Tuesday, February 28, 2012


For various reasons, I’ve gone to an actual movie theater and seen more films this year than ever before.  That may be bucking the current home theater trend, but market conditions have converged to convince me that the higher ticket costs aren’t always an extravagance.
Specialized cable television packages are convenient, but not a great deal IMHO.  I was a Netflix customer for awhile, but my angle was to join once or twice a year for a couple of months and “catch up” on all the films I hadn’t seen.  But then the price nearly doubled, and the service was tiered so that the convenient PC streaming membership offered a more limited selection than the physical mail-in DVDs.   I find it well worth the savings to order a movie online and pick it up at the convenience store a mile away for about a dollar.  The theater is reserved for either films that are best enjoyed on the big screen format or those that I just didn’t want to wait to see.
So this year, I had more interest in watching the orgy of self-congratulation better known as “The Oscars”.  I haven’t seen the big winner, “The Artist”, yet.  Perhaps it will surprise me, but I don’t know how excited I can get about a movie with virtually no dialogue.  With that said, it follows that most of the stars and movies I’d seen went winless.  Except for “The Help”.
I touched briefly on this movie in an earlier blog (“Cry Me a River…or a Poopy Chocolate Pie”), and I really wanted to see both Octavia Spenser and Viola Davis take home a statuette.  Davis lost to perennially amazing Meryl Street, whose performances I can rarely fault.  Am I alone in feeling there ought to be a limit to the number of Oscars awarded to the same person in a lifetime? 
And then I heard Spenser state what she wanted to do if she won the Best Supporting Actress category:  to get her “girls” lifted.  She described it as having them stapled to her shoulders, so that when she turns 70, they’ll be in just the right place.  Her refreshing candor was especially striking in a setting where enhancements and augmentations are much more the norm than the exception.  Signs of aging are often the kiss of death in any business where the perception of beauty is synonymous with a youthful appearance.  Somehow, I don’t put Ms. Spencer in the Botox/Restylane/liposuction crowd.
When one of my books hits the New York Times Bestseller list, I’ll confess my own plans.  But in the meantime, go ahead, Octavia.  If it pleases you, if it improves your self-image, just do it!

Friday, February 24, 2012

My Life as a Car

I bought a car today.  Normally that would be an exciting time for most people, but for me, it felt like the end of an era.  It made me think about all the cars that have transported me throughout my life.

My parents' cars in the 50's are lost in the mists of time.  I only remember them as large and roomy until the day they moved up the ladder to owning TWO cars when dad bought a Hillman Minx.  Most people have never heard of that make or model, but he bought it because it was little and inexpensive.  It was the car I learned to drive on.  Black, tiny, and with a stick shift, it circled the Memorial Stadium parking lot in Baltimore until dad pulled out the orange cones and made me learn to parallel park.  Teeth-chattering jolts caused outcries from my parental unit as I learned the subtleties of the clutch pedal.  Not long after I got my driver's license, dad totaled it by rear-ending a vehicle driven by a friend's mom.

It was time to shop for a replacement.  At the time, I had no idea how iconic his next purchase would be.  All I knew was that when I saw him come home with a dark green 1965 Ford Mustang, I was awe-struck.  It was so out-of-character for him.  In retrospect, I think he was in the midst of some middle-age craziness.  He bought a corduroy cap and would ask me to accompany him around town.  Perhaps he just liked being seen in his trendy new vehicle with a seventeen-year-old blonde in the passenger seat.  I would do it to humor him....and to get him to say yes when I asked to drive that car.

The green Mustang was eventually replaced by a red Mustang, but by then I was driving my fiance's white Buick Skylark while he was attending Naval Flight Training.  Just before we were married, he bought a Jeep Commando that whirled over the white sands of Pensacola, Florida and took us to the Redwood Forest in California.  But as the size of our family grew, it outlived its purpose.  We bought a Volkswagen Dasher wagon with "leatherette" upholstery.  Soon we needed a second vehicle and added a red Toyota Starlet as a commuter vehicle.  It cost $5,000, tax and title included.

As the fights increased in the back seat of the Volkswagen from three kids in too-close proximity, in 1984 we bought our first minivan:  the space-age looking Toyota van.  It had a sunroof, a moonroof, three rows of seats, and a cooler.  It even made its own ice cubes.  Every kid in our neighborhood wanted a ride in that van.  I was the default driver for swim meets and anything else.  It survived being shipped to Puerto Rico for a tour of duty there.  By the time it was shipped back to the U.S., for a tour in Louisiana, it wasn't long before there was one less passenger.  The car was still around, but I was the one being traded in for newer model.

Piecemeal part time jobs provided the money to attend evening classes at Tulane.  One rainy afternoon on the way to class, it hydroplaned, jumping the muddy median, rolling onto its side and careening into oncoming traffic lanes, spewing No Nonsense pantyhose all over Interstate 10 (one of my jobs was as a part-time merchandiser).  Fortunately, I was okay, and complained to the police officer that I'd torn the sleeve of my new blouse as my arm scraped the roadway while the car was sliding.  My dad came to the rescue and gave me the money to buy a Honda Civic hatchback just before I landed a job with State Farm Insurance.

I worked as a auto claims representative for seven years until I was promoted into management.  One morning, my son woke me and said, "Come on, get up.  We're going car shopping."  I never intended to buy a car that morning, but was lured by the siren song of a 1998 Honda Accord EX with soft, plush leather, a sunroof, and a sound system from heaven.  As soon as I saw it, I was a goner.  I've loved that car, feeling like a princess every time I've gotten into it.  It owes me nothing after fourteen years of luxurious driving, but time has ravaged my car much as it has me.

My Silver Queen's surface has faded as the clearcoat wears and it leaks in a hard rain.  Cold weather and hard turns evoke groans from the CV joints and boots as well as the engine.  The valves have begun to leak and the yellow engine light has glared at me for nearly a year, demanding a new 02 sensor.  It was only a matter of time before it would break down on my weekly treks to Port Deposit, and I worried it might happen while the grandkids were in the car.  I hadn't had to make a car payment in nearly ten years.  So, reluctantly, I went car shopping.

The price of gasoline rises relentlessly, so I decided to go for a hybrid.  I could've gotten a car with lots of interior bells and whistles, but had to make hard choices.  It pained me to leave the Honda brand that I've loved so much, but the Toyota Prius is the mileage king.  So I defected...sadly.

I'll miss my luxury car and, strangely, this is the first car I've ever owned that is NOT a manual transmission - a stick shift.  The strange, spare interior is a plastic egg.  I have to LEARN how to drive it.  It is an alien creature that rolls silently at low speeds and has an all-electric drive for traffic jams and bumper-to-bumper crawls.

Don't think that I bought this car because I'm forward-thinking and mindful of the fragile ecology.  I wish I could present myself that way.  I bought it because my income is half of what it was when I was working, and because the price of gas and everything else I need keeps rising.  The bell curve of life is now on its downward curve, and I learn to adjust what I can.  I don't have a name for this strange vehicle yet, but the voice in my head keeps saying, "The queen is dead.  Long live the thing."        

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Off-Key: The 2012 Grammy Awards Show

Was I the only one who felt the 2012 Grammy Awards Show was seriously uneven and off-balance?  Granted, I'm no professional music critic nor do I fall in the 16-24 age demographic, but this is an event that I enjoy every year.  And this year's show had more minuses than plusses IMHO.

I'm sure there was a lot of shuffling to include the last-minute tribute to Whitney Houston, beautifully performed by Jennifer Hudson, but did anyone else notice that there was no mention of Soul Train's Don Cornelius or Etta James during the "In Memorium" segment? 

If you are over 30, do you find yourself wondering who more and more of the "celebrities" are that make their way down the red carpet?  And why does the media continue to give air time to such wannabees as Amber Rose, whose only claim to fame is that she dated Kanye West and Wiz Khalifa?

I'm not a fan of singer Chris Brown, but I found myself laughing at the outfits that his back-up dancers wore.  My daughter aptly characterized them as flying squirrels.  And, please, I don't need two performances by Brown when so many others could have been included. 

Is anyone else convinced that male country singers who always wear cowboy hats are doing so to cover their balding heads? 

Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt joined for a lovely tribute to Etta James, but the transition from Raitt's naturally aging face to Reba McEntire's Gelfling stretched smile was unsettling. 

Some of the older stars had supporting acts to bolster their failing voices.  Tony Bennett certainly needed help, and Paul McCartney could have used some for his "My Valentine", a sweet song that he wrote for his new wife, Nancy Shevell.  He managed to redeem himself mightily, however, when he closed out the show with a dead-on performance of "Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End" with Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl and Joe Walsh providing the guitar shredding.  I guess the lack of celebrity recognition works in reverse too, as droves of clueless young viewers revealed their ignorance by asking "Who's Paul McCartney?" on Twitter.  Last year's tribe of the musically uninformed tweeted, "Who's Arcade Fire?"

It was fortunate that the show ended on such a high note.  The lows included Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj, who both failed to impress despite the blue raspberry hair and the aren't-I-shocking Roman Holiday number.  It felt like Minaj was trying to out-Gaga the curiously understated Lady Gaga.

Aside from Hudson's tribute performance, one of the most enjoyable segments was the robust farewell performance of Glen Campbell who is retiring due to the progression of Alzheimer's disease.  A showman to the end, he was rewarded with a standing ovation after he ended with, "Now I'm going to go somewhere and shut up." 

Also remarkable was the 50th anniversary tribute by the surviving members of The Beach Boys.  Despite Brian Wilson's disturbing what-am-I-doing-here facial expressions, the segment was impressively supported by Maroon Five and Foster The People.

I'm hoping next year's show won't have the notes of desperation that surfaced frequently, perhaps as performers watched songstress Adele collect SIX Grammies.  The strobe-lit efforts to make the show appear to be taking place in a club, complete with Dangermouse and light stick-waving fans fell flat.  So for 2013, please, less we're-so-trendy and more of the awesome mix of music that the show exists for in the first place.