Saturday, April 25, 2009

Spring Cleaning

One of the more surprising side effects of long-term unemployment is that boredom can reach a level where you find yourself housecleaning, even though company isn't expected. I found myself dragging our old Sharp vacuum out of the closet the other day.

I'd noticed a lot of fur on the living room rug. Especially under the coffee table.

The old Sharp isn't as powerful as it used to be; that pile of fur would not budge.

I kept trying. It's time we got a Miele. They're supposed to be excellent for picking up fur.

Eventually I gave up. (I noticed that I am way behind with The New Yorker, which has been piling up on the coffee table since November. Obama won the election — wow!) 

Cleaning is stupid if you think about it logically. The minute you're done, the dust and fur start piling up again. But if I never cleaned, our whole place would look like what's still under the coffee table. 

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Few Consumerist Thoughts

1. I'm not sorry that Filene's Basement is being liquidated because the magic died when the downtown Basement closed. And the real thrills ($13 Ferragamo shoes, $50 Ferragamo scarves, $129 Prada suits!) had disappeared years before that. No other discounter has filled the downtown store's shoes, however, so I hope a local entrepreneur gets wise, buys the name, and opens just one great Boston store — with automatic markdowns. I still think the vacant South End Biolab building would be an ideal location for it.

2. Our new, lifesize, silver-plated lobster has tremendous presence. It's mildly creepy, too, so it can still stop me in my tracks when I spot it. Maybe we'll hang it on the bathroom wall when we get over admiring it on the dinner table. If you're going to spend money in this economy, spend it on lobster.

3. For more than a year, I've been removing our names from the mailing lists of catalogs we don't want. It's cut down our junk mail dramatically. But recently I've started getting some of the same catalogs again, and I've discovered that magazines sell their subscriber lists to catalogs. Deeply annoying. But as Newman on Seinfeld said, "The mail doesn't stop! It doesn't stop!" If I ever appeared to be winning the mail game, I might get dangerous ideas that I can control the universe, too.

4. If I were to snag a job interview — an impossibility I shouldn't even fantasize about after all these months — I have nothing "professional" to wear now that the weather is warmer. The idea of wearing a suit at any time of year depresses the hell out of me, but when the temperature climbs above 70, black lightweight wool seems positively insane. At my advanced age and level of consumer development, I really ought to have a few grown-up options for each season in my closet. It's stupid not to, even if I do spend 99% of my time in casual clothing. However...

5. Shopping gives me the creeps these days. Unless I have a gift card or a store credit (e.g., the lobster), the idea of spending money on anything except food and essentials gives me vague stomach pains. Which is not to say I won't buy birthday presents (the lobster, again) and so forth as necessary. But I can't even bear to browse online or open the few catalogs we still receive. I'm not even affected by amazing markdowns and sales in stores I like. This is a surprising development for a former retail maven, but probably a healthy one. However...

6. I worry. Worrying about needing interview clothing is at the bottom of my list because I'm convinced I will never, ever, get an interview. Nevertheless, I lie awake at night worrying.  I spend a significant amount of my unemployed spare time worrying. There are so many new anxiety-provoking topics this year compared to previous years. Like, "Where is my 401(k)?" "Will we have to live in a van by the river if I never get a job?" I'm a gifted worrier. I suppose I could replace these scary worries with worrying about what would happen if I never recovered from my shopping phobia. What would I do with all that spare time? Write screenplays?

7. I don't know which is worse: tall leather boots worn with bare legs and shorts or flip-flops worn with a down coat. What's amusing is seeing both at the same time, walking on Newbury Street.

8. I find the looks in the Madewell window on Newbury Street kind of comforting. Apparently all I need to do is wear very faded, very wrinkled jeans and tops to look hip. But fading and wrinkling clothing takes effort, thanks for my Bosch high-efficiency washer and dryer. With a few easy tricks, I only need to iron about four times a year. Thanks to Madewell, I can cut that back further. Too bad I'll probably never set foot in the store. Too bad I can't spend all my spare time ironing.

9. I'd say I've receive at least five Elle magazines in a row that don't contain a single article of clothing that I'd consider buying or even wish to own. It's gone the sad, weird way of Bazaar and Vogue in being so detached from reality that readers can't even find common ground for daydreaming. Their editorial content has also deteriorated into sensational accounts of mental illness, man troubles, and addiction; there's far less about politics, current events, or women's issues these days. I used enjoy reviewing books for Elle, but I guess it's time to unsubscribe. I still get a kick out of E. Jean, but she's not enough to justify all that glossy, wasted paper.

10. Despite my new allergy to shopping, I couldn't resist the semi-annual Boden offer of 15% off plus free shipping and returns. The arrival of ridiculous numbers of plastic Boden shipping bags is a spring tradition around here: what could I do? I ordered five things (= three bags), after careful consideration and reading all the online customer reviews. And everything fits and seems well-made. But it's all so darn frumpy. I don't ordinarily look much like Susan Boyle or Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall — until I put on my new Boden stuff. (Maybe that's the problem over there? Which is not to say that those aren't two handsome women, in their own special ways... but a hugely popular British line of unflattering clothing could decimate the entire nation's cool quotient.) So it's all going back. Which will cost me nothing but a short walk in the sunshine to UPS. I can afford that.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Wrong Guy

I'm not given to diatribes — at least not more than a few times a day. But I am appalled by Megan McAllister, the pretty blonde fiancée of alleged murderer, robber, and kidnapper Philip Markoff. I want feel sorry for her but I can't. She ought to have just had the worst shock of her life, and thus deserve our sympathy. But she wasn't shocked. She was too busy trying to reframe the facts to suit her own fantasy. If she handles the "denial"stage of her loss by contacting ABC News, she is outrageous.

Megan, as we all know, would not keep quiet as the story about her hubby-to-be was breaking. Being a successful, engaged medical student and all, she declared herself superior to the Boston Police and denied their findings. She accused them of trying to make money from selling the capture of her fiancé to the media. At least before his arraignment, she stood vehemently by her creepy man.

And who can blame her? Detectives can frame any random guy by tracing his e-mail correspondence with victims straight to his home computer, and then uncovering his motive: gambling debts. Yep — in the movies, anyhow. I gather these detectives should have gotten Philip's signed confession before arresting him and alerting the media.

Didn't Megan bother to look at all those news photos of her princely perp, plying his Blackberry en route to and from his crimes? Or was what happened to that poor, murdered woman beneath her notice? 

Brides are probably too busy with wedding plans and multiple gift registries to watch the news, but when the Boston cops spend a week hunting for a tall, blonde, young, neatly dressed guy, whose nationally broadcast photos are a ringer for one's betrothed, one might spare some attention. At least watch the media before you e-mail the media.

Megan's statement to ABC News said that she and her non-fly-hurting darling would appreciate being left alone. As of this morning, she was dead-set on her plan to wed in New Jersey "in August, and share a wonderful, meaningful life together." 

Talking to ABC News puts you in everyone's spotlight, Megan — even my teeny-tiny pinprick of one. The next time you want to be left alone with a murderous fiancée, try piping down a bit. I'm not defending the people who left rude messages on your wedding Web site — but honestly, what were you thinking? This is about murder.

Good luck with your "wonderful, meaningful life," Megan. I hope the bridesmaids' dresses are from J. Crew, so your friends can wear them to summer parties instead.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Small Uncool

One of my favorite websites,, is running its annual Small Cool Contest, with prizes for people who live creatively and stylishly in less than 1,200 square feet. There are five entry categories: Teeny-Tiny, Tiny, Little, Small, and International (entries from outside the U.S.). To enter, you had to submit five photos and a floorplan.

I considered competing in the Little category (601–900 SF), and had gotten as far as taking some quick photos and thinking about the two questions on the entry form:

Q: What is your one favorite element in your small cool home? 
A: My husband. He is multi-functional, entertaining, comforting, and decorative.

Q: What was one of the biggest challenges you faced in furnishing your small cool home?
A: My husband. He wants everything to be orange and/or bright blue.

Then I realized that our condo doesn't look anything like the other entries. We are small, but we are not cool. We like soft, lazy sofas and chairs instead of sleek metal and tight linen. Most of our stuff is secondhand, and there isn't a single thing you'd find in a store like Design Within Reach or Ikea. Nothing matches, not even our four dining chairs. We don't have the modernist or mid-century retro aesthetics that define "cool" these days. We appear to have pilfered our design philosophy and most of our stuff from someone's grandparents (not mine: they were too focused on surviving in their new country to have much taste, or much stuff). 

I once heard an interview with a collector of contemporary prints who said that she wanted the art in her home to "challenge" her. Not us. We don't want any back-talk from our walls. While we don't have anything that could be mistaken for Thomas Kinkade (except a sparkly annual Christmas card from my dad), our art is more decorative (landscapes, art nouveau posters) than accusatory. We feel the same way about furniture. I've endured long family dinners on a chair so hard that my legs went numb. That doesn't happen here. Our stuff behaves. It never injures or upsets us; instead it invites us to nap.

It seems that we'll never be "Small Cool" or Metropolitan Home material. Nevertheless, we're not in the territory of Traditional Home, Shabby Chic or Victoria, either. Window treatments, duck decoys, plaid, ruffles, and things that are rusted don't suit us. We are content with bumpy old plaster walls and shabby-but-original 19th-century fireplaces, top-nailed floors, and molding. With books and pillows in excess, a large silver-plated lobster, and four inlaid tables from the Middle East, I suppose This Old House (the "Before" photos) is our market.

Friday, April 17, 2009

At Home in the 'Hood

By North End standards, it appears we have arrived. We were heading toward the deli counter at Pace's and the guy we don't usually chat with is on duty. He spots us, reaches for the proscuittini, and says, "So, you want a half or three-quarters today?"   

Next door, the cat at Maria's Pastry finally decided we were paesani and let us pet and photograph her. I could never get near her before. That counts, too.

The guy at Galleria Umberto is magnificently kind to everyone, so I guess he doesn't count. 

The brothers at the former Dairy Fresh Candy shop would always recognize me and chat, but that's because we flirted like mad for 25 years. That used to count, but then they vanished. Boy, do I miss them and their chocolate. Who needs two yuppie yoga shops in the North End? Who needs one?

One of the Haymarket vendors where we buy asparagus called me "baby" and "love" today, in the presence of my husband. That doesn't count, either, but I appreciated the sentiment; his form of chivalry.

I think it will become official when the waitresses at Regina's stop handing us menus and say: "Large cheese, cooked light?" We'd better start showing up weekly if we want that to happen. The sacrifices...

The North End may not be my neighborhood, but it feels more and more like home.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sitting in the Sun

In Boston, it's perfectly legal to torture your neighbors with loud and incesssant construction noise between 7 am and 6 pm every weekday and fill their homes with dust. We've learned to cherish weekends. We're spared the yelling and banging that starts every weekday at 7 am and goes on until close to 5 as major renovations are underway in our building. We stay in as much as we can on weekends, reveling in the quiet. We can read! We can write! We can hear ourselves think!

We probably have to endure just a couple more months of this, until the work is finished. But... I just learned that two buildings, right in front and in back of ours, are about to gut-renovated, too. This means that the noise may never end, and it could double just when our windows are finally open to the summer air.

But, today, it's lovely to see our calico, Bunnelina, basking peacefully in the sun. There's no generator roaring beneath her, no streams of profanity in an Irish focking accent, no workmen peeing in the garden behind her. This is something for which I can be briefly grateful.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Mighty Fine Dee-zert

If anyone's compiling The Elly May Clampett Cookbook, I'm willing to share her recipe for stewed berries, which I accidentally reproduced this afternoon. The whole mess threatened to fling itself from the pot onto the range hood and ceiling shortly after this photo was taken, but Miss Hathaway courageously subdued it using tongs and a lid.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Wanted: Tiny Single-Family House

Quiet couple with too many books seeks tiny, old-fashioned, single-family cottage.

• Prefer high ceilings, tall windows, fireplace, wood floors, garden. 

• Kitchen and bathroom should be small and old. Status appliances, jacuzzis, vessel sinks frowned upon.

• Must be within easy walking distance to: Red or Green lines, library, bookstore, Trader Joe's, supermarket, bakery, farmer's market, CVS, gym, post office, good pizza. Must be within a few miles of an Anna's Taqueria. 

• If outrageous mortgage is required, should be far away from Apple Store and Anthropologie.

• Neighbors within earshot should not include trumpeters, student drummers, fighting couples, frat brothers, toddlers, motorcyclists, rave partiers, deaf opera lovers, or competitive gardeners. 

• Other desired features (optional): baby grand piano, resident Maine Coon cat, hot tub, tiny heated pool.

Apply with URL, photos, listing information, or any other particulars to the hopeful writer of this blog. Thank you.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Reach Out, Reach Out and Touch Someone

Unlike many other proper Bostonians, this Proper Bostonian is not a breathless Anglophile. She thinks the British are just fine, but their accents don't make her swoon. Although she takes an interest in the Royal Family (she enjoys dysfunctional families and theirs is as entertaining as Dynasty or Dallas was), she is grateful that she doesn't have to curtsey to them as their "subject." She realizes that if things had gone the other way back in those crazy, revolutionary 1770s, she might very well be speaking in an affected accent herself and spelling "color" with too many vowels. Thank goodness for General Washington, Mr. Adams, and Mr. Paine.

It was refreshing to see Her Majesty with her arm around Mrs. Obama. Although Mrs. Obama has a warm and winning personality, I suspect there's another reason behind this PDA. Someone needs to tell the Queen that her engraved gift was an iPod, not an iPhone. She will not be able to call up Craig Ferguson on the sly and trade joke ideas. She will only be able to download his routines. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Best Craigslist Item of the Week

I like the not-so-quiet desperation of this post:

FOUND: Grey Tiger kitten (Back Bay Fens)
Reply to:
Date: 2009-03-31, 6:42PM EDT

"So yea I found this little grey tiger kitten, in the back bay fens. He followed me back to my apartment and I let him in. Somone, did you lose a tiger? I am trying to find a home for this kitten cause i'm sick of feeding it and changing its damn litter. I don't have a lot of money this month for rent, phone bill, credit cards, etc to be feeding the mouth of this grey tiger. It also vomited on my nice wood floor and I had to clean it up. Please take this grey tiger off my hands so i dont have to spoon feed it all the time! It is being a moocher and I am sick of it expecting a free ride. I am an old man on a fixed income so to have to give this grey tiger food and changer litter I need something in return. I have given him a ne[w] name: "Free Ride". I am going to sell this kitten to the circus if no one claims it by the weekend. Please! Take this grey Tiger kitten off my hands! I am an old man. I am a Veteran. I am an old man on a fixed income. I am an old man. I am an old man."

As much as the (alleged) old man says he doesn't want this kitten, it already has a litter box, regular spoon-feeding sessions, and a name. And what an imagination, to threaten to sell the kitten to the circus — forcing it to become a trapeze artist or bareback rider? Is this a good opening scene for a Sam Shepard play, or what?