Monday, January 30, 2006

Have you got one?

When disrobing before his shower this morning, Ben was overcome by intellectual curiosity, as often happens to a five-year-old.

Ben: Do firefighters have butt cracks?
Me: Yes.
Ben: Do ambulance guys have butt cracks?
Me: Yes, they do.
Ben: Do sick people have butt cracks?
Me: [Thinking As long as they're not sick with a raging case of noncrackitis.] Yes.
Ben: What about dead people?
Me: That...depends. [Thinking of cremation and advanced decomposition, either of which would pose a stern challenge to even the sturdiest butt crack.]
Ben: What if they're, like, skeletons?
Me: Then no.

(If you're reading this post months from now and wondering why there are no pictures of firemen with their pants off, I don't know what to tell you, other than good luck in your search!)

Sunday, January 29, 2006

I'm back, but in name only

It was wonderful to get away for a grown-up's vacation at Sundance, away from the daily burdens of childcare and housework. Any stay-at-home parent needs a chance to get out of town and recharge every now and then, and I'm grateful to Mr. Tangerine for taking a couple days off work so I could do this (and thanks to my mom, who took Tuesday off work).

Alas, when I left for Utah, there were a few loads of clean laundry in need of folding and drawerifying. I came back from my trip recharged but exhausted (sleeping just four hours a night will do that to a girl), and facing an ever-expanding heap of dirty laundry. I washed a couple loads but still haven't started that folding, so I've got an unprecedented amount of clean and dirty laundry sitting in silent rebuke to my domestic attentiveness. Ah, fuck it. It'll get done sometime, right? In the meantime, I'm having a hard time pulling myself away from the computer (as if that's a new thing!). Why, there's Googling to be done! Is there anything new in the media about Wordplay? I must know! Would those articles be lost to history if I skipped a day of Googling? Of course not. But do I feel more compelled to fold laundry? Hell, no.

Wow, if you're still reading, you must be just as addicted to reading blogs as I am. This is strikingly dull blog fodder here.

I'm grateful to Lisa and her family for welcoming me into their home for five days. Lisa's an enviably relaxed mother to her twin sons—I don't think I heard her raise her voice once at the twin bundles of pure energy that are Max and Oliver. Lisa's hospitality extended to her PC, which gave me a chance to keep up with my e-mail while I was out of town. And luckily for all, Lisa's offer of lodging was not a ruse to sell me to the fundamentalist Mormons as a plural wife, and I did not turn out to be an axe murderer or identity thief.

One of the best aspects of my Sundance getaway was the socializing. I generally spend an awful lot of time at home, alone or with my family. At Sundance, I was with other people from the time I woke up to the time I went to bed. I hadn't spent more than a few minutes in direct (not online) conversation with anyone there before I got to Utah, and some people were entirely new to me—and yet the intercourse was free and easy. (Who doesn't love using the word intercourse in lieu of conversation?) Lisa and the members of crossword gang are all great people—intelligent, witty, and often bloggerific.

Sorry this post was so nothing-laden. I felt duty-bound to write something, but my mind is woefully depleted of snappy repartee. And repartee implies more than one person doing the talking. Help me out here, folks. Give me something to reparteeize about with you. Please?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Shout-out from Language Log

A couple days ago, one of the crossword gang came across this Language Log post that refers readers to my other blog, Diary of a Crossword Fiend, for the Sundance/Wordplay scoop. After all the times I've cited Language Log posts over here, that made my day. (Or it would have, if I hadn't also been meeting famous people the same day.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Sundance logorrhea

I'm back home parked before my faithful G5, four days of Sundance experiences swirling inside my mind. Here's what I've been up to since my last post:

I reached Lisa's house Friday afternoon, and we clicked like old friends. That's one of the best things about blogging—if two bloggers click online and via email, if they enjoy each other's perspectives and attitudes, that sympatico sense seems to translate effortlessly into real-life friendship. Lisa's little boys were delightful—it was been like being around my own five-year-old, only twice as noisy since Oliver and Max are twins. They remind me a lot of Ben. Lisa's husband and brother-in-law—both tall, handsome drinks of water—wrangled the kids so Lisa could join me for Sundance festivities. (Thanks, guys!)

My film festival experience kicked off with a party hosted by Wordplay director Patrick Creadon and producer Christine O'Malley's families (Patrick and Christine are married and have two little girls in addition to a bouncing baby documentary). This gathering was pretty mellow, and offered a chance for the crossword people and the filmmakers' relatives to mingle and get to know each other—we'd be seeing a lot of one another over the next few days. Patrick took the opportunity to thank a lot of people—everyone from the kin who had funded the movie to my crossword-constructing friend Vic Fleming, who helped arrange for Bill Clinton's participation in the movie; once the Clinton interview had been scheduled, Jon Stewart was suddenly so much more interested in appearing in Wordplay himself.

(Here's a promotional button for the movie. Buttons were also available with a pencil or a marker—but the cool kids solve crosswords with a glue stick.)

Many of the "stars" of Wordplay—NYT puzzle editor Will Shortz and several top crossword competitors—shared a spacious condo in Deer Valley (affectionately termed the Puzzle Palace). Lisa and I hung out there a few evenings, and had a wonderful time. Board games, blogging, wordplay, camaraderie, great food, and heavy drinking (well, if you count the milk we had when Stella baked blondies). We played a song-lyrics board game called Encore, and there was so much laughter you'd think we were all trashed out of our respective gourds. But nope, we were just high on witty banter. The kitchen table was often laden with laptops, and you know what? No one looked at you funny if you wanted to blog or do crosswords online. My tribe, my peeps.

Saturday morning, we went to the Wordplay world premiere. The movie had sold out well in advance of the festival, and a few hundred people lined up in the hope of getting into the screening from the waiting-list line. The process was inexplicable and chaotic, but eventually our entire contingent (except Lisa, alas, and the 200 people in line behind her) did get in to see the premiere (some of us at the last minute). The movie was fantastic, the crowd loved it, you'll laugh and you'll cry, omigod Jon Stewart was so funny (he may have to go on the freebie list), damn, Bill Clinton looks good these days (all right, he's back on the freebie list), yadda yadda yadda. Your faithful correspondent pops up on screen briefly a few times (and my name's listed in the credits in the "Also Featuring" category), and I'm the only one in the movie who curtsies. (Yes, I know that's a little odd. No, I don't know what I was thinking. And no, I don't regret looking a tad silly since it kept me in the movie! Someday, I'll meet Bill Clinton or Jon Stewart, and he'll think, "She looks familiar...where do I know her from?" And I'll curtsy, and it'll click: "Oh, right! We're in the same movie! Do you have time to join me for coffee?") I'm so glad I made the trip to Sundance to see the movie here—we crossword insiders did a lot of nudging and whispering ("Hey, there I am!" "Look, there you are again!" "Ooh, foreshadowing!"). I'm sure I'll see the movie many more times with other people, but the nudging and whispering won't be quite the same when the friends I'm seeing the movie with aren't, you know, in the movie.

That afternoon, Will did a well-attended book signing at Dolly's Bookstore on Main Street. None of our group needed Will's autograph, and generally we've done all the NYT crosswords so we don't need to buy the books, so instead we just held up the line by taking pictures. Here's a picture of me with Will (the mustachioed man in the center) and another Also Featured Wordplay cast member, Byron Walden.

After the book signing, Tyler Hinman, Stella Daily, and I did a little window shopping down Main Street. This bit of furry apparel caught our collective eye. The tag read, "For the man who has everything." Valentine's Day is coming up soon, ladies and gay men. You'll want to order your beau's fur thong this week.

Sunday, there was a post-premiere brunch at a restaurant that was a looong walk uphill. Good food, NPR puzzles with Will, good chats. CNN came to the party to interview the movie's crossword-solving stars. The CNN "entertainment anchor" Brooke Anderson was a hot blonde who absolutely stood out as "not one of us." (Way hotter in person than in that link.) I have no idea if CNN ever aired any of the footage, though...

Monday, Lisa and I met up with the gang at another Wordplay screening at the beautiful but cold Sundance Resort. I loved the movie even more the second time around. I've gotta say, I'm impressed with the structure of the film, the clever ways the filmmakers, the editor Doug Blush, and the graphics pro Brian Oakes pieced the threads together into a coherent whole that sort of followed the structure of a crossword puzzle. Great music in it, too.

You know who else liked the movie on Monday? Glenn Close. She approached the Wordplay/puzzlers group for conversation and photos (the movie star sought out our group, not vice versa!). She's absolutely stunning, and she's shorter than me. Who knew? Here's a picture. From left to right: Brian, Marie, Wordplay producer and director Christine O'Malley and Patrick Creadon (he looked blissfully happy for days on end), Glenn Close, crossword constructor Merl Reagle, and crossword-tournament stars Ellen Ripstein, Tyler Hinman, and Al Sanders.

Monday night, I accompanied fellow members of the crossword mafia (Ellen, Stella, Dean, Al, Tyler, Trip, and Brian) to a club called Zoom for a party held by the publicists trying to sell Wordplay and a few other films. People were turned away at the door if they weren't on the guest list—and the crossword geeks, of course, made the cut. There was no velvet rope, but it was pretty damn cool to be ushered into a private party. One woman actually grabbed Dean's coat in a futile attempt to ride his coattails into the party. (She was rebuffed.) The folks at the door did let a few outsiders in—we met Saturday Night Live comedian Rachel Dratch (actually, I merely passed her on the stairs) and documentarian Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me). He's kinda hot in person, and we had a nice little chat and posed for a picture. I also found out that the editor of Wordplay, Doug, and I have some mutual friends. Small world. And either after I left Zoom or when I was upstairs, other famous people showed up at the party—their pictures are here.

My Sundance experience is now behind me. I've been ruined for all subsequent film festivals now—how could anything compare? Just...seeing movies? That I'm not in? Without parties with Hollywood insiders? I don't know about that. Anyway, you'll get a chance to see Wordplay yourselves later this year. Several distributors have been clamoring to buy the rights to the movie, so it's practically assured of having a theatrical release. And the Sundance audiences have loved the movie, so we're hoping Wordplay will find an enthusiastic audience, sell a zillion tickets, get great reviews, and win fabulous awards. Move over, March of the Penguins. Let the black-and-white seabirds make way for the black-and-white squares of Wordplay.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Automated out-of-office reply

I don't know if I'll get a chance to post again before I leave for Sundance (Sundance, baby!) at the crack of dawn on Friday, so here I am now. If I have time and can figure out how to post from someone else's machine, I might blog from Utah—otherwise, see you next week!

The lovely Lisa the Bored Housewife was kind enough to offer me a place to stay, and she's so domestically talented, she's even going to prepare home-cooked meals for me. I just might refuse to leave when the film festival is over. If she's got cable TV in the basement, so I'll be all set. At some point, though Utah will probably send me screaming back to Chicago. I hear they sheathe fashion magazines in discreet covers at the newsstands out there—as if Glamour is as morally shocking as Hustler. It's not as if I crave unimpeded access to fashion magazines, but you know what I'm saying.

I will be taking my threaded eyebrows and my new haircut (which will be wrought upon my head tomorrow) to a couple parties for the Wordplay contingent at Sundance, and I'll also be giving my longjohns a workout standing in line outdoors Saturday morning trying to get a ticket for the movie's world premiere. (What could be more glamorous than longjohns? Nothing, that's what. I'm going totally Hollywood this weekend.) I bought tickets for a fairly random assortment of movies, but I don't know how many of them I'll end up seeing. I mean, for starters, two fifths of the members of my freebie list—Robert Downey Jr. and Bruce Willis—are also appearing in movies at Sundance. See? We've got so much in common now. We're all in Sundance movies this month. I think it's fate...

Monday, January 16, 2006

A child's grasp of King Day

Ben’s off school today in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. Last week, he learned about Dr. King’s legacy. He said they watched two filmstrips: Can this be possible? Are schoolchildren in 2006 still watching filmstrips? (I was always a smidgen envious of the go-getters who got to operate the filmstrip machine back when I was in grade school...)

Ben was telling me about King, but there are so many words in his full name, it’s hard for a five-year-old to get it right. I heard things like “Martin Luther Doctor King Junior” and “Martin Luther King Junior Martin,” and King Kong was mentioned more than once.

Ben was grooving on his garbled singsong rendition of “We Shall Overcome.”You know, I swear I never learned the song in school. “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” yes. “We Shall Overcome,” no. A tremendous shortcoming in my education, surely.

Anyway, I asked Ben, “What did Martin Luther King stand for? What did he say?”He replied, “That kids should be quiet so they can hear their teachers.” Ha! Yes, that’s right. Let us judge children not by the color of their skin, but by whether or not they are quiet so they can hear their teachers.

He learned about segregated bathrooms and bus seating. He learned that the civil rights movement tried to make things more fair for black people, but he didn’t really know what “black people” meant. (These people are brown, darn it! Ben, like most innocent kids, characterizes people by their shades of brown, tan, pink, and white rather than by the social construct of race.) So I had to explain that for the first time. I was hoping my mixed-race baby could get a little older before having to introduce the concepts of race and racism, but the words and lessons of Martin Luther King, Jr., are certainly an excellent starting point for that discussion.

Also? The kindergartners colored in little stapled-together coloring books about MLK. On the cover, Ben opted for the lime-green marker for Dr. King’s face:

Jeans advice

All right. Desperate to acquire some new jeans, I bought a pair at the Gap the other day. They've got the broken-in "left weave" denim and the "curvy flare" cut, and they look decent on me. However I am an adult. And these jeans? They have holes in them—one on the right knee, one on the left thigh. And preemptively holey jeans, quite frankly, are silly.

Question 1: Can I wear these jeans in public at my advanced age (late 30s), or must I return them for a refund? They're the first jeans that fit well enough for me to buy them after about three months of occasional shopping.

Question 2: If I do keep these jeans, can I wear them at Sundance? Is it in poor taste to let your long underwear show through the prefab holes in your jeans?

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Headline of the day

"Turkey Moves to Save Poultry Industry."

Is this the pitch for a sequel to Chicken Run?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

My latest conversion

In preparation for my first spendy haircut and my first venture into hair color/highlights, I figured I'd better get my brows tidied up. If I were to walk into that fancy-schmancy salon next week sporting a pair of meek caterpillars* above my eyes, I can't say I'd blame them if they shoved me out amid peals of mocking laughter and barred the door. So I made an appointment for brow waxing.

When I arrived, the "technician" (is there such a thing as tech support for waxing?) asked if I wanted my eyebrows waxed or threaded. Ooh! Threading! I'd been wanting to try threading, because waxing has been known to draw blood from my oh-so-sensitive skin. The technician has her own brows threaded and she's been performing the technique for six years, so I figured I'd be in good hands. Threading, like any technique that involves ripping hairs out of one's skin, hurts a bit. But while waxing always left the area around my brows reddened and irritated for the rest of the day, I left the appointment feeling perfectly fine.

Here are the results:

Would you please remind me to do this again in mid-February when the caterpillars begin nesting again? Thanks!

*No, I can't show you a "before" photo. It would be too alarming.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Fear and Loathing in the Brassiere

It seems like a lot of women have mixed feelings about their breasts. They're too small. They're too big. They're too droopy. They're shaped wrong. One's bigger than the other. They garner unwanted attention. They're painful. They're the subject of medical concern, or might turn cancerous. They're tubular. Men don't like them enough, or they like them too much. They changed after pregnancy. They changed after weight gain/loss. They have stretch marks or noticeable veins. They don't function as expected for breastfeeding. Bras don't fit, clothes don't hang right. Nipples are too big, small, flat, protuberant, dark, light, hairy, or inverted. Nipples are too sensitive or not sensitive enough, or they're too obvious when it's chilly.

Me, I’ve got about seven mammary complaints myself. Overall, I’m not dissatisfied with them, but I’m not thrilled either. The best thing I can say about them is that they’re remarkably soft. (No implants here!) And maybe someday I’ll seek a boost from a plastic surgeon (a breast lift, not augmentation).

Women, how content are you with your breasts? Do any of us absolutely love what we’ve got, or do we all have reservations? I never see this topic discussed, but I bet there’s a great deal that goes unsaid.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Washington, Lincoln, and Ogunleye?

Eric Zorn's latest column muses on the "euphonic symphony" of players' names in today's NFL. The Chicago Bears roster includes guys named Adawale Ogunleye, Oladele Brendon Ayanbadejo, and Israel Idonije—and yes, one of them is foreign-born: Idonije was born in Canada. The rest of the league includes many other players with non-European, not-traditionally-American names.

Celebrating their distinctive appellations celebrates that Americans from other cultures no longer have to "westernize" their names to fit in, Zorn writes. It wasn't long ago that the conventional wisdom held that Illinois voters would be reluctant to elect a governor with a hard-to-spell name like Blagojevich, or a senator with a "foreign" name like Barack Obama. As it turns out, not only did Illinoisans vote for Obama in droves, but the rest of the country wants a chance to vote for him, too. Zorn points out, Unfamiliar is not the same as strange. Foreign does not mean unwelcome. The beauty is both in the lyrical cadences of Ayanbadejo, Idonije and Ogunleye and in the recognition they provoke: National and cultural origins notwithstanding, these are also, now, truly American names.

I look at the names of my son's kindergarten classmates and see the future of the city. Zishan and Maham, Tinuola and Pedro, Michelle and Lynda. All of them are American kids, no more or less so than the Caitlyns, Tylers, and (alas) Brittneys.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

"If you love somebody, set them free"

Did it vex you mightily that the Sting lyric followed the singular "somebody" with the the plural "them"? Were you taught that "if you love somebody, set him or her free" or "if you love some people, set them free" would be the preferred usage?

Well, rest your battle-wearied head, because Geoffrey Pullum at Language Log says it's OK. No less an authority than The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language takes the stance that they can follow a singular antecedent. Pullum writes, "It's a position that couldn't really be doubted by anyone who had devoted even a few minutes to looking at the facts of usage, be it literary (over the past 600 years) or everyday conversational. Excellent advice."

Pullum scorns the "American backwardness" of "Strunk and White, and their thousands of latter-day co-religionists such as Stanley Fish and the style guides of the Modern Language Association and the American Psychological Association. Why do these sources continue to damn singular antecedents for they in defiance of all the evidence of its constant use by respectable authors during at least the past six centuries? I have no idea."

I can accept the singular they, Sting or no Sting. But what I still vehemently deplore is the misguided use of the subjective I where an objective me belongs, as in the Bodeans song, "Good Things": "No, no, no, don't pass me over. No, no, no, don't pass me by. See I can see good things for you and I." I like the song, but I have no choice but to edit while singing along, making "for you and me" rhyme with "see I can see." (The Bodeans should have thought of that themselves.) And don't get me started on "just between you and I," okay?

Awards season

You know how some bloggers get all riled up about the Bloggies or the BoBs or the Blahblogs or whatever all those awards are? Well, I am the proud recipient of a few awards myself: The fabulous woman who goes by the moniker of Feral Mom has just bestowed the 2005 Feral Blog Awards. The brilliant and buxom writer Lisa and I tied for two awards: Best Writing and Best Rack. And the estimable DoctorMama tied me for the Smartypants Award. I am greatly honored, and I'd like to thank blahblahblah.

Is it unseemly to tout the awards one has received? Absolutely. But everyone does it, and I just want to fit in.

(Confidential to Sergei: You won't want to miss this award-winning post about testicular ultrasound.)

Sundance, baby!

In the words of The Clash: Should I stay or should I go? The Sundance Film Festival's computer e-mailed me today to tell me when I can attempt to buy movie tickets. My half-hour slot isn't on the first day of online sales (it's either the second, third, or fourth day), and I hear the locals have snagged a lot of the tickets for the weekend of January 20–22. The premiere of the crossword documentary Wordplay is on Saturday the 21st. And there are parties for the Wordplay contingent on Friday and Saturday, as well as repeat showings Sunday night and Monday afternoon.

Sounds like a blast, right? But what if I fly to Utah, only to find out that while I made a brief appearance in the rough cut of the movie, I've been abandoned during the final editing process? Then...I see an interesting movie about people I know, not including me. Which isn't a terrible thing. And I've gotten a lovely offer of housing from Lisa, whom I'd love to meet. And who doesn't like to escape Chicago in go to the snowy mountains of Utah? Same cold wind, but more scenic.

Advice? Does anyone think it's silly to go?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

U-Kill the punctuation

Swim where?

Here's the bottom of the rules and regulations sign posted by the swimming pool in a Minnesota motel.

Choose your favorite aspect:

A. The inconsistent spelling and capitalization of swimwear (Swim Wear? swim ware?).
B. The awkwardness of the phrasing in "no children allowed under 12" and in the additional guidelines.
C. The fact that the motel's trying to evade any liability for people ruining their swimwhair (swimwere?) by donning non-chlorine-resistant garb. Who does that? Are people going for a dip in their fine woolens?

You want to know what rule was omitted but turned out to be sorely needed? Thou shalt not deposit a log in the pool. While our group was away for dinner, someone defiled the pool, so my kid and his cousins missed a chance to swim while the pool was sanitized.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The beauty within the city

Some people look at a big city and bemoan what is absent: wide open spaces, lush greenery, uninterrupted expanses of trees, spacious sky views.

I see the city for what it is—the bustling people, the huddled edifices, the constant hum of traffic punctuated by jets descending toward O’Hare, the dirty snow—but I take notice of the beauty and peacefulness it also contains.

Last week I spotted a new squirrel’s nest, a clutch of brown leaves nestled in the crook of a small elm tree in my back yard. Behind it is the back of a four-story building, the common brick dingy with age. Below it, there’s a chain-link fence and blacktop; just above it, utility wires. But from its nest, the squirrel can also see a mulberry tree, a maple, and many more small elms. In November, one of the elms still had green leaves; one bore yellow leaves; the others were bare. Above them all, framed by the neighboring buildings, we can see the blue sky, the clouds, the dark night sky—once, a lunar eclipse.

The bird species seen most commonly in my neighborhood would impress no birder: mostly sparrows and starlings, a few raucous crows, the occasional cardinal. But last month, I saw a robin (they don’t all hide out until spring). A broken water pipe seeps water, forming a streaming puddle oasis on a snowy hill. The robin was loitering beside the water, borrowing its relative warmth.

In warmer weather, even the most routine walk with a child becomes an impromptu nature trek. Here’s an anthill in the sidewalk crack, teeming with life. Over there, bees and butterflies paying their social calls to the flowers awaiting their pollinators. Squat down to pull a few weeds in the front yard’s groundcover and discover daddy longlegs, small spiders, earthworms, slugs. Pass under a fruiting mulberry tree, pull down a branch, and share some richly sweet, sun-warmed berries with your child.

Nearby, Lake Michigan offers rhythmic waves, swooping gulls and swifts, dragonflies, and deep green, swooshing algae. We seldom spy fish swimming by unless we linger at the harbor’s edge; sometimes the smell of dead fish wafts by, and that too is nature. The sound of the lapping waves, the coolness of the breezes, the endless blue horizon.

The nearness of the lake gives regular lessons in microclimate. When a warm day mingles with the cool water, it’s often a good 15 degrees cooler within a few blocks of the lake; every few years, the extremely localized weather conditions consist of dense, cool fog along the lakeshore when it’s warm and sunny less than a mile west. During the winter, the nights are warmer close to the lake.

Today, it’s uncharacteristically warm (near 40 degrees) and rainy for January. Low clouds or high fog obscured my view of a nearby highrise. Forty miles away, without a 50-story building as a backdrop, would I be able to see the dramatically low clouds and understand how close to the ground they wafted?

I love nature. But I feel so at home in my urban environment that I can’t imagine living where the mountains were designed by orogeny rather than architects and engineers. Nature will always insist on cracking the civilized fa├žade, however, and even the most densely populated neighborhood must make room for the birds, the bugs, the sky, the breeze.