Friday, April 30, 2010

Coney Island (finally!)

Perhaps you can tell from the title of the blog that I sort of have a thing about Coney Island? I never went there as a kid, but the place is so drenched in nostalgia that it will lend you some if you can't provide your own. And it's not just one thing -- not just the ocean, not just the Boardwalk, not just the rides -- but the entirety of Coney that is so wonderful. I've had beach summers when I was on the sand and under the sun as often as I could manage; I've had summers where I simply walked the Boardwalk; I've had summers where a perfect day was eating a Nathan's frank and riding the Wonder Wheel. (I haven't had the stomach for the Cyclone, the big old giant historic wooden roller coaster, since the early 80s, but the Wonder Wheel, which has to be about 85 years old or more by now, is just fine for me.

The only bad thing about the eight years I had a really cheap apartment on the east side of Manhattan (Sutton Place area, low 50s) is that it was too far from Coney. Besides, I'm basically a Brooklyn girl, and when I met Barry, back I came. Now, unless it's overcast, I can actually see the Wonder Wheel from my subway station, which makes me really happy.

Also making me really happy: a new amusement park, Luna Park (named after one of the major Coney Island parks which closed in 1946), will open in just about a month, and I've been looking at videos and pictures of the beautiful new rides being built by the Italian firm Zamperla. They're shiny new, those rides, but they just fit. It's going to be great to have something so new and colorful and hopeful to enjoy this summer, and I'm finding the progress reports quite fascinating.

Documentarian Ric Burns (the slightly less famous brother of Ken), made a film called Coney Island that I would recommend wholeheartedly to one and all. It focuses on the heyday of Coney in the early 1900s, and has plenty of wonderful film and photos. It also explains the societal implications of such a place: a middle class American Riviera that the common person could visit and enjoy for mere nickels. It also talks about the technology that made it possible, like the Culver Line subway that made it easy to visit (this is now the F train which is my subway line), and the recent harnessing of electricity which permitted the original Luna Park to light the night sky like nothing anyone has ever seen.

Fun fact: among the handful of poems I've had published in various teeny-weeny literary magazines (I don't really do that stuff anymore), probably one of my favorites was entitled "palm sunday, coney island". I no longer have a copy of it, though I remember some of the lines. And I remember exactly how and when and why I wrote it. Stillwell Avenue, the Coney Island subway station, is where a number of train lines terminate, and can often be a very easy transfer point even if it's in the opposite direction from where you're headed. For instance, I would have to take an F train maybe 15 stops, into Manhattan, if I wanted to transfer for a B or D train -- or I can go back, "the wrong way," four stops to Stillwell and get any number of train lines that terminate there. So I'd gone to Stillwell one day to change trains there, and that day happened to be Palm Sunday, which is the traditional opening day for the Coney rides (which then operate weekends-only until the season opening on Memorial Day weekend). So, while waiting for my train leave, I watched the rides making their first go-rounds of the new season, pulled out a piece of paper, and wrote it.

Today, I was coming home from lunch with Lily on the F, listening to my new mp3 player (I bought it some months ago but this was my first time using it), when a young woman started looking at the subway map over my head. I paused my player and asked if she needed any help or info since, as I'm sure you've guessed, I know my F train pretty well. She said, "No, we're just going to Coney Island, because we've never been there before." I said, "You'll love it, but just so you know, the rides are only open weekends until Memorial Day." She looked a little crestfallen, so I told her what she *could* enjoy today, the Boardwalk and a hot dog and such. She thanked me and went back to sit with her two, similarly young friends. I went back to my music. But when I saw her take out a harmonica and start to play, I thought that was one of the coolest things ever (not a lot of female harpists out there -- the only one I can think of is Little Annie Raines), and I turned off my music and went to sit across from these young folk, who ended up all being 20 and 21. The young lady, whose name is Shana, had just moved to New York, and the two young men were friends who were visiting with her. So I talked blues with them, and Coney, and working as a writer or musician, and I ended up writing down all kinds of things for them, names of clubs and artists, and gave Shana my e-mail and blog addresses, asked her to let me know when she's playing. I'm almost sorry I didn't go with them, since it would have been a blast to see them see Coney for the first time.

In the mid-90s, I had an internet romance with an engineering professor from Wichita, Kansas, a single father of two boys, and he came to New York for a week with them so we could meet face-to-face and they could all enjoy New York. I took the week off from work, but the pace was so exhausting that I begged off a couple of things -- Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty, I think, though I did walk them across the Brooklyn Bridge. *My* bridge. (See documentary by Ric Burns, Brooklyn Bridge. I also have a love-thing about the BB, but that's for another time.) We went to Planet Hollywood (yuk) and to see Smokey Joe's Cafe, a Broadway jukebox show of Leiber & Stoller songs. Turned out one of my old musician pals was an onstage performer, which much impressed my heartland friends. And one night Dad and I went out along to see V. perform at the Knitting Factory. But taking them to Coney Island was by far my favorite part of it all (in addition to the rather feverish making out he and I did at his hotel suite after the boys were asleep).

I wish I could say the romance was successful, but since I'm now in Brooklyn rather than Wichita, and not the stepmother to a couple of now-teenaged boys, it's no secret that it wasn't. We were starting to make plans for me to take a trip to visit out there, when he just balked about the entire relationship. This was very bad for me; I take it very personally when someone steps back or away, and it was bruising. Plus, that kind of indecisiveness doesn't bode well for any kind of connection. So we made a clean break. It was too bad -- he was a really lovely guy who had mailed me some of his home-baked bread and biscotti, before our first meeting, and he was so handsome that I even forgave his mullet (he usually wore his back hair in a ponytail so sometimes it seemed less mullet-y). But as upset as I was about his withdrawal, and he refusal to resume contact on a friendly basis some years later, I do hope he and his nice boys are happy, and he has some other nice woman eating his biscotti and running her fingers through that mullet.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

old Malaysian pop music

A do-the-twist song performed by guys in fezzes. How cool is that? Found this at BoingBoing.

old diets and scary movies

Last night, it took me over an hour to fall asleep, despite it being rather late and my having taken both trazodone (to help me sleep) and lorazepam (to stop my mind from racing while I was trying to get to sleep). So this was what I was thinking about when I couldn't sleep:

Four movies that scared me as a kid:

1. Some Sinbad movie (the sailor, not the comedian), which I realize now probably sported Ray Harryhausen monsters. The bungalow colony where we summered used to occasionally show a film outdoors, using the handball court wall as a screen. I was about six when they showed this Sinbad movie, and my problem was a big orange Cyclops, who I remember as making a sound like "oogle oogle oogle," though I may have added those "oogles" in my head. Very scary.

2. The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, probably on TV, also at the bungalow colony. I know it was during the summer because my brother and I slept on bunkbeds in the cottage, and I was afraid to look down at the lower bunk where he slept because I was afraid of seeing a big bubbling pod. We didn't have a TV in the bungalow so it must have been at a friend's. This might have been a couple of years after the Sinbad movie. The 1978 version of this movie wasn't nearly as good, though it featured a cute young Jeff Goldblum, and the recent remake with Nicole Kidman isn't even worth watching.

3. The Birds, on TV. I must have been somewhere between 9 and 11 years old, because I remember I was so scared that I had to sleep with my mother, who was between her two marriages. The thing that scared me so much about the movie, and still makes it very scary, is that there was never any explanation as to why the birds started behaving as they did. It wasn't like the movies where Whit Bissell explained that A-bomb tests in the area had caused spiders to grow to gigantic sizes or whatever (try to find a cheesy 50s sci-fi movie without Whit Bissell, I dare ya!).

I can't remember what the fourth movie was, or maybe it was only three. Hey, I was in bed thinking about this stuff between 3:30-4:30 am!


I was telling my doctor yesterday that I don't much go for diets that involve a lot of weighing and measuring, that I mostly know what's healthy and what isn't, and I try to eat smaller portions. But it made me think about some of the famous diet plans that I tried, and my mother did as well. My mother was definitely way too focused on food; she was constantly losing and putting on the same ten pounds, and she wasn't particularly overweight, maybe a size 10. Plus she always had a great shape, regardless. I haven't had a waistline in years.

The first one I remembered was the "Stillman" diet, also known as "The Doctor's Quick Weight Loss Diet," which was the title of the book that explained it all. As I recall, it was basically kind of like Atkins: all protein. It was the first diet that required drinking eight glasses of water a day, and though this is now considered pretty much common wisdom for anyone, dieting or not, it sounded awfully weird around 1970. This was way, way before people were carrying bottles of water around or even necessarily drinking all that much water. Consequently, there was much humor around drinking all that water, generally of the bathroom variety.

The other popular one I remember and tried was the Scarsdale Diet, which I think was the first popular low-fat diet. It was so popular that restaurants advertised that they had Scarsdale-friendly meals, even where I lived at the time, which was Binghamton, NY -- not the hippest or trendiest place. The author of the book, Dr. Herman Tarnower, was eventually killed by his sometime-girlfriend, a very proper-seeming schoolteacher named Jean Harris. (They were played quite well in a made-for-HBO movie by Ben Kingsley and Annette Bening.)

What sucks is that I wasn't even really overweight when I went on either of them. I was still in high school when I went on Stillman, and at 5'2, I don't think I was ever over 108 pounds. I can only imagine that my thinking was that if my mother felt she was fat enough to have to diet, I certainly was as well, since she always had a small waist and mine was less small.

I was maybe 19 or 20 when I did Scarsdale, and had maybe hit 115. Which was really not out of range. I don't remember ever having a particular goal weight or size.

Considering the example my mother set, it's a miracle I didn't end up anorexic, although she never commented on my weight or said I needed to be thinner. As I said, it was mostly me figuring that if she were "fat", I was, too. Power of example.

The other example she set, which was the one that I think really hurt me, was that she could eat tons and often enjoyed doing so. I remember one occasion when she and her then-boyfriend ended up at dinner with a guy named Gerry Philbin, who played for either the Jets or Giants, one of the area football teams, and she out-ate the football guy. As I remember her telling the story, they all ate huge steaks, but then she had a hunk of apple pie and Philbin didn't. She could pack it away if she wanted to, even though she was as short as I am. I guess she would eat monstrous amounts, gain the ten pounds, and then diet it off. Can you say "eating disorder"?

My mother died at 45 of metastasized breast cancer, and I later theorized that she might have become alcoholic. They say that two drinks a day every day sort of puts you on a "watch list," and she always had a scotch when she got home from work and a glass of wine with dinner. Sometimes two glasses of wine with dinner, and a nice cordial after. Especially after she married my stepfather and began to entertain more, my mother loved to serve after-dinner drinks like sweet liquors (so there's your sugar and your booze): brandy, Drambuie, B&B, and so on. I was fond of that stuff myself, and as a teen, I was permitted to join in with the adults' "social" drinking, the wine with dinner and the after-dinner drinks. I was always fascinated by alcohol from a young age, so this was also not to best example for me. My mother was only doing what she was doing -- that is, she did the best she could -- but I also think she was more motivated by what she wanted rather than the effect it would have on me.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Betty White & doctors (mine, not hers)

I am stupidly excited about seeing Betty White host SNL on May 8. I didn't watch The Golden Girls, but just from The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the movie Lake Placid, I absolutely adore her. And I'm not the only one: there is an adorable fan video that captures many of her memorable lines, and even has some images of an extremely lovely young Betty. For those who first encountered her on MTM or Golden Girls, her extreme naughtiness was a shock simply because of her age. For me, it goes back farther, because I remember her first as the wife of Allen Ludden, the host of the game show Password, who was at the time considered a kind of uber-square, and I always thought of her as Mrs. Uber-Square. This is why my favorite Betty White line is from Lake Placid: "This is where, if I had a dick, I would tell you to suck it." Lake Placid is a pretty funny movie; although the leads, Jeff Daniels and Bridget Fonda, and kind of bland, both Betty and Oliver Platt (love him) play pretty off-kilter and funny characters.

Doctors: I saw two of them today, my GYN and my general doctor. Exhausting but I'm glad I did it. I have to do all kinds of follow-up stuff re: the GYN: mammogram, breast sonogram, vaginal sonogram, bone density test, and a consult session at her practice about my stress incontinence, which may lead to a referral to another doctor. Also got three prescriptions from her. Even though this is only the second time I've seen her, and the last time was (yikes) three years ago, I adore her. She's efficient, friendly, clear, and non-judgmental. My general doctor was pleased with my weight loss, still not happy with my pressure (he upped one med), needs bloods, answered questions, finished my Hep B vaccination and maybe there was more, I don't remember, but I have to do blood tests for him and go back in another couple of weeks for a pressure check (at which point he will decide on a new cholesterol med for me and let me know how the blood test results). So things are turning around, I'm turning around, and the healthier eating is not so difficult and is really paying off.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

chicken soup

We discovered yesterday that our oven isn't working. When the electronic ignition stopped working on the stove burners over time, we could light them with matches, but it now seems to have stopped working on the oven as well, but there's no way to hand-light it that either of us could see. And since I'm really trying to cook most or all of our dinners, for health & economy reasons, this is a big drag. We have to go to the landlord about it since, unlike the fridge, we don't own it, and it wasn't new when we moved in here five or so years ago. It would be fine to have it fixed, better to have it replaced, and best of all if it doesn't cost us anything, including grief from the landlord. He's a good guy, but can be fussy, and we went through this recently with him when we had a bad U-pipe under our bathroom sink that was leaking *and* clogged. Landlord had a plumber come after he;d looked at it himself, and we didn't have to pay, but we got an earful about tidiness and the last few lingering cartons from our move. Barry dislikes this as much as I do, so he's going to wait a few days and let the landlord know just a day or two before he comes to get the rent, which means one landlord visit, not two.

So I've been planning meals that don't require the oven. Since Barry wasn't feeling well today, and the weather was a bit raw, I figured chicken soup would do it. (Tomorrow will be poached salmon and spinach salad.) I went to the kosher butcher next store to Ouri's (the amazing produce store), where I'd seen chicken necks the other day. They didn't have them today, but they had hefty packages of what they called "chicken bones," so I bought two for about three bucks. I was amazed when I opened them: the two packages yielded the bones from five chickens, everything but the legs and breast cutlets, still intact, next to that little bumpy thing at the butt. (Does it have a name, that weird little fatty thing?)

I am usually a kitchen-sink variety soup maker -- that is, I simmer some kind of bones for a couple of hours, take them out and throw in some sorts of vegetables, and cook it some more. Usually any soup I make turns out to be vegetable soup, and is rarely the same twice. When it comes to soup, I'm not about recipes -- except the time I made, it was either lentil or split pea soup, I can't remember which, but it was my stepfather's favorite soup. He bitched and bitched about the smell of the ham bone wafting around the apartment. I know, real nice.

But I really wanted to do a very classic type of chicken soup. I had read recently that a lot of cooks roast bones before simmering them for soup, to get a deeper flavor. Since I have no oven, I browned up the chicken bones with a touch of canola oil, put them in the soup pot with some boiling water, and used a bit more boiling water to deglaze the browning pan. Then I threw in a little kosher salt and black pepper, half a big onion (cut into but not apart), and two smashed (but not cut up) cloves of garlic, and let it go for two hours. Then I strained it and added a couple of handfuls of barley, some sliced carrots, and some fresh dill, and simmered it until the barley was done, maybe 40 minutes more. (I only put in the barley because Barry doesn't cope well with no starch at a meal. I can sympathize -- I used to think I didn't feel full w/o serious carbs.)

The whole house smelled like chicken soup. It was heavenly. He ate two bowls and I ate a bowl and a half. The best part was that I've started testing my blood sugar again, and my postprandial (two hours after starting to eat the meal) reading was 95, first one I've had under 100 this week. I started to get a little more serious about my eating last week, and I'm checking myself by monitoring my weight and blood sugar. The first reading I took in many months was scary-high, around 250, but I've been getting it down day by day.

I'm also proud of myself for not giving in to the urge to make kneidlach (matzoh balls) with the soup. They're homey and traditional for real "Jewish penicillin," but the truth is, they're mostly white flour, not as acceptable to me as a little bit of barley.

But I just don't know what the fuck to do about my husband's eating, since he just heated up a slice of pizza from the freezer, I guess for the 10:45 PM snack. At least I stopped him from eating the second sugar-sweetened yogurt. He often thinks that if something is relative low fat or low calorie, like a Frozefruit, for instance, that this means he can eat two or three at once. I want to knock my head against the wall sometimes. He isn't diabetic (yet) but he's maybe 30 pounds overweight, dead set against ever exercising in his lifetime, and at 58, his health is not going to correct itself. I hate to bitch about him because he is extremely wonderful, but he's also one of these people who thinks he can do exactly as he pleases, and then get the doctor to fix it with a pill. I do get a little bit of mileage out of prohibiting certain foods from the house because they are bad for me and too tempting, so there's no ice cream or cookies or pastry around here. He will usually buy himself a couple of Frozefruits or some sherbet, which does have sugar but isn't hard for me to pass up. Lately, I've been keeping the place very well-stocked with fruit -- he likes oranges and bananas. But at times he will eat those in *addition* to the white-sugar desserts. If I don't make him feel a little guilty, he will graze all night between dinner and bed: crackers, peanut butter (not natural, of course), dry breakfast cereal, and on and on. I occasionally pull out the line, "You know, dessert is only one course." Every so often I get into the you're-killing-yourself-and-I'll-be-all-alone thing, which is more about me being unhappy than trying to guilt him...and although it makes him unhappy, nothing changes.

Last weekend, 10 days ago or so, I had a very down weekend, and woke up Monday morning thinking, "these shitty pills are doing nothing," and stopped taking my venlafaxine and depakote cold. Not smart, I know, and the venlafaxine withdrawal was awful for the first couple of days. Chills, sweats, and brain zaps. I did join a website for discussions for psychiatric meds, which was very helpful and I got some good support. I did also call my general doctor and got a referral to a new psychiatrist, since I'd had some concerns about the one I'd been seeing for a while (he's the only one I'd ever seen, and had been treating me since 1997). I saw the new doctor on Sunday, and am very pleased with him. Apart from being two blocks away from me and having Sunday hours, he listened, he talked, and he diagnosed me instead of my having to do it myself. He said he thought I was *not* Bipolar II but did have a mood disorder, and prescribed the generic of Lamictal (I haven't learned the long name yet -- hell, I was just getting the hang of "venlafaxine"). He also gave me lorazapam for panic attacks instead of clonazapam, explaining that this was not really the best way to use clonazepam and lorazapam was more appropiate for this. (Not only did the old doctor never tell me this, but he pretty much let me decide to use it. That is, we had some at home prescribed for my husband, and I started to take them when I got anxious, and when I told this to the old doctor, he said, "OK, I'll write you your own prescription." This may sound dumb but I was kind of appalled that he didn't say anything to me about taking another person's prescription meds.

I've been on the new meds only two days now, but I can tell you this: I found out yesterday that I have exhausted all of my unemployment benefits, all 99 weeks, and I didn't lose my mind over it. I'm seeing the new doctor again two weeks from this coming Sunday for a followup (he only has Sunday hours at this office). And tomorrow I'm doing a double-header: GYN and regular doctor in one day. (They're right down the block from each other.)

I'm definitely thinking about what to do now that my unemployment insurance is tapped out. I may try to find something part-time nearby, or do a long-term temp assignment (I'm thinking about something like a month or less to start). Although I'd lost the electronic version my my resume, and couldn't put my hands on a hard copy, my friend Lily, bless her heart, still had a couple of versions in her e-mail from when I'd asked her to take a look at it. And hopefully the new printer will arrive within a week. The old printer almost never worked properly, paper wouldn't feed right. HP. I'd had one once before, and the problem wasn't with the machine but with the customer service. My hard drive crashed, I couldn't find the disc, and although the HP website had a lot of drivers for free download, they didn't have one for mine, since it was about two years old and I guess they'd much rather have you buy a new one. No help at all. I ended up having to get it at some weird bootleg drivers website. No more HP for me. New new one coming is a lightly used Lexmark 3-in-1: printer, fax, and scanner. $39 on eBay.

Also coming from eBay: a big covered nonstick skillet ($31), and an immersion blender ($17).

how I got collecting under control

I should have Born to Collect tattooed on my arm. As a little kid, I did the usual stamps and coins halfheartedly. I had a cigar box of stamps I had torn from envelopes, and used to check any change around the house for rare years. They're expensive hobbies to do properly. I don't have any of the stamps any more, and no coins except a couple of old silver dollars that I think came from my grandparents, old but worn.

As I got a little older, it was DC Comics. A lot of my friends preferred Marvel, but I responded more to the classic qualities of DC, I think. Superman, to me, seemed to be the first superhero. I wasn't so much a Batman fan, but there was a lot for someone who was just a Superman fan. There were so many parts and offshoots in the Superman universe. There were Supergirl and Superboy, Krypto the Superdog, Superman's sometime girlfriend Lois Lane and his old girlfriend Lana Lang and sometimes some random babes with "LL" names. There was Bizarro Planet, one of my favorites, where Superman had a green, sharp-planed complexion (kind of like The Thing), and everyone did the opposite of what they did on regular earth. There was Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olson, who had his own comic called "Superman's Pal Jimmy Olson." Jimmy had a special wristwatch that could summon Superman, and when he pressed it, the signal went "zee zee zee." There were recurring supervillains like Lex Luthor, who were Superman's special enemies. There was green Kryponite, glowing rocks from Superman's exploded home planet, that would weaken him (and presumably kill him); lead would shield him from it. Later on, red Kryponite showed up, and I may not be remembering this correctly, but I think it temporarily took away his powers. Occasionally, some other color of Kryptonite would arrive (kind of like the LL girls), each with its own effect on old Supe. And although his home planet Krypton had exploded, Superman somehow had a miniaturized Kryptonian ciry, Kandor, in a jar in his Fortress of Solutude (every so often he'd have to get shrunk down and go in their for some reason or another). There was a wacky little dude name Mr. Mxyzptlk (obviously, I may have misspelled this), who was kind of Superman's special pest; the way to send him back into his own dimension was to trick him into saying his name backwards, which Superman managed to do an awful lot of times.

I'm such a nerd. And no, I don't still have those comics; I think they fell victim to the Mom Syndrome, same as the baseball cards I bought in the late 60s.

Next thing after that was underground comics, R. Crumb and his ilk, which were wonderfully dirty and funny, some soaked in the drug culture (like Gilbert Shelton's "The Furry Freak Brothers" ). I don't have them any more either. (A sidebar: when V. and I were close friends, he used to bring me to most of the interesting parties and events he was invited to. During a lot of those years, Mrs. V. chose to stay home with the kids, though there were certain things we all went to together. These included things like a Robert Christgau book party, and the memorial service for Dave van Ronk. As he started to withdraw from our friendship, I stopped getting invited to this stuff, and at one of the parties I didn't go to, V. met R. Crumb and had a long talk with him. Bastard.) I think Mom secretly ditched the underground comics too. Oh Lord, and I almost forgot about ALL the National Lampoons.

During this time, I used to save magazines with great covers or clip great articles. I had a New York Magazine whose cover story was an excerpt from "Ladies and Gentlemen, Lenny Bruce!" and an Esquire whose cover story was "Groucho: The Good Life of a Dirty Old Man at 81." So I had a lot of paper stuff, which does tend to get cluttery. I only wish my mother had helped me find a storage solution (a file cabinet or something), rather than throw stuff out behind my back.

I lost two of my adult collections in The Great Storage Tragedy several years ago. (Basically, due to the tiny size of this apartment, we had to put a lot of things in storage and couldn't really afford it, and eventually lost it all. If we'd had another $130 a month, we would have simply rented a bigger place.) The two were my second baseball card collection (I was a very active collector in my early sobriety, the late 1980s), and my postcards. Day-um. The postcards were pretty awesome.

The only collection I still possess is some 5,000 bottlecaps. My main collection is US cork-backed (pre-1972) sodas, about half of what I have, and the rest are foreign, plastic-backed, and beers that I somehow couldn't resist. This was a hobby I picked up from V., whose collection must be around 15,000 by now, since he's been at it longer and is richer than I am. Still, I did join the US collectors group and V. and I used to have fun going to their annual meeting-and-trade weekends in Pennsylvania (we used to share space with beer can collectors). This was back in the days when I could manage to cough up $150 for two hotel nights, and maybe $700-800 to buy caps (I also traded, but after a while, the things I still needed were a little too rich for the trade stock I had). Anyway, no longer being well-off and no longer wanting to have anything to do with V., I let my membership in the Crowncap Collectors Society International (you're allowed to laugh) lapse, and haven't bought a cap in quite a while. I keep them in the coin folders used for half dollars, the folders tucked into plastic sheets with 20 pockets each, and the sheets in file boxes. Need a filing cabinet.

Collectors are collectors, and we really "get" each other, even if we don't always
"get" the draw of the particular object of desire. For instance, my friend Jannah's husband, John, collects lanterns of all sorts: camping lanterns, roadwork lanterns, railroad and subway lanterns, and so on. When he shows me two and points out that one is a rare variation with an etched shade, I totally know what he means. But even though he has a basement and garage, with shelves he built in and more lanterns hung overhead, it's the sort of collection that needs a lot of space. (At one bottlecap convention, V. and I heard about a local guy who'd built an entire outbuilding on his property for his beer can collection.)

I also still have my labels, US and foreign soda and beer labels, which are compact enough to fit in two looseleafs. The labels are not very expensive to buy but the sheets to keep them in, the nice acid-free ones used for stamps, are costly.

If I had the money and space, I'd collect everything: do postcards and baseball cards again, vintage fountain pens, first editions, matchbook covers (I *really* love matchbook covers), maybe Netsuke, old native American turquoise jewelry, and on and on. I had a terrible flirtation on eBay with roller rink stickers, which rinks used to give away for people to put on their skate cases!

But here's how I solved, for now, my collecting Jones: fruit stickers. I once saw an astonishing collection of banana stickers online, and was inspired. So I just took a little blank bound notebook that I already had, and started saving one of each sticker from any fruit I bought (and as of today, this includes one avocado sticker and one tomato sticker). If there isn't enough glue left on the sticker, I use a little Elmer's; it's a very casual collection, in no particular order. As much as I try to eat local, our awesome neighborhood fruit/veg market has some great imported stuff, with some very pretty little stickers. I like the ones with pictures of fruit on them, but I like the plainer ones, too. Any doubles, I stick on the fridge, which belongs to us, not the landlord (one side of the fridge is slowly filling with various stickers and bumper stickers we've acquired, like Friends Ranches, WFMU, and Brooklyn Industries. (I adore Brooklyn Industries, even though I can't wear any of their clothes except the men's XL tee shirts. I think they initially only sold purses and bags, made of very cool fabrics, and I own two, and got a nice little men's shoulder bag for my husband, who had never imagined anything between a knapsack and nothing. I never liked knapsacks for myself -- way too hard to access your stuff -- and I don't like them on grown men, unless they're climbing Everest.) Oh, I also made a huge score on a BI winter coat (down, teal with a mustard lining, and the BI logo stitched on the breast) for my husband's birthday a couple of years ago: online, they were selling off the last of the prior year's winter stuff, and I got this coat, which was the very last one and in his size, for something like $30, rather than the original $150 or so. He loved it and still does. The BI logo is a silhouette of the kind of wooden water tower one sees on the top of some older Brooklyn buildings, which really does speak to me.

Anyway: fruit stickers. I have nearly two pages full in my little book, no organization at all except the order in which I get them, pretty, cute, and free with the purchase of a lovely apple, orange, banana, mango, papaya, etc.

Maybe when I food-shop tomorrow, I'll get stuff to make sorbet (sugar-free, of course). In my pre-diabetic days, I used to make regular sorbet a lot; I made ice cream less often, because homemade ice cream is way too good. I remember the first time I ever made my own ice cream, I thought if I made a fruit flavor, I wouldn't inhale it too fast; although I love fruit sorbets, my ice cream tastes are more on the chocolate-coffee-vanilla-maple walnut-cheesecake side of things. So I made raspberry ice cream, and ate the entire quart in two days. Homemade ice cream is like crack, makes even my favorite superpremiums (e.g. Ben & Jerry's) look a little lame.

The V's used to have a big party once a year, about 30 people, and I would always bring four quarts of sorbet, all different flavors. At that time, I had an ice cream maker with other one canister, which would have to refreeze for 24 hours before I could make a new batch, so I would set aside five days (which allowed for one screw-up or disaster) to make the four quarts for the party. It would always be quite a week. In the year I met my future husband, I was very soon staying at his place most nights, and since the V's party was always the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I brought my ice cream maker and my cat Mayflower over to Barry's apartment, so I could do the sorbet marathon and not miss Barry and not leave Mayflower alone. (Though I didn't officially move in until February, Mayflower and the ice cream maker stayed at Barry's.) My sorbets were always a very popular dessert at the parties after the heavy Thanksgiving-type meal, along with Mrs. V's apple pies and a former pastry chef's chocolate mousse. V. was a huge fan of my sorbet. My favorite flavors that I've made are probably pear-ginger, mango-passionfruit, and mandarin chocolate. I created all of my recipes, writing as I made them, and later commenting on how it turned out or could be improved. I still do have my little sorbet-recipe book. (Back when Baskin-Robbins was actually good, they had something called mandarin chocolate sherbet, chocolate with a hint of orange, that I adored, and my mandarin orange comes pretty close. Fun fact: my local Baskin-Robbins when I was a kid was on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights, and I recently heard that Spike Lee used to be a scooper there. Another tangent: Spike's mother taught at my school, and a couple of her kids went there, though not Spike. Mrs. Lee taught younger kids, so I never had her, but she was the first woman I every saw wearing cornrows with beads and shells in them. Those were Afro days, the late 60s and early 70s. Mrs. Lee was really cool and her students adored her and she died tragically young. The character based on her in Spike's Crooklyn was played by Alfre Woodard.)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

astronaut stuff

I love me some astronaut stuff. This has been true since I read Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff and it sort of connected to my being a kid and watching rockets go up on TV. So I'm very into the Mercury-Gemini-Apollo flights, but I know more about some flights and astronauts than others. (In fact, the Trivial Pursuit game on Pogo asked the other day who the shortest man was to walk on the moon, and I knew it: Pete Conrad.)

I watched all of From the Earth to the Moon and pretty much any documentary I come across involving the space program. And of course, I have my two favorite astronaut movies, each of which I've watched many times: The Right Stuff and Apollo 13.

I haven't read The Right Stuff in years and no longer have my copy, but I think the movie did a mighty good job of transmitting the essence of the book. It had a beautiful look to it; also, a number of extremely attractive men. I think that's when I first fell for Scott Glenn (and haven't unfallen yet). And there was a lot of very handsome Sam Shepherd, whom I never met, and a brief cameo by his then-wife, O-Lan Jones, who I did meet (both were old friends of V's). And real Chuck Yeagher in the bar. Jeff Goldblum and Dennis Quaid, who have both since lost a certain cuteness. Fred Ward, whom I find terribly sexy. And for just plain great acting: Ed Harris (as John Glenn), Mary Jo Deschanel as his wife (she and the great cinematographer Caleb Deschanel are the parents of Zooey and Emily), Angela Cartwright, Pamela Reed, Harry Shearer.

Apollo 13 is a very different story. It's the baby of the uber-nerds Ron Howard and Tom Hanks. These guys are such nerds that everything looks exactly like the real spacecraft and the real mission control and so on. Even Ed Harris (again!) looks like the real Gene Krantz. It's kind of like a love letter to the space program, so of course I like it. It's very heroic. And of, real Jim Lovell has a cameo on the aircraft carrier at the end. But I love the period details, which is kind of my nerdiness. I get a nerd-on every time they show that plaid beanbag ashtray. Are you old enough to remember those? I found a picture -- let's see if I can get it on here. Nope, either I'm too dumb or the image is too big. But anyway, I loved the clothes in the movie, the details of decor and pop culture (Lovell's daughter is devastated about the breakup of the Beatles). As usual, Opie found parts for his mother, father and brother -- who in fairness were/are all professional actors, but probably wouldn't get parts that good with other directors. His father's always really good, but his mother happens to kill in this one, as Lovell's mother. She has a scene with her (movie) granddaughter which always makes me cry.

I was just thinking about this because I discovered an Apollo 13 documentary I hadn't seen on the NatGeoTV website. They have over 200 full programs you can watch online. I am just in love with the NatGeo and Smithsonian channels (we didn't have Smithsonian until we recently got Verizon Fios), and Barry's liking them a lot, too. But I'm still watching all the true crime shows.

My favorite true crime show is the one that's narrated by the late Paul Winfield, may he rest in peace. It's called "City Confidential." We always make fun of it because every episode starts the same way: Winfield talking about how such-and-such a town or city is such a neighborly, peaceable place; how big-city high-fashion or punk-rock hairstyles would be unusual; where everyone gives everyone else a smile and a handshake. Always that same corny spiel about how it was such an ideal small town or a larger city with small-town values. Everyone goes to church. But you know someone's going to be murdered anyway, because it's "City Confidential." There's also a new show on ID Discovery with a "crime writer" named Aphrodite Jones (sounds like an old Pam Grier movie but she's a white woman) who seems to solve crimes that are already solved. She does shows on cases like O.J.(!) and Phil Spector.

Interestingly enough, all of these "murder shows" I like to watch (some do involve other sorts of crimes like fraud, but we lump them all under that name) are a lot less gory than fictional shows like "CSI." Barry can't handle too much gore, even if it's medical -- or rather, he cam handle some level or horror movie gore (but not too much), and about no real/realistic medical gore.

But I'll probably end up watching all of those NatGeoTV videos on line. The one about the guy who hangs out with bears is excellent. I've already seen a lot of the "Locked Up Abroad"s and they're really good.

Oh, and although I run into very few people who share my day of birth (November 18), I happen to share it with the first American in space: the late Alan Sheperd. Rather have met him than Sam.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pogo and other addictions

I was wondering the other night if all of the so-called addictions -- alcoholism, drug addiction, compulsive debting, gambling, and all the rest -- aren't often or always simply the hypomanic phase of Bipolar II. Bipolar II is a mild form of Bipolar disorder, what used to be called manic-depressive. In Bipolar II, the depression and anxiety are severe, but the mania is a little milder, what is called hypomania. It's characterized by things like obsessiveness with new interests, overspending, and hypersexuality. Maybe that's why people who are addicted to one thing will often become addicted to another.

All depressed women know how to play Solitaire, I told my husband the other day. I don't even know who taught me. Probably another depressed woman in my family. I'm an old hand at it. For about ten months, I've been playing games at a site called Pogo, which is what they call a "casual gaming site." Apparently these are very popular with women, as opposed to those online roleplaying dungeon whatevers that boys seem to like. Pogo has things like card games and word games and puzzles; also, casino games. You win and lose tokens, which can be exchanged for sweepstakes entries. It costs nothing to play, but for something like $25 a year, you can use the site ad-free.

I have a handful of games I like to play, mostly puzzles and word games, and I play them every day in the same order, with various rules for how long or how many times play each. I played the casino games for a while but got kind of bored with them. (I've actually gone to real casinos a handful of times and only played slots, but at times felt a little too into it.)

Like all of my other strange little obsessions and habits, it seems to calm and relax me.

I actually got a small publicity job, trying to get a book blurb through one of my few remaining good contacts on behalf of the good former boss who hired me (as opposed to the bad one who fired me). I had to write an e-mail, basically, and will get a bonus if we get a blurb. It was nice to be asked, and I still seem to have my chops.

Lately, I see some of the smarter people I've known turning up as experts on TV shows and in documentaries. Recently, I was watching an old American Experience about John Dillinger, and one of the experts was Professor Claire Bond Potter, whom I knew as a graduate student in history when I worked at the NYU history department. Today, I watched a show about Folkways Record and the talking head was someone from summer camp, Richard Carlin, who wrote a book about the label and is a music editor and writer. I'm not an expert on much, but I'm awfully opinionated.

My jewelry-making stuff is still packed away, and I miss working with it. I'm subscribed to a beading magazine now, and I feel like some of the styles and trends are passing me by, though I'm rarely slavish about jewelry fashions. I just like trying new things.

One night recently, I watched a couple of those fascinating new shows about hoarders. The next day, I watched a show about "pickers" -- antiquers who travel around looking for old houses and barns where they can pick through "junk" to try to find treasures. The pickers visited some collectors who seemed to me to be just a whisper away from being hoarders. And are the pickers perhaps future hoarders? They almost seemed to have that hoarder mentality: "Oh, someone will want this sometime." "This could be used for something." "This is good stuff." At times, the only difference between some of the collectors and the hoarders is that the collectors had all nice stuff and they was often some sense to the arrangement, but their homes were almost as cluttered and dysfunctional/non-functional as the hoarders'.

My Dad and Mary came to town last week and took us out to lunch at the Second Avenue Deli, in lieu of Passover. It was a rare treat -- for them because they're actually good and generally don't eat this stuff, and for us because most of our local delis are not quite as good. It was actually kind of fun and informal, and about as good as deli gets. And probably a month's worth of sodium for the whole hypertensive crew. But good tongue, corned beef and pastrami are worth it, once in a while.