Sunday, January 25, 2009

Context Is Everything

Exact quote of what I said to the hostess of the small gathering I attended on Saturday night: “This would’ve been a cool party, except you didn’t have enough rape.”

Explanation of exactly how I came to say this on Saturday night: I attended a Chinese New Year celebration hosted by a woman who spent a couple of years teaching in China and developed a fondness for many Chinese customs. One of them is the “hot pot” meal, which is similar to fondue only without the unpleasant Seventies connotations: We all sat around a wok filled with boiling water combined with a spicy bean paste, and on little plates all around the wok were various chopped raw ingredients. We each had a little bowl filled with sauce, and the idea was that we’d pick whatever ingredients we wanted, dump them into the boiling broth, and then spoon them out into our bowls once they’d finished cooking. (Actually, we all just dumped things in at random and fished out whatever we wanted as the night went along. It all tasted great, and the next time I host a party where I have to feed people, hot pot’s definitely how I’ll do it.)

The hostess pointed to each ingredient and identified it in turn: “This is lotus, broccoli, meat dumplings, mushrooms, fish balls, zucchini, [etc., etc.] and we’ll call that one ‘canola’ because it sounds better than ‘rape’.”

Most guests agreed, but I of course took a contrarian stance and said “You never know. Maybe people will leave here telling you, ‘This would’ve been a cool party, except you didn’t have enough rape’.”

Except she did; in fact, some uncooked canola remained on the plate when all we stopped eating and started watching hilariously bad Chinese pop music videos. It turned out to be a fantastically cool party, though how much of that stemmed from the easy access to rape remains debatable.

I personally did not partake of any rape that night, not out of moral principle so much as I just don’t like leafy green things.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

This Blog Entry Should’ve Been Posted Two Days Ago

Free at last! Free at last! From the horrors of unemployment I am FREE AT LAST!

I know: I should’ve made this blog post two days ago, on Martin Luther King Day. Not only would the “free at last” allusion have been timelier; that’s also when I actually got the job offer. However, “freedom from unemployment” also includes “freedom from excessive amounts of free time,” which is a fancier way of saying “I was too busy to post that night.”

Here’s a nutshell summary of what’s going on: Two months ago, I mentioned that the papers running my Sunday column were going to be shut down unless somebody bought them out. (In fact, last Friday would’ve been their final print day.) But hallelujah, somebody did! Once the papers’ continued existence was assured, the editor talked about taking me on full-time, and on Monday I met with the new owner/publisher and agreed to come on board as the papers’ new Entertainment Editor. However, this won’t become official until all the transfer-of-ownership paperwork is signed, hopefully sometime in the next couple of days.

Meanwhile, I’ve been writing several freelance articles for the papers, and couldn’t post on Monday night because my Boss-To-Be wanted a piece on how to hold an inexpensive wedding in today’s economy. I can answer that in two words – Vegas, baby – but that wouldn’t fill the allotted white space even with the largest font size available, so I had to do actual research instead. (And that research reaffirmed what I already knew: if I ever get hitched, I don’t want to bother with all this complicated planning-and-engraving crap; I’ll just elope to Vegas and hire a gay midget transvestite Elvis impersonator to perform the ceremony, and then after I return home I’ll host a lavish reception at my local Denny’s.)

One of the first professional goals I hope to accomplish in my new job is: get a new photo to replace the horrific one that currently runs with my weekly column. Not since my days of appearing in yearbooks has the world seen a more unflattering shot of me, and I hate that picture with the white-hot intensity of ten thousand suns.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Think Of The Children! And The Landfill Operators

Confession: with the exception of socks, shoes and undergarments, almost every item of clothing I own was bought at a thrift store or secondhand shop. Therefore, my wardrobe’s considerably nicer than what my income would lead you to expect. (And a lot more extensive, too. My boyfriend claims the size of my wardrobe to be exponentially in excess of what any five women actually require. He’s a good man in many ways, but here he’s flat-out wrong.)

It’s easy for me to dress well on little money because I live in Connecticut, a state filled with prodigal rich women who wouldn’t be caught dead wearing last season’s fashions so every year they give their [not very] old clothes to Goodwill and buy new ones. And, bless their hearts, many of them wear my exact size.

If this were a suspense novel rather than a blog post, I’d segue here into a description of how buying secondhand clothes led to horrible consequences. Maybe the last owner of my favorite winter coat (black car-length fake fur with gorgeous antique buttons) was a psychopath who, before donating her coat to the Salvation Army store where I found it, drenched the fabric with a substance that turned into skin-soluble cyanide once I had it steam-cleaned. Therefore, as a direct result of my used-coat ownership, I died.

In which case this post would be ghostwritten, one way or the other. And once the government heard about my horrible death, they’d pass a law making it illegal to sell coats without first testing each one for a substance that turns into skin-soluble cyanide once it’s steam-cleaned. Since Goodwill and Salvation Army and hospital auxiliary stores can’t possibly afford to do this, it will effectively become illegal to buy or sell used coats. Future American women will never experience the thrill of paying only five bucks for their favorite winter coat (whose gorgeous antique buttons alone are worth many times that).

And a similar law is set to take effect next month, only regulating the sellers of children’s clothing rather than adult’s:
Barring a reprieve, regulations set to take effect next month could force thousands of clothing retailers and thrift stores to throw away trunkloads of children's clothing.

The law, aimed at keeping lead-filled merchandise away from children, mandates that all products sold for those age 12 and younger -- including clothing -- be tested for lead and phthalates, which are chemicals used to make plastics more pliable. Those that haven't been tested will be considered hazardous, regardless of whether they actually contain lead.

"They'll all have to go to the landfill," said Adele Meyer, executive director of the National Assn. of Resale and Thrift Shops.

The new regulations take effect Feb. 10 under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which was passed by Congress last year in response to widespread recalls of products that posed a threat to children, including toys made with lead or lead-based paint.
Gross overkill response to a problem: government in action. Though apologists for the law could say government’s killing two birds with one stone here: making it illegal for parents to buy used items for their kids means more business for retail establishments, and improved-by-force-of-law consumer-spending statistics.

As if raising children weren’t expensive enough already! A ban on used clothing would seriously hurt my finances and decrease my standard of living, but not as badly as it will hurt parents. Adults like me have a huge advantage over children, when it comes to keeping clothing costs in line: I’ve worn the same size for over a decade now, and won’t likely have outgrown my entire wardrobe by this time next year. But children, especially in their growing-like-a-weed phases, can outgrow outfits in a matter of months. Even when they don’t, kids give their clothes a lot more rough-and-tumble treatment than I do.

Like most regulations, the new law will hurt small businesses far more than large:
The regulations also apply to new clothing. That won't be a problem for large manufacturers and retailers, industry experts say, but it will be a headache for small operators such as Molly Orr, owner of Molly O Designs in Las Vegas.
And for good measure, the law as written grants huge amounts of discretionary power to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which “does not have the authority to change the law but can decide how to interpret it,” according to the article.

The CPSC is offering to exempt products made of natural materials, like cotton or wool, but tests would still be required for non-natural dyes and artificial yarns, i.e., pretty much all clothes made of cotton or wool.

Whether you’re buying for a child or yourself, look for clothing costs to get a lot higher next month. And remember: it’s for your own good.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

You May Have Survived, But It Isn't Over

My column this week discusses, among other things, the similarities between the modern American body politic and survivors of gory '80s slasher films:
. . . Imagine the real-life survivor of an ’80s slasher spree trying to explain this to the police: “I know I’m drenched in blood that isn’t mine, and there’s a lot of fresh corpses in that abandoned summer camp just behind me, but I swear: It was the serial killer you thought you gunned down umpty-squat years ago this very night. Or the evil school janitor who died in a fire and kills kids in their dreams.”

Cops almost never fall for stories like that. So if I were a character in an ’80s horror flick and managed to outlive the psycho killer and make it to the end credits, I’d turn to my surviving friends and say “The Bad Man is gone, but we’re still in a world of hurt.”

Which, coincidentally, is exactly how I feel when contemplating the upcoming inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Silver Linings For The New Year

The best thing about being an American in 2009 is this: no matter what other horrible things happen to you in particular and the country in general, at least you’ll never have to spend another New Year’s Eve dealing with people who wear those enormous glitter-encrusted novelty eyeglass frames with lenses shaped from the two zeroes in the middle of every year we’ve had since the millennium turned.

Of course, you can say the same thing in any country that uses the Gregorian calendar. And the whole world benefits from knowing that the Yellowstone supervolcano probably won’t erupt and end most life on earth this year, despite the recent earthquakes.

So there’s one way the new year’s guaranteed to be an improvement over the old, plus one way things at least won’t get any worse. Happy new year, everybody.
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