we will live to make holocaust jokes anon

this morning a car bomb went off at the madrid airport. this is, in and of itself, scary. it was set off by ETA, the basque separatist group, and was fairly ineptly done: no one was killed, and the injuries were minor. still, an inept carbomb is nevertheless a car bomb, and antigovernment violence, however poorly executed, is one of those things that - try as i might to be jaded and flip and dismissive of authority - really shakes me up.

my brother and i flew from madrid to zurich this morning, and when our plane was sitting on the runway i looked up at a particular moment and where before i had thought there was nothing but hazy sky, there was now a thick plume of heavy dark smoke rising up over the terminal. i figured it was an engine that had gone haywire or some spilled fuel or maybe some sort of controlled brushfire clearing or something. what does one think when one sees smoke? i thought that.

it turns out it was the bomb. the reason i hadn't noticed it earlier was because it hadn't been there.

the plane took off as scheduled and not a word about the bomb was said. i didn't even know it had happened until i showed up at my hostel here in zurich and had an email from a friend asking if i was okay and alive. i went to cnn.com and read the article on it and saw the photo that was identical to what i saw from my window seat and for a second my heart leaped into my throat. and then just as quickly as i felt like i was on the verge of death, everything was back to normal.

i am okay. i am alive. but i am a little bit more aware of the world, i think. this is bad for the aloofness that allows for my elitist snark. but probably good for me as a person.

still, as per the recent tradition of the Jewish people, my brother and i swiftly fled the hostile country, and are safe and alive in Switzerland.


things i hate: stupid switzerland, specifically stupid zurich

the thing about madrid

now i realize that both of mv posts-from-europe have been about switzerland, even though everyone's favorite launderers of nazi gold have really only been the brackets on the real point of the trip: my brother and i spent a week (okay, 5.5 days) in madrid.

unfortunately for my tendencies towards mockery and bitterness, madrid is actually pretty cool. it feels like any other city, in that it is loud and has lots of mcdonalds (mcdonaldses?) and there are lots of girls wearing jeans tucked into boots, which is a look i am slowly but surely getting on board with, much to my own chagrin.

the really wonderful thing about madrid is that its residents speak with a castilian accent. here is what a castilian accent sounds like: it thounds more or leth like thith.

which ith to thay: thuper.

now, of course (of courth), after five days of being surrounded (thurrounded) by spanish speakers (thpanish thpeakers) engaging in this (thi... i'm going to stop now) (thtop now) (no, for real) delightful affectation, i finally stopped feeling like a total moron saying grathiath instead of gracias. and of course as soon (thoon) (oops) as that comfort set in, off we jaunt to stupid zurich where they speak with a german accent. and here is a fun fact: german accent + lisp = almost too stereotypically homosexual to really be acceptable coming out of the mouth of a mid-20s american female. thadness.

trulz unnecessarz kezboard changes

i am in zurich and all the keys on the keyboard are in the wrong places.

well. that's not entirely true. the z and the y are switched around. what the fuck is wrong with switzerland. or, as it really should be, swityerland.

europe. meh. who needs it.


european dispatch numero uno

things they sell at the zurich airport:

cannabis-flavored iced tea.

would you believe me if i told you i bought one because i am a moron and thought it was mint?

that might have happened.


¡feliz holiday season!

i leave for a week in spain and an incidental day in switzerland in, oh, 3 hours, so we'll consider the next couple of days a little vacation for rsgo. rest assured that i will spend my entire time in europe being bitter and critical of everyone's clothing, accents, ways of life, and grammar, and will come back and spew out bile in an appropriately xenophobic manner.

i'll be accopmanied by my brother joe, a snarkbot-in-training if ever there were one, so perhaps if we're bored of paella and art museums, we'll drop in on an internet cafe and give you the helen+joseph play-by-play of Why Spain Is Stupid.

have a happy christmas if that's your thing, otherwise enjoy your sense of countercultural religious superiority.*

*joe points out (already vigilant!) that since we'll be on a plane for christmas eve, presumably watching a movie, we really should bring chinese food on board with us. and if we're questioned, or the recipients of disapproving glances, we can quasilegitimately cite a religious obligation to its consumption.


ah cruel fate. various pieces of the universe are conspiring to make me entirely uncreative today, so unless you count this faux-post (you really shouldn't), i'm failing to meet my self-imposed weekly posting quota.

to make your visit here not entirely unworthwhile, i would like to introduce to you your new favorite animal, the baby tapir:

like most things, it becomes less cute with age. but we can pretend that's not the case.



by meredith

what a piece of meat is man! how tender in season! how infinite in edibilities! in fork and moving, how express and delectable! in action how like an angelfish! in apprehension, how like a cod!

Sonnet One Sharkteen
by helen

Let me not to the carnage of this night
Admit impediments. Sharks are not sharks
Who falter when they fat turistas find,
Or from two lovers, modestly remove:
O no! They are ever-eating beasts
That dine on toddlers, nature’s bacon;
On thick-skinned fishermen they feast
With gusto, each limb torn and taken.
Sharks are not fools, though grinning slicing teeth
Curve upwards in a sickled vicious smile:
Sharks folly not with plotting out for weeks,
But quickly bite, with strength if not with guile.
If this be error and upon me tacked,
I never ate, nor no shark e’er attacked.

by mr phipps

Is this a dogfish which I see before me,
The tail toward my mouth? Come, let me eat thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fast swimmer, stating
To feeding as to sight? or art thou but
A dogfish of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the hunger-oppress'd brain?
I see thee yet, in form as palatable
As this which now I desire.
Thou marshall'st me the way that I was going;
And such an ichythope I was to taste.
Mine eyes are made the fools o' the other fishes,
Or else worth all the rest; I yet taste thee,
And on thy teeth and tongue gouts of blood,
which was not so before sentinel, the ray,
Whose blubs's his watch, thus with his slow pace.
With Tuna's ravishing strides, towards his design
Moves like a jellyfish. Thou sure and silt-soak'd sea,
Feel not my strides, which way they swin,
for fear Thy very ocean speaks of my whereabout,
And take the present horror from the time,
Which now suits with it.
Whiles I threat, fish live:
Worms to the heat of deeds too cold gills gives.
I go, and it is done; the smell invites me.
Hear it not, Dogfish; for it is a knell
That summons thee to heaven or to hell.

by helen

Two dolphins, both alike deliciously,
In fair Atlantic, where I hide unseen,
An ancient beast, evolved to surreptitiously
Spill fishy blood, make pointy teeth unclean.
To which, this fatal mouth and curving fin?
This pair of star-cross'd mammals, which one's life
Shall my serrated cavern pierce within
And with its death assuage my hung'ring strife?
Their oblivious passage through my death-marked lair,
And the continued motion of their yummy flesh,
Which, had they knowledge, quickly they'd repair
To safer waters - now shall I devour, fresh.
And so if you, in cage and SCUBA, lend an eye
You'll see me feast -- then by my teeth shall die.


let's all give joshua a warm welcome

rsgo received its 21,757th visitor earlier this morning. this is not in and of itself a terribly big deal, except that my highly sophisticated faithful-rsgo-reader stalking abilities (aka my sitemeter page) indicates that this particular visitor found me by way of doing a google blog search for "Joshua Foer."

zomg, as the kids say. avid helen-watchers know that Joshua is My Favorite Foer (sidenote: i would so watch that sitcom), and since this particular user of google blog search lives in Brooklyn (i might or might not have googlemaps'd the lat/long, and i might or might not be horrified at my own stalkerdom), i am going to wildly assert that the user was My Favorite Foer himself!

hello, Joshua! welcome to rsgo! we like you here, for no real reason except that we have a mild dislike for both The New Republic and your middle brother's horribly craptastic second book-slash-insistent clinging to his middle name, and also in your publicity photo you look kind of like my cousin adam.

additionally i would like to posit that it would be ABSOLUTELY AMAZINGLY AMAZING if there were t-shirts (a la Team Aniston/Team Jolie et al.) that read team joshua, team franklin, and team jonathan safran, because i am going to assume that everyone else in the world also has a Favorite Foer. (for the alliterati among you, and so as not to cause confusion with Foer père, perhaps we can call it a Favorite Foer Frère.)

i might have to make those t-shirts a reality. oh my god. i am really really excited.


blast from the (highly disturbing) past

almost exactly one year ago, leila, mia, and i found a giant rubbermaid container full of porn in the storage loft in my apartment. i mentioned it in a blog post and linked to the list of contents that we'd posted on craigslist under lost & found.

cleaning my room this evening, i found the original handwritten list of contents. and since craigslist trashes posts after a few weeks, i've decided to reshare with all of you the (abridged) list of porn-box contents, plus the picture we took for posterity. consider it an early christmas gift.

  • towel, dirty
  • bust magazine with cynthia nixon on cover
  • video: fast & easy coeds
  • video: no label (later revealed to be a brunette doing dirty things to a blonde)
  • video: just cumshots #66
  • 3 issues of Club magazine, one featuring a layout about "lusty lawyers"
  • video: virgin stories #3
  • moist towelettes
  • a sock
  • aromatherapy candle
  • video: virgin stories #6
  • 1 issue of Hustler
  • audiocassette of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
  • prescription antihistamines
  • open packet of condoms (unused)
  • various small stuffed animals
  • q-tips


how nerds make dessert

for a party tonight, i'd promised to bring lemon-meringue tartlets (don't go acting all impressed - they're surprisingly easy to make). i already had about two cups of lemon curd leftover from making spiced shortbread cookies earlier this week (don't you wish you were my roommate?), so i spun by the grocery store to pick up some ingredients for the crusts. at the grocery store, smiling from the produce section, were the most beautiful lovely grapefruits ever.

grapefruit-meringue tartlets! sang the lightbulb that flashed on over my head. so i bought four grapefruits and another pound of butter and carried on my merry way.

i make lemon curd kind of a lot, considering it's, you know, lemon curd. but as someone who doesn't love chocolate, i make lemon bars and lemony sandwich cookies and lemon pies with moderate frequency. so the recipe exists in my head, rather than on a piece of paper, and i do most of it by sight and feel. for example, i have no idea how much lemon zest and lemon juice i use, i just know that it's about the quantity you get from three large lemons.

so, fuck. how do i convert lemons



answer: math! for zest equivalents, i simply need to figure out how to convert the surface area of an ellipsoid (the lemon) to that of a sphere (the grapefruit), and for juice equivalent i need to convert the volume of an ellipsoid (minus the pith) to the volume of a sphere (minus the pith).

this should be a walk in the park, right?

there was a leftover lemon on my counter. i wrapped it with a piece of string going around the round part (5.7 inches)and going around the long part (7.3 inches) and figured i would just plug it into some sort of simple equation to figure out the surface area.

ha ha.

the surface area of an ellipsoid is derived via this formula:


ha. um. no. i'm going to abandon surface area altogether and move on to the volume, for juice purposes. much easier:

where a is width/2, b is length/2, and c is depth/2. or whatever. anyway, this is totally doable. knowing that the circumference of a lemon is 5.7 inches, we simply divide by pi (oh my god the puns are making themselves), getting both a width and depth of 1.814 inches.

it would be easy to measure the length of the lemon using my piece of string, but i stupidly cut the lemon up to make preserved lemons after i measured the two big circumferences. so time to convert the circumference of what i will assert is a perfect ellipse into the length of its major axis!

7.3 inches in circumference and a 1.814-inch transverse axis... and now we just plug it into this formula:

...and then we kill ourselves.

at this point i realized that it's been about 8 years since i've taken a math class that actually involved numbers, and i can't go on. so i did something shameful: i took my piece of string and i laid it out on the table in an ellipse that vaguely resembled what i thought the lemon looked like, and i measured its length, arriving at the oh-so-precise conclusion of "eh, 3 inches."

okay. now let's party. The volume of an ellipse that's 3" x 1.814" x 1.814" equals? 4/3 x 3.1415 x 1.5 x 0.907 x 0.907 = 5.168.

WE HAVE MEASUREMENT! except i forgot to include the depth of the pith, except fuck it i no longer care.

now it's time to measure the volume of the grapefruit. this is easy, because i am asserting that a grapefruit is a sphere, with a diameter of 13.2 inches. if the diameter is 13.2 then the radius is 2.05, so the volume is (dundundunnnn) 36.08.

this sounds obscenely large but i decided to just go with it. except that - while lemons have teeny pith (only about an eigth of an inch), grapefruits have giant massive pith. so i have to reduce my diameter by an inch, which means my radius by half an inch, which means my new equation becomes:

4/3 x 3.1415 x 1.55 x 1.55 x 1.55

which gives us a grapefruit volume of 15.6!

so a grapefruit (15.6) divided by a lemon (5.168) equals 3.01, which is close enough to 3 for me to say that the answer is:


easy as (oh my god, can i really say it?) easy as (wait for it!) easy as (here it comes... are you ready? come on... come on...)

easy as pi.


some lists

things for which my baby don't care

  • clothes
  • shows
  • cars and races
  • high-tone places
  • that tone, young lady
  • the oxford comma
  • anchovies

things country and western singer troy gentry has killed and then lied about
co-authored by mr phipps
  • a black bear
  • another bear
  • "maricita"
  • the hobo down by the crick
  • my buzz, man
  • that last can of coors in the fridge that i was saving


the truth of the matter

more erudite minds than mine (not to mention those in possession of more free time) are doing a marvelous job rounding up the various charges of literary plagiarism being flung about these days. Over at the Freakonomics blog, Stephen-with-a-ph does a bang-up summary of the brouhahas (brouhahae?) surrounding Jimmy Carter's otherwise-well-intentioned bit of slapdash political writing, and Augusten Burrough's memoir-if-by-memoir-you-mean-fiction.

What blows my mind here is manifold, but as I started writing it out this first thing wound up taking up all the space, so it's the only one I'm really going to touch on right now. If you would like the short version, there is a nice little summary down at the end, and you can scroll down to it because I don't know the HTML for a jump. Here it the mind-blower: what is up with this expectation of truth in publishing?

Seriously - bear with me here. It's one thing if the book we're talking about is scholarly in tone, or is journalistic in its nature. If it's intended to be the hardcover equivalent of foreign-war correspondence on CNN or a meticulously researched biography of a person who actually existed, then yes - obviously - the readers have a right to unmitigated, objective truth (assuming it exists at all, etc etc).

But the vast majority of book-writing falls outside of this pure reportage, and we as consumers ought to be a little smarter in our consumption. Carter's book - a lambast against Israel's treatment of Palestine (which I haven't read, since in theory I don't actually care about the real world, but nonetheless a copy is fluttering my way thanks to amazon.com) - isn't journalism. It's a book-length opinion piece, and as such calls upon the tricks used in opinion writing everywhere: wholesale ripoffs of others' ideas, half-baked notions and catchphrases, and overall hyper-hyperbole - all in the name of driving home a simple, straightforward point that is generally summarizable in a sentence. Tom Friedman? This War Is Good. (or, the later columns, No Wait, My Wife Was Right.) Maureen Dowd? Everyone Is Less Smart Than Me or, alternately, Hey Look! There Went Feminism! And then Jimmy Carter, using a book rather than Times column inches: Stop Killing And Oppressing People, You Stupid Israelis.

(This isn't to say that it's okay that he uses these tricks. It's not, and he shouldn't. It undermines his future trustworthiness, and it undermines this issue itself of which he's trying to raise awareness. Despite its demonstrated dissemination - the book is among the top 10 on the Times bestseller list - the very high-profile criticisms of its methods only provide fuel to those who would seek to criticize its message. It's the literary equivalent of an ad hominem attack, and it serves Carter in poor stead.)

Then there's Burroughs. Okay, kids. Running with Scissors is a book I have actually read. Have you read this book? This book is OBVIOUSLY fiction. No one's life is actually this narratively pat. Dudes. Please. I read it the whole way with this sort of indulgent mental stance - the same thing you take on when you listen to your internet-first-date tell you a story that he is obviously making up as he goes along, just so he can appear interesting and witty and like his life relates to your life. "Uh huh," you're saying. "That's really fascinating." And it is - the story is fascinating. But it's a story, not a factual account. I felt the same way while I was reading James Frey's outed-as-fake autobiography, A Million Little Pieces.

But even beyond these skeleton-of-fact/musculature-of-fiction pseudoautobiographies, there's a whole ocean of salt with which we ought to take autobiographies in general. Above, I offered as books for which we can have a fair expectation of truth (a) journalism and (b) biography. But not autobiography. There's no objectivity in experience (unless you can find a way to put qualia to paper, in which case: holy crap), and so inherently any recounting of one's own life is going to be a little bit tinged by the haze of memory, the extraordinary powerful ability of the brain to convince itself of truths that aren't true, and the common writerly affliction of desperately wanting things to fit a classic narrative arc of mounting intensity and eventual redemption.

Think of the great stories you have in your life. I have this amazing one about the time that Harvard Medical Services misdiagnosed me with gonorrhea despite the fact that, at the time, there was *ahem* no real way I could have acquired it. The Story Of The Immaculate STD has moved into legend status, and I tell the story so often - with so many minor embellishments and smoothings-out - that I don't know that I could really pick apart the actual bits from the ease-of-retelling bits that allow me to set up the story as a buildup with a punchline. Take that. Take your best story, and then make it the story of your entire life. Tell me you can really write an autobiography and have every single word be true. Tell me you can write 500 pages about yourself and have it all - every sentence, every idea - be fact, be fully attributed, be remembered perfectly.

You can't. So does this mean that we should let these fictionalized autobiographers off the hook? Absolutely not. But it does mean that these guys - and any would-be memoirists - should stop pretending that autobiography is journalism. Memoir isn't fact - it's (as the frenchtastic name tells us) memory. And memory (as my favorite Foer brother, Joshua "no really, not Jonathan" Foer would tell us) is quite a mysterious thing.

When it comes both to Carter and to Burroughs, the weight of criticisms falls largely and appropriately onto both their shoulders. But it's also to a nontrivial degree the responsibility of readers to realize that these gray areas between Fact and Fiction exist. The idea of a literary binary is, in fact, sort of a terrifying one - it's injections of reality into fiction that often make the best novels the most compelling (for all that I hated it, Ian McEwan's recent plaigiarism scandal was over medical and technical passages about what it was like to be a WWII nurse), and similarly some elements of fiction incorporated into fact can help it go down more easily.


Authors of books: stop being arrogant assholes.
Readers of books: stop being sheeplike morons.

Thank you.

the non-blind among you will notice that we've had a few lifts and tucks done here at RSGo. ain't it pretty? i promise i will now stop fiddling around with formatting and actually start focusing a bit on content. for reals.


the meat of the issue

This image appeared in an article in today's New York Times:

The article is about how New York City is now requiring restaurants that have publicly available nutrition information to list calorie counts on their menus, in an effort to make the city healthier and other such lovely paternalistic justifications. The picture is of two Burger King burgers: a triple whopper (1,230 calories) and a cheeseburger (330). The article jumps back and forth in tone between censuring the overreach of this civic dictate, and pointing out how disgustingly caloric most foods are.

Blah blah blah. Basically it inspired me to walk eleven blocks to go get lunch at Burger King. In the rain. That is all.


let us bow our heads in thanks

i'd like to take a moment to applaud the illustrious illustrative talents of mr. marc fishman, who the stalkerish among you will recognize from the comments section. check out that picture up there on that banner that he made. that's me! i totally look exactly like that, except my nose is a little smaller and my skin a tidge more ghostly pale.

UPDATE: Love is also deeply due to little bill, who turned marc's beautiful vector art into a lipstick flourish of banner redness, a la my possibly misguided wishes. truly he is an internet genius, and when i am no longer too lazy to update my link list, i'll throw his blog on there.


the art of conversation

i like to have my opinions and tastes confirmed by others, and as a result of this consumption-insecurity, i read reviews constantly. i stumbled across this otherwise uninspired take on the "eh, maybe if nothing else is playing" movie Holiday, and read through it until I encountered a word I'd never heard before:

Still, it’s great to see a legend back flexing his acting muscles opposite a huge talent like Winslet, with whom Wallach shares a strong repoire.

On goes my internal etymological dictionary (what, you don't have one too?): re... so something's being done again... and poire... what the hell does poire mean? hercule poirot? poivre? no. not re-peppering. what the hell is going on? I was stumped. what the heck does "repoire" mean? i couldn't find it in any dictionary, mental or otherwise.

then it hit me: rapport. the word that professional journalist al alexander and his editors over at the massachusetts Patriot-Ledger* both do not know how to spell is "rapport." sigh.

*does anyone else find it really amusing that heath ledger was in a movie called the patriot? it's like the mid-manhattan rag called the chelsea clinton news. wondrous.

UPDATE: astute reader joe notes that poire means pear. which i did know, on a certain level. i enjoy the notion of kate winslet and this dude sharing an again-pear. it sounds sort of ... vomitous, in its way.


i know you are but what am i

here's what i do for a living: i am an editor.
here's what i do a lot of days: order chinese food for lunch.
here's what makes me sad:

...in bed.

grammar police: celebrity edition

Laurel, nonerstwhile friend and fellow grammar-obsessive, has brought this site to my attention. It's a blog devoted to hatin' on the use of "literally" as an intensifier, singling out amusing mental-image generators such as "Kurdistan is literally exploding with confidence."

Here's the thing (because there is always a thing): I don't actually mind "literally" being used in a, well, nonliteral sense. It bugs me a teensy bit, but we use words like "really," "truly," and "actually" in nonliteral ways all the time, and no one seems to think twice about it.

I mean yes, I mourn the loss of precision in language. What word can I use to indicate that I mean what it is that I'm describing in a nonfigurative sense? I suppose I could say this is for real, in reality, not metaphorically happening. Still, while this is a linguistic irk, it's not a real cause for concern.

What is a real cause for concern: the issue of In Touch Weekly that I was reading over the shoulder of the lady next to me on the subway this morning had a picture of Kid Rock* wearing a t-shirt that throws out a big ol' fuck-you to proper apostrophe usage. I can't seem to find it online anywhere, so you will have to mentally imagine this being worn on the person of a stringy-haired dude in a porkpie hat who somehow managed to land Pamela Anderson:

bro's before ho's

I swear, the church of When In Doubt, Add An Apostrophe is growing faster than Scientology. I am not happy about this, Kid. I am angry. I am literally fuming. No, literally. There is actual steam rising from my ears. Literally.

Anyway, for his transgressions, I am fining Mr. Rock:
one (1) session of washing his hair
one (1) session of shaving his oddly early-pubescent-looking facial hair COMPLETELY off
seventeen (17) sessions of being smacked over the head with an apostrophe-shaped piece of wood.

*apropos of very little, i would like to pass along some advice to any of you wannabe celebrities out there. Please, for the love of god, do not refer to your age - or to any sort of relative oldness - in your self-appended stage name. Sonic Youth, you are all now in your late 40s, and are by no means Youthful. Kid Rock, you are not a Kid (nor, technically speaking, do you Rock). And for that matter, Debbie Harry, if people conflate you with your band - which is named Blondie - you should probably not dye your hair dark red. Let's use some forethought, people.


high colonic

faithful rsgo reader ian lovett left me a really wonderful note just now, and i think both it and my response are worthy of being dragged screaming out of the perdition that is "comments: 4" and granted the pinnochiatic pleasure of becoming a real post.

dear helen,

first off, let me (re)-introduce myself. my name is ian lovett. I'm a senior at amherst college who should have graduated already and on-again-off-again boyfriend of one neda maghbouleh. according to neda, you and i have met. sadly, this meeting supposedly happened 3 years ago, the same day i met 9878798987 other friends of hers, so i don't remember you (or anyone else i met that day) specifically. sorry.

i any case, i have been a fan of your blog for quite a while now, and i'm glad to see you're back in the swing of things after that long hiatus. the mcewan v. visiwanathan post was particularly excellent.

however, there is one incredibly minor tendency in your writing that continues to bug me: your use of colons after verbs. the wonderful thing about the colon is that it can mean just about anything you want it to mean: it can signify an elaboration is forthcoming, or a list, or simply a restatement or explanation.

but you cannot use a colon anywhere you like, which is to say, a colon cannot directly follow a verb. or a preposition. so the sentencce "This is on grounds of: the total number of words used in the titles of ALL his novels is: 21" is actually stuck in some grammatical state of nature. (also, two colons in the same sentence just. looks. weird). if you eliminated the first colon altogether (it has no reason to be there), and left out the "is" after "novel" (as you do in the following sentence) that would solve the problem. or you could replace the colon with an ellipsis. but the ellipsis is lame, i know.

you write far too well to keep making this simple mistake. apologies if this is the stupidest, most annoying post you've ever gotten. my thesis is due in a week, i just finished a full draft, and now i have only editing left to do. so, naturally, i am editing writing for people who don't want/need my help instead of editing my own.



my dear ian,

your comment is far from the stupidest, most annoying post i've ever gotten. on the contrary: your attention to the nuances of punctuation warms the cockles (or are cockles lifted?) of my sly little heart.

you're correct that there are restrictions on the usage of a colon; however, you're incorrect that they're defined by the role of the preceding word. if i remember correctly, according to CMS a colon cannot be used in the following instances:

1. in a list, when the antecedent clause comprises the first portion of what, when coupled with any item from the list, creates a full sentence.

2. when nominatively addressing an audience ("my dear companions"), in such times when the remarks following the address are greater than one sentence.

The former of these two is likely the one you're referring to as regards prepositions and verbs, since these sorts of lists in question tend to fill in either the predicate or the prepositional phrase of a sentence. So you're correct, yes, that my use of "on the grounds of:" is incorrect, since the list that follows (a one-item list, but a list nonetheless) relies upon its introducing clause to make sense.

my tendency to insert colons hither and thither, though, is not so much a manifestation of any lack of punctuational knowledge on my part; rather, it's simply a quirk of the tone of thought in which i blog. it's well documented that the internet is the grammatical equivalent of uncharted territory: run-on sentences, the disgusting habit of using "u" for "you," the TWOP-propagated elision of verbs of potentiality ("which? gross."), entire missives written sans capitalization, &c. in fact, perhaps the most exciting grammatical evolution engendered by the internet is an increasing acceptance of irregular - yet logical - punctuation, as illustrated here:

but you cannot use a colon anywhere you like, which is to say, a colon cannot directly follow a verb. or a preposition.

that second sentence really ought to be preceded by a comma, oughtn't it? but nonetheless the sentence fragment parses smoothly. never mind that the first comma ought to be a semicolon.

i suppose what i'm trying to say here is: half the time when i use colons incorrectly, i do it because i'm not thinking about the rules. the other half of the time? i don't care.

yours, warmly,


fucking for virginity

please insert your own joke about flyover country, conservative america, and white people {here}.

a perfectly lovely couple in Colorado have put a large peace-sign-shaped wreath up on the side of their house, and are being fined 25 bucks a day by the desperate-suburban-grasp-for-power homeowner's association of their neighborhood. the draconian overlords are citing a rule that prohibits "signs, billboards, or advertising structures of any kind," which in my opinion raises a fascinating semiotic issue about what, precisely, a peace sign indicates (my guess: peace), and whether it is made more or less okay by virtue of being expressed via coniferous tree branches hung vertically on a home, rather than, say, flaming gasoline poured on someone's lawn.

apparently residents in this neighborhood have a history of being irked by this whole notion of "peace," though - they find it offensive to display the symbol "while our country is at war." Okay, this i can sort of grudgingly wrap my brain around, in a stupid-americans kind of way: Fine, whatever, it's demoralizing to our troops to be in favor of not currently being in a state of war. Hello, soldiers in the US Military. God forbid we achieve some sort of diplomatic balance in the world and put y'all out of a job. No peace! Not ever! Obviously this is a moronic stance to take towards a circle with some lines in it, but I am willing to allow that these individuals are, in fact, morons.

But then we enter the really amazing explanations: the head of the homeowner's association claims that "the peace sign has a lot of negativity associated with it ... It's also an anti-Christ sign. That's how it started." Mmm-hm. Yes. The peace sign has a lot of negativity associated with it. And is a sign of opposition to this very famous dude who preached peace.

For serious? For serious. Apparently the lines inside the circle look like - ready? - an upside-down cross with broken arms. Alternately, like the semaphore sign for the letter D inside a circle meant to acknowledge nuclear disarmament. I would imagine that if you squint your mind enough it also looks like the very top of a mountain seen through a split-lens camera viewfinder, as well as a stick figure doing a headstand as viewed through a telescope.Me? I've always been told that the peace sign looks like a youknowwhat being inserted into a downthere. Which I prefer to all the other explanations, so I'm going to run with it.


deathmatch: ian vs. kaavya

Ian McEwan, venerated author and reigning king of the highfalutin end of the British literary scene, has been accused of lifting passages from the memoir of Lucilla Andrews for inclusion in his good-god-everyone-is-going-swoony-over-this novel Atonement.*

Wait - what's that I hear? Why it's an echo from plagiarisms past! The news-cycle ghost of Kaavya Viswanathan, disgraced bajillionaire child-author, pissy that McEwan's receiving less scathingly caustic treatment for his accused literary cheating. (Please note that Kaavya is not actually speaking up here, I am merely dragging her out of her self- and other-imposed obscurity, mostly because I am a bastard.)

Shall we pit them against each other? Why yes! Let's! (read that in a gleeful voice, please)

Ian McEwan

"one of Britain's best-known and most lauded authors" - the new york times

number of books written
like, a million. okay, 19.

number accused of incorporating plagiarism
2: the current tempest in a teapot, as well as his first novel, The Cement Garden, for a percentage total of 10.5.

won the Booker prize for Amsterdam
won the Somerset Maugham prize for Last Rites

adjective commonly used to describe accused behavior
"discourteous" - used by both Andrews' agent and some British journalist

who was plagiarized
Lucilla Andrews, WWII nurse and romance author, who died a few months ago and whose memoir (from which the lines are lifted) has been out of print for nearly a decade.

severity of plagiarism
minor. some medically descriptive passages:
“In the way of medical treatments, she had already dabbed gentian violet on ringworm, aquaflavine emulsion on a cut and painted lead lotion on a bruise.”
“Our ‘nursing’ seldom involved more than dabbing gentian violent on ringworm, aquaflavine emulsion on cuts and scratches, lead lotion on bruises and sprains.”

how the plagiarized author feels
she's dead. but people like her literary agent and other such folks figure she wouldn't really have cared.
For example: “I think it’s quite clear that her response was ‘I don’t give a damn.’ ” - said by the chairwoman of Britain's Romantic Novelist Association (to which i now crave membership)

preemptive head-nods given by McEwan to the plagiarized author
mentioned as a research source in the acknowledgments of the book, as well as cited as an inspiration in radio interviews.

authorial response to accusations of plagiarism:
pointing out that, yo, everyone, he ADMITTED to using her book as a source. and, hello, the lifted passages are ridiculously minor.
Kaavya Viswanathan

pretty much any combination of the words and phrases "harvard sophomore" "obscenely overpaid" "wunderkind" "book packaging" and "nauseatingly obnoxious." (kind of like joshua foer, but sub in "yale" for "harvard.")

number of books written
though her ludicrously lucrative book deal was actually for two novels. i have a feeling the second has been shelved. just a hunch.

number accused of incorporating plagiarism
mathtime: that's 100%

"whoa, she's young!"
the hatred and schadenfreude of a whole huge massive lot of people. (note: not officially an award)

adjective commonly used to describe accused behavior
it's a tie among "irresponsible" and "reprehensible" and "hilariously poorly-handled"

who was plagiarized
Megan McCafferty, author of a series of young-adult chick-lit novels which are still in print and quite popular.

severity of plagiarism
severe. whole paragraphs. many many. see my earlier post (linked above) for some enumeration.

how the plagiarized author feels
pissed as shit. understandably. and she made some gleefully bitter comments.

preemptive head-nods given by Viswanathan to the plagiarized author

authorial response to accusations of plagiarism:
ex post plagiarismo, Viswanathan admitted to having "read and loved" McCafferty's books, and pulled the whole "i have an AMAZING memory!" card when saying that maybe some passages from McCafferty's books embedded themselves in her brilliant, amazing, juvenile-genius brain and spewed forth on the page. PLUS there was this gem of a passive-aggressive apology:

"I sincerely apologize to Megan McCafferty and to any who feel they have been misled by these unintentional errors on my part."

Winner? Hands-down, McEwan. This is on grounds of: the total number of words used in the titles of ALL his novels is: 21
the total number of words used in the title of Viswanathan's ONE novel: 11.

Word economy for the win.

*I hated it. Well I loved the first chapter. Then I hated everything else.


identity onanism

i stayed up until 3 last night reading my old blog cover to cover (archive-end to archive-end?). when i was writing it back in 2002, i remember thinking that it was just sort of an outlet, no coherent themes or real /point/ in the blogosphere, just another person's personal journal. but upon reread it's actually hugely thematic: i used to be so aware of the world and so indignant and so articulate about my indignance, especially in my criticisms of the hyperliberalism at Smith. some anonymous person stumbling upon thousandships.com would actually find a lot to hang a hat on, and maybe that's why i picked up the slightly-more-than-average readership that i did.

i think i'd like to return to my indignant world-awareness, or at least community-awareness (since that's what it really was - it wasn't politics, it was me responding to a microcosm), but that seems to require immersing myself in a community, and identifying enough with it to generate indignance when it represents itself (both internally and externally) in a way i find unappealing.

then of course this becomes a question of community indentification in the first place - while I was at Smith, the community identity was handed to me. I was, by choice and by inertia, a Smithie. The environment of the campus was my environment, the acts of the sudents were - to a public eye - my actions, and so my investment of time and words in criticizing the environment was an exercise (though one of questionable success) in both self-defense and community betterment. I could be so critical sans guilt because, on a very real level, i criticized out of what essentially amounted to love.

But here I am now, ostensibly a grown-up, living in a city with the population of a small European nation, working at a company with hundreds of employees, flittering around among a handful of social circles and extracurricular activities. I don't have a community identification the way I used to - I'm not deeply invested enough in civis, in my job environment, even in a community of ethnic or cultural affiliation. I'm not in a "scene" and I'm not politically active.

Still, I remain critical and indignant and ranty. This is because i am critical and indignant and ranty, i enjoy being that way. But now I'm those things about small matters - matters that don't resonate in the Deep Philosophical way that my rants about Smith mattered.

Is it awful to want to take on an invested community identity so that I can have something meaningful to criticize? Yes. It probably is.

I would say "watch this space" here, anticipating more seriousness and perhaps some scathing criticisms of the status quo in upcoming posts. But in reality, I'm not going to bank on it. Odds are good that we will return, immediately and without backward glance, to our regularly scheduled snark.


i am thankful for my family

Words played in Scrabble after Thanksgiving dinner

Drinking games played by the entire table during Thanksgiving dinner
1 vodka shot for every mention of the holocaust

Number of rounds of shots taken

Occupations, the pros and cons of which were discussed by the entire table during Thanksgiving dinner
Editorial assistant
Makeout slut


monday morning moments in personal awkwardness

in which i learn to never actually express opinions, due to the incredibly high risk of revealed retardation.

helen: [person] is creepy.
helen: creeeeeeeepy.
friend1: um.
friend1: he's my boyfriend.
helen: seriously?
friend1: since september.


helen: the behnaz sarafpour collection at target is AWFUL.
helen: it's just total crap.
friend2: actually i already bought a shirt, a skirt, and pants.
helen: by total crap i mean incredibly awesome?


hey, you look kind of familiar.

a few weeks ago, my office moved from the east village to the west village. this isn't particularly notable for any reasonsave that i now get to ogle a new crop of whichever moronic celebrities are out and about during the plebians-on-the-streets times, which are: 8-9am, 12-1pm, and 6-7pm. instead of marc jacobs trudging his cankles-and-white-gym-shoe-attired self home from the gym, or britney spears leaving her apartment building, or jared leto wearing eyeliner at the pizza place, i now get to keep my eyes peeled for hilary swank or julianne moore or (holy of holies!) anna wintour.

this is not the important thing, though. the important thing is that on halloween evening, i was routed far far away from my usual subway stop thanks to the stupid greenwich village halloween parade, and wound up outside of Babbo. Babbo, of course, is my favoreenie restaurant in new york, and for a couple of years there i was nursing a pretty huge celeb i-want-to-be-you-not-do-you crush on Mario Batali, its chef/owner/mascot. In fact, i almost dressed up as him for halloween last year. And this is how my thoughts went:

yo, how incredibly awesome would it be to run into someone who i almost dressed up as for halloween, on halloween?!?!?!
you can see how the mind might boggle.*

Anyway i didn't run into Mario, because he is inconsiderate of my narrative requirements. BUT. But but but but but. the next day i was wandering around on my lunch break and I saw sleazy mustachioed photographer Terry Richardson sitting on a park bench. And i have dressed as him for halloween. So, you know, mission accomplished.

*stop making fun of me now.



"helen, what the hell, why haven't you been posting?"
"i don't know, i'm bored."
"yes sir."

*new and exciting readysteadygoness forthcoming soon, i swear.


helen encounters another helen; cannot cope

So i just got back from "an evening with Helen Thomas" at the oh-so-swanky Princeton Club. It was, as promised, an evening with Helen Thomas. She gave a somewhat off-the-cuff speech about how angry she is about the White House press corps' wussiness when it came to dealing with The War On Terror Or Whatever, and then took questions from the somewhat intimate (and extremely aged) audience. It was interesting, Helen Thomas is pretty awesome (though she didn't go too deep in any of her analysis, she's still got it going for a four-thousand-year-old woman), and I got an autographed book out of it. She also told bitter and cynical anecdotes about people such as Paul Wolfowitz and Ari Fleischer, which made me happy. And this woman sitting behind me kept muttering right-wing opposition to whatever H-Thom said. Like when the topic turned to Stephen Colbert's White House Press Corps speech, the old lady behind me was whispering to no one in particular "it was disgusting! it was treason! it was an act of treason!" And that was pretty awesome also.

Here's the thing. Everyone kept talking about "Helen."
"Helen is truly an inspiration."
"Helen has paved the way."
"Helen takes no shit from anyone."
AND IT WAS REALLY BOTHERSOME. Stop stealing my name, yo. Now I know how all the Jennifers feel.

tuesday glossaries are becoming a woman

It's been a while since we've had a Tuesday Glossary. Here's a great one.

The Newman-Goldfarb Protocols, n.

it sounds like a treaty: "China's unwillingness to come onboard with the Newman-Goldfarb Protocols heralds a real shift in the way the US and Russia are going to have to handle the matter of international shipping." Or maybe a rights-of-the-accused thing that indicates what police have to do: "Pursuant to the Newman-Goldfarb Protocols, officer, get your grubby hands off of there."

No, sorry.

The Newman-Goldfarb Protocols are a series of steps to induce lactation in individuals not otherwise hormonally predisposed to lactate. Such as adoptive mothers. And men.

That is all.


are we serious here?

um. no. i did not pass this window display on Broadway a few days ago.

and it does not show a mannequin wearing leggings that are entirely made of lace. under denim cutoff minishorts. with an optic-pattern halter top that is eerily reminscent of that dress geena davis wore which is widely considered to be the most hideous dress of all time. and a white pleather belt with a six-inch-high guitar-shaped buckle.

no. no. definitely not.


adventures on the other side

i am not a sketchy person. at least, not on the outside. especially not today, when i happen to look particularly cute, since i bit the bullet and woke up at 7am in order to shower and blow dry my hair and other things that i normally bypass in favor of hitting the snooze button. plus i'm wearing a great audrey hepburn-esque outfit, and high heels, which is not an everyday thing for me.

so there i was, on the corner of 4th street and broadway, looking 60s-chic and holding an oversized Banana Republic shopping bag, sipping my diet coke, waiting for the guy who I found over craigslist who was goign to swap me a pile of cash for the video game system in the Banana bag (not sketchy, i swear). we were supposed to meet at 3:30, and to pass the time until he showed up i was checking my hot self out in the quasi-refletive windows of the Tower Records. one can only pout in a sultry way at a red hot chili peppers album cover for so many minutes, though, and being without a watch i sited an approaching pedestrian (blonde, well dressed, carrying a knockoff balenciaga bag) with a visible watch and asked her politely for the time.

"I don't give money to the homeless."
she said, without breaking stride.

There's this amazing phrase in french, l'esprit d'escalier. it literally means "the spirit of the staircase," but figuratively it means the experience of coming up with the perfect, perfect rejoinder once the argument is over and you've left the room. all i could do when this woman dismissed me as homeless and misinterpreted "excuse me, do you have the time?" as "got any change, lady?" was stare openmouthed at her briskly departing Ann Taylor Loft-attired back. but oh if only i were quicker of wit. it's been an hour, and i still can't think of a good comeback, except for sticking my foot out and tripping her, and then looking at her watch while she lay sprawled on the ground. let's call it l'esprit d'argh horrible bitch fuck you.


coming soon

i want to get this out there so i can lay claim to the idea (in conjunction with Tim, Laurel, Mia, and Leila, who all have their fingers in the concept as well). So there's this movie, Snakes on a Plane... you might have heard of it?

Well I bet you haven't heard of the sequel, Snakes on a Spaceship. Just think about it: snakes, no longer hindered by the restrictive forces of gravity, able to writhe and slink and swim through the air, winding their bodies like so many undulating reptiles of death... not to mention that zero-g leads to the exciting prospect of floating venom globules, which is possibly the greatest idea in the history of American cinema.

The movie would also contain Samuel L. Jackson uttering the immortal line:

There's motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking rocket!
which is unrivaled in its awesomeness.



on the subway today i sat next to a sharply dressed woman reading a slim white hardback book with no markings on the cover. a glance over her shoulder and the novel in question was revealed to be Plum Sykes's new book "The Debutant Divorcee," widely regarded as a piece of crap, stripped of its dust cover.

You can try to hide it, sharply dressed subway woman. You can try. But someone is always watching. And that someone generally has a blog.


sweet jesus on a stick

Retarded clothing exists. It's a sad fact of life. I like to think of shopping sort of like a real life fashion video game, where each store is a level and if you can beat Century 21 you move on to H&M, and if you beat H&M you get to the boss, which is Urban Outfitters. You beat each level by successfully navigating the sales floor and identifying which articles of clothing are actually meant for wearing in real life, and which are horrible jokes. If you try on a joke item you lose half your life force, if you buy a joke you lose a whole life, and if - god forbid - you buy a joke, bring it home, try it on for your friends, see how it looks with a belt or with different shoes, take a polaroid of yourself wearing it and go out into the sunlight, and still persist in a sheeplike belief that it does not look utterly moronic and then wear it out in public it is all kinds of Game Over.

Anyway. Some people apparently did not get this memo. But my god is an awesome god, and he sends those people onto the sidewalk outside my office right when I'm leaving work holding my cameraphone. For example:

In case you were temporarily blinded by that image and are now listening to this post via one of those neato computational read-text-out-loud thingaroos, I will describe the picture to you: This poor girl is wearing the very knee-length lace-trimmed leggings-cum-bike shorts that Urban Outfitters is foisting upon its most dimwitted of consumers. To add insult to injury, she is wearing the leggings - which are black - under a pair of dark navy blue cotton shot-shorts. With a wallet chain. Far be it from me to ask where the wallet chain is going, or what it connects to. Perhaps there is a time portal on her lower back and the wallet is located back in 1997, which is where wallet chains belong.

Oh wait, you want a close-up? Here you go.

I'll admit that I'm a fan of the sneakers, and the socks are a fetching shade of pink. But this is, stil, NOT OKAY. NOT. OKAY. I really hope that guy with his arm around her is her boyfriend, and that he loves her unconditionally. Because while I like to think I am capable of unconditional love, if I'm being honest with myself I would stop loving someone if they wore these bike shorts. Unless that someone were a puppy.


helen for president

Some people at lunch were talking about how they're opposed to New York's smoking ban because it infringes upon free exercise. As a quasi-libertarian I'm all for this, but thinking about it this afternoon I think I've poked a few holes. I think. I'm sure there are many holes to be poked right back. Poke poke poke.

Anyway, heres' the gist: the idea of smoking being something we choose to do, an activity we enter into of our own free will, is a totally attractive one. But it's radically corrupted by the existence of tobacco advertising.

Classically, the purely capitalist state and the purely libertarian state have a fair bit of overlap. So capitalism is aided by the existence of advertising - it moves product, raises the bottom line - but what about its effect on rational choice? If anything, advertising is the enemy of rational choice - it replaces our instinctive measure of the desirability of a product (based on its qualities and necessity) with a new system driven by psychological manipulation and superficial imaging.

So within our advertising-riddled society, the choice to smoke is, arguably, NOT a rational one. And the continuation of the behavior - driven by a chemical addiction - further undermines the libertarian extension that continued behavior ought to be informed by continued rational decision-making. Especially in the instance of smoking - something with myriad negative externalities, where people who don't choose to smoke are still reaping harms - that is VERY problematic.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that as long as the government is restricting rational choice by allowing tobacco advertising to exist, I support a ban on smoking as a counterbalancing measure to protect those of us who choose not to smoke. At the same time, I think if we stripped all advertising and maybe found a way to eliminate the addictive element of cigarettes, not banning smoking is also not a horrible idea - so long as nonsmokers had somewhere they could go.

Anyway, poke away. Poke poke poke.


crooklyn is two weeks late

sometimes things fall in your lap exactly when you need them. this is serendipity, or perhaps coincidence. it's pretty rad when it happens, and you sort of feel like the world is actually working in your favor.

sometimes things fall in your lap, but they're twelve days behind schedule and could have been way more excellent had they actually shown up on time. for example this cartoon, which is the New Yorker Cartoon Of The Week, emailed to me every Sunday, which would have been awesome as an illustration for my post on getting janked* by mafioso russian movers.

*I'm using "janked" here to mean "taken advantage of," which i suspect is not the proper slang usage. when i did a google definition search I got an entry from French Wikipedia, saying "Jank est un personnage du manga Fly." With my supreme translation powers, I've decided that this says "Jank is a totally fly personage involved with manga." Rock and roll.


i think my cookie is trying to tell me something

since it's friday i splurged a little bit at lunch, and got these weird japanese (or something) dippy cookies called Yam Yam, which are vaguely sweet but essentially neutral baked-good sticks which are sort of like handi-snax in that they come with a reservoir of stuff in which to dip them, though it's chocolate frosting (the package calls it "tasty choco cream") instead of that insanely delicious "cheese product." (side note: does anyone know where you can buy handi-snax cheese in bulk? because i am so there.)

Anyway. I have these from time to time because they remind me of my childhood, for reasons I can't recall (theory: I had them, once, as a child). Their flavor absolutely has not changed over the 20-odd years it's been since I first had them, and it's a totally proustian experience for me to bite into one. Nothing. Ever. Changes.

Except. Today I took a cookie out of the sort of cup-shaped thing they come in, and dipped it into the chocolate reservoir, and took a bite, and then noticed that there was something printed on the cookie.

wtf? I pulled out another cookie.
again, wtf? Turns out these cookies have what the package calls "fun lines," which apparently means the names of animals followed by something having to do with the animal. Here you go:
click to enlarge

The photo isn't super clear (a cameraphone can only do so much), but here's what the cookies say, from top to bottom:
So clearly there is absolutely nothing making sense here in terms of consistency. But here is what's killing me: what is the animal that is telling me to BEWARE OF LIES? I'm dying. I need to know. Ideas?

fun facts about llamas

Llamas eat less than sheep and cattle on a weight-ratio basis.
One llama eats about four bales of hay per month.
When content, a llama hums.

thanks, popbitch


Here's what you should do today: go check out the recipe for Zombie Chicken over at the MOAF.


this is just taking things too far

You know what? This is NOT OKAY:

I am willing to accept the leggings trend as more than just a blip on the retro-fashion radar. I admit it - I think black capri-length leggings kind of actually have the ability to look good every so often. My grudging but inevitable surrender to the black leggings trend is well-documented and something I am totally willing to own up to. But HELLS TO THE N-O on lace-trimmed bike shorts (because, kids, that's what these are: these are above the knee and therefore they are bike shorts). This is just taking it too goddamn far.

Here is what urbanoutfitters.com has to say about this monstrosity:

A lacey addition to the classic spin on leggings. They go great with skirts, short dresses, or hey, make up your own rules!
No. There is not a single concept in this product description that is not a lie:
  • A lacey addition to the classic spin on leggings.
Well first of all, UA copy department, it's "lacy," not "lacey," which does not mean "intentional flower-shaped holes," but rather is a really horrible name for an untrendy mother with aspirations of sur-trailer glory to burden her child with. But second of all: NO. This sentence implies first of all that there is an existing "classic spin on leggings," which there is not, and second of all assumes that if there were such a classic spin that this spandex-and-lace sartorial golgoroth would belong to it. THAT IS NOT TRUE.
  • They go great with skirts, short dresses
As evidenced by the above picture: lie. They do not "go great." They do not even go mediocre. They go retina-searing. Maybe they could go good with a floor-length, fully opaque skirt or dress which has been stapled to the ground so that not even an errant gust of wind can reveal the Bike Shorts Of Vomit. Maybe.
  • or hey, make up your own rules!
Again, lies. No one who purchases this product should be given agency in any capacity. Especially in the arena of what to do with the clothing once she is in possession of it. Do not make up your own rules, purchasers of this hideous waste of the hours of the Filipino women who poured sweat and blood into their creation for $0.31 an hour. Do not. You are not creative. You are not fashion forward. All you are - all you are - is in possession of a really ugly pair of lace-trimmed knee-length bicycle shorts.

where crooklyn at?

Intrepid readers of RSGo know that I just moved to Brooklyn. "How are you going to move?" asked my mom. I told her we were going to get movers - cheap ones - from craigslist. "You're going to get taken for a ride," she said.

"Don't you have a friend whose dad can help you out?" asked my dad, who doesn't seem to understand that in Mannhattan, there are no dads to be found of the type to help their kids' friends move from a third-floor walkup into a third-floor walkup. All the dads in Manhattan are busy listening to ipods and bringing their cutely-attired toddler children to the Museum of Natural History.

So we got our cheap movers from craiglist. "Fifty five dollars an hour," said Lana, the nice Russian woman I talked to on the phone. "Two men, 14-foot truck, everything included." Awesome.

The day of the move showed up, and so did Vladimir and Sergei, and a cargo van. No 14-foot-truck. As a result not everything fit in the van. As a result Vladimir and Sergei (who told me: "Helen is not a Russian name. I will call you Ilyona.") had to take two trips. As a result a move that was quoted to us at 3 hours, and for which we had budgeted for six hours, took twelve hours. Plus they charged us for tape, boxes, and blankets, even though we'd provided our own.

I called Lana.
"You sent the wrong truck, we shouldn't have to pay for all this time."
"Fine," said Lana. "Pay or don't pay. Do what you want."

Easy as that? We paid Vladimir and Sergei for their time ("Lana is - pardon my language - a bitch," Vladimir said), which was a few hundred under what they had tallied, and went inside to collapse into bed.

Then Vladimir came back to the door.
"They're sending people over, they said."
"If people come here, you dial three numbers."
"You know the three numbers? 9-1-1. You dial that if they come. Otherwise you get hurt."


We paid, of course. I went to the ATM and took out a giant pile of cash from my savings account, gave it to Vladimir, and went inside to call my mom. Who said: "I told you so. You fought the Russian mafia, and they won."


I checked my SiteMeter after my most recent post (it's an addiction, what can I say?) and sitting there staring at me was a hit from a Harvard IP address, who found my page by doing a blogger search for the word "Kaavya."

I'm going to ignore that there are like 8,000 individuals affiliated with that institution and instead choose to believe that our novelista is doing some self-googling. So in the same spirit that I step outside my building each day and wave for the GoogleMaps satellite*:

Hi Kaavya! Keep up the (good?) work!

*i don't really do that.

on schadenfreude

I think I'm in love with Kaavya Viswanathan.

This is mostly because, if I met her, I would hate her. A lot. Even not having met her I hate her. A lot. For a variety of reasons, all of which feed precisely into the areas of my greatest insecurity: she goes to Harvard (prestige), she wrote a novel (work ethic), she sold that novel in a two-book deal to a major publisher (success), she sold those two books for $500,000 (wealth).

These are all very very good reasons for someone like me, who secretly thinks she's a writer and who went to a very good but not quite awesome college and who currently struggles to pay the rent each month, hate someone. They're the reasons I hate people like the youngest Foer brother (Joshua? Jeremy? suffice to say the name is jewy and the person to whom it's appended is nebbishy in an attractive way), who went to (goes to still?) Yale, writes for Slate, and whose mini-bio pronounces him "working on" a book on something Malcolm-Gladwell-meets-Jonathan-Safran, like the nature of memory or similar. Add to this the fact that both Kaavya and the Foer are young and spry, whereas I am a decrepit and outdated 24, and I begin to feel as if I'm a Salieri to their Mozarts.

I can distance myself from my hate for the Foer, of course, because he's a boy. The jealousy and hatred can be sublimated, for what it's worth, into something resembling love - if one sleeps with the literary wunderkind, one takes on some of his sheen. I can only imagine what tremendous sheeniness awaits if one actually marries the Foer (or Benjamin Kunkel or similar), but I imagine it's enough to run a slip-n-slide on. But Kaavya - she's a girl. I can't engage in lifestyle-jealousy transference and decide to love her (even though the good-but-not-awesome college in question was Smith). So I hate her.

But I said that I love her. Here's why I love her: She is, as lots of friends of mine would say, a lying sack of shit.

Turns out our dear Harvard-educated half-mil-packing oh-the-Indian-immigrant-experience-touting novelista has a suspiciously steely version of the steel trap memory. Turns out, friends & neighbors, that she ripped off her novel - ingratiatingly titled "How Opal Mehta got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life"* - in more than 40 easy-to-identify ways, from the novels “Sloppy Firsts” and “Second Helpings” by Megan McCafferty.

I am LOVING this. This is hitting every. single. one. of my schadenfreude receptors. I get to watch someone who is: younger, more academically accomplished, more writerly-ly accomplished, and insufferably self-absorbed in interviews fail miserably. In her first public statement she admitted to copying! And then she retracted it and did that whole plagiarism sidestep of “I read the book my book rips off and loved it, and must not have realized how much of it stuck with me.” As if. This whole idea that she’s fallen prey to the less-probable side of the monkeys-with-typewriters theory is just laughable. Also, check this out:

Bridget is my age and lives across the street. For the first twelve years of my life, these qualifications were all I needed in a best friend. But that was before Bridget's braces came off and her boyfriend, Burke, got on, and before Hope and I met in our seventh-grade honors class.
''Sloppy Firsts," page 7
Priscilla was my age and lived two blocks away. For the first fifteen years of my life, those were the only qualifications I needed in a best friend. We had first bonded over our mutual fascination with the abacus in a playgroup for gifted kids. But that was before freshman year, when Priscilla's glasses came off, and the first in a long string of boyfriends got on.
”Opal Mehta,” page 14.

You can’t make that up, kids. Feel the burn, Kaavya. You know, I’d probably actually like you if I met you in real life. I’d secretly hate you, but I’d really like you. But now – thanks, for this one – I love you. I really, really love you.

*let us count the trendy titling tropes:
1. self-reference and appropriation of other genres, viz. "how." (see also: The Girls' Guide to Hunting & Fishing; How Stella Got Her Groove Back; How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents)
2. inclusion of an offbeat proper name, viz. "Opal Mehta." (see also: Jemima J; Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married)
3. excessively long list of what happens in the book, “got kissed, got wild, and got a life.” (see also: What She Saw in [giant list of names I’m not going to type out]; The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, Etc. Who was born in Newgate, and during a life of continu'd Variety for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv'd Honest and died a Penitent.)

let us now vomit.


the truth about the truth about diamonds

Amanda, who is awesome, gave me a copy of Nicole Ritchie's "novel" for hanukkah/christmas/whatever this past December. This was a fabulous present. It immediately went in pride of place in my home, which is: the back of the toilet. Because the truth is that no one checks out the books in the bookcase unless they are standing around being bored and feel like developing a crick in their neck, and most people don't make it close enough to my bedside table to read the spines of the titles piled thereupon, but pretty much everyone who comes chez moi has to, at some point, pee. So the back of the toilet has become, unexpectedly but perhaps also unsurprisingly, the place to show off my personality via a carefully edited collection of reading material.

The catch, of course, is that the bathroom reading material really does have to be bathroom reading material. An ex boyfriend of mine who shall remain nameless once made a point, early in our relationship, of bringing the collected works of the B-level British empiricists into the bathroom with him, as if to say "you are so lucky to date me, I am smart and deep even whilst taking a crap." I should have fled, but instead I simply took away this lesson: bathroom reading material is and only is that material on which no one outside of an avant-garde sociology department would ever consider writing a master's thesis.

Nicole Ritchie's book falls into this category. Here's how I know: It's been about 4 months since Amanda gave me this gift (I just had to count off months on my fingers, and I feel the need to admit that fact), and I am still only on page 10. This is in no way meant to reflect on an infrequency of peeing on my part; rather, it reflects on the fact that this book. is. awful. I don't understand how it could actually be this bad. It takes a palpable act of will for me to pick it up and turn the pages. More often than not I just look at the color insert of really weird glamour photos of Nicole, and marvel at the bone structure around her eyes. But i just cannot deal with the actual text. I don't know how else to put it. And I had to share my amazement, which surfaced this evening when my roommate, Mia, said "how much longer is it going to take you to finish that book?" and I realized that it was entirely possible that I would never finish it ever.

For the record, the pile of reading material on the back of my toilet currently contains:
- The Truth About Diamonds
- the Vogue with Keira Knightley on the cover (the wizard of oz editorial shoot is mindblowing, i'm in love with it)
- the latest Design Within Reach catalog
- last month's Food & Wine magazine (I can't deal with this month's, since Bobby Flay is featured in large letters on the covere)

What this all says about me is open to interpretation, but whatever it is it's better than Alasdair MacIntyre.


giving in

You know how I kind of hate Brooklyn? I do, kind of, because it's, like, full of young people who are hip and idealistic. And being a young person myself, and appropriately cynical considering the amount of black clothing i wear, and (I might as well admit it) having aspirations of hipness, and at least idealizing idealism, I find Brooklyn to be sort of the epitome of giving in to exactly what's expected of me. So it's with some pride that I tell people, "oh, yes, well, I live in Harlem," because it is just never what they're expecting. Because what they're expecting is "yeah, I live in Brooklyn," and then we'll have a conversation on the relative merits of brunch places in Park Slope or how totally annoying the G train is. Barf.

Right. So. I am moving to Brooklyn.

But, and here is the important thing, it is THE MOST AWESOME APARTMENT IN THE WORLD. Here are the floor plans, so that you can be consumed with jealousy/plan your ninja attack on me while I sleep:

Come on. Admit it. You totally just had to change your underwear.


hipster makeup reviews, part ii: Mascara

Previously in the world of super-trendy (yet never admitting to trend! I was into trend when it was still playing basements in Bushwick! now everyone is into trend and I can't deal with how normalized it is) makeup, we explored lip gloss that admits, up front, its social allegiance. I actually wear this lip gloss with moderate regularity, and find it to be both nicely moisturizing and pleasantly tinted. It's pretty awesome.

So what they tell you - and by "they" I mean the cabal of makeup-industry executives and magazine beauty editors, who together convince me that it's totally worth it to spend $55 on an eyeshadow quad I will wear exactly once, just because it's Chanel - is that you should replace your mascara every six months. This actually isn't such a bad idea when i think about it, since after all you are glopping the stuff on within millimeters of your eyeball and having a clean set of black eyelash-paint really can't but help your chances of not getting a crippling bout of incubated pinkeye or whatever that thing is that's been all over the front page of the New York Times and is causing everyone to go blind (clearly I care).

So, ladida, off to Duane Reade to buy new mascara. Where I decide to go with Almay, because they have clean packaging that is subconsciously reassuring in its muted colors and lack of metallic lettering proclaiming that my eyelashes will be VOLUMINOUS and ARCHITECTURAL and IMPOSSIBLY LONG. Because, honestly, I like a well-lashed eye as much as the next average American, but I am not really looking to become the Diane Witt of eye-hair so I don't know, it's a little intimidating.

Here's what I bought: Almay Bright Eyes Mascara, in black-brown. Here is a picture of Conor Oberst, aka Bright Eyes:I'm a big fan of Bright Eyes, both metaphorically (who doesn't like a glowing eye?) and musically (who doesn't like First Day of My Life?), and so it warms the cockles (or does one lift cockles?) of my heart to see Conor Oberst, talented and neo-Dylanic as he may be, honored in mascara form. He's not an unattractive guy, though he's distinctly lacking in the eyelash department. Perhaps he should wear some mascara. Perhaps he should wear Bright Eyes mascara. Then Bright Eyes would be wearing Bright Eyes and thus would possess bright eyes! The mind boggles.

It is worth noting that I am wearing Bright Eyes mascara at this very moment, and no, my eyelashes are no closer to writing a blues-informed lyrics-driven acoustic song of heartbreak and self-loathing than, you know, they normally are.


my love is like ...

So a few weeks ago WK introduced me to this idea of "cultural capital," which is basically when you know stuff like who Haydn is and how to do a crossword puzzle, which is something I had always sort of thought of as "eltitism" or "pretension," and which I totally aspire to the possession of to a sort of embarrassing degree.

Anyway I had this moment of genius the other day and it made me laugh for hours, and I decided to turn it into a t-shirt, and then I showed it to people and they didn't really get it,* and thus didn't think it was funny. They're wrong. It's hilarious. It is possibly the best t-shirt of all time. Here it is:

click to make the image bigger and see how kickass the art is

Admit it. You are dying of awesomeness. You know what you should do? You should - I am not kidding - buy a shirt. Or a sticker or whatever. I'm not picky. Perfect for the English major who has everything.

*fine, i'll explain it. Evelyn Waugh (pictured) is an author who wrote stuff, and who I learned in the course of doing google image searches in order to draw this picture looks sort of like a cross between Cary Elwes and Adolf Hitler. Also he is snarly. His last name is pronounced sort of like "whoa," though if we're being technical it's more like "waw" but then the joke isn't as funny. Get it? "It's like whoa." Sample sentence: "This 'it's like Waugh' shirt is like whoa." You now have +5 cultural capital points, which are like hit points but are only good during NPR pledge week.


the immutable joys of ann m. martin

the subtitle for this post is: Helen overuses the italics function

It is a universal truth about females my age that if you talk to us about Barbie dolls, we will tell you stories of mutilating them gleefully. If you talk to us about Jem and the Holograms, we will have a sudden reiteration of our love for light-up pink earrings. If you talk to us about the Baby-Sitters Club, we will collapse into paroxysms of inarticulate joy, something resembling a sputtering version of religious ecstasy, punctuated with seemingly nonsensical phrases like "mme noelle" and "krushers" and "radowsky." Because here is the thing: there is nothing - nothing - more awesome in this world than the Baby-Sitters Club.

Let's ignore the series' inconsistent punctuation (talk about your hyphen challenges. talk about your plural/possessive challenges. this sucker is tough to crack) and focus on its awesomeness. Here is a series of more than one hundred books about a bunch of junior high students in mythical Stonybrook, Connecticut (which in my mind is second only to Avonlea in terms of Places Where I Will Raise My Children, Goddamnit, Fictionality Of Locale Be Damned) who, like the Simpsons, never age - and who in the space of this one academic year manage to experience several dozen spring, winter, and summer breaks, thousands of days of school, and like fourteen Christmases. They have attended summer camp, been snowed in, been adrift at sea, been shipwrecked on an uncharted island in Long Island Sound (i shit you not), and myriad other things which happened after I stopped reading the series and which I can only imagine involved significant drama such as perhaps being caught in a freak hurricane which sends them to Sweet Valley, California, where they are taken hostage by rich-and-snotty Lila and forced to babysit a ragtag bunch of Lila's rich-and-snotty nieces and nephews while Lila drugs Jessica Wakefield in order to steal her boyfriend, but Kristy realizes that THIS IS WRONG and with the help of Mallory, who is totally crushing on the stolen boyfriend, convinces Jessica that Lila is out to get her BUT THEN it turns out that Dawn is missing because she's gone to look for her brother, Jeff, who lives in San Francisco, having no knowledge of the fact that California is, like, the entire height of the United States, so Jessi and Dawn's step sister Mary Ann (who incidentally totally grows up to be Charlotte from Sex & the City) go to look for her, because Jessi - being from Oakland - knows her way around California, which did I mention is a really really really big state? and back at Lila's evil mansion one of the snotty rich cousins gets sick and pukes on Stacy's black blouse which is like, from New York City, guys, and thus very sophisticated, so Stacy freaks out and goes into a diabetic coma and Lila is the only one who can call 911 and oh my god will she find it in her heart to forgive the girls of the BSC???????. Plus, each chapter will be written by a different character in the story.

Deep breath. The real thing is, kids, that I have discovered the greatest website ever. And by "I have discovered" i mean "I read about on Gawker," which is like when you go to the grocery store in a different state and you say "I have discovered a new flavor of fruit roll-up" whereas in fact they've been selling it for, like, years in Iowa, it's just that you have never been to Iowa before. Except that I read Gawker every day, but that is not the point. The point is: THIS LINK RIGHT HERE on which the author, my Personal Hero, is going to read and reread every single BSC book, and provide brief recaps, and her opinion. I am so in love.

For the sake of complete disclosure, I would like to share the following anecdote: When I was in fourth grade we moved to a new school district, and after my first day of school my mom asked me if there were any cute boys in my class. There were, as it happens, and I said so. "His name is Austin," I said. "What's his last name?" said my mom (undoubtedly digging to find out whether he was Jewish and, thus, marriageable [nb: I was, at the time, 9 years old]). "Bentley," I said, with confidence. "Austin Bentley."

Two facts are relevant here. One, we were having this conversation through the closed bathroom door, because I had had a long and stressful day and really needed to pee, and to this day my mother does not understand that it is not really terribly considerate to talk to someone while they are peeing. Two, and perhaps more importantly, the cute boy in my class was not named Austin Bentley. He was named Austin Something Else. Austin Bentley, however, was the name of Claudia's crush object in the seminal BSC book, Logan Likes Mary Ann.

I would also like to add that if you are a female between the ages of 18 and 27 and you were raised in the United States by parents who were not explicitly neglectful and/or abusive, and you did not at some point band your friends together and attempt to start an ersatz BSC of your own, you have not lived.


a thought, in passing

I think the big upside of Hurricane Katrina is, for me, the opportunity to use the word antediluvian with greater frequency.

That is all.

PS. keep reading the MoAF, 'cause it's full of awesome.


Tuesday Glossaries are 93 Years Old and Crazy

I get some mighty strange letters at work. Most are tossed, ignored, or passed on to someone else. But a few weeks ago I got a letter - shaky writing, neon pink paper - that began "Dear Gentlemen," (note: I am a singular female).

"Dear Gentlemen, This is the fourth time I have written. I am inquiring about the fantasy calendar, which I have been collecting since 1983. I am very sad that I could not find the calendar for 2006, as now my collection streak is broken. I am ninety-three years old."
Well of course I'm a nice person so I packed up a copy of the calendar (your standard-issue buxom gals wearing iron bikinis riding around on dragons sort of prison-wall fodder) and sent it to the somewhat insistent ninety-three year old man with a note apologizing for not having received his prior letter, and offering the calendar with my compliments. And then today I get this in the mail:

click to enlarge
This is, in a word, psychedelic. I would like to note for the record that I have no idea who or what The Goat Boy is, and as far as I'm aware there are no Guns Or Modern Weapons in the calendar. But I totally support the More Nudity Fine - Great position, and am (actually) touched by the Katrina reference. The clear highlight, however, is the word Epoculips, which inexplicably appears on the back of the letter along with a fairly confusing compliment of the Lovely Lady Beside [Me} (where?). So that is this week's (this month's?) Tuesday (Monday) Glossary.
Epoculips (ee-pock-uh-lips), n. Definition wholly unknown.

some facts

- in keeping with the theme, Saturday’s OED word of the day was “stroke.”

- RSGo is the top search result if you google “sheep stomach recipes.”

- The Shake Shack, my single favorite food experience in literally the entire world, reopens tomorrow, the first day of spring. If you don’t live in New York, you should come visit this fair city for the sole purpose of having a shackburger (or, if you’re a vegetarian, one of their ingenious and brain-destroyingly delicious portobello burgers) and cheese fries, and I will let you stay on my futon. If you live in New York and have never been, you are on probation. If you do or do not live in New York, and you’ve been, and you don’t like it, you should consider being evaluated for nerve damage, and also you are no longer my friend. I can’t overestimate this place. I cannot sing its praises too loudly. The Shake Shack is worth being fat for.


i'm cheating on you

hey, yeah, so I updated the museum of awful food, bringing the grand total of posts on that site to: two.


talk about sesquipedalianism

I subscribe to the Oxford English Dictionary Word Of The Day email service. Without commentary, a random selection of words culled from recent mailings:

  • supergiant
  • splendid
  • slap-headed
  • rig
  • twelve-incher


this is my confession

I have a horrible action to own up to. I did something unforgivable today, and I'm scared that there's no turning back.

I've been thinking about doing this for a while now. At first, it seemed repulsive - just the thought of it made me shriek and mock and shudder in horror. But over time, the idea of it wore away at me until it seemed attractive, even glamorous. And today I just couldn't help myself.

I did it. I bought a pair of black capri-length leggings. Which I will wear to places that are not the gym, possibly under skirts and dresses. I realize this is something I promised to do as part of my Celebrity Behavior during RSGo Hollywood Week, but I didn't really think I'd follow through on my own promises (note that, for example, I am not a UN Goodwill Ambassador, nor am I squinty [except when trying to see long distances in the dark without my glasses]).

But Ashlee Simpson does this. So does Hilary Duff. I think Lindsay might, too, when she's not all gothed up in Chanel in her desperate bid to be Karl Lagerfeld's new hag. And sure, I'm about five months behind this Rachel Zoe-meets-Olsen Twin trend, which has been gobbling up the slender calves of the NYU students who flock around my office building, but I'm a grown woman for chrissakes. I am twenty-freaking-four years old. I should not be succumbing to trends like this.

Except they are such awesome trends. So pretty. I have been craving the return of leggings since 1991, when I had to give up my black lycras that had a neon-pink racing stripe up the side. So I give myself over to the leggings trend with all my heart, with all my soul. I will wear them with heels and with sneakers and with ballet flats. But thankfully I don't own cowboy boots. It can't get that far.