Sunday, July 26, 2009

Little Miss Muffet

I’ve been going through something of a nesting phase. This might strike some as odd, since I’ve been living in the same apartment for the last fifteen years.

But actually, it is that very longevity that has sparked the change.

Usually people move several times in the first ten to eighteen years after they graduate from college. They move in with a roommate, or several, they periodically upgrade to bigger places in better neighborhoods with fewer cohabitants. They fall in love and find places with partners. They get jobs in different cities and move their whole lives to someplace new. On average, most people will live in no less than 6-8 different places between the ages of twenty-two and forty. And at each step along the way, they will adjust or totally reimagine their personal space and style. They will get rid of stuff that no longer suits them or matches their lives. They will find things to fill the new spaces in which they live.

I, on the other hand, returned to Chicago from college with a partner in tow, moved into one apartment only to fall in love with the apartment next door a year later, and simply shifted one door East. When the partner, who eventually became the husband, became the ex-husband, I kept the apartment. Lovingly filled with Mom-and-Dad-me-down furniture, and treasures from flea markets, antique stores, the Salvation Army and EBay.

I’m a natural pack rat and collector, and my place is ginormous and happily contained my gatherings without ever bursting at the seams.

The problem with this is that time flies by and one day you wake up and you are less than a year away from being forty, and you are still living in the place you mostly put together in your twenties and while you love your things, there is something a little bit Version 1.0 in your surroundings. You look around and realize that while nothing is bad or wrong, it just doesn’t completely reflect who you are today. You want it a little cleaner, more sophisticated, more elegant, less cluttered.

If you are very lucky, which I am, you will have a really good friend who also happens to be a kick ass interior designer who will show you how to use a combination of moving your existing stuff around and doing the kind of purge that most people do naturally when moving from place to place, to totally bring a fresh look to what you already have and love.

As a part of the big re-org, my friend suggested we move two large ivory club chairs (long ago gifted from Mom and Dad) into the front bay window where they would make a lovely bright sitting area. This was a very smart move, and I could immediately imagine sitting there to read with a cup of tea, or enjoying a cozy one-on-one with a girlfriend and a bottle of wine. Unfortunately, getting the chairs into the light also made one thing amazingly clear.

They were filthy.

Not moldy gross or food stained, but dirty from years of arms resting on the armrests, of heads with various hair products leaning back against the pillows, of vacuum cleaners bumping into the legs. Natural wear and tear, to be sure, but on ivory fabric in the bright light of the sun, not so attractive. So I called a cleaning company to come give them a good steam, to bring back the fabric, to make them as close to new as possible.

They arrived with a piece of equipment that I originally mistook for an earth mover, which they parked on my front porch and snaked big tubes into the living room. And after blowing the fuses in my 103 year old apartment no less than three times, finally figured out which outlet to use and they got to work. It took the better part of an hour, but the chairs and matching ottomans became, if not like new, much better and brighter than they had been. They propped the seat and back cushions up on their ends on top of the deck of the chair and warned me to flip them around every hour or two to ensure complete drying, to not reassemble the chairs for at least 12 hours, and to not sit on them for another 24. No problem. I paid, and left to go grocery shopping.

When I returned I went to flip the pillows around as instructed.

And discovered that the fabric on the deck of the chairs where the cushions were resting had not been tested for colorfastness, and that one side of each damp cushion was now stained and streaked with a rusty orange color, having pulled the dye out of that fabric.


What had been clean now looked like it had been upholstered in odd tie-dye.

I called the company and they assured me they would be back that evening to re-clean the cushions and not to worry.

They did return.

They were not able to get the orange out of the cushions.

They took the cushions with them in order to use the better chemicals etc. back at the warehouse, and told me not to worry.

They called four days later to tell me that they had not been able to get the stains out and had sent the cushions to New York for another go.

This made me ponder. Exactly what sort of magic unicorn or wish-granting genie do they have in New York that can clean fabric better than what we have here in Chicago?

Apparently, none. I received a call last week that they cannot fix the problem and they are now going to have to reupholster the chairs and ottomans.

On the one hand, I feel very badly for them, especially the young man who made the expensive mistake. On the other hand, YIPPEE!!! NEW UPHOLSTERY!!!

I was so excited, I cleaned out my closets.

I know. Sort of lame. But there is something really freeing and empowering about reimagining the space in which you live, so that it better fits who you are and the way you want to live. For some people, it means starting from scratch, a totally new place or getting rid of everything back to the drywall and getting everything new.

For me, it is just about letting go. About looking around and realizing that less can indeed be more. That there is as much of an endorphin rush in giving things away as in acquiring. That setting out to do a Version 2.0, or even 3 or 4.0 can be a really important step in your personal growth.

I’m feeling all self-actualized and stuff. And very grown-up.

Which for someone who is sort of almost forty, is a very comfortable place to rest.

Which is good, because at the moment, I’m a little bereft of chairs….

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Bitch is Back

Today is a very happy day.

Not because it seems that Summer finally hit Chicago, after we have been enjoying an interesting and unexpected Fall since Memorial Day.

Not because I finally turned in the last set of rewrites on my new book, GOOD ENOUGH TO EAT, coming out in September of 2010. (and yes, I know that is over a year away, but I do hope you will take advantage of the intervening time to read my first four books…hint hint)

Not even because I have, for the first time in over two months, spent six consecutive nights in my own glorious bed.

But because today, my dear chickens, your Polymath returned to the miraculous world of Tivo.

You may remember that some months ago I lost my Tivo in a cable upgrade DVR disaster. If you weren’t with me for that dark time, you can read about it here.

I missed my little dancing Tivo guy, and that lovely and soothing bah-looping sound it makes when you hit the buttons, and the bright colorful screens…but mostly I missed the simple, intuitive, dependable functionality. I missed that it knew if I had already seen the most recent episode of Burn Notice and therefore did not record an additional four showings. I missed that it only took seconds to search for and find a show using the onscreen typepad. I missed that it could record more than 20 shows before getting full. I missed the sensitivity of the rewind and fast forward functions, and the auto jump back and the thirty-second skip, making skipping commercials a seamless delight.

On the one hand, I totally recognize the complete insanity and snobbery of being so committed to a piece of equipment that any other version just won’t do. I get that it makes me a little ridiculous, especially since it is a device designed to help me watch television, which isn’t exactly the most noble or attractive pursuit.

On the other hand, I am a creature of loyalty. I have had the same hairdresser since 1992. I have had the same manicurist since 1998. I’ve lived in the same apartment since 1994. I’ve purchased a series of five Honda Accord Sedans in a row since college, and while I switched up colors and was delighted to upgrade to the Hybrid version, it never occurred to me to research a different make or model.

Probably the best story to explain this devotion quirk I have revolves around something as innocuous as paper napkins.

My whole life my mom has stocked the house with Vanity Fair brand paper napkins, both the dinner and cocktail size. I literally cannot remember another paper napkin ever entering the house, with the exception of the napkins you buy for kids’ birthday parties that follow whatever the theme of the party happens to be.

One day I was in the grocery store with my ex-husband (and yes, that is ex, because I may be loyal, but not to a fault, and sometimes you do have to alter your commitments) and he looked at the list and reminded me that we needed paper napkins.

I went to the paper goods aisle, and alas, there were no Vanity Fair napkins to be found. I returned to him three aisles over.

“Where are the napkins?” He asked, looking at my empty hands.

“They didn’t have any.”

He looked deeply perplexed. “What do you mean they didn’t have any?”

I wondered what alternative meaning he might have derived from my previous sentence. I tried again. Slower. “They were all out of napkins. I’ll have to pick some up this week at a different store.” That should do it.

He was undeterred. “I cannot believe that they are all out of paper napkins.”

Now I was annoyed. “Why on earth would I make something like that up?”

He aimed the cart in the direction of paper goods at a quick clip, positive that I was wrong and eager to prove it, and I shuffled after him, secure in my own absolute rightness.

He waved his arm down the paper goods aisle at the myriad of brands, sizes, shapes, patterns and colors of the paper napkins which resided there in endless row upon row of lip blotting, hand wiping, pants saving papery goodness. He looked at me as if I had clearly lost my ever loving mind.

I, being somewhat smug in my correctness, pointed sharply at the one gaping hole in the wall of napkins, labeled clearly, Vanity Fair.

“See. They’re all out.” Duh, big red truck.

“Well, yeah, of THAT BRAND. Just get different ones!”

He has got to be kidding. “But we use Vanity Fair.”

“Well, they don’t have any.”


“So we’ll get other ones.”

“Um, no. I’ll just get some later this week.”


“Because those are the ones we use.”

“But WHY?”

And I couldn’t say. Because I don’t really know, other than those are the ones we always used, they are a good size and weight and they don’t disintegrate unless ribs are involved, and they are clean and white with no ugly patterns, and they don’t make your hands and lips all linty when you use them, and THEY ARE THE ONES WE USE and to get anything else is just not done.

We then broke down into hysterical laughter, scaring the crap out of the other people in the store, howling like banshees at the ridiculousness of it all. But as funny as I knew it was, I still couldn’t put any of those other napkins in the cart, and every time he tried to convince me to do so or I tried to explain it, we just fell apart again. He eventually gave up and the next day I went to a different store and stocked up, and I just never allowed us to run out ever again.

I do recognize the irony that some nine or ten years later, I no longer have that particular husband, but I do have those particular napkins.

So you can see how it is totally in my pathology, after a decade of Tivo and the little dancing guy and bah-looping, why it might throw me into chaos to switch to something else.

Tivo, I just couldn’t quit you.

And so, to celebrate my big cocktail win in NYC, and the prize money that came with it, your Polymath got herself a brand spanking new Tivo HD XL, which not only does all the stuff I loved in my old Tivo, but also…

Records two channels at once.
Can hold up to 150 hours of HD programs, but 1500 hours in standard def!
Allows me to watch stuff from my Netflix Instant Queue right on my TV!!
I can rent stuff from Disney and Amazon, and watch stuff from YouTube (which, by the way, has everyone seen the Sound of Music thing from the Antwerp train station, and if you have not, OMG!)

And it bah-loops. Be still my heart.

Sorry Comcast. I appreciate the service and how nice and competent your technicians have been, but your DVR sucked out loud, and I cannot tell you how happy I was to see it walk out the door today.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Holy Phone Book, Batman!

Mea Culpa, chickens, I know I’ve been absent since the big contest reveal, and I do apologize most sincerely. Between some serious jet lag from the glorious France romp, getting back and immediately running to NY to kick some serious cocktail tuchus, immediately followed by a business trip and then the holiday weekend, I’ve just been the teensiest bit overwhelmed.

But I did want to share this delightful little piece of Americana I uncovered during my recent travels.

To fully appreciate this story, you must first go back to the mid-1970s when your young Polymath was just a precocious thing, when math homework was the scariest thing you could imagine, and kids all over the country were in charge of physically changing the television channels since there was no “clicker”. It was a bucolic time of enormous wing collars, orange and brown plaid bellbottoms (seriously mom?), and Sunday nights belonged to the Wonderful World of Disney and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. The Wizard of Oz was on once a year, and time stopped for its showing.

It was something of an odd time for after school television, what with all the Brady’s and Partridge’s endlessly going through puberty, and Tom and Jerry’s dysfunctional relationship playing out, but the one show that really stood out among the rest for me was the reruns of the 1960s series Batman. Unabashedly campy, clearly filmed to be watched stoned, and subversively sexy, it was one of my most favorite hours of television. Not that I didn’t love me some Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, but when it came to crimefighting and mystery solving, Batman was my guy. Blue tights, that pointy mask with the painted on sardonic eyebrows, plus the fact that as badass as he was in the cape, he was equally urbane and gentlemanly in the endless tuxedos that Bruce Wayne needed to don for all his charitable works.

My first major crush, pre-dating both Shawn Cassidy in his tight white jeans and Donny Osmond in his purple socks, was Adam West, the perfect Gemini boy for a Gemini Polymath, half millionaire Cary Grant type, and half secret identity superhero.

Meow indeed, Catwoman.

This infatuation led to my poor mother having to not only take me to the Chicago Auto Show to see the REAL BATMOBILE, but also having to wait in line with me for what felt like eleventy million hours (and was probably 40 minutes) to have my picture taken with Adam West in full Batman regalia. Of course it was just a Polaroid, and if memory serves I was so overwhelmed that I burst into tears, probably because I had assumed that Adam might offer to at least take a girl on a RIDE in that shiny black car after she had schlepped all over the McCormick place to find him and then waited in that interminable line…I’m not saying, I’m just saying. (Mom, you are totally forgiven for the orange and brown plaid bellbottoms, FYI. Not so much for the denim Arco jumpsuits, however…)
I of course did not understand at the time how truly awful it must have been for poor Adam, who had to sit for hours in that ridiculous get-up in a huge convention hall, where half the audience was made up of serious gear head guys mumbling homophobic jokes under their breath at him, and the rest of the audience was comprised of odd fans and quivery little girls who burst into tears when he smiled and said hi. On behalf of all of us, Adam, I am sorry and you were a real trouper.

Flash forward thirty-some years, and I am on a business trip to Sun Valley, Idaho, which is where Adam West currently resides.

And while I understand that he is very happily married, and old enough to be a grandfatherly sort of figure, and my current crush on Nathan Fillion leaves little room to be pining for Adam West, I do still have a soft spot for the caped crusader…which could lead a girl alone in a hotel room to look in the phone book.

You can only imagine my delight when I discovered the following:





And yes, I did defile the phone book in my hotel room, and no, I’m not sorry.

He’s still suave as hell.