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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The real estate adventure will broaden and complement my bicoastal identity and lifestyle focus. This week I hit 400 reviews on Yelp, the majority of which cover Manhattan, West LA and Santa Barbara. Roughly two-thirds of my Yelp reviews, most of which are mini-blogs heavy on social commentary, deal with food, a core part of life everywhere I live. I also have lists about Chicago, Grand Rapids and Scottsdale, as well as a list about my favorite secondhand or resale boutiques in Toms River, NJ, LA, SB and Scottsdale.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health care may be an issue as well. Mine was $810/month and post-ACA, for a similar plan, it’s now just $546. I realize, and am sorry, that so many have been screwed by the ACA. In my FB group, the Midwesterners are the worst off, while the Californians and New Yorkers fared pretty well. But my new gynecologists says she has women screaming and sobbing at Obama in her office, financially devastated by the changes.

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

That whole exchange was peculiar, as it’s usually OWS supporters who throw around “trust fund baby” (or “capital gains”) as an insult.  I’m sure Harvard-Westlake and Horace Mann parents, be they Columbia professors or Skadden Arps partners working 70 hours a week, will be by equal turns pleased and perplexed to learn they’re trust funders.  It would certainly help with the $35,000 or $70,000 they’re shelling out after taxes. People in that tax bracket tend not to have more than two kids (at least not with one wife, though a single second marriage baby is common and I am myself such a child). This is partly because public school is unthinkable and three private tuitions plus college is impossible. I can just see accountants at RBZ or the New York equivalent fielding a bunch of hysterical calls asking where the hell the money went.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If I’m a trust funder, then I’m an avant-garde, isolationist one who has flown out of America precisely three times in my life. I’m a new kind of jet-setter who flies almost entirely between Los Angeles and New York for under $400 dollars roundtrip, except in July when no ticket is less than $500. I’m a special sort of New York trust funder who, musical comedy maniac that I am, attended my first Broadway show in three years this past February.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

III. Why I Love the Patch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Here’s to year four of Victorian Chick!

XOXO

 

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

With Lori Pearl of Winterpearls.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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42. Bottom stone is Swarovski crystal.

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

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

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

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

Does not do justice to the necklace in person!

Does not do justice to the necklace in person!

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

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

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

Happy Sunday!

(And GO DODGERS!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waiting room of Dr. Maureen Echt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thursday!

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

Laugh for Sight: April 10.

Laugh for Sight: April 10.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bar AMA Lunch, My Evil Santa Barbara Landlord, and Brief Note on Gwyneth Paltrow from her K-6 Classmate

10153010_601633079928683_1132294539_nI love to watch the tail end of sunrise. I don’t enjoy arising at 5:30 AM and lugging two suitcases down four flights of stairs to make a 7AM flight out of JFK. That’s not early rising; that’s insanity. But it’s nice to wake up at 6:30 AM in the Palisades in the room I took over at 9 when my sister, 18 years older, married and moved out.

This was a wonderful three days in LA and it kicked off with lunch at Bar Ama. It was only my second time there and I can’t wait to return. Downtown LA is close to the beach if there’s no traffic on the 10 freeway. And in the last few years, the 10 is every bit as bad as the 405. But driving down for a late dinner at 8:00 or 8:30 on a weeknight, it’s 22 or 23 minutes. The kids go back to school Monday and then we’re all screwed. I met a friend of mine at the Sunset (the newer development on the Sunset Strip with Caffe Primo and Equinox) and by 4, the stretch of Sunset from Cliffwood to the 405 should have been a parking lot. It was deserted.

Sunset between Bundy and Kenter.

Sunset and Bundy.

My caption for the picture on FB: “For those who dispute that kids and teens are to blame–entirely–for the horror on Sunset from 2PM on. I’m not saying Brentwood should ban kids, but I do think we should be honest and admit that those without kids have had their lives all but ruined (45 minutes to go 5 minutes) because of kids and the need to educate them. Homeschooled Brentwood and Palisades kids would give us our lives back and restore WLA to its former splendor.” #childrenscrooge. (A Florida friend with I think the cutest and funniest female toddler currently on Facebook gave me this name/hashtag when I joined Twitter 10 months ago. You can follow me at @victorian_chick.)

Mom has eaten at Bar Ama quite a few times, but I first went last summer. I flew from Studio City to Downtown on the Hollywood freeway after dance class to meet a Baltimore Facebook friend staying at the Biltmore. We walked to 4th and Main around 9:30 PM, but he’s 6’5” and I didn’t feel unsafe. As in New York, five or six blocks makes a difference and at that hour, the blocks between the Biltmore and the fancy 4th Street area are definitely what Mom, in her inimitable way, calls “marginal.”

As my friends know, my surpassingly wonderful mother is gentle, mild-mannered, and fond of euphemisms. She doesn’t use the word “fat.” Instead, she says “a little squared off.” My boyfriend’s son likes this but said, quite sensibly, “Well, if the person is fat, why doesn’t she say “a little rounded off.” Dad’s oldest friend, 96, has been married over 60 years to a woman my father dislikes so intensely, he refused to dine with her.  He thinks she’s the C word (and from what I can gather he’s not wrong). One day I asked Mom, “Is this woman really that awful?” Mom said, “Oh well, yes, she is extremely difficult,” which laid to rest any doubt I may have had that she is, in fact, a C word.

Mom’s blunter post-70, but for most of my life she buried a negative opinion in so many dependent clauses and qualifiers that you hardly knew if she was praising or criticizing. Of course that was the private Andrea. As U.S. Attorney or Chief Assistant Attorney General, she didn’t send pretty cards from the Met Museum store to those headed to prison (because of her office’s efforts).

But I did post a status update after a phone call with my waste of life Santa Barbara landlord, known to Victorian Chick readers and Facebook friends simply as Asshole. “You didn’t need to be so fulsome!” I told her after she hung up. I wholeheartedly support the use of the C word for women toxic and evil to their core. The landlord’s wife is both, though I’m sure she’s a decent middle school teacher. The woman isn’t dumb; she’s just odious.

While she doesn’t need the money, the evil one still works. And for an English teacher, she reads real junk. The bookcases in her sewing room/library at the large house an hour or so from Santa Barbara are full of Jackie Collins and bad mysteries. Only one woman in my adult life has deserved the C word more than this woman (and they share the same name!), but lately, I’ve taken to calling her the Rhodesian Lady Macbeth.

Historically savvy Facebook friends remind me that Rhodesia ceased to exist some 40 years ago. I realize Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, just as Burma became Myanmar. But she’s Rhodesian and speaks with a patrician accent. This makes her all the more nauseating because generally British accents are endearing.

The Scottish landlord is the exception that proves the rule to George Eliot’s view that the best Brits were Scots. She wrote this about her beloved friend and publisher John Blackwood of Blackwood and Sons. With the exception of Romola, her historical novel about Renaissance Italy, Eliot published all her fiction with Blackwood and Sons. Writers today can only dream of the loyalty and support she received from Blackwood, and the Leweses’ lives were closely bound with the Blackwood family for decades.  Alas, Eliot’s health and George’s’ gout prevented a visit to Edinburgh in the late 1870s.

If you enjoy literary correspondence, I highly recommend the George Eliot Letters in 9 volumes (Yale University Press, 1954).  I bought three volumes from ABE after 9/11, but a decent university library should have the full set. I stole (or failed to return to Davidson Library) the one-volume abridged version, also edited by Gordon Haight, the legendary and beloved Yale English professor.

Eliot is an honorary Dead White Male and no one cares about the Canon now anyway (UCLA was the last holdout but in 2011 dispensed with their single author requirements of Chaucer and Milton), so I got the out-of-print book and UCSB got 85 bucks. I think we’re even. It’s the least I deserve after what happened to me with my chair, Julie Carlson, and Orals Committee member, Kay Young. Not to mention the colossal mess over my General Theory Masters field exam and the preposterous rumor spread by grad students jealous that this Yale chick with no debt got the top fellowship because she claimed Latina identity. I could have done so without straying into Elizabeth Warren territory, but I didn’t. I earned that Gordon Haight volume, if you count misery as payment, and keep it in New York on the rare occasions I go up to New Haven and visit the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

I’m an Anglophile whose unfinished dissertation was not only about George Eliot but steeped in British Romanticism. So I am likely to cut Brits (or colonized Brits) like the landlords more slack than someone with a Duck Dynasty accent. But if I had to choose between the Robertson clan with their camo and beards–even if the show and Robertson’s anti-gay remarks were all a bid for ratings–and the evil Scot with the Rhodesian Lady Macbeth wife, it would be a close call. (And yes, I know Phil Robertson has a Masters in English from LSU, a good department, and loves Shakespeare. In my view, this only makes him more odious because he should know better and has enough money to move out of the swamp to a civilized place.)

My boyfriend contacted a lawyer he works with on some projects to look over the ridiculous lease which forbids showering after 10PM and requires permission for overnight guests. I want to get a roommate because I never sleep there and the last attempt in March, 2012, he reneged on the deal. A Seattle FB friend wrote the best status of the week: “What is this, a minimum security women’s penal colony?” Asshole has stored a car in my garage for 7.5 years and makes a big fuss in the lease about not storing anything but a vehicle in one’s garage and then stressing it must be owned by the tenant.

Every other tenant got a garage opener and empty space on move-in day. I moved from Death Gardens in record-breaking heat on August 2nd, 2006 and can’t even get in there since they switched out the old garage door. To be fair, I didn’t want to use it when I had the 1998 Pathfinder, because the creepy screen door guy in the alley disturbed me. But when I bought the 2007 Saab in 2010, I wanted to preserve the newish paint. Meth heads broke in, at least this is what the cops said, and stole 500 dollars of clothes worth 1000 and smashed the window I had to repair for 367.

Not so much as an apology or “Gee, sorry you lost a half-price suit from New York you couldn’t afford to re-buy at full price even if it were available, along with a Shiva Rose from the Cottage in the Palisades also not replaceable.” The daughter of a dear friend of mine, now 32, named her childhood cat Shithead and since learning about this, I’ve never been able to think of the word in the same light. Shithead is far too mild a term for this bully, who all kidding aside, created great emotional anguish in my from 2007 to 2009.

I listened to Howard Stern on the way to Westlake circa 1989-90 and remember his prayers, as a secular Jew, to Jesus Christ. I don’t wish terminal illness on the couple, but shingles on the sciatic nerve would warm the cockles of my heart (or the whole sub-cockle region qua Denis Leary). You don’t die of sciatica, even of an aggravated nature (at least not when you have insurance and excellent health care), but it’s miserable. But they’re rarely in Santa Barbara and I don’t even live in my rental anymore. I live with my boyfriend and his pets in his condo, but the gorgeous two-bedroom San Roque apartment with rent 600 dollars (at least) is on a charming, peaceful street with mountain views.

I need to hold onto my place because I’ll write much of my memoir in the apartment which is my only tie to my decade of death in Santa Barbara, a core part of the book. I can’t write a book about estrangement from family, graduate school despair, celibacy, and total social isolation when in Manhattan or Los Angeles now that I’ve rejoined the land of the living as well as the world I was raised. Santa Barbara was almost a decade of exile though it’s less than two hours away in moderate traffic.

I took scores of pictures in Downtown LA, but will post those separately. Here are the pictures from lunch, which pre-tip, came to 96 dollars (including a bottle of wine for 34). Our food tab was 30 per person for all this: Mom’s enchiladas (the best I’ve ever eaten), cauliflower with cilantro and pesto, ceviche (with sweet potato), mango panna cotta, and sopapilla (sort of like a churro and not in my view worth the calories).1609595_601660116592646_1991951746_n

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I’m heading up to Malibu for breakfast with my cousin from Eastern Washington, here with her husband and two kids for Spring Break, so will not say too much about Gwyneth. But I’ve gotten a dozen private messages, emails and texts about the “conscious uncoupling” with Chris Martin so let me say this:

1. The hatred of Gwyneth, while understandable on one level, is quite over the top. She brings much of it on herself, but Gwyneth is not Bernie Madoff. She hasn’t destroyed thousands and thousands of lives by plundering retirement funds. She’s not a drive-by shooter or a serial rapist. She’s an actress and I think a good one, though I’ve not seen her in anything since 1999, when she won the Oscar for Shakespeare in Love (and took our classmate, Mary Wigmore, as her date). I loved Sliding Doors. And she delivered a sharp and vulnerable performance as the angsty Columbia student dating Jeremy Sisto in the excellent chick flick, Moonlight and Valentino. Iron Man is not my kind of movie, so I’ve seen none of those in spite of my fondness for Robert Downey, Jr since Less Than Zero.

2. People on the Internet with no knowledge of her, her family, or the entertainment industry make all kinds of ridiculous, and often false, statements about her. I skimmed the comments on the recent People article and one nitwit railed against her privilege and entitlement and linked it to having grown up in New York. This would be more persuasive if she hadn’t grown up, through 6th grade, in Los Angeles. We were part of a tight class of 25 who went to St. Augustine (now Crossroads Elementary) from K to 6. Her mother, Blythe Danner, was the primary breadwinner in her early years. Then Bruce’s career took off with The White Shadow and by St. Elsewhere, the Brooklyn-raised Jew was a powerful and successful TV producer.

3. The cookbook thing can be traced to Bruce, who loved food. Blythe grew up more comfortably than Bruce and one of his greatest pleasures, after becoming financially secure, was to eat at Michael’s in Santa Monica and 72 Market Street in Venice. Food was a central part of the family’s life, both at restaurants and at home. I think most of Gwyneth’s poor behavior can be explained by the loss of her father a dozen or so years ago. She worshiped Bruce and even eight years later, rarely gave an interview in which she did not mention missing him. That’s unusual: eight years after losing a parent around 30, it’s not typical for a celebrity to mention him with this frequency (even when the interview has nothing particular to do with family or personal life).

She got into that macrobiotic insanity in the hopes of saving Bruce from throat cancer. It progressed into a near obsession with health and fitness and one could argue that her whole relation to food is a way of holding on to Bruce.

Last year’s brouhaha at the Hamptons, when her bodyguards prevented Catherine Oxenberg from retaking her seat at the table (this author party attempts to preserve equality by seating everyone alphabetically), was quite awful. I had been on Twitter only a few months then and Oxenberg’s Tweet to Candace Bushnell about changing her name to Bushenberg so they could sit together was amusing.

For seven years, my yearbook picture was next to Gwyneth’s (Maria Ordin was my name then and remained so through my years in New Haven), so a few friends wrote me on Facebook that if I wrote a book successful enough to be invited to this literary shindig in the Hamptons, I might consider changing my last name. Of course, it’s a bit of a stretch to equate a cookbook to a novel or serious work of nonfiction–whether Gwyneth wrote it or not–but certainly, turning a large gathering of genuine authors into the Gwyneth Paltrow show was in poor taste.

4. The recent eruption about her statement that acting for a living “is not the same” as full-time office work is, in point of fact, accurate. She could have phrased it more sensitively, but Gwyneth is not a rocket scientist famous for her acute intellect. And clearly she hires yes men as PR people or ignores their sensible advice to keep her mouth shut, or at the very least, acknowledge that her cookbook and other writings are pitched to the 1-2% exclusively. But being a movie star paid millions to deliver big box office is not the same as reporting to a single boss who doesn’t care what you weigh or how you dress. Obviously being a single mom and secretary raising two kids is less desirable than being a movie star, but when people pay you 5 million or 10 million to act in a movie, they have extremely high expectations.

Beyond that, any reasonably smart, competent and focused individual can be a great corporate secretary. Acting requires both talent and training (and luck). Most SAG members can’t support themselves merely through acting and work day jobs most of their lives.

So no, acting and office work are “not the same.” Being a plumber is not the same as being a lawyer–or even an electrician. Of all the stupid shit Gwyneth has uttered over the years, the recent remarks rank as the least offensive and most accurate. And that snotty woman who wrote the “open letter” in response is, beyond jealous, miserable, hateful and bitter–none of which is Gwyneth’s fault–disingenuous about her life choices.

No one forces anyone to have one kid, much less two or three. And no one forces anyone to live in the New York area. She could move to Michigan or Texas (not that I’m recommending such a thing) and live a much more comfortable life. But boo hoo, she sits on the Metro North platform waiting for her 45-minute train to city, blaming Gwyneth for her lot in life. It’s not Gwyneth’s fault this woman has children and lives in the NYC metro area. For someone who takes Gwyneth to task for her detachment from reality, this lady sure is oblivious to her part in what is clearly a deplorable situation devoid of joy. Gwyneth didn’t knock her up and she’d do better to blame Obama for her financial situation than Gwyneth, who has no role in fiscal policy.

4. An entire section of Victorian Chick is devoted to St. Augustine, a sort of LA version of PCS (Professional Children’s School) in Manhattan. Crossroads School for the Arts and Sciences was more intensely focused on training students for creative careers, but our music, drama, dance and art were so far beyond any top public or private school in LA. Plenty went into law or medicine, but quite a few followed in their parents’ footsteps and this was particularly true in the class of 1984. I wasn’t close to Gwyneth, though she attended my 2nd grade birthday party with five or six other girls, at which my perennially funny big brother entertained us all.

But it’s hard for people to understand what going to a school like this, surrounded by such talent, was really like. It was the 1970s so we looked like little hippies. Designer clothes were rare and most of us looked like normal kids, albeit with extraordinary parents in the most affluent parts of town.

Happy Saturday!

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Blue Tavern: Victorian Chick’s New Santa Barbara Food Crush (Minus the Barstools….)

1546363_576287849129873_67232360_n-2Blue Tavern replaced the short-lived but exquisite Anchor on the lower end of State Street next to Hotel Indigo. That was a sordid story of theft, pettiness and people who didn’t play nice with others.

I still mourn the Anchor’s closing, if only for the innovative rabbit lasagna with the decadent white sauce and one of the best-looking dining rooms in Santa Barbara. Think Cape Cod casual elegance with New York sophistication and a trace of industrial chic to keep it edgy instead of fussy.

Blue Tavern can’t hold a candle to the Anchor in the decor department. I blogged (and Yelped) several months ago about Blue Tavern’s excellent breakfast and been back once with my boyfriend since. See my update on Yelp about the subpar potatoes which in the slightly spicy sauce in the signature crab hash were good, but alone not worth the calories. Omelets are also not their long suit: an omelet should be fluffy and thick, not flat like a pancake. I don’t expect a routine omelet to rise to the sublimity of an omelet at Sarabeth’s East, but an eighth of an inch doesn’t cut it. I will return to Blue Tavern for the French toast and crab hash, but those are splurge brunch entrees, not everyday breakfast fare.

But after just one dinner, I’m in love with Blue Tavern and can’t wait to return for the white anchovy pizza (though the crust is a bit thicker than I’d like) and the bronzino entree, which at $21 is a bargain.

Blue Tavern Menu

Blue Tavern Menu

My friend and I shared the sea urchin/scallop/shrimp toast and a day later, I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m not a fan of uni sushi, but when paired with the scallops and shrimp with honey dressing and brown butter, it’s delicious. Those who object to slightly slimy textures may not like it, but the bread is freshly baked and the dish makes my list of top ten appetizers at any restaurant currently open in America. At $20, it’s just a dollar less than the bronzino and a few dollars more than a pizza ($16-18), which is enough for two people who understand portion control, but it’s worth every penny.

Scallop, shrimp and uni toast.

Scallop, shrimp and uni toast.

The diver scallop salad is also outstanding, with three enormous, sweet and juicy scallops and a tangy aioli drizzle atop arugula and wasabi peas, Granny Smith apples, and pecans.

Diver scallop salad after a few bites! Sorry!

Diver scallop salad after a few bites! Sorry!

Here’s a close-up of the scallop. 1781270_644197452281984_1339435094_o

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Less impressive was the yellowtail Tiradito, which at $17 struck me as overpriced and unsatisfying in spite of the high quality fish. My friend talked me into trying this instead of ordering a second toast appetizer. I agreed due to the sweet potato billed on the menu, but all three dollops equaled a tablespoon and I found the dish underwhelming, however popular (we saw a dozen come out of the kitchen in less than an hour).

Yellowtail Tiradito

Yellowtail Tiradito

We sat at the bar as this was a last-minute meeting on a Saturday at 7:30 at a thriving new place where people make reservations, unlike many good but older restaurants in town. We were lucky to get the two seats at the end of the bar, where we could both see the men in the kitchen and watch the pizza dynamo flipping the dough before adding the toppings with great focus and intention. 10147195_643878735647189_1041257361_o                                                                                                       The downside of sitting this close to the pizza oven: these seats simulate conditions at the equator and I detest heat. Luckily, I was wearing a sleeveless maxi dress, so emerged from dinner only slightly sweaty.

I noticed the heat instantly and switched seats with my South African companion, who doesn’t mind high temperatures. When the charismatic and popular bartender came to take our drink order, I told him that red was out of the question and asked him to suggest a good white. He chose a Star Lane Sauvignon which was perfect with all we ordered.

A crisp, clean California Sauvignon, Star Lane.

A crisp, clean California Sauvignon, Star Lane.

As for the crowd, my Yelp review says it all. Two couples probably in their late 40s dined next to us. One splits time between Maine, where the husband and wife run a small hotel, and I had such fun talking to her over the course of the evening. I initiated the conversation by complimenting her Raymond Weil watch, which she paired with a beautiful and I suspect antique diamond bracelet.

I explain on forthcoming guest blog on Bicoastal Brunette that I’ve had an eye for jewelry at least since high school. People-watching and eavesdropping are among my favorite pastimes (and one reason I love eating out), and part of this for me is jewelry-watching. It’s much more fun to see fine jewelry modeled by live women than to browse a catalog or website.

My sense from chatting with several people at the bar is that many who dine at Blue Tavern are not full-time Santa Barbara residents. Like the couple who own the hotel,  the man from Anaheim (with an ancient Angels cap) now living in LA–a step up in the world on which I congratulated the man who was not offended by my dislike of the OC–travels quite a bit. He was waiting for a party of eight or ten and the group seated outside looked like a convivial and interesting bunch. I generally do better socially with people not from Santa Barbara or not here full-time. Blue Tavern’s crowd is more Montecito than Santa Barbara, just younger by a decade or two.

Whether you live in Santa Barbara or intend to visit, Blue Tavern should be at the top of your list.

Bon appétit!

P.S. Dear Blue Tavern,

As you can see, I love you. I do not, however, love those ridiculous backless barstools with hard seats, and every single customer I’ve talked to agrees with me. They’re terrible and your design folks need to go shopping for new ones. Also, Santa Barbara people are fit and slender; their posteriors aren’t padded. While your bartenders’ personalities and mixology skills outweigh this easily fixed problem, you want to encourage people to linger and spend more money on booze, not run away in search of a decent barstool. Finally, I understand the need to make a clean break after the Anchor fiasco. But whoever decided to paint that gorgeous red brick white needs a talking to. The blue paint I can live with, but that was an incomprehensibly bad design choice.

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Pacific Palisades’ Swarthmore Avenue is not Detroit: Why Rick Caruso’s Proposed Development Strikes Terror in the Hearts of Palisades Natives

Swarthmore and Sunset.

Swarthmore and Sunset.

When I received two or three panicked messages from older Facebook friends who grew up in the Palisades about billionaire developer Rick Caruso’s plans destroy my hometown and current part-time residence, I was in New York and just nodding off at 2AM. I ranted sans filter on my private wall (I can’t remember if it was to friends only or public) and decided to wait until I calmed down to blog about Caruso’s plans for the admittedly dead Swarthmore Avenue.

A friend sent me the Facebook page his PR folks started–from which I was of course immediately blocked after two ornery comments–with pictures of the monstrous Calabasas Commons and the only slightly less monstrous Marina Marketplace where my parents and I used to eat breakfast at Mr. D’s on weekends, which we always spent on a CT 54 ketch in the Marina.

Tempting as it is to characterize Rick Caruso as the Dick Cheney of real estate development, particularly after the nausea-inducing pictures of the Calabasas abomination, Caruso doesn’t destroy everything he touches. (He also served on the LA Police Commission and is by most accounts a pleasant enough fellow.) The Americana in Glendale has transformed the city with a population just under 200,000. (Wikipedia puts Santa Barbara at 220,000, which should reinforce a regular theme of mine on Victorian Chick and elsewhere, which is that Santa Barbara is really just an oversized town not a legitimate city).

I’m happy for Glendale.  But at the risk of sounding like a West LA snob (like that’s a fuckin’ surprise, to quote Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny), I fail to understand how you can speak about Glendale–a city in the easternmost part of the San Fernando Valley with terrible weather well over an hour in moderate traffic from the ocean and everything cool on the Westside–in the same breath you speak about the Palisades, one of the most expensive and exclusive neighborhoods in Los Angeles.

The Palisades is not a monolith and there are modest homes in the 1.5 million dollar range, but Ronald Reagan lived here just three or four houses from a childhood friend of mine, whose father wrote I Love Lucy, All in the Family, and Maude. Will Rogers made the Palisades his home and I grew up walking from my parents’ house to the park, where I’d see Arnold Schwarzenegger riding his horse with a bodybuilder buddy of his. Sam Wanamaker was for many years a neighbor of Arnold’s on the back side of Will Rogers.

Hal Holbrook, a boating friend of Dad’s with a sloop about 20 slips from ours in Deauville Marina and also a St. Augustine (Crossroads Elementary) dad, lived on the other side of Sunset just a minute or two away. (For all I know, Hal still lives in that house). Walter Matthau and Sydney Pollack were longtime Palisades residents, as was Ted Knight, the town’s first honorary mayor.

The Palisades is home to the Riviera Country Club, known all over America even to those who have never been to the Palisades but seen its golf tournaments on TV. If it makes one a snob to point out that Glendale ain’t exactly the Palisades, then I happily embrace the title.

So the entertainment industry presence in the Palisades has always been strong, but until about 2000, the Palisades was still a pretty sleepy though affluent beach town. The old men’s store Colvey’s, where Dad bought sweaters and kvetched about the price, is now Elyse Walker, with shoes for $2000, bags for $4000 and dresses in that general price range. And it’s always busy.

Elyse Walker customers are no different from those who shop at the Brentwood Country Mart and eat at the sublime Farm Shop, whose deli aspires to be the Dean and Deluca of West Los Angeles. The two sets of customers look and dress alike, work out a lot, wear the same kind of jewelry, and drive always clean and shiny luxury cars, generally European but sometimes Japanese or now, American (the Tesla, of course).

Farm Shop is like an unofficial studio commissary. David Mamet eats there almost daily, and I’ve never sat down for breakfast or lunch without seeing him (and a half dozen producers and directors with familiar faces but names I can’t conjure up) in his signature bourre and glasses. Sometimes Mamet is with his lovely and talented wife, Rebecca Pidgeon, or his young director/playwright daughter, Clara (not the one on Girls, which I’ve never seen). Other times he’s alone or with another guy, but he always says hello to the regulars who seem to regard the restaurant as an auxiliary office.

But the Palisades is not Brentwood and here, in a nutshell, is why. I flew to New York on February 16th and as always, came to spend the preceding day with my parents. My infuriating female body had other plans and I was in terrible pain most of the day, only arriving at Chez Mimi–a quite good but untrendy French bistro in the Palisades Highlands–at 6:30PM. I was covered in cat hair and wearing old, maroon, secondhand Juicy Couture velour pants (with holes covered up by an expensive but XL navy sweater I “borrowed” from the New York coat closet) and beat-up Saucony tennis shoes.

Even I, who happily traipse around Montecito in my boyfriend’s large Old Navy PJs and banged up Thierry Rabotin orthopedic wedges (which were actually the most expensive shoe I ever bought at $190 down from $355 after my ankle accent), would not set foot in any Brentwood restaurant with tablecloths and waiter service thus attired. Yet I felt perfectly fine dining with my parents (74 and 89) in a crowd of people 60 and up. Modo Mio is hipper and younger, I suppose, though it’s still Baby Boomers and parents whose kids are mostly in college. But I would have no reservations eating dinner on a pre-travel day in agonizing pain with no makeup and “not exactly” brushed hair at this underrated local Italian restaurant.

Only in the last 15 years has the celebrity contingent become so conspicuous. Just yesterday, I saw Jamie Lee Curtis at Cafe Vida, where I used to eat all the time before Dad decided at age 88 that (almost) no day could begin without pancakes and bacon. He doesn’t like Cafe Vida so I seldom eat there, but it’s the best breakfast place in the Palisades. A few months ago, I saw the youthful and very attractive Daphne Zuniga at the tiny, overpriced juice bar across the street from Vida, and Gelson’s is on any given day a page out of Who’s Who in Hollywood.

Last year, I ate outside next to the most handsome gentleman with a great shock of silver hair, who looked 70 but was over 80, and a woman in her 40s clearly his daughter. It turned out to be Penelope Ann Miller and her father Mark, a veteran actor and producer. I didn’t recognize her at first under the big black glasses, and the talk about a nightmare bathroom remodel didn’t entice me to pay overmuch attention (read: eavesdrop).  We chatted for some time and it turns out that Mark Miller starred in a show written by Bob Schiller (the TV writer and carpool dad who lived by Reagan) in the early 1960s called Westward Ho.

The Palisades isn’t just entertainment people, of course. It’s also a lot of Biglaw, judges and high-level prosecutors.  I’m as likely to meet a partner at Munger Tolles who happened to go to UCLA Law school with Mom and remembers her from a thing they did at a place with a guy they knew from another thing. (This is my feeble attempt at a Broadcast News homage.)

Just like Glendale, right?

The recent Los Angeles Times piece did a decent job of capturing the Palisades circa 2014: “For all of its affluence and aspiration, Pacific Palisades is a laid-back place where getting dressed up means donning one’s best pair of Lululemons or Levi’s.” But it’s absurd to claim that “Pacific Palisades’ shopping village has the beaten-down aura of a Midwestern Main Street where the mom-and-pop shops have been driven out by Wal-Mart, only there’s no Wal-Mart.”

Here, then, are pictures of the Swarthmore Avenue area Caruso promises not to make into a little Grove or Calabasas Commons:1974217_643705282331201_488515290_o

 

1920489_598331560258835_1602501942_n-210007460_598331706925487_1733259160_nDoes this look like a “rundown Midwestern Main street” to you? I went to Champaign-Urbana last April and no amount of alcohol would lead me to confuse Swarthmore Ave. with that college town’s main drag. Thursday (when I took these pictures) wasn’t a good car day, but generally for every Toyota there ten BMWs, Mercedes, Audis, or Acuras. Champaign-Urbana is cute, though I know a guy who dropped out of a Ph.D. program in neurobiology after attending college at U of I in C-I largely because he couldn’t take it for one more year, much less three. But it’s no Pacific Palisades.

I agree that the old stationary store, now subdivided but still empty, is a bit depressing. US Bank moved up the street so the building to the left is also vacant. It’s a dead zone, to be sure, but inviting Rick Caruso and his real estate henchmen–with their at best mixed record–to “fix” the Palisades is like taking Oxycontin for a hangnail or a mild headache. 1422385_598331530258838_754403860_n

Caruso told concerned residents that his vision for the Palisades was not the Grove but King Street in Charleston, Main Street in Nantucket, and Elizabeth Street in Nolita (Manhattan’s gentrified Lower East Side neighborhood with a name devised by realtors to hike prices). Well, that’s reassuring but Caruso isn’t stupid. He’s a billionaire and presumably he hires people to tell him how to avoid sticking his foot in his mouth.

Why not take a model closer to home, like Malibu’s Cross Creek or Montecito’s Coast Village Road? Coast Village Road suckered me in to moving from New Haven to Santa Barbara to accept the Humanities Predoctoral Fellowship in English, a personal and professional disaster for me as any Victorian Chick reader knows. I could (and should) have gone to Rutgers also for free, or paid University of Chicago for a year of boot camp, after which they would have funded me the rest of the time if I acquitted myself well. Coast Village reminded me of Montana Avenue and I thought, “Okay, I can do this, even though Santa Barbara is the sticks,” where as Dad put it ‘old rich people go to die’ [this was 1996].”

Clearly, I belong to the “no-growth” contingent, and while it’s a bit much to say that the vacant storefronts add to the Palisades’ charm, I take issue with the characterization of Swarthmore as “crumbling.” That horrid, greedy, certainly dysfunctional and quite possibly psychotic family to blame for Swarthmore’s decline, manages to maintain the paint, windows, and sidewalks. East Harlem it is not. Last year the Queensboro was closed and the cab took me through East Harlem en route to the airport. When I looked up from my phone after five or ten minutes, I thought we’d entered a Third World country oddly close to the Upper East Side without any checkpoints or customs officers.

Beyond aesthetic concerns, Palisades residents are right to worry about congestion and traffic. Caruso bought the giant and admittedly wasted parking lot currently zoned for multifamily housing. The pro-development crowd insists high-end rental units will drive up property values, as though 1.5 million dollars for a modest home on a small plot of land weren’t high enough.

Houses now worth 2 million were in some cases 105K in 1974 and 210K by 1976. I think those who bought in 1974 are pretty content with the value of their homes. As it is, almost no one between 45 and 55 who grew up in the Palisades can buy even a shack in their hometown. What’s the goal here? Making it impossible for anyone under 500K a year to buy a condo?

So yes, I’m mad. “Mayberry with money” doesn’t need Rick Caruso. People can drive to Whole Foods on 6th and Wilshire or the bigger store on 23rd. Did I miss the Constitutional amendment which gives all suburban Americans the right to a Trader Joe’s within 15 minutes of their home? Seriously, if you live in the Palisades and don’t have a housekeeper or nanny to run to Trader Joe’s, you need to organize your life such that you can hit a store with bargain wine and cheap, healthy prepared food in West LA when you’re out doing other errands. And if you’re too snobby to shop at Ralph’s but can’t afford Gelson’s, you shouldn’t be living in the Palisades anyway.

The Palisades Highlands development is useful. And no one cared about the Highlands getting a strip mall because it’s the Highlands, for heaven’s sake, a gigantic 1970s residential housing project. The Third Street Promenade is quite close, as is Montana Avenue. San Vicente isn’t far and if you want everything at your fingertips, why buy in the Palisades in the first place? Old-timers shouldn’t have to suffer as they watch their beloved, charming town mutilated because new residents made unwise, unreflective real estate purchases and can’t appropriately manage their time and pick up life’s necessities in Brentwood, Santa Monica and West LA.

I am under no illusions that my blog will make a difference. But it made me feel better and I know dozens of people who wanted me to give voice to our anger that Caruso has extended his predatory tentacles into our precious neighborhood.

P.S. I do mourn the loss of Baskin Robbins, which as a toddler, I called the “I Cree Toe.” 1959276_598331620258829_1801019153_nYogurt isn’t ice cream.  God help Caruso if he doesn’t make good on his promise to the 8-year-old in the LA Times to bring an “awesome” ice cream store to the area. Ice cream is serious business and Palisades kids are smart, driven and used to getting their ways. I wouldn’t want to be in his Guccis, as the man in the article put it, if the new development doesn’t include an I Cree Toe.

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Happy Non-St Patrick’s Day St. Patrick’s Day Blog: Happy Hour at Wine Bistro, Notes on New York vs SB Dry Cleaning and Nails (Redux), and the Joys of Complaining

With Doobie at J's parents' old place. I miss Doobie when he's in Scottsdale!

With Doobie at J’s parents’ old place. I miss Doobie when he’s in Scottsdale!

I thought I’d just check in since I never wrote a Friday or weekend blog. I’ve been rereading parts of Sigrid Fry-Revere’s Kidney Sellers: A Journey of Discovery in Iran and writing pitch letters. Saturday I had a glorious, long lunch under the trees on the patio of Montecito’s Wine Bistro. Truly idyllic pastoral beauty and the food is infinitely better than Piatti, a fixture of Montecito’s Upper Village for some 20 years.

Wine Bistro patio.

Wine Bistro patio.

It was the first place I ate in Santa Barbara as an adult the summer before I started graduate school at UCSB in the fall of 1996. My nice and sober stockbroker boyfriend 20 years older in Malibu, with whom I was Al-Anon friends some time before we started to date, liked Piatti. He was a truly kind man from Arizona whose father was an alcoholic stockbroker. He went to Vanderbilt, where he partied his way through an undergraduate degree in business with I think a minor in history, before going to Wall Street at the height of the fun with cocaine and expense accounts. (Being reincarnated as a single girl in Manhattan circa 1980 in the days of Studio 54 and financier excess would not be at all bad.)

Beautiful Pierre LaFond/Wendy Foster complex in Montecito's Upper Village.

Beautiful Pierre LaFond/Wendy Foster complex in Montecito’s Upper Village.

He moved to LA after some time and realized he just couldn’t control the booze. It’s really not so complicated, as his family was a stiff upper lip, upper middle-class family in Phoenix. Every night his father came home from work, he’d greet his wife and the children and proceed to get discreetly sloshed before getting up the next day to do it all over again (probably rising before 6AM to be up when the market opened). That’s the WASP model of alcoholism and as models go, it’s certainly not the worst. The man’s father wasn’t an abusive screamer, just dead inside, and his mother was a typical suburban upper middle- class housewife raising kids. They may have had someone to clean once a week, but he was not raised with regular help that I know of, so she was doing the heavy household lifting.

Betty Friedan was a train wreck of a human being, not to mention a fraud who claimed to be working class when she was anything but. She also claimed to be the victim of domestic abuse when really, she may have been the abuser, though I suppose we will never know the truth. But Friedan wasn’t wrong that this model of marriage left much to be desired for any sentient, competent or intellectual woman who didn’t feel fulfilled by cleaning floors and cooking meals while wearing pressed floral aprons and pearls.

John (not his real name) drove me up from Malibu to Santa Barbara to bring some stuff to the one-bedroom in Upper State. This is nowhere near as desirable as nearby San Roque, where I have a beautiful postwar two-bedroom rental since 2006 I love in spite of the evil landlord who won’t permit me to sublet even though I never sleep there. My 1996-2006 apartment on an official truck route with afternoon sun would all but kill me and certainly, help prolong a crippling depression. Victorian Chick readers know it as Death Gardens.

I cried the first night I slept in Death Gardens before grad student orientation, but when we drove up that sunny Saturday, I had no idea what was to come. John and I had a light summer pasta and salad and he never minded if I drank, so I had a good gin and tonic and then a nice Cabernet. But the food at Piatti declined over the years, except for the traditional lasagna which remained excellent; out of nearly ten fine dining Italians, all favorably rated by Zagat, Piatti was unquestionably the least impressive. It stayed open as long as it did because it was gorgeous and peaceful and Montecito locals–whose average age cannot be under 60 or 62–don’t like change.

I liked the bar in 2008-2010 because the Piatti house Cab was only 7/glass and the spicy chili flakes and olive oil went nicely with the fresh bread.  It was a reasonably inexpensive  meal in a nice atmosphere: throw in a small salad or polenta appetizer and you had dinner  with a bar tab of 14 and food tab of 8 or 9. (My bar tab usually exceeds my food tab.) That’s not cheap cheap but my second biggest expense in life after rent has always been food and a nine dollar dinner is good. 2013 was a very low spending year for clothes and jewelry because 2010-2012 were “building years,” so I got to spend more on food and booze. In 3 months in New York, I spend at restaurants what I spend in 6 months in California.

I don’t really need anything now except for jeans: my two J Brands from 2011 have both ripped beyond repair. I have one pair of black Sinclair jeans from Lola in SB which were on sale for 36. I don’t even know how many (secondhand designer) dresses I’ve accumulated but I have many. Jeans are just a horrible, demeaning thing to shop for–much worse than bathing suits in my view–and the only ones I like are just shy of 200 dollars. While I can justify a special dress for 175, it’s hard for me to justify spending that on jeans.

My phone conked out before the food came, so I can’t do justice to the perfection of my Saturday lunch splurge. The sea bass with spicy mussels atop mashed potatoes in a light tomato sauce with a bit of a kick was nicely prepared. It wasn’t Chilean so less oily than the bass I normally eat. The mussels were tiny but flavorful and tender, and the broccoli rage a perfect texture with all that softness.

I’m going to start hanging out there more often. The patio is even nicer than it used to be and they have plenty of wines by the glass in the 9-11 range. Happy Hour is daily from 3 to 7: the food deals are nothing to speak of (a few bucks off what they would be normally), but all wines by the glass–by Pierre LaFond–just six dollars.

In fact, having picked T up from school and made vet appointments for both Emma and Ollie (plus picked up kitty Valium because Ollie becomes a yowling, screeching maniac in a car), I’m thinking I will forego nails and go have some Sauvignon while J takes T out to the old Goleta house he was raised till about 7.

Yesterday, T expressed a powerful longing for that house. He prefers the condo in Santa Barbara 25% smaller to that gorgeous new two-story home in the less desirable Goleta because the condo has distant ocean views and sits on two acres of hills with eucalyptus trees. It’s like living in a tree house from which you can spy the sea in the distance. (I vastly prefer the condo though the house was stunning; there’s nothing to eat out in boring Goleta beyond kid food and chains unless you go all the way out to the Bacara or the Costco mall with a few decent restaurants.)

Procrastination takes many forms. Some people put off paying bills or cleaning: I delay manicures as long as possible unless in New York. As my Facebook friends know, everything necessary for a woman to look her best in life costs more in Santa Barbara. I post the New York Times’ “Who Says New York is not Affordable?” at least bi-monthly for new Facebook friends or those with poor memories. I don’t blame them for forgetting: it’s counterintuitive that Santa Barbara women pay double what Upper East Siders pay for dry cleaning, nails, waxing, alterations, blow-outs, up-dos and other girly things. LA is cheaper than NYC for such services but SB is more than anywhere I’ve ever visited or lived.

The reason of course is that Santa Barbara, whatever it tells itself, is not a city. We have only 220K or so people, which relative to LA or NYC is low volume. Low volume means no competition and the cost of living here is indeed high as I discussed two blogs ago, so various stores and salons need to charge more to fend off starvation.

I get it, but that doesn’t mean I like it or can resist bitching about it. I like to bitch but I come by it honestly as the daughter of a man who would have gold medaled in kvetching were it an Olympic sport. And as I’ve blogged, I think those Woo Woo memes which claim that complaining worsens your quality of life are utter nonsense. I adore my charmed life and am daily grateful for my blessings: this doesn’t mean I don’t derive pleasure from bitching about stupid people, PC, annoying customer service, traffic, heat, and the fact that I can’t get my nails done in SB for what I pay on the Upper East Side with Rocio (soon to be moving to Waterbury, CT at Issa Nails on 61st and Lex). This is just wrong.

Because even Ecocleaners is twice what dry cleaning in the city costs me (Ablitt’s and Saint Paul’s are triple the price), I lug a suitcase full of dirty dry cleaning every two months and call Jeffrey’s the first day I’m in New York. The laundry equivalent of Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi huffs and puffs his way to the 4th floor of the 1897 brownstone I stay in a 450 foot walkup. If I don’t have a proper laundry bag and just stick stuff in a Hefty tall garbage bag, he stares disapprovingly at me. He’s a thin older Asian man who speaks almost no English. He used to bark (read: scream) at me no matter what I said or did, which became less and less when I realized the extent of the language barrier. But we’ve made progress, I think–at least when I give him dresses and blazers in a real bag.

There are one-day dry cleaners in my general neighborhood but I’m a creature of habit and Jeffrey’s is cheap and good. For a serious stain problem on a couture garment, one doesn’t  fuck around. On the Upper East Side, there are two couture cleaners within a few blocks: Madame Paulette and Jeeves. The first is in the historic Manhattan House, where a friend of mine moved with her husband when they left DC after 25 years. When I had the problem with the predatory parka buttons in the coat closet, she told me to go there.

My secondhand Monique Lhullier black tie dress, a la Sharon Stone Golden Globes win for Casino, turns out to be untreatable. 180786_184134114954989_7843713_n-2I’d have to let them cut it up, wet clean the white bottom and re-sew to the black top: this would cost more than the price of my only such gown–$295 used, $1400 retail–and I’m holding on to it until I have an event worth the repair. They could also dye it black but that would destroy the magic of this white/black gown which requires serious cutbacks on wine for the two weeks before I plan to wear it.

Trust me when I say Madame Paulette is not only obscenely expensive but completely obnoxious. When you have a serious problem on a gown bought for thousands of dollars, you don’t mind spending a couple hundred dollars. But if you’re forking out 300 or more to fix a stain, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for exceptional and friendly service.

Jeeves, which certainly wins the cutest name for a dry cleaners contest, is staffed by people you’d love to hang out with for drinks. An added upside: Jeeves is next to FDR’s old house in the city.  It’s living in a fantasy, at least if your fantasy is old Manhattan. Should I ever be in a position to buy gowns (even at sample sales) for black tie events, I would happily pay Jeeves to keep what I consider the fashion equivalent of heirloom jewelry in tip top shape.

I’ll ramble a bit tomorrow about Megan Taub’s recent Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times about Susan Patton’s new book based on the viral article in the Princetonian which told Princeton women not to pursue careers and academics at the expense of finding a suitable husband while still surrounded by the best gene pool they’re likely ever to encounter.

I wrote a quite serious piece on this last spring but the MacBook Pro hard drive crashed and J has been too busy to try to retrieve it. When you live with a great IT guy, it’s hard to bring yourself to pay a professional so I just decided to wait. (I’m actually very patient when it comes to some things: I don’t mind driving without a driver’s license card as long as I’m valid and I put many logistical things off. Maybe that’s procrastination, not patience, but I choose to see it as the latter.)

I also have been enjoying, and mass emailing, the recent columns of Chris Erskine about his daughter’s apartment search. She moved back to their house in LA (not in Brentwood) after college to save money while working an entry level PR gig and now finally moving out with an old childhood pal. This is seriously the funniest such writing I’ve seen in years, sort of Erma Bombeck meets Dave Barry with a bit of Joan Didion and Joe Queenan thrown in for good measure.  Queenan’s piece in the Wall Street Journal about the American addiction to advice had me in stitches, but Queenan writes (at least these days) somewhat heavier fare. Erskine’s bemused tone is consistently charming and I love his column.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

 

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Back in Santa Barbara: Dr. Sigrid Fry-Revere’s “The Kidney Sellers” and New York Travel Notes

With my babies again.

With my babies again.

I returned from New York last Friday on a blissful Virgin flight I listened to Kinky Boots and Wicked for over three hours.

I love everything about Virgin: the planes, the service, the food, the wine, the entertainment, the WiFi, and the sockets in every seat. I’m sold on Hipmunk: 338RT from LAX to Newark at ideal times of day. The problem with Newark is cab fare, but I finally learned why cabs charge for crossing state lines and now am less annoyed. NYC cabs can’t pick up customers going to the city, so the cab is empty on the ride home. They have to charge more to make it worth the trip.

The good news is that Supershuttle from the Upper East Side to EWR is only 25 (plus tip). You have to leave two or so hours earlier than you would in a cab (mass transit is not an option with two suitcases plus a computer and purse), but it’s more than pleasant in the van and you get to see parts of the city you might not otherwise see.

This is “Attorney Street,” which I thought was cute and unusual. I don’t know any Attorney Street in Los Angeles or Santa Barbara, though Santa Barbara is not a lawyer town so not surprising. Also, given the that Biglaw is mostly in the toilet and unemployment in the field as a whole is so high, I thought the sign forbidding all turns (u-turn and left) was apt and symbolic. 1779742_592371547521503_1461193646_n

The food at the Virgin terminal at EWR is pathetic and if you fly early, you can’t have a Bloody Mary because of some farkakte no booze pre-9AM policy. Phillips Seafood is the only breakfast I’ve ever given 1 star on Yelp after sending back two items. The lunch is better but fatty fish and creamy seafood bisque. Ugh. But TSA is usually a breeze at Newark and I won’t fly JFK or Laguardia again unless I get a ridiculously cheap fare.

I knew nothing about Stuyvesant Town, formerly a Naval residential village close to Alphabet City represented by Dan Garodnick, the City Councilman for the Upper East Side. 1656224_592371620854829_1033453417_nSince this guy roughly my age from Dartmouth and Penn Law raised on the Upper East Side voted to ban e-cigarettes on 12/19, I occasionally click on his Facebook page. He seems like an okay guy and I believe he wants to do right by his constituents, holding information meetings about ACA and lobbying hard to preserve or create more parks and public spaces, but on e-cigarettes, Garodnick is “doing a big thing badly” in the great phrase from Aaron Sorkin’s short-lived and underrated Sports Night. 

Leaving the stimulation of the city is never easy, but it was wonderful to see my parents, my aunt and uncle down on a rare trip to LA from Seattle, and of course J, Emma and Ollie back in Santa Barbara. 10005881_638342266200836_1227617781_oMy days are so different in Santa Barbara. I swim (sometimes!), go to lunch, and if here Monday and Tuesday, pick up T at school, but mostly I’m a homebody. I see so few human beings in the course of a day. But I’m never lonely because I’m on Facebook a lot, whether chatting privately with friends or posting articles or long status updates which amount to mini-blogs. Many bloggers post 600 words. I don’t do that except on rare occasions like the night I saw Pippin and merely linked to my blogs for  Bicoastal Brunette  and Park Slope Patch.

J and I usually go to a place  in our rotating stable of restaurants or happy hours when he gets home from work, but it’s not unusual for me to see no human being for most of the day (unless you count our labrador and Norwegian forest cat, for which I think an excellent case can be made). Santa Barbara is sleepy, but really Pacific Palisades and other West LA neighborhoods are not so different.

Sometimes in New York, I’m out for most of the day, but other times, I pop out for a couple of hours, hit Equinox for the cold plunge/jacuzzi routine (one of the things about New York I miss most), come back to the apartment, and then head out for the evening. If you don’t work, or don’t work outside the house, you have considerably less human interaction each day, even of the anonymous sort you get on the subway or the street.
LA is a city, of course, but really it’s a large group of towns connected by freeways which Dante, if psychic, would have included in his Inferno.

You’d think with all this down time, though I go to LA every five or six days to be with Dad (which I wouldn’t exactly describe as down time, except when he’s napping), I’d be powering through serious fiction, philosophy and criticism. I’m reading more, though not nearly as much as I’d like.

I’ve nearly finished The Kidney Sellers: A Journey of Discovery in Iran and hope to review it soon for a magazine or paper. I got personal emails from the global editor of the Atlantic, as well as the health editors, who wanted to learn more before they took a pass. I also heard back from the managing editor of Claremont Review, who wrote promptly and politely that due to space constraints of a quarterly, they could not review all the worthy titles.

I’ve been posting on Facebook, but wanted to plug Dr. Fry-Revere’s human and humane look at Iran’s improbable solution to the kidney shortage problem. Improbable, of course, because Iran is hardly known for its track record on human rights or what we consider a sophisticated and elaborate system of ethics. Yet Iran is the only country in the world to have solved this problem which claims lives daily in America.

Dr. Fry-Revere, formerly with the CATO Institute, was the first American to receive a dual J.D. and Ph.D in philosophy with a bioethics concentration. She has published widely since her years at Georgetown on a diverse set of bioethical issues and is the first Westerner to research organ donation in Iran.  Informed by her academic training and extensive experience in field of patient care, Dr. Frye-Revere draws on hundreds of interviews with donors and recipients and usefully situates the medical, legal and ethical issues in larger historical context. Those who have forgotten (or never understood) the ancient Sunni/Shi’ite and Arab/Persia conflicts will benefit from the lucid and concise history lesson in the opening chapters.

Here are some of the early reviews for this original, penetrating study:

“A compelling case for an unorthodox solution to a widespread healthcare problem”–Kirkus Reviews

“In The Kidney Sellers, Fry-Revere shows considerable strengths as a nonfiction writer. She is a keen observer of details in surroundings, events, and people. The reader is caught up in her personal drama of anxieties, impressions, and reactions to events. The history, culture, and current political climate of Iran is interspersed liberally throughout the book so that the reader can better understand why Iranians are motivated to act as they do and why the current kidney donor system was enacted.” — New York Journal of Books

“Sigrid’s journey…reads like a novel blended with a captivating news article that you quite literally cannot put down…I give the book a very strong five stars.” — Marisa Slusarcyk, Rogue Reviews

“Sigrid Fry-Revere has given us an amazing, courageous, provocative, even dangerous look at the complex and generally successful system of selling/donation that has solved the kidney supply problem in Iran.  Eloquently, humorously written, it is one of my best reads in years–fascinating to anyone who loves a good travel adventure story, but essential for anyone interested in overcoming the organ transplant problem that costs thousands of lives each year.” — Robert Veatch, Ph.D., Professor of Medical Ethics at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics and Fellow of the Hastings Center. 

“The Kidney Sellers is exciting, well written, and insightful. This book is going to revolutionize the way we think about living kidney donation.”  — Harvey Mysel, Founder, Living Kidney Donors Network. 

“The Kidney Sellers offers an invaluable and hopeful contribution to a long-standing controversy. This book is a must read for anyone who wants to take improving donation rates seriously.”  — Jim Gleason, UNOS board member, TRIO (Transplant Recipients International Organization) president.

To be clear, this is not a “pro-Iran” book. Leaving aside the inanity of being “pro” or “anti” a country of this (or any) size, Dr. Fry-Revere focuses exclusively on kidney donation. Healthcare issues never exist in a vacuum, of course, but she takes no larger foreign policy positions, which makes CATO’s resistance to the study somewhat puzzling. As she explains in the preface, CATO was unenthusiastic about this project because they feared it might cast a positive light on a “bad” country. A legitimate scientist or social scientist undertakes research to answer unanswered questions and Dr. Frye-Revere didn’t know if her fieldwork, as it were, would line up with her intuitions and prior study.

I urge my readers to buy her book, all of whose proceeds go to Stop Organ Trafficking Now! and the Center for Ethical Solutions, both of which she founded in the wake of her departure from CATO. As the reviews have noted, the book reads more like a novel than anything else and her voice is at once compassionate and incisive.

P.S. I will write about the Bistro Awards, Pippin, and more New York food later in the week. I’m currently writing a follow-up blog about the Duke porn star, now identified as Miriam Weeks, the daughter of an Army doctor raised in Spokane, WA. I think too little is made of how a story like this is all but inevitable in the age of Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram, when privacy ceases even to make sense as a basic concept in the minds of teens and young adults.

Too, it underscores the social, economic and even political danger of today’s higher education costs and the crushing debt burden faced by all but the very rich and the very poor. On Facebook pages of religious conservatives, you hear a lot of nonsense about the shame of her family and the state of her soul. That’s all peanuts next to the destruction of a whole generation’s fundamental sense of the distinction between private and public, deformed personal identity and lifelong economic servitude. Of course, this is excruciatingly embarrassing for her Catholic family, but it’s not the Ukraine, which is how some ultra-conservatives want to cast this.

Happy Tuesday from me and my constant Santa Barbara companion!
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The Santa Barbara Fantasy: What New Yorkers Need to Know About Life in the Beautiful, Pricey Resort and College Town

Downstairs at Bergdorf Goodman's for lunch. Great pea soup and tea sandwiches.

Downstairs at Bergdorf Goodman’s for lunch. Great pea soup and tea sandwiches.

New Yorkers have lost patience with this winter. If they’d wanted to live in Wisconsin or Minnesota, they would have done so. I stopped Sunday at Fishtail for a happy hour glass of cabernet after my borscht excursion to 60-year-old Veselka in the East Village. Flurries began around 4PM and people were cranky.

An unmarried couple dating about six months moaned when I said I live in Santa Barbara six or seven months a year and the woman said she was dying to move there sometime in the not-too-distant future. She has a friend in Santa Barbara part-time for decades and has fond memories of visits, though her friend warns her it’s a “bit of a snooze.”

I don’t know when New Yorkers got this hard-on for Santa Barbara. It didn’t used to be this way, certainly not in the 1990s but not even four years ago when I became bicoastal. Now when people find out that Santa Barbara is my primary residence, they respond with some combination of envy, longing, wistfulness, and nostalgia (usually for a lovely vacation or summer spent there decades ago).

I enjoy helping others, and because I believe that moving to Santa Barbara is a grave error for any single or unattached city person under 50 with a brain, culture and education and without a footprint in LA, New York or a real city, I try to speak frankly about life in this extremely beautiful, extremely expensive, and extremely sleepy city.

Some people want to buy a winter or vacation home which will become a retirement home when they can afford to quit working. But Santa Barbara is professionally dead: there is little opportunity and for a range of professions, it’s a non-starter. Every small city needs dentists, accountants, secretaries, medical personnel, realtors, contractors, servers, bartenders and so on.

But in 2011, I met a travel writer of some note married to a former CEO of Outward Bound (I think he may have founded it). I lost touch with this cool woman with whom I took two hour walks that summer when my friend moved out of 120 Riverside Drive (the westernmost part of city by the Hudson River). We used to meet at the pool with the skylights. Trump may be a prick, but he knows how to build an apartment with a first-class gym, and I so enjoyed her company.

Ten plus years from retirement, they moved to Santa Barbara, thinking he’d find work. He didn’t and they moved to pretty but affordable Portland before returning to New York. The husband was a Manhattan boy, and if you’re solvent and comfortable with roots in the city, it’s hard to live anywhere else.

Everyone is always talking about leaving New York, just as anyone who’s made it in entertainment is always talking about getting out of the business. There was a collection of stories not long ago that popped up on my Facebook feed, some of which looked entertaining and some just whiny. One woman hadn’t been here over 16 months and as a reviewer put it, “She hasn’t even been here long enough for the city to break her.”

I provide a lot of free advice to friends from the East Coast considering a move to good weather. The only reason in my view to leave New York is financial. That’s a rational and good motive. With people living longer and healthier lives (particularly those in higher tax brackets), dropping thousands of dollars a month on maintenance and/or rent makes little sense. But if you have money, I don’t know why you would choose to live anywhere else, at least 6 months a year.

Orange and Dutchess Counties are beautiful and reasonable areas upstate and I agree that as you age, it’s essential to recharge in nature. Even at 40, it’s nice to have quiet or down time surrounded by trees. But at 60, when you finally have some time on your hands because your kids are on their own (one hopes!) and your work life begins to relax somewhat, why wouldn’t one want to be in a place with so much to do?

These are some of the questions New Yorkers must answer for themselves in contemplating a move to Santa Barbara (which is nothing like Los Angeles and in fact prides itself in the most annoying, arrogant manner on not being LA).

1. How much stimulation do you need to be happy, fulfilled, and content?
2. Are you the sort of person who doesn’t care if you never meet a new local friend you see for longer than a year or two ever again in your life?
3. Do you thrive on conversation and fleeting connections which remind you the world is both bigger and smaller than it sometimes feels?
4. Do you want to live in a racially and ethnically diverse community, even if your little neighborhood and social circle are somewhat homogeneous?
5. Do you like to eavesdrop on conversations which make you wish you wrote fiction because they’re just that interesting?
6. Does nice but boring work for you?
7. How important is it to be surrounded by talented people in all fields?
8. Does the passion and sacrifice New York requires (living at 40 with roommates or alone  in 500 feet or a nice place with in the outer boroughs 45 minutes away) invigorate or defeat you?
9. Do you like to discuss film, theater, music, books and art?
10. Are you content to spend a lot of time alone appreciating the beauty and culture of Santa Barbara?

Santa Barbara takes your breath away with the majesty and proximity of its mountains and sea.  Newport Beach–in Orange County, which I detest with every molecule in my body–lacks this cradle effect. Only Malibu approaches the beauty of Santa Barbara and that’s even more expensive, but certainly if you can afford Malibu there is no earthly reason to live in Santa Barbara unless you’re 55 or older, blissfully married, and financially free enough to travel.

Again, if you’re a country person and you don’t like the edge and drive of cities, Santa Barbara is perfect. But New Yorkers are not country bumpkins even if they own a place upstate. My remarks are directed at city people. Santa Barbara is a wonderful place to vacation or live part-time, but it’s not a real city. There is no entertainment or finance industry and no Biglaw. There’s no mass transit to speak of (a bus up and down State Street is pretty much it unless you want to wait 30 or more minutes for a bus). It’s a sleepy place with laid-back people who exhibit little of the drive, energy, intensity and edge you feel every time you get on the subway.

“But what about UCSB? Isn’t that a selective, elite institution? Does it not form part of the life of Santa Barbara?” In a word, no. Yes, it’s a fine university which lately has overtaken Cal and UCLA in some global rankings. But the university is not in Santa Barbara. It’s in Goleta, a more affordable town just north of Santa Barbara and wealthy Montecito just south of SB.

Affordable is relative and there are plenty of 1 million dollar houses in Goleta. But 1 million buys you a killer house in Goleta, while in SB it buys you an unimpressive, boring California ranch-style house likely made of stucco which would in much of the country sell for 150K.  The new construction in Goleta is very nice (though nicer the further out you go north of Patterson), but that means you will have an HOA, which can be every bit as miserable as the worst co-op board. On the upside, HOA dues look trivial to most New Yorkers paying obscene maintenance fees.

Goleta is box store suburbia. There is no reason to live in Goleta unless you have a family and can’t afford Santa Barbara. The best public high school in greater Santa Barbara is out there, however, which is a legitimate reason to move out of “the city.” (I have trouble calling Santa Barbara a city but it technically is and so, for some ten years now, is Goleta.)

The Bacara Spa and Resort offers a membership that gives you 25% off all food and booze, plus access to the world-class spa and workout center. At 10K a year for a couple or family, it’s high for a gym or spa but low for a country club. And it’s the best thing to happen to Goleta in decades. If you like the idea of a country club and crave the sense of community a good one provides but can’t afford dues, this is a terrific way to meet new people and socialize with friends.

Almost no one affiliated with the university–including tenured associate professors–can afford a house in a nice part of Santa Barbara (San Roque, Riviera, Mesa, East Side, downtown). With the average house in the 900K range (the same as Studio City and Sherman Oaks, upscale parts of LA’s San Fernando Valley), the only university people who live in downtown are graduate students or adjuncts renting overpriced, junky rentals with little discretionary income to spend at bars and restaurants. A decent condo in Santa Barbara runs you 550-650K, so it’s not as though young professors even without kids can afford a great two-bedroom condo downtown.

The upshot of the exceedingly high cost of housing is that in spite of being (sort of) home to a great school, Santa Barbara feels intellectually thin.  The old joke about Santa Barbara is that it’s for the nearly wed and nearly dead. When I got the Humanities Predoctoral Fellowship at UCSB, Dad was proud, not to mention thrilled about five years of free schooling, but the first thing he said was, “What the hell are you going to do up there? It’s a place old rich people go to die.” Santa Barbara circa 2014 is not Santa Barbara circa 1996, but to a New Yorker (or even a Bostonian), it will be a culture shock. The first few days back even in LA, I feel like I am on 3 mg of Ativan for about 48 hours.

If New Yorkers have done their homework, they know about the UCSB Arts and Lectures series. While not cheap, the subscriptions are quite reasonable. Still, adults between 25 and 50 not affiliated with the university do not attend these shows or lectures. Santa Barbara has the finest ballet companies and symphonies of their size in America, but when I go to the Granada–our old school European opera house–I’m usually the youngest adult in attendance. The problem, in short, with Santa Barbara isn’t lack of culture; it’s a lack of cultured people under 55 with whom to share your life, at least if your life is at all concerned with ideas or the arts. 

The food scene is undeniably great. The Central Coast has for some time been the new Napa. New Yorkers read about this in the New York Times and imagine year-round walks on the beach followed by wine tasting and great Mexican food or exquisite fish dinners. Italian food is excellent in Santa Barbara, with nearly ten Italian restaurants highly rated by Zagat and other publications; this has always struck me as odd because we have no Italian community to speak of. I’m a foodie, but I’m not sure in the absence of a husband or husband-type, it makes sense to choose a city or town based on food.

There are probably fifteen food scenes in America as good as Santa Barbara: Chicago, New York, Minneapolis (I hear from many people this is a second Chicago now), Boston (don’t laugh, New Yorkers, people say it’s much improved), Seattle, San Francisco, New Orleans, Atlanta, D.C., Philadelphia (maybe) and a handful of others. Even New Haven was rated by Zagat the 6th best food town in New England. But none can compete with Santa Barbara’s weather or natural beauty: either the winters suck or the summers do, or both.   Still, as a woman I knew a few years ago put it, ”You can’t have amazing conversations with the weather.”

Santa Barbarans are nice. But like most Californians, at least Southern Californians, the flake factor is high and no East Coaster can fail to notice this upon making the big move west. Even parents of grade schoolers are flaky. My boyfriend will text the mother of one of his son’s friends to set up a playdate and get the quintessential California response: “Yes, X would love to see Tristan. Why don’t we touch base on Friday for Sunday?” Then nothing on Friday even after a reminder text. Maybe if you’re a single guy hoping to get laid, you want to keep your options open. But what “better offer” is a 4th grader likely to get for Sunday afternoon? It’s a flakiness that drives anyone from back East–or with East Coast values–batty.

My boyfriend and I met a couple at a bar we wanted to see for dinner. The guy works in real estate/development and the girlfriend, a very attractive Columbian Jew with some sort of social work degree, works at Kaiser Pasadena. That sounds promising right? Pretty, smart, half-Jewish girl with an education and competent Santa Barbara businessman who looks barely 40 but is in fact 50? Uh, no. We never were able to re-schedule after they flaked.

Last summer, we had the most fun we’ve ever had with a couple, but the husband is a biologist who travels for work and because of my schedule, we’ve been unable to make a second double date. They’re not flaky, just legitimately busy and with two out of four of us out of town a lot, it’s difficult to connect. She’s an unusually smart and driven young Santa Barbara woman (a mortgage lender about 30 only in Santa Barbara a few years) and I do hope we see this couple again.

We just had dinner with 50-year-old bachelor from Kansas City and in Santa Barbara over a decade. He’s one of only two friends in Santa Barbara J and I have as a couple for 3.5 years this last February. He’s not a flake and we’ll see him again for dinner. He likes to shoot so I hope we will go shooting when I’m back (at Winchester Canyon, the outdoor range I’ve never shot).

We have another single male friend the same age from El Paso, a great, smart, handsome engineer with a drop dead gorgeous sister married to a stunning man still in El Paso. We had burgers at the excellent American Ale last summer and like him very much. He’s not a flake and I think would like to be married, so I’ve told him he needs to get transferred somewhere for work because he’s never going to find a wife in Santa Barbara.

Note that these two men, both smart and in IT or science fields, are not from Santa Barbara. They’re from normal, non-flaky places where dinner reservations do not trigger fears of commitment. My Boston friend in LA for two years said she never realized until moving to Santa Monica (north of Montana is one of the most expensive zip codes in LA) how scary a dinner reservation could be. I never forgot her joke that she bought a very expensive piece of dirt for 1.15 million into which she dumped 175K and made 75K on the sale. Location, location, location.

But it’s almost impossible to make intimate friends in Santa Barbara, particularly as a woman. Even allowing for the miserable grad school and post-UCSB years, I’ve met only one best friend in 17 years and just a few female acquaintances I saw repeatedly even for a short period of time. This last year I met two women I like and enjoy seeing, but those are the first in years. I met two women about 50 who seemed promising as friend candidates. One turned out to be psycho, worse no doubt in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. She completely lost it on Facebook because her hometown was destroyed, but she took it out on Facebook friends left and right. She even fabricated a plagiarized status update and unfriended the right-wing tax attorney in upstate New York I think really longed for a career in stand-up comedy and introduced us.

Unless you’re married with kids, you have only (notoriously flaky) single people with whom to associate because in Santa Barbara, married people with kids are too broke for babysitters or even part-time help after paying their mortgage. And single people don’t generally bump into married couples out and about; without schools or clubs or sports, it’s hard to meet normal grown-ups in town. Your only shot, maybe, is joining Santa Barbara Athletic Club, the only respectable gym in town (24 Fitness and Spectrum are your other choices).

If couples in their 30s and 40s with two kids lived elsewhere, they’d be able to afford at least 10 hours of help weekly. To raise a family in Santa Barbara is to feel perpetually broke; you really need a family income of 150K to feel comfortable and play. My boyfriend’s ex-wife, a supervising nurse at one of the best hospitals on the West Coast, makes a decent living but constantly complaining about money. (That she may not be the best money manager is beside the point.) This is par for the course in Santa Barbara.

One reason I travel as much as I do (and a major reason I will never have children) is that friendship is among my most cherished values and I’ve never managed to establish meaningful, longterm friendships in Santa Barbara. I’m a social butterfly and connect very easily to people and still, it’s a non-starter.

I’m not the first to note that Santa Barbara is socially rough. J’s parents, 70ish, are social creatures born, raised and educated in Brooklyn and Queens. They hated Texas politics  but had a thriving and warm social life in Houston both around ballet and medicine. They couldn’t get anything going in Santa Barbara: in six years they never made a couple friend and ended up importing friends from Houston or other places they have roots.

Ironically, once they sold the SB house and bought a mind-blowing condo on a hill above a retirement community, J’s mother made some friends. Now they’re in Scottsdale eight months a year, just three minutes from one of their best couple friends from Texas, and in Santa Barbara for four months. Both are much happier.

As for Jewish life, there is one main temple in Santa Barbara and J’s parents hated it: the people were exceedingly rude and ungrateful for a fairly lavish dinner party J’s parents threw  at their beautiful home. Even if you don’t actually intend to help clean up, you should offer. The reason? J’s mother didn’t wax poetic about Santa Barbara. In an uncharacteristically understated way, she merely noted that they hadn’t found their niche and found life there very expensive.  J’s mother unknowingly violated the great social rule of Santa Barbara: Thou shalt not admit you do not think Santa Barbara is the best place in the universe; should thou transgress, thou shall find thyself in the doghouse, a pariah in one’s own living room.

Along with the fiasco of the dinner party, there was some problem with High Holiday tickets. J’s parents are not overly religious, but they were raised kosher and Orthodox and J’s grand-uncle was an important rabbi in Queens. The first time J’s father didn’t attend High Holiday services was in Santa Barbara at the age of 66. J’s father is a brilliant doctor with a mild, soft-spoken and intellectual temper. It’s almost impossible to piss this man off (much easier to piss off his wonderful but high-strung, high maintenance mother who shares many characteristics with my father). But that temple managed to do so.

So if you’re Jewish and that  matters to you on any level–religious or cultural–Santa Barbara will be rough. That a place with a population of 220K lacks even one Jewish deli tells you all you need to know about Jewish life in this beautiful but sleepy coastal town roughly two hours north of LA.

Now before random Santa Barbarans assemble to put a contract out on me–highly unlikely as it would require a level of commitment and organization I rarely see–let me stress that Santa Barbara has its virtues. But it is an insane place to settle unless 1) you have a spouse or longterm partner and 2) you actually like, as well as love, said companion.

It’s no good moving to a beautiful place with excellent food, exquisite wine, and a terrific athletic club (not to mention golf courses if that’s your thing) if the person with whom you will spend the bulk of your time annoys you–or worse–because you’re unlikely to find companions outside your relationship with whom to spend time on a regular basis as a cultured, intellectual city person.

The most interesting people in Santa Barbara are over 55. These are fascinating, accomplished, well-to-do folks who bought in Montecito after making their fortunes and contributions to society elsewhere. I’ve always gotten on best with older people but when I come to New York, I realize that there are men and women considerably younger than I am with whom it’s fun to hang out and talk.  I never have feel that way either in LA or Santa Barbara.

I wouldn’t choose to raise a child in Santa Barbara, but certainly it’s better than a lot of places totally cut off from culture where people raise kids. We have outstanding public elementary schools, mediocre public junior high schools and only one outstanding public huh school. This is a problem because you have to be wealthy to afford the only good secular private, Laguna Blanca, and I’ve heard some very negative things over the years about the cliquey social scene there. It’s small, 45 or so per graduating class, and this is why people with money either move out of SB for four years or send their kids to boarding school.

I’ve done my mitzvah for the day and will now swim. Tonight is the Bistro Awards at Gotham Comedy Club and I’m excited to see Ben Vereen!

P.S. I will write about Pippin tomorrow. Here I am afterward at Joe Allen.

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