Wednesday, April 30, 2008

From the Archives

We might be lurching toward paperlessness, but I came of age in a world full of paper. My house is full of paper: notes from when I was teaching, journals I've kept since the age of 12, notes from papers I wrote in grad school plus the papers themselves, poems I've written since the age of 13. It's a lot of paper. I spent some time last weekend trying to weed out some of it, but it's hard to let go. It feels akin to tossing out my past, and I'm not ready to toss out my past.

Then, of course, rather than weeding I started reading. The weirdness of experiencing a journal kept by my 14 year-old self is fodder for a different post, but I will say that if you ever want a weird experience, spend some time with yourself as a young teenager. In looking through a folder, I found this poem. I was 21 when I wrote it. I'd pretty much forgotten about it, but I think I still like it. At least, I still like it today. Meet the 21 year-old me:

Night Falls at Sam’s Place

neon light
drops from the bar
like petals tonight,
the radio only plays
songs we can sing to,
and the world
has become a home

and at the bar
the bikers
are taking off their beards

and the pool players
are humming a tune
they call Friday night
that everyone is singing

and even if it rains
the puddles will sit there,
wanting to shine

the bikers’ faces will gleam
like polished chrome
and they’ll waltz
spinning around the bar,
buying each other rounds

and the players will tell you,
Each of these balls
is a man
who didn’t kill me,
and they’ll pocket them,
laughing, one by one

while the city packs away
its parking meters
and a janitor swings his broom
like a date at Roseland,
knowing it isn’t his life
he’s been collecting

and when an old woman
enters the bar
she’ll throw aside her hat
and bags and say,
Call me work
with no payday,
footless dancer,
cup without wine

and the janitor
will let her sleep
in his building

and under our clothes
our bodies will glisten
as we move like dancers,
all of us,
as we become a shot glass
that never empties,
a street with no noise

and children won’t cry
in upstairs rooms
and the food
on every menu
will come without asking

and when the bar closes
we’ll enter the night together
and it will be soft
as a breast,
and we’ll go down on it
without fear,
this world
falling from our mouths
like kisses

Monday, April 28, 2008

Blogging To Go, Please

Sometimes writing an entire post containing both ideas and words feels like too complex a proposition, even for me, who is pretty much never without words. For those of us who eschew paragraphs and desire either immediacy or the visual, there's Tumblr, a site for micro-blogging. Some users include short written posts, but many instead create narratives or evoke emotions by posting photographs or images. Tumbler seems to aim to be a lot like Twitter, where the longer blog post is replaced by a series of updates throughout the day.

I'm not convinced anyone wants to keep up with my daily activities, which involve reading, writing, editing, and making sure the dog pees when he's out in the yard, but fans of social networking all over the world are making a go of this kind of communication. It's sort of like sending an instant message out to the world, and seeing where it sticks.

I recently spent some time exploring Tumblr, and while diary-like sites by 20 year-olds abound, I also found some little blogs that are worth checking out. Somewhere out there exists a man who realized that if Garfield were removed from each day's Garfield comic, we would be left with a daily meditation on alienation and paranoia. The images on Garfield Minus Garfield are indeed scary, haunting, and pretty funny.

I can see becoming addicted to the Cutest Puppy Ever site, a production of the "Cute Puppy Institute." I can see hours of my life wasted trying to figure out how much of this site is irony, how much sincerity. Today I'm going with 90% irony, but that's because I'm in a mood to feel good about humankind.

White people complain about the darndest things, and you can find some of them collected on White Whine. It really does suck when Whole Foods is out of arugula, you know?

One final link for you comes from Blogspot rather than Tumblr, and it's something you may have heard of, but I recommend a visit if you haven't been there before. Post Secret is a project where people anonymously send in a postcard, either storebought or handmade, on which they've written a secret, and each day some of these are posted. This site will tell you more about our collective state of mind than any Gallup Poll, I promise.

It's a damp and rainy day, so go ahead, waste some time in cyberspace.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Mom, In Memoriam

March 12, 1929 - April 25, 2007

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sermon on the Mount

Before she wrote a word of fiction, Edith Wharton was an interior design enthusiast. She wasn't an interior decorator because she needed no profession, having been born into the original Jones family, the ones we've spent 150 years trying to keep up with. Her first published work was The Decoration of Houses, an interior design manifesto. She put her words into action in the design and decoration of the Mount, her country "cottage" in Lenox, MA.

Wharton spent happy years at the Mount; it's where she wrote some of her best-known works, where she spent days hanging out with her buddy Henry James, where she and her husband-of-convenience, Teddy, amicably worked out the details of their divorce by letters sent across the hall, from one bedroom to the next. Wharton lost the Mount in the divorce and went into exile in France, and thus began a decline in fortunes for the home that ironically mirrors the downward spiral of Lilly Bart. The Mount was in private hands, then became a boarding school for girls, and then for years housed a theater company. Finally, in the early 1990s, restoration of the Mount began; it's recently been open to the public as an incompletely restored museum.

Sadly, the Mount is about to go into foreclosure. In fact, if $3 million isn't raised by the end of business today, the bank will take it. You can read the saga of the Mount's financial troubles in this week's New Yorker (I can't link to it because it won't go online until next week). The purchase of Wharton's library from a British book dealer led to some of the financial difficulties, but the truth of the matter is that the museum has been operating at a deficit for years.

Most house museums operate at a deficit, as it turns out. There's been a trend in recent years of these small museums being turned back to private hands; trustees try to turn these historic treasures over to the state, but the state wants no part of an expensive losing proposition. Geeks like me, who will drive out of the way to tour an historic property, are an endangered species; geeks like me who care about the preservation of our architectural history to the point where we become philanthropic about it are even more endangered.

What do we lose when historic properties revert to private hands, to become country clubs or condos? Watch this slide show to understand the Mount's importance. A property doesn't need to have been designed or inhabited by a person of distinction to be significant, though. To our contemporaries, our homes say something about who we are, how we see ourselves. More importantly, future generations can learn valuable lessons about the way we live now by studying our homes. I learned more about the culture of slavery by touring restored plantations that I ever did by reading a book. In a couple hundred years someone will learn more about contemporary suburban life by touring a restored McMansion (assuming one stands that long) than by reading a history of the exurbs.

What's the solution? I don't know. Start by becoming a geek. Support house museums by visiting them. Support historic preservation efforts. Some things just aren't meant to become condos.

UPDATE! The bank has extended Wharton Restoration's outstanding loan due date until May 24. So far, $800K has been raised. In the meantime, the Mount remains open for tours until May 9.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Unlearn It, Live It, Love It

One's cultural and societal norms are learned in a process that begins at birth. We learn acceptable behaviors, beliefs, values, and desires, and what we have learned becomes so ingrained in us it feels like part of our nature, if not like our nature itself. Sometimes we're put in situations where we must unlearn in order to survive. When we go to war, for example, we have to unlearn the fact that we have been taught not to kill, and unlearn the fact that we have been taught to let the government or a higher authority settle disputes rather than to seek vengeance. The soldiers who return from battle psychically wounded are undoubtedly those who haven't been able to unlearn well enough.

Revolution is hard to achieve because it involves an entire culture unlearning some or all of its own norms and learning new ones at the same time. This isn't only true in politics; the "modernist revolution" in poetry involved unlearning centuries of agreed-upon ideas about representation and verse, and substituting those ideas with another, differing, value system.

The aftereffects of a generation's unlearning have defined my life. The first wave of feminists unlearned strictures of female sexuality and of women's place in the workforce, allowing me to choose any career I'd like and to cohabitate with whomever I like without regard to marriage or children. Early civil rights activists helped many unlearn patterns of segregation. Elvis helped the music industry unlearn its aversion to "black" music. Gay rights activists, by themselves unlearning conventional desire, helped unconventional desire to enter the mainstream. It's obviously a lot easier to stick with what's been learned, which is why such revolutions in thought or behavior are remarkable.

Today's primary has eclipsed the fact that it's also Earth Day. It occurs to me that the protection of our planet is one of those instances where we must unlearn in order to survive, and that the same goes for received ideas about politics. We can't go on as we've been if we want to keep going on. So unlearn something today, no matter how small. I'm off to do just that right now.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Happy Camper

The weather here went right from early spring to August-like, but I'm not complaining. I instead look at early warmth as the one good thing about global warming (well, that and the fact that New Jersey will be underwater, making my house beachfront property). For the past week, when I haven't been working or gardening, I've been lying on my porch reading Sheila Weller's Girls Like Us. Weller entwines the biographies of Joni Mitchell, Carole King, and Carly Simon, discussing their lives and music within the context of 60s and 70s sexual politics. At least that's what Weller believes her book is about. The music and the lives are in there, and some sexual politics as well, but I'd say about 70% of the book is just good gossip. Weller indefatigably chronicles each and every affair of all three women which, in Joni Mitchell's case in particular, turns out to be no small feat.

If you're interested in learning about these three lives, or about who slept with James Taylor when, then it's definitely a good summer read, perfect for a chaise lounge on a warm day. My main take-away from the book was that it brought back fond memories of Jew Camp.

What, you've never heard of Jew Camp? It's ostensibly a place where campers celebrate their Jewish heritage or some such thing but where the real lessons had to do with backrubs, boating, and learning how to turn up the collar of your Izod shirt. Just ask any Jewish person you know who grew up in the the NYC/Philly corridor and its environs and they'll tell you all about Jew Camp.

When Joni, Carole, and Carly were writing and recording their milestone albums I was busy listening to the Jackson 5, so I was a late convert to their music, but I have Jew Camp to thank for my introduction to the mellow. As a young teenager I spent time at one particular camp on youth group retreats - two weeks in the summer, one week in the winter. This camp had a radio station (from what I can gather all Jew Camps had radio stations, as well as newspapers and yearbooks - I guess they were teaching us how to control the media), and we'd get dressed mornings accompanied by James Taylor, Loggins and Messina, Carole King. During the downtime before dinner the older boys would give the older girls backrubs while "Loving You Is the Right Thing to Do" played softly in the background. After dinner guitars would be broken out and everyone would join in a rendition of "Been to Canaan." The first rule of Jew Camp was that there was no hard rock at Jew Camp.

I'm not talking about the early 70s here. During the time I'm talking about, that music was already something of the past. When I bought Tapestry in 1978 it appealed to me not just because the songs were soulful but also because it sounded to me then, as it does to this day, like an artifact from a hippie past, from a recent time that was already gone. Thanks to Jew Camp I learned to love the singer-songwriters, but in the rest of my life I was learning to love a different kind of music. In 1978 I'd listen to Tapestry in my yellow bedroom, followed by some Fleetwood Mac, finished off with Horses, in a sense inadvertently charting the course of women in rock through the 70s with one evening of music.

By my last couple of years in high school I'd moved on completely, not only from Jew Camp and backrubs but also from songs you couldn't dance to, if by "dance" you mean throw your body around a room as violently as possible. I've now moved on from that as well, and from the yellow bedroom and my Sony turntable, but I have Weller's book to thank for taking me back, temporarily, to all of it.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Democracy in America

I didn't get around to posting yesterday because I was very busy with church, target practice, and border patrol. I hope my laxness didn't make anyone bitter. Here in my small Pennsylvania town, politics is the topic of the month. Politics is always the talk of the month here; in the absence of a national contest, local politics takes over. Because of a need to DVR two shows at once Wednesday night (and I'm not going to say what they are because it's extremely embarrassing) I watched the debate in a bar. Reactions were varied, my own included.

There really isn't a lot of difference between Clinton and Obama in terms of platform. Their similitude means that this whole thing is about the unquantifiable: electablity, character, style, personal taste. The media can make this a referendum on race and gender, and maybe that plays into it in subconscious ways, but I tend to think a number of people will be voting Tuesday for the candidate that they just "like" better.

I never care whether or not I "like" a candidate. I'm not voting for a dinner party guest. I'm never going to meet, let alone befriend, any of these people. In most elections, the differences between candidates are discernable, and I vote for the person who best represents my beliefs. In this instance, both candidates represent my beliefs closely enough that I'll vote for either one of them in November. Who do I vote for Tuesday, then?

Many pundits criticized the first 40 minutes of the debate for focusing on surrounding controversies like lies, Weathermen, and flag pins, and not on the "issues." In some ways these controversies are the issues though. Do I vote for the person who, to put it kindly, stretched the truth, or the person who either can't or won't apologize for belittling small-town working people? They've both stretched the truth, and I know that words are slippery things that can be interpreted various ways. So to me, the decision is made not by buying into one candidate or the other's evasive explanations, but by buying into the tone in which those explanations are delivered. Ultimately, it is about "liking," even if neither will be coming to dinner any time soon.

The concern about the primaries continuing on is that issues get buried beneath questions of personality when the two candidates remaining are so close in opinion. The concern is that by the end of it voters will have learned all the reasons to not "like" either Democrat. Maybe this is a positive, though. At this early stage, Americans know the weaknesses of both Clinton and Obama; by June, they will have been hashed over and over in the press, perhaps to the point where no one will be listening. McCain's character flaws will at that point be fresh news.

What I want in the end, come January 2009, is an administration that will be different from Bush's, that will disengage us in Iraq, that will care about and restore our rights at home, that will focus on the concerns of working Americans and not just business and the wealthy. I know I'll get that from either Clinton or Obama. Who do I "like" better, though? I honestly don't like either of them. Clinton can seem imperious and cold, and Obama often seems like he's scolding anyone who doesn't share his enlightened ideas about "hope." The debate didn't make me like either of them any more than I did the day before. One of them will get my vote anyway.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

How to Find Me

This blog is signed up for analytics, which means that I can check to see how many visitors it gets, what pages people click on, how long they stay on the site, things like that. I can also see what led people to the site, and if they came by a Google keyword search, what those keywords were. This is where things get interesting.

Most people find this blog by searching for it, which is gratifying and makes sense. However, other people find their way here by way of some interesting searches. Here are some examples. Think of it as a test: can you remember any post that would relate to the keywords?

Thomas Jefferson is hot
This really seems to be the consensus; three people came here from this search, and several more by searching "Jefferson + hot."

What not to wear
I must have used this phrase at some point, and it must be greatly sought-after advice. Twenty-eight people in the past month have visited here based on this or the related "what not to wear + over 40" search. If I dedicated this blog to fashion tips, I'd quickly become the Huffington Post for the early middle-aged.

Carol Alt + underwater

Barnabas Collins attractive
I remain certain I didn't use these three words together in a sentence.

What period of culture is Spring and All from?
Whoever conducted this search must have clicked through pages and pages of links before stumbling here. Whoever you are, if you're still out there looking, Spring and All was first published in 1923 by Robert McAlmon's Contact Press. Modernist period, baby, modernist period.

Mary Tyler Moore + sex
That's just...I don't know how to feel about my prose satisfying that search. Enough said.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Happy Tax Day!

Unless you're a vampire and have been around for 3,864 years, paying your taxes today feels inevitable. The federal government didn't always levy income taxes, though; until the Civil War, the government was funded completely by tariffs on imported goods. An income tax was created to fund the Civil War, but was rescinded in 1872. Federal income taxes as we know them didn't begin until 1913, with the ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment.

If, like me, you end up owing something every year, April 15 can be depressing indeed. Here are a few tidbits to cheer you up. Today, the tax rate tops out at 28%, and with deductions and the lower rate on capital gains and dividends, the wealthy among us pay less tax than ever. In 1916, the income tax wasn't progressive, and was instead a flat 1% on incomes between $3,000 and $500,000, with a surcharge of 6% for incomes over $500K. Tax rates increased and became progressive by 1918 to finance WWI, then decreased again during the 1920s, with the top rate bottoming out at 24% just before the crash.

Anyone lucky enough to be earning money during the Great Depression was taxed heavily on it, with the top rate reaching 63% by 1932. To finance WWII, the rate went even higher, to 94% on incomes over $200,000. The top rate stayed at around 90% until 1964, when it was lowered to 70%. It wasn't until Reagan's economic policies came into effect in the 1980s that the rates decreased to the levels we now all know and love.

We're not all rich, of course, and the tax rates for the middle-class haven't fluctuated as much as taxes on the wealthy. I'm glad I'm not taxed 90% of my income, but then again I doubt my income would have put me in that bracket. The total tax burden for most Americans, combining federal, state, and local or municipal taxes, is 40%. Look at all we get in return: chaos in Iraq, bailouts of troubled lenders, and $600 a person to spend at Wal-Mart.

Too bad we no longer impose tariffs on all that Wal-Mart merchandise that's been made in China.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Sweat Stains of the Stars

The Style section of the Thursday Times is always packed with useful information. What's new in cosmetic surgery? How do I order my Thanksgiving dinner online? What's it like shopping at a sneaker boutique? When I need these answers, I rely on the Style section. If you're like me, you've been wondering where you could purchase some of Oprah's used clothes, and again the Times delivers, with a story about the Oprah Store in Chicago.

The store is conveniently located across from Harpo Studios, where her talk show is taped, so rabid fans can easily find a place to buy O-themed souvenirs to commemorate their experience. There, shoppers can purchase all manner of accessories and housewares, from tea sets to t-shirts. They can also visit Oprah's Closet, the exclusive outlet for Oprah's hand-me-downs. Is Oprah so popular and powerful a symbol that she can sell anything, even her old shoes? That's a rhetorical question if ever there was one.

The Times reporter interviewed Barbara Jean Hoy, a retired Chicago housekeeper who had purchased a $40 cream-colored blouse. While some items in Oprah's Closet appear never to have been worn, Hoy was thrilled that her blouse contains underarm stains, proof to Hoy that Oprah's armpits had at some point touched the blouse. Overall, this made Hoy feel "great, like you are somebody, like Oprah is touching you."

Proceeds from Oprah's Closet do go to charity, so the second-hand store of the star is not exactly naked capitalism. It still feels somewhat creepy to me. Oprah is an everywoman, a user-friendly celebrity. She knows her fans adore her. She obviously knows her fans will buy anything she's touched. Offering sweat-stained blouses for sale, even to benefit charity, feels like an IPO of intimacy. Fans will buy the clothes to feel close to Oprah, but the fact that the closeness is achieved through a commercial transaction creates distance instead.

However, Oprah's fans are pleased, so who am I to judge? Besides, I'm feeling a little under-capitalized myself. I have some pit and neck stained t-shirts lying around, and I've decided that fans of this blog can purchase them for $20 apiece. Each shirt will come with a certificate authenticating its provenance. Supplies aren't particularly limited, but it's still best to email me today and reserve your treasure from Elucidator's Rag Bag.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Time's Not on My Side (or yours)

Have you ever completely lost a day of your life? I lost yesterday. The entirety of it, from 9:30 in the morning until after 7 PM, was spent in a discussion/argument over something I'm not even going to explain because I'm sick of thinking about the subject. The point isn't what made me lose a day, but the fact that it was lost. Time just goes; I wake up in the morning, have some coffee, run my dog, blink and suddenly it's the middle of the afternoon.

I vividly remember childhood weeks spent in anticipation of something: Christmas, a vacation, the end of the school year. Time felt so excruciatingly slow. The days just dragged on. What I anticipated would never arrive. Now I book a vacation a couple of months in advance and suddenly find myself needing to pack my bag the night before, out of travel-sized toothpaste and shampoo. I understand that some of this might be due to the fact that I've had years of vacations, of holidays, of birthdays, and that the thrill is gone, that I'm jaded. I think there's something more at work than just the loss of the new, though.

I read once that we experience time opposite our metabolic rate. This means that when we are young, with a high metabolic rate, time appears slow to us. As we age and our metabolism slows, time is experienced as passing more and more quickly. This certainly makes as much sense as anything else. Time, after all, is a consistently measured quantity. If time itself doesn't change it must be something in us that's different.

I used to make fun of my mother for all sorts of reasons, but one reason was that if I asked her what she was up to, she'd frequently say, "Oh my, I have such a busy week. I go to the doctor Monday, and I play cards Tuesday, and on Wednesday I go to Walgreen's." What was unimaginable to me a few years ago is today a reality: I understand where she was coming from. I understand how having one thing to do can feel like a day's worth of activity, when days disappear so quickly. I understand what time really is. I understand my (and our) mortality.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

And You Think You're Bored

I stumbled across this site yesterday. It's the funniest thing I've seen in awhile. Put your mouse over the blue word and click. You'll be glad you did.

Monday, April 7, 2008

History Lessons

Is anyone else watching John Adams on HBO? Did anyone read the book? I'm wondering because, although I'm enjoying the miniseries, Paul Giamatti is playing Adams as if he is constantly constipated. He looks absolutely clenched-up and tortured. I know Adams spent the last 30 years of his life writing letter after tortured letter complaining that he didn't get enough credit for all that he did, but was this a lifelong thing, or just a product of the fact that Adams really didn't get much recognition during his lifetime?

Maybe he wasn't all that likable. Plus, he did sign into law the Alien and Sedition Acts, some of the most unpopular and controversial legislation ever passed (and, the 18th century version of the Patriot Act). I don't know. Hamilton wasn't very well-liked either, yet he managed to get his face on the ten dollar bill. Of course, he also boated over to Weehawken and dueled to his death with Aaron Burr, so he does get the "died before his time" sympathy. And Burr shortly proved himself to be a tad crazy and treacherous, but that's another story.

Adams' son, John Quincy Adams, also got the short end of history's stick. Until 2000, this pair was our only father-son presidential tag team. In an interesting parallel with the Bush saga, John Q was given the presidency by House of Representatives, despite losing the popular and electoral votes, which Andrew Jackson had won. Henry Clay dropped out of the running, gave his support to John Q, John Q was elected on the first ballot, and Clay was appointed Secretary of State. Jackson cried foul, quit the Senate and immediately began his campaign to take the Presidency away from Adams. By all accounts John Q was the best diplomat every elected President (he was the author of the Monroe Doctrine, after all), but Jackson's supporters undermined his domestic policies, and Jackson won the election of 1828 overwhelmingly.

So neither Adams gets talked about much, except as part of someone else's story. Which makes the book and miniseries nicely corrective. The cliche is that history is written by the winners, but really the point is that history tends to be written about the winners. I'm enjoying John Adams because it feels like a peek into the life of one of history's losers, and that's refreshing.

Plus, Thomas Jefferson is hot.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Ask a Vanderbilt

At the thrift store yesterday, I picked up a copy of Amy Vanderbilt's Everyday Etiquette, published in 1956. The book cost a dime; the advice found therein is priceless. Here are some helpful hints to get you through the weekend.

I've been wondering about this myself
I'm writing to you for information regarding the serving of frozen foods which are packaged in foil tins. I am referring particularly to individual meat pies which are purchased and baked in foil containers. Should they be removed from the containers or served in them? Is it proper to place the baked pie, still in its foil, on the dinner plate to be eaten from the container? Would it be better to place the pie in the foil on a bread and butter plate beside the dinner plate with a serving spoon for one to serve himself? Mrs. F.E.A.
No, you do not remove the baked pies from the foil containers when you serve individual pies. Because the pies are served hot, it is easier to place them individually on dinner plates and then place the dinner plates in front of the diners. The vegetables are then passed separately.

I hope Hillary is reading this blog
Do you feel that a woman public speaker must always wear a hat? M.M.
Not necessarily. She doesn't wear one if she is in evening clothes. In many quite urban communities, where hatlessness is a matter of choice, I've seen many distinguished women speakers without hats. In very small communities, which tend to be conservative in this matter, it is probably well for the speaker to wear a hat in order to avoid criticism. It should not be the kind that will shade her face or distract the audience, however. Any arrangement of veil, flowers, or perhaps a velvet ribbon bow would be quite acceptable.

Get married, become an idiot
Like all housewives, I have occasion to write some business letters. Can you give me a simple form that I can follow and that will be more or less foolproof? Mrs. G.N.
Yes, here is the form: (what follows is a standard letter with return address in upper right, then addressee to the left - here's the body of the letter)
Will you please send me two lounging chairs as advertised in last Sunday's Times @ $25.75 each. I enclose my check.
Mrs. Frank L. Lewis

Why girls didn't go wild in the 1950s
In passing a woman in a narrow corridor of a train, what should I do so that she may pass without coming into close contact with me? D.J.
You step into an empty compartment if there is one, or, if there isn't, you flatten yourself, face inward, against either wall.

How and when is it ever "proper" to invite a doctor to our home? Mrs. M.M.
This is a delicate matter. I assume you mean your own doctor. If, on your visits to him, you find that he engages you in some social conversation each time and seems anxious to prolong the visit for this reason, it is a quite proper thing to feel him out, as it were, to see if he would be interested in a social invitation...Certainly, if he is married, you do not exclude his wife in invitations, and the invitation, when it actually is sent or given over the phone, should be directed to her.

How not to be a ho
Before my boyfriend went to Alaska, we decided to wait until he got back to marry, but, as he has been gone two years, it seems a long time. Would it be good taste if I should go to him? He is sending me money for the trip. L.VB.
It is quite proper for you to go to him. However, just in case the marriage should not take place after you arrive, you should, for his protection and your own, pay your own passage, borrowing the money for the purpose if necessary. After the marriage, he can then reimburse you and you can then repay the loan if it was necessary to make one.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Best Worst Show on TV

Television exists so that otherwise cultured and intelligent people can spend hours watching pointless crap. At least, that's the way I justify my recent addiction to America's Next Top Model. This is an hour of television with absolutely no redeeming qualities, but it's crack I tell you, pure crack.

Apparently the show has been on for years, completely under my radar. About a month ago I was sick and spent a weekend lying on my couch, where I accidentally stumbled upon the first elimination show of this season. First of all, they had a competition where the models were dressed as homeless people. Pretty tasteless, right? That wasn't enough. For added value, the models, dressed as the homeless, posed with actual homeless people, who were dressed as models. At the judging, Tyra Banks (star of the show and of the show's weird universe) explained that homelessness was an issue dear to her heart because for her talk show (which she helpfully pointed out is called the Tyra Banks Show, meaning that she actually said, "Once for my show, which is called The Tyra Banks Show") she was homeless for a day. That's all well and good, but isn't the real challenge being homeless for a night?

Which leads us to secondly, which is Tyra herself. Until last month I had no real knowledge of or opinion about Tyra Banks. I have to wonder, though, what particular drug she mainlines. The woman has no normal speaking voice. She tries to sing-song, which tends to sound more like chirping. She's also almost completely manic. Her favorite word is "fierce," so that during the elimination sequence one can, on a weekly basis, watch her chirp at warp speed something like, "Amisyou'resweetbutyoujustdon'tsellit youhavetobeitgirlyouarenotfierce."

The third addicting thing about ANTM is the wannabes themselves, forced to live together in a Tribeca loft. This season features a woman named Dominique who looks so much like a drag queen I can't believe she doesn't have an Adam's apple. I think she hasn't been eliminated yet simply because she always refers to herself in the third person, giving the editors a lot of comic gold with which to work. A sample confessional: "Dominique won't be eliminated because Dominique is a single mother and is fierce. Dominique is going to be the next top model!" Then there's Lauren, a "punk" from Brooklyn who, I have to assume, got slipped a roofie at a club one night and awakened to find herself imprisoned on this television show. Not only does she dress like a Ramone circa 1977, not only does she walk down the runway slouched over looking almost completely embarrassed, not only does she spend most of every episode with a look of utter confusion and disdain, but she also swears like a sailor. She photographs incredibly beautifully. I adore her.

So, watch ANTM at your own risk, because you will be sucked in. It's not available on Hulu yet, but you can find some greatest moments on YouTube. New episodes air Wednesdays at 8 on the CW, but they're constantly airing "marathons" to catch you up on the season so far. Trust me, it's the best piece of crap on the dial.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Employment Journal, Part IV

It was time to call in the professionals. In order to get some perspective on my job quest, I decided to talk to someone who provides staffing services. Fortunately, my next-door office neighbor runs a such a firm, so I sat down yesterday with Elaine Patti of Track Staffing Services to see what she thought my chances would be on the open market.

I went over my education and resume, and asked her if she thought I could find a professional job in the Lehigh Valley. Here's the good news: "Definitely. You have a higher degree. As far as I can see, there's jobs at the high end and jobs at the low end. If you don't have at least a college degree, you're out of luck. If you don't have a college degree, you need to go to CIT and at least have a trade."

What sort of job could I expect to find, I asked. Of course, she told me that depends on what I'm looking for. However, "With your experience, you could be an executive director of a non-profit," Patti stated. "In this area there are a lot of non-profits and human service agencies. I would think all of those organizations would be avenues I'd pursue." Could she help place me as an executive director? "No, sorry, I don't work with non-profits, but I could try to match your skill sets with companies I do work with."

I asked how long a professional job search would take, and what kind of salary I could expect. She felt I could find a job in 30 to 90 days as long as I was flexible, but that if I had specific requirements I could be looking a long time. The salary range she felt would be $38-$60K for communications professionals. Obviously I'd look at the higher end of the range.

What if I'd been looking for months, had applied to all the non-profits and hospitals and come up short? Could she place me in a temp job? "My temp positions are more in the book-keeping field," she explained, "so without accounts payable or receivable experience, no, I wouldn't have anything for you." I told her the tale of my travails at the department stores and asked if I could hope to be hired by any sort of retailer. She felt that I could probably be hired at one of the big-box retailers for around $12 an hour, but that I could only expect to be hired part-time because it would be clear that I wouldn't be looking to make a career in retail. That, she felt, was the problem in department stores. Plus, she said that she "didn't see me behind a counter at Bon-Ton." I concur.

Finally, we talked about what the market is like for recent college graduates (not that recent grads necessarily flock to the Lehigh Valley). It doesn't sound pretty, at least not for those working in my field. Patti explained, "I see kids out of college who couldn't find a job in marketing, so they're wait staff or tending bar at a higher-end restaurant, and they find it hard to leave because they're making more there than entry-level marketing jobs would pay."

In short, I'm locked out of mall-type retailing positions because no one will believe I want a career in retail, and I'm locked out of high paying restaurant positions because recent college grads have cornered that market. Can I be a greeter at Wal-Mart? Stay tuned...