Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Why am I defending these people?

I admit that I have a borderline unhealthy obsession with the Real Housewives of New Jersey. I do. But I think I would be tired of all the backlash regardless, because so much of it is just silly. The major arguments that are put forth so inarticulately in blog comments, etc. seem to be that a) these women do not accurately portray housewives, seemingly New Jersey housewives in particular and b) these women and their families are giving a terrible impression of the whole state to the entire country. There's also the blatant excess-of-everything complaint, but this is reality t.v. so that's a given to be ignored.

In the first place, who in their right minds thinks that these women, nay any of the women in any of the Housewives franchise pieces, "represent" housewives? They provide compelling television precisely because they are so over-the-top and, more importantly, so not "like us." People watch these shows to feel morally superior; getting a glimpse into the good life is only a secondary concern. These shows function as a way for the vast majority of us to feel better about not having a lot of money. If we did, we might be as vapid and wasteful as these dingbats on this here screen. I don't know any housewives myself; married women I know have far more on their plates than any traditionally-imagined housewife could possibly handle. I'm not looking to Bravo to show me what real life looks like. I can go next door for that. I want ridiculous television that I can watch on the treadmill (since I can't afford a tricked out gym and personal trainer in house), and that, yes, makes me feel I am a little saner than my dark imaginings sometimes suppose.

The idea that this show is single-handedly bringing down the national image of New Jersey: are you joking? For one, it can't get much lower, and it has nothing to do with a television show (though The Sopranos didn't help much in its day I guess). We have a ridiculous tax structure, ridiculous levels of political corruption, and yes, terribly sorry to offend, but a ridiculous number of gangsters. Some folks are yelping that they don't know these people, that this isn't their Jersey. Well guess what: I do, and it is, at least for a goodly portion of the state. I went to high school with children of some real, um, characters, and I went to college with women who are waiting eagerly at stage left for Danielle to finally start wearing Dina like last year's Versace so that there will be vacancies on the show. And you know what? It doesn't bother me. It doesn't shake my foundations of who I am as a citizen of New Jersey. Why should it? Though I don't have the numbers and have been too lazy to look them up, a discussion of the Abbott districts the other night led to the observation that Jersey just might have some of the craziest distributions of wealth of our fine fifty (though now that I think about it, California might quibble with that). No one in their right mind could really believe that the entire state is like Franklin Lakes. But let's say for a second that they did. So what? What, we're going to lose tourist dollars from Minnesota? Jersey shore's pretty much sold out for the summer. I think we're doing okay.

I guess it's the Jersey Girl in me, the part that just doesn't give a fuck if someone in Minnesota thinks all women in these parts need bubbies and baubles to get through the day. It just doesn't matter to me. There was a similar uproar lately about the negative effect Parking Wars is having on the tourism industry in Philly, namely that they've gotten some complaints from people saying they will never visit because obviously the parking situation is so horrible. The one clip I've seen of Parking Wars was a kid in North Philly getting his car booted. If a tourist from Minnesota finds themselves in North Philly, I think getting the car towed will be the least of his or her worries. Frankly, I don't know if I want someone who is going to get all whiny about having their car towed after parking illegally in a major urban center on my sidewalks anyway. Try that in Manhattan. Let me know how well it works for you up there. It's not us, it's you.

Anyway. There are things about the show that I really like, that keep me watching even as Danielle's personality disorder makes me nauseous at regular intervals. For one, of the Housewives shows I've seen (and I am by no means a connoisseur) these women seem to have the most genuine connections. And sorry, I like the Manzos. They are funny. And as someone who grew up with lots of members of her extended family in the construction business and similar, there is something about their interactions with each other and the world at large that I find comforting. Is Teresa and her non-stage-mothering ridiculous? Sure. But she's largely harmless. She is most certainly doing less damage to her children than Danielle has done to hers. And if she is harming them, they most certainly will stay in the rich pockets of town, and not get in my hair anyway. Caroline is my favorite, and has been in the beginning, because I wish more than anything she was my aunt. She's crazy funny, and does seem devoted to her family, which is something I admire and appreciate. And what's the thing most trolls say about her on the Internets? She's the fat one. Real nice guys. Great way to critique there.

Maybe I'm just hyper because it's hard to justify even to myself my intense liking of this program. But of all the guilty pleasures in the world, I don't think this one's half bad. And I really don't see it as an opportunity to tie my sense of self to the opinions strangers may or may not hold about the state I live in after watching. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go back to planning and living out my Jersey-based life, which is very rich and varied and in no way affected by a reality t.v. show. Excepting that I have to plan said rich and varied life around reruns...

Thursday, May 28, 2009


I ended up in A Mood tonight. I was on the verge of expressing surprise, disbelief even: how can I be upset? What happened? Maybe I was close to chalking it up to PMS or eating too much (which, let's face it, are not unrelated). But no, I know why, even if I don't want to. It started with police procedurals.

I used to malign genre fiction, but fell into mysteries a few years ago. There were jade candles involved. Maybe because of that I recently fell in (briefly) with smutty romance. I didn't find them as satisfying though, so after catching a recent Masterpiece Mystery I decided to start reading the Wallander novels, the eponymous character being a disheartened police detective in Sweden. Good stuff. Did the first two, and would have kept right on tearing through if the library didn't happen to be lacking, at that particular moment, number three. No matter. There was a back log of mysteries, of the more modern and not serial sort, that I could get through in the meantime.

I am amazed sometimes at the difference between good and bad writing, and how subtle it is. Maybe that's not fair; maybe it's just that my taste is very particular. Nevertheless the fact remains that some books are readable and others beg to be snapped shut and shuttled away from one's eyes as quickly as possible (the most recent of the latter for me being The Secret of Lost Things. SNAP). In any event, a book I started a few days ago quickly proved itself to be of the former sort, and I was happy to have something to distract me for a bit. But have you noticed that books, at least good books, have a sort of tipping point, after which it is imperative to finish them? It isn't always just about knowing what the point is, or the twist; sometimes it is just being finished, being able to stand back and evaluate the whole. Sometimes it is just the desire to immediately start again, to pick up perhaps on subtle details missed the first time around. I suppose in some way it is a measure of the "Goodness" of a work, the page on which such a point of no return resides. Some have you at page five. Others may take awhile longer to reach "gripping," where before they were merely interesting enough to avoid the SNAP.

So the book I was reading, What the Dead Know, hit that point for me tonight. I meant to read for about an hour, then move onto other things. It didn't quite work out that way, I say four hours later. As I neared the end, I felt myself overcome, with tears in my eyes. I'm not sure it was that the book was that good (although it was rather good), or even that I was shocked by the climax, having figured as much 50 pages earlier. But there was something. Then J from across the room at his perch in front of the computer said something about "Star thinks." And I could only blink. "What?" It still takes me by surprise, hearing the name Star. There's a gravity to it that doesn't exist when one is talking about a distant sun. It's as if the capitalization gives physical weight to the pronunciation, like it is visible in the air after it leaves someone's lips. I used to know one Star. Then I knew two, but still only had one. And while I usually keep myself in the present pretty well, sometimes I get taken by surprise. "What?"

Then bit by bit I start piecing things together. Dates are very important in this book. One of the character's names is also a celestial body. I had spent yesterday's lunch time walking through a cemetery with a coworker, and somehow we started talking about dead friends (believe it or not we walk there all the time, but usually ignore the actual, you know, mortality of the thing). And at the end, in the author notes, the author thanked Duane Swierczynski. That struck me, seeing a name I recognized. I wouldn't know him from Adam on the street, yet I have a significant affection for him, seeing as he wrote very nice things about my friend after her death. What kind of connection is that? But I still felt like one was there, to the point I was startled to recognize his name in the long list of acknowledgments.

The book also dealt with connections, with hope, with recovering things thought lost. I mourn Star very much in December, but I also seem to in June. I don't suppose that's all that surprising really. And seeing as I talked for most of the day about how it was almost June, since it is almost June, I guess I shouldn't be too surprised about names and reading in general making me feel slightly off. I don't suppose she'd be particularly pleased, me sobbing over dates and characters named "Sunny." But then, she has forfeited her vote. She can be as mad as she wants, but it doesn't really stop me- luckily she has not yet developed poltergeist-like abilities. (I think when she does, others may be in more immediate danger of physical scoldings, first.)

As I say, there is probably something else making me feel so bereft and lost. But maybe there's not. I've been staring at a prominently placed book on one of my shelves for the last several days, one that was a book club selection back when we had a book club. And, you know, actually read books. It was a selection of hers I believe (or at least, I will choose to believe), and now that I think about it it does bear resemblance to this latest. If she was still here I would recommend it to her. I have no idea whether she would have liked it. But I do know that she would have read it, because that's the kind of sport she was. And while she wouldn't lie to me, neither would she have called out in sing-song "hated it" or simply wrinkled her nose if asked. She'd be thoughtful about it, which is something a librarian, even one who strictly adheres to the page 50 rule, can appreciate. She'd get the tipping point deal, and even the SNAP, even if she might not really ever follow it. Which I guess is just another way of saying what a generous and kind person she was, and how very, very much I miss her. It takes a special person to be Bookish.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Inheriting one's partner's iPod gives one a unique insight into said partner's world that neither pre-Canan nor martial therapy can match.

Apathy meets Accountability, or Lack Thereof

I work with a psycho. I mean, I generally work with people of questionable intelligence and morals, but this one person in particular, whom I shall refer to as Big Red, is really certifiable. She is mean as a wet cat, if the wet cat in question was a real bitch, which I'm not sure could happen species-wise, but I digress. She has no love in her shriveled little soul. She is ruthless. And, until recently, she was competent, which was particularly frustrating. She has been here forever, and knows everything (ha!), and can remember every system that we had before the system we have now, and you can bet they were so much better, etc. If you made half a misstep, misspoke to the tune of splitting an infinitive, she was all over your ass like white on rice. My colleagues and I all adopted the habit of saving nearly all email correspondence with her, ever, and tried to avoid saying anything to her about procedure if we did not have written back up. She is beastly, and likes to throw emails around, often not the most recent exchange, so one must be On One's Toes, and have one's own documentation ready at hand at all times.

Or, at least, one did. This year something odd started happening with Big Red: she started to lose her mind. We thought at first that maybe we were imagining things, when we would get repeat emails, questions about policies that had been in place for decades. But over the past nine months it has become increasingly clear that this woman is losing her mind, slowly, but surely. It is a measure of what a beast she is that no one really gives a shit, beyond hoping this will speed her retirement. She rarely has a nice word for anyone, so it is not surprising that no one has a nice word for her. Besides, this is not the type of person you sit down and have a heart to heart with, expressing your concern. She would smell blood and go for the jugular within seconds, dementia or no; it'd simply be muscle memory. So best to let her rot away in her own little brain. Not a day goes by that she does not go out of her way to say something nasty to me or one of my close colleagues, even now that she is often confronted with her limitations, so it is difficult to feel much sympathy.

Which brings me back to the email log I've been keeping. It just occurred to me this morning that I really do not need to keep it anymore. Everyone knows she is slipping. Everyone, from her bosses down, has commented upon it, and shared examples. So there really is no reason at all for me to keep a log: no one would believe her now. And while I am grateful to free up the gigs of space she has been sucking off my hard drive, the thought does give me pause. How very sad, that you can't even scare people anymore, when that is the only way you know to relate to them. And how sad that it is getting to a point where not only are folks not scared of you anymore, they relish the thought that you have absolutely no power left in this realm you used to lord over. One does hope HR gives her a nice package.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Maybe I can be a mother after all

So I was watching this special on camels last night, somewhat randomly, and it turns out that llamas are camels? In any event, there was a big section on llamas, which along with lemurs are my favorites animals ever. And I'm multi-tasking as is my wont, flipping through a cookbook, and I hear the narrator say, the head and the forelegs protrude from the mother's body. And I glance up, expecting to see mama llama on the ground writhing around, maybe with a nurse llama standing over her in a jacket and with a stethoscope, checking things out. But no, mama is just walking around, pausing to munch some grass, for all the world looking like nothing is going on in her vagina. Huh, I think, well it just goes to show that we medicalize the process of birth to the point where it is unrecognizable as a natural proc... and then the foal (calf?) just falls the hell out on the ground. Looks like a crazy header it takes too. And mama llama whips around, and I'm figuring she'll start licking or nuzzling or something. Instead, she draws back a foreleg and starts kicking the shit out of the thing. And the narrator goes, the mother immediately starts to encourage the baby to try out its legs. Dude! If someone's kicking me in the head I guess I'd try out my legs too!

Monday, January 12, 2009


I am obsessed with making lists. I think it is some vestige of wanting to be organized, though in my traditional half-hearted manner I often consider having made the list to be quite enough to be going forward with, and stop there. The obvious exceptions to that are, of course, grocery lists and work to-do lists, the latter of which I am so obsessed with if I complete a task that is not on my to-do list, I will add it so I can cross it off. But to my point, for blogging like list-making causes me to ramble: it is that time of year when one puts down resolutions, and though I didn't do so good with my list from last year I tried again this year. Some I am doing pretty okay with (making the bed everyday); others are already starting to fall by the wayside (walk to the speedline? In 20 degree weather? You must be joking). I also wanted to make a list of books to read, because I am falling a little behind with new reading, and having a list would have the added benefit of being able to tick them off as they are completed or abandoned. Because I like being able to cross things off of lists. It has something to do with my personality.

Well apparently I should have put an item on the resolution list about resolving to make that secondary list, because I have not seemed to be able to get around to doing it. One of my main motivations are all the books I actually own but have not read; I have consumerist tendencies that lead me to wanting to possess books that look really good without having a concrete desire to actually sit down and read them. This is exacerbated by two current trends in my bookish life, that of using the hell out of both my university and public libraries, to the point of taking out more books than I can possibly read in the time allotted, and that of re-reading the entire Harry Potter series. Yes, again.

So it looks as if my resolutions this year will not be all accomplished either, seeing as how I can't seem to even finish the list of them. Oh well, I guess there's always next year... but January is such a good time for Harry... and I don't really want to read about the Iraqi-American experience....