Thursday, July 31, 2008

Goodbye to all that

Maude is clearly ready for the big move to Boston. But am I?

The answer, as far as I can tell, is yes. I've had a rocky love affair with New York, but it's time to close this chapter in my life. Maybe I will live here again someday, but maybe it's just not in my blood. You can take the girl
out of the Midwest but you can't take the Midwest out of the girl.

A good friend recently quoted Joan Didion's stunning essay on leaving New York on his blog, and not to seem like a copycat, but I'm going to quote it too. It perfectly captures the bittersweet feelings I have about leaving this exhilarating and bewildering city. To read the entire essay, click
here. You won't regret it. Here are some of my favorite excerpts-- part of why I am going to graduate school for writing is to learn how to write something as powerful and true as this.

Goodbye to All That (1967)

It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends. I can remember now, with a clarity that makes the nerves in the back of my neck constrict, when New York began for me, but I cannot lay my finger upon the moment it ended, can never cut through the ambiguities and second starts and broken resolves to the exact place on the page where the heroine is no longer as optimistic as she once was....

Part of what I want to tell you is what it is like to be young in New York, how six months can become eight years with the deceptive ease of a film dissolve, for that is how those years appear to me now, in a long sequence of sentimental dissolves and old-fashioned trick shots—the Seagram Building fountains dissolve into snowflakes, I enter a revolving door at twenty and come out a good deal older, and on a different street. But most particularly I want to explain to you, and in the process perhaps to myself, why I no longer live in New York. It is often said that New York is a city for only the very rich and the very poor. It is less often said that New York is also, at least for those of us who came there from somewhere else, a city only for the very young....

Nothing was irrevocable; everything was within reach. Just around every corner lay something curious and interesting, something I had never before seen or done or known about...I could make promises to myself and to other people and there would be all the time in the world to keep them. I could stay up all night and make mistakes, and none of them would count.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The bitch is back

About a month ago,
I blogged about my experience passing a kidney stone, which I named Frances. But the joke's on me, because apparently I didn't pass it. J/k! Good one, Frances! Seriously, you really had me there. What I passed was only a fragment or something. LOL.

I have heard kidney stones described as painful, horrible and nasty, but I want to add another adjective to that list: stealthy. My symptoms went away for a whole month and now they're back. Turns out Frances was just hiding out in my bladder, laying low for a month. Chillin' like a villain. My bladder must be like the Hamptons of my body.

My new theory is that she's hitching a ride to Boston and didn't want to risk it on the Fung Wah bus. Hopefully though, her days are numbered. Shit's getting serious now: I'm most likely getting lithotripsy. Bad news: my insurance is so ghetto right now that I'll have to pay out of pocket for it. Which is why I'm establishing the Frances Memorial Kidney Stone Foundation. If you'd like to make a donation, please let me know. I accept cash, checks, and prescription painkillers.

Friday, July 25, 2008

My new favorite book

Whenever I cave in and join the social networking site
du jour, there is always one part of the inevitable profile section that strikes fear into my heart. I am fine with Favorite Music (I long ago accepted that I do not have cool taste in music), and Favorite Movies (Strictly Ballroom, Gone with the Wind), but then I get here and don't know what to do:

(FYI, that list is not from my actual Facebook profile. "Future Jihad"? Please.)

It's always so hard to list my favorite books, maybe because I have so many that I love. But recently, I discovered a tome that somehow slipped under the radar when Modern Library issued its 100 Best Books list. This book is also strangely absent from Time Magazine's list of 100 Greatest Books of All Time.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Jane Seymour's Guide to Romantic Living.

Published in 1986, lavishly illustrated and now woefully out of print, this book is AMAZING. It is filled with insights into how we can live more romantically. Jane Seymour, "one of the world's most fascinating and glamorous actresses" (jacket cover) helpfully explains in the Foreword that this book is not about "the lifelong partner" -- and let's hope not, because Jane is on husband #4. Romantic living is about "approaching your life with the drama and mystery that some of us think exists only in books, TV, and movies."

Jane's advice is very inspirational and easy to follow. In Chapter 3, "Bringing Romance to Everyday Life," she writes:

If there's a window near where you're reading this, look out of it. Really look. Observe. Look at the colors, the movement of the wind, the shape of things.
If you look long and hard enough you'll see a new world just outside your window...the miraculous is right outside your window if you only look.
And it's right inside your heart.

When I look out my window, all I see is the BQE and All-Boro Auto Sound and Security. Maybe I just need more time with the book, though. No one said Romantic Living would be easy. After all, "most women have many roles to play: worker, mother, wife, hostess" (117). So true, Jane, so true. And as result, we have become "too lacking in mystery." Fortunately, Jane has some ideas about how to get the mystery back:

Try veils, hats, antique jewelry, lockets. Don't reveal too easily who is in the locket: just stare moodily into the distance and smile a tender, tragic smile. (146)

YES! A few pages later, Jane notes that "large floppy hats are mysterious too," or if you're feeling more adventurous, "tie your hair up into an exotic turban" (155). And it just keeps getting better:

If you're feeling predatory and vampish, why not try wearing some leather? Tina Turner wears short leather skirts; why shouldn't you, whatever your age?
(answer: because I don't have Tina Turner's legs?)

If you're in a dreamy, feminine mood, wear one of the Laura Ashley creations.
(great; now if I could just find that bus schedule for Milford, CT...)

I don't want to spoil all the surprises of this book; you should discover the pearls of Jane's wisdom all on your own. It's like Brenda Dickson, in book form! Jane's official fan site,, has lengthy excerpts from this book and others.

You know who looks like she could really benefit from some romantic living? This woman:

That's the real Jane Seymour, the 3rd wife of Henry VIII, who died at age 29. If only she'd worn more floppy hats, perhaps she'd have lived longer.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Are you now or have you ever been a Colombian drug lord?

hate math. It makes me paranoid, it makes my stomach churn. Whenever I attempt to do math, I can feel the numbers mocking me. Everyone in my family is awful at math-- much to my father's dismay, my siblings and I all tend toward the humanities and the arts. Not an investment banker among us, meaning that we might have to support our parents in their old age by busking in subway stations. I might have to sell my Ivy League eggs (worth 8K!) if my grand plan to be a writer turns out to be a bust.

But in 8th grade, I actually looked forward to math class. Algebra II, with Mr. Zutshi. Because in his classroom, with the help of my TI-82 calculator, I could transform. I was no longer Katie Vagnino, math retard, but a feared and respected South American drug dealer known to my enemies only as "K."

Yes, while Mr. Zutshi was dutifully at the board showing us how to solve x in terms of y, most of the 8th graders in the room were playing a popular game called Drug Cartel. Now, curiously, I can find little information online about this game. I can only assume it's extinct. Google turns up a few lonely references on other blogs, some for a similar-sounding game called Drug Lord. This is weird to me because in suburban St. Louis circa 1994, Drug Cartel was huge. It was hotter than Ace of Base. EVERYONE was playing it.

Not with each other, though -- the calculators weren't advanced enough for that. The only option was to play against the game itself. Drug Cartel operated on a simple concept -- buy drugs like ecstasy ("X"), hash or coke from sketchy jungle guys and sell them in the U.S. After successful deals, more lackeys would be at your disposal to intimidate your enemies. Your status in the game was based on nomenclature -- you start out as a drug runner, then become a dealer, and finally, a lord. In my conservative WASP-dominated private middle school, who could have guessed that kids with names like Hadley and Kemper were trafficking imaginary narcotics during math class?

The downside of Drug Cartel was that you could never really win -- which in hindsight was maybe meant to serve as some sort of lesson about the life of crime. Once you achieved the status of Drug Lord, it was only a matter of time (usually minutes) before a message flashed across the screen informing you that you had become too powerful and had been assassinated. Leaving you with no choice but to start all over again as a lowly drug runner. It tickles me to think that Mr. Zutshi never knew the real reason behind the soundtrack of frustrated sighs that punctuated his lessons. We were interested in "X," just not the kind you have to solve for.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Waiting for the G

The G train platform, Metropolitan stop.


Esther, a Greenpoint hipster, paces agitatedly. She halts and looks long at "Meet Dave" poster, then suddenly begins to move feverishly about the platform. Halts extreme right and gazes into distance off where the train should be coming, shading her eyes with her hand. Comes and goes. Halts extreme left, as before. Vladimir, an old Polish man sitting on the bench, suddenly speaks.
What's wrong with you?
It's coming.
Are you sure?
I don't know.


Does it always take this long?
Not always.
Let's go far away from here.
We can't.
Why not?
We have to come back tomorrow.
What for?
To wait for the G.
Ah! (Silence.) Will it come?
And now it's too late.
Yes, now it's night.

Why don't we hang ourselves?
With what?
You haven't got a bit of rope?
Then we can't.


Let's go.
Wait, there's my ironic Nintendo controller belt.
It's too short.
You could hang onto my legs.
And who'd hang onto mine?

You say we have to come back tomorrow?

I can't go on like this.
That's what you think.
If we walked to the L? That might be better for us.
We'll hang ourselves tomorrow. (Pause.) Unless the G comes.
And if it comes?
We'll be saved.
Well? Shall we go walk to the L?

Yes, let's go.

They do not move.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Say what you want about Fox....

but it has provided us with some amazing cultural gems. As a news network, obviously, it is a complete joke, but from an entertainment perspective it's hard to deny their uniquely lowbrow contributions.

Take the Fox Reality Network, for example: an entire cable station that just plays reality television, 24-7. Look me in the eye and tell me you don't like watching reruns of "When Animals Attack" after a few dozen beers. A network that shows you this has got some balls:

But my favorite program on Fox, which according to my DVR might no longer be recording new episodes (sniffle) is "Battle of the Bods," a show where you can actually feel the Woman's Movement receding as you watch. The premise? Five scantily clad women parade around a stage and a panel of men in a soundproof room rate their bodies. The girls try to guess the men's rankings in a few different categories, such as "Face" and "Breasts." If they guess right, they win a small amount of money. But first, they cattily argue over who has the best ass and the straighter teeth. On national television. What would Gertrude Stein say?

The host, Olivia Lee, is like a D-grade version Cat Deeley of Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance." They are both tall, blond, and have over-the-top Brit accents.

Cat Deeley

Olivia Lee

Is Olivia's dress from Forever 21? It wouldn't surprise me, given that "Battle of the Bods" appears to have a production budget of about $.48.

Seriously, the set looks like a sleazy hotel lobby:

Yes, in that photo you are actually seeing adult women in the 21st century comparing ass-cheek cellulite. I have to agree with Slate's Troy Patterson that the show is "innovatively vile." I can't begin to imagine what would motivate anyone to go on this show. It's like negative minutes of fame. Still, perhaps out of my incomprehension over how such a show exists, I have watched many an episode, slack-jawed.

On the other hand, "So You Think You Can Dance" is a great piece of reality television. I love its vaguely Eastern-European vibe -- there's something distinctly foreign about the show's aesthetic.

And who wouldn't want to be drunk at a wedding with Nigel and Mia Michaels? Nigel would be the sleazy uncle who makes inappropriate comments about how nicely the bride has developed, and Mia would wear a crazy miniature hat and hoard passed appetizers in her purse.

Personally, I'd like Fox to develop a show hosted by these two:

Rainbows would melt.

The best part about being on a reality show, though, has to be the exit montage. It must be so great to watch a video chronicling how awesome you are. I wish at the end of every week, Ryan Seacrest and Cat Deeley would show up in my bedroom and say, "Well, Katie, it's the end of the week for you, but let's a take a last look at some of your best moments."

A song by Chris Daughtry would play and highlights from my week would flash across a spontaneously-materialized gigantic plasma screen: me getting coffee from my local guy in Greenpoint, arguing with a cab driver when I try to pay with a credit card, looking winsome as I play my next Scrabulous move on Facebook.

So in conclusion, I'm glad that Fox exists, despite the misinformation they spread about Iraq Hussein Osama. As long as you've seen "Outfoxed" (and if you haven't, Netflix it now), you can feel fine about watching the upcoming "Real Stories of the Highway Patrol" marathon (check your local listings for exact times).

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Cats are not from this planet

Exhibit A:

Besides looking like a pinhead or some rare breed of kangaroo, it's very unusual for cats to lie flat on their backs and completely expose their bellies to predators and/or bored humans.

Exhibit B (and please don't call the ASPCA):

Sunday, July 6, 2008

OTB, here I come

I never understood horse races -- why people care about them and are willing to risk money on them -- until today, when I had the pleasure of attending the 53rd Annual Coconino County Horse Race in Flagstaff, Arizona. In the very first race, I tasted victory and got hooked. It turned out to be a false victory -- a photo finish proved that my horse, Wired Wrong, actually came in 4th -- but it was enough to keep me betting. At $2 a pop, it's very low stakes but still quite fun. Coors Light in hand, I studied the stakes and ended up $4 richer than when I started. I spent my winnings on a corndog.

Even more fascinating than the actual races, however, was the program guide. For each race, you can read up on the competing horses and their respective track records. I became immersed in the lingo (trifectas! exactas!) and like Carrie Bradshaw, I "got to thinking" about my life, in horse racing terms. It would be fair to say that, like Easy Quick Dash, I "drifted out late." Like most, I "broke awkwardly." I certainly haven't "led throughout," like Not by Choice. But would history ultimately determine that I was "no real threat" like Butter Money? Or even worse, that I was "never in contention"?

Regardless of my standing, I like the concept of "win, place, show": it's a nice way to have faith while allowing for the possibility that you won't get exactly what you want. It's kind of the best we can hope for, to at least place or show.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few

Or the one, said Spock in "Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan." It's a noble sentiment and by that token, I should continue to blog whilst on vacation, for the sake of my many multitudes of readers. However, I am going to go lay out on my mom's roof deck in Seattle instead. And speaking of needs, it's 3:30 pm here, a.k.a wine o'clock. So, apologies in advance for sporadic posting over the next week...I will however, post these awesome photos because I'm guessing some of you have forgotten Kirstie Alley's humble beginnings:

She looks kind of good as a Vulcan, no?