9/20/12

Book Giveaway!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Etiquette for the End of the World by Jeanne  Martinet

Etiquette for the End of the World

by Jeanne Martinet

Giveaway ends October 05, 2012.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

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9/19/12

Pet Peeves

I was on my way out of St. John the Divine, on 112th Street, after a Saturday night concert when I heard a woman behind me say in a loud, distinctly annoyed tone of voice, “But I don’t understand; why don’t they allow dogs in here?”

At first I was taken aback. For heaven’s sake, how ridiculous, I thought. Dogs in a cathedral? With the barking, the peeing, the panting—maybe even the biting? What kind of an animal fanatic was this woman, anyway? The concert we were coming from had featured solo harp music, during which even bodies shifting in their seats made too much noise; I could only imagine what a dog whimpering away would have been like.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a cat owner. Cat owners and dog owners are a bit like the Jets and the Sharks: In general, dog owners think cats are cold, finicky, standoffish animals; conversely, cat owners are enormously bewildered that anyone would intentionally structure his life so he would be regularly picking up his pet’s poop in the rain at 6 a.m.

However, on my way home, I started thinking about Paris and the way people there are allowed to take their beloved pooches to restaurants and cafes. Who can argue with the super-civilized behavior of the French? After all, dogs are loyal companions, and it would make a big difference to a lot of people if their owners could take them with them more often. Under New York City’s health code, pets are not allowed inside restaurants unless they are service animals, even though some restaurants allow it anyway. But why not? Is the toting of small dogs in carriers really that much different than bringing babies in strollers? Is my health really endangered by the close proximity of a lap dog?

By the time I got to my apartment, I was feeling some solidarity with the complaining stranger. After all, this kind of “uppity” behavior is one of the things I love about New York City. Where else could anyone be totally incensed that her Cairn terrier was not allowed to enjoy Bach’s Fugue in D Minor at a famous Episcopal cathedral? The brashness, the feeling of freedom and entitlement and desire for progress that Americans are traditionally known for is intensified in New York.

In D.C., Boston, London—indeed, in most other Western cities—people will line up in an orderly fashion at the train station. In New York, they tend to rush the gate. It’s not a myth; we really are pushier here. I may have been brought up by mild-mannered parents, but after 20-plus years of living in New York I find myself challenging the rules, testing the boundaries, pushing the envelope much more than if I had lived somewhere else—though I always try to smile when I find myself saying something like, “That doesn’t work for me; is there any way you can make an exception?”

New Yorkers are the best in the world at moving the line just a little farther than where it started. If a rule does not make sense, we challenge it. This keeps things stirred up, but also engenders progress. We are always demanding our rights (or what we see as our rights), always wanting more, never satisfied with the status quo—Why can’t I use my mobile device everywhere I want? Why can’t I eat my dinner on the subway? Why can’t I bring my kid to this adults-only thing? Why can’t I take flash photos of this museum exhibit? Why can’t I buy exotic fruits from Japan all year round? Why can’t I go topless in public? Why can’t I bring my dog to the harp concert?

Dogs might not be able to get into St. John the Divine, but what they can do in New York is get married. What was reportedly the most expensive dog wedding in history was held just a few weeks ago at the Jumeirah Essex House Hotel on Central Park South. It cost $158,187.26—though, alas, it was not a church wedding.

Keep on pushing, New Yorkers. If you don’t, who will?

9/16/12

Beach Blanket Bingo

Recently my friend Elizabeth told me about a guy she had started seeing. “How did you meet him?” I wanted to know. “From work? Match.com?” When she told me she had met this man while she was on the beach at Far Rockaway I confess I nearly dropped my drink. “I noticed he was burning and so I offered to share my sunscreen,” she said.

“Who are you, Gidget?” I asked in amazement. “Who finds romance at the beach in real life?”

But then I thought about it. The truth is, if you can get past the whole “I look horrible in a bathing suit” feeling—and can bring yourself to unplug from your iPhone for long enough—the beach is a perfect place to mingle. People at the beach are already relaxed and in pleasure-seeking mode. (Not to mention everyone is semi-clothed.)

And so, inspired by my friend Elizabeth (and with a nod to Gidget) here are some of Miss Mingle’s “hottest” tips, for those who want to lend Cupid a helping hand next summer:

Location, location: Choose a beach where there are likely to be other single people. Also, place your towels and chairs in a crowded section of the beach—near the surf line—rather than in a more secluded spot. This is like positioning yourself near the food table at a party, where the action is, rather than against an out-of-the-way wall.

Hunt the Stray: People who are by themselves are easier to approach than a group (especially straight men; something dreadful happens to straight men when they are male-bonding). And if you should notice that great guy before you have committed to a spot, try to arrange your towel or chair so that he is between you and the ocean. That way you can not only check him out thoroughly, but also you can pass him on your way to and from frequent dips. After a while you will seem like old friends; your neighborly smile can extend to comments like “The water is so cold!” and “It’s heaven in there.”

Eavesdropping: This the most common beach pick-up technique, also known as the “Fade-in”: Listen carefully to what’s being said by two or more strangers, and—at an appropriate moment—make a pertinent remark, as if you had been there all along. Often it is the lone man who will insinuate himself into women’s conversation; so girls, if you think he’s listening, be sure to allow him an opening.

The Art of Observation: This is the perfect tactic if you are alone and so is she. Making a non-personal comment is safe and unobtrusive. Dogs, kids, things in the sky and things in the water make perfect subjects for casual conversation. “Excuse me, but does that look like a shark out there?” is always certain to get her attention.

Surf or Turf?: When asked whether they are more likely to strike up a conversation with a stranger in the water or out, most women will choose dry land and men water. Women say they feel they looked better on their towels or in their chairs, with their hair and suits dry. (I find this surprising, since I myself feel much more confident with the lower half of my body submerged. But hey, that’s just me.) I find water conversation preferable because the common activity of swimming creates a sense of camaraderie. After all, you’re in there together. More important, it is much easier to abort the conversation when you are in the water (you just ride a wave or quietly sink).

If you are feeling adventuresome (Remember, Gidget wasn’t above a few tricks, and she always got her man), try:

--The Exhibitionist: Build a large sand castle or a sand sculpture and see who comes to watch. Don’t worry if you attract the children; there are plenty of divorcees out there.

--Old-fashioned Girl: Ask him to help you with your beach umbrella or a bottle that won’t open.

--The Flatterer: Approach her with “Okay, I know I’ve seen you on TV.” Or tap him gently on the shoulder and say, “Excuse me, would you mind keeping half an eye on me while I am in the water? You look like a strong swimmer.”

--Risqué Business: Ask him or her to apply sunscreen to your back.

--The Accidental Tourist: If you should be lucky enough to be knocked by a boogie board into an attractive person’s waiting arms, or tumbled together in a crashing wave, quip: “We’ve simply got to stop meeting like this!” or “I think I just fell for you.” Or even, “In some countries we’d have to get married now.”

Okay I’ll see you out there next year. (I’ll be the one packing the extra Coppertone.)

9/13/12

The Third Rail

Like most single people, I socialize a lot with couples. Most of my friends are in couples. Sometimes we go to the theater or a movie, but often it’s just good conversation over dinner. What I have learned is that the potential problem inherent in single-to-couple socializing is not the uneven number of people, nor is it being the only single person there; it’s being the single person in a threesome. Almost every single person you talk to will tell you that being a fifth wheel (or better yet, a seventh or ninth wheel) is infinitely better than being a third wheel. Three is a tricky number.

The terms “fifth wheel” and “third wheel” come from the fact that four-wheeled carriages used to carry an extra wheel (or that two-wheeled carts might carry a third). Obviously the spare wheel was not necessary to make the conveyance go. Ergo, it connotes something that serves no useful purpose.

However, the truth is that being a third wheel is not as much about being unnecessary or unwanted as it is about causing instability. A shopping cart with only three wheels can be wonky or lopsided, just as threesomes in social life are potentially unwieldy. Three friends together is always more complicated than two or four. With three people, the psychological balance is always shifting—however slightly—between one pair and another.

Unfortunately, the older I get, the more I seem to be going out with only one couple at a time. These can make for lovely, intimate evenings, except when something like this happens:

Let’s say I am in the middle of dinner with Jennifer and Rick. We are talking about modern technology and its effect on the human brain. Everything is going along quite nicely, until Jennifer suddenly says, “Hey, listen. You can help Rick and me solve a dispute we are having.” (Right here is where, if there were alarms hooked up to our social lives, the flashing lights and bells would go off.)

Jennifer continues: “I feel our daughter should not have a cell phone until she is 14, but many of her friends have them now, at age 11, and Rick thinks she needs one, especially being in New York City. What do you think? Will you please tell Rick he’s out of his mind?” Uh-oh. Trouble. Trouble in the shape of a big, fat triangle.

Triangulation is the process whereby a person who has an issue with someone else uses a third person to validate her feelings. This is more commonly known as Getting Sucked Into a Fight. In extreme situations, triangulation can make you feel as if you are trapped in a scene from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

But it doesn’t always manifest as an actual argument; it can be more passive than that, such as when a husband flirts with you in front of his wife or a wife makes cutting remarks about her husband in front of you. Sometimes it’s the third wheel herself who is responsible for pushing the evening onto the third rail. She can inadvertently reveal a secret one person has told her to “put in the vault.” Or she can bring up sore subjects or show markedly more interest in one person’s anecdotes than the other’s.

But one thing is certain: When you are asked point blank to side with one person against the other, no good can come of it. At the first sign of this kind of triangulation, you should proceed with extreme caution. Change the subject or, if you can, leave the table to go to the restroom, feed the meter or make a call.

If you are not able to sidestep the landmine, pretend to mediate. Listen carefully to both sides, then claim you are unable to decide on the matter. Other triangulation diffusers? Try “Don’t ask me—I’m the proverbial disinterested third party” or “I refuse to answer on the grounds that it may incriminate me.” Or even “Look they have marriage counselors for this!”

To the Jennifer/Rick debate above, I might smile and say, “I make enough bad decisions about my own life. Please don’t ask me to make bad decisions for yours.”