18 November 2006


P2 materialized by desk. "So, did you wash your hands?" she chirped. She's a chirpy sort of little person, but not really a bad sort overall. When she can't find what she's looking for in a file, she takes everything out and spreads it on the floor by her desk where she can look at it properly. The old supervisor would never have done that, and not just because her bulk would keep her knees from ever coming that close to her elbows. She also had some sort of an attitudinal deficiency.

"It's just offensive," I sighed. We looked at each other for a minute until her good cheer and my moroseness amalgamated into a kind of sad but resigned calm.

"It's not like there's anyone it's just never occurred to that it would be a good idea to wash their hands after they use the bathroom," I reflected. "A sign's not going to change anyone's behavior. But anyway, I can't say I've really been watching everyone to see if they're washing their hands or not, but the general impression I have is that everyone does!"

P2's enthusiastic nod didn't quite get completed, cut short by S1's head rising over the cubicle wall.

"Not on day shift!" S1 declaimed. "On day shift, we have rinsers!" She drooped a hand and shook her fingers, to illustrate.

P2 and I wrinkled our noses. "But still," P2 said, after a quiet moment of the necessary revulsion, "It's insulting. I mean, first that other sign, and now this. Most places have a sign that says not to flush tampons, but that part about making sure the toilet seat is clean! And--"

"Pads!" S1 said, seething with scorn. "Who did that? People are disgusting."

People are disgusting, I would have to agree. But ever so interesting. Being quite simpleminded, myself, I saw these ugly laminated postings signed "Management" as evidence that said Management, whoever that is (not me, surely? Maybe T?) is a horrid doer of bad things. Not much given to chains of reasoning, I never realized that Management was doing horrid bad things because someone else was doing horrid bad things first. Turns out there are even more parties to despise than I was aware of! But now I know, thanks to S1, the creative thinker. Very interesting indeed.

13 November 2006

The Masque of the Black Tulip. Lauren Willig.

The Scarlet Pimpernel appears in this book. Only long enough to say "Sink me!" and then make a discouraging remark and pour out some cognac, but he's there.

Not to mention the Purple Gentian and the Pink Carnation, as well, of course, as the Black Tulip.

Lovely, good-natured espionage and intrigue, complete with a cabbage cart overturned on Westminster Bridge.

There is an earlier Pink Carnation book. I must find it.

11 November 2006

Status Innerwear

An awful lot of my clothes are bought at Macy's (formerly Bon-Macy's and before that the Bon; the delivery drivers are covered by a very nice sort of a pension plan, oh yes very nice).

By me.

I mean, the clothes are bought by me. Pension benefits also sometimes approved by me.

Anyway. I started buying so many clothes there well before I realized the bit about the pension plan. The reasons for my patronage are: (1) nice art deco green-coppery decoration on the outside of the building; (2) lovely restroom.

Which is to say: (2a) stalls are more like rooms, with mirrors and counters and wood-slat doors; (2b) there's a great big old scale there, so I can determine whether I'm just a little bit too fat or verging on the absolutely monstrous.

It's a very nice scale, the sort that everywhere else I've seen its like you would have to insert coins in. Here it's free.

If ever I manage a retail establishment (which heaven forfend), I'll make sure to have a very nice bathroom, and let everyone use it, no questions asked. For when I come out of the entirely free bathroom, I tend to spend money on clothes.

In the course of innumerable transactions, I handed over a North Community Bank Visa (the Community in question is Chicago) and the following conversation occurred:

"$XX.XX. Do you have a Macy's card?"

"No. And I don't want one."

"If you sign up you'll get a XX% discount."

"That's okay."

"Today, that would come to $XX.XX."

"I don't want one."

"Are you sure?"


"These are really nice nylons. If you have a Macy's card, there's a discount when you buy X many nylons."

"That's all right, I don't want one."

"I'll put it on this card then."


One evening in August, buying three cardigans, a short-sleeved mad green silk pullover sweater, a curiously expensive black nylon T-shirt, and a plain old cotton collared shirt in a moderately unattractive shade of maroon, I gave in. Just so they wouldn't ask me anymore. Besides, there was the discount. And this wasn't that awful irritating lady from the accessories department who had bought a gray pair of the jeans I was buying in faded blue, liking the design on the back pocket, and who took it upon herself to remove fuzz from my Patagonia fleece. It was the nice Saturday-evening girl from the women's department, the one with the accent almost cuter than her butt.

I rue the day.

Yesterday, I got my Macy's card statement. Having stayed up late reading Katie Fforde, then slept late and, after my coffee was ingested, been seized with a brief frenzy of cleaver-whetting and meat-chopping, I was checking my mail on my way out to the office. I stuck the envelope in my satchel.

Today I took it out. The moment the letter-opener snicked itself out from the envelope flap, out flew a vile odor of scent. Quick as I was getting the scent samples into the wastebasket, the odor lingered.

I got out my checkbook to write a check for $64.74.

What did I spend $64.74 on, I wondered. I remembered going to Macy's, but what was it I bought there?

I consulted the excessively fragrant Macy's card statement.
Date: Oct 14

Store: Seattle

Description: Status Innerwear - Calvin Klein; Status Innerwear - DKNY; Sales Tax
Holy Mary, mother of God.

Mary did wear a brassiere, didn't she?

I was wearing one, too, under my yukgaejang-stained pink frilly-shouldered three-quarter-sleeved T-shirt from I. P. Zone Outfitters (division of Bossini). As near as I can recall, the T-shirt cost 40 renminbi, or around $5. The Status Innerwear - Calvin Klein cost five times as much, before tax.

What good is Status Innerwear without Status Outerwear? I ask you.

Second Thyme Around. Katie Fforde.

This book's heroine washes dishes in big black plastic buckets set out on the kitchen floor.

She also has a problem with her underwear being so old she can't wear it with a skirt or it will fall right down.

I approve.

Life Skills. Katie Fforde.

Katie Fforde's publisher skimps on proofreading, but somewhere out there in the Seattle Public Library system is a reader willing to make up the deficiency.

I kind of wonder what kind of person this could be.

Me, I read Katie Fforde in the middle of the night, lying on the floor with drink (Sagelands merlot! Knob Creek! Laphroaig!) and snacks (pepperoni! melkesjokolade! mango gummies!) to hand, in the sort of abandoned, depraved mood to which getting up to fetch a pen and remedy someone else's verbal deficiency is entirely alien. A word left out might annoy me, but not enough to send me bounding after an implement for the defacing of public property. (Pepperoni and melkesjokolade stains are another matter--those are just little specks of bad luck, not the outcome of cogitation.)

Can we suppose this other Katie Fforde fan reads always with pen to hand?

Surely not. It's not even a good pen, just a plain old black ballpoint. No one would keep always in range of a plain old black ballpoint, would they?

I see this person in the bath, tub bridged over with a bath caddy purchased from the library Friendshop, caddy laden with wine and gherkins, pita and hummus.

Humming, quietly, along with the Schubert they have put on the little bath stereo.

"Although she hadn't recognized it at the time, she reflected," they read (kyrie eleison, kyrie eleison, eleison) "it had been Oscar's inherent dullness" (kyrie eleison) "and his heavenly Queen Anne house (she blushed with shame)" (christe eleison, christe eleison, christe eleison) "which made her agree to marry her."

"Goddammit!!!! Gotta get a pen." And out they get, dripping, across the hallway to the study, across the study to the pen jar, to cross out the "her" and put in "him." Then drip, drip, drip back to the bath. (Gloria in excelcis Deo.)

It cannot but be.

The only question is whether this is the same person who makes corrections to Qiu Xiaolong.

08 November 2006

Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen. Julie Powell.

"I read this memoir Karl recommended," I said to Tammy, scraping an accumulation of floury butter from my pastry cutter. "About a loony person who lost her mom and then moved to California and got enthralled by another crazy person who took all her money, and . . ."

"That sounds bad," Tammy said. "Do you think I should take the stew out of the microwave? Get me a saucepan, cupboard under the stove. Yeah, that sounds depressing. I read a good one, about someone who decided to cook every single recipe in that Julia Child book." She gestured with her elbow toward the chopping block, where a book sat in a slightly tattered dust jacket. "It's funny. You'll like it."

When Tammy went upstairs to retrieve her bigger daughter from her nap, I opened up the book. In the first three pages, it talked of the asshole of a dead pigeon (quoting Julia Child's husband), polycystic ovarian syndrome, and potato soup, and managed to be amusing about all of them. Not bad.

When we were done with our pies (Tammy's contained beef stew left over from her pumpkin-carving party a couple of weeks ago, mine apples in one and blueberries in the other) we ate some, and then I set off driving through the rain. There had been an accident on State Route 99, and all of a sudden all the southbound traffic had to exit round into the narrow tunnel under to Dexter, where everyone acted deranged. Someone ran into me, and then someone ran into her, and then we stood in the rain looking at bits of shattered glass on the pavement.

By the time I got home, my neck was sore, my blueberry pie was bleeding, and I was in a less than sunny mood. But Laphroaig and Julie Powell soon cheered me up.

03 November 2006

Borderlines. Caroline Kraus.

This is the depressing story of how a crazy kid, made crazier by the death of her mother, is preyed upon by a new acquaintance who is yet crazier still. Had it been fiction, I would not have wanted to read it, as the story is bleak but not extraordinarily or inventively so, and the prose seems designed with no other considerations in mind but the conveyance of meaning, so that it is mostly either cliched ("riding in a big Republican car was asking for trouble," "squirming like a puppy for the perfect spot") or clunky ("as strong, devastating, and vivid as was my mother's living self").

It is not fiction, though, but memoir, so I kept reading not only because the story is well constructed, providing new bits of information just when you want them and in nice, digestible chunks, but also because it is useful to have a reminder that not everyone is just like me. When I encounter fictional characters who feel things I don't recall ever having felt, do things I would never do, see things in an unfamiliar way, I assume (foolishly, perhaps, but consistently) this is just the result of a defective writerly imagination. But a memoir is supposed to be about real people, so when I see in them nothing I recognize, that fact might be worth paying attention to.

Of course, there are plenty of examples in everyday life of people acting out unimaginable motivations. I see people buying cupcakes, watching golf on TV, walking about with their rolls of fat encased in spandex trousers, and so I remember that these things are possible, even though only under deranged circumstances would they become possible for me. A psychological memoir reminds me (I shouldn't need a reminder, but I do, mere logic bearing, with me, almost no epistemological weight) that not only in surface behaviors is there variety among people, but also in less visible things that you wouldn't find out about if someone didn't sit down to write.

When someone demands that I take emotional responsibility for the tenor or even the continuation of their existence, I get mad and I avoid them, at least for a while. Caroline Kraus evidently reacts differently. This is interesting.

01 November 2006


"If you say 'trick or treat,' you get candy," the grocery guy said, holding up a bowl.

I did it; Voldemort demurred. "He only eats it," I mumbled, mouth full of Milky Way, "when nobody's looking."

"Only when I have the craving," Voldemort contradicted.

"Just take it," said the grocery guy. "Put it in your pocket. Run it through the laundry. When the craving comes you can get out your shirt and suck the chocolate out of it."

"What kind of a mind--" I wondered.

"But not your pants. That just wouldn't look right."