Sunday, November 30, 2008

My Stephen King Weekend

Greetings from the Howard Johnson's in Vernon, Connecticut! I haven't been able to blog the last couple of days because Snookums and I have been trapped in a Stephen King novel.

First, we drove all day Friday from Auburn, Mass. to Bangore, Maine, where we stayed at the Fireside Inn. Not a bad motel -- free Wi-Fi and continental breakfast, fireplaces (gas) in the rooms, but our room smelled like there was a gas leak and when we had to switch rooms, I tried to convince the staff to give us some of our money back. No dice.

Anyway, the next morning Snookums' dad's friend came to drive us out to his little family compound in East Corinth. It was REALLY in the middle of nowhere, and seemed more Stephen King with every passing mile -- windy roads and frostbitten trees, little depressed trailers with junk strewn around them, churches of every Christian denomination imaginable. When we finally got to the Crazy Christian Compound, there was an amazing vegan breakfast awaiting us. But the first sign something was odd (besides the fact that mother and daughters were dressed identically in dresses that reached to the ground) was the fact that when I went to use the bathroom, I couldn't find the soap.

I asked the oldest daughter, who -- as my husband described her -- is 12 going on 22. "Where's the soap?"

"We don't use any," she replied, a hint of smugness in her tone.

Thank God I'd brought my hand sanitizer. Snookums' dad later found out from the girl's mother that this is for religious reasons -- something along the lines of, "Moses and Jesus didn't use soap, so there's no need for us to." They do, however, use soap to wash their dishes and their clothes. Go figure.

Things got even weirder when we all took a walk after breakfast to the local cemetery . . .


Friday, November 28, 2008

On the Road . . . with Huggies

I'm writing this from the La Quinta Inn in Auburn, Mass. (yay, free Wi-Fi!), where we've stopped en route to Corinth, Maine. The other day Snookums' dad decided he wanted to take a road trip to visit a friend up there who runs a cheap vegan restaurant in the Wall Street area and -- believe it or not -- commutes between Maine and Manhattan several times a week. 

I've mentioned before that Snookums' dad is very unsatisfied with his job as an overworked, underappreciated paralegal. His friend, who happens to be a Seventh-Day Adventist, says he'll teach him a franchise method so he can learn to open his own vegan restaurant/bakery. (I have to say, their baked goods are amazing -- all the more so because they contain no eggs, milk or butter.) 

We originally thought we'd stop in Lowell, Mass., since this was more or less halfway between Bronxville (where we had Thanksgiving with some friends) and Corinth. An old friend of my dad's lives in Lowell and is the executor to Jack Kerouac's estate. He's kind of a weird, mean guy, but I thought the enticement of seeing his old friend's grandchild might make him more amenable. 

But we took a different route, and now we're in Auburn, getting ready to leave for the remaining five-hours-plus journey. I know ol' Ti-Jean (Kerouac's childhood nickname -- it means "little John" in French) would never have taken a baby on the road with him. Worse, he would have refused to admit his paternity.  And Sampas would have ultimately taken his side.

Still, there's Snookums' dad behind the wheel, his copy of On the Road tucked into his suitcase, alongside the diapers and onesies and baby cereal. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

And Snookums' First Word Is...


Yes, she's very self-referential. 

She's been saying "baby" for weeks now, but randomly, as she babbles, so I wasn't sure if she knew what it meant or not. Then I showed her a photo of a friend's baby and she shrieked with delight, pointed straight at it and said, "Baby."

I still wasn't totally convinced. (I used to be a fact-checker in a former life; can you tell?) But then I showed her the picture the next day and she did it again! So now I'm a believer...  

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Viva Glam

My friend Goody 2 Shoes came up with a great description of this blog: "It's about how to have a life, a 'glam' urban career, and a baby and still keep a great sense of humor."

Naturally, I was flattered. And I'd love to agree. But I can't resist pointing out all the unglam things about my "career":

-Exhibit A: I just finished updating a spreadsheet -- and it's after midnight.

-Exhibit B: The bathrooms are dirty. AND unisex.

-Exhibit C: You've all seen the room where I pump breast milk.

-Exhibit D: Having to read -- or worse, employ -- phrases like "integrated solutions," "human capital," "leveraging content."

-Exhibit E: Last week I interviewed a guy who actually DICTATED the PUNCTUATION. As in, "In July my title changed from quote manager unquote to quote director unquote, period."

-Exhibit F: Conference calls. Tomorrow I have three -- back to back. 'Nuff said.

I guess no job is really glamorous when seen from up close. Which reminds me of that old joke about the guy who cleaned up after the elephants in the circus. When someone asked him why he didn't look for a better job after so many years, he replied, "What? And leave show business?"

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pain at the Pump

Hi there! Welcome to the room where I pump breast milk every day. See how spacious it is? And so many windows!  If you look closely, you'll notice a vacuum cleaner right alongside my chair -- it's just that clean. 

Another sign of cleanliness: that bucket and mop right by the door -- a door made of glass, by the way, so it lets in tons of natural light! 

Of course, we wouldn't want any pesky co-workers peering through the glass while Joan was busy manufacturing milk for Snookums. This is New York, after all, not Amsterdam. That's why I've cleverly devised a tasteful privacy screen out of an old whiteboard. It's not for nothing that some consider me the Martha Stewart of Medela-land! 

Sunday, November 23, 2008

How to Get Back into Singing After Having a Baby

A friend sent me an email a few weeks ago inviting me to a Tierney Sutton vocal workshop at Birdland. I signed up immediately -- it had been a year since I'd taken a voice lesson and months since I'd sung in front of anyone except Snookums, but I figured the $100 would be worth it if it jump-started my jazz diva ambitions again.

I took a couple of brush-up lessons with Nattacia, my voice teacher, did my vocal warmup in the morning, left Snookums with her dad and headed out to Manhattan. The song I'd brought with me was "Down with Love," which I used to sing at pretty much every open mic I attended.

After I sang the song -- too slowly, which was my fault because I counted the band in wrong -- Tierney said, "I like the pissed-offness!" She also said my voice had improved in pretty much every way -- which she attributed to the baby, but I'm sure was really the three years of intense vocal technique I'd done.

So how do you get back into singing after having a baby? Be fearless. Take some brush-up lessons. And practice, practice!

Friday, November 21, 2008

She'll Totally Be Rocking It By the Summer

Snookums' friend Claudette arrived from China, bearing adorable baby clothes (bottom photo). The top is a super-cute fleece hooded vest that masquerades as a bunny costume. The bottom is a pair of Hello Kitty red corduroys with lace-trimmed pockets. Even better, the pants are lined to make them extra warm for the winter.  

The above photo (first from left) is of a onesie I bought for a friend who's about to have a baby boy. As you can see from the design, Elvis lives! I bought Elvis and the Brigitte Bardot T-shirt from a street vendor in Soho. The Brigitte shirt is for Snookums' first birthday in a few weeks. I was uncertain about the size, because it seemed too big, but the vendor (who silkscreens the shirts himself) reassured me. 

"She can wear it over a long-sleeved shirt for now," he pointed out, "and she'll totally be rocking it by the summer." 

If you were here with me now, I would do an awesome imitation of his Swedish accent while repeating, "She will toootally be rrrocking it by the summer," and we'd both laugh really hard. But you're not here, so just do your best to try to imagine how funny it is. 

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sheila Jordan Turns 80

When I started this blog, I promised you fun! Excitement! Stories about exotic travels and brushes with celebrities.

Well, maybe I didn't, but that's what I had in mind. Honest. 

Anyway, instead of conference calls and breast pumps, tonight I'm able to bring you a little glamour. Last night I went to hear Sheila Jordan sing for her 80th birthday at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola. (For those of you who haven't heard of Sheila, I urge you to listen to this.) 

Unlike other aging divas I've seen recently -- like, ahem, Julie Wilson and Annie Ross -- Ms. Jordan can still sing. Not perfectly -- there were some wobbly notes here and there -- but she doesn't embarrass herself like Ross or just cop out and do a Rex Harrison like Wilson. 

Sheila was backed by a wonderful band and had a great set list. I'd post the names of the musicians and the songs, since I wrote them down, but I'm just too tired to go find that scrap of paper right now. 

(By the way, if you'd told me 20 years ago that not only was I going to LIKE jazz one day, but I would eventually become such a jazzhead that I'd sit in a dark club writing down the names of all the songs and musicians, I probably would have punched you in the mouth.) 

Anyway, happy 80th birthday, Sheila! May you continue performing for many more years. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

And the Bad Mother Award of the Week Goes To...

Ms. Joan Novark, for letting her daughter get soaking wet in a torrential rainstorm! 

For taking her out in the freezing cold without a hat!

For letting Snookums cry herself to sleep! 

For feeling annoyed -- not sympathetic -- at such crying! 

For giving her back her bottle when she throws it on the ground -- without cleaning it first! 

For feeding her breast milk that was left out all night! 

For letting her play with used hypodermic needles! 

Sunday, November 16, 2008

How to Interview Someone Who Doesn't Speak English

I've been reading a lot of articles about a small seaside town in Japan called Obama that launched a pro-Barack publicity campaign called "Obama for Obama." I wanted to learn more, so I decided to write my own article about the guy who organized the campaign and victory party, Seiji Fujihara (pictured here). 

Google searches revealed that Mr. Fujihara is the head of the Sekumiya Hotel in Obama. I called the hotel, but the man who answered the phone didn't speak English. 

"Can I speak to Mr. Fujihara?" I asked. 

"Go home tomorrow," he answered. "Hi! Thank you!" 

After a few minutes of this I finally said goodbye and hung up. 

At first I laughed about it, but I was disappointed. I had really wanted to write the article. Then I remembered that a friend of mine speaks a little Japanese--she used to live in Japan while working as a jazz musician. I called her, explained my predicament and she emailed me some handy Japanese phrases. 

The next day, I called the hotel again. This time a woman answered. "Konnichiwa" (good day), I said, very slowly. "Eigo o hanashi-masu ka?" (which means, "Do you speak English?").  

To my amazement, she replied, "Yes." 

"I'd like to speak to Fujihara," I said in English, and then -- just because I didn't want to waste my friend's work -- repeated it in Japanese: "Fujihara ni hanashtai o kudasai." 

She put me on hold for a few minutes, then Mr. Fujihara himself came to the phone. But after I introduced myself and explained I wanted to interview him for an article, he said his English wasn't good enough for an interview. 

But I wasn't ready to give up. So I asked if he could respond to questions in writing. He agreed to have me fax him some questions he could write answers to. 

So far so good. Then I got his answers. They were short and cryptic, almost like haiku. 

For instance, I had asked him to name the most challenging aspect of planning the Obama victory celebration. 

He wrote, "The hula of man named OBAMA BOYS. I made our debut on November 5."

I asked, "Is there anything else you would like people to know about planning this event?" 

He replied, "I told you that I owned the friendly feeling in Japan, and I was good, and President-elect Obama knew Obama-shi in that." 

I couldn't really use his quotes, but I still managed to file my story. So here are my tips, kids, on doing interviews with people who don't speak English:

  • Don't give up. If I hadn't called back, I never would have connected with Fujihara.
  • Reach out. Think, "Is there anyone in my network who could help me with this?" 
  • Be flexible. Non-native speakers will probably find it easier to do a written interview, so be prepared to accept their answers in that form. And also be prepared to, as journalists say, "write around" their answers when they don't make sense. 

Friday, November 14, 2008

What's in a Name?

I was browsing the job classifieds recently, as is my wont, and I came across a listing for an editor at the magazine for Alcoholics Anonymous members. 

The magazine is called Grapevine

Um. . . is it just me, or is this a really bad name for a magazine for people who shouldn't drink? Isn't this kind of like naming a magazine for people who've kicked heroin The Main Line, or for ex-nicotine addicts The Smoking Gun?  

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Snookums' First Fashion Shoot

So I left the house at 7:15 a.m. yesterday with Snookums and Dona Maria, Snookums' nanny, to go up to Central Park for the Babytalk fashion shoot. It's a good thing I allowed so much time (our appointment was at 9) because the trip involved three subway lines, at least two miles of walking and lots of schlepping of a big, ridiculously heavy stroller up and down stairs during rush hour. 

Finally, we were there by the fountain at Cherry Hill. Inside the trailer, I scarfed down some lemon-poppyseed muffins and coffee while the stylist bundled Snookums into a white Ralph Lauren down coat, worn over a magenta fleece hoodie with toggles and tiny distressed denim jeans. 

Outside by the fountain, a crowd of about seven people -- the stylist, photographer, a woman whose job seemed to be waving toys and tickling Snookums with a feather and otherwise trying to get her to laugh, and assorted technicians -- crowded around making endless minor adjustments to the angle, lighting, positioning, etc. 

After about an hour, we were done, and Dona Maria and I headed back toward the subway while I called a client I was supposed to have a conference call with and told her I was at the pediatrician's because Snookums had been up all night crying and I thought it was an ear infection and I just wasn't going to be able to call in at 11 a.m., so sorry! 

The client said she would have the call recorded because the new manager wanted to spend the first 15 minutes "setting the tone" and that way I could listen to it later. First time I've ever heard of a someone SETTING THE TONE for a STATUS CALL. You know, like "How's that interview with So-and-So going? Think you can get it to me by Friday?" WHERE IS THE TONE IN THAT???

But I digress. The main point I wanted to make here was that Snookums may be on the cover of the February issue of Babytalk. Then again, she may not. It turns out that magazines routinely shoot several different babies for a cover and then decide at the last minute which one they're going to use. But at least we got $100 out of it -- minus the agency fee, of course. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

When Work Is Not Safe for Work

My office shares space in a loft in Chelsea with a bunch of other companies. I don't know what most of them do. Today a messenger arrived with a package for one of them and when I went to tell the guy, I noticed he was retouching a photo of a woman's butt. The weird thing was, it wasn't a very erotic photo -- it was an exaggeratedly large butt, and not in a good way, as if someone had Photoshopped the wrong-sized derrière on someone else's body -- and he just sort of casually looked up at me with an expression like, "So what?" 

I logged on to his company website and one of the things they claim to do is "corporate communications." Which is what I do. Unfortunately, I don't get to sit around all day retouching butt shots. Most of the time I'm in annoying conference calls listening to people drone on about messaging and strategic this or that and integrated whatever. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Snookums Passes the Audition

Snookums had an audition yesterday at Babytalk magazine, and today the modeling agency called to tell me she'd gotten the job! Pretty amazing considering she's only been on three auditions since I registered her with the agency a few months ago: Baby Gap, T.J. Maxx and now Babytalk

Tomorrow we'll have to get up at the crack of dawn to head into Manhattan. The shoot is in Central Park and the agency said Snookums will even get a trailer to hang out in! Call me a stage mother, but I just hope her modeling career takes off so her father can quit his job from hell and become her manager. 

Monday, November 10, 2008

Cacophony of Talking Toys

"Green triangle!" declares the turtle before launching into the first verse of "Camptown Races." 

"Hel-LO!" shouts the telephone. "It's for YOU!" 

"Wanna play?" asks the cell phone. 

"Red circle!" replies the turtle, and begins belting out "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." 

"A is for apple," whispers the table. "B is for baby." 

"Mary had a little lamb..." chants the turtle. 

"The buttons on the phone go beep beep beep, beep beep beep, beep beep beep," announces the telephone, to the tune of "The Wheels on the Bus." 

"Let's count!" says the turtle. "One, two..." 

"...the buttons on the phone go beep beep beep," continues the telephone, "when you call your friends!" 

"I am Edison Wise Wings," announces the eagle. "Remember my children. Be grateful for what you have." 

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Random Observations

  • Sometimes when Snookums is nursing she rolls her eyes back in her head like a heroin addict. She slaps at my breast like a junkie trying to find a vein. 
  • When Republicans talk about "energizing the base," it's not just a noun. It's an adjective. 
  • McCain's losing formula: AGE + RACE = RAGE 
  • Obama's winning formula: RACE - AGE = ACE 

Saturday, November 8, 2008

New President Commits #1 Most Annoying Grammar Mistake!

I watched Obama's first press conference the other night. And while it was wonderful to once again see someone with a brain up there at the podium answering journalists' questions, things took a turn for the worse when Obama described his meeting with President Bush. 

"President Bush graciously invited Michelle and I to visit him and Laura. . . " 

No, dammit, he invited Michelle "and me." Me, me, me, me, me! 

Friday, November 7, 2008

Welcome to My Brain

Hello there! Come right in. I know it's a bit cluttered in here. I hope you don't mind. Just push some of those papers out of the way and pull up a  chair. Fix yourself something to eat if you feel like it, while I think out loud here for a few minutes. 

Let's se. Where was I? Trying to pick a blog topic. The possibilities: 

-Obama's Victory. Could call it "Oh! Bama!" Of course, like the other 52 percent of the electorate, I'm elated, and -- like our next First Lady -- for the first time I'm proud of our country. Especially since I was so afraid of a last-minute Republican surge that I personally called 50 strangers in Indiana and Nevada the night before the election to BEG them to vote for change. 

Naaaa --- too obvious. Everyone's talking about our new, black president. Booooring! Need to find a different angle. 

Wait, what's that? That New Yorker article about psychopaths that I need to finish. OK, later, later. Concentrate...

-The Eighties are Back. About the aerobics class I went to the other day, and how cardio is the new aerobics. It's like the eighties again, but with a twist. The instructor was wearing a sweatband and we boogied to revved-up Janet Jackson tunes. Could end with the point that, just like 20 years ago, the most important man in the world is African-American (then: Michael Jackson. Today: Barack Obama). Could illustrate with a photo of Jennifer Beals from Flashdance

I hear my daughter's voice downstairs. I wish I could be with her instead of upstairs in front of this computer. Maybe I should look at the want ads for a while, get  a different job. Hmm... research chief at a travel magazine. Must have eight years' experience and speak fluent Spanish. Who are they kidding? Anyway, it's yes to the second, no to the first. Wonder if I have a shot... 

OK, Joan, OK! Back to work! 

What am I going to eat for dinner tonight? Rice and beans again? Dumplings from Panda Express for the third time this week? Maybe just  a few handfuls of granola straight from the box. It's so hard to cook anything with Snookums crawling all over the kitchen like a a potato bug. I need a new diet. Better yet, I need a chef who will prepare tasteful yet healthful meal made of organic ingredients, preferably vegetarian. 

Maybe I should buy that vegetarian cookbook by Mark Bittman, for inspiration. 

I can't believe my editor complained that my description of the leadership seminar was "too laundry-listy." Now she wants me to come up with another way of saying leadership has to be earned. Leadership is a two-way street? Leadership is as much bottom-up as top-down? Will non-native English speakers even understand this? Because it sounds kinda kinky if you ask me. 

Obama won! I almost can't believe it. The politics of hope beat the politics of fear. I wonder what my father would say if he were alive. 

The best response came from Maya, the eight-year-old daugher of my friend Jeanne in Chicago. When Jeanne told her daughter that for the first time, someone of African ancestry had been elected president, Maya said, "But we all have African ancestry." 

Amen, sister. 

Monday, November 3, 2008

Vote for Whitey

I've been volunteering for the Obama campaign, and while making calls from home tonight, I spoke to my first out-and-out racist: a 79-year-old man in Indiana who, when I announced myself as an Obama volunteer, started calling him a "nigger" and a "black bastard" and going on about how "blacks have destroyed this country." 

I hate the old "what about Hitler?" ploy, but I figured it was a pretty safe bet that this guy didn't admire Hitler, so I asked him if he would conclude that white people were bad based on the record of Hitler, a white man. He started using profanity and accusing me of being "rude" because I was from New Jersey. I knew it was a waste of time talking with him, but I was actually finding the whole thing pretty amusing, so I pointed out that I hadn't used any profanity or racial epithets with him, and here he was using them with me while accusing me of being rude based on what state I was from. 

He apologized, but the next thing I knew he was calling me a "nigger lover." 

"Do you live with a nigger? Do you live with a nigger?" he demanded. 

I refused to answer the question and asked him if he was planning to vote tomorrow and who he was going to vote for. (I wouldn't have bothered except that I was working from a script that wanted me to get answers to these questions.) He shouted, "I don't have to tell you that!" so I said, "Well, I'm going to put you down as voting for McCain -- the white candidate." Then I smiled and hung up. 

Sunday, November 2, 2008

First Halloween

Snookums had her first Halloween the other day. She dressed up as a bumblebee (actually, I did it for her) and went to her father's office for a party for the families. I wore her in the Bjorn and tried to pretend my back wasn't hurting while I ate grilled cheese and cupcakes and other food I wouldn't let Snookums eat. Thank goodness she's not old enough to notice the hypocrisy. 

On Friday we gave out candy to trick-or-treaters. I'd bought peanut M&Ms, Jolly Ranchers, and Hershey's Kisses (dark chocolate). I ate most of the M&Ms myself and gave away nearly all the Jolly Ranchers. (One fat little girl who came to the door said, "I love Jolly Ranchers!" and took enough for three.) This year, the kids all had costumes -- not like what happened when I first moved to this neighborhood and the only kids who rang the bell were too old, and not wearing costumes. I remember asking one kid where his costume was. "It's in my backpack," he lied. "Well, go home and put it on and come back and I'll give you some candy," I replied.