June 28, 2005

Now, with belly-button piercings

On my most recent venture to hear my friend's band, I noticed that once again -- and with feeling -- flashing midriffs are all the rage for the 25 and under set, female division. Most of them weren't born when that fashion bout first came my way, although their mothers may well be my contemporaries.

The women -- if you can walk into a bar, I guess the label "girl" no longer applies -- were wearing what we, in my junior high school days, called hip-huggers, bell-bottom pants purchased at Jack's Army/Navy Store. Then as now feet stayed elevated with stacked platform shoes.

Their shirts were reminiscent of the tummy-tops my mother and I fought over in 1973 in Lord & Taylor. Imagine, fighting over whether a belly button could show without a charter membership in Sluts R Us.

These days if there's a sartorial mother-daughter argument, it's more likely about the number of piercings in question (the visible-to-the-dressed-eye variety, not the other kinds, the ones I wish people weren't so willing to describe to me). Pierced ears are fine; other anatomical parts, not really.

Better still, not at all. Unless I'm going to be having direct contact with a particular part of your body, I don't need to hear in any detail about the experience -- I can wince vicariously at the physical pain of the ritual without getting near a needle.

I don't need to imagine the textural diversion from smooth skin that those pieces of metal might create. I would love to know, however, what do you tell the TSA when the airport metal detector chimes? After they wand you individually, what kind of show-and-tell must you produce?

Fortunately, sparkling, frosted, blue and purple eye shadow crayons didn't pass the aesthetic criteria to be on the fashion-mobile this time. In the pre-glam rock days, my junior high school glittered.

From my brother's step-daughter, I learned that lip gloss still comes in strawberry and other tasty shiny treats. This did not shake my belief that if you classify your lip covering by flavor, not color, then perhaps you shouldn't be wearing it.

In 1973, my lack of hip development would have precluded the hip-hugger argument. Within six months, I won the right to platform shoes, as I had acquired a clothing allowance that permitted no parental input into my wardrobe.

Fifteen or so years ago, I had a lover who adored the "vintage" clothes at Patricia Field, an oh-so-cool East Village emporium. She was about nine years younger than I, so it wasn't her junior high school wardrobe c. 1974 on display at c. 1990 prices.

But it startled the hell out of me, and oh, did I feel old -- then. She was also fond of Huck-a-poo shirts, a brand I haven't thought of since I cut nonbreathable fabric from my closet, almost 30 years ago now.

Once again there are bare midriffs and shoes to sprain an ankle over, clothes to make a girl look like she's expecting a lot more than she's probably ready for.

Even with increasingly precocious adolescence cutting off childhood at earlier and earlier ages, these girls don't have the neurotransmitter maturity that saved many of us from severe errors in judgment, not that we didn't make plenty of our own.

Those fashion demographics are ones, given my current metabolism, that I am quite pleased to have escaped. My friends and I are not to old to rock 'n' roll, but I'm old enough to do so in the ever-slimming black T-shirt dress.

Next year, when tie-dye comes back (again), I'll take a dress in any color so long as it fits loosely and comes in black.

June 23, 2005

No sex please, we're gambling

We can't lay back and think of England -- and what were women doing, advised to think of the Crown when Queen Victoria wore it, while their husbands had their way with their wives, as they used to say? Explain that and compulsory heterosexuality to me in an essay, with points for creativity and reimagined sexual scenarios, if you can.

Here, a century later, Elvis was King, and if you lay back and he came to mind, any number of images, from gyrating on Ed Sullivan to losing consciousness for good at Graceland, might capture you.

He may have been our royalty, but he was neither England nor the Crown, and women had discovered how to gyrate to meet their needs as the sexual revolution followed rock 'n' roll. (It was also not wise to focus on Elvis in flagrante unless you want a truly distorted image of the world.)

It's the 21st century. and it appears that hardly anyone has sex anymore. Too dangerous, too much of a complete and total crapshoot, and this nation has gotten way too puritanical to show seduction on TV. What gives better odds? What are we left to do and to watch?

Poker: a game currently in play on at least six cable channels. On the games channel, yes. But five others at minimum? Is it a game, a sport, entertainment, or travel related?

Three sports channels -- Yankees (YES), ESPN (or ESPN2, depending on which is more desperate for programming at any given moment), and Fox Sports Network -- plus Bravo, once marketed as the arts and entertainment channel, and the Travel Network, which is fond of running the "World Poker Tour" when you would prefer to discover places more exotic than Las Vegas.

The powers-that-program may have confused poker with golf: the announcers have the same hushed pitch, speculate in the same tones, and excel at Monday morning quarterbacking. It doesn't matter whether it's the American Poker Championships, the Celebrity Poker Showdown, the World Poker Tour, Poker Royale, or the PartyPoker.net Boston vs. Hartford Challenge.

Everywhere, it's the same shuffle. Poker gets better ratings than golf and has a larger, more appreciative and empathetic audience. Plus, it's not just about strategy and good form, it's about cash, about reading someone else's mind.

If no poker game is on TV, try one of the financial channels. None is about the worth of a company's products, it's about betting on their financial futures. In either case, follow the money. It's much less of a risk than following a potential lover.

This decade apparently Vegas has gone PG, despite commercials to the contrary. When I think Vegas, I think blackjack, craps, and hookers. I don't think oh, let's take the kids, or go to a spa, or much beyond the ad campaign's tag line, "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas." If it does, then why tell me?

Everywhere I look I see a poker tournament or a crime-solving TV show. If I went to Vegas, I'd want to see old Vegas, the one where furtive tete-a-tetes (and other anatomical parts) joined in hotel rooms with hourly rates, and places where potential divorcees took up residence for the necessary six full weeks.

I suppose there's no sex at Disneyworld either. I can't imagine Mickey doing Minnie in the middle of a rendition of It's a Small World, though I'd be amused. Or is the bedroom of the future on display at Epcot? Presumably mouseworkers are demonstrating high-tech reproductive techniques involving petri dishes. Mouseketeers have to multiply somehow, and cloning has yet to be perfected.

But I digress: in my family, we all carry a gambling gene. My great-grandfather was a bookie in Saratoga; my grandmother loved going to the track. In my childhood, when my dad was betting, it was poker -- very much a man's game.

To this day I don't know a royal flush from an insight straight. My father's Wednesday night poker game conveniently doubled as an investment club.

I don't know how much money they made, but I do know who got thrown out for embezzlement, who was having an affair, whose marriage was on the rocks, who kept a mistress, and which Park Avenue player doubled as the club's bookie.

The games played at my parents' house required the custom-made poker game table (dark stained wood octagon with tray for ashtrays, drinks, poker chips, and a green felt playing surface) and called for an industrial air filtration system to run in the room where the game was held.

The core group hooked up in 1964, straight out of someone's weekly college game. Someone brought in Cuban cigars, out came the beer and the air freshening machine, the octagonal table and chairs, and not a week went by that my father wasn't playing, until he died in 1991, as the Wednesday night poker club noted in the obituary that ran in The New York Times.

Once a year, the club would have a weekend in the Caribbean on whatever island had the best casinos. No one came to work on his tan. No one brought wives. Everyone knew who snored the loudest, as the men shared hotel rooms, which they used only for sleep. Those could either be the priciest weekend of a player's year, or the most remunerative.

My father got comped no matter where the group went. There may have been beautiful women present, but the club didn't travel to get laid. You could find buxom women at home, but baccarat? Craps? Blackjack?

In the days before Native Americans on every reservation discovered high-stakes betting, you went to Vegas or you went offshore. (Or, long since available was the track, as my grandmother could attest. In the 1980s, my dad received the weekly football line at my parents' house via an early fax machine.)

I've had my own casino tour, from Haiti to Monte Carlo to Aruba. What did I learn? If you're on a roll, keep going (stock market translation: don't fight the tape). If your cards say double down, do it (stock market translation: if you like the company and the shares split, buy more). I've never dropped more than $20 in a casino, but I do my gambling -- politely known as investing -- on the New York Stock Exchange.

I don't know if this was a lesson my dad meant to teach me, but I know that if you don't roll the dice, you don't stand a chance of winning.

June 19, 2005

If U cn rd ths, U cn rd a book. By 1 2day.

One of the best posts on the subject of readers is flea's recent discussion of how we don't "get" non-readers. It makes me think of a question I posed a while back: I can have sex with a Republican, but a relationship with a neo-con worshipper? I think not. Same goes for readers vs. the video seduced -- your basic TV watcher, in other words.

I browse the bookshelves of any house I visit, and am constantly surprised to discover a)in lieu of books, I see movie adaptations by the dozen on DVD, b) the shelves are solely devoted to paperback sci-fi, fantasy, romance novels, New York Times best-selling self-help books, diet/exercise/sports or other genre books, or c) the only shelf is in the kitchen, holding cookbooks and travel-related reading.

I do think all of these items have a place. It is simply that, with the exception of travel books and cookbooks, none of them remotely hit any zone of interest I may have. I do not recall reading a self-help book in the last 20 years, and I can't say I think I've missed anything.

When you are a houseguest, and the best sustained narrative title belongs to The Joy of Cooking, you are in for a weekend of complimenting the cook and asking questions about dishes you don't want to know the recipes or ingredients for. If you are lucky, you'll get to pick wild raspberries, one of my favorite fruits.

This is not to say I want to deconstruct Hegel in a graduate-level seminar setting over breakfast, or any other meal. I just need some sense that I am a guest in a house where we can all pick a section of the Sunday paper and turn the deck into a reading room, where I don't hear lengthy conversations about watering the vegetable garden with a new sprinkler system and how hard it is to get good help.

In the cookbooks-only household in which I grew up, dinner table conversation could become very tricky if it veered toward the personal. This may explain why we had so many dinner parties, arenas where you wanted light-hearted topics safe for chattering between courses. (No politics, no religion, no sex, and no money.)

In my family, circa 1980, the safe topics were recipes, frequent flyer mileage competitions, travel sagas, and the ever popular fall-backs, weather and traffic. Movies and theater were other plausible subjects, but I don't recall anyone even comparing a book with its Hollywood adaptation.(Bookshelves serving their original purpose were the ones in my room, filled with fiction and biography, in rows two-books deep.)

My family didn't judge a book by its cover -- it never bothered to look for one.

But I am a firm believer in the idea that you are what you read. Just don't let me near your medicine chest, because I also think your medical supplies tell as much about you as the books that you display.

June 14, 2005

You're gonna make it after all...

My bank thinks I'm Mary Richards -- the role that Mary Tyler Moore made famous in her eponymously named TV show that launched its seven-year run in 1970. Granted, I've never experienced winter in Minneapolis, never worked in a television news room, and never tossed my hat in the air, per the character -- not to mention I lack many inches in height, have neither married nor suffered the death of a child, and I possess a working pancreatic system, unlike the actress herself.

It's almost 30 years since the show wrapped (think "it's a long way to Tipperary" if you missed the closing episode). Within the past month, the bank on my corner has begun an advertising campaign featuring a cheery, just-got-my-first-job, no-wrinkles, no-cellulite, 22-year-old woman, radiant about opening a checking account in the big city, where "you can have the town, why don't you take it?" is a pressing issue.

If you just got your first job, chances are you can't afford my bank, though it will be happy to take your money, charge you for the privilege of holding it, then charge you again for releasing back it to you.

This lovely building in the commercials bears no resemblance to the place that houses, albeit electronically, and with no thanks or graciousness for my managing to keep my minimum balance high enough to avoid any fees charged to my checking account, what is ostensibly my money.

Remember the free toaster oven your mom or grandma received? Or the 1990s equivalent for larger sums, a free round-trip ticket for anywhere in the 48 contiguous United States? Those days would be footnotes for corporate archivists, except with all the cutbacks, I'm sure the archivists were among the first to the slaughter, for they know history. Understanding history doesn't seem very popular these days, certainly not as reflected in the federal government.

In real life, banks make you go through hell and back to transfer money between your own accounts, charge you to wire money into your account, and would prefer to see your birth certificate and a note from your mother to let you liberate your own funds. My bank is convinced I derive my entire identity from a financial institution I selected on the simple basis of proximity.

Oh, well. I've made it this far, and I haven't let the bank get in the way. Nor would I ever praise it with helping me "make it after all."

It irritates me how often rock melodies and/or lyrics are used as the background to peddle nostalgia and the insert-consumer-product-here. I think the ad folks (they cluster in Chelsea and SoHo, no longer willing to pay Madison Avenue rents) who push these goods are probably not as old as the songs chosen to accompany say, a car commercial or even junk food.

If Born to be Wild reminds you of 1968, when the band Steppenwolf released it, chances are you won't associate the song with a group of giraffes running free and a vehicle aimed at baby-boomer parents -- who presumably conceived with or without assistance before age 50 -- with young children to protect. Let me point out also, having seen giraffes romping in the wild in Botswana, any one of them could total a car with one step. But an advertising agency apparently can't carry a coherent thought through 30 seconds.

Next up is Blondie, singing the first lines of One Way or Another. What she's gonna find ya is royalties to support her retirement, not a G-rated bag of Doritos.

There's a fine line between using pop music to evoke a time and place -- movies, TV shows and so on have used it for years to manipulate and/or underscore a viewer's emotional reaction to a scene (see The Big Chill for a good illustration of that principle) -- and the crass commercialism of the who-will-buy-my-songs this century since-I forgot (at the time, it promoted bad karma to trust anyone over 30) to-save-any-money or I-found-other-uses-and-places-for-it at the time.

I consider the re-release of rock songs -- doing my grocery shopping, say, to Roberta Flack's rendition of Killing Me Softly -- to be the musicians' full financial planning and retirement account package. I'm sure -- can we say, acquited? -- we'll hear more Beatles' songs soon to keep that cash flow blossoming. When it does, When I'm Sixty-four will generate a rather different emotion from in its initial release.

I'm not sure I want to hear the Rolling Stones as I stroll down the dairy aisle or bolt over to produce to retrieve more food for the off-White Rabbit. I am certain I don't want to hear Rush or Air Supply or ABBA or any other bands of similar ilk. I wouldn't mind hearing Jefferson Airplane, but I doubt it will make any playlist other than my own at home.

Hearing songs made famous by original artists is infinitely better than the Muzak (tm) elevator music that used to be played in retail establishments. Our musical history is the soundtrack to our pop culture. I'm sure Sinatra has different associations for my mom's generation from mine.

Old Navy will never see any of my business. Its TV ad campaign this summer is based on the melodies from the Go-Go's first album, Beauty and the Beat, which got way more airplay than it should have the first time around. Bad enough to hear it on TV; shopping to it? Not in this lifetime.

I wonder: who will try using Rocky Horror tunes and lyrics in a sales pitch. Will it be a hosiery company? One that makes fuck-me pumps? And where were you the first time you did the Time Warp? How stoned did you get that night? And what were -- or weren't -- you wearing? Who were you kissing? Not the same person as now. Perhaps not even the same gender.

The bottom line in the late '60s/early '70s was The Bottom Line, a musical venue on Bleecker Street, now gone the way of most such band showcases, its real estate revalued by the university that owns the now-gentrified land beneath the building.

It's 2005, and I have to face it: There's No Business Like Show Business....

June 05, 2005

Bye-bye Miss American Pie

How ironic -- and strictly coincidental -- it is that less than a week after I find my turntable has gone to rock 'n' roll heaven, the one "golden oldies" radio station New York has had for the past 33 years, WCBS-FM, has booted out its DJs in favor of a more "contemporary," "eclectic" format? It's another tiny passage into middle age.

One day, "It's my party and I'll cry if I want to"; the next, it's "All I want to do is have a little fun before I die...." I know the lyrics to each song equally well, but I had a head start on "All I wanna do," seeing that the woman who made it famous found a copy of my friend Wyn's first book of poems, The Country of Here Below, in a used book store, and contacted him about the rights to Fun, his poem. (Or maybe she had her people contact him. He's a poet. Poets don't have people like commercial musical acts do.)

Leslie Gore sang, "you would cry too, if it happened to you," in an almost-innocent voice, as if she were having a bad bouffant-hair night at the sock hop. That was a song you could shimmy to.

Whereas if you listened to my friend Wyn, the poet, recite, "All I want to do is have a little fun before I die," he is resigned, his tone one of defeat, of inescapable sadness. Sheryl Crow prettied up Wyn's poem and made a fortune in her interpretation. Otherwise, the poem's words could barely keep you from crying yourself into a fetal position, precluding any further movement.

Granted, I am not much of a radio listener these days. It seems to be part and parcel with my lack of recent driving experience. In high school, in college, the drill was the same: open car door, find comfy position in drivers' seat, buckle up, crack the window, light a cigarette, and turn the radio on. Watch, rinse, repeat.

My friends' older sisters all listened to Leslie Gore backed by Quincy Jones' production. In elementary school, we danced to Motown. Summer camp brought Simon & Garfunkel, CSN&Y, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, and all the other peace-loving folkies the counselor-guitarists played. Woodstock played a factor.

I sang for peace before I knew there was a war on. I wish I still could, but my innocence went the way of disco and New Wave music. Now I can neither forget there's a war on nor can I find contemporary lyrics to obscure the news of it.

Junior high brought Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, Cat Stevens, James Taylor et. al. into the mix. Then Bruce Springsteen. ("Born to run" still brings into sharp focus waiting at the school bus stop, while my friend sang "tramps like us..." incessantly for months, and we watched the horses across the way make their way around the ring.)

The off-White Rabbit made his appearance in musical form courtesy of Jefferson Airplane. Grace Slick's higher education coincided with my mother's, at the same Manhattan college, formerly a finishing school.

The building, less than three blocks from my apartment, and just around the corner from the mayor's townhouse, is one of the more desirable blocks in my zip code, and it has long since been redeveloped into prewar co-op apartments.

Buying back my mom's dorm room could set you back far more than four years' tuition during her tenure there. Now, I suppose, the hot and cold water emerge from a single tap, and the lighting is far more flattering, both falling among the minor changes in the renovation.

A larger change? My radiologist is situated on the ground floor of my mother's old college. Mom drank Dewars and played bridge at that location; I visit it only to have my annual mammogram.

Questions? Answers? Here, on this very blog, you can go ask Alice. Logic and proportion have fallen sharply dead in the 21st century, and it is all I can do to feed my head. I've asked the off-White Rabbit, and he is equally clueless.

Billy Joel and his ilk came to my attention in the mid-70s, roughly the period of high school despair into depression years that make it impossible to listen to any song in hot rotation from '75 to '78 without stirring up feelings of places I've been and don't care to return to.

College: dancing to disco, hearing my first Blondie album and realizing that she sang in a new style, one I had to decide purposefully whether I liked it or not. Talking Heads. Joe Jackson. Lene Lovich. Elvis Costello. Most of the singers who signed contracts with Britain's Stiff Records label.

The record company's theme, silkscreened onto their T-shirts was, "if it ain't Stiff, it ain't worth a fuck." I liked them and more.

I could dance and smoke and flirt and drink all night, and who knew where I might be sleeping come sun up. In the pre-AIDS era, the worst thing that could happen (Jack the Ripper aside), was I'd get pregnant, and that, circa 1980, was easily taken care of.

My antidepressant intake alone would have granted me a get-out-of-pregnancy free card, not that, in those days, I needed to stack the deck. I am terrified that it would take only one new Supreme Court Justice to overturn Roe v. Wade.

I wasn't into the East Village, NC-17, pierce-body-part-with-safety-pin decorative self-destructive version of New Wave, preferring the R (not suitable for children unaccompanied by an adult or guardian) rating.

I chose the road taken by the upper class child who likes her creature comforts too much to sacrifice them. People who drive Volvos generally don't pierce much more than their ears.

I associate different music with different periods of my life. Every stage has its soundtrack. Almost half way through my 40s, I'm just not sure what cuts to select for the decade, or whether they will, in retrospect, select themselves.

Post-college, I knew I was too old for the clubs when my then-girlfriend, nine years my junior, took me to dance at Limelight, a deconsecrated church reinvented as night club. The music was termed "House." Lightly clad women danced in cages suspended from the club's ceilings.

I took one look and thought: the dancers must wear Dramamine patches so they don't get dizzy. My next thought was, this place must have a hell of a lot of liability insurance. And if that was "house" music, I would prefer to stay home.

With that awareness of liability insurance and fire exits, is it any wonder the allure of new music began to escape me at that moment in 1992? Or that today I am saddened by the loss of one of the few radio stations for which I retained some fondness, the one that never seemed to change, has finally marked (as Don McLean sang) the day the music died?