Wednesday, June 30, 2010

It's so nice to have a (handy) man around the house

A friend had richly recommended this dependable, economical, dependable, neat, dependable, sweeps up after himself, dependable handyman and urged me to hire him. Which I did. I had a half dozen little things ranging from cracked floor tiles in my kitchen to a broken shower head to a bathroom vanity that was loose from the wall.

Nothing falling down around my ears, but definitely items that called for attention.

He is all that was promised to me, and another friend suggested I take full advantage of him before he is snatched up. Which I have now done. (In fact, he told me today that in addition to his full time job as a porter in a building, he has been hired to work as a super in a building all Sundays during the summer.) Today he fixed a few more things -- I didn't have anything totally broken -- so there were so many little jobs that just went undone week after week, month after month.

Now as things are getting fixed, I realize how much psychic energy these problems took from me -- like a slow leak out of a beachball. My bathroom vanity was loose from the wall so it moved everytime I bumped it or leaned on it and now it is fixed and rock solid... but every time the vanity moved, pssssst...there goes some air from my psychic beach ball... psssst...bad girl, you should get this fixed, you haven't... I have a terrible scold who lives in my head whom I've unsucessfully tried to evict for years. I've quieted her down somewhat but she still offers her negative opinion all times of day and night.

So now I'm thinking when all these things are fixed and my scold is quieted, I am imagining I'll have way more energy. My psychic beach ball will be bouncing down Easy Street!

Monday, June 28, 2010

And now I'm reading...

I had never heard of this case, but it has come into my life in the past few weeks. I was reading (and now I can't remember why) Wikipedia about Bella Abzug and learned that as a young labor lawyer, she went to Mississippi in 1945 to help defend this man.

Then a friend of mine told me of a book he had bought his son full of diverse heroes and Bella Abzug was one of them. He asked if I had known of her, mentioned the Willie McGee case, and I said yes, I have.

Bella was a congressperson from NYC in the early 70s. She was a co-author of the Freedom of Information Act and oraganized the first world congress on breast cancer. A early feminist, she was the target of much ridicule because she wasn't "pretty" in the traditional sense... she was loud and spoke her mind and her nickname was Battling Bella.

One of her signature pieces was she would wear hats, often with flowers on them.

One day back during that time I was at some cookout at a colleague's home in the suburbs and it was outside and I was wearing a straw hat with flowers on it, and this one wife, who really was a witch, looking down her nose at the "working girls" from her lofty perch as someone's wife said to me, "Oh Pat, you look just like Bella Abzug."

I knew it was meant to hurt, but she was such a jerk, it didn't. I said, "Thank you. To be compared to Bella Abzug in any way is a great compliment to me." In other words, F you. And I meant it.

Years later, she was running for something else and was campaigning at my subway stop at 86th Street and there was a line of people who wanted to meet her, and I stood in line. I remember it was winter and I took off my gloves to shake her hand. She really was an amazing woman.

So fast forward, and now I am reading this book. The first night she arrived in Mississippi, the hotel would not honor her reservation, nor would any other hotel in town so she spent the first night sitting in a bathroom stall in the bus station because of threats from the Klan. Who wouldn't want to be compared to someone that brave?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Hot town, Summer in the City

It was hot, hot, hot today and it reminded me of the first time I came into this apartment which has been my home for 20+ years. It was a July day -- even hotter than today, over 100 degrees. I had walked a couple blocks from where I was living and was sweaty when I arrived.

When I walked in, the air conditioned air hit me and it was dark and cool and felt almost like a cave. I've always loved that feeling. There's a movie theater near me where you go down an escalator and the theater is underground, and I always like going there on a really hot day for the same reason. Dark and cool.

I remember as a young girl going to caves on summer vacations and how fascinating it was to me that it could be hot and sunny and then in a few minutes, usually down a walk or down a flight of steps into the cave where nature provided air conditioning.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Beware what you ask...

There's a florist in my neighborhood with a friendly helper who I often stop and talk to as I did last night. It reminded me of the time, after I had known him for a while, we were standing outside the store in the bright sun and for the first time I noticed this huge scar that ran just about ear to ear... I ran my finger on it and said as a joke, "What is this? Somebody try to slit your throat?" and he replied, "Yes."

Ok, so my eyes must have bugged out a bit -- Nosy me, but he added, "I used to live a different life." You would never know it by talking to him today... I don't know if I even realized that a slit throat is a real thing, but I can tell you it leaves a hell of a scar.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mmmm-Mmmmmm Guinea Pig!!

My manicurist is from Venezuela and in my appointment last week she had told me about how much she loves to cook and how she and another woman from Peru were going to do some catering. So we were talking about all the specialities... and when I got back to my computer, I had a notice from the place where I make microloans that my loanee in Peru was doing fine with her guinea pig business.

I have to say I don't remember funding that enterprise, but I started wondering if the little fellows were pets or dinner. I simultaneously wrote my manicurist and my friend Meredith who has lived all over the world and posed the question. Here are the responses:

Marianella from Venezuela writes: I asked my family and the answer is "both" they eat them, but they are also pets, but just a special kind that has long hair, I know in Ecuador are very popular as a meal, but I didn't know is the same in Peru...they call them "cui" ... I can't imaging having one of them as a dinner neither, they look like hamsters but bigger :( jajaja

I believe jajaja is Venezuelan for Yuck.

Then Meredith chimed in with: Oh yeah, they definitely eat guinea pig in Peru. I understand it's very much a standard meal there. I've never been to Peru, but a friend was just there and found guinea pig so ubiquitous that she decided to try one. She said it didn't taste bad, but the worst part was that they roast them whole, so she could still see all the little teeth on the skeletal head. Yuck!

I believe yuck is American for jajaja.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

My New Book

Now I have just started a book called My Name is Mary Sutter and it's a novel about a woman who is a midwife, the daughter of a midwife, in 1860 and she wants to be a doctor, but she can't get into any medical school and no doctor will train her. I believe she ends up going to Washington DC to learn medical skills with wounded Civil War soldiers. I've read two chapters so far and really enjoy it.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Animal In Us

I just took one of those silly online quizzes that I saw on television -- it's called "the animal in you" and tells you what kind of animal you'd be. The quiz took 30 seconds to answer.

I hestitated on some of it -- like "assertiveness" and you're given four choices and I know there are people who would say I'm the strongest one because I can be, but I chose the middle one of "generally assertive; compromises easily" -- I do compromise easily, only because most of the time I really don't care.

Anyway, I came out as a bison! As I read the description, I have to say it was fairly accurate. It said I was "deceptively intelligent" -- what does that mean? I'm not as dumb as I look? But I know people who think I'm quite bright are surprised often by my choice (dumb) of tv shows, or even that I watch tv!

So go and take the quiz -- maybe you'll do better than a bison -- but then a bison is "strong shouldered" and so am I.

Oh, and Al Gore is a bison too! So I feel I'm in good company.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

What I Wouldn't Have Believed When I Was Young

Today, I was out for my Thursday lunch, and the bartender, Joe, who is in his early 60s has his married son, wife and newborn living with them temporarily. I asked how the baby was doing -- I think he is now 3 weeks old, and commented how nice it must be for him to have his grandchild there.

He got this sort of misty look on his face and said that the other day he was coming out of the shower and his wife was standing in their bedroom, holding the baby against her chest with her back to Joe and so he came out of the shower, saw the baby's face, his wife's back and he smiled and said "For a second, it was just like old times."

By that he meant, as if it were 30 years ago and his now adult children were babies. So to go back to the title, I never would have believed when I was young that 30 years can go by like a flash... just as I sit and scratch my head that 1990 was 20 years ago. How did that happen?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Signing Petitions

I like being a good citizen, but I tire of being assaulted on the street to sign various petitions. Today I had gone out on some errands and it was after 3 and I hadn't eaten lunch yet and I didn't have any lunch stuff at home and I didn't want to take the time to sit in a restaurant.

So I see this food truck, selling all sorts of things and decided I would just grab something quick and bring it home. As I'm looking at the menu, this young woman comes up to me with a petition and I immediately get stiff and she goes on to say that some city councilwoman wants to ban food trucks and how that could extend to food carts.

Now normally I like the rules and laws and playing by the rules, but I think my neighborhood over the years has gotten so gentrified with Victoria's Secret, Banana Republic, etc that what makes a city interesting is hard to find. I like street food. I like street vendors. I know there are all sorts of bad things to say about them, but I think they are part and parcel of the urban scene.

So I sign her petition, even gave my email address, and then she hands me a card for the Vendy Awards which is "a competition to name New York City's best street vendor food."

These awards are a fundraiser for the Street Vendor Project which is a project of the Urban Justice Center which is trying to help out struggling immigrants and entrepreneurs who are working as street vendors. One thing they've accomplished is to sign up a company so that a group of vendors can accept credit cards. If you're interested in reading more, visit

Friday, June 11, 2010

First Food Memory

I was watching Top Chef Masters the other night -- it was the finale, and one of the tasks was that the chefs had to prepare a new dish which represented their first food memory.

The three finalists all readily had one -- and, try as I could, I really couldn't come up with one. I don't remember any time as a young child eating something or tasting something and thinking Wow.

I was trying to figure out what the first food I remember eating was -- and the best I could come up with was peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I remember the sandwich was made on one piece of bread with peanut butter on one side and jelly on the other and then it was folded over. I remember learning/being taught or told that you don't eat the heel of the bread -- we never did, even though I always ate the crusts. And the bread was always puffy soft white bread.

I remember seeing kids in school whose mothers had cut the crusts off their bread and declaring them sissies (well, in my mind, not to their face).

The other early food memory I have is Campbell's chicken and rice soup -- the yellowish gray thin broth and how the rice had some shape and edges to it and little bits of chicken. That was one of my favorites.

So tell me your first food memory -- hope it's more interesting than my PB&J.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

My 15 Seconds of Fame on MSNBC

I use a website in my writing called Help a Reporter Out. If I need experts or anecdotes, I can place the equivalent of a personal ad and it's sent to thousands of people who have volunteered to be interviewed. For example, when I was writing an article about skin care for recreational divers, I asked for a dermotologist who was a recreational diver and voila -- they contact you eager for the publicity.

Anyway, I also get three emails a day with the requests and a few days ago I responded to one -- a writer looking for people who had been kept awake by noisy guests in a hotel.

I sent her my story, which she only used in part. The best part, which she did not use, is that this party turned out to be a collection of strippers and their companions who were in town (in this case Cincinnati) to take part in an event called the Pole-lympics or Polympics or something -- a competition as to who could work the pole the best. Check it out here.

It was a full-fledged party in the hallway and I was pissed off and bleary eyed the next day. My client who I was visiting... well, they all thought it was hilarious and said I should have taken advantage of the situation by getting a few pole lessons.

I heard from my Cincinnati client about five minutes after I got the link -- someone there happened to be reading MSNBC and then I heard from one other friend who saw it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Life Imitates Art

First my disclaimer: I know the entire Gulf of Mexico situation is horrible and catastrophic and it's moved me to tears several times. Having said that, something happened today that made me laugh.

Haley Barbour, the republican governor of Mississippi, today dismissed the oil spill as not that big a deal and said the biggest problem (yes, bigger than an ecological disaster that will last for generations) is how the media is scaring people from coming to the beaches... how the beaches in Mississippi are pristine so "come on down!"

It seemed at once preposterous and funny and it so reminded me of the mayor in "Jaws" who was concerned that the threat of a shark (which had already killed people) would ruin the economy for the July 4th weekend... Here's what the Mayor told the media:

Mayor Vaughn: I'm pleased and happy to repeat the news that we have, in fact, caught and killed a large predator that supposedly injured some bathers. But, as you see, it's a beautiful day, the beaches are open and people are having a wonderful time. Amity, as you know, means "friendship".

And here's Barbour on Fox News:

So it may be hard for the viewer to understand, but the worst thing for us has been how our tourist season has been hurt by the misperception of what's going on down here. The Mississippi gulf coast is beautiful. As I tell people, the coast is clear, come on down.

Friday, June 4, 2010

My Next Book

The 19th Wife was recommended to me by my friend Katrina. It is the story of Brigham Young's 19th wife, named Eliza Young, who left him in 1875 and started a crusade against polygamy. Woven somehow in her story is a true murder mystery in modern day Utah.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

My Crazy Lady

There's a crazy lady who lives on my block, probably my age or a few years older. I've seen her deteriorate over the years from interestingly offbeat to pleasantly eccentric to just plain eccentric to strange to crazy.

And, over the years, I've struggled with what my response to her should be. She knows my name and always is very solicitous. She compliments my hair and outfit and asks me how my work is going.

At the same time, she is totally paranoid. Tells me how people break into her apartment and steal her diamond earrings. These earrings have been stolen dozens of times! Her underwear is stolen, and the police won't do anything.

From time to time she has asked to borrow money from me. The first time she asked I gave her five dollars and then I gave her a few dollars the next time and then I realized there is no comprehension of whether I give it or not and so I just say "Sorry, I don't have any extra money." I heard from a reliable source (really) that she has a trust fund that pays her rent, and she has told me that herself.

No matter what time of day I'm out, she's there. Midnight on Tuesday. 6 am on Monday. 3 pm on Sunday... and I realized that spoke to her own restlessness, running in and out of her own apartment, at all hours of the day and night.

I came to peace about her a few months back where I decided all I have to do is be kind to her. I don't have to save her, rescue her, cure her, get her back on medication, intervene with social services, etc. My only duty was to be kind.

That was working until today. I was walking up the steps to my building when I heard shouting. Our ears can differentiate friendly shouting from angry shouting, and this was angry shouting. It was my crazy lady furious shouting to someone/something unseen, her face was contorted in anger, and there I was. She saw me. I held my breath as she approached me.

"Hi Pat" she said with her usual friendly calm. She then told me how she had bought a new pair of sandals and how they had been stolen and how "they" beat her up again. She said, "I'm so tired of getting beaten up; I can't take it anymore." She said she went to the police precinct but they won't do anything. She asked me what she should do.

I told her I was sorry, but didn't know what she should do. I've seen crazy people talking to themselves, but I don't think I'd ever seen the angry, violent side of it. I put myself in her shoes, how horrid it would be to believe, as she truly does, that people are stealing from her and beating her up. Seeing her red faced and screaming was really frightening.

All of a sudden she turned on her heels and walked away and a few moments later she was shouting again in such a tortured way. When I realized a few months back that I don't have to save her, I was actually sort of, kind of enjoying her company for the few moments we would chat on the sidwalk with that burden of responsibility lifted. I've never seen her like I did today and it just plain made me sad for her.