Wednesday, October 25, 2006

How to deal with a problem with your couch

... In 13 easy steps!

1. Own a couch that is honestly about 50 years old, a couch that your grandparents acquired after World War II, a couch that has spent significant amounts of time in many different zip codes, a couch that is a little worn and tired but still quite comfortable and no worse for the wear, except for the occasional hair spray stain from the 1960s-1970s.

2. Several years later, come to a dawning realization that the cushions of the couch all of a sudden seem kind of... dirty.

3. Two days later, mention this to your wife. Find out she has noticed it too. Be troubled.

4. A day later, look more closely at the discoloration. Note that it is kind of bluish, and is all along the top and edges and sides of the seat cushions. Could this have rubbed off from your jeans? Who knows?

5. Send a chummy email to your mother, asking if it's ok to put cushion covers in the washing machine. Don't feel reassured.

6. Call your mother five minutes later. Find out that you should probably dry clean it.

7. After you hang up the phone, look at the couch from different angles to see if it's really bad, or not really that bad. Ask your wife what she thinks. Ask your wife if this is something "people" would see, or something just you are aware of. Ask your wife about the odds of a drycleaner getting rid of the weird bluish fog on your couch. Is she 50% sure, or 80% sure it will work? Because you're like 35% sure. And what if it gets TOO clean, so that the rest of the couch looks weird and dingy compared to the newly pristine cushions? What if that is even worse than this?

8. Answer the phone when your mother calls again minutes later. Be reassured by the fact that, while you were obsessing over the couch, she had called your grandmother (after 9 pm, no less) for additional counsel. Consider that you come from a long line of people who are concerned about their couches. Listen to your mother's warnings of discoloration, and her recommendation to get some fabric cleaner and try to test it yourself.

9. At 9:30 pm, rally your wife for a late-evening run to the grocery store. Stop by Chipotle for a coke fifteen minutes before closing time. Always find the silver lining.

10. At the grocery store, fail to find any of the products you need. Buy a small plastic brush for more money than you think this item should reasonably cost. Wouldn't it be cheaper if it was made by some Malaysian orphan somewhere?

11. At home, strip the cushion, pick an unobtrusive area, and try to scrub out the fog with the brush and some cold water and some Tide. Watch in discouragement as the color bleeds a little bit. Drape the damp and bedraggled cushion lining over a chair and hope it dries in the morning. Make a tentative plan to maybe take it to the drycleaners in the morning, depending on how it looks. Or maybe try scrubbing it with just cold water, so the colors won't run.

12. Continue to worry about it. Can you afford to have a guy come in and clean the couch? Can you afford to replace the couch? Would you want to? Probably not.

13. Round up some NyQuil, kick back half a bottle of Pinot Grigio and wait until morning.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Watching a movie with my parents

I went home this weekend, and my parents and I spent Friday evening watching a movie called "The Sentinal," where Michael Douglas and Kiefer Southerland play secret service agents and Kim Basinger plays the first lady. Did you not see "The Sentinal"? Because it looked pretty mediocre? Yeah, I didn't either, but it was actually pretty enjoyable throughout, even though I had the bad guy pegged an hour before his true sinister nature was revealed. I am a true student of the cinema.

More amusing than the movie, however, was listening to my parents' commentary. They are the people who ask questions throughout the entire movie and never bother learning the characters' names. "Why is Michael Douglas running away from Kiefer Sutherland?" "So wait, is Kim Basinger still having an affair with Michael Douglas, or did they break up?" "Kiefer Sutherland will get the bad guy; after all, he's '24.'" Et cetera, through the entire movie. Although it does make you wonder about the whole stupid conceit of naming characters in genre movies where the actors' fame and reputation is vastly more powerful than the wooden stereotypes they're running around pretending to be.

I think they should make movies where the characters have the same name as the actors. To me, it is much more hard to believe that Kim Basinger is pretending to be someone named "Helen Naughahyde," or whatever, and she is the first lady of the United States, than to simply go into a movie and accept the fact that Kim Basinger is the first lady of the United States. That is a fact I could handle, and a country in which I could live. It could actually be fun to make movies this way, to subvert people's public personas (personae?) so that you have a movie where Tom Hanks turns out to have a meth lab in the back yard and America's Sweetheart Meg Ryan is actually battling a persistent case of Hepatitis-C. This would be much better than dealing with the stupid names movie characters have.

....One more thing that happened this weekend. We were sitting around debating the constant family issue of whether I need new clothes, and trying to end the discussion, I said they could just buy me new jeans for Christmas. My parents looked at each other, then said: "Well, when we got married Grandma and Pap Pap started to just give us a check for Christmas. We won't really do the whole pile of presents anymore, since you're married and all grown up. Also, you have to buy a gift for Grandma and Pap Pap yourself now. We won't sign your name on the card anymore."

What?! If someone had told me that getting married would be the death knell of Christmas, I would have reconsidered. If only I had known! I think back to last Christmas when I blindly and stupidly enjoyed the familiar pile of gifts and loot. This year, I'll run downstairs to find... an envelope. With a check in it. That I have to share. That is not the Christmas ideal I know and honor.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Music review: "Autumn in New York," Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong

Autumn in New York
Why does it seem so inviting?
Autumn in New York
It spells the thrill of first-nighting

Glittering crowds and shimmering clouds
In canyons of steel
They're making me feel - I'm home

It's autumn in New York
That brings the promise of new love
Autumn in New York
Is often mingled with pain

Dreamers with empty hands
May sigh for exotic lands

It's autumn in New York
It's good to live it again

* * *

My friend Kateri first introduced me to this song before I came to the city four and a half years ago. It's a duet between Ella Fitzgerald and froggy Louis Armstrong, and when I first heard it, it was a prophesy of things to come. Now I'm in my fourth New York autumn, and every year when I hear it a familiar chord of nostalgia is struck. I think the song really captures something about the life here - it's weird, but the song really reminds me of a tactile sensation of walking through Central Park at night with damp leaves underfoot. That is autumn here, to me.

New York is the most autumnal of cities, I think. So many dreams have been made and lost here; everyone has come here in order to pursue their own futures, with the same sense of optimism and naivete in 2006 as in 1956 as in 1906 as in 1886. Everyone you meet who has come from somewhere else has a story, and aspirations. Among all of those people rising and falling is a certain undercurrent of wistfulness and melancholy and jealousy and happiness - and if that isn't the fall I don't know what is.

Anyways, this song is beautiful and it's worth 99 cents on iTunes. Every year when I hear it reminds me of previous layers of memories, and gives me a glimpse of how it will feel to miss the present moment. The singers couldn't be better, the tempo and melody couldn't be more lovely, and my autumns would never be the same without it.

Autumn in New York - it's good to live it again. Thanks, Kateri.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Work it

I was making the bed this morning and noticed a weird flash of light coming in from the street. There was a strange clomping sound, too. Ever curious, I made my way to the window and saw an extremely silly photo shoot taking place on the sidewalk. They were decked out with the huge lights, the big white screens, about ten or so assistants and prop-holders and hangers-on. The subject of the photographs was: two cherubic and ethnically diverse little girls, holding a long jump rope, and in the middle, a grown woman in a tan business suit and high heels on. The photographer would yell at them to start, and the girls would start swinging the rope, and this poor woman would start lurching upwards in her heels, her arms flailing as she tried to keep time to the rope. She actually did pretty well, I guess, although she would take her shoes off between takes and have a sip of Red Bull (!) from an assistant.

Long ago I was reading or watching something about models, and learned that some of them mentally repeat the word "C---" as they prance down the runway in order to maintain that certain constipated look that the fashion world really seems to devour. This morning I laughed thinking that this poor model in the business suit was thinking it every time she jumped upward: "C---! C---! C---!"

What a great neighborhood.

Monday, October 09, 2006

New Yorker Festival 2006

It's the greatest event in the New York City calendar! The New Yorker Festival 2006: three days of authors, thinkers, and insufferable snots. A few highlights:

FRIDAY: We went to see a reading by Jonathan Safran Foer and Edward P. Jones. Foer is a young Jewish writer, Brooklyn all the way, who is quite talented and read a short story involving Power Point slides and gimmicky typography. An entertaining story, pretty compelling and with more of an emotional punch than I had expected, but kind of weird with the slides and the Wingdings characters interposed in the middle. Edward P. Jones is a newly-discovered literary giant, a black Washingtonian with a major novel and some amazing short stories under his belt. His narrative voice is omniscient as in God-like, and his technique is just remarkable. The contrast between the two writers was jarring and unavoidable -- Foer seemed a little young and punky, while Jones was quiet and reserved and a little miffed. I was thinking of the book I've been reading lately (Jane Smiley's "Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel"), and how it describes the life/work trajectory of novelists. Tonight we saw two writers at different points in their careers. I look forward to the day when Foer has the experience and the confidence of Jones, eschewing silly computer graphics for a self-assured and relatable voice.

I actually got up and asked a question of Jones, and I was terrified: knees knocking, heart pounding. As I spoke my voice rose higher and higher, so my question actually trailed off and ended in some inaudible realm of panic and sweaty palms. But Jones answered it (no, he doesn't see his work in the context of other writers) and he didn't seem to think I was a moron....

...Unlike the person who introduced the two writers. This guy was the picture of Manhattan liberal snotty elite. He had ridiculous adverbs ("harrowingly audacious"), he mistitled the writers' works ("The Lost World," rather than "The Known World"), he sort of insulted Jones in the introduction ("I found his first book, 14 years ago, on the bargain table outside a bookstore in Cambridge") and he made up a word that does not or should not exist ("heartful").

* *

SATURDAY: We went to a panel discussion on the midterm elections, moderated by political stud Hendrik Hertzberg, with Congressmen Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Dana Rorhrbacher (R-Calif.). Unfortunately it turned into an actual debate of the issues, rather than a discussion of political predictions, trends, etc - the less acrimonious stuff. Sadly, Dana R. was intellectually outmatched by Barney, so it wasn't even sporting. The audience would groan and laugh when Dana said something particularly galling ("I have a petition signed by 12,000 scientists saying man is not responsible for the increased temperature of the earth") and I was sad to see our collective liberal smugness emerge yet again. Hendrik didn't moderate the thing too well, either. I left the event with raised blood pressure and anxiety.

The comical part came from the two stuffy gay dudes who sat in the aisle next to us. As we stood up to let them walk past us to their seats, one of them looked at me with this utterly disgusted grimace and eyed me from head to toe. Then he did the same to L as he walked by, remarking, "Is the seating general admission?" I turned to L and asked her if I had snot smeared across my face, because we just had received the dirtiest looks ever. She was laughing about it too. When the dude got up later to ask a prickly and logically incoherent question about gay marriage, I took my sweet time standing up to let him pass. Oddly enough, I saw him again later in the day by Union Square, 5 long blocks east and 20 blocks south.

* *

SUNDAY: We saw Zadie Smith give an extremely boring and dry and abstract lecture about.... something. I was definitely falling asleep during it, and was only surprised that I was able to fight Lecture Fatigue for as long as I did. She had powerpoint slides, too, and was using them to (unsuccessfully) counteract the academic talk she was giving about novels, the nature of writing, success and failure, etc. I enjoyed being in the same room as her -- she is smart, physically striking, and has a surprisingly rough and rich voice. Things perked up during the Q&A session, which I left early to go to the gym. Michael Cunningham was there, and he asked a good and somewhat bitchy question about the evolving nature of literary criticism. There was a small ripple in the crowd when we realized another esteemed novelist was in the room.

The lecture did get me thinking, though, about the nature of writing. Zadie talked about how hard the writing process can be, and it made me wonder if writers are only able to convey on paper a fraction of their intelligence and wit and brio. I'm always surprised at how easy to read Zadie's books are, and perhaps they are some compromised shadow of the perfect novel banging around in her head. Consequently, perhaps I would be able to write some crappy detective story or something, whereas Zadie writes these socially astute comic novels, and gods like Updike and Roth and Faulkner are just so far beyond the pale that they can even tap into that ideal novel in the sky.

* *

In sum, the festival was as awesome as ever. I have been reading a lot about novels and the nature of writing, so I have a lot of ideas right now floating around, and a strong intellectual desire to write (this desire it not matched by an actual desire to write, however, strong enough to get my ass off the couch). I love seeing writers and other readers, and sharing a common familiarity with the book scene. For one weekend, reading and reveling in books is a distinctly social phenomenon, and you have to take that wherever you can find it. When I die, I want somebody to chuck the new issue of the New Yorker in my casket with me (in a respectful, reverent way -- although how funny would it be if like a subscription card fluttered out of the casket as they closed the lid).

Other fantastic things about the weekend: an uproarious Friday night with John and Anna, a great afternoon on Saturday with the affable and globe-trotting Russell, a sweet time at the gym on Sunday, and ... this is the kicker: I happened to walk past the Virginia Sil'hooettes singing in Union Square. They were awesome and still completely cute, even if they were disturbingly young. I hadn't hung out with Russell while listening to a capella in way too long, and I'm glad we could take a break in the quick tides of Manhattan for a little beat-boxing and semi-circled harmony. So heartful. So, so heartful.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

All my awesome new friends at the gym

Case in point #1:

There's this chick I've been talking with, waiting for our Thursday class to begin at 6:30. She seems friendly enough, if a little chatty. I know a lot more about her than she does about me, because I generally have a policy to not reveal personal information among that bizarre self-selected coed fraternity of gym-goers, whereas this girl has no such compunction. She told me how she was supposed to be on some reality show with her mom, how she comes to the gym as often she can, when she's feeling tired or hungry or whatever. I also saw her conspicuously flick her eyes down to check out my wedding ring, when I came back in August. Another broken heart, I thought. I hope she can accept the fact that I simply can't be with her, the way she wants to be with me. Obviously.

Well, a little while ago, we were talking before class and she said, "....tomorrow's my tough day, I've got precalc and physics." Wait a second, back it up. I said: "Oh, are you in college," knowing the answer already.

"Nope, high school -- I'm a junior." Oh, wow! Neat! I've been pretending to flirt with a high school student! They make movies about this, and let me tell you, it never works out well for the dude (See: "Lolita," "Election," etc).

Case in point #2:

On Thursday, after the awesome hip hop class, I was drinking water and trying to absorb the sweat coming off my face into a towel. This is physiologically an embarassing moment. A dude in the step class that immediately follows mine, a large and swarthy man of color who is pretty darn gay, who I am on a head-nod basis with, said hi and I waved hello. With sweat stinging in my eyeballs I noticed that he was still looking at me. I must have smiled or made some other gesture of assent, because he started ambling towards me, as I continued to focus on trying to block up my pores. He came up to me and PUT HIS HAND ON MY SHOULDER/BACK/BACK OF THE ARM - an ambiguous zone. He said, "I have to say, you looked really good in that class."

Oh, wow! Neat! I tried to say something out of gratitude ("Huh, thanks, ha ha") and quickly return to sweating, but he was still smiling ("You did, you did!") I was a bit thrown off, but also flattered, I must say. My reluctance to exercise with L comes from my conviction that I look like a total knob when I'm working out -- limbs flailing; bizarre, asymmetrical sweat stains; saliva crusting at my lips from breathing through my mouth -- so when you get some positive feedback on your gym performance, it gives you a bit of a boost.

Anyways, this is not especially newsworthy (or even interesting) but I haven't written in a while and I wanted to get something up here. In other news, things are pretty good: James swooped into town for a couple days, so I got to see him; I've got a couple of job offers to consider; and L made a great dinner tonight. Happy campers all around.