Remembering to Vote: From Teddy-Bear Caucuses to an Actual Ballot

“Do you even remember Bush Sr.?”

My friend Jimmy is 10 years my senior and likes to remind me of relative youth in a way that sounds as if I should still be wearing diapers. I like to remind him he’s 1 year closer a daily Cialis regimen.

“F–you. Of course I do. I even threw a re-election party for him. All my teddy bears were dressed in their finest,” I paused to give myself a moment to reflect before continuing. “Incidentally, it was the last time I ever voted for a republican.”

My Teddy Bears came out in fine fashion for a political rally when I was 7

Dear Readers, I should note that I was 7.

Indeed, In my extreme youth, I was quite the little politician and social activist.

In the 3rd grade, I started several clubs aimed at advancing civil rights while curtailing global warming. My Anti-Pollution Club was formed over a slumber party. The next morning, I made my friends go pick up trash along the sidewalk outside my house. By that evening, there was strife within the organization, and we disbanded on Monday morning due to “fundamental differences” with respect to our “founding principles.”

We didn’t actually use those terms, but we were 3rd graders in a national “blue ribbon” public elementary school.

There was also the Women Vote Too club, which was aimed at getting women the right to vote. We retired our efforts as soon as one of our members discovered that, thanks to something called an “Amendment” to a piece of paper called The Constitution, women already had the right to vote.

Again, we were 3rd graders in a public elementary school.

Like any good politician, I ran an illegal gambling ring.

Like any good politician, I also ran an illegal gambling ring. At summer camp, I convinced my counselors that we were holding intense Go-Fish tournaments, when really, I was teaching my fellow campers poker and making a killing.

You’d be amazed how much milk money kids got in the 90s.

Then in middle school when we had to select, memorize and deliver speeches originally spoken by someone else, I always chose key, historic political addresses. Susan B. Anthony’s defense to the court. President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech:

“And so, my fellow Americans, ask knot what your country can do for you –ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what American will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

Yea, I memorized that.

I also ran for student council.

For those few minutes when I cast my ballot, I am the all-power Wizard behind the curtain.

Every real election, I accompanied my father to the local fire hall that became our polling station. I would watch intently as he closed the curtain, flipped some switches, and cast his ballot. I felt he transformed into the Wizard in The Wizard of Oz — all powerful and all knowing.

The democratic process fascinated me. And I confess that at an early age, I hoped to live out the prophecy of the doctor responsible for bringing me into this world:

“She’s going to be our first woman president!”

20 years later, I can’t say I’ve remained so politically-minded. I have my causes, but my aspirations to follow in Kristen Gillibrand’s or Hilliary Clinton’s shoes are not as high as they once were. (Though, I wouldn’t mind being Chair of the President’s Committee on Arts & Humanities….which means, I’d better get friendly with a President.)

But, if there’s one thing I still believe in, it’s the power of the voting booth to transform.  For those few minutes behind the curtain, I’m alone with just myself and my choice.

I am the all-knowing and all-powerful Wizard.

“With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love…”

Some Call it Art. Some Call it Just Another Day at the Office. I call it Training for the Amazing Race.

Without fail, every season on the Amazing Race, there’s a challenge in which teams have to carry heavy, awkward things over long distances. I’ve always wanted to be on the Amazing Race and so I watch each episode with half a mind focused on how to prepare for when it’s my turn. But carrying heavy awkward thing over long distances is not the kind of thing you can easily train for.

Living as an art handler is like training to be an elite athlete.

Unless of course you’re an art handler.

Standing in the storage area of my gallery Tuesday morning were two 6-foot canvases. They were awaiting transport to an off-site location where my team was installing an affiliated exhibition. Given that I have a compact SUV with moving blankets in the back, I was the designated transport.

“Are you going to bring your car around?” my assistant asked.

My car was parked half a mile away. Down a hill.

“No. I’ll just carry them to the car.”

I ignored her doubtful/cautionary expression as she handed me the white gloves.

Curating and art handling develop good forearms. Thanks in large part to a power drill.

I had only walked five feet from the gallery when a gust of wind and a traffic light made me realize that this might have been one of those lapse of judgement moments. The canvas under each arm had transformed me into an urban sailboat, with only forearms for rudders. My floaty skirt that was keen to pull a Marilyn Monroe over the subway at any moment had to be ignored.

The old man who sits with his walker on the street corner and calls me “Cupcake” was, thankfully, enjoying the early bird special at the Legion.

With each block the canvases grew heavier. The wind, wilder. And all I could think is: Why, oh why did I insist on the extra set of bicep curls!?! The half mile to my car was the longest half mile of my life.

waiting for my life line.

People paused to gawk. Others dove out of my way. A few got bashed with the frames of the canvases’ stretcher. A beautiful man in a Mercedes convertible pulled over to ask if I needed a ride. He was wearing a Rolex… and a wedding band. I artfully (haha!) declined.

When I finally arrived at my car, I folded the seats down. Laid out the moving blankets. And proceed to attempt to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Neither canvas fit.

I sat down on the parking lot asphalt. My arms were shaking — there was no way I was carrying these back to the gallery.

Eventually, thanks to a “phone a friend” lifeline, I found a solution. The paintings did not have to be abandoned in the parking lot — a threat I had thrown at them as they leaned against the side of my car, mocking me.

When I arrived at the satellite site, I expected to find a world map welcome mat and Phil Keoghan waiting for me. Instead, it was just a series of white walls and another Road Block — a very large picture puzzle.

I expected to find Phil and the map waiting for me at the off-site location. Instead, it was just another Road Block.

The Story of the New Yorker Who Vacationed in a Surf Colony

Could this be what my alternate reality looks like?

It was as if a Fairy Godmother had descended from a dusty cloud of stars, waved her wand and transformed me from face-paced urban snob to laid-back coastal hippie. The sea-salt-curled hair, keene sandals, drying wetsuit, and “it’s all good, man” attitude were just a few signs that I was no Manhattan-bred fashion plate slumming it for a holiday in trendy BoHo digs. Tofino, British Columbia, was rapidly molding me into someone genuinely, contently crunchy.

Even though I abhor the west coast and all its pretentious talk of laid-back living, every time I head to Vancouver, I start to rewrite my life-plan. I vow to give up my East Coast art world habitat for a slower life on the side of a mountain next to the sea.

British Columbia’s coast offers me everything I need to keep me happy: family friends as a social network, a viable art market, an overabundance of artisanal foods and locally-raised edibles and a cadre of outdoor activities.

The province of British Columbia overbounds with locally raised produce

For most people, a vacation is a break from reality. When my parents were first married, they lived in Vancouver, so for me, a vacation in Vancaouver and the surrounding landscape offer a legitimate alternative reality.

It was a disarming realization.

As at home as I felt in Vancouver, it was the far west Vancouver town of Tofino that got under my skin. The girl who lived in the fast lane and never dined out wearing anything less than a Diane von Fraustenberg frock and 3-inch heels had reset her watch to Tofino time (west coast time, or 1/2 NYC time, halved again), and “will she ever recover?” was a fair question to ask.

Could I give up a life managing the scene above for a life managing the scene below?

I woke up at sunrise to do yoga on the beach. Half my days were spent on a surfboard or hiking in a rainforest. I went out to dinner sans make-up, totting a Kelty backpack for a purse, dressed in a tee-shirt and still-wet all-terrain shoes that had just survived an afternoon kayaking expedition. I hadn’t showered since Sunday. It was Tuesday. My biggest daily decision was: do I wear the long yoga pants, or the cropped running capris?

I returned home for the first time begrudgingly. I refused to move the “Tofino App” off my droid’s homepage and continue to check the daily swell report.

Don’t be surprised if one day you find me walking down Main Street, Tofino. Instead of having Glenn Lowry’s post at MoMA, I’ll own an art gallery/kayak-shop/bakehouse called The Former Urbanite and spend my off-days surfing.

And instead of that proverbial rich boyfriend, I’ll have a boyfriend named Harmony. He’ll have long curly blond hair and we’ll walk through the coastal rainforests holding hands, neatly matched in our tie-dyed shirts.

Instead of the proverbial rich boyfriend, I'll have a boyfriend named Harmony. We'll be neatly matched in our coordinated tie-dyed clothes

Clash of the Titans: The Tea Room tackles the Man Cave on Super Bowl Sunday

Emma Woodhouse vs. Aaron Rodgers, who will reign victorous on Super Bowl Sunday?

Super Bowl Sunday: an American ritual, perhaps exceeded in food consumption and togetherness only by Thanksgiving. A day when people gather ’round a roaring wall fixture (flatscreen TV), consume large quantities of poultry products (buffalo wings), and give thanks (for the prowess of the quarterback throwing for their team du jour). I’m not much of a football fan, but even I am compelled to take part in the festivities.

But there are more things kicking-off on Super Bowl Sunday than a football game. Super Bowl Sunday is the first Sunday of the Masterpiece Theater month-long Jane Austen marathon.

Girls, grab your tissue boxes and get ready for some Austenian happy endings.

I always envision one house on Super Bowl Sunday hosting 2 parties — a his and a hers, an upstairs and a downstairs, the tea room versus the man cave.

This year, everyone is going to Tony and Lizzy’s. Their recent renovation and Lizzy’s kitchen skills are the big draws. Tony put his year-end bonus into refurbishing the basement. A 65″ plasma hdtv, a surround sound system, 3 leather lazy-boy recliners outfitted with built-in coolers, a fully-stocked mahogany bar and beer fridge.

Upstairs the tea room vs. downstairs the chicken wings

Lizzy is a caterer who is in business with Anne, a pastry chef. Lizzy’s mini pizzas and 2-bite empanadas are legendary, and tonight, she’s one-upped herself getting a spread ready for the boys. Anne is bringing the English-tea themed baked items for the girls while Lizzy has prepared some canapes. Scones and clotted cream, petite cucumber sandwiches, and the requisite tea cakes are all arranged on the living room coffee table, in front of the second television and built in fireplace.

Downstairs, the guys are ready to go. There’s 2 die-hard Steelers fan in the pack — one has painted his face, much to his wife’s chagrin, and the other brought his lucky game-day football, which none of the Green Bay fans are allowed to touch. Two of the other guys are Jets fans and are rooting for Green Bay out of spite. The final 2 don’t watch football, they’re hockey fans, but they both annually buy-in to their respective offices’ Super Bowl pool  — they root for whatever team gets them closer to winning part of the pot.

Luckily, there are no split loyalties among the girls upstairs. This year, PBS kicks off the Complete Jane Austen with all three parts of Emma. Everyone is on team Mr. Knightly. Swoon. Armed with their well-worn high school issued editions of the classic and several boxes of tissues, the ladies are ready to go.

At the end of the night, all the women get to go home winners (there’s nothing like a happy ending) while half the male contingent goes home with broken hearts…all the men go home with heart burn — too many mini empanadas.

As for me in the real world? I tuned into the game… but skim-read the novel during the commercials. Who says you can’t have your tight ends and Mr. Knightlys too?


Who says you can't have your tight ends and Mr. Knightlys too

A Soundtrack for Yet Another Snow Day

A month and a week into winter and we’ve been bludgeoned by 7 snowstorms. Record accumulations. Headline clean-up catastrophes. Headline clean-up triumphs. Temperatures at historic lows. A persistent winter wonderland.

Enough with all this ice. Winter, I'm over you.

There’s another storm raging outside my living room window. The snow sits so heavily on bare branches that the wailing winds can’t budge them. Yes, if there was ever a January to ignore the world and cozy up in front of the fire with someone cuddly, January 2011 has been the January for it. But the novelty of mornings spent shoveling followed by afternoons spent snowshoeing, has worn off.  After 7 snow storms, I’ve had enough of winter. I’m over cozy. Give me sunny.

I’ve been looking at pictures of my last trips to Cozumel and Cuba, longing for a beach. To get me through another icy day locked at home, I’ve assembled a  summery, sing-alongable playlist that will hopefully get me through another snow day:

  1. We Gotta Get Out of This Place by The Animals — There’s a blizzard. It’s below freezing. Get me outta here. nuff said.
  2. Mercy by Duffy — These snowflakes have me begging the weather gods for mercy.
  3. Temperature by Sean Paul — please, give me some place (or someone) with the right mercury reading to shelter me from the storm.
  4. July, July by The Decemberists– It’s mostly because of the title, but the fact it’s a great sing-along song doesn’t hurt either.
  5. Louie, Louie by Chuck Berry — There’s something about Chuck Berry that always makes me think convertibles, flip-flops, and summer nights.
  6. Brazil by Pink Martini — Smooth and jazzy, a song about June moons and exotic love. Yes, please.
  7. Everything about Sheryl Crow makes me think of sunshine

    All I Wanna Do by Sheryl Crow — …is have some fun. Hypothermia is not fun.

  8. Pacific Coast Party by Smashmouth — Smashmouth always provides the quintessential summer soundtrack. This is a song about California, California sun, and California parties. It’s 40 degrees warmer in California.
  9. Someone to Call my Lover by Janet Jackson — Carefree Janet
  10. Alejandro by Lady Gaga — What’s a playlist without a little Gaga? And when vacations are on the brain, there’s nothing like daydreams about a Spanish lover to take you far, far, away. A winter wonderland doesn’t stand a chance.

Love Letters Lost

His name was Simone Volpini and we met on a blistering August night in Paris.

The penultimate city of romance - Paris - an Italian architect and the promise of letters exchanged. It was too good to be true

I was dining in an over-sized bistro sandwiched between the tall, blond, brown-eyed Italian Simone and a handsome gay couple who had spent the day at the Musee D’Orsay. The couple and I quickly dove into conversation after one of the men compared my full pink cheeks and white skin to a Renoir — it was the only time I felt compelled to like and discuss Renoir. After they paid their check and bid me bonsoir, Simone asked me if I was American.

Simone was from Rome and was the only son of an Italian architect. He drove a white Vespa and was studying to take over his father’s business. He spoke little French and equally minimal English. I read Latin but spoke no Italian. We giggled through a conversation of muddled pig-romance-languages while we sipped our coffee. He called me his American Beauty and walked me out into the street to help me find a taxi. As I slipped into the car, he handed me a piece of paper.

“You will write me. Your letters will teach me English. I will teach you Italian, and then you will come stay with me in Rome.” A kiss on the cheek and we were both off into the Paris night.

Back home in the states, I wrote Simone a letter. His handwriting was atypical for an architect — messy and non-linear — and I could barely decipher the address. His letter was returned to sender.

Alas, I would not get to play the part of Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday.

The sole letter I've received from a friend, celebrating our graduation from college 4 years ago. I still have it.

It had been years since I had thought about the love letter exchanges that never were, but then a chat with a guy I’d met early last week reminded me why I found the idea of a pen-pal romance so appealing.

“You’re working very hard to get me to go out with you,” I typed in the text box of gchat after having received a handful of flirty texts and emails over the course of the week.

“There’s nothing hard about sending you a text message or an email. I sent them on my way to lunch.”

Clearly, he wasn’t a smooth operator, but Chad had made a very good point: sending a one-line message while you’re working on other things is not very hard.

In the age of texting and sexting, we’ve come to expect constant and instantaneous messages of love (or lust). On the one hand, there’s something extremely romantic about receiving, at any time of the day, a note that lets you know your beloved is thinking of you. On the other, one wonders if this communication blitz doesn’t lack of bit of sincerity. If it’s so easy to key in an “I think I’m in love w u”  when you’re on the go, then do you really mean it? Texts don’t necessarily demonstrate commitment… sometimes I wonder if they might even be a sign of over-commitment.

Writing letters are hard. They require time and thought. They lack that benefit of instant on-screen editing and spell-check — your flaws are more evident. And it seems that sitting down with pen and paper is something we only do these days when we’re taking notes, that is, if we haven’t forsaken a legal pad in the name of an ipad. It was not so long ago that a letter, composed with pen and ink, was our primary means of communicating from afar.  We’re out of the habit of letter writing.

Call me old-fashioned but “Ever thine, ever mine, ever ours” reads so much better when it’s scrawled on paper.

I kept the letter I wrote to Simone and every time I travel to Rome, I stuff it in my backpack. It wasn’t a love letter, but just in case I run into a tall blond architect riding around the Coliseum on a white Vespa, I’d like him to know I didn’t take the easy way out.