Friday, December 31, 2010

Resolutions for 2011

Yeah, yeah, I know — New Year's resolutions are a recipe for failure. Most of the time, anyway. Way back during the Clinton administration I vowed to floss once a day, and I enjoyed it so much that the habit continues. (You should floss daily, too. Forget about the dental hygiene aspect: it's fun.) So, as we usher in the bizarrely futuristic-sounding 2011, here's what I'm gonna do better:

1. Update my blog more than once a month, for God's sake.

2. Talk less, listen more. This has been on the list for a few years running. So tell me — how'm I doin'?

3. Get to the gym and/or run at least three times a week. Another carryover from last year. I actually did pretty well on this one.

4. Finish the freakin' throw pillow I started knitting in 2009.

5. Quit beating myself up. You know, over things like not finishing the freakin' throw pillow.

6. Stop wasting food. Oh, the pounds of vegetables I've thrown out after they decayed beyond recognition. (Uh, better add "clean the damn fridge once in a while" to the list.) From now on if I buy it, I'm eating it.

7. Get out more. This sofalizing thing ain't cutting it. Who's buying me a beer?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Material things that make me happy

The New York Times ran a story a while back that said, in a nutshell, stuff doesn't make you happy. (Read it here. No, really. It's a good article. I'll wait for you. OK, are you back? Cool.) For the most part I agree with them. There are, however, some possessions that have genuinely made me a happier person. To wit:

1. My cast-iron skillet. After reading that Teflon frying pans do bad things to you (I forget what; Google it if you're interested), Mr. SZ decided I needed some nontoxic cookware. Not sure if he saved my life or anything but this pan freakin' rocks. It weighs about as much as a preschooler and everything I've cooked in it has been edible (which, if you've ever had dinner at my house, you know is saying a lot). I also love that you don't wash it with soap and have to season it every once in a while with olive oil.

2. My hiking boots. I used to think people who wore just-for-hiking gear were poseurs. But before a trip to Glacier in 2003, I decided that if I was gonna go to a big fancy national park I was gonna get me some big fancy boots. Holy crap. It changed the whole hiking experience. Rocks and tree roots that used to kill my feet were no longer a problem. I stopped twisting my ankles and I could stomp through streams without getting soaked. Hiking boots: four-wheel drive for your feet.


3. My bathrobe. It's one of those giant white terry deals you can steal from hotels buy from hotel gift shops. My sister gave it to me several Christmases ago and it makes me smile every time I step out of the shower. It's starting to get a little ratty but I worry a new one just won't be the same.

4. My art. Behold "Yey Tree," a woodcut by Roman Klonek. OK, it's not to everyone's taste, and at least one visitor to our home has asked, "Did you make that yourself?" But Mr. SZ and I thought it would be fun to invest in some actual art, made by a real live artist with paint and everything. We don't generally agree on these things, so when we both liked this when we saw it in a gallery in Williamsburg we decided to drop a few bucks on it. I love the colors and sense of humor. And yes, I know he spelled "Yay" wrong, but that's part of its charm. Now go tell all your friends about Roman Klonek so he gets really famous and our woodcut increases in value.

5. My SmartWoolsocks. No, this is not a paid product placement. (I wish. Are you reading this, manufacturers of SmartWool™? I CAN BE BOUGHT.) I don't know how they do it, but the folks who make these take wool — a fiber that normally makes me want to claw my skin off — and turn it into the softest, warmest socks imaginable. Also, they are pretty. And machine washable and dryable. Hey, January? My toes are ready for you.

6. My Queens throw pillow. Suck it, Brooklyn.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The biggest lies on television

1. America's "Funniest" Home Videos

2. Dancing with the "Stars"

3. CSI: "NY" (more like CSI: L.A. Soundstage)

4. America's Next "Top" Model

5. "M"TV

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Things I have to let go

The older I get, the more I realize my chances of being named King of the World are slim. So perhaps it's time to abandon my control-freak ways and accept the things that bug the living crap out of me. Some highlights from that long, long list:

1. Annoying cell phone conversations. I can give all the dirty looks I want: people are never going to stop yapping about their health problems and hookups on the street, on the bus, in the restroom, on the treadmill at the gym... The New Me is going to embrace their candor and possibly offer advice. You know, as a public service. 

2. The spelling of Caesar salad on menus. I could travel the country with a tanker truck full of Wite-Out® and still not be able to fix all the Ceasars and Cesars. Go ahead, diner owners. Spell it however you like. I'm done.

3. Bad perfume. The supremely irritating Andy Rooney once said that the closer a person smells to nothing, the better. As much as it pains me to admit it, I agree with the dude. But short of yet another edict from Bloomberg's hyperactive Department of Health, people wearing godawful scents are gonna sit next to me on the subway and in movie theaters. I'll just have to keep popping Advils for the headaches. (What, you thought it was easy being me?)

4. Meanness on Internet message boards. I used to think people were basically good. Then I started reading the comments on Yahoo! News stories. Give someone a computer and a little anonymity and... wow. Just wow. (And don't even get me started on the grammar.) Yahoo, of course, is on the mild end of things: how decent folks can spend time on the really nasty sites is beyond me.

5. My gut. True confession: I've had a bit of a potbelly since 8th grade. I'm now in just about the best shape of my adult life and still the gut remains. It's going nowhere unless I start a strict regimen of Pilates and Abs of Steel. And that, my friends, is Not Gonna Happen. Hey, that's why they make control-top tights.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Cities I would move to if I ever left New York

Every once in a while, Mr. SZ and I ponder what life would be like if we left the Big Apple. (Not that we ever call it that. Really, who does?) It all sounds great until we realize that pizza everywhere else kinda sucks. So we'll probably live here forever. But if we did decide to bolt, here are the places where we think we could thrive.

1. Chicago

Pros: interesting architecture; public transportation; great museums; lake — big lake

Cons: it reaches absolute zero there in January; accent is sort of irritating; I don't like deep-dish pizza

2. Portland, OR

Pros: great beer; cool light rail system; natural beauty

Cons: panhandling punk teens; endless gray days; on the wrong ocean

3. Amsterdam

Pros: livable scale; beautiful canals; tolerance

Cons: I'd feel like a near midget among the Dutch; the language sounds uncomfortably like gargling

3. Toronto

Pros: universal health care; good refuge if I don't like the next president

Cons: I went there a couple of times in the 1980s and can't remember if I actually liked it

4. Burlington, VT

Pros: college town; near mountains; Vermont is cool

Cons: low population density; fear of being resented as a carpetbagging New Yorker; mud season

5. Madison, WI

Pros: college town; nice lakes; liberal vibe; relatives live there

Cons: I'm pretty sure winter there starts in September

6. Northampton, MA

Pros: hip town; lots of culture; not too far from Boston or New York

Cons: too darn small; chance of running into Kim and Thurston after I dissed their band

Friday, September 17, 2010

Places I've never been but would consider living in

1. Copenhagen. It looks gorgeous in photos and the Danes seem like pretty cool folks. I bet they would accommodate me by always speaking English.

2. Athens, GA.
I have a bit of a phobia about the South, but this seems like a pocket of hipness. I'm a sucker for college towns, and any place that spawned R.E.M. and the B-52s is good enough for me.

3. Boulder, CO.
My sister (who has actually been there) pointed out that Boulder consistently gets named the Best City Ever in magazine articles. Don't take her word for it, though -- the Convention and Visitors' Bureau has the proof. It's arty, it's green, it's got mountains... yeah, I think I wanna live in Boulder.

4. Davis, CA. When I was a kid I always thought I'd live in California when I grew up. (My grandparents and aunt and uncle all moved there so I guess I thought it was what one did.) Southern California is a non-starter for me, but I'm intrigued by the northern part of the state. Again, I like college towns, and this one is appealing because everyone there rides bikes. Not that I've owned a bike in 15 years, but the hippie in me thinks it's the best mode of transportation.

5. Portsmouth, NH. Let's face it: the thought of living more than six hours away from New York kind of freaks me out. I need to know I'm within a day's drive of decent bagels. New England always sounded like a reasonable alternative, and Portsmouth seems like a decent small city with an interesting harbor and some nice old buildings. Plus, I liked Joe Coomer's book Beachcombing for a Shipwrecked God, which was set on a houseboat in Portsmouth. (Houseboats are also cool. Not that I've ever lived on one.)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Names for future pets

Ed. note: I covered Pnin the Cat's eyes as I wrote this, so please get off the phone with the ASPCA, won't you?

1. Mr. (or Mrs.) Something. I'm not sure what last name I'd choose, but the notion of giving a pet a title is really cute. I might steal my pal Alaster's idea of naming a dog Miss Judy, or the lovely Meister's pick of Mr. Bones. Hope that's OK.

King Buzzo

2. King Buzzo. This is the name of the leader of the Melvins, a band I don't particularly like. But really, how great of a moniker is King Buzzo? He's got amazing hair, too.

3. Beavis. I would probably crack up every time I called this pet's name. (Heh-heh, I said crack.)

Marty Markowitz

4. Marty Markowitz. I'm not sure where I stand on his politics — I live in Queens, yo — but the Brooklyn Borough President has an awesome name. Also, I like those "Leaving Brooklyn: Oy Vey!" signs he put up on the highways.

5. Bill Murray. Because the man is a genius.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Alternatives to counting sheep

Before you start worrying about your poor blogger, let me say this: I normally sleep very well. So well, in fact, that I'm practically narcoleptic (see the list of Movies I have slept through, which I'm afraid has grown longer since I wrote it). But every once in a while I find myself staring up at the bedroom ceiling, obsessing over some moronic thing and trying to convince my brain to shut the hell up. That's when I bust out my favorite go-to-sleep techniques. Try 'em: they're cheaper than Ambien and won't make you scarf down the contents of your refrigerator.

1. Naming all the states in alphabetical order. I usually forget one of the M states. There are just too freakin' many of those; one of them's gotta go. Maybe Maryland.

2. Making a list of songs with names in the title (also in alphabetical order). "Alison," "Beth," "Sweet Caroline..." This can, however, cause some wretched tune to get stuck in your head the next day. I warn against picking "Help Me, Rhonda" for R.

3. Counting back from 100. It's actually not just counting: you have to imagine yourself writing each number on a chalkboard and then erasing it. I learned this one as a kid from a book called How to Make Your Dreams Work for You. For the record, I have never been able to Make My Dreams Work for Me. (Tragic, I know.)

4. Telling myself the plot of a movie or a book. Babe (yeah, the g.d. talking pig movie) is a standby. I usually don't get too far past the point where Farmer Hoggett wins the little dude at the fair.

5. Doing multiplication tables. The problem with this? It makes me realize I suck at arithmetic. Once I get past the fives I really have to work at it.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Things I actually don't mind

OK, I admit it: I'm a crank. All kinds of stuff bugs the living crap out of me: whistling, loud talkers, Seann William Scott... There are, however, some things that annoy other people that really don't irritate me at all. Allow me to pat myself on my curmudgeonly back.

1. Subway preachers. I kind of enjoy being stuck in a train car with these people, because they're often West Indian women with really nice accents. Sure, they tell me I'm bound for eternal damnation, but they sound so cool when they do it.

2. Nails on a chalkboard.
That sound that can make a whole classroom full of fourth graders cower under their desks? No effect on me. (Styrofoam packing noodles rubbed on bus windows, however...)

3. Waking up before 7 am on a weekend.
In college, I rarely dragged my butt out of bed before noon on a Sunday. (Granted, I rarely went to sleep before 2 am.) Now, if I sleep past 9 I feel somehow cheated. Few things make me happier than getting up early, beating the crowds at the bagel store and feeling the day stretch out wide ahead of me.

4. Lousy weather.
Heat wave?
Cold snap? Hail the size of Nerf basketballs? Bring it. As they say in Minnesota (where I occasionally pretend I am from), there's no such thing as bad weather — only bad clothes. Plus, blizzards, downpours and the like make staying indoors acceptable, and I'll take any excuse to indulge my agoraphobic tendencies.

5. Longwinded old people.
If you want to spend 40 minutes rambling on about something that happened to you in 1935, I'm your audience.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Things I would like to print on cards to hand out

Ah, rudeness: you can't live in the big city without slamming up against it. If I had any guts whatsoever, I'd confront the impolite people around me and make them see the error of their ways. But since I don't, I'm left to fantasize about handing them little cards that express my dismay. Por ejemplo:

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The funniest books I've ever read

1. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Age 13-3/4, by Sue Townsend

Who's the bigger loser: the clueless Adrian Mole or the middle-aged woman who wheezes with laughter every time she reads his journal? But really, it's hilarious, as evidenced by this entry from Friday, January 23:

That is the last time I go to a disco. Everybody there was a punk except me and Rick Lemon, the youth leader. Nigel was showing off all night. He ended up putting a safety pin through his ear. My father had to take him to the hospital in our car. Nigel's parents haven't got a car because his father's got a steel plate in his head and his mother is only four feet eleven inches tall. It's not surprising Nigel has turned out bad really, with a maniac and a midget for parents.

2. Barrel Fever, by David Sedaris

Not my favorite Sedaris book on the whole, but "The SantaLand Diaries" makes it a must for this list. It's an absolutely brilliant account of the author's Christmastime stint as Crumpet the Elf at Macy's. I read it every December and laugh my fool head off.

Interpreters for the deaf came and taught us to sign "MERRY CHRISTMAS! I AM SANTA'S HELPER." They told us to speak as we sign and to use bold, clear voices and bright facial expressions. They taught us to say "YOU ARE A VERY PRETTY BOY/GIRL! I LOVE YOU! DO YOU WANT A SURPRISE?"

My sister Amy lives above a deaf girl and has learned quite a bit of sign language. She taught some to me and so now I am able to say, "SANTA HAS A TUMOR IN HIS HEAD THE SIZE OF AN OLIVE. MAYBE IT WILL GO AWAY TOMORROW BUT I DON'T THINK SO."

3. High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby

Perhaps more bittersweet than amusing, but so much of it makes me chuckle (and cringe) in recognition. I love that crap.

[B]y moving to London I had made it easier to be liked by girls. At home, most people had known me... when I was little, and consequently I'd always had the uncomfortable feeling that my boyhood was about to be exposed.... There were pictures all over my parents' house of me with big ears and disastrous clothes, sitting on tractors, clapping with glee as miniature trains drew into miniature stations; and though later on, distressingly, girlfriends found these pictures cute, it all seemed too close for comfort then.

4. A Walk in the Woods
, by Bill Bryson

OK, I really wanted to include an excerpt about Bryson's kooky friend Katz, who loves Little Debbie snack cakes and tries to hike the Appalachian Trail with his gear in a newspaper delivery bag. But I don't actually own the book, and I didn't feel like schlepping up to the fifth floor of the Mid-Manhattan Library to get it, so I'm giving you the funniest bit I could find on the Internet. And you will like it.

My first inkling of just how daunting [hiking the Appalachian Trail] was to be came when I went to our local outfitters, the Dartmouth Co-Op, to purchase equipment. My son had just gotten an afterschool job there, so I was under strict instructions of good behavior. Specifically, I was not to say or do anything stupid, try on anything that would expose my stomach, say, "Are you sh*tting me?" when informed of the price of a product, be conspicuously inattentive when a sales assistant was explaining the correct maintenance or aftercare of a product, and above all don anything inappropriate, like a woman's ski hat, in an attempt to amuse.

Empire Falls, by Richard Russo

Oh, how I love this book. Sure, parts of it break my heart, but it's damn funny too. This is mostly thanks to Max Roby, a cranky old dude who, Russo writes, lives "comfortably within the confines of a two-word philosophy": "So what?" A sample:

Miles studied his father, whose stubble had a strange orange tint. "Your beard's full of food. Cheetos?"

"So what?"

Right on, Max.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Things that almost invariably make me laugh

1. Chucky
from the Child's Play movies. I've never actually seen the films and I doubt I ever will. Still, I've been laughing about this evil doll since I read a Roger Ebert review that said, "Chucky is one mean SOB." Maybe it's the "SOB" part that I really find amusing. The name Chucky is pretty funny too.

2. Owen Wilson.
His movies are usually not very good but there's something a
bout his demeanor that cracks me up.

3. Typos on menus. I like when things come with potatoe.

4. Tracy Morgan. I'm sort of worried, however, that he is the guy he plays on 30 Rock.

5. Mr. SZ.
At least once a week he comes out with something
that makes me chuckle for days, if not months or even years. And his jokes are rarely at anyone else's expense, which makes them even cooler.

6. Thinking about Shirley from What's Happenin'. Oh, all right. Thinking about Raj, Dee, Dwayne and of course Rerun makes me laugh, too.

7. That "I like to move it, move it" song.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Famous people I have wanted to be

1. Molly Ringwald.
I could never understand why her character in Pretty in Pink was such an outcast: she was so freakin' cool. And yes, she was the reason I hennaed my hair in high school (though I can't hold her responsible for the Ronald McDonald-esque outcome).

2. Chrissie Hynde.
In 10th grade I thought she was the epitome of hip; I even wrote an essay about how she was my hero. Now I think she's kind of a mean lady who should probably do something different with her hair after 30-odd years of having the same 'do.

3. Amy Carter.
We were both 8 when her family moved to the White House, which I thought was fantastic. Being the first daughter made her the coolest kid in America, and who wouldn't envy that? I'm pretty sure I tried to become her penpal but it never panned out. I hope there are little girls today who want to emulate Sasha and Malia.

4. Debbie Harry.
She was punk and pretty. I'm a huge Blondie fan to this day.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Foods I could eat to the point of physical discomfort

1. Girl Scouts Thin Mints™. Don't let the cute green uniforms fool you: those kids are pushing pure eeeevil. I shudder at the memory of eating half a box in one sitting (but still marvel that I was able to stop at half). The peanut butter ones are diabolical as well.

2. Hummus and pita chips. They're from the Mediterranean so they've got to be good for you, right?

3. Chocolate-covered pretzels. Salt, sugar, fat and crunch: there's really nothing missing from this equation.

4. Guacamole. Not only is it delicious, it's fun to say, especially as part of the expression "Holy guacamole!" (Don't worry, I don't use that a lot.)

5. Hob-Nobs. The reason I gained 15 pounds when I lived in London. (OK, the Guinness didn't help.) My local grocery store sells them but I've so far managed to avoid their siren call. To those who are hearing about these insanely great cookies for the first time, I apologize in advance.

6. Movie theater popcorn. To my credit, I avoid the "butter" topping.

Friday, February 12, 2010

For Mr. SZ – with love and squalor

The man I like to call
Dr. Science is not one for romance. In fact, when he sees this list he might well roll his eyes. Tough: in honor of Valentine's Day, here's a short-distance dedication to the best guy I know.

1. "You're the Top," Ella Fitzgerald.
It's not easy to pick a wedding song when at least one of the parties involved shudders at any sort of sentimentality. That's where the genius of Cole Porter comes in. How awesome was it to have our first dance to "You're an O'Neill drama, you're Whistler's mama, you're camembert?" Very.

2. "Did I Tell You," Yo La Tengo. When you're dating a grad student, you spend a lot of time waiting for him to come home from the lab. As the song goes, my brain was impatient but my heart was still willing to wait. (Say it with me, people: "Aw!")

3. "You're So Great," Blur. Again, no sappiness here. It's a song about being sad, drunk and poorly, about a sky that's mud and grey, about dogs digging up the ground... and about feeling the light when you tell me it's OK.

4. "The First Day of My Life," Bright Eyes. "I’m glad I didn’t die before I met you" kinda says it all.