ago (2? 3?) ~ meant to be a quick, cheerful study of the kitchen table where an old friend and I had once sat on a cool gray winter afternoon, drinking wine and nibbling bits of fruit and cheese. Catching up on lives once close, but now lived 3000 miles apart.

So much for quick. But it is cheerful. A little cartoon-y. I don't mind. It will always remind me of my friend and how warm we felt sharing that cozy winter day. Mercifully, the smiles need only be implied.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

I've made my big, giant bed I must lie in it. Que sera, sera.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

cranky update

My Dear Jon letter just came back from the Post Office marked Undeliverable: No Mail Receptacle. I mailed it to the store address. I cannot find another.

It must be stated for the record that it says clearly on the bill that "Generally, it is not our policy to refund or exchange purchases. However, in the event that a refund or exchange is approved, a 15% restocking fee will apply."

It is our contention that an exchange was approved. Unfortunately, I started yelling at the "customer service rep" as soon as the words "We never agreed to exchange the platform free of charge, but I can give you a discounted price of $150 on one..." were out his mouth.

"Well, now you're just lying!" I sputtered, adding "this is outrageous!" and, "I can no longer deal with you!" at a very unladylike volume before handing the phone to my husband, who listened silently and closed with, "I'm going to contact Consumer Affairs and get back to you."

Now I find that dear Jon hasn't even read of my righteous, if sputtering anger, and I cannot be trusted to get back on the phone without flying off the handle. Turk refuses to place a call, saying that they have already made their decision clear and, as they are not legally obligated to make good on their offer of a fair exchange there is nothing more we can do.

He is right, of course.

Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc.
1 Ashley WayArcadia, WI 54612WI
Tel. 608-323-3377

Ron Wanek, Chairman

August 19, 2007

Dear Mr. Wanek,

I am writing to you regarding a recent negative experience we had in making a purchase at your [southern California] location.

We had occasion to buy a full-sized mattress and box spring for our guest room bedroom on August 2, 2007. Soon after receiving the delivery, it was clear we had made a mistake; not only was the mattress (a Simmons Sleeper’s Choice, Wyden Plush model) not two-sided , as we had thought, but the box spring caused the bed to sit too high on the headboard, which is a vintage mid-century design and considerably lower to the floor than contemporary styles. The headboard simply disappeared behind the mattress.

Knowing that the height issue was the result of our mistake, we fully expected to have to pay a 15% ‘restocking’ charge and lose the cost of delivery. The mattress set is in the guest room, and as yet unused. What we did not expect was to be treated with such contempt by the customer service department.

Not only were we consistently lied to by the salesman, the ‘co-owner’ Jon and his ‘customer service’ representative regarding a lot of nonsense about state law forbidding such returns, but we were told that an offer made by Jon to substitute a lower platform for the mattress at no additional charge never happened. In my experience, it is not good business to call your customers liars and cheats.

I understand that each store is individually owned and operated. I am writing to you because we were unable to get satisfaction from the individuals with whom we were dealing, and because as founder and chairman you may have interest in the public face of the company you founded. It benefits no one when customers are insulted, and complaints allowed to go unresolved.

Enclosed is a copy of the letter sent to the local owner, to which there has been no reply.


Monday, August 20, 2007

on becoming a crank

It has been said that while one satisfied customer will tell 2 or 3 people, a dissatisfied customer will tell 10 or 12. A dissatisfied customer with a blog will tell....OK, in my case I'm still just telling 10. But it feels good anyway.

open letter to Jon, co-owner - Ashley Furniture Homestore

August 16, 2007

Dear Jon,

As I have been unable to reach you by phone, I wanted you to know that I have contacted the Department of Consumer Affairs, Bureau of Home Furnishings regarding the law cited by you, your salesman and your 'customer service' representative that you cannot accept returns on mattresses and/or box springs; I believe the words your rep used were that he "cannot even have them in the warehouse, legally."

This is patently untrue. There is no such law in the state of California. The law does require that you sanitize and relabel such returns before re sale, but there is unequivocally no law that states that you cannot take them back. Frankly, when asked about the validity of your claims the Department of Consumer Affairs representative laughed out loud. While I understand that you do not wish to lose any profits from a sale, presumably the restocking fee is designed to be at least partial compensation for such a return. But the premise that you can't accept a return by law is one thing; the fact that you do not wish to is quite another.

I find your business practices slick and misleading. What we were asking for is fair and reasonable. Furthermore, to be told by your representative that you never offered to exchange the platform without further charge is, as we all know, untrue.

Needless to say, my husband and I are very displeased with your company, your service, and your level of commitment to your customers. I hope that this meager sale was worth the considerable ill will it has created. Having been in business myself for over 30 years, I somehow doubt it very much.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

once upon a mattress

Mom's furniture arrived a few weeks ago, and although I have not yet had much time to deal with it I am glad it's here. It is beautiful. It is Mom. I'm happy that it is in my home.

A couple of weeks ago, expecting dinner (not overnight) guests but still wanting the room to have some semblance of presentablity, my husband and I went to the Ashley Furniture HomeStore in our area and selected a full size Simmons mattress set to be delivered the following week; too late for our guests but no one, we were assured, would have been able to deliver earlier.

When the mattress set arrived, the delivery guys tossed the box spring and the mattress onto the bed frame. And my lovely Heywood Wakefield headboard, polished over a half a century to a glossy amber hue, promptly disappeared.
It seems that the sleek, low-slung furniture of the 20th century was not designed to accommodate the over-sized, plumped-up lushness of the 21st. My husband came back after the deliverymen left to find me staring at 23" of bedding looming, in all it's glorious plushness astride a 21" frame. We burst out laughing.
We're not laughing anymore.
When we tried to return the set, we were told by the salesman that they could exchange the box for a lower platform, which would reduce the height by a possible 3". No mention of additional charges were made. It was a reasonable solution to a problem, which after all, had been our mistake.

Then the salesman said, "We can't take it back. It isn't store policy. It's the law."

I should have kept my mouth shut. I could have kept my mouth shut. But something happens when people lie to me. I have little control over it; I swear it's physiological ~ the hairs on my neck stand on end, the blood rushes to my face, my heart starts pounding and my breath gets shallow. It has nothing to do with the nature of the lie, it's relative importance to me, my life or the person telling it ~ I don't even have to know for sure that it's a lie, just a vague suspicion that it is. Something in my brain clicks off and I see red. And then I don't have the sense to leave it alone.

"Well, that's not true," I said. Mildly, I thought. It was just a statement of fact.

The salesman, Ron, who had seemed so congenial a few days ago, immediately went on the offensive.
"So now you just want to return it? Now you just want your money back?"

"Well, now...yeah. All of a sudden I feel like I have no other options. O.K. I guess that is what I want." I looked at Turk. He nodded. From a safe distance.

"Well, we can't do that. I told you. It's against the law. You don't believe me? I'll let you talk to one of the owners." He strode angrily to the front of the store. "Wait here," he said.

The co-owner, who seemed affable enough, introduced himself as Jon and listened politely to our story. We told him that we understood store policy (printed on the receipt) indicated that there was a 15% restocking fee charged for returns and that we knew we would lose the delivery charge, but that we didn't want the set and that we didn't understand how this had gone so far as to be confrontational. He said that his customer service person, who was not on site, would call us the next day with a list of options. He was friendly but firm.

"We can't take it back," he said. "I can't even have it on the premises. It's against the law. It's not worth my losing my business license over."
We left the store.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

just changin' the profile

There'll be a change in the weather,

a change in the sea.

Before long there'll be a change in me.

My walk will be diff'rent,

my talk and my name,

Ain't nothin' about me is gonna to be the same.

I'm goin' to change my way of livin', boys,

(if) that ain't enough,

Well then I'll change the way I strut my stuff,

Nobody wants you when you're old and gray.

There'll be some changes made to-day.

There'll be some changes made.

~ Words Billy Higgins and Music by W.B. Overstreet

Always loved that song. Time again to live it.

* 3:35 update ~ oops. Now I lost both profile pics. D'oh!

* 4:46 update ~ finally got it. Now I don't like it. Looks like the wrong size. Now I must change back.

What a Homer.

Friday, August 10, 2007

everybody knows your name

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I am a huge, dweeby, recite-entire-episodes from memory, stalker-quality fan of the The Simpsons. Naturally, like all rabid Simpson lovers I have always harbored a secret desire to be Simpsonized ~ what's good enough for Liz Taylor, Tony Blair and Thomas Pynchon et al is certainly good enough for me.

And now, thanks to Burger King and the very clever
Cynthia, I have!

I am over the moon.

Now, see how easy that was? So hop on over to Springfield. I'll meet you down at Moe's ~ the d'ohs and the Duffs are on me.

Monday, August 06, 2007

dropping in to say hey

I'm not sure that graphic will be big enough to see so here's a link. I can never seem to get anything large enough in here. Don't know why. But I love The Woman Who's Easily Peeved ~ why, it's practically like looking in the mirror. Nicole Hollander is my hero. She draws all my rants so I don't have to ~ what a time saver! And gives me a bigger laugh than I deserve in the process. Brilliant.

A few months ago I had an idea that it might be fun to try an experiment. I wanted to see if I could discipline myself enough to write a post everyday.

It didn't have to be big, or good, or illustrated. Just a wee poor thing, if that be all, but at least a nod. A nod to the blog.

Regardless of how busy or how rushed I was. Without consideration of form, subject, punctuation or prose.

No matter how inane or trivial the topic. Heedless of how clever or dull-witted I felt ~ drunk or sober, I would write. Something. Anything.

I think it's going well so far.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I hate a maudlin post

So I went ahead and wrote one.

Going back to Houston for the first time since my mother's death was a profoundly sad affair, and it's been awhile since I felt like coming out. I am wary of writing too often of the deeply personal online; the self-absorption of grief, in particular, does not translate well in such a public forum. Too often indulged it makes for a dreary blog, however earnest; overlong and unimpeded by humor or perspective, it's a bit of a slog.

Fair warning.

I went back to Texas to help begin the process of sorting out the apartment my mother kept in my brother's home, and arranging for the dispersal of her things. Most problematically, I was trying to figure out the best way to transport her beloved Heywood Wakefield bedroom furniture to California. Mom had purchased this lovely set, with it's clean, modern lines and beautiful blonde wood as a newlywed and cherished it all of her life. She taught me to do the same, and now it is to be mine.

I thought I had adjusted to our loss, more or less, and was coping in a quite-nearly adult fashion. But being there, sleeping in her apartment, sifting through the accumulated souvenirs of a long life, well-lived was to become once again immersed in the profound grief I experienced at her death. This, I suppose, is the cruelty of absence in the presence of the tangible ~ she was everywhere, yet nowhere.

My mother kept every little note, every letter, every missive ever sent to her. Every card my brother crayoned, every doodle drawn on scrap paper was there. In a shoebox labeled "memory box" was an entire series of pictures I'd done on flip cards; apparently, they were meant to viewed as a kind of 'moving picture' and seemed to be telling the tale of two friends who dressed like twins and went on adventures. There was much crying and laughter in the series, a few adults and many changes of clothes. The twins dressed well. I actually remember drawing these, although not the enigmatic plot line. On the box my mother had written, "Gigi ~ Age 5!" with evident pride.

Most touching and illuminating were the myriad notes and letters that passed between my parents. There are 78 rpm (?) recordings sent from 'Your man in Service.' He drew her pictures; she wrote him cheery thanks. From decades later is a banner he must have hung for her reading, in the elegant handwriting of another age, "Happy Anniversary ~ 1939 -1986 ~ love forever, Freddie." Somehow, I cannot bear to think about how much in love they were, for how long, and how little I understood of that. For a while there, they always seemed to be fighting. For a while, it always seemed to be about me.

The story of their many failed attempts at adoption are there in the form of legal documents: local babies, "Negro-Korean" orphans; children from Germany, children from France. Children from anywhere. So much longing, so much promise, so much love. In the end, they got us. The burden of knowing how often and how deeply I disappointed them is, at this time, nearly unbearable. It breaks my heart all over again.

There is still much to do; Mom was clearly nothing if not a saver and there are still boxes and boxes in my brother's attic and closets to go through. So I'll be back.

And because I adore my family and love to see them, in time I would like to be able to return to their home without bringing with me this sorrow; without packing this blanket regret that I fear I am wearing like a hair shirt. I have always taken full responsibility for my life as lived, and gladly so. Now I must accept the lessons of the past, let go
of old guilt and concentrate on the joy that is, after all, my true inheritance. Que sera, sera.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

orange lanterns

"Orange is red brought nearer to humanity by yellow."
~ Wassily Kandinsky

I painted these Japanese lanterns from an ad ripped out of a magazine some time ago. I was trying to work on getting some intensity from my watercolors without letting them get thick and muddled, as is my wont. And because I just thought that they were pretty. The days are so wretchedly hot now ~ I can't bring myself to work outside, and oils are too messy for the available space indoors. So maybe underwatercolor is a good place for me to be. It sounds so cool and refreshing.

But not yet. Tomorrow I leave for Houston, where I'll be enjoying the same heat I'm sweltering in here, only Texas style, with higher hair and humidity. Which means that I'll be sweating and swearing like a cowgirl for the next ten days or so. If I survive, see you when I get back. If not, stay cool. In fact, stay cool anyway. I need to hit the gym and go pack my good jeans. Maybe I'll catch you later. Underwater...

Saturday, June 30, 2007

the art of plumbing

It was never our intention to spend our spring holiday driving the bucolic American midlands counting cows, drinking beer and sampling local cheeses.

Our original plan was to be sailing the Greek Isles, counting Olympic deities, drinking ouzo and dancing in happy circles while smashing plates on the floor. Unfortunately, events conspired against us on the home front forcing an abrupt change of direction, and thus it was that we found ourselves standing, not before the throne room of the Palace at Knossos but here, in Wisconsin, contemplating the throne room of the Design Center of Kohler.

And quite a sight it was.

Turk had wanted to visit the Design Center in anticipation of remodeling the guest bath which, like it's owner, is sorely in need of a face lift. I went along with the idea, expecting it to be about as interesting as a trip to Home Depot. I could not have been more wrong.

It was 36,000 square feet of pure enchantment, and I found myself falling in love with plumbing fixtures in a way that bordered on the indecent. I wanted to have an intimate relationship with these bathrooms; to whisper sweet nothings to these kitchens whose glamour and beauty surpassed anything I'd witnessed before. I wanted to marry these appliances and whisk them and their magical environments home, where they would transform my world. I was smitten.

Weather it was the baroque beauty of the Marie Antoinette Versailles-inspired apartment, the clever insouciance of a beachy bathroom loft or the cheeky allure of a bejeweled little bedazzler all tarted up for a night on the town, I was lost in a dream of how life was meant to be lived. In full color. With hand painted sinks, fancy fixtures and excellent water pressure.

A group of about six of us stood in awed wonder before a shower, each taking turns to press the button that would cause a waterfall to come thundering down, adding to the eleven jets already shooting forcefully away. Like a small group of Aborigines seeing an airplane for the first time, we laughed and pointed in amazement, fairly clapping with glee. A shower like that could make a grown man cry, cause a woman leave her husband. A child would almost certainly need to take swimming lessons.

A little over $7 grand and it could be ours. Nothing would have made me happier.

"Want to put it in the guest bath?" I asked my husband.

"Only if we promise never, ever to have any guests," he whispered.

I have to admit, I have been in art galleries I haven't enjoyed half so much. And there was traditional art here too, of the porcelain variety, which I quite liked, as well as early magazine ads diplayed alongside the original oil paintings.

Unabashadly kitsch, I found them nonetheless charming for it, the colors as clear and cheerful as the day they were painted.

In the end I chose my two favorites: what I call the Breakfast at Tiffany's Manhattan kitchen, and the ultimate Absolute Zen bath.

And that is what paradise looks like to me.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

the bitter end

I just got back last night from San Diego, where we spent the weekend attempting to celebrate the tragedy of my continued decline.

We enjoyed ourselves immensely, of course, because that is what one does when there is no other recourse. One dons a clever outfit, checks into a hotel of fading but determined elegance and, martini in hand, remarks gaily on the metaphor.

One then goes on to dine regally on lamb and baby carrots and an excellent Cabernet, and hits the Gas Lamp District of an historic port town. There, one toasts the passing of youth in the company of passing youth with all the dignity an aging good time girl can muster. Oddly enough, this is considerable, as I have decided to be uncharacteristically philosophical in my dotage. Because that's what we old broads do ~ we turn wise. Overnight, in elegant hotels. It happens.

At the irresistibly named Bitter End, a cheerful Turk was making himself quite popular with the local singles, and at one point seemed on the verge of establishing himself as resident matchmaker. I smile benignly, at peace with my role as resident dowager. We will go, he and I, a pair of Elderly Superheroes, travelling from town to town, spreading love and joy and dollar bills coast to coast, uniting young people with appropriate partners and/or soul mates, listening to their tales of woe and dispensing our hard earned wisdom with bon mots and sympathetic ears. I order a Guinness and enjoy the warm glow that comes from selflessly doing good solely for the benefit of others. And also from drinking Guinness.

At our favorite romantic spot in Laguna Beach, we dine on the terrace and are disappointed that everyone is already paired up and our presence here is not required. We stay anyway, and reflect on our reflections. It's a Superheroe's Holiday, and we linger past sunset. I stare into the ocean, drinking deeply of breeze and brine. I want to stride out and dive in, spinning and twirling beneath air and sunlight in the cool black blue of unlimited time and space. Just as I always have. I do not feel old. I look old. But I feel timeless.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

sketchbook diaries

Playing around with my new Adobe Elements 5.0 ~ an old sketch with new text addition imposed, thanks to the Miracle that is Photoshop. Several hours and many FCC-banned words later (I swear I still do not get the whole layer issue ~ just do what I tell you to do when I tell you to do it, OK? I'll let you know if I want to change my mind. When I say SAVE, you say HOW MANY? And when I say EDIT, you best let me at the whole text...) I do understand that I could actually just have written on the actual page. With an actual pen. Just as we all do, everyday. Woulda taken' one, two minutes tops. Silly girl, with your silly time-saving devices. When will you ever learn?

Still. What fun would it be if it didn't involve much saving and tossing about of psds, jpgs, bss' and gds?

None, of course. It is what it is. A pleasantly indolent way to recover from yesterday's barbecue. I love my parties.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

in from the cold

"Go down three lights and make a left across the bridge," the bartender was saying. "About two blocks in you'll come to an alley. It's just an alley but don't worry; you go down that alley. Halfway down you'll see a door. It says 'import/export' or something; never mind ~ go in. Inside you won't see a door, but there is one behind the bookcase. Pull the lever, and you're in."

I looked at my husband, eyes wide.

"Oh, we have so got to go there," I whispered. The couple left ~ they did look a little shady, now that I thought about it. I raised an eyebrow and cocked my head. The bartender came over.

"I couldn't help but overhear," I lied, sotto voce, trying to look like someone who could be trusted with a secret. "What is this place you were telling them about?"

"You'll love it," he said. He repeated his instructions.

"Can we walk from here?"


Leaving, I tried to buy a postcard with a picture of Buck Bradley's beautiful bar. With a wink and a nod, the barman insisted instead on giving me a few.

"I love Milwaukee," I told my husband.

"I know, dear," he replied.

Safe house: "A seemingly innocent house or premise established by an intelligence organization for conducting clandestine or covert activities in relative security."
~ CIA intelligence Officer Glossary

We came to the door marked "International Exports Ltd" and entered. Inside we found ourselves in a narrow entryway about the size of an 19th century elevator, surrounded by dusty bookshelves and the assorted paraphernalia of several decades ago; an old phone, an ancient cash register. I think there was a leather chair. I looked at Turk.

"I have no idea," he said. Gazing upward, we looked for a lever hidden somewhere amid the books.

Just then the door opened behind us and a man in a blue baseball cap with a boy of about 6 years of age in tow entered. Walking immediately over to the cash register, he pulled the handle and one of the bookcases swung open, revealing a narrow, winding staircase.

I clapped my hands delightedly. "I used to work here," he said a little sheepishly. Ascending, we entered a parallel universe; one as envisioned by Ian Fleming with a little help from the imagineers at Disney. And maybe a cocktail or two.

Rife with jokes and heavy on visual puns, The Safe House* is a fully realized tribute to the fun and frolic that was the James Bondian version of the Cold War. You either love this sort of thing or you don't. It should come as no surprise to anybody that we are firmly entrenched in the former category.

As we slid onto bar stools, entranced by the map of the world circa 1962, with it's blinking lights and bank of international clocks, the pretty blond bartender tossed a cocktail napkin before us and asked, "What can I get you?"

Looking down, I found myself staring into the smoldering dark eyes of a youthful Sean Connery. "Well, I guess I have to have a vodka martini! Shaken, not stirred," I chirped happily. And immediately regretted it. The chirping, I mean, not the martini. Spies do not chirp. Mata Hari did not chirp.

The pretty blond laughed just as heartily as if she'd never heard it before. That's what I love about the people here. Everyone is just so nice.

We wandered around enjoying the vintage memorabilia ~ heavy black phones, telegraph machines, original art and photographs.

"I want my house to look like this," I told my husband.

He eyed the somehow cheerful clutter. "I think it already does," he replied.

I climbed another narrow stairway, passing a couple of other bars on separate landings to find the Ladies' room.

One should never be discovered laughing all alone in the ladies', so it's probably a good thing that I wasn't. Discovered, I mean.

Behind a red door labeled "Mata Hari's changing room" or some such thing, I stepped through to find myself standing on a tiny enclosed balcony. Pressing a button marked '2 way mirror', I had a clear view of all the goings on in the Magic Bar below ~ a marvelous way to keep an eye on the action. Or your date.

Did I mention that I love this place?

Back in the darkened bar, we realized that the black and white televisions in the corner were projecting images from a surveillance camera trained on that enigmatic little foyer. We watched as, time and time again people entered and stood, mystified, until a light went on in the bar, the bartender would press a button and the bookcase would swing open to the surprised delight of the newcomers. A minute later their heads would appear at the top of the stairs, laughing like kids at Disneyland. I could have stayed there all day.

"I want to live here," I said to my husband.

"I know, dear," he replied. He nodded to the smiling barmaid. "I believe we'll have another round."

Thank you, spy who loved me. I believe we will.
Best Spy Pub ever.

*OK, I love it, but seriously ~ how wrong is it that a safe house has a web site? I'm just sayin'.

Friday, June 08, 2007

pub crawl: Milwaukee

I raised the cold glass to my parched lips and drank deeply of the misty auburn fluid. Holding an orange slice aloft, I turned to my husband.

"You see, it's made from wheat and comes with citrus," I instructed him. "So it's not only tasty, it's actually good for you too."

"Wonderful" he said, hoisting his Miller Lite. "But I like my beer to just sit and be beer."

I bent back the peel and bit into the fruit. Mmm. Liquid sunshine.

We were sitting at the bar of a small collegiate pub in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Last year at about this time we were in the Napa Valley touring wineries, nibbling walnut brie and sipping Pinot Noir; today we thought it would be fun to round out our gastronomic education by noshing kielbasa and quaffing some local Hefeweizen; maybe a lager or two. You know, as long as we were in the neighborhood.

Having left home sans maps or guidebook ("It's Milwaukee, for crissakes; not outer Mongolia! How lost can we get?") we blithely drove past the Tourist Information Centers, which are inconveniently located along all major highways at the border of every single state in the union and are marked with flags and everything but neon lights, but which you will miss every time and your husband will not turn around and go back because "there'll be another just down the road," but of course there won't be, and how is a city girl supposed to even know what to look for in the wilds of Wisconsin, anyway...

I'm sorry. Where was I?

Right. Lost.

Driving down the empty streets of a Saturday-deserted downtown, we decided to point the car in the direction of any large brick building we saw in hopes of scoring a brewery. As it turns out, while these had indeed been breweries at one time, in the spirit of the day they had all been converted to luxury condos and office buildings.

Et tu, Milwaukee?

At one point, a couple of cops in a patrol car watched as I executed a complete circle in the middle of a one-way street and didn't even pull me over.

"They probably heard about me forgetting to pack the maps," Turk observed dryly. Well, perhaps I did rather go on about it. But still. I give him one lousy job to do...

We amused ourselves by singing jingles from old beer commercials.

When we say Schlitz

we really mean beer

'Cos when you're out of Schlitz

you're out of beer!

You don't see them writing 'em like that about a dry Riesling, my friend.

Surprisingly enough, all of this made us thirsty. Now we were watching as a hulking young man of about 6'4'' and 220 banged on the bar and swore.

"Barkeep! Beer me!" he roared. Egged on by his buddies, he was trying to drink his way through the establishment's selection of 100-and-something draft beers, three tasting pours at a time. The challenge was taking it's toll. He stood, legs wide apart, hands splayed flatly on the bar for support. One of his mates took a picture; they laughing, he grinning lopsidedly.

A cute couple came in and sat down corner to us. She had spiked hair and a broad smile; he was sunburned and husky. They were from Minnesota, and they'd driven all the way in for the Twins v Brewers game that afternoon. Turns out, they did this all the time.

"We love your stadium!" she enthused to me.

I demurred. "Oh, it isn't really mine," I said modestly. "We're just visiting. From California."

For a moment they looked sad. Then he nodded and said, "The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim."

It was our turn to look sad. And a little ashamed. I hung my head. Turk shook his.

"Arte Moreno," he all but whispered.

Changing the subject, I asked the bartender where we might find a tour.

"There's a good one just around the corner," he said, gesturing. "Just go out here, make a right and follow the lake. You can't miss it." People are always telling us this. And we usually do. Miss it, I mean.

The giant Beer Guy completed his challenge to great public acclaim, and won a tee shirt for his efforts. We waved goodbye to our new friends and headed out just behind him. Although two of his pals were attempting to support him on each side as he wove his way home, his size proved too much for them and he lurched sideways into the wall, laughing. Whoa! they cried, lurching after him. The ballpark was going to be three seats short of a full house for the big game.

Five minutes later, we pulled up to a massive brick edifice, outside of which a long line of people waited to get in. A woman held up a large sign; Tour Sold Out. I asked when the next one started.

"We're closing early today," she replied. "We have a wedding!" She seemed as surprised as I was.

"Wow! That would not have occurred to me," I said in wonderment. I gazed upward. "That must be some brewery." She nodded.

Disappointed, we headed back to town for a late lunch.

We wandered into Buck Bradley's Saloon and Eatery, home of the "longest bar east of the Mississippi".

"Now this is what I call a handsome bar," said Turk, a connoisseur, as he ran his hand lovingly across the polished surface.

We took a seat and ordered. It was there, over a platter of assorted local cheese and sausages that we overheard the bartender telling another couple about a certain 'safe house'.

Interesting, I thought. I leaned in.