Monday, December 15, 2008

Traffic Etiquette

Okay, I admit, this is going to be a bit of a rant, but I think it's one you'll want to rant along with me. Along with the festive holiday season, there is always festive holiday traffic, and it seems to bring out the worst in drivers despite the spirit of the season. Compound the holiday rush with icy roads and traffic-snarling accidents caused by the combination of the two, and you begin to understand why people suffer from road rage. Embracing my newly recognized Southerness, I am trying to embrace a zen-like acceptance as I sit staring at the same taillights, listening to favorite songs that are beginning to get old on my iPod. Zen is not an easy state to achieve, though. And I blame Sparky, Righty, Speedy, and Scavenger.
If we could all just accept that we're in this together, apply the golden rule, and be patient I think never ending traffic would not just be more tolerable, but there would be a little less of it. But what really irritates me is when you try to do unto others, only to find still others taking advantage--namely the aforementioned four. I know you know them, but let me be polite and introduce you properly as we review four breaches of traffic etiquette.
1. Blocking the Box - So, you're crawling along, a car length every three minutes, and finally can glimpse the anticipated traffic light where you plan to take a right onto the main road. There are maybe five cars ahead of you and you watchi in anticipation as the light turns green. But you don't move. Okay, you think, it takes a moment to clear the intersection. A minute goes by, you crane your neck, still no movement. Now it's yellow. Not even a little roll forward. And it's red again, and you at last inch half a car length forward. Repeat sequence. Repeat again. Now there's just two cars in front of you and you can see what's happening. The oncoming traffic is crawling along. Their light turns yellow, they keep moving despite the fact that the traffic ahead has stopped. Their light turns red with one car blocking half the intersection, stuck at the end of a frozen line of cars stretching as far as the eye can see. Now Sparky at the light to your left decides she has waited long enough and if she can get over that thick white line right after the light turns, she hasn't gone through it. Sparky couldn't possibly slam on the brakes at half a mile an hour on these icy roads. So she moves into the intersection, completing the wall of cars running perpendicularly to you. Naturally, the carefully timed lights all along your destination road have turned red. So there you are, at your green light with nowhere to go. The light turns yellow, and the frustrated car two ahead of you rolls halfway into the intersection. As your light turns red, Sparky rolls merrily forward, and your leader crams herself behind. One small victory for your road. Now you know why it has taken 20 minutes to go 1/4 of a mile. Etiquette Lesson: If there is not a physical space for your car on the other side of the intersection, you wait at the light, whether it is green, yellow, red, or purple! In New York city, it's a law--should be national.

2. Taking Turns - So, while you're waiting at the interminable light, a car coming along the blissfully clear opposite lane stops and indicates that he would like to take a left turn in front of you to the cross street street to your right. Being a polite driver, and having no rush to speed along the whopping (but hard-earned) two car lengths between you and the bumper you've been staring at, you press down on the brake, smile at Lefty, and wave him across. He gives a grateful wave, and scoots happily by you. You feel a little good that at least someone is getting somewhere. But you weren't paying attention to Righty, the car to your right who has now wedged his car into the line ahead of you as Lefty was making his move. Well, you think, looking at the two Rightys behind him, taking turns is reasonable, even if I've been waiting twenty minutes, and he's been waiting two. But wait, what's this? Righty #2 is tailgating, shoving into line right behind Righty #1. It's a fundamental traffic rule of etiquette--every other car. If everyone observes this, it all works more efficiently.

3. The Merging Lane - So, at last you have made it to the main road and reached the pinnacle of the traffic snarl--the highway exit ramp where four lanes of cars have come to a near standstill, and about half seem to have given up and are abandoning the fast lane for your lane. You eventually find yourself next to the merging lane, and following the taking turns rule, you allow the car nearest you in front. You creep forward, and creep forward some more. Maybe you even let a second car in. You've all sped up to a relatively rapid two miles an hour now. Though the lane to your right is oh-so-temptingly clear, you know that lane ends ahead. At least you're finally moving. But wait--you've stopped again. You're waiting. Waiting. Still not moving. Waiting. Flipping the radio station. Waiting. Watching the guy in the car next to you--is he talking to himself, or does he have one of those little earpieces? Waiting.... And then along comes Speedy. Speedy is briskly rolling along that clear merging lane to your right. He is going to get as far along as possible before indicating, while all his fellow highwaymen (and -women) have politely merged as soon as possible to share your lot. You do not want to let Speedy in. Speedy should have to sit and wait as long as it takes you (and everyone else) to get to that point. Say, about ten minutes. If it weren't for Speedy and his brethren, it would only take you five minutes to get to where he is. Speddy stole your consistent two-mile-an-hour pace! "Don't let him in!" you yell (as the guy beside you tries to figure out if you're talking to yourself, or on one of those earpiece things). But, of course, Good Samaritan is twenty car lengths ahead and can't hear you. He lets Speedy in almost immediately. So you bare your teeth as the Speedys zip past. Traffic etiquette rule #3: just because the lane is clear, doesn't mean you should use it to the inconvenience of dozens of others.

4. Parking Space Lotto - So, you've made it to the mall parking garage at last, and find yourself scanning for shoppers heading for their cars. But, of course, there are parking predators everywhere, and you soon find yourself slowly easing along behind two other cars. At least there's only one lane up, and one lane down, so all you have to do is bide your time, and keep easing into the bowels of the garage. The third free space will be mine, you think. That's not so bad, after all the traffic. Car #1 gets lucky, and spots a a pair of taillights just as she's about to pass. She slams on her brakes, backs up immediately without looking, then indicates to claim her territory. You stop, glance in the rearview at the line of cars behind you who luckily didn't rear end you, and wait patiently as the shopper backs efficiently out of the space so Car #1 can park. Now I'm second in line, you think gleefully. I've almost made it! Not only that, but while you were waiting, another shopper has returned to her car, kids in tow, and Car #2 (just in front of you) moves briskly forward and flips on his blinker. The Mom puts the bags away, secures the kids in the backseat, returns to the trunk for something, digs lint out of her purse for awhile. You sigh, but take solace in the fact that the next space is yours. I'm next! Mom finally climbs into the driver's seat, but still doesn't move (you speculate she's picking a radio station, and maybe touching up her driving make-up). But in the darkness you see a glimmer of good news--taillights! Beckoning to you. That's my space! And it's right near the elevators! What luck! But wait...all of a sudden a car is passing on your left! One of the cars behind you has pulled around and plans to claim your space. And there is nothing you can do. Mom is backing up and slams on her brakes as Scavenger drives past, swerves around the oncoming car that has just left your space, and slides neatly in. Mom starts backing again, more cautiously. But Scavenger is a trendsetter, and now another car is passing. Then another. Finally, Mom gets out of the space, car #2 gets into it. You are next again, but there is no joy in it. The Scavengers shoved you down the list, usurping what was rightfully yours. Final traffic etiquette rule for today: you are not the only one waiting, your needs are not greater than anyone else's--wait your turn!

I'm only listing four because these are all things that happened to me in the last four days. Feel free to vent your own traffic etiquette faux pas experiences in the Comments, though. It is therapeutic!

Friday, December 12, 2008

I Think I'm Becoming Southern

I grew up in New England--Connecticut to be precise. You really don't get much more Yankee than that. Sure, I had a few Southern tendencies--I like iced tea with lots of sugar, but I always drank it the Northern way, sucking up the undissolved granules from the bottom of the glass with a straw. I didn't know such a thing as "sweet tea" existed until I came to Tennessee for college.

In addition to opening my eyes to the idea of sweetening tea while it's hot, and then adding the ice so the sugar is melted in, I picked up the handy second person plural. After all, I studied Spanish which has not one but two tenses, ustedes for formal and vosotros for informal. The closest Yankee English has is the sexist you guys and I suppose you could argue that the phrase you all is the ustedes of English. But, as we all know, the Southerners have y'all.

I took this phrase with me when I left the South for my first job in New York. I also brought a stack of country music CDs (mostly Reba McEntire). Back up North, I resigned myself to once again adding sugar packets to iced tea (you know you've crossed from South to North when you order a "sweet tea" and the waitress replies, "Well...we have iced tea. And sugar.")

Being in the college bubble, I did not absorb nearly as much Southern culture as I have since I moved back to Tennessee about four years ago. I realized it last week when a new coworker was telling an anecdote about a friend, and commented, "He doesn't have nearly as strong a Southern accent as I do." I was surprised to realize I hadn't noticed my coworker had an accent at all. My eyes are open to all the ways I have become Southern. When I first moved from New York, I couldn't bring myself to go to the local deli, because when I ordered:
"ARoastBeefOnWhiteWithLettuceTomatoMustardOnionsNoMayo" they didn't start throwing it together before I got to Tomato. Instead, the man behind the counter would wait a moment, and then say,
"What kind of bread?"
"White. Roast beef, lettuce, tomato, onions, mustard."
"Wait, roast beef....what do you want on it?"
Having spent six years spoiled by New York delis, it all seemed agonizingly slow. But now, I go to that same deli once a week and enjoy the calm pace.

Instead of studiously ignoring the lady idly chitchatting with the waitress while we both waited for our take-out orders at the Chinese restaurant this evening, I struck up a conversation about Oprah's weight, and why kitchens are bigger and more open than they used to be.

I like to eat barbecue--I even ate my pork barbecue sandwich today despite the fact that they left off the sauce and added cole slaw. I also know that's a regional difference (though I'm not Southern enough yet to know what regions).

When I arrived at work this morning I saw a man crossing the lobby in plaid pants, and my internal voice said, "Now that's just not right, right there." Putting aside the fact that Yankees don't generally wear plaid pants unless they're golfing (and there aren't many golf courses in midtown Manhattan), I tried to dismiss this sign, blaming it on the fact that I was listening to a Lewis Grizzard comedy routine on my commute in. Then I realized--I was listening to Lewis Grizzard. I was even laughing as he made jokes at the expense of Yankees and Georgia football!

Football. I've actually started watching this season, since my alma mater started winning. I actually care what's going on, and yell at the screen when I watch it on TV. I also have knowledge that I probably don't need. I know why restrictor plates are controversial in NASCAR. I can name most of the current members of the Grand Ole Opry--as well as many of those who aren't current (and I have most of them on my iPod). I know cornbread dressing is not something you put on salad. I eat at meat-and-threes.

And I still drink sweet tea pretty much daily--I guess I haven't changed that much.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Music Album Memories

I was at the main library last week, browsing through the music collection when I came across a CD that was familiar, though I never knew it existed. When I was young I remember very little of the flight to Australia to visit my relatives other than that I apparently didn't have a Walkman and so was forced to select from the channels offered by the airline, plugging those horrid ear clamps with the little foam plugs on the ends. There was only one channel of interest to an eight-year-old girl, and it featured a selection of current pop hits. I listened to the same ten songs over and over and over, for hour after hour. Back then the whole trip, along with layovers, took something like forty-eight hours door to door. We flew from New York to LA, and from there to Sydney with a fuel stop in Fiji, then on a small plane to Wagga Wagga (which is just fun to say) and then it was another two hours by car to the small town where my Nana lived, and an hour beyond that to the family Sheep Station. It was that long leg from the US to Australia that these songs were burned into my memory. I don't think it's odd for a song to bring back memories, but it was this specific collection.
As you may have guessed, last week I found it: Billboard Top Hits 1983. I fell in love with Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart," "Down Under" by Men at Work is probably why they selected this collection. I remember "Making Love Out of Nothing at All" by Air Supply, "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" by Culture Club, "Electric Avenue" by Eddy Grant, "Africa" by Toto, "Maniac" by Michael Sembello, "Stray Cat Strut" by Stray Cats...but here's the odd thing. There's one song, "Jeopardy" by Greg Kihn Band that I have absolutely no memory of. All the others are so memorable. I also vaguely remember discovering an Australian singer named Jason Donovan, and I think it was also on the plane playlist. Maybe they replaced "Jeopardy" with one of his songs?
Anyway, it got me to thinking of the albums that I connect with certain fond memories. En Vogue's "Funky Divas" was the first tape I played in my first car, a gun mental gray Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme with a dent down one side--I added a matching dent to the other side when I drove too close to a low stone wall a month after I got my license. It was the first time I drove with my friends in the car (my parents were right to make me wait to drive with anyone else, though apparently I should have waited longer). The Reality Bites soundtrack tape on a cheap Walkman entertained me on the plane ride to and from Peru when I was in college (Lisa Loeb's "Stay" was my favorite track). Then there was the Original Cast Album of Titanic, The Musical that I blasted on the new sound system of my first new car, a 1997 Honda Accord. I think I might have to use it again for testing out sound systems when I shop for my next car, both for nostalgia and because there's great range in some of the songs. Some albums just shine on a great sound system for some reason, and though this isn't one of my particular favorites in general, it serves this purpose.
As I thought over the memorable albums, I realized they all came at the beginning of a new experience or journey, and all had to do with travel. Some books are like that as well, though are usually part of the journey. I remember, when I spent a summer studying in Spain, stumbling upon a drugstore in Madrid selling Penguin Classics just when I was starved for a fresh book in my native tongue. I devoured Rudyard Kipling's Kim while fielding questions from my baffled roommate, an Econ major from Texas, with monosyllabic responses: "So, you don't have to read that." "No." "It's not for class?" "No." "But it's a classic?" "Yes." "But you don't have to read it." "No." "So, why are you?" "Because it's good." "But it's a classic." "Yes." I swear, we had this same exchange at least a dozen times as I discovered other favorites: plays by Oscar Wilde, and Anthony Trollope's Lady Anna being the most memorable. That was also the summer I read my first romance novel, Surrender My Love by Johanna Lindsey, which was left by a previous boarder--I'd never finished a book that thick that fast, and I couldn't put it down. Two summers and many romances later I would read Once and Always in England just after graduating college, and within a month of returning I'd land my first job working with its author, Judith McNaught, as an editorial assistant to a romance editor. All those years studying classics, only to find I should have been reading romance to prepare for my career!
Memory is a funny thing. I can't help but wonder what books and albums will capture a period or a change in my life next....

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Computer Society

It's interesting how so many "experts" of the past have said that people are less social because of technology. I suppose that was true a few years ago, but not so much now. Last Monday I finally got on Facebook, and found dozens of friends I'd lost touch with over the years. It's addictive, and yet an efficient way to keep in touch with a lot of people in a way one never could via letters, or phone calls, or even e-mail.

Speaking of the latter, when I started my career the phones rang constantly, but now it's the e-mail in box that fills up at an alarming rate. I don't even have a physical in box on my desk anymore. Agents send proposals, and authors submit their manuscripts for editing electronically. 90% of my submissions are read on a Sony E-Reader. I still edit on hard copy, but transfer my changes to a Word document with track changes. I do have one author who does not own a computer. He doesn't know anything of the culture (blogs, message boards, :), IMing, etc.). He wouldn't have been much of anomaly even a few years ago, but working on his book at times has been a bit like going through your usual day with one arm tied behind your back--not unlike when we have a power failure and all productivity ceases. I've had to use the archaic fax machine, mail hard copies of covers and manuscripts, and talk on the phone with him daily. I don't know that it is that much less efficient than using the computer--in a way it's a bit nostalgic. This is how it was for most when I started in publishing ten years ago, but I can't help but wonder if ten years from now people will be at a loss as to how to communicate with someone without a computer.

Yesterday morning I went to a photo session at the Nashville Zoo--a bit of a mixed bag in terms of the shots, as it was overcast, the subjects (chinchilla, skunk, kinkajou, two-toed sloth, and serval--which was gorgeous, like a living Egyptian statue) moved a lot, and my camera, I'm realizing, is pretty basic. The zoo was crawling with photographers, not just because of the 15 people in the session I was there for. Apparently there was a photography class present, and another group of at least 30 people all in matching blue shirts and toting high-end cameras. I suspect the current fuel shortages kept a lot of other folks away. But it was great to have so many photographers around as I was able to start asking questions about upgrading to a new camera. One man recommended the Cannon Rebel or Cannon D40 as a good reasonably-priced intermediary between amateur and professional--he let me try his, which had a telephoto lens he was trying out that was about half the length of my arm. The shots were so much better than mine, though, even on the small display. Another man praised his Pentex for it's built in stability control and attached back-up battery. Last weekend, many had Nikons, though I didn't ask about the features. I still have a lot to learn about what to look for in a camera (I'm starting to grasp the meaning of aperture and shutter speed, but still working on how to use them). Thanks to my new Meet-ups groups I have access to 300+ local photographers from whom I can seek advice via the message board. So oddly, the very thing that once isolated people has become the thing that facilities society. I wonder how I could not believe that, though. I am writing a blog.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Photography Meet-up at the TN State Fair

A while back I was chatting with my colleagues about how difficult it is to make new friends as adults outside of work, particularly when you move to a new city as most of us have. Which is why we've all began using the Web site It's a site where you can find other people who share your hobby or interest in your area, and get together. One of my colleagues invited me to join her at her jewelry making Meet up a few months ago, and I learned how to make silver clay jewelry. I really enjoyed it, but I do so many different arts and crafts already, the last thing I need is to add jewelry making.
What I am interested in developing (no pun intended) is photography. And it just so happens that there is a Meet-up group of over 300 photographers in the area. I went to my first meeting yesterday at the Tennessee State Fair. I had been to the fair last year on my own--having never been to a state fair of any kind I couldn't resist. But this time I was focused (I swear, I'm not trying to do these puns) on taking photos.
It's interesting how the standard conversational questions can morph when you get a group of people with a single interest in common. For this group it was, "What are you shooting with?" My reply was, "Um, just this little Kodak." Everyone else said letters and numbers, like we were playing Bingo--or rather, "Dingo" since they were all "D-70" or "D-32." So, we were all standing in a circle--and I happened to be the only woman there--and just before heading out, the nine men of the group brought out these huge cameras from their camera bags, each one with a bigger lens than the one before. And there was I, with my dinky Easyshare Z7590 in my purse. I think of it as my "big" camera, and it is, compared to my pocket size Cannon PowerShot SD850 IS. But I was not going to be intimidated. And just as we were leaving, an older woman drove up. So not only was I no longer the only female, she had a regular 35 mm camera smaller than mine.
We started out shooting the Midway, and as usual I tried for photos of the rides without people in them. I mentioned that later, to the surprise of my companions. And after seeing some of their great shots of people, I think I might have to try that subject. As you may have noticed from my photos on this blog, I'm more interested in animals. So we moved up the hill to the livestock exhibition (the group was very patient as I tried to get one last shot of a chicken who wouldn't stay still), and checked out the photography exhibit as well where we were able to cool off in the air conditioning.
The highlights of the day was seeing my first (and hopefully last) eating competition. It was 2 pm, and we hadn't stopped for lunch, which turned out to be just as well because this was the nastiest thing I've seen in recent memory. There was a 100-pound woman (I know, because the MC kept telling us) who just stuffed Krystal burgers in her mouth while it was still full, getting food all over her face. Surprisingly, most of the contestants weren't obese, but rather very muscular. There was one huge man, however, from New York who was apparently the favorite. But my favorite was a mild-looking man on the end who spent the competition calmly dipping his burgers in Kool-aid and taking methodical, neat bites, as if he was just eating his regular lunch. Maybe he was....

I'll upload the rest of the photos to my Webshots page, in case you're interested.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Why Are Adults Reading Kids’ Books?

A few years ago, when I was working in New York City, I observed the following conversation between two New York executives on the commuter train into New York:
“Hi Phil, I haven’t seen you in a while.”
“Hello, Jeff. Good to see you.”
“What’s that you’re reading?”
“Oh, it’s Harry Potter.”
“Uh, I thought that was a kids’ book.”
“No, it’s not just for kids. Adults are reading it too!”
What was particularly unique about this scene was that it wasn’t—a few months later, I observed the near identical scene with two different commuters.
Harry Potter was a phenomenon—a rare series that entertained all ages. But the trend it started didn’t end with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series has taken over, even if on a lesser scale. My sister-in-law told me of a fan Web site exclusively for mothers who are fans of the books. The Young Adult category, one of the most lucrative in publishing today, has become the equivalent of family films like those produced by Disney/Pixar. Appropriate for children, but equally entertaining for and beloved by adults--with and without kids.
So, did Harry Potter launch a whole new movement in literature? No, it relaunched one. This same phenomenon happened a long time ago with another British series that captivated readers of all ages around the world. In 1837 the first British novel to feature a child as a protagonist was published. The author not only introduced the idea of novels about children, but had also pioneered the concept of series publication with his first novel—intially publishing it three chapters at a time, and ending each segment with a cliffhanger. Like Harry, the child in this novel was a British orphan in dismal circumstances who gets caught up in a world that is foreign to him and leads him into mortal danger. His name was Oliver Twist. Oliver Twist was Charles Dickens’ second novel, and every novel he wrote after it centrally featured a sick, mistreated, or dying child.* While his books were written for an adult audience, Dickens lay the groundwork for a new genre, which was followed by authors like Mark Twain. We now think of Dickens and Twain as “classic” authors to be studied, but if they were publishing these books today, they would likely fall under the Young Adult category.
So the idea of adults reading books featuring children as protagonists is not new, but why has it become popular again? I think there are a number of reasons.
1. Taboo—the success of Harry has made it acceptable for adults to read “children’s” books.
2. Time--they're faster reads—with limited leisure time, and competition for that time from other sources, a book you can finish in a day or two is appealing.
3. Values--while adult commercial fiction has grown more explicit in an attempt to shock and titillate our over-exposed sensibilities, books for young adults (with some notable exceptions) are a haven for readers who want to escape into a softer world.
4. Creativity—adult commercial fiction is categorized into genres (romance, mystery, western, science fiction) which have guidelines to make them appeal to the broadest possible audience—it’s effective for sales, but it limits creativity. Young adult fiction can mirror adult genres, but I’ve found more originality in those novels lately than in novels aimed at adults.
5. Nostalgia--We may be interested in reading about a veterinarian working in a Depression Era circus (Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen), or Tudor Queen Anne Boleyn (The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory), but we can’t directly identify with those characters. I am not a veterinarian or royalty (as far as I know). The world of adults is so much bigger, yet our paths as adults seem more fixed. But we all can recall the world of childhood, and the endless potential and possible futures. This is why YA books seem more imaginative—they are because the audience they target is open to it. And I think adults want to recapture that feeling of future potential, and the promise of adventures to come.

Here are my two favorite recent young adult series:

The Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld: Uglies, Pretties, Specials, Extras--Westerfeld is excellent—truly innovative in creating a fictional world, and reinventing the first person narrative.

Lois Lowry’s Worlds trilogy: The Giver, Gathering Blue, The Messenger--Lowry won the prestigious Newbery Medal for The Giver. Like Westerfeld's more recent take, or another classic, A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle which won the Newbery medal in 1963, this series examines alternate realities to expose themes in our current world.

*If you’re interested in learning more about Dickens, the above information was drawn from an audio lecture The Dickens Nobody Knows by Elliot Engel, available at All of Engel's lectures are entertaining, fascinating and highly recommended.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Road Trip: Indianapolis, Indiana

Every now and then, particularly on summer weekends, I get the urge to travel. There’s something about a change of scenery and exploring an unfamiliar place that seems to revitalize me. In the past, I’ve done trips to Atlanta, GA; Louisville, KY; Paducah, KY; Chattanooga, TN; Knoxville, TN; and Birmingham, AL, to name a few. My main criteria for choosing a city are: if I can drive there in four hours or less, and if there is something there that I’d find educational or that ties into one of my hobbies. Indianapolis fit the bill.
I left early Friday morning, and arrived in the mid-afternoon at my first site, the Indianapolis Zoo. My latest and most ardent hobby is animal photography, so I’m always drawn to zoos in particular. The Indianapolis Zoo is relatively new, built in the 1990s, and while not huge, it has some unique and modern exhibits that are well laid out so you see animals pretty much continuously in each of the environment-themed areas: Forest, Desert, Savannah, Ocean. Highlights for me were the koalas, on loan from the San Diego zoo, the walruses—unusual for a zoo-- who swam underwater and seemed as interested in us as we were in them, and the lemurs on an island at the zoo center. At one point I noticed the lemurs moving cautiously onto a narrow bridge, retreating several times, until finally bounding lithely across. A closer look through my zoom lens saw the reason why. Lemurs don’t like water to begin with, and there were three turtles sunning themselves on the log that the lemurs had to jump over.
If you’d like to see more of my photos from the Indianapolis Zoo, I’ve posted the best of them in an album on my Webshots page:
The Indianapolis Museum of Art--an impressive modern building set in beautifully landscaped gardens--was my next stop. The museum features art and artifacts from around the world, and had a special exhibit of Egyptian artifacts from the Brooklyn Museum. I particularly enjoyed the fine collection of artwork in the pointillism style pioneered by George Seurat. Like most paintings, you really need to see these in person to fully appreciate them. From a distance they seem uncannily lifelike, but up close you find they’re all dots, not unlike pixels on a TV screen. But what is interesting is the use of color, how an ocean at sunset isn’t made up of blues alone, but of spots of yellows, greens, and oranges as well. My favorite artist using this style is Camille Pissarro (French, 1831-1903). His “The House of the Deaf Woman and the Belfry at Eragny” (1886) was one of my favorite paintings in the museum. The trees look so real, even up close. It’s quite stunning. My other favorite paintings in the collection were “Tidying Up” (1941) by Isabel Bishop (American, 1902-1988) a humorous painting of a woman inspecting her teeth in a compact mirror, and “His Majesty Receives” (1885) by William Holbrook Beard (American, 1824-1900). Beard is known for his satires featuring animals in human attire, and this is of a regal fox in a red ermine-trimmed robe, surrounded by small woodland creatures in business suits. I had never seen Beard’s work before, but will have to seek out more of it.
On Saturday I visited the birthplace of James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916), the “Hoosier poet,” in Greenfield, IN, just East of Indianapolis. Unless you went to school in Indiana, you may not know of him or his work. On the other hand, you almost definitely are familiar with two of the byproducts of his children’s poetry. During the Civil War, the Riley family took in an orphan named Mary Alice Smith, whom they called Allie for short. Allie worked for her room and board, and named each of the stairs she scrubbed. She also told the Riley children stories of fairies and goblins in the dark cupboard under the stairs. She was only with them about a year or two before moving on, never to be heard from again in Riley’s lifetime. But she made such an impression on James that when he grew up he wrote a poem about her. Unfortunately, when the poem was printed the typesetter made an error, and it was published as “Little Orphant Annie” instead of “Allie.” The poem became hugely popular, and inspired a comic strip, “Little Orphan Annie,” which in turn inspired a musical, Annie, which in turn inspired my favorite childhood movie of the same name. The Rileys’ house was on a main road, and another of Riley’s poems was inspired by the men, some of whom were returning from the war, who passed by. He called it “The Raggedy Man,” and it was the inspiration for the wildly popular dolls (and subsequent franchise) Raggedy Ann and Andy.
While the people I met in Indianapolis were all friendly, polite, and warm, I found the city itself to be most unwelcoming to visitors. The layout is sprawling with no pattern to the streets that allows for easy navigation. Each site seemed to be a half hour away from the previous. But worst of all were the detours. The entry ramp to the highway by my hotel was closed, prompting a long detour. But what was especially irksome was the “detour” for the same highway in Greenfield, which had signs pointing in various directions depending on where you were approaching from, signs that ultimately led to endless roads in the wrong direction. After an hour of trying to follow these detours, I finally found a gas station where I learned that the detour was no longer necessary as the construction had been finished, but only some of the signs had been taken down. All of this is to explain why I wasn’t able to see the Medical History Museum or tour the house where James Whitcomb Riley lived and died in Indianapolis.
I did, however, stop by the Museum of Miniature Houses and Other Collections in Carmel, IN, a charming town north of Indianapolis. When I was a little girl I had a dollhouse--not the Barbie variety, but a serious hobbyist/miniatures-type deal. I never finished it—it’s assembled, and I had bought all the supplies to wire it for electricity, wallpaper, carpet, and furnish it. But I never got beyond the main assembly. I believe it’s still sitting in my parents’ house somewhere. The museum brought back fond memories, and the houses were almost overwhelming in their detail. I would have adored this museum when I was a little girl.
On the drive back, I made stops at the Devonian era fossil beds in Clarksville, Indiana, in the Falls of the Ohio State Park (which doesn’t appear to have any falls, and is not in Ohio—go figure), located beside the I-65 bridge from Indiana to Kentucky. It’s also near one of my favorite Louisville-area stores, Schimpff’s Confectionary in Jeffersonville, IN, which I discovered on another trip earlier this summer. The Schmipff family has been making the most amazing cinnamon hard candy the same way, with the same equipment, since 1891. They also have a traditional soda fountain where they hand-mix Coca Colas the old-fashioned way (much sweeter and more flavorful), and a candy museum. I also drove around the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest in Clermont, KY. It’s a beautiful park that’s ideal for hiking and biking, before heading home.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Things That Happen in Movies That Rarely Happen in Real Life

The only explanation for why I put the movie Castle Rock on my Netflix list was my quest. I am forever in search of movies that are gloriously awful. I have given up on movies being good, and so have refined my taste. Very few make that grade. The movie must be awful while earnestly trying to legitimately please it’s audience as a “good” movie—one might describe the result as “unfortunate.” Bring It On: In It to Win It has been the most recent success in the category. Castle Rock is just bad. But I dedicate this blog entry to it because it is a shining example of the topic ‘o the day (see title).
The first thing that happens in movies that rarely happens in real life is dramatic repetition. Oh, yes…dramatic repetition. It’s like vocal italics for the attention-span deficient viewers. Castle Rock had dramatic repetition, yes…dramatic repetition.
The next item is the pause while fleeing. Using Castle Rock once again: Antonio, the illegal Gautamalan immigrant, is lost in the desert with the surly teenage girl-protagonist (whose name I don’t remember, so we’ll call her Surly for short). [Spoiler Alert!] Surly has been bitten by a poisonous snake, and Antonio is running for help when Surly’s rabid dog begins chasing him. Antonio is running (despite his gangrene-infected leg, which we’ll address in a moment). The rabid Alsatian is loping playfully (I mean menacingly) behind him, and gaining. Antonio is—wait, stopping, turning, looking…yep, Rabid the Dog is still chasing him. Antonio starts running again. Oddly, the dog does not then catch up, tackle Antonio to the ground, and bite his face off--but then, this is a family film.
I promised to get to the gangrene, didn’t I? Well, Antonio spends the majority of the movie limping (except when he makes his climactic run for help) because he cut his leg. Along their trek through vast scrub and nothingness, they encounter one item of interest: a dead rabbit being eaten by maggots. Surly comments: “My grandfather once told me maggots only eat dead flesh. They won’t eat living flesh.” You see where this is going? Yes. That’s right. Antonio gets gangrene, and Surly randomly knows the cure: “We need some way to get rid of the dead flesh…” But how? Wait! Yeah, that’s right—maggots! Antonio: “It burns! It burns!!” Maggots: “Mmmphgh.”
In the movies, this is called “set up and payoff.” In real life, it’s called coincidence, but most things we encounter, as you know, do not payoff. For example, yesterday I was tired of my usual bagel and cream cheese, so I swung by Publix for a muffin. But Publix doesn’t sell individual muffins, so I bought four. I ate one. (How many muffins did I have left?) I offered the remaining muffins to my coworkers--no takers. So I am having muffins for breakfast for the next few days. Pretty mundane.
But if my life were a movie, those three muffins would be set up. And here, I theorize, are the payoffs, depending on genre:

Romance: I share the muffins with a devastatingly handsome and eligible man I meet that day, we fall in love, and have blueberry muffin cake at our wedding.

Comedy: I share the muffins with a devastatingly handsome and eligible man I meet that day. His face blows up and he tells me, “Ehm ellergeec ew blooberreez!” We spend the evening in the emergency room.

Suspense: I am stalked by the Muffin Man, a serial killer who targets women who buy muffins. I don’t know why he’s trying to kill me until the police realize the connection between the victims.

Action: I'm an international spy, and each muffin contains a microchip that when united will activate a world-devastating weapon. One by one, my enemies steal my muffins. I must get them back, at any cost!

Horror: The muffins are full of maggots.

Drama: I give the muffins to a homeless woman, and we develop a bond that changes both our lives. But then she dies.

Mystery: I share the muffins, but they turn out to be poisoned. How? Why? And by who? (My money’s on Surly.)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

What I Learned Today...About Garbage Disposals

Thanks to Shoes in the Freezer, Beer in the Flower Garden by Joan & Lydia Wilen (Fireside, 1997) I learned that to clean/degrease a garbage disposal: run the hot water, then slowly pour in a cup of baking soda until it's all gone. To sharpen the blades, put about ten ice cubes in the disposal, run the water, and turn on the unit.
I also learned not to read something once, put the book on the shelf, and try to do it from memory. I learned that multi-tasking leads to potential disaster. So here's how not to do it: Do not dump half a box of Baking Soda into the disposal, then run the hot water, start the disposal, and add the rest of the box for good measure. Do not then decide to clean the ice tray out by dumping the entire contents into the sink, and shoving all the cubes down while running the water. If you do, the disposal will choke and begin to regurgitate nasty, brown, murky water at an alarming rate. However, if you find yourself in this same predicament (there is a 0.027% chance), run the hot water, and eventually the disposal will burp and slurp everything back down.
All's well that ends well, as Will would say. I have fresh ice in the freezer, and my disposal is cleaner and sharper than ever. But maybe next time I'll follow the Wilens' directions....

The Air Museum

I had a long description of my travel woes written, but I've deleted it, because it was frankly rather boring. I'll sum it up, I was supposed to fly on American Airlines from LaGuardia to Nashville last Sunday. I spent 28 hours in airports over the next three days (the boredom was so bad, I actually resorted to reading passages of Tori Spelling's biography in the bookstore at one point). After my American flight was cancelled three times, I gave up and booked a flight on Southwest out of Hartford. That flight was delayed only fifteen minutes.
But, more importantly, I was able to observe a curious sign by the road just next to the airport. It was one of those brown local attraction signs, and it said simply "Air Museum." Air Museum? A museum of air? I immediately began picturing it, a giant hangar, empty. Just...air. Or better yet, grey carpet, and muted walls surrounding vast rooms full of glass exhibit boxes on pedestals that appeared empty, but were each labeled in painstaking detail.
"This air dates from 1066 England, during the Norman Conquest."
"This glass vial contains the air hissed by the asp with which Cleopatra allegedly committed suicide."
"Air from Tori Spelling's head."
"Air from the prehistoric era."
"Air that was once contained in a soap bubble in the dog washing scene in the movie Annie."
Why couldn't my flight have been delayed in Hartford? I could have spent those 28 hours breathing in the Air Museum, and all of it's wonders. Ah well, a reason to go back. If anyone is familiar with the Air Museum, please feel free to share some of your favorite exhibits so I can experience it vicariously.

P.S. This is the first post of my first blog. Hope you've enjoyed it!
P.P.S. I have nothing against Tori Spelling, other than her memoir was disappointingly vague on the gossipy details.