Happy Super Bowl Sunday from Santa Barbara! Victorian Chick on Fitness (and Instagram)

The only Patriots OR Red Sex gear in Manhattan is Modell's Times Square. The Midtown East location didn't carry. This is a little boy shirt. No women's gear at all.

The only Patriots OR Red Sex gear in Manhattan is Modell’s Times Square. The Midtown East location didn’t carry. This is a little boy shirt. No women’s gear at all.

Ed. Note: The Patriots have won the Super Bowl. I heard on the radio that people eat more on Super Bowl Sunday than Thanksgiving, so if you’re feeling immobilized by whatever decadent food you’ve consumed, here’s a way to atone. 

January has a been a big workout month for me. For various reasons I detail in the 5000 words blog I completed yesterday (my first since Christmas) but will post tomorrow,  I haven’t been motivated to write. Working out is mindless, and it’s not as though I’m short on time, so I’ve been spending hours a day at Santa Barbara Athletic Club, where I’ve been a member since 1998. They have WiFi, wine, beer, fresh juice (Earth Bar), cottage cheese, protein bars, hardboiled eggs, bananas and one edible sandwich.

During my years of crippling depression in a town I never belonged in a graduate program I mostly despised, SBAC was my salvation. I swam five or six nights a week; that hour or so  (plus the hour or so in and out of the tiny steam room) was my only pleasure in life. But I’ve been lifting weights on and off for a few years, and this year for the first time since 2000, I’ve been using the elliptical.

In college, I lived on my Nordictrack and spent countless hours on treadmills and elliptical machines in the the 1990s. By 1998, I was mostly swimming and walking outdoors (one of Santa Barbara’s virtues is year-round walking and swimming weather). I did yoga seriously in the 1990s, going on retreats with teachers like Peter Sterios or taking workshops at Yogaworks on Montana with Australia’s Marc Whitwell.

The current culture of yoga annoys me and I never found a studio or teacher I really loved in Santa Barbara, so that’s no longer a part of my life. I can stretch on my own and you don’t need yoga to do the splits or balance on one leg while you take a picture of yourself in a whatever this pose is called.

Balancing selfie If someone else had taken this, my leg would have been higher. I am not dancing but you don't need dance--or yoga--to stay flexible. All you need to do is commit to stretching regularly if you're not naturally flexible.

Balancing selfie If someone else had taken this, my leg would have been higher. I am not dancing but you don’t need dance–or yoga–to stay flexible. All you need to do is commit to stretching regularly if you’re not naturally flexible.

In 2009, I started doing weights with a trainer. I’m body-aware, so I only met with John Kovach (now athletic director of Cathedral Oaks Athletic Club, the sister club in Goleta that caters to families) ten or so times. John, a football player at Duke with a Masters in marine biology at UCSB, was terrific, but I don’t need someone to push or monitor me. I just wanted to get up to speed on weights. I don’t do all the special exercises he showed me, but I basically follow the routine he set forth.

Since fitness people are likely not interested in my preference for  for comedies of manners to stories about the downtrodden (The Grapes of Wrath), or my love of Noel Coward, I decided to extract the final part the blog I worked on for two days and post it as a freestanding piece.

I’ve written about dance, fitness and yoga before on Victorian Chick (search archives if you’re interested). And I’ve always been a fit and slender girl. But I will be 43 in a few weeks and it’s more work to stay skinny as you age, particularly if your social life revolves around restaurants, wine bars and happy hours.

Before I review my current cross-training regimen, let me offer a few general observations about getting–or staying–fit.

1. Rational Eating and Portion Control Are Key.

You can live at the gym, but if you eat too much (of the right or wrong things), it won’t matter. Exercise is key to weight management, good sleep, cardiac health, bone density, and an overall sense of well-being. But if you lack portion control, you’ll never look the way you want (unless you’re content being radically larger than even the most relaxed definition of height-weight proportionate).

2. Eating Smaller Meals Throughout the Day Is Better than Fewer Large Meals.

Any reputable trainer or nutritionist will tell you that eating small meals more frequently is better than eating one or two large meals a day and going for hours without food. But if you hate to cook and work long hours in a profession with client dinners and late night drinks, this is easier said than done. I try to eat three times a day, but it doesn’t always happen. Don’t skip breakfast, and  if possible, get some protein in you not too long after you arise.

3. Drink Water.

In the 2000s, I drank unhealthy amounts of water. My organs might well have exploded. So we’re not talking about 2 gallons a day (about what I drank on the average day in the mid-2000s). But a minimum of eight glasses (8 oz.) is good. It’s also great for your skin. One reason I look as young as I do is that I avoided the sun entirely for a decade, during which time I neither smoked nor drank. And my mother is half-Mexican, so I lucked out genetically. But my dangerous water consumption had a felicitous effect on my skin. I get compliments on my skin daily, both in person and online.

4. Don’t be Wacko like Gwyneth Paltrow.

Not being a wacko is generally sound advice. But steaming vaginas aside, Gwyneth’s relationship with food is seriously weird. As my readers know, I went to elementary school with Gwyneth and after 6th grade, when the family moved to New York, I didn’t see her until last May at the 30th reunion of our 6th grade graduation.

Gwyneth was gracious and solicitous, seemingly pleased that I care for my father and amazed that Hilma (the woman who cared for me when I was little) is still with us 37 years later. Most of us had  housekeepers if not nannies, or in my mother’s egalitarian language, “caregivers.” But only Hilma remains.

I left the reunion–at the home near Ronald Reagan’s old place up the hill from the Riviera Country Club I spent so many Shabbat dinners and sleepovers–feeling much as I did this week when “Vaginagate” went viral. I cannot reconcile the woman with whom I chatted so pleasantly after 30 years, with the entity at the center of the media frenzy I’ve witnessed along with everyone else who didn’t go to school with her for seven years.

Gwyneth is a movie star who has remained at the top of a notoriously treacherous industry for half her life (just over 20 years). Those who say her parents are responsible for her success clearly know nothing about Hollywood. Your parents may get your foot in the door, but they don’t keep you there.

But FTLOG (my friend’s acronym for For the Love of God), she needs to confine her remarks to acting. The blog by the Ob/Gyn was simply scathing. If she wants to co-write a cookbook, fine. But there’s no percentage in discussing skin care from Paris, parenting, science, or medicine. “Write what you know” is always good counsel.

I’ve written about “the Gwyneth phenomenon” once or twice on Victorian Chick,  so I won’t rehash. People don’t seem fully to grasp how her father’s death affected her. Bruce was everything to Gwyneth. His death in his early 60s when she was just 30 shook her. Gwyneth has said in interviews that she got into nutrition and fitness when Bruce was diagnosed with throat cancer, hoping to save him through a macrobiotic diet. I’m neither a scientist nor a doctor, just a pretty fit girl who seems to have figured out at way to eat and exercise that keeps me looking and feeling good. But clearly her approach is extreme.

With Emma photobombing me in J's bathroom.

With Emma photobombing me in J’s bathroom.

You don’t have to cut back to one glass a wine a day (why bother?) or excise hard liquor to stay slender and tight. Part of the point of having or making money is enjoying food and wine. Gwyneth’s culinary life, apart from time-consuming and outrageously expensive ($300/day if the viral story last year is to be believed) is neurotic.

I’m sure the meals she prepares taste good, but I’m a restaurant/takeout/frozen dinner girl. I don’t even brew coffee and thank the inventor of the Keurig daily for the miraculous contraption.

4.99 at Trader Joe's. Not nearly as good as Pressed Juicery or Juice Generation but just fine and cheaper.

4.99 at Trader Joe’s. Not nearly as good as Pressed Juicery or Juice Generation but just fine and cheaper.

I love veggie juice, but I buy it at Pressed Juicery, Juice Generation or Trader Joe’s. There is no way I’m going to schlep bags of carrots, spinach, kale, and beets into my kitchen and then fuck with a juicer.

5. Cardio Is Not Enough: You Must Build Muscle/Strength.

Some women find weights intimidating. I find them empowering and fun. You burn more calories when you’re toned. Also, as a woman, bone density matters. A thin woman can contract osteoporosis (and diabetes). So you need to balance cardio with weights or strength training. I love upper body work. Not that I need an additional source of intimidation with what a friend calls my “verbal judo” black belt. But I love having defined arms and a strong core. I wouldn’t begin to know how to punch someone, but I like the idea of that I could learn how.

6. Barring Allergies or Genuine Disorders, You Can Eat What You Want in Moderation.

I’m a carnivore. A life without steak, chicken, and burgers is no life I am interested in living. I’ve never been a big pork person, but a pork chop done right is a wonderful thing. Carnitas or panang curry with pork at our local Thai I also enjoy. I don’t get America’s bacon obsession, as I consider bacon a garnish on a Cobb salad or the occasional BLT. I take no position on macrobiotics, paleo diets or alternative cancer treatments. Those with auto-immune disorders and other complex health problems may need to avoid all kinds of things normal, healthy people consume. But you can eat, drink, and be merry and still rock a bikini or evening gown.

I don’t eat burgers daily. I probably have two or three a month. I eat cheese almost daily but dairy is not a problem for me and I used to drink large amounts of nonfat milk. I don’t anymore, just because I eat at home so little. I eat pasta, but I don’t eat three cups of Mac ‘n Cheese.

Last night I hit Whole Foods after the club and picked up some chicken for my boyfriend and some lemon cranberry quinoa, sautéed vegetables and small portion of macaroni and cheese for me. I eat rice at at Japanese, Thai, and Chinese restaurants, but I don’t eat much more than a cup. Occasionally I eat a whole bagel, but mostly I stick to rye toast at home. At dinner, I will have a roll from the bread basket with butter. I love fresh sweet butter, but I mostly avoid fried food. Stealing fries from my boyfriend’s doesn’t count.

I eat dessert out only when it’s part of a prix fixe. Occasionally I have a rainbow cookie or cupcake in New York. The Montecito bakery with the shortbread cookies closed its doors after three decades, so now I’m cookie-less in Santa Barbara. But other than panna cotta, I don’t order dessert in restaurants, nor do I have a big sweet tooth. I like Greek yogurt bars and the Weight Watchers chocolate-covered raspberry popsicles. When in LA with my parents, I will have a bite of a macaroon or fruit tart.

I don’t write much about body image because it’s boring and intellectually lightweight. And my body image is fine. As a Ph.D. candidate from UCSB with an English degree from Yale and a Masters from UCSB, expending critical energy on body issues strikes me as a waste of time. But I’m aware that many women struggle with body image and fitness, and I’m having so much fun with fitness these days, I thought I would share my current three-part cross-training workout.

I. Elliptical: 20 to 35 minutes at 10 incline and 1 resistance.

Beautiful view from elliptical. In day light the mountains are magnificent.

Beautiful view from elliptical. In day light the mountains are magnificent.

I dislike most cardio rooms without windows or views. My Equinox at 63rd and Lex has spectacular views and was I think featured in You’ve Got Mail when Tom Hanks is talking to his friend on the treadmill. But I detest the SBAC cardio room, thought it’s less claustrophobic than it used to be. Still, you get the hamster effect.

This was Denis Leary’s objection in his career-making 1992 show, No Cure for Cancer: “Have we turned into gerbils, ladies and gentleman?… You wanna walk up and down stairs, move into a walkup on the Lower East Side. What’s next, a Chairmaster? I stand up, I sit down. The Doormaster: I open the door, I close the door. Jesus Christ!”

Happily, SBAC has two Precor ellpiticals (one with arms and one without) which overlook the pool in the open-air weight room. My camera never captures the full majesty of the mountain view, but it’s stunning and peaceful. It’s never cold enough that you have to work out indoors, so I always use the armless outside Precor. I’ve never had to wait for the machine because I have an off-peak membership for just $127 a month and am barred from going between 4PM and 8PM Monday through Friday. I suspect these machines are less popular because they don’t have a TV. I prefer to listen to music and take in the view than watch TV on a tiny screen.

As a side note, Swell Corporation’s new enforcement of the primetime restriction is in my case absolute bullshit. Even my mild-mannered mother thinks so (though she wouldn’t like me broadcasting her view in a blog because she doesn’t like to “be mean”: I’m a bitch by comparison and enjoy voicing my opinions sharply and loudly).

I’ve been a member 16 years, the first 11 of which I rare set foot in the club before 8PM. No one told me about the off-peak option, and due to my Satan landlord’s restriction on showering after 10PM, I didn’t even go to the club for two years. I was ill and forgot to freeze. So from 1998 to 2009, I overpaid some $30/month, which comes to well over $4000. Since 2011, I have lived in Santa Barbara only 6.5 months a year, so I’m giving Swell Corporation 12 months of dues for 6 months of usage.

7.99 Slim Down Smoothie. Light. Coconut water, pineapple, earth fusion etc.

7.99 Slim Down Smoothie. Light. Coconut water, pineapple, earth fusion etc.

more than make up for the slight break on dues in juice, wine, beer, cottage cheese, and protein bars, spending at least $150 per month on snacks and booze during my SB months.

Saturday workout intermission.

Saturday workout intermission.

I figure a little ball-busting in social media can’t hurt. Since joining Instagram three weeks ago, I’ve become an unofficial over-40 face of the club (no one over 40 posts or tags SBAC in social media). And I’ve long maintained that it’s the only civilized option in a town with an overpriced, worthless Spectrum and the unthinkable 24 Fitness.

If they don’t relax the policy in my case on the rare days I want to be there at prime-time, I can at least derive pleasure from speaking my mind (or as my boyfriend says, “going on”).

In this vein, see my blog about the pleasures of complaining (which, appropriately, includes a link to my hourlong podcast on Click! Bang! to discuss e-cigs and my dismissal from the Huffington Post). The New Age nitwits have it all wrong: done right, complaining is immensely gratifying. Complaining badly, or to excess, is like anything not done well or in moderation. I suspect that few among the anti-complaining crowd are Jewish (and their Jew cards should most certainly be revoked). Rare is the Jew who doesn’t understand the pleasures of moderate kvetching.

While generous with my praise on and off Yelp, I don’t pull punches. I don’t think Instagram was thinking of someone like Victorian Chick when it failed to set a character limit on captions, a la Twitter: my nickname at Westlake was “the electric arm” due to my need from 7th grade on for two blue books for final exams.  Here is my rant about the Silvergreens sandwiches which replaced the heavenly and pricey-but-worth-it Santa Barbara Unified School District sandwiches and salads.10365353_792798500755211_6114197395244723570_o

My boyfriend calls this tendency of mine, inherited from my father, “Victoria makin’ friends.” People on Facebook have taken to using it, often in a hashtag in comments. Dad said I should try to suppress this trait, but I don’t. I have next to no filter, nor do I plan on acquiring one.

I don’t seek confrontation, and my wall is one of the happiest I know of on FB (particularly given the great ideological, geographical, religious, cultural and socioeconomic diversity on my wall). But neither do I shy away from an argument when someone goes after me. I have a manner of expression which frequently elicits the following responses: “Tell us how you really feel!” or “Don’t sugarcoat it, Victoria!” I am an acquired taste and I’m good with that. This is one of the gifts of being over 40.

I don’t know quite how to calculate my speed on the elliptical, but if I go at my normal rate for 35 minutes, I get to 2.75 miles. I’m skeptical about computers on these machines readouts vary from one brand to another. But my heart rate is high, I sweat like a pig, and my legs get strong and lean. No girl should want thunder thighs, and while some spinners are lean (in my experience the ones who also do Pilates or yoga), I’ve seen a lot of girls who spin or ride stationary bikes with bulky, unfeminine legs. If I rode a stationary bike (the only kind possible given I don’t know how to ride a real bike), my legs would be like tree trunks. Eew.

II. Weights (Machines/Free Weights/Planks).

10949757_792787624089632_4805701366785698763_oIf I’m not in a workout mood, I start with weights and then do the elliptical. Weights are generally the most mindless and easy part of my workout. It’s rare that I’m not in the mood for muscle work.

In general, this is my take on weights: it’s better to increase reps of lower weight as a women seeking definition, than to load up on weight and do fewer reps. From the standpoint of bone density and prevention of osteoporosis, more reps at lower weight is sufficient is sufficient. I’ve slightly increased the weight on lower body machines, but kept the upper body machines stable.

A. Legs/Lower Body.

1. Abductor: 3 sets of 15-20 (30 or 35 pounds).

2. Adductor: 3 sets of 15-20 (30 pounds).

3. Gluts: 2 sets of 15 at 62.5 or 70 pounds (62.5-75 pounds, each side). 10385404_792407170794344_7011281799793650091_n

4. Quads: 3 sets of 20 (70-75 pounds).

I do not and will not do squats. As a teacher of stretch and tone (precursor to body sculpting), I did thousands. At 43 in a few weeks, my days of squats are over. My ankle can’t tolerate the pressure. If I did them on the leg with the good ankle only, I’d be unbalanced. You can be fit and strong without squats and I’ve known professional dancers who never did a single squat. This is a trendy modern obsession I refuse to buy into. 

B. Upper Body/Arms

1. Lats: 2 sets of 15 at 15 pounds.1509882_792407330794328_7906119699280037260_n

2. Triceps: 3 sets of 15 at 10 or 12.5 pounds. (Machines vary and the numerical values differ according to brand).10408115_792410744127320_109317201471352111_n

3. Tricep/lats. 2 sets of 15 at 15 to 18 pounds.

4. Bicep curls: 2 sets of 15 at 10 pounds.

*5. Free weight bicep curls (front and side): 1 set of 15. So a total of 30 curls.  weights. (I work my biceps on alternate sessions differently: bicep curls on machine one day, free weights on another).

* 6. Rowing pulls: I substitute these for 1

7. Abs: I do about 30 pounds on the vertical machine with the slings. I also do sit-ups and various routines for abs. There are a million videos on abs. Any one will do. This isn’t rocket science; you just need to strength your upper and lower abs (leg lifts work) and work your obliques.

1462937_792407427460985_4198363889201195872_n

III. Laps

If I’ve done a mile only on the elliptical, I always swim 1/2 mile (34 lengths) and sometimes tread water with gloves for another ten of fifteen minutes. If I get involved in a conversation with another swimmer treading that day, I might stay in longer.

 

 

This is my 1/2 mile routine:

1. 6 crawl

2. 4 kick (on stomach)

3. 6 crawl

4. 4 kick.

5. 6 breast

6. 4 kick (on back)

7. 4 crawl.

I don’t think in terms of meters or yards and I find that counting each length out works best. It’s nice to swim in a 25 meter pool. The 63rd Street Equinox pool is “long” by city standards, but it’s tiny to a CA girl. A mile is 90, not 68, lengths, which makes for a disjunctive and not very pleasant swim.

Add to this that except for triathletes, New York swimmers mostly suck: they’re slow, they weave, and leave behind them a wake for this ex-sailing girl conjures up a Boston Whaler.  So it’s not optimal but it’s the only game in town unless you’re a member of a real–not health–club like the University, Colony, or Metropolitan. (If you have a penis, a lot of money and big time connections, you can swim at the New York Racquet and Tennis Club or the Brook: they have wonderful pools.)

So that’s it.

Final note: If you can’t get to the gym to lift, swim and do the elliptical, it doesn’t mean you can’t work out at all. Walking 30 to 60 minutes is fine. Planks are efficient but if you’re weak, you can hurt yourself. All you need is a yoga mat or carpet and a body sculpting DVD. Working your heart and strengthening your muscles 4-5 times a week doesn’t require a gym membership. A piece of equipment in the basement or walk around your neighborhood will suffice, though it’s good to mix up your cardio workouts. Those in good climates have no excuse for not walking. If you have time for Facebook, Twitter or Instagram (which in any case you can do while you walk around the blow a few times), you have time to work out.

P.S. Here is my Instagram. Follow me if you used to follow Facebook Victorian Chick. That page barely makes it into the feed. Only promoted posts get seen. All the activity is on my personal Victoria Ordin account, which I don’t want to grow.

@victorian_chick.  New to Insagram

@victorian_chick.
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Merry Christmas Week to Victorian Chick Readers! A Story of Christmases and Christmas Trees Past by a Christmas Tree Jew

Christmas, 2014. Our 5th.

Christmas, 2014. Our 5th.

A Facebook friend and Rockette-turned-artist I finally met in Hoboken this October noted that people were too exhausted on December 26th to wade through a long, rigorous blog about academic politics, the death of journalism, and aesthetic theory: “Today is the day after Christmas, and our brains are filled with sugarplums, cookies, candy canes and carbs. I Kant burn enough to think philosophically.”

This in response to a status update in which I mocked my naiveté in believing I could write a short, fluffy Christmas blog after a 3.5 month blogging hiatus.

Taking my wise friend’s counsel, I decided to wish my readers a belated Merry Christmas. Our family celebrated a day late because my brother and his teen daughters were in Miami, and since they’re the only children in the family, we pushed Christmas back one day.

I’m a Christmas tree Jew, raised around minimally observant Reform Jews or secular half-Jews, so it didn’t really matter what day we opened gifts. And actually, it worked out perfectly. I arose before 6AM, my body seemingly incapable of adjusting to Pacific Standard Time, and arrived at Montecito’s Miramar Beach in antlers and a (used) mink opera jacket in time for the end of sunrise. 10885363_773945275973867_2374970620337338402_n

I left my two overcoats with fur collars in the city and loaned my brown Giulana Teso from eBay ($49) to my LA friend, so it was this or the leather jacket on an unusually cool Christmas morning (51 degrees at 6AM).10881649_738235022935154_2755724108165092973_n
10888496_738234926268497_7394374695126980512_n

The tide was high at Miramar so I walked to Butterfly Beach, aka the Four Seasons beach, through the bougainvillea-lined lane which connects the two.

J and I had a quiet day with the animals and I finally got him to watch my favorite modern Christmas movie, The Ref, as we enjoyed our best tree ever.

2014 tree.

2014 tree.

J’s son, now 11, always celebrates Christmas with his mother and half-brother at her parents’ house in the Orange County (that’s not a typo: I always use the definite article to signify my disdain for the Southern California county below LA).             We always have him on Thanksgiving, which we spent with J’s parents in SB before they moved to Scottsdale. Now we drive with the kid and dog to their beautiful place near Troon Mountain and I get to shop at the best secondhand store in America, My Sister’s Closet.

J’s parents are real, not Christmas tree, Jews. They were raised Orthodox and kosher in Brooklyn and Queens, though they quit keeping kosher after medical school and no longer attend temple even on High Holidays. They light candles at home on various holidays, but are minimally observant and not at all religious. J and his sister had bar and bat mitzvahs in Houston, but neither is invested in Judaism or Jewish life.

Not, therefore, until marrying a sort of Catholic woman, did J have a Christmas tree in his home. Six months after his divorce became final, but nearly two years after she moved out of his house, J met me, who identifies as Jewish though I didn’t have a bat mitzvah and I don’t believe in God. This describes most of the girls I knew with secular Jewish fathers who married shiksas, either the first or second time around (Dad did both times).

Still, I’m the most Jewish girl he’s dated or known in Santa Barbara, not exactly a hub of Jewish life. I recently discovered the Edgar Bronfman Center and still plan to attend their their monthly wine night and try the weekly Yiddish class when I’m in town. It’s not formal language instruction, just a nice group of old ladies and a retired professor who reads and discusses a poem in Yiddish alongside an English translation. Earlier this year, I met a cool, smart, pretty, Jewish girl from Santa Barbara manning the desk at SBAC. She attended Smith on a full scholarship and they paid for her to study Hebrew in Israel for one year.

I was so happy to meet her, introduced by a member I really like who writes and sails now that he’s retired from journalism. She’s even a vaper! Northampton, MA had to have been a shock after SB. She didn’t like it at first, but eventually fell in love with Smith and said it was tough to be back in SB (removed, I take it, from such intellectual intensity).

She worked at the Edgar Bronfman Center and though probably not more than 25, one of the cooler, smarter girls I’ve come across in SB, a notoriously difficult place for both men and women to meet interesting females.The Bronfman Center has wonderful youth and senior programs, including a group of Holocaust survivors in Santa Barbara who meet with at-risk kids with gang connections if not themselves gang members. They have a movie night for kids with pajamas at which I’d like to volunteer.

Eighteen years in this town, and I’d never heard of this organization until a religious Jewish friend in Jersey sent me a link. It turns out that Santa Barbara does have a Jewish community, but it’s small and somehow hidden. I ran into a couple dozen Jews at Chaucer’s Books a few years ago when Abe Foxman of the ADL signed copies of his book, Jews and Money: The History of a Stereotype.

I went directly to J’s parents house afterward and joked I’d seen more Jews in one day than in ten years in Santa Barbara. There is a SB Jewish singles group, but J went once twenty years ago and said it was all guys. I went once or twice but wasn’t impressed, perhaps because I was hoping to meet LA and New York Jews. I didn’t.

Santa Barbara has a Reform temple tucked away on the San Marcos Pass (the 154 which takes you to wine country), which J’s parents joined in 2006 when they moved from Houston and promptly un-joined because the people were so rude and unwelcoming. We have one Hebrew language temple I get the sense is pretty extreme and more political (Zionist) than religious or cultural in its emphases.

Except for religious studies graduate students or professors at the nationally-ranked UCSB department, I’ve never met anyone here who spoke or read Hebrew. That’s it: a Reform temple J’s parents couldn’t stand and a tiny orthodox temple where people speak Hebrew. Part of why they left Santa Barbara was the inability to find friends–Jewish or not–in this socially impossible town.

So when I received my Humanities Predoctoral Fellowship for an M.A./Ph.D. in English after Yale graduation, Dad was of course proud of his little girl. He was also happy to be off the hook for five years of tuition after 12 years of private school plus Yale (though Grandma paid for part of college). He was beside himself about the $12,000 a year stipend for five years (1996-2001). Not only did he not have to pay for school; they were going to pay me! And the health insurance was so cheap, it was practically free. But his first response, beyond congratulations, was: “What the hell are you going to do up there? It’s a place rich old goyim go to die [i.e. retire].” As I say, not a hub of Jewish life.

While culturally Jewish, I grew up with Santa and Christmas trees and carols, which I played on the piano out of the Fireside Christmas book. My parents stopped with the tree my first year of college. They still do lights, a fake wreath and poinsettias, but since buying the tree was a special mommy/daughter activity, my departure for college marked the end Christmas trees at the Ordin household.

Cut to 2011. I had been to New York in December, 2009, my first time in nine years. And after my first exposure in a decade to the magic that is Manhattan at Christmas, I resolved to get a tree the next year. I missed 2010, but got organized for 2011. I met J in August, 2010, and in 2011 invited a few people over to my rental to decorate. It was too early in the relationship to foist a tree on a man who not only had to endure a large, expensive tree in the house he bought for his wife and stepson, but who was expected to buy expensive ornaments (and Mauviel cookware, though neither can cook worth a damn).

Christmas was an especially miserable time in what was a generally miserable marriage, though I didn’t know the extent of it at the time. But being the intuitive creature I am, I figured J might have Christmas PTSD from the nightmare shiksa he married, so I bought a sweet 5 foot tree for my rental where I still lived part-time.

My first tree in 21 years.

My first tree in 21 years.

It was a great little tree, in spite of the Grinch who stole all the ornaments my mother gave to me that Thanksgiving in a beautiful hat box she bought secondhand. These ornaments had sentimental, but not monetary, value.

As Victorian Chick readers know, my illustrious mother is frugal (some might say cheap) but only with herself; she’s unflaggingly generous with others.  Mom’s first non-Supercuts haircut in my lifetime was in 2012 at the age of 72, and only because a Brentwood salon ran a 50% off deal for first-time clients.  She loved the result so much, Mom now  pays full-price now at Juan Juan on San Vicente, though she still dyes her own hair with color bought at CVS. This in spite of the fact that my sister has done hair for a living since 1990 and could buy Mom Goldwell or the equivalent at Cosmoprof, a professional beauty supply which sells only to currently licensed cosmetologists.

So we never had expensive ornaments. There were a few robins and other birds with a wire rather that wrapped around branches, rather than hanging by a hook. I loved the wheelbarrows with Santa, though most were missing a wheel or two. There were a few Hummel-style figurines, but not the tacky kind Jeff Koons featured in one of his most famous and kitschy series I was invited to see on a private members tour of the Whitney a week before the closing party this past October.

Me at the Whitney its last week, next to the Jeff Koons Popeye sculpture.

Me at the Whitney its last week, next to the Jeff Koons Popeye sculpture.

(Months earlier the same friend invited me for a private tour of the new Whitney in the Highline, set to open in May of 2015. The closing of the Upper East Side museum was a milestone much covered and discussed in the city this October. And the Koons exhibit was fascinating, even if you think much of his work hideously ugly.

Had I been blogging at the time, I would have discussed Jed Perl’s obnoxious, mean-spirited piece in the New York Review of Books, which entirely missed the point of the brilliantly-conceived exhibit. The curators’ concise but detailed writing helped me understand what Koons was up to in each major phase of his career, which doesn’t alter the fact that some pieces are godawful. Many weigh five to eight tons, which presents a serious engineering problem for those moving or placing them in an old building. That no one in his right mind wants a big Playdoh sculpture (created when Koons’ Italian porn star and parliamentarian wife stole their son) in his living room is beside the point. Much Koons produced is not intended for placement in private homes, nor can it be measured by traditional aesthetic standards.))

Our ornaments, then, were a hodgepodge of much-loved and well-worn wooden, fabric, and plastic pieces, along with a few glass or crystal icicles or bulbs given to us over the years. I even made a few out of paper maiche, though I detested art class, particularly drawing, because the kids in my Hollywood elementary school were like miniature John Singer Sargents.

I had talent in the performing, not the fine arts, and dreaded art at St. Augustine.  Whatever the assignment, I would always draw a rose with a daisy and two pussy willows. It was my signature art project, and I was miffed to learn in 7th grade art at Westlake that  sweet, old, quirky Miss De Wine (who always said “What’s the word?” instead of “Hello” or “Good morning”) wanted me to draw something else. Printmaking wasn’t so bad, but I was elated after that semester never to have to enter an art studio again.

The only stolen ornament Mom cared about was a straw angel with pinkish red hair, which we always put on top of the tree. Her beloved mother, a creative free spirit who died when I was six months old, was a red-haired bombshell raised in Mexico. That ornament was our Mama Toni angel, though my mother doesn’t believe in angels–or God–any more than the rest of my secular family does.

Minutes after arriving with our family’s ornaments at my Santa Barbara apartment, I got a phone call on my perpetually low battery flip phone and went inside to call the person on my landline. I had begun to unpack the car when the phone rang and left the hat box on the roof of my Saab, never imagining that anyone would steal it in just 40 minutes.  After all, I’d left my SUV unlocked for years, much of the time with a wallet in the glove compartment and a key under the seat.  For ten years I slept without incident alone in not one but two unlocked apartments because I lost the key and never bothered to approach the landlords for new ones.

After ranting on FB about the Asshole Grinch who stole my ornaments, I went to Michael’s and bought 40 colored bulbs for $9.99 and CVS for another $15 dollars worth of cheap plastic Santas, reindeer and snowmen. But it was a nice tree and I loved everything about it. In fact, I loved it so much that I didn’t take it down for a year. By that point, I had essentially moved in with J and by the time June rolled around, it got to be kind of a joke.

By 2012, I had proven to J that I was nothing like the ex-wife and that Christmastime could be fun, not thoroughgoing and protracted misery. We went together to Anthony’s, a 60-year-old lot, and chose a bushy, 5 footer which was a cross between a Douglas and Frazier. I paid, feeling that it was enough to force a tree on the guy (who as the man would need to manage the stand), and that he shouldn’t have to spend money on my goyishe tree fetish.

2012 Christmas Tree.

2012 Christmas Tree.

Much to his surprise, he enjoyed the tree almost as much as I did and we’ve had a tree  ever since (for which I still pay).  Since the great ornament heist of 2011, I’ve gradually assembled a collection of nicer, though still relatively inexpensive, ornaments. None is over $15.

This January, I bought half-price angels at the pop-up Montecito Christmas store near the post office. They’re beautifully painted figures faintly evocative of of Pre-Raphaelite women–what I imagine Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott might look like with wings.10849948_771521692882892_3147455870643893723_n

Every year, undoubtedly after Christmas when they fire sale all Christmas stuff, Mom buys me a few ornaments from the Metropolitan Museum of Art catalog. 10885072_771521719549556_418617008785600239_nLast year she found the most breathtaking faberge egg replicas, one a lady bug.

This has a special meaning from childhood. I never had a pet because neither of my parents like animals and Dad is severely allergic to cats. Mom would have gone for a cat, but Dad blows up within 25 feet of a kitty.

Dogs were a nonstarter. We lived on a CT 54 ketch in the Marina on weekends and while some boaters had dogs, Dad wasn’t going to be one of them. I knew he thought dog-owning sailors were “out of their minds” and I was too smart to ask for the impossible. (The ultimate self-regulating child, I always got what I wanted because I only asked for things to which they would assent.) Also Dad’s mother had a beautiful Samoyed who died tragically and violently, when Tosca chewed a plastic bowl and bled to death while his parents were out one night.

Dad thinks dogs are like kids, expensive and troublesome: “Who needs that?”  He’s also mildly afraid of dogs, having been attacked as a child and retaining some of that fear, though he liked my mom’s best friend’s Rotweilers. So he still gets annoyed when I pet a stranger’s dog on the street: “Don’t pet strangers’ dogs. You never know when they’ll snap.” (Sometimes he thinks they have mange.) If he said this about a pit bull–a breed I happen to like but many fear–I’d understand. But Dad will say this even about a Golden or a Labrador.

Pet-deprived as this animal lover was, I sought substitutes in the form of stuffed animals (I was never into dolls) and ladybugs. I always liked ladybugs, eventually getting a pair of enamel ladybug studs for Christmas one year. One afternoon on the boat, my parents found me on the deck talking to a ladybug, which I tried to train: “Stay…no… yes… good.” So that ornament is particularly meaningful. 10500366_771521769549551_41748811218910898_n

This past trip to the city, I went as usual to the Columbus Circle Christmas tents. They beefed up the food court with exotic fare all under ten dollars, and the jewelry is better than ever. Some earrings and necklaces were in the $150 range, but most well under $100.  I posted a public album on my personal Facebook page. At Christmas and the City, I picked up three new ornaments: 1) wine Santa, 2) gold/silver wreath, and 3) fairy angel. The wreath isn’t a perfect tree topper, but it’s an improvement over the silly moose in a dress I bought at CVS.10847834_771521669549561_2031603931911822430_n

I spent ten Christmases alone during my depression. This marks the five-year anniversary of the total reconciliation with my parents as well as my fifth Christmas with J. (January, 2015 also marks my five-year anniversary off all medication: I take no anti-depressants, anti-anxiety meds or other psychotropic medication.)
After decades of hating the holidays, which truly do suck when you’re estranged from family and without friends or a family of your own to replace your family of origin, I adore the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years.  I am proof that you can turn your life around and that when you do, you can again enjoy the holidays (assuming you ever did).

My Christmases were wonderful until the end of high school. I love this picture of me holding court (!) in the West Hollywood house north of Doheny where I spent my first 22 months, at which point we moved to the Palisades. My father only ventures east of the 405 for an accountant upstairs from Boa by the Soho House and an optometrist and watch store by Pico and Beverly. He spent the day at the Omni the day my mother won the Shattuck-Price Award, the LA County Bar Association’s highest honor.

But barring a special event downtown, Dad doesn’t venture east of Century City. I was born at St. John’s in Santa Monica, where all solvent Westside Jews go. Dad’s view as one who spent his first 50 years considerably east of the 405 is that you don’t cross the DMZ of LA if you can help it. And why go to Cedars when we have St. John’s?

1973 Christmas. Me at 22 months with Mom, looking like a Vogue model.

1973 Christmas. Me at 22 months with Mom, looking like a Vogue model.

As J and I drove home from Moorpark, where my ex-sister-in-law lives in the house my brother and she lived when married, J said, “Christmas is always so chill at your family.” Our Christmas is like no holiday he has experienced with his own family (and certainly not with that of his ex-wife).

That the Ordins would be a model of familial harmony is nothing short of miraculous. It wasn’t always thus. Surely Newton wrote but didn’t publish a law to the effect that any crazy family will be ten times crazier at the holidays. Along these lines, there must be a lost paragraph in Freud’s vast oeuvre stating that families which are loving and free of conflict during the holidays have substantially overcome past trauma.

With Mom. Her new sweater from Dad and Suzy is the softest cashmere I've felt and the cut is great, but this picture doesn't do it justice.

With Mom. Her new sweater from Dad and Suzy is the softest cashmere I’ve felt and the cut is great, but this picture doesn’t do it justice.

Our Christmas is chill in a more external sense as well. Some families make a big production of Christmas and feel stressed or frustrated if the house and meal fall short of Martha Stewart standards. Not the Ordins. No one spends hours cooking a prime rib or a roast (I don’t know if anyone in our family knows how to make prime rib, come to think of it.) Thanksgiving it is not, which in any case is far simpler than the feasts I see on Facebook every year.

No one in our immediate family could be described as a great, or even very good, cook. Our Christmas brunch is lox and bagels, a fruit salad, two egg things (one with mushroom and one with sausage) and a hash brown au gratin of some sort. I don’t know what the egg things are: a pseudo-casserole in a Pyrex pan that spent an unspecified amount of time in the oven, but is always cold by the time we arrive.  My ex-sister-in-law used to make a divine Jello mold with a graham cracker crust. Apparently I, with not a drop of Mormon blood, am the only one who liked it, so she doesn’t make it anymore. I toy with getting the recipe, but I still haven’t made the tuna casserole I promised to make months ago (with J doing a video for YouTube), so I don’t bother.

Since it’s brunch not dinner,  you might think someone is hard at work on Bloody Marys or mimosas. You would be wrong. Instead, there’s always a bottle or two of red wine no one but me–the family’s wino–drinks. My brother is 23 years sober and his ex-wife wife doesn’t drink. My sister and brother-in-law aren’t into wine, and Dad quit drinking hard liquor fifteen years ago when he was diagnosed with arrhythmia. He drinks only Prosecco when at a restaurant and a thimble of sherry at 5PM while he watches the BBC news.

Mom, who used to drink fairly impressive quantities of jug wine on the boat, became allergic to all wine about fifteen years ago. She drinks mostly gin on the rocks, though occasionally will order a Manhattan at Wilshire. Unlike her daughter, Mom, observes the 5PM rule, though in the era of two-martini lunches she used to have a glass of wine with the boys (her male colleagues at the DA’s or AG’s offices).

This year’s red was Cline Zinfandel, which only caught my eye because it was the “premium” wine American Airlines served on my hellish two-leg plane ride back from the city. Leg one featured two obnoxious children, ages 3 and 4, speaking with outside voices nonstop for two hours while their hapless, beleaguered parents slept with earbuds, leaving the rest of us to endure the inane ramblings of their brats. (Not all 4-year-olds are as boring as the older child.)

Leg two featured a skinhead with Beats headphones and a red swastika on the back of his head, along with–as the 2014 Vassar grad next to me pointed out–the redundant tattoo of a skull on his skull. A skinhead listening to the headphones made by a company founded by one of the richest black businessmen in America: a First Amendment test for us all.

Cline is a Lodi Zin sold at Trader Joe’s for 7.99. It’s not awful, but there are much better 8 buck bottles of wine. I will bring my own next year, along with fresh squeezed grapefruit juice with a sparkling wine or champagne for mimosas. I think there was Tropicana or Minute Maid in the fridge.

Someone–I’m not involved in food preparation so I don’t know where any of these dishes come from–makes a tray of Christmas cookies no one seems to eat. When I was in the bathroom, my sister told her husband and J that one looked like a cock. I’m sure this wasn’t deliberate, as my 9th and 12th grade nieces (who probably baked them) are quite innocent.

Moorpark isn’t even a suburb of LA, though it’s at the northernmost edge of Los Angeles County. Some poor souls commute to work downtown, including the acting County Counsel of LA when Mom stepped down, and it’s technically suburban living, but except for the weather, it might just as well be a Middle American suburb.

So the girls were exposed to city life in LA but in no sense raised in a city.  Neither bears any resemblance their degenerate Baby Boomer aunts (I count myself as an honorary Boomer with a sister 18, and a brother 11 years, older) or long-sober father in his wild youth. In short, there is no chance the girls deliberately made a few cock-shaped Christmas cookies.

I don’t come from a foodie family, not if foodie connotes a love of cooking as well as restaurants.  But the simplicity of the meal, the absence of Bloody Marys and Mimosas, and the underwhelming wine never diminishes the joy of our family’s Christmas. Gifts are modest–none of Dad’s three children are exactly high earners–except for the checks from Santa, aka Mom and Dad.

Though most of our lives and interests are so remote, it’s just nice to be together in a non-restaurant setting. This happens just twice a year. The half-brother of my half-siblings joins us and it’s the only time we ever see him or his daughter, now five. My sister and her husband are rock musicians, so there’s not that much for them to discuss with my father. We all vote more or less along the same lines, but politics rarely if ever comes up. No one is religious, except for the Oklahoma grandma, my ex-sister-in-law’s mother, so there’s nothing to discuss or fight about on that score. My ex-sister-in-law believes in God I’ve never heard a single reference to religion (or politics) in the 19 years I’ve known her.

My nieces are the undeniable highlights of Christmas.  Now 18 and 15 (in a week), they’re such delightful young women. The eldest was was deferred early by Harvard and her Yale interview via Skype is tomorrow. She got to put me down as her aunt (but forgot that my name was then Maria and didn’t know my residential college was Berkeley, so I told her to mention this to the 2007 Yale and Harvard Law grad).

An aunt is of course meaningless from a legacy standpoint, but it’s nice that someone in the family was there before she was. I’m the only who went to college or lived on the East Coast, so I’ve answered questions as they’ve arisen. But no one asked me to review her college essays–even though I taught English in a university and tutored high school seniors–so I didn’t push.  As for Harvard, she still has a shot. Twenty-five years ago, everyone who didn’t get in early to an Ivy or small liberal arts school got deferred. Schools now reject 50%. Being white doesn’t help, but being middle-class outside a city does.

The younger girl is stand-up comedy funny and a talented dancer who places at or wins every competition she enters. She also needles her big sister. The most recent conflagration centered not on scrunchies (which you can buy by the dozen for five or ten bucks at Target), but gum. They never argue in front of company, so you’d never think they had even a disagreement, and they fight far less than most siblings of the same sex.  Apparently the younger one took gum out of the older one’s purse. In her impish defense, she said only: “It was [right] there for me!”  The younger one is equally smart but devoted to dance and talks about dance and theater programs. But who knows. It’s a long way off.

I hope my readers had equally happy Christmas celebrations with family and friends. I am going to go lift and swim before dinner. Tomorrow I will finish the blog I paused to write what I thought would be a short Christmas blog. It wasn’t short, but it wasn’t Kant.

Merry Christmas Week! The sunsets have been breathtaking from J’s condo all week. Christmas Eve was no exception. The storm while I was in New York took out a giant Eucalyptus and J’s view just got about 15K better. 10608394_773199856048409_6658364269702321322_o

P.S. A note on Christmas tree Jews. I stole this phrase from a TV writer I knew at Yale and bumped into on FB many years later. I dislike the man intensely, though he’s a very smart and talented guy. He went to Dartmouth and Tulane Law before coming to the Yale School of Drama for a degree in writing. Many observant Jews who have no problem with Christians celebrating the birth of their Savior with a tree and a bunch of lights, glass bulbs  and tinsel (optional), have a very big problem with secular Jews who have trees. I intended to discuss a book I started reading in New York and recommend wholeheartedly, The Battle for Christmas. But as the blog was already past the 4000 word mark, I chose to not to provide a synopsis of its first two chapters.

It’s a serious work of cultural and social history nominated for a Pulitzer by a Wisconsin-trained historian who teaches as Amherst College. Nissenbaum’s writing is graceful and compelling. A great read (though I’ve only read two chapters and skimmed three) for your cranky Jewish friends who object to Christmas trees as a sign of assimilation or cultural death. It’s just a tree, folks.

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A Hot, Lazy Weekend in Santa Barbara: Reflections on Fletch Nearly Three Decades Later, Carpinteria State Beach, and Happy Vaping

After a swim at Carpinteria State Beach. Silhouette on the lifeguard station of "the world's safest beach."

After a swim at Carpinteria State Beach. Silhouette on the lifeguard station of “the world’s safest beach.”

It’s warm in Santa Barbara this weekend, just shy of oppressive at 3PM. A light breeze wafts in through the windows looking out onto the ocean in the distance. Ollie and Emma are lounging on the deck in the shade,  motionless, as if in protest of this mid-September heat.

They don’t like hot weather any more than their mommy does, though today I am in an especially blissful state. The half-empty Trader Joe’s Cotes de Provence ($5.99) which has become my go-to summer wine in SB, kept in the fridge for five days. And I have two fully charged vapes with plenty of juice.

J and I rented Fletch Friday night, which we’ve both been wanting to see for some time. I’ve seen the film dozens of times, but it never stops being funny. I knew Dana Wheeler-Nicholson a little in the mid-1990s from the gym. We weren’t social friends but we did speak on the phone occasionally, so it’s fun to see her as a young woman in the iconic 1985 comedy. And Geena Davis was so young (and funny) as Larry, the innocent yet spunky assistant who follows Chevy Chase around the office like a labrador puppy.

The score by Harold Faltermeyer, responsible for the equally famous music in Beverly Hills Cop, conjures the 1980s like little else. Stephanie Mills’ “Bit by Bit” makes me feel 13 again. I came of age in the Reagan era and think a lot about the decade just chronicled by Los Angeles Magazine with Patrick Nagel’s famous image on the cover. Letters to the editor for September indicate that others feel as nostalgic for the optimistic, and by comparison innocent, 1980s as I do.

For a second-generation Angeleno, it’s a kick to see 1980s LA. I love the tinny, old police cars, which frankly I don’t remember looking like that after the late 1970s. And Santa Monica became so glitzy when the new mall came in with Bloomingdale’s and other upscale shops, that Fletch in 2014 is a cinematic walk through my childhood.

My readers know that I mostly buy consignment and designer resale, so I’ve never set foot in the “new” mall. I don’t even go to Bloomingdale’s in New York on 59th, just two or so blocks from the walkup I live part-time, so I’m certainly not going to the Santa Monica or Century City locations, where I have to deal with traffic and parking.

This is also my thinking about Sprinkles cupcakes. I love the daily red velvet and the occasional German chocolate and strawberry with strawberry frosting (though not the raspberry, which is repellent). But there is no way I’m driving from the Palisades to Beverly Hills for a cupcake when, three months a year, Sprinkles on 61st is 30 second walk after I descend four long flights from the studio.

Ditto for Fig and Olive on Melrose Place. The original–and decidedly geriatric–location is on the Upper East Side on Lex between 62nd and 63rd, directly across from the best Equinox on the entire East Side of Manhattan and only branch with a cold plunge. “Never go anywhere in LA you can get to in New York faster” has become my bicoastal shopping and dining mantra.

But as much as I feel like a New Yorker by temperament and perspective, I’ll always be an LA girl. I’m sure my landlord’s daughter, 35, who grew up in the brownstone I live and now lives in Santa Monica, feels the same way about about the Manhattan of her childhood when she sees movies set in the 1980s. She’s just six blocks from my old elementary school and went to Sacred Heart, Dartmouth and NYU’s Tisch School. I highly recommend her last film, Proxy, which I reviewed in the Hollywood Patch and re-posted on various New York and Los Angeles branches before the maddening and much-hated server change (two months and I can’t get a new password).

The Santa Monica of my childhood is as inconceivable to her as the Upper East Side of her childhood is to me. I still haven’t been to the souped-up Santa Monica Pier. The last time I was even close to the pier was in 1994 for Cirque du Soleil’s “Saltimbanco” and the last I walked on it was around 1984, during the Olympics.

A close friend from the 1973 Westlake School for Girls class (through the FB page, “I went to Westlake before it was Harvard-Westlake”) grew up near the Riviera Country Club in a much higher rent area of Pacific Palisades than I was raised and still live part-time. She reports feeling like like Rip Van Winkle every time she drives around West LA and parts of Santa Monica.

Other than the old Zucky’s sign and that big white building on Wilshire and Ocean, lower Santa Monica place is all but unrecognizable. One of the few landmarks close to the beach Fletch was filmed is Patrick’s Roadhouse, est. 1977, which I visited for my first time just this week. 10343008_685579584867365_8027547944768045408_n

St. Augustine, my industry school now called Crossroads Elementary on a fancy new campus with twice the student body (which makes the elite high school with a dumpy campus look even dumpier), was then on 4th between Wilshire and Arizona. Those are my childhood stomping grounds as much as the Palisades Village, where I hung out almost never, having just one or two friends either in the Huntington Palisades (big money) or the “alphabet streets” (modest homes on matchbox lots).

In Fletch, the pier looks shabby if not dilapidated, and the whole beach looks quaintly deserted.  The fancy Annenberg Center was decades from being built a little further north on PCH before south of Chatauqua. As for the hilarious Friar’s or Rotary club “hug a cop” scene and the car chase in the stolen MG, the Bonaventure was still a relatively new and big deal in a downtown decades from revitalization.

South LA was still South Central, though I think 80% of people in West LA don’t know about the official name change. Dad had no idea, and I heard South LA for the first time this spring at the Latina Lawyer Bar Association gathering in Echo Park at which Mom told her story. Many of the lawyers just starting out or already successful grew up in South Central, overcoming tremendous odds; even they had to correct themselves in speaking of childhood. Dad agreed that bullet (or two) to the head in South LA will make you just as dead as it did in South Central.

“DTLA” would have meant no more to an Angeleno circa 1986 than Nolita would have to a Lower East Sider of that era. The difference, of course, is that Nolita was an invention of realtors to jack up prices, while South LA was an invention of local politicians and community leaders.

Fletch, a film nominally and lightheartedly about police corruption–though the theme was merely a vehicle for the film’s comedy and romance–was released about five years before the Rodney King beating and LA Riots, so it’s also interesting to watch now in light of what we know about Daryl Gates’ LAPD.

My mother was on the Christopher Commission, asked to serve by her longtime friend and former boss, Warren Christopher. The current LA Police Commission was the direct outgrowth of the report, which called among other things for greater civilian oversight. Mom served 7.5 years of a 10 year term, first as a commissioner and then as its Vice President and President. In 1991, I was a coffee and filing girl for the Christopher Commission. My name actually appears on the report, though I think it probably says “assistant to assistant” (or something equally silly), not “filing/coffee girl.”

I’ve blogged about my inability to get laid those four or so months volunteering part-time downtown. No amount of flirting in high heels, pencil skirts and silk blouses borrowed from Mom, would induce the KPMG Peat Marwick suits in their late 20s to touch the 19-year-old daughter of Robert and Andrea Ordin.

The Peat Marwick guys weren’t lawyers, but even pre-Google, everyone in the office knew who Mom was, and from there, it didn’t take a lot of digging to find out that my father was a former federal bankruptcy judge with the nicknames Ordin the Ogre or the Bearded Bastard. I was practically a virgin (no sex at Westlake and two one-night-stands during my first term in college). And since I left Yale after a single semester, I thought the Christopher Commission staff was as good a dating pool as any.

It even struck me that (moderately) well-dressed lawyers and accountants–not typical nerdy CPAs if they were at Peat Marwick–in their late 20s were perfect.  At least they wore suits, drank in nice bars (I’ve never been a dive bar girl), and ate at good restaurants: this distinguished them from brilliant but slovenly Yales boy who drank beer from funnels and regarded Pepe’s, Naples, or Sal’s as an ideal venue for a date. I was too weight-conscious in college to eat pizza, so those famous New Haven institutions did nothing for me.

I was happy to go Dutch, but I wanted to eat in real restaurants with decent wines by the glass and vodka at least as good as Absolut. Having grown up eating in estaurants you could get a nice plate of pasta or grilled fish, Mamoun’s (a falafel joint with a branch in the West Village by Caroline’s comedy club) didn’t cut it. If I had wanted this sort of date at Yale, I would have had to induce professors to hit on me. Or hang around boarding school kids, which I never did.  Most of my friends were either on financial aid and working a part-time job or on a tight budget. When I needed a break from dining hall food, I usually ate alone.

Alas, TAs weren’t an option as they rarely dated (even precocious) undergrads, no doubt the result of tedious lectures about sexual harassment and professional self-destruction. I even thought that perhaps the breakdown and hiatus in my undergraduate career for psychoanalysis might have a silver lining: a semi-mature, young professional boyfriend.

But it was not to be. My parentage, which had always been (and continues to be) an asset, was the female equivalent of a cock blocker. Vagina blocker, I just learned, has made it into the Urban Dictionary, else I would try to trademark it.  Many of my Facebook friends now use Woo Woo, my pejorative synonym for New Age, though I took it from my lovable Woo Woo aunt who uses it sans prejudice. Another of my innovations–drinking a glass or two of wine before swimming, lifting weights, or walking briskly–seems to have caught on as well. A friend in Brooklyn posted a study on my wall just this week confirming the health benefits of alcohol pre-exercise.

I’ve met a lot of journalists in the past few years on Facebook. The newsroom of Fletch has more in common with the Washington Post of Woodward’s and Bernstein’s years than it does with any major paper today.  When Fletch’s editor carps about expenses (novelty teeth, wigs, tickets), he’s not kidding, but he’s not exactly serious. And the itemized list is read after Fletch has broken the story of drug-dealing cops, so we know it’s more like a parent moaning about the price of prom than someone facing foreclosure.

Yes, Fletch has to wrangle his ticket to Utah from the department simply referred to as “transportation,” but one doesn’t get a sense of financial urgency.  I can only imagine how tight money is now, in the post-Internet world of journalism, since even in finance the days of fat expense accounts, season tickets (to entertain clients), and corporate apartments are mostly things of the past.

Mention “corporate apartment” to any metro New Yorker in finance between 50 and 65: and you will hear great stories, narrated with an acute nostalgia for those free-wheeling days affairs didn’t require hotels. (Come to think of it, this could make a good collection of stories. Too bad I don’t write fiction.)

J is at the office and I’m going to swim at Carp when he gets his son for dinner. I’ve fallen in love with ocean swimming and haven’t stopped kicking myself for living nearly 18 years in Santa Barbara and only now taking full advantage of the ocean. I thought the water was too cold to swim. Not true. Perhaps because I have become addicted to cold plunges in the city, where the 63rd Street Equinox in the former Barbizon Hotel has a 48 degree plunge in the basement spa, 65 degrees suits me just fine.

For no reason I can understand, 65 degrees feels colder in a pool than in the ocean. I would even be okay at 62, but probably when the temp dips to 60 or below, I will have to wear the spring suit I bought used on Craigslist for 50 bucks. It’s currently at my tailor, Montecito’s Perfect Fit, where the talented and wonderful second-generation dressmaker is chopping off the arms and making it into a de facto triathlete wetsuit.

I don’t consider myself outdoorsy. I don’t want to climb anything. And dust makes much hiking a non-starter. I also despise heat, so walking up a dusty mountain—no matter how stunning the ocean and mountain views at the top—is out of the question. Give me pavement on tree-lined streets with multi-million dollar homes (3 million about average in Montecito’s Upper Village) and I can walk happily for two hours.

I don’t mind sand, though now that I no longer use my Saab as a mobile closet and keep my car and trunk essentially vacant, I have to de-sand the mats more than I used to. But swimming in the ocean is my new joy. I’m surprised that so few Santa Barbarans swim on a regular basis. Only surfers, who wear wetsuits, and Ironman people, of whom there are many in Santa Barbara, regularly brave the 60-something degree water.

I’m didn’t go out Saturday and don’t plan to eat out for dinner Sunday, so I went to Vons to stock up on frozen meals (balsamic chicken, ravioli and the only Amy’s entree I like, Paneek Palir) and stopped at Pressed Juicery for the Greens 1.5 (only 80 calories and 10 g sugar for the bottle because it’s mostly veggies). The juice was free as it’s my 10th purchase in however long.

I also went to Little Alex’s and had two tacos raja for $1.79 each, along with a tiny guacamole and chips plus a diet Coke. I haven’t kept soda in any residence I’ve been a dozen or more years, but occasionally with sushi or Mexican I like a diet Coke if not drinking alcohol. I’m saving for an unexpected trip I didn’t plan for and thus imposing culinary austerity for the next week (drinking wine only at home saves a lot).

I never finished my blog about Carpinteria State Beach but I will, along with all the other half-finished blogs from my summer writing hiatus. I broke radio silence a few times, once to discuss body image and another to announce my plans for fall. The Keller Williams course is going well and the book Real Estate Principles amounts to a long, tedious glossary.10653828_723353541033041_3454662321207211673_n

If you can memorize things about easements, escrow, and encumbrances, you’re fine. The finance book, which I will read in November, is more challenging but not by much. It’s finance for dummies.

My current schedule is more regimented but I love it: I arrive in LA on Tuesdays in time to take Dad to lunch, while Mom is teaching her land use law course at Pepperdine. Class is Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7PM to 8:45PM. Fridays, I cruise up to Santa Barbara around 2PM and stop for a swim at Carp before meeting J for dinner. This will be my schedule for September, November, and January during the real estate course.

Last week I was so happy to be in town for my friend’s birthday (and celebration of a great semester).

Friend's birthday at Playa Azul in Santa Barbara.

Friend’s birthday at Playa Azul in Santa Barbara.

She doesn’t advertise her age as I do, but she’s a youthful and vibrant not 20-something. Which reminds me: I must blog about Tom Junod’s “42″ piece in Esquire. It led a hysterical frenzy among insane Jezebel-types. Dame, Slate, Salon, and Gawker also weighed on what was not only a “fairly negligible” piece in the words of its author (with whom I am friends both on Facebook and Twitter) but also in my view resonant and true.

With J and friends.

With J and friends.

I am 42 (now closer to 43) and this has been the best year of my life. Every year life gets better. I have no doubt that 43 and 44 will be equally wonderful, but I’m not looking forward to 50 (or even 45, truth be told). 42 is great! Unless it’s not, of course, but that’s surely not Tom’s fault.

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Mermaid who Vapes, complete with kelp!

Finally, I am still vaping and avoiding tobacco except when technology fails me or I have left my juice or coils somewhere and not near a store.  I’ve reached out to various people in the e-cig community about being a spokesperson or booth girl at conventions: a face and voice of happy vaping in middle-aged. Here’s the Facebook album, Vaping with Class and Style.  Note the absence of ink and piercings. Not every e-cigarette user is a rebellious, counter-culture type.

Some vapers are quite traditional and even bourgeois in their tastes. It’s essential to enlist non-vapers and non-smokers in the fight to preserve our rights (not to mention our health and our lives). Campaigns like “F*ck Big Tobacco” aren’t the way to do that, at least not without a more mature approach geared to those who don’t look like Occupiers or hipsters.

To this end, I have begun taking beach pictures with my Kangertech set-up. Yes, it’s corny, but if a male middle-aged vaper with COPD is even tempted to try e-cigarettes, it’s a good thing. I have never been a beach girl and I don’t surf, but I’ve so enjoyed my swims at the beach (in spite of the gallon of goupy sunblock I have to slather on my neck and face).10653297_722609894440739_1135630820076530320_n

My suit was $20 from H and M (purchased when I forgot my lap suit before going to Hollywood’s Voda, the premier spa in the area, along with Burke Williams), and the shorts were $15 at Nordstrom in the lingerie section. I wear them only at home and at the beach because I’m over 40 and understand the concept of “age-appropriate,” at least when it comes to clothes.

There’s a liquor store on Linden with good IPAs and wine. As I said, I prefer to have a glass or wine or a beer before a workout and as the water temps drop in the coming weeks, alcohol will help with the cold. My wetsuit is ready and I will see if chopping the arms gives me the mobility to swim freestyle. If not, vigorous treading in the ocean is enough of a workout.

Happy Sunday!

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Carp at sunset.

P.S. I went to Nordstrom this week to try on the Felicity and Coco maxi-dresses on sale for $46. All but one (which I will post later this week) are too sheer to wear out in public, but one makes a great house dress. Instead of writing in boxers and a t-shirt, I’m writing in this soft, comfortable and sexy dress.  10560572_724826184219110_1250477457780766900_o

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Happy Labor Day Weekend from Santa Barbara! Ready for Fall, Real Estate Course, and New York…

Last October in Dutchess County, NY. Paradisal estate on the Hudson River.

Last October in Dutchess County, NY. Paradisal estate on the Hudson River.

Kids back in school, earlier sunsets, and a chill in the morning air: the unmistakeable signs that fall is near.

Of course when you don’t work or go to school–and live in Southern California nine months a year where temperatures mostly range from 60 to 80–the change of seasons is mostly symbolic and culinary. Gelson’s begins to stock matzoh for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur even in Santa Barbara, hardly a Jewish mecca, and pumpkin patches pop up everywhere. Big Wave Dave’s on Hope Ave., known to locals for their overpriced Christmas trees, got into the pumpkin business a decade ago. I imagine the tent will go up shortly after Labor Day.

Still, the transition from summer to fall is a cultural phenomenon. And for a bicoastal girl, it means that overcoats, gloves, boots and scarves are not far off. I was thrilled on Monday night to wear my leather jacket over a t-shirt and jeans with high-heeled sandals to Primitivo Wine Bistro, where I ate with my friend Mark. I bought a Travelzoo offer for 59 dollars on my July flight to the city and recommend that foodies (a word I hate but use reluctantly as there is no alternative) on a budget subscribe via email.

Travelzoo restaurant deals, while not as plentiful, are much better than either Groupon or Living Social. We had a great dinner, though I was miffed that the new chef replaced the best brie dish I’d ever eaten with a vastly inferior and just plain bizarre appetizer in what I called in my Yelp review an act of “territorial idiocy.”

I can’t stand it when a new chef takes over and then banishes beloved dishes created by the former chef. Culinary penis envy, a longstanding pet peeve of mine, is quite common. Wilshire, one of my favorite restaurants in LA, totally overhauled the menu last year, but due to my–and other regulars’ outcry–much of the old menu has been restored. Most important, the steak tartare is back, which matters because the dish is not as ubiquitous in LA as it is in New York, where one can find excellent steak–not just tuna or yellowtail– tartare a dozens of restaurants. I don’t worry about salmonella or whatever the health concern is as I regularly ate raw beef as a child when Hilma made burgers.

I just booked my October trip to the city for $404 RT on Virgin, the only airline I fly these days. Hipmunk is my favorite discount site and even if I have to pay $100 more (which is rare), I don’t mind. Virgin planes, seats, entertainment, and service are qualitatively different from all other airlines, at least on coach. If you fly to Newark instead of JFK, which I hate because I have too much luggage to take the train and the cab is $65-68 after tip due to the flat fee, you won’t be paying much more than you would for a one-stop on American or, God forbid, United.

A flight goes by faster when you’re watching a good movie or show on HBO and I always pay for WiFi so I can do Facebook if I’m too tired for a movie. I don’t mind paying for food and booze; I’d be paying for both were I not in the air, so my in-flight tab is irrelevant to me. I’m careful about money; I’m not completely neurotic. Best of all, I arrive refreshed and happy. The bus from Newark is fine and sometimes I luck out and get a ride from a friend.

I arrive on the 8th and return on the 24th. J and I are seeing the Afghan Whigs in LA the 25th and he will sleep over at my parents’ house. We went up to San Francisco to see the Whigs for our first time in the fall of 2012 and had the best time at the Fillmore. Sadly, I will miss the October 23-25th Cabaret convention in the city, which I really wanted to attend, but it couldn’t be helped.

I’m so looking forward to my few days upstate in Dutchess County at the country place of my NYC landlords. Their daughter, 35, is a Darmouth/NYU trained actress and director and they’ve become close friends who treat me like a daughter.  I had a paradisal weekend last October playing with their Golden retrievers, eating simple, beautifully prepared fish and vegetables on the banks of the Hudson where their 18th-century New Hamburg manse sits.

Brady presiding over the castle.

Brady presiding over the castle.

The house has been expanded and partially rebuilt after two fires, but it’s a splendid old country estate. You can see the pictures from last October in my Facebook Victorian Chick album.

The Hudson River Valley is one of America’s pastoral gems. I can’t wait to take long walks with Brady and Ika. Here we have Brady deciding whether or not this “stick” is too big to bring back to his mommy.

Brady's idea of a "stick." It's a log!

And the answer is…of course not!

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His daily walking stick!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last year the leaves turned late, but even without the glorious reds, oranges and golds, the long morning walks were perfect.

Enchanted forest in New Hamburg, one stop on the Metro North's Hudson line before Pougkeepsie (the Vassar stop).

Enchanted forest in New Hamburg, one stop on the Metro North’s Hudson line before Pougkeepsie (the Vassar stop).

I plan finally to finish two half-read novels, Jenny Offil’s Department of Speculation, and Christopher Beha’s What Happened to Sophie Wilder, which I found in my 6-hour trunk and car cleaning, here.

Reading room upstate.

Reading room upstate.

In the next week or two, we’re having six panels of the Saab painted for $1400 (normally $3000). My used 2007 Saab 9’3 2.0T with 76K miles will be like new. I really didn’t mind driving a landfill, but I am absolutely overjoyed at having a clean–and clear–car and trunk. I took Emma to the vet for an ear infection and test , but nearly had to cancel the appointment because she refused to get into my immaculate Saab. One friend speculated that Emma didn’t recognize it without all that junk on the front and back seat.

Emma reading to drive the (pristine) Saab home from the vet.

Emma reading to drive the (pristine) Saab home from the vet.

A few weeks ago, I received my books for the first month of the Keller Williams licensing course and will be in LA Tuesday through Friday for the months of September, November and January. I won’t take class in October or December because I go to New York those months and the whole purpose of getting my license is to become a referral agent from New York to LA and possibly Santa Barbara as I explained in my Victorian Chick third anniversary blog.

New Yorkers are mad for Santa Barbara these days, but most can’t move to Santa Barbara until they can afford not to work. But some might consider a condo to test the waters and I could assist with that. J is a private land use consultant and regularly addresses Santa Barbara realtors to answer questions about the mind-boggling, onerous and labyrinthine zoning and permitting regulations in one of the two strictest counties in California (and probably, America).

But if New Yorkers envision ten more years of productive professional life, they need to be in LA. And if they have kids in Manhattan private schools, Santa Barbara has only one real option: Laguna Blanca. It’s a strong school but quite small and socially problematic (it has a reputation for cliquey, mean girls). Also, moving from a city of 8 million to a “city” (Santa Barbarans think they live in a city not a town) of 100K people is the lifestyle equivalent of the bends. Moving out of the city to LA–or anywhere on the West Coast–is a big enough adjustment. Most New Yorkers, even those in love with Santa Barbara, would go out of their minds in laid-back Santa Barbara after two months.

In other news, I am happy to report that our dear Ollie, a 16.5-year-old Norwegian forest cat, seems to be out of danger. After a lung tumor scare two weeks ago, the vet determined the mass on the x-rays was fluid around the heart. She’s not sure it’s full-fledged congestive heart failure, but Ollie has responded well to the Furosemide, a diuretic, and they will do another x-ray in ten to fourteen days.

There are better meds for heart failure, but she’s not sure if that’s the cause of the fluid build-up. My Facebook friends, both those I know in real life and those I do not, responded with an outpouring of love and support which made the prospect of losing my second best friend in this town after J, considerably easier.

Mr. Sooty Paws, my mush pot.

Mr. Sooty Paws, my mush pot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is the blog impeder yesterday, sprawled out on my Macbook as if to say, “Thou shalt not blog.”

Ollie, Blog Impeder.

Ollie, Blog Impeder.

I felt fortunate he allowed me to re-vamp a 2.5-year-old blog about smoking written six months before before I started e-cigs in the summer of 2012: Victorian Chick and Town and Country’s Nina Griscom on the Pleasures and Psychology of Smoking. I didn’t really become a full-time vaper until February of 2014, with the purchase of my first EVOD at Henley Vaporium in SoHo.

J and I ran into a realtor friend of his at Chucks, who smokes and feels about ANTZ precisely as I do. I told her about the magnificent defense of smoking by Town and Country‘s Nina Griscom in the Jaunary, 2012 issue and decided to overhaul this blog, adding pictures and a prefatory note about my transformation from unrepentant, late-in-life smoker to ecstatic and passionate vaper.

And as I posted on the CASAA Facebook page , I think this may be an even better blog to send to friends who smoke because once you stop (or cut back to a pack a month), smokers no longer trust you, no longer see you as one of their own. I did love cigarettes, but now I prefer e-cigarettes. When my EVOD breaks or I can’t get juice, I will smoke for a day or two. And I hate it. One cigarette is fine, but if I have to smoke for a full day, I feel genuinely ill.

Another of my projects for fall is to follow up with Kangertech and contact modeling agencies to become a spokesperson or spokesmodel for e-cigs. I’m not a young woman, but it’s never too late to stop smoking. Your lungs substantially regenerate and quitting even at 40 or 45 yields significant health benefits.

You can see my pitch on my public Facebook album, Vaping with Class and Style: Happy 40-something Vaper, the gist of which is this: e-cigarettes are associated with counter-culture types with ink, piercings, bad clothes and a rebellious, angry attitude. That describes some but not all vapers, who are actually a diverse group politically, chronologically, geographically and socioeconomically.

I’m off to buy some cheap hippie outfit for a 50th birthday party in Santa Barbara. I have nothing remotely 1970s, but apparently the teeny bopper stores are full of flower child attire. I might hit a cheap thrift store by Killer Shrimp and Bucatini, one of our favorite restaurants, owned by the people who own Tre Lune, a fine Italian restaurant in Montecito favored by Dennis Franz and Rob Lowe above all other Italians in Santa Barbara’s crowded field.

One other piece of news: the Patch has undergone a disastrous server change. All my links are now dead (you get a 404 code). If you want to read the pieces I’ve posted on Amy Chua, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Elaine Stritch, Proxy, Jilly Jazz, Hama Dance Centre, or various Geffen productions, you can find them on my new (but hidden) Patch profile. If things go as I plan, I won’t be posting pieces there anymore, just here and in real publications.

Happy Labor Day! Here’s to a wonderful and productive fall!

P.S. I did not post my Robin Williams blog. Now that we know he had a Parkinson’s diagnosis, his tragic and grisly end is no less painful. But it does make more sense. I will finish my piece within the week.

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The Problem with Mannequins Circa 2014: A Rare Note on Body Image and Weight in Middle Age (300th Victorian Chick Blog!)

Secondhand, fatally stained Monique Lhuillier bought Jan, 2011. Taken with Pantech Breeze (always shaved 5-7 lbs). A small 4. The "skinny me" pre-2011 summer which was my size before about 39.

Secondhand, fatally stained Monique Lhuilier bought December, 2010. Taken with Pantech Breeze (always shaved 5-7 lbs). A small 4. The “skinny me” pre-2011 summer which was my size before about 39. This was after my first ever Perlane so I still have a shiner under my eye.

Ed. Note: Yesterday I wrote the better part of a blog about Robin Williams, genius and mental illness, but because it’s a more academic (that is, allusive and exegetical) blog than usual and my printer is disconnected from my MacBook, I will hold off a day or two on that. I wrote this blog about body image, sans pictures, a week ago.

I’m back in Santa Barbara after nearly three weeks in New York with the best weather I can recall in late July and early August. I wrote one blog in the city but never uploaded pictures–which I find the most tedious and irritating part of blogging–so technically this is my 300th Victorian Chick blog. 300 blogs in three years and four months: it’s hard to remember my life before Victorian Chick (and its FB and Twitter spin-offs, as it were).

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Not the best picture. There is lace between the pleats and it’s lovely from the side. But for polyester, it sure does wrinkle! 2 hours in a car left it looking thus.

After a wonderful reunion with my parents, I drove up to Santa Barbara on Friday and stopped for gas in the Palisades. The cheap boutique at 1021 Swarthmore with regular sidewalk sales will surely close when Rick Caruso gets his grubby billionaire paws on the eight or nine acres for which he paid between 40 and 50 million dollars, but occasionally you find something great.

When I arrived in SB and posted a picture of the only really cute thing on sale, I realized it evoked the dress on Madison Avenue that gave me heart palpitations a few weeks earlier.

I don’t know the name of the store. It’s not early Alzheimers– though the amount of literature and philosophy I’ve forgotten in the last 15 years sometimes makes me wonder if I should get tested for early onset. I simply forgot to take a picture of the whole display with the store’s name.

As I’ve blogged, both for myself and Bicoastal Brunette, I’m a designer resale and consignment girl who rarely buys new clothes and certainly not on Mad.

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Fantasy dress on Madison in the 60s.

The dresses are of course not the same. One has a rich, two-toned fabric the iPhone can’t pick up through a glass window and probably costs a couple thousand dollars. The other is 100% polyester (both the shell and the exterior) and cost 44 dollars at a young person’s surf boutique with a few fun things and a lot of sartorial disasters. But both are sweet, pink dresses which appeal to my love of all things feminine.

When I posted this couture dress, I noted that I’m no longer skinny enough to wear such dresses. I was a true 2 until age 38 or 39, weighing 118 pounds at 5’8” at 36 and 124 pounds 39.

Summer 2010 in a Trina Turk suit. This shaves off some 5 to 7 pounds because it was pre-iPhone and the Pantech took the most slimming pictures of any phone or camera I've seen. No doctoring. Just flattering phone camera.

Summer 2010 in a Trina Turk suit. This shaves off some 5 to 7 pounds because it was pre-iPhone and the Pantech took the most slimming pictures of any phone or camera I’ve seen. No doctoring. Just flattering phone camera.

In April, 2011, I fell on an escalator at the American Philosophical Association conference in San Diego and gained about 15 pounds. Even when no longer on crutches or walking with a cane, I never got back down to 124. I went up to a 4/6, though today’s sizing is bizarre and meaningless. I own three used Nicole Miller dresses and all fit identically thought they’re different sizes: 4, 6, and 8.

Yesterday, I re-posted the two dresses in a diptych to underscore the difference between my lifelong skinny body and my current slender/curvy but toned figure. After my May trip to New York and two hours with a trainer (complimentary when you join the Equinox), I got serious about working out again.  My ankle is still injured and unfit to dance, but for two months I swam, walked and lifted weights. My bone density increased and my body fat decreased, though the trainer was surprised the numbers weren’t more different because he saw such a radical change in my body.

Labor Day, 2010. Again, with the Pantech (unless J's Blackberry Torch). These are tiny little jeans given to me by a girl who grew out of them. I was 120 here.

Labor Day, 2010. Again, with the Pantech (unless J’s Blackberry Torch). These are tiny little jeans given to me by a girl who grew out of them. I was 120 here.

But there’s no getting around it: I am no longer a stick.  The upside? Tits. I love my tits. Every single day I see them in the mirror, they make me happy. I know some women on FB don’t like it when I wax poetic on the wonders of having tits (I’m a full-fledged C). But if you were tiny (a small B) all your life and then one day you woke up and without surgery, you were a glorious C, you wouldn’t stop looking at and talking about your tits either.

At the club waiting for DMV appointment. I of course missed it and had to start all over. I miss that hat and have enlisted all my Catholic friends to pray to St. Anthony.

At the club in May, 2014 waiting for DMV appointment. I of course missed it and had to start all over. I miss that hat and have enlisted all my Catholic friends to pray to St. Anthony.

The perks (pun intended) of the Victorian Chick tit augmentation method are twofold. One, it’s free. I didn’t spend a penny on my tits. Two, brand new tits are as perky as a college girl’s tits, unless of course you’re the unfortunate tit-baring daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore who inherited neither parents’ good looks. The skin is identical and there’s no sagging. I didn’t plan to tumble down an escalator. And it at once shocked and horrified me when on a lark I stepped on the scale a month later. I weighed 139! 139 at 5’8” might as well have been 159!

The downside is having some unwanted weight down below: I have an ass and I have hips. When I was a 2, or small 4, I still had an ass and hips but they were smaller. I still have a flat stomach but my torso is not as bony as it was. And I was a dancer. A little bony is good as long as you’re not gaunt and anorexic and still have a glow in your cheeks and thick, lustrous hair. Anorexia kills hair and skin, but if you’re super thin and still have great skin and hair, it’s pretty fabulous.

After May, 2011, I vowed never to step on a scale again as I could wear 80% or 85% of my clothes. I had to say goodbye to a few spectacular dresses and slacks but otherwise, my clothes fit. When the trainer weighs me (or the doctor I saw to yank out my Fallopian tubes in April–which absolutely reduced the pain of my period though the gynecologist swore that it would not), I stand on the scale with my back to the display.

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Last month in New York before workout.

But this last trip, I decided to step on the scale at Equinox just for the hell of it. I cannot bring myself to reveal the number on the Internet but it was fucking terrifying. We all know that muscle weighs more than fat, so I just shrugged it off, knowing that I’m in better shape than I’ve been in years with the strongest, most defined arms of my life. Also, any new clothes I buy are geared to my larger body and looked good enough for me to take them home.

As my readers know, one of my blogging pastimes is bashing Jezebel-types. My first Huffington Post blog took aim at Erin Gloria Ryan, a consistently irritating woman and editor at a site whose work is capable of inspiring misogyny in even the staunchest supporter of the Planned Parenthood and NARAL. My piece on Gloria Steinem and takedown whiny feminist blogger Lauren Hermanson were my most liked and shared blogs. Google Analytics ranked only the Rick Caruso ahead of those rants about feminism.

And just when I didn’t think it was possible to hate Naomi “Speaks to Her Vagina for Hours” Wolf more than I already did, she began posting nonstop nonsense about Gaza, which ignorant and/or anti-Semitic people post as “the real truth.” For those who haven’t read the New York Times review in which Toni Bentley, former New York City Ballet dancer and author of five books, eviscerates Wolf’s vagina book, it’s a treat sure to buck up the spirits on the glummest of days.

Wolf’s least dreadful writing was The Beauty Myth, but even that was a hardly groundbreaking, to say nothing of dubious, work of scholarship.  As someone who attended Yale (and like Wolf a decade earlier, majored in English at a time some 20% of freshman were pukers or starvers or both), I have always been critical of the view that Madison Ave. is even partly responsible for eating disorders in America, much less that the problem is all or mostly their doing.

As a member of Al-Anon from 1994 to 1997 who regularly attended Overeaters Anonymous meetings a few years before that, I heard the stories of thousands of women from diverse socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds with eating disorders. I attended OA during psychoanalysis because I was so isolated and starving for the community from which I was removed at Yale due to my Christmas, 1990 breakdown.

I never felt entirely at home in OA because I neither starved, puked, nor binged, but I didn’t know until 1994 that you don’t need a drunk parent to qualify for Al-Anon and that drinking relative or friend is sufficient. My maternal grandfather, not Jewish of course, died around 1966 in a county mental hospital of alcoholic insanity; my brother is clean and sober over 20 years; and my father’s first wife was an alcoholic who drank her way to pancreatic cancer. More than enough to qualify for Al-Anon as alcoholism is a family disease. Children of alcoholics exhibit behaviors which affect their offspring in devastating ways, even if they do not themselves drink to excess.

Without exception, all the women with eating disorders came from at least difficult families. Most came from much worse. Not every woman had been physically or sexually abused, but most had been emotionally and mentally abused. Occasionally you will find an anorexic or bulimic who comes from what British psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott, who wrote about the “good enough mother,” might have called “the good enough home.” But a teen girl from a basically healthy and functional home doesn’t look at a mannequin or cover of Vogue and decide to stick a spoon down her throat five times a day. That’s just not how it works.

(A side note: non-bulimics don’t appreciate how much work–and planning–goes into bulimia. Finding a private bathroom in a dorm or workplace to puke is no mean feat. Yale bulimics I knew had scoped out the bathrooms likely to be empty at particular times so that they could puke in peace, or at least without fear of discovery.)

This is not to say that media influence is meaningless. But a girl with a strong and healthy sense of self who values her mind and talents does not pathologically control food or her body. Sexual abuse is common among girls and women with eating disorders. I can’t count the number of times I heard at a meeting, “After I was molested (or raped), I got fat. I thought if I was fat, no one would touch or hurt me again. I thought being fat would make me disappear.”

Anorexia is also common among high-achieving girls who might otherwise drink or drug to excess, but who cannot manage straight As and three extracurriculars high or drunk. When you feel unsafe in a chaotic home, you try to control whatever you can. Sometimes it’s your school life or hobbies (music, dance, sports) and sometimes it’s your body. What else can a girl of 15 really control?

Any reputable psychiatrist knows that anorexia is harder to treat than bulimia because severe and prolonged deprivation of food requires a fairly high level of dissociation. Bulimics stuff their feelings but then binge and purge the dangerous, unsafe emotions. The wall between thought and feeling (which includes desires and instinct) within anorexics who are not also bulimic is sometimes impossible to penetrate, which is why more anorexics than bulimics kill themselves.

I knew a woman who lived next to my college best friend, a woman 18 years older I met when teaching body sculpting (“stretch and tone”) at Main Street Dance and Exercise in Santa Monica. Her neighbor was an isolated 40-something secretary and bookkeeper from an extremely unhappy Armenian Seventh Day Adventist family. In 1999, three years after my seven-year best friendship had ended, I got a call in Santa Barbara from Dru. After stints in seven or eight EDUs and years of therapy (but not OA, to which she couldn’t commit), Sue leapt to her death from the top floor of a Santa Monica parking structure.

In my middle college years, I was just above runway weight (about 115). I was too thin, but I ate three square meals a day and worked out like a maniac. I didn’t drink a lot of alcohol (booze is fattening but that’s not why I drank so little) and I always got stuck in a dorm on the 4th floor. Yale’s residential colleges didn’t have elevators and the stairs were not what I jokingly refer to as California pussy stairs in a 1960s apartment building. I think the cold weather also stimulated my metabolism because as an LA girl, I’d never experienced real winters. By Thanksgiving, we were in overcoats and mufflers, and in the fall of 1992 after 18 months off for analysis, I went from 126 in late August to 115 by mid-November.

So I was really skinny. And frankly, I loved it. As I wrote on the post with the pink dresses, anyone who has never been a size 2 or 4 can’t fully appreciate the rush, the joy, and the pure sense of power that comes from looking like a model or actress on red carpet.  If you’re starving or puking your way to a 2, you don’t get the same sense of power or well-being because you’re deeply unhappy and usually, physically unwell or weak. But if, without taking extraordinary or unhealthy measures (puking, starving, or cocaine, for instance), you’re ready to don a gown at the Oscarst, it’s intoxicating.

Kathleen Rooney’s Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object is a rigorous, witty memoir by a DePaul professor English professor, poet, and publisher about posing nude for art institutes to pay her way through grad school. The title fairly popped off the shelf at Chaucer’s Books, a thriving independent bookstore in Santa Barbara which stayed afloat long after Borders and Barnes and Noble went under. Like me, Rooney is a tall (5’8″), thin brunette. Unlike me, she’s the successful author of multiple books with a steady gig at a great school. Her memoir was published by a university press with endnotes at the tender age of 32 or 33, so I hold her in the highest regard.

Rooney captures the rush of being skinny in a paragraph early in the book:

My skinny is what I have always been. My skinny is
how I always want to be. My skinny is me. But some-
times I distrust it. My breasts are too small; my nipples
too pink. My butt is too big for my frame, curved and
fleshy.

By making “skinny” a noun, Rooney underscores the link between a super thin body and personal identity. Thinness isn’t just an adjective describing a person; it becomes a thing in itself. No writer I’ve read on the subject has ever nailed what it is, particularly for an intellectually powerful woman, to be skinny. I never worried about my breasts being too small but I was obsessive about size of my ass. Gaining even a few pounds (even if my Ann Taylor 2L jeans fit, except the ones my housekeeper shrunk) distressed me. But I was neck-deep in psychoanalysis, battling frequent nightmares and crying a lot, all the while getting all As and A-s in demanding and writing-intensive Yale courses.

Still, my concerns about weight or jeans size never prevented me from eating great food in New York, LA and New Haven (yes, New Haven had good food then and is now the sixth highest Zagat rated city in New England). In the 1992-3 academic year, I spent weekends on the Upper East Side with a family friend and Wall Street lawyer who put in 75 hour weeks. He took me to city’s best places and I took full advantage of the opportunity.

It was 22 years ago that I lived part-time on 88th and 2nd in a duplex at the luxurious Leighton House (one of the first in what is now Yorkville and before that Germantown). In December of 2010, I became a part-time New Yorker. With every passing year, the mannequins get smaller. Courtesy of Polar Vortex, I did vastly more walking this last trip than I normally do in summertime (I hate heat and humidity and would gladly take 30 over 90). And J and I have been eating at Paseo Nuevo, the outdoor mall in Santa Barbara, at Eureka! Burger and California Pizza Kitchen near Bebe and Lululemon. I’ve noticed how unnatural, even inhuman, those mannequins have become.

And while I’m generally unsympathetic to feminists who write about body image, I’ve come to feel that the fashion industry is partly to blame for the alarming number of girls who claim to have gone on a diet by fifth or sixth grade. I don’t know enough about the business to know precisely whom to blame (the marketers, the designers, the advertisers, or the shareholders). But mannequins even at cheap stores like Forever 21 and H and M are shrinking.  A size 2 exists in human nature. I know because I was one. While tiny, I still had some natural curves unlike an Ellen Pompeo or a Sandra Oh. Today’s mannequins range from 0 to 00, sometimes a 000. They aren’t even approximations of women in the state of nature.

Much, probably more than I care to know, has been written about Barbie dolls. As girly as I was, I didn’t play with dolls. Because my parents aren’t animal people, I didn’t have pets and compensated with stuffed animals.  And I hate feminist theory and criticism–Women’s Studies gives me hives–but surely whole forests have been felled so that feminists can rail against the evils of Barbie.

But here’s the difference between Barbie’s unrealistic and unattainable body and the mannequins all over Manhattan: Barbie is a doll wearing clothes no girl, teen, or woman can buy; these mannequins are wearing clothes actual women are intended to buy.

I work out at the flagship Equinox on the Manhattan’s East Side (63rd Street). It’s in one of the most expensive Manhattan zip codes (10065), and the women who work out there, even if 55 years old, are in better shape than 95% of American women. These ladies between 25 and 55 are fierce plankers, Soul Cyclers, weight lifters, Pilates students, swimmers, and runners. I’ve never seen anything like it in LA, though I no longer work out in an elite LA gym.

Rarely if ever do I see a woman at SBAC (or Santa Barbara generally) whose body  comes close in size or muscle tone to the 1-2% ladies at 63rd Street. Then again, Santa Barbara is hardly known for drivenness. Part of Santa Barbara’s raison d’être is its laid-back lifestyle, even compared to LA, which is considerably sleepier than New York.

The only place in America I feel like I’m full-figured is on the Upper East and West Sides of Manhattan and perhaps SoHo. Of course, getting cheap Chinese massages and grabbing a bite at Aroma Espresso Bar on 72nd between Columbus and Amsterdam near Steps on Broadway, or spending time near Lincoln Center where bun-heads abound, is guaranteed to make any woman feel like a moo cow. I never feel curvy or zaftig in LA. And outside some yoga studios, which dot the landscape like nail salons, Santa Barbara really isn’t that skinny a city. It has a reputation for gorgeous women, or at least gorgeous college girls, but I taught at UCSB for three years in the late 1990s. Girls not in the dance program or on sports teams had not only retained the Freshman 15; most were working on the Sophomore or Junior 15. The slovenly attire merely magnified the inattentiveness to fitness among many UCSB students of that era.

The only exceptionally fit Santa Barbara women I know of are triathletes and marathoners, not my circle because I’m not a mountain woman. Camping is incomprehensible to me and roughing it is staying at a nice youth hostel in D.C. or an Econolodge in San Diego. The only climbing I care to do is up stairs in an Upper East Side walkup. I hate hiking (it’s dusty and dirty) and I don’t know how to ride a bike. I didn’t learn as a child and I see no point to learning now, when as my FB mom never fails to note, I might break a hip. I have enough problems with my gimp ankle.

I realize that I’m still slender. Here are two flattering pictures in the best pair of jeans ever made (J Brand). 10517923_703412723027123_3450662020770620401_oEven Mom said took they take ten pounds off and worth the full price (200 dollars), though I paid 69 on consignment at Lola Boutique in Santa Barbara. Coming from Miss CVS Bux, who cut her hair at Supercuts until 72, this is saying a lot. I am happy to report that Mom has gone to a real salon for the last two years. Baby steps. I’m still dreaming of her first spa day but not holding out too much hope given the fiasco with the massage certificate for Mother’s Day which my father eventually used because she wouldn’t go even when it was paid for in advance.

With my Kangetech Vision Spinner and mini-pro-tank.

With my Kangetech Vision Spinner and mini-pro-tank in July, 2014.

I love my body; it’s a source or pleasure and pride. Of course I’d love it more a size smaller, or if it looked like it does in my most slimming pictures in all clothes. But I’m happy with my life in general and my body in particular.

Between 9/11 and 2008, my hermit phase, I didn’t go to restaurants or bars, nor did I buy wine at the supermarket. I drank nothing for nearly seven years and ate only pre-made food and cold cuts from Gelson’s or Lazy Acres (our pre-Whole Foods alternative not nearly as good in those days as it is now and quite limited in its to-go selections). I drank a lot of vegetable juice, swam for an hour five or six nights a week, took two or three long twilight beach walks a day, and stretched in my apartment at least 30 minutes a day.

I will always care about fashion and want to be slender and fit. I will always care about my skin, do fillers, and use good skin care. I make no apologies for regarding my appearance as an integral part of my personal identity and feeling about myself as I make my way through life. I’m not delusional enough to think that my face at 55 can look like my face at 42, when aestheticians with high standards express shock that I’m not 33. But I will do what I can. If “aging gracefully” means aging naturally, I want no part of it, though I don’t intend to be a cautionary tale like Meg Ryan. You can stay ten years ahead of the game from the neck up, not twenty.

From the neck down, there is no reason a woman with with no health issues and good genes who danced, swam, walked and did yoga throughout her life can’t have the body she did at 30. From the waist down, my mother’s body at 74 is better than it was at 55. She takes three to four ballet classes a week and eats small portions.

But I don’t have to be skinny anymore. Slender is enough.

Life is too short post-40 for one who doesn’t make a living off her appearance in whole or in part to forego wine, specialty cocktails, fine whiskey and great restaurants. To stay skinny (assuming you have the right genes) you need to eat frequently (four times a day, ideally) and I won’t cook, at least not routinely, anything but eggs and frozen dinners. My life revolves around restaurants and it’s my second biggest expense in life after rent. I don’t and won’t for the foreseeable future learn to cook the sorts of things I eat out, though occasionally I will sauté an onion with some garlic, boil some pasta and sprinkle some freshly grated cheese atop some expensive jar sauce.

As a skinny chick all your life, it takes some time for your eye to adjust to curves or extra weight. But it can be done. I know. I did it.

Curvy, fit me last month. I cropped out the legs as I didn't like how they looked. Ha. Cropping is your friend.  Also with EVOD. VAPING FOR LIFE

Curvy, fit me last month. I cropped out the legs as I didn’t like how they looked. Ha. Cropping is your friend.
Also with EVOD. VAPING FOR LIFE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“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.

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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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