Thursday, December 30, 2010

Gender Fender-Bender

No this isn’t about cross-dressing, it’s about sexual politics and gender roles. (Bye! See you next post, which I’ll try to make more frivolous.)

Still with me? Heh. Thanks for that. Seriously, I figure it’s about time I tell you some of the stuff I see every day in my gyms. I’m fascinated because the same patterns play out in such different configurations.

At the big chain boutique gym, the one I loathe, I watch reasonably-fit guys preen and swagger, and largely-unfit young women simper and flirt. Gender stereotypes played in classic fashion. No surprises there.

But in my hardcore gym, where there is serious muscle on both sides of the gender divide, the exact same patterns occur. Today I watched a muscle-bound pretty thing – she’s got a face like the St. Pauli girl but walks like a linebacker -- tilt her head coquettishly and try to giggle. The guys there make what I call “look at me” noises when they lift. I’m not talking about an involuntary vocalization to get out that final rep, these are rhythmic and consistent porcine beats that can be heard from a distance and do nothing but draw attention to the grunter. Let’s ignore the ones who count out loud, they’re low-hanging fruit. The women don’t do that, at least I’ve never heard any.

There’s a woman who has to be 80 if she’s a day. She wears a sports bra that looks like two black socks filled with oatmeal, and the entire Sherwin-Williams line of make-up. She’s less embarrassing than the equivalently aged man who acts like he’s Tom Sawyer and his trainer is Pa Walton. The trainer is half his age.

Nature or nurture? I learned my own gender patterns from watching endless “Love, American Style” as a tween. I’m still looking for an explanation for the buff older man who announces loudly, proudly and often, “People ask me if I believe in God. I tell them, sure, I believe in myself.”

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Hurry, New Year!

Most people hate Christmas music. By now they -- you -- have itchy teeth, headaches, and wish it was over. I don’t mind, and can tune in or out without trauma, except for “The Little Drummer Boy”. That’s depressing as hell and I’ll be glad when it’s gone.

Instead, I hate the end of the year “Best Of” brigade. Ten best! One hundred best! Best of the decade! Spare me. The New York Times magazine today was a compendium of obituaries. The subject of each had died this year. It was like a morbid high school yearbook, I didn’t open it. Our nation’s media are about to become a week-long VH1 special, and those are only fun in spurts.

Benchmarks are good. We need to pause now and then, and mark our progress. It’s also important to honor and respect those who are gone. I’m all for all of that. I just don’t want to do it every day until January.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ho Happy Ho, Happy Ho Ho Ho

Yes indeed, I do like Christmas. I love it that people pretend to be nice. Then again, I appreciate the ones who have an attack of honesty. They don’t bother, even if I’m related to them. So what? It’s all good. It’s Christmas.

It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when I hated the whole month, and after that, a time when it was only sad. All this too has passed, and now I can bake (the cookies have been made and given away) and cook, and enjoy the people and dogs I love best.

Where are you in this cycle? Do you love, hate or ignore the holiday? Economic reality is daunting, but remember this: ultimately what matters this time of year is what has always mattered the most. Don’t be cynical. It’s people -- and dogs, for those of us who have them.

Just appreciate the people around you. That’s the best you can do, and there’s nothing better in the world. I appreciate each and every one of you.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Lost & Found

It started with a little book innocently titled “Thought Dial”, by Sydney Omarr. Yes, the astrologer, although the book is about numerology and consistently references some supernatural being called Sepharial. I don’t know who Sepharial is supposed to be, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

I knew a woman who was interesting and eccentric, and died a few years ago well into her 90s. A strict and prudish Republican, yet she followed every single New Age trend decades before they came into fashion. She was expert at the formulae of astrology, and dabbled in numerology. She used to tell me that Omarr was a terrible astrologer and never to read the horoscopes in the newspaper. (I didn’t, but not because of her.) Somewhere along the way she gave me this little book. Apparently although he was a bad astrologer, Omarr was a good numerologist. (Oxymoron?) I happened to keep the book all these years.

Turns out, there’s a chapter called “Locating Lost Articles”. The process is simple: think of three numbers between one and ten, reduce it to a single digit (unless they add up to 11 or 22, dunno why) and look up the result. Sepharial (again, no idea, I’ve never read the rest of the book) tells you where to find the object. Here’s the truly bizarre point: more often than not, it works.

Now, I’m not for a second supporting the mystical. I think the directions just trigger a subconscious memory of where you last saw the thing. But my friends on Twitter enjoy sending me numbers when they lose something, and now I extend to you the same option. To quote my good friend Max Maven quoting Nils Bohr, “They say it works whether you believe in it or not.”

Or, as the charming @radiantfracture put it, “I don’t believe in it either, but that doesn’t seem to stop it from working.”

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Mayberry, Revisited

A neighbor I don’t really know just stopped by to give us some avocados from her tree. Isn’t that lovely? She went nuts over our house. I guess where she’s from (Bakersfield? Nebraska? She told me once, years ago, but all I remember is that it was a farm) people don’t live the way we do.

“Your home is about celebration and color, I love it!” She said, endearing herself to me for all eternity. She’d seen the red living room from the street, but she had no idea that the kitchen is goldenrod yellow, the dining room is two shades of pumpkin orange, my office is royal blue and there’s a tiny purple hallway leading to the fuchsia bedroom.

The books piled everywhere surprised and charmed her. I guess I expect every home to have bursting stacks in the corners. Our odds and ends, culled from Robert’s early life in Singapore and Indonesia as well as my parents’ global travels (Moroccan camel saddle, anyone?) fascinated her. I even showed her my personalized autographed photo of Barnabas Collins, I mean Jonathan Frid. She oohed over things I’ve forgotten I see every day. Telling the stories reminded me why I kept them.

Sometimes it can be a happy thing to see our lives through other eyes. I love our little home, but now I want to give it a cookie.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

By Popular Demand

Thanks for the gratifying inquiries. Here it is, the food post. Remember, except where noted, this is just what I ate:

Monday: Apple croissant, poached eggs on brioche toast with beurre blanc, wheat toast with Vermont butter and blackberry jam, spinach and garlic sautéed in lots of butter, and a bowl of fresh tropical fruit macerated in lemon juice. Next, we stopped for Italian thick hot chocolate, made with dark chocolate and heavy cream, and a shared butterscotch milkshake with toffee syrup, dulce de leche ice cream and chocolate bits. For lunch we split a Fuji apple salad and some lobster rolls (made with dill and yogurt) served with a mountain of freshly made potato chips. Our magnificent casino host surprised us, waiting in the room was a ginormous cheese plate, a bottle of excellent cabernet, and a tray filled with big strawberries painted with dark and white chocolate to look like little tuxedos. Dinner was a vegetarian minestrone with garlic toast, crusty peasant bread with white bean and garlic dipping sauce as well as a nicely salty tapenade, fettucine with field mushrooms, English peas, parmesan and truffle oil. Dessert was a plate of crispy fried cannoli filled with mascarpone and pumpkin, on a bed of candied cranberries with a caramel dipping sauce. Whew!

Tuesday: See above for breakfast, but add the chef’s gift of a pastry basket filled with an apple croissant, cheese Danish and a velvety, cupcake-y banana nut muffin. We ate nothing else until dinner. The amuse bouche was grilled romaine rolled like a tiny croissant, nestled next to a bit of artisan goat cheese, topped with a nameless mushroom and sprinkled with fresh herbs and balsamic, all perfectly composed on a spoon. My first course was a Pacific yellowtail crudo with trumpet mushrooms, toasted pine nuts and a creamy sauce, topped with a pile of sliced black winter truffles. Yes, I said a pile of truffles. Next came pumpkin ravioli (I do love me some pumpkin) with knobs of lobster, fresh herbs and a coarse mustardy sauce over a bed of fresh corn that popped in the mouth. Then I had a sunchoke and mushroom risotto with toasted pumpkin seeds and butternut squash. Dessert was a heavenly bread pudding with Meyer rum and brown butter ice cream. Then the chef sent out little cups of espresso-infused chocolate soup. On the way back to the car we stopped for shared pastry; cheese Danish, almond brioche and a chocolate croissant.

Wednesday: Same breakfast again, but this time the chef sent a gift basket with a warm pecan sticky bun, a chocolate almond croissant and a banana nut muffin. Then later we had more chocolate, this time I had Venezuelan hot chocolate and an espresso. But what you really want to hear about is dinner. We were invited to a test of the new menu at the as-yet-unopened Fleur tapas bar. It went on for hours. The kitchen sent out a total of seventeen small courses, each lovely and delicious and perfect. Robert ate all the meat ones, I ate all the fish, and we shared the rest. If you get a chance, try the mussels in basil and parmesan, and the lobster mac’n cheese with brunoised veggies, and of course the mystical, magical, truffled onion soup. We had the very first Afogatto they ever served, only the second one they ever made. This one was mashed strawberries and lychees with vodka in a bowl, they pour in liquid nitrogen and whip it to the consistency of a Slurpee. Need I say “Yum”? It was yummy beyond belief. There were three (count’em three!) dessert courses. You’re welcome to details, but I’ll have to tell you by voice, the Internet doesn’t have room for all the superlatives. It was a privilege to be there, and our deepest thanks to Juan, Owen, David and Yvonne who made it happen, and a shout out to our cheerful buddy Xavier.

Thursday: Yes, I had the same breakfast, again. It’s that good. This time the toast was cranberry and we had freshly made beignets with nutella and jam. Lunch was a superb trio of butter-poached lobster rolls with kettle chips. Before leaving Las Vegas we had pastries. Mine were a pecan tart in a hazelnut crust with cinnamon whipped cream, and a vanilla éclair with praline and candied hazelnuts. On the way home we stopped for hummos and tabbouleh, then my swan song of indulgence for the year before returning to my usual veggies and grains and protein powder; a sprinkle-covered glazed doughnut and a blueberry doughnut.

Of course I have pix of everything, let me know if you want to see any of it. And to answer the other question that often comes up: I gained exactly two pounds, which was well worth it.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Gotta Have A Montage

Just a few notes:

We drove north to Las Vegas against the steady traffic of Thanksgiving weekenders coming south. With only two lanes going in each direction, and in the slow lane no less, a bratty little pick-up kept high-beaming a big rig -- as if there was anything the big rig could do to get out of its way.

Just fyi, “falling down drunk” is not a euphemism. I done seen it happen, in the middle of the afternoon. Sic.

Decades ago, when Robert had temporarily grown his hair long, a salesman once came up behind us and called us both “Ladies”. Parity was achieved by a saleswoman in the Palazzo who came up behind us and called us both “Gentlemen”. I thought my shoes were cuter than that, but okay.

Two big burly cowboys (the National Rodeo Finals were in town) stood a ways away from a bored Little Person in full Elvis regalia, complete with cape and shades. One cowboy said to the other, “Go on, take his picture. What’re you afraid of? Think he’s gonna knock you down and steal your camera?” Real couth, guys.

And if you’re keeping score, the bride count this trip was six.

Lest we forget, the Ladies’ Room Chronicles:

The drunk guy mistook the Ladies’ room for the Men’s room. Fine. But he didn’t have to get mad at me. I was just washing my hands.

“Hello. Hello? Hello!” came out of a stall down the row. I assumed the woman was on a cell phone, but she kept saying hello. “Hello? Hello!” Just as I was about to respond, she switched to profanity, in complete sentences. I left silently.

Another woman began her phone conversation in the next stall before she even sat down. Then I heard, “No, don’t. I mean it, do not do this. No! I said no! Oh… Hi sweetie. Mommy will be home soon.”