Monthly Archives: March 2009

All Aboard, And That Means You, Haughty Editor

I read, with horror, this morning about yet another stunning blow to the publishing industry. It seems that three, count them, three magazine editors in New York descended into unspeakable depths. Down they went, step by well-heeled step, into the bowels of common experience. 

They took the subway.

Gasp.

It is not clear to me whether they ventured underground en masse, an imposing triumverate braced against the riff and raff, or whether they rode solo, belongings clenched under arms, eyes spinning around their heads like siren lights. However they traveled, the fact that their foregoing the Mercedes limo for public transportation is news, disgusts me. On several levels.

First, as “New Yorkers” (one is actually the editor of the magazine named the New Yorker, another of Gourmet and the last, Portfolio), you’d think they’d want to feel the beat of the place on a regular basis. I don’t know, but when I report on the circus, I want to ride the elephant. Sure, these people felt the beat years ago, when they had to because they weren’t editors and didn’t have drivers, but I don’t think memories are good enough. If you write about food, you have to shlep, as it were, on the sidewalk and smell the aromas. If you write about money, you have to rub up with the people putting tokens in the turnstyle, especially these days. And, heaven for bid, if you write about a city, or direct other people to write about a city, you have to, well, feel the city.

Second, I don’t like when people think they are better than other people because they have more money, or access to services that money provides.

Third, I don’t like when people toss aside the things that most people rely on out of necessity and could not live without. Toss out Oreos. 

Fourth, it gives my profession a bad reputation. It is hypocritical. Why didn’t these people take the subway, and the bus, before they lost all the ad pages and fired huge segments of their staff, the ones who routinely take the subway and the bus? 

When I had my first job as an editorial assistant at Working Woman Magazine on 43rd and Madison, I took the bus to work. My editor didn’t like that I was sometimes late. But, I told her that I come up with ideas on the bus, and write them down in a notepad. The ideas always came from what I saw, in the seat next to me, in the aisle, from the lady screaming to the driver before she got on. Sometimes, I nearly missed my stop. My editor tolerated the lateness because I was doing my job.

I think these editors should get out their little notepads and look around, again. My hunch is they’ve been missing the best stories.



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I Am Woman, Hear Me Sizzle

I have a grill, purchased when we moved into our house five years ago. Every house should have one, I thought. I have put food on the grates and cooked, myself, without assistance, about three times. Grilling, still, in these modern times, is male domain. About sixty percent of all outdoor cooking is done by men. A casual sampling of males I know turns up a higher percentage, even on gas or electric contraptions, on which women tend to participate more.

We have a charcoal grill, which requires some knowledge of science and engineering, I am learning. On Saturday, I thought we should use it. The weather was just right. At 5:15, I lit the fire. We ate at 8. This is a long time to the plate for a process that is supposed to be convenient. About three coals turned gray. The other 900 didn’t. I tried to cook four hamburgers and four chicken breasts over the three coals. After a half hour, the meat was raw. I could put my hand on the grill without incident.

“Girls,” I said to my daughters and their friend, “I don’t think it’s getting hot.”

Laughter all around. I threw an entire box of matches on the mound.

“Should I call my dad?” the friend asked. 

Horrified I was at the suggestion, four-foot long tongs clenched in my fist. “Absolutely not. I can do this.”

“Maybe, start over,” she said. 

I took the meat off of the grill and put it on a plate. Then, I sprayed the coals with the lighter fluid that I am afraid of, and tossed a match on the pile. I stood across the street to do it. Thinking the coals were lit, I put the meat back on the grill. I was getting really hungry. My entire being smelled like a smokehouse. I was a smokehouse. It took an hour to cook the burgers and the chicken, and that is without the finale in the microwave. And, we needed new buns because all the pink juice drenched the original ones. 

When we were done eating, the fire was perfect. I filled up the teapot with water and poured it on the grill. Sizzle sizzle. 

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Strong Woman Lesson No. 9042

The thing about people who try to strong arm women just because they are women is, it is so old. People used to do it years ago and then, women realized they could say, “Don’t do that” and actually get results. So, fewer males, I think, try because they think, perhaps, they won’t succeed. And, this type of male is inherently lazy, so the extra effort, with no guaranteed gain, might not be attractive. Still, there are ignorant fools who continue to try to intimidate, disrespect, insult, pick your term, women, just in case they, in fact, do get away with it.

This comes to mind because of a situation in which some male tried not to pay me for my writing services. It is really boring, actually, because it is so, well, old, and because the idiot in question is such a, well, idiot. But…of course there is a lesson. And when you are a mom, and a single mom of girls who don’t see male-female discourse on a daily basis, it is important to make a lesson of it. That is a thought in and of itself, perhaps for another time, the notion that parents who do not have another adult in the house feel the weight of talking about, describing, making sure the kids know what you take for granted if you grow up with two adults in the house. For now, we will talk about the idiot male person who tried not to pay me.

So, I accept a silly assignment knowing I probably shouldn’t because the people doing the assigning seem a little incompetent. But, I figure it’s a quick job. Spending cash. While I am sitting in the office of the assigning man watching him try to work the fax machine, I am reminded of something my first Managing Editor told me back in 1985. I happened to run into her on the Madison Avenue bus heading uptown in the evening, and she told me that whatever I do, wherever I work, make sure it is for reputable people. Take a lesser position, she said, with a smarter operation. I have put this into practice for many years. The few times I’ve accepted assignments from less worthy companies, I have, in fact, encountered trouble. 

But, when you freelance, you tend to accept most anything that is offered. These days, you don’t even think about it. You will write about nail clippers. Anyway, the man, let’s call him John, tells me after the piece is turned in that the piece is not good. Of course the piece is good. This is a tactic. Tell the person the piece is not good, after you already told her it was good, so that you don’t have to pay her. It has been a month since John has had my invoice, and no check has arrived in the mail. Meantime, I email John and all of his coworkers about how it is time for them to pay me. John, of course, gets mad that his coworkers now know that he cannot operate a fax machine.

My kids think this story is funny. I tell them that people will try to take advantage of you, and no matter how significant it is or not, you cannot let them. This is insignificant, but we will use all we have at our disposal to make sure we are treated fairly. My older daughter suggested we all go to John’s office to demand the check. She wants to watch it. 

Meanwhile, John called saying that he will pay me if I sign a statement saying I will not email his coworkers and tell them that he cannot operate the fax machine or is trying not to pay me or looks like a mushroom. I told him I won’t sign anything so insane and that he should mail a check to the address on the invoice, just like real businesses do. 

He said he would. We are taking bets. Lesson No. 9043 is in the works.



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Duet of Dysfunction

Before leaving for school this morning, we heard on the news that Rihanna and Chris Brown will be singing a duet together. My kids hadn’t heard that Brown had beaten Rihanna on a Los Angeles street, so the concept of the song carried no weight. I explained to them what had happened and they looked at me, dumbfounded. They didn’t know why he would do it. They like his music on the radio.

I told them it is hard to know why people do certain things, but just know that some people do, and will. At 11 and 13, they need to know how to watch for signs in people. Typically, that has meant, who is your friend on Tuesday but not on Wednesday, who pretends to be dumb when she isn’t, who brags, who can’t contain himself in his seat. 

Now, it means, who could hit you when you are older and on a date. It is important to know. And it is important to know how to take off. They didn’t understand why Rihanna was sticking around, or why, when I told them about shelters for domestic violence, many women find it difficult to leave their homes. I told them never to be generous. You cannot change people. If someone touches the hair on your forearm in a way that you don’t like, run. 

Then, we pulled up at school and I wished them luck on their math tests.

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Nadya, Shmadya

What is the difference between a woman who chooses to have 14 babies and raise them alone and a woman who chooses to have two babies and winds up having to raise them alone? Babies aside, the former decision is ill-advised. When Nadya Suleman chose to have the 14 babies, she was in no position, objectively, to care for, shelter and feed them properly, no matter how purposeful she felt as a mother. Now, having been given nurses, cribs, housing, food and apparently, manicures, by people who feel compelled to “help the babies,” the babies are in no better position to be cared for by their mother. What these kind people have done is create an orphanage in a private home, one with a thousand square feet more than Nadya’s previous one, not to mention Starbucks coffee.

It is too bad the generous people couldn’t add seven more mothers to the house. If they had given me a thousand more square feet, or extra cash each month, or gas for a year to drive to soccer games and dance lessons, I would be most thankful, and frankly, I would be as deserving. There are more than 10 million single mothers in the United States. Some become single mothers because their decisions, like Nadya’s, were foolish. Some become single mothers for other reasons. I did not intend to become a single mother; most women like me didn’t intend to, either. Most of us do not have 14 children. Most of us get no help. Most would appreciate a babysitter for two hours a month, let alone a staff around the clock.

Two babies deserve as much as 14 babies. It is not about the babies.

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What, That? Again?

I will check out my name on Google every so often, just to see if my magazine pieces have been picked up. Invariably, the first entry of many pages worth of entries is my New York Times wedding announcement, from 1988. 

This irks me for several reasons. First, the rest of the mentions are not in chronological order. Even if they were, I had pieces published before 1988. Who has decided that this bit of history should lead the way? Is it interesting because it is a wedding? Are weddings interesting? It can’t be the New York Times thing because I have written many articles for The New York Times. All of them wind up in these pages, but they are not first, or in order.  Maybe the Googlepeople think that wedding announcements define people, women, mostly, and should set the tone for such things as Google lists. I do not know. 

I guess that missteps people take are remembered, and remembered more enthusiastically when they are reported. If you steal from a bank and the newspaper writes about it, the act could follow you, and perhaps it should, since it would be a crime to steal from a bank. If you stumble on a curb and break a collarbone and someone walks by and photographs, it could end up haunting you on computers worldwide. This is not a criminal act, but it could be the first thing that comes up when you Google your name. What if you want to be a tight-roper in the circus? You will never get the job. They will pick someone who didn’t fall on a curb.

I have been wondering how to go about asking the list people how to remove the entry, or at least, place it in a less prominent spot. To that end, I have been researching “How to remove something from Google,” on Google, and it seems it is difficult to do. Not that getting married was something horrendous, really, but something ill-advised at the time, from a marriage-only no-children point of view. So, I think I might have to write a wedding announcement addendum, then, like a post script, an epilogue, a that-was-that, this-is-this sort of explanation. But maybe that would be boring, since there would be no veil to photograph or caterer to plug, and it wouldn’t make it to the page, anyway. 

Of course, it’s all pretty silly. It was silly in the first place, an odd convention. Get engaged, tell the world where your grandparents live. So, every time they look you up, they can be reminded, too. 

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Observed…

On the sidelines of my daughter’s soccer game yesterday, three young boys were playing a game of “Star Wars.” I don’t know exactly what the game involved, but one of them had a flashlight and there was some mention of “protecting” people. “You go protect your mom,” one said to another, maybe five years old. Then, the one who issued the order, who was about six, brought the other boy to meet his own mother. “This is my friend, Mom,” he said. Very cute. Very nice.

A third child tagged along. He was no more than four, with a blond crew cut and shirt that spelled something about an all-star team.

“You can protect your mom, too,” the older one told him.

“My mom’s not here,” the little one said.

“Okay. Protect your dad.”

“I don’t have a dad,” he said, as if he was describing a shoelace. My first thought was that the man died. Then I wondered who brought him to the game. “He’s in jail,” the child said.

The other kid didn’t ask what the man did to be sent to jail. I would have thought a six year old would ask. I wondered why the boy thought his dad was dead, when he was living. Maybe he did something terrible, and the mom told her son that his dad was dead. Maybe he was, in fact, dead, or died in jail, and the four year old got his facts wrong. It was all very disturbing, to me, anyway. The boy didn’t seem distressed, at least, not yesterday. They didn’t figure out who the child was going to protect, so he just ran along side the older one, the leader’s assistant. He was fortunate to have found a good leader, I thought. 


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