Archive for September, 2006

House Porn

September 28, 2006

618191a_1 My husband is addicted to house-porn; he drools over gigantic mansions at bargain prices; the fact that they are thousands of miles from Silicon Valley is irrelevant to him. If he’s in the home office, late at night, tapping on the computer; or lying in bed with his laptop; he’s not frequenting chat rooms or surfing for naked women, he’s looking at real estate listings.
    He tries to interest me in his hobby. “Look at this house in Pittsburgh,” he told me last night. “It’s right in the city, in the absolute best neighborhood, has eight bedrooms and six baths and over 6000 feet of living space and it’s only $700,000.”
    I barely glance at the screen as he tries to interest me in the drawing room, the library, the wide hallways. I just don’t get it, and that hurts his feelings. Yes, it’s a nice house, if you like the stone mansion look. But it’s in Pittsburgh, so exactly why should I be interested? What I don’t say is that even if I wanted to live in Pittsburgh, the thought of living in a 6000-square-foot four-story mansion simply makes me exhausted—I’m tired enough chasing my three kids around a 2500-foot two-story house. Whatever I need is never on the floor I’m on; I climb that one flight of stairs way too many times in the one hour it takes to get the kids ready for school in the morning. And he’s drooling over a house with three flights of stairs—long ones, not to mention, the house has tall ceilings, of course.    “Just what is it that interests you about houses in Pittsburgh?” I ask. He thinks I’m teasing him, but I’m really trying to figure this out. He doesn’t have an answer.
    Today, I finally come up with a theory. It’s about reminding himself that, in the scheme of things, we’re doing really well. We could live in a mansion in the best neighborhood in Pittsburgh, indeed, in  most of the country. It’s easy to forget that, because by Silicon Valley standards, we’re just barely holding our own. Our house has not been recently remodeled and likely won’t be; though it needs it desperately, all that’s likely to be in our budget anytime soon is a paint job. We’ve got a house, which is out of the reach of many here, but it’s not a big house or a particularly nice house; it’s basically average. Yet we’re working really hard to feel average, because where we are, most everyone is above average. So it’s nice to know that, at least in Pittsburgh, we’ve made it.

What’s French for “Are you out of your frickin’ mind?”

September 22, 2006

Summer, a few years ago. A once-in-a-lifetime (at least since college) chance to have the entire summer off and spend it in France, with husband and three kids. After a month in Paris we have moved to a small town outside of Toulouse; a suburb, really, near a lot of tech companies. Not quite as big as Palo Alto; more like Los Altos.

It’s about a half a mile walk from our house into town. The town has four bakeries and two small grocery stores. I need to pick up a few things at the grocery store at least every other day. Inevitably, I have to go to both grocery stores; restocking is sporadic, and I rarely can find everything on my list in the same place.

I usually stop at the closest grocery store first. The proprietor is a bald, wrinkled man of about 60 years old; the cashier is about 20. His daughter, perhaps? I’m not sure. But it’s the older guy who invariably comes to my aid when I’m hunting for something, and politely tries to understand my college French as I tell him I’m looking for sun block, fresh milk (not the sterilized shelf-stable milk my kids won’t drink), peanut butter. I usually end up purchasing one or two items there, then go across the street for the final item, shrugging my shoulders in as French-like a manner as I can muster when he tells me that he is out of the last item on my list. (I try several times to go to the store across the street first; it doesn’t help, they’re always out of something too, and I have to endure the smirk of storekeeper number one as I pass his store without stopping in, only to return moments later.)

Some days I come in alone, sometimes with my husband, sometimes with all three kids in tow. After about the third week of this, the grocer has clearly decided that I’m not just visiting someone in town, that I’ve moved in to stay. He motions to me as I’m rummaging through the refrigerator case.

I figure he’s going to ask me what I’m looking for, so, in French, I tell him that he has fresh milk today, but not the low-fat kind, so I have to go across the street. Again. And this is not making me happy. He reaches for my hand, I think, perhaps, to lead me over to where he is hiding the low-fat milk. He holds my hand palm up, and then strokes the center of my palm with the middle finger of his other hand as he nods towards the girl at the register.

“You will come back,” he says, “later, around four, when I am alone.”

I have no idea how to translate “Are you out of your frickin’ mind?” into French. In fact, I can’t remember any French words at all. I’m completely paralyzed, thinking, hello, you’ve seen my kids. You’ve seen my husband. You’ve looked in the mirror. How could you possibly imagine….?

My husband is highly amused when I explain to him why he’s going to have to buy the fresh milk from now on. He’s impressed that French guys can think they’re hot even at 60. And thinks I should be flattered. I’d be flattered if the guy looked like Patrick Dempsey; unfortunately, he looked more like a skinny and less twinkly Ed Asner.

For the rest of our days in France, I do all my shopping at the grocery across the street, even if I only come home with half my list. I should be able to handle the guy, I think, I should be able to smile and flirt and move on. And I could have, if I were doing it in a language in which I could say more than “Est-ce que vous avez du lait frais?” And every time I cross the street, he looks at me, and shakes his head, and makes a tsking sound; “Ah, madam, you are so missing out, because, you know, I am so hot.”

And I am so hoping that I can convince myself that I’m hot when I’m 60 (although I promise I won’t hit on foreigners in grocery stores).

Tech-voodoo goddess

September 13, 2006

Img_0626 Every household has one person assigned to tech support; in my Silicon Valley household, that would be me. My husband fixes things when the fixing involves hammers and cordless drills; I fix things that involve technology. That means I’m the one that resets all the digital clocks, programs the VCR (yeah, we’re old tech still, no TiVo), changes all batteries, changes printer ink, troubleshoots the kids’ computer, and calls the phone company when there is static on the line.
    So even though my husband is in charge of the cars (oil changes, washes, and scheduling services), the car remote, with buttons and a battery, is clearly a high-tech item. That would make it my job.
    When we bought a new car three years ago, I recall the salesman telling me that when the remote died in about three years I should bring it in and they would change the battery. That sounded good to me.
    This summer, the remote died on schedule. I procrastinated for a while, but after a month of struggling to remember which way to turn the key in the lock, and having to run back and lock it after unloading multiple kids and gear, I admitted I was now spoiled by my keyless remote and needed it back in working order. I called the dealership to check their hours—and the service center guy told me they no longer did battery changes.
    Oh. Could I just buy a new remote?
    Sure, for $100.
    I didn’t think so. The service guy told me to go ahead and pry it open myself, I probably wouldn’t break it, and just take out the battery, buy a new one, and put it in. I did, and happily crossed the task off my to-do list. I went out to the car, clicked the remote, and nothing happened.
    This was not good news. I took the remote apart again, made sure the battery was in correctly (it was), and tried it again. Nothing.
    OK. I looked in the car manual, I googled around. I found out that changing a battery could make your car remote go brain dead and forget what car it’s supposed to be opening.
    This, I understood. My TV remote manages to forget what kind of TV it’s remoting about once a day; I know the formula, press the TV button down and hold it, then press 1-3. Clearly, the car remote just needed a little reminding. However, I didn’t know its language.
    The car manual said when this happens, take the car into the dealer for reprogramming. Too much trouble, I figured, instead, I spent an hour on-line and finally found an old posting of a purported solution. All I had to do was insert the car key into the ignition, turn the car on, and remove it—and do it all over again, and a third time. Then either open and close the door three times or lean over and push the car door sensor—the one that turns the overhead lights on and off—three times. Then push the lock button on the remote.
    I’m thinking, yeah, and then do the hokey pokey and turn my around, that’s what it’s about.
    Saturday morning I convinced my husband to do this little dance with me, though we both were suspecting that someone just posted this on the Internet as a joke. He stood outside the car with the remote and helped me count my sets of threes and I inserted and removed the key and pushed on the door sensor; he was in charge of pushing the lock button at the end of the sequence. First two tries, nothing happened. On the third try, all the car locks started madly flipping open and shut. We panicked; we figured we had done the voodoo wrong and angered the gods.
    However, after the locks stopped wigging out, my car remote actually worked. That was the good news. The bad news was that his remote, the extra one that hadn’t had battery problems, had now stopped working.
    We did the car hokey-pokey a couple more times; this time hitting the lock buttons on both remotes simultaneously. And the gods smiled, and the car and the remotes are one big happy family again.
    And I’m feeling like quite the tech-voodoo goddess.

What do you wear to PTA meetings?

September 7, 2006

“What do you wear to PTA meetings?” A Nordie’s super-shopper asked a group of Silicon Valley moms this question last week. I chirped out, “You’re looking at it.” She looked me over in dismay—I was wearing black work-out pants with white racing stripes and a matching jacket. These were my newest warm-ups, by the way, and the jacket and pants actually matched, which is huge for me. “Oh,” she said, “I guess times have changed since I went to PTA meetings.”
Instant flashback; 1975, autumn, strolling across the Michigan State University Campus on the way to class with a friend. We both wore overalls, Earth Shoes (now there was a fashion atrocity), and well-washed very-comfy flannel shirts. We had sweatshirts tied around our waists. A sprayed-hair woman right off the set of Father Knows Best stopped to ask us directions. We told her what she needed to know, but she couldn’t resist one more question before rolling up her car window. “Is that what you girls usually wear?” “Uh, yeah.” “Well times have certainly changed—do you really meet boys dressed like that?”
Actually, it appears times haven’t changed all that much.

The 80s are back

September 7, 2006

Img_0616 I took one message away from the Silicon Valley Moms Blog/Nordstrom’s Fashion Show: the 80s are back!
    When our fashion host made this pronouncement, I could barely stay in my seat, I was so excited. I loved the 80s. Back in the 80s I was in my 20s—who didn’t love being in their 20s? I lived in New York, I hung out with models (I was the token brunette in the crowd), I went to the clubs—the Ritz, the Underground, CBGBs, the Limelight, the Mud Club, Hurrah.
    And I loved the styles. I liked the Annie Hall look (which, by the way, was late 70s, but Nordies is calling it 80s so I will too)—big shirts, big vests. I liked the Flashdance look—ripped shirts, legwarmers—bring it on. And I liked the early Madonna new wave/punky/anything goes look—put whatever you grab out of the closet together with anything else you’ve got, the more it clashes the better. One of my favorite outfits involved ripped shocking pink thermal underwear worn as leggings with lipstick to match.
    As the evening went on, the Nordstrom’s fashionista made me happier and happier (in between moments of horror, I mean, what was with those $845 spike-heeled Jimmy Choos? $845 is a new washer/dryer (I covet a front-loader washer), not a pair of shoes).
    Anyway, she kept pulling out samples of the types of clothes I still have in my closet. (That’s right, in my closet, anyway, the 80s never left. As my husband will attest, my closet is like the Hotel California, stuff may check in, but it never leaves.)
    —Wide belts with big shirts. Check. I know I still have the belts, but do I still have the big green shirt I wore over leggings at the first party I went to with the date that is now my husband? I basically looked like Robin Hood. Today the big shirt/low belt look is even more appealing than it was in the 80s, back then I had less tummy jiggles around the middle to hide.
    —Short denim skirt. Got it. It was waiting for me in 1981 when I got home from work; one of those model-friends with a key to my apartment had liberated a pair of jeans from my dresser and turned them into the latest fashion trend. She had plans to drag me to a party at Chippendales, and didn’t want to hear that I had nothing to wear. I met a cute actor and on our first dinner date his agent paged him to offer him a Hollywood movie role. End of the dinner and the relationship. But I still like the skirt, even though my daughter says she’s disowning me if I wear it in her presence.
    —Skinny jeans. Yep, got them. I’m supposed to wear them with a long tight sweater? No problem. I have a great picture of me in about 1983 dancing in that outfit. Of course, there is no way I can bend my body quite that far anymore, but I have proof I once could. Can I still wear them with legwarmers? I have the legwarmers too.
    —Corduroys. Nope, lost my last pair in 1993 when I dislocated my knee and the EMT removed the pants with a sharp pair of scissors. I think I lost my love for cords as well, then I thought they looked touchable, now I think they look sloppy.
    —Vests. Now those, I have. One from I don’t know where, two I bought in a cute hole-in-the-wall boutique in New Orleans, late 80s, and one way too Urban Cowgirl, I think that one stays in the closet. I wore vests with stirrup pants when I first discovered the then newly trendy SoMa area of San Francisco. In fact, I think I wore them right up until they stopped fitting during my first pregnancy in ‘91.
    —Sweater coat. I had one, but I can’t find it anywhere. Where did it go?  I found sweater dresses though; I suppose those count. And long sweaters are somewhere on a high shelf, way out of reach. Now where did I put the stool?
    —A-line skirt with an irregular hem—I recognized that, too; I think it’s from “Fame,” didn’t the dance teacher wear it over a leotard? But I never got one. Still have the leotard, though. And the swirl skirt—I had one, but the spandex blew out a few years ago. Sigh.
    —Betsy Johnson dresses. Never my style, but it brings back fond memories of Club Med circa 1982, when I shared the beach with Betsy Johnson and her daughter, who I guess is all grown up now.
    —The one thing missing—jumpsuits. I did read somewhere that jumpsuits are back; I never chucked my favorite, a grey one that I thought was so hip I wore it the one time I had to interview a rock star. My husband hates it, thinks it makes me look like a janitor.
    So, I learned that for the first time in, oh, about two decades, I have a fashionable wardrobe. That did wonders for my self-esteem. And my husband will never be able to whine about my packrat habits again! Thanks, Nordstrom’s!