Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I Ain't Gonna Be Maggie Smith No More

I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more
No, I aint gonna work on Maggie's farm no more
Well, I wake up in the morning
Fold my hands and pray for rain
I got a head full of ideas
That are drivin' me insane
It's a shame the way she makes me scrub the floor
I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more. - from "Maggie's Farm", Bob Dylan, 1965

Old Shoes, Second Avenue, Manhattan
The last week, if not a week from hell, was far from pleasant. A whole heap of bad stuff happened, and as they say in America, 'and then some'.

The worst single thing though, came  from two very different people. Two women who have never met  and who are different in age, nationality and location, living about 2,500 miles away from each other.

Independently, without prompting, out of the blue, for no reason that I can fathom, each told me, on the same day, that I reminded her of British actress Maggie Smith. You know the one. She's about a hundred and was the nasty mother in Downton Abbey. More recently she played a major role in "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel", a film that I had no interest in seeing when it came out, and now have even less so.

Here's what the New York Times reviewer Stephen Holden had to say about the Maggie Smith and her Marigold Hotel character. "The character has the screenplay's meanest and snappiest lines, but it is beyond even Ms. Smith’s capacity to make Muriel's eventual metamorphosis, from monster into sweet, caring old lady who befriends a low-caste Indian servant, remotely credible." (Seven Tickets to India, Please, and Reservations for an Adventure.)

Old Woman, Third Avenue, Manhattan
Two women independently telling me that I am like Maggie Smith. Yikes! Of course they each back-peddled. "Oh I mean your AURA!" explained one. "I just mean that she's funny in a sarcastic dry sort of way," apologized the other. It was getting worse and worse. As they dug themselves in deeper I tried desparately to change the subject, for both our sakes.

Two hours and 2,500 miles apart they simultaneously echoed, "But you would just LOVE the movie!" Sure. ASIF!  Do these people even KNOW me?

The next day was my birthday. I kept looking in the mirror. Looking back at me I saw a worried looking woman who looked as if she had no aura whatsoever, and who couldn't crack a joke if her life depended on it.

The birthday emails started coming in. The first one was from  my uncle. "Happy Birthday" in happy bold 42 pixel high red letters.

I replied in an instant - "Two people independently told me I look like Maggie Smith so am in deep depression! Quelle horreur!"

He answered me with, "Well, as the cliché says : The alternative is unthinkable."

I was devastated!

"The unthinkable alternative? That SHE looks like ME? Oh no!"

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The hypocrisy of clothes

I'll sit in church and hold your hand
I'm gonna give up heifer fuckin'
I'm gonna buy me a suit from the Sear's catalog
Clara June! Clara June!
Come Back! Come Back! - from "My Baby Done Left Me" The Fugs (Ed Sanders, Tuli Kupferberg, and other Greenwich Village types), c. 1966
In New York, suits have ventured out of their typical neighborhood boundaries of Hells Kitchen and Murray Hill to find the "cool and hip" spots such as the Lower East Side and Williamsburg, and have burned their credibility. This has caused hipsters to quickly flee and create a new place for themselves. - Urban Dictionary definition of "Suits"
Bus People, Manhattan
Sitting on the bus going north up Madison, I experienced an epiphany.

Life is so much easier for men as they have such a limited range of clothing styles.

For business it's a suit. Of course suits come in various shades of black, brown and navy and can be varied by wearing shirts and ties of varying colors, but basically it's the same old same old.

I was staring at the man in the green tie. Probably he'll wear a red on tomorrow. Probably his wife will select it. So simple. No thought required

Then there's jeans shorts and tee-shirts. They don't even have to be color-coordinated. Denim goes with just about anything.

And for those who want to make a statement, there's the black polo-neck favored by the late Steve Jobs, or the Zuckerberg hoodie. I find the black polo-neck preferable - at lease it is age-appropriate whatever one's age. The hoodie is for little kids. My son gave up wearing his around thirteen.

I think of hoodies as comfort clothing - having a sort of back-to-the-womb effect, sheltering the wearer from the harsh realities of modern life. Hardly suitable for anyone past puberty.

Financial Times ad, Fifth Avenue, Manhattan
Hoodies have had bad press lately in the US. Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teen was wearing a hoodie when he was shot and killed the night of February 26 while walking back to the house where he was staying in a gated community. The shooter, George Zimmerman, 28, the neighborhood watch captain, was following Martin because he thought the 17-year-old, looked suspicious. When the two got into an altercation, Zimmerman fired the gun he was carrying.

People were outraged. Congressman and women and Occupy people wore hoodies to show solidarity with Trayvon Martin's family and outrage with what many saw as racial profiling. Perhaps that's what Zuckerberg was doing when he wore his hoodie on Wall Street. I hope so. But don't think so. More likely he was showing contempt for the "suits" of this word. If so, he's just a tiny bit hypocritical.

In any case,  he didn't wear a hoodie at his wedding.

So, back to talking about grown-up men, the range of clothes is further reduced by acceptable color and pattern. Jeans, shorts, shirts, ties tees and  black polo-necks, all further limited by a colorless color rage and patterns restricted to stripes and the occasional flower for those with a Hawaiian state of mind.

So simple. And what's more, no one even notices if men wear the same clothes day in day out  ... as long as they wash them.

Women on the other hand, not only have to choose their clothes according to the fashion, season and their age - lest they are ridiculed as being mutton dressed up as lamb - they are expected to paint their faces. Secretary of State Clinton, recently had to defend herself for wearing no other makeup than lipstick. And in March this year, Germaine Greer stooped to criticizing Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard for her dress sense.  Apparently, "once a feminist" is enough.  Consistency is just not necessary.

Yet another example of the hypocrisyof clothes!

I'm so hung up on clothes lately, I thought Fifty Shades of Grey was a style book for men's wardrobes.  Gray, the color of male fashion. Especially in New York where color is gender-neutral.

New York - sexless gray, as gray as a Melbourne winter. Livened up by a few avant guard artists such as Bill Cunningham - the  fashion photographer Bill Cunningham, who has been photographing street fashion on the sidewalks of New York for fifty years.

I watched an film about Bill Cunningham where he spoke of color, street fashion, women's hats, and his love of women's clothes from the 50s to now. To illustrate his views he displayed  a heap of photos he took in the heady days of the 1960s.

Unfortunately, in that brief window when the world was full of love and color, he shot all his photos in black and white.

Fifty shades of gray.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Music Maker's Wife

Or - How to Remove the Cover from a Kindle Touch

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read. - Groucho Marx

My dreams of making millions of dollars with my invention "Book" are dashed.

I had a number of people offer to hollow out a hardcover in order to be able to insert and thus hide my Kindle Touch from the prying eyes of New York bus riders, and was about to employ the most promising.

All I needed was a suitable dead-tree hardcover book for my prototype. I even had a working title - "Book" as suggested by one of my regular readers, Vanessa.

I needed a hardcover large enough to hide my Kindle Touch yet small enough to not be too bulky. I chose "Slammerkin" by Emma Donoghue. AS I wanted to check it would be sure to fit my Kindle I decided to remove its Amazon Lighted Kindle cover first.

Therein lay the problem. No way would the cover budge. I checked out the Amazon Kindle help pages. "Push the lower right hand corner of the cover to separate it from your Kindle Touch. Grasp the separated lower corners of your Kindle Touch and the cover and pull to remove your device from the cover."

Well, the lower right corner of the cover measures about 16th of an inch (0.0625 mm). I've marked it with a red blob in the photo on the left (insert). I couldn't get a grip on it. As to pressing down, don't even go there.

I called Amazon Help Desk and after a reasonable wait time, a woman answered.
I explained the problem and she answered with a question. How do you take the cover off a Kindle Touch?"

"That's what I am asking you." I explained.

To answer she put me on hold and after several minutes a "Kindle export" came on the line and asked my what sort of day I was having. How I love American help desks. Or do they do that everywhere? "Comment s'est passée votre journée ?" Whatever.

As I predicted, the help desk man, who identified himself as David, paused while he looked up Amazon's help pages and repeated verbatim, "Push the lower right hand corner of the cover to separate it from your Kindle Touch. Grasp the separated lower corners of your Kindle Touch and the cover and pull to remove your device from the cover."

"I looked that up too," I explained, knowing that any further conversation would be useless. But my inner annoying masochistic self just had to persist. During our conversation David came up with the following helpful comments:

"Push harder" "
Why do you want to take the cover off?"
"I don't actually know what the Amazon Kindle cover looks like."
"I don't have a Kindle Touch."

To be fair, he did say he'd recommend Amazon make a video to help people but it would take several weeks .... So much for that idea. Goodbye Book.

Perhaps it is better I actually write one.

Twenty minutes of market research, lead me to an interesting avenue of opportunity. Yes, I know I've been in America too long. Imagine a writer market researching for a title before putting finger to keyboard. Talking about fingers, when talking to Amazon-Help-Desk-Man David, I suggested that one would need to be a hobbit in order to "press down" on  11/16th inch width piece of leather. I was answered with silence. David is obviously too young to have heard of Tolkein.

My market research American style resulted in my finding a title that will sell. All you need to do is put "Daughter" or "Wife" in the title.

Without even trying I found the following Amazon.
"The Baker's Daughter"
"The Shoemaker's Wife"
"The Hangman's Daughter"
"The Tiger's Wife"
"The Time Traveler's Wife"
"The Apothecary's Wife"
"The Memory Keeper's Daughter"
"The Shoemaker's Wife"
"The Rock Star's Daughter"
"The Paris Wife" "The Reverend's Wife"

All published by Amazon within the last year or so.

Obviously it is better to have a profession in front of the "wife" or "daughter", although an animal or a place name will do. I'm on to something here. I might even do a series.

And in dedication to my faithful reader Van, I will name my first novel,  "The Music Maker's Wife".

Stay tuned.

Monday, May 07, 2012

A Hollow Victory

"He probably entered the bag alive, Wilcox said, reading her ruling to a court around the corner from the home of the world's most famous fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes." - from a CNN report British spy in bag was poisoned or suffocated, coroner rules, May 2012

With a keyboard click, Facebook users can now donate up to 100 body parts, which is a good thing. But why aren’t we worried about friending our organs in a public way for any nut to consider and digest? - from Fred Sepkowitz on "Facebook's Organ-Donor Option" in the Daily Beast, May 2012

My Zaarly Request
Where do fictional people live?

Not necessarily in fictional houses, that's for sure. Some fictional people actually have real addresses. Physical addresses. Addresses so real that you can locate them on Google maps.

I first encountered a real-life fictional person's residence last century when I came across a gawkle of tourists clamering to get into "Juliet's house" at Via Cappello, 23, 37121 Verona, Italy.

Of course Ms Capulet wasn't home, but the tourists were there, looking up at the balcony, a-wishing and a-hoping.

And then, last year, I walked past Jane Austen's house in Bath, England. There was a man covered in talcum powder standing outside. I hurried on. Tourist stuff. Only to be expected in provincial cities that are trying to assert themselves on the maps of modern travel.

The stuff of tourist literature and glossy pamphlets advertising packaged tours - one doesn't expect to read about pretend places the news, even if it's American-flavoured news. But there it was last week, in the middle of a CNN report on Gareth Williams,the British spy.
Bath, England
The coroner was described as reading her report to a court "around the corner from the ... home of Sherlock Holmes".

Ridiculous must be contagious - Katy Lee (AFP), writing about the same news item, reported that the same coroner concluded that the spy, whose naked body was found padlocked in a bag in his bathtub, was "probably unlawfully killed". Yeah, sure. ASIF there was any possibility that death by being padlocked in a bag in a bath could have happened by natural causes.

The silly season must have arrived early this year. A few days later I read something equally fantastic. Kent Sepkowitz - New York infectious-disease specialist; - wrote an article about the dangers of Facebook's recent organ donation initiative. "Facebook users can now donate up to 100 body parts", he warned. Adding, "why aren't we worried about friending our organs in a public way for any nut to consider and digest?"

He wasn't alone in his paranoia - I heard views similar to his voiced on CNN. "Friending" organs might result in ghouls going after  you to harvest them. Apparently no one could possibly know we had organs unless we posted them on Facebook. Heartless, liverless, pancreasless, we are all organ-less until we Facebook post ....

And what did the good doctor mean by "friending" organs? It is bad enough having a Facebook word entering into the English language, but at least use it correctly.

The week was drawing to a close. I'd decided not to read or even listen to the news - it was all too silly. Riding home on the Q60 bus, I was engrossed in novel. Instinctively I knew that the man sitting next to me was one of those "is that a Kindle?" people, about to interrupt my reading.

It turned out that his comment was even more ridiculous than I had anticipated.

"Is that Facebook?" he asked, pointing to my Kindle. No "Excuse me," or "I hate to interrupt..." but New York style sans any courtesy, a no-frills question.
Waiting for the Q60

Without looking up I replied with a "no" and continued reading.

"It's hard to know what's what," he babbled on, "I wrote a paper once about how people would stop reading with all this modern stuff and I was right ..." Ramble ramble. What a fool.

But I suppose I should be thankful for his idiocy, as it gave me a brilliant idea. An idea whose time has come. I am about to make a prototype and hence my Zaarly wanted ad above.

I am going to get a heap of hardback books and have them hollowed out. Hollowed out just enough to hid my Kindle in. Then I can carry it with me, camouflaged. I'll be able at last to read in peace.

A paper add-on to an e-book! The ease of reading with the added bonus of the "feel of paper" - a feel that is apparently so important to the non-reader bus people of this world - that it prevents them from buying Kindles. Those "I-love-the-feel-of-paper-in-the-morning people". In true American spitit I have perceived a need, and will meet it and make my fortune.

The paper e-book camouflage cover.

Now all I need is a name for it.

Stay tuned.