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Fall 2011: Peasants make Great Accessories

Posted September 3rd, 2011
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Yes, we all know that we are in the throes of a world wide global economic crisis. But sometimes it takes something dire and international to help us to really SEE.   Today my new Anthropologie catalog arrived with exactly that kind of very special fashion reminder.  FALL 2011 has a message for us. And it is this. Nothing shows off a great new outfit like PEASANTS!

Maybe its the simplicity of their life styles or their primitive old-world mismatched clothing choices. Maybe its the way they’re so cooperative even if you only have a few dollars budgeted to pay them. Whatever it is, peasants are a memo from another time and place where money still means a lot. (Though I doubt they need as much of it as we do because look at how they live and all!)

The important thing to remember is that peasants make the rest of us look elegant yet sensible this fall! And they’re so much shorter and heavier than we are, which helps show us off to our best advantage.Plus they have scarves and chickens and buckets and weird hats, which are all like totally amazing! So when you think it about it, what better accessories for confusing times like these (when big salaries and gigantic bonuses are not fashionable) than PEASANTS? PS:


























I…um…(clearing throat)have a new book coming out in November. You can pre-order it at(coughing) Amazon or Barnes and Noble or maybe somewhere else that you like better but I didn’t think of. Thank you. Plus I will send you a handwritten thank you card.You never get that kind of thing from the vampire people.

When did everyone decide they’re all so HOT?

Posted June 10th, 2011
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I know for a fact that there are no nude pictures of me circulating anywhere . For one thing, I never had any taken. I’m just not the type to do that. I also felt that it would somehow take away from my work . By which I mean; how could I hope to make a living pointing out other peoples imperfections if mine were glaringly on display?  Which brings me to this: When did everyone everywhere decide they were so goddamn hot that they needed as many strangers as possible to see them naked? I mean, there has always been a group of people whose job definitions included naked posing. But  it didn’t used to be most of us.

Just a few years ago, when people thought about fulfilling their potential, they didn’t necessarily mean that they hoped they could one day rise to enough social prominence and popularity  to be permitted to pose for pictures with their butts sticking out . Back then,  a guy who looked like Anthony Weiner would have woken up in the morning, looked at himself in the mirror and thought “Well, I’m not the best looking guy but, know what?  I look pretty good. For me. I mean, for an average looking human who  looks a great deal like a ferret , thumbs up.  I’m doing okay.”

But then it somehow  came to pass that Paris Hilton and her pals had so much  influence on the culture at large that being “hot” became part of every job definition.  And its left me feeling nostalgic for the time when there was still a nice range of different ways to display embarrassing egomania in a public persona. There were dignified loud mouths (see: Prince Phillip).  There were substance abusing show offs (see: Rose, Axel) even in the political arena (Kennedy,Ted).  You could present yourself as a brilliant scientist or an interesting smart ass and not  also feel the need to pose unclothed holding only  a towel. Really. Its true!  I swear I’m not making this up.  In those days, politicians with bad judgment used to date strippers and put them on the payroll.(See: Mills, Wilbur.) But now they’ve fallen under the influence of  that old feminist saying:”We have become the men we wanted to marry.” Today’s politicians have finally become the strippers they wanted to put on the payroll.

I’ve heard people say that the naked picture thing is now such a common  by product of internet social networking that it’s not even worth a raised eyebrow. Yet the  problem with a sexting elected official continues to reside in the notion that where human behavior and character is concerned, the whole is the sum of its parts. Because the only reason to even have an election is to pick out a special member of the group who can best represent that group’s unified interests. On the other hand, if sending out pictures of your dick is now so ho-hum that it can no longer  even be classified as bad judgment, I guess those of us who still have it filed that way may need to  download some cultural software updates. Or move to Great Britain.

And having said that, I have to confess that I kind of count on not seeing naked lusty butt shots  of the people I most admire. I hope there are no naked pictures kicking around  of  Jane Goodall or Mark Twain or Robert Benchley or Kurt Vonnegut Jr. or Lynda Barry . I would be heartbroken to learn that David Attenborough had taken pictures of himself without his pants and sent them out to everyone who said they liked his BBC documentaries about shrews, terns and horseshoe crabs.  (And this despite the fact that I have noticed that every one of his docs includes footage of him sitting inches away from a pair of some bird, mammal or reptile who are smack  in the midst of coitus.)

So I guess I am calling for a return to a wide variety of colorful, interesting and individually chosen paths to ego-maniacal career destruction. It seems like a good idea to me to leave the naked dick and boob shot approach to those winners of the genetic crap shoot  in desperate need of some updates on their IMDB profiles.

(PS:I have a new book coming out in November. Its a book of funny essays. And its definitely my most personal set of essays ever. Years of writing novels have opened some kind of trap door that is now impossible to close. I hope its stuff that the people who like my other books will want to read.

If there’s a theme to the book, its the never ending task of coping with the crazy people who surround us all. ( I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who is surrounded by crazy people. Am I? I’m not, am I?)  I have been trying to learn something, anything, from these experiences, since, as I understand it, that seems to be kind of the point. And for the sake of the book,  I’m going to go ahead and assume there is a point.

For example, the book contains  a piece about my problematic relationship with my extremely critical seemingly un-pleasable mother and the odd, thoroughly irritable travel diaries that I saw for the first time after she died.  I quote from them ver batim, which made me pretty nervous. But having gotten laughs  the few times I got up the nerve to read from them on stage, I was encouraged to turn them in to an essay that tries to add up the pieces and draw some conclusions , now that its over.

There’s  an exhaustively thorough piece I began writing as a present to some of my  girl friends, as I sit back watching them  running headlong in to the endless variations of the miseries that dating has to offer.  Its based on a lifetime of  note taking as I lived through my own version of same. Its called “How to Spot an Asshole.” and I’m pretty sure  I didn’t leave anything out.

There’s also a piece called ‘Never Again’ about the nerve wracking experience of falling in love again after swearing off love entirely. And the difference between having this experience  in the first half of life, and  in the second half.

Of course there are also a few pieces about dogs, because they are the craziest people of all.   I analyze why I love them with so much unswerving devotion, considering that they require me to tolerate behavior I will no longer tolerate from people.

I guess I’ll say more about this whole thing as it gets closer to November.

I hope its a good book . You can pre-order it already, I’m told. Its for sale on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and Borders Books . The publisher is, once again, Randomhouse.


Don’t introduce me to your new love until after a year.

Posted January 20th, 2011
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I kind of like cooking. Therefore I like cooking dinner for my friends on special occasions.  But on this, the twentieth day of the first month of a new year, I am making a new house rule:

Do not bring your brand new one true love to my house for a home cooked meal until you have gone with them at least a year.

I have a number of friends who are currently engaged in the difficult, sometimes barbaric, seemingly endless search for the right person. They have my sympathy.  I was dating my brains out for years and  am still so so sick of the whole idea that  the thought of having to return to that moment again makes me shudder the way I do when I imagine voluntarily making trips out to the coin operated laundromat now that I own a washer and dryer. Thats not a good analogy.  Dating is so much worse than the laundromat.  Though the laundromat  still gives me nightmares.

But here is what I learned about dating: You can not tell who it is you have become involved with until around month four. It is just impossible.  The first three months are a honeymoon period where both parties put on a great big fake show for each other.  Then, after that, it takes at least another 8 or 9 months to gather enough information to guess whether or not  this new relationship is going to last.  That year will turn out to be a combination of exhilarating (Hey! Hot new sex!!) and frustrating (I can’t believe what just happened last night!)  This is all just par for the course.   That’s the way a new relationship works.

The only thing I am saying is that during this sometimes exciting and frequently tumultuous period, there is no real reason for you to bring this new person over to meet me. Because in at least 90% of cases, it will turn out that you are only weeks away from sitting me down to listen to you deliver a speech where you will want my empathy and sympathy as you explain in detail how the afore mentioned new person turned out to be a total asshole.

Obviously I am going to want to give you that empathy and sympathy.  You are my friend.  I want the best for you in all circumstances.  All I am asking is that you restrain yourself from making it my responsibility  to cook dinner for someone who is about to ruin your life, before the fact.

Its a lot of work cooking dinner. I search through recipes.  I fret. I have to drive to the store ten times.  Then we clean the house and sweep the porch and wash the tablecloth .   Its expensive and exhausting.  And don’t forget all that energy spent dressing up before hand and  cleaning up afterward. And then, of course, we have to lock the dogs in the back of the house so they won’t eat all the snacks or get hair all over the guests. And boy, they hate that.

Though I don’t mind doing it for people I like. Because I love when they do it for me.  But here’s the thing: I absolutely mind doing it for people  I am not only going to never see again, but am going to  later  find out are personality disordered cretins who have treated a friend of mine badly.  Call me crazy but I don’t want to work hard to help an amoral vindictive monster have a lovely relaxing afternoon or evening.  Which brings me to the stress of searching for topics of conversation to engage a person who, in a few weeks, we will all have agreed was mentally ill and all decided we hate. I don’t want to serve them horsd’oevres and wine and find out where they are from.

I guess I should mention at this point that I have several friends who have brought more than four such relationship candidates over for a long long evening. In one case, five.

Or just as bad: what if I end up bonding with this new person? And then later find out that YOU are the one who acted like the big asshole?  I chose my friends pretty carefully. And I don’t need or want that kind of information about someone I thought was my friend.

So go ahead and fall in love briefly with whoever you chose.  Obviously you don’t need my permission . If you want to waste your time and money and  dreams on  fantasies about this new person, before you have any real idea who they are…well, its your life.  You alone will wind up with the cocktail party anecdotes and the short story rights to whatever crazy thing unfolds. Just do me the courtesy of not insisting that I  join you as  captain, chef and entertainment committee on your  voyage before the whole ship capsizes.

As my friend John Hodgman likes to say at this point: That is all.

Costco: A love story in 4 acts, kinda sorta.

Posted June 26th, 2010
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Costco: A Love Story in Four Acts.

Not only have I never been much of a joiner, I am the rare female whose gender software didn’t come bundled with the genome for “love of shopping.” That makes me the very portrait of someone who didn’t want the bother of purchasing a membership to a market. Already a coerced card carrying “member” of two markets in my neighborhood, I lived in dread that they’d one day hold a meeting. And I had gotten so used to living in overpriced Los Angeles where every trip to the market felt like a mugging that I had given up on even looking for a solution.

But my boyfriend started pushing me to visit Costco and have a gander at the enormous bargains.I resisted at first. It conjured images for me of the way they portrayed Communist bloc totalitarian life in my grade school textbooks: no sparkle, everything colorless, generic, utilitarian, depressing. I half expected to find ladies in babushkas fighting over a potato.  But eventually, in the interest of pleasing him, I agreed.

Then to my utter shock, I found I wasn’t just wrong, I was smitten and spellbound. So much so that by the second year, I sprung for the pricier Executive Membership that guaranteed a refund of 2% of my overall annual purchase total. I kind of I doubted it would actually work.  Or that there’s be a hidden catch. So when I received a check for $100 worth of free merchandise, I was thrilled—and I knew I was a goner.                                                                                                                                                                               Now that I’m in my fifth year of being a Costco-ian, I wondered how exactly the transition from repulsed to semi-fanatic happened. So I decided to take a look back at our golden precious memories, Costco’s and mine, as I explain what I now see as the four stages of my only loving commitment to a Big Box Store.

Act 1: The Honeymoon

The first time my heart beat a little faster was when I realized that Pellegrino water at Costco cost half what it did at my local market. Then I noticed that the dried chicken strips for dogs—a dollar apiece at a nearby pet store—were available in a half-pound sack containing 120 of them for…eleven dollars! Could that possibly be right? A savings of 90 percent? Turned out it was right. Even hamburger was a dollar a pound cheaper. A heavenly choir began to sing as the cavernous warehouse that is Costco was bathed in a rosy hue.

Still, I was not completely sold until I followed up my visit with a little research. Expecting to encounter the usual bad news I read about everything, I learned instead that Costco marked up the items they sold by only 14 to 15 percent, instead of the standard 25 to 50 percent they use at supermarkets. Better still, Costco was apparently nice to its employees, offering both good hourly wages and good benefits. *

Now I was falling in love. No more figuring out where to find the best prices on everything from power tools to potato salad. No more guilt about tortured underpaid workers. I felt safe and warm pushing my wading pool-sized shopping cart past the dozens of free samples tables; enjoying a microscopic shard of chicken/lettuce wrap, a speared morsel of chimichanga, a thimble full of pomegranite juice or steel cut Oatmeal. Yes, sometimes waiting behind the Costco lifers who arrived at noon already wearing lobster bibs, ready for free lunch, could be trying. But wow! That bottle of olive oil so large it required a system of hoists and pullies to lift just lowered the price of sautéing to only pennies a serving. And look… hoists and pullies  for sale just one aisle over! The only hard part was deciding what not to buy. There were so many opportunities for savings lurking everywhere that the trip to the cash register was like crossing The Bermuda Triangle. On my way to buy a crate of gum, I accidentally stumbled into a cache of beautiful leather chairs that cost hundreds less than the very same ones downtown. No, I didn’t actually need any furniture. But one day my furniture might decide to disintegrate. Why spend wastefully! This was too good to pass up.

Act 2: The Awakening

One day a little voice began to whisper, “There is so much stuff for sale here. Is any of it not from China?” and “Hey, what happened to those end tables I liked? Where oh where did they go?”

A little more research revealed that Costco carries only 4,000 items, compared to 150,000 in a typical superstore. And one thousand of them are intentionally “treasure hunt” stuff. These are always changing to instill a “sense of urgency” in customers. In other words, that buyer’s hysteria I kept experiencing wasn’t my own, it was planned for me. Finding this out was a little like discovering that a hot new boyfriend is actually a manipulative narcissist who will leave if you request foreplay.

Act 3: The Disillusionment

It began the day I noticed my weekly grocery bill had somehow become $1800. All I’d done was go to Costco for some steaks…oh, and an aluminum storage shed, because it was $500 cheaper than the one at Home Depot.  Well, I’d had to grab it fast before it disappeared!

Now the downside to buying massive quantities came in to focus. That gigantic container of garlic salt was such an amazing deal, until three quarters of it solidified into a salt lick. And that bag of pre-washed spinach the size and shape of a small child required me to eat spinach three times a day for a week, and also open a roadside spinach stand, or try to sell spinach on E-bay. “I saw an eighty-year-old couple walking in Costco,” said my friend, comedian Elayne Boosler. “I said to them, ‘Get out! Go home! There’s nothing here that you can possibly finish.’”

And then there are the checkout rituals. The first time I forgot to say, “May I have a box?” I found myself making a million trips to unload the car, balancing an air mattress-sized package of chicken parts atop a cistern of laundry detergent. Why?  Because there are no bags at Costco, even though nothing for sale there really fits into those boxes (which, incidentally, are so indestructible they don’t fit in the recycling can). And Costco is the only market with border guards at the exit.  Take care not to misplace your receipt, because you must show it if you’re planning to ever leave.

For me, though, the bloom wasn’t wholly off the rose until I looked around my house, saw one too many dark walnut fake colonial pieces and thought…Damn! My house looks like Costco! Or maybe it was when I noticed, as I made someone a cocktail from my 8 foot high magnum of vodka, that they were looking at me with an expression that said “Whoa. Drinking problem.”

Act Four: Resolution and Mature Love

As with any long term relationship you take the good with the bad. In the end, I finally understood that as a savvy shopper I needed to use Costco for my own purposes, not vice-versa, as well as to understand that certain things I must simply accept. Maybe it is always going to be difficult to take those 10,000 dollar diamond stud earrings in the jewelry case seriously because they are only inches from a tower of Halloween candy? And maybe I will always be disappointed by the odd assortment of books they sell on a big flat table, next to the Big Bag’o’Socks bin,  that seem to have been selected for a mysterious demographic that I’d rather not contemplate. So what?— It’s still a great place to buy food I can freeze, cleaning products, and office supplies. And area rugs and tires. And then I just get the hell out! Oh, and swim goggles. Did I already mention mascara? And picture frames? And THAT’S ALL. Just those things, then grab some soup and a patio heater and head home! And a couple of dog beds. And oh my God a real piano for just $7000!

“Something Extremely Important”: my new video

Posted January 31st, 2010
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I just turned a draft of my newest book in to a new editor. That means it is a very tense time for me. Therefore I have been doing what I always do when I am tense: edit my little films.  This is a video I have been working  a while. I was trying to make it as a stand alone film, but now I have decided to combine it with footage I was given of me reading the piece at a benefit for Tails of Joy, a great dog rescue run by my friend Elayne Boosler.  SO….here it is: