Saturday, June 27, 2009

Jon & Kate plus 8 divorce lawyers ?

I confess.
I’ve watched Jon & Kate Plus 8, maybe half a dozen times—long before the present troubles. I was sucked in by the shear logistics of it all. And frankly marveled at her ability to keep on top of it.

But I found the so-called “reality show” uncomfortable viewing, even then. She was not a happy camper, or so it seemed. It wasn’t just that she continually told him what to do, but she was decidedly unpleasant about how she did it. She comes across as a bullying harpy. So it’s no surprise that a recent “poll” finds 61% of the country siding with him in the divorce action.

That’s not a bandwagon onto the which I will jump. Yes, she is easy to dislike, often roiling with anger and disapproval. But every coin needs a flip side to exist. And Jon is Kate’s. He is a whimpering mass of passive aggressive manipulation. And I know from first-hand experience, how such a person can subtly provoke one to rage. In my own youthful, brief marriage, I was more a Kate than a Jon.

Ironically, the photo always accompanying the story of the split comes from the episode where the kit’n caboodle flies to Hawaii and the couple renew their vows. Yes, I happened to catch that one. Leaves me wondering if that was the network’s idea or the couple grasping at straws—they didn’t have to pay for.

Although I read there is a prayer website dedicated to the couple, I also find the silence of the Christian community telling. Kate’s book publisher was a major evangelical house and the series drew heavily from that sector for its support. However, I’m not among those that believe that the evangelicals are any less likely than the rest of us to slow down to rubberneck at a roadside disaster.

Their network, TLC is banking on us to tune in for what I am afraid will be a media circus of a divorce—cause a reasoned, measured split won’t make for good ratings. They are so confident reports have them procuring a Trump Tower apartment (or its equivalent) for Jon so the pair can separate and continue filming.

I won’t be among those watching, though. Living through my own crumbling marriage and watching those of people close to me is fall apart is enough, thank you.

Somehow, I doubt the couple will provide a public service by showing us how this should be done. The two appear to agree on only one thing: The show must go on. Why? So the Gosselins can afford to divorce without sacrificing their bloated lifestyle? Give me a break.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


For filth (I'm glad to say) is in
The mind of the beholder.

When correctly viewed,
/span>Everything is lewd.
(I could tell you things about Peter Pan,
And the Wizard of Oz, there's a dirty old man!)
-From satorist Tom Lehrer’s song, Smut

This has been bugging me for a while, so I figure I’d get it off my chest (so to speak). After all, what’s the fun in bloggin’ if you can’t bitch.

Just the coined word, sexting, is enough to set my teeth on edge. Is it just me, or is there precious little sex in so called sexting. I guess it sounded better than nude-ting or semi-nude-ting.

Casually flip through the news channels on any given day and your sure to come up with yet another tale of an adolescent girl caught using their cell phone camera for more than was intended—wearing a lot less than modesty allows. (I haven’t heard of a boy—gay or straight caught forwarding nudies photos of himself. But I’m guessing it’s out there .)

The stories are infuriating on so many levels.

The exploitation of many of these young girls. The same “if you loved me you’d do it” shit dressed in the latest technology, that young men have been pressuring females with ad infinitum.

And we adults are SHOCKED, SCHOCKED that such behavior continues. Considering the rampant sexual images bombarding our youth, the raging hormones and the lack of frontal lobe development in adolescents, this is disingenuous at best. Give a teenager an appliance or vehicle of any kind and they will find a short-sighted, stupid (although creative) way to use it. It goes with the territory.

The worst of it is the legal morass these young people fall into. The victims of overzealous, hypocritical and puritanical purveyors of the law. The stories sicken me. As one after another teen’s foolish or vengeful choice in pushing the “send” button effectively ruins their lives. I am not talking here about the embarrassment caused my the endless reproduction of these images, growing in concentric electronic circles. That would be bad enough.

I am talking about the application of child porn laws to hound these young people and their families. There are instances of convictions as purveyors of child porn leading to the requirement of registration as sex offenders. There are lost college careers and inability to find jobs. Ok, I am not a lawyer and I don’t play one on TV, but it doesn’t take a law degree to know this is beyond ....

Where do you draw the line? In one instance, a high school girl is being prosecuted for a photo taken at a slumber party when she was 12, showing a training bra. A male prosecutor calling it “provocative” doesn’t come near to elevating such common girlish silliness to something criminal. In this case, child porn is in the mind of the beholder.

And I don’t buy that “We need to protect the children,” “It’s not my fault, that’s the way the law is written” crap. We all know that prosecutors have a great deal of latitude it what they pursue. Maybe, if they weren’t so distracted by this nonsense, the Bernie Madoffs of this world—not to mention REAL child pornographers would get a bit more attention.

Please, people. I am NOT defending this behavior. Yes, it can go beyond foolish to dangerous. But education, not criminalization is the answer.

If we are honest, we may admit to indulging in similar behavior at some time in our lives. But the damage was limited
by the technology at hand.
Does anybody out there remember Polaroid’s???

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

twilight in the garden of predicable & sophomoric

A few well chosen words about the Twilight Saga, an insanely popular teen series written by Stephanie Meyer and published by Hachette. I feel eminently qualified to do so, as I have spent the past four days buried in the four novels—and a good part of the past year lugging and stacking hundreds of copies, almost daily.

I tend to resist reading such overwhelmingly hyped franchises. I’ve never had the urge to read any Harry Potter, for example. And it took over a year before I would pick up Marley. But I digress

These phenomena are so profitable that publishers and bookstore owners drool. They burst forth from their designated markets to become “crossover books,” in this case from teen girls to women to film. I can’t begin to guess how many I’ve personally placed in the hands of moms, enamored by the “greatest love story ever.”

Now that I am on leave from my bookseller duties, I took the time to see what all the fuss is about. I still don’t know. I knew I was in trouble after 30 pages when I was so bored, I started riffling through chapters in search of some action, with no sense of loss. For those of you without a clue, it’s the story of a teenage girl Bella and a (teenage-looking) vampire Edward who fall for each other in the classic star-crossed love affair.

Listen. I was all prepared to fall under the spell. I’m well-up on my vampire lore, Buffy the Vampire Slayer being among my all time favorite TV shows. Of course, that series was created by Josh Wheden. ‘Nuf said.

Meyers is a competent enough writer, and she does a few interesting takes on vamp and even werewolf, mythology but... I list below a few of my turnoffs.

--The books are way way way too long. Situations are repeated in a seemingly endless loop. Book editors, it seems are a truly endangered species.

--We are asked to believe that a good “family” of vampires, some closing in on three digits age-wise, thinks it would be fun to do small town high school for what must be the umpteenth time. Really. What immortal being wouldn’t jump at the chance to take bio and calculus (not to mention gym) one more time?

--The foreshadowing is so heavy handed the pages are almost striped. Example: Bella moves from sunny Southwest when her airhead mom remarries, to live with her clueless father in the dreary Northwest town named—wait for it—Forks. Can you say “a road less traveled” ?

--These vamps are all things desirable, super strong, good-looking, magical, rich, smart etc. Being human is so, well, inconvenient. You have to eat, sleep, age and go to the bathroom. The messy business of feeding off humans is swept aside by these “vegetarian” vamps who make do by hunting wild animals on frequent “camping trips” .

--One interesting (and recurring theme in all vamp lit) is that sex between us humans and vamps is always dangerous. This enables the Bella-Edward love story to drip in desire but remain chaste, cannily effective in the teen genre.

--After pushing myself through 1,200 plus pages, I finally arrived at the final book, Breaking Dawn, an almost 800-page tome. I came close to skipping it and that would have been a mistake. It’s far and away the best—and in my view—the only one worth reading. Editing it down and adding some back story from the first three bloated books would have made one engrossing read. It actually managed to surprise me a bit. I love that.

--In the end, though, it’s really just another girl-falls-for-guy-and-gives-up-all-in-the-quest-for-happily-ever after—emphasis on ever. Is that really the best message to send to our young women?

I could go on, but why.

A final note: For a REALLY intensely well written series, one hell of a touching first love story with the complex layers of real literature, skip the teen section and head straight to the children’s department. Pick up Philip Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials, including the Golden Compass, the Subtle Knife and the Amber Spyglass. Buy all three at once, cause you won’t be able to put them down.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

return to Rye

They say that the sense of smell is the strongest evoker of memory. It certainly is so in my experience. The brine of the Atlantic mixed with damp wood brings back the NJ boardwalk—perhaps an endangered sense memory, though, as wood slats are replaced with recycled material.

But there is no replacing the smell of upstate New York. It smells like the 1950s summers of my childhood. I know, I’ve written about this before, but every time I return to the countryside north of New York City, it washes over and transports me.

It’s rich, green, damp and laden with as much memory as foliage. Salad days made concrete. Bungalow colonies with names like Blueberry and Kraus’s, and day camp color wars. (No, it wasn’t much like Dirty Dancing. That was much too upscale. Yet the film is oddly evocative. The 1998 flick, A Walk on the Moon, with Diane Lane was closer to our reality.)

So I returned yesterday and had my first morning walk with Angel, my friend Martin’s dog. The morning was dark, raw and wet. Lovely for me, not so much for Angel, who struggled a bit with her arthritis. Instead of lunging ahead, she was content to trot alongside and poke around. That was OK with me and my arthritis. We are both seniors.

I drank it in, so refreshing, mountain cool, like the fall days I so miss since my transplantation to Sarasota. Even the grayness was a pleasant change from the drumbeat of Florida sunshine.

So I settled inside today, to cozy up and read. I promised my friend Paula I would give Twilight a try. Sorry to say, that so far the immensely popular franchise leaves me bored. And considering how many hundreds of those books I’ve stacked, I am surprised and disappointed.


Monday, June 8, 2009

riding the auto train

June 5

12:50 p.m.
Phase one of my sentimental journey is complete. I sit in the Amtrax station in Stanford, north of Orlando. I am up at 5:30 to pack the car in between sheets of rain, clean out the fridge and drop Abbie off at the vet to board for a week. She is not a happy camper. By 10, I am on my way, stopping to down a bacon, egg & cheese McGriddle. There is something about being on the road that awakens the sleeping fast foodie in me.

I make great time, even though traveling I 4, especially during the week, is a nightmare. It’s one of those congested, shopworn roads constantly under construction--not to mention passing all the theme park exits and golng through downtown Orlando. On a good day, it's a 2.5 hour trip.

It’s one of those hurry up and wait scenarios, since the train doesn’t leave unit 4, but they want you there by 2. If you don’t get there even earlier you get a bad dinner seating and end up sharing your space with anxious parents and screaming infants…so I wait.

The Sanford station is old and shows its age. The small concession stand is shuttered. I’m glad I brought a salad to munch on as I chose the most popular 7 pm dinner. The food has always been quite tasty. And as a lone traveler, I’ve been lucky with dinner partners. On my first foray, I sat with a couple who spends summers in the Catskills with my favorite aunt. Once, I dined with three recent college graduates on their way to starting independent lives. It's among my favorite part of the trip.

I pause here to talk a bit about the storied train which has always intrigued me. It is the only one in the U.S, and at 3/4 of a mile in length, the longest passenger train in the world. There are no stops, just a straight run from Stanford to Lorton. (OK, so there is one stop to take on water, in the middle of the night in Florence, SC, ironically where I stop to spend the night when I drive.)

The trip takes about 17 hours and pulls into Lorton about 9 a.m. Then another round of waiting. This time for your car to be offloaded. My luck has been running out here. For the second year, I wait 1.5 hours to get back behind the wheel of my little red Honda Fit. The train carries 222 of a maximum 300 cars this trip. (Most of them in VERY boring shades.)

I settle into my seat and luck out. The nervous Nellie in the window seat en route to her home in Boston freaks because a kid is sitting behind her and dashes off to a pair of empty seats. So I'll have two seats to myself.

The sky opens up again and the day turns gray, sleepy grey. I am winding down but trying not to nap, cause I wanna sleep the night. It makes the trip go faster. My eyes are getting heavy, though, having been up since before dawn. I so wish the train would get underway already. Oh god, am I doomed to listen to cell phone conversations for 1,000 miles?

OK, so I’m beginning to feel like one of those airline passengers stuck on a runway. We are still sitting. This is a first for me. Dunno what the problem but antsy am I. Wanna get a going!

I am reminded of the worst part--the airline-like bathrooms. Oh, for a posh sleeping car with private bath and turn down service.

I have a soft spot for trains. They are another one of my many time machines, carrying me back to my Long Island childhood and the "change at Jamaica" cry of the conductor as my mom and I head into the city for a Broadway matinee. (Even in
London, I prefer them to the Underground which is way too deep underground for my taste-- unless bombs are falling.)

There is just something earthy and connected about a train, Without the need to drive, I am free to contemplate the passing sights, right now lush green farms with real trees and three horses grazing under shade trees by an inland water of some kind. Not a palm tree in sight. It could pass for the New Jersey or Pennsylvania countryside.Then there is the rhythm, the vibration accompanied by the clickity clack, very retro. Full disclosure: If you are sensitive to motion, be sure to bring meds, as the lateral motion can turn the tummy.

Being an old form of transport, trains pass through the old sections of towns, sometimes quaint, but more often simply shabby. As we slip by farms and homes, I find myself wondering about the lives contained within, something I used to do as a child, passing time in the back seat as my dad drove home from my grandparent's house in Brooklyn.

7 p.m.
A pleasant dinner of flat iron steak, fresh veggies and a raspbery/chocolate desert, with the affluent, as usual, on their way to Cape Cod and the like. I am the only one, however, who leaves a tip. UG!

9 p.m.
Lights are dimmed but I continue reading until 10 under the shallow overhead lamp.

5:30 a.m.
I give up trying to sleep. Although I've brought my own blanket and pillow (and a pair of comfy socks), my body refuses to find comfort. All the maneuvering, reclining, foot rests do no good. I long for a pair of Bose earphones and my sleep number bed.

6 a.m.
I head to the dining car for a early breakfast and meet a nice couple celebrating their 58th anniversary. My spirits lift.

9 a.m.
We pull into the station on time and hear the announcement to "detrain". My mind skips to Geroge Carlin's "deplane" riff and I chuckle.

10:30 a.m.
..and my sentimental journey continues on to Point Plesant to suprise a friend.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Leaving paradise

I’d be dancing on air, if I had the time that is.
I’m too busy being busy. On Friday I get to leave paradise for a full three months.

Three months away from air so viscous it’s actually visible. Three months away from shelving books and screening out the incessant cries of toddlers forced to share the Thomas train table. Three months.

Late last Friday I received approval for (unpaid, of course) Summer Leave. There are few such glorious phrases in the English language. Each year I manage somehow to make it back “home” for an extended period. A young friend will move into my condo and care for my 14-year-old cat, Abbie.

Call it snowbird light.

By now, I am so homesick for the Jersey Shore its all-Bruce-all-the-time, combined with live streaming images of the surf and boardwalk. I dream of REAL rye bagels from Hand Rolled Bagels on Purdy Ave in Rye, NY,(Yes, I know rye bagels from Rye. What can I say? I don’t make these things up.) raspberry bomb ice cream, from Ryan’s on Shrewsbury Ave, Tinton Falls, NJ, and “Chinese” food that doesn’t make me gag. Dare I forget, NEW YORK CITY, the Yankees, TV channels with the correct numbers, the Spring Lake and Point Pleasant Beach boardwalks...

How, you ask, can I afford on a retail salary to take such time off? My bills don’t go on leave, that's for sure. I can’t, but I do it anyway. I am aided in this endeavor by dear friends who open their homes to me. In return, I make myself as useful as possible—house and dog sitting, as well as general chipping in.

This year the Feds will also chip in. Tomorrow I turn 62 and start my reduced Social Security the second Tuesday in July. The amount is small, but welcome (see previous post: pennies from heaven). I also usually manage to pick up a little cash with odd jobs here and there.

This summer I will once again divide my time between a spacious home on the Long Island Sound in Rye, NY, and a cozy Dutch colonial, a block from the Navesink River, within walking distance of No Ordinary Joe’s Cafe in downtown Red Bank, NJ.


My time will be spent reconnecting with friends and family—and myself. I am looking forward to focusing on my third book , a second novel. Of course, I will continue this blog, which began at the close of last summer’s leave.

Tata for now. Much to do. Gotta run.

Coming up next: Riding the Auto Train. Stay tuned.