Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Sir Francis

I’m really not in the mood to write a blog entry right now. The thing currently rattling around and taking up most of the severely limited space in my braincase is the saga of the terlet, and I hesitate to bore people with that. But then again, it’s my blog and I can use is as I see fit and, in a way, I do want to blog about it, simply to document what all went down (perhaps not the best choice of words, but I’m not going to edit tonight), so I can refer back to my blog if things go awry in the future.

Today, the plumber came to install the new toilet. He was all business. When I launched into the melodrama of how we had to have the bathroom floor replaced last year because the toilet was leaking, blahbiddy, blah, blah, and now the toilet was leaking again and did he know why, he simply said, “I’m not going to spend the time to find out.” OK. At $88 an hour for his time, I guess I should appreciate that kind of attitude, but I blabbed on a bit more about how I didn’t think it was the toilet but the way it had been installed. Then I decided I'd better just leave him to get on with it, as the clock was ticking.

I went back downstairs to work. About 10 minutes later, he was calling down the stairs to alert me to, as I had feared: A PROBLEM. Actually PROBLEMS.

The floor under the toilet was not at all level. And the flange was sticking up way higher than it should have been, which rendered the wax ring ineffective. There was actually a screw that should have screwed into the floor that was just screwed into, well, nothing but thin air.

And while I don’t understand all the ramifications and exactly what the flange does. One thing is very, very clear. The guy who replaced the floor last year was an incompetent. I recall asking him several times, why the toilet had leaked and he just had absolutely no theories on that at all. It was a total mystery, according to him. But even I can understand that if the floor isn’t level, the toilet is going to rock loose from it's moorings. And that flange! It should be obvious to a person who styles himself a bathroom remodeler that it was too high and that both these things were likely to cause a leak.

Even a layperson like myself can easily find information on these COMMON problems on the Internet and instructions for how to remedy them. What really pisses me off, is that he had the floor up and had he known what he was doing, he could have easily placed some plywood in to level out the floor. And he should have known to replace the flange and the rusty bolts (for crissake). If he'd done these basic things, the toilet would never have leaked again. Sure I’d be stuck with the American Substandard toilet, but I now suspect that the major problem I was having with it was related to the fact that the seal wasn’t working properly.


I am so ding-dong mad at that guy. He was recommended to me by a friend and is licensed, bonded, and insured, but his work is “guaranteed” for only a year, and it’s been a bit more than a year. I doubt I have any recourse, except to not ever recommend him to anyone, which is not satisfactory consolation or compensation. I’d like to bill him for the work the plumber had to do today.

Anyway, after showing me what the issues were, the no-nonsense plumber managed to remove the flange (probably installed incorrectly by the previous owner of our house—an inveterate DIYer), and install another one at the right level and actually anchor it to a solid rather than a gas. He added some shims so the toilet will be level and he is fairly confident that that will do the trick, but, he cautioned me, there is a slight possibility that it might not work. Then I'll have to get a contractor in to take up a portion of the floor and place plywood around the base of the flange, which I feel I must reiterate is what the guy from last year was too much of an asshat to do.

Anyway, we have a beaut of a new toilet. Behold: the Sir Francis Drake shortly before its maiden voyage.

Sir Francis Drake

I do think it's rather stylish and after conducting such exhaustive toilet research, I am certain it will perform better than the American Substandard. One small serendipity related to the fact that we are so unhandy and had to hire someone to do it, is that we would have had to pay $343 for Sir Francis if we hadn’t bought it through the plumber for the price of $226. Even with labor added in, the cost came out pretty much to what we’d have ended up paying if we’d bought it and (attempted to) install it ourselves, which, believe me, would have been a tear-drenched fiasco/shouting match that would likely not have resulted in a correcty installed toilet. Plus, he fixed a sink faucet that hadn’t been working for months. I’m sure there’s some way to get that wholesale contractor $226 price if you’re a DIYer, but I need to feel that I somehow came out a little bit ahead, so please don’t shatter my delusion. (And, yes, I know you can get a toilet for less than $226, but it is a good price for a Toto.)

Sorry I have no photos of the toilet showroom. It turned out not to be nearly as entertaining as I’d hoped. It was basically a sort of labyrinth of bathroom suites, not the thicket of toilets I had hoped for. I was surprised, however, that they actually had some of the toilets hooked up to plumbing, so you could do test flushes. The Sir Francis was one of the flushable ones. I was a bit put off, however, by the level of cleanliness of the tester terlet. I mean, it was in the middle of a toilet showroom—no privacy whatsoever—but it looked like people used it. It was dirty! It had a Spam-colored water ring, and it looked like at some point someone had tortured it with a cigarette—there were these cigarette-burn looking things in the bowl that did not go away when I flushed. Eww. Also, the toilet was not white (I mean “Cotton”) but off-white (I mean “Sedona Beige”). I’m here to tell you an off-white toilet is a bad idea.

I hope this is the last I will need to write about toilets for a very long time to come.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Potty Talk

I’ve just spent several hours researching toilets and have discovered that the American Standard toilet we have—the toilet that cost us $1,000+ in bathroom remodeling costs last year and the toilet that is now leaking again is, basically, the Ford Pinto of toilets. The crappiest of all crappers. I found this out through Internet research, which took me to the incredibly informative and fascinating Terry Love’s Consumer Toilet Reports. Terry loves to talk toilets, and he encourages others to tell their tales of woe on his forums. The American Standard incurred the most wrath. One reader named Donna even composed a little hate poem to her American Standard. I hope it’s OK to reproduce it here:

Yea! & Verily, it does not cloggy
But all the rest is at best doggy
Handle squeaks, no bushing on shaft
Red Seal leaks, too fragile for draft
Bead Chain breaks, just low cost junk
Waiting for rest of plastic parts to fail
Bring on the Class Action or
Better Business Refund

I love the phrase “at best doggy.” I’d agree with that. Why we didn’t have the toilet replaced last year , I cannot explain. I guess I was in a state of advanced sticker shock over the cost of replacing the floor and didn’t want to add to that the cost of a new toilet. I blogged about it, so judge for yourself if I was non compos mentis.

The good news, at least I hope, is that this time the toilet is not leaking under the flooring. I have Sharon to thank for clueing me in on this. She was kind enough to send me an e-mail after I ranted about the toilet (among other things) a couple of weeks ago, and suggest that it was probably just the wax ring seal leaking. I think she’s right. I don’t see any evidence that the subflooring is warping (as it did last time). It’s still going to cost a couple of hundred bucks to have a plumber replace the toilet, though. Ouch.

Plus, how much I wonder will we end up spending on the new toilet? Tomorrow I have an appointment at a “toilet showroom.” Yes, there is such a thing as a toilet showroom—I envision it being filled with acres upon acres of gleaming porcelain and plan to take my camera. (Is that too bizarre?) And, yes, evidently it’s a good idea to have an appointment. "The toilets will see you, now, Rozanne."

During last year’s rant, Kai Jones left a comment recommending a Toto toilet and I squirreled that recommendation away for future reference. Then, the topic of toilets just happened to come up over the dinner table a few nights ago, when some friends mentioned that they are remodeling their bathroom. They've done their toilet research, and they’re going Toto, too. Reading all the toilet reviews on the Web (what a way to pass the time), it seems that just about every other brand on the market has a host of nasty habits (I'll spare you), but people rave about Toto in rather specific and lively detail (again, I'll spare you). So tomorrow I will be looking for a Toto. The link, by the way, provides no useful information about Toto toilets, but you do get to hear a few bars of soothing mock classical music and gaze at a nearly nude mermaid (presumably one comes with every toilet), so for those reasons, I'm providing the link.

Anyway at the showroom, I will be looking for either a Toto Dalton or a Toto Drake. There’s a Toto Carlyle, too, but that’s a bit more toilet than we need, I think. Weird that the toilets seem to be named after famous Englishmen, isn’t it? Why should that be? Were John Dalton, Sir Francis Drake, and Thomas Carlyle famous for spending hours of their lives perched on the throne?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Ring of Fire and Two Self-Made Men

Ring of Fire
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
Would you drink this? It looks like something out of Clockwork Orange (either that or a pint of nail polish), but it is in fact my vaunted Ring of Fire (patent pending), a concoction consisting of a beet, an orange, an apple, and a sliver of fresh ginger. When I described the Ring of Fire to a friend, all she could say was, “yuk!” But this is a friend who won’t go near a mushroom, a green pepper, or a brownie that is contaminated with walnuts. So her opinion is to be discounted. Anyway, it was tonight’s Pauper dinner, and I’m here to tell you that it’s a pretty tasty drink and is also nutrient packed and energizing. In reality it isn’t actually as sci-fi and futuristic looking in real life as it looks in the photo. It's a case of the flash having gone berserk.

Moving on.

When I finish writing this blog entry, I have the option of reading about one of two self-made men. One is actually a woman who decided to live life as a man for 18 months and see what would happen. Our book club chose to read her book Self-Made Man: One Woman’s Journey into Manhood and Back Again for our April discussion. More stunt journalism. Whoo hoo! Actually, I’m a little chary of this book because of this statement (which appears in the dust jacket blurb): “Having gone where no woman (who wasn’t an aspiring or actual transsexual) has gone before, let alone for eighteen months, Norah Vincent gives us her surprising account…. ”

Now I just know that that blurb almost went to press without that parenthetical qualifier and then someone at the last moment said, “Wait a minute! What about transsexuals?” and everyone flipped out because now their big claim was pretty much totally deflated. But instead of reworking and refocusing the blurb, they just added the absurd parenthetical qualifier. It’s like saying “Having discovered a new continent that no one (except thousands and thousands of Indians) had ever explored before, Christopher Columbus blah, blah, blah….”

But I shouldn’t judge a book by its blurb. I admit I find the idea of traveling incognito in the world of men intriguing. I wonder if she'll mention the Push Butt phenomenon?

The other self-made man I could read about is my grandfather (my mom’s dad). My dad is still in touch with my horrible fascist uncle who, it turns out, had the original manuscript of his father’s (my grandfather and my mom’s half-brother) autobiography and had absolutely no use for it. My dad mentioned that he had the manuscript, and I told him I’d love to read it.

My grandfather died when I was about 5, and I have basically one memory of him. We went to visit him in a nursing home and his false eyeball popped out, fell on the floor, and bounced toward me in a most terrifying and ominous fashion. It’s not so great when your only memory of your grandfather sounds like a scene from a horror movie.

And my parents’ memories are not much better. My dad recalls getting into extended arguments with my grandfather about professional wrestling. My dad insisted the matches were fixed; my grandfather insisted they were totally above board. My mom often told me that she dreaded hearing the following words from her father, “Let me have a look at your teeth.” She would then have to dutifully go sit on his lap and let him check each of her baby teeth. If one was just the teensiest bit loose, it had to be yanked. My grandfather would tie one end of a string around my mom’s tooth and the other around a door handle. Then he’d slam the door and out would fly my mom’s tooth, followed, no doubt, by a torrent of blood. Wow. Typing this, it is just now hitting me how incredibly sadistic that sounds. My grandfather was old school.

So perhaps you can see why I’m eager to read his autobiography, which turns out to be massive. Heck, I’ve got a camera, why not take a photo, so you can see what I mean by massive?

The Massive Manuscript

That’s 4 inches of paper and, according to my grandfather’s calculations, approximately 142,000 words. I wonder what kind of portrait will emerge? I do hope that I come away with a more positive impression than I have at the moment.

I did skim the last chapter entitled “We Cross the Rio Grande” which is about an automobile trip he and my fascist uncle took in the 1950s. In it he marvels at the ease with which people can travel thousands of miles by car—something no one would have dreamed possible when he was a kid. When they cross the border into Mexico, they go to a bullfight, where he meets a Jewish man whom he repeatedly refers to as "the son of Abraham." Yikes. Today that term is definitely considered pejorative, but I have a feeling he was simply trying to give his writing a bit of literary flair, as he says nothing else disparaging about the man and seemed to have enjoyed his company. But maybe that’s just me hoping that I’m not going to find out my grandfather was a rabid wingnut.

What I’m really looking forward to reading about are the early years of his life. He grew up in the late 19th century on a farm in Iowa, so that is pretty far removed from my own reality. His grandfather (my great-great grandfather) traveled from Pennsylvania to Illinois and then Iowa in a covered wagon—a real pioneer. My grandfather considered himself to be one of the last pioneers and in fact entitled his autobiography, rather grandly, The Last of the Pioneers. He saw horses and buggies give way to automobiles and lived through the Great Depression, which--I should have mentioned earlier--is where the self-made man part comes in. According to my own highly unreliable memory of what my mom told me, he invested in stocks throughout the Depression when prices were low and other people were skittish about the market. Apparently, he made a pile of money, much of which was inherited by the fascist uncle who (after he singlehandedly won World War II) proceeded to live a hermit-like life of leisure in the mountains of northern California among pot growers and crackpot survivalists—a strange choice for a guy like him or maybe not. I think the one thing they all have in common is that they don't want the government snooping around. I should write a blog entry about him some day.

Back to my grandfather. He also lived though World War II, McCarthyism, and the onset of the Cold War. Interesting times. Even if I find, as I have reason to suspect, that he and I wouldn’t have seen eye to eye politically (after all, he did spawn the fascist uncle), I will still be grateful to have something more to remember him by than that bouncing eyeball.

Here’s a passage selected (somewhat) randomly from the chapter “The Houseboy.” (Jamie, there may be some tips in here for you.)

During vacations and on Saturdays I baked cakes, pies, and made doughnuts. When I decided that we should have fried chicken for dinner I called Vic, the little rat-terrier, and caught a nice young Brahma rooster. I used the hatchet to cut off its head which I threw to one side and immediately doused the chicken up and down in a pail of boiling water to loosen the feathers. When I could pull out some of the wing and tail feathers, I knew it was time to pluck all the feathers. If the chicken is held too long in the hot water it cooks the skin and makes it impossible to pick the chicken. When that happens the only thing to do is remove the skin. After I had finished picking the chicken I took all the feathers, except the wing and tail feathers, and placed them in the sun to dry; we used the feathers to make feather beds and pillows.

Monday, March 20, 2006

King, Prince, Pauper

Usually I can eat whatever the hell I want and don’t really gain weight. Or so I thought. A couple of weeks ago, I went to the doctor and was a little shocked at the number I saw on the scale—130 lb. Of course, I was wearing boots that weighed about, oh maybe, 5 lb and a belt with a buckle that had to weigh at least another 3 lb. So clearly that was why I weighed more than I thought I did. Today, I went to another doctor, and, knowing I’d be asked to step on the scale fully clothed and shod, I made sure to wear featherweight shoes and no belt: 129.5 lb read the number on the scale. I do realize that at this weight and with my height (5 feet 4 inches), I am not overweight according to BMI indices and all that. But. I am a small-boned person who is not blessed with long legs, and for me 129.5 lb is about 9.5 lb more than I should weigh in order to feel OK about the way I look and to have the requisite degree of chipperness. I also know this—those extra 9.5 lb are entirely the result of careless eating habits and a dramatic decline in the amount of exercise I get.

How did this happen? Oh, there are lots of reasons/excuses, but probably the biggest one is poor time management and lack of organization. If there is healthful food in the house, I’ll eat it. If there isn’t, I’ll eat toast. There is always bread and butter in the house, even when there is little else. I could absolutely live on generously buttered toast (until I die of a heart attack, that is). I never ever get sick of it. If I’m feeling particularly under-the-gun regarding the pile of work on my desk, maybe I’ll work-work-work until 1 or 2 PM, realize I'm ravenous, and then decide to "reward" myself with a Colossal Burger from Burgerville, and, heck, an order of fries, too. Warped.

So step number one is to make sure there are whole foods in the house and plenty of them. This will mean that I will have to force myself to sit down and plan in advance (no!) what I am going to eat for the week, which is for some reason exceedingly difficult for me. I don’t know why. Step number two is to implement the King, Prince, Pauper eating scheme, which is something that I read about in the Ladies Home Journal (or similar) when I was a kid waiting for my mom to get her weekly wash, rinse, and set at the beauty parlor.

It goes something like this: At breakfast you should eat like a king; at lunch you should eat like a prince; and at dinner you should eat like a pauper. In other words, eat your largest meal at breakfast; second largest at lunch; and smallest at dinner. Sounds simple, right? I mean, it doesn’t make sense to eat a big honking meal at the end of the day, when most likely you won’t be doing much that requires a lot of physical effort. (And even if you do have a rip-roaring sex romp planned, bear in mind that sex burns only a disappointing 100 calories--or less.)

The chief difficulty with King-Prince-Pauper is that evening is really the only time anyone has the time to actually prepare, sit down, relax, and enjoy a kingly meal. Nevertheless, as of today I am King-Prince-Paupering it. Actually, I do more of a Prince-King-Pauper thing, because I can’t face eating my largest meal of the day first thing in the morning (who can?), but I can vouch that it will work as long as I can stick to the Pauper dinner until those 10 pounds of blubber are gone. If anyone’s interested in losing some weight I do recommend this method over painful calorie counting or any other doomed-from-the-beginning diet of deprivation. I’ve used the King-Prince-Pauper method before, and it really is a pretty dang quick way to drop some weight.

In case you’re wondering what constitutes a Pauper meal, I don’t now recall what the Ladies Home Journal recommended (probably something ghastly like a Figurine Diet Bar), but I just eat a ruby red grapefruit or a vegetable or fruit juice concoction that I make in my pain-in-the-arse-to-clean Juiceman Juicer. One final tip (I can’t believe I’m giving diet tips on my blog)--say you’re going out to dinner and you don’t want to order a grapefruit or some other pauperish equivalent. Go ahead and order something you’d enjoy but eat only a half or a third of it. Take the rest home and have it for your next king meal. Oh and it goes without saying, right, that your king and prince meals should be reasonably healthy and varied and shouldn’t include a shitload of cheese or sugar. And get more exercise—do something cardiovascular every day, if possible.

All this King-Prince-Pauper stuff sounds pretty hokey, I’m realizing (although I did enjoy being able to use the word pauper numerous times). I’m somewhat appalled, too, that I’m sitting here writing the kind of blog entry that could well be found in, well, Ladies Home Journal, but, if I will admit it to myself, I’ve known for months now that I was descending into lard-assed sloth and I think it’s actually affecting my mental and emotional health—I’ve been feeling like I’m too easily overwhelmed and stymied by all sorts of things lately—so maybe it’s good to process my thoughts in a blog entry and publicly resolve to slim down this ass of mine.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Shocking Confession: I Am a Thief!

About once a week, I have to take a break in the middle of the day to take care of some bidniss. e.g., deposit checks at the bank, drop a package off at FedEx, pick up books at the library, or mail stuff at the Post Office that sort of thing. Yesterday, I had to do all of those things. Pretending that I am the efficient and organized person that I really am not, I listed all the errands on a piece of paper, even numbering them in the order in which they should be accomplished in order to avoid all backtracking. I set off, determined that the errands would take no longer than an hour to complete (including a final stop at The Dog House to satisfy my once-a-year hankering for a hot dog and to reward myself for...I'm not sure what).

I came back home, ate my hot dog, and went back to work. This morning, however, as I was getting dressed, it dawned on me that while at the Post Office I had boosted a padded envelope. Omigod!!!! I’m not organized enough to have my own supply of padded envelopes, so I routinely just grab one while at the P.O., put whatever I’m sending in it, and tell the folks at the counter to charge me for it. But yesterday—perhaps distracted by the cute little girl behind me who was caressing the contents of a box of Post-Its and cooing, “small paper,” “small paper” or perhaps daydreaming a little too fervently of kosher beef—I zoned and forgot to mention the 55-cent padded envelope. I totally got away with my crime! That purloined envelope is now somewhere between Portland and Chicago, and no at the Post Office is the wiser.

Of course, being my mother’s daughter I am going to have to go back to the P.O. (tomorrow or Saturday), stand in a long, slow-moving line of senior citizens, confess to my crime, and hand over the 55 cents. It will be interesting to how they react. They won't call the police or the FBI will they?

The last time I stole something, I did not attempt to make reparations or clear my name. I was about six or seven years old, and I palmed a box of Chiclets while I was shopping with my mom at the Piggly Wiggly. Who knows why I did it? I've never been fond of Chiclets, so if I was going to steal something why didn’t I make it more worth my while? Why didn’t I take M&Ms or a Hershey bar or some giant wax horsey lips? Once we got home I apparently made no real effort to hide my loot. My mom immediately questioned me about where the Chiclets had come from, and I told her that my friend Molly had given them to me. It was just the most transparent lie. I mean, we’d just come from a supermarket, and I probably hadn't seen Molly for days. I’m sure my face just beamed guilt, but maybe because of that, my mom didn’t press the matter. And I’ve never stolen anything again—until yesterday.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Things Fall Apart

Bee House
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
If you were a mason bee, wouldn’t you want to move right into one of these little holes in this rustic bee house and set up housekeeping? After pollinating all my blueberry bushes, of course. So far there are no takers. I simply don’t understand. C'mon bees!
Free housing!

If I could fit into one of these 3/8-inch holes, I’d move right in and escape all the stress of owning property of any kind. I’m dealing with a bunch of niggling worries today. Most niggling is the fact that the toilet that was leaking just about this time last year—the toilet that cost us more than one thousand plus semolians to fix because the whole floor had to be replaced—may be leaking again. In fact, I am almost certain of it. But I’m hoping it will heal itself.

But if not, we will have to have to have the brand-new floor ripped up AGAIN, and I will have to repaint the bathroom AGAIN. And we will have to hand over one thousand plus semolians AGAIN. The contractor guaranteed his work for one year. That was about one year and a month ago. It simply cannot be leaking again, can it?

Farther down on the niggle scale is the fact that my Sandisk Cruzer flash drive crapped out on me yesterday. It was one month old. I use the Cruzer to back up all my work files each night, which now I can’t do. Yow! I really don’t need to live on the edge like that. Sandisk did instantly agree to replace the drive when I called tech support, but I first have to send back the old one. Who knows how long the whole to-ing and fro-ing transaction will take? I’ll have to figure out a way to back up my files to some online storage space that B probably has. Bother.

Then my wireless connection was out for about three hours today. I’ll be honest, I have no freakin' clue how it works. It's magic or voodoo, or something. Nevertheless, I pored over the manual, not being able to make head nor tail of it and plugging and unplugging cables to no avail. B was tied up with clients most of the day, so I couldn’t ask him to come to my rescue until late afternoon. It took him two seconds to fix it. I would be totally up Shit Creek without a paddle if it weren’t for him. I hate it that I’m so useless when it comes to technology. I’ve tried to figure this stuff out--I really have--but it always seems so jargony and opaque.

The pepper grinder broke at lunchtime.

Mercury will remain in retrograde until March 25.

For the past couple of days I’ve been doing a lot of work-related research on automobile safety and am now convinced that our car is not only a heap of junk but a death trap. It’s an ’89 Honda Civic. It has no air bags, no antilock brakes, no traction control, and no automatic safety belt tensioners. What it does have is a cracked windshield, threadbare and shredded seat covers, rust galore, balding tires, and a rear bumper that is partially detached. But it is reliable. “There’s nothing wrong with it,” B proclaims. He thinks that it is tempting fate to replace a car that doesn't have something decisively wrong with it--like a cracked engine block. But I think there probably is plenty wrong with it. We just can’t see it. Like maybe the axles are about to snap in two.

Of course, when I brought this up, B asked if we were going to be buying a new car (and when I say new, I mean a newer used car) before or after we replace the windows in the front of the house and before or after we pay our taxes. Oh, yeah. After. It is all going to have to happen after taxes. That is, if there is any money left over at all.

I think I’ve just laid out a sound Marxist argument for why the ownership of property should be abolished. Maybe not Marxist but an argument of some description. It really complicates life and causes stress. I knew from the very beginning that B and I were not cut out by nature to be home owners, and I am even having trouble coping with the death of the pepper grinder. Now I'll have to remember to replace it. And what kind should I buy anyway? The one that just gave up the ghost was spendy and high end and yet I don't think it lasted more than a couple fo years. Are they all that shoddily constructed? I don't want to have to research a pepper grinder purchase. Gah!

I would very much like to go out right now and order myself a dirty martini, but instead I will go to yoga, which starts in six minutes. I'm going to be late.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Skort Central

I am easily seduced by the Title 9 catalog that shows up in my mailbox for no apparent reason every couple of months. I don’t think I’ve ever bought anything from them—I learned my lesson long ago about buying clothes from catalogs. Nothing ever fits. Nothing. Never. Still, that Title 9 catalog really tempts me. I like to think that I am not susceptible to marketing techniques, but Title 9 is just about able to reel me in. They don’t use models to model their clothing they use real women—of all ages and ethnicities—who are incredibly fit and active—doing yoga, playing soccer, surfing, snowshoeing—and who have enviable lives brimming with intriguing accomplishments. Title 9 makes sure we know just how enviable their lives are by including little biographical squibs next to their photos. Rea; bring- home-the-bacon-and-fry-it-up-in-the-pan types. To wit:

Occupation: Oceanographer
Specialty: Algae and its commercial uses
Former Life: Figure skater
Magazine: Organic Style
Traveled to: 13 countries

Holy shit! Do you want to be Andrea or what? Maybe if you were to buy the Stealth 3/4 Tee, the Arroyo Skirt, and the Protector sandals that Andrea is wearing as she ambles along a pier with a backpack full of scuba gear, you will become Andrea. Yeah, I know how that works. It’s a tried and true advertising/marketing technique. I forget what it’s called, but the whole thing is very carefully calculated to make you lose sight of the fact that unless you are a long-legged blonde gamine like Andrea you will likely look like rubbish in those clothes. And is this Andrea person even for real? Maybe not.

The other way they get at you is to give the impression that they are one of these businesses that isn’t really focused so much on making a profit. I've always vaguely assumed that maybe they give a portion of their profits to various progressive causes. After all, they took their name from the landmark legislation of the ‘70s that mandated that public schools provide girls the same opportunity as boys to participate in sports. But I find no evidence that they have any sort of laudable mission. The "About Us" page on their Web site contains a bulleted list with items such as: “We’re Quirky!” and “Mission statements make us nervous.” and, “We value Title 9’s profitability because it allows us to do the fun stuff.” So, clearly, there’s no altruism there at all, and I’m sure they make quite a hefty profit, too—a pair of socks sells for $39.

Because of that kind of manipulation and self-absorbed attitude, I rather dislike Title 9 and had gotten into the habit of recycling their catalogs as soon as they came through the mail slot. But yesterday, I paged through one and, dang it, I do like their clothes. They are casual yet stylish and they look really comfortable. I noticed, however, as I leafed though the catalog that they have this strange mania for skorts. There seems to be at least one on every page! There’s even something called a “skoartie,” which is a skirt, a skort, and a (surf)board short all in one. Normally, I would not take anything called a “skort” (and certainly not a "skoartie") seriously. It’s like a spork (a half spoon, half fork thing)—a horrible hybrid name invented by some dunderhead who has no respect for the English language. Nevertheless, to my horror, I found myself thinking about buying myself a couple of skorts. I have never been able to find shorts that look good on me, but short skirts are one of the very few items of clothing that I look halfway decent in.

Could the dreaded skort be the answer to the shorts problem? A skirt that I could actually hike, bike, and garden in? I am very curious to know just exactly what the “ort” part of the skort looks like. Is it a lightweight pair of shorts or maybe a pair of color-coordinated panties like cheerleaders wear? How bulky is it? Is it going to bunch up? Is it going to look just like underpants, and if so, then it’s really just a skirt, so what is the point? Neither the catalog nor the Web site sheds any light on the “ort.” I guess in that Title 9 alternate universe, where everyone spends her day buying pain au chocolat, surfing, making oodles of money at a "fun" and but nonetheless prestigious job, and raising her four children, it simply isn’t necessary to show us what’s under (in?) the skort because everyone has a closet full of skorts anyway.

I’ve just discovered that there is an actual bricks-and-mortar Title 9 store here in Portland, and I might just have to check it out even though it is the Pearl District—a bailiwick of the heavy-wallet brigade—where I’m sure Title 9 has little trouble selling their $39 socks. Will I do it? Just how strong is the allure of the skort? Do I want to deal with haughty shop assistants? Will I be able to drag my ass all the way over to the Pearl where I don't know where anything is? Will I be able to find a skort in my size? How will I even know what size skort I should try on? Will I have to make more than one trip into the dressing room? Will I become disgusted five minutes after entering the store and have to leave and get myself a gelato to console myself? Am I trying to talk myself out of a skort-buying adventure? Am I getting really tired and punchy? Will I ever be able to find a way to end this blog entry? Yes.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Buddha and His Cough Drop

The Buddha and His Cough Drop
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
Is it possible that Buddha stepped in and saved me from getting a cold? A few weeks ago, B placed this Ricola lozenge in front of the little Buddha statue on his dresser as some sort of offering, I guess. Not being in the least bit religious or spiritual, I’m not sure how these things work, but I can tell you that as of Tuesday afternoon, I definitely had all the symptoms of a cold. I started hammering down Airborne fizzy tablets immediately and thanks to them or the Buddha or both, I am today right as rain.

The Ricola offering to the Buddha amused me quite a bit. I think proper offerings are supposed to be things like coconut halves. But maybe that’s a Hindu thing. Maybe you’re not even supposed to offer things to Buddha. That’s how much I do not know about B’s religion. He’s been a Buddhist since long before I met him, and I’m always walking into the bedroom to find him sitting in half-lotus position meditating. Oops! There are Buddhist books, tapes, and CDs here and there all around the house. It probably doesn’t reflect that well on me that I’ve never shown more than cursory interest in B’s spiritual life (he likes the Dalai Lama a lot—I know that) or that I’ve never had much interest in cultivating one of my own.

Maybe it’s because I had religion forced down my throat when I was a kid. My mom saw to it that we never missed a single opportunity to go to church. Every Sunday at 8:00 AM, I could be found—yawning and resentful—kneeling in a pew and repeating the exact same lines from the Book of Common Prayer week after tiresome week. I’d sneak a peek at the second hand of my Cinderella watch, close my eyes, and count to 60 (1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi...), and then open my eyes to check my watch to see if—yay!—one more minute of church had passed and was gone forever. Sometimes I’d force myself to keep my eyes closed and count to 60 five times—just to experience the elation of seeing that five whole minutes had elapsed and that I was five minutes closer to freedom.

Actually, all I was closer to was a temporary respite from church. After the church service was over, we’d go back home for about an hour and a half, watch a few sanctioned cartoons, and eat a “serving” of Cheez-Its or Ding-Dongs.* Then I'd have to plod back to church (conveniently located just a few blocks from our house) and sit through a hour of “church school.” I don’t know why our church didn’t call it “Sunday School” like everyone else did. I remember very little about church school except that the parish house where the classes were held was hot and smelly and the classes were very sparsely attended. I think the teacher read Bible stories to us, mostly. I did not want to be there and neither did the three or four other sullen kids in the class. T-E-D-I-O-U-S.

But get this. Wouldn’t you think that when I got to college—when my mom wasn’t there to enforce church attendance—that I’d rejoice and never go to church again? Wrong! I dutifully got up early every Sunday morning, made my way across the campus quad to St. John’s Episcopal Church, and sat through Mass (virtuously refraining from resorting to the old second-hand-on-the-watch trick). I took communion and everything. As soon as the service was over, however, I skedaddled out of there to avoid getting buttonholed by the priest who was probably eager (I assumed) to shanghai me into some gruesome young person’s group. No way in hell did I want that to happen. I really don’t know why I went to church in college. It had something to do with my being a freakin’ goody-two shoes. But I also believed that my mom would expect me not to go to church now that I didn't have to. And for some screwed-up reason, I wanted to prove her wrong on that count. I made many pointed references to my church attendance when I was home on breaks.

I went to church for my entire freshman year, or, maybe, I only hung in there for the first semester before I realized that whatever point I was trying to prove really had no meaning for me and that I could use the extra sleep.

I’ve rarely set foot in a house of worship since. Not because I have any strong, well-thought-out convictions against organized religion (I do have major reservations about certain ways in which religion is used as a justification for reprehensible activities), but because my experience with it was one of mind-numbing boredom. Call me shallow and unthoughtful or what you will.

Hmmmm. This blog entry was actually going to be about something totally different (but still shallow) and much shorter (ha!). I was going to write about the worst movie sequel ever made, which—according to Entertainment Weekly (EW)—is Staying Alive (1983), the sequel to Saturday Night Fever (1977).

You need do nothing more than look at this photo of a greased-up John Travolta in horrifying ‘80s dance skivvies (complete with matching dance belt, no doubt) to know that EW is 100% right about it being the worst sequel ever! Look at that headband! But if you have any doubts, ponder this: The movie was directed by Sylvester Stallone and the music was by his brother Frank Stallone. As the EW writer points out, that is just way too much Stallone. And throw Travolta into the mix? A nearly fatal combo. Here’s the EW writer's snarky synopsis of the plot:

Picking up several years after Saturday Night Fever, Travolta's Brooklyn disco Casanova Tony Manero is now a struggling Broadway dancer. Rejection has hardened his charm into a cocky, misogynistic swagger. After a one-night stand with a snooty dance star (General Hospital's Finola Hughes), he lands a part in Satan's Alley — a show so cheesy it looks like Bob Mackie throwing up on the Starlight Express. The bitchy director describes the musical as ''a journey through hell that ends with an ascent to heaven.'' We get the ''journey through hell'' part; where's the ascent?

I actually saw this movie when it came out. At the time, I’d not seen a lot of movies in my life and, shall we say, my tastes were less discerning and sophisticated than they are now. Plus, I was really into dance myself, having taken ballet for a number of years. So, I thought, “A dance movie? Great!” (I fell into the same trap with Flashdance a few years later.)

I was not deterred by the fact that no one wanted to go see Staying Alive with me. And you know what? I kind of liked the movie. I remember being pretty impressed with John Travolta’s dancing but thinking that he lived in a real shithole of an apartment. He didn’t even have his own phone! (Unthinkable to a person such as myself who had grown up in a suburb.) Everyone in the shithole apartment building used this pay phone in the hall, which made it touch-and-go when Tony was waiting for a callback on an audition. Oh the grit and hardship of Tony Manero’s life! I really should rent the movie now and see if I still think it’s pretty good. I’m going to guess that I’ll be laughing my ass off. Thank you, Entertainment Weekly, for bringing the awfulness of this movie to my attention.

*A serving of Cheez-Its is one ounce, in case you didn’t know. A serving of Ding-Dongs is one Ding-Dong. Why we were allowed one serving of junk food on Sunday mornings (when we were allowed zero servings of junk food every other day of the week), I no longer recall. Maybe it was a sort of a reward for all that church-going we had to do? Or perhaps a bribe?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Bad-Tempered Gnashing of Teeth

I’ve never really woken up today. That’s pretty unusual for me. I don’t know if I’m ever-so-slightly hung over from the glass and a half of white wine I drank at an Oscars party last night (and if I am, how pathetic is that?) or if I’m fighting off a virus. All I know is that I spent the day in slo-mo autopilot. Luckily, I had work that didn’t require a tremendous amount of concentration. But I couldn’t have gotten through it without Earl Scruggs’s banjo pickin’. I listened to “Cripple Creek” about 20 times in a row and have come to the conclusion that it is the cheeriest and perkiest tune in existence. Listen to a snippet of it here, and see if you don’t agree.

My assessment of the tune is confirmed by 18th-century theory on the emotional characteristics of key signatures. "Cripple Creek" in the key of G Major, which, as you may or may not know, embodies “everything rustic, idyllic and lyrical, every calm and satisfied passion, every tender gratitude for true friendship and faithful love--in a word, every gentle and peaceful emotion of the heart.” Isn’t that lovely? Beware, however, of D# minor, which evokes “feelings of the anxiety of the soul's deepest distress, of brooding despair, of blackest depresssion, of the most gloomy condition of the soul. Every fear, every hesitation of the shuddering heart, breathes out of horrible D# minor. If ghosts could speak, their speech would approximate this key.” I must say, I’m not a bit surprised. That freakin’ key’s six sharps tripped me and 99% of my fellow high school band members up every time. Also to be avoided: A-flat major (AKA "the key signature of the grave") and G minor, which speaks of “discontent, uneasiness, worry about a failed scheme; bad-tempered gnashing of teeth; in a word: resentment and dislike.” But you knew that.

Enough with the musician geekiness. I was easily distracted today, and got not as much done on the work front as I would have wished. And I further cut into my work time, by taking a break to make a large vat of split pea soup, so that there would be some nutritious food in the house. There hasn’t been any for a week or two. Hey, I wonder if that has anything to do with why I’m feeling so out of sorts? I know it has something to do with the rather alarming number that appeared on the scale when I got weighed at the doctor’s last week. True, I was wearing boots that may have weighed 5 to 10 pounds, but even so, there's no denying that my weight is creeping up on me. This is just so bad. I've been eating crap and not exercising as much as I should. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to stop living my life so haphazardly, and I’ve done not the slightest thing to address that.

What a crappy blog entry. I really am bleary today. Unable to focus or think in a linear fashion. Distracted by banjo pickin’ and the key signature of the grave. At least I won’t have to eat Duncan Hines brownies for dinner. Or, I should say, at least I won’t have to eat only Duncan Hines brownies for dinner. I feel kind of like this guy.

Half Head

I’m working at about half my head’s usual capacity. I like this sculpture, though. It’s located (appropriately enough) outside the Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology at the Oregon Health and Science University. Recognize it, Diana?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

I Won't Be Traveling to Japan

Today I got an e-mail from my friend C. She’s self-employed like I am, but I am far more successful in monetary terms. She just barely scrapes by.* She doesn’t have health insurance or a pension plan. If a brake pad falls off her, car it’s a financial catastrophe. A couple of months ago, her funds were so low, she was cleaning houses to make ends meet. Yet. Where was she e-mailing me from? Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. In fact, she’s always e-mailing me from places like that—Siberia, China, Mongolia, Turkey, Uzbekistan, India. She’d go to Iraq in a heartbeat if she could find a way to get in.

Her priorities are so different from mine. I could not live on the edge like that. I need to have money saved for a rainy day. What if disaster strikes? Even as a kid I saved up my 55 cents per week allowance and all my babysitting money. I've never been rich, but I have never been broke. I don’t know what it’s like, and I don’t want to find out. So that’s the way I look at life. Caution and fear are my guiding principles, which is why, I suppose, I double and triple book myself with clients, thus ensuring, ironically, that I'll have enough money to (in theory) go on an extended vacation, but never have the time to do so. Self-sabotage.

But back to C. She was in Siberia on 9-11. She saw the Twin Towers go down on Russian television in a room of people who only spoke Russian; she spoke only English and French. She didn’t know what was going on really, but she knew it was something beyond belief. She was in Siberia by herself—a lone American. I cannot imagine. She sent out an broadcast e-mail to her friends. It basically just said, “I’m scared. What should I do?” I think everyone told her to come home. "Stay out of the '-stans' " one guy said.

But she didn’t come home. In fact, she stayed away longer, and ignored the -stan advice completely. She decided to “trust the Universe” and went on to visit several other countries, finally running out of money in China, where somehow a Russian businessman lent her enough money to buy a plane ticket back to the United States. Apparently, he just wanted to help her out, which I have a certain amount of trouble believing, but she’s not a liar, so I guess that was just a case of the Universe coming to her rescue. I cannot under any circumstances imagine myself in her place. Part of me really admires her; part of me feels that she is putting herself in danger; part of me censures her for not subscribing to the Puritan work ethic the way I do; part of me wishes I could spend many months a year traveling (although I’d chose different places to go and I’d have to stay in reasonably nice accommodations).

In her e-mail to me, she mentioned that she has a friend in Tokyo who has an apartment there, so C is planning to go to Tokyo at some point and she wants me to join her. I have to say Japanese culture has never piqued my interest the way, say, Indian and African culture have. Seeing Lost in Translation clinched it for me. I would feel exactly the way Bill Murray does in that film. After watching it, I felt like every one of my senses had been battered. Tokyo seemed very, very alien to me--cold and impersonal and isolating. Of course, it was just a movie, but I'm pretty sure I'd be uncomfortable in Japan. Too much formality. Too many opportunities for faux pas. And, let's not forget, very expensive, even with a free place to stay.

I don’t think C knows how I feel about Japan. She’s certain that I could get a cheap flight from Seattle to Tokyo, but even if I could (which I doubt) I’d rather use that money to go somewhere else. Alternatively, she’d like me to join her in Kyrgyzstan or Georgia (the country not the U.S. state). She remembers that I once said I was interested in Georgia. I probably said that just to be affable and demonstrate that there was maybe one place in Central Asia (her favorite part of the world) I might consider visiting. I mean, if I won a ticket to Georgia (I’m sure there are lots of contests where the prize is a ticket to Georgia), I guess I’d go, but, again, there are so many places I’d rather go first. Like the Yorkshire Dales or Iceland or Idaho. I’m not a Lonely Planet person, although C is always trying to make me one.

I just took a look at the e-mail again and did a bit of reading in between the lines. I notice that she mentions that the flat in Tokyo is a big, Western-style apartment. She knows I’m not quite the budget traveler she is. She's the person who persuaded me to stay in a youth hostel once and, even though I tried to hide it, I guess it was clear that I was not a happy hosteller. I like certain amenities and privacy. She also mentions that there is amazing hiking in Georgia--she knows how much I love to hike. It's obvious she’s really trying to get me to join her on another continent (any continent), I see now. She just got to Kyrgyzstan a few days ago, but I think she’s lonely. Or at least tired of always traveling alone, even though she’s a solo traveler par excellence.

And maybe I should just do it. Maybe I should go to Georgia. Do it before another global disaster strikes or before the environment is flushed all the way down the crapper. (I just read today that the Alps are melting.) I mean, how would I feel if the world ended and I’d spent 99% of my life working?

*About a month or so ago I wrote about a friend whom I claimed was always on the brink of penury. This is not that friend. This is a different penurious friend. I have a lot of penurious friends--friends who make me look like Diamond Jim Brady.