Saturday, September 30, 2006

Sawgrass Wisdom

Where once there was a river of grass, so called by Marjorie Stoneman Douglass in her famous tribute to the Everglades, now there is the Sawgrass Mall. It is a sprawling complex of big box retailers, such as Home Depot and Brandsmart, in free-standing warehouses on the perimeter; a warren of small stores with anchors; and, as I learned today, a new inner perimeter of trendier stores, with open-air streets and Euro-faux facades. Approaching the mall, one encounters a welter of restaurants and strip malls with anchor tenants including Circuit City, Best Buy, and CompUSA.

Although I have sometimes visited the outermost strip for electronics merchandise in the past 21 months since moving to Broward County, I have ventured only once within the innards of this massive mecca to merchandising. The object of my trip today was comfortable shoes at Timberland.

Initially, I was lured into the Neiman Marcus Last Call discount outlet, in hopes of a bargain. There, I formed my cultural principle:

Women who buy expensive shoes have no sensation in their feet

A dizzying array of very expensive shoes, pretty as jewels, was on sale. Pink and turquoise, green, copper and gold, festooned with beads and jewels, glitter and faux fur, feathers and rhinestones, these designer labels featured pointy, pointy toes (didn’t I endure those in 6th through 8th grades?) and heels as tall and slender as the twin towers (and we know how treacherous those turned out to be).

I was so glad I was wearing my new Merrell sandals, my feet cradled in wide bottoms, padded in all the right places. Stolid in appearance they may be, but ah, comfort be thy name. In these I padded along the row stores of the new Colonnades subdivision of the mall, realizing before too long that I was not up for spending major dough and this was not the right way toward Timberland, according to the online map I’d consulted before leaving but had not bothered printing.

The massive, ornately Tuscan exterior of Café Lux dominated my view, so I decided it was time for lunch. Inside, I formulated my second cultural principle:

Nothing is ever enough.

Excess is the principle on which American marketing is built. This includes our eating habits. My waiter, Chris, proudly informed me that Café Lux is owned by The Cheesecake Factory, famous for its giant-sized servings and that the Café Lux portions are also “generous” – code for sinfully huge, like American butts.

My hamburger was delicious, thick with melted cheddar cheese and avocado slides. It was served with a portion of slender French fries, crisp and perfectly salted, large enough for three people. The condiment provided was mustard-mayonnaise. I was able to eat only a small number of fries and left behind a third of the giant burger.

The interior of the restaurant was just as overblown. Columns, faux paint, and stenciled designs were everywhere. The ceiling towered high above us. One has to sell a lot of meals just to pay for the air conditioning in such a place. Tuscan colors of burnt yellow and umbra were everywhere, with expensive tile work in the corridor to the bathroom, where the most modern of sink fixtures – shallow square stone sinks with ultra-modern nickel faucets – completed the svelte accommodations.

The Colonnades in its entirety illustrates that nothing is ever enough. Its upscale shops and restaurants have surely been added on to the original big-box multiplex for the residents of the condominiums apartments of Tao, rising on the horizon, where prices start at a half-million dollars. Tao is earth-friendly and feng-shui’ed to the max. Has everyone forgotten that this is swampland, the Everglades drained, filled, and paved, and global warming will drown all this is a few decades?

Treats are best appreciated in small doses

Venturing into the mall, I found my way to Timberland, Clarks shoes, Saks Off-Fifth Outlet and, of course, TJ Maxx. I’ve not been in a TJ Maxx that big since Paul and I were in Albuquerque. Now I was in the realm of polyester suits, instead of the Armani silk and linen concoctions that rang my esthetic chimes but exceeded the capacity of my purse.

I settled on a gold, silk embroidered cushion for the sofa, squishy enough to perfectly support my neck while watching TV. It looks much better than the bed pillow I had put there, and I am very glad that I bought it.

I picked up a second treat on my way home – an iced mocha latte with lots of whipped cream – and an espresso brownie. Starbucks in the marketing scam of the century: how on earth did that guy convince Americans to spend three-to-five bucks on a cup of coffee? I figured I deserve it, because I save tons of money by brown-bagging lunch every day, even bringing tea in a thermos.

It was tempting to buy new sheets and many other things. Each time I was tempted, I asked myself whether I would enjoy that new possession as much as sending an equal amount to my credit card debtors to dig myself out of debt. The answer was that I want freedom from debt, and perhaps a face lift. Expensive new things cannot please me as much as a few inexpensive treats – a yellow cotton nightshirt with sleep teddy bears, a silk pillow for my head, and a lovely mocha latte with cream containing all the three main food groups – chocolate, sugar, and butterfat.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Unseemly Pajama Bears

I cannot imagine Catherine Deneuve crawling into bed in an $8 cotton T-shirt decorated with sleepy bears. Isn't it unseemly for a worldly dame d'un certain age? Yet the cheerful yellow garment promises comfort and childlike (or childish?) enjoyment, and I am looking forward to a shower and an evening in my new treasure.

The day I spent moving out of the dream house I'd once inhabited with a man I thought was my angel forever I forgot to pack any pajamas to bring with me to the home of my former colleague. I wound up in a Beall's Outlet, and the only thing that was all-cotton and cheap enough was a blue knit night shirt with sleepy bears on it. I was so glad that the nightmare of losing everything -- my mate, my dogs, my home -- was over, that I slept in Chris's spare room feeling safe for the first time in a while.

I've enjoyed that T-shirt everywhere from New Orleans to Texas, and now I've bought a companion. In fact, new pajamas are ever a cheap pleasure, something new to wear for less than twenty bucks. I used to like slinky, sexy nightgowns. Over the years, I've come to prefer cotton pajamas with pants that don't bunch up around my waist while I sleep.

I'm not Catherine Deneuve, and no one is looking, so who cares?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Second Coming of Hair Gel

The first item I heard on the CNN news around 7:30 this morning was that Americans will be allowed to take onto airplanes travel-size tubes of hair gels and other gel personal hygiene products. These had been banned after a terrorist plot was uncovered that involved creating liquid bombs on the planes from substances concealed in tubes and as beverages carried on to the planes.

I have not noticed any decline in the cleanliness of Americans’ hair in the subsequent weeks, but there has been a huge outcry. Comedian news-commentator Bill Maher has complained about it almost every week since the policy was put into effect. One would think that it was hard to get such items if one did not carry them in luggage. This is challenging for me to grasp, with battling Walgreen’s vs. CVS pharmacies on almost every corner, Wal-Marts dotting the landscape, and motels providing such travel items when one arrives. Maher, I presume, stays in hotels with upscale lobby stores.

I heard the news of the second coming of hair gel at least three more times on the brief commute to the office. John Lennon was once excoriated for declaring that the Beatles were more famous than Jesus. Now, it appears, the need for hair gel in our luggage is more important than the daily killings in Iraq.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Books by Bites

I like reading about books more than I like reading books themselves. I’m not sure when this penchant for the précis became a well-ensconced preference. Surely it must have something to do with our news-bite culture. Isn’t a book just too long to read, when I can breeze through a review. Or perhaps I cherish a sense that the full knowledge and impact of the book will penetrate me by osmosis.

I like collecting lists of books. I have always had several tucked away in a drawer somewhere, starting with a list of 100 classics all school children were advised to read, around sixth grade. I may have read a half-dozen of these, but have managed to avoid Moby Dick and most of Hemingway. I still clip and save book reviews of novels and popular reading. Some of these I actually complete.

As an undergraduate, I assembled a list of sources about color and light. This topic still interests me, and I have updated the list on my wish list. I even tried to read one of the classics. Like so many other tomes lying about the house, it remains unfinished. In graduate school, I had research on topics related to labor history, labor organizing, community, and women and aging. The latter topic has sprouted into lists about women, aging, and identity in a paper file folder, a computer file, and at Maybe it will amount to something one day; maybe not.

My reading list includes books about running workshops, something I may have to do if I don’t get a permanent teaching position. What would my workshops teach? I toyed with color as a topic, but I haven’t done the reading. I also have a collection of books about journaling as workshop fodder. It sounds unpromising to me. As well, I've got books from a side trip into collecting reading about archetypes. My undergraduate teacher at New York University shaped a lifelong interest in the classic Greek myths. During the seventies, I pushed this into an exploration of Jungian psychology uses of archetypes, especially in astrology.

Today I browsed books on New Orleans. The dream of New Orleans, like the dream of having once been a newspaper writer, or the dream of a love than transcended time with a husband long, long, long gone, may be all that’s left. I embellish the past with misty nostalgia, tendrils of memory and love curling around the snapshots in my mind like morning glories in full bloom.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Bronchitis Makes Me Cranky

The whooping hacking cough started during orientation for my new job, so that I could be remembered as Typhoid Mary. It never quite went away after a 7-day program of antibiotics and resurged last Thursday, with a fever.

It's gradually coming under control with antibiotics and steroids to reduce the lung inflammation. I'm tired and cranky.

Why must I be plagued with Ken and Barbie surfer dudes and former cheerleaders giving the news? I teach these children in college and know they can't use commas correctly, have no idea that irony is not the same as coincidence, and should not be trusted to report on anything serious or minor, including the weather. They care about their hair, clothing, cars, and who they are going to marry, in varying order.

Why is everything so darn hard and expensive? I was thrilled to get the Sharp monster stereo and quickly followed with purchase of a Sirius satellite receiver and home dock to listen to jazz and other good stuff. But the reception is spotty, and wires are dangling all over the apartment. It's like living in a power grid. I'm going to have to buy a stronger antenna, and I hope that will work out, or all this purchasing is for nothing. Once again, I'm a dupe of U.S. marketing where nothing is ever enough.

Why can't being sick be fun? After all, I'm getting time off from reporting in to work, but I'm too fatigued to enjoy it. Rats.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Leaving Work at the Office

I haven’t had to spend 35 hours a week at a place of business since 1989. In fact, I’ve always had a charmed work life. Reporters come and go. As a graduate student, I had minimal office accommodations. As tenure-track faculty at a wanna-be research university, I was not expected to spend preparation and research time in my office, and I did not. It was not the practice in my department.

Home has been a good place to work. At first, I had an elderly dog who needed care; then, a rambunctious young dog who needed attention. I arranged my work life for maximum comfort of my fibromyalgia and arthritis pains.

Working at home tends to bleed all over the day. There is no clear demarcation between work and relaxation. Sometimes, I dreaded weekends, because of the huge amount of grading I would have to do. Having an office where I am expected to be for office hours and prep time means I get a lot done there. I have arranged my hours to avoid morning and evening rush hour traffic. This means some long week days and Fridays off, so long as do not have a meeting I’m required to attend on campus.

My shoulders ache again, to the point where I can hardly sleep and sometimes feel like crying from the pain. This is how it used to be when I had a 40-hour job. On the other hand, it is great to leave my suitcase of work, even my date book at the office, come home, and know that all the time is mine.