Monday, March 31, 2008

Ingesting Some More with Tunsie

Due to popular demand, our culinary expert is back to ruminate upon all things ingestible. This week, he focuses on items not found on most menus; you can find his musings in the comments section for this post. I'm certain these will dishes made with ingredients not found in my pantry. My pantry contains dry pasta, creamed corn, and fifty different condiments. Make a recipe out of that, Rachael Ray.

Dream of My Mother Shopping

I haven't been using this blog as a personal journal, but that's what this entry will be, because the main thing on my mind this weekend (besides the assembly of porch furniture) has been a dream I had Friday night.

I'm in a the central business district of a small town. The town is surrounded by pristine mountains and fields, and all the buildings are either new or perfectly restored. In fact, I don't see any power or phone lines, and the seeming newness of the buildings combined with the lack of modern clutter makes me think that perhaps I've somehow entered the early 20th century. There is no vehicular traffic; the streets are closed off for some sort of parade or celebration, and in fact are teeming with people wandering about.

I follow the flow of people through the streets and run into my mother; she's walking arm in arm with a much younger friend I've never seen before. The friend appears to be about my age, and for a moment I'm jealous and feel somewhat replaced. "What are you doing here?" I ask. "I didn't expect to see you." My mother replies that she's doing well, and tells me that I really should get myself some pants that fit me. This is how I know it really is my mother. Literally on her deathbed she complained that I never buy pants that fit me correctly.

I tell her I've been worried about her and want to know how she's doing. Even as I'm dreaming I'm not clear whether or not the me in the dream knows that my mother is dead, and so part of the dream is watching the me in the dream interact with my mother, wondering whether or not I know she's dead. "I'm fine where I am," she tells me. "Don't worry about me." I ask her where she's been living, and she points vaguely down the street and says, "Really, we're both fine here. Don't worry about me, Elinor." We become separated from one another and I search the same few blocks for her over and over again, but she's gone and the dream ends.

She died almost a year ago, and this is the first time I've dreamed of her. I'm pretty certain I don't believe in an afterlife, so I'm pretty certain I was simply telling myself that what is, is, and that I'm the one who is doing fine. But if there is anything to the notion that loved one can reach out from beyond, I'm glad that she's in the world of her childhood, shopping.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Employment Journal, Part III

Joan Crawford needs a job. Her name is Mildred Pierce; she's left her husband, and she can't bake enough pies to keep her bratty daughter Veda in piano lessons and expensive frocks. So Joan goes out to pound the pavements of Los Angeles, ending the day with only sore ankles to show for it. Four-inch pumps will do that to you. Joan does the only sensible thing, which is to go to a restaurant for a cup of tea. Spending money is the only remedy for feeling broke, after all. In the restaurant, waitresses are bickering. The place is so understaffed not even Eve Arden can control the chaos. "Can I have a job," Joan Crawford asks. No, she doesn't have any experience, but yes, she'll learn. And learn she does. After a short montage and voice-over she's made enough money to open Mildred's and hire Eve Arden to be her manager.

There are too many ways this could never happen today to enumerate, but most laughable is the thought of being hired to waitress in middle-age without any previous experience.

Although I knew I would get nowhere because I've never tended bar or waitstaffed, I decided to see what restaurant jobs might be available. For me, none. I decided not to lie, and was told everywhere I went that only the experienced need apply. This was as much the case at a diner as it was at a finer restaurant. After my fourth stop I decided to stop the ruse and began just going into places and telling managers that I'm a freelance journalist writing about the local economy and wondering how the downturn has effected staffing. Has turnover decreased? Have applications increased?

The good news is that, for those who are unemployed but who have restaurant experience, there are jobs to be had. About half of the ten places I visited yesterday are either hiring or taking applications. The bad news is that none of those positions would have paid particularly well, since all were in mid to low-priced places, all were for lunch shifts, and none were for more than a couple of shifts a week. Maybe a job like that would bring out the Mildred Pierce in some of us. I'm just glad that I don't have to spend 20 hours a week on my feet dealing with people and end up unable to pay my mortgage.

Turnover has decreased at finer establishments, according to my unscientific study. Those who have dinner shifts, frequent shifts, and who work at places where the tips are high are not switching jobs with the frequency that was seen until about a year ago. I was told applications are up at the higher-end restaurants, and that they were about the same everywhere else, except that those looking for work in the mid and lower priced places were coming in with more experience than is the norm. Make of all that what you will. I take it to mean that I'd lose my house before I'd find anything other than dishwasher or busperson.

By the way, I ended up staying for something to eat or drink at the last four places I visited. There's no better way to feel well-off than to spend money, after all.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Attack of the PBS Documentary

To mark the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war, Frontline presented a four-hour documentary Monday and Tuesday nights, "Bush's War." If you missed it, you can catch a repeat this weekend, or it's already available from Netflix. So far I've only seen the first two hours, and already it's an incredibly powerful indictment.

So far no new ground gets covered. Instead, the show is the most detailed and comprehensive compendium I've seen of what we know about the inner workings of the administration and the decisions, beginning the afternoon of September 11, that led to our invasion of Iraq. I spent two hours becoming reacquainted with facts and events that had faded with time: Rumsfeld's battle with the CIA for control of the "war on terror" and his slow emasculation of George Tenant; the Pentagon's quick abandonment of the war in Afghanistan; the constant repetition of phrases such as "aluminum tubes" and "uranium from Africa" and of course "weapons of mass destruction."

We already know that every reason given for invasion was found to be contrived from intelligence that was discredited from the start. We already know Saddam had nothing to do with bin Laden, that we've only strengthened al Qaeda, that the Pentagon was right and Rumsfeld wrong about forces needed after the regime was toppled. We already know all of it, and even so to have everything laid out all together was both angering and depressing. I wasn't angered only because I was reminded about the rush to war and the way the public was mislead, but also because of the disregard of the Geneva conventions, the creation of the Patriot Act, all of the little ways the "war on terror" was used as an excuse to strengthen executive privilege and powers.

The documentary was depressing because as the years have passed and the war has dragged on I'd forgotten the immediacy of its beginnings, and because I realized that at this point I take the war for granted. It's become something that's just there, always happening, without end, middle, or beginning. Now that the economy's free fall has led us to focus on domestic problems it's not even a focus anymore, abandoned by our collective psyches just like Afghanistan has been abandoned.

I'm left hoping that the result of this year's Presidential election leaves us with some regime change of our own.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Employment Journal, Part II

I only had a couple of hours to spend looking for work yesterday, so I limited my search to department stores on the theory that the larger stores might be more likely to need help. No such luck. I went to three different stores in two different malls and came home feeling slightly humiliated.

Things started badly at Store 1. After a fruitless search for either the manager's office or someone who could tell me where to find said office, I finally encountered an employee in the sock section. "Can you tell me where the manager's office might be?" I asked hopefully. She looked me over and quickly replied, "You won't be hired." Although I wasn't wearing a business suit I was fully clothed and my fly was not open, so I have no idea where that hostility came from. "I'd like to try anyway," I said, and she begrudgingly sent me on my way.

In the manager's office I waited 15 minutes for a 22 year-old to get off the phone and was handed an application. I filled it out while she made several more phone calls. The application asked for the address and phone number of my high school. I had no idea this was information that would be pertinent in life. When she got off the phone 20 minutes later, I handed her my application and asked if they were hiring. "I don't think so," she replied. "The manager will call you, maybe, but you should come back later in the summer when we hire for the holidays." OK, off to Store 2.

There, I easily found the office and was immediately handed an application. I again needed to know the address and phone number of my high school. This time I was also handed a true or false questionnaire: All merchandise on the premises is the property of Store 2 - true or false? I'm thinking I passed. I handed my materials to the man behind the counter and asked if they were hiring. He read over my application, looked at me, and said, "We don't handle headquarters. You have to apply to corporate." I told him I was looking for a job on the floor, to which he replied, "Oh?" Silence. He finally told me that they'd keep my application on file and someone might call me.

Store 3 was much the same, only this time I spoke with the actual store manager, who read my application and opined, "Well, you have lots of....experience. Are you sure you want to work here?" I explained that I just really needed a job. She in turn explained that Store 3 prefers to hire "career workers," and that it didn't look as if I'd want to make Store 3 my career. So I don't think I'll be hearing from her.

In short, I don't appear to be the kind of worker department stores are looking for, although I got the sense that they aren't looking for any kind of employee right now. I'll return to the malls and see if any of the smaller retailers are hiring at a later date. I won't have time to look for work today - my real jobs beckon - but later this week I think I'll give some restaurants a try.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Employment Journal, Part I

I read in yesterday's New York Times that even though we might expect the current economic "slowdown" to last several years, we don't need to worry about a repeat of the Great Depression. According to the economists interviewed, unemployment levels will never again approach the 25% of the early 1930s. The worst we can expect, according to this article, is that people will have to start selling their possessions on eBay. How reassuring.

I realized that I have no idea what the employment situation in eastern Pennsylvania might be. I know that it's taking people a while to find professional positions; I know that if I were to put together a resume and look for a position in marketing or publishing it would probably take me a while to find something. But what if my situation were more dire? What if I needed a job, any job, as soon as possible? I've decided to find out.

I thought about doing a Nickeled and Dimed kind of thing and pretending that I have no education and am simply looking for a job in the service sector, but that's been done. I've decided to be who I am, with my education and with my actual job experience, and to pretend that I've been unable to find a while-collar position and that I'm in search of whatever work I can find.

I have a PhD in English. I taught at the college level for seven years, then left academia and worked in PR and marketing for eight years. Almost five years ago I started a local publication. For the past four years I've edited and published that magazine and been a freelancer and consultant in marketing communications. I've decided to leave out the freelance parts of my resume, and to tell potential employers that my business has gone under and I need work while I get on my feet again. I will say that I've been looking for a professional position but haven't been able to find one and just need a job.

I've never worked in a restaurant, or in retail. The first part of my quest is to see if there are in fact any jobs around here to be had, the second part is to see if anyone would hire me. What if my scenario were the truth? What if I had my mortgage and my bills to pay and my business and my savings were gone? Would I be able to find enough work to keep me out of foreclosure?

Today, I'm going to the malls. I figure I'll start my quest with retail. I'll let you know tomorrow what, if anything, happens.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Self-Inflicted Exhaustion

I read somewhere that something like 75% of dog owners let their pooch sleep in their bed. Of that group, close to 90% claim that they don't ever get a good night's sleep. Count me in that group. My household includes a cat as well as a dog. I wasn't going to let the dog sleep in the bed, but because the cat was already there, and you can't train a cat to do anything let alone sleep anywhere in particular, it only seemed fair to allow the dog up too. Everyone sleeps like a rock except for me, probably because I'm lying there pinned between two rocks.

Back in the day hunters and trappers would categorize night's coldness by the number of dogs it would take to keep warm. That's how the band got the name Three Dog Night; a real cold one would take three dogs to stay warm in an unheated cabin. In a heated house, "one dog one cat" nights feel like I've got a furnace in my bed. I don't just attempt to sleep between rocks, but between heated boulders, radiant and immovable.

All of this is to say that I've had three cups of coffee and am still too tired to think coherently about anything. I'll try to post later, after a cat nap or two and after my lying dog lets me sleep.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

How Do You Spell Recession?

How do you know when you're in the middle of a recession? Is it a sign when your investments would be doing better stuffed under your mattress than they are in the market? Is it a sign when your home is worth less every day? Is it a sign when anyone unlucky enough to be out of work will be out of work for some time to come? How about when Bear, Stearns goes under? None of these has led the Bush administration to admit that we're in a recession. Maybe a study of some different evidence is in order.

My beloved but ugly jacket literally fell apart a week ago, so I thought I'd go to a department store or two to see if they had anything left in clearance. No luck there, it's the wrong season for winter coats. However, I discovered at the mall that each and every retailer is having a fire sale on each and every thing you don't need. 40-inch LCD HDTV? You can get one for under $1,000. Furniture? At least 30% off. Small electronics? Look hard enough and you'll find a blender for $9.99. If you don't need it, it's on sale. I'm no economist, but to me this makes obvious the following: no one is spending money right now. If we were spending money, there'd be no need to give away the store. If we were spending money, there'd be no need to send $600 of our taxes back to us in May.

My torn jacket and I left the mall to run some more errands, and the reasons why no one is buying what they don't need became abundantly clear. We all know how much gas costs these days so I won't narrate my trip to the pumps. I stopped for a slice of pizza in order to avoid grocery shopping while hungry (I made that mistake once and came home with three bags full of meat and no vegetables, bread, or fruit, just meat, so that's a mistake I won't make twice). You might not know this, but the price of wheat has recently skyrocketed, in part due to demand from China. Pizza crust is made from wheat. Nationally, the cost of a slice of pizza has increased 25% in the past month.

Milk, eggs, and produce prices have also risen recently, due in part to the cost of shipping the stuff halfway around the world. Increased grain prices will mean that poultry and beef will cost you more by the summer, assuming you purchase grain-fed meats. All this makes you need a drink, doesn't it? In January, California wines increased an average of $2 a bottle, due to increased production and shipping costs. A blender costs less than a bottle of wine.

No one needs the Federal Reserve to tell them what a simple shopping trip makes evident. When the things you need cost more and more, you can't afford the things you don't need. Inflation of necessities leads to deflation of luxuries. Six hundred bucks a person won't fix it. On the bright side, if you have some cash left after paying your heating bill, it's a great time to buy furniture.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Mystery of the Missing

Charles Bock's Beautiful Children contains multitudes. Set in contemporary Las Vegas, the novel kaleidoscopes from the interiority of a stripper, a high school student, a casino manager, a comic book artist, various runaways, a 12 year-old, a mother. At its heart, though, is absence rather than presence. The action takes place on the day a 12 year-old runs away or just simply disappears, and revolves around the mystery of his disappearance and its aftermath. It's a novel about what's missing.

What's missing isn't just the literal, although the plot is driven by the repercussions of a child's absence and a large focus of the book is a group of teenage runaways. Ultimately Bock's focus is a state of disaffection - what happens when we live lives cut off from affect and affection. His characters swirl around one another but don't really connect. Lives intersect but don't intertwine. His characters constantly attempt to reach out to one another, or to anyone at all, through drawings, through conversation, through chat rooms, through pole dancing, but no means of communication proves effective. When the child Newell walks off into the desert he simply makes literal the ephemerality of interpersonal connections.

The text isn't depressing so much as it is sad. All of the characters are drawn with love, and are full of love, but the disconnect between interior and exterior proves to be too much for all of them. In that sense Vegas is the prefect setting for the novel, city of surfaces, false hopes, city of drift and manufactured glamor. Beneath those surfaces real hearts beat, real dreams live on beyond expectation; beneath our exteriors we are all beautiful children, damaged yet daring to keep trying, keep going. Connection isn't achieved but the hope for it remains alive despite the voids that lie at the novel's heart.

Will this book change your life? I don't think so, but it's awfully good, and awfully well-written, and awfully different than most of what you'll find in the New Fiction section of your local Barnes and Noble. It's awfully worth reading. Sometimes your heart needs to be broken just a little bit, to remind you that it's still there.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Making It After All

Thanks to Hulu, I watched the pilot episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show the other night. I'm not sure I'd ever seen the pilot before; I was six when it originally aired in September, 1970. I might have caught it years ago on Nick at Nite, although I have no memory of it. All in all, it's an interesting thing to watch.

It seems hard to imagine, but the show was pretty radical at the time. Mary Richards was the first central comedic character who was single by choice. She wasn't divorced, she wasn't widowed, she was just single. Apparently the original concept for the show called for her to be divorced, but MTM was afraid audiences would balk because she was so identified with the popular Laura Petrie, and she didn't want people to think Laura had divorced Rob. She only took the role once the network allowed the character to be a single working woman, and in that sense the most radical thing about the show occurred essentially by accident.

I had forgotten all about this fact, but Mary Richards moves to Minneapolis after being dumped by her boyfriend of four years, who she had helped put through medical school. The show opens with her arriving at an apartment being held for her by her old friend Phyllis, who would appear to own the building. Mary immediately meets her new neighbor Rhoda, who is also interested in the apartment but who relinquishes it to Mary. Rhoda is wearing an extremely unflattering horizontal-striped pants suit, and the dynamic that would exist until Rhoda moves back to New York is set up from the get-go: Mary is pretty and gets what she wants, Rhoda is dumpy and suffers. Watch the pilot and note that Valerie Harper is not fat, not even overweight. She's just dressed to look that way, much the way that Vivian Vance was always made to look older and uglier than Lucille Ball.

Mary goes out and gets a job and we meet Murray and Ted and she has the famous discussion with Lou Grant where he tells her he hates spunk. It's at the end of the episode where we find the real break from convention. Mary is unpacking in her new apartment (and, for perhaps the only time, we see that Mary Richards does in fact own a bed - it's right there in the middle of the living room). Her boyfriend shows up, having come to Minneapolis to apologize and take her back home to marry him. She refuses, actively choosing to be single, actively choosing to create a different kind of family, made up of colleagues and other single women.

In September, 1970, Mary Richards is 30 years old. For seven years, until her late 30s, she will remain single. In fact, the series will end not with her marrying and leaving WJM, but with new management breaking up the workplace family by firing everyone except the incompetent Ted. Mary will date, even have sex, but she will not entertain the notion of marriage or children. She will never regret the decision that she makes in the pilot. The show's producers weren't certain of the outcome of Mary's decision, that's for sure. Take a look at the original opening credits, which feature the lesser-known first verse of "Love Is All Around":

It's a big scary world, and she's all alone! How will she make it on her own? As it turns out, quite well indeed. The show was almost canceled after the first season but in the end was renewed, the theme song was changed to get rid of the ambivalence, and ultimately the television landscape was altered forever. Without Mary Richards we'd have no Murphy Brown, no Carrie Bradshaw, no Rhoda and no Rosanne. Without Mary Richards we wouldn't have The Office or any other situation comedy where the workplace and not the family is the focus. Without Mary Richards our hats would still be on our heads. Thanks, Mary Richards, for making it after all, even if you had to use your wiles and turn the world on in order to do it.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Hulu, Baby, Hulu

After several months of beta testing, Hulu opened to the public this week. What's Hulu? A joint venture between NBC and Fox, it's an attempt to take on the hegemony of YouTube and to do an end run around Apple TV, and it's definitely worth checking out. Hulu isn't a dowload site but instead streaming video, and its programming is free. The movies and shows do have commercials, but so far the longest commercial break I've endured has been 25 seconds, which I didn't find unreasonable. The site's features make the commercials worth bearing.

First, Hulu contains not only current programming from the Fox and NBC families, but also great classic shows from their libraries. Their ultimate plan is to offer content from any studio willing to participate, meaning that the offerings will continue to expand. Right now, you can watch the entire first two seasons of The Bob Newhart Show, full episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Chicago Hope, really just an eclectic and enjoyable assortment of classic television. You can also choose from around a hundred full-length movies, some of them even movies that you'd want to see.

Currently, you don't need to register to use the site, but I suspect that may change. Registration is free, and it has some advantages. Let's say you love The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and you've blown through all of Season One, which is all that's available this week. You can subscribe to the show, and as new episodes are posted Hulu places them in your queue, where they will be waiting for you to view at your leisure.

Hulu's player is user-friendly and while the stream isn't perfect, especially when viewed full-screen, it's good enough. If you have a newer computer you can even watch in HD. My favorite feature is that you can "pop out" the viewer from the site so that you can watch programming on part of your desktop while multitasking. There's little as satisfying as watching an episode of Nanny and the Professor while working on a municipal ordinance, after all. Hulu also makes it incredibly easy to edit a clip and either embed it on your website or blog or email it. Again, all of this is free.

If you're looking to waste some time this weekend, Hulu is a great place to start. I know I'll be spending some time with Lou Grant.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Only In My Dreams

The Democratic primaries have been interesting, and I've certainly been paying attention. However, unlike a seemingly disproportionate number of people, the candidates have not yet entered my dreams. Yes, many of us have been dreaming of Hillary or Barak, and if you're interested in seeing how the candidates interact with the subconscious, check out this site, where such dreams can be sent in and posted. Once on the site, use the links on the left to navigate from Hillary dreams to Barak dreams. In the spirit of fairness, a link for McCain has been added, but as of yesterday poor John had only entered the dream life of two people.

I'm not sure that any meaningful information can be gleaned from the site. Obama holds about the same lead in percentage of dreams as he does in delegates, while dreams about Clinton are on the whole more emotional and centered on feelings. Clinton dreams are also on the whole more sexualized. Obama more often comes across as cool. Mainly, it's an interesting read, and inadvertently quite funny.

Here's one about Obama:

I became best friends with Barack Obama. We had a sleepover at his house and played board games all night, like it was middle school again. In the morning, he went to the kitchen to cook up some pancakes. While he was out of the room, I took the opportunity to call my friend on the phone, all excited, saying, You have to come over! I'm at Barack's house and we have pancakes!

She replied, Yeah, whatever, me and Barack are BFF. We’re going to hang out later this afternoon.

Many of the Clinton dreams involve her clothes. Generally, she's wearing pants suits, and some sort of wardrobe malfunction is immanent. Here's a malfunction of a different kind:

I was reading a magazine article about Hillary. Then I got to the part that read: Also, she can be cruel. She enjoys wearing $1 billion dresses, one of which is made from the fleece of an endangered penguin.

There was a picture of Hillary in the penguin dress; it looked like a zip-up penguin costume made of polar fleece, and would probably keep you warm.

Sometimes the dreams verge on nightmares:

Keanu Reeves was voted in as the next President of the United States. He was giving his acceptance speech, dressed in jeans and a hoodie. He looked good, but we were all shocked. How did he win? Did we even know he was running? I set about urgently painting him a sign, twelve metres long, with a too-dry paint brush, reminding him of all the things he had to remember: Prioritize education. Provide medicare. Cap corporate profits. The environment! There were two brief interruptions as we fielded interviewed reactions from Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. They were both equally stumped. They didn't know he was running, but were gracious losers.

I'll leave you with my favorite dream. It has it all: finding oneself in an inappropriate situation, fear of discovery, food as a stand-in for sex. Happy REM cycles to everyone:

I was at some kind of county fair and Hillary walked up to me and said Hi Dan! (I didn’t know how she knew my name.) I’m Hillary Clinton. Are you going to vote for me?

I told her that I hadn’t decided yet, but wanted to know more about what she stood for. She told me that she had to go to the restroom, but that if I went with her into the bathroom she would talk to me while she took care of business. I followed her into the restroom and she went into one of the stalls. She started talking about her platform but I wasn’t paying attention because I was trying to get the bathroom door locked. I didn’t want to get caught in a women’s restroom with Hillary Clinton.

She came walking out of the stall with a Dole pineapple whip (like they sell at Disneyland). She said, Look what I found in the stall. This is delicious!

I told her that she shouldn’t be eating that because who knows where it came from and who knows how long it had been in there, but she wouldn't listen. I said I had to go, but I would definitely be voting for her. I was lying so I could get away. She thanked me and asked if I knew where to get some ribs.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Picked It Up on the Wire

There are a myriad of reasons why The Wire is my favorite TV show of all time, but up there on the list is the fact that I've learned lessons invaluable to a white girl from Pennsylvania. It occurred to me yesterday that Eliot Spitzer probably could have avoided his whole mess had he just been a fan of the show, because every Wire fan knows the following:

Avoid a wiretap - use a burner.

Actually, in order to really protect yourself, use a new burner for each call.

"Client 9" is not a complex enough code.

If you want to move large sums of money around, start with cash. Take the cash to your lawyer, who will find a corrupt non-profit to send the money offshore for you. This will cost you 20 on the dollar, but you'll end up with a clean cashier's check.

Don't use a prostitution service that has a website.

Reform is impossible from inside the system. In other words, you can't fight prostitution and organized crime by being a john any more than you can fight the corruption of Wall Street by purchasing stocks.

You'll wear the crown for a while, then you'll fall. There's always someone waiting to replace you.

Most importantly: The game is rigged. When it's your time, the forces that control the institution in which you operate will do you. That's just how it be.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Terminal Blues

Whenever my mother would return from a trip I'd ask her how it was. Wherever in the world she'd traveled, whether Argentina or Tallin, she'd proceed to describe in detail every meal consumed on said trip. For her, travel was meals she didn't have to cook. For me, travel is airports and my hatred of them. I don't mind flying at all, but hate the airports, especially since 9/11, and especially since airlines have decided to put as few planes in the air as possible in order to stave off bankruptcy.

There was a time when I loved airports. I also loved train and bus stations, so some of this was probably just my constant desire to be wherever I'm currently not, but some of it was also a reaction to what I thought was the happiness and excitement of the travelers rushing about. I now understand that some of those people in airports aren't excited but are simply petrified of flying. Still, there was a time when hanging out in a terminal for several hours made me incredibly happy.

I do think airport bars had something to do with this. Back in the day, I would be traveling for pleasure, and welcomed a layover when I could hang out drinking and smoking in a terminal bar. I'm old enough to even remember smoking on planes, but that's another story. Airport bars are now just little corners of restaurants where desperate travelers can down a quick beer, but I remember actual bars with views of the tarmac and of the runways, and sitting there smelling the jet fumes and watching the take-offs and landings. I fondly recall the time when terminals were more than one McDonald's and Hudson News and Brookstone after another.

I also fondly recall a time when one could book a flight, check to see if it was on schedule, and arrive at the airport with the reasonable expectation that one would have a seat on that plane and would take off on time. Maybe it's just bad karma, but I haven't taken a trip in the past two years that hasn't involved rerouting, delays, and in one instance a pathetic night spent in a hotel attached to a mall in Lynchburg, Virginia. Airports are now the site of failures of reason and expectation, to be approached with trepidation and the knowledge that, somewhere between security and the gate, black holes can appear out of nowhere.

It's not the journey but the destination, right? I mean, that's the attitude that can get you though time spent in the 21st-century airport, and one that I adopt each time I fly. I wish that instead of turning the clocks ahead Saturday we could have turned them back to 1965 so that I could have flown home yesterday on Braniff Airlines, enjoying cocktails served by a stewardess wearing Pucci. Meantime, I had a great trip. The food was delicious!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

What Not to Wear

Liz Smith, Leslie Stahl, Mary Wells, and some friends including Lily Tomlin and Candace Bergen are starting a website for women over 40, It launches Saturday. Apparently it will feature items they believe will be of interest to their demographic such as horoscopes, posts about love and marriage, health and fashion, political commentary. Oh, and conversations among the site's famous principles on such burning topics as their personal memories of Halston.

I'm over 40, but I'm clearly not in whatever their demographic might be. Wowowow will be competing with other popular sites for women heading towards menopause such as iVillage and More. I decided to visit these sites to see what women my age are thinking about. Turns out they're thinking about horoscopes, love and marriage, and how not to dress "old." Both sites look and read like a cross between Cosmo and Better Homes and Gardens. Neither site contains anything that I find to be remotely of interest.

I know myself well enough to know that I'm not a typical woman in her 40s. I'm not married, I don't have kids, home and gardening tips put me to sleep. I'm never on a diet. I don't care what my horoscope says, or about what's new in handbags for spring. I don't expect these kinds of sites to carry the sort of content found on Slate, for example. What I find disturbing is the fact that demographic research has evidently led to the determination that this sort of fluff is what women my age and older crave. This isn't just true on the web; spend a few minutes watching Lifetime, or Oxygen, or even the Hallmark Channel, and you'll see that women in their 40s are believed to care above all about their skin, shop at Chico's, and diet relentlessly. At least that's according to the advertisers. According to the programmers, women over 40 are either in constant peril due to evil men or are about to lose their daughters to evil men. And they're all played by Tracy Gold.

The women behind Wowowow are extremely successful businesspeople who shattered gender barriers in their respective fields. I was just hoping for more from this particular brain trust than horoscopes and gossip.

With that rant, I leave you for a few days. I'll be in LA, the land of women who never turn 40. Have a good weekend, and I'll be back Tuesday morning, undoubtedly with plenty to say.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Stormy Weather

I went to bed last night without checking in on the Texas and Ohio primary results, mainly because I just wasn't in the mood for Anderson Cooper. When tremendous thunderstorms awakened me around 4 this morning, for some reason I thought, "Hillary won. The primary is on." Although I wasn't glad to be up at 4 AM, I was happy to think that this primary will continue.

Presidential primaries have been decided earlier and earlier. Remember 1968, when Bobby Kennedy triumphed in California in June? I don't either, but the point is that would never happen now. I've always lived in states with primaries so late in the schedule that the race was decided, and it was looking as if that would be the case once again this year, with Pennsylvania not voting until April 22. I wanted Clinton to prevail simply because I wanted the race to last long enough for me to have a say.

It strikes me that a short primary season favors the wealthy candidates, and that also bothers me. A short primary season means that no one can come out of left field, build momentum, build a coalition, fundraise his or her way through it. A short season would seem to me to favor the front-runner, and in January the front-runner is the one with the bucks and therefore the profile. I liked that Huckabee refused to drop out just because he was losing. Why should he? Do we encourage sports teams to quit games at halftime if they're behind? Isn't democracy about having choices?

I honestly haven't been taken with any candidate of either party this year, and until yesterday I've watched the results at a remove. But I did care greatly about yesterday's results. I very much wanted Clinton to pull this off simply because I didn't want the whole thing to be decided on March 4. I don't know whether I'll vote for her or Obama in April, and I wanted the chance to weigh the options and make a decision. Thank you, Ohio and Texas voters, for giving me that chance, for allowing me to meaningfully participate in the presidential primary.

On the downside, I'm assuming the barrage of annoying ads will begin anon.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Memoir in Six Words

Can you describe your life in six words? The editors of Smith magazine asked readers to do just that, and a compilation of the best submissions has been published as a book, Not Quite What I Was Planning. Now everyone' s doing it, and you can too. Here are some examples:

Failure was apparently an option here.

Crawl, step, run, step, crawl, lay.

Making shit up as I go.

California, Pennsylvania, Jersey, Manhattan, Vancouver, Seattle.

Fat man in a sweater vest.

Here are a couple that I wrote:

I meant it at the time.

Play, Stop. No FF, no rewind.

Moved one place, then to another.

Too many books. Too little time.

Dog. Dog. Cat. Cat. Dog. Dog.

So, join in - see if you can write your autobiography in only six words.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Acts of Daily Journalism

If, like me, you're a big fan of David Simon and every word he's ever written (which means you're a big fan of The Wire, The Corner - book and series, and Homicide - book and series) then you'll want to pick up the March issue of Esquire, which features Simon's essay about his years at the Baltimore Sun and the decline of the daily newspaper. You can follow the link to Esquire's website to read part of the essay, but you'll have to buy the print version to read it all, which is a business model to keep in mind when thinking about the decline of the newspaper.

I spent my first two years of college thinking that I would graduate, go to j-school, and become a reporter. Simon is just five years older than I am, and he entered the profession at this same time, the early 80s, when newspapers were still wearing their post-Watergate glow. The daily paper wasn't only a source of news, but a source of reform and change. That statement isn't just a reflection of the idealism of the young; 25 years ago, newspapers were still flush with advertising revenue and could afford the kind of staff needed for investigative reporting. 25 years ago 24-hour news channels and the internet were just a dream.

To say that the newspaper has fallen victim to increased competition is to only tell part of the story. Simon concentrates on consolidation and how the cutbacks in staff enacted by conglomerates have made reporting of the real stories important to a city impossible, and I can see that this is true. The consolidation happened because newspapers were losing money, though, and they were losing money primarily because of the decline of the department store. Department store circulars, as well as department store multi-page spreads, are the lifeblood of the daily paper. As regional department stores failed or were consolidated, so went the regional and smaller-market dailies.

Newspapers also didn't adapt well to the internet. Most of them were late in developing web content and are now trying to survive with a business model where they charge for what they should be giving away (the print version) and not selling ads where they should be (for the web version). My hometown daily is incredibly cheap, only 50 cents, but I almost always just read it online, for free, without an ad in sight. No wonder that paper was eaten up by a larger chain; consolidation is the only way the paper can survive economically.

Of course, the decline of the daily can be seen as a tragedy, or as an opportunity. For Simon, who loved his work at the Sun, the daily's loss of significance is a personal loss. However, the inability of short-staffed dailies to report on the specifics of the lives of a city's residents simply makes room for alternative media to take up the slack. The monopoly of the daily has been broken, and there's more room for the free weekly or monthly, and for the blogger, to join in the conversation.

I hope the newspaper as we know it will continue. I hope to always have the opportunity to get ink on my fingers while I drink my morning coffee. But I also hope that the shrinking of the daily leads to the proliferation of other media, other voices.