I've joined Jette's yearly Holidailies challenge this year. The participants all promise to update at daily for the month of December (or at least a minimum of 20 of the 30 days). I thought this would be a fun way to keep me on a daily-posting regimen. I've been enjoying posting this often, more than I would have guessed, but December is a tricky month and a little external incentive can't hurt.
If you want to join and haven't, you should know Jette is closing registration tomorrow (December 1st). (And check out that way cool portal for all the sites.)
Back from a four day weekend up the coast, where we encountered seals and ostriches and hawks riding the thermals in a cloud-laden sky and pebbly, beautiful Moonstone beach with driftwood and overwhelming sunsets and the clarity of thought and not-thought that only clean, sharp sea-and-salt-and-earth air with a hint of firewood can bring. Not to mention a restaurant with a half hour minimum wait for turkey dinner and thatís with a reservation (but the food wasnít bad and the waiter was courteous) and another, so-tiny restaurant with true gourmet food and no wait (but not on Thanksgiving), where the atmosphere was less peaceful than you might think due to the enormous family celebration taking up fully half the space (though it was a guilty pleasure to canít-help-but-hear all their toasts and speeches) but the food and the place more than made up for that oddity.
And oh yes, there was also the boat with huge underwater windows, the hordes of silvery Jack smelt shooting by in search of fish flakes and an occasional glimpse of underwater duck butt. And the winery found almost by accident yesterday and the apple farm with homemade apple crisps for sale in their small shop and the Danish smorgasbord in the faux-but-yet-real Danish town of Solvang on the way back to LA. And the cottage, a vacation rental in the wooded part of Cambria, with high wood beams lending the living room majesty, with garden paths and lavender and the smallest lemon tree, with a history of its own to tell, of a gift from Hearst to a craftsman who worked on his castle a few miles to the north.
But mostly this weekend was about the clean, clear air and the swirls of clouds and the ocean water washing and polishing the pebbles so they shimmer as the waves recede and we all played canít-catch-me with the next oncoming breaker and Damian laughed as we ran until he was exhausted and the sky was dark, gently lit by a crescent moon. Mostly about the dry tan sensuous curves of hill dotted with trees like blankets thrown carelessly on a couch and that hawk guarding the skies above, playing tag with the wind. Mostly about the pines and the windblown cypress and the cliffs and the stars poured onto the sky in such extravagant profusion and as you stand outside to look in amazement, your cheeks feel the bite of cool air and all you can hear is the crackle of your childís feet on brush and dry pine needles. Mostly that.
I'm off for the weekend, thus breaking my posting-every-single-day streak (Oct 4th through Nov 26th, not too bad). See you on the other side. And if you're American, have a happy Thanksgiving and try not to kill any family members, okay?
Tonight Damian looked at his Bob the Builder cup. For once he wasn't checking out Muck the bulldozer. (His usual comment: "Muck is on every Bob the Builder thing. Even my underpants.") This time he was reading. "F--iii---xxx. Fix. That says Fix. Want to know how I know that? Because it start with an F and F is fff, and then there's an I and I is iii and then it has an X, which is kx. So that's how I know it says Fix." He went on to read "it" and then "Dig it" on the other side of the cup.
The other day, he started reading his carton of milk. "Hoe-rii-zone," he said. He got the vowel sounds wrong, but that's one of those bizarre vagaries of language, after all. He got the rest right. And then he drank up his Horizon brand milk with gusto, having for the first time learned its proper name.
There's something so miraculous about this ordinary moment in the life of a child. Starting to fit letters into words, starting to make sense out of the curves and lines he sees all around him. It's like deciphering a map, decoding a foreign language. Opening a new set of eyes. In a way, it feels impossible. As impossible as taking a first breath, learning to use the potty, learning to talk. It's one of those huge steps that separate before from after.
My kid is beginning to really, truly read. Tonight he said, "Yeah, because I'm learning at school." Then he said, "When I'm a grownup, if my kid wants to read books, I'll read to him every day." I believe him, too.
In the waiting room at occupational therapy today, Damian decided he was thirsty. So when his OT came up, he was chug-a-lugging my sports bottle. He kept drinking while she and I chatted. When he finally came up for air, he explained that he needs water before he exercises. Which necessitated my explanation that Iíve been exercising a lot recently, which is no doubt where he picked that idea up. She said ďI can see you have. That explains why you look soÖĒ and she paused. ďSkinny.Ē
It was a compliment but it didnít sound like one. It sounded, in fact, like it was a little difficult for her to say. More difficult was knowing how to answer it. Sheís a heavy woman. Iím guessing at least 250 pounds. I like her. I respect her. Her weight is such a non-issue itís not in the same room as being an issue. But here it was for the first time, and it made both of us squirm.
Something about this weight loss adventure Iím on, this trek toward a 22 BMI, has made me lose that self-consciousness about talking about weight. Iíve clicked on enough before and after pictures of women at all sizes, read enough accounts in weight loss blogs and forums, listened to women and men talking at Weight Watchers meetings, talked and thought enough myself about the myriad emotional and practical issues that come up along the way that, just like bowel movements and projectile vomiting lose their eww factor shortly after you become a new parent, this subject has lost the sting of taboo for me. But I know it hasnít for other people.
What I wanted to say to her when she complimented me in that dead tone was: ďItís been a long time coming. Itís an amazing feeling. (It is.) Itís easy. (Itís not.) It makes me feel giddy. (It does.) I know youíre a strong, smart woman. Take the jump! Come on in, the waterís fine!Ē (Well, a little chilly sometimes, sometimes overwarm, but overall, feels good.) ďBut only if you want to, of course, only if youíre ready.Ē
But I canít. I know sheíd take it as an insult, a criticism, a judgment on her body and by extension her theoretical lack of willpower. It wouldnít be. Itís been hard getting even 22 lbs off and the twenty or so more to go feels daunting and so far away. I can imagine what it would feel like to face 100 or 150 lbs. I can imagine wincing, shrugging, saying ďFuck it, too hard.Ē But thereís a man in my Weight Watchers group. Heís lost 90-odd pounds. He's probably past the halfway mark on his journey. I admire the hell out of him. Heís there every week, heís working hard at it. Heís going to make it to his goal and when he does, Iím going to stand up and salute him because he will have done one of the hardest things anyone can do. Hell, to come this far without falling off the wagon is impressive enough. Itís got to be amazing for him to experience his body that differently. Every week I think about telling him some of this, about saying ďYou impress me,Ē but I worry that heíd take it wrong. I worry that Iíd sound patronizing because I have less to lose even though thatís precisely why I admire him so much. Because he has and does and will and itís such a huge mountain heís got to climb and my little foothill seemed so enormously impossible at first to me. And so I havenít said anything, not yet.
I wish weight wasnít such a fraught issue, that it wasnít ringed around with so many superficial judgments about who and what it makes you to be overweight. I know thatís a ridiculously naive wish, but Iím willing to bet that if we could all drop the embarrassment and denial, if we could each acknowledge the elephant in the room and say ďYeah, itís there, and yeah, I can do something about it if and when Iím ready to but not until and unless that happens,Ē if we could all do that, if we could speak frankly about how it feels to be in our bodies and if we could flush away the stigma thatís attached to that Ė well, I donít know what because thatís so far from here and now I canít even imagine it. But it would be better.
If that exchange today was instead: ďHey, wow, you wrote a book,Ē I could say ďYeah, want to read it?Ē And she might say ďI always wanted to write one,Ē and I could say ďIíd be happy to share a few tips if youíre ever interested.Ē But in this case? Not going to happen. Sheís not going to say ďI wish I couldĒ and I canít say ďYou can if you want to but youíre a cool lady either way.Ē We canít go there because of the stigma of even saying the words aloud. It makes me sad.
We told Damian we'd buy him a toy when we went out shopping today. Halfway through the outing, he remembered. He turned to Dan and said, "Daddy, you said you were going to bite oys. What's an oy?" Said with an angelic, wide-eyed I-am-not-pulling-your-leg look.
But my favorite pun of his remains the time I was walking with him through a store. I told him I had to go pay. He said "But the bathroom's back that way," pointing. "Well, you said you had to go PEE, right?"
Plays with the sounds and meaning of words, makes up elaborate stories. Please don't tell me he's going to be a writer. I can't think of anything I'd love/hate more.
I was struck by a recent entry in Tiny Coconut. She talks about parenting models: Attachment Parenting and Taking Children Seriously and others, how she sees value in bits of each but each parenting modality demands too much that doesn't fit her as a mom.
I know exactly what she means. Though I chose to label myself an attachment parent, it was more in overall philosophy and approach than in the exact parameters. For instance, I couldn't tolerate co-sleeping for more than a month or so. Damian was a wiggler and I was up all night. So many childrearing philosophies seem to say it's all or nothing and that you must subsume your own needs for your child's. The problem with this, as TC points out, is that it sends your children a problematic message. She thinks about what she hopes for her daughter as she grows:
And I realize--and this is where the light comes on for me--that I don't want to raise her to be someone who feels compelled to subjugate all or even most of what she is as an individual for her own children.
I like her solution:
I guess what it all comes down to is that I want my children to see me care about and for me, because I want them to do the same for themselves when they are adults. I also want them to see me care about and for them and Baroy and friends and family and sometimes strangers in need, because I want them to do the same for others when they are adults. And so, lately, I've been making parenting decisions through that prism. Makes it much easier to sort things into column a and column b, to pick and choose from the parenting philosophies that call to me, and yet discard that which seems to be contrary to my goals.
I think this is an admirable approach. I've been doing the same, or trying to. It's difficult at times, balancing his needs and my own. This is why I haven't wanted a second child, not because I lack the desire but because I know I wouldn't be a good parent anymore, that two children (and at least one with more needs than your average kid) would turn that teetering, tentative balance into a permanent imbalance. As it is, sometimes I think I don't have enough of myself to give Damian. But when I can give enough to myself -- writing time, exercise time, friendship time -- I become a happier and therefore better parent. I'm more present and involved with him, not just going through the motions. And it's true, I am also showing him by my example that these things are important. Work you love, taking care of yourself, people in your life. The choices I make in my daily life affect how he grows almost as much as what I teach him through direct interaction.
Food for thought.
Tired tonight, so I'm going to send you to others who have done the thinking for me. First, Kat, who has channelled the spirit of Theodore Geisel and hit me where it hurts. Also, Allison, who has an interesting point about the whole Michael Jackson furor.
And to all a good night.
Tonight during the long car ride home (I hate Thursdays: I have to drive across town during rush hour), Damian told me his friend Corey's minivan doesn't have an air conditioner vent in the back seat. I told him it does. He said, "Oops, I mean the red car [our '88 Accord] doesn't have them."
I was a little taken aback, but ended up with this: "You did mean Corey's car, I think. But you made a mistake and you wanted to pretend you didn't."
He agreed, sounding small and sad. "It's not okay to make mistakes."
I said the only thing I could: Yes it's okay to make mistakes. In fact, everyone makes mistakes. Every single day. Your teacher, she makes mistakes. I do.
And I told him of one he'd just witnessed on the ride home -- I unintentionally cut someone off. The guy was very mad but that was because he didn't know it was a mistake. (Also because he was an ass, but that's a different homily altogether.)
Damian thought about this for a minute while we headed into the lights of West Hollywood. He commented on the neon-bright stars lining the street. I thought we were done with the topic. But no. A moment later, "Why do people make mistakes?"
"We make mistakes because we're just learning something, or because we forget. I made that mistake because I'm just learning how to drive this car and I didn't know what to do at that moment. You made the mistake about C's a/c vent because you forgot. Everyone makes mistakes, sometimes because they're tired, sometimes because they're thinking about something else, sometimes because they just don't know. It's okay. It's normal. When Daddy gets home, let's ask him what mistakes he made today."
That seemed to help.
The subject came up again during the bedtime ritual. Dan told Damian a mistake he'd just made when he came in the door: he'd asked Damian if he was done with his ravioli and could Daddy eat it? Only thing was, Damian was eating lasagna. Which the kid was happy to point out.
So Dan mentioned that mistake. Damian smiled a little in recognition. Then Dan said "It's good to make mistakes."
Damian, of course, wanted to know why. Dan said "Because we learn from our mistakes. Mistakes are a big part of learning. On The Magic School Bus, Ms. Frizzle always says 'Get messy, take chances, make mistakes!' That's because you can't learn anything if you don't take chances and if you're doing something new, you'll make mistakes and then you'll learn what to do different."
I think this has been with Damian a long time, this fear of making mistakes. He didn't try to walk on his own until we set up a row of big water bottles across the living room floor so he could take a few steps from one to the next, never in danger of falling. Never in danger of making a mistake. I think he doesn't draw much now at least partly because he's afraid of doing it wrong. His issues probably make this more acute, but I think it may be part of his personal makeup. It makes me sad. When we fear life, we don't live. If there's anything we can do for him as parents, I hope it's this: I hope we can teach him to fall flat on his ass, having taken that step on his own, having tried and failed and gotten up to try again.
When I read Open House two years ago, I loved Elizabeth Bergís perfectly observed moments, revealing character and emotion obliquely but acutely. I reveled in so many moments as I read, nodding, saying ďyes,Ē and ďoh,Ē and ďmmm.Ē It was like warming my hands in front of the fire after coming inside from a snowstorm. Lovely. So when I picked up her newest book, Say When, I was anticipating more of the same. Not the same story, of course, but that sense of wonder, the mundane made revelatory. Lovely but simple language. All that.
Sadly, I didnít find much of that at all. Itís not that this is a bad book. Itís not. But itís like eating a solid and unexciting, slightly chemical-tasting Hostess cupcake rather than the freshly made, light as air Angel Food Cake feel of the first book.
Iím not sure if itís the subject matter: a woman says she wants a divorce. We see the entire thing from the husbandís POV. This may be problematic because his story isnít all that interesting. Grief can be, certainly, but this is not a man who thinks deeply, at least not until late in the book. And where his mind goes Ė imagining them together, she and her new paramour, for example Ė itís just not that fresh. And the way his wife explains the lack in their relationship, in him, as well as his own memories of their time together, well, a lot of it reads too generically.
I feel like Berg took the easy way out with a lot of this. The story is more internal than external, which is hard to pull off, because you damned well better make that internal life interesting and textured. And this wasnít, not nearly enough. The best part of the book, to my mind, was a subplot about what itís like to be a mall Santa. That felt original. That had life to it. Some of the rest did too, in spurts, but added up to not enough. The imagery also lacks the spark I expected. One of the best moments in the book is when he tosses his wedding ring into a field, a spur of the moment thing. And then immediately regrets it and goes scrabbling in the dark for it, only to come up empty handed. That I liked for the melodramatic gesture and the real pang that follows, that "oops, didn't mean to do that, can I take it back?" Other things stand out too, particularly secondary characters: a waitress, a restaurant owner, a fellow Santa. But not enough of the main character does. Heís a bit dull, poor fellow. And so the book is too.
I have to admit, I've always scoffed when I saw people posting pictures of their cars. I mean, it's not like the car's going to smile at you or do something unbearably endearing. It's a car. It sits there. And if you know the make and model and the car's new enough, you can find the same photo on the manufacturer's website. If you want, you can in fact find the selfsame car at the dealer or even probably on the road during your ride home tonight.
However. We just bought a brand spanking new car. Our first such purchase in fourteen years, and this is the only one that wasn't already, um, gently worn. In our life, this purchase is a Very Big Deal. I think we're allowed to fetishize it a bit, don't you?
(Besides, you were here for the whole car buying saga. It would feel incomplete without the visual payoff, no?)
So here it is on the lot the day we bought it, all shiny and new:
And a side angle, because I know you just can't get enough:
Ain't it cute? (In its very large way, I mean.)
When we got to the dealer late Saturday morning, Eager Young Salesguy was nowhere to be found. We had him paged. Still no sign. Dan went outside. The guy was showing a car to a Korean family. Not just any car, a pale blue Sienna with a metallic sheen. The exact car weíd come to haggle over. Coincidence? They scattered quickly after we appeared. Again, coincidence?
Salesguy had told me on the phone this would be his first sale. We think that Korean family was his own family. Itís an old sales trick: make the item look more desirable by having someone else show interest. Jealousy and covetousness supposedly kick in: ďNo, get away, thatís mine!Ē Didnít work. Toyota of Hollywood had a dark gray one in stock. I like dark gray too. His attempt was oddly endearing, though.
He ushered us, not back into the sleek glass-enclosed gray-tiled showroom, but into an unimpressive two room shack in the middle of the lot. Interesting sales tactic. Underwhelm your customer?
It quickly became obvious we were dealing with something a little different from the hard-sell pitch weíd expected. We talked for a minute with Eager Guy and then he called someone else into the room, a slim Korean woman with a no-nonsense mien. Turns out Mr. Smarm from our first visit had vanished with the mist, off to another gig. Thank god. This new manager was hard to read but was clearly a sharp businesswoman and the crap factor went way down the moment she walked in the room.
She was the fleet manager. I didnít know exactly what a fleet manager was, but Iíd figured out during the course of all those phone calls that it was a good thing and meant someone who can really do business with you. (For a definition of fleet manager, go here.)
I need to back up here, fill in a missing piece. As we had walked up to the shiny new blue Sienna a few minutes earlier, weíd spotted a sticker. This Car Equipped with LoJack. LoJack Not Included in MSRP.
Apparently every single car on the lot had been equipped with LoJack, an admittedly wonderful feature but one you had to pay eight hundred dollars for the privilege of owning. Yikes. There goes our thousand dollar savings off sticker.
As we walked to the ramshackle office structure, my hopes of buying a car that afternoon started draining away. Goodbye, pretty blue car. Goodbye, drive to Cambria in that pretty blue car. Hello, more phone calls and more overly cheery salespeople. Hello, more pins-and-needles car buying angst.
But we were already here. What the hell. We stayed to see how the meeting would go down.
So when the fleet manager came in, I laid it all out. We got this quote from Valley Toyota, we donít expect you to match it but weíve also gotten a thousand below MSRP from dealers around town and we do expect you can beat that. But aside from all that, thereís this LoJack price. Thatís a big pill to swallow.
She started to sell us on LoJack. What choice did she have? We said yes, itís good, we know that. But we calculated what we can afford for this car and this is not it.
Stalemate. They canít take the LoJack out once itís in. I was sulky and unhappy and obviously ready to walk. The fleet manager suggested we pay invoice price for it: six hundred dollars. Dan said, ďReally, thatís what you pay? Because I saw it on the internet, thereís a site that advertises it for five hundred, complete with installation.Ē
She was flummoxed.
He offered to pull up the site for her, but her office isnít online. She finally said sheíd match it if her manager approved.
We continued the negotiation, but there wasnít much more to it. She wrote down a figure, excluding the LoJack. It was $1150 lower than MSRP. It was pretty much her final offer. I added the numbers. The total was a few hundred more than we had planned to spend, but hell. LoJack = peace of mind. Dan had wanted it all along. I did too, honestly, but just didnít want to pay for it.
I frowned and looked torn for a while longer, but really I was just seeing if sheíd do anything else for us. She wouldnít. So we said yes and walked away feeling good but not amazing. I felt like a non-negotiator, like the deal was pretty much done before we ever walked in the door and it was just a matter of doing our homework. And the end result was only a hundred bucks or so better than everyone else who gets online car info can get. Nice but a little anticlimactic, you know?
But hereís what I realized today: if you take the accessory package into account (floor mats and whatnot, came with the car, part of the deal but jacks up the sticker price) as well as the LoJack, we got the car for $1484 under MSRP.
Today Iím feeling pretty damned proud of us.
We saw both of them, the fleet manager and Eager Young Salesguy, again today when we took care of the final steps: fixing the purchase order (our names were misspelled), bringing the loan payment, writing a check for the last of the down payment and oh yes, picking up the car (woo!). As we were saying goodbye to her, she said she knew when we came in with all our facts that we knew too much and she wasnít going to do a song and dance, just be straight with us. So we got a good deal. For real. She told us we were good at it. She has no reason now to lie.
It also became apparent that sheís taken Eager Young Guy under her wing, she wants to teach him the trade. She told us he reminds her a lot of her younger brother. So she wanted to make this transaction happen for his sake, to give him the satisfaction of a first sale.
It makes it all more human, you know? Itís not us against them. Itís just people thinking carefully about a huge investment and other people thinking carefully about how much theyíre willing to give in to make that happen.
Iím glad to have gone through this. I like that this brand new baby car has a birth story. Born of a savvy Korean midwife and her brand new assistant, adopted by a family who embraced the new child with open arms but also open eyes. It feels good. Really good.
It felt damned good driving the car home this afternoon, too. Wow good. It glides, this big carosaurus of ours. It soars. It practically flies.
Want to know how to fix a printer, bake a cake, buy a car? Go to the web, young woman, get on the web. If youíre talking about cars, go to Edmunds.com. We learned a lot there about our particular car-to-be, how it felt in the real world and how much people were spending on it. Answer: all over the place Ė at sticker as well as thousands below (for higher end models, where the dealer markup is bigger so thereís more room to negotiate). We also learned how to play this game.
Dan sent out a query through the website, telling dealers what we wanted and asking about availability. We expected email responses. We got a few but mostly they called. Me. Well, of course. I was at home. But I wasnít really prepared for these phone conversations as I went about my morning. The thing about talking to salespeople, particularly car salespeople, is that youíre both playing a little coy game, not revealing how much you want this or how much youíre willing to give up in order to get it. Hard to do when youíre unprepared. But I took down car info and their price quotes and said weíd get back in touch.
One guy emailed with the subject line: Do you hate car salesmen? And then went on to give a pitch for himself as a non-salesman that sounded an awful lot like a sleazy sales line, ending of course with ďCall me!Ē
Car salespeople are lonely, apparently. They all wait by the phone hoping for your call like lovelorn teens. Over this past week, Iíve been inundated. You talk to one and say you might call again and he waits a day and a half and then calls you again, just in case. And, oh, yes, sends an email just in case you didnít get the phone message.
The Hollywood Toyota guy sent an email with ďI talked to your lovely wife.Ē (How can he tell how attractive I am on the phone? Does he have a video phone that records even what you donít transmit?) and went on to link to some special ďlowest price guaranteeĒ he offered so you wouldnít have to worry about buyerís remorse. Uh huh. California has a no-cooling-off-period law, where the moment you walk out of the door with your car, youíre stuck with it. No walking back in and saying ďOops, I just made the biggest mistake of my life!Ē Which also means if you go back and say ďI found it cheaper elsewhereĒ? Theyíll laugh in your face as they cash your check.
In the midst of all this, we got a quote from the Hollywood guy for five hundred under sticker price, the North Hollywood folk for a few hundred under and a guy in La Crescenta for a thousand under. When we got that one, I did a little huzzah dance, because I knew that would force the Santa Monica guy to keep to his vaguely floated offer of ďas much as a thousand off.Ē We had no real intention of going to La Crescenta, but it was nice to know it was out there, waiting for our money.
We also realized through our research that our initial plan to lease the car was, well, insane. Through Danís union, he could get a loan for a low interest rate. With the same down payment weíd planned and a slightly higher monthly payment, weíd own the car outright in five years instead of having to pay the thousands a residual would be to own after the end of the lease. I think leases are good if loan interest rates are considerably higher. Theyíre especially good if youíre the kind of person who wants a new car every three to five years. Us? Weíve had the Accord for fourteen years, the Corolla for fifteen. We raise cars like kids, not letting them go till theyíre teenagers.
We applied for the loan. The woman at the credit union suggested I call a guy at an auto club sort of place, said heís gotten great deals for other members, he does the haggling for you. So I called. I told him what we wanted. He called back later, left a message on the machine: ďItís going for at or above MSRP, but I got you a great deal!Ē (imagine the trill of excitement in his voice) ďI got you five hundred off the sticker price!Ē
Um, yeah. When I called him back a day later and told him his great deal was not so great, he told me I was a wheeler dealer and didnít need him. (Said with a laugh and meant as a compliment.) Iím no wheeler-dealer. I just use the Internet the way nature and Arpanet never intended. And you, sir, arenít nearly as good at your job as you pretend. Theyíre all salesmen, these guys, even the ones who are pretending theyíre on your side.
Back online. Dan found a useful website full of nothing but Sienna owners. Itís comforting to be contemplating a car that has such loyal owners they want to obsess about it in their very own online club. The site has an owner photo gallery; I expected minivans against gorgeous sunsets, minivans clad in nothing but their sexy car bras, minivans driving straight up the sides of huge, vertical mountains. The truth is more mundane. People want to show what their color car looks like, or they want to show the non í04 owners what theyíre missing. Oh, and apparently there are now í04 Sienna taxicabs in New York. Cushy. Also funny to see my new ride in bright yellow.
What the site had, more importantly, was a discussion about what people got their cars for. Most do get it for lower than MSRP these days. A thousand off for an LE is doable if you haggle. More would be a miracle. I think itís good to have a semi-objective way to measure your own ability to negotiate. If youíre asking for invoice price on a hot car, youíre either a magician or youíre in for a rude shock. But if youíre willing to spend MSRP on a yawner with incentives and rebates out the wazoo, youíre being taken. Itís important to have a sense of the market. (She says, with her two weeks of experience at this.)
Thereís one Toyota place in Central California, about four hours northeast of here, that sells cars at $750 above invoice. This is obviously a fantastic deal. However, thereís a little matter of getting the car. I talked to one of the guys on the phone and it sounded like theyíre so busy they canít keep up with the demand. Thereís a wait for cars. Hell, thereís a wait for their return phone calls/emails. And then thereís the small matter of potential shipping costs and the fact that the Toyota advertising charge varies from region to region and itís higher in that area than here (itís considered part of the invoice price) and itís not quite as attractive a deal as it looks to begin with. Iím sure if weíd waited and been persistent, we could have saved hundreds of dollars. But not thousands. And weíd probably be waiting till January (they don't currently have our model/option package in stock). And we have this trip to Cambria on the horizon. And my momís visit in December. And we want the car, damnit.
So okay, maybe Iím not as cool a customer as I should be. Iíd be happy to get a Prius there when weíre ready to replace our Accord and already have one newish, comfy car, but right now local and convenient is worth a few hundred bucks, rightly or wrongly.
I sat down late in the week to make follow-up phone calls. When I broached the idea of $750 over invoice, every single dealer choked on his coffee. (And then went on to tell me thereís got to be a catch. I said no, itís just a different business model. Less profit per car, more cars sold.) But when I talked about a thousand below MSRP, nearly every dealer was willing to meet that price. Even Eager Young Salesguy from our first, tentative foray into the world of car sales. He promised, in fact, that if we came into his store, heíd not only meet but beat the price. ďBut not by a thousand!Ē (The spread between MSRP and invoice for our car is somewhere between $2000 and $2500, depending on what source you use for the invoice info.)
What the hell. I made an appointment for Saturday.
We just bought a car. In theory, anyway. Itís still sitting on the lot awaiting the money transfer from the credit union to the dealer, but that should happen Monday and then, voila, new car. After fourteen years, we have a brand new car. Itís so easy to spend money when you make up your mind to do it, isnít it?
Two weeks ago (is that all? It feels like months) we test drove two cars. We could have driven more, but we Ė and Damian Ė donít have much more patience than that and the choice really was between minivan (So big! We only have one kid! So big! And did I say big? Long too.) and smallish SUV-type vehicle (SUV! I hate SUVs, at least I think I do! Are we really considering an SUV? And itís so tall, and itís got a tire on the back, and itís tall and did I mention? SUV?), with perhaps a station wagon thrown in there somewhere (because theyíre no longer the station wagons of our youth, these wagons are almost sexy. Well, okay, not sexy. But theyíre more like real cars than the other two, and they do have all that room in back. I remember crouching in the long back part of a station wagon when I was a smallish person. Fond memories of creamsicles dripping all over the beige carpeting, the smell of suntan lotion and the sound of other children bickering.). A sedan would be fine for our second car, but we needed something bigger for the main child-transport device.
So we narrowed it down to the Toyota Sienna in the minivan class and the Honda CRV standing in for the SUVs. Both have better-than-average emissions, which is important to us. Both have tolerable mileage; theyíre not Priuses (Priuii?) but theyíre no gas guzzlers either. Both got solid reviews. We figured weíd look at a Volvo station wagon if we had time, but the moment I slid into the driverís seat of the Sienna, I realized the truth of what Danís been saying for a long time: itís nice to be tall on the road. You can see over the heads of the squat sedans and youíre big enough to feel on par with the SUVs. With all those SUVs on the city streets, I often feel like an ant about to be stepped on. A minivan? Not an ant.
When we walked onto the Toyota lot, a young Korean salesman wandered over. He gave us a tour of the cool fold-down seats, the power side door, the second row windows that actually slide open. He was so young, with a round face and a slightly worried smile. He didnít give us the hard sell, but he was alert and obviously hungry.
We test drove the car. Dan drove it to a parking lot a few blocks away. I sat in the passenger seat and gripped my knees hard with my fingernails. Iím going to drive this thing? I canít drive this elephantine monster! Iíll back it into a hydrant, roll over the curb, run over an old lady crossing the street with her seeing eye dog. Iíve only ever driven sedans before, little things. How can I, a short person who only learned to drive as an adult and still doesnít really believe she knows how, how can I do this?
Turns out? Itís easy. Turns out? Feels like a car, just roomier. You learn to adjust. Itís like a car is your body and when you suddenly gain weight, you can still maneuver in space, you just allow for more heft. Or maybe a better metaphor: You put on a huge old-fashioned dress for a costume party. Maybe it has a big bustle in back. At first youíre afraid youíll hit the caterer in the face, cause a champagne glass disaster, but after a surprisingly short time you get used to your new shape in the dress and can glide around the dance floor without smacking into a single musician.
When we got back to the lot, Eager Young Salesguy went inside to get keys for the Highlander, Toyotaís midsized SUV. But while he was in there, we caught sight of the emission info on the window. Um, no. Not gonna go there.
Eager Salesguy ushered us inside to ďlook at some numbersĒ on the Sienna. Close the deal, he meant. Which was ludicrous. But we went. He sat us down in chairs and split for a good fifteen minutes. Damian checked out the SUV parked in the middle of the showroom floor. Salesguy came back, accompanied by Slick Older Salesman. Who sat down and oozed smarm Ė um, I mean charm. He talked to us about monthly lease costs, about down payments and residual values, but somehow never about total price. Though he did say he could come down as much as a thousand if we got something on the lot as opposed to something heíd have to order for us, it felt like a bait and switch in the making, that there was a hidden cost, we just had to figure out what.
We smiled, thanked him, left.
Car Lot Number Two. Where the bathroom was a tiny closet in the back, where there were more cars than desks in the showroom, where everything seemed a little scuffed at the edges. Which shouldnít and doesnít matter. But the salesguy? When we asked him to compare two cars that were side by side (we meant option packages), he said ďThis oneís six thousand more. Six thousand dollars!Ē And never did tell us what options it had. I found myself wondering how much inventory this guy sells and if this was some kind of reverse sales tactic. If you look like youíre not eager to sell, maybe people are more eager to buy? Or rather, to buy elsewhere. We decided if we liked the car, weíd find ourselves a different Honda dealership.
The CRV itself was nice but it felt small after the minivan. It was clear within minutes that we both preferred the Sienna. Itís cushy, a car you can move into and take a nap, all stretched out and comfy. Oh, and drive too, of course. But Damian liked the CRV better. It had cup holders in the second row, you see. He wanted a place to set down his juice. He got outvoted. The Sienna is not without cupholders, after all. And Iím not entirely convinced this should be the primary consideration when purchasing a vehicle for several thousand dollars. He came around when he realized heíd be just like his buddy Corey now, theyíd both have minivans. Amazing what peer pressure will do.
Next step: research.
My head is buzzing with dealer holdbacks, license fees, invoice vs. MSRP and the lovely ad cost the manufacturer often folds into the deal.
Yep, we're going car shopping this weekend. Nervous much?
I had a dream last night; I was in a pharmacy with Damian but had to leave and go to a bank-like place. I ended up leaving him there, supposedly under some bank clerk's watchful eye, because I had to go back to the pharmacy and haggle -- I clearly remember haggling taking place -- over my purchase. All the while standing there and thinking "I have to go, I left Damian in that strange place, what if something happens to him? I have to get back to him, this can't take as long as it's taking, I have to get out of here."
Funny, I thought I'd be nervous about the transaction, the potential for dealer sleaze and smiles, the very real possibility we'll be scammed or that the attempt will be made, at any rate. But really? I think I'm most nervous about being trapped in a car dealership for hours on end with a restless, bored five year old. The rest I can handle.
Over at The Usual Suspects, they (we?) have this fascinating interview project in process. Everyone who participates chooses two people to interview, the interviewee answers five questions and then turns around and interviews two other people.
Toni interviewed me. She asked hard questions, too. Here are my lengthy answers. Oh, and if you felt like coming back here afterward and and leaving a comment, that would be fine with me.
I've been meaning to link to Leaving Los Angeles since I found the site a couple of weeks ago. I was going to write something pithy about how I too want to get out, how this city is a kind of purgatory (Dan's phrase for it, years ago, coming back to haunt me) where lost souls drift, neither heaven nor quite hell. Welcome to the Hotel California; you can check in any time you like but you can never, no not ever leave. Except that she is leaving and I wish I too could slip out the back, leaving behind nothing but my shame.
But I mostly don't read this blog (more of a journal, really, a journal of the past) because I empathize with the sentiment. This is a damned good writer (no surprise there, she's a successful journalist) and the life she's led here makes mine look positively suburban and dull. I've met a few celebrities, had a few strange encounters, but the stories Nancy Rommelmann tells leave mine in the dust. It's a different Los Angeles, one I've caught glimpses of but only through a doorway left open by accident and then swiftly closed again.
I'm completely hooked. I hope she continues writing online after she leaves LA.
I'm having serious object lust tonight. I want this. I want it now. It's half the price of the 10D (my previous lust object) and lighter to boot. The review at Steve's Digicam says the image quality is fabulous, that awful consumer digital camera shutter lag is nonexistent, it would fit my old zoom lens and hotshoe flash, and it's almost affordable. I want I want I want I want.
Of course, I'd need a bigger hard drive to handle those honking big picture files...
Today I hit the magic 250 page mark (well, 253 pages) as well as the equally magic 50K word count, the one NaNoWriMo touts as a complete novel (technically, Iím at 51,225 words). Iím past the halfway point. This book-beast is real. And it looks like Iíll actually finish it, too (my goal is 400 pages/80K words or so). Not that I had any doubts, but, well, Iíve had doubts. Like weight loss, itís a huge undertaking demanding discipline and perseverance, with lows that will kick your butt as well as giddy, ďI did it! Iím doing it! This is so cool!Ē highs.
Dan said today he doesnít know how I write past the end of each chapter; he knows I donít have the kind of detailed scene-by-scene outline I use in screenplays, so how do I know what to write next? Iím winging it much more than I ever have before, and this is a big pile of pages to wing. I told him that I know where Iím going to end up and some bits of story along the way, so I just have to estimate how far along I need to be next and then I can figure out a way to write to there, allowing for serendipity and inspiration and an occasional writerly trance along the way.
Vague, huh? Dan came up with a metaphor which I think explains it better.
Letís say you want to drive from Los Angeles to New York. Youíve got a clear goal and you even know roughly what youíll see along the way. Here are deserts, bring water. Thereís a big mountain range over there, itíll probably be cold. Along this area, there are one hell of a lot of wheat and corn fields, better figure out a way to make that part interesting so you donít drive off the road, asleep at the wheel. There are great huge ocean-like lakes somewhere in the eastern edge of middle part, but you have to go out of your way for them, is the car in good enough shape to handle the detour?
You know all this, the general terrain with implicit questions to inform your decisions. And youíve got a compass guiding you from southwest to northeast. But no map, so you donít know the exact route. That part you figure out as you go. You ask people in gas stations and diners, you plan a little way ahead (picking up a map of, say, Utah when you hit the state border), and you go by gut.
Thatís what writing this novel is like.
As we walked up to Damian's friend Corey's house, we could smell the manure stink of fresh fertilizer. Damian, naturally, wanted to know why they put cow poop on the grass. I said it had vitamins and nutrients the grass needed.
Later on in the car, on a long ride to the middle of nowhere, Damian and Corey started saying that there was poop on the road behind us and warning all the other cars: "Cars, go fast or the smelly poop will eat you!" and on like that. At some point, Corey questioned why there was poop. Was it coming from our car (actually C's car, a minivan)? Damian said, "The poop behind the car is because there's a cow on the roof."
They exclaimed over this for a while ("A cow! On the roof!"), then inevitably wondered how the cow would get down when we stopped for a pee break. Corey said the cow would climb off the back, but Damian thought if it tried it would fall through. No more roof! Sunroof! Cow in the car!
Much later, Damian asked me, "What kind of cow eats grass?" It was a trick question. The answer: a lawnmooer.
I asked Corey's mom if typically developing five year olds are this goofy too. She thinks they are.
Unlike Finding Nemo, Brother Bear is not a movie you're likely to see if you don't have kids. The reviews have not been terribly kind. My expectations were low and for most of the movie, they were justified. Then why did I find myself crying at the end? A dash of manipulation with a pinch of sentiment, yes, but more, I think this is a movie that's actually more than the sum of its parts.
The parts are not so good: animation that jitters, an odd design choice for the small bear (he looks cartoonish, where the main character bear looks almost elegantly drawn), a bickering relationship that has no basis in true differences but feels manufactured to follow the conventions of the form, characterizations so shallow I couldn't remember which human brother was which, sappy-bad songs, and a deus ex machina so blatant and simplistic it hardly seemed enough to hang a tale thereon.
But somewhere around the salmon run sequence -- the end of Act 2, I'd guess -- I realized I cared about these characters. I cared about the revelation of the (extremely obvious) big emotional twist, I cared about what the main character would do to make things right. I cared about those damned bears. And when the spirits came down (sorry if that's a spoiler, but it's a pretty vague one), I got teary. Reunions: the living with the dead, the living with the ones they thought were enemies. All very satisfying. No doubt partly that's because it's a deep-seated wish we all have, to reconnect in that pure way with lost loved ones. But the movie actually brought me there in its own right. Despite several formulaic story beats, there was enough that was fresh in the milieu and tone. It worked.
It's a mystery to me. Why do some stories click and others, with the same storytelling care (or better) and the same mix of original and hackneyed, end up feeling trite and dull? What is that extra spark that's not in inventive, creative storytelling but lies somewhere else?
(An interesting aside: toward the end of the movie, Damian told me how he thought it would end. I thought he was wrong, that it would end in a much more predictable way. Well, he was right, I was wrong. Maybe that's one thing I liked about this movie.)
I've been struggling through the current scene in my novel. It's from the male character's POV, which is generally more challenging for me, but more, I started it with only a vague idea of what it was about. I prefer to have the character goals and obstacles clear in my head for any given scene, it makes it easier to know what I'm writing toward. On the other hand, some of my favorite sequences evolved from no more than a general "she's coming from this charged emotion and getting into her car to drive home" notion.
Sometimes, though, it's harder. In this case, the emotions are not only charged, but complex, yet the actions of the scene are extremely simple and mundane (two people making dinner). I'm more than halfway through writing it and I think I'm finally getting a sense of what I'm doing there. Which necessitates a little rewrite massage, but shouldn't be too bad. But it's an uncomfortable enough process that I've been avoiding the work this week. I hate that. Sometimes it's an effective strategy, and the muttering in the back of my brain as I slip into alpha sleep fixes the problems for me while I'm consciously thinking of other things, but sometimes (like now) it just stalls me out and depresses me.
I think I figured out today how to get past this block, though -- how to get my butt back in the chair and my fingers poised over the keyboard. I started thinking of the next bit. It's one of the most pivotal sequences in the novel, where things are inadvertently revealed and emotions are naturally high while people are doing things that can't allow them to deal fully with what's going on underneath. I love that stuff. Drama with a twist of the knife. I have all sorts of ideas of how to structure it, of moments and images and painful bits. But I can't write it until I finish this scene, can I?
I'm looking forward to getting back to work.
Tonight when Damian came into the bathroom for his bath, he found Cocoa (our black kitten) with his forepaws on the edge of the tub, peering in at the bubbles. He gently pushed Cocoa back down to the floor, saying "If you want to get wet, that's fine. Even though cats don't like to get wet." His voice was light, reasonable. He sounded, in fact, exactly the way I do when I'm trying to tell him maybe he shouldn't do something by telling him he can but that there are natural consequences to his action (ie: getting wet). Funny what sticks.
After our excursion to the car lots last weekend, we've been doing a lot of research. Buying a car from a dealer, particularly a new car, is one of those known quicksand patches -- they'll grab your leg and then you're stuck in the muck, sucked down into the dread depths of financial doom. Thank god for the web. Edmonds.com is teaching us what the cars are going for, what to look for, how to negotiate. Kelly Blue Book shows us the invoice price (the price the dealers pay the manufacturer -- everything above that is their profit), a true starting point for negotiations (click on "new car pricing" at the top left). And this article on the Edmonds site was the biggest treat. A reporter went undercover as a car salesman at two car lots: first a high pressure place selling hot Japanese cars, then a no-hassle lot selling American cars. Reading about his experiences, I finally got what goes on behind the scenes. For instance:
At times Michael became very excited as he thought of new things to teach me. At one point he said, "Oh! This is a good one! This is how you steal the trade-in." He looked around quickly to make sure no one overheard him. "When you're getting the numbers from the desk, they'll ask if the customer has a trade-in. Say it's a '95 Ford Taurus. And say you took it to the used car manager and he evaluated it and said he would pay four grand for it. If you can get the trade for only three, that's a grand extra in profit.
"So what you do is this," Michael pretended
to pick up the phone again, "you ask the desk,
'What did we get for the last three Tauruses
at auction?' Then they'll give you some figures
ó they'll say, $1,923, $2,197 and $1,309.
You don't have to say anything to the customer.
But he sees you writing this down! And he's
going, 'Holy crap! I thought my trade was worth
$6,000.' Now it's easy to get it for $3,000.
That's a grand extra in profit. And it's front-end
The writer's conclusions are as sobering as you'd expect:
While working as a car salesman I became impressed with the damage a bad car deal can do to the budget of an ordinary person. In one case, I participated in leasing a car to a couple at well over its value. I was haunted by the thought that this nice ordinary couple had trusted me, and I had let them sign a contract that would bind them for five years to a high-interest lease. I consoled myself thinking perhaps another dealer would have inflicted greater damage. How did the car business get so screwed up? There's nothing else in our society that is sold with the consumer so conspicuously unprepared.
Dan and I keep thinking: thank god we didn't rush into buying a car last weekend. We'd have been just as unprepared.
JMS asked some important questions in her comment on my last post, so I thought Iíd address them here.
I'm also curious/concerned when you say you're not done yet. What are you aiming for? You've already dropped half a size, right? Lots of women would gnash their teeth in envy to fit into a 6 but you claim you're not satisfied. What, exactly, are your personal goals? What are your criteria?
First, I donít actually consider myself a real size six yet. I canít fit into six waist-high jeans, for instance. Iím still a definite size eight there. And I know sizes differ in various stores, too. It was still a pleasant shock, though!
Iíve dropped a total of three or four sizes, according to the Gap jeans department. Itís kind of weird, though, because Iíve only lost 22 lbs and youíd think Iíd only have lost two sizes, but these things are screwy and unpredictable.
Okay, Iím avoiding the bigger question, which is what goal Iím aiming for and implicitly if my body image will prevent me from stopping at a reasonable point. I do wonder if Iíll really see the full effect in the mirror when I get there, or if my brain will trick me into seeing fat thatís no longer there, like feeling a phantom limb. Phantom fat. But I do have some objective measures, too. Mainly, I want to have a BMI of 22 or 23. I know Weight Watchers considers anything between 20 (or is it 19?) and 25 to be healthy, but Iíve read elsewhere that 22 and below is optimum for health. And I can see it: my blood pressure has dropped from 120/80 to 120/70 already but it used to be more like 110/65 and I suspect thatís better. (Note to self: look that up, know for sure.) A BMI of 22 would put me around 122 lbs. Iím 145 lbs right now.
Also, I want to fit into my wedding dress. I looked pretty good around the time I got married (I was 29 years old, so Iím not going for a teenage body here), and definitely not too slim at 135 lbs. Thatís another ten pounds down from here. I may want to lose more when I get there, I may not. Iím leaving it open. I was 125 lbs in my early 20ís and I know I wasnít too skinny then either (though I was positively gaunt at age 18 when I was 114 lbs). So Iíll lose another ten or twenty pounds, definitely not thirty. My ultimate goal is to find a weight I can comfortably maintain the rest of my life and that allows me to enjoy my body and, yes, other peopleís reactions to my body too.
I see women on TV and in real life (there are an awful lot of them in LA) who I find too skinny. Women should have curves. We should have asses and tits and arms that have some meat and muscle. We should have hips that are more than concave pelvic bones. We should have ribcages covered by a warming layer, not ribs that show through lycra tops. Itís especially unattractive to be too slim when you hit 40 and beyond: your neck starts to look all tendony and odd and your face shows age faster and more completely. Weíre not meant to be muscle and bone, weíre meant to have flesh too. Iím not heading toward the anorexic, heroin-chic look, never fear. Will I be able to see myself objectively enough to know when to stop? I think so, though I canít know for sure. I look at myself now and I see someone who looks a hell of a lot better than when I started in July, but who still has a bit too much padding here and there and, well, just about everywhere. If I stopped now, besides not being at my ideal BMI, Iíd be annoyed with my mirror. And I want to love my mirror. And yes, Iím allowing for whatever bumps and lumps inevitably remain on my not-surgically-altered lived-in body. I look at pictures of me at my wedding and my body isnít so well toned (Iím in better shape now) but my face looks perfect to my eyes.
And I have a fail-safe in case I get carried away: If I canít tell when itís time to stop, I suspect Dan will tell me. He, too, dislikes ultra-skinny women.
Itís an interesting and difficult question, when to stop losing weight. I donít know the final answer for myself. I only know Iím not there yet.
Yesterday I went jeans shopping; I'd bought two new pairs a month ago but the lower-rise one of the two (cut below the waist, not a true low-rise) is practically falling off my hips. So, though it's indulgent of me to buy a new pair already, I did. I loved those pants, loved the way they looked and the way they made me feel wearing them. And I wanted a replacement immediately.
The saleswoman at the Gap asked me what size. I gulped and said, "Um. Six?" There was this part of me that, I swear, was ready to say ten or even twelve. I was starting to bust out of size twelve by the end of June and yes, I've been losing weight, but I still think of myself as size ten. Because those were my skinny jeans for so long. But now, size six? Is that even possible? I thought when I said it, the saleswoman was going to snicker and say "Sure, delusional lady, whatever you say." But she was polite and handed me the pants.
I brought them into the dressing room, still convinced I was going to slip them on and find a huge gap where the button and button hole not only didn't meet, but refused to even wave at each other across the great divide of my tummy. They buttoned fine. I bought them. Tried them on again last night to make sure they still fit, that it wasn't a sort of clothing store fluke. Strangely, they still fit. I wore them today. They look fantastic. I'm still convinced it's some kind of mistake, that there'll turn out to be a recall on size sixes to the Santa Monica store, they were mislabelled, sewn wrong, there's been a huge error. Because me? In a size six?
I had a busy afternoon and evening, social and interesting. But all the while, there was this little voice in the back of my head, chattering away and saying just one thing, "size six, I'm a size six, I'm wearing a size six, look at me, I'm size six."
I know size doesn't matter, I know that. It's how you feel, how you look to yourself in the mirror, how comfortably clothes fit. And I don't think it makes sense to shoot for a clothing size as a goal because that may not be the right stopping point for you. I also don't think it makes sense to shoot for a specific number on the scale. You'll know by how you look, how it feels to be in your skin. I believe all that wholeheartedly. Nevertheless, it's a measure. And walking around in size six black jeans today felt like stepping through the looking glass into an alternate universe. I'm that which I thought I'd never be. And yet it's a waystation on this road. I'm not where I want to be yet. I don't know what size that will be, but I do know what I'll see in the mirror and I'm not there yet. Hell, I'm still not quite in Weight Watcher's healthy BMI range yet. But hey, I'm a size six.
Today in the park, Damian was flinging sand about with a shovel. I asked him what he was doing. Looked pretty mindless to me. This is what he said: "I'm digging for gold so we'll be rich and then we can pay for cheap and expensive things so we can have a happy ending. Otherwise we'll have a sad ending."
Um. Not the message I want to be sending him. I think he got the idea from a story. Probably "Puss and Boots," which he's now seen as part of HBO's Happily Ever Afterseries retelling classing fairy tales and has also experienced as a bedtime story. An awful lot of fairy tales do hinge on material success, don't they? Poor folk become rich and have happy endings. Jack and the Beanstalk, Puss and Boots, Cinderella. Even Robin Hood (part of the HBO series) focuses on money, the haves and have-nots.
I had an epiphany today in the parking lot of an upscale grocery store. Itís not that unique of a thought, but itís important to me nevertheless.
It started with a face. Someone I knew in college. Not well, just to say hello to. He always carried a kind of quiet confidence with him wherever he went, abetted by the Hollywood version of a blueblood background. He came from money, in other words. Money and worldly success. Youíve heard of his uncle, probably his father too. But for all that, he always seemed unassuming to me, just a normal guy. He was involved with someone else I knew, a woman with a brash confidence. She was in a rock band and she acted, too. Talented.
They got married after college. Thatís all I really know. We donít run in the same social circles. I saw her at the tenth reunion (now ten years ago!) and again a few months ago. She never made it as an actor. So what? I donít have a whole lot to brag about myself.
Today I said to my college classmate, ďI know you. Youíre married to MÖĒ His mouth turned wry. ďNot anymore.Ē And he held his sonís hand as they walked across the parking lot to a red Toyota pickup truck. A single dad. Life not so perfect.
Money doesnít buy happiness. The people you put up on a pedestal as having a charmed life, better than yours, forever out of reach? Their lives are just as fucked up as your own, albeit in different ways because there are as many paths to sorrow as there are people in the world.
But if thereís no out-of-reach purity of life in the rich enclaves, that means thereís also no reason to yearn for that which we donít have, something I've wasted a lot of time doing in the past.
Fact is, my life is pretty good. Perfect? Hell no. But nobodyís is. I might as well be happy anyway. I have a good marriage, an adorable child, a novel Iím half in love with, a house we own (no mean feat in this city's insane real estate market), other people I love. I have it pretty good. I have some things my classmate doesnít. And he has some I donít. It all comes out in the wash.
I usually go for shows like Homicide (gritty but quirky), ER in its early years (whiplash and poignancy), anything put out by the Zwick/Herskovitz team (thirtysomething, My So-Called Life, Relativity, Once and Again Ė real-feeling relationships with buckets of subtext), Homefront (set after WWII but real-feeling relationships with buckets of subtext), and the like.
Okay, maybe that ďand the likeĒ part was a little vague. Let me put it another way: I like quirk but I also like real and I especially like things that make me feel without shoving my face in the emotion.
So whatís my current favorite show? Alias.
Real? Um, not exactly. More like comic book Bam! Pow! Ow! chopsockey mixed with high tech gadgetry and mind-spinningly complex spy stories. This is utterly not my thing. Or so youíd think. Except that I used to love James Bond movies despite their wincingly awful woman-as-happy-harlot bits. The movies make little sense and have virtually no character development Ė in fact, when Timothy Dalton came along and tried (I assume it was his fault) to add some brooding and backstory, it backfired big time and booted him right out of the job. But they were fun in a mindless guilty pleasure sort of way. Alias is like that, only without the ďcímere and fuck me, eye-candy ladyĒ part because of course the eye candy lady is the main character and is a bright, independent sort of person to boot.
If the show was all uberspy superdrama, Iíd get bored pretty quick, though. Ultimately, in most TV shows (excepting puzzle dramas like Law and Order) itís the characters that keep you hooked. And this series is no exception. I love Spy Daddyís stone faced love for his daughter, I love Spy Momskiís double-triple-quadruple crosses, always with this warm droopy-eyed love-you-baby even-if-I-have-to-kill-you sort of expression. I love Dixonís serious mien and difficult moral decisions (and I just plain love Carl Lumbley), I love the slow development of the main love story with Vaughn and its painful current state. I love Marshallís silliness (shades of Q, of course, with his tech toys and eccentricities but extended into more than a one note cameo Ė Marshall has at least two notes to play) and Weissís wry warmth and Sloaneís doe-eyed creepiness. I love the show, basically. And I think Jennifer Garner kicks ass, and not just in the obvious way. Her face is so mobile and expressive, she says it all without words. I donít think sheís quite Oscar caliber, not yet, nor does the role allow for that level of acting. But sheís damned good and I think can become great. Which is crucial, because we see this world through her eyes and her chops make the absurd believable because she invests it with so much authenticity.
I was never a big fan of Felicity, J.J. Abrams' earlier outing. Maybe because I missed the first season, but except for Scott Foleyís general adorableness, I never quite got what made people gush. I felt like it was trying for the Zwick/Herskovitz tone but that it never achieved the same level of emotional complexity. Everything seemed too clearly drawn, too clean and simple and so it never leaped off the screen for me. But somehow Abrams has translated that same sensibility to a spy show and made it pop. Thereís less time for the personal so perhaps the personal feels less labored and therefore more affecting. Or maybe itís just that in a larger-than-life always-on-the-verge-of-disaster premise, his kind of bold strokes fit better. Iím not sure. All I can tell you is that itís a smart, fun show and Iím good and hooked.
Oh, and itís the absolute most perfect show for a workout session. Iím skiing on my Nordic Track watching Jennifer Garner kick butt and the combination of adrenaline and ďMan, I want to look like thatĒ (well, okay not quite like that, but closer than now) does wonders for my endurance.
Thereís a reason we havenít gotten a new car in fourteen years. Itís hard to spend tens of thousands of dollars on an object that will depreciate by a thousand or so as soon as you drive it off the lot, will lose value like a leaky valve in the months and years after that, and is made to fall apart within a decade or two. Itís the apex of free market economics, the car racket. The earliest cars were made to last forever. It only makes sense. They are, after all, made of metal. Durable, right? And yet somehow not. Now cars (except perhaps the Volvo) are built for obsolescence and consumers are programmed to want the latest, greatest, sleekest (or boxiest) new lines within a couple of years, thus thickening Detroit's Ė and Tokyo's Ė executive's Golden Parachute lining by the minute.
So we drive our two-door 1987 Corolla and our (also two-door) 1988 Accord year after year after year while the car shapes have changed around us, from the low-slung lines of our cars to the bubble cars you saw everywhere in the Ď90s to the current big-boned SUVs and the latest trend, boxes-on-wheels like the Honda Element and the new Mercedes G500 SUV. Ours are good little cars, not so sexy perhaps, but pretty damned reliable. Yes, maybe I feel a little embarrassed pulling up outside someoneís house for a party in my car with its chipped paint and its accumulated dents and dings, as if Iím announcing to the world, ďempty pockets here,Ē even when weíre not as poor as all that, but it just hasnít been a priority. Weíd rather have decent computers and weekly dinners out and a mortgage and even, yes, a small nest egg for lean times and potential show cancellations. But you canít exactly set your PowerBook on the dashboard of your now-ancient vehicle, the new(ish) with the old. And thereís this other part of me thatís proud in a perverse, reverse sort of way. Look at us, weíre not into conspicuous consumption, weíd rather get full value, run our cars throughout their full useful life and not litter the environment with more hunks of metal junked before their time. Arenít we cool in our non-cool sort of way?
But the cycle of life demands change sooner or later. And the fact is, our creaky two-door low-slung cars donít serve our needs too well anymore. As Dan said to me yesterday, he and I donít just get into a car and drive off these days. We move in. Sometimes when I drive Damian to school, Iím carrying his lunch bag, my lunch bag, my bag of healthy snacks, my huge water bottle and his bag of sippy cups and milk boxes for the rides to and from school. Also my computer bag, my daypack (inevitably stuffed to the gills), my camera, a change of clothes for each of us or at least an extra sweatshirt or two, and maybe a bag of books to return to the library on the way home after school. And most of this has to go on the passenger seat. Because I may need access, you see. Sometimes I add Damianís friend Cís lunch bag and jacket to the now-huge pile because weíre carpooling these days. Then after I drop Damian (and C) off, I pull into a parking spot near the library (where I'll go after lunch) and eat my turkey-tomato-balsamic onion tortilla wrap in the car while reading a book. Relaxing? Sure, if you have room. In a two door hatchback, not so much. More than a car, we need a house on wheels. A comfortable house.
I think itís time to go for it. We got the word last week: the show Dan edits has been picked up for the rest of the season and itís doing well enough we expect a second season. In this kind of freelance career, you donít get much more security than that. Weíre not rich or even well off, but I think we can afford monthly payments on a reasonably priced new car.
We went car shopping yesterday, test drove two models (a Sienna and a CRV, if you must know, both with nicely low emissions). We almost bought a car but stopped ourselves. It feels like too much somehow. I know itís perfectly logical and even okay and people do it all the time, sometimes yearly. Then why am I feeling panicked? But I am, as if itís wrong to spend that money, wrong to have something new and comparatively luxurious when our old cars still run. But weíll only be giving away one car (we plan to donate it Ė anyone have a good place to donate old cars?) and keeping the other, so this isnít all that drastic. And weíre three now instead of two and we have carpool needs and bicycle transport needs and damnit all, we want something with a smoother ride and more breathing room. But the part of me thatís held out all these years wants to hold out a bit longer still.
Like till next weekend.
(to be continued)
Hey Allison, Roger Simon and Jennifer Weiner aren't the only blogger/novelists around, y'know. There's also the extremely successful Neil Gaiman, also Caitlin Kiernan and Will Shetterly, not to mention Holly Lisle, S.L. Viehl and Diane Duane. John Scalzi has been writing an online column/blog since well before his SF novels were picked up by a publisher. His first novel is in the pipeline though not yet published, but still. He counts. (Plus, his blog is one of my favorites.) And Pamie's another writer who journalled first, then published a novel. Now she's got a journal and a blog. And (I hope) a second novel in the relatively near future? Oh, and William Gibson had a blog for a while, until he decided it interfered too much with his novelizing.
Hmm. Now that I sit back and look, every one of these blogs, with the sole exception of Pamie's, is written by a SF or fantasy writer. What does this mean? That weblogs and SF are somehow intertwined? That the same people are drawn to both? That I need other sources of linkage to discover the mystery writers, poets, and highfaluting literary bloggers out there? That I need to write a fantasy novel to get published or that I need to shut down my blog to publish my current (non SF) opus because the two parts of my brain are incompatible?
Now I'm worried.