Sunday, July 20, 2008

Thank You, San Francisco, Good Night!

Last weekend, I packed a (very full) bag and left for San Francisco to attend the BlogHer conference. I had a fun time—maybe a little too fun—and met some nice gals (and a few nice guys, even. At BlogHer—who knew?) Mostly I was there in support of Zwaggle, the sharing and trading network for parents. And I met my blogging compatriates from b5media, who were nothing short of a hoot. I camped out, for the most part, in the Zwaggle swag recycling room by day, and the piano bar across the street by night: Lefty O’Doul’s.

Oh, Lefty, how I adore you. I adore any establishment, no matter how sketchy, at which a man at a piano openly asks, “Any requests?”

“FREE BIRD!” I yelled, as we walked in the door. I continued to sing at the top of my lungs, arms draped around whomever was close enough, "requesting" songs that are obviously not a part of the piano bar canon.

“Play 'Sister Christian!' 'Ghost BUSTERS.' 'It's Raining Men. It's Raining Men. It’s Raining Men.' 'ALL MY EXES LIVE IN TEXAS!'”

And then there was my frequent, random demand for more cowbell. At the end of belting out certain songs, I liked to take the mic, throw a kiss to the audience and yell, "Thank you, San Francisco, goodnight!" My only regret is that I didn’t get enough sleep, not that I didn’t make some other conference gaffes. Live and learn.

Mistakes were made, understanding that they were bound to happen. First off, despite fervent warnings from everyone about finding a place at the intersection of comfort and style, I brought the worst possible selection of shoes that were neither comfortable nor stylish. A rookie mistake, which on the mistake spectrum is located far from taking your friend hunting, and then shooting him in the face, and closer to, say, sitting down to an evening of cable TV, only to discover that perhaps H.O.T.S. is not the kind of movie you want to watch with your grandpa. It was a slightly painful and long-remembered, but could-have-been-worse scenario for sure.

Next, I failed to bring my North Face down jacket, mostly because I didn’t realize that walking along the streets of San Francisco in July would feel like an Everest assault, temperature-wise. I brought a wimpy little jean jacket, a faux jacket really, a jacket that gives only the illusion of warmth and doesn’t even have good pockets. I mentioned one night while shivering on a street corner that Mark Twain said that the coldest winter he ever experienced was a summer in San Francisco. That was when my conference comrade and colleague Adam looked at me, deadpan, and said, “Really? I’ve never heard that one before.” I only mention it because you would think that someone who was so familiar with the saying would have actually brought a jacket. Just saying.

And I didn’t allot enough time for non-conference shenanigans. My cousin Kevin, who’s lived in the Bay Area his whole life, came to the city to meet me and catch up. We haven’t seen each other for at least ten years, and seeing him connected me in a new way to memories of visiting California every year as a youngin’. Kevin is a kind and funny guy who decided to attend Berkeley as a thirty-something after attending community college. He’s been running his mother’s tax preparation business since her death, and plans on teaching English as a second language to Spanish speakers. He's visited 29 countries, whereas I have visited about that many counties. We had dinner and a walk together, but it wasn’t enough. I can’t believe we don’t talk more often.

I also met up with…wait for it…a couple of MySpace friends, who happened to be in the city to see Eddie Izzard Saturday night. It was my first-ever MySpace moment; perhaps my first Internet-Only Friend moment, and I’m sure that there are people scratching their heads about what the big deal is. This is the part where I repeat: "I’m Amish, remember?" In short, they were totally nice, normal people with excellent taste in comedy, which is perhaps the best endorsement anyone can get from me.

In the "win" column, both my cousin and my MySpace pals commented on the quality and reputation of the Westin St. Francis, and it was all I could do to pretend like I had chosen it for that reason, dahlink. I have to agree that I was thoroughly impressed with the concierge who took my call the night I asked where I could get some Band Aids. He said, "I'll send some right up" with such enthusiasm that I wanted to call back and ask for a pony. Providing speedy free Band Aid delivery is the mark of a good hotel (are you getting this down, Frommer's), but it just so happened that’s where the conference was happening, and I got a really good rate on my closet room.

My plane was delayed in Salt Lake City both ways, but seriously, I don’t remember the last time I got to sit quietly in an airport, reading the latest David Sedaris collection and laughing until I literally embarrassed myself, instead of following around a youngster with too much energy, who insists on licking everything in the airport. It was like going to a spa, only a spa located in a cattle car instead of in a fancy hotel on Pearl Street. And instead of getting little fluffy slippers and a robe to wear, I was wearing the cruelest shoes money could buy.

And without shitting you in the slightest, I can’t wait to do it again.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sans Sans-A-Belt: A Blogumentary in 3 Parts

[Cue the Frank Sinatra music to go with the home movie footage of hip white guys hanging at the Sands or the Pink Flamingo or Caesar's, ca. 1971.]

[Imagine a black and white photograph] This is my dad, Frank, a first-generation American born in Colorado of all places, in the mid 1920s. Here he is walking the Vegas Strip with his friends, a bunch of other "goombas" that he's known practically since birth. Although they're of all shapes, sizes, and incomes, they pretty much all have one thing in common besides their Italian-American heritage: Their pants.

[Pan down] Note the multi-colored offering of polyester pants, which by the way, are a real bitch to crease down the front like that. (I ironed my dad's pants once a week from 1991-1993.) They aren't just any polyester pants, however. First off, as my friend and fashion guru, Suzy Ten Bears says, "They're not even really pants. I find myself wanting to call them 'slacks.'" And she's right, they are more like slacks than anything else. They're Sans-a-belt slacks.

Thirty years later, you could still see my dad, and most of his friends, wearing the same pants, by which I mean the exact same pants. Not a new pair of the same style of pants, but the very pants they'd been wearing all along. (For those of you who rage against the half-life of plastic grocery bags, please add Sans-a-Belt pants to your list of Things That Last Four Thousand Years in a Landfill.)

They wear them to the bocce courts, and to lunch, and to card games. They wear them to do all the same stuff they've always done, like stand around telling stories and gambling on...everything. Dad's got grungy pairs he puts aside for doing things like disassembling the sprinkler system in his yard, and digging up the flower beds. Shoveling snow, and what have you. He's probably got nicer pairs that he wears to tournaments and Olive Garden, and in-between pairs that he wears for watching Antiques Roadshow. He's an older guy now, my dad, which means that his favorite slacks are getting old, too.

And here we are: No matter how well you take care of a garment, it's bound to forsake you. It's going to wear out at some point. I think Shakespeare may have been hanging out with my dad and talking about slacks the day he walked home from Ye Olde Olive Garden and wrote, "therein lies the rub."

Dad's been troubled by all this, I hear. I can relate. The expiration of my favorite things is often cause for reflection, and reflection isn't always comfortable. There's the nostalgia. The stories. The history. I imagine dad patting one leg of his trousers and saying, "Before deciding that blankets were more appealing, the government approached me about using these pants to introduce smallpox to the Native Americans, but I would have no part of it."

Mom says that San-a-Belt pants slacks are hard to come by these days, and so Dad is hoarding them, as I probably would. They probably still make them, but unless you're a referee or clergyman, you probably can't get your arthritic, spotted hands on a pair anymore. Not one to make assumptions, though, (you know what happens when you ass u me, right?) I took a look for Sans-a-Belt slacks. Sure enough, there's a "dealer locator" page at the Web site, which is interesting. I've never thought of clothing as being something that required a dealer, but, well, we are talking about an American institution here, an iconic brand that is perhaps made of petroleum products and sheet metal.

My mom, a woman who still has the red hounds tooth polyester pantsuit uniform she wore every day of her career as a reservations agent for Western Airlines (from 1865 until I graduated high school), had finally had enough. She thinks it's time to move on. I kind of agree, although this probably means that Dad's only alternatives are jogging suits or Dockers separates, or cheap jeans from COSTCO. Really, it doesn't matter. Whatever's comfy enough to watch Matlock in while you openly discuss your bowels.

But take heart from physics, friends, because matter is neither created nor destroyed. There is, somewhere in the cosmos, little pieces of Sans-a-Belt pants swirling and mingling with other materials, becoming reincarnated--with divine guidance, no doubt--into something new. Something wonderful. And for those of us who fear change, who deny death its right to a speedy trial, for those of us who would forget that the world is an impermanent place, I say simply this: Dillards. I called, and while the news is not great, "I have only a very few pieces of them," they do exist in the here and now. For now.

So go on, take an opportunity to grab a piece of history. You can someday set a pair next to your piece of the Berlin Wall, your autographed picture taken with the drummer from Def Leppard back when he had both arms. Put them in your time capsule. And wait for it, the dawning of a new age.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Late, Great, Really Needy Mona Reale

One more post from the Grieving Mona files, and then I'm going to put posting about her passing to rest for a while. I'll stick to just the facts, ma'am, to avoid some of the blubbering I'm prone to doing when I'm terribly sad about things having to do with the creatures in this house. (Confession alert: I still get a little misty over the demise of Charles, the beta fish I rescued from my workplace four years ago. So.)

Last week, at the age of nine, we put our dog Mona down. She was suffering; we were all ready. It was hard. I've received many heartfelt condolences from friends and family, but this one is my favorite, for its mix of using just the right amounts of sympathy, understanding, realness, and irreverence. It's from my good friend and writing coach, David Hicks, and is also reprinted here without any permission whatsoever.

We were really, really sad to hear about Mona. She was a truly great dog. You must have been so sad, and Sophie must have been confused. Anyway, long live Mona, the neediest dog on earth.

I think that pretty much says it all. And also this: Thanks, Mona, for being our dog.