Thursday, April 29, 2010

Hello, Dolly!

Our return from Hawai’i began with a red-eye to LA, where Neil and I parted ways (not permanently) so he could return to New York and I could embark on three days of meetings as I slowly worked my way back east.

Fortunately, though the continuation of my trip once again kept me far from home, at least I was starting out in L.A. Fabulous, wonderful, empty, soulless, looks-obsessed Los Angeles. I love L.A. It’s city-as-high-school-lunch-table and I get to feel like an attractive, bitchy insider rather than the class nerd in size 38 jeans or the theatre freak who sings TV theme songs on his way to lunch. (Best TV theme song ever: My Sister Sam or Who’s The Boss? Discuss. My Sister Sam is slightly more obscure, but gets props for having a dead actress. WTB? had an under-40 Tony Danza shirtless. It’s a toss-up. Those of you wondering about Growing Pains have clearly forgotten the Alan Thicke Exclusionary Rule.)

Where the hell was I?

Oh yeah, L.A. Ok, nothing funny happened related to work (other than the continuing suspicion I have that our CEO must have slipped a tracking device into my Diet Coke at some point, because he keeps showing up wherever I am. Five minutes after I walked into our LA office, he sauntered by, non-chalantly, and said hello. If he shaves his head or starts singing showtunes (or TV theme songs) and goes totally Single White Female on me, I’m seriously outta here.

But I can report on the new Standard Hollywood. Remember when the Downtown Standard opened? In 2002, every major design, travel and lifestyle publication covered the opening. There was a pool on the roof, with a bar and great views and landscaping. And topiaries! The Topiaries!

It was hot, hot, HOT and everyone was going to go there and it was going to ignite a renaissance in downtown LA, making it a destination for condos and hotels and great dining.

Or not.

And there’s no such thing as great dining in L.A. Every decent restaurant charges upwards of $40 for totally flavorless entrees, which is ironic because the best food comes from Taco stands along I-10, where you can stuff yourself for less than $5.

Anyway, the Standard Hollywood is actually in West Hollywood (and West Hollywood is to Hollywood what West Virginia is to Virginia; everyone seems to be unemployed, there are bitter rivalries, and it’s considered an achievement if you get out.) The Standard really branded itself right with its name. Rooms are a plain white box, the furnishings are sparse – no duvet, just a thin blanket that looks like it came off the set of M*A*S*H (and it might have) – and everything is very minimalist-chic. It is the hotel equivalent of a pair of white Keds.


You know – this is the second disappointing Standard-related experience I’ve had. Remember my review of the Standard Grill in NY – and the challenges Neil and I and our friends had there? That’s it – new rule: no more Standard.

Wednesday night, after work, I got to go out with my best pal “Carrie” (you remember her? From, like, three columns ago. ) She met me at Cecconi’s, at Melrose and Robertson, with the demented Swiss Miss, now totally decked out GORGEOUSLY, but still wearing black – including some totally rockin’ high leather boots. This is the kind of girl I’d make out with if I didn’t have that pesky extra chromosome and a husband.

So, were not there even ten minutes and only on our third drink when who should walk on in but the fabulous, legendary, reconstructed within an inch of her life, looks 45 in dim lighting, face might melt in full sunlight, Joan Rivers plastic surgery challenging, country-pop-crossover- bluegrass singing, theme-park-owning, film-starring, Grammy-winning, Academy Award nominated DOLLY PARTON. (I think I just had a wordgasm.)

Seriously, how do you eat a $26 flatbread pizza five feet away from the star of 9 to 5, Rhinestone Cowboy and Straight Talk (with James Woods…see it. It’s horrible. I love it.) Answer: You can’t. You can’t enjoy a single $14 meatball until you stand up, walk over, and say, “Hmfphlfl!"

Thank God for Swiss Miss, who got right up there and said, “Miss Parton, will you take a picture with us?”

Now, these people live in L.A., and I’m from New York. I have, at various times, seen or met Mark Burnett, Kurt Russell, Michael Douglas, Robin Roberts (you know she is SO glad to be in this sentence), that guy from the TV show “Ed,” and Paul Rudd (post-Clueless, pre-Apatow.) But other than the time I was on Oprah (in the audience, not a guest) and the time Spielberg was on Columbus Ave with Kate Capshaw – I’ve the closest I’ve come to anyone this big is 8 Cher concerts, the time my friend from middle-school, Jason Abelson’s dad married Barbara Streisand’s niece, and when my friend Matthew called me from Bloomingdale’s because Meryl Streep was buying make-up.

The moral: when you’re in the presence of royalty – you bow (and snap a photo.) Meanwhile, my friend Stephanie is dying to know if I went up to Dolly and did the impression of her I used to do in Law School, when I won the Halloween Costume Contest in my first and only drag appearance. Sadly, no, but check my Facebook page if you want the full Dolly.

Really, everything else is going to be a let-down after this story – so I’ll save my reviews of Do Hwa (Korean Barbecue!), Po (like the river in Italy), and the fabulous Sherie Rene Scott’s one woman show, Everyday Rapture, for yet another column (I’m so prolific right now; I feel like Proust. Without the talent or intellect.) Meanwhile, as for Cecconi’s. Like anyplace on the west side, it’s ridiculously expensive and the food is great by LA standards, but mediocre if you ever eaten anywhere else. Go – but do what we did: get drunk, nibble on appetizers and salads (the beet salad is pretty damn good) and starfuck.

P.S. - Why is it when I showed these pictures to my co-workers and said, "Can you guess who that is?" they all said, "Cher." ???  Why is it, with the gay guy, they always jump to Cher?  Now - it is ocmpletely true that I might come unglued if I were ever 5 feet away from Cher (we're talking total meltdown) - but CHER LOOKS NOTHING LIKE DOLLY PARTON (other than the fact that they are both made out of plastic and might, technically, be Transformers. Oooh - that would be cool.  A Transformer that turns from Dolly Parton into Cher.  I'm on it....)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


OK – if the last trip got bogged down with introspection, this trip is all about fun, fun, FUN!!!


Can you stand it?

Our trip begins with a lesson.  A lesson in love.

Love is not a trip to Hawaii.  Love is not a luxury hotel (although, yes, we stayed in a luxury hotel).  Love is not presents.  Although, much of love is presence – to be alive and aware in the moment.

But mostly

Love is a middle seat. 

Truly, when all is said and done, love is travelling around the world for five years, never looking out the window or being able to get up without disturbing someone else.  Fortunately, travel for work has given me fabulous aerial views of the Hollywood sign, the Eiffel Tower, the Rockies, the Italian coast, among others.  Because traveling with Neil, all I’ve seen is the flame-retardant fabric on the seat back in front of me and all of the Harry Potter movies.

Our trip begins with two flights, totaling more than 12 hours, not including nearly three hours at LAX which involved me answering email, Neil playing with his iPhone, and a Mexican lunch that repeated on me across half the Pacific.

Still, Hawaii is one of those places that are worth the schlep.  Unlike, say, Montana, which can take almost as long and, even if you threw in palm trees and great weather, wouldn’t come close.

I am pleased to report that Neil was almost immediately enamored with Hawaii; it’s hard not to be, but still, after dragging him halfway around the world – he doesn’t love to fly – I faced the possibility of seeing the Purse of Disapproval for a week.  (For the newcomers, the Purse of Disapproval is a face Neil makes that involves narrowing the eyes and pursing the lips.  It can be used to express skepticism and frustration, but is commonly used to convey displeasure.  I see it often.)

If anyone had an expression of disapproval, actually, it was me, since the hotel failed to clearly advertise itself as a “Vacation Ownership” resort, which means time shares.  As a result, all the good rooms are owned – the ones left over for hotel usage can face the parking lot, an air compressor, or a community barbecue pit. 

Never one to contain my displeasure, I informed the management that none of these rooms were going to be acceptable for an Anniversary Vacation – particularly in a place that billed itself as a luxury resort.

We were down the road at the St. Regis in ten minutes.

Yeah, I paid more – and since they’re sister properties I could have pushed back a little.  But hey, it’s Hawaii – you gotta chill out sometime.

Speaking of chilling out, the first morning we were there was rather cold - at least by Hawaii standards.  We'd later learn that the day would set a record for the lowest high temperature.  Still, "cold" in a Hawaii is a relative term, and the day allowed us to explore without feeling pressured to make it to the beach or adhere to any sort of schedule.  

We began by leaving the resort and heading into Hanalei for breakfast at the Wake-Up Cafe, a local favorite, where Neil demolished a macadamia nut cinnamon roll in microseconds.  I still can't figure out how my husband has visible abdominal muscles well past the age of 40 and manages to eat like he's 16 and his parents are away for the weekend.  (Meanwhile, I'll know exactly when he's read this post by the Purse of Disapproval I get for revealing his age.)

Meanwhile - if you want a mental visual of our waitress - picture that really slutty girl in college; the one everyone in your fraternity slept with (except the gay kid, who hung out with her and smoked Marlboro Reds - not that I know, or anything...) or the girl down the hall freshman year who - on the rare occasion she made it back to the dorm, often slept (passed out) in the lobby, the hall, or the men's bathroom.

Now picture her at 40.

Serving pancakes.

You get the picture.

After spending the morning loading up on fat and cholesterol and salt, then dragging our bloated tourist bodies through souvenir shop after souvenir shop, we got in the car and drove to the south side of the island.  Kauai has multiple microclimates, and the weather on one part of the island is seldom the same as the weather on another part - from a tropical rainforest in the center, to a desert-like canyon in the west, to the cliffsides and beaches of the north and south shores.

According to the television, the radio and our concierge, the weather was warmer and sunnier in Poipu, in the south.  Which meant, of course, when we got there, that it was cloudy and cool.  Undaunted, we stripped to bathing suits and headed for the beach, turning into those same people we make fun of in New York - the ones who throw on shorts and flip-flops and march through the city on the first day in April that hits 65 degrees.  However, since no one we knew was actually going to be able to see our hypocrisy, we figured we were safe (until, of course, I wrote about it publicly.)

Other than the fact that the sun kept going in and out behind clouds - and a brief drizzle - it was generally pretty nice, though our hopes of a playful afternoon at the beach were dashed, first by a shark that had chased a pair of surfers - and everyone else in the water - right out of the ocean.  Vacationers gathered on the shoreline like a scene from Jaws and, after finally dispersing, a Hawaiian monk seal came ambling out of the water and onto the beach for a nap.

Hawaiian monk seals are an endangered species, and there are only 35 known to be left in the world.  They're native, largely to Kauai, and when they come ashore to rest, a barrier is immediately erected to keep humans away.  Most of my friends have this talent, too - and don't require the police tape.

Anyway - once a huge monk seal washes ashore (they look like a cross between a manatee and a penguin and they smell like a sewage treatment plant) - your day at the beach is pretty much over.  Neil and I packed it in and headed out to dinner.

I can skip the parts of the trip where I answer email, or obsess about a deal, or try and make a work-related call from a mountain or a waterfall or a canyon (OK - not a canyon.  I got vertigo halfway up and panicked and turned around.  True story.)  Which leaves a bike ride, a long run, and the hippie coffee shop where we ate eggs on a bagel.  (Word to the wise, when you ordinarily eat actual eggs cooked on a flat-top and served on real bagels (made by real sweaty eastern European women in Brooklyn, don't try to consume microwaved "eggs" on supermarket "bagels" in a place 2,500 miles from the nearest Jew (I love Hawaii, but if my people spent 40 years wandering around Kauai, we'd never have made it to Jersey.)

Saturday night we dined at Kauai Grill, a Jean-Georges restaurant in the St. Regis Hotel, overlooking Hanalei Bay.  With contemporary decor a Hawaiian fusion cuisine, the restaurant is an absolute must if you're in Kauai.  We started with a Kabocha squash soup that was fantastic - creamy and spicy with a hint of sweetness.  For dinner, Neil had a pink snapper that was outrageously good, and my duck was tender and flavorful.

The highlight of our trip was a trip to the center of the island, tubing down an irrigation ditch that is nearly 150 years old.  Let me tell you, kids, if you think rubbers can't save your life, get inside an inner tube and float down an irrigation ditch.  Through tunnels, bouncing off of walls - head, hands and feet inches from jagged rock - it'll make a believer out of you.

What you won't believe are the reviews of Postcards Cafe - which was supposedly good, but which actually served the worst pasta I ever ate, tossed with some weird orange sauce that actually managed to separate sometime between the kitchen and our table.  And the shrimp looked like they came out of a can.  Middle of the Pacific and they served canned shrimp.

And that's Hawaii - skipping the sign by the pool that warned against swimming while suffering from a communicable disease (and the one promising the pool would be closed in the event of "unexpected vomitous or fecal activity") - there's not much else to tell.

mail.jpgNeil loved it, which makes me happy.  It's nice to know we can not only make it to five years, but that we can still surprise each other; share something new; bring a little bit of wonder to each other's world.  That's really what love is; the middle seat's just how you get there.

And tune in next time, when we hit three restaurants - from LA to New York - and catch up with two real live divas, including: DOLLY!

Do This New York:

Go to Hawaii

Stay at the St. Regis Princeville

Eat at the Kauai Grill

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Economy Minus

Fasten your seat belts, folks – we’ve got two posts this week. I’m just back from a little vacation, but before I launch into a tale of island romance on sun-splashed Kauai, we’ve got to cover my business trip to Chicago.  Since both trips have a different point, I’m breaking them up into two entries.

I know – a story with a point!  Two, no less.  Shocking.  Like Scheherazade with better taste in shoes.

Our first tale begins in the airport (actually, both tales begin in an airport.  My entire fucking life seems to take place in an airport these days.  It’s actually amazing this column hasn’t yet printed a review of Sbarro or Dunkin’ Donuts.)

And as long as we’re talking about airports, here’s a question I have after ten years of world travel:

Who the hell buys Penthouse at an airport?

Are there people so horny they can’t last the entire flight, and don’t have the skills to land a stewardess (excuse me: Air Waitress) or pick up a fellow passenger?  I can’t even imagine what I’d do if the guy next to me started leafing through a copy of Penthouse? (Well, I can, but I’m married now, so I don’t do that anymore.)

One of these days, when I get bored, I’m going to pick up a copy of Hustler and leaf through it on the Delta Shuttle.  “What?” I’d say to the Air Waitress.  “I bought it at the airport.”)

Anyway, if you’ve travelled in the U.S., then you’ve probably been to O’Hare Airport, and know that there’s no place more depressing than O’Hare airport (unless it’s Hartsfield.  Bleh.)  Want to double your disdain – try it on a Sunday.  I don’t know anyone in IT – particularly IT sales or consulting – who hasn’t had the Sunday fly-out.  There’s no surer way to kill you entire weekend than to fly on a Sunday.  You spend your whole Saturday trying to cram in your weekend stuff – the errands and the sleep and the opportunity to do something other than answer email or deliver dazzling and creative ideas through the totally limited medium of powerpoint  – all while simmering a barely controllable resentment that you are losing your Sunday.  If you’re leaving later in the day on Sunday, your day is dramatically cut short by airport travel, security, and the whole thing is a waste anyway.  If you leave in the morning, you lose your Saturday night and add an extra workday to your week.

Also, you have to devote precious brain space – on a weekend – to trying to figure out why they call it “Economy Plus.”  Economy Plus What?  It’s not plus a meal.  It’s not plus a movie.  OK – it’s plus, like, an inch and a half of leg room which, at 6’-1” is a rounding error.

My Sunday travel fell into the latter category, and 8am found me in a cab on the way to LaGuardia.  I was in Chicago by noon, ready to meet my co-worker and head out to a conference (at which we were both scheduled to give a presentation.)

I went to college in Chicago, so I can’t seem to go to Chicago without thinking about that time in my life.  Occasionally I will have to visit my alma mater – which I love, but which always reminds me of being 19.  Which always makes me wonder if I’ve become the person I was supposed to become, or had the potential to become, or wanted to become. 

Going back to the place you went to college has the potential to really mess with your head – because it makes you think about a teenage version of yourself.  The version that was brimming with energy and hope and dreams and possibility – which is a daunting thing to come face to face with when you’re middle-aged and married and, well, a little tired.  When you routinely find yourself in the place you went to school, it’s a bit like visiting you parents at Thanksgiving: you have to face the specter of your 19-year old self – only on a regular basis.

What was so weird about this trip was that – while I was in Chicago – I kept getting Facebook friend requests from a bunch of my old fraternity brothers.  People I hadn’t thought about in years (and one or two I had, because we had been pretty good friends, but lost contact), kept surfacing all week.  It was strange – almost as if time were looping in on itself like some missing scene from Lost (are we not DYING that Daniel Faraday showed up last week?  DYING!  And am I the only one who will admit to having a major crush on Desmond?)

All of it made me wonder: is there a point in the middle of our lives where we look to who we were for clues about who we are?  I have this theory that all men, as they encounter middle age, begin to feel a little lost.  They become inured to the realization that the trajectory they’re on is the one they’re likely to stay on for the rest of their lives – in their careers, their marriages – which is why so many men up and do stupid things in middle age what really aren’t about their jobs or their wives or anything external.  It’s a rebellion against that feeling of being lost – of feeling that who you were, who you are, and who you wanted to be are all dramatically different things.  It is about wanting to feel “free” – because when you were young enough to actually BE free, you didn’t feel it, know it realize it.  And all of a sudden you remember being young enough that every decision wasn’t fraught with so many considerations and consequences; you didn’t need to weigh what you’d have to give up against what you’d gain.  You didn’t need to worry that a decision was irreversible – if something didn’t work out, there was enough time to pick again. 

It’s hard to feel that way as you approach 40.  Sure, you could decide tomorrow that you really do want to try being a rock star or a talk show host or an astronaut – but you’re probably going to have to give up your job (and, likely, a great deal of financial freedom, along with the self-worth that are intrinsically tied to career and money among men).  Plus, you’re competing with guys 10-20 years younger, with more training or more recent training.  Reinvention and starting over is the great American promise, but it’s largely an illusion for a lot of people.

Some would call this a luxury problem, but the adjective doesn’t diminish the noun.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

I know the name Lola means "laughing," but if you make it your kid's name, don't be surprise if she winds up a cocktail waitress.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Here's A Story

Where can you find a Nerf dart gun, an acoustic guitar, and half a dozen people who find primarily find their dates on Craigslist, at Star Trek conventions and in the recesses of their imagination.

My company's San Francisco office.

To be fair, that division must be doing pretty well given the huge quantities of Hostess products in the kitchen. Though, I must admit, the econo-size bottle of Germ-X anti-bacterial solution may have been lemon-scented but it carried the faint whiff of irony.

Yes, folks, I was in California this week.  My favorite, favorite, favorite place - and I started my trip by seeing my favorite, favorite, favorite people.  My oldest friend lives in LA and - since we're not using real names, I'll call her "Carrie" - since she reminds me of Sarah Jessica Parker's character from Sex and the City; the leonine mane of hair, incredible fashion sense, and a ridiculously flat stomach well into her thirties despite a penchant for junk food and liquor (how the hell did Carrie drink those sugary cosmos and eat her way from the pretzels of Union Square to the pizzas she brought to Big's apartment?)

Every time I come to LA and visit "Carrie" I feel like she and husband throw me a party.  "Let's just hang out and have dinner" turns into a dozen or so people.  Included in the festivities were a friend of theirs I knew from when she lived in New York (and got fired and re-hired from her job as head charcuterie buyer for Dean & Deluca while on a cross-country flight.  She only let the first part stick, choosing not to let the emotional roller coaster of a psychotic boss continue any longer.  Though, to this day, we joke that she got fired for buying the wrong cheese.)

Also included was one of "Steven's" co-workers and his wife, who used to be besties with Bethenny Frankel, one of the Real Housewives of New York.  She's the Fake not-actually-a-Housewife-because-she-works-and-just-got-married-last-week one.  Her website calls her a Celebrity Natural Food Chef - but most of the photos make her look like a hooker.  That would be cool - a celebrity natural food hooker.  Anyway, she and I hit it off (not Bethenny, her former friend, who wore a totally awesome outfit that made her look like the girl from Swiss Miss box dressed up as a dominatrix.)  We spent half the night drinking and judging everyone else - it was like being in a gay bar without the faint smell of vodka, Armani cologne, and leftover sweat from the pre-party-workout.

After a while Carrie's sister showed up, and someone brought their friend Charlie, and later, I think, the cast of West Side Story dropped by.  Or I could have been loaded.  Also, everybody with children brought their children, though I can't recall anybody actually paying any attention to them.  I think there was a sitter or a nanny - or maybe the nanny was a guest, and she was the one who invited the Sharks and the Jets.  Whatever - between the internet and television, kids practically raise themselves at this point.  You can pretty much give them money, food and condoms and everything else is drag-and-drop.

Visiting with "Carrie" and "Steven" and their kids was pretty much the highlight of my trip.  My meetings weren't the most productive of my career, and every day felt like it was one step forward, two steps back (as opposed to the two steps froward, one step back I've gotten used to.)  However, my last meetings were in the Bay area - which I enjoyed - and I got to visit the offices of our Mobile division, which I always enjoy.  I think it's awesome that our company, which is staked on the premise that educational technology should engage students and draw out creativity, actually bought a company created by students.  And there's something about working in a professional context with people in their 20s, that draws out the mentor in me (I know - shocking, right?)

But the funny thing is...I got some mentoring, too. A fter spending the bulk of dinner encouraging someone to follow the passion in his life, I was asked about my blog.  "You write like you love it."

I do love it.  I love trying to make people laugh, I love trying to entertain people.  And I really love it when I succeed.  There are days when it's hard to drag myself out of bed at 5:30 to go to the gym; there are days when that 7am flight or that 8am meeting or that 9am conference call is emotionally exhausting.  Ys, I get a great deal of satisfaction from my career - and I think I'm pretty good at it (Yeah, sometimes I fuck up - we all do - at least I can admit it which is more than I can say for some people I've worked with over the years.)

But entertaining people is my passion.  I love telling you about the guy with the table on the corner of 66th and Broadway who only sells pecans/  Why pecans?  Is there such a market for pecans that a merchant needn't carry anything else?  If so - why are there no stores solely devoted to pecans?  No Pecan Palace or Purveyors of Pecans.  Even a politically-themed shop called "Yes, Pe-Can!"

I love telling you that we went to Taboon last Friday night, despite the fact that I was dog-ass-tired from a week on the road, and had the most delicious Red Lentil Soup, but my fish tasted like nothing - with a faint hint of lemon.  And was the consistency of soap.

I love positing that the Governor of North Carolina looks like Florence Henderson and I spent most of the recent meetings with the Democratic Governors Association wondering how to get her to say Wessonality (when I wasn't figuring out how to hit on the Governor of Maryland.)

Yes, folks, there are days when I want to stay in bed until 7 (or 9; or noon) and spend my mornings at the gym and my afternoons writing.  Yes, I'd love for someone to read this and offer me a book contract or option a screenplay or simply let me write dirty jokes for Chelsea Handler.  And there are times I'd like to experiment with becoming addicted to Vicodin as a strategy for getting through the week - or the day - or a meeting. 

But then - what would I write about?  How would we relate?  Where would my humor, my pathos, my common touch come from?  I'd lose all my...Wessonality.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Can we agree that Facebook is not for reporting the progress your kids are making with potty training?