Friday, August 21, 2015

Superstar Barbie's Bass Boat Rental and Lego Moonbase

"Superstar Barbie Fashion Plate!"
One of the 1,527 reasons I don't have children is all the small battles I would have to fight everyday. For instance, I would insist on non-gendered toys, clothes, linens, etc.

Blue happens to be my favorite color, and so it would be the baby's, too, no matter what gender he/she/it was. If I got pregnant today (I am knocking so much wood right now), I would have an ally in Target.

The retailer recently announced that it would stop categorizing things for kids by gender. Of course, everyone proved the need for the hashtag #FirstWorldProblems by immediately losing their minds.

It's not that selecting a gift for your second cousin's baby is so hard (do what I do -- green onesies for 6-12 months all the way) but that there is a segment of society that is scared of change.

As the Slate article points out, the hyper-gendering of things has resurged in the past decade or so. When I was a kid in the 70s and 80s, things were more neutral. I was the first generation raised on Sesame Street, and on the Street, the kids were pretty androgynous, if you think about it. The famously diverse kid cast wore t-shirts and corduroys and sneakers in colors like green and rust and brown and beige. Kind of basic, but the message was clear: kids are kids are kids.

Not actual Sesame Street kids, but still proves my point.
Of course, back then, gay people were marginalized and recognized only to be made fun of on sitcoms. People who questioned or worked to actively change their gender status were considered freaks at best. We could be less gender-focused because we were sure of ourselves. Thank Athena those days are ending.

But this makes some people nervous. What's next, they ask? Who will I accidentally offend tomorrow? How do I know where the boundaries are?

The answers: No one knows. No one, if you are polite. The boundaries are all random and they always were. And although we should be wary of pop science, according to this article in New York, more danger comes from labeling toys and games than from keeping them androgynous.

Those who object to non-gender specific items on Target's Facebook page pointed to the stifling and odious influence of the Thought Police and the Big Gay Agenda. If that last one existed, do you think it would have taken until 2015 to recognize that same-sex couples have the same rights as all other couples? And the first one is a reference from a classic book of literature, so good for you!

By the time I had read 1984, it was actually 1984, and I was done playing with toys. So my mom got rid of them. If she threw them out all at the same time, and if someone from today had seen the pile, they would have assumed there was both a girl and a boy living in our house.

First of all, there was all of my Barbie stuff (with many dolls sporting chopped hair cuts and Goth-like Bic pen makeovers). Then, there were my transportation-related toys -- Matchbox cars, a truck hauling a bass boat, a Tonka Winnebego camper.

I loved this thing!
I may have had some Fisher Price stuff laying around, but likely that had all been replaced by Star Wars toys.

This included a Landspeeder (as seen above) for the small action figures, a die-cast Tie Fighter, and a model of an X-wing Fighter that my dad and I made. I probably had some fancy play clothes, which were mostly old bridesmaids dresses and shoes and purses from resale shops, Finally -- Legos. I did not have many of the themed sets, but we had enough to make walking in our basement painful.

There's a whole lotta non-gender specific in this pic.
This kind of pan-gendered play was typical back then. So typical, that I always wondered why the need for this ad, circa late 1970s.

Perhaps it was just a reminder, or maybe it was actually a premonition. A feeling that the issue of how kids get told what they are supposed be will swing back and forth until the last human is extinct.

Today, some people worry that they don't know what or how kids are supposed to be. I'm not a parent, but I think there are two easy answers. First, kids (like all people) are supposed to be kind to everyone. Second (again, like all people), kids are supposed to be what they are. Just wait, and they will tell you what that is.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Consider this the "Gone Fishin'" Sign

Tomorrow I will be hauling a suitcase full of non-black clothes and a Vitamin-D deficient body down to where America dribbles into the Caribbean Sea. My life is not hard, but it is a series of almost unvarying days-in, days-out that have been set recently amidst a cold, gloomy spring.

Things really aren't this bad.
 I just need a change of scenery.

We will follow the coast of Florida from Fort Lauderdale to 
Key West, stopping in Miami Beach along the way.

This is our route, and also, apparently, a wall hanging.
"Our" beach, a short walk from our motel
 and on the quiet side of the island.
This is what I think I look like on the beach,
I will also be taking many pictures of non-Midwestern things.
There will be bars and food and sitting and sweating and
 enjoying the trade winds and did I mention sitting?
 See you on the other side!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Dreaming in Square Footage

I have been dreaming in retro lately. A few nights ago, the dream was that a long-departed aunt left me her apartment in some neighborhood of Chicago that doesn't exist. The apartment was small and stuck in the 40s and 50s. There were piles of boxes of things that needed to be gone through, and my parents where there encouraging me to throw most of it out. But I was setting aside a few pieces that I wanted to see if I could decorate with them.

These dreams of an apartment-from-nowhere (and its corollary, the extra rooms I suddenly discover in my current apartment), I have self-diagnosed as part of my ambivalence about my housing situation. There is never a day that goes by that I don't question what our next move will be -- Chicago? Another suburb? A rental? Another condo? My husband and I have been trying to pin these thorny decisions down for almost 16 years.

So a dream where a solution presents itself out of the blue is always appreciated and welcomed, In the dream, there is rarely an issue about how we will move to the the place or even if the place, or the recently-discovered rooms, are really mine. However, I did wake up earlier this week with a sense of sadness -- I did not in fact have a Deus Ex Apartmina visit me in the middle of the night to be the answer to all of my housing questions and choices.

But, I dream vividly, and I could see the style of the apartment as well as the various keepsakes and art and tchotchkes that I would have to either keep or dump. Thanks to Pinterest, and specifically the prolific mid-century pin curator Diane Yacopino, I "shopped" her boards, and now I can bring you an idea of what my dream was like.

The kitchen was something like this, although it may have been more minty-green.

Of course, I would not mind this kitchen, either. Maybe just change the color scheme a little.

The bathroom had the plastic tiles that are a cheapo way of getting the nice tiled look of a deco-era bathroom.

I'm obviously sheltered because I've never seen pearlescent tiles like that.

And here are a few of the things that I had to decide what to do with. They all have value, but in great condition. These were not in great condition. And do I have time to put all this stuff on eBay? So here is the kind of stuff I heeded my parents warning on and threw out.

Pretty in Pink Vintage Plastic Dresser Jar with Lid by Tparty, $14.90Vintage Tipp City Lady With Carrots Milk Glass Shaker Set

But here are two things I kept:
50's art nouveau green planter mint, everyone had these type of planters back then with plants on the windowsillsVintage retro mid century modernist industrial by WhatNotsToLove

because I thought I could arrange them in fascinating tableaux in the apartment once the useless stuff was out.

So, I may not have a real-estate inheritance coming soon, but if I do, my dreams are giving me practice on what I would do with whatever piles of junk or trinkets came with it. And I am always open to gifts of free apartments, but I would prefer them to occur in real life.

Friday, April 3, 2015

I Would Like a Life of Leisure (No, I Wouldn't) ((Yes, I Would))

My current obsession with "having no time." is puzzling. Everyone says they are soooo busy, and I believe they are. But I'm not. We don't have kids, we don't have a real house, and our animals take themselves to the bathroom. I don't even work full-time hours at my job.

sofasafari - Jasmine Deporta
Sofa Safari, Jasmine Deporta
Yet, it seems that the Chores of Life are never done. Laundry, what's for dinner, doctor's appointments, we need dish soap and toilet paper, clean the litter box, take out the garbage, laundry, something wrong with the car, take out the garbage, laundry, we're out of food, preventive maintenance on the car, stuff for my garden club, get the cole slaw for the work party, pill refills, bleh bleh ad infinitum. It's not work or relationships that wear me down -- it's all the things that I think of to do the minute I sit down with a book or when I'd like to go the mall and browse the perfumes and purses.

I know that everyone does these things, too, according to their needs and rhythms. Some people grocery shop at 2 a.m. Some people order everything on line. Some people have assistants. I would like an assistant.

When I was a kid, I got a lot of advice on daily living from the movies. In many Fellini films, people are at family dinners or school or a cafe, and the women, especially, are cooking and pushing soaked sheets up and down washboards and pushing kids out of the way. There is a scene in my favorite Fellini movie, La Strada, where a housewife who has just cooked dinner for a wedding party leans in a doorway eating pasta and wipes her brow with a hard and weary sigh.

The tired housewife is not in this trailer, which is really long!

In another favorite of mine, Working Girl, Melanie Griffith's character is seen commuting to work over the opening credits. She gets to her desk and changes her shoes. Later on, she stops at a bar on the way home and asks the bartender to stow her briefcase behind the bar.

Why are these little things so significant? From an artistic standpoint, they communicate things about characters and situations very quickly. For me, as a kid, quick scenes like this told me that there were many ways to handle the picking-it-up and putting-it-down, the using and cleaning and putting away and getting it out again that makes up most of our lives. But movies don't really do that anymore. Do we ever see Captain America picking up his dry cleaning? Does the Arrow ever help Arsenal move?

Really, this is probably just another occasion of me being too hard on myself. Things get done. And, as someone once told me (in an effort to be helpful, I think), the absence of stress is death.

"Do Not Disturb" Self-Portraits by Anja Niemi - My Modern Metropolis
From "Do Not Disturb:" Self-Portraits by Anja Niemi 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Insanity is Hereditary. You Get it From Your Cats (Huh?)

Unless you have given up clickbait as your New Year's Resolution (and if you haven't, hey, free Lent idea) you may have seen 10 Signs You're A Crazy Cat Person, narrated by felines Cole and Marmalade. They have their own YouTube channel, of course.

The video was cute, but I found the featured signs to be a bit banal. I mean, if your cat doesn't wake you up to be fed, you probably don't have a cat but a coatimundi or a ferret.

Then again, how we interact with our cats in our house may have pushed us way past crazy and into, as the expression goes, pants-crapping insane. So here is my clickity-clickbait entry: 7 Indications That The Cats Are The Sane Ones in the House:

1) When your cat lays down an atomic turd mere minutes after the litter box is cleaned, and your reaction is something like "Dear God, can we not have ten minutes of peace in this house?!??" (In my defense, this usually happens while I am trying to put on eye makeup and achieve a look somewhere between chic and Tammy Faye).

2) You engage your cats in a lecture about dietary needs. To the older one, who is developing (very typical) signs of kidney disease but gets finicky about eating her renal support food: "Your choice is to eat this food or go on dialysis. And I am not driving you to dialysis." To the younger one, who should not eat the kidney food but does: "Fine. Eat your sister's food. She'll die soon and you will be all alone."

Frida does not understand the concept of "For Your Own Good."

3) Licking of the condensation on the sliding glass door frame is a cat habit that is also a fun Saturday night viewing activity for the hoomans in the house.

4) You have so absorbed the grammar aesthetic of I Can Haz Cheezburger that words like "kitteh" and "hooman" are part of your vocabulary, but ideally not during presentations, annual reviews, or meetings with Trustees, Committee Chairs, or other bigwigs. This despite the Cheezeburger meme being the Internet equivalent of Laugh-In at this point, although since you still throw Ghostbusters quotes into casual conversation (and, come on, Tammy Faye Bakker??), clearly you are hopeless.

5) You sent a holiday card from your cats to a cat you met on the Internet.

Ours is the one in front.

6) When your friends talk about school or ballet or soccer for their kids it briefly crosses your mind that you should register your cats for some activity, but then you shake your head quickly to erase that thought and to remind yourself that while dogs might have dog parks, cats have the whole house, and sitting on your laundry or in your guitar case IS their activity.

For cat parents, this is soccer practice.

7) It still hasn't dawned on you that after twenty years and three cats that they are NOT interested when a cat appears on the television screen and that they likely cannot see that far. In fact, you -- tall, looming over them like some bleating giant -- are forever a stranger until you get close enough for them to sense you in other ways, at which point you become, well, That Thing That Feeds Me. Or, as you insist on calling yourself, Mommy.

Or, in this case, Daddy.

Update to earlier post on the David Bowie Is exhibit: Check out this awesome GIF of Bowie's hairstyles over the years (but WARNING: the word "chameleon" is still banned):

Friday, October 3, 2014

Pining for the Moon: Urban Girl Goes Camping

To the understandable surprise of those who know me, we now camp. Not fancy hook-up camper camping, or glamping* by our city-owned Lake Michigan beach, but real butts-in-the-wilderness camping. Or, butts-on-the-queen-blowup-mattress. In an eight-person tent. With the car ready to go into the nearest town for a beer.

For most of my 40-plus years I have been a roof-and-floor vacationer. My parents always stayed at a Holiday Inn or state park when we traveled, and a few years of on-the-company views from high Hyatt floors only reinforced my need to have my towels changed when I saw new sights. 

But one can change. Anti-anxiety drugs help. So does the realization that one night away from running water will not end in a parched and ugly death by dawn. Also? Lodging is expensive! My husband and I like to putter around the Midwest, poking into antique stores and parking at taverns and walking or biking on trails that were once interurban train lines. But at an average of $100 per eve, staying in a hotel or motel room makes tooling around really taxing.

This spring, a combination of factors lead us to purchase a tent. I think it can be best summed up this way: if we bring our own sleeping quarters, we can go pretty much anywhere, and have space to ourselves.

Space. Yes. So we bought at eight-person tent. Now, I think the tent maker believes the munchkins from Wizard of Oz represent your typical person, so I am suspicious of that claim. But certainly four adults could sleep in our tent. But they won't, because I need space. I also need air, so the "roof" of our tent is almost completely removable.

A ridiculously huge tent for two people.
This year, we stuck close to home for the most part, staying at Apple River Canyon near Galena and Rock Cut State Park near Rockford. We were also able to take part in a big family reunion at my husband's family cottage near Traverse City, Michigan, without having to worry about who was sleeping where when. We slept near the beach in a room of our own.

We are car campers, in keeping with my proscribed camping tenets: no backpacks, no propane, no s'mores. We look for camp spots that let us drive into them, travel lightly, and either use the firepit for cooking or go into the nearest town. We do not, however, need electricity or showers, and I have learned to let go and pee in the woods at 2 AM.

There is a campsite etiquette. Looky, someone left us a wiener-frying stick!
Having contended with hotel/motel HVAC that wreaked havoc on our sinuses, it is nice to have only the weather to worry about. I have learned a few lessons. Put the rain flap on the tent if there is more than a 20 percent chance of rain; for nights below 50 degrees, only synthetic fabric will do. And even a dry but humid night will render your fire just a smoky heap. This is why God made the small-town tavern.

Camping Selfie, or I am so cold.
As I get older, I am amazed at my ability to just sit and stare. I prefer to do this outside, and take deep breaths and inhale the world, especially if the wind is blowing and I can take in the trees and the plants and all the other natural things floating and sinking and rotting away to renew us all. To lay in the tent with the "roof" off and watch the clouds go by has become one of my main gateways to happiness. Another one is to watch my husband fold up the tent carefully when we are done, wiping the dirt off but not obsessing about getting every speck of mud. Outside is messy, we say.

So far, we prefer sites that are very wooded, so that the trees make little rooms out of each campsite, and so far, our favorite is Apple River Canyon. About three hours from Chicago, it's a great overnight spot. The nearest town, Stockton, has everything you need for a comfy night, but once you head north to the state park, expect to be off the grid. Galena, a 19th century mining town turned weekend destination for strolling scented-candle purchasers, is about 30 minutes away. I kid about Galena -- it is a beautiful town set on the unglaciated hills of far northwest Illinois, home to U.S. Grant (who won the Civil War) and many cute restaurants.

Camping tip 1-100: be near a town with restaurants.
Our plans for next year include pushing farther north into our second-favorite state, Wisconsin. Also, I need a sleeping bag.

*Thanks to my writer-pal Pamela for this blog post about "glamping." My husband has accused me of this because the sheets and blankets I put on the blow-up mattress match.

Monday, September 29, 2014

He'd Like to Come and Meet Us, But He Thinks He'd Blow Our Minds

David Bowie Is...all over Chicago right now.
A friend asked me if the "David Bowie Is..." exhibit at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art would be good for both Bowie newbies and long-time fans. I said I suspected both would find it fascinating, and now having actually seen it, I think I was correct. Either way, if you have ever been curious about this artist, I would go.

The exhibit, on display until January 4, 2015, represents the first time that an eclectic array of multi-media objects have been brought together to tell the story of Bowie's almost 50-year career. Unlike other musicians, Bowie is a natural for a contemporary art museum because he has not only been a singer but a painter, actor, producer, fashion innovator, and video artist, as well as witness to post-World War II history.

After establishing Bowie's place as a child of an England still dazed that it survived Hitler, the exhibit continues along a loose chronology that also pulls in the various influences that Bowie has used to build his career.

I was mainly excited about the trove of costumes and outfits that the exhibit brought, and I was largely, with one glaringly painful exception, satisfied. Many attendees will be dazzled by the crazy colors and cuts of the Ziggy Stardust-era costumes, and these are fun. You are at once amazed at their outlandishness and almost startled to realized that many of them are made of materials that normal humans wear. Unlike what you might think when you see them in videos, these threads were not distributed by aliens -- just made extraordinary by the talented people Bowie has met over his lifetime.

But the one costume I was most eager to see was a curatorial disappointment. I was looking forward to being able to study the layers and fabrics of the galactic clown suit Bowie wore in the video for "Ashes to Ashes." This 1980 song reprises the character of Major Tom from his 1969 novelty "Space Oddity." Designed by one of his best collaborators, Natasha Korniloff, I was almost desperate to see how its light slivery-blue petals and mesh looked in real light.

Alas, there was little light, real or not, on the costume in the exhibit. Stuck in a corner and poorly lit, I was so upset that I stood in front of the thing for a few minutes, wondering if, like some other areas of the exhibit, the lighting would change or something. No. My husband got a quick earful from me, then cleverly distracted me by pointing at a more recent coat that Bowie had worn in a 1997 video, the cut and pattern of which was more evident in person.

Still, some of the outfits held delightful surprises. My husband and I both noticed a detail on a jumpsuit from one of my favorite Bowie videos -- a detail it had taken me 30 years to see. One of the iconic outifts from this exhibit -- seen all over the press materials -- was a 1997 Union Jack coat by Alexander McQueen. Bowie returned to McQueen often in the 1990s for elaborate coats, making the designer's recent suicide that much more tragic.

Beyond the clothes, I was not sure that there was much more I could learn from the exhibit. I hate if this comes off as snobby, but I have been consuming Bowiestuff for so long (and my husband has been a genius at finding bootlegged audio and video on the Internet) that I was not sure there were any more revelations for me. There were -- perhaps revelations is not the right word, so let's try re-appreciations.

Like this: mime was one of Bowie's early influences, but because I grew up with Shields and Yarnell and Saturday Night Live, whenever I see Bowie doing mime I usually crack up and make stupid jokes. I had to get over that at the exhibit and watch a 15-minute long early performance, where Bowie is a man who finds a mask, and that mask helps him become someone else on stage -- with tragic results.

Not only did I finally become amazed at how good he was at mime, but I also saw in the piece themes and moves that he would return to over and over in his career. A short retrospective of some of his film and stage performancess revealed just how important his mime training was. I will never make fun of mime again (unless prompted by Crow or Tom Servo).

This is a big exhibit, with many things to look at, and many media used to explain its subject. Until now, I have not had much to talk to other Bowie fans about other than music and videos. It would be great to hear from you if you attend -- what stood out to you, what made no sense, what was exciting?