Sunday, March 29, 2009

Auld Lang Syne

This weekend we had dinner with a group of people assembled to see a friend as he blew through town on his way from Seattle back down to LA. As usual, we were happy to meet the friends of our friends and had a great time. Which, of course, we knew we would because of the email exchange that occurred in setting up the date, in which everyone was quite amiable. When we arrived at the appointed meeting place and were parking, Pete says (mid-parallel park, because he's so cool he can parallel and make observations at the same time), "Hey, that guy looks like B." And indeed he did.

Perhaps I did not start far enough back. Okay then, background. Pete and I met the first week of college in a freshman seminar on the Spanish Civil War. On the first day of class, there were 10 students. By the third week, I think there were 5, only 4 of whom remained at the end. Those 4 people were me, Pete, B. and a Czech girl, S. Now somewhere, lodged deep in the recesses of my memory, I knew that B. had lived in the same dorm as some of our friends, which struck me as rather small world at the time. But I had pretty much completely forgotten this piece of information and had not thought about it since.

We got out of the car and walked over to the group and sure enough, here is this guy that we haven't seen in 9 years, with whom we spent 1o weeks in a rather intense class (at least the professor was very intense)... and his 1-year old daughter. To date, I had not yet met the offspring of anyone I went to school with. I know people have had kids, but I have been terrible about getting around to meet them. Add to this the surprise that Pete recognized B. at a distance... Pete never recognizes people!

I spent a good portion of the evening chatting with B. and his wife, J., and watching them with their daughter. I feel like I frequently read about people running into old acquaintances and being envious of what they've done with their lives, or saddened, or bored, and that it really makes them reflect on their own lives and goals. But I can't think of many instances where people run into old acquaintances and are just really happy for them and how well things have turned out for them. (Probably because it's not a very dynamic position and doesn't really provide any insight into the characters.) But that is just how I felt chatting with B. after all these years. He and his wife appear to be really happy together, from what we saw he's a great dad, and he just seemed kind of quietly self-confident. And that little girl... oh man was she cute! And happy. She didn't cry, she didn't fuss. She was just happy the whole evening. It is my observation that children with really good parents are often happy with strangers and not fussy. She knew that whatever she needed, she'd get it.

(Minor Digression on Good Parenting from Someone Who Doesn't Have Kids But Does Have a Lot of Opinions: what really impressed me was how J. and B. gave their daughter plenty of freedom to make her own choices without ever taking their eyes off her. For example, whenever she started to toddle off down the street, B. would call, "Where are you going? Bye bye! Bye bye!" and she'd usually turn around with a big grin and toddle on back. When she didn't turn around on her own, he was at her side in about three strides, guiding her back to the group. She got to feel autonomous, pattering about on her own two little legs and he made sure she was never in any danger without being a helicopter parent.)

My point here is not to make anyone's ears burn or anything. More that our culture seems to worry quite a lot about what people will think of us in the future. We stress about reunions and running into old friends with whom we've lost touch. I know people who keep their Facebook page completely hidden to everyone they don't personally friend because they don't want anyone they used to know to find them. At least in one instance because they are certain that those people have not changed at all and they don't want to have to listen to the same old BS they suffered through in high school (over 15 years ago).

In my experience, though, running into people I haven't seem in 10 years is almost always a good thing. There are people at Craft Night where I can't believe we didn't hang out in high school and I totally regret letting 10 years go by without getting together. There are people I've only seen or talked to once in the last decade, but who have made incredible transformations out of bad situations. It is interesting to me that if my experience is unremarkable, those stories may be the most common, are taken for granted and therefore never make it into popular narrative. (Or perhaps I should say "the popular narrative", as in, the narrative constructed by popular culture as a whole.) And because the popular narrative spends so much time stressing over the less common bad reunion where everyone is better than you or no one has changed, that is the popular motif.

Questions: Is it your experience that running into old friends or acquaintances is generally a negative experience? Is it anything you ever give any thought to? Do you look forward to your next reunion? Do you keep your Facebook page hidden because you're pretty sure everyone is still an idiot (okay- that's probably true; I know I still am) or is it more for professional considerations? Does MySpace make you feel epileptic? (Off topic, yes, but still a valid question. My answer is: yes, yes it does.) Have you ever looked at someone's Facebook or MySpace page and been sad for them? (I have only had that happen with MySpace and never with someone I know.)

You thoughts: I want them!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Quick Knits

I usually don't blog about knitting because I assume most of the ten or fewer people who may or may not read this would not be interested. Also, it is good to not let one part of your life take over all parts of your life. But I have finally found the perfect baby shower gift that is handmade, not too expensive, can be done in five days (if you can knit for 5-7 hours on each of the first three) and is not a hat. Erika Knight's Classic Cashmere Sweater from Simple Knits for Cherished Babies took me literally three days to knit. Today I will block it and tomorrow I will sew it up. If I had been smart and bought the ribbon for the ties in back when I bought the yarn, I would do that tomorrow too, but that will have to wait until I can make it to the fabric store.

It's a neat pattern that has you knit the sweater all as one piece. The only seams will be at the sides.
You start at the bottom front and knit up to where you cast on extra stitches from the sleeves. I used the single loop cast-on from the Knitter's Handbook, at least I think that's what the cast-on is called. It's the loosest or second loosest option, which seemed important. I don't think you want baby knits to be too restrictive, and very firm cast-ons and bind-offs lead to stiff seams.

Once you get to the neck opening, you knit each side individually. But you don't have to dump the stitches for the other side anywhere; they can just hang out on the end of one of the needles until it's their turn. To me, that makes this pattern psychologically easier and faster. You need no special equipment, just yarn and a single set of needles*. When both sides of the neck opening are complete, you knit across all stitches again, binding-off the arms when wide enough, and suddenly you're done. I found the pattern to be well written and easy to use. It has little hints at the beginning and in the text describing the pictures that have to be integrated as you see fit. For example, the hints suggest slipping a stitch at the beginning of each row of the sleeves so that when they're folded back there will be a nice little detail at the cuff, but the the pattern doesn't say, "Sl1, K to end; Sl1 P to end." It just says "continue in straight stitch until x inches long."

I used RYC Cashcotton DK for this, in colorway Fresh. It's a mix of cotton, microfiber, angora and cashmere, so it pretty much feels like the squishiest, nicest thing ever under your fingers. The pattern calls for three skeins and I bought four with the intention of making a little hat to go with it. So far I have used one and a half skeins, so I think I will make little booties too. Conventional wisdom with baby knits is that they should be machine-washable, and I typically agree with this. However, I think there's some wiggle room for newborns, as they won't be able to wear it for very long before it's too small, so a handful of hand-washings is probably not too onerous, if the knit is nice enough to warrant the trouble. And trust me: this yarn warrants any trouble you care to take. It's that amazing.

*Of course, I consider a crochet hook for weaving in ends, an embroidery needle for sewing up and scissors to be the essentially, taken-for-granted tools of every knitted item. That should go without saying.

Thursday, March 05, 2009


While Pete watched the Blazer game on TNT (with its unlistenable commentators), I subjected myself to a little piece of probable masochism and watched "Enchanted" streaming on Netflix. They couldn't perform enough of those songs at last year's Oscars and I've always kind of wondered what all the fuss was about. My expectations were very, very low. And you know: it wasn't a total and complete waste of my time. It was mostly a waste of my time, but Patrick Dempsey's irritated rejoinders made much of the movie almost bearable. And I liked the little post-feminist twist at the end; very cute.

What surprised me was how empty I felt once it was over. I have ranted in the past, out loud if not in this blog, about how much I hate the unrealistic standard set by romantic comedies for what love and relationships are supposed to be like. There's so much focus on "happily ever after" that girls who grow up watching too much of that dreck are woefully unprepared for the quotidian realities of a real, long-term relationship.

AN ASIDE: I feel I should offer the following disclaimer before going any further: I am one of those irritating people who is happiest doing the most mundane relationship/household things. I love going to the grocery store, I love long days in and out of the car running errands, I love chatting in the kitchen while I make dinner and Pete does the dishes... And I also had the nerve to marry my best friend, so we genuinely get along and enjoy each other's company.

SO... why do people usually watch romantic comedies? Because they like the sensation of vicariously falling in love. Now the whole deal with "Enchanted" is that it's supposed to put the lie to the fairy tale "happily ever after"- that given a dose of reality, even an animated fairy princess would realize you can't base a lifetime of "happily ever after" on a single duet and a mutual attraction. But it's still a romantic comedy, so the princess in question (named Gisele) has to fall in love. And she does. With real world New York divorce lawyer Dempsey. And it's very cute: she forms an attachment with his daughter and we find that she is less worldly than a six year old. Predictable, but not over done. So that's something.

ANOTHER ASIDE: One thing I did like is in the beginning, when Dempsey decides to let this strange woman sleep on his sofa - mostly because she's already asleep - he tells his daughter he wants her to sleep in his room that night. (Oh, keep your gross nonsense to yourselves, you guys!) It's exactly the kind of thing a real parent would do: protect their child. And mostly movies don't bother with stuff like that because they're too worried about how it would look that a grown man is telling a six year old to sleep in his room. And of course they would trust the trustworthy stranger! Why not? Also: the very first scene where we meet Dempsey's daughter, he's picking her up from Karate and gives her a book on great women, like Marie Curie and Rosa Parks. My feminism's all a tingle! Bravo, "Enchanted;" you did two things that were both surprising and charming.

ANYWAY... Because "Enchanted" makes it so abundantly clear that the "ever after" part is a long time and "happily" is going to take some time and consideration even if you do fall in love at first sight, I was surprised that it so closely followed the usual story arc for a romantic comedy. The big climax is that she falls in love with him, and "ever after" is glossed over in a "dancing around the apartment as a family" montage as the credits begin to roll. I wish that it had condensed the current plot down to 30-40 minutes and then spent an hour showing us how that relationship works.

I mean, this woman made me think of the first verse of Ben Fold's Five's "Kate": "She plays wipe out on the drums / The squirrels and the birds come / Gather 'round to sing the guitar." I mean, she called all the rats and pigeons in New York to clean a dirty apartment... with song. (And yes, the singing is very, very annoying. VERY ANNOYING.) How long is her unworldliness appealing? How do they get her a social security number? How did she start her little clothing business? And did she steal it from Dempsey's former girlfriend who accompanies the prince back to fantasy land? There are so many questions! It could have been a kind of brilliant surrealist mystery- the detective or IRS man nosing around the apartment, assuming her dress company is a money laundering front. Her saying, "I bested the evil Queen of Andalusia or wherever I claim to be from: I think I can handle the IRS." Cut to Gisele sitting in a little office in a bland government building, drooling with boredom, muttering "You're the evilest queen!" before passing out. Then the IRS man hates her because he thinks she's anti-gay! Hilarity ensues!

Okay, so that last bit was a terrible idea. I can own that. My point is, I really wanted to see what life was like for a pragmatic, cosmopolitan divorce attorney and single parent who (ostensibly) marries (and certainly at least moves in with) a magical virgin with all the wide-eyed optimism and sophistication of a small child. I wanted to see how she did as a parent; did the little girl ever get to be a little girl, or did she have to keep giving her step-mom advice, like, "don't wear too much make-up or you'll look like a slut." (That is really a piece of advice she gives Gisele in the movie, though not in those exact words.)

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Sydney Makes Things Up About Rebecca Haarlow (7)

Rebecca Haarlow penned a screenplay for "Undercover Blues 2: Son of Muerte" that was never made due to Stanley Tucci's belief that audiences would not buy a complicated backstory involving the characters played by himself, Park Overall and Dave Chappelle.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Sydney Makes Things Up About Rebecca Haarlow (6)

Rebecca Haarlow owns a variety of wigs and false moustaches for the purpose of starting waves at the various sporting events she covers.