Monday, February 28, 2011

Exorcising Cream of Mushroom Soup-mares ...

No introduction required. Here is what I shoved in my face, brain and eyeballs this past week.


Tuna Noodle Casserole: Every once in awhile I like to bust out some Tuna Noodle Casserole to remind us that we grew up in the 1980s in the Midwest, a place where every food crisis can be solved with a can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup. I, of course, loathe anything mushroom to the point where the word doesn't even register when I see it on recipes. It's like FREE on a Bingo card.

So I try to jazz it up. Somehow I managed to end up with the best recipe for Tuna Noodle Casserole that has ever been concocted by kitchen scientists. Unfortunately, this meant a ton of butter and whole milk. But sometimes that is the price you have to pay to exorcise your Cream of Mushroom Soup nightmares.

Also: Something really freaking fantastic happens when you mix onions and Cooking Sherry.

Hot Chili Grilled Cheese Sandwich: This is not your rainy-day Grilled Cheese Ellen marathon sandwich. This one is a mix of Pinto Beans and salsa and then shredded Monteray Jack Cheese, plain yogurt, scallions and Poblano Chilis.

Slap those ingredients between some Sour Dough Bread, pop it into the George Foreman and then eat the crap out of it.

Chocolate Panna Cotta with Spiced Pepita Brittle: This was the tale of two desserts. Chuck tried it and thought it was a little bit of Chocolate Pudding bore. But that is because he was ignoring the Topping: A carmalized mix of Sugar dotted with  Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, Cinnamon and Nutmeg. It's supposed to make a sort of Brittle. It didn't until about four days later. First it made a sort of Sugary Mush that still tasted really good. And it was a game changer. It took the dessert through the roof. I win.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger: It has been mere days since I watched this and I've already forgotten the brunt of it. It's, of course, very Woody Allen. It is interesting to note that Woody Allen isn't actually in it. Probably because he realizes that if he were in it, he would be cast into the role played by an especially Yoda-looking Anthony Hopkins, a senior citizen who begins pumping iron, running and chasing skirts. And maybe Wood-dawg just doesn't want to throw that onto reality onto a big screen.

Blue Valentine Eeps. This one is a soul tugger. Michelle Williams and Ryan Gossling are married, but reaching the end of that tether. Meanwhile, we get to witness their meet-cute in flashbacks. This movie is the saddest. And I'm a little foggy on exactly where things derailed. There is very little indication beyond the fact that he has become a day-drinker with no ambitions beyond going to work every day and being a good husband and father. So, with the absence of an explanation, I choose to believe this one was just made so that we could get close ups of two pretty faces and leave the theater with snot streaks on our sleeves.

Dominick Dunne: After the Party: Keep up, kiddies. Dominick Dunne is the new object of my ever-changing obsessions. I love this old coot with his gossip-fueled, unnamed source brand of Journalism. His story is delicious, his hubris is fantastic, and every once in awhile his face bursts into a giggle that is so endearing. This documentary includes the story of his life: The black sheep of the Dunne family, a war hero, a hobnobber who invented the black and white party that Truman Capote made famous. The overheard moment that marked his fall from grace, his alcoholism, divorce, his daughter's murder and how it paved the way for the aforementioned gossip-fueled, unnamed source brand of Journalism. It's hard to watch this one without a few heart pangs, watching Dunne shuffle into the courthouse for the Phil Spector verdict. 

American Psycho Around the time Patrick Bateman starts spreading [redacted] on a woman's [redacted] and then sends a starved [redacted] through a Habittrail and into [redacted], I had to concede defeat. This is the first time in the history of the world that a book has been too grotesque for me to read with a wide-eyed smirk of pleasure. I finished it -- don't get me wrong. But it was just too, too much.

Full review here

Make Me a Woman by Vanessa Davis: This is a fun comic journal filled with dancing and rough drafts. It's done a way that is endearing and sometimes feels like stumbling across a piece of found art.

Full review here.

What I'm reading now: Still working my way through Charles Baxter's Gryphon: New and Selected Stories and have picked up Dominick Dunne's The Two Mrs. Grenvilles: A Novel.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Eleven eleven ...

This post is another in my "Blogging like it's 2004 series," which is just the way it's going to be once in awhile around here.

At 11:11 a.m. I make one of those generic, wide-reaching wishes that really can't fail if you judge the success of a wish subjectively: I wish that today will be a good day, I think. Throw it out there, into the wind, just in case.


I get up just a wink too late for the "Sopranos: Season 2" party-for-one that Chuck is having on the couch. He's jimmied the window of the deck door with one of our better bath towels to block out the sun. I'm told that nothing makes day-sleeping harder than full-on exposure to sunlight during those primo winding-down hours.

We have makeshift drapes in plenty of places and a tinfoil/cardboard combo in the bedroom. Problem is: Whenever we alter something with the idea of it being temporary, we promptly stop seeing the duct-tape caliber fix until someone who doesn't physically live at this address wonders why we are using a Steve Urkel sleeping bag for a pot holder*. And that is why no one is ever invited to our house. (Well, that and that for 16-plus hours a day, at least one of us is sleeping).

Digression aside, I love these little mini marathons in the daytime. It's all very 1985-sick-day nostalgia. But he'd already busted through two episodes and couldn't commit to staying awake for a third.


I'm having a bad writing day, trying to plunk out some thoughts on Vanessa Davis's "Make me a Woman." It's all: "Me. Like. Pictures. Goot. Funny words." The Radiohead album I'm listening to is too ... noisy. Last night I discovered that playing Joseph Arthur at 45 RPM turns it into a perfect soundtrack for rollerskating. It's not entirely unpleasant. But that stunt is more for middle-of-the-night frivolity than morning hijinks. Speaking of 45 RPM, I opt for Jeremy Messersmith's "The Reluctant Graveyard," one of my go-tos.

I don't wax about the Minneapolis singer I like to call "The Wil Wheaton of music" often enough. About a month ago I realized I was having the kind of emotion-letting I reserve for Cloud Cult to his song "A Girl, A Boy and a Graveyard."

"Huh," I thought. "And there isn't even a string section to explain this."

And then I realized there is a string element and so my theory lives another day: String sections make me weepy.

Regardless, I finish one poorly conceived book review.


I wrap myself in hoods and layers to catch the 2:55 p.m. show of "Blue Valentine" at Zinema 2, and only spend half of the movie worrying that I parked in a tow-away zone.

There is some sort of GNO happening a row behind me. Adult women. Tons of chatter and excitement about stuff. All through the trailers: "So he's taking me on a date-date next Saturday." "A date-date, huh?" "Yeah a date-date. I'll believe it when I see it."

If I were the boss of the planet the planet's motto would be: Movies are not social events.

"Blue Valentine" takes my diaphragm and tugs on it with the weight of the entire cast from "We are the World." I sit there, hood up, chin on knees, bawling for about 40 solid minutes stopping only to consider the ways in which Ryan Gossling has completely reconfigured the portrait of a day drinker. I suspect this movie was created so that some asshole could play hackeysack with millions of souls for 2 hours.


I drive to the YMCA wondering if these legs can carry this much grief on a single elliptical machine, then decide a little exercise might actually help me shed this morose.

I forgot headphones, which is a total deal breaker.
But I realize I have Charles Baxter's "Gryphon" with me, so I can bike and read instead.
I hate biking.
About 2.5 miles and half a short story into the workout I realize that the hole that I thought was unnoticeable in the crotch of my workout pants has become more of a fire exit. Stunned, I drape a towel across my lap and hope that no one noticed.
I cut the workout short and decide to hit the sauna. But instead of the full body glaze, my skin just gets dry. I add water to the rocks, and nothing changes. I look forward to massive pools of liquid in the crooks of my arms and behind my knees, but I'm moving closer to jerky.
So I cut that short, too.


Nothing terrible happens at Target, unless you could the woman on the Rascal ...


I try to nap to "Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy," but it's too gripping to allow for any Z's and so I stick around for the post-show doc -- which pretty much just reiterates what was just acted out in that Lifetime Network signature standard.

In keeping with that theme, I watch another terrible movie while trying to create a comic journal entry in the smooth stylings of Vanessa Davis.

Then I crank up a documentary about Dominick Dunne and fall head over heals for the old coot. I think I'm going to exhaust his entire collection this summer.

* We are not using a Steve Urkel sleeping bag as a curtain rod. But we have a Steve Urkel sleeping bag, so it is conceivable that it would end up being used in this capacity.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Nutella time! ...


Here's how I spent this past week, bitches.

Polenta Terrine: This concept piqued my interest when I saw it done on "Top Chef," and I immediately started Googling recipes. We go through a lot of polenta in this place and the idea of burrito-ing a bunch of veggies in a polenta casing sounded like an excellent art project.

I never settled on a specific recipe, so this was an even better adventure. Chuck bought a bunch of veggies: Zucchini, red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, onions. I just chucked them in a pan and got to work. It turned out super duper good. We didn't top it with any sort of red sauce, which I think could have been a nice finish. Maybe next time.

Spanakopita: I got a wicked case of the food envies when one of my Facebook friends said she was serving up Spanakopita at her place. I didn't stand a chance against the force of my crave.

Someday I want to start a support group for people who work with phyllo dough. So frustrating, even under the best of circumstances. I didn't consider making an angry confetti of phyllo dough pieces. This time. But that doesn't mean it still wasn't annoying. It's all about personal growth.

Anyway, this Spanakopita casserole-ish style of food was super good and totally did the trick. 

Chickpeas in Spicy Tomato Gravy: This one comes from this month's issue of Food & Wine. Man. This made the house smell so good. I said to Chuck, "There is no way that this will taste as good as it smells."

My favorite part was mixing up garlic, a hot pepper and a bunch of ginger in the food processor. It was like whoa.

Mix that with canned tomatoes and chickpeas and a bunch of spicy seasonings and go nuts. 

Mine didn't end up as red and gravy-ish as the one in Food & Wine's photos, but it was still yum with good spice.

Nutella Party In My Mouth: I think it was Eating Well that featured this delicious snack that has become a staple here. It's simply Nutella on a Graham Cracker with a couple slices of banana and topped with coconut.

Somehow it manages to come out tasting like a big explosion of pie in your mouth. Yum.

Whenever I eat this, I like to send Chuck a text that says: NUTELLA TIME! But you don't have to do that.

In other food news: I'm sparing you photos of the anatomically correct pancakes we made on Valentine's Day. But the cakes were delicious. Buttermilk, who knew? Then Chuck did this super weird thing and gave the leftover batter to Chuck's Fannie, who will henceforth be known as The Great Archivist. I'm not sure what I would do if someone gave me their leftover pancake batter, but I'm guessing I'd eat it with a ton of syrup.

Karaoke Terror: The Complete Japanese Showa Songbook: Here is a universal truth: Movies made from books by Ryu Murakami are always, always, always delicious. In this one, 20-something misfit boys take on 30-something women in an epic battle. No one wins.

Just Kids by Patti Smith: I’ll say this for Patti Smith: Homegirl certainly knows how to write lifestyle porn.

Full review here

Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli: Totally dug this graphic novel about the reformed blow hard named Asterios Polyp.

Full review will be here.

What I'm reading right now: American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis and Gryphon: New and Selected Stories by Charles Baxter.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

When we used to talk about feelings ...

Last night I was half-assedly watching an episode of "House" featuring that monotone ginger from "That 70s Show" as one of those old school personal bloggers -- a concept that was all the rage at the early part of this century.

It seems that in the early onset of the internet there was this compulsion to claim some iReal Estate and let your freak flag fly. With this came a sense of obligation to tell your life story in its entirety, leaving no emotion un-dissected, no acquaintance un-acknowledged, no conversation not shared verbatim, no meal un-documented. It was like being in a crowded karaoke bar and finally getting the microphone. Clearing one's throat and beginning: "Now that I have your attention ... here's 'Bohemian Rhapsody.'"

There are still personal bloggers, of course. Maybe I'm one of them. But not to starry-eyed extreme that I was in 2004 when I realized that I could put words about my life on the internet and that strangers from all over the world would read 900 different descriptions of a hangover. And so I did it every day, obsessing over sitemeter stats and demanding that my friends tell me their favorite parts of each post.

I think this all changed -- at least it changed for me -- when people realized they weren't as anonymous as they thought. That vanity would force them to reveal enough bits and pieces that they would eventually become identifiable, if they didn't just come out and say "MY NAME IS CHRISTA PISTA! I LIVE IN DULUTH MINNESOTA!" And I think even some of those people who weren't hiding behind aliases and blurred geographical information probably felt somewhat masked screaming words into a crowd. Or maybe not.

All I know is that there are no longer blogs in my Google Reader that include things like "That 70s Show" wrote on her website during the episode: "[Whatever the hell her boyfriend's name was] and I got into an argument today ..." Later when it came time for her to decide if she wanted a plastic heart valve or a pig valve, her initial choice was the plastic and her boyfriend accused her of choosing that for the entertainment of her readers. Gah. How many times did I do some version of that in 2004?

I miss that kind of blogging.

I am maybe too curious about the inane ways in which people spend their days. Last week I was standing in an alley with JCrew and I asked her about her morning routine, somewhat surprised that I'd never thought to ask her this before this very moment. It's not a thrilling litany of to-dos any more than my own morning routine is a thrilling list of to-dos. But still, it was interesting to me because it is different from me. YOU GO DIRECTLY FROM BED INTO THE SHOWER?! HOW IS THAT HUMANLY POSSIBLE?! YOU'RE A GODDAMN HERO! YOU NEED A BRONZE STATUE IN YOUR LIKENESS IN A PARK THAT IS NAMED AFTER YOU! Me? Every single day I wake up and think: "I can't do it. Not again. Another day. I was just getting used to yesterday. When is the first possible moment I can sleep again?" Then, about four sips into my coffee, I find the courage to go on.

Possibly related: I will never dive directly into a swimming pool.

So. I'm going to do that. Blog like it's 2004. Right here, right now. "My Saturday: An Exercise in Minutia":

I hate Saturdays. I find the lack of structure mixed with the week-long anticipation that this day be great is an awful burden. My usual plan of attack is to sleep until the bed sores get bed sores. If not for my bladder, I could go on for days. On this particular Saturday, I wake once late in the morning and to find Chuck next to me, fresh home from work, propped up on his elbows, reading the internet on his iPhone and beaming like a crazed lunatic.

"Oh, hi," I say. "How are you?"

Then I roll over and give sleep another whack, feeling successful when I wake up at 2 p.m.

I put on my glasses, a robe, slippers. Grab a pile of books I might want to read throughout the day, and go downstairs. Make coffee. Drink coffee. Smoke a cigarette or two. I had thought I might go to a movie. "The Roommate" seems perfect for a supersecret date with no one else, but it's only playing in Superior. This is a strange aesthetic turn off that I can't really explain.

I head down to the basement and crank up the old school desktop that has become my favorite computer in the house. I turn on a single lamp. Crank up Bon Iver's record. Write a review of the graphic novel "Asterios Polyp." Switch out Bon Iver for "OK Computer." I refill my coffee. Read the entire internet. Become restless.

I shelve a pile of books I've read in the past few months. Somewhere around P in the fiction section there is a weird smell. I don't even want to know that combination of elements this entails. Rotted mouse carcass and ketchup, probably. "I should dust these book cases," I think, but change my mind when I realize this is stupid busy work in a house where there is certainly something more pressing that requires cleaning. Then I get distracted by the fact that we are closing in on filling our eighth bookcase, and there really isn't room to expand in the basement. Someday I'm going to have to trim this collection.

How many copies of "Hard Times" do we need, anyway?

I form a plan in my mind: I will go to Electric Fetus and look at records, to a friendly acquaintance's vintage clothing store to browse, to the YMCA where I will work out as long as it takes me to watch a single hour-long episode of something starring characters with nice hair. Sauna. Shower. I need to go to the grocery store. I want to go to Barnes & Noble.

Even though it feels counter-clockwise, I start with Barnes & Noble. I know I am altering my fate. The Y is only open until 7 p.m. And if I get sucked into a comfy chair and a good book, there is no way I'll end up on an elliptical machine.

There is a woman in the early-alphabet of the fiction section SCREAMING into her cell phone. She's not mad. This is just, apparently, her voice. She's trying to decide on a gift for someone. Her toddler is playing on the floor at her feet as she leans against the shelf. Basically, if I want to see a Didion, I'm fucked. Such is the curse of the passive.

More and more I'm annoyed by the way people act in public. We all take up more or less the same amount of square inches with just our bodies. But some people seem to require more. Room to gesture. Room to talk very loudly. Room to aimlessly push a gigantic cart. Room to surround themselves with a rind of bags and co-shoppers, kids, friends, spouses. And the more people do this, the more I find myself trying to become small. Concise. Slide through cracks and speak in a whisper.

I buy "American Psycho," Joyce Carol Oates' new book and an oldie from Martin Amis and it's too late for me to get to the YMCA. Grocery store. Home. I sink into the sweet spot of the couch and bust through 100 pages of Patrick Bateman's bad behavior, pausing once in awhile to read the criticisms about this book.

By the time Chuck wakes up, I have built up a Christmas level of anticipation. Everything that has happened for the past 8 hours has happened in my head. That always makes the readjustment to human interaction a little clumsy and he tends to mistake my quietness for a mood.

I make a dinner heavy on chickpeas while Chuck sits on the stairs entertaining me and he's cued up some bossa nova on Pandora. We watch an episode and a half of season one of "The Sopranos" while I clutch "American Psycho" in my hands, occasionally busting through a paragraph.

Chuck goes to work. I watch "House" and sketch a picture of a woman with slicked hair, over-sized sunglasses and a perfectly balanced face taken from an ad in Elle. Meh. It looks like the sort of thing that would suggest promise if it was hanging on the wall in an elementary school. Read more. More criticism. Text Chuck. Clean kitchen. Read. Snack.

Finally around 4:30 a.m., I go upstairs to bed. I read until the words swim, then pass out.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Muppets take my mouth ...

Our upstairs bathroom is set up in such a way that if you are seated on the toilet and opt to leave the door open, you will find your knees pressed against a full-length mirror.

I was in this position on Monday night during a mid-movie bathroom break. I leaned forward and stuck out my tongue, ala Gene Simmons, and noticed some darkness near the back of the old licker. I thought maybe it was a shadow or a trick of the lights, so I flushed and shifted myself and the mirror into better lighting. True story. The back of my tongue was dark brown.

"I feel like I've heard of this happening," I thought to myself and wandered back to the bedroom, where Chuck was eyeballs deep in Japanese Comedy Horror.

I furtively grabbed my iPhone and Googled "Black tongue" and began scrolling through the information eventually settling in to read about it on the Mayo Clinic's website.

Then I segued into the causes, a charming little list that read more like my horoscope: Tobacco use, long-term dosage of antibiotics (I think we're on month six here), use of Pepto-Bismol (why, I'd just crunched away on two PB pellets earlier in the day to combat a lingering stomach ache).

Curiosity led me to images of the affliction, which look like something out of Muppet porn. Elongated tongues with a hairy growth, a sort of tongue goatee. This pink meaty flesh finally ready to leave the nest.

"I have to tell you something," I told Chuck. "I have Black, Hairy Tongue."

I read the symptoms and the causes, offered to show him the photos and then immediately decided he should never see the photos ever in a trillion years. This is the person who has a lifelong membership to my tongue and I never want him to think he's mouth-to-mouth with Harry of "And the Henderson's" fame.

Of all the weird things that can happen to one's body, Black, Hairy Tongue is sort of bittersweet. It won't kill you. It will go away on it's own. On the other hand, for something like 10 days, you might have a fur lining growing within your mouth. I know that we are all special, shaped and sized and freckled differently, but Jesus. Black, Hairy Tongue is pretty freaking gross looking.

I'm not going to say Black, Hairy Tongue is a deal breaker. If I was on a first date with a man who had it, and he dodged my peck with a "Oops. Sorry. Black Hairy Tongue. Next time?" I probably wouldn't go out with him again. But if Chuck had Black, Hairy Tongue, I'd still show him plenty of affection by filling my text messages with tons of emoticons.

He is, of course, kinder than me. Instead of telling me that I had the most disgusting orifice in all the land and that I was growing a Welcome Mat for my tonsils, he grabbed the box of Pepto-Bismol and read the part to me about how this stomach ache reliever can temporarily stain the tongue.

I went back into the bathroom and combed at my tongue with a toothbrush and it returned to it's rightful pink and healthy hue.

I'd say the scare was worth it. Now I have a new something disgusting in my arsenal of disgusting things.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Connect four ...

At the risk of sounding like I've been snorting Marjoram, lately I've been paying attention to the way things connect. Conversations that start with one person, and then pick up with another person. Suddenly being bombarded with scotch egg references. Seeing stray shopping carts everywhere I go. And super often, reading something and then experiencing something similar outside of the book.

Last week I was reading "Of Human Bondage" by W. Somerset Maugham and then saw a scene from it play out on "Jersey Shore."

It starts here:

Bette Davis is Mildred Rogers, who has been yanking on Philip Carey's ole heartstrings far too long. When all the dudes have ditched out and Philip is still standing as well as a person can stand on a club foot, Mildred slips into something slinky and tries to woo our drunken hero, mistaking his help for a little leftover love for her.


Meanwhile, over on the Jersey Shore, Sammi Sweetheart and her juice head gorilla have been done for the past 45 minutes. Done done. She, too, slips into something slinky and heads to the bar, stands on a table, and demands that some "HOT GUYS!" come dance with her. She proceeds to Jersey Turnpike in front of the newly de-Sammified Ronnie, who will later spend the night crying real live tears in the bungalow bathroom.

While the set ups are different, the end result is the same:

Mildred Rogers goes apeshit on Philip Carey's belongings, stabbing, tossing and lighting things on fire.

Meanwhile, over on Ocean Terrace, Ronnie retaliated by taking all of Sammi's prized possessions -- including her blow drier, her bed, her glasses and her plastic stacking crates -- demolishing them, then throwing them outside all while muttering something about "sleeping outside like a dog."

And this, my friends, is how I know that everything in the world is connected.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Canned dispatches from spam bots ...

So what the hell happened this past week? Who knows because I can neither prove nor disprove it with the aid of a hand held internet device. I'm on Day 4 of no iPhone and I'm trying to convince myself this is a nice vacation from the world, but really the list of things I want to cross reference while I'm reading/watching TV/having a conversation is overwhelming. It's like having half my brain tied behind my back. Not to mention the volumes of people who probably think I've punked out of our game of Words with Friends.

Meanwhile, according to FedEx's website, my new phone is sitting at their facility! No one wins under these conditions.


The Pista parents were in town this weekend. We went out to dinner last night:
Pan-seared scallops with cider-dijon cream sauce, grilled asparagus spears and risotto. I traded the asparagus spears for Ma Pista's sauteed Brussels sprouts. I liked it all a lot.

Then we all went to breakfast today, where I introduced them to the wonder that is the scotch egg.

I found something that has helped me get through those predictable pokes about how Chuck and I aren't married. I just repeat the mantra: You, Pista, are a middle-aged woman and can simply file your mother's lifestyle critiques like it is a canned dispatch from a spam bot. You're allowed to do that.


I have a lot of deep thoughts about this past week's episode of "Jersey Shore" -- which I have watched twice and would have no qualms about watching again.

Here is the stuff I did this past week.

Pulse: Despite the fact that "Japanese" and "horror" are my favorite two-word descriptor, I just could not get into this early 2000s cautionary tale about the alienation of the internet. (The evil comes through the tubes to getchya!) People get wonky, then kill themselves, leaving behind a weird shadow smudge on the wall. However. In the aftermath of seeing this movie, I've been freaking the eff out. Immediately after watching it, I went outside. It was well after midnight, and a dark figure was wandering aimlessly half a block away. Since the person? didn't seem to be scooting in a specific direction, and looked a lot like a shadow, I was in full horror mode. Other places where I have seen weird shadows: Out of the corner of my eye; Standing next to my car. So fine, Japan. You win again.

Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff + Robert Mapplethorpe: Oh, documentaries. This one is billed as the story of how curator Sam Wagstaff, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith influenced the NYC art scene in the 1970s. But it's really not about that at all. It's about the freakishly good-looking Sam Wagstaff's genius eye and genius artistic impulses and his manic quest to collect. And then there is a little bit on Mapplethorpe, including a woman shrieking about how Sam Wagstaff was used! used! by that hustler Robert Mapplethorpe with blurbs from Patti Smith talking about hanging out with Sam and Robert in a way that makes it all sound pretty freaking fun. So the whole thing is a little disjointed, and doesn't do what it is blurbed to do, but is fascinating nonetheless.

Of Human Bondage: I had no idea that Bette Davis was such an annoying actress. She portrays the evil user waitress, perpetual disser of Philip Carey like she's got a bad case of the yips. Plus, this version lops off the first 300 pages of the book where a lot of my favorite things happen. Still, I couldn't stop watching. So there.

Popular Hits of the Showa Era: A Novel by Ryu Murakami: I think I have read enough Ryu Murakami at this point to safely call myself a connoisseur without sounding like too much of an asshole. This Japanese horror writer always manages to tickle my gag reflex or give me school bus giggles. He is lurid. He is inventive. He is hilarious.

However, if I wasn’t a Murakami-sseur, I’m not sure his novella Popular Hits of the Showa Era, most-recently translated to English, would inspire the sort of “supple undertones, oaky aftertaste” style of fandom I’ve developed. In fact, I’m not sure I’d bother following his career. Luckily, I count his novel In the Miso Soup among my favorite books of all time and was appropriately stunned at the first sentence of Coin Locker Babies so I know how to sift out the moments of gold in this sort of crudely-drawn semblance of a story well enough to consider it a fine read.

Full review here

Of Human Bondage (Modern Library Classics)by W. Somerset Maugham: an orphan with club foot who drops out of school, tries his hand as an accountant (badly), decides to become an artist (mediocre), then moves on to med school (off and on) all while the wrong women get nutso futso for him and the one he wants hangs around until her wardrobe is updated and she’s been distracted by some new eye candy. He tries to shake her from his craw. Every once in a while things go his way. It’s also about shedding organized religion and the powerful hold money has on a person. It’s about love and like-but-not-love and it’s about the changing topography of a person’s social circle.

Full review will be here

What I'm reading right now: Just Kids by Patti Smith. I'm totally sucked in, just like the Rock Star Amy Abts predicted.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

This iDdiction ...

Yesterday my 4-month old iPhone stopped charging, which I greeted with a wicked case of delirium tremens. I was in the battery's red zone with a 20 percent charge and a lava of tears about to ejaculate from my face.

It is no secret that I am addicted to that little screen in a way that seems silly for a woman who never ever in a thousand years talks on the phone ever at all ever. But I text. I take pictures of food. I have six games of Words With Friends in progress. I use my iPhone to check email. I tweet and aimlessly scroll through Facebook when the physical world fails to engage me. I stream Pandora and The Current. It is my alarm clock, not to mention my clock-clock. I actually consider it my primary computer.

One day I came in from outside and a friend asked me if it was still raining.
I gave him a puzzled look.
"I can't remember," I told him. Paused. "No. It's not. My screen didn't get wet."
This smart phone-less outdoorsy sort has gone on to repeatedly use this story as some sort of cautionary tale among his Baby Boomer contemporaries.

I tried multiple cords. I tried charging through the wall charger and through my barely functioning computer, which I'm assuming only turned on because a) my phone is broken; b) I hadn't had enough sleep; c) I hit my head on the coffee table and the world had decided that I had struggled (albeit heroically) enough for one day.

I thought of how I had used that block of battery and concluded it was a waste: Streaming music that sounds like the band Air on Pandora, confirming plans for a visit from my parents, telling JCrew that my middle name is "Leigh," ("Really? How come I didn't know that?"), using the screen as a flashlight.

I'm not kidding about the shakes. I feel empty and very disconnected without a functioning phone. I know this is sad. That people traveled across the prairie with no means of communicating triple word scores to opponents, hell, that for more than half of my life my only source of connection to the outside world was a shoe-sized plastic talking machine attached to the wall with a curly cord.

My old iPhone, a clunky second generation device that is now practically obsolete, went to a watery grave. I dropped it in the toilet, which is how I'll probably continue to kill off iPhones for the rest of my life. It has been sitting in the bottom of my purse since that happened and last night I tried plugging it in.

Apparently it has sufficiently dried out by now, as I could get it to turn on. I was able to pull up the last website I was looking at before it died: A listing of phone numbers for cab companies in Duluth. Ah, the fumbling fingers of a woman drenched in PBR versus the magnetic tug of toilet water.

Chuck has an old iTouch, which actually is obsolete. I found that holding one of these two gadgets in my hot hands calmed me, even though neither of them can actually do anything.

"Yeah, yeah, it's like I'm camping," I told Chuck staring into the muddy screen of the Touch.

Chuck suggested I try carrying around a deck of cards, see if that works. 

"You're like one of those crazy ladies who wanders the streets with a dead baby in her backpack," Chuck said.

Apple is sending me a new phone that should get here Saturday (SATURDAY?!) or Monday (MON-DAAAAY?!) In the meantime, the iPhone 4's SIM card is too small to fit into any sort of replacement phone. So I've got nothing but a plan to buy a track phone from K-Mart.

"The nice thing about a track phone," Chuck said, "is you just drop it in the gutter when you're done with it."

Ham-boned ...

I got epically hammered on Saturday night. We're talking: hammered circa early 2000s. Back when if you were to slice me down the middle you'd get a gush of Cheeseburger Hamburger Helper powered by 80-plus ounces of Leinies Honey Weiss. That kind of hammered. 86'ed from a place full of plenty of hammered people hammered. The kind of hammered you reserve for celebration or heartbreak.

My excuse? It was accidental. I just got hammered because it tasted good.


JCrew and I went out on Saturday night. By the grace of god, she had obviously bonked her head that morning because she offered to drive her Escalade all the way to West Duluth to pick me up. Just like a real live date.

"You don't have to do that," I said. 
"I've already got my coat on," she said.
"Oh, well ..." I said.
"See you in a half hour," she said.

We went downtown to not-the-kind-of-bar-where-either-of-us-especially-me-usually-hangs-out. It's one of those bars where "Sex and the City" rams boob-first into the crew from "Entourage." It's a bar pulsing with strobe lights and man nipples. A place where everyone looks like they got dressed in Katy Perry's underwear drawer.

"Excuse me," this girl in 9-inch stilettos asked JCrew's friend while we were crowded into the bathroom. "Do you know how to make my hair, like, poof?" She tugged at her tresses and formed a helpless pout.

One time when I was leaving this bar with Chuck he said: "If this place exploded behind us, I wouldn't even turn around." 

I sipped something clear very slowly, and about an hour and a half later had another that I sipped almost as slowly. I wasn't at all annoyed about being there any more than I'd be annoyed about being dropped into any Animal Planet reality program sponsored by Axe Body Spray. It was interesting. Until I reminded myself that if I was single, I'd be thrust into this environ occasionally and forced to talk about the peaks and valleys of Linkin Park's discography with a guy wearing a soccer jersey and sipping a drink peppered with protein powder endorsed by the cast of Jersey Shore.

Then I just got sad. 

One of JCrew's college friends was in town, a woman who had apparently been fairly deep in her cups while the sun was still shining. By now she was air-grinding and making slightly mermaid-ian squeaks. She tottered robotically toward JCrew, her arms akimbo, her squeaks increasing in a celebratory way. She got a single plod from JCrew when someone bumped into her, sending her spinning back the direction she came from. She squeaked herself away, seemingly forgetting that she had even seen JCrew.

We paraded to an enclosed area littered with cigarette butts. A barback on a recycling mission busted us in what was the employees-only smoking alcove.

"You can't be in here," he said.
It was a liberating moment. My goody-good flight instinct fully drowned by my realization that the worst thing he could do was kick us out of a bar I loathe.
"There are cigarette butts all over the floor," JCrew's friend L said.
"It's for employees only," he responded.
L took a drag of her cigarette, looked at him, and said: "So can I get a job?"


Eventually L gathered up the drunk college friend into the proverbial slop pail, and JCrew and I lit out for another destination. This time, a place where I'm more comfortable.

It was dead. Eight people at the bar. And this is a place that requires a crowd to drown out the sounds of its grim narrative. We beat a hasty retreat.


We went to another bar, the slightly-less morally reprehensible sister bar to the first. Another of JCrew's friends from high school was there. A fellow with a faux hawk and a Northern Minnesota accent so deep that his O's sound like they should be wearing flannel fur-lined ear flaps.

Disaster hit. An otherwise pretty sober-ish night mucked up by a raspberry flavored martini in a glass rimmed with Pop Rocks. I had two. Quickly. From zero to "sure I'll have a shot" in like nine sips.

I thought I was in the safety zone. Post 1:30 a.m., what are the odds you'll suddenly get hammered. Rookie. Suddenly I was hammered. Epically hammered.

Hammered enough to stumble inside from the cab and immediately heave Pop Rocks all over the entryway and my hair. (But not so hammered I couldn't clean up our wood floors with 409 spray). I stripped down naked, leaving a trail of clothes in two different bathrooms and plopped into bed. The way Chuck later described me sounded exactly how one would describe a Raspberry martini-scented stick of chalk with barf crusted in its hair.

I woke up a few times, but I didn't really address the fact that it was a new day until about 6 p.m. And that was only because I needed water. Water that bungeed out of my stomach and steamed from my nose. Back to bed. I tried again at 8 p.m., and was slightly less worthless. By 10:30 p.m I was able to fit a winter coat over my robe and hit McDonald's drive thru.

JCrew was able to answer a lot of important questions from that night:
Why the cab ride was $33 and it took until 3:30 a.m. to get home. (We were scammed, and drove her home first).
Why we got 86'ed from a public location. (We didn't. I did).
Why I called her at 3:30 a.m. (To tell her I barfed).

On Monday I still felt like all of my internal organs had been rearranged by a sadist.

On Tuesday I still needed a medicinal dose of McDonalds and a Gatorade.

And that is why I am never drinking again. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A funny thing to do in Duluth ...

1. Walk into a crowded place.
2. Say: "Have you seen my friend? He's about 5'9 and has a beard. He's wearing a stocking cap?"
3. Cackle to oneself.