“Big” Theater on Solstice Weekend: “Camelot in Concert” at the Granada and David Suchet in “The Last Confession” at the Ahmanson

June 21-22, Camelot in Concert. Granda Theater. www.granadasb.org.

June 21-22, Camelot in Concert. Granda Theater. www.granadasb.org.

Who says there’s no great theater in LA and Santa Barbara? Answer: people who haven’t lived or spent time in either place in the last dozen or so years. But this is a special weekend, particularly in Santa Barbara (and not due to that incomprehensibly popular  parade which clogs State Street and downtown) because a large scale musical with big names is playing two nights at the elegant Granada Theater, reminiscent of a 19th-C European opera house.

With the opening of the New Vic last December, Santa Barbara has a better theater scene than it has since I arrived in 1996. And now that summer is officially here, PCPA Theaterfest in Solvang and Circle Bar B are up and running with shows ranging from farce (Noises Off! and Forever Plaid at PCPA) to a comedy/mystery with a Noel Coward feel and a British comedy of manners  (Murder by the Book and Enchanted April at Circle Bar B). 

I am particularly excited about the positively reviewed Murder by the Book because my favorite shows at Circle Bar B feature its long married directors, Susie and David Couch. I’ll buy a ticket today for next weekend. (I was unimpressed by the golf farce last summer but really enjoyed three plays in the previous season.)

I can’t afford Broadway–at least not without sacrificing restaurants–but I attend four or five cabarets every trip to New York. And I catch the phenomenal modern dance troupe ChristinaNoel and the Creature whenever I’m in town. So after a month in LA and Santa Barbara, I start to jones for musical theater. Neither of my Southern California hubs have venues like the  Laurie Beechman, 54 Below, the Metropolitan Room or the Duplex, much less piano bars like the casual Marie’s Crisis in the Village, Brandy’s on the Upper East Side, or the much more upscale Bemelman’s at the Carlyle Hotel. Due to the old-school elegance and caliber of musicians regularly featured at Bemelman’s, it’s the only place I can pay $21 pre-tip for an admittedly large and stiff martini and feel I’ve gotten my money’s worth.

A New York server at Cafe Montana, whose father is in the Broadway world, said you can find occasional cabaret in Los Angeles, but only at the price point of Feinstein’s, the legendary cabaret at what used to be the Regency Hotel on 60th and Park but has for some time been known simply as the Loews. I’m two blocks from Dad’s old business hotel so walk by it a lot. Feinstein’s was closed during much of the renovation which seemed to go on forever, but now open.

54 Below is pricey ($75-$95) when a legend like Patti Lupone or four-time Tony nominee Laura Benanti performs, but many shows are in the $35-45 range, including Jarrod Spector, six years as Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys and co-star of the current Broadway sensation, Beautiful: The Carole King Story). Beyond the $25 food or booze minimum, I paid nothing to see Spector’s extraordinary show, about which Stephen Holden raved in the New York Times, because I pay $100/year to be a VIP Ruby member.

54 Below’s membership program gets me into some shows for free (particularly the 11PM shows with well-known artists or earlier ones with lesser-known talents), offers me preferred seating and first dibs on new shows, and earns me points on dinner and drink purchases. Sadly, nothing like 54 Below exists in LA. And of course in Santa Barbara, neither name would ring a bell to anyone under 55 or 60 unless a transplant from New York or someone with an interest or background in musical theater.

The last large musical production in Santa Barbara was My Fair Lady in Concert. As I blogged, the show suffered from technical problems and lack of chemistry between Higgins (played by the marvelous Jonathan Pryce) and Eliza (Laura Michelle Kelly).  Kelly isn’t Sierra Boggess, a trained opera singer before Broadway, but she sings beautifully. Alas, her voice didn’t save her acting (or cartoonish Cockney accent), so the show fell flat.

The Santa Barbara symphony remains one of the best of its size in America, and I adored the music, costumes and sets. But aside from Broadway veteran Gregory Jbara’s hilarious rendering of Alfred Doolittle (Eliza’s father) and Cloris Leachman’s scene-stealing turn as Higgins’ mother, it was a B- at best. This beloved musical just doesn’t fly when you don’t care about Eliza or understand why Henry–or anyone–would.

A less illustrious production of my favorite musical than the star-studded Kennedy Center one in 2013 starring Pryce, Jbara, and York, came to Santa Barbara the year before. I took my boyfriend, a complete theater (and musical theater) void whose cultured Brooklyn and Queens-raised Jewish parents never took him to the Lerner and Loewe show, to rectify this unacceptable state of affairs. (I frequently foist show tunes on the dear soul because you can’t date me for just under four years and not know who Ben Vereen or Stephen Schwartz are. Of course I can’t sing, but this doesn’t stop me from trying. A perennially good sport, he tolerates my efforts to educate him about the American Songbook).

While the music, set, and costumes were spectacular, the Eliza-Henry dynamic in 2012 was even worse than in 2013. But I’m not complaining. Well, maybe a little. (It’s one of life’s greatest pleasures, as I have explained, contra the New Age–and unwittingly anti-semitic–aversion to kvetching so popular in inspirational or motivational memes which clutter my newsfeed and trigger my inner Denis Leary, or worse, Jay Mohr or Bobby Slayton.) Still, if the Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts wants to keep trying to get a single classical musical right, it should be My Fair Lady; because even if the acting falls flat, there is still the unsurpassed music.

Marcia Milgram Dodge, the director of last year’s attempt, returns to the Granada with Camelot in Concert. Barry Bostwick, perhaps most famous for his six-year run as the lovable but hapless New York City mayor on Gary Goldberg’s Spin City, plays Merlin. In an interview with Casa Magazine, he said, “It’s quite a deep text for a musical. The themes are very challenging. Merlin’s tragedy is that he wasn’t able to tell Arthur about everything he will have to endure before he loses his magic. The ‘word’ has been ‘think.’ And Arthur ends up thinking too much.’”

Sean Patrick Leonard, who like Neil Patrick Harris, has successfully balanced theater, TV and film, plays Arthur. Brandi Burkhardt, Josh Grisetti, and Michael Campayno round out the cast of a musical I’ve never seen performed. I barely remember the movie, but all my life have heard the story of my parents taking my brother and sister, now 53 and 60, early in their marriage. (I have always considered them full siblings, but they’re Dad’s kids from his first marriage, not my mother’s children).

When Vanessa Redgrave appears in the white fur, my sister, then 13, audibly gasped at Guinevere’s radiance. Take that, Second Wave feminists! Little girls like beautiful grown-up girls in fancy clothes and shiny baubles. You can write all you like about the irrelevance of physical appearance or the myth of biology, but (most) boys like to blow things up or shoot things (even if the weapon is made of toast), and most girls at some point in their childhoods want to be the princess in a pretty dress who gets her prince.

Leonard called Camelot in Concert “a fun and sexy story with an amazing group of singers”: “Forget about the fates!” A reference, of course, to the musical’s deeper themes about fate, innocence, despair and hope. I haven’t read Tennyson’s Morte d’Arthur in many years, but as a Victorianist, I love all things Tennyson. I’m inspired to dig out my Norton Critical Edition and reread one of the two greatest poets of the Victorian age. My reading of Browning and Tennyson at UCLA in 12th grade drew me to the Victorians long before I declared it my specialty in graduate school.

So that’s my Saturday night after my swim, color, and mani/pedi. Tomorrow I head to LA to see David Suchet, best-known as Hercule Poirot, in The Last Confession. It has been described as a Catholic House of Cards, and since I’m missing that show so profoundly, I’m looking forward to what I imagine is a brilliant rendering of villainy. I find diabolical displays of power far more appealing when aestheticized. Real-world evil is rarely elegant or even smart–much less sexy–like Spacey’s Frank Underwood. Only Spacey could make a murderer of two likable characters at once appealing and beddable.

Papal intrigue was a favorite topic of Browning’s (Bishop Blougram’s Apology), and no Brit did the Italians better than the powerhouse poet who was George Eliot’s favorite of the Victorians, though she and George Henry Lewes socialized with Tennyson and his wife. Eliot was no slouch herself on the topic of Renaissance Italy. In her own time, she was known simply as the “author of Romola,” creating a complex villain in Tito Melema. Before Daniel Deronda’s Grandcourt, which influenced Henry James in his creation of Gilbert Osmond, the monster of Portrait of a Lady, there was Tito.

My parents enjoy Poirot and I read 30 Agatha Christie novels by the end of elementary school. But I know Suchet through one of my favorite films of the last fifteen years, HBO’s Live From Baghad, based on Robert Wiener’s book about the Gulf War. I encourage anyone who loves great writing and acting to rent the film starring Michael Keaton, Helena Bonham Carter, Lili Taylor and a host of familiar character actors. Suchet plays the Iraqi Minister of Information, Naji Al-Hadithi, who became Iraq’s Foreign Minister. The score is haunting and aside from the suspenseful narrative (a feat, given that you know how it turns out), Live From Baghdad is the best platonic love story I’ve seen as an adult.

Happy Solstice Weekend! (Though, as I said, I find it a great nuisance, not being a fan of parades in general, and particularly not one with such a hippie-dippy vibe. I’m the #grinchwhohatesSolstice.)

P.S. Last Saturday, our friend threw himself a spectacular 50th birthday bash at a large loft on Cesar Chavez. I forgot to write a Yelp review, but if you ever need a space which can accommodate 250 people with cozy industrial chic decor–not exactly ubiquitous in Santa Barbara–this is the place to rent. In lieu of gifts, he asked for donations to The Fund for Santa Barbara. J and I had a great time and got what I think is one of our best pictures together.10383876_686658918035837_1876026508630749590_o

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J’s 43rd Birthday Pictures and 3.5 Days (And Counting) 100% Smoke-Free!

At the carwash Monday. Prestige on Milpas Blvd in SB: fast and fabulous. Not cheap but it's SB so whatever. En route to LA for day of fun with New York/CT friend who doesn't know my hometown

At the carwash Monday. Prestige on Milpas Blvd in SB: fast and fabulous. Not cheap but it’s SB so whatever. En route to LA for day of fun with New York/CT friend who doesn’t know my hometown

I want to get to the club for a longish swim while it’s still cloudy (I’m too sore and tight for weights today), but wanted to report that it’s been 3.5 days since my last cigarette and that I have no desire for a real one. The key, as vapers told me since I switched from V2 (old school e-cigarettes with cartridges rather than liquid) to the Kangertech EVOD in February, is having backup tanks, batteries and charging cables. But I didn’t listen–till now.

I’m an odd mix of stubborn and laid-back. Things that drive my borderline OCD methodical boyfriend mad, a not wiped down table at a cafe, say, don’t faze me at all. My boyfriend is convinced that my iPhone is full of microbes and close to spawning organisms which will crawl out of the lucite Marware case and penetrate my ear drum. He bought me a new case months ago, but I haven’t pressed him to change it for me.

Maybe all this just makes me a slob when it comes to my electronics, not actually mellow.  I definitely get irritated (see my Yelp rants about the DC Metro and BART), but a lot of stuff just passes me by. My mother finally cleaned the screen on my 2011 MacBook Pro because she couldn’t bear having the equivalent of a petrie dish in her house, much less looking at it on her kitchen table, for one more day.

Mom seemed particularly distressed to learn that the caked on matter was the byproduct of sneezing and coughing directly on the screen rather than turning my head to do both as my boyfriend has suggested countless times. I tell him that his/our longhaired kitty is to blame for my daytime allergies and that it is not therefore entirely my fault. Just look at this guy!

Ollie the king of all kitties. Mr Fluffball.

Ollie the king of all kitties. Mr Fluffball.

I make the same argument about used tissues in the bed. Neither persuades him that I couldn’t avoid sneezing on my Macbook or toss the tissues every morning when I arise. But in the latter case, I do make an effort.  Furthermore, Mom had to clean my spit up and snot, among other things, when I was a baby, so I find her squeamishness about dried snot illogical. She seems to feel that it’s different now that I’m 42.

And Mom isn’t exactly a neat freak. Not to mention the fact that dear Hilma, the woman who came to my parents when I was five and continues to work 15-20 hours a week nearly 37 years later, is not known for her stellar cleaning skills.

My obsessive, and obsessively neat, Jewish grandmother (think Tree Grows in Brooklyn) didn’t think much of her as a cleaning lady, though Grandma loved Hilma as much the rest of the family always has. I haven’t written about my 30th St. Augustine reunion in May, which both Maya Rudolph and Gwyneth Paltrow attended. But Hilma was the star-in-absentia of the reunion: everyone remembered Hilma and no one could believe she still was still with us. Most people had help, if only part-time, and no one else’s housekeeper or nanny still works with their parents.

And to be fair, Hilma wasn’t hired on the strength of her cleaning or culinary prowess. She was hired to shop, cook Monday through Thursday, do laundry, keep the house picked up, and look after me. For some time, her sister, a wonderful woman from Guatemala with three grown sons, two of whom served in the military, has come every five or so weeks for five hours to do “heavy cleaning.” Between visits from Hilma’s sister, my aunt regularly mopped the kitchen floor because she likes to walk around the house barefoot and felt the floor was unfit for shoeless feet.

And Hilma doesn’t believe in throwing out food. Neither did Jean-Marie, come to think of it, the Buenos Aires woman who cared for me from 7 months, when Mom went back to work full-time as Executive Director of the Los Angeles County Bar Association the year Warren Christopher was president, to 5 years. (This was a perfect 40-hour-a-week mommy job, by the way).  She would cite the “pru people” in Africa as a reason not to toss stale or slightly molded bread. To this day, Mom does a refrigerator sweep every other day because if it were up to Hilma, unfinished half-and-half and cottage cheese would remain in the fridge in perpetuity: a sort of historical record of the Ordin family’s dairy consumption.

And in law school–which Mom seems to think a relevant detail–her fridge was so bad that Dad almost broke up with her at the outset of their courtship. She lived in a tiny studio at Venice and Robertson not far in those blissful traffic-free days in LA circa 1960 from UCLA Law and her job at 9107 Wilshire, next to the soon-to-be closed Kate Mantilini on the Beverly Hills/West Hollywood border, where Mom was office manager for five small firms with just ten or so lawyers including my father.

Either Dad was early or she was late for a date, so she invited him upstairs while she finished getting ready and told him to help himself to a beer in the fridge. Experiencing what he describes as a mild coronary upon opening the fridge door, he instantly thought to himself, “This isn’t the broad for me. If my mother sees this refrigerator, she’ll disown me.”

Mom’s 2010 Acura bought used in 2011 after a garbage truck crashed into her used 2002 Acura six blocks from the funeral of one of Dad’s oldest friends, is always neat and clean but for the pink foam curlers she often dons in the morning (and sometimes wears on the commute downtown if she has a breakfast meeting) because Dad made it a condition of marriage that she never wear curlers in bed.

And at least since my college years, Mom’s cars have been close to spotless. However, when she gets on me about my Saab (and before that, my Pathfinder), which at its worst my boyfriend’s son has referred to as “the landfill,” I remind her of the condition of her fridge during law school, during which she worked 25-30 hours a week as she had as a UCLA undergraduate.

To this Mom replies in her most exasperated tone (which isn’t all that exasperated), “Dear, I was 23 years old! And working my way through law school. You are 42 and don’t have a job. You can afford regular car washes!” I guess she has a point. Sort of.

Like me, though to a lesser degree, Mom leaves a trail in her wake. Dad said that throughout their marriage,  he could track her precise path after work by following her purse, blazer, keys and wallet through various rooms of the house they still live. J always marvels the day or two after I return from New York: “What happened? Everything was so neat. Now there are purses and empty wine glasses everywhere. And a K-Cup in the Keurig.  How do you do this so fast!?”

But at the moment, I’m pretty proud of myself. I took my car to the carwash for my fabulous LA day with Ellen, born and raised in Greenwich before marriage and  motherhood on the Upper West Side (and briefly, Scarsdale). That was Monday and other than the backseat–which I don’t even count, since that’s just mobile storage for a girl who lives in three cities– it’s still pristine. As I often note on Facebook when my feed is full of motivational memes about realizing your dreams, the key to happiness in life is low expectations. My mother has always felt this way and I have entirely embraced this philosophy. Low expectations do not connote laziness; one can still be disciplined but expect very little.

In this vein, I’ve recommitted to working out (apart from dancing, which sadly is not yet possible) and see a tremendous difference in my body, and particularly arms, as a result of the core work and strength training. And I’m thinking I’m going to stay with this clean car thing awhile and see how it goes. On a related subject, I’ve stocked up on tanks, batteries and charger cables and been 100% smoke-free for 3.5 days with no plans to buy a backup pack. Now that I have backups and a car charger, I’m never left in a lurch.

Which brings me full-circle. While my person is always immaculate, my possessions tend to be shmutzy. J calls me his “beautiful disaster” and “strange, shmutzy, spilly creature.” He says to look at me, you’d never think what a mess I am.

But again, I’m feeling pretty smug right now. After leaving my gorgeous 90% off wallet in the upstairs bathroom at the Laurie Beechman Theater on 42nd and 9th during the Christmas Cabaret Cares for AIDS and returning ten minutes later to find it gone, I have a new driver’s license.

Yes, I drive without the plastic card confirming that I’m a valid driver because I never get pulled over (except when my registration sticker is expired due to a late smog test). In CA, driving without a license has always been a 25 dollar fix-it ticket and while I’m careful about money, that’s not enough of an incentive to go through the rigamarole of the SB DMV, worse than ever now that Ventura is closed for renovations.

I started an informal pool on Facebook, asking friends to guess how long it would take me to lose. I am happy to report that it’s been ten days since picking it up at the rental I never stay and that in 19 days in the city, I didn’t lose my Montecito Bank and Trust card once!

So perhaps in my early 40s, I am becoming a grown-up in the logistical realm. I’m not proud that sometimes I forget to flush the toilet after I pee, but I’m often on the phone or texting and so forget. When I solicited praise for this feat, my boyfriend looked at me the way he does so often and said, “That’s great, sweetie. My 42-year-old girlfriend remembers to flush the toilet every time she uses it.”

My father pities J and says often, “Poor Jarrett, he must just go insane living with you. He’s such a normal, straight shooter and you’re just, well, nutty as a fruitcake! I need to call Jarrett and assure him that I understand his cross to bear. Maybe he should take some Ativan or Buzpar.”

I see patches of blue peeking through the June gloom (the marine layer over Santa Barbara between Memorial Day and the 4th of July), so need to get to the club to swim.

Here are the pictures from J’s pre-birthday sushi and cake celebration with his parents, son, and of course Doobie the Briard. 10457592_638809169544407_1945725308323711712_n

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I like this picture and wish J's mother had used my phone, which like the iPhone update doesn't default to green.

I like this picture and wish J’s mother had used my phone, which like the iPhone update doesn’t default to green.

I am cheating on Emma. Sssh.

I am cheating on Emma. Sssh.

And here are the pictures from Montecito Wine Bistro last night (and yes, they take Axcess, buy one entree, get one free first time and 10% off–so free sales tax–thereafter). Sadly, the pictures of us didn’t really turn out.

Best chicken I've had in years. Perfectly tender and flavorful chicken atop white beans with tomato, spinach and asparagus.

Best chicken I’ve had in years. Perfectly tender and flavorful chicken atop white beans with tomato, spinach and asparagus.

10 oz Angus steak with truffled mashed potatoes and asparagus for him. The best chicken I've had in years atop white beans,tomato and spinach.  A Matua Sauvignon was perfect because the fire (at 65 degrees?!) was too hot that close.

10 oz Angus steak with truffled mashed potatoes and asparagus for him. 
A Matua Sauvignon was perfect because the fire (at 65 degrees?!) was too hot that close.

 

Lovely outdoor patio. Nicer than Piatti by a lot.

Lovely outdoor patio. Nicer than Piatti by a lot.

 

My dear Green Bay friend,who has stunning homes both in Wisconsin and Florida, immediately noticed the filthy fireplace.  "Egad! That needs to be cleaned!" Not surprisingly, I didn't notice.The only think I could think is why the hell is there a FIREPLACE blazing at 65 degrees?!  Answer: It's Santa Barbara. A weird place with a lot of, sorry, weather pussies.

My dear Green Bay friend,who has stunning homes both in Wisconsin and Florida, immediately noticed the filthy fireplace.
“Egad! That needs to be cleaned!” Not surprisingly, I didn’t notice.The only think I could think is why the hell is there a FIREPLACE blazing at 65 degrees?!
Answer: It’s Santa Barbara. A weird place with a lot of, sorry, weather pussies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Thursday!

P.S. Here is a picture at the Westside Pavilion with my friend Ellen, now in New York, pre-return to CA, where we will rendezvous again in a week or so. I drove her from her son’s place in WeHo along Sunset through Beverly Hills, Holmby Hills, Bel Air, and Brentwood,  to my parents in the Palisades.

With Ellen by Nordstrom/Landmark Cinema.

With Ellen by Nordstrom/Landmark Cinema.

We stopped for lunch at Cafe Montana, which was beyond fabulous. I ate a hundred times there in the late 1980s and 1990s, but hadn’t been back since 1999. I was out of LA nearly a decade and for whatever reason, the 32-year-old Montana Avenue staple dropped out of my parents’ stable. I will be back soon.

Our server, Roland, is from Manhattan and Queens musical theater stock. He is himself a performer and long on personality. I’ve never met an Angeleno who had heard of the small cabaret, Don’t Tell Mama. He says there’s nothing like it anywhere in LA, though we have upscale Feinstein’s sort of singers who visit bigger venues.

After Ellen chatted with my parents, I drove her to Nordstrom for the sweater/jacket I’ve been living in for months (I own in two colors) and then through Carthay Circle en route to West Hollywood for crostini at Fig and Olive.

I go to the original location a block from the place I stay in the city (62nd/63rd and Lex) and come to the museum-like WeHo location only when I am in that part of town. I’m in the city every two months, so I’m not motivated to fight traffic to get to the LA location and avoid the Newport branch like an STD.  As all my friends know, I don’t do the OC, not even (or especially) Newport Beach, which I consider thoroughly repellent.

6 for 21.  Note: The Burrata crostini in LA has pesto. Not the same as the NYC locations. Fig and manchego with marcona almond , along with the mushroom, the best. The salmon was pretty good but the pesto messed up the burrata.

6 for 21.
Note: The Burrata crostini in LA has pesto. Not the same as the NYC locations. Fig and manchego with marcona almond , along with the mushroom, the best. The salmon was pretty good but the pesto messed up the burrata.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Thursday!

 

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Happy Friday from the SBAC Pool: Blogging Break, New York, Re-Post of D-Day 2011 Blog

After pro makeup and hair for Mother's Day treat, pre-St. Augustine 30th reunion.

After pro makeup and hair for Mother’s Day treat, pre-St. Augustine 30th reunion.

Ah… I just finished a great strength training workout and found no open lanes at the pool, so I thought I would check in after nearly six weeks of no blogging.

New York was amazing as always, packed with cabaret, food, music, and friends. I will blog about a Uganda benefit at the Triad on 72nd and the phenomenal modern dance troupe, ChristinaNoel and the Creature, I saw for the second time in a year. Broadway Sessions, hosted by the inimitable Ben Cameron with the brilliant Joshua Stephen Kartes on the piano–my favorite way to spend a Thursday night in the city–featured the graduating musical theater majors from Ann Arbor (U of M). It was as moving a show as any at Broadway Sessions.

But I’ve experienced a bit of a workout rebirth in the wake of a training session at Equinox 63rd which was to focus on my weak ankle. I’ve been to the club in SB six out of eight days and feel such a surge of energy and vitality (not that I was low energy to begin with but I’m fired up about a non-dance workout regime for the first time in years).

I revised and added pictures to my old blog about D-Day and thought I’d re-post in a catch-up blog. I have probably 50 great (not professionally great, of course) New York pictures, along with pictures from my sister’s acoustic show last Saturday at Bob’s Espresso Bar in the bohemian, vibrant, and artsy North Hollywood Arts District. It’s not Throwback Thursday, to which I finally succumbed on Facebook, but here is Bob with my sister pre-Fast Times, with the rest of the gang of musicians and servers.

The gang at Hi Pockets. I wasn't sure if it was spelled "high" or "hi." A friend from those days said spelling it "high" would have been entirely too obvious. That's my sister in the gray jacket with white shirt and Bob kneeling bottom right

The gang at Hi Pockets. I wasn’t sure if it was spelled “high” or “hi.” A friend from those days said spelling it “high” would have been entirely too obvious. That’s my sister in the gray jacket with white shirt and Bob kneeling bottom right. Late 1970s or early 1980s.

My sister’s progressive rock band with her husband Gregg Olson is Scarlet Hollow, but this was all acoustic. I will write something up for the Patch with more details, but you can find Scarlet Hollow on Facebook. I love this picture of us. It’s one of the few good shots we have as adults. Gregg has recovered miraculously from the massive stroke of 2012 and they’re back to playing, writing and producing. 10369179_633676300057694_8663320986144014524_n

People on and off Yelp love Bob’s, but rent isn’t cheap on Lankershim Blvd. these days, so if you want to support local business, forego Starbucks and hit Bob’s. (The show was free but the suggested donation was $5, so if you know people in NoHo, send them over.)

“Bob” is Robert Romanos of Fast Times at Ridgmont High (1982), an iconic film about American teenage life which really put Phoebe Cates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Judge Reinhold on the cinematic map. It took years for people to see Sean Penn as anything but Jeff Spicoli and over 30 years later, people remember Romanos as Mike Damone.

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Still photos immediately conjure up Jackson Browne’s hit, “Somebody’s Baby Tonight” and I will forever associate a candy striper uniform with the song by one of Joni Mitchell’s many longterm boyfriends. Joni is my sister’s female idol, so I grew up with Joni, unlike most people my age.

I’ve often written that I have more in common with Baby Boomers than Gen Xers and it’s largely because of my sister and brother, 60 and 53, respectively. I worshiped the Big Chill, loved St. Elmo’s Fire, and detested the insipid Reality Bites. The Winona Ryder character wasn’t so awful, but her attraction to Ethan Hawke wiped out whatever sympathy I might have been able to muster. And you gotta do better than Ben Stiller as the solvent, stable sellout in the Saab (though I love Saabs and intend to drive mine another eight years) if you want me to care about her romantic conundrum.

Singles, on the other hand, was entertaining. I loved the soundtrack, which I played over and over in the closet passing for a bedroom in New Haven during the blizzards of 1992-3. But I could not at all relate to the aimless 20-somethings who, unlike the Reality Bites characters (with the exception of Janeane Garafolo’s), were at least likable. Immature and not overly bright, yet vulnerable and affable.

I saw Fast Times toward the end of elementary school or perhaps the beginning of Westlake, but we didn’t have a VCR until 1984, so I probably saw it on cable. I thought the movie was funny and cool, and I knew the actors would go on to bigger and better things. The script was funny and of course Sean Penn’s Jeff Spicoli was hilarious. But About Last Night was my sexual “coming of age” film, though, in 1986: gorgeous young adults in Chicago having lots of sex and drinking at a local pub was far more my style than awkward teens with fast food jobs and no apparent scholarly aspirations.

Having for six years attended an all-girl college prep school like Westlake, I’ve never been able to relate to movies about the typical coed public school experience. This is why The Breakfast Club, which I saw with my mother in Westwood on one of our Saturday mommy/daughter movie days) didn’t particularly resonate. I didn’t regret seeing it and understand why it loomed so large in the 1980s pop cultural landscape,but neither did I watch it again and again.

Also, the family dysfunction in the film struck me as too pat. I was already a Woody Allen fan by 6th grade. If I wanted neurosis, I’d choose the mature, Jewish, upscale New York version–even at 12, when I’d never been to the East Coast, much less the city. As my readers know, I was never really a teenager. By 14.5 years of age, I lived alone in the Palisades on weekends while my parents lived at the boat in the Marina. By 16, I had a car and a license and only ate dinner with my parents on Sundays, because I danced during the week at 6PM and then studied at the UCLA reading room till quite late. I wanted to go to Yale and I was busy with dance, debate, speech, and then teaching (“stretch and tone”).

I’ve decided to take a bit of a blogging break for summer, or perhaps just to extend the unintentional break I took in June. I love writing but I miss reading and watching TV. I’ve never even seen The Good Wife or Parenthood, and I’m now four full years behind on Grey’s Anatomy. Obviously I have no interest in Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, or The Walking Dead. But I saw just four movies last year and the year before. (J and I enjoyed Draft Day and I want to see the Jon Hamm baseball movie as well as the tearjerker with Laura Dern based on the popular novel, The Fault in Our Stars. 

I see an empty lane, along with a wonderful woman and grandma who received a doctorate in Chinese language and literature at Yale in 1965! She was headed east just before I left, and I look forward finally to having a nice wine date.

I didn’t blog about the debacle in DC, but I did write a Yelp list with six reviews which fairly covers the disaster of mass transit to and within that annoying, overpriced city. I got a lot of private messages from Yelpers I don’t know, so I think I must have hit a nerve.

It wasn’t, however, a total wash. I spent four stimulating and wonderful hours with Sigrid Fry-Revere, author of The Kidney Sellers: A Journey of Discovery in Iran. I also enjoyed Busboys and Poets and Chef Tony’s in Bethesda. But when I got back to Penn Station after a good friend gave me a pass for the Acela that Saturday after my night in a youth hostel on I Street, I wanted to kneel and kiss the filthy train station’s ground. When Penn Station evokes paradise, you know you’ve had a rough couple of days (and that DC sucks).

Perhaps over and above the long lunch with Sigrid and the nice bus ride down on Washington Deluxe, the trip was good comedic material. I’ve decided finally to take a class in stand-up and try some open mic. Lots of people have asked me if I do stand-up and while it’s a frightening and naked prospect–far scarier than walking on stage naked (which I would actually enjoy, to be honest)–I’m going to give it a try. My father alone is good for hours of material. 

I will eventually post a photo blog about New York, along with a blog about Blue Tavern’s Happy Hour. I spent more time than usual in Central Park because the weather was so beautiful, more spring than summer for most of the trip. 10269072_626936350731689_4411102207028995477_o

Wednesday is J’s birthday and Monday I will spend with my friend Ellen, whose New York trips have not coincided with mine since my birthday in 2013. And if you’re in LA, tomorrow is the “finish line” of the AIDS Life Cycle ride. I will be volunteering at 1PM. It’s Pride Week in West Hollywood, which is always festive and warm. I was in New York the day of the AIDS Walk, but didn’t get there till people had begun to disperse.

Happy Friday!

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A Qualified Defense of the Mrs. Degree: Experimental Blog in 200 Degree Santa Barbara Heat (Link to Click! Bang! Podcast with Jacob Sullum)

Vapor Connection, Isla Vista

Vapor Connection, Isla Vista

I. Obscene Heat, Vapor Connection and Click! Bang! Podcast with Reason’s Jacob Sullum.

I intended to blog both about the Vapor Connection in Isla Vista, Santa Barbara’s second legitimate vapor store, and about the predictably excellent podcast on Click! Bang! with Reason’s Jacob Sullum.

But it’s 200 degrees in Santa Barbara (okay, maybe I’m exaggerating but it’s goddamn hot) and almost no one in this so-called beach town has air conditioning. I can hardly breathe, much less write intelligently on a substantive topic with life and death stakes.

“But you only need air conditioning 10 days a month”: I’ve been hearing this nonsense for 18 years. It’s a bald-faced lie. You need air conditioning in Santa Barbara the minute it hits 77 degrees because for no reason anyone can explain, 77 degrees here feels like 87 degrees in West LA. You can’t blame it on humidity. And I can’t blame it on menopause for at least eight more years, at which point I’m seriously considering a temporary move to Wisconsin, Maine or Vermont. I don’t know where I will spend the four disgusting summer months, but by then I will have more funds than I do now, and I’m sure it’s cold somewhere in the world when it’s hot in America.

I’m a native Angeleno and the daughter of the same. But I hate the heat. A few Midwestern friends posted a funny e-card meme a month or two ago to the effect that the first person to complain about summer heat after this inhumane winter was going to get a baseball bat to the head.

But when I say that I’ll take 30 over 80, I mean it. 30 is a just fine temperature. 80 is an unacceptable temperature dry (except in Scottsdale, which has a reverse Santa Barbara effect whereby 80 feels more like 72). 80 with humidity is simply unacceptable and the only reason to put up with such horribleness is to play in Manhattan during the summer. It’s the worst time of year in the city, but there’s outdoor jazz and theater, along with a sultry, festive mood which partly compensates for the cost of cabs since the subway isn’t an option. I don’t buy on credit, but if I had to go into credit card debt for cabs during the summer in the city, I’d do so.

“But the subways are air conditioned,” New Yorkers insist. This is the equivalent of “you don’t need a/c in SB more than 10 days a year.” Yes, the trains are cool. But trains do not appear just because Victorian Chick graces the platform with her presence. It’s 10 degrees hotter below ground and unless you want to arrive at a restaurant (at any time of day) looking like you just got out of the steam room–or worse, mugged, with mascara streaming down your face–subways just aren’t an option.

After a lovely experience this afternoon at the DMV of Santa Barbara–with a line out the door simply to get a number because the Ventura DMV closed–I sat in my 2007 Saab 9/3 2.0T for a full hour blasting the a/c and listening to classical music on KDB. I probably used 1/8th of a tank of gas, but it was money well spent.

My SB friend with kitties almost as spectacular as Ollie saw my post on Facebook and said he too was in his parked air-conditioned car listening to KDB.  Thirty minutes later, he sent me a link to The David Hazletine Quartet streaming live from Lincoln Center, which has elevated my mood considerably, but not enough to write lucidly about the recent FDA deeming regulations re e-cigarettes. The best resource on all e-cigarette related matters remains CASAA. Here is their official response to the distressing document of 240 pages. If you, or someone you know, vapes, please join CASAA.

So my experiment for this blog concerns a status update I posted in about 9 minutes from my iPhone before editing and expanding from my MacBook. A FB friend of mine in Illinois who adores Ollie (I mean, only an evil kitty hater like my former Upper West Side friend can fail to worship at the altar of Ollie) asked to share the post on his timeline. A bookseller and active political Facebooker, he’s been very kind to me and my blog.
He posted it as a “brilliant–and controversial–essay” by Victoria Ordin, which struck me as odd, given it was just a status update.

Curious, I plugged the update into Open Office and found that it was 850 words. At the risk of offending 90% of bloggers, I have to say the writing on most blogs is simply embarrassing: run-on sentences, creative punctuation, amorphous voice, bizarre spelling, and trivial if not entirely vapid content. Even bloggers I know who are both smart and educated (though not in English or philosophy) write blogs my mother characterizes as “at best, notes via email to a friend about a casual and insignificant event.”

I don’t consider even compelling offhanded thought worthy of a blog post. It’s just me thinking aloud. But if you’re on LinkedIn and click on a blog in the “professional bloggers” forum, you’ll see many posts which say much less (in much less coherent ways).

J and I are going to Milk and Honey for dinner. I go to LA tomorrow for lunch Friday with two Westlake alums 17 years my senior before Saturday’s reunion lunch. The tubal yanking (that’s not the technical name which is too long for me to remember) wasn’t nothing. The pain in my shoulders lived up to they hype. After 24 hours, I was taking only Advil.

But I didn’t feel good for three days and my stomach bore a disturbing resemblance to an Ethiopian child on one of those Sally Struthers television pleas for money. It’s not as though I’m a stranger to a faux pregnant tummy the first day of my cycle. But this was extreme. If you’re in a longterm relationship and you know your partner never wants another kid, I suggest you make him snip snip. A tubal ligation is real surgery under a general anesthetic.

Happy Wednesday from the equator (aka Santa Barbara)!

P.S. Even Ollie and Emma agree the heat sucks.

10327993_660758730625856_344460499_o

 

Ollie after his slumber, wondering why I'm bothering to pet that dopey yellow dog who is half-unconscious

Ollie after his slumber, wondering why I’m bothering to pet that dopey yellow dog who is half-unconscious

 

II. A Qualified Defense of the Mrs. Degree.

 

        The Mrs. Degree is proof that options exist for women which do not in the same way exist for men. Some men want a wife and mother who will raise healthy and happy kids, and they’re willing to support a woman who does that and that alone.

Among the many flaws of feminism (and liberalism generally) in my lifetime is the stigma attached to this option. The other grand mistake is the idea that everyone needs a 4-year college degree, and that trades and vocational education are less valuable or worthy. Never has this snobbery been more unwarranted: successful plumbers make far more than assistant professors at a UC campus and usually more than associates–that is, tenured but not full professors. Good waiters make more than adjuncts and community college folks, who amount to intellectual slave laborers.

Just this week, the Atlantic ran one of the most depressing stories I’ve read in years about poverty among university professors, some 75% of whom are adjuncts with no reasonable hope of securing a tenure track positions. Don’t get me started on the rising salaries of administrators, who seem to be proliferating like cancer cells. 

But without going back to Austen or Eliot or the concept of dowries, Americans once understood the value of an education for a woman who would eventually become a homemaker. Schools in Manhattan like Miss Porter’s and, to a lesser extent, Chapin, are monuments to this understanding.

Girls of a certain class went to “finishing” or “charm” school and learned useful things about being a hostess to a successful man. Of course, Chapin families today like to think the school is as rigorous as Brearly (or Nightingale Bamford), but that’s hogwash.

 My classmate from K to 6, Gwyneth Paltrow, attended Spence when the family moved to the city. I thought she’d spent a year or two at Nightingale but I think I’m wrong. In the recent New York Post piece about the now 37-year-old Spence girl who made 300/hour as a dominatrix (not an escort), the woman said she recalls kindergarten girls kissing the schoolmistress at the end of each school day. I’m not sure if curtseys were involved, but they may very well have been.

Even circa 1969 on the “left coast” in the heart of Hollywood at my alma mater, Westlake School for Girls (though really, who knows about those Los Angeles weirdos?), they offered “deportment” classes. Ha. Deportment! A friend of mine in the class of 1973 tells me that the tide was changing during her years. The Women’s Movement influenced even privileged girls in West LA attending a school in Bel Air (Holmby Hills) on 700 North Faring Road.

My boyfriend’s mom’s parents sacrificed to send her to Barnard. She was middle class, not a typical Barnard girl born in 1943. She became a prominent allergist (though she initially certified as a pediatric orthopedist), attending SUNY Med after Barnard and marrying her fellow med student, Jarrett’s father, shortly after graduation.

She tells me that her mother was apoplectic when a wealthy Jewish boy asked for her hand in marriage at age 19. Her mother was a first-generation Jewish immigrant in Brooklyn who worked while the grandmother took care of her and her little sister. She spoke Yiddish to the girls until her father put his foot down, fearing she would not properly assimilate and become a real “American.” This was not an uncommon story.

 My de facto mother-in-law’s mother was downright horrified that she wouldn’t marry a man she didn’t love. She liked him as a friend, but didn’t want to spend the rest of her life with this man who was not merely well-off but truly wealthy.

My point is not that she should have married this wealthy man. It is rather that you don’t have to go back even a century (much less two) to a time when marrying for security was commonplace. Growing up in West Los Angeles private schools, it was unusual to find a mother circa 1985 who wanted her daughter to marry a doctor or affluent professional. But as recently as 1960s Brooklyn, there were mothers who thought along these lines.

At my boyfriend’s mother’s Barnard freshman address (happily, the term “freshperson” had not yet been inflicted upon us), the president, a heroine to her, said to the 200 girls that they were there because they were smart and talented. But she also knew that many at Barnard not primarily to cultivate their minds but to find a husband at Columbia (or one if its professional schools).

Her message, in considerably more ladylike language, was, “Screw that. You’re at Barnard for you. Don’t foreclose options and waste this rare opportunity to do something extraordinary with your lives.” (As it happened, the president had four kids in her 40s, in a rare of example of “having it all” or “leaning in,” to take a word currently in vogue.

Susan Patton, that obnoxious Princeton graduate and mother of Princeton girl, ignited a shitstorm that went fairly viral because she said that if Princeton girls wanted families, they might keep their eyes open during college for a suitable husband and father. Since the article, she’s published a book about which one witty writer had this to say: “The problem isn’t that Patton is a lousy feminist; it’s that she’s a lousy elitist.” 

Family was never my plan: my thought was husband and tenure. But there’s no room in today’s feminism for commonsense. Patton gave sensible advice in her letter to the Princetonian: not every Princeton girl wants an MD, PhD, MBA or JD and those who don’t might look around for a life partner while they’re still surrounded by what David Halberstam termed “the best and the brightest.”

Patton’s tone was insufferable, but her basic point was not wrong. As a Yale graduate and Ph.D. Candidate who will never be a professor, I can attest that out of Manhattan and some West LA circles, it’s not easy to find men who can keep up with me both intellectually and verbally.

This, incidentally, is why I love Facebook. I have amazing interlocutors, often male, in their 50s, 60s and even 70s, who are both accomplished and cultured and understand what I’m talking about.

In Santa Barbara, men like that tend to be over 55 (and often grandpas), which is why I hang out so much at the Wine Bistro of Montecito–that and the large numbers of ex-New Yorkers whose stories about New York before my college years fascinate me. Wine Bistro may be geriatric, but I have the most stimulating conversations with the most interesting men. And the wine is only 6/glass from 3PM to 6PM for all Pierre LaFond varietals, which I can’t resist.  

Women who don’t want to pursue professional degrees will likely work at some less than thrilling job for several years while they look—as educated women—for a man who wants kids and is equipped both emotionally and financially to support them. In other words, they’re looking for a ring. And there’s nothing wrong with that. 

Too, not every woman wants to marry an intellectual or cultural peer. Many successful, smart and bookish women prefer a solid, strong, kind man of integrity, even if he couldn’t place Chaucer in a century, name a single David Mamet play, recite the plot of Pippin in two sentences, or tell you who Dawn Steel or when the English defeated the Spanish Armada. 

There are competent, smart, logical and hardworking men who work in fields which do not require a liberal arts education. A friend of mine knows a Princeton PhD married to a blue collar guy and they’re happy. But if you do want a mental sparring partner who knows the same cultural references, what better place to look for that than at an Ivy League school? 

Men are more likely to stray when their wives are boring bimbos. Sex is essential. But being the best lay in America won’t keep most brainy professionals satisfied. A moderately attractive woman who can keep a man intellectually stimulated is more appealing to a successful and decent man than a hot crazy woman who has nothing very much to say.

To get and keep a great guy, you have to be kind, great in bed, not a nut (this is key), and fun to talk to about a range of subjects. If, that is, monogamy matters to you. If, on the other hand, you’re content for your husband and the father of your children who provides a stable, comfortable home to have a discreet extracurricular life, that’s cool too.

But most women are jealous and possessive and aren’t content to screw the pool boy or tennis pro at the club in Greenwich or Westchester, while her doctor or lawyer hubby bangs residents or associates.

The disaster of marriage as recounted to me at bars both in LA and Manhattan is a dearth of honesty.

You can’t get what you want in life unless you know what you want. Better to make rational, informed choices about your life path than end up 30 years later posting platitudinous and redundant positive thinking memes on FB year after year with no apparent change in your level of comfort and peace.

 

 

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Quick Eve of Surgery Blog Before Century City Drinks with Westlake Girl ’89: Berlin Currywurst and Hollywood Patch Review of Zack Parker’s Proxy

Finishing Proxy review at Tre Lune with a glass of Syrah.

Finishing Proxy review at Tre Lune with a glass of Syrah.

Since I will be loopy on Vicodin for at least two days, I wanted to post my Friday blog today. Tomorrow I become officially infertile (woohoo!). Dr. Maureen Echt, the beautiful blonde gynecologist raised and trained in Louisiana is cauterizing, rather than tying, my fallopian tubes because some research indicates that it decreases the risk of ovarian cancer later in life. It’s no more money, just another insurance code, and my insurance picked up 90%, so my co-pay is only 650 bucks for a top surgeon.

They blow up your tummy with gas, which creates neck and shoulder pain.  Everyone I’ve talked to, including Dr. Echt and J’s brainiac doctor parents, confirm that I will not be feeling too hot for a couple of days. I’m planning finally to see The Good Wife. If I can’t stream or buy that on an instant service, I’ll try Parenthood. And if that’s not available, I will either do a Sports Night two-season blitz or go back to Rescue Me. 

I’m going to hit Vons for some frozen meals and stock up on fresh pressed juice from the Montecito juicer. J will get me wine and I’ll have a big old “infertility party” in bed with Ollie purring next to me. Yeah, yeah, I know you’re not supposed to drink on Vicodin but a glass or two never hurt me before. And if the pain turns out to be less bad than everyone says but still bad enough to render me useless, it will be a fun TV and wine party with Ollie keeping me company. The kitty always knows if I’m under the weather and wanders into the bedroom to comfort me. He’s the best kitty ever. This is an objective fact, not personal bias. Ollie just is the best. Period.

10003871_477194419049404_113999611_oI spent two full days writing my Hollywood Patch review (posted also to Park Slope, Studio City, and Pacific Palisades):“Highbrow Horror: Genres Blue in Zack Parker’s Proxy”. I’ll link to my Yelp review of Berlin Currywurst later. And I never restored the 1300 words on last week’s blog, which mysteriously disappeared. Actually, it’s not so mysterious. J is always nagging me to close windows and this is why: I spotted a typo and went to an old tab to fix before clicking “update.” So a draft half again as long replaced the blog initially posted.

Our YouTube video, “Why Do You Need a Flipper Anyway?: Female vs Male Knife Flipping”, seems to have amused viewers of J’s channel, JGTELLSU. In the last month, J has posted a number of informational videos about guns, knives and computers. I wouldn’t have noticed the problem had I not seen the hyperlink gone.

I should swim since I’ll be in bed a few days but I’m not feeling motivated, so I will just hit Nordstrom on the way for the taupe version of my first retail top in years. I adore this snuggly sweater/jacket for $90 sold in the lingerie department. It’s a perfect top for flying, a sort of sexy snuggie. I hope they still have it because it was a month ago and they understandably flew off the shelves.

For those of you who missed the Noel Coward review on the Malibu Patch, here it is: “Noel Coward’s “The Vortex”: A Modernized But No Less Vertiginous Tale of Vanity, Manners and Family.

I’m quite proud of these last two reviews and gotten wonderful feedback from writer-friends. The admin’s response on Proxy‘s Facebook page particularly moved me: “This is overwhelmingly incredible, Victoria. I greatly appreciate all the thought that went into this review. That’s really the ultimate compliment for a storyteller.”

Sure, it would be nice to get paid (though nicer just to be writing for the New York Times or Wall Street Journal regardless of pay). But I don’t really care about the money. Even if you get $1000 or $1500 for a piece–my take for the Weekly Standard pieces on John Lithgow and Edith Wharton, it’s not even enough to pay a month of rent.

The review is just 1524 words but I spent longer writing it than even the TWS pieces (unless you count the time it took to read the books). I met some Ph.D. students who didn’t consider criticism an art, but from the moment I got lost in journals at the UCLA ERR (English Reading Room) in 12th grade, I fell in love with literary criticism.  I took English at UCLA senior year and felt my heart beat differently–and faster–while reading Congreve criticism for my Way of the World paper.

I don’t regret not having become a professor. The academy sucks today and I’d be miserable at all but a dozen universities in America, at none of which I would likely have been tenured even if I secured a position as junior faculty. But from the beginning, my teachers noted a passion and voice unusual even among my cohort (this was true at Yale as well as UCSB).

The passion a writer or director feels for storytelling, I feel for literary–and more generally, textual–criticism. Stephen Fraade, a Judaic studies professor at Yale, tried to steal me to his department from English after a close reading of a passage from The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan about sin, fear, death and wisdom. Sadly, that was a casualty of the lost Compaq Contura 386 in a local Santa Barbara move nearly ten years ago. But this is what I was born to do.

I could have been a lawyer–and likely would have gotten into Yale Law. Not even then-Yale Dean Richard Brodhead’s effusive recommendation (along with Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude, and distinction in the major) could get me into the graduate English program. And frankly, being the daughter of high-profile, deeply respected legal figures in LA and California more generally, I would have had connections both in New York and in LA post-law school graduation. But I never even thought of applying to law school. For one thing, when you’re the daughter of Robert and Andrea Ordin, there’s only one place to go: down.

I also could have been a good therapist–the kind with a Ph.D. and certificate in analysis,  not an MFCC or LSW. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, psychoanalytic institutes finally broke down and let in Ph.D.s, much to the horror of M.D.s who took a “Fuck you, I didn’t want to go to medical school either, but I did and so should you” approach.

Graduate work in psychology didn’t occur to me any more than law school because I considered psychologists professionals.  I wanted to be a scholar, someone thinking meaningful thoughts and writing significant books, not someone practical working in the real world. Helping someone deal with a fucked up family seemed like an okay way to spend your life, but certainly not on an intellectual par with writing about Kant or Wordsworth (unless you published theory in analytic journals). The real world seemed banal by comparison to the life of the mind (and not a pathological mind attached to a non-functional human being); that’s where I wanted to dwell. Too, the real world aspect of teaching appealed to me. I love lecturing and helping students with writing.

Had I to do it over, I might have gone to psych grad school, but probably not. I knew I wasn’t having kids and therefore didn’t need to make a lot of money. I also knew I was content to live in under 1000 feet for much of my life and forego big houses or luxury cards. I wanted dwell in beauty–both literary and philosophical. A Romantic (big R) even as a teen. If I’d had to support myself, I probably would have gone to psych grad school rather than law school, but who knows.

I’m just grateful for the years of elite training I received at three schools–UCLA, Yale, UCSB–and the opportunity to write whatever I want without worrying about financial renumeration. That’s why I’m going into real estate as a bicoastal relocation consultant (“referral agent”). You don’t become a writer to make money. If you make money as a writer, odds are you’ve sold out and pandered to the masses (Danielle Steel, E.L James (50 Shades of Grey lady), Jackie Collins etc).

The best writers outside Hollywood may support themselves at a modest level, but few great thinkers and writers earn a lot. A Yale English classmate of mine is now editor of Paris Review. He went to Sidwell Friends in DC before Yale and then to Hopkins with our fellow Yale English friend and now successful poet, Lisa Lubasch. I’m sure he does fine, but I’m also sure his family is there to help if he needs it. Even during my college years, English majors tended to come from more affluent families because we knew no matter what, we would be able to pay our rent, even if just on a modest one-bedroom.

I’m content to entertain and occasionally enlighten those who read and follow me. When I can plug a writer, director or actor who isn’t yet well-known (or even solvent), I’m happy to help in whatever small way I can. The e-cigarette writing I’ve done is a rare entree into politics, but that’s an issue near to my heart.

With that, I’m off. Bringing Dad pecan pie from Max’s, which he calls the best he’s ever eaten.

Happy Thursday!

P.S. Ollie had a yucky day yesterday. He doesn’t like Acepromazine, aka kitty Valium, but he likes driving sans sedation even less. Here is the sad, stoned picture.

Ollie stoned and not purring.

Ollie stoned and not purring.

Here he is today, back to his old bossy, purring, snuggling self.

"Don't even think of moving me or putting the computer on the ottoman."

“Don’t even think of moving me or putting the computer on the ottoman.”

 

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Simple Pleasures: A Perfect Cheeseburger, A Grapefruit Mimosa, A Fun Manicure/Pedicure and a Funny YouTube Video (My First on Boyfriend’s Channel about Gun Maintenance, Collectible Knives and More)

I love my EVOD! Virgin Vapor. Plum Crazy.

I love my EVOD! Virgin Vapor. Plum Crazy.

Thanks to all my readers for the wonderful feedback on the 3rd anniversary blog! I included links to a range of pieces on Huffington Post, Weekly Standard, Patch, and Victorian Chick, hoping to provide a representative sample of the many topics I cover. Except for a few paragraphs here or there about reproductive freedom, or the long rant about Rick Caruso’s diabolical plans for Pacific Palisades, I stay off politics.

It’s cloudy in SB, my favorite swimming weather but not feeling too motivated, so thought I would pass along one of my two favorite burger joints in SB, American Ale. We love Eureka! Burger, but the two places are quite different. Eureka has a range of excellent appetizers and salads plus a decent wine list. If you’re dining with a wine drinker or vegetarian (I guess we all have such skeletons in our closets, but I have fewer than most for a WLA and Santa Barbara girl), Eureka! is a better choice. It’s also bigger and glitzier than America Ale, which is grittier and features an excellent selection of beer and whiskey, plus specialty cocktails.

In other words, you don’t go to America Ale if you’re a prissy wine drinker who subsists on rabbit food. You go for a burger and if you’re being virtuous, you pass on the great fries and go with the salad. The jalapeño vinaigrette is fantastic, so last night J got the American burger (two patties) half-price with an ongoing Yelp check-in deal. Two patties are too much for me and I’m attached to the “horseradish blue” burger anyway.

American burger. Two patties.

American burger. Two patties. (That’s the regular ranch. They had to bring vinaigrette later)

Horseradish blue. Regular fries. Hot, hot, hot when they come out!

Horseradish blue. Regular fries. Hot, hot, hot when they come out!

I’m not into beer, at least not conventional beer. It’s a pointless alcohol which makes you fat but not buzzed. And it makes you pee like a diabetic. (My friend in 5th grade learned she had diabetes after our teacher called her parents and said she had to pee with astonishing frequency, so when I think excessive peeing, I think diabetes.)  I like craft beer, which has a higher alcohol content and tastes completely different from your average bottle (or God forbid, canned beer). Shock Top, which my beer aficionados on Facebook often call a “gateway” beer (between traditional and craft), is nice. A Kirin is good with sushi and occasionally I’m in the the mood for a Negro Modelo. But mostly I think beer is a fattening waste of time.

Still, the IPA was perfect with the meal. At “social hour” (their name for happy hour), 32 ounces is just $9 dollars. I was early and tried one of the specialty cocktails, the Rye Grain ($12), with branca, honey lemon, and mint. It tasted good, but a small portion for the money I would rather spend on a straight serving or two of whiskey neat. But the ramekin with a single large ice cube is cute and I’m not sorry I tried it.

The "Rye Grain"

The “Rye Grain”

I like the interior and now that it’s Daylight Savings Time, you can actually see the pretty wood. We’ve never seen it so deserted but were told that after the time changes, people don’t really flood in until after dark. We’ve never gotten a table at the window and were one of 15 people in the entire restaurant eating.1017004_611417965616861_4528038095330654213_n

I had planned to introduce J, who seems not to have seen any movies during his ten years in Houston from 4th grade to college, has never seen About Last Night. Sacrilege. An unusually grammatical commenter on YouTube gushed, saying the movie explains why some are so nostalgic for the 1980s. Indeed. I bought the soundtrack (though I probably bought as many soundtracks on cassette and then CD as regular albums during my teens and 20s), which I played incessantly.

But we decided to do a YouTube video for his new channel. I didn’t realize it takes him over an hour to upload, edit, tag and determine thumbnails, so by the time he was finished tinkering with the video, it was too late for the movie.

Growing up around the entertainment industry, I saw a lot of movies, though more St. Augustine parents were TV people. And even those I didn’t see in the theater, I eventually saw on cable or video. Barring that, I knew the casts and basic premise of most movies from the Calendar section, where I read reviews and interviews. I recall parents of friends eagerly awaiting the Nielsen ratings, whichI think ran in Tuesday’s Los Angeles Times.

Until college, I didn’t know that were people in America who didn’t know–or care–what Nielsen ratings were. I mean, I suppose I knew there were farmers or cowboys to whom this data was irrelevant. But I didn’t spend a lot of time on farms (like none), so the reading habits of farmers wasn’t exactly uppermost in my consciousness.

If you grew up around TV people, Nielsen ratings mattered. It was the difference between your friend’s mom’s or dad’s show getting picked up or getting canceled, and therefore the termination of employment. On the upside, it freed up your Friday nights (when sitcoms are taped). Ratings aren’t like a thumbs up on your gown or tux for the Emmys in some silly entertainment rag’s list of best and worst dressed. It was the difference between working and not working. At Yale, I met people who knew no one who worked in Hollywood (or Broadway): not a writer, producer, agent, director, musical director, costume designer, entertainment lawyer, choreographer, gaffer, grip or even chauffeur to such people.

That was 25 years ago of course, but it never ceases to amaze me how many movies I consider just basic cultural staples of our shared generation escaped J’s notice. Houston has repellent summers, so I’d think they’d all be at the movies for the a/c if nothing else. I understand most people have a/c in Houston, but you’d think sometimes you’d want to get out of the house you’re under the equivalent of house arrest several months a year.

But J spent all his time playing guitar. His parents, born, raised and educated in Brooklyn and Queens (though his mother went to Barnard in the Erica Jong, Twyla Tharp years) are lifelong film buffs. They recently bought the platinum pass for the SBIFF (the Santa Barbara International Film Festival), a dream they had as broke medical students, and attended four or five movies a day for ten days. His parents didn’t dream specifically of SBIFF, of course, but they wanted someday to attend a major film festival.

Though J loves some movies, J seems not to have inherited any significant interest in film; he has no inclination to keep up with new films, either in the theater or on Netflix. I blame this in part on our pathetic excuse for a newspaper in Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara News Press. And the fact that SB sucks beyond all conception as a movie town. We have one, count ‘em, one, movie chain. I was dumbfounded upon arriving in 1996 that the movie listings occupied one-eighth of a newspaper page. We now have fancy theaters out in the sticks of Goleta in the Camino Real Marketplace. That’s hardcore suburbia. And Paseo Nuevo is still quite nice.

But movies come and go in a couple weeks unless they’re blockbusters or odd indie hits (that overrated Oscar-winning  Slumdog Millionaire stuck around for months: I enjoyed it but would never see it a second time and didn’t understand the fuss at all). Too, plenty of interesting independent films you see in LA at the Laemmle, Arclight or Landmark never even make it up here. Two hours from LA and you might as well be in [pick whatever Middle American small city has a moribund movie scene].

In the Internet age (with IMDB and the WSJ, NYT and LAT readily accessible online), it’s easy to read intelligent writing about film, theater, music and art. But I attribute J’s lack of interest both to that piece of shit paper we have here and the Metropolitan Theater monopoly. Film just hasn’t been part of J’s life, either in Texas or Santa Barbara.

I  myself rarely go to movies because I see so much theater and cabaret, both in LA and NYC. I occasionally go to the symphony or ballet and I attend the lectures at UCSB, so for three or so years, the bulk of my entertainment is live. Occasionally, I like to see a movie in New York when I’m tired and don’t want a big night out. The Cinema 1, 2, 3 is a few minutes from the apartment and the F train to Sunshine Cinema on the Lower East Side involves almost no walking.

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Thoughts on Victorian Chick’s 3rd Anniversary: Writing for Love and Identity, Dealing with Haters, and Getting a Real Estate License to Work as Relocation Consultant

With Doobie, J's parents French Briard I love as much as our lab, Emma. Here in SB for Passover

With Doobie, J’s parents French Briard I love as much as our lab, Emma. Here in SB for Passover

Last week marked three years of Victorian Chick. I’ve been too busy to think of an anniversary blog which does justice to the role it plays not just in my everyday or social life, but the way in which it consolidated my personal identity in ways nothing else in my life has.

Of course, teaching English in a New England or Mid-Atlantic liberal arts or research university was supposed to give my life intellectual and professional meaning. That didn’t happen and there is nothing else by way of career to which I truly am suited except writing.

I. Victorian Chick Ventures into Real Estate: Bicoastal Relocation Counsultant-To-Be.

I’m getting a real estate license to work as a concierge/boutique bicoastal real estate consultant and actually quite excited about it. It’s a niche market–Manhattanites finally bailing on the city–which I’m well-positioned to tap because I live on the Upper East Side three months a year and hear yearnings for good weather and lower mortgages almost nightly at bars.

Even the most beautiful properties (apartments as well as single family homes) in the better parts of LA are generally less than comparable places in the priciest parts of Manhattan, where the “maintenance fees” (their version of HOA dues) are simply outrageous. I met a couple at Fishtail with a co-op on exclusive Sutton Place. Their maintenance fee is $3800! That’s a mortgage on a quite nice house on the coasts and a veritable mansion in many Middle American cities. I’m also a Pacific Palisades native and the daughter of native Angelenos who lived mostly East of La Cienega until married with children, so I know LA well.

As I blogged in February from the city, New Yorkers are mad for Santa Barbara, where I’ve lived since 1996 (until 2010 full-time).  I’ve had several illuminating meetings with realtors both in the city and in LA/SB and spoken at length with a Wisconsin friend and realtor formerly in Santa Barbara. I’m grateful for all the support and encouragement I’ve received in so short a time, and directly or indirectly, all came to me through Facebook.

The real estate adventure will broaden and complement my bicoastal identity and lifestyle focus. This week I hit 400 reviews on Yelp, the majority of which cover Manhattan, West LA and Santa Barbara. Roughly two-thirds of my Yelp reviews, most of which are mini-blogs heavy on social commentary, deal with food, a core part of life everywhere I live. I also have lists about Chicago, Grand Rapids and Scottsdale, as well as a list about my favorite secondhand or resale boutiques in NJ, CA, and AZ. (I haven’t done the thrift stores in NYC, but the designer resale is still out of my price range.)

But relocating to a foreign land–and LA might as well be another country for a lifelong New Yorker, or even East Coaster–is not about just finding a place to live. It’s about making a life. For parents, it’s also about schools, in this crowd mostly private, but public as well in the areas with higher property taxes and better schools.

Beverly Hills High was the crown gem of the LA schools long before (the first) 90210. In the 1980s, it was still a fine school and then it slipped before partly recovering. Palisades Charter High School (Pali High) has ranged from outstanding to decent over the decades (busing, well-intentioned as it was, did not have a felicitous effect on the school’s quality). Currently, Santa Monica High or Samo, where Charlie Sheen, Rob Lowe and Emilio Estevez went, is the probably the best public high school in WLA, sending kids to top UCs as well as Hopkins, Oberlin and other strong East Coast schools.

Property taxes are a factor in school quality, but the correlation is not one-to-one. For instance, Moorpark is a relatively affordable community in the northernmost tip of Los Angeles County and home to one of the finest public high schools in the state. Thousand Oaks, a far more expensive area, has a subpar public high school.

It may have gotten slightly better, but I knew a kid at Yale from TO who went to boarding school because there just wasn’t a great secular private option, and those I’ve known to graduate from TO High are in no sense bookish or accomplished. I know a successful photographer in Thousand Oaks who told me several years ago that it still kinda sucked. Many basically secular, wealthy families (including secular Jews) send their kids to Oaks Christian. It’s not all that religious in spite of a cross which rivals the one at Pepperdine.

Santa Barbara, where the average house is about 925K, also has a subpar public high school. The best public high school in greater Santa Barbara is in the incorporated city of Goleta, where houses cost far less than in SB.  The reason? At SB High, you have upper middle class to wealthy children of professional parents going to school with children of immigrants who may or may not speak English, and who live in poverty or close to it. It’s impossible to appeal to both demographics (particularly with its high class size and notoriously unhappy teachers). In trying to meet the needs of this diverse student body, the school fails both.

On the other hand, SB has many excellent public elementary schools with small class sizes. Peabody Charter, which my boyfriend’s 4th grader attends, has 22 or 23 kids in a class with a great teacher and teacher’s aide. My elite industry school in Santa Monica, formerly St. Augustine and now Crossroads Elementary, had 25 kids with the same set-up. In short, raising a family in SB is terrific if you can hack your mortgage payment (and outrageous dry cleaning bills) until your kids hit junior high. Then it’s not so hot from an education standpoint.

Peabody even has an exceptional drama teacher, Emma Jane, who produced an impressive, ambitious school play last month: a modernization of Oliver Twist with a running time just under three hours. I’m astonished both at the grounds and the education, though it seems to me they’re frightfully behind where we were in math by 4th grade. Even the slowest kids at St. Augustine were beyond my boyfriend’s precocious, articulate, creative son in math.

Otherwise, I think it’s a strong school, though I could do with less green nonsense. I had to restrain my urge to moan when the former assistant principal, who spoke inarticulately about everything including recycling and composting, encouraged parents to walk their kids .5 mile to school, presumably to reduce the carbon footprint. Even if you believe in climate change, walking your kid to school a mile or less will do nothing to forestall it.

My rebellious nature made me want to rent an Escalade (not the hybrid one) and puff on an American Spirit just outside the school’s perimeter next to my rented gas guzzler illegally parked in the bus loading zone. (Yes, I’m a terrible person and I have no plans or desires to become a better one.) I also know a 5th grade teacher at Roosevelt Elementary in the GATE program. He’s not only impressive but passionate and dedicated to the cultivation of those exceptional young minds.

In three years, I’ve yet to meet a single mediocre teacher at Peabody. I was particularly fond of T’s second grade teacher, formerly a high school science teacher in Queens with a Masters degree. Because it’s a public school, they’re perpetually holding fund raisers (bake sales, jog-a-thons etc.) and require parents to volunteer in the classroom. This too offends me, but apparently you can write a get-out-of-class check and avoid dealing with 22 little monsters four hours a week.

It’s one thing to deal with your own child’s moods; it’s quite another to deal with other people’s barbarians whose spirits haven’t been broken. That’s from About Last Night on the even of Elizabeth Perkins’ first day teaching kindergarten: “My job is to break their spirits. That’s what kindergarten is all about! The Germans invented it, Deb. Think about it!” Of course Miss Gunther (Perkins) is quite wonderful with the little blonde girl who wets her pants, so it’s all talk. And actually, I’d rather volunteer with kindergarteners than 3rd, 4th, or 5th graders. Children may be our future, but I’m all for outsourcing them.

Happily, there’s some hope for SB High now under the leadership of the principal who whipped SB Junior High into relatively good shape.  As it stands, families with money have few options (unless they’re Catholic): 1) move to LA for the high school years, 2) move to Goleta for four years (which is not as bad as it sounds to a SB resident with the Bacara’s spa and club membership for locals, or 3) send kids to boarding school (which costs as much as private college and therefore an option only for the 1%).

Santa Barbara has only one great secular private (non-boarding) high school: Laguna Blanca.  It’s strong academically, but tiny and cliquey, so even parents who can afford the 30K or so tuition often don’t find it a good fit for their kids. I’ve heard of girls coming home sobbing because of the machinations of mean junior high girls.

Santa Barbara lacks social (or racial) diversity, so wherever you buy a beautiful home will not be significantly different socially. That’s not the case in Los Angeles. There are many parts of the city with desirable homes between $1.5-$2.5 million dollars, which beyond housing prices, have nothing whatever in common. Real New Yorkers tend not to know LA very well. They still rely on Woody Allen’s Annie Hall and more recently, Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said, which cast my hometown in a very negative light). Others think it’s all Beverly Hills, Malibu or Compton, as a recent amusing Buzzfeed list noted.

Like Manhattan, LA has much diversity in terms of outlook, even in the top tax brackets, but the diversity here is more spread out than in the city, where 10-15 blocks makes all the difference. Mount Sinai and Lenox Hill, both on the Upper East Side, are among the best hospitals in the city (and nation), but they’re just 10 or 20 blocks, respectively, from East Harlem, one of the roughest areas in the city. East Harlem has nothing in common with its West Side namesake, the gentrified area home of Columbia University as I learned a few months ago when the Queensboro was down for the morning and my cabbie took me through East Harlem. Scary. And deeply sad.

The (San Fernando) Valley is an option: Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Encino, or Toluca Lake in the East Valley, or Agoura, Calabasas, Hidden Hills and possibly Westlake in the West Valley, though frankly I’ve rarely met a New Yorker in the city who could live happily in the Valley after being in SoHo, the UES, the Upper Westside or Midtown East.

But the reputation of the Valley in New York, to the extent the region even registers, is worse than LA proper, in no small part due to the Kardashians, from whom I think the city of Calabasas should seek reparations. Billionaire developer Rick Caruso who plans to destroy my hometown, Pacific Palisades, should kick in some cash too, because when affluent New Yorkers get one look at that monstrous baby Vegas he built, the Commons, they’ll  high-tail it out of an area they’ll already consider the boonies, far out as it is in typical 101 traffic.

I love meeting and talking new people, whether on the subway or at happy hour.  And I’ve  done more volunteer work over a lifetime than paid work (Meals on Wheels, the Wellness Community (cancer), LA Shanti (AIDS), Pacific Pride Foundation (AIDS food pantry), TIES (short-term elementary tutoring in the inner city)). I like helping people improve their lives, or at least ease the pain, and this form of real estate consulting allows me to do what I already do for free for friends in or from the New York metro area. It’s like lifestyle therapy, not just for middle-aged married couples but divorcees with grown kids, which describes most of my friends and readers.

II.  “Victorian Chick on the Patch”: Honing Craft, Expanding Reach and Reveling in Writerly Freedom.

As excited as I am about the real estate adventure, writing was my calling and Victorian Chick satisfies this. I can’t imagine my life without the blog (or the blogs I write under the name Victorian Chick on the Patch). My boyfriend of nearly four years suggested that I start a blog after accumulating some 350 Facebook “notes,” none of which I’ve looked at for over three years.

Dark picture from last weekend at my sister's 60th. But I love this picture

Dark picture from last weekend at my sister’s 60th. But I love this picture

In February, 2011, I started The Random Review on Blogger, for which I’d written just ten or eleven pieces by the time I passed a closed women’s boutique on Lex between 57th and 58th called Victorian Chick. I posted the picture on Facebook and nearly all agreed that Victorian Chick was catchier than The Random Review.

Someone I met recently in the city likes my blog but dislikes the name. He’s in the IT and social media businesses, so his view that the blog is misnamed (because Victorian Chick has little to do with Victorian culture) counts more than someone not in his line of work. For a number of reasons, I thought, and still think, Victorian Chick is a cute, apt name apart from being catchy.

1) My name is Victoria, at least since age 24 when I took my middle name and ditched my first name, Maria. Only my driver’s license and passport read Maria Victoria Ordin.

2) My dissertation was about George Eliot and both my Masters and Orals fields covered Victorian literature.

3) Victorian Chick was a women’s clothing boutique in Manhattan, just five or so blocks from the Upper East Side walkup of 450 feet feet which changed my life and without which my bicoastal identity and lifestyle would not be possible. Nor would my relation, as spectator, to the world of cabaret, or as participant, in the world of Luigi jazz dance. My soul is in New York, but my heart–family, boyfriend, and pets–is in Southern California, so I will live a geographically schizophrenic existence indefinitely. And obviously,   fashion–designer resale mostly–is a core part of my life as well as blogging, so naming the blog after a boutique on 57th and Lex makes sense.

4) “Chick” provides a clue to my unorthodox views about feminism. I’ve written more on this lately, first after that October brouhaha in Visalia with the cloying, lightweight feminist blogger in Oregon, and again after the February 13th Gloria Steinem lecture in Santa Barbara. I greatly admire Heather MacDonald’s work on academia for City Journal, and since she’s a fellow at the Manhattan Institute (whose recent study about the 1% was at the heart of James Pearrson’s excellent piece in the Wall Street Journal), my conservative friends hold out hope for a conversion. It ain’t gonna happen as long as the religious right exists in America, but I’m certainly not a De Blasio progressive or OWS supporter (finance reform needs to happen but OWS isn’t going to stimulate it).

I am fine with being called “a girl” or “a chick.” I don’t insist upon woman and I prefer Miss to Ms. I care about looks and I love beautiful things (sparkly things most of all). I make no apologies about deriving pleasure from my appearance and the pleasure others take therein. In recent blogs, I’ve twice I’ve quoted Annette Bening’s line from Bugsy–”Looks matter if it matters how you look”–and have minimal tolerance for feminists hostile to the pleasure we girly girls take in clothes, jewelry, hair, nails, makeup (not to mention the gratitude we feel for dermal fillers).

It’s fine to be oblivious to your appearance, refusing to color your grays, wear makeup, get manicures, work out, or do fillers. But to attack women who spend considerable time, money and energy looking their best is not fine. Feminism was supported to be about choice: if you choose to spend no money or time on how you look because you think the only thing that matters in life is your brain and heart, great. More money to spend on food, wine and spirits as far as I’m concerned.

I don’t look down on people who don’t care about food or wine, but I do think they’re  peculiar to deny themselves some of life’s greatest pleasures. I also think those who climb Mount Everest are out of their minds, but it doesn’t mean I dislike or wish hypothermia on them. And this really gets to the heart of something which has become increasingly apparent to me over the past three years of blogging and active Facebook use.

I have–and express–extremely strong opinions. I’m secular; Eastern thought appeals to me no more than Christianity. Judaism is compelling on multiple levels, but the supernatural machinery of the Hebrew Scriptures resonates with me no more than its counterpart in the New Testament. As for draining the mind, refraining from judgment, and relinquishing attachments? No thank you. My Baltimore FB friend and I have a running gag about the many FB pages devoted to minimalism. We think they should just call it “Surviving Downsizing (and Getting Rid of Your Shit)” and be done with it.

As for attachments, anyone with half a brain or a few years of decent therapy knows that attaching too strongly to outcomes is a recipe for perpetual discontent. I don’t need a spiritual practice to tell me that while it’s fine to prefer a particular outcome, one has to find a way to live comfortably and peacefully when things don’t go your way. As Dr. Denis Leary said in The Ref, “Welcome to the real world, kid, where most of the time, things don’t go, your fucking way.”

Gus’ speech in my favorite comedy of the 1990s (and absolutely favorite modern Christmas movie) is a version of his great bit in No Cure for Cancer about life not turning out as you thought it would: “Hey, I thought I was gonna be starting center fielder for the Boston Red Sox. Life sucks, get a fuckin’ helmet” (a clue to the context of his comedy and art in general: Irish working class folks who often become firefighters as well as cops).

If you’re going to move about the world without making judgments, you might as well get a lobotomy. What you do with distinctions and assessments is a separate issue. But constantly forming and revising judgments on an array of subjects is what thinking people do. People on Thorazine, or the cheap, readily accessible equivalent–Valium and vodka–don’t think much of anything. My preferences are mostly predictable and I make no apologies for them. This doesn’t mean I impute a lower moral value to those I think have unaccountable, or simply bad, taste in just about everything. I don’t think people with poor or unrefined taste are morally bad: they just have shitty taste.

Too, I have quite stringent standards for myself in the area of appearance and weight. I don’t insist that others adopt my standards, though if you’re a celebrity and show up in a ghastly $5000 dollar dress or get a hideous dye job (calling the lovely, talented Julia Roberts), you’re fair game. Those who live in the public sphere and have net worths in the tens if not hundreds of millions forsake the courtesy to which a Target or Home Depot shopper is entitled. If you make a living in part or in full off your looks, you have forfeited the rights enjoyed by those who can’t and don’t.

Along the same lines, it’s fine to eschew family for career but wrong to bash stay-at-home moms whose only career or work is the raising of children. I saw an obnoxious piece, Gwyneth-like in its insensitivity, about privilege and careers. The woman in her late 20s was oblivious to the trials of stay-at-home-moms (who seem to have gotten themselves an acronym of late, SAHM). Lots of women wish they could stay home, but in today’s economy particularly in coastal cities, it’s increasingly rare to be able to live decently on a single salary.

On the other hand, while it’s fair to say that raising kids and staying at home all day is excruciatingly difficult and in that sense “the hardest job in the world,” it’s clearly false to say that every full-time mom could go to a top medical or law school and then get hired at an elite teaching hospital or Biglaw firm.

I agree it’s easier for a woman who has the brains and talent to graduate from a top professional school to be a great lawyer or doctor than it is to raise healthy, happy and well-adjusted children. Plenty of superstars at work have troubled children. But it’s obviously wrong to claim that all or even most women who stay at home to raise kids could be star physicians, prosecutors, bankers, or professors “if they chose to.”

I sometimes hear women in print or in social media claim they chose family over career, women who had no career or particular training, even if they had potential, to speak of. (Some might have been excelling at work and by stepping out of the workplace, rendered themselves professionally useless, but many just had jobs, not careers.) What they’re really saying is that they chose the mommy track before they’d gotten very far up the educational or professional ladder.  So it’s really more of a hypothetical: “I’m smart, capable and disciplined, and if I’d chosen to cultivate my intellect by taking difficult subjects as an undergraduate, and then secured admission to a top graduate or professional school at which I excelled, I’m sure I would have succeeded.” Some who speak this way are surely right; others are not.

Succeeding at the highest levels in a competitive profession is hard, but it’s hard in a different way than producing extraordinary and healthy children. Early on in my Facebook life, I told a retired Wall Street lawyer I’ve known since childhood about a woman in the Carolinas homeschooling three girls under seven, two with ADHD or other special needs (behavioral, not cognitive, issues). Without missing a beat, this workaholic who periodically collapsed from sleep deprivation said in his inimitable Boston brahmin way, “I’ll take the 2700 billable hours.”

I have as little patience for feminists who denigrate women who choose to make childrearing their sole job in life as those who attack women who want to look pretty and young for being shallow or vain. For one thing, as long your appearance isn’t your only concern in your life, I don’t see anything wrong with vanity, unless you equate physical appearance with character or moral value. If you’re a modern Neoplatonist and live entirely in the world of forms (even if you don’t know what Neoplatonism is and can’t name a single philosopher in this tradition, or even five major works by Plato), terrific. I don’t live in that world, though I studied philosophy, and I don’t think most people do.

But I am occasionally a lightning rod for criticism for several reasons. I’m childless, happy, and free (both generally and financially). You’d think losing ten years of my life, including a promising career in academia and an exciting, ambitious dissertation project, or  trying to kill myself once, would earn me some slack. (It was a ridiculous attempt in 2002 with Valium and Advil, which is now is quite amusing on many levels, not least the brown paint I puked all over the already hideous carpet in that hellhole apartment I lived from 1996 to 2006. I’m not sure I needed to call the carpet cleaner because nothing could have substantially improved or worsened that carpet.)

But it’s just the reverse. Some people still suffering from extreme depression with a slew of intractable health problems resent an ex-sick person no longer in therapy or on meds and in excellent health more than they resent those who never had significant hurdles to overcome. One might also think a near decade of celibacy and Emily Dickinson isolation, plus estrangement from family, would earn me some “suffering points” in our age of victimhood, but apparently it doesn’t with some miserable people.

(A new friend of mine in New Jersey teaches composition in college and reports the most depressing stories about competitions among her students for what amounted to the “biggest victim prize.” She’s terrific but I often have to read her comments about group-think, PC, and the thought police in today’s academy with a glass of wine in hand.)

Happy people don’t care about other people’s life choices and are secure enough not to take contrary opinions about lifestyle personally. Not having to work doesn’t help matters, nor does being a swimmer and dancer in good shape who loves clothes and jewelry and displays pieces bought secondhand at deep discount in three states in her various writings. And probably eating out daily at least once, even if it’s just happy hour and a 10 dollar omelet, does me no favors with the haters and malcontents.

Health care may be an issue as well. Mine was $810/month and post-ACA, for a similar plan, it’s now just $546. I realize and truly regret that so many have been screwed by the ACA. In my FB group, the Midwesterners are the worst off (Wisconsin particularly, though this may have more to do with the state’s policies than ACA per se). My California and New York contingent fared pretty well. But my new gynecologist reports a parade of women in her office sobbing in a rage about the changes.  She say ACA has been a nearly unmitigated disaster for her patients.

So I suppose that’s another reason to hate me. But it hardly makes me a trust funder, even if it had stayed at the unpleasant $10,000 a year rate. That’s slightly less than one-third of a single, secular private school tuition for one year in  big city. Perhaps the Tea Partier in Hawaii (see below) thinks every parent of a private schooler is a trust funder as well?

That whole exchange was peculiar, as it’s usually OWS supporters who throw around “trust fund baby” (or “capital gains”) as an insult.  I’m sure Harvard-Westlake and Horace Mann parents, be they Columbia professors or Skadden Arps partners working 70 hours a week, will be by equal turns pleased and perplexed to learn they’re trust funders.

The funds would certainly help with the $35,000 or $70,000 they’re shelling out after taxes. People in that tax bracket tend not to have more than two kids (at least not with one wife, though a single second marriage baby is common and I am myself such a child). This is partly because public school is unthinkable and three private tuitions plus college is impossible. I can just see accountants at RBZ or the New York equivalent fielding a bunch of hysterical calls asking where the hell the money went.

Just last week, a dear friend of 3.5 years posted my recent Patch blog on his FB wall, which I will henceforth call “the barracuda wall of hate.” More vile men and women on a single wall I’ve seen only once and on the Patch, where the individual I’ve taken to calling ”Stalker Marsha” eagerly awaits every new blog so she can spew all the venom in her toxic mind in the comment section.

It was the first time in awhile I’d been hit with the “trust fund” thing. A man in Hawaii called me this this privately, someone on my wall I never knew well, an right wing extremist who posts a lot of hateful, ignorant shit but is actually a mild-mannered fellow about 60 from the mainland. He made other mean-spiritied comments in public.

My religious Jewish friend seems to have construed one of his favorite rabbi’s dictums–”Make your default setting kindness to mean, “Tolerate shit from despicable human beings with zero redeeming features” has a nasty wall. My wall, by contrast, is full of truly loving, fun, cool, people diverse in every conceivable way: politically, religiously, economically, educationally, professionally, and geographically.

It takes time (and balls, I’ve learned only by watching people who either have no balls or choose not to use them) to weed out the crazies and the assholes, but my FB is hopping and happy. My Klout score is in the mid-60s, sometimes as high as 68, which is unheard of for a non-celebrity.

Klout is a misnomer: it has nothing to do with actual real-world clout (though a Wall Street Journal piece not long ago argued that it’s not entirely irrelevant for those in positions of (financial) power). But Klout does measure “social media influence” defined as engagement (likes, shares, comments), and mine is high because I’m on FB so much. My Facebook page for Victorian Chick would be considerably more active if I quit posting on my personal page (which for all my blogging remains in the low 700s, unlike some political posters with 2000 or 3000 “friends”).

But I’m not in this for money, and I prefer to post some status updates to friends only. So I keep the public page, which is just shy of 500 followers or “likes,” but post there about one-third as often as I do on my personal page. 90% of my close FB friends primarily use my personal page to like, comment and share even on identical content. (My main demographic, according to Google Analytics and Facebook Insights, remains those between 45 and 65. The FB audience is 60% male and 40% female, but Google Analytics doesn’t give you gender and that may be more 50%/50%.)

As I said, it’s been a long time since I’ve fielded such hate or incurred the trust funder and narcissism charges. So for new readers, I thought I’d address both. I’ve met trust fund babies, and I grew up with kids of Hollywood writers and producers with syndicated TV shows whose kids never need to work. None drives a 2007 used Saab, wears almost exclusively designer resale or consignment clothing, shoes and boots, wears (and blogs about) lab diamonds and Pandora, or lives with their parents 9 or 10 days a month to drive an elderly father with macular degeneration to doctors, stores, restaurants, and banks when not helping read mail or the TV listings on a 42-inch plasma TV.

You’d think I’d get some points for tending to a WWII veteran who bombed Nazis, and with some who would otherwise hate me, I do. Being a caretaker somewhat makes up for having no kids (and being quite militant about why I am daily grateful I’m childless and, come 4/25, officially infertile). But as the responses to the recent New York Post story about young women opting for dogs over kids attests, breeders and non-breeders will perpetually be at odds.

I’ve never met a “trust fund princess” who lives with her parents 10 days a month instead of hiring the full-time care, and at 42, has yet to visit all of the above: Continental Europe, Asia, South America, Central America, Fiji, Tahiti, Moorea, St. Barth’s, the Middle East, Canada, Africa, and Mexico (other than Cabo and La Paz, where we sailed on Dad’s CT 54).  The last time I went to Hawaii was 1995 for six days between Christmas and New Years and before that, 1982 for a wedding in which I was flower girl. I don’t remember going at 2, but apparently I had a great time, though I fussed whenever it was time to leave the beach.

If I’m a trust funder, then I’m an avant-garde, isolationist one who has flown out of America precisely three times in my life. I’m a new kind of jet-setter who flies almost entirely between Los Angeles and New York for under $400 dollars roundtrip, except in July when no ticket is less than $500. I’m also a special sort of New York trust funder who, musical comedy maniac that I am, attended my first Broadway show in three years this past February. The motto of the new trust funder: Never leave America and attend cabaret instead of Broadway!

I’m also setting a big trend in transportation, forsaking the pricey Amtrak (the slow train, never the Acela) for the Megabus from New York to DC and Boston, just under $20 dollars each way. If you book early, it’s even cheaper. You will soon be seeing the kids of financiers posting their dinners on Groupon from Killer Shrimp ($50 for $25 dollars). And it’s all because of me, Victorian Chick.

As for narcissism, all who write a book-length study about their lives are susceptible to this charge. Memoir is a literary genre, one I studied in graduate school with modernist Porter Abbott. Within literary criticism, theory of autobiography is a highly technical field akin to personal identity theory within Analytic philosophy as a whole. Well sort of, philosophy of language and some logic are even more technical, so perhaps it would be better to say that it’s the field within literature most Analytic in its orientation.

I’ve always loved the genre, even the light pop culture version. Judith Jacklin Belushi’s Samurai Widow, Marilu Henner’s By All Means Keep on Moving, and Charles Grodin’s It Would Be So Nice If You Weren’t Here are late 1980s or 1990s memoirs I greatly enjoyed. More recently, I enjoyed (and consider a model for my own book) Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Objectthe rigorous and literary memoir of Kathleen Rooney, poet, publisher, and assistant professor of English at Purdue.

I even wrote my first of two Weekly Standard reviews, my first piece in a national publication, about John Lithgow’s memoir. I won’t here bother to give the ignorant among my haters a basic bibliography of the field, but Elizabeth Bruss has written much on the topic and any of her bibliographies will give you a decent sense the main issues, at least up to 1997.

The questions for critics hinge on the degree to which first-person accounts deserve special privilege. What is the epistemological status of the “I”? Should we take autobiographical writing as “true” in a special way by virtue of the subject’s phenomenological access? Such questions slide fairly quickly into the philosophical topic of skepticism and the problem of other minds. The split subject in Hegel is different from the split subject of psychoanalysis, but in all these sub-fields, the unity and authority of the subject are key. And yet again, slide (along with signifiers) into questions of reference, meaning, and consciousness.

Porter assigned canonical instances of “self-writing,” as literary-critics often call autobiography (a term which allows for “autography” and other life writing), including St. Augustine’s City of God, Teresa of Avila, Rousseau’s Confessions, Frederick Douglass’ autobiography, Virginia Woolf’s Moments of Being, and Samuel Becket’s Company. I took the course spring quarter in my first year at UCSB and glad I did, though I wish I had taken his popular modernism seminar because to this day, the 20th Century is my weakest, other than the late Henry James.

One singularly revolting and vicious Facebook woman I hope developed an ulcer from her tirade about me on my friend’s wall, has a problem with my pictures. I take it this miserable creature missed that the OED made “selfie” its “word of the year,” a frequent topic in the blogosphere which I made the subject of my Huffington Post debut. And, uh, I blog about fashion, twice in a month guest blogger for Bicoastal Brunette. A fashion blog without pictures is as useless as a food or travel blog without visuals. Beyond just awful, this woman seems not to be very perceptive or sharp.

She said that all bloggers are worthless, but seemed to feel I was a special case of worthlessness whom she pitied, and who nearly induced her to vomit in just four paragraphs in which I made no reference to myself (just my illustrious parents). What can I say? As my Facebook mom and dear friend always says when I lose or break something, “It’s a gift.” I’ve seen pictures of the woman–and her dogs–and shall refrain from comment on this score, except to note that were one to place our lives (and persons) side by side, I wouldn’t be the one inducing pity.

Perhaps the single biggest supporter of Victorian Chick is Erik in Northern California. At my urging, he took more than a few Yale English courses online, starting with John Rogers’ incomparable Milton survey based on his book, The Matter of Revolution: Science, Poetry and Politics in the Age of Milton. Erik also took Langdon Hammer’s 20th-century poetry (which I regretted not taking), and a Dante lecture with Thomas Mazzotta he called perhaps the most rigorous intellectual experience of his life. Dear Erik posted a devastating public reply to the haters in a long public status update.

I couldn’t have asked for a better, or more scathing, defense. It amounted to this: 1) Victoria isn’t for everyone; she’s an acquired taste and requires some learning and experience to grasp, 2) She isn’t telling other people how to live their life, but rather explaining her own choices, 3) She lives her life on her own terms and describes her fascinating and accomplished family, friends and acquaintances in ways many find interesting, and 4) Victoria extends compassion and offers of friendship even to those with diametrically opposed values, including this retired stick-in-the-mud Catholic lawyer who disagrees with her about almost everything in the arena of values or ethics.

My favorite sentence, however, took direct aim at the woman hurling the vilest insults: “If you find Victoria boring, please fill us in on the details of your fascinating existence.”  Heh. Don’t fuck with Victorian Chick: I have an army of supporters, some of whom correspond with me privately, but are happy to tear you verbally to shreds after a short text or email from me.

As for narcissism, yes, I post a lot. That’s why God invented the “hide” feature: take 15 minutes to learn how to use FB before whining that I’m filling your feed. I shudder to think how such people handle an IRS audit, which even if you’ve done nothing wrong, feels like a tube up the ass (aka a colonoscopy). Weaklings with trigger-fine sensitivity who snivel about the burden of a frequent Facebook poster have bigger problems than Victorian Chick and her designer resale scores or exquisite meals.

I use FB more like a typical Twitter account. If my wall were dead, the lady (I use the term loosely) might have a point. But with a Klout score between 62 and 68, and comment threads about banana cream pie at Joe Allen which exceed 100 comments (about pie!?), it appears that quite a lot of people find my  life–and those of my family and acquaintances–amusing. I also run into fascinating strangers, particularly in New York, and enjoy writing about them (anonymously of course).

People often tell me I need to write fiction and that I have a novelist’s eye for detail as well as an ear for dialogue. But I’m not not inclined (or trained) to do so. Tales from Fishtail: The Social Architecture of the Upper East Side would I think be a success. Americans have a seemingly endless appetite for stories about New York. Bushnell’s success with Sex in the City still amazes me, and the Housewives of New York, which admittedly less horrid than the rest of the franchises, I half-suspect is a hoax perpetrated by Bravo on an unsuspecting nation.

But in the wake of the book’s publication (which would include other Manhattan neighborhoods like the Upper West Side, SoHo and the Village), I’d have to move. And I could never again eat or drink at the bar and restaurant on my street. It’s the only place close by with a happy hour (red for $8/glass and white for $7/glass instead of $14 and up for both), so it’s a non-starter. All kidding aside, I’d be betraying confidences not different in kind from those entrusted to a therapist or a lawyer. Fun and potentially insightful as the book would be, ethical considerations preclude its writing even anonymously or as a roman a clef.

III. Why I Love the Patch

Three years since I started Victorian Chick and two years after starting the public Facebook page of the same name, I post my writing to some 50 branches of the Patch in three major metropolitan areas (LA, Chicago, and New York) under the name “Victorian Chick on the Patch.”

I realize, as a veteran journalist and friend of mine in New York told me at the Art Bar in the Village last trip, that the Patch is not a path to journalistic success measured by any traditional standard (prestige, money, circulation). Mom was surprised to see a UCLA Law professor and Biglaw big deal writing for the Huffington Post, the very outlet which felt that Beyonce’s and Jay Z’s $6000 dollar shopping spree at a Lower East Side sex store mattered more than the death of 400,000 Americans annually from smoking and the role e-cigarettes can play in reducing that number. For $6000, those dildos better be platinum–and do your taxes and grocery shopping.

My debut about the selfie reached 459 likes, while the review of an off-Broadway show broke 100 likes in its first day or two and the piece about Facebook ended up at 140, with many shares on Twitter, Pinterest and other social media outlets. I discuss my Huffington post story on the podcast, Click! Bang! if you’re interested. Pluralism, schmuralism. They are a bunch of cowards and hypocrites who censor whatever doesn’t mimic their ideological biases.

There was one unusually pro-e-cig article, but most of all, these anonymous “Blog Eds” who accept or reject your pieces are beyond appeal or even reach. It’s one thing to get mistreated when someone is paying you well (or poorly); it’s another thing entirely to be treated like dirt when you’re working for free by people who may not even speak English. You just don’t know who these people (men) are.

No one in from “Blog Team” who wrote me was female. I like to think it’s a bunch of poor 20-something living in a rat infested studio in the Bronx drowning under a mountain of debt with broken water heaters, but who knows. Arianna Huffington is an odious, wealthy hypocrite whom Bill Maher humors for no reason I can understand. Then again, he’s apparently close to Ann Coulter, so I don’t think he has the best taste in people.

The Patch also gives me regular practice writing pieces of 1000 words, though sometimes I write a piece in the 1500 or 2000 word range. I can write about whatever I want for as short or long as I please and since May, 2013, it’s unmoderated. The new server allows me effortlessly and endlessly to revise after the fact, so it’s like a living, breathing repository of my thoughts. And it looks cool to boot. The Huffington Post server sucked. I mean really sucked. I had to write dozens of emails about tech issues (though until the e-cig problem, the tech folks wrote me back pretty quickly).

I’m particularly proud of the two pieces this week (though I wish Stalker Marsha would contract a non-fatal STD which had the unusual side effect of preventing her from typing).  Marsha and a few other nitwits led me to adopt a strict policy of not reading comments from anyone I don’t know. Friends peruse them and alert me to anything worth reading.

1. The Grandma and the Stripper: On Double Standards and Female Desire

2. Noel Coward’s “The Vortex”: A Modernized, but No Less Vertiginous, Tale of Vanity, Family, and Manners

Of course writing brings in no money, just a lot of joy. And I get to sit around all day in my PJs, which I love. Here is today’s blogging outfit with my Henley EVOD tank and EGO Spinner battery. 10257120_653460928022303_2684592852978284807_o

This is the view from the upper balcony at J’s SB condo, where I no longer need to go to smoke, but used to spend much of my time writing. I still sit out here to sip some wine or chat on the phone (or Facebook). 10253747_653604704674592_7188070950393468957_n

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And these are my companions, though one is a bit of a sleepyhead at 13.5 years old, who spends most of her time downstairs on a double doggie bed (two on top of one another).

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So on this beautiful, sunny Passover in Santa Barbara, I want to thank all my readers, friends, and supporters.

Here’s to year four of Victorian Chick!

XOXO

 

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Winterpearls Jewelry Trunk Show Score and a Dodgers Game with Brother (Second Ballgame of my Life)

With Lori Pearl of Winterpearls.

With Lori Pearl of Winterpearls. Jewelry and wine: two of the best things in life!

I’m going to the second professional baseball game of my life today. Baseball isn’t my thing, but I did have fun in 2012 when saw the Dodgers play the Mets at the gorgeous and newly renovated Dodger stadium.  Well, play might be a bit overstated given the Mets trounced them 10-0 and the Dodgers had only 3 hits to the Mets’ 14

My brother played Little League and Pony League in West LA (people still remember his pitching) as well as at Pali High before coaching Little League 13 years. He sill umpires high school games. I never liked baseball. I found it boring and went to so many of my brother’s games, I took to calling the game “18 half innings.”

But watching Little League or MLB on TV and sitting in great seats at Dodger Stadium, eating Dodger Dogs and drinking wine (they have more than beer now) with my brother will be wonderful. We rarely have dates just one-on-one, but I see him at least once a week when in California because he’s at the house once or twice a week to see Dad and help with the industrial real estate our family owns. My brother and I were inseparable during my childhood in spite of the 11 year age difference.  He was my hero, but we were not close after my 6th or 7th grade and did not become close again until my late 30s.

The time we spent together last summer in Manhattan and New Haven was priceless to us both. My brother’s daughter is a brainiac. She’s not “smart.” She’s a star: 1st in a class of 520 at her excellent public high school with a downright inhumane junior year course load in which she’s getting straight As (AP Physics, AP Calc BC, AP US History, AP English and I think honors French (if not AP)).

She is also a dancer on pointe who does jazz and modern, dances on the school team and also active in some business club plus Girl Scouts. The girl must never sleep and is without question Ivy-bound as well as beautiful, even-keeled and sweet. It was such a privilege to show her around Yale and then take her on the subway in my favorite city.

My brother had only been on the subway a few times and it was her first time in New York (or back East).  After resting in the apartment, we hopped the F train from 63rd and Lex to 2nd Avenue to eat at Pulino’s (now closed, much to my dismay and shock given the crowds till all hours of the night). I can’t wait till my niece, now 17, is back East (whether it turns out to be Harvard, Brown, Hopkins, Yale or one of her other preferred schools).

She can visit her aunt in the city and I can give her a little break (and great food), the way my family friend took care of me when burnt out from studies at Yale. Of course, he was a Wall Street lawyer with a 2000 square foot duplex in an ultra-luxury high-rise on 88th and 1st and I had the whole downstairs. She will be roughing it in a 450-foot Upper East Side junior one-bedroom with no elevator or doorman. I feel blessed to be part of her journey, for which she is infinitely better prepared than I was.

Academically, Yale was not a problem for me. It was hard because I was compulsive and a perfectionist ever-conscious of getting into the best Ph.D programs in English from day one. It was and I imagine still is easier to get into Yale Law than Yale English because so few are admitted to the graduate school and in my years, they had an explicit policy of  not admitting B.A.s from Yale. (Of course I didn’t know this when I chose Yale, but I wouldn’t have done anything differently on this score.)

But I didn’t work harder at Yale than I did at Westlake. Emotionally, however, it was exceedingly rocky and as my Facebook and Victorian Chick family family know, I had to take an 18-month break for psychoanalysis in LA after a breakdown on Christmas break in 1990.

All that therapy (plus Al-Anon) helped me graduate Phi Beta Kappa in three years, but I didn’t have nearly the fun and social life I would have had I been as I am now. My niece will not have any of these difficulties because she’s fundamentally well-adjusted, whole and devoid of the intense conflicts that plagued me, ones rooted in a problematic relationship with my father. My relationship with my mother was perfect, as she’s pretty much the most amazing woman I’ve ever known.

But Mom enabled Dad (who is not himself a drinker) and thus perpetuated a system which had devastating effects on me, preventing the completion of my (overly ambitious) dissertation and the career in academia I’d always wanted. My depression was entirely about my relationship to my family and not at all about brain chemistry or defective wiring. Once I fixed my life, I had no need for medication and it’s now well over four years I am meds-free.

All is forgiven but forgiveness does not to me connote denial or the softening of truth. I am not a professor because of my father’s choices (which included not going on medication in the early 1990s, not admitting that his analysis was at best flawed and at worst useless, and refusing to get better psychological help and amend his behavior). My mom supported these choices and as a result, I lost ten years to a crippling depression. My thought process was too bound up with his identity struggles to allow me the clarity of mind to write a dissertation to which consciousness, identity, and language were central. These are facts, facts with which I am comfortable but not ones I will deny or downplay when asked or writing about my past.

Had I chosen a slight historical topic–the impact of the cloth trade on a fourth-rate Renaissance dramatist, for example–I likely would have finished. But I don’t do easy or trivial: if a dissertation about a canonical author isn’t going to take on the big questions of the literary or the aesthetic in conjunction with language, meaning and consciousness, what’s the point? You might as well go to law school and make a bunch of money. And I am at the tail end of the generation where lawyers at Yale Law and the top tier schools could mostly count on jobs out of school. (Of course, now law is a disaster and partners at 50 have been laid off and forced to yank their kids out of private school, wondering how to stay alive until the market rebounds).

New Historicism was big in the 1980s and 1990s and Richard Helgerson was a dear man and big deal in our department. But I didn’t want to do that. History is easy compared to poetry and philosophy when it comes to the toll on its writer. There’s a reason history professors (and grad students) are generally so much more more chill than English professors (and certainly nicer than the nasty graduate students I knew). It’s the same reason Sylvia Plath stuck her head in an oven and scores of the best writers drank themselves to death.  Literature, like philosophy, questions the very foundations of being and reality. And sometimes sticking your head in an oven sounds like a reasonable way to escape the pain of that reality.

By the time I got cured, it was too late for a career in academia. Yes, one can teach literature in community college, but the best city colleges require a completed Ph.D. And besides, but I wanted a gig at a top research university, which almost never happens at 43 or 44.  And even then, it’s long hours in a world dominated by Cultural Studies and PC. Tenure, as anyone who keeps up with academia knows, is a thing of the past.

My niece won’t go through what I did, though she may go through all kinds of hell in the post-ACA world. She is set on being a doctor and applying to the Brown B.S./M.D program. Medical school is sheer misery and everyone pretty much hates it but if you’re a scientific sort, you’re not wired like most people. She’s the most normal pre-med type I’ve ever met. Most doctors are very shut down and it’s in no small part because our system of medical education makes humanity a liability.

Sleep deprivation an low pay for many more years than law school kills the spirit and leaves medical students, interns and residents with no life for a decade. Before ACA, however, the misery paid off and you made a nice living at the end. Now, honestly, I don’t see a point to going to medical school. Obamacare has been described by one friend of mine (not a Republican) as a “giant blow job for the insurance companies” and I’m inclined to believe he (who actually spent 30 minutes a day for a year reading that behemoth) is correct. But if she continues to be at the top of her class in college and medial school, she will be in that elite 5% who always finds their way.

Today’s Dodger game will be my first of two engagements with my brother this week. Wednesday, I go to see the first night preview of Noel Coward’s 1924 play, The Vortex. Mom sent me an email with app called Goldstar. I’m now receiving four emails a day, which is precisely the sort of thing I sought to avoid by getting a new email last year after 15 years with AOL and too much spam to count.

But the discounts on theater are so enormous, I’m willing to put up with the spam. If you love theater but don’t love the prices of live theater, I cannot recommend it highly enough. (I couldn’t find the picture of me with the girls from last December at the same theater, where we saw Suburban Showgirl, but here we are at Father’s Day brunch last June).

530509_501806466578012_453872435_n                                                                                                       I have to get on the road, so I will close with pictures of my my scores, each $42, from the Winterpearls trunk show in the Agoura area.

Maureen’s and Lori’s work can be found on Etsy and you can get a fuller account of the process by which their affordable, vintage-style pieces are made. Much of their jewelry is “repurposed,” so if you care about sustainability and value, their pieces will appeal to you.

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42. Bottom stone is Swarovski crystal.

Here is a pair of earrings I’ve been staring at since I bought them!

This necklace is beautiful and goes perfectly with a pair of earrings, one of which fell off in the pool (because I didn’t buy one of those cheap plastic backs for the hook). I’m having it remade if Lori Pearl can find replacement beads. A friend of mine who loved butterflies and moths as a child assures me it’s a moth, but it looks like a butterfly to me and I posted about my beautiful butterfly yesterday on both my person and public Facebook page.10014124_649710461730683_2845916246168902830_o

Pieces generally range from $25 to $125, though there may be some pieces slightly more or less.

You can’t see the full beauty of these earrings, just $29 dollars, but I love wearing them with the necklace I usually (but not always) double, from Lisa Duncan Carrillo. They’re in LA in Mom’s jewelry box and I’ll upload a better picture when I get back to LA late Wednesday night.

Does not do justice to the necklace in person!

Does not do justice to the necklace in person!

It’s a busy week, with the Malibu Playhouse on Wednesday, the Laugh for Sight benefit at the Hollywood Improv on Melrose Thursday, and dinner with Dad in Mom’s absence on Friday night.

Saturday I’m back to Santa Barbara and then Sunday, J’s parents are coming to town for Passover (my idea because Gelson’s is running a crazy deal: brisket for four with five side dishes plus macaroons) for 69.99! We’ll get T a roast chicken as his grandmother doesn’t see him liking brisket, though I think he ate some at Killer B’s in Santa Barbara and liked it just fine.

My tubal ligation is 4/25, a week later than planned, but this worked out perfectly as it gives me time to spend with J’s parents the week they are in Santa Barbara. I leave for New York on 5/11 so am happy I get to see them now before I’m gone nearly three weeks. It is already horrid in Scottsdale by mid-May and that’s when they pack up to stay in the condo in Santa Barbara.

Happy Sunday!

(And GO DODGERS!)

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A Beautiful, Crisp Week in Santa Barbara: Dr. Maureen Echt and New Yelp Reviews (Death Gardens, Whole Foods, Killer Shrimp) with a Brief Note on the Yelp Lawsuit in Virginia

With my best buddies in Santa Barbara, Emma and Ollie.

With my best buddies in Santa Barbara, Emma and Ollie.

I was supposed to head to LA yesterday, but Mom said she had no pressing engagements which took her away from Dad, so I stayed to be with J on a day he doesn’t have his 4th grader. Seven weeks between color is as long as I can go at 42 without my grays throwing off their own light. It could be worse, however. I could be blonde and have to spend $150 on a weave. But probably it all comes out in the wash because I should go once a month to keep my hair looking the way it does post-color, and I pay $50 pre-tip for a pull-through.

I.  Dr. Maureen Echt: Best Gynecologist in Santa Barbara

Wednesday I saw a new gynecologist here in Santa Barbara. I have to rave about her because if anyone in SB is in the market for a new OB/GYN or knows someone who is, Dr, Maureen Echt is a fantasy. She’s on Oak Park Lane in the beautiful new Cottage Hospital development, and I’m not sure if she’s taking new patients as I got a referral specifically for a tubal ligation because Dr. Robert Corlett is in his 70s and stopped operating some years ago. But if she is, you can’t do better.

Apart from being model beautiful–very slender, svelte and small-boned with big blue eyes, blonde hair and delicate features, she’s a Southern woman from Louisiana. Educated at the University of New Orleans and LSU Med, she’s been in California 14 years. Her office is beautiful as well and her personal office has mountain views from a wall/door of glass. I love this pairing of durable red leather with a cloth chair (even if this wouldn’t necessarily be my choice of fabric).

Waiting room of Dr. Maureen Echt

Waiting room of Dr. Maureen Echt (with my Coach wallet and KangerTech EVOD)

Dr. Echt spoke lucidly about the partial laproscopic hysterectomy. Tying my tubes will not in any way diminish the agony of my periods: “Zero percent chance it will help with the pain. Ze-ro per-cent,” she stressed, drawing on her week calendar on which she also drew the menopause age chart. This isn’t her first–or hundredth–rodeo and she’s heard women like me say, well, it’s only eight years more until menopause. But it could be as much as a dozen years I am in agony 24 hours a month and unable to wear normal clothing due to bloat for two or three days a month.

While everything remains the same in terms of estrogen and progesterone cycles when you leave the ovaries in a hysterectomy, it’s not a trivial surgery (even laproscopically).  But female plumbing is an emotional subject (and I’m not even talking about abortion). Women who aren’t doctors have very strong opinions and you can speak to 100 women and get 100 different views about ablation, tubal ligation and various versions of hysterectomies. That morning, I was almost sure that I would go with the conservative option which merely prevented pregnancy, rather than the aggressive one which also put an end to the pain, but I was completely convinced by the end of the consult.

Dr. Echt told me that the people who were happiest with the outcome of the hysterectomy were women who could not live normal lives as a result of the monthly hemorrhage. One woman was stuck in a Starbucks bathroom for hours–with people banging furiously on the door–because she could not get out of the bathroom without leaving a trail of blood. In such cases, the hysterectomy is the only way to live a normal life.

Before we discussed my case, Dr. Echt and I chatted about midwives and the (horrifying) recent Arizona ruling which upheld the block on non-surgical abortion pills. You can’t even get a surgical abortion in Northern Arizona (I wonder if that’s Prescott, a middle of nowhere place to which my boyfriend’s mom drove three hours just to get an unusual, handmade coat she wanted). By upholding one of the nation’s strictest abortion laws, this ruling effectively terminates access to abortion for women living in that part of the state. (But no, Roe is the law of the land and there’s nothing at all to worry about, as fiscally conservative social liberals who vote on the right are so fond of saying even as they bubble in whatever low-tax, anti-choice candidate is on the ballot.)

I was of course fascinated by her Southern roots and curious about how a woman with that particular specialty would experience life in the Bible Belt, the part of the country where politicians most aggressively insert themselves into a woman’s vagina. A gynecologist, even one who doesn’t deal with obstetrics, is more than a vagina doctor but certainly the vagina is central to the field.

Dr Echt’s schedule permitting, I should go in for an outpatient treatment the week of April 14th and be my usual perky self by 5/11, when I fly to New York for 19 days. I plan to go to Virginia and Maryland for a few days to visit friends, but other than that I will be in the city the whole time minus a day or two excursion (I hope) to Toms River.

The Whole Foods breakfast bar closes by 10AM and I was in the area, so I finally gave Max’s Diner another try. It turns 30 years old this year and mostly frequented by those over 65. But I ate there twice this week and finally understand why it’s been a Santa Barbara breakfast institution for three decades.

6.95: two poached eggs, outstanding potatoes and a freshly baked biscuit.

6.95: two poached eggs, outstanding potatoes and a freshly baked biscuit.

Last night J and I tried Killer Shrimp and loved it! I bought a Groupon ($50 for $25), so the bill for two came only to 10. You tip on the full amount, of course, and I hope never to meet an individual who tips on the adjusted price. We’ll go back for the happy hour soon.

II. Catharsis and Closure: Yelp Review of Hope (“Death”) Gardens. 

I also paid my $10 fix-it ticket for the expired stickers I finally fixed at the DMV last month. On the granite counter of our charming police station on Figueroa, I found a flyer for an apartment on Olive Street. It sounded terrific: a free-standing bungalow with 2 bedrooms, 1 bath with hardwood floors, fireplace, wainscoting, breakfast nook, serviceable kitchen and washer/dryer for $2500. I’ve never lived in downtown SB, but this is walking distance from everything, close to State Street. A FB friend in Jersey asked what the going rate is for a one-bedroom in SB and I explained that it varied greatly as in most cities or towns.

But it made me look up Death Gardens, the apartment mentioned in every Victorian Chick blog about graduate school. It turns out that Hope Gardens is on Yelp. Well, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to warn Santa Barbarans about this complex, or at least the units on Hope Avenue rather than set back in the courtyard, where afternoon sun and big rig trucks aren’t an issue.

I joked on my personal page that writing a Yelp review has never made me climax, but that this one came pretty close. J said I might get in trouble, but everything I’ve said is absolutely true and the traffic noise is not subjective (Hope Ave is a truck route up to Foothill). Nor is the lack of a/c in Santa Barbara generally and in this complex particularly. I forgot to say that it’s across from a cemetery and down from a trailer park. Yes, just what I always dreamed of: a loud, hot apartment adjacent to a trailer park across from a cemetery.

Facebook friends enjoyed this review so much, I thought I’d quote it in full:

OMG I can’t believe this is on Yelp. I have written dozens of Victorian Chick blogs about this complex where I spent the ten most horrifying, depressed years of my life. My graduate school debacle can’t be blamed on Hope Gardens, aka Death Gardens, any  more than 9/11 (which I spent in this apartment), but certainly living here during both gave me no chance at all to succeed or recover. 

I view the following as a public service announcement to fellow Yelpers even “thinking* about renting here. 

Now, I moved out in 2006. So who knows who’s running the shop now. But a nice old man owned it years ago. Then his mean Manhattan real estate mogul daughter took it over. 

The new paint looks like a baby’s diaper with light-colored loose stool. I suppose technically it’s “sand,” but here’s a newsflash: Santa Barbara ISN’T Arizona. In Scottsdale, you see this kind of color scheme but that’s a *desert,* for the love of God, not one of the most beautiful beach towns in America.

Now, this ONE star is for a one-bedroom on Hope Ave itself. If you live on the inside courtyard, it will be far quieter and cooler. 

But living *on* Hope Avenue is masochistic unless you’re deaf. Of course when I moved in, it was a de-facto convalescent home, so presumably half the tenants were deaf or close to it. I was one of the few people under 50 and one of only two or three graduate students. 

It was big for the money and had a patio. But you get what you pay for. I don’t like Upper State. At all. It’s just a funky, weird, depressing part of town. La Cumbre is even worse and more depressing, but that’s like saying it’s better to lose a leg in a car wreck than a bike crash. They both suck. 

You have no concept how loud the trucks are up Hope Ave. The only quiet day is Sunday. Come Monday, it feels like you returned to prison after a 24-hour furlough. As if the big rigs barreling up Hope Ave to Foothill weren’t enough, you have three major banks on the corner of Hope and State (Wells Fargo, B of A, and Montecito Bank and Trust). (The sign says “scenic” route but I have no clue what that means as Foothill is hardly “scenic” and believe me, this is some official truck route). Of course no one prepares you for the noise because they want to rent the unit.

But wait, there’s more! I was sweating and showering constantly from May 1st to Oct 15th because the units on Hope Ave have sliding glass doors in the living room and large windows in the bedroom with *afternoon sun*. This is a big issue with SB apartments, given the lack of a/c: does it have afternoon sun or afternoon shade? And this is just downstairs  

If you live upstairs, you might as well move to Texas, except that in Texas everyone–not just the 1% as in Santa Barbara–has air conditioning because it’s simply an inhumane and uncivilized place to live four or so months a year. Same with Arizona. You have to have a/c. And they won’t let you put in a window unit, at least they wouldn’t when I lived there. 

Well, Hope Gardens is just like Texas or Arizona four or five months a year with the heat beating down on the glass–minus the a/c. Back in the late 1990s, portable a/c units didn’t work. I bought three and the only thing I accomplished was staining the hideous light brown carpet they didn’t replace when I moved in because a childhood friend was at Oxford and I was simply taking over the lease. 

Now, the pool is okay and there is a dry sauna that worked just fine. It’s all really old people but that’s cool. This is SB, for the newly wed and nearly dead. But I took to wearing earplugs 24/7 for five years. This made it impossible for me to go even to Lazy Acres or CVS without plugs in my ears. If you go this route, please learn from my experience. You will get ear infections unless you wash them regularly (earplugs aren’t meant to be worn 24/7) or buy a few dozen pairs and rotate. 

Also know that the gardeners work on Thursdays (or one weekday) and with all that grass, you’re listening to a cacophony of lawnmowers and hedge trimmers. If you’re on the front like I was, you also have tree trimming to look forward to once a year. This is like Fargo without the buffets or Frances McDormand. 

I suppose a 9 to 5 worker will not notice this. And the traffic noise dies down by 7 or 8.

I recommend drinking heavily the first two weeks of January because it’s better than jumping off a building in despair that Christmas break is over, the only 10 days a year you can hear yourself think. 

I once read a review for a community college in Texas: “Go here only if you have no other options in life.” That’s all I can say. If you have no options in Santa Barbara except Hope Gardens, it’s God or the universe telling you NOT TO LIVE HERE.

III. “Victorian Chick’s Qualified Defense of Yelp” Link and the Virginia Lawsuit

In 18 months I’ve accumulated 396 reviews, 16 of which (roughly 3%) are 1-star reviews. Here’s the breakdown: 1) 5 stars: 154, 2) 4 stars: 154, 3) 3 stars: 53, 4) 2 stars: 19, 5) 1 star: I’m a generous reviewer and unlike many of my fellow Yelpers, I do not require a meal to change my life forever to give a restaurant 5 stars. So if I really despise a place like the Lenox Hill Post Office or Hope Gardens, people tend to believe me because overall, I strive for fairness and balance.

One woman didn’t like my review of the San Leandro Inn. When I included the remark of a  friend in Marin, “Dear, you’re on the wrong side of the bay,” one Yelp reviewer took offense and called my friend a snob. Well, she’s in Marin. What do you want from my life, as my father used to say (borrowing the great line from a friend of his). But here is a compliment I received on a 4-star review of the Olive Garden in Visalia:  ”Balanced and Fair. From a ‘health nut’ (not really).  I had written a glowing review of the restaurant and then read yours.  We people are all so different.  I’m retired and over weight.  You are the picture of health.  Balance in life is hard to achieve;  reading and accepting others opinions aids that process.  Good day.”

In the wake of this week’s piece in the Wall Street Journal, Yelp Review Brews a Fight over Free Speech vs Fairness about the lawsuit headed for the Virginia Supreme Court, I thought I’d link to my Victorian Chick’s Qualified Defense of Yelp  on the Patch and once again say how much I love Yelp. I believe Yelp abuses businesses which do not play ball, and I feel genuine sympathy for those businesses hurt either by Yelp itself or by unprincipled reviewers writing fake or scathing reviews out of revenge for some imagined slight. I hope the lawsuits will force Yelp to address its legitimate problems.

But to cast the majority of Yelp reviewers as crooked is wrong. I have over twice as many reviews as “friends.” I rarely send a friend request on Facebook or Yelp. And I do find peculiar those who have 20 reviews and 2000 friends. I do, however, read the reviews of my fellow Yelp Elites and find them routinely helpful in all cities I travel.

Here, then, is a 5 star review I wrote on the very same day I eviscerated my former apartment complex (I have a right to dislike the Upper State neighborhood where Hope “Death” Gardens is):

I am so sick of people whining about “Whole Paycheck.” Do they bill themselves as a budget market for people nearing bankruptcy? No. They don’t claim to cater to the middle class, so why are they always being slammed for not being cheap? This makes me nuts.

I don’t cook or have a family, so I have no idea how the prices here compare to Vons if shopping for the whole family on a regular basis. And I really don’t care. If you have a family and are in the middle class, then you shouldn’t shop at Whole Foods. Go to Vons or Albertsons–and stay away from Lazy Acres while you’re at it.

Do people who should be shopping at Zales walk into Tiffany and complain about the price of a tennis bracelet or one-carat diamond studs? I don’t know, but if they do, I would tell them the same thing. Be realistic and know what you can and can’t afford. I browse apartments for sale in Manhattan because it’s fun. I don’t delude myself into believing I can afford one (well, even if I could afford the mortgage, the maintenance puts the whole thing out of reach).

With that rant out of the way (one which has been brewing for 3 years on Facebook), let me say that I loved this Whole Foods from the moment it opened in the fall of 2009, but that the remodel is so beautiful that I feel happy every time I walk through the door.

And Whole Foods is a BARGAIN if you eat at various bars (breakfast, salad, hot, taco, veggie etc). I can get restaurant or catering quality meals for 10 dollars. If you eat out a lot, this is a way to save money. Wednesdays they knock off 2 bucks per pound.

I’m sure it costs a lot to buy steak or fish to grill, but I don’t do that. And even if it’s more, grilling a piece of fish is *always* cheaper than eating fish in a fine dining restaurant. So if that’s your standard, Whole Foods is a bargain. Not to mention the fact that with such an enormous selection, you can take a tiny portion of ten things. Cooking ten dishes would cost a fortune and while we’re on the subject of money and value: unless you don’t work at all or work at a job which pays 15/dollars an hour or less, your time is valuable.

By the time you quit screwing around with shopping, cooking, and cleaning, you’ve blown at least 90 minutes on a meal if you hit bad traffic to the market.

If you make 50/hour, which hardly puts you in the the 1-2%, cooking as a single person or childless couple is a monumental waste of time unless you happen to enjoy it. Then it’s less about saving money than it is recreation and entertainment.

If cooking doesn’t fill you with joy (and you think the hour is better spent at the gym), let the Whole Foods people do your cooking.

Of course, I’m not a DIY sort. I don’t do anything I can pay someone else to do for me (laundry, cleaning etc). I don’t understand lawyers who change their own oil. Seriously? Don’t you go to law school so someone else can do the mundane s*** of life? [The same can be said of camping in my view. A lawyer I knew once said, "I didn't go to law school so I could sleep on the ground and shit in a hole."]

Happily, my sweet boyfriend with a kid does all my laundry.  Occasionally I throw in a load but my fluff and fold days in So Cal are over.

But 10 dollars a meal is hardly out of line and that’s what the bars here will run you. Yes the deli to-go case isn’t cheap, so don’t get poached salmon or another dish at 28 dollars a pound.

The sushi is excellent and still cheaper than going out at night for sushi (about the same as most local lunch specials, including Kyoto and Shintori, both within a few minutes of Whole Foods), but Lazy Acres is the best market sushi in town.

With happy hours plentiful in many major cities and the breakfast/salad/hot bars at Whole Foods, a single person never needs to cook.

If I want frozen food–Healthy Choice and Kashi are my favorite–I will go to Vons. So I don’t care that they have only healthy, organic, Amy’s frozen food. The service is also quite impressive and while I would never buy wine here (because it’s overpriced in a town with Trader Joe’s, Costco, and the best Vons wine department in Southern California–Montecito–one would be crazy to buy wine here), I am happy with the value.

Happy Thursday!

P.S. This upcoming week will be so much fun. Brian Fischler and Nash will be at the Hollywood Improv for the Laugh for Sight benefit with Jenna Elfman its celebrity host.

Laugh for Sight: April 10.

Laugh for Sight: April 10.

And I’m going to see Neil Simon’s 1924 The Vortex, a biting comedy set in London and written the year of my father’s birth (also the birth year of George Herbert Walker Bush, Jimmy Carter and Augie Wilson)!

 

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“Victorian Chick’s Meditations on Jewelry as an Element of Style and ‘Appurtenance’ of Self” (Second Guest Blog on Bicoastal Brunette) with Note on Why New Yorkers Feel Superior

Not all my jewelry, but my most worn pieces minus a matching pendant to the white and yellow gold peridot earring/pendant set from J for our 3rd anniversary of meeting.

Not all my jewelry, but my most worn pieces minus a matching pendant to the white and yellow gold peridot earring/pendant set from J for our 3rd anniversary of meeting.

The security breach with SSL on IOS 6 delayed posting of the guest blog I finished two weeks ago. My email was down both on the phone and computer as a result, and I didn’t realize that Samara Lipsky had written me back with a draft and a few changes.

Of course, this didn’t persuade me to update to IOS 7 because I am inherently stubborn and resistant to change of a technological sort. Also, I’m all about aesthetics over performance, even with cars. As long as a car doesn’t break a lot and drives reasonably well, the only thing I care about is if it’s pretty and in my price range. I don’t speed and I drive in LA with traffic: what do I care how fast the engine goes from 0 to 60 as long as I have enough pick-up to change lanes? As I wrote on my first Bicoastal Brunette guest blog, quoting Annette Bening as Virginia Hill in Bugsy: “Looks matter if it matters how you look.”

So I hate the look of IOS 7, and when we repaired the problem, the Apple guy urged me to update but said I didn’t have to. J was disappointed, hoping he’d force me to (or lie about its necessity), but the overworked sole guy at the Genius Bar just said it would be better if I did. “It would be better” is not an incentive sufficient to overcome strong resistance. (I’m not fond of the Apple store of Santa Barbara because it’s understaffed; in a “city” of 220K, they employ one “genius” on a Monday.)

I blogged about Bar Ama on Saturday, but didn’t mention that I bought my first piece of clothing from Nordstrom in nearly three years on my way home. I also bought my first pair of new shoes (not secondhand) in two years, not counting the Ariat riding boots I lived in last trip to the city. These are from Aldo and they were 20% off. I was impressed both with the high quality leather and classy style (not a big horrid platform with 6 or 7 inch heel of the sort favored by women who wear “sausage dresses,” that is, tight Forever 21 mini-dresses which should never be worn by anymore over 21 and never by anyone of any age over a size 4).

Aldo. Originally 90. On sale for 72. Buttery leather and yummy smell.

Aldo. Originally 90. On sale for 72. Buttery leather and yummy smell.

Friday I met a new friend for a lovely lunch on the Sunset Strip at Caffe Primo and stopped for a glass of wine and flan at Le Petit Four on the way home. (For new readers, my hyperlinks for restaurants link to my Yelp reviews). Friday was a stunning day and because it was still Spring Break, I had no traffic in either direction on Sunset. That night I had dinner with my parents at Sam’s by the Beach. With Wilshire, it’s my favorite restaurant of its kind my parents eat regularly. They have a special ravioli every night and I’m glad the server nudged me to try it instead of the vegetarian crepes which sounded phenomenal but he reluctantly admitted wasn’t his favorite dish on the menu.

10153794_646642642037465_71226582_nSaturday I had brunch for the first time since 1996 (!) at Coogie’s Malibu with my wonderful cousin and her family from Ellensberg, so it was a short trip packed with fun, friends and family.

It was sunny but a bit cooler on Thursday when my friend and I ate at Bar Ama. I’m always shocked at how deserted downtown is when people are not out for lunch, and I got some great pictures I will post in another blog. I love downtown. It’s a nostalgia trip for me: a walk (or drive) through the landmarks of my parents’ illustrious legal careers, much of which took place there.

My parents married in 1966 at the Los Angeles Athletic Club, where my father ran, swam and lifted weights at lunch for decades and I worked out the year I volunteered at the Christopher Commission in 1991. (My name’s on the report as assistant to the executive assistant or something like that, but really it should have said filing and coffee girl who flirted with the boys from Peat Marwick, none of whom would touch the daughter of Robert and Andrea with a ten foot pole). Here I am in New Orleans in the summer of 1991 in the Christopher Commission era wearing my first pair of Persol sunglasses (the “cat eyes” model).321356_476872745681123_646802700_n

I thought I was cute enough at least to justify a kiss after cocktails at Steppes (no one carded me, particularly not in a suit and 4-inch heels), but one of the Peat Marwick guys would walk me to my 1988 Tercel in the garage and shake my hand or pat me on the shoulder.

Mom was U.S. Attorney when Dad was a federal bankruptcy judge toward the end of my elementary school years.

The US Attorney and her bankruptcy judge husband, circa 1980. I was 8.

The US Attorney and her bankruptcy judge husband at a fake casino on vacation, circa 1980. I was 8.

Of course to a 6-year-old, there is little more wonderful in life than Hawaiian Punch. I remember all their secretaries fondly, but I think I still love Carol the most because she made me that yummy sugary drink–from concentrate kept in the fridge of the kitchen–at the U.S. Attorney’s office. It was the only office Mom ever had with a shower, but I don’t think she ever used it. She seemed not keen on the idea of my taking a shower and I was a docile, easy kid so I didn’t force the issue.

Dad practiced law in Los Angeles for 48 years and my mother officially retired just two years shy of that at 72.  They met at 9107 Wilshire Blvd in a building on the border of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood whose exterior is unchanged. Mom was the office manager working her way through UCLA Law and Dad was one of the ten lawyers in four or five baby firms she managed. Kate Mantilini, one of the first restaurants in LA famous for its “power breakfast,” is next door. Mom worked eight years by LACMA (the AG gig) and Dad spent the last years of his career in Century City, but most of their professional lives were spent somewhere between Bunker Hill and Olive.

“Power breakfasts” are (or were) a bigger thing in LA than New York and at places like Kate Mantilini, it’s entertainment industry folks not lawyers except perhaps an entertainment lawyer meeting with agents. Gordon Gekko thought “lunch was for pussies.” I’m not sure how Oliver Stone’s fictional emblem of Wall Street excess in the 1980s would have felt about the power breakfast. But given the market opens at 8AM, I doubt he’d think much of it. But I remember in the last decade of Mom’s career, she had quite a few working breakfasts both in downtown and Beverly Hills. (She’s too cheap to go to a fancy breakfast or brunch at the Pen, but she raved about her breakfast for a week so maybe I could cajole her to go for a private Mother’s Day breakfast.)

A fundamental difference between the culture of Biglaw and finance in LA and NYC is the hour at which important decisions are made. New York lawyers start late (often as late as 9:30AM) and end late. You can’t get ahead without schmoozing (or hustling) clients at dinner, which is one reason men–and childless women–tend to do better. They’re at a natural advantage because whereas in LA, a Biglaw woman can leave at 7PM or 7:30PM and then fit in a couple hours after dinner, a New York lawyer who doesn’t socialize after work simply can’t bring in the same business that a lawyer who wines and dines clients can.

It’s no longer socially acceptable to drink at lunch. The “two martini lunch” of the 1960s and 1970s was mostly over by the 1980. Lawyers I know 60 and up in LA tell me it’s exceedingly rare for someone to have even a glass of wine, much less a cocktail, at lunch unless it’s a birthday or a special occasion. But New Yorkers drink more than Angelenos, at least in the professional class. Manhattan is a culture of alcohol in ways I don’t think LA is for the middle-aged.

In part, it’s the stress of living in a place where $10,000 rent with $3000 maintenance (aka HOA dues) is par for the course in certain parts of town. New York yields the greatest of rewards but also demands the greatest of sacrifices.  Alcohol takes the edge off a hard-driving lifestyle. Life in California, even in LA or San Francisco, which are hard-driving compared to most of the state, is chill.

The brunch culture only took off in LA and SB (except for Easter) a decade ago. But brunch is a big deal in New York and while there are probably a dozen roughly comparable food scenes in America, New York is still New York, and restaurants are the absolute center of social life. Even people living in 400 feet places who scrimp on everything else spend vastly more on restaurants as a proportion of income than non-New Yorkers.

Another reason LA lawyers start early is that by 8AM PST, New York people have been up at work for at least one hour. Stockbrokers in LA live like soap stars or morning news anchors because they must be up when the market opens. On a deeper level, I’ve often thought the sense of superiority East Coasters feel over West Coasters has something to do with being, quite literally, “ahead” of us. (I say “us,” but I feel as much like a New Yorker as a Southern Californian, though I was born and raised in West LA and live in California 9 months a year.)

It also has to do with weather, though this explains only why New Yorkers feel superior to  those in warm climates. Of course, they also think they’re better than Midwesterners, whose weather is infinitely worse. Quite disgusting, in fact, with longer harder winters and summers, but people in the Midwest enjoy low prices on everything in exchange for six months of sheer meteorological misery, so it’s a tradeoff. People in LA and SB are undeniably weather pussies. I can’t believe what my boyfriend considers “too cold” to eat on a patio.

New Yorkers are up and at ‘em before a typical Angeleno has stumbled out of bed to pee first thing in the morning and, if applicable, take the dog out to pee or poop. They’re in suits and dresses with brushed hair and clean teeth while Californians are in boxers, pajamas and nightgowns. That’s inherently a position of superiority. How dignified and sophisticated can a person be with bed head, morning breath and the previous night’s mascara unglamorously smudged?

Sinatra famously sang, “If I can make it here, I’ll make it anywhere.” I see the changes between New York in the early 1990s and New York today, so I can only imagine how people there in the 1970s or 1980s feel. But one thing seems not to have changed: New York is hard. Indeed, New Yorkers revel in its hardness (though what choice do they have, short of moving or “giving up” as they’re likely to see it?). New Yorkers feel about the city they love and sometimes hate precisely as Tom Hanks described baseball in A League of their Own: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it weren’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.” Just a year or so earlier, Denis Leary said the much the same thing about New York at the end of No Cure for Cancer. New Yorkers regard living in the city as a “badge of honor: “I was in Vietnam? Who cares? I live in New York!”

There is a final and obvious reason New Yorkers think so highly of themselves: nowhere in America do you find the sheer concentration of brains and talent you have in the city. More enlightened New Yorkers are rightfully proud of the city’s ethnic and racial diversity. By that standard, Santa Barbara is subpar.

When I got here, the black population was a whopping 1.8% I think. It’s nearer 3% now and you actually see black couples and families at restaurants, but if you want diversity, this isn’t the town for you. I’ve often written of my shock upon coming to Santa Barbara straight from New Haven and seeing not one black person in my first six weeks other than two black English professors and one homeless man. One professor, a great man, was nearly emeritus and would not have objected to black. The other was a WNBA tall lesbian Marxist and likely would have preferred African-American. (She’s now a labor lawyer in Oakland.)

With these observations about life on the coasts by way of introduction (though I do realize that the East Coast is more than New York, just as the West Coast is more than LA), here is my blog for Bicoastal BrunetteFashion isn’t philosophy, but it need not be devoid of substance. The famous exchange between Isabel Archer and Madame Merle in Portrait of a Lady’s nineteenth chapter has never been far from my consciousness when thinking about selfhood or personal identity, specifically in relation to material possessions or simply, as Madame Merle puts it, “things.”

P.S. The vet said Emma had to drop 5 to 7 pounds and I took that as an incentive to drop the 5-7 I’ve been carrying around in my lower body. In a week, I had three brisk walks at Will Rogers State Park, two swims, and one short high-intensity elliptical workout and session with weights. Since I stopped dancing in the fall, first due to a pulled trapezius from carrying around toddler who weighed about 20 pounds, and then the ankle for which I still haven’t gotten PT, I quit stretching. I’m getting back to that as well.

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