30 09 2009


Have you ever noticed how the simple act of strapping on headphones can seal you off into a small, isolated bubble of emotions? 

I was on a long flight earlier this summer, and the only movie on the menu that I hadn’t seen was Marley & Me.  I didn’t want to see it for a number of reasons, but mainly because I knew the dog was going to die, and I hate pet-death movies.  But I told myself, Hey, you already know the dog dies, so maybe it won’t be that sad. 

Fast-forward 55 minutes, and there I am, squished in between two newspaper-reading businessmen, sobbing uncontrollably.  We’re talking balls-to-the-wall, first-boyfriend-just-dumped-you-for-your-best-friend kind of tears, shooting out of my eyeballs.  The flight attendant passed by to ask if we wanted peanuts, and she ended up offering me a box of Kleenex instead because I was so clearly distraught over the death of this fictional dog.  I can only imagine what it felt like to be sitting next to me, completely out of the loop as to why I was in hiccuping sobs with my face glued to this 4-inch screen.  Pathetic. 

Then there are the iPod walks.  Does anyone else do those?  I really wish I could rail against people who are constantly walking with headphones, because I’ll be the first to admit that it’s obnoxious.  We close ourselves off to each other and the world, not to mention the risk of being hit by a car or a fat policeman on a Segway. 

Last year, I had a mile-long trek to work every morning, so I would strap on my iPod and let it shuffle it’s little heart out.  Big Pun’s “Still Not a Player” comes on (a strong start, iPod shuffle!), and I’m timing my steps to the beat and gyrating at every corner in my pencil skirt and pumps.  I picture myself at that club in “Save the Last Dance,” where the white girl shows off her moves to a room full of highly rhythmic and talented black people.  Then the song fades to Radiohead, “Exit Music,” and my face goes somber and pensive as I contemplate the meaning of life and the plight of the Afghan woman.  

This won’t do, I decide, and I skip ahead to a “Let It Bleed,” that gloriously raunchy Rolling Stones tune.  Next thing I know, I’ve kicked off my shoes and decided to walk barefoot.  “What a square,” I think to myself as that man walks by with his briefcase, and I seriously consider playing hooky from work and pounding pints of Guinness at the local pub.  

Meanwhile, the outside world is still the same.  Everyone walking past me just goes about his routine, totally clueless about the emotional rollercoaster I’m riding to work.  I remove my headphones, greet the receptionist, and resume life as a social, interactive being. 

This can’t be healthy, right?


Restaurant Review: Ben’s Next Door

30 09 2009


Ben’s Next Door

1211 U St
Washington, DC 20009-4465
(202) 667-8880

For anyone who’s actually stuck out a 2-hour, post-midnight line at Ben’s Chili Bowl, the only thing more appetizing than an authentic Ben’s half-smoke at 2 a.m. is an authentic Ben’s half-smoke and a beer.

Enter Ben’s Next Door, a welcome alternative for fans of the original Bowl who don’t always feel like sitting on a picnic table in a puddle of someone else’s mustard. Owners Kamal and Nizam Ali, sons of the notorious “Ben,” hoped to complement their father’s successful dive with an upscale sister restaurant next door to the original.  But make no mistake—the only thing “Ben’s” about Ben’s Next Door is the bar menu, which offers Chili Bowl’s world-famous smokes, ‘dogs and burgers alongside an impressive draft list, nine flat-screen TV’s (why?!!!) and a number of clean places to sit.

Ben’s Next Door crackles with energy thanks to a young and trendy U-Street crowd, although the space itself seems conflicted.  In the front half of the restaurant, modern flat-screens face a sleek wall of black and white photos that nod to the rich history of the space, once owned by the immortal Jelly Roll Morton.  But in the back half of the restaurant, where the pricier menu is served, the warmth of burnt orange walls and a casual “How y’all doin?” staff is undermined by generic, corporate-style décor (didn’t I see those Peace, Love, and Relax signs at Bed Bath & Beyond last week?).

Unfortunately, this decorative imbalance is also reflected in the restaurant’s hit-and-miss menu.  While the brined fried chicken with braised kale evoke the bliss of a home-cooked meal in the Deep South, the so-called “perfect” mashed potatoes left this Southern girl grasping for a saltshaker.  The seared scallop and mushroom cream sauce appetizer really hit home, but the salmon entrée was overcooked, under-seasoned and altogether unremarkable. 

Next to nearby soul-food hotspot Marvin, Next Door’s food doesn’t hold a candle—and don’t expect to find Mr. Obama perched at a back table any time soon. But with a slew of fancy beers and a trapdoor to the Chili Bowl kitchen, this bar will never have to beg for customers.

Why I hate Betty Draper.

29 09 2009


Mark my words: this Halloween, the sidewalks will be packed with Betty and Don Draper impersonators.  I’ll admit it– I’ve already perused vintage stores in search of that fabulous late 50’s dress that makes me want to curl my hair, chain-smoke and instruct my imaginary children to “go play.”

Mad Men is already a cultural phenomenon, and, having seen every episode of every season so far, I can’t say that I’m surprised by the way America is voraciously consuming the show.  It’s like catnip for the urban professional– curvy women in stunning costumes, audacious men who spend their workdays drinking, smoking and sexually harassing the secretaries, long, dramatic silences that speak volumes.  

Mad Men hammers in its point about appearances in the late 50’s and early 60’s.  The women are expected to be effortlessly beautiful, happy and polite, to cater to men, to be tender, caring mothers and endlessly devoted wives.  The men are supposed to have it all together, financially and personally, to be powerful, no-bullshit leaders in the office and in the home, and to display absolutely zero emotion.

And then the show reveals the era’s ugly underbelly, the turmoil bubbling beneath the surface: married couples who fight behind closed doors, Don’s secret identity as a poor person (egad!), Betty’s psychological breakdowns.  But here is my problem: if this show is written by mostly women, why did they make Betty so incredibly boring?

Betty Draper is awful.  She’s a bitch, and she has nothing interesting to say, ever.  She’s a terrible, selfish mother in a perfect dress, which could be awesome to watch, except she doesn’t make that role interesting or comical in the least (even Ms. Palin managed to do that!).  I get that she is supposed to be this tortured, under-stimulated Sylvia Plath type, but even behind closed doors when there’s no one to impress, Betty has the personality of velcro. She makes two kinds of comments: bitchy boring ones, and benign boring ones.  

I fault these (allegedly) female writers.  They could have done so much with Betty Draper.  I want to see passive aggressive comments under her breath, or moments where the viewer sees a glimpse of her genius that will forever go unrealized as a result of her domestic imprisonment.  SOMETHING besides this woman that is so mind-numbingly spoiled, bitter and uninteresting that we cheer when Don gets his kicks elsewhere.  I mean, can you blame him?  The only thing worse than being married to a mannequin is being married to a mannequin that complains

That’s not to say I don’t sympathize with her plight– I do.  She has a philandering husband, she’s bored, she’s stuck, she’s either too young to be mom or not cut out for it at all.  But I’m going to gag if I have to watch another 10 minutes of Betty staring off into the distance with an ambiguous expression on her face. Please, Betty. Say something! Slip something in Don’s drink! Make your kids bake you pot brownies!  Get a weird habit, like pulling your eyebrows out! Women in the 50s were only supposed to be boring on the outside– did you not get the memo?

The Science of Attraction

28 09 2009


Love is complicated.  Physical chemistry is decidedly not– it’s either there, or it isn’t. 

Once upon a time, my friend introduced me to his very good-looking boss at a party.  This man was in his low 30’s, nicely-dressed, tall, olive skin (he’s from Portugal), and had that twinkle of mischief in his eye that always snags my attention.  Then he opened his mouth, and….

AAAAAAAAAGGGGGHHHHH!!!!  Brown teeth!  The misfortune! 

I was single at the time and would have loved nothing more than to meet a single, intelligent, worldly, handsome man such as himself.  But every time he opened his mouth, visions of skeletons and worms danced through my head like a post-apocalyptic horror movie. It wasn’t as if his teeth were just crooked, or simply yellow or unbrushed.  They were poop brown, thanks to years of cigar smoke. 

I decided I was being superficial, so I pushed myself to give him a chance.  Sure enough, this man was incredibly interesting and funny (damn!).  He told me about growing up in Portugal and working in Africa.  He speaks 4 languages fluently, asked about my tastes in music and books, talked about philosophy, made references to the story of Cleopatra and other interesting pieces of history and literature.  But throughout the whole fabulous conversation, my subconscious was screaming Death! Decay!  Stay away from this man! 

Sure enough, I ended up rebuffing his advances and never returned his call.  And since then, I’ve been absolutely fascinated by the biological reasons behind physical attraction.  I’ve gathered information from countless articles (here‘s a good one, if you’re curious), and I’ve discovered some verrry interesting facts.  

Physical attraction is mostly about sizing up another person’s biological fitness.  Women want men who look healthy and strong, who have symmetrical features, whose immune systems will complement our own, who appear to be the best providers of security and desirable genes. 

Men tend to be attracted to women who look the most fertile– large breasts, perfect hip-to-waist ratio, early-to-mid 20’s. 

Other interesting facts:

-Bi-racial people are often deemed especially attractive because their hetero-zygote genes make them the most immune to disease and deformity (as opposed to say, children of incest) 

-Women are attracted to more feminine-looking men during the least fertile times of their menstrual cycle, but are attracted to more masculine-looking features (including facial scars) during ovulation 

-Humans are most attracted by smell (pheromones) to the members of the opposite sex whose immune systems are the most different from our own.

Attraction is all about health, fitness and longevity; this man’s brown teeth signaled death, age and decay.  It is possible that, had his teeth not been brown, we could have fallen in love, challenged and entertained each other forever, produced a gaggle of non-cigar-smoking, white-teethed children.  But decades of natural selection took over, and they deemed this man unfit for a biological pairing with me.  

Isn’t that fascinating?  Anyone else have a similar experience? 





The Mamas and the (Sick, Twisted) Papas

27 09 2009


The Mamas and the Papas (John Phillips, far right)

The Mamas and the Papas (John Phillips, far right)



I’m sure you all have come across this story in the news: Mackenzie Phillips, the heroin-addicted daughter of Mamas and the Papas band member John Phillips, has written a tell-all account of her life that details a 10-year sexual affair with her father.  Apparently, he raped her at the age of 18 while she was in a drug-induced haze, and she continued to shoot heroin and sleep with him on and off for years until she became pregnant and was forced to abort the baby.   Story here:   

Phillips Confesses to 10-Year Consensual Sexual Relationship with Father

Mackenzie’s mother and stepmother are furious about the book and have both tried to discredit her story on the basis of her lifelong heroin addiction, but her sister admits that it’s most likely true.  It’s natural, of course, to want to sweep a taboo subject such as incest under the rug, lock it away in a vault.  After all, incest is thought to be something that those people do, the “white trash,” country bumpkin types from West Virginia that don’t know better.

But there’s a reason why the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) has reported an 83% jump in its website traffic and a 26% jump in its hotline calls since Mackenzie talked about her experience on Oprah.  People feel safe reaching out for help as long as they’re not the only ones that have had to deal with incestuous abuse, especially since the woman who came forward was not a “white trash” bumpkin.  She was the daughter of a wealthy rock star in California and an actress on a once-popular TV show.  

People seem at once fascinated and disgusted by the lurid details of Mackenzie’s abuse and her willingness to exploit that abuse for money and fame.  And honestly, I don’t care if she did a tap dance on the roof of the White House holding pictures of her naked Dad with a needle in his arm, because however sick her motivations are, she is opening a public dialogue about a topic that was previously unspeakable.  She is paving the way for millions of people to come forward and get help, and she is personally debunking the stereotype that incest only happens within a certain “class” of people.   

And on that topic, I strongly recommend that you read Bastard out of Carolina, by Dorothy Allison, one of my absolute favorite books of all time (so good I wrote my graduate thesis on it).  It is a semi-fictional novel dealing with class, sexuality, incest and abuse, and you won’t be able to put it down. I would love to hear what Dorothy Allison has to say about Mackenzie Phillips…

City Life

26 09 2009


I live with two men and two other women in a charming, spacious, mouse-infested rowhouse in Adams Morgan.

It’s not as bad as it sounds.  It’s actually kind of poetic.

My roommates are all very unique.  Mark just finished an M.A. program in Russian Studies.  He can often be found sleeping on our living room couch in his boxers at 10 pm on a Friday night, Russian techno blaring out of the TV.  Mark has been here the longest, so he usually alerts the landlord when a pack of mice declares war on our perishable food items.

Chris is really into fitness.  We have several massive vats of protein powder in our spice cabinet that he regularly whips up into shakes after a hard workout.  Unfortunately, the washing machine and drier are in Chris’ bathroom on the third floor, so sometimes when I’m heaving a load of laundry back down to my room, a pair of my underwear will grace his carpet.  He usually just points at them awkwardly from a distance until I come back up to retrieve them.

Jodi and I are not the manliest of women, but we’re also not the girliest.  Mark chose us from Craig’s List in hopes that we would regularly bake banana bread and keep the kitchen spotless.  Instead, we throw huge parties and ask him to pitch in for the keg.  Jodi and I only cook in other people’s kitchens because each night our stove gets a fresh new coating of mouse poop, and we just have better things to do with our time than to constantly wipe up fecal pellets.

Having just finished two years in the Peace Corps, Liz is used to mice, although we had to introduce her to the dog-sized rats in our back alley.  Sometimes a car will blaze through and flatten one, so we have to step around the carcass to get to the coffee shop.  The good news is, once a rat dies, the bugs decompose it so fast that all that’s left is the fur.  Fur doesn’t smell, and it can’t climb into the hood of your car and chew through your transmission wiring like a live rat can.

Overall, it’s nice to come home to a bunch of eclectic friends after a long day of not having a job.  City life is more than it’s cracked up to be.

Chivalry: Dead or Alive?

25 09 2009


One thing I find especially interesting about this city is the clash of Southern and Northern mentalities.  D.C. is definitely below the Mason-Dixon line, but somehow, since I’ve been up here, I’ve lost my cool Louisiana accent as well as my  tolerance for extreme heat,  alcohol, and socializing in general.  An old high-school boyfriend once asked me if I was “still living in Siberia,” referring to my 4-year stint in Charlottesville, Virginia.

I’m not sure where I fall in terms of this Southern/Northern divide, having grown up in the Deep South and then lost most of my outwardly “Southern” characteristics.  For this reason, I feel especially qualified to comment in an unbiased way on today’s topic:  Chivalry.

In my experience, Southern men are raised to be chivalrous.  They see it as a sign of respect and politeness.  The typical Southern man will automatically hop ahead of you to pull the door open, offer you his coat, give up his seat for you, buy your drinks at the bar, walk with his hand on your back (this one only in a romantic capacity).  Northern men, I find, often see this kind of chivalry as condescending and outdated.  In this post-feminist, post-women’s lib world, where women can run companies and countries while raising kids on their own, can’t they open doors for themselves and pay for their own coffee?

Well, of course we can.  But that’s beside the point.  Being a “gentleman” is about respect.  The concept of courtly or chivalric love dates back to a particular period of cultural upheaval in 10th/11th century France and Italy when the rich, landowning men were off fighting in the Crusades, leaving their blushing brides to run the fiefs.  Now that the women suddenly held all the power, the struggling serfs and artists began writing them poems of praise and endless devotion to gain their economic favor.  That’s right- chivalry began with a bunch of gold-digging men who pledged to prostrate themselves before women in the hopes of gaining power and land.

Back then chivalry was a sign of respect for women, not condescension, and it was an acknowledgment of the social and cultural power of femininity.  That’s not to say that failing to be outwardly chivalrous is a sign of disrespect; of course it’s not.  Things are quite different today, admittedly, as women are incredibly independent and self-empowered.   Traditional gender roles are not necessarily relevant anymore, but I don’t understand the cultural obsession with tiptoeing around the fact that men and women are inherently different.  Our hormones are different. We bleed for a week every month so that one day we can endure hours of labor to pop out a little mini-me version of YOU. The least you could do is open the damn door.

While it’s easy to cross the line between being a gentleman and being a chauvinist, I would argue that most heterosexual women still appreciate it when a man goes out of his way to show respect for the Grand Vagina.  Just because Hillary Clinton wears pants-suits all the time and rails on journalists who mention her husband doesn’t mean that she doesn’t love feeling a little bit feminine once in a while when Bill opens the car door for her.  And she shouldn’t be called silly or high-maintenance for thinking that way.  Know what I’m sayin’?

What do you guys think?  Agree? Disagree? Thoughts?