Cats, Neighbors and Public Relations

I have a nasty neighbor. This may not be news to you, who have had many a nasty neighbor, but this is actually the first time for me. Though I live in a generic apartment building in a non-descript part of town, I am quite fanatical about my floor. A., the woman at the end of the hall, is our alpha-neighbor. You can tell immediately she's lived here the longest, knows everyone, will speak her mind and is pretty much in charge of the floor. She's a lovely person and, luckily, she likes me. Actually, she liked my cats first, because they used run down the hall to visit her. Across from her are D., who's an Italian guy who works in glassware, and I., his girlfriend, a Kazhakstani (sp?) lawyer. They throw these parties overflowing with Italians. We don't always go, but the cats go to every one. Next to them are J. and C., two rather fashionable gentlmen who also only started liking me after they met the cats. Across from them is a Brazillian couple, very friendly. Their daughter, G. likes to chase the cats down the hall. D., on the other side of me, has two tiny dogs that love my cats. (My cats stand the doggy attention with stoic disgust). There's a corporate apartment across from me that gets regular visits from a family in Westchester. Their children knock on the door to play with my cats.

Get the picture? No, this is not a "how cute are Bootsie and Footsie" email and their pictures will not be posted. I am going somewhere with this: namely, my cats are more popular than I am. But now I have a new neighbor. She has a name, but lets just call her Wicked Woman Number Twelve. (WW12 for short)(this is a joke for those who have read earlier posts). On the second day WW12 moved in, she noticed the cats sitting outside my door during a party. She told the doorman about it. I found this irritating because my door was wide open and I was in the kitchen, and she could easily just asked me in a neighborly fashion. I told the doorman that I was very sorry, and to have her come talk to me so we could work something out. Second time, she went to the doorman again. Then a series of notes were exchange. Then some nasty notes. Then she went to management.

Because WW12 is allergic, she does not want to be near the cats. Naturally, I offer to keep them inside when she is around, and to minimize the frequency and the length of their hallways visits. But no, this is insufficient. She does not want them to leave my apartment at all. Never mind that our hallway is practically the length of a football field, and she's only got one corner of it. Never mind that my cats have been doing this since they were kittens three years ago. She will actually get the porter to vacuum the area around my door, because the allergens from my cats will still be there, even when the cats are not. And these little allergens will apparently send her to the hospital.

Now, I know what you're thinking. Lawyerwriter is being insensitive. Doesn't lawyerwriter have allergies? They suck.

Lawyerwriter does have allergies. See earlier posts. But Lawyerwriter is irritated nonetheless. And this is why.

I am allergic to bees stings. I swell up. This is lamentable, and should I accidentally move next door to a beekeeper, I would be nervous and ask the beekeeper to cooperate. However, I do not--and this is key--knowingly move into a beehive. If WW12 knows she is that allergic to pets, why does she move into a 52 story building overflowing with dogs and cats? There's a girl who takes her cats on walks, for god's sake.

And I know what you're thinking now. Am I one of those crazy cat ladies? No. This is different. I have lived in this apartment for ages, carefully cultivating a really cool set of neighbors who make working from home a little more manageable. I have actually achieved a New York miracle of never, not once, having a problem with a neighbor. (That's not true. Once, J. accused me of not holding the elevator when he was running towards it. But then he met the cats).

We're talking white-picket-fence, people. Neighbors have each other's keys, take care of each other's pets, lend each other chairs for dinner parties, give both pets and babies presents on holidays. We're extremely friendly but we have our own lives and it doesn't get complicated. Although, when A2. and E. across the hall had a baby, they invited me to his bris. At 6:30 in the morning. (Yes, I went. No, I didn't look).

And now we have been invaded by WW12. Or, mostly, I have. Now management has told me that door needs to stay closed even if I am at home, and that if the cats need to leave the apartment, they need to be on leashes. And the point is, it's not a cat thing at all. I mean, I love my boys, but I'm perfectly aware that they're little animals, for god's sake, and will survive just fine without excursions down the hall, fancy toys, or fireman-and-policeman Halloween costumes.

It's a territorial thing. It's like our floor is Lumberton and she's the severed ear in the field. I'm afraid I'm afraid that I'm going to be lying awake at night, forced to listen to her vacuuming outside my door. Who is this nutjob? She's so scared of dealing face to face that she runs every time she sees me coming out of the elevator. (Once, the lock wouldn't work and she started yanking at the door like I was a mugger coming at her). Earlier today, my roommate was heading out as she was heading in. The nutjob leaned against the door, smirked and tried to stare down my roommate. Now I have to keep my door closed more, wrestle my cats inside (and you try wrestling two cats--or for that matter, putting them on leashes), see less of my neighbors and worry about running into the witch whenever I have to go out.

No. She must leave. I want my picket fence back. But how? Blog audience, I invite your thoughts.

Bandit Queens

One of my now-patented hiatuses (haitui? what exactly is the plural of hiatus? discuss). Apologies to those who have been irritated by the lack of posts (usually at lunch-time, over a sandwich, I know who you are).

Well, I am happy to say that my Lizzie writings have resulted in a somewhat decent first draft. Why, exactly, was it excruciating? Is that always how writing is going to be? I'm amazed by people who think this is an easy profession. I do anything--clean, dust, my taxes--to keep from writing sometimes.

Next on the list is Phoolan Devi, Bandit Queen of India. I will not go into the details of Phoolan Devi here. But I will say this here (and not in the actual book): I picked her because I wanted at least one of my Wicked Women to be Indian. I admit it. I wanted at least one Indian woman who was considered by many to be just plain bad. And among the queens and the martyrs and the asparas and dutiful wives, I did find one.

I first heard of Phoolan Devi through my parents--that she was a gangster who roamed the mountains of North India, and that she had once butchered two dozen innocent brahmins. This at least, was what she went to prison for. I pictured her like the goddess Kali--all fire and brimstone and skull necklaces. In my research, however, I haven't seen a goddess of destruction. I have, however, seen a woman who knew how to play up that image--especially to Brahmin caste men, who she loathed. To Brahmins like my father, she was a butcher and a bandit. To lower caste Indians and untouchables, she was a hero. Many also considered her a feminist. At any rate, she was popular enough to be elected Minister of Parliament in India, a position she held until she was killed in 2000.

That, any rate, will be how I'm spending my Sunday. Okay, maybe I'll also catch a repeat of the last episode of Kept, where Jerry finally got rid of oily, nasty pretty boy Ricardo. That was sweet.

Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n Roll

Now, many of you have been accustomed to hearing about my many oddball obsessions--among them cheese, the Kama Sutra, Jerry Hall, purple hair (yes, yes, I know it used to be blue, but for some odd reason it's gone purple now. I bow to its whims), Henry Miller, hating Sex and the City, etc. I'd like to add another one to the list: local bands.

I think when you live in New York, you have to be crazy not to go and see the local bands. You can hear virtually any kind of music, and though you hear a lot of crap, you also hear some bands that are really amazing. I've gone three bands in three nights, and though I do feel a little wobbly, it was well worth it.

Last night, as many of you know, was the Heather concert. I took Miss Julie to Arlene's Grocery to see them. Several members of Heather are in the bands Hair Supply (a hair band tribute to Air Supply) and Satanicide (a mock heavy-metal band). Specifically, my friend Griff--one half of the Mad Brits--plays drums in all three bands. (For those of you new to our little chat, the Mad Brits are Griff and Allie, the hard-partying, most crazy, married rockers who are much, much cooler than me. They consistently tell me that they lead very boring lives, but every time I go out with them, I slink woozily back in at the crack of dawn like Bertie Wooster, usually while they're deciding where to go next).

Well, Heather was just amazing. For one thing, they're all hot. Now I know that being a musician always makes a man hot, but it's particularly hot when you're a talented musician. Heather made me feel like I was sitting in someone's garage in a shredded concert T with a beer in my hand, listening to someone's band. A very 70's vibe. Miss Julie and I were just saying how we wanted to be in the back, away from the speakers, when they started. By the end, we were way up close to the stage, rocking out (which, in this case, means jumping around waving our arms in the air and shouting. It just sounds cooler if I say rocking out)

Aftewards, we partied with the band. Actually, we just hung out and had some drinks, but, again, it sounds cooler to say we partied with the band. Griff and Ali were as fun and generous as ever, and I kept promising to put them in the next blog entry. At the end of the night, Griff was saying, "We still have to do something cool for the blog entry" and all I could think was, "Are you kidding?"

Because the whole night was like some Jefferson Airplane documentary, complete with me following a snowy white rabbit into another world. We were joined by bassist Drew, singer Dale and guitarist Gerard. (Other guitarist Phil I never met, but allow me to say that I finally have proof that a guy can look cool in a porn star mustache). The rumor was that Rufus Wainright, who I saw at the show, wanted Drew to be his bassist, but he knows that if he leaves Heather I'll never forgive him. Drew, by the way, had a big cut on the side of his noise from where the mike hit him. He was actually bleeding on stage, but I think he was so busy playing that he didn't notice. Miss Julie and I liked that--it seemed very rock and roll. Gerard is a fellow dogwalker, as is Ali, and the three of us meeting made me think of a perfect article called "Sex Advice From Dogwalkers" ("Sex Advice From (Insert Profession Here)" is a regular feature) (Remind self to pitch article). Dale left first, and I think it's generally not a good idea to tell him that his hair reminds you of the mane of the lead singer of Quiet Riot--mostly because I think he's going for a more 70's look. (Sideburns, maybe?) The rest of us non-performing groupies blearily and dutifully followed the band members as they progressively partied down the Lower East Side. I managed to outlast Gerard and his-friend-whose-name-I-can't-remember, although perhaps that wasn't a good idea. Towards the end of the night, they were assuming the politely pained and vaguely amused expression that I see so often when I'm thoroughly fucked up (forgive the less than precise description, but I really can't think of a better way to describe the condition I was in).

After we were reluctantly ejected from a bar on the edge of Chinatown by an irritate bouncer who wanted to go home (it was 4:45, after all) I was started to crash in a way that can only be compared to a fiery zeppelin. But, with increasing disbelief, I found that I was still willing to follow the Mad Brit party train as we walked over to John's house. John, who was the big, shaggy, blond haired, amiable fellow I met earlier in the night, is apparently the son of one of the Mamas and the Papas, though I never figured out which one. We arrived at his apartment, past an irate doorman who clearly considered us riffraff, to find that all surfaces in John's apartment were covered with sleeping people who John apparently did not know. It appeared that we were going to be forced to party on the roof, but since it was cold, we had to go on an expedition for sweaters for everyone. Now at this point I was only drifting in and out of consciousness, but as far as I can tell, four other people showed up with lots of drugs and since the waking people outnumbered the sleeping people, the party moved inside and the sweater issue was moot.

I think Griff and Ali (and co.) were genuinely disappointed and puzzled by my decision to go home to sleep, but since the sun was rising, I decided to bow to convention and embark on the drunken sunrise journey home. Actually, the usual convention is a drunken sunrise journey to the nearest 24-hour greasy spoon, but nobody seemed hungry and I was starting to think I needed a cane or some stick to keep me propped up.

Anyway, I woke up this morning feeling only vaguely human, but the point of this sordid tale of the city is that it's fun to go see local bands. You hear great music, and later you can party like a rock star. True, I can only do this once in a while, but it's nice to know people who are completely faithful to the sex, drugs and rock n' roll lifestyle.

Luckily, if you live in New York, there are plenty of options for live music. Satanicide is playing a reunion concert at Bowery Ballroom on June 28, and there's a Hair Supply show coming up soon. Gerard, who's apparently in a half-dozen bands when not walking dogs, has a show in one of them coming up at the Knitting Factory on June 8. (Gerard, write a comment and tell me your band's name again). We still eagerly await hearing Puracane, Ali's triphop band, and Griff tells me that Heather plays with my beloved Les Sans Culottes all the time. Put that show together folks and I will do your publicity! (consisting mainly of cute rocker t-shirts and constant haranguing of my blog audience).

If you don't support your local bands, they'll be extinct. Look what they're trying to do to CBGB's here. That place should have historic landmark status.

As for me, as good as they were, I think I need a break from bands. I plan on lying here with my feet up and a bag of frozen vegetables on my head*, eating cheese and watching Golden Girls reruns. I'll leave you with that appealing image.

*I bought this bag of frozen vegetables when I first moved in, planning to make stir fry. However, it is far more handy for icing twisted ankles and cooling hungover heads, as the bag molds nicely around the offending body part.

Real Live Girl

Whether you were born in New York, or came for school, work or love, (or as my new roommate impressively decided, to just come because "you felt like it."), you start your partying in one particular Manhattan neighborhood. This may not be true if you're not a regular partier, or married with kids, but it is true if you came here single and excited about the New York experience. The neighborhood is colloquially known as "The Village" but in reality, we must be very specific. I am talking about the stretch of Houston, Bleecker, West 3rd, West 4th, between Sixth Avenue and Broadway. Mostly South of Washington Square Park. NYU Area.

This is when you were a tourist. Or when you came here as a student. Or maybe even a high school student, hitching a ride with older friends on a Friday night with fake i.d. This is before you moved here. Or before you before you stopped drinking cheap vodka, before you realized further East and the South, the culture got weirder, cooler, hipper, more punk, and so that was the neighborhood to party in. This is before you started refusing to pay cover for anything (except your friend's band), and using phrase "Bridge-and-Tunnel-Crowd" WAY too frequently. Before you became a New York snob, and now you only go there...well, because a friend's band is playing.

I think every city has this neighborhood. Like Bourbon Street in New Orleans, or Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, or Leicester Square in London. You go to this street on the weekend because you think it's hip and happening, until you go often enough and realize that it's actually cheesy and touristy and that real New Yorkers are elsewhere, laughing at your delusions of hipness.

Like everybody who used to live in the neighborhood--I lived on Sullivan and Bleecker--I swear it has gone completely downhill because I left. Or, more specifically, because of the tattoo parlours and fast food chains that have moved in. Everytime I go down there I thank God those little chess stores, used record stores and vintage clothing stores are still in operation, and that even though the four-cafe intersection of MacDougal and Bleecker isn't the same, Cafe Figaro remains. And God bless Kim's Video. The rest feels totally different though, flashy and shallow and kind of lame. I'm waiting for them to tear those nice townhouses down and put up another high rise. That I would probably move into, given half the chance (and twice the salary).

Anyway, though I'm always happy to hang out in Washington Square Park or visit my cousin Siva, I rarely go down there to party. But when my friend Arun told me that his band, Real Live Girl, was playing at Kenny's Castaways, I had round up some people for support. This is the first time that I have heard Arun play onstage--except at Tamil Mandram religious festivals, plays or recitals. Because, you see, Arun and I grew up together in San Jose, our parents getting together every weekend to get drunk and find an excuse to show off their kids' talents. He was always musical--I think he played the clarinet and trumpet--but he was definitely a rocker from the start. As I like to embarass him by telling everyone, he wrote the music column in high school "In Tune with Arun" and was the only one who experimented with his hair as much as I did. Now, of course, he's an investment banker, but he doesn't seem to have sold his entire soul to the devil, as he's plays in rock bands and quite sincerely refers to his guitar as his "axe."

So when he told me about the show, I called some friends and we all decided to go down and pretend we're still 19-year NYU rock groupies who are "with the band." This week, actually, I've been doing a lot of that, but the bands vary in quality. I know tonight's Heather show at Arlene's Grocery is going to rock, because it's my Mad Brit friends Ali and Griff from mock-metal band Satanicde, and I've already seen them play. Some other bands, alas, I can't say as much for. But Arun's band was really good--the best songs had that loud guitar-based garage sound, the sound that kind of wants to make you mosh around, if someone would just start an adult version of a mosh. I thanked God they weren't yet another pretty lead singer/acoustic guitar/sensitive soul-searching lyric band singing about mean ex-girlfriends and moments of solitude. I mean, I was hanging out in the NYU area again, I wanted to rock out a little. And the band was just perfect for that, for remembering when you used to by tickets from Ticketmaster to go see some band (Billy Idol, Lollapalooza, INXS, U2) live in a stadium of hundreds of teenagers, high as a kite, waving lighters in the air.

Now, the sad truth is that I can't be the rocker girl I once was. I can't go out every night, and even if I could, I coudn't go see bands every night. Most of the time I go out, it's just and excuse to catch up the week's events with a friend, and get a little tipsy together. For that, I need to be able to sit down, hear my friend over the music (and it should be good music, btw) and not have to deal with a 2-drink minimum or a cover charge. But you still have to go rock out with the band once in a while. It keeps you young.

And if you do it in the NYU area, it keeps you twice as young, because you remember that time when you first moved here, and were convinced that no one, ever or since, was as cool as you were, seeing a Real New York Band, at a Real New York Bar.

More about Lizzie

I rather liked my last post, the move from Lifetime Movies to Lizzie Borden. While it might have seemed random (no less random than half of my other flights of fancy) it was actually because I'm trying to sketch out the Lizzie Borden chapter of my Wicked Women book. That is, I've got it sketched out, by I need to practice the actual writing of it. I don't really have a tone yet for the book.

At any rate, we left off at the Hatchet. On August 4, 1892, Andrew Borden, a prosperous banker and commercial landloard, was found dead in his living room, his skull crushed in by numerous blows from heavy, sharp instrument. Upstairs, his wife Abby was lying on the floor of the guestroom, her neck and head bleeding from nineteen blows by the same weapon. Andrew's daughter (and Abby's stepdaughter) Lizzie Borden found her father's body and had the maidservant Bridget call for the police. On August 11, after an inquest, Lizzie Borden was charged with the murder of Andrew and Abby Borden. The authorities knew almost immediately that the murder weapons was an ax or a hatchet.

This was in Fall River, Massachusetts--Small Town, USA--over a century ago. Since then we have seen some of the worse serial killers in the world--Dahmer, Gacy, even that BTK guy--not to mention numerous genocides at the hands of dictators and those two world wars. Why then, does everyone nod with at least some recognition when I mention the name Lizzie Borden? Especially--and this is a significant, but often overlooked detail--she was tried and acquitted of her crime?

The answer is two-fold. Number one, so little was known or remembered of Lizzie before the crimes that she had to become iconic. A 36-year old woman who still lived with her father and older sister, who had few or no suitors, who didn't cry or fall apart or scream or faint upon the murders, but instead remained preternaturally composed, who had very little that was girly or feminine in her--at least by Victorian standards--Lizzie Borden never became a real person. She never fed the public's fascination with her, never tried to clear her name, never became human. She just inherited her father's money, partied with theater folk, and let everyone continue to believe that she was a murderess.

And that leads to the second reason. We, as a public, love people like that--people who invite our curiosity, and then shut us out. We project our fantasies and nightmares onto them, simply because they are so unreadable. Lizzie Borden was acquitted not because the case against her was weak, or because she was necessarily innocent. She was acquitted because she wasn't a person, but a category. And that category is Respectable, Well-Bred Spinster.

Spinster. What a lousy word. But that word is the key to Lizzie Borden, and the reason the tempting idea of Lizzie-the-Pre-Feminist is really just a lot of hot air. Lizzie Borden wasn't a feminist; she was a spinster. And as our attitudes towards Spinsters changed, so did our view of her guilt or innocence.

Because, yes, there is a cottage industry about Lizzie Borden, a whole subculture of people obsessed with this case, just like it happened yesterday. Just like OJ or Michael Jackson's molestation trial or even the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. The murders of the Bordens remained unsolved, but not for the lacj of trying. There are dozens of books, dating back to the time of the crime, written by legal scholars, conspiracy theorists, descendents of witnesses and neighbors. Unsurprisingly, they vary in quality. There is the Lizzie Borden Society, which has forums on anything pertaining to Lizzie (Fall River, Lizzie memorabilia, writings about Lizzie). The Hatchet Online is the online journal of Lizzie Borden studies; the Lizzie Borden Quarterly is the hard copy periodical. The Lizzie Boren Newzletter is distinct from these. All publications extensively discuss every bit of trivia, every minute detail, about the case. You will find articles on how hot it really was the day of the murder; whether Lizzie tried to poison her parents earlier in the week; whether Lizzie was sexually molested by her father; whether Lizzie was a lesbian; reviews of books, movies and documentaries about Lizzie; psychology studies of Lizzie's mental state...well, the list goes on. There have been plays and operettas and works of fiction and essays. A visit to the Lizzie Andrew Borden Virtual Museum and Library reveals poems, jokes, press reports and court documents.

I've read through a lot of these. The tricky thing about the law is that it really is only as good as the evidence presented. We don't know what wasn't at the trial, how someone looked or sounded. Most of the Lizzie Borden writings rely on the same evidence and interviews and books and other sources. The question remains, however--did she do it?

And the answer to that, and how that answer changes over the years, says a a lot about who we think she was--the Respectable Spinster--and how we feel about what that represents. Once again, our views of female violence and female sexuality are linked, and you can follow how the views of the connection between the two changed in the changing views of Lizzie Borden's guilt.

Lifetimes of Lizzie

I have the television on while I write. It's usually on pretty low, so I can't quite hear what's going on. The best shows are reruns of sitcoms I like--they have this comforting sense of familiarity that's like being in the room while friends are talking. The voices of people, after all, are why I need the television--the radio is just voices, and I become completely entranced by NPR, so that's out.

Apart from sitcom reruns, my television is most often tuned to Lifetime television--or the Oxygen channel, or WE, the Women's Entertainment Network. This is not because I am trying to catch reruns of The Nanny, but because I am hoping to catch a particularly good Lifetime Movie.

Generally speaking, they are in two categories. The first is the children/disease/family category. This includes abused children, terminal diseases, mental illnesses, rape, and a wide variety of Danielle Steele adaptations, usually starring Jaclyn Smith. These are crap. I am not one of those people who finds catharsis in crying buckets of tears, and anything with "sisterhood" in the title makes me want to gag. My sisterhood is much too cool to watch that tripe. That said, there is a second category of Lifetime movies that I like very much: namely, the murder/sex/betrayal movies. These can include "I Slept With My Mother's Best Friend" starring David Austin Greene or "I Slept With My Mother's Best Friend's Husband" starring Swoozie Kurtz and Meredith Baxter or "I Tried to Sleep with My Contractor, but He Turned Me Down For His Unattractive Wife" starring Susan Lucci. These are, to put it mildly, jolly good fun. Watching mildly realistic people do ridiculous things to each other until fall off the deep end is very entertaining, but not so entertaining that it interferes with my writing. (There is a third category, which is "My Teenager Has an Addiction to Gambling/Prostitution/Cyberporn/Cutting/Anorexia." These vary greatly in quality).

Lifetime movies are a repudiation that of the idea that women are not violent. Tune in day or night, and you will find some woman poisoning, stabbing, plotting, seducing and generally laying waste to society at large. A notable genre is the "Seductive Woman" movie, where boldly sexual women somehow convince able-bodied men to commit murder for them, usually of an inconvenient husband who controls the purse strings. The Seductive Teacher theme is a subgenre of this, featuring actresses as varied as Jennie Garth, Helen Hunt and Ann-Margaret in the title role. The Seductive Teacher preys on gullible, horny teenagers who have access to guns, and successfully convinces them to kill her husband. This was most efficiently done by Nicole Kidman in To Die For. Another notable subgenre is the "Scorned Woman" movie, featuring a one-night-stand gone bad, a la Fatal Attraction. These movies usually feature Virginia Madsen or, most impressively, Courteney Thorne Smith. We are usually provided with brief glimpse of the complicated psychology of the Scorned Woman, which usually consists of "My Daddy Didn't Love Me." These women usually approach their problems with a carving knife, a loaded gun, or a pitchfork.

Sex, in short, is apparently inextricably linked to the violence of women. The exception occurs with teenage girls, who are too busy trying to become cheerleaders or battling eating disorders to actually have sex. Or so Lifetime would have you believe. (Exception: Any one of the Devil in the Flesh movies, about an obsessive, lunatic high school student who gets a crush on her teacher who is Otherwise Engaged). Generally, the idea is that when a woman is oversexed, badly sexed, or using sex inappropriately, violence will follow.

I have watched many Lifetime Movies, and if a woman really does go off the deep end, she usually plots to have her prey arrested, humiliated, impoverished, separated from loved ones. On occasion, she will push him off a tall buliding. If she stabs him, it will be the heat of anger (or passion, according to Joe Esterhas). Most often, she goes after the offending wife or girlfriend first. These women she has no problem butchering--after all, she is motivated by the rage of obsessive jealousy. The man is generally given one last chance to repent, leave Wife/Girlfriend/Family and come away with her. He usually turns her down, and is about to meet his end until the Sheriff shows up and blows her away with a large, phallic-looking shotgun.

Which brings us to traditional weapons of feminine destruction. In order, they are poison, guns, and a carving knife (the domestic implications of which cannot be ignored). Rarely, however, does a woman get herself a hatchet. Even more rarely does she go after members of her family. And still more rarely does she do the dirty work herself.

This, to a certain extent, explains the allure of Lizzie Borden, one of my Wicked Women. She committed the ultimate crime against family and society: she killed her parents. Or many believe. Though she was acquitted of the crime at the time of her trial, Lizzie Borden is forever attached to her hatchet, a weapon that few men, let alone women, would choose. It lacks the immediacy of the knife, which is at least at hand in most kitchen. It lacks the distance, the cleanliness, the impersonality of a gun. And it certainly lacks the femininity, the guile, and the subtlety of poison, long considered the woman's weapon.

Miss Lizzie

No, whoever killed Andrew and Libby Borden chose a hatchet, a weapon you have to go out to the shed for, a weapon that's heavy and messy and difficult to clean. It's hard to think of a spur-of-the-moment crime with the hatchet--I think it would require a great deal of anger and hatred to kill with it. And yet it's also hard to think of a premeditated crime with a hatchet, especially with numerous other killing devices around in a Victorian household.

If the Bordens had been killed in any other way--arsenic, slit throats, the proverbial blunt object--then the Fall River murders might not have been particularly notable. But the hatchet (a lumberjack's tool, for God's sake) coupled with the chief suspect (the proper, church-going, youngest daughter) practically guaranteed that the crime would stand out.

And did it ever. Even acquitted, Lizzie Borden lived under the shadow of guilt. After her death, speculations continued as to whether "Lizzie Did It" or "Lizzie Didn't Do It," (the latter a title of a popular book that claims to prove Lizzie's innocence). But the hatchet, in addition to providing both notoriety and continued mystery, did double duty. In the latter part of the 20th century, the hatchet that killed the Bordens became more than a weapon of destruction. Unwieldy and powerful, taking great strength and anger to use, Lizzie's hatchet made her a feminist icon, and every blow to her overbearing father's head was soon viewed as a collective strike against patriarchy, traditional family, and all those Victorian values that kept women in societal straitjackets. Here, at last, was one woman who wasn't going to settle down and be a slave to her husband, father, sons. Here was a woman who wasn't using sex as a weapon (there is, in fact, little doubt that Lizzie Borden died a virgin) or being rejected after giving in. Here was a woman who wanted OUT of the whole marriage-family-church death trap that sucked up so many women around her. Here, in the end, was a feminist icon angry enough to do what other women wouldn't.

If only it were true.

(Part II tomorrow. If I don't get distracted by another topic).

Back from the Vineyard

Well, back from Martha's Vineyard. Had a lovely time, even though I still haven't been able to figure out why it's called Martha's Vineyard. Any idea?

The Kennedys were very nice hosts. Of course, we had to get away, since we couldn't hang out with them the WHOLE time, that would just become dull. Especially because the Vanderbilts were calling for tea and getting a bit jealous that we weren't going out on their yacht. And I really wanted to see the Carnegie-Mellons, but the Kennedys were rather possessive of our time. I mean, really-- how many Jackie O stories can you listen to? But they were such lovely people and we'd be happy to summer with them again--if they can fix that tennis court. Up at the Vineyard without tennis? Never!

Actually, it was more of a chair-breaking, screen-door falling, bug-zapping, cartwheeling, poker-playing, poker-losing, excessive-drinking, somewhat-smoking, corn-grilling, beach-laying, sea-breezing kind of weekend. I brought work, which stayed in my suitcase the whole time. Furthermore, I have to face the fact that I have become Very New York, since I jumped every time a bug flew by or crawled on the porch. And I think Nature gives me allergies, though it really could have been a host of other things. But I really am a city girl, which is fine by me. It does go against my self-advertisement as an easygoing girl who can rough it if necessary, but I think I'm still that girl, as long as there are no more inchworms.

Martha's Vineyard can indeed boast a high level of quaintness--especially our house, if by "quaint" you mean "decrepit, with accompanying faux-Victorian details." It was, however, an awesome deal, and the perfect vacation--lying on the beach, hanging out at the beach bars, eating spray cheese from a can (surprisingly, not my idea, but I took to it rather quickly), playing cutthroat poker until the wee hours. I am now what my mother would call a "kari kooti" which means "little black dirty animal" which is my mother's rather endearing way of noting that I have a tan. All I expect to see in the pictures is my teeth and the whites of my eyes.

And as for that four-ace hand that beat my to-the-jack straight--well, you know who you are, and I hope you're feeling lousy about taking this poor writer's money.

Off to the Vineyard

Well, for once I have a good reason for skipping out on the blog--I'm off to Martha's Vineyard for the weekend. I know nothing of this place except that a) it's an island and b) it's quaint. What quaint means, I can only guess, but I can tell you that it's very strange, as a Californian, to have to drive 4 hours to go to the beach. So, without computer access, I can give the old blog a break while I lie on the beach desperately wishing that I'd splurged more on some beach basics. Like that leopard print bikini I saw the other day. How very Dr. No it was....

Swayamvara (Keep Reading)

When I was young I learned about ancient Indian myths through a very important method--comic books. I will elaborate more on Amar Chitra Katha at later date, when I am more competent. But that is where I learned about the practice in ancient India of swayamvara--an excellent practice that should be revived. It goes something like this:

A king decides that it is time for his daughter to choose a husband. He invites all the most eligible princes and kings in the neighborhood to come over to his palace and compete for the princess's hand in marriage. Sometimes there were feats of strength or wit or military prowess. Sometimes they just hung out and schmoozed, and the princess never even saw them. Eventually, they were all lined up in the long grand hall (all palaces have at least one Grand Hall) and the princess entered with a garland. She would throw the garland around the neck of the king she would marry.

Now, while this may not be logical in this day and age, there is something rather delicious in getting a group of men to compete for you. I think this is every woman's secret fantasy on some level, and it transcends culture. The ancient Greeks competed for Helen of Troy, for example, and men have dueled for ladies (and ladies have liked it) for centuries. But there's an intrinsic problem with the idea--it's still really a man's game. The father picks the men who get to come, all the tests are masculine ones (which may not be of any interest to a princess) and most of the time, it's resolved according to strength of army, size of coffers, political nicety and diplomacy, rather than love or attraction.

Enter Jerry Hall. Yes, another Jerry Hall blog entry. This, my friends is the reason that I am obsessed with this show. Apart from having great fun at humiliating a bunch of pretty boys, she is conducting her own little swayamvara, having a ball at waxing them down, dressing them up, parading them around until she gets them the way that she likes them. For Jerry Hall, an essential test is how a man looks in a Speedo--or, at least, as naked as possible. In every episode, she has managed to strip them to near-nudity, with virtually no logic behind it. Now the speedo nor the humilation would not be one of my tests. Maybe I'd have him fix a car or shoot some pool. Cook Indian food. Or something useful, like build the perfect litter box or help me balance my checkbook.

Anyway, I admire her insight into what she needs: a buff, hairless, Vivienne Westwood-wearing, 20-something man who photographs well and is groomed like a member of a boy band. Good for her. Her only problem seems to be the fact that she only gets to keep one.

But, hey, if she's bringing back the practice of swayamvara, I'm all for it.

A Plague Upon Thee, Hippocrates

Woke up this morning to discover that I no longer had the ability to breathe, and could only wheeze in pain. This is always a bad sign. Either I was very sick or I was turning into Darth Vadar (and frankly, I think that I wotld have been a far better Darth Vadar that Hayden Christensen). It was a day of four dog walks in sweltering heat, and when I finally dragged my coughing and hacking self to the doctor's office, I felt sure that relief was at hand.

Relief, technically, was another hour and a half away. If I should have the good fortune of having some doctors in my audience, I implore you to please, please a) be on time, or knowing the inevitability of doctor lateness, b) get magazines other than Autoweek and Soap Opera Digest in your waiting room. Seriously. If you're going to make us wait, fill the place up with junk reading material

I was just starting to simmer with anger and frustration--when I wasn't hyperventilating or doubled over coughing--when the doctor finally saw me. In additional to the Hippocratic oath, all doctors must swear some kind of allegiance to the Ford Motor Company, because I have never seen such an efficent assembly line. I was stripped, stuffed into a gown, poked, prodded, re-dressed and sent on my way within 10 minutes. The whole thing was smooth as silk, except for the few minutes I spent waiting for the doctor to re-enter the room and laugh hysterically at the sight of me in the blue paper robe. To kill the time, I began reading about travel innoculations, particularly since I am still thinking about my Egyptian archaeological vacation. There were the usual warnings about typhoid and malaria and yellow fever, all of which I am on more than passing acquaintance with, having taken the usual truckload of pills every time I go to India. But then, disturbing in its simplicity, was the word "Plague."

Um...plague? I've got to worry about the Plague, on top of everything else? What kind of plague--black or Bubonic? Aren't they the same thing? Is this related to The Rdd Death? Didn't someone think to take care of this in the Middle Ages? I tried to read more about where the plague might be of concern to me, but it was remarkably unhelpful. Just 1 dose every 3 hours, or some nonsense like that. I decided to ask the doctor, but she was working that assembly line so fast that I didn't even get the question out. I just starting coughing away, which inspired her to give me a tuberculosis injection. Fabulous.

But, really, I'm not complaining. After an hour and a half wait, I was happy to bustled out of there, prescriptions in hand, into my local pharmacy. And let me tell you something--sure, they make you wait at the pharmacy (usually behind some guy with an expired insurance card), but they have good sense to locate it near the magazine rack. Reading about Angelina/Brad/Jen and Tom/Katie and Ben/Jen (the Sequel)...well, time just flew.

Dust Bunnies' Revenge

There is nothing like a hacking cough to make you realize the importance of, er, breathing. I'm not sure where it came from, but I have a sneaking and embarassing suspicion that it came after I gave my living room a thorough cleaning--including the hefty dust bunnies that have set up a colony under the couches. This is in an effort to do some redecorating in a post-colonial-safari/parisian brothel theme, which requires many more plants, dark wood and red velvet. And a dust mask, apparently.


Daniel Craig, Colm Meaney and some other people in Layer Cake

Another little vacation from the blog, unintended, but perhaps necessary. After the last Jerry-Hall-Ovation Channel entry, I think I needed a break. I suspect my readers would prefer a continued series of short, pithy posts rather than my more longwinded er, flights of fancy.

So, let's experiment with brevity. Nice hot weekend spent wandering around the city, running into a craft fair or street fair every few blocks. Resisted the urge to invest in more socks, sheet sets or sunglasses--or to finally get a hand-knit ethnic sweater, a small-to-medium sized stone buddha or 10 minute neck massage. Drank with investment bankers at a effort-intensive Hawaii-themed party--(every body got lei'd at the door). Got dolled up and went to see Layer Cake with Julie at the old Sunshine theater. (I tried to convince Miss Julie to try the Gourmet Popcorn toppings--jalepeno in particular--but no dice).

Layer Cake, incidentally, is a fine movie. I admit that I have a weakness for the British gangster genre. (In particular, I was a Guy Ritchie fan in particular until Swept Away, which...well, it sadly exposed his deficiencies as a director away from South London). I like the whole British gangster genre (long live The Italian Job!) because it brings a much needed humor and irony to the gangster genre--which was shriveling up a few years ago--and I like it because I like British settings, humor and men. Daniel Craig in particular--they're calling him the next James Bond, but that would sort of be like calling Steve McQueen the next James Bond. (Then again, the James Bond series needs all the help it can get).

The Steve McQueen comparison is one of the highest I can make for a guy. The other top one is the Connery-as-Bond comparison (which I only really make for Clive Owen) and the Cary Grant comparison (which I only really make for George Clooney). If you could smoosh everyone into one guy, I'd be in love for a couple lifetimes, at least. But Steve McQueen is the most real--he has dirty mechanic's hands, that indestructible aura of cool, the ability to drive a car, shoot straight and woo a woman. And, in particular, the ability to wear tight jeans without looking like a particularly fussy gay model. (And, apparently, we share a love of cheese: not kidding)Daniel Craig has that same thing too, even when he's getting the shit kicked out of him.

Let's see, what now fixated on the idea of going either on an archaeological dig, or a volunteer vacation. The volunteer vacation is particularly interesting as it's tax deductible. The archaeological dig may be because I came drunk last night and stayed up blearily watching The Mummy again. But I really do have an Egyptology fetish. Then again, I have a dinosaur fetish too, so the idea of going to China and working two weeks as volunteer on some prehistoric digging site sounds pretty good too. But I'm not sure how rustic I want to get. The real problem, of course, is that my altruistic motives don't count for much, and they both cost a ridiculous amount of money. Perhaps I can convince some foundation that my Indian chick-lit novel necessitates traveling to India to work on restoring some temple for two weeks. Any takers?

The volunteer vacations in America are pretty cool too and much less pricy. The best ones are in New Mexico, working on an Indian reservation, or rebuilding some Arizona community center. The problem is the idea of spending a couple weeks in the sweltering desert, in the middle of summer. I mean, I loved that it was hot and sunny this weekend, but I'm not sure that I want to be camping and working in it. And I like the idea of volunteering; I'm not into suffering.

If anyone knows of an Egyptian archaeological dig that needs a volunteer for one-to-two weeks at a reasonable price, write me. It would help if the dig came complete with some semblance of indoor plumbing and absolutely no snakes. It would also help if the other members of the dig are two older lesbian women who travel together, an overbearing dragon of a woman with mousy secretary, an unscrupulous, yet rouguishly handsome man, a tart flapper, a retired Army colonel, and a small Belgian detective.


(Okay, screw brevity. Next time.)