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By David Rakoff
Don’t Get Too Comfortable is a series of Rakoff’s essays on the simultaneous pleasantness and embarrassing excess of modern American life — as it says on the cover, “the indignities of coach class, the torments of low thread count, the never-ending quest for artisanal olive oil, and other First World problems”. It’s presented as satire, but while he freely skewers trends and American society as a whole, he’s often surprisingly gentle to individuals (with the notable exceptions of himself and Karl Lagerfeld) — more “awwww” than “ooh, that must hurt”. On a man who has the peculiar and thankless job of working for an advocacy group of gay Republicans:
It is Guerriero who has used the word “bearable” numerous times over the course of our lunch, always to justify his remaining in the job. My delusions are of a different, somewhat patronizing variety. Looking across the table, I keep thinking that Guerriero will take off the mask at any moment. Here we are, after all, away from the dreary office, both gay, enjoying a sprightly conversation about politics without rancor or name-calling. At some point, he will see the futility of trying to fight for gay rights within the Republican Party and off we’ll go to the nearest independent bookstore (with a brief stop at the Phillips Collection to see its wonderful Edward Hoppers) to buy Al Franken’s latest tome, all the while laughingly shaking our heads at Guerriero’s misguided, delusional episode working for Satan. What I am feeling about Guerriero has been felt about intelligent, handsome, confirmed bachelors such as him from time immemorial. I am thinking: I can change him.
If it’s biting satire you’re looking for, this isn’t it. But he writes well and it’s a very pleasant read.
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Here are the tracks left by one of the sidewalk snow plows by a park in my neighbourhood.
You know, the plows that “won’t fit” on the sidewalks in front of people’s houses, but somehow manage to fit on the bits of identical sidewalks adjacent to city property — parks, schools, bus stops….
As Spacing says:
The real reason is that the old pre-amalgamation City of Toronto didn’t plough sidewalks, and the city can’t afford the extra equipment or manpower it would take to extend the ploughing throughout the central area. Which is fair enough, but don’t pretend it can’t be done — admit it just won’t be done.
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If Mark Morford can come up with 29 things to be happy about, I imagine I can too.
- Central heating and a non-leaky roof. I’ve spent enough time living in tents that I really grok the utter luxury that is the concept of Inside. Get wet? No problem; you can go inside where it’s warm and dry off. If you’re living in a tent it may be days before you stop experiencing pervasive shivery damp.
- On a related note — dry feet. There are many lovely benefits to outdoors work, but the all-day-every-day wearing of sodden hiking boots and sodden wool socks is not one of them. Pull the socks off at the end of the day and casual observers seeing only your feet might place bets on how long your corpse had been underwater. Dry feet are a great, great thing.
- RSS. O how very much time this saves.
- Cleo the MacBook. This is far and away the most pleasant computer I’ve ever used. Pretty, too.
- Zappos Canada. As of this moment they have 1233 women’s shoes in a 6.5WW. As opposed to any local stores which have, in round numbers, zero such shoes.
- The wonderful women of WNET, who tell me about things like the existence of Zappos. And who give great advice about absolutely anything. And who tell really dirty jokes.
- Webkinz World. Totally cute and harmless little games and Sims-like rooms to decorate for the online versions of Webkinz stuffed animals. Uh, I only do it to help out my kid (hrmph).
- Catbeasts. I mean, check out the wildly goofy expression on Elwood here as he (very inconveniently) bites through the window blind’s cord:
- The library. The lovely library robot phones me when my holds are in, I pick them up, then when I’ve read something I can give it back instead of having to wedge it into my overstuffed bookshelves. All for free! This is very happy-making.
- Borax. Can’t beat it for getting the euphemistic “pet odors” out of stuff.
- Friends who blog for an entire year without once requiring the invocation of Godwin’s Law or any of its corollaries.
- Seven years ago at work we had a videoconference link to one single other location. It cost upwards of $5k. If the video worked, the sound didn’t and vice versa. Today I can download Skype and get a great audio+video connection for absolutely free. Now we’re getting something close to acceptable 21st-century technology.
- iPods are pretty nice bits of technology too. Thousands of songs, several dozen audiobooks, half a dozen movies, a few hundred podcasts and some random photos and mine is now barely half-full. Subway delay? OK, I’ll watch another podcast. Overseas flight? Hah, no problem. Feeling evil? Put on the Feeling Evil playlist. An iPod and a library (see above) mean you can pack a whole lot of entertainment into remarkably little physical space.
- My local bra shop. If you are neither shy nor modest, they make bra shopping supremely efficient. Take off your top, let the woman eye and measure your goods, and hey presto she brings you a small selection of bras which magically fit and are not ruinously expensive. Next time, pull the bedraggled remnants of last year’s purchase from your purse and she is a) unfazed and b) able to both recognize it and produce a new version for your immediate purchase. Contrast: go to The Bay, wander about randomly, end up in the change room under fluorescent lights with 15 bras in various sizes, one of which fits but is ugly. Ugh.
- Dread Zeppelin. Led Zep done in reggae style by an Elvis impersonator. Too silly.
- CBC Radio 3 (warning: sound). No better place to hear good Canadian indie music.
- Strindberg + helium
- Scrabulous. If the Scrabble people have any brains whatsoever they’ll cut them a sweet licensing deal and call it good, because they’ve absolutely nailed the online Scrabble concept.
- Common Craft’s Explanations in Plain English videos. They use markers, bits of paper, and Lee Lefever’s hands and they are brilliant.
- The Shape of a Mother
- The heated floor in our bathroom, and the programmable thermostat that makes sure it is warm by the time I get up in the morning. Worth.Every.Penny.
- Large Canadian Roadside Attractions
- All those pocket knives and oh-so-dangerous tiny embroidery scissors confiscated by the airplane police? You can buy them in big lots on eBay. Need 40 pairs of cuticle scissors, a batch lot of corkscrews or 20 pounds of multitools? The NTSA will auction them to you for cheap, so you’ll have extras next time they nick the one you’d forgotten at the bottom your purse.
- Online versions of old Infocom games.
- Married to the Sea:
- Chocolate. Chocolate is definitely a happy thing.
And there it is. 29 things to be happy about. Much easier to compose than 88 lines about 44 women, too.
*: approximately. HTML makes an exact count tricky while I’m writing, so I expect I’ll end up with a couple of quick edits to add or remove items. Or I could be less of a write-in-code person and turn on the graphic interface, I suppose.
(I’m a bit late with this review, but I plead work-related travel.)
The January challenge was to read & review a book on the theme of time. I rather randomly chose Madeleine L’Engle’s An Acceptable Time off a shelf of kids’ fiction at the library. I remember enjoying A Wrinkle in Time when I was a child and I am always looking for books to read to M, so this seemed it might be a good candidate. A time gate to 3000 years ago opens and a teen girl gets pulled into various dramas at both ends — could be a good story!
But no, I think not. “Ponderous” sums it up. The characters are one-dimensional. The good guys are indefatigably good, the bad guys are, you know, bad, the religious guy never loses or even questions his faith, the plot is obvious and everyone speaks in the most tortured expository dialogue.
“We need more than an encyclopedia to explain Nase’s opening a time threshold.” Mr. Murry blew through a long, thin pipe and the flames flared up brightly. “And Polly’s involvement in it. It’s incomprehensible.”
“It’s not the first incomprehensible thing that’s happened in our lifetime,” his wife reminded him.
“Have things ever been as weird as this?”
Her grandmother laughed. “Yes, Polly, they have, but that doesn’t make this any less weird.”
Mr. Murry stood up creakily. “Polly’s friend Zachary strikes me as adding a new and unexpected component. Why is this comparative stranger seeing people from three thousand years ago that you and I have never seen?”
“Nobody told him about her,” Mrs. Murry said, “so he didn’t have time to put up a wall of disbelief.”
“Is that what we’ve done?”
“Isn’t it? And isn’t it what Louise has done?”
“So it would seem.”
They get dramatically upset about minor incidents and accept major oddities in passing (a dog appears through the time gate and basically the response is “[shrug] well, we needed a new dog”. Hello?). There’s some interesting science and physics mentioned but it isn’t used to advance the plot at all; everyone’s just carried along helplessly by the plot, expounding ponderously all the while.
It’s aimed at preteens, I imagine. I’m not sure how well that would work. Perhaps it’s about right. The language is reasonably high-level and so are some of the concepts mentioned, but since they have no real bearing on the plot it doesn’t much matter if they’re fully understood by the reader. Perhaps a ten-year-old would find it Deep.
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Quotation of the Day for January 5, 2008
“Because it does not take much courage to fight when you still believe you can win. What takes real courage is to keep fighting when all hope is gone.”
- Deqing, Shaolin monk, explaining why heroes in Western action movies (who usually succeed) are less heroic than heroes in Chinese action movies (who usually die). Quoted by Matthew Polly in his memoir American Shaolin, about studying martial arts in China.
I could pretend that’s the reason why I like kung-fu movies, but in reality I think I like them because of the Kung-Fu Mom characters, who inevitably kick some impressive ass.
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I discovered accidentally, about 10 years ago, that men feel entitled to wear comfortable underwear that covers their entire ass. The whole thing.
Can you believe it? They feel entitled to comfortable underwear that covers their whole ass. Both cheeks entirely. They don’t feel they should shrink their ass – they feel the makers of underwear should provide enough fabric to serve its function. I’m just saying – that’s a different relationship than women have with our skivvies.
I prefer boxers, myself — a discovery made when I spent my first summer as a canoe tripper — but to each her own.
(h/t to Feminist Law Professors)
The existing holidays are well and good, but they’re all missing something: time in which everyone else, no matter how beloved and non-intrusive, goes away and leaves one in blessed peace and silence.
Think about it. Valentine’s Day? About being with other people. Easter? ditto, but add even more sugar. Halloween? For the hordes. Christmas? New Year’s? etc.
It’s clear the extroverts have been in control of the holiday schedule.
I hereby declare January 2 to be Introvert Day. A day each person gets to spend deliciously alone, talking to nobody and reveling in a lack of human contact. Send the kids to daycare (unless they’re introverted kids who’ll enjoy their own day of hermitude), maybe skip the shower, buy yourself some excellent chocolate, dig into the pile of library books and relax those social impulses. Go for it. (I’d say “join me!” but that rather misses the point.)
Some of us are not well suited to staying up late, so we hauled out the ginger ale and maraschino cherries and champagne flutes and celebrated New Year’s GMT* at 7pm our time. Having remote grandparents means that M has been well familiar with the concept of timezones for quite a while, so we didn’t have to clog up our celebrations with educational matters. M and the cats retired shortly thereafter.
The Veuve Cliquot made its appearance around 10:30, and we made it stretch until midnight and then conked out ourselves.
O, the excitement. But it is a fine thing to have a quiet night in our own house with an excited kid, sleepy cats, and good champagne.
* D pointed out that this made no sense, since the actual dateline is over on the other side of the world, but we decided to ignore that little bit of logic. We’re random; that’s fine. There were fawncy drinks with cherries and that’s all that mattered.
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(insert your preferred metaphor here re: new year, hatching, etc. etc.)
Happy 2008. If 2007 was good to you, may 2008 be even better. And if 2007 sucked for you, well, may 2008 be substantially more pleasant.
Edit to add Neil Gaiman’s New Year’s wish, which I quite like despite its saccharineness (saccharinity? — whatever):
May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t to forget make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.
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I’m sure anyone reading this has heard my rant about Toys R Gender Apartheid. The place drives me nuts and I end up cursing myself every time I spend money there. But here’s a nice piece out of the UK’s “the f-word” that manages to say the same things but without all the swear words I inevitably insert in my rant:
It is probable that some people see past stereotypes. However, what has been established in research is that people tend to live up or down to the expectations that are communicated to them. A number of studies have revealed that there is pressure on individuals to behave in stereotyped ways and these behaviour patterns are generally equated with social acceptance. We can all remember what it is like at school, never in our lives do we feel more pressure for social acceptance. Female children are fed expectations from the toy industry daily and we cannot pretend they have no effect.
However I don’t necessarily think a particular conspiracy in the toy industry exists to repress girls, but rather that companies think only of profits. Therefore products are created that the human brain will recognise most easily and buy most readily. The toy makers and advertisers ‘amplify’ the perceived differences between the genders in order to quickly communicate with its desired audience. In an experiment where children viewed ten toy adverts once the children could identify the target audience every single time. The target audience of boys or girls are very obvious to children and make the products easy to understand and therefore easy to sell, but the unpleasant side-effect of this is there is an implication of whether the product is suitable for them or not depending on their gender.
A good seasonal reminder to give your business to small, thoughtful toy retailers, assuming you have access to some.
Thanks to Abbey Cat Adoptions (go ahead, click the link and look at all the adorable kitties that need homes… I dare you….), we’ve been adopted by two new kitties.
This is Jake. He’s 2 and he’s originally from Hamilton:
And this is his pal (they were in the same foster home) Elwood, who is 5 and from Collingwood:
They’re settling in very well. Jake has decided that M’s bed is his territory, which pleases everyone except Elwood, who was firmly batted away from the prime next-to-warm-small-child zone tonight. Jake’s also discovered that if he sits on the stairs he blends in very well, thus maximizing his chances of killing us and providing himself with fresh meat. In the meantime he likes to sit by the kitchen table and wait for M to “drop” things in his vicinity.
Elwood is louder and more overtly sociable and likes to play with the ribbons on all the helium balloons left over from M’s party last weekend. He likes to experimentally claw at things at night, making boring sleeping humans transform into lively awake humans, but we’ll work on that.
Yay, cats! And hey, now we have a kid that’s old enough to scoop out litterboxes!
WordPress is being particularly recalcitrant.
Testing adding a totally random link.
…ok, looks like it was a db issue after all. Yay backups.
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The kid loves to sing and is a total extrovert, so you’d think we’d have experienced a successful concert before now. But no. Even this past spring there were wails and tears when her cute bunny ears broke shortly before the concert, and I spent some minutes crouched in the Kindergarten classroom making soothing shushing noises and trying (with eventual success) to convince M to rejoin the singing.
So I was a bit nervous about the Primary School’s Christmas concert yesterday even though (again) M had been practicing hard and was (again) very enthusiastic about it. Cacophony I can handle. But would I have to rescue my wailing sproggle again? In front of several hundred other students and a horde of parents and other hangers-on? Ack.
The school gym was very full — even though I got there ten minutes early, I was stuck way at the back. I left my red hat on, though, and caught M’s eye as she was getting ready to sing with the French choir (she joined both French and English choirs), and there was much smiling and waving. And, thank goodness, there was singing and a total lack of wailing. Excellent.
She’s the one just left of the large black speaker.
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At M’s parent-teacher interview yesterday we asked about how they teach kids to form letters, because M does some very odd things when she prints.
“Oh, we don’t teach that anymore,” said her (absolutely wonderful) teacher, “Any which way they get the letters on the page legibly is fine.” And we all made a few cracks about “back in the day” and “…with my feather dipped in ink” and that sort of thing.
But now I’m wondering: is forming letters properly really one of those things one can learn informally?
Kids these days, etc.
I just found out that a women who used to be on a listserv with me has died at the age of 56.
She was due to retire this upcoming spring. As long as I knew her she was talking about when she’d retire, how much she was looking forward to it, all the things she’d do…
RIP Angela Wilke. This isn’t the retirement you deserved.
edit to add — Melle said it much, much better.
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- I burned my hand nastily this morning — left hand, of course; whoever burns their non-dominant hand? — and I can’t even blame anyone. It was just a stupid non-preventable accident (lid fell off the kettle [for the first time ever] while I was making coffee [not even real coffee! Just my usual pathetic decaf!] and my fingers were in the path of the resulting blast of steam). Three and a half of my fingers are red, shiny, and excruciatingly painful.
- Hideous weather. Rain combined with snow so thick it makes a wet splat when it hits the ground. Rain, snow. Pick one. Or preferably neither. Please send me to a Caribbean island now or let me hibernate under the duvet until about April, kthxbai.
- On a related note, Canada keeps spurning Turks & Caicos when they approach us and ask to be a Canadian territory. Why? Why?
- We got all excited yesterday because on a whim we bought celeriac (impressively ugly, as it should be), cooked it, ate it and actually liked it. Getting excited about vegetables = middle age, for sure.
- Can’t sleep because my throat is too scratchy. Tired.
- Dark by 4pm today. Uuuuuuuuuuhhhhhggg.
- Out of Grand Marnier.
I think I get a do-over for today. All in favour, say Aye.