Archive | November, 2007

Pop Candy – Episode 2

27 Nov

It hadn’t always been this way. Once, he was one of the top three tennis players in his class. He had a good group of friends. About 43% of them, he had calculated one day, went away to college after high school– Brown, Duke, Stanford, Bryn Mawr, Vanderbilt. His two closest buddies, Johnny and Damien, told him that he was the smartest guy they knew. One of them ended up at Harvard Law. The other one was an adjunct professor of American Studies at some school in Paris. He forgot which one. Alex, however, still had four credits to go in his philosophy degree from the state university. Sure, he could’ve ended up in a think tank somewhere, but what was the point, really? He could breeze through “Notes from the Underground” in an afternoon, but he preferred playing a round of frisbee golf with a six pack and some valium at the course two blocks from his parent’s house. When Johnny and Damien would come home for the holidays, they happily slipped into Alex’s world which was a constant and true respit from adult life.

“Alex… take that $50 on the side table in the foyer and take the boys to El Patio for some margaritas,” Mrs. Whitney would say. Alex would stuff it into his neon orange and green velcro wallet and the three would head out to suck down some drinks and coat their stomachs with tortilla chips, salsa and piping hot queso. But the last time they hung out, there was no more talk about this or that chick. They stopped talking about the road trip to Belize or the t-shirt business/beer joint they would one day start together. Alex had worked up logos for it just before the guys had arrived. He took a whole night while he listened to Ben Lee on “Pop Candy” and made a business plan. It was two pages.

Since then, the trips to the outside world had become fewer and farther between. There was no phobia, then. Just a lack of motivation. He got an e-mail from Damien that he had met a French girl in Thailand. It just so happened that she lived only two miles from him. When they both returned to France, they got engaged. Johnny was steadily climbing the ranks of the law firm where he worked– was it tax law, or something sexy like being a prosecutor? He couldn’t remember, and he didn’t really care. He knew that his boys were sell outs. He knew that they really wanted to be entrepreneurs and bachelors just like him. They were pathetic. Maybe he could start the bar on his own. But his parents wouldn’t go for it. They were stingy and ridiculously frugal and they would never part from their money to feed his dream.

“Why don’t you support me?” he would ask them one night at dinner. Mrs. Whitney got hammered and decided that she was a chef and poured everything she could find into a crock pot. She used a bottle of wine from her wedding forty years earlier to make stew. It was terrible.

“We support you. You have a room. You have dinner. Everything else is up to you.”

Jana’s Ultimate Young Adult/Reader List

26 Nov


My friend Jana Christy, an awesome and accomplished illustrator, is one the coolest, smartest ladies I know. She loves books and recently shared with me her ultimate Young Adult/Young Reader reading list. Either she or her wonderful twins, Harry and Hugo, have put their seal of approval on these reads. I’ve read some of the classics, but now I’m interested in plunging into some new worlds!

The Letter, The Witch and the Ring by John Bellairs

The Boggart by Susan Cooper 

A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L’Engle

Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett

I Was  A Rat by Philip Pullman 

Nicobobinus by Terry Jones

The House With a Clock In Its Walls by John Bellairs

The 13th Floor by Sid Fleischman 

The Black Pearl by Scott O’Dell 

Count Karlstein by Philip Pullman

Crispin, The Cross Of Lead by Avi

The Pool Of Fire by John Christopher

The BFG by Roald Dahl

Knight and The Squire by Terry Jones

The Firework Maker’s Daughter by Philip Pullman 

Strange Happenings by Avi

Skellig by David Almond

The Anybodies by N.E. Bode

The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald 

Woods Walk by Henry W. Art and Michael Robbins 

Crispin at the Edge of the World by Avi 

Robots Rising by Carol Sonenklar and John Kaufmann

Devil’s Storybook by Natalie Babbitt 

Mrs. Frisby and The Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien

Science Behind Superheroes by Bode 

The Sand Walk Adventures by Jay Hosler

The Scarecrow’s Servant by Phillip Pullman 

Clan Apis by Jay Hosler 

Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards: A Tale of Edward Drinker Cope, Othniel Charles Marsh, and the Gilded Age of Paleontology by Jim Ottaviani, Zander Cannon, Shad Petosky, and Kevin Cannon

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Jack Plank by Natalie

The Conversation: Dick Cheney

25 Nov


Dick Cheney:  Hello?

Me: Dick?

DC: Yes, this is Dick.

Me: Hey Dick. It’s Jennifer.

DC: Oh! Hello Jennifer. How’s the weather in Austin?

Me: It’s cold and rainy.

DC: That’s too bad.

Me: No actually it’s good. It feels more like the holidays now. A few days ago it was pushing 90. Not very Thanksgiving-ish.

DC: That’s true. I hate unseasonably warm or cold weather.

Me: Yeah. Me too.

DC: It sucks.

Me: Yep. Anyway, just wanted to touch base. How’s it going up there in DC? Still dodging bullets? What’s the dealio?

DC: Well, just cutting loose a little.

Me: Really, how so?

DC: You know, just trying to keep things interesting these last few months. Have you ever had a really good Sea Bass?

Me: No, I’m not really a fish person.

DC: Really? I did not know that.

Me: Nope. I’m not big on pork or lamb either. I was thinking of going totally vegetarian.

DC: Don’t do that. That’s ridiculous. You need meat.

Me: I like tofu.

DC: You’re nuts. Anyway, so I’ve been doing this thing where I have my staff go all over the country trying to find the best Sea Bass, ’cause, you know, I really like it.

Me: Uh huh.

DC: And I sort of make them think ‘Oh God. If I don’t get the Vice President a decent plate of Sea Bass, I won’t get a good recommendation. I better find some good freakin’ Sea Bass.’ But what they don’t know is that it doesn’t matter where they get it, or who they get to prepare it. I’ll definitely eat it… cuz I LIKE it! You know?

Me: That seems mean.

DC: No, no, no. It’s not. It just pushes them to do their best and they get to travel to all the coastal states, and I think one of my interns has decided to go to culinary school which is a good decision because, you know, she giggled everytime someone would say “Hey Dick!” Very unprofessional.

Me: I don’t know. Shouldn’t you be working on your memoirs or gathering important papers or looking at home decorating magazines? You’ll be leaving soon.

DC: It’s all taken care of.

Me: Well, that’s good.

DC: Yes, everything will be just fine.

Me: Ok… um… sounds like you’re on top of…

DC: Everything is as it should be…

Me: You know what? You’re really creeping me out.

DC: Oh… sorry.

Me: Well, anyway, just wanted to let you know that we need to get out of Iraq ASAP and, of course, don’t forget to get yourself a good lawyer when all of this is over.

DC: You crack me up, Jennifer!

Me: Seriously.

DC: Do you think?

Me: Um, yeah.

DC: Hmmm… well, I’m getting a little hungry, if you know what I’m sayin’.

Me: Yep. Enjoy your Sea Bass.

DC: Thanks– and give Texas a big manly handshake for me.

Me: I’ll give it a nice, sweet hug.

DC: Whatever.

Me: Later, Dick.

DC: Later.

Shuffleboil: America’s # 1 Writer

23 Nov


Check out my lastest installment of this weeks’ “My Next Top Reality,” a column on Shuffleboil. I discuss a great idea to bring together the striking writers and reality show producers. Judge for yourself. Also, a mini-rave review of AMC’s Original Series, “Mad Men.”

Pop Candy – Episode 1

19 Nov

About the time Alex was scheduled to pick up his parents at the airport, he realized that the girl he had been admiring from afar, Ava, would be starting her radio show, “Pop Candy” on the local co-op station. Before he could get going, he had to check that the tank was full, and the car did not smell of cigarettes or pot. Chrysler LeBarons were not hip cars, but Alex and his Dad had managed to put in a sweet stereo system— sort of a father/son project- last summer. During all hours he liked to sit in the car and read magazines or listen to music and drink a beer or two. Even if there were traces of trust-breaking evidence, his parents usually turned a blind eye to them. For the trip home, he would climb in the back seat and make sure everything was kosher, and no beer cans were left floating and banging under the seats. God forbid Dad would let Alex drive the family around, anyway.

He started slowly down the interstate at a reasonable clip and turned on the radio.

“I’ll be with you until 6 o’clock, and coming up we have Spoon with ‘I Turn My Camera On.’ Let’s check it out,” Ava announced.

Just what he wanted. Knowing that her voice could be instantly called up at the touch of his finger gave Alex an immense sense of joy. Long before Alex discovered “Pop Candy” and Ava, he really never had an interest in alternative pop music. Music was music, but he thought that the idea, even the whole genre of alternative pop was a ridiculous oxymoron. Naturally, he was most encouraged to give the show a chance when he heard Ava’s voice. On the radio, she sounded sweet, smart, passionate and mostly just very cool. Possibly, he would meet her one day at a café downtown, or maybe in the lobby of an old movie theater. Question was, wouldn’t that be sort of a stalker fantasy?

“Rolling along,” Ava said, “that was Spoon for everyone trying to find some decent tunes for that summer soundtrack. Speaking of summer, it is hot as hell which is good for me because apparently that keeps you guys indoors, or in your car, for your daily dose of alternative pop music. Today we have some Voxtrot, Beirut, The Rumours, followed by some of the bands that started it all like the Velvet Underground. You know Lou Reed has a special place in my heart– I got my first kiss from a guy named Ray when “Sweet Jane” was on the radio, but I always think of Lou.”

She sounded relaxed and happy today, Alex thought. Tonight, he would go to her website and see if she’s posted any new pictures. Unless, of course, his Dad hogged the computer again, which he probably would, because no access to e-mail for four days makes his Dad pretty anxious. Virtually every time his father came home, Alex was reduced to spending most of his time in his bedroom—the same bedroom he’s had for the last 31 years. When his mother comes in with the classifieds, or phone messages or mail, Alex usually asks for a tuna melt with Fritos, banana pudding, a Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper, and that’s about it.

Xenophobia, agoraphobia, even a brief stint with arachnophobia almost had gotten the best of Alex. Yards away from the driveway, then a street block, and now the straight ten minute bi-weekly car ride to the airport.

Bjork is coming up next,” Ava cooed. “And this one’s going out to Alex.”

My History with France

17 Nov

When I was in high school in Texas, I had a French teacher named Monsieur White. He was the golf coach. His hair was a greasy silver mess over a hopelessly flaky scalp. M. White wore leisure suits and had some sort of an ear, nose, throat problem that forced him to spit out the window into the courtyard. There was a dead little patch of brown grass were he spit. Gross.

M. White had a lousy French accent and shouted French phrases at us like we were on his golf team. When someone would struggle with a “Je suis le” something or other, he would stretch out his red, wrinkled, flaky neck as if to hope this would finally be a hole in one. More often than not, it was a linguistic sand trap. As the semester wore on, he cared less and less about teaching us the French words of vegetables we would never order in a café we would never visit. He would retreat into his desk, prop up his feet and read the want ads.

By the second semester, M. White had said Au Revoir and taken an early retirement. He was replaced by Madame Harris. When we first laid eyes on her, she didn’t seem that much older than us. Her hair was long and thin with little straggly curls at the end. She wore matching barrettes on each side of her face—the cheap tin ones you get at Eckerd’s in a plastic bag. And she had bangs. Wispy little uneven bangs that covered her pimply round forehead.

Madame Harris wore blouses. Not shirts. Not sweaters. But old lady blouses in shades of pale peach, pale ivory, pale blue and pale pink. She wore full skirts in unusually happy patterns and colors. Sometimes a cheery pink plaid, or blue daisies or a weird shade of yellow. The kind of skirts you made with your Mom from broadsheet fabrics on sale at Walmart in order to learn how to sew. She had two pairs of shoes. Tan flats and black sandals.

Madame Harris was very organized, and very precise in her cheerfulness. We started learning a French song in class, which I felt was far beyond our capabilities. But she believed in us… or didn’t know any better. She spoke French like a severe little nanny—every syllable exacting an immense purpose. Every day we learned a new line to our song. The next day we would add the old line to the ones we learned the previous days. At the end of two weeks, we knew a song.

Papa, j’suis content… Maman me comprend…Ah, parfois si j’pose la bonne questionC’est oui, oui,.. J’n’ai plus les bluesAh, parfois si j’pose la bonne questionC’est oui, oui,.. Fini les non non blues…One day after class, Madame Harris asked to see me. I wasn’t worried. I never said or did anything in class that brought attention to myself. I always turned in my homework, took decent notes and pretended to listen. I actually kind of dug French. So why did she want to speak to me?“Jennifer. You seem… sad.”Sad? What? I’m not sad. Why do you say that?”“Oh. I’ve just been noticing that you don’t really engage with the other students very much. Is anything wrong?”

Um. No. I just don’t, I don’t know, like people very much. That’s all.”

“How would you like to come to my house on Wed. night for supper? Just you and a couple of other students. Just talk about France and speak some French. We need to set up the French club. Maybe you’d like to be an officer?”

An officer?”“Yes. Here are the directions and my phone number. I hope you can make it.”I guess I was kind of flattered. I didn’t really know how to take Madame Harris’ comments, but I went. The idea of being an officer sounded like something I should be doing. Yeah, I was pretty good at French. I was going to Paris someday. That was my dream.When I got there I discovered she was a hard core born again Christian and that, to my surprise, I was tres lost.” After an hour and a half, I got the Catholic kicked right outta me and my lifelong relationship with migraines suddenly began. Hmmph. I got the hell out of there. By the end of that semester, after the complaints starting rolling in from other lost children, she was, as they say, histoire.I’m not sure why I took French in high school. Most people took Spanish because it was considered a safe bet that one day you could actually use it. Maybe in business, or maybe on your trip to the border for Spring Break where you would, if you were a complete jackass, barter with poor people to get that stupid sombrero for 2 dollars less. I started thinking more and more about France and how I would rather go there than just about anywhere else. I was jealous of my sister Marisa who was born in France. It just didn’t seem fair. Sure, she would fit in there. She looked like a model and knew everything about make-up and clothes and boys. But I was the one who was interested in American literary expatriates in Paris– Hemingway, Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I was born in San Antonio. Sigh.My mother and father moved to France right after their wedding. My father got a job teaching English on a military base and my mother kept a small country house and had my sister in 1965. It was so cold in the winter, she told me, that they moved the mattress into the kitchen where the stove was, and they kept the meat and milk in the living room to keep. When my mother told me about this time in her life, it could not have sounded more romantic. They even had a favorite café and hotel across the street from Notre Dame. My mother loved Paris. She studied the impressionists and was quite a talented painter herself. She felt happy and free being in a place that didn’t really care that she was Mexican and my father was Anglo. No one cared. Weekend trips to Germany, however, were a whole different story.So when I decided to take French, it was met, in my family, with different reactions. Of course grandmother was confused. “Why don’t you learn to speak our own language? You need to learn.” But my mother was proud. She knew I had a dream to go to Paris one day, like her.By the time I went to college in Boston, my vision of Paris had somewhat faded. I was concentrating, for the first time, on my own language. Boston supplied me with a reasonable amount of art, eccentricity and architecture to hold me until I could get out. By my junior year, I was determined to study abroad. Until I met someone. Isn’t that always the way it is? Here I am, ready to go and take the leap, and I fall in love. I rationalized not going to Europe by convincing myself that falling in love like this was what I would be searching for anyway. I missed my shot.

But I never forgot about France. As my real life start to emerge, I found myself easing into this fantasy of leaving my job, my apartment, my family and friends with nothing but a suitcase and my passport. It’s a simple escape fantasy. A pretty popular one, too. But it was still mine. It began to feel like Paris was my node. My friend Genevieve said everyone has one place in the world —a spiritual node- that their spirit searches for. It’s usually a place like Taos or Mt. Everest or a rainforest. For me it was a rainy Spring day in Paris sitting in a beautifully appointed café drinking a hot café du whiskey, reading the International Herald Tribune and working on some article or writing project that would help me pay my rent and bills on a cozy, warm little flat on the Left Bank. That was my node– my lump.

I went to visit Marisa in Italy were she lived and worked on an army base. Once again I was painfully close to getting to Paris. We took a trip to Nice for New Year’s Eve. As we approached the Italian/French border, I couldn’t believe my excitement. Five miles out I began screaming Viva La France! Viva La France! I speeded through my English/French dictionary. I was ecstatic. My first attempt at French with an actual French person came when we stopped at a rental car place to ask directions.

Holiday Inn Nice Holiday Inn Nice

Ou est le Holiday Inn?” O.K… so it wasn’t Moliere. But it was something. And, by the way, I got us there. I ran out of money after going to Nice, Cannes and Monte Carlo and Paris just wasn’t going to happen. I was so close. It always seemed that either (lack of) money or (surplus of) men kept me from Paris– my ultimate destination. So of course I got a job offer in the states– too good to pass up– and I had to go home.

When I finally fell in love with the man who would be my husband, it was no shock to me that he had a French surname… Robenault—but now Robenalt. When we decided to get married, we had a Bridal shower with a Parisian theme, complete with brie, French wines, Edith Piaf, even napkins with little Eiffel Towers and poodles on them. I went around around and mimmicked that kooky lady in the John Cusack classic “Better Off Dead.” French bread? French Fries? French Dressing? Oui. Oui.

Problem was that we had just declared war in Iraq, the French hated us and were ransacking defenseless McDonalds; we hated the French and some knuckleheads on Capitol Hill had just renamed Freedom Fries in the United States Congressional cafeteria; and people were actually pouring perfectly good French champagne down American gutters. Most importantly, at least to me, was that our own Paris honeymoon was up in the air. Quel tres terrible.

I called the American Embassy in Paris to get their take on traveling to the City of Lights. All they could say to me was that we should register with them as soon as we got there and could I bring our next of kin information as well? Hmmm. Then I called the hotel.

“Yes. Um. We have a reservation in a couple of weeks and I just wanted to ask if, you know, it’s a good time to come? I mean this is like my dream honeymoon and…”

The concierge was not happy at all. This was a disaster for the French tourism trade.

“But of course! So what if we do not like the George Bush. It does not matter. It is perfectly SAFE. Why do SAY this?”

“But what about the chemical attack thingy in the subway and.. I’m watching CNN right now and..”

“But you are from Texas, no? Cowboys and bang bang and the gangs and everything? This is Paris! You are riciculous… le blah le blah le blah”

After she stopped yelling at me, I cancelled the trip. I was devastated.

The Associated Press even did a story on us and how we ultimately opted for second best—the Paris Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. They took a picture of me in and my fiance‘ in front of a poster of the Eiffel Tower. I wore my pink sparkly French poodle necklace and a super-sad look on my face. My husband gazed at me comfortingly. The next day, you could find that picture in papers from Honolulu to Pittsburgh.

I’m not sure why I have this thing about getting to Paris. Perhaps because, like a long lost love, it has eluded me for so long. I realize that my greatest obstacle now is simply lack of time. Certainly, I could get a plane ticket, book a room and be off. But work, family, commitments of every sort always seem to provide a limitless supply of legitimate excuses.

I’ve been happy with my traveling experiences on the most part. I’ve had refreshing and adventurous “jaunts” to England and Italy. But I know that if I ever get to Paris, I may finally be with people of similar values and tastes. Of course I’m basing this on books and movies and all the mediums that make a fine living off of romanticizing an entire city. But I can’t help but believe that some of the mystique is true. I mean, wouldn’t I find their bitterness and their sense of self-importance about things that don’t really matter to the rest of the world just downright adorable? I seem to know somehow that the French are quite vocal about disliking entire countries, even though I can’t seem to pinpoint any major contributions they’ve made in the last, let’s say, 60 years? They are like the super-smart uncle who can make exotic dishes and criticizes television and likes weird art. But when he gets tipsy with his buddies, he appreciates Jerry Lewis, a smoke and techno music. Complex but simple. Oh, and their #1 cultural pastime is food.     

Shuffleboil: What the hell sort of happiness is this?

17 Nov

Yo! Gabba Gabba!

Check out the second installment of “My Next Top Reality” column featuring a few words on exploring the new world of children’s television.  Now in Shuffleboil.


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