Friday, September 30, 2011


When I get out of the train in NYC, on those occasions when some university business demands it, I feel very much like Bisou when she first goes outside on each of her dozen-odd trips to the magical land of "outside," especially now that the leaves have started to fall, which makes the ground that much more interesting. It's sensory overload, but in a good way. Mostly. It's amazing how quickly even someone who probably still seems so very New York, who at any rate still looks Ashkenazi and hasn't yet started buying clothes at Talbots, can find the city huge and dense and odd. I totally had the suburbanite's reaction to the break-dancers on the R, a mix of surprised and entertained, neither of which I would have been a month ago. And the crowds - how does one navigate crowds? Unfortunately a friend of mine visiting NY now from Paris caught me in this state, and I was too overwhelmed by the mix of errands and OMG-NY to be such great company. Alas. I may just have to go back to Paris at some point. How horrible.

I at any rate now have two pounds of ground coffee from Oren's; some Essie from Ricky's; some cash from the bank I use that does not have a branch here, a symbolic gesture because it's not as if I ever shop anywhere here; a bottle of non-Princeton-priced wine that will partly make its way into French onion soup; and a couple cheap but pointless items (Barilla bucatini, disappointing olives) from Eataly, which is both worse and more expensive than I'd remembered. I mean, what kind of Italian gourmet megastore only has pre-bottled (as vs. fresh-ish) pesto? This is something the Italian grocery I can bike to can manage. And all these tiny pieces of cheese for upwards of $10. And all these fancy city-folk eating meals at some restaurant where you have to stand. Pfft.

The problem with treating NY like one giant megastore (not redundant when one considers the amount of practical items and condiments I'd like to be purchasing) is that on these trips, I need to get whatever I've bought back by bike. In the dark. I had visions of tacos, of Thai food, of six or seven mid-sized bags from the Fairway. What's tinted moisturizer like? Should I get a second pair of the "skinny" cargoes from Uniqlo that I wear every day consecutively until they become too, uh, Bisou'd? When what I did buy was, it turns out, pushing the limit of what I can get back comfortably. There will be no stocking-up. I will learn to live with weekly shuttle trips to the supermarket and the knowledge that if I really wanted to, I could bike to a store that makes its own mozzarella. It could happen.

Other than those of us who live in Euphemistic NJ but go to grad school in the city, my sense from the train is that the only people who make the ENJ-NYC trip are, not shockingly, gay men. College students, grad students, professors, no doubt all of these, but all of a sudden the preppy subsides, the women disappear, and - if the clothing that alerts even my own notoriously weak gaydar is to be trusted - one is in a kind of mini-Chelsea, which is, after all, next to or near Penn Station, depending which real estate broker one asks. I think the Dinky can fit the exact number of gay men likely, statistically, to live in this town, and that these are the only people with any pressing need to get out of ENJ come the weekend. On the one hand, proximity to NY has to be a plus, but on the other, one gets the sense that this place is so small that even single straight people run out of options two weeks in. But make a note of this, NY-based gay male readers: for a mere $33 (or half that, if you decide to stay), you can meet a nice-looking Ivy dude who's been facing limited options for at the very least the past seven days.


I wanted to like this doggy essay, by Robert Lipsyte, I really did. I mean, I remember liking the novel the author's son wrote that's referenced in the piece, the one whose protagonist inspired the name of the dog-protagonist of this article. And the comments tell me other dog owners, including poodle owners appreciated it. And this Milo is super adorable!

But something about it seemed like the canine equivalent of food-movement or anti-fast-fashion piety, with a NIMBY twist. We have: a couple who split their time between their garden-having "duplex near Union Square" and nearby country house.

There is a part of me, however, that wants so desperately to hurl a YPIS. Must stifle YPIS! But it's so, so warranted! Although there's a more precise critique to be made. Here goes:

The author, who with his wife splits his time between a garden-having "duplex near Union Square" in Manhattan and a nearby country house - is incredibly proud of himself for having purchased - with a loan! no privilege here! we're just regular 'mericans! - the land adjacent to the house on Shelter Island, saving it, rescuing it, from becoming a "McMansion" god forbid, because his dog needs to roam (the duplex's garden is only a lil' city thing) much more urgently than tacky nouveau riche sorts need to house themselves. But the author likes his houses -houses - old and rustic, and is just doing his part. He knows the names of the trees, and will write while looking out the window at the woods. His potential neighbors are probably neck-deep in Pinot Grigio and a RHONY marathon.

And the dog for whom he's saved that land from theoretical neoclassical ick isn't just any dog, but a rescue. And not just any rescue, but one that had been rescued from Real America:

[A] cocker spaniel with soul, humor, deep tolerance and possibly an appreciation for both opera and Nascar. It had recently been saved from a South Carolina kill shelter. It was beseeching us to claim it. Its name was Snoopy. When I told Lois I could never live with a dog named Snoopy, she sensed I was caving. [....] [The newly-renamed] Milo was about 6 years old, the veterinarian told us. He had had heartworm and a skin disorder. He was overweight from what had probably been a diet of junk food.
Canine kale emergency here! Unclear if what's meant is, the dog had been eating Wendy's or Zabars, or that the pet food it had been fed by its evil previous owner(s) (who could well have been, I don't know, someone isolated who died or became to ill to care for the pet, and not an animal abuser?) failed to provide sufficiently high-end dog food.

I suppose what's off-putting here is the sense that the author can't just enjoy his two houses, his charmingly no-nonsense-sounding wife, his successful-in-same-field son, his cute dog. It all has to be somehow about how he is making the world a better place, saving not just this dog, but precious land in a NY-area vacation spot. It is all part of a broader mission to save the entire planet. With the exception of deer: "[...] I often fantasize about us hunting. We’d share the venison with shelter dogs and shelter people."

How to mesh this with the fact that this is a story about a couple with one already-basically-two-houses home in Manhattan, who are so protective of their second home that they've taken out a loan to make sure no one else builds what could well be a first-and-only home on that land. The author cares about "shelter people," but not the people who might have wanted to build a place next to theirs, because what if the house was not to their aesthetic tastes? And do homeless people really want to eat from the deer some guy from the city scrounged for with his dog? Do they like being called "shelter people" and lumped in with dogs?

So yes, it's kind of like when food-movement-aficionados can't just prepare and savor local-seasonal food, but have to insist that by going to the farmers' market, they're voting with their dollars, and of course throw in a few jabs about the horrible people who get fast food or order in. Who conflate doing what makes them happy - what makes them happy largely because it allows them to identify as UMC-or-higher, sophisticated, educated, etc. - with advocacy.

But maybe why the article so rubbed me the wrong way had more to do with its oddly aristocratic bent than the air of yuppie smug. (Never heard of this concept, "aristocratic"? See the second letter, re: Barbours, here.) A stretch of land is put to better use when employed for hunting with a spaniel than when housing insufficiently tasteful humans. This notion of terroir-but-not-in-the-wine-specific-sense, that someone who appreciates dirt and animals in a kind of stately way has more right to ownership than someone who, horrors, could just write a check.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

In vain

-Life imitated art. Thick, lustrous hair is just very important to some people.

-Rachel Hills has a cool series about how to be a feminist, get married, do things you are in fact comfortable with as a feminist, but not get too bogged down by what it all means. Seems she and I agree re: fauxbivalence. The way to approach the issue, the more I think about it, is not to care what others think, in life, perhaps, but in this arena especially. Wedding-itself-wise, you will be judged for the things you do that are "traditional," as well as those that are not. You will also be judged for marrying at all, but you'd also have been judged for not making a relationship official, or for not being in a relationship at all. The real issue, as it looks like Rachel's about to get to in another post, is that women are always the ones being judged here. Kind of like that whole thing about employers frowning on massive diamond engagement rings, when of course the men who purchased said rings are in no way penalized professionally, because who would know?

-It still fails to make sense to me how unpaid internships ever make sense. Jobs, like the kind where you get paid, are educational. You always learn a mix of stuff specific to the line of work, Life Lessons about how to deal with people whose role in life is not to help you make it or enjoy yourself or whatever, and - and this is so key - about the importance of putting up with X in exchange for having the financial freedom/responsibility that comes with a paycheck. If you take away that last bit, the whole set-up doesn't add up. I mean, if you're fed, clothed, and housed, presumably money is coming from somewhere. It's not some oh-so-special reward you get at 45 and no younger to get compensated for your work.

-Isn't "'I’m twenty-five almost, but people think I’m eighteen'" the kind of thing one can't say about one's self? I mean, maybe she does look 18, it's unclear from the photo, but I'm not sure what the tragedy is of admitting that one both is and appears 25. I look and am 28, and I can buy wine (if I can make it into town, so this is largely theoretical) without ID. It's not so terrible. But yay putting expensive French chemical-water on your face?

-My favorite thing about my new life in Euphemistic New Jersey, other than the library access, oh and the free tennis lessons, is the dining hall, which is hauter than I'd even expected. Oh, and the coffee-cookie hour. My least favorite, other than the inaccessibility of grocery-shopping, of things beyond where I can walk-or-bike, or if I want to go somewhere with Jo, things beyond where we can walk, since he's still looking for a bike, and a car will eventually solve this, is the ubiquity (not in the dining hall! just outside, on the campus!) of dead frogs. They bring back bad memories of the year I both looked and was 14, when I "dissected" one, which is to say my (female - this was not a gender thing) lab partner did.

"Incredibly unattractive men"

In a comment below, Britta raises two important questions, important, that is, to anyone concerned with the pressing issue of male beauty.*

1) When I say that looks matter in partner-selection, and that women should not be afraid to admit this when selecting, pursuing, and rejecting potential dates, what I mean is that it's important to be with someone who's appealing to you. Not that a "7" must be with a "7," a "3" with a "3," or some such nonsense - again, these things are subjective. But if we're speaking of beauty as subjective, do we have any leeway in terms of observing that, in whichever setting (or in society at large), there are many couples in which the woman is far better-looking than the man? Are we able to comment on this at all, or must we assume that because looks are subjective, the Gisele clone dating a not-cleaned-up-for-TV version of Newman on "Seinfeld" could well be evenly matched in this regard? This is a tough one that I'll throw out to my readers, of whom 90% at this point appear to be a spambot trying to sell pharmaceuticals via my archives.

2) Is it insulting, as a woman, to be hit on by "incredibly unattractive men"? Without re-asking the subjectivity question above (maybe some women would find Mr. Ogre hot), the question then becomes, insulting how? Is it an insult to one's vanity - does this "2" think I'm a "2"? Or - and this is where I'm leaning - is it insulting insofar as it's sexist, insofar as it's about male entitlement? Dude can't be bothered to sort out his facial hair, to put on clothes his mother didn't buy him when he was in 10th grade (and he's now 38 and no longer 120 lbs), yet he expects the woman he's with to have whichever mix of natural beauty and put-together-ness? Or, to take this further, the woman's thought process here will be, "What does dude think is so great about him - and thus so unimpressive about me - that makes up for the obvious asymmetry in our appearances?" Assuming the answer is not something obvious - aka he has yacht-loads of money - it's always going to be an "ahem" moment. Does he think he's smarter/funnier? Does he think it's really that much more impressive to have gone to Swarthmore than Skidmore? Does he think that the fact that he's 15 years older makes him superior, and will this translate into some kind of super-obnoxious relationship based on condescension, in which the female role is conflated with a child-role, and all kinds of blah ensues?

Maybe a common thread to both of these is that while attraction is subjective, it tends to be so within far broader and not fixed levels, dare I say, of appearance. So not the dreaded 1-10 scale, but maybe three categories: within-normal-limits, which would include the vast majority of us; near-universally-thought-unfortunate-looking, which would include very few; and again very few at the Jon Hamm, no-dissenters level. Or maybe the answer is that there's on the one hand looks-as-subjective, on the other an awareness of a parallel "objective" scale, a scale women are aware men care about not because Bar Refaeli is everyone's ideal, but because a woman who looks like that confers status onto the man. Something I attempted to figure out before, here. The existence of Bar Refaeli-Newman-type couples, the way a Bar Refaeli feels if a Newman asks her out... these are, I assure you, major questions of our age.

*Britta also asks about UChicago specifically: "While there are definitely some unattractive women, I'd say on the whole women are better looking than the men here, and I see plenty of relationships where the woman is (IMO) 'settling' in the looks dept. Of course, she might have different ideas of beauty than I do, but it gets really demoralizing after awhile." I don't remember anything like that at Chicago - if anything, it was so socially unacceptable (for those not in sororities, of which there were few) to primp and shop that the undergrad norm elsewhere of guys looking like slobs, women looking super-put-together, didn't hold. There was this one subset of undergrads who'd come from NYC private schools and attempted to out-cool everyone else in front of Cobb, but even though they were wealthy, the women dressed very Olsen-twin-in-rag-phase. Everyone looked scruffy, because if you didn't, that was evidence you spent time not being an intellectual. But on the bright side, it was very socially acceptable to pick partners based on what you, subjectively, preferred, meaning that there was a lot of fun to be had even by men and women who would not have so enjoyed themselves at many other colleges. So - maybe the grad school experience is different?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


-Is a 23-year-old a child bride? That's kinda-sorta the premise of this Slate story. Katie Arnold-Ratliff tells a not-uncharming tale of her own youthful nuptials, but conflates two separate issues: the failure rate of really young (like, under-18) marriages, and the fact that among Our Kind of People (the writer wound up at graduate school in NY), yes, a 23-year-old is a baby. 23 is even considered young to start a relationship that may years down the line culminate in marriage. I've posted before (see the tag) on the "window of opportunity" - precise ages vary by region/subculture - during which women are presumed neither too young for a relationship nor too old to snag a man. This is still something we-as-a-society need to fix, but the article in Slate ended up... not really helping? Obviously it all worked out OK for the author in the end, if 29 is "the end," insofar as she's written a novel, got her musings about her relationship history published in "Slate," and is still married to dude. But the bit about how she opted to go to a mediocre college to be near her now-husband rang every "no, don't do it!" alarm I've got. Marriage, under the best of circumstances, even, involves putting another person first. And the brand of feminism that says no woman should ever put a man first, or maybe at 45, with a long-established career, and fertility what?, basically replaces problems with other problems. Putting another person first (whether you're a man or a woman yourself, and regardless of your partner's gender) is not so unreasonable at 23. At 17 or 18, however, it seems like asking for resenting your spouse later on, which... the author did, even though she and dude patched things up.

-Elizabeth Nolan Brown and I are kinda-sorta in agreement re: Mark Bittman's latest anti-fast-food op-ed (it seems rice and beans were cheaper in 2009 as well). Where she and I agree specifically is on the dangers of food-movement writers overshooting the mark when trying to prove their "I'm not an elitist, real food is not just for rich people" cred. Accustomed to counterarguments along the lines of, "But what of the single mom who works ten jobs and is also homeless and can't afford a saucepan and her only pleasure in life is McDonalds?," they go out of their way to make it clear that even such an individual can eat a wholesome diet... and we're in that well-trodden lentil territory. When in reality, many people who absolutely could afford - in time, money, and cultural capital - to buy some pasta, arugula, tomatoes, and cheese, and throw that together, opt to eat massive portions and/or junk. Even in places like Park Slope.

-I somehow found this Dear Prudence again, and was reminded of why I'd come to think that however you raise a dog, you will be told by self-righteous strangers that what you're doing is basically dog abuse. A woman who walks her dog before and after work, has a dog walker take her dog out in the afternoons, who takes said dog out, including to a dog run, more on weekends, is clearly an unfit owner who, if she cares at all for the dog, will give it up, because of course shelters are known for finding better homes than disasters like that. One commenter spells out that a dog should never be left alone at all, and that you need a sitter if you go out, ever. But many more suggest the same. One has the good sense to ask how you're supposed to be able to earn money to afford said 24/7 professional dog-sitting if you're also not allowed to leave your home, ever.

The shreds of non-ridiculous are that a) it's clear only from the comments by the letter-writer, and not the letter itself, that the dog is not, in fact, crated for 12 consecutive hours, although some commenters respond to the full explanation as if it had never been provided, and b) it's not necessarily normal for an adult dog to be confined so much to a crate, although it seems, from what I understand/would imagine, that sometimes it is, that some dogs require this, even after training. With our definitely-still-a-puppy Bisou, leaving her alone in the gated kitchen (where she mostly hangs out) rather than the crate if I go away even just, say, to shower, is a dangerous proposition, for her more than for our stuff, which is, needless to say, not lying on the floor of the kitchen. We take her out before and after each of her three daily meals, and a few times beyond that, but sometimes, when I really need to get work done, or to (horrors!) leave the apartment, into the crate she goes. She's not averse to cuddling on the couch, sometimes averse to being brushed. We've opted to wait (because it's a matter of days) till she gets the rest of her shots before taking her to obedience classes, etc., but she seems to be adjusting well, after all. A full accident-free day, finally, and she now sits on command most of the time, has learned "down," and responds to "paw" if she thinks there's cheese in it for her. But obviously she'd be so much happier with a nice family that could actually care for her properly. (Yes, sarcasm.)

Oh, and it's also apparently dog abuse, if your dog is small, not to have it sleep in your bed. Meanwhile, isn't a small dog precisely the sort you might accidentally roll over onto in the night? Never mind that - one must remember that dogs are pack animals, and if you can't afford to own an entire pack of them, and spend your days "working from home" yet somehow magically managing to supervise said pack, you'd be better-suited to owning a goldfish. But you'd probably neglect the poor goldfish, too.

Monday, September 26, 2011

WWPD goes country

Had to bike to the vet in the next town over. No, not with Bisou. I did see a Golden Retriever run into the road, shortly after passing a sign about how there might be deer in the road. So I was prepared for the possibility of a large mammal charging towards me. The owner did not seem pleased, but might have considered a leash? Is my thinking on this matter too "city"? Shortly after, I did see a deer, but a dead one. Yes, I'm concerned about that Golden Retriever, but I'm thinking (hoping?) that because I saw no sign of anything on the way back, the dog is home safe.

There is a bike path on part of this route, but it's very much not a route designed for biking. That seems about the norm here - roads you can bike on if you get past the fear of getting run over by the truck on your left. Not massive highways, but, well, roads. After this rather exhausting trip, I can kind of see biking to the strip-o'-strip-malls across the river. I seem to have readily given up cityfolk behaviors like caring even a little bit how my hair looks, or wearing things not picked according to how comfortable I'd be on the bike. I have not, however, lost interest in acquiring groceries. I mean, I'm fairly confident I'd make it there, but not entirely sure it would be worth it in terms of how much I'd be able to carry back. Adventures await.

Ted Danson-envy

Is it anti-feminist to care about male appearance? Remove the "anti-" and I'm convinced, but as is?

Rachel Hills linked to a story by Cristen Conger in Bitch Magazine, introducing a series they're doing about the nefarious influence of beauty standards on men. Not as in, those poor men, who look at that billboard with Lara Stone in Calvin Klein underwear, and then have to go home to women of less Barbie-esque proportions, but as in, Ryan Reynolds exists, which is totally unfair to men who don't look like Ryan Reynolds, even though of course plenty of men who don't look anything like Ryan Reynolds get to be successful actors, but still, major unfairness here!

This strikes me as wrong in so many ways. But first, the hint of not-wrong. Undoubtedly men who are George Constanza-esque often feel self-conscious about their looks, and envious of the Ted Dansons of the world. And there is some similarity - some! - between height for men and weight for women.

But now, the very-wrong: women unquestionably have it worse than men when it comes to being judged on the basis of physical appearance. So this bit - "Just as Western female beauty ideals are modeled around straight, white women, Western male beauty standards worship at the altar of the straight, white, six-pack ab-toting man. And both are equally problematic." - makes no sense. Nothing to do with male looks in our society is "equally problematic" to the equivalent thing having to do with female looks. If this is the premise, then... not convinced.

There's a great deal of confusion in the piece between masculinity standards, which are real, and a real issue for men who are "queer, trans, non-white, short, sensitive, curious," and beauty standards. (Of that list, only "short" is a "beauty" factor more than any other kind.) If anything, a man who is too handsome (unless in a Jon Hamm sense) is looked at as being not quite masculine enough. Men who fail to be "beautiful" are not penalized for that in our society, while men who meet that standard are often assumed to be somewhat ridiculous, obviously not serious grown men who get that beauty is what they should seek in a partner, not cultivate in themselves. A pretty man is - leaving aside homophobic clichés - a gigolo, a toy-boy. The best way for a man to look, in our society, is nondescript. And most men - like most women - do.

Oh, and this is the clincher: age. Do we really think the cult of beauty-as-youth is equally harsh on men and women? Shouldn't this alone remind us that we do not need an equal tiny-violin concerto for male beauty standards as for female?

But then - and WWPD readers knew this was coming - there's the fact that it's actually feminist for (straight and bi) women to care more about men's looks, or, more accurately, to be less evasive and shy about the fact that we care. Not to the exclusion of other factors, and not in such a way that Ryan Reynolds is every woman's ideal (and he's not), but in that way that all of us with the capacity for vision use that sense in determining who might and who might not be a possible more-than-friend. This isn't about bringing men down to women's level, making them suffer for beauty, stuffing them into Spanx and Louboutins. It's about the fact that one of life's great joys is romantic involvement (and that includes just sitting across from someone at the dinner table) with someone one finds physically attractive. Men in our society consider themselves entitled to this, perhaps more than they ought to. Women, not enough.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The true cost of canned tomatoes

You know what's a bad idea? Getting a ton of heavy groceries (think canned tomatoes, because the Italian grocery just off Nassau has the best and cheapest selection...) in anticipation of a shuttle-ride back from town, a safe assumption if you arrived by shuttle, except when it's not. With something like, say, a bus, you miss it and then lo and behold you must get the next one. Not so with a once-daily shuttle. But we didn't even miss it! We were early! Because with that sort of thing you have to be. We eventually saw it from a distance. Who knows what that was about, but it made the whole must-get-car, must-get-license issue all that much more salient.

Nevertheless, the overall perks of this experience no doubt outweigh the near-impossibility of grocery shopping. Library access! Tennis! Unlike in NY, where reserving courts is some kind of complicated and expensive bureaucratic endeavor! And, at least until the car thing gets sorted out, I will need to train myself to eat my biggest meal of the day in the dining hall. If I can just make that switch, if I can get myself to do precisely the opposite of what Mark Bittman recommends (and I do enjoy cooking!) and get past this odd desire I have to prepare my own meals.

Speaking of the Bittman article, yes, yes, socioeconomic factors, YPIS, another article telling the poor that they can totally live off lentils, etc. The class-warfare counterarguments write themselves, and are only partly fair. Fair, insofar as lentils get old quick, but plenty of people could cook but don't. I mean, all of this Think of the People Who Can't Afford a Saucepan is a bit much, because obviously people who can afford a saucepan and then some are also not cooking. (But to the commenter who points out that gender enters into this, why yes it does.)

But even if you're not especially lacking in time, money, and (ahem!) grocery access, even if you like to cook, cooking remains a chore. Until food writers wrap their heads around the idea that cooking also means grocery shopping, that grocery shopping takes time, that even ostensibly cheap-to-prepare meals often meaning you buy $8 worth of some massive amount of an ingredient you only end up using twice, that planning meals for the week is either a major task of its own or you end up wasting a great deal of food (leftovers being tough if what's left are perishable ingredients and not a prepared meal), that all of this food needs to be not only prepared but cleaned up from, that hands and surfaces need raw eggs and meat washed off them, in short, until they realized that no meal takes 'only 30 minutes' except possibly the meals they think take only 5, how is anyone ever going to be convinced?

What does work, meanwhile, is to find the food you make yourself a whole lot more appealing than the food you could reasonably get outside. While I'm sure that (some) fine restaurants come up with better than I can, I know well enough that places I can afford to go regularly, including but not limited to fast food, can't. You can get yourself to that place - and I seemed to arrive at it naturally, having cooked for myself since high school, and having always been a somewhat picky eater, if less so Now than Then - by playing Alice Waters's voice in your head, and thinking of Frahnce and quahlity ingredients. Of course, I'm now trying to convince myself of the opposite, that it's better to eat at the dining hall (which is, to be fair, the Chez Panisse of dining halls) than to descend further and further into from-scratch-land.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Republican party's anal stage

On "The Millionaire Matchmaker," participants - one millionaire (or "millionairess" - one of the show's many nods to misogyny) and one gold-digger - go on a "masterdate," a term Patti repeats as much as possible, no doubt knowing full well what the viewer mishears. Last night, my husband, our poodle, and I watched the Republican masterdebate. Dan Savage, you are the prophet of our age, or something, because it's not just that the Republicans' stance on gay issues is, well, weak. It's that they are obsessed - obsessed! - with gay sex. You'd think that images of Keanu Reeves and James Franco making out were hovering on cue cards in front of them the entire time, because without an explanation along those lines, it's hard to imagine even many gay men being that focused on gay sex during a live-broadcast political debate.

Not only was there the now-infamous WTF-moment booing of a gay active-duty soldier. (I explained to Bisou about Santorum and "Santorum" - unfortunately the only radio station that works on the radio near her crate is something far-right and super-xenophobic, and when she was a younger pup this was all she listened to, so her political views may be fixed. Fellow dog owners, what is the crucial puppy period for formation of political ideology?) There was more.

During the part at the end when the hopefuls discussed their dream picks for VP, Republican caricature Perry said something about wanting to "mate" two of the others, and neither of the two he mentioned was sole female contender Michelle Bachmann! OMG! The gay funny! Romney had a gay funny about this! The image is with him forever. And sometime about dog turds.

Meanwhile, Bisou, in schrecklichen protest of the fact that I made muffins (using our new hand mixer - life-changing, effortless baking!) and thus did something food-related but not for her, produced one right smack dab in front of the oven, whose light was on revealing the muffins within, to make a point. Point taken.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fake America vs. Slightly More Authentic America UPDATED, TWICE!

Are you sitting down? Because you're about to have your mind blown: it seems that Slate writer Jessica Grose... recently got married. And she has thoughts on What it All Means that she has generously offered to share with us, we the people who don't know her personally.*

If the NYT is less than sensitive to small "flyover" towns, Grose's op-ed today in the paper offers up a crude and clichéd portrait of New York as well as its suburbs. The suburbs are kinda-sorta nature-y! The city is filled with spoiled rich kids! (For the record, I was tormented one summer at camp by spoiled suburban kids, who fixated on the fact that my clothing didn't match, and that I had not brought along a hairdryer - we were eight! The takeaway here is that there will always be richer and brattier kids then yourself at summer camp, and they will find a way to make what is no doubt a well-earned break for your parents a miserable month for you.)

Her main objection to raising kids in the city, let it be known, is that it might mean having to take a stroller on the subway. Given that she had not long ago written about her intense pre-wedding arm workout, it might strike us as odd that she would not be able to take triplets on the JMZ, tossing the stroller down the stairs with her pinky finger.

We're to believe that her parents raised her in the suburbs for the following reason: "They had spent three years as interns and residents in hospitals in the South Bronx, taking care of patients with gunshot wounds and reviving heroin addicts." Hmm. Presumably two doctors might be able to raise a kid in a kind of urban environment at a great remove from the South Bronx? I'm afraid I don't really understand having this conversation without bringing class into it - if you're at a certain threshold where you'd genuinely be safer/more upwardly mobile with what your income could get you school- and real-estate-wise in a suburb, that's a valid concern, but otherwise? How could someone be simultaneously concerned about raising "brats" and schlepping a stroller on the subway? Aren't these the concerns of two different people, leading two utterly different lives?

The piece continues:

"In the suburbs of my childhood, packs of fourth graders walked home from elementary school without adult supervision, playing tag in the park along the way."

I suppose I only started going to and from school unsupervised in fifth grade - city kids have it tough. I guess we didn't play tag on the (MTA) bus, though. I feel like I never had a childhood!

"Adolescence involved training runs with my field hockey team down Main Street, where I often saw someone I knew; largely innocent keg parties in the woods; and, above all, the joy of driving a car down an empty, half-paved road with the windows open on a late June day. You can’t do any of these things in New York City."

The driving, point taken, but my high school track team ran up and down the Hudson River path, and I'm not sure what's so radically different when it comes to high school parties if the beer consumption occurs in apartments when parents are away, and is served in individual bottles rather than kegs. If anything, the whole we-didn't-drive-around bit makes it not only "largely innocent" when city kids get together, but almost entirely non-fatal. And! And! As free and wonderful as it must be to be 16 and driving around on your own, from what I hear it's kind of miserable to live in a must-drive place when you're still too young to do so and thus must get driven, or if your parents won't get/lend you a car. From 14 on, I could pretty much go wherever the MTA would take me, as long as I called home and didn't stay out too late.

Anyway, as someone who grew up right smack dab in the middle of Manhattan, I have had to contend my entire life with people explaining that the city's no place to raise a child, that it's basically child abuse to procreate in an urban environment. When it's like, aside from the rather crucial detail that I never learned how to drive (which, FWIW, many - most? - of my high school classmates did, even if virtually none had cars of their own), I think I turned out OK. And, because I grew up with no particular experience of them, I'm more likely to get excited (field trip!) than to roll my eyes when I get to go to a strip mall or a big-box store.

*I probably write about this writer's writing too much. I should note that I have nothing against the writer herself personally, don't know her personally, and must on some level appreciate/identify with what she writes, or I wouldn't come back to it. As a rule I try to reserve my snark for those who are a) super-established public-figure-type writers, with platforms far greater than my own, as opposed to random bloggers, and b) if possible, although I guess this unlike the former might be unintentional, people of roughly my own demographics, as opposed to people who, if I were to single them out, it might risk offending some greater constituency. See also: my responses over the years Jane Brody's "Personal Health" column.


Holy moly, someone actually makes the "almost borders on child abuse" claim, like for real. It's really not anything like child abuse to grow up without ever coming in contact with a tadpole. (Although we did dissect frogs at my high school.) And, dude (or dudette), if you're creeped out by "10-year-olds who eat sushi," you're not good country folk but a xenophobe.


This I'd just meant to add to the post earlier: If Grose conflates different and seemingly mutually exclusive objections to city-kids - the fact that it's expensive to be comfortable in a city, and the chance that one's kids will be rich and snooty - so too do some city kids themselves, as kids or looking back fondly on their urban upbringings. You did not grow up amidst "diversity" if your only glimpses of the area beyond 57th-to-96th 5th-to-Lexington were on drives to your country house. If you're rich enough, you can raise city kids who basically never see the city.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ombré envy

After DIY ombré involving three bleachings of the tips of my hair required a de-ombré-ing haircut, I thought that urge was out of my system. But this is possibly the best version I've seen, albeit on a hair type utterly different from my own. I agree with the commenter who's suspicious that the look just happened that way as hair-dye was growing out, as it looks a bit too perfect for that. But in an alternate universe in which I'd live in a city, get my hair dyed professionally, and have free time for non-poodle-related activities, this is the photo I'd take to the salon.

NYT goes country

The whole Facebook-means-now-we-all-live-in-a-small-town thing, that I totally buy. Those notions - American classics in their own right - that you can go away even a short ways to a new high school or to college and reinvent yourself, that a big city means anonymity and the freedom that comes with, they're kind of done. This is true (it sure is!) if you're from a big city initially, if you go to a big high school that's a feeder school to a big college - soon enough, people you've just met will be reminding you about the time you (insert embarrassing incident here.) But it's also true if you come from a small town - a friend of mine from (insert big land-wise but not population-wise Midwestern state here) is, thanks to Facebook, back in touch with a high school classmate also living in NY. It's possible, as it's always been, to be the kind of person who doesn't much care what others think; also, as has no doubt always been the case, many of us who cared at 15 care less at 20, less still at 25, etc. But it's not possible to lead several lives in one lifetime without moving far, another planet perhaps.

Which is why I was kind of baffled by this NYT story about nastiness in small town gossip forums online. (PG, is this what you were referring to a while back re: the paper not properly covering non-NY news?) Other than the fact that the insults manifest themselves as... something less sophisticated-sounding than "banter" or "snark," what's the takeaway? That small towns can be crappy places to live if everyone in town is against you? That the Internet both increased and decreased anonymity, which it did everywhere and not just the Ozarks? (Who's not picturing Jean Smart's character on "Designing Women" right about now?)

Of course, if the point was merely that life in a small town is also something other than homogeneity and bliss, good values and mutual respect, that may have been reason enough to run it. We are, as Frank Bruni points out, channelling Christopher Hitchens, neck-deep in stories of political candidates' main credential as rustic-ness. It's a bunch of -ing becoming -in', and it ranges from annoying to offensive. This is not new territory (or terroir, if you will) at WWPD.

Bruni asks, "Will American politics ever get away from this crazy contest in which the players strive to out-ordinary one another, distancing themselves from any whiff of privilege and trying to project a woodsy, folksy, flannel essence?" And it's an interesting question. In what sense, in America these days, is flannel - worn unironically, and not as part of Nirvana-nostalgia - "ordinary"? And is "privilege" the same thing as "urban"? Aren't there wealthy people on (apologies to Monty Python) "huge... tracts of land," and poor ones in projects and run-down apartment buildings? Not to mention the fact - that I've mentioned here before - that within a city like New York, the only people who grow up with "country" experience - cars, Walmart, horses, Golden Retrievers - are the richest of the rich, who have summer/weekend houses where while relaxing they may also acquire Real American cred.

I wish that Bruni had looked a bit deeper and seen how key this is to the Republican message, this conflation of good-scrappy with rural. It's about how the scrappy and urban are dangerous and undeserving, the privileged and small-town our American heroes, the privileged and urban... just ask Sarah P. It all has about zilch to do with how candidates themselves were raised, let alone with whether if they had the choice they wouldn't all live in penthouse apartments on Central Park West and order in massive quantities of caviar from Zabars. Nor is it about small-town upbringings leading to honorable behavior. It's about poor blacks, rich Jews, and of course flamboyant (yet strangely marriage-and-family-oriented!) gays as proxies for Big Bad Modernity, not about YPIS or the marginalized or any of that liberal nonsense.

Anyway, speaking of country, something about my new habitat made me incredibly interested in L.L. Bean's offerings. If I'm going to be out every morning at 7:45 with a poodle who strikes me as kind of farm-animal-like (but in a cute way!), I want to dress the part.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dog ownership 101

-Be sure to spend your entire day with your dog. Leaving for work and only coming back at lunch is basically animal abuse. Even working from home next to the dog with breaks to play, etc., risks ignoring teachable moments and otherwise screwing your dog up for life. Don't have 24/7 to devote to this? Get a stuffed animal.

-Don't spoil your dog. Keep your dog in a crate for hours at a time, to prevent accidents, excessive barking, and more. This shows you're "pack leader." Feed your dog in the crate to make it a no-poop zone. Leave your dog alone frequently, so your dog can handle it when eventually something will come up that requires you to leave its side. You don't want your dog traumatized by separation anxiety every time you're gone for 30 seconds.

-Socialize your dog as much as you possibly can. Other dogs, cats, babies, the works.

-Keep your dog, whose series of vaccines will seemingly never be finished, and who apparently has a parasite (but has finished her meds for it!), from interacting with anyone. And be sure that each time you pet her, you follow that up by washing your hands with warm soapy water. Don't pet her too often, or you'll never eat/work yourself.

-Give your dog lots of toys to play with, to help keep her occupied during the occasional moments you must, for example, eat something yourself, or take a shower (see above).

-Toys, even ones designed explicitly for dogs, are too dangerous to be used unsupervised, like even if you're just in the shower, and thus are of no use in the owner's absence, and are at any rate a poor substitute for your attention. Even the most highly regarded toys are basically death traps for dogs. Beware!


In other words, I'm probably doing it all wrong. But Bisou is slowly wrapping her tiny, fluffy head around the notion of "outside potty," and that she's only allowed to bark to announce she sees our neighbor, not for the next half hour. And once we have the all-clear from the vet re: vaccines, etc., we will take her... somewhere. Here? She'd no doubt make friends. We'll see.

I experienced something of a post-puppy depression after picking up Bisou, which I was reassured at the time to see that some on the Internet have also experienced (including people who've had other dogs, which strikes me as bizarre, yet extra-reassuring), commentators likening it to postpartum depression, only to get shot down, not entirely unfairly, for YPIS:* there's on the one hand a real medical condition, on the other spoiled sorts - women goes the cliché - who purchased dogs as accessories and are stunned to learn that they have digestive tracts and personalities of their own. Don't get a dog if you don't want to put in the work and all that.

When in my case, no. I'd dog-sat before, and have always loved dogs, like, actual dogs, not just puppy photos online. My husband and I are both putting in the work and then some. We're reading. We're following that expert advice. And I have not even attempted to get Bisou - even though she is indeed a tiny and adorable dog - into a handbag.

The issue initially was that the first vet who checked her out post-breeder thought she might have a serious health problem that would necessitate worst-case-scenario bringing her back to the breeder before we'd bonded... but the specialist we had to take her to was a while after that, meaning limbo, meaning we'd already become attached even on the way to the first vet, meaning, ugh.

So there was that, which was 95% of it. But also, even though I wasn't surprised by any of it, the fact that I now must deal with gates and rambunctiousness (or, adorably but frustratingly, a pup curled up on my foot, although this she seems to be outgrowing already) every time I go into the kitchen has taken some getting used to. Things like opening a hot oven or putting a sharp knife into a dishwasher go from being mundane chores to potentially traumatic experiences. (As well as evidence in favor of a two-owner home, or at the very least a crate.)

Also frustrating: despite her overall good temper, lack of aggression, etc., the remaining issues we'd like to address with her - barking at distant strangers, and not quite understanding that when she's outside, that means it's go time - are improving, but to be totally fixed would require taking her out into the world, something that (see list above) we've told is imperative but also irresponsible until all vaccines are complete. How is she supposed to meet new people and dogs if we can't take her for a walk, let alone to obedience school? We carried her around and showed her children, pleased that she did not bark at them, but we can't yet full-on introduce her to anyone other than adults who've assured us they like and know dogs. And experts say, apparently, that if whatever imperfections are not addressed immediately, your dog will be screwed up for life. Hmm.

And I can't quite figure out which toys/practices are indeed necessary, and which are anthropomorphizing (washing and brushing are self-evidently important with a dog, especially a poodle, but opinions differ re: canine toothbrushing, the necessity of an infinite as opposed to varied but limited supply of toys). Obviously putting a bow on her is not necessary, while pee pads are key, but short of that...

Oh, and Bisou is almost completely uninterested in treats, but also kind of low on teeth at the moment, so maybe it's not the treats. Maybe these are the wrong treats? See! I'm doing it wrong!

I have dealt with objectively far more stressful and upsetting situations in my life, ones without a nice upside like, now here's a sweet little pet asleep by my side, but this has been quite the whirlwind. I have no interest in being a helicopter dog-owner, the Tiger Mom of miniature poodles. But with every book, article, and (gulp) podcast explaining in no uncertain terms that if you do err however slightly, your dog will become neurotic, impossible, and possibly vicious, no doubt violently ill or worse, I'm not making any promises on that front.

 *"Your privilege is showing," in WWPD-speak.

My privileges are showing

Odd I know, but because my husband does good astrophysics, I now have the most amazing library privileges of any grad student, ever. Unearned privilege, I realize, but I plan on using it to its fullest all the same.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Meet Bisou

She can unlock her crate from the inside. She can pee on a pad. She can sit upon command maybe 60% of the time. She likes getting brushed and playing with her "Kosher" squeak-toy. She needs a bit of a haircut, but we're going to start with a bath. I vaguely recall luxuries like sleep, hair-drying, three meals a day, Internet procrastination not centered around increasing my knowledge of how to turn schrecklichen into (insert Cesar's voice here, as channeled by "South Park" in that episode where they train Cartman) submissive.


In Park Slope, there was a store we referred to as "The Man," one that unlike the nearby Co-op was extraordinarily hierarchical, the chief being one of the older men who worked there, "the man." The store was The Man, even if the man himself wasn't around, although he was almost always there. It sold tiny expensive morsels of gourmet-ness - as in pre-foodie, pre-food-movement imported delicacies - and was both pretentious and wonderful. Atmosphere-wise, I prefer a supermarket, but it's not right to complain about the proximity of good cheese, and unless you live next to a Fairway (or, uh, Monoprix), you're not getting the cheese without the 'tude.

In Princeton, store after store after store has a The Man-like quality times a thousand. Purveyors of all kinds of things I thought I'd need to order online (the pizza peel somehow lost in the move, for instance), which is great, but with this requisite faux-folksy chit-chat and a hefty mark-up. At one shop, an overenthusiastic/over-pedagogic 'monger asked a customer who'd just tasted a cheese, "Why do you like the Manchego?" It was at that moment that I turned around and left.

But today was an exciting (and traffic-wise, bad-exciting) bike adventure to the Princeton Shopping Center, which I'd passed by on shuttle but never actually entered. (Bike lanes are a great idea, but it helps if cars acknowledge them.) The main purpose of the trip was to return with non-spoiled milk and "accident" pads for Bisou - missions accomplished! - but this store called "Bon Appetit" caught my eye, probably not unrelated to the fact that after the ride there I was famished. At first glance it seemed like every other home-of-cutesy, but it was past my lunchtime and I was not going to leave it at one glance. Good thing too - it's chock full of all kinds of Dutch and Belgian (and French, gourmet, etc.) products, including the chocolate sprinkles Nederlandophone-types put on bread, speculaas, and... Passendale! The cheese that was so tough to find in Paris (only at Bon Marché's food hall), and that I didn't think could be found at all in the States. Just as at The Man, there were all these random not-so-chic German products interspersed with the Fancy, here there must be some Dutch connection or other, but this was truly fantastic, and not just because I'd spent the previous half-hour staring slack-jawed at seemingly indistinguishable chew toys and canine shampoos.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Today in anti-Semitism

This I read more as someone who's taught college students than as someone concerned with The Jews specifically. But even those who've never taught anyone - and for the record, I've never experienced anything like this - will be shaking their heads. Meanwhile, there's perfectly good anti-Semitism right there in the Gawker thread - would you believe that you can't blanket-statement insult The Jews these days without being called an anti-Semite? Unfair!

And... yikes. And the victim was an exchange student at that. Furthering cultural exchange, indeed. I wonder how many exchanges go this way, producing understandings less about which countries do and don't put ice in beverages, more about where your kind can and cannot go? My first in Paris did, if less dramatically. (It was one RER ride under a "Mort aux Juifs" graffiti, which was still above and beyond anything I'd experienced in the States.) But I decided to study France, including French anti-Semitism, and eat my croissants too.

And imagine how much more fun the exchange would have been if the two young men had been not just dorm-mates (I think?) but roommates! And of course the racist twerp looks like a cross between "South Park's" Cartman and his inspiration, Archie Bunker. Not that there aren't perfectly lovely people who also happen to resemble those two, but anyway.

On biking


-Quicker than walking.

-Trip back from "town" downhill, thus making major grocery purchases kind of doable.

-There are groceries downtown. Kind of.

-There's at any rate really good coffee, and a CVS.

-Physical activity means avoiding "summer of George"-style muscle weakness.


-Trip downhill back means trip uphill there. They say running is more rigorous exercise than biking, but whichever muscles are needed for uphill I barely have. It's not normal, I suspect, for one's leg to quiver after a short hill that's barely apparent when walking. It's entirely possible that I'm out of shape, because it's not as though I've done all that much running lately, either.

-Strenuous exercise must be rewarded with an iced mocha which, though delicious, is minute, yet $3.85, or $4 when you add on the guilt-tip tax (and if anything calls for that it's an iced mocha). This could get about as pricey as having a car.

-Downtown is now accessible, but what do I do with it? Kate Spade? Ralph Lauren? Talbots? Fine wine? Cutesy/precious boutiques selling hand-crafted one-of-a-kind knick-knacks? There are more than a few useful things in the town, as compared with in the woods, such as the aforementioned coffee, and an Italian grocery that I plan on commuting to my apartment from, and human beings doing things other than pondering on the same paths as Einstein pondered on back in the day (making me feel bad when I'm walking and pondering the cultural implications of "The Millionaire Matchmaker") but it's clearly designed for a certain kind of person, not necessarily a Princeton undergrad (maybe a stay-at-home mom from a nearby suburb? a parent visiting an undergrad?) whose interests differ a bit from my own.

Think of the models UPDATED

I read the profile of model-turned-professor-who-studies-modeling Ashley Mears in Slate, and now her own op-ed in the Times. From the Slate piece, I was left amused at the notion that academia might be chosen over something by a young person looking for stability and a long career. "Like actors and musicians, models work in a winner-take-all market, in which a few people reap rewards disproportionate to their talent, and everyone else scrapes by." Like actors and musicians and academic sociologists, no? "So many models operate against their short-term interests, hoping that by investing time now they will hit pay dirt later in the form of fame and a high-paying luxury ad campaign." Why does this sound familiar? Swap "tenure at Yale, or worst case scenario not Yale but some utterly charming liberal arts college in a town with a Whole Foods within walking distance and with an ultra-serious student body fascinated by my research" with "Louis Vuitton" and you have some idea.

I'm not sure how the odds really compare in academia and modeling (and would imagine they'd differ according to how you'd measure), but the idea of an academic who hit that jackpot condemning modeling for its... jackpottishness seemed kind of hilarious. Isn't the main criticism of grad school these days that you throw away your youth, acquiring not-so-marketable skills? So I was relieved when Mears herself, in the op-ed, made the connection between models and adjuncts/precarious employment in academia.

Relieved, but still not quite convinced that this should be a major concern. I mean, major enough to be the focus of academic study, which is always going to be narrow (ahem), but Think of the Models is an issue that gets the play it does because it's a photogenic problem. And we're not even honest with ourselves about why we're concerned. We claim to be worried about the poor girls themselves, so thin, so young, when we're actually miffed, as fully-grown-in-all-senses women, that that's the ideal.

But even if it's not the social-justice issue of the century, it's still an issue, right? If we're talking 14-year-olds trafficked, essentially, from the former USSR, or even 19-year-olds in such dire poverty that any job that promises to be in the West and not (necessarily) prostitution has a certain appeal, then sure, we should be concerned. Same, of course, goes for any "modeling" that turns out to be sexual exploitation. But if the issue is middle-class American 17-year-old girls, 19-year-old women, opting for a kind of work based on their looks, I'm not quite sure where outrage should enter into it. Over the years, a number of friends and classmates of mine have been scouted, and to my knowledge only one made a go of it, and this was in middle school. Plenty of women manage to be tall, thin, attractive, and living in a city where the fashion industry is based, and to do something else with their lives.*

What occurs to me about this issue is that we come at it with outrage based not on what models are paid or how they're treated, but rather with a sense that the very enterprise goes against everything we want in terms of how women and girls should be treated in the workplace. Most of the time, of course, any remarks about a woman's looks (or, ick, comments about the looks of a high school girl from the boss at her after-school job) are a problem. You can, like, sue. But even in fields where it's kind of acknowledged looks matter (acting, ballet) we kind of wish they did not, that talent could be everything, and would prefer it if there were at the very least parts for women of all appearances.

With modeling, even if the field were to open up in a meaningful sense to women of all shapes, colors, ages - a massive if, because it won't - the means of choosing one 300-pound, 40-something Puerto Rican model over another would still be that one of the two is better-looking (or has looks more in line with what's being looked for in some case), just as it goes these days when choosing among seemingly identical young-and-lithe Estonians. (Fine, or that one woman/girl will show up on time and follow instructions, while the other will not.) However much one were to reform the industry, the job will always be about looks. It's not sex work, of course, but much like sex work, it's labor, yes, but a kind of labor that involves assessment based on that which could not be judged in any other work setting without this being lawsuit material. It strikes me that however improved the working conditions for models, something about the profession itself will strike us as off.

*Privilege addressed: yes, I'm talking about girls/women with above-average educational opportunities, particularly a friend who got this attention while already well into grad school, not high school juniors in the South Bronx. But these are the thin (virtually always) white girls/women walking around SoHo or whatever who get model-scouted.


Yet another discussion of the age of fashion models - think junior high - that poses the question in terms of Think of the Models (will they ever learn long division? will they?), ignoring that other problem with models being twelve, namely that grown women (and, heck, high school sophomores) find it depressing. Also: why is Tavi hosting an event for the stylish elderly? Is this because part of her thing is being a wrinkle-free "granny"? Isn't the point of "Advanced Style" that even those without youth in their favor can dress quirky without looking insane?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"End of the road and back"

Ever since getting to NJ, I haven't had much interaction with... people. With my husband, yes, who's most definitely a member of our species, and our now-not-as-new, adorable but challenging miniature poodle (to be discussed more in some later post), but the outside world, not so much. The driving thing, yes, dealing with it, and happily I now know that my husband, at least, is a great driver, the first step towards our getting a car.

 Today, however, was a spouses-and-partners meet-and-greet, which I'd worried might be my first step into full descent into 1950s-dom, or some kind of intimidating association of the women behind the Great Men, but which was low-key and reassuring in many ways - some of the partners are men, and all that I met, at least, male and female alike, have impressive careers in their own right. Some even have spouses/friends who work on French Jewish this-or-that. One is a grad school classmate of one of my favorite commenters here, Britta - although as this came up, I had to explain that I don't know someone in this woman's department in real life but via first name and blog, which as I was saying it struck me as a good way to come across as odd, unless blogs are so assumed at this point in academia that it would not.

 Most everyone had precisely the same concerns as I did - where does one get groceries without a car, and how does one remain sane when writing a dissertation in the woods? (The answers are take a shuttle/get a car and by meeting others in the same situation, respectively.) A couple of them even like poodles! Key, because Bisou needs some socialization so she doesn't grow up into a yippy lap dog. A sweet lap dog getting adequate exercise is just fine. And now I know both how things work a bit better around here, and even found someone with a bike pump! I can go somewhere further away than the laundry room! Although that's actually kind of far, and a bike will come in handy.

 And, biking is a good baby-step towards driving. After navigating in traffic just now, for the first time since who even knows (thus the completely flat tires, thus my continuous sense of doom the entire way), I find the concept of being a non-pedestrian somewhat less daunting. My first attempt here was a quick loop on a near-carless street, reminding me very much of Edina Monsoon's one attempt at jogging in the episode "Fat" - I was plenty winded after that ride, even though it was, as Saffy would point out, to the "end of the road and back." This told me that "like riding a bike" is a cliché for a reason. I still had the mechanics of it down, but navigation? With cars? The very idea of a left turn in rush hour reminds me too much of those Chinatown driving lessons, so even though heavy traffic here is not much of anything, eep, eep, and eep some more. But I appear to have made it back intact, and now have new lights and a kickstand and everything.

The town of Princeton itself, Nassau Street at least, seems chock full of Life's Winners - at the post office, I overheard a conversation between two men - grad students? postdocs? - about only applying for academic jobs at (insert elite universities in pleasant locations here). And I was completely sure it would work out for them. All the undergrads and vaguely undergrad-aged sorts seem like they're both super-intelligent and on some kind of athletic scholarship. Everyone exudes confidence and looks like they wouldn't have such trouble lifting a bike, a miniature poodle.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Postdocs' Wives Who Can't Drive And Don't Have Air In Their Bike Tires Don't Get Fat

You know that advice about not going to the supermarket hungry? Oh well. I did what I could, getting some pizza and grapefruit juice (an odd combination based pretty much on what I saw first upon entering the Whole Foods), stuffed that down, but it didn't make up for the several meals it was supposed to replace. And good grief - my husband and I bought the most groceries we ever have at one time, ever. Ever! It was not quite as expensive as I'd imagined (although I think a trip to this allegedly-cheaper Wegman's is in order, and did I really need five different kinds of cheese, even if technically speaking one's for pizza and thus doesn't count?), but it was maybe four times the amount, in cost and volume, as such a trip would have been for us generally. We're still connected to the wider world only by shuttle, so this had to be it for a while. My main concern is that we'll be so excited to have food in the apartment, finally, that we'll somehow find a way to include all of it - pantry items and everything - in one meal that would cost as much as one of those restaurants the NYT might write about as recession-oblivious.

Tip me over and pour me out

First online groceries' arrival means the apartment now has some food, but stuff like flour and dry pasta. It felt both wonderful and shameful to all of a sudden have these groceries appear, while at home in slippers. While I eagerly await the opportunity to break free of its clutches, I will be heading to the allegedly-shuttle-accessible Whole Foods later simply because I know they sell prepared foods, and I have fond recollections of this thing called "eating," and will need to do some of that before attempting to fit enough semi-perishable food for a month into tote bags. (Bike needs air, rain needs to let up, P needs new passport to get new learner's permit to take driving lessons to get license.) I'm on that odd moving-time system where I occasionally sit down to enough food for a few, then an unpacking marathon ensues and that sense of being about to faint sets in.

And, who knows how to tip an online-grocery delivery person? Googling this question produced the usual spectrum of results, from 'Anything less than handing over your full paycheck is stingy' to 'Why on earth would you tip that guy?' We tried to tip in cash, but the delivery man ran off. There had been an option to tip with your credit card as you order, but that seemed a riskier option, given that we'd never used the service before - what if they never showed up? And aren't tips generally in cash?

Tipping, as I've mentioned on WWPD before, is endlessly confusing. There are a few hard-and-fast rules (15-20% in a restaurant/20% for a delivery or more if it started pouring since you ordered and the delivery is by bike, a dollar per drink at a bar, 20% or so for cabs/hairdressers), but even there, there's little agreement on whether 20% is generous or the bare minimum, on whether tipping low or not at all is an acceptable response to poor service, or akin to not paying.

And other than restaurant workers, whose pay virtually everyone (American) knows is below minimum wage because tips are assumed, the rationale/necessity of a tip is a bit of a mystery. I, for one, don't know why it is I tip in these other situations, other than that I know it's what's done. I've never looked into it, because I doubt it would impact my tipping in either direction. We did tip our building staff at Christmas both years, and I don't recall exactly how much, but I never figured out what was the correct amount to tip when sharing the lowest-rent apartment in a big renters-and-owners condo tower, where one makes less than the doormen, but obviously you tip in a restaurant even if you're unemployed...

My only experience on the receiving end of tipping, I made more than minimum wage (not much more) in a coffee bar, but this was a coffee bar in Park Slope, and thus all kinds of not representative of anything. I was happy to have that extra pay, but it didn't seem more merited than in other jobs I'd had, where the work had also been strenuous and the pay low.

And to keep the anecdata flowing, I tend not to like pampering-type experiences (food-delivery/spa/nail/anything-to-do-with-hair-beyond-twice-yearly-cuts), wasn't even in favor of living in a doorman building when against all odds an affordable apt. in one presented itself (but was ultimately persuaded by the sweet, sweet dishwasher), so my experience of the wide world of American tipping skews towards things like confronting a tip jar at a Greenmarket stand or purveyor of local dairy, or getting a cup of coffee at a Village hole-in-the-wall, situations in which a privileged-enough consumer might be assumed, but not quite luxury in the sense the term is generally used. So I've seen a disproportionate amount of tip-solicitation in unlikely places, a disproportionately small amount of its use in thank-you-kind-sir-for-fetching-that-for-me situations.

The latest Dear Prudence has set forth much debate on the question what to tip hotel housekeeping - a question addressed but never resolved in one of the L.A. episodes of "Seinfeld" - bringing up the following Big Questions:

-What do you do about the fact that in many arenas, it's simply not known/agreed upon if any tip should be given, let alone what it should be? Prudie was way off calling the letter-writer who'd never even heard of tipping in hotels a "cheapskate."

-Are consumers of services expected to know what employees get paid, and to make up for the difference between that and what they should (in the consumer's opinion) be paid with tips? Or is a tip just a way of saying, 'your job seems way crappier than mine, here's a penny for your troubles'?

-Even if in most cases, the served is better-off than the server and could totally afford to round up, that's not always true. Must each interaction include an assessment of relative privilege? And what if, in an individual case, the server's better off? The customer still comes off as cheap, and if he goes into how he's actually just poor/broke, will have to explain what he was doing in whichever establishment in the first place - a relevant question, maybe, at the Four Seasons, but in many more tip-ambiguous situations not so much. Isn't there an easier (and less personally intrusive) way?

The problem is that there are so many entirely valid excuses one might give:

-Not all difficult and poorly-compensated jobs come with the expectation of tips (a thought I had more than once while shelving books at the college library). Why some and not others? If one-time food-service workers are said to be good tippers for life, where does that leave one-time no-tip-but-otherwise-similar-job sorts?

-Obviously everyone, especially the not-super-well-paid, is happy to be handed extra cash; obviously if work was done, that money counts as earned. But do we think that all interactions between one party who could use $10 more than the other party should include a handing-over of that cash? If so, wouldn't the answer be to channel money - via taxes, large-scale-like - away from the rich? Isn't the tip just a way of making individuals feel like they've done their part, when they've only helped a few people who happen to be visible in their day-to-day lives?

-The 'where does it end?' objection generally comes across as the complaint of the cheap. The counterargument goes: so what if we're now expected to tip at the grocery store, the fish counter, for the black coffee poured into a paper cup at an establishment that doesn't even have seating. Surely all those workers could use the money, at least in upscale neighborhoods. To which the response must be: the proliferation of tip-jars and tip-expectations blurs the line between tips that actually make up for super-low wages and those that don't?

-They should educate themselves! replies the interlocutor. But the Internet provides the full range of opinion, and any site at all tied to whichever industry will explain that any tip under 30% is appalling. Confusion ensues, and there are no doubt customers whose refusal to tip in a restaurant stems from not seeing the difference between that tip and the ubiquitous jar-solicitations.

Or, in more general terms, the question is whether it's beneficial (and it's clear enough where I stand) not to have fixed prices for goods and services, but rather to leave it up to a highly subjective interaction in which a great number of variables having zilch to do with the level of service provided (stinginess and genuine confusion, genuine desire to properly compensate and a for-others attempt at showing off wealth/compassion) impact the ultimate price.

There is - paging PG - no doubt need for a systematic look at which route better-distributes wealth or, in more neutral terms which more appropriately compensates labor: the liberal guilt/showing-off-of-largesse tip-based system, or establishments just paying their staff a reasonable wage. Do restaurant servers actually end up making more because of the popular understanding that they're poorly compensated unless the individual customer nobly steps up with 25%? Is the income lost when a few don't tip/don't tip well made up for by the whoppers the tip option brings in? My guess would be that this works out in some rare cases, but not many.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Chicago, ten years later

Today's theme is "disorientation," because I keep getting confused about my own whereabouts. I just moved, but immediately after making sure everything we needed got from NY to NJ, flew to Chicago to attempt to show around my husband, who was there for a conference. I kept thinking the move had been to Chicago, given how little food/sleep I was on upon arrival, making the time between when the movers left and when I landed in Chicago quite a daze. Chicago seemed a plausible enough town for me to arrive home to.

I'd arrived in Chicago exactly a decade prior (as 9/11 news stories reminded me, because given that I was still in NY at the time, that stands out in my memory a good bit more than my first week of college), but mostly remembered Hyde Park. This time, I was staying in Evanston, so a hoped-for trip back to campus was out. I hadn't been back to the city at all since college, so there would be surprises wherever we went.

I first saw a friend from college who's now back for law school, and, with him, finally saw this "Logan Square" I'd heard so much about, but always deemed too far from Hyde Park to explore. It was a fine place to start, because the "Breakfast Brioche Bread Pudding" with a side of chicken-sage sausage and a cold-brewed Intelligensia was the perfect combination of hipster-food and hearty Midwestern feast. It was as though all my energy lost during the move-then-travel returned. Meanwhile, in further disorientation, our waitress was someone my friend and I had been in the dorm with my first year.

We then walked a bit around Logan Square, likely missing the main drag of it, but passing by a French bakery I'd read about but, what with the meal I'd just eaten, was not so curious about at that moment. Then, thanks to my friend who has more than a vague knowledge of the city (as well as an iPhone), we ended up on Armitage, a street I'd maybe seen before, maybe not, but at any rate that's apparently where the fun clothes-shopping happens. For those who have not just moved into apartments where they and their husbands are to share one closet.

Next after that was North/Clybourne, where we saw a little boy spit off the railing of a truly immense and shiny Whole Foods, from the café area down to dangerously near the baguettes, if not hitting customers as well. I will not recount the entire scene, but my friend, who saw this (my back was to the scene) spoke up, and the child's mother asked him to apologize to my friend, leading me to point out that it was really the people on the level below he might want to address.

Next up, Evanston, which is lovely but far from even the northern parts of the city - something I hadn't realized in college, when I'd assumed that Northwestern students experienced Chicago in the way that NYU students enjoy NY. So, lots of trains, but the Saturday market in Evanston was pretty great - not too surprisingly, the Heartland is good at producing food. Everything was far more geared to drivers and large families than you'd find at the Greenmarkets in NY - a "small" container of peaches was some kind of massive basket, the assumption being you'd get a barrel-full - but for the carless weekend visitor, raspberries in an only somewhat massive container and a massive-but-I'm-not-complaining cinnamon bun were on offer. And this market was right there, in the parking lot across from the hotel! I stopped myself from buying greens, because that's not something you do on a weekend a flight away from home, but am now sitting in this vegetable-less apartment, far from any groceries, and still without air in those bike tires...

This being my husband's first trip to Chicago, our first non-Evanston stop was to be Michigan Avenue. I of course screwed this up by getting us into one of those underground-parking areas below the city itself, where we proceeded to spend the part of the day it wasn't raining. We began with Fox and Obel, where I was reunited with the Caesar salad that for some reason made quite the impression years ago. It was fine. Then we headed over to the beach, but it wasn't quite admire-a-beach-that's-OMG-right-in-a-city-we-don't-have-things-like-this-in-NY-isn't-this-amazing? weather, so the Museum of Contemporary Art saw us a bit earlier than planned, definitely the way to go. It's a thing in Chicago, it seems, for white brides, grooms, and their wedding parties to take their photographers to museums, and to pose for photos amidst the art that, in this case, represented the artist's sociopolitical take on being black and gay in America.

Next was indeed Michigan Ave., which I will remember for future reference is much more exciting if you've been missing big-city bustle and had long since forgotten what it was like to go to a Gap, but which is nevertheless not half bad when you get down to the river. Next, Belmont, where I knew Intelligensia should be, but if it were not for kind locals, no way I would have found it. I remembered one big avenue with stuff on it, when in fact there are something like five, and the correct one isn't all that near the train. It was about then that I started to get the point of smart-phones. I'd also misremembered Intelligensia as a student "coffice," when it's in fact a pickup spot for middle-aged gay men. For the best, considering we weren't there to study in silence, and not surprising, in retrospect, given the locale. The coffee itself was as good as I remembered.

Then came some complicated CTA-stravaganza that involved considering and ultimately rejecting a restaurant Gwyneth Paltrow recommended in her guide to Chicago for people unlikely to be in Chicago in the first place (but in the process, learning that there is indeed a part of Chicago filled with could-be-supermodels, and it ain't Hyde Park). Then more CTA, then more Evanston, and eventually some grocery shopping at an Evanston Whole Foods - yes, an Evanston, IL Whole Foods - because we now live in a part of NJ so bucolic that that was, for the time being, our best bet for groceries.