Saturday, September 23, 2006


We all know them, those obnoxious know-it-all moms who can't help showing off about their child's incredible developmental milestones. You know the ones I mean, they always wear pastel colored jogging suits and have perfectly coiffed over-blonde hair and full face make up.

"Did I tell you what Brandon can do now?" Bragging Mom asked me yesterday, as she accosted me at the school gates. "I can't tell you how easy my mornings have become since Brandon (5) learnt to get himself out of bed and then make his own cereal and quietly switch on the TV. It frees me up to put on my orange pancake makeup, as well as allowing me to indulge in a quickie with my Ken Doll husband who, as he enters me, cries, 'The Eagle has landed!'" Actually, she didn't say that last bit, but from her inane smile, I knew that's what she was thinking.


You never have a comeback at the time, do you? Well, yesterday I did.

"That's great," I said, "but can Brandon use the DVD remote?"

"The what?" she said, looking flustered.

"Yeah," I said coolly, "Scarlett (5) knows all the functions now. Fast forward, pause, eject, play. She just gets up in the morning, slips in a DVD and her and Sausage watch Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, while I drag my sorry arse out of bed."

She shuffled off, and I savored the victory of trouncing her for once.

Oh yes, Scarlett has finally, finally, mastered the DVD remote, and now I can sometimes read more than two pages of a novel, file my nails, or even read an article on Multiple Orgasms 101 without Scarlett screaming, "Mommy! MOMMMMMMEEEEE! How do I get this DVD to play?"

It's heaven, it's bliss. I have so much to be thankful for.

Too much.

My encounter with Bragging Mom got me thinking about all my personal goals and how they have all been ticked off.

A few months ago I was:

1. Fat.
2. Obsessed with chocolate. If I dropped an M&M on the pavement I would pick it up and eat it. I had a serious problem.
3. Waiting for Sausage (3) to start going to pre-school every day.
4. Waiting for Sausage to grow to the required height to be able to go into the IKEA daycare room so that I could shop in peace.

Now, after being forced by my mom to walk eight hours a day a very pleasant and energizing holiday in Vienna, I find myself:

1. A reformed couch potato with a smoking body and an urge to work out at the gym.
2. No longer obsessed with chocolate. I went into a shop just now, thinking I might buy myself a bar. But NONE OF THE BARS APPEALED TO ME. I ended up buying a package of prunes. Prunes! I no longer have a craving for chocolate. Someone must have rewired my brain or something. It's so wierd.
3. With nothing to occupy my mind while Sausage is at school in the mornings (Scarlett is at school until 3.30, when she is delivered to my door on the school bus).
4. Able to shop at IKEA in peace because Sausage has reached the required height.

It's all good, you're probably thinking.

But it's not!

I find that now, with all my goals achieved and with both kids at school, I'm bored. Yes, of course, now that I have my incredible new body, I've thought of taking a job as a pole dancer. But does anyone know of a club that operates during the pre-school hours of nine to twelve?

It's a very desperate situation.

I have nothing to worry about! Nothing. Not even a chocolate craving to keep me busy looking down the back of the sofa for lost dimes so that I can rush out to Seven Eleven and have a chocolate binge.

I've got to the point where I'm desperate for some form of anxiety high. In fact, I'm going to have to ask you to offload your problems on me, so that I have something to worry about. Which is quite sad, when you really think about it.

So, anyway, has anyone got any juicy problems they want to share?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Witch Hunt

I wonder what it must be like to be a guy these days. What with so many high profile child molestation cases in the news, do you feel under scrutiny? Everywhere, I see adverts for 'female babysitters' or 'female day care providers.' I guess the whole male race is now being watched in case they are potential abusers.

Take yesterday, I was at the park with my kids, when I see this man wandering about the playground, who, actually, I have talked to a few times. Apart from being quite dull and telling me in a rapid fire way about the fascinating topic of computer programming, he seems like an okay dad to his seven year old son. Well, today it looked like he was in the park without his son, or at least, that was what it looked like. I didn't think twice about him. Several of the other parents at the playground, however, did. People stared at him, as he circled the playground, staring up at the clouds.

"Who is that guy?" they whispered to each other.

"Do you think he's a pervert?"

"Why doesn't he have any kids with him?"

"What should we do?"

In the end, someone said they were going to call park security to get the matter dealt with. Meanwhile, the man had wandered off down the hill, in the direction of a stream, which is often frequented by kids, who like to toss rocks into it.

A few minutes later, a security car pulled up and the parents gave an audible sigh of relief. The security guy then simply sat in the car for a few minutes and then drove off, which was a good thing, I suppose, because I would have hated for the computer nerd to have been arrested, for what exactly? For having a wierd way of talking and wandering around a playground looking a bit eccentric?

Eventually, because people were still going on about it, I turned to one mom and said, "Look, I think that guy's all right. He has a son. I don't know him that well, but I think he's okay." But even as I said it, paranoia gripped me and I thought, "What if I am defending a paedophile?" I guess I'd got caught up in the playground hysteria.

The woman replied, "Oh, they all have families, that doesn't mean a thing."

Later, the computer nerd came back up the hill with his son, who must have been playing down there. I guess I felt sorry for the guy, because he'd been proven guilty without any proof. Of course, none of parents talked to him and gave him a wide berth.

I think the media has a lot to answer for, because it makes people read guilt into the most harmless situations. In this hyper paranoid age, people will see what they want to see. What do you say?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Project Insanity

I don’t watch television for years, telling everyone American TV is garbage. Then along comes a series that whacks me over the head and leaves me addicted, and before I know it, I’m having to indulge my dirty little secret. My only consolation is that I can share my addiction with you, friends who I will probably never meet in the flesh.

Because Reality TV has been going for at least six years, I thought they’d have exhausted the format by now. That is, until I switched on the TV one evening and saw a beautiful woman, a masochist’s dream. Her hair was pulled back from her face and she had cheekbones sharp enough to slice cheese. In a harshly German accented voice, she was telling some poor guy:

“Your dress was a mess. It looks like something fit for the garbage heap. You are out!”

Cut to a contestant, lower lip trembling and on the verge of tears, standing beside a model wearing a horrendous dress that looks like it was hastily fashioned from a burlap bag.

The masochist’s dream was Heidi Klum. The program was Project Runway. And I was hooked.

The pretext is that fifteen designers compete against each other (with one kicked off the show each week), and whoever wins gets lots of money to create their own line. So obviously, while everyone pretends they are best friends, they can’t wait to slag everyone else’s designs off behind their back.

Yesterday I watched the show with my five year old daughter, Scarlett. The contestants were briefed to make a couture gown in Paris, in two days! They all managed it, which I thought was quite an achievement, and I wonder if a team of seamstresses didn’t jump out and finish the job when the camera stopped rolling.

The contestants are mostly oddballs. They are:

Pregnant Woman – this forty-two year old architect, desperate to get away from her five kids, and wanting to make a career in fashion, signed up for the show. She’s now been away from the kids for the entire series. She looks pretty good, like a prettier Cruella de Ville. She’s also pregnant and is desperate for sympathy. “I’m not like the other contestants,” she says. “I can’t get drunk on champagne at the end of every day. This competition is really taking its toll on my body. I don’t just have myself to look after, I also have a little guy in there.” Never mind the little guy, what about your kids. Hello? You have five kids who might be a little bit more important than your need to take part in a fashion competition.

Goth Guy – who may well be the progeny of Liza Minelli and David Gest, is the bitchy, backstabbing star of the show. He has lots of ‘tude and struts around in tight leather pants, tiny t-shirts and rhinestone encrusted sunglasses. It’s impossible to take one’s eyes off him, because he looks like a turtle, with a stretched out neck which is, bizarrely, tattooed. At first glance the tattoo looks like a dotted line, handily placed there for the condemned man who is about to go to the guillotine. But then you realize it is ornate writing, ostensibly his son’s name. It is a truly grotesque sight, and you should tune in just to see it.

Wig Man –a fifty year old man who looks like he’s wearing a dead cat on his head. While it looks like an animal corpse or a bad wig, I fear it is his real hair, lackered stiff. He also wears rectangular glasses with thick black frames in order to look serious, and can’t design for toffee.

Highly Strung Gay Guy – Born to design costumes in Vegas for Wayne Newton, this man harbors ambitions to be a fashion designer. I guess they don’t check the contestants for mental illness before they go on, but any psychiatrist could tell you this man is clearly delusional.

Token Black Guy – He’s only got nice things to say about the other contestants. “She has great creative energy. I love his designs.” I hate him.

Tiny German Girl – Can only design one dress. Long, flowing and hippyish. She’s so boring they really need to kick her off.

Yesterday, all the contestants were flown first class to Paris to design and make their couture gowns. Wig Man, who was strutting around and bragging, “No one can do couture the way I can. Couture really gets me off,” designed a dress that had a deep V in the front.

“He didn’t know what he was doing,” said my five year old daughter Scarlett, who was watching the show with me, as he put the dress on the model. “That girl’s titties are going to fall out.” She was right, they did.

Goth Guy had done something that looked like a yellow parachute, all billowy fabric and stringy bits.

Scarlett’s verdict: “It looks like a pineapple.”

Tiny German Girl had, admittedly, designed the only wearable dress, a long, flowing hippyish dress in pale purple.

Scarlett: “That’s my favorite. I like it.”

Pregnant Woman had created a very dull black dress with a white choir boy ruffle.

Scarlett: “That’s so boring! She looks like a witch.”

Highly Strung Gay Guy had made a fairy tale dress with a gold mesh bodice and long flowing skirt.

Scarlett, “I wouldn’t wear it. But it would look great on my Princess Barbie.” Well said.

Token Black Guy produced a so-so blue dress with lots of swirls.

All the contestants had to fit their dresses on their models and take them to a boat party on the Seine. On the way there a fat man, maybe because they affronted his Parisian sense of style, pelted the designers with eggs from his balcony, and Token Black Guy’s dress got covered in slimy albumen.

Unperturbed, the gang proceeded onto the boat, where their creations were judged by a so called famous French designer I have never heard of, Barbarella van de Brie or something, who spoke with a very strong French accent.

High on the free champagne, Wig Man tried to ingratiate himself with Barbarella, who, because she was being paid to be on the show, could not throw her champagne in his face or have him escorted off the boat by security. With his face in her cleavage, he told the raven haired beauty that, “Your style is so uniquely French. I admire you so much. Your hair is so beautifully styled and your makeup is impeccably applied. No one does couture like I do, and I have a real penchant for detail. You are perfectly finished, no detail is out of place.”

He needn’t have bothered. Barbarella hated his dress, it was obvious by the way she wrinkled her nose when he asked her what she thought of it. In the end she could only say, “It is a very interesting dress.”

Next they all flew back to New York to have a second round of judging by Michael Kors and some ‘famous’ designer who had just created the new Delta flight attendant uniforms.

The result? Goth Guy, with his pineapple dress, was declared the winner. I don’t know how that happened. My guess is he was sleeping with Michael Kors or Heidi or someone.

In the end, Heidi Klum told Wig Man:

“The front of your dress looks like it should be at the back. It is just awful. Wig Man, you are out!”

And thus Wig Man was kicked off the show.

Since Scarlett chose that as the worst dress, I wonder if she is destined for a career in fashion?

Now I can barely wait for the new episode, which airs on Wednesday.

Who will be the next to be offed? Token Black Guy or even Pregnant Woman? Can they chuck a pregnant woman off the show? It would certainly be a controversial move.

And what about the future of Reality TV? Will TV execs be forced to move into more controversial ground, as Infinite Muppets suggests. I, for one, would love to take part in a show he suggests, called Castrate-A-Paedo. Are there any TV execs out there taking note? That, even more than Project Runway, would be a ratings hit. Guaranteed.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

New York on a Nickel

Today, author Ayun Halliday has dropped by for a virtual chat. She is probably best known for a witty little zine she pens, The East Village Inky, which features cartoons about the hells and highpoints of motherhood. She’s also just published a book in the UK called Mama Lama Ding Dong: A Mother’s Tales From the Trenches (The Big Rumpus in the US) in which she chronicles the trials of bringing up Inky and Milo in small apartments with bad plumbing in New York City. Despite how pricey it is to rent an apartment, she is passionate that the Big Apple is, for her, the best place to bring up her kids.

What would have become of me, she writes in Mama Lama Ding Dong, if I did live in a suburb, or even a city like Los Angeles, where it’s normal for new parents to have cars and backyards and their own swing sets? I would have gone mad from the isolation! … In the same way that people who choose to live in areas of great natural beauty would go crazy without easy access to the ocean or mountains, my mental health hinges on my proximity to colorful characters, like the transsexual who dresses in a tutu and a bedraggled cat suit to ride an oversized bicycle with a harp strapped to the back, playing accordion for tips.

The stimulus I need as a stay-at-home mother is not provided by clean yards, affordable housing, excellent public schools or natural beauty.

I hear you Ayun! In fact, her descriptions of living in New York are so lively and invigorating that you might be tempted to move there yourself. I also love her warts and all description of labor with her daughter Inky. Everyone will be able to relate to how the best laid plans often go astray when there’s a baby trying to get out.

I went into full labor on the corner of First Avenue and 9th Street. Then I rampaged through our apartment for four hours, yelling my head off (while Greg slept intermittently on the midwife’s instructions), though our gallant neighbors insisted they never heard a thing through the thin tenement walls. I writhed on our unmopped kitchen floor, sandwiched between the refrigerator and the sink, watching a cockroach marching along the baseboard. That was the first omen that my labor was not going to be the beautiful experience I had anticipated.

What can I say? Go out and get Mama Lama Ding Dong or The Big Rumpus. Why? Because you’ll love it, that’s why. And if you’ve ever read my blog, you’ll know I’m pretty stingy in handing out praise. Unless it’s due, which it is in this case!

Now then, back to my chat with Ayun.

Where will you be doing book readings over the next few months, so people can go see you?

I'll be heading to Philly, Chicago, Austin, Portland (OR) and the Bay Area next month. Here's the nitty, with some gritty to follow as soon as Webmaster Dave gets off his heiner and quits his day job!

You now live in Brooklyn. Since I’ve never been there, I’m curious to know, is it really populated with the kind of nutty pseudo-intellectuals like the ones featured in The Squid and the Whale?

Oh, yeah. I think a lot of people went to see that movie and sucked in their breath, thinking , "There but for the grace of ..." And while I envied Laura Linney her square footage (we're on the top floor of a brownstone), I felt the set designer did a great job of creating a believable space in which those characters could dwell. Actually, I read an interview with Noah Baumbach and he said they shot it in a family friend's house, and that Jeff Daniels wore his dad's old clothes.

Now, because I’m a notorious cheapskate who loves a good deal, I’m keen to know how you entertain the kids in New York for next to nothing. Is it easier to find cheap or free things to do with the kids around your neighborhood? Or was there more to do in the East Village, where you lived before?

The East Village was feeling pretty well gentrified by the time we left, though there are always $1 ice creams, free sprinklers and cheap breakfasts to be had, even if you don't know where to look. Now our Brooklyn neighborhood is shooting down that flume. Every time a bodega closes, the space reopens as a French bistro, an American Apparel Outlet or a boutique with $40 ringer tees featuring cereal box mascots from my childhood. But you can still buy a 50 cent cup of Italian ice from a street vendor, enjoy a tall glass of watermelon juice & some dirt cheap tamales at Fast and Fresh Deli, make a killing with or at a weekend stoop sale, and chuck water balloons or play scully in a playground (with bottle caps scrounged from the trash!) The housing projects don't seem to be going anywhere, and there's a very well established Arabic community who don't seem to be going for the $40 ringer tees, but I am sensing the old timers dying off or moving south.

Here's a thing about New York though. Subway's only 2 bucks! And it's a little murky when children start to pay. (Okay, 45 inches, but nobody's standing around with a measuring stick, least of all me!) You can get to the freebies, however far flung they may be!

What are the best sources for finding out about free kids’ activities in New York?> Go City Kids

Time Out is good for the whole family. I believe you have to be a subscriber to access their special Time Out Kids calendar, but especially if your children are out of the toddler stage, regular Time Out should do you just fine! You can pick up a copy of Time Out or Time Out Kids at the newsstand. The Village Voice is free, and is particularly good for listing the free concerts in the summer.

There are a bunch of guidebooks geared to experiencing the city with kids. The one we used (I say used b/c I think we have been to so many of the places listed that we think we discovered them on our own) is called The Cool Parents' Guide to All of New York

Finally, I have a few suggestions on my website, but I wrote a book or two and celebrated at least 2 children's birthdays since the last update, so as with any guidebook, phone first!

What are your top five activities to do with kids in New York that won’t make a dent in your wallet?

Five? You can't wind me up and expect me to stop at five! Granted, some of these will cost you more than a subway ride, but having once traveled through Italy for a week with only one restaurant meal to show for it, I can't in good conscience go so hardcore on you as to steer visitors clear of the memorably worth-it splurge (i.e. an adult MOMA ticket, the Wonder Wheel, some tuna maki at Taro Sushi)!

Eating coconut buns at Nice One Bakery on Bayard Street in Chinatown.

Riding the Wonder Wheel at Coney Island.

Making Monty Python-style animations at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens.

Swimming in the enormous Red Hook pool.

Dressing up funny and dancing to the Hungry March Band.

Freaking out other visitors to Central Park’s Conservatory Garden, who don’t know that wisteria is edible.

Making a big deal out of seeing the Statue of Liberty out the window of the F Train around Smith & 9th.

Hanging out on the stoop.

Watching the Chinese wedding parties roll up for photo ops at the Fulton Ferry landing on Sunday afternoons.

Climbing on the Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park.

Going right up to the enormous Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center in the sleet, when everyone else is taking shelter under the overhanging eaves.

Ordering steamed milk for them and cappuccino for myself in boho cafes.

Facing the wall in opposite corners of the foyer outside the Grand Central Oyster Bar, which is built in such a way that if you whisper into the wall, the person in the opposite corner can hear you plain as day! Enjoy the funny looks from passerby who don’t know about this magical architectural phenomenon.

Taking Milo to Taro Sushi on Dean St, near Flatbush.

Taking Inky for a special-occasion manicure at whatever corner nail salon we happen to be near…and watching the manicurist’s delight when she notices Inky’s extra thumb. (Most NYC manicurists seem to come from cultures where an extra digit is considered lucky.)

Browsing through the comics at Rocket Ship on Smith Street.

Making paper flowers and decorating papier-mache skulls at the Museum of the American Indian’s annual Day of the Dead celebration.

Ordering cream puffs from Beard Papa.

Watching Greg play softball in the Broadway Show League in Central Park.

Breaking up errands in whatever playground happens to present itself.

Cooling off in the shady sprinklers at the top of Tompkins Square.

Swapping outgrown duds for new (used) finery at Jane’s Exchange.

Discovering over lunch at New Green Bo that there is something beside coconut buns that Inky will deign to eat in Chinatown.

Pointing out grafitti of interest.

Thinking about the day I will take them to Jackson Heights as a test run for taking them to India.

Making the annual pilgrimage to see Santa at ABC Carpet and Home.

Gamboling between the bridges in Empire Park.

MOMA (kids get in free!)

Examining the merchandise and reading every single label at the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company.

Blowing 50¢ on a Dixie cup of Italian ice from a guy pushing an insulated metal cart strung with bells.

Waving to the passengers riding on the upper decks of the red tourist buses.

Giving quarters to anyone playing music in the subway, regardless of musical talent.

Taking in a show at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s annual Children’s Film Festival.

Climbing the indoor rock wall and flipping around on the various trampoline-like things at Chelsea Piers, as long as someone else is footing the bill.

Ice skating in Prospect Park.

Riding a Black Cowboys’ Association pony at street fairs throughout Brooklyn.

Examining the unicorn tapestries in the Cloisters.

Seeking out “the squid and the whale” at the Museum of Natural History.

Being nice to babies on the sidewalks of New York.

Deciding not to freeze our heiners off with the multitudes who head to 81st and Central Park West to see the giant balloons being inflated the night before Thanksgiving.

Volunteering to help feed the hungry at the Church of the Holy Apostles’ long-running soup kitchen.

Admiring the produce at the Union Square Farmers Market.

Holding our noses during the canine costume contest in the Tompkins Square dog run a couple of days before Halloween.

Recognizing Dan Zanes on the street.

Hitting the Children’s Museum Of the Arts during their weekly “pay-what-you-can” admission time.

Chilling out in PS1’s cafĂ© after absorbing the requisite dose of culture.

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Drinking the molten-pudding-like hot chocolate at Jacques Torres’s flagship store.

Exploring the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum.

Sledding in Prospect Park’s long meadow.

Making a big deal out of a haircut at Le Chandelier.

Getting creeped out by the marionettes at Puppetworks.

Buying stationery and notebooks for less than a dollar at BJ99 on Pike St.

Rubbing all the herbs and then smelling our hands in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Fragrance Garden.

Watching Circus Amok in a public park.

Leafing through the Tin-Tin books at La Petite Abeille.

Avoiding restaurants that, like Bubby’s and the Two Boots on Avenue A, are so celebrated as great places to go with children, they are chronically filled with screaming children and their tense & snappish parents.

Wow! You've certainly given me a lot of ideas. Thanks for dropping by Ayun!

My pleasure. See you on top of the Wonder Wheel!