It Hardly Matters

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Fat Camp

This past weekend I spent at my parents' place in Massachusetts. To stave off the bitter cold and 400 pages of reading for class, I watched a fair amount of cable. On Friday afternoon, I stumbled across the following gem: Fat Camp, an MTV documentary about, well, a Fat Camp in the Poconos. From the first weigh-in, I became mesmerized by the trials of Petey, the King of Camp, and Marisa, the object of his unrequited love and recipient of several love letters (including the following endearment: "When people were calling you a ho and a slut and saying you were fat, I was always there saying you weren't." Ah, sweet love.). And then there was Dianne.

Dianne sported the unfortunate combination of a body shaped like a prize-winning tuber and the personality of a mewling piglet/sadistic high school lunch monitor. Unapologetically whiny, she waddled through camp against a backdrop of kids earnestly playing volleyball, kayaking, and running, complaining of the constant activities and her lack of friends. Dianne didn't play well with others (we find out at one point that she has been home-schooled). During the camp-wide "Color Wars," in which two teams battled each other for four days of activities, we found Miss Dianne prone in the infirmary, a cell phone somehow strapped to her right ear, proclaiming that Color Wars were "stupid" so she "opted out" in favor of laying on her ass in the air conditioning. Now, Dianne, what kind of attitude is that for a Fat Camper?

For all her complaints, she dished out punishment with swift swaths of her meaty little fists. When her bunkmates suggested she take a shower, like they all had, she went ballistic. She screamed her little pink head off, offended to the point that she inadvertently released her grasp on the towel she was clutching (apparently she had caved and decided to wash), and, well, you can imagine what happened next. The towel fell, the other girls laughed, and Dianne marched straight to her counselor's room to tattle. Poor Dianne.

At the end of the documentary, those geniuses at MTV redeemed our little friend. The camp sponsored a concert night where what I imagine was a local high school cover band played hits like Blind Melon's "No Rain" and Lynard Skynard's "Sweet Home Alabama." Surprisingly, this second ditty was a hit with Dianne, so much so that her raised hands formed little round devil's horns and her stringy blond hair flapped back and forth as she headbanged and sang "Oh sweet home!" in all the right places. Yes! Our Dianne was a rocker chick! The film crew captured her in all her glory, rocking out, and losing a few pounds in the process. Now that's more like it, honey!

At the final weigh-in, everyone had lost weight. Petey, Marisa, even Dianne. Camp was over; everyone cried, traumatized by the thought of going back to school. I cried at the prospect of this show being over, which meant I had to go back to my reading. I clicked the TV off, opened my book, and thought of Dianne in her black T-shirt, joyously flinging her hair back, not caring about how fat she was, or how alone, and gave her props. She was going to be okay.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Letter from the Coffee Shop

I spend so much time in the house now that when I go out, it's like I'm being stabbed by everything and everyone in every sense receptor I possess. Gravel, sunlight, human voices. Why is everything so bright and sharp and loud?

Speaking of loud, this girl's voice (sitting next to me, of course) has no business crossing the normal decibel level for human speech. She's asking her friend a question every other girl on the planet has asked at one point in her life (well, at least since the dawn of the telephone): "So, should I wait for this guy to call me back?" She asks it in a loud, dead, Valley girl monotone (do Valley girls still exist?), which makes me think that she shouldn't exactly hold her breath waiting for the phone to ring. I'd screen the bitch, so I'm assuming this dude would do the same.

An L train just let off the 9-5ers and they stream past the storefront, stylishly bundled against the cold, heading to the deli or the video store, preparing for a night in, warm, in comfortable clothing, excited about the season finale of Top Chef. It's my first time outside today. Which is what I wanted, this life is what I wanted. I chose to remove myself from the morning commute, the corporate meetings, the $12 lunches, the after-work 2-for-1 drink special. And I'm okay with leaving that stuff behind. I think I'm just surprised at how there's no one here on this side, just me.

The most pleasant facet of this coffee shop experience is the cuteness in a fedora peering at me over his girlfriend's blond shoulder. That's my lot in life: across the room from any potential human connection, across another relationship, across some weak-ass girl who can't carry her own groceries. (Sorry, Blondie, you're in the wrong place at the wrong time. I'm sure you carry your groceries and are a totally liberated woman, an inspiration for young females across the face of the planet, etc.)

The question is: do I put myself here, just out of reach, reclining on a settee licking grapes, or do the men? I honestly don't know. And if I'm the culprit, I didn't mean it. So, I'm sorry for not intending to position myself as the Other Woman, the Unattainable, but somehow ending up in that role. I really am sorry.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Ten of the Most Disturbing Self-Help Book Titles on

1. How to Get Your Husband to Talk to You

2. How to Get Over that Bitch and Grow Balls They Can’t Resist

3. How to Get Your Competition Fired (Without Saying Anything Bad about Them)

4. DogSense: 99 Relationship Tips from your Canine Companion

5. How to Read a Book

6. How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking about It

7. How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less

8. How to Survive a Robot Uprising: Tips on Defending Yourself Against the Coming Rebellion

9. Self Help for the Bleak

10. How an Idiot Writes a Self-Help Book

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Like a crazy half-woman, half-squirrel nerdpants, I've been saving every issue of the New Yorker since 1995. They sit in boxes in my parents' attic, take up valuable real estate in my Brooklyn apartment, rest in glossy piles in my bedroom, and fall on my head when I open the hall closet. I never quite knew what I was saving them for. But today, I figured it out.

When I was a young associate development editor in California, I had a meeting with three textbook authors and a more senior development editor in San Diego. I was flown down there from San Francisco to check in with the author team (i.e., make sure the Table of Contents for their introductory Public Speaking text was in order, buy them an expensive dinner in La Jolla, and wander aimlessly along the boardwalk in business clothes--thrilling, I know). The other editor was a pro--she'd been freelancing for years and had been handling some of my publishing house's more complicated books. At our meeting in my hotel suite, she off-handedly mentioned that she had an archive of New Yorkers in her apartment that she referenced frequently. The authors looked at her quizzically, while an exclamation point lit up inside my head: me too! Maybe I wasn't so crazy after all.

Newly committed to my hoarding, I maintained my collection. Every Tuesday, I'd read my new issue like a rabid animal, then, trancelike, place it in a pile "to be filed," meaning, "to be put in another pile or into a box in no particular order." I shamelessly forced my poor father and several of my friends to carry boxes full of magazines whenever I'd move apartments. But I never, not even once, cracked open one of those boxes.

Until today. See, what I've found, now that I've left my publishing days behind me and am back in school, is that every professor in my graduate writing program is, not surprisingly, and not unlike me, obsessed with the New Yorker. Several of them worked on the editorial staff and/or had their articles and stories published inside. I've read at least one New Yorker story in every class I've taken so far. My new workshop is no exception: of about 20 required readings listed on the syllabus, three of them are New Yorker stories. So instead of printing out 40 scanned pages on my feeble printer, instead of going to the library and making photocopies, I just gleefully busted through a dilapidated Staples box and unearthed the two issues from 2003 that contained my required reading.

I guess I was doing something worthwhile those 12 years. Sorta.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Birth of the Blue Hawaiian

No matter how pretty you are, when you ask a bartender if they have Blue Curacao, they always look at you like they want to strangle you.

In 1997, my best friend and I were relatively newly-minted members of the drinking-aged population. We had survived three years of high school together, drinking wine coolers behind Kevin Jackson's house or warm beers from a 30-pack that Joe Mangone's older brother bought for us. But, being AP students and closeted goody-goodies, we never went to bars together because possessing a fake ID seemed somehow much more morally reprehensible than hovering over a 4-pack of Bartles & Jaymes near a firepit, hoping one of the borderline retarded boys we scrounged up to hang out with would ask us to the prom. You see, we were pretty and smart, so we were all but invisible at our high school, where in order to be popular (or even accepted), you had to choose one or the other. We were just waiting for college, where we were pretty sure we'd be appreciated and popular, equally comfortable with 4.0s and 40s.

That pretty much happened, thankfully, and although she was in Chicago and I in Boston, we faithfully wrote each other letters (how quaint!), hers detailing the Spring Formal and organic chemistry exams, mine extolling the virtues of Lansdowne Street and 20th-century British poetry. We worked at remaining best friends, taking every opportunity to visit one another and to plan overlapping trips back to Happy Holden (see previous post). On one of these occasions (Christmas, maybe), we made plans to Go Out. We had recently received the go-ahead from the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles to drink legally, which we had done with our college friends, but never together. I borrowed my mother's sporty two-door, picked her up, and drove our overly mascara-ed selves to Boston for a night on the town.

I think one of us was wearing a skintight faux-snakeskin rayon short-sleeved mock turtleneck. In fact, I know one of us was, I just can't remember which of us, because we both had one. Anyway, we looked cute, for 1997. We decided to try the Wonder Bar, a swanky anomaly in Rock City (aka Allston, Mass.) where my ex-boyfriend happened to work. We were looking for a free drink.

We sat down, said hello to Sean, and beamed at each other. We were grown-up fabulous women at a posh joint ordering posh cocktails. Take that, Everyone Else from Our High School! (They were all still drinking in the woods.) We discussed what to order. She liked Scotch, me, gin. But we wanted to order the same thing, to commemorate our maiden outing. Wine? Nah. Vodka cranberry? Boring. Beer? We were too dressed up for beer. The waitress came over and my best friend asked her if she "had any suggestions for a festive girly drink." She looked at us, and uttered two words that we had both certainly heard alone, but never together: "Blue Hawaiian." We had no idea what it was, but we glanced at each other, and nodded and said enthusiastically, "Sure!"

The drinks looked like pint glasses of windshield wiper fluid garnished with pineapple rounds and maraschino cherries on red plastic swords. Perfection. We clinked glasses, already drunk with giddiness, and sipped the blue liquid through bendy straws. We had found Our Drink.

That night, we shared a bottle of champagne with some guy named Chuck and his vest-wearing friend, slept on my ex-boyfriend's futon, drove over a parking median, and took pictures of our blue tongues. Since that night, my best friend and I have shared Our Drink at O'Hare Airport, various swing bars in San Francisco (swing dancing--give me a break, it was the late 90's in San Francisco), the Jillian's in Worcester, Mass., downtown Chicago lounges, various swanky New York bars, and a few pubs in London. We had figured out what was in Our Drink, and when we went out, would scan the rails for that florescent blue bottle with the gold lettering. We rarely found it, but when we did, we saw each other in our rayon shirts and blue tongues, shared a secret smile, thanked God for Blue Curacao, and for each other, then gave the bartender extra-luminous smiles as we placed the weirdest drink order of his night.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Frome Massachusetts

I think every kid in New England is required by law to read Ethan Frome in high school. You know Ethan Frome, that uplifting tale (warning: spoiler! (I've always wanted to write that)) of massive snowdrifts, repressed sexuality, failed suicide attempts, and lifelong misery set in a place called Starkfield--an aptly-named, but fictitious Massachusetts town.

Judging from my high school experience, set in a place called Holden--an uncreatively named and unfortunately not fictitious Massachusetts town, I surmise that we were forced to acquaint ourselves with poor tortured Ethan, sickly, angry Zeena, and that whore Mattie Silver so we could deal better with Holden's gas station attendants, Big Y produce managers, dog groomers, and neighborhood kindergarteners. And you know, I gotta say, it kinda worked. Thanks, Ethan. I made it out. Snowdriftless, sexual, alive.