mardi, septembre 26, 2006

i'm unremarkable!!

A few months ago, I discovered a lump on my neck. It was a lymph node that had grown and was palpable. I recently saw my primary care physician, who referred me to an ENT specialist because of my medical history.

He did an FNA (Fine Needle Aspiration) and it came back nondiagnostic. (That's doctorspeak for a biopsy that's inconclusive.) Then he sent me for a CT scan. Today, I got my results.

I'm "unremarkable." (That's doctorspeak for "everything's normal — or as normal as we can expect, given that we don't really know you.")

I can't tell you how good it feels to be unremarkable.

It feels great to have so many friends and loved ones who continue to support, inspire, nurture, and help transform me through my cancer odyssey. Thanks —I love all y'all remarkably unremarkable folk.

lundi, septembre 25, 2006

"it's a big load of hooey"

Like most people, Bill Clinton is a complicated, flawed individual.

Unlike most people, he's also incredibly intelligent. It's nice to see a Democrat have the balls to tell it like it is. That it happened on Faux News is all the more interesting.
Think Progress » Fox News Sunday, Interview With President Bill Clinton, 9/22/06
WALLACE: Mr. President, welcome to Fox News Sunday.

CLINTON: Thanks.

WALLACE: In a recent issue of The New Yorker you say, quote,

I’m 60 years old and I damn near died, and I’m worried about how many lives I can save before I do die.

Is that what drives you in your effort to help in these developing countries?

CLINTON: Yes, I really — but I don’t mean — that sounds sort of morbid when you say it like that. I mean, I actually…

WALLACE: That’s how you said it.

CLINTON: Yes, but the way I said it, the tone in which I said it was actually almost whimsical and humorous. That is, this is what I love to do. It is what I think I should do.

That is, I have had a wonderful life. I got to be president. I got to live the life of my dreams. I dodged a bullet with that heart problem. And I really think I should — I think I owe it to my fellow countrymen and people throughout the world to spend time saving lives, solving problems, helping people see the future.

But as it happens, I love it. I mean, I feel it’s a great gift. So, it’s a rewarding way to spend my life.

WALLACE: Someone asked you — and I don’t want to, again, be too morbid, but this is what you said. He asked you if you could wind up doing more good as a former president than as a president, and you said, Only if I live a long time.

CLINTON: Yes, that’s true.

WALLACE: How do you rate, compare the powers of being in office as president and what you can do out of office as a former president?

CLINTON: Well, when you are president, you can operate on a much broader scope. So, for example, you can simultaneously be trying to stop a genocide in Kosovo and, you know, make peace in the Middle East, pass a budget that gives millions of kids a chance to have afterschool programs and has a huge increase in college aid at home. In other words, you’ve got a lot of different moving parts, and you can move them all at once.

But you’re also more at the mercy of events. That is, President Bush did not run for president to deal with 9/11, but once it happened it wasn’t as if he had an option.

Once I looked at the economic — I’ll give you a much more mundane example. Once I looked at the economic data, the new data after I won the election, I realized that I would have to work much harder to reduce the deficit, and therefore I would have less money in my first year to invest in things I wanted to invest in.

WALLACE: So what is it that you can do as a former president?

CLINTON: So what you can do as a former president is — you don’t have the wide range of power, so you have to concentrate on fewer things. But you are less at the mercy of unfolding events.

So if I say, look, we’re going to work on the economic empowerment of poor people, on fighting AIDS and other diseases, on trying to bridge the religious and political differences between people, and on trying to, you know, avoid the worst calamities of climate change and help to revitalize the economy in the process, I can actually do that.

I mean, because tomorrow when I get up, if there’s a bad headline in the paper, it’s President Bush’s responsibility, not mine. That’s the joy of being a former president. And it is true that if you live long enough and you really have great discipline in the way you do this, like this CGI, you might be able to affect as many lives, or more, for the good as you did as president.

WALLACE: When we announced that you were going to be on Fox News Sunday, I got a lot of e-mail from viewers. And I’ve got to say, I was surprised. Most of them wanted me to ask you this question: Why didn’t you do more to put bin Laden and Al Qaida out of business when you were president?

There’s a new book out, I suspect you’ve already read, called

The Looming Tower. And it talks about how the fact that when you pulled troops out of Somalia in 1993, bin Laden said, I have seen the frailty and the weakness and the cowardice of U.S. troops. Then there was the bombing of the embassies in Africa and the attack on the Cole.

CLINTON: OK, let’s just go through that.

WALLACE: Let me — let me — may I just finish the question, sir?

And after the attack, the book says that bin Laden separated his leaders, spread them around, because he expected an attack, and there was no response.

I understand that hindsight is always 20/20…

CLINTON: No, let’s talk about it.

WALLACE: … but the question is, why didn’t you do more, connect the dots and put them out of business?

CLINTON: OK, let’s talk about it. Now, I will answer all those things on the merits, but first I want to talk about the context in which this arises.

I’m being asked this on the Fox network. ABC just had a right-wing conservative run in their little Pathway to 9/11, falsely claiming it was based on the 9/11 Commission report, with three things asserted against me directly contradicted by the 9/11 Commission report.

And I think it’s very interesting that all the conservative Republicans, who now say I didn’t do enough, claimed that I was too obsessed with bin Laden. All of President Bush’s neo-cons thought I was too obsessed with bin Laden. They had no meetings on bin Laden for nine months after I left office. All the right-wingers who now say I didn’t do enough said I did too much — same people.

They were all trying to get me to withdraw from Somalia in 1993 the next day after we were involved in Black Hawk down, and I refused to do it and stayed six months and had an orderly transfer to the United Nations.

OK, now let’s look at all the criticisms: Black Hawk down, Somalia. There is not a living soul in the world who thought that Osama bin Laden had anything to do with Black Hawk down or was paying any attention to it or even knew Al Qaida was a growing concern in October of ‘93.

WALLACE: I understand, and I…

CLINTON: No, wait. No, wait. Don’t tell me this — you asked me why didn’t I do more to bin Laden. There was not a living soul. All the people who now criticize me wanted to leave the next day.

You brought this up, so you’ll get an answer, but you can’t…

WALLACE: I’m perfectly happy to.

CLINTON: All right, secondly…

WALLACE: Bin Laden says…

CLINTON: Bin Laden may have said…

WALLACE: … bin Laden says that it showed the weakness of the United States.

CLINTON: But it would’ve shown the weakness if we’d left right away, but he wasn’t involved in that. That’s just a bunch of bull. That was about Mohammed Adid, a Muslim warlord, murdering 22 Pakistani Muslim troops. We were all there on a humanitarian mission. We had no mission, none, to establish a certain kind of Somali government or to keep anybody out.

He was not a religious fanatic…

WALLACE: But, Mr. President…

CLINTON: … there was no Al Qaida…

WALLACE: … with respect, if I may, instead of going through ‘93 and…

CLINTON: No, no. You asked it. You brought it up. You brought it up.

WALLACE: May I ask a general question and then you can answer?


WALLACE: The 9/11 Commission, which you’ve talk about — and this is what they did say, not what ABC pretended they said…

CLINTON: Yes, what did they say?

WALLACE: … they said about you and President Bush, and I quote, The U.S. government took the threat seriously, but not in the sense of mustering anything like the kind of effort that would be gathered to confront an enemy of the first, second or even third rank.

CLINTON: First of all, that’s not true with us and bin Laden.

WALLACE: Well, I’m telling you that’s what the 9/11 Commission says.

CLINTON: All right. Let’s look at what Richard Clarke said. Do you think Richard Clarke has a vigorous attitude about bin Laden?

WALLACE: Yes, I do.

CLINTON: You do, don’t you?

WALLACE: I think he has a variety of opinions and loyalties, but yes, he has a vigorous…

CLINTON: He has a variety of opinion and loyalties now, but let’s look at the facts: He worked for Ronald Reagan; he was loyal to him. He worked for George H. W. Bush; he was loyal to him. He worked for me, and he was loyal to me. He worked for President Bush; he was loyal to him.

They downgraded him and the terrorist operation.

Now, look what he said, read his book and read his factual assertions — not opinions — assertions. He said we took vigorous action after the African embassies. We probably nearly got bin Laden.


CLINTON: No, wait a minute.


WALLACE: … cruise missiles.

CLINTON: No, no. I authorized the CIA to get groups together to try to kill him.

The CIA, which was run by George Tenet, that President Bush gave the Medal of Freedom to, he said, He did a good job setting up all these counterterrorism things.

The country never had a comprehensive anti-terror operation until I came there.

Now, if you want to criticize me for one thing, you can criticize me for this: After the Cole, I had battle plans drawn to go into Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban, and launch a full-scale attack search for bin Laden.

But we needed basing rights in Uzbekistan, which we got after 9/11.

The CIA and the FBI refused to certify that bin Laden was responsible while I was there. They refused to certify. So that meant I would’ve had to send a few hundred Special Forces in in helicopters and refuel at night.

Even the 9/11 Commission didn’t do that. Now, the 9/11 Commission was a political document, too. All I’m asking is, anybody who wants to say I didn’t do enough, you read Richard Clarke’s book.

WALLACE: Do you think you did enough, sir?

CLINTON: No, because I didn’t get him.


CLINTON: But at least I tried. That’s the difference in me and some, including all the right-wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for trying. They had eight months to try. They did not try. I tried.

So I tried and failed. When I failed, I left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy and the best guy in the country, Dick Clarke, who got demoted.

So you did Fox’s bidding on this show. You did your nice little conservative hit job on me. What I want to know is…

WALLACE: Well, wait a minute, sir.

CLINTON: No, wait. No, no…

WALLACE: I want to ask a question. You don’t think that’s a legitimate question?

CLINTON: It was a perfectly legitimate question, but I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you asked this question of.

I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you asked, Why didn’t you do anything about the Cole?

I want to know how many you asked, Why did you fire Dick Clarke?

I want to know how many people you asked…

WALLACE: We asked — we asked…

CLINTON: I don’t…

WALLACE: Do you ever watch Fox News Sunday, sir?

CLINTON: I don’t believe you asked them that.

WALLACE: We ask plenty of questions of…

CLINTON: You didn’t ask that, did you? Tell the truth, Chris.

WALLACE: About the USS Cole?

CLINTON: Tell the truth, Chris.

WALLACE: With Iraq and Afghanistan, there’s plenty of stuff to ask.

CLINTON: Did you ever ask that?

You set this meeting up because you were going to get a lot of criticism from your viewers because Rupert Murdoch’s supporting my work on climate change.

And you came here under false pretenses and said that you’d spend half the time talking about — you said you’d spend half the time talking about what we did out there to raise $7-billion-plus in three days from 215 different commitments. And you don’t care.

WALLACE: But, President Clinton, if you look at the questions here, you’ll see half the questions are about that. I didn’t think this was going to set you off on such a tear.

CLINTON: You launched it — it set me off on a tear because you didn’t formulate it in an honest way and because you people ask me questions you don’t ask the other side.

WALLACE: That’s not true. Sir, that is not true.

CLINTON: And Richard Clarke made it clear in his testimony…

WALLACE: Would you like to talk about the Clinton Global Initiative?

CLINTON: No, I want to finish this now.

WALLACE: All right. Well, after you.

CLINTON: All I’m saying is, you falsely accused me of giving aid and comfort to bin Laden because of what happened in Somalia. No one knew Al Qaida existed then. And…

WALLACE: But did they know in 1996 when he declared war on the U.S.? Did they know in 1998…

CLINTON: Absolutely, they did.

WALLACE: … when he bombed the two embassies?

CLINTON: And who talked about…

WALLACE: Did they know in 2000 when he hit the Cole?

CLINTON: What did I do? What did I do? I worked hard to try to kill him. I authorized a finding for the CIA to kill him. We contracted with people to kill him. I got closer to killing him than anybody has gotten since. And if I were still president, we’d have more than 20,000 troops there trying to kill him.

Now, I’ve never criticized President Bush, and I don’t think this is useful. But you know we do have a government that thinks Afghanistan is only one-seventh as important as Iraq.

And you ask me about terror and Al Qaida with that sort of dismissive thing? When all you have to do is read Richard Clarke’s book to look at what we did in a comprehensive, systematic way to try to protect the country against terror.

And you’ve got that little smirk on your face and you think you’re so clever. But I had responsibility for trying to protect this country. I tried and I failed to get bin Laden. I regret it. But I did try. And I did everything I thought I responsibly could.

The entire military was against sending Special Forces in to Afghanistan and refueling by helicopter. And no one thought we could do it otherwise, because we could not get the CIA and the FBI to certify that Al Qaida was responsible while I was president.

And so, I left office. And yet, I get asked about this all the time. They had three times as much time to deal with it, and nobody ever asks them about it. I think that’s strange.

WALLACE: Can I ask you about the Clinton Global Initiative?

CLINTON: You can.

WALLACE: I always intended to, sir.

CLINTON: No, you intended, though, to move your bones by doing this first, which is perfectly fine. But I don’t mind people asking me — I actually talked to the 9/11 Commission for four hours, Chris, and I told them the mistakes I thought I made. And I urged them to make those mistakes public, because I thought none of us had been perfect.

But instead of anybody talking about those things, I always get these clever little political yields (ph), where they ask me one-sided questions. And the other guys notice that. And it always comes from one source. And so…


CLINTON: And so…

WALLACE: I just want to ask you about the Clinton Global Initiative, but what’s the source? I mean, you seem upset, and I…

CLINTON: I am upset because…

WALLACE: And all I can say is, I’m asking you this in good faith because it’s on people’s minds, sir. And I wasn’t…

CLINTON: Well, there’s a reason it’s on people’s minds. That’s the point I’m trying to make. There’s a reason it’s on people’s minds: Because there’s been a serious disinformation campaign to create that impression.

This country only has one person who’s worked on this terror. From the terrorist incidents under Reagan to the terrorist incidents from 9/11, only one: Richard Clarke.

And all I can say to anybody is, you want to know what we did wrong or right, or anybody else did? Read his book.

The people on my political right who say I didn’t do enough spent the whole time I was president saying, Why is he so obsessed with bin Laden? That was wag the dog when he tried to kill him.

My Republican secretary of defense — and I think I’m the only president since World War II to have a secretary of defense of the opposite party — Richard Clarke and all the intelligence people said that I ordered a vigorous attempt to get bin Laden and came closer, apparently, than anybody has since.

WALLACE: All right.

CLINTON: And you guys try to create the opposite impression, when all you have to do is read Richard Clarke’s findings and you know it’s not true. It’s just not true.

And all this business about Somalia — the same people who criticized me about Somalia were demanding I leave the next day. The same exact crowd.

WALLACE: One of the…

CLINTON: And so, if you’re going to do this, for God’s sake, follow the same standards for everybody…

WALLACE: I think we do, sir.

CLINTON: … and be flat — and fair.

WALLACE: I think we do.

WALLACE: One of the main parts of the Global Initiative this year is religion and reconciliation. President Bush says that the fight against Islamic extremism is the central conflict of this century. And his answer is promoting democracy and reform.

Do you think he has that right?

CLINTON: Sure. To advance — to advocate democracy and reform in the Muslim world? Absolutely.

I think the question is, what’s the best way to do it? I think also the question is, how do you educate people about democracy?

Democracy is about way more than majority rule. Democracy is about minority rights, individual rights, restraints on power. And there’s more than one way to advance democracy.

But do I think, on balance, that in the end, after several bouts with instability — look how long it took us to build a mature democracy. Do I think, on balance, it would be better if we had more freedom and democracy? Sure I do. And do I think specifically the president has a right to do it? Sure I do.

But I don’t think that’s all we can do in the Muslim world. I think they have to see us as trying to get a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. I think they have to see us as willing to talk to people who see the world differently than we do.

WALLACE: Last year at this conference, you got $2.5 billion in commitments, pledges. How’d you do this year?

CLINTON: Well, this year we had — we had $7.3 billion, as of this morning.

WALLACE: Excuse me?

CLINTON: $7.3 billion, as of this morning. But $3 billion of that is — now, this is over multi years. These are up to 10-year commitments.

But $3 billion of that came from Richard Branson’s commitment to give all of his transportation profits for a decade to clean energy investments. But still, that’s — the rest is over $4 billion.

And we will have another 100 commitments come in, maybe more, and we’ll probably raise another, I would say, at least another billion dollars, probably, before it’s over. We’ve got a lot of commitments still in process.

WALLACE: When you look at the $3 billion from Branson, plus the billions that Bill Gates is giving in his own program, and now Warren Buffet, what do you make of this new age of philanthropy?

CLINTON: I think that, for one thing, really rich people have always given money away. I mean, you know, they’ve endowed libraries and things like that.

The unique thing about this age is, first of all, you have a lot of people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet who are interested in issues at home and around the world that grow out of the nature of the 21st century and its inequalities — the income inequalities, the health-care inequalities, the education inequalities.

And you get a guy like Gates, who built Microsoft, who actually believes that he can help overcome a lot of the health disparities in the world. And that’s the first thing.

The second thing that ought to be credited is that there are a lot of people with average incomes who are joining them because of the Internet. Like in the tsunami, for example, we had $1.2 billion given by Americans; 30 percent of our households gave money, over half of them over the Internet.

And then the third thing is you’ve got all these — in poor countries, you’ve got all these nongovernmental groups that you can — that a guy like Gates can partner with, along with the governments.

So all these things together mean that people with real money want to give it away in ways that help people that before would’ve been seen only as the object of government grants or loans.

WALLACE: Let’s talk some politics. In that same New Yorker article, you say that you are tired of Karl Rove’s B.S., although I’m cleaning up what you said.

CLINTON: But I do like the — but I also say I’m not tired of Karl Rove. I don’t blame Karl Rove. If you’ve got a deal that works, you just keep on doing it.

WALLACE: So what is the B.S.?

CLINTON: Well, every even-numbered year, right before an election, they come up with some security issue.

In 2002, our party supported them in undertaking weapons inspections in Iraq and was 100 percent for what happened in Afghanistan, and they didn’t have any way to make us look like we didn’t care about terror.

And so, they decided they would be for the homeland security bill that they had opposed. And they put a poison pill in it that we wouldn’t pass, like taking the job rights away from 170,000 people, and then say that we were weak on terror if we weren’t for it. They just ran that out.

This year, I think they wanted to make the questions of prisoner treatment and intercepted communications the same sort of issues, until John Warner and John McCain and Lindsey Graham got in there. And, as it turned out, there were some Republicans that believed in the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions and had some of their own ideas about how best to fight terror.

The Democrats — as long as the American people believe that we take this seriously and we have our own approaches — and we may have differences over Iraq — I think we’ll do fine in this election.

But even if they agree with us about the Iraq war, we could be hurt by Karl Rove’s new foray if we just don’t make it clear that we, too, care about the security of the country. But we want to implement the 9/11 Commission recommendations, which they haven’t for four years. We want to intensify our efforts in Afghanistan against bin Laden. We want to make America more energy-independent.

And then they can all, if they differ on Iraq, they can say whatever they want on Iraq.

But Rove is good. And I honor him. I mean, I will say that. I’ve always been amused about how good he is, in a way.

But on the other hand, this is perfectly predictable: We’re going to win a lot of seats if the American people aren’t afraid. If they’re afraid and we get divided again, then we may only win a few seats.

WALLACE: And the White House, the Republicans want to make the American people afraid?

CLINTON: Of course they do. Of course they do. They want us to be — they want another homeland security deal. And they want to make it about — not about Iraq but about some other security issue, where, if we disagree with them, we are, by definition, imperiling the security of the country.

And it’s a big load of hooey. We’ve got nine Iraq war veterans running for the House seats. We’ve got President Reagan’s secretary of the navy as the Democratic candidate for the Senate in Virginia. A three-star admiral, who was on my National Security Council staff, who also fought terror, by the way, is running for the seat of Kurt Weldon in Pennsylvania.

We’ve got a huge military presence here in this campaign. And we just can’t let them have some rhetorical device that puts us in a box we don’t belong in.

That’s their job. Their job is to beat us. I like that about Rove. But our job is not to let them get away with it. And if they don’t, then we’ll do fine.

WALLACE: Mr. President, thank you for one of the more unusual interviews.

CLINTON: Thanks.
Via Ophira

listen without prejudice

"Freedom '90" is still one of my favorite songs. And I dare you not to tap your toes when "Faith" comes on. So, yes. George Michael's music rocks. But his politics also please me immensely.
Back on stage after 15 years - and still doing things his way
Emotions high as George Michael reminds fans how he became a global star

Esther Addley in Barcelona
Monday September 25, 2006
The Guardian
When you have sold 85m albums around the world, and survived an undignified public arrest for cottaging, an acrimonious courtroom dispute with your record company, and even the memory of having worn shuttlecocks down your shorts, you can afford to do things your way, and hang the critics.
And so it was that halfway into his first concert for 15 years, George Michael grinned like a delighted schoolboy and unveiled his big showstopper: a 50ft inflatable puppet of George Bush being fellated by a union flag-clad bulldog. Shoot the Dog, Michael's 2002 single satirising the special relationship, may have won him a ferocious backlash from the US and a scathing reception from British critics. But where another artist might have preferred to forget their flirtation with career suicide and stick to the hits, Michael seemed gleeful to be having another go at the Palau Sant Jordi arena in Barcelona. The 18,000 fans who were there to see the start of his 25 Live European tour to celebrate a quarter of a century in music obliged by turning up the hysteria a further notch on Saturday.

For a man who, by his own admission, has spent sizeable chunks of the past two decades smoking marijuana in his Hampstead mansion, and in recent years has earned more headlines for his occasionally erratic lifestyle than for his music, it was a highly emotional return to live performance. Michael has scarcely sung in public since the early 1990s, around the time that he was named by Forbes magazine as one of the three biggest entertainment stars in the world. That the other two were Michael Jackson and Mike Tyson illustrates his remarkable survival.
Although he was at the height of his popularity, the singer now admits it was a deeply unhappy period; the once shiny-toothed boyband heart-throb was in fact secretly gay, and had nursed his lover, Anselmo Feleppa, through his death from Aids. That loss, along with the later death of his adored mother, catapulted him into a period of crazed self-destruction. He refused to promote his second solo album, Listen Without Prejudice, and embarked on an ill-advised court battle with his record company, Sony, which he lost. After such a long time in the closet, he has said, he did not quite know how to admit the truth about his sexuality; a 1998 arrest for cottaging in an LA public toilet took care of that.

His good-natured lampooning of the incident in the single Outside won him a gay fanbase which reinvigorated his career. In recent years he has hit the headlines more for his lifestyle than his music, having been found in February slumped in a marijuana-induced slumber in his car, and photographed in July having sex with strangers on Hampstead Heath.

But Michael, who is in a long-term open relationship with his Texan partner, Kenny Goss, insists he is neither troubled nor going off the rails, but merely a contentedly promiscuous dope-smoker who has been on an extended sabbatical.

The thing about taking a 15-year career break, however, is that no one quite knows what to expect when you return. Would Michael play it kitsch, perhaps rattling through some of his cheesier early hits with Wham!? Or would he aim for the "housewives' favourite" market inhabited by some of his contemporaries, heavy on ballads and light on irony? The answer was somewhere between the two. Michael's own particular brand of high camp comes dressed only in black Armani, and though he did include a number of Wham! songs in the set, he opted for the grown-up pop of Everything She Wants and I'm Your Man, rather than the giddy adolescent silliness of Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go and Club Tropicana that first made him a star.

Perhaps forgiveably, it was a slightly nervy performance, Michael slickly moving from one hit to the next - he has had 11 British number ones, so there are a lot of them - without daring to risk too much chat with the audience, who are likely to add to his prolific sales when his new album of greatest hits is released in November.

Although the trademark stubble is now greying, the 43-year-old still has one of the finest voices in British pop, singing for more than two hours without a single faltering note. It was a welcome reminder of quite how a shy Greek Cypriot schoolboy from East Finchley in north London managed to become one of the biggest stars in the world.

Michael's private jet will crisscross Europe for a 50-date tour which will culminate in four dates at Wembley Arena in December. It is certain to be an emotional homecoming. "I've been waiting for this moment," the singer said simply as he took his final bow. His fans clearly have too.

dog crazy

The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association estimates that people will spend $38.4 billion on their pets this year; that would mean an increase of $2.1 billion, or 5.8 percent, over 2005.

My ex-father-in-law used to joke that he wants to be reincarnated as a cat in a jewish household. I don't blame him.

But I can't begin to wrap my brain around the American cult of consumerism whose priorities are about pampered pets and not the poor. People are starving and have inadequate health care, public education is underfunded, and not everyone has a roof over her head. (And that's in San Diego. Don't even get me started on Mumbai or Kinshasa.)

Don't get me wrong — I love my dog very much. Casey's been a faithful companion to me for more than 10 years and makes me laugh every single day. It's gonna wreck me when he goes to the big dog park in the sky, and I know that I'm not the only one who's gonna bawl.

For me, it boils down to this: if you can sleep at night and are really comfortable with what historians would say about your values (as demonstrated by your behaviors and spending habits) in 100 years, then more power to you. As for me, my to-do list this week now includes a donation to my local food bank and a long walk for Casey while I listen to REM's "It's the end of the world as we know it."
A Dog’s Life, Upgraded
ON a sunny day in August, a half-dozen large dogs — mostly Labrador retrievers — bounded in and out of the swimming pool here at Top Dog Country Club. Others lounged on the artificial-turf lawn, or looked on with envy and vocal protests from “time out” pens on the edge of the play yard.
Overseeing the goings-on was a member of the care staff, who served as both instigator, throwing tennis balls and jumping into the pool, and mediator, banishing dogs to time out when they became too rambunctious.
When Top Dog’s owner, Jean Beuning, hired a contractor three years ago to install a tiled, in-ground, heated swimming pool for dogs, the builder initially told her that she was out of her mind, she said.
But Ms. Beuning had heard that kind of comment before, particularly in the fall of 2000 when she left her job as a regional vice president for ExecuStay by Marriott to open a dog kennel, which she describes as a “Club Med for dogs.”
Top Dog Country Club is emblematic of one of the most sweeping changes in the boarding kennel industry in decades, said James Krack, founder and executive director of the American Boarding Kennels Association, in Colorado Springs.
“Twenty years ago, the dog run was where the dog lived when he was in the kennel,” said Mr. Krack, who started the association 30 years ago and ran a kennel for 16 years. “Today a dog run is where he rests between activities.”
And the menu of diversions is growing longer and, some might say, more extravagant. Depending on the kennel — or hotel or spa or resort — a dog’s activities can include hiking, swimming, listening to music, watching television, dining on gourmet meals and getting a pedicure, complete with nail polish.
The kennels’ amenities are becoming more lavish as well. Heated tile floors and high-tech ventilation systems are de rigueur. In many cases, chain-link dog runs have given way to rooms — for marketing purposes, kennel owners refer to them as “bungalows,” “villas” and “suites” — that come with solid walls, windows and custom-made furnishings. And even as the prices for such pampering rise — in some instances well beyond $100 a night — dog owners are lining up to give their pets what they view as the perfect vacation.
Kennels are not the only pet-related business that’s booming. The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association estimates that people will spend $38.4 billion on their pets this year; that would mean an increase of $2.1 billion, or 5.8 percent, over 2005. For services, like grooming and boarding, pet owners are expected to spend $2.7 billion this year.
The increase is partly a result of rising pet ownership: about 63 percent of United States households now have pets, compared with 56 percent in 1988. But it is also an indication of the changing role of the pet in the family and growing emotional ties between owners and pets.
The trend “highlights the profound love that many of us have for our dogs,” said Patricia B. McConnell, author of “For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend,” published this month by Ballantine Books.
That love “has not been critically examined as much as it deserves to be,” said Dr. McConnell, who has a doctorate in zoology. “It’s a biological phenomenon. Hurricane Katrina reminded us that people actually risk and sometimes choose to lose their life over their dog. That’s a biologically amazing fact.”
The luxury kennels reflect the complexity of the bond between humans and dogs, she said. “There’s actually one that just opened up in Madison — called Club Bow-Wow — that I would be just perfectly happy to stay in,” said Dr. McConnell, who teaches a course called “The Biology and Philosophy of Human-Animal Relationships,” at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
If a dog stays in the $50-a-day “ambassador suite” at Club Bow-Wow, a staff member sleeps overnight in the room. Dogs that opt for the “presidential suite,” also $50 a day, spend the day in the office of the center’s owner and manager, though they aren’t quite interns.
Other luxury kennels offer services from pedicures to parties for pets, charging as much as $185 a night.
Of course, how much of this is for the dog’s benefit, as opposed to its owner’s, is open to debate. Corey Cohen, an animal-behavior consultant whose business, called A New Leash on Life, works with dogs and horses in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, says that some services at luxury kennels are more meaningful to people than to pets. “Because it’s away from its owner, the dog is either going to be stressed or not stressed whether it’s in a regular old-fashioned kennel or a camp for dogs,” he said. “Any time there’s change, they’re stressed. From the owner’s perspective, they’re going to want to reduce their guilt.”
At Top Dog Country Club, on 42 acres about an hour’s drive west of Minneapolis, dogs check in at a hotel-style front desk in a lobby filled with photographs of dogs that are or have been part of Ms. Beuning’s family. The 5,000-square-foot building has 46 rooms spread over six bays.
The suites have heated concrete floors and textured walls topped with trellises and faux plants. “They’re harder to clean,” Ms. Beuning said of the walls, “but they give the dogs something a little more interesting to look at.”
Inside the suites are custom-made wrought-iron beds with orthopedic mattresses and tapestry covers. (And just like the beds in some hotels for humans, the dog beds can be bought for home use.)
Pampering is certainly part of the package. In the afternoon, when the dogs return to their suites from their daily activities, they get freshly baked biscuits. Baths and massages are available for an extra charge. And before lights-out, around 9 p.m., Ms. Beuning or one of her employees reads a bedtime story over the sound system. The stories, written by local schoolchildren, may tell of dogs “chasing kitty cats in their dreams,” she said.
But Ms. Beuning said she rejected some amenities that might be offered only to impress owners.
“The priority here is always about the dogs,” she said. So her center plays soothing music — classical, with a good helping of Frank Sinatra mixed in — but there are no televisions. Then again, she said, the dogs don’t need TV’s because they exercise so well during the day that they are ready to sleep at night.
Some dogs spend five or six hours a day in one of the three play yards that cover a total of 18,000 square feet, she said. They romp on artificial turf, chase one another and play with the 15 staff members. The supervised group play time, she said, is an important draw for her 4,000 customers who are willing to spend up to $55 a night to board their dogs.
The notion of play time — having a kennel employee take a dog for a walk, throw it a Frisbee or groom it — goes back about 10 years, Mr. Krack said. It allowed kennel owners to increase their income without increasing the number of dog runs. A kennel that charged, say, $10 a day for boarding could charge an additional $5 for play time. If an owner wanted his dog to have two play times a day, the kennel could double its revenue.
“That service really was, I think, the start of this concept of socialization for boarding pets,” Mr. Krack said. At first, he added, dogs from different families were never allowed to mingle.
That, however, soon changed. Customers who were accustomed to taking their pets to dog parks began to expect more: community play. “The kennel operators began to realize that this is what their customers demanded, whether they were comfortable with it or not,” Mr. Krack said.
COMFORT has been the essential business challenge for Emerson Hughes since he became a kennel operator in 1972. When he opened the first of his two Holiday Barn Pet Resorts in the Richmond, Va., area, he was proud of its modern operations. From the beginning, though, customers would drop off their pets and make comments like, “I hate leaving my dog in a place like this.”
Initially insulted, Mr. Hughes said he learned that the comments were not criticisms of his kennel but reflections of the perception that boarding kennels were “doggie jails.”
“We were a necessity that the public had to tolerate,” he said.
For a customer flying off to spend a week on the beach in Tahiti, the thought of a precious pet’s incarceration could put a damper on the entire trip. Mr. Hughes said he knew that no matter how immaculate his kennel was and no matter how well he cared for the animals, the customer could still feel guilt.
“We were providing an institutional service that was just enough for the customer emotionally to get by,” Mr. Hughes said. “We would keep that dog and we wouldn’t let him escape. And they felt like that was enough. We had to learn to present an image that satisfied the owner’s needs, not just the pet’s needs.”
It’s important for owners to feel good about their pets’ stays, he said, adding with a laugh, because “I never could get these dogs to write checks.”
Mr. Hughes decided to convert the fear factor into a fun factor. In the 1970’s and early 80’s, he hired teenagers, mostly girls, to pet the dogs during holiday periods.
“We put them in candy-stripe jackets, and it was their job to walk down the rows and pet every pet that they could touch,” he said. “The public loved it, but we didn’t charge for it. I didn’t know any better.”
In the mid-1980’s, Mr. Hughes began to hire managers who had more business experience than dog-handling experience and encouraged his staff to try new things.
After adding activities for dogs, he said, “our animal health improved because these animals weren’t stuck in a pen all day — they had human contact.”
Now he offers community play and swimming, along with special events like turkey barbecues for Thanksgiving and weekly tailgate parties during college football season.
When customers are confident that their dogs are having fun, Mr. Hughes said, they can better enjoy their own vacations.
Even pet owners who choose just the basic boarding package seem more confident that their dogs are getting good care.
Where it will stop is anyone’s guess, said Mr. Krack of the boarding kennel association. “You can always do more,” he said. And unlimited fun appears to be leashed to unlimited revenue enhancers.
At Mazzu’s Canine and Feline Hotel in Philadelphia, Jenee Mazzu offers a luxury pet hotel for “the discriminating pet owner.” A night in a suite costs $155 to $185, depending on the size of the room. (The largest is 7 feet by 7 feet.)
The daily rate includes the “personal suite, platform bed, comforter, toys, TV/DVD, two walks, one 40-minute jaunt to the dog park, feedings, unlimited bottled water, climate-controlled facility, daily maid service, 24-hour on-site care,” the Mazzu’s Web site says. For an additional $25, Mazzu’s will serve the dog a filet mignon dinner.
The hotel can accommodate up to seven dogs, Ms. Mazzu said, and since it opened about eight months ago, occupancy has averaged about three dogs a day.
The response to the hotel runs to the extremes, she said. “Either people say, ‘Thank God you started this company,’ or, ‘This is crazy,’ ” Ms. Mazzu said. “There’s not a lukewarm response.”
One man kept his Doberman at the hotel for nine days, she said, and ordered a filet for it every other day.
A DOG’S experience in a boarding kennel depends largely on the dog’s personality, said Mr. Cohen, the pet behaviorist. “People are trying to push dogs into Stepford dogs,” he said, noting that many dogs enjoy socializing with other dogs but that some do not. “I think they’re individuals.”
Beyond being companions, dogs serve different purposes for different owners, Mr. Cohen said. In some cases, a dog can be a surrogate child. In others, the dog is a source of entertainment. And it is important for owners to be aware of the function the dog is being asked to fulfill.
When it comes to luxury kennels, he said, “dog owners need to understand that it’s not necessary.” But he also said that there was little harm in most of the special services and amenities.
“I dress up my own dogs for Halloween,” Mr. Cohen said. “But I’m aware that I’m doing it to entertain myself, not because the dogs need to dress up.”
Carol Boerio-Croft, who has two locations in the Pittsburgh area for her Cozy Inn Pet Resort and Orchid Spa, has built her kennel business on what she calls canine feng shui. “Cozy Inn’s mission is to create and provide a loving, sensitive, healthy, safe naturally controlled environment for our guests; take care of them completely: mentally, emotionally, medically, spiritually and physically,” she says on her Web site. “And to always treat them with love and respect.”
With that in mind, she offers an indoor swimming pool and whirlpool, a choice of full-body, Swedish or sports massages, and hot-oil treatments. “Our clientele are not dog people,” Ms. Boerio-Croft said in a telephone interview. “I always correct that because normally dog people go to kennels. But our clientele is above average and elite. And we are an environment where the pets are very anthropomorphically treated like little people.”
KENNEL operators are not the only ones profiting from dog owners’ separation anxiety. Blake Walliser of Denver runs Online Doggy, a business that uses Web cameras to let dog owners peek in on their pets whenever they wish, from wherever they are; Mr. Walliser said his pet business grew out of a failed plan to offer the same service to day care centers for children.
Online Doggy has four full-time employees and provides Web camera services for 200 pet care providers, he said.
As trends go, the luxury kennel seems here to stay. Joe Timko of Canyon View Ranch in Topanga, Calif., near Malibu, said, “From the day we opened the doors, we filled up.” And Canyon View Ranch is already fully booked for Christmas 2008.
“Isn’t that something?” he said.

dimanche, septembre 24, 2006

viking wedding flashback

One year ago today, Scott and Monika got married.

Happy anniversary, you crazy kids!

Love is an awesome thing ... my best wishes for many more wonderful years in love with one another.

living the slug life

It's been a stressful week. So (in contrast to most weekends) I scheduled nothing and told Leo I wanted a stress-free, stick-close-to-home-and-spoil-my-dog-rotten weekend.

I deliciously squandered my time doing some of my favorite things: enjoying time with friends, making and eating really good food, and taking in some great movies and music.

Friday: Seeking oblivion at afternoon yoga, dinner at Dao Son with Leo and PediaJen, going to the Ani DiFranco concert.
Saturday: Sleeping in and reading in bed; watching "The Party" (Peter Sellers is amazing); buying provisions for a simple dinner party; making fresh fettucine and tuco with Leo for our dinner with Cass, Josh, and Ophy. (Thanks again for giving "us" the pasta cutters, D and Ophy!)
Sunday: Waking up early and starting my day out right; spending a post-feminist morning baking apple muffins, banana bread, and Leo's cake; watching "Rize" (an amazing documentary on krumping — thanks for the heads up, Omer!); making braised lamb and green beans for dinner at Leo's; seeing "Blazing Saddles" for the first time (it was good, but not Mel Brooks' best).

In short, my mandatory chill weekend was just what the doctor ordered.

Casey seemed to like it, too.

green beans with garlic, lemon, and parsley

Leo and I had this with braised lamb tonight. The lamb and the beans were great.
1 1/2 pounds green beans, trimmed

2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel

Cook beans in large pot of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Drain. Place beans in bowl of ice water to cool. Drain well.

Melt butter with oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic; stir 30 seconds. Add beans; sauté until heated through, about 5 minutes. Stir in parsley and lemon peel. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to platter.

Makes 6 servings.

vendredi, septembre 22, 2006

ani d. songwriter, musicmaker, storyteller, freak

I have a lot of respect for Ani DiFranco.

And I was quite impressed by this open letter to Ms. Magazine:
November 5, 1997

Marcia Ann Gillespie
Editor in Chief
Ms. Magazine
135 W. 50th Street
16th Floor
New York, NY 10020

So I'm poring through the 25th anniversary issue of Ms. (on some airplane going somewhere in the amorphous blur that amounts to my life) and I'm finding it endlessly enlightening and stimulating as always, when, whaddaya know, I come across a little picture of little me. I was flattered to be included in that issue's "21 feminists for the 21st century" thingybob. I think ya'll are runnin the most bold and babe-olishious magazine around, after all.

Problem is, I couldn't help but be a little weirded out by the paragraph next to my head that summed up her me-ness and my relationship to the feminist continuum. What got me was that it largely detailed my financial successes and sales statistics. My achievements were represented by the fact that I "make more money per album sold than Hootie and the Blowfish," and that my catalogue sales exceed 3/4 of a million. It was specified that I don't just have my own record company but my own "profitable" record company. Still, the ironic conclusion of the aforementioned blurb is a quote from me insisting "it's not about the money." Why then, I ask myself, must "the money" be the focus of so much of the media that surrounds me? Why can't I escape it, even in the hallowed pages of Ms.?

Firstly, this "Hootie and the Blowfish" business was not my doing. The LA Times financial section wrote an article about my record label, Righteous Babe Records, in which they raved about the business savvy of a singer (me) who thwarted the corporate overhead by choosing to remain independent, thereby pocketing $4.25 per unit, as opposed to the $1.25 made by Hootie or the $2.00 made by Michael Jackson. This story was then picked up and reprinted by The New York Times, Forbes magazine, the Financial News Network, and (lo and behold) Ms.

So here I am, publicly morphing into some kinda Fortune 500-young-entrepreneur-from-hell, and all along I thought I was just a folksinger!

Ok, it's true. I do make a much larger profit (percentage-wise)than the Hootster. What's even more astounding is that there are thousands of musicians out there who make an even higher profit percentage than me! How many local, musicians are there in your community who play gigs in bars and coffee shops about town? I bet lots of them have made cassettes or CDS which they'll happily sell to you with a personal smile from the edge of the stage or back at the bar after their set. Would you believe these shrewd, profit-minded wheeler-dealers are pocketing a whopping _100%_ of the profits on the sales of those puppies?! Wait till the Financial News Network gets a whiff of _them_!

I sell approximately 2.5% of the albums that a Joan Jewelanis Morrisette sells and get about .05% of the airplay royalties, so obviously if it all comes down to dollars and cents, I've led a wholly unremarkable life. Yet I choose relative statistical mediocrity over fame and fortune because I have a bigger purpose in mind. Imagine how strange it must be for a girl who has spent 10 years fighting as hard as she could against the lure of the corporate carrot and the almighty forces of capital, only to be eventually recognized by the power structure as a business pioneer.

I have indeed sold enough records to open a small office on the half-abandoned main street in the dilapidated urban center of my hometown, Buffalo, N.Y. I am able to hire 15 or so folks to run and constantly reinvent the place while I drive around and play music for people. I am able to give stimulating business to local printers and manufacturers and to employ the services of independent distributors, promoters, booking agents and publicists. I was able to quit my day job and devote myself to what I love.

And yes, we are enjoying modest profits these days, affording us the opportunity to reinvest in innumerable political and artistic endeavors. RBR is no Warner Bros. But it is a going concern, and for me, it is a vehicle for redefining the relationship between art and commerce in my own life. It is a record company which is the product not just of my own imagination, but that of my friend and manager Scot Fisher and of all the people who work there. People who incorporate and coordinate politics, art and media every day into a people-friendly, sub-corporate, woman-informed, queer-happy small business that puts music before rock stardom and ideology before profit.

And me. I'm just a folksinger, not an entrepreneur. My hope is that my music and poetry will be enjoyable and/or meaningful to someone, somewhere, not that I maximize my profit margins. It was 15 years and 11 albums getting to this place of notoriety and, if anything, I think I was happier way back when. Not that I regret any of my decisions, mind you. I'm glad I didn't sign on to the corporate army. I mourn the commodification and homogenization of music by the music industry, and I fear the manufacture of consent by the corporately-controlled media. Last thing I want to do is feed the machine.

I was recently mortified while waiting in the dressing room before one of my own shows. Some putz suddenly takes the stage to announce me and exclaim excitedly that this was my "largest sold-out crowd to date!" "Oh, really?," I'm thinking to myself, "that's interesting...too bad it's not the point." All of my achievements are artistic, as are all of my failures.

That's just the way I see it. Statistical plateau or no. I'll bust ass for 60 people, or 6,000, watch me.

I have so much respect for Ms. magazine. If I couldn't pick it up at newsstands my brain probably would've atrophied by now on some trans-Atlantic flight and I would be lying limp and twitchy in a bed of constant travel, staring blankly into the abyss of the gossip magazines. Ms. is a structure of media wherein women are able to define themselves, and articulate for themselves those definitions. We wouldn't point to 21 of the feminists moving into the 21st century and define them in terms of "Here's Becky Ballbuster from Iowa City, she's got a great ass and a cute little button nose..." No ma'am. We've gone beyond the limited perceptions of sexism and so we should move beyond the language and perspective of the corporate patriarchy. The Financial News Network may be ultimately impressed with me now that I've proven to them that there's a life beyond the auspices of papa Sony, but do I really have to prove this to _you_?

We have the ability and the opportunity to recognize women not just for the financial successes of their work but for the work itself. We have the facility to judge each other by entirely different criteria than those is imposed upon us by the superstructure of society. We have a view which reaches beyond profit margins into poetry, and a vocabulary to articulate the difference.

Thanks for including me, Ms., really. But just promise me one thing; if I drop dead tomorrow, tell me my grave stone won't read:

ani d.

Please let it read:


-Ani DiFranco

state of mind

The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part
-Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, "The Waiting"
As my friend Ophira put it today ... waiting sucks.

Tonight will be a good distraction: dinner with PediaJen and Leo, and then the Ani DiFranco show at Copley Symphony Hall.

jeudi, septembre 21, 2006

thursday, september 21, 2006

Help comes when you need it most
I'm cured by laughter

Mood swings
Not sure I can cope
-James, "Waltzing Along"
7:00 a.m. Led Toastmasters meeting
9:02 a.m. Bought groceries at Trader Joe's, Henry's
10:00 a.m. Got a haircut
11:30 a.m. Saw my therapist
12:42 p.m. Talked to Leo
1:30 p.m. Had CT scan
2:14 p.m. Left hospital, got in car, heard stereo blaring "Waltzing Along," sang along. Loudly.
2:51 p.m. Watched "Six Feet Under," spoiled Casey
4:48 p.m. Answered Allison's call
5:17 p.m. Called my dad
5:30 p.m. Ate dinner with Cherie's girls
7:59 p.m. Visited Cass
9:07 p.m. Stopped by Leo's

Help: My CT scan went off without a hitch.
When you need it most: I have great friends. Thanks for the calls and e-mail as I search for answers to what's going on with my body.
I can cope: My results could take up to 10 business days. I am so grrrrrrrrrrrrr about my HMO right about now.

mardi, septembre 19, 2006

modern love: gestural eloquence

There's a storm outside, and the gap between crack and thunder
Crack and thunder, is closing in, is closing in
The rain floods gutters, and makes a great sound on the concrete
On a flat roof, there's a boy leaning against the wall of rain
Aerial held high, calling "come on thunder, come on thunder"

Sometimes, when I look deep in your eyes, I swear I can see your soul
-James: "Sometimes"

I was listening to "Sometimes" when I stumbled on last week's "Modern Love." I found the confluence of themes rather interesting.
Modern Love: When the Thunder Rolls in, My Lie Rolls Out
Published: September 10, 2006
THE first time I said it, I thought it was the best kind of lie: tender and considerate.

My boyfriend and I were lounging in bed as a gust of wind from one of those sweeping Midwestern thunderstorms crashed against the flimsy picture window of our rural Minnesota apartment. Our relationship was in trouble, and that’s when the lie came to me.

“I’m scared of thunder,” I whispered. The flashes of lightning and low-frequency eruptions lent the situation a dramatic air that I wasn’t sure I was nailing in the performance.

Jeb tilted his head, confused. Then he kicked into comfort mode: “Awww, baby. It’s O.K. It’s just a storm. Why didn’t you tell me before?”

I said I was embarrassed to be so weak about something so stupid.


It was a strange moment. He was much happier than I expected, and I didn’t know what to do next. I hadn’t planned that far ahead. Should I be afraid only of thunder or of the lightning too? Should I reach for a hug or go for fetal position? Tears? Shaking? Really, what was too maudlin?

I added sotto voce, “I’ve never told anyone that before.” Which was true. I’d never told anyone I was afraid of thunderstorms before because I wasn’t afraid of them.

Even so, Jeb nodded and offered sweet sympathies. He could barely conceal his joy. Finally, after nearly two years together, it seemed I needed him.

The week after the storm the sun was out, and we started to develop a crush on a whole new idea of our relationship. He thought I needed him during a thunderstorm, and I thought he needed me to create these fictions about needing him. Like a gentle African starling perched atop a sturdy hippopotamus, he floated along on the back of my heavy, plodding lie, and together, for a while, we moved forward.

We still had our problems, our fights. Most often I wondered if the trouble was my own strength and independence. Even as a little girl I used to march into my big sister’s room with one of my Keds held up like a club, ready to flatten the spiders that terrified her. Later I was the baby sitter who made jokes about slasher movies as I casually flipped on my charges’ basement light to reveal nothing more than a cat and my own breezy courage. Once, not long ago, I was the only girl on a corporate sky-diving trip, insisting to a group of older male software engineers that I jump out of that dodgy Cessna first.

The role reversals didn’t end there. With Jeb, I was also the one who refused to stop for directions. He would amble into the gas station humbly as I waited in the car, scorning his inability to figure it out for himself. Since this scene was generally such a trope of relationship comedy, Jeb and I would try to make light of our situation with a lot of awkward jokes. But the jokes took us only so far, and it occurred to me that if I was just a little more needy, maybe we could set the balance right.

My fake phobia seemed a perfect remedy: a temporary, climate-controlled zone where he could play the strong one on occasion. There would be three or four more storms that month, and they were always good nights for us.

But crafty fiction can buttress only so much reality. After a few more months of trying to work things out, our fissures resurfaced: he was miserable, I’d stay at work too late. He started to daydream about other girls. I started to daydream about moving away from Minnesota. The storm season tapered off, and with no more tender moments to hold us together, our relationship crumbled.

He moved out of our apartment, taking his things and half the furniture. That was late August, and we agreed not to talk for a few months until the breakup had properly settled in.

One night soon after, I was rearranging things to fill the blank spaces he left behind, trying out the bed at odd angles. And then, out the window, the sky turned a sudden, inky blue. Then black. It was clear that an unholy thunderstorm was about to bear down on our little farming town. When the skies opened up, the streets emptied out. Walls of water cascaded onto the pavement. The stoplights on the highway whipped around on their wires. The grain elevator shook. It was a fearsome, Godly thing.

I TOOK it all in stride, glad that I had a little dinner ready to cook, a glass of wine and the radio on. It was a beautiful storm. I stood at the window, admiring it.

Then, in the foreground of the deserted street, I saw a red blur of a jacket running across the parking lot toward my building, hustling through the rain. Though our relationship had fallen apart, our fiction remained intact. Jeb was running to me now, to comfort me in the middle of this crisis. He was a good man that way. As he ran up the stairs, I did my best to try to affect a panicked look. I felt both guilty and relieved.

He knocked on the door and stumbled in, looking as wet and vulnerable as a kitten just yanked from the river. “I would have come sooner, but you can’t see the roads so well in this rain,” he said, hugging me against his soaked shirt.

I gave him some dry clothes, and we sat down on the couch and enjoyed one last opportunity to pretend we needed each other.

He stayed the night. Two weeks later he joined the Navy and left town.

And then I left town too, but for St. Paul, where over the next two years I stumbled through enough bad first and second dates to start calling them “anthropological.” There was the Home Depot manager I met polka dancing. The frat guy from Purdue. The guy who looked a little like Harry Connick Jr. and asked me to a concert. The concert was the industrial metal band American Head Charge, whose stage props included bloody pig heads swinging on metal chains.

The situation seemed so bleak that I was forced to develop a number of tricks to keep things moving. As women once deliberately discharged lacy handkerchiefs, I feigned complete ignorance of the game of pool and let bad drivers drive my fast car, and to my shame, on more than one occasion I have giggled. I’m not the only girl to employ these devices, but the fear of thunderstorms was really my masterstroke: the perfect combination of vulnerability, quirky charm and a hushed confidence. I’ve never been able to equal its gestural eloquence.

Near the end of those years, I had a summerlong fling with a professional drummer. We met backstage at a concert and made out in the green room, promising not to get romantically attached. And that’s how things stayed. One night, as the summer sky flashed, illuminating my boredom, I seized the moment experimentally. “I’ve never told you this,” I said to him, “but I’m kind of afraid of thunderstorms.”

“Yeah, they can be freaky,” he said, flatly.

A moment passed and then another, the silence pointing up the exact thing our tryst lacked until finally we rolled into our regular positions and fell asleep. I felt ridiculous and didn’t mention thunderstorms to him again. Vulnerability, I learned, has limited currency.

The next time the subject of thunderstorms came up, two or three years later, it surprised even me. I was living then in a tower just off the lake in Chicago. The drop from my window was sheer. The building was constantly buffeted by powerful winds. On this night they slammed against my window at 3 a.m. like a series of mean sucker punches. Then came the silent white flashes and a looming sense of destruction in my chest.

DROWSILY, dreamily, I imagined the building had been blown apart, and there was nothing to do but fall to the ground with the skinny red bricks that held me inside that room. In my half-asleep state this loop played again and again: lightning, thunder, explosion, slipping, falling, bricks, bruises, more bricks, the flat slap of concrete, the end of my life.

With each fresh thunderclap, the terrifying movie began again. Even as I slept I was hyperventilating. Yet this storm was no bigger than the storms in Minnesota. The only difference was Brian. He was already awake, holding me as I finally startled out of sleep.

Immediately he said, “I was hoping you wouldn’t wake up.” He pulled me close, bringing my head to his chest. He ran his hands down my arms and firmly kissed the top of my head. “I didn’t want you to hear all this. I didn’t want you to wake up. I didn’t want you to be afraid.”

I felt so scared and so grateful.

The surprise about Brian was discovering how he is strong in ways that I have never imagined for myself, ways I have now come to rely on. He drives my car faster than I do. He plays a solid game of pool. He knows how to win a fight in a bar (“hit first, hit hard”). Most of all, he always knows when I’m lying or faking it or just not being honest with myself.

In this same way, Brian even seems to have known something about me that I didn’t or hadn’t yet figured out: that in some way I have always been afraid of thunderstorms — I’ve just been acting too tough to admit it. And that night, jarred by terror but still groggy, all I could say was: “I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad you’re here.”

“Shhh. It’s O.K.”

“I’m glad you’re here.” Nothing else made sense.

Because if anyone else had been there, I’d still be pretending not to be afraid of anything, which would force me to pretend to be afraid of something, so I could pretend to trust someone finally to take care of me.

And when the thunderstorms come, as they have this summer, when the sky flashes angry, it’s good to be reminded again that I am both strong and afraid. It is a good time to fall asleep next to Brian and hide from the window.

Amy O’Leary is a radio producer and consultant. She lives in Brooklyn.

why mommy is a democrat

I heard about "Why Mommy is a Democrat" earlier this week. It turns out that a faculty member at my university wrote a review supporting the book and is now being inundated with a deluge of phone calls, e-mail, etc. by Rush Limbaugh's people.

It looks as though they've taken a page from the Karl Rove playbook and are essentially harassing her by tying up her phone lines and spamming her. The whole concept of trying to limit the speech and communications abilities of your political adversaries is incredibly unethical, even if the approach is legal (and evil-genius innovative).

Anyhow, a link to the book showed up in my Google rss feed today. Take a look.

... except when those toys are things like the ballot and allowing more than two parties to be on it.

Yes, folks. There's still a Kerry sticker on my bumper, but I'm no longer a registered Democrat. On election day, I will vote for the left-leaning candidate who strikes the right balance between:
  • Most representing my stance on the issues (in the last election, Kerry) and
  • Least screwing me, everything I stand for, democracy, and civilization as we know it (in the last election, Bush)
But I'll still feel dirty about it.

lundi, septembre 18, 2006

go charlize

There are only a few reasons why I'd get married again. Although love's at the top of that list, it would take a lot for me to do it again, especially while the U.S. government refuses to recognize gay marriage. And I'm not alone on this ...
The single folks’ Hall of Fame
Charlize Theron
Tall, blonde and beautiful, actress Charlize Theron is known as much for her glamour as for her willingness to discard it for choice movie roles. Conventional wisdom would say that she could have her pick of husbands ... but walking down the aisle isn't a goal of hers. The 30-year-old Oscar winner says you don't need a marriage ceremony or certificate to have a great relationship. "I'm happy for people who want to be married, but it's not my thing," Theron said recently. "I don't need to wear a white dress and throw a big party. To me, that's like a premiere."

Theron, who's been in a serious relationship with actor Stuart Townsend, says she would like to have a family someday. But weary of media speculation over whether she and Townsend will tie the knot, she told Extra that they would marry only when the U.S. government grants gay and lesbian couples the right to wed as well. "We've decided that we're going to use that in a positive way," she said. "So the day that law gets passed, then we'll get married."
Via Leo

samedi, septembre 16, 2006

materialistically ever after

I'll be honest. The only reason I noticed this story was because it mentioned My friend Matt was all about his rubber lobster named "Zeebo" in high school. He sold the domain a few years back and I was curious to see what had happened.

What I found shocked me. It's conspicuous consumption taken to a whole new (disgusting) level.
A Sense of Belonging Among Belongings
BAXTER C., 13, owns a Yamaha dirt bike. Hayley J., 19, has pink Converse sneakers. Laurie H., 16, amassed a sizable Pez dispenser collection.

All of them have profiles on, a new Web site devoted to lists of everyday possessions of young consumers, with postings from the United States, Canada, Britain and Ireland and as far across the globe as the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand.
If the Internet encourages people to share with the world the contents of their souls, Zebo encourages them to share the contents of their homes. It is “MTV Cribs” for the masses. Minimalists need not log in.
“It was so different and interesting,” said Kara Valeriano, 19, a student at the University of San Francisco, who is a member. “It was kind of fun just listing your own things.”, which went live last Tuesday, is neither salacious nor gossipy. The lists of strangers’ possessions is about as interesting as a FreshDirect order. Yet some four million people have joined the free site since January, during its private beta test, according to Roy de Souza, Zebo’s founder and chief executive. Most of them are 16 to 25, he said.
“The older generation find it a bit odd,” said Mr. de Souza, who is based in San Francisco. “The younger people are very keen to display this stuff for their friends.”
But why? People don’t normally compile a list of their possessions for reasons other than to file an insurance claim or to compose a rap song — unless they are extreme materialists on the level of Veruca Salt, the spoiled rich girl in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
The youngest generations of consumers are going even further and making those lists public. It is almost a declaration of the maxim “He who has the most toys wins.”
Mr. de Souza, though, sees it somewhat differently.
“For the youth, you are what you own,” he said. “They list these things because it defines them.”
Compare it to gleaning something about someone’s personality by reviewing their book or music collection.
Some Zebo members said they like to list what they own because they enjoy maintaining an evolving inventory of what they have and what they crave; the site allows users to do both. Karly Mossberg, 18, a student at the San Francisco Art Institute, said she likes to make notes in her online profile about the things she desires. “I’m obsessed with shopping and I’m also really organized,” she said. “It’s like my daily planner.”
But even more interesting for this first crop of site users is seeing what other people list and want. And because of that, Zebo is in many ways a social networking site, with several of the same features as MySpace. There are member profiles that include each user’s relationship status, interests and location, along with photographs and links to their friends. Members can also fill in blanks on their profiles about their “celebrity style” and the shopping areas in which they feel they need improvement.
But while visitors to MySpace are greeted with the saccharine “a place for friends” tagline, visitors to Zebo are greeted with a brusque: “Hi. What do you own?”
That is to be expected, as Zebo, after all, is also a business. While billing itself as “the world’s largest repository of what people own,” it is designed to be a shopping community and e-commerce site. Mr. de Souza plans to add more product links, sell advertising and regularly publish data about the habits and preferences of the young people who use the site.
But the first goal was to build an online community, said Mr. de Souza, who has put his marketing and advertising expertise to use for companies like Hewlett-Packard and Charles Schwab. And in doing that, he is preparing for the future. Zebo’s profiles already have spaces for members to describe how they like to shop. (There is a box for them to blog about shopping, too.) And the site enables them to search for items they want and to solicit advice from one another.
Kris Browning, 26, of Jackson, Mich., said she likes to check out whether her friends have purchased anything new and to peruse their wish lists. “It’s great,” she said. “You can see what your friends like and you can get them birthday presents or Christmas presents.”
One member, Julianna E., 17, wants an engagement ring (“eventually”), a greenhouse full of orchids and rooms of Crate & Barrel furniture. Hector E., 18, wants an Xbox 360. Michael B., 20, wants hydraulics for his car so it will bounce.
Some people just want a girlfriend. And perhaps one day Zebo will give a run for its money. A man with a 42-inch plasma television could fall for a woman with a Panasonic DVD recorder and live materialistically ever after.
Of course, there’s no way to verify — and Zebo’s members are not asked to prove — the lists of possessions. Any Zebo member posing as a shopaholic teenager could actually be the next version of Lonelygirl15, whose videos were definitively outed this week as a phony promotion campaign.
Zebo members already seem to understand what they can get away with. A member known as Dino D. gave his age as 15 and said he is the divorced owner of a strip club. Sarah T., whose age is listed as 14, said she has a private beach, a jet and a nail salon. Some member profiles are not filled in at all.
Zebo (the name was chosen in part because it is a short, catchy Web address) is owned by Zedo Inc., an Internet and advertising technology company based in San Francisco. The site’s first members were enlisted by advertisements on Google and invitations that members of a former e-commerce Web site sent to their friends.
In their profiles, many users explain why they joined. Some were attracted by Zebo’s theme, citing “product advice” — or, as 11-year-old Reina G. put it, “Shopping duhh!” But many said they joined Zebo for the same reasons a person might join MySpace: making friends and networking.
So far, Zebo is almost wholesome. Its members’ primary vice is coveting. It is like MySpace, Ms. Mossberg said, but “without the creepy part.”

vendredi, septembre 15, 2006

the not-so-friendly skies

Not sure if rule 240 will help me the next time I'm bumped on a flight, but it's worth a shot, right?

Practical Traveler: What to Do When Bumped From a Flight:
SHARP elbows and the ability to claw your way to a ticket counter through a mob of infuriated travelers who have just learned their flight has been canceled are no longer enough to guarantee you a seat on the next flight out.

The days of gate agents scrambling to manually rebook stranded passengers, first come first served, by looking up alternative itineraries for each one are largely over. Most airlines have started to use computer programs to rebook passengers automatically. This type of software, put to use in the last two years by American (which calls it ReAAccom) and US Airways, and also used by Delta, United and Northwest, looks at the entire flight schedule to uncover all the possible rebooking options for passengers from a canceled flight. Then it uses special algorithms to dole out seats, doing in a matter of minutes what it used to take airline agents an hour or more to accomplish.

Airline officials say the computers are more efficient — not to mention more civilized — than the days of the mad scrum. In those survival-of-the-fittest scenarios, it often didn’t matter if you had a discount ticket or if you were a frequent flier. And persistent passengers, whatever their status, could often jockey their way to the front of the line and onto the next flight out.

Now the computer is supposed to guarantee priority to the airlines’ most important customers.

That’s good for elite fliers and passengers paying full fare, since they get pushed to the top of the list when a flight is canceled. But passengers who bought a cheap ticket or booked their seat with frequent flier miles generally have less standing.

Take American Airlines Flight 337 from La Guardia Airport destined for O’Hare International Airport in Chicago on Aug. 24, which was canceled that day. The airline said that of the 78 passengers with a final destination of Chicago, 61 were automatically rebooked on a nonstop flight later that day. Seven were put on connecting flights through Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington or Raleigh-Durham International Airport. And 10 passengers were rebooked on flights the following morning. “Although ReAAccom considers multiple factors when looking at rebooking options,” said Jim Diamond, managing director of operations research for American, in an e-mail message, “it primarily considers a passenger’s entire itinerary and the best way to get them to their final destination in the shortest amount of time.”

American and other airlines that use similar technology to rebook passengers say that customers who don’t like their new itinerary can talk to an agent to see if there are any other options. But which flights travelers get rebooked on are ultimately up to the airline’s discretion — and open seats on planes are becoming increasingly scarce.

“There are less options because there are less flights,” said Walter W. Stumpf Jr., an agent at Xanadu Group, a Linden Travel Bureau affiliate in Lafayette, N.J. “And if there is a flight it may be filled already.”

So is there anything a passenger can do to beat the system? It’s possible if you know what to ask for and how far each airline is willing to bend. Of course, if weather or air traffic problems are to blame for a cancellation, everybody’s in the same fix. Here are some guidelines on what to do if your airline cancels your flight.

CHOOSE THE RIGHT AIRLINE Fly on one that still rewards those with sharp elbows. Some airlines, including Continental, JetBlue and Southwest, still rebook passengers manually for most, if not all, canceled flights. In such cases, a passenger typically has to wait in line to speak to a gate agent or customer service desk agent at the airport or call a reservation line to be rebooked. But either way, who gets on the next flight out “basically ends up being whoever gets to the desk,” said Sarah Anthony, a Continental spokeswoman. “It’s as simple as that.”

START DIALING Call your airline or travel agent as soon as you learn your flight is canceled. This can help you jump ahead of passengers waiting in line to be rebooked on airlines that still reaccommodate passengers manually. It can also put you ahead of passengers looking for alternatives when an airline automatically rebooks you on a flight you’re not crazy about.

In certain flight cancellations, American and US Airways will provide passengers with a hot line to reach ticket agents with special training in handling canceled flights.

INVOKE “RULE 240” This will either get an airline agent to act or to look at you as if you’re out of your mind. The term, a remnant from the years before 1978, when airlines were regulated and required to submit fares, routes, schedules and rebooking policies to the government for approval, was never a true rule. Rather, Rule 240 referred to the section of the airline tariff that explained the airlines’ individual policies on what they would do for passengers during a delay or cancellation. In the regulated era, most airlines agreed to transfer a traveler of a canceled flight to another airline provided it could get the traveler to his or her destination sooner. This became known as the Rule 240 transfer.

Today, each airline spells out its customer service commitments, including how it handles canceled flights, in a “contract of carriage,” which can typically be found on the airline’s Web site. A few say they will transfer a passenger of a canceled flight to another line if they don’t offer an alternative of their own within a specific amount of time. Others are less explicit.

Continental’s contract of carriage states that as long as the customer requests it and the ticket has no restrictions against it, the airline will “reaccomodate the passenger in the same class of service on the next available flight on another carrier, or combination of carriers” if the customer’s delay “exceeds two hours.” United says it will arrange for transportation on another carrier if “unable to provide onward transportation acceptable to the passenger” within 90 minutes of the original scheduled departure.

Delta, which still labels its paragraph about flight delays and cancellations as “Rule 240,” states it will transfer a passenger to another airline “at our sole discretion.” American and US Airways say they will consider doing so only if they cannot provide a seat on one of their own flights, and they don’t specify a time limit for finding passengers a seat. Northwest bases its decision to rebook passengers on other carriers on “market, availability and type of customer,” said a spokesman, Roman Blahoski.

Airlines will typically offer to transfer customers only to carriers they have interline agreements with, which allow airline partners to accept one another’s tickets. Southwest, for one, doesn’t have any formal interline agreements but still will try to accommodate a passenger on another airline in “extenuating circumstances,” according to Ed Stewart, a spokesman.

jeudi, septembre 14, 2006

fragile beauty

Yann Arthus-Bertrand is the photographer whose work appears below.

The "Earth from above" project is stunning. It includes over 500,000 photos, taken in 100 countries, usually from a helicopter. The accompanying captions are written by scientists who are experts in sustainable development. Portions of the project are currently on display in Amsterdam (where Kendall caught the show) and in Prague.
Earth from above is an in-depth study testifying to the geographical and historical reality of our planet from an unexpected angle. Seen from the air, the Earth reveals its striking beauty as well as the problematic traces left by the development of our societies. Seen from above, towns and country, men and beasts are suddenly one with the landscape and share in the same destiny. It is obvious to all that this portrait reflects our history and our time. And the mirror it holds is asking what we want in way of a future.

A scientific visual databank
Earth from above also aims at building up an inventory of the most significant ecosystems; after each new mission, the team works hand in hand with UNESCO in order to create a photographic databank. UNESCO owns full rights to the images for use in its scientific and pedagogical publications – such were the terms of the initial agreement.

Selected for its aesthetic and pedagogical value, each photo is then the object of a commentary written by a scientist, so as to provide the information necessary to a full understanding of the visual testimony.

In years to come, this collection progressively enriched will constitute a precious tool to reflect upon the evolution of our environment and its consequences. The work done by the team over nearly ten years is some day to be continued by other photographers.
Via Kendall

mercredi, septembre 13, 2006


It's election time, which means it's open season on politicians.

Slater sent me this ad, opposing incumbent Sen. George Felix Allen, Jr. (R-VA; you may know him as “Senator Macaca”).


I love David Sedaris.

I especially enjoy his stories about cultural and linguistic misunderstandings that really boil down to self-realization in unconventional packaging.

Part of it is that I've had my fair share of misunderstandings with the French. A bigger part is that I will forever link Paris with my own personal growth, having spent a critical month thinking, writing, and learning there in the summer of 2004.

I'm seeing David next month and am thinking about what I'll ask him this time when he signs his book for me. In light of the following essay, I may inquire if he's reconsidering his agreeably contrarian ways.

I suppose the next time I'm in Paris, I should just take the d’accord approach and see where I end up. On second thought ... maybe I won't.

The New Yorker: Shouts and Murmurs: In the Waiting Room
The advantages of speaking French.
Issue of 2006-09-18
Posted 2006-09-11
Six months after moving to Paris, I gave up on French school and decided to take the easy way out. All I ever said was “Could you repeat that?” And for what? I rarely understood things the second time around, and when I did it was usually something banal, the speaker wondering how I felt about toast, or telling me that the store would close in twenty minutes. All that work for something that didn’t really matter, and so I began saying, “D’accord,” which translates to “I am in agreement,” and means, basically, “O.K.” The word was a key to a magic door, and every time I said it I felt the thrill of possibility.

“D’accord,” I told the concierge, and the next thing I knew I was sewing the eye onto a stuffed animal belonging to her granddaughter. “D’accord,” I said to the dentist, and she sent me to a periodontist, who took some X-rays and called me into his conference room for a little talk. “D’accord,” I said, and a week later I returned to his office, where he sliced my gums from top to bottom and scraped great deposits of plaque from the roots of my teeth. If I’d had any idea that this was going to happen, I’d never have said d’accord to my French publisher, who’d scheduled me the following evening for a television appearance. It was a weekly cultural program, and very popular. I followed the pop star Robbie Williams, and, as the producer settled me into my chair, I ran my tongue over my stitches. It was like having a mouthful of spiders—spooky, but it gave me something to talk about on TV, and for that I was grateful.

I said d’accord to a waiter, and received a pig’s nose standing erect on a bed of tender greens. I said it to a woman in a department store and walked away drenched in cologne. Every day was an adventure.

When I got a kidney stone, I took the Métro to a hospital, and said, “D’accord,” to a cheerful red-headed nurse, who led me to a private room and hooked me up to a Demerol drip. That was undoubtedly the best that d’accord got me, and it was followed by the worst. After the stone had passed, I spoke to a doctor, who filled out an appointment card and told me to return the following Monday, when we would do whatever it was I’d just agreed to. “D’accord,” I said, and then I supersized it with “génial,” which means “great.”

On the day of my appointment, I returned to the hospital, where I signed the register and was led by a slightly less cheerful nurse to a large dressing room. “Strip to your underwear,” she told me, and I said, “D’accord.” As the woman turned to leave, she said something else, and, looking back, I really should have asked her to repeat it, to draw a picture, if that’s what it took, because once you take your pants off d’accord isn’t really O.K. anymore.

There were three doors in the dressing room, and after removing my clothes I put my ear against each one, trying to determine which was the safest for someone in my condition. The first was loud, with lots of ringing telephones, so that was out. The second didn’t sound much different, and so I chose the third, and entered a brightly painted waiting room furnished with plastic chairs and a glass-topped table stacked high with magazines. A potted plant stood in the corner, and beside it was a second door, which was open and led into a hallway.

I took a seat and had been there for a minute or so when a couple came in and filled two of the unoccupied chairs. The first thing I noticed was that they were fully dressed, and nicely, too—no sneakers or sweatsuits for them. The woman wore a nubby gray skirt that fell to her knees and matched the fabric of her husband’s sports coat. Their black hair, which was obviously dyed, formed another match, but looked better on her than it did on him—less vain, I supposed.

“Bonjour,” I said, and it occurred to me that possibly the nurse had mentioned something about a robe, perhaps the one that had been hanging in the dressing room. I wanted more than anything to go back and get it, but, if I did, the couple would see my mistake. They’d think I was stupid, so to prove them wrong I decided to remain where I was and pretend that everything was normal. La la la.

It’s funny the things that run through your mind when you’re sitting in your underpants in front of a pair of strangers. Suicide comes up, but, just as you embrace it as a viable option, you remember that you don’t have the proper tools: no belt to wrap around your neck, no pen to drive through your nose or ear and up into your brain. I thought briefly of swallowing my watch, but there was no guarantee I’d choke on it. It’s embarrassing, but, given the way I normally eat, it would probably go down fairly easily, strap and all. A clock might be a challenge, but a Timex the size of a fifty-cent piece, no problem.

The man with the dyed black hair pulled a pair of glasses from his jacket pocket, and as he unfolded them I recalled a summer evening in my parents’ back yard. This was thirty-five years ago, a dinner for my sister Gretchen’s tenth birthday. My father grilled steaks. My mother set the picnic table with insect-repelling candles, and just as we started to eat she caught me chewing a hunk of beef the size of a coin purse. Gorging always set her off, but on this occasion it bothered her more than usual.

“I hope you choke to death,” she said.

I was twelve years old, and paused, thinking, Did I hear her correctly?

“That’s right, piggy, suffocate.”

In that moment, I hoped that I would choke to death. The knot of beef would lodge itself in my throat, and for the rest of her life my mother would feel haunted and responsible. Every time she passed a steak house, or browsed the meat counter of a grocery store, she would think of me and reflect upon what she had said—the words “hope” and “death” in the same sentence. But, of course, I hadn’t choked. Instead, I had lived and grown to adulthood, so that I could sit in this waiting room dressed in nothing but my underpants. La la la.

It was around this time that two more people entered. The woman looked to be in her mid-fifties, and accompanied an elderly man who was, if anything, overdressed: a suit, a sweater, a scarf, and an overcoat, which he removed with great difficulty, every button a challenge. Give it to me, I thought. Over here. But he was deaf to my telepathy, and handed his coat to the woman, who folded it over the back of her chair. Our eyes met for a moment—hers widening as they moved from my face to my chest—and then she picked a magazine off the table and handed it to the elderly man, who I now took to be her father. She then selected a magazine of her own, and as she turned the pages I allowed myself to relax a little. She was just a woman reading a copy of Paris Match, and I was just the person sitting across from her. True, I had no clothes on, but maybe she wouldn’t dwell on that, maybe none of these people would. The old man, the couple with their matching hair: “How was the hospital?” their friends might ask, and they’d answer, “Fine,” or “Oh, you know, the same.”

“Did you see anything fucked up?”

“No, not that I can think of.”

It sometimes helps to remind myself that not everyone is like me. Not everyone writes things down in a notebook, and then transcribes them into a diary. Fewer still will take that diary, clean it up a bit, and read it in front of an audience: “March 14th. Paris. Went with Dad to the hospital, where we sat across from a man in his underpants. They were briefs, not boxers, a little on the gray side, the elastic slack from too many washings. I later said to Father, ‘Other people have to use those chairs, too, you know,’ and he agreed that it was unsanitary.

“Odd little guy, creepy. Hair on his shoulders. Big idiot smile plastered on his face, just sitting there, mumbling to himself.”

How conceited I am to think I might be remembered, especially in a busy hospital where human misery is a matter of course. If any of these people did keep a diary, their day’s entry would likely have to do with a diagnosis, some piece of news either inconvenient or life-altering: the liver’s not a match, the cancer has spread to the spinal column. Compared with that, a man in his underpants is no more remarkable than a dust-covered plant, or the magazine- subscription card lying on the floor beside the table. Then, too, good news or bad, these people would eventually leave the hospital and return to the streets, where any number of things might wipe me from their memory.

Perhaps on their way home they’ll see a dog with a wooden leg, which I saw myself one afternoon. It was a German shepherd, and his prosthesis looked as though it had been made from a billy club. The network of straps holding the leg in place was a real eyeopener, but stranger still was the noise it made against the floor of the subway car, a dull thud that managed to sound both plaintive and forceful at the same time. Then there was the dog’s owner, who looked at his pet and then at me, with an expression reading, “That’s O.K. I took care of it.”

Or maybe they’ll run into something comparatively small yet no less astonishing. I was walking to the bus stop one morning and came upon a well-dressed woman lying on the sidewalk in front of an office-supply store. A small crowd had formed, and just as I joined it a fire truck pulled up. In America, if someone dropped to the ground, you’d call an ambulance, but in France it’s the firemen who do most of the rescuing. There were four of them, and, after checking to see that the woman was O.K., one of them returned to the truck and opened the door. I thought he was looking for an aluminum blanket, the type they use for people in shock, but instead he pulled out a goblet. Anywhere else it would have been a cup, made of paper or plastic, but this was glass, and had a stem. I guess they carry it around in the front seat, next to the axes or whatever.

The fireman filled the goblet with bottled water, and then he handed it to the woman, who was sitting up now and running her hand over her hair, the way one might when waking from a nap. It was the lead story in my diary that night, but, no matter how hard I fiddled with it, I felt something was missing. Had I mentioned that it was autumn? Did the leaves on the sidewalk contribute to my sense of utter delight, or was it just the goblet, and the dignity it bespoke: “Yes, you may be on the ground; yes, this drink may be your last—but let’s do it right, shall we?”

Everyone has his own standards, but, in my opinion, a sight like that is at least fifty times better than what I was providing. A goblet will keep you going for years, while a man in his underpants is good for maybe two days, a week at the most. Unless, of course, you are the man in his underpants, in which case it will probably stay with you for the rest of your life—not on the tip of your mind, not handy like a phone number, but still within easy reach, like a mouthful of steak, or a dog with a wooden leg. How often you’ll think of the cold plastic chair, and of the nurse’s face as she passes the room and discovers you with your hands between your knees. Such surprise, such amusement as she proposes some new adventure, then stands there, waiting for your “d’accord.”

As always, merci beaucoup pour l'essai Rick