Monday, January 29, 2007

Albert Hammond Was Wrong

It does so rain in Southern California! In fact it poured, man, it poured in L.A. on Saturday night when I stepped out to a party in silk shoes--and nearly stepped into a big honkin' puddle. But at least it wasn't snowing, as it had been (again!) in Denver that day, and the temperature was well above freezing, so I was happy if a bit damp.

I know there's no place like home and all that, but given the two feet of snow that is still blanketing Denver, plus the sub-zero temps and flurries forecast for later this week, I'd happily spend a few more days (like, 60) in LaLa Land. Provided, of course, I could stay in the same posh little hotel, eat at fabu restaurants and shop at Loehmann's and the cunning little boutiques on West 3rd Street whenever the mood strikes. And of course not have to worry about mundane details like family, work and who's going to pay for everything.

At least I came home with great memories--and an armload of grapefruits and lemons that I liberated during a walk around the neighborhood. I would have picked some bananas too (see below), only they didn't look ripe...I guess. I mean, who knows when bananas are ready to be picked, when the only ones you've seen are in a pile at the supermarket, plastered with Chiquita stickers? Now instead of reaching for low-hanging fruit, I'm back home reaching for my long johns.

Danger! Audrey 2 is alive and well and living in West Hollywood.

A Menace to Virtual Society

A correspondent sent me the above image, noting that I had once commented on his company's "prissy firewall." I know that I shoot my mouth off, but this is a bit excessive.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Woody Allen Was Right

Woody Allen is often quoted as having said, "Eighty percent of life is just showing up."* There are some days when I think it's more like 99%.

I arrived at this figure after trying to find contractors to do work on Our Gracious Home. We needed to have our barren yard landscaped, so in early fall I phoned four garden designers/landscapers, all of whom had advertised in a local home-improvement magazine. Only two returned my call. Both offered me estimates: one for the figure we'd budgeted, the other for 3 times that amount. The job went to the first guy; #2 was booked till spring anyway. (I doubt spring is ever coming, but that's another issue.)

Our concrete front steps started crumbling in early December. I called 12 (TWELVE!) masonry contractors who had ads in a neighborhood newspaper or were listed in the Yellow Pages. Only 5 (FIVE!)--not including the company with the quarter-page ad in the phone book--returned my calls, of which:
  • one made an appointment and didn't show or call;
  • one looked at steps while I was out, quoted price over phone, then never returned subsequent phone calls;
  • one missed an appointment (his girlfriend had their baby early), then came while I was out and quoted a price over phone, then came by to discuss expanded scope of work but never called back with new price;
  • one returned call & showed up promptly, but told me he didn't do concrete;
  • one returned call, showed up promptly, called with estimate & faxed it to me, then called a week or so later to follow up.
Guess who got the job? And guess who got beautiful stone-faced steps--in only 2 (TWO!) days, just before the last Denver deep freeze?

  1. Return all phone calls & email, even if it's just to say "No thanks!"
  2. Do what you say you're going to do. SHOW UP. ON TIME! (If you can't, apologize and reschedule promptly.)
  3. After you show up, FOLLOW UP.

*I found numbers online ranging from 70% up to 99%, but Allen himself said 80% in an interview cited on Gadfly Online. (Small world: I used to review books for Gadfly when it was a print publication.)

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Year's Greatest

Practically every newspaper, magazine, blog, critics' association, etc., has a list cataloguing the best and/or worst [fill in blank] of the preceeding year. Although I read close to 40 books in 2006, few of them were new enough for me to feel qualified to join in the voting for the National Book Critics Circle selection of the year's best.

I did have some favorites among the books I read last year, but I think the last thing the world needs is another list of books. I ignored the ones in the NYT, Washington Post and Denver Post. And I haven't seen one film that's an Oscar contender, or a Golden Globe.

However...[drumroll]...herewith I offer:

The Products that Made My Life Bearable in 2006 (and beyond)

Oil-filled electric radiator.
It's inexpensive, it's quiet, it's safe, it's portable, it heats like crazy. The only drawback is that we can't have two plugged into the same circuit in our house. Doing so when I had pneumonia last February caused me to discover (at 10pm, with outside temp of -8F, snow and wind) the quaint local custom of locating the electric panel box on a building's exterior, rather than in, say, the basement (as is often done Back East), which is (a) warm, (b) reasonably well-lit and (c) protected from the elements.

Reach Access Flosser.
As I learned after breaking my right arm last May, it is impossible to floss one's teeth one-handed. Nor, as I found several months later, is it possible to floss two-handed if the fingers on one hand are non-functioning. This ingenious invention makes use of a second hand unneccessary. One also doesn't need to open wide--another plus if one has sustained trauma to lips, jaw and teeth, as I had. (I'm back to flossing normally now, but it took 7 months.)

TALL Ladies' Silk Long Johns.
They're warm, they're lightweight, they're smooth so jeans slide on easily; best of all, THEY'RE LONG ENOUGH (I have a 34" inseam). I couldn't get through winter without them.

Kozy Shack Real Chocolate Pudding.
I couldn't bite, nor barely chew, for more than four months. Nor could I break chocolate bars into bits, another two-handed task. Which meant that I couldn't eat any of the masses of bittersweet chocolate that friends sent me as get-well presents. (The bars sat in the fridge till fall; they're all gone now.) Kozy Shack Chocolate was my comfort and joy, followed by Kozy Shack Tapioca and strawberry ice cream. Meanwhile, I lost 22 lbs., which goes to show that it's how much, not what, you eat that counts.

Cue the Beach Boys!

Ugh! The view from my front door at 1:30pm.
Yes, it's s***ing yet again. I woke up to 2 inches of new s*** this morning and another 2 or 3 inches has fallen since then. The last few times it s***ed, I got into the spirit of the thing and played Prokofiev and Tchaikowsky. But no more. As I wrote the last time it s***ed, enough is enough.

This morning I decided that it was time for optimism (aka "denial"). So I played two Beach Boys albums (would you believe that with 700+ vinyl records and 300+ CDs, we don't have a single recording of "California Girls"?), followed by some cuts from Brian Wilson's "Smile," ending with "Good Vibrations"--cranked way up.

I so can't wait to go to LA on Friday!

Friday, January 19, 2007

I Saw the Light

Last year, after I'd read his novel The Pale Blue Eye, I told author Louis Bayard that if it didn't win an Edgar award, there was no God.

I got to know Lou after reviewing--and loving--his previous novel, Mr. Timothy, for People, then having him on a panel at the Virginia Festival of the Book. (He'll be there again in March. Mark your calendar now!)

"Well," Lou emailed me this morning, "we're halfway there to proving God's existence. I did get nominated."

"AWWWRIGHT!!!" was my reverent and literate reply.

Read the full roster of Edgar nominees here, then read both The Pale Blue Eye and Mr. Timothy if you haven't already. And while you're at it, pick up a copy of Swing by Rupert Holmes (make sure you get one with the CD of 1940s-style music he wrote to accompany the book), whose "Curtains" is an Edgar nominee for Best Play. I'm hoping to see it in previews when I go to NY in March.

Guess I'd better remember to light the shabbat candles tonight--and put a little extra oomph into the prayers.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


That's what the Boy Wonder said at the end of Stephen Colbert's Tuesday night interview with Dinesh D'Souza.

BW had never heard of D'Souza, author of The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11. However, BW competes regularly in Lincoln-Douglas and Student Congress debate. What he was reacting to was the way Colbert, himself a former debater (Cross Examination, if I recall correctly), absolutely nailed D'Souza, all the while professing to be in complete agreement with him. Not only did Colbert barely let D'Souza utter a complete sentence, let alone a coherent one, but got him to say that he agreed with "some of the things these radical extremists are against in America."

From the show transcript:
Colbert: So, what other cultural editing notes should we take from the terrorists?

D'Souza: It's not editing notes, it's a matter of —

Colbert: No, no, I mean, I agree with you: there are some good ideas these guys have. This is what you're saying, that there are some parts of our culture that are corrosive, and you agree with some of the things that they're saying.

D'Souza: I'm saying that —

Colbert: No, you have the courage to say that, right? That you agree with some of the things these radical extremists are against in America. (I'm more concerned — ) Do you agree with that statement? (Well, no, I'm — ) Just do you agree with that statement?

D'Souza: I agree with it. (Okay, good.) But —

Colbert: Finally, someone has the courage to say that there are things in America that the liberals do that are causing our destruction.

D'Souza: Okay, that's going a little too far —

Colbert: Oh, I know, that's what you're saying: "The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11." That's why I had you on the show, because I agree with that statement, sir!
(Read complete transcript--annotated, alas--at The Third Path; watch interview at YouTube.)

BW plans to rewatch the interview to pick up debating techniques from Colbert. The clip is also a perfect primer for an interviewee on what NOT to do. Namely:
  1. Allow the interviewer to set the agenda.
  2. Not get your message points out ASAP--or at all.
  3. Let the interviewer pull you off subject.
  4. Act humorless and smarmy. (D'Souza probably can't help himself, but still.)

"Are You on Drugs?"

That's what Jon Stewart asked Harry G. Frankfurt on "The Daily Show" last week. Frankfurt was there to flog his book, On Truth. Given that On Truth came out on Halloween and that Frankfurt had been on the show for his On Bullshit 2 years ago, you'd think that he'd have been hot off the blocks with a well-practiced spiel in response to Stewart's opening question. (Not to mention exceedingly grateful for getting primo air time for a nearly 3-month-old book.)

You would have thought wrong. Frankfurt sat there like a stuffed owl, and for a good 5 seconds--an eternity in broadcasting--didn't even move. Eventually he came out with a slow, barely polysyllabic reply. Stewart asked another question. Same thing. And again. You could see Stewart working hard to fill in both sides of the conversation.

Though he makes hash of public figures in the "news" portion of his show, Stewart is actually a kind and generous interviewer, and often lobs softball questions to his guests. But even the most nervous interviewee gives back something. Not so with Frankfurt, which is why Stewart finally blurted out the query that had to be on viewers' minds. (It sure was on mine.)

Anyone wanting to know why an author should have media training before going on air need look no further.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Mark Twain Was Right!

"Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it."
(Twain said it, anyway; another has been credited for actually writing this line.)

Global Warming? Bah! Humbug!

While New Yorkers were quaffing local wines al fresco at Long Island vineyards, or loading up on antiques and ice cream in New Hope, PA (I read all about it in Friday's "Escapes" in the NYT; grrr...), we here in the flyover zone have been freezing our patooties off.

Yesterday at 9am, when I took my darling dog out for her morning constitutional, it was -5F (that's FIVE DEGREES BELOW ZERO! FAHRENHEIT!!!), with an inch of new snow on top of the piled-up remains of the last three storms. This morning, it was a balmy 9 degrees (yesterday's high) and snowing, with a couple of inches of new powder squeaking underfoot.

It's still snowing lightly; tonight's forecast is for below-zero temps. Tomorrow we're having a heat wave, with the high predicted to be near twenty. Oh joy.

Locals keep telling me that this sort of weather "never" happens; that it's been nearly 25 years since they've seen so much snow stick around for so long in Denver. Talk about cold comfort!

One of the circles of hell is having a dog with kidney problems; it's even more hellish during frigid weather. It seems that every time I start to get nice and warm, it's time to take Jenny out again. Normally, at moments of desperation I let her out to water a far(ish) corner of our little yard. But she's too persnickety to (1) pick her way through the snow away from the shoveled path between door and gate or (2) relieve herself in said path. (Male dogs, I've noticed, are not persnickety at all. They'll go anywhere.)

I let Jenny out the front door yesterday morning, but all she did was sit by the gate while I hurriedly fumbled on about 37 layers of clothes. This morning I didn't bother letting her out, so she whined frantically while I fumbled. (Meanwhile, Max the Cat keeps standing by the door and staring at me expectantly, but when I open it and he gets a whiff of arctic air, he pulls his head in like a turtle and scurries off to someplace warm.)

In summation:
It's "climate change." Anyone who says "global warming" is asking to be pushed into a snowdrift.

Time to take Jenny out...

Friday, January 12, 2007

What's That Smell?

Today, GalleyCat asks What's the book you'd warn everyone off? (A Million Little Pieces is off the table as too easy a target.) I started writing an email response, but it grew so long I decided to post it here.

Stay away from PERFUME: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind.

I can't for the life of me figure out why Perfume became an international bestseller. It is unrelentingly creepy and morbid, without a single ray of hope or redemption.
Suskind appears to suffer from optical rectosis (a shitty outlook on life). The characters, except for some wretched children and murderer Jean-Baptiste Grenouille's innocent victims, range from odious to hateful to monstrous.

When I saw the movie trailer, my gut response was "EWWW!!! A movie?! Why?" But according to the film's German producer, Bernd Eichinger, quoted in the Denver Post, "People have a very deep and emotional relationship to [the book]. They consider it to be part of their biography. They read it again and again and again over the years." Oh, those wild and crazy Germans! Once was more than enough for me.

The book also has a glaring error, which I still recall after some 15 years: Grenouille ("Frog") retreats to a remote mountain hideout, without writing implements or any way to track time, in an effort to expunge himself. Yet when he emerges he knows he was there for seven years. How?

I was gratified to see that Rex Reed agrees with me about the book and is just as down on the movie, which he reviews for the NY Observer under the headline "Perfume Stinks."
(Unlike him, you couldn't pay me to see the movie.) He concludes that PERFUME is "all about smells, and the one sense that no motion picture can capture or share is the olfactory. This is a good thing, because the scents conveyed in this movie are largely putrid."

Mr. Reed has apparently forgotten that John Waters's POLYESTER was initially released in fabulous "Odorama," with scratch-and-sniff cards keyed to the movie. When a number flashed onscreen, the audience was supposed to scratch the corresponding spot on the card. Waters famously cried, "I got to see the film's audiences pay to smell shit!" I think PERFUME director Tom Tykwer missed a big opportunity.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Amazing Discoveries

From an article in yesterday's NY Times on anthropologist Nina G. Jablonski, author of SKIN: A Natural History:

Q. You made news in 2004 when you discovered the world’s oldest chimpanzee fossil. These were chimp teeth about a half-million years old. Where did you find them?

A. In a drawer at the National Museum of Kenya in Nairobi. I was rummaging through this bag labeled “fossil monkeys” and I saw it. “This doesn’t look like monkey,” I thought. It turned out they were from an early chimp. That find proved important because there had been no chimpanzee this old in the fossil record. By analyzing it, we’ve learned that chimpanzees in their current form have probably existed for longer than previously thought. (Laughs) Since my find, people have been rummaging through dusty museum drawers everywhere!

I'm convinced that the answers to every historical mystery--maybe even the eternal secrets of the universe--are sitting in drawers and stacked in piles around the planet. Some of those piles are in my very own office.

Since going to Barcelona five years ago, I've been raving about a Basque tapas bar there. It was so good we ate there twice, and even now whenever anyone mentions Barcelona, the Boy Wonder gets misty-eyed and sighs, "Fig ice cream...with chocolate sauce..." But no way I could remember the name. Yesterday I opened some of the moving boxes that have been sitting in my office for the past year. Lo and behold! I found the business card for that very restaurant:
Txapela Euskal Taberna
Passeig de Gracia 8-10, Barcelona
Tel. 93 412 -0289
("X" is pronounced "ch" in Catalan; "Euskal" is Basque for "Basque")
Today I started clearing out my overflowing email In box. No secrets of the universe there (yet), but I did find a classic joke I received a couple of months ago:
A struggling screenwriter comes home to find his neighborhood in a chaos of fire engines and police cars. He approaches his house, which is engulfed by flames. Jumping out of his car, he identifies himself to the nearest cop, and demands to know what's going on.

Cop says: "Your agent broke in, raped and killed your wife, torched your house and fled."

Says the writer, with a big grin: "My agent came to my house?!"

Monday, January 08, 2007

Exorcising Ghosts

Playing ping pong with GalleyCat today, whose post, "Who's the Lady Writer Melanie Griffith Jilted?" tells how ghostwriter Bonnie Robinson claims that Griffith reneged on a handshake deal for her autobiography. 'Cat Ron Hogan wonders whether it's the same Robinson who took a class on working with celebrities on their autobios, and concludes, "Sounds like she could use a few more pointers on deal-closing, though."

Well, yeah, but even solid closers get thrown over by celebs who develop cold feet. I've known some ghostwriters, and oh, the stories they tell! Unfortunately, none can be repeated other than orally, and only then after a few drinks and solemn vows of confidentiality.

My father was going to do his autobiography and had worked with first one, then another, writer back in the late '70s & early '80s, when he was riding high on "Hart to Hart." He ditched them both; told me something about their wanting too much money. But now I think that was just an excuse.

Subsequently I offered him my services as an interviewer and transcriber. I got the idea when I had a temp job transcribing interviews for William Zinsser's oral history of the Book of the Month Club. (I think my best temp assignment ever. It was so cool to listen to the likes of Mordechai Richler talking about books and literature.) He turned me down, I think in the next breath.

I said, "Why? It's a good way to remember the past."

He replied, "I don't want to remember the past; it's too painful."

I never brought it up again.

A few years later, Dad asked me my mother's name--her first name. No more pain.

That Scandal is So, Like, Eighteen Days Ago...

Stuff this! A mezuzah case, 3.5" long, from

Now that Hanukah is well over, news (if you can call it that) of "Mezuza-gate" seems to have dried up. According to Gawker, would-be OJ publisher Judith Regan "once claimed to staffers that, as a joke, she went through her old apartment building on the Upper West Side, took all the torah scrolls out of the mezzuzahs at the doors and replaced them with torn-up dollar bills."

Much ink and many bytes have been spilled over this, with people arguing about whether the above story proves that Regan is an anti-Semite. I'm not wading into that fray, though I had to snicker over the quote from a former colleague, who said she was an "equal opportunity offender" who insults everyone in good measure. It's funny when Ari the Agent abuses his hapless staff on "Entourage," but not when someone does it in real life, as I know happens all the time in Hollywoodland. (Maybe that's why Regan relocated there.)

What that anecdote does prove, however, is that Regan and whoever told on her (not to mention those who spread the story unreflectively) don't know squat about mezuzot. First of all, they are affixed steadfastly--nay, intransigently--to the doorposts. In older buildings on the Upper West Side, you'll often see what look like painted-over Tootsie Rolls bulging from the side of apartment doorways. (When I was a kid I really did think they were Tootsie Rolls.) No way one can sneakily pry those off and replace them without the neighbors noticing.

Even if the mezuzah (which has as many spelling variations as Hanukah--or zucchini), isn't mummified under a gazillion layers of paint, it is attached with sturdy nails or screws. It's a bit noisy to install one, especially if you bang your fingers with the hammer and/or drop the nails. I did both (with blue-tinged exclamations) the other day, when after a year I finally put up the mezuzah from our old house in Virginia. I'd attached it with threaded nails, and hate to think what removing it did to the doorpost. (We'd left without it & I had the buyers mail it to me.)

Last, I defy anyone to remove the scroll from its little slot at the back of a mezuzah and quickly and NEATLY replace it with torn-up dollar bills; or torn-up anything, for that matter.

Yup, that was some joke that Regan told, all right--on the people who swallowed it hook, line and matzoh ball.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Quote for the Day

"I’m not a prostitute. I just hook guys up with girls if they want them."
--"Brazilian madam" Andrea Schwartz, upon being arrested (per today's NY Times)

I hereby donate this quote to former Penthouse Pet of the Month Lisa Ann Taylor, who was arrested at her home, a mansion near the 9th hole at Sugarloaf Country Club (oh, could I make some jokes!) in Atlanta, on charges of heading a call-girl ring.

Unbearable Whiteness

Max watches the snow fall from his preferred vantage point. (Setting up this shot got me to clear my desk for the first time in many, many months. Where would I be without blogging?)

Sometimes You Put the Pedal to the Metal & All You Do Is Spin Your Wheels

All summer and fall, people asked me when I was going to give Book Promotion 101 workshops again.

"When I can pick up my briefcase with my right hand," was the usual reply.

After more than six months and two surgeries I'm finally able to do so, though I can't carry the briefcase very far if my laptop's in it.

So with some excitement and more than some relief, in November I planned two workshops--LA on Jan. 27 and NYC on March 10. I did everything I usually do to promote them: a "Feature Me" ad on Publishers Marketplace; announcements on my web site & PM page; emails to authors, publicists and literary agents.

I sat back and waited. Boom! Authors started signing up for the NY workshop 4 months early. It's already half full; I'm booking theatre tickets for that weekend.

As for LA, by Jan. 1 I'd heard from just two authors, one of whom registered. So the other day I sent out more email blasts, this time targeted to workshop alumni and my cozier agent pals.

Nada. Go figure.

I'm so desperate for a few days of SoCal sun 'n' fun that I've been composing yet another appeal, which begins, "Little* Bella needs a weekend in Los Angeles. Won't you help?" I won't send it, though; desperation is so unattractive.

After receiving several requests for a Boston workshop and assurances from local authors that they'd absolutely attend, I set up one for Oct. '05. I had wonderful guest speakers and publicists, and the pièce de résistance was its location: the Harvard Club downtown. (Was that cool or what?) I did all the usual publicity per above, plus took out ads on some sites for writers & sent personal emails to Boston agents. Not one single person responded; I cancelled.

The lesson here is that sometimes publicity works; sometimes it doesn't. And after you drive yourself crazy wondering why when it doesn't, you have to figure out when it's time to cut your losses and move on.

It ended up being a good thing that I didn't go to Boston. Instead I went to Denver with my husband--the only weekend he was available to travel--to scout out a new home. Now I wonder what will happen the weekend of the 27th if I don't go to LA. One thing's for certain: I won't be scoping out new digs, though I sure wouldn't mind a trip somewhere warm and dry. (I heard that Southwest is offering a $30 one-way fare to Phoenix. If only I knew someone--anyone!--in Arizona.)

*Never mind that I'm 6' tall!

Edit: I'm going to LA regardless, as a friend there is giving a big party on the 27th. (My motto: "Will travel for parties.")

Cue "Lara's Theme"

Enough is enough already!

Yes, it's snowing yet again. We got 3" overnight, with a few more inches to come till the storm moves off this evening. That's on top of the 8" we got last week, on top of the 24" we got the week before.

This is NOT what I signed on for when we moved to Denver.

Everyone keeps assuring me that this sort of thing "never" happens here. HA! One thing that truly never happens, though, is plowing the side streets--not even in the toney neighborhoods, as I discovered the other night when I went to a book group meeting. However, I was treated to the marvelous sight of a fox dashing through the snow just in front of my (very slowly moving) car, its tail streaming like a great plume of smoke.

I took a photo of the view out my office window--even cleaned up my desk to do it!--but Blogger won't let me post it right now. Will do so later.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Quote (and laugh!) for the Day

From "The Cosmetics Restriction Diet" in today's NY Times, about how dermatologists are having their patients use far fewer skin-care products:
“I am seduced by fancy packaging as much as the next person,” Dr. Brademas said. “But I have a theory that all these skin-care things come out of the same vat in New Jersey.”
(Disclosure: I've been using Dr. Hauschka's cleansing creme and moisturizer for the past 20+ years. I like the way they make my face feel, so I just grit my teeth every time their prices leap and buy them on sale whenever possible.)

Monday, January 01, 2007

Timeless Resolutions

Happy New Year! Here are the resolutions I've been making annually, ever since I discovered the lines below by James Agate, London Sunday Times drama critic from 1923 to 1947.
  1. To refrain from saying witty, unkind things, unless they are really witty and irreparably damaging.

  2. To tolerate fools more gladly, provided this does not encourage them to take up more of my time.