Monday, December 18, 2006
My co-worker got some fruit, or some other such corporate-gift nonsense. But I'm not complaining.
It made me think as I was walking to the loo about all of the gifts I'd gotten for family and friends for Christmas this year. Some are more special than others, even though all of my recipients are equally special. I mean, how sentimental is a gift card? But as my mind wandered over the things I'd decided to bestow upon my loved ones, my mind wandered back to what I'd been given that meant most to me.
The first thing that came to mind was a ring -- a plastic ring with a green plastic stone that my dad gave me when I was maybe five or six when we were at my grandparents' house for some reason. I remember putting it on and thinking it was the most precious thing in the whole world. I had this little token on my tiny hand that probably cost a quarter, but made me feel like a princess.
I also remember my thirteenth birthday, when my mother gave me a wooden chest (still unpainted! She promised paintings!) filled with mementos of my childhood – my blanket, my christening dress, a silver rattle. Since that time I've added things – programs from my graduations. Trinkets from plays I'd acted in. But it was the gift itself – a place to keep tiny pieces of my past – that made it stand out in my memory.
But the most wonderful thing I ever received, I still keep in my jewelry box.
After having surgery to help restore hair to my head when I was in… I believe it was fifth grade when it was finally enough to cover my head… I remember my father giving me two enameled barrettes. They're gold with ivory enamel with blue purple flowers and green leaves. One is missing, but I have the other. I carry it with me to each new apartment, nestled somewhere deep in a box full of the things I don't think I could bear to lose. It was the first gift I received after years of surgeries and presents that made me feel like a normal little girl. Something pretty I could wear in my hair.
Should I ever decide to get married, I'll wear that in my hair instead of a veil.
Sure, gifts come and go. Things get lost. Things break. But the one thing you can never replace is that feeling of safety and love when someone you love gives you something that shows you they care, or when you, in turn, get to give that gift to someone else.
Monday, December 11, 2006
Back in the winter of 2000-2001, I learned a harsh lesson when Starbucks failed me.
I had just been dumped by a weasel that I for some reason had been dating, and I was crushed. Devastated. Beyond consolation. And in my despair, I turned to the Starbucks Chai Latte. Spicy warm tea-milk on cold Boston mornings. It made life worth living again.
And then they ran out.
The Starbucks at Beacon St. and Berkley St. ran out of Chai mix, and told me they wouldn't be getting any more for at least a few months. Come back in February. It took all my willpower not to hurl myself into the Charles River, which would have been especially painful as the darned thing was frozen solid.
How is this relevant? Because it made me realize that even coffee drinks have their season and that if one isn't paying attention, good things will pass them by. I had a Chai-less winter that year, but I'm determined that this one will be as gingerbready as can be withstood.
Why are they so good? Here's the description offered by Starbucks..
(and no, I don't think they're evil. The CEO came from the Brooklyn projects. Turned his job at a Seattle coffee shop into an empire, and now has some of the best benefits packages that low-wage jobs offer to their employees. Prices went up five cents recently to make sure they could continue to offer health insurance..)
Anyway: A holiday combination of full bodied Starbucks® espresso, steamed milk and spicy sweet, gingerbread flavored syrup. Topped with whipped cream (optional) and a dash of nutmeg.
What could be nicer on a cold New York City afternoon than a quickie with the gingerbread latte? Well, I perhaps shouldn't go there. But in this season of thanks and giving, I offer mine to Starbucks for its gingerbread latte. A seasonal favorite for several years now. May they never run out of syrup.
One evening while sitting at home, I decided to watch Frontline - the PBS newsmagazine. In between a story on Myanmar and something else, they did a profile on a group called Kiva, a San Francisco based company that funds microloans through donations.
Essentially it works this way: would-be entrepreneurs in mostly third-world countries submit proposals (there are usually locally-based organizations that help and decide who applies in some cases). The project is then posted on the web site:
Then, potential doners worldwide can contribute a small sum (or a large one!) to the business owner. The site describes the business, what the money will be used for, and how long the estimated time of repayment is.
As of the filming of the Frontline episode last month, no one has defaulted on their loans.
This holiday season, instead of buying someone a trivial gift, why don't you try donating to a small business owner somewhere in the world and put it in your friend's name. What better way to spread the love?
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
My apartment sits on the corner with Seventh Avenue, one of the main drags in Park Slope, and the location of last evening's Halloween Parade. I had discovered there would be a parade when trying to track down trick-or-treat times online. It proved an irrelevant exercise as I climbed out of the subway on Flatbush and 7th, armed with six bags of candy to find that things had already started.
I had dropped into an ant-colony of costumed kiddies, strollers with oblivious parents and aimless five year olds, completely unable to walk in a straight line or cross the street without wandering off if their hands were released. It's a sickness, that five-year-old longing to wander off...
My roommate was scheduled to arrive home at 7 to join me in candy distribution, and I was ready and waiting with a silver mixing bowl of mini snickers, mini skittles and mini m&ms. My other roommate, however, arrived home unexpectedly early, and in spite of her desire to avoid children after spending Halloween teaching elementary schoolers music, she joined me on the stoop, where I learned the cardinal rule of trick-or-treating: Under no circumstances should you let the children put their hands in the candy bowl.
I discovered this the hard way.
Upon seeing us sit on the stoop wtih our shiny bowl of candy, children swarmed. Black, white, Chinese. It was the United Nations of Trick-or-Treat. Vampires, cowgirls, several princesses in pink, some with wings. I extended the bowl, and they dug in. "Just one!" I said, and looking right into my eyes, a six-year old boy grabbed a handful and ran away. Another girl kept switching her place in line and taking another. Others would see how wide they could stretch their small fingers as to have maximum candy-grasping ability and dove in.
It was like being between the vultures and the carcas.
Like corporate executives at places like $10.49-billion-earning Exxon Mobile, Trick-or-Treaters will spread their hands wide and take whatever they can. They will sneak pieces of chocolate into their bags and stare at you wide-eyed as they reach for another. Their audacity renders one powerless to stop them. As long as they can take what they want, whether it be a Snickers AND a Butterfinger, or a $285 million bonus for having a record quarter while laying off 5,000 employees to make that happen... The unsupervised candy bowl is universally tempting to those who think they can get away with taking more than one piece.
Having watched the hoarde strike at my candy, I realized I would have to change tactic. Mark arrived with fresh supplies, and we took another stab at candy distribution. This time, when the children came up and opened their bags, either with an enthusiastic "Trick-or-Treat" or a shy half-smile, I reached into the bowl and deposited one piece of candy in each open sack.
The power! The rush of adult self-importance!
Each costume was cuter than the last as I realized that I had finally switched onto the other team in the Reindeer Game that is Trick-or-Treating.
I had had a hand in those bowls of Halloween Past, trying to scam an unwitting grown-up out of an extra Baby Ruth or Nestle's Crunch. I knew the look they gave, scanning our faces to see if we were gullible grown ups or grown ups with rules (but grown ups either way...), and when I saw that sparkle. That devious grin as Batman tried to size me up, every once in a while, I still held out that bowl and let him dig in.
Monday, August 28, 2006
Now, however, I work in a gray cubicle in a gray office in Manhattan. Don't get me wrong. I love that I'm in the city. The trade-off, unfortunately, was my office.
There is a woman whose cubicle is diagonally situated from my own, but who seems to think that she is alone, in some sound-proof room, where no one can tell that she's making yet *another* personal call from her work phone in the middle of the afternoon. We all use the phone for personal calls, but some people are out of hand.
This particular specimin, who we shall lovingly refer to as "Miss X", is recently engaged to be married. I forsee about a year of vicarious wedding planning in my future, and I can hardly wait to hear about the trials and tribulations this Miss X experiences in her long road from bleach-blonde singleton to "married to a guy from Long Island," My ascerbic wit is chomping at the bit.
Let the games begin.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
The reason tourists think
This city stinks.
The smell of rotting trash, baking in plastic bags and spilling out onto the sidewalks permeates the air on
It's disgusting. It's vile. It has a personality all its own.
The summer's heat pushes against your body. When people brush against your back, you cringe, wanting nothing that's 98.6 degrees touching your body. Winter ravages your constitution, making you wonder if it's possible for ice to form in your eyeballs. It makes me believe that hell could be too hot or too cold (like being frozen up to your nuts in a lake of gazpacho) either would suffice to ensure the suffering of the masses for all eternity. Purgatory would be more like endless repeats of MTV reality shows, slowly rotting your brain cells until the guards can't distinguish between your tears and your drool, but at least in purgatory you get a sofa.
Winter, when the concrete goes slick and streets become wind tunnels and a damp cold permeates your being with such gusto that you can't remember what it felt like to be warm, is more like a school bully. With enough layers, you can fend him off.
Summer, on the other hand, is like gym class, inevitable and humiliating. You can't take off your top to beat the heat in
However, with one month left of "official" summer and back-to-school ads punctuating snippets of Stephen Colbert, I find myself wanting it to drag on. I want it to be the longest month ever, full of mojitos and sunburned cheeks as I wear sleeveless shirts and flip flops. Arm-flab be damned.
Thursday, July 27, 2006
Cold, Hard Facts
IN the debate on global warming, the data on the climate of Antarctica has been distorted, at different times, by both sides. As a polar researcher caught in the middle, I’d like to set the record straight.
In January 2002, a research paper about Antarctic temperatures, of which I was the lead author, appeared in the journal Nature. At the time, the Antarctic Peninsula was warming, and many people assumed that meant the climate on the entire continent was heating up, as the Arctic was. But the Antarctic Peninsula represents only about 15 percent of the continent’s land mass, so it could not tell the whole story of Antarctic climate. Our paper made the continental picture more clear.
My research colleagues and I found that from 1996 to 2000, one small, ice-free area of the Antarctic mainland had actually cooled. Our report also analyzed temperatures for the mainland in such a way as to remove the influence of the peninsula warming and found that, from 1966 to 2000, more of the continent had cooled than had warmed. Our summary statement pointed out how the cooling trend posed challenges to models of Antarctic climate and ecosystem change.
Newspaper and television reports focused on this part of the paper. And many news and opinion writers linked our study with another bit of polar research published that month, in Science, showing that part of Antarctica’s ice sheet had been thickening — and erroneously concluded that the earth was not warming at all. “Scientific findings run counter to theory of global warming,” said a headline on an editorial in The San Diego Union-Tribune. One conservative commentator wrote, “It’s ironic that two studies suggesting that a new Ice Age may be under way may end the global warming debate.”
In a rebuttal in The Providence Journal, in Rhode Island, the lead author of the Science paper and I explained that our studies offered no evidence that the earth was cooling. But the misinterpretation had already become legend, and in the four and half years since, it has only grown.
Our results have been misused as “evidence” against global warming by Michael Crichton in his novel “State of Fear” and by Ann Coulter in her latest book, “Godless: The Church of Liberalism.” Search my name on the Web, and you will find pages of links to everything from climate discussion groups to Senate policy committee documents — all citing my 2002 study as reason to doubt that the earth is warming. One recent Web column even put words in my mouth. I have never said that “the unexpected colder climate in Antarctica may possibly be signaling a lessening of the current global warming cycle.” I have never thought such a thing either.
Our study did find that 58 percent of Antarctica cooled from 1966 to 2000. But during that period, the rest of the continent was warming. And climate models created since our paper was published have suggested a link between the lack of significant warming in Antarctica and the ozone hole over that continent. These models, conspicuously missing from the warming-skeptic literature, suggest that as the ozone hole heals — thanks to worldwide bans on ozone-destroying chemicals — all of Antarctica is likely to warm with the rest of the planet. An inconvenient truth?
Also missing from the skeptics’ arguments is the debate over our conclusions. Another group of researchers who took a different approach found no clear cooling trend in Antarctica. We still stand by our results for the period we analyzed, but unbiased reporting would acknowledge differences of scientific opinion.
The disappointing thing is that we are even debating the direction of climate change on this globally important continent. And it may not end until we have more weather stations on Antarctica and longer-term data that demonstrate a clear trend.
In the meantime, I would like to remove my name from the list of scientists who dispute global warming. I know my coauthors would as well.
Peter Doran is an associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Friday, May 12, 2006
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
That is the question I have been asking myself this week between reading the news and a very disturbing novel. "Blindness" by Jose Saramago, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, has a nameless cast of characters who have all been infected with blindness. Suddenly, their vision goes white, and those with whom they have made contact are also likely to become blind. Suddenly. The first man goes blind while driving.
Now, I hate to break it to you, but back cover copy on books isn't written by anyone who has read the book. At most, a freelancer or an editorial assistant has read a few chapters from the beginning and ends and la voila, a tour-de-force is born.
The novel chronicles the fate of a few hundred blind inamtes that have been confined by the government in a mental assylum, where soldiers put food near the door each day, but don't dare come into contact for fear of going blind. So far, the situation has devolved into chaos, but the back cover promises me an uplifting ending.
Kinda like this fellow, who has been riding the same bike around the globe since the 60s, and gets to oh-so-civilized-England, and somebody steals it.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
In honor of my former employers, my former positions, and those held by friends both near and far, here's a delightful essay from Slate on why this holiday is tearing apart offices across America.
On occasion, I pull myself up by my boostraps and try one of those foods that I have previously held in disdan for their unpleasant taste, texture, what have you. This year on Oscar Night, at a gala cocktail party hosted by the Bruno-Beyers (two delightful friends of mine whose culinary skills are truly a marvel) , I decided to try oysters.
I had seen the aforementioned Mr. Bruno slurp their grey, slimy bodies from smooth white shells at Patis, and I watched in amazement. I'm not shy about seafood. I think muscles and clams are among the tastiest treats available for the palate. But those are cooked.
With the exception of sushi, I tend to have issues with "raw"... especially raw and slimy.
But, I tried one on Oscar Night as the boys put out a platter full of oysters large and small. I quickly poured the liquid slime body down my throat, tasting only a bitterness and sea water, and swallowed. I was underwhelmed, and too squeamish to give it a good chew. I felt as if I'd wasted one of their oysters.
Since then, I've kept my distance, but an article in the Food & Wine section of the Times today has me thinking I'm missing out on something... In The Oyster Is His World, we get a glimpse of the life of an affectionado, a connoisseur, if you will, and it makes you want to start shucking.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Do You Have Hipsters?
I just had to share.
Monday, April 24, 2006
However, now Fox, under the esteemed leadership of mogul-extraordinaire Rupert Murdoch,
is looking to see if the under 24-set will be friends with deodorant.
Each Sunday night, they take some family's busted old house, or a building that was damaged by Hurricane Katrina, or some ediface owned by someone deemed worthy of a new house by someone who nominated them for the show, and they build them a new one.
A handful of designers, and thousands of workers, both professional and the happy-go-lucky enthusiastic neighbor, work their magic for one week while the family is sent on vacation, and then when they get "home", it's not the place they left, and everyone cries.
Kids get fantastic, fantasy bedrooms. The kitchen is right out of some fancy design magazine. Granted, the product placement is not exactly subtle, but who cares if they're giving away stuff to people who could really use it. Sure, Kenmore appliances. Awesome. Thanks guys. Last night's episode even showed how they built a new barn for the homeless horeses that lived at the home/animal shelter that they were rebuilding.
It's so painfully touching that it gives me more faith in my people that I usually get from reading the NY Times.
Because today, Mr. Ken Lay takes the stand in the Enron trial.
Lay will most likely tell everyone that he had no idea what was going on, that all of the scams and fraud, rape and pillaging were done by someone else. Being in charge, he, of course, would have had no idea that the books were as overcooked as a 7-Eleven hot dog.
How, in a country that claims to have liberty and justice for all, can such a sordid character get in front of a jury of his peers (if by peer you mean people who are significantly poorer...) and say that he had no idea that the ship was sinking is beyond my comprehension.
Rather than read the news about Enron's evil pirate leaders, I recommend "The Smartest Guys in the Room", a book and documentary in which employees talk about what Enron was really like. I trust those guys more than Lay and Skilling.
Because if they can get away with this, then there really is no justice in America, even if sometimes, through the kindness of strangers, people get to live in houses they never even dreamed of.
Friday, April 21, 2006
But I suppose that's how they got Capone.
Bigosity, adj.: 1. the quality of having unnatural and
indimidating size 2. a general state of pecular largeness,
often referring to something that is usually small (see Image 1) 3. of or
relating to Biggie Smalls, aka The Notorious BIG, aka the
late Christopher Wallace.
Special thanks to Leo Stezano for brining the term to my attention. Please go forth and proclaim bigosity wherever it may lurk, and to Vanessa Ferro, for providing the above illustration of a fish demonstrating bigosity at its finest. The normal sized human being is her cousin Adrian.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
A quick recap of the day's news before I pass you off to the wild world of Weinstein:
The handicapped are being taught how to have sex. Now I'm all for it, and think that classes in romance and intimacy should perhaps be taken by everyone. Especially sweet are the photos of couples dancing.
Everything else is typical Bush administraton poopy. Only now we won't hear that from Scott McClellan, and Karl Rove is freed up from thinking about how he can ruin policy to how he can sabatoge elections. Awesome.
It had been a long week for Dr. Weinstein, pet psychiatrist, and he was worn out. Tired from a long week of dealing with the problems of his canine friends and looking foward to a lazy weekend with Darlene, his beloved owner, whom he most praised for her laziness and disinterest in walking him farther than two blocks.
Dr. Weinstein got enough stimulation during the week.
First it was the Bichon Friese with the acute anxiety every time her owner went to the gym. Chloe would see Mrs. Parker get out the yoga mat and her little doggie heart would race. She feared Mrs. Parker, who she thought was too old for such things, would pull a muscle and not be able to pick her up.
Chloe was, in short, nuts.
Things had gone downhill from there.
Every day at around noon, his walker, Carl, a ex-hippie who lived in the East 70s would come by Dr. Weinstein's place on 84th between Lexington and Park and strap on the leash. Then they would trot over to the dog park and Dr. Weinstein would begin his work.
After Chloe on Monday he talked with Samson, a middle-aged Golden Retriever wtih a chip on his shoulder. Samson was in love with a Bulldog bitch named Ella, but Ella wasn't having it. She would turn her head and walk away when Samson tried to sniff her butt. She stood still, staring at him, when he tried to play chase. Ella was cold. Samson had to realize that it wasn't personal. She'd never gotten over being spayed, and secretly dreamed of puppies of her own. Even if she did have a litter, Dr. Weinstein figured she'd still be a pain in the ass. He didn't like the Park Avenue dogs with their gilded collars and steak dinners.
Dr. Weinstein sighed as he started at his empty bowl. Darlene was late, and his stomach knew it. He tried to amuse himself by moving over to the window. He perched up, with his paws on the sill, and stared down at the evening traffic on 84th Street. A Schnauzer pulled at his leash. A woman walked a double stroller, Dr. Weinstein's favorite kind to shade himself behind on a summer afternoon in Central Park.
"Where could she be?" thought Dr. Weinstein.
But he was no good at finding the reasons for human behavior. Those beasts were beyond him.
Dr. Weinstein preferred his canine bretheren -- furry and fierce. Although he had to confess that it was hard to find a fierce one among the Upper East Side dog park set. Most of his patients were depressed. Longed to see what real, natural dirt felt like under their paws. Very few were openly angry.
Except, of course, for Enid, the Rotweiller. Why she lived in the city Dr. Weinstein could hardly fathom. She'd come from the Chicago suburbs where she used to have her own yard, she would boast. Yard. Sticks. Wild rabbits to chase. Paradise, she called it.
New York City was purgatory.
Dr. Weinstein listened to Enid on Tuesdays and Thursdays, trying to get her to see that things weren't so bad in the city. Fresh food. Nice walks. Other dogs to play with. The occasional kid to throw a stick. It's a good life, he would say. A good life.
The line repeated itself in his mind as Dr. Weinstein curled up on his doggie bed, facing the door, and closed his eyes.
It's a good life, he thought, as his mind faded and his dreams turned to he seaside, where he could romp among the waves, forgetting he ever knew the feeling of concrete beneath his paws.
This would happen three more times. He would bet his breakfast on it.
After the third snooze, as he had predicted, Darlene swung her legs over the side of the bed, ready to receive Dr. Weinstein, tongue out in anticipation of a thorough and pleasing head scratch. She reached down and dragged her nails along his head, behind his ears, and he felt his back leg quiver. Dr. Weinstein loved his morning head scratch.
Darlene throws on shoes and a coat, and takes Dr. Weinstein to the curb to relieve himself.
Back inside, he lay back down with a contented sigh as she scurried off into the bathroom, tossing pajama remnants as she walked. Turned on the water. Did what humans do in there. She always came out smelling like fruit. He found it strange, but it seemd like she meant to.
When she emerged, laced with cucumber melon, Darlene donned her robe, swung her hair in a towel, and moved to the kitchen. Being New York, the kitchen wasn't far, and Dr. Weinstein waddled along behind her. It was Wednesday.
His master busied herself with breakfast and dumped a cup of doggie chow into Dr. Weinstein's bowl. He has no idea what she does next, completely absorbed with his breakfast. He is laying himself down next to the empty bowl when he hears the door open, keys jangle, door close.
Now he waits for his walk.
Dr. Weinstein is on the sofa, a forbidden locale for the torpid bulldog, but when he's alone, he can't really get in trouble for it. He hears the door open and his walker's friendly voice.
"Time to go boy!"
Dr. Weinstein leaps from the sofa, tail a-wag, and gets a good scratching while being hooked to his leash. He is spry on the walk to the park.
The day was sunny and warm, early spring, and Dr. Weinstein was looking foward to socializing with the usual suspects. Chloe was there. It wasn't Enid's day, so he was off the hook.
Once in the confines of the dog run, Carl let Dr. Weinstein off the leash, and he trot over to visit with Bubba and Charles, two golden retrievers who had much nicer dispositions than Samson. They were debating the merits of the retractable leash when Dr. Weinstein arrived.
"Dr., there's somebody I want you to talk to," Bubba said as he approached.
Great, thought Dr. Weinstein. And on my day off.
"Of course," he said. "What's the problem?"
"That little dachshund over there," Bubba pointed with his nose to the wee dog, curled up at her master's feet on a nearby bench. "Charles overheard her talkin' to Chloe about how she wants puppies, but she's fixed. She's pretty messed up about it."
Dr. Weinstein cast his gaze over in the direction of the petit pup.
"I"ll see what I can do..."
Dr. Weinstein decided to spend the first few minutes watching the dachshund. She was full of sighs and watched the dogs play as if she wanted to join, but something was holding her back.
"I'm Dr. Harvey Weinstein," he said, finally approaching. "I do pet psychotherapy, and wanted to offer my services. I hear you've been feeling down lately..."
"What's it to you?" snapped the dachshund. She then cast a guilty stare down at the ground. "Sorry. I'm Rita."
"Nice to meet you Rita," said Dr. Weinstein. "How often do you come to the park? I don't recall seeing you here before."
"We usually go to the dog walk over by the river," she said, "but we moved. Now we have an elevator. It's pretty nice."
Dr. Weinstein nodded.
"Well, I'm around most afternoons about this time, if you decided you'd like to chat," he said, and with that Dr. Weinstein waddled back over to the retrievers and began helping them chase their tails.