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    Tuesday, February 10th, 2009
    11:39 am
    Ben Stein's Commencement Speech
    I find it interesting — OK, hypocritical — of the University of Vermont student body to cause such a flap over comedian Ben Stein’s views of evolution. According to an Associated Press article, “That view holds that life is too complex to have developed through evolution alone, implying that a higher power must have had a hand in creation.” So Stein has withdrawn as commencement speaker.

    Wait, what ever happened to open-mindedness? What ever happened to tolerance for opposing views? According to dictionary.com, one of the meanings of “liberal” is: “favoring or permitting freedom of action, esp. with respect to matters of personal belief or expression.”

    And let’s face it, many UVM students would call themselves “liberal.” We should not tolerate every view, of course. Certain views — an affection for eugenics, for example, which Charles Darwin ultimately abhorred — should be castigated. But I find that so many campuses are, politically, at least, absolutely monolithic. And ideally, our college years afford us the time and luxury to explore a variety of viewpoints.

    When I left for college, my father wrote me a series of letters. Thankfully, I had the good sense to save them. And in one of his earliest letters, upon my arrival on campus, he told me to question what I’d learned, to challenge those viewpoints, but not throw them out indiscriminately. He warned against embracing the new merely for novelty’s sake. I’m not sure I took him seriously at the time. But now I get it. I really do.

    He also wrote, and I paraphrase: “I’m sure you’re taking over the place in your own nonviolent way.” How can’t you love a father like that to bits and pieces?

    Happy birthday, Charles Darwin. His b-day is Thursday, and he died on my birthday, April 19. Lots of people die on my birthday, which absolutely stinks. Okla. City bombing happened that day, as did the Branch Davidian madness. Columbine happened, what, one day after? And Hitler’s birthday is right around there. The Central Park Jogger was raped and left for dead on my birthday in 1989. April really is the cruelest month.
    11:38 am
    Frank
    "The Mighty Queens of Freeville” by NPR contributor Amy Dickinson looks yummy. Anyone take a look yet at her memoir? I am tempted to buy the book, but I won’t. I am in a major library mode for just about everything: memoirs, CD’s, DVD’s, cook books. I have Frank Langella’s “Starting Out in the Evening,” which I wouldn’t mind seeing, even if there’s a dirty-old-man (DOM) element. I think about 2 people saw that film last year. I’d like to be the third. Sorry, can’t link to the trailer (pesky disabled embedding), but it’s on YouTube, so look for Frank as an old professor there.

    P.S. I liked Langella in “Frost/Nixon” on Broadway, and I hear the film version works. Apropos of nada, I am glad the Quakers have Nixon. We’ve got Ponzi; they have to live with Nixon.

    No new signs from the dry-erase-board guy in North Brunswick. Maybe he’s getting shy. Sigh.
    Thursday, February 5th, 2009
    11:43 am
    Adjust Your Color and Look at Mr. Greene.
    Anyone see PBS’ “Independent Lens” the other night? They showed a documentary on the late Petey Greene, who was a radio and TV personality — and, lordie, what a personality — in D.C. in the ’60s, ’70s and early ’80s. I only knew of Greene from that Don Cheadle “Talk To Me” film. What a provocateur. (Look, Ma! No hands! I spelled that without looking it up!). Greene, who had grown up in poverty and ended up in jail, was funny, scrappy, surprising, offensive, an early rapper (what rhymes!), a social activist, just incredible and fascinating, and, honestly, a little intimidating. He brought on a young Howard Stern in black face, he brought on women’s rights activists and really let them talk. He brought politicians to task.

    Wednesday, February 4th, 2009
    11:21 am
    The Most Beautiful Ukulele Player I've Ever Seen (Though That's Not Saying Much)
    I found the ukulele player from "Scrubs"! I heart Stephanie Gooch, aka Kate Micucci. She's all eyes and nose and round face, like those bizarre little cartoon characters from the 1970s.


    Remember these?



    Here's Micucci performing with Common Rotation, sans uke but still totally crush-worthy:
    11:17 am
    "Joisey" this
    I wonder where Milltown Mel is this morning. I have a feeling he’s not coming out of his tree stump until long after spring break. At least he didn’t bite anyone. Did you see the groundhog in NYC bit Mayor Bloomberg? What do you expect — he was from Staten Island. I know, it’s mean to knock people based on geographical factors, but I am tired of Jersey jokes, even if some of them are true.

    The worst is when you go to, say, Dingle, Ireland, and a bunch of richy-rich people from Santa Barbara, Calif., say, “You’re from JOISEY?” And they laugh. They laugh at their own non-joke. And if you’re me, you tell them, “Only people who aren’t from New Jersey say ‘Joisey.’ ” And if you’re them, you don’t care.

    Santa Barbara is Dingle’s “sister city.” I’ve never understood that. Florence, Italy, is Philadelphia’s sister city. What does that mean, in real terms? That must be the brain fart of some errant p.r. person in Philly. I mean, what do Philly and Florence have to do with each other? I’ve lived in both cities, and I love them both equally, probably because the cheese is lovely in both places. Maybe that’s why they’re sister cities. Yup, it’s the cheese connection.

    Florence, not Philly:

    11:11 am
    Maira is my muse
    OK, so I read Maira Kalman’s illustrated book “The Principles of Uncertainty,” and I wanted to sleep with it beneath my pillow. Now she has a new blog on nytimes.com. Look at this lyrical thing: http://kalman.blogs.nytimes.com/
    Monday, February 2nd, 2009
    9:25 am
    The Winter's Tale
    I set my alarm for 6 a.m., but I woke up at 5:41 a.m. because I was nervous that I’d miss Milltown Mel.

    Say it ain’t so, Mel. Milltown’s unofficial groundhog saw his shadow this morning. He saw it in front of about 200 of us who had gathered to watch a squirmy animal tell us about the weather. Apparently, we’ve got 6 more weeks of winter. Six more weeks of gray and muck. Six more weeks until I can wash my car.

    I figured it’d be me, a photographer from the paper and Cathy and Jerry Guthlein in the parking lot of the Bronson-Guthlein Funeral Home on Main St. in Milltown. But I could barely get a parking space. The mayor made a proclamation. The Catholic priest showed up. I asked him if he planned to bless Mel, but he didn’t seem amused. I’m sorry, get me up in the dark and make me take notes on a groundhog sans gloves, and I’m going to ask someone about holy water.

    Everyone was there. I saw some people from grammar school. I think I saw the guy who took me to my senior prom, but I can’t be sure. I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of 200 groundhog lovers, so I didn’t say, “Hey, did we attend the prom together in 1989? Did we dance together to the theme from ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’?” Some things are better left alone. Arguably, Milltown Mel would have wanted to do a Garbo himself. When Jerry held him aloft — on a stage, no less — the poor little thing squirmed.
    Friday, January 30th, 2009
    4:53 pm
    Bruce by half
    This whole round of pseudo-hand-wringing about whether Bruce sold out because he’s playing the Super Bowl is boring. Springsteen is not the Messiah. In fact, I am always grateful that Springsteen was my tween and teen crush, because I distinctly remember his saying that he wasn’t an idol, he wasn’t perfect. And he’s just a guy trying to sell a record in these downloadable times. And he’s the best half-time pick in years. So, whatever. I’ll take 12 minutes of the E Street Band over Janet Jackson’s boob any day.
    Thursday, January 29th, 2009
    10:55 am
    I'll still post here, but...
    Please, bleaders, come to my house par-tay today at http://blogs.mycentraljersey.com/thoughtsicles/.

    My blog is big, beautiful and fueled by 32 ounces of caffeine. I'll write more later about, ummm, well, uh, I'm not sure. Anything could happen. I could change fonts. I could include a link to Ricky Gervais hamming it up on "Inside the Actor's Studio." I could wonder why James Lipton resembles a marionette. I could take that back because I really, really don't want this blog to be mean. And who knows? I may want to sit in that chair beside James and do the Bernard Pivot Proust questionnaire.

    What is your favorite word: cheapskate.

    What is your least-favorite word: turd (sorry, I'm doing this viscerally, from the proverbial gut. Gut is a great word, no?)

    What turns you on? Jeans. faded.

    What turns you off? Jeans. Dark. Stiff. Jordache. On a man. Oy, no.

    What's your favorite curse word? Bejeezus. I know, lame, esp. for someone who grew up in a garden of curses.

    What sound or noise do you love? Purring. Meow!

    What sound or noise do you hate? Nails. Biting. Bejeezus!

    What profession other than yours would you like to attempt: Sky diver. Is that a profession?

    What profession would you not like to attempt: Window washer. I'm not psyched about that harness. I prefer parachutes.

    If Heaven exists, what would you like God to say when you reach the pearly gates? "Hi, Sweetness."
    Wednesday, January 28th, 2009
    12:59 pm
    If I had a dollar for every banker's girlfriend who...
    Read this. Then roll your eyes. Then ask when feminism became the "F" word. Then wonder why women crave this sort of alpha male. Then wonder why these alpha males are in control of our money.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/28/nyregion/28daba.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=dating%20a%20banker&st=cse
    11:58 am
    Morning in America (without Ovaltine)
    I made the mistake of watching the news on BBC World News America right before bed. CNN is positively upbeat, shiny, happy and golden, compared to the BBC. Of course, I love the BBC version of the news, but, man, it's dark. It's America without the Zoloft. They did a great report on foreclosures in Miami, and let me tell you, the conclusion was decidedly apocalyptic.

    I can't forget what Irish comedian Tommy Tiernan told Hotpress magazine a few years ago. I saved it: "I did some work in America few years ago on a sit-com. And they actually think we're depressed. There's a psychotic pressure in America to be happy. And to APPEAR happy. Which is why there's the whole 'Have a nice day!' thing. And it's all about PROJECTING. Projecting happiness. And if you project enough, it might actually become a reality. At the same time, they go home at night and watch these TV shows which are all about (expletive) murder and rape. Hollywood is the biggest death factory since...the Nazis! Ha, ha!"

    The Nazi comparison is a little shop-worn, but I agree with the rest of the sentiment.

    Tuesday, January 27th, 2009
    11:29 am
    face it
    OK, so I don't care how many people Mickey Rourke has decked, ticked off or threatened over the years, he deserves the Oscar. Evan Rachel Wood really tears into her scenes with him. I can't believe her name hasn't been bandied about. Bandied! 50 cents, please.

    I saw "Revolutionary Road," and I am surprised, but I did not emerge from the theater wanting to hurt myself. The film is achingly sad, but it's great, too. Kate Winslet doesn't need words; she can act without them.

    OK, those are my 7 cents on the Oscars. Because, yes, my opinion matters.

    Meanwhile, my mother said to me yesterday: "I need you to do me a favor. Change your Facebook photo." When I asked why, she said I had shadows under my eyes. Apparently, I have a face that even a mother couldn't love. My mother very rarely criticizes me, so I must look Anna Magnani-tired.

    But I've rebelled. My fatigued fb picture is still posted, nearly 24 hours after the request. I think Mickey Rourke has inspired me.
    Thursday, January 22nd, 2009
    11:12 am
    Cawfee tawk
    I just wanted a cup of coffee, maybe a few pleasant moments in a coffee shop before heading into the wilds of the newsroom.

    Apparently, I was asking for too much because I got stuck next to a living soap opera, a fighting couple. She lied about something -- about being at the mall, I think. She admitted as much, but she was haughty about the whole thing.

    And he was texting or on his cell with some other girl, though my sense is he's not cheating. The whole back-and-forth was exhausting. Annoying. And soooooooo ridiculously Jersey: her with the French-press nails, him with the diamond earrings as big as bolts, her with the HAIR to THERE, flowy, puffy, highlighted in the most unnatural way possible, him with a vaguely suburban hip-hop vibe.

    And me with my magazine and my coffee and my first drafts, poised to spend a few moments in quiet. I didn't expect silence. I knew I'd hear the milk steamer and a bit of piped-in jazz. I can even take the cellphone murmurs.

    But the fights. So no to lovers' tiffs in coffee shops. I mean, my ex and I met at our favorite coffee place to divide up the house. We had a few disagreements about certain details. But we did it quietly.

    At least I hope we did.

    She wore a huge encrusted heart around her neck. I wonder if he gave it to her.
    Wednesday, January 21st, 2009
    11:12 am
    I'm vaguely disappointed that Michelle Obama is so into J. Crew. I really like J. Crew clothing, but it is wickedly expensive. So I swoop in for the end-of-the-season sales, ask for giftcards at Christmas and birthdays, that sort of thing.

    But now that the first lady is dressing herself and her kids in J. Crew, I fear they'll never be forced to put those boot-cut vintage cords on sale again. And that would be a shame. Unamerican, even. We need our sales.

    Still, I am also a bit happy she's into J. Crew because J. Crew models tend to be very WASPy looking -- square-jawed, blonde, lanky, bones, bones, bones, healthy, no-makeup types. Not a squishy face in sight. Not an ethnic nose to be found among the Sofia tea-length special-occasion dresses and the cashmere, wheat-grass-hued T-shirts.

    So Obama going for J. Crew? It makes an ethnic-looking whitey with a squishy face proud.



    Tuesday, January 20th, 2009
    4:38 pm
    Bitter swill
    I don't know, I think I expected some more memorable lines to emerge from Obama's inaugural address. Then again, our expectations were sky-scraping high. But I did love the phrase "bitter swill." Bitter swill! O, rapture! O, joy! Those are strong, chewy, evocative words. Here's the "bitter swill" context: "We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace."



    Well, I'm also partial to his use of the word winter. I thought he was about to say something about the "winter of our discontent." He didn't. He said: "America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."

    11:11 am
    Give him a hand
    As I said to my mother, even if Jesus H. (hmmm? Does that stand for Hussein) Christ were being inaugurated today, I'd still watch it on TV. I'm too claustrophobic to stand in those crowds.

    But still.

    Those crowds! How exciting and emotional to see the sea (see the sea!) of people standing on the mall.

    Meanwhile, this entry will test my descriptive powers for sure: This morning, at about 8:55, I was waiting in traffic on Livingston Ave. in New Brunswick, about two blocks south of Suydam St. I look over, and in an open second-story window, I see a pair of hands -- hands, wrists, forearms, crossed like doves, perhaps with a cracker? And birds are fluttering about the window, settling on the porch roof. The hands and forearms had no visible body attached. they were just...there. I looked over at another driver and mouthed, "This is weird." She nodded and smiled and agreed.

    Mystery. They were like the hands of a magician. Imagine: someone performing a magic trick for the birds in, what -- 25-degree weather.

    Meanwhile: feaky-weird photo. They have everything on the Internet, except disembodied hands that do magic tricks for birds in 25-degree weather.


    Monday, January 19th, 2009
    12:53 pm
    Tape O' the Month Club
    Siobhan gave me the most awesome birthday present in high school: a subscription to her "Tape O' The Month Club." Siobhan had a major music collection. She printed it onto a dot-matrix copy, gave it to me and told me to pick 2 albums a month: one for side A and one for side B. Luscious stuff: The Housemartins, Bob Marley, Joy Division, and of course the Screaming Blue Messiahs. I heard so many bands I never would have encountered on my own. Here's the Screaming blue Messiahs singing "I Wanna Be a Flintstone." Don't bang your head; bop your head.


    Friday, January 16th, 2009
    12:07 pm
    Portrait of an artist
    I loved Andy and Dwight's Prius/"soft underbelly" duel on "The Office" last night. Ed Helms is now my favorite actor on the show.

    Did anyone watch Bush's farewell address last night? I wonder. I gabbed on the phone with my friend Diana instead. That felt more edifying. She is incredible: a 21-year-old managing school and, up until recently, two jobs, one of which was in the back-breaking food-service industry in Manhattan. Anyone who says 20somethings want it all handed to them don't have a clue. This girl is working to stay out of debt, complete an undergraduate degree in art and remain sane. It's not an easy proposition. She is an incredible brainiac, a major thinker, thought not at all pretentious, and her art is special. She can BE somebody. But now Diana is contemplating nursing school because she wants to be marketable and "competent" -- not because she loves it. She's receiving pressure from family members to abandon her art. I hope she can stand tall. I admire her endlessly.

    Meanwhile, artist Andrew Wyeth died in his sleep last night. Here's "Christina's World."

    Thursday, January 15th, 2009
    1:34 pm
    Tucked in
    The weather isn't reflecting my mood. The snow? The gray? The safety of the snowflakes? The burrow-under-the-quiltness of the weather?

    That's my kind o' weather today.

    Wednesday, January 14th, 2009
    4:09 pm
    Joanie loves Tchotchke
    I just came back from a cool-beans salvage yard in Jamesburg. Remember: not a junkyard. I suppose "junkyard" isn't euphemistic enough, but remember: One man's junk is another man's treasure.

    Right?

    Right. I was a major junk junkie as a kid. I adored garage sales. I bought lunchboxes, books, tchotchkes galore.

    Now I'm more like my mom: I just think of these objects as more stuff to dust. So I have fun browsing, but mostly I keep my wallet to myself.

    Tchotchke!!!

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